The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Hottest September ever

The National Aeronautical and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported today that September set a new record:

Unprecedented heat around the world vaulted September 2020 to the hottest September since 1880, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

The month's warmth also contributed to 2020’s trend as a remarkably hot year, with the year-to-date global temperatures running second highest in the 141-year climate record.

The average global temperature in September was 0.97°C above the 20th-century average of 15.0°C.

This surpasses the average global temperatures for both September 2015 and 2016 by 0.02°C, which previously tied for the hottest Septembers on record. 

The 10-warmest Septembers have all occurred since 2005, with the seven-warmest Septembers occurring in the last seven years.

It looks like 2020 will set a record for hottest year ever, too.

Why Facebook can't fix itself

From Andrew Marantz at The New Yorker:

In retrospect, it seems that the company’s strategy has never been to manage the problem of dangerous content, but rather to manage the public’s perception of the problem. In [former UK Liberal Democratic Party leader Nick] Clegg’s recent blog post, he wrote that Facebook takes a “zero tolerance approach” to hate speech, but that, “with so much content posted every day, rooting out the hate is like looking for a needle in a haystack.” This metaphor casts Zuckerberg as a hapless victim of fate: day after day, through no fault of his own, his haystack ends up mysteriously full of needles. A more honest metaphor would posit a powerful set of magnets at the center of the haystack—Facebook’s algorithms, which attract and elevate whatever content is most highly charged. If there are needles anywhere nearby—and, on the Internet, there always are—the magnets will pull them in. Remove as many as you want today; more will reappear tomorrow. This is how the system is designed to work.

“It’s an open secret,” Sophie Zhang, a former data scientist for the company, recently wrote, “that Facebook’s short-term decisions are largely motivated by PR and the potential for negative attention.” Zhang left Facebook in September. Before she did, she posted a scathing memo on Workplace. In the memo, which was obtained by BuzzFeed News, she alleged that she had witnessed “multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales”; in some cases, however, “we simply didn’t care enough to stop them.” She suggested that this was because the abuses were occurring in countries that American news outlets were unlikely to cover.

Nothing surprising in the article, but Marantz adds a lot more detail than most people have realized.

Lunchtime incompetence, history, and whisky

Someday, historians may discover what former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker—I don't have to remind you, a Republican—got in exchange for the ridiculous deal his administration made with FoxConn. After the Taiwan-based company created only a tiny fraction of the jobs it promised in exchange for billions in tax credits, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has finally told them, no, you don't get all that money for nothing.

In other news:

Finally, Whisky Advocate has some recommendations for an essential whisky bar in your home.

What the Barrett nomination is really about

The Senate Republicans will force through Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court before the end of December, and there's nothing the Democratic Party can do to stop it.

OK. They win this round. But by the end of the next Congress, we can win the war.

Forget about Roe v Wade; if the Supreme Court overturns it, we can fix abortion rights with legislation. And forget about gay marriage; same deal. In fact, after the Democratic Party takes control of the legislature and executive in January, nothing should prevent us from passing a civil-rights bill to ensure all Americans continue to have access to those rights. The Republicans in the Senate know that, but they're hoping to distract you from their real agenda in stacking the Federal court system and preventing people of color from voting.

In a New York Times op-ed yesterday, author Christopher Leonard explains why Mitch McConnell wants Barrett on the court before the American people drive his caucus from power in three weeks:

Since the early 1970s, [Charles] Koch has sought to dismantle most federal regulatory institutions, and the federal courts have been central to that battle. In 1974, Mr. Koch gave a blistering speech to a libertarian think tank, called the Institute for Humane Studies, in which he outlined his vision of the American regulatory state, and the strategy he would employ over the ensuing decades to realize that vision. In short, Charles Koch believes that an unregulated free market is the only sustainable structure for human society.

To achieve his goal, Mr. Koch has built an influence network with three arms: a phalanx of lobbyists; a constellation of think tanks and university programs; and Americans For Prosperity, a grass-roots army of political activists. And shaping the U.S. judiciary has been part of Mr. Koch’s strategy from the beginning. In that 1974 speech, he recommended strategy of “strategically planned litigation” to test the regulatory authority of government agencies. Such lawsuits could make their way to the Supreme Court, where justices could set precedent. In the 1990s, he focused on lower-level judges, funding a legal institute that paid for judges to attend junkets at a Utah ski resort and Florida beachfront properties; the judges attended seminars on the importance of market forces in society and were warned against consideration of “junk science” — like specific methods to measure the effects of pollution — that plaintiffs used to prove corporate malfeasance.

As Charles Koch has written and stated so often in the past five decades, there are many, many laws and programs that he would like to negate. With the nomination of Judge Barrett to the court, he appears to be closer than ever to achieving this goal.

In other words, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's refusal to give hearings not just to Merrick Garland, but also close to 200 of President Obama's lower-court nominees, is about making rich people richer. Economist Paul Krugman explains further:

We should have had a deal in the summer, when it was already obvious that the rescue package approved in March was going to expire much too soon. But Senate Republicans were adamantly opposed to providing the necessary aid. Lindsey Graham declared that emergency unemployment benefits would be extended “over our dead bodies” (actually 215,000 other people’s dead bodies, but who’s counting?).

And McConnell — whose state benefits from far more federal spending than it pays in taxes — derided proposed aid to states as a “blue state bailout.”

Republicans didn’t worry about budget deficits when they rammed through a $2 trillion tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. They only pose as deficit hawks when trying to block spending that might help ordinary Americans.

No, what this is really about is the modern G.O.P.’s plutocratic agenda. McConnell and, as far as I can tell, every member of his caucus are completely committed to cutting taxes on the rich and aid to the poor and middle class. Other than March’s CARES Act, which Republicans passed only because they were panicking over a plunging stock market, it’s hard to think of any major G.O.P.-approved fiscal legislation in the past two decades that didn’t redistribute income upward.

You might think that Republicans would set the plutocratic imperative aside when the case for more government spending is compelling, whether it’s to repair our crumbling infrastructure or to provide relief during a pandemic. But all indications are that they believe — probably rightly — that successful government programs make the public more receptive to proposals for additional programs.

That’s why the G.O.P. has tried so frantically to overturn the Affordable Care Act; at this point it’s clear that Obamacare’s success in cutting the number of uninsured Americans has created an appetite for further health care reform.

So what can we do?

Well, first, we can win the damn election next month. The Economist has us at a 91% chance of winning the White House and a 71% chance of winning control of the Senate, but that depends on us voting and not letting Republicans steal votes. Then we have to actually govern using all the tools available to us in the Constitution, just as the Republicans have done.

Let's admit DC as a state and allow Puerto Rico to join as well if they want to. Meanwhile, we need to pass civil-rights and effective regulatory legislation, expand the Federal courts to balance ideologies on the bench, and put real safeguards in place to prevent the next Republican Senate or president from moving us closer to plutocracy through their demonstrated habit of counter-majoritarian rule.

The Republican Party blew up all the norms they expect us to follow when we regain power in January. You know what? They can gey kaker im meer, as my great-grandfather might say. They will howl and whine and cry and sue, like they always do, because no one likes not getting his way.

But we need to make it clear that we will not let their malfeasance go unpunished. Only when the Republican Party gives up its Koch-fueled, illiberal, anti-democratic policies should we attempt bipartisanship again. Let's be lawful good, not lawful stupid, and force them to act like a serious opposition party.

Evening news stories

A cold front pushed its way through Chicago this afternoon, making it feel much more like autumn than we've experienced so far. And it got pretty chilly in Washington, where Senate Republicans began the first day of hearings into the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court:

And much farther from home, Mars will be in opposition tomorrow night, coincidentally during the new moon, meaning we'll get a really good look at it.

Chaos at Pearson

After a 10-hour flight from Spain to Toronto, a rescue Podenco named Crystal discovered that someone had failed to properly secure her crate, and she was off:

Over the next 12 hours, a highly coordinated search ensued, replete with CCTV security, thermal infrared cameras and a call for help to the Falcon Environment Services, the airport wildlife team. All arrivals and departures were suspended for at least an hour on Tuesday morning as staff searched high and low for Crystal.

Finding her wasn’t the issue, Chris Stubbs said — the hardest part was being able to catch her. “There were times where it just looked like a white blur running down the taxiway,” Stubbs said

Podencos are close relatives of the greyhound, native to Spain, and were popularly adopted as hunting dogs, which explains their speed and agility. 

At two points, Crystal appeared on the runway as aircraft were landing, forcing pilots to quickly abort.

By the 12th hour, Crystal had worn herself out and crawled under a truck to rest, giving [animal control specialist Keith] Everett the rare opportunity to crawl close and slip a leash over her head. Rather than rush her out, he stayed under the truck with the scared, exhausted pup and tried to gain her trust by talking and giving her treats.

The pandemic saved her, by the way. At full capacity, Pearson has hundreds of takeoffs and landings every day. The airport would have had to use a much quicker and more permanent method to protect aviation safety in that case.

Crystal now lives with her adoptive family in New Brunswick.

Graceland Cemetery this evening

We have some decent fall colors this year. They should peak sometime this week, but I didn't want to waste perfect weather this evening, so I took the drone over to Graceland Cemetery and Arboretum:

Here's the end still, with a bit of processing in Lightroom, taken from here:

Graceland closed for the longest period in its history after the August derecho that knocked 200 trees and caused $250,000 in damage. Fortunately the surviving trees look beautiful in their autumn best.

Your morning ugliness

Three items, somewhat related:

  • The president's doctor, Sean Conley, released a memo pronouncing the president "no longer considered transmission risk to others," without providing any information on whether he tested negative for Covid-19, because why would you want clarity around the president's health?
  • The president, meanwhile, has openly called for prosecutions of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden, in a desperate bid to hang on to power befitting a small, whiny loser.
  • Three Washington Post reporters trace how a misogynistic conspiracy theory about Kamala Harris wended its way through the Intertubes.

Finally, if you're still undecided in this election, the Times has a quiz for you.