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Sunday, December 24, 2017

Silicon Valley; Where Cronyism Meets Capitalism

Alas, Uber the iconic if not somewhat dirty faced transportation wunderkind is merely a taxi service or so ruled the European Union's highest court. In rather direct prose the court wrote Uber, “must be regarded as being inherently linked to a transport service.” In other words it's a natural litter mate of Yellow Cab and Checker Cab companies and, oh God forbid, subject to the same rules and regulations as everyone else. Probably we can expect similar challenges to Uber's "technology platform" status stateside and it's been reported that Uber is the subject of a federal investigation probably owing to its theft of trade secrets from Waymo. Tsk,Tsk.
Elsewhere in Washington the FCC headed by Ajit Pai shot down in cold blood the Obama era Net Neutrality rule much to the consternation of Netflix and Google who labeled the action "misguided". It is probably a good indication that a minority has arrived when an administration's two most visible members ( Pai and Nikkei Haley ) are the most slandered in the popular media. Both know the value of Machiavelli's advice to the Prince:
“ One should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved.”
The only guiding principle coming from Big Tech appears to be "What's in it for me?" To date Elon Musk has captured $4.9 billion in federal subsidies which makes Solyndra's $550 million bankruptcy look like penny poker. His Tesla Motors is facing a lawsuit from the state of Michigan because Tesla has not followed the franchise rule that every other auto manufacturer must as called for, according to Michigan, by the interstate commerce clause. To his supporters it's the "dormant interstate commerce clause" an anachronism that should br judicially euthanized. Now I do have a libertarian bent and you are better off listening to even a bad lawyer than me but that said let's add a bit of historical context. In the glory days of FDR's New Deal and the Agriculture Adjustment Act one Roscoe Filburn had the temerity to grow 12 bushels of wheat above his allotment which was intended for his own use. Not since the Teapot Dome scandal! He was fined for that transgression and the Supreme Court agreed..
Roscoe Filburn was a farmer in what is now suburban Dayton, Ohio[5] who admitted producing wheat in excess of the amount permitted. He maintained, however, that the excess wheat was produced for his private consumption on his own farm. Since it never entered commerce at all, much less interstate commerce, he argued that it was not a proper subject of federal regulation under the Commerce Clause.
In July 1940, pursuant to the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1938, Filburn's 1941 allotment was established at 11.1 acres (4.5 ha) and a normal yield of 20.1 bushels of wheat per acre. Filburn was given notice of the allotment in July 1940 before the Fall planting of his 1941 crop of wheat, and again in July 1941, before it was harvested. Despite these notices, Filburn planted 23 acres (9.3 ha) and harvested 239 more bushels than was allowed from his 11.9 acres (4.8 ha) of excess area.[6]
The Federal District Court ruled in favor of Filburn. The Act required an affirmative vote of farmers by plebiscite to implement the quota. Much of the District Court decision related to the way in which the Secretary of Agriculture had campaigned for passage: The District Court had held that the Secretary's comments were improper. The government then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which called the District Court's holding against the campaign methods which led to passage of the quota by farmers a "manifest error". The court then went on to uphold the Act under the Interstate Commerce Claus.
Again context. Even at today's wheat prices ( about $4.25 per bushel ) Filburn's ill gotten gain would amount to about $80. Law is law but Musk's supporters would have us believe that law is archaic.
Unrelated to Michigan's attempt to abridge Musk's right to do as he damn well pleases another issue has arisen. Google, Uber, Lyft and of course Tesla want' to use the power of the federal government to impose on the states standards for autonomous vehicles. All of a sudden the interstate commerce clause should no longer be dormant.
We are facing an opportunity to expand the options for transportation by car by also making it smarter and safer,” said committee chairman, U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
But engineers must first shield vehicles from cyber attacks and said self-driving cars must operate seamlessly in bad weather — two significant challenges for the auto industry, said Mary (Missy) Louise Cummings, director of Duke University's Humans and Autonomy Lab and Duke Robotics.
"I am decidedly less optimistic," she told the panel. Self-driving cars are "absolutely not ready for widespread deployment, and certainly not ready for humans to be completely taken out of the driver’s seat."
"Consistency, thou art a jewel,” Shakespeare.
By all means let's make our cars safer and smarter but just for good measure let's allow Silicon Valley to develop artificially intelligent congressmen and senators who can get in out of the rain.


  1. Great post! Most interesting is the revelation that self-driving cars underperform in bad weather. Maybe that should be surprising.