The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Kamala Harris

Presumptive Democratic Party nominee for president Joe Biden, who I hope will have shortened that title by 5 words by January 20th, has picked US Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate:

Ms. Harris, 55, is the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major party, and only the fourth woman in history to be chosen for one of their presidential tickets. She brings to the race a far more vigorous campaign style than Mr. Biden’s, including a gift for capturing moments of raw political electricity on the debate stage and elsewhere, and a personal identity and family story that many find inspiring.

A pragmatic moderate who spent most of her career as a prosecutor, Ms. Harris was seen throughout the vice-presidential search as among the safest choices available to Mr. Biden. She has been a reliable ally of the Democratic establishment, with flexible policy priorities that largely mirror Mr. Biden’s, and her supporters argued that she could reinforce Mr. Biden’s appeal to Black voters and women without stirring particularly vehement opposition on the right or left.

After leaving the presidential race in December, Ms. Harris turned her attention back to the Senate and found new purpose amid a wave of nationwide protests this spring against racism and police brutality. She marched beside protesters and forcefully championed proposals to overhaul policing and make lynching a federal crime, often speaking with a kind of clarity that had eluded her in the presidential primaries on economic issues like health care and taxation.

I thought Harris or Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, though I would have agreed with any of his top-5 picks as we knew them earlier today. But Harris seems like exactly the right choice.

Note that I am, and will continue to be, a financial contributor to the Biden—now Biden/Harris—campaign.

About the schools

Josh Marshall has a good summary of why things suck for parents, kids, and teachers right now:

But the plan [New York] city and most of [New York] state has come up with shows how limited this can be and how much we’ve made a fetish of in-school instruction. There are two big reasons to have in-school instruction. The first and most important is the educational, social and emotional development and well-being of children. The second is the impact on the economy. Many parents can’t work if their children aren’t in school and to the extent they can their children’s remote learning lacks the support it needs.

I think there is a real question whether in-school instruction on these terms is even worth it. At best kids will be in school 1/3 of the time – and it may be less – and under such straightened and perhaps nerve-wracking conditions that most of the educational and social benefit is actually lost. Watching the process as a journalist and a parent it seems to me that the school system and political authorities have been so focused on the absolute necessity of ‘reopening’ the schools that they’ve ended up with something that is not obviously better than full remote learning and called it success.

The truth is that we’re in a horrible situation. We have failed as a country to control the virus and because of that we’re forced into no-win situations and choices which are all bad. As much as anything we simply lack the kind of information that allows us to make informed, smart decisions. And yet September is less than four weeks away.

Meanwhile, Downtown Chicago suffered a coordinated attack of looters last night for no apparent reason, though police returning fire from a suspect and injuring him yesterday afternoon may have been the excuse. Since the looting took place across town and the looters came with U-Haul trucks I can't say I have any sympathy for them on this occasion. If it turns out that any of the looters were right-wing agitators, I will be disappointed but not surprised.

Oh, and the government of Lebanon resigned.

Burning it down won't solve the problem

Writing for The Week, David Linker lays out the problem confronting the Republican Party even if they get a solid thumping this November:

[Y]es, it would be very good for the Republican Party of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham, Louie Gohmert, Devin Nunes, and all the rest of them to be leveled to the ground so a wholly new party — a more reasonable, responsible, principled, and honorable party — can be built in its place.

There's just one difficulty with the plan: It does nothing to address the root of the problem, which no one — not the minimalist Trump haters, and not the fiercest maximalists out to pummel the party's establishment — has a clue how to solve.

That is the problem of the Republican voter.

The voters who swooned for Sarah Palin in 2008; who seriously considered giving the nod to Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Ben Carson, and Rick Santorum in 2012; who four years later elevated a reality-show conman to the head of their party, cast ballots for him to win the presidency, and have rallied around him ever since — most of these voters remain undaunted in their conviction that politics is primarily about the venting of grievances and the trolling of opponents. The dumber and angrier and more shameless, the better.

Could anything change these voters — turning them, not into liberals or progressives obviously, but into thoughtful citizens capable of engaging with reality, thinking about actual problems, and rewarding public servants who make a good-faith effort to respond to them? The honest truth is that I don't have the slightest clue how to make it happen. Which also means that I have no idea how the United States might work its way back to having two civically responsible parties instead of just one.

Which also means we will have to go through some version of all this nonsense again in 2022, 2024, 2026...until something shifts and these wankers grow up.

Where did it all go wrong?

I admire the New York Times for digging into how our pandemic response was so much worse than every other rich country, but ultimately, we already knew:

First, the United States faced longstanding challenges in confronting a major pandemic. It is a large country at the nexus of the global economy, with a tradition of prioritizing individualism over government restrictions. That tradition is one reason the United States suffers from an unequal health care system that has long produced worse medical outcomes — including higher infant mortality and diabetes rates and lower life expectancy — than in most other rich countries.

The second major theme is one that public health experts often find uncomfortable to discuss because many try to steer clear of partisan politics. But many agree that the poor results in the United States stem in substantial measure from the performance of the Trump administration.

In no other high-income country — and in only a few countries, period — have political leaders departed from expert advice as frequently and significantly as the Trump administration. President Trump has said the virus was not serious; predicted it would disappear; spent weeks questioning the need for masks; encouraged states to reopen even with large and growing caseloads; and promoted medical disinformation.

Some Republican governors have followed his lead and also played down the virus, while others have largely followed the science. Democratic governors have more reliably heeded scientific advice, but their performance in containing the virus has been uneven.

The Republicans who have done this, up to and including the president, need to face serious consequences for their inaction and malfeasance.

Here in Chicago, we've lost yet another convention, bringing our economic losses into the billions, including an estimated 1.3 million lost room-nights this year alone.

Reactionary right-wing corruption under scrutiny

New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed suit to dissolve the National Rifle Association:

The lawsuit sets up a legal confrontation that could take years to play out and will leave the 148-year-old N.R.A. — long the nation’s most influential gun-rights lobby but recently hobbled by financial woes and infighting — fighting for its survival. The attorney general’s office previously presided over the dissolution of President Trump’s scandal-marred charitable foundation, but the N.R.A., with more than five million members, is a far larger organization that is expected to put up a more prolonged fight.

The lawsuit was swiftly followed by two others: The N.R.A. filed a suit against Ms. James’s office in federal court in Albany, claiming her action was politically motivated and violated the organization’s First Amendment rights. In addition, Karl Racine, the attorney general of Washington, D.C., filed suit against the N.R.A. and its charitable foundation, which is based in the city. Mr. Racine is seeking changes to the foundation and alleges that the N.R.A. misused millions of dollars of the foundation’s funds.

The suit accuses the N.R.A. and the executives of “violating numerous state and federal laws” by enriching themselves, as well as their friends, families and allies, and taking improper actions that cost the organization $64 million over three years. The attorney general has regulatory authority over the N.R.A. because it is chartered as a nonprofit in New York. She is also seeking to oust Mr. LaPierre and Mr. Frazer, and to bar all four men from ever serving on nonprofit boards in New York again.

The lawsuit, which was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, is a civil action, and outlined a number of alleged tax violations. Ms. James said during a news conference that she was referring the matter to the Internal Revenue Service in addition to taking her own action, and did not rule out making a future criminal referral.

Never forget: the purpose of authoritarianism is theft. And very few organizations the size of the NRA represent authoritarianism so obviously. Never mind what they say; watch what they do. (Hey, Mr LaPierre, where were all your members when actual jack-booted government agents came to Portland and DC?)

The Post has more:

James said at a news conference Thursday that she is seeking to dissolve the NRA because of the brazenness of the group’s violations of law.

“The corruption was so broad and because they have basically destroyed all the assets of the NRA,” she said. “Enough was enough … No one is above the law, not even the NRA.”

The lawsuit also claims LaPierre failed to report large sums of personal income to the IRS. James’s office said it found that the NRA chief funneled personal expenses through an outside public relations firm, allowing him to avoid reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal income.

In response, the NRA said Thursday that it was filing its own lawsuit against James, alleging that the New York attorney general has violated the group’s free speech rights.

“This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend,” NRA President Carolyn Meadows said in a statement. “You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle."

Waaaaah. Another thing authoritarians hate: being called on their wrongdoing.

Do I think the lawsuit will succeed in dissolving the NRA? No, sadly. And anyway, gun manufacturers would simply create a new trade and propaganda association to continue making the Second Amendment a parody of itself.

But with this suit, and the deepening investigation into the Trump Organization's finances, also in New York State, I think the era of right-wing over-reach may have reached its conclusion. Don't expect them to go quietly, however.

Jonathan Swan interviews the president

Yesterday, Axios and HBO ran a 45-minute interview between Axios' Jonathn Swan and the President of the United States filmed last Tuesday. I haven't seen it, and I'm not sure I can stomach the whole thing after watching some excerpts. Fortunately, other people watched it for me.

Greg Sargent cites it as an example of "how to interview a serial liar and narcissist who is unfit to be president:"

Again and again, Swan practically pleaded with Trump to demonstrate a shred of basic humanity about the mounting toll under his presidency, and to display a glimmer of recognition of responsibility for it. Again and again, Trump failed this most basic test.

Even during the very occasional moments in which Trump did show a glimmer of awareness of the human toll, he immediately marred it with absurd blame-shifting to governors, who were screaming about the dangers for weeks early on while Trump dithered.

Trump simply doesn’t view the coronavirus as something to be defeated. Making this more destructive, Trump and his propagandists are working to keep the actual real-world failures of his response cosseted away in a place where they cannot be subjected to outside criticism — or corrected.

I would only add that Trump’s true position here, laid bare, is that this is the best we can do. Whether this is due to narcissism and the inability to hear criticism and self-correct, or whether it’s due to naked malevolence, that may be the biggest revelation here of all.

Inae Oh highlights "the 3 worst moments from Trump's newest Axios interview:"

In a heated back and forth, Trump and Swan sparred over the best statistics to assess the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump falsely asserted that US deaths from the virus are “lower” than anywhere in the world, rifling through a disorganized stack of printed charts to somehow back the absurd claim. “Lower than the world? In what?” Swan asked.

Glancing at the charts Trump was referencing, Swan said, “You’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of the population.”

“You can’t do that,” an outraged Trump replied.

After a brief explanation of the statistical importance of comparing coronavirus numbers in proportion to a country’s population, Trump then pivoted and suggested that South Korea has been falsely reporting its numbers in order to give the appearance of a more effective response. “You don’t know that,” Trump said when Swan mentioned South Korea’s low number of deaths from coronavirus. “You think they’re faking their statistics, South Korea?”

“Uh, I won’t get into that because I have a very good relationship with the country but you don’t know that.”

About accused sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, he said "I wish her well," and don't even get Maggie Haberman started on what he said about John Lewis:

“I never met John Lewis, actually,” Mr. Trump said. “He didn’t come to my inauguration. He didn’t come to my State of the Union speeches, and that’s OK. That’s his right.”

When asked to reflect on Mr. Lewis’s contributions to the civil rights movement, Mr. Trump instead talked up his own record.

“Again, nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have,” he said. “He should have come. I think he made a big mistake.”

Mr. Trump declined to say whether he found Mr. Lewis’s life story “impressive.” He seemed indifferent to renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., after the congressman.

Does he even know who John Lewis was? Does he know anything at all?

As the pipeline builds...

I'm waiting for a build to finish so I can sign off work for the day, so I've queued up a few things to read later:

Looks like the build is done, and all the tests passed. (I love green pipelines.)

Criminal conspiracy to disrupt the election

That's what Josh Marshall calls the president's ongoing disinformation campaign:

Often we think about his chatter as though it’s annoying and distracting but as long as he finally respects the results and doesn’t take steps to prevent people from voting that it will all have been words. No harm, no foul. But of course that isn’t remotely the case. Think about it this way. How much time are you thinking about who will win the election in the ordinary sense: i.e., who will get the most electoral college votes in a more or less free public vote. And how much are you thinking about whether the President will use his executive powers to disrupt the election or remain in power despite losing? I venture to say you’re probably spending quite a bit of time in that second mental space.

Much of the current push against vote by mail appears to be an effort to set up a situation in which the President is in the lead with election night results (not at all improbable) and then goes to court to prevent the mail-in vote being counted, using the premise that mail-in votes are somehow inherently tainted. Can he get away with that? Probably not. But with enough toady judges he might be able to drag things out past January.

It actually doesn’t matter what his plan is or even whether he has one: the uncertainty is a feature rather than a bug. The President is already saying the winner has to be known on election night, something that almost certainly won’t happen unless there’s a blowout result. Again, more doubt. More uncertainty. Will the election even matter? Will he use his power to stay in office?

He'll lose, most likely. And I'm confident we'll have a new president on January 20th, because that's what our Constitution requires. It just might be Nancy Pelosi.

157,000 deaths

I am trying to put that number into perspective.

  • Assuming 112.5 passengers per flight (4.378 billion passengers carried in 2018 divided by 38.9 million flights[1]), that's the equivalent of 1,395 air-transport crashes this year.
  • It's approximately the number of deaths from nuclear weapons, ever[2].
  • More Americans have died from Covid-19 in the US than died in World War I and the Vietnam War, combined[3].
  • It is more than the total number of people who died in New York State in 2017 from all causes[4].
  • More Americans have died of Covid-19 than Asians and Africans combined, and we have equaled the number of deaths in the entirety of Continental Europe.[5]

And the president and the Republican Party have let it continue through incompetence, malice, and negligence.

[1] Source: Statista, IATA.
[2] From 6 August to 31 December 1945, the US Army estimated 90,000-120,000 deaths in Hiroshima and 60,000-90,000 deaths in Nagasaki due to the atomic bombings. Source: UCLA.
[3] Source: Wikipedia.
[4] Source: NYS Dept of Health.
[5] Source: Worldometers

The Republicans in Congress really don't care about 2020

Given Gerrymandering, the Senate's design favoring rural states, and a host of other factors, most Republicans in Congress will keep their jobs in January. Even though the best likely outcome of November's election is just two more years of gridlock before Democrats re-take the Senate, the vast majority simply don't care:

It seems relevant, for instance, that while President Trump and a few Republican incumbents seem to be in genuine trouble, the vast majority of Republicans in Congress are certain to keep their jobs. In the Senate, most Republicans aren’t up for reelection, and most of those who are aren’t facing particularly competitive races. As of last week, The Cook Political Report has rated nine Republican seats as either Lean Democratic, Lean Republican, or Tossups for November—that’s only about a sixth of the Senate Republican caucus. Cook also estimates that there are 90 competitive races in the House, representing only about a fifth of that chamber’s seats. That includes races facing 32 incumbent Republicans, which account for just a sixth of the House Republican caucus. During the 2018 midterms, 91% of House members and 84% of Senators up for reelection were reelected; in 2016, those figures were 97% and 93% respectively.

One might object that even safe Republicans presumably want the party as a whole to keep the Senate and the White House and prevent Democrats from taking power. But the notion that most Republicans care about the party’s fortunes as much or more than their own careers seems dubious—if this was the case, they probably wouldn’t be backing ideas that might cross-pressure and endanger their vulnerable colleagues to begin with. And the most Republicans can realistically hope for are at least two more years of legislative stalemate anyway—it’s extremely unlikely they’ll be able to take back the House. In a Wednesday piece chastising moderate Republicans who plan on voting against the party in November, National Review editor Rich Lowry couldn’t come up with a single policy item Republicans should look forward to enacting in another Trump term.

It should be well understood by now that even if Republicans lose the White House and the Senate—and of course, neither victory is assured—the Democrats’ ability to pass Joe Biden’s agenda will be limited by the Senate filibuster. Although Biden has suggested in recent weeks that he’s open to ditching it to overcome Republican obstruction, the decision is ultimately up to Democratic senators themselves, and pivotal moderates still oppose the move. The filibuster aside, the conservative structural advantage in the chamber will probably be in good shape for some time. Adding Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia as states would help Democrats somewhat if the party were actually invested in making it happenā —another very large “if”—but analyst David Shor has estimated that a slight bias toward Republicans would remain in the Senate even if Democrats added six states, including the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. If Biden attempts to circumvent Republicans through executive action as Obama did, Republicans can take solace in the fact that much of what he might try could be undone by another administration or, again, gummed up in court.

Even though American law has a well-documented liberal bias (as does reality), the founders of our country designed a system of government intended to thwart popular will. And right now, the populace really want a change. Tant pis.