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28 Jul 17:17

Why We Should Ignore Academics’ Claims About Monopsony Power: In Summary

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

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morganovich e-mailed me after reading my most-recent note in response to Aaron the Aaron.  Here’s the bulk of morganovich’s e-mail, shared here with his kind permission (original emphasis):

If I may, I’d like to propose another line of reasoning:

It is precisely the fact that (as all seem to agree) that these academics “have no skills to run a business” that renders them unqualified to render judgements about the monopsony power of such businesses.

It seems we have 2 possible states of the world:

1.      Academics understand business, its decisions, its challenges, and what the world looks like from a CEO or a HR chair.  in such a case, they would seem qualified to speak to the power such a business has around hiring.  however, also in such a case, they can (justly) be taken to task for failing to put their money where their mouth is.  if this great opportunity exists and they understand the space well enough to see it, then failing to do something about it (even if it’s just consulting or joining a board) does seem to render the sincerity of their claims highly suspect.

2.      Academics do not understand business, its challenges etc and have NO IDEA what the world looks like from the operating side.  in such a case, they are speaking of something they have just admitted they do not understand.  their beliefs about monopsony may well be utterly sincere, but there is no reason why we ought to give them much credence.  they have already told us these are the beliefs of someone who does not understand the subject matter.  I may have some very sincere beliefs about how to remove a tumor.  but, before taking my advice, any sane individual might ask “have you ever performed surgery?”  and upon receiving my response in the negative, quite reasonably choose to heavily discount my advice and instead rely upon someone with actual experience.

28 Jul 03:57

Municipal Madness

by Tim Knight from Slope of Hope

From the Slope of Hope: Only a government employee could point to a 99.5% failure rate and declare it a success.

Look no farther than my local newspaper this morning: the city of Menlo Park (which is an affluent superb like Palo Alto, but even whiter and more sheltered) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment to read the license plates of all the cars passing by certain intersections. (We'll set aside the creepiness of the surveillance and just focus on the economics here.)

The latest quarterly report came out, and out of 198,286 license plates read, 204 of them were brought to the attention of authorities as "wanted" vehicles. OK, cool. Looks like we're getting some hits here and and go grab some criminals, right, boys?

The problem is that 203 of the 204 weren't "wanted" at all. The plates were all misread. There was one - count 'em, one - license plate out of the 198,286 which was indeed a plate from a stolen car, and the police captain (which, around here, is a quarter-million dollar year salary) assures the public that the license plate readers are "working properly" since, after all, they did button down one vehicle (which, if I may speculate, was probably worth, oh, about ten thousand bucks or so).

Suffice it to say that the hundreds of thousands spent on the equipment - - to say nothing of the time and effort involved from the police force (each member of which enjoys a six-figure salary) probably is a substantially greater sum than the value of the single vehicle retrieved. Here ya go:

0727-menlo

28 Jul 13:28

Free Trade Without Controversy

by Simon Lester

This is from the New York Times editorial board: 

More than 50 countries agreed on Friday to eliminate tariffs on a wide range of technology goods like medical devices, navigation equipment and advanced semiconductors in a trade agreement that should benefit American manufacturers, consumers and the global economy.

Signatories to the Information Technology Agreement, which covers 201 product categories, include the United States, the European Union, China, South Korea and other members of the World Trade Organization. International trade in those goods totals about $1.3 trillion a year, or about 7 percent of all trade. 

I worry that I’m speaking to soon, but so far at least, I have not seen any of the usual trade critics complain about this deal.  With trade negotiations such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, there are lots of groups who are fired up about protesting every stage of the process.  But with this deal to eliminate tariffs on tech goods, these same folks have not had much to say.  Which perhaps suggests a way forward for negotiating future trade deals – focus on lowering tariffs and other forms of pure liberalization, and stay away from “governance” issues such as intellectual property, labor and the environment.  The benefits are greater with this approach, and the controversy appears to be lower.

27 Jul 22:34

Contrasting views on Uber and what that tells us about trusting the market vs. trusting government

by Mark Perry

Let’s compare and contrast two viewpoints on Uber and see what that tells us about one’s trust of market forces vs. trust of government force.

1. From Steve Horwitz’s article in The Freeman “Uber Solves the Fundamental Problem of the Marketplace (Or, Turning Strangers into ‘Honorary Kin’)“:

As an economic innovation, Uber exemplifies the way creative entrepreneurs discover new methods of providing better, less expensive consumer products and services. It also demonstrates how such creativity helps people navigate around barriers to entry created by government regulations that, though designed to protect consumers, end up protecting incumbent firms.

The fundamental problem of markets is the need to establish trust among strangers. In a wonderful book called In the Company of Strangers, Paul Seabright explores this formulation in great depth. He argues that for markets to work more fully, we need various institutions that allow strangers to be less suspicious of one another. We need to turn them into “honorary friends,” or in my own preferred version, “honorary kin.”

After all, what makes us willing to get into the backseat of a stranger’s car? With taxis, there are the obvious markers that are designed to generate trust: yellow or green paint, a corporate name, and the name and picture of the driver, among others. Many of those markers are possible because of the corporate structure that puts all of the drivers in similar-looking vehicles with the same company’s name.

That is not how Uber works. Not only are you getting into the backseat of a stranger’s car; you are getting into the backseat of their personal vehicle, which has no obvious marking that it is intended to provide rides to strangers. But Uber overcomes this apparent problem in several ways that make clever use of technology. When you request your ride, you are immediately given identifying information about the driver and car, including a thumbnail picture of the driver, the color and make of the car, and its license plate.

An additional way in which Uber establishes trust is by using GPS technology to show you exactly where your car is and how long (and what path) it will take to get to you. Watching the car drive up on the Uber app as you see it in front of you is a major signal of trust. Uber also gives you a cell number for your driver, which is useful if the pickup location is ambiguous. It also makes retrieving anything you left in the car much easier. Have you ever tried to get a lost item back from a cab company?

Uber also establishes trust through its rating system, which works much like those of eBay and other online, anonymous exchange-based sites. Riders rate drivers, and the driver’s rating appears alongside the identifying information about the car. Drivers rate riders, too, so if you misbehave in a car, you are less likely to get picked up the next time you need a ride. After all, sellers also have to trust buyers!

Finally, Uber has the profit incentive. If drivers are not trustworthy, people will not use the service, and Uber will suffer. Notice that taxi companies with various forms of government protection from competition (e.g., the taxi medallions in New York City) do not face the same strong incentive effects here. They don’t have to please their customers in quite the same way. And that might explain why my recent Uber driver had a bottle of water waiting for me in a very clean, very comfortable, and relatively new car. That does not describe most taxi rides in most cities.

Living out beautiful anarchy by finding ways around the state and crony-capitalist providers like cab companies requires that the alternatives, such as Uber, solve the problem of turning strangers into honorary kin. Thankfully, modern technology, such as the combination of GPS, electronic payment, and smartphones that Uber and other services in the sharing economy are using, provides effective ways of doing so and makes us willing to get in the backseats of strangers’ cars as if they were the backseat of our parents’ minivan.

2. Now compare that to this critical and unappreciative report on Uber from Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom:

I am from the generation whose mothers preached “Don’t ever get in a car with a stranger!” So right from the start, Uber had me nervous. Let’s see. You download an app onto your phone. You type in where you are. A driver you never met before suddenly appears, knows your name and has a loose connection to your credit card. The vehicle may be a Lincoln, an SUV or a six-year-old Kia, the same car the driver just took to the grocery store, or, for all you know, the drug pickup. You get in.

Well. You get in. I am standing on the sidewalk, still trying to get the iPhone turned on. Uber, based in California, is a techie-first phenomenon, belonging to the generation that believes nothing bad could happen from sharing every piece of personal information with the entire universe. My generation is more afraid. Actually terrified. And perhaps, in the end, more practical. We are also dinosaurs.

So while young people gleefully hail Uber cars on their way out of bars, and cities everywhere argue over whether Uber unfairly competes, avoids taxes or influences legislation, Baby Boomers are still mumbling, “Wait, you just get IN the car? And the driver could be ANYONE?” Well. Sort of. To be an Uber driver, you do have to sign up. And, according to Uber, you undergo some sort of background check, although the depth of that check seems in question.

The drivers, who, as Uber advertises, work only when they want to (lest Uber have to pay them salaries, benefits and all that yucky old-fashioned stuff) and supposedly have to pass a driving test. But you don’t have to look far (like a Forbes magazine article) to read stories of applicants who were given an Uber cell phone with no driving training and told to get out there and start making money.

So, dinosaurs like me (you know, anyone over 26) wonder how this is much different than trusting your life to the car that just pulled up when you had a flat tire. After all, Uber bills itself as “the world’s safest, most reliable ride,” but that’s pretty hard to believe when someone like me could be driving for them in a matter of days. Just ask my family. They see me pull up, they turn the other way and stick out their thumbs.

But then, we are a generation that likes its cabs yellow and its hands free. I guess it’s archaic to believe that uniform cars, a state or city licensed organization, regulation and full-time drivers make for a more reliable transportation system. Maybe we’re too nostalgic. But at least cabbies used to get their information through a radio dispatch. Uber drivers are like musical chairs — closest one wins. And their customers come through cell phones. When your business depends on how quickly you read an app while behind the wheel, I get nervous.

This is not to say Uber is a bad idea. It isn’t. But like most tech-based ideas, it turns muddy when human beings get involved. There have already been several alleged assaults between Uber drivers and passengers. And Uber drivers complain there are too many of them now to make the promised money.

Maybe you trust Uber, maybe you don’t. To me, this is about a larger notion, that everybody is a specialist as soon as they start doing something. You blog, you’re a journalist. You sell an eBay item, you’re a retailer. It’s an egalitarian approach to life, we can all do anything, have anything, share everything, someone else’s music, someone else’s movie, someone else’s car.

MP: It seems like those most skeptical and critical of Uber and the sharing economy are those of the progressive and liberal political persuasion – like Mitch Albom. Reason? Progressives seem to trust the heavy hand of government force more than they trust the invisible hand of market, they have more faith in regulated monopolies/cartels (e.g. Big Taxi, public schools) than market competition (Uber, charter schools), and in general favor government solutions and government force over market solutions and voluntary exchange. Or put differently, progressives don’t believe in the magic or miracle of the marketplace, they don’t trust the market and have instead learned to subjugate themselves to the power of the state, with its volumes of liberty-crushing regulations and armies of regulators.

One’s position on Uber tells us a lot about their economic and political views and their relative trust of the market to regulate itself through vigorous market competition versus their trust in the power of the state to regulate, but so often, stifle the market to the detriment of consumers. In the end, it’s another opportunity to invoke Bastiat’s words of wisdom from 1850: “Treat all economic questions from the viewpoint of the consumer, for the interests of the consumer are the interests of the human race.” When it comes to transportation, there’s no question that Uber is doing a much better job of serving the interests of the consumer and the human race than Big Taxi by offering lower prices and faster and better service. As the world progresses forward and consumers increasingly choose Uber and Lyft over Big Taxi when they have a choice, the “progressives” aren’t being very “progressive” in their thinking.

Steve Horwitz 1, Mitch Albom 0.

The post Contrasting views on Uber and what that tells us about trusting the market vs. trusting government appeared first on AEI.

28 Jul 12:27

Happy Birthday Copyright Bombshell: New Evidence Warner Music Previously Hid Shows Song Is Public Domain

by Mike Masnick
Last minute evidence that completely turns a legal case on its head doesn't come about all that often -- despite what you see in Hollywood movies and TV shows. The discovery process in a lawsuit generally reveals most of the evidence revealed to everyone pretty early on. And yet... in the high profile lawsuit over the copyright status of the song "Happy Birthday," the plaintiffs "Good Morning to You Productions" (who are making a documentary about the song and are arguing that the song is in the public domain) have popped up with a last minute filing, saying they have just come across evidence that the song is absolutely in the public domain.

And, here's the real kicker: they discovered this bit of evidence after two questionable things happened. (1) Warner/Chappell Music (who claims to hold the copyright for the publishing, if it exists) suddenly "found" a bunch of relevant documents that it was supposed to hand over in discovery last year, but didn't until just a few weeks ago, and (2) a rather important bit of information in one of those new documents was somewhat bizarrely "blurred out." This led the plaintiffs go searching for the original, and discover that it undermines Warner Music's arguments, to the point of showing that the company was almost certainly misleading the court. Furthermore, it definitively shows that the work was and is in the public domain.

If you haven't been following the issue closely, there is actually a lot of evidence, much of it put together by Robert Brauneis, that the song really should be in the public domain. There are all sorts of questions raised about how it became covered by copyright in the first place. Everyone agrees the song was originally written as "Good Morning to All" in the late 1800s, but from there, there's lots of confusion and speculation as to how it eventually was given a copyright in 1935, granted to the Clayton F. Summy company. People have argued that the 1935 copyright was really just on a particular piano arrangement, but not the melody or lyrics to Happy Birthday To You -- which had both been around long before 1935.

Warner/Chapppell has long argued that Summy Co never published or allowed anyone else to publish the lyrics to Happy Birthday, but that seems undone by this new evidence. And, again, it seems a bit odd that magically Warner/Chappell suddenly "found" a bunch of new evidence. As Good Morning to You Productions notes:
On July 13, 2015, Defendants gave Plaintiffs access to a database of approximately 500 pages of documents, including approximately 200 pages of documents they claim were “mistakenly” not produced during discovery, which ended on July 11, 2014, more than one year earlier.
So over a year later, and just weeks before the court was likely to rule on the matter, suddenly Warner finds stuff that was missing before? Okay. But it gets even stranger. Because one of the things in this very late data dump is a 1927 publication of the song Happy Birthday in "The Everyday Song Book." And, as the plaintiffs in the case note, there's a line right under the title song that "is blurred almost beyond legibility -- curiously it is the only line in the entire PDF that is blurred in that manner." Hmmm. Here's the image: Here's a closeup of the title and the "blurred line" right beneath the title: The plaintiffs found this odd and went on a search for the original copy of the Everyday Song Book, finding the edition that was shown in the documents (the 15th edition) as well as a few earlier editions, and a much clearer version: From there, you can see that the "blurred" line says that the song is published via:
Special permission through courtesy of The Clayton F Summy Co.
As the plaintiff notes, this is evidence that there is no copyright on the song. They also went back and found that this particular edition was not the first one in which the song appeared. Instead, it first appeared in the 4th edition, published in 1922, well before 1935. The key issue: the lack of a copyright notice. Today that wouldn't matter. But under the 1909 Copyright Act it matters quite a bit.
Under Section 9 of the 1909 Copyright Act, “any person entitled thereto by this Act may secure copyright for his work by publication thereof with the notice of copyright required by this Act” affixed to all copies of the work.... At a minimum, Section 18 of the 1909 Copyright Act required the notice to include the word “Copyright,” the abbreviation “Copr., ” or the “©” symbol as well as the year of first publication and the name of the author of the copyrighted work.... If the strict notice requirements of the 1909 Copyright Act were not met, the “published work was interjected irrevocably into the public domain.” Twin Books Corp. v. Walt Disney Co., 83 F.3d 1162, 1165 (9th Cir. 1996) (emphasis added). None of these notice requirements was met for the Good Morning and Birthday Song included in the fourth edition of The Everyday Song Book published in 1922.
In other words, it appears that the song was put into the public domain by 1922 at the latest. The plaintiffs argue that the lack of a copyright notice on the work shows that Patty Hill (who wrote the song) likely put the work into the public domain years earlier:
Publication of the Good Morning and Birthday Song in The Everyday Song Book in 1922 and thereafter, with Summy’s authorization but without a copyright notice, is fully consistent with Plaintiffs’ position that the Happy Birthday lyrics had been dedicated to the public many years before then. Because the lyrics were in the public domain, there was no reason for a copyright notice to be set forth in the song book. Moreover, the authorized publication of the Good Morning and Birthday Song in 1922 without a copyright notice also is fully consistent with Plaintiffs’ position that the 1935 copyrights (E51988 and E51990) covered only the specific piano arrangements written by Summy’s employees Orem and Forman (as well as the second verse written by Forman). Since the lyrics were already in the public domain long before 1935, there was nothing else to be copyrighted other than the new work that Summy’s employees contributed when those copyrights were registered.
The filing also notes that while the copyright on the compilation for the 1922 and 1927 publications could only cover the overall compilation, rather than the individual works, even so both copyrights have long since expired, so Warner/Chappell can't even claim that the copyrights for either compilation now lead to the copyright today.

In other words, there's pretty damning conclusive evidence that "Happy Birthday" is in the public domain and the Clayton Summy company knew it. Even worse, this shows that Warner/Chappel has long had in its possession evidence that the song was at least published in 1927 contrary to the company's own claims in court and elsewhere that the song was first published in 1935. We'll even leave aside the odd "blurring" of the songbook, which could just be a weird visual artifact. This latest finding at least calls into question how honest Warner/Chappel has been for decades in arguing that everyone needs to pay the company to license "Happy Birthday" even as the song was almost certainly in the public domain.

It's been reported for years that the company brings in somewhere around $2 million per year off of the song -- and it's looking like none of that money should have been paid.

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27 Jul 20:45

Celebrate, Citizens of Boston! You Will Not Be Hosting the Olympics!

by Scott Shackford

All this could be yours! For $50 billion or so.Boston Mayor Martin Walsh is the fiscal sanity hero of the day, possibly for the next month or so, for taking a hard line against using taxpayer dollars to prop up the sports entertainment industrial complex. Boston had been in the running for consideration for hosting the 2024 Olympics as America's nominee. The mayor, though, refused to sign an agreement that would have guaranteed that the International Olympics Committee would not be held liable for cost overruns. And with the Olympics, you know there are going to be cost overruns. So the United States Olympic Committee pulled the plug on Boston. From the New York Times:

The decision followed a bombshell announcement Monday morning by Mayor Martin J. Walsh that he would not sign a host city contract with the U.S.O.C. if it wanted him to do so by the end of the day.

"This is me letting the taxpayers of Boston know where we stand on the Olympic bid and where we stand on the guarantee – that I will not sign a document that puts one dollar of taxpayers' money on the line for one penny of overruns for the Olympics," the mayor said.

The host city contract includes a guarantee that the International Olympic Committee would not be held responsible for any cost overruns. The contract essentially moved that burden to the host city and state — a burden that the mayor said he was unwilling to assume, certainly not without a further examination of the bid's financials.

"I refuse to mortgage the future of the city away," the mayor added. "This is a commitment that I can't make without ensuring the city and its residents will be protected."

Good for the mayor! There isn't even any pretense that the Olympics would actually financially benefit Boston in some way. It's a terrible burden, and everybody knows it.

So that's it for that. Let one of the other countries bankroll this boondoggle.

Organizers now must decide whether to try to scramble a last-minute bid from Los Angeles … .

Well ... crap.

Read Reason rant about the awfulness of Olympics and Olympics-related politics and security theater here.

26 Jul 20:45

Senate Votes to Reauthorize Ex-Im Bank

by Scott Shackford

All hail the bank of Boeing!Is it utterly impossible to get rid of any federal program, no matter how corrupt or cronyist or useless? The Senate has voted today to amend a highway funding bill that must be passed by the end of the month in order to resurrect the Export-Import Bank, whose federal authorization expired at the top of the month.

Prior to the vote, several senators took to the floor to "Well, I never!" at Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) speech on Friday accusing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) of lying about a deal to bring the bank amendment to vote (After defending bringing the amendment to a vote, McConnell voted against it). There was lots of huffing about decorum and impugning people's character that you can read about here. This all came, incidentally, just minutes after Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) took to the floor to accuse anybody against the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of being servants of the Koch brothers.

Anyway, this doesn't necessarily mean the Export-Import Bank is definitely back, because they still have to get the conservatives of the House on board. Remember, it was the stubbornness of House conservatives (working with Democrats) that helped sunset Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, one of the regulations used to authorize mass domestic surveillance.

More on the terrible Export-Import Bank here.

24 Jul 17:47

Ted Cruz Calls Mitch McConnell a Bald-Faced Liar, Thunders Against Ex-Im Bank

by Matt Welch

It's not every day that a GOP senator, and top-10 presidential candidate, accuses his own party's Majority Leader of telling a "flat-out lie," but that's what happened this morning. Take a look at this speech:

Reason on the Ex-Im Bank here.

24 Jul 18:00

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

by Patrick
Jts5665

Glen Cook is another of my favorite authors.


You can now download Glen Cook's opening chapter in the Starfishers trilogy, Shadowline, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The vendetta in space had started centuries before "Mouse" Storm was born with his grandfather's raid on the planet Prefactlas, the blood bath that freed the human slaves from their Sangaree masters. But one Sangaree survived—the young Norborn heir, the man who swore vengeance on the Storm family and their soldiers, in a carefully mapped plot that would take generations to fulfill. Now Mouse's father Gneaus must fight for an El Dorado of wealth on the burning half of the planet Blackworld. As the great private armies of all space clash on the narrow Shadowline that divides inferno from life-sheltering shade, Gneaus' half-brother Michael plays his traitorous games, and a man called Death pulls the deadly strings that threaten to entrap them all—as the Starfishers Trilogy begins.
23 Jul 13:12

A train you ride in Fallout 3 is actually an NPC wearing a train hat

Bethesda has been the steward of the Fallout franchise for nearly a decade at this point, and Fallout 4 will reportedly be the most detailed game the company has ever made. That’s thanks to an updated version of the Creation game engine, but before Creation, there was Gamebryo. This is the game engine that powered Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and it had an interesting set of quirks. After poking around in the game files, someone on 4chan noticed a fantastic detail — there’s a hat that is literally an entire train.

Gamebryo was not really designed with vehicles in mind. When you think about it, Skyrim is all horses and walking, but all the cars are wrecked in Fallout, so vehicles don’t come up much. There are a number of workarounds to make vehicles work the few times they appear. For example, the Fallout Vertibirds are just pre-rendered animations that don’t operate inside the physics of the game.

Far more interesting is the Presidential Metro Train in Fallout 3’s Broken Steel DLC. It turns out it was easier to make the train car a piece of head armor and slap it onto an NPC than it was to make a working vehicle. The NPC (with train hat) can be spawned wherever it needs to be. All you see is the train car on the tracks, but under the surface is a person with a train on her head.

Broken_Steel_Presdential_Metro_Line

There’s another trick when you actually board the train, and it’s almost as weird. Again, there aren’t physics for making a train car move in the Gamebryo engine, so you’re not actually on the train. Instead, the player is equipped with a piece of head armor that covers the field of view and looks like the inside of a train. Then a camera animation is played that makes it look like you’re on a moving train, but you really just have a helmet on.

The new Creation engine in Fallout 4 will be much more sophisticated than Gamebryo from Fallout 3, but they share much of the same DNA. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some clever workarounds in Fallout 4 too, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a good solution if it doesn’t introduce any new bugs and can fool the player.

Bookmarked at brandizzi Delicious' sharing tag and expanded by Delicious sharing tag expander.
23 Jul 20:55

A Stunning Look At California's Historic Drought - From The Air

by Tyler Durden

"Ugly brown rings where waves used to lap at the shore. Dry docks lying on desiccated silt. Barren boat ramps. Trickles of water." Those are just some of the disturbing images California's Department of Water Resources team saw in an aerial tour of Northern California's Folsom Lake, Lake Oroville and Shasta reservoirs released this week...

 

The dramatic aerial views timelapsed from just a year ago show the level of devastation already... and it's not about to get any better...

 

Click image below for interactive gallery...

 

Source: SFGate.com

24 Jul 13:10

State Of Georgia Sues Carl Malamud For Copyright Infringement For Publishing The State's Own Laws

by Mike Masnick
Two years ago, we wrote about the state of Georgia ridiculously threatening to sue Carl Malamud and his site Public.Resource.org for copyright infringement... for publishing an official annotated copy of the state's laws. This followed on a similar threat from the state of Oregon, which wisely backed down. Malamud has spent the last few years of his life doing wonderful and important work trying to make sure that the laws that we live by are actually available to the public. The specific issue here is that while the basic Georgia legal code is available to the public, the state charges a lot of money for the "Official Code of Georgia Annotated." The distinction here is fairly important -- but it's worth noting that the courts will regularly rely on the annotations in the official code, which more or less makes them a part of the law itself the state points directly to the annotated version as the official laws of the state. Furthermore, the annotations are very important in understanding and applying the relevant interpretations and case law (case law is a part of the law, after all). And then, the question is whether or not the law itself should be subject to copyright restrictions. Malamud has long argued no, while the state has obviously argued yes, probably blinded by the revenue from selling its official copy of the annotated code. Update: In the original post, I overstated the claim that the courts would directly rely on the annotations. While the annotations are often used to better understand the relevant case law, it does not appear that the courts directly refer to the annotations themselves.

It took two years, but the state has now done the absolutely ridiculous thing of suing Malamud. It is about as ridiculous as you would expect again focusing on the highly questionable claim that the Official Code of Georgia Annotated is covered by federal copyright law -- and that not only was Malamud (*gasp*) distributing it, but also... creating derivative works! Oh no! And, he's such an evil person that he was encouraging others to do so as well!
This action for injunctive relief arises from Defendant’s systematic, widespread and unauthorized copying and distribution of the copyrighted annotations in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (“O.C.G.A.”) through the distribution of thumb drives containing copies of the O.C.G.A. and the posting of the O.C.G.A. on various websites. Defendant has facilitated, enabled, encouraged and induced others to view, download, print, copy, and distribute the O.C.G.A copyrighted annotations without limitation, authorization, or appropriate compensation. On information and belief, Defendant has also created unauthorized derivative works containing the O.C.G.A. annotations by re-keying the O.C.G.A. in order to make it possible for members of the public to copy and manipulate the O.C.G.A., thereby also encouraging the creation of further unauthorized derivative works.
Believe it or not, the State of Georgia is actually claiming that it needs the copyright protections here to incentivize it to create these annotated copies of the law. Apparently, without copyright, Georgia's law would remain sadly unannotated.
Each of these annotations is an original and creative work of authorship that is protected by copyrights owned by the State of Georgia. Without providing the publisher with the ability to recoup its costs for the development of these copyrighted annotations, the State of Georgia will be required to either stop publishing the annotations altogether or pay for development of the annotations using state tax dollars. Unless Defendant’s infringing activities are enjoined, Plaintiff and citizens of the State of Georgia, will face losing valuable analysis and guidance regarding their state laws.
This is ridiculous. In what world does making the law require copyright protection?

The State is particularly upset that Malamud ran some crowdfunding and donation campaigns seeking to raise money to keep his operations running, saying that he raised this money "to assist the Defendant in infringing the State of Georgia's copyrights." The State also complains that he uploaded the code to the Internet Archive under a CC 0 public domain dedication, saying (incorrectly) that this implies that he claimed that he was the owner of the annotations. That's not true at all. He's claiming that everyone owns them, because they're the law.

Later, the lawsuit makes Malamud out to be some sort of horrible person on a "crusade" to make the laws free, and to "control the accessibility of U.S. government documents."
On information and belief, Carl Malamud has engaged in an 18 yearlong crusade to control the accessibility of U.S. government documents by becoming the United States’ Public Printer – an individual nominated by the U.S. President and who is in control of the U.S. Government Printing Office. Carl Malamud has not been so nominated.
It takes a special kind of ridiculousness to argue that someone seeking to make the laws of the land more accessible to the public is somehow looking to "control the accessibility" of those laws. But, welcome to the State of Georgia, apparently home to just that kind of special ridiculousness.

The complaint further submits as an exhibit this Columbia Journalism Review article about Malamud from 2009 in order to support Georgia's ridiculous claim that Malamud sees what he's doing as a form of "terrorism." The lawsuit says the following:
Carl Malamud, has indicated that this type of strategy has been a successful form of “terrorism” that he has employed in the past to force government entities to publish documents on Malamud’s terms
Of course, all that's likely to really do is further educate the court about what Malamud is really looking to do: make the laws of the land more publicly accessible.

Either way, this seems like a ridiculous move for Georgia. Going after Carl Malamud for copyright infringement for helping to make the public more aware of the law in the state of Georgia just seems ridiculous. And for all of the state's repeated claims in the lawsuit that it's doing this to protect taxpayers, one has to ask why it's spending taxpayer revenue on filing such a ridiculous lawsuit?

Back when the state of Georgia first threatened Malamud two years ago, he responded as such:
It is a long-held tenet of American law that there is no copyright in the law. This is because the law belongs to the people and in our system of democracy we have the right to read, know, and speak the laws by which we choose to govern ourselves. Requiring a license before allowing citizens to read or speak the law would be a violation of deeply-held principles in our system that the laws apply equally to all.

This principle was strongly set out by the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall when they stated “the Court is unanimously of opinion that no reporter has or can have any copyright in the written opinions delivered by this Court, and that the judges thereof cannot confer on any reporter any such right.” Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 (1834). The Supreme Court specifically extended that principle to state law, such as the Ofcial Code of Georgia Annotated, in Banks v. Manchester (128 U.S. 244, 1888) , where it stated that “the authentic exposition and interpretation of the law, which, binding every citizen, is free for publication to all, whether it is a declaration of unwritten law, or an interpretation of a constitution or a statute.”
This still applies, and it seems that the State of Georgia might want to re-evaluate its choice of targets here.

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24 Jul 01:50

The World Economy Visualized

by Tyler Durden

Via Jim Quinn's Burning Platform blog,

If itsy bitsy pie slice – Greece (.33%) – can create this much worldwide economic havoc because of their unpayble level of debt, imagine what will happen when the truth is revealed about France (3.81%), Italy (2.88%), and Spain (1.88%). China’s (13.9%) entire economic model has been built upon debt and the world consuming their output.

The world has run out of money to consume their shit. Japan (6.18%) is in the midst of a demographic and debt death spiral. The U.S. (23.32%) is living on borrowed time and the continued dominance of the USD. How long will it last? We are inhabiting in a world stacked with TNT run by monkeys with matches.

Courtesy of: Visual Capitalist
 

Today’s data visualization is the most simple breakdown of the world economy that we’ve seen. Not only is it split to show the GDP of dozens of countries in relation to one another based on size, but it also subtly divides each economy into its main sectors: agriculture, services, and industry.  

The lightest shade in each country corresponds to the most primitive economic activity, which is agriculture. The medium shade is industry, and the darkest shade corresponds to services, which tends to make up a large portion of GDP of developed economies in the world economy.

To take it one step further, the visualization also shades the countries by continental geography, to easily see the relative economic contributions of North America, Europe, South America, Asia, Oceania, and Africa.

23 Jul 20:11

Jared Bernstein Tilts His Tax Facts

by Chris Edwards

Former Obama administration economist, Jared Bernstein, argues for higher taxes in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. His piece begins:

Like it or not, the campaign season is upon us, and that almost certainly means somebody is going to try to buy your vote with a tax cut — even though average federal tax rates are already low in historical terms, our tax code remains tilted in favor of the wealthy, and our children, neighborhoods and infrastructure desperately need public investment.

I tried to use my imagination and think of how a thoughtful and intelligent liberal like Bernstein might conceive of tax policy. But I could not come up with any scenario under which this statement might be considered true: “our tax code remains tilted in favor of the wealthy.”   

The plain fact of the matter is that the federal tax system is highly graduated, or what liberals call “progressive.” Lower-income households pay much smaller shares of their income in taxes than do higher-income households.

In his article, Bernstein uses data from the respected Tax Policy Center (TPC), as I do here. The first table shows TPC estimates of average federal tax rates (total taxes divided by income) for U.S. households (specifically, “tax units”) in five income groups.

Average Federal Tax Rates, 2015

Income Group Income Tax Payroll Tax Other Taxes Total Taxes
Lowest

-5.0%

6.4%

2.2%

3.6%

Second

-1.9

7.6

2.1

7.8

Middle

2.9

7.9

2.3

13.1

Fourth

6.1

8.4

2.5

17.0

Highest

15.6

6.0

4.1

25.7

   Source: Tax Policy Center estimates.

The average household in the highest group will pay 25.7 percent of its income toward taxes in 2015, which compares to 3.6 percent in the lowest group. The average household in the middle group will pay a rate about half that of the highest group. I don’t see how this data can be reconciled with Bernstein’s claim.

Data from other sources shows the same tilt in tax burdens toward high earners. Actually, “piling on” on high earners is more accurate than “tilt.” The following screenshot is from Table A-6 in this Joint Committee on Taxation report. I’ve circled the key column. Average tax rates rise rapidly as income rises. The highest earners in 2015 will pay an average federal tax rate of 33.1 percent, which is about twice the rate of those with middling incomes, and many times the rate of people at the bottom.

 

Perhaps Bernstein meant “tilted in favor of the wealthy” compared to other countries. But we have pretty solid data showing that is not correct either. Tax Foundation summarizes OECD data here showing that the U.S. has the most graduated, or progressive, tax system among the high-income nations.

Bernstein is right that the “campaign season is upon us.” But that doesn’t give him license to tilt tax data upside down to fit his policy narrative.

23 Jul 19:44

Ultimate Proof Green Energy is About Cronyism, Not the Environment

by admin

Government green energy programs are supposedly about subsidizing new energy technologies to reduce their cost and increase their adoption rate.  But it appears to me that they are in fact merely about subsidizing favored companies.

Why?  Well consider this:

Over the last couple of years, trade remedy actions on clean energy products have intensified. In the wind industry, the Wind Tower Trade Coalition, an association of U.S. producers of wind towers, brought an AD/CVD complaint against imported wind towers in 2011. The U.S. Commerce Department started an investigation, and announced a preliminary decision in December 2012.

This decision found both subsidization and dumping in relation to Chinese imports and imposed an antidumping tariff of between 44.99% and 70.63%, as well as countervailing duties of 21.86%–34.81%. The Commerce Department also established a separate antidumping duty of 51.40%–58.49% on Vietnamese wind tower manufacturers.

In the solar industry, in October 2011, the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, a group of seven U.S. solar panel manufacturers led by Solar World Industries America, accused Chinese solar panel companies of dumping products in the United States. The Commerce Department opened an investigation in 2011 and announced the final ruling in 2012. The decision was to impose antidumping tariffs ranging from 24% to 36% on Chinese producers.

All of those actions are not only not consistent with reducing the cost of new energy technologies, they actually raise the cost of wind and solar.  The only benefit of these actions is to improve the bottom line of crony-connected green energy companies.  There is no reason to believe that this cronyism is not the real rational behind the whole program.   If government subsidizes consumer solar purchases 30% and then raises solar panel costs by 30%, they are not making the technology cheaper for consumers, but just finding an excuse to pour tax money into the pockets of a few folks like Elon Musk.

23 Jul 18:49

So How Can Anyone Be Opposed to Non-Discrimination Laws

by admin

First, let me establish a few background facts.  Several years ago I headed an attempt to put a Constitutional amendment legalizing gay marriage on the ballot here in Arizona.  As far back as 2004 I had a gay couple running a campground, and faced a customer petition demanding we remove them because they promoted moral degeneracy by being gay (it's for the children!).  I told those customers to camp somewhere else, as we were not changing our staffing.  Since then I have probably hired more gay couples to run campgrounds than anyone else in the business.

So how could I possibly be opposed to this:

After a period of foreshadowing and rumor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has now gone ahead and ruled that employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is forbidden under existing federal civil rights law, specifically the current ban on sex discrimination. Congress may have declined to pass the long-pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), but no matter; the commission can reach the same result on its own just by reinterpreting current law.

There are multiple problems with non-discrimination law as currently implemented and enforced in the US.  Larger companies, for example, struggle with disparate impact lawsuits from the EEOC, where statistical metrics that may have nothing to do with past discrimination are never-the-less used to justify discrimination penalties.

Smaller companies like mine tend to have a different problem.  It is an unfortunate fact of life that the employees who do the worst job and/or break the rules the most frequently tend to be the same ones with the least self-awareness.  As a result, no one wants to believe their termination is "fair", no matter how well documented or justified (I wrote yesterday that I have personally struggled with the same thing in my past employment).

Most folks grumble and walk away.  But what if one is in a "protected group" under discrimination law?  Now, not only is this person personally convinced that their firing was unfair, but there is a whole body of law geared to the assumption that their group may be treated unfairly.  There are also many lawyers and activists who will tell them that they were almost certainly treated unfairly.

So a fair percentage of people in protected groups whom we fire for cause will file complaints with the government or outright sue us for discrimination.  I will begin by saying that we have never lost a single one of these cases.   In one or two we paid someone a nominal amount just to save legal costs of pursuing the case to the bitter end, but none of these cases were even close.

This easy ability to sue, enabled by our current implementation of discrimination law, imposes a couple of costs on us.  First, each of these suits cost us about $20,000 to win (insurance companies are smart, they know exactly how this game works, and will not sell one an employment practices defense policy without at least a $25,000 deductible, particularly in California).  It takes a lot of effort for the government, even if neutral and not biased against employers as they are in California, to determine if the employee who was fired happened to be Eskimo or if the employee was fired because he was an Eskimo.  Unfortunately, the costs of this discovery are not symmetric.  It costs employees and their attorneys virtually nothing to take a shot at us with such discrimination cases, but costs us$20,000 each to defend and win (talk about Pyrrhic victories).  Which is why we sometimes will hand someone a few bucks even if their claim is absurd, just to avoid what turns out to be essentially legal blackmail.

Second, the threat of such suits and legal costs sometimes changes our behavior in ways that might be detrimental to our customers.  A natural response to this kind of threat is to be double careful in documenting issues with employees in protected groups, meaning their termination for cause is often delayed.  In a service business, almost anyone fired for cause has demonstrated characteristics that seriously hinder customer service, so drawing out the termination process also extends the negative impact on customers.

To make all this worse, many employees have discovered a legal dodge to enhance their post-employment lawsuits (I know that several advocacy groups in California recommend this tactic).  If the employee suspects he or she is about to be fired, they will, before getting fired, claim all sorts of past discrimination.  Now, when terminated, they can claim they where a whistle blower that that their termination was not for cause but really was retaliation against them for being a whistle-blower.

I remember one employee in California taking just this tactic, claiming discrimination just ahead of his termination, though he never presented any evidence beyond the vague claim.  We wasted weeks with an outside investigator checking into his claims, all while customer complaints about the employee continued to come in.  Eventually, we found nothing and fired him.  And got sued.  The case was so weak it was eventually dropped but it cost us -- you guessed it -- about $20,000 to defend.  Given that this was more than the entire amount this operation had made over five years, it was the straw that broke the camel's back and led to us walking about from that particular operation and over half of our other California business.

23 Jul 15:03

"Fannie & Freddie Are Back; Bigger & Badder Than Ever" - NYTimes Warns

by Tyler Durden

Submitted by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

Just in case you still harbored any doubt that absolutely zero lessons were learned from the cataclysmic financial collapse of 2008/09. We learn from the New York Times that:

AFTER the financial crisis of 2008, there was one thing that almost everyone agreed on. The government-sponsored mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, had to go. While shareholders and executives reaped the profits from Fannie and Freddie in good times, taxpayers were stuck with the bill in a crisis. President Obama described their dysfunctional business model as “Heads we win, tails you lose.” But here we are, seven years after the crisis, and nothing has changed.

 

In the 2008 crisis, when it looked as if Fannie and Freddie might go bankrupt, Henry M. Paulson Jr., then the Treasury secretary, argued that their fall would cause economic catastrophe. Foreign investors, stuck with their securities, would panic, and the mortgage market would shut down. So Fannie and Freddie were put into something called conservatorship, and are now government controlled, supported by a line of credit from the Treasury.

 

Conservatorship was supposed to be temporary — a “time out,” according to Mr. Paulson. We were going to stabilize the companies’ finances, reduce their importance to the mortgage market, and figure out a better system. But nothing happened. In fact, the situation has gotten even more precarious. In the years since the crisis, private lenders, for the most part, have been willing to make mortgages if they can immediately sell them to government agencies, mainly Fannie and Freddie. In other words, without Fannie and Freddie, there wouldn’t be much of a mortgage market.

 

To make things worse, the government decided to “sweep” almost all the duo’s profits into its own coffers, to be used as a slush fund for general government expenses. As Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in congressional testimony this spring, “As a practical matter it’s what has helped us reduce our overall deficit.” If there is another downturn in the real estate market and Fannie and Freddie suffer losses on their some $5 trillion in outstanding securities, taxpayers will again have to foot the bill. 

What do you expect to happen when the people responsible for running the economy into the ground are rewarded with bailouts and deemed “Too Big to Jail?”

22 Jul 18:01

Must Make for Interesting Family Dinners: If Anything, Ellen Pao's Husband is In The Middle of An Even Bigger Mess

by admin

Ellen Pao has had some career problems of late, but as I wrote yesterday, if she takes some responsibility for her own mis-steps and stops blaming it all on misogyny, she might learn something useful and build positive things on the experience.

A very loyal reader gives me a heads up that her husband, who is never mentioned in recent stories, actually faces a LOT more serious trouble (it is probably journalistically appropriate to leave her husband out of the recent stories, but one wonders if the New York Times would show the same scruples on a story about the CEO of Exxon if, say, his wife were independently in the midst of some sort of scandal).

Ellen Pao's husband is Buddy Fletcher, former Wall Street Wunderkind and now subject of a LOT of regulator scrutiny and pension fund lawsuits.  Here is one:

The firefighters’ system eventually said yes, and along with two other pension funds — the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System and the New Orleans Firefighters’ Pension and Relief Fund — invested a combined $100 million in one of Mr. Fletcher’s funds, FIA Leveraged. As they understood it, the fund would invest in liquid securities that could be sold in a matter of weeks.

The details sounded, as one board member put it, “too good to be true.”

In fact, they were.

Mr. Fletcher’s hedge fund has since been described by a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee as having elements of a Ponzi scheme, and four retirement systems are fighting to recover their money. A federal judge is scheduled to rule in March on a plan to liquidate the fund’s assets, which the trustee deemed “virtually worthless” in a report last November.

And another:

New York investment manager Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher Jr. is being sued by the MBTA Retirement Fund and some of his own hedge funds on accusations that he defrauded them of more than $50 million.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in New York, accuses Fletcher and his firm, Fletcher Asset Management , and other parties of conducting a “long-running fraud” in which they misused money for their own benefit, inappropriately took inflated management fees, and overstated the value of assets.

As previously reported, the MBTA pension fund invested $25 million with Fletcher in 2007 on the advice of the fund’s former executive director, Karl White.

White pitched the investment to the pension fund just nine months after he had resigned to work for Fletcher.

The pension fund’s holding is now worthless, and the bankruptcy trustee investigating the case has alleged that Fletcher never invested the money as promised.

And here is an older, in-depth look at Fletcher.

It is starting to look like most of the money went to his family (e.g. $8 to his brother to fund a film), to buffing his image (e.g. $4+ million donation to Harvard), and to an incredibly opulent lifestyle (e.g. 4!! apartments in the Dakota).

Despite the fact that he seems to have grossly overstated income and assets of his funds, no one -- regulators, clients, auditors -- figured it out.  The most interesting part to me was the first group to detect the potential fraud was, of all groups, the governing board of the Dakota.  This group, full of successful Wall Streeters, looked at his financial statements and turned down his application to buy yet another apartment, coming to the conclusion he not only did not have the funds to buy this apartment but they were unsure how he was paying the vig on the $20 million loan securitized by his existing apartments.

One thing Fletcher apparently has in common with his wife is that he seems to respond to every negative business decision with a discrimination lawsuit.  This one backfired, however, and only served to point public attention to the fact that a group of savvy financiers thought Fletcher's wealth was potentially imaginary.  Government investigations and lawsuits have followed.

He still has a chance to escape, though.  Despite Jon Corzine's outright theft of funds from MF Global commodity investor accounts, he got off scott-free due to his close ties to the Democratic Party.  Time for Fletcher to start giving any free assets he still holds (if there are any) to Hillary's campaign.

22 Jul 19:21

Name The Human Decision-Making Process Which Claims a Low 0.25% Error Rate

by admin

Give up?  It's Chicago Police shooting people.  Despite the fact that the decisions must be made by folks who likely have no past experience or practice in making such decisions, Chicago claims its police officers have one of the lowest error rates of any known human decision-making process

Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) has conducted investigations of close to 400 police shootings of citizens and has found just one to have been unjustified.

Of course, it could be that the process is far more error-prone, but that the people tasked with declaring any shooting in error are the exact same people who have an interest in never admitting an error.  Also, it could be because anyone who does label a shooting as an error gets fired:

That little factoid comes from Chicago public radio station WBEZ as some background context for the news that Lorenzo Davis, a supervising investigator for IPRA, had been fired earlier in July.

Davis isn't going out quietly. WBEZ interviewedthe man, a former Chicago police officer himself who retired in 2004. Davis is saying that the reason why he was fired is because he insisted that several recent police shootings were unjustified and would not comply with orders to change his findings. Performance evaluations indicated everybody thought Davis' work was just great until recently.

22 Jul 16:37

How Capitalism Is Undermining the Indian Caste System

by Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar

Karl Marx was wrong about many things but right about one thing: the revolutionary way capitalism attacks and destroys feudalism. As I explain in a new study,  in India, the rise of capitalism since the economic reforms of 1991 has also attacked and eroded casteism, a social hierarchy that placed four castes on top with a fifth caste—dalits—like dirt beneath the feet of others. Dalits, once called untouchables, were traditionally denied any livelihood save virtual serfdom to landowners and the filthiest, most disease-ridden tasks, such as cleaning toilets and handling dead humans and animals. Remarkably, the opening up of the Indian economy has enabled dalits to break out of their traditional low occupations and start businesses. The Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) now boasts over 3,000 millionaire members. This revolution is still in its early stages, but is now unstoppable.

Milind Kamble, head of DICCI, says capitalism has been the key to breaking down the old caste system. During the socialist days of India’s command economy, the lucky few with industrial licenses ran virtual monopolies and placed orders for supplies and logistics entirely with members of their own caste. But after the 1991 reforms opened the floodgates of competition, businesses soon discovered that to survive, they had to find the most competitive inputs. What mattered was the price of your supplier, not his caste.

Many tasks earlier done in-house were contracted out for efficiency, and this opened new spaces that could be filled by new entrepreneurs, including dalits. DIOCCI members had a turnover of half a billion dollars in 2014 and aim to double it within five years. Kamble says dalits have ceased to be objects of pity and are becoming objects of envy. They are no longer just job-seekers, they are now job creators.

Even in rural areas, dalits have increasingly moved up the income and social ladders in the last two decades.  One survey in the state of Uttar Pradesh shows the proportion of dalits owning brick houses is up from 38 percent to 94 percent, the proportion running their own businesses is up from 6 percent to 36.7 percent, and the proportion owning cell phones is up from zero to one-third. Some former serfs have now become bosses. A rising proportion have become land-owners, and sometimes hire upper-caste workers. Even more revolutionary, say dalits, is the change in their social status. Once they were virtually bonded laborers, and could not eat or drink with the upper castes. Today the bonded labor system is almost gone, and dalits operate restaurants at which upper castes eat and drink. They remain relatively poor and discriminated against, but economic reform since 1991 has revolutionized their social and economic status.

22 Jul 13:00

On the Bright Side: Three Full Decades of CO2-Induced Vegetative Greening in China

by Craig D. Idso

Here we introduce a new feature from the Center for the Study of Science, “On the Bright Side.” OBS will highlight the beneficial impacts of human activities on the state of our world, including improvements to human health and welfare, as well as the natural environment. Our emphasis will typically focus on the oft-neglected positive externalities of carbon dioxide emissions and associated climate change. Far too often, the media, environmental organizations, governmental panels and policymakers concentrate their efforts on the putative negative impacts of potential CO2-induced global warming. We hope to counter that pessimism with a heavy dose of positive reporting on the considerable good humans are doing for themselves and for the planet.

According to Piao et al. (2015), the reliable detection and attribution of changes in vegetation growth are essential prerequisites for “the development of successful strategies for the sustainable management of ecosystems.” And indeed they are, especially in today’s world in which so many scientists and policy makers are concerned with what to do (or not do) about the potential impacts of CO2-induced climate change. However, detecting vegetative change, let alone determining its cause, can be an extraordinarily difficult task to accomplish. Nevertheless, that is exactly what Piao et al. set out to do in their recent study.

More specifically, the team of sixteen Chinese, Australian and American researchers set out to investigate trends in vegetational change across China over the past three decades (1982-2009), quantifying the contributions from different factors including (1) climate change, (2) rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, (3) nitrogen deposition and (4) afforestation. To do so, they used three different satellite-derived Leaf Area Index (LAI) datasets (GLOBMAP, GLASS, and GIMMIS) to detect spatial and temporal changes in vegetation during the growing season (GS, defined as April to October), and five process-based ecosystem models (CABLE, CLM4, ORCHIDEE, LPJ and VEGAS) to determine the attribution.

With respect to detection, this work revealed that most regions of China experienced a greening trend indicative of enhanced growth across the time period studied (see Figure 1). Overall, 56 percent of the area studied experienced a significant increase in greening (95% level) when using the GLOBMAP dataset, compared with 54 and 31 percent using the GLASS and GIMMIS datasets. Those regions with the largest greening trends include southwest China and part of the North China Plain. 

Figure 1. Spatial distribution of the trend in LAIGS over the period 1982–2009 as calculated by the GIMMS dataset (a), GLOBMAP dataset (b) and the GLASS dataset (c). The frequency distribution of the significance level (P value) of the trends calculated for the three LAIGS datasets is shown in panel d.

Figure 1. Spatial distribution of the trend in LAIGS over the period 1982–2009 as calculated by the GIMMS dataset (a), GLOBMAP dataset (b) and the GLASS dataset (c). The frequency distribution of the significance level (P value) of the trends calculated for the three LAIGS datasets is shown in panel d.

With respect to attribution, Piao et al. report that “the combined effect of CO2 fertilization and climate change with the effect of nitrogen deposition, leads to the conclusion that these three factors are responsible for almost all of the average increasing trend of LAIGS observed from the satellites” (see Figure 2). They also report that “at the country scale, the average trend of LAIGS attributed to rising CO2 concentration is estimated to be … about 85% of the average LAIGS trend estimated by satellite datasets,” while noting secondarily that the enhanced nitrogen deposition driven by fossil fuel combustion and agricultural fertilization is likely the source of the remaining portion of China’s enhanced vegetation growth, citing the findings of Reay et al. (2008), Thomas et al. (2009), Fleischer et al. (2013) and Yu et al. (2014).

Figure 2. Trend in China’s LAIGS over the period 1982–2009 at the country scale for the three satellite remote sensing datasets and five process models described in the text above. Significance levels of 95 and 99 percent are denoted with one and two asterisks, respectively. See the authors' original text (Piao et al., 2015) for additional explanation of this figure.

Figure 2. Trend in China’s LAIGS over the period 1982–2009 at the country scale for the three satellite remote sensing datasets and five process models described in the text above. Significance levels of 95 and 99 percent are denoted with one and two asterisks, respectively. See the authors’ original text (Piao et al., 2015) for additional explanation of this figure.

In considering the researchers’ several findings, it is clear that the fossil fuel combustion that has resulted in the rise in atmospheric CO2 and enhanced nitrogen deposition over the past three decades has provided a great benefit to Chinese vegetation. As illustrated in Figure 2, led primarily by the increase in CO2, that benefit has been more than sufficient to compensate for the negative effects of climate change that also occurred over that time period. Thus, it would seem far more prudent to celebrate CO2 instead of demonizing it, like so many people incorrectly do these days; for atmospheric CO2 is truly the elixir of life!

 

References

Fleischer, K., Rebel, K.T., Molen, M.K., Erisman, J.W., Wassen, M.J., van Loon, E.E., Montagnani, L., Gough, C.M., Herbst, M., Janssens, I.A., Gianelle, D. and Dolman, A.J. 2013. The contribution of nitrogen deposition to the photosynthetic capacity of forests. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 27: 187-199.

Piao, S, Yin, G., Tan, J., Cheng, L., Huang, M., Li, Y., Liu, R., Mao, J., Myneni, R.B., Peng, S., Poulter, B., Shi, X., Xiao, Z., Zeng, N., Zeng, Z. and Wang, Y. 2015. Detection and attribution of vegetation greening trend in China over the last 30 years. Global Change Biology 21: 1601-1609.

Reay, D.S., Dentener, F., Smith, P., Grace, J. and Feely, R.A. 2008. Global nitrogen deposition and carbon sinks. Nature Geoscience 1: 430-437.

Thomas, R.Q., Canham, C.D., Weathers, K.C. and Goodale, C.L. 2009. Increased tree carbon storage in response to nitrogen deposition in the U.S. Nature Geoscience 3: 13-17.

Yu, G., Chen, Z., Piao, S., Peng, C., Ciais, P., Wang, Q., Li, X., and Zhu, X. 2014. High carbon dioxide uptake by subtropical forest ecosystems in the East Asian monsoon region. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 111: 4910-4915.

21 Jul 22:14

NYPD Officials Apparently Deleting Incriminating Communications Related To Alleged Illegal Summons Quotas

by Tim Cushing

The NYPD doesn't care for transparency. Its relationship with open records requesters ranges from "frosty" to "antagonistic." It even employs its own in-house, completely arbitrary classification system in order to prevent even more of its documents from making their way into the hands of the public.

And, despite policies specifically mandating the preservation of records, NYPD officials are apparently preemptively deleting certain communications to ensure they'll never be made public.

Attorneys for the city have failed to turn over even one email from the files of former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly or former Chief of Department Joseph Esposito regarding summons activity over the last eight years, attorney Elinor Sutton writes in new filings in Manhattan Federal Court seeking sanctions against the city.

“It is simply not tenable that Commissioner Kelly and Chief Esposito did not — in the entire period of 2007 through the present — write or receive emails using terms” related to the word “summons,” Sutton writes.
Seven years of discussing police business and not once did Kelly or Esposito use the word "summons," one of the most common terms used when discussing police business. How can this possibly be? Well, when you're looking for evidence that NYPD bosses and supervisors instituted illegal quotas, the word "summons" would figure prominently in responsive documents... if said documents hadn't been memory-holed for the preservation of the greater good their positions.

And it's not just the top two men in the NYPD that have a "summons" hole in their communications. Searches for responsive emails/texts from three other high-ranking NYPD officials came up empty as well.

What Sutton has obtained that points to an unofficial quota system has come from whistleblowers and "other means." Sutton has copies of emails and texts -- sent using NYPD phones/email accounts -- that discuss quota-like "expectations" for officers and reprisals for failing to hit these numbers. But the NYPD's own search for these same documents has found nothing. This either means the NYPD isn't performing thorough searches or it has been destroying incriminating documents. Either way, the NYPD's lack of responsive documents looks very suspicious.

And the city itself is complicit in the "vanishing" of possibly culpatory evidence.
[C]ity lawyers didn’t advise the NYPD to preserve communications related to summonses until 2013 — three years after the suit was filed, Sutton says.
The city won't say much about the lawsuit or its police department's actions, but this contradictory set of sentences says a lot more than the city rep probably intended it to.
In a response filed last week, city attorney Qiana Smith-Williams said the alleged evidence destruction was “short on meritorious claims” and that the sides had not yet “exhausted the possibility of a settlement.”
If you believe the opposition's case is lacking in merit -- and you have an inexhaustible amount of (public) funds to fight it -- why would you be entertaining a settlement? The obvious answer is this: a settlement would allow the city to end the discovery process, maintain its secrecy, allow those involved in the quota scheme to avoid further examination/punishment. Handing out (public) money to the plaintiffs in settlement form also allows the city/NYPD to move on without having to admit wrongdoing. A payout means nothing changes. Quotas will still remain, but steps will be taken to ensure it's better hidden.

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22 Jul 04:01

Speech Crimes in Wisconsin

by Jacob Sullum

Last week the Wisconsin Supreme Court shut down a secret criminal investigation that featured early-morning raids on the homes of innocent people and indiscriminate seizures of email, documents, and personal property. You may be surprised to hear that the Brennan Center for Justice, which usually defends Fourth Amendment rights, denounced the court's decision.

Since this unconstitutional inquisition was prompted by the targets' exercise of their First Amendment rights, the Brennan Center's position is especially puzzling. It shows how the attempt to control corruption by controlling speech has corrupted the principles of civil libertarians.

The Wisconsin investigation, which was initiated by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm in 2010, eventually encompassed "all or nearly all right-of-center groups and individuals in Wisconsin who engaged in issue advocacy from 2010 to the present," as U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa explained in a 2014 ruling. The targets, which included about 30 conservative organizations, were suspected of coordinating their activities with Gov. Scott Walker, who at the time was engaged in a bitter struggle with Democrats over public employees' bargaining rights that culminated in an unsuccessful recall campaign against him.

There was little evidence of such coordination, which in any event was not a crime. That's right: As Randa concluded in response to a lawsuit brought by conservative activist Eric O'Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the entire investigation was based on an offense that does not exist.  

"The defendants are pursuing criminal charges through a secret John Doe investigation against the plaintiffs for exercising issue advocacy speech rights that on their face are not subject to the regulations or statutes the defendants seek to enforce," Randa said, calling the prosecutors' interpretation of campaign finance law "simply wrong." Finding that "the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that the defendants' investigation violates their rights under the First Amendment," he issued a preliminary injunction.

Randa's injunction was overturned by an appeals court based on a law that limits federal judges' authority to intervene in state proceedings. But a state judge who took over supervision of the investigation after the original judge recused herself already had reached the same conclusion, and last week the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed: In light of the relevant First Amendment decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin's rule against coordination must be read as applying only to "express advocacy"—i.e., speech explicitly calling for a candidate's election or defeat.

Since prosecutors never even alleged that the Club for Growth or any of the other groups had engaged in express advocacy, there was no crime to be investigated. The targets were nevertheless treated like criminals.

"The search warrants were executed at approximately 6:00 a.m. on October 3, 2013, in pre-dawn, armed, paramilitary-style raids in which bright floodlights were used to illuminate the targets' homes," the Wisconsin Supreme Court noted. It added that "the breadth of the documents gathered pursuant to subpoenas and seized pursuant to search warrants is amazing." They included "wholly irrelevant information, such as retirement income statements, personal financial account information, personal letters, and family photos."

In an eye-opening National Review report last April, David French described the lasting psychological impact of this heavy-handed scrutiny. One woman, awakened by armed men demanding entry, rushed to the door half-naked and had no time to put her dogs out. She was terrified, with good reason, that the cops would shoot them. "I no longer feel safe," she told French, "and I don't think I ever will."

Afterward, although the investigation was hardly a secret anymore, the targets were legally forbidden to discuss it or defend themselves. The cloud of suspicion and the fear of criminal liability by association crippled their political activities and sent a chilling message to other supporters of Walker's policies.

These are the sort of abuses that the Brennan Center would condemn in the context of the War on Drugs or the War on Terror. Evidently the War on Conservative Activism requires sterner measures.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

21 Jul 15:12

Driverless Cars: Disrupting Government Reliance On Petty Traffic Enforcement

by Tim Cushing

Self-driving cars are on the way, and in their wake, they'll leave a variety of entities slightly less better off. Insurance companies may be the first to feel the pinch, as less-than-risk-averse drivers are replaced with Electric Grandmothers more than willing to maintain safe speed limits and the proper distance between vehicles. And as goes the car accident, so go other areas of the private sector: personal injury/DUI lawyers, hospitals, body shops, red light camera manufacturers, towing companies, etc.

But the public sector will take the hit as well. "Flow my tears," said the policeman.

Consider the following. This past year, the City of Los Angeles generated $161 million from parking violations. Red light violations have a fee of $490. Californians caught driving under the influence are fined up to $15,649 for a first-offense misdemeanor DUI conviction and up to $22,492 for an under-21 equivalent. Cities in California collect, on average, $40 million annually in towing fees that they divide with towing firms. Simply put, the hundreds of millions of dollars generated from poor driving-related behaviors provide significant funding for transportation infrastructure and maintenance, public schools, judicial salaries, domestic violence advocacy, conservation, and many other public services.

Since California legalized driverless vehicles, Google has logged more than 1.7 million miles during the testing phase and been involved in 11 accidents, none of which were the fault of the driverless vehicle. Tesla, Mercedes, and others are not far behind. It turns out that automated vehicle technology—unlike humans—abides by the law. And that’s bad news for local government revenues. In other words, once driverless cars become mainstream, deep revenue sources acquired from driving-related violations such as speeding tickets and DUIs will decrease greatly.
Someone has to pay for the roads and other government activities, but it won't be drivers. So, as the Brookings Institution report points out, new revenue streams will have to be sought. The obvious suggestion is tax-per-mile billing, but that puts the government right in your vehicle -- an idea that's not going to gain in popularity any time soon.

While the loss of revenue will have an impact, the picture painted here is skewed. For many years, communities have treated police departments as revenue generators, rather than crime fighters. This has skewed incentives so badly that some small towns have become nothing more than profitable speed traps. That's one end of the issue: the pressure (or the willingness) to overpolice minor traffic violations to keep city governments (and the police departments themselves) funded.

But that's only part of it. The situation looks rather dire, especially if one doesn't examine what's not being said in these paragraphs. As Scott Shackford at Reason points out, the Brookings Institution report does some mighty fine cherry-picking for its list of potentially-affected government services. Without a doubt, a downturn in revenue will affect good government programs like public schools and domestic violence programs. But it will also cut back funding for far more dubious government spending.
What an interesting list of government-financed uses they've chosen. Notice they left off "Poorly made third-party database software that will stop working properly in less than three years and that was purchased from somebody belonging to the same frat as the assistant city manager," "police abuse settlements," and "blatant pension spiking."
These "losses" will also be somewhat offset by less tax revenue being spent on traffic enforcement, accident response units and other related law enforcement activities. This will also mean fewer law enforcement officers will need to be employed, which should further reduce government expeditures.

The problem is that most governments aren't capable of heading off this sort of "threat" to their livelihoods, even with years of advance notice. Trimming back unneeded public sector employees won't happen until years after it's obvious they're no longer needed and will often come accompanied with expensive severance packages. New tax revenue streams won't be explored until they can be put off no longer, and often will just be added on top of existing taxes, rather than replacing those that have slowed to a trickle.

Worse, those most affected by this sort of shift will be the same people most affected by most government tax increases: the poor. The lowest income brackets will be the last to adopt driverless vehicles, leaving them the most exposed to fines for traffic violations (fines that will likely increase as revenue dwindles), as well as new costs like per-mile taxation. They're also most likely to see support programs they rely on suffer cuts as traffic enforcement money dries up.

The report somewhat addresses this outcome with a discussion of income inequality and the "disappearance of the middle class." While some of it is accurate and some of it is mostly buzzwords in search of a point, there's no doubt that traffic enforcement revenue will mostly be collected from those who can least afford it. After all, governments have done this for years -- something that helped fuel the outrage and backlash in Ferguson after the shooting of Michael Brown.
Is Brookings actually trying to blame the gap between billionaires and the poor for the racial tension in Ferguson? Which venture capitalist was it who told the Ferguson police to step up fine collection to rake in more money for the city's coffers? Which hedge fund manager invented the bureaucratic court system in Ferguson and other St. Louis County cities designed to wring every last cent from any indigent minority who couldn't afford an attorney? Which Wall Street "fat cat" is adding additional fees to every little fine so that getting pulled over for something as simple as not signaling a turn could end up costing hundreds of dollars for somebody who could end up losing his license and his ability to even work?
While driverless cars hold a great deal of disruption potential, when it's all said and done, governments will remain largely undisrupted. Whatever changes are made in response will arrive well after they're needed and be badly implemented. The same people who suffered in the previous system will find no improvement in the next one. While one would hope the drastic reduction in traffic enforcement would result in better, smarter policing more focused on serious criminal activity, old habits die hard. Cops will just go where the driverless car ain't, rather than trim that area of law enforcement to the minimum required. And cities will cut programs deemed expendable, rather than subject their own spending habits to greater scrutiny.

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21 Jul 11:07

If The UK Wants People To 'Respect' Copyright, Outlawing Ripping CDs Is Probably Not Helping

by Mike Masnick
We had two separate stories late last week about copyright issues in the UK, and it occurred to me that a followup relating one to the other might be in order. The first one, from Thursday, was about the UK's plan to try, once again, to push a new "education campaign" to teach people that "copyright is good." We've seen these campaigns pop up over and over again for decades now, and they tend to lead to complete ridicule and outright mockery. And yet, if you talk to film studio and record label execs, they continually claim that one of the most important things they need to do is to teach people to "respect" copyright through education campaigns.

My guess is they say this because an education campaign is something they can actually do, so they can make it look like they're "doing something" no matter how ineffective it will be. And, you can go back centuries and find that no education campaign has ever worked in magically making people respect anti-copying laws.

That brings us to story number two: on Friday, the UK's High Court confirmed that ripping your legally purchased CDs and DVDs to make a digital copy for personal use is no longer legal (something that the government had only "made" officially legal a few months ago). The court even left open the possibility that anyone who relied on the official change in regulations to rip their own CDs might now face punishment for doing so.

This court ruling came about after an organization run by the record labels, UK Music, challenged the legal change.

Combine these two stories, and you have to wonder what the recording industry is thinking. As Matt Schruers noted on Twitter, this latest court ruling can only serve to destroy any credibility that copyright might have held for people:

If one set out to burn up the credibility of #copyright in a single act, saying there could be liability for CD ripping just might be it.

— Matt Schruers (@MSchruers) July 18, 2015
And this is the part that legacy copyright industry extremists still don't get. You don't get respect for copyright through propaganda education campaigns. You get respect through earning it. And that means responding reasonably to things that people do. People want to rip music to make it more convenient to listen to. You should support that. You shouldn't try to make it illegal. You shouldn't sue your biggest fans. You shouldn't go after people for obviously non-commercial use of works. You shouldn't put ridiculous statutory damages on works. You shouldn't tax blank media. You shouldn't pull works down from the internet because a few seconds in the background contain some copyright-covered music. You shouldn't try to pass laws that limit free expression.

And yet, the recording industry does all of that, and then they think that a lousy (and misleading) education campaign will make people "respect" copyright? What are they thinking?

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20 Jul 17:40

Former senator says Snowden should be hanged in public square...

Jts5665

Wrong. He should get a medal of freedom.


Former senator says Snowden should be hanged in public square...


(Third column, 8th story, link)

20 Jul 15:23

Wesley Clark on 'Radicalized' Americans: Let's 'Segregate Them from the Normal Community'

by Jesse Walker

The conventional wisdom in Washington right now says the government should fight terrorism by targeting "radicalization." That is the theory behind the Justice Department's pilot programs to combat "violent extremism." It is the theory behind Rep. Michael McCaul's proposed Countering Violent Extremism Act. And it is the theory behind the following revolting remarks by retired general Wesley Clark:

Here's the heart of Clark's comments:

...on a national policy level, we need to look at what self-radicalization means. Because we are at war with this group of terrorists. They do have an ideology. In World War II, if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn't say that was freedom of speech. We put him in a camp. They were prisoners of war. So if these people are radicalized and they don't support the United States and they're disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle, fine, that's their right. It's our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.

Needless to say, "the conflict"—be it with radical Muslims, the radical right, radical animal-rights activists, or anyone else feared by a substantial slice of Washington—has no clear end. So the general is basically calling for indefinite internment. And not just of violent people, but of anyone who has been "radicalized."

There are many good reasons to reject the "radicalization" framework for stopping terrorism, including the fact that it probably doesn't even work. (For more on that, go here and here.) But the worst thing about it is that it feeds the contempt for civil liberties that fuels batty proposals like Clark's.

[Via John Amato.]

19 Jul 18:29

Caught On Tape: Pro Surfer Attacked By Shark On Live TV

by Tyler Durden

If you thought your day was bad, remember: it can always get worse as pro surfer Mick Fanning found out earlier today when during the final of the World Surfing League's J-Bay Open in South Africa, he was attacked by a shark.

Perhaps for the first time ever, the stunning encounter was captured on live TV. But most amazing, after Fanning felt the shark attack, he "punched" the shark in the back, which then promptly lost interest and Fanning got away completely unscathed.

From CBS:

"I felt something grab, got stuck in my leg rope, and I instantly just jumped," a still-shocked Fanning said immediately after the incident. "It just kept coming at my board."

 

The Australian three-time world champion was lifted out of the water by a rescue jet ski mere seconds after the attack, which happened when he was paddling out to catch his first wave.

 

"I just saw fins, I didn't see teeth," he said. "I was waiting for the teeth to come at me. I punched it in the back."

 

The WSL issued an official statement following the incident: "We are incredibly grateful that no one was seriously injured today. Mick's composure and quick acting in the face of a terrifying situation was nothing short of heroic and the rapid response of our Water Safety personnel was commendable -- they are truly world class at what they do."

 

The competition was canceled following the attack.

The full dramatic encounter shown here.

19 Jul 21:30

Creator Of Internet Privacy Device Silenced: "Effective Immediately We Are Halting Further Development"

by Tyler Durden

Submitted by Mac Slavo via SHTFPlan.com,

ProxyHam

(Pictured: Proxyham by Benjamin Caudill / Rhino Security Labs)

Data collection and invasive monitoring of American citizens has been at the forefront of government activities for decades. After revelations by Edward Snowden in recent years, the fringe conspiracy theorists who warned of Big Brother surveillance and had been laughed at by the general population were finally proven right.

But despite the literal hundreds of thousands of pages of information about government snooping and the Congressional “investigations” that followed, nothing has been done to curb the unabated violations of Americans’ Constitutional rights to be secure in their homes and personal effects.

Thus, as always, the free market began developing its own solutions. Earlier this year an inventor by the name of Benjamin Caudill announced a device he dubbed the ProxyHam which was going to literally change everything about how those concerned with privacy could connect to the internet:

“I PRESENT PROXYHAM, A HARDWARE DEVICE WHICH UTILIZES BOTH WIFI AND THE 900MHZ BAND TO ACT AS A HARDWARE PROXY, ROUTING LOCAL TRAFFIC THROUGH A FAR-OFF WIRELESS NETWORK – AND SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASING THE DIFFICULTY IN IDENTIFYING THE TRUE SOURCE OF THE TRAFFIC. IN ADDITION TO A DEMONSTRATION OF THE DEVICE ITSELF, FULL HARDWARE SCHEMATICS AND CODE WILL BE MADE FREELY AVAILABLE.”

Rhino Security Labs via HackRead

What Caudill had built is a device that would mix up your personal WIFI signal in such a way that no one, not even the National Security Agency, could track down where it originated.

That, of course, is not something the government wants in the hands of ordinary citizens, and the events of the last week show exactly how dangerous of a device this is to the Big Brother Surveillance State.

Just hours before Caudill was to reveal a fully-functioning ProxyHam at the DefCon hacking conference his presentation was abruptly cancelled. No reason was given and Caudill posted several cryptic Tweets that left many baffled.

The device had been disappeared, the company was cancelling production on retail units, and the source code and blueprints would no longer be released to the public.

rhinosecurity

Some have suggested that a private business approached Caudill before the conference and made him an offer for retail distribution.

But the more likely scenario, given what we’re privy to about the device and the government’s incessant need to know everything about everyone, is that someone made Caudill an offer he couldn’t refuse. Hackread explains:

There’s another possibility of this sudden cancellation i.e. intrusion by the government. Maybe that is the reason why Caudill is not discussing the reason behind this halt. Even though the security firm was “excited” to unveil ProxyHam at Def Con.

 

Steve Ragan of CSO Online said:

“IT WOULD LOOK AS IF A HIGHER POWER – NAMELY THE U.S. GOVERNMENT – HAS PUT THEIR FOOT DOWN AND KILLED THIS TALK […] IT ISN’T PERFECT, BUT A TOOL LIKE PROXYHAM – WHEN COMBINED WITH TOR OR OTHER VPN SERVICES, WOULD BE POWERFUL.”

Incidents like this give us clear insight into what the goals of government surveillance are. As we noted in 2011, well before the Snowden revelations, everything we do is monitored.

They want to know everything. They want to monitor everyone. And they will stop at nothing to accomplish their goals.

But despite these obvious attempts to maintain tight, centralized control over the populace, the hacking community has never been one to just sit back and take it from the tyrants in charge. John McAfee, known for creating one of the first virus security programs for computers, has also been working on a new gadget that would create a “dark web” of interconnected devices designed to shield individuals from government monitoring. The device, according to McAfee would cost less than $100.

The cat is out of the bag with the ProxyHam and its abilities. It shouldn’t be long before source codes and blueprints for similar gadgets begin appearing on the open market.

The government can push all it wants. Freedom loving people will always push back.

17 Jul 15:48

Senior Obamacare Official Becomes Top Health Insurance Lobbyist

by Peter Suderman
Jts5665

Gotta pay off those cronies...

In January, Marilyn Tavenner stepped down from her position as the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).Tavenner was one of the administration officials most involved with the flopped launch of Obamacare’s federal health insurance exchange—the administration sent her to Congress to apologize—and her agency crafted thousands of pages of regulations ordered up under the law.

Essentially, Tavenner played the role of Obamacare’s caretaker within the administration, helping to craft its many tedious rules and procedures while serving as a public face when implementation failed.

Earlier this week, news broke that Tavenner would be joining America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health insurance lobbying group, as chief executive. Tavenner, in other words, will continue to be Obamacare’s caretaker—only now she’ll be operating from the private sector.

At this point, though, “private sector” is practically a misnomer.

Obamacare does not nationalize health insurance, but it turns the industry—already subject to extensive, (though mostly state-based) mandates and regulations—into a kind of quasi-public utility: a heavily subsidized, federally regulated product, with profit margins capped and rates subject to regulatory review, sold through government designed and run marketplaces to people who are required by law to buy the product.

Tavenner’s move not only highlights the link between government and industry, but strengthens it. As Philip Klein writes at The Washington Examiner, Tavenner “has a web of connections within the Obama administration and an intimate knowledge of how it works. But her being at AHIP is also valuable for the administration, because it means that the insurance industry's main lobbying group will now be headed by a cheerleader for Obamacare.”

Under Obamacare, health insurance is nearly as much a product of government as it is of the private sector—a joint operation conducted in tandem by a revolving cast of public officials and private sector interests.