The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Free money!

The Illinois State Treasurer sent out an email blast this week trumpeting the new ICash portal, which enables anyone to search for unclaimed property held by the State. Curious, I ran a couple of searches and discovered that yes, the State has money owed to me or to people whose estates I'm the beneficiary of.

In total, I have four claims to lost property going back to 1999. Three of the people owed this money have died, most recently in 2007. But only one of the three estates has wound up, while the other two remain active trusts. So in order to get the money, I need to find 20-year-old estate documents, establish the identities of all three dead people and my relationships to them, swear out notarized affidavits to all of that, and wait for the State to process the forms.

The total amount owed to me or my ancestors? $185.

So, for approximately $1,000 in copying fees, research fees, legal fees, and postage, not to mention several hours of my time (I charge my good clients more than that per hour), I can recover enough unclaimed property to take a friend to a nice dinner.

If only they had a checkbox for "it's not worth it, let it escheat."

This happens in no other country

More children died from gunshot wounds in the US in 2020 than from any other cause, according to new statistics from the New England Journal of Medicine:

Guns became the leading cause of death among children and teens in 2020, killing more people ages 1 to 19 in the U.S. than vehicle crashes, drugs overdoses or cancer.

More than 4,300 died of firearm-related injuries that year — a 29 percent increase from 2019 — according to a research letter published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The letter analyzed decades of mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

study published in February found that gun ownership increased during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, more than 5 million children under 18 became newly exposed to guns in their households from January 2019 to April 2021.

A 2021 study, meanwhile, also reported a rise in firearm acquisitions after the pandemic started; that was correlated with higher rates of fatal and nonfatal gun injuries both suffered by young children and inflicted by them. The authors suggested that school closings and a resulting lack of adult supervision may have played a role in the trend.

Over four thousand children got shot to death in one year. Compare this to the total number of gun deaths in the European Union (which has 30% more people than the US) in the same period (6,700) and think for a moment whether we need a more realistic approach to the Second Amendment.

Earth Day

Today we celebrate the big rock that gives us days in the first place. One out of 364 is pretty good, I guess. And there are some good stories on my open browser tabs:

Finally, the Defense Department will open a Defense Innovation Unit just down the street from my current office in June. I knew about these plans a couple of years ago when I worked on an unclassified project for the US Military Enrollment Processing Command and was looking forward to it. I'm glad it's finally gotten to Chicago.

Head (and kittens) exploding!

Leading off today's afternoon roundup, The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman) announced today that Netflix has a series in production based on his game Exploding Kittens. The premise: God and Satan come to Earth—in the bodies of cats. And freakin' Tom Ellis is one of the voices, because he's already played one of those parts.

Meanwhile, in reality:

  • A consumers group filed suit against Green Thumb Industries and three other Illinois-based cannabis companies under the Clayton Act, alleging collusion that has driven retail pot prices above $8,800 per kilo. For comparison, the group alleges that retail prices in California are just $660 per kilo. (Disclosure: The Daily Parker is a GTI shareholder.)
  • Illinois Governor JB Pritzker (D), one of the indirect defendants in the pot suit, signed a $46 billion budget for the state that includes $1.8 billion in temporary tax relief. Apparently, I'll get a $50 check from the State that I can apply to the $600 increase in property taxes Cook County imposed this year, which is nice, but I think the state could have aimed a bit lower on the income cap for that rebate and given more help to other people.
  • Shortly after US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle (a 35-year-old who never tried a case and who graduated summa cum mediocrae laude from the legal powerhouse University of Florida just 8 years ago and earned a rare "not qualified" rating from the ABA upon her appointment in 2020 by the STBXPOTUS) ruled against the CDC in a case brought by an anti-masker, the DOT dropped mask mandates for public transport and air travel in the US. In related news, the Judge also said it's OK to piss in other people's swimming pools and up to the other swimmers not to drink the water.
  • While the Chicago Piping Plovers organization waits for Monty and Rose to return to Montrose Beach, another one of the endangered birds has landed at Rainbow Beach on the South Side. He appears more inclined to rent than buy, but local ornithologists report the bird has a new profile on the Plōvr dating site.
  • NBC breaks down the three biggest factors driving inflation right now, and yes, one of them is president of Russia. None, however, is president of the US.
  • Along those lines, (sane) Republican writer Sarah Longwell, who publishes The Bulwark, found that 68% of Republicans believe the Big Lie that the XPOTUS won the 2020 election, but "the belief that the election was stolen is not a fully formed thought. It’s more of an attitude, or a tribal pose." Makes me proud to be an American!

And finally, via Bruce Schneier, two interesting bits. First, a new paper explains how a bad actor can introduce a backdoor into a machine learning training session to force specific outcomes (explained in plain English by Cory Doctorow). Second, an attacker used a "flash loan" to take over the Beanstalk crypto currency voting system and stole $182 million from it. Because Crypto Is The Future™.

Readings over lunch

I mean...

  • Josh Marshall takes another look at the astonishing bribe Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler paid to Jared Kushner and concludes it's not just a one-off favor; it's an ongoing relationship.
  • Joan Williams argues that Democrats need to look at the class and economic aspects of the Right's economic populism, and maybe perhaps argue (correctly) that blaming people of color just takes the spotlight off the super-rich who are stealing from the middle?
  • US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) makes essentially the same argument, with a reminder that the mid-term election is only 202 days away.
  • A homeless-rights organization in Chicago argues that increasing the transfer tax on property sales over $1 million could fund real homelessness relief for real people.

Finally, a quirk in US copyright law has created a bonanza for litigators, along with the original creators of such diverse works as The Thing and Hoosiers.

No leaf blowers!

Jessica Stolzberg hopes to follow the success of Washington, D.C.'s gas-powered leaf blower ban elsewhere:

The gas leaf blower is by all measures, and without dispute, harmful — to the environment, to neighbors, to workers who carry them on their backs. These hazards have been the subject of countless articles. Local and national organizations work to educate and empower property owners, providing guides to alternatives.

The fix is so easy. Electric leaf blowers are effective, available and affordable. They emit no fossil fuel pollution directly. Their decibel output is safe. The best part? To make the switch requires only the simplicity and speed of personal decision. Yours. Today.

What does a street, a community and a country made up of property owners who say no to gas blowers look like? It looks the same. But it smells better, it sounds better, and it’s a safer, kinder place to all who call it home.

James Fallows has more on the success of the DC ban.

Republican Party admits it has no policies to discuss

In what amounts to a bald-faced admission that a presidential debate requires both candidates have some public policy proposals to debate, the Republican Party announced today that it will withdraw from the Commission on Presidential Debates:

In 1987, the Commission on Presidential Debates was established jointly by the Democratic and Republican parties to ensure that debates between the leading candidates for the President of the United States were a permanent part of the electoral process.

Now, the Republican National Committee has voted unanimously to leave the CPD, ending more than three decades of bipartisan civic cooperation.

"The Commission on Presidential Debates is biased and has refused to enact simple and commonsense reforms to help ensure fair debates including hosting debates before voting begins and selecting moderators who have never worked for candidates on the debate stage," Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.

McDaniel is correct, in that the Commission is biased in favor of accuracy. Or, to use Paul Krugman's marvelous phrasing, "facts have a well-known liberal bias." One of the RNC's complaints, you'll recall, was that the Commission unfairly fact-checked Mitt Romney in real time during his 2012 debate with President Obama, giving viewers at home the entirely correct impression Romney was lying.

Of course the RNC no longer see any need for a presidential debate, as they have nothing really to debate. They didn't even bother with a party platform in 2020, since they had by then become a cult of personality around the XPOTUS. The next election will be about the same, especially if the XPOTUS runs again.

The RNC also doesn't care that this move continues the erosion of trust the public have in institutions like the Commission, or for that matter, the election. "It has always been easier to destroy than to create," said Spock, and the RNC fancies themselves a Genesis Device.

Update: Paul Waldman lays the Republican strategy bare:

A dispute over debates may seem far removed from that nightmare, but it isn’t. It’s all part of the same strategy: to convince the Republican base that the entire process is rigged against them.

This is how Republicans have decided to wage the 2024 campaign, in every way and on every day. If our democracy can escape it intact, it will be a miracle.

The military GOP chickenhawks want

Max Boot draws a straight line between the military Republican politicians say they want and the awful military Russian actually has:

Right-wingers have long claimed that the U.S. military should not be hobbled by humanitarian considerations or even the laws of war. During the Vietnam War, when U.S. aircraft dropped more bombs than during World War II, many conservatives fumed that we were fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. “Bomb them back into the Stone Age,” Gen. Curtis LeMay demanded. Most of the public supported 2nd Lt. William L. Calley, the only perpetrator of the infamous My Lai massacre (when U.S. troops killed more than 500 civilians) to be convicted by a court-martial. He served only three years of house arrest.

By right-wing lights, Russia should have the world’s greatest army. The Russian military, after all, is as illiberal, or “un-woke,” as it is possible to get.

Yet, despite the Russian army’s lack of wokeness and its proclivity for war crimes, it is not, in fact, a capable military force.

The brutalization of Russian soldiers, combined with the corruption of their officers, detracts from unit cohesion and therefore from combat performance. No doubt the abuse inflicted on Russian soldiers by their comrades makes them more willing to abuse civilians, but this, too, undercuts the professionalism of the Russian military.

The rot in the Russian military spreads from the head, of course. Much like the Republican Party over here.

Russian Navy buys glass-bottom boat to inspect its fleet

Ukraine has sunk the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva:

Ukrainian officials said they had used Neptune anti-ship missiles to hit the Moskva, a 10,000-tonne Slava-class cruiser which was 60-65 nautical miles (111-120km) south of Odessa. The Moskva, commissioned in 1982, is—or, perhaps, was—the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which has its headquarters in occupied Crimea. It was a “venerable, battle hardened, major surface combatant” which participated in Russian wars in Georgia in 2008 and Syria in 2015, notes Alessio Patalano, a naval expert at King’s College London. “This is one of the most severe naval losses since the Falklands war” of 1982, he adds.

The strike is rich with symbolism. The ship was built in Mykolaiv, then a Soviet city but now a Ukrainian one which has repelled Russian ground assaults over the past month. It was also one of two warships that attacked Snake Island, west of Crimea, on February 24th, the first day of the war. When it ordered the tiny garrison there to surrender, the alleged reply—“Russian warship, go fuck yourself”—became an icon of national resistance, emblazoned on everything from T-shirts to postage stamps. The Moskva’s apparent loss was “a massively important military event”, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, on social media. He cast it as the Russian navy’s biggest defeat since the second world war.

Yet again Russia has lost a strategic asset to hubris and incompetence. Yet again Ukraine has demonstrated why authoritarians lose to smaller powers every time.

Ukraine's Toby Ziegler speaks

In this must-read piece on Puck, Julia Ioffe interviews Serhiy Leschenko, one of Volodymyr Zelensky's principal aides:

What about American fears that this will set off World War III?

It’s absurd. If Russia has become so weak that it couldn’t hold on to Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel, then what World War III could you possibly be talking about? They’re just incapable of doing it. The threat of using nuclear weapons is just the appearance of a threat. He’ll never fire it. Because this decision isn’t made by one person. You can’t just press a button and a rocket starts flying toward America.

To what extent do you make a distinction between the Russian people and the Russian government?

I was recently reading the memoirs of [former German chancellor] Helmut Schmidt. He fought in the Wehrmacht and he wrote in his memoirs that he didn’t know about the concentration camps and the mass killings, he just fought and that’s it. Back then, you could still write that, because 80 years ago, there was no internet and no access to alternative sources of information. Today, no one can make that argument anymore because there is always the option of getting real information elsewhere, even in Russia.

Do you think Russians want to believe it, maybe so they can sleep better at night?

They did the same thing when they shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. They invented the Spanish flight dispatcher Carlos. They invented a Ukrainian jet fighter that flew over the plane, then they said that the plane had already been filled with cadavers or hostages. Then they said that Ukraine shot the plane down. The classic tactic of Russian propaganda isn’t to advance their version of events, but to undermine people’s trust in any version, to advance the idea that the truth is unknowable, that everything is so complicated and everyone around you is lying so much that the truth will never come out anyway. This way, they’re not advancing their own version but are instead destroying the truth.

It's a relatively short read, but helpful in understanding the Ukrainian government's views on the war.