The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Disbar Barr

I read the news today, oh boy:

Finally, the USS Nevada, a battleship that survived World War I and Pearl Harbor until the Navy scuttled her in 1948, has been found.

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.

When did this become a thing?

Writing for the Washington Post, Michele Norris has had enough of white dudes toting firearms at "peaceful" protests:

We’ve gotten far too accustomed to the image of white protesters carrying paramilitary-level firearms in public spaces. The presence of guns — often really large guns — at protests has become alarmingly normalized. It is time to take stock of what that means.

Accepting and even expecting to see firearms at protest rallies means that we somehow embrace the threat of chaos and violence. While those who carry say they have no intention of using their weapons, the firepower alone creates a wordless threat, and something far more calamitous if even just one person discharges a round.

Is this brazen display of force about the right to own firearms or the right to make armed threats for political purposes? Just asking, because the latter is not a “right” that can be equally asserted. The protests are purportedly about reopening America. A parallel goal is realignment — using the Second Amendment to conduct regular and routine shows of force to intimidate elected officials into enacting a political agenda.

Polls show that most Americans prefer a go-slow approach to reopening most businesses. The armed protesters in places such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina represent a tiny minority. Some surveys put the most insistent open-now crowd at less than 10 percent. But the weapons make their influence seem larger — and they know that. We see protests punctuated by guns almost every day. It has become routine. We have normalized something that should be shocking.

This sort of thing has happened before, in other times and places, and it hasn't ended well.

Unprecedented numbers

The US unemployment rate exploded to 14.7% in April as 20.5 million people officially left the workforce, with millions more people leaving full-time work and others not even trying to find new jobs. April's job losses were more than 10 times the 1.9 million reported in September 1945 as the US demobilized from World War II.

Once you've absorbed that, there's more:

Finally, today is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when the Nazi army finally surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe. Germans celebrated the event today as a day of liberation from the Nazis.

The economic consequences of the pandemic

The differences in the way Democrats and Republicans have approached the pandemic shouldn't surprise or shock anyone, but one might still expect Republicans not to say the quiet parts quite so loudly. Last week, 3.2 million more Americans filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the total to 33.5 million since mid-March and the unemployment rate to nearly 20%. The last time we had 20% unemployment, Herbert Hoover (a Republican, let's remember) sat on his ass in the Oval Office waiting for the market to fix itself. Millions starved and lost their homes. The economy didn't recover fully for over a decade, and then only because we had to mobilize the economy around the biggest war in human history.

So how is this Republican administration trying to save the economy? Pretty much the same way Hoover's did, except with less compassion and more stupidity.

This morning, the Small Business Administration announced that its Economic Injury Disaster Loan program had all but run out of money, so they won't accept new applicants and they will only give out $150,000 awards instead of the $2m loans people have applied for.

Here in Illinois, downstate Republicans want to reopen businesses soon rather than wait for the empirical triggers in Governor Pritzker's plan to apply. What they haven't said here, but what seems obvious from the experiences of other states, like Georgia, is that they want to reduce unemployment insurance payments by forcing low-income workers back to work even if it's not safe. What do the owners or Republican legislators care, right? See, if shops and businesses are legally entitled to open, and workers refuse to go in because, you know, they want to live a few years longer, then the workers will no longer qualify for unemployment insurance. QED. This is almost explicitly Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's plan.

As Josh Marshall wrote today, "Again and again, the Trump Era forces us to the crudest and most unsubtle portrayals of the role of wealth and privilege in our society. But it’s no surprise since that is the essence of Trumpism."

Finally, one of the president's valets tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, which reportedly made the president angry. Did the president express concern for the guy or his family? Oh, how droll.

What's a Wednesday again?

Remember slow news days? Me neither.

  • Republican legislators and business owners have pushed back on Illinois Governor JB Pritzker's plan to re-open the economy, preferring instead to force their employees into unsafe situations so they can return to making money.
  • Professional dilettante Jared Kushner's leadership in getting a bunch of kids to organize mask distribution went about as well as one might predict.
  • More reasonable people simply see how it means we're going to be in this a while.
  • California has sued Uber and Lyft for violating AB5, claiming the two ride-sharing companies “gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by inappropriately classifying massive numbers of California drivers as independent contractors,” according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
  • Assuming states were allowed to go bankrupt, Crain's Steven Strahler believes an Illinois bankruptcy might not be what anyone actually wants.
  • Illinois' $560m shortfall in gasoline taxes right now has put transit projects at risk.
  • The BBC tries to help the rest of the world understand why the US has a backlash against face masks, as does NBC.
  • If you take New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut out of the equation, the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise in the US.
  • Bottled water sales have gone up 57% year-over-year, so Consumer Reports wants to know why people are paying so much for someone else's tap water? Especially since bottlers often don't pay their water bills while residents are getting their water shut off.
  • Anyone remember that it's the 20th anniversary of the ILOVEYOU virus?

And finally, a cute diner in Toronto where I had breakfast last June has moved to delivery service during the lockdown. Too bad they can't deliver to Chicago.

Kim Stanley Robinson on our new "structure of feeling"

The science-fiction author sees hope in our response to Covid-19:

People who study climate change talk about “the tragedy of the horizon.” The tragedy is that we don’t care enough about those future people, our descendants, who will have to fix, or just survive on, the planet we’re now wrecking. We like to think that they’ll be richer and smarter than we are and so able to handle their own problems in their own time. But we’re creating problems that they’ll be unable to solve. You can’t fix extinctions, or ocean acidification, or melted permafrost, no matter how rich or smart you are. The fact that these problems will occur in the future lets us take a magical view of them. We go on exacerbating them, thinking—not that we think this, but the notion seems to underlie our thinking—that we will be dead before it gets too serious. The tragedy of the horizon is often something we encounter, without knowing it, when we buy and sell. The market is wrong; the prices are too low. Our way of life has environmental costs that aren’t included in what we pay, and those costs will be borne by our descendents. We are operating a multigenerational Ponzi scheme.

And yet: “Flatten the curve.” We’re now confronting a miniature version of the tragedy of the time horizon. We’ve decided to sacrifice over these months so that, in the future, people won’t suffer as much as they would otherwise. In this case, the time horizon is so short that we are the future people. It’s harder to come to grips with the fact that we’re living in a long-term crisis that will not end in our lifetimes. But it’s meaningful to notice that, all together, we are capable of learning to extend our care further along the time horizon. Amid the tragedy and death, this is one source of pleasure. Even though our economic system ignores reality, we can act when we have to. At the very least, we are all freaking out together. To my mind, this new sense of solidarity is one of the few reassuring things to have happened in this century. If we can find it in this crisis, to save ourselves, then maybe we can find it in the big crisis, to save our children and theirs.

A structure of feeling is not a free-floating thing. It’s tightly coupled with its corresponding political economy. How we feel is shaped by what we value, and vice versa. Food, water, shelter, clothing, education, health care: maybe now we value these things more, along with the people whose work creates them. To survive the next century, we need to start valuing the planet more, too, since it’s our only home.

It will be hard to make these values durable. Valuing the right things and wanting to keep on valuing them—maybe that’s also part of our new structure of feeling. As is knowing how much work there is to be done. But the spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change. It’s like a bell ringing to start a race. Off we go—into a new time.

Meanwhile, even as the number of people dying of Covid-19 continues to climb, the White House is threatening to shut down the Coronavirus Task Force. But don't call them stupid.

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.

A little light reading

Yesterday I started Federico Finchelstein's new book A Brief History of Fascist Lies, and it may have kept me awake longer than I wanted last night. Finchelstein's central thesis is that for fascists, truth was a matter of faith, not of empirical fact, and this truth was made incarnate in the fascist leader:

Fascism defended a divine, messianic, and charismatic form of leadership that conceived of the leader as organically linked to the people and the nation. It considered popular sovereignty to be fully delegated to the dictator, who acted in the name of the community of the people and knew better than they what they truly wanted. Fascists replaced history and empirically based notions of truth with political myth. ... Fascism aimed to create a new and epochal world order through an incremental continuum of extreme political violence and war.

At root, fascists believed fantasy, and disbelieved reality that didn't fit their myths:

In their search for a truth that did not coincide with the experienced world, fascists resorted to making metaphors reality. There was nothing true about ideological falsehoods, but their adherents nonetheless wanted to make these lies real enough. They conceived what they saw and did not like as untruth. [Emphasis in original.] ...

For Mussolini, reality had to follow mythical imperatives. Too bad if people were not initially convinced; their disbelief also needed to be challenged. The mythical framework of fascism was rooted in the fascist myth of the nation.

In other words, arguing facts with a fascist had no effect because facts didn't matter to them. Only their beliefs mattered. A psychologist might call this "malignant narcissism."

I'm only a quarter the way in, but I'll probably finish it tonight. Finchelstein has given me a missing piece in my understanding of the creeping authoritarian nationalism plaguing the world right now. As he says in his introduction, "Populism is fascism adapted to democracy;" however, "populists merely want to diminish the power of representative democracy, whereas fascists wanted to end democracy."

Even the first couple of chapters has given me a lot to think about. I'll write more as I think about it more.