The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Gosh, where to begin?

Happy May Day! Or m'aidez? Hard to know for sure right now. The weather in Chicago is sunny and almost the right temperature, and I have had some remarkable productivity at work this week, so in that respect I'm pretty happy.

But I woke up this morning to the news that Ravinia has cancelled its entire 2020 season, including a performance of Bernstein's White House Cantata that featured my group, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. This is the first time Ravinia has done so since 1935.

If only that were everything.

First, via Josh Marshall, former Obama Administration disaster-preparedness expert Jeremy Konydndyk lays out the facts about our plateau (60,000 excess weekly deaths) and how the Trump Administration continues to do nothing to help us slow Covid-19 deaths.

Next, all of this:

But some good news:

Finally, while alarming in its own right, the record water levels in Lake Michigan (4 months in a row now) have exposed some historic shipwrecks.

Back to your regularly-scheduled horror movie

Congratulations! You've made it to the end of April. This month has felt like one of the longest years of my life, and probably yours.

So as we head into May, here's what the last few hours of April have wrought:

Well, the only cops I've seen out in force recently were the guys who responded to a shooting and captured the two suspects a block from my home. (Yeah, that happened, and it didn't even make the paper.)

Zoom is out of the doghouse (for now)

Security guru Bruce Schneier says Zoom has cleaned up its act a lot, judging by recent surveys of video conferencing apps by the NSA and Mozilla:

The company has done a lot of work addressing previous security concerns. It still has a bit to go on end-to-end encryption. Matthew Green looked at this. Zoom does offer end-to-end encryption if 1) everyone is using a Zoom app, and not logging in to the meeting using a webpage, and 2) the meeting is not being recorded in the cloud. That's pretty good, but the real worry is where the encryption keys are generated and stored. According to Citizen Lab, the company generates them.

There is nothing in Zoom's latest announcement about key management. So: while the company has done a really good job improving the security and privacy of their platform, there seems to be just one step remaining to fully encrypt the sessions.

The other thing I want Zoom to do is to make the security options necessary to prevent Zoombombing to be made available to users of the free version of that platform. Forcing users to pay for security isn't a viable option right now.

So, we'll keep using Zoom (mainly because everyone else is). And maybe, in the future, we'll have a serious discussion about security and privacy regulations in the US.

The US is now a joke to the rest of the world

Thanks, Obama!

No, really. The countries that don't pity us are laughing their asses off. This video from a Chinese satire program sums it up nicely:

Josh Marshall is outraged—at the Trump Administration:

[The video] is certainly self-serving from the Chinese perspective. But big picture, good lord, pretty much completely guilty as charged. China initially bobbled the outbreak, had a major crisis. They mobilized. They shared information with the world. They mounted a massive, historic containment effort, built whole hospitals in a matter of days. The US hung back and did a mix of ignoring it or talking down to the Chinese. Look how they wear masks! Haha. Masks don’t work. Whether poo-pooing or derision the big message was that this didn’t have anything to do with us. Or it was a hoax. Until we had our own catastrophic outbreak and then suddenly you didn’t tell us! You hid the truth from us! You will pay the price! Also please send us masks! We really need masks! Please!

On COVID19 we are not only suffering horribly. We are also a joke. “We” is doing a lot of work here. “We” is really our national government, the Trump administration. But for the moment it’s the only national government we have and it’s calling the shots. As the closing puts it “Gosh!! Just listen to yourself.” Perhaps most tellingly, with perhaps the greatest longterm repercussions, the Trump administration has failed so badly, so accurately modeled the behavior of five year olds that we’ve gone a decent way toward discrediting the model of civic democracy and the rule of law we should be supporting at home and around the world. We’ve done about as good a job as one could imagine telling the story that maybe the authoritarians just handle things better.

It’s embarrassing. We’re an embarrassment.

I know it won't make anyone change his or her mind about why (or even whether) Russia interfered in our 2016 election, but this outcome is glorious for Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinpeng, and every other authoritarian and totalitarian out there.

Elections matter.

Modern GOP origin story

The Hulu biopic "Mrs America" gives you the founding matron of the modern Republican Party, in all her crazy:

It tells the story of the 1970s battle over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that pitted feminists such as Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) and Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba) against a woman named Phyllis Schlafly who would become the godmother of modern conservatism. Schlafly, who is portrayed with icy hauteur by the sublime Cate Blanchett, was a walking paradox: This champion of “homemakers” was herself a liberated woman who devoted most of her energy to political activism, not to looking after her husband and six children.

Schlafly specialized in incendiary — and far-fetched — claims that passage of the ERA would eliminate alimony, child support and single-sex bathrooms and force women into combat. “Mrs. America” shows television host Phil Donahue challenging her assertions. The fictional Schlafly replies with a tirade comparing the feminists to the Bolsheviks and predicting that before long we would be “living in a feminist totalitarian nightmare.”

Schlafly pioneered the kind of incendiary, irrational rhetoric that galvanized much of the conservative movement during its early years — and, sadly, continues to excite it today. There was always a big difference, however, between what activists like her said and how Republican officeholders acted. Even the most conservative presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were far more moderate.

Meanwhile, between Vice President Mike Pence refusing to wear a mask at the Mayo Clinic (to "look people in the eyes," which is odd if you know how masks work) while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doing everything he can to piss off everyone who lives in a town of more than 2,500 people, one starts to see hope that these raging incompetents and nihilists could leave office next January. This, while Covid-19 deaths in the US have officially passed the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War (though unofficially we seem to have passed that mark a few weeks ago).

I wonder what Nero's favorables were?

We won't have won, of course, because nearly half the country are incompetent nihilists. But we might at least get a breather.

No ribs this year

I have gone to North Center Ribfest since moving back to the city in 2008. Until 2018 I even brought Parker most years, when he could walk 60 blocks as easily as I can. (Now he has trouble walking four.) I also attended the smaller, less-well-run Windy City Ribfest a couple of times. The Chamber for Uptown just cancelled this year's Windy City Ribfest, and the North Center Chamber of Commerce cancelled their Ribfest two weeks ago.

In honor of both events, I will have full slabs on both weekends (June 12th and July 3rd).

So far, Naperville's Ribfest (actually held in Romeoville) still plans to go forward on July 2nd. Maybe there will be rib samplers this year after all?

Stupid is more contagious than smart

A small-town Republican Illinois State Representative sued in a small-town State court to have Governor Pritzker's stay-at-home order overturned—for himself, personally:

The ruling by Clay County Circuit Court Judge Michael McHaney came in a lawsuit filed by Bailey, a Republican from the small town of Xenia, which challenged Pritzker’s authority to issue extended stay-at-home orders under the state’s Emergency Management Act.

In seeking the injunction April 23, Bailey asked the judge to find that the lawmaker was “irreparably harmed each day he is subjected to” Pritzker’s executive order and to enjoin the governor or anyone under his authority “from enforcing the March 20 executive order against Bailey from this date forward," and any subsequent orders that would do the same.

McHaney’s order said Pritzker was prohibited “from in any way enforcing the March 20 executive order against Darren Bailey forcing him to isolate and quarantine in his home," or any subsequent orders that would do the same.

Bailey’s lawsuit shows how government’s regulatory response to the coronavirus has inflamed already heightened regional tensions between rural areas and the Chicago area.

Residents in central and southern Illinois, areas that have become increasingly conservative and heavily Republican while seeing declines in industry and population, have chafed over what they believe is a state run by Chicago, imposing upon them the city’s liberal ideology and beliefs.

Pritzker contended Bailey was attempting to use the coronavirus restrictions to play to his rural constituency.

Meanwhile, Washington Post columnists Philip Bump and Ashley Parker reviewed all 13 hours of President Trump's press conferences this month to figure out how he used all that time:

Over the past three weeks, the tally comes to more than 13 hours of Trump — including two hours spent on attacks and 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, but just 4½ minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims. He spent twice as much time promoting an unproven antimalarial drug that was the object of a Food and Drug Administration warning Friday. Trump also said something false or misleading in nearly a quarter of his prepared comments or answers to questions, the analysis shows.

The Post analysis of Trump’s daily coronavirus briefings over the past three weeks — from Monday, April 6, to Friday, April 24 — reveals a president using the White House lectern to vent and rage; to dispense dubious and even dangerous medical advice; and to lavish praise upon himself and his government.

Trump has attacked someone in 113 out of 346 questions he has answered — or a third of his responses. He has offered false or misleading information in nearly 25 percent of his remarks. And he has played videos praising himself and his administration’s efforts three times, including one that was widely derided as campaign propaganda produced by White House aides at taxpayer expense.

Expressions of empathy from Trump are rare. The president has mentioned coronavirus victims in just eight briefings in three weeks, mostly in prepared remarks. In the first week of April, when the nation’s focus was largely on the hard-hit New York region, Trump began several briefings by expressing his condolences for the victims there.

Forty years of warfare against expertise, science, and reason have produced a Republican Party uniquely incapable of governing during a crisis. But this is a feature, not a bug, since they don't actually want to govern; they want to rule.

President of the Continental Congress

The only president this country has right now massively trolled my party and my state today:

As talk in Washington has swiftly moved to the next coronavirus relief package, President Donald Trump on Monday questioned whether federal taxpayers should provide money of “poorly run” states and cities run by Democrats, specifically citing Illinois.

“Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help?” Trump asked on Twitter.

Controversy over federal help to states was magnified when Illinois Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park earlier this month asked the state’s congressional delegation for more than $41.6 billion in federal aid, including $10 billion for the state’s vastly underfunded public employee pension system.

The state’s five GOP congressman rejected the request as an attempt to use federal money to paper over decades of mismanagement, including the pensions which have a $138 billion unfunded liability.

Well, why not? We've spent decades subsidizing Republican states for their unconscionable mismanagement of schools, disaster planning, highway construction...basically, we've subsidized their low tax rates and massive inequality. (Also, density in places like New York actually saves more lives every year than the pandemic will take this year.)

Obviously it's stupid to Balkanize the US. We are one nation. And we have been since 1789. Seriously, Republicans, if you don't like the Federal system, then let's see you pass a Constitutional amendment giving states the right to secede. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the nation has seen about 15,000 excess deaths in the past month, suggesting massive under-reporting of Covid-19 cases. And New York State has postponed the Democratic Party primary election from June 23rd to possibly just before the party's convention in August.

Not worth the time

In one of his funniest jokes to date, President Trump Tweeted last night that his daily press conferences aren't "worth the time & effort:"

As usual, he said something that was objectively true but meant it differently than the reality-based community understood it. In fact, around the time he posted that Tweet, the New York Times published a story headlined "Nervous Republicans see Trump sinking, and taking Senate with him," which seems more likely than that the president suddenly decided to stop wasting everyone's time:

The scale of the G.O.P.’s challenge has crystallized in the last week. With 26 million Americans now having filed for unemployment benefits, Mr. Trump’s standing in states that he carried in 2016 looks increasingly wobbly: New surveys show him trailing significantly in battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he is even narrowly behind in must-win Florida.

Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Trump’s single best advantage as an incumbent — his access to the bully pulpit — has effectively become a platform for self-sabotage.

His daily news briefings on the coronavirus outbreak are inflicting grave damage on his political standing, Republicans believe, and his recent remarks about combating the virus with sunlight and disinfectant were a breaking point for a number of senior party officials.

Glen Bolger, a longtime Republican pollster, said the landscape for his party had become far grimmer compared with the pre-virus plan to run almost singularly around the country’s prosperity.

“With the economy in free-fall, Republicans face a very challenging environment and it’s a total shift from where we were a few months ago,” Mr. Bolger said. “Democrats are angry, and now we have the foundation of the campaign yanked out from underneath us.”

Mr. Trump’s advisers and allies have often blamed external events for his most self-destructive acts, such as his repeated outbursts during the two-year investigation into his campaign’s dealings with Russia. Now, there is no such explanation — and, so far, there have been exceedingly few successful interventions regarding Mr. Trump’s behavior at the podium.

There's a great bit of dialogue* in one of my favorite movies, The American President, between Wendie Malick and Annette Bening:

Susan Sloan: Well, I - I think that um, that I - I have a lot of pent-up hostility...

Sydney Ellen Wade: Well, I...

Susan Sloan: You know, and I'm wondering who I should blame that on.

Sydney Ellen Wade: I'm not really qualified to...

Susan Sloan: You know, because I've been blaming it on my mother and my ex-husband and, well, that doesn't seem to be working.

No, Republicans, blaming your party leader's incompetence on external events no longer seems to be working.

* This dialogue also passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test: two named female characters having a conversation about something other than a man. Nice to find that in a rom-com. But it is Sorkin, so...

Only so many ways to state the obvious

James Fallows:

Reporters from the Washington Post quoted Dara Kass, of Columbia University Medical Center, on the difference between this and Trump’s previous, now-discredited advice that people start taking a certain kind of pill:

“The difference between this and the chloroquine [pills] is that somebody could go right away to their pantry and start swallowing bleach. They could go to their medicine cabinet and swallow isopropyl alcohol,” Kass said. “A lot of people have that in their homes. There’s an immediate opportunity to react.”

Kass explained to the Post that people who ingest such chemicals often die, and those “who survive usually end up with feeding tubes because their mouth and esophagus were eroded by the cleaning agents.”

“It’s horrific,” she said.

Jack Holmes, politics editor of Esquire:

There is a need among some, particularly in Washington, to believe the president is not completely batty. The prospect that he has no idea what he's doing, and in fact may not be all there, is psychologically difficult for some to grapple with. It's also scary for some folks to think about just saying what's in front of them and feeling the backlash from his supporters. So evening-news programs and newspapers spend a lot of time cleaning up what the president says, pruning the overgrown hedges into something vaguely coherent in their reports.

But he's not going to get better. He's not going to grow into the job or become more "presidential". How many words, realistically, do you really believe he's read about COVID-19? How many pages of briefings? When are we going to demand more than a circus from the people in whom we now have so much of our futures invested, willingly or not? We should be calling for this guy to resign on a daily basis.

Michelle Goldberg, in the New York Times today:

As the coronavirus crisis has unfolded in America, [author Adam] Higginbotham has noticed other parallels. “The response that I see has followed a very similar trajectory: initial public denials or reluctance to publicly admit that anything was wrong, then attempts to minimize the severity of what was happening, rooted in an institutional inability to acknowledge failure,” he said. “The initial response was hampered by a lack of equipment and a breakdown in communication that revealed that despite years of planning, the state was hopelessly ill prepared for such a catastrophe.”

Yet one crucial difference also stands out to him. Soviet officials lied about Chernobyl and tried to shift blame but accepted that remediation was the state’s responsibility. “There was a lot of disinformation and cover-up, but as far as I know nobody in the Politburo was on the phone to the party leaders in Kyiv and Minsk saying, ‘You’re on your own — sort it out yourselves,’ ” said Higginbotham.

Chernobyl is now widely seen as a signal event on the road to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Coronavirus may someday be seen as a similar inflection point in the story of American decline. A country that could be brought to its knees this quickly was sick well before the virus arrived.

Dana Milbank, yesterday:

I can add clinical evidence, derived from searching the Mayo Clinic’s website for side effects of azithromycinhydroxychloroquine and its cousin, chloroquine. Among them, I found: “change in hair color” (Trump has recently faded from orange to gray), “discoloration of the skin” (originally and mistakenly attributed to tanning beds), “trouble sleeping” (see his overnight tweets), “noisy breathing” (that gasping during his Oval Office address), “difficulty with speaking” (whenever using a teleprompter), “runny nose,” (the sniffing!) and “unusual facial expressions” (‘nuff said).

Also, consider the mental side effects the drugs can cause: Irritability. Confusion. Aggression. Anger. Hostility. Quickness to react or overreact emotionally. Unusual behavior. Unsteadiness. Severe mood or mental changes. Restlessness. Paranoia. Depersonalization (an emotional “numbness”). Feeling that others are watching you or controlling your behavior. Feeling that others can hear your thoughts. Feeling, seeing or hearing things that are not there.

Marina Hyde in The Guardian, also yesterday:

Another interesting thing to check would be the precise theoretical point at which deciding to ingest bleach becomes the tragically rational response to the fact that a sitting president is suggesting Americans ingest bleach. For now, though, let’s just include the presidential caveat. Pointing to his head, Trump went on: “I’m not a doctor. But I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what.”

Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis was always predictable pathologically. You’re asking a man who got to the Oval Office by going viral to disavow a virus. It’s not very surprising that Trump can’t bring himself to. You have to think he recognises something of a kindred spirit in the disease, which is indifferent to all human suffering, impacts disproportionately on ethnic minorities and is horrifyingly resistant to therapy.

And on April 11th, Der Spiegel had a long-for explanation of how the US has fallen from world dominance, in large part because of the president:

Again and again, Trump’s advisers have had to bring him to his senses, but even that often doesn’t work. When the president announced a week ago Friday that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was going to recommend people wear masks in public, he immediately added that he wasn’t even considering wearing one himself. "I don’t see it for myself, I just don’t.” His comments certainly didn’t clear up any confusion.

We will get through this. But whether "we" means you and me or "we" means some remnant of the human species cannot be predicted at this time.