The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

A cautionary tale

The New York Times yesterday published a chilling description of how Venezuela's democracy sputtered and died:

Venezuela, by the numbers, resembles a country hit by civil war.

Its economy, once Latin America’s richest, is estimated to have shrunk by 10 percent in 2016, more than Syria’s. Its inflation that year has been estimated as high as 720 percent, nearly double that of second-ranked South Sudan, rendering its currency nearly worthless.

In a country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves, food has grown so scarce that three in four citizens reported involuntary weight loss, averaging 19 pounds in a year.

Venezuela’s crisis came through a series of steps whose progression is clear in retrospect, and some of which initially proved popular.

The entire article is worth reading. Not that it could happen here, right? No, of course not.

Evidence of things unseen

Some stories from today:

And, hey! It's Friday afternoon already.

Even on a day off

Welcome to February, in which I hope to increase my pathetic blogging rate (currently 1.23 per day for the last 12 months). Of course, even taking a day off to catch up on things doesn't seem to be helping, because I have all of these articles to read:

So, a lot to read. And still almost no time to read it.

Things I queued up to read on my last day in the office this year

From the Intertubes:

I'll also have some blog entries in January. December seems to have been pretty light.

Two tales of bad Republican policies hurting ordinary people

First, from Crain's, an exploration of the ghost town inside Naperville, Ill., where millions of dollars evaporated when the housing bubble burst in 2008:

At the height of the building boom, Novack estimates, there were 88 homebuilders working in Naperville. "Everyone was building homes then," he says. "It was the best business to be in." The bust took that figure down to "maybe a dozen," Novack says, though in recent years it's grown back to around 30. Homebuilding has been in a trough throughout the region, not only in Naperville. Builders sold 25,105 new homes in the Chicago area in 2006, according to Schaumburg-based industry tracker Tracy Cross & Associates, and in 2015 sold less than 15 percent of that.

If only Alan Greenspan had taken an economic view instead of an ideological one in the mid-2000s and put the brakes on runaway lending. Oh, and if we'd had financial oversight. But Republicans believe in everyone making it on their own: i.e., the richest making it on their own by not having to deal with the protections we put in place in the 1930s and 1940s, the last time this happened.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the incoming Christie administration moved money around the state budget to cut taxes, and he cancelled an enormous Hudson River tunnel project ostensibly to protect the state from cost overruns. The effects of his policies (which are consistent with Republican ideology) were calamitous for public transport. The New York Times explains in detail the effects on New Jersey Transit in particular:

Under the administration of Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, the state subsidy for the railroad has plunged by more than 90 percent. Gaping holes in the agency’s past two budgets were filled by fare increases and service reductions or other cuts. And plans for a new tunnel under the Hudson River — one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the country — were torpedoed by Mr. Christie, who pushed for some of the money to be diverted to road-building projects. 

The result can be felt by commuters daily. So far this year, the railroad has racked up at least 125 major train delays, about one every two days. Its record for punctuality is declining, and its trains are breaking down more often — evidence that maintenance is suffering.

Midway through Mr. Christie’s first year as governor, New Jersey Transit was spending about $1.35 billion on projects to maintain and improve service. By the middle of last year, that figure had fallen by more than half, to about $600 million.

Again, Republican low-tax, low-service policies benefit the rich (who don't care about public services but do care about taxes) at the expense of everyone else (who pay much less in taxes to begin with but do care about public services).

With 26 days until the election, maybe we should pay attention to down-ballot races and their consequences. You want to make America great again? Quit electing people who don't care about you.

More reading this evening

I'm a little disappointed with the Cubs' 6-5 loss to the Giants last night, but they get another crack at them tonight. I'll probably watch—while writing software. Meanwhile, here are some articles I wish I'd had more time to read:

Go Cubs, and back to work.

Yeah, I called this one

It turns out, no one wants to buy ugly big houses in the far suburbs. This apparently comes as a shock to their owners:

The McMansion style, built between 2001 and 2007 and averaging 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, lacks the appeal with today's buyers compared to old vintage homes or large freshly built homes.

The realization is especially hard on homeowners trying to sell because when they bought the giant homes in the early 2000s, they thought of them as great investments, Feinstein said.

Then, the idea was that bigger was better because prices presumably would keep going up.

Now, housing analysts say the day of the McMansion has come and gone. An analysis just completed by Trulia shows that the amount buyers are willing to pay for McMansions over other homes has fallen 26 percent in just four years. As homes in general have been regaining value, McMansions have been losing appeal in comparison to others as the giants of the pre-crash years have aged.

No kidding. And no sympathy from me. Fools, money, etc.

The slow death of Cairo, Illinois

The UK's Daily Mail has a decent explanation and creepy photos of how the southernmost city in Illinois went from a thriving (and historical) port to a nearly-abandoned shell in 50 years:

The town's luck began to fall in 1889 when the Illinois Central Railroad bridge opened over the Ohio River - although much railroad activity was still routed through the town, so its effects were not severe.

The same can't be said for a second bridge that opened around 23 miles up the Mississippi at Thebes, Illinois in 1905. 

The completion of that bridge drained away much railroad activity, reducing the need for the ferries that once carried railroad stock. 

And with steamboats being phased out in favor of barges, Cairo was no longer the essential hub it had once been. The end had begun.

The town was hit again in 1929 and 1937 when bridges were completed across the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, respectively, allowing a route through for US Routes 51, 60 and 62.

As the bridges were built at the town's southern tip, it was easy for traffic to bypass Cairo completely, draining away more money. 

But there was still a little money coming to the town until 1987, when the Interstate 57 bridge opened across the Mississippi, allowing traffic to bypass the town altogether - killing its hotel and restaurant industries.

I visited Cairo in 2003. It was pretty dead then, but judging by the photos in the Daily Mail article, it's even worse now.

Here's the confluence of the rivers, in December 2003:

Link round-up

We had nearly-perfect weather this past weekend, so I'm just dumping a bunch of links right now while I catch up with work:

Back to the mines.

Totally, ridiculously, dumb

It's 6:30 am in the UK, and the results are mostly in. The United Kingdom has apparently voted to secede from the European Union. That makes David Cameron about the unluckiest person ever to head Her Majesty's Government.

Cameron pushed the "Brexit" vote on the understanding that it wouldn't pass. How'd that work out?

In literary terms, the apotheosis of Nigel Farage is the dramatic climax in the story of the United Kingdom. David Cameron mooting the referendum was the technical climax. The denouement? England winds up a has-been little country surrounded by the European Union states of Scotland, Wales, and a united Ireland.

Prediction: By 2020, an independent Scotland and an independent Wales will join the EU, while a very confused Northern Ireland struggles to decide whether to join the Republic or Scotland. (My bet's on Scotland.) Meanwhile, Nigel Farange, having succeeded in his lifelong ambition to destroy the UK, finds himself having to explain to his geriatric, ineducable supporters why England can't make it on its own, and why no one wants to build in London anymore.
 
Congratulations, you lot who voted "Leave." You're about to find out why it's better for the head to rule the heart in matters of economics.
 
And this chart below? You idiots who voted to leave the EU? This is bad. Bad, bad, bad. But since you obviously don't believe rational thought is an important part of statecraft, what do you care? It's only your economy collapsing.