The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Grabbing the loot with both hands

Perhaps knowing that they only have a few more months to steal billions from American taxpayers, the president and his allies have used the pandemic to award huge no-bid contracts to their friends:

Several weeks ago, President Donald Trump forced the Food and Drug Administration to reverse a safety ruling and clear the way for one of the nation's premier defense contractors to sell, service and operate new machines that reprocess N95 face masks for health care workers.

Within two weeks, Battelle, the company that makes the machines, had a contract from the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency to recycle masks for up to 20 uses each at locations across the country. The no-bid deal, ordered up by the White House coronavirus task force, is worth up to $600 million.

But nurses, doctors and scientists who have spoken to NBC News about Battelle's hydrogen peroxide vapor chambers said the process it uses remains unproven over long-term use and using masks cleaned by it more than a couple of times could leave front-line health care workers vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus.

There is effectively no independent oversight of the Battelle deal or others like it.

The lack of oversight means voters will have less information by which to judge the president when they go to the polls. Trump surely understands that.

But because Trump has effectively gutted oversight of his administration, only voters can hold him accountable if his decisions were bad — or made for the wrong reasons.

And the money came rolling in from every side. Reminder: populists are corporatists first. It's about the money, not the politics.

Saturday afternoon thunderstorm reading

I'm setting these aside to read after I race around my house closing windows in a few minutes:

I'm working on a longer-form entry bringing together some of the more serious books and essays I've read on our current situation.

Saturday morning news clearance

I rode the El yesterday for the first time since March 15th, because I had to take my car in for service. (It's 100% fine.) This divided up my day so I had to scramble in the afternoon to finish a work task, while all these news stories piled up:

Finally, author and Ohio resident John Scalzi sums up why he won't rush back to restaurants when they reopen in his state next week:

My plan is to stay home for most of June and let other people run around and see how that works out for them. The best-case scenario is that I’m being overly paranoid for an extra month, in which case we can all laugh about it afterward. The worst case scenario, of course, is death and pain and a lot of people with confused about why ventilator tubes are stuck down their throats, or the throats of their loved ones, when they were assured this was all a liberal hoax, and then all of us back in our houses until September. Once again, I would be delighted to be proved overly paranoid.

I have sympathy for the people who are all, the hell with this, I’ll risk getting sick, just let me out of my fucking apartment. I get where you’re coming from. You probably don’t actually know what you’re asking for. I hope that you never have to learn.

Note to Mr Scalzi: I hope to start The Last Emperox this week. I really do.

Massive security failure in Washington

A total failure to imagine a likely risk scenario has lost the State of Washington possibly hundreds of millions of dollars to thieves who defrauded the state unemployment agency:

Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine says the names of potentially thousands of Washingtonians, many who remain employed, were used to make fake unemployment claims and defraud the state of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The state was hit especially hard in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, as state and federal benefits ramped up to handle the sharp and staggering number of claims. 

Commissioner LeVine says she will make sure victim’s rights are protected, and those where benefits were paid out to the criminals won’t be liable for any sort of repayment.

“I will say this again because it’s really important. We did not have a data breach,” said Levine. “And the information was not stolen from us. It was the utilization of stolen information on our site.”

The identity information most likely came from multiple earlier data breaches, including from credit-reporting agencies. Washington State simply didn't authenticate applications properly before disbursing money: 

“These are very sophisticated criminals who have pretty robust collections of information on people, and they are activating and monetizing that information,” [LeVine] said.

No, these are, in fact, really dumb criminals who exploited the eagerness of LeVine's department getting money to claimants before employers returned validation letters. And the fact that LeVine and her department's security folks couldn't see this possibility ahead of time means they may not have the skills to do their jobs in the Internet era.

He wants us to fire him

Author Franklin Schneider, who wrote a book about getting fired from 13 jobs in 10 years, thinks the president is begging someone to fire him:

We didn’t need insider exposés about “executive time” spent shouting at the TV to know that Trump hates being president. It’s there in every seething tweet, every prickly exchange with reporters, every shrug of a coronavirus briefing. He despises everything about Washington — the modesty, the expertise, the functionaries around him who have the temerity to do their jobs and expect him to do his. At night, he must dream of telling them (us) to take this job and shove it, so he can return to his natural calling of selling subpar steaks and repeatedly filing for bankruptcy.

He wants out, but we all know he'd never step down. I get it. I do! It’s the reverse of the Groucho Marx saying about how he’d never want to be in a club who’d have him as a member: I’d never voluntarily leave an office where I wasn’t wanted. They had to drag me out each time, the HR lady snatching the key card out of my hand, then signaling for security to escort me to the elevator. Why did I resist leaving so many places I hated, and why does he? It’s a matter of spite: At some point, making your enemies unhappy becomes more important than making yourself happy. And if that was true for me, it has to be true for Trump, too: Spite animates his personality as much as his politics.

Take heart from this: No matter how horrifying a second Trump term sounds to you, it probably sounds even worse to Trump. And there’s still the outside chance that he could find the guts to seize his destiny and just quit. Donny, if you’re reading this, trust me: It feels wonderful when you finally escape. Resign, go home, block all your former co-workers on social media, and have a good cry. Someone else will take care of the whole coronavirus thing. It’s not like you were really trying, anyway.

Along the same lines, HHS Secretary Alex Azar says we should open up right away, no matter who it kills, and Josh Marshall points to the other billionaires demanding the same thing as evidence of an even worse divide in American life than we thought.

The sun! Was out! For an hour!

Since January 2019, Chicago has had only two months with above-average sunshine, and in both cases we only got 10% more than average. This year we're ticking along about 9% below, with no month since July 2019 getting above 50% of possible sunshine.

In other news:

Finally, having "walktails" with friends may be a thing, but because drinking alcohol on public streets in Chicago is prohibited by city ordinance, I cannot admit to ever doing this.

Since I have the time...

I bought my first CD on 8 May 1988, a little more than 32 years ago: Mozart's Mass in C Major K.317, performed by the Bavarian Radio Orchestra and Chorus under Eugen Jochum. I've bought a few more since then. And not all of them have gotten the love they deserve.

So, since I'm home anyway, I decided two weeks ago (on the 8th, no surprise) to listen to all of them again. After two weeks I've gotten up to #41, Beethoven's "Emperor" concerto, by the Vienna Philharmonic with director Hans Knappertsbusch and pianist Clifford Curzon. This immediately followed #40, the Beatles' Help!, and begins a string of classical CDs (Beethoven again, Brahms, Dvorak, Mozart, Debussy) before hitting a classic Simon & Garfunkel album (Bookends) at #47.

Listening to all of them in order really brings me back to high school and college. Early on, I concentrated on filling up my CD library with the essentials. So the early CDs bounce around the classical canon (Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart) and the popular canon (The Beatles, Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens), and things really don't branch out until the early 1990s when friends started getting me into more modern stuff.

Keep in mind, I had vinyl and cassettes back home, so some of these purchases and gifts replaced the obsolete formats and also let me listen to them in my dorm, where I had a small CD boom box that could make mix tapes but no turntable or any other decent equipment. I also worked at the campus radio station, where I had access to just about anything I could think of. So the eclectic and somewhat narrow list of titles for my first hundred or so CDs wasn't all I listened to.

Now, 32 years later, I don't buy CDs much. In fact, a lot of the later titles in my "CD" library are actually purchased downloads and have no physical form at all beyond the array of magnetic particles on various hard drives and backup disks. Those are a long way off, however; I'm only up to October 1988.

Updates as the situation warrants.

Lunchtime roundup

You have to see these photos of the dark Sears Tower against the Chicago skyline—a metaphor for 2020 bar none. Also:

And oh! My long-running unit test (1575.9 seconds) has finished. I can get up now.

Wettest May ever

So far—and keep in mind, we're only 2/3 done with the month—Chicago has had more precipitation this May than in any previous May, with 216 mm total. It's interesting to note that 2019 and 2018 were also the wettest Mays ever, with 210 mm and 208 mm respectively.

In Northwest Michigan, the record rainfall caused a pair of dams to break, flooding the town of Midland under 2.75 m of water.

The Lake Michigan-Huron system continues at record levels for the fifth month in a row, with no sign of receding.

Welcome to the new normal.