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Posts Tagged ‘News’

From Under the Bridge to Into Our Hard Drives: Patent Trolls

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 13th, 2013 |

(Image credit: iDownloadBlog)

 

You might be wondering “what on Earth is a patent troll?”, so I’ll tell you– “patent troll” is a label for any person/company/firm/etc. that makes a business of threatening to people for alleged patent infringement: almost homogeneously, these people buy patents from other companies/inventors with absolutely zero intention of using the patents for anything other than ammunition for litigation (not to be confused with the MPAA, the RIAA, or the copyright system in general). Rather than using patents in their intended manner– to ensure an inventor has time to complete his/her invention– the patent troll uses the temporary legal monopoly granted with a patent as a means to extort money from inventors who come up with new ideas/inventions or extensions on previous ideas/inventions that may at first glance seem similar to the patents which the patent trolls hold. It is estimated that any actual litigation that is brought by patent trolls and does not get settled before a court battle leads to the patent trolls losing over 75% of the time.

The patent trolls are not a new phenomenon, but they certainly have grown to prominence since the rise of big software. Software development is unique in that software’s “life” goes by considerably faster than most physical items and it is often the case that something becomes standardized in a fraction of the time of physical items. This creates the opportunity for mass patent trolling: if someone obtains a patent for a piece of software that has become a standard before the patent has expired, it is incredibly likely that someone somewhere has made an improvement on that standard, and since this improvement was not done by the patent holder, the patent troll has a prime opportunity to launch a legal missile. Another litigation-mongering opportunity occurs when a piece of closed-sourced software (not free for everyone to tinker with) resembling an open-sourced software (free for everyone to tinker with) that is not well known gets a patent, and since the open-sourced software wasn’t patented, the new patent owner can try to sue, even if the closed-source software was developed after the invention or even adoption as a standard.

These scenarios sound perfectly viable for patent trolls, but in reality, the “perfect patent troll situation” rarely occurs. Most often, the later example– of closed-source software patents being used to attack open-sourced software– is the case. Or not at all; sometimes the patent trolls simply choose someone who has just enough money to pay a settlement, but not enough to want to go to war with the patent trolls, which can get pretty costly, easily reaching the millions mark for a regular patent case. This is where the problem lies: the immoral patent trolls lose over 75% of the time, but simply by bringing a suit, they are almost guaranteed a settlement because the target often won’t be able to afford a lawsuit, even if they are innocent.

The solution? Make it so that it’s in the patent trolls best interest to be actually right about bringing a suit. Make it so that the plaintiff pays the fees if the case is found to be a pile of garbage. This would make it so that the average target of the patent trolls would be able to go to court and win ~75% of the time. This isn’t a fix in itself, but it’s a start. To be honest, I think the entire patent system is far outdated and needs to be updated from scratch to the modern world. Somewhere in that reform, I think the best way to stop wrong patent lawsuits is to place risk on the accuser as opposed to how it is now where the risk is all on the defendant. As a side note, it would be nice if there were no software patents, given the building-block nature of software itself, but I seriously doubt that a majority would go along with removing patents for software.

 

Not Aiding the Enemy, But Still Found Guilty

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 31st, 2013 |

Image Source: (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Unsurprisingly, I’m writing about Bradley Manning this week. In case you missed it, Bradley Manning has finally been given a verdict: guilty of more than a handful of crimes, but not guilty of one very important charge– aiding the enemy. I’ll get more into the specifics of that charge later, but the remaining 20 charges carry a combined maximum of 136 years in prison, so PFC Manning is anything but in the clear. The sentencing has already begun, and could last into the last days of August.

I’ve written on Manning before, so I won’t go into the back-story again, but I think it’s worth mentioning that he has already spent three years in prison before his trial, so it has been agreed upon that his sentence should be reduced by 1,274 days. Anyway, time to move onto the big charge: aiding the enemy and why even though he has been found guilty of other crimes, this one is a win for whistleblowers. Most of the logic behind going after Manning as harshly as the military did was something along the lines of “if it’s available for everyone in the world to see, then that includes our enemies, so therefore public disclosures are equal to giving the information directly to the enemy.” As I’ve argued before, this is not the case here, even though that line of reasoning may seem valid, one must take intent into account: if one’s intention is to truly “aid the enemy,” then it follows that one would not inform one’s own side of such aid, as making information public would. Instead, by releasing information publicly, it allows both sides to see it, giving a “heads-up” to both parties: the “enemy” side gets information X and the “non-enemy” side gains the information that the “enemy” side has information X, which could be useful to the “non-enemy” side.

Further to that point, Manning’s information was not immediately disclosed; it was given to Wikileaks, providing a window of time in which the military could have changed tactics, had any even been compromised in the first place. Given those two points, I believe Manning when he says that he was merely a whistleblower rather than a traitor.

As for the other charges: any wrongdoing Manning may have done is far outweighed by the benefit to the public’s right to know. This should be true of all whistleblowers: exposing something that needs to be exposed should not come with a life imprisonment threat.

More on the PFC Manning case this Friday during the show [1pm EST].

Counterpoint Recap 7/26: The Value of Higher Education

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | July 29th, 2013 |
Counterpoint's Meg McGee has "the last word" after every new edition of Counterpoint.  After reading her latest recap, hear audio of the discussion she's referencing embedded below the post:

On Friday’s show, we covered a slue of topics, the smoking ban on campus, the Miami-Dade county’s decision to take funding out of libraries, Detroit’s bankruptcy, and the passing of a student loan deal in Congress.

Our entire panel agreed that the cost of college/university is skyrocketing and something should be done to change it. However, our topic grew into a larger discussion over if college is valuable in order to succeed. Matt De La Fe, our conservative contributor, argued that college degrees aren’t necessary for success and that there are plenty of jobs one can go into without a degree. While I think this argument is valid (to an extent), it is far from the reality we live in these days. Yes, there are celebrities, athletes, musicians, artists, and other innovative people in our society that make millions of dollars without having finished college. But the chances of that happening to an average Joe are not that high and if nothing else, a Bachelor’s degree is a safety net in case your multi-million dollar idea goes awry.

Everyone knows the economy and job market is bad, especially for young Americans and post-grads. So naturally, having a college degree gives you a slight advantage over someone who only has a high school diploma. The days of skipping out on college are over, there is no Woodstock, there are no protest movements, millennials have to get to work. We have to go to college and college is not cheap. So while there is no one putting a gun to our heads forcing us to take out enormous loans for college, our society leaves us with few other choices. For me, I have to go to school for what I want to do and not just undergrad but grad school and PhD. program. I think a lot of young Americans are taking huge risks by having $100k in loans but it certainly beats the alternative to working at McDonald’s with no degree. A college degree is the new high school diploma.

Until our country is able to get the costs of education down across the board, we will see more students not being able to go to a 4-year institution and instead having a high-unemployment rate for young adults. Though Congress passed this deal, there are still provisions in it to keep interest rates rising on student loans. I think student loan debt is a problem that Wall Street is cashing in on and once the “bubble” explodes, we could see another financial crisis affecting the next generation of Americans.

Below is audio of the discussion on student loans and the value of a college degree.  Counterpoint airs live Fridays at 1p.m. EST

Counterpoint Clip: Student Loans and the Costs of College by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

 

Counterpoint Clip: Eyes on SCOTUS

By WVUM News Staff | June 25th, 2013 |

Counterpoint: Eyes On SCOTUS by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

 

The Counterpoint team presents their preliminary thoughts on the historic cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 including looks at the Voting Rights Act and two cases regarding same-sex marriage.  Aired June 21, 2013.

Counterpoint is live Fridays at 1pm ET on WVUM 90.5FM in South Florida and worldwide at WVUM.org

7 Reasons Why Arming the Syrian Rebels Is A Bad Idea

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | June 21st, 2013 | SHOW COMMENT(1)
  1. Obama’s “red line” was the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war— and now the US is arming the rebels. The incident of the use of sarin gas on the battlefield only caused 150 deaths compared to the 90,000 deaths caused by conventional warfare.
  2. We’ve seen the same rhetoric pre-Iraq war with the promise of WMDs as a reason to intervene militarily.
  3. We’ve also seen the same premise of arming the rebels to defeat a common enemy of the people and the United States (The Mujahideen in Afghanistan). 
  4. The types of military support the US is offering is not enough to topple Assad’s regime but only to exacerbate an already bloody war. 
  5. We have no way of controlling who the arms are given to. Al-Nursa is one of the opposition groups that have openly stated their connection to al-Qaeda.
  6. Supporting the rebels does not mean we have allies in this war. Non-state actors are unpredictable and don’t need to claim allegiance to any country.
  7. Syria has become the stage for competing international interests in the Middle East. Russia and Iran supporting the Assad regime and the West (US, UK, France, Germany) supporting the opposition; making it a proxy war.

Counterpoint 06/14: The Relevance of Affirmative Action

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | June 15th, 2013 |

Our debate on the relevance of affirmative action was easily one of the most heated ones we’ve ever had on the show (a clip is below). Race is always a tricky topic to talk about when many of the issues surrounding it remain unsolved in our country. But debates such as the one we had was one that needed to happen. People seldom confront the issue of race head-on in the media and we at Counterpoint were happy to be able to delve into such a subject.

With that said, I think its important for us (especially as Americans) to not think that because we are starting to see more black people in positions of power that we live in a “post-racial America”. Racism, particularly towards blacks remains an open wound that has not healed even after years of progress. Those who are not minorities may think, “How unfair, why is it necessary to still have these policies when we are not in the 60s?” It is easy to not understand the importance of such policies when you are not a black, Latino, or Asian in America.

Affirmative action opens doors for minorities and with that, it puts people of different backgrounds in settings such as a school or workplace. And in that setting we are confronted with race, we come face-to-face with the ugly history and reality of America. Once confronted with these themes, we can either continue with ignorance or learn to embrace differences with an open mind. Affirmative action is not some gateway for minorities to get whatever job they want or get into a good school without putting forth effort. Actually minorities have to work harder than anyone else to prove stereotypes wrong and break barriers.

 As I stated in the show, you cannot get into Harvard or some other Ivy League school with a bad GPA or test score, regardless of race. And as we all know from our experience of applying to various universities they look at more than just your test score. There’s essays, extracurricular activities, teacher recommendations, etc that also add to your application. So to say that the student at University of Texas was rejected solely on the premise that she’s white, is completely baseless. I can only hope that the Supreme Court will also understand the value of diversity in schools/workplace made possible by affirmative action.

 We should not undervalue or underestimate the importance of diversity. It’s one the reasons I chose UM, even though it still remains a majority white school. But UM still tries to value the diversity of its students by enrolling people of not just different races but also nationalities. Affirmative action is still a work in progress as many universities remain overwhelmingly white but the positives of these policies can be seen  in not just our elected officials like the president but in business, entertainment, and sports.

I’m proud to be a voice for blacks and women on Counterpoint and I hope that our show continues to challenge and inspire not just our contributors but our listeners as well.

 

Below is a clip of our discussion on the subject during our live show.  Counterpoint airs live Fridays at 1pm ET. 

Counterpoint Clip: Affirmative Action by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

The Farm Bill and Poverty in the United States

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | June 14th, 2013 |

 

This week, the U.S. Senate passed an extensive, 955 billion dollar Farm Bill package that will extend certain subsidies and crop insurance packages for the next 10 years. The Senate also cut $3.9 billion from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which allows low-income families to pay for food costs, through the food stamp program. The Republican-led House of Representatives voted on its own version, cutting food stamps by $20.5 billion over the next 10 years, denying 2 million people the food they need.  From a policy and an ethical standpoint, Congress erred by cutting SNAP considering that poverty has only worsened since the Great Recession.

Over time, food stamps were integrated as part of the Farm Bill as a means for urbanites to support the agricultural sector. While preserving family farms should be a focus of the government, much of our agricultural policy is rooted in giving subsidies to large corporations such as Monsanto, whose bottom line is enhanced by the American taxpayer. Other recipients of this money include wealthy landowners, such as Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN), who cited the Bible in his defense of cutting food stamps: (while pocketing $70,000 in farm subsidies) “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

Food stamps provide an important function in combating both urban and rural poverty. They not only provide additional resources for the user to pay for their other needs, but also help provide sensible nutrition, which will save us money in the long run. They also provide the biggest economic stimulus per dollar out of any policy the government could enact (multiplier effect of 1.73 per dollar spent). Americans think that hunger is a relic of the past, and while it is true that the United States produces a surplus of food, hunger is an everyday battle for many families. One out of five American children (16 million) struggle with hunger (No Kid Hungry). With extensive health and retirement benefits, and a healthy salary, most members of Congress are seemingly unaware of the challenges of surviving on food stamps. This week, nearly 30 congressmen will take the SNAP challenge and live on $4.50 a day, as 47 million Americans (1 in 7, half of whom are children) do. In many cases, SNAP isn’t enough, evidenced by record numbers serviced at food banks and other charities.

Furthermore, over half of Americans will spend a year under the poverty line. The government has the resources to combat poverty and has instead squandered it on corporate welfare, tax cuts for the wealthy, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the drug war. The poor don’t have the political clout that America’s wealthy do. In an era where demagogues like Grover Norquist make any tax increase on America’s wealthiest an anathema, America’s poor are left to fight for themselves.

Over the last few years, conservatives have used welfare as a means to rile up their base and stoke racial divisions among Americans. In fact, the majority of welfare recipients are white, and working Americans. We’ve seen a rise in unemployment and a great increase in discouraged workers that artificially reduced the unemployment rate. Pension plans and other economic security measures have weakened over the last 10 years as employers look to cut back on expenses. Many Americans today work part-time jobs or work without a living wage, or suitable health care coverage. On this topic, the Florida Legislature voted to eliminate Miami-Dade County’s minimum wage provision that will only hurt the weakest in our society.

America’s working poor is growing and growing as the middle class has shrunk. Many workers are forced to take multiple jobs or make incredible sacrifices to make ends meet. The average Chartwells’ worker at UM makes less than $20,000 a year and often must rely on assistance programs to pay their mortgages, get health care, or eat.

If you thought that poverty in America was on the downturn, recent policy alternatives may make it worse.
The decline in unionization has cost millions of workers decent jobs, and the advent of Right to Work (for less) in states like Indiana (and already in Florida) will union and non-union workers alike.

The sequester has laid off millions of workers and hurt many more. Republican cuts to the social safety net have only worsened poverty.

A failure to pass a suitable immigration bill will jeopardize the prosperity of millions of Americans already here and allow owners the leverage to pay their legal workers less.

Unless Congress acts, the student loan interest rate will double to 6.8%, with student debt already surpassing $1 billion and difficult to remove even post-bankruptcy. (Our banks receive preferred rates of less than 1% from the Fed).
However, the biggest test to controlling poverty over the next generation is securing our entitlement programs. Republican ideas to reform our entitlement programs enrich the wealthy while damning the poor. Social Security has been the single-biggest anti-poverty measure undertaken, and have reduced poverty among our seniors by a wide margin. Medicare is effective, popular, and essential for our seniors’ health care needs. Finally, Medicaid provides vital health care to low income Americans. The refusal to take up Medicaid expansion paid for by the Affordable Care Act is a massive failure on the part of the Florida House and cuts millions off from health care coverage they need. Reducing entitlement benefits will only shrink the middle class and make the poor poorer.

We haven’t had a targeted approach to reducing poverty since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. Wall Street has recovered from the recession. The majority of Americans haven’t. Income inequality is at an all-time high, with record CEO compensation and giveaways to agribusiness and Big Oil. It’s time to address the problem that nobody really wants to talk about.  We need to make sure that our fellow Americans can lead dignified and prosperous lives. We have the both the means and moral responsibility to do so.

 

 Counterpoint airs Fridays at 1pm ET

 

Counterpoint Recap 06/08: PRISM and Privacy

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | June 9th, 2013 |

Photo Credit: The Young Turks

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On Friday, the Counterpoint team had a field day with the news that NSA has a program, PRISM, which listens to phone calls a la Verizon and stores information through frequently visited websites such as Facebook and Google. Most of us came to the consensus that the government doesn’t care about your photos from that keg party you went to freshman year. (Unless that keg party was hosted by al-Qaeda)

Jordan (Counterpoint contributor), however, stressed that this was a severe violation of Americans’ privacy and Constitutional rights. National security policies like this are an extension of the Bush-era Patriot Act and make us all question: what happened to Obama’s vision of “change”? The more we learn about Obama, the more we see the lines are blurring between him and former President Bush. While Obama’s rhetoric on national security issues are much more rooted in liberalism, he continues to extend and expand Bush-era foreign policy (Can you say drone program? Gitmo? Counterinsurgency?)

Mr. Obama, your words and your actions are saying two different things. We all knew he was a bit naïve and optimistic, but we still put our faith in yet another leader to get us out of crisis. In defense of Obama, I’ll say that once you become president and are continuously briefed on every possible national security threat, you may not be singing “Kumbaya” when thousands of American lives are at risk—including your own. I don’t know this from personal experience but we can only give the President the benefit of the doubt.

My question for the American people that are upset over the PRISM program is this: If you feel this is a violation of your rights, what do you plan on doing to fix it?

Will you go out and protest like our Turkish cousins in Istanbul? Where something as simple as the demolition of a park, ignited a larger-movement against a government encroaching on their citizens’ democratic rights. Are you ready to get hit with tear gas and water cannons? Or will you just gripe about it over Facebook and over the coffee table?

Call me when you have an answer. Remember, Obama is listening.

 

Listen to a clip of our discussion of this topic on the show below.  Counterpoint airs live every Friday from 1-2pm ET.

Counterpoint Clip: NSA Surveillance by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

Sometimes Leaks Shouldn’t Be Fixed

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | June 6th, 2013 |

On June 3rd, the trial of Bradley Manning finally began, just a touch over three years since his arrest. He is charged with leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, and in turn to enemies of the U.S., via the nature of the Internet’s global availability. Among the leaked information, was the “Collateral Murder” footage of a U.S. helicopter gunning down four journalists and two kids, and reports confirming the Granai Airstrike, which killed anywhere between 86 and 147 civilians, most of which were apparently women and children, and a good number of diplomatic cables containing information that embarrassed the U.S. government.

I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the recent crackdown on whistle-blowers in general, not just Manning. While I have said before that I am a staunch defender of personal privacy, I’ll admit to having lopsided standards when comparing personal privacy to governmental privacy. I believe that Manning should be applauded for showing something that, quite frankly, needed to be exposed: I believe that the American people have a right to know who we have killed half way across the world while fighting a war against an abstract concept (terrorism), and furthermore, I believe that even if these incidents were accidental, that they shouldn’t just be swept under the rug and classified because they might embarrass a few officials. We’re not all babies, I don’t think anyone who knows we’re at war expects us to not have at least some civilian casualties, and I think that the American people can certainly “handle the truth,” even if it is unpleasant.

But moving away from Manning specifically, there seems to be a recent shift towards this head-in-the-sand idea: that dissenting or even leaking is not okay. From the Obama administration’s six uses of the Espionage Act– more than all other presidents combined– to the Patriot Act, to even the recent DOJ scandal(s). What I am gathering from these, among others, is that it’s no longer completely okay to speak out, or else a whistle-blower, or even just a dutiful reporter, risks getting caught up in the vortex, as we’ve seen with the AP scandal recently. Add in just the chilling effects alone from the Patriot Act and it looks to me like we’re nibbling away at the first amendment. To the argument that this is just all in the name of counter-terrorism and that we should have more faith in the government, I counter with “once you give it up, you aren’t getting it back”; the Espionage Act has been around since 1917, almost 100 years ago, and the Patriot Act just got extended in 2011 to last four more years, but I will concede that this government-press scandal will probably blow over, though I’m not so sure leakers will bother coming to the press for quite some time.

Counterpoint: April 12 | Margaret Thatcher, President Obama’s Budget

By WVUM News Staff | April 13th, 2013 |

 

Meghan, Jordan, Alex, and Mike discuss the legacy of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and what lessons both the UK and US can draw from it. Also, the panel reacts to what is being seen as huge budget cuts and compromises on social security within the proposed Obama Administration budget released this week.

 

Counterpoint 4/12: Margaret Thatcher & President Obama’s Budget by Wvumnews on Mixcloud