The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Should we pack the court?

Writing for New Republic, political scientist Scott Lemieux suggests that Democrats start playing constitutional hardball if the Republicans don't let us govern:

If the Democrats take over Congress and the White House in 2021 with Anthony Kennedy as the median justice—giving them a realistic chance of replacing him—it would be wise for Democrats to hold their fire, barring the Supreme Court serially striking down major legislation on specious constitutional grounds (which the decisions of the Obama era suggest is unlikely).

But what if Donald Trump is able to replace Kennedy, and, God forbid, justices Stephen Breyer and/or Ginsburg as well? There is no good outcome in this scenario. Republicans would have a hammerlock on a nine-member Court for decades. If Trump gets two nominees, this Court is likely to be well to the right of the current Roberts Court and likely to go to war with a Democratic Congress.

Even worse, the decisive nominations would be a product of a Republican Senate refusing to allow a president who won two majorities to fill a vacancy, and then confirming multiple nominees of a president who lost the popular vote by a substantial margin. Court-packing is bad, but allowing an entrenched majority on the Supreme Court to represent a minority party that refuses to let Democratic governments govern would not be acceptable or democratically legitimate, either.

For this reason, it would be very unwise for Democrats to rule anything out. They should be careful not to blow up the power of judicial review without good cause. But if desperate Republicans try to establish an anti-Democratic rearguard on the Supreme Court before they get swept out of office, Democrats have to leave all options on the table.

This reflects what we ancient D&D players know as the "Lawful Stupid" problem. Characters with lawful-good alignment run the risk of trying to do the right thing so much that they fail to do the necessary thing. Think: the Enterprise crew deciding not to save a planet because doing so would violate the prime directive. Or the Democratic Party continuing to assume the Republican Party will follow established political norms even when doing so would cause a temporary shift in power in the United States.

What if Trump hadn't fired Comey?

New Republic's Matt Ford contemplates the counter-factual:

Trump might also have had a better first year of his presidency. He wouldn’t be tweeting every morning about witch hunts and collusion, at least (though he’d still be tweeting). And while his poll numbers might have stayed the same, the Russia investigation might not have become the lightning rod that’s energized Democrats and demoralized Republicans. Yes, the 2018 midterms were always going to be tough for the GOP. But they would’ve been easier without the threat of more indictments from Mueller between now and Election Day.

What about legal danger? Without Comey’s removal, Trump wouldn’t be facing obstruction-of-justice questions and the risk of impeachment. The Russia investigation would have continued in a less intense form. The president’s family members might have avoided intense scrutiny from Mueller’s team. Cohen, who knows more about Trump’s legal and business dealings than almost anyone, maybe wouldn’t be facing for an imminent federal indictment. That might have spared him (and maybe the president) from questions about money laundering that are slowly starting to surface.

Experts and analysts spent the last year wondering how to contain the damage that Comey’s firing has done to the justice system. But perhaps the most effective safeguard is the example Trump has set for his successors. If civic virtue, political norms, or personal integrity don’t compel future presidents to uphold the rule of law, then maybe a simpler reason will suffice: It’s too costly not to.

Of course, if enough Republicans care more about personal enrichment than the rule of law—perish the thought!—then Trump and his cronies may not suffer any consequences for destroying it.

Looking forward to Arsenal v Lincoln Yards

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has announced a joint venture with Sterling Bay, the developer building on the former Finkl Steel site in Lincoln Park (mentioned here last week), to bring professional soccer back to Chicago:

Sterling Bay will develop and own the stadium, and will keep an ownership stake in the USL franchise it bought last year. Ricketts will be the team’s majority owner.

The Tribune in October reported that Sterling Bay was proposing a stadium on the site, as part of its effort to bring Amazon or another large corporation to the mixed-use development as an office tenant.

Chicago’s USL team is expected to begin playing in 2021.

The stadium and training facility will be available to youth and professional athletes, and also will have community and cultural events, according to the news release.

The stadium is planned along the west side of the river.

I'm looking forward to the Lincoln Yards development. The Finkl Steel plant, though an economic powerhouse for decades in Chicago, was also a huge, ugly, and polluting bunion at the foot of the Lincoln Park community area. Like other former industrial areas near to downtown (including, or perhaps especially, the New East Side), almost any mixed-use commercial/residential development is preferable at this stage of Chicago's life.

Also, I think an English Premier League vs. Chicago football match would be loads of fun.

Democratic candidates know what they're doing

Greg Sargent this morning points out that my party's congressional candidates aren't running the campaigns that the popular imagination thinks they are, which is a good thing:

There’s a narrative about our politics right now that you constantly encounter on social and political media. It goes like this: Democrats are too obsessed with the Russia investigation, or with Stormy Daniels, or they’re just too focused on “not being President Trump,” and as a result, they aren’t articulating an affirmative agenda and risk getting caught flat-footed by Trump’s supposedly rising popularity.

But this narrative is entirely wrong, and two new pieces this morning help set the record straight.

The first article is by Nate Silver, and it puts Trump’s job-approval numbers in their proper perspective.

If Trump’s numbers are rising, they are only doing so inside a very narrow range that remains abysmally low. And don’t forget the polling that shows strong disapproval of Trump is running higher than strong approval, which could impact disparities in voter engagement.

The second piece is by Ron Brownstein, and it reports accurately on how Democrats are actually running their campaigns right now. As Brownstein notes, many Democrats think that their chances of winning this fall turn less on whether Trump gets further dragged down by scandal, and more on their ability to link the GOP’s tax cuts to its failed (but continuing) drive to roll back health coverage, which together amount to a deeply unpopular overall set of GOP priorities.

With Republican primary elections in Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and North Carolina going on today, we may have even better data about how we're retaking the House in November.

On the other hand, Bruce Schneier notes that both parties' campaigns are dangerously nonchalant about IT security. Great.

Keeping all the lies straight

Back in the day, Rudy Giuliani put away a lot of bad people when he served as the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York. Then he because mayor of New York and did some good things (and some bad).

Flash forward 30 years. Yesterday he went on TV and seriously injured his client's, President Trump's, interests:

[F]ormer New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a recent addition to Trump’s legal team, acknowledged for the first time that Trump had repaid [other Trump attorney Michael] Cohen — despite Trump’s assertion last month that he was unaware of the payment. Giuliani made the comments Wednesday night to Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel.

Josh Marshall explains why this was so...unhinged:

My best guess is that Guiliani and Trump and other members of the legal team had discussed this story (true or not) as a way to escape a claimed FEC violation. They did so with what appears to have been a fairly limited understanding of campaign finance law. But they thought it was a good idea. Giuliani then meandered his way into floating it during his interview with Sean Hannity. Note how he immediately fixes on the point that this solves the campaign finance problem (even though it appears not to). He’s adamant and cocky about it. He is then caught off guard when Hannity – himself caught off guard and scrambling in response to the initial claim – reminds him that the story is that Trump never knew anything about the Daniels deal at all and did not know where the money was from.

So, great, in arguing against a possible campaign finance violation, you've argued in favor of making false statements to law enforcement, no attorney-client privilege between Trump and Cohen, and also that Stephanie Clifford's defamation suit against Trump has merit.

These guys are just incapable of thinking things through. I guess that works in New York real estate, but it's alarming when it's the President and his aides.

Three on climate change

Earlier this week, the Post reported on data that one of the scariest predictions of anthropogenic climate change theory seems to be coming true:

The new research, based on ocean measurements off the coast of East Antarctica, shows that melting Antarctic glaciers are indeed freshening the ocean around them. And this, in turn, is blocking a process in which cold and salty ocean water sinks below the sea surface in winter, forming “the densest water on the Earth,” in the words of study lead author Alessandro Silvano, a researcher with the University of Tasmania in Hobart.

In other words, the melting of Antarctica’s glaciers appears to be triggering a “feedback” loop in which that melting, through its effect on the oceans, triggers still more melting. The melting water stratifies the ocean column, with cold fresh water trapped at the surface and warmer water sitting below. Then, the lower layer melts glaciers and creates still more melt water — not to mention rising seas as glaciers lose mass.

"The idea is that this mechanism of rapid melting and warming of the ocean triggered sea level rise at other times, like the last glacial maximum, when we know rapid sea level rise was five meters per century,” Silvano said. “And we think this mechanism was the cause of rapid sea-level rise.”

Meanwhile, Chicago magazine speculates about what these changes will mean to our city in the next half-century:

Can Chicago really become a better, maybe even a far better, place while much of the world suffers the intensifying storms and droughts resulting from climate change? A growing consensus suggests the answer may be a cautious yes. For one, there’s Amir Jina, an economist at the University of Chicago who studies how global warming affects regional economies. In the simulations he ran, as temperatures rise, rainfall intensifies, and seas surge, Chicago fares better than many big U.S. cities because of its relative insulation from the worst ravages of heat, hurricanes, and loss of agriculture.

Indeed, the Great Lakes could be considered our greatest insurance against climate change. They contain 95 percent of North America’s supply of freshwater—and are protected by the Great Lakes Water Compact, which prohibits cities and towns outside the Great Lakes basin from tapping them. While aquifers elsewhere run dry, Chicago should stay flush for hundreds of years to come.

“We’re going to be like the Saudi Arabia of freshwater,” says David Archer, a professor of geophysical science at the University of Chicago. “This is one of the best places in the world to live out global warming.”

There’s just one problem: Water, which should be our salvation, could also do us in.

The first drops of the impending deluge have already fallen. Every one-degree rise in temperature increases the atmosphere’s capacity to hold water vapor by almost 4 percent. As a result, rain and snow come down with more force. Historically, there’s been a 4 percent chance of a storm occurring in any given year in Chicago that drops 5.88 inches of rain in 48 hours—a so-called 25-year storm. In the last decade alone, we have had one 25-year storm, plus a 50-year storm and, in 2011, a 100-year storm. In the best-case scenario, where carbon emissions stay relatively under control, we’re looking at a 25 percent increase in the number of days with extreme rainfall by the end of the century. The worst-case scenario sees a surge of 60 percent. Precipitation overall may increase by as much as 30 percent.

And in today's Times, Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey argue that cars are ruining our cities as well as our climate:

[T]he truth is that people who drive into a crowded city are imposing costs on others. They include not just reduced mobility for everyone and degraded public space, but serious health costs. Asthma attacks are set off by the tiny, invisible soot particles that cars emit. Recent research shows that a congestion charge in Stockholm reduced pollution and sharply cut asthma attacks in children.

The bottom line is that the decision to turn our public streets so completely over to the automobile, as sensible as it might have seemed decades ago, nearly wrecked the quality of life in our cities.

We are revealing no big secrets here. Urban planners have known all these things for decades. They have known that removing lanes to add bike paths and widen sidewalks can calm traffic, make a neighborhood more congenial — and, by the way, increase sales at businesses along that more pleasant street. They have known that imposing tolls with variable pricing can result in highway lanes that are rarely jammed.

We're adapting, slowly, to climate change. Over my lifetime I've seen the air in Chicago and L.A. get so much cleaner I can scarcely remember how bad it was growing up. (Old photos help.) But we're in for some pretty big changes in the next few years. I think Chicago will ultimately do just fine, except for being part of the world that has to adapt more dramatically than any time in the last few thousand years.

Eddie Lampert offers to garrote his own company

Longtime readers know how much I loathe Eddie Lampert for what he did to Sears and for how perfectly he demonstrates the dangers of slavishly following a philosophy that owes a lot to the thought processes of adolescent boys.

Well, my longtime predictions seem to be coming true. Lampert has offered to buy the best bits of Sears (i.e., its real estate and Kenmore brand), which would quickly kill the company. Crain's Joe Cahill outlines some of the offal in this awful person's proposal:

It's not clear, however, just what Lampert is willing to pay. The offer letter indicates the transaction should reflect an enterprise value of $500 million for the home improvement and parts businesses, but doesn't put a price on Kenmore or the real estate, beyond confirming Lampert would assume $1.2 billion in real estate debt. The letter further proposes that the asset sale take place in conjunction with offers by Sears to convert some of its debt into equity and buy back or exchange for equity another slug of outstanding debt. Lampert indicates a willingness to "consider participating in such exchange offer and tender offer," which might increase his equity interest in Sears.

The complex and somewhat vague proposal raises questions about Lampert's many hats at Sears—he's the controlling shareholder, CEO, a major creditor, and—if this transaction goes through—a buyer of key company assets. Let's focus on his role as CEO, where his job is to generate maximum returns on company assets, either through business operations or by selling them for the highest possible price. His offer letter implicitly confirms that he's been unable to do either with Kenmore. Yet he evidently believes he could squeeze strong returns out of the brand if he owned it separately from Sears. Otherwise, buying it would make no financial sense for Lampert and any fellow investors in the proposed asset purchase.

Understandably, this disconnect fuels a growing perception that Lampert is cherry-picking company assets ahead of a potential bankruptcy filing that likely would leave Sears shareholders with little or nothing. Already, a real estate investment trust formed by Lampert has acquired many of Sears' store locations with the intention of remarketing them to higher-paying tenants. "There's a very legitimate case to say he's screwed up the company and now he's trying to take the crown jewels," says Nell Minow, a corporate governance expert with Value Edge Advisors.

No kidding. Thanks, Eddie.

Quick links

A couple stories of interest:

OK, back to being really too busy to breathe this week...

What happened to the brand?

Of 19 Trump-branded product lines available in 2015, only 2 remain on the market. One wonders why:

In recent weeks, only two said they are still selling Trump-branded goods. One is a Panamanian company selling Trump bed linens and home goods. The other is a Turkish companyselling Trump furniture.

Of the rest, some Trump partners quit in reaction to campaign-trail rhetoric on immigrants and Muslims. Others said their licensing agreements had expired. Others said nothing beyond confirming that they’d stopped working with Trump. Their last Trump goods are now being sold off, often at a discount: One cologne is marked down from $42 to $9.99 for an ounce.

“Success by Trump,” the website says. And below that: “Clearance.”

“A caricature of what wealth is — as opposed to what real wealth is,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a consultant to luxury brands. Trump sold to those, he said, “who didn’t know the difference,” he said.

However, Pedraza said, Trump began to undermine his own success by “label-slapping” — sticking his name on anything he could, even the farfetched and ridiculous. Emeril Lagasse sold pots. Greg Norman sold golf shirts. Trump sold. . . everything.

“There was no strategy,” Pedraza said.

Seems like a strategy that could work, depending on your audience. Good thing we Americans have strong antibodies against charlatans.

 

Spring was here, momentarily

We had an absolutely beautiful day in Chicago yesterday. I ate lunch outside after going for a walk to obtain it. Birds sang. Trees started budding. The sun shone.

And then, suddenly, the sun didn't shine anymore:

Chicago lies in the transition zone between cold air to the north and mild, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and where the boundary passes a point in its gradual southward push, the temperature drop is remarkable. On Thursday afternoon the boundary, actually a sharp cold front, pushed across downtown Chicago, and the temperature plunged from 22°C at 2:43 pm to 10°C at 2:53 pm — a 12°C drop in 10 minutes.

Yeah, that's my city. Today the weather will be gray and cool, then wet and cold tomorrow, and then Sunday we could have snow. In bloody April.

The irony? The cold weather in Chicago is actually a predicted effect of global warming. Warm polar air and a warm air mass off the east coast of North America have trapped a cold air mass over the prairie provinces and northern Quebec. The world as a whole is warmer than normal today. If you're in Europe, for example, you're having a really nice evening.