US Law: Racism is bad. So is Democracy.

Is this the least surprising headline ever? Supreme Court Sides With Republicans Over South Carolina Voting Map. Gee, who could have seen that coming.

The current interpretation of the Constitution is just insane. Think hard about this sentence:

Republican lawmakers acknowledged that they had redrawn the First District for partisan gain. But they said they had not considered race in the process.

I believe the Republican lawmakers. Sure they are the party of the racists, but most of them are not particularly racist, and that’s not their focus. The focus of the Republican Party is the continued power of the Republican party. Disenfranchising black voters is just an unfortunate side effect of that goal.

Because it’s perfectly fine to disenfranchise voters to keep one party in power. And it’s fine to then use that power to appoint judges who say it’s all fine. This is done openly. It’s all perfectly legal. Sending a giant torpedo into the scow of Democracy, no problems there. After all, there is no affirmative right to vote at all.

It’s truly disgusting.

The answer is to amend the Constitution. America needs an affirmative right to vote. There is already an excellent organization, FairVote, devoted to this idea. Here is the proposed text:

SECTION 1. Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

SECTION 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.

Trump Should be Acquited in the NY Hush Money Case

The case against Trump has these major elements:

  1. He had an affair with Stormy Daniels.
  2. He covered up the affair.
  3. He falsified business records.
  4. His cover up was election interference.

Are all these elements true and proven?

He had an affair with Stormy Daniels: Unquestionably true. The evidence is strong, consistent with Trump’s past behavior and both of their actions. This is not a crime by itself.

He covered up the affair: Unquestionably true. Also not a crime.

He falsified business records: Unquestionably true. The evidence is overwhelming. If he had simply paid her out of his personal accounts, there would be no case at all. Since he paid her through corporate accounts, it is falsification of business records. These are misdemeanors.

His cover up was election interference: This is where it falls apart. The theory is that if had not covered this up, the public would have known about the affair, and coming on the heels of the Access Hollywood tape, it might have swung the election. This is true, it might have! But it is not election interference. Election interference is things like stuffing the ballot box, threatening election officials, and storming the US Capitol. Election interference is interfering with the mechanisms of the election process. Election interference is not trying to influence public opinion.

Consider some other examples:

  • 2020 Joe Biden has his machine in South Carolina lean hard on local papers to support him in the key Democratic primary.
  • Joe Biden agrees to a full interview, but only with the Smartless podcast, not the New York Times.
  • Republicans lean heavily on Fox News and other outlets to continue hyping stories they think will hurt Democrats – immigration, Gaza, crime, etc.

None of these are true election interference. (Warning: I am not a lawyer.) They are just politics. Trying to influence what people believe and prioritize to change their voting behavior is not election interference, it is normal democracy.

When you take away election interference, you are left with Trump using his business to pay off Stormy Daniels, and lying about it in the business accounting. That is not a felony. None of the thirty four felony charges hold up. Therefore, he should be acquitted.

TL:DNR: Trump did everything he is accused of, but that’s not really a felony. Therefore, acquital.

The End of the Hastert Rule?

Fans of my multi-part series last year about fixes to American Democracy may remember the Hastert rule. Named for former Speaker Denny Hastert, thsi odious strategy said the Speaker won’t t bring any legislation up for a vote unless it held a majority within his own party. This kept any bill that had general support from passing, reduced bi-partisanship, and strengthened extremists on either side. (No surprise, the GOP embraced it, the Democrats mostly ignored it.)

Marjorie Taylor Greene and her bomb throwing buddies spectacularly failed to remove Mike Johnson. Why did they try to out him? Because he allowed legislation to pass with the support of Democrats. Why did this effort fail? Because Democrats voted to support Hastert.

Democrats did not do this for Kevin McCarthy, because McCarthy gave them nothing. Democrats overwhelmingly supported Johnson because he was willing to suspend the Hastert rule on key issues, and let the house pass bills by simple majority vote.

This is a great alliance, and I hope it holds through the election. Seeing Democrats and Republicans vote together is good for all of us.

Donald Trump Jr. is 100% Correct

“I think the RNC is gonna be a little bit more of that old-school establishment. That Republican Party frankly no longer exists outside of the D.C. Beltway. But it takes a little while to make that transition,” Trump Jr. said on Newsmax’s “The Balance.”

Yep. The RNC was already paying the legal bills for Trump, a ridiculous succumbing to Trump’s corruption field. Now is daughter in law runs it. So… yep. Hey, remember when Bernie Sanders supporters thought that Hilary had her thumb on the scale in the DNC? Well don’t that seem quaint.

“People have to understand that America First, the MAGA movement is the new Republican Party. That is conservatism today,” Trump added. “You know, there may be the Mitt Romneys and the Liz Cheneys out there. But that is a rare and dying breed.”

Yep. Trumps hold on the Republican Party has been steadily increasing. There’s not a obvious day to say the takeover is complete, this seems as good a day as any.

Supreme Court says Trump Stays on Ballot: Keeps Ducking the Real Question

The Supreme Court this week ruled unanimously that Donald Trump could not be excluded from the Colorado primaries, or any others, on the 14th amendment grounds.

The court was understandably troubled by the idea that each state could decide their own interpretations of an Federal law/amendment for a Federal election. States shouldn’t each have their own independent criteria.  

The result could well be that a single candidate would be declared ineligible in some States, but not others, based on the same conduct (and perhaps even the same factual record).

The “patchwork” that would likely result from state enforcement would “sever the direct link that the Framers found so critical between the National Government and the people of the United States” as a whole.

It is bad to have patchwork laws, says the court. That would be chaos. I agree!

But what is the difference between that and the other election actions States take on their own?

States determine the number and placement of voting locations. They determine what ID is accepted. They used to decide on poll taxes and literacy tests. They decide on their electors. They decide what forms of early voting are allowed, and the process by which those are counted. They decide what the triggers are for recounts and the process of doing those. And much more.

Do you remember Bush v Gore? Florida had a quirky set of rules and a quirky ballot and what-do-ya-know that ended up deciding the election. We got massive debt and a ridiculous foreign war instead climate action. Thems the breaks. So the hypothetical chaos that justifies overturning Colorado’s decision is not hypothetical. It already exists. If it already exists, so how can it be so repugnant that it justifies re-interpreting the 14th amendment?

There is no good answer today. The Constitution clearly gives states the right to run their elections (“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors…”).  Just as clearly, States cannot run their elections with no limits at all. There is no good legal principle to decide when the States or Federal government makes the rules for any specific part of the elections process. The Supreme Court will keep dipping in and out of election particulars with consistency.  

The answer is to amend the Constitution. America needs an affirmative right to vote. There is already an excellent organization, FairVote, devoted to this idea. Here is the proposed text:

SECTION 1. Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

SECTION 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.

Throw in the National Popular Vote, and maybe someday elections could just reflect the will of the people.

2024 Muttroxia Predictions

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

Old Danish saying (not Niels Bohr or Yogi Berra)

This was fun to do last year. Let’s do it again. Here are Muttroxia predictions for 2024:

Sports

  • The NBA MVP will be Jokic (70%).
  • The NBA MVP will be Jokic, Luka, or Giannis (90%). I’m sorry Jason Taytum. I love ya. You’re the best player on the best team. I love that you think you’re the MVP. But you’re not the MVP.
  • Celtics make it to the NBA Finals (80%): Last year I picked them for the Eastern Conference Finals, this year they get back to the overall Finals. Do they win? I think so, but not enough to bet on it. The West has a lot of great teams, and winning a championship is hard. A couple of injuries and it’s over. (This one was written at the beginning of the year. Right now the Celtics are murdering teams by ridiculous margins, and have good odds to win it all. But fair is fair, I didn’t believe that at the beginning of the year.)
  • Neither University of Georgia nor University of Michigan will win the College Football National Championship (that is technically played in 2025) (80%):
  • Bijan Robinson will have over 1,200 yards next year (70%): New coach will give him so many touches.
  • The Atlanta Hawks will continue to be mediocre or worse. They’ll end up at 45 wins or worse next season. Unfortunately, we won’t know the answer to that until April 2025. So the prediction is that they will have a winning percentage of 55% or worse as of December 31, 2024 (70%).

The Economy

  • Inflation continues to decline in 2024 (90%). Last year I had troubles by not selecting a clear source. In 2024, I have one.
    • Inflation for December 2023 was 4.1. The prediction is that inflation will be below that in December 2024.
  • Average Gas Price has gas price at $3.00. on Election Day (70%):
  • The stock market will become more unbalanced (70%). I will take the top 10 stocks of 2023 and calculate their share of the total market, and do the same in 2024. I expect there to be even more concentrations at the top. I don’t have sources yet, probably Investopedia.
  • Electric car sales top 10% in the USA. (80%) Q4 of 2023 was 8.1%. This was big growth over 2022 but subsidies are declining. Consumer interest seemed to top off, but I still feel confident it will rise even more.

Politics

  • None of the four Donald Trump trials finishes before election day. This does not include appeals. No verdicts. 80%.
  • Congress passes no significant legislation about immigration (90%):
  • No major political figures are both impeached, and then convicted by the Senate (90%):
  • Dems retain control of Senate (60%): I feel very unsure of this, the GOP will be out in force, and unlike last cycle the GOP has kept away from the nuts. But what the heck, I’m feeling optimistic.
  • Trump or Biden, who wins?: Nope. Pass. Next one. I can’t even talk about it. God help us.

Leftovers

  • Two of these five people will die in 2024 (70%): A new gruesome category! Jimmy Carter, Ethel Kennedy, Mel Brooks, Dick Van Dyke, Alan Greenspan
  • Muttroxia will not have any months with over five posts after January. (80%). Last year I set this at 10 posts and was nowhere close, it’ll be a little more competitive this year.

Tesla “Fuel” Cost: Update

After a month or two of being a Tesla owner, I tried to figure out how much money I was saving in gas money. I’ve been driving it for almost two years, here are the updated numbers.

Total Distance Driven: 19,858 miles.

Total Energy Used: 4,918 kWh (energy per Mile: 0.248 kWh/mi)

Cost of Electricity: $0.11 per kWh. I’m changing the methodology from last time. Last time, it included the cost of all the connection fees, sales taxes and other garbage like that. The bill has gotten more complicated now, it’s hard to figure out which numbers are most meaningful. If you include all the rest, it’s around $.014ish.

Cost of Tesla electricity $541

How much would I have spend in gas? $4,180.

Gas math: My last car got 18 mpg. 19,858 miles at 18 mpg is 1,100 gallons of gas. The price of gas has fluctuated a lot. The average looks around $4.00, I’ll be generous and use $3.80. 1,100 gallons at $3.80 per gallon is a total of $4,180.

$4,180/$541 = 7.7. My gas car would have been around eight times more expensive to operate. This is essentially identical to the initial findings.

Some random googling brings back answers between six and ten times, so my personal experience seems in line.

——————————————

In fact though, it’s even better than 7.7 times as good. Why?

1) As Sidness pointed out last year, the maintenance costs are basically zero. There are so many fewer things that get mechanically worn down. I have yet to spend one dollar on maintenance.

2a) We added solar panels to the house this year. On a normal sunny day, charging the car is free. (Well, it’s more complicated than that, we had to pay a lot of money up front to get the panels and that cost should be distributed out in some way… but the marginal cost of charging is essentially zero.)

2b) For that matter, there is free charging at my office as well. Although — one of the few genuinely bad things about a Tesla — the charger adapter just doesn’t work well. You kind of pull up on it while putting it in and it connects, then you slowly let go and hope that it stays connected, which currently does not happen much. It can’t possibly be that hard to build a working adapter/connection. Honestly Elon, get on the stick.

2023 Muttroxia Predictions: Final Score

In the beginning of 2023, I published several predictions about the year. 2023 is over, so how’d I do? Let’s find out (in order of highest to lowest confidence) with pass/fail scoring…

  • Biden officially announces his re-election campaign (90%): Pass.
  • Donald Trump doesn’t spend any time in jail, house arrest etc. He lives the year free. (90%): Pass.
  • Congress passes no significant legislation about immigration (90%): Pass. Sadly, the GOP strategy is now to score political points by yelling about the broken system and the consequences while refusing to do anything to fix it.

  • Muttroxia will not have any months with over ten posts after January. (80%): Pass. Not even close.
  • The NBA MVP will be Jokic or Giannis (80%) if the Celtics don’t win the championship.: Fail, the MVP was Embid. However, after the finals, Jokic was generally accepted as the best player in the league and has maintained that status into this season. Although I did get this one wrong in letter, I got it right in spirit. I’m giving myself a half pass point.

  • Donald Trump doesn’t have any final civil judgements found against him personally (that is, no fines or consequences) (70%): Fail. Trump was found guilty in the sexual abuse of E Jean Carroll. He is appealing, so technically the prediction is still true (I said “final”), but the spirit of the prediction was clearly wrong.
  • Inflation is below 4% by the end of 2023 (70%): Pass. Wish I had given an official definition for this since there are different ways of measuring inflation. Fortunately, they all give the same answer. Inflation started declining in the beginning of the year, and is now quickly approaching the point where we start panicking about the debt or something else instead. The consumer price index is at 3.4%. Core inflation is 3.8%.
USA Inflation since 2000
  • Average Gas Price ends the year below $2.50. (70%): Fail. It’s been up and down, and appears to be declining, but is around $3.20. Dang, I really thought I had this one.
  • The Justice Department does not charge Donald Trump personally for anything related to Jan 6th. (70%): Fail. In August, Jack Smith brought charges against Donald Trump personally. I’m glad to be wrong on this one!
  • Celtics make it to the Eastern Conference finals (70%): Pass. The Celtics went to the Eastern Conference Finals and choked to the Heat. You can bet my 2024 will be more optimistic.
  • Electric car sales top 10% in the USA. (70%) Fail. Q4 was 8.1%. While this was big growth over 2022, it wasn’t what I expected with the ongoing trends and massive government subsidies. While the manufacturers pivoted hard to electric, consumer interest seemed to top off.

  • UGA will repeat as college football champs. (60%): Pass. Remember this is for 2023, and they sure did repeat. They got pretty close to getting three in a row actually.
  • Generally there won’t be a massive rollback of abortion rights. (60%, but don’t know how to measure this.): Fail. It wasn’t as bad as some feared, but it’s been bad enough and Texas be so crazy.
  • Joe Biden is not impeached (60%): Pass.
  • By the end of 2023, I’ll forgot I made this post and need a reminder (80%). Fail. This was a lot of fun. Predicting is hard!

Scores:

  • 90%ers: 3 out of 3
  • 80%ers: 1.5 out of 2
  • 70%ers: 2 out of 6
  • 60%ers: 2 out of 4

Total: 8.5 out of 15. That seems pretty good for my first try at this. Almost all the 80% and up predictions came in.

My Latest Favorite Song #32: Rolling Stones, Hackney Diamonds

So, there’s a new Rolling Stones album out. And it’s good! I honestly didn’t expect that. I saw them in 2021, and Keith was terrible. I couldn’t even finish listening to the last album by The Who. 80-year old classic rock masters of the past do not have a great record. But dang, this is a good album. One nice thing about Mick’s voice — since he’s never been a Freddie Mercury type, the old Mick doesn’t sound all the different than the younger Mick. Smaller distance to fall.

I’ll call out two tracks, and they happen to be the last two tracks of the album. Maybe because they aren’t trying to be hits, they actually have more of the magic.

Sweet Sounds of Heaven:

Nothing like simple chords done well. Musically, this is a simple song, your basic V IV I structure. That just shows you how real musical talent works. Stevie Wonder plays great piano, and Lady Gaga is just incredible on vocals.

The best section is at 5:15 when everything goes minimalist. It sounds as if the song was over but they just kept going. That may be true, Stevie Wonder has done it before… but either way, it sounds beautiful stripped down (similar to another great minimalist classic of theirs, I Got the Blues), and then when the full arrangement comes back in, it’s that much stronger. Great tune! (Here’s a live version.)

Rolling Stones Blues:

This here is what we call closure. Way back when, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger got to be best buddies when Keith saw Mick on the subway with this record. They bonded over their love for the blues. This song is where the name “Rolling Stones” comes from, it’s the genesis of the band and their career.

And here we are many years later, and finally they record it themselves. Appropriately, it is just Mick on vocals and harmonica, and Keith on guitar. (I believe that’s an amplified acoustic guitar, similar to Gimme Shelter.) No one else, just two fans of the blues playing the pure blues.

If this proves out to be to be the last track of their last album, it will be a fitting one, coming full circle.

My Latest Favorite Song #31: Ben Folds – Cologne

I’ve seen Ben Folds around six times in all kinds of different formats. It’s discouraging how he faded from the national view after Brick, because that’s not even one of the top 20 songs in his career.

I didn’t much care for this album (Way To Normal) despite it’s decent performance, but Cologne is a wonderful song (and the prelude, Before Cologne) to melt into.

Although verse two is lyrically awkward. The conceit of two people reading the same article continents apart is wonderful. But the particular story simply doesn’t fit the song at all, and the syllables have to jammed in, breaking the phrasing. It’s one part of the song that breaks you out.

If you want to see talent at work, watch one of the many videos of Ben Folds improvising/writing a new song live, usually with a symphony orchestra.

The Power of a Good Lie: Kitty Litter for Trans Kid

On a recent trip, we found ourselves chatting with a retired principal in West Virginia. At some point, he told us how nuts things were getting. 30 miles away from him, in Louisberg West Virginia, there was a school where they had actually put out a tub of kitty litter to accomodate a six year old boy identifying as a kitty cat.

This story is not true. It has been debunked many times. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). It’s not hard to determine the truth, as there is zero primary evidence that it ever happened or ever would. But, ya know, it really does sound true. There’s a lot of nuttiness in the world. There are over 130,000 K-12 schools in the USA, odds are good that a few of them are going to have some crazy policies. This sound like just the kind of thing you could see some super liberal progressive school enacting. These are the best kinds of lies. Plausible. Just plausible enough to be passed along by those who like the story so much they don’t want to look further.

Everyone falls for these occasionally. We all want to think we’re smarter than the average bear, but the victims of scams fall equally across every group – political, cultural, socio-economic, and yes educational also, all of it. Heck, the theme of this whole dumb blog is critical thinking, yet I once blithely posted a link asserting John Kerry voters had higher IQs than G.W. Bush voters. (It’s not true.) This ex-principal had fallen for this lie, even though knows the system better than most, and could have found out the truth just by calling around his network. But he didn’t want to.

It’s very hard to fight untruths like this. It doesn’t take much research to see it’s a lie, but it does take some time. And some time is more time than we want to take. Changing minds is hard.

I simply told the man that although there is a lot of crazy going on around gender, schools, and trans I believed this particular story was a hoax, and he should check it out for himself. “Ignorance fought,” I thought to myself.

The next morning, I mentioned this to my 15-year old daughter, who confidently informed me that it was absolutely true, for sure it happened.

You really can’t win at this game.

Dear Marc Thiessen, Crimes Aren’t Mistakes

Marc Thiessen has a very strange editorial in the Washington Post. The basic thesis is Democrats have politicized and weaponized the Department of Justice in the Trump indictments. But, to be fair (says Thiessen), Trump has made some mistakes that allowed that to happen. Though the prosecutions are obviously unfair, he made some tactical errors in allowing himself to be railroaded.

It’s a good angle. It’s an interesting approach to assigning blame. Let’s dig in, shall we? Here are those mistakes:

Mistake No. 1: Imagine how different things would be today if, after exhausting his legal challenges to the 2020 election, Trump had presided over a smooth transition. Imagine if, even without conceding he lost, he invited Joe Biden to the White House as Barack Obama had invited Trump, attended Biden’s inauguration and left office graciously — with a MacArthur-esque farewell address promising that he would return in four years’ time. There would have been no “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, no Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol and no second impeachment.

In this alternate reality, Trump doesn’t act outside the legal system to challenge the election results. That is in contrast to reality – where he did the crime of trying to overturn the election.

Mistake No. 2: Instead of contesting certified election results accepted by Georgia’s popular Republican governor, Brian Kemp, Trump should have focused his attention on turning out his loyal base in Georgia to save the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate by winning the two runoff elections. He could have left office with a major political victory under his belt and momentum toward a 2024 run — and would have been able to take credit for a GOP Senate reining in the Biden administration. Instead, his false fraud claims depressed GOP turnout, handed Senate control to the Democrats and enabled President Biden to ram through trillions in new spending with Democratic votes alone, which helped unleash the worst inflation in four decades.

In this alternate reality, Trump doesn’t contest the results in Georgia. That is in contrast to reality – where he did criminally try to change the legitimate results.

Mistake No. 3: When it was discovered that he had taken highly classified materials to Mar-a-Lago, Trump could have cooperated and handed over the documents, rather than reportedly ordering aides to hide documents and delete security footage.

In this alternate reality, Trump gives back the classified documents when asked. That is in contrast to reality – where he criminally refused to give them back and criminally tried to cover it all up.

Mistake No. 4: Instead of spending the past three years railing against the “rigged election” (a claim that 70 percent of Americans reject), Trump should have focused on Biden’s failings in office. Trump should have contrasted Biden’s disastrous policies with his many successes, and reminded the record 56 percent of voters who told Gallup just before Election Day 2020 that they were better off under Trump than they had been four years earlier how good they had it when he was in office. Imagine if his message had been “Miss me yet?” instead of “I am your retribution.”

In this alternate reality, Trump does normal political things. That is in contrast to reality – where his obsession with the election dragged down the whole party. But at least this isn’t an actual crime!

Mistake No. 5: Rather than saddling the GOP with midterm candidates whose main or only qualification was parroting his election denial, Trump could have backed electable candidates and used his $100 million-plus war chest to help Republicans take back the Senate and win an overwhelming House majority in 2022 — thus getting credit for propelling the GOP back into power on Capitol Hill.

In this alternate reality, Trump supports the party. That is in contrast to reality – where he continued to focus on his own self-interests above party or country. But at least this isn’t an actual crime!

Most of the five mistakes aren’t mistakes. They are the crime.

Let’s say I get pulled over by a policeman. And when he comes over I mouth off, call him a pig, yell how my taxes pay his salary, aren’t there murders to be solved etc. That’s a mistake. That policeman is now looking for anything they can get on me, he’s going to make sure I suffer. Through my own stupidity, I gave this policeman an opening to exploit his lack of from neutrality and I’m gonna pay for it. That’s the image Thiessen would like you to have in mind. But that’s not the right analogy.

Let’s say I am robbing a bank, and a policeman catches me and questions me. Next thing I know I’m being arrested and facing twenty years in prison. My mistake wasn’t that I said the wrong thing to the policeman. My mistake wasn’t focusing more on different investment options. My “mistake” was doing the actual crime! That’s not a mistake, that’s just being a criminal! The policeman is focused on me because I did crimes!

That’s why Trump has been indicted, for doing crimes. That’s not politicizing or weaponizing, that’s justice.