Category: Politics

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).

It’s a problem when it impacts me

Meghan McCain realizes the US needs paid maternity leave after she has a baby. That sums up my problem with a lot of Republicans: it’s only a problem that needs a solution if it impacts me (and, maybe, someone I love). Otherwise it’s something you did to yourself and you are a lazy bum for looking to the government for a solution. The Ayn Rand view of non-me people.

Net neutrality is awful … hey, why is this service provider treating my content differently? Private businesses should be free to refuse service to anyone based on the owner’s beliefs … hey, why is this company refusing to host my service? At-will employment is the ultimate free-market solution … wait, why am I being fired for trying to overthrow the government? The meme-ified version is “The Leopards Eating Faces” party decrying “why are these leopards eating my face”. And it’s why I think private charity is considered more acceptable than more efficient, coordinated social safety net programs … it’s someone “like me” being helped.

As much as I dislike approach, I’m thinking there are about to be some areas where conservatives are open to supporting liberal positions. The three already mentioned (net neutrality, businesses refusing service, at-will employment) and … I expect insurrectionists will discover the problem with felony disenfranchisement now that they are felons.

And, on a related note, they may want to read through [18 U.S.C. § 922]. Specifically:

 
(g) It is unlawful for any person —
(1) who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
 
to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.

On Secession, Part 2

Friends have been discussing a Cosmo article that views secession talk from the perspective of a liberal Southerner. I, for about a decade, was a liberal Southern. A vegetarian in a barbecue capital. I can’t say the article changed my mind. It seems to presume there’s a *good* solution. The existence of a good solution is often over-simplification or an idealization of the situation. I laud the people in Texas protecting others who simply want to use their rights. I feel awful for the people who live in a state that doesn’t care about the environment, loathes redistribution of wealth, think we’re wasting our money educating citizens. If the options were “everybody stop doing that” or “keep doing it but some states secede”, I would be on board with ending the secession talk. But that’s not reality. As it stands, the whole country suffers because of a minority’s opinion about what’s right and wrong. The choices are “stick together and keep doing it” and “split up; some of us, based on where we live, can stop doing it”.

 
It’s easy enough to say “step one is to reorganize yourselves based on political beliefs”. Doesn’t work well in practice. There aren’t a lot of people who can just move. They need to find a job, a place to live, pay to have their stuff moved (or buy new stuff). They may need to find childcare. Or a medical specialist. There are minors who don’t gt a choice in where they live regardless of their personal beliefs.
 
The only reason I see to stop talking about secession is that I don’t see it as logistically possible. I remember being intrigued by Lesotho — it’s a country completely surrounded by South Africa. How exactly does a country end up in the middle of a whole other country?! I knew the history behind the Vatican City State … kind of accepted that as normal because (1) I’d encountered it at an early enough age that I didn’t really question it (2) you could literally walk from Italy into Vatican City — no customs, no passports — so it didn’t seem like a different country, and (3) it’s so small {and this is before “online” was a place to see maps, thus ‘zoom’ didn’t exist} that you only saw it if you were looking at a street map of Rome. Lesotho? It’s large enough to see on a map of Africa. Secession seems like it would produce a *lot* of Lesotho’s — Memphis, Austin, Asheville, New Orleans. I want to focus on a viable solution to eliminate the oversized influence low population-density states have in the Federal government. Undo the gerrymandering that exacerbates this over-representation.

On Secession

I’ve seen talk of secession since SCOTUS reused to hear Texas v Pennsylvania et al. I’ve also heard liberals wish them a fond fairwell. Unlike the Civil War era were the nascent industrialized North had financial need for the agricultural production of the South … it’s a different financial picture today. Unfortunately, the net balance of payments to/from the federal government gets cited as a depiction of this economic reality. Deficit spending means *most* states get back more than they pay in — there were less than a dozen states with a negative balance of payment, and the federal outlay in Virginia alone exceeded the total excess intake from those states. But, yeah, I expect many liberal states would be economically viable. As would many conservative states. Liberal states that aren’t economically viable should be OK too — accepting redistribution of wealth is a tenant of liberalism. It’s the poorer conservative states that have a problem.
 
Of course the secessionists haven’t thought it through; they are throwing a tantrum. As a thought experiment, though, I tried to think through the creation of Trumptopia. I cannot conceptualize a fully functioning, unified nation. A common enemy is a great way to unite people. Get rid of that common enemy (so-called socialists), and I expect they’ll discover a lot of disagreement. More prosperous states won’t want to subsidize poorer states (a resentment I remember from German unification — glad to have the country reunited, but the economic hit for former West Germans really sucked). And, generalization aside, there are urban, liberal outposts like Memphis, Austin, etc. that won’t be keen on getting dragged along with the rest of the state. Unless secessionists are looking to go the route of Greek city-states, which brings its own set of challenges.
 
Even if Trumptopia managed to form somewhere, I expect Republicans have a libertarian/bear problem … letting industry self-regulate sounds good while we have a lot of federal regulation because we’re free to imagine industries as honest, pretend there’s enough competition for consumer choice to force acceptable behavior, and assume consumers are sufficiently well informed in their choices. Same with individual freedom — we’re making an a priori assumption that everyone else’s decision will line up with our rationalizations (see: above bears).

What’s Next – Prediction

My prediction for Trump’s next heap of crazy (or an episode of The Trump Show that runs in my head): Trump gets some foreign state – I’m thinking Erdoğan from Turkey – to admit to perpetrating massive vote fraud. Mailing millions of ballots to some states. Hacking electronic voting platforms. All of the above. Tries to invalidate the entire election on the basis of this “totally reliable” evidence.