Saturday, July 2, 2016

Djokovic Upset By Querry - No Grand Slam This Year

There must be something in the water over there in England. Today, Sam Querrey completed a stunning upset of Novak Djokovic 7-6, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6. As suspected, the combination of a big server and some below average play from Djokovic led to his defeat. Querrey's was serve was virtually untouchable in the first two sets until rain halted play for the day. It looked as though Novak had righted the ship as he rallied to take the third set 6-3. And Djokovic looked like he was on his way to one of his incredible, but typical, comebacks when he broke Querrey early in the fourth. But he had foolishly used up his challenges and two balls that Djokovic hit were called out were shown by replay to have just clipped the chalk. Unable to challenge, Djokovic lost those two points and was unable to consolidate the break. Throughout the match and especially in the fourth set tie-break, Djokovic just did not look comfortable and perhaps the pressure of the calendar Grand Slam was just starting to get to him. But that is gone now - blown away by Querrey's overpowering serve.

Natural Weekends - More Yosemite




Friday, July 1, 2016

Congress Saves Puerto Rico From Bankruptcy

In a rare show of sanity, Congress did not force Puerto Rico into bankruptcy. Instead it essentially set up a financial control board that will take many economic decisions out of the hands of the locally elected authorities. The seven member board, made up of four Republican appointees and three Democratic ones, will be able to restructure Puerto Rico's over $70 billion dollars in outstanding debt. The bill was not without controversy as some conservatives labeled it just another bailout while Bernie Sanders gave voice to many Puerto Ricans in calling it the imposition of "colonial masters". Puerto Rico's economy is already in pretty desperate shape and its population shrinking as residents flee the island for better paying jobs on the US mainland. So you would think that maintaining the incomes of those who remain might be helpful to stabilize the situation. But since this was a Republican bill, they also rammed through a reduction in the minimum wage and limiting overtime pay. This will just drive even more Puerto Ricans off the island and make recovery even more difficult. There is plenty of blame to go around with Puerto Rico's debt disaster from financial firms allowing the territory to over-leverage in order to take advantage of the higher rates and tax-exempt status of the island's bonds to simple local corruption. But it is the citizens and, of course, the workers of Puerto Rico that will bear the brunt of the recovery.

Trump Said He Forgave $45 Million Campaign Loan But No Paperwork Yet

We've already documented the trouble that the Trump campaign has had raising money and now we may know why some big-pocketed Republican donors may be staying away, besides his race-baiting, nativist policies and general lack of policy knowledge.  Last week, Trump announced with great fanfare that he was forgiving the $45 million loan he had given his campaign. By doing this, he hoped to encourage donors who were worried that their money would just go to paying off Trump's loan rather than building a credible Presidential campaign. But the Trump campaign has refused to release any paperwork showing that the appropriate forms to forgive the loan were filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). And without that paperwork, we all have to wait until next month's FEC report coming out on July 20, which happens to be right in the middle of the GOP convention, to see whether Trump has been true to his word. And I'm guessing that plenty of potential donors are waiting to see that as well.

Juno To Hopefully Enter Orbit Around Jupiter on July 4th

The latest space probe to investigate Jupiter will hopefully slow down enough to be pulled into orbit by the giant planet on July 4th. Juno, NASA's latest mission to Jupiter will fire it rockets to slow itself down from the current speed of over 150,000 miles per hour and be captured in Jupiter's orbit. It will then orbit the giant gas planet for about the next 16 months before diving directly into the planet and burning up. This will be the second mission to orbit around Jupiter, the first being Galileo nearly 20 years ago. This time, more advanced instruments will give us more information about how the planet was formed and what is its actual composition and, by knowing that, we will have an even better idea of how exactly our solar system was formed. So, while we are all out having fun at our July 4th barbecue, JPL scientist will be waiting with baited breath for a 3 second beep that will have taken over 40 minutes to reach them and will indicate that the rocket firing has been successful and Juno, after 5 years and just under 2 billion miles traveled, is in orbit around Jupiter.

First Driverless Car Fatality

Sadly, we seem to have had the first fatality associated with driverless cars. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating a fatal crash in Florida involving a Tesla running in Autopilot mode. Atrios  over at Eschaton is (again) almost a lone voice in the wilderness in lack of faith in the feasibility of driverless cars, primarily because of the technological challenges to do so on a wide scale. This will do nothing but bolster that lack of faith.  My question for driverless cars would be who will be liable when accidents like these occur, and they will occur.  I'm pretty sure the manufacturers of the driverless car technology will not want to take on that liability but who else is going to be responsible. As a driver, I am certainly not going to take on that liability when I have essentially turned the car over to technology. And if I am forced to take on that responsibility, then I might as well drive the car myself. I know we've been promised this Utopia where driverless cars will keep us safer and somehow reduce congestion but I have a feeling this is more like the Jetson-type of personal air travel that I was promised as a kid back in the 60s. I'm still waiting.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Trump Vetting Christie For VP - Who Else Would Take It?

The New York Times is reporting that the Trump campaign is vetting Chris Christie as a possible selection for Vice President. This certainly sounds plausible because I don't think there are too many other credible, potential candidates out there who would actually take the job. Christie's descent from the darling of moderate Republicans into the abyss of Trumpism has been something to behold. With his abysmal poll number in New Jersey giving him no chance at re-election and the Bridgegate scandal hanging over his head, Christie made an early gamble to bet his future on Trump. The gamble paid off with Trump's eventual nomination but at what cost to any national political viability for Christie in the future.

House Sets Gun Control Vote In Repsonse To Democratic Pressure

Democratic pressure on gun control is at least forcing Republicans to go on record and hold votes. The dramatic sit-in in the House has apparently led Paul Ryan to schedule some sort of vote on gun control when the House reconvenes next week. And last week, there was a small break in the firewall of Republican Senators as eight of them joined with Democrats in voting for the ban on gun sales for those on a terrorism watch-list.  Now clearly some of those Senators took a CYA vote so they could say they voted for these restrictions in the knowledge that the bill would go down to defeat anyway.  Whether they would vote that way if the bill actually had a chance to pass remains to be seen.

Just as in the Senate, the upcoming vote in the House will go nowhere. But it is clear that Democrats will continue to hold Republicans' feet to the fire on this issue through November. The real question is whether that pressure will continue after the election and on into next year. And to some degree, whether that happens or not, depends largely on how badly vulnerable Republicans fare in the fall and how much pressure gun control advocates keep putting on Democrats to keep fighting on this issue after the election.

Gove Betrays Boris In Delicious Irony; Opens Door For May

The pure Machiavellian maneuvering of British politicians is something you wouldn't believe if they made it a movie. It's becoming quite clear that Boris Johnson, the man who betrayed David Cameron, has now himself been brutally betrayed by Michael Gove. And it looks like Gove's act of treachery not only has sunk Johnson but also his own chance of becoming Prime Minister as MPs reacted angrily to this latest betrayal. Said one, "Doing a Gove' will become like 'gerrymandering', a phrase to enter the lexicon. P[eo]pl[e] will forget who it was about, but not the act. What Michael Gove has done today will live on in political history for a long time. He's trashed his own reputation." But the best line of the day came from MP Nigel Evans who apparently said, "This makes House of Cards look like TeletubbiesHQ." Theresa May is now the odds on favorite to win the leadership contest and become the next Prime Minister, although at this point you have to wonder who would want to take on that thankless job.

States Start To Limit Non-Compete Clauses

It is nice to see that states are starting to crack down on the proliferation of non-compete clauses in employment contracts, especially in jobs where trade secrets are not really involved. There is absolutely no reason that summer interns or sandwich shop employees need to be restrained by a non-compete clause. It is hard to believe but nearly one-fifth America's workers are currently bound by non-compete employment contracts.  Hawaii and New Mexico have banned these clauses in certain sectors of business while Oregon and Utah have limited the time such an agreement can be binding. Now Massachusetts is considering a bill that combines both of those approaches but also requires that companies pay 50% of a salary or a mutually agreed upon higher or lower rate during the length of the non-compete period.  Studies have shown that these agreements have actually reduced technical workers' salaries in the state by about 7 percent.

Apparently, for many businesses around the country, the idea of a "free market" doesn't seem to apply to labor market. It's good to see at least a few states putting some reasonable limits on these restrictive and unnecessary restrictions on worker freedom.

Trump Solicits Foreign MPs And Triggers FEC Complaint

Following up on the bizarre story of UK MPs being bombarded with fundraising requests from the Trump campaign, it now appears that the British politicians are not alone. Government officials from Iceland, Denmark, Finland, and Australia have all received similar appeals. It is illegal to knowingly solicit or accept campaign contributions from foreign nationals so a couple of consumer watchdog groups have filed an official complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over these fundraising appeals. You can bet the Trump campaign will say this is just a simple mistake and they really had no intention to solicit these foreigners and that is actually believable when you see how disorganized the campaign is. In addition, the FEC is really a toothless tiger that will probably just level some puny fine sometime after the election that will hardly effect the Trump campaign in any way. But it is just another signal to down-ballot Republicans that the Trump campaign is just not ready for prime-time. You can hear the rumblings within the party every day - Mitch McConnell just yesterday said the Trump was not yet a serious and credible candidate.  With his poor organization and weakening poll numbers, you wonder just how long Republicans can stick with Trump or simply abandon him to save their own elections.

Brexit Chaos Continues To Shock

There seems to be as much behind the scenes maneuvering in current British politics as there was in the courts of British kings and queens hundreds of years ago. On Tuesday, it was the Labour party's turn to rebel against their leader. Today's shocker is the Boris Johnson has announced that he won't run for Conservative party leader and, therefore, will not be the next PM. Michael Gove had abandoned his support for Johnson earlier and decided to make a run himself. This leaves the leadership battle between Gove, a leave supporter, and Theresa May, who supported remaining in the EU.  May made it clear in a speech announcing her intention to run that Britain will leave the EU. "Brexit means Brexit. The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high, and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door, and no second referendum".  On the other hand, May also said that Article 50 should not be invoked until next year at the earliest and that there would be no early election.

Johnson's withdrawal is truly a shock and it's hard to know whether he was outmaneuvered by Gove or whether his backtracking on immigration earlier in the week crippled his chances. Perhaps Johnson is playing the long game, letting the Gove or May negotiate the exit and then mounting a general election challenge. I do find it hard to imagine that May can keep her promise to not hold an election until 2020 unless she delays invoking Article 50 until well into 2017. Correspondingly, it is hard to believe that the public and the business community will put with the continued uncertainty associated with such a long delay in starting negotiations to leave. Whatever she does, you have to believe a general election will be necessary to ratify any agreement Britain makes with the EU to leave.

I keep on reading stories by serious pundits that Britain will never actually leave the EU, either out of self-interest or because it will somehow be blocked legally. On the other hand, the next PM, whether Gove or May, has now explicitly stated that they will invoke Article 50 and Angela Merkel made it quite clear yesterday that the UK vote to leave actually meant leaving. “I want to say very clearly tonight that I see no way to reverse this,” Merkel said. "We all need to look at the reality of the situation. It is not the hour for wishful thinking." But neither Gove or May have laid out an endgame that is remotely within the realm of possibility. Both talk about somehow staying as a member of a single market but without the freedom of movement that EU membership demands.  I don't see any way that other EU members would allow Britain to stay in the EU but have total control over its own borders. To negotiate that kind of deal with Britain is to invite every other member country to negotiate its own special deal with the EU - it's just not going to happen.

If Article 50 is eventually invoked, there seem to be only two possible solutions out there. One is for the UK to negotiate some pretty minimal changes to immigration from Europe that would still be in the context of "free movement" and try to sell that, as Cameron did with his renegotiation this spring, as a victory. Or the insurgency from the far right all over Europe becomes so great that the EU revokes the free movement requirement for every EU member. The former solution will strengthen UKIP and the xenophobes; the latter will mean victory for the far-right. In either case, it is a loss for a dynamic economy and a pluralistic society.




Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Trump's Use Of Teleprompter Shows GOP Leader He Is Serious Candidate

In another sign that Donald Trump may be in a bit of trouble if his poll numbers do not improve by the July convention, earlier today Mitch McConnell basically said that Trump was not a credible candidate yet, but "[h]e’s getting closer. Getting closer." Definitely not the most ringing endorsement from the Majority Leader. He followed that up with some nice words about Hillary Clinton, saying "[s]he’s an intelligent and capable person, no question about it." It certainly sounds like McConnell is already positioning to dump Trump or essentially run as a counterweight to a near-certain Clinton presidency. Either way, it's not good news for Trump.

But what also struck me was McConnell's comment on how Trump was starting to look like a more serious and credible candidate. He says, "people are looking for a level of seriousness that is typically conveyed by having a prepared text and Teleprompter and staying on message." So seriousness is indicated by having a prepared speech and using a Teleprompter to read it. Hmmm, I guess I'm confused because my recollection is that Republicans used to think that having a prepared speech and reading it from a Teleprompter indicated that you really weren't ready to do the job as President.  And my recollection turns out to be correct. When Obama was running for re-election in 2011 and 2012, he used the Teleprompter for many of his speeches around the country and that became a talking point in the right wing echo chamber. "It’s sort of a soft joke that the president needs a teleprompter because he doesn’t have a sound command of the issues and doesn’t know what he’s doing,” conservative strategist Greg Mueller said. “He’s still in job training." Other Republicans picked up on this pathetic attack including Romney, Pawlenty, Cain, Bachmann, and others.

Today, however, the use of the Teleprompter indicates that you apparently really are a serious candidate. Apparently that threshold has been lowered considerably over the last four or five years. But that's nothing new for Republicans these days.

Senate GOP Judicial Obstruction Simply Staggering

I guess I'm sounding like a broken record, but Senate Republicans refusal to actually fulfill their constitutional responsibilities just keeps on staggering me.  Take a look at this article describing just how many judicial appointments Senate Republicans are holding up in the increasingly unlikely hope that somehow Donald Trump will win the presidency. Earlier this month, not enough Republicans bothered to show up for a Judiciary Committee hearing to even make a quorum. And the most ridiculous thing is that some of these Senators are actually holding up nominees that they suggested for the post.

In Texas, which has a judicial emergency creating huge backlogs and caseloads, there are 12 judicial appointments waiting to be filled. Five of them have been publicly supported by Texas' two Senators, Cruz and Cornyn. But now those two will not let any nominees go forward.

Other Republican Senators holding up their own nominees include Coats of Indiana, Shelby and Sessions of Alabama, Graham and Scott of South Carolina, Tillis and Burr of North Carolina, Heller of Nevada, and Paul and Majority Leader McConnell of Kentucky.  The Indiana vacancy has been open for about a year and a half; a South Carolina vacancy has been open for nearly three years, as has one held by the Senators from Alabama. Marco Rubio has actually pulled his support for his nominee to fill a vacancy open for nearly two years as has Senator Perdue in Georgia for a vacancy also open for about two years.

And I haven't even mentioned Merrick Garland who is still waiting for a simple hearing, not even a vote, 103 days after being nominated to fill the ninth seat on the Supreme Court.

The level of obstruction is just staggering and the disregard for our judicial system is equally stunning. Yes, we all know that judicial nominations slow down in a presidential election year. But this is not what's happening now - these are judicial vacancies that have been unfilled for two or three years already. Republicans love to talk about our Founding Fathers but I'm not sure that Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe ever considered that a group of people would ever get elected who would willfully sabotage effective government and not fulfill their duties as citizens and legislators.  Perhaps we need a new Senate rule, or even a Constitutional amendment, that would require the Senate to actually hold a vote on any nominee within one year of being nominated by the President.  As citizens, that is the least we deserve from our representatives.

Unions Deny Ganim Request For Givebacks

With most Bridgeport residents in an uproar now that they have actually received their tax bill, the pressure will probably start to build on Mayor Joe Ganim and the City Council. And now it looks like Ganim will have a very hard time convincing the unions to help him with his budget problems. Ganim had asked one of the largest unions, the NAGE, to forgo their negotiated pay raises and take 10 unpaid furlough days.  In the weeks since that request, the city has received $7 million in additional monies, more than half of that coming from the sale of land to Sacred Heart University. When Ganim's request was put to a vote, union members resoundingly rejected it by a 279 to 24 margin. Ouch! Ganim is now threatening layoffs if the unions don't cave in. It's certainly not looking like a very good start for Ganim 2.0.

Astrophotography Adventure - More Mars and Saturn

I'm still trying to get better images of Mars and Saturn which really just involves more trial and mostly error. These are the best I have done lately - they are OK but I know I can get better, especially with Mars.  Both of these were composed from iPhone videos through the Starblast 4.5 at about 140x, converted to JPEG with PIPP, stacked with Registax, and post-processed with Curves tool in GIMP.



I think you can just make out some indications of some Mare on the left side of the Mars picture.  The Saturn image was taken with a variable polarizing filter attached.

Cameron Tries To Blame Corbyn For His Own Failure

It really takes a lot of chutzpah for David Cameron to tell Jeremy Corbyn, "It might be in my party’s interest for him to sit there, it’s not in the national interest and I would say, for heaven’s sake man, go." Britain wouldn't be in this mess if Cameron had actually thought about the national interest instead of his own re-election when he was putting the Brexit referendum on the table. And then he threw the additional insult that Corbyn didn't try hard enough in support of staying. As I've said before, if you have to rely on your political opponents to get your policy passed, you have no one to blame but yourself if it doesn't. Whether or not you think Corbyn should go, for Cameron to blame him just doesn't pas the smell test. What arrogance.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

More Organized(?) Trump Campaign Solicits British MPs

I'm sure Paul Manafort's job of trying to bring some semblance of organization to the Trump campaign feels somewhat like herding cats. He does seem to have managed to get Trump to actually make a speech from a teleprompter without going totally off script - an incredible feat in itself - although I'm not sure unilaterally ripping up trade deals is the kind of thing that business-friendly Republicans really want to hear. And Manafort also has started to bring on board some real campaign professionals, announcing three hires of seasoned politocos today.  But, in the Trump campaign, you always end up taking a few steps back as well.  Apparently, British MPs are being barraged by email solicitations from the Trump campaign, indicating that its first foray into fund-raising may not be going so well. Now, intentionally soliciting political contributions from foreign nationals is absolutely illegal. But the operative word there is intentionally.  With the Trump campaign, the defense that they didn't do this on purpose will probably have a ring of truth.

More problematic for Manafort and Trump is the candidate's slump in the polls.  Yes, these are early days and polls this far out are far from meaningful. But an 8 point deficit or worse makes down-ballot Republicans extremely nervous and could create some chaos at the July convention if it is not somewhat reduced by then. And Trump's constant braggadocio about winning doesn't really fly when he is clearly losing. Manafort may be able to bring some order to the campaign but the real problem may just be the candidate.

Supreme Court Saves Public Sector Unions

Today, the Supreme Court refused to reconsider its earlier 4-4 non-decision in March that let stand a lower court ruling that allowed unions to charge "fair-share" fees that are collected to offset the costs of collective bargaining but cannot be used for union political activity. The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, revolved around the requirement that non-union teachers be required to pay these fees to the union if their contracts were covered by the union's collective bargaining agreements. That would seem to make perfect sense as the non-union teachers would be the beneficiaries of the union's collective bargaining work.

In a novel argument, some California teachers argued that, since taxpayers pay the salaries and benefits of public sector workers, any bargaining over those issues by public sector unions is an inherently political activity. Remarkably, it appears that at least four Supreme Court justices actually bought this argument and it seemed as though Justice Scalia was leaning toward joining them. But he died before the case could be decided, leading to the March non-decision that affirmed the lower courts ruling upholding these fees. Obviously, if the simple act of bargaining for salaries and benefits by a public sector union had been ruled unconstitutional, it pretty much would have meant the end of public sector unions as there would be significantly less money to actually run an organized union.

This case shows once again how the death of Scalia has pretty much effectively neutered the conservatives on the Supreme Court.  Because the Senate Republicans will not fulfill their constitutional role to advise and consent, the November election will determine the direction of the Court going forward. Assuming Obama or Hillary, if she wins, is actually able to get a nominee actually confirmed by the Senate, the liberal shift on the Court will be complete and a new, liberal era could conceivably last quite a long time.

Brexit Chaos Continues

The fallout from the Brexit vote continues to grow as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has resoundingly lost a vote of confidence from Labour MPs by a resounding total of 172-40. The vote is not binding on Crobyn, who was overwhelmingly elected by party members over the objections of many Labour MPs, and accordingly he is refusing to step down. It will now be up to at least 51 Labour MPs to unite behind a single candidate in order to mount a true leadership challenge and the person most mentioned to be that candidate is Angel Eagle, the former shadow business secretary and shadow first secretary of state.

Meanwhile, in London which voted overwhelmingly to remain, new mayor Sadiq Khan demanded more autonomy for the city. Using the very campaign slogan that the leave camp used in the Brexit vote, Khan demanded that Londoners be given "more control".  He is looking to have more powers over tax-raising, housing, health, transport, and justice devolve to the London government itself. Khan stated that London needs, "[m]ore autonomy in order to protect London's economy from the uncertainty ahead, to protect the businesses from around the world who trade here and to protect our jobs, wealth and prosperity."

With leadership vacuums at the top of both major parties and potentially years of uncertainty ahead, Britain is quite frankly a total mess right now. It is hard to imagine that this situation can go on as it is until Cameron turns over the reins in October. Something will have to give long before then.

Brexit Disaster May Have Influenced Spanish Vote

I don't want to read too much into one election, but the results from the general election in Spain on Sunday seem to indicate that the predicted disaster for the British economy after voting to leave the EU may have actually reduced the desire for radical change among voters within the EU.  These elections were essentially a repeat of an election from six months ago in which no party was able to put together a governing coalition.  The expectations were that the more radical Podemos Party would supplant the Socialists to be the dominant party on the left. But Podemos was not able to win any additional seats and the other left-wing emerging party, Cuidadanos, actually lost eight seats, while the Socialists lost only five.

The big winner was the Popular Party, led by Mariano Rajoy, which gained 14 seats and now look likely to be able to form a government.  In the prior election, the Popular party had won the most seats but could not find enough partners to put together a governing coalition. Mr. Rajoy had campaigned on a platform of unity and continuity in the face of crisis within the European Union and it appears that the people responded to that message. Certainly, the collapse of the pound and stock market in the UK after the Brexit vote probably gave pause to many voters. And that disaster may be a warning to others who are thinking of an EU exit.

Top Republican Ensures Job Losses for US Exporters

Almost every week, these days, we seem to find more and more examples of Republicans in post-policy mode - with no serious policy solutions, they seem to have chosen to simply make sure government does not work. Today's example involves the ever-cantankerous Richard Shelby and the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank. The bank was set up in the depths of the Depression in order to help facilitate US exports.  It essentially acts like a corporation, offering financing and insurance for foreign purchases of US-made goods by customers unable or unwilling to take on that credit risk. With its help, it is much easier for US companies to expand into riskier overseas markets and the US companies that benefit from this range from the smallest to the largest of US businesses. The bank was such a success for the US that 60 other countries have now set up similar banks to help increase their exports.

Now you would think that Republicans would be supportive of an organization that is helping drive US exports, but, with today's Republican party, you would be wrong. Last June, Republicans decided that the bank was just another example of crony capitalism and corporate welfare and the mere fact of making these loans meant government was picking winners and losers. Although large US businesses are just a small fraction of the clients the banks serves, the dollar value of loans for those large businesses are the majority of the bank's portfolio. There were also some concerns about the government's credit risk in making these loans, despite that never being a problem in the past. So they voted not to renew the bank's charter, essentially shutting it down.  After some significant backlash from the business community, some common sense prevailed and the bank's charter was renewed over the objections of tea-party Republicans.

After a six month hiatus, the bank was finally back in business but approval was needed by the bank's five-member board for any loan over $10 million. At the time of the bank's charter renewal there were only two members on the board - the others were waiting for Senate confirmation like so many Obama appointees. And this is where Richard Shelby comes in. As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee he has personally put a hold on any of Obama's nominees to the board of the bank. And without at least three board member, there can be no quorum and no way to expedite loans of over $10 million dollars. For a year now, no loan of over $10 million dollars has been approved.  There were indications that Mr. Shelby might relent after a strong primary challenge from his right ended in March. But that didn't happen and over 30 deals worth more than $20 billion are just sitting in limbo right now.

With no US Ex-Im Bank loans available, companies have gone to other countries banks in order to move their projects along.  But often those loans come with strings attached requiring some investment in that foreign country. For example, GE alone has moved some of it manufacturing plants from South Carolina, Maine, New York, Texas, and Wisconsin to overseas plants in order to facilitate financing through other countries' banks. Not only have these moves cost thousands of jobs for GE workers but the negative effects on local suppliers to those plants have also been hit.

This is today's Republican party. Thousands of Americans must lose their jobs because they can't allow that a government program might actually help big business. Millions must not get health care because that would show a government program could work. How long will so many Americans have to suffer just because Republicans can't stand government?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Wimbledon Predictions

There's been so much going on lately, I haven't even had time to post about Wimbledon which started today. Grass court tennis is another game entirely so there many players, especially those with big serves, who are not usually on the radar but actually can make a pretty deep run in this tournament.

On the men's side, Rafa Nadal is not even in the tournament as he is still recovering with what seemed like a pretty severe wrist injury that forced him to retire at the French Open. Roger Federer will be here after skipping the French with his own back injury though I doubt he has regained enough match fitness to survive the entire two weeks on the grass. That leaves only Andy Murray of the big four to really pose a threat to Novak Djokovic. Murray took the warmup tournament at Queens for the fifth time which should give him some confidence coming into Wimbledon. But I just don't think he has enough to take down Djokovic who has been simply dominant all season long.  In fact, with the possible exception of a big serving young gun like Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem or Alexander Zverev, the only thing standing in Djokovic's way may be himself. Having won the Australian and completed his career Grand Slam at the French, every match that takes him closer to the Wimbledon final and winning the third leg of the calendar Grand Slam just raises the pressure on him that much more.

Big serving is rewarded on the grass at Wimbledon and there is no bigger server in the women's game that Serena Williams. Serena made it to the finals of both the Australian and French Opens but faltered at the finish line, losing to Angelique Kerber in Melbourne and Garbine Muguruza in Paris. In addition, Serena has had some surprising losses on the Wimbledon grass, losing to Sabine Lisicki and Alize Cornet in 2013 and 2014 respectively. So the rest of the field probably has the unusual feeling that Serena is actually vulnerable these days. But you can't point to any one player and say that's the one who poses a real threat which is why, if Serena does lose, it will still be considered a pretty big upset.

Brexit May Force Fed Easing By Year's End

It was less than a week ago that I noted how quickly the mood had changed within the Federal Reserve when it came to raising rates. And, with Brexit, it seems as though opinion has shifted 180 degrees from its earlier position. My go-to guy on the Fed, Tim Duy, is now floating the possibility of a rate cut before the end of the year. The collapse of yields on long term bonds (US 10 year below 1.6%) and the prospect of a long stretch of uncertainty associated with the negotiations for the British exit from the EU has certainly taken any September rate hike off the table. Former Fed member Narayana Kocherlakota is already pushing the Fed to cut rates in July but I doubt the Fed will go down that road. They will do their best to stand pat and wait and see what how conditions unfold over the next few months. But the risks are clearly to the downside and the doves on the Fed are clearly in control. A rate cut before the end of the year is certainly a real possibility. I'm sure the Fed is thanking their lucky stars that the weak May unemployment report forced them to hold off on the June rate increase that they clearly had on the table. In the wake of Brexit, a June rate hike would have been viewed even more dismally than the one in December and been a further blow to Fed credibility. Sadly, it may have only been luck that save us from that disaster.

Another Shocking England Exit

England exits Euro 2016 with a shocking 2-1 loss to Iceland. Yes, you read that right, Iceland! This is probably one of the biggest upsets in football (soccer) history!

Cameron Could End Up Worst PM In History

Hat tip to Jordan Weissmann over at Slate for pointing this out - Neville Chamberlain was only responsible for losing Czechoslovakia; David Cameron may be responsible for losing Scotland and Northern Ireland. Worst PM ever? Quite possible.

Supreme Court Upholds Another Gun Control Measure

In another ruling that once again shows that the Supreme Court does not believe in the NRA fiction of absolute 2nd Amendment rights, a challenge to the law that banned the ownership or purchase of guns by convicted domestic abusers was denied in an opinion issued today. Once again, the Court has upheld the constitutionality of reasonable gun restrictions and I imagine there will be many more cases like this in the years to come as many states become more committed to rational gun control policies.

In an earlier post, I emphasized how important I think it is for gun control advocates to highlight these Supreme Court decisions.  The only right the Supreme Court has ruled is that you have the right to own a gun in your own home - that is all. Once you get the NRA to have to admit that the constitution allows for reasonable gun restrictions, the debate turns in our favor - it is not about whether gun control is legal but rather what gun control restrictions are legal.  Too many citizens have been brainwashed by the NRA's propaganda that the 2nd Amendment is all-encompassing and does not allow any restrictions whatsoever. And that is plainly false.  Of course, the NRA will still wield enormous political power and be in a position to politically block all sorts of gun control efforts. But it is important to change the terms of the debate.  Gun control opponents always hide behind the rubric of "protecting the right to own a gun". Pointing out that the Court has ruled the right is subject to restrictions strips away some of their cover.

Top EU Officials Allow Room For Regrexit

After initial statements from top European officials indicating their desire to see the UK get on with leaving as quickly as possible and minimize the extended period of uncertainty and negotiations, a new tone has emerged yesterday and today.  Angela Merkel's chief of staff said "[p]oliticians in London should have the possibility to think again about the fallout from an exit" and other officials indicated that there was no hurry to have the UK invoke Article 50 until after a new Prime Minister takes over this fall. In a classic statement that actually indicates the problem that people have with the EU political class, one senior official in Brussels remarked, "“[t]he [democratic] decision of the people today can overturn the democratic decision of yesterday." Yes, that is certainly true and it would be nice if it happened but it is typically and infuriatingly tone-deaf to the actual will of the people.

All these comments are quite an about face from comments made immediately after the vote. Whether that reflects an actual movement to somehow reconsider Brexit is still rather doubtful.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Retrictions

The Supreme Court affirmed the right to abortion under Roe v. Wade and struck down a Texas law that effectively shut down half of the state's abortion clinics and required many women to travel hundreds of miles to reach a clinic. The law required abortion clinics to have facilities that were almost equivalent to a hospital and abortion doctors would have to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The cover that abortion opponents used for creating these laws was that they protected the health and safety of women seeking abortion. Unfortunately, the state had to admit during oral arguments that they could not produce one credible instance where these regulations actually helped a woman's health and safety. The Court ruled 5-3 that these rules created on undue burden on those seeking abortions and struck them down. The four liberals, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor, were joined by Kennedy in the ruling. This decision will invalidate similar restrictive abortion laws that have been passed in other states under the guise of protecting a woman's health. This is yet another example of how the power on the Court has swung definitively in the liberal's favor.


Brexit - Thoughts And Analysis

It is almost impossible to describe what a massive own-goal the Brexit vote is for the UK and especially England.  It is probably the worst policy decision made by any major country since World War II. The decision has torn the entire fabric of the UK to pieces. Scotland and Northern Ireland are now in impossible positions; the Conservative party is cleaved in half; even the Labour party is in open revolt after the results. And the most vocal supporters of getting out of the EU now seem to be having second thoughts as they see the predicted carnage of their vote actually happening.

The Blame

Let's be absolutely, 100% clear. The blame for this debacle falls squarely and completely on the shoulders of David Cameron.  There was absolutely no need to call this referendum, especially when everyone knew how divisive it would be. But in order to feed his own personal ambition to get re-elected, he needed to keep the anti-EU forces within the Conservative party in the fold while also blunting the impact of the ant-immigrant UK Independence Party (UKIP). And his method for doing that was to promise a referendum on leaving the EU after he got re-elected in 2015. There was always a glaring weakness in that idea - he would have to rely once again on significant Labour support for the referendum to fail. Relying on your political opponents for your success is not usually a good tactic. Yes, his short-term strategy worked, he surprisingly won re-election and actually increased Tory control in Parliament.  But that strategy completely failed on Thursday - Cameron has been forced to resign; his legacy is in tatters; and the UK and England may never be the same.

Of course, there is plenty of blame to go around. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove fed their own ambitions, abandoned the PM and hitched their wagon to Farage and the xenophobes, while running a pretty dishonest campaign overstating the negative effects of the EU and understating the fallout from exit. We can also throw the pathetic Nick Clegg in there who was the kingmaker way back in 2010 and chose Cameron over Gordon Brown, paving the way for the destruction of Clegg's Liberal Democratic party, unnecessary austerity, and now the exit from the EU. The current accusations against Corbyn and the Labour party for not being as supportive as they should have been in supporting Cameron strike me as a little strained. You can maybe look back at the poor campaign of Ed Milliband that allowed Cameron's re-election. But you can hardly blame Labour.  Cameron had asked them to be the adult in the room and support him in keeping Scotland in the EU and what did Labour get for their efforts - just the destruction of Labour dominance on Scotland as it was replaced by the SNP and, without those Scottish seats, a probable permanent minority party status in the UK. So it is a pretty hard ask to ask Labour to fall on their swords once again, do the right thing, and support Cameron in staying in the EU.  Their reward will be a more powerful Cameron who will ram  more Tory policies through Parliament. It is not surprising that a significant share of Labour voters made a "protest" vote without really believing they would leave the EU. A similar point could also be made about EU leaders. Perhaps if they had given Cameron more when he tried to "renegotiate" the relationship earlier this year, this disaster could have been avoided. But, again, Cameron put those leaders in an untenable position, just as with Labour. If they had given him anything of substance, every other country would want to carve out a "special" deal too. Lastly, the youth. It was their future and they just did not turn out like they needed to. Take a look at this graph that Kevin Drum had about the age breakdown of turnout and votes:
(Preference via YouGov. Turnout via SkyData.)

But, in the end, this is David Cameron's failure. His hubris to win the 2015 election led to the destruction of the UK and his own political career and legacy. It is a Greek tragedy.

The Future For the UK

It is pretty clear that leaving the EU will mean the breakup of the United Kingdom.  Scotland will vote to become independent and remain or rejoin the EU. Boris Johnson may say he sees no need for a new Scottish referendum but it will happen somehow - maybe not right away but, if the Scots are forced to leave the EU, it will happen.  Northern Ireland is in a somewhat similar position and there will be great pressure for it to join a united Ireland and remain in the EU. This will place the Protestants in Northern Ireland in a difficult position and, whatever happens, probably exacerbate the sectarian tensions that are always just bubbling below the surface there. It will not be pretty. Wales voted to leave, but when they realize that Johnson and the Tories have neither the capability or the inclination to match the loss of current EU subsidies to rural areas like Wales, their tune may change. I would also throw in that Gibraltar's status could also be in doubt as they voted to remain and rely heavily on Spanish labor and EU trade.

This would pretty much just leaves jolly old England. It will definitely be old but I'm not sure quite how jolly it will be. It is more than ironic that the areas of England and Wales that received the most EU subsidies voted to leave. Conservative estimates are that leaving the EU will cost about 2% of GDP annually and the uncertainty of  the long drawn-out negotiations to leave will probably make that impact even greater. Almost the very moment that Boris Johnson was noting in his victory speech that the UK had the fifth largest economy in the world, the crash of the pound and stock market had already reduced it to the sixth largest. If Scotland and Northern Ireland leave, that represents about another 10% of UK GDP gone and would leave England fighting with the emerging giants of India and Brazil, along with Italy, for the last three spots in the top ten of world GDP - still a powerful economy but a much weaker one. In addition, the idea that the EU is going to make things easy for the UK to leave just does not seem credible - they will extract a heavy price. Despite what Boris Johnson says, there is no way the EU is going to let the UK end up like Norway with free access to its markets without the EU responsibilities. The EU will want to make an example of the UK in order to send a signal to other EU members that leaving will be difficult and painful.

The financial power of the City in London will also be significantly weakened. All the major international banks will have to increase their presence in some financial center in Europe in order to have access to the EU and every job that moves is one less job in London. Already, HSBC is announcing a move of around 1,000 jobs out of London - that is just the opening of the floodgates. .

Politically, this could also result in a complete realignment in British politics. We have already seen a Conservative-Labour coalition emerge in the vote for Scottish independence and on the Brexit vote. Many of the remaining Labour strongholds in the North voted to leave although not necessarily by significant margins. Meanwhile, there is a significant bloc in the Conservative party that also voted to remain. It is quite possible we could end up with an anti-immigrant, anti-EU, nationalist party combining UKIP and Tories and a pro-EU, more liberal party of disaffected Conservatives and Labour.

The next few months will give the Johnson/Gove alliance a chance to lay out their vision for the future. They managed to advocate for leaving without having to articulate what exactly the way forward would be. My understanding, which could be incorrect here, is that they are looking kind of like a right-wing Republican dream - massive deregulation and probably more tax cuts that will fuel enormous growth. The same old supply-side story which always ends in more debt and slower growth. I'm not sure that is what the leave voters actually have in mind but it may be what they will get. And, if that does turn out to be the case, England may end up looking rather like Kansas. Rural voters, in total fear of these supposed waves of immigrants who barely even exist in their communities, vote against their best interests and endorse policies that make them even poorer. And without the EU subsidies to those rural areas and the increased cost of trade, they will be even poorer still.

Finally, a real question is what will happen with the youth of England. Although they might not have voted in enough number, it is pretty clear that they overwhelmingly supported remaining. Will they leave in droves, creating an even bigger drain on England's finances and ability to grow.

However you look at it, the future looks pretty bleak. Yes, it will not be a new depression. But, like austerity, it is just another unnecessary self-inflicted injury that will make everyone's life more difficult and slightly worse off.

The future for Europe

The Brexit vote is a huge shot of adrenaline to the anti-EU forces all over Europe. The xenophobic right in France, Netherlands, Austria, and elsewhere will all push even harder to leave the EU and it will become increasingly harder to stop them.  The only hope is that the EU elites take this as a wake-up call and actually try to mitigate some of the damage that the economic policies of austerity have created. In addition, they are going to have to do something to deal with the perception of massive uncontrolled immigration that the right feeds on. And clearly the responsibility for moving these changes along lies with Angela Merkel. She needs to finally step up to the plate and start spreading the German wealth around, helping the southern countries like Greece and Spain to recover much more quickly than the current path they are on. That may mean actually forgiving some sovereign debt. It will not make her popular in Germany, but it may be the only way to actually save the European project.  Unfortunately, nothing she has done in the past indicates she is capable of that kind of leadership. The other rather sad possibility is that the damage that the UK economy endures by leaving is so bad that it actually makes other EU countries more reluctant to leave. What a grim irony that would be.

Regrexit

Already, the leave side is retracting many of the "promises" made during the campaign. They have admitted the 350 million pounds per week that they said the UK sends to the EU is less than half that. And the promise to take those monies saved and invest them in the NHS has also been hedged.  UKIP supporters that thought they were voting for a virtual ban on immigration are now finding out that the goal is merely to have "control over roughly who comes in and roughly in what numbers", as per Tory MEP Hannan. Cameron has reneged on the promise to invoke Article 50 which officially sets the leave negotiations in motion and is now leaving that step up to the next PM. Tellingly, there has been no push from Johnson, Gove, or Farage to actually invoke Article 50. Nicola Sturgeon has indicated she may have the Scottish Parliament veto the decision which could cause a huge constitutional crisis whose result is unclear right now.  In any case, Scotland will have the opportunity to reject whatever agreement is worked out between the UK and EU.  The chaos and disaster that was predicted if the UK voted to leave has actually come to pass and millions are apparently rethinking their vote. The next battleground for this issue will be election of the next Conservative leader - it will be interesting to see if anyone runs against Johnson specifically to stay in the EU. After that will come the general election. All of these are long-shot chances to somehow reverse this incredibly wrong-headed decision. But we have seen stranger things than that happen when it come to the EU politics.