Thursday, January 17, 2019

Trump is still winning 2020. Why don't Democrats understand the basics of the U.S. government?

I don't really think that focusing on the 2020 Presidential race is a good idea for Democrats. Nonetheless, it is already a focus of the press.

It is interesting to watch the various Democratic politicians throw their proverbial hats into the 2020 Presidential election ring. And it's fun to ruminate about that election in the context of Donald Trump's disapproval rating in the polls.

Various headlines indicate polls showing that Donald Trump has at the national level a 40%±  approval rating and a 56%± disapproval rating. So a good, lefty Democrat has a chance to beat him in 2020. Right? Not really.

(If you don't understand that it doesn't matter what the nation-wide majority thinks, please read the post When your government is not now and never has been a democracy, you are a United States citizen.)

Right now, polls indicate that Trump is not "disapproved" by a majority of those polled in states with 258 Electoral College votes. Absent some major negative event, he could win in those states in 2020 no matter who the Democrats nominate. And he needs to not be "disapproved" in enough states to win just 12 more Electoral College votes.

Here's the lineup of surprising states in which he currently has a majority "disapproval" rating that he will have to campaign in to find enough Electoral Votes to win:

The inverse of that is that the Democratic nominee should have the potential to win a sufficient combination of those states to prevent Trump from getting his 12 Electoral College votes.

Of course, Trump currently is not "disapproved" by a majority of those polled in states like Ohio and Florida. A Democrat might win those states thereby beating Trump.

But if the Democrats nominate a candidate that cannot win in any of the listed states of Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota and West Virginia, then that candidate is not going to have an easy win against Trump absent a major event casting a negative light on Trump.

Who among these currently mentioned candidates (listed in last name alphabetical order) has a chance in those states: Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Steve Bullock, Pete Buttigieg, Juli├ín Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Eric Garcetti, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Eric Holder, Jay Inslee, John Kerry, Amy Klobuchar, Terry McAuliffe, Jeff Merkley, Beto O’Rourke, Richard Ojeda, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders, Howard Schultz, Eric Swalwell, Elizabeth Warren, and/or Andrew Yang?

Then again, Democrats could go "all in" on the preferences of their reliable policy-oriented base located in California and New York and not worry about how to win Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota and West Virginia against Trump. And Trump could win.

At some point it's got to start bothering Democrats that a reliable 40%± of Americans approve of Trump if only because the structure of the U.S. government requires occasionally winning in states like tiny Wyoming where Trump has a 64% approval rating - you know, the 573,720 folks in Wyoming who have the same number of U.S. Senators representing them as the 37,253,956 folks in California.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

On "the grandest day San Francisco had ever seen" a priest began lighting San Francisco three years before New York City's streets were lit by Edison

One of the more frustrating things about being a Californian familiar with his state and its history is the sheer hubris of claims made by those living East of the Rockies and the degree to which those claims became the untrue truths of United States - myths, really - way, way before there was a Donald Trump.

One of those frustrations is associated with the mythology surrounding Thomas Edison. As noted in Wikipedia: "Edison's major innovation was the establishment of an industrial research lab in 1876." Simply put, Edison became a successful businessman who by 1911 brought all the companies he had started as a result of his industrial research operations together into one corporation, Thomas A. Edison Incorporated, with Edison as president and chairman.

My frustration is not about businessman Edison and his successes and failures. The frustration is that 99% of Americans do not recognize the name Joseph Neri.

On the evening of July 4, 1876, termed "the grandest day San Francisco had ever seen", Neri pulled a lever while standing on the top of St. Ignatius Church and the streets of San Francisco were lit with electricity for the first time.

The results of Neri's efforts were noted in the San Francisco Chronicle:

    San Franciscans, ever on the vanguard of change, quickly went to work lighting the city. Three years before New York City's streets were lit by Edison, the California Electric Light Company opened a power station next door to St. Ignatius. The station provided electricity to San Francisco's first electric street lamps in 1879 and, by year's end, to the Palace Hotel and California Theater. What began as an experiment by a Jesuit priest had transformed the city.

That last sentence explains my frustration. The first Jesuit priest to be ordained in California, Father Joseph Neri, in 1869 went to work at St. Ignatius College (now known as the University of San Francisco). The following year he was appointed chair of the natural science department. And Neri went on to light San Francisco.

Well, not exactly.

Neri wasn't a businessman, he was a scientist working for a non-profit educational institution, the kind of place and type of person that gives away wealth-creating knowledge.

Using Neri's work some California businessmen did form the California Electric Light Company. Another business, San Francisco Gas Light, faced new competition. In 1896, the Edison Light and Power Company merged with the San Francisco Gas Light Company to form the new San Francisco Gas and Electric Company. To make a long story short, ultimately there was a Southern California Edison Co. and a Pacific Gas & Electric, generally known as PG&E.

And so the Jesuit Priest scientist, Fr. Joseph Neri, became a footnote in American history - well, a footnote only in some kind of extensive technology history book.

On the other hand, businessman Thomas Edison began appearing in popular culture as a character in novels, films, comics and video games. He and Henry Ford became friends and neighbors. When he died in 1931 Edison left property worth $12,000,000 in 1931 dollars. And too many Americans think he invented electricity.

I only note all this because in the midst of all the wildfire and related PG&E bankruptcy news the first comprehensive and well-written article Frayed Wires: As California enters a brave new energy world, can it keep the lights on? appeared today which ties together the complex 21st Century future evolution of the electric power system as it moves away from the 19th Century grid model.

The story only briefly mentions the historical fact: "After all, the first electricity grid was built in San Francisco in 1879, three years before Thomas Edison’s power station in New York City. (Edison’s plant burned to the ground a decade later.)"

The extensive article is focused on the future, noting:

    So getting to California’s new goals of operating on 100 percent clean energy by 2045 and having 5 million electric vehicles within 12 years will require a shift in how power is acquired and managed. Consumers will rely more heavily on stored power, whose efficiency must improve to meet that demand.
    “Large-scale renewables are disrupting the conventional paradigm of how the grid has been constructed,” said Lorenzo Kristov, who is retired from a long career designing markets and planning the state’s grid. “Wind and solar—you can’t tell them what to do. They are challenging just about every aspect of how the electricity system has worked for decades. We need a lot of new thinking.”
    As California chews on the problem, other states and even the federal government are watching—as they do many developments that emerge first in California—to see what arises.

Perhaps, on occasion as the extensive experimentation and research moves forward making newly minted mbillionaires someone will remember Fr. Neri even though getting rich was never a part of his big picture.

And perhaps Californian's will begin to understand that PG&E's electric business today includes only purchasing electricity from others and distributing it to us ordinary folks - a business model that may have no long-term future.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

When your government is not now and never has been a democracy, you are a United States citizen


In politics, facing the truth of apparent success can sometimes be traumatizing. One might suspect that will be the case for many new elected Democrats currently in an extended brazen celebratory mood in the House of Representatives.

As they well know, the House of Representatives is only half of one of three branches of the United States Government - the Legislative Branch. The House has 435 members elected from Districts apportioned on population.

That means that each member represents 0.23% of the population and cast a vote in the House that represents 0.23% of the votes cast by House members. Yeah, that's not even two percent, it's two-tenths of one percent.

Based upon the national turnout of 50.3% of the voters and the fact that the average vote cast for House members was 63.6% of the votes cast, the average member House of Representatives received 32%± of the votes of eligible voters in their District in the 2018 Midterm Election.

It takes a vote of 218 members of the House representing Districts that contain 50%+ of the population of the United States to pass anything. And meaningful legislation created and passed in the House must then be forwarded to the Senate, the other half of the Legislative Branch.

The Senate has 100 members, two elected from each State. Population of each State is irrelevant:
  • California has a population of 39,776,830± or 12.126% of the U.S. population;
  • Wyoming has a population of 573,720± or 0.175% of the U.S. population.

Quite literally, legislation passed in the House can be killed or passed by a vote of 51 Senators who represent the least populous of the 26 states containing only 17.6% of the U.S. population and who were put into office by less than 8% of eligible American voters.

The embodiment of the Executive Branch of the United States Government, the President of the United States, is appointed ("elected" is a misleading word) by a majority of the Electoral College. Members of the Electoral College are selected in each state through a Presidential "Election" process.

So far in 21st Century America, the sitting Presidents have been George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Based solely upon the national popular vote, the opponents of Bush and Trump won the elections in 2000 and 2016.

But Bush and Trump became President. That is because the states are not represented in the Electoral College based upon population. And the President is not directly elected by the voters.

The members of the Judicial Branch, our federal judges including the members of the Supreme Court, are nominated by the President and must be approved by the Senate. The House of Representatives has no role in the process. The judges are not beholden to the population for obtaining their posts but rather only to the members of the other two branches representing states.

In other words, the states are the 50 "citizens" of the United States. This presents a rather peculiar picture of the U.S. as a "democracy."

As noted in Wikipedia, the term "democracy" first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city-state of Athens during classical antiquity. Athenians established what is generally held as the first democracy in 508–507 BC. Athenian democracy took the form of a direct democracy, and it had two distinguishing features: the random selection of ordinary citizens to fill the few existing government administrative and judicial offices, and a legislative assembly consisting of all Athenian citizens. All eligible citizens were allowed to speak and vote in the assembly, which set the laws of the city state.

Athenian democracy was not only direct in the sense that decisions were made by the assembled people, but also the most direct in the sense that the people through the assembly, boule and courts of law controlled the entire political process and a large proportion of citizens were involved constantly in the public business.

Even though the rights of the individual citizen were not secured by the Athenian constitution in the modern sense (the ancient Greeks had no word for "rights"), the Athenian citizens enjoyed their liberties not in opposition to the government but by living in a city that was not subject to another power and by not being subjects themselves to the rule of another person.

However, Athenian citizenship excluded women, slaves, foreigners, non-landowners, and men under 20 years of age. The exclusion of large parts of the population from the citizen body is closely related to the ancient understanding of citizenship. In most of antiquity the benefit of citizenship was tied to the obligation to fight war campaigns.

Americans live in communities that are subject to a hierarchy of power. It begins at the community level in cities, townships, and counties governed by a small number of citizens. All are subject to other power - state government and federal government. Effectively, we are all subject to the authority of, and can be killed by, other persons representing the government whose activities are not controlled in any way by decisions made by the assembled people.

All this has been buried in philosophical discussions that occurred within empires and kingdoms leading to the term "indirect democracy." This references something called "representative democracy" which apparently in practice means that representatives are elected by far less than a majority of eligible voters. And in the case of the U.S. Senate, decisions can be made by a vote of representatives elected by around 8% of the eligible American voters.

But hey, women and non-landowners can now register to vote so long as they are over the age of 18, aren't foreigners, and haven't been convicted of a crime. But since, unlike Athens, only a tiny proportion of citizens are involved constantly in the public business in our "indirect democracy."

How Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who together represent 0.46% of the American population and who together can cast 0.46% of the vote in the House of Representatives, will fare in this government is unclear.

One can only hope that their constituents will understand that Republican Wyoming U.S. Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, while representing 0.175% of the U.S. population or less than half the population represented by Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib, effectively carry nearly 10 times the clout in America's "democracy" as that of Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib.

And one can only hope that those constituents will understand that those Wyoming Senators have the same clout as Democratic California U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris who represent 69 times the population of Wyoming.

Again, this presents a rather peculiar picture of the U.S. as a "democracy."

It is not surprising that a study from Harvard’s Yascha Mounk and the University of Melbourne’s Roberto Stefan Foa published in the Journal of Democracy in January 2017 found that one quarter of millennials agreed that “choosing leaders through free elections is unimportant.”

For Californians, the only positive outcome from the 2018 Congressional election is that the Speaker of the House is Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and the Minority Leader Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California.