Archive for January 2016

The State of Technology

It sucks.  I live in the country.  The only Internet I can get besides dial up (who the hell has dial up anymore) is satellite which is not much better.  It is slow and it is bandwidth limited which means download a movie or two and you are slowed to dial up speed.  I read where in the SAG awards many of the streaming venues (like Orange is the New Black) won.  Streaming is not an option in the country.  I get notices from Amazon that my Prime account grants me tons of downloads, none of them I dare download. Downloading Music is a pipe dream.  When Apple decides to upgrade their software and sends me an automatic upgrade, I get close to exceeding my bandwidth limit for a month.  In short, I live in the dark ages of Internet access along with millions of my fellow Americans.

So what is technology with the next new thing doing about the millions of us who would buy all these services if we just had access to them?  Nothing.  I have had Satellite for over 6 years and it is basically unchanged.  I keep waiting for the next new thing like some sort of data compression that allows much more data to be sent at higher speeds and I see nothing.  I know that in Korea, they dumb down the apps they design there for American use because our internet speed is much slower than theirs.  So just what gives?

I can think of several possible reasons.  First, whether you like to admit it or not (Republicans), the Internet and even Steve Jobs’ great work, came from government research.  And with Republicans squeezing out the R&D funds so we can afford more tax breaks for the wealthy, the funding for that kind of basic research has dried up.  Second, companies look to maximize share holder value and profits in the short term, and investing in that kind of R&D is expensive.  If they own much of the market now, why innovate and spend money when you have a captive audience.  See the monopolies Comcast and others have created with Urban centers.

Whatever it is, I am not getting any younger, and I am wondering if this is the sign of a true decline.  The rest of the modernized world (Europe, Japan, etc.) has better internet speeds and service than we do.  Maybe when I end up in some senior citizen village it will have high speed (really) Internet and I can download all the stuff I want while the nurse wipes drool off the computer.  Oh joy.

Enough of Iowa!

Why not just let them vote or caucus, or what ever they do instead of endless predictions?  And even when they do, what does it really mean?  Just a perusal of the headlines tells you about all you need to know.  The Republicans were all over Hillary about her emails.  Are they running against Hillary in Iowa?  Is it a beauty contest on who can be tougher on complaining about the Democrats.  It is misdirection.  I guess Cruz got in trouble when a Hillary supporter had the audacity to ask him what he would replace Obamacare with, you know, actual specifics of policies.  The room got really quiet.  The King had no cloths.

Sooner or later it has got to be about what they actually plan to do besides blaming someone else and standing up for American values like persecuting immigrants, Muslims, and anyone who doesn’t believe the way they do.  Nuke’em till they glow is not really a Middle Eastern policy.  Claims that Obama has ruined this country (show us some facts please) is not an economic way forward, and of course my favorite, we will be tougher in world affairs means what exactly?

At least the Democrats are putting up specific policies and a vision of what they are going to do.  So far the Republicans are simply against those ideas but seem to have none of their own, except I am the real conservative or the true evangelical.  “See, I thought really stupid things first and have been consistent in my stupidity longer than the other guy.”  Have you heard what they would do about global warming?  Oh, I forgot.  It doesn’t exist.  Glowering is policy.

Oh, and while I am ranting, let me say a few words about the emails.  THERE IS NO THERE THERE.  You are reading a blog written by a guy who once had a Top Secret Cryto clearance.  Half the stuff you read in the New York Times is classified top secret.  No, that is not hyperbole.  While many things are common knowledge, you will find in officialdom, it is classified because we can’t be trusted.  A reporter often reports classified information because he gets it on the open market of interviews while the agency who classified it got it from a spook so they classified it.

In the world of officialdom, if it is marked classified, you have to treat it as such.  But if it isn’t, how the hell would you know.  Oh and how has national security been hurt by any of these releases.  If you want to claim there is a problem, show us the problem.  While not pertinent to this argument, much of the stuff classified is classified to protect the agency from embarrassment as much as it is to protect national security (which some how they have conflated).  So Hillary has done nothing wrong, broke no rules, but this provides a great sideshow so Republicans don’t have to talk about what ideas they have, and that is because they don’t have any. 

We are living through the greatest clown show on earth.  The Republicans told us we have a deep field this election cycle.  I guess they are referring to lots of clown makeup, fake noses, and floppy shoes.  It would be funny if it wasn’t so embarassing.  Are Americans really this stupid? Rhetorical. 

News as Propaganda

Now I admit that I have a lot of progressive knee jerk reactions when I hear some things and I have to think them through because sometimes there is a gain of truth in conservative babbling.  But thinking them through is not what our news does and it is insidious.  One of my local channels for Sacramento News is Channel 3 (KCRA) and when the 24/7 cable news has saturated my brain with 24/7 reporting of the primaries, I turn to this channel to get a respite and some local reporting.  But they have this conservative slant on the news that is imbedded in their reporting.  If you know a story well, you know what they are leaving out that would have given the story a more balanced airing.

Well one of their reporters is a guy named Kelly Brothers.  He used to be a regular talking head, but he moved over into the financial sector, became the stereotype of a Wall Street type (complete with wire rimmed glasses) and reports financial news when he is not trading.  Now for him, the stock market is the only indicator of the health of our economy so what is good for the stock market is good for America.  Main Street America might have some objections here, but that is never brought up.  

Anyway he was reporting the movements of the market this week and he made a comment that instead of the government looking to do something about “inverting” they should do something about the corporate tax rate to keep companies from “inverting”.  I will explain in a minute, but the rest of the reporting team, instead of raising any issue with this uninformed comment just went along with it.  There was not an informed opinion questioning whether companies really ever pay the statutory  corporate tax rate and asking what was their effective rate, the one the average corporation actually pays with all the tax breaks.  But I get ahead of myself.  

Companies maximize profits by reducing costs and inverting is a way to maximize profits by lowering their tax bill.  If they could, they would pay no taxes and many do not.  Fifteen large corporations paid an effective tax of zero last year.  While the United States has one of the highest statutory rates of corporate tax rates in the world (35% federal, almost 40% when you consider state taxes), the effective rate after all tax dodges is much lower, around 13% in 2013, much lower than you or I pay.  

Inverting is an expression for an American company to avoid paying even more taxes on money earned outside the United States by merging with a smaller company in a low-tax nation.  Nothing really changes, just that the company’s address in now in a lower tax nation and any earnings outside the United States gets paid to that nation at the lower tax rate of that nation. In most cases nothing actually moved. As the NYT tells us:

Inverted companies keep the benefits of being American, but have a much lower tax bill. They remain majority-owned by shareholders of the American company. They normally keep their headquarters and top executives in the United States. They also keep the protections on securities and patents provided by American laws, as well as their contracts and connections with the federal government and its research agencies.

And yes it is complicated.  But the real question is what is a reasonable corporate tax rate so that companies pay their fair share of what the United States provides for them, getting rid of all the dodges, and is enforceable worldwide. Kelly Brother’s comment was in the light of government gouging corporations, not in establishing a fair tax system, which is a complicated discussion about the whole tax code edifice. It is the dodge use by many to complain about the statutory rate, get it lowered, without fixing all the other problems, and allowing corporations to dodge their responsibilites to the United States.  

So why did I go into all this detail about an offhanded remark?  Because our news has become an offhanded remark without the necessary details and complexity to understand the real issues.  It is why we as Americans make such bad choices about our leaders and policies.  The latest Republican debates are a prime example.  These guys mention some outrageous over simplified policy choices and nobody asks how you would do that, or what would be the blow back (unintended consequences).  And as pointed out in my long and drawn out example above, it creeps into our everyday local news.  It is called the death of critical thinking and it disturbs me greatly.  Have a nice weekend.

Oh Professor Krugman!

Today in the NYT, Professor Krugman continued his fixation on proving Hillary would be a better President than Bernie.  In this column Professor Krugman tried to paint Bernie as a one note samba, while Hillary sees the big picture:

To oversimplify a bit — but only, I think, a bit — the Sanders view is that money is the root of all evil. Or more specifically, the corrupting influence of big money, of the 1 percent and the corporate elite, is the overarching source of the political ugliness we see all around us.

The Clinton view, on the other hand, seems to be that money is the root of some evil, maybe a lot of evil, but it isn’t the whole story. Instead, racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are powerful forces in their own right. This may not seem like a very big difference — both candidates oppose prejudice, both want to reduce economic inequality. But it matters for political strategy.

Hmm.  In this column he is arguing that we need a more broad approach.  To make this argument work, he has charactured Bernie as only caring about economic inequality.  Any study of his record with many more years than Hillary in government from Mayor to Senator shows he gets all of this, and he has been consistent in his approach.  The professor seems to be applying a blind eye to hold on to Hillary.  And he seems to forget Bill Clinton’s famous line (actually his strategist James Carville), “It is the economy stupid.”  Think about it:  Economic inequality is enforced by racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice including religious.  They can all be seen as subsets.

But what is more disturbing is that both he and most of main stream political pundits are missing is what Chris G., from Boston Mass, explain to Professor Krugman in a comment to his blog:

Clinton will work within the system and attempt to make it function more efficiently but she believes that the current system is basically workable – that it just needs some tweaks and better people in positions of responsibility in order to work well. In contrast, Sanders will attempt to radically change the system but will accept compromises in order to make incremental improvements in the course of doing so. 

What many of us recognize is that we got here, and you yourself have said it, over 50 years of a system that only works for the rich.  It has decimated the middle class and is taking a toll on our economy, and that is economic inequality, and the political inequality that goes with it.  What I think is happening out there is that many of us, especially the young, see that.  President Obama came into office to work system to improve America. He made changes that help all of us, but basically he did not really change the system, and the Republicans came roaring back.  We now live in an America where Donald Trump could be President.  So arguing to make incremental changes without addressing the power structure, is tilting at windmills.  And Hillary is preceived as part of the power structure who has benefited from it, and as Chris G. pointed out, we only need to work within that system.

I would think that Professor Krugman would start see his own failures in understanding this in his own frustrations at trying to get what he calls Very Serious People (VSPs) to understand that our debt is not a problem, austerity hurts us, and inflation and interest rates will not increase rapidly in a liquidity trap when we use fiscal or monetary policy to stimulate the economy.  It is a fundamental shift in the way we look at the world moving from a microeconomic approach to a macroeconomic approach and understanding a lack of demand is the controlling factor.  Yet when it comes to Hillary, he thinks incrementalism will turn the boat around?  

It is not pie in the sky and it is not anger that is fueling Bernie’s campaign.  It is the recognition that the current system doen’t work for the majority of us.  It won’t be fixed by incrementalism.  Criticism of the costs of a single payer health care system estimated by Bernie is just missing the point.  Other countries do it, and we won’t ever get there unless we fight for it, not saying we are not ready.  It is the process of trying to get there that gets us there, that changes minds.  People get that we need real change and someone to fight for it.  And of course all of his proposals are possible.  They are done in the rest of the world.  The only thing that prevents us are Republicans, and it is time to take them on directly, not find a way to work with them.

The Debate

I have no idea what I am talking about because my whole watching experience was about 10 seconds of Ted Cruz which I quickly turned off.  I have read some of the stuff out there this morning and on the way down to get the paper I heard one pundit explain how Rubio (I think) was looking good and being humerous.  Wow, the perfect president.  Oh, and the Donald got more press by doing a standup routine somewhere else than bloviating at the debate.  Smart move Donald. I don’t think there is anything to learn from Republican debates because the details of policy never are important.  Who will be tougher on immigrants? Who will be tougher on ISIS?   Who is move conservative?  So what does all that mean in actual policies?  

On economics, they are clear, if not stated in the debates:  More tax cuts for the wealthy, smaller government, less regulation.  What does that mean?  Will the banks be turned loose to destroy the economy again in the name of free enterprise and innovation?  How are we going to pay for infrastructure, R&D, and other investments if we continue to cut taxes?  Oh, I forgot.  They still believe in flow down.  On social issues they are clear.  Religion has an important place in government, their religion.  Women are second class citizens and the right to choose will be gone.  Birth control could even get dicey.  Immigrants will be hounded, then they will wonder why there is no one to pick our fruits and vegetables, cook in our restaurants, make our beds in hotels , or an innumerable number of low paying jobs.

Obamacare will be repealed and we will have, well they haven’t told us what we will have, but it will be better because now insurance companies will be free to deny coverage to “pre-existing” conditions and bring back those hollow plans that don’t cover very much but are cheap as hell, until you get sick.  And Global Warming, it doesn’t exist so no longer do we have to worry about that.  The EPA and lead in water, what me worry?  And best of all, we are going to get tough in the world.  We are going to draw lines and get into wars that other people’s kids will fight.

No, I did not watch the Republican debates.  They were for sycophants and mindless fans who really don’t want to look at where we have been or what we have learned, and wonder why we are proposing mindless positions that just feed anger, do not solve problems.  I will have to wait I guess until the general election debates when we start really looking at the policies they propose and examining what the blowback might be from each one.  Until then it is prom night. Everyone looks good in a prom dress or a tux.

My Solution for Flint

Okay, armchair engineer at work.  As I understand the present plan, it is to test all the water at the houses now that the water running into the pipes is from Lake Huron.  They are infusing the water with a chemical that will coat the pipes and prevent further leaching of lead.  They are going to institute a testing program to establish where the water is safe and where it isn’t. Allow the safe places to drink and bath. As a parallel activity they are trying to identify where there are lead pipes in the lateral service lines.  These will have to be removed and replaced along with anywhere the water is tested to be bad.  This will be a long slow process.  I have a better idea, although not cheap.  Here are my basic assumptions:

  1. The water in the primary service lines is pure and the primary service lines are not lead contaminated
  2. The primary contamination for lead comes from the laterals from the service line to the houses
  3. The primary cost and time is to dig up these laterals and replace them
  4. The present plan is to reduce costs by identifying where water is unsafe and only replacing those lines

Okay this may or may not be true, but I think it is.  If that is the case, the quickest way to restore service is to tap this primary service lines* with above ground temporary service lines that run down each street, with temporary above ground laterals (flexible pipe/hose) into each house where you would have to tie it into the house and cut off and cap the old lateral service line.  

Another step might be to establish communal showers (temporary facilities) so people can bath and shower until the other temporary facilities are in place and the water running in the houses meets standards. 

All of this could get started tomorrow and you could show progress in restoring service and clean water.  Just thinking out loud.

*If the fire hydrants are clean why not use them as taps for the lateral service lines?

Thursday Morning News Follies Frustrations

This morning I found very little news to read.  I mean, I know everything I did not want to know about the Donald not attending the Fox News hosted debate tonight, but since I am not attending either, I don’t care.  I found out that Bill O’Riley had beseeched him to attend and he declined.  I found out that at least Donald claims there are three other candidates (probably 2nd tier) that want to attend his event.  I know what the polls say about who is ahead which means nothing.  But I could find nothing on the Oregon standoff. You know things like how many are still left, what really happened at the shoot out, have they really closed the roads to the buildings and isolated the hangers on?  

Other things I would like to know is what were the lessons learned from the big snow fall?  What is the plan for Flint?  For that matter, what really happened?  And they are not investigating the decision process before the switch in 2014.  What does a soils engineer say about the apartments in Pacifica? Oh, and what is happening in the Middle East?  How was the Chinese market doing?  Any analysis of the Fed and their not raising rates in lieu of their disasterous decision last time?

Now for all of the above you have to turn to your local paper, if you have a good one.  But forget all that, what we need to know is how the Republicans, who are clueless about solving any problems, will respond in the debate tonight without the Donald.  Just who will they attack?  Couldn’t we just watch it and see how what happens?  That my friends is the state of news these days.

Bernie or Hillary, and Krugman Again

Professor Krugman wrote a blog pointing out that he and other policy wonks (I love policy wonks) think Hillary has a better policy approach to our problems: 

As far as I can tell, every serious progressive policy expert on either health care or financial reform who has weighed in on the primary seems to lean Hillary.

Then he decries some of the ranting from the left about what he sees as a purely rational evaluation of the candidates and says:

 But it’s disappointing to see so much intolerance over what are basically differences in strategy, not goals.

Now if you read this blog you know I disagree, but what I give you here is a couple of rebuttal comments from his blog that I thought exactly caught my thinking.  This one from Chris G., Boston Mass:

Yes, the intolerance is frustrating but NO! NO! NO! the difference between Sanders and Clinton is much more than a difference in strategy. For the n-th time, Sanders is essentially a New Deal liberal whereas Clinton is a neoliberal on economics, a hawk on foreign policy, and a social liberal. Clinton will work within the system and attempt to make it function more efficiently but she believes that the current system is basically workable – that it just needs some tweaks and better people in positions of responsibility in order to work well. In contrast, Sanders will attempt to radically change the system but will accept compromises in order to make incremental improvements in the course of doing so. 

You can prefer Sanders for what he is or you can prefer Clinton for what she is but THEY ARE NOT ESSENTIALLY THE THE SAME EXCEPT FOR DIFFERENCES IN STRATEGY!!! 

Apologies for the all caps but, really, that point should have taken by now. It is not subtle. 

DBL from Santa Cruz:

A point that rarely gets mentioned in these types of analyses is a practical, political one about the national debate over the next 4-8 years. I concede: if Bernie wins, the Republicans and entrenched interests will conduct a scorched-earth campaign against him and single-payer healthcare, free/subsidized college education and bank regulation. Got it.

But if Hillary wins, the Republicans will conduct a scorched-earth campaign against her and Whitewater, blue dresses and Benghazi.

On what grounds should we prefer to hold the national debate?

I could not have said it better.

Michigan With Their Hand Out

First and foremost let me say I don’t begrudge us spending our money on a national disaster.  It is what we have the federal government for and Flint is a national disaster.  So we need to get in there and help solve it quickly before there are any more victims.  Having said that, the federal government will be bailing out a state government who in its conservative save money mode, caused this disaster.  Okay, we still need to know all the facts, but generally this was a way to save money that drove the train instead of the science of water treatment.

So my point is simple.  There should be political repercussions.  If science and data tell us things and we don’t act on them, there has to a penalty to pay for those who ignored them.  Think about this as the impacts of global warming become more severe and these conservative states want to be bailed out.  We will help them, but there should be a price to pay for their stupidity and ignorance at the polls.

Conservatives! Behold What You Have Created

The funny thing is there is no way to blame this on the Democrats.  Oh they will try.  The voter’s disillusion with Washington is because of gridlock.  But who caused that?  Who said their goal was to see President Obama fail.  Who blocked legislation with a filibuster a record number of times and then when they got the House, voted over almost 50 times now to repeal Obamacare, but defeated denying guns to those on the terrorist watch list?  Republicans created the gridlock by design.

Now their leading candidate, they can’t stand.  Well they created him.  Through conservative talk radio, conservative think tanks, and Fox News they created an alternate universe where global warming doesn’t exist and everything is Obama’s fault.  In that universe the reality of the things we have accomplished don’t exist.  Facts and data don’t matter any more because they have their own.  The leader of the pack was Fox News and now their creation, the Donald, refuses to participate in their debate and calls for Megyn Kelly to be removed as a moderator.  He refers to her as a Bimbo.  Think about that.

The Donald wants to pick and choose who can ask him questions.  The only news and information you should get about the Donald should be that which he approves of.  Fox News created this by calling themselves news as they selectively decided what information was broadcast by how it reflected on their conservative agenda.  If they can pick and choose news to misinform and become a propaganda machine, why can’t the Donald?  Oh, and Megyn Kelly a Bimbo?  Well, certainly she has participated in their selective news propaganda machine, and she certainly is fun to look at, but Bimbo requires that she lack intelligence and that she does not, and while her conservative ideology is ill-informed*, she still nails the Donald on his total chaotic and non-existent policies.

So the Donald can “shoot someone on 5th Avenue” or walk away from the debates and his base doesn’t care.  That is because the base that the conservative machine carefully crafted is all emotion and no brain.  That is what they needed to get them to deny reality and believe everything they feed them, and now they are terrified they are even denying their authority to define their reality.  Yes conservatives, “It is alive!  It is alive!”

Oh, and what about Bernie on the Democratic side like David Brooks tried to conflate with Cruz and Trump yesterday?  See Bernie shooting anyone on 5th Avenue?  See he or any other Democrat walking away from debates.  Which one really is trying to create a better world for the little guy and which one is using nativism and xenophobia to divide and conquer.  Really?  The Democrats are having a real and profound discussion about how to move forward with progressive ideas and the Republicans are arguing about who is the real conservative, and who is really an evangelical.  Both sides do it my ass.  Have a nice day conservatives, because the day you have is the one you created.

*Sadly conservative ideology has run its course.  Flow down, the basis of their economic belief, doesn’t work.  Small government as a goal defies the reality of the issues we face.  Little or no regulation defies the reality of the abuses that result.  There is a grain of truth in each, but just a grain, and it crumbles when it faces the reality around us, hence the need to redefine reality.  But it got out of hand.