May 8, 2015 archive

TPP: Absence of Currency Control Makes It Unacceptable

Wall Street biggest friend in the Senate Charles Schumer doesn’t like the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, not so much for what’s in it but what isn’t, currency controls. Because the secret agreement being negotiated by the Obama administration doesn’t contain a clause that would protect currencies from being manipulated, Sen. Schumer is free to discuss it and why it’s important. In an interview and article at Huffington Post, he goes into the details about his concern and how currency manipulation hurts international trade and manufacturing.

A decade ago, or perhaps a little longer, New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer had an epiphany during a visit to a Crucible Industries steel plant in Syracuse.

His realization has proved enduring, and a decade later, it threatens to derail the grand trade agenda of his fellow Democrat, President Barack Obama.

The lightning bolt that lit up Schumer’s imagination that day was delivered by managers at the specialty steel factory, who complained of a surprisingly simple and profound fact that few people ever consider if they don’t deal in international commodities. Steel fabricators in Schumer’s state were losing sales not because of any failing on their part, but because the government of China was using a trick of the international currency market to keep Chinese manufacturers’ goods as much as one-third cheaper.

The label for the practice is currency manipulation, and Schumer has harped on it ever since — in meetings with business leaders, on the Senate floor, in hearings, and with legislative offerings.

But what exactly is it, and why does does it matter? And why is it so important to many Democrats that if it’s not addressed in the ongoing push for massive new trade pacts, they’re willing to torpedo their own president’s agenda? [..]

The numbers of jobs lost from manipulation, and the flip-side potential gains from ending it, are what make it so important for many lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle. Republicans, such as Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.), have been strong proponents for legislation that would crack down on currency manipulation.

But for Democrats, many of whom support the goals Obama is striving for in his pursuit of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement with 11 Pacific Rim nations, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe, currency manipulation is especially important because many suspect Obama will be unable to enforce the stronger labor and environmental standards called for in those trade deals. [..]

But in a sign of just how important currency manipulation is to several countries that would be included Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama administration officials who testified on Capitol Hill last month almost universally warned that passing currency measures would be a trade-deal killer.


The Breakfast Club (Self Driving Trucks)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgI think I should make it clear up front that I’m not a big fan of self driving anything and part of it is because I’m a programmer.  The wonder of computers is not that they screw up (Blue Screen of Death anyone?), it’s that they work at all.

In many respects I’ve had an advantage in the applications I’ve created because I’ve rolled my own from User Interface to Processing Input to Formating Reports and I intimately know each of the variables and the transformations they’ve been subjected to.

Mistakes are easy to make at each stage of the process producing unexpected results that must always be tested to make sure they conform with reality.

There are at least 3 primary points of failure (the examples I provide are just that, examples, nor is this list intended to be comprehensive).

  • Unexpected Input- If I ask you for a number and you type in ‘Strawberry’ what do I do?
  • Unintended Consequences- I accept unlimited input (High Frequency Trading) and I overflow the limitations of my infrastructure or reporting capabilities (Flash Crash).
  • Cloning of Errors- Every copy of a program is exactly the same, so a single error is duplicated in every installation.

This is why, though modern planes are theoretically capable of landing themselves and have (under test conditions), we insist that they have not only a pilot, but a co-pilot and flight engineer.  Now this is no safeguard against a crazy pilot locking everyone else out of the system and doing something suicidal (I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my Grandfather, not screaming in terror like his passengers) but it does mitigate against computer failure with the exception that the control systems must function as expected.

You read a lot of stories about pilots attempting emergency interventions that computers decide the airframe is not capable of.  How safe is that?  The human response is to try harder and most reports blame the pilot.  The aircraft crashes just the same, usually killing everyone on board.

Now extend the limited universe of planes to the wider universe of cars and trucks.  295,900 trucks in 2009 were involved in accidents.  Now I’m sure most of those may be blamed on intoxication or exhaustion and computers never get drunk or tired but while computer assisted flight controls have been extensively tested and refined but are still flawed, vehicle controls are in their infancy.

This is not a technology that is ready for prime time however much big trucking desires to fire all their drivers and send double trailer semis careening down our highways.

Hell, even trains have engineers and they run on rails.

Are you ready to get side swiped by a driverless truck into the guard rail and who will you blame?

Nevada clears self-driving 18-wheeler for testing on public roads

by Sam Thielman, The Guardian

Wednesday 6 May 2015 14.24 EDT

Drone trucks could soon be plying US highways after Nevada authorities on Wednesday granted a license to test self-driving trucks on public roads.

While companies such as Google and luxury brands like Lexus have dominated the headlines with advances in driverless cars, Daimler board member Wolfgang Bernhard told reporters autonomous trucks were likely to hit the roads first.

Daimler’s 18-wheel Inspiration has now been certified for use on public roads in the state, and yesterday the non-human (well, less-human) big rig rolled out across the Hoover Dam, negotiating some (but not all) turns and twists all by itself. For the tougher curves, it had some help from a driver inside the cab.

The licensing process was a lengthy one, said a Nevada department of motor vehicles spokesman, David Sierro. “I’m just getting out of the truck now,” he told the Guardian. “You’re talking about a series of different technologies; crash avoidance, blindsight, camera technology,” he said. “Rather than being a single autonomous [device] it’s a series of technologies they’re developing. They’re building it in an incremental way.”

Sierro said Daimler tested the truck on areas like the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the trucks could read pavement markings without endangering other drivers or pedestrians. “It’s fascinating to see how it’s reading the lines,” Sierro said. “When there’s something [too complex for the autopilot] coming up, there’s a warning that lets the driver know he’s going to have to take over.”

Tony Illia, of the Nevada department of transportation, said the state gave Daimler the option to start out simply. “There are huge stretches of empty, government-owned land [in Nevada],” he said. “Our population is centered in the Reno area and the Las Vegas area”, so trucks going between the two mostly have to navigate long straightaways. Daimler had a request of the Nevada government, too: “The one thing [Daimler] did ask was to brighten up the lane-striping and the buttons, to make sure they were clean and bright,” Illia said. “I think that helps the cameras on the truck.”

Companies like Lowell, Arkansas-based JB Hunt have reported a driver shortage across the country and are looking at consolidation in order to meet demand. The company is also worried about changing emissions standards for Class 8 trucks (that’s the class of truck demoed today, which Daimler says is more efficient), so a vehicle with a driver who has to do less work, or requires no driver at all, could provide companies like Hunt with a cost savings on labor.

“Could provide companies like Hunt with a cost savings on labor.”

There you go.

Science Oriented Video

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

On This Day In History May 8

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

May 8 is the 128th day of the year (129th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 237 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1973, A 71-day standoff between federal authorities and the American Indian Movement members occupying the Pine Ridge Reservation at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, site of the infamous massacre of 300 Sioux by the U.S. 7th Cavalry in 1890, ends with the surrender of the militants.

AIM was founded in 1968 by Russell Means, Dennis Banks, and other Native-American leaders as a militant political and civil rights organization.


Their actions were acclaimed by many Native Americans, but on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Oglala Sioux Tribal President Dick Wilson had banned all AIM activities. AIM considered his government corrupt and dictatorial, and planned the occupation of Wounded Knee as a means of forcing a federal investigation of his administration. By taking Wounded Knee, The AIM leaders also hoped to force an investigation of other reservations, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and broken Indian treaties.


The Wounded Knee occupation lasted for a total of 71 days, during which time two Sioux men were shot to death by federal agents. One federal agent was paralyzed after being shot. On May 8, the AIM leaders and their supporters surrendered after White House officials promised to investigate their complaints.


In 1975, two FBI agents and a Native-American man were killed in a massive shoot-out between federal agents and AIM members and local residents. In a controversial trial, AIM member Leonard Peltier was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.


The U.S. government took no steps to honor broken Indian treaties, but in the courts some tribes won major settlements from federal and state governments in cases involving tribal land claims.

The Daily/Nightly Show (Cray Day)

Kings County

Jacque Reid, the Lucas Brothers, Lavell Crawford, and Ricky Valez will be appearing tonightly.


Al Madrigal

And because I can’t resist-

New Yoik v. New Joisey

Next week’s guests-

Mumford & Sons, despite the name, only has one Mumford, Marcus.  They play a kind of electrified folk music and have a new album out, Wilder Mind.

Ernest Moniz gets a 2 part web exclusive extended interview.  That and the real news below.