The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Third time's a darn

Prime Minister Theresa May failed, for a third time, to get the agreed-to deal with the EU through the House of Commons:

The Guardian explains the consequences:

A string of Brexit-backing Conservative backbenchers who had rejected the deal in the first two meaningful votes, including the former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, switched sides during the debate to support the agreement.

But with Labour unwilling to change its position, and the Democratic Unionist party’s 10 MPs determined not to support it, it was not enough to secure a majority for the prime minister.

Afterwards, May told MPs: “The implications of the house’s decision are grave,” and added: “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this house.”

Under the deal agreed by EU leaders in Brussels last week, Brexit was to be delayed until 22 May if the prime minister could win parliament’s backing for the withdrawal agreement this week.

Instead, she will have to return to Brussels before 12 April to ask for a longer delay – requiring Britain to hold European elections in May – or accept a no-deal Brexit.

Welp. We're getting close to Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal two weeks from today. How many own goals can one team score?

Readings between meetings

On my list today:

Back to meetings...

May to resign this summer (probably)

The House of Commons right now are voting on 8 proposals relating to Brexit; I'll have more in a bit. But over the weekend, and confirmed today, the Conservatives let slip that Prime Minister Theresa May has offered to resign as the price of getting hardline Brexiteer votes on her deal:

The prime minister indicated she would resign only if her Brexit deal passes in order to allow a new leader to shape the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The dramatic announcement to a meeting of Tory backbenchers prompted dozens of Eurosceptics including Boris Johnson to switch sides in favour of backing her deal. Conservative sources said she could formally announce a leadership contest on 22 May, with a new prime minister in place by July.

The frontrunners will be Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove, but there is likely to be a wide range of candidates bidding to enter No 10.

May told MPs: “I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, and I won’t stand in the way of that.

“I know some people are worried that if you vote for the withdrawal agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have. I won’t; I hear what you are saying. But we need to get the deal through and deliver Brexit.

“I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.”

I am now tuning into Parliament TV to catch up on the voting tonight.

Congestion pricing may finally come to New York

And not a day too soon:

Leaders in the New York state Senate and Assembly are expected to approve charging fees on vehicles entering the most trafficked parts of Manhattan, the New York Times reported on Monday. If the measure in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget gets the green light by the April 1 deadline, New York City would be the first place in the United States to adopt the policy known as congestion pricing.

It’s been a long time coming. Thanks to low gas prices, a growing populous, and the meteoric rise of ride-hailing converging with a decaying subway, traffic is noticeably worse in midtown Manhattan than even a few years ago. As of last year, average car speeds fell to 4.7 mph, not much faster than walking. It’s been estimated that such slow-downs cost the metro-area economy some $20 billion a year, and they result in rising vehicle emissions.

Meanwhile, the subway’s on-time performance is still 13 percent worse than it was in 2012, thanks to a host of maintenance delays and sorely needed upgrades that will take billions of dollars and years to resolve.

Enter congestion pricing, the policy prescription beloved by every transportation wonk. Early adopters such as London, Stockholm, and Singapore have proven that pricing packed roads is a viable way to cut down driver demand—perhaps the only way, since widening roads usually induces more of it. Traffic in London’s city center fell 39 percent between 2002 and 2014 after it cordoned off a fee zone. It has since seen a rise in congestion, pushing leaders to adopt an "ultra low emissions zone" that charges all combustion-engine vehicles an additional £12.50 to enter.

It works well in London, as far as I can tell; though the Tube has more passengers, it's also running better than it used to, and there are fewer cars on the road. I hope New York gets this soon.

EU votes on Daylight Saving Time

The European Union Parliament today voted 410-192 to allow member states to end Daylight Saving Time in 2021:

The vote is not the last word on the issue but will form the basis of discussions with EU countries to produce a final law.

The countries have yet to take a stance.

A parliament report in favour of operating on a single time throughout the year said scientific studies link time changes to diseases of the cardiovascular or immune systems because they interrupt biological cycles, and that there were no longer any energy savings.

What this actually means requires one more EU-wide step:

All 28 member states would need to inform the European Commission of their choice ahead of the proposed switch, by April 2020. They would then coordinate with the bloc's executive so that their decisions do not disrupt the functioning of the single market.

Last year, the European Commission proposed abolishing the seasonal clock change after an EU-wide online poll showed overwhelming support. It has been accused, however, of rushing through the vote ahead of European Parliament elections in May. 

More:

Countries that wanted to be permanently on summertime would adjust their clocks for the final time on the last Sunday in March 2021. Those that opt for permanent wintertime would change their clocks for the final time on the last Sunday of October 2021.

The British government has yet to offer any formal opinion on the proposal, which risks creating fresh problems over the status of Northern Ireland after Brexit.

I think we can predict, just by looking at longitude, which countries will go which direction. The UK has made noises that it will keep the twice-yearly time changes, thank you very much. My guess is that Portugal, Spain, the Baltics, and other countries at the western ends of their time zones will opt for standard time, while other countries will go to summer time. That would prevent the problems I outlined when this measure first came into the news a few weeks ago.

The UK and US governments continue to make crises worse

First, in the UK this week, while people can feel slightly relieved the country won't crash out of the European Union in three days, things haven't gotten any less chaotic:

Downing Street aides directly asked hard-Brexit Conservatives at Chequers on Sunday whether Theresa May’s resignation as prime minister would be enough to get them to endorse finally the exit deal struck with the European Union, it has emerged.

A source said that in those private conversations several aides to the prime minister present asked whether it would help them vote for the controversial Brexit deal if May were to quit. “It didn’t look like a coincidence; aides like this are not meant to think for themselves,” they added.

And let's not forget:

Brexit would inflict immediate and profound economic shocks on Ireland, hitting households, businesses and government finances, according to a study.

Britain’s departure from the European Union, with or without a deal, would cause significant damage to jobs and economic growth, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) said in a comprehensive report published on Tuesday.

A decade after Brexit, Ireland’s output would be 2.6%, 4.8% or 5% lower than if Britain had stayed in the EU, it said, painting a stark picture as policymakers in Dublin try to grapple with a possibly imminent blow.

A disorderly no-deal Brexit would mean 80,000 fewer jobs being created in Ireland over a decade, derailing the government’s budget planning, said the thinktank, which works closely with the Department of Finance.

Meanwhile, back home, the GOP has whipped up their spin machine to whip up a Benghazi-style counter-offensive in the wake of the Mueller Report:

The strategy — currently loose and informal — is still in its infancy. But all signs indicate a Trump operation seeking vengeance and accountability from critics it says maligned the president over the investigation into whether his campaign or associates conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. An adviser who talked to the president said Trump has an appetite to see his critics investigated. The adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.

While Trump and his allies have portrayed Attorney General William P. Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings as a complete vindication of the president, Barr made it clear that the special counsel was not exonerating the president on the question of obstruction of justice. And details of the report, if made public, could prove troublesome for Trump. Mueller’s work led to criminal charges against 34 people, including six former Trump associates and advisers, and showed that Russia sought to influence the election and help Trump.

Still, the president’s aides and allies have shown little desire to turn the page, preferring to write a new book detailing what they say is a rush to judgment from a Washington establishment unwilling to ever give Trump an unbiased assessment.

The over-arching strategy, remember, is to whip up the base enough to get the president re-elected in 2020. 

In both the UK's Brexit catastrophe and the destructive tribal politics driven by the GOP for the last 10 years, we see people desperately trying to cling to power even if it takes the whole system down.

These things happen every so often, as right-leaning groups, driven by fear, blow things up so that they personally don't lose anything. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the most prominent historical examples of this behavior (1930s Europe, 1860s US, 1770s UK, 1690s Europe, 1630s England...) do not inspire confidence.

Party like it's 1959!

Citylab has the story of the remaining private railroad cars in the US:

[Bob] Lowe is one of only about 80 people in the U.S. who not only own their own railcars, but are also certified to operate them on Amtrak lines across the country—a subset of a national subculture of rail aficionados who buy up old train equipment. In addition to individual private owners, historical societies, museums, and nonprofit groups also run train excursions in locations around the U.S. While some buy surplus cars, locomotives, cabooses, and other railroad equipment from brokerage firms like Ozark Mountain Railcars, others, like Lowe, purchase cars directly from independent sellers, usually hobbyists themselves who can no longer afford to maintain their collection.

Private railcars are still on the tracks, but their owners, already an endangered species, are now wondering whether the end of the line is approaching for this pricey pursuit. “Where the industry is right now, it’s a little bit dicey, because people don’t know what’s going to happen,” says John Radovich, a longtime railcar collector based in Dallas.

For this, they pay Amtrak $3.67 per mile (an increase from the $3.26 per mile as of last year, Lowe says). Any trailing cars after the first one run an additional $2.81 a mile. That doesn’t include the other expenses that go along with private car ownership. Each one of Lowe’s cars, for example, cost him about $150,000. His Colonial car was turnkey, but he put $50,000 into the Salisbury Beach car for maintenance and upgrades, including new brakes and electric heat, to make it Amtrak certified. If you’re a DIY collector on a tighter budget, a beater unrestored car, without electric power, can start at around $25,000. A fully restored one can be upwards of $500,000.

This is not to be confused Car 553, the last remaining private railcar in scheduled service, that has run on the Union Pacific North Line in Chicago for the past few decades. Membership in that club only costs $900 a year.

Starting the April entries

It may appear that blogging will slow down a little bit going into the last week of March. That's because Blogging A-to-Z entries take a little more time to write. This year might be a little ambitious, also, because I plan to provide musical snippets to go along with the text (otherwise what's the point?).

My goal today: get through a chunk of the first week of April. And figure out when I can write the rest for that week.

I've also written an entry for an historical anniversary mid-April.

Stay tuned.

Not out of the woods yet, Britain

Even though the EU has agreed to extend the UK's Article 50 exit date to mid-May, Parliament still has to pass the enabling legislation to accept the deal. After that, Brexit Minister and England's Most Unhappy Frontbencher Kwasi Kwarteng spent half an hour yesterday getting to the phrase "next week," partly because the Government still haven't fully sorted what they will present to Commons then:

Almost half an hour into Kwarteng’s response to an urgent question following the EU’s imposition of an extended Brexit timetable at a summit in Brussels, the Labour MP David Hanson told the minister there was “a world outside this chamber who would like to know what day we are voting on any meaningful vote”.

Kwarteng responded: “The government fully intends to have a meaningful vote next week.”

The secondary legislation needed to change the departure date would also be tabled next week, he said, but declined to give any further details on timings, adding: “On this Friday I’m not going to say the exact hour and time of when the meaningful vote will take place.”

Separately, No 10 said the EU’s agreement to extend article 50 was contingent on holding the vote next week. The exact date has not been set, but it is likely to be on Tuesday or Wednesday, to give MPs and peers time to pass legislation to change the exit date before 29 March.

“The consideration is to hold it when we believe we have a realistic prospect of success,” May’s spokesman said. “My understanding of last night is that the extension to 22 May was contingent on winning the vote next week.”

May will meet cabinet ministers in Downing Street and spend the weekend working at Chequers, her country retreat.

Holy Brinksmanship, Batman. Vladimir Putin has to be sitting in the Kremlin with the Soviet equivalent of popcorn watching this farce, laughing out loud. Of course, he could be laughing at President Trump's announcement yesterday that the US will recognize Israel's conquest of the Golan Heights, which makes Putin's conquest of Crimea almost legitimate:

Trump’s push to assert Israel’s ownership of the strategic heights along the Syrian-Israeli border, conveyed in a tweet on Thursday, marked a major shift in U.S. policy and has been welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it also raised concerns that confrontations along the cease-fire line could escalate.

Israel seized two-thirds of the Golan during the 1967 war, and since 1973 Syria has made no military effort to regain it. Its army is no match for Israel’s superior military capabilities.

The U.S. assertion of Israeli claims will give Iran a propaganda boost at a time when the Trump administration is pressing allies in the region to join efforts to roll back Iranian influence. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Beirut on Friday morning on a visit aimed at urging Lebanese leaders to take action to limit Hezbollah’s growing prominence in the Lebanese government.

This, the day before our Secretary of State visits the region. I'd call it unbelievable but it really isn't.

A to Z Theme Reveal for 2019

Blogging A to ZOnce again, the Daily Parker will participate in the Blogging A-to-Z challenge, this year on the theme: "Basic Music Theory." 

For the A-to-Z challenge, I'll post 26 entries on this topic, usually by 7am Chicago time (noon UTC) on every day except Sunday. I'll also continue my normal posting routine, though given the time and effort required to write A-to-Z posts, I many not write as much about other things.

This should be fun for you and for me. Music theory explains how and why music works. Knowing about it can help you listen to music better. And, of course, it'll help you write music better.

The first post will be on April 1st.

(You can see a list of last year's posts here.)