What to do about China?

The Presidents tariffs continue to be a source of frustration and confusion. Who pays them, where the money goes and if they are even likely to solve the problem Trump thinks they will.

Meanwhile the boycotts on Huawei grow, ultimately threatening to split the technology world in two, everything that works in China and its allies, and technology that works everywhere else.

The software bro’s seem to think that won’t happen, or if it does it’s no biggie, since all the software they use is US based. Apart from the arrogance, it’s also completely ignorant.

Not only do the non-US aligned tech countries have their own software and operating systems, and massive customer base, we can’t make hardware without them.

With the upcoming 2020 Presidential elections, I wonder how many of the candidates understand how this would work, and what global bifurcation of the technology world would mean for the US?

I got my first idea from the ever excellent, Colorado Matters daily radio broadcast with Ryan Warner. Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper had given a foreign policy speech in Chicago, and Warner got him on the phone to discuss what he’d said. I’ve extracted the last few words from Hickenlooper on China. It’s a 1:47 sound clip included below.

In the clip Hickenlooper says:

right now China is making massive investments in South America, Africa, and large parts of Asia, they are making loans for infrastructure and various ports, and if the loans don’t get repaid, the Chinese end up owning that shipping port or that railroad station.

Long term, twenty, forty years, that will put American businesses, and the jobs of our children and grandchildren at risk

This is a big part of the story, except, China has doing this that I’ve known about since 1995. Add to this their investments in futures contracts and rare minerals and you have the perfect storm. I posted a response to twitter on this back in September(below). The NY Times had a good write-up on the Chinese Belt and Road initiative. It shows the scale and scope of the Chinese project around the world, all industries. Meanwhile, the US President refuses to work with the Democrats on infrastructure.

While we might be able to build an iPhone for around $3,000 given US prices, we might even be able to manufacture the components, like cameras, GPS, accelerometers. We won’t be able to do any of that without the raw materials that goes into the components in phones, tablets, motherboards, computer, alexa smartspeakers, and pretty much everything else that drives(2) modern lives, including cars, scooters, trains and planes.

The shoe is off the foot, it’s just a question of when it drops. This was, frankly, bloody obvious. Because the Chinese Government doesn’t have to participate in the media circus western democracy has become, they don’t have to make promises they either don’t want to, or won’t keep, they’ve been able to focus on the long game(1).

I don’t know who will be next US President, but he or she has a big job on their hands, and it’s not a short term one.

  1. More generally, any strategy with a long-term goal of gaining the upper-hand. Often used to describe politicians trying to outwit opponents.
  2. Yes, pun intended.

UPDATE: 5-29: Minor edits.

White Lies – podcast to follow Serial?

I have listened to the first two episodes of the new “White Lies” podcast, and have no qualms about claiming it is the next big podcast for me.

The podcast covers the death of James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister living in Boston. Reeb heard of the call by Martin Luther King Jr. for clergy across the country to come to Selma, after the day, hundreds of African Americans had gathered in Selma to march to the state capital and demand the right to vote and been brutally pushed back from the  Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers .
That day, Reeb bought a plane ticket, read his daughters a bedtime story and his wife drove him to the airport. They would never see him alive again. The story of Reeb is what this podcast is about. More accurately it is about who killed him and the lies that sprung up to protect the people that did it.
The NPR White Lies website makes great use of modern browser technology to lay out what happened, the story so far has used the best journalism and storytelling that NPR has. Take a look at the website, here is to the rest of the podcast being as good as the first two episodes. And no, as of today, May 24th 2019, you can’t binge listen.

 

Rural Hospitals Redux

The Takeaway yesterday had a good segment on rural hospitals, basically continuing to “cry wolf” about their affordability.

One of the participants in the discussion is, Dr John Waits, who with his colleagues and staff at Centreville Clinic Staff, are doing their best to help their community afford their healthcare.

Dr Waits struggles valiantly in the discussion to avoid using the terms profit and subsidy. This is a mistake in my opinion, while you can talk about healthcare efficiencies, people need to hear that large hospital groups are for profit, yes even the not-for-profit ones. People need to understand that rural hospitals are not affordable without subsidy. Equally, urban communities need to understand that without rural communities, we have an entirely different set of problems.

Save Our Hospital
Photo (c) Daily Yonder

Subsidy isn’t a bad word, nor is tax that ultimately is used to pay for it. You can either levy tax at a state level or at the federal level, preferably on big hospital groups and medical providers revenue(not profit). You can then use that tax money to subsidise rural healthcare. Or you can use general federal taxation, and use the additional money to fund a medicaid hospitals in rural community cities.

Struggling along with no real honesty, and without confronting the elephant in the room, will just mean more rural hospitals closing, leading the to further decline of rural communities and the increased pressure on cities.

Read my earlier post “Can America Afford It’s Rural Communities?

Transit Indicators – BNSF, School Buses

When I look at the state of US transit, especially public transport, the two biggest indicators of the failure of US transit are BNSF and School buses.

Why BNSF?

The Burlington North Santa Fe Railway Corp. was the dominant rail company when I lived in Texas, and here in Colorado. Without a detail look into their tracks, trains, and business model, my summary is, they run massive trains, often over thousands of miles of single track lines. The tracks often run right through the middle of cities, the track commands significant space either side of the track.

This isn’t their state of the art crossing, but it’s pretty typical. This crossing was just north of the Dell campus in Round Rock Texas. The train crossing is average, appears to be pulling a lot of cars that contain, well, err,  cars! An epically long train, over 100 cars and 4 engines.

If, as in many towns, you want to add commuter rail, either alongside the existing line, or on the existing tracks, BNSF both take forever to evaluate the capacity; then charge absolute top-dollar for either access or for land acquisition. This report, on a commuter rail line that voted on in 2004, likely not finished until 2042. BNSF can’t even give an estimate as for the timeline.

While some people don’t mind the train horns being blasted 24hrs per day, many do. The old fashion crossings, seen in the video above, are universally disliked. They are not the optimal safety design, people do stupid things. Also, the train are required under federal legislation to use their horns. In Austin, it has been 10-years and there are still not quiet zones through the key residential areas or downtown. Up the road in Boulder, same story. Hugely expensive. long delays. Construction supposed to start this month, finally.

School Buses?

School Bus in rear view mirrorWe live 3-miles from our daughters elementary school, a mile of which is pretty much uphill. We also cross the BNSF railroad track, and a CO state highway to get there. One thing you notice, a lot, are the school buses. Almost every day around 7:45 a.m.  an RTD public transpory bus is in front of us. Occasionally, we sat are sat behind the bus, while we wait at the BNSF crossing.

I wondered, why don’t more kids take the public buses to school? The bus we sit sit behind, goes right past the middle school, so that will be an option, especially since we have a stop less than 150yds from the house. But why don’t more kids?

I don’t know if school buses/busing was chicken or egg, but I do know the few other countries depend on specialist school buses, like the US does. Of course, busing in the US has a tortuous past. When I was attending High School in the UK, we exclusively used public transport. My bus was the 322. At peak times it was a double decker bus, and for the rest of the day, a single level bus.

Each year, school buses provide an estimated 10 billion student trips in the United States. Every school day, 475,000 school buses transport 25 million children to and from schools and school-related activities.

Looking at the public bus routes through Louisville, while the buses travel through build up areas. With the middle school being the exception, it’s on Main St. the buses don’t go anywhere near elementary schools. Centaurus High School is well situated, and adjacent to a number of bus routes. Yet, students, by and large, take private school buses.

If we are to address climate change, we need to think about transit in a meaningful way, increased train service, electric where possible, and rethinking busing, converting it to public transport and electric vehicles is essential. Imagine if we could use public buses for the majority of those 10 billion student trips, what other transit options would open up?

 

 

Happy Birthday Philip Bailey!

“I’ll probably still be singing at 65” – Philip Bailey in 1988. Still rockin’ it at 68!

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By Kingkongphoto & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA – Phillip Bailey of earth wind and fire, CC BY-SA 2.0
Today, (May 8th) is Philip Baileys birthday. He has given us years of fantastic vocals both with Earth, Wind & Fire, on his solo albums, and with Phil Collins on Easy Lover. Philip was originally a Denver, CO native.

Listen to this 1988 clip of Philip saying in an interview, he loves singing, and will probably still be singing at age 65. Happy 68th birthday Philip!

Audio clip © Simon Witter, 1988.

Real Time Payments Network

Bank Note Money Usd Funds Bills Us-dollar DollarThe clearing house has released business principles that outline the operation of the real time payments (RTP) Network. A full set of guidelines is here.

These are important inasmuch as they set out key points, among them most importantly:

TCH runs the RTP network as a utility for the benefit of the industry and RTP fees shall continue to be flat for all participants regardless of size, and shall not include volume discounts or minimum volume requirements.

It does though, contains a super-clause, which is typical of the monopolistic “free market” here in America. In an effort to restrain competition, and limit the ability of smaller financial institutions, the clause reads:

These principles apply so long as the RTP network is the only provider of faster real-time clearing and interbank settlement.

So here we are again, with another great example of limited competition. Who would provide an alternative, well, as listed in a prior post, the big tech companies are not likely to sign-up and get locked into RTP charging. Also, the Federal Reserve is considering a Faster Payments Network.

Sigh, here we go again, more glacial progress and lack of choice. Don’t stop ordering checkbooks anytime soon.

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‘Facebook can’t be trusted’

New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner John Edwards (@jce_pc), was interviewed this morning on NPR by Rachel Martin. Edwards criticized Facebook after last month’s attacks on two mosques in Christchurch were live-streamed on Facebook.

It was a refreshing interview with a politician who doesn’t have all the answers, and knows it’s not his job to come up with them. He is also not beholden to big tech financing, as a New Zealand politician. Equally Edwards was clear where the blame and responsibility lay. The whole interview is well worth listening to, but Edwards rightly pointed out

we have a platform that has displayed shocking lack of responsibility and accountability for the tools that it has enabled

He [Zuckerberg] kinda conflated that [bad actors], with the live streaming of the atrocity in New Zealand, but that person didn’t go to any lengths, there were no systems. If you are going to offer a service that is capable of such deep and profound harm, then it is incumbent on you to ensure it is safe.

In the USA you have product liability, if a manufacturer makes something, a product, which causes harm, they are liable for that. It’s time we started to look to the social media companies for that.

… the lack of responsibility the company has taken. They should be acting now. If they can’t assure us that the streaming service is safe, then it should be taken down.

I was quite disappointed when I heard Mr Zuckerberg equate the atrocities in Christchurch with childrens birthday parties. He said if you put a delay in the system it might have prevented the uploading that video, but that would have broken the experience of people who use it for childrens parties.

I don’t understand the mathematics there, how many childrens parties, Mr Zuckerberg, equals one murder, one live streamed suicide, one sexual assault live streamed? It’s really incumbent on the platform to take responsibility to make the product safe. Until they ca, to take it down.

Bravo sir, bravo. In many aspects of life we have too easily succumbed to technology allowing us to do things which are not necessary, it’s there just because it can be. Facebook isn’t alone in this, and it’s time that we take a step back.

Remember when conference calls had live moderators? When you couldn’t speak until the lines were open? That wasn’t there just so the speaking presenter/executive could just say “next slide please”, it was there to stop unwanted and unruly interruptions. No one is saying one to one video communication should be outlawed, but live streaming needs to be moderated and regulated.

If the live streaming platforms won’t do that, can’t make it profitable, then so be it, ban it.

You can’t broadcast naked bums, boobs and dicks on American broadcast TV, at any time of the day. Yet, we allow facebook, youtube, twitter and other live streaming platforms to broadcast anything to anyone, anytime. This isn’t a free speech issue, I’d prefer grown-up movies to be broadcast unedited on TV, like streaming services. At least in the UK they have the 9pm ‘watershed‘.

It’s hard to see how anything will change here, until we have more politicians like Mr. Edwards.

Residential Parking Permit Programs

This is bound to come up here in #louisvilleCO sometime, given the city wants to expand downtown, and doesn’t have a parking solution. Back in my old town, Austin Texas, it’s still a thing. I read this excellent blog post by Meghan Skornia.

I’d like to have commented on her blog directly, sadly it requires a facebook ID, which regular readers will know, I don’t have anymore.

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I tried to reply via twitter but it was typo-ridden and out of sequence. So, here it is with corrections.

I lived on the 600-block of W Johanna St for 10-years. The block west of S 1St Street. Although I was asked twice, and S 2nd at the end of my block was RPP, We never had RPP while I lived there. I wouldn’t sign, and the guy next door was the manager of Polvos Restaurant and he wouldn’t sign for obvious reasons, so didn’t happen.

  1. If all houses on either, or both sides of a block have kerb cuts or alley access, that’s a disqualifying condition for RPP. You already have nearly 8ft of public road reserved by your kerb cut. It’s not the cities problem if you use your garage for storage or park a trailer or old klunker on your drive. Nor is it the cities problem if you have 3-cars in your house, park parallel to the kerb cut and work it out. You can’t have RPP if people block your drive. That’s already an offence, call the cops, get the cars towed.
  2. Minimum price for RPP is the cities price per Sq yard for road maintenance and rebuilding. One side is 1/3 of the total price of the block length, want 2-sides then that’s 2/3 of the total price of the block. If your block is 270ft long, minus 20ft at each end for turning, that’s 240ft by 29ft giving, 773.33 sq/yds. Typical paving cost, is circa $31.40 per sq/yd for residential streets. 773.33 x $31.40 = $24,178. Divide by 1/3, or 2/3 depending on what RPP you want. That’s the upfront cost, in this case for both sides circa $18,600. Obviously streets are assets, otherwise you wouldn’t want to reserve space on them. Now you have to maintain the asset on yearly book value. You’d need to estimate how many years the RPP would run for, 25-years would likely be a good road lifespan. You then pay into ROF (road owners fund) that the city maintains for you to rebuild the road. Annualized, maybe $5k per year?
  3. If 2. above seems too complicated, you have to pay the TXDOT Road User Costs Per Vehicle Hour, it’s currently $29.35 per hour. Want ten hours per day on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s $587 per week, but for that you get a side of a block rather than a single space.
  4. No kerb cut? No problem. Since you bought the house at market price knowing it had no off street parking you can have the frontage of your house reserved, put a kerb cut in and use your yard. Doesn’t work for you? Ruins the neighborhood character? Sorry, not sorry.
  5. You are not entitled to park on a city street just because you live there, anymore than everyone else. Unless you moved in 80 years ago, you only EXPECTED to be able to park there, there was no legal agreement. Times change, so does need. Move on, literally.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  6. There is a quid per quo. Especially in Austin where they still have parking minimums. A Business may not expand either the size of the building, or add outdoor seating, if afterwards the total space occupied doesn’t have the correct parking minimums. No wavers. No fees. This is a deliberate constraint on the business. It gives residents the ability to limit commercial expansion, in exchange for not having RPP. This is why Polvos never expanded between 2006 and 2016, everytime they tried, I stopped it. They wanted to add more and more outdoor seating, they didn’t have the parking minimum spaces. Don’t like it? Get rid of parking minimums. Enough said

Finally, Meghan, was a little disingenuous when she mocked residents about the trash issue. In my 10 years I had people walking across the front yard, stopping and urinating against the fence, including a woman hiking up her skirt and peeing standing up. I found condoms and tissues on my drive a few times, and once a syringe/needle. Really. I also had people park on my driveway while one ran out to get takeout. It’s more of a problem  than simply trash.

I was able to get a discount on my property taxes for all this commercial blight. Everyone else should do the same.

Paranoimia

No, this isn’t a political post, it’s a blatant attempt to launch myself into the ring tone provider market(not!)

As I continue to ramble, sometimes alphabetically, through my 2000+ vinyl album collection, this had been sitting staring at me.

MaxheadroomMpegMan[1]It cleaned up nicely, and after editing, the tonality seemed pretty good. I’ve done a few personal ringtones before, it’s not complicated. This begged for one and here it is, wrappered at both ends by the iconic triangle. At 23-seconds its a bit on the long side, but still in “fair use” scope.

AI straight at you from 1985.

What I want to know is why are the only funny lines on this show, are the ones behind me?

Here’s MAX!

Stock buybacks rule – Tax breaks enable

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Photo: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
As predicted, not by the tweeter in chief, but by almost anyone who understands big companies and executive, stock buybacks hit an all time high in 2018 and are likely to be higher again in 2019.

This is a big deal, companies that buyback their stock, are reducing the number of shares available on the market. That generally means the share price goes up. Share prices are often one of the main ways executives are measured, their bonuses are usually dependant on the share price. Also, because the price of each share goes up, it makes it harder for lower and middle class people to get in on the action.

buying your own shares is like eating your own young, a glorified share manipulation gamble

The other reason share buybacks are import to watch, is they effectively use the companies cash to “eat themselves”. That cash is then no longer available for Capital investment, new building, equipment and other necessary expansion expenditure. Citigroup reports that companies buying back their own stock, spent more money doing that, than at any time since 2008.

Home Depot announced a $15-billion buyback in February, as a way to artificially hedge their share price, after they announced they’d miss expectation on revenue. Cynical share price manipulation. I have no idea if they used repatriated tax money, but if they miss earnings again this year, the share price will drop. Of course the executives and board will be ok, they’ll have sold their shares at the newly inflated share price, which is down on it’s 2018 high(212.39), but not nearly as low as it would have been if they’d not bought their own shares.

Next time a big business closes an office near you, and jobs are lost, don’t take their reason at face value. When did they last do a stock buyback, and how much cash was repatriated under the Trump/GOP tax break for 2018?