Tag: 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 Socialism

Socialism is only considered bad because we get sold on the idea that The Wrong People will benefit from our hard earned tax dollars. GoFundMe’s for medical bills are acceptable socialism because, by crowd-sourcing funding, you get to individually screen each case to ensure your money only goes to The Right People.

Evidently enough people in the US feel it’s worth risking medical bankruptcy to avoid some undesirable’s bad behavior racking up taxpayer funded medical expenses.

Same with tuition-free state schools. Rich kid might still pay a heap-o money and go to a private Uni. But they also MIGHT go to the state school and then my taxes are covering that tuition. Seriously, if the state school is so awesome that rich folks are sending their kids there, or some small handful of rich misers send their kids to the stae Uni because it’s free … we’re all graduating Uni with tens of thousands in debt to avoid those horrors?!

Censorship?

This may be a paranoid thought, but … a bunch of high-profile people’s Twitter accounts were hacked today, and the messages posted asked followers to send Bitcoin. Twitter shut down these accounts for a few hours.

There’s obviously a profit motive here — as of 11:30 today, they’ve garnered over 118k (and have been clearing the money out, so money isn’t just an unfortunate consequence of the hack).

The target list that is hyped includes a lot of big names, and it’s interesting to see which names seem to create the biggest bump in transactions to the wallet.

But the one that stands out to be is Joe Biden — and, yes, it looks like his account was hacked.

This looks like a proof of concept test to me. Now, it’s possible that Trump wasn’t hacked because it is so implausible that he’d be giving back to the community. But forcing the platform to shut down a bunch of accounts, including a number of your political opponents, is a brilliant approach to disrupting campaigning. Seems like a next level move from a government-sponsored intel group looking to interfere with elections after their troll accounts and advertising attempts get shut down.

Marketing Fail

I find it ironic that the Republican, who brought us marketing campaigns such as the “Death Tax” which would cause Paris Hilton to pay taxes on her hypothetical inheritance but didn’t mean jack to 80% of the country seems unable (or, more likely, unwilling) to effectively market pandemic response.
 
Social distancing is a horrible phrase that speaks to isolation. OK, you don’t congregate in one big lump of humanity at the beach or discotheque. Why isn’t figuring out innovative ways to interact a national pursuit? Physically distanced social interactions — either online or in person. A few decades ago, I had friends who would all get on a call to watch a movie or TV show together. Start writing letters again (help out the post office, too). Back in March, when the lock-downs started, I surprised a lady at the grocery store by helping her look for her parent’s preferred type of coffee as I stood on the checkout queue. She didn’t have to get near me, I didn’t have to get near her, but the “social distancing” campaign had her thinking “head down, don’t talk to anyone”. We’ve got patio chairs set up under the big maple tree in our front yard. Two families sitting 10′ apart can easily converse, hang out, enjoy nature, etc. Putting chairs on either side of the fire pit is about 8′ apart too.
 
Then there are the masks. Social trends have convinced people to wear all manner of wild kit. There’s no way it couldn’t have been presented as some awesome fashion trend. I’m curious if it’s *masks* or *orders* that the non-mask wearing public finds so objectionable. Like, would they be down with wearing a confederate flag mask? What about helmets — we can dress up like astronauts, scuba divers, motorcycle riders. I introduced my daughter to pandemic safety by calling it the zombie apocalypse. It’s fun to get the masks and gloves on to take the recycling down the the drop-off point where she stands guard in the car watching for zombies. Or get a superhero cape and mask, adopt a secret identity. Not something I recommend when it’s 95 degrees … but when it cools off again, pretend you’re a less murder-y version of the invisible man with the head wrapping and sun shades.
 
The Republican promotion of preventative actions reminds me of the court-ordered PSA commercials that tobacco companies air. They have technically said what the court has ordered them to say, but there has been no attempt to engage the audience. Or attract attention. White screen, black text, monotone voice-over repeating what the text says.

Bare Cupboards

I loathe how Trump is interviewed. Reporters let him blather on, throwing blame for our current situation without clarifying facts. David Muir interviewed Trump on the news tonight. Trump claims to have come into the office with the cupboards bare — in a really bad position, with broken tests, blah blah blah. And Muir pushed back a little — it’s the third year of Trump’s presidency … if he knew there were massive gaps in our preparedness, shouldn’t he have filled them by now?

Which is a decent question, The Trump administration’s own budget request from Feb 2020 (i.e. the budget submitted after reasonable people realized this virus was going to be a problem) didn’t ask for any increase in funding for the strategic national stockpile.

But the line of questioning doesn’t address the omitted facts from Trump’s original claim. Firstly, Obama didn’t leave Trump a stockpile of functional SARS-CoV-2 tests because the virus had not been encountered in humans yet. There are probably millions of viruses we’ve not yet encountered, and Obama didn’t use his vast psychic powers to order the Time Force to travel into the future and bring back a few million tests (and, really, I think Obama was clever enough he’d probably have ordered them to travel farther into the future and bring back a vaccine and manufacturing instructions). That’s an outright silly assertion.

There were supplies that the national stockpile lacked. Why? The Obama administration asked for 65 million dollars to increase the stock. Didn’t get it. Equipment was used during the swine flu outbreak, and Obama wanted a 10% budget increase to replenish the supply. Didn’t get it. There was a Republican push to reduce budgets across the board — remember the tea party? The CDC had budget increases due to biosecurity concerns after 9/11, so they were an obvious target. The cut-budgets-or-sequestration debt ceiling debacle — with the predictable result that no agreement could be made on targeted budget cuts — farther reduced CDC funding. While it’s technically true that the Obama administration reduced funding for the CDC, there’s a lot of duress that’s glossed over. And it’s not like the Republicans were sidelined as a minority screaming about how we needed to spend this money.

Alas, to Trump’s benefit and the detriment of politics in general … there’s very little interest in diving into the details. Democrats assume Trump is some combination of incompetent and dishonest, Republicans assume Trump’s right and it’s all Obama’s fault.

Ohio House Bill 546

Letter sent to my Ohio State Representative and Senator:

I am writing to encourage you to support GA133 HB-546 introduced on 10 March 2020. The bill alters the definition of hybrid and electric vehicles to reclassify plug-in hybrid vehicles. These are vehicles that will both plug into an external source to charge for a modest electric range AND use the gasoline engine when the charge is depleted. Examples of vehicles in this category are Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Prime, Chrysler Pacifica PHEV, Kia Niro PHEV, Honda Clarity, and Ford Fusion Energi. These vehicles are not intended to run on electricity alone — they use a combination of electricity and gasoline.

Plug-in hybrid owners have been uniquely penalized by the latest gas tax bill. Plug-in hybrid vehicle owners pay tax on the gasoline used and pay the higher registration fee for fully electric vehicles. HB-546 accommodates said payment of the gasoline tax by halving the registration fee for plug-in hybrid vehicles. Without a system to account for electric miles driven (i.e. a system that taxes road use by electric vehicles the same way the gasoline tax does), reclassifying plug-in hybrids seems like the best way to accommodate the fact that plug-in hybrid drivers are already paying toward road maintenance through the gas tax.

 

Ohio House Bill 62

Letter sent to my Ohio State Representative and Senator:

I’m writing in reference to House Bill 62.

Pertaining to the definition of “Plug-in electric motor vehicle” and “Hybrid motor vehicle” (Sect 4501.01 DDD and EEE) and their additional respective registration fees, the wording in the bill as I read it leaves some ambiguity to a third segment: the “Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle” or PHEV. These are vehicles that will both plug into an external source to charge for a modest electric range AND use the gasoline engine in a typical hybrid configuration when the charge is depleted. These vehicles are NOT designed to run indefinitely on electricity alone. My concern is that the current wording classifies certain PHEV’s as Plug-in electric motor vehicles. PHEV’s will still pay the gasoline tax, similar to hybrids, when they fill up at the pump *and* be charged a 200$ registration fee. Examples of vehicles in this category are the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Prime, Chrysler Pacifica PHEV, Kia Niro PHEV, Honda Clarity, and the Ford Fusion Energi. I would like to see the law amended to ensure PHEV owners, who generally pay some gasoline tax just like “Hybrid motor vehicle” owners, are not subject to the higher registration fee.

Beyond the classification of PHEVs, the gasoline tax is consumption and usage based. Heavier vehicles tend to have lower mpg ratings, thus their drivers accrue more tax. Individuals who drive a lot accrue more tax. The new registration fee is a fixed amount that has no bearing on an individual’s actual vehicle usage. I will be assessed the 200$ fee, and I drive maybe 2,500 miles a year. Someone with a pure electric Tesla who drives 300 miles a day pays the same 200$ fee but drives 75,000 miles in a year. If I convert an F-350 to a plug-in electric motor vehicle, that 7,000 pound truck is going to be assessed the same 200$ fee as my 3,800 pound PHEV.

I don’t have a problem being asked to pay for *my* usage of the roads. I wouldn’t complain about per-mile fee for electric and hybrid vehicles or an additional tax on electrical consumption to fund road repairs. I’d be less upset if the petrol tax were scrapped and everyone charge a registration fee based on the vehicle’s weight so infrequent drivers universally subsidize frequent drivers. But I vehemently object to being uniquely, financially penalized for low-milage usage of a PHEV.