Thursday, July 11, 2013

The 0.01% Oppose Renewable Energy Because You Can't Suck Rents From It

It doesn't get much more naked than this (AP):
A political group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch wants Georgia's utility regulators to reject a plan requiring Southern Co. to buy more solar energy, but an Associated Press review ahead of a vote on the issue finds that it has used misleading figures to build its case.
Misleading figures?  Quel surprise.  Read the piece, the story is particularly egregious in terms of bald and bold lying to the public, claiming a 1% increase in solar energy purchased would increase residential electricity prices 40%. The Kochs are just an extreme case of the general composition of the mega-elite wealthy: Pure rentiers.  They get wealthy by extracting rent via monopolistic power over scarce resources needed by everyone else.  That's really what rents are in simplified economese.  I have stuff you need, and I will extort far more than the normal market value for my goods.  You will pay because you have to.  Every disaster story usually finds some villian charging $100 for bottled water or $5K for generators.  That's pretty much what the Kochs, and the billionaire class do to get and stay wealthy at a larger scale.

In particular the Kochs soak rents from fossil fuel resources.  Hence, they must oppose any move to renewable energy.  Why?  Because they care what price Georgia consumers pay for electricity. Haha, no.  Because the Sun can't be monopolized.  Wind and geothermal can somewhat be, in that particular places are better than others for wind and geothermal power, but there's far too many such places and the power of rentiers would be seriously diluted trying to dominate all the windy places of the planet.  The other problem is that renewables scale down quite well. A home can have solar panels, a wind turbine or a geothermal sump.  It can't have a coal or natural gas powered turbine.

This also explains why the rich are much more amenable to nuclear power than renewables.  Uranium is scarce and no one short of Monty Burns level wealth can own a nuclear power plant.  If they have to ditch fossil fuels, they'd much rather go nuclear than renewable.

Do drug dealers like it when their clients go to rehab?  No. That's why the Koch's and the rest of the billionaire class are either opposed or non-committal on renewable energy and the climate change crisis generally.  They got rich from the current system.  A renewable energy system will democracize energy in historically unprecedented ways. No matter what they won't be as rich as they are today.  We're going to have to do this over their active resistance and should expect little to no help from them, no matter how bad climate change gets in terms of extreme weather disasters.  The Inequality Crisis and the Climate Crisis are inextricably linked and both must be overcome simultaneously.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Rape Apologia Disguised as Men's Rights

This is outside my usual turf, but the more I think about this, the more angry it makes me:
The “Don’t be that girl” poster reads: “Just because you regret a one night stand, doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual. Lying about sexual assault = a crime.”
Late Tuesday night a group called Mens Rights Edmonton, a local anti-feminism group, claimed responsibility for the posters.
 Several points occur to me:
  • Falsely accusing a man of rape is of course a serious crime.  Every woman knows this, just like everyone in general knows accusing anyone of a crime maliciously is a crime.  What is the point of an "information" campaign to tell everyone something that's blatantly obvious?  It isn't to inform women of this valuable information they don't know, instead it is to paint a false equivalance between the horrifically common problem of rape, and the exceedly rare problem of false accusations of rape. That's just a shitty thing to try and do.
  • No sane woman anywhere thinks that "I regret my one night stand therefore it is rape."  That's simply ludicrous.  Yes, maybe some "crazy" women think this way, but "crazy" people don't respond well to sincere information campaigns and we don't waste policy time trying to think of every permutation of thought a non-rational person might conceive of, absent evidence of a real problem occuring regularly.
  • I'm sure somewhere, sometime there have been instances of false accusations of rape.  I'm also sure the motive for such accusations are much more weighty and substantive than "I regret a one-night stand."  The plot of To Kill A Mockingbird considers one plausible instance, that of a white woman who took interest in a black man, a thing of great shame in her racist community so at her father's urging, made it an accusation of rape to hide her (and his) shame.  The point being no one does such a thing without a lot more on the line than "I wish I hadn't slept with that guy."  Luckily we have made significant strides in liberalizing attitudes toward casual sex, so the shame-incentive for women to even consider a false accusation of rape are generally negligible.  There's plenty of informal sexism calling women "sluts" and so forth for having sex with men, but we don't stone them or brand scarlet letters on them.
  • On the other hand, "one-night stands" are a quite likely place for rapes to happen.  Women pass out drunk, or get drugged, or change their mind at his apartment and he ignores their withdrawn consent and continues anyway.  Idiots like this too-typical "men's rights" group often treat sex like some entitlement, she accepted free drinks, got in the cab with you, therefore she's given irrevocable consent to whatever happens next, as she "knew what was up when she came home with me" (or some such rationalization).  I'd say women who accuse casual sex partners of rape are far more likely to be telling the truth than making it up out of guilt for breaking Victorian ethics.  The evidence around rape is that it is hugely underreported to Police far more than any sign that it is over-reported.  The women who report rape are quite likely legitimately very angry and aggrieved...because they've been raped!  They have no other incentive to get some guy they only met once thrown in jail for years.
  • "Men's rights" groups are universally in my experience, a sickening lot of blatant misogynists.  I think there is room for some male activism on the subject of divorce and custody arrangements but they just can't help themselves in revealing their blatant misogyny and by trivializing rape.
I didn't used to call myself a "feminist."  I have definite ideological differences with mainstream feminists and feminism as I know of it,  but those tend to be around their views on nature versus nurture and how best to achieve meaningful equality as a practical and policy matter.

But disgusting displays like this are enough for me to throw in with the feminists.  If I have to pick sides in this, I'm glad to be a feminist and not whatever these men call themselves.  Rape is a real, pervasive problem that has major physical and psychological harmful effects on nearly all its victims.  False rape is a very rare thing that would even more rarely actually result in a conviction, given the obvious problems of proving such a charge to the satisfaction of a jury in a his-word-against-hers scenario.  Yes, if a man actually went to prison for such, he of course is a victim worthy of serious attention and sympathy, but in no way does this problem remotely compare to that of rape.

Stop Applying Marketing-Think To Government, It's Disgusting.

CBC, with some analysis on Harper's expected cabinet shuffle provides this quote from former Mulroney Chief of Staff David McLaughlin:
"There's a staleness about some of the ministry and some of the cabinet and how they're communicating with Canadians; the look and feel of it. So there's a chance to really show some new faces and say: 'There's still life in this government yet. We're looking ahead, look at this new blood.'"
I hate this kind of soulless marketing when applied to government.  This is how we, a free people govern ourselves in a system that took centuries of struggle to get to the point where the common person has some real say. It's insipid that we allow these consultants to talk about our government like they're marketing a product without hissing at them and throwing rotting fruit (metaphorically of course, throwing actual fruit is illegal).

The epitome of this was Bush's Chief of Staff explaining that the push for the Iraq war began in September 2002 instead of August because "you don't launch a new product in August."

I know politicians, especially the shadier ones like the current government will still do this sort of crass commercialization of politics but it should be a shameful thing done in secret, not something their allies brag openly about. 

Yeah, the government is allowing big oil to destroy the biosphere, wasting billions on a lemon of a fighter jet and makes the Lannisters look like ethical paragons whenever they're caught doing anything improper, but here, we stuck a "New and Improved!" sticker on the label and came up with a new jingle!  All's well!

We should be talking about a policy shuffle first, and if doing that requires some personnel to move around, fine.  That we still fixate on the personalities first is a sign how far the rot goes.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Skeptical Look at Turks And Caicos Joining Canada

I'm sorry, I can't get enthusiastic about Canada having its own tropical paradise without wondering what the financial angle is.  The biggest alarm bells for me come from Turks and Caicos being notoriously corrupt (to the point that the UK Government took away home rule in 2009), with a higher banking secrecy rating (90) than Switzerland (78) and the Caymans (77) and "absolutely no taxes."  Well, ok, it seems they have a tax on hotel rooms and a "stamp duty" (which if I read correctly is mostly to cover transfers of money from the island back to the UK).

This increasingly looks like a scheme to set up a tax haven within Canada.  Forget racing to the bottom against Alberta, Canadian provinces would be plummeting toward the bottom well behind a micro-province with next to no taxes, a massive influx of the wealthy setting up residences there (for the attractive climate of course), and absurd levels of banking and financial secrecy.

A couple findings from that last:
  • Turks and Caicos does not adequately curtail banking secrecy
  • Turks and Caicos Islands does not maintain company ownership details in official records
  • Turks and Caicos Islands does not require that ownership of companies is put on public record
  • Turks and Caicos Islands does allow harmful legal vehicles (nb. reference to trusts)
Any of the people pushing this idea could have massive investiments there, and there would be no way to know. 

Yes, it's true if the place became a province (or territory) it would be subject to Canadian income tax.  It would also receive equalization, and though the population is small, given that their GDP per capita is about one-quarter that of Canada, it wouldn't be a trivial amount, in order to bring the island government's ability to offer comparable services up to Canadian standards. The key thing about Canada's financial laws is that they are mostly provincial, a power the provinces have zealously guarded, in particular over this government's proposal to set up a federal regulator for stock markets

Sure, ordinary Canadians would benefit from having the ability to fly domestic to a place that would run on the Canadian dollar for vacations. That's not really much of a benefit for the one or maybe two (and often less than one) annual trips to warm locales that the typical Canadian takes. We'd be subsidizing a libertarian paradise for our 1% to park their wealth, run their businesses (via teleconference) and shirk their duties to the commons.  It would likely become even less of a benefit as I expect prices to visit (and especially to buy real estate) on the islands would soar and there wouldn't really be much employment in the jobs most of us have. 

Conservative politicians have been pushing this idea since Borden in 1917 (and one NDPer in '74) and it's not hard to see why it appeals to them.   The UK seems willing to give up the islands, probably because the "Tax Haven Capital of the World" is already in London and they have plenty of other warm-weather overseas territories for their 1% to winter in (also notorious tax havens).  Canada's conservatives and business elite are just jealous of this arrangement, but that's no reason we should be beguiled by the mirage of beautiful beaches and warm ocean waters.