The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Too many apartments?

Crain's reported today that rents in Class-A properties in Chicago's Loop area have remained steady despite 4,500 new units hitting the market in 2017:

Demand for downtown apartments has been especially robust as job growth has picked up: Downtown Chicago added 19,448 workers in 2017, a 3.4 percent increase, the biggest annual gain in at least five years, according to Integra. That's one reason a key measure of apartment demand, absorption—the change in the number of occupied units—rose to 3,385 units in 2007, a record.

Still, developers threatened to ruin the fun. Even though absorption soared last year, it couldn't keep up with the a 4,500-unit increase in supply last year. Last fall, with the leasing season ending, many buildings offered generous concessions—two months of free rent over a 12-month lease wasn't uncommon—to attract renters.

Yes, but the Tribune says another 7,000 apartments will be built before the end of 2019:

While only about 3,000 apartment units are expected to be completed this year, developers next year could challenge the record number of downtown apartments — 4,350 units — built in 2017, Integra Realty Resources executives said Tuesday during the firm’s annual apartment and condominium forecast luncheon.

The firm projects that about 4,200 units will be completed in 2019.

The rate of downtown apartment construction is being closely watched amid concerns of an oversupply. Yet even amid the frenzied pace of construction, 2017 also brought a record for absorption: 3,385 units, a 31 percent increase from 2016. Absorption measures the change in the number of leased apartments compared with the previous year.

So what's going on? Shouldn't rents change one way or the other? The Atlantic suggests an answer:

Airbnb’s great contribution was to allow travelers to live as locals do—in the busy downtown residential areas, near the best restaurants, bars, and other local hangouts. Business travelers might prefer the amenities of a hotel. But what Airbnb offered was a superior simulacra of the local experience for leisure travelers—for an affordable price, which happened to support some local dwellers’ income.

But Airbnb's success also encouraged dubious behavior on the part of “commercial” power users—property owners who listed downtown units (especially second residences) all year long, as if they were hotel rooms. Why would would that be a problem? Open apartments occupied for much of the year by Airbnb-using travelers reduce the number of available homes to people who want to move into that building. High demand, plus lower supply, leads to higher prices. Several studies—including research from Harvard, MIT, UCLA, USC, and the University of Massachusetts Boston—have come to the same conclusion: Airbnb altogether drives up the price of rent in many neighborhoods. 

Increasing supply, not completely accounted for by absorption, should be pushing rents lower in downtown areas. But speculators (i.e., people buying apartments to list on AirBnB) are driving the price up.

As both a landlord and a renter, I'm watching this closely.

Volatility

Late winter and early spring in Chicago have always had some ups and downs in temperature. This year, with a week left to go in meteorological winter, has been nuts.

It got down to -2.8°C just before 8am today. That's not too far from normal—for March 8th. But here are the temperatures over the past 10 days:

Date High Low Avg
Tue Feb 20 18.9°C 1.1°C 10.0°C
Mon Feb 19 15.6°C 2.8°C 9.2°C
Sun Feb 18 5°C -11.1°C -3.1°C
Sat Feb 17 1.7°C -8.3°C -3.3°C
Fri Feb 16 2.8°C -6.7°C -1.9°C
Thu Feb 15 8.9°C 3.3°C 6.1°C
Wed Feb 14 6.7°C -4.4°C 1.2°C
Tue Feb 13 1.7°C -13.9°C -6.1°C
Mon Feb 12 -2.8°C -15.6°C -9.2°C
Sun Feb 11 -5.6°C -11.7°C -8.7°C


But looked at another way, using the normal temperatures for each day in Chicago, we've been all over the calendar:

Date Felt like
Tue Feb 20 May 2 Mar 30 Apr 17
Mon Feb 19 Apr 17 Apr 9 Apr 13
Sun Feb 18 Mar 2 Brrr! Feb 11
Sat Feb 17 Feb 13 Feb 4 Feb 11
Fri Feb 16 Feb 19 Feb 16 Feb 16
Thu Feb 15 Mar 19 Apr 12 Apr 6
Wed Feb 14 Mar 9 Feb 26 Mar 6
Tue Feb 13 Feb 13 Brrr! Brrr!
Mon Feb 12 Brrr! Brrr! Brrr!
Sun Feb 11 Brrr! Brrr! Brrr!


In other words, yesterday's high temperature felt like April 30th; the low felt like March 30th; but the overall temperature of the day felt like May 19th. (Where it says "Brrr!" the temperature was below the normal temperature for any day of the year. In other words, it felt like mid-January on a bad day.) Also: nice going, February 16th! Totally normal day in February.

I should point out, these are the 1981-2010 normals. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to recalculate these values using earlier normal sets; 1951-1980 would be particularly interesting, I should think.

It's all part of the fun in a continental climate that has tons more energy, and thus volatility, than it had in centuries past. And thanks to continued anthropogenic climate change, we will continue to have winters that whipsaw between frigid and spring-like for a few decades, until Chicago's climate settles into a subtropical pattern where it rarely freezes. If you remember what Tennessee or North Carolina was like 50 years ago, that's where Chicago is headed 50 years from now.

Bronze age defenses, modern attacks

Via Bruce Schneier, DHS Senior Analyst Jack Anderson describes how walls are still a dominant security metaphor, and the consequences of that choice:

Walls don’t fail gracefully. But there is a bewitching tendency to trust them more than we should, and this leads to dangerous liabilities. Extreme risk prognosticator Pasquale Curillo calls this tendency to depend too much on controls we’ve put in place the “fence paradox.” By protecting things — which they must — organizations can encourage situations where they stand to lose a lot if their wall is breached. When that fortification fails (and eventually, every fortress fails) it fails catastrophically. The scale of the Equifax hack in 2017 and the Brussels bombings in 2016 both illustrate the way that organizations and systems organize risk, tending to put together massive targets for potential threats. Walls actually encourage this kind of thinking. If you build walls to protect something, it makes sense to expect them to work. But network architects and airport security designers both need to listen to de Montluc, the 16th century French military mastermind: “Nothing is impregnable.”

We need a new awareness of what walls do. It’s tempting to think of them as blocking threats, but they don’t. They behave more like filters — winnowing out only those threats not serious enough to circumvent them. And this implies a secondary problem apart from the fence paradox. A wall that prevents large-scale foot traffic across unsecured locations in the U.S border means that only determined, capable adversaries will be able to cross the wall. The people who are the least threatening are the only ones who are easily deflected. It may prevent smaller scale losses, but it actually encourages your biggest threat to innovate, leaving room for catastrophe. Bag checks and barricades moved a perimeter outward at the Mandalay Bay Casino last October, but Stephen Paddock circumvented this by moving his position upward. As Washington considers the marginal benefits of a massive border wall, it needs to think equally of this revenge effect.

This weakness is where the idea of “defense in depth” (layered security) comes from. A good summary of the reasons for defense in depth comes from a 1921 Infantry Journal, published by the U.S. Infantry Association: “All essential elements of the defense should be organized in depth. If the forward defensive areas are captured, resistance is continued by those in the rear.”

That's bronze-age wisdom, in fact. And yet security designers don't seem to learn. And the President's wall around Fantasyland will not prevent the threats he fears, not one little bit.

"Told you so."—George Washington, 1796

Thomas Pickering and James Stoutenberg, writing for the New York Times, point out that George Washington warned us about someone like the modern Republican Party or Donald Trump taking power in the U.S.:

In elaborate and thoughtful prose, Washington raised red flags about disunity, false patriotism, special interests, extreme partisanship, fake news, the national debt, foreign alliances and foreign hatreds. With uncanny foresight, he warned that the most serious threat to our democracy might come from disunity within the country rather than interference from outside. And he foresaw the possibility of foreign influence over our political system and the rise of a president whose ego and avarice would transcend the national interest, raising the threat of despotism.

He wrote that should one group, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge,” gain domination over another, the result could be “a more formal and permanent despotism.” The despot’s rise would be fueled by “disorders and miseries” that would gradually push citizens “to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.”

“Sooner or later,” he concluded, “the chief of some prevailing faction, more able and more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purpose of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”

And then he arrived at one of his greatest concerns: The ways in which hyperpartisanship could open the door “to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

As someone with a degree in history, all I can do is watch the train wreck and hope to survive it.

Laughing their asses off in the Kremlin

As Jennifer Rubin points out, President Trump's unhinged tweets over the weekend have some truth to them—but not in the way Trump meant:

Trump lashed out: “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!” Actually, they succeeded and are laughing, very likely, because they helped elect an unhinged, erratic president who will not protect the United States against Russian meddling. The discord comes from Trump smearing the FBI and making up lies (e.g., accusing President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower).

It was a new low, hiding behind the bodies of dead children and teachers to shield himself from accountability.

He blamed Democrats for not passing gun control when it was Republicans who torpedoed a compromise bill after the Sandy Hook massacre. David Hogg, a 17-year-old survivor of the massacre at his high school, spoke for many when he responded on “Face the Nation”: “President Trump, you control the House of Representatives. You control the Senate and you control the executive. You haven’t taken a single bill for mental health care or gun control and passed it. And that’s pathetic."

Aside from the blizzard of lies, one is struck by how frantic Trump sounds. The number and looniness of the tweets arguably exceed anything he has previously done. His conduct reaffirms the basic outline of an obstruction charge: Desperate to disable a Russia probe that would be personally embarrassing to him, he has tried in many ways to interfere with and end the investigation. In doing so, he, at the very least, has abused his office.

How is this man our President? Because one of the major parties in our country have descended into winner-takes-all, scorched-earth politics, and will hold onto power until the voters finally pry it from the party's cold, dead fingers.

Not much going on today

The day after hosting a big party is never one's most productive. My Fitbit says I got 5 hours and 18 minutes of sleep, which turns out to be better than last year, thanks in part to Parker's forbearance this morning. Usually he's up by 7; but today he let me sleep until 9:15. Good dog.

Regular posting should resume tomorrow. I'm betting on getting to bed around 9pm tonight...

Party time! Excellent!

I'm getting ready for my annual Prez Day Bash, which I inherited from a very talented and very funny Andy Ball back in 2004.

This is the 13th Bash—the Fillmore—so I hope less goes wrong than in previous years. The first ten ran from 1995 to 2004, then the 11th came back in 2015. (I suppose that means the 21st will be in 2035?)

I'll post more if I get a lull in preparations.

Notorious RBG on #MeToo

United States Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sat down with the Atlantic's Jeffrey Rosen recently for an extensive interview. She discussed #MeToo, her own history with bad supervisors, and cases she would like to see overturned:

Rosen: Which of your powerful dissents do you most hope to become a majority?

Ginsburg: Well, I’d would like to see Shelby County undone. That was a case involving the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The way the law works is this—if a state or a city or a county has had a history of blocking African Americans from voting, any change in voting legislation would have to be pre-cleared either by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice or by a three-judge court sitting in the District of Columbia.

The [majority’s] position was, that was 1965, it’s many years later, some states that discriminated may not be discriminating anymore. So then Congress has to come up with a new formula. Well what member of Congress is going to stand up and say, “My district is still discriminating.” And I thought my colleagues were not as restrained as they should be because they should have respected the overwhelming vote in the Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act. That’s one decision.

Rosen: How about two or three more?

Ginsburg: Well, one of them is the so-called, what did they call it, partial-birth abortion. This is a medical procedure that is no one’s first choice but it may be the only option for a woman, and the Court refused to recognize that a ban on such a procedure just overlooked that some women had no other choice, so that’s a decision I would like to see overruled. If you go back in time—two decisions from the 70s—the Supreme Court held that Medicaid coverage was not available for any abortion, therapeutic or nontherapeutic. Which left us with the situation in our country where any woman of means, any woman who can afford to go to a neighboring state, will have access to abortion. The people who won’t are poor people who can’t travel, who can’t take off days from work. And that’s a sorry situation. People ask me, “Oh, what would happen if Roe v. Wade were overruled?” And my answer is for affluent women, it won’t make any difference.

Man, I hope she stays on the bench for four more years, at least...

We can't even have a conversation

Josh Marshall argues that our inability to discuss gun control in any meaningful way has rendered us collectively impotent to prevent gun massacres:

Do you really need an AR-15? For some people, it’s just fun to fire off an AR-15. I begrudge no one that fun. You’re at the range. It’s just cool. I get it. But maybe, because it’s also the weapon of choice for virtually every school massacre, to have that fun you need to do a background check not just for institutionalization or felony records but something a bit more thorough-going to know you’re not someone with all the markers of a mass shooter. Or maybe you can have it and fire it as often as you want but you need to leave it in a locker at the range. These changes would be a bit of a pain for enthusiasts. But changing mores about drunken driving also made social drinking a bit more difficult. You have to think through how you’re getting home if you’re going to go out and have more than a couple drinks. Does your spouse or partner not drink? Do you have a designated driver? Public transportation? It’s a bit of a pain. We’ve decided this pain is more than worth it. The ability to drink in any way or to any extent at any time is not an absolute value.

The specific reforms are beside the point for these purposes. The point is the need for and public agreement to some balancing, some inconveniences and impediments to total freedom to do anything with guns up to the doorstep of a felony or a massacre. Until we do this, not only do we not have any of even the most basic reforms which could begin to make it a little harder to commit massacres, we also collectively send a signal as a society. Guns are not only potentially fatal as tools. They are all powerful totems. They are untouchable. They reduce adults who promise to spare no exertion to protect the country from various public or domestic threats to be reduced to the gibberish and nonsense of “thoughts and prayers.” Nothing is a deeper testament to the cultural power and invincibility of the gun in our society. And it is that power which is at the heart of the massacre spectacle – the desire and all-consuming need and drive to destroy lives including your own indiscriminately in a final burst of total power. Our collective impotence not only sharpens that weapon, that symbol for the perpetrators of the actual massacres. It also gives sanction for all the precursor behavior (the gun nut who is stockpiling AR-15s and ammo but never actually kills anyone).

The reforms are critical. And more of them than are even close to the current debate will be required. But the core of the culture of massacre is equally driven by the social sickness of inaction itself. It is the ultimate validation of the power of the gun that is at the heart of the sick social disease. Until we recognize that the collective message of the power and singular importance of guns is at the heart of the gun massacre scourge, we’ll never be rid of it.

My current Facebook status is, "Have we all forgotten that, at its core, the NRA is a trade association?" And one with questionable sources of funds at that.

Plain old paper can make our elections more secure

Via Bruce Schneier, Michael Chertoff and Grover Norquist (of all people) explain in the Washington Post how we can make our elections more secure:

It should also be no surprise that hackers have U.S. voting systems in their sights. They’re a relatively easy target. Researchers have studied a range of electronic voting infrastructure — including touch screens, optical scanner systems and registration databases — and found serious vulnerabilities that could allow even moderately sophisticated attackers to pose threats to voting integrity. This year, about 40 states are set to use electronic voting or tabulation systems that are more than a decade old — many of which run on software that’s too old to be serviced with vendor security patches. A survey of nearly 300 election officials in 28 states found that a clear majority report needing new voting systems.

We believe there is a framework to secure our elections that can win bipartisan support, minimize costs to taxpayers and respect the constitutional balance between state and federal authorities in managing elections. In September, Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, introduced legislation that would help solve the problem with an elegantly simple fix: paper ballots. Meadows’s Paper Act would authorize cost-sharing with states for the replacement of insecure electronic systems with those that produce a voter-verified physical record. The bill also lays the groundwork for states to regularly implement risk-limiting audits — procedures that check a small random sample of paper records to quickly and affordably provide high assurance that an election outcome was correct.

Of course, the Trump administration has no interest in returning people's faith in the elections process. Like authoritarians everywhere, they benefit from FUD. So it's interesting seeing Chertoff and Norquist taking a position I completely agree with.