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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Terror Delivered Via Joystick Is Here

The Daily Escape:

Winter sunrise, Mt Hood, OR – 2019 photo by dontyakno

The Russian company that gave the world the AK-47 assault rifle, the Kalashnikov Group, unveiled its KUB-BLA drone at the International Defense Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 17.

This won’t be the first small-sized drone to be used in warfare. ISIS has already shown the ability to carry an explosive drone payload to a target. In January 2018, a swarm of 13 explosives-laden mini-drones attacked two Russian bases in western Syria. Each of those drones carried 10 one-pound bombs under its wings.

So, technology has again revolutionized warfare, this time by making sophisticated drone warfare technology widely and cheaply available to terrorists and under-resourced state militaries. Not a surprise that it is from the company that gave the world the AK-47, an automatic rifle that “democratized” infantry warfare.

The KUB drone is simple to operate, effective and cheap, according to Kalashnikov. Sergey Chemezov, chairman of Russia’s state-owned Rostec arms manufacturer, which owns Kalashnikov said:

“It will mark a step toward a completely new form of combat…”

The KUB is 4 ft wide, can fly for 30 minutes at a speed of 80 mph and carries six pounds of explosives, said Rostec’s news release. That makes it roughly the size of a coffee table that can be precision-guided to explode on a target 40 miles away, making it the equivalent of a “small, slow and presumably inexpensive cruise missile”, according to the National Interest website.

Apparently, the target market is third-world militaries.

KUB is similar in design to Israel’s truck-launched Harpy drone, which has been on the market for at least 25 years. The Harpy is jet-propelled, and much heavier than KUB-BLA. It carries a 51-pound warhead, and is in the hands of militaries in Azerbaijan, Israel, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

The Harpy is designed to fly for long periods, “loitering” above enemy territory.  A single Harpy reportedly costs around $70,000. A KUB will be substantially cheaper, possibly around $7,000, so an operator could purchase hundreds of KUBs and deploy them by the dozen to swarm enemy defenses.

The US wants its own suicide drone. The Air Force is developing what, in a burst of bureaucratic naming creativity, they call “The Low Cost Attritable Aircraft”, (LCAA). In 2016, they awarded Kratos, a San Diego drone-maker, a $41-million contract to design and demonstrate what the government described as a “high-speed, long-range, low-cost, limited-life strike unmanned aerial system.”

The low cost part is estimated at $3 million each, making it clearly an American product designed to much less expendable that a Harpy, and far more costly than a KUB. So, think fewer swarms and less US suicide usage than the drones of our competitors.

This means we have now entered the age of terrorism by joystick. The Pentagon understands the risks, and is seeking $1 billion for counter-drone measures in its proposed 2019 budget.

While there are limits to the damage a cheap suicide drone can do, the psychological effects of a small, but successful attack could far outstrip the actual physical damage. Imagine three suicide drones diving into the crowd at the Super Bowl. America would probably never play football outdoors again.

This is an unwelcome development that was also inevitable. Military planners have wanted air-to-ground weapons that were cheap, and liberated from the need to protect a human pilot.

A fleet of low-cost micro-bombers could be decisive in intra-state warfare, civil wars, and the kind of popular unrest that we experience today. Weapons like the KUB will undoubtedly find a home in the arsenals of various countries, particularly as the technology continues to improve.

The point though isn’t what one of these could do, but rather, what thousands of them might do. Soon, Russia, China and the US will be producing a mass market, cheap and destructive drone.

What could go wrong?

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Can America Learn From France’s Yellow Vest Movement?

The Daily Escape:

Turtlehead Pond, Groton State Forest, VT – October 2018 photo by mattmacphersonphoto

The Yellow Vests have thrown France into turmoil with their protests in recent weeks. They say they want lower taxes, higher salaries, freedom from gnawing financial fear, and a better life.

It’s a uniquely French phenomenon. Every automobile in France is supposed to be equipped with a yellow vest, so that in case of car accident or breakdown, the driver can put it on to ensure visibility and avoid getting run over.

That enabled the wearing of a yellow vest to demonstrate against unpopular government measures to catch on quickly. Most people had one. The symbolism was fitting: in case of an income inequality emergency, show people that you don’t want to be run over.

What set off the protests was a rise in gasoline taxes. But it became immediately clear that much more was driving the protests, that the gasoline tax was the last straw in a long series of measures favoring the rich at the expense of the majority of the population.

That’s why the movement achieved almost instant popularity and support.

The Yellow Vests held their first demonstrations on Saturday, November 17 on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Most French trade union demonstrations are well organized. People carry banners and listen to speeches from leaders at the end. But, the Yellow Vests showed up without any organization, and no leaders to tell them where to go, or to speak for the crowd’s demands.

They were just there in yellow vests, angry and ready to explain their anger to any listener. Their message was:

We can’t make ends meet. The cost of living keeps going up, and our incomes keep going down. We just can’t take it anymore. The government must stop what it’s doing and change course.

This is another example that income disparity between the rich and rest of us is out of control on a global basis.

The Yellow Vest protesters know that our political systems are controlled by the rich, and by their captured politicians. They are enriching themselves on the backs of the working and middle classes. Interestingly, it was the French economist, Thomas Piketty, who has researched and publicized the fact that the US has the largest income gap of any Western nation.

We should be paying closer attention both to Piketty and the Yellow Vests.

Global corporations and their fellow traveler politicians know that this sort of discontent is infectious, so politicians always try to quell it quickly. If the American 90% got the idea from France, revolution might migrate, as our revolution in 1776 migrated to France in 1789.

It is interesting that the NYT reports that in France, the Yellow Vest protests were totally unanticipated by the government.

We all know that income inequality is a growing global problem, so how can it be that the suffering of a country’s citizens and their protest against the French government’s plan to increase gas taxes would be “totally unanticipated by the parties’’?  Are the powers that be in France completely tone-deaf to the needs of their constituents?

So, are there lessons for America in the Yellow Vest movement? There should be, because the issue here is similar to the issue in France, and elsewhere in Europe. That issue is economic insecurity.

There’s no political will to deal with job insecurity. There’s no mechanism in place for those who can’t pay their bills. Soon, given automation and AI, there will not be enough work available for everyone to support themselves and their families. Underemployed people will still need food, shelter, and health care, so they might start by demonstrating in order to get them.

The sooner our corporate and political leaders decide to work on these problems, the better we all will sleep at night. But, no one in the top 10% of our economic strata has any idea what it is like to go without the necessities; it is simply inconceivable to them.

Many think that there are no consequences to the inequality that has developed in America since 1980, but there certainly will be consequences. We are in the midst of economic class warfare. The politicians, bought by the corporate plutocrats, are pushing their corporatist agenda down the throats of the middle and working classes.

We can either engage in a slow reform of Capitalism, or we can wait another generation, and participate in an urgent, rapid destruction of Capitalism as we know it today.

If we opt to go slow, let’s not kid ourselves. You don’t close a deep wound with a Band-Aid. It takes surgery.

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Monday Wake-Up Call – August 20, 2018

The Daily Escape:

East Byram River, Greenwich CT – August 2018 iPhone photo by Wrongo. With so much recent rainfall, CT waterfalls are working hard.

This Monday, we depart from our usual ranting about politics and economics, and turn to the subject of text-analytics. The Atlantic has an article by Frank Partnoy about it. Text-analytics scans unstructured text, and pulls usable data from it, using a variety of algorithms. The technology is used extensively in the finance industry. Investment banks and hedge funds scour public filings, corporate press releases, and statements by executives to find slight changes in language that might indicate whether a company’s stock price is likely to go up or down. From Partnoy:

Goldman Sachs calls this kind of natural-language processing “a critical tool for tomorrow’s investors.” Specialty-research firms use artificial-intelligence algorithms to derive insights from earnings-call transcripts, broker research, and news stories.

More from Partnoy:

In a recent paper, researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of Illinois at Chicago found that a company’s stock price declines significantly in the months after the company subtly changes descriptions of certain risks. Computer algorithms can spot such changes quickly, even in lengthy filings, a feat that is beyond the capacity of most human investors.

Most of us use a form of the technology without knowing it, since it operates in background powering things like the spam filters on our email. Many companies also use text-analytics to monitor their reputation on social media, in online reviews, and to find wherever they are mentioned on the internet.

The technology has become so sophisticated that companies are now using it to scan employees’ emails to determine levels of employee engagement, employee stress, and morale. Many firms are sensitive about intruding on employee privacy, though courts have held that employees have virtually no expectation of privacy at work, particularly if they’ve been given notice that their correspondence may be monitored. But as language analytics improves, companies may have a hard time resisting the urge to mine employee information. Here is a blurb from one industry leader, KeenCorp:

KeenCorp’s revolutionary software uses proprietary artificial intelligence and psycholinguistic analysis. Its algorithm recognizes patterns and detects tension from regular e-mail and corporate messengers. It works unobtrusively in the background to provide automated and continuous reporting.

The software then assigns the analyzed messages a numerical index that purports to measure the level of employee engagement. When workers are feeling positive and engaged, the number is high; when they are disengaged or expressing negative emotions like tension, the number is low. This allows KeenCorp to create a “heat map” of employee engagement for company management.

KeenCorp says the heat maps have helped companies identify potential problems in the workplace, including audit-related concerns that accountants failed to flag. This can be a big issue in highly-regulated industries, like finance, health care, and pharmaceuticals.

The firm’s software can chart how employees react when a leader is hired or promoted. And one KeenCorp client investigated a branch office after its heat map suddenly started glowing and found that the head of the office had begun an affair with a subordinate.

Imagine, an office relationship threw off heat!

KeenCorp says that they don’t collect, store, or report any information at the individual level. They say all messages are “stripped and treated so that the privacy of individual employees is fully protected.”

But, it’s absolutely a short step to snooping on an individual employee. It is a simple extension of the technology to grab information about individuals, based on their heat map score. KeenCorp indicates that some potential clients want it.

If sufficient firms are seeking that information, that software enhancement will be developed by an outside firm, or by building an in-house data-mining system.

Another software, Vibe, searches through keywords and emoji in messages sent on Slack, a workplace-communication app. The algorithm reports in real time on whether a team is feeling disappointed, disapproving, happy, irritated, or stressed. While it isn’t a fully commercialized product, 500 companies have tried it.

At this point, text-analytics is an unproven technology. No data exist about how often such tools might suggest a false positive, a problem when none exists. Or even fail to reveal a problem at all.

A real issue is what will managements do if/when they are made aware of potential problems surfaced via text-analytics? HR departments survey morale all the time, and few have success in changing the paradigm.

Wrongo thinks that the ability to parse information closely is what separates really outstanding analysts from the mediocre. This software will help, not hinder great analysis.

OTOH, it is what all paranoids do with friends and family. It’s also important to note that not all wrongdoing will register on a heat map, no matter how finely tuned.

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Alex Jones Spews Fake News. Should He Be On Facebook?

The Daily Escape:

Nizina Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Melting ice formed a lake in 2000. 2018 photo by Nathaniel Wilder for Smithsonian Magazine

Should fake news be protected under the First Amendment? Should private companies be able to ban the toxic stuff that people like Alex Jones spew? Spew like his denial that the Newtown shootings happened, or his speculation that Brennan Gilmore, a former State Department official who attended last summer’s violent far-right rally in Charlottesville, VA was really with the CIA.

Earlier this week, Facebook, Google, Apple, Spotify and Pinterest, within hours of each other, banned Alex Jones and his Infowars web site. Does losing his place on these platforms abridge his freedom of speech?

When someone says that something we otherwise believe is fake, it stirs deep emotions. Consider the immunization scam when Andrew Wakefield published in the Lancet that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may predispose to autism in children. Although false medical science, it circulated widely, and was widely believed. Today, communities are at risk, because kids are not being vaccinated by their parents, and regional outbreaks of these diseases which were largely extinct, are occurring again. So, despite the best efforts by the medical community to educate parents that the MMR vaccine is safe, the fake news outran any efforts to contain the lie.

Each day 100 million+ stories hit the internet, so we can’t possibly vet even a fraction of them. Fake news will get through, and spread. In the midterm elections, and in the presidential election in 2020, technology will build on what was learned in the 2016 presidential campaign: (brackets by Wrongo)

Trump ran 5.9 million different versions of ads during the presidential campaign and rapidly tested them [and]…spread those that generated the most Facebook engagement…. Clinton ran 66,000 different kinds of ads in the same period.

The next iteration of the technology will bring each of the 156 million registered voters in the US a stream of personalized messages. That’s because nearly everyone has a social media presence, and their information and preferences will be shared by the platform companies with the campaigns.

People who have influence on social media utilize these new technologies extremely well. Alex Jones uses it well, and is on the toxic end of the fake news spectrum. And there’s Trump, master of the continuous Twitter falsehood. He turns the lie around, accusing his detractors of spreading fake news. With the GOP in power, there will not be any government crackdown on misinformation. Here’s why: the Daily Beast reports on a disturbing poll by Ipsos:

43% of self-identified Republicans said that they believed “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior”…..48% of them said they believed “the news media is the enemy of the American people”.

If you trust what Alex Jones says, fine. But now, your ability to amplify his toxic brand of fake news has been hampered by the platform companies throwing him off. Parsing what is considered free speech is a slippery slope, and we won’t know just how slippery it is, until we start sliding down.

Case law says we’re able to protest, saying whatever we want, within some limits. We used to do that in town squares. A big question is: Are Facebook, Google, Instagram and Twitter the town squares of today?

That’s a question that hasn’t yet been decided. It is why who gets to sit on the Supreme Court is so damn important, particularly if Republicans agree that the president should decide which news outlets are allowed to publish.

Democracy requires conflicting opinions. Anybody can build a platform, and appeal to a niche audience. Today, you can spew falsehoods, like Alex Jones or Trump, who do just that every day.

We live in an era of doublespeak. Automobiles that get higher mileage kill their drivers. Fires are raging in California because there’s not enough water. When the president is an unreliable source of information, fake news carries the same importance as real news. But, legal scholars remind us that:

false news doesn’t serve the public interest in the way that true speech does.

Social media holds the potential of democratizing information, making it universally available. OTOH, fake news spread on social media has been proven to have a bigger impact, and to spread further and faster than real news.

Should the platform companies be able to ban someone, or some messages, even if they do not reflect a clear and present danger? Maybe. Jones and his ilk have other outlets for their spew. And they can build others, and their followers will find them.

This is the beginning of a pushback against fake news, and it’s only the beginning of a revitalized free speech debate pitting the main stream media against those who spew fake news.

If you only want to look at kittens online, go for it. It shouldn’t be all that our Constitution allows, but, where should we draw the line?

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Saturday Soother – June 9, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Rakotz Bridge, Kromlauer Park, Germany via @archpics

With the press busy mourning the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, you probably missed a couple of news stories about press freedom.

First, on Thursday night, the DOJ unsealed an indictment of James Wolfe, the long-time Director of Security for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Wolfe, a former Army intelligence analyst, had worked for the committee in a nonpartisan capacity for nearly 30 years. He is accused of one count of false statements to the FBI. The indictment alleges that he lied about his conversation with four journalists, Ali Watkins of the NYT, and three others.

The NYT revealed that Watkins, who had a three-plus year relationship with Wolfe, has had years of her communications subpoenaed. The DOJ obtained her subscriber information, and additional information from her phone.

The subscriber information that can be obtained by the DOJ is invasive. It includes your name, financial and other contact information, and IP and device addresses that allow them to map out all the communications a person uses.

It gives the government all of a journalist’s sources.

And the DOJ also sought and received Ali Watkins’ her email from when she was an undergraduate at Temple. She graduated in 2014. She broke her first national security story as a senior in college, so perhaps her school emails are relevant to the government’s investigation.

But this breach of the reporter/source privilege needs to explained. The government must delineate the boundary of what is, and isn’t acceptable in terms of vacuuming up a reporter’s source information.

It is important that counterintelligence sources and information be kept secret. James Wolfe’s motives are unclear, since he shared information with other reporters that he wasn’t having an affair with.

As of now, we don’t know if there was actual damage to an investigation.

The second item is the report, originally in April, that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intends to list and track  290,000 news outlets, journalists, bloggers, and influencers following select news stories. Their intent is to share those data with federal, state, local and private partners.

Naturally, there was pushback by news organizations, enough for the DHS’s Tyler Houlton to say:

Sure. Only a crank could possibly have an issue with one of the least transparent government agencies, the one with an Orwellian name, tracking and cataloging journalists. This amounts to mass monitoring of the press by the state.

So, two attacks on press freedom by the Trumpets, one by DOJ, and the other by DHS.

Remember, the government now has virtually unlimited processing power, bandwidth, and storage, and with that: Anything that can be monitored will be monitored.

This wasn’t feasible in the past, but now it is. We are at the point when privacy, as we have understood it in America, is over. For most of our country’s first 200 years, the government accepted that reporters would never reveal their sources, and by and large, no prosecutor and no judge would force them to try. It was a sacred protection guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Well, that’s changed. And it isn’t just the hard right bunch currently running the country. They are building on the efforts by Obama’s DOJ to seize journalists’ emails using the Espionage Act, to increase surveillance pressure on journalists and prosecute leakers of classified secrets.

It will take another court case similar to the Pentagon Papers to stem this undermining of press freedom. Good luck with that, given the current and likely future makeup of the Supreme Court.

Trump must respect and obey the First Amendment, in its entirety. The First Amendment is the core of our free society. Most whistle blowers are heroes.

This is how freedom is lost a little at a time, until one day we’ll wake up and find out that we’re no longer free. Technology has made Big Brother possible, but it is Congress that has made it legal.

Only pushback from freedom loving citizens will prevent it.

Wow! We really need a Saturday soothing. So, get off the couch, and brew up a cup of Kiniyota Espresso by Madison, Wisconsin’s JBC Coffee Roasters. It is produced entirely of the heirloom Bourbon variety of Arabica. Then, taste its rich notes of stone fruit and dark chocolate ($17.60/12oz). Now, sit outside, hopefully in a shady spot, and listen to the Viola Concerto in G major by Georg Philipp Telemann. It was probably composed in 1715. It was the first concerto for Viola. Here, it is played by Midwest Young Artists Conservatory:

Someone said that the viola is like the cream in an Oreo cookie; sweet and creamy, while holding the top and the bottom together.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Lockheed’s F-35 Jet a Failure After 17 Years

The Daily Escape:

Cherry Blossoms in snow, Fairfax VA – March 2018 photo by Jen Johnson

Lockheed Martin‘s fifth-generation stealth fighter, the F-35, has cost $406.5 billion so far. And it still has 263 “high priority” unaddressed performance and safety deficiencies. The list of setbacks includes faulty ejection seats, software delays, weapons targeting problems, and helmet-display issues.

The program was launched in 2001. The blog, War Is Boring says:

The American people were assured the new jet would enter service in 2008 and be a high-performance replacement for the military’s aging airframes while only costing between $40 million and $50 million.

But, 17+years later, the F-35 has continuing redesign, test deficiencies, fixes, schedule slippages and cost overruns. And according to War Is Boring (WisB), it’s going into production with many still-unsolved problems:

Despite this, the F-35 Joint Program Office now intends to call—quite arbitrarily—an end to the plane’s development phase and developmental testing. Instead of completing the presently planned development work, the Program Office is now proposing to substitute a vaguely defined F-35 upgrade program called “continuous capability development and delivery.”

This means that the F-35 will begin operational testing this year, using 23 planes that still incorporate the 263 known deficiencies.

And it’s worse than it appears. The reason to build this aircraft was to combat advanced future threats by our competitor’s air forces. However, WisB reports that testing shows that the planes already delivered cannot even effectively address the current threats. That’s a problem. The ancient, battle-proven A-10 is one of the aircrafts the F-35 was designed to replace:

As of now, testing shows the F-35 is incapable of performing most of the functions required for an acceptable close support aircraft, functions the A-10 is performing daily in current combat.

More:

In the air-to-air mission, the current F-35 is similarly incapable of matching legacy aircraft like the F-15, F-16 and F-22.

So, it looks as if we have a mismanaged program that may take many additional years to turn around. Along the way, they have gotten much more expensive. CNBC reports that the cost of each aircraft has doubled:

As it stands now, the unit price for an F-35A — including aircraft, engine and fees — is $94.3 million.

So, it’s actually a worse aircraft than those it supposedly replaces, and it’s more expensive. And, we’re ordering many, many more of them. CNBC reports that the fleet will grow from 280 aircraft to 800-plus by the end of 2021.

And it seems well past the stage where the program could be cancelled, even if the Department of Defense wanted to. The plane has suppliers in all 50 states, a perfect form of political insulation from any effort to scrap the program.

If the F-35 can’t be fixed, we may see a gradual trickle of announcements about additional procurement of A-10s, F-18’s, etc., to plug the gaps. It might turn out that F-35s will be for show, or limited use only, a little like battleships in WWII.

The colossal cost for a program that doesn’t work is mind blowing – all things considered, the F-35 program will cost in the low trillions of dollars. Despite all of the effort, time, and money, it remains an open question if the F-35 will ever live up to the promises the Defense Department made years ago.

The latest annual report from the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation, (DOT&E) has this summation: (brackets by WisB)

Finally and most importantly, the program will likely deliver Block 3F [the untested, allegedly “fully combat-capable” F-35 model now entering production] to the field with shortfalls in capabilities the F-35 needs in combat against current threats.

In other words, they acknowledge that the F-35s rolling off the production line will be unable to even deal with existing threats, let alone future ones. Where’s the accountability?

But the F-35 is a success in other ways. It’s been a perfect way for Congress to move taxpayer money to the defense industry. If the object is to keep Lockheed Martin shareholders happy, the F-35 is a roaring success.

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Automation Will Cost 75 Million US Jobs By 2030

The Daily Escape:

Torres Del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile. Torres Del Paine is known for its mountains, glaciers and grasslands that shelter rare wildlife like Guanacos.

Wrongo has written many times about automation taking jobs that will not be replaced onshore. McKinsey & Co. has a new study that finds that job losses due to automation will take out anywhere from ten to twenty percent of the current global workforce by 2030:

As many as 800 million workers worldwide may lose their jobs to robots and automation by 2030, equivalent to more than a fifth of today’s global labor force.

The report covers 46 countries and more than 800 occupations. The McKinsey Global Institute study found that even if the rise of robots is less rapid than they expect, 400 million workers could still find themselves displaced by automation and would need to find new jobs over the next 13 years. McKinsey said that both developed and emerging countries will be impacted. Machine operators, fast-food workers and back-office employees are among those who will be most affected if automation spreads quickly through the workplace. Bloomberg made a chart summarizing the jobs lost by country:

Source: Bloomberg

This implies that some 75 million jobs are at risk in the US by 2030, to be replaced by…something.

The bottom line is that many of the unemployed will need considerable help to shift to new work, and as a result, starting salaries will continue to flat line. McKinsey paints a rosy picture about the future jobs market post-automation. They say that the economies of most countries will eventually replace the lost jobs, but are a little unclear on what the new jobs will be. They mention health care, infrastructure, construction, renewable energy and IT as likely job areas.

But the challenge is how the displaced workers learn the new skills necessary by 2030. Axios quotes Michael Chui, lead author of the report on the needs for retraining:

We’re all going to have to change and learn how to do new things over time…It’s a Marshall Plan size of a task…

How will America fund a Marshall Plan for retraining 75 million of us, particularly when we’ve just given the very corporations who are automating our jobs even more of a break on their tax bills? It’s unlikely that the Republican-controlled Congress will have any desire to fund the necessary comprehensive re-training effort. If Congress had any foresight, they could have made their new corporate tax cuts conditional on these same firms paying for the job retraining that their automation will cause for American workers.

But, it will be our job to figure out where these new training funds will come from, right along with the funds we have already given to the job creators Republican donors.

And what if you don’t have the money or learning aptitude to acquire these new skills? Well, you are likely to be both unemployed and poor. And that mean tens of millions more Americans will not have the resources to stay out of poverty.

Perhaps CEOs and Congresscritters ought to remember that there are enough guns for every man, woman and child in this country, and many are in the hands of the very people who would be hurt most by automation.

We can’t hold back the tide of automation, but we can be smart about how we, as a country make the transition to fewer very highly-skilled workers and many narrowly-skilled workers. There are questions to ask, and solutions to craft for the post-2030 world.

How will America’s forgotten workers survive in a society that is led by people who don’t care if they have a job?

How will America’s forgotten workers survive if the political establishment tries to unwind the social safety net while celebrating the progress of technologies that cost jobs?

That could lead to torches and pitchforks.

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Are Smartphones Destroying Teens?

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, September 2017, near Granite Bay CA – photo by David Dodd

The Atlantic’s article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” makes the point that teens today are:

…less likely to date. The initial stage of courtship, which Gen Xers called “liking” (as in “Ooh, he likes you!”), kids now call “talking”—an ironic choice for a generation that prefers texting to actual conversation. After two teens have “talked” for a while, they might start dating. But only about 56% of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85%.

The decline in dating tracks with a decline in sexual activity. While websites showing sexual content such as www.tubev.sex are only becoming more popular, research appears to show that fewer young people are having sex of their own. Fewer teens having sex has contributed to what many see as one of the most positive youth trends in recent years: The teen birth rate hit an all-time low in 2016, down 67% since its modern peak, in 1991.

The article was written by Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. The article can be summarized as these teens are more comfortable online than out partying, but they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.

More from Dr. Twenge:

Even driving, a symbol of adolescent freedom inscribed in American popular culture…has lost its appeal for today’s teens. Nearly all Boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school…In conversation after conversation, teens described getting their license as something to be nagged into by their parents—a notion that would have been unthinkable to previous generations.

Quite a difference from Wrongo’s growing up in pre-boomer times. The idea of having your mom drive you to an event was as close to being humiliated in front of your friends as you ever wanted to be, so everyone got a driver’s license as soon as possible.

But today’s teens are less likely to leave the house to see friends. Twenge says that the shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.

We have seen this kind of alienation in Japan, where these people are called hikikomori, a term the Japanese use to define those who haven’t left their homes or physically interacted with others for at least six months. Japan has virtual high schools for teens who can’t leave home. Virtual high school is a thing in the US as well.

Add smartphones and video games together, and you can slow or pause social development and engagement with the real world. The real trouble is in the separation of virtual from lived experience that becomes physical separation and alienation. They’re more likely to visit this website, rather than want to experience the act themselves, this creates a generation of socially awkward, dependent soon to be adults.

No doubt there is a large group of teens who seem to live primarily through social media, some in Wrongo’s own family. Smartphones have made social media much more accessible, but are smartphones in and of themselves the causal factor? Hard to say. Wrongo has had a smart phone for a long time, still sees friends and family, and gets things done.

And the current crop of teens have the tools to be the best informed generation yet. OTOH, they have to be curious enough to perform in-depth search on those smartphones.

So, blaming the smartphone is using correlation to indicate causality.

In fact, this article may describe primarily an upper middle class phenomenon, not something that is society-wide. The kids being coddled are from families with enough money to do it. The intelligent ones among them are opportunistic harvesters of their parents’ resources, and perfectly capable of adaptation.

The genuinely alienated kids exist, but probably not in any larger numbers than the problem kids of earlier generations. But their problems manifest differently than in earlier generations.

If we believe our kids and grandkids are not prepared to face the reality of life, the fault lies with us, as it is our job to prepare them. The responsibility of any parent is to figure out how the world works, and to teach their children how to survive in it – this is true for all mammals.

BTW, today’s photo was shot by Wrongo’s grandson on his smartphone, on the way to his job, after his day at college.

Here is the Who doing “The Kids Are All Right” from their 1965 album, “My Generation”:

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Silicon Valley Will Escape the Revolution

The Daily Escape:

Waterfall Jumping Competition (from 69 feet up), Bosnia, August 5th – photo by Amel Emric

Antonio Garcia Martinez:

Every time I meet someone from outside Silicon Valley – a normy – I can think of 10 companies that are working madly to put that person out of a job…

Well, that makes most of us “normies”. In context, we are the people who do not work in Silicon Valley. We are the people who use technology, rather than invent technology, and many of us ought to see technology as a threat to our jobs and our place in society.

We are not in the beautiful peoples’ club. Our names are not on the list. We’re not software engineers who work just to pay the taxes on their company stock.

And who is this Martinez guy? From Mashable:

He’d sold his online ad company to Twitter for a small fortune, and was working as a senior exec at Facebook (an experience he wrote up in his best-selling book, Chaos Monkeys). But at some point in 2015, he looked into the not-too-distant future and saw a very bleak world, one that was nothing like the polished utopia of connectivity and total information promised by his colleagues.

Martinez pointed out that there are enough guns for every man, woman and child in this country, and they’re in the hands of people who would be hurt most by automation:

You don’t realize it but we’re in a race between technology and politics, and technologists are winning…

Martinez worries about how the combination of automation and artificial intelligence will develop faster than we expect, and that the consequences are lost jobs.

Martinez’s response was to become a tech prepper, another rich guy who buys an escape pod somewhere off the grid, where he thinks he will be safe from the revolution that he helped bring about. More from Mashable: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So, just passing [after turning] 40, Antonio decided he needed some form of getaway, a place to escape if things turn sour. He now lives most of his life on a small Island called Orcas off the coast of Washington State, on five Walt Whitman acres that are only accessible by 4×4 via a bumpy dirt path that…cuts through densely packed trees.

He’s not alone. Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn told The New Yorker earlier this year that around half of Silicon Valley billionaires have some degree of “apocalypse insurance.” Pay-Pal co-founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel recently bought a 477-acre escape hatch in New Zealand, and became a Kiwi. Other techies are getting together on secret Facebook groups to discuss survivalist tactics.

We’ve got to expect that with AI and automation, our economy will change dramatically. We will see both economic and social disruption until we achieve some form of new equilibrium in 30 years or so.

It will be a world where either you work for the machines, or the machines work for you.

Robert Shiller, of the famous Case-Shiller Index, wrote in the NYT about the changing meaning of the “American Dream” from the 1930s where it meant:

…ideals rather than material goods, [where]…life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement…It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable…

That dream has left the building, replaced by this:

Forbes Magazine started what it calls the “American Dream Index.” It is based on seven statistical measures of material prosperity: bankruptcies, building permits, entrepreneurship, goods-producing employment, labor participation rate, layoffs and unemployment claims. This kind of characterization is commonplace today, and very different from the original spirit of the American dream.

How will the “Normies” survive in a society that doesn’t care if you have a job? That refuses to provide a safety net precisely when it celebrates the progress of technology that costs jobs?

The Silicon Valley survivalists understand that, when this happens, people will look for scapegoats. And we just might decide that the techies are it.

Today’s music is “Guest List” by the Eels from the 1996 album “Beautiful Freak”:

 Takeaway Lyric:

Are you one of the beautiful people
Is my name on the list
Wanna be one of the beautiful people
Wanna feel like I’m missed

Are you one of the beautiful people
Am I on the wrong track
Sometimes it feels like I’m made of eggshell
And it feels like I’m gonna crack

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Our Election System Is Under Threat

The Daily Escape:

The Dark Hedges near Ballymoney, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. (Featured in the Game of Thrones as the King’s Road) – photo by Colin Park

America is also walking down a dark path. We need to work on the integrity of our election process. From the WSJ:

To understand the scale of the hacking attempts against election systems in the 2016 presidential election, consider South Carolina. On Election Day alone, there were nearly 150,000 attempts to penetrate the state’s voter-registration system, according to a postelection report by the South Carolina State Election Commission.

If hackers were that persistent against a state that President Donald Trump won with 54.9% of the vote, what did they try to do in the states that were in play? Quite a bit, it turns out. More from the WSJ: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

In harder-fought Illinois, for instance, hackers were hitting the State Board of Elections “5 times per second, 24 hours per day” from late June until Aug. 12, 2016, when the attacks ceased for unknown reasons, according to an Aug. 26, 2016, report by the state’s computer staff. Hackers ultimately accessed approximately 90,000 voter records, the State Board of Elections said.

The next day, Illinois temporarily took its voter-registration database and public-facing website offline. No records were altered, according to the state, and the issue was resolved before Election Day. The hackers haven’t been identified.

Many hackers, including state-sponsored ones, use automated programs to target hundreds or even thousands of computers to check for vulnerabilities. All of this is done by bots. This happens to ALL websites, (including Wrongo’s) not just to election systems. Confirming intrusions can be difficult, even if intrusion detection technology is deployed. But many municipalities and counties have not deployed it, since it can be very expensive.

Time Magazine reported that the number of actual successful intrusions in the 2016 election cycle, where hackers gained sufficient access to attempt to alter, delete or download any information, was “fewer than a dozen”.

The tally of hacking (or attempted hacking) into state election databases was widespread in the 2016 election. Jeanette Manfra, acting deputy undersecretary for cyber-security and communications at the Department of Homeland Security, said at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last month:

There is evidence that 21 states were targeted by hackers

From the NYT:

By 2020, cyberattacks could try to alter or erase voter registration databases…or do something else to interfere with actual voting on Election Day…public confidence in the fairness of our electoral process could decrease further, even if the hacks are unsuccessful, as incendiary and unsupported claims about voter fraud, cheating and altered vote totals spread via social media.

America needs to start from the premise that one state’s (any state’s) insufficient protections against hacking in presidential elections affects us all. Protecting government databases is critical and needs to be done yesterday. From Wrongo’s experience as a former provider of outsourced services to both state and federal governments, it is clear that the IT staff at many government agencies lack the expertise or budgets to harden the electoral system against attacks.

We have been discussing the hacking of the voter databases, not vote results. These databases have little to do with the actual vote tallies in a given election. But if the US developed one giant database that recorded everyone’s votes along with names, addresses, and SSNs, people’s identities could be stolen.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity plans to build. Nearly all states have said that they will not comply with the commission’s request for voter data. When the winners of one election cycle try to pick the rules, referees and judges for the next cycle, it’s clearly a system at risk of shutting out true democratic input.

The story of possible Russian hacking in our 2016 election, and the possible Trump family involvement in the Russian efforts diverts our attention from the real story, which is that cyber security in the US is a gaping vulnerability.

It threatens our security, our economy and our democracy.

We need a musical break. Over the weekend, there was a two-day Rock concert at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles called “Classic West”. Many old groups performed over two days. Here, we focus on the Eagles, who played with the son of the late Eagle, Glenn Frey. His 23 year-old son Deacon Frey stood in for his legend of a father, in front of 50k fans, who accepted him as part of the family. It was a fitting tribute. The Eagles also added Vince Gill, who sang “Take It to the Limit”, and “Lyin’ Eyes”. But here is Deacon Frey delivering an emotional moment on “Take It Easy”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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