Category: US Government

24/7 Campaign

How can you be the president of the entire country if you cannot even be the president for the entire military?

The address Trump gave at the commissioning of the USS Gerald Ford may reflect the increasingly long campaign cycle or it may reflect his complete misunderstanding of government (not to mention a complete misunderstanding of how military health care works!). He encouraged (ordered? Not speaking to intent; but as the ostensible head of the military, it would behoove him to use more care in selecting what will be communicated to military personnel) those assembled to “call those senators to make sure you get health care”.

A generous interpretation would be that he isn’t letting an opportunity to push for his legislative agenda pass by – this will be televised, reported … but who stands up at a guy’s retirement party to laud himself and ignore the retiree? Or at a commencement to congratulate yourself … oh, wait. That’d be Trump too. A man seemingly incapable of participating in an event and not making it about himself. Even the generous interpretation is essentially “I’m too self-centered to let your thing be the highlight here”.

But beyond the optics of using the commissioning of a naval vessel as a campaign rally, the ACA does not have a whole lot to do with health care for the active duty military personnel to whom he was ostensibly speaking. TRICARE covers them. It qualifies as insurance under the ACA, so they’re set. Given Trump’s other outright nonsensical ramblings on health care, this in and of itself is telling. Enlisted persons have no more need to lobby for whatever ACA replacement is currently on the table than members of Congress. It’s not going to fuck up their coverage.

Worse, though, the military may report to the president like employees report to the CEO … but it isn’t like we changed out the military for a Republican one in January. They may fight to defend the country, but they are not obligated to support the legislative initiatives of the current administration. From his speech at the CIA Memorial Wall bemoaning how unfairly the press treats him — imagine a similar topic being delivered in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall — to this most recent address, Trump seems ignorant of the fact there are liberal government employees and military staff. There are Libertarians. Red scare McCarthyism aside, there are probably socialists too. Point being — there were people in the audience who do not want either of the current Congressional health care plans to pass (given it’s approval rating, the majority of the crowd may even feel that way!) and how insulting is it that the speaker would co-opt what was meant to be a naval celebration to rally support for something to which you object?!

Bad Sales Strategy

Shortly after exacerbating tensions between Qatar and its neighboring countries, the US is selling twelve billion dollars worth of F15’s to Qatar and a hundred ten billion dollars in weapons to Saudi Arabia?!? Please tell me that provoking tense geopolitical relationships is not going to be a sales strategy. Great, you keep Boeing’s assembly line open … but this is too much like privatized prisons needing a constant increase in incarcerations to increase their profits.

Privatization Of Government Services

When government services are privatized, why are the functions not turned over to a not-for-profit company? The government provides services that shouldn’t be run for profit. Services that create a conflict of interest when profit is involved (the major component of my argument for single payer health care). The ideal scenario for the prison system is no “customers” — no one is breaking the law. That’s terrible for a company’s bottom line. To sustain profits, prisons need more prisoners … and retention, they need those prisoners to stay longer. There’s a civic disinterest in the conditions that lead to increased profits.

Hell, cut taxes in half and spin half the government into non-profits charities. Private contributions are tax deductible, and you just saved 5k on taxes … donate some of that to NASA, NEA, etc.

Official Withdrawl

Well, the non-suspense is over. The US has been withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement. My concern is not environmental. Companies want to make money, and will need to keep producing more efficient and less polluting products to attract customers. Customers don’t want to ‘waste’ their money on fossil fuels, so will demand more efficiency. And, climate change aside, anyone who tried to breathe in LA or London in the 80s (or has seen Beijing today) will push for emissions regs.

My concern is the precedent we’ve established regarding military invasion when a country contravenes a treat obligation (be that just neglecting enforcement or withdrawal). An argument can be made that spewing toxic pollutants into the air endangers the lives of your civilian population. And the rest of the world population too. That’s a fairly long-standing American criterion for invading a foreign country.

Reality TV Presidency

LeBron James left the Cleveland Caveliers in 2010. Players change teams all the time. Even star players change teams occasionally – salary caps, better chance at a championship, whatever. Sucks, but it happens. Making the announcement on a live ESPN broadcast – no matter how much money he managed to generate for a charity – was a terrible way to handle the announcement. From a reality-TV perspective, sure it’s great. Guaranteed viewers, suspense, drama, heartbreak. But as a person it lacks tact, lacks compassion … and as a highly paid athlete who is revered by many, it’s an offensive way to treat fans who bought your merchandise and watched you play. The guy was a kid at the time, and his move back to Cleveland seemed to be handled in a more mature fashion.

I cannot help but think of being in Cleveland during the James announcement (complete with LebronFire events burning jerseys) when the White House declares Trump will be announcing his decision on the Paris Climate Agreement on Thursday. Oh, the drama. The suspense. The heartbreak – because, really, does anyone think he’s going to remain in the agreement? Even if he allows the country to remain in the agreement (an agreement, remember, that was limited greatly by a desire to achieve something that might be acceptable to US Republicans) … does he have any intention of enforcing the agreement? Honestly, the world is better off with America out – re-write the agreement with stricter goals. US companies will need to continue increasing energy efficiency and decreasing emissions or they’ll be unable to sell products outside of the country. Hell, US cities will create their own clean air and water regulations. One impetus behind the clean air act was the cloud of toxic chemicals around Pittsburgh that literally killed people. Practically needed a respirator to walk around LA. London – not a US city, but I remember getting back from a day walking around London to spend an hour blowing black snot out of my nose (and how much of that crud remained in my lungs??). I cannot imagine NYC was any better. And if customers refuse to buy the products — what use is your coal plant if no one will purchase your electricity? Some foreign company’s super-efficient SUV is more attractive even if it costs more up front — pay 100$ a week to fill the tank v/s 100$ a month and you’re looking at a fuel savings of 18k over five years.

Trump campaigned on abandoning the treaty. Look at who he appointed to lead the EPA. Seriously, the only suspense was if we’d officially withdraw or if we’d just neglect enforcement. By indicating that there’s an announcement … I already know we’re withdrawing. But why try to recreate LeBron’s The Decision spectacular?

Redistricting By Algorithm

American government representation is, in many cases, proportional to population. This means that each Rep from Ohio in the House has a district with the same number of people as the other guys from Ohio. A Rep from Cleveland doesn’t represent more people than a Rep from Marion. There may be multiple districts across Cleveland whereas the district for Marion may include other nearby towns as well. It’s a reasonable idea – otherwise Ohio has 44,825 square miles and 16 HR members so every 2800 or so square miles would be a Rep. This means someone represents a whole lot of and and a couple people whereas someone else represents a LOT of people densely packed into a little land. Cuyahoga County covers 457 sqaure miles and has 1.2 million people. Marion *County* covers 404 square miles and has about 66,000 people. Even if Cuyahoga had 2 reps to Marion’s 1 … the population of Cuyahoga is 18x larger.

This means political boundaries are drawn around population numbers. A process which can be perfectly fair and reasonable, but a process which can be manipulated to a particular party’s advantage. The manipulation is called gerrymandering. And it is how Democrats can win 51% of the popular vote in Pennsylvania HR races but only hold 5 of the 18 seats. Statistically they should have had 9 (or even 10 since they had a slight popular vote advantage and you cannot have a fraction of a representative).

What does this look like on a map? See Pennsylvania’s District 7 — let’s take this group of left-leaning people from SE Philly, make a little isthmus, and now how many right-leaning people do we need from West Chester to make it a Republican district? The only district boundaries that have any business not being a straight line are state borders!

When I was in University in the mid-90’s, we were working on a process to analyze the gravitational disturbances caused by binary black hole collisions. Now it’s not reasonable to calculate anything across the entire universe. No one has that kind of time or computing power (oh, and there may be a basic tenet of computing and physics that precludes doing so) … but we want to know what the disturbances would look like across the entire universe. There will be areas of greater impact and areas of lesser impact. The method we used for the analysis is called adaptive mesh refinement. It’s essentially taking a broad overview of the entire universe but using a more detailed (‘refined’) view of sections where something “interesting” is happening.

I propose we use a similar system for algorithmic drawing of Congressional districts. What would that look like? Imagine a state with six million people that has been allocated six districts. Calculate the statistical people per rep — one million in this case — this is going to be our target population within a district. When we get within a percentage of that number, we’ll hold the district as it is.

Chop it in half and see what the population is like in the two ‘districts’ – and check the populations again. We’ve got one within the defined delta of the one million target (since this is a nice example, we have one at our target).

Take the oversized district and chop it in half again. Get population counts and hold any district within the delta of target.

Keep chopping …

Eventually you’ll arrive at districts that are all within the predefined delta of the target. Since a real-world scenario wouldn’t involve nice round numbers and equally spaced populations, we’ll need to have the algorithm shift the district boundaries E<=>W and N<=>S until the proper number of people are contained within each district. Algorithms are quite good at this sort of thing.

But this doesn’t take into account geographical obstacles — what if there’s a river that bisects the district and the nearest bridge is thirty miles up stream? Well, these are not polling centers – put a polling center on each side of the river.

The point of this approach is that a computer algorithm that doesn’t know a thing about the individuals in each area can easily define districts irrespective of political parties. Statistically, an individual voter may end up in a district that differs vastly from their personal beliefs. But there’s no intentional marginalizing of voters based on political parties. And when the next census numbers come in, load a new data set and re-run the program.

What would adaptive mesh districting look like? Essentially this – big squares and rectangles in sparsely populated areas, smaller and smaller squares and rectangles in population centers.

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.

Repeal and Replace

There’s a television show where a group of people go around to auctions and buy ‘stuff’ to resell. They’ll “bid up” the price to screw other people out of money (I expect this is a strategy to prevent competition for upcoming items?) but sometimes get stuck with a high price on something they didn’t actually want because the competition backs out of bidding prior to expectations. I’m worried the AHCA is the guy who overpaid for junk … it started out as a marketing ploy than actual legislation. Pass a repeal and go to their constituents with “*I* got this passed for you (vote for me again), but the bloody rest of the HR stopped your will from being enacted. We don’t have enough Reps, donate NOW and get more R’s in here. Oh, the cursed President said not to worry because he’ll veto the bill — donate NOW and vote for the R. Oh, wait, this didn’t pass the Senate – send money NOW so we can get a super-majority in 2018.

Except it passes the Senate and the incumbents have to live with the results of their legislation. And, yeah, this country has a policy where hospitals need to provide emergency care to anyone regardless of means (they can also bill the person a few hundred thousand dollars, slowly drain away that person’s assets, and file a lien against the estate). Which is great for a relatively health person who suffers a sudden calamity — car crash, fall down a mountain, etc. May not even be terrible for someone who experiences a heart attack. Town halls with Tea Partiers going on about abstract death panels are going to seem like nothing. Wait until the people slowly dying with access only to emergency interventions that extend their suffering start popping up in the town halls — no coverage for the cancer relapse, but you’ll stabilize me and send me home to suffer a few more weeks. People who realize that, sure, an insurance plan *is* available to someone who had a stroke a few years back but how does this state high risk pool with a 250k annual premium help ME? Seniors who lose their subsidies and can no longer afford heath care. People stuck in terrible work situations because losing coverage means the condition will become pre-existing.

Wait until women see premiums quadruple after having a child. My local rep couldn’t tell me if the insurance company would be disallowed from raising my premiums if I self-funded sterilization, provided a doctors note attesting to menopause, swapped over to female partners, or otherwise precluded future pregnancies … and he then he got all annoyed with my expectation that he would have read and, ya know, *understood* the full text of a bill for which he was voting. 

And Republicans will free insurance companies from ACA’s requirement to spend 80-85% of premiums on health services … so all of these sad stories will be coupled with record profits and stock buy-backs within the insurance sector.