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Tag: politics (Page 1 of 2)

Joe Manchin and the Pipeline


Let’s talk about Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) for a bit. Manchin is in a uniquely powerful position in the U.S. Senate, not because he deserves it but by luck. The various states have managed to elect a Senate divided almost exactly in half so that one Democratic senator can be the deciding vote on legislation that affects the whole country. Joe Manchin is taking full advantage of his good luck for personal gain.

West Virginia is not a rich state. It was once thriving with industries that have moved to China. The coal industry used to employ far more people than today. There are many poor and struggling families here. Why would Senator Manchin block legislation that would bring hundreds of millions in aid to West Virginia families?

Since the 2020 election, Manchin’s behavior was puzzling and frustrating to many. He took positions that were not beneficial to West Virginians. He negotiated to reduce benefits to West Virginia. He opposed the Build Back Better bill. His actions were what one would expect of a Republican catering to the whims of the billionaires who fund them, not a Democrat. The term “DINO” (Democrat in name only) was applied to him. Some wondered if he was just a shill for the Republican Party. Several Republicans tried to get him to join the Republican Party. It was very strange. What was he really up to?

Sixty years ago my grandmother taught me many things about politics, governance, and leadership. One thing she taught me was when you see a politician do something that makes no sense or do something that harms the people he’s representing, there’s an ulterior motive that you’re not seeing.

So what was behind this odd behavior? For some background, consider that Joe Manchin is in the coal business. His company, Enersystems, is a brokerage for waste coal, sometimes called dirty coal. So we know that concern about climate change and the environment isn’t high on his list of priorities, and he’s in the fossil fuel business. In Congress he chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In recent years, Manchin received the most funding from the oil and gas industry of any senator, and participates in weekly meetings with lobbyists for ExxonMobil, other fossil fuel companies, and fossil fuel PACs.

Manchin has his business in a “blind trust” and says he “has no idea what they’re doing.” However, blind trust or not, he and his family ultimately reap the rewards of catering to the fossil fuel industry.

The less-than-obvious focus of Manchin’s attention is the Mountain Valley Pipeline. This is a pipeline project proposed in 2014 and was originally expected to be completed in 2018. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is to be a large, 2 million dekatherms per day, 304 mile line extending from North Central West Virginia to Southeast Maryland and beyond. It’s intended to carry natural gas obtained by fracking in West Virginia to East Coast users.

The pipeline has had difficulties obtaining and keeping various permits to cross the Jefferson National Forest, more than a thousand rivers and streams, as well as the famed Appalachian Trail. The project is 92 percent complete but has been bogged down in court actions that invalidated permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Manchin has been focused on getting the project moving again. He managed to get an energy permit bill attached to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022. This Act had to be passed by the end of September 2022 to provide funding to prevent a government shutdown. Support for the Act in Congress was insufficient with Manchin’s rider bill attached, so it was removed and scrapped. As a result we can expect Manchin’s primary focus to remain on the pipeline issue and he will continue to expend his political capital on this issue instead of the needs of West Virginians.

My Vote Counts More Than Yours


In presidential elections, not all votes are equal. Wait. What? But, this is a democracy — one person, one vote, right? No.

Two hundred thirty-five years ago, the founders designed a presidential voting system that gave rural farmers and ranchers in states with low population more voting power than people in urban areas. Among other things, the Electoral College was designed to try to avoid a tyranny of densely populated urban areas over other, less populous, areas of the country. It also helped with the logistical problems when horseback was the fastest form of communication. The system worked okay through the 1800s and into the 1900s. But, the founders never imagined an organized, scientific effort to take advantage of the voting power imbalance in order to seize power as happened in 2016.

So, what exactly are the numbers? The power of a voter in Wyoming is almost four times that of a person living in Texas. Whether this is fair and appropriate is for you to decide. See below for how much your vote counts.

Presidential Voting Power in Each State

Problems with Populism

Or, why populism irritates me.

Economics and sociology are mind-bendingly complex because of the human element. Humans are mind-bendingly complex and often irrational, and we bring that mess to everything we do. That’s how we are. We’re not robots. Each of us is unique, composed of our life story, experiences, hopes, fears, wants, knowledge, and neuroses. Politics is a mixture of economics and sociology, so it’s equally complex.

My observation is that populists oversimplify. Populists think they have all the answers. They think they’re real smart. They think they know more or see more than the rest. In fact, they know less and see less. That’s why they don’t see the complexities of reality and think things are simpler than they really are.

Because populists think everything is so simple and obvious, they’re like a bull in a china shop, with little respect for the complexities of humans. They look down on and ridicule people who have a genuine understanding of the complexities.

Populists are often idealists. They’re unwilling to compromise. This is a fatal flaw when it comes to politics because the practice of politics is the art of compromise. That’s what politics is. You never get what you want. If all goes well, you get something closer to what you want than what you had, but that’s all you’ll get. In politics, if you try to stand your ground, you’ll get run over and end up worse off than when you started. That’s how politics works, how it’s always worked, and it will never change because: human nature.

All of these things that I see in populists today are way too familiar. Populists remind me of libertarians. Back in the 1970s I was a libertarian and I exhibited all of the flaws I describe above, and so did all my libertarian friends. We used to hang out and talk about how all the world’s problems could be solved if we just did a few simple things, A, B, and C. It was all so obvious. How could anyone with a brain not see it? Unfortunately, the truth is that we didn’t understand the problems because we omitted human nature from our analyses. In particular, we omitted human greed and its overwhelming power. This is breathtakingly ironic because libertarians are all about capitalism. What is capitalism? Capitalism is institutionalized greed. Greed is the engine — the only engine — that drives capitalism. This and its ramifications somehow never occurred to us. It was like some kind of blindness that I still find astonishing to think back on.

Populism is enabled by a similar form of selective blindness and/or refusal to accept reality. There’s an old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt”. It’s true in my case. When I talk to populists today, it’s like I’m talking to who I was in the 1970s and it irritates the heck out of me.

By the way, this rant was triggered by a good post here: https://truth-sandwich.com/2019/02/15/tastes-like-chicken/

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