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June 6th, 2022:

We’ve seen this movie before

I appreciate the sentiment, but I know how this ends.

Major Republican donors, including some that have contributed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaigns, joined other conservative Texans in signing an open letter supporting congressional action to increase gun restrictions in response to the mass shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead last week.

The letter, which [was] expected to run as a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday, endorses the creation of red flag laws, expanding background checks and raising the age to purchase a gun to 21. More than 250 self-declared gun enthusiasts signed it.

“Most law enforcement experts believe these measures would make a difference,” the letter reads. “And recent polls of fellow conservatives suggest that there is strong support for such gun-safety measures.”

The letter voices support for Texas’ senior senator, John Cornyn, who has been tapped to lead bipartisan negotiations in Congress over possible gun reform measures.

“We are grateful that our Senator John Cornyn is leading efforts to address the recent tragedies in Uvalde and elsewhere across our great Country,” the letter says. “He’s the right man to lead this bipartisan effort, as he has demonstrated throughout his career.”

[…]

The letter was paid for by Todd Maclin, a former senior executive at J.P. Morgan Chase who now runs the Dallas-based finance firm Maclin Management. Maclin said he is a conservative gun owner who has been stirred to action by the shooting in Uvalde.

“These events have really motivated me and really gotten under my skin and encouraged me to support the effort that’s underway,” Maclin told The Texas Tribune. “I just felt like I needed to do something, and I also believe that there are reasonable things that can be done.”

He said he is still hearing from more conservative gun owners who are feeling a “great sense of urgency and a great need to support [Cornyn] as he does his best to address these issues.”

Maclin said the group is focusing on federal legislation, which he believes is the best avenue to passing gun safety laws and ensuring they are applied uniformly across the country. He declined to comment on the state response to the shooting or gun legislation, except to say that he hopes any federal plan led by Cornyn and passed with conservative support would be embraced by state governments.

Among the signatories are deep-pocketed Abbott supporters, including billionaires Robert Rowling, whose holding company owns Omni Hotels, and Ray L. Hunt, executive chairman of Hunt Consolidated Inc.

A decade ago it was big-money donors to the Republicans warning against making deep cuts to education and racist anti-immigration bills. We know how that has turned out. While it’s nice to see some Republican voices calling for actual legislation to curb gun violence, there are many recent examples we can point to where the likes of John Cornyn were “tapped” to lead “negotiations” on similar measures that everyone knew were doomed because Mitch McConnell would never let them pass. Who’s fooling who here?

I believe that Todd Maclin is sincere in his desire to get some modest form of gun control legislation to President Biden’s desk, just as I believed in Bill Hammond’s desire to invest in public education and push for sensible immigration reform. The problem is that Hammond didn’t have, and I strongly suspect Maclin doesn’t have, a backup plan for when the legislators he has supported and to whom he is now appealing tell him “No”, or string him along with vague promises and then just drop it when the heat is off. Is Todd Maclin going to stop supporting the Republicans that do this to him, or is he just going to shrug it off and go on as if nothing bad had happened because we’re all friends here? Like I said, I’ve seen this movie and I know how it ends. I’ll be delighted to be proven wrong, but years and years of recent history suggest I won’t be.

I’m sure they’ll evaluate themselves objectively

What could possibly go wrong?

In October, Colorado-based E3 Consulting offered a plan for how the Public Utility Commission should redesign Texas’ deregulated power market. It produced a 44-page proposal, paid for by energy giants NRG and Chicago-based Exelon.

Now the PUC — saying it wants an impartial review of the proposals — has hired E3 to analyze the plans, including its own.

A PUC contract signed May 10 shows the consulting firm will receive up to $364,000 for its review. The contract notes that E3 would create an “internal firewall” to protect against bias in the report, but the contract’s administrator for E3 is first among four authors listed on its market redesign plan.

E3 didn’t respond to a voice message or email requesting comment. The PUC, in a statement from spokesman Rich Parsons, said E3 was selected through a competitive bidding process “open to any qualified respondents and in full compliance with the state’s procurement laws and procedures.”

“Through this competitive process, it was determined E3 presents the best value to Texans for this project,” he wrote.

But energy experts said the contract casts a shadow of bias over the market redesign process.

“Can you spell conflict of interest?” said Alison Silverstein, an Austin-based energy consultant who worked for the PUC from 1995 to 2001 and with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from 2001 to 2004. “Just on the surface, apart form evaluating their own project, you’re not supposed to have the appearance of bias, if not the reality of possible bias. Most of us citizens think if you take money from someone like a generator, you are likely to favor that party’s point of view.”

[…]

When the PUC, which regulates public utilities in Texas and oversees ERCOT, sought companies to provide an independent analysis of the market proposals, only two responded: E3 and Potomac Economics, an independent market monitoring service out of Fairfax, Va.

Potomac monitors ERCOT to ensure companies don’t cheat in the wholesale power market, where power producers compete to supply the cheapest electricity.

Silverstein, the energy consultant, said unlike E3, Potomac cannot receive money from power generators or retailers because of its independent status.

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow with the University of Houston, said the requests for proposals for the independent analysis was written in a way that may have worried some analysis firms. He said it looked like the PUC was looking for a rubber stamp, a concern he said is also reflected in its contract with E3.

E3 told the PUC about its work with NRG and Exelon during the solicitation process, according to the contract, but noted that the relationship had “been terminated prior to signing this contract.”

I feel like if someone wanted to do a modern-day version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, you could quite reasonably work the entire ERCOT/PUC freeze-and-post-freeze saga in as a subplot for the Governor, though you might have to tone it down a bit so it doesn’t come off as too ridiculous. Jokes aside, the obvious solution to this particular situation is to simply disqualify E3’s proposal from consideration. There’s no conflict of interest problem if E3 isn’t being asked to judge themselves. It’s so simple that of course we’ll never do it. But since I brought up TBLWiT, here’s the video of the song you now have in your head:

You’re welcome, and may God forgive me.

The limits of Vision Zero

A long read about a tough problem.

Los Angeles was not the first U.S. city to sign on to Vision Zero: Chicago (2012), New York City (2014) and San Francisco (2014) had already adopted the Scandinavian-born safety movement. But L.A. moved quickly, revamping 18 corridors — including the Hollywood and Highland intersection — with “Vision Zero safety countermeasures” like curb extensions and protected left turn signals. In 2017 the prestigious Transportation Research Board cited the city’s effort as national model, producing a report intended “as a guide to help cities develop their own robust, data-driven Vision Zero process.”

But since 2015 the streets of Los Angeles have grown more deadly, not less. In 2021, 289 people died on L.A. roadways, a 20-year high. “Is Vision Zero a failure?” a headline in the Los Angeles Times recently asked.

Residents of other American cities might pose the same question. In New York City, traffic deaths in 2021 were the highest since committing to Vision Zero seven years earlier. Portland, Oregon, saw more traffic deaths last year than it had since 1990, and Austin set a new all-time record (both became Vision Zero adherents in 2015). Deaths are surging in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as well. In fact, it’s hard to find any Vision Zero cities where traffic deaths have declined. (A rare exception is Hoboken, New Jersey, which went three years without a single fatality.)

While some have blamed Covid-19-related societal disruption for the growing toll, U.S. cities were already struggling to keep traffic fatalities from rising, let alone reducing them, before the pandemic hit.

Vision Zero’s track record in the U.S. contrasts sharply with Europe, where road deaths have been drifting downward for years. In 2019, Helsinki had exactly three traffic fatalities — and none was a pedestrian or cyclist. For comparison, the capital of Finland has roughly as many residents as Las Vegas, a Vision Zero city where 304 people died on the road that same year.

Despite Vision Zero being one of the hottest ideas in traffic safety, its European success has not translated across the Atlantic. Current trends suggest that is unlikely to change, absent a fundamental rethink around policy implementation.

“Vision Zero had something of a honeymoon phase,” said Leah Shahum, director of the nonprofit Vision Zero Network. “Now we’re butting up against the system.”

The system, for US cities and road networks includes streets designed to maximize automotive traffic flow, national vehicle safety standards that don’t take pedestrian safety into account, local obstacles to implementing various traffic-calming projects (see, for example, the resistance to the West 11th Street project), a lack of speed and red light cameras, and more. The predictable result is more traffic fatalities than we should have. Go read the rest.