The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Covid-19 corporatism

A Tweet is making the rounds right now:

The Covid corporate bonus bailout costs about $18,000 per citizen.

So Congress is taking $18,000 from you, giving $16,800 to corporations and giving you back a check for $1,200.

My reply to the Facebook friend who posted the Tweet:

It's not that simple.

First, given the current political landscape, where a minority of 44% of the population have 53 Senate votes to the 66% of us who have 47, compromise—that is, weakening the recovery legislation—was inevitable.

Second, most of the money going to corporations will actually go to normal people. The legislation keeps people on salary and in health insurance instead of being laid off. (Don't get me started on the link between employment and health insurance. That stop-gap ploy to get around WWII salary caps outlived its usefulness by 1955. But it won't go away until we control the Senate.)

Third, I completely support the phase-out that means people like me won't get a single cent of the recovery money for the simple reason that other people need it more. So not everyone gets $1,200; only about 80% do.

Fourth, taxes don't work like that. On average, the recovery act might cost $18k per taxpayer (not per citizen—let's unpack that word choice later). But most people don't pay $18k in taxes. I don't know the exact proportions, but as a percentage of tax, though the $2.2 trn recovery package takes a lot of tax revenue, it's still only a proportion of what an individual pays.

Fifth, most of the corporations getting bailouts are small businesses. Anecdotes aren't evidence, but I will provide one anyway: A good friend of mine owns a used-book shop. She has no employees. She spends 60 hours a week in her shop. Her entire inventory is donated. The State of Illinois closed her business a week ago, and she doesn't know when she can reopen. She's getting a couple thousand bucks from the recovery legislation. You really want to claw that back because it's a corporation getting the money?

Sixth, I commend to the OP the story of Herbert Hoover's steadfast belief that the market would fix the problems revealed by the 1929 crash and subsequent depression. And then go read about the Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-op, which demonstrated better than any textbook why printing money in a liquidity crisis can save marriages.

Finally, my sincerest hope from this disaster is that people finally understand elections matter. What politicians say matters. What they do matters. When my lot were screaming to the heavens that the Republican Party were no longer able to govern, let alone be a responsible opposition party, 48% of the electorate said they didn't care what he said, only how he made them feel. And here we are.

I have a degree in history. That doesn't give me any special ability to fix these problems. But wow, does it help me understand their magnitude.

I just binge-watched the Netflix series Travelers, which postulates that the fate of humanity rests on the 21st century. I'm starting to agree.

Back when we sabotaged an empire

People who don't study history tend not to understand why our foreign allies and adversaries behave the ways they do. Case in point: the Soviet Union, of which the largest part lives on as the Russian Federation, ended in part because we forced them to spend down their economy just to keep up with us. They might still hate us a little for that.

One man who helped this effort, Gus Weiss, hit on the idea of sabotaging the technology that Soviet spies bought or stole from American and other Western companies. Via Bruce Schneier, Wired has a long-form description of Weiss and his plan:

This plan to feed defective technology, which Weiss says carried the operation designation “Kudo,” existed as part of a larger government mobilization in response to the Farewell intelligence across the national security community. “It was multilayered operation,” Galahad told me. According to Galahad, Weiss didn’t hold any formal leadership role in this effort; instead, “Gus did his work through his own contacts. He was a White House guy. He could get people to pay attention to his ideas. He had friends in the computer business. He had Casey’s ear.”

Galahad told me that Weiss zeroed in on the Soviet industrial sector; he wanted to gut punch the Soviet economy. Galahad recalled that Weiss was friendly with the analysts in the CIA’s Office of Soviet Research. “Let’s say the Italians were building a tractor factory for the Russians in the Ukraine—the guys in OSR would have had access to those blueprints. Gus shared his ideas and recommendations based on that intelligence to his friends at the DoD.”

Meanwhile, the government worked with private sector software companies to create doctored industrial products. They were then made available to the patent clerks and engineers in American technology and arms companies who’d been recruited by the KGB.

High up on the Soviet tech shopping list was software to regulate the pressure gauges and valves for the critical Siberian gas pipeline. According to Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the Soviets sought the software on the open market. American export controls prohibited its sale from the US. However, a small industrial software company located in Calgary called Cov-Can produced what the Soviets wanted. As Weiner writes, “The Soviets sent a Line X officer to steal the software. The CIA and the Canadians conspired to let them have it.”

The faulty software “weaved” its way through Soviet quality control. The pipeline software ran swimmingly for months, but then pressure in the pipeline gradually mounted. And one day—the date remains unclear, though most put it in June 1982—the software went haywire, the pressure soaring out of control. The pipeline ruptured, igniting a blast in the wilds of Siberia so massive that, according to Thomas C. Reed’s At the Abyss, “at the White House, we received warning from our infrared satellites of some bizarre event out in the middle of Soviet nowhere. NORAD feared a missile liftoff from a place where no rockets were known to be based. Or perhaps it was the detonation of a nuclear device. The Air Force chief of intelligence rated it at three kilotons.”

I wonder if Presidents Putin and Trump discussed this history during any of their recent unrecorded conversations?

Never miss an opportunity to take what you want

Welcome to 2020, the year when the GOP says the quiet things out loud. In the middle of a pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency has given every polluter who wants one a get-out-of-jail-free card:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.

The move comes amid an influx of requests from businesses for a relaxation of regulations as they face layoffs, personnel restrictions and other problems related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Issued by the E.P.A.’s top compliance official, Susan P. Bodine, the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.

Companies are normally required to report when their factories discharge certain levels of pollution into the air or water.

“In general, the E.P.A. does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the E.P.A. agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the E.P.A. upon request,” the order states.

Cynthia Giles, who headed the E.P.A. enforcement division during the Obama administration, said: “This is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. It is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.”

How long before some asshole kills an entire river "because of Covid-19?" How long before a working-class neighborhood sees a spike in respiratory illness "because of Covid-19?" They don't even try to hide their corporatist ideology anymore.

Meanwhile, in the president's fact-free world, his supporters think epidemiology is a hoax. I mean. What the ever-loving fuck.

Always that one kid who spoils recess for everyone else

Because of Chicago's weather yesterday (14°C and sunny), a ton of Gen Z kids broke quarantine and headed to the lakefront. This has now had entirely predictable consequences:

Multiple aldermen along and near Chicago's lakefront have confirmed the closure of the trail along Lake Michigan, less than 24 hours after Mayor Lori Lightfoot threatened closure because of a lack of social distancing among trail and park users. Aldermen say the downtown Riverwalk and the 606 Trail are closed, as well.

Ald. James Cappleman, whose 46th ward borders Osterman's, confirmed the closures include the lakefront trail, all adjoining parks, play lots and field houses—which were already closed by the park district—as well as the 606 Trail and the Riverwalk. Ald. Sophia King, 4th, also says the Riverwalk and 606 are shut down.

Cappleman said the department of Public Health and the Chicago Police Department were in agreement about the necessity of the closure.

Remember: the stupid kids who think they're immortal aren't Millennials anymore. The Millennials are staying home with their own kids (Generation C?) and yelling at their own parents not to go out.

In other news, Andy Borowitz had one of his best-ever headlines this morning: "New Evidence Indicates Intelligence Not Contagious:"

In a controlled experiment documented by the study, a seventy-nine-year-old man with intelligence was placed in close proximity to a seventy-three-year-old man without it for a period of several weeks to see if even a trace of his knowledge and expertise could be transmitted.

After weeks of near-constant exposure, however, the seventy-three-year-old man appeared “a hundred per cent asymptomatic” of intelligence, the researchers found.

The researchers, however, left open the possibility that intelligence might be transmissible to other people, just not to the seventy-three-year-old who was the subject of the experiment.

Yes, there was.

The Republican Party doesn't care if you die

That seems like a reasonable conclusion based on recent statements from conservative broadcasters:

At the heart of their campaign is a skepticism over the advice offered by experts and a willingness to accept a certain number of deaths to incur fewer economic costs.

Many also see in the mass shutdowns and shelter-in-place policies a plot to push the country to the left.

[Glenn] Beck, for example, suggested Democrats were trying to “jam down the Green New Deal because we’re at home panicked.” Heather Mac Donald, a conservative thinker and Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, sees the restrictions as “a warm-up for their wish-list of sweeping economic interventions.”

A less common line of argument that has also been picked up by Trump comes from the religious conservative camp, a sure sign that the debate about public health and the economy has also become part of the nation’s long-running culture wars.

Reno, in an article entitled “Say No to Death’s Dominion,” called the widespread shutdowns of nursing homes and churches the result of a “perverse, even demonic atmosphere” that was preventing people from practicing their faith. The closures, he argued, were evidence of Satan preying on the fear of death.

The Independent UK takes a stab at understanding why:

The reason for the president’s rapid about turn may be no more simple than people may guess.

Covid-19 has not become any less deadly, or infectious.

Rather, as Axios reported earlier in the day, the president has grown tired with the advice of health officials whose recommendations will likely result in financial meltdown. That is not something he wants to have on his back as he campaigns for re-election.

Exactly. It's all about Trump. As long as "the economy"—i.e., equity markets and the immense stores of wealth they represent—keeps ticking along nicely, everything is fine, even if a few people in big cities have to suffocate on their own blood because the president has refused to send ventilators.

At least the president can't order states to end quarantines, according to University of Texas Law School Associate Dean Bobby Chesney. But he can encourage such things, and many parts of the country will listen.

Illinois on lock-down, day 3

The governor ordered everyone to stay at home only a few days ago, and yet it seems like much longer. I started working from home three weeks ago, initially because my entire team were traveling, and then for safety. My company turned off all our badges yesterday so I couldn't go back even if I wanted to. And I find myself planning meals a week out because I find it nearly impossible to cook small amounts of food. (Sample entries: Monday dinner, shrimp in garlic, butter, and wine sauce with wild rice; Tuesday lunch, leftover grilled chicken with wild rice. The shrimp were delicious, by the way.)

It doesn't help that the President and Senate Republicans are trying to turn this whole thing into a corporate giveaway. Some other lowlights:

But in one bit of good news, China announced an end to the two-month lockdown of Hubei province a few hours from now. Could we also start getting back to normal mid-May?

And finally, enjoy some scampi:

The UK locks down

Just a few minutes ago, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced sweeping restrictions on assembly and movement similar to those currently in effect in Illinois and some other parts of the US:

To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it – meaning more people are likely to die, not just from coronavirus but from other illnesses as well.

So it’s vital to slow the spread of the disease.

Because that is the way we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time, so we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope – and save more lives.

From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.

Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.

That is why people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes:

  • shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
    one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
  • any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
  • travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home.

You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say No.

You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.

You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine – and you should do this as little as you can. And use food delivery services where you can.

The key difference between Illinois and the UK: Johnson explicitly gave police the power to levy fines and disperse gatherings. Also, Johnson announced that people who can't work because of the restrictions will get government support, and 7,500 retired doctors and nurses have rejoined NHS to help.

Also today, author John Scalzi posted some advice to creatives on his blog.

Yes, it's the Trump Pandemic

The President's disdain for expertise and his malignant, narcissistic character cost us weeks—or months—when we could have prepared for the pandemic we now face. Michelle Goldberg summarizes the case for slapping his name on the resulting disaster:

[W]hile the calamity we are experiencing is not Trump’s doing, his dishonesty and incompetence have exacerbated it, and continue to do so. To point this out is not to dwell on the past but to confront the scale of our present crisis. Trump has been giving daily televised briefings in which he overpromises and spreads misinformation. He makes bad decisions and reverses himself only under the pressure of bad press. That makes frankness about his catastrophic ineptitude imperative.

It can become tedious to dwell on the fact that the president is a dangerous and ignorant narcissist who has utterly failed as an executive, leaving state governments on their own to confront a generational cataclysm. But no one should ever forget it.

Soon, even if the pandemic is still raging, there will be an election, and the public will be asked to render a verdict on Trump’s leadership. Being clear that people are suffering and dying needlessly because the president can’t do his job isn’t looking backward. It’s the only way to move forward.

Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan joins the chorus of journalists who say we should stop broadcasting the president's dangerously misinformative press conferences.

And because I did not wish to fight madding crowds for needed groceries yesterday, I shall now go to Whole Foods. And Mariano's. And Trader Joe's. And Jewel. And hope that between the four of them, I can scrape together enough perishables to make semi-nutritious meals for myself this week.

Governor announces stay-at-home order

Starting tomorrow at 5pm, through April 7th, Illinois will be on a "stay-at-home" order:

Residents can still go to the grocery stores, put gas in their cars, take walks outside and make pharmacy runs, the governor said at a Friday afternoon news conference. All local roads, including the interstate highways and tollways, will remain open to traffic, as well.

“For the vast majority of you already taking precautions, your lives will not change very much,” Pritzker said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said “now is not the time for half measures" and urged people to follow the order to stay at home.

“You must stay home,” she said. “This is not a lockdown, or martial law.”

“This is clearly not a decision that was made lightly, nor by one person," she said. “These are choices that must be made for the good of all residents."

This won't change anything much for me, as I have worked from home almost every day this month. But my friend who owns a book shop, my friends who teach, my friends who make their living through music—they're hosed. I'm not even sure my dog walker can continue working, which doubly sucks for him because he's also a jazz musician.

Where is Federal leadership such as Boris Johnson (!) just displayed in the UK? Oh, right. We elected a clown in 2016 and they elected one last year, but theirs went to Oxford.

Extraordinary measures in the UK

I'm trying to get my mind around a Conservative government announcing this a few minutes ago:

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced the government will pay the wages of British workers to keep them in jobs as the coronavirus outbreak escalates.

In an unprecedented step, Sunak said the state would pay grants covering up to 80% of the salary of workers kept on by companies, up to a total of £2,500 per month, just above the median income.

“We are starting a great national effort to protect jobs,” he said. “It’s on all of us.”

Sunak said there would be no limit on the funding available to pay people’s wages.

The government is also deferring the next quarter of VAT payments, which is the equivalent of injecting another £30bn into the economy and is designed to help companies stay afloat.

(Another thing that I just learned: Sterling has dropped 12% against the dollar in the past week, hitting £1 = $1.1641 a few minutes ago.)

Closer to home:

And finally, Mother Jones asks "How do you know if you're living through the death of an empire?"