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The Need for an AGOA Renewal

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is set to expire in September 2015, and last week at the United States-Africa Business Forum, President Obama pitched the idea of an early renewal, building on the growth of the Administration’s “Doing Business in Africa Campaign.”  AGOA is the cornerstone of U.S. trade and investment with Africa; over its 14 year history, the program has contributed to a doubling of U.S. trade with Africa.  In 2013, U.S. goods imports from sub-Saharan Africa under AGOA and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program totaled $26.8 billion, more than three times the amount in 2001, the first full-year of AGOA trade.

Indeed, by providing duty-free entry into the United States for almost all African products, AGOA has helped expand and diversify African exports to the United States, while at the same time fostering an improved business environment in many African countries through streamlined eligibility requirements. These eligibility requirements remain important in the renewal process though, as part of increasing the desirability of African countries as a business destination lies in making sure that these nations have an environment that fosters growth and investment. Congress … Read the rest

Harry Reid, Title II, and The Rashomon Effect

Rashomon, for those readers who aren’t big film buffs, is a 1950’s Japanese masterpiece about a rape and murder mystery told through four different points of view. The film’s brilliant technique, now commonplace in modern narratives, presents different witnesses’ contradictory, self-serving accounts of the crimes with the audience left to sort out the truth. All the spin in policy debates these days can make interpreting current events feel like a similar exercise, with some advocates being all too eager to seize on and promote a particular interpretation, no matter how strained it may be. Case in point: Harry Reid’s recent letter to David Segal of Demand Progress on net neutrality.

Appreciating the subtleties of Reid’s letter requires some context. The most recent iteration of the now decade-long debate over net neutrality has actually seen widespread agreement over the general principles of the open Internet. All the major carriers insist they have no interest blocking or degrading traffic or splitting up websites into tiers or packages. The real controversy is over the appropriate jurisdictional framework for the FCC to build its rules on. There are two possible starting points: either … Read the rest

RAMI Legislation Poised to Revitalize American Manufacturing

This Friday morning, July 25, the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology will hold a full Committee markup of H.R. 2996, the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act of 2013. This is the House’s companion legislation to Senate Bill 1468, which passed out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee by voice vote in May.

The legislation would provide authorization, using existing funding of up to $300 million, for the Secretary of Commerce to establish up to 15 Institutes of Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs), public-private partnerships that would focus on developing advanced manufacturing product and process technologies, facilitating their commercialization, and developing workforce skills around advanced manufacturing technologies. As ITIF writes in Why America Needs a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) and How It Should Work, these Institutes would play a pivotal role in enhancing U.S. industrial competitiveness by supporting development of technologies that will enable U.S. manufacturers to compete in the global marketplace. The additional IMIs would join four already chartered focusing on additive manufacturing, next-generation power electronics, digital manufacturing and design innovation, and lightweight and modern metals manufacturing, all of … Read the rest

It’s Not Too Late for India’s New Beginning

In mid-May, the world cheered as India elected its new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Many believed his election foreshadowed a new beginning for India, as Modi and his BJP party ran on a pro-growth, business-friendly platform in an attempt to improve the environment for doing business and open the country up to greater foreign direct investment, further transforming the country into a robust, 21st-century economy. Sworn in at the end of June, Prime Minister Modi has been in office for a little over a month and, while still in its early stages, his desired tone and policies are beginning to take hold.

As ITIF wrote in The Indian Economy at a Crossroads, Modi’s election heralded a potential turn away from India’s recently growing embrace of “innovation mercantilist” policies, such as local content requirements for manufacturers and arbitrary patent denials and revocations, which were one of many factors contributing to Indian economic growth sinking to decade-low levels in 2013. For example, Modi’s campaign platform included specific provisions regarding intellectual property reforms, demonstrating that he understood that fostering an innovative environment in India would be the key … Read the rest

How FITARA Can Help Federal Agencies with Their IT Problem

In 2004, the Department of Veterans Affairs was forced to scrap a multimillion-dollar computer system that was designed to streamline the agency’s costs. Ironically, the project cost taxpayers $265 million, and is one of many examples of federal IT projects which go massively over budget and under deliver. Part of the reason for these failures is the last time we made significant changes to how our government acquired its own IT was the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. This law was enacted the year before Google.com was registered as a domain name, back when Windows 95 was the new big thing. Almost two decades later, while innovation has continued to press forward, our government’s ability to efficiently acquire new IT has lagged miserably behind.

Luckily, a few lawmakers are trying to remedy that. In March 2013, Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Gerry Connelly (D-VA) introduced H.R. 1232, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), to overhaul the federal government’s approach to acquiring IT. The bill seeks to designate clear responsibility and authority over federal IT investment, enhance the government’s ability to get good IT, strengthen the federal IT … Read the rest

Meet the New “De-Identification Deniers”

In 1895, Lord Kelvin, the renowned physicist, declared “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible” and dismissed those who were pursuing such research. Had the scientific community heeded his words and those of other skeptics, the advancements in aviation that define our modern world would have sadly been held back. Yet, unfortunately some in the scientific community have not learned the lesson that betting against human ingenuity is a fool’s game. The most recent example of this comes from Arvind Narayanan and Ed Felten who in a recent paper declared that de-identification has never and will never work. (Their paper was intended as a rebuttal to a piece written by Dr. Ann Cavoukian, the former Ontario Privacy Commissioner, and me, which demonstrated that the claims made in the popular press about academic research on re-identification methods often overstate the findings or omit important details.)

The authors are making an incredible claim. They are not saying that de-identification sometimes fails (which is painfully obvious to even the casual observer), but rather that there is no such thing as anonymous data. Narayanan and Felten write, “there is no evidence that de-identification works … Read the rest

Points to Consider: Republication of Discredited and Retracted Paper on Rats, GMOs, and Cancer

“Original” Paper: “Republished Study: Long-term Toxicity of a Roundup Herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant Genetically Modified Maize,” by Gilles-Eric Séralini, et. al., June 24, 2014, Environmental Science Europe,

This is a re-framed re-publication of a paper first made public in 2012. That article was subsequently retracted by the journal publisher, followed by an explanatory note from the editor.

Primary Claims:

This paper recycles claims made in the original paper, specifically:

  • Glyphosate (Roundup) tolerant corn (maize) causes cancerous tumors in rats that consume it.
  • Glyphosate itself causes cancerous tumors in rats that consume it.

It adds some related claims as well:

  • That the retraction of the original paper was imposed even though the publisher admitted that “the data were not incorrect, that there was no misconduct, no fraud or intentional misinterpretation in our complete raw data…Our study was however never attended to be a carcinogenicity study”
  • The retraction of the original paper was unjustified, as “Censorship of research into health risks undermines the value and the credibility of science, thus we republish our paper.”
  • They also claim that the retraction illustrates “a historic example of conflicts of interest in
  • Read the rest

About Censorship

For those of us who are curious, or maybe just in need of an occasional diversion from reality, the Internet is a rich and wondrous toy. With a click or two we can open a window to unexpected marvels or places we’d love to visit  but will likely never get to. But the path to unexpected marvels can just as quickly shunt you off into bad neighborhoods and dark places that no one needs to visit. Herewith a tale…

We all love somebody who beats the odds, a self-made success who overcomes a challenge and builds something significant; even better if there’s a “cowboy” angle of bucking current trends or speaking truth to power. On its surface, then, Mike Adams would seem to have a lot going for him.

Calling himself the “Health Ranger” and hosting a widely viewed website Adams offers up a steady stream of health related claims and comments through which he has become one of the Internet’s leading promoters of bogus health schemes, medical conspiracy theories and quack medicine. He often starts from a springboard of fact, but regularly careens off in some conspiratorial … Read the rest

Our Marxist, Techno-Nirvana is Just Around the Corner: The World According to Jeremy Rifkin

Techno-utopianism seems to be a particularly American phenomena. As I argued in The Past and Future of America’s Economy it seems like about every half century – usually as it turns out right before a big structural slowdown of technological innovation – pundits and scholars start to go overboard on how great the techno-enabled future will be. Case in point was the 1967 book Year 2000 written by Herman Kahn, noted futurist and founder of the Hudson Institute. Kahn relied on the new “science” of forecasting and ended up with a book that had the tone of “you ain’t seen nothing yet.” He wrote:

This seems to be one of those quite common situations in which early in the innovation period many exaggerated claims are made, then there is disillusionment and swing to over conservative prediction and a general pessimism and skepticism, and then when a reasonable degree of development has been obtained and a learning period navigated, many – if not all – of the early ‘ridiculous’ exaggerations are greatly exceeded. It is particularly clear that if computers improve by five, ten or more orders of magnitude over the … Read the rest

2014 Special 301 Report Highlights Continuing Concerns over India’s Protection of Foreign IP Rights

The United States Trade Representative Office’s (USTR’s) 2014 Special 301 Report, released April 30, again places India on the Priority Watch List, highlighting continuing concerns over India’s inadequate protections of foreign intellectual property rights (IPRs), many of which were raised in ITIF’s recent report The Indian Economy at a Crossroads. USTR’s Special 301 reports raises intellectual property concerns in India across a wide range of sectors—including life sciences, renewable energy, digital content, and information and communications technology (ICT) products—so much so that USTR took the unusual step of announcing an out-of-cycle review (OCR), meaning that USTR will undertake an additional review of India’s intellectual property rights protection policies in the fall of 2014.

As the 2014 Special 301 Report notes, “Serious difficulties in attaining constructive engagement on issues of concern to U.S. and other stakeholders have contributed to India’s challenging environment for IPR protection and enforcement.” And while the report does commend India for making “some limited progress in improving its weak IPR legal framework and enforcement system” at the same time it notes that “IP protection and enforcement challenges are growing, and there are serious questions regarding … Read the rest