The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sears sues Eddie Lampert

While waiting for the Mueller Report to download (spare a moment to pity the Justice Department's servers), an alert came in from Crain's:

The bankrupt estate of Sears Holdings Corp. sued Eddie Lampert and his hedge fund ESL Investments Inc., claiming they wrongly transferred $2 billion of company assets beyond the reach of creditors in the years leading up to the retailer’s bankruptcy.

“Had defendants not taken these improper and illegal actions, Sears would have had billions of dollars more to pay its third-party creditors today and would not have endured the amount of disruption, expense, and job losses resulting from its recent bankruptcy,” lawyers for the estate said in a court filing.

The complaint, filed as part of the retailer’s ongoing bankruptcy case, asks that the transactions be ruled fraudulent transfers and says creditors should be compensated.

Lawyers for the estate also allege that ESL stripped Sears of the real estate under 266 of the retailer’s most profitable stores, undervaluing the land by at least $649 million. “Moreover, the culpable insiders arranged for Sears to lease the properties back under blatantly unfair terms,” according to the complaint.

No kidding.

It's interesting to me how people who claim that the government has no right to interfere in private affairs seem to make that claim to avoid scrutiny of shady behavior. And Lampert seems to be one of the shadiest.

Jallianwalh Bagh, 100 years later

One hundred years ago this hour (Sunday 13 April 1919, 17:37 HMT), Brig. General Reginald Dyer order his men to fire on 10,000 unarmed Indian civilians within an enclosed space from which they had no escape:

On the afternoon of April 13, a crowd of at least 10,000 men, women, and children gathered in an open space known as the Jallianwalla Bagh, which was nearly completely enclosed by walls and had only one exit. It is not clear how many people there were protesters who were defying the ban on public meetings and how many had come to the city from the surrounding region to celebrate Baisakhi, a spring festival. Dyer and his soldiers arrived and sealed off the exit. Without warning, the troops opened fire on the crowd, reportedly shooting hundreds of rounds until they ran out of ammunition. It is not certain how many died in the bloodbath, but, according to one official report, an estimated 379 people were killed, and about 1,200 more were wounded. After they ceased firing, the troops immediately withdrew from the place, leaving behind the dead and wounded.

The shooting was followed by the proclamation of martial law in the Punjab that included public floggings and other humiliations. Indian outrage grew as news of the shooting and subsequent British actions spread throughout the subcontinent. The Bengali poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore renounced the knighthood that he had received in 1915. Gandhi was initially hesitant to act, but he soon began organizing his first large-scale and sustained nonviolent protest (satyagraha) campaign, the noncooperation movement (1920–22), which thrust him to prominence in the Indian nationalist struggle.

The government of India ordered an investigation of the incident (the Hunter Commission), which in 1920 censured Dyer for his actions and ordered him to resign from the military. Reaction in Britain to the massacre was mixed, however. Many condemned Dyer’s actions—including Sir Winston Churchill, then secretary of war, in a speech to the House of Commons in 1920—but the House of Lords praised Dyer and gave him a sword inscribed with the motto “Saviour of the Punjab.” In addition, a large fund was raised by Dyer’s sympathizers and presented to him. The Jallianwalla Bagh site in Amritsar is now a national monument.

At an inquest after the event, Dyer had no remorse for his actions, and volunteered that had he managed to get the tank he had with him into the square, he would have used its cannon to further attack the civilians.

Both the massacre and the inquest were dramatized in the 1982 film Gandhi, which won Best Picture that year.

The Commons debate about the incident that took place on 8 July 1920 offers some context for the current Commons debate about Brexit. Indeed, the massacre and its aftermath should put paid any notions that the United Kingdom has always stood up for human rights, even in the last century, or has a particular sensitivity to its own citizens who come from outside the British Isles.

In the debate, the Secretary of State for War, a Mr. Churchill of some repute, gave the view I should hope all Britons would have had:

If the road had not been so narrow, the machine guns and the armoured cars would have joined in. Finally, when the ammunition had reached the point that only enough remained to allow for the safe return of the troops, and after 379 persons, which is about the number gathered together in this Chamber to-day, had been killed, and when most certainly 1,200 or more had been wounded, the troops, at whom not even a stone had been thrown, swung round and marched away. I deeply regret to find myself in a difference of opinion from many of those with whom, on the general drift of the world's affairs at the present time, I feel myself in the strongest sympathy; but I do not think it is in the interests of the British Empire or of the British Army, for us to take a load of that sort for all time upon our backs. We have to make it absolutely clear, some way or other, that this is not the British way of doing business.

Reading through the debate, however, it almost seems as if Churchill were in the minority. He wasn't, but only because the less-racist MPs in the House at that moment largely kept quiet.

The thinking behind Dyer's mass murder led directly to the thinking behind Lord Louis Mountbatten's precipitous and disastrous withdrawal from India in 1947, whose principal consequence has been 72 years of nonstop hostilities between India and Pakistan. And it leads directly to Brexit.

Stuff I didn't read because I was having lunch in the sun

We have actual spring weather today, so instead of reading things while eating lunch I was watching things, like this corgi:

I do have a few things to read while coordinating a rehearsal later tonight. To wit:

  • New York City declared a public health emergency because of measles. Measles. A childhood disease we almost eradicated before people started believing falsehoods about vaccination.
  • White House senior troll Stephen Miller has the president's ear, with predictable consequences.
  • Where did all of Chicago's taverns go? We used to have two to a block.
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin admitted that the White House and the IRS have discussed releasing the president's tax forms, contrary to the statute meant to keep the White House from influencing the IRS.
  • Why is Canadian PM Justin Trudeau imploding so fast?
  • The UK Government has started preparing for EU elections next month, a sign that they expect to get an extension on the Brexit timeline from the EU. If not, then they will crash out of the union at 5pm Chicago time Thursday, scoring one of the worst own-goals in the history of world politics. (It's worth noting that losing the American colonies was another one.) I can't wait for PMQs tomorrow.

Today's weather, of course, is just a teaser. We even have snow flurries in the forecast for Friday. Welcome to Chicago.

Climate science panel reforms independently

After President Trump disbanded the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment  in August 2017, the group got back together on its own:

The panel is now known as the Science to Climate Action Network (Scan) and has now completed work it would have finished for the federal government, releasing a report on Thursday warning that Americans are being put at risk from the impacts of a warming planet due to a muddled response to climate science.

“We were concerned that the federal government is missing an opportunity to get better information into the hands of those who prepare for what we have already unleashed,” said Richard Moss, a member of Scan and a visiting scientist at Columbia University, who previously chaired the federal panel.

“We’re only just starting to see the effects of climate change, it’s only going to get much worse. But we haven’t yet rearranged our daily affairs to adapt to science we have,” he added.

The fourth National Climate Assessment, released on the day after Thanksgiving last year, detailed how climate change is already harming Americans, with sobering findings on future impacts. At the time, Trump said he didn’t believe the report.

Columbia University and the American Meteorological Association are funding the reconstituted panel.

David Graeber on Bullshit Jobs

I've just started reading anthropologist David Graeber's book Bullshit Jobs. It's hilarious and depressing at the same time. For a good summary, I would point you to Graeber's own essay "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs" that ran in Strike seven years ago:

A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ‘professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers’ tripled, growing ‘from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.’ In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be.)

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

It's as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don't really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

The book expands on the essay's themes, and adds scholarship, so it's therefore even more depressing than the original column. But he suggests an alternative: public policies to redistribute wealth back to the people who created it, and actually free up our time from these bullshit jobs.

Too funny, except it's not

I had planned to talk about this thoughtful article on congestion pricing and how free roads aren't really free, but just a few minutes ago I saw a headline that made me laugh out loud:

President Trump is planning to nominate former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, two people familiar with the push said, a move that would significantly escalate the White House’s effort to exert political pressure on the U.S. central bank.

A Senate GOP leadership aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the nominee’s prospects, predicted that Cain would ultimately not have the support to be confirmed.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the ranking Democrat on the Banking Committee, suggested Cain and Moore were both underqualified for the Fed board.

"I thought it was a joke at first when I heard that, but I guess it's at least as serious as Stephen Moore," he said. "I'll just leave it at that for now."

"Underqualified." No, I'm underqualified for the Fed. The administration's proposed nominees are so unqualified laughter is the only option at this point. Remember, Cain is the guy who ran for president in 2012 without the slightest guess about the location (or names) of several strategically-important countries, making Rex Tillerson look like a Rhodes scholar.

Remember, these guys hate competence, especially in government. But wow, I didn't think they'd go this far. It's hard to believe Trump filed for bankruptcy all those times, with his giant brain.

Lightfoot elected mayor of Chicago

Last night, Chicago elected its first African-American female mayor:

After waging a campaign focused on upending the vaunted Chicago political machine, Lightfoot dismantled one of its major cogs by dispatching Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, whose candidacy had been hobbled in part by an anti-incumbent mood among voters and an ongoing federal corruption investigation at City Hall.

Lightfoot’s campaign, which started last May as a long-shot bid to replace the city’s clouted politics with inclusive change, took the former federal prosecutor and first-time candidate from toiling in relative political obscurity to toppling the head of the Cook County Democratic Party.

With roughly 97 percent of the city’s precincts reporting, Lightfoot had swept all 50 of Chicago’s wards, winning 74 percent of the unofficial vote to 26 percent for Preckwinkle, a 28-year officeholder who prior to her eight years as the county’s chief executive served 19 years as a Hyde Park alderman.

Lightfoot will be sworn in as Chicago’s 56th mayor on May 20 while Preckwinkle will return to her third term running the county after a humiliating defeat that included losing her own 4th Ward by 20 points.

In my own ward, the incumbent alderman wound up ahead by just 23 votes out of about 12,000 cast, but there are still some provisional and absentee ballots to count. I suspect this will go to a recount.

No short delay, UK: Juncker

Theresa May has fewer and fewer options available to complete the one job she signed up for today after EU President Jean-Claude Juncker flatly rejected May's request for a second short Brexit delay:

Speaking to the European parliament, Juncker instead set an “ultimate deadline” of 12 April for the Commons to approve the withdrawal agreement.

“If it has not done so by then, no further short extension will be possible,” he said. “After 12 April, we risk jeopardising the European parliament elections, and so threaten the functioning of the European Union.”

Juncker said that at that point the UK would face a no-deal Brexit but that the EU would not “kick out” a member state, in a reference to the certain offer of a lengthy extension of article 50.

The EU27 is looking at an extension until at least the end of the year, with the most probable end date being the end of March 2020.

Juncker said: “Yet I believe that a no deal at midnight on 12 April is now a very likely scenario. It is not the outcome I want. But it is an outcome for which I have made sure the European Union is ready.

No word yet from Number 10 on whether the government would seek a longer extension.

Back in the US, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who went to university in the UK, says the country has gone mad:

The entire Brexit choice was presented to the public in 2016 with utterly misleading simplicity. It was sold with a pack of lies about both the size of the benefits and the ease of implementation, and it continues to be pushed by Conservative hard-liners who used to care about business but are now obsessed with restoring Britain’s “sovereignty” over any economic considerations.

They don’t seem to be listening at all to people like Tom Enders, C.E.O. of the aerospace giant Airbus, which employs more than 14,000 people in the U.K., with around 110,000 more local jobs connected to its supply chains. Enders has warned the political leadership here that if the U.K. just crashes out of the E.U. in the coming weeks, Airbus may be forced to make some “potentially very harmful decisions” about its operations in Britain.

“Please don’t listen to the Brexiteers’ madness which asserts that ‘because we have huge plants here we will not move. …’ They are wrong,” he said. “And, make no mistake, there are plenty of countries out there who would love to build the wings for Airbus aircraft.”

Britain is ruled today by a party that wants to disconnect from a connected world. The notion that the U.K. will suddenly get a great free-trade deal from Trump as soon as it quits the E.U. is ludicrous. Trump believes in competitive nationalism, and the very reason he is promoting the breakup of the E.U. is that he believes America can dominate the E.U.’s individual economies much better than when they negotiate together as the single biggest market in the world.

Madness indeed. The two-week reprieve from a no-deal Brexit has only 9 days left to run. This is terrifying. Since her premiership is over no matter what she does, Theresa May should just cancel Article 50 entirely and then take her seat in the House of Lords.

May and Corbyn to talk Brexit

After a Parliamentary session yesterday demonstrating that no one is able to compromise with anyone else, in which MPs voted down four more proposals for Brexit, PM Theresa May today said she'd seek talks with Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn to see what kind of a coalition they could cobble together:

In a brief TV statement inside No 10 following a seven-hour cabinet meeting, the prime minister said she would hold talks with Jeremy Corbyn to seek a Brexit plan they could agree on and “both could put to the house”.

If agreement with the Labour leader was impossible, May said, the plan would be to put to a vote in parliament a series of Brexit options, with the government committing to enact whatever idea won support.

This would require another extension to article 50, May said, but added that she aimed for this to not go beyond 22 May, thus ensuring the UK would not need to take part in European elections.

With only 10 days to go before the current Brexit deadline, neither Parliament nor the government can figure out what to do. This is already the stupidest thing the UK has ever done to itself, and I'm including the Intolerable Acts, the Corn Laws, and Oliver Cromwell in the list.

There's an expression pilots use to describe uncontrolled flying: "in physics." Once an aircraft is in physics, you get to read about it in an NTSB report a week later.

The House of Commons is in physics.