Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

US economy shrinks 2.9%

June 26th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

USA Today reports:

The U.S. economy turned in its worst quarter in five years during the first three months of 2014, shrinking more sharply than previously estimated.

The nation’s gross domestic product in the first quarter fell at a 2.9% annual rate vs. the 1% contraction previously believed, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected a 1.8% drop in output.

The decline was the sharpest since growth tumbled 5.4% in the first quarter of 2009 during the Great Recession. The last time the economy shrank was in the first quarter of 2011, slipping 1.3%.

The more dramatic drop was largely the result of weaker household consumption. Consumer spending increased just 1%, vs. the 3.1% gain previously estimated as health care spending dipped slightly. The government previously said that medical expenditures contributed substantially to growth as the Affordable Care Act began to cover more Americans.

Also, exports declined 8.9%, vs. the 6% drop previously estimated. And businesses replenished their stocks even more slowly than believed after aggressively adding to inventories late last year.

Quite a contrast to the NZ economy, as we have exports booming, and a strongly growing economy. Once upon a time the US economy contracting would seriously damage NZ’s economic growth also. But we’re less tied than we used to be.

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Female participation in the labour force

June 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

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This graph from ANZ Bank shows the participation rate in the labour force for women in NZ and te US. We’ve gone from 4% lower to almost 8% higher.

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The cost of a bad teacher

June 22nd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Eric Hanushek in the NY Times writes:

A small percentage of teachers inflicts disproportionate harm on children. Each year a grossly ineffective teacher continues in the classroom reduces the future earnings of the class by thousands of dollars by dramatically lowering the college chances and employment opportunities of students. 

There is also a national impact. The future economic well being of the United States is entirely dependent on the skills of our population. Replacing the poorest performing 5 to 8 percent of teachers with an average teacher would, by my calculations, yield improved productivity and growth that amounts to trillions of dollars. 

Protecting bad teachers has a massive impact on students. and through them the country. we should pay our best teachers more, and move on those teachers who are not skilled in connecting with students/

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Obama and Key

June 22nd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Tracy Watkins reports:

For 30 missing minutes in Barack Obama’s diary, the United States president and John Key did something unexpected.

They strolled the White House South Lawn, checked out the president’s putting green, had a squiz at Obama’s back office and First Lady Michelle Obama’s famous veggie garden, and part of the White House the family use.

The unscheduled timeout followed a 50-minute working session to discuss issues including trade – and whether a deal can be done on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the South China Sea dispute, climate change, North Korea and Iraq.

Key’s second meeting with Obama at the Oval Office was supposed to wrap up at the end of that session. But the two leaders went for a walk instead.

“It was cool,” said Key.

Key and Obama have clearly established a rapport. They are roughly the same age, share a passion for golf and both have a bolt-hole in Hawaii where they escape with family. Last Christmas, the pair spent a day on the golf course with Key’s son Max while holidaying in Hawaii. Obama name-checked Max to the world’s media after yesterday’s meeting.

Key expects his relationship with Obama to endure beyond political life

Key has shown an extraordinary ability to forge strong personal relationships with many world leaders.  And relationships do matter, and help.

Incidentally the mention of Max was that he had a longer drive than both Obama and his father, according to Obama!

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The intolerance with dissent on US campuses

June 13th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Joel Kotkin writes:

In ways not seen since at least the McCarthy era, Americans are finding themselves increasingly constrained by a rising class—what I call the progressive Clerisy—that accepts no dissent from its basic tenets. Like the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, the Clerisy increasingly exercises its power to constrain dissenting views, whether on politics, social attitudes or science.

As the modern clerisy has seen its own power grow, even while the middle class shrinks, it has used its influence to enforce a prescribed set of acceptable ideas. On everything from gender and sexual preference to climate change, those who dissent from the official pieties risk punishment.

This power has been seen recently in a host of cancellations of commencement speakers. Just in the past few months Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, and former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, have been prevented from speaking by campus virtue squads whose sensibilities they had offended.

Normally a top achieving African-American woman or a Somali born feminist would be welcomed on campuses. But they are not left wingers, so they get blocked.

The spate of recent cancellation reflect an increasingly overbearing academic culture that promotes speech codes on what is permissible to say and even seeks to provide “trigger warnings” to warn students about the presence of nominally troubling subject matter in readings and discussions so they can avoid the elements of reality they find offensive. 

Universities were once bastions of freedom of speech, which includes a freedom to offend.

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No 2 House Republican loses his primary

June 12th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has lost in his Republican primary election to a little-known economics professor, a stunning upset for the No. 2 Republican in the House and a major victory for the ultraconservative tea party movement.

Cantor, viewed as a possible successor to House Speaker John Boehner, was taken down by a political novice with little money named Dave Brat. His win marked the biggest triumph this year for tea party supporters who until a few years ago backed Cantor, a former state legislator who rose to Majority Leader in 2011.

This is a huge upset. Cantor lost, and lost decisively (12% margin) despite having the far larger budget ($5 million to $200,000).

Cantor was on the right wing of the Republicans. The American Conservative Union scored him 84/100 in the last session and 95/100 lifetime rating. The National Taxpayers Union gave him a B- which was about average for Republicans.

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The success of US charter schools

June 11th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Philanthropy Roundtable writes:

Twenty-five years ago, charter schools hadn’t even been dreamed up. Today they are mushrooming across the country. There are 6,500 charter schools operating in 42 states, with more than 600 new ones opening every year. Within a blink there will be 3 million American children attending these freshly invented institutions (and 5 million students in them by the end of this decade).

It is philanthropy that has made all of this possible. Without generous donors, charter school could never have rooted and multiplied in this way. And philanthropists have driven relentless annual improvements—better trained school founders, more prepared teachers, sharper curricula, smarter technology—that have allowed charter schools to churn out impressive results.

Studies show that student performance in charter schools is accelerating every year, as high-performing models replace weaker ones. Charter schools as a whole already exceed conventional schools in results. The top charters that are now growing so fast elevate student outcomes more than any other schools in the U.S.—especially among poor and minority children.

This is what Labour and Greens are vowing to end.

An extract from the report:

Bill Gates explains that after his foundation decided in the mid‑1990s to focus on U.S. schooling, it poured about $2 billion into various education experiments. During their first decade, he reports, “many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement  in any significant way.” There was, however, one fascinating exception. “A few of the schools that we funded achieved something amazing. They replaced schools with low expectations and low results with ones that have high expectations and high results.” And there was a common variable: “Almost all of these schools were charter schools.”

And:

By 2014 there were 2.6 million children attending 6,500 charter schools in the U.S. Every year now, more than 600 new charters open their
doors for the first time, and an additional 300,000 children enroll (while a million kids remain on waiting lists, with millions more hungrily waiting in the wings). Charter school attendance began to particularly accelerate around 2009, and as this is written in 2014 it looks like there may be 5 million children in charters before the end of the decade.

This is the worst nightmare of Labour/Greens and the educational unions. That charter schools in NZ provide successful and popular. Once they do, they’ll never be able to abolish them. They have to kill them off before they have a chance to prove themselves.

And some highlights:

  • The 9,000 students at Uncommon Schools are 78 percent low‑income and 98 percent African‑American or Hispanic, yet all seniors take the SAT, and their average score is 20 points above the college‑readiness benchmark
  • At KIPP charter schools, home to 51,000 pupils in 21 states, 96 percent of eighth graders perform better than their local district counterparts on reading, and 92 percent perform better in math
  • Among charter school students in Washington, D.C. (almost half of that city’s public school population), the on‑time high‑school graduation rate is 21 percentage points higher than that among conventional school students: 77 percent to 56 percent
  • In New Orleans—long an educational disaster zone—the city schools rank first in the state for student growth now that more than eight out of ten students attend charters (some details on the Big Easy’s charter experience will follow in just a few pages)

Wouldn’t it be great if in the next decade we could get some results like that.

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US teacher tenure ruled unconstitutional

June 11th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Washington Post reports:

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that tenure, seniority and other job protections for teachers have created unequal conditions in public schools and deprive poor children of the best teachers.

We don’t have formal tenure here, but it is near impossible here to sack a teacher purely because they are ineffective at teaching.

In a 16-page ruling, in the case of Vergara v. California, Treu struck down three state laws as unconstitutional. The laws grant tenure to teachers after two years, require layoffs by seniority, and call for a complex and lengthy process before a teacher can be fired.

David F. Welch, founder of an optical telecommunications manufacturing firm, charged that job protections allow the state’s worst educators to continue teaching and that those ineffective teachers are concentrated in high-poverty, minority schools, amounting to a civil rights violation.

And the court agreed.

The ruling was a setback for the labor unions, which represent about 400,000 educators in California and whose core mission is to protect teachers’ jobs.

Which is fine, so long as you understand that is their core mission.

In states such as California, there are so many legal and procedural hurdles before a tenured teacher can be fired, they say, that it’s difficult to shed even the worst teachers.

Sounds familiar.

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Second largest religions by US states

June 9th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

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An interesting graphic from the Washington Post showing the most popular religion after Christianity in each US state.

In the North East it is Judaism.

In the mid west it is Buddhism.

In the South and Great Lakes it is Islam.

And in three states it is Hindu or Baha’i.

The state that is most Jewish is New York at around 6%.

Utah by the way is 58% Mormon.

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Where does online free speech end?

June 9th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Messages posted on Facebook and Twitter or sent in emails can be tasteless, vulgar and even disturbing.

But just when do they cross the line from free speech to threats that can be punished as a crime?

As the internet and social networks allow people to vent their frustrations with the click of a mouse, the US Supreme Court is being asked to clarify the First Amendment rights of people who use violent or threatening language on electronic media where the speaker’s intent is not always clear. The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom f speech and other basic rights.

The justices could decide as early as Monday whether to hear appeals in two cases where defendants were convicted and sent to jail for making illegal threats, despite their claims that they never meant any harm.

Often authorities do over-react. The worst case was in the UK when a man was arrested seven days after he tweeted he was so annoyed with a flight delay, he might blow something up. A dumb thing to do, and one could understand if action was taken at the time. But to hunt him down seven days later, was awful.

But how about these cases:

In one case, a Pennsylvania man ranted on Facebook in the form of rap lyrics about killing his estranged wife, blowing up an amusement park, slitting the throat of an FBI agent and committing “the most heinous school shooting ever imagined.”

That’s way over the line. Especially the reference to the estranged wife, and the school shooting.

The other case involves a Florida woman who emailed a conservative radio talk show host about “second amendment gun rights” and said she was planning “something big” at a Broward County government building or school. The US Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.

“I’m going to walk in and teach all the government hacks working there what the 2nd Amendment is all about,” the email said. Her comments triggered a lockdown affecting more than a quarter-million students.

No sympathy in this case either. It is a specific credible threat that could not be ignored.

In both cases, the defendants were prosecuted under a federal statute that makes it a crime to transmit a “threat to injure the person of another.” Those laws apply only to “true threats” that are not protected by the First Amendment under a doctrine established by the Supreme Court in 1969. The high court has said laws prohibiting threats must not infringe on constitutionally protected speech that includes “political hyperbole” or “vehement,” “caustic,” or “unpleasantly sharp attacks” that fall shy of true threats.

I’d see both of those as true threats. A quip about blowing up an airport because a flight was late is hyperbole.

The wife of the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, man, Anthony Elonis, testified at his trial that the postings made her fear for her life. One post about his wife said, “There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.”

What a creep. Posting that to the Internet is a form of mental torture, designed to harass and terrify his wife – at least.

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John Oliver on Net Neutrality

June 8th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

If you’ve ever wondered what the fuss about Net Neutrality is about, then you can get both informed and very amused by this piece from John Oliver on it.

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Trading Private Bergdahl

June 6th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Mad Magazine are the latest to pile into Obama on his trade of an American POW for five Taliban held at Gitmo. Bergdahl appears to be a deserter, and while this doesn’t mean you don’t try and recover him, it does suggest the five to one trade was far too high. Even Democrats are now attacking Obama on this.

James Taranto at the WSJ writes:

“If I’ve lost Neuman, I’ve lost Middle America.” That’s how we imagine President Obama reacting to being scathed by MAD magazine. The Usual Gang of Idiots tweeted a parody poster yesterday for “Barack Obama’s Unfortunate New Movie,” titled “Trading Private Bergdahl.” The tag line: “They got five Taliban leaders. We got one deserting weasel. The mission is a disaster.” Obama is depicted as the lead actor, with the Taliban quintet in supporting roles. The picture is rated “NC” for “No Congressional Approval.”

How in the world did an administration known for political competence, if for no other kind, manage to pull off such a public-relations disaster? The answer is that the left has a very large blind spot when it comes to military culture.

There’s been speculation that the White House intended the Bergdahl release as a distraction from the Veterans Administration scandal. Certainly it has served as such a diversion, not to mention a reminder to be careful what you wish for.

Adding to Obama’s woes is that there is a law saying the President must notify Congress 30 days before the release of any prisoner from Gitmo. Obama ignored the law, as he indicated he might do when signing the law.  This is not uncommon – but the heads of the relevant congressional committees were not even given a heads up in advance – and they are very peeved.

Obama is in his final term. This will however reduce his ability to get much done in the last two and a half years of his term. It also gives the Republicans another weapon for the mid-terms.

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What do moderates want?

May 20th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Molly Ball writes at The Atlantic:

It often seems there’s no center in American politics anymore. Increasingly polarized camps on the right and left hold diametrically opposed, irreconcilable views on seemingly every issue.

And yet more than a third of American voters call themselves neither liberal or conservative but moderate, indicating a substantial chunk of dissenters from the left-right paradigm. Are they just confused? Are they closet ideologues with strongly partisan opinions but a distaste for labels? Are they politically disconnected? What, in short, is their deal?

The folks at Third Way, a Democratic think tank that urges moderate positions, decided to find out. They commissioned a poll of 1,500 American registered voters, asking detailed questions about a variety of issues to find out whether those who called themselves moderate were a distinct group and what sets them apart. The Democratic pollster Peter Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group conducted the inaugural “State of the Center” poll last month; it carries an overall margin of error of 2.5 percentage points in either direction.

What the poll found is fascinating. Moderates, according to the poll, aren’t tuned-out or ill-informed, but they tend to see both sides of complex issues—for example, they want the government to do more to help the economy, but they worry that it may be ineffective or counterproductive. 

Is a very sensible position – want to do more, but sceptical it will be effective.

Moderates’ perspective on the role of government has elements in common with both liberals and conservatives. Only 23 percent of moderates favor a larger government that provides more services (compared to 54 percent of liberals and 13 percent of conservatives); 37 percent favor a smaller government with fewer services (compared to 12 percent of liberals and 62 percent of conservatives).

So moderates are sceptical of government, but not hostile to it. While many on the left have a belief that there is nothing Government can’t do.

Liberals overwhelmingly (75 percent) worry government isn’t involved enough in the economy, while conservatives mostly (60 percent) worry government is too involved in the economy; moderates lean toward the liberal side of the argument, with 53 percent saying not enough involvement to 40 percent who cite too much. Still, more moderates fear big government (52 percent) than big business (41 percent). Two-thirds of moderates think government often gets in the way of economic growth, and a majority (54 percent) think that if government is involved in something, it often goes wrong.

Moderates are, well, moderate.

Majorities of moderates believe government should play a role in creating equal opportunity and that a strong safety net is important even if “a few lazy people game the system,” but moderates also largely believe the government has created incentives for poor people not to work. Most interestingly, even as they see society as unequal, seven in 10 moderates disagree with the idea that “the deck is stacked against people like me.” In fact, it was conservatives who were most likely to see themselves as victims: 35 percent said the deck was stacked against them, versus 28 percent of liberals and moderates.

Interesting.

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Mr Key goes to Washington

May 20th, 2014 at 8:22 am by David Farrar

The PM has announced:

Prime Minister John Key has welcomed an invitation to meet the President of the United States during his upcoming visit to the US.

The White House has announced President Obama will meet the Prime Minister in Washington DC on Friday, 20 June.

“The invitation underlines the very close relationship between the United States and New Zealand,” Mr Key says.

“I look forward to meeting with President Obama.  We are likely to discuss the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, to take stock of our bilateral relationship, and to exchange views on current regional and international issues,” he says.

The Prime Minister is travelling to the United States from June 16 to 20.

While in Washington DC, the Prime Minister will also meet with a range of senior administration figures, Congressional representatives and business leaders. 

The Prime Minister will also undertake a full programme in New York in support of New Zealand’s bid to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2015-16.

This is no surprise, yet still welcome.

A diplomat commented to me a couple of months ago how extraordinary it is that the New Zealand Prime Minister is the national leader that has probably spent the most time in the last 12 months with both the President of the United States, but also the President of China.

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Government Has Made America Inept

May 14th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Philip K. Howard writes:

In February 2011, during a winter storm, a tree fell into a creek in Franklin Township, New Jersey, and caused flooding. The town was about to send a tractor in to pull the tree out when someone, probably the town lawyer, helpfully pointed out that it was a “class C-1 creek” and required formal approvals before any natural condition was altered. The flooding continued while town officials spent 12 days and $12,000 to get a permit to do what was obvious: pull the tree out of the creek.

Government’s ineptitude is not news. But something else has happened in the last few decades. Government is making America inept. Other countries don’t have difficulty pulling a tree out of a creek. Other countries also have modern infrastructure, and schools that generally succeed, and better health care at little more than half the cost.

Reforms, often embodied in hundreds of pages of new regulations, are tried constantly. But they only seem to make the problems worse. Political debate is so predictable that it’s barely worth listening to, offering ideology without practicality—as if our only choice, as comedian Jon Stewart put it, is that “government must go away completely—or we must be run by an incompetent bureaucracy.”

The missing element in American government could hardly be more basic: No official has authority to make a decision. Law has crowded out the ability to be practical or fair. Mindless rigidity has descended upon the land, from the schoolhouse to the White House to, sometimes, your house. Nothing much works, because no one is free to make things work.

Automatic law causes public failure. A system of detailed dictates is supposed to make government work better. Instead it causes failure.

The simplest tasks often turn into bureaucratic ordeals. A teacher in Chicago who called the custodian to report a broken water fountain was chewed out because he didn’t follow “broken water fountain reporting procedures.” On the first day of school he was required to read to his students a list of disciplinary rules, including this one, just to start things off on the right foot: “You may be expelled for homicide.”

It would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so sad.

Budgets are out of control because government executives lack flexibility to shave here and there to make ends meet. Soon after his election, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo thought he had found an easy way to save $50 million when he learned that a large juvenile detention center was empty, with no prospects of use anytime soon. There it was, sitting upstate, with several dozen employees—doing nothing but costing taxpayers millions of dollars. But no one had the authority to close it down, not even the governor. There’s a New York law that prohibits closing down any facility with union employees without at least one year’s notice. 

I look forward to Labour adopting this as policy!

Even matters of life and death are sometimes asked to yield to the rigid imperatives of a clear rule. In 2012, Florida lifeguard Tomas Lopez was fired for leaving his designated zone on the beach to rescue a drowning man just over the line. “On radio I heard Tommy saying ‘I’m going for a rescue but it’s out of our zone,’” said another lifeguard, who added that the “manager told him not to go and to call 911.” Lopez said he couldn’t just sit back, and was prepared to get fired, adding, “It wasn’t too much of an upset, because I had my morals intact.” After publicity about the incident, Lopez was offered his job back. He declined.

These are extreme examples, but they show why it is important to rely more on values and judgement than strict rules.

Let this be our motto: Just tell me the rules. In 2013, an elderly woman collapsed at an assisted living facility in Bakersfield, California, and a nurse called 911. The operator asked the nurse to try to revive the woman with CPR, but the nurse refused, saying it was against policy at that facility. “I understand if your boss is telling you, you can’t do it, but … as a human being … is there anybody that’s willing to help this lady and not let her die?” “Not at this time,” the nurse replied. During the seven-minute, sixteen-second call, the dispatcher continued to plead with the nurse: “Is there a gardener? Any staff, anyone who doesn’t work for you? Anywhere? Can we flag someone down in the street to help this lady? Can we flag a stranger down? I bet a stranger would help her.” By the time the ambulance arrived, the woman had died. The executive director of the facility defended the nurse on the basis that she had followed the rules: “In the event of a health emergency … our practice is to immediately call emergency medical personnel for assistance … That is the protocol we followed.”

Very sad.

 

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Why do we get media slant?

May 6th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Greg Mankiw writes in the NY Times:

Consumers of the news, both from television and print, sometimes feel that they are getting not just the facts but also a sizable dose of ideological spin. Yet have you ever wondered about the root cause of the varying political slants of different media outlets?

That is precisely the question that a young economist, Mathew Gentzkow, has been asking. A professor at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, Mr. Gentzkow was recently awarded the John Bates Clark Medal by the American Economic Association for the best economist under the age of 40. 

And what did he find?

Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro went to the Congressional Record and used a computer algorithm to find phrases that were particularly associated with the rhetoric of politicians of the two major political parties. They found that Democrats were more likely than Republicans to use phrases like “minimum wage,” “oil and gas companies” and “wildlife refuge.” Republicans more often referred to “tax relief,” “private property rights” and “economic growth.” While Democrats were more likely to mention Rosa Parks, Republicans were more likely to mention the Grand Ole Opry.

With specific phrases associated with political stands, the researchers then analyzed newspaper articles from 2005 to determine which papers leaned left and which leaned right. (They looked only at news articles and excluded opinion columns.) That is, they computed an objective, if imperfect, measure of political slant based on the choice of language.

A nice way to do it. Wonder if that could be done here?

With a measure of political slant in hand, the researchers then analyzed its determinants. That is, they examined why some papers write in a way that is more consistent with liberal rhetoric while others are more conservative.

A natural hypothesis is that a media outlet’s perspective reflects the ideology of its owner. Indeed, much regulatory policy is premised on precisely this view. Policy makers sometimes take a jaundiced view of media consolidation on the grounds that high levels of cross-ownership reduce the range of political perspectives available to consumers.

From their study of newspapers, however, Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro, find little evidence to support this hypothesis. After accounting for confounding factors like geographic proximity, they find that two newspapers with the same owner are no more likely to be ideologically similar than two random papers. Moreover, they find no correlation between the political slant of a paper and the owner’s ideology, as judged by political donations.

Fascinating, and reassuring. So when people go on about ownership, there is no data to back up that an owner’s ideology slants most newspapers’ coverage.

So, if not the owner’s politics, what determines whether a newspaper leans left or right? To answer this question, Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro focus on regional papers, ignoring the few with national scope, like The Times. They find that potential customers are crucial.

If a paper serves a liberal community, it is likely to lean left, and if it serves a conservative community, it is likely to lean right. In addition, once its political slant is set, a paper is more likely to be read by households who share its perspective.

So it is about meeting market demand. That’s one reason Fox News has done so well. For decades there was no TV broadcast presence that didn’t lean left.

Religiosity also plays a role in the story, and it helps Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro sort out cause and effect. They find that in regions where a high percentage of the population attends church regularly, there are more conservatives, and newspapers have a conservative slant. They argue that because newspapers probably don’t influence how religious a community is, the best explanation is that causation runs from the community’s politics to the newspaper’s slant, rather than the other way around.

The bottom line is simple: Media owners generally do not try to mold the population to their own brand of politics. Instead, like other business owners, they maximize profit by giving customers what they want.

Makes sense.

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The comedian in chief

May 5th, 2014 at 8:20 am by David Farrar

President Obama in self-deprecating mode at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

I think it is a great tradition that the most powerful politician in the world takes part in what is effectively an annual roast at his expense. Can’t imagine it happening in Russia!

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A Mega lawsuit

April 9th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Internet Party leader Kim Dotcom is facing a new lawsuit in the United States from six Hollywood film studios.

They claim in their suit the Megaupload founder “facilitated, encouraged, and profited” from illegal file-sharing on the site.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) filed the suit on behalf of the studios this morning (NZ time).

The lawsuit was filed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Disney Enterprises, Paramount Pictures Corporation, Universal City Studios Productions, Columbia Pictures Industries, and Warner Bros Entertainment in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The US Government is already seeking to extradite Dotcom to face charges of copyright conspiracy, racketeering and money-laundering allegedly carried out by his file-sharing company, Megaupload.

It’s an interesting move. Does that signify concern over whether the criminal case will succeed, or was this always planned?

Dotcom is specifically named in the suit, under his most famous name as well as Kim Schmitz and Kim Tim Jim Vestor.

Kim Tim Jim Vestor???

According to the Government’s indictment, the site reported more than $175 million (NZ$203.4m) in … proceeds and cost US copyright owners more than half a billion dollars.

The studios allege Megaupload paid users based on how many times the content was downloaded by others. But the studios allege the site didn’t pay at all until that content was downloaded 10,000 times.

This is a key detail in both the criminal and civil lawsuits. Other file-sharing websites do not pay people based on how many downloads they get for content they upload. This is how they allege they incentivised copyright infringement, rather than just provided a file sharing platform (such as the new Mega).

This does not mean the lawsuits will be successful. But it is a key factor in why Megaupload was targeted, and not other file-sharing sites. If someone can earn say $10,000 by uploading the latest movie release, well that is a pretty good incentive to do so.

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US Supreme Court and patents

April 3rd, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The US Supreme Court has grappled with the standards for software patents, considering the issue for the first time in decades in a case that has divided the computer industry. …

The case concerns claims that CLS Bank International, a New York-based provider of settlement services, infringed patents owned by Melbourne-based Alice Corp. The patents cover a computerised system for using an intermediary to limit the risk that one party to a derivative trade will renege on its obligations.

CLS says Alice’s patents run afoul of Supreme Court decisions that say abstract ideas aren’t entitled to legal protection. Alice, which is partially owned by National Australia Bank, said the abstract-idea exception to patent eligibility is a narrow one.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that Alice’s argument was doomed by a 2010 Supreme Court decision that limited patents on business methods by rejecting a proposed patent on a system for hedging energy trades. She asked Alice’s lawyer, Carter Phillips, how his client’s idea was any “less abstract than hedging.”

Other justices were similarly sceptical. Justice Anthony Kennedy said a group of college engineering students could probably write the computer code for Alice’s idea over a weekend.

“My guess is that that would be fairly easy to program,” he said.

You can’t always tell how a decision will go by the questioning, but it sounds like the Court is skeptical over overly broad patents that block innovation, That would be a good thing.

The Obama administration is urging the court to issue a broader ruling that would put new limits on the availability of software patents. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli told the court that software was eligible for patenting only if it “improved the functioning of the computer technology” or “is used to improve another technology.”

Software can generally no longer be patented in NZ, unless it is basically embedded in a machine.

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The new McCarthyism

April 2nd, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Cupid.com, the popular online dating site, called for a boycott of Mozilla Firefox to protest the world’s Number 2 web browser naming a gay marriage opponent as chief executive.

OkCupid visitors who accessed the website through Firefox on Monday were told in a message to use other browsers such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Google’s Chrome.

“Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples,” the message said. “We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.”

“Especially in the kind of modern hero culture, the CEO is equivalent to the company,” said Christian Rudder, an OkCupid co-founder. “We have users who are trying to find other people and we wanted to point out that this browser might be in conflict with their own values.”

The non-profit Mozilla Foundation’s appointment of Eich as CEO on March 24 has attracted criticism from software developers, including its employees who have publicly called for Eich’s resignation on social media.

Eich, the inventor of the programming language Javascript and a Mozilla co-founder, donated US$1000 in 2008 in support of California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state until it was struck down by the Supreme Court in June.

I find this outrageous. Eich made a $1,000 donation to a cause he supported in 2008 (a cause around 40% of Americans agree with) and those with an opposing view basically say he should be blacklisted from employment.

I disagree with Eich on same sex marriage, but his views do not affect his ability to be CEO of Mozilla.  One can absolutely legitimately have a view against same sex marriage, but still be an excellent employer and CEO. Remember Barack Obama was against same sex marriage until 18 months ago – and Bill Clinton was also when he was President.

Turning that issue into a sort of litmus test of acceptability of employment is a new form of McCarthyism.

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The biggest presidential lies

March 29th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Washington Post has compiled a list of what it says are the biggest President lies since WWII. They include:

  • Eisenhower on the U2 spy plane, which he lied about
  • JFK stating that the US does not intend to militarily intervene in Cuba
  • LBJ on the Gulf of Tonkin incident which allowed him to escalate the Vietnam War
  • Nixon and secret bombings on Cambodia and Watergate
  • Reagan in denying Iran-Contra
  • Bush 41 on claims Iraq had pulled Kuwaiti babies from incubators
  • Clinton on not having sex with Lewinsky
  • Bush 43 on claims Iraq had WMDs
  • Obama on claims Americans will be able to keep their insurance plans if they want to

The Bush 41 and Bush 43 ones are debatable as there is no evidence that they did not believe what they said was correct. The other earlier ones are all clear lies, where the President knew what they said was false.

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A hateful man

March 21st, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Reverend Fred Phelps Sr., the fiery founder of a small Kansas church who led outrageous and hate-filled protests that blamed almost everything, including the deaths of AIDS victims and US soldiers, on America’s tolerance for gay people, has died. He was 84.

Daughter Margie Phelps said Phelps, whose actions drew international condemnation, died around midnight on Wednesday (local time). She didn’t provide the cause of death or the condition that recently put him in hospice care.

The so called church was basically his extended family. The sad thing is that such a small sad bunch of people could generate international media coverage when they did one of their relentless protests.

Phelps is a disbarred lawyer who physically abused his wife and children, and even got excommunicated from his own church eventually. Scarily in 1992 he got 31% of the vote in Kansas in the Democratic primary for the US Senate!

It will be interesting if his own funeral is picketed by members of his former church.

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Monday Motivator – Monument Valley

March 10th, 2014 at 12:09 pm by Richard Hume

Monday Motivator 13

Monument Valley, USA

After several days photographing in and around Monument Valley I captured one of my favourite shots from that trip literally from one of the main viewing carparks. Photography is interesting this way  in that sometimes the shot is right there in front of you and other times you need to work damn hard for the shot.

Still uploading to the site so no larger view of it this week.

Cheers

Richard [richardhume.com]

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The CPAC presidential poll

March 10th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul won the conference’s presidential preference straw poll, a symbolic victory that reflects his popularity among conservatives who typically hold outsized influence in the GOP’s presidential selection process.

Not really. Here’s a list of poll winners, and most of them never became the party nominee:

  • Ronald Reagan (became nominee)
  • Jack Kemp
  • Phil Gramm
  • Steve Forbes
  • Gary Bauer
  • George W Bush (became nominee)
  • Rudy Giuliani
  • George Allen
  • Mitt Romney (lost nomination in 2008, won it in 2012)
  • Ron Paul
  • Rand Paul

Rand Paul is more politically acceptable than his father Ron Paul, and is a serious contender. But I wouldn’t call him the front runner.

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CATO on TPP

March 4th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Cato Institute is a libertarian free market think tank in the US that is very pro free trade.

However they have string reservations around the TPP, specifically the intellectual property chapter. The fact these come from normal champions of free trade agreements makes them harder to rebut.

They have a webinar on the TPP on Thursday morning for those interested.

The blurb is:

 Intellectual property has been a focus of U.S. trade policy for many decades, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations include an especially ambitious effort by the United States to strengthen international intellectual property laws. At the same time, however, there is serious debate within the United States over the proper scope and level of intellectual property protection. Is it in the interests of the United States to seek to harmonize intellectual property rules around the world, or is the U.S. position overly influenced by special interests hoping to export bad policy abroad and to lock it in at home? Come hear our panel of experts discuss why trade agreements cover intellectual property law, whose interests are served, and what, if anything, should be done about it.

Hopefully the NZ negotiators will maintain their position of opposition to the proposed US text for the intellectual property chapter.

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