The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Summertime daftness everywhere

A few examples of idiocy, bad intent, or general ineptness crossed my desk this morning:

Finally, in an effort not to complain about politics or the Olympics, Gail Collins takes on robocalls.

Ancestral homeland opens up

Even thought the Right Honourable Gentleman from Uxbridge and South Ruslip remains a bloviating prat, his ministers did give me a bit of good news this morning:

Double-vaccinated travellers from the US and European Union will have their jab status recognised, meaning they can avoid quarantine when arriving in England from amber list countries, ministers have decided.

After a meeting of senior ministers on Wednesday, sources said the go-ahead was given to treat those who have been fully inoculated in the US and EU the same as British citizens.

Currently, only those who have had two vaccine doses administered by the NHS are eligible for a “Covid pass” they can show upon their arrival in England, meaning they are allowed to avoid isolating for up to 10 days if travelling from an amber list country – so long as they test negative before departure.

A date for the rule change has not yet been set. When it comes into force, it will benefit Britons living abroad, as well as US and EU citizens who are double-jabbed.

So, maybe, just maybe, I can visit the UK this fall? Maybe pretty please with sugar on top?

We're about done with this crap

As Chicago contemplates returning to a more-restrictive environment because of rising Covid-19 cases, those of us who have gotten vaccinated have had about enough of people who refuse to get the jab. This has led to our more-unhinged party backpedaling like they're about to fall off a cliff:

In late Spring it seemed like COVID was basically about over. Critically, it seemed like the non-vaccinated might be able to hitch a ride on the rest of the country’s vaccinated immunity. Everyone could drop their masks and get back into restaurants and theaters and it would all be fine. Clearly that didn’t pan out. One of the most hopeful signs in the last week is that that fact is leading a lot of people to go get vaccinated. After months of declines, the number of vaccinations is starting to rise again. But among the vaccinated there’s a growing realization that we’re going backwards, seeing rates go up, seeing some mask mandates come back because of the non-vaccinated. And people are getting frustrated. That is a big part of why you’re seeing Republicans not simply encouraging people to get vaccinated but even more trying to ditch the vaccine-resistant brand. They’re feeling exposed to shifting public opinion. In short, they don’t want to be accountable for what they’ve done.

Most elected Republicans haven’t been explicitly anti-vaccination. Indeed, even before the last couple weeks many have made low volume statements saying they’ve been vaccinated and encouraging others to do so. But they’ve almost all participated in the effort to make vaccine resistance into a kind of freedom movement – banning government or private businesses from using vaccine passports, banning mask mandates, politicizing debates over school reopenings. As a party they’ve leaned into valorizing vaccine resistance and banning any private or governmental efforts to place the burden of the consequences of non-vaccination on those who choose not to be vaccinated.

They thought that would supercharge their already happy prospects for 2022 by riding an anti-vax or anti-vax mandate wave. And now they’re thinking they may have miscalculated.

David Frum says that vaccine hesitancy, rather than outright refusal, has played a bigger role in this than those on the rational side may expect, but yeah, we're  still done with that crap:

Part of the trouble is that pro-Trump state legislatures are enacting ever more ambitious protections for people who refuse vaccines. They are forbidding business owners to ask for proof of vaccination from their customers. They are requiring cruise linessports stadiums, and bars to serve the unvaccinated. In Montana, they have even forbidden hospitals to require health-care workers to get vaccinated.

Pro-Trump vaccine resistance exacts a harsh cost from pro-Trump loyalists. We read pitiful story after pitiful story of deluded and deceived people getting sick when they did not have to get sick, infecting their loved ones, being intubated, and dying. And as these loyalists harm themselves and expose all of us to unnecessary and preventable risk, publications—including this one—have run articles sympathetically explaining the recalcitrance of the unvaccinated.

Reading about the fates of people who refused the vaccine is sorrowful. But as summer camp and travel plans are disrupted—as local authorities reimpose mask mandates that could have been laid aside forever—many in the vaccinated majority must be thinking: Yes, I’m very sorry that so many of the unvaccinated are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions. I’m also very sorry that the responsible rest of us are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions.

Compassion should always be the first reaction to vaccine hesitation. Maybe some unvaccinated people have trouble getting time off work to deal with side effects, maybe they are disorganized, maybe they are just irrationally anxious. But there’s no getting around the truth that some considerable number of the unvaccinated are also behaving willfully and spitefully. Yes, they have been deceived and manipulated by garbage TV, toxic Facebook content, and craven or crazy politicians. But these are the same people who keep talking about “personal responsibility.” In the end, the unvaccinated person himself or herself has decided to inflict a preventable and unjustifiable harm upon family, friends, neighbors, community, country, and planet.

Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself: Have you?

Oh, yes I bloody well have. And I'm looking at the Right Honourable Gentleman from Uxbridge and South Ruislip for cocking it up in my Ancestral Homeland as well. Politicizing a pandemic isn't the stupidest thing the right have ever done, but it's in the top five.

Niggling irritation at corporate hubris

Wednesday I caught a story on NPR's Morning Edition that lingered, and not in a good way. Reporter David Gura presented a story about how corporate boards have difficulty telling their top executives not to engage in risky activities. One executive Gura interviewed, former GM executive Robert Lutz, expressed his feelings thus:

ROBERT LUTZ: I will tell you, I encountered these restrictions my whole career, never took them very seriously and got away with it for 47 years.

GURA: He also liked skiing and motorcycles. And Lutz owned and flew two fighter planes. When GM wanted Lutz back for another big job in 2001, this came up, and Lutz remembers what he told the board.

LUTZ: I'm happy to rejoin the company. I'm happy to assume the post as vice chairman. But I need absolute freedom as far as my hobbies are concerned.

GURA: Lutz says he got that absolute freedom. And he flew those jets until he was 87, by the way. He had to stop two years ago when he failed an eye exam. Lutz thinks more executives should be daredevils.

LUTZ: As opposed to, you know, calm, peaceful guys who never want to put themselves at risk, always drive at the speed limit, drive a minivan as their only vehicle and so forth - who the heck wants a person like that to lead a corporation or be in a leadership position at a corporation?

Imagine that: an old, rich white guy who thinks only people like him should run corporations. No wonder America has so many problems! And that's only my first thought on why this guy pissed me off so much.

By the way, if you're 87 and have to fail an eye test to stop flying planes, that's not just putting yourself at risk; that's putting everyone at risk. No wonder GM did so well in the the early 2000s.

Did Gura not follow up on Lutz's outrageous statement because he figured the listeners would fill in the rest? Or did Gura drop the ball here? I'm tempted to ask NPR.

In the news today...

I haven't had time to read a lot lately, as I mentioned. Maybe these explain why:

And finally, a man in Chicago suburb Lisle, Ill., has made a life's work out of preserving old TV commercials.

Fallen on Hard Times

I've just yesterday finished Charles Dickens' Hard Times, his shortest and possibly most-Dickensian novel. I'm still thinking about it, and I plan to discuss it with someone who has studied it in depth later this week. I have to say, though, for a 175-year-old novel, it has a lot of relevance for our situation today.

It's by turns funny, enraging, and strange. On a few occasions I had to remind myself that Dickens himself invented a particular plot device that today has become cliché, which I also found funny, enraging, and strange. Characters with names like Gradgrind, Bounderby, and Jupe populate the smoke-covered Coketown (probably an expy for Preston, Lancashire). Writers since Dickens have parodied the (already satirical) upper-class twit and humbug-spewing mill owner so much that reading them in the original Dickens caused some mental frisson.

Dickens also spends a good bit of ink criticizing "political economics" in the novel, as did a German contemporary of his, whose deeper analysis of the same subject 13 years later informed political philosophy for 120 years.

It's going to sit with me for a while. I understand that Tom Baker played Bounderby in a BBC Radio adaptation in 1998; I may have to subscribe to Audible for that.

Know-Nothings come to Niles Public Library

The Niles, Ill., public library topped lists around the world for its best-in-class offerings. As part of the North Suburban Library System, it shares resources with other world-class public libraries, including the one I grew up in. But following the Library Board elections this past April, the Niles Public Library has become noteworthy for something completely different:

Over the course of the next few months and the installation of a new Board of Directors, the library’s funding has been deeply slashed, hours reduced to below-state-standard levels, the library director quit, and essential services to the community shuttered.

Three new Board members — Joe Makula, Susan Schoenfeldt, and Olivia Hanusiak — were elected, allowing for a return to a conservative, tax-conscious voting block. All three were candidates [Board member Carolyn] Drblik sought, and now she had enough support to be elected Board president. It’s rumored they spent up to $15,000 on this small local election. Makula himself is a Trump donor, and the group, Dove Lempke believes, is working to install themselves on taxing bodies across the state and country in order to gut public institutions from the inside.

Immediately upon the board being installed, they hired a technology consultant to investigate the library’s processes and procedures. This consultant, a wedding videographer with no auditing credentials, is simply a friend of Drblik and the rest of her new Board block and campaigned for their election.

He was hired at $100 an hour with no experience and no cap.

Consequence? The Niles Public Library is on its way to not being a world-class library. And in an odd turn of events, the entire library staff joined AFSCME Local 31 in June.

The moral of the story: vote, people! Especially in local elections.

About that Russian document

The Guardian reported on Thursday that they had obtained, and validated, a document purporting to come from a January 2016 meeting of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his security team. The document has everything an opponent of the XPOTUS could want:

They agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them “social turmoil” in the US and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position.

Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature.

There is a brief psychological assessment of Trump, who is described as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex”.

There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat, or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier “non-official visits to Russian Federation territory”.

Journalist Julia Ioffe, who has reported on Russia for years, and who has made no secret of her belief that the XPOTUS had no business visiting the White House, let alone living there, took all of this with an entire salt lick:

It sounds absolutely amazing and gratifying, but is it true? The short answer is: we don’t know, but there are...reasons to be skeptical.

As Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired C.I.A. officer who fought Russian active measures from 2017 to 2019 from inside Langley, put it, “this seems to be packaged too neatly. Kremlin documents like this don’t leak.” On this, I agree with Marc. It just seems too pat and fits the narrative we want to believe a little too neatly.

“This definitely looks like something the Kremlin could have written and ‘leaked’ for the purpose of making people look ridiculous when it’s published and everyone gets really excited about it,” said one former U.S. government official who worked on Russia. Look, for instance, at the response to the report: the American media is again talking about Trump and whether the election had been rigged by the Kremlin. (Let’s remember that undermining confidence in election security is not an exclusively Republican sport.)

Still, for all my skepticism and all my spidey senses (and sources) telling me this is probably bullshit, it’s important to allow some space for the possibility that this document is real. It might be! But it’s probably not. The real issue is, we just don’t know yet. So if you’re a journalist with good sources in the intelligence community or in the inner sanctum of the Kremlin, get on it. If you’re not, take a beat, and think about whether it’s worth sharing information we don’t yet know to be true. That’s always a good policy.

I'm with Ioffe. If something seems to good to be true, and all that. Plus, as Ioffe also says, it doesn't matter. The XPOTUS is out of office, and with all the state investigations for prosaic things like massive tax fraud coming at him, I don't think we have to worry too much about what Russia may or may not have done to him.

Scarier than we thought

According to an upcoming book by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley seriously worried about the XPOTUS attempting an autogolpe in January:

Milley described “a stomach-churning” feeling as he listened to Trump’s untrue complaints of election fraud, drawing a comparison to the 1933 attack on Germany’s parliament building that Hitler used as a pretext to establish a Nazi dictatorship.

In December, with rumors circulating that the president was preparing to fire then-CIA Director Gina Haspel and replace her with Trump loyalist Kash Patel, Milley sought to intervene, the book says. He confronted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at the annual Army-Navy football game, which Trump and other high-profile guests attended.

“What the hell is going on here?” Milley asked Meadows, according to the book’s account. “What are you guys doing?”

When Meadows responded, “Don’t worry about it,” Milley shot him a warning: “Just be careful.”

Greg Sargent warns we need immediate reforms to make sure we never get that close to a coup again:

Milley’s general overarching fear was absolutely correct: Trump and key strains of the movement behind him were unquestionably willing to resort to potentially illegal and violent means to thwart the transfer of power from Trump to the legitimately elected new government. They actually did attempt this.

On certification of federal elections, Congress could set standards for states that streamline the certification process to take pressure off low-level election boards, and place ultimate control of certification in the hands of state judicial actors who are ostensibly nonpartisan. That would make it harder to corrupt certification.

On state legislatures sending rogue electors, Congress could revise the Electoral Count Act. Ideas include setting higher evidentiary standards for objections to electors, making the threshold for objecting higher than one senator and representative, and requiring two-thirds of Congress to sustain an objection.

This could avert a 2024 scenario in which a GOP legislature in one deciding state buckles this time under pressure to send rogue electors, and a GOP-controlled chamber in Congress counts them, creating a severe crisis at best and a stolen election at worst.

Whatever reforms we choose, the basic guiding idea here should be this. We don’t just want to make it harder to corrupt these processes, but also to reduce the incentive to pressure officials at all these levels to do so, since it would be less likely to succeed.

Milley’s fear of a Trump military coup was not borne out. But this shouldn’t lead us to congratulate ourselves over Trump’s incompetence or the virtues of individual players. It should add to our urgency to act.

Scary stuff. And the Republican Party continues to push towards minority rule, having given up on democracy itself. So yes, we need to fix this, to the extent possible.

Don't play the other guy's game

Adam Gopnik makes a good point about President Biden's successful, if invisible, ideology:

Biden and his team, widely attacked as pusillanimous centrists with no particular convictions, are in fact ideologues. Their ideology is largely invisible but no less ideological for refusing to present itself out in the open. It is the belief, animating Biden’s whole career, that there is a surprisingly large area of agreement in American life and that, by appealing to that area of agreement, electoral victory and progress can be found.

He didn’t say as much as he might have or as many might have wanted [about the XPOTUS's crimes]. But this was surely due to his conviction, and the conviction of his circle, that an atmosphere of aggravation can only work to the advantage of the permanently aggrieved. With so many Americans in the grip of a totalized ideology of Trumpism—one that surmounts their obvious self-interest or normal calculations of economic utility—the way to get them out of it is to stop thinking in totalized terms. You get people out of a cult not by offering them a better cult but by helping them see why they don’t need a cult.

[L]ike a virus that infects the country, long Trump is an ailment that won’t go away.

The urge to fight it, hard, before it can return, seems irresistible. Yet Biden and his circle resist this fight, and it would be foolish to think that they resist it only out of blindness and opacity. They are betting on Charley Goldman’s wisdom: you can’t win playing the other guy’s game. This wisdom has taken them further than the more aggressive conventional kind might have imagined.

The President is about to get a $3.5 trillion infrastructure package through Congress on Democratic votes alone. He's doing everything he said he'd do, and succeeding (mostly). He might know what he's doing.