Thursday, February 28, 2013

Voting Rights Act and SCOTUS

On Thursday, the Supreme Court Of The United States heard a ridiculous, totally unfounded challenge to the Voting Rights Act, section 5.   That part says that certain sections of the country must get pre-clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any voting law changes.  That would be Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, and certain counties in other states (including some northern states)

It should be laughed out of court.

It won't be, because the court is full of conservative judicial activists.

The court's job is not to decide if a Law is a good idea.  It is to decide if a law is Constitutional.

The court keeps talking about whether it is a good law.

  1. They ask if it is still necessary, given the great strides we have made in Civil Rights.  That's a question for Congress, not SCOTUS.  Even asking it is judicial activism. 
  2. They ask if the southern states are still more prejudiced than the northern states.  Again, that's a question for Congress, not SCOTUS.  Even asking it is judicial activism.
  3. They say the supporting data is 35 years old and now irrelevant.  Again, that is a question for Congress, not SCOTUS.  Even asking it is judicial activism.

The Supreme Court has one job and the one question that goes with that job is:


They are not allowed to throw out laws because they think it is unnecessary
They are not allowed to throw out laws because they treat some states differently
They are not allowed to throw out laws because it is based on old, out-dated data.

They are allowed to throw out laws because it is unconstitional.

The Constitution of the the United Staes of America talks about voting right multiple times.  In fact there are two seperate amendments, any one of which allows Congress to make this law.  The relevant sections are underlined.

14th Amendment:

Section 1. 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. Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

15th Amendment:
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation

Also note that I have underlined the entire 15th amendment.  The sole purpose of this amendment is to allow Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act and to enforce it.

The Voting Rights act is constitutional. 

It may (or may not) be bad law, but it is definitely constitutional.  Overturning it would be outrageous Judicial Activiism.

P.S.  As a side note, the answers to those questions illegally raised by the Supreme Court are:

  1. Yes it is still necessary.  States continue to attempt to gerrymander away/concentrate into one district minority votes.
  2. Yes, parts of the US are still more prejudiced. Yes, it has been diluted - and then spread throughout the entire country.  But in Mississippi you still have black, gay mayoral candidates hunted down and killed in the street.  (source).  And no, the claim it is anti-gay, not anti-black doesn't make your prejudice any less a valid reason to have the Justice Department watch your slimy, corrupt laws.
  3. While the supporting data is 35 years old, new supporting data, as shown by Florida's HUGE waiting time to vote for black districts with short waiting times in white districts, supports EXPANDING the Voting Rights Act, not eliminating it.
Some might say that the current anti=black legislation is not racist because they are trying to target liberals.   Yes, they are targeting black districts with schemes to undermine their voting rights, but only because they are liberals, which the GOP thinks makes it all right.

No it doesn't.   Banks are not allowed to refuse loans to black districts using they excuse that "most blacks are poor".  If you think most blacks are poor (or liberal), that doesn't make your racism legal.

The fact that 1) you can't get blacks to vote Republican, it itself an indication that the GOP is racist
2)  you then categorize all blacks as liberals is itself racist.

Racism is alive and well in the GOP.   Oh how the party of Lincoln has fallen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Treasonous Republicans have Failed.

I have repeatedly talked about treasonous Republican plans to rig electoral voting systems.

The good news is that those plans have failed.  We have defeated the greatest internal threat to Democracy in my generation.

I am not exaggerating.  In the past 40 years, no one else has actively attempted to abandon the basic principle of democracy:  "most votes wins". 

Note, they are still trying to rig votes, but have listened to reason and are not trying to move from Democracy to Oligarchy.

Specifically, what they are doing is trying to switch from "majority wins all votes" (also called Winner Take All) to proportionate voting in the liberal states that have republican state majorities.  All this of course while keeping "majority wins all votes" for the conservative states.  (source)

This is not a big concern.  Yes, it is cheating.  Yes, it is unfair.  But the unfairness is really the actions of the winner take all states.  The system they propose, if used in all states, would in fact be fairer then the current one.    Not as fair as moving to the straight national public vote, but fairer than the current version.

The election rigging is caused not by their change but by the systematic change of just the Left and not the Right states.

But their attempts at election rigging are doomed to failure.

Their system depends on holding state majorities via gerrymandering,  whose effect slowly vanishes, as the gerrymandering effect slowly decreases over time.

Worse, the more they depend on gerrymandering, the more they put forth radical candidates, the more they turn away the general population as opposed to gaining ground.  The GOP is in a state of decline, being reinforced by their own actions.   Eventually they will lose the state houses.

But even if they don't lose the state houses, it still can't beat the Democrat's Presidential candidates, assuming we put forth a half way decent one.  Why?  Because the GOP is in a state of decline being reinforced by their own actions.

In the last presidential election, Obama, during a recession, won every single state that he could have, except for North Carolina (see my earlier post here).    Any state that was not a dyed in the wool, shoot the liberals, conservative state, the Democrats won.

Because the GOP is losing so badly, no minor change in the electoral college is going to help them out.  They lost by 126 electoral votes.  That means they need to change 63 electoral votes to win an election.  Picking up a few extra votes from states they lose by just a little won't help them out.

In order to gain enough votes, they need to win the swing states.  <b>Guess which states they are trying to change to proportionate voting?</b>   Yes, those very same swing states.

The GOP is envisioning a world that works almost exactly like the last election - with the GOP doing just a little bit better and having proportional votes from the last few states they lost push them over the edge.

So lets envision a 2012 world where things were a bit closer.   That is , if the GOP had won Ohio and Florida  They still would lose to Obama.  

Then lets say that the next three states - Pennsylvania (20), Colorado (9) and Virgina (13) were all super close.  Not counting those states, the Democrats have 243 electoral votes.  To win we need 270.

Pennsylvania is the main state considering going proportionate, but Virginia might as well (as they were the state most seriously contemplating treasonous district based voting).

The GOP is fantasizing about losing Colorado (democrats have 252), winning Virginia, then losing Pennsylvania but getting a minority share of Pennsylvania's vote.  That would leave the Democrats with 252+11=263 votes, and the Republicans win the Presidency!  Cue the GOP celebration.  If Pennsylvania was still a winner take all then 252+20=272 and the Democrats win.

But look at what happens if Virginia ALSO went proportionate.  That would give the Democrats 252 +11 +6 = 269 votes, it's a tie (and the the House decides).   We won't know what the House is in 2016 - the Democrats could very well in it.   Unless of course, the Democrats, seeing the situation in Pennsylvania and Virginia, move some PA and VA money to  Ohio and win it.  

But lets say ONLY Pennsylvania goes proportionate.  The Democrats see this and stop spending cash in Pennsylvania, instead put it all in Virginia and win Virginia, but lose Pennsylvania - but still get the proportionate votes.

Now the vote is 252 + Virginia's 13 = 265 + 9 from Pennsylvania = 274, Democrats win - because Pennsylvania went proportionate. Cue the GOP recriminations.

Going proportionate could very well backfire for the GOP.   By itself it is no where near enough to win an election, and the Democrats will shift their efforts to deal with whatever the GOP does.

What's far more important is the actual national votes - specifically in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina.

The way things are going, the GOP will lose all three.

The basic problem for the GOP is not that the Democrats are winning by a small margin in swing states.  Instead it is that the Democrats have far more states firmly under their control and they are BIG states, then the GOP does.  The Republicans won only four with more than 10 electoral votes by a margin of at least 10%.  The Democrats won seven states with more than 10 electoral votes by a margin of over 10%.  The GOP's biggest electoral state is Texas with 38 votes - and if the Liberals get their Hispanic act together, Texas may be in play in 2016.  The Democrats biggest electoral state is California with 55 votes, quickly followed by New York at 29. 

Keep in mind that the Democrats have a secret weapon they can use.   Specifically we can put North Carolina's Kay Hagan on the 2016 ticket - as either President or Vice President.

If the Democrats win North Carolina, then the GOP is extremely unlikely to win the election - it is the most conservative of the swing states. and the only one Obama lost.  If the Democrats put a campaign together that can win North Carolina, they will most likely win every other swing state.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Hospital Bills

Inflated Hospital bills are in the news recently.  Time magazine did an informative article about them.

They talk about things like charging $13,702 for something that retails for about $4000. (A wholesale price would probably be around $3,000 to $3,500)

They have something called a Chargemaster that lists all the prices - but do not let you see them.  That's like being given a menu with no prices until you see the bill.

Also note that most people don't pay these prices.   Insurance companies negotiate their prices based on Medicare charges, not the Chargemaster prices.   As in they have contracts that read "All charges will be 50% higher than the Medicare prices", rather than all charges will be 5% of the Chargemaster prices.

The only people paying these numbers are the uninsured, the under-insured and insurance companies for emergency visits to hospitals they don't have a deal with.  Note that if you are uninsured or under-insured, you can hire someone to negotiate with the hospital - even after your services are rendered.  They typically cut the bill at least in half.

Why don't they start with that half price?  Apparently they like to overcharge the sick whenever they can get away with it.  This is wrong.  They should not charge the ignorant that much more money.

To my mind, the real problem is not the amount of money, but instead the billing procedures that abuse patients, particularly the ignorant.

What do I mean by this?  Well, the hospitals charge outrageous amounts for the things they charge because so many of their services are losses.  That is, they offer free emergency service to the homeless. that will never get paid.  There are tons and tons of services like that.

My problem is not the total bill, but instead the billing method.  When you bill things incorrectly, you encourage waste and limit the ability to save money.

Lets say for example you were running a printer company.  You choose to give away your printers at cost, charge ten times normal for the ink, and supply free (i.e. at a loss) paper to your customers.

Guess what?  The customers will waste the paper, and do silly things like set the ink to print at 50% darkness.

When the politicians come in, they start passing laws that force you to off ink conserving modes, and to stop you from abusing the system you get blindsided by a law requiring you to continue to provide free paper, and suddenly you are covered with stupid bullshit regulations.

Here are the proposals I would make to fix the situation.
  1. Right to Know.  The Chargemaster (computer program that lists all the things you charge for) must be publicly available to EVERYONE.  No hiding your prices. Put it on the Web. 
  2. Right to Compare. The must also list the amount they charge to Medicare next to the price they charge you.  (The Medicare prices are in effect reasonable, as they are negotiated, rather than set)
  3. Optional negotiation. The Hospital can ignore all the rules below, if they offer (and the patient accepts) to charge everything at a stated multiple of Medicare rates, when you enter the hospital  I.E.  ignore the Chargemaster and pay 1.5 or maybe 2 times  Medicare.
  4. Right to Bring Your Own. Customers are allowed at any time to bring their own products in.  That is, if you are stupid enough to charge $13,000 for a drug that retails for $4,000, the customer can pay an express delivery guy to pick it up at a pharmacy down the street and deliver it to you and they must use it.  Yes it might not be of the same quality, but it's your body, your choice.  This includes food, as long as it conforms to the dietary limits your doctors set.
  5. Right to Replace. If for some reason the hospital must charge you for something immediately (as there is no time for you to get it), then you can instead choose to replacement in an unopened condition - as long as you give back at least as one more than you used.  That is, if they want to charge you $25 for 19 aspirins, you can go to the store and get a package of 20 aspirins for $15 and deliver it to them. 
  6. Right to Buy.  If they charge you more than 10% of the cost to them to buy something, they must give you that item when you leave. I.E.  No charging you $1.5 (let alone $40) to 'lease' a $15 warming blanket, then keeping the blanked and using it on someone else.
  7. Right to Pick your Tester.  The hospital must use any third party testing service you pay for (and any third party test analysis - i.e. they don't just overcharge to do the cat scan, they then overcharge to have a radiologist look at it.)   That is, if the Hospital charges you $7,000 for a blood test, you can pay $200 to have your blood rushed, in a refrigerated container across town to a private lab that will do the test for $500.
  8. Right to Pick your Provider.  If you object to the service prices the hospital charges, the Hospital by law must allow you to pay for a private nurse and/or Doctor that you negotiate payment  for in advance, to provide all the regular services for.   That is no "He doesn't have privileges here."  You can bring in ANYONE you want to provide the services.  Or they can offer you a more reasonable price.
  9. Right to Shop Around. Anytime a customer uses one of the rights I list above, the hospital must a reasonable attempt to get the name and contact information of their provider/supplier and put their name on a list of 'alternative medical providers' available for all Hospital patients. 
  10. Hospitals right not to be sued.   The Hospital can require anyone using these rights you to sign a notice stating that the Hospital is not responsible for the quality of care you get from these outside service/product providers.

Most of these proposals stand alone (Although 1 and 2 go together, 9 requires the use of 7 or 8, and #10 only works if you exercise 4, 8, or 9.)

Note, I do not expect many people to actually exercise these rights.  Instead I suspect that the hospital will suddenly reduce their prices to something a little more reasonable.

More importantly, note that I do NOT implement any kind  of price controls.   At no point do I attempt to force the Hospital to lower their prices.  I just make it a lot harder for them to charge you something without telling you the price before hand - or to stop you from comparison shopping.

Finally, I don't actually expect most people's total Hospital bills to change.   Most people do it through insurance, so this won't affect the Hospital's profit margin all that much  (as per the Time article I referenced above, insurance typically pays 35% of the Chargemaster prices).   I do expect that the Hospital bill for the room to go up a bit, as that you can't 'outsource'.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Comparison of Obama vs a real socialist

Many people have falsely accused President Obama of being a socialist. 

Let's look at a real socialist country.  Specifically France, which has one of the most oppressive tax rules.

Tax rates. 

France has a high marginal tax rate of 75% (on all income over 1 million Euro)

If you live in a state like Florida with no income tax, you pay 39.6%, plus 6.2% social security for employees (39.6+plus another 6.2% from the employer - yourself if self employed) + 1.45 Medicare tax, for a total of 47.25% or 53.45% if you are self-employed

Golfer Phil Mickelson (who counts as self employed) wants to leave California, because his tax rate has risen to as high as 63%

Obama doesn't want more than a rise of 4% or so for taxes.   On a scale of 0-10 communism, with socialism as 5, that puts Obama at a 3.  


Businesses in France prefer to hire people using temporary contracts because if you have more than 49 permanent workers, a ton of nasty rules come into play.  For example, you pretty much can't fire a permanent worker.   (Source) Firing is pretty easy in America, unless discrimination or sexual harassment get involved.  I have NEVER heard of a US firm not hiring people because they are afraid you can't fire someone.  It's about firing specific people, not anyone.

Obama gets a 1/10. Pretty Capitalist.


The French get a minimum (by law) of 5 weeks vacation a year.   (Source)  Some get as much as 8.  Four weeks is pretty standard in the developed world   In the US, two is standard, 4 is good.
Only Japan and South Korea give less than the US. (source)

Obama gets a 1/10  Pretty Capitalist.

Work Week

In France, they have a 35 hour work week.  In the US, it is 40.  We are not that far off, but we still work more.

Obama gets a 3/10. 

Health care

French Health care is universal and basically single payer, although supplemental coverage is available.   Obama care is far from it - there are lots of gaps for people to fall through, we have multiple different insurance companies.  Again, we did the minimum, not the maximum.

Obama gets a 1/10 here. 

Social Security

French Social Security starts at 62 (60 pre-2010 law), with maximum benefits at 67  The US starts at 67 (it used to be 65), with maximum benefits at 70.  The French base their system on the best 25 years,  the US on the best 35 years (which significantly lowers the value, assuming you get real raises).  The base formula (assuming full 25 or 35 years), is average salary x 50% for France (source), with a cap of  3031 euros (or $3936 given exchange rate of 0.77)  about  The base formula for the US is 90% for the first $749 you make a month, then 35% for till you hit 3768 a month, then 15% for any money above that (Source) with a cap of $2,513.

The french retirement system is far more generous, by about 50%.

Obama gets a 2/10 here.

OK, let's take a look at the scores again:

Taxes:   3
Unions   1
Vacation:  1
Work Week:  3
HealthCare 1
Social Security 2

I know, people are going to say I am comparing America to France, not Obama to France.  Obama has not made any attempt to change Unions, Vacations, Work Week, or Social Security.   As for Taxes and Healthcare, I  compared Obama's plan to France, not our current plan. 

Obama is not and never has been a socialist.  He is a liberal.  If you can't tell the difference, then you have no business being in politics.  That's like not being able to tell the difference between a Conservative and a Fascist. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Life of Pi

This takes a while to get political, but stay with me.

First of all, SPOILER ALERT.  Do not read any further if you don't want to 'spoil' the movie Life of Pi.

The Life of Pi is a wonderful imaginative story in part about a boy surviving on a lifeboat with a tiger..  But most importantly at the end it is implied that the entire story is a fiction used to cover up a darker story by the teller of the tale

The teller briefly describes a darker, more violent story involving murder and cannibalism and when asked by a novelist which is true, he replies "Which story do you prefer?"

All characters in the film (and the writer and the director) clearly support the preference for the lighter, more fictional tale of the tiger.    The movie doesn't show the murder/cannibalism story, it just has Pi speak it, after spending hours lovingly portraying the fantasy in brilliant color with expensive CGI detail.

But I prefer the darker story, not the  fantasy version.

It is more honest, more extreme, and in many ways more remarkable.   The tiger tale is full of stupidity, blind luck and a dash of miracles.  All based on rather silly decisions that no sane man would do (such as helping the tiger get back on the boat).  It's sole real value is the beauty by which it is portrayed.

The darker story however is a true tale of right vs might.   A young man makes the right decisions and lives as a direct result of it.  Yes, the losses in it are worse.  That is part of life.   The dark parts make the bright parts worth it.  Without uglyness there is no beauty.

Now, I am an aspiring fantasy writer. (96,000 word novel submitted to DAW publishing).  I have nothing against fantasy, I love it.  But there is a reason why they told the 'dark' story in the book and movie, as opposed to cutting it.  Without the dark story, the 'fantasy' version is crap.  It's simply not that good a fantasy story.

It lacks the things that make a good story.  Things that are present in the dark tale.  Right vs. Wrong make for better tales than Survival vs Death.  In addition, reality is far more complicated.  There are shades of gray.   Cannibalism is wrong - but what about when you are out of food and other people died natural deaths?

The thing is too many people prefer the light fantasy to the dark reality.

This happens in politics in particular.   Politicians make up beautiful, tiger filled fantasies and try to win using them.  They portray their enemies as pure evil, and their allies as pure good.   They ignore the problems and weaknesses in their own plans and refuse to admit their opponent has any point at all.

Reality is darker and more complex   There are people on both sides that are good and people on both sides that are evil.  

We need to learn to not only accept the darker truths, but to prefer them.

Only then can we solve the real issues.

Compromise means both sides will have to sacrifice - but that can only be done if both sides will admit the other is not the big bad evil monster.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Simple way to kill gerrymandering

District design has four different principles - two 'good' and two 'bad'.

The good ones are as follows:

  1. Design districts to represent a specific sub-culture or group.  The river folk, the farmers, the steel workers, the office workers, etc, ensuring every voice is heard.  This argues in favor of weirdly shaped districts to capture all of the culture, regardless of where they settle.  Here we are intentionally taking several minority views and concentrating them so that they have a voice.  The goal here is to group them over 55% , letting them win at least one district.
  2. Design districts to ensure that the general population of the state's views are accurately reflected by the district.  The idea here is to ensure that the majority has control of the majority of the districts., and the minority has control of a minority of the districts.   This involves dispersing the votes, not concentrating them.   If the state s 60% party A, 40% party B, then make sure that 60% of the districts are dominated by party A and 40% are dominated by party B.
The evil ones are as follows:

  1. Concentrate a minority so that their votes are all wasted on one district.  The goal here is to group them over 70% so that they only get one district (or as few as possible).
  2. Salt the majorities everywhere so that they win all districts, ideally preventing minorities from concentrating and even winning a single district.  But failing that keeping the minority under-represented.
At first glance, the methods look similar.   But let's talk about the difference is quote striking.

Sub culture districting is designed for a goal of 55%.  Anything over 65% in effect does the OPPOSITE of the desired view.

There is NO ethical reason whatsoever to put in more than 70% of any minority group, race or creed.  Ever.  There is no reason to pump it up over 60%, unless you are being unethical.

Any district that where 60% or more of registered voters belong to one party can not touch a district that has less than 45% of registered voters from one party.  (Using data available at district creation.)

Because if you are concentrating a 'minority' to let them have one district, then you are not allowed to over-concentrate them, preventing them from having two districts.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Right to counter-sue for false DMCA

The DMCA allows people to sue for copyright infringement.

The problem is it is clearly being abused.  We definitely have copyright infringement, but it is not that hard to find cases where:

  1. Secondary media people suing the original artists for infringing their rights (some knowingly, some out of just plain stupidity)
  2. People using the DMCA to stop political speech
  3. Copyright owners mistakenly requesting their own postings be removed
Even the best people tend to make mistakes about 3% of the time.  (Microsoft's numbers for example)

So what do we do about the bad actors  - the scum that aren't doing it by mistake, but are doing it on purpose.

Well, the courts do let you sue:  (OPG vs Diebold)   But that route is expensive and by no means assured.

It also may not work at all against poor people or those that have money to spare.

I suggest a simple law - all DMCA notices must be filed with the new Consumer Protection agency.  They and only they can then forward it on to the offender.  The forwarding would normally be automatic.

If they find you have abused the system in the past, (more than 5% of your filings have been rejected), then you pay a fee to file the DMCA take down notice, refundable if the complaint is not overturned within three months.

The fee could start out at $100 for 5% bad DMCA, then double for every 5%  (i.e. at 10%, you pay $200, at 15% you pay $400, at 20% you pay $800).

For people that have placed less than 20 complaints, pretend that their total complaints are 20  (so 1 bad complaint and no other complaints count as 5% not 100%)

More important than the money, it creates a list of bad actors.  People that can not be trusted.  Make this list explicitedly admissable in court cases.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Patent reform

Recently there was an incredibly bad NYT article talking about the dearth of true invention.

It said every recent invention, with the exception of the iPhone was just incremental enhancement, not real innovation.

Which made me laugh on two counts.

First, the iPhone is the epitome of incremental enhancement, not in any way a true innovation.  It took an existing concept - the smart phone pioneered by Blackberry, and made it slightly more accessible.  It added existing ideas such as touch screen and private stores to buy apps, and was not in any way innovative.  It was stylish and well marketed, and easy to use, not a real invention.

Then it denigrated a ton of TRUE innovations, calling them incremental enhancements.

Part of the probelm was he didn't understand how many of the real invetions were created.

He thought one guy had a Eureka moment and created something out of nothing.  Not true.  Almost all inventions - even those we give full credit to one guy - are incremental.  (examples)

He had no idea that Marconi and Tesla were both working on the radio, both made startling discoveries.   Yes, Tesla came up with the innovative ideas, and Marconi turned them into reality.  They incremented off each other, just like the things he denigrated.  The same thing happened with cars.  Honestly, the same thing happened with wheels (rocks rolling down hill, logs rolling down hill, logs under an object, slim down midpoints of the logs to save weight, bind the midpoint to the cart,  axels + wheel)

So what makes for a real invention as opposed to just incremental enhancement.   Two distint things:

First, one of the increments is shockingly strange and trasnformative  as opposed to simply being obvious.  It might be complex, it might be counter-intuitive, but it is something that needs to be explained as opposed to being a 'duh' moment.

Second the result is transofrmative.  It does something NEW hat has no existing competition.

TV is not radio.  It does not compete with Radio.   It is NEW.

Streaming TV on the internet is just TV via a different source.  It directly competes with real TV.  It is not new.

Downloadable TV is however new.  It does not compete with regular TV or even DVDs because the speed of delivery is new.  You don't need to live near a video store to go and buy new video.

So lets talk about patent reform.

People that invent deserve patents.  People that increment don't.  They are just doing 'duh' work.  Yes, it might be hard 'duh' work - and it should not be stealable.  But they shouldn't be able to patent it.  Copyright yes, patent no.

(Copyrights prevent someone from directly copying your software.  Patents prevent someone from independently building something that does the same thing.)

One of the interesting things about this concept of invention is that it reduces the need for experts.  We don't care that your method of doing X is better or not.  That's just innovation.

We care about the experience of the purchaser.   Can he get something that he could not get before?  Note that a significant quality increase, price reduction or time reduction does count as something new.   We can probably use 10% quality, price or time change as a rough guide (as in 9% counts in some cases - determined by patent bureau). 

What would this do to our current world?

Well, 90% of software (and design) patents would vanish - but their copyrights would remain.  Apple would still sue to protect their copyrighted rounded corners instead of their patent'ed rounded corners.

 Would any software qualify?  Probably not.  That is not surprising. Software is written.  Like all other forms of writing, you should COPYRIGHT them, not patent it.

Claiming your software is patented is like claiming that no one else can write a love story because you wrote the first one.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Republican Hero

I have talked quite a bit about traitorous Republicans trying to convert this country to an oligarchy (via electoral vote by gerrymandered district plans).

So it is only fair that when a Republican stands up for what is right, I should point out his behavior.

Specifically Republican Representative Bill Howell (Speaker of the Virginia State House) has rejected the state redistricting plan put forth by the Virginia State Senate.  He killed it's chance of being passed into law.

For background, last month, on Martin Luther King Day (Monday, January 21, 2013), Democratic Senator Henry Marsh choose to attend President Obama's inauguration.  Senator Marsh is a black man, but he is also one of 21 Democrat State Senators in Virginia.

During his absence, the Virginia State Senators decide to play dirty and rushed through a re-districing plan that gerrymandered the state even further.  It did so by filling up a single district with Democrats, thereby turning a previously Democrat district into a Republican one.

As per my earlier anti-Virginia post (source), Virginia has 11 districts and a majority of Democrats in the state.  But they only have 3 Democrat districts versus 8 republican districts.  How did they do this?  By stuffing one district with 80% Democrat.  The new plan would have made it only 2 Democrat Districts, both over 80% and  nine Republican Districts.

To add insult to injury, most of Virginia's Democrats are black and remember this was done on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Can you say "Ghetto?"

But enough was enough for the truly Honorable Speaker Bill Howell.

He stood up to to the state senate and said no.

I personally want to thank the Honorable Speaker Bill Howell for having the courage and ethics so rarely seen (clearly absent in the Virginia State Senate).

Honorable Speaker Howell, it is because of men like you that this country is as great as it is.

Thank you for putting country and state above party.

May I also suggest that you run for federal office? 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Post Office Closings

Recently, due in part to lack of congressional (i.e. House/GOP - the Senate/Democrats passed a bill that the House ignored) the US Post Office decided to end Saturday delivery.

Now, I don't have a problem with deciding to move from six days a week delivery to five.  It makes a lot of sense.

I do object to ending SATURDAY delivery.

If you need something right away, you next day it - or better yet, you messenger it.

The regular (First Class) mail is no longer used for extremely time sensitive materials.  It is still fairly fast, and we can expect stuff to get done in 2-3 days of work(source).

Assume for example that it takes 3 days - as in Monday mailed, arrive on Thursday.  Mailed on Tuesday arrives on Friday.  But mailed on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday (3/5 days), then there is an extra two day gap, and 3 days becomes 5 days.   If you drop it in the mailbox on Sunday, it gets there 4 days later.  If you drop it in the mailbox on Saturday it gets there 5 days later.

Net Net:  Two days a week it is 3 days, one day it is 4 days, and four days a week it is 5 days.  Average travel time is 4.28 days

Now assume that instead of ending Saturday delivery, they instead choose to end Wednesday (or Thursday) delivery.

If you drop it on any day except for Saturday, it gets there in 4 days.  If you drop it on Saturday it takes 5 days.

Net Net:  Average time is now only 4.14 days. Yes, it is only a slight gain, but you also gain consistency.

Now this does make scheduling postal employee's time more complicated.  In effect, you can't simply give them a normal work week.  But they don't get that right now.   We are not creating more complex postal work schedules, we are simply not simplifying it as much as we could.

The question is, do we want to help the postal employees service or do we want to help their customers.

The US Post Office choose to help the employees instead of their customers.

There is another issue -  Next day delivery.

UPS and Fed Ex offer next day delivery service 6 days a week (Saturday delivery is included free for FedEx, may cost additional for UPS)

So the Post Office will be providing one less day.  Clearly for Next Day service, giving up Saturday delivery is preferable to giving up Wednesday. But honestly, either way, the post off is turning itself into a second-tier player in the Next Day delivery business. 

I personally think they should have given up Wednesday.  It's better for the standard 2-3 day delivery business they are famous for, and either way they have screwed themselves on Next Day service.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Immigration Rreform

As it seems likely to pass, I want to talk about Immigration Reform.

One of the main issues is 'amnesty'.  By that, people refer to giving illegal immigrants a benefit, making it easier for them to become citizens than normal people.

I think they should be neither aided nor punished in the new legal system.  

But there are lots of things we do wrong.  Lets start with the first thing:

  1. 1)  We have no guest worker program.  Look, America NEEDS cheap labor.  We need farm workers, maids, gardeners, and child care.   We typically hire immigrants to do this hard 'unskilled' labor.  So it needs to be part of the law.
  2. We give special preferences to certain countries.  Pure racism.  It should be stopped.
  3. We don't let in enough of the very talented workers.
  4. We give special preferences to family members - not just husband/wives/children, but also brothers, sisters, etc.
I think we need to fix that.

Here are some numbers.

(Source) In 2011, we got 694,193 new citizens.  They tend to move to California, Florida, New York, Texas and New Jersey (in order)  The top five countries are Mexico, India, Philippines, China, and Colombia (in that order).   By far most are from Mexico, and by far most go to California.

To become a citizen, you must have Legal Permanent Resident status (LPR), be 18, lived here for at least 5 years (3 if married to a US citizen), speak, read, write English, pass a simple Government and History test, and have good moral character.

There are certain exceptions for legal (not biological) children of US citizens and people that served in our military.

Now let's talk a bit more about the various quota methods.

There is no quota on numbers to become citizen.  There are quotas on Legal Permanent Resident Status (Visas).

Immediate relatives (Spouse/widow/widower/children under 21 and parents of an adult citizen).   This includes step and adopted relationships.  There are NO quotas for this category.  An unlimited number of people can get in by marring.

Note children means under 21. Unmarried children means adult children.  Married children are adult children that are married

F1  Unmarried children (and their children, i.e. grandchildren)
F2  Spouses, Children and unmarried children of green card holders. 
F3 Married children (and their spouses and children)
F4  Brothers and sisters, their spouses and children.

First off all, this seems ridiculously complicated to me.  Partly because we seem to be running it as a charity, instead of a country.  Millions of people want to get into the US we should not give it out to the saddest story.    I have no idea why F2 and F4 exist.   People that are not citizens should not be granting benefits to other.  Brothers and Sisters should not get special treatment.

Next are the Employment based quotas.

Here you have:

E1  Extraordinary people  (Athletes, CEOs and other celebrity types)
E2  Professionals  (Doctors, lawyers, Scientists, etc.)
E3  Skilled workers
E4  Special (Clergy, employees of the US government, members of certain international organizations such as Red Cross, etc.)  also their family
E5  Investors  - you can buy in with a $500,000 investment.

That's about it.

OK,   lets talk about how it should work.  We should be offering 4 different types of Visas.

  1. Work Card.   Anyone that is not pregnant and not a criminal.   States can put a 'foreign worker' extra tax of up to 25% on those that have it.   They last for a period of 6 months, renewable for another 6 months  - as long as you have not gotten pregnant (pregnancy test required for women - paid for by the US from fees charged to both male and female people that apply).  After 1 year, you must leave for at least 3 months, then you can return and try again.  If you get pregnant while on this, you will never be given another Work Card.  NO QUOTAS.
  2. Legal Resident Card.   Usually only granted to spouses, children and parents of existing citizens or people with Professional Card or the Green Card.   Also may be granted to 'hardship cases' (i.e. you are seeking asylum, etc.)   You can only work upto 20 hours a week using this card.   If you are found working more than 20 hours a week using this card, you will never be given any other card (unless you yourself report it within the first month of it happening).  No special taxes.  NO QUOTAS
  3. Professional Card.  You can't be taxed different with this.   To get it, you must qualify as what used to be the old E1,E2, E4, or E5.  Note this includes soldiers and other employees of the US government.   NO QUOTAS.
  4. Green Card - old E3, F1 and F3.   Quota on how many can get this.   
Make it clear that Work Cards do not grant LPR.  Otherwise keep the same system.

Note, these changes mean that we will get a lot more extraordinarily people, and professionals.  We will have guest workers without being forced to give them citizenship.   Brothers and sisters of citizen and green card holders can apply for and get Work Cards.   Permanent Residency is a luxury item, not a charity item.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to spot bad reporting

The easiest way I know to spot bad reporting is to look for the lack of comparisons.

Here is a perfect example.

It's a great little story about how the veteran suicide rate is 22 per day, not 18 as previously believed by The Department of Veterans Affairs.  Over a year, 22/day is 8030 veterans committing suicide a year, vs 6570.

What horrible news!  Four more veterans suicide every day! (1460 more a year)

Uhm, excuse me, but out of how many?  More importantly, how does that compare to the suicide rate of the general population?

As per the, there are about 22.7 million veterans (as of 9/30/2010).

That means a bit less than one out of every million veterans try to commit suicide every year.  22/22.7 million works out to 9.7 out of every 100,000 veterans.   That's not that much.   Let's compare it to non-veterans...

And the rate for non-veterans is...  (source)

about 12 non-veterans out every 100,000 non-veterans.

That's right - American veterans are less likely to commit suicide than non-veterans.   Not that surprisingly - we screen our soldiers and don't let people with serious mental issues join the army (it's where we keep all the tanks, missiles, and bombs, after all).

The real truth is that our veterans are NOT crazed lunatics.  They are sane people who have undergone horrible situation for their country (and pay), but have NOT been broken.  They handle it and handle it well.

That is not to say that we should not help our veterans.  They deserve all the help they can get, particularly when often their current problems are a direct result of the sacrifices they made for their country.

Instead, my point is that when you read news articles, you have to look for important comparisons. Any good reporter should include that information.  A bad one is either too stupid to get it (and therefore not worth reading), or worse, a liar who found the information but decided to withhold it  (and therefore can not be trusted).

If they don't give the right comparison, don't listen to them.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Gerrymandering and Treasonous Republicans

Recently the treasonous republicans (not all republicans are treasonous, but there are a few) are pushing the "Electoral College by Congressional District" plan as a means of ending Democracy  (government by majority vote) in the United States of America and moving to an Oligarchy (government by the few).  We will still be a Republic (government through representatives rather than direct control), just an Oligarchic Republic instead of a Democratic Republic.  That's Republicans for you - out to get rid of anything with a 'Democra" prefix.

There is an interesting article about this in The Nation

 They are doing this because they know they can't win the popular vote, so they want to rig the game.

 The traitorous Republican controlled states are:

Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin

Note none of them are talking about doing this in the Republican strongholds of Texas or Georgia.  They are not even willing to do it for the smaller republican states like Utah (which would only have given the Democrats one electoral vote because).

They only want to do this in the larger Democrat states that through gerrymandering are Republican controlled senates.

They point to Maine and Nebraska, saying that all they want to do is the copy those two states.

That is an outright lie.

There are major differences between Maine, Nebraska and those six states they want create illegal and unconstitutional methods.  Virginia is the state that is furthest along in their unconstitutional idea, so I will use it as an example.

First and foremost, Maine and Nebraska are designed to be legal, constitutional and FAIR.  Each state gets a number of electoral votes equal to their congressional districts, plus two (for their senators). Maine has four total electoral votes and Nebraska has five.  Both states apply the two 'senatorial' electoral votes to the winner of the statewide election and give one vote to the winner of each congressional district.

BUT VIRGINIA IS NOT DOING THIS.   Instead, Virginia is giving their two 'senatorial' electoral votes to whoever wins the most congressional district, not to the winner of the popular vote.  This is in effect to add insult to injury.  This alone is illegal.  Districts don't vote, people do.  You don't give out the extra votes to the winner of the most districts, you give it to the winner of the most people.

Second, because of the small size of Maine and Nebraska, you can't gerrymander extra votes.   That is, you can't carve out 3 districts with 60% conservative votes, while creating one district with 90% Democrat.     The real question is not why is this wrong but why is it legal.  Mainly because both parties liked the certainty, and were willing to put up with the loss of one or two congressional districts when the other party happened to be in control of the state.

Virginia has 11 districts.  This allows for some major gerrymandering.  There are three Democrat districts in Virgina.  One of the Democrats won by over 80%, the other two by over 60%.  Of the eight Republican controlled districts, none won by more than 66% and only two won by over 60%.  The other six were all won by between 50 and 60%  The 80% democrat district (district 3)  touches districts one, two, four and seven, all of whom were won by less than 60%, is clearly gerrymandered, even if you want to argue about the other two democrat ones.

In a fair world, the Democrats should have won at least one additional congressional race in Virgina, probably three or four more.  Three more would have put them in the MAJORITY of Virgina.  Not surprisingly because Barack Obama won the statewide election in Virginia.  Virgiia has more Democrats than Republicans, the only reason the Republicans have more Virginia congressmen is gerrymandering.

Maine and Nebraska are not gerrymandered.

Third, and most important,  Maine and Nebraska have so few electoral votes that even if they were gerrymandered horrendous - it is impossible  to get the majority of their electoral votes without also getting the majority of their popular vote.

Because the two 'senatorial' electoral votes are  almost half of Nebraska's(and exactly half of Maine's) electoral vote, they can swing the majority to at least match the state's majority vote.

Not true in Virginia with it's 11 electoral districts.

Given the current congressional record history, Virginia would get 8 Republican District electoral votes, plus 3 Democrat District electoral votes.  Even if you use the Maine/Nebraska rules of two senatorial electoral votes to the popular winner (which the traitors in the GOP are not doing - they have zero ethics whatsoever), the net total would be 8 Republican Electoral votes vs 5 Democrat Electoral Votes.

Virginia's law would make that happen in every election until the GOP's old white population died out - or more likely was murdered in the armed revolution they are inciting.

Note, there has been exactly two cases in all of America's history where the guy that won the popular vote did not get the majority of the state's electoral vote.  The first was in 1860 - New Jersey decided to give the Republican Lincoln 4 electoral votes and 3 to Douglas despite the fact that Douglas beat Lincoln by more than 4,500 votes (source)  Exactly how the GOP convinced people to do this is unclear, the records are not around after 150 years.

One year later the civil war started - in main part because Lincoln was elected.   I am not saying that New Jersey's faithless act caused the war - just that it is a  very bad sign when we want to repeat it.

The second case in the 1960's when Kennedy was running against Nixon.  While Kennedy won popular vote in the state of Alabama, the state Democrats party did not like him.  So they put up 'unsworn' electors, who, while they were Democrats, then went and voted for Nixon.  Of the 11 electors - all democrats, only five voted for Kennedy.  (source)  Again, this was due to racial factors - the southerns hated the Civil Rights Act.

Note electors voting against the wishes of their constituents is in fact not at all uncommon prior to 1980. It happened ALL the time before Reagan.  After Reagan, it pretty much never happened again.  But it was a faithless act by the elector, not a state law that did this.

Oh, if you wondering why I keep saying "Unconstitutional", read the Constitution's 14th Amendment, section two:

"2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State."

The 'in any way abridged bit is what makes these 'electoral districts' schemes unconstitutional. By law, this reduces the basis of representation, i.e the congressional districts AND the electoral votes shall be reduced.

Virginia's has 13 electoral votes, at least 8 of which should go democrat.  Their scheme to reduce that to 3 is a clear reduction of 5 votes.  As such, Virginia should legally be punished by the removal of 3 congressional districts (for proposing an electoral vote scheme based on gerrymandering) and 5 electoral votes (the extra 2 electoral votes because they also wanted the senatorial votes to go to the highest electoral winner, as opposed to the popular vote winner.

Virginians should sue the state, under the 14th amendment to eliminate those 3 congressional and 5 electoral votes.