The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Scott Walker's greed

David Dayen lays out how ousted Wisconsin governor Scott Walker got greedy, which cost him his election Tuesday:

Not content to simply do the bidding of corporate interests through low tax rates and deregulation, he embarked on one of the biggest economic disasters in recent history. After Tuesday’s elections, we can say it was one of the biggest political ones as well.

In July 2017, Walker inked a deal with Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer known for being so punishing to its workers that it had to install nets to prevent suicides. Foxconn would build a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, producing LCD screens for large-panel televisions—a first for North America. The company claimed this would create 13,000 good-paying jobs and $10 billion in investment. In exchange, Walker offered $3 billion in state subsidies.

“The Foxconn campus will be large enough to hold 11 Lambeau Fields,” Walker gushed when announcing the agreement. His approval ratings had sagged after a lackluster presidential run, and he had failed to keep his first-term promise of creating 250,000 new jobs. The Foxconn deal would be the capstone of his tenure, a public-private partnership to create a high-tech hub in the upper Midwest—a real legacy item.

Instead, the deal was just a way to flush out taxpayer money, without getting much from Foxconn in return. Walker was nothing but a bagman for a coordinated hit on Wisconsin’s treasury, and he paid for it. On Tuesday, he ran into a little-understood fact of modern political life: corporate welfare is deeply unpopular.

It didn't take a Marquette University dropout to realize that Foxconn was going to renege on their deal with the state and, essentially, pocket the money. We could hear Foxconn laughing all the way down here in Chicago. But ol' Scotty never was much of a student. Or much of a governor.

About last night...

Gosh, where do we begin?

What last night showed, as clearly as day following night, is that the Republican Party simply can't win on the merits. And they know it. Yesterday demonstrated how effective their multi-year anti-democratic efforts have been.

Democratic candidates at each level in the aggregate won millions more votes than the Republican field. We lost three of our most vulnerable sitting Senators: Heidi Heidtkamp (D-ND), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic candidate challenging the odious Ted Cruz (R-TX), nearly won, coming within 220,000 votes out of 8.2 million cast. But we picked up a compensatory seat in Nevada. We broke Republican supermajorities in the legislatures of North Carolina, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and flipped them entirely in Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Maine, and New York. We kicked out Republican governors by huge margins in Wisconsin and Illinois, won several others, and still have a fighting chance to elect the nation's first female African-American governor in Georgia.

I get Aaron Blake's complaint that it's a "bogus stat" that 12% more people voted for Democratic US Senate candidates than Republican ones. Except it's not. Democrats out-voted Republicans in 2016 and 2014 as well, even while returning Republican majorities to Congress.

Look at Georgia. The person responsible for counting votes, Republican Brian Kemp, was a candidate for governor, and he did everything in his power (some of them beyond his legal authority) to suppress the vote for his challenger, including purging 1.4 million voter registrations and suspending 53,000 more last month.

But also look at Kansas. Kris Kobach, who taught Brian Kemp everything he knows, and who tried unsuccessfully to bring his brand of voter suppression to the country at large, got handed his hat and shown the door. This, despite allowing Democratic-leaning Dodge City to put its lone polling place a mile from public transit, as just one example.

And look at Florida. Democrat Bill Nelson is exercising his right to a recount as sitting governor Rick Scott appears to have received only 35,000 more votes out of 8 million cast. But that's not the big story out of that state. No, the really big story, with consequences for the 2020 race, is that voters passed Proposition 4, re-enfranchising 1.5 million felons—most of whom are African-American—who have completed their sentences.

The Republican Party will try to spin yesterday as a vote of confidence in President Trump. They would do that if they lost by 30 million votes as long as they held the Senate and a couple of state houses. But be clear: between voter suppression, extreme gerrymandering, voter intimidation, and the Senate being specifically designed to protect minority and small-state rights, they have a lot less support than the election suggests.

Like the Afrikaaner National Party from 1948 to 1990, the Republican Party knows it can't win the argument, so it isn't even trying. Over the next few years we'll see them grab everything they can, and use every tactic they think of to hold onto power. They know their time is limited, but like every dying party in history (including George Washington's), they're not going to go quietly. As Trump has shown us, the GOP's strategy will be scorched earth until they finally disappear into dust like their predecessors, the Know-Nothings.

Let's use our new House majority to finally get answers about how much the Trump family has profited from being in office, about how cabinet secretaries are lining their pockets while handing our future to the industries they supposedly regulate, and about how the governing party is taking a match to liberal democracy in order to forestall their own irrelevance.

So let's keep up the fight.

Oh, and Chicago voted to ban plastic straws. I just...why?

Distilling the Congress

Adam Shepherd points out that this election will make things worse, not better, regardless of the result—at least for the next two years:

Theoretically, divided government could lead to compromise, since Trump would need Democrats to pass legislation. With 2020 approaching, the thinking goes, he would be incentivized to make deals that show that he can get things done (on infrastructure, for instance). But Trump has shown no interest in this kind of politics. Yes, he has flirted with bipartisanship in the past, but has always ultimately demurred, either due to pressure from aides and donors or from a preternatural devotion to his base. When pressed, Trump has eschewed dealmaking and calls for unity and doubled down on attacks on the media and his Democratic opposition.

Over the last two years, despite controlling Washington, Republicans have done little with their power. Their only major legislative achievement was the $1.5 trillion tax cut, largely benefiting corporations and the wealthy, which appears to represent the entirety of the party’s ideas. The GOP’s policy apathy has become apparent over the last two months, as candidates across the country have embraced the president’s ethno-nationalism and racist immigration policy. With defeat looming, the GOP sees fear-mongering as the only way to get their aging white base to the polls—a strategy that worked two years ago. Expect Republicans to employ these tactics even in defeat.

In fact, they may employ them especially if they lose. The most likely Republicans to lose in Tuesday’s midterms are the most moderate members of Congress, those in suburban districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. “That means that your ordinary Freedom Caucus member is going to get reelected even in a blue wave, while the vulnerable members are the more moderate ones who represent swing districts,” Paul Waldman wrote in The Washington Post on Monday. “This will produce a somewhat ironic result in the next Congress: The bigger the blue wave, the more conservative the Republican caucus will end up being when it’s over, and the less equipped the GOP will be to run a different kind of campaign in 2020.”

Meanwhile:

Tonight will be a nail-biter. I hope I get some sleep.

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.

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.

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.

Enough Bothsidesism

The journalistic fetish with trying to find balance when none exists has cropped up today in reporting on President Trump's false assertion that he can end birthright citizenship by executive order. He simply has no such power; the 14th Amendment lays out the rule in plain English.

Of course, the president doesn't actually intend to draft such an order. He was lying. Anyone paying attention to the man for any length of time can see that, except perhaps his base, who tend to have a limited grasp of what the Constitution actually says. Josh Marshall calls the president's stunt "a completely ridiculous idea, a sort of clown-show trial-run at rule by decree."

But enter the Post, the Tribune, and countless other newspapers today who have (a) given this lie front-page attention and (b) fallen back on the "most experts agree" language that suggests any doubt about the executive's power to change the Constitution by simple order. No; this is absolute nonsense. (Technically, it was bullshit*, but a particularly ridiculous example of it.)

"Some legal experts" have suggested that birthright citizenship hasn't actually been tested in court; they're flat wrong, as the Post explained in a 2015 article on the subject:

As the justice who authored the majority opinion in U.S. vs. Wong Kim Ark wrote, “to hold that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution excludes from citizenship the children, born in the United States, of citizens or subjects of other countries would be to deny citizenship to thousands of persons of English, Scotch, Irish, German, or other European parentage who have always been considered and treated as citizens of the United States.” Had the decision gone the other way, Salyer said, instead of a nation of immigrants, America would have become “colonies of foreigners.”

(Yes, that means the president is totally Wong about his power here.)

Paul Krugman has also had enough of this kind of reporting:

False equivalence, portraying the parties as symmetric even when they clearly aren’t, has long been the norm among self-proclaimed centrists and some influential media figures. It’s a stance that has hugely benefited the GOP, as it has increasingly become the party of right-wing extremists.

You might have thought that the horrifying events of recent days would finally break through that norm. But you would have been wrong. Bothsidesism is, it turns out, a fanatical cult impervious to evidence. Trump famously boasted that his supporters would stick with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue; what he didn’t point out was that pundits would piously attribute the shooting to “incivility,” and that Sunday talk shows would feature Fifth-Avenue-shooting advocates and give them a respectful hearing.

This needs to stop, and those who keep practicing bothsidesism need to be shamed. At this point, pretending that both sides are equally to blame, or attributing political violence to spreading hatred without identifying who’s responsible for that spread, is a form of deep cowardice.

Hear, hear!

But alas. We still have this clown for 813 more days. Fortunately, we get a new Congress in 65.

* Read Harry Frankfurt's column on Donald Trump, written before the 2016 election. I imagine none of Frankfurt's opinions has changed.