The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What could possibly go wrong?

We all know President Trump's pathologies pretty well by now. Between the malignant narcissism and his natural distrust for anyone who knows more than he does on a particular subject, plus his well-documented habit of believing things he wants to believe instead of the black-and-white reality right in front of him, it doesn't take an Oliver Sacks to guess how he has reacted to everyone telling him he can't simply restart the economy on May 1st. And, sadly, he does not disappoint:

Over the weekend, the president said he would weigh multiple factors to arrive at the "toughest" decision of his administration to date. Trump signaled that he has consulted his top health professionals, business leaders and others whom he described as "smart people" in recent days. The ultimate call "will be based on a lot of facts and instincts," he said. In a Fox News phone interview Saturday, Trump said he would come to a conclusion "fairly soon."

But Trump seemed to telegraph his eagerness to restart much of the U.S. in a tweet Sunday evening, urging governors to perfect their testing abilities and to "be ready, big things are happening. No excuses!"

Trump has said he would like to reopen the country with a "big bang."

The motivation to restart the economy — even piecemeal — sooner rather than later may be based on a political calculation by the president that he needs to demonstrate that things are "on the upswing."

Naturally, Dr Anthony Fauci, who as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become the de facto spokesperson for the government on the realities of the pandemic, has drawn the president's ire, given the inevitability he would have to contradict the most prolific liar in US history. Greg Sargent:

As part of this latest exercise in blame-shifting, Trump has taken his first public shot at Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and his own administration’s leading medical expert. Trump angrily retweeted a call for Fauci’s firing, while again hailing his own early restrictions on travel from China and furiously bashing the media for failing to recognize that decision’s foresight and brilliance.

As for reopening the economy, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden published his plan yesterday:

First, we have to get the number of new cases of the disease down significantly. That means social distancing has to continue and the people on the front lines have to get the supplies and equipment they need. President Trump needs to use his full powers under the Defense Production Act to fight the disease with every tool at our disposal. He needs to get the federal response organized and stop making excuses. For more Americans to go back to their jobs, the president needs to do better at his job.

Second, there needs to be widespread, easily available and prompt testing — and a contact tracing strategy that protects privacy. A recent report from Mr. Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services made clear that we are far from achieving this goal.

Third, we have to make sure that our hospitals and health care system are ready for flare-ups of the disease that may occur when economic activity expands again. Reopening the right way will still not be completely safe. Public health officials will need to conduct effective disease surveillance. Hospitals need to have the staff and equipment necessary to handle any local outbreaks, and we need an improved federal system to get help to these places as needed.

Imagine if the incumbent president had a plan—any plan—other than "May 1st." Because if we simply go back to pre-pandemic norms then, it will indeed be a May Day situation.

We may be flattening a bit

Illinois' doubling time for Covid-19 cases has increased from 2.1 days to 7.9 days, as of yesterday.

In other news:

And finally, I'll leave you with this touching performance of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" by its composer, Curt Smith, and his daughter Diva:

The president's assault on the military

Retired US Army Colonel Jeff McCausland rings an alarm about the president's politicization of our apolitical armed forces:

Officers are taught from the beginning of their military careers that the profession is apolitical. The oath they swear is not to the president, despite the fact that he is the commander-in-chief. Rather it is to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” This forms the basis of civil-military relations, and it has served America well for over two centuries. It is likely that few Americans realize the United States is only one of handful of countries that has never experienced a serious military threat to civil authority.

Not coincidentally, the nation’s Founding Fathers were very suspect of the military. They viewed it as a threat to civil authority and the democracy they were attempting to create. Consequently, throughout most of our history the standing military remained relatively small. At the onset of World War II, the U.S. military was the 19th largest force on the planet — smaller than Portugal. But in that conflict’s aftermath, American political leaders accepted both global leadership and the associated responsibilities that required a large standing military force.

Is it not likely that during this moment of national crisis an erratic president, concerned by his sinking popularity, might be tempted to further politicize the military to support his re-election? Could this result in his exporting the national political divisions that have sustained him to the military? Could the leadership climate that resulted in the USS Roosevelt fiasco reach a point where the espoused political affiliation of not only civilian leaders, but also military officers, have more to do with his or her advancement than their ability? Sadly, this is not just the story of a political appointee who allowed his ambition to override his good judgment. Rather it is a warning about a growing threat to a foundation of American democracy.

I've said similar things, as have every military officer I've ever spoken with on the subject. Let's keep our armed forces out of politics, mm kay?

Is it July yet?

An Andy Borowitz bit from last year is making the rounds again: "Trump Comes Out Strongly Against Intelligence." More evidence of why that's true after these two videos. First, the Ohio Department of Health demonstrates social distancing:

Second, the Lincoln Project, a Republican organization headed by George Conway, has put out this ad:

And now the roundup of horror promised above:

Finally, 50 years ago today, Paul McCartney announced the Beatles had broken up.

Oh wait: here's another cool video.

17 million unemployment claims in 3 weeks

Unemployment claims jumped another 6.6 million in the US last week bringing the total reported unemployed to 16.8 million, the largest number of unemployment claims since the 1930s. Illinois saw 200,000 new claims, an all-time record, affecting 1 in 12 Illinois workers. And that's just one headline today:

After all of that, why don't you watch this adorable video of skunks chattering away as they investigate a cyclist?

Chill, folks

After Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign for president earlier today, New Republic's Walter Shapiro has some simple advice for the Democratic Party: "Stop panicking about Joe Biden."

What the Democrats fretting about Biden’s lackluster TV performances fail to understand is that virtually every presidential candidate spends weeks—sometimes months—wandering in the wilderness after wrapping up the nomination. After the tension of the early primaries, everything comes to a grinding halt once there is a de facto nominee. Suddenly, the only one surefire way to make news is to announce a vice-presidential running mate. And that banner headline is traditionally reserved for the days leading up to the convention or for the convention itself.

Biden has more than four months to fill until the delayed Democratic convention. An out-of-nowhere VP choice might be enough to generate a boomlet of media attention, but there are limited options. By announcing that his running mate will be a woman, Biden is left sorting through an obvious list of worthy contenders, such as Whitmer or Senators Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren.

Biden boasts advantages that some of his predecessors lacked at this point in the calendar. After nearly a half-century in public life in Washington, the former vice president doesn’t have to worry about introducing himself to the American people. And in the midst of a pandemic, voters already know that their lives are on the ballot in November—even without Biden resorting to bitter attacks on Trump.

Biden undoubtedly still remembers that in June 1992, Clinton—that “helluva candidate”—was running a distant third in the polls behind both Ross Perot and George H.W. Bush. Of course, in November, Clinton romped home with 370 electoral votes. Even before the pace of politics accelerated with cable TV news and social media, it was a long, long while from April to November.

Exactly. And many of the next 208 days will generate new images of Donald Trump completely botching the most important job of his lifetime, saying stupid things in general, and honking off 50% or more of the electorate every time he opens his mouth. Could Biden win against Reagan? Probably not. Against any other Republican in my lifetime? Probably so.

I just hope we're out of quarantine by then.

Day 22: in which our hero suffers a poignant loss

...as I took the last squares of toilet paper from the roll this morning. I had to dig into the Strategic TP Reserve just to meet ends.

Before I round up the depression and sadness from around the world this morning, I would like to point out that yesterday's high temperature of 27°C at O'Hare was the warmest we've seen since the 30°C we had on October 1st, 189 days earlier. I opened all my windows, and Parker got his pace up just a little bit. Today's forecast calls for perfect spring warmth (21°C) and thunderstorms during what we used to call "rush hour." (I will probably have all my windows open when the rain starts and have to close them very quickly.)

So what else has the world thrown at us this morning? In addition to the usual drumbeat of deaths and Republican malfeasance, this:

  • Just now, Bernie Sanders has ended his presidential campaign, leaving Joe Biden as the last remaining candidate. One hopes his supporters come back home before November 3rd.
  • Comfort foods, aka that crap your parents didn't want you to eat when you were a kid, have made an amazing comeback as people shelter in place.
  • Today is the 30th anniversary of Twin Peaks' debut.
  • For the first time ever, people have adopted every single animal from Chicago Animal Care and Control. I really, really hope people keep them.
  • The much-noted environmental benefits of shutting down a quarter of the world's economy seem great, but environmentalists have some pessimism about our return to full production when the emergency ends.
  • Paul Krugman likens the government's crisis response to "learned helplessness."
  • President Trump fired the inspector general just made responsible for overseeing the $2 trillion disaster-relief package, citing "bias." Of course Glenn Fine has a bias: he believes in evidence and government accountability. That makes him prima facie unacceptable to Trump. This comes days after he removed intelligence IG Michael Atkinson for similar reasons.

Well, now that I'm thoroughly pumped from reading the papers, I'm going to document an API while watching Schitt's Creek.

Day 21 of working from home

As we go into the fourth week of mandatory working from home, Chicago may have its warmest weather since October 1st, and I'm on course to finish a two-week sprint at work with a really boring deployment. So what's new and maddening in the world?

And finally, two big gyros manufacturers, Kronos and Grecian Delight, are merging. Kind of like all the lamb and stuff that merges to form gyros.

Enjoy the weather, Chicago. The cold returns Thursday.

A tale of two realities

Indiana University history professor Rebecca Spang compares the world's response to Covid-19 to the conditions that led to the French Revolution in 1789:

Fear sweeps the land. Many businesses collapse. Some huge fortunes are made. Panicked consumers stockpile paper, food, and weapons. The government’s reaction is inconsistent and ineffectual. Ordinary commerce grinds to a halt; investors can find no safe assets. Political factionalism grows more intense. Everything falls apart.

This was all as true of revolutionary France in 1789 and 1790 as it is of the United States today. Are we at the beginning of a revolution that has yet to be named? Do we want to be? That we are on the verge of a major transformation seems obvious.

An urgent desire for stability—for a fast resolution to upheaval—is in fact absolutely characteristic of any revolutionary era. “I pray we will be finished by Christmas,” wrote one beleaguered member of the French Constituent Assembly to a good friend in October 1789. In reality, of course, the assembly took another two years to finish its tasks, after which another assembly was elected; a republic was declared; Louis XVI was put on trial and executed in January 1793; General Napoleon Bonaparte became “first consul” in 1799 and emperor in 1804; Europe found itself engulfed in wars from 1792 to 1815. In short, life never went back to how it had been before 1789.

People sometimes imagine yesterday’s revolutions as planned and carried out by self-conscious revolutionaries, but this has rarely, if ever, been the case. Instead, revolutions are periods in which social actors with different agendas (peasants stealing rabbits, city dwellers sacking tollbooths, lawmakers writing a constitution, anxious Parisians looking for weapons at the Bastille Fortress) become fused into a more or less stable constellation. The most timeless and emancipatory lesson of the French Revolution is that people make history. Likewise, the actions we take and the choices we make today will shape both what future we get and what we remember of the past.

Keep that in mind as you read these indications that Republicans have entirely incompatible views with the rest of the world about most things:

  • Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly addressed the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt yesterday, calling the CO he removed last week "stupid," among other things certain to endear him to everyone in the Navy.
  • Conservative propaganda news outlets continue to repeat the president's lie assertion that no one knew how bad the pandemic would get, despite ample evidence that it would.
  • It looks like the Federal government is seizing protective equipment en route to Democratic-leaning states, but no one seems to know (or will admit) why.
  • Three academics who specialize in health policy warn that when, not if, Covid-19 starts hitting rural areas in force, it will get much worse, owing to the older populations as well as a general lack of hospitals and supplies outside of cities.
  • This week's New Yorker takes a long look at Illinois' response to the crisis, which is different than, say, Georgia's.
  • Wisconsin governor Tony Evans issued an executive order earlier today postponing the state's primary election until June 9th. The state was to hold its primary election tomorrow, despite the Democratic governor and Democratic minority in the state legislature demanding postponement or universal mail-in ballots. The Republican-controlled legislature refused even to take up the proposal, perhaps because, as other Republicans have admitted, more votes means Republicans lose. The state's top Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), said the governor "cave[d] under political pressures from national liberal special interest groups" like, one must assume, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a known hotbed of partisan Democratic thought.

Finally, ever wonder about the origin of those creepy plague-doctor outfits from the 17th century?

Max Boot states the obvious

The Washington Post columnist says he wanted to give President Trump some historical distance before pronouncing him "the worst president. Ever." Alas, events have overtaken desires:

His one major competitor for that dubious distinction remains Buchanan, whose dithering helped lead us into the Civil War — the deadliest conflict in U.S. history. Buchanan may still be the biggest loser. But there is good reason to think that the Civil War would have broken out no matter what. By contrast, there is nothing inevitable about the scale of the disaster we now confront.

The situation is so dire, it is hard to wrap your mind around it. The Atlantic notes: “During the Great Recession of 2007–2009, the economy suffered a net loss of approximately 9 million jobs. The pandemic recession has seen nearly 10 million unemployment claims in just two weeks.” The New York Times estimates that the unemployment rate is now about 13 percent, the highest since the Great Depression ended 80 years ago.

Countries as diverse as Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, South Korea, Georgia and Germany have done far better — and will suffer far less. South Korea and the United States discovered their first cases on the same day. South Korea now has 183 dead — or 4 deaths per 1 million people. The U.S. death ratio (25 per 1 million) is six times worse — and rising quickly.

Trump is characteristically working hardest at blaming others — China, the media, governors, President Barack Obama, the Democratic impeachment managers, everyone but his golf caddie — for his blunders. His mantra is: “I don’t take responsibility at all.” It remains to be seen whether voters will buy his excuses. But whatever happens in November, Trump cannot escape the pitiless judgment of history.

While James Buchanan can rest in peace now (despite still ranking 43rd* on the league table), the world still has to live with this dangerous cretin for another 290 days.

Meanwhile, "Uncle Bob" Martin wants everyone to remember that we software engineers are also heroes of this crisis. Without us, no one would be able to work from home, sequence the virus's RNA, or keep in touch with friends during the lockdown.

* Trump is the 44th person to serve as president, but the 45th president, because Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th president.