Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

This was terrorism, not a staff dispute that got out of hand

December 4th, 2015 at 4:15 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The two attackers who killed 14 people in a rampage at a banquet fired as many as 75 rifle rounds at the scene, left behind three rigged-together pipe bombs with a remote-control device that apparently malfunctioned, and had over 1600 more bullets with them when they were gunned down in their SUV, authorities said today.

At their home, they had 12 pipe bombs, tools for making more explosives, and over 3000 rounds of ammunition, Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said in a grim morning-after inventory that suggested yesterday’s bloodbath could have been far worse.

The early reports indicated that this happened after a fight at a staff function, but it is becoming clear it was very pre-planned.

Wearing military-style gear and wielding assault rifles, Syed Rizwan Farook, a 28-year-old county restaurant inspector, and his Pakistani wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, slaughtered 14 and wounded 17 in the attack at a social service centre shortly after he slipped away from an employee banquet he was attending there.

The couple were shot to death about four hours later and a few kilometres away in a furious gunbattle with police.

As the FBI took over the investigation, authorities were trying to learn why the couple left behind their 6-month-old daughter and went on the rampage – the nation’s deadliest mass shooting since the Newtown, Connecticut, school tragedy three years ago that left 26 children and adults dead.

Quite rare for it to be a husband and wife team, let alone one that leaves an infant behind.

At the White House, President Barack Obama said after meeting with his national security team that it was “possible this was terrorist-related” but that authorities were unsure. He raised the possibility that it was a workplace dispute or that mixed motives were at play.

It could well be mixed motives, but again you don’t just happen to have 3,000 rounds of ammo and 12 pipe bombs at home for a rainy day.

So sad that at basically a company picnic, so many would be killed and wounded.

US views on how institutions affect the country

November 26th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Pew polled US citizens on whether various institutions have a positive or negative effect on the country, The net positives for each were:

  1. Small businesses +69%
  2. Tech companies +54%
  3. Colleges and universities +35%
  4. Churches +33%
  5. Energy industry +7%
  6. Labor unions +5%
  7. Banks -7%
  8. Obama Administration -10%
  9. Large corporates -23%
  10. Entertainment industry -24%
  11. News media -40%
  12. US Government -42%
  13. US Congress -61%

Amazing that the media rank even lower than the entertainment industry!

No tag for this post.

I was wrong on Ahmed Mohamed

November 26th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

In September I blogged on the case of Ahmed Mohamed who was arrested for making a clock and bringing it to school.

I was on his side and slated the school and authorities.

I’ve now concluded I was wrong, and I think he did this deliberately to get a reaction. The Herald reports:

The Muslim teenager arrested when a teacher mistook his homemade clock for a bomb threatened to sue his school and the town of Irving, Texas for US$15 million ($23 million), his lawyer said yesterday.

Far from suffering damages he became a celebrity and  got invited to the White House, Facebook etc. He got to talk to the International Space Station. The world was his oyster.

His family moved to Qatar after Mohamed was offered a generous scholarship.

I still think the school and authorities over-reacted, but I now think he played them.


538 on Trump

November 25th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Nate Silver writes:

Lately, pundits and punters seem bullish on Donald Trump, whose chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination recently inched above 20 percent for the first time at the betting market Betfair. Perhaps the conventional wisdom assumes that the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris will play into Trump’s hands, or that Republicans really might be in disarray. If so, I can see where the case for Trump is coming from, although I’d still say a 20 percent chance is substantially too high.

Quite often, however, the Trump’s-really-got-a-chance! case is rooted almost entirely in polls. If nothing Trump has said so far has harmed his standing with Republicans, the argument goes, why should we expect him to fade later on?

One problem with this is that it’s not enough for Trump to merely avoid fading. Right now, he has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among theroughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.) As the rest of the field consolidates around him, Trump will need to gain additional support to win the nomination. That might not be easy, since some Trump actions that appeal to a faction of the Republican electorate may alienate the rest of it. Trump’s favorability ratings are middling among Republicans (andawful among the broader electorate).

Trump has net favourability of -18%. And that has been constant for around two months now.

… exit polls like this one have historically asked voters in Iowa and New Hampshire when they made their final decision on how to vote. These exit polls find that voters take their sweet time. In Iowa, on average, only 35 percent of voters had come to a final decision before the final month of the campaign. And in New Hampshire, only 29 percent had.

We won’t really know what it is looking like until 2016.

70% of primary voters are yet to make up their mind. Trump is getting 32% of the 30% who have made up their mind.

Refugees and Borders

November 24th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The growing focus in Europe and the US is now on securing borders and refugees, especially as it appears at least one of the attackers in Paris may have come into Europe as a refugee from Syria.

My view is that you need to have secure borders, but that doesn’t mean not helping refugees.

We should take in refugees fleeing conflict from Syria, and other countries.

But we should only take those who have gone through the UNHCR process, and have had their backgrounds checked.  This process needs to be done quicker, and more need to be approved. That way there is an incentive to go through the UNHCR process, rather than just trek into Europe.

It is worth noting that the right of asylum only applies to the first country a refugee arrives at. Once a refugee has got into Turkey, they have a right of asylum in Turkey. But if they then trek through half a dozen other countries to get to Germany or France, they are no longer an asylum seeker. They are what people call an economic refugee. Now it is understandable that people would rather be in Germany or France than in a refugee camp in Turkey. So the solution is to take more people from the refugee camps, and secure the borders to deter such huge hordes of people, which does make it easy for terrorists to exploit.

A poll has just come out in the US, which sadly shows that there is a backlash against taking in any refugees. The poll is here.

  • 44% support sending US troops to fight Islamic State and 44% disagree
  • 28% says Islam is an inherently violent religion and 64% say inherently peaceful, but some twist its teachings (I would choose neither option – it is inbetween)
  • Only 28% support the plan to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees, 53% say accept no refugees from Syria and 11% Christian refugees only
  • 53% say US should have a military coalition with Russia to fight Islamic terrorism, 35% disagree

Ted Cruz acts out The Princess Bride

November 20th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

This is cool. He’s obviously seen the movie many times.

US Senator says NZ and Australian TPP negotiators were too good

November 13th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

UNGN reported:

“I understand that renegotiation may be difficult, particularly with so many parties involved,” Sen. Orrin Hatch said, adding, “The alternative to renegotiation may very well be no TPP at all.”

Republican U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said Friday that the Obama administration might have to renegotiate parts of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, the text of which was released Thursday. …

Hatch said he was concerned that negotiators failed to secure 12 years of protection for next-generation biological drugs, which could push companies to leave the industry, make it more difficult for innovators to recover investments made in new products and leave Americans subsidizing cheaper medicines in other nations, according to Reuters.

Biological drugs are given a minimum of five years of data protection under the agreement, along with an extra buffer for administrative processes. The U.S. campaigned for 12 years of protection to ensure incentive for innovation, while Australia and New Zealand pushed for five years to give patients access to cheaper medicine, according to BioPharma Reporter.

Hatch said the U.S. should not have agreed to Australia’s “greedy” demands for a smaller monopoly period.

Do you remember Jane Kelsey telling us for years how the the NZ Government was going to sell us out to the US.

Here’s the reality. A top US Senator is saying that the Australian and New Zealand negotiators were too strong, and that the deal should be rejected because there is not enough in it for big US pharmaceutical companies.

If I was an Australian or NZ negotiator, I’d be rather pleased that a senior US Senator is saying you were too stubborn and got too good a deal for your own countries, at the expense of the US.


A great speech from a professor

November 13th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

This is the class introduction from Professor Mike Adams  at UNC-Wilmington:

Welcome back to class, students! I am Mike Adams your criminology professor here at UNC-Wilmington. Before we get started with the course I need to address an issue that is causing problems here at UNCW and in higher education all across the country. I am talking about the growing minority of students who believe they have a right to be free from being offended. If we don’t reverse this dangerous trend in our society there will soon be a majority of young people who will need to walk around in plastic bubble suits to protect them in the event that they come into contact with a dissenting viewpoint. That mentality is unworthy of an American. It’s hardly worthy of a Frenchman.

Let’s get something straight right now. You have no right to be unoffended. You have a right to be offended with regularity. It is the price you pay for living in a free society. If you don’t understand that you are confused and dangerously so. In part, I blame your high school teachers for failing to teach you basic civics before you got your diploma. Most of you went to the public high schools, which are a disaster. Don’t tell me that offended you. I went to a public high school.

Of course, your high school might not be the problem. It is entirely possible that the main reason why so many of you are confused about free speech is that piece of paper hanging on the wall right over there. Please turn your attention to that ridiculous document that is framed and hanging by the door. In fact, take a few minutes to read it before you leave class today. It is our campus speech code. It specifically says that there is a requirement that everyone must only engage in discourse that is “respectful.” That assertion is as ludicrous as it is illegal. I plan to have that thing ripped down from every classroom on campus before I retire.

One of my grandfathers served in World War I. My step-grandfather served in World War II. My sixth great grandfather enlisted in the American Revolution when he was only thirteen. These great men did not fight so we could simply relinquish our rights to the enemy within our borders. That enemy is the Marxists who run our public universities. If you are a Marxist and I just offended you, well, that’s tough. I guess they don’t make communists like they used to.

Unbelievably, a student once complained to the Department chairwoman that my mention of God and a Creator was a violation of Separation of Church and State. Let me be as clear as I possibly can: If any of you actually think that my decision to paraphrase the Declaration of Independence in the course syllabus is unconstitutional then you suffer from severe intellectual hernia.

Indeed, it takes hard work to become stupid enough to think the Declaration of Independence is unconstitutional. If you agree with the student who made that complaint then you are probably just an anti-religious zealot. Therefore, I am going to ask you to do exactly three things and do them in the exact order that I specify.

First, get out of my class. You can fill out the drop slip over at James Hall. Just tell them you don’t believe in true diversity and you want to be surrounded by people who agree with your twisted interpretation of the Constitution simply because they are the kind of people who will protect you from having your beliefs challenged or your feelings hurt.

Second, withdraw from the university. If you find that you are actually relieved because you will no longer be in a class where your beliefs might be challenged then you aren’t ready for college. Go get a job building houses so you can work with some illegal aliens who will help you gain a better appreciation of what this country has to offer.

Finally, if this doesn’t work then I would simply ask you to get the hell out of the country. The ever-growing thinned-skinned minority you have joined is simply ruining life in this once-great nation. Please move to some place like Cuba where you can enjoy the company of communists and get excellent health care. Just hop on a leaky boat and start paddling your way towards utopia. You will not be missed.

So refreshing to have someone say there is no right not to be offended.

Professor Adams gets excellent ratings from his students, including those who don’t agree with him.

The 4th Republican debate

November 12th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Five Thirty Eight rates the candidates:

  • B+: Marco Rubio
  • B-: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz
  • C+: Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, Ben Carson
  • C: John Kasich

A much better debate than last time, with actual policy exchanges rather than gotcha questions.

Bush has kept his campaign alive. Rubio still looks like the most likely eventual candidate. Cruz has another good performance and for the first time Rand Paul has a good debate.

Democrats lose one of their few Governors

November 9th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The US elections this week saw the Democrats lose Kentucky.  This means that of the 50 Governors, 32 are now Republicans, 17 Democrats and one Independent.

The Republicans also control 31 state legislatures to 11 for the Democrats and 8 have split control.

If they can win the White House next year, they will have the presidency, the House, probably retain the Senate and most of the states. Most importantly they would be likely to get to appoint new Supreme Court Justices as Bader Gisburg will be aged 87 by 2020, Stephen Breyer 82 and Antonin Scalia 84.

No tag for this post.

$7 billion and it didn’t help the worst schools

November 7th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Politico reports:

In 2009, the Obama administration saw a chance to tackle a problem that had bedeviled educators for decades.

“Our goal is to turn around the 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years, as part of our overall strategy for dramatically reducing the dropout rate, improving high school graduation rates and increasing the number of students who graduate prepared for success in college and the workplace,” said Arne Duncan, the administration’s new secretary of education in August of that year.

The administration pumped $3 billion of economic stimulus money into the School Improvement Grants program. Six years later, the program has failed to produce the dramatic results the administration had hoped to achieve. About two thirds of SIG schools nationwide made modest or no gains — not much different from similarly bad schools that got no money at all. About a third of the schools actually got worse.

In total $7 billion has been spent on those 5,000 schools.

But then why has the SIG program, created in 2007 under President George W. Bush, produced such uneven results at a total cost of about $7 billion?

A comparison by POLITICO of two troubled high schools — one in Miami and one in Chicago — both of which received millions in SIG funds, both of which followed a similar turnaround strategy, reveals that education officials at the federal, state and local levels paid too little attention to a key variable for success. One school made impressive gains, rebounding in three years from an “F” rating to a “B.” At the other, less than 10 percent of juniors are proficient at reading, math and science — the same level as before the grant.

The difference between the schools was in their readiness to make use of the sudden infusion of money. In Miami, school district officials had prepared for the grants. They had the support of teachers, unions and parents. In Chicago, where teachers fought the program and officials changed almost yearly, schools churned through millions of dollars but didn’t budge the needle.

So let’s look at what worked in Miami.

When the $43 million in SIG money arrived in 2010, Carvalho and Vitti knew that improving personnel in the failing schools would be the key to their success. That meant moving weak teachers out and replacing them with stronger teachers from high-performing schools.


After years of failure, the state ordered Edison to hire a new principal, who started in 2009. Then, with the help of nearly $1.5 million over three years in federal grant money, officials changed out more than half of the school staff. The district brought in Teach for America recruits and held teacher recruitment fairs. Top teachers who volunteered to work at Edison were given financial incentives, like signing bonuses and extra pay for boosting student test scores.

The strategy worked.

So what worked:

  • Being able to move out weak teachers
  • Using Teach for America
  • Financial incentives for top teachers

Obama’s third war

November 3rd, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Even when President Barack Obama sent United States troops back to Iraq and ordered the military to stay in Afghanistan, he insisted Syria would remain off limits for American ground forces. Now he’s crossed his own red line.

Obama’s announcement on Saturday that he was deploying up to 50 US special operations troops into northern Syria to assist in the fight against Isis (Islamic State) is the kind of incremental move that has defined his second-term Mideast strategy.

So when will the Nobel Committee as for its Nobel Peace Prize back? Obama now has ground troops in three countries.

I think this shows the difference between rhetoric and reality.

Sometimes you have to go with the least worst option.

Will the US Navy visit?

October 31st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Vernon Small writes:

The New Zealand navy has issued an invitation to the United States to join in the navy’s 75th birthday celebrations next year, potentially ending the 30-year freeze on military ship visits here.

However, sources said while an invitation had been issued, it was not yet clear that a ship would visit. It could be some other “asset” from the US Navy.

New Zealand’s nuclear free policy, enacted in 1985, bans nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed ships from entering ports here. The law change saw New Zealand suspended from membership of the three-power Anzus alliance with the US and Australia.

While the law requires the prime minister to confirm, to his satisfaction, that any ships are not nuclear armed or powered, it has in practice always required the US to drop their “neither confirm nor deny policy”.

The US has made it clear surface vessels are not nuclear armed, and it will be easy to ascertain from public records whether it is nuclear powered.

I hope they do visit. 99% of the world knows their surface vessels are not nuclear powered or armed. Having the NZ Government make a determination of the obvious is not a security issues. Time for the impasse to end – especially as NZ forces have worked with US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The third Republican debate

October 30th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Well the big losers of the debate were the CNBC moderators.  This was meant to be their entry into the big time, but instead they got criticised by many journalists, booed by the audience and attacked by the candidates. They showed why so many conservatives in the US distrust most of the media.

The big winner was Marco Rubio and as I said a few weeks ago I think a Rubio/Fiorina ticket could beat Clinton. Rubio was calm and confident and absolutely slam dunked Jeb Bush when he tried to attack him for being absent from the Senate so much.

Bush is the big loser. There were grumblings before this debate. He might not quite be toast but unless he can survive to the 4th debate and perform well there, I think it may be over for him.

Carson was not that engaged. Trump for once wasn’t aggressive and just had a pretty standard performance – which was good for him. People tire of just personal attacks after a while.

Chris Christie had a great moment when the moderators were asking if fantasy football markets should be banned ore regulated and Christie said why when we have $19 trillion in debt, have people out of work, ISIS and al-Qaeda attacking us, are you aksing us questions about fantasy football?. Huge applause.

Ted Cruz also had a great night by pointing out how so many of the questions from the moderators were just attacks in the guise of questions, and such a contrast to the Democratic debate.

Looks like Speaker Ryan

October 25th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

USA Today reports:

Rep. Paul Ryan won a majority of support from the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus on Wednesday, putting the Wisconsin Republican a step closer to becoming the next House speaker.

The rebellious Freedom Caucus — a powerful block of about 40 House conservatives led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio — made the decision to support Ryan after huddling behind closed doors for more than an hour Wednesday night.

The caucus will not officially endorse Ryan, because he fell short of snagging 80 percent of votes from the group’s members — the caucus’ internal threshold for taking official positions.

Bu it’s likely enough to satisfy Ryan’s own demand that he secure broad support from the GOP ranks before he is willing to take on the leadership job.

Paul Ryan would rather not be Speaker, but there is no one else who can do it. It looks like he will get the widespread backing he needs to become Speaker. However that doesn’t mean he have an easy time in it.

Biden not running

October 24th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Vice President Joe Biden will not run for president in 2016, he said Wednesday, ending a months-long flirtation with a third White House campaign and setting him on a glide path toward the end of his decades-long U.S. political career.

Biden’s decision finalizes the Democratic field of White House candidates and likely bolsters Hillary Rodham Clinton’s standing as the front-runner by sparing her a challenge from the popular vice president.

Almost certain Clinton will be the nominee. If Biden had won it would have damaged her, but hard to see him beating her unless her e-mails turn up a smoking gun.

Biden has net favourability of +12%. Clinton is at -8%.

Speaker Ryan?

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

In more bad news for Republicans:

The outsiders are still dominating the Republican presidential race, according to a new CBS News poll.

Donald Trump still leads in the new national poll with 27%, followed by Ben Carson at 21%, CBS News reports.

No other GOP candidate finished in double digits. Ted Cruz is third in the CBS poll at 9%, followed by Marco Rubio (8%), Jeb Bush (6%), and Carly Fiorina (6%). No other Republican candidate finished with more than 5%.

No surprise that Trump and Carson lead but Cruz coming third is a surprise.

I think a Rubio/Fiorina ticket could beat Clinton. Trump and Carson would implode during the campaign and Cruz is hated by most of his colleagues.

Meanwhile USA Today reports:

The head of the House Freedom Caucus that helped upend last week’s planned choice of a new speaker predicted Sunday members of the rebellious group would “look favorably” on Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan for the top job.

Ryan also won praise from more centrist representatives and even from a congressman who has announced his own campaign for speaker. But the 45-year-old chairman of theWays and Means Committee, who spent the weekend with his family in Janesville, Wis., remained mum on whether he was willing to accept a role he had previously rejected.

Ryan is the only one who could unite the House Republicans but he really doesn’t want the job. Will he do it for the good of the party though?

No one wants to be US House Speaker!

October 10th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Politico reports:

The doubts haunted Kevin McCarthy.

Publicly, he projected an air of confidence, the appearance of the man who would be the next speaker of the House. But in private, his allies told him the pursuit for power was changing him and he wasn’t himself. Some said that even if he won, he couldn’t govern.

“We need somebody to get us 247,” McCarthy said in an extensive interview with POLITICO Thursday, referring to the total number of House Republicans. “And I was never going to be able to get 247.”

The majority leader’s longtime allies — the people he recruited and helped get elected to Congress — told him they were getting hammered back home, and that it would be difficult to back him on the House floor.

Other friends said McCarthy’s pursuit of the speaker’s gavel had become a staggering weight on his shoulders and was already starting to change him.

Conservatives — namely members of the House Freedom Caucus — were making demands he believed he simply couldn’t deliver on.


The job of Speaker of the House is the second most powerful in the United States, after the President. They basically solely decide what bills and issues get voted on in the House. In the absence of a President, they are the de facto leader of their party.

Yet the Republican civil war has made the job an awful one. Some Republican representatives have demands so unreasonable, that no Speaker can meet them, and hence no Speaker can govern – unless they rely on Democrats.

So we have not only seen Boehner resign as Speaker, but his No 2 drop out of the race to replace him.

The Republicans have the House and Senate, and Clinton is looking beatable if she is the Democratic nominee. If they had unity, they could win the presidency next year, but if they don’t they will lose, and possibly lose the Senate also. That would be bad as a further Democratic administration could see major changes in the Supreme Court, which would give the liberal wing a majority.

The battle for the IP chapter

October 8th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

This will be a long blog post, but an important one. It is about the TPP, the IP chapter, and how a group of NZ organisations actually managed to help beat back the US Government and the corporates they were fighting for.

First I want to talk about critics of the TPP, and how you can divide them into three categories. They are:

1 – Opponents of all trade deals

There are some people who are opposed to all trade deals. They have a honest belief that either trade deals are bad, or trade is bad. A couple of examples are Jane Kelsey and the Greens.

Jane Kelsey has opposed (as far as I can tell) every trade deal NZ has ever signed up to. It doesn’t matter what the details are, she has campaigned against it. She has a world view that is basically protectionism is economically good, and no amount of evidence will sway her views.

Kelsey has every right to her views (though I do grumble that she seems to spend a large proportion of her time as a taxpayer funded academic running campaigns), but the reality is that Kelsey will never influence the details of a trade detail, because people know that nothing they agree to will ever stop her being a critic. She can make a deal more unpopular with voters, but no one in Government ever asks the question “Will this satisfy the demands of Jane Kelsey”.

I’m not trying to personalise it on Professor Kelsey. There are many others like her, who are against petty much all trade deals.

The Greens have voted against against (I think) every trade agreement. Their opposition seems to be more because of their belief that trade harms the environment, and we should grow and produce everything we need locally. So again, no one ever asks what is needed to get the Greens do support a trade deal – it is basically impossible.

2 – Opponents because of who the Government is

This is basically the Labour Party, and some of their supporters. If Labour were in Government I have no doubt the TPP would look very similar to what was announced this week, and they would be signing up to it. They are not opposed to the TPP (well not most of their caucus), but because National is in Government they just see it as a weapon to attack with. Just like the flag referendum.

I don’t mind oppositions attacking Governments for things which they honestly disagree on – for example labour laws and the like. But it does get tiring when you know their opposition is only because they are not in Government themselves. It is worth remembering the TPP started under Labour. They also did a great trade deal with China, which has been hugely beneficial. If it was National that had done the trade deal with China, I suspect Labour would be condemning it.

So in the end these opponents do not get much traction either, because their opposition is more about who the Government is, than what is in the TPP. That doesn’t mean their criticism do not have validity, just that their motivations are more about bashing the Government.

3 – Opponents of some proposed details

The last category is what I want to focus on. It is individual and groups who have been critical of what might be in the TPP, because they think certain aspects would be bad for their area of interest if included.

These opponents are not against the TPP regardless of what is in it. They’re not for it either. They’re people saying “We don’t want X in there” but if X is not there, then we don’t have a view on it.

That might be a health group on keeping the Pharmac model, or ICT groups on the details of the e-commerce and intellectual property chapters. The latter is what I want to focus on, and tell a story about the battle here.

The US wish list on intellectual property

The first post I can find I did on the TPP was about how despite being a big supporter of free trade, I was concerned about the US wishlist in TPP. I quoted Rick Shera on how it could affect us:

  • Rights holders would be allowed to prevent parallel imports
  • Massive extension of terms, from life of author plus 50 years, to 70 years
  • Circumventing a Technological Protection Measure (TPM) will to be a criminal offence even if the work it protects is in the public domain or you want to exercise fair dealing rights like educational use or current affairs reporting
  • The return of guilt upon accusation three strikes Internet termination laws
  • Forcing us to reverse the decision recently taken to exclude software from being patentable
  • Introducing statutory damages (which give rights holders windfall damages up to 3 times their actual losses)
  •  ISP policing of IP rights including a requirement for ISPs to give up their customers’ identities when they receive a mere allegation from a rights holder
  • Criminal liability even where the infringement has no commercial value at all
  • Pushing Courts to impose imprisonment as the default sentence for infringement even where no monetary benefit is obtained

These provisions would have been truly horrible, if they had been agreed to. The good thing is that with the exception of the extension of the term (which is more a copyright than Internet issue) the US got beaten back on pretty much all of this. I’m not saying the IP chapter is great (there are still a couple of areas of concern which we need to see the detail on) but this truly horrible stuff is not in there – software is not patentable still, parallel importing remains legal, you can circumvent TPMs for legal purposes, ISPs don’t face extra liability, no changes to our three strikes law for filesharing infringing (which rights holders don’t like).

So why did the US not get its way on much in this chapter? Is it because it was an unimportant chapter? No, far from it. For several years it has been said that the IP chapter will be one of the most difficult. Many in the media thought the big battle was Pharmac, but in reality that was never at great risk. The PM and others had often said that the IP chapter was one of the big challenges.

This was a concern, as those of us against the US demands, were worried that the IP chapter would be traded at the lost moment with the US, in order to gain a better deal elsewhere. We wanted to stop that happening, and make the price of compromising on the IP chapter too high, so what did we do.

By we I mean groups such as InternetNZ, IITP, TUANZ and NZ Rise. I don’t speak for any of them, this is just my views as someone who was involved.

Set the tone right

It was important that we were not seen as just against TPP regardless. We were against an IP chapter that was bad for NZ. While we would work with other critics such as Jane Kelsey (and inform them of our concerns), it was vital not to be seen as anti-TPP regardless. You lose influence if you do that.

We also tried to have it about ICT and Internet industries being important for NZ’s future and don’t trade away their interests for those of commodity industries.

Be specific

Another key was not just to rant about secret negotiations (even though criticism of the process was made), selling out sovereignty, attacking Hollywood corporations. It was to be specific as to what measures were opposed, the impact on NZ of them, and putting up alternative provisions.

Meet NZ negotiators

Many meetings were arranged with negotiators with MFAT and MBIE. And they were extremely professional, and useful. The negotiators do not set policy (Ministers do), but they will tell you what their position is, listen to your concerns, and make sure they understand them.

They would also share information on the negotiations. They are not allowed to sit down with you and show you a copy of the proposed texts (unless every negotiating country agreed). But they could tell you in some detail what the issues are, and what the NZG position currently was. And thanks to texts being leaked on Wikileaks, we actually got verified that the NZ negotiators were advocating exactly what they told us they were, and resisting the US demands.

They also were useful in giving us some idea of which countries were with us on these issues, and which were not, and which were yet to take a position. Again, not in exact detail which would breach confidentiality, but some useful steers.

The key here is that while the exact negotiating texts were secret, stakeholders could gain information on proceedings by engaging with the process – and not just corporates, but civil society groups also. Engaging with the process works, rather than just shouting slogans.

Also at least one meeting was held (possibly more) with the Trade Negotiations Minister, Tim Groser. I did not attend, but understand he was very up to speed with the issues around the IP chapter. Meetings were also held with the ICT Minister, so she could be a voice for the industry if Cabinet discussed details.

It also became apparent to me that other Ministers, up to and including the PM, were aware of the issues around the Internet and the IP chapter. In fact as I said earlier, the PM said fairly early on that the IP chapter might be the toughest.

Meet TPP supporters

We met supporters of the TPP such as NZ International Business Forum (Stephen Jacobi). We explained that our potential opposition was issues based. If certain provisions were in the TPP, we would be opposing and criticising it. But if they were not there, then mostly we would have no view.

We know that most business groups would support the TPP, regardless of the IP chapter. What we wanted to get across, was that if they could use their influence to get an IP chapter that was more palatable to us, then there would be less domestic opposition.

The meetings were cordial, and useful.

I can’t recall exactly other meetings we had, but off memory there was some dialogue also with the US Embassy and Federated Farmers.

Attend the Negotiations

Staff were sent to some of the international negotiations rounds. Why, if you are not allowed in the negotiating room? Well, a lot happens in the side events and public forums. You can set up stands handing out information on your views, you can chat to NZ negotiators, you can get to meet the negotiators from other countries, and also develop links with other third party groups who share your concerns.

The staffer who attended some of these for the NZ group did an excellent job in building networks, organising events and getting our message across. It was an excellent investment in sending her.

Build a coalition locally

A local coalition was set up – called the Fair Deal coalition. It was set up to critique and oppose the US demands, but also to put pressure on the NZ Government to stick to its position. We wanted to make any backing down politically painful. A quote from the site is:

The US wants copyright standards that would force change to New Zealand’s copyright laws. We want you to know more about what’s at stake so that you can have a say now, before the deal is done.

The good news is that we know – from another leaked document – that the NZ copyright team went into TPP talks looking for fair copyright (and other intellectual property) standards. Now is the time to stand behind our team and  support a Fair Deal for New Zealand.

NZ members were InternetNZ, NZ Rise, Creative Freedom Foundation, Blind Foundation, TUANZ, Consumer, IITP, Trade Me, NZ Open Source Society, LIANZA, Tech Liberty and Scoop.

The tone wasn’t to attack the Government, but to pressure the Government to stand firm.

Build a coalition globally

At the beginning of the negotiations, NZ was quite exposed. The US was pushing hard for their wishlist, NZ was the most staunch against, and we had few allies. Many were not focused on it much, and Australia even seemed to be backing the US.

The NZ negotiators made it pretty clear that if we are alone there, then we need to compromise more. So we went about building a wider coalition.

Through attendance at the actual meetings, links were made to other groups in the countries negotiating the TPP. An alliance was formed with Public Citizen, Open Media, Australian Digital Alliance, Consumers International, EFF etc. Gradually more and more countries came to siding with the NZ position.

Note I am not suggesting this is solely or even mainly due to the work of the alliance, but I do believe it did have an impact.

Also crucially, we tried to soften the US position. Their position was reflecting the demands of Hollywood associated creative industries. In fact many of the staff in the IP area of the Trade team, had worked for lobby groups there. But then big US IT companies started lobbying, saying they did not support some of the US position. This helped weaken the US stance, as it was no longer unambiguous what Us businesses wanted.

Host the negotiations

Auckland hosted the 15th round of negotiations in December 2012. This was great as it gave us a great opportunity to interact. There were a number of initiatives as part of that, but the most significant was we hosted a lunch for all the IP negotiators from all the countries. I think they all had someone attend, and most importantly the US did.

Over the lunch a few of us spoke, on various aspects and outlined what our issues and concerns were. My role was to talk about the politics, and explain how NZ had just had several big fights on IP law – the blackout campaign, ACTA, patent law, a new copyright act – and I doubted any Government would want to be explaining why the hard fought compromise that had been achieved was now going to be upended. I also talked on Dotcom and how he is alleging Key and Obama did a deal with Hollywood to lock him up, in exhchange for the TPP – and while that may be nonsense, could they imagine a NZ PM standing up and saying “We’ve decided to change our copyright and IP laws to please Hollywood”. The point was that if you demand something a Government is simply politically unable to deliver, then you won’t get an agreement (like Canada on dairy – political cost too high).

And this is partly why the only major change appears to be length of copyright, rather than stuff more directly affecting the Internet. And don’t get me wrong – I am against the extension, but from my point of view it is less harmful than what else the US was demanding, and if we had to compromise on something – that is the lesser evil from an Internet point of view.

Constructive opposition does make a difference

The point of all this, is that constructive engagement, criticism and even at times opposition can make a difference. When you work with the Government and negotiators in good faith, you can have influence and get better outcomes (even if still sub-optimal) than without your involvement. You do a mixture of loud noisy activism (postcard campaigns, petitions, public meetings) and behind the scenes diplomacy – but always with a consistent principled message that we are not anti TPP (or pro TPP), just anti these provisions.

I’m actually very proud that the NZ ICT industry and civil society managed to run a very effective and principled campaign, that was overall remarkably successful – especially against the power of the US Government, and very wealthy and powerful firms in the US. One can be cynical about aspects of politics (such as the secrecy), but one can also celebrate that spending time and money on sticking up for your beliefs can work, and logical well reasoned arguments can beat vested interests.

Again do not take any of this to suggest the ICT industry now thinks the TPP is great. I don’t speak for them, and from what I have observed views are as diverse within it, as elsewhere. Some still think it is the worst thing ever and the end of democracy, and others think it is a great deal. I personally think it is an overall positive deal, and actually pleasantly surprised that we managed to get a deal, with most (not all) of the nasty IP provisions defanged.

But there is a lesson here for other groups, and individuals. Constructive opposition and criticism can achieve far far more, than just blanket negativity and attack.

The groups involved in the Far Deal coalition, both locally and globally, should be proud of what they managed to achieve, against formidable odds.  Also I give credit to the professional negotiators from MFAT and MBIE who I think did a very good job of holding the line.


Bipartisan support in US for saner sentences

October 8th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The NYT editorial:

The sentencing reform bill introduced in the Senate on Thursday falls far short of what is needed, but it is a crucial first step on the long path toward unwinding the federal government’s decades-long reliance on prisons as the answer to every ill.

For starters, it is worth noting the bipartisan nature of this legislation. In a Senate that can’t agree on the time of day, top Republican and Democratic senators — most notably Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, as well as a longtime supporter of harsh sentencing laws — negotiated for months to produce a concrete set of fixes.

Among the most significant are those that would reduce mandatory-minimum sentences for many drug crimes. These sentences are jaw-droppingly long — from five years for a first offense up to life without parole for a third. The new bill would cut the life sentence to a 25-year minimum, and would cut the 20-year sentence for a second offense to 15 years.

A minimum five year sentence for a first strike drug crime is just nuts. Yes you need sanctions, but this is a very expensive policy which has not reduced drug sales or use, and has people in prison for decades.

Half of all federal inmates are in prison for drug crimes. In NZ the comparative figure is 10%.

No tag for this post.

California legalises euthanasia

October 6th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

California will become the fifth state to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives using doctor-prescribed drugs after Governor Jerry Brown announced Monday he signed one of the most emotionally charged bills of the year.

Brown, a lifelong Catholic and former Jesuit seminarian, announced he signed the legislation after thoroughly considering all opinions and discussing the issue with many people, including a Catholic bishop and two of Brown’s doctors.

“In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death,” the governor wrote in a signing statement that accompanied his signature on the legislation. “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill.

Fascinating that a staunch Catholic decided not to veto the bill.

I’ll predict that within two decades, most states in the US will allow euthanasia.

TPP negotiations concluded

October 6th, 2015 at 6:50 am by David Farrar

It’s taken eight years, but the TPP negotiations have now been concluded. They started under Labour and Phil Goff in early 2008 and it has expanded from five countries (the original P4 and USA) to 12 countries, with another six saying they may join also.

Before I look at the substance, I think it is worth reflecting that just getting an agreement is significant. The Doha round of WTO multi-lateral negotiations has been going on for 15 years, and is far from complete (and may never complete). This is the largest trade agreement since the Uruguay round completed in 1994.

The New Zealand Government has had many negotiators working on this for the last eight years – from MFAT, and from other agencies such as MBIE. This has been their life month in and month out with 19 rounds of negotiations.and 23 meetings of chief negotiators and/or ministers. I’ve got to meet a few of them over the years and they’re extremely dedicated and effective public servants, who will be very pleased to see this work complete.

In terms of the substance, there seem to be three broad themes.

  1. Eventual elimination of all tariffs in all industries except beef and dairy
  2. Minor concessions from Canada on dairy but better deal with Japan on beef (tariff dropping from 40% to 9%)
  3. Most of the potentially “bad” stuff has been resisted (change to Pharmac model, the US demands on ISP liability for copyright, tobacco companies can’t use ISDS provisions)

This is not a gold plated deal, as was the aspiration. Canada and Japan especially have been unwilling to fully open up their markets to competition. Canada has almost a soviet style dairy system where a 30 cow farm has a quota worth $1 million. Some cows sell for almost $200,000 due to the law restricting either domestic or international competition. So incumbents quota owners fight hard against losing their quota, just as taxi firms fight hard against Uber.

With the benefit of hindsight, it may have been better to not allow Canada and Japan to join the TPP. They promised in joining that they understood the aim was the elimination of all tariffs. But their domestic pressures were too great. However the argument to have them in, is that the US would have been less able to get fast track approval through Congress without those two large economies as part of the deal.

But while the benefits are less than what they could have been, it will still be a beneficial agreement for NZ. As Helen Clark said, you’d be basically nuts to walk away from a deal with 40% of the world’s economy. And the net benefit to the NZ economy through the tariff removals and overall agreement is (I understand) in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

There are always some dead rats to swallow in deals, but we appear to have avoided the larger nastier ones. When the full text is released in a month, we’ll have a clearer idea, but the US Trade Representative has a summary of each of the 30 chapters. The removal of tobacco companies from ISDS provisions will reassure many, the US failed to get much progress on extending drug patents, the Pharmac model is unchanged, and the early US demands on Internet and intellectual property issues (some of which were deeply concerning) appear to have fallen away, and the current chapter seems reasonably palatable. That is not to say there won’t be some stuff in there which we’d rather not have at all. For example the length of term of copyright looks set to be extended by 20 years. This is stupid, when in fact copyright terms (life + 50 years) are already too long in NZ. But from what I can see the negatives in the TPP are outweighed by the positives by a very considerable margin.

The FTA with China has been hugely beneficial to New Zealand. Parties such as NZ First and the Greens which opposed it should be embarrassed, as exports to China skyrocketed since the FTA, resulting in billions of extra dollars into the NZ economy. The history of our trade deals is that the benefits and increases in exports have almost always been far greater than anticipated.

UPDATE: The Beehive site has some details on the deal. The savings on tariffs, once full implemented by sector are:

  • Dairy $102 million
  • Meat $72 million
  • Fruit and vegetables $26 million
  • Other agriculture $18 million
  • Wine $10 million
  • Manufacturing $10 million
  • Forestry $9 million
  • Fish $8 million
  • Wool $4 million

Keall on the Dotcom case

September 30th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Keall writes at NBR:

I’ve previously written that Megaupload’s cash-incentive payments would loom large in Kim Dotocom and co’s extradition case.

And so it proved yesterday as the Crown alleged one user of Mr Dotcom’s file sharing service was paid more than $US50,000 as a reward for uploading files that proved popular with Megaupload members.

Files uploaded by user “H” – just one of many to take advantage of the cash-incentive rewards scheme – generated 1.2 million downloads between 2006 and 2011 (the expanded FBI evidence summary covers it in detail here).

The US Department of Justice, plus major Hollywood studios and multinational record labels, say most of the files covered by the cash-incentive scheme were copyrighted works and that Megaupload was rewarding piracy.

This is at the heart of the case, and the argument that Megaupload was not just like Dropbox – because it paid users for sharing content that got widely downloaded.

Mr Dotcom has also pointed out that YouTube gives uploaders of popular files a share of the Google Ad revenue generated by their clip. That could well be construed as an incentive programme. But to get a share of that Google Ad money, you have to be a trusted user. And if, in its vetting process, YouTube notices there is copyright-infringing music (for example, a zany wedding dance clip features a Taylor Swift soundtrack), the service then approaches the artist or rights-holder concerned and offers to either a) take the clip down or b) leave it up but cut them in on the revenue. Megaupload never gave a cent to an artist or rights holder when it generated an alleged $US175 million in membership fees and ad revenue generated around their material.

It is no surprise they were unhappy. It is possible though Megaupload did not breach US law. They certainly knew they were making money through encouraging copyright infringment. But they may hev done just enough to comply with the US MDCA which has a process for dealing with complaints.

Mr Dotcom has also styled Google as a giant piracy machine, saying it makes it easy to find copyright-breaching material, whereas Megaupload featured no search engine or other mechanism to help users find files stored by other members.

But the Crown has already focused on FBI evidence, gatheredthrough intercepted Skype conversations, that the Megaupload crew worked with third parties to make offending content on Megaupload easily discoverable.

Again quite damning.

Even Obama says political correctness going too far

September 28th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Vox reports:

People concerned about liberal political correctness on college campuses have a powerful ally: President Obama.

At a town hall here on college affordability on Monday afternoon, one student asked Obama to respond to Republican presidential contender Ben Carson’s proposal to cut off funding to colleges that demonstrate political bias.

Unsurprisingly, Obama didn’t like it much. “I have no idea what that means, and I suspect he doesn’t either,” he said, then continued: “The idea that you’d have somebody in government making a decision about what you should think ahead of time or what you should be taught, and if it’s not the right thought, or idea, or perspective or philosophy, that person would be — they wouldn’t get funding, runs contrary to everything we believe about education,” he said. “That might work in the Soviet Union, but that doesn’t work here. That’s not who we are.”

After that criticism, he went on to give his opinion about what’s been called the “new political correctness” on college campuses:

It’s not just sometimes folks who are mad that colleges are too liberal that have a problem. Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal, and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues, who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side, and that’s a problem too. I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, “You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.” That’s not the way we learn either.

The word Obama chose is telling. The idea that college students are demanding to be “coddled” comes up frequently in debates about how much colleges should accommodate requests from students for trigger warnings on syllabuses, for example, or how they should respond to criticisms of graduation speakers or even comedy shows. A recent Atlantic article on the phenomenon was headlined “The Coddling of the American Mind.”

Self-censorship on US campuses is reaching massive levels. Controversial speakers (only from the right of course) are banned because they say something that offends someone.

A moving story

September 24th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Rebecca Cohen writes in the Washington Post:

In coming days, the Senate is expected to consider a federal ban on abortions at 20 weeks. Before lawmakers cast their votes, I would like them to hear my story.

If such a ban had been in place a year ago, I would have been condemned to carry and give birth to a baby who had no chance at life.

I have been happily married for more than a decade, and I have two beautiful children. When my husband and I found out last year that I was pregnant again, we were overjoyed.

At 20 weeks, my husband and I went for our favorite prenatal visit: the detailed ultrasound anatomy scan that shows your baby’s heart, kidneys, bladder, stomach, spine and brain and whether you’re having a girl or a boy. I could barely contain myself as I sat on the exam table, eager to meet our baby more intimately. My husband and I chit-chatted with the ultrasound technician, gabbing and laughing when we recognized familiar features on the ultrasound images.

But after five minutes, only my husband and I were talking. The technician had grown quiet. She just kept printing picture after picture and pressing the wand deeper into the gel on my stomach.

Over the next week came referrals to high-risk pregnancy specialists and more, longer, in-depth ultrasounds. In our baby’s brain cavity, where gray matter should have been visible, there was only black. The diagnosis was the same from every doctor: Something — we would learn it was not genetic or chromosomal — had caused two leaks in our baby’s brain, one on each side, destroying it almost entirely.

We would have done anything to save the baby. We asked if there was any possibility for repair, if the brain tissue could regrow. There wasn’t. My baby would either die in the womb or shortly after birth.

Our child would never gain consciousness.

Our little one was gone.

I have never known horror quite like that. Adding to the pain, the brain stem was not affected, so the baby’s body was still moving involuntarily. But I knew there was no person in there anymore. I couldn’t sleep and could barely eat, and every time the baby jerked, I suffered and mourned.

I didn’t know what to tell my kids. They kept kissing my belly, feeling for kicks and singing to the baby. I didn’t know what words to choose, but it hardly mattered, because I couldn’t finish a sentence without sobbing.

Even after we made that decision, it was difficult to find an available provider, even in an area with as many medical providers as the District. The hospitals had weeks-long waits. In the end, we were able to schedule an appointment at a surgical clinic for the following week.

My pregnancy was 21 weeks on the day of my abortion.

I mourn the loss of my baby every day. But I have no doubt that I made the right decision for myself and my family, and I am grateful that it was my choice to make. …

Congress should not take this decision away from any woman — any family — who is in need. Banning abortions after 20 weeks would be arbitrary, and its consequences would place an unimaginable burden on women like me.

When an abortion was the best of only horrible options, I was beyond grateful that one was available in a safe, compassionate medical establishment. And that my family could begin to heal.

An incredibly sad story with no good options, only a range of horrible options. I find it hard to imagine someone can argue that the law should prevent this woman from making the choice she did.