The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Supposes Moses was an Asshat

Not Moishe, the mythological figure; Moses, the all-too-real figure in New York City history. I'm about halfway through Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, The Power Broker, and I want to dig Moses up and punch him in the face.

The thing about really intelligent narcissists is they can, in fact, get their way, even when—especially when—they encounter real criticism. The crowning achievement of Moses' narcissism might be the West Side Improvement, comprising the West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway, which run along the Hudson River from the top of Manhattan Island to the bottom. The story of how and why Moses built it where he built it takes up about 40 pages of the book, but Caro sums it up starting at the bottom of page 565:

Robert Moses had spent $109,000,000 [in 1938, worth $2.05 billion in 2021] of the public's money on the West Side Improvement. Counting the money expended on his advice by other city agencies on the portion of the Improvement south of Seventy-second Street, the Improvement had cost the public more than $200,000,000 [$3.8 billion in 2021].

But the total cost of the Improvement cannot be reckoned merely in dollars. The West Side Improvement also cost the people of New York City their most majestic waterfront, their most majestic forest, a unique residential community, and their last fresh-water marsh.

When the Improvement was finished, all these things were gone forever.

Adding them to the cost of the West Side Improvement, one might wonder if the Improvement had not cost New York City more than it was worth. Adding them into the cost, one might wonder if the West Side Improvement was really, on its total balance sheet, an "improvement" at all. One might wonder if it was not, on balance, a tragic and irremediable loss.

In the pages leading up to that conclusion, Caro spends some time discussing how the park Moses built along highway stopped at 125th Street. From there up to 155th Street, instead of a park, the African-American residents of Harlem got an elevated highway, with one little playground whose finishes included little monkey carvings on the stonework. You will not be surprised to learn that no other park in the project had a monkey motif.

Another thing, of which I can almost excuse him, was Moses' complete rejection of evidence of "induced demand," how increasing road capacity also increases congestion at a faster rate. That is, if you double road capacity, you will more than double the number of cars on the road. I can almost excuse him because traffic planners still ignore this phenomenon much of the time.

So halfway through the book I'm only at the end of 1938. We still have 25 years or so before Moses meets Jane Jacobs—and according to the index, Caro doesn't even cover that.

The American Republic

I'm sure I must have read this when it came out, but I have just (re-?)read Andrew Sullivan's 2019 essay "Our Caesar," just to refresh my sadness at the parallels between early-21st-century America and early-2nd-century-BCE Rome:

It’s impossible to review the demise of the Roman Republic and not be struck by the parallel dynamics in America in 2019. We now live, as the Romans did, in an economy of massive wealth increasingly monopolized by the very rich, in which the whole notion of principled public service has been eclipsed by the pursuit of private wealth and reality-show fame. Cynicism about the system is endemic, as in Rome. The concept of public service has evaporated as swiftly as trust in government had collapsed. When the republican virtues of a Robert Mueller collided this year with the populist pathologies of Donald Trump, we saw how easily a culture that gave us Cicero could turn into a culture that gave us Caesar.

Some argue that although the president has obviously attempted to break the law many times and lies with pathological abandon, he still hasn’t openly defied a court order, suspended an election, or authorized something as lawless as torture. He talks and walks like a dictator, but in practice, his incompetence and inability to focus or plan or even read saves us. That, it seems to me, misses three things. The first is the president’s rhetoric. What happened to the Roman republic was a slow slide into public illegitimacy, intensified by the way in which elites played by the rules only when it suited them and broke precedents and norms when it came to defending their own interests, complaining loudly when others did the same.

If republican virtues and liberal democratic values are a forest of traditions and norms, Trump has created a vast and expanding clearing. What Rome’s experience definitively shows is that once this space is cleared, even if it is not immediately filled, some day it will be. Someone shrewder, more ruthless, focused, and competent, can easily exploit the wider vista for authoritarianism. Or Trump himself, more liberated than ever in a second term, huffing the fumes of his own power, could cross a Rubicon for which he has prepared us all.

It took about 200 years and unending civil war for the Roman Republic to become the Roman Empire. How much time have we got?

Thursday evening post

Some stories in the news this week:

Finally, the House Oversight and Reform Committee advanced DC statehood legislation. The full house may even pass the DC Admission Act next week.

Winthrop Cooperative, Monday

The United Winthrop Tower Cooperative started life in the early 1970s as a public housing development. In response to rising crime and costs on the order of $1m a year, the residents bought the building from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1993 and turned it into the affordable-housing co-op it remains today.

We had a really cool sunset Tuesday evening, so I snapped this on my walk with Cassie.

Yes, firearms have changed

An emergency-room doctor grew up in suburban New York learning how to shoot. She has watched gunshot wounds get worse since she started practicing medicine in the 1990s, for a simple reason:

In the 1990s, by which time I was an emergency-room doctor at a Level 1 trauma center in New York City, I became acquainted with the damage that small-caliber handguns could cause. When I started treating gunshot victims, I marveled at how subtle and clean the wounds often were, externally at least. Much cleaner than stabbings or car-wreck injuries.

We searched for a tiny entrance wound and the larger exit wound; they were often subtle and hard to locate. If you couldn’t find the latter, you would often see the tiny metal bullet, or fragments, lodged somewhere internally on an X-ray — often not worth retrieving because it was doing no damage.

Guns and the devastating injuries they cause have evolved into things I don’t recognize anymore. My Remington .22 has about as much in common with an assault-style weapon as an amoeba has with a human life. The injuries they produce don’t belong under one umbrella of “gun violence.” Though both crimes are heinous, the guy who shoots someone with an old pistol in a mugging is a different kind of perpetrator from the person who, dressed in body armor, carries a semiautomatic weapon into a theater, house of worship or school and commences a slaughter.

[N]o disaster drill really prepares an emergency room for a situation where multiple people are shot with today’s semiautomatic weapons. You might save a few people with careful triage and preparation. Most just die.

Any other trade association whose products got more dangerous every day would soon be sued into oblivion. It's time to kill the NRA, and return to sensible firearms regulation.

The overlap between stupid and criminal

Boy, did we get a clown car full of them today. Let's start with Joel Greenberg, the dingus whose bad behavior got US Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) caught up in a sex-trafficking investigation:

Records and interviews detailed a litany of accusations: Mr. Greenberg strutted into work with a pistol on his hip in a state that does not allow guns to be openly carried. He spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to create no-show jobs for a relative and some of his groomsmen. He tried to talk his way out of a traffic ticket, asking a police officer for “professional courtesy.” He played police officer himself, putting a flashing light on his car to pull over a woman and accuse her of speeding. He published an anti-Muslim Facebook post. He solicited help to hack critics on the county commission.

Stalking a rival candidate got him arrested. Federal agents looking into the matter found at least five fake IDs in his wallet and backpack, and kept digging.

Their inquiry culminated in 33 federal charges against Mr. Greenberg, 36, including sex trafficking of a minor, bribery, fraud and stalking — and led to a mushrooming political scandal that burst into national news in recent days and ensnared Mr. Gaetz, who is a close ally of President Donald J. Trump, and other influential Florida Republicans, with the investigation continuing.

I mean, of course they live in Florida.

Moving on, local restaurant Tank Noodle must pay back a $150,000 pandemic grant to the state because of previous bad behavior:

Tank Noodle will have to return the $150,000 business interruption grant it received from the state of Illinois last year. The popular Vietnamese restaurant at 4953 N. Broadway violated the terms of the state grant program by running afoul of federal labor laws, said Lauren Huffman, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

The mandate to return the grant money comes weeks after Tank Noodle also was forced to pay almost $700,000 in back wages to employees it didn’t adequately compensate, federal investigators found as part of a two-year investigation.

Tank Noodle withheld pay and used illegal employment practices for 60 of its employees, a labor department investigation concluded. In addition to making servers work for tips, a violation of federal work laws, the investigation also found Tank Noddle shorted servers when the business pooled tips and divided the money among all staff, including management.

The restaurant drew ire from customers after its owners attended a Jan. 6 rally in support of former President Donald Trump that ended in the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Former customers, I should say. The stretch of Argyle Street they anchor has about 15 Vietnamese restaurants that not only serve better food than Tank Noodle, but also don't steal from their employees.

Finally, the Brennan Center has taken notice of 361 proposals in 47 states designed to limit voting participation:

These measures have begun to be enacted. Five restrictive bills have already been signed into law. In addition, at least 55 restrictive bills in 24 states are moving through legislatures: 29 have passed at least one chamber, while another 26 have had some sort of committee action (e.g., a hearing, an amendment, or a committee vote).

During the same timeframe, pro-voter legislators, often in the very same state houses, are pushing back, seeking to make permanent the changes that led to the biggest voter turnout in over a century. In a different set of 47 states, 843 bills with expansive provisions have been introduced in a different set of 47 states (up from 704 bills as of February 19, 2021). Of these, nine expansive bills have been signed into law. In addition, at least 112 bills with expansive provisions are moving in 31 states: 9 have passed both chambers and are awaiting signature (including a bill to restore voting rights in Washington), 41 have passed one chamber, and 62 have had some sort of committee action.

I'll comb through some of those later. Now, I have a meeting, following which Cassie has to go to the dog park. Really, she has to, or I'll lose my mind with her nudging me.

Duke of Edinburgh dies at 99

His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich of Greenwich in the County of London, Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom, has died just shy of his 100th birthday:

A statement issued by the palace just after midday spoke of the Queen's "deep sorrow" following his death at Windsor Castle on Friday morning.

The Duke of Edinburgh, the longest-serving royal consort in British history, was at the Queen's side for more than her six decades of reign.

The BBC's royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell said it was "a moment of sadness" for the country and "most particularly, for the Queen losing her husband of 73 years - a bigger span of years than most of us can imagine".

He said Prince Philip had made "a huge contribution to the success of the Queen's reign", describing the duke as "utterly loyal in his belief in the importance of the role that the Queen was fulfilling - and in his duty to support her".

The Duke would have turned 100 on June 10th. Prince Charles became the new Duke of Edinburgh upon his father's death. The title will revert to the Crown when Charles becomes King.

Reactionaries

Today's Republican Party has gone so far from an actual policy-making political entity that one wonders if they see their own self-owns. Right now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said so many nonsensical things about President Biden's key proposals that I have trouble taking him seriously.

OK, I have more trouble lately.

As Paul Krugman pointed out this week, Republicans oppose Biden's proposals because they don't want him to succeed. But this strategy has run into the reality of 75% of their own voters supporting the recovery plan passed in January and the infrastructure bill proposed late last month.

And now they're all a-twitter about vaccine passports.

It's sad watching the Party of Lincoln implode. They could pull out of their death spiral, the way we did in the late 1980s, but right now I'm not optimistic. In the past, parties that have reinvented themselves have done so through popular policy initiatives: the Democrats with civil rights, the Republicans with anti-trust law. The parties that have died failed to say what they stood for, only what they stood against: the Federalists (against the expansion of civil rights in the 1790s), the Know-Nothings (against the expansion of civil rights in the 1850s), the Whigs (against the Know-Nothings in the 1850s, but apparently against themselves as well).

You can see this most clearly in the Republican Party's anger at corporations who have come out against Republican voting suppression laws. Republicans love corporate involvement in politics most of the time, because corporations love right-wing governments most of the time—but in this case, companies have realized the GOP are on the wrong side of history. Josh Marshall made a good argument (paywalled) that corporations take the future into account, and the future doesn't look like the modern GOP's imagined past. So they're making low-cost efforts to ensure the young people who will buy things for the next 60 years don't hate them. The old people who don't buy things now, let alone for the next 10 or 20 years, don't influence profits quite as much.

I want a real opposition party, one with real ideas, not this clown show of right-wing anti-populism that hasn't had a serious policy proposal in 30 years.

Alexandra Petri on Matt Gaetz

Humorist Alexandra Petri didn't write a humor column today:

There are several details of the Matt Gaetz story that keep sticking in my head, but the one that sticks in it most is the report that the Florida Republican used to wander around and show his colleagues nude photos of people he had slept with.

I keep coming back to the detail in CNN’s report that this wasn’t something Matt Gaetz did a single time, but repeatedly. Because if it happened more than once — if it happened twice, even — that is because the first time went better than it should have.

To me, this is something you do, ideally, zero times.

So I am not writing this for Matt Gaetz. I am talking to the person who was on the receiving end. The person who was presented with this behavior and had a choice of how to respond. I am talking to the person without whose chuckle or back-slap this situation would, perhaps, have been just a little less bad.

This is a plea for those small awkward no’s. The moment will inevitably come for you to offer one. And when I think of how much difference could be made by just one person, one guy in a locker room, or around a campfire, or even on the floor of Congress, saying, uncomfortably, “What?” or “Why would you show someone that?” — sometimes I want to chew glass. It is a small favor to ask. But it could reshape this whole place, if it happened enough.

She's right. When confronted with an asshole, sometimes you need to tell him he's being one.

Chaos in Israel

Via Josh Marshall, Pfizer has halted vaccine shipments to Israel because political chaos there has made the company worry about getting paid:

Pfizer has halted shipments of coronavirus vaccines to Israel in outrage over the country failing to transfer payment for the last 2.5 million doses it supplied to the country, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Senior officials at Pfizer have said they are concerned that the government-in-transition will not pay up and the company does not want to be taken advantage of. They said that they do not understand how such a situation can occur in an organized country.

Army Radio reported that Pfizer called Israel a “banana republic.”

A shipment of 700,000 doses was expected to arrive in Israel on Sunday but was delayed until further notice.

Marshall puts this in wider context:

After a number of delays, a prosecutor began his opening statement today in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu was in court today, with the jarring images you would expect from such a moment going out over the news wires.

The issue is the paralysis of the government and the breakdown of the deal Netanyahu used to hold on to power after election number three last spring. Last week, the cabinet was supposed to meet to approve the payment. But the meeting was canceled because of infighting between Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz. The two had agreed to form a power-sharing government in which the two would trade off as Prime Minister, with Netanyahu holding the job until later this year when he would hand the job over to Gantz. (This was last done in Israel in the mid-1980s in a deal between Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres.)

It's a common story: corruption, right-wing governments trying to retain power at any cost, corruption, a popular right-wing leader who really only cares about himself, and corruption.