Category: Politics

Alternative Facts: NATO

Alternative Fact: NATO countries owe money for defence expenditures the US has made.

Real Fact: The target was for member nations to devote 2% of GDP to defence spending. A target is not a guarantee. Not meeting a target may be disappointing, but it doesn’t mean you owe someone money. If your target is to donate 5% of your net income to charity … but at the end of the year have only managed 3%, it does not mean you owe charities 2% of your net income! It means you didn’t meet your goal. Consistently missing goals can also be a clue that the goal is not realistic. Take, for instance, someone whose goal is to donate 80% of their net income to charity. But they also pay their rent/mortgage, buy some food, turn the lights on occasionally. And don’t have 80% of their net income available after covering essentials. The person can commit to the goal and evaluate their other spending (move into a smaller residence, buy cheaper food, conserve on utilities) or they can change their goal to meet the 10% of their net income that is actually discretionary.

Another real fact? NATO countries, by and large, fund their own military. One might make the argument that the US would have been able to scale back the military budget if only other partners increased their expenditures. *But* that’s disingenuous from someone seeking an enormous increase in the military budget whilst questioning the nation’s continued commitment to NATO. But even if the ‘target’ was actually a contractual obligation … it would be to NATO and not the US.

Irony, Thy Name Is Trump

Yesterday, Trump bemoaned how terribly he is treated as President. From a man who has never encountered a superlative he didn’t incorporate into everyday speech … not surprising. But I keep thinking about how Trump is treated in comparison to Obama. Fundamentally different stories, and one narrative has yet to be proven true or false. But even if Trump’s campaign literally had nothing to do with Russian influence in the election – simply had overly-trusting people trying to do the “right thing” and ended up speaking with the wrong people (I had eight calls from the dude, the last one ten minutes long because I was telling them to STOP CALLING ME). Even if we ignore abuses of power relating to the investigation into the nothing that really happened (you get charged with a crime you didn’t commit, try intimidating witnesses because the charges scare you or the bad publicity scares you … the intimidation itself IS a crime). The basic premise behind how Republicans treated Obama is that policies he advocates are so terrible that we’d rather literally accomplish nothing in the next four years. And any cycle you spend hosting a beer summit after making a completely fair assessment of public bias and police actions (seriously, would some old white professor have the cops called if he got locked out of his fancy brownstone?) or discussing birth certificates (hey, Trump, that would be yours) is a cycle not spent advancing odious positions. Agree or disagree with the positions, it’s a decent strategy that the Republicans cultivated there. Positions switch, and beyond play acting … are you really surprised to see the opposition using the same strategy?

Difference is that Obama had a halfway decent approach to dissent — Trump makes a dramatic reality show with a cliffhanger each week (and a bit like “how did you not expect to be red herring’d out of effectiveness” … voters, how did you not expect the reality show star to create, well, THIS!?).

Russia Returns

Russia has a decent play at undermining the American government without actually colluding with Trump’s campaign. Do something that benefits any part and there is suspicion. Do something that benefits someone who has been suspected of shady dealings with your country (money laundering, loans to someone American banks consider too risky) and the suspicion is even deeper. Someone who has used obstruction and intimidation routinely in business using the same tactics in their political misadventure … not exactly shocking.

Trump’s administration seems hopelessly unable to do anything but help the Russians undermine our government. Firing Comey looks bad no matter what happened during the election. Sharing code-word classified information with the same country suspected of interfering with the election … outright silly.

An “independent” investigation or one run by the House / Senate / FBI led by whomever Trump puts in charge – there’s no good outcome.

The investigation finds nothing illegal – half the country things the investigation was tainted, but we continue down this path. Allies withhold intel because they cannot trust Trump not to use the latest intercepts to brag about how great his intel briefings are. Reasonable policies are overturned along with the unreasonable because the Executive branch leadership doesn’t understand the “benefit” part of cost/benefit analysis. Taxes are lowered and deficits explode.

The investigation finds something – half the country thinks it’s fake evidence to go along with their fake news. But something has to be done. It isn’t like there’s a do-over election clause in the Constitution (even if there were, half of the country objects to the do-over election). Trump is impeached and Pence takes over – Democrats object – we’d have almost been better off with the ignorant guy who didn’t heap religious fundamentalism on top of his deregulation, tax cuts, and environmental destruction. Trump voters who are not traditional Republicans object — they didn’t vote for Pence’s policies either. Trump is impeached and Pence goes down too — Ryan takes over. See previous.

 

GoFCCYourself(.com)

You know what you find when you drain a swamp? A whole bunch of rotting detritus. I’m not going to pretend astonishment that a former Associate General Counsel from Verizon thinks net neutrality is a terrible idea. I remember getting an e-mail message from my employer, another network provider, detailing how this terrible proposal was going to drive us all out of business. Or something similarly over-dramatic.

Facilitating public comment on Executive branch proceedings, such as GoFCCYourself.com, is an interesting idea. Take a circuitous government web site that ostensibly allows individuals to post comments on issues and circumvent the terrible user interface by getting your own URL and I assume including the appropriate POST headers to get individuals in exactly the right place to submit their comments.

I’ve used this short-cut to submit my opinion to the FCC, but I also forwarded the same message to my rep in the House and my two state Senators:

I have submitted this to the FCC for Docket 17-108 but wanted to include you as well. If the FCC does roll back net neutrality, as their chairman indicates is his desire, I beseech you to ready legislative controls to prevent ISPs from using speed controls to essentially censor Internet content.

I am writing to express my support for “net neutrality” — while you want to claim it reduces carrier investment or innovation, customer acquisition and retention drives carrier investment and innovation. Lowered cost of operations, creating a service that allows a higher price point, or offering a new service unavailable through a competitor drive innovation. Allowing a carrier to create a new revenue stream by charging content providers for faster access is not innovation – QoS has been around for decades. And it isn’t like the content is being delivered to the Internet for free. Content providers already pay for bandwidth — and a company like Netflix probably paid a LOT of money for bandwidth at their locations. If Verizon didn’t win a bid for network services to those locations, that’s Verizon’s problem. Don’t create a legal framework for every ISP to profit from *not* providing network services for popular sites; the network provider needs to submit a more competitive bid.

What rolling back net neutrality *does* is stifle customers and content providers. If I, as a customer, am paying 50$ a month for my Internet service but find the content that I *want* is de-prioritized and slowed … well, in a perfect capitalist system, I would switch to the provider who ‘innovates’ and goes back to their 2017 configurations. But broadband access – apart from some major metro areas – is not a capitalist system. Where I live, outside of the Cleveland suburbs, I have my choice of the local cable company or sat – sat based Internet introduces a lot of latency and is quite expensive for both the customer and the operator (and has data limits, which themselves preclude a lot of network-intensive traffic that ISPs wish to de-prioritize). That’s not a real choice — pay 50$ to this company who is going to de-prioritize anyone who doesn’t pay their network bandwidth ransom or pay 100$ to some other company that is unable to provide sufficiently low latency to allow me to work from home. So add a hour of commute time, fuel, vehicle wear, and reduced family time to that 100$ bill.

Rolling back net neutrality stifles small businesses — it’s already difficult to compete with large corporations who have comparatively unlimited budgets for advertising and lawyers. Today, a small business is able to present their product online with equal footing. In 1994, I worked at a small University. One of my initiatives was to train departmental representatives on basic HTML coding so the college would have an outstanding presence on the Internet. First hour of the first day of the training session included a method for checking load times off campus without actually having to leave the campus network. On campus, we were 10 meg between buildings and the server room and anything loaded quite quickly. At home, a prospective student was dialing in on a 28.8 modem. If your content is a web page for MIT, a prospective engineering student may be willing to click your site, go eat dinner, and come back. Load time isn’t as much of a problem for an organisation with a big name and reputation. Unknown little University in Western PA? Click … wait … wait, eh, never mind. The advent of DSL was amazing to me because it provided sufficient bandwidth and delivered content with parity that allowed an unknown Uni to offer a robust web site with videos of the exciting research opportunities available to students and the individual attention from professors that small class sizes allow. No longer did we need to restrict graphics and AV on our site because we weren’t a ‘big name’ University. That there ever was a debate about removing this parity astonished me.

Aside from my personal opinion, what is the impact of non-neutral networks on free speech? Without robust legal controls, ISPs engage in a form of quasi-censorship. How do you intend to prevent abuse of the system? Is a large corporation going to be able to direct “marketing” dollars to speeding up their page to the harm of their competitors? Can the Coca-Cola Company pay millions of dollars to have their content delivered faster than PepsiCo’s? Is the ISP then the winner in a bidding war between the two companies? What about political content? Does my ISP now control the speed at which political content is delivered? What happens when Democrats raise more money in the Cleveland metro area and conservative views are relegated to the ‘slow’ lane? What happens when the FCC gets de-prioritized because ISPs want even less regulation??

I would still worry about the legal controls to prevent quasi-censorship, but I would object less if the FCC were to implement the net neutrality requirements like some of the telco regulations for CLEC’s where there were no ILEC’s had been — where there is no or limited competition, net neutrality is a requirement. Where there are a dozen different ISP options, they can try selling the QoS’d packages. Polls and voting aside, the ISP will find out exactly how many customers or content providers support non-neutral networks.

Hack The Vote

There is a component to the ongoing story of Russian involvement in the 2016 election that seems to have gone missing from public discourse. The RNC was hacked too. Information from DNC hacks were released – embarrassing information that questioned the legitimacy of Clinton’s primary victory and that substantiated the worst view people have of her (and politicians in general). What was released from the RNC hack? Zilch.

One possibility is that the RNC hack yielded nothing embarrassing or subversive to release. But do you really think the RNC wasn’t trying to undermine Trump the same way the DNC undermined Sanders? Do you really think the entirety of the RNC is completely upfront about every facet of political discourse?

Immediately after the election, Russians were said to have a kompromat dossier on Trump. Whatever was gathered from the RNC hack is good insurance should Russia’s choice of American leaders backfire on them in some way. Personally damaging information on Trump and RNC information that compromises the integrity of the party.

Unanticipated consequences

I was at a rally opposing privatization of social security investments – a reporter asked me to comment on my particular objection. Was I worried about affording retirement? Was I concerned about parents? Or someone else? No – my objection is that the raison d’être of social security was the massive crash in the stock market in the 30’s. Lots of people had their money in the stock market (sure, over-leveraged so more than their money) and then had nothing. The social safety net was to provide bare sustenance for people whose private retirement savings didn’t pan out. Why in the hell would you want to invest that money in the stock market?!

I think the net neutrality opponents are having the same lack of foresight. How is controlling network bandwidth allocation any different than censorship? How does it not prevent alternative ideas from being propagated? How does it not stifle innovation and harm small companies?

Why Some Jobs Matter

A week or two ago, Paul Krugman published an article titled “Why Don’t All Jobs Matter?” in which he explored the different narratives behind the decline of mining and manufacturing jobs and the decline of retail jobs. He tried very hard to avoid focusing on the sexist and classist snobbery behind the difference. To some degree, losing low paying jobs that frequently lack benefits is not as bad as losing decently paying jobs that include health benefits and pensions (although court ruling that allow companies to raid pension plans for operating cash basically rendered pension plans an empty promise).

All jobs don’t matter in public discourse because people lack respect for the retail, cell center, hospitality, etc staffs with which they directly interact. Mining and manufacturing jobs were afforded this mythos because the majority of people never interact with these employees. A sentiment echoed today in a newsletter from Sherrod Brown’s office:

“I heard from those miners and their families in Steubenville. I talked with them, and heard their stories – stories of years of backbreaking, dangerous work, but work that had dignity. They put in their time to earn better lives for their families, and they deserve the full health care and pensions they were promised.”

“Work that had dignity”!? And calling out that they “put in their time to earn better lives for their families”!? I hope he didn’t intend to imply that all of these other sectors lack dignity and working in them are not actually attempts to earn better lives for a family too. I wish they would at least pretend to care about all of the non-white non-male people who are losing their jobs too (hey, politicians … white dudes are probably losing non-mining and non-manufacturing jobs too … if that helps you care).

Fifty years ago, a high school graduate knew he could show up at the GE Locomotive plant in Erie, PA and have a job for life. And the downfall of American manufacturing has eliminated that path. But women in the same city knew they could show up at the GTE office on the other side of town, get hired on in operator services, and have a job for life too. They, too, no longer have such certainty (nor can they be positive that either GE or Verizon are even hiring).

Not a lot of people grow up dreaming of being a sales clerk or fast food counter worker – but I doubt people dream of being an entry level manufacturing line worker either. People enter into the field and work their way up — and, yeah, “working you way up” in the steel plant involved a lot of physical work whereas becoming a low level manager at a store or a call center team lead involved a lot of time and mental effort.

It’s not a job – it’s a period in time associated with the job. When coal powered industrial revolutions, white men had power and everyone else knew their place. Sadly, failure to bring back the “good” manufacturing and mining jobs may not doom Trump to perceived failure so long as his policies punish non-white non-male people.

H1B Misuse

There aren’t a whole lot of Trump’s policies with which I have any agreement. The H1B program, however, is one that most certainly gets abused at the expense of American workers. Working in IT fields, I have seen a lot of questionable sponsorships. Questionable … well, if you don’t know the whole story (how long the company has been trying to hire a qualified citizen, or the entire scope of ‘qualified’), you may have a feeling that Americans are being overlooked in favor of cheaper foreign labor. But it’s just a feeling.

I have, however, seen outright fraud within the system. Well meaning fraud, but fraud just the same. The most egregious example was more than a decade ago. There was a Russian woman who worked on one of the internal help desks. Not quite the entry level “follow the online flow chart & read it to the caller” kind of help desks for which IT Support may be known … but a help desk just the same. She and half a dozen other people staffed the line. Because her visa sponsorship indicated that she had a unique skill set that the company could not staff with an American worker … well, someone questioned how such a uniquely skilled worker would have half a dozen American coworkers doing the exact same thing.

Now she was a very nice woman and I really hoped she got to stay in the country in spite of the visa irregularity being investigated … like she got reclassified into some other visa for people who just wanted to live here. Instead, the company created a new title and position for her. A higher profile position with more authority that paid more money … but, honestly, she still wasn’t doing anything I couldn’t have found dozens of other people in the area to do. It was data mining. Data mining that she had to learn how to perform once she took the position … and if the criterion was “someone who was capable of learning to generate reports from PC inventory data” the list of local, available, citizens who were perfectly qualified for the job. People who were OUT of work at the time and would have loved that made up job.

I never reported this visa fraud. It’s one thing to object to theoretical abuse of the system; it is quite another thing to get a person who you like deported. And there-in is the problem with reforming the H1B system … what do you do with the people who are already here under false pretenses? Like the Mexican restaurant owner who got deported a few weeks ago … that’s academically the right answer. But it ignores the human impact to the academic solution. Is it really the Right Thing to tear someone away from their community, from relationships they’ve had for a decade, from their home because they have violated the law?

But is it right to essentially reward them? To allow someone who had a fraudulent H1B first dibs on regular work visas at the expense of people who followed the proper process to get into the visa queue? To increase the regular work visa cap for the year to allow improper H1Bs to be converted? If I had a good answer, I’d have gotten myself hired on by DoJ or ICE. But there’s no way to both avoid personal grief while not rewarding the individual for not following the law.

I’m hoping Trump’s new initiative orders more stringent review of the claims being made on visa sponsorship forms. Maybe even something like the Patent office where individuals somewhat knowledgeable about the field determine the veracity of the claim. Leaving the current visa holders alone – at least until their visa comes up for renewal – is about the best compromise I could conceive.

Military Decision Making and The GBU-43

Some time ago, Trump announced that he would be giving more latitude to field commanders in military operations – when and what to target. At the end of last week, a Green Beret was killed in Nangarhar Province … and now a few days later we’ve dropped the largest bomb we’ve got in the same province. When asked if the president had authorized the strike, Spicer deferred to the military agencies. Trump just muttered some nonsense about how we all know what happened. If he’d authorized the strike, he would have been crowing about it.