The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

This shouldn't surprise anyone

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation—read: the government—read: us, as we live in a frickin' REPUBLIC—has taken over the Sears Holdings pension fund because, basically, Eddie Lampert has driven it into the ground:

The agency covers individuals’ pensions, up to certain limits, if an insured pension plan shuts down without enough money to pay all benefits. It estimates Sears’ two pension plans are underfunded by about $1.4 billion. As a creditor, the agency could attempt to recover some of that money through the bankruptcy.

Ron Olbrysh, chairman of the National Association of Retired Sears Employees, said the guarantee means retirees aren’t worried about losing pensions, but they do have concerns about other benefits.

“The pensions are secure through Sears or through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.,” he said. “The big impact if Sears does liquidate is that retirees will lose life insurance.”

The Daily Parker has followed the destruction of America's iconic retailer for years, watching the incompetence and self-dealing of Eddie Lampert the whole time. And here we are. Lampert will slide away from Sears with tens, or even hundreds, of millions of dollars, while the people who actually showed up every day to keep the stores open go bankrupt. Ironically, Lampert gets to do this by declaring bankruptcy. And the banks and investors he's stiffing have known this would happen for years. But they'll still show up in Federal court to argue that their claims to Sears' assets trump (no irony there) the employees'.

There seems to me a simple solution to the problem that Lampert's destruction of Sears epitomizes. Let's just change the law slightly to make officers of corporations liable in civil and criminal actions for the behavior of the corporations they represent. It's not a radical idea: corporations already have the right to act as people under the law. This is a simple balancing.

I don't think it's controversial to say that Eddie Lampert should experience all the consequences of his horrible management of Sears, including going down with the sinking ship. Especially because his management of the company was to drill a hole in the keel and then let his managers fight over how to keep the ship afloat.

When the revolution comes, I hope Lampert—and by extension, his adolescent worship of Ayn Rand—will be first against the wall.

The Rt Hon John Bercow MP, Defender of Parliament

The Times provides a bit of colour about the Speaker of the House of Commons, who earlier this month broke precedent to force the Government to accept more control from Parliament:

The outside world rarely takes much notice of the speaker of the House of Commons, a nonpartisan and typically low-profile figure who presides over parliamentary debates. But Britain’s last-minute paralysis over exiting the European Union, or Brexit, has made Mr. Bercow into a kind of celebrity.

With less than 10 weeks left before the country is set to leave the bloc, he has broken precedent by wresting some control over the Brexit decision-making from Prime Minister Theresa May, allowing Parliament to act to stop the country from leaving without a deal.

This has won him the admiration of Europeans — a French radio station named him “European of the Week.” Clips of his signature cry, “Order, Order!,” have gone viral on social media.

“From a political geek’s point of view, it was pretty astonishing,” [said Bobby Friedman, the author of a biography of Mr. Bercow] of Mr. Bercow’s decision. “He said, ‘I’ll do what I like.’ If anyone else was speaker, it would have been incredibly surprising. With him, not particularly.”

Bercow is quite amusing to watch as he castigates members of all parties for, among other things, “chuntering from a sedentary position ineloquently and for no obvious purpose.” Watch PMQs any week; he's as much of a character as either the PM or the Leader of the Opposition.

He has signaled that he will step down sometime this year.

We've already seen what happens when the UK leaves abruptly

Author Pankaj Mishra thinks Brexit may be comeuppance for the British ruling class. Exhibit 1: Indian Partition:

Describing Britain’s calamitous exit from its Indian empire in 1947, the novelist Paul Scott wrote that in India the British “came to the end of themselves as they were” — that is, to the end of their exalted idea about themselves. Scott was among those shocked by how hastily and ruthlessly the British, who had ruled India for more than a century, condemned it to fragmentation and anarchy; how Louis Mountbatten, accurately described by the right-wing historian Andrew Roberts as a “mendacious, intellectually limited hustler,” came to preside, as the last British viceroy of India, over the destiny of some 400 million people.

Britain’s rupture with the European Union is proving to be another act of moral dereliction by the country’s rulers. The Brexiteers, pursuing a fantasy of imperial-era strength and self-sufficiency, have repeatedly revealed their hubris, mulishness and ineptitude over the past two years. Though originally a “Remainer,” Prime Minister Theresa May has matched their arrogant obduracy, imposing a patently unworkable timetable of two years on Brexit and laying down red lines that undermined negotiations with Brussels and doomed her deal to resoundingly bipartisan rejection this week in Parliament.

Mountbatten, derided as “Master of Disaster” in British naval circles, was a representative member of a small group of upper- and middle-class British men from which the imperial masters of Asia and Africa were recruited. Abysmally equipped for their immense responsibilities, they were nevertheless allowed by Britain’s brute imperial power to blunder through the world — a “world of whose richness and subtlety,” as E.M. Forster wrote in “Notes on the English Character,” they could “have no conception.”

From David Cameron, who recklessly gambled his country’s future on a referendum in order to isolate some whingers in his Conservative party, to the opportunistic Boris Johnson, who jumped on the Brexit bandwagon to secure the prime ministerial chair once warmed by his role model Winston Churchill, and the top-hatted, theatrically retro Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose fund management company has set up an office within the European Union even as he vehemently scorns it, the British political class has offered to the world an astounding spectacle of mendacious, intellectually limited hustlers.

And yet, here we are, 10 weeks from Brexit with no plan and no likelihood of one. I hope on Her Majesty's petticoats that they hold another referendum and stop this from happening.

There has always been local government capture

I wanted to post this when it came out but life intervened. A couple weeks ago, New Republic reported on the sad tale of exurban town Elwood, Ill., and the "opportunity" they seized on with a giant intermodal freight terminal in 2002:

Fifteen years before Amazon’s HQ2 horserace, Elwood had won the retail lottery. “Nobody envisioned what we have out here,” said Jerry Heinrich, who sat on the board of the planning commission that first apportioned the land for development in the mid-1990s. “It was never anticipated that every major business entity would end up in the area.”

But this corporate valhalla turned out to be hell for the community, which suffered a concentrated dose of the indignities and disappointments of late capitalism in the 21st century. Instead of abundant full-time work, a regime of partial, precarious employment set in. Temp agencies flourished, but no restaurants, hotels, or grocery stores ever came, save for the recent addition of a dollar store. Tens of thousands of semis rumbled through Will County every day, wreaking havoc on the infrastructure. And as the town of Elwood scrambled to pave its potholes, its inability to collect taxes from the facilities plunged it into more than $30 million in debt.

And that was before Big Tech rolled in. Just four years ago Amazon didn’t even have one facility in the region; now, with five fulfillment centers, it’s the county’s largest employer. Growth, once arithmetic, became exponential. Plans were made to build a new facility, this one bigger than the original Intermodal, with room for some 35 million additional square feet of industrial space.

It's astounding, but not surprising, that this would happen. And more than just a cautionary story about getting more than you bargained for, it should remind people that voting in local elections matters a lot.

Transitioning to a new environment in 15 easy steps

As readers have inferred, I've started a new position (more later), and with that I've got to set up a new work computer. I say "computer," but it's actually a MacBook Pro. All of my everything lives in the Microsoft universe. This has caused a slight problem trying to get access to my new company's source code in GitHub.

See, I've used Password Safe for years to manage all my passwords. By "all" I mean that I follow the standard industry practice of never re-using passwords, and generating strong passwords for each asset. This includes my GitHub account.

Today I finally got my existing GitHub account authorized to access the company's repositories. So all I have to do is log in to my GitHub account, and...wait...crap.

So how do I get my GitHub password? Here are the steps I tried:

  1. My safe file is on OneDrive, so I can get it off my phone and email it to my work address. No problem there.
  2. But PWSafe is a Windows application. There isn't a Mac version available through the same vendor.
  3. There is a Mac version through a different vendor—for $15. OK, let me rule out all the free options first.
  4. Aha! I have a virtual machine sitting in Microsoft Azure that I can spin up. It has access to OneDrive and it has a local copy of PWSafe already installed.
  5. Log into the Microsoft Azure portal.
  6. Spin up VM.
  7. Google how to connect to it from a Mac. (Microsoft has a client available through the iTunes store.)
  8. Go to the App Store on my Mac.
  9. Find the RDP client.
  10. Attempt to install the RDP client.
  11. Dammit. I have to set up a new Apple ID because my personal Apple ID is—you guessed it—in the safe.
  12. Set up a new Apple ID for work.
  13. Actually install the RDP client this time.
  14. Realize that the password for the VM is—you guessed it—in the safe.
  15. Shut down the VM for now.
  16. Jot down a note to add my GitHub account to LastPass so I can get into it from work.
  17. Jot down another note to add my VM credentials to LastPass.
  18. Get more tea.
  19. Blog about this.

Oh well. I have plenty to do this afternoon that doesn't involve writing software.

Quick Parker update

A week after his surgery, Parker seems a lot better. He's resumed his previous walking pace, and seems generally less sullen, despite the fact that I'm out of the house a lot more this week than the last few. We also switched up his antibiotics which should help his body get rid of the last bits of gunk around his knee.

His stitches come out next Wednesday, and with that, his cone comes off.

Further updates as the situation warrants.

Unthinkable

The Atlantic shares "50 moments that define an improbably presidency:"

This week marks the midway point of Trump’s term. Like many Americans, we sometimes find the velocity of chaos unmanageable. We find it hard to believe, for example, that we are engaged in a serious debate about whether the president of the United States is a Russian-intelligence asset. So we decided to pause for a moment and analyze 50 of the most improbable, norm-bending, and destructive incidents of this presidency to date.

Our 2016 editorial was a repudiation of Donald Trump’s character as much as it was an endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. It was not meant to be partisan. The Atlantic’s founders promised their readers that we would be “of no party or clique.” This remains a core governing principle of the magazine today. What follows is a catalog of incidents, ranked—highly subjectively!—according to both their outlandishness and their importance. In most any previous presidency, Democratic or Republican, each moment on this list would have been unthinkable.

Number 50: "Donald Trump touches the magic orb." Number 1: "Children are taken from their parents and incarcerated."

It's chilling, seeing them all together in one place.

May lives to fight another day

No one really thought the UK government would collapse today (though it should have), but only because the norms of British politics have collapsed instead:

Theresa May has comfortably won the no confidence vote, by 325 to 306 - a majority of 19. The vote came after a debate which saw Jeremy Corbyn accuse her of leading “a zombie government”. And Tom Watson, the deputy Labour leader, closed the debate with a powerful speech saying May does not “possess the necessary political skills, empathy, ability, and most crucially the policy, to lead this country any longer”.

Opposition party leaders have refused an invitation from May to join her for talks about an alternative approach to Brexit until she abandons some of her red lines. After the vote May said she would like talks to start tonight. But Corbyn and the Lib Dems said they would not engage with her until she ruled out a no-deal Brexit. And the SNP said she would have to be willing to discuss extending article 50 and holding a second referendum before they agreed to participate.

This was PMQs today: