The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The most important stories of the day

Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle read through a week of newspapers to understand the hot topics of 100 years ago:

First, there is news of the great Washington Naval Conference, which has commanded half of the front page since opening in mid-November. The idea of the conference is for the great powers to jointly reduce their armaments, so everyone can spend the money on better things.

Inside the paper, we may spend some time browsing the ads, perhaps pausing over the homage to the REO Speed Wagon — still a modern commercial vehicle in 1921, rather than an elderly rock band. We find predictions that Russia will soon be forced to abandon communism and embrace capitalism to feed its people.

Once you imagine your descendants peering back in surprise across the centuries, chuckling at the sight of you passionately arguing some historical irrelevancy, it gets easier to relax and stop shouting at each other. Or heck, maybe even put down our phones and attend to the biggest story most of us will ever live through — not what’s happening in the news but in the homes where we read it.

Somehow, though, I think the storming of the US Capitol a year ago, and the likelihood of more political violence this year, might be remembered.

Inflated importance

The Times reported last night that the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index had its highest rate of increase since 1982 in November, and yet they (and most other news outlets) completely missed the bigger story:

The data came as a rising number of Omicron infections makes the inflation and economic outlook hazier. On one hand, the virus could slow the growth of the economy and of prices if it prompts furloughs at a time when the government is no longer stepping in to fill the void, costing households and hurting demand. On the other hand, surging global caseloads could push prices up as they close factories and keep cars, furniture, toys and other goods in short supply.

Even before the new variant surfaced, consumer spending failed to eke out a gain last month after adjusting for inflation, the Thursday data showed. Economists said the lack of growth might simply reflect that people shopped for the holidays earlier this year to guard against shortages — spending surged in October. But the blip underscores how challenging it is to understand incoming data about consumption, growth and prices in a pandemic-stricken economy.

James Fallows expressed the same frustration I feel whenever I read one of these "OMG inflation!" stories. Because, you see, households are much better off now than they have been for the last several years, for a simple and obvious reason:

I contend that [news stories like this] fit a general recent pattern of emphasis from the “serious” media: placing vastly more stress on the threat of inflation, which indeed is getting worse, than on the evil of unemployment, which is getting much better. (For more about this pattern of coverage, see Eric Boehlert among others.)

As a reminder: current U.S. job prospects are not simply “better” when judged on the historical curve, with these record-low unemployment claims. They are almost unbelievably better, in light of the sudden loss of more than 20 million U.S. jobs in just one month last year, as the pandemic took hold.

The over-emphasis on inflation numbers, relative to employment trends, blurs the fact that while both are problems, for the people living through it unemployment is much worse.

Inflation erodes a family’s purchasing power. Unemployment eliminates it.

That makes a huge difference.

Yes. We have mild inflation compared with what some of us remember in the 1970s and 1980s, but with miraculously low unemployment numbers which we did not have back then.

Who worries about inflation the most? People on fixed incomes, surely; but the Social Security Administration will give pensioners the highest cost-of-living adjustment in 40 years next Saturday.

No, the biggest victims of inflation are net creditors. As we get a bit of post-disaster price increases with concomitant wage increases, the debts we owe (mortgages, student loans, even credit cards) become easier to pay. In other words, their real value has declined in the past 12 months. So net creditors—big banks, hedge funds, the like—are losing money. Everyone: awwww.

Expect, therefore, to see more emphasis on inflation numbers and less on employment numbers as the economy re-adjusts after 20 months of pandemic-induced coma. And expect that your student loans and mortgages will be that much easier to pay off in the near future.

Another big, red map that should make you uncomfortable

Via The Washington Post, Climate Central reports that winters have gotten significantly warmer in the US, especially in the Great Lakes and Northeast regions:

[W]inter in the United States is warming faster than any other season. Since 1970, average winter temperatures have increased [0.6°C] or more in every state, while 70 percent have seen increases of at least [1.7°C].

Other studies have shown the length of winter season shrinking globally as well. From 1952 to 2011, winter shrank by at least 2.1 days per decade on average. By 2100, winter could be less than two months and could start a half-month later.

Changes in the blooms of fruits and plants can affect other links in the food chain. For instance, many migratory birds travel north according to the movement of the sun. If plants bloom earlier or insects move because higher temperatures occur earlier, the birds may arrive when most of their food is no longer abundant.

Across the eastern United States, Climate Central found that cold weather still will occur in the coming decades, although cold snaps have become shorter and less frequent recently.

In Chicago, we've seen a full 2°C rise in temperatures in my lifetime:

In case the raw statistics don't get you to notice climate change, Climate Central also has an interactive map where you can raise sea level a bit and watch your favorite cities disappear. At 1.5 meters, for example, my old place in Hoboken, N.J., pokes out of a shallow lagoon. At 5 meters, we no longer care about Florida.

There are still 9 more Greek letters

SARS-Cov-2-omicron continues its march through the world, aided in part by a lack of tests that could detect and mitigate Covid infections early on. The Times reports that a Texas man died of the omicron variant despite his fantastical belief that a previous Covid infection rendered him immune. One would hope this would cure the metastasizing delusions of "herd immunity" incubated within the thick skulls and vulcanized brains of the voluntarily unvaccinated, but no, we live in 'Murica.

Meanwhile, Omicron looks more and more like a mild but super-contagious virus that probably won't send vaccinated people to the hospital. And the Walter Reed Army Research Institute quietly announced yesterday that they have developed a vaccine that targets all SARS viruses, not just Cov-2. So for people who have either the sense or the compassion to get vaccinated (and boosted), Covid-19 looks well on its way to becoming just another coronavirus, like the common cold.

Don't celebrate victory just yet, though. In the war against Covid-19 we may have gotten to December 1944, but Germany hasn't surrendered. The UK announced 100,000 new Covid cases just yesterday, a new record, and here in the US we've passed 51 million cases and 805,000 deaths, on course to hit 2 million deaths by the lockdown's 2-year anniversary in March.

This map does not make me happy:


About that WWII analogy: By December 1944, the Allies knew they would win eventually. But people living through the war had no idea how long it would continue. Even if they had known, at that point war would continue in Europe for six more months and in the Pacific for three more after that, killing millions more people. Imagine living in eastern France that winter, with the Allies fighting Germany for every hectare of land and you between them, starving. That's where we are today.

I think next summer will feel a lot like the summer of 1945. We'll have a lot to clean up, but we won't be dying as much. Then we can get back to eroding our democracy one congressional district at a time.

Update, 14:15 CST: The Atlantic's Yascha Mounk has similar thoughts.

Old fart tells majority of country to get off his lawn

US Senator Joe Manchin (D?-WV), the 74-year-old multimillionaire most recently re-elected in 2018 with just 290,000 votes (i.e., 0.08% of the US population), announced yesterday that he simply could not support the President's chief legislative goal for the current Congress, even though he apparently said he totally could before his last conversation with some random coal executive. Because the US Senate is evenly divided between the two parties, with Vice President Harris as the deciding vote in case of a tie, and because the Republican Party has no platform other than to keep the Democratic Party from governing no matter how much their own constituents scream for governance, Manchin voting "no" would kill the President's bill.

Naturally this has generated some opinion pieces in various media.

Russel Berman doesn't see this as the end of Build Back Better:

The best-case scenario for Biden is that Manchin intended his comments today not as a definitive end to negotiations but as a hard-line tactic aimed at forcing Democrats to take his position seriously, to stop trying to pressure him to buckle, and to end their attempts to win his support merely by tinkering around the edges of Build Back Better. Hoping to enact the bill by the end of the year, Democrats were loath to start over. Now it seems they must, and therein lies an opportunity.

New Republic's Michael Tomasky calls Manchin's behavior a betrayal of West Virginia's people:

[T]he people of West Virginia...are falling further behind the rest of the country with each passing decade and who have been sold a fantasy about the source of their problems and how they will be fixed.

The fantasy is that coal’s demise is all the fault of the coastal liberal elites who thumb their noses at good hard-working Christian people like the ones who live in West Virginia’s small towns and mine and haul its coal.

it was the private sector that unleashed this curse on America, preying on particularly vulnerable people and places like West Virginia, where a lot of people do physical labor for a living and lack—or lacked, until evil big government and Barack Obama came along—the health coverage that ensures they can go see a real doctor instead of just hopping into an urgent care clinic where they get a fentanyl script and are shoved out the door.

[N]ow Joe Manchin, given extraordinary power by the structure of a body that shouldn’t even exist, overrules the president of the United States and says to the people ravaged by these things that, no, the government can’t help them. Sorry, single mom who works at the Dollar General in Grantsville and would like to go to community college to better her lot: We can’t make community college free, and we can’t possibly subsidize daycare centers where you can safely plant your toddler while you take those bookkeeping courses at night at Glenville State. All that free stuff might make you a ward of the state.

But this just reflects the reality of West Virginia politics, says the Post's Karen Tumulty:

West Virginia — a state whose residents are older, poorer and sicker than average — would also stand to benefit more than most from the legislation.

Partisan tribalism, cultural issues and an attachment to the vanishing coal industry drive voter sentiment there, creating what is a paradoxical hostility to government. “Washington’s 100 percent against us,” a man from Summers County told me years ago. “They don’t like our jobs. They don’t like our attitudes.” Those attitudes have only hardened.

Ultimately, Manchin knows better than liberal naysayers that this legislation — or anything else that carries the Democratic brand — will face skepticism in West Virginia that has little to do with its merits. But he is also well aware that government has a vital role when it comes to bettering the lives and futures of his constituents. Which means things might not be over yet for some version of the Build Back Better bill.

Well, fine, but meanwhile we're 11 months from an election in which people will hear that the Democrats can't get anything done. It doesn't matter to the country that the Republican Party has no credible alternatives, or worse, to our policies.

I'll have more to say about this heading into next year, but I wonder if we need to let the Republicans absolutely rape the country before people figure out that all they want to do is rape the country.

Ambassador Emanuel

The US Senate has confirmed former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who lives just a couple of blocks for me (for now), as the new US Ambassador to Japan:

The Senate voted 48-to-21 to confirm Emanuel, with the longtime political operator receiving support — as well as opposition — from Democrats and Republicans alike.

The vote came in the middle of the night after Democrats struck a deal with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who agreed to lift a hold he had placed on 32 of President Joe Biden’s nominees in exchange for allowing a vote next month on legislation related to a Russian gas pipeline on which Cruz has wanted to place sanctions. Given the late hour that the Senate concluded its business for the year, just 69 senators were present to confirm Emanuel.

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Jeff Merkley of Oregon voted against Emanuel while progressive independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont did not vote. Eight Republicans voted in favor of Emanuel: Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Susan Collins of Maine, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, John Thune of South Dakota and Todd Young of Indiana.

Enjoy Tokyo, Mr Ambassador. Hit me up for some tips about sushi spots.

Backlog

I just started Sprint 52 in my day job, after working right up to the last possible minute yesterday to (unsuccessfully) finish one more story before ending Sprint 51. Then I went to a 3-hour movie that you absolutely must see.

Consequently a few things have backed up over at Inner Drive Technology World Headquarters.

Before I get into that, take a look at this:

That 17.1°C reading at IDTWHQ comes in a shade lower than the official reading at O'Hare of 17.8°, which ties the record high maximum set in 1971. The forecast says it'll hang out here for a few hours before gale-force winds drive the temperature down to more seasonal levels overnight. I've even opened a few windows.

So what else is new?

So what really is new?

But Sprint 52 at my office, that's incredibly new, and I must go back to it.

Evening reading

Messages for you, sir:

I will now go hug my dog, who set a record yesterday for staying home alone (8 hours, 20 minutes) without watering my carpets.

Tragedy and farce

We're all set to perform Handel's Messiah tomorrow and Sunday, which got noticed by both the local news service and local TV station. Otherwise, the week just keeps getting odder:

And to cap all that off, the National Weather Service has announced a Hazardous Weather Outlook for tonight that includes...tornados? I hope the weather gets better before our performance.

While I pondered, weak and weary...

Today's litany of disappointments, with a couple of bright spots:

Finally, northwest suburban officials continue to track escaped bison "Billy" as she continues her walkabout through McHenry County. She will not be buffaloed back to her ranch!