The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Holiday weekend

Tomorrow a good portion of the United States will celebrate our independence from the UK. NPR this morning reminded me about the portion of the US that Frederick Douglass described in his speech to the Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, N.Y., on 5 July 1852.

I think everyone should take 15 minutes and listen to it. Or read it, in full here. Or watch James Earl Jones read part of it here:

Today's lunchtime reading

As I take a minute from banging away on C# code to savor my BBQ pork on rice from the local Chinese takeout, I have these to read:

And today's fortune cookie says: "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst in bed."

It's not "reopening"

Josh Marshall points out that talking about "reopening," before we have a cure or vaccine for Covid-19, is facile at best and dangerous at worst:

From the start this metaphor has saddled us with distorting language and a distorted concept which has enabled and driven bad policy. It suggests a binary choice when one doesn’t exist. The impact goes beyond semantics.

Most of Europe and East Asia have been able to stamp out COVID or reduce it to very low, manageable levels. We haven’t. You may have heard about that new outbreak in Beijing. By the time an aggressive eradication plan had stamped it out approximately 250 people had been infected. New York State has two or three times that many cases today and it’s doing better than any other state in the country.

There’s no reason beyond conscious choice and policy failure to explain this. Testing is critical. Absolutely critical. But the truth is that the scale of testing continues to rise in the US and it is currently at or above levels in most of these other countries which are now emerging into a new normal of economic and social life. But testing is to a large degree like an instrument panel on a plane. It tells you where you’re going. Up? Down? Fast? Slow? Are you flying into a mountain? In most of the states which let down their guard and allowed indoor dining and bars to reopen the testing sent really clear signals. The tests are there to tell you what’s coming so you can react. In many of these states the testing data said, “You’re flying into the mountain.” They kept flying straight. You can’t blame that on the testing.

We’ve learned a lot we didn’t know four months ago. At least for Europe and North America masking is perhaps the biggest example. Almost as critical is the importance of indoor transmission. Indoors, close quarters, poor ventilation or air conditioning, lots of loud talking. These all make for COVID free fire zones. They are close to the definition of bars and night clubs. Reopening them before COVID is beaten down to negligible levels is madness. And even then it’s probably a bad idea.

There’s no “reopening”. There are different mitigation strategies and there’s how seriously you take the whole enterprise.

Even Illinois, which had seen consistent declines in infection and positive test rates has now leveled off again. I think this meme sums it up pretty well:

Halfway there...

Welp, it's July now, so we've completed half of 2020. (You can insert your own adverb there; I'll go with "only.")

A couple of things magically changed or got recorded at midnight, though. Among them:

And finally, I am now officially the President of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. My first task: ensure that our annual fundraiser, Apollo After Hours, brings in the dough. More on that later.

In the news this morning

Vox has called the US Senate Democratic Party primary in Kentucky for Amy McGrath, but the main national outlets don't have it yet. [Note: I have contributed financially to Amy McGrath's campaign.] So while I wait for confirmation from the Washington Post (or, you know, the Kentucky State Board of Elections), here's other fun stuff:

Finally, Jeffrey Toobin attempts to explain "Why the Mueller Investigation Failed."

Update: NBC calls Kentucky for McGrath.

Happy Monday!

Need another reason to vote for Biden? Slower news cycles. Because just this morning we've had these:

So, you know, nothing too interesting.

What if the NTSB investigated our pandemic response?

Private pilot and journalist Jim Fallows suggests an answer:

Consider a thought experiment: What if the NTSB were brought in to look at the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic? What would its investigation conclude? I’ll jump to the answer before laying out the background: This was a journey straight into a mountainside, with countless missed opportunities to turn away. A system was in place to save lives and contain disaster. The people in charge of the system could not be bothered to avoid the doomed course.

The organization below differs from that of a standard NTSB report, but it covers the key points. Timelines of aviation disasters typically start long before the passengers or even the flight crew knew anything was wrong, with problems in the design of the airplane, the procedures of the maintenance crew, the route, or the conditions into which the captain decided to fly. In the worst cases, those decisions doomed the flight even before it took off. My focus here is similarly on conditions and decisions that may have doomed the country even before the first COVID-19 death had been recorded on U.S. soil.

What happened once the disease began spreading in this country was a federal disaster in its own right: Katrina on a national scale, Chernobyl minus the radiation. It involved the failure to test; the failure to trace; the shortage of equipment; the dismissal of masks; the silencing or sidelining of professional scientists; the stream of conflicting, misleading, callous, and recklessly ignorant statements by those who did speak on the national government’s behalf. As late as February 26, Donald Trump notoriously said of the infection rate, “You have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero.” What happened after that—when those 15 cases became 15,000, and then more than 2 million, en route to a total no one can foretell—will be a central part of the history of our times.

But what happened in the two months before Trump’s statement, when the United States still had a chance of containing the disease where it started or at least buffering its effects, is if anything worse.

How 40% of the voting public can still support this administration baffles me.

Adhering to our Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort

So, did the president know about and fail to act on this intelligence, or did his staff conceal it from him? I don't really care; either answer should disqualify them from continuing to work in the White House:

United States intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors as early as January to a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The crucial information that led the spies and commandos to focus on the bounties included the recovery of a large amount of American cash from a raid on a Taliban outpost that prompted suspicions. Interrogations of captured militants and criminals played a central role in making the intelligence community confident in its assessment that the Russians had offered and paid bounties in 2019, another official has said.

The emerging details added to the picture of the classified intelligence assessment, which The New York Times reported on Friday was briefed to President Trump and discussed by the White House’s National Security Council at an interagency meeting in late March. The Trump administration had yet to act against the Russians, the officials said.

Mr. Trump defended himself on Sunday by denying that he had been briefed on the intelligence, expanding on a similar White House rebuttal a day earlier, as leading congressional Democrats and even some Republicans demanded a response to Russia that the administration had yet to authorize.

Read that last graf again: the president responded not by demanding Russia stop the practice, not by sending his flaccid Secretary of State to excoriate Putin in person, not by doing anything that a normal person would do in this situation. No, the president flatly lied that he just didn't know about the contents of his daily intelligence brief. I guess he didn't want to risk offending his KGB case officer.

Remember back in 2015 and 2016 when we worried a lot about Russia's influence over Trump? This is not something I wanted to be correct about, but the evidence is pretty damning.

In the real world, these would both be career-ending gaffes

This morning, President Trump re-Tweeted a racist video that included a supporter yelling "white power," thanking the elderly Florida gentleman in question for his support. Even though that would end most other presidencies right there, it turns out that this weekend has seen even worse behavior throughout his administration:

Five months after the novel coronavirus was first detected in the United States, a record surge in new cases is the clearest sign yet of the country’s historic failure to control the virus — exposing a crisis in governance extending from the Oval Office to state capitals to city councils.

President Trump — who has repeatedly downplayed the virus, sidelined experts and misled Americans about its dangers and potential cures — now finds his presidency wracked by an inability to shepherd the country through its worst public health calamity in a century. The dysfunction that has long characterized Trump’s White House has been particularly ill-suited for a viral outbreak that requires precision, focus and steady leadership, according to public health experts, administration officials and lawmakers from both parties.

A similarly garbled message for the country has also been put forward by the president’s top aides and other senior administration officials, who contradict one another on a daily basis. On Friday, Vice President Pence used the first White House coronavirus task force briefing in almost two months to praise Trump’s handling of the virus and cast aside concerns about a record spike in new infections.

“We have made a truly remarkable progress in moving our nation forward,” Pence said, a few minutes after announcing that more than 2.5 million Americans had contracted the coronavirus. “We’ve all seen the encouraging news as we open up America again.”

Later Friday, the United States recorded more than 40,000 new coronavirus cases — its largest one-day total.

As one political scientist observed, "We're the only country in the world that has politicized the approach to a pandemic."

We need to get rid of these clowns on November 3rd.

Princeton drops the Wilson name

Princeton University has removed the name of their 13th president (and the 28th President of the United States) from their School of Public Policy:

Wilson’s racism was significant and consequential even by the standards of his own time. He segregated the federal civil service after it had been racially integrated for decades, thereby taking America backward in its pursuit of justice.  He not only acquiesced in but added to the persistent practice of racism in this country, a practice that continues to do harm today.

Wilson’s segregationist policies make him an especially inappropriate namesake for a public policy school. When a university names a school of public policy for a political leader, it inevitably suggests that the honoree is a model for students who study at the school. This searing moment in American history has made clear that Wilson’s racism disqualifies him from that role. In a nation that continues to struggle with racism, this University and its school of public and international affairs must stand clearly and firmly for equality and justice. The School will now be known as “The Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.”

Wilson is a different figure from, say, John C. Calhoun or Robert E. Lee, whose fame derives from their defenses of the Confederacy and slavery (Lee was often honored for the very purpose of expressing sympathy for segregation and opposition to racial equality). Princeton honored Wilson not because of, but without regard to or perhaps even in ignorance of, his racism.

That, however, is ultimately the problem. Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against Black people. When Derek Chauvin knelt for nearly nine minutes on George Floyd’s neck while bystanders recorded his cruelty, he might have assumed that the system would disregard, ignore, or excuse his conduct, as it had done in response to past complaints against him.

Josh Marshall thinks this was the correct decision:

Wilson was also a thoroughgoing Southerner and Lost Cause defender. Indeed, his scholarship as a history professor – mostly notably in Division and Reunion – played an important role in building a historiography that portrayed slavery as a generally benign institution and Reconstruction as a tragic failure that oppressed the white South with corruption and tyranny. Wilson was a thoroughgoing racist even by the standards of his own day. His attitude toward African-Americans and their political rights don’t just look bad from the perspective of the day. They were widely considered retrograde even in his own day.

This was a through-line throughout Wilson’s career, first as a scholar, a university president, governor and finally President. When he became President he segregated the federal workforce which had been integrated since Reconstruction. Indeed, it’s not too much to say that on becoming President Wilson began a thoroughgoing program of bringing Jim Crow to the federal workplace. The Post Office and Treasury set up separate bathrooms and lunch rooms for black and white employees. He even went so far as to institute a policy of requiring federal office-seekers to append photographs to their applications.

Wilson was the second Democrat and the first Southerner to become President after the Civil War. He brought thoroughly Southern white attitudes toward Blacks to the federal government and worked quickly to put them into effect.

Good on Princeton, though perhaps 50 years too late. I'm glad for the changes finally coming to the US. I'm just astounded that it has taken over 150 400 years.