Tag: Politics

Censorship?

This may be a paranoid thought, but … a bunch of high-profile people’s Twitter accounts were hacked today, and the messages posted asked followers to send Bitcoin. Twitter shut down these accounts for a few hours.

There’s obviously a profit motive here — as of 11:30 today, they’ve garnered over 118k (and have been clearing the money out, so money isn’t just an unfortunate consequence of the hack).

The target list that is hyped includes a lot of big names, and it’s interesting to see which names seem to create the biggest bump in transactions to the wallet.

But the one that stands out to be is Joe Biden — and, yes, it looks like his account was hacked.

This looks like a proof of concept test to me. Now, it’s possible that Trump wasn’t hacked because it is so implausible that he’d be giving back to the community. But forcing the platform to shut down a bunch of accounts, including a number of your political opponents, is a brilliant approach to disrupting campaigning. Seems like a next level move from a government-sponsored intel group looking to interfere with elections after their troll accounts and advertising attempts get shut down.

Marketing Fail

I find it ironic that the Republican, who brought us marketing campaigns such as the “Death Tax” which would cause Paris Hilton to pay taxes on her hypothetical inheritance but didn’t mean jack to 80% of the country seems unable (or, more likely, unwilling) to effectively market pandemic response.
 
Social distancing is a horrible phrase that speaks to isolation. OK, you don’t congregate in one big lump of humanity at the beach or discotheque. Why isn’t figuring out innovative ways to interact a national pursuit? Physically distanced social interactions — either online or in person. A few decades ago, I had friends who would all get on a call to watch a movie or TV show together. Start writing letters again (help out the post office, too). Back in March, when the lock-downs started, I surprised a lady at the grocery store by helping her look for her parent’s preferred type of coffee as I stood on the checkout queue. She didn’t have to get near me, I didn’t have to get near her, but the “social distancing” campaign had her thinking “head down, don’t talk to anyone”. We’ve got patio chairs set up under the big maple tree in our front yard. Two families sitting 10′ apart can easily converse, hang out, enjoy nature, etc. Putting chairs on either side of the fire pit is about 8′ apart too.
 
Then there are the masks. Social trends have convinced people to wear all manner of wild kit. There’s no way it couldn’t have been presented as some awesome fashion trend. I’m curious if it’s *masks* or *orders* that the non-mask wearing public finds so objectionable. Like, would they be down with wearing a confederate flag mask? What about helmets — we can dress up like astronauts, scuba divers, motorcycle riders. I introduced my daughter to pandemic safety by calling it the zombie apocalypse. It’s fun to get the masks and gloves on to take the recycling down the the drop-off point where she stands guard in the car watching for zombies. Or get a superhero cape and mask, adopt a secret identity. Not something I recommend when it’s 95 degrees … but when it cools off again, pretend you’re a less murder-y version of the invisible man with the head wrapping and sun shades.
 
The Republican promotion of preventative actions reminds me of the court-ordered PSA commercials that tobacco companies air. They have technically said what the court has ordered them to say, but there has been no attempt to engage the audience. Or attract attention. White screen, black text, monotone voice-over repeating what the text says.

Bare Cupboards

I loathe how Trump is interviewed. Reporters let him blather on, throwing blame for our current situation without clarifying facts. David Muir interviewed Trump on the news tonight. Trump claims to have come into the office with the cupboards bare — in a really bad position, with broken tests, blah blah blah. And Muir pushed back a little — it’s the third year of Trump’s presidency … if he knew there were massive gaps in our preparedness, shouldn’t he have filled them by now?

Which is a decent question, The Trump administration’s own budget request from Feb 2020 (i.e. the budget submitted after reasonable people realized this virus was going to be a problem) didn’t ask for any increase in funding for the strategic national stockpile.

But the line of questioning doesn’t address the omitted facts from Trump’s original claim. Firstly, Obama didn’t leave Trump a stockpile of functional SARS-CoV-2 tests because the virus had not been encountered in humans yet. There are probably millions of viruses we’ve not yet encountered, and Obama didn’t use his vast psychic powers to order the Time Force to travel into the future and bring back a few million tests (and, really, I think Obama was clever enough he’d probably have ordered them to travel farther into the future and bring back a vaccine and manufacturing instructions). That’s an outright silly assertion.

There were supplies that the national stockpile lacked. Why? The Obama administration asked for 65 million dollars to increase the stock. Didn’t get it. Equipment was used during the swine flu outbreak, and Obama wanted a 10% budget increase to replenish the supply. Didn’t get it. There was a Republican push to reduce budgets across the board — remember the tea party? The CDC had budget increases due to biosecurity concerns after 9/11, so they were an obvious target. The cut-budgets-or-sequestration debt ceiling debacle — with the predictable result that no agreement could be made on targeted budget cuts — farther reduced CDC funding. While it’s technically true that the Obama administration reduced funding for the CDC, there’s a lot of duress that’s glossed over. And it’s not like the Republicans were sidelined as a minority screaming about how we needed to spend this money.

Alas, to Trump’s benefit and the detriment of politics in general … there’s very little interest in diving into the details. Democrats assume Trump is some combination of incompetent and dishonest, Republicans assume Trump’s right and it’s all Obama’s fault.

Ohio House Bill 546

Letter sent to my Ohio State Representative and Senator:

I am writing to encourage you to support GA133 HB-546 introduced on 10 March 2020. The bill alters the definition of hybrid and electric vehicles to reclassify plug-in hybrid vehicles. These are vehicles that will both plug into an external source to charge for a modest electric range AND use the gasoline engine when the charge is depleted. Examples of vehicles in this category are Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Prime, Chrysler Pacifica PHEV, Kia Niro PHEV, Honda Clarity, and Ford Fusion Energi. These vehicles are not intended to run on electricity alone — they use a combination of electricity and gasoline.

Plug-in hybrid owners have been uniquely penalized by the latest gas tax bill. Plug-in hybrid vehicle owners pay tax on the gasoline used and pay the higher registration fee for fully electric vehicles. HB-546 accommodates said payment of the gasoline tax by halving the registration fee for plug-in hybrid vehicles. Without a system to account for electric miles driven (i.e. a system that taxes road use by electric vehicles the same way the gasoline tax does), reclassifying plug-in hybrids seems like the best way to accommodate the fact that plug-in hybrid drivers are already paying toward road maintenance through the gas tax.

 

Ohio House Bill 62

Letter sent to my Ohio State Representative and Senator:

I’m writing in reference to House Bill 62.

Pertaining to the definition of “Plug-in electric motor vehicle” and “Hybrid motor vehicle” (Sect 4501.01 DDD and EEE) and their additional respective registration fees, the wording in the bill as I read it leaves some ambiguity to a third segment: the “Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle” or PHEV. These are vehicles that will both plug into an external source to charge for a modest electric range AND use the gasoline engine in a typical hybrid configuration when the charge is depleted. These vehicles are NOT designed to run indefinitely on electricity alone. My concern is that the current wording classifies certain PHEV’s as Plug-in electric motor vehicles. PHEV’s will still pay the gasoline tax, similar to hybrids, when they fill up at the pump *and* be charged a 200$ registration fee. Examples of vehicles in this category are the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Prime, Chrysler Pacifica PHEV, Kia Niro PHEV, Honda Clarity, and the Ford Fusion Energi. I would like to see the law amended to ensure PHEV owners, who generally pay some gasoline tax just like “Hybrid motor vehicle” owners, are not subject to the higher registration fee.

Beyond the classification of PHEVs, the gasoline tax is consumption and usage based. Heavier vehicles tend to have lower mpg ratings, thus their drivers accrue more tax. Individuals who drive a lot accrue more tax. The new registration fee is a fixed amount that has no bearing on an individual’s actual vehicle usage. I will be assessed the 200$ fee, and I drive maybe 2,500 miles a year. Someone with a pure electric Tesla who drives 300 miles a day pays the same 200$ fee but drives 75,000 miles in a year. If I convert an F-350 to a plug-in electric motor vehicle, that 7,000 pound truck is going to be assessed the same 200$ fee as my 3,800 pound PHEV.

I don’t have a problem being asked to pay for *my* usage of the roads. I wouldn’t complain about per-mile fee for electric and hybrid vehicles or an additional tax on electrical consumption to fund road repairs. I’d be less upset if the petrol tax were scrapped and everyone charge a registration fee based on the vehicle’s weight so infrequent drivers universally subsidize frequent drivers. But I vehemently object to being uniquely, financially penalized for low-milage usage of a PHEV.

GA133 HB 62 – Electric Vehicle Registration Fees

As the new transportation bill moves into the Senate, I wanted to calculate exactly how badly electric vehicle drivers are getting screwed. It depends, of course, on the MPG rating for the comparison vehicle. The best case for their assessment would be a vehicle with very bad mileage — say a big truck that gets 8 mpg. That truck has to drive 7,619 miles a year to pay the same amount of gas tax as the 100$ hybrid vehicle registration fee. It’s got to drive 15,238 miles in a year to achieve parity with the 200$ electric vehicle registration fee.

But how many vehicles get eight miles per gallon? The CAFE 2016 fleet average is 34.0 mpg. Comparing the electric vehicle registration fee to the fleet average, you’d have to drive 32,380 miles a year to hit parity on the 100$ registration fee. 64,761 miles to hit parity on the 200$ registration fee. There are plenty of cars that get better than 34 mpg — for a driver whose car gets 40 mpg to pay 200$ in gasoline tax, they’d be driving 76,190 miles a year!

According to the 2000 information from the Office of Highway Policy Information, Americans drive an average of 13,476 miles per year. An average driver needs to own a vehicle that gets worse than 8 mpg — 7.0749 mpg — to pay the same amount of gas tax as a driver who registers a Chevy Volt.

 

0.105 tax / gallon 0.105 tax / gallon 0.105 tax / gallon 0.105 tax / gallon 0.105 tax / gallon
8 mpg 15 mpg 25 mpg 34 mpg 40 mpg
0.013125 tax per mile 0.007 tax per mile 0.0042 tax per mile 0.003088 tax per mile 0.002625 tax per mile
fee Miles to pay same tax fee Miles to pay same tax fee Miles to pay same tax fee Miles to pay same tax fee Miles to pay same tax
200                          15,238.10 200                          28,571.43 200                          47,619.05 200                          64,761.90 200                          76,190.48
100                             7,619.05 100                          14,285.71 100                          23,809.52 100                          32,380.95 100                          38,095.24

Heads I win, tails you lose

From one way of looking at it, legislative moves to limit the power of incoming administrations are brilliant (I mean, it sucks beyond the telling of things but still). I’m losing the majority, dump money into local races and gain the power to reorganize voting districts so I still win. I *still* manage to lose even in my gerrymandered districts, redefine what the elected government can actually do while I’m still in power. You can find yourself screwed over by your own rules — see: Scott Walker but if you’re losing voters … it’s a decent gambit.


It also, short term, addresses a concern I see because compromise is no longer a thing. If we cannot agree on some middle ground, regulations are going to vacillate between extremes as the side in power flips. So we get 4 years of fuck the environment, who needs to publicize accounting nonsense we know your books are right, drill baby drill, hey food producers – inspect yourselves and fill out this form if you find a violation otherwise we’ll assume it’s all good man. Followed by four years of umm, I wanted to breathe that air, remember Enron. How about Deep Water Horizon? Upton Sinclair? How was that hospital visit after your last bowl of romaine? It’s expensive for companies to change processes and re-engineer to meet the new laws on short time-frames like that. So I get rid of all of those pesky regulations, then legislatively change it so the next dude cannot change those regulations without a 2/3 majority vote during a full solar eclipse. Boon to business, since they can actually change their processes/products without fearing a complete rework two years out.


Problem I see, though, is that these moves are predicated on the a priori assumption that Americans will keep playing the game no matter how many dirty moves each team makes. My daughter likes to play games I call “Anya wins” — where the rules of the game change during play to ensure whatever she did beats me. Even knowing that she’s a five year old kid and having fun … it’s not a lot of fun to play Anya wins unless you get to be the Anya. How long can we sustain a peaceful transfer of power when those leaving play ‘we win, you lose’?

On Denuclearization

They value tribalism over actual plans with specifics, objective reality, or independent thought too. The logic currently being peddled seems to be that any diplomatic overture is vastly better than nuclear holocaust. Now I’m not one to make the argument that there’s a scenario where nuclear annihilation is preferable but it’s disingenuous to call this development a stunning success.

Don’t forget that there was progress in the late 90’s — until GW took over and sought to end the Agreed Framework. The US cut back diplomatic contacts in 2001 while the new administration’s policy was under review. By 2002, NK was asking IAEA inspectors to leave. In 2005, an agreement that might have allowed IAEA inspection was considered progress. Maybe GW was justified in distrusting NK’s concessions (or *not* trusting NK with light-water reactors) — although NK may have violated more the ‘spirit’ of the agreement than the actual substance. But, historically speaking, we’ve been lowering the bar for NK for over a decade. We’re no longer seeking access for IAEA inspectors, now we’re almost looking for agreement that nuclear weapons are a heap-o bad news.

Ignoring decades of history in Korea, Trump was still complicit in the brinkmanship – taunting someone into nuking you then celebrating your negotiating skills when tensions are reduced is a bit like “hero fireman” setting blazes and then saving people from the inferno. And somehow it’s a major bonus that Trump didn’t give un-freeze 150 billion in Iran’s assets for NK? (Republican marketing is winning in the Iran discussion, and Obama unfreezing billions in Iranian assets has been conflated with the US government forking over billions of taxpayer dollars … but what that has to do with North Korea I cannot imagine)

Destroying missile engine testing sites after you’ve got one that works? Not such a concession. Hell, promising not to test any more nukes isn’t a significant concession – once you’ve got the thing working, tests become a way of reminding everyone you’ve got the bloody things. The US has been adhering to terms of the CTBT since, what, 1996. Doesn’t mean we’ve denuclearized. Last year, NK detonated a 200+ kiloton bomb and launched the Hwasong-15 missile which gives them theoretical delivery to the US. Sure they might need more testing to get a functional re-entry vehicle. Worst case, launch with an untested re-entry vehicle. And their current design isn’t as apt to be obliterated on re-entry — it merely lacks accuracy. Well, as someone who lives in the “oops, we missed” zone for a few high probability targets … low accuracy nuclear strikes are still REALLY REALLY BAD.

The WSJ report a year and a half ago about Trump conceiving a brilliant strategy for dealing with NK … after Trump spoke with Putin. The strategy? Cease joint military exercises with SK. Because damaging US / SK relations doesn’t help Putin in any way? For a guy who pulled out of the Paris Accords ostensibly because it was such a bad deal for the US (which, I guess, has plans to jettison everyone with more than nine hundred thirty seven million dollars in net worth to some secret space colony where they’ll be able to fly around extracting resources from planets throughout the solar system), this move hardly seems in line with the “America First” doctrine. Stopping the ‘war games’ is something NK wanted – they offered to stop nuclear testing back in 2015 if we stopped the military exercises. And it’s only *saving* money if you don’t spend it elsewhere. Anyone think the US military budget will decrease by a few mill if we can “save” that by avoiding US/SK joint military exercises?

So we’ve seen destruction at some missile and nuclear test facilities (journalists were invited to watch the destruction at Punggye-ri. Journalists and IAEA reps watched the explosion at Yongbyon in 2008 – the destruction of a cooling tower. After which it was discovered that NK was building a new facility to continue production of fissionable material. And they used another method to cool the reactor at Yongbyon after the cooling tower was destroyed. So destruction at a facility isn’t {a} new or {b} terribly meaningful), agreed to suspend military exercises, and gained NK’s commitment to complete denuclearization. Sounds good on it’s face, once you add complete denuclearization in there.

But there *is* history in the relationship with North Korea. Objectively – “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” is what NK was pushing for as it involves eliminating American military presence on the peninsula too. It’s not the same as unilateral denuclearization. And if they want to consider delivery capabilities – complete denuclearization means eliminating all American nukes. Not like anyone included a three page appendix detailing what “complete denuclearization of the Korean Penninsula” means to both parties. There’s also the larger context of American military policy — even if we completely withdraw troops from the Korean peninsula, how does Trump’s desire to expand America’s nuclear capacity reassure, well, anyone?

But SCIENCE!

Trump’s press conference in Singapore where he tells us about the scientific fifteen year time period it takes to denuclearize — WTF? I’ve got all the respect in the world for PoliSci studies, but it’s not *scientifically* required that “you have to wait certain periods of time, and a lot of things happen”. Unless we’re talking about complete decay of the fissionable material – in which case fifteen years is WAAAAAY short. The half-life of U-235 is like 700 million years.

Blending it down to reactor-grade, though – NNSA contracts have down-blended well over a tonne of HEU a year. The problem is 1 tonne of HEU becomes 16 tonnes of LEU. And how many reactors, submarines, and space vehicles do we need to fuel? Doubtful NK’s got facilities for down-blending weapon-grade material, but “de-enrich my stuff at your facility for free and I won’t have nukes” would be a really strong negotiating position — and as much as Trump may decry billions Clinton spent to denuclearize NK … it would be billions well spent if there were no enriched material in the country. And NK has maybe half a tonne of HEU – the logistics of shipping the shit would take longer than down-blending it.

But we’ve got a president looking at what may be a reasonable political estimate of how long it would take the country to denuclearize and calling it a scientific requirement. Which is ironic given the number of *actual* scientific things the administration feels free to ignore.

What, me worry?

Steven Mnuchin, one of Trump’s best people, is not worried about mass worker displacement due to automation. Said so at an event hosted by Axios. I’d love some of whatever he’s been toking.

In the near term (and evidently that’s all business execs or government types care about these days), sure automation and AI will drastically increase profitability. But I foresee the trend following a similar path as off shoring … great for individual businesses, but at some point capitalism mandates people have some money to buy the stuff and neither offshoring or wide-scale automation is sustainable. Offshoring at least provided alternate jobs for enough people to float enough debt to sustain the market near-term. We’ve got “knowledge workers”. But what percentage of those can be turned into AI programs? A significant number. I automate 80% of IT work. Chat bots could provide at least half of legal and medical consultations — the routine stuff. Robots make products, load the truck/train/drone that drives itself. Right to your door, or even inside if you have the Amazon lock. There aren’t a lot of jobs where some portion couldn’t be automated today. And budget cuts and productivity demands essentially require it. Some lucky few own doomed companies and profit for some time, another really lucky few are AI programmers and electronics engineers (although self-building AI/robots are totally a thing too). Maybe automation will beget a whole new industry that will provide good jobs for billions of people. Maybe the capitalist system will collapse and everyone will have more than they need (the Star Trek series, I guess). But I don’t know that I wouldn’t worry about the impact automation has on employment and the economy.