The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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This bit:

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Historians ⁠— at least the ones fact-checking the president on Twitter ⁠— were not impressed. One likened the speech to “an angry grandpa reading a fifth grader’s book report on American military history.”

On Friday, Trump confirmed he had problems with the teleprompter, telling journalists: “I guess the rain knocked out the teleprompter, so it’s not that, but I knew the speech very well, so I was able to do it without a teleprompter. But the teleprompter did go out. And it was actually hard to look at anyway because there was rain all over it.”

Right. Obama, maybe Clinton, could have given an extemporaneous speech about the Revolution. This guy? Well, we saw.

Trump's National Mall event is both better and worse than you think

That's what screenwriter Jeff Greenfield, writing for Politico, says:

Celebrations of the Fourth do not tend to benefit both parties equally, and here, Trump may well be demonstrating his instinctive grasp of which way a big event tends to nudge the populace. In 2011, two academics who studied the political effect of Fourth of July festivities concluded that: "Fourth of July celebrations in the United States shape the nation's political landscape by forming beliefs and increasing participation, primarily in favor of the Republican Party. … The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century, [so] there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican Party.”

For all that, history also suggests there's good reason that his plan is rubbing people the wrong way. For one, it really is rare; it's far more common for presidents to vacate Washington on the Fourth of July, or to remain at the White House, than to insert themselves into the proceedings.

Someone who can say of himself that he has been treated worse than any president in history—four of whom were assassinated—has an impressively unique understanding of his own role in the American story, to say the least.

NPR says the event will cost taxpayers millions. And Rick Atkinson takes a broader view, comparing us on our 243rd anniversary of independence from Britain to Britain of that time.

Ivanka Trump doesn't belong at the dinner, let alone the table

National security expert and Georgetown professor Carrie Cordero has about had it with the first daughter play-acting in government:

Ivanka Trump’s self-placement at the table with global heads of state is not an example of the ascension of a professional woman: She has, after all, not one merit-based qualification to be participating in the diplomatic meetings she is attending. There are professional women inside the executive branch and outside government who have spent a lifetime becoming expert in their fields, whether that’s economics, international relations, trade, international law or diplomacy. If the Trump administration’s goal is to give a woman a seat at the table, there is no shortage of women who have the requisite experience and training who have earned their seat. Indeed, there are, as Mitt Romney once quipped, binders (and, now, websites) full of them.

One interpretation of Ivanka Trump’s actions since her father took office has it that she is simply not self-aware of how these appearances come off. Don’t buy this. Videos she released purporting to be readout briefs of the president’s meetings, as well as the president’s introductions of her, appear orchestrated to present her as a credible participant in international affairs. Her participation, her photo placement, her video releases are not accidental byproducts of an inept White House adviser; they are part of her image-building. These activities should not merely be brushed off as the desires and encouragement of Donald Trump, her father and the president. She is not a child. She shoulders full responsibility for abusing her position of access.

President Trump, of course, has discarded many other norms; it’s tempting to wonder why we should spend time focusing on the activities of his daughter, which might seem benign, if embarrassing for our country. The reason is because those activities are not benign. They are part of the president and his administration’s deliberate effort to concentrate control of the executive branch within the White House and within his family, diluting important institutional mechanisms that provide accountability.

Meanwhile, the president yesterday appeared to suggest in an interview that sanctuary cities caused homelessness in the last two years. I don't even know how to comment on that.

A new taxonomy for the GOP

Michael Tomasky draws on Steven Levitsky to give us the best description yet of the modern Republican Party:

If you pay close attention to such things, you will recognize Mr. Levitsky’s name — he was a co-author, with Daniel Ziblatt, of last year’s book “How Democracies Die,” which sparked much discussion. “Competitive Authoritarianism” deserves to do the same.

What defines competitive authoritarian states? They are “civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions exist and are widely viewed as the primary means of gaining power, but in which incumbents’ abuse of the state places them at a significant advantage vis-à-vis their opponents.” Sound like anyone you know?

Now, I should say that I don’t think we’re there yet. Neither does Mr. Levitsky. “For all of its unfairness and growing dysfunction, American democracy has not slid into competitive authoritarianism,” he told me. “The playing field between Democrats and Republicans remains reasonably level.”

So we’re not there right now. But we may well be on the way, and it’s abundantly clear who wants to take us there.

Read this back-to-back with yesterday's Op-Ed from political scientist Greg Weiner on "the Trump Fallacy" and have a great day.

Record heat in Europe

Significant changes in the northern jet stream has caused serious problems for Europe and South Asia:

Unusual jet stream behavior has been recorded every three to five years since 2000 — in 2003, 2006, 2010, 2015 and 2018 — turning what scientists initially thought could be an isolated abnormality into what appears to be a pattern, [Jeff Masters, co-founder and director of meteorology for Weather Underground] said.

What is surprising to scientists now is that the wavier-than-normal jet stream has returned for a second year in a row — the first time that has been observed, said Kai Kornhuber, a climate scientist at The Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City.

“I wouldn’t have expected this situation to return so quickly after the extreme summer last year,” Kornhuber said. “It gives me the chills to see this evolving in real time again. It’s a really worrying development.”

This weather pattern brought temperatures over 45°C to France earlier this week:

The highest reliable June temperature previously recorded in France was 41.5°C on 21 June 2003. The country’s highest ever temperature, recorded at two separate locations in southern France on 12 August during the same 2003 heatwave, was 44.1°C.

“At our local Potsdam station, operating since 1893, we’re set to break the past June record by about 2C,” tweeted Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Eastern parts of Germany, including Berlin, are already experiencing their hottest June on record.

“Weather data show that heatwaves and other weather extremes are on the rise in recent decades,” he said. “The hottest summers in Europe since the year AD1500 all occurred since the turn of the last century: 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016, 2002.”

Monthly records were now falling five times as often as they would in a stable climate, Rahmstorf said, adding this was “a consequence of global warming caused by the increasing greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas”.

And the band played on...

Lunchtime reading

Articles that piqued my interest this morning:

Back to writing software.

Trump's Federal Guest Worker Program

An alarming number of executive agencies have no Senate-confirmed leadership right now:

The president’s nominees to lead federal agencies must be confirmed by the Senate before they can exercise the duties of the office. There’s an exception, however: The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA) gives the president a certain amount of leeway to install other top federal officials into posts on a temporary basis.

Perhaps the most glaring example of Trump circumventing the Senate’s constitutional duty came earlier this month. In May, White House officials confirmed that Trump intended to pick Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general, to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But the prospect quickly faced strong opposition from Senate Republicans, many of whom Cuccinelli targeted from the right as president of the Senate Conservatives Fund. Facing near-certain defeat, Trump didn’t formally nominate Cuccinelli, naming him to the post in an acting capacity instead.

The Constitution’s framers saw the danger in letting the president staff the executive branch without oversight and gave the Senate the power to advise and consent to nominations. But the FVRA short-circuits this process. Generally speaking, it allows the president to name an acting replacement if a Senate-confirmed official “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” There are limits, including a restriction that an acting head can only serve for 210 days, but there are also exceptions that can extend that length of time.

Once again, a perfectly reasonable statute has allowed perfectly unreasonable results under this president. A law exists to solve a specific problem; this administration sees how to abuse it; they abuse it; a future Congress will have to curtail it.

Woe to thee, o land, when thy king is a child.

The Laffer-stock of real economists

In a move one can bet the President Trump himself doesn't really understand, he will later today confer the Presidential Medal of Freedom—our nation's highest civilian honor—on fraud economist Art Laffer:

Laffer's journey to this moment began 45 years ago with a round of drinks in a Washington cocktail lounge. At the time, Laffer was a young economist at the University of Chicago, trying to persuade President Ford's deputy chief of staff — a guy named Dick Cheney — that lowering taxes could actually boost government revenue.

"Art was trying to explain to Cheney how the Laffer Curve works," recalls Grace-Marie Turner, a journalist who later went to work on Ford's reelection campaign.

Cheney was struggling with the idea, so Laffer resorted to a visual aid.

"He sketched out this Laffer Curve on a paper cocktail napkin at the Hotel Washington, just across the street from the White House," Turner said.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman has had a lot to say about Laffer over the years. For example:

Back in 1980 George H. W. Bush famously described supply-side economics — the claim that cutting taxes on rich people will conjure up an economic miracle, so much so that revenues will actually rise — as “voodoo economic policy.” Yet it soon became the official doctrine of the Republican Party, and still is. That shows an impressive level of commitment. But what makes this commitment even more impressive is that it’s a doctrine that has been tested again and again — and has failed every time.

Yes, the U.S. economy rebounded quickly from the slump of 1979-82. But was that the result of the Reagan tax cuts, or was it, as most economists think, the result of interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve? Bill Clinton provided a clear test, by raising taxes on the rich. Republicans predicted disaster, but instead the economy boomed, creating more jobs than under Reagan.

Then George W. Bush cut taxes again, with the usual suspects predicting a “Bush boom”; what we actually got was lackluster growth followed by a severe financial crisis. Barack Obama reversed many of the Bush tax cuts and added new taxes to pay for Obamacare — and oversaw a far better jobs record, at least in the private sector, than his predecessor.

So history offers not a shred of support for faith in the pro-growth effects of tax cuts.

The recent history of Kansas also provides just the evidence you need to conclude the Laffer curve is laughable.

Essentially, then, the president is handing out a medal to a party stalwart, much as previous authoritarian rulers would have handed out the Order of Lenin. We can no doubt expect more of this over the next two years.

Between Iraq and a hard place

The Daily Parker will have a bit of activity today, so let me get the two political stories out of the way immediately.

First, Josh Marshall points out a yuge consequence of President Trump's constant lying: people have a hard time believing the administration's claim that Iran had anything to do with the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. He connects the dots:

[Y]ou don’t need to assume irrationality or perfidy on the part of the Iranians for them to be behind this. We had a deal with the Iranians backed by all the global powers. We broke the agreement and are now trying to strangle the Iranian economy with new sanctions. By historical standards those actions are reasonably understood to be acts of war. Low level attacks on commercial shipping just under the level that might trigger direct US retaliation has a clear logic to it.

On the other hand, pretty much every regional adversary has a strong incentive to mount some kind of false flag operation, or rush to blame the Iranians. At least a couple have recent histories of reckless, high-risk gambits to advance their perceived goals. The obvious player here is Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman. Others seem possible as well.

US claims are further undermined by statements from the owner of the Japanese tanker. The President of the company didn’t dispute or validate the US accusations about who was at fault but contradicted how the US claims the attack happened. The US says it was a mine. The tanker owner said it was a flying object (presumably a missile or projectile of some sort) which had an impact entirely above the ship’s waterline. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the US version of events.

The truth is all the players involved have huge incentives to lie. And a few of them have very recent histories of the most flagrant falsehoods and dirty tricks on an international scale.

Second, the Atlantic's Adam Serwer bemoans the right wing trend to abandon democracy when they lose their arguments:

The tide of illiberalism sweeping over Western countries and the election of Donald Trump have since renewed hope among some on the religious right that it might revive its cultural control through the power of the state. Inspired by Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Vladimir Putin in Russia, a faction of the religious right now looks to sectarian ethno-nationalism to restore its beliefs to their rightful primacy, and to rescue a degraded and degenerate culture. All that stands in their way is democracy, and the fact that most Americans reject what they have to offer.

The past few weeks have witnessed a nasty internecine fight among religious conservatives about whether liberal democracy’s time has passed. Sohrab Ahmari, writing at First Things, attacked National Review’s David French for adhering to a traditional commitment to liberal democracy while “the overall balance of forces has tilted inexorably away from us.” Would the left have stood by liberal democracy in the face of such circumstances? In fact, the balance of forces tilted away from the left’s cultural priorities for most of my lifetime, and the left’s response was to win arguments—slowly, painfully, and at incalculable personal cost.

We've always known the right were crybabies. And we've always known that they are on the losing side of history. But they're not going quietly into the night; nor are they trying to convince anyone through logic. Same as always.

Getting away with it

President Trump's two biggest liars supporters made news today, one by quitting, and the other by refusing to.

First, the president announced yesterday that Press Secretary Sarah Sanders would leave at the end of the month. Though it remained unclear whether Sanders knew about this before the Tweet, she confirmed she will depart government service in two weeks, after successfully destroying the credibility of her office over the past two years:

The White House press secretary—the office, if not the person—is an outgrowth of the idea that, in a democracy, information matters, and facts matter, and while politicians and the press may tangle and tussle, they are ultimately on the same team. Sanders, who ascended to the press-secretary role in July of 2017, after the brief and peevish tenure of Sean Spicer, publicly rejected that idea. To watch a Sanders press conference, or to watch her representing the White House on cable news, was to be confronted with a vision of America that is guided by political Darwinism—an environment in which everything is a competition, with the winner determined by who can shout the loudest, who can distract the most effectively, who can get in the best insult before the time for questioning is over.

Here is some of the misinformation Sanders has spread on behalf of the White House: She has insisted that her boss never “promoted or encouraged violence,” although Donald Trump, among many other such promotions, said of a protester who’d been ejected from a 2016 rally, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” She has outright dismissed the stories of the multiple women who have accused Trump of sexual abuse as lies. She has told reporters that she’d heard from “countless” FBI agents who were happy that Trump had fired James Comey in 2017; she would later characterize that, to Robert Mueller, as a mere “slip of the tongue.”

Her broader legacy, though, is an acquiescence to the idea that facts themselves have a political bias. The agent of a president who has transformed “fake news” from an offhanded insult into a democratic anxiety, Sanders has used her powerful pulpit to promote the “Fake News Awards,” her boss’s carnivalesque attempt to institutionalize his mockery of the American media. She has accused reporters of “purposefully misleading the American people.” She has deflected; she has belittled; she has eye-rolled; she has condescended; she has obfuscated; she has misled; she has lied. And she has treated it all as a battle to be won. So many of the public interactions Sanders has conducted with reporters—whether Acosta or April Ryan or Jim Sciutto or Brian Karem or the many other members of the press who are charged with reporting on the daily doings of the White House—have been wars in miniature. And, day by day, the martial logic lurking in the way Americans talk about their politics—the campaign and the press corps, the war room—has been made ever more literal. What is true about the world we all navigate, together? That becomes a less important question than who is winning in it.

Margaret Sullivan calls Sanders "the disdainful Queen of Gaslighting."

Meanwhile, after years of obvious, repeated violations of the Hatch Act (prohibiting government employees from making public political statements), the Office of Special Counsel recommended that the White House fire Kellyanne Conway. The Trump-appointed OSC head made this recommendation. Conway's response? "Blah, blah, blah:"

It’s not that Conway is unaware of the rules. She’s openly thumbed her nose at them. In a May interview, when asked about overstepping the rules, she replied, “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work … Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

Her cavalier attitude toward the law, while galling, is also probably safe. The Hatch Act is written with the understanding that the president would not want his aides flagrantly and wantonly violating the law, and only the president can fire a senior aide for violating the law. In the Trump administration, that has been revealed as a loophole, since this particular president has no inclination to punish violations that benefit him. (One of the most outspoken critics of Trump’s disrespect for laws and regulations has been the longtime Republican lawyer George Conway, who has used his Twitter feed to criticize the president. He also happens to be married to Kellyanne Conway. As of this writing, George Conway had not yet commented.)

We need to get these people out of office as soon as legally possible. Unfortunately, they can still do a lot of damage between now and January 2021.