The Angle 09/30/2018

A simple idea: an article, a link, a quote, and an angle, because the bigger narrative is better.

Today: Ever Wonder What Happened To Deficit Hawks?, The End Of Chimerica, How Not To Think About Atheists, and Here’s Looking At You…Kid?

>“As Debt Rises, the Government Will Soon Spend More on Interest Than on the Military”  | The New York Times

“The run-up in borrowing costs is a one-two punch brought on by the need to finance a fast-growing budget deficit, worsened by tax cuts and steadily rising interest rates that will make the debt more expensive.

With less money coming in and more going toward interest, political leaders will find it harder to address pressing needs like fixing crumbling roads and bridges or to make emergency moves like pulling the economy out of future recessions.

Within a decade, more than $900 billion in interest payments will be due annually, easily outpacing spending on myriad other programs. Already the fastest-growing major government expense, the cost of interest is on track to hit $390 billion next year, nearly 50 percent more than in 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office.”

The Angle> Ever Wonder What Happened To Deficit Hawks? The Trump Presidency and The Bush Presidency silenced them. Now the deficit soars as the economy booms. We know this is unsustainable. I think it’s part of a plan, what Steve Bannon called “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” If I’m right, then President Trump’s disdain for higher interest rates is just a pose. Tax cuts and military spending will push the debt and deficit higher. At some point Trump will use high interest rates (or an inevitable slowdown) as an excuse for massive fiscal and administrative cuts as well as more regulatory rollbacks. He’ll govern as if he’s channeling the ghost of Calvin Coolidge. Most of us will howl, but the people and corporations who benefit most from the tax cuts will laud him for making tough decisions.  

>“An Economic Cold War Looms Between The U.S. and China” | The Wall Street Journal

“Now, as both dig in on their trade dispute, some see an economic cold war looming in which the U.S. and China seek to lead competing economic blocs. “Neither China nor America wants to be part of Chimerica anymore,” says Brad Setser, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The Chinese don’t want the technological dependence, and the U.S. doesn’t want the persistent trade deficits.”

Officially, the U.S. is imposing tariffs on Chinese imports as a hard-nosed but hopefully temporary tactic to force China to treat U.S. companies and goods more fairly. Yet, Beijing has shown no sign of caving to U.S. demands that, in totality, entail a wholesale end of the industrial policy that has long guided Chinese economic development. Some suspect the U.S. goal isn’t a negotiated solution, but to disentangle the two economies permanently.

“The U.S. and China are in for a long and acrimonious confrontation,” Arthur Kroeber of Gavekal Dragonomics, a China-based research firm, wrote last week. This isn’t driven by President Trump alone, he wrote, but “by a powerful coalition of security and economic officials who believe the U.S. is entering an existential conflict with China for global economic, technological and geopolitical dominance.””

The Angle> The End Of Chimerica.Chimerica is a neologism and portmanteau coined by Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick describing the symbiotic relationship between China and the United States, with incidental reference to the legendary chimera.” It refers to the phase of globalization that emerged in the 1970s. Its essential dynamic was China financing American debt, which America used to buy Chinese goods. This age of globalization, if not ending, is in transition to something we don’t fully understand yet, though some developments like China’s One Belt, One Road initiative offers some clues. However, more and more Republicans lately claim to know what the future looks like. We should remember that throughout much of American history The Republican Party has had a love affair with tariffs, sometimes with disastrous effects. The Great Depression and World War II are horrific examples. If history has anything to teach us, it will at least be informative to read up on whether trade wars lead to shooting wars.

>“Why Atheists Are Not As Rational As Some Like To Think” | The Conversation

“When you ask atheists about why they became atheists (as I do for a living), they often point to eureka moments when they came to realise that religion simply doesn’t make sense.

Oddly perhaps, many religious people actually take a similar view of atheism. This comes out when theologians and other theists speculate that it must be rather sad to be an atheist, lacking (as they think atheists do) so much of the philosophical, ethical, mythical and aesthetic fulfilments that religious people have access to – stuck in a cold world of rationality only.

The problem that any rational thinker needs to tackle, though, is that the science increasingly shows that atheists are no more rational than theists. Indeed, atheists are just as susceptible as the next person to “group-think” and other non-rational forms of cognition. For example, religious and nonreligious people alike can end up following charismatic individuals without questioning them. And our minds often prefer righteousness over truth, as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has explored.”

The Angle> How Not To Think About Atheists. How rational the scientifically minded really are is an interesting area of psychological study. But the essential question isn’t whether atheists are rational—it’s whether it’s rational to be an atheist. I believe it is, and I don’t think that belief would be somehow compromised if I believed in astrology or ancient aliens.

>“Glitches Mount In New Airport Facial Recognition Systems” | SF Gate

“Critics of the program have questioned the reliability of the technology’s image-matching capabilities, and the report suggested there is some validity to those concerns. “Due to missing or poor quality digital images, CBP could not consistently match individuals of certain age groups or nationalities,” the report said.

Specifically, it said the study found that the program’s biometric “match rates” – i.e., successfully matching a passenger’s airport photo with one in the database – were lowest for individuals who were under age 29 or over age 70. This may be due to how much an individual aged between the time his or her passport or visa photo was taken and when a current image is captured at the airport. That timespan could be “several years, during which time a person’s facial features might have changed,” the report noted.

Finding accurate matches was also “problematic” for some nationalities, the report said: “U.S. citizens accounted for the lowest biometric confirmation rate and were up to six times more likely to be rejected than non-U.S. citizens.” The Inspector General suggested the reason might be that U.S. citizens had “fewer photos available in the digital gallery than foreign visitors who had to meet passport requirements,” and because the U.S. only requires its citizens to renew their passports every 10 years.”

The Angle>  Here’s Looking At You…Kid? It’s used in airports now, but one of the true goals of those working on facial recognition is to use it in courtrooms. However, it will take a long time before we can trust facial recognition technology in the way we trust DNA testing, fingerprints, and blood spatter analysis—if we can truly trust it at all. Facial recognition (particularly any kind that could be used to send people to jail) will rely on black box technology that will surely be proprietary. Sometimes we can’t even tell what these algorithms are doing or how they do it. Were I a criminal defense lawyer, I’d be making plans right now to expand my practice into this field. If a jury didn’t believe “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” I’d have a field day shredding A..I engineers on the stand who can’t reveal exactly how their technology works because it’s a secret.


IMAGE SOURCE: books-1655783_1920 (creative commons)

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