Thursday, September 03, 2015

The quandary that is Donald J. Trump

Racist, misogynist, plutocrat, Democrat. Oh, wait. Did I say, "Democrat"? Strike that. Those three remaining words are what come to mind when I want to summarize all that I know about Trump.

After watching one of the debates and reading many articles on Trump, it seems to me that Trump is a reflection of the party he represents. This is what we'd expect. The person who most closely represents the views of his constituents in the party should win the nomination.

Yet, there are some detractors who say that if Trump were to win the nomination, he'd destroy the Republican Party. The first that comes to mind is Lindsey Graham:
"If Donald Trump is the nominee, that’s the end of the Republican Party."
Graham is entitled to his amusing assessment of the state of the GOP, but I think that his claim might be exaggerated. It would seem that Graham would much prefer to hide attributes about the GOP rather than see Trump win the nomination. Graham probably would rather not see Trump become the new face of the GOP, as a racist, misogynist plutocrat.

Do a search for "Trump kkk" on any search engine, and you'll see that former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke endorses Trump for president. Of course, Trump promptly rejected the endorsement and disowned any potential racism to be found in his immigration policy proposals. Who would bother to notice that on the same day, Trump ejected a respected Latino reporter from the Univision Latino broadcasting network for asking a question, you know, while doing his job? Racists appear to be flocking to Trump in support of his style of leadership.

Never mind that Trump affiliated companies have sought to import more than 1,100 immigrants to work here on temporary visas in recent years. And don't forget his campaign promises on jobs and immigration:
“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” he said during his campaign launch speech on June 16. “I will bring back our jobs from China, Mexico and other places. I will bring back jobs and our money.”
Perhaps that is what Graham would rather not reveal about the Republican Party. Tough on immigration until it comes to filling American jobs with immigrants willing to work for less. Much less.

During the debate co-hosted by Megan Kelly, Trump was at times harsh and difficult with her while answering questions for the debate. The exchange between them has gone viral on the internet and that same exchange seems to have bumped up the polling for Trump. It's also worth noting that during that debate, Megan Kelly asked Trump a direct question: When did you actually become a Republican?

While many have noted that Trump is at least being up front about his sexism, few have noted that the rest of the field have worked hard to enact their vision of male superiority as law. So to Graham, it's OK to enact that vision as law, but we shouldn't be talking about that so openly in nationally televised debates.

Then there is Trump's murky loyalties. Up until recently, he has given more money to Democrats than Republicans, but now the contributions are solidly in favor of the GOP. In his defense, Trump said, “I give money to everybody.” He complained about Washington politics and said he gives money to everybody because he’s a businessman and that’s just how it works.

And finally, Trump has admitted to being willing to raise taxes on people like himself. This is in stark contrast to a field of candidates leaning the other way. Most of them have signed the famous Grover Norquist Pledge not to raise taxes. Trump hasn't signed yet according to Norquist. For those not familiar with Grover Norquist, he is founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform. The no new taxes pledge has come to be an important litmus test for proof positive conservatives in elective office.

Nevertheless Trump is leading in the polls according to The Hill, which finds him polling at 35% of support from voters. There are some who place him at 40%, but there is evidence that number could be overstated. In a field of more than 10 candidates, 35% support for Trump is significant.

It may well be that Trump's appeal lies in his willingness to differential himself from the others in his policy proposals, however vague they may be. Some have voiced skepticism that Trump is a true Republican. For example, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), has this to say about Trump:
"I think there's a small possibility that this gentleman is a phantom candidate," Curbelo said, as quoted by The Miami Herald. "Mr. Trump has a close friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. They were at his last wedding. He has contributed to the Clintons' foundation. He has contributed to Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaigns. All of this is very suspicious."
Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps Mr. Curbelo has confused populism with being a Democrat. It does seem that the two presidential candidates leading each party in the polls are populists. In that sense, one could easily have the sense that two Democrats will win the nomination, one for the Republicans, one for the Democrats.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The facade of free trade with a military super power

There has been a lot of discussion about free trade in the news including TPP, TTIP, TISA and about 40 other agreements waiting in the wings. Now that Trade Promotion Authority has been set for President Obama, Congress will have a chance to vote on them up or down once they are presented. All of those agreements are being presented as "free trade" agreements.

CNN has a nice little chart showing the world's largest economies, with the US at $18 trillion and China at a distant second with $11 trillion. According to Wikipedia, there are 14 current free trade agreements in effect with the US. Clearly, there are many benefits to free trade. But is it really free trade?

The assumption we are asked to believe is that the US has built up the world's largest economy with free trade, but nothing could be further from the truth. For example, in my previous post, "The facade of the free market in global labor", I detailed the false assumption that when we trade with other countries, we are competing on a level playing field in the world labor market. There is no way American workers can compete with foreign labor where the government of our trading partner steps in to keep wages low for businesses. Yet, when we buy clothes, we are being asked to assume that the workers that created the clothes negotiated their wages in a free market.

There is another aspect I'd like to bring to the debate on free trade: the implied use of military force. The United States has been involved in one war after another for 214 years of its 239 years. To put this in perspective, 90% of the existence of the US has been supported by war.

The US has a current military budget of $600 billion, roughly 3 times greater than the next big spender, China and more than the next 7 countries combined, including China. The US has been the biggest spender on military force and preparedness for much of its modern life.

So when the US approaches another country for a trade agreement, is there a balance of power? Most definitely not. Consider the prospect of a third world country with a valuable resource like oil or uranium. Deal or no deal? No deal? Say hello to our jets, ships, tanks and boots. Deal? Please do your best to suppress wages so that our strong dollar can support your regime. Get the picture?

The current balance of power suggests that there is no way for any country to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement with the United States. There are several sticking points with the agreements currently in negotiations that put our negotiating power perspective. Pharmaceutical companies are seeking to leverage US military power to ensure that their patent monopolies are protected. Seed companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer are seeking to use American military force to protect their patent monopolies, by inserting provisions that allow GMO foods to be sold without labeling. Big Content, including companies like NBC/Universal, 20th Century Fox and Viacom, are seeking to protect their copyright monopolies through trade agreements by leveraging the implied use of military force.

Note the use of the language in the previous paragraph. In every example I included "military force". But when we read the news about free trade agreements, the use of force is never expressed or implied. Major media would prefer that most of us assume that the agreements were negotiated with a balance of power when they were not.

To be fair, the chances of war with any of the G20 countries is slim to remote. But the chance of indirect war say, with a third world trading partner of any of the G20 countries, is real. Everyone knows that the threat is real. Whether or not the threat can be carried out without worldwide political repercussions depends on who we're dealing with.

With such an overwhelming imbalance of power, it is impossible to say that any trade agreement with the United States was negotiated fairly and freely. Clearly, the US is relying more on military force than American innovation to compete with the world, and that is unsustainable.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

How Bernie might prove that the system is rigged

I want to share with you all a few memes that I found floating on the internet. First there is this one:

This meme reminded me of Elizabeth Warren, quoted as follows:
"Let's just be real clear - the game is rigged and it's rigged in favor of those who have money and who have power," Warren said in an interview on "CNN Tonight."
"Watch what happens in Wall Street. If you can hire an army of lobbyists and an army of lawyers then you get what you need out of Washington - Washington will make sure that the rules work for you," she said.
In response to Bernie Sanders, I see that the opposition is marshalling their forces. In the press, we see that none of his grand events are being televised live. The Washington Post has done some very interesting analysis of media coverage and found that Trump is surging because the media prefers to cover him:
Donald Trump’s surge to the front of the GOP presidential polls has occasioned not a little media attention and endless speculation as to why. You can disregard most of that speculation. The answer is simple: Trump is surging in the polls because the news media has consistently focused on him since he announced his candidacy on June 16.
There is a chart embedded in that article showing the share of attention given to Trump at the expense of the other candidates, including Bernie Sanders. This not a conspiracy theory in the context of media ownership. Remember, 6 parent companies own 90% of the major media. Captured in this meme is one result of that ownership:

I did a search to fact-check this one and didn't see that it was covered live, but saw that local affiliates for ABC and NBC did cover the story. From what I could find in my searching, I didn't see that it was covered live. To be fair, I'm not sure that anyone else is getting priority over other programming that generates revenue. You know, like CSI.

Then I see that the Democratic National Committee has abruptly changed their rules on debates. The DNC claims that:
While a six sanctioned debate schedule is consistent with the precedent set by the DNC during the 2004 and 2008 cycles, this year the DNC will further manage the process by implementing an exclusivity requirement. "Any candidate or debate sponsor wishing to participate in DNC debates, must agree to participate exclusively in the DNC-sanctioned process. Any violation would result in forfeiture of the ability to participate in the remainder of the debate process.
In previous years there were more than 20 debates on Democrat candidates and there is now a petition in circulation to get more debates on the schedule. Many are questioning the motives behind this schedule change and the timing is rather suspect.

All of this could probably be dismissed as just a coincidence. But I do find it interesting that even though Trump has admitted that he is willing to raise taxes on himself, that no other GOP candidates admit the same. Trump has also admitting giving more money to Democrats than to Republicans. He seems to have a rather murky history in terms of his sincerity to the GOP. Yet he's still getting the lion's share of press coverage of all the candidates for president.

And then there is the Super Delegate problem for Bernie. In the Democrat nomination process, there is a rather large fraction of delegates that can vote their conscience rather than vote for who is elected through the primary process. It's not the most democratic way to select the nominee, but I guess someone had to put the brakes on any populism that might happen to break out within the party.

Sanders is filling stadiums left and right. Often, he has to move to bigger venues due to their consistent underestimation of the crowds attending. He's not getting much major media press, but the Internet loves him. Sanders could be the first president elected without any major media attention leading up to the primaries and the convention, just with internet support.

But if he's not nominated, the system is going to get a lot more scrutiny, if not ring a few alarm bells.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: i-Rocks KR-6402 USB Keyboard

As a writer, I like to have a good keyboard. I look back on the many keyboards that I've had and have taken stock in the evolution of the keyboard. I learned to type on a typewriter and when I got my first computer, I began to make the transition from typing on paper to typing on screen. That transition didn't take very long.

In all the keyboards I've had in the past, the one that I used the most is this Dell keyboard. I enjoyed it because it's simple, minimalist and easy to type on. Have a look at the venerable SK-8115:

This keyboard has served me well many years on many Dell computers. I liked the compact form factor and elegant design. I was doing fine with that keyboard until someone turned me on to one of these:

Hands down, that keyboard from HP, the Elite v2 is by far the best keyboard I've ever had. My fingers just fly on it and I've enjoyed typing on them immensely. But there is a problem with them: they're wireless. I've gone through three of these in a few years. The successor, the K3500, is noisy, and probably has the same Bluetooth hardware. That hardware probably works great on Windows, but it doesn't last on Linux and I'm not sure why.

So I'd rather have a wired keyboard if wireless is going to be a problem. And away I went, looking at all kinds of keyboards to find something to replace my beloved Elite v2. Note that I still have one at work that works. But that computer is running on Windows and for obvious reasons, more effort goes into making these things work on Windows than on Linux.

After many hours of searching, I put together a short list. This keyboard wasn't on top of the shortlist and only beat out another from SIIG on price. But I like the nice aluminum finish, the short, short keystroke length, and the bounce back I get from the keys. Mind you, I've only had it for about 12 hours, but I believe that KR-6402 from i-Rocks is the next great thing, at least for me:

This new keyboard is raised a bit compared to the HP to make room for two USB ports on the side. Need to do some quick file transfers? The ports are right where you need them, one under the Escape key and the other under the email key (the top corners, left and right).

I can tell you now that aside from a slightly smaller footprint, this keyboard easily matches the response and feel from the HP Elite v2. Like anything new, it takes some getting used to, particularly the angle of the keyboard, a slight departure, but other than that, I'm happy with it so far.

This keyboard will remove any urge I have had in the past to plead with HP to make a wired version of their Elite v2. No longer will I tweet or email to HP to get the wired keyboard I wanted. I have it now.

Goodbye, HP. See you the next time I need another printer - that would be about 10 years from now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Shocker! Fiber to the home adds value to the home!

Community Broadband Networks is the first place I go for news about broadband. The reason is simple, community or municipal broadband networks are the wave of the future. I like to call it "muniband" for short, but I don't know if that will ever catch on.

Anywho, Community Broadband Networks has found yet another study that shows that fiber to the home adds value to the home. In aggregate, the study found that fiber to the home has added 1.1% to the GDP of the cities with fiber, with a total value of more than $1 billion. That number may seem small in a $16 trillion economy, but fiber to the home is still relatively rare compared to copper.

For people who see home value as an indicator of economic activity, this is welcome news. For cities looking to attract jobs and businesses, this is one more brick to put into your foundation to support your argument in favor of municipal broadband with fiber to the home.

Going toe to toe, municipal broadband is cheaper and more reliable than commercial broadband. Even if private providers like Comcast or Verizon run fiber, they are still going to be more expensive than a municipal broadband service for one simple reason: community interest.

Comcast and Verizon have both shown a lack of interest in the communities they serve. The city of New York is just now waking up to the fact that Verizon is not living up to their end of the bargain when they promised fiber buildouts in exchange for preferential treatment received from that fair city. Comcast is legendary for their customer service failures and selective buildouts (I know, I still don't have Comcast here).

On the other hand, community broadband serves the community by offering service to everyone in the community. The most famous example is the Electric Power Board in Chattanooga, TN where fiber is rolled out to every address and can serve everyone in that city with a gig for $70 a month. That's a gig up and down, while legacy incumbents almost always offer asymmetrical service where the download speed is far greater than the upload speed.

Comcast has announced plans to roll out gigabit service to all subscribers by 20126. But even that will still be on copper. That means they are still a legacy incumbent service provider, unwilling to make that shift to fiber. Fiber is far more reliable than copper and is essentially future proof. It just doesn't get any faster than light.

What is interesting to note here is how hard the incumbents have been fighting higher speeds and better prices for more than a decade. They didn't really start to budge until Google Fiber made national news, but now, legacy incumbent carriers are trying to buy time with announcements of higher speeds. It's a tactic used by Microsoft called "vaporware". Promises, promises.

Not only are legacy incumbent carriers reluctant to upgrade their networks, or build out beyond their most profitable service areas, they are fighting communities that want to build their own fiber networks. Incumbents are fighting to prevent communities from adding a fiber connection to their homes with community broadband, a connection that adds value to their homes.

When legacy incumbent carriers fight municipal broadband, they are fighting the people they serve. They are working hard to prevent local self-reliance, to stunt local economies and to retard the growth of fiber to the home which can increase home values. If you own a home and love your community but would like faster, more reliable internet access, you know what I'm talking about.

If you live in a community that has community broadband, and you're connected, thank your lucky stars. If you're not connected to community broadband and you're stuck with a legacy incumbent carrier for an "ISP", then you might consider agitating for community broadband in your town. That's what I'm doing and I won't stop until I get fiber to my home from Utopia, Utah's municipal broadband carrier.

When legacy incumbent carriers fight municipal broadband while refusing to expand or improve their service, they are violating the public trust. It is up to us to revoke that trust in the legacy incumbent carriers and restore it to a carrier that serves the community rather than belittles it.

By creating community broadband services in our cities and towns, we are creating an organization that serves the community. Community broadband services are not owned by an absentee corporation. They are owned by their respective communities and as a part of that community, share a common interest to serve and to prosper.

Monday, August 24, 2015

We learn by repetition, so let us learn together with compassion

I learn by repetition. I admit this freely to new acquaintances at work and in social situations. "By the way, I'm hard of hearing and I learn by repetition, so I hope you don't mind my asking your name again." Most people are very gracious when I tell them this and they don't mind when I ask their name again.

To me, the mere act of letting people know that I learn by repetition allows me the relaxation I need to learn their names. All I did was ask for help, and that in turn leads to relaxation for learning.

I bring this up because I have noticed that my children do the same things over and over again. The tread the same paths, they like to listen to the same songs, watch the same videos, say the same words or sequences of words, do the same tasks, etc, over and over again. They learn by repetition. They repeat what they do until they learn and/or become bored and find something else to do.

When I survey my own experience, I find that I get into a comfortable groove with habits and learn the processes or tasks of daily living by repetition. I make mistakes until I learn what works. I'm reminded of a friend who once told me this about standup comedy: We learn more when we bomb than when we get the laughs. I happen to agree.

So when I see people making a mistake, I let them learn from it. When ATT had all that trouble years ago with porting numbers from another carrier to their own service, I let them learn from it and remained their customer for many months afterwards. I apply this willingness to forgive to many vendors that I do business with. When they make a mistake in an ongoing business relationship, I let them learn from it. I don't terminate the business relationship for an infraction.

I do this with people, too. I've been quite forgiving of my friends throughout the years. This isn't to say that I've picked bad friends. This is to say that I want to treat people the way I want to be treated. I don't criticize my friends or loved ones for their mistakes. I give them the space to let them learn from it. I do this because I want the people most important to me to have the space they need to try again, to do better next time, to learn from their mistakes so that they learn what works. Most of all, I want those same people to give me the space I need to learn what works, too.

I turn now to love. I have a rather loose definition of love: Love is allowing others to grow to the greatest extent possible while doing no harm.

That seems so simple, but as so often in life, that simple principle is so hard to follow. We see someone do something we don't like and we feel uncomfortable with the feelings we have. So we try to change them, but that doesn't work because we can't change other people. I know, I've tried.

Now, as a father and a husband, I've had time to learn to live with others and learn to let the feelings pass - then I can take action if need be. Most of the time, I try to just let other people do what they need to do to learn. As long as they're not hurting someone else or themselves, I can just watch and ask if they need help.

There is a temptation among humans to distract ourselves or protect ourselves from our mistakes. Some people take up one form of addiction or another to lessen the pain of their mistakes. It's an easy trap to fall into because our culture encourages such activity so much.

The problem with trying to avoid the pain of our mistakes was revealed to me long ago by the following passage I once read, but cannot attribute: The lesson will be repeated until it is learned.

I found in life that I had a choice in response to mistakes. I could either avoid the situation where I noticed the mistake before or, take comfort in knowing that it's not the end of the world. I will more than likely get another chance to learn from my mistakes if I'm persistent and introspective enough to keep trying until I learn what works.

Live and let live. Let the feelings pass and then take action. Let my friends and loved ones make their mistakes and let them learn from them without criticism. They don't need any help from me to feel badly for their mistakes for, like me, they would do better if they could.

I live this way because I can't think of a better way to live.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Drug testing for government benefits in all the wrong places

Drug testing for welfare recipients has been a perennial charmer for conservatives in elective office. I've been hearing conservative demands for drug testing for the poor, poor beneficiaries of welfare for 3 decades now. In the last decade, they finally got their wish at the state level and it hasn't worked out quite like they planned.

USA Today ran an op-ed in 2012 on that very issue. Arizona tested more than 87,000 welfare recipients and found just one drug user, saving the state at least some money:
Arizona was the first state to impose a testing program. In 2009, it began testing new welfare recipients when there was a "reasonable cause" to suspect illicit drug use. So how many of the 87,000 people subjected to the program have tested positive since then?
Just one.
One? The program disburses more than $200 million in aid. How much was saved by drug testing? $560.

Florida went through a similar adventure until the federal courts stopped them. Florida also charged welfare recipients $30-40 for the test upfront, money that would be refunded if the test was passed. 2.7% failed the test.

There are more examples we could peruse, but that is not the point of this article. The point is this: at the bottom of the housing bubble collapse were the biggest banks in America, getting emergency assistance to "save the economy" - more like "please save my sorry ass from bankruptcy!" assistance.

The bailouts consisted of approximately $16 trillion in emergency assistance, some might call this "liquidity", so that the biggest banks in America would not have to declare bankruptcy. $16 trillion? Isn't that about the size of the entire American economy for a year, you know, GDP?

Bernie Sanders was one of the men and women in Congress seeking an audit of the Fed. The purpose was to find out who got all that assistance that was so badly needed. What did we learn from that audit? We learned that many of the biggest banks got huge bailouts, despite their mistakes. Yet, no one, as far as I know, was ever tested for drugs before getting the money.

A search for drug addiction on Wall Street can yield a plethora of results like this one from The Fix website:
While popular culture teems with images of the coke-snorting Wall Street hot shot, the reality these days is as grim as a Florida pill mill. Like millions in society’s addicted class, hedgies are hooked on prescription pain killers.
If drug use on Wall Street is so pervasive, why were there no drug tests of the beneficiaries of all that largesse in 2008? If there were drug testing for bailout bank executives, there would be howls of protests from conservatives pundits and legislators alike. But at least we'd know the state of mind of the people who were running the biggest banks when they failed.

Remember, these Wall Street guys are "running the economy". They manage trillions in other people's money and they share the revolving door from the street to the Fed and the Treasury.

Somehow, I think testing for drugs at the welfare office is the wrong place to start. I think we should start at the Fed's emergency loan programs and the Discount Window. Welfare recipients don't tank the economy. High finance executives do.