Friday, November 18, 2011

Government drug deal

Something new to flow your anger juices! Although Smallpox has been eradicated throughout the world and it sounds like the U.S. government already has enough vaccine for every man, woman and child in the U.S., it's now supplementing its $3-per-dose stockpile with an experimental $255-per-dose stockpile bought from a company led by a heavy Democratic party donator.

Its effectiveness can't be legally tested on humans, but hey, this isn't really about treating smallpox anyway, now, is it?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Kill Switch

In case you hadn't heard, there are some bad intellectual-property laws coming down the pipes. First up we have the so-called PROTECT-IP act in the U.S.; read all about it in this article, which is called "Kill Switch" because the bill gives companies a "kill switch" to block websites (I don't know the details... I'm too tired to look into it further today.)

Then of course there's ACTA, the so-called Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which was recently signed by 8 countries and, naturally, has little to do with counterfeiting. Some of ACTA's anti-citizen provisions have been toned down since the days when ACTA was a strictly secret document, but it's still an ugly mofo. Signatories include Canada, the U.S. and Australia, but the fight isn't over since For more, read EFF's recent post on the subject.

And finally, the Conservatives have reintroduced a copyright reform bill, bill C-11 (replacing bill C-32 that existed before the election). While not as bad as its predecessor, bill C-11 makes bypassing digital locks illegal, even if you have an otherwise legitimate and legal reason for doing so. For instance, if C-11 becomes law you can still legally copy a CD (that you purchased) to your computer or to an MP3 player for personal use, but it will become illegal to copy any part of a DVD or Blu-Ray disc (that you purchased) for any reason, including legitimate reasons such as making an excerpt for commentary (as news programs do when they play a few seconds from a music video to introduce a story about the artist in the video). It will be illegal solely on the basis that DVDs use digital locks (i.e. encryption) while CDs don't. The Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights (CCER) is urging everyone to send letters in opposition to this bill.

Contractor Corruption

If you have your ear open for corruption in the US government, you will have noticed that contractors seem to be a big part of the problem, because they not only cost a lot of money, but frequently allow their projects to fail or go vastly overbudget--especially when it comes to software, my specialty. Consider the New York CityTime software system for managing the city's payroll. Initially budgeted at $63 million, this ballooned to $600 million over time, until the city realized that the project was plauged by corruption and decided that it wanted its money back.

During the same time that New York was paying hundreds of millions of dollars for their software system, my own employer paid one employee (me) well under half a million dollars to produce a GPS navigation system that is probably deployed in thousands of commercial vehicles across North America (I mean, I think so; I don't have figures). So, I am at a loss to understand how some of these software systems end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

In the federal sphere, meanwhile, corruption seems to be standardized and entrenched through a network of government contractors. I had the impression that these government contractors were a giant rip-off of taxpayers, but what I didn't know was that despite the high price to the government, the individual contract workers enjoy no more in benefits than their government worker bretheren. "ideonexus" explains in his must-read posting:
A study by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) found the Government pays IT Contractors nearly twice as much as its own IT Workers.
Why so much? The government also pays for office space, equipment, utility bills, and even employs its own management. Yet the contract workers temselves are paid no more than government employees:
Whenever a government position would open up in our department, contractor employees would jump at the opportunity for stability and better benefits.
That is, the government pays double for contractors, but only half of that money actually goes to the workers they are paying for, and none of it pays for office space or equipment. So where does that extra money go? Corruption, my dear boy! Corruption!