What Happens When Clean Energy Beats Dirty?

Clean EnergyPaul Krugman wrote a very upbeat column on Monday, Wind, Sun, and Fire. And he’s right to be rosy. The truth is that the cost of clean energy has been plummeting for years. He quotes one standard estimate that solar power generation has decreased 82% since Obama took office (with almost as steep a decline in wind energy). I want to add a few random thoughts.

I’m so tired of hearing conservatives say that doing anything about global warming will hurt our economy. To start with, this is a typical trick of only looking at one side of the ledger. I see this all the time with the deficit. They claim to care about the deficit, yet apparently, it is only possible to balance a budget by reducing costs; there’s just no way you could increase revenue. (Well, except by cutting taxes, which they wrongly claim will increase revenue.)

And with global warming, the costs of mitigating are allegedly included, but never the costs of not mitigating. This position is always proffered by the “reasonable” conservative who will at least admit that global warming is a real thing. But if you admit that it is a real thing but refuse to look at the damage that it is doing, you don’t really believe in it. You just don’t like the moniker “global warming denier.” But you are one nonetheless.

But ever since 2008, I’ve heard people — even liberals — claim that we should not invest in infrastructure and clean energy in a depressed economy. This is exactly wrong. The more the economy improves, the most costly it gets to fix our power plants. We’ve gone through periods of the last seven years when investors were paying the federal government to hold onto their money. And what were we doing? Fighting over the deficit! That was the time to spend, spend, spend! And if we had, we’d have a better cleaner infrastructure, and a better economy today.

I keep think back to Scott Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent. In it, the DA wants the prosecuting attorney to also be able to testify, because the defendant, Rusty, allegedly admitted to his guilt. (In fact, he said it sarcastically.) The judge says that if the DA wants to use that prosecutor as a witness, he must have a different prosecutor try the case. The DA doesn’t want to do that, so the situation is dropped. Until…

The case completely falls apart. Then the DA rushes to the judge, pleading to let them put the prosecuting attorney on the stand. The judge doesn’t buy it, but then, the judge is a very liberal man and doesn’t think the prosecution should get special dispensation, just because its case fell apart — especially given that it by then looks like a setup.

This is what I imagine happening in a few years. When solar and wind energy and battery technology make coal and gas very uncompetitive, I imagine the fossil fuel industry running to Congress pleading for special subsidies. (They already get plenty.) They’ll have all kinds of reasons that they deserve this — reasons I’m sure they already have well worked out. They will shed crocodile tears for all the people that will be put out of work. Remember: these are the same people who have been dead set against subsidies for emerging clean technologies. And these are the same people who have been firing workers with glee for decades.

But if things stay the same in Congress — if we have the same kind of people in Congress — they will get those subsidies. Every argument that conservatives make today will be turned on its head to protect their rich benefactors.

Afterword: Clean Energy Reversal

Note that it doesn’t work the same way for liberals. It makes sense to invest in new technologies that are better. It makes no sense to invest in old technologies that are worse. So it is perfectly reasonable to be for subsidizing clean energy today and against subsidizing dirty energy tomorrow. It is perverse to be against subsidizing clean energy today and for subsidizing dirty energy tomorrow.

A Very Exciting Iowa Caucus Was Had By All

Iowa City Democratic Caucus 2008Last night, I found myself quite interested in the Iowa Caucus. This came as a surprise to me.

I am deeply divided on the idea of a caucus. On the one hand, I like how interactive it is. On the other, people have busy lives. A lot of working people are tired at night and don’t have the energy to go and mess with the whole process. But then you add on top of that the fact that it is done in the dead of winter in a state that is quite cold. And you finish it off with the fact that Iowa is a ridiculously homogeneous state, with a population of about 3% African American and no Latinos to speak of.

So put it all together and you have a prescription for a “democratic” process that leads to oligarchy. Thus, I’ve never thought that much of the Iowa Caucus.

Republican Iowa Caucus

Ted Cruz won the Iowa Caucus, but really, it was a three way tie with Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. Obviously, this makes the Republican establishment very happy. And maybe Rubio will get a big bump out of this. But the fact remains that the Iowa Caucus format helped him. In New Hampshire and South Carolina, Rubio is barely out of the single digits. We will see. (For the record: Ted Cruz is doing almost exactly as well as Rubio in these next two states.)

There is something else, though. Even though I think presidential elections are primarily about economics, I do know that candidates matter. And despite what the common wisdom is on Rubio, I think he’s a terrible candidate. I know some people say that Hillary Clinton seems fake, but that is nothing compared to Rubio. This is a guy who will turn on a dime based upon the political winds. And the entire focus of his campaign is that he’s young. Well, he does come off as young — as in not prepared, not serious, not anything. And as I’ve discussed, his ideas are old.

Rubio being the great hope of the Republican establishment is based on their boneheaded notion of identity politics. By their theory, it doesn’t matter what a politician thinks, so long as they are the right demographic. After years and years of running African American candidates who do not appeal to African Americans, you would think the Republicans would learn. But no.

We’ll see what the next week brings. The only real concern I ever had of the Republican field was that it might nominate Kasich. If Cruz, Trump, and Rubio are what the Republicans have to offer, then Clinton or Sanders will be running against the economy and only the economy.

Democratic Iowa Caucus

This one surprised me. Or it did until I read this headline in The Washington Post, Early Democratic Entrance Polls Show Big Liberal Turnout in Iowa Caucus. I wrote in my Recycled Genius post (which is turning into a kind of announcement space) that my two greatest fears were that Hillary Clinton would win and that Hillary Clinton would lose. And I more or less got my wish, because this election was amazingly close: 701 SDEs (State Delegate Equivalents) for Hillary and 697 SDEs for Bernie. (Martin O’Malley got 8.) That gave Sanders 21 delegates and Clinton 22 delegates, but I guess Clinton gets one more for winning the state.

You need to remember, however, that this is all much more complicated than it looks. If Clinton and Sanders were evenly divided by the DNC, Clinton would win. Right now, Sanders has 13 super delegates and Clinton has 347. Of course, right now in New Hampshire, Sanders is dominating with a lead of upwards of 20 percentage points in the polls. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Clinton is crushing it with a polling lead of over 30 percentage points.

This is crazy. But exciting. And as a Democrat, I hope this goes on. Martin O’Malley has suspended this campaign. That leaves just Clinton and Sanders, who I think have been very good and very respectful. It’s not like in Life of Brian, “The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f@#king Judean People’s Front!” I’m not so sure that’s true on the Republican side.

Summing Up

I think it is important to remember that just as we are right about the Republicans, they are right about us: there isn’t much difference between the candidates. The three Republican at the top in Iowa all think that we need to lower taxes on the rich, cut spending on the poor, get rid of regulation, and “drill, baby, drill!” On the Democratic side, both our candidates want to tax the rich more to provide a more equal distribution of wealth and to invest in the future of this country. They both want to do something about global warming. Neither are planning to take us to war with Iran.

There is a clear decision between the parties — not so much inside the parties. What continues to boggle my mind is that roughly half the nation will vote for the Republicans. I don’t say that as a partisan. I can well see a conservative party that is worthy of people voting for. But not this one.

Morning Music: Red House Painters

Down Colorful Hill - Red House PaintersToday we move back to San Francisco from New York with Red House Painters. They were a longer-lived band than American Music Club and Codeine, and generally less “slit your wrists” music. That’s especially true in their later years (they stayed together for over a decade). But their first album, Down Colorful Hill — wow. It contains just six songs, with an average length of over seven minutes. And the most upbeat they get is “Lord Kill the Pain.”

My favorite song on the album is “Japanese to English.” It seems to tell a simple enough story. The singer is on a beach on an island off Japan with an older woman (I assume) he’s met. They are intimate, but they don’t speak the other’s verbal language. And it is a lament about this. Of course, one doesn’t need to take it literally. It is generally very difficult to find a shared language in romantic relationships.

I know for me that in relationships, the more I’ve needed to say, the less I was capable of it. When I was younger, I felt very much like Aimee Mann, “Anything I could have said, I felt somehow that you already knew.” When I got older, it became, “Anything I could have said wouldn’t begin to get at what I feel.” And that is with having grown in the ability to express myself. I suspect most people are like that: the better you get at expressing yourself, the more ineffable what you wish to express becomes.

If you like this music at all, you might check out some of the later Red House Painters albums. They get more traditionally folk rock. Check out, Summer Dress off Ocean Beach. But first, here is “Japanese to English”:

Anniversary Post: Charlie Chaplin’s First Film

Charlie ChaplinOn this day in 1914, the first film starring Charlie Chaplin was released. This is quite interesting for a number of reasons. First, of course: think how late that is: 1914! The Great Train Robbery was released in 1903. That was pretty much the first film that used the editing technique of cross cutting: cutting between two location to indicate that what is occurring is going on at the same time. (People claim it isn’t the first example, but no one has ever shown me anything earlier.) Just one year after Chaplin’s start would come The Birth of a Nation — probably the first thoroughly modern film.

In addition to this, I had always thought that Charlie Chaplin’s first film was, Kid Auto Races at Venice. It is a little six minute film in which the little tramp keeps trying to get in the picture of some guys trying to film the races. There really is nothing more too it. It’s funny for the same reason the little tramp was always funny: his arrogance despite his low stature in society.

Charlie Chaplin’s First Film

But that was not Charlie Chaplin’s first film. That was the first film in which the little tramp starred. It came out a whole five days later than his first film, Making a Living. It is a far more complex film. Kid Auto Races at Venice was just an improvised film. It has no real plot — just a single gag done over and over. The director pushes the tramp out of the scene at the end, but he’s done that several times before and there is every indication that it will continue on as it has.

In Making a Living, Charlie Chaplin pretends to be a gentleman, out and about. He stops a passer by and they chat. But it is all a setup to ask for money. Then, inexplicably, Chaplin gets a young woman to agree to marry him. While telling her mother, the same man comes by and proposes, but she refuses. Chaplin and the man fight. And so on. It actually has a very nice comedic narrative until it, like all Mack Sennett films, it just stops.