It’s Not Hubris, It’s a Conviction that Dems aren’t Legitimate

Point of clarification: When I refer to Republicans in this article I’m referring to Republican leadership

Yesterday a friend linked an article which talked about the approach that Mitch McConnell is taking for the appointment of cabinet members, where he won’t wait for until ethics reviews are completed before holding confirmation hearings. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the same standard he held the Democratic party to under Obama, where he specifically wrote a letter outlining the requirements before holding hearings. While he believe that these standards are required for the Democrats he doesn’t believe the Democrats should be able to hold the Republicans to the same set of standards, because they lost the election.

I don’t believe that this is arrogance, or even that “Do as I say not as I do” approach. I believe that this comes down to the basic fact that Republican leadership doesn’t believe that have a legitimate right to ever govern, no matter how many people vote for them. To be fair, I don’t believe that this is only applies to Democrats, I believe that it applies to all other political parties.

If we start with this framework, which really began to be applied in the ’90’s with Clinton in office, we can begin to see a behavior, that successfully, stripped authority from the Democratic party. They continually attacked and continued to come up with new ways to attack the Democratic party and ideas until they were gradually pulled more and more right. They used an approach like OODA loop to continually keep the left on their heels. It worked.

However, they truly felt that they didn’t have the right the govern, which is why the Republicans were in the “right” to do this. Moving forward, we can see continually pressuring the right of predominately Democratic leaning voters. Where many organizations like Think Progress and the ACLU believe that the Republican party successfully suppressed voting.

There is something of a virtuous cycle going on for the Republican party when it comes to sidelining and suppressing votes, the more they suppress votes, the more then can sideline strong blue areas, which allows them to continue suppressing votes. They have been able to do this through the repeal of portions of the voter’s rights act which reduced Judicial oversight of state ‘s that had historically racist voting practices, like much of the south. This combine with Gerrymandering which, as the link shows, can be used to take a predominately Democratic district and string them all together so that even if it was 60% Democrat and there were 5 districts Republicans could still win 60% of the votes. This is happening and has happened in the past. In fact, during 2012, there were definitely cases where more Democrats voted in the house elections, but still lost a more seats than Republicans.

With such a concerted effort to continually win more and more power, the only reason why it’s a MUST do, is that the Republicans do not think that the Democrats have the legitimate right to govern the country. They continually undercut their right to govern, in fact, going so far to curb the authority of the Democrat governing coming into power in NC.

Using this perspective, I believe that this further supports the agenda to impeach Trump. However, this will not stop the Republicans as they definitely seem themselves as the only party with the right to govern. This has to change if the US is going to have an effective government for all the people in the near future.

To Colonize Mars you need Batteries: Elon Musk’s bold vision

I think I’ve figured Elon Musk’s grand plan. He really only ever wanted to colonize Mars, but to do that he understood that you really need a strong safe source of power to be able to do this. I recently read a book called The Martian, which I highly recommend if you’re a huge nerd and love space, where the main character is assumed dead and left behind on Mars. He knows from the very beginning he’ll have to stay alive for the next 400 Sols or so (Martian days). Two things are of paramount concern to him. Power and food. Food is a little harder than the power because he has solar panels, but that’s not going to be very effective for moving him to where he knows he needs to be in those 400 Sols. (This isn’t much of a spoiler, you learn all of this in the first few pages).

So with that in mind, you know that you need to be able to keep power going during massive sand storms, which is the reason why the main character was left on Mars. These can last hundreds of days and greatly reduce the effectiveness of solar panels. Furthermore, getting to Mars is a huge pain, which if you read The Martian, you’ll really understand the full impact of humans trying to get to Mars.

Elon Musk started 3 companies with the express intent of getting to Mars and enabling a colony to survive. First, Space-X, this solves the getting to Mars portion. It’s an effective private space company that has already landed some pretty massive contracts from NASA. The goal of this company is to continually drive down the cost of launching rockets and building capabilities for space travel. The second company is a battery company, Tesla. Yes, I know it’s a car company, but it’s really a battery company. If you wanted to create a vehicle for forcing higher capabilities in battery technology there’s none better than an electric Car. Musk plans to open the Gigafactory to feed the Tesla, but he already plans on using them in other places. He’s offered Boeing his batteries since they are safer than other companies’ batteries. Finally, his solar panel company, Solar City is a method for continually charging those batteries.

Elon Musk isn’t only trying to take out the car companies with Tesla. For the power grid batteries are effectively required to manage a renewable based power grid because there are times of no power from wind or sun. Musk already is deploying battery changing stations across the US. Right now these are powered by the grid and used to store energy. It’s likely he has designed these stations to be bidirectional so the grid can charge the batteries and power can be sent from the batteries to the grid. It’s likely that these stations will be topped with the best of the solar panels that Solar City is able to buy. Forcing more and more investment into higher capability solar panels.

As more Americans start to use Solar City, it’s likely that they will begin to offer batteries, made by Tesla, to help store excess power, some will go to the grid, some will be stored. This will then be sold to the grid during different hours to help stabilize the grid. Effectively, this could lead to a completely decentralized power grid where power companies only maintain the physical grid without generating any power.

As these various companies mature over time, they will continue to push the capabilities of their respective industries. This will have a positive impact on Musk’s true goal of colonizing Mars. He will continually have better and better solar panels to capture the weaker Martian sun. He’ll have more effective power/weight ratio for batteries that will charge almost in an instant. He’ll have a space ship that will get it there effectively and safely.

Elon Musk is building an empire to save humanity from itself. Overall, it’s pretty amazing.

Customers, Companies, and Power – imbalances drive inequities

I’ve been in the process of buying a house for the past month. It’s been a rocky process. Some of it has been on us, but a lot of it has been on the side of the lender. The first problem came when they basically started the process they day we were supposed to sign. This precipitated a series of events that as lead to the fact that it’s unlikely for us to actually fund the house on the last day we possibly could. Furthermore, they have been rather cavalier about the fact that we can just move closing dates without a problem. Essentially their poor processes have required us on multiple occassions to modify a private contract. We’ve been punished again and again because of their inability to meet their obligations. This strikes me as a serious inequity, especially since it’s not a big deal for them that we essentially lost out on a full month’s of rent from the seller. We have minimal to no recourse to address this loss.  On top of this, they still get paid. In my mind they’ve provided little to no value in this process and have in fact simply added a great deal of waste. They should no be paid and in fact should pay us the loss in rent we should have received from their inability to meet deadlines.

This sort of behavior is rampant in industries and companies that are essentially monopolies. Either their customers are fully locked in to a specific company because it is expensive or difficult to extract personal data or some other technical issue or the customers have no other option. In either case the company is able to act with a great deal of disregard for their customers. The goal of the business then becomes to extract maximum rents from their customers not to provide maximum value to the customer. This can create existential issues for a company that undergoes this transition, because many of the people that made that company great are pressured and have the quality of their employment decline without understanding why. Essentially these folks still try to do the right things and in many cases don’t agree with their corporate leadership. In many cases, such as with a Telecom, it’s likely they are exempt from the full rent seeking behavior of the company.

Thinking about these things have made me really frustrated the past few weeks. My job is to help my company deliver more value to the customer so seeing these actions is increasingly frustrating and counter productive to Lean principles. If companies aren’t adopting principles that improve value for end customers, then what can we do? Well, I think that in each of these cases the root cause comes from two totally different policy actions. First many of the issues we’re having are designed to protect customers so we enacted policies to that end. While the other problem, rent seeking behavior comes from the lack of policies to protect customers.

In each of these cases different government actions have lead to different actions for end customers. In actually these painful delays for our loan may for many other people, truly protect them. However, in our case, they aren’t. In the case of push deregulation on telecom the result has been monopolies and behavior designed to continually take more money from their customers. In each cases, these derive from two different philosophies around the value of government regulation. I think these situations highlight the nuances in this area.

In the end it’s important that we have real conversations about the underly reasons for different policy decisions. We need to understand that there are imbalances of power between customers and companies. In many cases those companies will exploit them to their best advantage. Unfortunately, these imbalances extend to the realms of politics as well. This of course is another area where we have issues and will continue to have issues. It is unclear how to address these imbalances, i’m not confident that we’re going to be able to do this in the next few years. If we cannot address these issues I believe they will continue to get worse as the economy remains flat in it’s growth.

Book Review: The People’s Platform: Taking back Power and Culture in the Digital Age

I just finished reading “The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age” by Astra Taylor  I really found this book to be interesting. I believe it offered a very different critique on the digital age than Evegny Morozov’s “Click here to Save everything” where he focused on the arrogance of the algorithm and total solutionism of the movement, Taylor focused on the cultural cost of our digital economy. I think combined the philosophizing of Morozov with Taylor’s discussion of the value of culture and the economic forces behind these changes is an extremely powerful argument. Alone they are both excellent, but I think they offer balancing points that compliment each other well.

First of all, I don’t think everyone will like this book. I don’t think a lot of my readers will like large portions of the book. However, even the most libertarian will agree with some portions of it. I think that’s the power of this book. It’s not really fair to one side or the other, although is really obvious she has a bias – which she wears pretty proudly. Knowing this bias is there allows the reader to decide which portion is Occupy Wall street dreaming or which is really a problem (of course one can go too far either direction).

Taylor’s cultural argument is powerful because we are all part of that economy. We all consume cultural artifacts or perhaps, like myself, make them. The fact that these have been commoditzed to a cost of nothing while still valuable is something we deal with daily. The choice between pirating a movie, renting, streaming it on Netflix, or buying it all are choices we decide on a regular basis. I think that even the most hardcore pirate buys a lot of cultural goods.

Many of us, even if we don’t produce cultural goods, know someone that does. You might watch a video game streamer, you might have a friend or two that are in various bands, you might read my blog or another friend’s blog. All of these people want to use these artifacts to either live on or perhaps enhance their career in some fashion.

However, in the digital space most of the companies that share or distribute cultural activities are funded by ads. Twitch makes most of it money from ads, Google makes $50 billion/year on ads, Facebook makes the most money on an ad whenever a friend “Sponsors” that ad with or without our active agreement to “sponsor” the ad.

Taylor argues that we need to help develop a cultural public space that helps create value for other cultural goods that you may not actually consume (which is why I wrote this blog).

Many of the ideas in the book are anti-corporation, but not because they make money. Instead, it’s because they make money in ways that aren’t obviously ads and that control our cultural destiny. She is pro-net neutrality, she supports companies making profits from ads, but she argues for more transparency that an article is actually sponsored.

Her argument isn’t that we should tear down companies, but instead that we pull back some of the power that these companies have simply taken without any real conversation. We need to look at the ethics behind the algorithms they are using and understand their biases. We need to enable true conversations about these topics. Ad driven content leads to self-censorship and lower quality products.

Is this book perfect? Not by a long shot, but it really made me think about some topics and I think that we need to have more conversations about not just ads, but also about why companies behave the way they do. We need to find a better balance than we currently have.

I rate the book 5/5 for making me really think about topics