Current Affairs – US

Working from Home – The New Normal

To paraphrase a famous UK singer, I want to tell you a story.

While I was working for Sabre and then EDS, the corporation adopted an approach to remote working by employees where, if you lived 40 or more miles from your defined work location, and you could obtain leader approval, you were allowed to work from home for 4 days a week, only having to be in the office for meetings one day a week.

This was not a full Work From Home employment agreement. However, a small number of employees did have Work From Home agreements, and in that scenario, the corporation also provided and paid for home computing infrastructure, including internet connectivity, monitors and printers. In practice, a number of employees who lived less than 40 miles from the office location also began to mostly work from home, on a “nod and wink” basis with their leaders. After a while, at least 5 people in my group were working from home, but only 2 people in the group really qualified under the 40 mile rule.

There was a period, in the 2006-2007 time period, where, for reasons that were none too clear, the new EDS leadership decided to enforce the 40 mile rule strictly. As a result, all but 2 of the group members who had been working from home were told they had to be working from their office locations 5 days a week once more. This was not a popular edict. At least 1 person in the group, one of the business analysts, left the company for another job.

After I ceased to support a local client (American Airlines) in 2007, I moved to the America Testing organization, and went on the road for a while. I was re-classified as a Remote worker, meaning that when I was not on the road, I worked from home. Most of the time I was on the road, so working from home was a pleasant, albeit temporary, respite. (contrary to what many people believed, my life as a consultant did not comprise an endless series of stays in luxury hotels, surrounded by Captains Of Industry and voluptuous pouting women. It was a whole lot less glamorous than that).

In practical terms, I have been a Work From Home person since 2008, except when consulting assignments required me to be on the road at client locations.

By the early 2010s, a significant percentage of EDS employees were working from home full-time. Part of the reason was that EDS had closed a number of city offices because there were too few people in the city to justify the retention of a physical office. They simply gave their employees in those cities money to purchase home computing infrastructure, and those employees moved to working from home.

During the transition from EDS to HPE, we suddenly were told that we had to be working from an EDS location. As a result, I started going to the Plano HQ for 2-3 days a week when I was not on the road (which was not often). The reason for this, it was explained to me, was that the selling price of EDS when sold to HP depended to some extent on real estate occupancy, so the order had some down to pamper presentation and maximize the sale price of EDS.

After the transition to HPE, there was another relaxation of the work at home rules.

Then one day, there was a sudden change in the HPE era, with Meg Whitman now the CEO. Suddenly, an edict went out that people needed to be working from an HPE office location. Consultants such as me were exempted, but many employees were told that they had 2 options:  work from an HPE office, or be laid off.

For employees who had moved to home working because there was no longer an HPE office in their city, the choice was stark; move house or leave the company. Unsurprisingly, many employees chose to leave rather than uproot themselves and their families. Or they refused to move, and were WFR’d. The choice tended to depend on which action was the most financially compelling.

Employees living in cities with an HPE office reverted to working at that office, although some of them rapidly learned that in order to be in good standing with leadership, all they had to do was “clock in” by entering the building 4 times a week. So I soon heard of legacy EDS employees who would go to the former EDS Plano HQ, clock into the building, say hello to a few people, and then go home and work at home for the remainder of the day.

Then the rumor spread that the building measurement processes were counting not only whether you were in the building, but for how long. So, for a while, I would go to Plano 2-3 days a week and work there every day, when I was not on the road. I was on the road about 50% of the time. This was not a good use of time, since it is a 1.2 hour drive from my home to the Plano office. I used the time to catch up on conversations with colleagues to take the pulse of the Testing delivery organization. But it was up to 2.5 hours that could have been spent on better use of my time on the planet.

When the legacy HPE business was merged with CSC and we became DXC, the rules on remote working were slowly relaxed again. What I realized was that every time there was a takeover or merger, leadership would insist on employees being in an office, to keep real estate occupancy rates high and help to justify that the buildings or building leases were assets, not liabilities. I was officially assigned to a new DXC office in Dallas, but I have never been there.

More recently, of course, Covid changed everything for a lot of people.  Right now, I work from home, and I expect to work from home for the rest of calendar 2021. My wife is in the same situation, having begun to work from home in April of 2020, once it became clear that Covid was taking root in Texas. Her employer has already postponed a return to office work twice. Currently they have no timetable.

There has been a lot of discussion recently in the media about how employers will try to treat employees in the future if and when the Covid-19 pandemic recedes. There is speculation that many employers will try to force employees back to office locations. This makes no economic sense for either the employer or the employee:

  • The employer has to provide office space and amenities for the employee
  • The employee has to give up time, and money to travel to and from the office location

There may be other cost considerations for parents such as child care (I can tell from what I hear on conference calls that a lot of parents of young children are using working at home as the chance to perform their own small child care).

So, if you are an employer, and you suddenly demand that your employees take a pay cut, and give up possibly 2 hours of their day to commute? Somehow I don’t think that will ever lead to a positive aggregate result.

My prediction is that the climate for employees who either want to force home-workers back to an office, or recruit people on the basis that they will mostly or entirely work from an office, is not going to be favorable. This survey tells you a lot about employee attitudes at the present time.  An employer who gives an employee a $30k raise to work from an office (when they are incurring the cost of the office space) is, bluntly, bonkers. 

This transition period will take time. Some corporations are locked into building leases that they may not be able to get out of in the short term. But the New Normal for many employees that do not have to interact with other employees face to face, or interact with the public, is not going to be the same as the Normal that existed prior to 2020.

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Dear Texas Part 1 – the S word

Dear Texas,

To use the old British joke, I see that some of the peasants are revolting…a proposal for the option of secession from the Union to be put into a referendum was just shelved in Austin. 

This is merely the latest in a series of periodic outbreaks of enthusiasm for secession of the Lone Star State. Back in the early 2000s, when UseNet was still a thing, I remember becoming involved in discussions and debates with several Texas secessionists on libertarian discussion groups. They were blithely confident that the Great State of Texas would thrive when not under the yoke of the Evil Feds.

One of the myths that many of the would-be secessionists kept talking about was that Texas somehow, magically, unlike the other states, has some magical right to secede. Something something Articles of Accession something something. This is not correct, so a little history analysis is in order.

When Texas agreed to join the Union in 1845, it was partly as a defensive measure, since Texas had split from Mexico in 1836, and the protection of the United States looked like an attractive option as a way of protecting the state from further provocations and incursions. There was a lot of debate over the terms of accession, the US Congress initially voted against it, and it took quite a while for enough Texans to vote in favour. The annexation by the USA was also accompanied by the creation of a new Constitution of Texas.

This was the text of the annexation treaty. There was no provision included in the annexation treaty for Texas to leave the Union at any point. And following that contretemps a while back, where a number of states tried to leave the Union, only to be subdued by military means, Texas has been a solid member of the United States ever since. So, if you want to secede, you will not only have to convince yourselves, you will need to enter new and uncharted territory and negotiate your departure from the Union. I kept telling some of you “there is no process” back in 2000 or so, you weren’t listening then. No, you can’t do it just by sending an email to Washington DC saying “We’re leaving thanxbai”.

Now…I understand that many of your good folks in Texas are also convinced that your state has the right to split into up to 5 states. I believe that Republican folks rather like this idea, since SHAZAM! Instantly the Senate acquires 8 more Senators, most of whom would, by an amazing piece of happenstance, turn out to be Republicans…

The reality is that it is not quite as simple as that. This article should make that clear. For starters, Congress would have to agree to that expansion. It is also far from clear that the right is explicitly codified in any legislation. Even if such a process exists, it would be something new and unique in US governance. Me being a poor gambler, I wouldn’t bet any of the family moolah on it being a viable and legal course of action.

So, making large assumptions, like (1) Texas really does want to leave, (2) The United States is OK with the idea of this, what about those pesky details?

There are a lot of them. It’s not like an uncontested divorce where both of you split shit down the middle and go your separate ways. No sir. Texas and the Federal Government are kind of welded together, so a lot of stuff has to be, how do you say this, unwound.

First, money. The United States national debt is heading towards $24 trillion at present. The Party Of Fiscal Responsibility spent 4 years, under the tutelage of Donald Trump, cutting taxes, which has increased that number by a significant number of trillions. I never want to hear any lectures again on balancing the books from the GOP. But I digress.

Texas would have to be prepared to assume a pro rata share of the national debt. The most obvious approach is to do it based on population. If we do that math <whirrs calculator>, and we add in the state’s own debt, that means that Texas leaves home with a debt of…$2.087 trillion. A f**k of a lot of debt. However, when divided by the GDP of Texas, which is rather impressive, the Debt to GDP ratio is 113%. This is actually not bad compared to many other countries.

Of course, you don’t necessarily need to use the number of citizens as a measure for how to apportion the debt. You could use land area. That would be better for Texas, because Alaska has the most land area of any state. If you use land area, the number would be $1.721 trillion. Alaska would object, of course.

You could use…ooh, how about head of cattle? But oh dear, this is not a good idea. If you do that, the share is now $2.889 trillion. Texas has the most cattle of any state at present. (At this point, I am sure that the devious secessionists would be working out how to have a massive cattle cull prior to the point at which secession metrics are measured…)

The actual debt is actually less important than the little matter of interest servicing for the debt. You will need to get a really good deal from somebody, in order to avoid the fate of some countries in the past, where interest payments kept adding to their national debt, leading to perpetual insolvency. You will need to find the best deal, so you will need to negotiate with your future lenders (which in the case of the National Debt, will be the US Federal Reserve). The United States will want a deal that is best for it as a country, so you can expect that your debt servicing will be larger in the New Independent World.

The good news is that unlike some of your neighboring states (like New Mexico and Mississippi) you are not dependent on the Federal Government for revenues and money. So you should have no trouble paying your way in the Real World. However, there is one small item that you will probably need to address. You have no State income tax, and the only countries that I am aware of that survive without a personal income tax are a small number of high-dollar tax havens with names like Monaco. So you will probably have a large pill to swallow in that area of fiscal governance. Yes, I hear phrases like “over my dead body” whenever a state income tax is mentioned, but if you (to use an old analogy) want to leave home and buy your own house and live in it you have to have enough cash flow to maintain that house. After the complete disaster this Winter, when Texas showed that it leads the world in electricity generation SNAFUs, I would respectfully suggest that some investment in public infrastructure is going to be at or top of the list of priorities for an independent Texas.

Now…military stuff. Texas has military bases all over the place. They exist in Texas because of the wide open spaces, which provide unparalleled opportunities for military units to Shoot Shit Up and Blow Shit Up without, you know, upsetting the neighbors too much. However, those bases also make major contributions to local economies. You can tell that, by the unseemly lobbying scrum that results in DC whenever, say, the US Navy tries to decide where to base a new leviathan of the sea such as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Some of the elected representatives doing the lobbying would sell family members without a second thought if they could have the new USS BigShip parked in their district.

You can decide to charge the US military more rent for these bases if you like. Your call. However, the US military has plenty of other states eager to accept those bases. There are other states with their own surplus of Wide Open Space, states with names including Dakota, Idaho, Nevada and such like. So you probably shouldn’t try to drive too hard a bargain. A base the size of Fort Hood would leave a major hole in the regional economy if it closed, if you get my drift.

Land borders? Your call if you want to introduce proper land borders. I wouldn’t recommend it. Have you noticed how long those borders really are? How much do you think it would cost to secure that border? I always hear a lot of you Texans whining already about “open borders”, and you only have one border of that type. It would be amusing to see you actually having to set up and manage your own non-open border. Mexico, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana…a lot of miles.

You probably want to negotiate a Free Trade deal and a Freedom of Movement deal with the United States. As for diplomatic representation…your call. However, if you really want to open Texas diplomatic posts worldwide you will need to build new embassies, our own embassies are already full of spi…er, I mean diplomats. And…Texas would not enjoy the benefits of the current US United Nations membership, like the right of veto over a lot of decisions, and the permanent membership of the Security Council.

Air road and rail travel? Texas will have to pay for continued FAA coverage and inclusion in the Federal highway system at normal commercial rates. We do not recommend that you start a toll war. A blockade of borders will hurt Texas far more than the United States. No, you may not charge for the use of Texas airspace, even if you set up your own ATC operation. Airlines will simply divert around Texas, and you will suddenly find Lone Star Air (or whatever you call your shiny new flag carrier) having certain…routing difficulties elsewhere.

The USA will also require you to adhere to its anti-pollution laws. The good neighbors to the North and East do not want to have to clean up after oil refinery blow-ups. Texas is not exactly a low-pollution state. You have been pretty damn lax for decades in environmental enforcement. You’re not going to get to continue like that, even in the New World.

I would recommend that you actually, you know, formulate a detailed business plan for what happens during and after secession. I know that sort of interferes with the normal political approach of making expansive, emotionally appealing promises mostly based on total bullshit, but you will have one chance to get this right, and if you screw up, Texas will become a miserable sinkhole. Think Brexit.

Over to you, my Lone Star friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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St. Croix and the refinery disaster

In 2012, the US Virgin Islands suffered a major negative impact to the economy of St. Croix when the island’s oil refinery closed. The refinery was owned by Hovensa, and had first begun producing oil products in 1966. It was a joint venture between Hess Petroleum and Petroleos de Venezuela. For most of its life, the refinery processed sour crude from Venezuela. it was one of the largest refineries in the world, capable of processing up to 500,000 barrels of crude oil a day when operating at peak capacity.

The refinery’s closure was for the same reason that several other refineries in the USA have closed in the last 10 years – its equipment was worn out and obsolete, and the purity requirements for newer fuels such as low-sulphur diesel would require additional equipment to be installed. In addition, the refinery used oil to run its equipment, whereas modern refineries use natural gas or have been converted to use natural gas, which is cheaper than crude oil as an energy source. Margins in refining are very low (1-2%) so if your costs are 3% higher than a competitor, you lose money, and because of the size of the refinery, the monthly losses were in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

After closure, the site was mothballed except for the storage facility. The closure put thousands of people out of work on the island. So the US Virgin Islands government began exploring ways in which they could get the refinery to re-open. At the time that the refinery closed, it was estimated that $2bn of upgrades and rework would be required to make the refinery competitive.

In 2015, the US Virgin Islands government sued Hovensa, claiming that the closure was illegal. How they could expect to force a business entity that had made an economically obvious decision to close a loss-making plant was not exactly clear. The owners responded by filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After the usual legal manouvering, the government settled with Hovensa, and the refinery was sold for $800m to a venture capital consortium. 

Now named LImetree Bay, the new owners had to work hard and spend a lot of money to re-activate an old (and in many ways, obsolete) facility that had not been operational for 8 years. They spent $2.7bn on updates, repairs and upgrades, with a focus on creating low-sulfur maritime fuels, and Limetree Bay Refinery re-started operations in 2020.

Almost immediately there were problems. And the problems have been continuing, to the point that the EPA is considering cancelling the plant’s operating approval. Limetree Bay was an environmental problem in its previous life, and the new version of the facility seems to be no better.

The underlying challenge is a real one. Island archipelagoes lack good sources of employment for residents. Tourism only provides so many jobs. There are little to no employment sources for regular blue-collar men. The refinery generates a lot of cash into the local economy when operational, so the government had a powerful political and societal incentive to get it re-activated. However, the age of the refinery’s base equipment was always going to result in problems. Ideally they would have bulldozed the facility and started over, but that would have been cost-prohibitive. 

In the meantime, the US Virgin Islands is stuck with a leaky bucket economy job generation engine, which sooner or later will generate yet another environmental mini-disaster.

 

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Being lenient with pre-trial defendants – remember Lyle Jeffs

The current public outcry over the absurdly lenient pre-trial arrangements being agreed to by judges for a number of the January 6th Insurrection defendants are dangerous and stupid, not because they show the massive contrast between the treatment of white defendants vs. minority or immigrants and refugees. This is not even a debating point. It’s as obvious as night follows day.

The insurrectionists seem to fall into two groups:

  1. Long-term anti-government activists, many associated directly or indirectly with Oath Keepers, and Sovereign Citizen groups
  2. People sucked in by the charisma of Trump, fully invested in his “I was robbed” story, and also seduced by the conspiracy siren songs of QAnon.

Both groups believed they were doing what Trump told them to do, and that they would be treated as heroes, and not as criminals. Of course, they expected that the January 6th Insurrection would be successful.

The decision to let defendants like Kyle Rittenhouse and Jenny Cudd not only stay out of jail, but (in Cudd’s case) actually travel to Mexico for some sort of “bonding” trip, is indicative of a naive approach that I expect to lead to embarrassment for more than one judge in the next few months.

I remind everybody about the case of Lyle Jeffs, the brother of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving what is essentially a life sentence. After government investigations into welfare claim activity by the FLDS, Lyle Jeffs was indicted in 2016, along with several other FLDS men, with running a welfare fraud scheme.

Jeffs appeared in court on the charges, and the prosecution argued strenuously for him to be remanded in jail because he was a flight risk. They reminded the judge that Warren Jeffs had also absconded and become a fugitive before being apprehended in a car stop due to failure to correctly display license plates on the car in which he was a passenger (anti-government activists love to not legally tax and look after cars, as part of their low-level scofflawing).

The judge, instead of listening to the prosecution, instead decided to issue a home confinement order to Jeffs, and order him to wear an ankle monitor. Within a couple of weeks, law enforcement discovered that Jeffs had removed the ankle monitor, and had disappeared from his home in Salt Lake City.

Despite all of the fanciful rumors that he had fled to more hospitable climes South of the border, Jeffs was eventually recaptured just under one year later in South Dakota, after he tried to pawn pairs of pliers for cash and the pawnshop owner recognized his image as a fugitive and reported his presence to law enforcement. He had been living out of his truck on the run for months.

Jeffs, a leader of a cult that regards itself as above government, with his brother having already gone on the run to avoid court,  was allowed out of jail, and promptly proved the prosecution right by becoming a fugitive. Ultimately he agreed a guilty plea and was sentenced to several years’ imprisonment in November 2017.

Now we have Kyle Rittenhouse, supposedly in home confinement with strict movement restrictions, whose whereabouts are currently not officially known, after a letter addressed to the location lodged with the court was not returned. The plot thickens…it seems that the original address lodged with the court was falsified at the request of the Kenosha Police Department. Whether the judge knew about this falsification is not clear. We may yet see an awkward conversation between the judge and the defense lawyer. The prosecution has asked for a bond increase and an arrest warrant to be issued.

Many of the January 6th insurrectionists are showing, by their cavalier post-arrest actions, that they are scofflaws. The legal system needs to take a much tougher line with some of these defendants, or we will soon be reading about a disappeared defendant or three who, it will eventually become clear, have fled the USA.

 

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AOC and the tensions in the Democratic party

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, being young, sparky and pushy, ruffles feathers in US politics.

Unlike many more moderate and centrist Democrats, she does not cringe or shrink from criticism by opponents. She faces it down. This makes her very popular with many people who believe that the Democratic Party desperately needs to be more unrepentantly progressive. The GOP has succeeded by being blunt, tough and uncompromising, goes the thinking. Time for the Democrats to stop being scared of their own shadows.

The ruffling of feathers by AOC may have come back to bite her. It is Committee season in the House, as the assignments on committees of varying prestige are determined. Representatives vote, usually in secret, for who will be on those committees. AOC seems to have lost out, being defeated 43-13 in secret ballot voting for a position on the Energy and Commerce Committee. This occurred despite her candidacy being supported by Nancy Pelosi. The winning representative, Kathleen Rice, weirdly and ironically, actually voted against Nancy Pelosi in the 2018 Speaker contest.

Now, a vote of 43-13 is not a defeat. It is a burying. It is difficult to conclude anything other than that this was an ambush. It was a punishment beating. The conclusion in many reports is that AOC lost because she, to use the old cliche, does not play well enough with others.

This result, leaving aside the interpersonal dynamics between AOC and more moderate Democrats, is symptomatic of a pathology that persistently frustrates and demotivates progressive Democratic supporters, and which will, if not addressed, continue to limit the performance of the party at State and local level.

The party continues to support moderate candidates in many areas, causing massive frustration in the progressive wing, which has led to an entire parallel ecosystem of financial support by organizations such as ActBlue, which was formed specifically to address the challenge of what became known as “Blue Dog” Democrats – candidates who, many progressives felt, were not representative of progressive values.

The fundamental tension between the two wings of the party – the establishment wing, which wants candidates to be a good fit for their districts, and the progressives, who want candidates to be representative of progressive values, remains unaddressed to this day.

There is plenty of evidence that you cannot win an election, no matter how much money you have, if the candidate is not a good fit for the district or state. In this election cycle, extremely well-funded Democrats such as Amy McGrath and Sarah Gideon were defeated in Senate races. Money helps, but it is clearly not the sole determining factor of success. Additionally, at House level, some districts are so heavily gerrymandered that the chances of a Democrat winning are twice the square root of nothing. ActBlue could throw tens of millions of dollars at these races and the Democrat would still be handily beaten. The votes simply aren’t there for a Democrat.

The lack of resolution of the deep disagreement between the two wings of the party, however, breaks out into public too many times, and sends the signal that the party lacks a unified voice, and lacks confidence in its own policies and messages. The trigger this election cycle was the fact that Joe Biden outperformed his own party in many states. The Democrats lost House seats, have failed to win control of the Senate, and that is giving Biden little room for maneuver as he sets out to undo the tremendous damage inflicted by Donald Trump.
The tension and resulting frustrations of progressives with what they see as weak, accommodationist and naive party leadership have existed for decades. Anecdotally, I knew several voters (including my ex) who voted for Ralph Nader in the 2000 Presidential election because, as one of them said to me, “I’m not a Republican, so why would I vote for a Democrat impersonating a Republican?”.

Now, you can dismiss that and shake your heads all you like, but the selection of Joe Lieberman and the distancing from Bill Clinton in 2000 sent a bad message of a party almost scared of its own shadow. I watched video of Al Gore at campaign events, and despite his attempts to sound passionate, he was simply not reaching a lot of people. Al Gore was, to use an old phrase, not a good retail politician, unlike Bill Clinton. Whatever you think about Bill Clinton as a person, he could probably sell refrigerators to the Inuit.
Did Al Gore’s decision to not run on the success of the Clinton era issue lose the Florida election for him? I have no idea, I lived in Texas at the time, and he certainly was never likely to win Texas. He didn’t even win his home state of Tennessee, so badly did he perform overall in 2000.

In 2016, the same pattern occurred, when I found 2 online friends, angered by Bernie Sanders failing to win the Democratic nomination, who informed me that they were going to vote for Trump. I don’t know if they actually did, but the fact that they were adamantly insisting that they intended to was worrying enough.
There are a lot of people whose political positions, compared to the major parties, are all over the map, but one thing that unites them is a conviction that “politics as usual” has fucked over the country and voters, including some of them personally. Trump captured a lot of those people in 2016, and we know how that has turned out.
AOC, more than Bernie Sanders (who is, we have to face it, no spring chicken), is a lightning conductor for the sentiments of many of those electors who self-ID as progressives. They are likely to regard her losing the committee vote as yet more bad-smelling evidence of “politics as usual”.
On one level, I can understand the desire by many House democrats to slap AOC down. She is an irritant, gets a lot of publicity, some of it negative, and the Democrats have a thin House majority, with reps like Henry Cuellar (who is from a very conservative Texas district, and nearly lost a primary this year to a candidate supported by AOC) always hovering at the “defect to the GOP” door.

Unlike some optimists, I regard a Democratic Senate tie as unlikely to unlock any significant changes in Senate direction, because the Democrats have this generation’s Joe Lieberman in the Senate in the form of Joe Manchin.

Could AOC walk away from the Democratic Party? I think it is very possible. She is young, smart, idealistic, and a LOT of progressive people I read and talk to are consistently unhappy with what they see as spineless milquetoast centrism. This translates to cynical fatalism and a reluctance to become actively involved in supporting local politics.

One of the few ways in which a political party can improve its chances of winning is to engage people who normally sit out elections. Some of those people are utterly alienated from politics and are not reachable. Others see themselves as outsiders, who fail to see any upside to participating in what they see as a corrupt system dominated by shysters, time-servers and bullshitters. Outsiders never respond positively to any explanation of political events that contains any element of “this is how it works around here”. That generally activates the “then let’s blow this fucking shit up” emotional reaction.
Most of these issues and sources of tension could be solved if the Democratic Party and their supporters across the entire spectrum actually knew how to work effectively at a national level to consistently communicate solid frames and seize control of messaging. George Lakoff has been offering to help the party for decades and they keep ignoring him. The result is that the party still cannot frame and deliver messages to save its life, so the entire electoral effort ends up driven by local ideas of “what will play well”, which in turn leads to consultants dominating election tactics, and at national level the effort relies on finding a Presidential candidate with charisma.

This, I suspect, is the root cause of the phenomenon where Biden outperformed Democrats in many districts in the election. If people had broken for Democrats at a more local level in the same way they voted for Biden as POTUS, the Democrats would be an a stronger position in the House and might already have control of the Senate.
I could go on, but IMHO, the idea that slapping down AOC by denying her a committee position is a positive for the Democratic Party is a delusion that needs to be dumped down a hole. It does not look good to younger progressive voters, period.

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The “Kamala Harris is not eligible” train is stuttering

You would think that the Birthers would have at least come up with some new arguments to support their claim that Kamala Harris is not eligible. After all, they have had plenty of time.
However, it seems not. I am seeing exactly the same incoherent, inconsistent and legally unsupported claims that I was reading 12 years ago about Barack Obama. Vattel, blah blah. Divided loyalties, blah blah. Parents not US citizens, blah blah. All legally irrelevant.

So far, one lawsuit (filed by Robert Laity) has been dismissed, although Laity says he is appealing. (It was dismissed for lack of standing, and appeals on standing almost never succeed, so I will be interested to see what novel argument Laity can whistle up). Laity’s lack of legal acumen shows up in this dissection of one of his pleadings. 

Another lawsuit in CA is still in progress. At the rate at which courts move, this may not be resolved before the inauguration.
And, needless to say, no lawyer of any merit will touch a Kamala Harris eligibility case, so we have the usual collection of ratchet-jaw shitmooks filing bullshit paper all over again, and the usual motley crew of supporting websites. The only new player is John Eastman, who I do not recall being in the mix when Obama was POTUS. Eastman’s claim that Harris is not eligible was given way too much oxygen by Newsweek.

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Dear Mississippi

Dear State of Mississippi,

I hear from my spies that some of you, and some of your leaders, are deeply unhappy about the imminent future of the United States.

I believe that this is because A Guy You Apparently Didn’t Vote For, I think he is named Biden, is going to become the 46th President of the United States, because he beat The Guy You Apparently Voted For in the recent election.

Apparently, this change will be a Bad Thing for the United States, so some of you want out.

Well OK then.

Although the Constitution does not have any defined process for how a State can leave the Union, let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s also overlook that unfortunate little contretemps in the 1860s, where I seem to recall that a whole collection of you (by “you” I mean the Southern States) had a collective hissy-fit over the planned abolition of slavery, and decided to fight a bunch of other states over it. (By the way, You Lost. Those nice stars-and-bars cloth objects that some of you like to wave about from time to time are copies of the battle flag of a defeated secessionist army. In other words, Losers. But I digress).

Let’s assume that you, Mississippi, desirous of No Union At All, want to secede from the rest of the United States.

First of all, I think I need to point out that by most objective measures, Mississippi is heavily dependent on the Federal Government. When I looked at some hand-dandy charts, you are the third most financially and governmentally dependent state in the Union, after New Mexico and Kentucky. So the idea that you are, you know, ready to make your own way in the world, Just Like That, might be a wee bit optimistic. But, hey, all children dream of one day leaving home and having their own place. Right?

So, sure. Let’s talk about secession.

First of all, let’s talk money.

It’s like this. The USA has a national debt, which the last time I looked had passed $23.3 trillion (yes, that is a number that contains a blank of a lot of zeroes). And it is still rising. You, the good citizens of Mississippi, are, along with all of the other states, the collective owners of that debt. So, if you want to leave the Union, we will require you to assume a pro rata share of the debt. I just happen to have a calculator handy, and if we do it on the basis of population, your current share of the debt is…

$208 billion.

I understand that your current state debt is approximately $7.4 billion. I got out the calculator again, and did some more math. That will give Mississippi a debt to GDP ratio, after we do the math, of 182%. Not the worst in the world, mind you, Japan is at 238%. But then the next country is Greece. At 181%. Oh dear. You will be the second worst country in the world. That means your borrowing costs will probably rise. But hey, that’s how free markets work, right?

Of course, if you want us, acting on behalf of Uncle Sam and the US Treasury, to guarantee your debts, we can do so for a fee. This is for a state which <checks notes> is last in the Union at present on per capita GDP, so you folks will need all the help you can get.

There will be no more money from the US treasury. Of course, you won’t have to send us any either. This may be good for you, since I understand that a lot of you are always grumbling about sending money to Washington for “coastal elites”, “spongers” and “liberals” who might even be behaving according to “San Francisco values”. If you want to just have sales taxes and property taxes, and continue with your 5% maximum income tax, have at it. We will watch to see how you can balance the books that way. I think you might find that 5% is a tad low for an income tax, but hey, your call.

Now, let’s talk defense.

You will assume total control over the Mississippi National Guard and its assets. Why not? It is mostly older stuff that was passed down from the US Air Force, Army and Navy anyway. We don’t need the hassle of looking after old KC-135s and obsolete APCs. But you may have to pay more for spares, since you will be buying them as Mississippi, instead of using the Full Faith and Credit Of The United States. Unless, of course you want to kick some cash over to us to continue to enjoy some of that Full Faith and Credit.

Ah, you might want to participate in the overall US national defense, I hear you say? Well, we will have to talk about that. On normal commercial terms. Those F-35s are kind of expensive, and they don’t fly themselves. And Naval patrol boats cost money to run.

All Federal government installations will be closed down, unless you buy them from us at fair market value less 5%. That is more than fair, considering that you probably provide a lot less than 5% of the federal tax revenues each year.

You will be responsible for healthcare provisioning, and for deciding what healthcare systems replace Federally funded systems like Medicaid and Medicare and Tri-Care. We will allow you to participate for 5 years after secession in the systems if we can agree the price. If not, it’s over to you.

Roads, airports, ports? Over to you. If you owned them you get to keep them, but no more Federal money to help with upkeep. If the Federal government owns them, you get to buy them from us at market value less 5%. If you don’t want them, we will close them and sell them off to the highest bidder, no matter where that bidder may be in the world. Except for the Federal Interstates (hold on we’ll get to that in a minute). Hey, it’s simply responsible reclamation of taxpayers money. I hear that your government likes to talk about that a lot down there in the Summer heat.

By the way, you might need to work out some arrangement for hurricane and peril insurance. Those hurricanes are getting worse, and unless we can agree on financial terms, the Federal government cannot continue to guarantee flood and peril insurance for home owners. We note that some of your coastline is, er, very close to or below sea level.

If you want to continue to participate in GPS and the FAA, sure. There will be a fee for that. Controlling satellites and airspace is a tricky job requiring state of the art equipment, and those Air Traffic Controllers have to be kept supplied with coffee.

Now, about Federal Interstates. No, you are not going to make them into toll roads. If you do that, we will impose tolls in the other direction when your vehicles leave Mississippi. I don’t think you would want that. We will provide 5% of the cost of maintenance for Federal highways. More than reasonable. Ditto the Mighty Mississipp. You will not impose tolls on that waterway, unless you want to have to pay reciprocal tolls.

It is up to you whether you want to apply for admission to the United Nations and the WTO. We won’t take a position either way, except to note that if you want to join the United Nations, it will be as a new country without any of the privileges that the United States currently enjoys (like that permanent Membership of the Security Council). Ditto trading blocs. However, we may ask you to kick in a few million to pay for your share of representation on the world stage. Embassies, and United Nations and WTO representation costs money.

If you are serious about the idea of becoming a true country you may need to pay for the cost of setting up a Federation Ambassador office in DC, as will we in Jackson. Standard United Nations diplomatic rules will apply.

Passports? Customs declarations? Border posts? Hell no. We are not going to get into that border shit. I mean, if you really really want a border, you can have one, but then we will require passports for any of your folks to enter the United States, and we will impose work permit and visa controls, just like we do with other countries. Also, you will need to have your own border controls, agreed with the 4 states with which you will share a border. I don’t think you really want to go there. There will be reciprocal visit rights by US citizens to Mississippi and Mississippi citizens to the USA. However, Mississippi citizens will need to apply for permission to move elsewhere in the USA, and if the states want to impose their own quotas and work restrictions, well, State’s Rights and all that. You will need to talk to them about that, unless you want us to act on your behalf, in which case I am sure we can do so. If the price is right.

No, you may not become a tax haven country. We have had enough trouble in the past dealing with oligarchs on big yachts, surrounded by men in dark glasses, carrying cases with strange bulges in their clothing. I know this may come as a shock to those of you who are used to a failed casino operator running the country, but we do have some standards.

Ditto alcohol and tobacco and other mind-altering substances. If you decide to try and become a haven for smugglers or “country entrepreneurs”, the neighboring states will have our forbearance if they want to change the ways that they interact with you, legally, logistically and commercially. It’s that States Rights thingy again. I think you rather like that (at least, you always seem to think it is important whenever the Federal government wants to do something you don’t like).

Yes, you will have to continue to enforce the same environmental laws that the rest of the United States enforces. You may have noticed that there are artifacts on the planet such as weather and water, that tend to move substances across state boundaries. We are not going to allow your factories, power plants and other industries to send shit into the water table or oceans, or into the atmosphere where it can drift over Our Way. In return, we undertake to not do the same to you. Deal? After all, if you start dicking about with things like vehicle emissions laws because you want to have, oh I don’t know, Rolling Coal as a state pastime, that is going to prevent Brandon and Brett from driving to New Orleans to see the Saints, and that seems a little restrictive, don’t you agree?

Which brings us nicely onto sports. You make your own arrangements for teams like Ole Miss. Whatever you want to do is fine with us.

This list is not exhaustive. We’re just getting warmed up.

 

Yours sincerely,

The United States

 

 

 

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Anatomy of a confrontation – St Louis MO

UPDATE – 3

A lengthy thread where Greg Doucette, aided by locals who have read zoning legislation and national historic place documentation, explains that while the houses in the subdivision and the subdivision is private, the roads and footpaths are not.

UPDATE – 2

  1. The McCloskeys have a record…of behaving litigiously and confrontationally.
  2. Local demonstrators held a demonstration against them outside the subdivision.
  3. A number of local people in the subdvision are not impressed by the McCloskeys’ behavior.

Conclusion – the principals of McCloskey Law have a track record of being bumptious asshats.

UPDATE – 1

  1. The gated community in question is, for many people in St Louis, a profound illustration of racial and economic divides in the city. It is less than 1 mile from some of the more deprived inner-city neighborhoods.
  2. The lawyer couple have given interviews to local media where they explain why they ended up waving guns all over the place on their front lawn. They have lawyered up already, expecting that they will be investigated by law enforcement, and they clearly intend to invoke the “castle doctrine” defense to any inquiries by law enforcement. (No surprise there). But you have to laugh at this quote from their lawyer’s prepared statement:

“My clients, as melanin-deficient human beings, are completely respectful of the message Black Lives Matter needs to get out, especially to whites,” said lawyer Albert Watkins.

ORIGINAL POSTING

Yesterday, during a street demonstration in St. Louis MO, a couple, who own an early 20th century mansion in central St. Louis, were videoed standing in front of the house waving firearms at demonstrators and shouting at them.

The identities of the house owners were very easy to determine. The house is one of a collection of turn of the century houses that are regarded as local museum pieces. Their house was actually built by a member of the Busch family.

The house owners, no matter which way you parse the video, looked ludicrous. They came steaming out of their house, barefoot, angrily shouting and waving a pistol (the woman) and what looked like an AR-15 (the man). Demonstrators shouted back at the couple. It all looked very edgy, with the potential for something dangerous and possibly fatal to occur.

This is how I initially responded to a snapshot on counter.social:

I was criticised for posting the slam on the couple without knowing all of the facts. So I went off to find out as many facts as I could about the dynamics that led to the confrontation.

The backstory to these events, as usual, is interesting. The demonstrators were in front of the couple’s house because they were trying to get to the house of the Mayor of St. Louis, Lyda Krewson, as part of an attempt to demonstrate against her. She published the names and addresses of citizens last week during a discussion about pushback on the local police. That was regarded by many people as an abuse of power, and a threat to the personal safety of those individuals.

The important fact is that the demonstrators were not interested in the couple’s house, or them personally. In fact, they probably had not even noticed the house, until the couple came charging out waving their firearms.

Missouri law allows for private streets as well as private gated subdivisions. Both the Mayor’s house and the house of the couple are part of the same gated subdivision, with private streets.

There are two gated entrances. As is normal, there are swing gates for motor vehicles, with a side gate for people walking in and out.

The demonstrators can be seen, on video, walking into the sub-division through the side gate of one of the entrances. The side gate did not appear to be locked, and there was no sign of any security personnel to prevent them from entering.

Once inside the subdivision, they were on private property without permission, and therefore trespassing.

There has been a lot of nonsense talked about legal sanctions against the couple, who are personal injury lawyers.

Claims have been made that they can be disciplined by the Missouri bar association. Somehow I do not see that happening. Bar associations almost never discipline members, and expulsions are very rare. Generally, the only way you can be expelled from a bar association is for embezzling clients’ money. Anything else likely will earn you a reprimand or at worst a token suspension. “Behaving like a posturing dick” does not a bar expulsion make.

The next question is whether they could be charged with brandishing a firearm in a threatening manner. Well, yes, there is a statute that covers that. HOWEVER…it is almost certainly overridden (in this case) by Missouri Statute 563.031. This is a classic “stand your ground” statute, and, like most statutes of this type, it is very defendant-friendly. In order to be found guilty of violating the statute, the prosecution has to prove that the homeowner had no logical basis for feeling threatened. I think that is unlikely in this context. Although the demonstrators were not targeting the couple’s house, they were on private property, and there were a number of them. A sympathetic jury will not be convicting the couple on that basis.

Personally, my belief is that the couple can use the incident to actually bolster their marketing credentials. Many personal injury lawyers like to boast of being “tough”, “mean”, and “relentless”. They cultivate an image of bellicose aggression towards The Big Guys, acting on behalf of The Little Guy. What better way to demonstrate your bona fides than by aggressively defending your home against marauding savages…er, demonstrators? I can hear a voice-over now. “We defended our home relentlessly against marauding bands of thugs. We bring the same attitude when we Fight For You”.

I stand by my original reaction. The couple were waving firearms around in a way that tells me that they either never attended a firearm safety course, or if they did they forgot everything about it. The man, at one point, was pointing the AR-15 directly at his wife. The video looked like he was holding her hostage, threatening to shoot her. They looked both ludicrous and stupid at the same time.

I once spent time talking with an ex-military guy about firearms, and something he said stuck with me. He said “these are devices designed to kill people. If you don’t want to kill somebody, you should not point one of these devices at them. Ever”.

Personally, If I was them, I would be asking the management of the subdivision “where the hell was our security”? A group of demonstrators were clearly able to march into the subdivision with no impediment. Given that the demonstration was being publicised on social media, the management company of the subdivision should have been taking precautions.

At a time where the concept of white privilege is finally being discussed seriously, they also looked like exemplars. Their house, both outside and inside, looks like a mini-Versailles. It is huge – 13,900 square feet in size, with tacky and pretentious artwork all over the interior. They then proceeded to look and act every bit like over-privileged, scared people.

Now, thanks to the merging of the internet and the age of phone video, their actions are immortalized, for good bad or ugly.

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Texas – how “opening the economy” has fuelled Covid

When Texas began to re-open the state, many experts said “this is too soon”. This made no impact on the government here, which is solid GOP, and for whom listening to experts is one of those activities that they despise. What, listen to dudes in white coats who use words with multiple syllables? No way.

So, the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor have been walking around making all of the right noises, while failing to make rules that can be enforced. So they try to face both ways on mask wearing, saying it is beneficial, but refusing to mandate it. Some counties (like my own Dallas County) have mandated wearing masks in public, but even that carries political risks, with the adolescent pseudo-libertarians up in arms (some might want to do that literally, judging by their online smack-talking).

The result was inevitable. The Covid-19 case count is exploding in key areas. Like in my own county, Dallas. When I went out at the weekend, the roads and stores were full. Everybody was marching around like it was a normal Summer saturday. Some people, despite the rules, were not wearing masks. (Jesus Christ on a pogo stick).

So this is what happens when you try to open a state too soon in a pandemic with insufficient focus on safety and social responsibility.

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