Our Bite at Apple

Welcome our new tech overlords + Biden on a curve + an execution in Elizabeth City + an extra seat in Congress + hellscapes aren't for breeding + guns, Snapchat tantrums go to SCOTUS

Tues., April 27, 2021

As a heads-up, there’s a fair-to-middling chance my attendance record will be less than perfect and/or newsletter entries might be shorter than usual over the next few weeks. I have a large, complicated feature to write, which is likely to consume much of my time and bandwidth. (Or maybe it will all go nice and easy. Who knows.)

Weather: Mostly clear and warm, high of 82.


Today’s Number: 54.1

Joe Biden’s approval rating among registered voters, according to 538.

  • A number of media outlets released 100-days polls over the weekend, and while they all found Biden above 50%—a feat Donald Trump never reached—stories always noted that the Trump anomaly aside, Biden was among the lowest-rated presidents of the modern era at this early marker.

  • On his newsletter Message Box, former Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer says this has more to do with polarization—mostly, negative polarization—than Biden’s performance: “Math is math. It is simply mathematically impossible for Biden to have a 60 percent approval rating when only 13 percent of Republicans tell pollsters they approve of the job he has done.”

  • “Partisanship now dictates Presidential approval. In the ABC/Washington Post poll, Biden gets much higher marks for the specific things he is doing — 64 percent approve of his handling of the pandemic, 65 percent approve his American Rescue Plan, and 58 percent approve of his proposal to raise corporate taxes. … More Republicans approve of the actual job Joe Biden is doing than are willing to tell pollsters because partisanship trumps reality.”


+TODAY’S TOP 4

1. After $850M in Incentives, Apple Agrees to Build $1B RTP Campus

Three years after an Apple campus seemed to slip through North Carolina’s fingers—though the state insisted negotiations were “open” as it refused to disclose what it had offered the company—it suddenly became real.

The deal was announced at the Monday meeting of the Economic Investment Committee. It’s part of Apple’s larger plan to “make new contributions of more than $430 billion and add 20,000 new jobs across the country over the next five years,” the company announced.

What the state gets:

  • Apple will build a 1-million-plus square-foot building, bring more than 3,000 jobs to the region, and pump $1 billion into the campus.

  • By 2023, these jobs—AI, machine learning, software engineering, etc.—will pay a “minimum average” of $187,000 a year.

  • Apple will invest $100 million in a fund to support Triangle schools and community initiatives; $112 million of its employees’ state income taxes will be diverted to pay for rural infrastructure.

  • The project—which will sit on the Wake side of RTP—will run on fully renewable energy.

What Apple gets:

  • $847 million in job development grants over the next 39 years, the most—by far—North Carolina has ever paid.

What politicians think will happen:

  • “State Sen. Dan Blue, who represents Wake County, compared Apple’s arrival to IBM’s decision to come to RTP in the 1960s, establishing the Triangle as a place for other technology companies to settle.” (N&O)

  • N.C. State economist Mike Walden: “You can usually double [Apple’s 3,000 jobs] when you take into account all the other firms that will come here because Apple comes. We will celebrate this for years to come. It tells the world that North Carolina—specifically the Triangle—is the place for economic development in the post-pandemic world.” (WRAL)

At a press conference on Monday, Senate leader Phil Berger took the opportunity to congratulate himself.

  • “There’s a reason this transformative project isn’t happening somewhere else. We’ve spent 10 years enacting a responsible budget, lowering taxes, and making regulations reasonable. The winning formula for job creation.”

  • Sure, Phil. But if we still had HB2, this wouldn’t be happening.

  • Apple CEO Tim Cook is gay. Tech workers tend not to gravitate to cesspools of bigotry. You can throw all the incentives you want at them, but if they can’t get workers to live here, they ain’t coming.

  • The ban on local ordinances, which was included in the HB2 replacement, expired last December.

What it means: This will pump a lot of money into the economy, and if they’re right about Apple signaling to the rest of Tech World that Raleigh is the spot, there’s a lot more money coming down the pike. This should, on the whole, be a net plus for the region. But only if what’s coming is properly managed. And even then, there’s no escaping the downsides.

Good stuff:

  • Money. Schools, infrastructure, etc. Apple (and other tech) employees will generate a lot of property and sales taxes.

  • Politics. The more reliant the state’s economy becomes on Apple-type businesses, the less likely you are to see the legislature push anti-LGBTQ or anti-voting laws.

Bad stuff:

  • It will put upward pressure on housing prices. (See below.)

  • It will almost certainly exacerbate inequality. Apple’s purported minimum salary—$168,000 by year 3—can’t possibly apply to, e.g., janitorial workers, who will almost certainly be contracted. It’s high even for area tech workers.

  • And I’m a little irked by the thought of giving a corporation with a market cap of $2.25 trillion $845 million when this state hasn’t even expanded Medicaid coverage for its poorest residents.

On the other hand: Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

  • You can talk about the robust economy and repealing sad, bigoted laws all you want. If there’s no money on the table, they’ll go somewhere else.

  • And if Apple delivers even a fraction of the $1.5 billion a year in economic impact the state expects, $845 million over four decades seems like decent ROI.

This is a big deal. It will pour a bunch of wealth into the region in pretty short order, and it will focus attention on Raleigh as an alternative to the Bay Area and New York. However, Apple’s announcement of a campus in north Austin a few years ago has coincided with a housing boom—and the campus won’t open until next year.

  • I don’t know enough about that market to discern causation from correlation, but Austin’s housing values have shot through the roof since Apple announced its plans.

  • Austin has seen about 24% YoY growth as of March. As something of a counterpoint, however, Houston—which didn’t get Apple—saw about 19% median housing price growth in that same timeframe. So, again, it’s hard to say how much work Apple is doing versus an overall hot market.

There are reasons for skepticism and causes for concern, to be sure. But Apple should be a net positive—if it’s well-managed.

  • We know the influx of wealthy tech workers will drive up home values, which in turn will drive up rents. But it will also significantly raise property tax revenues in Wake and Durham Counties—money the counties need to invest in affordable housing, mass transit (not needing a car makes life more affordable), and living wage programs.

  • Republicans legislative leaders ensured their constituents in rural areas got something out of the deal; ideally, that money would have gone to urban areas the development will impact. More ideally, the General Assembly would let local governments charge impact fees and require developers to provide affordable units and landlords to accept Section 8 and do other things to get ahead of the coming crunch.

  • It’s good that both Wake and Raleigh have gotten away from NIMBYism and recognized the necessity of supply in slowing the rise of housing prices. But that was never going to be the entire solution—it’s just the best of the very limited options the General Assembly allows.

  • If we’re going to be the kind of place that gets the Apples and Googles and Amazons and whatever else is the next big thing, we need to think bigger—and we need the state to get out of the way.

  • We need rail connecting Durham to RTP to Raleigh, and bus rapid transit fanning out from urban centers to neighborhoods. We need density along transit lines. We need to end single-family zoning. We need to stop building into the exurban hinterlands. We need inclusionary zoning and impact fees. We need to invest in underserved and marginalized communities.

  • Will all of that happen? Of course not—not in the next decade, and not to an adequate degree. The legislature is unlikely to budge. But some of it is already happening—Wake’s transit plan, for example—and other pieces might, especially with a lot more cash on the table.

  • But we need to recognize, and we need the General Assembly to recognize, that the Triangle is changing, and we need to change with it. The future only moves forward. And I, for one, would rather our local economy be rooted in eds, meds, and tech than be dependent on Duke Energy and Bank of America or, worse, live off manufacturing or hospitality.

▶️ OTHER STATE GOV’T NEWS

The timing of Apple’s announcement wasn’t a coincidence. It came just in time for Governor Cooper to brag about it in last night’s State of the State Address last night. Cooper was, well, Cooper, touting bipartisan accomplishments and all but pleading with Republicans to expand Medicaid.

The opportunity to do all these things is there if we expand Medicaid. And circumstances about Medicaid expansion have changed dramatically since we debated it in the last budget. First, even more federal dollars — our tax money — are available in unprecedented amounts for the last few states that have not expanded. That can make our rural hospitals thrive, provide mental health and keep working people healthy. Second, your push to transition Medicaid to managed care is happening in about two months, and you have said this will make Medicaid more efficient and save taxpayer money. Third, people who’ve lost their jobs and their employer-sponsored health insurance during this pandemic desperately need this help. …

Expanding Medicaid does all the things we agreed on in our bipartisan council meetings. It gets more people covered. It makes people healthier. It uses tax dollars wisely and reduces health care costs for businesses. It makes health care more fair. It reaches rural areas. Let’s make a deal. Let’s get this done.


2. Andrew Brown’s Death “Was an Execution”

If there were a gold medal for godawful crisis communications, today’s award would go to Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten. True, there’s no good way to spin one of your deputies shooting a Black man in the back with no evident justification—and, I suppose, to his credit, he hasn’t really tried.

But to a) tell the world last week that there was body-cam footage, but b) not ask a court to release it until Monday at the earliest, then c) tell the victim’s family they could view the footage Monday morning, only to then d) tell them sorry, never mind, we have to “redact” the footage first—that’s just begging for public mistrust.

  • “Lawyer Harry Daniels said the family was told they could see the video at 11:30 a.m. Monday, only to be told about an hour before that time that the video was being redacted and would not be available until later in the day. County Attorney R. Michael Cox said in a statement that state law allows for blurring of faces to protect an active internal investigation, and ‘that process takes time.’” (USA Today)

  • Allows = / = mandates.

  • “Brown's aunt, Betty Banks, said the family was told that authorities did not find any drugs or weapons in Brown's car or in his house.” (CNN)

The family was allowed to view 20 seconds of footage on Monday afternoon.

An attorney for Andrew Brown said Pasquotank County sheriff’s deputies shot him multiple times while he sat in his driveway with his hands on the steering wheel.

Speaking from Elizabeth City, attorney Chantel Lassiter addressed a crowd after viewing 20 seconds of body camera footage along with the slain man’s family.

She said footage showed deputies blocking Brown in his driveway while serving a warrant and approaching his car while firing. Brown did not move toward them or use a weapon, and deputies fired AR 223 semi-automatic rifles and Glock 17 pistols as he attempted to drive away.

“Let’s be clear,” Lassiter said. “This was an execution.” (N&O)

Elizabeth City is in a state of emergency.


3. NC Gets Its 14th Congressional District

Let the gerrymandering games begin.

As expected by, well, everyone, North Carolina’s population growth over the past decade has made us the country’s ninth-largest state and earned us another congressional seat, making 14. Most of the 11.2% growth has been concentrated in Mecklenburg and the Triangle, which means those regions should get a new district. But that would mean giving Democrats a freebie, and you know the General Assembly’s not playing that game.

  • Republicans hold 9 congressional seats, Dems 4 in a state Trump won by ~2 points.

  • Republicans also have 69 of 120 seats in the state House and 28 of 50 seats in the Senate.

  • The more detailed data needed to draw the districts won’t come until August or September—probably too late for cities to redistrict ahead of October or November municipal elections, pushing them back to next year.

  • It might also be too late for the legislature to finish its congressional and legislative redistricting before the December filing period opens. The state’s elections director has urged lawmakers to push those deadlines back two months, but they’ve declined.

  • There’s almost zero chance the districts the NCGA cranks out aren’t met with a lawsuit, which means there’s a better than average chance an injunction gums up the works anyway.

Related: We’re not making babies like we used to. The Census shows that the U.S. population grew at its slowest rate since the 1930s, owing to lower birth rates and immigration.

  • Caveat emptor: “The numbers are the product of the most controversial census process in decades. The Trump administration tried to add a citizenship question to the Census form, but the Supreme Court eventually blocked that plan. The Bureau also faced a daunting task of conducting the Census during a pandemic. Then, last summer, the Trump administration pushed it to stop the count sooner than planned.”

  • “On Monday, the Bureau declared the count to be accurate, but questions about its accuracy will most likely surface when the Census Bureau releases detailed demographic files for each state later this year. Those files are the basis for redrawing electoral districts, a messy political process that is fought in statehouses across the country.” (NYT)


4. Supreme Court Takes Up Gun-Control Case

It was only a matter of time. With the White House looking to restrict firearms amid an epidemic of mass shootings, the conservative Supreme Court appears ready to lean in the other direction, taking up a case out of New York that could allow it to broadly define the right to carry a gun in public.

  • The NY law “requires people seeking a license to carry a gun outside their homes to show a ‘proper cause.’ Two men denied licenses, along with the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, sued, saying ‘the state makes it virtually impossible for the ordinary law-abiding citizen to obtain a license.’ California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have similar laws, according to gun rights groups.” (NYT)

  • The question posed to the Court goes beyond that law, which has been around since 1913: “Whether the state’s denial of petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.”

  • The Court, however, agreed to consider only a narrower question: “Whether the Second Amendment allows the government to prohibit ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns outside the home for self-defense.”

  • “Nevertheless, this narrower question is still broad enough to allow the Supreme Court to rewrite a decade of Second Amendment precedents, to unwind a consensus within the lower courts that permits many gun regulations to stand, and then to allow those lower courts to complete the process of dismantling other gun laws.” (Vox)

Not until 2008 did the Supreme Court hold that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to own weapons, with exceptions for felons or the mentally ill, prohibitions against particularly dangerous weapons or weapons in sensitive places, and bans on carrying concealed weapons.

  • But as lower court judges, but Brett Kavanaugh of Amy Coney Barrett made clear they thought those caveats went too far. Barrett doesn’t think all felons should be prohibited from owning guns, just “dangerous” ones. Kavanaugh doesn’t think the government can prohibit semi-automatic weapons or force gun owners to register their guns.

The takeaway: It seems pretty clear that New York’s law is doomed. The question is how deeply the Court undercuts states’ ability to restrict gun rights in the process.

▶️ OTHER SUPREME COURT NEWS

The Court will also hear the case of a then-14-year-old Pennsylvania cheerleader who was suspended from the JV squad after posting “Fuck school, fuck softball, fuck cheer, fuck everything” on Snapchat. (The message disappeared, but someone screenshotted it and narced on her.) It’s the biggest student speech case in a generation.

  • Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida: “This may seem like a very narrow case about a minor temper tantrum on Snapchat, but it is about speech anywhere and everywhere, by students of all ages. … They are writing broadly the standards that will apply for two or three generations. (WaPo)

  • The question is whether schools can regulate students’ speech outside of school.

The school district, backed by the Biden administration, says there will be unintended consequences to forbidding them from doing so.

  • “The district … poses a number of problems: the student who publishes answers to the test; the player who undermines the coach with an avalanche of tweets about his play-calling; the disruptive student across the street with a bullhorn.”

  • “‘The laws in the District of Columbia and at least 25 states require schools to address off-campus harassment or bullying that substantially disrupts the school environment or interferes with other students’ rights,’ the brief states. ‘Students who encourage classmates to kill themselves, target black classmates with photos of lynchings, or text the whole class photos of fellow students in compromising positions, do not limit their invective to school hours.’” (WaPo)