Fast Dispatch: Trashed Trains, Cure Worse Than Disease, Tax Cuts

19-Dec-2017 Dispatch

What is the “Dispatch”?

Reality Dispatch regularly does deep dives into current events, because facts still matter.  The news cycle and trends are not always on such complex or important issues though.  So, several times a week, Reality Dispatch turns the analysis systems to the trends, rather than the biases, of the news.

The Dispatch provides just a short briefing on the top few current events.   Several will be exactly what you’ve been hearing about… today presumably that’s the train crash near Seattle and the tax cuts… and several will be surprising trends.  Today those surprises, which did surprise us, are the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico still being in the news, and the dengue fever vaccine backfiring.

In each case, the Dispatch won’t cover the news in-depth.  While our in-depth reports include a “why you care” section, the Dispatch omits those; there may be no such reason other than that the news is trending.  Instead, you’ll get just enough to be conversant should the topic come up.

Dengue vaccine backfires

Dengue (Fever) is a mosquito-borne illness infecting around 50-500 million people a year, with roughly 0.006% of them dying.  That is a lot of people, but a very low percentage.  It can be very painful though.

Sanofi Pasteur introduced the first-ever vaccine to prevent dengue. Unfortunately, the vaccine seems to increase the risk of death in some people who have not been exposed to the disease… at least, if you read the headlines.  Technically what it does is inoculate against one of the four strains of dengue… and one of the others hits people who have already had another strain much harder.  It seems to have the same impact on people inoculated.

In other words, the vaccine does possibly work, except that it increases the risk of more severe symptoms from other strains.

The concern of the resulting backlash against the vaccines is that this may increase the fear of vaccines.

Seattle Train Crash

The inaugural run of the new faster Amtrak line went off the rails in Dupont, south of Seattle (and of Tacoma.)  This route was to save 10 minutes between Seattle and Portland.  The train was running at 80mph, on tracks with a speed limit (yes, tracks have a speed limit) of 30mph, and derailed at the turn… onto I-5, the major North-South freeway in the area.  Three people were killed.

Southbound I-5 is still closed as of Tuesday evening and may not reopen for days.  The train is being moved to a nearby military base, but the locomotive weighs 270,000 pounds.

Trump’s Tax Cuts

The Tax Cuts, which Trump has promised for a long time, are finally almost here.  The House and Senate have agreed, and the House initially passed the reconciled bill. A House re-vote will be required due to a rules over-sight.  The Senate may vote tonight.

This bill simplifies the tax code, but not as much as Trump or the Republicans had desired due to pressures to retain some deductions (child tax credits, mortgage deductions.)

The bill:

  • Sets limits on local and state tax deductions… meaning high-tax states (mostly the coastal “blue” Democrat states such as New York and California) will see higher effective taxes as their residents cannot deduct all of their state taxes against their federal taxes.
  • Reduces the corporate tax rate, which has been among the highest effective rates.  This targets reducing the offshoring of business income.
  • Reduces income taxes for most people who pay income taxes.  This is where the left considers it an “unfair” bill, in that it doesn’t reduces taxes, or increase entitlements, for the poor who don’t pay net taxes.
  • Provides a larger tax credit for children.
  • Reduces the inheritance (“death”) tax.
  • Removes the ObamaCare (ACA, or Affordable Care Act) “mandate” penalty.
  • Eliminates the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) for corporations and scales it back for families, dramatically simplifying tax filing.
  • Lowers the cap on mortgage interest deductions.  Which is a tax increase on “jumbo mortgages”, or effectively a tax increase on the rich, if they took out a mortgage.

One note: Don’t believe any estimates of how much the bill will cost.  No past estimates of tax changes have been correct, because they do not factor in likely behavioral changes.

California Fires

The Thomas Fire is now California’s third largest ever, and is on-track to be the largest ever.  California has six fires currently burning.

Hurricane Maria Still Impacting Puerto Rico

This should be old news. Hurricane Maria, from 16-Sept-2017 until 03-Oct-2017, was the worst (natural) disaster to hit Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.  Over 500 people died.  The local government’s long-standing corruption impeded aid delivery.   The economy was a disaster due to corruption even before the hurricane.

Despite this, the narrative in some of the media has been to blame their usual targets instead of Puerto Rico.  For example, Puerto Rico is subject to the Jones Act, which basically states that as an American territory port, only American ships are waived from taxes (penalties for “coastwise trade.”)  Waiving the act lowers the bar for aid delivery.  For Hurricane Maria, the Trump Administration waived the Jones Act in only two days, seven times faster than was the case for Hurricane Harvey.  And yet was still accused of not acting.  (The waiver was later constrained because the ports were too damaged to safely handle more ships.)

Other (historical) issues included:

But again, that was months ago.  The new news on Hurricane Maria’s aftermath is:

  • Maria killed off the last chance for the honeybees
  • The death toll is still rising quickly, due to under reporting.

The issue with the honeybees is that “killer bees” (a hybrid created by humans to try to improve bees, that then escaped) became a better hybrid… calmer productive honeybees… in Puerto Rico.  Nobody knows why, and it only happened there.

So in reality, despite the breathless headlines that Maria killed off the last chance for the honeybees, really the issue is that this spontaneous mutation may be lost.

The human death toll is a better understood problem.  The Puerto Rico government seems to have under-reported deaths by half.  Even CNN did an investigation there.  The main reason for concern is, how can you prevent deaths from future emergencies if you don’t even know that they happened?


The Dispatch provides bite-sized snippets of op-news trends for the last two days, based on Reality Dispatch Heuristics.

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