Tag: Politics

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.

Not Oprah!

I didn’t realize people were seriously hoping Oprah Winfrey would run for president. I don’t believe an inexperienced individual instantaneously makes a bad president – they could know their limitations and rely heavily on experts, then use their judgement to decide. I’d probably have inexperienced people with trusted judgement as cabinet heads with dual second-in-commands – a guy from Exxon and a guy from the Sierra Club can explain why we should / shouldn’t be drilling in the ANWR, then the department head decides.

The problem I have with Oprah is her judgement of an ‘expert’ – the source of wisdom used to determine policy. Maybe all of the Dr Oz miracle supplements and Dr Phil moments are just to make money. Maybe she’s totally aware that whatever the miracle anti-aging eye cream of the week is a scam and that injecting mass doses of plant-sourced estrogen doesn’t do anything to keep you young. But she’s either hawking snake oil or she actually believes this stuff. Neither is a particularly desirable attribute of a president.

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.

The Politics Of Anger

Michael Kruse interviewed people out in Johnstown PA who had voted from Trump last year to see what they think of his performance thus far. Objectively, someone who campaigned on Muslim bans, enormous walls along the Mexican border, bringing back the steel mills, and bringing back coal mining … well, just another politician promising the world and delivering nothing. But these people still love Trump. And would vote for him again. Why?

It seems like voters want someone to be angry along with them. There is no easy solution, there is no painless solution … but no one wants to hear the truth. Or hear hard answers. But someone who obviously lies to them but conveys a story of their own victimization … that’s where they’re voting.

Those Who Do Not Know History … Are Doomed To Revolution

A facet of world history that stood out to me as a high school student was the difference a robust middle class made in the stability of a country. Lots of destitute people (aka people who don’t have much to lose) and you have lots of civil unrest, lawlessness, and insurrection. Lots of middle class people (people who aren’t rich beyond all telling, but have enough that they want to protect ‘their’ stuff), both the upper and ruling classes retain their power and resources for decades if not centuries.

I thought of this whilst reading an article about rebranding “entitlements” as “insurance” — Medicaid as insurance in case you yourself become disabled in the future. Social Security against you yourself getting old someday.

But taxes for entitlements are social stability insurance. The entire point of redistributing income is to ensure a sufficient portion of the population is happy enough that they work to preserve existing social structures.

Government as a Business

We’re getting another attempt to remodel the government as a business. If I had to run the federal government like a business, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to run it like one of Trump’s businesses! But lets ignore whose business.

The problem with the swat team Trump’s announced is that it seems to presuppose that the problem with government is a top-level management issue that could be sorted by sound business practices. What corporation has their top level leadership appointed by its customers? Or even its owners – sure, corporate boards are voted by shareholders … but not the C-level positions. Additionally, what business would almost guarantee multi-year positions to their high level leadership team? Regardless of performance?!

There is something to be said for bringing private sector innovation into government operations — especially at a lower level. Match up individual functions of government agencies with private sector businesses or even non-profits that have similar functionalities. Several government agencies have large logistical operations (FEMA, military) that a logistics company could help. Maybe Habitat for Humanity has ideas that would farther HUD’s goals. University teams may have interesting input too. And marketing — corporate experience would certainly be beneficial in selling legislation and initiatives.

But the fundamental problem I have with the principal that government should run like a business is that few businesses are monopolies. If you don’t like how a business operates, what values they support, the product they create … you shop around and select another one.

There was a whole thing a year or two ago with a baker who didn’t want to make a cake for a homosexual couple’s wedding. But as a customer, I can chose not to contract with a bigoted pastry chef for my events either. It is possible enough people don’t care and she remains in business. Or her choices mean her business goes under. Either way, you are not forced to support her beliefs because there are other bakeries.

Government provides services that cannot be privatized – for reasons of efficiency, non-profitability, or sensibility (privatizing the military security and prisons are a good counter-example of why government should provide these services). As such, I cannot just pick another military if I think the federal one is engaged in too many offensive operations. I cannot select a new environmental protection agency if I think the federal one fails to actually protect the environment.

If we’re going to operate the government like a monopoly (see: industries generally subject to a LOT of regulation), we are not just the customers! The government is a customer owned co-op. One that operates in hundreds of different verticals.

 

 

“Winning” War

Lamenting a lack of “winning” — especially if the solution is increasing military budgets — shows a frightening lack of understanding the purpose of our participation in modern wars. We’ve entered into some untenable situations from which it was difficult to cleanly extract our forces. We’ve intervened in situations where we were not really wanted.

Money is not going to magically create “winning” situations. The problem is not insufficient tech, hardware, or troops. It is bloody impossible to hold hostile territory in the long run – and trying is socio-economically draining. Ask the Romans – demanding tribute engenders animosity. Consult the Brits – colonialism is quite possibly the technique most apt to succeed (create an economic incentive to accept the new rulers), but eventually the colony wants legal and economic independence to get a fair market price for goods. Replacing the government with one that supports you? Germans can tell you how well that works (La Résistance, for instance).

You hold a conquered territory by leaving sufficient military presence to continually re-take the area from the locals. So when I hear someone saying they want to “win” wars … I expect they don’t know exactly what it takes to win. Or what winning even means. Who really wins in a war? Executives and stockholders for companies with multi-million dollar contracts to manufacture equipment whilst remaining safely away from the combat zones.