Antigua vs the U.S.

I read about this WTO ruling the other day (In Trade Ruling, Antigua Wins a Right to Piracy) and today a reader sent me a link to another article (Antigua wins modest sanctions in U.S. gambling cases). Briefly, the background is this. Gambling, including Internet gambling, is legal in Antigua. The U.S. prosecuted the owners of Antiguan sites in U.S. courts under the Wire Act sending one, Jay Cohen to prison, for 21 months after he voluntarily returned to the United States. Cohen thought that the U.S. laws didn’t apply to online gambling hosted in Antigua and said to himself “”No judge is going to let this stand.” (See Paul Blustein, “Against All Odds,” The Washington Post, 4-Aug-06 p. D1). Instigated by Cohen upon his release from prison Antigua filed a trade complaint against the U.S. with the World Trade Organization. The U.S. argued that its prosecution of online gambling sites was necessary to protect public morals. Antigua countered that certain types of online gambling–on horse racing and some state lotteries–is legal in the U.S. and that its selective prosecution of Antiguan gambling sites violated the International trade principle of “national treatment,” i.e., the U.S. can’t limit trade in Antigua that is legal in the U.S. If the U.S. wants to prosecute Internet gambling in Antigua then it must ban all Internet gambling in the U.S. The WTO agreed with Antigua’s argument in 2004 and again, although less broadly, on appeal in 2006. The 2006 ruling was marked by simultaneous press releases from the U.S. and Antigua, each claiming “we won!” The question was what the WTO would do to enforce its ruling.

The WTO’s solution, described in these articles, is to allow Antigua to violate U.S. copyright and trademark laws up to a value of $21 million–which of course makes no sense at all. Antigua’s recourse for the U.S. government’s violation of International trade treaties is to pirate $21 million from the pockets of private companies. It’s as if, in an eminent domain case, a court agreed that the city didn’t pay you enough for taking your property and allowed you to loot your neighbor’s property in compensation. The ruling will be impossible to enforce. How should one value acts of piracy? Using the RIAA’s math ($150,000 per incident of copyright infringement) Antigua would even the score by downloading 140 Celine Dion songs that would cost $138.60 on iTunes. As my correspondent said “I just don’t understand why copyright holders would be the ones who are more or less punished because of a Government decision. It seems the WTO thinks two wrongs make a right.”

And Wayne Newton as Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has attempted to whip up enthusiasm for its campaign-song contest, in which you–yes, you!–could select the lucky song. Her website announced the winner with a brief, mildly amusing video inspired by the last episode of The Sopranos (which I liked, by the way) and bearing a Sopranos in-joke: Vince Curatola, who played Johnny Sack, gets up from a diner stool and gives Hillary and Bill a funny look on his way to the bathroom. There is an amusing and telling scene in which Bill whines “no onion rings?” when confronted with Hillary’s order of carrot sticks. Is Hillary running as Sensible Mommy, the one who hands out boxes of raisins on Halloween? The video cuts to black and a link to the contest winner: You and I by Celine Dion.

Celine Dion? Bad choice, musically and symbolically. Not to get all chauvinistic, but the campaign knows that Celine is Canadian, right? Her soul–if we can use that word in discussing Celine Dion–is Las Vegas, a slice of American cheese topped with Miracle Whip, but her birth certificate says Charlemagne, Quebec, Canada. Couldn’t Hillary find a tune by an American pop songstress? Ugly Americanism aside, Celine Dion’s music is insipid and You and I is a yawner of yearning and treacly aspirational lyrics and generic rock.

Enjoy the carrot sticks.  (Any happier now, young Shakespeare?)