HomeServe

I posted about Exterior Electrical Insurance just over a year ago.

Briefly, a firm called HomeServe – which has been fined for misrepresentation in the UK – was trying to convince us to pay a small monthly fee to cover repairs to electrical power components that virtually never need repair.

We just got another pitch on behalf of HomeServe from Penelec. The fee is a bit larger, six dollars per month, but the covered components are still weatherhead, insulator, riser, meter base and service entrance conductor. The upper limit of coverage is $3,000, which would require several repeat visits of replacing everything. They don’t cover storm damage, accidents or negligence.

We’ve had our house for over a decade, so the $720 we’ve saved by not making these payments would be more enough to replace all those components ourselves.

The Ripoff Report has a recent entry on HomeServe’s failure to honor their water and sewer insurance:

My husband has spent hours on the phone having each HS person he has talked to tell him that they would not cover the problem. Evidently, the next time we get sewage backing up into our house, they might pay for it however.

 

Making Lives Matter

Last Saturday, players of the Minnesota Lynx, a Women’s National Basketball Association team, warmed up wearing dark shirts with white lettering. On the front, “CHANGE starts with US” was in bold above, “Justice and Accountability.” On the back, “Philando Castile” above, “Alton Sterling,” above the Dallas Police Department shield, above “Black Lives Matter.”

As reported in the Minnesota Star-Tribune, team captains Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen had appeared at a pre-game news conference, where Brunson had explained,

“In the wake of the tragedies that have continued to plague our society, we have decided it’s important to take a stand and raise our voices. Racial profiling is a problem. Senseless violence is a problem. The divide is way too big between our communities and those who have vowed to protect and serve us.

“ … Racism and unjust phobic fear and disregard of black females is very real. I’m scared for my brothers and sisters, my nieces and nephews, my future son or daughter.

“I’m scared I can’t teach them to stand up for themselves, to be young, proud, strong people.”

League MVP Maya Moore had emphasized,

“We do not, in any way, condone violence against the men and women who serve on our police force. Senseless violence and retaliation will not bring us peace. … One aspect of our team’s culture is accountability. It’s kept us strong over the years. We, as leaders, try to hold ourselves and each other accountable as an organization.

“We as a community, especially our leaders, have accountability in owning our weaknesses and really humble ourselves to realize the conviction that we must improve the realities of justice, freedom and safety for all people. This is a human issue and we need to speak out for change together.”

The sentiments do not seem controversial, but the Star-Trib also reported that four Minneapolis police officers working off-duty as security immediately walked off the job. Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the local union later said, “I commend them for it … If [the players] are going to keep their stance, all officers may refuse to work there.”

In the late 1970s, I read a Washington Post article in which a black motorist was stopped by Prince Georges County police, and thanked them for not shooting him. While driving to and from a meeting on Monday, July 11th, I listened to discussions of police shootings on the Diane Rehm and Kojo Nnamdi shows on WAMU radio. Nnamdi interviewed Chief Hank Stawinski of PG County Police, who talked a good game about community policing, but claimed that video alone was not enough to really know what happened in either case. In Nnamdi’s next segment, people were obviously believing what they saw in the video.

During Rehm’s show, Washington Post reporter Kimberly Kindy asserted that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile had been killed for no reason, while Criminology Professor David Klinger insisted that Sterling was resisting arrest, though admitting that that wasn’t, by itself, justification for being shot. Klinger also is a former patrolman, a senior fellow of the Police Foundation, and author of Kill Zone: A Cop’s Eye View of Deadly Force.

Ta Nehisi Coates noted that most people think of this as an issue of good or bad policing, while the deeper question is: why it is that the police are the major instrument for dealing with the African-American community? Coates feels that with armed police responding in place of social workers, health care workers, etc, bad things are bound to happen. Klinger agreed with that.

Coates’ point reminded me of Economics Professor Mark Blyth’s assertion that with neoliberal austerity politics, the British working class has become a group to be policed. “And you make that move and you basically take the bottom 30% of the income distribution and you say, We don’t care what happens to you. You’re now something to be policed. You’re now something to have your behaviours changed. … They’re there to be policed and excluded in their housing estates, so that you feel safe in your neighborhoods, …”

Except that in America, blacks have been a group to be policed in both good times and bad. Claiming Black Lives Matter has led to the furious counter assertions that All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, meaning of course, “Our tribe matters more than yours.” The system is set up so that police can detain, choke, rough up and shoot black people virtually at their discretion. The patrol officers learn it from their sergeants, who learn it from their lieutenants, and it is reinforced by judicial decisions. Having black police, black officials, or even a black President hasn’t changed that system. Only widespread use of video has made it obvious, which is why police urge that we not believe what we see in the video. Even though it makes their jobs more and more dangerous, and as seen in Dallas makes them targets, they will continue to follow orders that are never captured on video, and perhaps never even spoken, only learned by experience.

Votemon: Go

The media is like an app that allows voters to see what they want in the presidential campaigns. In the Trump campaign, the media shows us either a decisive “master persuader” or a racist scaremonger. In the Clinton campaign, the media shows us either an experienced liberal politician, or an unrepentant corporate shill and liar. For a while it showed us a fire-breathing political revolutionary, but now we are seeing a well-behaved sheepdog.

It won’t really make a difference in how I vote, but I am disappointed that Sanders has settled for so little to endorse Clinton. I suspect that the result will be passage of the TPP, and possibly another draining war.

Know Brexit

As divisive as the presidential candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been in the United States, Brexit – the referendum for Britain to leave the European Union – has been in Europe. By about 52% to 48%, Brits voted to leave, which stunned world financial markets, and led to the resignations of British political leaders in both the Remain and Leave camps.

It also led to widespread characterisation of Leave supporters as anything from stodgy, old nativists to racist troglodytes, and Remain supporters as anything from naive liberals to exploitative elites. By and large, the establishment media has lined up to demonize the Leave vote. Over at non-establishment The Young Turks, Cenk Uygur admitted he was sympathetic to Remain, though he understood the frustration that led to Leave prevailing.

This casting of opponents as fools mirrors the Trump phenomenon closely enough that Brown University economics professor Mark Blyth has quickly become an internet celebrity by calling the Brexit vote a version of, “Trumpism,” and explaining what it all means in his native Scots brogue. There are currently several youtubes of his Athens Interview , where he eventually moves on to the problems in Greece, and of his various anti-Austerity lectures.

In, The strange death of liberal politics, for The New Statesman, philosopher and lead book reviewer John Gray also tackles Brexit. I am not familiar with Gray, but he seems to have traveled the ideological path from Left to Right, thence to some sort of anti-neoliberal Green:

As it is being used today, “populism” is a term of abuse applied by establishment thinkers to people whose lives they have not troubled to understand. A revolt of the masses is under way, but it is one in which those who have shaped policies over the past twenty years are more remote from reality than the ordinary men and women at whom they like to sneer. The interaction of a dysfunctional single currency and destructive austerity policies with the financial crisis has left most of Europe economically stagnant and parts of it blighted with unemployment on a scale unknown since the Thirties. At the same time European institutions have been paralysed by the migrant crisis. Floundering under the weight of problems it cannot solve or that it has even created, the EU has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that it lacks the capacity for effective action and is incapable of reform. … Europe’s image as a safe option has given way to the realisation that it is a failed experiment. A majority of British voters grasped this fact, which none of our establishments has yet understood.

If that doesn’t remind you enough of the Trump movement, consider the following:

… Telling voters who were considering voting Leave that they were stupid, illiterate, xenophobic and racist was never going to be an effective way of persuading them to change their views. The litany of insults voiced by some leaders of the Remain campaign expressed their sentiments towards millions of ordinary people. It did not occur to these advanced minds that their contempt would be reciprocated. …

And on to the EU criticism, which sounds a lot like Blyth’s:

Free movement of labour between countries with vastly different wage levels, working conditions and welfare benefits is a systemic threat to the job opportunities and living standards of Labour’s core supporters. Labour cannot admit this, because that would mean the EU is structured to make social democracy impossible. …This used to be understood … . Today the fact goes almost unnoticed, except by those who have to suffer the consequences.

And there’s the rub. Like the US under the Obama presidency, the EU has seen some very welcome social reforms. If you happen to be in the upper middle, comfortable classes, you may be loath to challenge the status quo. If you are closer to the edge, or already in desperate circumstances, you probably agree with Tyler Cowen, who saw the Brexit vote and the Trump/Sanders votes as, “the only lever,” available to register discontent.

Of course there are other levers, but they are harder to apply amidst all minutia of life. The elites and comfortable folk are playing a dangerous game by relying on more circus and less bread to keep it all going.

Tesla’s Autopilot Crash

Though expensive, and greatly subsidized by tax money, Tesla’s Model S is a great series of electric vehicles. They are a significant improvement to the Roadster, and offer good range, great performance, and distinctive styling. Clean Car Calculator tells us that the Model S 40 would be responsible for about half the greenhouse gases as a comparably-priced Audi or BMW, though about 30% more than a Toyota Prius. Tesla didn’t sell many 40s, so we have to assume the 60s and 90s are comparable.

As reported almost everywhere, though, an Ohio man driving a Model S on a Florida highway was killed when he drove on autopilot into and mostly under the trailer section of a tractor trailer truck that was turning onto the highway ahead. Neither the driver nor the autopilot engaged the brakes. There have been contradictory reports explaining why.

The first reports I read speculated that the white trailer would have been hard for either the driver or the autopilot to notice against the brightly-lit sky. Even if he missed the trailer, I found it hard to believe that a human driver would not see the side or back of the cab of the truck. Or that the car driver would fail to notice the engine noise and the exhaust smoke as the truck accelerated. Humans are programmed to see, hear and smell danger.

Another report speculates that the autopilot may have interpreted the flat surface of the trailer as an overhead highway sign, which it is programmed to disregard. Given that highway signs are mounted much higher than the surface of a trailer, the autopilot parameters would have to have been really boneheaded to allow such a mistake.

The truck driver claims he could hear a movie playing as the car went through the trailer, but as he is likely to be cited for failure to grant right-of-way, he may not be the most impartial witness. Reuters quoted the first witness on the scene, who owns the adjacent property, saying there was no movie playing, “There was no music. I was at the car. Right at the car,” but a later witness said he could hear the movie playing and troopers said they found a portable player still playing a Harry Potter film. Perhaps the first witness simply happened along during a quiet part of the film.

While many folk are exploiting the crash to criticize autonomous cars as fatally-flawed, Tesla reminds drivers that their autopilot system is still in beta testing, and that the autopilot ran 130 million miles before failure, which is better than the human-piloted average.

Gizmodo doubles down on more technology. In, Fatal Tesla Crash Proves Full Autonomy Is the Only Solution for Self-Driving Cars, they assert that, “If the tractor-trailer had also been fully autonomous—heck, if both cars simply had the very basic connected vehicle tech that the NHTSA is making standard on all cars—the truck would have communicated with the Tesla long before any potential crash.”

As a grumpy old man, I’m not a strong believer in self-driving cars. I can see that certain tools might have their place, but even if my rental car has a backup screen, I still use the rear view mirror just to be sure. I see this particular accident as an example of a gung-ho, tech-savvy driver relying too much on a tool that wasn’t yet good enough to trust with his life.

Strongman, Weakman

McClatchy asks, Is Donald Trump just another Latin American strongman?

The politics of real estate mogul Trump may be the polar opposite of Chávez’s socialism, but experts say he uses the same tools to charm the public that Chávez and other charismatic strongmen have. Political correctness is thrown out and replaced with brash talk. They paint themselves as the only leaders capable of returning their countries to former glory.

Francisco Mora, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere from 2009 to 2013, calls Trump the “North American version” of the caudillo.

The specifics may be different, Mora said, but the general outline is the same: the charisma, the polarizing personality, the stoking of fear and the anti-establishment message.

“Trump is clearly in the camp of a populist demagogue; that is to say he makes all kinds of outlandish promises.” said Mora, who is the the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. “Like caudillos of Latin America, he’s extremely divisive. The opposition is not the opposition, it’s the enemy. It’s the demonization of the other.”

The best politicians have the ability to energize large groups of people. But Mora said Trump and caudillos connected on a deeper level. They can mesmerize an audience. They develop an almost messiah-like quality, transcending the institutions they charge are corrupt.

I called Trump a Strongman back in September 2015 , and I still suspect the reason he is connecting has to do with supporters who want an alternative or at least to make a protest vote. A lot of comfortable establishment intellectuals have dismissed Trump supporters (and Brexit supporters) as nativists and racists, but there is no doubt that the current governing paradigm is to make empty promises to a lot of the people that used to make a decent living working with their hands.

I also noted that Trump needed backing in the oligarchy, but some of them have come out and said that they could work equally well with Trump or Hillary Clinton, which means that nothing substantive would be likely to change for the people that need it.

Just For Laughs

One of my relatives was complaining on Facebook about laugh tracks on sitcoms, and I suggested we need laugh tracks for the presidential election. Then I saw that 3QuarksDaily, which is looking for donations, had posted an article comparing our political theatre to the new comedy film, Central Intelligence, with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. In 3Quark’s estimation, the violent Calvin (Johnson) stands in for the Republicans while fraidy-cat Bob (Hart) represents the Democrats.

Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Central Intelligence and Why Gun Laws Don’t Change 

If the differences between Calvin and Bob are played for laughs in Central Intelligence, the corresponding differences between Democrats and Republicans in reality are similarly played for entertainment value. For example, Americans are wildly entertained by Democrats and Republicans arguing about gun control as if the two parties have meaningfully different principles. However, while Americans soak in vitriolic arguments via cable news and social media, the two parties have surreptitiously achieved their actual combined goal: to do nothing. After all, why would Democrats pursue legislation like an ill defined “assault weapons ban” that not only will never get through Congress, but even if it did, it wouldn’t make a dent in gun-related homicides? And why would Republicans, those freedom-loving patriots, push back on restricting gun sales to people on the terrorist watch list? If it doesn’t make sense it’s because, like Central Intelligence, it wasn’t designed to make sense–it was designed to entertain.

In fact, while Facebook homies post any number of articles about impending legal action over voter suppression, primary vote fraud, and the email server scandal – none of those garner any mention on mainstream media. Instead they take down Trump, or Bernie Bros, or Brexit.

In TomDispatch, John Feffer looks beyond the entertainment and offers an explanation of why Donald Trump seems like the way out for American people that still work with their hands, and get no consideration from either party:

Tomgram: John Feffer, Donald Trump and America B

Falling behind economically and feeling betrayed by politicians on both sides of the aisle, America B might have moved to the left if the United States had a strong socialist tradition. In the 2016 primary campaign, many of the economically anxious did, in fact, support Bernie Sanders, particularly the younger offspring of America A fearful of being deported to America B. Unlike Europe B, however, America B has always been more about rugged individualism than class solidarity. Its denizens would rather buy a lottery ticket and pray for a big payout than rely on a handout from Washington (Medicare and Social Security aside). Donald Trump, politically speaking, is their Powerball ticket.

Above all, the inhabitants of America B are angry. They’re disgusted with politics as usual in Washington and the hypocritical, sanctimonious political elite that goes with it. They’re incensed by how the wealthy have effectively seceded from American society with their gated estates and offshore accounts. And they’ve focused their resentment on those they see as having taken their jobs: immigrants, people of color, women. They’re so desperate for someone who “tells it like it is” that they’ll look the other way when it comes to Donald Trump’s inextricable links to the very elite who did so much to widen the gap between the two Americas in the first place.

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