The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Phase 4? Uh...yay?

Illinois officially moved into Phase 4 of Covid-19 recovery this week, just as two states retreated from it abruptly:

As cases rise around the United States, Florida reported more than 8,900 new coronavirus cases on Friday, after counting more than 10,000 new cases over the previous two days, pushing its total past 120,000.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has said that Florida has the capacity to deal with more sick people for now. Across the state, long lines have returned at testing sites that just a few weeks ago were seeing limited demand. On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis said that he did not intend to move to the next phase of reopening.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas went a step further than Florida, ordering all bars to close on Friday and telling restaurants to reduce operating capacity. It was an abrupt reversal of his previous policy as the nation’s second largest state also grapples with surging coronavirus cases weeks after reopening.

(It's worth noting that in every state that has rising numbers except for California, they have Republican governors.)

Still, though restaurants in Illinois can re-open at 25% capacity, many chefs have refused:

At Elizabeth restaurant, for example, owner Iliana Regan is sticking to take-out only. “If you’ve been here, you know how tiny we are; we only seat 25 people,” Regan said in an email to customers. “So, running at 25% capacity is not economically viable for us. More importantly, though, we don’t feel it’s safe for us to reopen for indoor service. We feel that the risk to our staff and guests is far too great to resume service right now.”

Similarly, Scott Worsham, who with Sari Zernich Worsham owns Bar Biscay and mfk restaurants, is in no hurry to open his dining rooms.

“We are waiting it out because it’s just not safe enough for our employees,” he said. “You saw what happened at Longman & Eagle this last week.” (Longman & Eagle abruptly ended outdoor dining service after one employee tested positive for COVID-19.) “For us to open, at such low numbers, then to have to close again for two weeks, would be a death blow for us.”

The Atlantic looks at Covid-19 safety in detail, and says maybe they have a point:

Ideally, individual people shouldn’t have to determine whether the restrictions in their area are safe and sensible. But here we are: Many states’ reopening plans don’t even meet the standards laid out in guidelines from the White House.

This means that in many cases, you’ll have to try to make an informed decision about what’s safest for you and others. [Linsey Marr, a civil- and environmental-engineering professor at Virginia Tech] laid out the basic calculus: “It depends on your own health, your age, preexisting conditions, how much risk you’re willing to tolerate, and the benefit that the activity could provide to you.” Another crucial variable: how much risk you might be introducing for everyone else around you.

So...basically...let's wait until we have a vaccine before going out again, yes?

Meanwhile, the only president we have until next January has cut funding for Covid-19 research and asked the Supreme Court to overturn the ACA, all this week.

Friendly Anglo-American competition

Parts of the United States and the United Kingdom have started a friendly competition to see which English-speaking country can obviate months of combating Covid-19 in the stupidest ways possible.

Up first, the UK, where so many people have flocked (in the 32°C heat) to the Channel Coast that Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole have declared a major incident:

Bournemouth East MP, Tobias Ellwood, said half a million people had flocked to the beaches and said the situation was so overwhelming that the UK government should step in to help the council deal with the crisis.

He said: “A lot of people have chosen to be not just irresponsible but dangerous. We’ve made such progress tackling this pandemic. I’d hate to see Bournemouth be the one place in Britain that gets that second spike.”

The council leader, Vikki Slade, said: “We are absolutely appalled at the scenes witnessed on our beaches, particularly at Bournemouth and Sandbanks [in neighbouring Poole].

“The irresponsible behaviour and actions of so many people is just shocking and our services are stretched to the absolute hilt trying to keep everyone safe. We have had no choice but to declare a major incident and initiate an emergency response.

“The numbers of people descending down here are like those seen on a bank holiday. We are not in a position to welcome visitors in these numbers now. Please do not come.”

A "major incident" in the UK is similar to a disaster declaration in the US: it allows multiple agencies to coordinate and frees up emergency money.

Not to be outdone, Texas, the state that invented the phrase "hold my beer and watch this," and which had started reopening its economy despite not meeting its own goals for infection and positive-test rates, has now reversed course do to skyrocketing Covid-19 new infections:

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. "This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business."

[T]he grim news was not just limited to Texas as the U.S. saw a record number of new coronavirus cases in a single day, with 45,557 reported Wednesday, according to a tally by NBC News.

Southern and Western states like Arizona and Florida that began aggressively reopening around Memorial Day are now seeing staggering spikes that make clear the deadly virus is showing no sign of going away, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly predicted.

I'm not even going to talk about Florida.

Josh Marshall yells into the wind, "this didn't have to happen:"

States around the country, responsive to the President’s messaging, have continued aggressive re-openings while cases were rising. President Trump has also consistently sent a message that basic mitigation strategies like masking are a sign of political affiliation with liberals and Democrats. Put more frankly, he’s being saying they’re for sissies. Republican politicians who rely on his support have backed this messaging and even outlawed cities’ efforts to protect themselves by imposing mitigation strategies at the city level. Since these governors mostly have their political bases of support in rural and exurban areas this amounts to the as yet lightly hit rural regions using their minoritarian political power to prevent the cities from protecting themselves.

So who wins? We'll see what Covid-19 infection rates look like in England's Southeast in two weeks, but for abject stupidity, we're hard to beat.

What just happened in SDNY?

On Friday night, US Attorney General William Barr announced that Jeffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had resigned. Minutes later, Berman said "the hell I have."

A couple of problems immediately present themselves when you think about this. First, only the president can fire a US Attorney. (President Trump finally did that last night.) Second, the highest law-enforcement official in the country, lied in writing about this. Third, the SDNY has multiple, ongoing investigations into the president's associates and businesses. Fourth, Barr's first announcement of Berman's replacement (a well-known Trump fellatist supporter) flouted the actual black-letter law giving that power to the judges of the SDNY (who, in fact, appointed Berman).

Calling this "extraordinary" doesn't do justice to the violence this dealt to the rule of law.

The Times:

The attorney general’s interventions in high-profile cases involving the onetime Trump advisers Roger J. Stone Jr. and Michael T. Flynn have prompted accusations from current and former law enforcement officials that Mr. Barr has politicized the department.

Over the last year, Mr. Berman’s office brought indictments against two close associates of the president’s current lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, and began an investigation into Mr. Giuliani himself, focusing on whether his efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on the president’s political rivals violated laws on lobbying for foreign entities.

Mr. Berman’s office also conducted an investigation into Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, subpoenaing financial and other records as part of a broad inquiry into possible illegal contributions from foreigners.

David Kurtz doesn't stop at "accusations...Barr has politicized the department:"

We’re deep into the worst crisis in the history of the Justice Department, and it keeps deepening. This isn’t alarming for what it signifies or for what it suggests might happen next or because it raises vague future concerns. It’s alarming because this is the corruption and the wrongdoing and the malfeasance. Right here, right now. Not some theoretical future threat. This is the nightmare of a president run amok with a captive Justice Department. We’re there. We’re living it.

James Comey, who worked as an assistant US Attorney in SDNY early in his career, has also spoken up:

There has always been a tension — much of it healthy — between Washington and the Southern District, but the attempt to fire the current United States attorney feels very different. Geoffrey Berman’s office has apparently been handling cases very close to the president. In 136 days, there is an election that the incumbent appears likely to lose. The attorney general, surely not proceeding on his own, acts to bump the well-regarded head of the Office on a Friday night, in the middle of a pandemic. Something stinks.

The country is well-served by the independent spirit and reputation of the Southern District of New York. It has long been the place where hard cases could be done in a way Americans trusted. It was where Bill Clinton’s 11th-hour pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich could be credibly investigated. It is also the place with jurisdiction over so much of this president’s complicated life.

And it is a place that follows the facts alone to reach conclusions, without regard to politics, just as [Henry L.] Stimson wanted. Maybe that’s why William P. Barr moved to knock off Berman on a Friday night and announced President Trump’s intention to replace him with someone who has never worked there. And maybe that’s why Berman, in the finest traditions of the office, stood up.

House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has opened an investigation, with a hearing already scheduled for Tuesday.

Pwning the Libs!

I'll just start with the headline:

Trump supporters burn Michigan absentee ballot applications

Walker, Mich. — People burned letters informing them that they can vote by absentee ballot in future elections during a protest near Grand Rapids.

The applications were burned Friday during an event called Operation Incinerator outside the DeltaPlex Arena in Walker. Many people had flags, shirts and signs showing support for President Donald Trump and Republicans.

“For them just to issue them without merit, without request to absolutely everybody — that is a great waste of taxpayer money,” said Michael Farage, president of the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association.

Murcia Fuck Yeah!

I really hope these people feel like voting is a waste of money, so they stay home in November. That would suit me just fine.

A busy day

Last weekend's tsunami continues to ripple:

Just another quiet week in 2020...

Observers see big stumble in American democracy

President Trump's ham-fisted photo-op in front of St John's Episcopal Church on Monday rattled friendly intelligence officers and emboldened our adversaries. Former CIA officer Gail Helt saw a familiar pattern emerging:

“This is what autocrats do. This is what happens in countries before a collapse. It really does unnerve me.”

Helt, now a professor at King University in Tennessee, said the images of unrest in U.S. cities, combined with President Trump’s incendiary statements, echo clashes she covered over a dozen years at the CIA tracking developments in China, Malaysia and elsewhere.

The impression Trump created was only reinforced by others in the administration. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper urged governors to “dominate the battlespace” surrounding protesters, as if describing U.S. cities as a foreign war zone. Later, as military helicopters hovered menacingly over protesters, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, toured the streets of the nation’s capital in his battle fatigue uniform.

Former intelligence officials said the unrest and the administration’s militaristic response are among many measures of decay they would flag if writing assessments about the United States for another country’s intelligence service.

Josh Marshall noted that the military, at least, rapidly distanced themselves from the event, which he views with some optimism:

Because, as I noted last night, it seems clear this was so crude and transparent and overplayed that they now appear to be in what we might call the political equivalent of an exposed salient. And most of those how had a hand in it are now claiming they were out of the loop.

We also need to keep in mind that the administration's attempts to justify a military presence in American cities relies on fabricated claims about civil unrest. Cities have experienced two kinds of violence over the past week: looting by criminals not connected with the peaceful protests that took place, and police using exactly the excessive force that people were protesting against. Federalizing the response to the protests would be a political, authoritarian act, not a public-safety measure. And people all across the political spectrum seem to understand that.

Re-reading the ur-text

Italian author Umberto Eco lived through the last half of Mussolini's reign, and through the fall of Communism in Europe. In 1995 he wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books entitled "Ur-Fascism," which seems like a timely read as cities around the country (but not Chicago, I'm pleased to report) looked a lot like police states this past weekend. It's worth a re-read:

I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, "the combination of different forms of belief or practice"; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. ... In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism...

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

He lists a total of 14 characteristics. In the Trump-dominated Republican Party I count...hmm...14. Well, that's comforting.

Some other points he makes:

[B]y a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

...

Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

...

We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares." Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.

In this vein, Matt Ford says American police forces "have become the standing armies that the Founders feared."

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...

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.