Stupidity not exclusive to Republicans

Scott Lemieux, writing for Lawyers, Guns, and Money:

There are really no good arguments for voting third party for president in the currently existing American electoral system. To the extent that third-party voting has any justification at all, there are three bad categories. The first is to argue that it doesn’t really matter because the major parties are essentially the same. Dr. Jill Stein, MD makes this argument:

Admitting Trump is the worst possible thing that could happen to the country, she also says that the binary options amount to “death by gunshot or death by strangulation.”

The main problem with this argument, as applied to the election of 2016, is that it is reflects massive dishonesty, massive stupidity, massive ignorance, or some cocktail of the three. American political parties are polarized to an unusual extent, and the Democrats are far better on a wide range of issues and worse on none.

As I argued previously, if you support some or most of Jill Stein’s views, don’t vote for her. Do you understand?

Just a bit outside

July 2016 exceeded previous maximum temperatures by a considerable margin. Indeed, each of this year’s monthly temperatures jumped beyond historical records. Here is the latest graph from NASA:

july2016 temperatures

I included the category “politics” for this post, since talk of global warming is all about politics these days, and damn the science and the scientists. We have virtually an entire political party (guess which one) dedicated to the proposition that climate change is a “hoax” or “fraud,” conjured by the Chinese or “liberals.” To what end? Beats me.

But reality stares us in the face and our thermometers. It’s getting warmer by the month. We just broke records in Seattle, with daily highs reaching 94. Oh, and check out the temperatures in the Middle East. Can you say 125°? And what about the fires, droughts, and floods? Or Northwest glaciers?

Republicans, as I’ve said, are dangerous to our health. They also like to fiddle standing by fires.

Politics and global warming

According to a recent study, the strongest predictor of whether or not you believe that climate change is real and mostly human-caused, as most scientists believe, is your political preference. Essentially, if you’re liberal and vote Democratic, you are more likely to think that the globe is warming and will only get hotter, with potentially disastrous consequences—again, as most scientists conclude. However, if you’re a Republican, you also dismiss the fact and science of climate change.

Two broad conclusions emerged. First, many intuitively appealing variables (such as education, sex, subjective knowledge, and experience of extreme weather events) were overshadowed in predictive power by values, ideologies, worldviews and political orientation. Second, climate change beliefs have only a small to moderate effect on the extent to which people are willing to act in climate-friendly ways.

That second conclusion is almost as depressing as the first. Most of us hold fast to our political beliefs, more so if we are conservative, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to convince a Republican that climate change poses a threat to the planet and its species. Yet, as the study’s authors found, even if we accept the reality of climate change and the underlying science, we’re hesitant to do anything about it.

More Koch fingerprints

Nevada, which has more sun than just about any other state, is doing its best to kill the solar industry. The state’s regulatory commission approved an increase in the monthly service charge for electric utility customers while sharply reducing the price utilities pay for customers’ solar-generated power.

I had previously written about the boost in the service charge, and how it seems reasonable for utilities to recoup some or all of the fixed costs of the distribution system via a fixed service charge. The Snohomish County PUD has begun exploring such a charge for residential customers; today the PUD is one of a handful of state utilities that does not impose a service, or distribution charge. The PUD, like other utilities with solar programs, also pays customers who install panels the full retail price of electricity for the rooftop-generated electricity. That’s part of the state’s net metering law.

However, Nevada appears to have gone much too far in both increasing its existing service charge and reducing the net-metering payments to customers, which dropped to two cents from the previous 11 cents/kWh. Now solar companies are shuttering their doors and laying off thousands of workers, as reported by The Guardian.

The decision to replace economic incentives with new higher fees pulled the carpet out from under an industry that provided 8,700 jobs in the state last year, according to the Solar Foundation, and stranded some 17,000 homeowners who have already gone solar with a financial liability on their rooftops.

Three companies, including SolarCity, announced they were quitting the state, laying off about 1,000 workers.

SolarCity, founded by Elon Musk of Tesla fame, finds himself opposite Warren Buffet, whose company owns Nevada Energy (NVEnergy), the state’s largest investor-owned utility. But there’s more going on.

The move by Nevada’s regulators is part of an overall strategy by the Koch brothers et al. to kill solar energy. Why? The Kochs are into fossil fuels—big time. Moreover, the Kochs detest government in general and its regulations in particular. As chronicled in Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money, the Kochs have targeted alternatives to oil, coal, and natural gas. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch’s umbrella group, was behind the attacks on Solyndra, the failed solar-panel company.

Nor should we ignore the disastrous environmental record of the Kochs. Here’s Jane Mayer:

The numbers regarding Koch Industries’ pollution were incontrovertible. In 2012, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory database, which documents the toxic and carcinogenic output of eight thousand American companies, Koch Industries was the number one producer of toxic waste in the United States. It generated 950 million pounds of hazardous materials that year. Of this total output, it released 56.8 million pounds into the air, water, and soil, making it the country’s fifth-largest polluter. The company was also among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in America, spewing over twenty-four million tons of carbon dioxide a year into the atmosphere by 2011, according to the EPA, as much as is typically emitted by five million cars.

If the Kochs continue to have their way, they will literally destroy the planet while siphoning off billions in profits.


Democratic establishment worries

I’ve always believed that Bill Clinton irreparably damaged the Democratic Party by taking it further and further to the right, gradually submerging those ideals and policies that were the stuff of the New Deal and progressivism. I have in mind “ending welfare as we know it,” NAFTA, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and the formal embrace of Wall Street at the expense of the Rest of Us. His personal peccadilloes cemented his notoriety, in my view.

Then there was Hillary, the good wife throughout all his indiscretions with a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. That she stood by her man suggests that political ambition and shared principles, such as they are, were deemed more important than personal respectability.

Yet, despite this past, Ms. Clinton assuredly assumed the mantle of frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. She had the credentials and the experience.

Then came Bernie.

Mr. Sanders beckons us to wash away Clintonism and recall, if not resume, the New Deal. He insists that we can have a decent society in the manner of Scandinavia, with universal health care, free education, minimal poverty, more economic equality, a diminished financial sector, and a government that works. Put away cynicism and burnish idealism.

And people like what they hear, judging by the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, which find him leading Ms. Clinton.

Now the Democratic establishment is worried. We know this because Clinton allies and operatives have sounded the negativity horn against Mr. Sanders, even stooping to red-baiting and hints of racism.

Corey Robin, writing for Crooked Timber, reminds us of the Clintons, past and present. They are not to be trusted and we should not be misled by their words. I encourage you to read his piece.

As for the red-baiting, consider this article in The Guardian.

The dossier, prepared by opponents of Sanders and passed on to the Guardian by a source who would only agree to be identified as “a Democrat”, alleges that Sanders “sympathized with the USSR during the Cold War” because he went on a trip there to visit a twinned city while he was mayor of Burlington.

Similar “associations with communism” in Cuba are catalogued alongside a list of quotes about countries ranging from China to Nicaragua in a way that supporters regard as bordering on the McCarthyite rather than fairly reflecting his views.

Sanders has insisted on many occasions this year that his own philosophy of democratic socialism is very different from that of authoritarian regimes, and much more in keeping with the tradition of American reformers such as Franklin D Roosevelt.

Nevertheless, should Ms. Clinton defeat Mr. Sanders, I will vote in her favor against any of the sordid Republican bunch.

Going, going…

Public employee unions, that is. The U.S. Supreme Court, in oral arguments today, indicated that it will once again overturn its own precedent, a 1977 case, and essentially neutralize labor associations that represent government workers.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915, was brought by a handful of California teachers who argue that all union activity is political, including collective bargaining itself, and that as such they should not be compelled to pay dues. Such compulsion, they say, violates their First Amendment rights to free speech.

Today in California, and in another 19 22 states, government workers who refuse to join unions are nonetheless required to pay fees for the costs of negotiating wages and working conditions and otherwise protecting their interests. The 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, affirmed such arrangements. The plaintiffs in that case offered essentially the same arguments as in Friedrichs. But different justices now, and stare decisis be damned.

Also be damned: the ramifications of a ruling favoring today’s plaintiffs. For one, union participation rates have steadily fallen since the 1950s’ peak, and a majority of those who now belong to labor associations work in the public sector. Expect to see those numbers dwindle even further.

union membership rate 1983 to 2014

As union membership has fallen so have real wages for the Rest of Us.

annual change real percapita wages

The editors of The Nation magazine opined on the implications of Friedrichs. They wrote:


The whole of American public sector employment…will become a right-to-work…killing field for unions.

Salon magazine commented:

The gist, though, is relatively straightforward: Because public unions have to negotiate on behalf of all workers — and not just those who are union members — during collective bargaining, it’s long been normal for all workers so affected to be charged a fee. The idea is that because these workers may benefit from the unions efforts, despite not being themselves members, they should also have to make a financial contribution. This is supposed to fix the unions’ free rider problem.

That’s been the norm since a Supreme Court ruling in the late-1970s. But thanks to the Friedrichs case, which was brought by 10 non-union member California teachers and coordinated by the ultra-conservative Center for Individual Rights, that status quo is endangered. Making non-members contribute to collective bargaining, they say, is tantamount to compelling them to endorse the union’s political speech. Contrary to the prevailing understanding, they say, collective bargaining is political.

If the Court sees things their way, it’s likely that they’ll disallow these mandatory contributions from non-members. If that happens, unions say, and the vast majority of outside observers agree, then these already-embattled unions will almost certainly be unable to afford their own perseverance. Suddenly, just like that, a “right-to-work” framework will be imposed on public unions across all 50 states. An inverse of Gov. Scott Walker’s process, in other words, goes national.

One thing is clear. Should the justices reverse course and decide in the plaintiffs’ favor, public sector unions, if not all unions and associations (e.g., legal associations), will lose money. Why pay dues or their equivalent when you don’t have to? With the loss of revenue, unions’ ability to bargain on their members’ behalf will be constrained, to say the least. Indeed, unions’ very existence may be in jeopardy.

Now add Citizens United to the mix. The domination of corporations (capital) will be complete, officially so, should the court rule as expected. The “countervailing force” of labor, as John K. Galbraith used to say, will evaporate to nothingness.