Thursday, October 05, 2017

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXXVI: Charlottesville

Charlottesville was a "turning point" in our national conversation about racism. By that I mean "lots of people sort of acknowledged racism still existed and was scary, and then proceeded to not alter any of their other political priors in any meaningful way such that within two weeks it was as if nothing had changed whatsoever."

But who was responsible for this hitherto unfathomable display of open white supremacy? Oh, I think you know who:
[REP. PAUL] GOSAR: Well, isn’t that interesting. Maybe that [the Charlottesville rally] was created by the Left.
VICE News: Why do you say that?  
GOSAR: Because let’s look at the person that actually started the rally. It’s come to our attention that this is a person from Occupy Wall Street that was an Obama sympathizer. So, wait a minute, be careful where you start taking these people to.  
And look at the background. You know, you know George Soros is one of those people that actually helps back these individuals. Who is he? I think he’s from Hungary. I think he was Jewish. And I think he turned in his own people to the Nazis. Better be careful where we go with those.  
VICE News: Do you think George Soros funded the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville? 
GOSAR: Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out?
Interesting indeed. On behalf of the Jews, thanks, Rep. Gosar, and thanks to the Republicans of Arizona's 4th congressional district for electing him!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The New Trump Administration Push To Blow Up Energy Markets

David Roberts has a great post on efforts by Energy Secretary Rick Perry to essentially blow up the wholesale energy market in a naked effort to protect coal (and, to a lesser extent, nuclear) power plants from free competition. Basically, he proposed a new rule that would guarantee coal and nuclear power plants a positive return on their investments, regardless of whether their power capacity was used or even is economical. Whereas other power plants (ranging from wind to natural gas) make money based on their ability to compete effectively in the marketplace, a few preferred operators would get their profits guaranteed.

Nominally, this is because they uniquely contribute to grid "resilience" by being a source of power able to ramp up quickly in the event of a major disruption (like, say, a major weather event). The problem (well, the short version of the problem) is that all the relevant studies -- including those conducted by the DOE under the supervision of Secretary Perry in the hopes that they'd confirm his political preferences -- conclude that coal and nuclear power don't actually improve grid resilience, and that, in fact, the grid is generally quite reliable and resilient right now (and only improving). So the only real upshot is to serve as a massive intrusion on the market in favor of uneconomical coal power.* It's thus no surprise that one Republican former FERC commissioner described it as "the antithesis of good economics," or that simply said it would "blow the market up."

The whole article is worth your read, both as an introduction to how energy markets work (Roberts is great at explaining for a lay audience) and as an entry in the infinite-series of "Republicans don't actually care about market competition.

After laying out a litany of obstacles to passing the rule -- ranging from wall-to-wall opposition in the energy sector (outside of coal/nuke lobbyists) to severe time pressures to a complete lack of legal or policy justification necessary under the relevant statutes, Roberts concludes by saying the future of this proposal depends "on just how hackish and partisan FERC is willing to get." In other words, hold on tight.**

* As Roberts notes, while nuclear power is in a somewhat different boat from coal, this rule is also terrible policy as applied to supporting nukes.

** FERC is actually normally a relatively well-run agency, but at the moment it is controlled by Trump partisans who are, shall we say, not typically concerned with abiding by standards of technical expertise. So we'll see.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The (Ex-)CBS Executive Who's (Not) the Next Google Software Engineer!

After the horrifying massacre in Las Vegas this weekend, one CBS executive (business-side, not content-side) put up a Facebook post saying she was "not even sympathetic" to the victims because, as country music fans, they were probably Republicans and thus partially culpable for the epidemic of gun violence in this country.

She was fired.

I don't have a particular problem with that. Her comments were obviously repulsive, and if CBS decided that they were beyond the pale, casting doubt on her ability to work empathetically and sensitively with others, then this remedy seems well-within bounds.

And it seems most people agree. Because we haven't heard her compared to the Google software engineer. Or the Mozilla CEO. Or, on the other side, NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem.

What to make of all this? I don't think that it's actually a lack of principles, precisely. Rather, I think this demonstrates that we need to make judgment calls, and that there's no substitute for nuanced, critical consideration. A pure "free speech" position can't work in the private sector, and few of us seem to desire it anyway. At the same time, a "if you don't like the political line the company forces you to espouse, you can get a new job" line doesn't seem to map onto our intuitions about free speech or political freedom either.

It requires thinking. And sometimes, it's the easy, unthinking cases -- the uncontroversial termination of an executive when her speech really does seem obviously beyond the pale -- that illuminates the thought that needs to go into the more difficult ones.