Should ITC Stop Protecting Patents?

SmartphoneAccording to Wonk Blog, Bill Watson over at the Cato Institute is unhappy that the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that a number of Apple products infringed on Samsung patents. He rightly notes that there is duplication in the patent law system. But I have a problem with this kind of approach to our broken intellectual property (IP) system. And especially with regard to Apple—one of the most egregious patent trolling companies.

I don’t know much about Watson, but I do know Cato. And they are not really for IP law reform. All Watson is arguing for is a limit to “forum shopping” where companies look around for the best place to sue. It’s not even clear to me that such a minor reform would improve things. Depending upon how the law was changed, it might just make a system that is heavily weighted toward big companies even more so.

The bigger issue is that the whole IP system is broken. But in its big policy document (pdf), Cato doesn’t even suggest any fundamental reforms. That’s quite something for a group known for its extreme recommendations. But it is entirely typical of the fake free market philosophy of the libertarian group. It calls for making these laws more friendly to “competition” but never in a way that would upset the flow of corporate profits.

One interesting thing about the article that features Cato’s Mr. Watson is that it is written by Timothy B. Lee. Who used to be at… Cato. If Wonk Blog wants to provide space to discuss this issue, it would be better off allowing Brad Plumer, who understand the the patent system fairly well. Or even better Dean Baker. (Admittedly, given that Baker attacks the Washington Post almost every day as “Fox on 15th Street,” he would not be politically viable choice.) What’s with the Cato boys getting the valuable space?

The article reads more like advocacy than reporting. No alternative points of view are even mentioned. And in the end, it seems that the point of the article is to keep cheap products flowing into the United States from overseas. It likely is the case that we ought to get the ITC out of the patent law business. But I’d like to see an opposing view. Or at least the view of some people who aren’t wedded to the Cato pseudo-free market ideology.

Update (5 Junue 2013)

I just found another article from Lee on patent trolls. He argues that legislation against a very limited definition of “patent troll” is not nearly enough. I agree. However, it would be no less a minor improvement than ending the ITC’s patent cases. Yet that would apparently be a great idea.

My Girl Rosalind

Rosalind RussellOn this day back in 1738, King George III was born. You know, the king we Yankees whooped? The crazy King? I don’t know much about him—there aren’t many kings who are worth studying. But I did see The Madness of King George. And I didn’t much like it. But I did like one line from the film. (In truth, I suspect it works better as a play.) When asked who is to say what is normal in a king, Dr. Willis replies, “Who can flourish on such a daily diet of compliance?” I think about that line a whole lot. Here is America we have all kinds of people who are tortured by their celebrity and wealth. I often think that Howie Mandel, for instance, is only screwed up because he can be. If he had my life, he would not have the luxury of his mental illness. But beyond that, it is not good to be surrounded by sycophants. I have had the experience in a small way, and I find it most disquieting. And bad for me. The only thing that stops me from being a total asshole is the fact that I have wonderful friends who tell me very clearly when I am tending in that direction. So I suspect all kings are crazy, but I will allow that most of them manage to stop themselves from rubbing themselves against the lady-in-waiting. Anyway, the prick still managed to live to the age of 81. It’s good to be king.

Actor Dennis Weaver was born in 1924. I most know him from a remarkable made-for-television film Duel. The film is most associated with its director Steven Spielberg. But I think the direction is completely standard—what any director would have done. What’s great about it is its script, which, like so much of everything worth note in the 60s and 70s was written by Richard Matheson. Of course, as far as I know, Matheson never wrote about a cop on a horse.

Freddy Fender was born in 1937. He was a great songwriter, as you can tell from this:

We all like to think that we are that romantic. We aren’t.

Actor Bruce Dern is 77 today. Author Robert Fulghum is 76. I know: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. But I remember driving out to the river with a friend reading the book and finding it quite amusing. Admittedly, I love it when people read out loud. And I laugh rather easily. Oh, leave me alone! The actors Russell Brand and Angelina Jolie are both 38 today.

But reading out loud and laughing easily aren’t my only weaknesses. As regular readers know, I develop crushes rather easily. And they definitely affect how I judge the contestants in the birthday posts. Still, I don’t think that’s what’s going on today, which belongs to the great actor Rosalind Russell who was born on this day in 1907. That’s because she starred in one of my all time favorite movies His Girl Friday. But even without that, she’d probably win for being Auntie Mame. However, she will always be Hildy Johnson to me:

Happy birthday Rosalind Russell!

Why Reagan but Not Bush?

Laura IngrahamThis morning, Jonathan Chait reported on a feud that is going on in the Republican Party. One one side is the establishment George W. Bush force, represented by Peter Wehner. On the other is the Tea Party force, represented by Laura Ingraham. They’ve been going back and forth at each other. Wehner argues that Bush really was a conservative. And Ingraham argues that he wasn’t.

What’s really interesting is that most of the things that Ingraham complains make Bush not a “true” conservative—the wars, the deficits, the new prescription drug benefit—were things that she supported at the time. This is indicative of what I hate about the Tea Party movement. As long as the Republicans were in charge, no end of “big government” programs were cheered. It is only when the Democrats are in charge that these people have a problem with such “socialism.”

Now somewhat the same can be said about the left, but note: when Obama came into office with overwhelming majorities, he was still very concerned (wrongly) about the deficit. He put forth a small stimulus (wrongly) claiming that if more were needed, he would pass another. That is quite different from the way that Republicans act. What’s more, when a Republican takes the White House, we don’t hear a sudden drumbeat from the liberal base for a balanced budget.

What is the problem with Bush? Why do modern conservatives worship Reagan but not Bush? And not just that. They worship Reagan as a Conservative Hero and, as we see with Laura Ingraham, they claim that Bush is an apostate to the conservative cause. Yet Bush was far more conservative than Reagan.

It could be that Reagan was very successful in pushing conservative policy: he came out with far more conservative policies than he came in with. But that doesn’t really fit, because that is just as true of Bush. And it can’t be that conservatives are angry about all the debt Bush accumulated, because Reagan was much worse. The most plausible reason for the claim that Bush is not conservative comes from the fact that Bush was not successful when he left office.

Bush had two wars that he had failed to “win.” Bush had the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. And relatedly, although probably not in the minds of most conservatives, his administration didn’t lead to a new Republican president. And this all means that the marketing of the Bush administration was simply not as good as the marketing of the Reagan administration.

The problem here is that Bush’s failures have nothing to do with a lack of conservatism. What Ingraham is arguing in effect is that if she doesn’t like the results of a president’s policies, those policies cannot be conservative. That’s a very dangerous position to take. It means that there is no way to disprove the effectiveness of conservative policy. “If it didn’t work, it wasn’t conservative” is the intellectual equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and screaming, “I can’t hear you!”

This goes far beyond the typical (true) complaint that conservatives have entered a post-fact realm. With Ingraham’s style of thinking, no conservative policy failure even requires looking at the facts. Failure must mean the policy was too liberal. And that is certainly where we find ourselves with the post-Bush Republican Party. I can’t even imagine where another failed conservative president would lead. But we may all find out.

Racism in Drug Laws

Dylan MatthewsDylan Matthews presents this morning, The Black/White Marijuana Arrest Gap, in Nine Charts. But why wade through so many charts unless you have some unusual chart mania? His “nine charts” come from a new report from the ACLU, The War on Marijuana in Black and White (pdf). And I’ve taken two of the graphs (figures 10 and 21) and put them together. They paint a very clear picture:

Rasism in Cannabis Arrests

The chart shows that while whites and blacks use cannabis at about the same rate, blacks are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for possession. And this chart even underestimates the problem. Blacks between the ages of 18 and 25 are less likely to use cannabis than whites of that age. And all blacks are less likely to have ever used the drug.

Michelle Alexander explains in her exceptional book The New Jim Crow, the drug laws (especially those for cannabis) are a form of social control: a way of keeping young black men especially disenfranchised. When excluding those who are not allowed to vote, black men vote at an extremely high rate. And that is the point: the once great white nation wants to hold on as long as it can.

These disproportionate arrests are not an accident. And they have nothing to do with drugs.


I always use the term “cannabis,” because the term “marijuana” is itself a racist term. It was meant to associate cannabis with Mexicans, just as opium had been associated with the Chinese and cocaine with southern blacks.

False Lessons of the New Democrats

Bill ClintonI have been working on a longer argument against the New Democratic movement. The standard explanation of how the Democratic Party has changed over the last several decades is wrong I think. The narrative says that the party became too liberal in the 1960s. I don’t think this is correct, but it is true that the Democrats lost their working class moorings. They seemed to misunderstand who was their actual base. But for whatever the reason, the narrative claims, much of the white middle class turned against the party as seen in the lost elections of Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis. And in steps New Democrat Bill Clinton who saved the party!

But the data don’t really support this narrative. It’s true that southern white males did turn against the Democratic Party, and that’s unfortunate. But that’s about all that happened. The reason that the Democrats went on a 12 year losing streak was just bad economic luck, as you can see in the following graph of the unemployment rate that I made. (My first ever using the FRED system!)

Unemployment from 1979 to 2013

In 1980 when Carter was running for re-election, the unemployment rate was increasing because the Federal Reserve put us into recession to fight inflation. That is why Carter lost, although the third party candidacy of John Anderson didn’t help. Note also that for the first two years of Reagan’s administration, the unemployment rate continued up to almost 11%. And then, the Federal Reserve eased the money supply and it (with an assist from Reagan’s deficit spending) created “Morning in America.”

During the 1984 campaign, the unemployment rate was still pretty high (7%), but it had already fallen over 3 percentage points, and was continuing down. According to political scientists who look at this stuff, that is what matters: the trend. It wasn’t Morning in America because things were great; it was Morning in America because things were getting better—the times were hopeful. And so Reagan won re-election easily.

The exact same dynamic was at work when Bush Sr ran. But the run was at its end. By the second year of his term, unemployment stopped dropping and started climbing. Remember after the Gulf War? Bush had an approval rating of 89%. And then he lost the election because unemployment was rising. But just like with Carter, a third party campaign didn’t help.

It is my contention that Bill Clinton did not become president because he was a new kind of Democrat. As it was, the opposition painted him as a radical anyway, and the mainstream press obligingly followed along. I still fail to see what the New Democrats Clinton and Obama think they get out of their conservative policies. They couldn’t be attacked any worse. If the individual mandate is “socialism” then what is single payer? Doubleplussocialism? But more to the point, these elections were for the Democrats to lose, just as the Reagan-Bush elections were theirs to lose. Being more liberal would not have hurt these men in their elections and might have helped them. Certainly being more liberal would have helped Al Gore.

Erick Erickson Don’t Need No Stinking Reform

Erick EricksonEarly this morning, Erick Erickson posted a lame critique of the conservative reform movement over at Red State, On Conservative Reformers. Mostly it is just an excuse to savagely attack Josh Barro. He describes him as a “late twenty-something gay male.” Until reading that, it had not occurred to me that Barro was gay. In fact, it hadn’t even occurred to me to think about his sexual proclivities. I’m not sure what the mention of this fact is for, other than to impugn Barro in the eyes of Erickson’s bigoted readers. If I were similarly inclined, I would mention that Erick Erickson is a late thirty-something frozen pig-faced male. It would actually make more sense: you can’t help but notice that if you watch the man talk for half a minute. It’s freaky, but just like Barro’s sex life totally irrelevant.

Erickson doesn’t think that Barro is a conservative. This just isn’t true. Barro is quite conservative. What he isn’t is an apologist for the Republican Party. What Erickson doesn’t like is Barro’s embrace of Obamacare. But this isn’t exactly true. I’ve heard Barro argue against the program a number of times. He just seems to be taking a strategic approach to it. What’s more: it is a conservative program. When did it become a litmus test for being a conservative? Barro isn’t calling for a single-payer program. He is defending a program that was Republican orthodoxy only 5 years ago.

Erickson then goes on to claim that Barro left the Manhattan Institute after it was “clear he was not a conservative.” There is no evidence of this, and Erickson is just pushing a standard conservative snark about it. After that, Erickson spends a lot of time claiming that the only reason Barro has a job is because of his famous father, economist Robert Barro. It’s a sad attack. (My opinion is that smart as he is, Barro probably would not have made it so far as a political commentator if he weren’t conservative. But this is just because there is a real shortage of thoughtful conservatives. See, for example: Erick Erickson.)

The article finishes up on Barro by incorrectly explaining why liberals like Barro. He wrote, “But liberals want to take Barro seriously as a conservative reformer because he wants to ‘reform’ by moving in their direction on both fiscal and social issues.” This isn’t why liberals (and moderates) like Barro. They like him because he is a conservative with actual ideas. He doesn’t go on talk shows and lie. And unlike most public conservatives, his claims to want to help the poorer classes are more than just a smokescreen. Personally, I like the fact that I don’t get talking points from Barro. In other words: he doesn’t bore me.

The rest of the article is supposedly about the conservative reform movement, which Erickson claims is “crowded.” But it isn’t clear what Erickson means by “reform.” After all, this is a man who thinks that support of Obamacare that was conservative mainstream only 5 years ago makes someone “not conservative.” He claimed that the reformers are more Republicans than conservatives, but this is just the slight of hand of an ideologue who never wants to take responsibility for actual policy. But more to the point: he seems to be saying the Republican Party only needs to be reformed to the extent that it isn’t pure enough in its commitment to conservatism. In other words, it’s the same old argument, “The problem with George W Bush is that he wasn’t conservative enough.” Or: “I think conservatism is great; we should try it some time.”

Fully half of the article is is an attack on “Washington” and “elites.” He even writes, “Conservatism wins when it is populist and middle class.” But this, of course, is the same old middle class populism that we get from the Tea Party folk who are screaming that we must cut the top marginal income tax rate, slash corporate taxes, and eliminate the estate tax. In other words: it is an ideology that panders exclusively to the interests of the power elite. But in Erickson’s mind, billionaires are not the elite. The elite are people with college degrees (Erickson has a JD, but apparently he doesn’t count) and who live in Washington and New York.

Erickson ends by noting that Reagan took the “academic” conservative ideas and combined them with “mid-western understanding of human nature.” Erickson is big on the idea that liberals live in a fantasy world whereas conservatives live in the real world. This, I guess, is the “real” world of perfect markets and rational expectations. But what he is saying, in effect, is, “We don’t need no stinking reformers!” All the conservative movement needs is another charismatic leader like Ronald Reagan and everything will be fine. And in the short term, this might work. A Republican might win the presidency in 2016. But without major changes in the party, that’s likely to be a last (four year) hurrah for some time. Liberals should thank Erickson for doing his part to ossify the conservative movement and to show that bigotry is alive and well in it.

Update (4 June 2013 12:30 pm)

Josh Barro hit back this morning, writing, “I’m not sure why my sexual orientation is mentioned right at the top of his hit piece on me, following only my age. (Just kidding; I know exactly why Erickson mentioned this so early.)” Pow!



Today I am overwhelmed! Between morning drop off, grocery shopping, working, figuring out what to make for dinner and helping with homework I feel weighed down. I can usually handle my daily load but today I can’t and I’m trying to figure out why?

I think I know why, I have started too many projects and haven’t finished one today! Here are of the projects I am juggling today:

1. Work – working on Facebook, Instagram and Pic Stitch for a client. Meeting work deadlines.

2. Finalizing summer plans and registering my son for summer school and camps.

3. Paying bills (especially do not like this one).

4. Finishing several blog posts I started a week ago but have put aside due to interruptions. There are so many things to share!

5. Figuring out what I should make for dinner??? A huge issue in my house since my son does not eat the same things my husband and I eat.

6. Creating a distract proof homework environment for my son. We are going to try to meet the tutor at the library instead of home today and we’ll see how it works.

Well the list goes on and on! Hopefully I will be able to accomplish most on this list but the day is coming to an end and I have to go and pick up my son from school.