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Arizona Prop 127 and the Dentist

Amending the Arizona Constitution to Require Electricity Providers to Generate at Least 50% of their Annual Sales of Electricity from Renewable Energy Sources.

Despite my cynicism 640-02771702and shaky belief in our experiment in American democracy, I still take my responsibility of voting seriously. I truly don’t believe my voice is heard or that my vote amounts to a hill of beans, but I’m programmed to believe that if I don’t participate, I haven’t earned the right to enjoy the occasional benefits of freedom bestowed upon all of us. I guess it’s similar to the old exchange where I’m asked, “Do you believe in free will?”

My response … “Of course, what choice do I have?”

With this said, I diligently do my homework on the ballot issues upon which I’m allowed to vote. In an effort to learn how I felt about the matter of Prop 127, I have contacted representatives of organizations espousing both sides of the matter. I have found it difficult to get straight answers from either side, especially the “Vote No” people.

One information resource available to me is called “NextDoor.com”, a pseudo-social network composed of neighbors – thousands of them – in the area of Scottsdale in which I live. One neighbor began a thread on the site encouraging neighbors to oppose the proposition. I muddled through the dozens of responses, some caustic and snarky, some myopic, some humorous and some more thought provoking than others. Here are a couple of the take-aways from my efforts.

  • Many people drink the cool-aid. The “Vote No” contingent is largely fed by the big utility companies, APS in particular. Their motives seem to be one-percent altruism (possibly misguided) and ninety-nine-percent profit motive. I don’t believe for an instant that profit is necessarily bad, but when it comes by selling your soul to the Devil or peddling your daughter on the streets to the highest bidders, the profit-motive may run into a few moral barriers.

APS may not be taking the moral high road on this matter. They make no claims as foolish as to suggest renewable energy in of itself is bad. They just say your monthly electric bill will increase. Those supporting Prop 127 make the argument that utility bills will go down. In both cases, there seems to be some sleight-of-hand being employed to make the cases. Bills probably wouldn’t go up as much as APS claims and they probably wouldn’t go down as much as NRDC claims.

Either way, the discussion of utility rate hikes seems to have an air of red herring. If APS insists on presenting blatantly false, fear mongering arguments about cost increases, this seems to beg the question “Why is APS so vehemently opposed to Prop 127?” I can guarantee you that the president of APS doesn’t go to bed each night with a prayer about keeping my personal utility bills as low as possible. He may pray that his income continues to grow without bound. I’ve got a whole file of cancelled checks that pretty much proves he doesn’t give a damn about my personal budget.

As an experienced engineer, I will assume that APS opposes Prop 127 for two principal reasons, taxes and control. I suspect that investing in significant new infrastructure in the form of solar and/or wind generation equipment is a “capital expense” and that those expenditures must be depreciated over an extended time period. If they could be immediately “expensed”, the Corporation Commission would no doubt do what it normally does and allow them to roll the costs into the utility rates immediately. If the costs are to be depreciated over time, APS would have to wait to fleece the consumers longer. I’m sure the picture is a bit more complicated than presented here, but you get the gist of it.

It should strike you as contemptable that APS can spend millions promoting and peddling the anti-127 rhetoric and immediately force you to pay for it via such “expenses” being rolled into your monthly utility bill, but they fight investing in a cleaner environment because that can’t take those dollars out of your pocket by the handful; they still get them, they have to grab them a few dollars at a time.

The other issue is “control”. A constitutional requirement for a certain energy mix takes a little bit of the choice from them. Heaven forbid they don’t retain complete, unbridled control of their world.

So some people drink the cool-aid like it’s free. They listen to what APS says and take it as the gospel. After all, it must be true because many of those who support Prop 127 are tree-huggers or liberals or environmentalists or even Democrats. Some have even gone over the edge and drive a Prius. My God! What further proof do you need that APS is standing on the right side the fence? Drink up. It beats the hell out of thinking it through.

  • Many, if not most people, don’t look at the big picture even if it’s held right in front of their faces. I’m stunned at the number of people who look at the issue solely from the standpoint of the amount they believe their utility bills will increase. Let’s take the improbable worst case scenario as presented by APS and assume your monthly bill will increase $100 per month. There is more, much, much more to the picture. If you’re content with viewing a grossly over-simplified picture, here’s a quick way to not only save the $100 per month, but actually cut your bill out altogether – don’t pay your bill. There you go; how much better can you do than that? But they’ll cut off my electricity you say. Well of course they will, but that’ll be a month or two down the road. We can deal with that problem when it comes along.

By viewing the Prop 127 question as nothing more or less than an increase or decrease in your monthly electric bill, that’s precisely what you’re doing. You’re ignoring myriad other costs that you will have to pay, just not necessarily immediately. These costs are very real and the bill will be coming due. You can try not paying the bill, but you’d be better off letting APS turn off your power. If worse comes to worse, you can at least buy batteries and a flashlight. Escape from the other expenses that so many people ignore isn’t nearly so simple.

Fact: Health care costs increase with increased burning of fossil fuels. Fact: Even if you don’t personally end up with asthma or heart disease of any one of the countless other maladies, you’re still paying the bill. When some American citizen who can’t afford health insurance ends up in the hospital, guess who’s paying the bill. You are.  Fact: reducing fossil fuel consumption results in a cleaner environment. When air and water is polluted, everyone suffers as the economy suffers. The cost of clean-up has to be borne by someone. Take a look in the mirror if you’d like to see who gets that bill.

There are countless other expenses that legitimately need to be taken into account when looking at Prop 127. Life would surely be grand if it was about nothing more than your utility bill, but it’s not. Some of the expenses may have differing time horizons, but they WILL be paid. If you consider yourself fortunate in that maybe, just maybe, the bills won’t come due in your short lifetime, I’m sure your children and grandchildren will think highly of you for having the wisdom, vision and love to care about their future quality of life.

  • The power of rationalization is the irresistible force. Many of the anti-127 voices put forth the “argument” that Prop 127 won’t solve the problems of pollution, global climate change, etc. They’re absolutely correct. In truth, the overall impact may be miniscule in comparison to the overall challenge at hand.

However, it can’t be argued that one small, short step in the direction of a goal isn’t in fact far better than no step at all. If we do nothing at all, nothing will be done. In fact, it strikes me as sort like my view on casting my vote. I don’t really believe my voice is of any consequence, but if I don’t vote, I have no voice at all.

Prop 127 is much like going to the dentist. I have a legitimate phobia with dentists and all their tools of torture. Sometimes I feel like the choice of seeking dental care should only come when the pain is so excruciating as to overwhelm my fears. But with a little common sense, I come to the realization that line of reasoning is childish and foolish. If I keep putting it off, the pain would become intolerable and the cost of mitigation would become huge. How long do we want to suffer before we act? How much suffering can we endure tomorrow for a few fleeting moments of pleasure today?

Hey, it worked for Emperor Nero. Do you ever wonder what tune he was playing when Rome finally caught fire? Thanks to NextDoor.com, I’m voting Yes on Prop 127.

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How Forrest Gump Would View the Tax Plan

GumpI’ve taken a number of college level economics classes. I found them enlightening and enjoyed them a great deal. However, I don’t pretend to be an economist. Admittedly, I sometimes get a somewhat inflated opinion of my understanding of economics when I compare myself to others who know little of the subject, but this isn’t a piece to be focused on the current resident in the White House.

Thirty-five years ago, I founded a computer software company. I’m proud to say that over the years, it grew to become a very successful enterprise. As you might imagine, I used my knowledge of mathematics, engineering, business and … economics on the road to success. As I look back on those years, I find that much of the current “tax plan” proposed by Trump’s minions doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Aside from the fact that the lion’s share of the tax benefits go to the rich, there are other red flags that amount to nothing less than sleight of hand intended to appeal to and fool the gullible.

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Burn Baby, Burn

I remember it as if it was yesterday. The acrid smell of smoke wafted through air. The hot and humid night made sleep all but unreachable. The skyline glowed with the orange light of burning buildings. Yet, I laid there with eyes closed hoping to slip through the gates of the dream state. But it was difficult with the distant sound of machine gun fire, the rumble of tanks and armored vehicles less than a quarter mile distant. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Division’s troops had arrived, but the violence was irrepressible. The official death toll was rising, but from a reliable insider, I learned it was much higher than the public was led to believe. I was living in a war zone and frankly, it wasn’t a lot of fun.

US-RACE RIOTS-DETROIT

Near my home (AFP/Getty Images)

This wasn’t Vietnam. It wasn’t the Middle East. The year was 1967. The city was Detroit. Riots engulfed the city. A police raid on a speak-easy sparked one of the deadliest and destructive riots in the history of the United States. I was a young, married man with an expectant wife. We were afraid that if “the time” came, we’d be unable to get to the hospital. It was an exciting time.

It was a time of turmoil and tumult as our nation was being transformed and awakened. Vietnam, civil rights, a music revolution, the space age, and people were turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. I was already pretty open-minded, even for a twenty year old. But it was hard to understand what’s happening on the inside when you’re looking in from the outside. I had friends in the inner-city. I spent time in the inner-city. But the fact is … I was a young white boy of some privilege cast into a bizarre reality and the best I could do was guess about what I was seeing and hearing.

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Trump’s Trolley Kills Five

trumpyWell, America … you have murdered the trolley workers. Their blood is now on your hands. Let me be clear; a minority of Americans can rest peacefully, albeit, fearfully. They at least tried to pull the lever. They just couldn’t get enough help from their fellow Americans who “voted their consciences” or didn’t vote at all.

Ok, I get the feeling your face is dressed in confusion. “What the hell trolley is he talking about? Who died?” Let me back up and explain.

The “trolley problem” is a well-known thought experiment in the field of ethics. You remember ethics? They used to be common in the halls of government in this country.  In the trolley problem, you are confronted with a serious dilemma.

A trolley car is out of control and careening down the tracks where five workers don’t see or hear it coming. If nothing is done, the five workers will assuredly die. You see this and happen to be standing by a large lever. If you quickly pull the lever, the trolley will be directed onto another track where you see one worker who will unquestionably be killed. Do you pull the lever to save five lives at the expense of one life?

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A Death in the Family

graveNo one’s getting out alive. One of the few constants in the universe is that there is an ultimate end to everything. If we’re to believe all of the philosophical euphemisms surrounding death, we shouldn’t fear it. It comes to all things. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is inescapable. All things are ultimately buried, even if only metaphorically.

When the end comes, whether it be expected or a sudden and shocking event, the process of grieving begins.  People deal with their grief in different ways, some constructive, others not so much. In her landmark book, “On Death and Dying”, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross spoke of what she called the five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Although she directed her words to those who were dying, the five stages also apply to those forced to grieve the loss of a loved one.

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Marco Rubio Plays with Cuban Balls

Cuba Highlights (4 of 243)After more than fifty years of shear idiocy, President Obama has taken a giant step toward normalizing relations with Cuba. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has publically opposed the action. He’s definitely got more chutzpa than I could muster even after my fifth Cuba Libre. He actually stands before the cameras and spews his rubbish with a straight face. It’s a performance worthy of an Academy Award or maybe even a seat in the U.S. Senate. He’s not alone. Other two-faced politicians (John McCain for one) have expressed opposition to the move.

“It rewards the oppressive and brutal dictatorial regime of the Castro brothers” sayeth the Rubio types. “We must intensify the embargo so they’ll move toward democracy” intones the straight faced senatorial comedian. “The people of Cuba want the same freedoms we have here and without the embargo, they won’t get them” he says.

His arguments carry a lot of weight with me because I know he stands firm in his conviction that we should not do business with countries that don’t have an appropriate level of freedom and democracy. Oppress your people and you’re not doing business with us. Continue reading

Six Weeks of Communists, Libertarians, Capitalists and Socialists

I’ll avoid the conclusions; they are for you to reach. I’ll just present the observations. Over a period of six weeks, I spent my time in roughly equal parts in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Cuba proudly proclaims itself a communist state. For fifty years, it has delighted in being the booger on the lapel of Uncle Sam’s fine and festive coat. Billboards all across the island remind Cubans of their communist and socialist heritage and strength.

The Dominican Republic appears to be as libertarian as any state in our hemisphere. Government regulation is minimal. The regulation that does exist doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced unless it serves to protect the individual rights of those in power. The common man in the D.R. has individual freedom whether he likes it or not.

Puerto Rico is a “possession” of the United States and shares our capitalistic ethos, system of government and economic structure (whether the people want it or not). It is exactly as it is in any other part of the United States except that the climate and geography are completely different, the history and heritage bear little similarity the rest of the U.S., its culture, music, dance, food, etc. are Latin, it is more racially homogenous and the people speak a different language. Other than that, it’s Ames, Iowa all over again.

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