Californians paralyzed by Trump hatred

“Can You Still #Resist When Your State’s on Fire?” (nytimes) is an interesting window into the thinking of the West Coast Righteous:

There’s something about the situation here this season that seems like a stage set for the current political moment: fires raging, a giant company, PG&E, responsible for so much of the death and destruction; the incredible salaries and compensation of that company’s executives, the huge shareholder dividends; the company’s decision to create giant blackouts for millions of people, presumably while it fixes the negligence that caused the problem in the first place. And all this, with 59,000 people living homeless in Los Angeles. This is the apocalyptic backdrop against which, it seems to many of us here, President Trump is trying to destroy the planet in so many ways. Of course, the builders of this set predate the Trump administration, but the script playing out on the set — the underlying themes and angles and shots — fits well with his direction.

One way to make sure the homeless don’t end up starting fires might be to house them, which Los Angeles has not figured out how to do.

Meanwhile, all my neighbors are in the “resistance” against Mr. Trump and his policies.

Or putting together events in their backyards to fund-raise for various Democratic candidates and for important causes like reproductive rights, climate change initiatives, homeless housing and criminal justice reforms.

All of the problems mentioned by the author are ones that can be addressed without interacting with the federal government and the hated Trumpenfuhrer. California can build apartments for those currently homeless, run new power lines, pay people $10,000 for each abortion that they want to have (“reproductive rights”; note that selling an abortion privately in California can be substantially more lucrative), and open its prisons (“criminal justice reforms”).

[Note that California state prisons hold roughly half as many prisons as the federal government holds nationwide. These 115,000 victims of an unreformed criminal justice system are guarded by folks who earn more than Harvard graduates at a cost that exceeds tuition, room, and board at Harvard.]

Yet instead of getting together to create state programs to solve all of the problems that they say they’re concerned about (voting to tax themselves as necessary to pay for the new programs), Californians invest their time and energy complaining about a guy who is 3,000 miles away.

Tom Steyer, the billionaire running for the Democratic presidential nomination currently, is a good example of this way of thinking. He’s pledged to give half of his money to charity (i.e., he’s pledged not to pay state or federal tax on half of the money he has earned). Why wouldn’t he instead build some apartment buildings in California and give away half the units to those currently homeless?

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Shanghai has already accomplished what will take Californians more than 4 years

I’m planning a trip to Shanghai, November 13-24.

From the Okura Garden web site:

In accordance with the Shanghai municipal environment regulations, unless requested by staying hotel guest, the hotel no longer proactively provides single-use toiletry amenities such as toothbrush, comb, razor, nail file and shoe mitt from July 1st, 2019. If you have further inquiry please contact the hotel’s guest services.

I think this proves my theory that it will be the Chinese who will save Planet Earth. Californians will need until 2024 to achieve this goal (previous post).

Separately, who wants to get together in Shanghai, Suzhou, or Hangzhou?

What about hotels? Okura Garden comes up as “best value” in the booking engines. Is it better to stay right on the Bund? I will be visiting NYU Shanghai across the river, but mostly hitting all of the tourist sites, museums, etc.

(Airfares to China show the absurd lack of competition for domestic travel. The basic fare plus tax from Boston to Shanghai, 14+ hours of flight time, is $590 (United, with a connection) or $640 (Hainan, nonstop).)

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California blackouts part of a Jewish holiday?

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot ended yesterday. If the California power blackouts also end, that will add evidence to my theory that someone at PG&E wanted to help Californians celebrate Sukkot, a big part of which involves eating outdoors by candlelight. Without a power cut, how many Californians would be motivated to evacuate their comfortable air-conditioned conveniently lighted homes?

From My Jewish Learning:

Another reason may be, that it should remind us of the long wanderings of our forefathers in the depths of the desert, when at every halting-place they spent many a year in tents. And indeed it is well in wealth to remember your poverty, in distinction your insignificance, in high offices your position as a commoner, in peace your dangers in war, on land the storms on sea, in cities the life of loneliness. For there is no pleasure greater than in high prosperity to call to mind old misfortunes.

Remembering the Less Fortunate
The last reason for sitting in the sukkah is my own, although I’m sure someone has said it before. By sitting in a flimsy sukkah, exposed to sun and wind (and in some places, rain and snow!), we are reminded of those less fortunate than ourselves. Precisely at harvest time when we thank God for the bounty he has given us, we must remember to share it with the poor and the hungry.

The world is more interesting when correlation does imply causation!

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We are in a climate emergency, but Californians can wait 3-4 years

Nobody can accuse Californians of being slackers when it comes to tackling the climate change emergency: “California bans hotels from using tiny plastic bottles” (USA Today).

When does the planet-saving ban take effect?

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday he had signed a law banning hotels from giving guests plastic bottles filled with shampoo, conditioner or soap. It takes effect in 2023 for hotels with more than 50 rooms and 2024 for hotels with less than 50 rooms.

Violators could be fined $500 for a first offense and $2,000 for subsequent violations.

So it will be 3-4 years before (a) hotels have to go to CVS and buy some Softsoap and shampoo with a pump, and (b) people can apply for government jobs (with health care and pension!) inspecting and fining hotels that are filled with hate for Planet Earth.

If we’re in an emergency situation and hotels don’t typically stock more than a few months of supplies, why wouldn’t the ban take effect sooner than 2023-2024?

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Google shows that James Damore and Econ 101 were right?

James Damore, the Google Heretic, was cast out for saying that intelligent people who identify as “women” did not enjoy staring at a screen and typing out pages of boring C and Java code (while simultaneously wearing headphones and rubbing elbows with other nerds?).

Damore suggested that the programming job be reconfigured so that it would be more appealing to people identifying as women. Instead of doing that, Google fired him for his thoughtcrime.

If Damore were correct, Econ 101 would predict that women at Google would be getting paid more than men for doing the same job. Otherwise, why would they be there doing something that was distasteful to them?

“Google Finds It’s Underpaying Many Men as It Addresses Wage Equity” (nytimes):

When Google conducted a study recently to determine whether the company was underpaying women and members of minority groups, it found, to the surprise of just about everyone, that men were paid less money than women for doing similar work.

Doesn’t this tend to show that both Damore and Econ 101 are correct?

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California ran out of other people’s money to build its high-speed rail line?

“California Scraps Plan to Build High-Speed Railroad Between Los Angeles and San Francisco” (TIME):

California Governor Gavin Newsom is abandoning plans to build a high-speed railroad between Los Angeles and San Francisco, saying the ambitious project that was approved by voters and championed by his predecessor is too costly.

Instead, the state will finish roughly 120 miles of track already under construction in the Central Valley, a mostly rural agricultural region that runs down the spine of the state, Newsom said.

California was one of the first U.S. states to champion a government-owned high-speed rail system like those that are ubiquitous in parts of Europe and Asia. Former Governor Jerry Brown defended the project as part of the state’s nation-leading effort against climate change, an issue that Newsom has made a centerpiece of his administration.

The Central Valley segment was expected to cost $10.6 billion, according to the latest business plan. [That’s about $66 million per mile in what would seem like some of the world’s simplest terrain.]

Newsom said workers will continue building a stretch of the line between Merced and Bakersfield.

What could have changed? The project has grown a bit in price, but not dramatically more than anything else government does. I wonder if the difference is the new tax law. With direct federal cash plus California state taxes being deductible, taxpayers in Indiana, Ohio, New York, et al. were previously going to pay for 75 percent of this fun project? Now that non-Californians would be stuck with only 50 percent of the bill, it isn’t fun to do anymore? So it would be fair to say that California ran out of other people’s money?

[Regarding the new mini-line: Google Maps shows that it is practical to drive between Merced and Bakersfield in roughly 2.5 hours. Why spend $10.6 billion on a short train line in a thinly populated area and then $1 billion/year (?) to run it? The answer can’t be energy efficiency, I don’t think, because even when tracks already exist an ordinary inter-city bus uses less energy per passenger than today’s trains. If Californians wanted to save energy, wouldn’t they just run more buses on their existing roads?]

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Theranos was an immigration and H-1B story

Bad Blood, the authoritative book on the rise and fall of Theranos, describes American- and British-born engineers and scientists being fired for saying “the goal is too ambitious” or quitting when realizing this. Who replaced them? According to the book, almost all immigrants from India, either folks who’d recently completed a degree in the U.S. or coming over on H-1B visas, all managed by Ramesh Balwani, Elizabeth Holmes’s boyfriend.

During the “grand fraud” stage of Theranos, therefore, it was a primarily immigrant show except for the young impresaria.

[I’m going to guess that neither Mr. Balwani nor any of these engineers and scientists make it into the children’s book First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great…]

The money to fuel the craziness of Theranos seems to have been all domestic. Walgreen’s kicked in $100 million(!) as an “innovation fee” and then loaned the company another $40 million, according to the book. The credulous yet imperial CEO Steve Burd (Wikipedia shows him hanging out with Barack Obama) drained huge amounts of Safeway shareholder cash to help Theranos. The idea in both cases was that Theranos devices were supposed to be placed in these retailers’ stores.

If the end result is a tech staff that is mostly Indian, I wonder if the Silicon Valley location makes sense. Why not have all of the engineers and scientists work from Bangalore or Delhi? Instead of 8 people sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Menlo Park, each of those 8 workers can enjoy his or her own comfortable house (rent for a 3BR apartment in the center of Bangalore is about $570/month (source), 1/10th the price of Menlo Park (source)). What’s the advantage of bringing H-1B slaves over to toil on a Silicon Valley plantation compared to running the tech farm in India?

(Another interesting aspect of the book is learning just how much room there is for human error in traditional medical lab tests, e.g., in the handling of reagents. Elizabeth Holmes was not wrong in thinking that a fully automated process could potentially be more reliable.)

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Bay Area sentiments

My high-level impression… Suppose that a dystopian science fiction novel published in the 1950s had imagined a city in which fabulously rich people lived in new gleaming towers, getting marijuana delivered to them by runners on electric skateboards. The rich people who work stroll on sidewalks that are half covered in tents in which the “homeless” (but not “tentless”) reside. When they get to work they’re in a bullpen that is packed tighter than a commodities trading pit. If they need to make a phone call while at work they’ll duck into a soundproof transparent pod.

People who read a book like that circa 1950 would have said “This author has a great imagination, but none of this could ever happen. Even in the Great Depression people didn’t simply pitch tents on downtown sidewalks. And an employer wouldn’t have valuable workers distracted by noise and crowding.”

Yet that imagined future has been fully implemented by San Franciscans today! What are people saying as they live and visit this unusual place? Some miscellaneous sentiments gathered from around the Bay Area during a recent trip…

A friend has been complaining about unfairly low tax rates (“you didn’t build that”) since Bill Clinton left office. He and his wife said that they wanted to see a big tax rate increase on “the rich.” This trip was my first opportunity to talk to him since the late 2018 tax law change. Due to the fact that this couple can’t deduct their California state income tax (13.3 percent max rate) or the property tax on their $4 million home from their income for federal tax purposes, he believes that his effective tax rate has actually gone up. This is his dream of higher tax rates fulfilled? Apparently not since he is hopping mad about it!

In response to my saying that I’d finished a book on naval battles of World War II, friends in Berkeley said that they considered the U.S. to be the world’s most evil nation currently, committing acts comparable to what the Germans and Japanese did during the very darkest parts of World War II. What exactly was the U.S. doing? Separating children from one or both parents during the migration/asylum process. What about the fact that their neighbors, in availing themselves of California family law‘s no-fault divorce and winner-take-all custody provisions, regularly separated children from the loser parent? “That’s different. Children don’t need two parents. Trump is separating children from both parents.”

Folks in the suburbs and exurbs complained about the poor condition of the highways, which were indeed rough (therefore noisy) and potholed. “There is no frost here,” a friend in Napa noted. Gasoline in the suburbs was almost exactly 2X the cost that I had paid in Bentonville, Arkansas:

Complaints about Trump were ubiquitous. One knock against the dictator was that he lied (previous American politicians were paragons of truth!) and therefore the U.S. was no longer a role model to nations around the world.

Expressed concern for the environment was high, but nearly every buildable surface in Silicon Valley is covered. See this photo from the XNA-SFO flight just before landing (incidentally, if you want to know how to run an enterprise with H-1B visa holders, the Bentonville to San Francisco flight holds all of the folks that you need to talk to).

Do folks in the Bay Area actually have valuable lessons to teach the rest of the nation (and the world!) on how to live in harmony with Mother Earth? Bentonville certainly seemed like a place where the Earth was still in some sort of recognizable condition, e.g., with a lot of farms growing hay.

Expressed concern for the homeless and/or “vulnerable” is high. And expressed support for increased immigration is high, including low-skill undocumented immigration. Yet one drives by homeless encampments in Berkeley on the way to $20 per-person diner breakfast. One common explanation for this apparent contradiction is that homeless people are mentally ill. But for their mental illness, they would be commuting 4 hours round-trip each day to a job and using the money earned to pay for a modest exurban apartment. Would they then support screening immigrants for mental illness? “Of course not!”

Expressed faith in the virtue of higher minimum wage was universal. It will get people off welfare. Taxpayers won’t be subsidizing evil low-wage employers with Medicaid, welfare, public housing, and other means-tested programs for which low-income folks may qualify. In 2018, the income limit for government-allocated “inclusionary” public housing was $236,800 for a family of four in San Francisco, $165,800 for a single person. Thus, based on a 40-hour week, minimum wage for a childless worker would have to be more than $80/hour before he or she wouldn’t be entitled to welfare subsidies.

[If a higher minimum wage is the silver bullet for cutting welfare expense, why wouldn’t at least one of the 50 states deploy it in a serious way? If the Bay Area minimum wage believers are correct, a state could set minimum wage to $25 or $50 per hour, for example, and enjoy massive savings and robust economic growth. I don’t think that the answer is  “It can only work at a national scale because otherwise it is too easy for employers to move to another state” because, due to NAFTA, at the national scale it would be almost as easy for employers to move a factory to Mexico or Canada.]

Enthusiasm for a gynecocracy remains undimmed despite Hillary Clinton’s defeat. From the (Fairmont) hotel gift shop:

You and Me will be doing great… as long as we both identify as female.

Partly due to my passions for art museums and dim sum, I still like San Francisco as a place to visit, though I’m noticing that the entire northeast quadrant is essentially without parks or other greenspace. It is a concrete jungle like Lower Manhattan. A lot of the folks with whom I talked have grown to hate the city and try to minimize their time in San Francisco itself. One 30-year-old work colleague will go so far as to stay in a hotel in Daly City and commute in. No 30-year-old guy in the 1980s would have preferred to be in Daly City!

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