Thursday, April 20, 2017

Swastikas and Hammer and Sickles

While getting a glass of water at school today a schoolmate walked over. His shirt was colorful and it looked like it might have been from Firefly, so I looked at it.

It was a communist shirt.

After spending years of my life studying political economy at school and reading all of the great political philosophers I have come up with two major points on communism.

  1. The only major issue Lenin and Marx disagreed on was whether communism would evolve naturally from society or whether it could be sped up and skip over the capitalist stage. Everything else is identical and the Soviet Union was an accurate implementation of Marxist thought.
  2. The Communists and Fascists have one big difference between them in terms of how their countries function. Communists are more likely to kill you. (based on the death tolls of the Holocaust vs. Holodomor, Great Chinese Famine, Gulags, and multiple other artificial famines across the Eastern Bloc in the 20th century)
This is why when I see someone wearing a hammer and sickle I feel deeply offended. I have friends in the Soviet Union, and my older friends there were close to people who were murdered by the Soviet despots. The other thing is that the Soviet Union would have stayed allied with Hitler to the end of World War II if Hitler hadn't been the biggest tactical idiot of the 20th century with his decision to invade. They had no problem with the Holocaust and had a record of antisemitism themselves. That is why the Jewish Autonomous Oblast exists today. It is a legacy of extreme anti-semitism. Yet another similarity between Communism and Fascism.

The worst part of all is that this fool decided to wear a hammer and sickle on 4/20, the biggest holiday for Fascists.

Please don't wear Hammer and sickle shirts. This German American whose family lived through the Third Reich has friends in the Republic of Georgia and Russia. I find them highly offensive and just DON'T DO IT. Just throw on your Iron Cross and Swastika over your hood while brandishing the flag of ISIS if you feel like you have to display offensive imagery. Just DON'T DO IT without understanding the history of the imagery you are displaying in public.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

3 years in advance, 2020 prospects

Trump's first 100 days have been relatively uneventful compared to what it looked like 3 months ago. He failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, has reduced his plans for the border wall. On the downside he has approved more pipelines, implemented a hiring freeze for the government, and slashed funding for services we rely on, like the EPA, FDA, and many other agencies we depend on. Some decisions are more nuanced, such as the actions in Syria, and it remains to be seen whether our increased involvement in Syria will defeat ISIS. He banned refugees which hurts the fight against international terrorism. His protectionist policies threaten our economy. He praises Putin will claiming NATO allies need to pay up. Officials from multiple intelligence agencies expect meddling by Russia in our election. We have seen more nepotism in this administration than any other in living memory. He removed environmental reviews for many infrastructure projects, putting our health at risk. Despite critizing Obama for vacation he already has spent more on vacation than Obama did per year on average. The very fact that he tried to repeal health care without a reasonable approval shows he does not care about the average American and is just looking for

In 2020 we are going to need a change of pace to reinstate the services he has already cut. The next president of the United States is probably in office already, and is likely either a governor or senator currently. Trump is the first president to not be a sitting Senator or governor since Eisenhower, and most Presidents in history have been one or the other. In order to be an effective candidate the Democratic nominee will need to be:

  1. Someone who understands science and listens to professionals in order to make the right decision.
  2. Someone without a history of corruption. I will only consider governors from the top half of states because of this.
  3. Someone with a good media presence and excellent speaking skills.
  4. A strong progressive background
  5. Popular
The first metric I think we should examine are the most popular politicians in America. On this metric Bernie Sanders stands out as the most popular politician in America. People know who he is and his policies are popular enough for him to get +29 points (favorable - unfavorable) in a Fox News poll. The other polled was for Elizabeth Warren who also polled positively, despite only 70% of respondents knowing who she is (a massive improvement from previous polls). A Sanders-Warren or Warren-Sanders ticket would blow Trump out of the water in 2020 if they chose to run. Bernie Sanders is doing the best in primary polls right now, although it is certainly too early to call. Sanders and Warren match all 5 requirements I can think of in order to be a successful president. O'Malley also won a poll in Iowa, and he would be a fantastic president.

When it comes to governors, the following are at the top of the list:
  1. Former Delaware governor Jack Markell was the most popular Democratic governor in the nation with 66% approval, 5% more than Bernie Sanders. He has been a leader on lgbt rights and the environment, and has improved state campaign finance laws. He would be a great President if he chose to run. Delaware scores well on corruption rankings.
  2. Mark Dayton of Minnesota is the second most popular Democratic governor in America currently at 61% percent approval, but he doesn't have the strong anti-corruption record of Markell. Minnesota scores very well on corruption rankings.
  3. John Hickenlooper already can't walk into a room without people asking him to run for president, like when he was on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me a few weeks ago.  He has an amazing economic policy, strong on gun control,  and is in favor of marijuana legalization. He would be a fantastic president. Colorado scores very well on corruption convictions.
  4. Kate Brown of Oregon is enjoying 58% approval and is strong on all metrics. Oregon is the least corrupt state in the nation.
  5. Jay Inslee of Washington is at 56% approval and a strong progressive on most issues, despite opposing Initiative 732. Washington is the second least corrupt state in the nation.

So, my ideal primary would see Bernie Sanders (who will likely win) on the stage with Kate Brown, John Hickenlooper, Elizabeth Warren, Jay Inslee, and Mark Dayton. These are 6 individuals who do the best they can given their available information and we would be lucky to have any of these individuals as our next president.

More details:
Candidate Age on 20 January 2021 State
Kate Brown 60Oregon
Jay Inslee 69 Washington
Elizabeth Warren 71Massachusetts
Bernie Sanders 79 Vermont
John Hickenlooper 68 Colorado
Mark Dayton 73 Minnesota

The first thing about these heavy hitters is that they are all fairly old to be President. Most Presidents have usually been in their 50s with an ordinary bell curve with the median at 55. Obama was 48 when he became President, Clinton was 46. All other Presidents since Kennedy have been older. Trump is the oldest President ever at 70 years old upon inauguration. These 6 candidates are all very good people but also would continue to be yet another baby boomer President. It would be ideal in my opinion to have a younger President (like Obama, the most successful since LBJ by a wide margin). All of these candidates had the opportunity to run in 2016 and only one of them did.

For younger politicians, the following spark my interest:

  1. Senator Tammy Duckworth is a veteran from Illinois with an excellent record.
  2. Keith Ellison is a representative (the only President elected from the House so far has been Lincoln) but a strong progressive voice for our country.
  3. Kamala Harris of California has a fantastic record as a prosecutor in California and I expect great things from her.

There are not very many ideal presidential candidates in America today. The Democratic Party has failed  to get a pipeline of candidates from the local level to be a dominant force in politics like the Republican Party has done. They need to fight gerrymandering and voter discrimination now in order to be a competitive party nationally. Until this happens we will continue to see the Republicans rule the country at all levels of government. But, we have 9 great choices for President, hopefully one will win the election in 2020 and make Donald Trump the first one term president in a generation. We can do it, if we choose to.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Seattle vs. Munich

Seattle has twice the population of Munich, less than 10% of the light rail, and the train (singular) has 1/3 The frequency of the Munich system. It also costs more.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Peace in the Middle East

The current situation in the Middle East is caused by numerous factors which make war almost inevitable without serious changes in the reality of the region.

  1. The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, driven partially by religion with both countries supporting terrorist groups abroad. (sources)
  2. Rivalry between the United States and Russia supporting and opposing governments in the region. The United States is allied with Saudi Arabia and Israel, and Russia is allied with Iran.
  3. There is very little trade between Sunni and Shiite states, making war far more likely.
  4. Colonialism created boundaries which do not take into account the ethnic and religious diversity of the region. Iraq, Yemen, and Syria are the most seriously harmed by this policy. They are multi-ethnic states (which can sometimes work) but lack the institutions to govern a diverse people effectively. Turkey used to be a major player in the region and they were able to keep the Kurdish regions, historically harming the Kurds creating rebel groups which were supported by Russia.
We see today the invasion of Syria by the United States, a historic moment where we have transitioned from supplying the rebels to actively bombing ISIS. ISIS is a terrorist organization which needs to be eliminated, but terrorism in the middle east will continue until we target the causes of terrorism. The root of this is the Sunni-Shiite divide. The majority of attacks by terrorist groups are done in more multi-ethnic states and non-Muslim states. You do not find many attacks in Riyadh or Tehran. Partially this has to do with the stability of those regions, causing fewer potential recruits and also because Al Qaeda has its historic roots in Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah has support from Iran. All of this combined means they are far safer. Oman which is neither Sunni nor Shiite also has almost no terrorist attacks, being Ibadi, another branch of Islam. They maintain good relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. This, combined with their wealth, helps explain why terrorist attacks in Oman are rare.

If we want to fix the mess in Syria we will need to start by having Saudi Arabia and Iran talk with one another and have better relations. Trade between the two countries and cooperation for a more prosperous Middle East will quickly reduce the terrorism the countries finance bringing stability to the region. Countries increasing their trade and improving relations with both regional powers will also help those individual countries avoid future conflict. There are definitely other factors but I believe these two will make the largest effect.

My heart aches for Syria and I wish that the people had the government they deserve.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Better Budget Process

If I were to design the budget of a country I would do it completely differently from how any country in the world does it. I would throw out the opinion polls (which can easily be manipulated) and close the doors to lobbyists and interest groups for the drafting process, in order to prevent corrupting the entire system. A group of economists would then be tasked with estimating the multiplier effects of every government program and modeling how the multipliers decline following the law of diminishing marginal utility as you get more of a good, the amount of added benefit declines. This is how we determine whether the government should spend $1 million or $1 trillion on education, whether we should give a universal basic income of $0, $1000, or $5000 per capita to maximize the well being of our country.

The computer model would then list the multipliers of every government program. This is different based on different government programs, food stamps have a multiplier of 179% while the military has a multiplier of around 50%, every type of spending has this metric which is one way we should guide how we design our budgets. We would start off with estimates of how much the multiplier is for every dollar and then claculate the budget increasing spending until the marginal benefit of the last dollar spent is equal to the marginal cost of the different types of taxes and government borrowing to finance the government spending. The computer would keep increasing spending in one program until the multiplier is equal to the expenditure of the next valuable program and keep increasing spending until the marginal benefit of government spending is equal to the marginal cost of taxes and borrowing. This will help money move to more productive uses and grow our economy as much as possible. Every year we would get a better understanding of how different forms of government spending and taxes behave in the real world and adjust spending accordingly. During a recession we would likely continue to practice counter cyclical fiscal policy to make our economy run smoothly.

Another guiding principle to government spending will also be to reduce risk for the economy as whole so that the decisions people make will take in externalities as much as possible. We will almost certainly have a carbon tax with such a plan, as well as a rule of no bailouts under any circumstance with this guiding principle of people seeing the consequences of their actions.

After the model budget is proposed it would then go to a vote in Congress and be available for public comment, but such a budget would be better for the economy as a whole, and if we have a good Congress working for the benefit of the country would hopefully vote for such a budget. Some programs for public safety might be implemented on top of the budget if they are not covered by the number crunching computer, it is hard to tell without building the model. It is likely the media would manipulate public opinion against such a plan, meaning the enacted budget would probably be worse than our optimum budget. At the end of the day however, it is better to start with the best plan possible to get our most optimal final result.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Accurate world maps

I've been into geography longer than I can remember. I have enjoyed reading maps since I was a child and have a large personal map collection. In 5th grade I won my homeschool geography bee and after taking the test was one of the 100 children in Washington State selected for the State Geography Bee. It is rare for me to meet someone as good as me in geography and direction.

Boston Public Schools has chosen to select the Galls-Peter projection as its projection of choice for its school as opposed to Mercator because it is an equal area projection which shows Africa as a massively huge continent relative to others.  They are doing this as a way to emphasize the size of Africa, but there are many better ways to accurately display the size of Africa (over 3 times the size of the US) without stretching the shapes of landmasses to the point of being useless. It is true that the size of Africa is massive, and while Gall-Peters accurately displays the relative sizes it is hard to actually understand the meaning of this the way the map is drawn. While Mercator emphasizes relative shapes while making relative sizes absolutely distorted.


Gall-Peters and Mercator inversely ruin the polar regions and equatorial regions so the only areas which are somewhat accurate are the temperate zones. I do not recommend either projection for this major reason. Mercator is good for drawing distances when you cross the sea, which is why it is so popular, but for someone learning geography neither projection is accurate enough. I would not put either one on the wall of a child's bedroom.

When choosing a world map which is accurate in size and useful, it is important to understand there is no one perfect way to represent the world except as a globe. This however means you can only really see about one third of the world at a time, making it useless for many purposes, so an accurate flat map is necessary.

This is the biggest challenge of cartography. It is physically impossible to accurately represent the world as a flat map. There are a few good examples, and none of them are perfect squares because it is literally impossible to make a decent map of a globe as a rectangle. Any map showing the world as a rectangle will be significantly distorted in one way or another to the point of being a poor representation of the world.

Some projections get size as close as possible, the best way to do this is a sinusodial projection the disadvantage is that the shapes of continents are almost worthless:

I am fond of the Robinson projection which the National Geographic Society uses because it has a nice balance between relative sizes and maintaining the shapes of continents. There is distortion near the poles, but this is easily supplemented by using the corners of the map to show polar regions, which National Geographic has done in many of their maps I have.

I really like a recent projection from Japan called Authagraph because it accurately shows relative shapes of continents in a way which is particularly useful for mapping the movement of people around the world. The advantage to this map is that it keeps both shapes and sizes very accurate. The areas which are distorted are now areas of the ocean which for most mapping purposes are not useful (unless you are an oceanographer, in which case it would be a terrible choice). I particularly like how every continent is shown in full, helping people understand why Antarctica is a continent and Greenland is an island (another good way to illustrate this point is a Robinson projection which focuses on elevation and ocean depths, which makes it clear where plate boundaries are).

For most purposes the AuthaGraph or Robinson projections are two excellent ways to accurately describe the world preserving both size and shape as accurately as possible. Authagraph has the advantage that it can literally be folded into a globe it is so accurate, which you cannot even do with Robinson. If I were designing the walls of a 3 or 4 year old I would likely put an Authagraph projection on the wall, and have a Robinson projection somewhere else in the house.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

CBO has too narrow a focus on health care

On the CBO's front page and all the headlines are about reducing the deficit. The talk about the health care law is only focused on how it will reduce the federal deficit, not how it will effect the actual amount Americans spend on health care. Here is the thing, like most reasonable people, if someone said that I can either see the cost of my health care go up by $1000 in my private spending or see my taxes go up by $500 I would rather see my taxes go up by $500 because I am better off. This perception people have which overemphasizes small increases in government spending while ignoring massive costs at the rest of our pocket books is going to ruin our nation, and I am not exaggerating, this has been the result of many well designed studies. We need to see a dollar as a dollar no matter where it enters or leaves our pocket books, to do otherwise is folly.

The CBO leaves out the big issue in this report which is overall health care spending for the country. Read it here: even though they leave out the most important part of any health care legislation in this country.