Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

Has Walker won Wisconsin?

February 24th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Walker has pointed to the unions’ membership troubles as a victory – presenting himself as a conservative warrior unafraid of taking on big battles against liberal interests.

Walker administration budget analysts said forcing public employees to contribute more to retirement plans and health insurance helped local governments save US$3 billion (NZ$3.9b). He also credited the 2011 law with saving homeowners money on property taxes while giving school districts the ability to make reforms that boosted third-grade reading levels and high school graduation rates.

“We took the power away from the big government special interests and put it firmly in the hands of the hard-working taxpayers,” Walker told Iowa Republicans recently. “That is what we need more of in this great country. The liberals don’t like that.”

Union officials declined to release precise membership data but confirmed in interviews that enrolment is dramatically lower since the new law was signed in 2011.

The state branch of the National Education Association, once 100,000 strong, has seen its membership drop by a third. The American Federation of Teachers, which organised in the college system, saw a 50 per cent decline. The 70,000-person membership in the state employees union has fallen by 70 per cent.

That’s a huge decline in just a few years. The reforms pushed by Walker were:

  • public servants to pay 50% of the cost of their pension payments, up from 0%
  • public servants to pay 12% of their health insurance premiums, up from 6%
  • A referendum needed to approve any public sector wage settlement greater than CPI
  • Unions must collect their own fees, rather than employers
  • Non union members no longer required to pay fees to unions

Walker survived both a recall election and the Wisconsin State Supreme Court upheld his laws as constitutional.

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US politics cartoons of the week 23.2.15

February 23rd, 2015 at 5:53 pm by Lindsay Addie

I’ve been rather tied up by ‘real life’ to read any of the goings on here at Kiwiblog over the last week let alone post but here are couple of cartoons that tickled my funny bone.

The first relates to the US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf saying that one issue with the ISIS terrorists is that they’re unemployed. They do have a job, it is killing anyone who doesn’t agree with their fanatical ideology.

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© Michael Ramirez: found at Real Clear Politics

The second cartoon is about Vice President Joe Biden getting over friendly with the new US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter’s wife at an event in Washington DC last week. Whatever his motivations this did have a bad look.

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© Gary Varvel: found at Real Clear Politics

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How significant is the guilty plea?

February 16th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

Kim Dotcom’s long-running legal battle has suffered a blow after one of his co-accused pleaded guilty – and will now testify against his former colleagues.

In one of the biggest developments since Dotcom’s Coatesville compound was raided three years ago, computer programmer Andrus Nomm pleaded guilty to internet piracy in a Virginia court on Friday.

The 36-year-old struck a plea bargain deal with the US Justice Department, admitting he personally downloaded copyright-infringing files. Nomm will serve a year and a day behind bars. …

The US Department of Justice claims Nomm’s guilty plea was a major blow to Dotcom’s case. But that was last night rejected by his legal team. His attorney, Ira Rothken, told the Herald on Sunday the guilty plea did not serve as a precedent.

“If Mr Nomm testifies in a truthful manner … we expect that his testimony will help the defence.

I can’t imagine that there would be a plea deal, if the testimony would help the defence.

What will be interesting is whether it may affect the extradition hearing? Does the fact one person has pleaded guilty to the charges, make it harder for the NZ court to find that the charges are not valid? Remember the NZ court does not have to find likely guilt – just that the charges are valid, and would be an offence in NZ.

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US politics cartoons of the week: 16.2.15

February 16th, 2015 at 2:34 pm by Lindsay Addie

Whilst the standing down of Brian Williams from NBC continues to tickle the funny bone of the US cartoonists I’ve chosen one cartoon about Obama’s Iraq policy and the other about Jeb Bush.

The first is by Michael Ramirez and highlights an issue with Obama’s foreign policy and the lack of properly defined endgame. The word overcautious comes to mind.

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© Michael Ramirez: found at Real Clear Politics

 

The other cartoon by Andy Marlette makes fun of Jeb Bush’s strategy of seemingly trying to win the GOP presidential nomination by hoovering up the big $’s early on from the key GOP donors. He hasn’t as yet convinced me that his policy ideas are winners. He is a winner in the piling up the campaign funds contest though.

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© Andy Marlette: Found at Real Clear Politics

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Monday Motivator – Grace & Awe

February 16th, 2015 at 10:20 am by Richard Hume

Monday Motivator 36

 

It has been a busy start to the year having just finished an exhibition and rolled out a new website in conjunction.

This photograph featured quite prominently in the exhibition – just over two meters in length framed – and now has a new home having just finished the install in a clients home.

It was taken at Antelope Canyon in Arizona which is an amazing place to visit and photograph.

Click on the image for a larger view of this photograph.

Cheers

Richard [richardhume.com]

YouTube: Timeless – A Panoramic Journey

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Jon Stewart leaving Daily Show

February 12th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Even though his politics are on the left, I love watching Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. He has a satirical genius which is somewhat compulsive.

It isn’t clear if Comedy Central will seek to continue The Daily Show with a new host, or wind the show up when Stewart retires.

As Stewart billed The Daily Show as being a fake news show, maybe his replacement should be NBC’s Brian Williams!

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The Myth of Charter-School ‘Cherry Picking’

February 10th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Eva Moskowitz writes in the WSJ:

There is a concept called the big lie, which holds that if you repeat a falsehood long enough and loudly enough, people will begin to believe it. Sadly, fearing the success of charter schools in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers and other education-reform opponents have been telling a big lie for years.

The UFT and its backers have kept up a steady drumbeat of false claims against charter schools in New York City: Charters cherry-pick their students, push out those who need extra support, and generally falsify their impressive results.

We hear this here also, even though charter schools in NZ can not pick their students – if there are a surplus of applicants, they must choose by random ballot.

Well, a recent report from New York City’s Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded, nonpartisan agency, proves that these accusations are false.

So what does it say?

The IBO report, released in January, found that—contrary to what some people have come to believe—“students at charter schools stay at their schools at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional public schools.” The IBO reported that charter schools in the city retain 64% of their students, compared with 56% of students retained by district schools. Among special-education students, the IBO found that 53% stay at their charter schools, versus 49% at district schools.

And:

The vast majority of Success Academy students are children of color from low-income families. On last year’s state exam, our schools ranked in the top 1% of all New York state schools in math and the top 3% in English, outperforming schools in affluent areas of the city and wealthy suburbs. On the science exam, 100% of our fourth- and eighth-grade scholars passed, with more than 90% scoring at the highest level.

Success Academy schools have reversed the achievement gap: 94% of African-American students and 96% of Hispanic students passed the math exam, compared with 56% of white students citywide.

Imagine if we could replicate that in South Auckland!

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US politics cartoons of the week – 9.2.15

February 9th, 2015 at 11:52 am by Lindsay Addie

Plenty of topics for the US cartoonists to choose from, anything from the US debt, to ISIS, the measles and Brian Williams!

The first cartoon I’ve selected is about the massive US debt and Obama’s attitude towards it.

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© Gary Varvel: Found at Real Clear Politics

The other cartoon is for all the Cheney haters out there! It compares Brian Williams to Dick Cheney re Iraq. I’m not a Cheney hater but I can still see the funny side of this one.

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© Nick Anderson: Found at Real Clear Politics

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ISIS expands so what is the US strategy?

February 7th, 2015 at 11:15 am by Lindsay Addie

Where are ISIS expanding?

James Schneider over at Fox News (along with contributions from the Associated Press) reports on the worrying current expansion by ISIS (ISIL) into nearly a dozen countries.

Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, delivered a grim assessment earlier this week in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, as he described how the group was surfacing in North Africa.

“With affiliates in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, the group is beginning to assemble a growing international footprint that includes ungoverned and under governed areas,” Stewart said.

ISIS continues to hold a wide swath of territory, bigger than the state of Pennsylvania, in its home base spanning parts of Iraq and Syria, propped up by more than 20,000 foreign fighters from at least three dozen countries. But the terror network’s tentacles, as Stewart indicated, are creeping into other nations; largely those with fragile governments.

“ISIS, like Al Qaeda, has thrived in the failed states where there is a vacuum of power,” said James Phillips, Middle East senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation.

The strategy of terrorist groups moving into failed states is all too common. The current nominee for the role of US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter is concerned where ISIS may go next.

Defense secretary nominee Ashton Carter, who had his confirmation hearing Wednesday, told Congress he is aware of reports that ISIS may try to expand into Afghanistan, and vowed to work with coalition partners to stop the group. He said he would consider changing plans for withdrawing the remaining 10,600 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 if security conditions further deteriorate.

Terrorist groups in other countries are supporting ISIS.

The Islamic State’s ambitions do not stop at Afghanistan, the so-called Graveyard of Empires. Militant groups in Pakistan, the Philippines, Israel and the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Indonesia and Jordan, among other areas, reportedly have pledged formal support for ISIS.

There has been a little bit of good news in Kobani Syria where the Kurdish fighters drove ISIS forces out last week.

Current US strategy

So what is the current US strategy? This question was raised by Senator John McCain (R) during Carter’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I believe I understand our strategy at this time,” Carter explained. “I also have the intention, again if confirmed, to make it my first priority to go there, to talk to our military leaders there, to confer with you … I think a strategy connects ends and means, and our ends with respect to ISIL needs to be its lasting defeat.”

McCain retorted: “Well, it doesn’t sound like a strategy to me, but maybe we can flesh out your goals.”

Hardly a decisive and acceptable answer to a key question regarding US strategy on ISIS. Perhaps the words came out a bit wrong (we’ve all done that) but its still a poor answer.

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NBC Nightly News anchor has a faulty reminiscence

February 6th, 2015 at 9:06 am by Lindsay Addie

Brian Williams the high profile news anchor and managing editor of NBC’s flagship Nightly News program has been left red faced after making false claims about being on a helicopter that was shot at by an RPG. Erik Wemple from the Washington Post explains.

After NBC Nightly News last week posted to Facebook a clip of the anchor reminiscing about having embedded with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, some Facebookers took issue with the particulars. Whereas Williams claimed that he was riding in a helicopter that was forced down after being hit by an RPG, others had a different recollection. “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened,” wrote Lance Reynolds in a Facebook comment responding to the Williams segment.

After digging a hole for himself Williams retracted his story.

In issuing an on-air apology for his “mistake” in misremembering the circumstances of the March 2003 episode, Williams credited “some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in that desert” for debunking his set of facts. “I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft,” he said on Wednesday night’s “NBC Nightly News.”

Wemple then goes on to ask some pertinent questions.

Again: Where were Williams’s crew members, who surely knew that Williams had either “conflated” his Chinook with another Chinook — his explanation — or was using the passage of time to embellish his own exploits — another explanation. And what of other NBC News employees who worked on the story? Why did they remain silent on these matters? Are they still with NBC News?

We put these questions to NBC News and haven’t heard back.

By all logic, NBC News would like to rest on Williams’s apology, ride out the media storm and, eventually, move ahead with things. Yet the fact that personnel aside from Williams knew that his statements on these events were erroneous should prompt an internal probe as to how these falsehoods circulated so freely.

I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that proper internal probe by NBC. I can already hear some critics lamenting journalistic and editorial standards in the US mainstream media.

 

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The town that privatised everything!

February 5th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Joe Kent writes:

Sandy Springs, Georgia may look like any other town in America. It has parks, roads, and beautiful places to live. But there’s one thing that separates this town from every other town: Sandy Springs privatized almost everything.

In 2005, Sandy Springs outsourced almost all functions of the city government (with the exception of police and fire) to a single company, which runs the town. That company is in charge of running all the vital functions of government, from the running the parks, to paving the roads, and even 911 calls!

The town is run very efficiently, with zero backlogs in permit requests. Call the city, and you’ll be surprised to find that you actually get a friendly person on the other line! The city has a 24/7 non-automated customer service hotline which fields about 6,000 calls per month. It also has a state of the art traffic system with cameras and a high tech command center. …

When the project first started, the University of Georgia estimated that the city would need 828 employees. But because the town is managed by a private company, they’ve cut their workforce down to just 471 people.  Besides fire and police, the city only has eight full-time public employees.

Because of this efficiency, Sandy Springs generates huge surpluses. They have no unfunded liabilities. The city specifically decided not to use the traditional pension model – a model which has put almost every government across America in an unsustainable pension crisis. Instead, employees can choose their own 401K package to prepare for retirement, if they wish.

This has given the town of Sandy Springs lots of extra cash to work with – a surplus that they put into building for the future. According to Sharon Kraun, “The city, as a matter of policy, sets aside 25% of revenues into a reserve during each budget planning cycle. Capital improvements have been a major focus during our first eight years, with more than $185 million invested in capital infrastructure.”

This has lead to lots of improvements around the town. The city has repaved 147 miles of streets, 874 storm water projects, and built 32 miles of new sidewalks.

Sounds great. A city of 90,000 with only eight full time staff outside the Police and Fire services.

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Obama’s Budget – 10 news taxes and a half a trillion deficit

February 5th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Politico has details of the 10 new taxes proposed by Obama. They would increase revenue by a staggering $1.8 trillion over ten years. But despite that, his budget still forecasts a US$474 billion deficit.

There is no prospect at all of that budget passing either the House or the Senate.

I’d say that there will be no budget deal, and that the automatic sequestration cuts will occur instead.

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Obama’s $US4 trillion budget

February 3rd, 2015 at 10:38 am by Lindsay Addie

President Obama has sent his 2016 budget to Congress which features spending at record levels of $US4 trillion. Real Clear Politics (with contributions from the Associated Press) reports.

Obama’s budget projects a deficit of $583 billion in 2015, up significantly from last year’s $485 billion imbalance. Obama’s budget plan never reaches balance over the next decade and projects the deficit would rise to $687 billion in 2025.

The administration contends that various spending cuts and tax increases would trim the deficits by $1.8 trillion over the next decade, leaving the red ink at manageable levels.

Obama calls his proposals “practical and not partisan”. There are numerous tax increases of which the main rationale is to increase taxes on the rich and the corporate sector so to give tax breaks to the middle class.

In a lengthy run-up to Monday’s budget release, the administration highlighted a number of its proposals, including $320 billion in increased taxes on the wealthy and corporations that would be used to pay for expanded middle class tax breaks.

The budget documents reveal that all the tax increases will total $2 trillion, including a number of proposals Obama has made before to limit deductions the wealthy can take to reduce their tax bill.

The Republicans predictably are not in agreement and are accusing the Obama administration of advocating tax and spend policies. The GOP have promised to introduce a balanced budget to Congress.

Congressional Republicans say the budgets they produce will achieve balance and will attack costly benefit program like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

So the battle lines have been drawn between increasing the size of government when there is already $US18 trillion dollars in public debt and balancing the budget. The GOP will have to produce good ideas and workable policies as just sitting on the side-line sniping won’t help them in the battle for the White House in 2016.

I’m not convinced that increasing the size of the US federal government is the right strategy at this point in time. Surely sensible policies that reduce the flab is the way to go?

Finally the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last week released their Budget and Economic Outlook: 2015 – 2025 which includes deficit projections based on current policies. That will be covered in a separate post.

Office of Budget and Management 2016 Budget

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has published a series of graphics along with its own analysis of the budget. It doesn’t seem to be behind a paywall.

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US politics cartoons of the week: 2.2.15

February 2nd, 2015 at 2:29 pm by Lindsay Addie

There was a wide variety of topics to keep the cartoonists busy this week. The Obama administration and Mitt Romney have been selected this week.

The first by Michael Ramirez mocks the Obama administration’s bad habit of falling over their words in regards to who is a terrorist and who isn’t.

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© Michael Ramirez: found at Real Clear Politics.

 

Mitt Romney and on-again off-again 2016 presidential campaign.  ‘Deflategate’ refers to the New England Patriots NFL ball tampering scandal by Steve Benson.

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© Steve Benson: found at Real Clear Politics.

Once it dawned on Romney the financial backing and grass roots support wasn’t there from inside the GOP he wisely decided to give it away.

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New York University bans the usage of Mr and Ms

January 31st, 2015 at 5:05 pm by Lindsay Addie

The New York Daily news reports that the City University of New York Graduate Center (CUNY) has banned the usage of Mr and Ms from  references and salutations in all correspondence at the university.

The City University of New York’s Graduate Center has banned the words “Mr.” and “Ms.” from official correspondence because the terms are not sensitive to transgender students, according to an internal memo from Interim Provost Louise Lennihan.

“Effective Spring 2015, the (graduate center’s) policy is to eliminate the use of gendered salutations and references in correspondence to students, prospective students and third parties,” Lennihan wrote to the school’s 140 teachers Jan. 16. “Accordingly, Mr. and Ms. should be omitted from salutations.”

I’ve had people incorrectly assume I’m female as my first name can be either a female or male name but only a very thin skinned person would take offence at that. Perhaps the transgender students at CUNY are more sensitive?

CUNY has apparently based its decision to implement this policy on a federal law called Title IX as The Daily Beast explains.

“They may arguably have a right to implement this policy, but they cannot place the decision on Title IX,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting free speech and due process on American campuses.

“It’s important,” said Lukianoff, “to understand that this is part of a long series of situations in which universities use Title IX as an excuse to pass often unconstitutional codes that they simply want to pass.”

In 2003, university efforts to pass such codes prompted the Department of Education to write a letter to every university in the country stating that Title IX is designed “to protect students from invidious discrimination, not to regulate the content of speech.”

As time passes the PC mob dream up more and more dopey ideas such as this.

 

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US job growth is Texas job growth

January 30th, 2015 at 10:01 am by David Farrar

Texas-Job-Growth-Vs-US-Job-Growth

This graph from TPNN shows how all the employment growth in the US has occurred in the state of Texas.

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Cutting welfare helps job growth

January 28th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Five Thirty Eight reports:

Title: “The Impact of Unemployment Benefit Extensions on Employment: The 2014 Employment Miracle?”

Authors: Marcus Hagedorn, Iourii Manovskii, Kurt Mitman

What they found: The elimination of emergency unemployment benefits at the end of 2013 played a major role in spurring the subsequent acceleration in job growth in 2014.

Why it matters: When the recession struck in 2008, Congress voted to extend unemployment benefits beyond the standard 27 weeks offered by most states. The program was gradually pared back during the recovery, and at the end of 2013, Congress allowed it to expire entirely. Many conservative economists said the program was doing more harm than good by providing the long-term jobless an incentive not to look as hard for work. Liberal economists were more skeptical, as was I; in an article last spring, I found little evidence that the end of emergency benefits was pushing the jobless back to work. But in this paper, the authors argue that conservatives were right and that the cutoff of benefits helps explain the surge in hiring in 2014. They use county-level data to show that places where the reduction in benefits was greatest also experienced the greatest job gains. They estimate that the policy change led to the creation of 1.8 million jobs in 2014, and that nearly 1 million of those jobs were filled by workers who otherwise would have stayed out of the labor market.

That’s a compelling figure. Maybe we should have a limit also for how long one can stay on a benefit?

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The soldier Obama swapped for five terrorists to be tried for desertion

January 28th, 2015 at 8:09 am by Lindsay Addie

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl of the US Army a high profile captive of Haqqani terrorists in Afghanistan for five years who was then swapped by the Obama administration for five terrorists is according to NBC News going to be charged with deserting his post (before he was captured).

According to the officials, the desertion charges would be based on allegations that Bergdahl abandoned his remote outpost in June 2009 to avoid hazardous duty or important service, which are grounds for charges of desertion under the Uniform Military Code of Justice, or UCMJ. According to one senior official, Bergdahl’s actions in Afghanistan go well beyond the lesser offense of AWOL, absent without leave, because he allegedly abandoned his post “in the middle of a combat zone, potentially putting the lives of his fellows soldiers at risk.”

The charges will apparently not allege that Bergdahl left with the intent never to return. Bergdahl was reportedly captured by the Haqqani terrorist network in Pakistan. He was released in a prisoner swap for five Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo Bay in May.

Sources tell NBC News that the fact that Bergdahl was held captive may be taken into consideration when any punishment is handed out.

The New York Daily News has the biographies of the five terrorists who were swapped for Bergdahl (See the graphic in the middle of the page). I cannot see why there was any rush to release any of them. Seems a bit soft to me.

Barack Obama has some tricky questions to answer bearing in mind that Bergdahl is most likely a deserter. Also how was this guy thought to be worth five terrorists? This is definitely potentially embarrassing for the President seeing he made the release of Bergdahl a high profile event by inviting the soldiers parents to the White House.

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US politics cartoon of the week: 26.1.15

January 26th, 2015 at 1:15 pm by Lindsay Addie

Most of the cartoons from the US have been about the  New England Patriots and the “deflate-gate scandal” or Obama’s state of the union (SOTU) speech. This weeks cartoon is about the latter.

The illusion to the President as Robin Hood refers to his idea of taxing the rich to give to the middle class. It was amusing to observe John Boehner sitting through most of the speech with look of a man who thought he was being fed rotten fish and was trying to hide the fact.

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© Gary Varvel: Found at Real Clear Politics

Sadly the SOTU has become a spectacle that is nothing more than a campaign stop for the White House incumbent. It has been like this for a number of years. The Economist has an op-ed on the SOTU and reminds readers that in an earlier time for example under Nixon the speech was an effective way for the President to attempt to advance policy goals and start an intelligent policy debate on issues of the day.

For a bit of context, it is useful to revisit the reception of old state of the union addresses. I’ve been watching and reading a few by Richard Nixon who, as a Republican president from 1969 to 1974, faced some similar hurdles: an endless and dispiriting war; a mysterious and haunting foreign foe; a sluggish economy; a Congress dominated by the opposing party. Interestingly, Nixon’s speeches promoted some similar priorities.

The result was progress.

But in fact many of his ideas became policy, even with Democrats controlling the House and Senate. The new Congress that had just been sworn in that January 1971 could have found it useful to make Nixon look like a failure, with a presidential election ostensibly lurking around the corner (though two years back then were far longer in politics than they are now). But in fact they passed a lot of landmark legislation that continues to benefit Americans today.

The article ends with these words.

One can’t help but feel wistful for an era when a president’s ideas might’ve been debated on their merits, and when lawmakers took their job of making law seriously. It has become hard to remember a time when truculence wasn’t the surest route to political power, and when policies weren’t simply dismissed as “partisan” before being thrown away.

I don’t expect the current divisive mind-set in Washington DC to change anytime soon.

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US Federal Govt. increases spending but fails to stem the flow of cybersecurity breaches

January 22nd, 2015 at 2:08 pm by Lindsay Addie

Introduction

This discusses the problem of despite increased spending by the US government it isn’t stemming the flow of federal cybersecurity breaches.

The Federal Information Security Management Act 2002

This act is commonly known as FISMA. Eli Dourado and Andrea Castillo from the Mercatus Center – George Mason University in Washington DC have released a report on the effectiveness of FISMA. The authors helpfully explain the intent of the act.

FISMA was intended to strengthen federal IT systems by requiring agency leaders to develop and implement information security protections with the guidance of offices such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In addition to authorizing the sums necessary for agencies to invest in cybersecurity technologies and infrastructure, FISMA compels agencies to proactively assess and reduce systematic risks, actively train personnel to meet and improve information security standards, improve cybersecurity risk reporting and information sharing capabilities, and develop contingency plans to respond to cyber-breaches.

The report also has data showing spending from 2006 to 2013 under FISMA. Note that the calculation methodology changed in 2013. This partially explains the lower figure. Also the dollar figures are in billions (green bars).

FISMA_SP_BR

So the US  Federal Government has spent $US78.8 billion on FISMA between 2006 – 2013 but despite throwing more money at the problem the number of security incidents has increased 1012%.

Personal Information

Another important problem is the issue of security incidents involving personal information. The next chart reveals that 38% of reported security incidents involved personal information breaches.

FISMA_SI

This increase is far from ideal and is what concerns libertarians and privacy advocates.

Scope of the problem

So what are underlying problems at the heart of these issues? According to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) there is a lot of work to do.

Illustrating the extent to which weaknesses continue to affect the 24 major federal agencies, in fiscal year 2013, inspectors general at 21 of the 24 agencies cited information security as a major management challenge for their agency, and 18 agencies reported that information security control deficiencies were either a material weakness or significant deficiency in internal controls over financial reporting in fiscal year 2013. These weaknesses show that information security continues to be a major challenge for federal agencies, putting federal systems and the information they contain.

Comment

Cybersecurity is a serious concern for governments worldwide and the issues the USA is having in getting the right balance between passing sound law that can be administered and monitored properly whilst balancing privacy concerns is a major challenge. Add to this the mindboggling technical issues that IT and cyber security experts have to deal with there aren’t easy answers. This isn’t policy making for the faint hearted.

To be bi-partisan about this there is enough blame to go around as the problems started before Barack Obama became president. That doesn’t mean his administration is blameless either. The number of security incidents has increased enormously since 2009. Dourado and Castillo do express concerns about President Obama’s proposal of extending the same cyber security policies that aren’t currently working properly in the US public sector to the private sector (Executive Order #13636: Cybersecurity Framework). As they correctly observe  the US Federal Government should get its own house in order regarding cyber security before trying to tell others what to do.

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US politics cartoons of the week: 19.01.15

January 19th, 2015 at 1:28 pm by Lindsay Addie

There have been two topics this week that have kept the US cartoonists occupied. One is terrorism and those Charlie Hebdo cartoons. The other has been the US 2016 presidential election. With Mitt Romney making noises again about standing for the third time he has been on the receiving end more than once.

The first cartoon shows Romney as a Chameleon.

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© Matt Wuerker: Found at Politico.com

 

The second by Lisa Benson has the GOP and Democrats playing cards.

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© Lisa Benson: found at RealClearPolitics

Both Romney and Clinton have the same problem which is they have been around for a long time so no matter what they’ve achieved they’re both big targets when opponents indulge in the inevitable negative campaigning. Kerry in  2004, McCain 2008 and Romney in 2012 all suffered from this problem.

Neither should be discounted though as both could be formidable. Hillary may not have a lot of competition in the Democratic primaries which would mean she won’t put under too much pressure prior to the general election which may also reveal she isn’t ‘match fit’ when the actual campaign arrives in 2016. As for Romney, he had his chance in 2012 and couldn’t get the job done so his time may have past.

My guess is that the GOP will go for a candidate who has experience at Gubernatorial level and who hasn’t been around forever like both Hillary and Mitt.

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The Dodd-Frank Act: Good intentions and a lot of complexity

January 17th, 2015 at 4:31 pm by Lindsay Addie

Introduction

Post the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008 and collapse of Wall Street investment banks and institutions US lawmakers felt the need to respond to the GFC with new laws for the financial sector. Prominent Democrats Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank introduced a bill to the US Congress which became The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act 2010 (aka Dodd-Frank). This Act was signed into law by Barack Obama. As the description on the first page of the legislation shows it certainly has laudable goals.

To promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘‘too big to fail’’, to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.

It is not possible in a blog post such as this one to give a blow-by-blow account of this law but a summary can be found here.

The chart below shows the different government powers and agencies responsible for Dodd-Frank and their relationships.

Dodd-Frank

Source: JPMorgan Chase: Found here.

Complex Regulations

The biggest criticism of Dodd-Frank is that it contains a huge amount of regulation and bureaucracy. So are these criticisms justified and how many are included? One of the leading sources of information about Dodd-Frank is a US law Firm Davis Polk who maintain a website with the latest information on this law.

It is important to understand that writing of rules for Dodd-Frank is an ongoing process with the total according to Davis Polk being 398. The graphic below where this process is at as of 1st December 2014.

DF_rulingmaking

Source: Davis Polk: Found here.

So the next obvious question is they’re still writing these rules so why is that such a big deal? The answer is the number of agencies responsible for writing the rules and their mind boggling complexity. The Economist in a 2012 article on Dodd-Frank gives an example.

SECTIONS 404 and 406 of the Dodd-Frank law of July 2010 add up to just a couple of pages. On October 31st last year [2011] the agencies overseeing America’s financial system turned those few pages into a form to be filled out by hedge funds and some other firms; that form ran to 192 pages. The cost of filling it out, according to an informal survey of hedge-fund managers, will be $100,000-150,000 for each firm the first time it does it. After having done it once, those costs might drop to $40,000 in every later year.

The article then goes on to talk about the so-called ‘Volcker Rule’.

Take the transformation of 11 pages of Dodd-Frank into the so-called “Volcker rule”, which is intended to reduce banks’ ability to take excessive risks by restricting proprietary trading and investments in hedge funds and private equity. In November four of the five federal agencies charged with enacting this rule jointly put forward a 298-page proposal which is, in the words of a banker publicly supportive of Dodd-Frank, “unintelligible any way you read it”. It includes 383 explicit questions for firms which, if read closely, break down into 1,420 sub-questions, according to Davis Polk, a law firm. The interactive Volcker “rule map” Davis Polk has produced for its clients has 355 distinct steps.

These two examples give a good idea of the problem! I’ve got no sympathy for the banks but that is crazy bureaucracy  at work.

Davis Polk published a series of graphics on some of the mind boggling numbers regarding this law (correct as of July 1st 2013).

  • 13,789 pages of rules.
  • 15 million words of rules.
  • The rules are equal to 28 copies of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
  • The longest rule is 342 pages long.

Now naturally all these rules and complex regulations are a dream come true for bureaucrats and lawyers!

Comment

When looking at this law it is clear there were good intentions at work but it is hard to see how such complex over the top law making is an answer. The length of some of the rules is just insanity. As someone who believes in small government I fail see how such an approach as taken here is an ideal way to deal with the problems at hand and make US financial institutions accountable in an efficient manner.

It will be fascinating to watch progress in 2015 as additional complex rules are added.

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FBI hate crime statistics

January 14th, 2015 at 9:42 am by Lindsay Addie

The FBI in December 2014 published the latest hate crime statistics which are released annually. The latest survey covers 2013.

Definition

A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

Methodology

The FBI has a detailed overview online of their methodology which can be found here. It is too long to discuss in depth here but here is an excerpt from the introduction.

The Hate Crime Statistics Program of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program collects data regarding criminal offenses that were motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, gender, gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and were committed against persons, property, or society. (See below for information concerning new bias types, such as gender and gender identity, and other changes to the hate crime data collection.) Because motivation is subjective, it is sometimes difficult to know with certainty whether a crime resulted from the offender’s bias. Moreover, the presence of bias alone does not necessarily mean that a crime can be considered a hate crime.

Single bias hate crimes

FBI_HC Chart

Single bias hate crime statistics – Source FBI

Bias Categories

These have been summarized for this post for reasons of brevity. A more detailed breakdown can be found here.

Racial

In 2013, there were 3,563 victims of racially motivated hate crime.

  • 66.5 percent were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-Black or African American bias.
  • 21.2 percent were victims of anti-White bias.
  • 4.6 percent were victims of anti-Asian bias.
  • 4.5 percent were victims of  anti-American Indian or Alaska Native bias.

Sexual Orientation

1,461 victims were targeted due to sexual-orientation bias.

  • 60.9 percent were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-gay (male) bias.
  • 22.5 percent were victims of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (mixed group) bias.
  • 13.1 percent were victims of anti-lesbian bias.

Religious

There were 1,223 victims of anti-religious hate crimes.

  • 60.3 percent were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-Jewish bias.
  • 13.7 percent were victims of anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias.
  • 6.1 percent were victims of anti-Catholic bias.
  • 4.3 percent were victims of bias against groups of individuals of varying religions (anti-multiple religions, group).
  • 3.8 percent were victims of anti-Protestant bias.

The race of known hate crime offenders

In  2013 the FBI reports that there were 5814 known hate crime offenders. The breakdown of the race of these offenders is as follows.

  • 52.4 percent were White.
  • 24.3 percent were Black or African American.
  • 7.0 percent were groups made up of individuals of various races (Group of Multiple Races).
  • 0.8 percent (49 offenders) were American Indian or Alaska Native.
  • 0.7 percent (40 offenders) were Asian.
  • 0.1 percent (3 offenders) were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
  • 14.8 percent were unknown.

Comment

There are some revealing statistics here including:

1. Anti black/African American bias is significant factor in racial crimes.
2. Gay hate crimes (male) are much more prevalent than transgender, lesbian, or bisexual hate crimes.
3. Anti-Jewish hate crimes are much more common in the USA than those against Muslims.

The good news is according the FBI hate crimes are down from 2012.

It would be interesting to see a geographic breakdown of where these hate crimes are being committed.

[UPDATE]: Added a section to the post on FBI data of the race of known hate crime offenders in 2013.

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Professors get a dose of reality as Obamacare arrives at Harvard

January 7th, 2015 at 11:06 pm by Lindsay Addie

The New York Times reports that Professors at Harvard University seem to be unhappy that Obamacare has found its way to their august institution. David M. Culter a health economist at the university was an advisor to Obama during the 2008 election campaign.

For years, Harvard’s experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.

Welcome to the real world. Unfortunately for them the vote was too late to stop the increases.

In Harvard’s health care enrollment guide for 2015, the university said it “must respond to the national trend of rising health care costs, including some driven by health care reform,” in the form of the Affordable Care Act. The guide said that Harvard faced “added costs” because of provisions in the health care law that extend coverage for children up to age 26, offer free preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies and, starting in 2018, add a tax on high-cost insurance, known as the Cadillac tax.

The reaction from the professors has been swift with the Harvard scholar on Virgil being very scathing and their expert on things French isn’t happy either.

Richard F. Thomas, a Harvard professor of classics and one of the world’s leading authorities on Virgil, called the changes “deplorable, deeply regressive, a sign of the corporatization of the university.”

Mary D. Lewis, a professor who specializes in the history of modern France and has led opposition to the benefit changes, said they were tantamount to a pay cut. “Moreover,” she said, “this pay cut will be timed to come at precisely the moment when you are sick, stressed or facing the challenges of being a new parent.”

Some of the Harvard mathematicians and economists have been analysing the data and aren’t convinced by the universities data.

In addition, some ideas that looked good to academia in theory are now causing consternation. In 2009, while Congress was considering the health care legislation, Dr. Alan M. Garber — then a Stanford professor and now the provost of Harvard — led a group of economists who sent an open letter to Mr. Obama endorsing cost-control features of the bill. They praised the Cadillac tax as a way to rein in health costs and premiums.

Did Garber and friends talk to Dr Gruber from MIT before endorsing the bill?

The last word from of all people a sociologist.

“It seems that Harvard is trying to save money by shifting costs to sick people,” said Mary C. Waters, a professor of sociology. “I don’t understand why a university with Harvard’s incredible resources would do this. What is the crisis?”

This is a story that has definitely left egg on the faces of some at Harvard. Certainly it is ironical that the law they championed has now come back to bite them.

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Only one Atheist in US Congress

January 7th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

An interesting research report from Pew on the religious composition of the US Congress. While 20% of the US don’t have a religious affiliation (atheist or agnostic) only one out of 535 Congresspersons and Senators is an atheist.

The most popular congressional religions (with US population percentage in brackets) are:

  1. Christian 92% (73%)
  2. Protestant 57% (49%)
  3. Catholic 31% (22%)
  4. Baptist 15% (17%)
  5. Methodist 8% (6%)
  6. Anglican 8% (2%)
  7. Presbyterian 7% (3%)
  8. Jewish 5% (2%)
  9. Lutheran 5% (5%)
  10. Mormon 3% (2%)
  11. Buddhist 0.4% (1%)
  12. Muslim 0.4% (1%)
  13. Unaffiliated 0.2% (20%)

The only member of congress who says she is not religious is Kyrsten Sinema, from Arizona. It is near impossible to get elected to any office on the US, if you say you do not believe in God.

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