Grim outlook for America for the rest of the year, at least

I don’t have high hope for America till the end of 2020. Here’s why:

First of all, unlike in many other countries, I expect that we will still struggle with the pandemic in the next few months. If the last 6 months is any indication, it proves that we are not handling this crisis well. We reopened states not when we slowed down the spread sufficiently to the hundreds or teens, but when we were just past the worst point at the time. What happened two months after the reopening? The number of cases has been rising. We repeatedly hit record for the number of cases in a day. Deaths are rising. Yet, the folks in charge are still imploring parents and schools to send kids back to classes while a lot of people don’t wear masks, a proven method to slow down the spread. Even though there are some positive developments with regard to a vaccine, I expect that we are still months away from having the vaccine produced in mass for everybody. So, don’t be surprised that when winter comes, we are still in this mess.

Just to give you some perspective. Vietnam has had around 15 new cases in the last 4 days after 99 days without a community transmission. The country has been very careful and cautious when it comes to Covid-19. Despite the success that garnered global accolade, the borders have been closed to international flights since February. That’s how seriously we have taken this issue, and yet we still have new cases. In the US, not only do we not have a coordination between the federal government and states, but at the state level, there are some whose leadership is just outright terrible. What could possibly go wrong?

Secondly, this is an election year. It will get messy. Politics has always been messy, but if there was respect between candidates in the past (McCain and Obama, or Romney and Obama), the same can’t be expected of Trump, who is known for lies, misinformation and vulgar insults. In addition to the attacks from either candidate, there will be contesting of the results. Trump already laid the foundation for it. He and his officials voted by mail-in ballots in the past themselves, but have been campaigning hard against it, even though the current pandemic makes it dangerous for people to go vote. Unlike other candidates, he hasn’t committed to accepting the election results. Hence, I sometimes shudder when I think about what will happen between November 2020 and January 2021, if Trump loses.

Also, what has been happening in Portland is deeply troubling. The federal government sent in unnamed federal agents to the city to suppress protests that are largely peaceful, despite opposition from the governor, mayor and the state of Oregon’s senators. The violence depicted in the altercation between the agents and citizens is horrifying. It is the stuff of authoritarian regime that we lament in other countries, yet it is happening here in America. Trump already announced that he would do the same to other cities such as Albuquerque, Kansas or Chicago. All this travesty takes place without oversight. How is that not worrying?

There are other downstream effects such as the economy, job losses, healthcare, eviction, etc…But those three factors alone already make me pessimistic of America’s next 5 months now that July is almost over.

What can we do? I can’t do anything since I am just a lawful immigrant abiding by the laws and paying taxes without representation. But I do hope that Americans will stay focused on the upcoming elections, whether it’s for a Senate, Governor, Mayor or Congress seat, and vote. For the presidential election, I hope people will vote for Biden. Not because I like him. I don’t. I don’t like the fact that he invokes Obama whenever it’s convenient, but doesn’t own up to mistakes they made. I also prefer somebody younger. But Biden and Trump are the choices we have, and I do hope that Americans will vote at least for somebody who is a decent human-being. Even Lindsay Graham said in the past Biden was a decent man. Every progress that Biden may make, if he wins, will be incremental. Don’t expect drastic changes or progress overnight. The way the three branches are set up doesn’t allow for fast and dramatic changes, especially when the partisanship is so toxic now. But as long as we don’t stand still or go backwards, even when we are just inching forward a little bit at a time, I’ll take that.

A starting point – where you start getting to know your elected officials

I came across this project whose one of the founders should be familiar enough to you – Captain America himself Chris Evans. A Starting Point (ASP) is created in order to “create a bipartisan channel of communication and connectivity between Americans and their elected officials with the goal of creating a more informed electorate“. Elected officials, whether they are Governors, Senators, Congresspeople or state officials, can use this platform to communicate their thoughts, demystify some complex issues or debate with colleagues with different ideologies. On my count, there are approximately 150 contributors already on the site on various levels and from both parties. Below are a few key features of ASP

StartingPoints

In this section, you’ll find some popular questions that can help viewers understand a little bit better some complex issues. In each question, you’ll hear from several officials from both sides of the aisle articulating their thoughts and explaining their answers to the questions.

Figure 1 – Source: A Starting Point
Figure 2 – Source: A Starting Point
Figure 3 – Source: A Starting Point

CounterPoints

In this section, you’ll listen to two officials, each from a different party, debating in one-minute videos on an issue. There are back-and-forth arguments followed by closing remarks.

Figure 4 – Source: A Starting Point

DailyPoints

This section is an open forum that allows officials to connect with their constituents on a daily basis about all kinds of topics in one-minute-long videos. Some Democrats already talked about the importance of masks on this section.

Figure 5 – Source: A Starting Point

IntroPoints

On this sub-section, you’ll learn a little bit about the background of these officials, such as what inspired them to go into politics?

Figure 6 – Source: A Starting Point

My thoughts on this project

I think it’s a great idea. I used to work for an IT company in Omaha, Nebraska. Once, I talked to a couple of my American colleagues and to my surprise, they said that they didn’t actually know much about the elected officials in their districts or state. I bet it’s not uncommon. Our daily hustle and distractions don’t leave us much time into knowing about prospect or current officials; which is a shame, but understandable. The problem is that who we vote for matters a lot in our life. Not only can officials represent us on a state and national level, but they pass legislations that directly and significantly influence our life. Hence, being informed of what the officials are about and what stance they have on certain issues is hugely important in elections. And this project is clearly helping constituents across the country with that.

I think short videos are a good choice to deliver content. The limitation on length of videos forces officials to be concise in their delivery and not to digress. Policies are not sexy. People tend not to spend a lot of time on long videos on policies. Therefore, short videos can be more appealing. However, there is also a drawback. Most issues are pretty complex. Short form videos may unintentionally lead to generalization and omission of important nuances.

It is essential that voters are as informed and have a balanced view as much as possible on issues. An appearance by an official on a news channel doesn’t come with counterpoints from the other side. There are debates on the House and Senate floors, but who will watch those debates that can last for hours? Having different viewpoints on one issue in one place is beneficial to voters who want to learn more about pressing issues. Throughout its website, I think ASP wants to accomplish that. Either StartingPoints or CounterPoints, you can see Democrats and Republicans present their thoughts and ideas. As a result, viewers can take away different points of view and leave with a balanced dose of information.

Even though this is a good starting point, pun intended, there are challenges. First of all, there are A LOT of big topics that are not covered on this website. Under each existing topics, there are a lot more questions to be asked and discussed. Chris Evans and his team still have a long way to go, but everything has to start somewhere and the website has been live for only a couple of days. So, I wanna give them the benefit of the doubt and think that they’ll make the content richer.

Secondly, ASP needs to build an audience in order to get politicians speak their minds more. Nowadays, politicians have multiple channels through which they reach constituents such as news channels, op-eds, social networks or their own websites. The only way that they will generate content for ASP is that their constituents frequent the website, giving politicians a reason to spend time on content for ASP. The star power of Chris Evans will initially bring traffic, but the site cannot rely on Chris forever. It has to grow organically.

The next challenge that I can think of will be content moderation. At some point in the future, what if some politicians deliberately made false claims and post their videos on ASP, what would the site do? Taking the videos down would result in accusation of hampering free speech while leaving them intact would lead to voters being misled. In a nutshell, ASP would run into the same trouble that Twitter or Facebook is facing now and I don’t think they want that. ASP needs to build a culture that fosters communication only in good faith by officials.

Lastly, and this is why I think the website is aptly named “A Starting Point”, even though we can benefit from this project, we still need to do our homework. The information presented on ASP is just the beginning. It falls on each of us to do further investigation and keep these politicians honest. Let me give you an example. If you listen to Republican officials talk about the Tax Cut in 2017, they reason that they passed the law in order to create jobs through tax incentives given to businesses. Well, although there may be more jobs created, we have to ask: what kind of jobs are we talking about? More waiting jobs at restaurants for college graduates aren’t what we have in mind, aren’t they? Or $7-per-hour jobs don’t necessarily solve entirely our issues, do they? Plus, at the time of unprecedented economic expansion at the time in 2017, wasn’t there anything else to encourage job creation other than a giant tax cut for the rich and corporations?

In sum, ASP started to do their part in bringing elected officials from both sides of the aisle and voters together and we need to start doing ours as well. The job of understanding pressing issues should not only fall onto ASP. There is only so much they can do. As mentioned above, I think Chris and his team will do more to keep this project running well. We have big elections coming up till the end of the year. You have seen what is going on in the country. Your votes matter. They are the most powerful weapon in each voter’s arsenal. Use it well. Get informed. I appreciate what Chris and his team did. Have a great weekend and stay safe!

Winner-takes-all election and Trump’s new suspension of work visas

Yesterday, the Patriot Act team released an excellent segment on the US election. It discussed the core issue of the elections in America, the issue that leads to so many malfunctions in the way this country is governed. Yes, we are familiar with voter suppression, electoral college and gerrymandering, but Hasan Minhaj went to the root cause of all: the winner-takes-all system. I’ll let him explain it to you.

Hasan said something pretty significant in his piece: America is a minority-ruled country. Democrats won more popular votes than Republicans in many of the last elections, on many levels, but the party that has controlled the three branches and even the judicial system is Republican. Worse, more than 50% of eligible voters want a 3rd party candidate, yet they can’t have it.

If a country is minority-ruled, does it still have a democracy? The two parties hate each other and increasingly over the years. I don’t see the end of such extreme and toxic partisanship in the future. The implications include the erosion of America’s competitiveness. When the parties in the government are busy fighting with each other and cancelling out the other’s policies, where would progress come from?

At the end of the piece, Hasan made a proposal on how to eliminate the winner-takes-all system and help with the partisanship. The proposal was actually tested in Maine and brought promising results. However, given the politicians on both sides are more concerned with keeping their seats, I don’t see it happening soon.

Speaking of the erosion of America’s competitiveness, Trump signed an executive order today to suspend H1B and other work visas till the end of the year. America relies on foreign talent a lot. After all, it calls itself: The land of opportunity. People around the world, including myself 4 years ago, looked to America as the land to make our lives better and realize our dream. The anti-immigrant rhetoric since Trump took office has been anything, but welcoming to immigrants. Yet, the action today took it to another level. American companies, universities and research academia can’t attract foreign talent for the next 6 months. The executive order seems easy on paper, but significant in real life as it affects thousands of lives. People will go somewhere else for higher education and jobs. People who are already in the US will ponder what to do next. Personally, this action today will mean that I won’t be able to see my family in Vietnam in the next few months. If I visit Vietnam before this Executive Order ends, I won’t be able to come back.

People around the world used to hold America to a very high standard. You guys often like to say it: we are a beacon of hope. I bet many still do now. If you ask my dad, he’ll tell you how much he admires America. So, it’s sad to see the standard being lowered every day.

Book review: The Kill Chain: How Emerging Technologies Threaten America’s Military Dominance

I picked up this book after reading about it briefly on one of the news outlets. At first, I had a suspicion that it was a partisan book as everything was politicized nowadays in the US, but I still decided to give it a try. I am sure glad I did. The book was written by a senior advisor to John McCain, the former GOP chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The author’s tone and viewpoint throughout the book, in my opinion, were fair and made sense. He talked briefly about what he considered mistakes by both President Obama and Trump, in their failure to modernize the military and foreign relations policies. He tackled several aspects of the changing landscape that makes the US’s once insurmountable dominance on the verge of being completely eliminated, especially by China. He painstakingly explained why Russia and particularly China would present a peer and a threat that the US has never had before.

He used his insider knowledge and experience working under McCain to explain why even though the US spends billions of dollars a year on military and defense, it’s more about “how you spend money” than “how much money you spend”. A great deal of money is wasted every year by the bureaucracy, the corruption and the self-serving parties involved in the national defense business. While new technologies are already here, the US still plows an incredible amount of money into equipment, technologies and processes that belong to the past. Overall, this book is a wake-up call on how the US’s military is being left behind by arch rivals. It’s an informative read by someone who knew what he was talking about.

Threat from Russia and China with their technological advances

“As it stood, the Chinese Communist Party knew far more about the US military and its vulnerabilities than the American people and their elected representatives did.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“That assessment was echoed by a bipartisan commission of military experts that McCain had established through legislation that year to provide an independent examination of US defense strategy. They rendered their judgment to Congress shortly after McCain’s death in 2018. “America’s military superiority… has eroded to a dangerous degree,” they wrote. “The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“One story from a Ukrainian officer stuck with me. His fellow commander was known to the Little Green Men as a highly effective fighter. One day during the conflict, the man’s mother received a call from someone claiming to be the Ukrainian authorities, who informed her that her son had been badly wounded in action in eastern Ukraine. She immediately did what any mother would do: she called her son’s mobile phone. Little did she know that the call she had received was from Russian operatives who had gotten a hold of her son’s cell phone number but knew that he rarely used the phone for operational security reasons. This Ukrainian commander, being a good son, quickly called his mother back, which enabled the Little Green Men to geolocate his position. Seconds later, while still on the phone, he was killed in a barrage of precision rocket artillery.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“Cyberattacks would grind down the logistical movement of US forces into combat. The defenseless cargo ships and aircraft that would ferry much of that force across the Pacific would be attacked every step of the way. Satellites on which US forces depend for intelligence, communications, and global positioning would be blinded by lasers, shut down by high-energy jammers, or shot out of orbit altogether by antisatellite missiles. The command and control networks that manage the flow of critical information to US forces in combat would be broken apart and shattered by electronic attacks, cyberattacks, and missiles. Many US forces would be rendered deaf, dumb, and blind.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

How outdated US’s military is

“And yet, when members of our military put on their uniforms and report for duty, hardly any of this technology is available to them. Instead, they consistently have to do dangerous and important jobs with technology that might be many years behind what they use in their daily lives. This was reinforced again for me at a major Air Force conference last year, where I spoke on a panel about how new technology could help build better networks of military systems. An airman in the audience asked the panel how this would be possible when most servicemembers currently deal regularly with long network outages that leave them disconnected from email and the internet. Nearly everyone in the audience, more than one thousand people, erupted in applause.

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“It is a story of how the worlds of national defense and high technology in America increasingly grew apart. At a deeper level, it is also a story of how the United States was spoiled by its own dominance—a cautionary tale of how a prolonged period without real geopolitical competition bred a false sense of invincibility. In short, it is a story of how the United States got ambushed by the future.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“The bigger issue is that most of these allegedly information age military systems struggle to share information and communicate directly with one another to a degree that would shock most Americans. For example, the F-22 and F-35A fighter jets cannot directly share basic airborne positioning and targeting data despite the fact that they are both Air Force programs and built by the same company. They were architected with different means of processing and transmitting information that are not compatible. It is as if one speaks Greek, and the other speaks Latin.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“Unlike some leading American technology companies, Nvidia is open to doing business with the Department of Defense. I asked how many of its graphics processing units were operating on fielded US military systems. I was not surprised by the answer: none.

As the answer suggests, most US military systems are many years behind the state-of-the-art technology that commercial companies such as Nvidia are developing. The most capable computer onboard a US military system is the core processor in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has earned it the nickname “the flying supercomputer.” The processor can perform 400 billion operations per second.1 By comparison, the Nvidia DRIVE AGX Pegasus can conduct 320 trillion operations per second right onboard a commercial car or truck.2 That is eight hundred times more processing power.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“The information that most US military machines collect is not actually processed onboard the machine itself. It is either stored on the system and then processed hours or even days later when the machine returns from its mission. Or it is streamed back to an operations center in real time, terabyte by terabyte, which places a huge burden on military communications networks. Either way, it is the job of humans, not machines, to comb through most of that data and find the relevant bits of information. In 2020, that is the full-time job of literally tens of thousands of members of the US military. When they are off-duty, they may use Nvidia’s technology to play video games or even assist them on their drive home. But in uniform, they are essentially doing the same jobs that their grandparents did in World War II.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“A friend of mine who recently did targeting in the US military told me that the best way his unit could get on one page in identifying a target was with Google Maps. They had to gather up all of their different streams of information about the target from their assorted sensor platforms, come to a time-consuming decision on where the target actually was located, and literally drop a pin in Google Maps to direct their shooters where on earth to fire their weapons. This was around the time that the Google employees wrote their open letter to their leadership demanding that the company cut ties with the Department of Defense lest their technology contribute to lethal military operations. “If those folks only knew how many bombs the US military has dropped using Google Maps,” my friend told me, “their heads would explode.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

How a great deal of money is wasted every year on military spending and how much bureaucracy there is in Washington

“Over the past two decades, during the peaks of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple new weapons programs were started and ultimately canceled with nothing to show for them. The Center for Strategic and International Studies stopped counting the different programs at eighteen, acknowledging that the real number is far higher. All told, the Pentagon and Congress spent more than $59 billion on these programs during the 2000s and got no usable capability by the time the programs were canceled.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

Many companies resented making these changes, which they felt forced into. But change they did, and they often used their influence in Washington’s byzantine acquisition system to their own advantage: They underbid on contracts to develop technology and then overran on the actual costs and time to produce it. They promised things they could not deliver. And they used their political clout in the Pentagon and Congress to make it harder for new companies and new technologies to displace their programs of record. Put simply, the US government created incentives for defense companies to do the wrong things, and that is often what happened.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“That simply does not happen with US military systems, where hardware has always been king and software largely an afterthought. For most military systems, the schedule for hardware updates determines the schedule for software updates. After all, most of the companies building these systems are hardware companies, not software companies. This has created multiyear software development cycles that are doomed to failure. Think of how well your mobile device would work if its software and apps were updated only every several years. That’s how it is for military systems. I cannot tell you the number of defense programs I came across during my time in the Senate—on which the US government had spent billions of dollars over many years—that were failing for the simple reason that their builders were not proficient in how to develop suitable, scalable, adaptable, and constantly improving software. And the result, time and time again, is that members of the US military are handed equipment whose functionality is inferior to what they use in their everyday lives.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“A good example of how defense acquisition can go wrong is the Army’s attempt to buy a new pistol a few years ago. It issued a request for proposals that ran over 350 pages of cumbersome details and envisioned years of costly development and testing before soldiers would ever get a new sidearm. Even Army leaders were surprised. They learned about it when McCain and I told them, and then they were as outraged as we were. “We’re not figuring out the next lunar landing,” said an outraged General Mark Milley at the time, when he was chief of staff of the Army. “This is a pistol. Two years to test? At $17 million?” he vented. “You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine with a pistol for $17 million. And I’ll get a discount on a bulk buy.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“Even basic tasks that used to be routine bodily functions in Congress, such as passing a federal budget, have become nearly impossible. Indeed, over the past ten years, Congress has managed only once to pass spending legislation for the Department of Defense by the start of the fiscal year. When Congress fails to do its job in this way, it passes a “continuing resolution,” which requires the military to spend money on only the things it spent money on the prior year. Not only does this waste billions of dollars in misallocated resources, it literally locks the military into the past and prevents it from implementing its plans for the future. This is how the Department of Defense has spent nearly one thousand days of the past decade. The US military now plans to start each fiscal year without an appropriation of funding. Pentagon planners painstakingly negotiate contracts and structure programs to avoid critical payments in the first quarter of each fiscal year so they do not end up in breach of contract when they inevitably get stuck on a continuing resolution. Even then, problems arise. When Congress failed to pass a budget for six months at the start of the fiscal year, for example, the Navy had to renegotiate roughly ten thousand contracts, which senior Navy leaders estimated cost them roughly $5.8 billion in wasted buying power. That could have bought three destroyers.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“Progressives” blind hatred on billionaires

The Presidential candidates from the Democratic party are spending thousands of dollars on ads and hours on television to tell the public how much they abhor millionaires and billionaires, and why such rich folks shouldn’t exist. Here is an example from AOC

This kind of logic and blind hatred doesn’t make sense to me. Who ever got rich by only trading time for money, by not making money while sleeping or by not having additional income outside the usual salary?

Working harder or working long hours isn’t the only ingredient in the recipe to get rich. In my opinion, there are a few factors:

  • Luck! Name me one rich person who sincerely wouldn’t admit that he or she hit one lucky break before
  • Working hard. If being rich were easy, everybody would be rich by now. If being a billionaire were easy, we would all be Bezoses, Zuckerbergs, Gateses now. Since everyone wants to get ahead in life, anyone who wants to get rich has to pay their dues and work hard
  • Offering values to the society. Realistically, compensation climbs up with the values delivered to the society. The more value is delivered to a bigger audience, the more valuable the value creator is and the richer he or she will get. Building an application that connects 2.5 billion people on Earth and allows advertisers to reach millions of people delivers far more value than packaging goods in a factory. Don’t get me wrong. I respect people’s occupations. I am merely talking about how compensation reflects a value proposition. That’s why an experienced executive who is perceived as much valuable than an entry-level staffer gets paid more. Of course, the executive is expected to shoulder immensely bigger responsibilities and results.
  • Work smart. This is tied up to the point right above. Working smarter enables one person to be more productive and become more valuable faster. The number of hours doesn’t necessarily reflect the production.

Going back to the topic at hand, reaching a millionaire or billionaire status isn’t easy. Like I mentioned, it’s not easy. In fact, it’s exceedingly difficult. That’s why only a minority of people achieved the status. Hating on billionaires who made their fortune by working hard and smart and delivering value to millions of people is just disrespectful to them. I am sure that there are cases where folks created a fortune with questionable legalities or through inheritance. Nonetheless, that’s why making a generalizing unfavorable comment on billionaires who legitimately reaped the fruits of their work is misleading at best and irresponsible at worst, in my opinion.

Plus, if these Democratic politicians hate millionaires and billionaires that much, would they give away their fortune or not act on a lucrative opportunity if they had it? I remember Bernie Sanders used to mention “millionaires” in his speeches until he became one after his book. Now, he solely rages on billionaires. Just an observation.

Don’t get me wrong. I am against almost every thing GOP politicians (not the conservative ideologies, they are two very different things) represent now. However, at the same, I lament the myopic talking points, the blind hatred and the misleading statements that come from “progressive” Democrats.

When we really want to dig deeper, the reason why income inequality is appalling in America is because the laws allow it. If it weren’t legally possible, it wouldn’t happen. The millionaires and billionaires just play the game better than others. It is the politicians who are the law-makers that allow it. If they want to look for anyone to blame, well, start by looking into the mirror.

My thought on Mitt Romney’s decision

The impeachment hearing is over. The result is exactly what many who had been following this saga and I expected. The defendant was acquitted along the party line. Much of the noise that came out of the hearing was Mitt Romney’s decision to join Democrat senators to vote in favor of the article(s) of impeachment. Ever since, the former presidential candidate has received plenty of praise for the act.

I wouldn’t particularly get on that train and give him total credit. To be clear, I am in no position to speculate what was behind Senator Romney’s decision to support the impeachment. His coming out to support the Democrats was at the end of the hearing when it was mathematically impossible to remove the President from office. His decision came already too late and looked suspiciously a bit self-serving.

The main reason why I suspected the Senator’s motive was that he didn’t vote to subpoena evidence and witnesses. He already swore his oath at the beginning of the hearing and I believe in my heart, regardless of how I would have preferred the trial to turn out, that his duty was to be as impartial and fair as possible. Impartiality would involve getting as much information and truth to light as possible and that meant calling for evidence and witnesses. Had he come out in support of the subpoenas, other Republican senators on the fence would have had more leverage and support. Democrats would have had more momentum. THAT would have been a true and undisputed example of courage and upholding the faith that he talked about.

I believe that Senator Romney’s character played a role in his decision. I am not that paranoid or cynical. However, I would have believed him more if he had come out in the end and said: sorry everybody, I messed up on the subpoena votes, I am sorry and I now support the article(s) of impeachment. Or if he had voted on the call for witnesses or evidence. It’s exceedingly tough for me to overlook the fact that he went along with his party at the expense of the oath that he took.

Andrew Yang’s big idea

Andrew Yang is running as a Democratic presidential candidate. His flagship idea is to give out a universal basic income or a monthly dividend of $1,000 to every American. He often cited the dividend from Alaska Permanent Fund as an example for his policy. Let’s take a look at the idea and the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Would it be passed as laws?

I don’t know, but I think it’s highly unlikely. The partisanship in the government will make it so difficult that if he becomes the President (a big if), he will still have to garner enough support from both parties in the House of Representatives and the Senate. I don’t know the practicality of passing it with Executive Order, but given the financial implication of this policy, I really doubt he can do it without support from both sides of the aisle.

How would it be financed?

$1,000 a month for every single one of more than 320 million Americans is a phenomenally expensive bill to pay. Yang said he would find income from properly taxing tech companies. It sounds good, but keep in mind that companies pay a lot of money on lobbying to make sure that lawmakers are as friendly as possible to them. So, it may not be easy to pass laws that can generate enough money from companies to pay for his idea

Would it work?

Let’s say that he found a way to make it a federal law and pay for it. Would it bring the results as he wanted? It depends.

If he wants to make Americans happy, it would do the job. We don’t need academic studies to know that folks become happier after getting from free money. But in case you need one, take the experiment in Finland as an example. Finnish government ran a two-year program in which they gave out 560 euros each month to a select test group of citizens aged 25 to 58. The results are that the recipients of the grant became happier, but there is no favorable impact on employment rate.

Since Andrew Yang is fond of using Alaska Permanent Fund as an example, let’s take a look at that. Alaska Permanent Fund was signed into laws in 1976 by a Republican governor named Jay Hammond. The fund gives out an annual dividend to residents who live in Alaska for a full year and intend to stay indefinitely. In the past year, the dividend was worth around $1,600/year. According to a study by Jones and Marinescu, the fund’s results are as follows:

The employment to population ratio in Alaska after the introduction of the dividend is similar to that of synthetic control states. On the other hand, the share of people employed part-time in the overall population increases by 1.8 percentage points after the introduction of the dividend and relative to the synthetic controls. The unconditional cash transfer thus has no significant effect on employment, yet increases part-time work

The Labor Market Impacts of Universal and
Permanent Cash Transfers: Evidence from the
Alaska Permanent Fund

What it means is that it cannot be statistically proven that the dividend decreases the employment rate, even though does increase part-time work. However, it isn’t proven to increase employment either.

As the two cases of Finland’s experiment and Alaska Permanent Fund show, whether Yang’s proposal would work depends on the questions asked and what outcome is desired. If it’s happiness, the answer is likely Yes. If it’s meant to increase employment, it remains to be seen.

One thing to keep in mind is that Finland is a small country with a population of around 5.5 million people and high with homogeneity. Alaska, I would think, has more or less the same conditions. Applying the Universal Basic Income to a small test population with people from the same background, mindset and needs is one thing. Doing so to a population of more than 300 million people with various backgrounds, mindsets, cultures and needs is a totally different issue.

Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act vs BELIEVE Act

A few days ago, the Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act was passed by the House. If it’s passed by the Senate and signed by the President, it will have dramatic implications for immigrants coming to and living in the US. That prospect; though, faces challenges from a few Senators from both sides of the aisle.

Apparently, no country in the world is allowed more than 7% of the total green cards handed out by the US government every year. For workers from China and India, due to high demand, there is a current backlog of applications that it can take up to 50 years to receive the green cards.

The Fairness for High Skilled Immigrants Act plans to eliminate the capped amount per country. Doing so will benefit high skilled workers from China and India the most, but at the expense of, well, almost everybody else from other countries. The backlog of current applications from India and China will take years to clear and after that it will mean 8-10 years for folks from low-demand countries like myself from Vietnam to get my turn.

The bill essentially seems to tackle only one problem in a myriad of problems with immigration. Hence, it is said to create other issues, per path2usa.

Senator Rand Paul introduced a different immigration bill called Backlog Elimination, Legal Immigration, and Employment Visa Enhancement Act or BELIEVE Act. The act is aimed to change immigration on a broader level and tackle more issues than the Fairness for High Skilled Immigration Act. Cato.org has a pretty good summary of what BELIEVE Act can deliver here. This is a snippet, in case you are too lazy to click and read the article

There are a couple of problems with skilled immigration that the bill doesn’t address—including the outdated H-1B limit and the burdensome and nonsensical labor certification process for employers—but overall, the legislation would make the United States far more competitive for foreign talent than current law and prevent the removal of hundreds of thousands of skilled workers. This legislation would benefit the U.S. economy enormously.

Cato.org on BELIEVE Act

Political Debates

I watched half of tonight’s Democratic debate and a little bit of yesterday’s. Here is how I think about these debates

They are where people say something without saying anything of substance. One of the candidates said that she should be the one because she listens to people and that’s how she gets things done. Another guy said that he should be the one because he can build coalition. No disrespect to either, but that’s a bit too light on details.

They are where folks set aside decency and talk over one another. Sometimes, there are some subtle attacks here and there.

They are where candidates from the same party talk about the same things just in different ways. It’s normal and fine since the issues must be popular and obvious. Plus, each candidate is given too little time to articulate on the details which essentially are the only differentiation points, well except if you speak some Spanish :D.

They are where candidates are asked to strip down issues that are complicated and full of nuances to one or two word answers in about 10 seconds. I mean, what is really the point of the “what is the most existential threat to us?” question?

They are where candidates juggle from one serious issue to another in a span of seconds. I saw them talk about healthcare in one second and then the effect of environmental policies, food policies on our health in another. Or the focus was switched from jobs to immigration. If you are given 30 seconds to speak or so, the more topics are covered, the less depth there will be.

I don’t really have a solution to this. Personally, I don’t find anything of substance from the candidates from all these debates. It may be helpful to some who might learn a thing or two about the folks running for the Presidency, especially the less known. But given that the ones who spoke the most during the events spoke for 10 minutes, how much can you know about a person in 10 minutes? How much can you learn about loaded issues in 10 minutes?

On the other hand, how many of us actually spend time on their websites to read pages of documents on their proposals? How many of us spend time at their rallies or town halls to ask for specific details? I don’t blame the politicians. They are trying to do their job and be as popular as possible to a tough crowd.

Discussion on socialism on the Internet and the news

Socialism is one of the most polarizing topics out there, either in politics, on the news or on the Internet. Whenever socialism is mentioned, the two extremes are often cited: the social democracy in Scandinavian countries and failures such as Venezuela.

What I found troubling with the use of socialism on the news is that it is closely associated with social equality. Whenever the discussion on increasing social benefits to citizens starts, the term socialism follows. Proponents cite Scandinavian nations as examples of success while critics use countries like Venezuela to demonstrate how horrible socialism is.

In my opinion, increasing social benefits to make the playing field more even isn’t equal to socialism. If that were the case, why Scandinavian countries haven’t failed or plunged into oblivion and chaos yet? The problem lies in the state-owned privatization of industries, the suffocation of free markets and corruption. It is not the social benefit programs that plagued Venezuela’s economy. It is the catastrophic privatization by the government, the removal of free markets and the extreme reliance on oil which is turbulent.

American politicians who oppose social benefit programs use Venezuela as an example to stop those programs, but I think they are wrong. And what’s wrong with leveling the playing field a bit more? America is obsessed with working hard and defying the odds. Yet, having a leg up or a bit of help in the beginning doesn’t take anything away from the triumph in the future. Folks in Western Europe still have to compete and work hard to excel in life. Nonetheless, at least on average I think they have better help from the government than Americans.

This is not a declaration of my political view. It is just to say that the term “socialism” is falsely used to scare off folks when it comes to any discussion that can benefit citizens. It shouldn’t be like that.