Tag Archives: Technology

Jigsaw puzzle

Google’s Prebunking: Eyes that never close

Google has come up with a potent antidote to conspiracy theories, misinformation, and misleading statements. Yes, even more potent than ubiquitous algorithms unleashed upon poor souls who do not understand the need to conform and stay in one’s place.

The new fakery fighters are short videos, akin to public service ads, intended to inoculate (Google’s word) Internet users against various forms or fakery. These videos, now being tested in Eastern Europe, were developed by Jigsaw, a unit within Google that “explores threats to open societies, and builds technology that inspires scalable solutions.” Jigsaw calls the inoculation approach by the clever name of “prebunking.” Debunking occurs after a particular claim is made. Prebunking works to counter any and all falsehoods continuously.

Now, the videos are actually very useful at teaching basic critical thinking. They illustrate methods commonly used by fakes, like emotional language, scapegoating, and false dichotomies. Jigsaw’s objectives as delineated in its website have value: counter disinformation, toxicity, censorship, and violent extremism. No one wants to fall victim of a targeted well-organized disinformation campaign, or experience incivility in a toxic environment, or heavens forbid be prevented from expressing one’s ideas.

So enter prebunking. What could go wrong?

* It is difficult to imagine the existence of an untargeted ad. Should Facebook, for example, purchase a set of prebunking videos, one would imagine such videos might be placed in the vicinity of a targeted post. This would be a distraction from the information on the post. Google uses a similar approach with its Redirect Method.

Redirect Method placed ads next to search results for terms indicating interest in potentially harmful content, including queries related to joining extremist groups.

* The sample prebunking videos available on the Internet provide general information and look harmless per se. But some sneak in quick unobtrusive preaching. The friendly voice explaining “ad hominem” says sometimes attacking individuals as well as their claims is OK, such as in the case of cigarette manufacturers that claimed their product was safe. One would wonder what other preaching will show up in future examples.

* Although facilitating change to make the world better is a commendable endeavor, some pronouncements can be unnerving, like the title of Jigsaw’s “Issues” page: “Creating future‑defining technology.”

Technology has become our source of knowledge, avenue for social interaction, livelihood for work-from-home bread winners, and prolific provider of convenience gadgets. Whatever future technology decides to create, we will all be in it. We might only see what technology wants us to see – the rest will be relegated to the dustbin of misinformation.

* Clever workers and entrepreneurs that create remarkable systems are not the only source of technology’s power. There is also power that comes from corporatism. Corporatism is perhaps the most worrisome characteristic of gatekeeping tools like prebunking. Here is why.

Corporatism is today’s popular public-private partnership. Large corporations, non-profits, and government agencies mention their public-private partnerships with pride. Corporatism is called “stakeholder capitalism” in polite society; however, critics like Vivek Ramaswamy, author of Woke Inc., argue that corporatism, social capitalism, and stakeholder capitalism are all one and the same. Regardless of wording, it is a collectivist political and economic ideology intended to benefit government and corporations through shared power.

Teddy Roosevelt when campaigning for President in August 1912 spoke in general and hyperbolic terms about public-private alliances. When in office, he did not just talk about the subject, he did break up the big cartels of his day. His words:

Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day. Theodore Roosevelt, His Life and Times, Library of Congress

Not all corporations are corrupt. But partners in the unholy alliance share not only power but also agenda, making them a questionable choice for gatekeepers of the public knowledge.

* Monopolies in advertising media, principally enabled by corporatism and armed with tools like “fact checking” and prebunking, can easily cripple any endeavor. Here is an example:

Hillsdale College, a private liberal arts college in Michigan founded in 1844, posted an ad on Facebook promoting its lecture series The Great Reset. Guest speakers in the series explain the origin and objectives of The Great Reset. They describe The Great Reset as an incubator of corporatism that encourages adoption of controlling tools like universal electronic payment systems (cashless societies) and elimination of private property (you will own nothing).

Facebook labeled the post “False Information.”

It should come to anyone’s mind that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents the U.S. government from censoring Hillsdale’s ad. But it does not prevent a private entity like Facebook from doing so, limiting the ability of Hillsdale to share inconvenient opinions about The Great Reset.

Cute prebunking videos targeting any ad would have been equally effective.

Although the purpose of Jigsaw is not directly to shut people up, it would not be unreasonable to surmise that anyone who does not follow whatever prescribed agenda Google/Jigsaw need to follow would be served with a cute audience-distracting video.

Alexander Hamilton on computer chip

CBDC: Where Angels Should Fear to Tread

CBDC stands for Central Bank Digital Currency, and President Joe Biden, along with other heads of state are on a roll to get CBDC implemented.

“My Administration places the highest urgency on research and development efforts into the potential design and deployment options of a United States CBDC.” Executive Order, March 9, 2022.

The Fed’s White Paper

The Federal Reserve had already been tasked with preliminary exploration, and on January 20, 2022, the Fed released Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation, a surprisingly balanced white paper.

The paper mainly lists the forms CBDC could take, and the benefits and risks of implementation. That is all the paper could do, since the key issue – the form CBDC could take – is at this time undetermined.

However, Money and Payments is clear on the following points,

* CBDC is a liability of the U.S. government, just like paper money. The general public and private institutions such as banks carry no liability. The white paper does not discuss that a U.S. government liability is a public liability – when government functions sour, Joe Q. Public pays the price in taxes or soup lines.

* CBDC can be designed to achieve various levels of privacy, stability, surveillance, crime fighting, inclusion, risk, transparency, permanency, cross-border availability. The white paper does not discuss the likely levels of each. Numerous articles found on the Internet simply assume the shapes CBDC will take without any basis for such assumptions.

In other words, CBDC is not like Bitcoin or Stablecoin or any other form of private digital currency in existence today. CBDC is government issued, and government controlled to stay in concert with government objectives.

Today, several countries have launched pilot CBDC programs, and 9 countries – 8 in the Caribbean plus Nigeria – have fully functioning CBDC.

Rushing to where angels should fear to tread

It is not just Internet pundits imagining what CBDC would look like.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are collaborating on Project Hamilton to explore CBDC design.

Some members of Congress have introduced legislation on CBDC. Not the kind of authorizing legislation that Chairman Powell would like to have, but what could be called preemptive legislation. Examples:

On January 12, Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN) introduced a bill prohibiting the Federal Reserve from issuing a central bank digital currency directly to individuals.

On March 30, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced a bill, companion to Rep. Emmer’s, in the U.S. Senate. The Federal Reserve is already prohibited by Constitution and statute from issuing money directly to the public; which might be the reason Senator Cruz emphasizes his concern for individual privacy and his desire to keep the market competitive

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the Senate Commerce Committee, today introduced legislation to prohibit the Federal Reserve from issuing a central bank digital currency (CBDC) directly to individuals. Sen. Cruz’s bill was cosponsored by Sens. Braun (R-IN) and Grassley (R-IA).

Specifically, the legislation prohibits the Federal Reserve from developing a direct-to-consumer CBDC which could be used as a financial surveillance tool by the federal government, similar to what is currently happening in China. The bill aims to maintain the dollar’s dominance without competing with the private sector.

On March 28, Representative Stephen Lynch (D-M), with co-sponsors Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Alma Adams (D-NC), introduced a bill calling for an “ECash” prototype that would be distributed directly to the public by the U.S. Treasury.

The Fed treads more lightly

The Fed Board of Governors so far has stuck to what it was mandated to do: produce a preliminary study.

On several occasions Fed Chairman Jerome Powell indicated that he will not proceed with CBDC on his own. He wants specific authority from Congress in the form of legislation, concurrence from the Administration, and acceptance from the general public.

When issuing those statements, Powell might be referring to the fact that the U.S. Constitution clearly says that the power “to coin money, regulate the value thereof…” belongs to Congress. Also, although the Federal Reserve is tasked with ensuring the efficiency and safety of payment systems, it does not have the power to unilaterally implement a totally new payment system or engage in transactions with the public directly.

Powell also might be noting that implementation of CBDC could, as the white paper states, “fundamentally change the structure of the U.S. financial system, altering the roles and responsibilities of the private sector and the central bank.” Not something the Federal Reserve should undertake without support from the public and their representatives in Congress.

What is Biden proposing exactly?

We don’t know what Biden is proposing, and at this point neither does he. U.S. CBDC could be designed in many forms and to accomplish many diverse objectives.

The Money and Payments white paper comment section illustrates how widely interpreted is CBDC. Comments vary from viewing CBCD as a pig in a poke, a solution looking for a problem, another step in the evolution of the current U.S. payment system, a great opportunity for inclusion, and so on.

Informed consent from Congress in the form of adopted legislation (if that ever happens) with the approval of the President will provide cover for Chairman Powell.

But can do little to ensure,

  • Individual privacy
  • Economic good health
  • Sustainable national debt
children tearing up covid masks

Two Generation C Embraced by the Establishment

The term Generation C is popping up in the press, “C” standing for corona virus or COVID-19. But the “C” in Generation C has another definition, connectedness or connected consumer. The latter definition predates the former by more than a decade.

Generation C: The corona virus generation

The corona virus generation describes those born between 2016 and 2030. Children born in 2016 would be four years old when the pandemic surfaced, and the country started to shut down. Those born during the pandemic would be 10 years old in 2030.

The response to COVID-19, especially in progressive states, produced one of the greatest economic and social upheavals in the nation’s recent history. Children’s education, friendships, routines, and even livelihoods suffered great disruptions. Children were forced to wear masks, stay away from their grandmas, and admonished not to hug their friends.

Such events can instill anxieties and fears in developing minds that go on to define a generation. Children of the Great Depression became The Silent Generation — cautious, thrifty, and loyal. Young minds that experienced the tragedy of 9/11 while in school or college grew into Millennial adulthood in the shadow of the Patriot Act — they are comfortable with government mandates and restrictions.

It is of course too early to say what the characteristics of the corona virus generation will be. We can only point out that masks and social distancing might prove to be Generation COVID’s Patriot Act.

Generation C: The consumer generation

Way back in 2010, Strategy& published The rise of Generation C: Implications for the world of 2020. Here Generation C refers to the “connected” generation, young people that “live online.” These “digital natives” have vast networks of connections and contacts that rank as pure gold in strategies of communications and technology companies.

In the face of declining revenues from traditional services, the challenge for the communication and technology industries will be to abandon successful but outlived business models and refocus on what it takes to thrive in the Generation C environment. This shouldn’t be taken as bad news, however; the rise of ubiquitous broadband, and of newly connected populations from emerging economies, will enable operators to capitalize on a vast new array of services. The Rise of Generation C, Strategy&, March 26, 2010.

The Strategy& analysis labels Generation C as those born after 1990. However, others have postulated that although most members of Generation C do fall into the Millennial category, they comprise a group that is more psychographic than demographic, with a mindset that spans generations. Google has studied this group and says,

Most recently, we conducted a global study on Gen C with Ipsos MediaCT and TNS2 and for the first time we’re now able to see the behaviors that make Gen C such a potent force. From electronics to travel, clothes to cosmetics, live events to fitness, Gen C buy products and services with far greater regularity than do their non-Gen C counterparts; they’re up to 3.6x more likely to purchase. And two thirds of Gen C around the world say that, “If there is a brand I love, I tend to tell everyone about it.The Power of Gen C: Connecting with Your Best Customers, Google Marketing Strategies, January 2014.

Thus, this Generation C is the holy grail, pursued at every click of their smart device. Their reward is a vast array of apps that gives them instant gratification and endless connectivity.

Same difference

These two generations are different in age and general attributes. But they share an inclination anathema to The Silent and Boomer generations – trust in the establishment.

Silents and Boomers are skeptical. Millennials are trusting, as evidenced by their willingness to share limitless amounts of information. They are happy to live in the fishbowl of connectivity and be plugged into the smart grids of smart cities.

Although it is too early to define the corona virus generation, it might be safe to assume they too will trust. Their developing minds are saturated with mandates that are willingly obeyed: wear masks, stay 6 feet apart, stay home from work or school, vaccinate, and do not say anything counter to CDC guidelines on social media.

Is the trend becoming apparent?

As major difficulties occur – the Great Depression, 9/11, COVID-19 – mandates and obedience to them are normalized. Such mandates are not limited to government edicts. They can be pressures to conform applied by those that benefit from specific behaviors. The populace is promised safety, convenience or peer acceptance, in exchange for trust in the establishment. A drift towards increasing levels of dependence on the establishment becomes inevitable, obliterating individual freedoms.

If wariness of democracy and free speech does not represent a political position, what does it represent? What unites so many young Americans in these attitudes? I propose that the answer is fear — the ultimate enemy of freedom … When people are afraid, they cling to the certainty of the world they know and avoid taking physical, emotional and intellectual risks. In short, fear causes people to privilege psychological security over liberty. Why Are Millennials Wary of Freedom? New York Times Opinion, October 14, 2017.

[Featured Image of school children tearing up a giant mask: Picture by Trent Nelson, in Salt Lake Tribune of April 24, 2021, article 3 Utah school districts now allow students to skip masks, based on their parents’ judgment]

IBM PC 5150

Bill Gates, DOS and OS/2: A Windows Tale that Won’t Die

Bill Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is nowadays often in the news advocating for world health. But before Bill Gates the philanthropist, there was Bill Gates of DOS, OS/2, IBM, and Windows. For those not entirely familiar with the “old” Bill Gates, here is often-told, but forever fresh story.

First, how big is Windows?

Windows has been top dog in the operating system market since 1992. The tablet market is dominated by IOS and Android, but Windows has 80% of the U.S. desktop and laptop markets. Server versions of Windows run bank ATMs and other infrastructure.

How did Windows get so big?

The short answer is Windows enjoys a monopoly. A better insight lies in a story of Bill Gates and IBM that has as many versions as there are people who tell it. Here is one very compressed version of that story.

DOS and IBM’s PC 5150

Around the late 1970s, IBM, mainly a maker of mainframe computers, decided enter the emerging personal computer market where Apple, Atari, Commodore, and Tandy were already making strides. IBM had to develop a machine that could compete – compact and economical. And IBM had to move fast before any of the other companies dominated the market.

The vast mainframe-dominated bureaucracy of IBM needed to innovate. Instead of building all components of the personal computer in-house, IBM procured outside products. IBM aimed for an open architecture to enable manufacturers to supply peripherals. Instead of developing an in-house operating system, IBM partnered with Bill Gates’ Microsoft.

Microsoft outfitted IBM’s new machine with MS-DOS, a non-graphical command line operating system Microsoft purchased and patched up to make it compatible. The language was Microsoft BASIC, a Microsoft-developed dialect of the original BASIC.

The IBM 5150 was introduced August 1981, and was wildly successful. In 1983, instead of “Man of the Year,” Time Magazine featured the 5150 as “Machine of the Year.”

But there were a couple of problems: Cheaper clones soon surfaced, and Microsoft was more than happy to outfit them with MS-DOS. Remember, MS-DOS belonged to Gates, not to IBM.

OS/2 Is Born

So, IBM decided to develop a more sophisticated operating system that would avoid the problems encountered with DOS. Surprisingly, IBM again recruited Bill Gates to help.

The IBM/Gates alliance produced OS/2, introduced in 1987. It was a protected-mode operating system that allowed for virtual memory, extended memory, and multitasking. The original OS/2 was text mode, but OS/2 1.1 introduced graphics.

Unfortunately, OS/2 had its own problems. OS/2 looked too much like MS-DOS to the average user, did not have adequate user support from IBM, and did not find itself bundled in popular hardware of the day. Also OS/2 was big and clunky. We are talking about 20 – 25 3.5” installation disks depending on the version.

It did not help that Bill Gates introduced Windows 2, full of graphics and other bells and whistles, also in 1987 in direct competition with IBM. Again in 1992, when IBM unveiled OS/2 2.0, Microsoft introduced Windows 3.1. PC manufacturers were encouraged to bundle Windows and other Microsoft products in every PC they sold.

IBM did a lot better with the server versions of OS/2, which was considered a very stable operating system. For nearly 20 years, OS/2 ran bank ATMs and other infrastructure (famously, the New York City subway). IBM discontinued support of OS/2 in 2006, as Windows made inroads in the infrastructure market, partly by effective and aggressive marketing.

This is not to say OS/2 is dead. IBM licensed OS/2 to Serenity Systems as eComStation, and later to Arca Noae as ArcaOS in 2017. Arca Noae is still around upgrading and supporting OS/2.

In case you are wondering what the text-mode DOS looked like

Chances are, if you use a desktop or a laptop, you probably have Windows. You probably have a home screen full of colorful icons ready to instantly take you to the files you need.

DOS was not like that. If you are curious as to how deeply different this pre-Windows program was, you can get a general idea by clicking RUN or SEARCH and typing cmd. RUN will take you to system32/cmd.exe, and SEARCH to a Command Prompt screen where you can then click the cmd icon.

Some programs never die

Maybe “pre-Windows” is not entirely accurate, actually. When Bill Gates first designed Windows, DOS was the foundation. Windows ran on top of DOS until the 1993 introduction of Windows NT (originally standing for New Technology). Windows ME (Millennial Edition) was the last DOS-based system.

But DOS, as well as OS/2, will probably live forever in Geek Lore. Ask any computer enthusiast if he/she has or knows someone who has a full set of DOS and/or OS/2 disks, and the answer will probably be yes. Here is a picture of my OS/2 2.1.1 disks, along with installation instructions and product brochure.

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Article’s Featured Image: Ad for the IBM 5150 from The PC:  Personal Computing Comes of Age, a section of the IBM website.

The Great Reset: Elites Caring About Us?

During the week of January 25, the World Economic Forum will meet digitally for “high-level ‘Davos Dialogues’ where key global leaders will share their views on the state of the world in 2021.”

The WEF’s annual January in-person conference in Davos, Switzerland, has been postponed until May 2021.

Background

The Word Economic Forum, a non-profit foundation established in 1971 in Geneva, Switzerland, considers itself “the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.” Its mission is to engage “the foremost political, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.” It says its aim is to be impartial, global, holistic and forward looking.

WEF holds annual meetings in Davos, Switzerland. Although their Open Forum is free and “anybody can attend” (if you queue up early, since space is limited), free main events are by invitation only. Uninvited members of WEF can attend for a fee (around 480,000 Pounds Sterling or around 650,000 U.S. Dollars). Around 3,000 people typically attend, usually about 1/3 from business and the rest from government and quasi-government.

The Great Reset

WEF’s agenda for 2021will continue to be “The Great Reset”. The January 2020 meeting rebranded this long-time push for controlled globalization as response to Covid-19. The fine points of this agenda are expected in 2021. But the general platform seems to be set.

Build Back Better: Highlight of The Great Reset

“Build Back Better” is the core principle for those who believe capitalism is not working, so every aspect of our society needs to be re-shaped. Among the most ambitious plans are the following:

* Corporations must give up shareholder (owner) focus and adopt stakeholder (society as a whole) focus. The public sector must support this new focus.

* Harm to the global environment dominated the latest Global Risk Report. Therefore, both private and public sectors must take action to mitigate climate change and other environmental threats.

* New education models must equip children with skills demanded by globalization and rapid advances in technology.

* Building Back Better must include a wide-range of investments by the public sector – government spending in improved greener infrastructures as well as in human capital.

* Both private and public sectors must adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution can be described as the advent of “cyber-physical systems” involving entirely new capabilities for people and machines … Examples include genome editing, new forms of machine intelligence, breakthrough materials and approaches to governance that rely on cryptographic methods such as the blockchain.

The Great Opportunity

Proponents of The Great Reset view Covid-19 as “a great opportunity” to implement controlled globalization guided by moral governance. Note, “governance” is the term used, not government. By way of reminder, government implies leaders elected by their constituents; while “governance” implies rules implemented by the non-elected.

Precedents

Jekyll Island and the Federal Reserve: In November of 1910 leaders of the financial world met in secret at Jekyll Island, off the coast of Georgia. The crisis that prompted the meeting was not a virus but persistent foolish investments that resulted in bank runs and general financial instability. The response was the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank, an independent institution that operates outside the control of Congress or any other elected body. Indeed the Fed provided reasonable financial stability, but unfortunately brought about undesirable results as well.

The fact that the Federal Reserve was born on Jekyll Island backed by the cream of the banking elite, it enables a debt-based economy, and it finances wars is freely acknowledged even by the Federal Reserve. End the Fed, April 25, 2018, Just Vote No

Bretton Woods and the short-lived gold-backed dollar: In 1944, the cream of the crop in the financial world met again, this time in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The crisis turned into opportunity was the need to plan for the reconstruction of war-torn Europe and Japan. The response was the establishment of the International Monetary Fund, the establishment of the Bank for Reconstruction and Development (now called the World Global Bank), and the creation of a totally new monetary system. The new system made the U.S. Dollar a global currency pegged to gold reserves, and all other currencies pegged to the dollar. The strong dollar allowed Europe and Japan to revive their manufacturing base by selling their goods to the U.S. Unfortunately, discipline required to maintain the dollar pegged to gold evaporated by 1971, opening the floodgates of government spending and unsustainable debt.

Now the “Public-Private” Elite Meets Again

Again people important enough to be invited to the table will meet at Davos. This time the meetings are not secret — as in Jekyll Island — or as narrowly focused — as in Bretton Woods.

This time, participants aim to shape all sectors of the global society: Manufacturing, Consumption, Digital Economy, Energy, Financial and Monetary Systems, Global Public Goods, Health and Healthcare, Investing, Media, Mobility, Technology Governance, Trade and Global Economic Interdependence, The Internet of Things, New Economy and Society.

We The Little People

Those of us nowhere near important to be invited to Davos or well off enough to pay around $600,000 to attend need to remain vigilant. When our elected officials start talking about “building back better” and reshaping institutions, we need to sift through the rhetoric and find out what it is we will eventually be voting for and how much will need to be taken out of our wallets.

COBOL: Ancient But Still Issuing Your Unemployment Checks

IBM 360

In spite being 60 years old, the COBOL programming language underpins finance and administrative systems used by businesses and government agencies. COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) has done its job just fine since it was first used in 1960, so efforts to replace it with modern languages like Python or Java have been half hearted.

Problem is COBOL-experienced programmers are now largely retired, and few younger software engineers are interested in learning COBOL or offered COBOL courses in college.

This situation presents a problem for states trying to deal with the sudden massive surge in unemployment claims due to the coronavirus lockdown and the increase in unemployment amounts mandated by the CARES Act.  Systems based on COBOL don’t have enough people to service them.

This Bloomberg article describes the immediate problem well.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed aging, inflexible computer systems at the heart of the U.S. economy — and a shortage of experts to fix the problem. This is slowing the government’s effort to get billions of dollars in stimulus checks to millions of newly unemployed citizens.

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in late March includes a $600 weekly increase in unemployment benefits. That money won’t reach anyone until state agencies update technology systems to reflect the law and handle the flood of new applications.

But the COBOL problem has been waiting for a solution for while. Newer languages could step up to the plate and replace COBOL entirely, but nobody seems to want to undertake the risks or the substantial costs of switching.

So, COBOL remains. Businesses and government scramble for patches when a Y2K or a COVID-19 incident occurs.

Pictured above:  the IBM System/360 Model 50.  In late 1962, IBM announced that COBOL would be their primary development language.  COBOL is machine independent, so mainframe manufacturers readily adopted the language.

Bill Gates in 2015: “We Are Not Prepared”

Bill Gates TED Talk

Five years ago Microsoft founder Bill Gates hoped that the Ebola epidemic of 2013 would be the wake-up call that triggered mobilization towards preparedness. In his April 2015 TED Talk Gates said,

If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.

Such prediction becomes credible when we compare efforts at preparing for war vs. efforts at preparing to fighting epidemics.

… we’ve invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents. But we’ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.

Preparedness for war entails reserves that can be called into action, mobile units that can be deployed where conflicts arise, and on-going assessments of logistics. Such preparedness does not exist in public health systems.

An effective public health system needs not only trained and flexible boots on the ground, but also coordinated scientific and technological support, as Bill Gates suggested.

But in fact, we can build a really good response system. We have the benefits of all the science and technology that we talk about here. We’ve got cell phones to get information from the public and get information out to them. We have satellite maps where we can see where people are and where they’re moving. We have advances in biology that should dramatically change the turnaround time to look at a pathogen and be able to make drugs and vaccines that fit for that pathogen. So we can have tools, but those tools need to be put into an overall global health system.

In his 2015 talk Bill Gates was speaking from the world’s experience with the Ebola epidemic that started in 2013. Ebola was contained by 2016. Except for isolated cases elsewhere, the Ebola epidemic mostly affected populations in West Africa.

Even more difficult to contain without effective public health systems in place are pandemics, which unlike epidemics spread rapidly globally. Epidemiologists estimated deaths from two recent pandemics: the 1968 Hong Kong Flu caused one million deaths worldwide and 100,000 in the U.S., and the 2009 Swine Flu 575,400 deaths worldwide and 12,469 in the U.S.

Today we are suffering through COVID-19, not a strain of influenza, but a coronavirus in the same family as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, first emerged in 2002, deaths worldwide 813, fatality rate 9.5%), and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, first emerged in 2012, deaths 858, fatality rate 34%).

Preparedness for COVID-19 is minimal in most countries. In the U.S. there is scarcity of tests and protective gear, insufficient hospital beds, inadequate logistics for keeping grocery shelves stocked, no plan to quickly move school aged children from crowded brick and mortar facilities to small groups or on-line instruction. We are left with lockdowns that will result in massive economic and social disruptions.

Effective public health structures that defend populations against disease cost money. However, such public structures are not built by government throwing money at schemes like Medicare for everyone or universal health care. They are built by intelligent research and development, flexible logistics for people and equipment, absence of excessive red tape, and ample market competition that brings costs down.

Also, the costs of effective health structures must be compared to economic upheavals incurred by lockdowns and absences from work as we are seeing with COVID-19.  As Bill Gates said,

I don’t have an exact budget for what this would cost, but I’m quite sure it’s very modest compared to the potential harm.

Today we are seeing the harm brought about by unpreparedness.   Hopefully after COVID-19 is past, we will see determination towards preparedness.

Big Tech as Ideological Enforcer

Big Digital, also known as Big Tech, has joined Big Oil, Big Tobacco, and Big Pharma in the pantheon of industries capable of exercising vast control over the lives of average people.

However, at present, Big Digital enjoys greater potential for control than do the other biggies. Big Digital, via the growing Internet of Things, is literally everywhere. One can do without a private automobile, refuse to smoke, or try alternative remedies when unwell. But living without some government entity or business requiring on-line interaction for some needed service is becoming increasingly difficult.

Baby monitor over child's cribActually, most consumers welcome the Internet of Things. Many cannot imagine living without a baby monitor over their child’s crib or going anywhere without their GPS navigation device. Many welcome the concept of smart cities, where everything and everybody is connected.  Cell phones are always at the ready to post one’s dining experience or one’s successful business endeavor.

Big Digital and Corporate Socialism

The assumption that Internet usage is universal combined with consumers’ love affair with digital gadgets translates into fertile ground for control. As in the case of imaginary worlds such as predicted in 1984 or of real worlds such as the former Soviet Union, the objective of control is ideological enforcement that benefits ruling entities.

Michael Rectenwald, retired New York University liberal studies professor and author, recently published The Google Archipelago, in which he discusses “corporate socialism.” One’s first intuition might be to reject such expression. Isn’t Google a big capitalist corporation, and doesn’t socialism hate capitalism? Not so, says professor Rectenwald.

An article in The Epoch Times, The Endgame of Big Tech Is Corporate Socialism, explains Michael Rectenwald’s view of corporate socialism, and how closely the objectives of monopolies align with the objectives of socialism.

Rectenwald acknowledges that Big Digital leaders genuinely believe in leftist politics. He points out, however, that many aspects of leftism align with practical corporate interests too, at least for companies with monopolistic ambitions.  The Endgame of Big Tech.

Three good examples of alignment:

* Open borders = free flow of labor
* Identity politics = market niches
* globalization = only one set of rules applied to corporations

Hardly a Free Marketplace of Ideas

If we accept the premise that Big Digital benefits from and thus espouses global socialism, then we need to also accept that Big Digital cannot be the free marketplace of ideas it purports to be. It needs to be a place where control maintains dogma. A free marketplace is where all goods, services and ideas are civilly exchanged without fear of banishment. Is that what today’s on-line or social-media experience offers?

Joseph Stalin made the landed Kulaks and other dissidents disappear. Although not by means as drastic as those of Stalin, one can also easily disappear at the hands of Big Digital by simply using the “wrong” pronoun.

A Just Vote No Blog Postscript

It is the prerogative of private companies to run their business as they wish within the legal framework in which they operate.  If a private company wishes to espouse the religious principles of its owner, fine.  If a company wishes to adopt progressive views, fine too.  The challenge for average consumers is the growing power of government-encouraged monopolies to control thought and action.

In the case of Big Tech, as controlling monopolistic growth becomes harder to camouflage, a new strategy is emerging, one that embraces control as beneficial to consumers.  This will be the subject of another Just Vote No Blog post.  Stay tuned.

 

 

American Worker

In most American cities, the once prosperous middle class has been decimated. In major cities like San Francisco and New York, where living costs are high and lower-wage service jobs dominate a large portion of the economy, the rich thrive and the working poor live off government programs. The middle class is too poor to afford the living costs and too rich to qualify for government subsidies.

The Fixes

The easy fix to the problem of the disappearing middle class is to subsidize people who are above the poverty line. The very hard fix is to increase the availability of higher-paying trade jobs, reform the current misguided education system so it produces workers that are able to fill those jobs, and re-think collective bargaining as we know it today.

Most major cities employ the easy fix, while the federal government is attempting to implement a version of the hard fix. This version, however, relies heavily on mercantilism, focusing on tariffs and other methods of discouraging U.S. imports. Worker skills and challenges posed by today’s globalization-influenced and automation-prone economy are not being addressed as forcefully as trade.

An American Factory

American Factory is a Netflix film by Higher Ground Productions, a partnership between former President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle Obama and Netflix. The 2019 original documentary describes the early days in 2016 of an automotive glass production facility owned by the Chinese company Fuyao Glass located on the site of a shuttered GM plant in Moraine, Ohio.  Film directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert filmed the company’s workers and managers for three years, and released American Factory in August 2019.

Residents of Moraine were jubilant at again having jobs available and a thriving town. But reality soon set in. The company brought in Chinese personnel to train and work along-side the local recruits. Pay stayed lower than at the GM former plant. Tasks often proved dangerous.

Union agitation soon followed, in spite of company warnings from the start that this was to be a non-union shop. A 2017 attempt to unionize failed. Several workers were fired.
Whether the company’s talk of automation was prompted by the unionization attempt or was in the plan all along is difficult to say.

The Changing Workplace

The American middle class, once the backbone of the U.S. economy, boasted strongly-unionized assembly workers. American families drove Ford, GM, Chrysler, and AMC automobiles as they enjoyed rising post-WWII prosperity.

But this period was an anomaly, even if wishful thinking sought to enshrine it as an indication of intrinsic American superiority: by the ’70s and ’80s, what was true all along finally became practicable. Markets opened, information began flowing, capital aggregated, and most of all people in other parts of the world proved that they were willing and able to do the work that Americans firmly believed only we could do.  The Obama Film American Factory Backfires, aier.org, August 26, 2019.

By the 1980s The European Common Market succeeded in cementing the fact that globalization was the new way of doing things. So, American leaders and workers alike convinced themselves that the gods of Competitive Advantage had allocated to us in perpetuity the technological niche. We could be OK with Toyota taking over our automobile market because we could make Cray Supercomputers.

However, we neglected a crucial challenge: Things seldom remain static.

A New Reality for Chinese Companies

China, for example, went from being a supplier of our kids’ plastic toys, to a supplier of technology equipment parts, to the manufacturer of the Sunway TaihuLight – the machine that beat the U.S. Cray Supercomputer in 2016. In 2018, China had 206 out of the top 500 fastest supercomputers in the world, while the U.S. had 124.

China’s leaders went from wearing stodgy Mao jackets to wearing dapper business suits. Their negotiating style changed to match their business attires.  China developed a moneyed class engaged in business and trade. Efforts to deal with rural poverty are on their way.

Needless to say, with the rise of a moneyed class, comes a rise in general living standards, and with that comes a rise in the cost and complexity of doing business.

China’s evolving life style brings us back to Fuyao Glass. According to some observers, Chinese companies are locating manufacturing facilities externally because of China’s rising labor costs, taxes, and regulations!  Among those companies is Fuyao Glass.

The American Worker

American Factory presents a picture of what the American marketplace looks like today:  a significant number of American workers employed by U.S.-based foreign companies and facing the turmoil that comes from cultural clashes. The film’s message, however, is open to interpretation.

Workers at Fuyao have filed lawsuits against the company for a variety of reasons,  including allegedly illegally punishing workers for trying to unionize. Meanwhile, Fuyao has not been shy in expressing dissatisfaction with the habits of American workers.  The threat of automation lurks in the background, as the company’s chairman, Cao Dewang, seeks what he euphemistically calls a future in technology.

The wearying and expensive battle of wills is not productive or conducive to worker satisfaction. However, is it avoidable? Would the scenario be any different if this glass company were owned and managed by Americans? Today marks the third day of a nation-wide workers’ strike against General Motors.  So, maybe the American worker faces a deeper challenge than Chinese employers.

An Unintended Wake Up Call

The status quo no longer works in today’s rapidly changing globalized automation-prone world. Would it be better to move on to another model?

One idea might be to return to training skilled production workers, which stopped when the college-loan industry figured it would be profitable to promote the paper-shuffling industry, thereby helping to kill American manufacturing in the U.S. The production of goods by American companies located in foreign countries does no good to the American worker.

Another idea, which goes in tandem with the first, is to promote college as a place you go because you want to be there, can handle a high-level level of purely mental work, and cannot be distracted by constant political agitation. Highly trained technicians can help the U.S. keep up with a modern world not at all lacking in first-class universities offering outstanding technical education.

American Factory succeeds as a wake-up call. However, that wake-up call might not be the one intended by the film’s producers. American Factory perhaps serves as a reminder how American workers have been deceived by their legislators, used by their modern-day unions, and left unprepared to compete in today’s market place.

American Factory ribbon cutting
American Factory:  Fuyao Glass ribbon cutting in Moraine, Ohio

Tech Villas-Not Your Old Company Towns

Scotia a company town
Pacific Lumber Mill company town of Scotia, CA, called “The Last Company Town.”

Nobody likes to pay almost half of one’s wages for housing, but that is what is happening to so many California residents. Reasons for the astronomical housing costs vary according to whom one asks. However, regardless of reason, the situation is now promoted as a “crisis,” and duly exploited as such.

Of concern to the Just Vote No Blog is that the housing crisis is at the heart of today’s central planning, which renders residents and voters increasingly powerless in land use and housing decisions.

A Brief Background

In The Curious Case of Housing Legislation, the Just Vote No Blog noted the history behind today’s network of housing bills. The state’s evolving efforts to remove land use and housing decisions from voters is one of the evident aspects of such history. Here are some reminders:

The seminal Assembly Bill 32, The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, started the ball rolling by mandating the reduction of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Climate crisis soon morphed into a land use crisis that required dense job/housing development along narrow corridors throughout the Bay Area, ostensibly to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions produced by workers commuting from homes in the suburbs.

Predictable pushback from neighborhoods, cities and counties not wanting to lose their chosen quality of life encouraged increasingly stronger state mandates. SB 330 and AB 1487 are the latest high-profile bills bent on removing housing decisions from cities and counties.

SB 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, introduced in February by Senator Nancy Skinner and approved by the legislature September 6, has the general objective to “prohibit a county or city, including the electorate exercising its local initiative or referendum power, in which specified conditions exist, determined by the Department of Housing and Community Development as provided, from enacting a development policy, standard, or condition, as defined…..”  Thus, the electorate is summarily dismissed.

AB 1487, the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Housing Finance Act of 2019, introduced in February by Assembly Member David Chiu is currently active and in desk process.  This bill is a game changer.  Voters, no matter how disempowered by mandates such as SB 330, at present can still vote down tax proposals that finance mandates they do not like. AB 1487 makes that strategy more difficult. This bill establishes a new agency, the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority, run by bureaucrats removed from the wrath of voters, with the power to place tax proposals on region-wide ballots, and to determine pass/fail on an aggregate region-wide basis.

Progression Towards Powerful Public-Private Partnerships

The plethora of housing bills in the style of SB 330 and AB 1487 passed into law during the past few years calls for a good deal of cash, perhaps more than the creative financing that could be achieved by the Housing Finance Authority would be able to raise on its own. Thus, enter powerful private players interested in housing development for reasons of their own, willing to forge partnerships with public entities. As one would expect, tech companies like Google and Facebook are becoming major players.

Google, Facebook and other deep-pocketed tech companies are at present investing in housing, a dream come true for housing advocates. They are also encouraging the California legislature to pass legislation that will streamline housing production (more on this later), since investors do not like lengthy bickering over what or where housing is built.

Of course, private influence in public affairs is nothing new. Neither is privately-funded housing developed with government blessings — company towns like Hershey, Marktown, and Pullman are examples. However, today California is witnessing not just tech-towns developed for tech workers, but also the much broader endeavor of using tech money to fund housing for the general population.

Recommended Articles on Public-Private Partnerships

A San Francisco Bay Area publication, 48 Hills, has been deeply concerned about the waning power of voters in land use, housing and transportation decisions. A series of articles by researcher and journalist Zelda Bronstein, published in 48 Hills, explains in great detail how a private entity, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, is poised to affect housing policy. In the first two installments published May 29, 2019 and August 29, 2019 of the series (there might be more to come), Ms. Bronstein zeroes in on Senate Bill 330 and Assembly Bill 1487.

The articles are rich with information that Bay Area residents will find useful in understanding who is becoming in charge of their neighborhoods.

Continue reading Tech Villas-Not Your Old Company Towns