The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Breaking the logjam

After four years with a do-nothing governor—seriously, he did absolutely nothing—this weekend almost made up for it. The Illinois legislature passed a ton of bills that we've needed (or wanted) for a long time:

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and those who believe state government needs to play a bigger, more expansive role than it has got just about everything they wanted in the session that ran only a couple of days over, from new policies on hot-button social issues such as abortion, marijuana and gambling to movement toward a graduated income tax, a higher minimum wage, a balanced budget and the largest capital program in state history.

Ironically, the last two came with the backing of GOP legislative leaders and much of the business community. They pointed to a series of business-friendly actions that made the trade worth it, including new tax incentives for data centers and a restoration of the manufacturers’ purchase credit. Other conservatives strongly disagreed.

Also included in the avalanche of legislative action are things most voters are just learning about, such as requiring internet e-tailers to pay the same sales tax as brick-and-mortar operators. Or an initial legislative green light for the $20 billion One Central mega-development to be built on air rights just west of Soldier Field. And permission for a Chicago casino that will be among the largest in the country, and that set off immediate speculation as to where the Chicago facility will be located.

Like it or hate it, “I haven’t seen this much horse-trading here among the parties since (ex-Gov.) George Ryan,” Illinois Manufacturers' Association President Mark Denzler said in a phone interview. And more actually was accomplished this year, he added.

I'm excited. Having a governor who believes that government has value is a refreshing change.

Randy Rainbow in Chicago

If you haven't discovered Randy Rainbow, here you go:

He was in Chicago last night, at Thalia Hall in Pilsen, and I got a chance to hear him live. And today, he's on the cover of the Washington Post Magazine:

In a topsy-turvy era, is it surprising that a political commentator should dress in sequins, feather boas and pink cat-eye glasses? Because that’s Randy Rainbow (yes, it’s his given name). In real life, the 37-year-old leads a solitary existence in an orderly apartment adorned with oversize photographs of Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. But millions share his splashy, over-the-top digital life: Since 2016, Rainbow, a Broadway hopeful who fled from cattle-call auditions, has found his own spotlight through the Internet, emerging as a YouTube sensation who dispenses musical-comedy salve for a divided nation.

Hundreds of thousands watch the short videos he produces every 10 days or so, featuring show tunes and pop songs he has refashioned with biting new lyrics. These DIY productions are funny and oh-so-topical and include clever video manipulation of news footage to create sassy mock interviews with prominent political players — mostly of the Trumpian variety — topped off with costumes ordered online.

A sampling of Rainbow’s hot takes includes “Desperate Cheeto” (a take on Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito”), “Border Lies” (Madonna’s “Borderline”), “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?” (“Maria” from “The Sound of Music”) and “GOP Dropout” (“Beauty School Dropout” from “Grease”). Actor-comedian Steve Martin told Rainbow that “A Very Stable Genius” — a takedown of you-know-who sung to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” — is a favorite ditty in the Martin household.

(Note that Tom Lehrer famously also adapted "Major General" but with, shall we say, fewer politics.)

Weed did it, Illinois edition

The Illinois legislature has passed a bill legalizing small amounts of recreational marijuana and directing the governor to pardon thousands of low-level drug offenders:

Illinois is poised to be the 11th state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

The state House of Representatives approved its legalization bill 66-47 on Friday. Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker, who campaigned on legalizing cannabis, quickly released a statement saying he’ll sign the legislation.

“It is time to hit the reset button on the war on drugs,” said State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago. “What is before us is the first in the nation to approach this legislatively, deliberatively, thoughtfully with an eye toward repairing the harm of the war on drugs.”

The bill would allow adults over 21 to possess and use marijuana recreationally starting next year. They’d be able to buy the drug at dispensaries that must undergo a rigorous state licensing process.

One big component of the bill would create a pathway for people with past marijuana convictions to have those wiped out. Anyone convicted of selling up to 30 grams of cannabis could gain executive clemency through the governor.

For convictions linked to the sale of larger amounts up to 500 grams, a state’s attorney or individuals could petition the court to have those criminal records vacated and expunged.

The law will take effect January 1st. However, marijuana still remains illegal in the United States, so Federal authorities could still arrest and prosecute users, just as they can in the other 10 legal states.

Crain's adds:

Among the most controversial provisions were pardons and expungement of past criminal convictions for possession and non-violent crimes as part of a broader effort to undue some of the effects from the war on drugs.

“The war on drugs ravaged my community and personally impacted my own family,” Rep. Marcus Evans, a South Side Democrat, testified before the vote. "Finally, the state of Illinois is going to look at my community and say, 'We want you to have a piece of the pie.' The only thing that’s going to help our community is jobs. I’ve never seen a piece of legislation that was going to help my community."

Expungements and pardons could affect up to 800,000 people in the state.

That garnered key support for the bill in communities hit hardest by the "war on drugs."

So much rain!

The Tribune reports that today ends Chicago's second-wettest spring ever, the wettest May ever, and the only second month in recorded history (out of 1,770 months) to have 21 days of precipitation. This might become the new normal: 9 of the last 10 Mays have had above-average precipitation.

Lake Michigan, the inland sea ten blocks from where I'm sitting, has near-record water levels:

Lake Ontario, downstream, has swelled by almost a meter in the last two months to all-time record levels:

So not only has all this rain has caused massive flooding in rivers throughout the Midwest, but the high lake levels prevent rivers from draining and have accelerated wetland erosion along the shore.

Another thing: all this fresh water drains out through the St Lawrence Seaway right into the North Atlantic. Combined with meltwater coming off Greenland, that surge of lighter, fresher water is slowing the thermohaline circulation that brings warmth to Northern Europe. So as most of the world gets warmer, Europe could get a lot colder in the next century.

Said any climate scientist ever interviewed this past year, "We told you so 30 years ago."

Direct economic effects of climate on Illinois

As Chicago finishes the wettest May in history, Bloomberg points out that all the rain has caused serious problems with Illinois agriculture:

Rabobank is predicting an unprecedented number of unplanted acres of corn, the most widely grown American crop. A Bloomberg survey of 10 traders and analysts indicates growers could file insurance claims for about 6 million corn acres they haven’t been able to sow, almost double the record in 2013.

Corn futures surged more than 20% to a three-year high over the past few weeks on fears farmers wouldn’t be able to get seeds in the ground ahead of crop-insurance deadlines. So-called prevented plant claims reached 3.6 million acres in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Field conditions deteriorated over the past few weeks, indicating significant corn acreage loss was a risk, according to Gro Intelligence, a New York-based analysis firm that uses satellites among other data sources. Areas with the biggest risk of acreage loss were in central Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and the region around the borders of South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska.

Of course, no one knows for sure how much land will remain unsuitable for planting. But simple physics (higher air temperatures lead to more moisture in the air which leads to more precipitation) underpins a lot of climate-change thinking.

Meanwhile, the Administration plans to form a committee to obfuscate climate science. Because of course it will. How's that helping farmers?

How many lawsuits is Eddie Lampert party to?

Two made the news this week. First, Lampert has sued Sears (which he owns) for not conveying property that his investment firm bought from the doomed retailer:

Lampert's Transform is accusing the Sears estate, a bankrupt shell entity that is winding down under court supervision, of multiple wrongs including breaking the agreement by holding on to the chain's headquarters in Illinois. The estate is also intentionally delaying payments to vendors and trying to shift $166 million in accounts payable costs, according to the Transform complaint filed on Saturday.

The allegations mirror those made in court filings from Transform earlier this year. The Sears estate also sued Lampert, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and others last month, claiming they wrongly transferred $2 billion of company assets beyond the reach of creditors in the years leading up to the retailer’s bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, in another case, Lampert filed court documents in which he threatens not to pay $43m in severance payments he promised to make:

Lampert also denied that he is responsible for making some payments to creditors he says Sears Holdings is trying to force him to pay, according to the filing. Sears Holdings is the bankrupt remnants of the old Sears. It exists only to settle claims against it involving its few remaining assets.

Lampert had previously agreed to pay the severance to workers who lost their jobs before and during Sears' bankruptcy. Creditors objected to Sears paying severance to people laid off before the bankruptcy, so those workers never received an exit package.

Lampert's attorneys told the bankruptcy court that Lampert and his hedge fund ESL were the best owners to help workers who lost their jobs in various rounds of store closings.

But in the latest court documents, ESL said it wouldn't make the severance payments because Sears didn't give the hedge fund all of the assets it spelled out in ESL and Lampert's agreement to buy Sears. That included the amount of store inventory originally promised by Sears, as well as the company's headquarters in suburban Chicago.

Wow, he really wants to win Worst CEO of the Century, doesn't he? And remember, Lampert never cared about Sears as a going entity; he has always and only wanted the land Sears owns. What a schmuck.

Anti-intellectualism lives on both sides

Williams College Biology Professor Luana Maroja sounds the alarm as she sees students challenging long-established science on political grounds:

The trouble began when we discussed the notion of heritability as it applies to human intelligence.

I asked students to think about the limitations of the data, which do not control for environmental differences, and explained that the raw numbers say nothing about whether observed differences are indeed “inborn”—that is, genetic.

There is, of course, a long history of charlatans who have cited dubious “science” as proof that certain racial and ethnic groups are genetically superior to others. My approach has been to teach students how to see through those efforts, by explaining how scientists understand heritability today, and by discussing how to interpret intelligence data—and how not to.

In class, though, some students argued instead that it is impossible to measure IQ in the first place, that IQ tests were invented to ostracize minority groups, or that IQ is not heritable at all. None of these arguments is true. In fact, IQ can certainly be measured, and it has some predictive value. While the score may not reflect satisfaction in life, it does correlate with academic success. And while IQ is very highly influenced by environmental differences, it also has a substantial heritable component; about 50 percent of the variation in measured intelligence among individuals in a population is based on variation in their genes. Even so, some students, without any evidence, started to deny the existence of heritability as a biological phenomenon.

Similar biological denialism exists about nearly any observed difference between human groups, including those between males and females. Unfortunately, students push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. They resort to denialism to protect themselves from having to confront a worldview they reject—that certain differences between groups may be based partly on biology.

She concludes that this has a chilling effect on education and research. It's pretty scary.

To coin a phrase

Today's Daily Parker flash of inspiration will memorialize my update to an obsolete proverb.

Instead of "a stopped watch is right twice a day," substitute "a dead mobile gets no bad texts."

On second thought, they're not orthogonal. But in my defense, I was thinking of the president at the time.

Busy weekend

Just a few things in the news:

And hey, summer begins in three days.