Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Last Call For A Power Play In Puerto Rico

As millions in Puerto Rico remain without power, the Trump regime is turning to private industry to restore the power grid on the island.  The Senate is expected to finish up a $36.5 billion disaster relief package for Florida, Texas, California and Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands this week, and the biggest recipient of Puerto Rico's power grid contract, some $300 million to start with, is going to...a two-person company in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown.

For the sprawling effort to restore Puerto Rico’s crippled electrical grid, the territory’s state-owned utility has turned to a two-year-old company from Montana that had just two full-time employees on the day Hurricane Maria made landfall.

The company, Whitefish Energy, said last week that it had signed a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to repair and reconstruct large portions of the island’s electrical infrastructure. The contract is the biggest yet issued in the troubled relief effort.

Whitefish said Monday that it has 280 workers in the territory, using linemen from across the country, most of them as subcontractors, and that the number grows on average from 10 to 20 people a day. It said it was close to completing infrastructure work that will energize some of the key industrial facilities that are critical to restarting the local economy.

The power authority, also known as PREPA, opted to hire Whitefish rather than activate the “mutual aid” arrangements it has with other utilities. For many years, such agreements have helped U.S. utilities — including those in Florida and Texas recently — to recover quickly after natural disasters.

The unusual decision to instead hire a tiny for-profit company is drawing scrutiny from Congress and comes amid concerns about bankrupt Puerto Rico’s spending as it seeks to provide relief to its 3.4 million residents, the great majority of whom remain without power a month after the storm.

“The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish,” said Susan F. Tierney, a former senior official at the Energy Department and state regulatory agencies. “I’m scratching my head wondering how it all adds up.”

It adds up because Zinke wanted to bring home the bacon for his home state.  Guy still thinks he's a Congressman and of course this is a crapload of money awarded in a no-bid process because "emergency".

Whitefish Energy is based in Whitefish, Mont., the home town of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Its chief executive, Andy Techmanski, and Zinke acknowledge knowing one another — but only, Zinke’s office said in an email, because Whitefish is a small town where “everybody knows everybody.” One of Zinke’s sons “joined a friend who worked a summer job” at one of Techmanski’s construction sites, the email said. Whitefish said he worked as a “flagger.”

Zinke’s office said he had no role in Whitefish securing the contract for work in Puerto Rico. Techmanski also said Zinke was not involved.

Techmanski said in an interview that the contract emerged from discussions between his company and the utility rather than from a formal bidding process. He said he had been in contact with the utility two weeks before Maria “discussing the ‘what if’ scenarios” of hurricane recovery. In the days after the hurricane, he said, “it started to make sense that there was a need here for our services and others.”

Just a total coincidence, I'm sure.

The scale of the disaster in Puerto Rico is far larger than anything Whitefish has handled. The company has won two contracts from the Energy Department, including $172,000 to replace a metal pole structure and splice in three miles of new conductor and overhead ground wire in Arizona.

Shortly before Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, Whitefish landed its largest federal contract, a $1.3 million deal to replace and upgrade parts of a 4.8-mile transmission line in Arizona. The company — which was listed in procurement documents as having annual revenue of $1 million — was given 11 months to complete the work, records show.

Yeah, these guys are the best experts in restoring power in the entire country, two guys whose biggest ever project took 11 months to fix five miles of power lines in Arizona when Puerto Rico has tens of thousands of downed transmission and distribution lines.

But sure.  These guys will help Puerto Rico get the lights on, as the island heads into its second miserable month without power, water, sewage, and hope.  Did I mention Zinke's son worked for these guys?

Totally not relevant, I'm sure.

They're not even pretending anymore that it isn't all about the graft and the grift.

It's About Suppression, Con't

The evidence continues to mount that Republican voter suppression tactics were what sealed the deal for Donald Trump last year, especially in Wisconsin.  GOP voter suppression laws were extremely effective in the Badger State, as MoJo's Ari Berman investigates, and there's no reason to believe it won't continue to work in 2018 and 2020.

Republicans said the ID law was necessary to stop voter fraud, blaming alleged improprieties at the polls in Milwaukee for narrow losses in the 2000 and 2004presidential elections. But when the measure was challenged in court, the state couldn’t present a single case of voter impersonation that the law would have stopped. 
“It is absolutely clear that [the law] will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes,” Judge Lynn Adelman wrote in a 2014 decisionstriking down the law. Adelman’s ruling was overturned by a conservative appeals court panel, which called Wisconsin’s law “materially identical” to a voter ID law in Indiana upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008, even though Wisconsin’s law was much stricter. The panel said the state had “revised the procedures” to make it easier for voters to obtain a voter ID, which reduced “the likelihood of irreparable injury.” Many more rounds of legal challenges ensued, but the law was allowed to stand for the 2016 election. 
After the election, registered voters in Milwaukee County and Madison’s Dane County were surveyed about why they didn’t cast a ballot. Eleven percent cited the voter ID law and said they didn’t have an acceptable ID; of those, more than half said the law was the “main reason” they didn’t vote. According to the study’s author, University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Kenneth Mayer, that finding implies that between 12,000 and 23,000 registered voters in Madison and Milwaukee—and as many as 45,000 statewide—were deterred from voting by the ID law. “We have hard evidence there were tens of thousands of people who were unable to vote because of the voter ID law,” he says. 
Its impact was particularly acute in Milwaukee, where nearly two-thirds of the state’s African Americans live, 37 percent of them below the poverty line. Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the nation, divided between low-income black areas and middle-class white ones. It was known as the “Selma of the North” in the 1960s because of fierce clashes over desegregation. George Wallace once said that if he had to leave Alabama, “I’d want to live on the south side of Milwaukee.” 
Neil Albrecht, Milwaukee’s election director, believes that the voter ID law and other changes passed by the Republican Legislature contributed significantly to lower turnout. Albrecht is 55 but seems younger, with bookish tortoise-frame glasses and salt-and-pepper stubble. (“I looked 12 until I became an election administrator,” he joked.) At his office in City Hall with views of the Milwaukee River, Albrecht showed me a color-coded map of the city’s districts, pointing out the ones where turnout had declined the most, including Anthony’s. Next to his desk was a poster that listed “Acceptable Forms of Photo ID.” 
“I would estimate that 25 to 35 percent of the 41,000 decrease in voters, or somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 voters, likely did not vote due to the photo ID requirement,” he said later. “It is very probable that between the photo ID law and the changes to voter registration, enough people were prevented from voting to have changed the outcome of the presidential election in Wisconsin.” 
A post-election study by Priorities USA, a Democratic super-PAC that supported Clinton, found that in 2016, turnout decreased by 1.7 percent in the three states that adopted stricter voter ID laws but increased by 1.3 percent in states where ID laws did not change. Wisconsin’s turnout dropped 3.3 percent. If Wisconsin had seen the same turnout increase as states whose laws stayed the same, “we estimate that over 200,000 more voters would have voted in Wisconsin in 2016,” the study said. These “lost voters”—those who voted in 2012 and 2014 but not 2016—”skewed more African American and more Democrat” than the overall voting population. Some academics criticized the study’s methodology, but its conclusions were consistent with a report from the Government Accountability Office, which found that strict voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee had decreased turnout by roughly 2 to 3 percent, with the largest drops among black, young, and new voters. 
According to a comprehensive study by MIT political scientist Charles Stewart, an estimated 16 million people—12 percent of all voters—encountered at least one problem voting in 2016. There were more than 1 million lost votes, Stewart estimates, because people ran into things like ID laws, long lines at the polls, and difficulty registering. Trump won the election by a total of 78,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

There's little doubt anymore that Trump's electoral college victory happened because Republicans stacked the deck at the state level to make it more difficult for black voters.  2016 was the first election where these laws were in effect in a number of states like Wisconsin, and they achieved their goal: to disenfranchise more than a million voters, primarily Democratic voters.

It worked.  It will work again in 2018 and 2020 unless Democrats get people out to the polls and fight these laws now.

So far, they are doing nothing.

Mayor May Not Be An Exciting Race

Cincinnati is one of several metropolitan cities electing mayors in November 2017, but unlike New York City, Chicago, Boston, or Los Angeles, the Cincinnati races for Mayor and for City Council are kind of boring at least if you take the word of Jason Williams at the Enquirer.

No one seems to have the exact answer why city voters are snoozing so far. Based on conversations, here are five potential reasons why voters are feeling blah: 
1. No defining issue 
This is certainly the case for the City Council race. The Children's Hospital expansionis arguably the defining issue in the mayor's race between Democrats John Cranley and Yvette Simpson. Nonetheless, 2017 is nothing like four years ago, when the future of the streetcar was on the line in the election. In fairness, the streetcar could be one of the most divisive issues in city history, and it's hard to top the energy and emotional investment poured into it. But even then, voter turnout was just 29 percent.
2. Trump fatigue

Are voters taking a breather after last year's intense presidential election? The energy around the Donald Trump resistance has subsided since all the marches and protests locally and nationally early this year. Two council candidates told PX they're sensing voters are tired of hearing about politics and are in need of a breather before the 2018 midterms heat up. 
3. Meh about top of ticket 
Neither mayoral candidate has really given voters a really strong reason to vote for them. Mayor Cranley gets things done, but his abrasive personality has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Cranley's campaign has focused on touting his record, but he's not offered any new big plans for the future. Simpson has gotten little done in nearly six years on city council, and her puzzling decision on the Children's Hospital expansion in August has raised serious questions about her ability to lead. She also hasn't presented any solid, new plans. 
4. City's going in right direction 
Conversely, almost everyone PX talked to said they believe voters generally feel like the city is in a good place and heading in the right direction. There are polls out there showing that, but PX is skeptical of all polling. Despite all the childish infighting at City Hall, Cranley and this council have overseen the arrival of GE at The Banks; made a commitment to public safety; improved basic services such as street paving and garbage collection; and fixed the pension system. In addition, someone pointed out we just drew 1 million people to Downtown for the Blink light show – and that's said to be record attendance for a weekend-long event here. 
5. Under-the-radar council candidates 
Insiders had expectations of an exciting race, considering it's the first since council terms moved from two to four years. But it hasn't come to pass. It's not a real deep field of serious nonincumbents. There have been few intriguing story lines. First-time candidate Seth Maney has stood out. The first openly gay Republican to run for council has gone after openly gay Democratic incumbent Chris Seelbach for making too big a deal of identity politics. Democratic candidate Michelle Dillingham has talked openly about overcoming a heroin addiction. But other than that, most nonincumbents seem content to fly under the radar.

Mostly, all sides want to put the Sam DuBose shooting behind the city.  Cranley certainly isn't going to bring it up and risk pissing off the CPD, and Yvette Simpson isn't going to bring it up for the same reason.  Frankly, nobody wants to engage on the injustice of this.  As far as both mayoral candidates are concerned, they've tried their best.

But remember too that Cincinnati is a town where the mayor can't really do much of anything without the City Council and the City Manager.  When County Prosecutor Joe Deters gave up on a third trial in July, this issue simply went away for both candidates other than a couple of gripes.

If I had to pick, it would be Yvette Simpson.  Cranley had his shot and he didn't exactly cover himself in accolades, while Simpson actually has gotten things done on the City Council.  Ironically, it's the fact that Cranley was much more effective on City Council 12 years ago than he is as Mayor now that remains the main argument against him getting a second term.

Go figure.


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