Thursday, August 17, 2017

Trump Drops the Ball on Charlottesville

Donald Trump's response to the terrorist attack in Charlottesville could've been stronger had he not attempted to defend some members of the alt-right in a Tuesday press conference. During the conference, which took place at Trump Tower in New York City, the president said this:
All of those people — Excuse me — I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee. 
So — excuse me — and you take a look at some of the groups and you see and you would know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases, you are not. But, many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?
Except the people at the rally in Charlottesville and at the one the night before are anti-Semites and racists. The event was hosted by the likes of Richard Spencer and Mike Enoch. Trump referred several times to that night rally, where hundreds of alt-right members were carrying tiki torches to look scary (they actually looked ridiculous). At the rally, they chanted "Jews will not replace us." There was more to it than defending Confederate statues. They want to exterminate people they don't like.

That's what a neo-Nazi is and the president should know it. Trump has never been a great communicator, but he at least needs to be a competent communicator if he wants to stay as president. Attempting to defend some people in the alt-right is not the way to do that and it will only hinder the progress of his administration.

Batman: The Enemy Within Review

Following the popularity of Batman: The Telltale Series, Telltale Games decided to release a second season on August 8 called Batman: The Enemy Within. I finished playing episode 1 and while I won't be able to complete the game until all episodes are released in the next several months, it does successfully build off  of the first season. I also think it improves from some of the last season's weaknesses.

Since the storyline is interactive, players are forced to make changes that effect relationships in the game. This season introduces players to Amanda Waller, who is often at odds with James Gordon. Both have different methods to fighting crime, leaving the player to choose between the two of them. Is Gordon's traditional style of following due process the just way to hunting criminals or is it preferable to be like Waller and throw civil liberties out the window?

In other cases, players will have to decide how much information they want to give to others. It could help build trust with one character, but it could also risk Batman's secret identity. Speaking of his secret identity, players will also find that they have to spend a good portion of time playing Bruce Wayne.  As Wayne, players can find alternative means to go after criminals. A wealthy businessman, Wayne is guaranteed to attract attention from villains, which endangers himself and his allies. How this is handled is up to the player.

As with Telltale's previous games. Every choice has positives and negatives. Unlike past games, which merely reveal statistics of what choices all the players made, this one includes relationship statuses that could alter the direction of the game in the future.

This season introduces the player to new villains in the series. In addition to the Joker, you'll face the Riddler in this game and he's significantly better villain than Jim Carrey's portrayal in the atrocious Batman Forever. Riddler's obsession is to prove that he's more intelligent than Batman. He wants to prove it by breaking Batman's moral code. This will lead the player to make other tough choices. It also sets up the main premise of this season. Should Batman do everything he needs to defeat the villains, even if it means other people will get hurt?

Telltale's games aren't without their weaknesses. The QTE sequences can get very repetitive, though with each game they do get more complex. I think with every game, the company is trying to experiment more. They know they can't give out the same materials every time, so they have to build-off on what they have.

In truth, if you don't like the Telltale style by now, then don't bother. If you're indifferent about it, but like Batman, then it is worth a go. The story and the interactive gameplay is what matters, so if you really like Batman or have had a lot of fun with previous Telltale titles, then this is for you.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Threat of the Alt-Right

It has been seventy-six years since the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor. The attack crippled the U.S. Pacific Fleet, but soon Japan and the rest of the Axis regretted their decision. The entrance of the United States into the Second World War ensured Allied victory. The losers were Japanese imperialism, Italian fascism, and German Nazism.

Before American entered the war, a Nazi group called the German-American Bund promoted an alignment with Germany. Only German who moved to the United States and Americans of German descent were allowed into the group. Like the Nazis, the German-American Bund promoted the views of anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and nationalism socialism. The group faded from any relevancy when Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, following Franklin D. Roosevelt's declaration of war against Japan.

Although the organization was small (at its height there were only 5,000 to 10,000 people signed as members). Rallies could often include larger numbers. Their largest was in Madison Square Garden in New York City, where 20,000 people were in attendance.

Like the German-American Bund, the modern alt-right endorse Nazism and their strength is thankfully limited in the thousands. Even so, they manage to draw attention to themselves like their predecessors did. The night before their big rally in Charlottesville, alt-right members marched in the University of Virginia with torches. It was reminiscent of the Nazi marches of the 1930s.

Then came the day of the "Unite the Right" rally. The white supremacists were met with thousands of protestors to counter them. Protestors who believed in equal rights. That's when a car driven by one of the racists plowed through a group of the counter-protestors, killing one and injuring many others. Two state troopers died in a helicopter accident responding to the attack.

Two things have led to the rise of alt-right in our society. The first is that the memory of World War II is starting to fade. It will be a sad day when there's no more veterans who fought in the war. We will have our historians and textbooks, but knowing and listening to people with personal connections is always different and makes a greater impression on people. Decades from now, college students can read about the experience of a GI on D-Day, but they wouldn't be able to actually meet them.

The second is that the alt-right feels emboldened with Donald Trump's victory. The president himself is not a Nazi, but no one can doubt that he's had problems with calling out white supremacist groups. Back on the campaign trail in February, he refused to disavow the KKK and racist activist David Duke. He later backtracked and said he had a bad earpiece. His father was arrested following a KKK riot in 1927. The alt-right believes Trump's concerns over immigration and foreign policy means he is speaking to them. He isn't. He has criticized the actions taken by the alt-right member.

The alt-right replied by attacking Trump. Duke attacked Trump by saying it "was white Americans who put you in the presidency." Newsflash to Duke: white Americans make up the majority of the country. Every president was elected with the support of many whites, as well as blacks, Latinos, and Asians.

I think Trump's speech should have been tougher on the alt-right groups, but he has done what would be done. Racism has no place in our country and it is the job of every American to confront it. It is also important to remember that we're not fighting a war. We should never engage in violence of our own, even though their views are horrifying. Everyone has right to say what they want and we have a right to call them out for it.

Paul Ryan's Easy Opponents

Ryan in Janesville - Gannett
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is set to run for another term in the House of Representatives. He has been winning nonstop in Wisconsin's first district since 1998 and that doesn't look like it's going to change. In addition to becoming a giant of national politics, his opponents are bumbling fools.

I'll first address Ryan's Republican primary opponent Paul Nehlen. While I have brought up Nehlen before on this blog, they were only passing references. I was too busy focusing on the presidential election to look into the 2016 GOP primary in the first district. I did, however, believe that it was very likely Ryan was going to win another term. The truth is Nehlen is an embarrassment for Wisconsin Republicans, many of which take pride in the fact that one of their own is the top man in the House of Representatives.

Now that I have time to focus on the race in the first district, I just want Republicans there to know that Nehlen knows little about Wisconsinites and only seems to be in it for himself. According to Jeremy Carpenter of Media Trackers, Nehlen has registered to vote in four different states over the last ten years. He has voted or has been registered in Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In the case of my home state, Nehlen voted here in 2008 presidential election and in the 2012 gubernatorial recall election. He came back from Michigan in 2014 and voted in the gubernatorial election. Does this sound like someone who truly understands Wisconsin?

Since his first campaign, Nehlen has established a super PAC called Citizens Revolt. Don't donate to it because it's a total scam. Carpenter looked into the controversy, finding that Nehlen hired Dan Backer, an attorney based in Washington DC. Backer has been infamous for his involvement in many super PACs, many of which have been proven to be scams that only benefit employees running them, not Republican candidates or voters.

After losing in 2016 by a landslide, Nehlen has returned. Though he might win more votes this time from Republican voters who are dissatisfied with Ryan, it's obvious he's going to get pummeled again.

While Ryan will likely win the Republican primary, his main opponent is expected to be Democratic activist and ironworker Randy Bryce. Bryce received national attention for his announcement video, which focused on the impact on his family if the Affordable Care Act would be repealed. Yet if Obamacare was so appealing to him, it's worth asking why he'd want a single-payer health care program to replace it.

Bryce is clearly hoping to focus on domestic issues and wants to appeal to blue-collar workers who voted Republican in 2016. His greatest weakness is that he also has to confront foreign policy issues. It is in this area that Bryce is lacking. In an interview with Fox 6 on July 5, he showed major ignorance on a serious threat to global tranquility. First Bryce said, "I don't have information on what North Korea launched." After that, he stated "we're going to take a trip later this month to Washington get better educated on the issues, and I hope to have more information then." Candidates should already be informed on the issues before they run.

Sometimes Congress has to vote on a declaration of war. Do we want someone who knows nothing about our enemies voting on legislation to approve conflicts? I don't and neither should anyone else. The North Korean crisis is difficult issue involving crimes against humanity, nuclear weapons, allies like South Korea and Japan, and enemies like Russia and China. We require knowledgeable politicians to handle it. Bryce is clearly not one of them.

Somewhere, Paul Ryan must be smiling.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Republicans Need Legislative Victories

The Republican Party is in their most powerful position since 2004. They have control over both branches of Congress and the presidency. They controlled none of these back in 2008, but they rebuilt their party by making promises to the American people. Repealing and replacing Obamacare was one of those promises.

The health care reform failure shows that these promises may not be fulfilled. The hard work to reverse Obama's signature legislation ended with three Republican senators. They might not get a chance to repeal Obamacare again. If this was their only bill, then there's little chance the Republicans could make gains in Congress (most importantly the Senate). An opinion article for The Guardian helps explain why many conservatives are feeling right now:
Back then, repeal meant, at minimum, doing away with major parts of Obamacare: Medicaid expansion, subsidies, all the new insurance rules and regulations and taxes that the law imposed on health insurance and ordinary Americans.
Of course, it was easy to make such statements in the fall of 2015. Barack Obama was never going to sign a repeal bill, skinny or not. In hindsight, the dozens of repeal votes from Republicans in both chambers seem now to be so much political grandstanding. Moderate Republican senators who voted for full repeal in 2015 hypocritically oppose it now, and conservative senators who opposed skinny repeal in 2015 supported it on Thursday. They are all guilty of the same rank hypocrisy. 

There is a grave danger for Republicans in all of this. If there’s one thing the 2016 presidential election should have taught the GOP establishment, it’s that Americans are disgusted with politics as usual – the showboating, the sloganeering, the canned talking points and the pervasive, poisonous insincerity of it all.
Failing to repeal and replace Obamacare means that tax reform is even more critical. The GOP has to run on something in 2018. The Republican Party is the supply-side party of the United States. Every Republican in Congress supports reducing the tax burden. The big question is how.

A tax cut for the American people might seem easy, but that's until you get into the details. Let's the corporate tax cut is going to decrease the rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. There could be a divide between more moderate Republicans who want something like 30 percent and more conservative Republican who'd prefer around 10 percent. Then there's the many deductions and special tax credits. Will different Republican want to change different portions of the tax code while defending others?

In the White House, Steve Bannon (ever the populist), has been calling for a top income tax rate of 44 percent while cutting taxes for poorer Americans. This might seem like a good idea, but it's better to reduce taxes for everyone. There's no way a majority of Republicans would support his proposal.

One thing is clear: no matter the divisions, Republicans have to come together and finally pass a flagship item of legislation this year. That means President Trump has to get involved and push harder than he did for health care.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Wisconsin Boom Continues

Walker announces the Foxconn deal at the White House - Associated Press
The Foxconn deal is the latest great news for the Wisconsin economy. An electronics manufacturing corporation, Foxconn was looking to establish a plant in the United States and many states competed for it. In the end, Scott Walker managed to secure the deal for the Badger State. It's a big win for Wisconsinites.

If the deal goes according to plan, the new plant will create 13,000 jobs, offers employees an average annual salary of $53,875 plus benefits, and an investment of $10 billion. It will include the construction of a massive manufacturing campus. In addition to the workers at the factory, there will be $5.7 billion spent on the construction, which support 10,000 direct and 6,000 indirect jobs.

Like many other businesspeople, what attracted Foxconn chairman Terry Gou to Wisconsin were the incentives Walker and Republican legislators have implemented over the years. Tax relief for the company included $1.5 billion in income tax credits for job creation, $1.35 billion tax credits for capital investment, and $150 million for the sales and use tax exemption. In total, Foxconn gets $3 billion in tax credits and exemptions over fifteen years.

Politically, this places Walker in a strong position for re-election next year. Scott Walker's economic model has led to a major boom in the state economy. Unemployment has continued to go down and is now at 3.1 percent. If the job growth continues, then Walker could soon hold the record for the lowest unemployment rate in Wisconsin history. Unlike at a national level, labor force participation continues to rise. At the moment, Wisconsin's unemployment rate is the seventh lowest in the county and the labor force participation rate is the fifth highest in the country.

Democrats often love to point to Minnesota as a liberal success story while ignoring other states, but Wisconsin's unemployment rate is now lower than its western neighbor's. Then there's the Midwest state every Democrat prefers to ignore: Illinois. In response to the Foxconn announcement, the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune unloaded on state Democrats, especially leaders Michael Madigan and John Cullerton:
Cranky Springfield apologists for Madigan and Cullerton will say we're overreaching, that Gov. Bruce Rauner is somehow to blame for losing Foxconn to Wisconsin. Except Rauner has been pushing exactly the kinds of employer-friendly reforms that Madigan and Cullerton have resisted, often to please their allies who lead labor unions.
It's Madigan and Cullerton who've set up Illinois to fail in these contests for jobs. Madigan and Cullerton who haven't sent Rauner a no-gimmicks property tax freeze to even slightly offset the extra $5 billion their income tax hike will gouge from companies and workers. Madigan and Cullerton who won't make major fixes to a workers' compensation system that drives away employers. Madigan and Cullerton who can't deliver significant pension reforms to Rauner's desk. Madigan and Cullerton who can't bring themselves to slash that costly roster of 7,000 local governments.
A statement by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin reveals the little ammunition they have to attack Walker on the Foxconn deal. They thank Senator Tammy Baldwin and Representative Mark Poncan, rather than Wisconsin's governor, for somehow being responsible for Foxconn's Wisconsin plant. They then go into the concerns that the jobs being subsidized by the government aren't going to offer "a living wage and safe working conditions." Walker can see a third term on the horizon.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Trump Might Just Destroy Himself

There's no doubt that I've underestimated Donald Trump. I was wrong about him in the Republican nomination race and I was wrong about him in the general election. I could be wrong about him now, but I consider my disagreements with the president's media strategy as merely advice. Right now, I think Trump could use some good advice.

Though polls have lost their credibility in the wake of the 2016 election, it's hard to believe that his latest approval ratings are off by wide margins. A Gallup poll shows him with only a 37 percent approval rating. When it came to the election, the national polls were off by 1 or 2 percent (remember that Hillary Clinton still won the popular vote). I hardly believe the Gallup poll is somehow off by ten and his real approval rating is something like 47 percent. Polls can be inaccurate at time, but they don't miss something by that much.

Nevertheless, a very loyal Trump supporter could tell me that polls don't matter anymore because the his re-election bid isn't until 2020. What I am concerned about is the way the president is destroying himself and the Republican Party with the way he handles the press.

In the past, I've mentioned something called political capital. Think of it as the money a president has. That money is then spent on things they need to do. They aren't just spending political capital on policies, but also in defending themselves against the media and handling spontaneous problems that arise in any administration. Lower approval ratings and media unpopularity do drain political capital and make it harder to pass and implement legislation.

Now it is important to recognized that all of the blame should not go to Trump. I think a handful Republicans in Congress are complete imbeciles when it comes to health care reform. Even though it's a only small number who are causing trouble, the ramifications will hit almost every Republican member of Congress in the 2018 midterms.

Trump comes into the equation because most midterm elections are simply referendums on the president. Political analyst Sean Trende pointed this out in the 2014 midterms. In the states where President Obama's approval rating was at 44 percent or lower, Republicans gained Senate seats. The Republicans do have some good news. There's only a handful of seats they have to defend and most of the states they're in are very conservative. Republican voters are also more likely to show up in midterm elections. That being said, even one defeat makes governing harder. They only have 52 of the 100 seats. We should also want to gain seats in the Senate, not lose them.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who didn't vote for Trump, has consistently noted that the president has no character. That isn't likely to change, since he's over seventy, but a lack of character only hurts himself. This isn't The Apprentice. Shapiro writes:
Trump, his conservative defenders said, was a real-estate mogul — the most powerful real-estate mogul in America. That made him, by inductive reasoning, a decent person, despite his adulterous liaisons.  
But many conservatives refused to acknowledge the two points about Trump that should have given them cause for concern, even if they believed the somewhat flawed meritocracy-character link. First, Trump didn’t earn his magnate status; Trump inherited a massive amount of wealth from his father and, by most available estimates, has significantly underperformed the real-estate market. Second, and more important, there is at least one area of meritocracy where conservatives discard the supposed character-success link: in the entertainment industry. Conservatives have always understood that talent for entertaining and quality of character may actually be inversely linked: You’d be hard-pressed to find a conservative touting Kim Kardashian’s success as proof of her good character.  
Trump is an entertainer. He acts like an entertainer. He obsesses about his ratings, he spends hours on his hair, he agonizes over public perceptions of his successes and failures. He cannot bear to be out of the spotlight, and he feels personally threatened by those who occupy it more than he does for any period of time. 
Conservatives wouldn’t pretend that Paris Hilton would make a good president because she’s so successful in her other ventures. Yet many conservatives told themselves a story whereby Trump was more Warren Buffett than Paris Hilton, so they could continue to maintain the positive image of his character.
When the president isn't busy attacking MSNBC hosts for their facelifts, he is on the defensive over the Russian investigation. There's still no shred of evidence to prove Trump personally colluded with the Russians, but his son Donald Jr. certainly attempted to do so. Actions like these only damage the popularity of the Trump administration and force his team to deflect new questions. It also gives Robert Mueller the justification he needs to continue his investigation

Trump's tweets and interviews only seem to hurt himself. His attacks on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, only damages his agenda and allows the media to focus on the negative parts of his presidency. The president said he would've never hired Sessions if he knew he was going to recuse himself. Worse, Trump hasn't backed down from his criticisms, calling Sessions "weak" on crimes committed by Hillary Clinton. Comments like these only draw suspicion.

Mueller has strong credentials and is respected by both sides of the aisle. With twelve years of experience as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he has little to be worried about and a seemingly limitless abundance of resources. Trump might have a history of handling litigation, but when it comes to the presidency things are very different. Social media offers our politicians a new medium to communicate with the people, but this can be good and bad. Right now, Trump's use of social media is create self-inflicted wounds.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Revisiting Seattle's Minimum Wage

Restaurant jobs have stagnated in Seattle MSA since the $15 proposal
Any regular reader of this blog knows that I'm no fan of minimum wage hikes, especially the latest calls by Democrats for $15 an hour. Despite the lack of empirical data backing such a policy proposal, the left has pushed this as an issue for years. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer all support the creation of a "living wage" to help workers. These lawmakers should read the latest findings on how the minimum wage has impacted businesses and workers.

Across many cities, mayors have signed these $15 an hour policies. Seattle is one of the cities that is currently underdoing a phase-in to the new wage rate. Back in 2015, I posted about an unusually large closure of restaurants in Seattle as the minimum wage increase began. This should have been an early warning sign for Mayor Ed Murray and the city council, but they did nothing to avert the economic consequences, even though the trend of closing restaurants has continued. Now the empirical findings are starting to come out and they don't look good for the "Fight for 15" crowd.

First, a little background. Seattle had been funding research on their minimum wage increase at the University of Washington. When the latest budget was being proposed, the city decided to end the funding after preliminary results were provided because they didn't like the methodology, Councilwoman Kshama Sawant calling it "flawed" (I wouldn't trust any politician with no economic background on knowing what the right methodology is for studies).

When the study was published by the University of Washington economists, it revealed just how disastrous the minimum wage hike has been. The number of hours worked by low-wage earners has been reduced by 9 percent. This resulted in a loss of 3.5 million hours worked per calendar quarter. Even though hourly wages in these jobs increased by 3 percent, total payroll fell and low-wage workers saw their earnings decrease by an average of $125 per month. The study also took into account alternative estimates that show the number of low-wage jobs declining by 6.8 percent. That's less 5,000 jobs. Keep in mind that Seattle hasn't even reached $15 yet. The current hourly minimum wage is $13.

The politicians running Seattle knew that bad news was coming, so they decided to call up economists at the University of California-Berkeley to hastily rush a study showing the minimum wage hike has no negative impact. It was published a week before the University of Washington study came out. This study, however, has many flaws. Unlike Sawant though, I will cite someone who does have a background researching the minimum wage.

Michael Saltsman, the research director of the Employment Policies Institute, read the Berkeley study. He found a deep level of coordination between the economists at Berkeley and pro-minimum wage advocates. The studies out of Berkeley are always positive, making it a place progressive lawmakers want to go to when they need good news. They aren't exactly known for their accuracy and in the case of Seattle the University of Washington had access to better data on individual workers, giving it more depth.

The Seattle minimum wage drama will continue and it will be interesting to see what other research is published on the effects of $15 an hour. This experiment has the chance to impact proposed policies at state and even a national level in the future. As of now, it isn't looking good for minimum wage increase proponents.