Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

Colorado cannabis sales

January 4th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Politicians in Colorado have reported that “the sky didn’t fall in” when cannabis went on sale to the public for the first time, leading to calls for the drug to be legalised in other US states.

In Denver and at ski resorts around Colorado, dozens of shops licensed to sell cannabis to anyone aged over 21 reported few problems.

Barbara Brohl, the director of Colorado’s Revenue Department – which hopes to raise millions of dollars in taxes on the drug – said: “Is the sky falling? No, I don’t think the sky is falling today. Everything’s gone pretty smoothly.”

Andy Williams, the owner of Medicine Man, one of the first legal shops to open in Denver, said: “A lot of people around the country were looking for something bad to happen here and it didn’t. A lot of state legislators are going to take note and say ‘We can do that too and help our citizens out’.”

Williams served 650 customers and sold about 6.8kg of cannabis.

The data from this law change will be fascinating. Will the number of people who use cannabis increase, decrease or stay the same? Will it lower the price of the drug on the black market and reduce profits for criminals? Will drug related harms increase, decrease or stay the same? How much money will the state make from legal sales from it?

Other states and countries will be in a good position to decide, based on the data, if legalising cannabis is beneficial or not. The fact 48 other states have not legalised, will also allow for comparisons.

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Golfing partners

January 3rd, 2014 at 1:24 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

United States President Barack Obama has rounded up a new golf partner: Prime Minister John Key.

The two leaders teed off on a sunny and breezy morning at a course at a military base on Oahu, the Hawaiian island where Obama is renting a vacation home. Key owns a home in Hawaii.

The golf outing put Key in rarified company. Obama is an avid golfer, but prefers to limit his playing partners to a close circle of friends and advisers. Among those who have also scored invitations to play with Obama in the past are former President Bill Clinton and House Speaker John Boehner.

Rounding out the foursome on Thursday (Friday NZ time) were Max Key, the prime minister’s teenage son, and Marvin Nicholson, Obama’s personal aide.

According to one site, Obama has only played golf with another politician nine times of of 145 games (and five of those were Joe Biden). The fact he has asked John Key to join him for golf, is a sign of a significant personal friendship, rather than it being a political act. You host other leaders at the White House when they visit, you don’t play golf with them on holiday.

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Credit: The Obama Diary site

A nice photo of Max Key with President Obama. He has got tall! Most of the time it sucks having your Dad as the Prime Minister, but I guess sometimes it is pretty cool :-)

It is worth reflecting that Key is exceptionally good at establishing personal relationships with other leaders.He has done it with Harper and Cameron who are also from the centre-right but also with Gillard and Obama, who are not. I also understand he has an excellent rapport with the Queen, as evidenced by the rare invite to Balmoral.

My theory is that Key isn’t fazed by anyone, and so when he meets people like the US President, or the Queen, he treats them much the same way as he treats everyone else – with some humour and as a person, not a position.

Some people got really excited that a junior sub-editor at the New York Daily News didn’t know who John Key was, when captioning a photo from the Mandela funeral. Well I guess if you have to choose between being known by a junior sub-editor, or the US President, I know which one I’d want :-)

Anyway, we’re all waiting for the real news – what were the scores, and who won? :-)

UPDATE: I understand that Obama and Key Sr played on the same team, and beat Key Jr and Nicholson.

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A Mayor who spends his own money!

January 3rd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The SMH reports:

Michael R. Bloomberg loves tropical fish. So when he was elected mayor of New York, he installed two giant aquariums inside City Hall.

The cost to him for having the tanks cleaned out every week for the past 12 years: about $US62,400 ($70,100).

The mayor likes to nosh, too. So he paid to feed his staff daily a light breakfast (coffee, bagels, yogurt) and a modest lunch (tuna salad, peanut butter and jam, sliced fruit).

The bill for his entire mayoralty: about $US890,000.

An analysis by The New York Times shows that Bloomberg has doled out at least $US650 million ($730 million) on a wide variety of perks and bonuses, political campaigns and advocacy work, charitable giving and social causes, not to mention travel and lodging, connected to his time and role as mayor. (His estimated tab for a multiday trip to China, with aides and security in tow: $US500,000.)

In the process, he has entirely upended the financial dynamics surrounding New York’s top job.

In the past, the city paid its mayor; Bloomberg paid to be the city’s mayor.

In moves that would make a financial planner’s head spin, he rejected the $US2.7 million worth of salary to which he was entitled (accepting just $US1 a year) and, starting in 2001, turned on a spigot of cash that has never stopped gushing.

I wonder if he would like to be Mayor of Auckland?

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Freedom of religion means for all religions

December 23rd, 2013 at 8:43 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission voted on Thursday to ban new monuments on statehouse grounds until a court battle is settled with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is seeking the removal of the Ten Commandments, local media reported.

Commission officials were not immediately available for comment on Friday.

The Oklahoma branch of the ACLU this year sued to have the Old Testament monument removed, saying the state should not be in the business of legitimising religion and that the precedent could result in a spectacle of religion.

No decision has been reached in the case.

Socially conservative Christian groups fought for years to have the Ten Commandments displayed at the statehouse, and the monument went up in 2012.

I like the ten commandments. But they should be displayed at churches, not on government grounds.

Oklahoma has put a halt to new monuments at its Capitol after groups petitioned to have markers for Satan, a monkey god and a spaghetti monster erected near a large stone tablet inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Heh. If the state allows monuments to one religion, then they find it hard to say no to others. Personally a statue of the spaghetti monster would be very cool!

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The liar in chief?

December 17th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

It’s time for our annual round-up of the biggest Pinocchios of the year. This was not a presidential election year, so in some ways the subjects that needed to be fact checked were more substantive. In reviewing The Fact Checker’s more than 200 columns in the past year, we found an interesting evolution from statistics about gun violence to claims about President Obama’s health-care law. Our general rule of thumb held: the more complex a subject is, the more tempted politicians are to make misleading claims.

President Obama ended up with three of the most misleading claims of the year. But, despite the urging of some readers, his statement that “I didn’t set a red line” on Syria is not among them. We had looked closely at that claim and had determined that, in context, it was a bungled talking point, so that statement actually earned no rating.

Not a prize the President would want to win – most porkies.

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Dotcom fighting against transparency

December 12th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Meanwhile, further revelations about the nature of the charges against the Megaupload founder could be made public, if a court lifts a suppression.

US prosecutors are seeking to expose the allegations against Dotcom and his co-accused, so victims of his alleged crime can make a claim against his cash and assets seized in the raids.

The US has asked New Zealand authorities to lift the order on the case record, an almost 200-page document with all the details – before the victims’ claim rights expire.

Dotcom is fighting the request, saying it will affect his chance of a fair trial, according to his US lawyer Ira Rothken.

A decision is expected later this week.

Dotcom relentlessly plays to the public, and tells his side of the story. Yet he is in court demanding that the other side of the story not be allowed to be made public. If he really thinks he has done nothing wrong, then why oppose it? Shouldn’t he want it released so he can rebut it in his favourite court – the court of public opinion.

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A US Budget deal

December 12th, 2013 at 7:42 am by David Farrar

Reuters reports:

A bipartisan budget deal announced in the US Congress, while modest in its spending cuts, would end nearly three years of partisan stand-offs between Democrats and Republicans that culminated in October with a partial government shutdown.

Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Republican Representative Paul Ryan appeared before reporters Tuesday (local time) to announce the US$85 billion (NZ$102 billion) budget accord, which still must be approved by the full Senate and House of Representatives.

“For far too long compromise has been considered a dirty word,” Murray said, adding that the uncertainties created by three solid years of Washington bickering “was devastating to our economic recovery.”

Ryan, the Republican Party’s 2012 failed vice presidential candidate who has his eye on either a 2016 presidential campaign or potentially a House leadership job, wasted no time in trying to blunt criticisms of the pact, especially from fellow conservatives.

“In divided government, you don’t always get what you want,” Ryan declared.

But he added, “I think this agreement is a clear improvement on the status quo. This agreement makes sure that we don’t have a government shutdown scenario in January. It makes sure we don’t have another government shutdown scenario in October. It makes sure that we don’t lurch from crisis to crisis.”

It would blunt the effect of automatic “sequester” spending cuts by allowing federal agencies and discretionary programs to spend US$63 billion (NZ$75 billion) more over two years, while savings are made elsewhere. It also would provide an additional US$20 billion to US$23 billion (NZ$24 billion to $27 billion)  in deficit reduction over 10 years.

This is a pretty good outcome. Obama and the Democrats didn’t get any tax increases, and the level of spending is slightly less than it would have been under the automatic sequester. Also the Democrats didn’t get an extension in what was meant to be temporary unemployment insurance.

Not a great deal for either side, but a workable one.

 

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Internet titans call for an end to mass snooping

December 10th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

The world’s leading technology companies have united to demand sweeping changes to US surveillance laws, urging an international ban on bulk collection of data to help preserve the public’s “trust in the internet”.

In their most concerted response yet to disclosures by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL will publish an open letter to Barack Obama and Congress on Monday, throwing their weight behind radical reforms already proposed by Washington politicians.

“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our constitution,” urges the letter signed by the eight US-based internet giants. “This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for change.”

An excellent move.

“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens,” they say in the letter. “But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.”

A separate list of five “reform principles” signed by the normally fiercely competitive group echoes measures to rein in the NSA contained in bipartisan legislation proposed by the Democratic chair of the Senate judiciary committee, Patrick Leahy, and the Republican author of the Patriot Act, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner.

Crucially, Silicon Valley and these key reformers in Congress now agree the NSA should no longer be allowed to indiscriminately gather vast quantities of data from individuals it does not have cause to suspect of terrorism in order to detect patterns or in case it is needed in future.

“Governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of internet communications,” says the companies’ new list of principles.

That sounds like an excellent principle to me.

The companies also repeat a previous demand that they should be allowed to disclose how often surveillance requests are made but this is the first time they have come together with such wide-ranging criticism of the underlying policy.

The industry’s lobbying power has been growing in Washington and could prove a tipping point in the congressional reform process, which has been delayed by the autumn budget deadlock but is likely to return as a central issue in the new year.

They do have significant clout.

If you want some idea of what the US Government could do with the “metadata” it collects, have a look at this ACLU presentation which gives a great example.

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US Supreme Court to rule on software patents

December 8th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The issue of whether software should be patentable has been settled in New Zealand, and may soon be settled in the US. The Washington Post reports:

In a trio of Supreme Court decisions between 1972 and 1981, the court held that mathematical algorithms were not eligible for patent protection. Since computer software is little more than mathematical algorithms encoded in machine-readable form, most of the software industry assumed this meant you couldn’t patent software. But then, in the 1990s, a patent-friendly appeals court handed down a series of decisionsthat opened the door to patents on software. That triggered a wave of patenting that has drowned the technology industry in litigation.

In principle, the Supreme Court’s old precedents ruling out patents on mathematical algorithms are still good law. And today, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear an appeal that, for the first time in 30 years, will directly address the patentability of software.

The court that has to date decided the law is the little known United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. It was only created in 1982. Unlike the other appeal courts, its rulings are binding on the entire United States, not just one circuit. Only the Supreme Court can over-rule it.

Now the Supreme Court will have an opportunity to weigh in on the case. And while the high court could issue a narrow ruling based on the details of the patents in this case, it could also take the opportunity to fix the software patent mess more broadly. All it would need to do is to reiterate its earlier position that patents claiming mathematical processes — a.k.a. computer software — isn’t eligible for patent protection unless it’s tied to a specific machine or physical process.

Which is basically now the law in New Zealand.

The high court will be reluctant to do this because it would be disruptive. Reiterating that mathematical algorithms can’t be patented would call into question thousands of patents held by major software companies. And these companies could complain, with some justification, that the Supreme Court’s failure to rule on the issue for more than 30 years was a tacit acceptance of rulings by the Federal Circuit.

Still, the federal circuit cannot overrule Supreme Court precedents. And the federal circuit’s experiment with software patents has been a disaster. As the patent scholar James Bessen has argued, the patent troll crisis is really a software patent crisis. Software patents are far more likely to be involved in litigation than other types of patent. The result: According to Bessen’s calculations, troll-related litigation cost the U.S. economy $29 billion in 2011 alone. Reiterating that “pure” software can’t be patented wouldn’t just be good law — it would also save the nation billions of dollars in litigation costs.

The case will be watched very closely.

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What happens when a government spends too much money

December 4th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Detroit is eligible for the biggest municipal bankruptcy in US history because the city is broke and negotiations with its thousands of creditors were unfeasible, a federal judge has said in a wide-ranging ruling that also said the city could cut retiree pensions.

The ruling by US Judge Steven Rhodes marks a watershed in the history of Detroit, once the cradle of the US auto industry and now a symbol of urban decay and mismanagement.

The state of the city today is bad:

Detroit is burdened by US$18.5 billion in debt as it struggles to provide even the most basic services to the city’s 700,000 residents. About 40 per cent of the city’s streetlights do not work and about 78,000 abandoned buildings litter the city, whose population peaked at 1.8 million in 1950.

Live within your means.

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Cato on the TPP

November 27th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank – the largest one in the United States. They are huge supporters of free markets and free trade. So with that in mind this article by Bill Watson on their behalf is worth considering:

The prospects for timely completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement are looking increasingly bleak. Just as the president was struggling to secure fast track trade negotiating authority from Congress, a barrage of anti-TPP sentiment erupted last week when WikiLeaks published a classified draft text of the agreement’s intellectual property rules. The text was rightly criticized for enabling Hollywood and other industries to improperly influence U.S. and foreign law in their favor.

The first instinct of trade advocates is to be defensive, but this time the criticism actually offers an excellent opportunity: Instead of mumbling unconvincingly about the political power of innovative U.S. industries, free traders should put their collective foot down and demand a stop. Imposing intellectual property rules through trade agreements has become a political liability that serves special interests at the expense of free trade.

I agree. Some of the provisions in the chapter are aimed at preventing free trade, and restricting parallel importing.

Getting intellectual property out of the TPP would increase the agreement’s ability to open markets, improve its chances for passage in Congress, and bring the negotiations back to what they ought to be about in the first place: lowering protectionist trade barriers.

Hear, hear.

Despite being tightly wedded in the U.S. trade agenda for the last 20 years, trade policy and intellectual property policy don’t fit together very well. Trade agreements are useful because they provide an effective but imperfect way to improve U.S. trade policy. By offsetting the political power of protectionist industries with the political power of exporting industries, trade agreements offer the promise of open markets at home and abroad.

But this model doesn’t make any sense for intellectual property laws. Unlike tariff reductions, extending intellectual property rights in foreign markets does not directly benefit foreign consumers. At the same time, there is the potential for harm to U.S. consumers when international obligations make domestic intellectual property laws harder to reform or, in some cases, stricter than they would be otherwise. Using trade negotiations to set patent and copyright policy gives excessive power to industry without any justification.

All good points.

Global rules already exist that prevent piracy or severe regulatory differences. The World Trade Organization imposes minimum standards for patent copyright protection and prohibits discrimination. Intellectual property rules in the TPP, on the other hand, are about things like extending copyright terms from really long to really, really long. Getting Canada to impose a longer copyright term may benefit Disney, but that shouldn’t be a goal of U.S. economic relations.

WIPO treaties are where changes to international intellectual property laws should occur.

You don’t have to oppose stronger intellectual property laws to recognize that they reduce the value of trade agreements. The United States is expending a significant amount of negotiating capital to secure patent and copyright rules at the behest of a narrow set of industries. As the leaked text reveals, U.S. proposals are facing coordinated opposition from most, and sometimes all, TPP partners. What other negotiating goals have had to be sacrificed in order to push these unpopular rules through?

There could well be an agreement by now, if it were not for the IP chapter.

U.S. negotiators can accomplish more in other areas if they stop fighting for detailed intellectual property provisions. Hollywood and biotech are not the only industries hoping that the TPP will secure foreign markets for them. The American dairy industry, for instance, doesn’t benefit if negotiators give New Zealand a pass on milk barriers in order to secure concessions on medical procedure patents. More importantly, consumers in New Zealand don’t benefit either.

Not sure what milk barriers they men – I presume Fonterra?

Most proponents of the TPP wrongly claim that we must have intellectual property in agreements to get enough political support. That may have been true in the past, but times have changed. U.S. negotiators would do well to remember how the Stop Online Piracy Act crashed so dramatically after internet activists got popular opposition to go viral. Good news about how the TPP lowers regulatory barriers for financial service firms operating in Asia is not going to assuage the online masses who think you’re coming to kill the internet.

A common criticism of the TPP has been that the agreement is not really about free trade. It’s time to fix that and remove intellectual property negotiations from the TPP.

Sadly I don’t think the US Government will change its policy.

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The Iran deal

November 25th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

Iran and six major powers agreed early Sunday on a historic deal that freezes key parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for temporary relief on some economic sanctions.

The agreement, sealed at a 3 a.m. signing ceremony in Geneva’s Palace of Nations, requires Iran to halt or scale back parts of its nuclear infrastructure, the first such pause in more than a decade.

This is a very good thing. A failure to get a deal would have probably meant that sooner or later either the US or Israel would strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, and that would cause even greater regional instability.

This isn’t a deal to solve all issues between the US and Iran, or even the nuclear issue. But it is a good step in the right direction.

It is also a victory for the sanctions. They hurt Iran enough, that they were willing to do a deal.

The deal, intended as a first step toward a more comprehensive nuclear pact to be completed in six months, freezes or reverses progress at all of Iran’s major nuclear facilities, according to Western officials familiar with the details. It halts the installation of new centrifuges used to enrich uranium and caps the amount and type of enriched uranium that Iran is allowed to produce.

Iran also agreed to halt work on key components of a heavy-water reactor that could someday provide Iran with a source of plutonium. In addition, Iran accepted a dramatic increase in oversight, including daily monitoring by international nuclear inspectors, the officials said.

The last part may be the most important.

The concessions not only halt Iran’s nuclear advances but also make it virtually impossible for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon without being detected, the officials said. In return, Iran will receive modest relief of trade sanctions and access to some of its frozen currency accounts overseas, concessions said to be valued at less than $7 billion over the six-month term of the deal. The sanctions would be reinstated if Iran violates the agreement’s terms.

Again, this is a good deal and a win-win. The new Iranian President gets sanctions relaxed and makes it harder for the hardliners to undermine him. And Obama gets a foreign policy victory when he really needs some good news.

 

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US Senate nukes the filibuster for appointments

November 22nd, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

The partisan battles that have paralyzed Washington in recent years took a historic turn Thursday, as Senate Democrats eliminated filibusters for most presidential nominations, severely curtailing the political leverage of the Republican minority in the Senate and assuring an escalation of partisan warfare.

I think it is good the filibuster is gone, as you should be able to confirm appointments with a majority. However by unilaterally changing the rules, the Democrats have started what may be a chain of events which means that in future the majority will be able to do anything it wants.

In NZ standing orders generally only change if there is unanimous approval. The standing orders generally protect the minority, and Governments know one day they will be in opposition and then be protected by standing orders.

The Democrats will enjoy having got rid of the filibuster while they hold the White House and the Senate. But at some stage the Republicans will hold both, and then they may regret their decision greatly.

The change does not apply to Supreme Court nominations. But the vote, mostly along party lines, reverses nearly 225 years of precedent and dramatically alters the landscape for both Democratic and Republican presidents, especially if their own political party holds a majority of, but fewer than 60, Senate seats.

It is inevitable that supreme court nominations will in time lose the filibuster also.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned Democrats against the rule change on Wednesday, saying that if the GOP reclaimed the Senate majority, Republicans would further alter the rules to include Supreme Court nominees, so that Democrats could not filibuster a Republican pick for the nation’s highest court.

Inevitable.

The vote to change the rule passed 52 to 48. Three Democrats — Sens. Carl Levin (Mich.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) — joined 45 Republicans in opposing the measure. Levin is a longtime senator who remembers well the years when Democratic filibusters blocked nominees of Republican presidents; Manchin and Pryor come from Republican-leaning states.

I’m no fan of the filibuster, but both sides have used it in recent years.

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The Google Books Judgement

November 22nd, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Google recently won a court case the US Society of Authors brought against it for their Google Books service. The Society of Authors claimed that Google’s scanning in of 20 million or more books without the permission of the rights holders was a breach of copyright. Google argued that it was fair use as they didn’t allow anyone to download a copy of the book, just search for and quote extracts of up to quarter of a page.

The details of what Google does to protect a book i its entirety being copied is interesting, as are the reasons the Judge gave for his decision which was a strong argument for the benefits of fair use.

For books in “snippet view” (in contrast to “full view” books), Google divides each page into eighths — each of which is a “snippet,” a verbatim excerpt. …

Google takes security measures to prevent users from viewing a complete copy of a snippet-view book. For example, a user cannot cause the system to return different sets of snippets for the same search query; the position of each snippet is fixed within the page and does not “slide” around the search term; only the first responsive snippet available on any given page will be returned in response to a query; one of the snippets on each page is “black-listed,” meaning it will not be shown; and at least one out of ten entire pages in each book is black-listed.

So even if one went through an entire book trying to use words found in it, to get an electronic copy, you would end up with 10% of pages missing and 12.5% of the other 90% of pages missing. Anyone wanting an electronic copy would just scan a hard copy in themselves1

The Judge lists the benefits of Google Books:

  1. Google Books provides a new and efficient way for readers and researchers to find books.  It makes tens of millions of books searchable by words and phrases. It provides a searchable index linking each word in any book to all books in which that word appears.
  2. Google Books has become an essential research tool, as it helps librarians identify and find research sources. Google Books has become such an important tool for researchers and librarians that it has been integrated into the educational system — it is taught as part of the information literacy curriculum to students at all levels
  3. Google Books greatly promotes a type of research referred to as “data mining” or “text mining.”  Google Books permits humanities scholars to analyze massive amounts of data — the literary record created by a collection of tens of millions of books. Researchers can examine word frequencies, syntactic patterns, and thematic markers to consider how literary style has changed over time.
  4. Google Books expands access to books. In particular, traditionally underserved populations will benefit as they gain knowledge of and access to far more books. Google Books provides print-disabled individuals with the potential to search for books and read them in a format that is compatible with text enlargement software, text-to-speech screen access software, and Braille devices.
  5. Google Books helps to preserve books and give them new life.
  6. By helping readers and researchers identify books, Google Books benefits authors and publishers.

These benefits are a great list of why fair use is so important in copyright.

Also worth quoting the judgement on whether Google Books may serve as a market replacement for books.

Here, plaintiffs argue that Google Books will negatively impact the market for books and that Google’s scans will serve as a “market replacement” for books. (Pl. Mem. at 41). It also argues that users could put in multiple searches, varying slightly the search terms, to access an entire book.  (9/23/13 Tr. at 6).

Neither suggestion makes sense. Google does not sell its scans, and the scans do not replace the books. While partner libraries have the ability to download a scan of a book from their collections, they owned the books already — they provided the original book to Google to scan. Nor is it likely that someone would take the time and energy to input countless searches to try and get enough snippets to comprise an entire book. Not only is that not possible as certain pages and snippets are blacklisted, the individual would have to have a copy of the book in his possession already to be able to piece the different snippets together in coherent fashion.

The argument that someone could use Google Books to get a free electronic copy is basically nuts. It’s impossible and even if i was not, would be far more effort than just scanning one in yourself.

To the contrary, a reasonable factfinder could only find that Google Books enhances the sales of books to the benefit of copyright holders. An important factor in the success of an individual title is whether it is discovered — whether potential readers learn of its existence. (Harris Decl. ¶ 7 (Doc. No. 1039)). Google Books provides a way for authors’ works to become noticed, much like traditional in-store book displays. (Id. at 14-15). Indeed, both librarians and their patrons use Google Books to identify books to purchase. (Br. of Amici Curiae American Library Ass’n at 8). Many authors have noted that online browsing in general and Google Books in particular helps readers find their work, thus increasing their audiences.  Further, Google provides convenient links to booksellers to make it easy for a reader to order a book. In this day and age of  on-line shopping, there can be no doubt but that Google Books improves books sales.

You have to wonder why the Society of Authors took this case? I know many authors who did not support their action. They were arguing against a service that helps generates sales for them.

I think it is just being reactionary. I guess once upon a time the Society of Authors probably opposed allowing libraries to lend books out, as they saw it as a threat also.

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Taxing pot

November 21st, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Daily Beast reports:

In 2012, voters in Colorado and Washington passed full-on, no-hemming-or-hawing pot legalization by large majorities. Lawmakers in each state have spent the better part of the past year figuring out how to tax and regulate their nascent commercial pot industries, which will open for business in 2014 (until then, recreational pot is only supposed to be cultivated for personal use). The spirit behind the legalization efforts in both states was that marijuana should be treated in a “manner similar to alcohol.

Unfortunately, it’s starting to look like both states are going to treat pot in a manner similar to alcohol during Prohibition. Not only are pot taxes likely to be sky high, various sorts of restrictions on pot shops may well make it easier to buy, sell, and use black-market marijuana rather than the legal variety. That’s a bummer all around: States and municipalities will collect less revenue than expected, law-abiding residents will effectively be denied access to pot, and the crime, corruption, and violence that inevitably surrounds black markets will continue apace.

The lesson here is that is you tax something too much, then a black market prospers.

The upshot of such actions is predictable and depressing. Colorado lawmakers are banking on about $70 million a year (PDF) in taxes from pot and their Washington counterparts have projected new revenues of $1.9 billion over the first five years of legalization. There’s just no way that’s going to happen if a legal ounce of pot is double the price or more of back-alley weed. Even the most stoned pothead isn’t that easy to scam.

It will be very interesting to see what the legal and black market prices are, when the legal market starts. Also what market share each gathers. How much more will people pay for it to be a legal purchase?

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Obama struggling

November 16th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post writes:

President Obama’s just-completed press conference was arguably worse than the Obamacare rollout. Alternately confessing, apologizing and blame shifting, he inadvertently made the case against his own executive skills, Obamacare and big government in general.

His announced fix is aimed at remedying the mass cancellation of individually-purchased insurance plans by letting insurance companies re-offer non-compliant policies. This makes clear that contrary to the statements from Jay Carney and Valerie Jarrett, Obamacare and not the insurers were the cause of the cancellations. Obama let slip that this is one big blame-shifting exercise when he announced that no one would be able to say Obamacare caused them to lose insurance. It is of course false because it is unlikely all the canceled policies can be restored.

Obama is losing Democrats in Congress who fear for their seats because of this. Several of them are signing up to Republican bills to change the law. If they pass, will Obama veto them?

Rather ironic that the Republicans fought so hard to defend Obamacare. Their best strategy would have been to step aside and watch it fall apart :-)

Rubin quotes some lines from the press conference:

“We fumbled the rollout on this health-care law.”

“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans.”

“It is a complex process.”

“I was not informed directly [How about indirectly?!] that the Web site would not be working. . . . I don’t think I’m stupid enough to go around saying this is going to be like shopping on Amazon or Travelocity, a week before the Web site opens, if I thought that it wasn’t going to work.”

“With respect to the pledge I made that if you like your plan you can keep it. . . that there is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate.”

“The federal government does a lot of things really well. One of those things it does not do well is information technology procurement.”

“What we are also discovering is insurance is complicated to buy.”

Rubin continues:

Obama’s answers were long, rambling and at times hard to understand. What is clear is there is no arguing Obamacare can’t be touched or that this administration knows what it is doing. It was a remarkable confession about his own and the federal government’s ineptness, a virtual ad against big government — especially ones dependent on IT procurement. In admitting this was about shifting blame to insurers, he made crystal clear that his conduct is and has been about damage control, not permanently fixing an unworkable bill. He certainly gave satisfaction to Republicans who have been making many of these arguments all along. And it will no doubt convince Democrats to run as fast and as far as they can from this hapless president.

The deadline for the website to be working is now 30 November. If they fumble again, it will just get worse.

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Smaller schools, not classes

November 15th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Atlantic reports:

One of the policies you advocate for is “smaller schools.” Why are smaller schools key but smaller classrooms aren’t?

It’s a fascinating answer. The small classroom size thing, you could write a book just on that, how we got to this confusion about that. First of all, it’s an intuitive one. If there’s less students, it’s better because one-on-one tutoring is so good. The closer we can get to one-on-one tutoring, that must be the answer. It’s a thing we believe in. So no matter what the data shows, the public opinion is heavily in that camp.

Everybody, the great majority of references to classroom size evidence is from this one study,  which hasn’t been duplicated with that kind of effect, ever. [The Tennessee STAR study] appears to be been the best study because it had randomized control trials, all that stuff, but ultimately it’s never been duplicated in that capacity and there were so many things that they couldn’t account for.

[Smaller classrooms] are not part of the equation for closing the achievement gap. In fact, I don’t think any of the schools that are closing the achievement gap are using small classrooms as part of their criterion. It’s because it costs so much, it puts so much tax on the rest of all the other stuff that needs to be done. It doesn’t have the kind of impact that the [quality of the] teacher does and the other stuff does.

This is a key point. For years money has gone into smaller class sizes, and it has almost no impact. That is money that could have been spent on things that do make a real difference such as teacher quality.

So why are smaller schools one of your “five keys”?

Small schools is a catalyzer, it’s like a turbocharger for all the other tenets. So let’s take one [tenet, school leadership,] for example: The research supports that a principal needs to be teaching teachers. This sounds so obvious: A coach needs to be coaching the players. … If that principal is in charge of 40 classrooms, 40 teachers, he can do [closely oversee the teachers]. But if he is in charge of 400, he can’t do that. There is just a limit to doing it. So that’s just one example.

I wonder if that applies in NZ. Is there data on school size vs achievement?

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The rise of Christie and fall of Obama

November 7th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Yahoo reports:

When President Obama first ran for the White House in 2008, it was with the promise to turn the page on the presidency of George W. Bush. But for all their political differences, it turns out the American public pretty much view the two men in the same light, according to new polling data.

In the first week of November in the fifth year of their presidencies, Obama and Bush have nearly identical approval numbers, according to the latest Gallup polling.

In fact, Bush comes out one point ahead, 40 percent to 39 percent, respectively.

The Gallup daily tracking poll for November 5th 2013 puts Obama’s approval at 39 percent, with 53 percent disapproving of his job performance.

By comparison, polling for the first week of November in 2005 had Bush’s approval at 40 percent, with 55 percent disapproving of his job performance.

The health reforms are turning into a major issue for Obama – not just the fact the central website is so defective, but that he promised no one would lose their current policies or plans – and many people are. It is emerging that the White House was informed that they were over-promising, but they did so anyway.

Meanwhile Chris Christie has been re-elected Governor of New Jersey in a landslide. It is important to note that New Jersey is a state that normally votes heavily Democrat, and has done so since 1992. Obama won it by 18%.

Christie appeals to non-Republicans but his actual policies are mainstream Republican – he is pro-life and anti gay marriage. Unions and others spent $35 million mainly trying to defeat him. The education unions alone spent $12 million against him. this is in a state of under nine million people.

The NY Times reports:

 In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by over 700,000, Mr. Christie won a majority of the votes of women and Hispanics and made impressive inroads among younger voters and blacks — groups that Republicans nationally have struggled to attract.

The governor prevailed despite holding positions contrary to those of many New Jersey voters on several key issues, including same-sex marriage, abortion rights and the minimum wage, and despite an economic recovery that has trailed the rest of the country.

He attracted a broad coalition by campaigning as a straight-talking, even swaggering, leader who could reach across the aisle to solve problems.

He is possibly the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton, and would be an absolute contrast to her. The exit poll numbers for him are fascinating.

  • Won female vote by 19% (and up against a female candidate)
  • Won the Hispanic vote by 6%
  • Got 21% of Black voters (most GOP people get 5% or so)
  • 32% of Democrats voted for him
  • Won Independents by 34%
  • Won low income households by 5%
  • Won moderates by 24%, conservatives by 73% and lose liberals by 36%

Christie’s biggest challenge will be willing the primary, not the general election.

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The new US Ambassador

October 31st, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A former professional baseball player and financial high flier has been nominated ambassador to New Zealand by United States President Barack Obama.

Mark Gilbert, 57, is a director at Barclays Wealth, formerly Lehman Brothers, in West Palm Beach, Florida.  

The nomination was announced by the White House today.

If Gilbert is confirmed by the US Senate he would replace David Huebner, an Obama nominee in the president’s first term.

“I have spoken with Mr. Gilbert on a several occasions, and I look forward to tracking his confirmation process,” Huebner wrote on his blog. “If confirmed, he would be joined in Wellington by this wife, Nancy. The couple has two adult daughters, Danielle and Elizabeth.”

Previously, Gilbert was the senior vice president of Goldman Sachs in Miami.

It will probably take a while for him to be confirmed. The current Ambassador has been an excellent public face for the United States in New Zealand, and also a prolific social media aficionado. Hopefully the new Ambassador will be as open and friendly as his predecessor.

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US NZ business as normal finally?

October 30th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

In an amiable press conference at the Pentagon, the New Zealand Defence Minister, Jonathan Coleman, handed his American counterpart  an All Blacks jersey – and a three-decade military chill between the two nations appeared to be consigned to history.

US secretary of defence Chuck Hagel told reporters: “Today, I authorised a New Zealand navy ship to dock at Pearl Harbor… This will be the first time a New Zealand navy ship will have visited Pearl Harbor in more than 30 years.”

In fact it will be the first since the New Zealand government refused to allow a US destroyer to dock in its ports in 1984.

It’s taken a long time, but I’m glad we’re finally worked out a way to be good allies, despite a disagreement on NZ’s anti-nuclear policy.

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NY Times on charter schools

October 21st, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The NY Times editorial:

In all the bombast it is worth making two points. First, there’s little question that New York has one of the nation’s most successful charter school systems. A study published earlier this year shows that the typical New York City charter student learned more reading and math in a year than his or her public school peers.

The New York Times is one of the most consistently left voices in the US (it has endorsed only Democrat presidential candidates since 1956), so when its editorial boards say NY charter schools are sucessful, you can’t claim this to be a right wing view.

The second point is that the next mayor can improve the system, in part by shutting down poorly performing schools, awarding new charters only to groups with proven track records, and smoothing relations between charters and traditional schools by making sure “co-locations” take place only in buildings big enough to house both.

All for shutting down poorly performing charter schools – and poorly performing non-charter schools!

The teachers’ union is never going to fall in love with charter schools because a vast majority of them are not unionized

Hence the opposition.

and they have real financial advantages because their work force is younger and more transient and their payrolls, pensions and medical costs are lower. Many charters plow these savings back into educationhiring social workers, lengthening the school day, or staffing classrooms with more than one teacher as a way of helping disadvantaged children

How awful!

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Not unjustified

October 7th, 2013 at 6:50 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Police in Washington are reviewing the use of officers’ deadly force in the killing of a woman who tried to ram her car through a White House barrier, a shooting her family says was unjustified.

It’s the White House. Officers don’t know if the car is packed full of explosives or not. It is very sad for the family of the driver who was obviously mentally ill, but the consequences were inevitable.

“We’re still very confused as a family why she’s not still alive,” Amy Carey-Jones said in New York late Friday after travelling to Washington to identify Miriam Carey’s body. “I really feel like it’s not justified, not justified.” Another sister, retired New York City police officer Valarie Carey, said there was “no need for a gun to be used when there was no gunfire coming from the vehicle.”

Again the possibility of explosives.

After Carey rammed the barricades at the White House, police chased her down Constitution Avenue to the Capitol, where she was shot. At one point near the Capitol, police say, she stopped her car abruptly, drove over a median strip and put the vehicle into reverse and refused to stop. She was then shot.

Carey’s daughter escaped serious injury and was taken into protective custody.

It is possible the daughter may have died if Carey wasn’t stopped/killed.

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The US Government shut down

October 5th, 2013 at 9:21 am by David Farrar

The United States a a system of Government with a separation of powers. The executive wing does not need a majority in the legislative wing (like in NZ). This model has both strengths and weaknesses to it.

One aspect is that a budget needs to pass the House, the Senate and the President. Since the 1990s it has been hard to achieve this as if no party holds all three, they have different ideas on what the size of the state should be and appropriate levels of spending and taxation.

I’m all for the Republicans refusing to pass a budget that increases spending and taxation, especially as the USG has a deficit which is huge as a % of GDP. They absolutely need to have a realistic path back into surplus – which will at some stage mean entitlement reform. The across the board spending cuts that sequestration brought in have not had anywhere near the dire effect that Obama claimed. While they are a blunt tool, they have shown you can reduce spending (or even the growth in it) without a huge impact on services (as has been the case in NZ).

However I think they are on much weaker ground with their refusal to pass even a continuing resolution to roll over funding, unless Obama agrees to defund Obamacare. Like it or not he won that fight and got the law through a previous Congress. Refusing to pass a budget unless he abolishes it, or defers it, is unreasonable to me.

They won a good battle on the sequestration and that will increase the reductions in spending in the future. Obama hates the sequestration cuts and will be in a weaker negotiating position when the second round is about to hit. They may be able to get a deal at that point. But their demands for him to effectively abolish the signature law reform initiative of his first term is unreasonable to me. Their party is divided on it and may splinter. On the other hand, maybe Obama will blink and agree to a deferral as the law is still pretty unpopular.

Some Republicans think a US Government shutdown isn’t the end of the world, and they are right. While very embarrassing, and painful for affected employees, a couple of weeks or more of no museums and bureaucracy is not that big a deal. It has happened before.

What would be a big deal is a refusal to increase the debt ceiling, which would see the United States of America default on its sovereign debt. As they are the global reserve economy, this would be a massive deal. It could plunge the world into recession. The US Chamber of Commerce is against any games over the debt ceiling and I agree with them. The focus should be on cutting spending to reduce the deficit and eventually stop increasing the debt. But to refuse to increase the debt ceiling when you have already passed budgets that have deficits, is not reasonable.

So in summary the GOP should continue to hold firm on sequestration and not agree to end it unless they get a good deal on spending reductions. It is essential that spending be constrained as the US deficit is so massive. But they should not use the budget process as a way to effectively over-turn a law already passed. That sets a bad precedent for all future Congresses to do the same. And they also should not play games on the debt ceiling.

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Maths and Teach for America

September 15th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Atlantic reports:

How effective are Teach for America teachers? It’s a question that the organization’s critics and fans alike have been trying to answer for years. 

A new study by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (a part of the United States Department of Education) will encourage TFA supporters. The first large-scale random assignment study of TFA secondary math teachers, it found that the TFA teachers were more effective than other instructors at their schools.

Teach for America is a great initiative.

The study included 4,573 students at middle and high schools across the country. In the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years, researchers randomly assigned the students in each school to similar math courses–some were taught by TFA teachers, and others or by teachers who entered teaching through traditional or other, less selective alternative programs. The students with TFA teachers performed better on end-of-year exams than their peers in similar courses taught by other teachers. The bump in their test scores is equivalent to an additional 2.6 months of school for the average student nationwide.

That’s pretty significant for an average difference.

The study also seemed to disprove the common criticism that, because TFA teachers only sign on for two years of teaching, they do not gain the experience necessary to become effective teachers. The study found that TFA teachers were more effective than both novice and experienced teachers from other certification programs. Students of TFA teachers in their first three years of teaching scored 0.08 standard deviations higher than students of other teachers in their first three years of teaching and 0.07 standard deviations higher than students of other teachers with more than three years of experience teaching.

Experience does not necessarily equal effectiveness.

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Syria

September 3rd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

I’ve been listening to quite a few of the speeches in the UK Parliament about Syria, and also some US commentary. I have to say that the arguments against military action against Assad seem more persuasive to me, despite the fact I hate the thought that he gets “away” with using chemical weapons against children.

The most persuasive argument against is that once you take action, even if a few cruise missiles, then you have entered the conflict on the side of the rebels. And you may get drawn into the conflict more and more. What if you bomb some sites, and Assad uses chemical weapons again? Do you escalate? Do you end up sending troops in eventually?

Will a few missile strikes deter or prevent Assad? Probably not. Only if you sent them to his home!

Also on a minor matter of international law, Syria never signed the treaty against chemical weapons. It doesn’t make the use of them any better, but it does mean that justification for a strike is more difficult.

Add on the fact that the UN won’t support action, UK isn’t in, the public don’t support a strike, and there is no clear end game, I think the safer option is not to strike. Obama has said he will ask Congress for authorisation. I wonder if he hopes they will vote no, so he can say he tried, but he can’t. However he risks looking ineffectual after his red line comment.

The case for a strike is partly based on how unacceptable it is for Assad not to be punished or face consequences for what he has done, or allowed. And I have to say that grates with me. However I am a bit of a believer in karma. It may not happen immediately, but I do wonder if his use of chemical weapons may in fact lead to greater opposition to his regime from Syrians. Maybe someone will assassinate him, or at some point I think he will face a messy end. Gassing your own people rarely ends well.

The real problem, and tragedy, is there is no good end game. There is no real path to an end to the conflict, and the formation of a Government with wide-spread support. The opposition is almost as bad as Assad (if not worse), and spend a fair amount of time attacking each other also.

So for now I think sadly the balance is to hold back. Unless you are prepared to intervene to such a level that you remove Assad or destroy his military capability, a more limited strike may achieve little, and drag the US into the conflict.

On a lighter note, enjoy this humour from the Huffington Post.

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