Month: November 2009

While I Take a Utilitarian View on IP Law…..

I tend to see it as a public interest law (i.e to promote the progress of science and useful arts) at its core, and not property law, there are still people who should be busted for violating the exclusive licensing agreements associated with this.

Case in point, the Hartford Courant, which has taken to using articles from the smaller local papers without attribution:

Newspaper editors and reporters across the state are noticing a new trend: their local coverage is being copied daily by the Hartford Courant.

In most cases The Courant has been attributing the reporting to the newspapers being copied, which include the Journal Inquirer, The Bristol Press, The Herald of New Britain, the Register-Citizen of Torrington, and the Waterbury Republican-American.

In some cases The Courant appears to have lifted information from the other papers in its entirety without any attribution. But either way, editors say, the Courant is using for free and making money from a product other papers pay to produce, and they want it to stop.

It appears that someone at the Courant has taken it to a high enough level that the Journal Inquirer has sued them for plagiarism, which means that the Courant is not taking stories and writing them up, but taking stories and pasting them up.

If they had been accused of just taking the stories, it would be under a separate bit of case law, it involved Hearst and wire service stories during WWI, but I could not Google it, so this is unbelievably lame.

Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead

Mary Beth Buchanan is no longer the US attorney for Western Pennsylvania.

The fact that she was still serving on January 22 is a blot on the Obama administration and the justice department. She went on politically motivated prosecutions and fishing expedition, and was the moron who decided to prosecute Tommy Chong for selling bongs.

I understand the need for continuity, but she is a political hack and a nutcase, and justice is better served by kicking her out on day one, not waiting 10 months.

Her, you sack, and appoint an interim USA.

More Homophobe-phobic Crap for the Obama Administration

I’m being as nice as possible when I say that Barack Obama and his administration is afraid of offending homophobic bigots.

That’s because the only other alternative hypothesis is that Barack Obama is a homophobic bigot, and while this is a simpler solution, and Occam’s razor cuts toward that, my sense is that they do not feel that the LGBT community has anywhere to go, so they will throw them under the bus to get a few votes.

It really does not matter, but their latest, where the office of personnel management is refusing to obey a court order to allow a woman to buy insurance for her spouse, at the insistence of the Obama administration is really a proverbial “bridge too far”.

The money quote here is here:

The order was not published, and garnered little or no notice at the time. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts moved to comply with the judge’s ruling, submitting Golinski’s insurance form to Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the case would have probably gone away — had the Obama Administration not stepped in. “After the AO submitted Ms. Golinski’s form, I thought this matter had concluded,” Kozinski wrote. “The Executive Branch, acting through the Office of Personnel Management, thought otherwise. It directed the insurance carrier not to process Ms. Golinski’s form 2809, thwarting the relief I had ordered. I must now decide what further steps are necessary to protect Ms. Golinski and the integrity of the Judiciary’s EDR [employee dispute resolution] plans.”

(emphasis mine)

This is not an accident, nor is it a Bush holdover, as Michelangelo Signorile notes that the “bombshell here is that the Office of Personnel Management was ordered by the White House to refuse to give a lesbian federal employee her court-ordered rights”.

What a F$#@ing Tool

Greg Mankiw, who argues that healthcare reform will be less efficient than the free market because poor people will get a better deal.

Seriously, even though the US spends more per capita, and more as a percentage of GDP than any other nation on earth, and even though the outcomes are worse than the developed worlds, and efficiency is results divided by resources, healthcare reform will make us less efficient.

He argues that higher marginal tax rates shrink the economic pie, even though the historical numbers belie that.

You see, he thinks that “fairness” means “reduced work incentives”, which, I guess is why we have to pay bankers hundreds of millions of dollars to screw up our economy.

At the end, he suggests that improving healthcare will result in, “future generations of Americans will likely spend more time enjoying leisure.”

What is going on, of course, is that people are terrified of losing a job and healthcare, and, you know, dying, and so are less likely to take part-time jobs and/or tell their employer to go Cheney himself.

We already know that our healthcare system is deterring people from becoming entrepreneurs, but people like Mankiw just want wage slave drones.

You know, with ideas like this, you’d think that he would have been a part of Bush’s Evil Minions….Oh…Right…He was.

He was head of Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors.

Dean 1: The Dean 0

He should be president

So, David Broder, the, “Dean of the Washington press corps”, goes after Harry Reid for having the temerity to challenge his august pronouncements on healthcare reform, and Howard Dean slams him, calling him a sanctimonious “gossip columnist.”

There was an inside the beltway columnist whose head explodes, and Dean handed him his head too, when the guy lies about the CBO iumbers.

Damn, I really that Howard Dean were in his 2nd term right not, rather than Barack Obama being in his 1st term.

Yeah, I Kind of Missed this Over Thanksgiving

Click for full size

H/t Wall St. Jackass

You know, that entire implosion of Dubai World thing over the past week.

I think that it is clear that Dubai was created with a lot of other people’s money. (see pics)

What’s more, these people got pretty good returns for their investments.

The fact that everyone is shocked that high return investments are risky is to ignore a basic fact of investment.

Tobin Harshaw of the New York times thinks that this indicates that this points to greater fragility in the world financial markets than was previously believed, which I file under, “After Lehman, I thought we knew that it was all a house of cards.”

Felix Salmon also notes that once again, investors were surprised when a broke creditor admitted it, because, after all it looks bad:

I remember the days when investors felt that in the world of emerging markets, publicly-traded bonds were implicitly senior to bank loans. But those days came to an end in the late 1990s with bond defaults in Pakistan, Ukraine, and Ecuador — and they’ve never returned. And it’s not even obvious at this point that restructuring loans is easier than restructuring bonds.

It was nuts then, and it’s nuts now. If you are getting a lot of interest it is because you are lending to a poor credit risk.

I would also note that in this case, “broke” does not mean illiquid, but insolvent, meaning that a short respite to get cash flow back does not work, and it has been clear for some time that Dubai has borrowed well in excess of any assets that it possesses.

One of the more interesting developments here is that many of these debts are neither bank loans nor bonds, but rather the rather arcane, though nominally publicly traded, Islamic financial instrument called the sukuk (Arabic: صكوك‎), and I have no clue as to the jurisprudence of the default of such an instrument….I don’t think that anyone has a clue as to how this will play out, at least not on such a grand scale.

I think that the repercussions in Islamic finance, both in how resolution is handled, and the willingness of investors to buy those instruments, will play out for decades.

In terms of a bail out, it appears that the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates is going to help make lenders whole, but the government of Dubai is saying that it will not guarantee Dubai World’s debt, so things are still rather fluid, to put it mildly.

Krugman Goes for the Tobin Tax

So, we have another Nobel Prize winner who argues that a small tax on financial transactions in order to generate revenue for stimulus and to discourage speculation is a good thing.

He also lays some whup-ass on Timothy “Eddie Haskell” Geithner for his opposition to the idea, which is a good thing, and further notes that much of the short term leverage that nearly destroyed the world financial system was an artifact of rapid fire speculative trades.

One item of note is that Krugman makes a very good point about the fact, notwithstanding the claims of opponents, it will be difficult for anyone to avoid paying the tax:

The main argument made by opponents of a financial transactions tax is that it would be unworkable, because traders would find ways to avoid it. Some also argue that it wouldn’t do anything to deter the socially damaging behavior that caused our current crisis. But neither claim stands up to scrutiny.

On the claim that financial transactions can’t be taxed: modern trading is a highly centralized affair. Take, for example, Tobin’s original proposal to tax foreign exchange trades. How can you do this, when currency traders are located all over the world? The answer is, while traders are all over the place, a majority of their transactions are settled — i.e., payment is made — at a single London-based institution. This centralization keeps the cost of transactions low, which is what makes the huge volume of wheeling and dealing possible. It also, however, makes these transactions relatively easy to identify and tax.

This is true. While I might, find a local vendor on the street to exchange currency in Cairo, Egypt, because I could beat the official rate, and avoid a tax of less than ¼%, if I were trading millions of dollars, I need to have a place where I can settle the transactions, and taxes would be assessed there.

It would be hard to implement without the US being on board, which is where the real rub is.

If He Were a Democrat….

Now it turns out that it appears that the man who allegedly shot 4 police officers in Tacoma was granted clemency by Huckabee, allowing for his pardon.

This guy’s rap sheet is unbelievable in chronological order, we have:

  • Sentenced at 18 to 60 years for robbery, theft, burglary, aggravated robbery, posession of a gun on school property.
  • After his parole, it was two more armed robberies, and other assorted crimes.
  • Punching a police officer during a domestic dispute.
  • He has a pending charge of 2nd degree child rape.

Let’s make this clear, sentencing people to prison, and paroling them is a crap shoot. Some people don’t need to be in prison a day, some will never, ever be safe to put on the streets.

So, governors will get this wrong, but Huckabee has a particularly bad record, see also the earlier case of Wayne DuMond, where Huckabee seems to have engineered his release because it was a relative of Bill Clinton’s who was raped, and reports that he was more likely to pardon someone when, “evangelical leaders attested that a prisoner had found Jesus“, and it appears that the accused, Maurice Clemmons, used the language of Evangelical Christianity in his appeal for clemency to Huckabee, which likely had something to do with that decision.

There are also cases that seem to be tied to his personally knowing the prisoner, because they worked at the governor’s residence (WTF is up with that?), and because they had personal ties to him.

So, it’s not just that he’s made a mistake, it’s that he’s been a real horror show on this.

Of course, if he were a Democrat with a gig as a new host, someone like Roger Ailes, who created the Willie Horton ads, would be on him, and on the network to dump him, but this won’t happen, because Roger Ailes runs Fox News, and has hired him as that host:

Back in 1988, when it came to light that Willie Horton committed fresh crimes while out on a weekend furlough program backed by then-Gov. Mike Dukakis of Massachusetts, Republicans used it to help destroy Dukakis the presidential candidate. It may even have cost him the election.

“The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it,” said a gleeful Roger Ailes, then a media consultant to Republicans.

Ailes now runs Fox News. If they decide to hold the politician accountable for early release of a violent felon linked now to a death of four police officers, they know where to find him – in studio, as a Fox News host.

Consequence free lifestyle, all you have to do is to be a Republican politician…..Damn….I just cannot do that.

Swiss Referendum Bans Minarets

The ban passed with 57% voting in favor.

This is not good news because it is basically a triumph of right-wing demagoguery.

That being said, there are more issues involved than simply bigotry and Islam.

The elites in much of the developed world have decided that a tight labor market, one which would have factory workers and street sweepers paid more than they currently get, and bankers and factory owners paid less than they currently get, is a good thing. This means that cheap labor economics drives much of immigration.

It’s not surprising that people who are in the bottom 90% income in a society would oppose this. This is a zero sum game, and by driving wages down, they lose.

Additionally, high immigration every country raises questions about societal norms, and these issues have been studiously avoided.

It’s no one else’s business how one prays, but in terms of how one should behave in public in society, there is a legitimate question of to what degree immigrants should be expected to assimilate in their public behavior.

Both of these are significant questions, and they played vote total into the Swiss minaret ban.

Let’s be clear though, there needs to be perspective in determining the bounds of society, and I think that actions like banning the minaret and hijab (head scarf) are nuts, but by the same token, I think that the cloistering of women through the Burqa, Abaya, and Niqāb (which cover the whole face except the eyes) may very well be over the line?

And then there is the modern chador, which covers the body, but leaves the face exposed…It gets confusing.

The bigots would offer is that some Islamic nations require women to wear head scarves even if they are not Moslem, so it’s reasonable for western nations to require that all women not wear head scarves, but when you are holding up Saudi Arabia as an example, you’ve lost the moral high ground.

That being said, my guess is that the most significant motivation for a yes vote was simple bigotry, and there is no simple solution, at least in the short term, because you can not change the hearts of adult bigots.

The best you can hope for is to educate their children to be less bigoted.

What can be done in the shorter term is to address issues related to “race to the bottom” cheap labor policies, and publicly discuss and address concerns participation of immigrants in public society.

If you do acknowledge that there are some issues about immigration and assimilation that are unrelated to bigotry, you will likely peel off enough of the “Yes” votes for referenda like this to fail.

Unfortunately, there is not currently an honest dialog on these issues.

Canada Bails Out of Afghanistan

When you’ve lost Stephen Harper on the war, you’ve lost the war:

Canada is sticking to a 2011 end date for its combat mission in Afghanistan even as the United States prepares to significantly boost its military presence in the war-torn country.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking at the conclusion of a Commonwealth leaders’ summit in Trinidad, said he doesn’t see any enthusiasm among Canada’s 308 MPs for prolonging or expanding this deployment.

This is a guy who was literally George W. Bush’s best bud in this hemisphere, and was right behind Tony Blair in the competition for best poodle in show, and disappointed about finishing 2nd.

This won’t change the White House’s position on Afghanistan, which is all about Barack Obama attempting to defuse attacks from the right that he is a peacenik, so he is better positioned to run for reelection in 2012, which, of course worked so f$#@ing well for LBJ in 1965.

So, it’s wrong on pragmatic political level, where Vietnam kneecapped Johnson’s Great Society and the Democratic for years, and it’s wrong on the moral level, where feeding new bodies to what Eric Palmer calls “Operation Useless Dirt” simply to inoculate one’s self from right wing attacks that will happen anyway.

Have to Put my Resume in With These Folks

Leeds University advertises for lap dance research officer:

The advertised position, in the School of Sociology and Social Policy, is for: “Research Officer – The rise and regulation of lap dancing and the place of sexual labour and consumption in the night time economy”.

The advertisement further stipulates that “prior experience of conducting research in the female sex industry” is essential.

Of course, if this does not appear on Letterman, Leno, or Stewart, they aren’t doing their jobs.

Needless to say, Sharon* is not amused at my suggestion that I apply for the position.

*Love of my life, light of the cosmos, she who must be obeyed, my wife.

We’re Still Torturing at Black Prisons

So much for change we can believe in.

The CIA is still maintaining gulags where prisoners are tortured:

An American military detention camp in Afghanistan is still holding inmates, sometimes for weeks at a time, without access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to human rights researchers and former detainees held at the site on the Bagram Air Base.

The site, known to detainees as the black jail, consists of individual windowless concrete cells, each illuminated by a single light bulb glowing 24 hours a day. In interviews, former detainees said that their only human contact was at twice-daily interrogation sessions.

“The black jail was the most dangerous and fearful place,” said Hamidullah, a spare-parts dealer in Kandahar who said he was detained there in June. “They don’t let the I.C.R.C. officials or any other civilians see or communicate with the people they keep there. Because I did not know what time it was, I did not know when to pray.”

The jail’s operation highlights a tension between President Obama’s goal to improve detention conditions that had drawn condemnation under the Bush administration and his stated desire to give military commanders leeway to operate. While Mr. Obama signed an order to eliminate so-called black sites run by the Central Intelligence Agency in January, it did not also close this jail, which is run by military Special Operations forces.

The problem here is that he wants to split a difference, because he is too eager to please people, and there is no difference to split: You either torture, or you don’t. You either allow the ICRC to review conditions at POW camps, or you don’t, you either try terrorists in real courts, or you don’t.

What’s more, this is well corroborated:

Although his and other detainees’ accounts could not be independently corroborated, each was interviewed separately and described similar conditions. Their descriptions also matched those obtained by two human rights workers who had interviewed other former detainees at the site.

(emphasis mine)

What Barack Obama (and Eric Holder, and much of the rest of Obama’s security/intelligence appointees) has done is to spiff up the image of the torture, but it is still going on.

There is a point where a line gets crossed, and it won’t be just covering up for Bush and His Evil Minions, and maybe shading a few lines on due process.

After a few more months of this, Barack Obama becomes a war criminal too.

Zimbabwe Update

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted on the subject.

The macro picture is that Mugabe continues to refuse to behave in accordance with any of the agreements that he signed, and Tsvangerai can’t do much about it, and the SADC in general, and South Africa in particular, won’t do much about it.

It’s kind of a dysfunctional stasis.

That being said, the trial of Roy Bennett, the MDC treasurer and nominee for deputy agriculture minister, the government’s star witness has said on the stand that his earlier testimony was coerced by torture.

The judge has ruled that eter Michael Hitschmann’s confession cannot be used against Bennett because of this.

Not This Contemptible, Self-Serving, Psychopathic Loser Again

The Green Party of Connecticut is lobbying Ralph Nader to run against Chris Dodd for Senate.

Ralph Nader has harmed his reputation, his movement, and the Green Party, which not only bore the brunt of the blow-back from his candidacy fro President in 2000, but also never got access to his contributor or mailing lists for that elections.

But still, the clueless in Connecticut, want to put the Former President of the WWE, Linda McMahon, who has put on homophobic rape filled theater as “pro-wrestling”, in the Senate by running Nader against Dodd.

NASA: Lame Beyond Belief

So, in an attempt to make NASA look cool again, they have signed up “The Rock”, the wrestler turned actor who now goes by his given name, Dwayne Johnson, in order to make space travel look cool again:

Perhaps space travel has become old. Perhaps people have come to take it for granted. It’s been seen in so many movies. So many space shuttles have taken off and returned to Earth that we think little more of them than we do of jumbo jets.

NASA therefore has to use its imagination to persuade tomorrow’s generations that space travel continues to be a large step for man.

One small step in this process is a new public service announcement featuring that fearsome space creature, “The Rock.” Dwayne Johnson himself, a man who has appeared in so many scientifically concocted movies such as WWF SmackDown, WWE Backlash, and WWE Crush Hour, is now telling kids that NASA is cool.

You know, going into space is cool, the fact that you have to lose an actor to convince people that it is is more of an artifact of your incompetence in running the space program than it is the fundamental coolness of space.

Learning to find one’s own ass with one’s own hands would be a good start.

Video below.