The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Evening reading

I was pretty busy today, with most of my brain trying to figure out how to re-architect something that I didn't realize needed it until recently. So a few things piled up in my inbox:

And finally, Whisky Advocate has four recipes that balance whisky and Luxardo Maraschino cherries. I plan to try them all, but not in one sitting.

End of a busy day

Some of these will actually have to wait until tomorrow morning:

And now, I will feed the dog.

Busy day in the news

So many things this morning, including a report not yet up on WBEZ's website about the last Sears store in Chicago. (I'll find it tomorrow.)

  • Jennifer Rubin advises XPOTUS "critics and democracy lovers" to leave the Republican Party.
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) completely caved against a unified Democratic Party and will vote to extend the (probably-unconstitutional) debt limit another three months.
  • An abolitionist's house from 1869 may get landmark approval today from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. (It's already in the National Register of Historic Places).
  • Could interurban trains come back?
  • Arts critic Jo Livingstone has a mixed review of No Time to Die, but I still plan to see it this weekend.
  • 18 retired NBA players face wire-fraud and insurance-fraud charges for allegedly scamming the NBA's Health and Welfare Benefit Plan out of $4 million.
  • Even though we've had early-September temperatures the past week, we've also had only 19% of possible sunlight, and only 8% in the past six days. We have not seen the sun since Monday, in fact, making the steady 19°C temperature feel really depressing.
  • Two new Black-owned breweries will go on the Brews and Choos list soon.
  • Condé Nast has named Chicago the best big city in the US for the fifth year running.

Finally, President Biden is in Chicago today, promoting vaccine mandates. But because of the aforementioned clouds, I have no practical way of watching Air Force One flying around the city.

Update, 12:38 CDT: The sun is out!

Update, 12:39 CDT: Well, we had a minute of it, anyway.

Why Biden's plan matters

Forget the amount (especially because the headlines completely mis-state the value), the "human infrastructure" bill winding through Congress right now matters in all the places it needs to:

Over the past few decades there has been a redistribution of dignity — upward. From Reagan through Romney, the Republicans valorized entrepreneurs, C.E.O.s and Wall Street. The Democratic Party became dominated by the creative class, who attended competitive colleges, moved to affluent metro areas, married each other and ladled advantages onto their kids so they could leap even further ahead.

There was a bipartisan embrace of a culture of individualism, which opens up a lot of space for people with resources and social support, but means loneliness and abandonment for people without. Four years of college became the definition of the good life, which left roughly two-thirds of the country out.

And so came the crisis that Biden was elected to address — the poisonous combination of elite insularity and vicious populist resentment.

The Democratic spending bills are economic packages that serve moral and cultural purposes. They should be measured by their cultural impact, not merely by some wonky analysis. In real, tangible ways, they would redistribute dignity back downward. They would support hundreds of thousands of jobs for home health care workers, child care workers, construction workers, metal workers, supply chain workers. They would ease the indignity millions of parents face having to raise their children in poverty.

The Republican Party have no similar policies. In fact, their policies would accelerate the "distribution of dignity" upward, even while they blamed the results on the Democrats. The reconciliation bill will help millions of Americans. And, oh yeah, it might even win us a couple of elections.

Sure Happy It's Tuesday

Actually, I'm ecstatic that a cold front blew in off the lake yesterday afternoon, dropping the temperature from 30°C to 20°C in about two hours. We went from teh warmest September 27th in 34 years to...autumn. Finally, some decent sleepin' weather!

Meanwhile:

And though the article could use an editor, Whisky Advocate has a short bit on Aaron Sorkin's love of whisky in his movies.

Monday lunchtime reading

Just a couple today, but they seem interesting:

And wow, did the Chicago Bears have a bad game yesterday.

The debt limit "disagreement"

James Fallows destroys any idea you may have that "reasonable people on both sides" have a disagreement about raising the Federal debt ceiling:

In reality, as nearly everyone reporting on this issue understands, this is not a “showdown.” It is not even a “disagreement.” Those terms might apply to questions like the size of the infrastructure-spending bill, or prospective judicial nominees, or what to do about Haitian refugees.

Instead, this is a naked threat. It has exactly zero legitimacy as a “policy” for either party to espouse. I’ll explain why in a moment—in the course of arguing that reporting that fails to convey the fraudulence of the issue, is diminishing rather than increasing our awareness of the truth.

  • The annual U.S. government deficit, and the cumulative U.S. debt, are the results of decisions Congress and an Administration make, not independent variables.Congress votes to authorize spending, and to raise or reduce taxes. The debt and deficit reflect these decisions, rather than controlling them, or being subject to outside dictates about their size.The check you get at the end of a restaurant meal reflects what you have ordered and eaten. The number you see on a bathroom scale reflects calories in, versus energy out. The reading on a thermometer reflects outside heat.In just the same way, the annual deficit-and-debt totals indicate what Congress has already decided on. They’re a measure, not a control. Putting limits on them is like limiting what the bathroom scale can show.
  • [S]tarting in the 1990s, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich began “weaponizing” the debt limit as a political tool. He recognized that there was no “rational” reason to refuse to raise the limit, for spending Congress had already approved. But the threat of doing so would be a serious problem for whatever president was in power—because in practice it would mean that for some time the Treasury would have to stop issuing bonds and notes, which are the backbone of international finance.
  • Final point: Why is a refusal to raise the debt limit a problem? It is not because anyone thinks the U.S. will ultimately default on its Treasury bonds, bills, and notes. It is because, as a technical matter, the Treasury would have to suspend issuing these financial instruments—which are a backbone of international finance.

In short, no one can make a rational policy argument about failing to raise the debt limit. And yet, here we are, with one party trying to govern and the other trying not to.

And the band played on...

A pot of pot money

After years of legal marijuana sales at the state level, the House of Representatives has finally proposed a solution to the problem of what to do with the money:

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote this week on a bill that would let banks do business with cannabis companies without fear of penalty. 

The so-called SAFE Banking Act, which is the least disputed reform sought by the growing industry, got picked up as part of broader legislation, and its inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act was approved by voice vote late Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether the bill will pass the Senate, but the House action gives it a better shot.

The act would be a boon for marijuana companies, which have so far been stymied by the need to deal in cash because of federal restrictions. That has meant they have extra security costs and logistical problems, even as marijuana increasingly becomes legal. Some three dozen states now allow medical or recreational use, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis research firm. 

For the first time, it looks like the rule change will pass. This means, among other things, consumers will finally be able to pay for their pot with credit cards.

Fun times with non-profit contracts

Local restaurant review show "Check Please," which was to begin its 20th season on the local public-television station WTTW, will instead end its run after the station proposed contract terms that the producers couldn't accept:

I'd like to say our upcoming 20th milestone season will be our best one ever!  However, WTTW/11 and I want to go in different directions and pursue other opportunities, so it's just not to be.

Crain's has more:

The show's last contract ended in the spring of 2020, just as the pandemic forced restaurants to close. Manilow said they started new discussions about a month ago and in the last week, WTTW presented him with a new contract and he said it was so different, it didn't make sense for him to continue the relationship.

"We talked about some different ideas they had. They were so drastically different that I'm not going to get into the details," Manilow said. "There wasn't much room for negotiation. We tried but it didn't work out. If they had done what we've done the last 19 years, we'd be in production now. That's just a fact and that's their prerogative. From a fundamental standpoint, every other renewal was kind of pro forma and they'd renew."

My guess, informed by years of dealing with non-profit arts organizations, is that WTTW misunderstood how pricing and microeconomics work.

Arts organizations have a tough time making money, because (let's face it) most people don't value them highly. So there's a large supply of arts organizations and small demand. If you graph supply and demand, where they meet is the equilibrium price (where curve D1 and S meet):

If you charge more than P1, you will sell less, and probably make less money. In order to sell more (move from Q1 to Q2), demand has to move first (D1 to D2).

Unfortunately, many arts organizations try to balance their budgets by increasing prices, believing demand to be constant. Someone whips out Excel and plugs in some numbers, and voilà! Instant revenue!

But that doesn't work, and it's easy to see why.

We sell tickets to Händel's Messiah for $35 to $70, depending on the section. We have a good idea how many we sell every year in each section, so we have some confidence in our budgeting. But imagine we found out that, say, a deadly disease would require us to have an empty seat between each person in the audience, meaning we could only sell half the number of seats.

So we plug everything into Excel and figure that we can sell half as many seats for twice as much money. Cool!

Except no one wants to pay $140 for a seat at our performance. They might pay $75, but at that price would many other people would shift from the orchestra level to the balcony, so we'd wind up with even less money.

I imagine that WTTW looked at their budget and figured that they needed to pay "Check, Please!" a lot less in order to keep their books in balance. And the producers of "Check, Please!" said no, we're not adjusting our prices to help you balance your books; we can take our product elsewhere.

We'll see. It's sad when this sort of thing happens, and I wish more arts organizations would recognize that they need people with business skills in management. I expect "Check, Please!" will do just fine online.

Lunchtime roundup

Stories from the usual suspects:

Finally, Whisky Advocate calls out a few lesser-known distilleries in Scotland worth visiting—or at least sampling.