The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

All the news that fits

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.

Lunchtime reading

Travel in the US just got slightly easier now that the Department of Homeland Security has extended the deadline to get REAL ID cards to May 2023. Illinois just started making them a year ago, but you have to go to a Secretary of State office in person to get one. Due to Covid-19, the lines at those facilities often stretch to the next facility a few kilometers away.

Reading that made me happier than reading most of the following:

And finally, Ravinia has announced its schedule for this summer, starting on June 4th.

Someone call "Lunch!"

We have gloomy, misty weather today, keeping us mostly inside. Cassie has let me know how bored she is, so in the next few minutes we'll brave the spitting fog and see if anyone else has made it to the dog park.

Meanwhile:

All right, off to the damp dog park.

Biden's first 100 days: the critics

The BBC Fact Checker corrects the record on things the President has said since he took office:

"An increase in border migration 'happens every year... in the winter months'"

The number fluctuates widely - but there is not always a significant increase during the winter months.

At a press conference in March, he said: "There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. It happens every year."

Of the seven statements the BBC checked, only this and his claim about when polls close in Georgia was inaccurate.

The Washington Post found that President Biden made 78 false or misleading claims during his first 100 days in office, only two of which earned 4 Pinocchios. In contrast, the XPOTUS made 511 such statements in 100 days, including a few dozen whoppers. The Post also noted that the President "generally does not repeat his false claims if they have been fact-checked as false."

Meanwhile, the New York Times ran an op-ed this morning from Matthew Walther, a contributing editor at The American Conservative. Walther claims the President is governing the same as his predecessor:

After announcing his intention to “get tough on China,” the president has kept Mr. Trump’s tariffs largely in place and supplemented them with a wide-ranging “Buy American” order. Perhaps even more worthy of Mr. Trump was the new administration’s refusal in March to export unused supplies of the coronavirus vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca on the grounds that the United States needed to be “oversupplied and overprepared.” Mr. Biden’s sudden about-face on this issue a few weeks later was also fittingly Trumpian.

There is also the matter of immigration policy. Despite his formal reinstatement of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and other, mostly symbolic actions, such as proposing that the word “alien” be replaced with “noncitizen” in American law, Mr. Biden has presided over the sorts of barbarous spectacles at our southern border that were all too familiar during the past four years.

Even in the area of economics, where it might have been supposed by both supporters and critics during the presidential campaign that Mr. Biden would adopt a more progressive agenda, he has differed from the bipartisan center-right economic consensus along curiously familiar lines. In addition to keeping Mr. Trump’s moratorium on evictions in place, for example, he has continued with the suspension of interest on student loan debt and the collection of monthly payments.

So, I'm not entirely sure what Walther's criticisms are, really. I agree that the administration has taken more time than one would hope to correct the abuses at the border, but that seems more like bureaucratic inertia than policy—not to mention the philosophical bent of many of our border agents.

What Walther and other critics from the right get totally wrong is how the President corrects himself, and how the tone of the administration matters both at home and abroad. Not all of the previous administration's policies were awful. Not all of President Biden's are wonderful. But on balance, the world has become a better place now that we've seen the back of the last guy.

How to create jobs

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.

Thanks, Bruce!

After languishing for four years while former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R-of course) refused to govern, Metra's Peterson/Ridge station project...has stalled again:

Crews for Metra were slated to break ground in May on the train station at Peterson and Ravenswood avenues. Due to a permitting issue with the city, work will be delayed by roughly three to five months, said Joe Ott, director of Metra’s construction department.

If the permits take any longer to secure, major construction on the new station could be pushed to spring 2022, he said.

The problem is that the ground beneath the station holds city water mains, and the city’s Department of Water Management was worried about groundwater from the station leaking into the water mains, he said. The city agency said the project’s groundwater system needs revision before a permit will be granted.

It is just the latest setback for a project first announced in 2012.

The project fell by the wayside during the state’s years-long budget impasse. Local officials said in 2017 funding for the project was nearly secured, but a $1 billion fund earmarked for Metra was slashed in half that year.

At least they've cleared the vacant lot connecting where the station will go. Apparently they've also put up a sign. It's a start, I suppose.

In tangential news, Amtrak announced that it will offer tickets up to 50% off to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. I wish my travel plans would allow me to take a long train trip somewhere.

331,449,281

The Census Bureau released the top-line population counts for the United States at 2pm Chicago time today:

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that the 2020 Census shows the resident population of the United States on April 1, 2020, was 331,449,281.

The U.S. resident population represents the total number of people living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The resident population increased by 22,703,743 or 7.4% from 308,745,538 in 2010.

The new resident population statistics for the United States, each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are available on census.gov

  • The most populous state was California (39,538,223); the least populous was Wyoming (576,851).
  • The state that gained the most numerically since the 2010 Census was Texas (up 3,999,944 to 29,145,505).
  • The fastest-growing state since the 2010 Census was Utah (up 18.4% to 3,271,616).
  • Puerto Rico's resident population was 3,285,874, down 11.8% from 3,725,789 in the 2010 Census.

Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and for the first time ever, California, will each lose one seat in Congress. Montana gets a second seat, while Oregon, Florida, North Carolina, and Colorado pick up one more each, and Texas gets two more.

Now comes the plague of lawsuits in several states whose reapportionment had to wait until today...

Yes, AVGAS still has lead in it

MSNBC is scandalized that 100-octane low-lead aviation fuel (AVGAS) still exists, but as usual for general stories about technical topics, they miss a few important details:

While leaded gasoline was fully phased out in 1996 with the passage of the Clean Air Act, it still fuels a fleet of 170,000 piston-engine airplanes and helicopters. Leaded aviation fuel, or avgas, now makes up “the largest remaining aggregate source of lead emissions to air in the U.S.,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

For now, leaded aviation gas appears to be caught in a bureaucratic limbo: stuck between not meeting the environmental demands of the EPA and the commercial realities of the aviation community. It is the primary viable option for this type of aircraft, as the general aviation community argues it remains critical given the needs of the current fleet.

“Fuel and emissions are governed by the federal government,” said Eric Peterson, county airports director with the County of Santa Clara, which owns Reid-Hillview. “So until they come up with an alternative fuel, there is a limited amount the county can do to address that.”

But why, oh why, do piston airplanes still use leaded gas? MSNBC doesn't spend a lot of their article explaining that it's so the airplane engines don't just stop suddenly during flight. Lead reduces "knock," which can annoy you if it happens to your car's engine, but which can kill you if it happens to your plane's.

Also, lead boosts octane, and for high-performance aviation piston engines, nothing less than 100 octane will work.

Alternatives are coming, soon, but it will take some time. The FAA explains what needs to happen before they can approve 100-octane unleaded fuel:

The FAA requires the fuel producers to complete the following "pre-screening" tests prior to a candidate fuel formulation entering into more extensive testing through the PAFI (Piston Aviation Fuels Initiative) program:

  1. Successful completion of a 150 hr. engine endurance test on a turbocharged engine using PAFI test protocols or other procedure coordinated with the FAA;
  2. Successful completion of an engine detonation screening test using the PAFI test protocols or other procedures coordinated with the FAA
  3. Successful completion of a subset of the material compatibility tests using the PAFI test protocol or other procedures coordinated with the FAA.

Development and pre-screening testing is taking place at both private and public testing facilities across the country. The FAA's William J. Hughes Technical Center is providing engine-testing services through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADA) with the individual fuel companies. While COVID-19 has delayed the completion of the pre-screening tests, the tentative schedule is to re-start formal PAFI testing in 2021.

So, yes, I and every other private pilot out there wants to use unleaded fuel—or, really, a completely different power source. But as long as the consequences of sudden power loss remain different for aircraft than for any other type of vehicle, we have to keep using the only safe (for the airplane, anyway) fuel that remains widely available.

One step closer to the 51st State

House Democrats passed a bill granting statehood to the District of Columbia yesterday afternoon. It has a better chance of becoming law than the last one:

The bill, symbolically titled H.R. 51, now heads to the Senate, where proponents hope to break new ground — including a first-ever hearing in that chamber. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) pledged Tuesday that “we will try to work a path to get [statehood] done,” and the White House asked Congress in a policy statement to pass the legislation as swiftly as possible.

But the political odds remain formidable, with the Senate filibuster requiring the support of 60 senators to advance legislation. Republicans, who hold 50 seats, have branded the bill as a Democratic power grab because it would create two Senate seats for the deep-blue city. Not even all Senate Democrats have backed the bill as the clock ticks toward the 2022 midterm election.

H.R. 51 would shrink the federal district to a two-square-mile enclave, including federal buildings such as the Capitol and the White House. The city’s other residential and commercial areas would become the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, to honor abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Of course, without filibuster reform, it won't get a vote in the Senate. So we may have to try again in 2023. But this one may squeak by, as it's really hard for Republicans to deny that keeping 750,000 people from representation in Congress looks bad, even for them.

Wait, what?

The United States Postal Service has a surveillance program that tracks social media posts for law enforcement, and no one can say why:

The details of the surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, have not previously been made public. The work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as “inflammatory” postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.

“Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021,” says the March 16 government bulletin, marked as “law enforcement sensitive” and distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centers. “Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.”

When contacted by Yahoo News, civil liberties experts expressed alarm at the post office’s surveillance program. “It’s a mystery,” said University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, whom President Barack Obama appointed to review the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. “I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.”

I mean, scraping social media takes only a modicum of technical skills. In the last year I've written software that can scan Twitter and run detailed sentiment analysis on keyword-based searches. But I'm not a government agency with arrest powers. Or, you know, a constitutional mandate to deliver the mail.

Weird.