The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The cost of the president's ego

So many months and so many lies ago, the President of the United States doctored a weather map with a Sharpie so that he wouldn't be wrong about saying a hurricane was going to hit Alabama. Yes, he'd rather look stupid than incorrect. But OK, whatever.

Today the Dept of Commerce Inspector General released a 107-page report (!) on the incident, which must have cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time and effort, not to mention it still makes the president look stupid. TPM has more:

[T]he inspector general’s report was delayed for several days because staff from Ross’ office were “actively preventing” its release with vague objections about privileged information, Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson alleged in a letter last week. The published report Wednesday barely had any redactions.

In response to the report, an attorney for the Commerce Department wrote that “the absence of any formal recommendation shows that there were no major flaws in the Department’s handling of this situation.” Walsh, who is awaiting Senate confirmation to become the department’s official general counsel, said the report’s conclusions were “unsupported by any of the evidence or factual findings that the report itself lays out.”

But the bottom line, per the report, is a simple one: “It was unnecessary to correct the accuracy of a 5-day-old tweet.”

Right. And the president was still wrong.

No debates unless...

Tom Friedman gives Joe Biden some good advice:

First, Biden should declare that he will take part in a debate only if Trump releases his tax returns for 2016 through 2018. Biden has already done so, and they are on his website. Trump must, too. No more gifting Trump something he can attack while hiding his own questionable finances.

And second, Biden should insist that a real-time fact-checking team approved by both candidates be hired by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates — and that 10 minutes before the scheduled conclusion of the debate this team report on any misleading statements, phony numbers or outright lies either candidate had uttered. That way no one in that massive television audience can go away easily misled.

Of course, Trump will stomp and protest and say, “No way.” Fine. Let Trump cancel. Let Trump look American voters in the eye and say: “There will be no debate, because I should be able to continue hiding my tax returns from you all, even though I promised that I wouldn’t and even though Biden has shown you his. And there will be no debate, because I should be able to make any statement I want without any independent fact-checking.”

We'll see. But really, Biden has no reason to debate Trump otherwise. (Note: I am a financial contributor to Joe Biden's campaign.)

In other news:

Back to coding.

After-work reading

I was in meetings almost without break from 10am until just a few minutes ago, so a few things have piled up in my inbox:

And no matter where you are in the world, you can attend Apollo After Hours next Friday at 19:00 CDT / midnight UTC. It's going to be a ton of fun.

NYC district attorney may obtain Trump financial records

The US Supreme Court handed down a pair of 7-2 decisions this morning about who can see the president's financial records, both written by Chief Justice John Roberts, and both dissented by Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

In the first, Trump v Vance, private citizen Donald Trump appealed a decision of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a district court order to Trump's accountants to hand over documents to a grand jury empaneled by New York City District Attorny Cyrus Vance, Jr. Citing precedents going back to Aaron Burr's treason trial in 1807, the Court affirmed the lower court order, holding: "Article II and the Supremacy Clause do not categorically preclude, or require a heightened standard for, the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting President." Trump appointees Kavanaugh and Gorsuch concurred, but said the lower court should "how to balance the State’s interests and the Article II interests." Thomas, dissenting, agrees "with the majority that the President does not have absolute immunity from the issuance of a grand jury subpoena," but "he may be entitled to relief against its enforcement" (emphasis in original). Alito, consistent with his expansive views on presidential authority, believes a state prosecutor has no authority even to investigate a sitting president for state crimes, even if the alleged conduct occurred before the person was president.

Just a few minutes later, the Court announced its decision in Trump v Mazars, vacating the DC District and Circuit Courts decisions granting the House of Representatives authority to subpoena the president's financial records from his accounting firm, holding "[t]he courts below did not take adequate account of the significant separation of powers concerns implicated by congressional subpoenas for the President’s information." Roberts distinguished this case from Vance and others, writing:

This case is different. Here the President’s information is sought not by prosecutors or private parties in connection with a particular judicial proceeding, but by committees of Congress that have set forth broad legislative objectives. Congress and the President—the two political branches established by the Constitution—have an ongoing relationship that the Framers intended to feature both rivalry and reciprocity.

When Congress seeks information “needed for intelligent legislative action,” it “unquestionably” remains “the duty of all citizens to cooperate.” Watkins, 354 U. S., at 187 (emphasis added). Congressional subpoenas for information from the President, however, implicate special concerns regarding the separation of powers. The courts below did not take adequate account of those concerns.

Again, Alito and Thomas dissented. Thomas would reverse the decision rather than vacate it, because he "would hold that Congress has no power to issue a legislative subpoena for private, nonofficial documents—whether they belong to the President or not. Congress may be able to obtain these documents as part of an investigation of the President, but to do so, it must proceed under the impeachment power." Given that the President stonewalled Congress during the impeachment earlier this year, and the Supreme Court essentially said that's Congress's problem, not ours, Thomas would essentially hold the president immune from any discovery process. Alito agrees with Thomas to some extent, but believes "legislative subpoenas for a President’s personal documents are inherently suspicious," and would require Congress to "provide a description of the type of legislation being considered," which they did, but apparently not to Alito's satisfaction.

The president's response was as measured and thoughtful as one might expect:

He has spent the last hour whining like a spoiled toddler narcissistic, demented old man about this.

Sadly, none of this information will come out before the election. Once he's out of office in January, however, expect that his businesses will not survive long in their present forms. I really can't wait to see what he's been hiding.

Somebody call "lunch!"

Stuff to read:

Finally, last June, Jennifer Giesbrecht wrote that "Babylon 5 is the greatest, most terrible SF series." She's mostly right.

The right-wing science counter-revolution

Writing for New Republic, Ari Shulman presents a nuanced and well-thought analysis of the apparent right-wing hostility to science. It's not science per se they object to; rather, they object to what they perceive to be left-wing science:

The panel of experts that Covid skeptics have arrayed provides a case in point. Where mainstream opinion quickly converged on flattening the curve, Boris Johnson sang the praises of a herd immunity strategy, an idea that continues to hold sway among many skeptics in the United States. The Trumpian right’s treatment of masks as a symbol of tyranny claimed to garner credence from public health authority, as journalist Alex Berenson cited the initial divided view on the mask question as a telling lack of evidence. Likewise, where polite opinion early in the pandemic had held that the virus isn’t as bad as flu, Trumpian skeptics echoed that refrain as all-but-proven science, just as they’ve also sought to downplay the pandemic’s high fatality rate, theorizing vast numbers of undetected, asymptomatic cases—which would mean that society is already close to acquiring herd immunity.

Each of these views was backed by elaborate interpretations of the evidence, and propounded by a cadre of scientists and self-appointed epidemiologists. And these figures, in turn, gained rapid celebrity on the right as brave truth-tellers to a hysterical orthodoxy.

It is tempting for anyone who’s tried to adapt to the shifting expert consensus on Covid-19 to defend, at least in broad strokes, the “Republican war on science” narrative by arguing that the emerging cohort of counter-experts on the right are simply cranks. But most of these figures are genuine experts, albeit not all in the fields on which they opine. More to the point, they all adeptly borrow from the methodologies and rationalist rhetoric of scientific inquiry.

The product of these dynamics has not been, as we are often told, a Republican rejection of science itself—of its methodologies, its hunger for knowledge of the world, its desire for mastery over nature, its admiration for the excellence on display in rational inquiry. Rather, it has been the adoption of an outsider’s stance to the current scientific establishment—to its particular institutions, and to the pronouncements of its expert class.

In these corrosive, shallow, interminable debates about science, what is most sorely missing is any talk of judgment. It is impossible to understand how experts arrive at their advice, or how leaders use it wisely, apart from the exercise of judgment. Though we might think this point is obvious, it is belied by the common image of science as a neutral, even godlike encounter with eternal, capital-T Truth.

The whole essay is worth the time.

Everything go boom

Chicago had no official Independence Day fireworks display this year, because we didn't want to encourage a million people to converge on Grant Park. Instead, we appear to have had a record number of, ah, unofficial displays:

The 911 call center received 9,092 calls between June 28 and Sunday, approximately three times the number of calls received in the same time period last year, according to data provided by Mary May, an Office of Emergency Management and Communications spokesperson.

As of Sunday, the city had received a total of 19,925 fireworks-related calls this year, compared with 4,612 calls by the same date last year — a 332% increase.

Several Indiana fireworks stores faced shortages in supply leading up to July 4. Illinoisans looking to buy fireworks often travel to neighboring states such as Indiana, where sale and possession of consumer pyrotechnics are legal.

The Chicago Fire Department responded to 33 calls and made 26 transports due to fireworks-related injuries from Friday to Sunday of the July 4 weekend, Meritt said.

Let that not obscure the problem that Chicago also has way more illegal firearms these days. This weekend, people shot and killed 17 others, including a 7-year-old girl. And because of the 2nd Amendment fanatics in rural areas, we don't have the tools we need to clamp down on it.

Thanks, imbeciles

Because Covid-19 infections have started to climb again after just a few weeks of slowly dropping, the worst-affected states (coincidentally those with Republican governors who really, really wanted to re-open the economy) have had to slam on the brakes again.

John Scalzi is pissed:

Nearly every other Western country in the world has seen their infection rates drop down from the March/April time frame, but we haven’t, and now our leaders want to suggest that this is just the way it is and we’ll have to “live with it.” In fact, it’s not the way it is, or at least, wasn’t what it had to be. The reason we’re in this mess is that the GOP followed Trump’s lead in deciding this was a political issue instead of a health and science issue, and radicalized its base against dead simple measures like wearing masks and other such practices, and against waiting until infection rates dropped sufficiently to try to open up businesses again, because apparently they thought capitalism was magic and would work without reasonably fit humans.

It also means that all that time we spent in quarantine in March, April and May was effectively for nothing, and that if we want to actually get hold of this thing we’ll have to go back in quarantine again, at least through September and possibly for all of the rest of 2020.

We could have managed this thing — like nearly every other country has — if we had political leadership that wasn’t inept and happy to use the greatest public health crisis in decades as political leverage for… well, who knows? Most of the areas being hit hardest now — places like Florida, Arizona, and Texas — are deep red states; there is no political advantage to be had by having them hit by infection and death and economic uncertainty four months before a national election. The fact that Joe Biden is currently in a statistical tie with Trump in Texas voter polls should terrify the GOP. I don’t expect Biden to get Texas’ electoral votes in November, but honestly it shouldn’t even be this close now. And the thing is, things are almost certainly going to get worse in Texas before they get better.

Every vote for President Trump in November is a vote for this abject stupidity.

Then and now, Lawrence and Broadway (revisited)

I originally posted the top photo a couple of weeks ago, before I found the legal loophole allowing me to take my drone above 120 m AGL. (It turns out I can take it 120 m above the tallest structure within 120 m.) So early this morning, in calm winds, I took it up to 150 m, almost exactly matching the view. If only my drone had a slightly longer lens, I could duplicate it exactly. At least I got the parallax right, meaning I now know the original photo was taken only 150 m up. It would not be legal for a fixed-wing airplane to fly so low today; you'd need a helicopter and permission.

Here's 1933:

And 2020:

I also plan to re-shoot a bunch of these after the trees lose their leaves this fall.

Then and now, Montrose/Dayton

I found this photo of the 800 West block of Montrose in April 1891 in a Chicago Public Library collection:

Here's the same place yesterday:

A few things have changed. In 1891, Montrose was paved for the half-block between Clarnedon and the Lake, and the apartment developer had built a proper curb from Dayton to Clarendon on the south side. I expect that the city paved the rest of Montrose shortly after this photo.

The park to the left became a hospital in 1957, which closed in 2009 and was demolished in 2016. The high-rise center frame marks the shoreline in the top photo. Lake Michigan is now over a kilometer farther west after the construction of Montrose Harbor in the 1930s.