The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Backfield in motion

That's American for the English idiom "penny in the air." And what a penny. More like a whole roll of them.

Right now, the House of Commons are wrapping up debate on the Government's bill to prorogue Parliament (for real this time) and have elections the second week of December. The second reading of the bill just passed by voice vote (the "noes" being only a few recalcitrant MPs), so the debate continues. The bill is expected to pass—assuming MPs can agree on whether to have the election on the 9th, 11th, or 12th of December. Regardless, that means I'll be in London during the first weekend of the election campaign, and I'm elated.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of other things made the news in the last day:

  • Writing for the New Yorker, Sam Knight argues that before Boris Johnson became PM, it was possible to imagine a Brexit that worked for the UK. Instead, Johnson has poisoned UK politics for a generation.
  • Presidents Trump and Obama came to Chicago yesterday, but only one of the personally insulted us. Guess which one.
  • That one also made top military officers squirm yesterday when he released classified information about our assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including a photograph of the dog injured in the raid. The dog's name remained classified, even as it seemed clear that he was a very good boy.
  • Grinnell College in Iowa released polling data today showing just how much people don't like President Trump. Moreover, 80% of those polled thought a presidential candidate seeking election help from a foreign government was unacceptable. Adam Schiff cracking his knuckles could be heard all the way to the Grinnell campus.
  • An appellate court in North Carolina ruled that the election maps drawn up by the Republican Party unfairly gerrymander a Republican majority, and must be re-drawn for the 2020 election.
  • Grubhub's share price crashed today after the company released a written statement ahead of its earnings call later this week. The company made $1.0 million on $322.1 million in revenue during the 3rd quarter, and projected a loss for the 4th quarter.
  • The City of Atlanta decided not to pay ransom to get their computers working again, in order to reduce the appeal of ransomware attacks.

Finally, it looks like it could snow in Chicago on Thursday. Color me annoyed.

The hospice of history

Writing in the Guardian, journalist and historian Neal Ascherson says that the long Brexit fight has deepened divisions within the UK that have always been there, but now may have passed the point of no return:

It’s commonly said that the Brexit years have made the English more xenophobic, less tolerant, more angrily divided among themselves. 

[T]he deepest change since 2016 is the weakening of the United Kingdom’s inner bonds.

The “great rest of England” seem to have felt for many years that if the Scots want to leave, “it seems a pity but it’s their right”. Few southerners would feel diminished. Many believe, incorrectly, that England subsidises Scotland. Since 2016, Scotland’s heavy vote to stay in the EU, and the SNP’s incessant campaigning against any sort of Brexit, have become a severe irritant to “British” politics. Devolution is working more scratchily month by month, and the common English assumption for the past few years has been that Scottish independence is inevitable. Curiously, this is not how it looks in Scotland, where minds change slowly and where it’s far from certain that the next independence referendum will drag the yes vote over the line.

In the union of four nations, one – England – has 85% of the population. What the past three years have shown is that the big partner is no longer concerned to put its own interests behind those of the others. A poll this year showed that Tory voters would be ready to “lose Scotland” (revealing words) if that ensured Brexit. In turn, devolution only made sense when all four nations were inside the European Union. If England in 2019 can no longer remember why the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland once made sense, Brexit has delivered the United Kingdom to the hospice of history.

Meanwhile, a deal in the works between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats may end the fixed-terms parliament act and send the UK to the polls on December 9th, instead of December 12th as the Government have previously asked. The EU have voted to postpone Brexit until January 31st, further complicating things for the Labour party (even though Labour demanded the extension).

I expect an earful at the Southampton Arms in two weeks.

Things to think about while running a 31-minute calculation

While my work computer chews through slightly more than a million calculations in a unit test (which I don't run in CI, in case you (a) were wondering and (b) know what that means), I have a moment to catch up:

The first 30-minute calculation is done, and now I'm on to the second one. Then I can resume writing software instead of testing it.

Johnson whips out his Johnson

In a move that surprised almost no one but angered almost everyone, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today that, at his request, the Queen prorogued Parliament from mid-September to October 14th:

The effect of the decision will be to curtail the time MPs have to introduce legislation or other measures aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit – and increase the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to table a vote of no confidence next week.

If Johnson lost that vote, there would then be a 14-day period in which the Labour party leader, or an alternative candidate, could seek to assemble a majority. If no new government emerges, a general election would have to be held.

But government sources insist Johnson is determined not to go to the polls before Britain is due to leave the EU. “We have been very clear that if there’s a no-confidence vote, he won’t resign. We get to set an election date. We don’t want an election, but if we have to set a date, it’s going to be after 31 October,” said a senior government source.

In practice, given MPs do not sit on most Fridays, they are only likely to lose between four and six sitting days in parliament, depending on which day parliament is prorogued on the second week of September. MPs would have been due to hold conference recess anyway, from 12 September until 7 October.

The plan would leave Parliament out of session for the longest period since 1945. The Speaker, John Bercow, said he will "fight with every breath in [his] body" to prevent the recess.

Columnist Tom Kibasi says Johnson is trying to set up a "people vs Parliament" election:

The last time parliament stepped in to block no deal earlier in the year, the necessary legislation was passed in just three days. Johnson has deliberately left enough time for parliament to seize control again. That’s because Johnson’s real objective is to use Brexit to win a general election, rather than use a general election to secure Brexit. By forcing the hands of his opponents, he has defined the terrain for a “people versus parliament” election. Expect him to run on “Back Boris, Take Back Britain”. He will say that the only way to definitely leave on 31 October is to give him a parliamentary majority to do so. The man of Eton, Oxford and the Telegraph will position himself as the leader of the people against the hated establishment and “remainer elite”.

Johnson's Conservative party are polling ahead of Labor, but none of the four major parties is polling above 33%. A Labour-Liberal Democratic coalition could happen; so could a grand coalition of Remainers.

Parliament returns from its August holiday on September 3rd. Expect fireworks.

Pelosi to AOC: Simmer down, kid

Jennifer Rubin lays out how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has dealt with, and delegated some of the dealing-with, freshman representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY):

If you did not catch it, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, tweeted that the moderate Democrats were “New Southern Democrats. . . hell bent to do to black and brown people today what the old Southern Democrats did in the 40s.” That’s simply outrageous by any measure, especially considering that a healthy number of moderate members are nonwhite. Ocasio-Cortez’s staffer deleted that tweet, but his boss refused to take back her nearly equally obnoxious insinuation that Pelosi was singling her and her three colleagues out because they were not white. 

The moderate members want Chakrabarti gone, a not unreasonable request, given that he is threatening to launch primary challenges to some incumbents. If they want Ocasio-Cortez to completely capitulate, they could instruct their chiefs of staff not to deal with Chakrabarti, but it’s not clear they want to push it that far.

Pelosi is right in one regard: that Democrats’ “diversity is their strength.” Hardcore progressives can win in deep-blue districts and motivate their followers; moderates can win in swing areas. But the thing about a caucus or a coalition is that no one can promote themselves at the expense of and detriment to others. Now that this message has been delivered loud and clear, perhaps Democrats can return to their agenda and to their battle against Trump. For the good of the country, let’s hope so.

Also today, Andrew Sullivan slams the Democratic caucus for not being more aggressive fighting executive overreach (and corruption) while at the same time worrying that Jeremy Corbyn might become Prime Minister of the UK someday.

May and Corbyn to talk Brexit

After a Parliamentary session yesterday demonstrating that no one is able to compromise with anyone else, in which MPs voted down four more proposals for Brexit, PM Theresa May today said she'd seek talks with Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn to see what kind of a coalition they could cobble together:

In a brief TV statement inside No 10 following a seven-hour cabinet meeting, the prime minister said she would hold talks with Jeremy Corbyn to seek a Brexit plan they could agree on and “both could put to the house”.

If agreement with the Labour leader was impossible, May said, the plan would be to put to a vote in parliament a series of Brexit options, with the government committing to enact whatever idea won support.

This would require another extension to article 50, May said, but added that she aimed for this to not go beyond 22 May, thus ensuring the UK would not need to take part in European elections.

With only 10 days to go before the current Brexit deadline, neither Parliament nor the government can figure out what to do. This is already the stupidest thing the UK has ever done to itself, and I'm including the Intolerable Acts, the Corn Laws, and Oliver Cromwell in the list.

There's an expression pilots use to describe uncontrolled flying: "in physics." Once an aircraft is in physics, you get to read about it in an NTSB report a week later.

The House of Commons is in physics.

The UK's reputation in Europe

Whether you prefer "shooting oneself in the foot" or "circular firing squad" as your metaphor, the UK's flailing with just a week left to go before crashing out of the EU has disappointed many people in Europe:

For politicians, diplomats and officials across the continent, the past two-and-a-half years of the Britain’s fraught, seemingly interminable and increasingly shambolic departure from the EU have proved an eye-opener.

Some have responded with humour. Nathalie Loiseau, France’s Europe minister, said recently that if she had one, she would call her cat Brexit: “It wakes me up miaowing because it wants to go out. When I open the door, its sits there, undecided. Then it looks daggers at me when I put it out.”

Others have found it harder to laugh. To the shock of many, ;Brexit has revealed a country they long looked up to locked in a narrative of its own exceptionalism, talking mainly to itself, incoherent, entitled, incapable of compromise (with itself or its neighbours), startlingly ignorant of the workings of an organisation it has belonged to for nearly 50 years, and unrealistic.

Only, Britain has been here so many times before. Crashing out of India so hard that the country hasn't had a day of peace in 70 years? Check. Getting rolled by the Soviets after putting a Soviet spy in charge of rooting out Soviet spies? Check. Appeasing a fascist regime bent on European hegemony? Check.

And now, it seems, Russia has rolled them again, as no country stands to gain more from Brexit than they. And still they're flailing about, going through the worst Constitutional crisis (self-inflicted!) since the 17th Century.

It's really sad.

Weekend reading list

Just a few things I'm reading that you also might want to read:

And finally, it's getting close to April and the Blogging A-to-Z Challenge. Stay tuned.

Is my party drifting into Corbynism?

Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has made comments throughout her career that sound pretty clearly anti-Semitic. Three of my favorite columnists find this, and the party's response, alarming.

First, Bret Stephens, a Democrat:

Like many self-described progressives, Omar does not like Israel. That’s a shame, not least because Israel is the only country in its region that embraces the sorts of values the Democratic Party claims to champion. When was the last time there was a gay-pride parade in Ramallah, a women’s rights march in Gaza, or an opposition press in Tehran? In what Middle Eastern country other than Israel can an attorney general indict a popular and powerful prime minister on corruption charges?

For those who don’t get it, claims that Israel “hypnotizes” the world, or that it uses money to bend others to its will, or that its American supporters “push for allegiance to a foreign country,” repackage falsehoods commonly used against Jews for centuries. People can debate the case for Israel on the merits, but those who support the state should not have to face allegations that their sympathies have been purchased, or their brains hijacked, or their loyalties divided.

As the criticism of Omar mounts, it becomes that much easier for her to seem like the victim of a smear campaign, rather than the instigator of a smear. The secret of anti-Semitism has always rested, in part, on creating the perception that the anti-Semite is, in fact, the victim of the Jews and their allies. Just which powers-that-be are orchestrating thatcampaign? Why are they afraid of open debate? And what about all the bigotry on their side?

Second, Michele Goldberg, who is not a Democrat but is Jewish:

I think Omar deserves criticism. Criticism, however, is not the right word for what she’s faced. As one of the first two Muslim women in Congress — and the first to wear a hijab — Omar has been subject to a terrifying campaign of racist vilification, including a poster in the rotunda of the West Virginia Capitol linking her to 9/11. She is treated as a dangerous foreign interloper in American politics and the embodiment of anti-Semitism, even though her Republican colleagues routinely demonstrate far worse anti-Jewish bigotry.

House Democratic leaders have been widely panned for their handling of the Omar affair, but its contradictions put them in a near-impossible bind. To ignore her words would be to tolerate mild anti-Semitism, an unsavory proposition at any time, but especially now, when many Jews feel newly vulnerable in a country that’s long been a haven. To publicly rebuke her would mean joining in the over-the-top demonization of a black Muslim woman facing death threats. Ultimately, Democrats on Thursday settled on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, and “bigotry against minorities,” a blandly inoffensive document that didn’t seem to satisfy anyone.

Every Democrat present backed the resolution, but 23 Republicans voted against it. It was a reminder that while Democrats sometimes fail to live up to the ideals of multiethnic democracy, Republicans don’t seem to recognize those ideas at all. Omar needs to do better, but right now there’s still only one political party in America that is a safe place for hate.

Finally, Andrew Sullivan, who is neither a Democrat nor Jewish:

It should be possible to criticize Washington’s relationship with Israel without deploying crude and freighted language like this. But it got me wondering: Is it possible to write honestly about the Israel lobby’s power in D.C. without using any anti-Semitic “tropes” at all?

The basic facts are not really in dispute. A very powerful lobby deploys the money and passions of its members to ensure that a foreign country gets very, very special treatment from the U.S. Many of its supporters are Evangelical Protestants who want to accelerate the Second Coming. Others spring from an older and very American form of Christian Zionism. Many others are also American Jews with a commitment to Israel that has its roots both in the Torah and in a vow never to allow a second Holocaust.

The first bill introduced into the Senate in this Congress was one that made it illegal for any American to boycott goods from the West Bank, without suffering real economic consequences from their own government. It’s a federal bill designed to buttress several state bans on Americans’ right to boycott Israeli goods. Now here’s a clear case of conflict between the free speech rights of Americans and Israel’s continuing occupation of the West Bank. And the Senate voted for Israel’s occupation over the rights of its own citizens by a margin of 77– 23. One recalls what a former AIPAC head, Steve Rosen, said to Jeffrey Goldberg over lunch in 2005: “‘You see this napkin? In 24 hours, we could have the signatures of 70 senators on this napkin.” He was too modest.

I think this grotesque distortion of U.S. foreign policy deserves a much wider debate, but is constrained by cheap accusations of anti-Semitism. To give an example, if a critic of Israel were to use the exact same words as Steve Rosen, and argue that AIPAC is so powerful it could snap its fingers and have 70 senators’ signatures on a bill within 24 hours, he’d likely be deemed a bigot. And that is part of the Israel lobby’s power: its capacity to punish anyone for opposing it. It seems to me that it is simply a fact that the Israel lobby uses money, passion, and persuasion to warp this country’s foreign policy in favor of another country — out of all proportion to what Israel can do for the U.S. That comes perilously close to anti-Semitic tropes, but it’s also the truth. AIPAC, like the NRA, is a uniquely American phenomenon, and again like the NRA, full of an intense fanaticism that sometimes beggars belief. In many ways, this passionate intensity is understandable. History matters. But it’s not a rational way for a great power to conduct foreign policy. The one-way street has also corrupted Israel, wrecked its moral standing, and enabled the country to keep ratcheting toward the far right in self-destructive ways.

We're still nowhere close to the rampant anti-Semitism in Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party, but Sullivan is right that we need to discuss this further. 

Labour backs new Brexit referendum

In an unexpected twist, Jeremy Corbyn announced at a Labour party conference today that he supports a "people's vote" on the Brexit deal the UK Government worked out with the EU, and that hardly anyone in the UK agrees with:

In a statement, the party said it would “put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit”.

Corbyn will tell MPs the party “cannot and will not accept” May running down the clock towards no deal. He will say EU officials and leaders in Brussels and Madrid found Labour’s alternative Brexit plan “serious and credible” and it could win support across the House of Commons.

“One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly rejected deal,” he said.

“That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country.”

Other news sources suggest that Corbyn's volte face came about after the resignations of 9 MPs from Labour last week.

The next Commons vote on Brexit will take place March 12th, according to sources in Parliament, giving the Government only two weeks to react to another rejection before crashing out of Europe. With both Corbyn and May playing chicken with the British public, I can only wonder when the next election will happen.