The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.)

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.

First Covid-19 casualty of Brews & Choos

I suspended the Brews & Choos Project after March 7th as the state closed restaurants and bars to slow the spread of SARS-COV-2. I had planned to continue the project as soon as things opened up again, knowing the economic pause would certainly change the roster. Sadly, it already has, with the permanent closure of Argus Brewing on the city's south side on March 28th:

Since launching in 2009 in a former Schlitz horse stable — a relic of when beer was delivered by hooves — Argus always hovered at the edge of the beer drinking consciousness, a curiosity few Chicagoans ever saw, tasted or even discussed.

While other breweries of its era grew into Chicago icons — Metropolitan, Half Acre, Revolution — Argus sat quietly at the city’s far south end, miles from both its competitors and the city’s best-known beer bars.

Argus founder Bob Jensen acknowledged that his brewery had long been teetering at the edge of collapse. It was never profitable, and in December, reduced head count from 16 to 11 employees. Jensen considered pulling the plug for months. The COVID-19 pandemic made him pull it.

Earlier this month, the Brewers Association said coronavirus may be catastrophic for the nation’s small breweries. Nearly 60% of surveyed breweries predicted they couldn’t survive three months of social distancing.

For Argus, the decision was made in less than two weeks. About three-quarters of its business was draft, an arena that dried up literally overnight after bars and restaurants closed March 16 to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

But Argus’ demise was rooted in years of not being able to turn a corner, even as a $29 billion craft beer industry grew around it. Argus grappled with its far-flung location in the Roseland neighborhood, questionable commitment from its distributors, growing competition, failure to open a taproom, buy-in from bars and stores and, most important, making quality beer.

On March 1st I went down to Flossmoor Station on the Metra Electric line, but didn't stop at Argus because they didn't have tours on Sundays. I had planned to go down there in warmer weather so that I could not only see their operation and taste their beer, but also so I could walk around the Pullman Historic District nearby.

I really hope brewpubs and taprooms can reopen soon.

Surprisingly productive today

Either I spent all day coding and therefore didn't have time to read these things, or I just didn't want to read these things. Let's start with the big questions:

You should have the same answer to all these questions ("yes"), though you might want to extend your answer to the first one after reading the article. (I vote "electric.")

More financial musical chairs

When the economy went into its current medically-induced coma, cash movements slowed almost to a halt in some sectors. If you had cash four weeks ago, you have probably held onto it; if you held debt four weeks ago, you probably haven't gotten all the cash flows you expected.

As yesterday's brief collapse of oil futures contracts demonstrated, the game of musical chairs almost became frighteningly real for traders:

When you read a news article or hear an economist mention the price of oil, it typically refers not to a physical barrel filled with viscous liquid but to the price of a futures contract that trades on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. By convention, the “price of oil” is the going per-barrel price reflected in a futures contract for the ensuing month.

In the case of the most widely followed contract in the United States, that would be West Texas Intermediate crude, which you would need to physically obtain from storage facilities in Cushing, Okla., where major pipelines intersect.

Plenty of major entities trade such futures without ever thinking too much about those physical details — and certainly without getting any oil on their expensive suits. Speculators speculate, companies hedge their risks of price swings, and transactions take place at the level of abstraction on a computer screen.

But as each contract’s settlement date approaches, the financial speculators sell their contracts to “real” buyers of oil, like refineries. This can cause problems for traders who may be in over their heads. Chris Arnade, a trader-turned-author, said on Twitter on Monday that he once found himself in that position: “I ended up almost taking physical delivery of lots of oil.”

It gets worse:

All of that points to a deflationary collapse — a glut of supply of goods and services, and consequently falling prices — that surpasses anything seen in most people’s lifetimes.

Oil isn’t the only commodity with a plunging price. Corn futures have fallen 19 percent since early February. The price of inflation-protected government bonds suggests inflation will be only 0.56 percent a year over the coming five years, and the Consumer Price Index fell 0.4 percent in March.

In other words, the suckage has barely started for a lot of people.

So, instead of worrying about the end of the world as we know it, enjoy Chicago Public Rado's drone footage of a quiet city:

It all just keeps coming, you know?

Welcome to day 31 of the Illinois shelter-in-place regime, which also turns out to be day 36 of my own working-from-home regime (or day 43 if you ignore that I had to go into the office on March 16th). So what's new?

Oy:

Finally, via Bruce Schneier, the Dutch intelligence service had an unintentional back door into several other countries' communications. (Scheier says, "It seems to be clever cryptanalysis rather than a backdoor.")

How crude

Demand for petroleum has crashed so hard and so fast that North American oil producers have run out of space to store the excess. This morning the price of US crude collapsed, falling 105 500% to $-2 $-37.63 per barrel; Canadian oil prices also dropped negative. That's right, if you want to take a million or so barrels off their hands, they'll pay you to do so. (This only affects delivery by month's end; for delivery in May, oil still costs $20 a barrel.)

Meanwhile, in other horrific news:

Finally, the Covid-19 emergency has led to mass layoffs of architects, one of the hardest-hit professions in any recession. I'm currently reading Robert Caro's The Power Broker, his biography of Robert Moses, and just at the point where he mentions that in 1934, 5 out of 6 architects had lost their jobs. Everything old is new again.

Liberate Minnesota!

No, really, the president Tweeted that earlier today:

I mean, what the actual f? (He also wants to liberate Michigan and Virginia, by the way.) Charlie Pierce warned only Monday that this kind of nonsense was coming:

The acting director of the Office of National Intelligence is encouraging citizens to break local laws, endangering themselves and others, in the middle of a pandemic. Of all the screwy moments that we have experienced since the founding of Camp Runamuck, this is going to rank very close to the top. And it is not going to be a surprise to anyone if another AstroTurf movement similar to the Tea Party rises, especially if the president* “opens up” the country at the beginning of May.

This nonsense is coming, and it’s going to be encouraged by the national government, and I don’t know how we avoid it.

Andrew Sullivan, after point out that the virus doesn't have a social message, breathed a sigh of relief that Trump is so very lazy:

But of course we all know by now, including the Republicans, that it is meaningless. Trump claims the powers of a tyrant, behaves like one, talks like one, struts like one, has broken every norm a liberal democracy requires, and set dangerous precedents that could enable a serious collapse in constitutional norms in the future.

This, in Bill Kristol’s rather brilliant phrase, is “performative authoritarianism.” It has a real cost — it delegitimizes liberal democracy by mocking it and corrodes democratic institutions by undermining them. But it is not the cost of finding ourselves run by an American Victor Orban. Orban saw the coronavirus emergency the way most wannabe strongmen would and the way I feared Trump might: as an opportunity to further neuter any constitutional checks on him and rule by decree. Trump saw it purely as an obstacle to his reelection message about a booming economy, a blot on his self-image, an unfair spoiling of his term. Instead of exploiting it, he whined about it. He is incapable of empathy and so simply cannot channel the nation’s grief into a plan of action. So he rambles and digresses and divides and inflames. He has managed in this crisis to tell us both that he is all-powerful and that he takes no responsibility for anything.

And I suspect that this creepy vaudeville act, in a worried and tense country, is beginning to wear real thin. A man who claims total power but only exercises it to protect his personal interests, a man who vaunts his own authority but tolerates no accountability for it, is impressing no one.

The emergency I feared Trump could leverage to untrammeled power may, in fact, be the single clearest demonstration of his incompetence and irrelevance

Simply put, "Trump can't lie his way out of this one," as several pundits have observed. Also:

Fun times, fun times. Good thing it will actually seem like spring tomorrow in Chicago after another snowfall last night.