On Taxes, Republicans Bet Against America

The Republican tax plans come together with a theme, which is a unifying feature that is found throughout. In this case, that theme is that America is a loser.

We see it in their continued indifference to maintaining a modern healthcare system with universal coverage. They plan to repeal the individual mandate without replacing it. They bet that either:

  • The mandate is ineffective, in which case the deficit rises by hundreds of billions more.
  • The mandate is effective, in which case millions will be without coverage.

In either case, healthcare costs will continue to worsen due to this bet, and there will be no benefit to the country.

We see it in their treatment of deductions and carve-outs. They leave subsidies for oil and gas and coal. They remove others, like deductions for medical care, school supplies. They bet that teachers and the infirm will suck it up. That teachers are not the backbone of the nation. That sick lives don’t matter.

They bet on debt, claiming that the cuts will result in unprecedented growth. They bet that all of the cuts in spending that will be required under paygo will either not occur, or won’t result in reduced economic activity. They bet on increased investment by businesses that themselves say they won’t increase investment very much.

And then they bet that the overall economy is not due for another recession. A recession that would be more harmed by the lack of opportunity to cut taxes further among other anti-recession treatments that would be needed.

In short, the Republican tax plans continue their march against knowledge, defying physics and reason. They even bet against their own reelection, as when the mess of this risky nonsense unfolds, there’s no way that folks are going to send a majority of the designers of misery back to DC.

The kicker to all of this is that all these cuts will be reversed in the aftermath.

Everybody expected the Republicans to cut taxes as part of tax reform. Nobody expected them to be fully-responsible stewards of our government, as we all know that’s not who they are. But once again they show themselves to be far worse than our expectations, as they did with healthcare.

Instead of pushing for a conservative bill, they push for a monstrosity. Instead of doing away with almost all subsidies, deductions, and credits, which would be the conservative move, they have chosen to write bills that are extremely lopsided.

We need real conservatives that actually hold to their notions, to balance with the progressive impulses of their counterparts, but we get faux conservatives that care not for governing responsibly. They will raise the deficit and debt. They will not create balanced legislation. They are snot-nosed brats that should be sent to time-out come 2018, come 2020, and until they are willing to govern with the integrity the legislature demands.

Federal Reporting Should Be Automatic

With the recent gun massacre in a church, it came to light the attacker should have been barred from purchasing firearms on the open market due to a prior conviction. And now Congress may amend the law to try to strengthen mandatory reporting. But that’s the wrong move here. Why leave open the option for someone to neglect to do the mandatory when they could require that the system be automatic?

For this and many other data issues, we still rely on some human to either file a piece of paperwork or otherwise ensure that the relevant notifications are made. That’s wrong. The existence of computerized records means that such notifications and updates should be completely automated. This includes the elimination of the need to acquire certified copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates, along with other routine and necessary data sharing. There should be a widespread effort to let computers do what they’re good at so that humans don’t have to.

With automatic reporting, mistakes will still be made by humans. There needs to be an auditing process and a corrections process. But even there, once corrected, the updates should be automatic.

We can move toward blockchain-backed systems that allow for improved recognition of where errors have occurred and been corrected. But it’s high time that we remove error-prone mandates that pass without action.

A Spam Filter for America?

How unusable would your email be if you didn’t have a spam filter? Would you even bother with email? Like spam, Russian attacks don’t have to be that successful if they are high-volume. Facebook estimated that Russia’s attacks reached over 100 million accounts. That would mean a lot of money if it were spam instead of influence campaigns.

The main impediment to spam filtration on these platforms is the control held by the operators, especially in the context of mobile apps, which are not readily extended or modified by third-parties to filter out nefarious posts. You cannot directly insert a Bayesian filter into the Facebook app, for example, even while you could probably whip something up in a webextension for the Facebook desktop website.

Another issue is that Russian attacks are not the only notable sources of spam in the American media diet. Television and radio platforms are not amenable to spam filtering, and overall the prospects for cutting down on those sources of spam are slim. You have something we haven’t seen with email: an entire class of media consumer dedicated to eating spam.

One important part of the spam filter model is that it is voluntary and transparent. You can always look at the crud filling up your spam folder. You can shape the filter to include items of annoyance or exclude items that you wish. It’s a tool to be used to improve your life and save you the aggravation of unwanted email.

Browser vendors and the W3C should work on implementing changes to the web that make filtration of unwanted content easier. This may include the introduction of an ad HTML element, with the design including a way to easily remove or block it from view. Vendors should block-by-default ads from sites that continue to display ads through other HTML elements. The ad element should include properties that make it easier to identify who paid for the ad, whether it tracked the user, and any keywords associated with the advertising that might become associated with the user.

Overall, it’s time for the online ad industry to step up its game in policing itself, or like many industries before it, it will face regulation that it does not like.

But while we’re at it, maybe we need to install a spam filter on the doors of the capital. A lot of lobbying goes on, and currently our nation is being sold a lot of boner pills and bad advice.

Review of Pyro Changes in Team Fortress 2: Jungle Inferno

Ten years on, Team Fortress 2 continues to receive new content. The latest is a new campaign and new weapons for the Pyro. This review assumes you are familiar with the game.

Here be not Flyros

Prior to the update, but after the announcement of the new weapons, there was widespread memery about the Flyro, which was a flying Pyro that was speculated to be utter havoc. The reality of the Thermal Thruster isn’t quite what was pondered. It grants some mobility, to be sure, but the delay in switching off to a flamethrower is such that the threat is mostly limited to Pyro being in places that one does not normally expect.

This is still a solid addition to the Pyro toolbelt, even if it denies the prospect of airborne combustion-based death-swarms. You can get places you couldn’t, and that plays into the flanking-style of Pyro. You give up a secondary weapon, though, which is quite painful as the Pyro already lacks range of attack.

They have awoken a sleeping dragon

The Dragon’s Fury feels like a combination of short-range rocket launcher and flamethrower. It packs a punch, is difficult to reflect, and can even light up other Pyros. But it is still range limited, which means Pyro still relies a lot more on position than some other classes.

One of the keys to this weapon seems to be its overwhelming force. It feels like classes that were used to taking Pyro down have at least a touch of fear to them now.

Upload them to the cloud

The Gas Passer has downsides. You don’t start with it, it has a slow recharge, and while you can recharge it through damage, it feels weird to give a player no secondary to start. But it is also versatile. It is a weak smoke grenade, it is a team-support weapon, making enemies easier to kill, and (people seem to forget) it’s a finisher. You can hit afterburning players with the gas, and the afterburn damage will itself light them up some more.

Of these three, it’s my least liked because of the downside of not starting with it. That feels like a cop-out. Other than the Soldier horns, this is the only item you don’t get an immediate benefit for running (and even there, the Concheror gives healing). It feels like it should at least have a passive effect or something else to make up for the delay in use.

That melee weapon

The melee category is all over the place, with some items giving great help and others just leaving you scratching your head. Most melee weapons are situational to begin with. So the Hot Hand isn’t really a big departure or disappointment. The main difficulty I found is that the speed burst is very short-lived, making it difficult to capitalize on. By the time you realize you landed a hit and got a speed boost, it’s already wasted.

Pyro is improved, both with these weapons and the other changes to flamethrowers. The sticking point for my own play remains sentry guns, and Pyro remains unchanged on that front. You can try to move around them, possibly with the Thermal Thruster, or you can search for a spot to flame them from cover, but you don’t have the sentry-busting capacity of Demoman or Soldier, and so ultimately you have to change classes to deal with sentries.

My choice for how to balance Pyro vs. Sentries would be to reduce the sentry’s range against Pyro. Lore-wise, the argument that the flame-retardant suit makes Pyro harder to track is plausible, and the change can be made in a way that Pyro has an easier time moving past sentries while not making them much easier to destroy.

The Snappings-back to Come

There comes a time when things get stretched out. And then there is the snapping-back. Expansion and contraction. Not just financial, but ethical, procedural, and on other axes, too.

At some point, the US Congress will find itself overwhelmed with investigating the present and will busy itself enacting new restraints. At some point, online advertising will be regulated, not just against a malignant Russian Federation’s meddling, but against the ordinary scams we see advertised every day on sites big and small.

The bailouts of polluters will come to an end. The protections of financial companies, drug companies, and other overlarge snowflakes, long seen by some as too fragile to have real regulation, will terminate.

We see it now with the public recognition of Harvey Weinstein for the depraved exemplar of power run amok he is. We see shadows of other exemplars coming into focus, yet to be queued for their runs through the wringer. These things take time.

But there are axiomatic protections we should seek out as a society. Diversity is among these, not just of race or sex, but of background and of philosophy. Of saying, even if single-payer might be best, we can still walk calmly into that future rather than leap into what might end up badly. If tax cuts are so wonderful, we can cut taxes a point at a time and see the results unfold.

Why tear the Brexit bandaid off, risking reopening the wound it covers? Why not soak it, loosen the adhesive and then pull it off a bit at a time? The same goes for the Kurds in Iraq, the Catalans, and so on. Rome was not in one day built, and yet so many want to see every imagined panacea poured down the throat of the world at once.

In Colorado and the rest, they have legalized marijuana. The successes there seem destined to spread a new march against a failed war on drugs. And the less slack we leave, the more gradual the expansion, the less severe the contraction when we go too far.

We should reject all the Republicans who want to full-throttle their policies. But we ought also reject the Democrats equally on that measure. If the ideas be good, a pinch should convince before we go for the pound. Any politician that says otherwise is looking to rip us off. And they’re doing it, folks. We should unseat them.