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.

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?

‘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.

British Concentration Camps: A Response to Jacob Rees-Mogg | The Gladstone Diaries

On a BBC politics, current affairs program, Question time last week had another of it’s heavily #brexit based episodes. This one featured UK Government and Conservative prig, William Rees-Mogg. Mogg is infamous for his lowkey, I’m holier than thou, silver spoon accent. He makes statements with such supposed authority you’d be hard pressed to doubt there were 12 commandments.

This time in a pseudo-educated way, he prognosticated over William Churchill and took other members of the panel to task, “from the comfort of 2019”. “You’ve got to understand the history”. Turns out, as often, Moggs dictats were, as they frequently are, a mix of details and claims pulled literally out of thin air.

Actual historian, Robert Saunders, took Moggs claims to task.

First, some figures. From 1899 to 1902, roughly 48,000 people died in British concentration camps in South Africa. Of the 28,000 white deaths, 22,000 were children under the age of 16. More than 4,000 were women. The 20,000 Black deaths were less clearly recorded – a mark of official indifference – but most estimates suggest that about 80% were children.

Source: British Concentration Camps: A Response to Jacob Rees-Mogg | The Gladstone Diaries

The Boer War makes a useful addition to my 2016, Making Britain Great Again post.

The Opposite of Truth

If there is a betrayal of that trust [in public organizations], there is a crime. The opposite of truth is not just a lie, the opposite of truth is chaos.

The chaos that is in danger of bringing down the institutions we depend on, to deliver justice.

The final words of fictional character, Dr Nikki Alexander (Emilia Fox), in the finale of Season 22 of the BBC Series Silent Witness. Writers Virginia Gilbert and Michael Crompton have come up with one of those most memorable of TV moments. This is right up there with ACN ‘News Night’ anchor Will McAvoys speech of why America is not the greatest country in the world, written by Aaron Sorkin.

Trump, #BREXIT, et al. All seem to be creating chaos, by undermining the institutions, through the opposite of truth.

State of the Union: Whither Afghanistan?

Tonight the President will address the nation in his second state of the nation. It’s unclear if he’ll say anything about Afghanistan, he’d be wise not to. Equally, given the President is prone to tackling sacred cows, maybe he should.

President Trump sent more troops and in his words America would stay until the “war is won”.  While not as notorious as Vietnam, Afghanistan is Americas longest war, all Presidents from Roosevelt are complicit. America had been involved  in/with Afghanistan from 1946 until the late 1970’s, as the Americans left, the Soviets arrived.

We are now negotiating with the Taliban, essentially the same deal to end the American involvement in Afghanistan, that Donald Rumsfeld turned down in 2001. Since then there has been 17-years of bloody war, costing America more than a trillion dollars, and taken the lives of more than 4,000 Americans.

Afghanistan is a country that is at the center of the world, almost exactly 10,000 miles from either coast of America. Long before the War on Terror, long before the Russians invaded Afghanistan, the Americans were there. Buoyed by their success in WWII and in an effort to counter the Soviet Union threats of expansion, in 1946 American Engineers, their wives and families started to arrive in Helmand province in unprecedented numbers, they lived in a campus that became known as “Little America“.

M-K Completes Dam Projects in AfghanistanThey worked for the worlds biggest construction company at the time, Morrison Knutson. The King of Afghanistan had bought them in to replicate what had been done in Nevada, roads, dams, canals and even a new model city. The Kings plan had been to harness the power of the giant Helmand River and turn Afghanistan into a modern society like the west. Thats when everything started to go wrong.

In an era that is long forgotten and projects that were ultimately doomed to fail, it was the first, and possibly the best example of “too big to fail”. It did, we are still paying that price today, even before the Russians invaded, America had sunk $80-million into Afghanistan.

It’s the forever war, will President Trump actually succeed, no.

REFERENCE MATERIAL

The New York Times “The Daily” covered Afghanistan yesterday(Feb 4th), disappointingly they never included anything about the whole “Little America” project. It is still one of the best summaries of what happened since the Russians invaded.

BBC NEWS has a great infographic style documentary on Helmands Golden Age from 2014 by Monica Whitlock. It is a good read and contains many pictures from Morrison Knutson engineer Glenn Fosters films. It also includes many clips of his color films, sadly they are geo-locked and not available in the US. You can though find much of the same material on Youtube. As an accompanying piece, Monica Whitlock also recorded an episode of the BBC World Service “The Documentary Podcast“, also from 2014. In an episode called “Damming Afghanistan: Lost Stories from Helmand” you can download and hear it here.

NPR has a 2012 interview with author Rajiv Chandrasekaran about his then new book, Little America – The War Within the War for Afghanistan. Entitled “A Cautionary Tale About Transforming Afghanistan”, by Greg Myre, it is online here and can be downloaded here. It includes an amazing slideshow.

The US Agency for International Development, bureaus for Program and Policy Coordination, Bureau for the Near East, have a great detail report on Afghanistan, it can be read here, in its original 1983 form.

America and Syria – the backstory

President Trump has decided, unilaterally apparently, to pull all America troops out of Syria, both surprising his Chiefs of Staff and allies.

The American story with Syria is intertwined with almost everything the west has done in the Middle East since the end of the 2nd World War.  American was the prime enabler of the Assad family rise to to power, and as everything post war seemed to be, all about fighting the rise of Communism and installing “democracy”.

Syria gained its independence in 1946 and in 1948 engaged in the Arab-Israeli war. Later in 1949, the Americans were party, or if you believe many, responsible via the emergent CIA, for the coup d’état that replaced the Syrian democracy with Husni al-Za’im, who was executed later the same year.

The Syrian story since the 2nd World War is complicated, wars, Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah. Assad senior played key roles in much of the 1980’s terrorism, before the US and especially the UK decided that their actual target in the Middle East was Gaddafi, and that they needed Assad’s Syria as an ally their upcoming war.

So, you can be surprised by President Trump’s actions, you can blame it on his trying to appease Russian leader Putin, or you can just believe that this is yet another of President Trump’s rollbacks of President Obama’s actions. Whatever you do though, don’t think American involvement in Syria is just about the defeat of ISIS.

serveimageA great read is Wilfords 2013 America’s Great Game. You can purchase the book from Amazon, you can read a book review on the Boston Globe, or this review, “Playing Both Sides” on the New York Times. better still, you can watch/listen to Wilford, here on C-Span.

Look & See – Rural America

I’ve written a number of harsh posts about those living in rural America, mostly based off the perception that is pushed by the Republican party, that is, rural Americans don’t understand, and resent urban Americans. That rural Americans are the god-fearing, backbone of America and urban and city dwellers are welfare dependents, and worse still, socialists. Certainly, the Republican party continue to push this agenda today, dividing sub-urban and rural communities from the cities.

As shown here, rural Americans claiming benefits has sky rocketed between ’96 and 2015; increasingly, the programs getting cut, adversely hit rural America harder, as rural Americans are smaller in total number; medical coverage may not “be a right” according to the Republican party, it should be a “choice”, try maintaining a community without easy access to modern healthcare; schools are also a right, without them, not only are local taxes higher, more subsidy is needed to get kids to schools outside the city. School Choice won’t save rural schools without a massive rethink.

However, rural Americans, and farmers especially, deserve another perspective. They’ve largely been screwed by the “agricultural industrial machine”. Sure, many farmers have sold out and reaped substantial profits, more though are barely getting by. There is a lot to be said about a community completely upended over the last 30-years.

Laura Dunn, Two Birds Film (Austin TX) has produced a beautifully filmed, subtle, but brilliantly edited, and panoramic, poignant portrait of the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture, as seen through the eye of American novelist, poet, and activist, Wendell Berry.

Berry represents, if not the best known defender of rural, natural America, then certainly the most eloquent. His contributions to Lauras’ other major work, The Unforseen, were the first I’d heard of him. Certainly, this profile certainly made me think again. You can watch the trailer on youtube(below) or the complete film on Netflix.

Legislating hacking/data exposure responses

I don’t know enough about the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) but at least on basic reading it seems inadequate in meaningful individual action requirements and legislation that benefits the actual user/person whose information has been exposed.

I’ve been signed up for haveibeenpwned an excellent website by Troy Hunt. You enter your email, and it tells you what breaches your personal information has been found in.

I was going to say “if any”. But of course your data will be there, especially after breaches like the River City Media (RCM) “spammer gate” where 1.4 billion peoples’ email accounts, full names, IP addresses, and often physical address, were exposed. Suffice to say, my two primary email addresses have been exposed in more than 20-breaches.

haveibeenpwned was a great start. CapitalOne, at least among my financial providers, has stepped up the game significantly. Their creditwise arm has incorporated Credit & Identity Alerts in to the app and website. Numerous times recently I’ve received alerts, and while initially the alerts didn’t contain enough information to take action, the most recent alerts have had all the detail I needed.

Creditwise Email
Email alert from Creditwise

Creditwise Alert
via website or app

Among the websites my data has been exposed this year include:

  • linkedin.com
  • kickstarter.com
  • ticketfly.com
  • bitly.com
  • myspace.com
  • last.fm
  • zomato.com

Some of these websites did individually send emails disclosing the breach. Of these, only ticketfly had any form of financial data that might have been breached. I have all my emails from them going back to 2012. Not a single word about a data breach or other exposure of my personal data.

The same is true for more sites than not. No notification. When you login to the site to at the very least, change your password to a new unique one, they more often than not also give you no indication. For many of them it’s also nearly impossible to find out how to delete your account. In the case of ticketfly, I submitted a trouble ticket asking how to delete my account but retain tickets for future events, so far nothing but a generic ‘we’ll get back to you’ response.

It’s time for legislation about what websites/businesses are required to do when they find a data breach. They must be held accountable, and not just through financial penalties that mostly just go into government coffers.

I’d like to see at a minimum:

  1. Mandatory requirement to notify by email, and if the business has a real mail address, by mail.
  2. A default opt-out and deletion period. At discovery, if data breached includes significant personal and/or financial data, the account must be deactivated. After notification, if the business has not heard from the user whose data is breached within 14-days, and the account is not already deactivated, it should be deactivated.
  3. Recovery of a deactivated account should NOT depend on any data exposed in the breach.
  4. When the user whose data is breached logs-in to their account following notification or during account recovery, they must be presented with clear information on what data was exposed. Two, they must be given a simple option at this point to permanently delete their account.
  5. If the user opts to delete their account, any consequences of the deletion must be made obvious at that time. For example, in the case of ticketfly, where I’ve already paid for tickets to future events, those tickets must still be available to me, even after my account is deleted.

In the era of “big data” and “everything online” the only way these businesses/websites will really put privacy and security first is not fines. It’s the actual loss of the customer/user and their data. These companies are often over valued, and paying government fines is just moving magic money from one bucket to another. It has a short term impact on their profitability, their quarterly results, not much else.

Privacy: Europe vs the USA

On a day when the likelihood is you’ve been bombarded with GDPR emails from companies you’ve done business with, or just whose websites you’ve registered with, there is no better comparison of the difference between how the European Commision and the USA are dealing with our privacy.

While the new General Data Protection Regulation comes into force tomorrow (May 25th), which isn’t as many think, a reaction to the Facebook privacy scandal, the regulation which took seven years of negotiation, and will force changes in a braod range of industries, including, but not limited to technology, advertising, medicine and banking.

Here in America, we learned this month that a company called LocationSmart is buying the real time cell phone location data obtained from the country’s largest cell giants, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint.

We only learned, because Securus, a prison technology company, who use the data from LocationSmart, had their website tested by a researcher who was able to access the cell phone location of anyone, without consent. Apparently, while the explicit selling of cell phone location data to the Government is banned/illegal, selling it otherwise is not. We don’t even know who they are selling it to, or what it is used for.

Big business is just about making a buck. In the same way as Facebook mostly didn’t care who got your data, and what they did with it, provided facebook got their money, that made it OK. The same has been true for decades for the cable and telephone, cell phone companies.