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 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.

The plan is to have no plan

So believes NYU media professor Jay Rosen about how President Trump will try to win this fall:

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible— by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.

Stated another way, the plan is to default on public problem solving, and then prevent the public from understanding the consequences of that default. ... The manufacture of confusion is just the ruins of Trump’s personality meeting the powers of the presidency. There is no genius there, only a damaged human being playing havoc with our lives.

In other fun stories:

Oh, and 151 years ago today, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads completed the Transcontinental Railroad.

Not all horrible news

Yes, yes, the world has most of the Biblical plagues going on right now, including apparently 40 mm–long hornets, but I can see some bright spots, despite (or because of) all this:

Alas, the rest of the news isn't as benign:

And finally, I mentioned a shooting in my neighborhood last week that hadn't yet made the papers. It took a couple of days, but CWB Chicago now has the story.

Gosh, where to begin?

Happy May Day! Or m'aidez? Hard to know for sure right now. The weather in Chicago is sunny and almost the right temperature, and I have had some remarkable productivity at work this week, so in that respect I'm pretty happy.

But I woke up this morning to the news that Ravinia has cancelled its entire 2020 season, including a performance of Bernstein's White House Cantata that featured my group, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. This is the first time Ravinia has done so since 1935.

If only that were everything.

First, via Josh Marshall, former Obama Administration disaster-preparedness expert Jeremy Konydndyk lays out the facts about our plateau (60,000 excess weekly deaths) and how the Trump Administration continues to do nothing to help us slow Covid-19 deaths.

Next, all of this:

But some good news:

Finally, while alarming in its own right, the record water levels in Lake Michigan (4 months in a row now) have exposed some historic shipwrecks.

The US is now a joke to the rest of the world

Thanks, Obama!

No, really. The countries that don't pity us are laughing their asses off. This video from a Chinese satire program sums it up nicely:

Josh Marshall is outraged—at the Trump Administration:

[The video] is certainly self-serving from the Chinese perspective. But big picture, good lord, pretty much completely guilty as charged. China initially bobbled the outbreak, had a major crisis. They mobilized. They shared information with the world. They mounted a massive, historic containment effort, built whole hospitals in a matter of days. The US hung back and did a mix of ignoring it or talking down to the Chinese. Look how they wear masks! Haha. Masks don’t work. Whether poo-pooing or derision the big message was that this didn’t have anything to do with us. Or it was a hoax. Until we had our own catastrophic outbreak and then suddenly you didn’t tell us! You hid the truth from us! You will pay the price! Also please send us masks! We really need masks! Please!

On COVID19 we are not only suffering horribly. We are also a joke. “We” is doing a lot of work here. “We” is really our national government, the Trump administration. But for the moment it’s the only national government we have and it’s calling the shots. As the closing puts it “Gosh!! Just listen to yourself.” Perhaps most tellingly, with perhaps the greatest longterm repercussions, the Trump administration has failed so badly, so accurately modeled the behavior of five year olds that we’ve gone a decent way toward discrediting the model of civic democracy and the rule of law we should be supporting at home and around the world. We’ve done about as good a job as one could imagine telling the story that maybe the authoritarians just handle things better.

It’s embarrassing. We’re an embarrassment.

I know it won't make anyone change his or her mind about why (or even whether) Russia interfered in our 2016 election, but this outcome is glorious for Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinpeng, and every other authoritarian and totalitarian out there.

Elections matter.

Modern GOP origin story

The Hulu biopic "Mrs America" gives you the founding matron of the modern Republican Party, in all her crazy:

It tells the story of the 1970s battle over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that pitted feminists such as Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale), Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) and Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba) against a woman named Phyllis Schlafly who would become the godmother of modern conservatism. Schlafly, who is portrayed with icy hauteur by the sublime Cate Blanchett, was a walking paradox: This champion of “homemakers” was herself a liberated woman who devoted most of her energy to political activism, not to looking after her husband and six children.

Schlafly specialized in incendiary — and far-fetched — claims that passage of the ERA would eliminate alimony, child support and single-sex bathrooms and force women into combat. “Mrs. America” shows television host Phil Donahue challenging her assertions. The fictional Schlafly replies with a tirade comparing the feminists to the Bolsheviks and predicting that before long we would be “living in a feminist totalitarian nightmare.”

Schlafly pioneered the kind of incendiary, irrational rhetoric that galvanized much of the conservative movement during its early years — and, sadly, continues to excite it today. There was always a big difference, however, between what activists like her said and how Republican officeholders acted. Even the most conservative presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were far more moderate.

Meanwhile, between Vice President Mike Pence refusing to wear a mask at the Mayo Clinic (to "look people in the eyes," which is odd if you know how masks work) while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doing everything he can to piss off everyone who lives in a town of more than 2,500 people, one starts to see hope that these raging incompetents and nihilists could leave office next January. This, while Covid-19 deaths in the US have officially passed the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War (though unofficially we seem to have passed that mark a few weeks ago).

I wonder what Nero's favorables were?

We won't have won, of course, because nearly half the country are incompetent nihilists. But we might at least get a breather.

Not worth the time

In one of his funniest jokes to date, President Trump Tweeted last night that his daily press conferences aren't "worth the time & effort:"

As usual, he said something that was objectively true but meant it differently than the reality-based community understood it. In fact, around the time he posted that Tweet, the New York Times published a story headlined "Nervous Republicans see Trump sinking, and taking Senate with him," which seems more likely than that the president suddenly decided to stop wasting everyone's time:

The scale of the G.O.P.’s challenge has crystallized in the last week. With 26 million Americans now having filed for unemployment benefits, Mr. Trump’s standing in states that he carried in 2016 looks increasingly wobbly: New surveys show him trailing significantly in battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he is even narrowly behind in must-win Florida.

Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Trump’s single best advantage as an incumbent — his access to the bully pulpit — has effectively become a platform for self-sabotage.

His daily news briefings on the coronavirus outbreak are inflicting grave damage on his political standing, Republicans believe, and his recent remarks about combating the virus with sunlight and disinfectant were a breaking point for a number of senior party officials.

Glen Bolger, a longtime Republican pollster, said the landscape for his party had become far grimmer compared with the pre-virus plan to run almost singularly around the country’s prosperity.

“With the economy in free-fall, Republicans face a very challenging environment and it’s a total shift from where we were a few months ago,” Mr. Bolger said. “Democrats are angry, and now we have the foundation of the campaign yanked out from underneath us.”

Mr. Trump’s advisers and allies have often blamed external events for his most self-destructive acts, such as his repeated outbursts during the two-year investigation into his campaign’s dealings with Russia. Now, there is no such explanation — and, so far, there have been exceedingly few successful interventions regarding Mr. Trump’s behavior at the podium.

There's a great bit of dialogue* in one of my favorite movies, The American President, between Wendie Malick and Annette Bening:

Susan Sloan: Well, I - I think that um, that I - I have a lot of pent-up hostility...

Sydney Ellen Wade: Well, I...

Susan Sloan: You know, and I'm wondering who I should blame that on.

Sydney Ellen Wade: I'm not really qualified to...

Susan Sloan: You know, because I've been blaming it on my mother and my ex-husband and, well, that doesn't seem to be working.

No, Republicans, blaming your party leader's incompetence on external events no longer seems to be working.

* This dialogue also passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test: two named female characters having a conversation about something other than a man. Nice to find that in a rom-com. But it is Sorkin, so...

The past and the future

Two pieces caught my eye this week, one telling us that things will get better, and the other...well...

First, a letter from New Yorker London correspondent Mollie Panter-Downes—sent 14 September 1940, the 14th day of the London Blitz:

In getting about, one first learns that a bomb has fallen near at hand by coming upon barriers across roads and encountering policemen who point to yellow tin signs which read simply “Diversion,” as though the blockage had been caused by workmen peacefully taking up drains ahead. The “diversion” in Regent Street, where a bomb fell just outside the Café Royal and did not explode for hours, cut off the surrounding streets and made the neighborhood as quiet as a hamlet. Crowds collected behind the ropes to gaze respectfully at the experts, who stood looking down into the crater and chatting as nonchalantly as plumbers discussing the best way of fixing a leaking tap. Police went around getting occupants out of the buildings in the vicinity and warning them to leave their windows open, but even with this precaution, when the bomb finally went off that evening there were not many panes of glass left.

The scene next morning was quite extraordinarily eerie. The great sweep of Regent Street, deserted by everyone except police and salvage workers, stared gauntly like a thoroughfare in a dead city. It would have been no surprise to see grass growing up out of the pavements, which were covered instead with a fine, frosty glitter of powdered glass. The noise of glass being hammered out of upper windows, swept into piles at street corners, and shovelled into municipal dust vans made a curious grinding tinkle which went on most of the day. The happiest people there were two little boys who had discovered a sweet shop where most of the window display had been blown into the gutter, and who were doing a fine looting job among the debris.

Londoners kept the British end up, and got through it, though it took the UK 18 years before post-war debt fell below 100% of GDP.

The second, from Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman, reminds us that the Republican Party doesn't believe in the legitimacy of a Democratic government. So we should expect GOP intransigence and sabotage throughout the Biden administration:

We’ve been here before, and not that long ago. After the 2008 election but before Barack Obama took office, Time magazine put him on its cover photoshopped as FDR, under the headline “The New New Deal.” But while he did pass a string of significant legislation utilizing government power early in his presidency — a large stimulus bill, Wall Street reform, saving the auto industry, ending bank profiteering on student loans, the Affordable Care Act — two years later Republicans took back the House and ground it all to a halt.

You can bet that Republicans will be holding strategy meetings and fielding polls and writing reports to determine not just how to stop Americans from becoming more open to expansive government action, but how to turn this crisis into anger at government itself....

America’s response to this pandemic was so awful not just because Trump is incompetent, but because conservative you’re-all-on-your-own philosophy was put into practice in ways that left us all vulnerable. In so many ways what we’re suffering through now, both in public health and economically, is a failure of conservatism.

Republicans know that the public might arrive at that conclusion — and they’re working to make sure it doesn’t happen. Democrats need to work just as hard to make sure it does.

This is what I wrote about this morning. Remember: The Democratic Party wants to govern, the Republican Party wants to rule.

Get the Republican Party's politics out of the pandemic response

Another 4.4 million people filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the total unemployed in the US to 26 million and the unemployment rate to around 20%. This is the fifth straight week of record weekly unemployment filings, but the third straight week of declining filings, which is about the only silver lining in economic data today.

For comparison, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), it took three years for unemployment to go from 4.7% to over 20% in the Great Depression. (It peaked in 1933 at around 25%.)

It would help if the Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress would work towards a sensible response to the pandemic, but alas, they can't get past their ideologies or basic stupidity. Political appointees at the Dept of Health and Human Services sidelined Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority director Dr Rick Bright, a physician who has studied immunology and molecular pathogenesis for most of his career, because he refused to endorse President Trump's quackery. Bright joins a number of other scientists and experts canned for not following the party line over the past two months, including the head of the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. The Centers for Disease Control hasn't had a press conference since March 9th "in part out of a desire not to provoke the president," according to the Washington Post.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken the opportunity to push his ideology of small government (i.e., everyone for himself) one step further by suggesting states like Illinois could simply go bankrupt rather than get Federal aid to help their governments through the crisis. Note that the reason states like Illinois have a crisis right now looks a lot like the reason the whole world has a crisis right now, but McConnell, who hates government as much as Trump hates women, thinks screwing millions of retirees out of their pension benefits sounds like a great thing to do in a pandemic.

One should note that Illinois ranks 43rd on the list of how much Federal aid goes to the states. Kentucky ranks 8th. In fact, there seems to be a correlation between the percentage of votes for Republican candidates and a reliance on Federal aid. This makes perfect sense, of course: these states vote against their own taxes but they still have to keep their poorest citizens from dying, so they go hat-in-hand to the Federal government. Also, the New Jersey plan makes sure that small, rural states have disproportionate power in Congress, further guaranteeing that these places will suck money from larger, urban states even while crying about the size and scope of national programs.

My fervent hope in the next 194 days is that people understand how much we need effective government, and how the disastrous response of our current government comes directly from the administration's and the Republican Party's twin desires to increase wealth inequality through decreasing government effectiveness in general.