The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

We now return to your pandemic, already in progress

Today's news:

President Trump claims he knew COVID-19 was a pandemic all along, even though he had a strangely ineffective way of showing it.

Finally, and not related even a little to COVID-19, Olga Khazan writes in the Atlantic about "the perks of being a weirdo."

Today in your apocalypse

Actually, things seem to have quieted down. Bars and restaurants in Illinois closed last night at 9pm, and my company has moved to mandatory work-from-home, so things could not be quieter for me. I'm also an introvert with a dog and gigabit Internet, meaning I have a need to leave my house several times a day and something to do inside. (I'm also working, and in fact cracked a difficult nut yesterday that made today very productive.)

Outside of my house:

Finally, I was able to get everyone on board with a new date for Apollo After Hours. That only took five days...and 80 emails...

It's worse...

The Dow Industrial Average index of 30 blue-chip stocks dropped almost 3,000 points today, erasing almost all the gains the index made since President Trump's inauguration. This comes on the first business day after the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to near zero, and the CDC issued new guidance on avoiding groups of 50 or more for the next 8 weeks.

Related stories, just from today:

I will now resume beating up a partner organization for deploying software on Friday night that broke literally everything on our side.

Be first. Be right. Be credible.

Those words appear on the cover of a 450-page CDC-written manual called "Crisis Risk Emergency Communications." Apparently, if anyone in the Trump Administration has read the book, they have chosen to do the opposite, instead of bungling everything accidentally:

Protecting vulnerable people from a virus that, according to some projections, could infect millions and kill hundreds of thousands, depends on U.S. leaders issuing clear public health instructions and the public’s trust to follow directions that could save their lives.

The fundamental principles behind good public health communication are almost stunningly simple: Be consistent. Be accurate. Don’t withhold vital information, the CDC manual says. And above all, don’t let anyone onto the podium without the preparation, knowledge and discipline to deliver vital health messages.

Nearly every day since the coronavirus landed in America, the White House has issued “mixed and conflicting messages from multiple sources,” the first guideline in the manual’s list of potentially harmful practices. “Overly reassuring and unrealistic communication” has come from the highest levels of government. The “perception that certain groups are gaining preferential treatment” has become a problem with health care workers complaining they can’t get tested while two asymptomatic Trump allies in Congress, Celine Dion and the members of the Utah Jazz basketball team were able to access tests.

The CDC manual devotes an entire chapter to “choosing the right spokesperson,” someone who gives the government and its message “a human form.” But the government’s leading health experts have had to repeatedly cede the microphone to politicians — with the nation’s top health officials repeatedly canceling news conferences to make room for Vice President Pence or Trump or to avoid upstaging other White House announcements.

And to my Republican acquaintances who say I'm criticizing the president because I just don't like him, you've got it backwards: I don't like him because of this kind of thing. His ineptitude has, and will continue, to cost lives.

As Aaron Sorkin once wrote, "We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. This a time for serious people, [Donald], and your fifteen minutes are up."

The hits keep coming

Last night I had the wonderful experience of performing Bach's Johannes-Passion with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago and the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. I say "performing" because, recognizing that we had already cancelled our performance on Saturday and would probably cancel Sunday's as well, this was our one shot. Three months of preparation, hours of study and practicing German diction, gone. And I'm on my second half-personal-day at home dealing with the cleanup, which has included a few hundred emails, changes to the chorus website and ticketing system, consulting with the rest of the Board...and grocery shopping.

We cancelled Sunday's concert in part because Illinois Governor JB Pritzker ordered all events with 1,000 or more attendees cancelled, and recommended events with more than 250 people also be cancelled. Since we have 100 singers and 75 instrumentalists on stage...well, there you go. No audience allowed. 

This makes me no different than other performers and athletes all over the world right now. In Chicago alone, the list of local cancellations has dozens of items. Just now, the Chicago Teachers Union has demanded that Chicago Public Schools close as well. For parents and children who live with food insecurity, that could hurt a lot.

And yet, the thing that enraged me, and has generated near-universal opprobrium, was the President's speech on Wednesday night. Some reactions:

  • "Trump’s 10-minute Oval Office address Wednesday night reflected not only his handling of the coronavirus crisis but, in some ways, much of his presidency. It was riddled with errors, nationalist and xenophobic in tone, limited in its empathy, and boastful of both his own decisions and the supremacy of the nation he leads."—Washington Post
  • "This latest Trump speech was uniquely incompetent and inappropriate.... In my view it had three problems: how it was conceived; how it was written; and how it was delivered."—Former presidential speechwriter James Fallows
  • "At every turn, President Trump’s policy regarding coronavirus has unfolded as if guided by one rule: How can I make this crisis worse?"—David Frum
  • "Rather than focusing on what we need to do here at home, the president focused on trying to ward off the evil that he insisted was coming from abroad."—Chicago Council on Global Affairs president Ivo Daalder
  • "Donald Trump is panicky and clueless"—Kevin Drum
  • "Trump is singularly incapable of addressing this credibly or effectively, with anything like the right mix of realism and hope the crisis demands."—Andrew Sullivan

We live in really weird times. If only we had a leader to reassure us.

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

What an exciting 24 hours.

President Trump made a statement from the Oval Office last night about the COVID-19 pandemic that completely failed to reassure anyone, in part because it contained numerous errors and misstatements. By announcing a ban on travel from the Schengen area of 26 European countries that applies to non-US residents, he enraged our European allies while doing nothing to stop the spread of the virus for the simple reason that the virus has already spread to the US. Not to mention, having a US passport doesn't magically confer immunity on people.

But let's not question the virologist-in-chief at this moment, who has so far refused to heed his experts' advice to issue an emergency declaration until Jared Kushner signs off on it. And wouldn't you guess? Republicans in the Senate have balked at an emergency spending bill because it has the potential to demonstrate that government can help in a crisis, which is why they blocked prevention measures earlier.

A few minutes after trading started today, the New York Stock Exchange hit the brakes to hold the plunge in equities values to 8% for 15 minutes while traders pissed themselves. Trading seems to have stabilized as it resumed, but the markets have now fallen about 25% from their February records.

The National Basketball Association has suspended its season and the National College Athletic Association played the first few games of March Madness without audiences.

In Chicago, PepsiCo became the first company to close its headquarters building, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has halted in-person trading entirely. Following California's ban on assemblies of more than 250 persons, Illinois is considering a similar measure. (Scotland has banned groups of 500, and Ireland has cancelled St Patrick's Day events.) And local colleges have moved their spring classes online.

Finally, as a member of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago Board of Directors and as the co-chair of our annual benefit, I am in the position of having to make some of these decisions myself. In another post I'll talk about that. For now, I can say we've sent a few hundred emails around the organization in the past 24 hours because we have concerts scheduled for this weekend and a dress rehearsal scheduled for tonight.

And, of course, I'm working from home again, and I think I should vote today instead of Tuesday.

Updates as conditions warrant.

Updates

I spent an hour trying (unsuccessfully) to track down a monitor to replace the one that sparked, popped, and went black on me this morning. That's going to set me back $150 for a replacement, which isn't so bad, considering.

Less personally, the following also happened in the last 24 hours:

I don't have a virus, by the way. I'm just working from home because the rest of my team are also out of the office.

Rainy Monday readings

After yesterday's perfect spring weather (18°C and sunny), today's gloom and rain reminds us we live in Chicago.

Also, it's eerily quiet at work...so maybe I'll also work from home the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, these crossed my (virtual) desk for reading later on:

  • Two days before testifying at a House hearing called "Holding Wells-Fargo Accountable," two of the bank's board members resigned.
  • A young woman in India who received two hand transplants from a darker-skinned person has baffled doctors as the new hands have changed color to match her native skin.
  • The Washington Post helpfully describes what smoke point means and how cooks needn't fear it.
  • Lakefront towns in Northern Indiana have sued the National Park Service for contributing to beach erosion as the Lake Michigan-Huron system goes into its third straight month of record levels.
  • And finally, the New York Times examines how the Trump Campaign took over the Republican Party in 2016.

Now back to making an app send status emails...

That time when the CIA made encryption products

For about 50 years, the CIA and its (West-) German equivalent, the BND, owned Crypto AG in Switzerland, giving them access to the secrets of dozens of countries:

From 1970 on, the CIA and its code-breaking sibling, the National Security Agency, controlled nearly every aspect of Crypto’s operations — presiding with their German partners over hiring decisions, designing its technology, sabotaging its algorithms and directing its sales targets.

Then, the U.S. and West German spies sat back and listened.

They monitored Iran’s mullahs during the 1979 hostage crisis, fed intelligence about Argentina’s military to Britain during the Falklands War, tracked the assassination campaigns of South American dictators and caught Libyan officials congratulating themselves on the 1986 bombing of a Berlin disco.

Greg Miller, the Washington Post reporter who broke the story in the US, followed up today with some insight into the bureaucratic bullshit that nearly scuttled the deal, and would go on to help our intelligence services miss that 9/11 was about to happen:

The CIA comes across as an overbearing elder, impatient with its more timid counterpart, dismissive of its intermittent objections. CIA officials “made the rules as they went along,” according to the history, “and were much more inclined to ask forgiveness than permission.”

The NSA was full of people who were technically brilliant but struggled to grasp the potential of the operation, impeded efforts to expand its scope and at times put the program’s secrecy in jeopardy with sloppy tradecraft.

“NSA people traveled in true name, and sent far more people to meetings than CIA felt was advisable from a security standpoint,” the CIA history says. “One of the continuing irritants on the CIA side was this apparent lack of appreciation for traditional [agency] clandestine operational procedures.”

“Between the CIA and the NSA there were always disputes about which of these services had the say,” a senior BND official said in that agency’s history of the operation. “CIA saw itself as the one in charge and emphasized this by having a CIA man posted at the operation in Munich,” the location of a CIA base for overseeing Crypto.

Yesterday, NPR's Fresh Air broadcast an extensive interview with Miller, that ended with this chilling thought:

When you learn something, when you learn about something terrible that's happening - in South America, for instance, many of the governments that were using Crypto machines were engaged in assassination campaigns. Thousands of people were being disappeared, killed. And I mean, they're using Crypto machines, which suggests that the United States intelligence had a lot of insight into what was happening. And it's hard to look back at that history now and see a lot of evidence of the United States going to any real effort to stop it or at least or even expose it.

To me, the history of the Crypto operation helps to explain how U.S. spy agencies became accustomed to, if not addicted to, global surveillance. This program went on for more than 50 years, monitoring the communications of more than 100 countries. I mean, the United States came to expect that kind of penetration, that kind of global surveillance capability. And as Crypto became less able to deliver it, the United States turned to other ways to replace that. And the Snowden documents tell us a lot about how they did that. Instead of working through this company in Switzerland, they turned their sights to companies like Google and Apple and Microsoft and found ways to exploit their global penetration. And so I think it tells us a lot about the mindset and the personalities of spy agencies as well as the global surveillance apparatus that followed the Crypto operation.

Think about Crypto AG when you install Kaspersky Anti-Virus or install a Huwei device on your network. Just think about it.

Looking back on Elizabeth Warren's campaign

I read two articles worthy of mention about Warren dropping out. The first, by Megan Garber in The Atlantic, argues that "America punished Elizabeth Warren for her competence:"

Kate Manne, a philosopher at Cornell University, describes misogyny as an ideology that serves, ultimately, to reinforce a patriarchal status quo. “Misogyny is the law-enforcement branch of patriarchy,” Manne argues. It rewards those who uphold the existing order of things; it punishes those who fight against it. It is perhaps the mechanism at play when a woman puts herself forward as a presidential candidate and finds her attributes—her intelligence, her experience, her compassion—understood as threats. It is perhaps that mechanism at play when a woman says, “I believe in us,” and is accused of being “self-righteous.”

But in Mother Jones, Kara Voght says Warren's legacy will outlive her campaign:

On the morning of the South Carolina primary, reporters swarmed Elizabeth Warren in a tiny side room after a canvass kickoff in Columbia....

She’d barely offered morning pleasantries before a television reporter barked a question her way: “When are you going to start winning?”

Warren was silent for a moment. “No one knew what a wealth tax was a year ago,” she finally said. “I’m loving this campaign. This a culmination of a lifetime of work.” Her ideas, she said, had a chance to live beyond “the academic side of things.”

Taken in sum, Warren’s plans offer a progressive vision. Between the lines of them is not just a what, but a how. Throughout the campaign, Warren repeatedly said that she would rather have a guarantee that someone else would enact her agenda than be president herself, and her exit from the race speaks to that desire. The question, of course, is whether the remaining contenders will take up Warren’s blueprint if they ascend to the Oval Office.

But even if that doesn’t happen, “Professor Warren” has changed the way at least some voters view the world. At a Warren rally outside Charleston last fall, I met a middle-aged white woman who told me she’d never heard the term “racial wealth gap” before Warren began using it during her stump speech—to talk about how her plans would level the playing field for people of color. If that’s the understanding of America that Warren leaves behind, that’s not such a bad thing.

I'm sad she's out of the race, and quite put out that the three front-runners for inauguration next January are all so old they really can't attack each other's dotage without provoking snickers. Either Bernie or Biden, though, will bring with him a cadre of competent people who actually care about this country—among them, I've no doubt, Elizabeth Warren. She won't be president, but neither is she out of power.