2012 - %3, August

"Cracker Bay," Team Romney's Big-Money Party Yacht

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 2:50 PM EDT

On Wednesday morning, ABC News ran a story on one of the "Romney party yachts," a 150-foot yacht hosting an exclusive event in Florida for donors who raised more than a million bucks for the Romney campaign. The article (video report and all) highlights the irony that the yacht flies under the flag of the Cayman Islands.

But that's not even the funniest or most tone-deaf thing about the boat. Check it:

The exclusive event, hosted by a Florida developer on his yacht "Cracker Bay," was one of a dozen exclusive events meant to nurture those who have raised more than $1 million for Romney's bid...The Cracker Bay is owned by Gary Morse, developer of the Villages retirement community...Registered in the Caymans, the Cracker Bay has an impressive art collection and can seat 30 for dinner. 

Yes, you read all that correctly: Team Romney threw a party at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina, where extraordinarily rich people fraternized aboard a boat called "Cracker Bay."

If you need a refresher on exactly why this is odd, click here now.

For the record, the colloquial term "Florida cracker" refers to the colonial English settlers of what is now the Sunshine State, as well as their descendants. The Democratic 41st governor of Florida, "Walkin'" Lawton Chiles (a now-deceased buddy of the Clintons), famously quipped about winning the "cracker vote"—meaning down-home white voters. Chiles also praised Bill Clinton's ability to fluently "speak cracker."

Cracker Bay is also the name of a road in South Africa.

So there you go.

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Hold On: Maybe Apple Doesn't Own Pinch-to-Zoom After All

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 2:13 PM EDT

Oh hell. Steve Wildstrom says I was right the first time: the pinch-to-zoom feature wasn't part of the Apple vs. Samsung patent case, and Apple has never asserted exclusive rights to it:

Apple only has a limited patent (US 7,812,826) on the pinch to shrink, stretch to zoom gesture that is a core element of touch interfaces. And the ’826 patent wasn’t in dispute in the Samsung case because Apple never asserted it.

....I’m not sure where the idea that pinch and stretch was at stake originated. It seems to have crept into the trial coverage at some point and become part of the folklore of the case. And when the jury announced that it had found infringement by Samsung on all three utility patents, a large number of writers seemingly assumed that one of those covered the gesture.

I guess you can put me back in the "confused" category again, because Wildstrom is right: everyone else in the world sure seems to think that pinch-to-zoom was part of the jury's verdict in the case. He and I appear to be the only holdouts.

My original confusion stemmed from the fact that I had actually read through the patents and the jury verdict, and they didn't seem to match the press reports. I think there are three problems here:

  • If you read the entire 381 patent, you'll find pinch-to-zoom described (p. 17-28 and 55-56). However, if you look at claim 19, which was the only one at issue in the court case, it describes only the "bounce" feature that you see when you scroll a list past its top or bottom. The descriptive stuff may have thrown some people off, but it doesn't really matter. Only the claims matter.
  • However, claim 8 of the 915 patent does make a reference to "scaling the view" if the operating system receives "two or more input points." That sounds like pinch-to-zoom, but it's not crystal clear. What's more, this is strictly a patent on the programming interface, not on the feature itself.
  • The jury verdict merely states whether Samsung violated a particular patent claim or not. It doesn't say specifically which feature of the patent has been upheld. So if Samsung is held to have violated a claim, that might mean that it violated everything in the claim or only one part of the claim.

Put all of this together, and it spells confusion. I'm certainly confused, anyway, and while I honestly didn't intend for this blog to become pinch-to-zoom central, I guess that's what it's become whether I like it or not. I'll keep you updated if I learn more.

UPDATE: In comments, Trippie offers a possible explanation of the 915 patent:

The "scaling the view" if the operating system receives "two or more input points" part you reference could be the two-finger tap to zoom out. It's a pretty nice feature that not a lot of people know about. In maps, just as you double tap with one finger to zoom in, you can single tap with two fingers to zoom out. I use it all the time.

In other words, the 915 patent is about tap-to-zoom, not pinch-to-zoom. The 163 patent describes tap-to-zoom as a feature, while the 915 patent describes the programming interface that implements it. Likewise, the 381 patent describes the bounce effect as a feature, while the 915 patent describes the implementation. This sounds like the right explanation to me.

GOP Platform: "Liberty" Will Protect the Environment

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 1:53 PM EDT

The GOP platform for 2012 is now official, and it includes its fair share of right-wing talking points on energy and environment. That includes deriding the Obama administration's policies and espousing the kind of drill-everywhere, EPA-be-damned ideas that the GOP has become known for in recent years.

On fracking:

The current President has done nothing to disavow the scare campaign against hydraulic fracturing…We will respect the States’ proven ability to regulate the use of hydraulic fracturing, continue development of oil and gas resources in places like the Bakken formation and Marcellus Shale, and review the environmental laws that often thwart new energy exploration and production.

Meanwhile, fracking is virtually unregulated at the federal level, and state laws have massive gaps that leave many communities at risk.

On climate change:

Finally, the strategy subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates "climate change" to the level of a "severe threat" equivalent to foreign aggression. The word "climate," in fact, appears in the current President's strategy more often than Al Qaeda, nuclear proliferation, radical Islam, or weapons of mass destruction.

Actually, the words "climate change" don't even appear in the energy and environment sub-section of the platform. You have to dig way down deep in a subhead called "A Failed National Security Strategy" to find them anywhere at all.

The EPA:

The most powerful environmental policy is liberty, the central organizing principle of the American Republic and its people. Liberty alone fosters scientific inquiry, technological innovation, entrepreneurship, and information exchange. Liberty must remain the core energy behind America's environmental improvement.

There's tons of other hilarious stuff in there, like "private ownership has been our best guarantee of conscientious stewardship," and "[t]here is no place in regulatory agencies for activist regulators." Read the whole thing here.

Don't Talk About Welfare at Newt University

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 1:45 PM EDT

Newt University, the former speaker of the House's eight-hour, one-week Tampa lecture series on why America is really great, is a collaborative effort in which a host of GOP luminaries, businessmen, and industry groups talk about awesome things about America.

Gingrich is here today at the Wyndham Hotel in Tampa to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Harold Hamm, the billionaire oil baron who gave almost $1 million to the pro-Romney and—no hard feelings here—anti-Gingrich super-PAC Restore our Future, is here to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Sen John Hoeven (R-N.D.), is also here to talk about how North Dakota is awesome and we should emulate it. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) is here to talk about how North Dakota is…no, he's actually here to talk about energy independence.

The awesomeness of North Dakota isn't really why I'm here, though. I'm curious what Gingrich, the architect of the 1990s welfare reform push and more recently the man who accused Barack Obama of being a "food stamp president," thinks about the Romney campaign's roundly debunked attack on the president's welfare policies. Given that the charges are false, and Romney has followed up on his charge by accusing the president of wanting to "shore up his base" with handouts, some people think Romney is hoping to stir up historic animosity among white working-class voters.

There's a hitch, though. "There's no way in hell I'm letting you talk to him," says Gingrich's spokesman, R.C. Hammond.

So I asked West, the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, for his thoughts. No dice here, either. "You guys says there's a racial component for everything except when y'all attack me," he tells me when I ask about the welfare attacks. Twice, actually. "No, no, you guys say there's a racial component for everything except when you attack me. So don't even ask me about that silliness."

When Illinois Rep. John Shimkus (most famous for suggesting that God would protect the United States from climate change) finished his presentation at Newt U., I asked him what he thought about the racial implications of the welfare ads. "WHAT!? There's no increasing racial tone of this campaign." I asked him about the false claim, repeated in a recent ad, that Obama had eased welfare work requirements to "shore up his base."

"Does welfare only go to a racial population?" Shimkus asked. "I don't think so." At this point, Hammond, Gingrich's aide, piped in. "What's up with the Chris Matthews racism there?" he asks, a nod to the MSNBC host whom Gingrich has accused of being a racist for discussing the racial implications of the welfare attack.

"Come on, give me a break!" Shimkus said with a laugh, and turned away to greet an admirer.

The GOP's welfare evolution is Gandhi in reverse: First they fight you, then laugh at you, then they ignore you. No word yet on who wins.

Relatedly, here's my interview from Tuesday with Herman Cain, who is also adamant that there are no racial overtones in the welfare attack:

David Koch: Just One of the Guys at the GOP Convention

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 1:00 PM EDT

David Koch, right, at the 2012 Republican National Convention. David WeigelDavid Koch, right, at the 2012 Republican National Convention. David Weigel

David Koch, one-half of the hugely influential Koch brothers duo, was not hard to miss on the floor of the Republican National Convention. A former collegiate basketball player at MIT, Koch stands six-foot-five, a giant among the party faithful. He looks identical in person to the hundreds of photos of him just a Google search away. Koch is one of New York's 95 delegates, all Romney supporters, and his presence here at the GOP convention has caused a stir. Koch's private dinner with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Monday night ended up plastered all over Twitter, breeding rumors and speculation about who else dined with the man the liberal blogosphere loves to hate.

Koch—who with his brother, Charles, and their extensive donor network, reportedly plans to direct some $400 million toward defeating President Obama in November—doesn't want the attention, and has tried to maintain a low profile in Tampa. I spotted him Tuesday afternoon on the convention floor looming over the rest of the crowd. He wore a navy suit, red-and-blue checkered tie, and a couple of fancy-looking convention passes sure to open doors that we reporters couldn't dream of entering. I chatted with Koch's three aides, and their messages were the same: No interviews, please. Mr. Koch wants to blend in, be just another delegate. One aide handed me and a few other reporters a printed-out statement with Koch Industries' logo. Here's what it said:

I'm deeply honored and humbled to be chosen as one of 95 delegates representing the great state of New York at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

Americans, we all have a role to play in the Democratic process. From learning about the issues to participating in campaigns and voting, this is an opportunity—and a right—to help chart the course of the nation.

The 2012 election may be the most important of our lifetimes. Profoundly different political philosophies are competing for our hearts and minds—and our votes. I have made no secret about which philosophy I support—the one that provides the greatest economic and personal freedom possible.

As I read the statement, a few pink-cheeked convention pages approached Koch, asked him for some life advice. "I'm the evil billionaire Koch brother," he quipped. "You're not afraid of me?" They weren't. As best as I could hear over the convention floor din, Koch, leaning down so the pages could hear, urged them to specialize in something they enjoyed and then work like hell to master their craft. Be the best at whatever it is you choose to do. The pages nodded in unison. Koch looked happy.

The New York delegation was seated next to Wisconsin. That meant Koch and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who famously took a call from a fake "David Koch" during Wisconsin's 2011 uprising ("thanks a million!"), stood just 10 or 15 feet apart for much of the evening. I never saw Koch or Walker exchange words. But then Walker is a celebrity at this convention, in demand from anyone within arm's reach.

Koch's aides—Bill O'Reilly, a New York politico and Newsday columnist; Cristyne Nicholas, a Manhattan-based political communications consultant; and Nancy Pfotenhauer, a DC political strategist and former Koch Industries lobbyist who worked on John McCain's 2008 campaign—politely shielded their man from reporters. On stage, New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu took the mic to officially nominate Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential candidacy. Koch and his entourage took their seats with the rest of the New York delegation as each state proudly rattled off the number of delegates it had elected for Romney. (Delegates for other candidates, such as Rep. Ron Paul, were not recognized.) Then, when it was New York's turn, New York GOP chair Ed Cox stepped up to the mike and committed all 95 of New York's delegates to Romney.

A pack of photographers encircled Cox as he stood at the New York delegation's designated microphone. Koch stood just behind Cox's left shoulder, clapping, smiling, and looking on approvingly like a proud brother or father. It was unclear whom the photographers cared about most—Cox or Koch.

Next up was North Carolina. New York's delegates returned to their seats. But Koch lingered on his feet a bit longer, gazing toward the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired convention stage. Then he, too, sat back down, just another face in the crowd.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Mitt Romney

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 11:45 AM EDT

As long as the Republican convention is the topic of conversation today, Dave Weigel reports that in their frenzy to make "We built it" last night's convention theme, Republicans are still lopping out a big section of Obama's famous "you didn't build that" speech and splicing together the two sections in bold:

Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.

I know, I know: politics ain't beanbag. And past campaigns have hardly been simon pure. But there's something more....what? Cavalier? Routine? Brazen? Don't give a shit? What's the right word to describe the Romney campaign's approach here?

This is hardly the worst campaign attack ever. Swift boating was worse. Willie Horton was worse. The endlessly twisted quotes of Al Gore were worse. But those attacks were all based on at least a kernel of truth that was twisted for political ends. That's not admirable, but it's hardly unusual either. But Romney's lies aren't even remotely defensible, and the campaign barely even bothers to try. The welfare attack works, so they're going to use it. If you have a problem with that, go pound sand. You don't think it's right to just excise a big chunk of Obama's quote in order to make him say something he didn't? Tough titties. It's flatly not true that any money has been taken from the Medicare trust fund? Meh. And these are the centerpieces of his campaign.

I struggle to describe this. It's not worse than past attacks, but it is different. In the past, you felt that maybe campaigns were at least a little bit embarrassed about this kind of thing. They'd blame it on someone else. They'd try to produce some lame defense. They'd haul out some fake white paper to give themselves cover. They'd do something. The Romney campaign just doesn't seem to care. If it works, they use it. It's like the campaign is being run by cyborgs.

I dunno. What's the right word to describe this?

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The 5 Weirdest Bits in the 2012 GOP Platform

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 11:06 AM EDT

The Republican Party platform for 2012 proclaims itself "a statement of who we are and what we believe as a Party and our vision for a stronger and freer America." It's also got some pretty strange things in it. Here are five of the weirdest:

Anti-Shariah. The right-wing conspiracy theory that American Muslims are engaged in a "stealth jihad" meant to replace the Constitution with Taliban-style Islamic law isn't mentioned explicitly in the Republican platform. But the document does refer to it obliquely. "There must be no use of foreign law by US courts in interpreting our Constitution and laws," the platform reads. "Nor should foreign sources of law be used in State courts; adjudication of criminal or civil matters." This language is the result of the efforts of Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State who has helped author many of the country's restrictive immigration laws. "[S]ometimes defenses are raised that are based in Shariah Law," Kobach warned while explaining his support for this section. The Constitution prevents any religious law from superseding civil or criminal law, and this language wouldn't just impact Muslims—Orthodox Jews in the US often resolve civil matters according to Jewish law

See Wah/FotopediaSee Wah/Fotopedia

The UN is coming! The GOP platform treats the United Nations as a sinister force encroaching on American sovereignty. Though some of this is mere disagreement on policy, elements of the platform incorporate nods to conspiracy theories, like language that says the party "reject[s] the UN Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty, and we oppose any form of UN Global Tax." As my colleague Stephanie Mencimer reported in 2010, Agenda 21 is a two-decade-old toothless international commitment to sustainable development ("smart-growth communism") that has roused the imaginations of tea partiers everywhere. Meanwhile, as Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating notes, the UN does not have the authority to impose a "Global Tax." I suppose that's a great reason to oppose it!

 Gibsons/Shutterstock

Bring back the gold standard? Invoking a Ronald Reagan-era commission convened to "consider the feasibility of a metallic basis for U.S. currency," the GOP platform calls for "a similar commission to investigate possible ways to set a fixed value for the dollar." For some reason, going back to the gold standard is believed on some corners of the right to be a panacea for economic instability, but we'll just let the New York Times' Paul Krugman explain why this isn't true: "[U]nder the gold standard America had no major financial panics other than in 1873, 1884, 1890, 1893, 1907, 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1933."

 Mykl Roventine/Fotopedia Mykl Roventine/Fotopedia

No more race-based governments in the US. At first glance, it might seem strange that the GOP platform states that the party opposes "the creation of any new race-based governments within the United States." But this language isn't referring to hundreds of years of slavery, oppression, and racial discrimination—it's referencing a dispute over legislation that would grant Native Hawaiians the same kind of status as Native American tribes in the continental United States. 

Tomas Del Amo/ShutterstockTomas Del Amo/Shutterstock 

Banning Bibles on military facilities. In the interest of protecting the US military from imminent communist subversion, the GOP platform proclaims that "A Republican Commander in Chief will protect religious independence of military chaplains and will not tolerate attempts to ban Bibles or religious symbols from military facilities." This ominous language refers to an embarrassing mistake at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where hospital officials, in an attempt to prevent people from proselytizing to wounded service members, seemingly banned visitors from giving religious items to those receiving care at the facility. Though officials say the policy was never enforced, Republicans quickly pounced on this as proof the Obama administration was trying to purge Christianity from the armed services. Now it's part of the GOP platform. 

  Dulce Rubia/Shutterstock Dulce Rubia/Shutterstock

Read the full text of the GOP's 2012 platform below.

 

Chart of the Day No. 2: The Great Depression in Europe

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 10:46 AM EDT

Here's another chart that, unfortunately, doesn't require much explanation. It's the unemployment rate in Europe's periphery. It comes from Stuart Staniford, who says, "Every picture tells a story, they say. This one tells a story of unrelenting misery and hardship, dreams crushed and hopes fading, year after year after year. Still no sign of any relief for the real economy in these countries."

For purposes of comparison, unemployment during the Great Depression peaked at about 25 percent in the United States.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 29, 2012

Wed Aug. 29, 2012 9:44 AM EDT

PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 27, 2012) Sailors assigned to USS George Washington's (CVN 73) Crash and Salvage team prepare to retrieve a simulated casualty during a general quarters drill on the flight deck. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Alexander W. Cabrall.

Chart of the Day: War is Still a Booming Business

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 9:39 AM EDT

From my colleague Asawin Suebsaeng, arms transfers to developing countries skyrocketed last year, primarily due to a $33 billion agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia. More detail at the link.