Wednesday, December 18, 2013 and Hypocrisy

I've been really pissed off about lately. No, not the buggy website. No, not the confusing questions. No, not the confusing coverage. I've been pissed off about its media coverage and the political debate surrounding it.

The media has been criticizing Obama and his healthcare plan for more than a month now and its unfair. A role out of a website this big was sure to have some glitches and to be fair had plenty of those. From my experience and the media's story, it sounded like a simple lack of capacity problem. The project managers didn't expect peak coverage to be what it was. Of course, as a technology professional, I shouldn't expect the media to understand that big projects almost always have problems. Except that the media reported the massive problems with the Denver International Airport Baggage System and Boston's Big Dig (people died in the Big Dig). In this age of 24 hour news, it seems that the media's memory is about 15 seconds long.

Even worse is the way that Republicans handled They tried to sink it and now are arguing that it doesn't work. First they obstructed it—attempting again and again to repeal it. Think that uncertainty had any effect on the project plan? Then they refused to pass any minor technical corrections to the bill. These corrections are a common practice in Congress. They make sure that laws that are passed work properly. Whether or not you, as an American citizen, like an individual bill, you still want it implemented in a way that will cause the fewest problems, right? Well, not the Republicans. They then claimed that the technical problems were evidence that the plan didn't work. That's like saying that online shopping doesn't work because goes down for a while. The logic is flawed.

I recently signed up for healthcare through and I must say that it isn't the easiest process in the world, but it isn't the most difficult ever. Most of the difficulty is justified by security, identification, and financial concerns. I would say that the workflow is pretty well implemented.

Still there were some confusing parts. The first time through the application, I thought I had finished, but couldn't actually buy healthcare. I called the helpline. A lovely woman named Serena answered my call within 1 minute. She walked me through the process. It turned out I had missed some questions. I was then approved for a state subsidized plan at a cheap rate.

All in all, I am pretty happy with the experience.

A lot of things don't work in the government. Congress is thoroughly broken. It is more focused on obstructing the other guy than getting anything done. The state agencies are horrible. State administered unemployment, food stamps, and welfare offices are difficult beyond belief. But of course no one cares about that because only poor people have to suffer through that bureaucratic hell. It's nice to know that something in this government works: And it's a good thing that I found good healthcare through the system because this hypocrisy is making me sick.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why the Supreme Court's Ruling on Proposition 8 was Wrong

Don't get me wrong. I am for marriage equality, but the Proposition 8 ruling was wrong. It looks like a Pyrrhic victory for the cause of civil rights.

The discriminatory laws about gay marriage are wrong, prejudicial, and motivated by hate. But the legal precedent set by the ruling is dangerous. Supreme Court allowed a lower court ruling overturning the law to stand on the grounds that the plaintiffs (a sundry group of haters) did not have standing to challenge the law. This ruling (although consistent with prior case law) will provide further case law that will prevent people from seeking redress against the whims of politicians.

The California attorney general's office refused to defend the law. SCOTUS ruled that the plaintiffs had not proven that they were damaged, but the attorney general would not have been able to prove that it was damaged either. Of course one primary purpose of the attorney general's office is to defending the constitutionality of state law. But defending the law of the state should be a citizen's duty if he or she believes that law to be just. Of course, the freedom to bring suit that I am promoting would open many laws to be challenged, and that's a good thing. Bad laws SHOULD be challenged. However, this may be logistically difficult for the courts. To that end, courts should only hear these cases when a brief has been filed which presents a clear argument that requires non-obvious refutation. To put it more simply, these cases should proceed if an initial review is that the argument is most likely legally sound. If a party has been harmed, then that shows standing and the initial review should not be necessary.

The necessity to prove harm in order to challenge a law is scary. But why should it be? If a law is bad, surely it harms someone, correct? But what about laws enabling the government to spy on its own citizens? The ACLU and others have challenged these laws (such as FISA) on numerous occasions. Courts have thrown out many such challenges based on the lack of proof of harm. But whether or not there is material harm based on government spying, those laws violate the forth amendment. They are unlawful searches.

SCOTUS should have struck down proposition 8. But the plaintiff's had standing based on being California citizens. They should have recognized the standing and then struck down the law based on section 1 of the 14th amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Marriage equality is a fundamental civil right. Period. Not a political football to be kicked around by the states.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Italians Stupidity: Berlusconi vs. Sanity

Silvio Berlusconi, three time Prime Minister of Italy, is running for the office again on February 24-25. His center-right party People of Freedom Party is a very close second in recent polls.

Berlusconi has been implicated in a range of political Scandals including but not limited to:

  • Connections to money lauderers
  • Conviction for Tax Evasion
  • Sleeping with an underage prostitute
  • Bribing witnesses
  • False testimony

Furthermore, Berlusconi uses his media empire to bad mouth the competition and has multiple times used his position. He has also used his parliamentary majority to change laws in order to prevent himself from going to prison.

He has done his best to bring back Italian Fascism.

Are Italians stupid? I guess so.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Supreme Court Appears to Back Monsanto in Patent Dispute

soybeansdna, biotechnology

I updated you guys yesterday on a fascinating case before the Supreme Court. As you have probably figured out, I am leery of the extremely broad legal protections given to IP in this country. I felt that the case was important enough that I posted it both to my political blog and to my tech blog.

Let's have an update on the arguments.

According to the New York Times, the arguments in Monsanto vs. Bowman seemed to go the way of the giant chemical and agricultural company. Apparently, the attorneys for Monsanto were allowed to speak at length whereas Mr. Bowman's attorneys were shut down. The justices outright told Mr. Bowman that the legal basis for his defense, namely the doctrine of patent exhaustion does not apply.

Although it seems that Bowman is unlikely to win outright, SCOTUS observers have been wrong before. The court may decide the case on narrower grounds that would not have pose such a huge threat to our long-term agricultural stability. Justice Breyer appeared to open the door for an exception with his comment "maybe three generations of seeds is enough", but it isn't completely clear what loophole that would allow. Perhaps the court could rule that Mr. Bowman intentionally planted seeds that he knew contained the genes resistant to Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, and there broke the patent. Perhaps if a farmer planted the seeds without any intention of using the patented seeds, then the patent might not apply.

Stay tuned for a ruling


Monday, February 18, 2013

Monsanto Attempts to Control Global Food Supply

Monsanto Attempts to Control Global Food Supply

Today the US Supreme Court is considering a case which puts the country's, nay the world's food supply at risk.

This entry is posted to both my political blog and my tech blog. I apologize for the overpost, but the issue is both political and technical. It is also extremely important to the well-being of the nation.

Vernon Hugh Bowman, a 75 year old farmer from Indiana, purchased some soy beans from a local granary. He planted those beans and harvested the results. Some of the beans were genetically engineered and patented by Monsanto, but he did not attempt to purchase genetically engineered beans. He didn't care. The Monsanto beans were mixed up with others.

Many people oppose the patentability of living things. Although I share their concerns, I do believe that patent protection for such innovations can be a benefit to society‐as long as that patentability does not extend to naturally occurring substances or processes. Let's set that issue aside. It is very complex and deserves its own discussion.

Monsanto viewed Bowman's growing of soybeans as an attempt to infringe on their patent. The gigantic agribusiness sued, and a lower court ruled in its favor. The judgment ordered Monsanto to pay Bowman $84,000. The agricultural biotech industry compares the planting of patent protected seeds to copying protected software. But the parallel doesn't work. Copying software violates its copyright. A software patent is violated by writing new software that performs the patented activity. Seeds cannot be copyrighted because they copy themselves. Bowman could have violated Monsanto's patent by engineering a new seed which had the desired biochemical properties of the original‐namely resistance to a particular herbicide.

If Monsanto get's it's way, it will have inordinate control over the nation's food supply.

The practice of monoculture is already dangerous. Most farmers have chosen to grow a single variety of a single crop. They have chosen varieties that have drought resistance, herbicide resistance, or that yield larger crops. These varieties have been bred and engineered. Before modern distribution systems, many farmers bred many different beneficial varieties, but now the top few varieties claim the vast majority of acreage. This is risky for the food supply because if that variety is particularly susceptible to a new disease, a huge amount of the world's food could be lost in one epidemic causing famine across the third world.

This case poses a threat to biodiversity in agriculture that spreads far beyond that posed by monoculture. Plants don't know the boundaries of fields or property lines. Much like Tiger Woods, they have evolved to spread their seed as far as possible. If it does spread to some unpatented crops, farmers who are not Monsanto customers would be violating its patent just be replanting their own crops. Eventually, the patented crops would overrun all other crops and monoculture would rule all.

Farmers can not violating a patent by planting seeds. That is the intended purpose of the seed. If it was a patent violation to plant patented seed, then Monsanto's customers would be violating the patent by doing so. Farmers that buy Monsanto's seed sign a contract to not replant the harvested seed, but to purchase fresh seed the next season. But that contract is only enforceable on those who sign it. It is unrelated to the patent protection granted by the USPTO.

SCOTUS: Don't be a schil to big business again. Do what's right. The nation's best interests are clearly in line with the law here. Rule justly.

More details here.