Unlikely Voter

Conservative views on polls, science, technology, and policy

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Copyright is a mess of big government. If we’re ever going to fix it, we need to start eliminating special carveouts for big corporations, and that’s where EFF is getting it all wrong.

You’ll never see me defending the current system for protecting copyrights on radio. The system is designed with the goal of making life as easy as possible for well-connected members of the broadcast oligopoly. You ever wonder why cable companies put up so many music channels? Or how radio stations change formats on a whim? It’s because of the “compulsory license” system.

Under this system, music copyrights are in a government-controlled “market” with complete price controls. Copyright holders have no say, no control, and no freedom in this system. But if you think that’s bad, it actually gets worse than that.

Musical works recorded before 1972 have fewer protections under this system, meaning those copyright holders get less protection than most copyright holders in the country. Those well-connected broadcasters can take full advantage of the “oldies,” with all the benefits accruing to the crony system.

There’s a law that seeks to close this gap, the CLASSICS Act. It basically says that these copyright holders should at least get paid, the way others do. They should get their money for their work. It’s not a great fix. It’s not an overhaul of the system.

EFF is trying to make this about copyright length, but that’s not what this is about at all. There’s no good reason to take just one group of people, these artists, and say that they should be denied the benefits of their works. If Steamboat Willie should stay protected, so too should these classic musical works. That’s fairness, instead of letting broadcasters win at the expense of artists.

I’ll support you if you want to pass an actual bill that would cut copyright down to a more reasonable length, more in line with the Constitutional requirement that copyrights end:

The Congress shall have Power […] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

Copyright is fine. But it’s supposed to be for a limited time. It’s true that the Congress has been bought off every single time Steamboat Willie, and therefore Mickey Mouse, has threatened to fall out of copyright. That’s not right, and that’s against the Constitution. But opposing the CLASSICS act won’t fix that.

Musical artists shouldn’t have to keep a special carve-out held against them, in the name of the principle of limited copyright. Let’s stop picking winners and losers here.

It’s all over. The Internet’s dying. They’ve been screaming for a year and a half that in order to Save the Internet, we needed to keep it heavily regulated. Today is the test.

Let me be clear: today is a day that has been a year and a half in the making. In crafting the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, Chairman Ajit Pai and the FCC team have sought to make it an airtight process. They’ve taken their time, held hearings, taken many public comments, dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t’. Pai does not want this one thrown out of court on a technicality.

So it’s taken about a year and a half since Donald Trump took office, for this key piece of Barack Obama-era regulation to be dismantled fully. But finally, no more will the Internet be subject to price and content controls according to the whims of the FCC.

“What, price and content controls?” you may be asking. “I thought this was about throttling and discrimination.” LOL, no, as the kids say online. The Obama-era regulations were about regulating the Internet the same way we regulate telegraphs and telephones. And yes, kids, Title II of the Communications Act includes both.

In fact, price controls are one of the central elements of Title II (47 USC 201). Except for government. Government is allowed to get free bennies from Title II-regulated carriers, but that’s it (47 USC 210).

Title II would have the government involved in micromanaging the valuation of infrastructure investments in the Internet (47 USC 213).

And get this? Do you want more Internet service? Too bad: Title II bans any building of new lines without regulatory approval (47 USC 214). Imagine government slowing down the Internet from rolling out faster and better to more people!

And yes, content controls are there. Were you a fan of the Communications Decency Act, that tried to regulate obscenity off of the Internet? Well, Title II Reclassification put the Internet under control of 47 USC 223, which bans obscenity over covered carriers. Further, screening of offensive material is part of the law at 47 USC 230.

Title II was a disaster if you want an open and free Internet, innovating for the benefit of all. Today, the day the Internet is freed of Title II, is a good day for everyone who likes an open Internet.

Favorable press coverage would lead you to believe that many states have passed laws replacing the “Net Neutrality” regulations that the FCC repealed. The truth is far different.

The so-called Net Neutrality regulations passed under the Barack Obama administration didn’t actually do what you think they did. Critics of the new actions want you to believe those regulations were about things like “throttling,” “discrimination,” and “openness.” That’s not really what it was about at all.

When states like Washington pass a law addressing throttling or discrimination, they actually aren’t “restoring the Net Neutrality regulations that the Trump administration repealed,” as some are suggesting. Because that’s not what was actually repealed!

In fact, it’s the new regulations – the ones passed by the Chairman Ajit Pai-led FCC – that require a degree of openness and transparency that wasn’t required before. The difference between the old law, and the new law that repealed it, is in a technical point of law.

The key point of contention is what law will be used to regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Up until the Obama administration, ISPs were regulated as “information services” under the Telecommunications Act. That law, passed by Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, insisted that ISPs be regulated lightly in order to encourage innovation in a rapidly-advancing field.

The Telecommunications Act was an important reason that the Internet developed as fast and as well as it did in America, making us a global leader online. The World Wide Web wasn’t invented in the USA, after all. We just took it over by being the fastest and most innovative at it.

The so-called Net Neutrality regulations passed by Obama FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler threw away that distinction. Instead, it declared that ISPs would from then on be regulated according to Title II of the Communications Act, a much older law with much greater regulatory burdens.

Instead of looking to the future, the Obama-Wheeler FCC wanted to throw us back to the days of the telegraph and radio. Price and content controls are included in this regulation, concepts anathema both to free markets and an open Internet.

Ajit Pai said no, we can do transparency without Title II, so that’s what we’re doing. And no state can reverse that, as no state has the power to order the FCC to re-regulate the Internet.

Once you get the facts, you can see that this whole show is nothing but political posturing, detached from the truth of the matter.

Did Darrell Issa quit just in time? By counting the votes in California, we can see if there’s at least a blue wave in that state, even if nowhere else.

I said yesterday that there were three keys to the race. Let’s see how each one fared.

First, I said that both parties needed to keep from splitting the vote too much, or else they’d risk not advancing any candidates to November. It turns out the Democrats were split pretty evenly, with three candidates at 12, 16, and 17% as of this writing, with 83% of precincts in. However the Republicans were so concentrated that it didn’t matter. The top GOP candidates were at 26% and 9% as of this writing.

Second, it mattered whether this was a referendum on Issa, or on Trump. Republican Diane Harkey, the top vote getter, was endorsed by both GOP county parties in San Diego and Orange, Darrell Issa, and other local members of Congress. It does not appear that change from Issa was the motivating factor here.

Third, it mattered whether this was a wave election, with Democrats motivated (to beat Trump), and Republicans depressed (because of Trump). As of now, the answer appears to be yes. As of this writing, total Republican votes amount to 53,343. Democrats, led by Mike Levin, add up to 55,927.

Conclusion: Even if most of the country might not be seeing a wave, California is. Trump is toxic there, even with a number of Republicans. California small-government conservatism is incompatible with Trump’s big-government cronyism.

To be honest, they’re a bit concerned with the perceived white nationalism as well. When you grow up with people with names like Tran and Hernandez, as you do if you grow up in that part of California, Trump’s crowds looking out for White America just don’t sound right.

With Darrell Issa retiring in California, sixteen candidates are on the ballot today fighting to see who will be the top two to advance to November. Hollywood reality TV comes to San Diego county politics.

The 49th District is primarily in northern San Diego county, including the city of Oceanside, but it also straddles the county line, reaching into Orange County to the north. San Diego and Orange are of course the most Republican-friendly large counties in the state, with Orange County in particular being well known for a traditional small-government, Don’t-Tread-On-Me conservative libertarianism, aptly led by the Orange County Register editorial line.

The 49th district in particular also includes Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, one of the major Marine Corps bases, and the home of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, better known as the west coast boot camp. That adds to the unique flavor of the district, as anyone who wins there needs to be able to reach out to the Marine family population in the district.

All that said, Democrats see themselves as having a great opportunity to flip the 49th district. Donald Trump lost Orange County in 2016 as his big-government populist message tuned for the upper midwest flopped hard.

Of the candidates running, there are four Republicans and four Democrats seen as the most credible contenders to make it out of the June 5 jungle primary. Together, they have spent 15.3 million dollars, making it one of the most expensive House primaries ever. That’s how hungry the Democrats and Republicans are, because this seat is a core battleground for 2018 and could swing the majority.

Issa himself barely hung on in the Trump storm, winning versus Democrat Doug Applegate 50.3-49.7, about 1600 votes, in 2016. This may be a key reason he’s chosen to retire this year. This is a reason that open seats are more competitive: incumbents sometimes retire rather than fight hard for re-election. Before Trump he tended to win going away: 60-40 in 2014, 58-42 in 2012.

So these are the keys to the race:

  • Can the Democrats and Republicans avoid splitting their votes so badly, that one party gets both of the top two seats? This is a jungle primary. The top two vote getters, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to November. Four major Democrats could easily split at 13% each, while four major Republicans plus four minor Republicans could do even worse.
  • Is this a referendum on Donald Trump, or a referendum on Darrell Issa? Issa has opposed Trump on key policies, including the partial repeal of the State And Local Tax deduction, and Trump isn’t even on the ballot.
  • Will this be a wave election, in which Democrat turnout is magnified, while Republican turnout is depressed?

The last point may be most important. If the votes for Democrats end up above the total votes for Republicans, then the Republicans are definitely at risk of losing the seat. But if this election reverts back to the old normal, without Trump on the ballot, then Republicans will have very little to worry about here in November.

ZTE, a “private” company whose board is controlled by a Chinese state-owned military contractor, wants access to US companies for tech transfers. Trump may allow it, for a one time payment.

The Commerce Department already said enough is enough for ZTE. After illegally violating Iran sanctions, and then refusing to do anything about preventing that from happening again, ZTE was punished. ZTE was banned from buying from the US market for 7 years.

When that punishment happened, China had a fit. Not just ZTE, but the Chinese government. They immediately began applying strong diplomatic pressure to Trump. Some speculate that threats to sink the North Korea deal were included in this, but we have no way of confirming or rejecting that theory right now.

We do know the pressure happened, and we do know that Donald Trump folded like a wet newspaper. He demanded the FTC give in and let ZTE back in the country just days after the punishment was applied. He keeps denying that a secret deal is being made with China, but the reports keep on flying.

The newest claim is that Trump will allow ZTE to continue transferring technology to the Chinese military contractors for a $1.7 billion fine. And I do mean it, that this is all about the Chinese military. the government ultimately controls ZTE in a way that actual free market companies are not controlled by the government.

Real free market companies are controlled by a board elected by shareholders. ZTE’s board is dominated by the state, via representatives of state-owned military-industrial “businesses.” ZTE is a trojan horse, and if Trump makes a deal, it’s America who loses.

If it’s a wave year for the Democrats, the news hasn’t yet gotten to Massachusetts, as the latest polling shows that the state is ready to split the ballot, favoring incumbents regardless of party affiliation.

The big two races on the ballot in Massachusetts this year are for Governor, in which the Democrats are hoping to knock off incumbent Republican Charlie Baker, and Senate, in which the Republicans are hoping they can knock off incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

The WBUR/MassINC poll suggests that the incumbents are safe.

The poll pitted each of three Republicans against Warren, and all three only managed to hit 19% against Warren’s 55 and 56. She’s safe.

But, the poll also pitted each of two Democrats against Baker. They both hit 20 to Baker’s 60. He’s even more safe than she is.

If Massachusetts voters are angry at Donald Trump and taking it out on all Republicans, then it’s not showing in the polls. Baker as set himself out as an opponent of Donald Trump since the election, and the voters clearly believe him, for a state that 60-32 for Hillary Clinton to break 60-20 for the Governor.

It was bad enough that Apple was shutting down tools used by Chinese dissidents without even a murmur of complaint. But now they’re bowing to Vladimir Putin’s Russia as well?

We all know that Russia goes after dissidents worldwide. In a tradition going back to the murder of Leon Trotsky, they will go after you wherever you are. Witness the repeated murders abroad, including a well-known poisoning of Nikolai Glushkov just this year.

That brings us to Telegram, a mobile communications app by Pavel Durov, a Russian expat living in the United Kingdom. His first venture, the social network VK, was taken over by Putin’s cronies after he refused to cooperate in government spying. At that time he left the country.

He now runs Telegram, and the Russians are after Telegram, seeking it shut down entirely in Russia. But there’s more: According to Durov, Apple is blocking app updates worldwide:

I’ve really been beating the drum that Apple is caving to dictators even as they fight free governments. But this is the most egregious example yet.

If Tim Cook really wants Apple to stand for freedom and privacy, he has a lot to answer for.

Political people love the illusion of accuracy. Political pollsters and analysts should not feed into that by feigning precision that does not exist.

If we’re going to call it ‘scientific polling,’ and we do every time some random Internet survey is circulated that doesn’t follow the conventions of scientific polling, then the way we write about polling must also be scientific.

An oft-overlooked concept in scientific reporting is “significant figures.” Significant figures describe writing a number to communicate how accurately we know what that number is. Sound complicated? Let me give an example.

Let’s say we need to measure a strip of paper to do an experiment. Our ruler is marked in inches and tenths of an inch. We measure the paper and we see that the paper goes somewhere just past the mark for 1.4. So, we say “1.4.” That measurement has two significant figures. It doesn’t have three or four, because we can’t say for sure if it’s 1.41, or 1.42, or 1.405. It’s just 1.4.

Individual polls don’t need to use significant figures. Instead they tell us precisely what the margin of error is. They’ll tell us that Donald Trump is running at a 44.5% approval rating, with a margin of error of 4.

To bring that back to the ruler, it would be like saying the piece of paper was 1.405 inches long, with a margin of error of 0.02 inches. As you can see, that “0.005” is virtually meaningless, because the margin of error dwarfs it.

Significant figures carry over even when you do math. If you take that 1.4 inches and divide by 8, the answer isn’t 0.175 inches. The answer is 0.18. You still only have two significant figures. Dividing by 8 does not make your data somehow more precise than it was to start with.

This carries over to poll averages. You can’t take 10 polls with margins of error of 3, 4, 5, 2, and 6.4, average them, and get something that’s accurate to one decimal place. That’s just not the way it works, and to write a poll average with a decimal place misleads anyone reading it.

You just can’t say that Donald Trump has 44.3% approval, or that his net approval is -11.4, when you’re working with margins of error well above 1.

It may be case that a poll average is more accurate than any given poll. But it is not more precise than the polls that were used to make it. It can’t be, it won’t be, and it shouldn’t be written as though it were.

We pointed out last week that Apple is selective in standing up to governments. Now they’re trying to distract you from that with a meaningless announcement.

Yes, they will cave to China at will even as they make a show of standing up to the United States government. So the dissidents most in need of support, are the ones they will ignore.

But now they’re going to be transparent about it. Really, is that supposed to help? Deleting any app the Chinese government demands they delete, but they’ll admit it. That’s not the problem, and it won’t help anyone for them to do it.

The Communists aren’t going to be embarrassed out of oppression. They’ve been doing it for decades, and their present Leader shows signs of seeking ever more power for himself. This will do nothing to protect anyone, except protect Apple from folks this announcement will distract.

Don’t be distracted. Apple is putting profit ahead of people, by seeking to make money under the oppressive, murderous, anti-LGBT Chinese regime, even as it postures against the United States government, and those of US states.

Tim Cook must be exposed as the fake he is.

Protestors are urging Amazon to stop selling facial recognition technology to the government, but they’re missing the real problem here.

Amazon, being one of the big tech companies, has had good reason to invest large amounts of money in getting smart people to learn how to code new things. Sometimes the new technologies immediately bear fruit in useful business ways. Sometimes you have to find a way to make money off of them.

Amazon’s smart people worked on some facial recognition technology, and one way they found to make money off of it was to sell it to the government. Government loves this kind of technology.

Oddly, the reaction of ACLU and other interest groups is to protest Amazon selling this technology to the government. This is wrong. It’s wrong because it doesn’t solve the problem. If Amazon stops selling this technology, someone else will start. If you want government not to use this technology, the actual way to solve the problem is to change the law so government won’t use it.

It’s a legitimate point for society to debate, that facial recognition might be a technology too powerful for government to use. Creating databases of the movements of people may create dangers for people, when (not if) that database is broken into. The only winning move is not to play at all, so this argument goes.

It’s not Amazon’s fault that government will leap at the opportunity to do this, without considering the privacy, security, and moral dimensions to the decision. That’s the fault of elected officials, and the careerist staffers they manage. Go to the legislatures. Solve the problem for real.

Scapegoating a corporation is lazy and ineffective. Stop it.

Back in December it seemed like Republicans were going to get walloped this year. But as of now, are they even set to lose the House at all?


After promising to get tough on Iran, Donald Trump caves as meekly as Barack Obama by waving the white flag to China on ZTE sanctions.

Even if Donald Trump gets out of the Iran deal, what is it going to matter? Any country in the world can funnel technology to Iran through China, and Donald Trump will punk out and give them a pass for it.

ZTE is a Chinese firm tied to their military aerospace and signals intelligence industries. Their board’s senior members are stacked with members of state-run military firms. ZTE defied global Iran sanctions. When they were caught, they refused to take any corrective actions. So the US Government slapped them with 7 years of trade sanctions.

The Chinese ordered Donald Trump to jump, and his answer was “How high?” He is complying with everything they demanded of him. He’s been whipped. Now Chinese firms can defy US sanctions at any time, and the Trump administration is powerless to stop it.

Why is Trump taking orders from the Communists? It’s reasonable to speculate they’re blackmailing him with the leverage of North Korea, but only time will tell if that’s how they have a hold on him.