The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Trump, Trump, Trump

These are the kinds of articles that make me want to go into exile:

  • A years-long investigation by journalist David Cay Johnston uncovered links between Donald Trump and key mafia figures, which would make Trump the most corrupt presidential candidate since Harding.
  • James Fallows warns us not to assume that even though because the U.S. has gotten out of previous political crises, we shouldn't complacently assume that we'll do it again if Trump gets elected. He draws on Madison's Federalist #10 to make his point: "It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm."
  • Finally, The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik comments on "The dangerous acceptance of Donald Trump," underscoring the point Fallows made: "[U]nder any label Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States—the order that has made it, in fact, the great and plural country that it already is."

It's going to be a long five months.

My stack is stacking up

Too many things to read before lunchtime:

Now, back to work.

Retrenchment; or, remember the 1950s

On this day in 1954, the Supreme Court handed down Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which ended "separate but equal" education after finding that the two concepts are antagonistic. Also on this day in 1954, the City of Chicago announced plans for the Stateway Gardens housing project, which eventually replaced an African-American slum with a high-rise hell-on-earth housing African Americans. As historian John R. Schmidt comments, "Maybe the new public housing projects were an attempt to keep Black people on 'their side of the tracks.'" (They were; he's being sarcastic.)

A similar pattern exists today. Despite historic, unprecedented support for the LGBT community throughout most of the U.S., the right has taken on the non-existent issue of predators in bathrooms to win votes in an election year. The small minority of people who (a) care about this issue and (b) are afraid of gays nevertheless has support from latter-day Sheriff Clark figures like Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republicans.

Progress is never smooth. I just wish people on the wrong side of history would get out of the way sometimes.

An inability to think coherently

New Republic's Brian Buetler reports that the wing-nuts in the Republican Party (i.e., about half of them) are already laying the psychological groundwork for the increased reporting on Donald Trump's past coming out now that he's the presumptive nominee:

The Republican primary campaign revealed (or rather reestablished) that Donald Trump is a bigot and a sexist and a creep. In fairness, this was not entirely a testament to fearless journalism; Trump happily exhibited all of these behaviors in front of live television cameras week after week. But reporters and campaigns did bring incidents of bigotry, sexism, and creepiness from his past to light, which helped feed the public’s exceedingly negative impression of the GOP’s new standard-bearer.

Despite months of digging, though, they may have only scratched the surface of Trump’s public and private sordidness. Now that he’s effectively secured the Republican Party nomination, we can expect the full details to pour out in the weeks and months ahead.

Before he dropped out of the race, Ted Cruz predicted this would happen. He attributed it to a liberal conspiracy: The media would sit on their most explosive Trump exposés until he’d won the nomination thanks to the invaluable free airtime they’d given him—and then destroy him with a series of damning revelations they’d been waiting to unleash.

It goes without saying that Democrats have none of those perverse incentives to worry about. They will unearth what Republicans missed; they will find what reporters can’t, if they haven’t already. And to the extent that their dossiers overlap, they will release what Republicans withheld. Reporters will happily field this opposition research, run it to ground, and publish it. It isn’t the media that’s been strategically holding fire—it’s the Democrats. They even boast about it.

And it's not like this guy doesn't have a whole load of dirty laundry to air. But such is the pathology of the Republican base right now that any bad news about their candidate must be part of a larger conspiracy, because the cognitive dissonance otherwise would be incapacitating.

Wow, this is going to be a long campaign.

Eddie Lampert is disappointed

After announcing yesterday that Sears will close its oldest retail store in the U.S. in the wake of a $1.13 bn loss last year, CEO Eddie Lampert told investors that he intends to return the chain to profitability in five years. Apparently their loyalty program is the problem:

Shop Your Way members sign up to receive coupons, and free shipping, and earn points that can be converted into dollars. Membership also provides access to a “social commerce” community on shopyourway.com that lets shoppers see what merchandise their friends have "liked" or purchased. Sears, in return, receives rich data about these customers that helps it adapt more quickly to serving them.

The program has been Lampert's pet project of the last five years. But after defending it and explaining that building such a platform and changing customers' behavior requires a lot of patience, he admitted what a lot of skeptical observers have long assumed: Shop Your Way just isn't getting people to spend enough money.

He said the platform has an enormous number of registered members, but many of them are not as active as he would like. Three-quarters of Sears' revenue comes from registered Shop Your Way members, but many of them are not frequent buyers.

"Getting people engaged and interested is super-important," he said. "We've built the platform, (but) we've fallen short on getting them engaged. Are we really getting the bulk of their purchases? We want to serve our members deeper. If you shop with us 10 times a year and spend $300, we'd like you to shop 100 times a year and spend $3,000."

NO, you putz, the problem isn't your loyalty platform; it's that you, personally, have spent ten years turning Sears into someplace no one wants to shop. Have you even been inside one of your stores lately?

A few years ago I spent two days inside a Sears store that had been converted into a health-insurance company's head office. I have never worked in a more depressing environment, and I'm including in "never" the time I worked graveyard shifts in a dorm security booth in college.

Eddie, the only way the company can return to profitability in five years is if you terminate retail operations and sell the remaining assets to Seritage. But face it: you killed one of America's greatest brands, all by yourself.

Student debt and deflation

As someone with both student debt and mortgages, our encroaching deflation (and consistent below-target inflation) frustrates me. Take a look at this special report by Crain's showing how bad the problem of student debt has become in general:

The share of college grads owing at least $30,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars jumped from 6 percent to 30 percent in the eight years ended in 2012, according to the College Board, while the average debt of new graduates in Illinois ballooned 85 percent, to $29,984, over the last decade. Among 46 Illinois schools reporting data to the Princeton Review, 19 say 2014 graduates' debt averaged more than $30,000. Debt for graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago was $42,097, topped only by downstate MacMurray College's $50,039. Neither school commented.

A study published in 2014 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, noting that small businesses account for about 60 percent of net jobs and rely primarily on personal debt for startup capital, found "a significant and economically meaningful negative correlation" between growth of student debt and small-business formation.

February's unemployment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds was a seasonally adjusted 5.1 percent, not much higher than the 4.9 percent overall rate and down from 9 percent four years ago. Yet median compensation for 30-year-olds in 2014 has dropped over the last decade to mid-1980s levels, according to the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

So let's review:

  • You need a college degree to meet the minimum qualifications for most jobs.
  • College costs have risen at multiples of inflation for 20 years or more.
  • Students have to borrow more money than ever before to get the college degrees they need to get jobs.
  • The resulting debt service depresses consumer spending, reducing demand for goods and services, and making the jobs even scarcer.
  • Republican Party policies aimed at reducing taxes and government spending, especially in the wake of the 2008 crash, have also suppressed demand for services.
  • Republicans have also simultaneously chipped away at the social safety net built up by bipartisan governments from 1934 to 1976, making repaying debt even harder for people living on the edge.
  • Let's not forget the Republican-drafted, Bush-approved bankruptcy law of 2005 that makes it impossible to get out from under crushing student-loan debt in most circumstances.
  • All of these Republican policies cause—cause—lower inflation verging on deflation, which makes it harder to repay debts. Keep in mind that the biggest beneficiaries of lower inflation are the bankers who contribute disproportionately to Republicans.

As we say in software, the transfer of wealth from young students to old bankers is a feature, not a bug, of Republican economic and tax policies.

You want to know how to keep student debt from destroying the Millennials? Simple. Government stimulus to get us out of the deflation trap, and allowing student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy.

You want to know how to do those things? Simple. Elect Democratic majorities in Federal and state legislatures, and vote for Hillary Clinton on November 6th.

Haven't escaped my notice today

I've been running around all day and only have a couple of minutes to list some things I've read on my phone while running around. All day.

There were a few other things in there, but these were the ones I paid most attention to.

 

Qualifications for president

Via Fallows, I'm now reading the transcript of Donald Trump's recent meeting with the Washington Post editorial board. It's...I don't even know how to describe it. He makes no sense. Example, from early on:

[Fred] HIATT [WaPo editorial page editor]: The root of many people’s unhappiness in Baltimore was the perception that blacks are treated differently by law enforcement. And the disproportionate – do you think it’s a problem that the percentage of blacks in prison is higher than whites, and what do you think is the root of that situation?

TRUMP: Well I’ve never really see anything that – you know, I feel very strongly about law enforcement. And, you know, if you look at the riot that took place over the summer, if that were stopped – it all, it mostly took place on the first evening, and if that were stopped on the first evening, you know, you’d have a much nicer city right now, because much of that damage and much of the destruction was done on Evening One. So I feel that law enforcement, it’s got to play a big role. It’s got to play a big role. But that’s a pretty good example, because tremendous amounts of damage was done that first evening – first two evenings, but the first evening in particular. And so I’m a very strong believer in law enforcement, but I’m also a very strong believer that the inner cities can come back.

HIATT: Do you see any racial disparities in law enforcement – I mean, what set it off was the Freddie Gray killing, as you know. Is that an issue that concerns you?

TRUMP: Well, look, I mean, I have to see what happens with the trial. I—

HIATT: Well, forget Freddie Gray, but in general, do you believe there are disparities in law enforcement?

TRUMP: I’ve read where there are and I’ve read where there aren’t. I mean, I’ve read both. And, you know, I have no opinion on that. Because frankly, what I’m saying is you know we have to create incentives for people to go back and to reinvigorate the areas and to put people to work.  And you know we have lost million and millions of jobs to China and other countries. And they’ve been taken out of this country, and when I say millions, you know it’s, it’s tremendous. I’ve seen 5 million jobs, I’ve seen numbers that range from 6 million to, to smaller numbers. But it’s many millions of jobs, and it’s to countries all over. Mexico is really becoming the new China. And I have great issue with that. Because you know I use in speeches sometimes Ford or sometimes I use Carrier – it’s all the same: Ford, Carrier, Nabisco, so many of the companies — they’re moving to Mexico now. And you know we shouldn’t be allowing that to happen. And tremendous unemployment, tremendous. They’re allowing tremendous people that have worked for the companies for a long time, they’re allowing, if they want to move around and they want to work on incentives within the United States, that’s one thing, but when they take these companies out of the United States. Other countries are outsmarting us by giving them advantages, you know, like in the case of Mexico. In the case of many other countries. Like Ireland is, you’re losing Pfizer to Ireland, a great pharmaceutical company that with many, many jobs and it’s going to move to Ireland.

What...the...fuck is he talking about? Incoherent doesn't seem strong enough a word. The lack of thought, the lack of knowledge, the lack of any ability to discuss a real problem in a real way should be completely disqualifying.

But after the Republican Party has spent 50 years hammering into people the idea that coherent, reasoned, informed thought doesn't get the job done (and by extension, education is worthless and fast-talking liberals are trying to win one over on you), this was kind of inevitable, wasn't it?

During a four-hour WebEx session...

Stuff to read later:

OK, conference call is ending. Time to perambulate the pooch.

Turning mental illness into a nomination for President

I think we can all agree that Donald Trump believes everything he says. Either he's a genius bullshitter or he has narcissistic personality disorder. It doesn't really matter in the end, but James Fallows still tries to sort it out:

A reader makes what may by now be an obvious point but is still worth reckoning with. He was responding to the post in which I noted Trump’s combination of masterful TV performance and near-total ignorance of the actual job and challenges of being president.

Imagine going through life with the conceptual framework that you simply cannot be wrong. Facts would cease to matter, and education would largely be irrelevant, because you're the one who determines what is and isn't true. In fact, people who claim to have expertise would become the enemy because they would provide information that would exist outside of yourself. If everything you say is the ultimate, universal truth, than anything that exists outside of yourself must be deception.

I think that Trump earnestly believes every single thing that comes out of his mouth, and that the reason his beliefs seem to change is because his reality is fluid.

Sounds about right. But then again, Scott Adams could also be correct. Either way, having this man so close to becoming president scares me more than any of the usual knaves and rogues the GOP has nominated would have.

And there's this: