The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Economics 101; or, why taxi fares are regulated

Yesterday, a man reportedly threw himself in front of a CTA train at the Fullerton El stop, shutting down the three busiest lines in the system during the morning rush hour. Commuters faced hours-long delays and an already at-capacity bus system struggled to adapt to the demand.

So did Lyft and Uber, as people found out. Lyft presented one of my friends with a $75 fare to go six kilometers; she wound up taking a bus and suffering through a two-hour commute. (I wasn't affected because I had the option of walking to work yesterday.)

Chicago's City Hall is outraged:

"It is unfortunate that at least two ride share companies chose to take advantage of this morning’s difficult commuter situation," said Lilia Charcon, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection spokeswoman.

But that's their business model. If demand goes up faster than supply, prices rise.

Graph: Ray Bromley.

The only way to stop that from happening is through regulation. Like the way we regulate taxis. But then there is no way to get a taxi when demand goes up like it did yesterday, because they're all in use.

Welcome to economics.

Noted, with sadness

I'm back from the UK, and I hope my laundry will be done soon because my body thinks it's 1:30 in the morning.

I did want to note the horror in Virginia over the weekend, and James Fallows' observations about the President's abject failure to respond appropriately:

Donald Trump had an opportunity yesterday to show that he was more than the ignorant, impulsive, reckless opportunist he appeared to be during the election. To show, that is, that the  burdens and responsibilities of unmatched international power had in fact sobered him, and made him aware of his obligations to the nation as a whole.

Of course, he failed.

And those who stand with him, now, cannot claim the slightest illusion about what they are embracing.

It was so tempting, being at O'Hare with my passport and a packed bag, just to hop on another plane...

Why can't we have these things in the U.S.?

I'm on a train hurtling through the English countryside at 200 km/h and using WiFi.

Seriously, why can't we have a train like this back home? I mean, some Amtrak routes have WiFi, and Acela maxes out at 240 km/h between Boston and New Haven, Conn. But that's it. Chicago to Milwaukee trains plod along at half that speed, and the trains to St. Louis are even slower (and frequently delayed by freight traffic).

Where's the President's infrastructure investment plan that we've heard so much about?

Nuanced thinking is not his strength

The Washington Post today published transcripts of President Trump's late-January calls with Mexican president Enrique Peña-Nieto and Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull.

Most press reports today focus on his statements to Peña-Nieto that make it clear the border wall is complete bullshit. But I think we already knew that; this just puts it in Trump's own words.

On the other hand, I found the Turnbull call fascinating because it's clear Trump doesn't understand the important nuance of Australia's policy against accepting refugees who arrive by boat. Turnbull tries repeatedly to get Trump to see the point, but all Trump cares about is that the Obama Administration agreed to take 1,250 refugees from Australia in exchange for an equal number of Central American refugees—a "bad deal," according to Trump.

It's hard to pull out a short bit of the exchange that shows the problem simply. The issue is, Australia does not, under any circumstance, admit refugees who arrive by boat:

TURNBULL: The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat. So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a [Nobel] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.

TRUMP: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? No, I know, they come from certain regions. I get it.

TURNBULL: No, let me explain why. The problem with the boats it that you are basically outsourcing your immigration program to people smugglers and also you get thousands of people drowning at sea.

This is not hard to understand. Not hard at all.

But Trump "knows" that the only reason to prevent some people and not others from entering the country is because they're "bad hombres." ("Bad wallabies?") Because that's how he thinks. And he's incapable, even in a semi-private call with another world leader, of seeing another point of view.

Shortly after the part I quoted above, Trump completely loses his patience and essentially hangs up on Turnbull. From Trump's perspective, if he honors the deal, he'll "be seen as a weak and ineffective leader in my first week by these people." Never mind that, as Turnbull points out, there's really no downside: Trump can refuse to admit anyone, he can blame Obama, whatever.

After reading this, I wonder if Trump hung up on Turnbull because the Australian PM made an irrefutable point that undermined Trump's basic premises. Since Trump can never be wrong, Turnbull must be the problem.

We weren't wrong about Trump two years ago. He just doesn't have the stuff for this job. No surprise there. But it's interesting to see how he behaves one-on-one with his peers, and what his priorities are up close. It's sad, really.

How to destroy democracy through bad software

Via Bruce Schneier, last week the hacker convention DefCon hosted an event at which every single electronic voting machine tested got pwned within minutes:

Also, organizers revealed that many of these machines arrived with their voter records intact, sold on by county voting authorities who hadn't wiped them first.

While many people at the Voter Hacking Village zeroed in on the weak mechanical lock covering access to the machine's USB port, Synack worked on two open USB ports right on the back. No lock picking was necessary.

The team plugged in a mouse and a keyboard -- which didn't require authentication -- and got out of the voting software to standard Windows XP just by pressing "control-alt-delete." The same thing you do to force close a program can be used to hack an election.

Remember, Russian interference in the 2016 election wasn't designed to throw the election to Trump (though that was a "nice to have" for them), it was designed to reduce the public's faith in the entire Democratic system. I'm glad American voting machine manufacturers are helping them.

Don't do it, man!

President Clinton's chief of staff John Podesta has simple advice for President Trump's new chief of staff, John Kelly:

Don’t take the job.

Kelly, who has rendered extraordinary service and sacrifice to the nation, just signed up for what may truly be an impossible mission: bringing discipline, order and strategic focus to the chaos that is the Trump White House.

To have any chance of succeeding, he will have to accomplish three extraordinary tasks, all at odds with President Trump’s instincts.

First, discipline.

Kelly is walking into a White House that looks more like a cock fight than an episode of “The West Wing.” (See Mooch, you can use that word without being profane.) The White House culture will have to be shaken to its core. Kelly must be able to fire anyone at will, including to enforce a no-tolerance policy for behavior unbecoming a senior government official. Scaramucci’s departure Monday is a good start, but Kelly will have to keep a tight rein on a White House staff that is used to few boundaries. And if there is going to be an exception for Trump’s relatives, Kelly should get an explicit commitment that even Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump report through him — no end arounds.

What an interesting year this has turned out to be.

Chan eil iad mar a tha thu

Scottish authorities are making it difficult for Donald Trump to expand his money-losing golf course outside Aberdeen:

Two Scottish government agencies—the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage, a conservation agency—say they will object to the Trump Organization’s plans to build a second 18-hole golf course at Aberdeen, known as the Trump International Golf Links. If they succeed in killing this expansion, it will be a major setback for Trump and raise doubts about the future profitability of the whole venture.

Industry experts say the value of many of Trump’s golf resorts is not in the daily management of the course itself but rather in the development and sale of housing. And according to the 2008 master plan that Trump convinced local planning officials to accept, he needs to build two courses before he is allowed to break ground on the profitable housing development. 

But with the Trump Organization back to trying to get the second golf course built, Scottish regulators are making the case that Trump apparently doesn’t fully understand the development limitations. According to the Guardian, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency is objecting to the Aberdeen expansion on the grounds that the Trump Organization’s plans for managing sewage are inadequate. Scottish Natural Heritage, meanwhile, says the company’s expansion plans don’t take into account the fragility of the nearby dunes and how they may affect the course as they shift—already a recurring problem on the first course, where greens are strafed by mini-sandstorms. 

It turns out, Scots are really hard to bully, and (as the headline above says), they really do not like him.

Why did Trump meet Putin alone?

The Post's Aaron Blake has three possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive:

1. There is something nefarious going on

If there is something nefarious going on, a private, undisclosed conversation that was reportedly out of earshot of other world leaders would be a great place to do it. And given the Russian government's and Trump's track records, it's not like we're going to get a straight answer on what they talked about.

2. Trump is oblivious to how this might be perceived

I've framed many of Trump's actions under the rubric of Adam Carolla's “Stupid or Liar” theory before. This reason would be the “stupid” part of that equation.

3. Trump is simply addicted to causing controversy and/or sees it as a GOP base play

[A]t this point, Trump and his team have to be wondering: What's the payoff? What is he really getting out of it? Trump's approval rating is the lowest in modern presidential history, the GOP-controlled Congress hasn't passed any signature legislation, his party split on one of his major promises on the health-care bill, and all Trump has to show for it is a mostly intact group of Republican voters who say they still like him.

I'm betting on all three, though #2 may be the root cause.

The End is Nigh?

The Post's Dana Milbank thinks that President Trump's polling numbers—already the lowest for any president since polling began 70 years ago—are about to get worse:

I asked The Post’s polling chief, Scott Clement, to run a regression analysis testing how views of the economy shape overall support for Trump when other variables such as party are held constant. The result was powerful: People who approve of his handling of the economy are 40 or 50 percentage points more likely to approve of him overall. While views of the economy closely correlate with partisanship, this means, all things being equal, that Trump’s overall approval rating should drop four or five points for each 10-point drop in views of his economic performance. Because Trump supporters are largely unconcerned with his personal antics, economic woes — not the Russia scandal or zany tweets — are what would doom Trump in public opinion.

The problem for Trump is many of his populist promises are starting to look fraudulent.

So what happens if — and when — Trump’s core backers discover that they’ve been had: They’re losing health-care coverage and other benefits, while manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back and a Trump-ignited trade war is hurting U.S. exports?

Meanwhile, New Republic's Bryce Covert suggests how Democrats could change the conversation:

If Democrats want to win elections, they should imbue Trump’s empty rhetoric with a real promise: a good job for every American who wants one. It’s time to make a federal jobs guarantee the central tenet of the party’s platform. This is the type of simple, straightforward plan that Democrats need in order to connect with Americans who struggle to survive in the twenty-first-century economy. And while a big, New Deal–style government program might seem like a nonstarter in this day and age—just look at the continuing battle over the Affordable Care Act—a jobs guarantee isn’t actually so far-fetched.

Americans overwhelmingly want to work: Most people say they get a sense of identity from their job and would keep working even if they won the lottery. Joblessness is even associated with poorer mental and physical health for entire families—not working appears to make us sick. And there’s already strong support for a jobs guarantee: In a 2014 poll, 47 percent said they favor such a program. A jobs guarantee holds the promise not just of jobs for all, but of a stronger and more productive economy for everyone. The biggest obstacle, in fact, might be the Democratic Party’s own timidity.

A Federal jobs program and universal health care? What's next, rising productivity and declining inequality? Haul up the drawbridges!

Still, it's going to be a long 1,282 days.

How civil wars happen

Paul Krugman was inspired by his CUNY colleague Branko Mlianovic to think about our current partisan divide as a bloodless civil war:

Branko – who knows something about Yugoslavia! – argues against the view that civil wars are caused by deep divisions between populations who don’t know each other. The causation, he argues, goes the other way: when a civil war begins for whatever reason, that’s when the lines between the groups are drawn, and what may have been minor, fairly benign differences become irreconcilable gulfs.

[A] large segment of the population was no longer hearing the same news – basically not experiencing the same account of reality – as the rest of us. So what had been real but not extreme differences became extreme differences in political outlook.

In the long run, it makes you wonder whether and how we can get the country we used to be back. As Branko says, there was a time when Serbs and Croats seemed to get along fairly well, indeed intermarrying at a high rate. But could anyone now put Yugoslavia back together? At this rate, we’ll soon be asking the same question about America.

Bloodless so far, he points out.