The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Where did it all go wrong?

I admire the New York Times for digging into how our pandemic response was so much worse than every other rich country, but ultimately, we already knew:

First, the United States faced longstanding challenges in confronting a major pandemic. It is a large country at the nexus of the global economy, with a tradition of prioritizing individualism over government restrictions. That tradition is one reason the United States suffers from an unequal health care system that has long produced worse medical outcomes — including higher infant mortality and diabetes rates and lower life expectancy — than in most other rich countries.

The second major theme is one that public health experts often find uncomfortable to discuss because many try to steer clear of partisan politics. But many agree that the poor results in the United States stem in substantial measure from the performance of the Trump administration.

In no other high-income country — and in only a few countries, period — have political leaders departed from expert advice as frequently and significantly as the Trump administration. President Trump has said the virus was not serious; predicted it would disappear; spent weeks questioning the need for masks; encouraged states to reopen even with large and growing caseloads; and promoted medical disinformation.

Some Republican governors have followed his lead and also played down the virus, while others have largely followed the science. Democratic governors have more reliably heeded scientific advice, but their performance in containing the virus has been uneven.

The Republicans who have done this, up to and including the president, need to face serious consequences for their inaction and malfeasance.

Here in Chicago, we've lost yet another convention, bringing our economic losses into the billions, including an estimated 1.3 million lost room-nights this year alone.

Reactionary right-wing corruption under scrutiny

New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed suit to dissolve the National Rifle Association:

The lawsuit sets up a legal confrontation that could take years to play out and will leave the 148-year-old N.R.A. — long the nation’s most influential gun-rights lobby but recently hobbled by financial woes and infighting — fighting for its survival. The attorney general’s office previously presided over the dissolution of President Trump’s scandal-marred charitable foundation, but the N.R.A., with more than five million members, is a far larger organization that is expected to put up a more prolonged fight.

The lawsuit was swiftly followed by two others: The N.R.A. filed a suit against Ms. James’s office in federal court in Albany, claiming her action was politically motivated and violated the organization’s First Amendment rights. In addition, Karl Racine, the attorney general of Washington, D.C., filed suit against the N.R.A. and its charitable foundation, which is based in the city. Mr. Racine is seeking changes to the foundation and alleges that the N.R.A. misused millions of dollars of the foundation’s funds.

The suit accuses the N.R.A. and the executives of “violating numerous state and federal laws” by enriching themselves, as well as their friends, families and allies, and taking improper actions that cost the organization $64 million over three years. The attorney general has regulatory authority over the N.R.A. because it is chartered as a nonprofit in New York. She is also seeking to oust Mr. LaPierre and Mr. Frazer, and to bar all four men from ever serving on nonprofit boards in New York again.

The lawsuit, which was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, is a civil action, and outlined a number of alleged tax violations. Ms. James said during a news conference that she was referring the matter to the Internal Revenue Service in addition to taking her own action, and did not rule out making a future criminal referral.

Never forget: the purpose of authoritarianism is theft. And very few organizations the size of the NRA represent authoritarianism so obviously. Never mind what they say; watch what they do. (Hey, Mr LaPierre, where were all your members when actual jack-booted government agents came to Portland and DC?)

The Post has more:

James said at a news conference Thursday that she is seeking to dissolve the NRA because of the brazenness of the group’s violations of law.

“The corruption was so broad and because they have basically destroyed all the assets of the NRA,” she said. “Enough was enough … No one is above the law, not even the NRA.”

The lawsuit also claims LaPierre failed to report large sums of personal income to the IRS. James’s office said it found that the NRA chief funneled personal expenses through an outside public relations firm, allowing him to avoid reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal income.

In response, the NRA said Thursday that it was filing its own lawsuit against James, alleging that the New York attorney general has violated the group’s free speech rights.

“This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend,” NRA President Carolyn Meadows said in a statement. “You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle."

Waaaaah. Another thing authoritarians hate: being called on their wrongdoing.

Do I think the lawsuit will succeed in dissolving the NRA? No, sadly. And anyway, gun manufacturers would simply create a new trade and propaganda association to continue making the Second Amendment a parody of itself.

But with this suit, and the deepening investigation into the Trump Organization's finances, also in New York State, I think the era of right-wing over-reach may have reached its conclusion. Don't expect them to go quietly, however.

Beirut update

Casualties continue to mount along with accusations of official malfeasance from Tuesday evening's blast at the Port of Beirut:

Lebanon's President, Michel Aoun, blamed the detonation on 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that he said had been stored unsafely at a warehouse in the port.

A similar amount of the chemical arrived on a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship, the MV Rhosus, which docked in Beirut in 2013 after suffering technical problems while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique.

The Rhosus was inspected, banned from leaving and was shortly afterwards abandoned by its owners, according to Shiparrested.com. Its cargo was reportedly transferred to Warehouse 12 following a court order, and should have been disposed of or resold.

The 137 people who were killed included Jean-Marc Bonfils, a Beirut-born French architect. Mr Bonfils, who was involved in restoring buildings damaged in the city during the civil war, was broadcasting video of the incident live on Facebook after the first explosion but was injured in the second and later died. French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot said that France and Lebanon were united in grief at his death.

Mr Koraytem and the director general of Lebanese Customs, Badri Daher, said their warnings about the danger posed by the stored ammonium nitrate and calls for it to be removed were repeatedly ignored.

"We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why," Mr Daher told broadcaster LBCI.

Documents circulated online appeared to show that customs officials sent letters to the judiciary seeking guidance at least six times from 2014 to 2017.

Endemic corruption and lax regulatory enforcement seem to have contributed.

Also, a correction to yesterday's post. It turns out ammonium nitrate has about 40% the explosive power of TNT, so my comparison of the blast to a 3 kT tactical nuclear weapon was off a bit. It was only equivalent to a 1.1 kT tactical nuclear weapon—like the W54 the US Army developed in the 1950s—with about 9% of the yield of the bomb we dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, 75 years ago today. Even with such a small yield, and even though it exploded in a port area rather than in a dense residential or commercial zone, it injured over 5,000 people, killed over 150, and displaced 300,000 from their homes.

The equivalent of a 3-kiloton bomb

Yesterday approximately 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded in the Port of Beirut, Lebanon, leaving hundreds feared dead and thousands injured. If you've ever worried what a "tactical" nuclear weapon can do to a city, here are photos of ground zero from (apparently) just a few days ago and this morning:

Here's the Nukemap, showing pretty much exactly what happened:

For scale, here's the same detonation at the Sears Tower:

The search for survivors continues, with 300,000 people evacuated and Port of Beirut officials reported to be under house arrest.

Jonathan Swan interviews the president

Yesterday, Axios and HBO ran a 45-minute interview between Axios' Jonathn Swan and the President of the United States filmed last Tuesday. I haven't seen it, and I'm not sure I can stomach the whole thing after watching some excerpts. Fortunately, other people watched it for me.

Greg Sargent cites it as an example of "how to interview a serial liar and narcissist who is unfit to be president:"

Again and again, Swan practically pleaded with Trump to demonstrate a shred of basic humanity about the mounting toll under his presidency, and to display a glimmer of recognition of responsibility for it. Again and again, Trump failed this most basic test.

Even during the very occasional moments in which Trump did show a glimmer of awareness of the human toll, he immediately marred it with absurd blame-shifting to governors, who were screaming about the dangers for weeks early on while Trump dithered.

Trump simply doesn’t view the coronavirus as something to be defeated. Making this more destructive, Trump and his propagandists are working to keep the actual real-world failures of his response cosseted away in a place where they cannot be subjected to outside criticism — or corrected.

I would only add that Trump’s true position here, laid bare, is that this is the best we can do. Whether this is due to narcissism and the inability to hear criticism and self-correct, or whether it’s due to naked malevolence, that may be the biggest revelation here of all.

Inae Oh highlights "the 3 worst moments from Trump's newest Axios interview:"

In a heated back and forth, Trump and Swan sparred over the best statistics to assess the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump falsely asserted that US deaths from the virus are “lower” than anywhere in the world, rifling through a disorganized stack of printed charts to somehow back the absurd claim. “Lower than the world? In what?” Swan asked.

Glancing at the charts Trump was referencing, Swan said, “You’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of the population.”

“You can’t do that,” an outraged Trump replied.

After a brief explanation of the statistical importance of comparing coronavirus numbers in proportion to a country’s population, Trump then pivoted and suggested that South Korea has been falsely reporting its numbers in order to give the appearance of a more effective response. “You don’t know that,” Trump said when Swan mentioned South Korea’s low number of deaths from coronavirus. “You think they’re faking their statistics, South Korea?”

“Uh, I won’t get into that because I have a very good relationship with the country but you don’t know that.”

About accused sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, he said "I wish her well," and don't even get Maggie Haberman started on what he said about John Lewis:

“I never met John Lewis, actually,” Mr. Trump said. “He didn’t come to my inauguration. He didn’t come to my State of the Union speeches, and that’s OK. That’s his right.”

When asked to reflect on Mr. Lewis’s contributions to the civil rights movement, Mr. Trump instead talked up his own record.

“Again, nobody has done more for Black Americans than I have,” he said. “He should have come. I think he made a big mistake.”

Mr. Trump declined to say whether he found Mr. Lewis’s life story “impressive.” He seemed indifferent to renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., after the congressman.

Does he even know who John Lewis was? Does he know anything at all?

As the pipeline builds...

I'm waiting for a build to finish so I can sign off work for the day, so I've queued up a few things to read later:

Looks like the build is done, and all the tests passed. (I love green pipelines.)

157,000 deaths

I am trying to put that number into perspective.

  • Assuming 112.5 passengers per flight (4.378 billion passengers carried in 2018 divided by 38.9 million flights[1]), that's the equivalent of 1,395 air-transport crashes this year.
  • It's approximately the number of deaths from nuclear weapons, ever[2].
  • More Americans have died from Covid-19 in the US than died in World War I and the Vietnam War, combined[3].
  • It is more than the total number of people who died in New York State in 2017 from all causes[4].
  • More Americans have died of Covid-19 than Asians and Africans combined, and we have equaled the number of deaths in the entirety of Continental Europe.[5]

And the president and the Republican Party have let it continue through incompetence, malice, and negligence.

[1] Source: Statista, IATA.
[2] From 6 August to 31 December 1945, the US Army estimated 90,000-120,000 deaths in Hiroshima and 60,000-90,000 deaths in Nagasaki due to the atomic bombings. Source: UCLA.
[3] Source: Wikipedia.
[4] Source: NYS Dept of Health.
[5] Source: Worldometers

Another record

No, not about The Daily Parker (though I'm hoping to keep extending the record I set yesterday). I mean Lake Michigan:

The Lake Michigan-Huron system ended July at 177.5 m MSL, averaging just below that for the month, and setting a monthly-average record for seven consecutive months. The normal (technically, the "chart datum") water level is 176.0 m, and the previous record for July was 5 cm lower.

The US Army Corps of Engineers predicts the lake will drop 5-10 cm by September 1st, which could still keep it above record levels for another month.