The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Reading list for this week

As I'm trying to decide which books to take with me to Germany, my regular news sources have also given me a few things to put in my reading list:

Finally, the North Atlantic has near-record jet streams again this week, approaching 360 km/h, and shaving 45 minutes off the DC–London route. I would love that to happen Wednesday.

$350 million in fines

New York Justice Arthur Engoron just handed the XPOTUS a $350 million fine and barred him and his two failsons from running a business in New York for years:

The decision by Justice Arthur F. Engoron caps a chaotic, yearslong case in which New York’s attorney general put Mr. Trump’s fantastical claims of wealth on trial. With no jury, the power was in Justice Engoron’s hands alone, and he came down hard: The judge delivered a sweeping array of punishments that threatens the former president’s business empire as he simultaneously contends with four criminal prosecutions and seeks to regain the White House.

Mr. Trump will appeal the financial penalty — which could climb to $400 million or more once interest is added — but will have to either come up with the money or secure a bond within 30 days. The ruling will not render him bankrupt, because most of his wealth is tied up in real estate.

Of course he'll appeal, but New York doesn't give him many grounds to do so. And given the scale of the fraud he perpetrated on the State, even this eye-watering sum will probably survive scrutiny from the appellate court.

In other news this afternoon:

Finally, the Tribune has a long retrospective on WGN-TV weather reporter Tom Skilling, who will retire after the 10pm newscast on the 28th.

Sinn Féin takes premiership in Northern Ireland

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. When I first visited London in 1992, a bobby at Victoria Station explained that they didn't have bins there because "they tend to explode." I supported President Clinton in brokering the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and I was in a pub in Killarney in July 2005 watching the telly with the silent crowd there as Sinn Féin put down their guns for good.

So while today's news would have shocked me in 1992, I'm merely surprised in 2024:

Northern Ireland’s devolved government has reconvened and appointed Michelle O’Neill as first minister in a historic moment for Sinn Féin and Irish nationalism.

The Stormont assembly nominated the County Tyrone republican as the region’s first nationalist first minister, ending a century of unionist first ministers.

The appointment of a republican first minister represented “a new dawn” unimaginable to previous generations that grew up with discrimination against Catholics, said O’Neill. “That state is now gone.”

The devolved government reconvened after the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) walked out of Stormont on 3 February 2022 in protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements that it said undermined the region’s place in the UK. The party agreed to end the boycott this week after its leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, wrung concessions from the UK government that smoothed the so-called Irish Sea border.

Welcome to the 21st Century, when both republicans and unionists can find common ground in their disgust with the Conservative government in Westminster.

In other news...

Despite the XPOTUS publicly declaring himself a fascist (again), the world has other things going on:

Finally, Google has built a new computer model that they claim will increase the accuracy of weather forecasts. I predict scattered acceptance of the model with most forecasters remaining cool for the time being.

Major UK cabinet reshuffle

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Cons.-Richmond, Yorkshire) has appointed former PM David Cameron (Cons.-Witney, formerly) as Foreign Secretary after sacking Home Secretary and waste of air Suella Braverman (Cons.-Fareham, and no relation to The Daily Parker at all, FFS) and moving James Cleverly (Cons.-Braintree) into her spot:

A spokesperson also confirmed Jeremy Hunt would remain as chancellor. However, the environment secretary, Therese Coffey, who was deputy prime minister under Liz Truss, resigned from her position.

Cameron posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: “We are facing a daunting set of international challenges, including the war in Ukraine and the crisis in the Middle East. At this time of profound global change, it has rarely been more important for this country to stand by our allies, strengthen our partnerships and make sure our voice is heard.”

Reacting to Cameron’s appointment: Pat McFadden MP, Labour’s National Campaign Coordinator, said: “A few weeks ago Rishi Sunak said David Cameron was part of a failed status quo, now he’s bringing him back as his life raft.

“This puts to bed the prime minister’s laughable claim to offer change from 13 years of Tory failure.”

Sunak made other changes to the cabinet as well, using a plant sprayer on the raging dumpster fire that is the Tory government, as more British politicians across all parties call for an election the Conservatives will obviously lose.

Cameron has accepted a peerage to return to Parliament without being elected. While not strictly necessary, in practice members of the Cabinet serve in Parliament, and there is ample precedent for the move. Because members of the House of Lords are not allowed to address the House of Commons, Cameron's deputy, the international development minister Andrew Mitchell (Cons.-Gedling) will speak for the Foreign Office in Commons.

To better understand why Braverman got the sack, allow British satirist Jonathan Pie to explain:

Braverman deserves to go. She can go write her book now.

Wrapping up the second quarter

Here is the state of things as we go into the second half of 2023:

  • The government-owned but independently-edited newspaper Wiener Zeitung published its last daily paper issue today after being in continuous publication since 8 August 1703. Today's headline: "320 years, 12 presidents, 10 emperors, 2 republics, 1 newspaper."
  • Paula Froelich blames Harry Windsor's and Megan Markle's declining popularity on a simple truth: "Not just because they were revealed as lazy, entitled dilettantes, but because they inadvertently showed themselves for who they really are: snobs. And Americans really, really don’t like snobs."
  • Starting tomorrow, Amtrak can take you from Chicago to St Louis (480 km) in 4:45, at speeds up to (gasp!) 175 km/h. Still not really a high-speed train but at least it's a 30-minute and 50 km/h improvement since 2010. (A source at Amtrak told me the problem is simple: grade crossings. They can't go 225 km/h over a grade crossing because, in a crash, F=ma, and a would be very high.)
  • The Federal Trade Commission will start fining websites up to $10,000 for each fake review it publishes. "No-gos include reviews that misrepresent someone’s experience with a product and that claim to be written by someone who doesn’t exist. Reviews also can’t be written by insiders like company employees without clear disclosures."
  • A humorous thought problem involving how many pews an 80-year-old church can have explains the idiocy behind parking minimums.
  • Chicago bike share Divvy turned 10 on Wednesday. You can now get one in any of Chicago's 50 wards, plus a few suburbs.
  • Actor Alan Arkin, one of my personal favorites for his deadpan hilarity, died yesterday at age 89.

And finally, the Chicago Tribune's food critic Nick Kindelsperger tried 21 Chicago hot dogs so you don't have to to find the best in the city.

A tale of two health systems

The US and the UK share a common language, a common legal tradition, and a common scourge of right-leaning political parties trying to destroy anything that the government does better than private industry. Despite over a century of evidence that many public services are natural monopolies, and therefore will provide poor quality at inflated prices whenever personal profits get involved, the electorates of both countries keep believing the lie that "industry does it better."

That's why 13 years of Conservative rule has hollowed out the UK's National Health Service (NHS), and why 25 years of Republican obstructionism has allowed corporate mergers to gut US health care.

First the NHS. As journalist Sam Freedman recently explained, NHS administration plus the Tories cutting funding to the NHS repeatedly have left the UK almost as badly off as the US in health-care outcomes:

It is well known within health policy circles that the NHS is severely undermanaged compared to other systems. The UK spends less than half the OECD average on management and administration, which is why I bang my head against the nearest wall whenever I see a newspaper splash bemoaning fat cat managers, or yet another politician promising to get more resources to the “frontline”. It is, of course, the case that if frontline staff are not properly supported they end up becoming expensive admin staff themselves (see also policing). Meanwhile the number of managers per NHS employee has fallen by over 25% since 2010 due to deliberate policy decisions from the centre of government, particularly Andrew Lansley’s disastrous “reforms”.

Meanwhile the central bureaucracy has grown to manage all this complexity. There are fewer managers but more managers managing the managers. .... The lack of clarity as to what they are supposed to be achieving is concerning, and we’ve already seen the Secretary of State slash their funding, which can hardly help.

Overall though we are drifting further into crisis due to a stubborn refusal to accept the obvious. Doctors need to be paid more. There needs to be significantly greater capital investment – in beds, equipment and IT. We need more managers, with greater autonomy. Yes this all costs money but at the moment we are wasting enormous sums on a low productivity system.

Meanwhile, the ever-more-desperate search for higher returns has led private equity to invest heavily in US health care providers, even though (a) they know nothing about health care and (b) it elevates profit-seeking behavior to actual rent-seeking, not to mention driving doctors and nurses out of practice:

E.R. doctors have found themselves at the forefront of these trends as more and more hospitals have outsourced the staffing in emergency departments in order to cut costs. A 2013 study by Robert McNamara, the chairman of the emergency-medicine department at Temple University in Philadelphia, found that 62 percent of emergency physicians in the United States could be fired without due process. Nearly 20 percent of the 389 E.R. doctors surveyed said they had been threatened for raising quality-of-care concerns, and pressured to make decisions based on financial considerations that could be detrimental to the people in their care, like being pushed to discharge Medicare and Medicaid patients or being encouraged to order more testing than necessary. In another study, more than 70 percent of emergency physicians agreed that the corporatization of their field has had a negative or strongly negative impact on the quality of care and on their own job satisfaction.

Concerns about the corporate takeover of America’s medical system are hardly new. More than half a century ago, the writers Barbara and John Ehrenreich assailed the power of pharmaceutical companies and other large corporations in what they termed the “medical-industrial complex,” which, as the phrase suggests, was anything but a charitable enterprise. In the decades that followed, the official bodies of the medical profession seemed untroubled by this. To the contrary, the American Medical Association consistently opposed efforts to broaden access to health care after World War II, undertaking aggressive lobbying campaigns against proposals for a single-payer public system, which it saw as a threat to physicians’ autonomy.

Throughout the medical system, the insistence on revenue and profits has accelerated. This can be seen in the shuttering of pediatric units at many hospitals and regional medical centers, in part because treating children is less lucrative than treating adults, who order more elective surgeries and are less likely to be on Medicaid. It can be seen in emergency rooms that were understaffed because of budgetary constraints long before the pandemic began. And it can be seen in the push by multibillion-dollar companies like CVS and Walmart to buy or invest in primary-care practices, a rapidly consolidating field attractive to investors because many of the patients who seek such care are enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program, which pays out $400 billion to insurers annually. Over the past decade, meanwhile, private-equity investment in the health care industry has surged, a wave of acquisitions that has swept up physician practices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, home health agencies. McNamara estimates that the staffing in 30 percent of all emergency rooms is now overseen by private-equity-owned firms. Once in charge, these companies “start squeezing the doctors to see more patients per hour, cutting staff,” he says.

As demonstrated repeatedly in public services as diverse as transport and drinking water, taking the profit (or rent-seeking) motivation out of the equation leads to better outcomes for everyone—except the private monopolists. But that's what governments are for.

The overdue defenestration of Boris Johnson

Former UK Prime Minister and professional circus clown Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (Cons.—Uxbridge and South Ruislip) resigned his seat in Parliament this week ahead of a damning all-parties report recommending he be suspended for 90 days:

The death certificate for Boris Johnson’s career in politics read June 12th. A government statement appeared that evening appointing Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as “Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern”, the title MPs accept, according to Britain’s absurd constitution, in order to resign. He went because an inquiry into whether Mr Johnson deliberately misled Parliament found that he had. Not only that, he’d also impugned the investigating committee and joined a campaign of abuse and intimidation against it. Mr Johnson faced suspension as an MP for a remarkable 90 days. Given forewarning of the report, the former prime minister quit.

Conservatives are losing everywhere. But support is falling fastest in the northern constituencies the party was so proud of winning. Across the country Labour enjoys a 14-point poll lead. In “Red Wall” constituencies, this rises to 23 points, according to one pollster.

Andrew Sullivan, who attended Oxford with Johnson, wishes the US Republican Party would treat their former leader the same way:

And now we have Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. This past week saw two official reports into the abuse of their respective offices, and their lavish lying about it. The Smith indictment alleges that Trump knew full well that the documents he took from the White House and stored haphazardly at Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster were highly classified and not his own. But rather than hand everything back, Trump ignored the best legal advice, lied to his own lawyers, ordered an underling to move boxes to conceal them from the FBI, and threw out his usual barrage of excuses, distractions and falsehoods.

In an eerily similar fashion, the British parliamentary committee set up to investigate whether Boris Johnson lied to the House of Commons about his breaking of social distancing rules during Covid, published its final report this week. It’s as authoritative as the Trump indictment — first-hand witnesses, photos, sworn testimony, due process. And it too focuses on a very basic fact: just as Trump knew he was not authorized to keep top secret documents, so Johnson knew that crowded office-parties were quite clearly banned across the UK. But this awareness of the rules did not stop either man from flagrantly breaking them — and then complaining of a “witch-hunt” when called to account.

And it would be “utterly incredible” — unless you had a pulse and two ears at the time, because the ban on workplace parties was incandescently clear to the entire country. When the Queen had to sit alone at the funeral of her husband, it was obviously not ok for the prime minister to have “bring your own booze” parties at Number 10.

And as with Trump and his bizarre behavior with “his boxes,” it’s very hard to see some profound, malign motive here in pursuit of something important. It’s just mindless egotism, married with an infinite capacity for deceit.

[T]here is almost nothing in the narrative of these men’s late careers that isn’t exactly replicated in every previous episode of their lives. A mature democracy will throw up these characters every now and again, and use them. But a healthy one will also test them, and cast them out if they threaten the integrity of the system as a whole. The Brits and Tories have done that, in the end, with Boris — and it speaks well of the remaining integrity of their democracy.

The GOP needs to do the same with Trump. And soon.

Oh, completely unrelated, of course: today is the 165th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's address to the Illinois Republican Convention in Springfield, Ill., also known as the "house divided" speech. It's worth a re-read.

Scottish National Party in deep trouble

Police Scotland has arrested Nicola Sturgeon, who resigned as first minister of Scotland two months ago, as part of their investigation into allegations the SNP misspent £600,000 of donated money:

Her husband, Peter Murrell, the former chief executive of the SNP, was arrested at their home in Uddingston near Glasgow on 5 April, and interviewed under caution for nearly 12 hours before being released without charge.

The police searched their home and back garden, and also searched the SNP’s headquarters under warrant, taking out boxes of documents and computers.

Colin Beattie MSP, then the party’s treasurer, was arrested and questioned as part of the same inquiry on 18 April and also released later without charge, pending further investigation.

The BBC has a timeline of the investigation.

Tories strike again

Thanks in part to Conservative Party mismanagement of the UK transport sector for the last 13 years, things have gotten a bit fraught in the Old Country. And now, I get to spend a bit of extra time getting from Gatwick to my hotel on Saturday:

The Gatwick Express takes about 30 minutes from the airport to London Victoria Station. There is no other train option.

Instead, it looks like I can take a cab straight to my hotel for about £90, or a bus to bloody Heathrow and the Elizabeth Line for about £25. The former will take about an hour. The latter about 2 1/2.

So, I'm on vacation. No expense account. No schedule. Should I spend the extra $55? Sigh.