Categories
meantime

2020 Policy Preferences

As the 2020 Democratic Primary rolls on, I thought it might be useful to provide some policy preferences. But first, I don’t think policy is key to this election. As we know what problems there are, highlighting them and the need to address them seems more important. There isn’t any candidate who I think sits where I do on policy, so my preferences for candidates have leaned much more on how comfortable I am with that person in the White House—how well I think they can do the job.

Let’s start with healthcare. I do see both sides of this issue, but the primary problem I have with healthcare is that it is too expensive. So the headline for policy on healthcare is making it cheaper. That means looking at reverse auction systems and drug patent pools. Different payment models, basically. (The reverse auction system would say “A patient needs knee surgery. These are the six providers in a 100 mile radius, and we’ll take the cheapest bid accounting for quality measures.” Pharmacy patent pools would time-limit the lifetime of a patent based on how much was charged and what other drugs and patents are held by a company, to reduce price hikes.)

While moving to single payer is a good step, supplementing it with private insurance shouldn’t be off the table. Some people want their insurance to cover the sniffles, so those folks should be able to buy a sniffles policy if they want. But we should banish the days where people can pay a monthly premium that does not offer any real coverage, unlike what Trump has done by reopening the door to scam insurance.

On climate, put some kind of price pressure on carbon. Adjust as necessary. That’s the big ticket there. Other aspects of environment have their own policies, but the biggest and best thing we can do at the earliest possible time is to have carbon pollution reflect the costs it will burden us with down the road.

On higher education, policy is to reduce the cost of tuition. If demand-driven reforms were capable of doing that, the costs wouldn’t keep going up. So talking about paying for everyone to go to college misses the point. Same for housing. Subsidizing people buying at ever-inflated prices is the wrong move. Same for transportation. People need to learn, sleep, and move. Those should be made cheaper to allow for spending on other things to help grow the economy.

For basic education, we can do testing in smarter ways. Using computers, kids can take short tests on relevant lessons they should be learning, with real-time feedback. If you wait until the end of the year to find out a school isn’t teaching or a kid is having trouble learning, you’re waiting too long.

There may be some middle-ground here, where college students can get a reduction on tuition for tutoring grade-school kids a certain number of hours per semester, but I digress.

What else? Taxes. Taxes should be handled in a more automatic fashion. Raise them until the deficit drops. Lower them if there’s a recession. It shouldn’t be controversial, though the Republicans have made taxes a cornerstone of their otherwise-lack-of-a-platform.


On foreign policy, there’s an interesting dynamic where candidates get asked about things like leaving Afghanistan, but not on the general shape of foreign policy compared to Donald John Trump. It’s assumed by the press that nobody is stupid enough to adopt the president’s broken half-assed policies (I think that assumption is basically correct), and so the only policy concerns end up being very limited and politically hazardous areas that have nothing to do with the broken state of policy under this president.

Categories
entertainment

Random Thoughts on VR and Game Streaming

With some new modes of gaming, it’s useful to write down some thoughts.

VR

The main hurdle to adoption is the need to purchase hardware. In general I don’t buy much hardware for specific uses, and VR is therefore a harder sale as it isn’t a general tool for computing.

It’s possible VR does become more generally useful, in terms of non-gaming content coming out, but even then it’s not like having a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, it seems. The best case is that the HMDs can become thinner in their built-in technologies, relying more on their host system for any computational needs. In that, their costs can drop to where they are mostly the cost of the built-in displays.

The immersion of VR is very important and a useful artistic tool. There are other aspects of VR gaming that are very attractive, including having two hands where every traditional first-person game only lets you have one hand. The trailer for HL: Alyx shows at least one event where they intentionally occupy one hand to remove that advantage, which is a good indication that the creators think that feeling of limitation is an interesting interaction—that the player in VR, used to having two hands, will find only having one available is challenging and heightens the excitement of the combat there.

I will probably get into VR gaming in a few years, when the hardware is further developed and hopefully more stable.

Streaming

There are a lot of upsides and downsides to the streaming games platforms like Google Stadia. One upside is that it makes cheating much harder to do without full-on machine learning. Another is the lack of install and update needs.

But there are obvious downsides, including the sensitivity to latency and the general reliance on the network to game at all.

Another big problem is the inability to modify gameplay. Mods for computer games have always been part of their charm and appeal. Many of the games I have played over the years began as modifications of other games. It is unclear how or if a streaming platform would allow for players to create and install modifications beyond a very superficial set of cosmetics.

I doubt I would play streaming games any time soon. The variety of games already available and the lack of any big draw to streaming makes it well outside of my personal appeal in gaming. But for the larger gaming market, particularly casual gamers, the choices and tradeoffs do show some appeal. That’s especially true for introducing gaming to players who might later decide to buy hardware for gaming or other purposes.

Indeed, the lack of ability to modify console games never deterred those players (though there have been some ways at times to modify even console games, for those who wanted to).


Hope all have had a happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Categories
society

2020 Democratic Debate 5.0

Another month, another debate. This debate shifted the cast only barely, with Julián Castro missing the cut.

There were a couple of strong moments in the debate:

  • Harris’ defense of the Democratic party against Gabbard’s attack
  • Booker’s closing
  • Booker’s defense of cannabis legalization
  • Sanders’ call for the free world to be sick enough of the suffering from bilateral conflicts like Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s or Israel’s and Palestine’s to finally combine pressure and partnership to get them to the bargaining tables

As Iowa and New Hampshire draw nearer, the media is placing more emphasis on the polling for those contests. Buttigieg’s ability to climb in the polls is notable, if only for what such movement says about organization and taking advantage of an opening. On the other hand, mounting a successful push in early states is both easier and more difficult than in later contests as they come more frequently and as the overall race starts to take shape.

The difficulty comes from the broad spread and high number of candidates. The softer side is that there is a clearer target constituency and relative stability before any votes have been cast. You have several strategies, especially with the relatively minor shifts in the early race. The theory is that folks, including President Obama, have been weighing in for moderation, the media pushes that narrative. There are even a couple of new moderate hats looking to be tossed into the ring. The voters who are receptive are either already for Biden or not. Those who aren’t simply look for the second-running moderate and find Buttigieg’s name. There you go.

On the other hand, some in the media calling Buttigieg the winner of this debate gave me some pause. He did well enough, though the back-and-forth at the end between him and Gabbard over working on security assistance with Mexico was mostly useless, as was his quip that all the experience of all the other candidates hasn’t amounted to squat. I’ll be the first to admit that the state of the nation needs improving, but let’s not pretend we’re starting from a Hobbesian state of nature here and acknowledge the efforts of those other candidates, for Pete’s sake.

But Buttigieg certainly didn’t lose the debate, had no other major mistakes (he didn’t, for example, reply to any of his opponents with an “OK Boomer” and a dab), and so maybe do-no-real-harm given his trajectory constitutes a win? Dunno.

Sanders seemed the most comfortable. While he didn’t have a stand-out performance, I think he’s found his groove. Maybe we should all eat more salad. I’ll be watching December’s debate to see if he can use that poise to make a move.

But it may also have indicated that he felt like coasting a bit, which may be true for Warren, too. Both are in relatively strong positions, and given this is the fifth debate, most candidates should be getting comfortable with the format enough to choose clearer strategies based on their overall positions.


The thing that stands out the most in these debates is the manner the candidates approach most of their answers. The places I give high marks to all involved candidates giving their theories of problems, rather than solutions. Yang is among those who has done this more frequently, but I’ll use the cannabis example from Booker.

And let me tell you, because marijuana in our country is already legal for privileged people.

The reason I find it useful is that one assumes Booker will look at other issues through that same kind of theory. He’ll say: “Okay, the policy is harmful. There are people being harmed, while other people go on their merry ways. Let’s end that policy.”

It shows a thought process, not just a regurgitated policy preference. And that’s what I think people running should be about. Experience can tell us a lot, but it’s not the whole story. Bad leaders can still fail their ways to good records. Good leaders can win their way to bad records. A lot of experience is the hand they were dealt at the time. But the process, that speaks to the future. We don’t know what our next president will face, but we do know that even if they have the perfect set of policies, if they don’t have a good process, we’re worse off.

Process alone isn’t enough; you want to see some public experience, as it shows commitment and a familiarity with the counter-processes they will encounter in office. But you want to see the process. You want to know they have that grasp on systems, on cutting through the noise of systems to find what matters and what should change.

Categories
society

Why Back-Channel Diplomacy Does Harm.

President Donald John Trump has apparently used back-channel diplomacy on multiple occasions and not just in the case of Ukraine for which he will likely be impeached. Setting aside the issues of impeachment for the moment, the question arises why back-channel, off-book things like those perpetrated by Rudy Giuliani are so dangerous.

The watch-word here is surprise. The official channels are at risk of being blindsided by facts they aren’t prepared for. They may find out that promises were made that either cannot be kept, or that required more care to complete than is possible in the needed time frame. Members of Congress are at risk of supporting bills that are at cross purposes to those of what is the de facto policy being pursued by the administration. Businesses and individuals that trust the policy of the country and invest in foreign markets may find their positions eroded by sudden shifts they couldn’t predict.

But the easiest mistake to make with the most dangerous game that Donald John Trump has played is outright warfare erupting (or existing conflicts made worse) due to miscommunication. An ally expecting a promise to be kept and finding it unkept (this actually happened, for those keeping score), or an adversary expecting a concession that does not come, and suddenly a countermove is interpretted to be unprovoked aggression and the result is destabilization. There is nothing more foolish than a simpleton like Donald John Trump thinking it’s okay to muck about with the well-defined and necessary diplomatic processes.

War is bad enough when necessary, but when you botch your way into one, that’s a stupid and wasteful thing.

Okay, but war is not the most likely scenario. Loss of international respect and trust is much more common. That is likely both for the United States, and also between other nations uninvolved, because there’s a kind of tragedy of the commons nature of trust between nation states. If a big, proud nation like the USA is seen as lacking in trust, other countries tend to trust each other less as well.

There are also major security risks in employing folks to handle policy that are not versed in security and are not following protocols designed to limit security risks. Breaches can make matters all the worse by allowing adversaries to outmaneuver efforts or sow dissent among allies who are hearing different policies roll out simultaneously.


The Republicans should put themselves in Ukraine’s shoes and ask, if Donald John Trump had promised to fill their campaign coffers, and he called them and said, “I’d like you to do me a favor, though,” requesting some fraudulent press statement as a condition of releasing their campaign funds, would they not think it bribery? They would. But they already go along with that, because that’s the situation Republicans are in: the favor is normalizing and covering up for Donald John Trump’s many misdemeanors (and spending money at Trump Organization properties), and the payoff is their reelection prospects (particularly in primaries) are bolstered by his lack of opposition if not his support. They have had their own quid pro quo with Trump this whole time.

And the American people, if their boss at work said, “I have a bonus for you. I’d like you to do me a favor, though.” If their boss asked them to fabricate some paperwork for a bonus? Same thing. Cut the crap, Republicans. What Donald John Trump did is wrong, and the law requires acknowledging that. Who we are as Americans requires us to see it for what it was.

Categories
biz

What Does Wall Street Fear in Warren?

The word is that Wall Street doesn’t want to buy what Elizabeth Warren is selling. There are doommongers claiming large drops in stock prices, corporate earnings, plus wealth fleeing the country, should the Massachusetts senator be elected president.

The problem is simple enough. They fear broad changes to our system. They fear tax hikes (including a likely-unworkable wealth tax) and regulations. They don’t want those things for themselves, and they see them as harmful to the economy and to America.

They don’t have, apparently, anything to say about the problems of this country as they exist today (nor those on the horizon). It is only the future problems that Warren might cause, assuming a zombified Congress that passes everything she campaigns on, that have their starched collars falling limp with sweat.

What gives?

It’s a pattern they should be familiar with, after all. A firm grows plump and lazy, lets its problems build up, and then someone like Warren comes in and chops it up and sells off the parts. Wall Street is the fattened Thanksgiving turkey, ripe for a Warren slaughter, no?

Once again we visit two favorite issues: healthcare and climate.

On healthcare, Medicare-for-All is attractive to some because it provides not just coverage, but security in coverage. People are tired of worrying what the next premium hike will be, whether the Republicans will repeal their care altogether, whether the drug that is keeping them alive will see its price spike, or whether it will disappear entirely when it’s no longer profitable to keep them alive.

Warren backs Medicare-for-All for the security it establishes in a vital sector of our economy, precisely because there has been no security offered by the commercial interests. The invisible hand hasn’t healed itself of the basic problems of scarcity in the face of necessity. If it could, maybe Wall Street could avoid a big structural change. But they haven’t made any calls-to-action on that front.

The market signal is as loud as the church bells of old, calling all to attention. Yet it is only used to signal how dysfunctional the system has become. It doesn’t seek to improve the systems, only to exploit them. Go figure that a lot of people see that and wonder what’s the point of having a big, fancy society if it fails on basic tasks. And that’s not even getting into the national security implications of an inadequate healthcare system.

On climate, we face similar challenges and, like healthcare, climate seeps into the whole economy because every good or service needs energy and that means it needs to be included in ensuring we aren’t setting up our future to be throttled by nature’s own big structural change. Yet the Wall Street crowd is drooling over buying into an IPO of Saudi Arabia’s oil. They obviously don’t get it. Again, no calls-to-action, no lobbying for an across-the-board regulation, like a carbon tax, so that no one sector is singled out. Just a wait-and-see, let’s-not-get-ahead-of-ourselves, maybe-we-can-make-a-lot-of-money-off-of-our-childrens’-miseries approach. Good-luck-with-that.

When a firm is failing to keep itself up, the private equity firms step in. They are the slaughterhouses of commerce, experts at identifying the prime cuts, slicing them off, selling them, and then leaving the carcass behind. And any state-of-nature ecosystem needs predation to cull the weaklings and keep the herd strong. But right now Wall Street is looking like that weakling that is holding back growth, slowing things up, blocking migration to greener fields. If they have the ability to change their ways, so be it. If not, they have to expect nature to take its course.


On the political side of things, Warren is locked-in on Medicare-for-All. Which is what it is. Campaigns need bright-line ideas to appeal to voters, but there are a lot of opportunities outside of that plan to improve healthcare and the larger society at the same time. In all cases, they prospect better economic outcomes and larger GDP as a result (which is one of the many reasons one must question the capacity of Wall Street in these matters).

Once the party nominee is chosen, though, whether Warren or someone else, their healthcare plan will be compared to Donald John Trump’s… his, uhm… What I’m apparently reading is that the president’s campaign doesn’t actually have any plan at all for healthcare (or any other major issue). He’s not fit to govern, and Wall Street should literally be begging (they might have to take a few classes to get down the basics) for a coherent leader like Warren, even if they disagree, because they can work on compatible solutions with her, where with Trump, you can’t compromise with chaos.

For clarity, those who are proposing things that approach the scale of the problem are those pushing for things like Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal. Those aren’t the best solutions, but they at least get the magnitude right. Those who are proposing less-than-correct options are those pushing for public options or electric vehicle credits. Those who aren’t proposing anything: the GOP and Wall Street.

Other big-idea ideas (or parts thereof) do suck. Take the free-college stuff. They don’t propose building more colleges, which is a big flashing-red light. Increasing demand without increasing supply is bonkers. Wealth taxes miss the mark, not because of their inherent problems (though they do suffer from those), but because they are much easier to enact through alternative means such as luxury taxes, VATs, and real estate taxes (particularly alternative-use taxes that recognize, e.g., a big estate in a place that could use low-income housing is an inherent inefficiency that should be taxed as such). But those are a stories for another time.