A Pox on Both Their Houses

Published at 11:09 on 28 February 2019

Disclaimer: Nothing in the following entry should be construed as claiming the Democrats are equally as evil as the Republicans, and that therefore it does not matter who wins the 2020 election. Clearly, both stances are false. In the short term, there is significant value in unseating the Republicans from power as much as possible. However, it is also simultaneously true that the two sides have much in common, and this in and of itself both poses a threat and severely limits the ability of the system to self-correct using its own institutions (e.g. electoral politics).

One side wants to increase state power so they can use force to maintain the traditional white, male, capitalist hierarchy. The other side wants to increase state power so they can use government action to limit the worst abuses of capitalism, and in general to pursue a fool’s paradise of utopia via the crafting of the perfect set of regulations with which to (micro)manage everyone’s lives. The scenario recently posted here of a Democratic president using emergency powers to get what he or she wants (and the resultant precedent this would establish) is all-too-possible.

The two sides disagree strongly on how state power should be used, but they both agree that it should be not only used, but increased significantly. Any support for the Democrats must be given with eyes wide open and in full knowledge of this inconvenient fact. Both parties are enemies of liberty, and both should be seen as such.

Correction: Greyhound Is Not Reliable, Either

Published at 19:22 on 27 February 2019

Let’s just cancel it and blame the weather!

After his first bus was cancelled before it left Seattle (Greyhound lied and claimed I-5 was closed even though the ODOT TripCheck site clearly indicated it had reopened), and his second bus was cancelled in Portland (Greyhound lied again and claimed it was so they could drive through snow areas in daylight, even though in the present cold pattern the snow zones start in the southern Willamette Valley, where his new bus will be traveling in the predawn darkness), I think it’s safe to say Greyhound isn’t reliable either.

I rather suspect Greyhound is choosing to tell lies about the weather and road conditions so they can summarily cancel lightly-booked buses.

That said, it still beats Amtrak (which won’t be resuming travel in southern Oregon and northern California until Friday) in the reliability department

Not Just Bad for Republicans

Published at 17:45 on 27 February 2019

In an article penned on the eve of Trump’s emergency declaration, conservative Trump critic Rick Wilson writes:

He’s also opening a door that Republicans will regret walking through if and when executive power changes hands: When future President Biden, President Castro, President Harris or President Warren can’t get push their agenda through Congress, they’ll be able to do an end-run on the Constitution, claim emergency powers and cite Trump’s precedent to justify it.

The rub is, it goes far beyond just Republicans living to regret this ugly thing, should it survive court challenges. Suppose the next Democrat acts precisely as Wilson fears. Then what? It won’t end there; far from it! The only constant in politics is change. A right-winger will get into the White House soon enough, and with this whole “the president can rule by decree via emergency powers” business by then established even more firmly by precedent.

What happens then? Most likely, something that makes Trump look like a harmless little fuzzball in comparison. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Both that, and the earlier issue with a Democrat running rampant with unrestrained executive power, make me somewhat hopeful that the Supremes will slap this thing down. The Court does have a conservative majority, but it is mostly conservatives that predate Trump (and Gorsuch has already shown himself willing to rule against the president that appointed him).

Amtrak Is Not a Viable Long-Distance Travel Option

Published at 12:45 on 26 February 2019

Sorry, railfans. It’s just not. Certainly not in the wintertime between Oakland and Seattle.

I just saw off a visiting friend from the Bay Area. He’s taking the bus back home. To get here, he carpooled. He had planned to take Amtrak both ways, but both trains were cancelled due to heavy low-elevation snow bringing down trees on the tracks.

In Europe or Japan, that would simply not have happened. Those trees would have been recognized as threatening the tracks and dealt with (i.e. either logged or pruned) a long time ago. Just in case that failed, there would have been safety procedures in place that allowed them to be promptly cleared and the flow of rail traffic restored.

That’s not how things work in the USA. First, the trees were left to grow, unlogged and unpruned. Then when they came down, there were no procedures in place for dispatching emergency track crews to promptly clear the right-of-way. Even if there had been, there were no modern regulations in place that would have allowed rail traffic to resume promptly.

And really, why should there be either? Amtrak doesn’t own any track in the Western USA. It’s all owned by freight railroads, who specialize in low-priority bulk cargo. It doesn’t much matter if low-priority bulk cargo gets delayed by weather for a day or three. If it did, it wouldn’t be low-priority bulk cargo and it would be shipped by truck.

Truck shipping actually does cost a fair bit more than rail shipping. As, logically, it should: labor cost is much higher. A crew of two can man a freight train of a hundred cars of more. Each of these cars can carry more freight than a single truck (and each truck needs at least one driver). Rail’s labor costs are thus much lower, and that’s before bringing fuel costs (also lower for rail) into the picture.

So why do people ship by truck? Simple: speed and reliability. It’s worth paying a premium for shipments that arrive quicker and with more predictability. Rail is where the less-urgent shipments go, and those tend to be large quantities of low-value-per-unit-weight bulk commodities. The two freight modes have specialized themselves to cater to two separate market segments.

And it is freight modes, because the railroads themselves don’t transport passengers. They have delegated that money-losing business proposition to the nationalized Amtrak.

In Europe, the railroads themselves tend to be nationalized, and to have a public mandate to carry passengers. They control the tracks, and maintain them to significantly higher standards than the US freight railroads do. Passenger rail in Europe is therefore a viable, reliable transport option. Plus, Europe is smaller and more densely-populated than North America, making distances shorter (another factor that works in factor of rail there).

By contrast, in the USA, rail passengers are stuck with a skeletal network typically offering only once-daily service, on lines run by railroads that view renting rail space to Amtrak as at best a necessary evil and more typically as an archaism to be discouraged by being as uncooperative as possible.

Even the much-maligned Greyhound is more reliable than Amtrak. Why? It relies on the highway network, and the latter is publicly owned and does have a public mandate to open promptly and provide reliable service to both private motorists and to motor-freight companies.

The recent snowstorms have been exceptional, and did close I-5, too. The difference is that I-5 reopened within ten hours. The delays for buses, trucks, and private automobiles were much more manageable than the delays for trains.

So, while rail easily can be a reliable mode, in the USA, alas, it is all-too-often not.

So the Idiot Declares a State of Emergency

Published at 08:15 on 15 February 2019

My prediction is that it’s not going to go very well for him. It’s an extreme measure, you see, and it sets a dangerous precedent. Because of how extreme it is, it’s going to be challenged in the courts:

  1. Texas property owners will challenge it because it threatens to result in their property being confiscated via eminent domain. Texas has more privately-owned land along the border than any other state, and the border there is along a river, meaning a wall threatens to cut farmers and ranchers off from a source of water in an arid or semiarid climate.
  2. The usual suspects (i.e. liberals) will of course litigate it.
  3. Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, will litigate as well. Congress has standing in this case; the state of emergency is an attack on the clearly-enumerated constitutional powers of Congress.
  4. When it ends up in the Supreme Court, even the right-wing justices are unlikely to see it in as charitable a light as Trump’s Muslim ban. The sole exception is Kavanaugh, who might be enough of a Trump puppet to go along with it. That means the best case outcome for Trump in the Supreme Court is probably an 8–1 loss.

More on the Supremes: The conservative justices are unlikely to be fans of the measure because of the precedent it sets: they don’t want a future Democratic president using states of emergency to bypass a Republican congress. (If left unchallenged, this would probably happen sooner rather than later, because divided government has been the rule, not the exception, since the 1970’s.)

That latter reason means that some GOP senators are likely to find their spine and oppose the state of emergency in the Senate, when the House sends the Senate a resolution disapproving of it. So it’s going to sew discord within the president’s own party.

This all proves, once again, that Trump is not an evil genius. If he were an evil genius, he would have avoided setting all sorts of traps for himself on the border wall issue. He would have taken some budget funding more border barriers, probably one funding them more generously than what Congress just passed (because a solidly Republican Congress would have passed it), as a sign that the wall is being built, and would have strutted around and proclaimed victory, probably with a victory speech along an existing stretch of border wall.


Published at 08:26 on 9 February 2019

This is easily the most snow I’ve seen since moving to the island five years ago. About 9 inches and still coming down! Quite the birthday present from Mother Nature!

View out the back door this morning.
View out the front door this morning.

Some Points on Ralph Northam

Published at 08:14 on 2 February 2019

Northam’s reaction proves his superiority to Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh lied about and denied his past. When confronted with the evidence, Northam confessed it and expressed contrition for it.
Northam’s reaction proves his superiority to Trump.
Trump expressed no contrition about the Access Hollywood tapes.
The Democrats’ reaction proves their superiority to the Republicans.
There’s already been widespread condemnation of Northam and calls for him to resign from his own party. Contrast with widespread support for Kavanaugh and attacks on his accusers on the Republican side. Contrast with how Republicans stuck with Trump after the Access Hollywood tapes came out.
It’s not just his conduct in medical school.
Northam’s nickname while at Virginia Military Institute was “Coonman.” That not only shows the yearbook photo wasn’t an isolated incident, it points to which of the two figures in it he probably is.
It’s a shock it took so long for the above to be discovered.
Ralph Northam has run in elections since 2007. An old yearbook isn’t that obscure a thing. It’s a standard campaign tactic to go digging for dirt on your opponents. So, it’s a mystery that it took so long for this thing to come to light.
Northam is toast.
He’s still refusing to resign, but given how widespread the calls for his resignation are, he won’t last.