U.S., Canada, U.K. refuse to sign ITU new global telecom treaty

The United States, Britain and Canada have refused to sign a new global telecommunications treaty, warning it would provide a mandate for governmental regulation of the Internet, potentially ending 11 days of fractious talks in Dubai.

In pre-written statements, the three countries informed a summit of the International Telecommunications Union of their decision, with Denmark, the Netherlands, and Kenya making similar announcements…

“It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form,” said Terry Kramer, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. body.

“The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years. All without U.N. regulation.”

The United States and its allies have fought to ensure the new treaty, which is being revised for the first time since 1988, only applies to traditional telecommunications.

A large bloc of countries led by Russia supports adding language to the treaty that could open the door to more regulation of cyberspace on issues from spam, security and the assignment of addresses to web pages.

Expected – and given the history of how the Web has grown – probably correct. For all the right reasons and a few not-so-right.

At this point in time, laissaiz-faire is no worse than what we already have.

Fannie and Freddie are not piggy banks for Congress

What does a U.S. immigration program have to do with the housing market? Nothing. Yet lawmakers are once again attempting to tap mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to fund unrelated legislation, this time to cover the cost of increasing the number of green cards for foreign graduates with advanced degrees. Fannie and Freddie, it seems, have become Washington’s favorite piggy bank.

Some may see this as a good thing. The U.S., after all, spent $190 billion bailing out the companies, so why not siphon some of the money back to pay for other priorities? The reality is that doing so raises mortgage costs for borrowers regardless of their credit risk, threatens to stall the housing market’s comeback and lowers the odds that Washington will ever fix the two companies.

To pay for the immigration bill it passed last month, the U.S. House voted to extend for one year higher fees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge lenders to guarantee the loans they make to home borrowers. Last year, Congress increased the so-called guarantee fee by 10 basis points (0.1 percent) through 2021 to fund a payroll-tax cut. The House bill extends the higher fees, which reflect a loan’s expected rate of return, through 2022. The measure isn’t going anywhere — it faces a presidential veto threat and was blocked this week by the Senate — but the temptation to tap Fannie and Freddie whenever Congress needs a ready supply of cash is likely to grow.

There’s no question guarantee fees should slowly increase. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac don’t make mortgage loans but guarantee them by charging lenders a fee to cover projected losses from defaults. For too long, the companies underpriced risk and charged too little for the mortgages they were agreeing to back, which is one reason they were bailed out and placed under government control.

Absent a broader effort to overhaul housing finance, raising fees with no consideration to their effect on the housing market poses new risks. The guarantee fees are passed on to borrowers, typically through higher interest rates. Raising fees too quickly could hamper the housing recovery by making it more expensive to borrow. Higher fees also thwart the Federal Reserve’s attempts to stimulate the economy by keeping interest rates low…

A new Bloomberg Government report says the mortgage giants will probably escape a major overhaul in President Barack Obama’s second term because they are no longer draining taxpayer money and instead are returning funds to the Treasury. Both reported third-quarter profits, foregoing Treasury Department cash infusions.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are finally healing, and Congress should resist the impulse to turn to them whenever it needs a ready supply of cash. The companies are supposed to smooth out the ebbs and flows of the mortgage market, not serve as ATMs.

I enjoy the way Bloomberg presents the information they do for a living, a pay-per-view service that funded Mike Bloomberg’s vast fortune. He – and most of the folks working at Bloomberg – understands straightforward communications. His company wastes little time trying to support rationales for out-of-date Republican ideology passed off as “traditional economics.

Yes, there are sufficient old school economists around to keep the bears happy; but, history and bull markets always pass them by when economies function as the whole process should. It’s only when the greed side of the profit equation takes precedence over ethics and honesty we all suffer a troubling result. Or a disaster.

Like the questions raised politely in this article about Republicans raiding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to pay for the only part of immigration House Republicans care about – imported engineers who will help high-tech corporations on the cheap.

DARPA test-flies an “armed” UAV

For some time now, engineers have been researching the possibility of equipping UAVs (unmanned air vehicles) with robotic arms. This week, DARPA announced that a successful test of just such an “armed” UAV has been performed.

DARPA utilized an existing V-Bat UAV, made by California-based MLB Company. The stock V-Bat can fly horizontally to quickly reach its destination, then hover in a tail-down orientation once it gets there.

The DARPA team added a folding robotic arm to the UAV, along with an inexpensive stereoscopic computer vision system – this incorporated one camera on the end of the arm, and another on the aircraft itself.

For the test, a 1-pound payload was attached to a hook on the end of the arm. Using its vision and GPS systems, the V-Bat then autonomously identified a step ladder, which was the object on which it had to place its payload. It proceeded to maneuver itself up alongside the ladder, extended its arm by six feet and placed the payload on the ladder.

“Our goal with the UAV payload emplacement demonstration was to show we could quickly develop and integrate the right technology to make this work,” said DARPA program manager Dan Pratt. “The success of the demonstration further enables the capabilities of future autonomous aerial vehicles.”

No doubt we will see either the real deal used in an upcoming James Bond movie – or a CGI knock-off for cinema without Pentagon approval. About the only use I could find for one of these would be for getting fruit from the top of our pear trees. 🙂

I’m certain there are more creative possibilities.