Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

Month: January 2018

Command and Control at the Polling Station

 

Last October lawyers of the Supreme Court battled over the composition of the House of Representatives for the foreseeable future. Two cases address the extent to which a party in power is permitted to reshape its state’s districts to maximize that party’s partisan advantage. Yesterday a federal district court held that a North Carolina Redistricting plan violated the Constitution. The case joins cases from Wisconsin and Maryland which call into question whether the rule of law governing partisan gerrymandering needs to be revised.

Courts have previously decided that gerrymandering along racial lines is unconstitutional, and they have stated in principle that doing so along partisan lines is as well. Improved use of computer modeling provides legislators with more sophisticated ways to shape congressional districts. These models use the traditional rules to generate the optimum configuration within a state for the benefit of the party in power. The term, “efficiency gap,” has been employed to describe the inversion of representation in proportion to the voting population. We can expect to hear that term more in the coming years.

While partisan gerrymandering is banned in principle, courts have struggled to create a test that bars it effectively. This being Llaw, the wording of the test is decisive. The language of the rule affects the outcome of later cases, as lawyers and judges tinker with possible interpretations. Eventually the Supreme Court’s words will be read back to it, and the nine Justices, not necessarily the same nine, will have to interpret its interpretation.

Karl Llewellyn, a noted 20th century legal scholar, stated that the law is the way people resolve disputes. The statement itself is subject to interpretation. It is at once both self-explanatory and impenetrable. Indeed, in a given case, a dispute is adjudicated. But Law is a judicial tool used to set parameters for personal freedoms, culture, business and suffrage. The Law is more than a means of calling balls and strikes. Its a means of defining the strike zone.

 

Wedgie at High Noon


What a day for headlines. Orrin Hatch will be displaced by Mitt Romney; Paul Manafort, accused, sues Mueller, his prosecutor; the FEP dissolves his Voter Fraud Commission after laying the groundwork for Voter Suppression in 2018 and 2020; and Iran continues widespread protests without a peep from the governing Theocracy. 

My choice for today’s most interesting twist is the return by North and South Korea to bilateral talks. Technically, the talks are limited to the safe transport of athletes of the Hermit Kingdom to and from this summer’s Olympics. Sigmund Freud supposedly said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. However, Monica Lewinsky proved that sometimes it’s not.

The talks may be Olympian but the meaning is commonplace. The Gemini State is exhausted by existential threats and is ready to thaw out from the long, cold war. After all, the nuclear arms of the North are only effective as a threat.

If it is so, history may well record reunification to be the master stroke  of the American President. His negotiating strategy is taken from the classic playbook. There’s nothing more disarming than bargaining with someone who is crazy— or seems to be. You don’t want to give credence to crazy threats. On the other hand, you can’t ignore them. Trump out-crazied Kim Jong-Un, leader of the most batshit regime on Earth. Give him credit; he gives good nuts.

Trump countered Kim’s rockets with taunts. One time he announced that the Seventh Fleet was steaming to the South China Sea. Actually, it was turning figure-eights in the Indian Ocean. Today, he said his nuclear button was bigger and badder than Kim’s. As we speak, his National Security Advisers are adapting Yo Mama jokes for a Korean audience.

Dubya said, “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Well, we know what he meant. You can’t play crazy twice. If your opponent sees you’re bluffing in matters of war—that the knucklehead isn’t crazy enough to incinerate the planet — his lunatic act loses its effectiveness. You realize that he’s just striking poses. It isn’t brinkmanship exactly but it works. Once.

 

Amazon’s Right on Target

In his effort to become the only merchant left in the world, Jeff Bezos is now planning to acquire Target. What a surprise.  Bezos not so quietly has assembled pieces that enlarge Amazon’s sales and distribution system.  Assembling is not the right word, though.  More like the Anaconda indigenous to the namesake river – I say, River – Amazon is swallowing companies whole.  If you think it’s an accident that in 1994 he named his startup after the world’s longest river, think again.  Bezos has created the biggest stream of commerce ever assembled, and he is not done. It will make the Silk Road look like a two-lane blacktop.

Investors might have been surprised when Amazon picked off Whole Foods in June. Afterwards, the acquisition made sense.  Whole Foods had assembled a blue-ribbon inventory of store locations; for which it was paying top rents and charging the top prices needed to pay said rent.  Amazon is perhaps the only company whose supply deals, distribution and marketing could create the efficiencies and volumes to make good on Whole Foods’ costs.

Just the other day, some friends were sounding the death knell for Target.  The Minnesota-based retail giant had effectively pulled down premium department stores on clothes and grocery chains with competitive food prices. But Target is in trouble now; has been for a couple of years. Target’s first big problem was that it outgrew its supply chain, hampering sales growth.  The shelves, once expelling goods at customers like projectiles , were merely groaning and bursting at the seams. 

After Target got back on its feet, it felt Amazon’s breath on its neck and Wal-Mart squeezing in from the side.  Target began to falter. Its e-commerce division, rebounding from the 2013 credit card breach, was being dwarfed by Amazon. Wal-Mart, a head to head competitor, is viewed as a cheaper alternative to Target, even if that is not the case across all product categories.  However, Wal-Mart pulled ahead decisively in its online business. In fact, Wal-Mart supposedly was clogging up Amazon’s rear view mirror.  

Once the limping Target became separated from the herd, it was time for Amazon to pounce.  In October Target was a rival; in November it was prey.  Target will be Amazon’s brick-and-mortar general retail arm to go with the Whole Foods grocery appendage.  Home Depot, anyone?  You can almost feel the stock accelerating and pulling away from Wal-Mart till they are out of sight.

So. Another Johnny Rocco moment. More, Bezos?  You want more? Will you ever have enough?  No, I don’t suppose he will.  However, this market consolidation doesn’t create jobs.  At best it’s job-neutral. At worst, there will be redundancies in the management system.  Prices?  Consolidation doesn’t help prices; efficiencies should. But if Amazon pulls down Wal-Mart too, it will have no effective competition.  Once there is no competition, there is no pressure on prices.

The net net of this deal is that jobs don’t increase on higher sales volume and the consumer dollar, shrinking through inflation predicted in several core sectors for 2018, won’t stretch as far with the new behemoth.  In the current environment, only media companies are vulnerable to antitrust claims by the government.  Amazon’s acquisition might not even pass muster as anti-competitive for purposes of the the antitrust law.  It sure feels like Amazon will be the General Store on Main Street in Everyplace, USA.

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