Archive for October, 2012

Your right to resell your own stuff is in peril

Posted in Politics on October 8, 2012 by betweentwopines

It could become illegal to resell your iPhone 4, car or family antiques

By Jennifer Waters

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) — Tucked into the U.S. Supreme Court’s agenda this fall is a little-known case that could upend your ability to resell everything from your grandmother’s antique furniture to your iPhone 4.

At issue in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons is the first-sale doctrine in copyright law, which allows you to buy and then sell things like electronics, books, artwork and furniture, as well as CDs and DVDs, without getting permission from the copyright holder of those products.

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A Supreme Court case could limit the resale of goods made overseas but sold in America.

Under the doctrine, which the Supreme Court has recognized since 1908, you can resell your stuff without worry because the copyright holder only had control over the first sale.

Put simply, though Apple Inc. AAPL -2.43% has the copyright on the iPhone and Mark Owen has it on the book “No Easy Day,” you can still sell your copies to whomever you please whenever you want without retribution.

That’s being challenged now for products that are made abroad, and if the Supreme Court upholds an appellate court ruling, it would mean that the copyright holders of anything you own that has been made in China, Japan or Europe, for example, would have to give you permission to sell it.

“It means that it’s harder for consumers to buy used products and harder for them to sell them,” said Jonathan Band, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries and the Association for Research Libraries. “This has huge consumer impact on all consumer groups.”

Another likely result is that it would hit you financially because the copyright holder would now want a piece of that sale.

It could be your personal electronic devices or the family jewels that have been passed down from your great-grandparents who immigrated from Spain. It could be a book that was written by an American writer but printed and bound overseas, or an Italian painter’s artwork.

There are implications for a variety of wide-ranging U.S. entities, including libraries, musicians, museums and even resale juggernauts eBay Inc. EBAY -2.11%  and Craigslist. U.S. libraries, for example, carry some 200 million books from foreign publishers.

“It would be absurd to say anything manufactured abroad can’t be bought or sold here,” said Marvin Ammori, a First Amendment lawyer and Schwartz Fellow at the New American Foundation who specializes in technology issues.

The case stems from Supap Kirtsaeng’s college experience. A native of Thailand, Kirtsaeng came to America in 1997 to study at Cornell University. When he discovered that his textbooks, produced by Wiley, were substantially cheaper to buy in Thailand than they were in Ithaca, N.Y., he rallied his Thai relatives to buy the books and ship them to him in the United States.

He then sold them on eBay, making upward of $1.2 million, according to court documents.

Wiley, which admitted that it charged less for books sold abroad than it did in the United States, sued him for copyright infringement. Kirtsaeng countered with the first-sale doctrine.

LOST IN MIGRATION: EARTH’S MAGNETIC FIELD OVERDUE A FLIP

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2012 by betweentwopines

By Chris WickhamPosted 2012/10/03 

 

LONDON, Oct. 3, 2012 (Reuters) — The discovery by NASA rover Curiosity of evidence that water once flowed on Mars – the most Earth-like planet in the solar system – should intensify interest in what the future could hold for mankind.

The only thing stopping Earth having a lifeless environment like Mars is the magnetic field that shields us from deadly solar radiation and helps some animals migrate, and it may be a lot more fragile and febrile than one might think.

Scientists say earth’s magnetic field is weakening and could all but disappear in as little as 500 years as a precursor to flipping upside down.

It has happened before – the geological record suggests the magnetic field has reversed every 250,000 years, meaning that, with the last event 800,000 years ago, another would seem to be overdue.

“Magnetic north has migrated more than 1,500 kilometres over the past century,” said Conall Mac Niocaill, an earth scientist at Oxford University. “In the past 150 years, the strength of the magnetic field has lessened by 10 percent, which could indicate a reversal is on the cards.”

While the effects are hard to predict, the consequences may be enormous. The loss of the magnetic field on Mars billions of years ago put paid to life on the planet if there ever was any, scientists say.

Mac Niocaill said Mars probably lost its magnetic field 3.5-4.0 billion years ago, based on observations that rocks in the planet’s southern hemisphere have magnetisation.

The northern half of Mars looks younger because it has fewer impact craters, and has no magnetic structure to speak of, so the field must have shut down before the rocks there were formed, which would have been about 3.8 billion years ago.

“With the field dying away, the solar wind was then able to strip the atmosphere away, and you would also have an increase in the cosmic radiation making it to the surface,” he said.

“Both of these things would be bad news for any life that might have formed on the surface – either wiping it out, or forcing it to migrate into the interior of the planet.”

RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW

Earth’s magnetic field has always restored itself but, as it continues to shift and weaken, it will present challenges – satellites could be more exposed to solar wind and the oil industry uses readings from the field to guide drills.

In nature, animals which use the field could be mightily confused – birds, bees, and some fish all use the field for navigation. So do sea turtles whose long lives, which can easily exceed a hundred years, means a single generation could feel the effects.

Birds may be able to cope because studies have shown they have back-up systems that rely on stars and landmarks, including roads and power lines, to find their way around.

The European Space Agency is taking the issue seriously. In November, it plans to launch three satellites to improve our fairly blurry understanding of the magnetosphere.

The project – Swarm – will send two satellites into a 450 kilometre high polar orbit to measure changes in the magnetic field, while a third satellite 530 kilometres high will look at the influence of the sun.

DESCENT INTO CHAOS

Scientists, who have known for some time the magnetic field has a tendency to flip, have made advances in recent years in understanding why and how it happens.

The field is generated by convection currents that churn in the molten iron of the planet’s outer core. Other factors, such as ocean currents and magnetic rocks in the earth’s crust also contribute.

The Swarm mission will pull all these elements together to improve computer models used to predict how the magnetic field will move and how fast it could weaken.

Ciaran Beggan, a geomagnetic specialist at the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh, said studies have also refined our understanding of how the field reverses.

They have focused on lava flows. When these cool and form crystals the atoms in iron-rich molten rock align under the influence of the magnetic field, providing a geological memory of the earth’s field.

But that memory looks different in various locations around the world, suggesting the reversal could be a chaotic and fairly random process.

“Rather than having strong north and south poles, you get lots of poles around the planet. So, a compass would not do you much good,” said Beggan.

While the whole process takes 3,000-5,000 years, latest research suggests the descent into a chaotic state could take as little as 500 years, although there are significant holes in scientific understanding.

“Although electricity grids and GPS systems would be more vulnerable, we are not really sure how all the complex things that are linked together would react,” Beggan said.

(Editing by Dan Lalor)

 

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Social Security Will Run Dry Even Sooner Than the Latest Bad Projection

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1, 2012 by betweentwopines

 

By Chuck Saletta

For the past several years, Social Security’s Trustees have been reporting on the accelerating depletion of that program’s Trust Fund. As recently as 2008, the Trust Fund’s doomsday was projected to be as far away as 2041. But over the past several years that collapse date has inched forward and now sits at 2033.

Unfortunately, even that projection looks like it’s a bit too optimistic. It turns out that there’s a very real risk that next year’s report will move that date even closer.

What Happened?

Since the Trustee’s Report was written in April, some news has emerged about the investments in the Trust Fund putting a drag on the returns.

Every year, Social Security rolls over its maturing long-term Treasury bond holdings, picking up new ones to replace the ones that are expiring. Because of exceptionally low interest rates, Social Security is earning less interest on its new bonds than it did on its old ones.

That lower interest, along with the fact that the program now takes in less in taxes than it spends in benefits, means the Trust Fund is on even shakier footing.

What’s a Few Billion Among Friends?

Take a look at the scary trend line that shows the annual interest lost when the old long-term bonds matured or were sold versus the annual interest on the new long-term bonds:

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Every year since 2010, the new long-term bonds being bought by Social Security pay substantially less interest than the old long-term bonds that are maturing. That red line is getting deeper, and the 2012 total is nearly $5.4 billion in annual interest foregone because the new bonds pay that much less than the old ones.

That amounts to $5.4 billion less available for paying benefits or for reinvestment. That’s a $5.4 billion deeper hole the program faces next year than it would have if rates had stayed steady.
And that’s just from one year.

So What?

Since 2010, the total annual income foregone due to lower interest rates has exceeded $10.5 billion. Since this only counts the long-term bonds that Social Security is using — not the short-term certificates that get traded much more frequently — those numbers add up to create a whole world of pain.

It’s a huge deal, because Social Security is already paying out more in benefits than it takes in as taxes. The only reason the Trust Fund is still growing at all is because of the interest it generates on the Treasury bonds it holds.

With interest rates so low and net interest received dropping as a those old bonds mature, that “net interest” kicker is rapidly losing steam. The sooner it runs out of gas, the sooner the Trust Fund starts actively shrinking, starting something of a death spiral as the stockpile depletes.

From the perspective of a potential recipient, this hastens the need for you to prepare for the Trust Fund’s collapse. Every downward revision in the year the Trust Fund will expire hurts your chances to get ready in two ways. For one, the closer date gives you that much less time to prepare. For another, if you aren’t already preparing, then you’ve already lost the time that had passed since the last revision.

In other words, assume for the sake of discussion that the 2013 Trustees’ Report moves the Trust Fund’s anticipated run-dry date a year closer — to 2032 rather than today’s expected 2033. If you did nothing to prepare in 2012 because you had 21 years before the issue struck, imagine waking up when the next report is published to find that you’ve lost not one year, but two.

What Will You Do About It?

Think it can’t happen? Take a look at the table in this article along with the graph above in the one you’re reading now. Ask yourself what’s more likely: that the ugly trend that has already established itself will continue, or that these very serious issues will somehow, almost magically, solve themselves.

With around two decades left, you still have time to prepare. But your chance to let time and the magic of compounding work for you to cover for Social Security’s shortfall is rapidly running out. So get moving now, or prepare for a really scary income gap when you are looking to retire.

 

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