The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Brian Kemp wants his own election to fail

By now you may have heard that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who oversees elections in Georgia, and who is running for governor of Georgia this coming Tuesday, claims the Democratic Party hacked the voter registration database.

No. What happened is, when the state Democratic Party's voter protection director reached out to his office directly after being alerted to a gaping data vulnerability, he turned his own malfeasance into an attack on his opposition:

By the time Democrats reached out to the experts, Kemp’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had already been alerted to the problem on Saturday morning by David Cross of the Morrison Foerster law firm. Cross is an attorney for one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Kemp and other elections officials concerning cyber weaknesses in Georgia’s election system.

A man who claims to be a Georgia resident said he stumbled upon files in his My Voter Page on the secretary of state’s website. He realized the files were accessible. That man then reached out to one of Cross’s clients, who then put the source and Cross in touch on Friday.

The next morning, Cross called John Salter, a lawyer who represents Kemp and the secretary of state’s office. Cross also notified the FBI.

WhoWhatWhy, which exclusively reported on these vulnerabilities Sunday morning, had consulted with five computer security experts on Saturday to verify the seriousness of the situation. They confirmed that these security gaps would allow even a low-skilled hacker to compromise Georgia’s voter registration system and, in turn, the election itself. It is not known how long these vulnerabilities have existed or whether they have been exploited.

In this election and during the primaries, voters have reported not showing up in the poll books, being assigned to the wrong precinct, and being issued the wrong ballot.

All of that could be explained by a bad actor changing voter registration data.

Kemp's incompetence at securing voter registration data should be criminal. If he were a corporate executive, he could personally be sued in the EU and in other parts of the world for his negligence.

But, see, if you're running in a state where the majority of voters want your opponent to win, and you're a Republican, and you have the means and opportunity, you just bollocks up data security so badly that the entire registration process looks suspect. Then you either win, because the opposition can't vote, or you lose, and start bogus investigations to call the election's legitimacy into doubt.

This has been the Jim Crow strategy for a century and a half. That Kemp's opponent is an African-American woman with clear support from a majority of Georgians only makes Kemp's behavior more brazen.

The Republican Party can't win on the merits in most of the country, so they're throwing the game where they can. And the fact that their behavior undermines the legitimacy of elections in general is a feature, not a bug.

I've said this for 30 years: the Republican Party doesn't want to govern; they want to rule. And they are not going to give up their losing battle quietly. Nihilism doesn't care, after all.

Vote on Tuesday, if you haven't already. Enough of this shit. We have real problems to solve, and we need real people to solve them. Don't let the nihilists win.

Who will run in 2020?

We're two days from the mid-terms, but naturally pundits are thinking about what the vote will tell us about the next presidential race:

Trump’s eventual adversary confronts a daunting balancing act: He or she must be tougher than usual without being callous, mingle the right measure of pugilism with optimism, and avoid the self-examination and self-recrimination that never trap Trump.

But for starters, Trump’s Democratic opponent must emerge. And that will be tricky in a field of prospective candidates that’s about three-dozen-people large at present.

“Nobody’s ever seen anything like this,” said Jim Jordan, who initially managed John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. “The field is so big it’s duplicative. We have multiple candidates from Massachusetts. Multiple from California. Multiple Western governors. Multiple women. Multiple billionaires.” At the first debates, Jordan added, “There’s going to be a kids’ table for the kids’ table.”

Standing out will require one nonnegotiable quality: the vividness to loosen Trump’s stranglehold on the media. To that end, any serious challenger has to figure out how to tell his or her story in a riveting way.

Of course, thinking historically, all this is bunkum. Most people don't think of presidential politics as a game (though most pundits do). It really depends on how the economy looks. So, will we have an economy in two years? We'll see.

Gravely researching climate change

It turns out, cemeteries provide really good observational data on climate change:

[T]he value of this greenspace has only grown as the communities around them have densified and urbanized — leaving cemeteries as unique nature preserves. In the case of Mount Auburn, people have consciously planted diverse trees, shrubs, and flowers from all over the world and cared for them tenderly over decades or even centuries. In other cases, though, plants that might otherwise be replaced by foreign varietals can thrive under a cemetery’s more passive management style, like the prairie cemeteries of Illinois, or even the woodsy outerboroughs of New York City.

At Mount Auburn [outside Boston], a team of interdisciplinary scientists now train volunteers in phenological data collection. In the spring, they look for things like bursting buds, insect onset, and the effect of shifting timescales on migratory birds. Later in the year, they monitor the duration of autumn. To ensure accuracy, the specific trees under observation are marked throughout the cemetery; this dogwood, that gingko. And all of this data is shared with the national network. “What we know is that plants are now flowering about two weeks earlier than they did in Thoreau’s time, and trees are also leafing out about two weeks earlier,” Boston University biology professor Richard Primack told local radio station WBUR. “And we know that birds are arriving a couple of days earlier than in Thoreau’s time.” What we learn next will come from the logs Mount Auburn’s team is making now.

Just an aside, I live in an 800-meter-wide neighborhood situated between two large cemeteries. They share a population of coyotes who frequently use the streets and alleys to move between them. This is the closer of the two:

Latest dawn in years

This morning's sunrise in Chicago, at 7:26, will be the latest until 6 November 2021. It is not the latest possible sunrise; that would be the one we'll have at 7:29 on 6 November 2027 (and had on 5 November 2016).

I do not really understand the law passed in 2007 that moved our return to standard time from October to November. Who wants to wake up before dawn? Not me.

Tomorrow the sun rises at 6:28. (I will probably do the same around 8.)

Monopsony effects on workers

This morning we in the US got the news that the employment rebound that started under President Obama has continued, giving us the best employment picture in 50 years. Yet at the same time, despite robust wage growth in some places, families still feel squeezed.

The Economist suggests this may come in part from business concentration depressing wages through the same mechanism through which monopsonies increase prices:

In perfectly competitive markets, individual firms wishing to sell their widgets must charge the prevailing market price and no higher. But the situation changes when one or a few firms dominate a market. A monopolist may charge higher prices. The calculation is that consumers, faced with little choice, will buy enough of its offerings at a higher price to yield greater profits. But some sales are lost because of monopoly pricing, which represents a “deadweight loss” to society—a missed opportunity to raise total welfare. Monopolies can also stifle innovation. AT&T, America’s once-mighty telecoms firm, used its dominant position in the operation of local phone networks to overcharge consumers for service and handsets. It took the break-up of the network monopoly to clear the way for falling prices and innovation.

Just as powerful firms may use their clout to overcharge customers, they can also manipulate markets to pay lower wages. In competitive labour markets an individual employer can do little to squeeze pay, because workers can easily find better-paying jobs. But in a “monopsony”, such as a mining town with only one mine, workers have fewer options. Firms can offer wages below the competitive-market rate knowing that many workers will not be able to afford to turn them down. As with monopolies, this exercise of monopsony power boosts profits but saddles society with a deadweight loss—the underemployment of workers—as well as other costs, such as higher spending on state benefits.

To date, governments have been too focused on the harms to customers from increasing industrial concentration. A consideration of the impact on workers is overdue. Without competition, large firms become exploitative bureaucracies that are accountable to no one. Consumers and workers alike deserve better.

Witness Amazon.

I have a problem

When I moved three weeks ago, I switched a couple of bookshelves around and thought more consciously about where I put my books. For instance, I put all the books I haven't read in one place:

The problem is, this bookshelf only contains books I haven't read yet.

In fairness to myself, people gave me maybe 15% of them. And I'm pretty sure one or two are on loan.

Still...no more books until I finish these! (Unless something really interesting comes out.)

Statistics reporting is hard

No, we have not wiped out 60% of all animals, FFS:

Since Monday, news networks and social media have been abuzz with the claim that, as The Guardian among others tweeted, “humanity has wiped out 60 percent of animals since 1970”—a stark and staggering figure based on the latest iteration of the WWF’s Living Planet report.

But that isn’t really what the report showed.

Ultimately, they found that between 1970 and 2014, the size of vertebrate populations has declined by 60 percent on average. That is absolutely not the same as saying that humans have culled 60 percent of animals—a distinction that the report’s technical supplement explicitly states. “It is not a census of all wildlife but reports how wildlife populations have changed in size,” the authors write.

CityLab's article includes math, that turns out not to be difficult in the least.

The report is still alarming, of course. But not in the way some science reporters seem to believe.

Daily Parker election-year bait

CityLab discusses a University of Richmond project to map Congressional elections going back to 1840:

“Electing the House” makes the most robust and comprehensive dataset to-date of Congressional elections available in a user-friendly format, offering additional dimension of insight into the current political moment. It is the first part of a series, which may include visualizations of historical data on Senate elections in the future. Theproject features an interactive map, presenting each district color-coded based on the party that won in each Congressional election between 1840 and 2016. Toggling the option in the legend can isolate just the districts that have flipped one way or the other for each election year. (The first Congress was elected in 1788, but the researchers started with 1840 because that’s the year the data become sufficiently reliable.)

The interactive also allows users to view the data in the form of a cartogram, where each district is represented as a discrete bubble and the ones in populous metropolitan areas cluster together. This version gives a sense of the rural-urban divide in political representation over time. By clicking on a single district, the interactive allows users to explore its particular political trajectory.

The map also allows users to trace the constantly changing geography of Congressional districts—through regular redistricting and partisan gerrymandering. Below are a series of maps showing the evolution of North Carolina’s 12th district—the most gerrymandered district in America, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. “It snakes from north of Greensboro, to Winston-Salem, and then all the way down to Charlotte, spanning most of the state in the process,” writes the Post’s Christopher Ingraham. It’s been drawn up this way by Republicans to squeeze their opponents’ supporters into one Congressional district. You can see it getting skinner and more irregular over time.

Don't forget to vote next Tuesday, if you haven't already.