The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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...

Only so many ways to state the obvious

James Fallows:

Reporters from the Washington Post quoted Dara Kass, of Columbia University Medical Center, on the difference between this and Trump’s previous, now-discredited advice that people start taking a certain kind of pill:

“The difference between this and the chloroquine [pills] is that somebody could go right away to their pantry and start swallowing bleach. They could go to their medicine cabinet and swallow isopropyl alcohol,” Kass said. “A lot of people have that in their homes. There’s an immediate opportunity to react.”

Kass explained to the Post that people who ingest such chemicals often die, and those “who survive usually end up with feeding tubes because their mouth and esophagus were eroded by the cleaning agents.”

“It’s horrific,” she said.

Jack Holmes, politics editor of Esquire:

There is a need among some, particularly in Washington, to believe the president is not completely batty. The prospect that he has no idea what he's doing, and in fact may not be all there, is psychologically difficult for some to grapple with. It's also scary for some folks to think about just saying what's in front of them and feeling the backlash from his supporters. So evening-news programs and newspapers spend a lot of time cleaning up what the president says, pruning the overgrown hedges into something vaguely coherent in their reports.

But he's not going to get better. He's not going to grow into the job or become more "presidential". How many words, realistically, do you really believe he's read about COVID-19? How many pages of briefings? When are we going to demand more than a circus from the people in whom we now have so much of our futures invested, willingly or not? We should be calling for this guy to resign on a daily basis.

Michelle Goldberg, in the New York Times today:

As the coronavirus crisis has unfolded in America, [author Adam] Higginbotham has noticed other parallels. “The response that I see has followed a very similar trajectory: initial public denials or reluctance to publicly admit that anything was wrong, then attempts to minimize the severity of what was happening, rooted in an institutional inability to acknowledge failure,” he said. “The initial response was hampered by a lack of equipment and a breakdown in communication that revealed that despite years of planning, the state was hopelessly ill prepared for such a catastrophe.”

Yet one crucial difference also stands out to him. Soviet officials lied about Chernobyl and tried to shift blame but accepted that remediation was the state’s responsibility. “There was a lot of disinformation and cover-up, but as far as I know nobody in the Politburo was on the phone to the party leaders in Kyiv and Minsk saying, ‘You’re on your own — sort it out yourselves,’ ” said Higginbotham.

Chernobyl is now widely seen as a signal event on the road to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Coronavirus may someday be seen as a similar inflection point in the story of American decline. A country that could be brought to its knees this quickly was sick well before the virus arrived.

Dana Milbank, yesterday:

I can add clinical evidence, derived from searching the Mayo Clinic’s website for side effects of azithromycinhydroxychloroquine and its cousin, chloroquine. Among them, I found: “change in hair color” (Trump has recently faded from orange to gray), “discoloration of the skin” (originally and mistakenly attributed to tanning beds), “trouble sleeping” (see his overnight tweets), “noisy breathing” (that gasping during his Oval Office address), “difficulty with speaking” (whenever using a teleprompter), “runny nose,” (the sniffing!) and “unusual facial expressions” (‘nuff said).

Also, consider the mental side effects the drugs can cause: Irritability. Confusion. Aggression. Anger. Hostility. Quickness to react or overreact emotionally. Unusual behavior. Unsteadiness. Severe mood or mental changes. Restlessness. Paranoia. Depersonalization (an emotional “numbness”). Feeling that others are watching you or controlling your behavior. Feeling that others can hear your thoughts. Feeling, seeing or hearing things that are not there.

Marina Hyde in The Guardian, also yesterday:

Another interesting thing to check would be the precise theoretical point at which deciding to ingest bleach becomes the tragically rational response to the fact that a sitting president is suggesting Americans ingest bleach. For now, though, let’s just include the presidential caveat. Pointing to his head, Trump went on: “I’m not a doctor. But I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what.”

Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis was always predictable pathologically. You’re asking a man who got to the Oval Office by going viral to disavow a virus. It’s not very surprising that Trump can’t bring himself to. You have to think he recognises something of a kindred spirit in the disease, which is indifferent to all human suffering, impacts disproportionately on ethnic minorities and is horrifyingly resistant to therapy.

And on April 11th, Der Spiegel had a long-for explanation of how the US has fallen from world dominance, in large part because of the president:

Again and again, Trump’s advisers have had to bring him to his senses, but even that often doesn’t work. When the president announced a week ago Friday that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was going to recommend people wear masks in public, he immediately added that he wasn’t even considering wearing one himself. "I don’t see it for myself, I just don’t.” His comments certainly didn’t clear up any confusion.

We will get through this. But whether "we" means you and me or "we" means some remnant of the human species cannot be predicted at this time.

Please have sympathy for the mentally ill and the elderly

The President of the United States, a man who literally has the power to kill billions of people in an hour, made a suggestion at his press briefing yesterday:

(NBC's report on the incident includes the line "He didn't specify the kind of disinfectant." Also, retired General Wesley Clark actually predicted it would come to this.)

The Post:

In a statement Friday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany noted that Trump had said Americans should consult with their doctors about treatment. U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams released a statement reiterating that on Friday morning.

McEnany accused the media of taking Trump’s words out of context.

“President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasized again during yesterday’s briefing," she said.

Trump’s eyebrow-raising query came immediately after William N. Bryan, the acting undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, gave a presentation on the potential impact of summer heat and humidity, which also included references to tests that showed the effectiveness of different types of disinfectants. He recounted data from recent tests that showed how bleach, alcohol and sunlight could kill the coronavirus on surfaces.

Well, the video above gives you about 75 full seconds of context, so you can make up your own mind on what he meant.

Fine, whatever. In real news:

Finally, Bill Gates lays out what we'll need to open up the economy again.

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.

Surprisingly productive today

Either I spent all day coding and therefore didn't have time to read these things, or I just didn't want to read these things. Let's start with the big questions:

You should have the same answer to all these questions ("yes"), though you might want to extend your answer to the first one after reading the article. (I vote "electric.")

It all just keeps coming, you know?

Welcome to day 31 of the Illinois shelter-in-place regime, which also turns out to be day 36 of my own working-from-home regime (or day 43 if you ignore that I had to go into the office on March 16th). So what's new?

Oy:

Finally, via Bruce Schneier, the Dutch intelligence service had an unintentional back door into several other countries' communications. (Scheier says, "It seems to be clever cryptanalysis rather than a backdoor.")

How crude

Demand for petroleum has crashed so hard and so fast that North American oil producers have run out of space to store the excess. This morning the price of US crude collapsed, falling 105 500% to $-2 $-37.63 per barrel; Canadian oil prices also dropped negative. That's right, if you want to take a million or so barrels off their hands, they'll pay you to do so. (This only affects delivery by month's end; for delivery in May, oil still costs $20 a barrel.)

Meanwhile, in other horrific news:

Finally, the Covid-19 emergency has led to mass layoffs of architects, one of the hardest-hit professions in any recession. I'm currently reading Robert Caro's The Power Broker, his biography of Robert Moses, and just at the point where he mentions that in 1934, 5 out of 6 architects had lost their jobs. Everything old is new again.

Minnesota under siege, day 3...

The president continues to ignore the opprobrium leveled against him after his asinine Tweets Friday morning:

In other news:

Finally, WBEZ, Chicago's NPR affiliate, has some tips for dating during quarantine.

And you thought things were getting better

The number of new Covid-19 cases per day may have peaked in Illinois, but that still means we have new cases every day. We have over 10,000 infected in the state, with the doubling period now at 12 days (from 2 days back mid-March). This coincides with unpleasant news from around the world:

  • Covid-19 has become the second-leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 12,400 deaths per week, just behind heart disease which kills about 12,600.
  • More than 5 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total unemployed to 22 million, the highest percentage of Americans out of work since 1933. April unemployment figures come out May 8th, when we will likely have confirmation of a 13-15% unemployment rate. Note that the unemployment rate was the lowest in history just two months ago.
  • Consumer spending on nearly everything except groceries has fallen, in some places catastrophically. Chicago's heavy-rail authority, Metra, has seen ridership fall 97% system-wide and predicts a $500 million budget deficit this year. (For my own part, since my March 31st post on the subject, my spending on dining out, lunch, and groceries combined has fallen 70% month-over-month.)
  • UK Foreign Secretary (and acting Prime Minister) Dominic Raab announced today that lockdown measures would continue in the UK "for at least the next three weeks," reasoning that premature relaxation would lead to a resurgence of the virus as seen worldwide in 1918.
  • FiveThirtyEight explains why Covid-19 has caused so much more disruption than Ebola, SARS-1, and swine flu.
  • Talking Points Memo takes a deeper look at the hidden mortality of Covid-19.
  • Brian Dennehy has died at 81.
  • Chicago could get 75 mm of snow tonight. In April. The middle of Spring. FFS.

But we also got some neutral-to-good news today:

I pitched the Goat-2-Meeting to my chorus board for our next meeting, and unfortunately got told we don't donate to other NPCs. I guess we're not a bleating-heart organization.