Category: Politics

Capitalism Is Not Democracy (the inverse is true too)

A descendant of Walt Disney — one whose family has a load of cash and stands to inherit a load of cash herself — has a video on the Facebook page of NowThis … it is generally similar to their other videos with rich people saying “this tax bill gives me a HUGE percentage gain, might give you a little bit until your provisions sunset, and generally is a bad idea and you’re about to be screwed over with ‘needed to reduce the deficit’ cuts to social safety nets, education, infrastructure, research funding, small business funding, farm assistance programs, etc”. She, however, says that individuals voting for their own interest over a common good isn’t democracy. It’s anarchy. That’s an interesting distinction. And it made me think of how people often conflate free market capitalism and democratic governance.

The “invisible hand” principal of free market capitalism — not the phrase as it was actually used by Adam Smith but the generalized colloquial usage — is that the whole is optimized by each individual seeking to assure their own self-interest. A bit like maximum k sums in set theory – the largest possible sum of k numbers from a set is the sum of the largest k numbers in the set. While a specific individual may suffer misfortune, this assertion of optimization is microscopically reasonable. The economy grows when most individuals increases their value simultaneously.

Can the same be true of democracy? Does advocating for one’s self-interest promote societal optimizations as well? Or does looking only at one’s self-interest delve into anarchy? I believe the answer depends on how narrowly one defines one’s own self-interest. Abigail Disney offers a ironic example of this in her video – fuck over enough of the middle class and there won’t be Disney customers anymore. Maybe they’re rich enough to not care financially, but family members’ social standing is diminished by losing the company. The family legacy is lost. How does the individual weigh “keeping the fortune in the family” against “sustaining the company my grandfather helped create”? One problem in American politics is an incredibly narrow view — don’t believe in climate change, whatever. But you do breathe air and drink water, right? Why would you want companies to dump mining sludge into rivers and spew petrochemicals into the air? (Answer: Because you are thinking so narrowly that you concern yourself only with the natural resources within a few miles of your house … neglecting to consider how these things move around the globe.).

Unfortunately, “self-interest” is defined narrowly (e.g. a single issue voter), ignores long term consequences (e.g. anti-environmentalism), and fails to consider the realistic complex multi-variable picture (e.g. the interconnectedness of all things means Disney lady saves a couple hundred thousand on her taxes, but their company goes through reorg bankruptcy as disposable incomes drop in a few years).

Missing George Carlin

Hoping for a remake of Carlin’s 1972 bit “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”, the Trump administration has banned seven new words at the CDC. “Diversity,” “entitlement,” “evidence-based,” “fetus,” “science-based,” “transgender,” and “vulnerable.”

Well, not for that reason … but the ban seems to be true. That action is troubling in and of itself – a dash of groupthink and a heap of naïveté: let’s ban unpleasant (to us) ideas and just hope they go away. More troubling is the reported replacement for [science|evidence]-based: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes”. Umm … the CDC — the Centers for Disease Control — is going claim its recommendations are made in consideration with community standards and wishes?!? What the fuck?? I wish cancer didn’t exist. Huh, didn’t help.

The FCC doesn’t actually have a finite list of banned words, rather they are guided by the courts view on where First Amendment protection exists or doesn’t. Did the Supreme Court hand down a concrete list of banned words? Of course not. Going back to Jacobellis v Ohio (1964) – where Justice Potter Stewart wrote “I know it when I see it” of hard-core pornography – obscenity and indecency are not clearly defined. Which makes broadcasting questionable material a risk — will someone complain? How will the FCC find on the complaint?

Anyone can submit a complaint to the FCC — I find high pitched made up word baby talk on supposedly educational children’s programming grossly offensive, I can complain to the FCC. Their investigators will likely find that the offense doesn’t reach the level of public nuisance and is thus not profane. Even the test for obscene content includes determining if the depiction has “literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”. Include a good enough story line and your hard-core porn isn’t obscene?

Deciding what to broadcast and what to censor becomes risk analysis. In radio, the risk analysis often considers *local* standards. That’s why, when driving across the country listening to various same-genre radio, words and phrases will be broadcast in some markets and censored in others. I’ve heard references to drug use scratched with varying impact – Petty can’t roll another joint but the song is mostly there or D12’s Purple Pills becomes a series of instrumentals and scratches. Even ‘radio edits’ are sufficiently edited in some markets but still have redacted bits in others. Syndicated radio programming – and most broadcast television – needs to consider the most prudish broadcast area will consider offensive. I may live in a city where local radio broadcasts drug references or ‘shit’, but the national content may omit these to avoid offense elsewhere.

OK – extrapolate that to MEDICAL ADVICE. Medical advice should now take into consideration the ‘medicine is evil, God will cure us’ set? The ‘contraception means a moral failing’ set? Making America great, huh.

Net Neutrality Is Dead

Well, we all knew it was going to happen. And it did. Some people are saying “but, but … it wasn’t a problem *before* the regulation went into effect, so nothing bad is going to happen now”. Maybe they’re right. Or that assertion could be the equivalent of saying internet pornography wasn’t a problem because you’re only looking at a time period ending with 9600 baud modems and uuencoded images split into a dozen posts on a message board.

Could be that the regulations were enacted when service providers *started* to use their ability to control access against customers (Madison River blocking VoIP, AT&T blocking Skype & VoIP, everyone and their brother blocking google wallet because *they* wanted to force payment through their processor). Could be that companies were experimenting with the controls and would have stopped because of revenue loss regardless of federal regulations. I guess we’ll find out in a few years.

Alabama Special Election Results

Jones won! Write-in candidate votes exceed the margin by which he won, but he won. With exit polls indicating that allegations against Moore weren’t a big deciding factor. I’m curious what impact the allegations had on turnout though — the voter didn’t decide their vote based on the allegations, but they either felt it important enough to go vote. They didn’t want to vote for a pedophile *or* a Democrat so stayed home because of Moore’s sexual history. And how much Moore’s “the early 1800’s were great even if slavery was a thing because OUR families stayed together” and poorly obfuscated desire to return to a period when only rich white dudes got to vote drove turnout too.

Jones won’t be sworn in before the recess. Each county has until 22 Dec to certify their results, and some counties don’t have a lot of incentive to hurry that process. The state then has until 03 Jan to certify their results.

Moore On When America Was Great

Moore thinks getting rid of all of the amendments after the 10th would solve a lot of problems.

What’s he got against the 11th (states are immune from legal action from out-of-state citizens)? And I’d think he’d appreciate the 12th (the VP is elected in conjunction with the president instead of having a VP from a different party). Did he really think saying “everything after the 10th” was subtle and people wouldn’t infer that he actually objects to the 13th, 15th, probably 16th, and 19th amendments. Maybe even the 26th.

There’d always been an undercurrent of racism and sexism to “make America great again” … ‘again’ implies there is some previous halcyon period to which we should return. But while Trump teased sexism and racism, he did so while claiming to be the best friend to those he disparaged. Moore didn’t even bother with subterfuge. And it will be interesting how well this blatant racism and sexism serves him in the election. Will he, like Trump, manage to run out ‘the deplorables’ in sufficient numbers to win? Or will otherwise reliably Republican voters in Alabama sit home unwilling to vote for him or a Democrat.

Political Power As A Zero Sum Game

Roy Moore was quoted in the LA Times saying “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”. This willfully ignores families that couldn’t stay together because their children were stolen from them and sold. *Our* families were strong, and who cares about anyone else? It’s the same implication I’d read into Trump’s ‘great again’ slogan. Well, it was great for rich old white dudes, and since I’m a rich old white dude … that’s my definition of great, and screw everyone else.

If people are going to be blatant about their racism, I’d love some honesty to go with their chutzpah. Political and social power are zero-sum. In game theory, zero-sum means that one person’s gain is your loss. And you can only gain by someone else losing. If the game starts with a stack of one hundred one dollar bills, no one can win more than 100$. Divide the money equally and each person gets 50$. Play the game — the only way for you to get 60$ is for your opponent to lose ten bucks. That’s a concrete example — new dollar bills aren’t going to magically appear. But abstract concepts can be zero-sum as well. Any individual only has so much influence, and their vote is only a percentage of all voters. The larger the population of “people who can make decisions and influence society” or “people who can vote” gets, the smaller any individual’s power becomes.

The US population is 326 million plus people (or so says the Census Bureau’s population clock). In 2010, 24% were under 18 – which makes the population at or above the age of majority just over 248 million. That means one person is 0.00000040% of the total adult population. Limit decision makers to white men (31% of the population) and each person’s power (for those who retain power) is tripled. Home ownership rates for whites is like 71.9%, which would mean each person’s power (for those who retain power) is tripled.

Similar story for voting. There were just shy 129 million people who voted in 2016. A Rutgers breakdown of gender/ethicity of reported voters has 47.8 million white men voting. Using the 71.9% home ownership rate, an individual white man’s vote would have a 2.7x increase in impact if only white land owning men could vote.

Some old white land owning dudes think the early 1800’s were great because men in their position weren’t forced to share power with women, non-white people, or poorer white dudes. Some old white land owning dudes think giving up some of *their* power so women/non-white people/poorer people get a say in government and American society was OK because women/non-white people/poorer people deserve some control over the society and political system in which they live. Hell, some rich old white dudes probably think ceding some of their power is OK because they are vastly outnumbered by women/non-white people/poorer people and just didn’t see staying in power as a likely outcome either way, and sharing power was better than all of the women/non-white people/poorer people banding together and deeming rich old white dudes to be non-citizens.

Recognizing Jerusalem

I subscribed to the daily propaganda message from the White House. Some are actually informative, a lot are such over the top propaganda that they’re funny. This one … wow. Trump randomly announced that he recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?!

And the objections I see relate to how poorly this plays within the peace process (how neutral is the US if it’s declaring Israel in the right?), how Muslims will react, or how this will foment violence in already volatile regions. But how about how the move violates UN resolutions, and how acting contrary to UN resolutions undermines confidence that the US will follow through on any UN resolutions.

Now I assume Trump is completely unaware of the 70 years of UN resolutions that deem Israel’s use of the city as its capital a violation of international law. Say UN Security Council Resolution 478. I’m sure there are people at the White House who are aware of the city’s history, of the US’s abstentions on votes condemning Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. He knows the popular story, and probably from Israel’s perspective. And he doesn’t care to know more. But this message proves to me that whatever “adults” Trump may manage to retain absolutely cannot control he man. Maybe military staff can prevent the most egregious offensive actions he might take, but no one can stop him from provoking others.


Everyone Is An Attorney At Heart?

Alternative Fact: From Trump Jr, attorney client privilege protects a conversation he had with his father because attorneys were present with both parties. Seriously.

Real Fact: FRE Rule 501 makes privilege a little difficult to figure out in federal cases. And privilege may not even apply to Congressional testimony. But considering attorney client privilege in general — Attorney client privilege restricts what the attorney can divulge. A reasonable protection, otherwise people wouldn’t be able to have frank conversations with their attorneys. There is precedent for the witness invoking privilege regarding a conversation they had with their attorney. But that doesn’t mean every utterance a lawyer hears instantaneously becomes top secret information that cannot be disclosed by either party.

First of all, the communication has to be for the purpose of obtaining legal advice. Iffy, but you might be able to sell that. Wanting to understand the legal ramifications of publicizing information.

Having a conversation with ones attorney in the presence of a third party can nullify the privilege. There’s a joint defense privilege which allows parties with common interest in the litigation to share information without waiving privilege. This applies for parties “sharing a common interest in the outcome of a particular claim” [United States v. LeCroy, 348 F. Supp. 2d 375, 381 (2004)]. Common interest in the outcome doesn’t mean “daddy cares what happens to me” or “I was working on daddy’s campaign when I did this”. It means a legal interest. So they’ll need to sell that there’s a joint defense going on (which admits that Trump Sr has some involvement in these events of which he claims ignorance).

Furthermore, there’s an exception to privilege when the communication is itself seeking to commit a crime or fraud. Even if Jr rang up his lawyer to discuss what false narrative should be presented under oath to Congress, that is not privileged communication.

There’s a legal principal that the parade of horrors shouldn’t be considered when adjudicating a case — essentially you need to ignore the ramifications of the order — but if the presence of a lawyer in a conversation makes the conversation privileged, wouldn’t a whole bunch of rich dudes just have a lawyer go with them everywhere?

Net Neutrality And Infrastructure Investments

Ajit Pai claims eliminating net neutrality will spur carriers to invest in network infrastructure. And he’s not exactly wrong – there’s equipment required to QOS traffic to allow companies who have paid access extortion to have their traffic move faster. There’s equipment required to block services for subscribers who haven’t opted to pay for, say, the “Social Media Bundle”. Billing systems will need to be updated, which means more work for developers.

Turning all of the public roadways over to private corporations and allowing them to elect to operate them as free or toll roadways would spur a lot of investment or hiring too. There’s not an automated toll collecting barricade at the end of my street today, or a human toll collector. Imprisoning half a percent of the entire US population spurred a lot of investment and hiring too – new prisons, guards, support staff.

Investment or hiring is not, eo ipso, a boon. Sure it’s great for the company whose products are being purchased. Sure it’s great for the person who just got a job. But for society some impetus for investment and hiring is outright detrimental.

Since Pai has outright stated that he cares naught for public opinion, I am appealing to my members of Congress to enact legislation to enact principals similar to the existing net neutrality regulations. That’s the point of checks and balances in government – the courts could deem the reclassification of Internet providers to be unconstitutional (it isn’t, so not gonna happen). Congress can pass laws changing that which the executive branch needs to enforce. The executive branch can veto the legislative net neutrality bill, but a 2/3 majority in Congress can override the veto. Courts can rule those laws unconstitutional (since the existing regulations have already passed legal challenges, that’s doubtful too).

Paul Ryan’s Cindy

Paul Ryan wants to talk about how his tax bill is going to help this mythical Cindy person. She was invented by the House Ways and Means Committee in a discussion of how awesome their tax bill will be for everyone.

What if Cindy’s employer offers tuition reimbursement? Completing her degree is part of pursuing “her own professional aspirations”. Bummer! Tuition reimbursement is now taxed — so the 5250$ she is given to pay for University is now taxed, so the 711$ savings is now 186$ in tax savings. Still a savings, but not as impressive as the initial story. The budget also cuts moneys to local schools. Does the county reallocate funds from road repair to update text books? Cindy blows out a tire in an unrepaired pothole and that’s where her 186$ in savings goes. Maybe the school cut services instead. Great, she saves 186$ but at the expense of her kids education. Does the state just raise their income taxes? Does the county raise property taxes? Cindy doesn’t own her own home, but rent has to cover property tax expenses. Does her landlord lose money or does the landlord raise Cindy’s rent to cover the new local taxes? Cindy’s public library was going to build out a maker space where her kids could gain familiarity with 3D printing and robotics. Does the county raise taxes to fund the library, or do her kids miss out on this opportunity? Maybe she ends up saving a few hundred dollars a year in taxes, but losing beneficial services. Or maybe she ends up paying 300$ more in rent and is behind a hundred bucks a year.

The committee’s cherry picked scenarios aren’t exactly alternative facts, they’re real facts. But they conveniently omit the larger picture that is an individual’s budget. Not to mention hundreds of other real scenarios where an individual or business ends up paying more in federal taxes under this tax plan. Or, in Cindy’s case, saving money on federal taxes until the extra child tax credit expires and then paying more under the plan.

And none of their scenarios address the likelihood that Cindy will be working for many more years because this debt increasing fiasco of a tax plan will create a situation where we have to save money by enacting something like Ryan’s path to prosperity plan. Which ups the Medicare eligibility age, so individuals who could have retired under the current scheme now need to work just to retain medical benefits.