Spring has gone on spring break this week, so while I find the weather pleasant and enjoyable, it still feels like mid-March. That makes it more palatable to remain indoors for lunch and catch up on these stories:
And finally, via Bruce Schneier, Australia has proposed starting cyber-security training in Kindergartens.
Paul Krugman points out that adequate child care, such as President Biden has championed, goes a long way to helping families make and keep money:
It’s ... instructive to compare the United States with other advanced countries, almost all of which have higher taxes and more generous social benefits than we do. Do they pay a price for these policies in the form of reduced employment?
Many Americans would, I suspect, be surprised to learn that the truth is that many high-tax, high-benefit countries are quite successful at creating jobs. Take the case of France: Adults between the ages of 25 and 54, the prime working years, are more likely to be employed in France than they are in America, mainly because Frenchwomen have a higher rate of paid employment than their American counterparts. The Nordic countries have an even larger employment advantage among women.
How can employment be so high in countries with lots of “job-killing” taxes? The answer is that taxes don’t visibly kill jobs — but lack of child care does. Parents in many rich countries are able to take paid work because they have access to safe, affordable child care; in the United States such care is prohibitively expensive for many, if they can get it at all. And the reason is that our government spends almost nothing on child care and pre-K; our outlays as a percentage of G.D.P. put us somewhat below Cyprus and Romania.
The American Family Plan would completely change this picture, providing free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds while limiting child care costs to no more than 7 percent of income for lower- and middle-income parents. If this raised employment of prime-age American women to French levels, it would add about 1.8 million jobs; if we went to Danish levels, we would add three million jobs.
Might we finally get to a place in American history where we have better conditions than many of our friends? We'll see.
Some stories in the news this week:
Finally, the House Oversight and Reform Committee advanced DC statehood legislation. The full house may even pass the DC Admission Act next week.
Today is the 29th anniversary of the Great Chicago Flood, in which no one got hurt despite nearly a billion liters of water surging through Loop basements:
On April 13th, 1992, Chicago was struck by a man-made natural disaster. The Great Chicago Flood of 1992 occurred completely underground and, fortunately, nobody was hurt. There were no dramatic rescues from office buildings and there were no canoes paddling Michigan Avenue. Still, the flood was a big deal. It made national news and shut down the Mercantile Exchange, The Sears Tower, and the Art Institute. It damaged records in City Hall, closed businesses in the Loop (some for weeks), and ultimately caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to Chicago buildings.
In September of 1991, Great Lakes Dredging, an independent contractor, replaced pilings in the Chicago river. Pilings protect the bridges from runaway barges. One of their new pilings near the Kinzie Street bridge damaged the roof of a freight tunnel, allowing water to slowly leak in.
In January of 1992 a television cable company discovered a leak in the tunnels. They tried to notify James McTigue — who they knew was familiar with the tunnels — but the city had recently re-organized and they couldn’t locate him until February. McTigue tracked down the leak, took photos, and showed them to his supervisors in March, explaining a leaking tunnel under the river could lead to a massive flood. Despite that warning, the city did not expedite repairs.
The city rejected an initial repair bid of $10,000 because it considered the cost too high, and new contractors were scheduled to inspect the tunnels on April 14th. In the early morning of April 13th, that small leak finally gave into the enormous water pressure of the Chicago River above. The tunnel’s ceiling collapsed and water began filling in. As they were in the system’s early days, many of the tunnels were still connected to the basements of many buildings in the Loop.
What followed (and, frankly, what led to the disaster) made this "the most Chicago story ever."
In other news of historic disasters, one of Chicago's oldest shopping malls, Northbrook Court, may soon become a neighborhood instead of a massive car park. As it represents just about everything wrong with the suburbs, good riddance. Maybe they'll even put in some shops people can walk to?
We've spent 54 weeks in the looking-glass world of Covid-19. And while we may have so much more brain space than we had during the time a certain malignant personality invaded it every day, life has not entirely stopped. Things continue to improve, though:
Finally, today is the 40th anniversary of the day President Reagan got shot. I'm struggling a bit with the "40 years" bit.
In case you needed proof that the world didn't suddenly become an Enlightenment paradise on January 20th, I give you:
You will be happy to know, however, that Egypt has passed its 400-meter kidney stone.
The Ever Given continues to plug up the Suez Canal, halting some $10 billion a day in global trade:
Canal authorities said on Saturday that dredgers had managed to dig out the rear of the ship on Friday night, freeing its rudder, and that by Saturday afternoon they had dredged 18 meters down into the canal’s eastern bank, where the ship’s bow was stuck solid. But after a salvage team failed once more to dislodge the four-football-field-long leviathan from the sand bank where it ran aground on Tuesday, blocking all shipping traffic through the canal, global supply chains churned closer to a full-blown crisis.
Easing the bottleneck depends on the salvagers’ ability to clear away the sand, mud and rock where the Ever Given is stuck and to lighten the ship’s load enough to help it float again, all while tugboats try to push and pull it free. Their best chance may arrive on Monday, when a spring tide will raise the canal’s water level by up to about 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.
All the while, they must hope the Ever Given remains intact. With the ship sagging in the middle, its bow and stern both caught in positions for which it was not designed, the hull is vulnerable to stress and cracks...experts said.
I found this sentence particularly amusing: "[T]he Ever Given had succumbed to Murphy’s Law: Everything that could go wrong did, starting with the ship’s size, among the world’s largest."
The ship's size had nothing to do with Murphy's Law. Evergreen made a business decision to float a 400-meter container ship and send it down Suez. And the Suez authorities let it through. Maybe it's not so much Murphy's Law as the Omnibus Explanation: "When you cannot explain a human decision through logic, the actual reason for the decision is stupidity."
Since Wednesday, a 400-meter container ship has blocked the Suez Canal in Egypt, disrupting international trade and costing the world economy millions per day:
International efforts to dislodge the skyscraper-size cargo ship blocking Egypt's Suez Canal intensified but made little progress Thursday as the maritime traffic jam wreaked havoc on global trade.
Egyptian authorities said navigation was still "temporarily suspended" after the container got stuck sideways across the canal because of a severe dust storm and poor visibility.
That meant traffic remained at a standstill on a route that accounts for about 12 percent of global trade as the shipping saga passed the 48-hour mark.
The Suez Canal usually allows 50 cargo ships pass daily between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, providing a vital trade corridor between Europe and Asia.
Photos released by Suez authorities showed a digger removing earth and rock from the canal's bank and around the ship's bow.
More on that in a sec. The BBC explains how the canal authorities have tried unsuccessfully to get the ship out of the way:
The focus however has now turned to digging out sand and mud from around the vessel's hull.
The Netherlands-based dredging company Boskalis is managing this operation.
The ship's management company BSM says an additional specialist "suction dredger" is now in place able to shift 2,000 cubic meters of material every hour.
"It might take weeks depending on the situation" to free the ship using a combination of dredging, tugging and the removal of weight from the vessel.
These efforts have led to the meme of the pandemic:
As the night follows the day, now that Republicans have lost power they're once again all a-flutter about deficits. This time, Democrats aren't having it:
Twelve years ago, Barack Obama entered the White House amid somewhat similar circumstances: The economy was in a tailspin; stimulus and relief were desperately needed. His administration spent weeks watering down a bill that was more aimed at winning Republican support than adequately filling the yawning hole in the economy: The bill’s bottom-line figure was kept below $1 trillion so as not to spook the deficit hawks, and much of the relief it did include was engineered to flow into the gap with such subtlety that it was destined to be barely felt at all.
For all of Obama’s entreaties to his political opponents, Republicans rejected it anyway. They were rewarded for all that intransigence first with a big opinion swing against the stimulus and then by a wave election that took back control of the House of Representatives in 2010.
Despite all that has happened between January 2009 and February 2021, Republicans are running the same plays: fighting against economic relief in the hopes that they can use the immiseration that would follow for their political benefit.
But this is not 2009. The situation may be vaguely similar—an economic crash following catastrophic Republican governance—but the world has changed a great deal. The Black-Eyed Peas have faded toward irrelevance; most people now acknowledge that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was bad. And the attacks on Democratic spending have lost some of their spicy tang after another deficit-busting GOP administration.
The media also seems to have learned some lessons from the radicalization of the GOP. Once, a lack of opposition votes was a scandal in miniature. In 2009, McConnell was able to weaponize that idea, pushing the Obama administration to downgrade its asks without ever having to give anything up in return. McConnell got cover from media luminaries such as David Broder, who approvingly cited Obama’s bipartisan yearnings: “The president has told visitors that he would rather have 70 votes in the Senate for a bill that gives him 85 percent of what he wants rather than a 100 percent satisfactory bill that passes 52 to 48.” It’s taken a while—and a deadly pandemic—but many in the often fabulously naïve Beltway press have gotten smarter. Now the narrative is increasingly centered on McConnell’s intransigence, rather than some failure on the part of Democrats to persuade Republicans to vote for legislation that would have been bipartisan not that long ago.
Right. It only took a Republican administration's incompetence allowing mass death from a pandemic to finally—finally!—get people understand they have no interest in governing.
Might we soon enter a truly progressive era in American politics? It's about damn time if we do.
Senate Democrats gave the opposition three whole days to stop dicking around with the latest Covid-19 relief package. Then today, with no more than a shrug, they told the Republicans they're tired of the crap:
Senate Democrats took the first step Tuesday toward passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill without Republican support, advancing their efforts to avoid a GOP filibuster.
The vote to kickstart the budget reconciliation process, which passed 50-49, is a sign that leadership expects to have the full Democratic caucus on board for the final package.
The vote comes a day after President Joe Biden met with a group of Senate Republicans, who are offering a $618 billion counterproposal. Although Biden told Senate Democrats Tuesday on a private caucus call that the meeting went well, he also said the Republican proposal is not sufficient, according to sources on the call.
Economist Paul Krugman has already explained the ways the GOP's $618 billion "offer" wasn't serious:
It’s not just that the G.O.P. proposal is grotesquely inadequate for a nation still ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond that, by their behavior — not just over the past few months but going back a dozen years — Republicans have forfeited any right to play the bipartisanship card, or even to be afforded any presumption of good faith.
But what about bipartisanship? As Biden might say, “C’mon, man.”
First of all, a party doesn’t get to demand bipartisanship when many of its representatives still won’t acknowledge that Biden won legitimately, and even those who eventually acknowledged the Biden victory spent weeks humoring baseless claims of a stolen election.
Complaints that it would be “divisive” for Democrats to pass a relief bill on a party-line vote, using reconciliation to bypass the filibuster, are also pretty rich coming from a party that did exactly that in 2017, when it enacted a large tax cut — legislation that, unlike pandemic relief, wasn’t a response to any obvious crisis, but was simply part of a conservative wish list.
Yes. It only took, what, 12 years? But our party's leadership have finally figured out not to play this game. We're not giving Lucy the football on this one.