The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Stuff I didn't read because I was having lunch in the sun

We have actual spring weather today, so instead of reading things while eating lunch I was watching things, like this corgi:

I do have a few things to read while coordinating a rehearsal later tonight. To wit:

  • New York City declared a public health emergency because of measles. Measles. A childhood disease we almost eradicated before people started believing falsehoods about vaccination.
  • White House senior troll Stephen Miller has the president's ear, with predictable consequences.
  • Where did all of Chicago's taverns go? We used to have two to a block.
  • Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin admitted that the White House and the IRS have discussed releasing the president's tax forms, contrary to the statute meant to keep the White House from influencing the IRS.
  • Why is Canadian PM Justin Trudeau imploding so fast?
  • The UK Government has started preparing for EU elections next month, a sign that they expect to get an extension on the Brexit timeline from the EU. If not, then they will crash out of the union at 5pm Chicago time Thursday, scoring one of the worst own-goals in the history of world politics. (It's worth noting that losing the American colonies was another one.) I can't wait for PMQs tomorrow.

Today's weather, of course, is just a teaser. We even have snow flurries in the forecast for Friday. Welcome to Chicago.

Climate science panel reforms independently

After President Trump disbanded the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment  in August 2017, the group got back together on its own:

The panel is now known as the Science to Climate Action Network (Scan) and has now completed work it would have finished for the federal government, releasing a report on Thursday warning that Americans are being put at risk from the impacts of a warming planet due to a muddled response to climate science.

“We were concerned that the federal government is missing an opportunity to get better information into the hands of those who prepare for what we have already unleashed,” said Richard Moss, a member of Scan and a visiting scientist at Columbia University, who previously chaired the federal panel.

“We’re only just starting to see the effects of climate change, it’s only going to get much worse. But we haven’t yet rearranged our daily affairs to adapt to science we have,” he added.

The fourth National Climate Assessment, released on the day after Thanksgiving last year, detailed how climate change is already harming Americans, with sobering findings on future impacts. At the time, Trump said he didn’t believe the report.

Columbia University and the American Meteorological Association are funding the reconstituted panel.

David Graeber on Bullshit Jobs

I've just started reading anthropologist David Graeber's book Bullshit Jobs. It's hilarious and depressing at the same time. For a good summary, I would point you to Graeber's own essay "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs" that ran in Strike seven years ago:

A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ‘professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers’ tripled, growing ‘from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.’ In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be.)

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

It's as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don't really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

The book expands on the essay's themes, and adds scholarship, so it's therefore even more depressing than the original column. But he suggests an alternative: public policies to redistribute wealth back to the people who created it, and actually free up our time from these bullshit jobs.

Too funny, except it's not

I had planned to talk about this thoughtful article on congestion pricing and how free roads aren't really free, but just a few minutes ago I saw a headline that made me laugh out loud:

President Trump is planning to nominate former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, two people familiar with the push said, a move that would significantly escalate the White House’s effort to exert political pressure on the U.S. central bank.

A Senate GOP leadership aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the nominee’s prospects, predicted that Cain would ultimately not have the support to be confirmed.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the ranking Democrat on the Banking Committee, suggested Cain and Moore were both underqualified for the Fed board.

"I thought it was a joke at first when I heard that, but I guess it's at least as serious as Stephen Moore," he said. "I'll just leave it at that for now."

"Underqualified." No, I'm underqualified for the Fed. The administration's proposed nominees are so unqualified laughter is the only option at this point. Remember, Cain is the guy who ran for president in 2012 without the slightest guess about the location (or names) of several strategically-important countries, making Rex Tillerson look like a Rhodes scholar.

Remember, these guys hate competence, especially in government. But wow, I didn't think they'd go this far. It's hard to believe Trump filed for bankruptcy all those times, with his giant brain.

Lightfoot elected mayor of Chicago

Last night, Chicago elected its first African-American female mayor:

After waging a campaign focused on upending the vaunted Chicago political machine, Lightfoot dismantled one of its major cogs by dispatching Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, whose candidacy had been hobbled in part by an anti-incumbent mood among voters and an ongoing federal corruption investigation at City Hall.

Lightfoot’s campaign, which started last May as a long-shot bid to replace the city’s clouted politics with inclusive change, took the former federal prosecutor and first-time candidate from toiling in relative political obscurity to toppling the head of the Cook County Democratic Party.

With roughly 97 percent of the city’s precincts reporting, Lightfoot had swept all 50 of Chicago’s wards, winning 74 percent of the unofficial vote to 26 percent for Preckwinkle, a 28-year officeholder who prior to her eight years as the county’s chief executive served 19 years as a Hyde Park alderman.

Lightfoot will be sworn in as Chicago’s 56th mayor on May 20 while Preckwinkle will return to her third term running the county after a humiliating defeat that included losing her own 4th Ward by 20 points.

In my own ward, the incumbent alderman wound up ahead by just 23 votes out of about 12,000 cast, but there are still some provisional and absentee ballots to count. I suspect this will go to a recount.

No short delay, UK: Juncker

Theresa May has fewer and fewer options available to complete the one job she signed up for today after EU President Jean-Claude Juncker flatly rejected May's request for a second short Brexit delay:

Speaking to the European parliament, Juncker instead set an “ultimate deadline” of 12 April for the Commons to approve the withdrawal agreement.

“If it has not done so by then, no further short extension will be possible,” he said. “After 12 April, we risk jeopardising the European parliament elections, and so threaten the functioning of the European Union.”

Juncker said that at that point the UK would face a no-deal Brexit but that the EU would not “kick out” a member state, in a reference to the certain offer of a lengthy extension of article 50.

The EU27 is looking at an extension until at least the end of the year, with the most probable end date being the end of March 2020.

Juncker said: “Yet I believe that a no deal at midnight on 12 April is now a very likely scenario. It is not the outcome I want. But it is an outcome for which I have made sure the European Union is ready.

No word yet from Number 10 on whether the government would seek a longer extension.

Back in the US, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who went to university in the UK, says the country has gone mad:

The entire Brexit choice was presented to the public in 2016 with utterly misleading simplicity. It was sold with a pack of lies about both the size of the benefits and the ease of implementation, and it continues to be pushed by Conservative hard-liners who used to care about business but are now obsessed with restoring Britain’s “sovereignty” over any economic considerations.

They don’t seem to be listening at all to people like Tom Enders, C.E.O. of the aerospace giant Airbus, which employs more than 14,000 people in the U.K., with around 110,000 more local jobs connected to its supply chains. Enders has warned the political leadership here that if the U.K. just crashes out of the E.U. in the coming weeks, Airbus may be forced to make some “potentially very harmful decisions” about its operations in Britain.

“Please don’t listen to the Brexiteers’ madness which asserts that ‘because we have huge plants here we will not move. …’ They are wrong,” he said. “And, make no mistake, there are plenty of countries out there who would love to build the wings for Airbus aircraft.”

Britain is ruled today by a party that wants to disconnect from a connected world. The notion that the U.K. will suddenly get a great free-trade deal from Trump as soon as it quits the E.U. is ludicrous. Trump believes in competitive nationalism, and the very reason he is promoting the breakup of the E.U. is that he believes America can dominate the E.U.’s individual economies much better than when they negotiate together as the single biggest market in the world.

Madness indeed. The two-week reprieve from a no-deal Brexit has only 9 days left to run. This is terrifying. Since her premiership is over no matter what she does, Theresa May should just cancel Article 50 entirely and then take her seat in the House of Lords.

May and Corbyn to talk Brexit

After a Parliamentary session yesterday demonstrating that no one is able to compromise with anyone else, in which MPs voted down four more proposals for Brexit, PM Theresa May today said she'd seek talks with Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn to see what kind of a coalition they could cobble together:

In a brief TV statement inside No 10 following a seven-hour cabinet meeting, the prime minister said she would hold talks with Jeremy Corbyn to seek a Brexit plan they could agree on and “both could put to the house”.

If agreement with the Labour leader was impossible, May said, the plan would be to put to a vote in parliament a series of Brexit options, with the government committing to enact whatever idea won support.

This would require another extension to article 50, May said, but added that she aimed for this to not go beyond 22 May, thus ensuring the UK would not need to take part in European elections.

With only 10 days to go before the current Brexit deadline, neither Parliament nor the government can figure out what to do. This is already the stupidest thing the UK has ever done to itself, and I'm including the Intolerable Acts, the Corn Laws, and Oliver Cromwell in the list.

There's an expression pilots use to describe uncontrolled flying: "in physics." Once an aircraft is in physics, you get to read about it in an NTSB report a week later.

The House of Commons is in physics.

Third time's a darn

Prime Minister Theresa May failed, for a third time, to get the agreed-to deal with the EU through the House of Commons:

The Guardian explains the consequences:

A string of Brexit-backing Conservative backbenchers who had rejected the deal in the first two meaningful votes, including the former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, switched sides during the debate to support the agreement.

But with Labour unwilling to change its position, and the Democratic Unionist party’s 10 MPs determined not to support it, it was not enough to secure a majority for the prime minister.

Afterwards, May told MPs: “The implications of the house’s decision are grave,” and added: “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this house.”

Under the deal agreed by EU leaders in Brussels last week, Brexit was to be delayed until 22 May if the prime minister could win parliament’s backing for the withdrawal agreement this week.

Instead, she will have to return to Brussels before 12 April to ask for a longer delay – requiring Britain to hold European elections in May – or accept a no-deal Brexit.

Welp. We're getting close to Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal two weeks from today. How many own goals can one team score?

Readings between meetings

On my list today:

Back to meetings...

May to resign this summer (probably)

The House of Commons right now are voting on 8 proposals relating to Brexit; I'll have more in a bit. But over the weekend, and confirmed today, the Conservatives let slip that Prime Minister Theresa May has offered to resign as the price of getting hardline Brexiteer votes on her deal:

The prime minister indicated she would resign only if her Brexit deal passes in order to allow a new leader to shape the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The dramatic announcement to a meeting of Tory backbenchers prompted dozens of Eurosceptics including Boris Johnson to switch sides in favour of backing her deal. Conservative sources said she could formally announce a leadership contest on 22 May, with a new prime minister in place by July.

The frontrunners will be Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove, but there is likely to be a wide range of candidates bidding to enter No 10.

May told MPs: “I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, and I won’t stand in the way of that.

“I know some people are worried that if you vote for the withdrawal agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have. I won’t; I hear what you are saying. But we need to get the deal through and deliver Brexit.

“I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.”

I am now tuning into Parliament TV to catch up on the voting tonight.