Death of the Car(go) Cult(ure)

I had an epiphany recently. It sneaked up on me, right about the time I let go of my comfortable illusion of middle-class security and embraced the fact I may be faced with more than $26,000 per year in health care premiums and untold thousands in out-of-pocket deductibles and medication expenses. It could be more than my household income, forcing me to draw down on retirement savings nearly ten years prematurely.

Ticking off monthly expenses — what things could be reduced or eliminated in my household to make up for the additional health care expenses if some mutant abomination of AHCA passes — I came to an abrupt conclusion.

I don’t need a car anymore.

It costs more to own a car at my personal disposal than calling a car-for-hire, whether Uber or Lyft or local cab service.

I had to sit down after that. For nearly fifty years I’ve thought I needed a car, that every American aspired to vehicle ownership, save for big city residents for whom cars would be unmanageable. My entrance to adulthood was marked by the ability to drive a car; my personal freedom hinged upon being able to get away in my own vehicle.

But now? I might be trapped by a car. My six-year-old grocery-getter Mom mobile cost me more than I invested in the stock market the year it was manufactured — it’s worth a fraction of its original value, while my stock is worth several times over. My investment in wheels won’t pay for my future health.

I thought about my kids and the reality they face; only four years separates these two siblings, but a massive cultural shift occurred between them. My 23-year-old daughter drove off like the wind when I gave her my car keys seven years ago; she saw her first vehicle as freedom, just as I did when I was her age. She just signed her first lease on a vehicle, though; after crunching the numbers on new cars, it didn’t make sense to buy one. Leasing a car would yield a lower total cost to operate than buying one. She’s also not stuck with trying to sell it in a couple years when an electric vehicle might be preferred.

This isn’t an earth-shattering shift, but it’s a tectonic move; no one in my family has ever leased a vehicle. We have always bought and owned them over the last four generations.

And now my son. One might assume he was a car buff living here in the backyard of the Big Three Automakers, the progeny of one family which made its fortunes in auto parts and spawn of another family in which two successive generations made a living engineering in automobile manufacturing.

But no — he dragged his feet for nearly three years getting his license. He just didn’t care to get it; the only reason he got a driver’s permit was that everyone else his age had done so. He had the public school bus to get him to class every day, and me to get him to every intramural event. Why should he bother when he had it so good?

Especially when it came to the annoying expense of having his own vehicle. Being in a high-risk group — male, 16-25, driving more than 25 miles a week — he might pay more in insurance each year than the purchase price of the car he would drive. And then gas, which was near $4.00/gallon when he got his permit. And car washes, tires, wipers, oil changes, other increasingly frequent car repairs, and so on…this was not freedom.

His sister had been fortunate to land an internship for the duration of her college career, which helped defray automobile expenses. This has not been the case for her brother because of their different academic pursuits. He works at a summer job, stashing as much of his paycheck away for the academic year while living on his tips during the season. The paycheck and tips combined from his summer service job do not equal the amount his sister made each year; he simply cannot afford a car of his own.

We don’t know how long this may be the case, either. His prospects are different from his sister’s given his field of study. He may need to pursue a master’s degree immediately after he gets his bachelor’s. Leads on internships for his junior year of college are good, but the pay may be less than his sister made at the same point in their studies. A car of his own is a very iffy prospect for years.

Let’s face it: my son’s life is closer to that of the overwhelming number of American’s his age than my daughter’s is to her cohort. This is the shift in our culture, one in which we begin to let go of personal and family automobiles as a norm.

The more I thought about it, the more disturbed I became. Both of my kids will leave college without any debt; I spent what should probably have been my retirement health care savings on their tuition and board. In contrast, my prospective son-in-law carries $40,000 in debt after his graduation this month. Thankfully he has a good job and can pay it down quickly, but what of all other college students in the U.S.? The overwhelming majority will be saddled with a similar or greater amount of debt and middling jobs. They’re part of nearly 50% of America which cannot muster $400 cash in the event of an emergency, perhaps part of the 53% participating in the stock market but still one of the precarious.

These youngsters will be hard pressed to juggle health insurance premiums and deductibles under AHCA with massive college tuition debt and rising rents.

They will be hard pressed to buy a car outright. Screw all of those idiotic “Millennials are killing everything!” opinion pieces; their parents and grandparents have done little to ensure college would not burden them as much or more than an automobile payment.

Or a mortgage. I realized, too, that I am financing and paying taxes on a garage and a driveway I rarely use. I must trek out and shovel tons of snow every year to keep that rarely-used driveway clean; when it’s too much to do by hand, I break out the gas-guzzling, exhaust-belching snowblower.

All in service to a rapidly depreciating fossil-fueled demi-god with a deteriorating finish and in need of an oil change. I’ve become an adherent of a cargo cult, who has for too long believed that possessing this object would yield some greater blessing from the great god of capitalism. Instead of throwing several handfuls of dollars per mile traveled into a gaping maw I should be riding my bike or taking a bus.

When the rest of the U.S. wakes up to this same reality, the real earth-shattering shift will begin. Perhaps it already has.

What happens to a people when they lose their religion? We’re about to find out.
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Food for thought:
U.S. automakers question possible excess capacity – but is the challenge too much manufacturing capacity or too little buyers’ capacity due to decades of stagnant wages?

If carmakers like Volvo are already committed to switching completely to electric while entire cities and countries are forcing fossil fuel’s phase out, are potential car buyers simply driving their gas guzzlers to death until the industry has completely migrated?

Or maybe the future isn’t on the road but in the air; will buyers save their pennies for a flying car?

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Day 34: Frankly, We Have a Lot Right Now

Still shaking my head over Trump’s interview with Tucker Carlson. While asked about evidence supporting Trump’s claim that President Obama wiretapped him, Trump said, “Frankly, we have a lot right now.”

Bring it, buddy. And with less bullshit because frankly, we have a lot right now.

While you’re at it, bring your tax returns as evidence you’re not violating the Emoluments Clause or in bed with Russia.

Reminder: you’ve got 34 days until we expect to see a 2016 income tax return.

Non-Tax Return Stuff:

UK’s PM Theresa May denies Indy Ref 2.0 before Brexit — When you need a break from American leadership stupidity, just take a look at May. Here’s an unforced error of hubris and hypocrisy; telling the Scots they can’t have a vote to leave the UK after the UK had a vote to leave the EU is just asking for the Scots to hold a referendum on their own. Nicola Sturgeon has already rebutted, calling May’s block “undemocratic.”

Fed Chair Yellen said, “The data have not notably strengthened” after rate hike — Between increases in energy and health costs not offset by decreases in food and apparel costs, the consumer price index rose 2.7% over the last 12 months. Private sector compensation only rose 2.2% over the same period. Consumer spending has been lackluster and businesses are not investing. The post-crash boom is petering out and nothing this administration or Congress is doing will help. A billionaire can only buy so many condos and yachts to keep the economy afloat, and workers can’t buy much on their chicken feed minimum wage at part-time jobs while they have to budget for increasing health care expenses. (I should point out here that the CPI detailed report won’t be produced after June 2017 thanks to Trump’s diktats. How convenient.)

Trump tells Michigan auto workers he’s fighting for their jobs — Sure he is. This guy is fricking clueless about manufacturing (ex: Carrier in Indiana) including the automotive industry. Detroit’s cheese is being eaten by entirely new entrants who don’t worry about emissions standards and whose mileage concerns are of an entirely different nature. After decades of Detroit’s inadequate R&D sunk into battery-powered vehicles combined with vacillating leadership on the future of fossil-fueled combustion engines, Michigan’s auto industry is now battling for market share with companies like Tesla, while Tesla is already seeing new competition emerge like Lucid Motors. Tesla and Lucid are both located in the U.S. Meanwhile, Trump’s budget plans revealed today are a shiv in Michigan’s back; why live and work here if the lakes aren’t clean, schools are underfunded, mass transit is suppressed?

Dispatcher punished in Tamir Rice case — What a bunch of crap. The officer who had the ultimate final and mortal power in Tamir Rice’s case — shooting Rice in seconds after arrival at the playground — should have been criminally prosecuted. Meanwhile, a dispatcher who never saw the victim or the scene of the shooting was suspended.

I feel awful now, after reading so much about Trump and writing about that last piece. Treat this like an open thread though I can’t look in again until I do something positive to get the Trumpish off me.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Navigator MKC and Ford Focus'>BREAKING: President-Elect Trump Can’t Tell Difference between Lincoln Navigator MKC and Ford Focus

The President Elect appears to be completely ignorant about American made cars.

That’s the most generous conclusion one can draw from these two tweets:

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-10-28-00-pm

Perhaps Trump does know the difference between a Lincoln Navigator MKC and a Ford Focus. If so, then this is a cynical bullshit ploy to pretend he has saved American jobs.

Trump has been harping on Ford’s production siting decisions throughout his campaign since April, when Ford announced it was building a new plant in Mexico (I need to check but I believe Ford sources more cars in the US than any other US manufacturer).

Things heated up in September when Trump made several inflammatory claims about Ford’s sourcing, including that Ford will “fire all its employees in the United States.”

Ford responded that “they will be here forever.” That debunking was even among the stories that created the most Facebook impressions toward the end of the campaign.

Nevertheless, Trump threatened to tax any cars made in Mexico.

A few days ago Ford reiterated that it was, indeed, moving the C-platform production to Mexico as it said it would, even in spite of Trump’s claims, even while it reiterated that it would replace the production in the US with two other products.

Ford Motor is moving ahead with plans to shift production of small cars to Mexico from Michigan, while “two very important products” will be built in its U.S. factories, Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields told Reuters on Tuesday.

President-elect Donald Trump has criticized Ford for the decision to shift production of Focus small cars to Mexico in 2018, and said he would consider levying tariffs on Mexican-made Fords. Trump has also said he wants to scrap the North American Free Trade agreement, which also includes Canada, and to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to stop undocumented immigrants.

“We’re going forward with our plan to move production of the Ford Focus to Mexico, and importantly that’s to make room for two very important products we’ll be putting back into Michigan plants,” Fields said in an interview on the sidelines of the Los Angeles Auto Show. “There will be no job impact whatsoever with this move.”

Note what we’ve seen so far: small cars. Focus. C-Max, Small cars (replaced by pick-ups in the US). Small cars.

The only thing Ford was ever talking about were small cars: Ford Focuses, mostly.

Which led to these Trump tweets: Lincolns in Louisville.

Ford (owner of Lincoln) has two plants in Kentucky. Both are truck/SUV plants. Along with a bunch of Fords, they make the Lincoln Navigator and the MKC. The Navigator is a such a nice car I’ve even seen one (I believe the first one ever) sold in Beijing for $100,000.

The reason American manufacturers make all their trucks in the US and their smaller cars offshore is margins: a Lincoln Navigator (and an MKC) have much bigger margins that Ford Focuses do, and Ford isn’t obliged to sell any MKCs to meet CAFE standards. (MKC is the same C-Segment, so it would help meeting CAFE standards.)

Lincoln Navigator production was never moving to Mexico. There are mixed reports about where Ford was considering moving MKC production (it’s possible that’s what it was going to move to MI). But that didn’t stop Trump from claiming that it was Mexico — and that he had saved the production. Bonus points, too, that it makes the Majority Leader, KY Senator Mitch McConnell, make good.

But ultimately, either Trump can’t tell the difference between a Navigator MKC and a Focus. Or he’s just lying.

Update: It appears Ford was considering moving the Lincoln MKC out of Louisville, not the Navigator.

The auto maker confirmed in a statement that production of the Lincoln MKC crossover will remain at its assembly plant in Louisville, Ky. Ford had initially planned to move output of the Lincoln model to another plant to boost production of the Escape, which is built at the same factory. The company didn’t say where it had planned to move production of the Lincoln crossover.

Ford communicated that plan to the United Auto Workers in 2015 as part of a broader contract negotiation. The Louisville plant, employing about 4,700 workers, wasn’t in danger of closing.

“We are encouraged that President-elect Trump and the new Congress will pursue policies that will improve U.S. competitiveness and make it possible to keep production of this vehicle here in the United States,” the company said.

This post has been updated accordingly.

Note, Ford’s language about competitiveness may mean Trump has already confirmed with Ford he’ll drop CAFE standards.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Halloween Monday: Dying for Love

In this roundup: Turkish troubles, good tech bad tech, fickle market reaction, and Halloween tricks-or-treats.

Because it’s Halloween I’m sharing a short film for Movie Monday based on that theme. It’s probably R-rated so don’t launch it in the office without the doors shut and/or the volume down. It parodizes so many cheap horror films of the 1980s-2000s including the Final Girl trope.

I need to watch this short a couple more times. The film is billed as a single take — one long, unbroken camera shot — but I’m not certain it is. I think there may be a hidden few cuts when the location changes from one end of a room to another. Look at this analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s use of dissolve cuts in his 1948 film Rope and you’ll see what I mean by hidden cuts. Keep in mind that with digital technology, even dissolve cuts may be smoother and much less detectable than they were in 1948 with traditional film.

Turkish troubles

Good tech, bad tech, or something in between

  • Delta Airlines implements RFID baggage tracking app (Fortune) — FINALLY. I’ve been wondering ever since the furor over Walmart using RFID on inventory why airlines couldn’t use RFID and let their customers track their own bags. Only took ~16 years or so. And thank goodness this technology isn’t WiFi-enabled. Should save billions of dollars — let’s hope that trickles down to savings on tickets.
  • Toyota developing a keyless access system for carsharing (Detroit Free Press) — Really? Didn’t Toyota have keyless remote fobs that were hacked just last year?
  • SpaceX still investigating launchpad explosion (Business Insider) — To be fair, it’s not clear yet what triggered the explosion two months ago. Can’t say if this is good or bad technology or something else altogether. (Not going to mourn the loss of a satellite which was to provide internet to African continent via Facebook. This part I’d call bad tech. Can’t we come up with some other approach to providing internet besides a walled garden with fake news?)

The market = fickle mistress?[1]

Tricks or treats?

  • Spooky reads: scary seance scenes in fiction (Guardian) — Could be fun to read while waiting for trick-or-treaters to knock on your door.
  • What makes a good horror film? (OpenCulture) — If you’d rather watch than read something scary tonight, bone up first before surfing Netflix or Amazon for a film.
  • Werewolves in classic literature (Sententiae Antiquae) — Classic literature, as in Greek or Roman, has a surprising number of references to lycanthropy. Did they tell each other these stories to scare each other around the campfire?
  • Sluttiest Halloween costumes (McSweeney’s) — Of 1915, that is. In case you need a laugh and not a scare. I sure could right now; only one more week of election terror to go.

Watch out for little ghosts and goblins tonight!
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[1] Note: You’re not seeing things — I accidentally hit the Publish button before I’d updated the two market economics bits!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Tuesday: Disinfowar Dust Up

In this roundup: Disinfowar, fossil fuels’ finale, pipeline problems, and a longish short about evolving hope.

The embedded feature video here, Dust by Ember Lab, won a number of awards last year. It’s a gritty blend of real and fantasy, and the closest thing to a American feature film with an Asian lead (there were no true feature-length films with an Asian/Asian-American lead or co-lead last year). It’s a little exposition dense, but this is integral to the challenge of world-building for a sci-fi/fantasy story. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see this story extended into a true feature or a series.

Disinfowar
If you haven’t already read Marcy’s latest piece today, you should do so soon. We are now deep in disinfo slung by multiple parties.

The one thing that niggles at me about WikiLeaks’ involvement in this latest volley of disinfo: why didn’t WikiLeaks release the Podesta emails when they originally said they were going to do so?

Or was skanky political operative Roger Stone blowing more disinfo out his ass when he tweeted about the impending Wikileaks’ release?

And how does the concurrent “Trump pussy grab” video story interleave with the WikiLeaks’ disinformation? Let’s take a look at the timing.

Early September — WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange claims to have documents damaging to Hillary Clinton which would be released before the election.

30-SEP-2016 Friday — WikiLeaks cancels release of an info dump on Hillary Clinton due to alleged security concerns. The info dump has been framed by some as a potential ‘October surprise’.

02-OCT-2016 Sunday — 12:52 am: Roger Stone tweets [email protected] is done”.

03-OCT-2016 Monday — Unspecified time: Producer at an NBC entertainment outlet Access Hollywood remembers video of Trump with Billy Bush.

03-OCT-2016 Monday — 5:55 pm: AP publishes story, “‘Apprentice’ cast and crew say Trump was lewd and sexist.”

04-OCT-2016 Tuesday — Date of canceled WikiLeaks’ info dump.

Midweek (no date/day given) — Access Hollywood’s executive producer Rob Silverstein and team have reviewed the video. A script is prepared for airing of video, but it will not appear Friday evening before the next presidential debate on Sunday.

05-OCT-2016 Wednesday — No WikiLeaks’ info dump.

07-OCT-2016 Friday — First thing in the morning, Access Hollywood was still working on story; an NBC source said the story “wasn’t quite finalized.”

07-OCT-2016 Friday — Noon: Washington Post’s David Farenthold asks NBC for a comment on the Trump/Billy Bush tape which had been leaked to him by unnamed source(s).

07-OCT-2016 Friday — 2-4:00 pm (approximately, exact publication time to be confirmed): Washington Post runs Farenthold’s story, “Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005.”

07-OCT-2016 Friday — 11:03 pm: WikiLeaks tweets link to “The #PodestaEmails Part 1.

09-OCT-2016 Sunday — 9:50 pm: During the second presidential debate, Wikileaks tweets, “Hillary Clinton just confirmed the authenticity of our #PodestaEmails release of her paid speeches excerpts.

10-OCT-2016 Monday — 9:36 am: WikiLeaks tweets link with “RELEASE: The #PodestaEmails part two: 2,086 new emails.

A Google Trends snapshot of key words from these two stories also tells the story. To be fair, though ‘pussy’ spiked on Friday, it’s a pretty popular internet search term (in case this had not occurred to some of our readers).

[Source: Google Trends - compare terms:'wikileaks', 'hillary', 'podesta''pussy', 'billy bush']

[Source: Google Trends – compare terms:’wikileaks'(blue), ‘hillary'(red), ‘podesta'(yellow), ‘pussy'(green), ‘billy bush'(purple) – click to expand]

Really convenient timing, no matter the validity of the content in the emails.

Wheels

  • Germany’s upper house of parliament wants combustion engine cars off the roads by 2030 (Reuters) — This is one of the most important stories so far this year: one of the largest single nation economies in the world wants to end use of gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles within its borders inside 18 years. How will this impact Volkswagen Group, the largest automaker in EU? At least VW now has impetus to move completely away from its failed passenger diesel engines. Political parties across the Bundesrat, the upper house, support ending sales of combustion engine vehicles. What next steps Germany will take is unclear as is the next possible response by the EC in Brussels.
  • VW’s CEO Matthias Mueller knew nothing about passenger diesel vehicle scandal (Reuters) — Might be plausible that Mueller didn’t know anything about VW and Bosch tweaking engine control units to defeat emissions standards since Mueller was the head of Porsche before VW Group appointed him to replace Martin Winterkorn. And we all know Porsche isn’t the first brand you’d seek when shopping for either passenger diesel vehicles or fuel efficiency.
  • Fiat Chrysler and Canadian union Unifor avoid a strike (Detroit Free Press) — The deal includes updates to two plants and a restructuring of workers’ wage scale while working around the impending demise of the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart car models. No mention of self-driving/autonomous cars in FCA’s future lineup, if any.

Pipe meets face

  • Russian facial recognition software IDs 73% of people of of million-person database (Wall Street Journal) — This application developed by startup NTechLab beat Alphabet’s facial recognition software. This gives me the fecking creeps, especially considering the countries interested in buying this software.
  • Facial recognition app failed when used at pipeline protest (Indian Country) — A Crow Creek Tribe activist found he had been ‘identified’ as a pipeline protester by facial recognition software though he had been at a family event elsewhere during the time he was alleged to participate in the protest.
  • Pipeline construction work resumes after appeals court ruling against tribes (ABC News) — In a stunningly callous move, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a decision Sunday evening — before Columbus Day, the observation which offends Native Americans — denying Native American tribes’ request for an injunction to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Work on the pipeline picked up again today, though the tribes vow to continue their protests. Protesters were arrested yesterday for trespassing, including actor Shailene Woodley. Woodley may have been selected in particular because of her high media profile and because she was streaming the protest online.

Longread: Asymmetry’s role in Trump’s rise
Worth reading NYU’s Jay Rosen on media’s inability to deal with asymmetry in the U.S. political system, and how this permitted Trump’s elevation as a presidential candidate. Personally I take issue with the concept that the “GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics.” In a two-party system where nearly half the population identifies with either one of these parties, neither of the two parties can be insurgent or an outlier.

Instead, this asymmetry — the departure from the past equivalency of either of these two major parties — results from the application of the Overton Window over decades to move nearly half the population toward a more conservative consensus. Applied too much, too often, and nearly half the population has adopted an ideology which is incompatible with the values espoused by a critical mass of this nation before the Overton Window was applied.

And the media, like meteorologists focusing on the day’s weather — is it cloudy or sunny? rain or shine? — missed the entire shift of the political climate toward fascism. Rather like the financial crisis of 2008, for that matter, when they failed to adequately look at the big picture before the entire economy went over the cliff.

That’s a wrap. Make sure you’re registered to vote as many states have deadlines today. Check in with housebound and with college students to see if they are registered and encourage use of absentee ballots where appropriate. Absentee voting has begun in some states.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Monday: American Mouth

In this roundup: Volkswagen vacillations, disappointments a la Colombia, UK, Hungary (and don’t forget Poland!), anthropocene extinction, and maybe a straggling bit at the end to get this Monday on the road. Read more

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Wednesday: Time Travel

In this roundup: A short film about a mother’s time travel adventure, the Internet of Stupid Things, and more.

Read more

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Wednesday: Big Wheels Turning

Hard to believe this was made in 1982. Yeah, the production quality doesn’t match today’s digital capabilities, but the story itself seems really prescient. How can an ethically-compromised bloviating bigot manage to fumble his way into office?

Now you know. Bet you can even offer constructive feedback on how director Danny DeVito could update this script for today’s social media-enhanced election cycle.

Self-Driving Vehicles

  • NHTSA issues guidelines for self-driving cars (Detroit Free Press) — FINALLY. But is it a bit too late now that Uber already has a fleet on the streets of Pittsburgh and Tesla has been running beta cars? Let’s face it: the federal government has been very slow to acknowledge the rise of artificial intelligence in any field, let alone the risks inherent in computer programming used in vehicles. We’re literally at the end of a two-term presidency, on the cusp of entirely new policies toward transportation, and NOW the NHTSA steps in? We need to demand better and faster rather than this future-shocked laggy response from government — and that goes for Congress as well as the White House. Congress fails to see the importance of early regulation in spite of adequate warning:

    Legislators warned automakers at the 15 March Senate hearing that the governing body took a dim view of the industry’s ability to self-regulate. “Someone is going to die in this technology,” Duke University roboticist Missy Cummings told the US Senate during a tense hearing where she testified alongside representatives from General Motors and Delphi Automotive, among others.

    Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, who questioned car executives at the hearing, had cosponsored a 2015 bill to regulate self-driving automobiles. The bill was referred to committee and never returned to the floor. [source: Guardian]

    In the mean time, we have an initial 15-point guideline the NHTSA wants to address; are they enough? Is a guideline enough? Witness Volkswagen’s years-long fraud, flouting laws; without more serious consequences, would a company with Volkswagen’s ethics pay any heed at all to mere guidelines? Are you ready to drive on the road with nothing but non-binding guidelines to hold makers of autonomous cars accountable?

  • Multiple Tesla car models hackable (Keen Security Lab) — Check this video on YouTube. At first this seems like an innocuous problem, just lights, mirrors, door locks…and then * boom * the brakes while driving. These same functions would also be controlled by AI in a self-driving car, by the way, and they’re already on the road. This is exactly what I mean by the feds being slow to acknowledge AI’s rise.
  • ‘OMG COOL’-like impressions from early self-driving Uber passengers (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) — Criminy. The naïveté is astonishing. Of course this technology seems so safe and techno-cool when you have an Uber engineer and programmer along for the ride, offering the illusion of safety. Like having a seasoned, licensed taxi driver. Why not just pay for an actual human to drive?
  • Tesla caught in back-and-forth with Mobileye (multiple sources) — After analyzing the May 2016 fatal accident in Florida involving Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving system, Tesla tweaked the system. The gist of the fatal accident appears to have been a false-positive misinterpretation of the semi-trailer as an overhead road sign, for which a vehicle would not slow down. But this particular accident alone didn’t set off a dispute between Tesla and the vendor for its Autopilot system, Mobileye. Another fatal accident in China which occurred in January was blamed on Tesla’s Autopilot — but that, too, was not the point of conflict between Tesla and its vendor. Mobileye apparently took issue with Tesla over “hands on” versus “hands-free” operation; the computer vision manufacturer’s 16-SEP press release claims Tesla said the Autopilot system would be hands on but was rolled out in 2015 as hands-free. Mobileye may also have taken issue with how aggressively Tesla was pursuing its own computer vision technology even before the two companies agreed to end their relationship this past July.  A volley of news stories over the last two weeks suggest there’s more going on than the hands on versus hands-free issue. Interestingly enough, the burst of stories began just after a hacker discovered there’s a previously undisclosed dash cam capturing shots of Tesla vehicle operations — and yet only a very small number of the flurry of stories mentioned this development. Hmm. Unfortunately, the dash cam feature would not have captured snaps for the two known fatal accidents because the nature of the accidents prevented the camera from sending images to Tesla servers.

Artificial Intelligence

  • The fall of humans is upon us with our help (Forbes) — this article asks what happens when white collar jobs are replaced by artificial intelligence. Oh, how nice, Forbes, that you worry about the white collar dudes like yourselves but not the blue collar workers already being replaced.How about discussing alternative employment for 3.5 million truck drivers?
    Or the approximately 230,000 taxi drivers?
    How about subway, streetcar, and tram operators (number of which I don’t currently have a number)?
    How about the administrative jobs supporting these workers?This is just a portion of transportation alone which will be affected by the introduction of AI in self-driving/autonomous vehicles. What about other blue collar jobs at risk — like fast food workers, of which there are 3.5 million? And we wonder why Trump appeals to a certain portion of the working class. He won’t be informed at all about this, will not have a solution except to remove persons of color as competition for employment. But the left must develop a cogent response to this risk immediately. It’s already here, the rise of machines as AI and algorithmic replacements for humans. Let’s not wait for the next Luddite rebellion V.2.0 — or is Trump’s current support the rebellion’s inception?
  • But every business needs AI! (Forbes) — Uh…no conflict here at all with the previous article. Nope. Just playing the refs. Save America, people, just keep buying!(By the way, note how this contributor touts Hello Barbie chatbot as a positive sign, though Mattel’s internet-enabled Barbie products have had some serious problems with security.)
  • The meta-threat of artificial intelligence (MIT Technology Review) — Doubt my opinion? Don’t take it from me, then, take it from experts including one who plans to make a fortune from AI — like Elon Musk.

Longread: Academia becomes the new white collar underclass
You may have noted Long Island University-Brooklyn’s 12-day lockout which was not really resolved last week but deferred by a contract extension. The dispute originated over a pay gap between Brooklyn and two other better paid LIU campuses. Ridiculous sticking point, given the small distance between these campuses LIU barred instructors from campus and halted their benefits during the lockout. Students walked out, infuriated by the temps who subbed in for the locked-out instructors — a cafeteria worker in one case filled in for an English instructor. LIU’s walkout won’t be the only such conflict over academic wages. To understand the scale of the problem, you’ll want to read this piece at Guernica, which explains how academia is being shaken down across the U.S., not just in Brooklyn. I remember asking an academic administrator back in 2006 what would happen when secondary education was commodified; they couldn’t imagine it ever happening. And now the future has arrived. What are we going to do about this while retaining U.S. standard in education?

Hope you’re liking the site revamp! Do leave a comment if you find anything isn’t working up to snuff.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Tuesday: Change of Pace

I need a break — a change of pace after the last several day’s nonstop doom-and-gloom observing what has become an American version of the Day of the Dead. Add the nauseating bullshit misogynist circus piling on the “church faint” by a post-menopausal woman wearing too much clothing in humid weather while recovering from pneumonia. It’s unrelenting ridiculousness which can only be broken by the injection of dark humor.

I like this young director Almog Avidan Antonir’s body of short works, including this little zombie love story. Looking forward whatever he might have next up his sleeve.

The Dakotas

  • Lawmaker unintentionally makes armed law enforcement drones legal in North Dakota (Independent-UK) — Way to go, dude. Legislator submitted a bill to outlaw armed drones; wretched police union got to the bill with revisions and now law enforcement can use drones armed with non-lethal force. North Dakota is now the first state in the U.S. to legalize armed drones. Want to bet law enforcement is already preparing to use this technology against pipeline protesters?
  • South Dakota Yankton Sioux filed suit against U.S. government over pipeline (Indian Country Today) — While media focused attention on North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Yankton Sioux in South Dakota filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Though the planned pipeline runs through tribal treaty lands, the government did not complete an environmental study or a consult with the affected tribe — same complaint in South as in North Dakota. The pipeline company, Energy Transfer, did not use tribe members to identify any challenges during planning of the pipeline route.
  • Trespass charges against journalist Goodman blows off First Amendment and Justice Dept. (Committee to Protect Journalists) — CPJ’s Carlos Lauria said the warrant issued for Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman is “a transparent attempt to intimidate reporters” covering the NoDAPL protests. Morton County’s warrant ignores Justice Dept’s joint statement with Interior Dept halting pipeline construction, in which the departments said, “we fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely. …” Goodman clearly identified herself as a reporter.
  • Oil producers whine about pipeline delays interfering with cheap oil (Fortune) — These guys are just not catching the cluestick. It may take shareholder activism to wake these morons up about the end of fossil fuels and a need for entirely new business models instead of forcing oil pipelines through.
  • Standing Rock: a new civil rights movement? (Guardian) — Op-ed looks at the birth of a new movement where environmental and civil rights activism join forces to protect indigenous people and Missouri River — the longest river in the continental U.S.

Flint Water Crisis

  • Former state epidemiologist not talking about possible plea deal (MLive.com) — Corinne Miller, now retired, was arraigned in August on felony misconduct and misdemeanor neglect of duty. Miller suppressed action on children’s blood lead levels and told Michigan Dept of Health and Human Services employees to delete emails related to the blood lead data.
  • Water bill moves forward in Senate (The Hill) — Emergency funding for Flint and its lead-contaminated water system closer to passing as part of a $9.4 billion bill for water-related infrastructure and clean drinking water. The bill also includes assistance for Louisiana’s flood recovery. Money for Flint’s aid may be paid by cutting the Energy Dept’s Advanced Vehicle Manufacturing Technology loan program.
  • Water filters still needed by Flint residents through end of year, possibly longer (Detroit Free Press) — There’s no clear end to the water crisis, even though funding may soon be available. Thresholds for lead levels have not yet been agreed upon by state and federal officials. The amount of damage to the city’s water system continues to complicate recovery efforts.

Still Picking on Volkswagen

  • VW engineer plead guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and violating Clean Air Act (Jurist.org) — The record of engineer James Robert Liang’s June indictment was unsealed on Friday, revealing he and co-conspirators designed, implemented, and lied about emissions controls technology which evaded emissions standards. One interesting bit of new information is the involvement of an unnamed third-party engineering company partially owned by Volkswagen, referred to in the indictment as “Company A.”
  • Awkward: Liang to be sentenced during North American International Auto Show (Detroit News) — Four months from now, smack in the middle press week for Detroit’s 2017 NAIAS, VW engineer Liang will be sentence in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan. This op-ed notes Liang’s plea hints at a much-larger conspiracy in VW pursued by investigators. Somebody had to sign off on this design, at a minimum. And somebody had to tell Bosch what and how to make the non-compliant electronic controls units.

Longread: Rakoff on Fiss and rights under a War on Terror
United States District Judge Jed S. Rakoff looks at a collection of essays by legal scholar Owen Fiss, written over the last 13 years while the U.S. the so-called “War on Terror.”

Toodles!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

‘Picking on’ Volkswagen: Why Follow Dieselgate?

[photo: macwagen via Flickr]

[photo: macwagen via Flickr]

One of our commenters described my attention to Dieselgate as ‘picking on’ Volkswagen. It’s not as if there haven’t been scandalous problems with other automotive industry manufacturers, like General Motors’ ignition switches or Takata’s airbag failures, right?

But Volkswagen earns greater attention here at this site because:

1) A critical mass of emptywheel readers are not familiar with the automotive industry, let alone manufacturing; they do not regularly follow automotive news. Quite a number are familiar with enterprise information security, but not car manufacturing or with passenger vehicle security. Many of the readers here are also in policy making, law enforcement, judiciary — persons who may influence outcomes at the very beginning or very end of the product manufacturing life cycle.

2) This is the first identified* multi-year incidence in which an automotive industry manufacturer using computer programming of a street-ready vehicle to defraud consumers and willfully violate multiple U.S. laws. This willfulness wholly separates the nature of this risk from other passenger vehicle vulnerabilities, ex: Fiat Chrysler’s hackable Uconnect dashboard computers or Nissan’s unprotected APIs for keyless remotes. (These latter events arose from inadequate info security awareness though responsiveness of vehicle manufacturers after notification may be in question.)

3) Volkswagen Group is the single largest passenger vehicle manufacturer in Europe. This isn’t a little deal considering half of all passenger vehicles in Europe are diesel-powered. Health and environmental damage in the U.S. from 600,000 passenger diesels has been bad enough; it’s taking lives in the tens of thousands across Europe. 75,000 premature deaths in 2012 alone were attributed to urban NO2 exposures, the source of which is diesel engines. It was testing in the U.S. against U.S. emissions standards which brought VW’s ‘cheating’ to light making it impossible for the EU to ignore any longer. The environmental damage from all Volkswagen passenger diesels combined isn’t localized; these additional non-compliant emissions exacerbate global climate change.

These are the reasons why Dieselgate deserved heightened scrutiny here to date — but the reasons why this scandal merits continued awareness have everything to do with an as-yet unrealized future.

We are on the cusp of a dramatic paradigm shift in transportation, driven in no small part by the need for reduced emissions. Development and implementation of battery-powered powertrains are tightly entwined with artificial intelligence development for self-driving cars. Pittsburgh PA is already a testing ground for a fleet of self-driving Uber vehicles; Michigan’s state senate seeks changes to the state’s vehicle code to permit self-driving cars to operate without a human driver to intervene.

All of this represents a paradigm shift in threats to the public on U.S. highways. Self-driving car makers and their AI partners claim self-driving vehicles will be safer than human-driven cars. We won’t know what the truth is for some time, whether AI will make better decisions than humans.

But new risks arise:

  • An entire line of vehicles can pose a threat if they are programmed to evade laws, ex: VW’s electronic control unit using proprietary code which could be manipulated before installation. (Intentional ‘defect’.)
  • An entire line of vehicles can be compromised if they have inherent vulnerabilities built into them, ex: Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect dashboard computers. (Unintentional ‘defect’.)

Let’s ‘pick on’ another manufacturer for a moment: imagine every single Fiat Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep vehicle on the road in 5-10 years programmed to evade state and federal laws on emissions and diagnostic tests for road-worthiness. Imagine that same programming exploit used by criminals for other means. We’re no longer looking at a mere hundred thousand vehicles a year but millions, and the number of people at risk even greater.

The fear of robots is all hype, until one realizes some robots are on the road now, and in the very near future all vehicles will be robots. Robots are only as perfect as their makers.

An additional challenge posed by Volkswagen is its corporate culture and the deliberate use of a language barrier to frustrate fact-finding and obscure responsibility. Imagine now foreign transportation manufacturers not only using cultural barriers to hide their deliberate violation of laws, but masking the problems in their programming using the same techniques. Because of GM’s labyrinthine corporate bureaucracy, identifying the problems which contributed to the ignition switch scandal was difficult. Imagine how much more cumbersome it would be to tease out the roots if the entire corporate culture deliberately hid the source using culture, even into the coding language itself? Don’t take my word for how culture is used to this end — listen to a former VW employee who explains how VW’s management prevaricates on its ‘involvement’ in Dieselgate (video at 14:15-19:46).

Should we really wait for another five to 10 years to ‘pick on’ manufacturers of artificially intelligent vehicles — cars with the ability lie to us as much as their makers will? Or should we look very closely now at the nexus of transportation and programming where problems already occur, and create effective policy and enforcement for the road ahead?
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* A recent additional study suggests that Volkswagen Group is not the only passenger diesel manufacturer using emissions controls defeats.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.