The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sure Happy It's Thursday, March 319th...

Lunchtime roundup:

Finally, the authors of The Impostor's Guide, a free ebook aimed at self-taught programmers, has a new series of videos about general computer-science topics that people like me didn't learn programming for fun while getting our history degrees.

The Economist's Bartleby column examines how Covid-19 lockdowns have "caused both good and bad changes of routine."

The longest night of 2020

If you live in the northern hemisphere, tonight will last longer than any of the 365 others in 2020. Sunsets have gotten later by a few seconds a day since the 8th, but sunrises have also gotten later and will continue to do so until just before perihelion on January 4th.

We're also only a month from Joe Biden's inauguration. Almost everyone in the Western world and quite a few outside it have felt more relaxed and less stressed in the last six weeks, and will feel even better once the STBXPOTUS loses his public-interest protections on Twitter.

Meanwhile, we've only got a few hours before the Federal Government shuts down, because Republicans in the US Senate didn't really care about Covid-19 relief until the January 5th runoff elections in Georgia got too tight for comfort. Help Doug Perdue, yes; help 30 million Americans, no. That's today's GOP. Even if we manage to get the bill through, the STBXPOTUS has lost all connection to reality and may not sign it.

The bill as it stands calls for about $900 billion in "stimulus," even though we can't actually spend money where we need to spend it to save our restaurants and restaurant workers. As economist Paul Krugman points out, giving people $600 or $1200 checks won't help; we need enhanced unemployment benefits, which puts the money in the most needful hands. He also asks, "why is there a limit on the amount of aid?" He explains:

Republicans appear willing to make a deal because they fear that complete stonewalling will hurt them in the Georgia Senate runoffs. But they are determined to keep the deal under a trillion dollars, hence the reported $900 billion price tag.

That trillion-dollar cap, however, makes no sense. The amount we spend on emergency relief should be determined by how much aid is needed, not by the sense that $1 trillion is a scary number.

For affordability isn’t a real issue right now. The U.S. government borrowed more than $3 trillion in the 2020 fiscal year; investors were happy to lend it that money, at remarkably low interest rates. In fact, the real interest rate on U.S. debt — the rate adjusted for inflation — has lately been consistently negative, which means that the additional debt won’t even create a major future burden.

And even economists who worry about deficits normally agree that it’s appropriate to run big deficits in the face of national emergencies. If a pandemic that is still keeping around 10 million workers unemployed isn’t an emergency, I don’t know what is.

So, yes, the longest night of the year might also see yet another Republican-sponsored government shutdown. But the longest night of the year means tomorrow night will be a few seconds shorter, and 9 nights later, 2020 will end.

The cruelty is the point

Josh Marshall outlines how the STBXPOTUS and his friends in the Senate have structured vaccination funding to give President Joe Biden a black eye within two weeks of taking office:

Here are some basic outlines of what’s happening. As we learned last week the Trump White House skimped on actually buying enough doses of vaccine from Pfizer. But the federal government will cover the actual purchase of vaccines. The White House says the military is in charge of and has a plan to actual get the supplies to the states. And though we don’t know all the details let’s assume they have that covered. But that only appears to be getting the crates of supplies to a central staging point in each state. That’s not a negligible job. But it’s only a relatively small part of actually getting the country vaccinated. You need public health campaigns. You need staging areas and distribution from wherever the military drops it off to actual health centers and vaccination centers around each state. And finally you need a small army of medical professionals to actually administer the doses. It’s a big job and the Trump administration hasn’t funded any of that or devised any national plan.

What the White House has arranged funding for is a critical but relatively small part of the vaccination effort: vaccinations for people in assisted living facilities and health care workers. Those are the two most critical populations. They should go first, and the plan is to get those people vaccinated in December and January. But that leaves the great bulk of the population unvaccinated. The plan is for that phase to end around Feb 1. Meanwhile CARES Act funding, which states can use for various purposes, has to be spent by Dec. 31.

So as you can see, today’s excitement and anticipation over the vaccine is cued up to turn sharply to disappointment in February when people start asking where their shots are and blame the train wreck on President Biden. No plan. And no funding to implement a plan. Of course that is potentially catastrophic in human terms. But a lag in vaccination means not only more suffering and death but more delay in allowing the economy to get back on its feet, since people aren’t going to go to restaurants and participate in public life until case numbers drop dramatically.

Also, I recently accepted a Facebook friend request from a friend of a friend from business school. He (a Republican) and I used to have long, interesting arguments over beers about policy. This new person's feed hasn't got a lot of policy in it. Rather, it's a window through which I can see some of the most eye-roll-worthy right-wing memes going around right now. It's educational.

President-Elect of the United States Joe Biden

The Electoral College has voted, and with no surprises, as of 16:37 Chicago time Joe Biden has received the requisite 270 votes to be elected President of the United States. And yet, we had a few surprises today:

Finally, John le Carré died at 89 yesterday. Time to revisit Josephine Livingstone's review of "the glorious return of George Smiley," le Carré's 2017 novel A Legacy of Spies.

 

Counting up to 270

The Electoral College started voting early this morning. Each state delegation casts its votes separately, usually in the respective state capitol buildings. The New York just voted a few minutes ago, bringing the totals so far today to Biden 161, STBXPOTUS 158. California votes late in the day, so once again it may seem like it's close but it really isn't.

In just a few hours, Joe Biden will officially be the President-Elect of the United States. The House and Senate will count the votes in a joint session on January 6th, and Joe Biden will take office as the 46th President of the United States on January 20th.

Now, if we can just get the STBXPOTUS to shut up, we might have a happier transition.

Lunchtime reading

While I wait for my frozen pizza to cook, I've got these stories to keep me company:

Going to check my pizza now.

The final election map of 2020

The New York Times and NBC have called Georgia for Joe Biden and North Carolina for the president, giving Biden 306 Electoral College votes to the president's 232. This is the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has won Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992. It also means that in addition to taking over 5 million more popular votes than the president, Biden has won exactly the same number of electoral votes as the president did in 2016.

In 68 days, we'll finally have a new president.

Why are Republicans joking about the election?

Andrew Sullivan recognizes he's hyperventilating, but he has an important point:

Secretary of state Pompeo insisted with a smile that there would be a transition to a second Trump term, even as he lectures other countries about respecting election results. He is treating the solemn democratic process as a joke. “We are moving forward here at the White House under the assumption there will be a second Trump term,” echoed White House trade adviser, Peter Navarro, this morning.

To put it plainly: this simply does not happen in a healthy liberal democracy. It is a sign of the deepest imaginable rot. It is the kind of thing that occurs in developing countries with warlord leaders and fledgling democratic processes. It violates the sacredness of a peaceful and consensual transfer of power in America — marked first by George Washington.

It renders the US an international outlier in terms of democratic practices, and makes a mockery of any American pretension to be a model for democracy. We’re not. We’re increasingly a cautionary tale. And the damage this past week has already inflicted on basic democratic norms is incalculable. More foreign leaders have accepted Biden’s victory than Republican officials. Think about that for a bit.

Trump’s threat has never been that he wants to set himself up as a new Mussolini. His idleness and incompetence render that moot. His threat is that his psyche requires him to break every democratic norm, to hold the rule of law in contempt, and to deepen polarization so intensely that America becomes ungovernable at a federal level, and liberal democracy surrenders to one man’s ego.

Meanwhile, the AP has called Arizona, and I'm going to call Alaska on my own, so the electoral map will look like this until North Carolina and Georgia get done counting (and re-counting) their votes:

Goodbye to all that

Slate has a lovely series of short goodbyes to outgoing administration figures we won't miss, starting with Dahlia Lithwick on Ivanka:

If and when you look back at your life, maybe you will realize that this is where it all went wrong: You were superb at the pitchman stuff, and maybe if your creepy dad hadn’t decided to run for president, you could have stayed in that branded plastic world of warehouses and factories and skyscrapers. But transactional justice words pressed through gauzy Instagram filters are not the stuff of democracy or morality, equality or faith. You’ve had great fun with this whole governance lark, to be sure, but frankly, the pain and suffering your dad so relishes make for bad influencer vibes. And in the end, when things became desperate, you committed fully to his side, changing your position on abortion and even voting itself. You would preserve your proximity to power at the expense of American democracy. Despite all the years of breathy talk of equality and dignity and empowerment, you—like your dad—think justice is the thing you alone are owed.

Lowen Liu sending off Stephen Miller warmed my heart, while Ashley Feinberg's dismissal of Junior simply added evidence about the well-known damaged psyche of his father.

Joe Biden's inauguration is just 73 days away.

How Biden can flip the Senate even if Perdue wins

Both US Senate races in Georgia have gone to mandatory runoffs on January 5th as none of the candidates got more than 50% of the vote. Right now, the most likely outcome is that incumbent David Perdue (R) defeats John Ossoff (D), while Raphael Warnock (D) defeats appointed incumbent Kelly Loeffler (R)—the only sitting senator with a perfect record of voting with the outgoing president. If those races split, as of January 6th the Senate would be 51-49 in favor of the Republican Party, and it would be nearly impossible for incoming President Biden to pass anything even remotely progressive.

Unless.

What if Biden offered Pat Toomey (R-PA) the Treasury Department? Toomey is starting the 5th year of his third Senate term and has said he has no plans to run for re-election or for Governor—and he wouldn't win if he tried. Toomey sits on the Senate Banking, Budget, and Finance committees, giving him experience with the Treasury. Plus, he's fairly moderate (for a Republican), voting with the soon-to-be-former president 88% of the time. Toomey can run Treasury, have a seat at the table he doesn't have as a retiring US Senator, letting Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf appoint a Democrat to his seat. Voilà! The Senate is now 50-50, with Vice President Harris getting the tie-breaking vote.

The other two US Senators in similar circumstances are Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

Johnson is a full-throated MAGA clown and all around wing-nut. He should under no circumstances ever get near real power. So, no, he stays in Wisconsin.

Collins defeated Sara Gideon 51-43 on Tuesday, returning her to the US Senate for a fifth term. But Maine as a whole went to Biden by 80,000 votes and Maine's Democratic US House delegation got re-elected by over 110,000 votes. In other words, Collins is out of step with Maine as a whole. Maine also has a Democratic governor, Janet Mills. But Collins likes her job. And why would she give up six years as a senior US Senator, on the Appropriations Committee no less, to take a job for the other party that might only last a year or two? She would never accept the deal.

So, yes. Let's give Toomey a job he would enjoy, one he would probably be good at, but where he can't do too much damage to Biden's agenda. And the next day, by a vote of 51-50, let's make DC a state.