The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Phase 4? Uh...yay?

Illinois officially moved into Phase 4 of Covid-19 recovery this week, just as two states retreated from it abruptly:

As cases rise around the United States, Florida reported more than 8,900 new coronavirus cases on Friday, after counting more than 10,000 new cases over the previous two days, pushing its total past 120,000.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has said that Florida has the capacity to deal with more sick people for now. Across the state, long lines have returned at testing sites that just a few weeks ago were seeing limited demand. On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis said that he did not intend to move to the next phase of reopening.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas went a step further than Florida, ordering all bars to close on Friday and telling restaurants to reduce operating capacity. It was an abrupt reversal of his previous policy as the nation’s second largest state also grapples with surging coronavirus cases weeks after reopening.

(It's worth noting that in every state that has rising numbers except for California, they have Republican governors.)

Still, though restaurants in Illinois can re-open at 25% capacity, many chefs have refused:

At Elizabeth restaurant, for example, owner Iliana Regan is sticking to take-out only. “If you’ve been here, you know how tiny we are; we only seat 25 people,” Regan said in an email to customers. “So, running at 25% capacity is not economically viable for us. More importantly, though, we don’t feel it’s safe for us to reopen for indoor service. We feel that the risk to our staff and guests is far too great to resume service right now.”

Similarly, Scott Worsham, who with Sari Zernich Worsham owns Bar Biscay and mfk restaurants, is in no hurry to open his dining rooms.

“We are waiting it out because it’s just not safe enough for our employees,” he said. “You saw what happened at Longman & Eagle this last week.” (Longman & Eagle abruptly ended outdoor dining service after one employee tested positive for COVID-19.) “For us to open, at such low numbers, then to have to close again for two weeks, would be a death blow for us.”

The Atlantic looks at Covid-19 safety in detail, and says maybe they have a point:

Ideally, individual people shouldn’t have to determine whether the restrictions in their area are safe and sensible. But here we are: Many states’ reopening plans don’t even meet the standards laid out in guidelines from the White House.

This means that in many cases, you’ll have to try to make an informed decision about what’s safest for you and others. [Linsey Marr, a civil- and environmental-engineering professor at Virginia Tech] laid out the basic calculus: “It depends on your own health, your age, preexisting conditions, how much risk you’re willing to tolerate, and the benefit that the activity could provide to you.” Another crucial variable: how much risk you might be introducing for everyone else around you.

So...basically...let's wait until we have a vaccine before going out again, yes?

Meanwhile, the only president we have until next January has cut funding for Covid-19 research and asked the Supreme Court to overturn the ACA, all this week.

Friendly Anglo-American competition

Parts of the United States and the United Kingdom have started a friendly competition to see which English-speaking country can obviate months of combating Covid-19 in the stupidest ways possible.

Up first, the UK, where so many people have flocked (in the 32°C heat) to the Channel Coast that Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole have declared a major incident:

Bournemouth East MP, Tobias Ellwood, said half a million people had flocked to the beaches and said the situation was so overwhelming that the UK government should step in to help the council deal with the crisis.

He said: “A lot of people have chosen to be not just irresponsible but dangerous. We’ve made such progress tackling this pandemic. I’d hate to see Bournemouth be the one place in Britain that gets that second spike.”

The council leader, Vikki Slade, said: “We are absolutely appalled at the scenes witnessed on our beaches, particularly at Bournemouth and Sandbanks [in neighbouring Poole].

“The irresponsible behaviour and actions of so many people is just shocking and our services are stretched to the absolute hilt trying to keep everyone safe. We have had no choice but to declare a major incident and initiate an emergency response.

“The numbers of people descending down here are like those seen on a bank holiday. We are not in a position to welcome visitors in these numbers now. Please do not come.”

A "major incident" in the UK is similar to a disaster declaration in the US: it allows multiple agencies to coordinate and frees up emergency money.

Not to be outdone, Texas, the state that invented the phrase "hold my beer and watch this," and which had started reopening its economy despite not meeting its own goals for infection and positive-test rates, has now reversed course do to skyrocketing Covid-19 new infections:

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses," Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. "This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business."

[T]he grim news was not just limited to Texas as the U.S. saw a record number of new coronavirus cases in a single day, with 45,557 reported Wednesday, according to a tally by NBC News.

Southern and Western states like Arizona and Florida that began aggressively reopening around Memorial Day are now seeing staggering spikes that make clear the deadly virus is showing no sign of going away, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly predicted.

I'm not even going to talk about Florida.

Josh Marshall yells into the wind, "this didn't have to happen:"

States around the country, responsive to the President’s messaging, have continued aggressive re-openings while cases were rising. President Trump has also consistently sent a message that basic mitigation strategies like masking are a sign of political affiliation with liberals and Democrats. Put more frankly, he’s being saying they’re for sissies. Republican politicians who rely on his support have backed this messaging and even outlawed cities’ efforts to protect themselves by imposing mitigation strategies at the city level. Since these governors mostly have their political bases of support in rural and exurban areas this amounts to the as yet lightly hit rural regions using their minoritarian political power to prevent the cities from protecting themselves.

So who wins? We'll see what Covid-19 infection rates look like in England's Southeast in two weeks, but for abject stupidity, we're hard to beat.

So much to read

I'm back in the office tomorrow, after taking a 7:15 am call with a colleague in India. So I won't spend a lot of time reading this stuff tonight:

OK, I need 3,700 steps before 10pm, and then I need to empty my dog and go to bed.

Ah, the company we keep

If I have to go more than a year without visiting Europe because my fellow Americans are too individualistic to stop the spread of Covid-19, I might have to move there permanently when able:

In case you wondered what President Trump’s glorious triumph over coronavirus looks like to the rest of the world, the news that the European Union may bar Americans from entry due to our spiking cases provides a sobering reality check.

If this goes through, it would mark a continuation of a prohibition that had been in place on travelers from the United States and elsewhere since mid-March. Only now it would be extended through the E.U.’s official reopening in July.

But I want to focus on this remarkable explanation of why this may happen:

Trump, as well as his Russian and Brazilian counterparts, Vladimir V. Putin and Jair Bolsonaro, has followed what critics call a comparable path in their pandemic response that leaves all three countries in a similarly bad spot: they were dismissive at the outset of the crisis, slow to respond to scientific advice and saw a boom of domestic cases as other parts of the world, notably in Europe and Asia, were slowly managing to get their outbreaks under control.

And so, in this, we are parting ways with our Western allies, while being quite similar to Russia and Brazil, whose responses were similarly tangled in their leadership’s disdain for empiricism and science.

I am heartened, however, that the president's declining approval ratings suggest that people have gotten tired of the reality TV show now that reality has intruded.

Yesterday I posted the following on Facebook in response to an acquaintance posting the questionable statement that the ADA allows people to ignore mask regulations:

I don't know if your state has executed legislation requiring you to wear a mask in public. And I don't care.

First, private property owners can deny entrance to anyone on a rational, non-discriminatory basis, particularly when following official guidance. Meaning, if I own a shop, and I make a rule you have to wear a nose-and-mouth covering in my shop, that's property rights. (NB: If I let Karen in without a mask and I make Jim wait outside even though he has a mask, that's discriminatory and illegal under the Civil Rights Act. Fight me.)

Second, the ENTIRE POINT right now is that we are agreeing to waive certain rights in exchange for NOT DYING OR KILLING PEOPLE. I know "civilization" is a new concept on the Internet, but, hey, humans have a million-year tradition of cooperating that I'd like to continue. But, sure, argue in favor of...uh, cytokene storms, I guess, and the rest of us will continue to protect those who can't protect themselves.

Because, ultimately, that's the argument. "Don't tell me what I can and can't do" is the cry of a 5-year-old, not a fully-formed human. We're asking you to do the right thing. And if you refuse, and your refusal puts people at risk of DEATH, then yes, we (your neighbors, friends, and people you voted for to govern shit you didn't have the mental space to govern yourself) will tell you no, we're doing this, because your convenience is less important than your neighbor's kid's life.

So far I have 23 Likes and 6 Loves for that. (My post on Parker's birthday has over 100 Likes, so clearly people have their priorities.)

Parker update

As an old dog just a week past his 14th birthday, Parker has his ups and downs. Today was a bit of a down.

A little before 3 am he pooped on the floor, which is annoying but not the worst thing he regularly does, but then he couldn't stand up. He woke me up when he belly-flopped into the pile. He seemed very sad about this, but he did get a walk more or less immediately plus some very gentle pats on the head after I cleaned up.

He's not in pain, and he's a dog so dignity in these matters isn't quite what it would be for a human. But he has been declining noticeably since last fall.

I hope he stays healthy through the summer so we can celebrate his Gotcha Day in September. Beyond that...I just don't know.

It's way past time for this amendment

Attorney General William Barr's behavior since taking office, and especially over the past week, demonstrates the need for the United States to do what 43 other states already do: elect the Attorney General.

Here's my proposed Constitutional amendment:

Sec. 1. The chief legal officer of the United States and chief executive officer of the Department of Justice shall be an Attorney General, elected by the People for a term of four years, to commence on January 10th of the third year following the most recent election of the President.

Sec. 2. No Person shall be eligible to the Office of Attorney General who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a Citizen of the United States, and been seven years a resident within the United States.

Sec. 3. No person shall be elected to the office of the Attorney General more than twice, and no person who has held the office of Attorney General, or acted as Attorney General, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected Attorney General shall be elected to the office of the Attorney General more than once.

Sec. 4. No person who has held the office of Attorney General, or acted as Attorney General, shall serve in any Office created by Articles II or III of this Constitution, or legislation based thereon, until four years have passed after serving as Attorney General.

Sec. 5. The Attorney General shall have the power to appoint and remove, with the advice and consent of the Senate, a United States Attorney for each Judicial District that Congress may establish, and a Deputy Attorney General, who shall assume the office of Attorney General should the office become vacant during the term of office. The Attorney General shall have the power to appoint other officers of the Department of Justice as Congress may provide by legislation.

Sec. 6. This article shall take effect on January 10th of the third year following its ratification.

Section 1 establishes that the office and the department she runs are separate from the Executive Branch, and chosen in the midterm elections. Section 2 sets the requirements for office to be the same as for US Senator. Section 3 sets term limits in the same language as the 22nd Amendment. Section 4 shuts the revolving door, except a former AG can still run for Congress. Section 5 gives the AG, and not the President, the power to appoint US Attorneys and her own deputy, with Senate approval; but she can appoint other officers that Congress may create without Senate approval. Section 6 gives the Executive-branch Justice Department two years to fully devolve into its own Constitutional realm.

If this were to be ratified in 2024, for example, we would vote for AG in November 2026 and swear her in on 10 January 2027. That person would then serve until 2031, and be ineligible to serve in the Executive branch or as a Federal judge until 2035.

Thoughts?

What just happened in SDNY?

On Friday night, US Attorney General William Barr announced that Jeffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had resigned. Minutes later, Berman said "the hell I have."

A couple of problems immediately present themselves when you think about this. First, only the president can fire a US Attorney. (President Trump finally did that last night.) Second, the highest law-enforcement official in the country, lied in writing about this. Third, the SDNY has multiple, ongoing investigations into the president's associates and businesses. Fourth, Barr's first announcement of Berman's replacement (a well-known Trump fellatist supporter) flouted the actual black-letter law giving that power to the judges of the SDNY (who, in fact, appointed Berman).

Calling this "extraordinary" doesn't do justice to the violence this dealt to the rule of law.

The Times:

The attorney general’s interventions in high-profile cases involving the onetime Trump advisers Roger J. Stone Jr. and Michael T. Flynn have prompted accusations from current and former law enforcement officials that Mr. Barr has politicized the department.

Over the last year, Mr. Berman’s office brought indictments against two close associates of the president’s current lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, and began an investigation into Mr. Giuliani himself, focusing on whether his efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on the president’s political rivals violated laws on lobbying for foreign entities.

Mr. Berman’s office also conducted an investigation into Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, subpoenaing financial and other records as part of a broad inquiry into possible illegal contributions from foreigners.

David Kurtz doesn't stop at "accusations...Barr has politicized the department:"

We’re deep into the worst crisis in the history of the Justice Department, and it keeps deepening. This isn’t alarming for what it signifies or for what it suggests might happen next or because it raises vague future concerns. It’s alarming because this is the corruption and the wrongdoing and the malfeasance. Right here, right now. Not some theoretical future threat. This is the nightmare of a president run amok with a captive Justice Department. We’re there. We’re living it.

James Comey, who worked as an assistant US Attorney in SDNY early in his career, has also spoken up:

There has always been a tension — much of it healthy — between Washington and the Southern District, but the attempt to fire the current United States attorney feels very different. Geoffrey Berman’s office has apparently been handling cases very close to the president. In 136 days, there is an election that the incumbent appears likely to lose. The attorney general, surely not proceeding on his own, acts to bump the well-regarded head of the Office on a Friday night, in the middle of a pandemic. Something stinks.

The country is well-served by the independent spirit and reputation of the Southern District of New York. It has long been the place where hard cases could be done in a way Americans trusted. It was where Bill Clinton’s 11th-hour pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich could be credibly investigated. It is also the place with jurisdiction over so much of this president’s complicated life.

And it is a place that follows the facts alone to reach conclusions, without regard to politics, just as [Henry L.] Stimson wanted. Maybe that’s why William P. Barr moved to knock off Berman on a Friday night and announced President Trump’s intention to replace him with someone who has never worked there. And maybe that’s why Berman, in the finest traditions of the office, stood up.

House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has opened an investigation, with a hearing already scheduled for Tuesday.

Where I was supposed to be today

In November, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago performed in the Chicago Opera Theater production of Everest, a 2015 opera by Joby Talbot. After the second performance, Talbot and a number of the soloists met some of us out for drinks nearby. Andrew Bidlack, who sang the role of Rob Hall, mentioned they were going to London to perform the work at the Barbican. I told him I'd be there.

That performance should have taken place tonight at 7:30 BST. Obviously, it's cancelled, and even if it weren't, Covid-19 precautions mean I can't even get into the UK right now without a 14-day quarantine after arrival.

The middle half of 2020 may turn out to be the most disappointing period in my lifetime. But I'm optimistic about the fourth quarter, and about 2021. We'll get through this.

Then and now: Wilson Yard

I found this photo from 1964 at Chicago-L.org, looking north along what is now the Red Line from above Buena Park:

Here's almost the same view yesterday:

So, a few changes. Two the west, three city blocks of apartments became Truman College in 1974. Wilson Yards and the Wilson Avenue Shop (the El structure in the center) burned down in 1994, replaced now by a Target and an apartment building. And all the trees have grown up.

Another thing: I found out more about how high I can take the drone. Generally, it's limited to 120 m AGL. But I can also take it up 120 m above any "structure" as long as I'm within 120 m of the structure. The flagpole on top of the Byline Bank is 58 m above the ground, meaning I could, with a quick adjustment to the drone settings, try taking it up to 178 m... Hmm...

Update, 40 minutes later: Yep. It'll go up to 130 m no problem in calm winds:

Water, water, everywhere, and all is safe to drink

The Midwest has an embarrassment of riches right now as the Lake Michigan-Huron system enters its sixth straight month of record water levels, a mere 12 cm below its all-time high:

The lake is nearly 3 feet higher than usual for early summer and approaching the historical high, set in October 1986, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the official records for all of the Great Lakes.

As Chicagoans return to the lakefront and the 18-mile Lakefront Trail, which officially reopens in most areas Monday, they will notice waves lapping onto flooded pathways, disappearing beaches, submerged breakwaters and stone revetments unable to hold back the pulsating water.

“If people haven’t been back to the beach or their favorite spot in a while, it may be very different with erosion or a lot less beach,” said John Allis, the Army Corps’ chief of the Great Lakes hydraulics and hydrology office, based out of the Detroit District. “Conditions can be very different on the coastline than people may be used to in the past.”

The high water levels can be seen up and down Chicago’s shoreline. Near Belmont Harbor, the path for walkers and joggers that skirts the inner part of the harbor was partially covered with water on Monday. Runners dodged water or splashed gingerly on their way. Nearby, a section of the trail was blocked with barricades and a bright yellow warning sign: “Caution Undermining Erosion.”

The Belmont Harbor Dog Beach was almost entirely submerged, with only a small spit of sand available for dogs and their owners. “It’s gone,” one woman mentioned to her companion as they walked past, “It’s underwater.”

Scientists say a confluence of factors has contributed to the high water: recent record precipitation complete with drenching downpours, milder winters and warming overall temperatures throughout the Midwest.

Heavy rains in the spring and summer of 2019 raised lake levels, setting the table for the record highs of 2020.

Warmer temperatures mean fewer blasts of cold air, less ice cover and less-than-normal evaporation since cool surface water is a driver of evaporation, said Lauren Fry, a physical scientist with NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

“Climate factors,” Fry said, “are the primary drivers of water levels.”

The Lake Michigan-Huron system is already the largest freshwater lake in the world, with an area of 117,400 km² and the largest source of fresh water in the hemisphere. It also used to be a lot bigger: only 8,000 years ago, the lake came all the way up to Clark Street, before the ice dam holding it back gave way in what must have been one of the most spectacular hydrologic events in the planet's history. (If I ever get a time machine, that's one of the things I want to see. That, and the moment the Atlantic Ocean breached the Strait of Gibraltar, creating an epic flow of water that may have filled up the Mediterranean Basin in only two years.)