In the fire of spring
Your winter garment of repentance fling:
The bird of time has but a little way
To flutter – And the bird is on the wing.
– Omar Khayyám, Rubáiyát
PARIS – We are sitting at a sidewalk café in the 7th arrondissement. The sun is shining. People come and go; endless streams from the left and the right.
Couples sit chatting at the adjacent tables. Groups of colleagues take a break from work. And students stop to have a cigarette between classes.
There are tourists, too, with their maps and water bottles, making a pilgrimage to the burnt-out Notre Dame cathedral. They bring so much money into the city, it is now hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t have an English menu.
It is springtime in Paris.
Truth and Lies
Back in America…
The nice thing about Donald Trump is that he is “honest.” Even when he is lying. He’s a performance artist for whom truth and lies are more or less the same thing. It’s the show that is true – the ratings… the base… the gross revenues.
In order for a show to have wide appeal, in politics as in professional wrasslin’, the theme has to be simple: good versus evil, black versus white, us versus them. Truth, nuance, and ambiguity have no place in it.
Dig down into the numbers, the theories, and the details, and the good versus evil narrative gets mucky, murky, and messed-up. But why bother?
Yesterday, we noted that even people who call themselves conservatives have stopped digging. They are now willing to let the feds tell them who they can and can’t do business with, and on what terms.
This was confirmed later in the day, when Dear Readers wrote to tell us what an idiot we were for doubting our president and his trade war with China. Many still believe that the U.S. president can – by edict – make us better off.
He will stop the Chinese from “stealing our jobs,” say some. He will stop the Chinese from “ripping off our technology,” say others. “We’ll make the Chinese pay,” says POTUS.
Even the president’s own economic advisor couldn’t quite stomach that last one. “Both sides will pay,” admitted Larry Kudlow.
And when it comes to “us versus them,” the Chinese are no pushovers. “Negotiate, sure! Fight, anytime! Bully us, wishful thinking!” replied the state-owned media. The Chinese have no doubt which side is evil. And they’re willing to pay dearly for the “us” cause.
“I can eat grass for the whole year,” wrote a Chinese patriot, responding to the appeal.
But we’re not here to win an argument with Dear Readers… We’re just trying to connect the dots.
We know of no instance in human history when people have been made better off by government proclamation… including one restricting trade… unless it eliminated some prior meddling (such as the end of Prohibition).
One possible exception – and it is a telling one – is when you are preparing for a real war. It makes sense, then, at least for the government, to deny resources to the enemy.
That is what the Roosevelt administration did in the runup to America’s entry into World War II.
Japan sought to maintain cordial relations with the U.S. But Roosevelt cut it off from oil and other vital supplies, effectively goading it into making a catastrophic mistake – attacking Pearl Harbor.
And now, say tariff proponents, China is at war with us.
War is always a zero-sum game. You only win by making the other guy lose. You take something from the other guy – life, liberty, or property – or he takes it from you.
There is no positive outcome, at least not in an economic sense. Instead, the net sum is always deeply negative as factories, farms, fuel, houses, ports, and people are destroyed.
So, if you want people to prosper… to get what they want… to enjoy peace and economic growth, you should avoid win-lose, negative-sum games.
You want the feds to back off… so that win-win deals between consenting adults can take place.
And yet, the U.S. seems to be pitching more and more towards win-lose, confrontation… and war. At home. And abroad.
China has been providing Americans with low-cost goods for nearly 40 years… with trade barriers coming down steadily. Suddenly, the China trade is unacceptable. And all over the world, the U.S. is sticking out its elbows.
Foreign Policy reports:
In the latest uptick of trans-Atlantic tensions, European ships involved in the construction of a controversial gas pipeline from Russia to Germany could be subject to U.S. sanctions under a new bipartisan bill that will be introduced in the U.S. Senate as early as Monday.
Until now, Germany has been able to decide for itself where it will buy its fuel. What has changed? Is this just Trump being Trump? Nope.
Foreign Policy again:
While Trump has clashed with Democrats and Republicans alike over his handling of relations with Russia, there is broad bipartisan opposition in Washington to the Nord Stream 2 project.
And the bill is sponsored by Ted Cruz, who calls himself a “conservative.” There is nothing conservative about trying to tell an ally from whom it should purchase its fuel.
So what gives? Why? Why now?
TECHNOLOGY INSIGHT: THE CHAOS OF VOICE CLONING
By Jeff Brown, Editor, The Near Future Report
Chinese tech giant Baidu just announced that its AI-powered “Deep Voice” technology can clone anybody’s voice. All the AI needs is 3.7 seconds of audio for reference.
In other words, if Deep Voice can listen to you for just 3.7 seconds, it can impersonate your voice forever.
Now, this technology has been around for several years… But last year, it took 30 minutes of audio to clone a voice. That means it is 99.8% more efficient today. Incredible progress in just one year… that’s how fast progress is being made in the world of AI.
Deep Voice will enable several fantastic applications. First, it will enable seamless real-time communication between people who speak different languages.
Imagine an English-speaker giving a presentation in China.
In the past, there would be a translator present to help the audience understand the talk. With Deep Voice, the AI can clone the speaker’s voice and deliver the talk to the audience in Chinese… using the speaker’s own voice… in real time.
And that’s true of speaking on the phone or in person as well. Deep Voice can translate conversations in the speaker’s voice. That will make traveling abroad simpler.
But there is a darker side…
Think about cyber criminals… Identity theft has been a problem for many years now. Well, with this technology, criminals can clone somebody’s voice and pretend to be them over the phone with banks and other institutions.
This isn’t well known, but many banks verify customer calls based on the phone number and by authenticating your voice.
So cloning voices makes identity theft even more dangerous.
What’s more, cyber criminals could disseminate fake news by staging presentations in an authority figure’s voice. Imagine the chaos if criminals copied the voice of the American president, for instance.
Or they could make audio tapes of “supposed” meetings that happened to incriminate somebody.
So there is massive room for abuse with this technology.
For that reason, the technology community needs to develop ways to detect when voices are fake.
The consequences for not doing so? Chaos.
– Jeff Brown
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Big Tech Giant Faces Trade War Dilemma
Big Tech goliath Apple has avoided damage from the U.S.-China trade war thus far. But, after Monday’s announcement of a new round of tariffs, the company now faces a choice: raise prices on already pricey products, or absorb the cost and let profits suffer…
Walmart and Amazon’s Shipping War
While most companies struggle to compete with e-commerce giant Amazon, another retail behemoth is upping the ante in the form of same-day shipping. And if any company can compete in a shipping war with Amazon, it’s likely Walmart…
Google Wants Your DNA
Google’s venture capital arm is leading the raise for a newly formed genetic editing company. Why is Google suddenly interested in this technology? It wants to have as much data on consumers as possible… including your genetic data…
Today, plenty of responses to Monday’s Diary… on how to impose tariffs, Trump’s negotiating ploys, and why corporate capitalism is just like cancer…
We now have a power of consumption that can destroy the planet. If we require the environment to be clean, and enforce child labor laws, then those costs should be a tariff on those goods that are made violating our standards. It can incentivize the overseas producers to incorporate the same standards and use the capital that is collected in the tariff to make the changes.
Yes, our consumers pay more, based on socially agreed-upon norms, whether made here or overseas. I totally get that no bureaucrat will leave well enough alone, and that once having their hand in the cookie jar, the temptation is too great. I would rather try this route than simply admit that we must go back to all of the problems of the early 1900s to compete in the marketplace.
– Dennis H.
Cancer cells are the result of a normal process gone seriously awry, often due to damage from a toxic environment. A healthy body in a clean environment can and does easily correct and clean up its occasional, cancerous errors. An unhealthy body in a corrupted environment struggles to heal, and will ultimately die, unless its errors can be corrected in time. Corporate capitalism is a corrupted and cancerous system, which, in league with similarly corrupted and cancerous government, actually becomes a form of fascism.
This is where we are today. The only cure to be found is in the removal of the diseased elements, in both business and government, and the cleaning up of the entire economic environment.
My bet is that this will not happen; the denial runs too deep and there is far too much already invested in a completely unhealthy lifestyle within an increasingly unhealthy environment. Please distinguish corporate capitalism from functional, healthy capitalism. Healthy forms of capitalism do exist and are prospering. Maybe we can try some of them after this one destroys itself.
– Frederick C.
Trump is using tariffs on Chinese goods as a negotiating ploy, not because he likes or wants permanent tariffs. Bill likes win-win deals and so do I. But I see China to be like the burglar who steals my household goods (intellectual property, in the case of China) and then wants to sell it back to me at a big discount.
You might think this is win-win since I get my stuff back cheaper than I could replace it somewhere else, and I’m sure the burglar is happy with that deal, as China is today. But when you get robbed, as China has done to us for decades, then negotiating with the thief is not win-win. Tariffs are needed until China realizes we’re serious; nothing else seems to get their attention to focus on the problem and agree to a solution.
– Richard K.
I love reading your stories… It looks like Trump has found people not willing to deal. Here comes inflation. Maybe that’s the real endgame.
– Dan G.
In relation to your recent articles on trade, I agree that free trade is the best win-win program for consumers. However, I think that the tariff war we are in is more about the theft of technology. We shouldn’t ignore what China has been doing to us for years just so that people can buy inexpensive TVs. If you don’t believe that is important, maybe China can copy your latest book and sell it for a tenth of the price. Better for the consumer and the information is still getting out, so what does it matter?
– Christopher R.
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