Category: Politics and Government

Civics Lesson – Federal and State Laws

Civics classes seem to do a good job of explaining the framework for federal and state government. The branches and processes are covered as well. But, ironically, there’s not much information about laws enacted/enforced by these governments. Sure, you know the legislature writes a bill, both houses vote to make it a law, and the head of the executive branch (president or governor) sign their agreement with the law to actually enact it. But … then what? How do people know what the laws actually are?

Laws are maintained in the “Code”. There’s a US Code and state code — e.g. Ohio Revised Code (ORC) in Ohio. At the federal level, there are also regulations in the Federal Register — this includes rules (and proposed rules) individual executive branch departments enact. It also contains executive orders. States maintain their own registers — the Ohio Register, for example. Now, someone may think rules / orders from the executive branch fall outside the scope of the law — and that person is welcome to bring a suit challenging the law. But, unless there’s an injunction or the regulation has been overturned … it’s still a rule you need to obey.

In addition to the laws enacted by congresses and regulations written by the executive branch, the American legal system is based on “common law” — basically what a court decides about a situation based on their reading and interpretation of the laws becomes guidance for future or down-level cases. Which is to say you can read the Ohio Revised Code front to back and still not have a complete understanding of the practical implementation of laws within Ohio.

Take, for example, ORC 519.02 which states that

Except as otherwise provided in this section, in the interest of the public health and safety, the board of township trustees may regulate by resolution, in accordance with a comprehensive plan, the location, height, bulk, number of stories, and size of buildings and other structures, including tents, cabins, and trailer coaches, percentages of lot areas that may be occupied, set back building lines, sizes of yards, courts, and other open spaces, the density of population, the uses of buildings and other structures, including tents, cabins, and trailer coaches, and the uses of land for trade, industry, residence, recreation, or other purposes in the unincorporated territory of the township

That’s pretty open ended. What is a comprehensive plan? If you’ve got a chapter in your zoning resolution that’s called “Comprehensive Plan” is that good enough [spoiler alert: it can be … see Central Motors Corp. v. City of Pepper Pike, 63 Ohio App.2d 34, 65 (8th Dist.1979)] or does the Township need to break that chapter out into its own “Comprehensive Plan” document? Who is involved in writing that plan, how often can it be updated, etc. These details emerge as someone says “hey, court, I don’t think this is right” and the court clarifies some detail of the Code.

So you’ve got federal laws, state laws, federal and state executive branch regulations, federal and state executive orders, and decisions made in court cases that make up “the rules”.  Who do you complain to when you don’t like the rules?

Every time my daughter complains to me about being unable to drive, I tell her to write her state rep. Not because I particularly think the state rep is going to do anything, but “you have to be 16 to drive” is a state law. The only ones who can change a state law is the state legislature (I expect a federal driving age would be ruled unconstitutional, but starting at the federal level to change the ‘you only get our money if’ wouldn’t be a bad direction either. Sometimes the state has the law because federal funding is predicated on having the law — that’s how the drinking age got standardized across the country. But a state could, hypothetically, opt out of federal funding and do their own thing.)

What’s my point? If your township has some rule that you don’t like, there may not be much the Township Trustees can do about it. When the State Supreme Court has made a decision that creates a rule … you need to be talking to your state rep and senator to push to have that rule changed. They could pass a law that negates the court decision. Now someone could challenge the constitutionality of the new law in court … if the court deems the law unconstitutional, then the legislature could amend the state constitution too. When the federal government has created a regulation, you’d need to be talking to your federal rep and senators.

Proof of Concept

Reading about the meat processing that’s been attacked by ransomware, and thinking about the petrol pipeline … this really seems like proof of concept stuff to me. I’m sure there’s some ‘making money’ and more than a little ego stroking involved. Before we purchase and implement some major system at work (or spend a lot of time developing code), we run a proof of concept test. A quick, slimmed down implementation that runs on some virtual system that lets people see how it’ll work without sinking the time and money into a full-scale implementation. If the thing seems useful, then we buy it and have a capital budget for implementation. If it wasn’t useful … well, we lost some time, but not much.

Attacking small players in various industries to see what kind of impact you have have … seems a lot like a proof of concept series of attacks. How well secured was the company? What kind of incident response were they able to mount? How much access did you manage? What came offline? What was the public impact?

On Race Norming

I get why race norming is objectionable — but why in the world are they norming at all?! I’d hate if I had some accident & the analysis of my decline was based off of some American norm or a global norm. It’s not like “getting a bunch of concussions” is a black swan event for footballers, either. So why wouldn’t they routinely administer these cognitive tests for each player? Someone puts in a claim? Their current cognitive functionality isn’t compared to some normalized baseline. It’s compared to their documented trajectory.

Socialized Medicine

What really gets me is that the US has socialized health care. Your insurance company isn’t logging all of the excess income they make from you to a large medical expense you incur in the future. The whole point of insurance is that the million (or whatever) ‘customers’ all pay in their their, say, thirteen grand a year. Many people get their annual checkup, and that’s it. Insurance company pays out a couple hundred bucks from that thirteen grand. Someone gets heart surgery – the excess all those only-checkup people paid covers it, and the insurance company pays out fifty grand for that stranger’s medical care.

The American insurance system is just socialized in small, less efficient islands. Those islands are making money off of us all. And you get voted off the island when you lose your job.

Oh, and people still go bankrupt from medical expenses. Or resort to airing their sad story on GoFundMe hoping for donations. I guess we all get to feel benevolent when we donate to their fundraiser, and just paying taxes doesn’t get to make you feel like you’re personally helping someone. But do we really need a profit-driven and inefficient solution just so we can feel good about ourselves? Maybe we could switch to a more efficient system where everyone is the customer pool and the insurance company is looking to more or less break even. And you can donate the money you save on heath care to some other charity — homeless people, bail projects, food kitchens, abused animals, etc.

LARPing the Trial

I wish live action role playing were permissible in jury trials. As we’ve been watching the Derek Chauvin trial, the defense presented body worn camera video from a 2019 traffic stop that involved George Floyd. The retired police officer testified that Mr. Floyd was not following instruction and such … then they rolled the video. Dude goes up to the car and yells something like ‘show me your hands’. Mr. Floyd raised his hands in the air. The officer then repeatedly yelled for him to both “unbuckle your seat belt” and “show me your hands” … two contradictory commands. The officer then ordered Mr. Floyd’s hands on the dash and the officer on the other side of the car ordered (him? the driver?) to put their hands on their head. The officer then shoves Mr. Floyd’s hands to the dash. This doesn’t seem to be someone refusing to follow instructions — this seems like someone trying to follow instructions while two different people shout two different directions.

What’s that got to do with LARP’ing? Well — imagine if you were on the jury and jurors were paired up. Each sat in a chair six feet apart (which is more distance than provided in a car) while two people with guns drawn march up behind them and start yelling orders to them. How well do you think you’d do at following the instructions from the guy closest to you?

Does it now seem more reasonable to say things like “I don’t want to get shot!”? And, since it’s a demonstration, you know the guns aren’t loaded. I’ve had a gun waved in my face exactly twice in my life — once when I took too long to pull over on a traffic stop. The second when I was visiting a friend at work and someone decided to rob the joint. In both cases, it was incredibly frightening. The cops, in the second instance, were somewhat bemused by the fact I couldn’t tell them a single thing about the suspect but could have spent an hour detailing the gun.

Inverse of Citizens United

Representation in the federal government is not equitable — I’ve talked before about how some Senators and Reps represent a lot more people than others. Citizens United farther eroded the influence individual citizens have on the government. But, this past week, I’m beginning to wonder if corporate influence might not force policies supported by a statistical majority that cannot gain enough of a majority in Congress or the Electoral College to have impact.

Businesses don’t care what a thousand acres of land thing. Generally speaking, a company doesn’t consider 280k people in Wyoming as important as 18.6 million in Cali. So, while both groups of people have one Senator … a company looking at losing 18 million customers is a lot more apt to act than one looking at losing 280k customers. Now, obviously, a company would rather avoid conflict and keep both sets of customers. But … if the majority begins to consider inaction offensive? Corporate influence might force a more equitable position for the national majority.

GA SB 202

This particular component of GA SB 202 seems to beg for civil disobedience — first of all, are they really going to throw five hundred people into county jail for handing out water?! What if it’s medical professionals handing out water to prevent dehydration? It wasn’t a gift, it was a prescription for 250cc of water administered orally. Can you bring drinks for friends? The first time Obama ran, I stood on a long queue with friends. One friend ran over to Starbucks and picked up coffees and ice teas for us all. Would that be illegal under this law?

But, more importantly, the law precludes giving of gifts that include food and drink. Can you sell food and water for a penny? Can you barter with food and water? Trade that paperclip/pen/coupon (whatever detritus you’ve got in your pocket or purse/wallet) for a bottle of water?

John Thune’s Six Bucks an Hour

It looks like he’s eliding details for effect. Per NYT:

“In Mr. Thune’s first job, as a busboy, he was paid the legal minimum of $1 an hour. Mr. Thune has said he worked at Star for seven summers, ending up as a cook earning $6 an hour. He used the money he saved to attend Biola College in California.”

He’s got a neat sounding sound bite — I made 6/hr work for me *and* paid for Uni. And, I guess, the point is that you need to move up and get pay increases so you’re making 5x or 6x minimum wage. Republicans tend to be big on the ‘your own bootstraps’ thing without considering the bigger picture.

As a kid, he quite possibly wasn’t paying for housing, electricity, food, heat, clothing, home repairs, medical bills. Maybe he was, I don’t know the guy. But, if he was living at home as a kid … with parents footing all of the ‘adult’ bills? That 6$ an hour went a LOT farther. When I worked in high school, the 60% (or whatever) of my cheque that didn’t go to taxes was for gas (to get to work, so not needed if I wasn’t working) and fun money. Seemed like a lot of money at the time.

And, great, he saved up to pay for Uni. He graduated in 1983 — average tuition, room, and board that year was 4,167. Which was a significant increase from the previous years he’d have been attending. Four years of Uni from 1980-1984, using national average tuition costs, would have been 14,634$. Maybe add in some in books/fees. What that? 20k to get his degree. I was forking over 20k a YEAR tuition, books, housing, and food. And that was only a decade later. 4500$ in 1993 dollars would have been just over 7k in 1996. Because Uni cost has seriously outpaced inflation.

When I left Uni and had to pay for adult things? I was making minimum wage — 4.75$/hr which was increased to 5.15$/hr not too long after I started. I clearly recall *not* being able to make rent on minimum wage. Eating the cheapest (and completely unhealthy) stuff from the cheapest grocery store — which had expensive health ramifications. Taking a second job because, on top of all of the just-to-survive things I needed to buy, I also needed to start repaying my student loans. Without the benefit of a degree because I couldn’t afford to finish Uni. Yeah, I had some lucky breaks that let me take jobs that paid better. I’m not conceited enough to think it was only my brilliance and fortitude that got me out barely-scraping-by jobs. I happened to have gained IT experience in Uni before *everyone* had computer experience. I happened to live in a small enough town that a lot of people in IT knew each other, and I had a friend call me up when he was leaving a job and basically offer me the position. Not to be nice — we weren’t that good of friends — but he had gotten a great job offer within the company. The internal transfer wouldn’t go through, though, unless his boss OK’d it. And his boss was going to be a LOT more willing to sign off on the xfer if there was a replacement employee right there. My phone could have been cut off for non-payment when dude tried to call me. If I didn’t have a credit card, I wouldn’t have been able to buy one nice outfit to wear to the interview. Hell, dude could have called someone else before me.

Your Own Facts: TX Power Edition

I’m not sure how political discourse has any point if everyone maintains their own facts to support their preconceived conclusion. How can you fix a problem when you cannot even agree what the problem is? The power outage in Texas is a prime example. Someone got on Hannity and spouted off about how it’s all the windmill’s fault. Because, evidently, windmills are awful? Froze up and just stopped producing power.

But wind turbines absolutely work in freezing temperatures. See, for instance, Alaska — https://windexchange.energy.gov/states/ak — where it does occasionally get cold. The difference is that they spend more on the installation and winterize the windmills. It’s not *wind turbines* that have a problem, it’s *unwinterized* wind turbines that end up in freezing weather. Same is true of cars (you may need what amounts to an electric blanket for the engine to get a diesel vehicle running in cold weather, and the fuel can still jell at very low temperatures). And people — going outside in a coat, scarf, hat, boots, and women’s gloves seemed like being appropriately dressed for the weather, but I was invariably super cold and hated going outside in winter. Found out that normal women’s gloves don’t have insulation in the fingers (because it is, evidently, more important that my fingers look svelte than that my fingers aren’t nearing frostbite stage) and bought ski gloves. Traded the hat and scarf for a balaclava. Traded the coat for insulated overalls with a coat. Traded cute winter boots for waterproof Mucks. Winter is an awesome time to head outside now. It’s bulky attire, but I’m warm. Sometimes, when we’re shoveling snow in just-below-freezing temps, I’m too warm.

Other production sources shut down because they were inadequately winterized too — natural gas pipelines were blocked with ice, frozen coal piles made it difficult to keep coal plants online, solar installations were covered in snow, frozen pumps limited water to nuclear cooling towers … basically every form of electrical generation experienced limited production in the cold weather.

The benefit of spending more money on a precaution you use once a decade is certainly a valid debate — but the consequence of that decision need to be anticipated, to be accepted … and the problem needs to be communicated accurately. If it would have cost a billion dollars over the past decade (essentially the span since the “last time this happened”) to maintain winterized generation and delivery facilities … we opted to save a billion dollars with the current situation as the trade-off. Voters don’t like that? They can vote for someone who will demand winterization. Voters prefer saving the money, vote for the current people. Sucks for the 49% who vote the other way … but that’s democracy.

But that doesn’t work when individuals have “facts” to support what they want to believe. The reader poll in my county paper today asked who deserves the most blame for the power failure in Texas. 23% say windmills and green energy. Wind facility shutdowns accounted for less than 13% of the outages. I haven’t seen numbers for reduction in solar generation … but wind production is the one being scapegoated.

It took a few days for reporting to include the fact Texas has its own power grid with smaller interconnects to other grids that aren’t sized to pull enough power to cover this outage. Even now, does much reporting include the fact Texas maintains its own grid to avoid federal regulations that would have required some winterization? That’s not lack of regulation, that’s intentionally designing a system to avoid existing regulations. Poor leadership is too vague to be meaningful — poor leadership at ERCOT failing to take some action in the past week or two that would have magically prevented problems? Poor leadership in intentionally maintaining a loosely connected grid that avoided federal regulations to reduce cost? Those are whole different types of “poor leadership” which may or may not be viable paths to prevent this from happening again in 2031.

 

On stimulus means testing

Means testing is just as bad as offering a payroll tax cut. “Hi, family that made 100k in 2019, made 95k in 2020, but hasn’t had anyone employed since mid-December … you’re rich, so suck it!” sounds better than “Hi, family who made 100k in 2019, made 95k in 2020, but hasn’t had anyone employed since mid-December… you’re out of work, so suck it!”. But they’re both essentially the same statement.
 
I’d thought about including some sort of opt-out process. But if you don’t *need* the money, nothing’s stopping you from donating it to the local food bank / homeless shelter / etc either. Or saving it in case you get laid off three months from now (yes, I know “saving the stimulus money” … but what’s bad on a macro level isn’t always bad for the individual). So an opt-out infrastructure is a bit of theater that adds expense and delay (i.e. a Bad Idea).