Welcome to 2020, the year when the GOP says the quiet things out loud. In the middle of a pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency has given every polluter who wants one a get-out-of-jail-free card:
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.
The move comes amid an influx of requests from businesses for a relaxation of regulations as they face layoffs, personnel restrictions and other problems related to the coronavirus outbreak.
Issued by the E.P.A.’s top compliance official, Susan P. Bodine, the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.
Companies are normally required to report when their factories discharge certain levels of pollution into the air or water.
“In general, the E.P.A. does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the E.P.A. agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the E.P.A. upon request,” the order states.
Cynthia Giles, who headed the E.P.A. enforcement division during the Obama administration, said: “This is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. It is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.”
How long before some asshole kills an entire river "because of Covid-19?" How long before a working-class neighborhood sees a spike in respiratory illness "because of Covid-19?" They don't even try to hide their corporatist ideology anymore.
Meanwhile, in the president's fact-free world, his supporters think epidemiology is a hoax. I mean. What the ever-loving fuck.
Because of Chicago's weather yesterday (14°C and sunny), a ton of Gen Z kids broke quarantine and headed to the lakefront. This has now had entirely predictable consequences:
Multiple aldermen along and near Chicago's lakefront have confirmed the closure of the trail along Lake Michigan, less than 24 hours after Mayor Lori Lightfoot threatened closure because of a lack of social distancing among trail and park users. Aldermen say the downtown Riverwalk and the 606 Trail are closed, as well.
Ald. James Cappleman, whose 46th ward borders Osterman's, confirmed the closures include the lakefront trail, all adjoining parks, play lots and field houses—which were already closed by the park district—as well as the 606 Trail and the Riverwalk. Ald. Sophia King, 4th, also says the Riverwalk and 606 are shut down.
Cappleman said the department of Public Health and the Chicago Police Department were in agreement about the necessity of the closure.
Remember: the stupid kids who think they're immortal aren't Millennials anymore. The Millennials are staying home with their own kids (Generation C?) and yelling at their own parents not to go out.
In other news, Andy Borowitz had one of his best-ever headlines this morning: "New Evidence Indicates Intelligence Not Contagious:"
In a controlled experiment documented by the study, a seventy-nine-year-old man with intelligence was placed in close proximity to a seventy-three-year-old man without it for a period of several weeks to see if even a trace of his knowledge and expertise could be transmitted.
After weeks of near-constant exposure, however, the seventy-three-year-old man appeared “a hundred per cent asymptomatic” of intelligence, the researchers found.
The researchers, however, left open the possibility that intelligence might be transmissible to other people, just not to the seventy-three-year-old who was the subject of the experiment.
Yes, there was.
That seems like a reasonable conclusion based on recent statements from conservative broadcasters:
At the heart of their campaign is a skepticism over the advice offered by experts and a willingness to accept a certain number of deaths to incur fewer economic costs.
Many also see in the mass shutdowns and shelter-in-place policies a plot to push the country to the left.
[Glenn] Beck, for example, suggested Democrats were trying to “jam down the Green New Deal because we’re at home panicked.” Heather Mac Donald, a conservative thinker and Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, sees the restrictions as “a warm-up for their wish-list of sweeping economic interventions.”
A less common line of argument that has also been picked up by Trump comes from the religious conservative camp, a sure sign that the debate about public health and the economy has also become part of the nation’s long-running culture wars.
Reno, in an article entitled “Say No to Death’s Dominion,” called the widespread shutdowns of nursing homes and churches the result of a “perverse, even demonic atmosphere” that was preventing people from practicing their faith. The closures, he argued, were evidence of Satan preying on the fear of death.
The Independent UK takes a stab at understanding why:
The reason for the president’s rapid about turn may be no more simple than people may guess.
Covid-19 has not become any less deadly, or infectious.
Rather, as Axios reported earlier in the day, the president has grown tired with the advice of health officials whose recommendations will likely result in financial meltdown. That is not something he wants to have on his back as he campaigns for re-election.
Exactly. It's all about Trump. As long as "the economy"—i.e., equity markets and the immense stores of wealth they represent—keeps ticking along nicely, everything is fine, even if a few people in big cities have to suffocate on their own blood because the president has refused to send ventilators.
At least the president can't order states to end quarantines, according to University of Texas Law School Associate Dean Bobby Chesney. But he can encourage such things, and many parts of the country will listen.
The governor ordered everyone to stay at home only a few days ago, and yet it seems like much longer. I started working from home three weeks ago, initially because my entire team were traveling, and then for safety. My company turned off all our badges yesterday so I couldn't go back even if I wanted to. And I find myself planning meals a week out because I find it nearly impossible to cook small amounts of food. (Sample entries: Monday dinner, shrimp in garlic, butter, and wine sauce with wild rice; Tuesday lunch, leftover grilled chicken with wild rice. The shrimp were delicious, by the way.)
It doesn't help that the President and Senate Republicans are trying to turn this whole thing into a corporate giveaway. Some other lowlights:
But in one bit of good news, China announced an end to the two-month lockdown of Hubei province a few hours from now. Could we also start getting back to normal mid-May?
And finally, enjoy some scampi:
The President's disdain for expertise and his malignant, narcissistic character cost us weeks—or months—when we could have prepared for the pandemic we now face. Michelle Goldberg summarizes the case for slapping his name on the resulting disaster:
[W]hile the calamity we are experiencing is not Trump’s doing, his dishonesty and incompetence have exacerbated it, and continue to do so. To point this out is not to dwell on the past but to confront the scale of our present crisis. Trump has been giving daily televised briefings in which he overpromises and spreads misinformation. He makes bad decisions and reverses himself only under the pressure of bad press. That makes frankness about his catastrophic ineptitude imperative.
It can become tedious to dwell on the fact that the president is a dangerous and ignorant narcissist who has utterly failed as an executive, leaving state governments on their own to confront a generational cataclysm. But no one should ever forget it.
Soon, even if the pandemic is still raging, there will be an election, and the public will be asked to render a verdict on Trump’s leadership. Being clear that people are suffering and dying needlessly because the president can’t do his job isn’t looking backward. It’s the only way to move forward.
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, Margaret Sullivan joins the chorus of journalists who say we should stop broadcasting the president's dangerously misinformative press conferences.
And because I did not wish to fight madding crowds for needed groceries yesterday, I shall now go to Whole Foods. And Mariano's. And Trader Joe's. And Jewel. And hope that between the four of them, I can scrape together enough perishables to make semi-nutritious meals for myself this week.
I'm trying to get my mind around a Conservative government announcing this a few minutes ago:
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced the government will pay the wages of British workers to keep them in jobs as the coronavirus outbreak escalates.
In an unprecedented step, Sunak said the state would pay grants covering up to 80% of the salary of workers kept on by companies, up to a total of £2,500 per month, just above the median income.
“We are starting a great national effort to protect jobs,” he said. “It’s on all of us.”
Sunak said there would be no limit on the funding available to pay people’s wages.
The government is also deferring the next quarter of VAT payments, which is the equivalent of injecting another £30bn into the economy and is designed to help companies stay afloat.
(Another thing that I just learned: Sterling has dropped 12% against the dollar in the past week, hitting £1 = $1.1641 a few minutes ago.)
Closer to home:
And finally, Mother Jones asks "How do you know if you're living through the death of an empire?"
I have tons of experience working from home, but historically I've balanced that by going out in the evenings. The pandemic has obviously cut that practice down to zero. Moreover, the village of Oak Park will start shelter-in-place measures tomorrow, so I expect Chicago to do the same in the next couple of days. The Oak Park order seems reasonable: stay home except for essentials like food and medicine, stay two meters away from other people, it's OK to walk your dog, and so on. Since I'm already doing all of those things, a Chicago order would only affect my friends who, for example, own book shops and can't work remotely for other reasons.
In other pandemic news:
- As of yesterday a record 41,000 Illinois residents filed for unemployment benefits in a 48-hour period.
- Two luxury hotels have closed in Chicago with others expected to follow.
- Bruce Schneier calls attention to a work-from-home security awareness kit and worries about how the pandemic will increase overall infosec vulnerability because people don't actually know how to secure their home offices.
- Josh Marshall worries we're flying totally blind, because we haven't collected vital data about the pandemic's spread.
- The pub where citizens took refuge in the Zombie apocalypse comedy Sean of the Dead has shut because of the pandemic. “We stayed open during a zombie plague, ISIS attacks on London, an alien invasion and the news that Genesis were reforming, but we’ve had to take expert advice and close our doors this time”, said landlord Simon Williams.
- Republican US Senator Richard Burr briefed "a small group of well-connected constituents" about COVID-19 three weeks ago, according to a secret recording obtained by NPR. Another Republican asshat, US Representative Don Young (R-AK), joked about the "beer virus" and suggested people continue going out as normal. (Even if I hadn't specified the party affiliations of these tools, you'd know which party, wouldn't you?)
- Former US Senator Al Franken calls Trump's response "the last straw."
- Peter Nicholas writes in the Atlantic that "this is how Donald Trump will be remembered."
Also, today is the 92nd anniversary of the debut of "Amos 'n' Andy" on Chicago's WMAQ radio.
President Trump claims he knew COVID-19 was a pandemic all along, even though he had a strangely ineffective way of showing it.
Finally, and not related even a little to COVID-19, Olga Khazan writes in the Atlantic about "the perks of being a weirdo."
Actually, things seem to have quieted down. Bars and restaurants in Illinois closed last night at 9pm, and my company has moved to mandatory work-from-home, so things could not be quieter for me. I'm also an introvert with a dog and gigabit Internet, meaning I have a need to leave my house several times a day and something to do inside. (I'm also working, and in fact cracked a difficult nut yesterday that made today very productive.)
Outside of my house:
Finally, I was able to get everyone on board with a new date for Apollo After Hours. That only took five days...and 80 emails...
The Dow Industrial Average index of 30 blue-chip stocks dropped almost 3,000 points today, erasing almost all the gains the index made since President Trump's inauguration. This comes on the first business day after the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to near zero, and the CDC issued new guidance on avoiding groups of 50 or more for the next 8 weeks.
Related stories, just from today:
I will now resume beating up a partner organization for deploying software on Friday night that broke literally everything on our side.