The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What the Barrett nomination is really about

The Senate Republicans will force through Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court before the end of December, and there's nothing the Democratic Party can do to stop it.

OK. They win this round. But by the end of the next Congress, we can win the war.

Forget about Roe v Wade; if the Supreme Court overturns it, we can fix abortion rights with legislation. And forget about gay marriage; same deal. In fact, after the Democratic Party takes control of the legislature and executive in January, nothing should prevent us from passing a civil-rights bill to ensure all Americans continue to have access to those rights. The Republicans in the Senate know that, but they're hoping to distract you from their real agenda in stacking the Federal court system and preventing people of color from voting.

In a New York Times op-ed yesterday, author Christopher Leonard explains why Mitch McConnell wants Barrett on the court before the American people drive his caucus from power in three weeks:

Since the early 1970s, [Charles] Koch has sought to dismantle most federal regulatory institutions, and the federal courts have been central to that battle. In 1974, Mr. Koch gave a blistering speech to a libertarian think tank, called the Institute for Humane Studies, in which he outlined his vision of the American regulatory state, and the strategy he would employ over the ensuing decades to realize that vision. In short, Charles Koch believes that an unregulated free market is the only sustainable structure for human society.

To achieve his goal, Mr. Koch has built an influence network with three arms: a phalanx of lobbyists; a constellation of think tanks and university programs; and Americans For Prosperity, a grass-roots army of political activists. And shaping the U.S. judiciary has been part of Mr. Koch’s strategy from the beginning. In that 1974 speech, he recommended strategy of “strategically planned litigation” to test the regulatory authority of government agencies. Such lawsuits could make their way to the Supreme Court, where justices could set precedent. In the 1990s, he focused on lower-level judges, funding a legal institute that paid for judges to attend junkets at a Utah ski resort and Florida beachfront properties; the judges attended seminars on the importance of market forces in society and were warned against consideration of “junk science” — like specific methods to measure the effects of pollution — that plaintiffs used to prove corporate malfeasance.

As Charles Koch has written and stated so often in the past five decades, there are many, many laws and programs that he would like to negate. With the nomination of Judge Barrett to the court, he appears to be closer than ever to achieving this goal.

In other words, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's refusal to give hearings not just to Merrick Garland, but also close to 200 of President Obama's lower-court nominees, is about making rich people richer. Economist Paul Krugman explains further:

We should have had a deal in the summer, when it was already obvious that the rescue package approved in March was going to expire much too soon. But Senate Republicans were adamantly opposed to providing the necessary aid. Lindsey Graham declared that emergency unemployment benefits would be extended “over our dead bodies” (actually 215,000 other people’s dead bodies, but who’s counting?).

And McConnell — whose state benefits from far more federal spending than it pays in taxes — derided proposed aid to states as a “blue state bailout.”

Republicans didn’t worry about budget deficits when they rammed through a $2 trillion tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. They only pose as deficit hawks when trying to block spending that might help ordinary Americans.

No, what this is really about is the modern G.O.P.’s plutocratic agenda. McConnell and, as far as I can tell, every member of his caucus are completely committed to cutting taxes on the rich and aid to the poor and middle class. Other than March’s CARES Act, which Republicans passed only because they were panicking over a plunging stock market, it’s hard to think of any major G.O.P.-approved fiscal legislation in the past two decades that didn’t redistribute income upward.

You might think that Republicans would set the plutocratic imperative aside when the case for more government spending is compelling, whether it’s to repair our crumbling infrastructure or to provide relief during a pandemic. But all indications are that they believe — probably rightly — that successful government programs make the public more receptive to proposals for additional programs.

That’s why the G.O.P. has tried so frantically to overturn the Affordable Care Act; at this point it’s clear that Obamacare’s success in cutting the number of uninsured Americans has created an appetite for further health care reform.

So what can we do?

Well, first, we can win the damn election next month. The Economist has us at a 91% chance of winning the White House and a 71% chance of winning control of the Senate, but that depends on us voting and not letting Republicans steal votes. Then we have to actually govern using all the tools available to us in the Constitution, just as the Republicans have done.

Let's admit DC as a state and allow Puerto Rico to join as well if they want to. Meanwhile, we need to pass civil-rights and effective regulatory legislation, expand the Federal courts to balance ideologies on the bench, and put real safeguards in place to prevent the next Republican Senate or president from moving us closer to plutocracy through their demonstrated habit of counter-majoritarian rule.

The Republican Party blew up all the norms they expect us to follow when we regain power in January. You know what? They can gey kaker im meer, as my great-grandfather might say. They will howl and whine and cry and sue, like they always do, because no one likes not getting his way.

But we need to make it clear that we will not let their malfeasance go unpunished. Only when the Republican Party gives up its Koch-fueled, illiberal, anti-democratic policies should we attempt bipartisanship again. Let's be lawful good, not lawful stupid, and force them to act like a serious opposition party.

Panic-moving to the suburbs

As Covid-19 cases rose in large cities, people started moving to the suburbs in larger numbers. Crain's reports that the combination of fear, downtown office closures, and low interest rates caused home sales nearly to double in 14 Chicago-area suburbs. Barrington, a wealthy village of horse barns and huge houses, saw the largest number of home sales last month, with Lake Forest (a similar place) close behind.

Amanda Mull, writing in The Atlantic, sees this as a big gamble:

When we talk about people leaving America’s biggest cities right now, people largely means the rich. In The New York Times’ analysis of cellphone location data, 420,000 people fled New York City for some period of time from March 1 to May 1. Those who left were heavily concentrated in the city’s wealthiest zip codes, especially those in Manhattan. A similar phenomenon was found in the city’s trash-collection patterns, in which the amount of garbage dropped most sharply where rich people had vanished.

[T]he work-from-home “revolution” is already off to an uneven start, with many people returning to offices at the behest of their employers in states that have more fully reopened. There’s reason to believe that will continue.

People whose employers are amenable to fully remote work might still see consequences if they stay out of the office. Some employers could use remote work as an opportunity to tighten budgets beyond just their office leases, especially if the economy stays in a recession for a while. Facebook, among the first big companies to make working from home a permanent option, has already made clear that it will cut workers’ pay if they relocate from the Bay Area to less expensive places—a cost-cutting tactic common among employers whose workers retain their jobs when they move to less expensive areas.

There’s not much evidence that the pandemic has changed the tastes of otherwise enthusiastic city dwellers. And even if moving seems like an effective strategy to stay safe, it’s not exactly clear that it will look that way in hindsight. No one really knows how the pandemic will progress over the next year, in big cities or elsewhere. New York City’s outbreak now seems to be under far better control than those in many popular migratory destinations in the Sun Belt, which could change the calculus for panic-movers.

Those of us who love cities still love them. Of course I understand the allure of suburbs; getting out of Chicago for a few hours was one of the motivations for the Brews & Choos project. But I just don't like the costs of living in the suburbs, like having to drive everywhere, and "everywhere" means a chain restaurant or box store. The only suburbs I could imagine wanting to live in are Evanston and Oak Park, not coincidentally two of the densest in the area and both with multiple rail lines to downtown Chicago. There are millions of people who agree.

How is it already 4pm?

I've had an unusually busy (and productive!) day, so naturally, the evening reading has piled up:

Finally, National Geographic has a slideshow of the world's best ghost towns.

So many things today

I'm taking a day off, so I'm choosing not to read all the articles that have piled up on my desktop:

Finally, a "mania" set Stravinsky's Rite of Spring to Teletubbies footage, and it's horrifying.

Spiraling out of control

First, this chart:

And yet, there are so many other things going on today:

The one bit of good news? Evanston-based Sketchbook Brewing, who make delicious beers and whose taproom inspired the Brews and Choos project, will open a huge new taproom in Skokie tomorrow evening. And guess what? It's only 4 blocks from an El stop.

Halfway there...

Welp, it's July now, so we've completed half of 2020. (You can insert your own adverb there; I'll go with "only.")

A couple of things magically changed or got recorded at midnight, though. Among them:

And finally, I am now officially the President of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. My first task: ensure that our annual fundraiser, Apollo After Hours, brings in the dough. More on that later.

Good (and surprising) news on jobs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its May jobs report this morning, showing that despite 2.7 million people losing their jobs in May, 2.5 million got back in work, and the unemployment rate dropped 2.4% to 13.3%:

The surprising data comes amid the phased reopening of businesses across the country after months of economic pain from the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed up unemployment to Great Depression-era levels and obliterated all job gains since the Great Recession.

Congress is currently considering another $3 trillion infusion into the economy that would extend various federal aid programs, including the $600 additional unemployment benefit that expires next month.

"The prospect of unemployment benefit enhancements ending may encourage more individuals to return to work," Moody's wrote in an investor note on Friday. "There is a risk, however, that as the PPP stimulus measures run their course, unless they are renewed or economic momentum has gained significant steam, the pace of rehiring will slow or could even reverse."

Still, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt for a decade and wipe almost $8 trillion off the nation's economic growth, the Congressional Budget Office said on Monday. The agency also projected that economic output would plunge by almost $16 trillion over the 2020–2030 period.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman was surprised as well, and made it clear he believes the BLS figures:

This is good news. It means we're coming out of the storm, though slowly. Of course, states opening up businesses and restaurants prematurely may have caused the change in direction for new Covid-19 infection numbers...and the protests may not have helped either...

A busy day

Last weekend's tsunami continues to ripple:

Just another quiet week in 2020...

Predicting the future based on history

This morning, the Labor Department reported 2.1 million new unemployment claims, bringing the total to almost 41 million since the pandemic hit the US. As horrifying as that number is, I actually wanted to highlight two articles that appeared today.

The first, by Trump biographer Tony Schwartz in Medium, warns us that having a psychopathic president makes November's election "a true Armageddon:"

The trait that most distinguishes psychopaths is the utter absence of conscience — the capacity to lie, cheat, steal and inflict pain to achieve his ends without a scintilla of guilt or shame, as Trump so demonstrably does. What Trump’s words and behavior make clear is that he feels no more guilt about hurting others than a lion does about killing a giraffe.

What makes Trump’s behavior challenging to fathom is that our minds are not wired to understand human beings who live far outside the norms, rules, laws and values that the vast majority of us take for granted. Conscience, empathy and concern for the welfare of others are all essential to the social contract. Conscience itself reflects an inner sense of obligation to behave with honesty, fairness, and care for others, along with a willingness to express contrition if we fall short of those ideals, and especially when we harm others.

So what does all this tell us about how we can expect Trump to behave going forward? The simple answer is worse. His obsession with domination and power have prompted Trump to tell lies more promiscuously than ever since he became president, and to engage in ever more unfounded and aggressive responses aimed at anyone he perceives stands in his way.

In the end, Trump does what he does because he is who he is, immutably.

Trump revels in attention, domination and cruelty. “The sociopath wants to manipulate and control you,” explains Martha Stout, “and so you are rewarding and encouraging him each and every time you allow him to see your anger, confusion or your hurt.” Even so, in order to protect our democracy and our shared humanity, it’s critical to push back, calmly and persistently, against every single lie Trump tells, and every legal and moral boundary he violates. We must resist what Hanna Arendt has called “the banality of evil” — the numbness and normalizing that so easily sets in when unconscionable acts become commonplace. “Under conditions of terror, most people will comply,” Arendt has written, “but some people will not.”

Understanding what we’re truly up against — the reign of terror that Trump will almost surely wage the moment he believes he can completely prevail — makes the upcoming presidential election a true Armageddon.

The second, from Jeremy Peters at the New York Times, reviews a 1991 book by William Strauss and Neil Howe that predicted the "Crisis of 2020:"

Their conclusions about the way each generation develops its own characteristics and leadership qualities influenced a wide range of political leaders, from liberals like Bill Clinton and Al Gore to pro-Trump conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Stephen K. Bannon.

Seems as if they were on to something. So now what?

More insightful than the date itself was the assertion that historical patterns pointed toward the arrival of a generation-defining crisis that would force millennials into the fire early in their adulthood. (Mr. Strauss and Mr. Howe were the first to apply that term to those born in the early 1980s because they would come of age around the year 2000.)

More than just a novelty, their theory helps explain why some of the most prominent voices calling for political reform from left, center and right have been young — Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 30; Pete Buttigieg, 38; Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, 40.

And as baby boomers continue to age out of public service, the theory says, fixing the problems created by the pandemic will fall to this younger, civically oriented generation. Mr. Howe, who at 68 is a member of the cohort he is critical of, said in an interview that it was no coincidence that the boomer president and many people in his generation — especially the more conservative ones — have generally taken a more lax attitude toward the coronavirus than younger people.

But now, I have to debug an Azure function app...