The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The president's gut

...has once again gotten us into calamity that literally everyone predicted. Pity his gut is so much bigger than his brain:

Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the generous description of a senior American diplomat — probably will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.

But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.

“This president keeps blindsiding our military and diplomatic leaders and partners with impulsive moves like this that benefit Russia and authoritarian regimes,” said Senator Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat and longtime member of the Armed Services Committee.

“If this president were serious about ending wars and winning peace, he’d actually articulate a strategy that would protect against a re-emergence of ISIS and provide for the safety of our Syrian partners,” Mr. Reed added. “But he has repeatedly failed to do that. Instead, this is another example of Donald Trump creating chaos, undermining U.S. interests, and benefiting Russia and the Assad regime.”

The other major beneficiary is Iran, perhaps Mr. Trump’s most talked-about geopolitical foe, which has long supported the Syrian regime and sought freer rein across the country.

Yesterday I called this an own-goal, but really it's more like our goalie plays for the other team.

Either he's a very stable genius, or he's the biggest chump ever to live in the White House. His father would be so proud.

Own goal to Erdogan and Putin

I don't know how much closer to shooting someone on 5th Avenue the President needs to get to show people he does not have American interests at heart. His abrupt withdrawal of our forces from Syria comes awfully close:

U.S. forces, caught unawares by the move, began a hasty and logistically problematic retreat; at one point American troops found themselves deliberately “bracketed” by Turkish artillery fire—pinned in position and wholly reactive to the movements of a foreign state’s force, one set in motion by their own commander in chief. This may have been the first time any nation that houses U.S. nuclear weapons—there are an estimated 50 thermonuclear air-drop warheads at Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey—targeted U.S. troops with its own army.

Since then, U.S. forces on the ground are in anguish and “ashamed,” witnessing atrocities and abandoning allies to potential Turkish war crimes. The Kurds, having seen Trump almost pull this last year, had asked their American partners’ help in planning for a post-U.S. scenario by aligning with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Russian backers. The U.S. had said no, assuring the Kurds it would not abandon them. After all, Trump had publicly bragged last year that he’d singlehandedly stopped Erdogan from going in before; “I called him and asked him not to do it, and he hasn’t done it,” he said in June. But Erdogan did it. And he told Trump that he was doing it.

Like so many others who have covered Trump and his coterie of dullards, I have often been caught up in questions of whether despots have blackmail leverage over Trump or offer him favors; of whether he recognizes his kind or he’s an easily influenced idiot. Motives would be wonderful to pin down—after we stop the serial arsonist from starting fires. What’s happening in Syria shows that it doesn’t matter whether Trump is a dope, weak bluffer, toddler-in-chief, serial abuser, narcissist, pathological liar, or mob grifter. It doesn’t matter if he’s been recruited as an agent of a foreign government. It makes no difference whether he’s evil, stupid, or a madman.

You don’t need a psychological sketch to understand the events in Syria, just the bare and obvious truth: Because Trump is president, people are being murdered before cameras, the world is more unsafe, and American promises are worth less than the cursed, disembodied presidential account that they’re tweeted on.

Putin must be tired of all the winning.

Losing our place in the world

Michelle Goldberg details how Rudy Giuliani and President Trump have created a dangerous situation in Ukraine:

The Ukrainians I spoke to aren’t naïve; they understand that America, like any other country, generally acts from self-interest rather than high principle. But there was a time when America at least viewed the projection of democratic values as being in its self-interest. That gave liberals in countries like Ukraine leverage against recalcitrant officials.

“The majority of the reforms, especially on anti-corruption, were passed because there was a very strong demand from civil society, and there was the I.M.F. and the U.S. Embassy pushing it hard,” said Oleksandra Ustinova, a former board member of AntAC who was elected to Parliament this year.

Now that’s all changed. As The New York Times reported, after Trump recalled the U.S. ambassador, Lutsenko gloated to the head of AntAC that he had “eliminated your roof,” using Russian mafia slang for guardian.

Throughout our history, America has committed many sins against democracy around the world, but we used to be on the right side in Ukraine. Not anymore. As one former U.S. diplomat said to me recently, “The beacon has gone out.” We’re with the oligarchs now.

Only 465 days until President Warren gets sworn in. Will we make it?

False equivalence and journalistic malfeasance

It has become a lot more likely in the last two weeks that my party will nominate Elizabeth Warren for President. (Note: I am a financial contributor to the Warren campaign.) One way you can tell is that journalists have started writing misleading stories about her:

It is certainly true, as CBS noted, that some people have questioned Warren’s account [of being fired because she was pregnant in 1971]. A story in the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, did so, as did a writer for Jacobin, a socialist publication. But to say that stories have raised questions is not the same thing as saying the questions are good ones.

Over the years, people have also “raised questions” about whether the earth rotates around the sun, the moon landing happened, Communism was fatally flawed, Elvis died and Barack Obama is an American. But I wouldn’t recommend putting any of those questions in a headline.

A good rule: Whenever you see the phrase “raises questions” in a story, you should be deeply skeptical of its assertions. The phrase is a crutch that journalists too often use to make implicit accusations they can’t support.

Regardless of who gets the nomination for either party, the next election (389 days away), we can all to to bed each night knowing the next day will have even worse coverage of the election than the day before. If Warren runs against President Trump, I can scarcely imagine the sexist and anti-intellectual campaigning and journalism we'll get.

Meanwhile, in the same newspaper, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman puts into words something I've thought for years: we're actually lucky that Trump is an unstable moron.

What's happening today?

Not too much:

And two algorithms I'm testing that should produce similar results are not. So back to the coding window I go.

Nice legislature you've got there. Shame if something happened to it

President Trump has told Congress that he doesn't believe they have any right to investigate him or any other part of the executive branch. This, ah, innovative view of the Constitution has garnered some criticism from just about everyone:

Legal experts have already torpedoed the absurd idea that the White House gets to declare the House’s impeachment inquiry illegitimate. The Constitution grants the House “sole power of impeachment,” and the chambers set their own rules. The White House claims the House must hold a full vote to render the inquiry operative, but this is simply baseless.

But, putting aside the fact that Trump’s demands were based on nonsense, what’s notable here is that the White House’s official position is that the conduct itself, that is, Trump’s act of pressing Zelensky to do these things, is perfectly okay.

Jennifer Rubin says this merely delays the inevitable:

The problem with this tactic, obvious to those outside the Trump cult, is that it is hard to imagine the House forgoing impeachment, unless of course Trump resigns before it can. Furthermore, while the House is free to pursue contempt proceedings against Sondland and other non-cooperating witnesses, it does not have to hold up impeachment proceedings. There is nothing wrong with moving forward with multiple articles, including one on obstruction, while also seeking enforcement of a contempt proceeding against current or former officials who refuse to appear or provide documents.

In short, there is more than enough evidence already and more than enough public support as we speak for the House to move to impeachment right now. To the extent over the next few weeks that it can gain further incriminating material or reveals incriminating material it possesses, the House will only bolster its case. However, nothing we have seen in the underlying evidence or the polling suggests any reason not to proceed to impeachment.

By fighting against the inevitable, acting more illogical and unhinged than usual and refusing to give Senate Republicans reason to support him, his current strategy only makes it easier for more Senate Republicans to break with him in a trial for removal. His flailing just heightens the perception among voters that one way or another, this guy has to go.

But let's not get complacent. With enough support from part of the legislature, or from the judiciary should it come to that, the Constitutional order of each branch policing the other two could fall apart. The Republican Party has long sought a (Republican) unitary executive that rules over the other two branches.

Trump, mostly for personal reasons as I don't believe he has any concept of the US Constitution nor has he read the document, is pushing for this goal harder than any president in history. I include Lincoln, by the way. Lincoln tried very hard to ensure that his decisions would pass Constitutional challenges after the Civil War, and he succeeded.

We should be thankful, then, that the instrument of the Republican Party's headlong push into authoritarian government turns out to have no clue how to do it, and undermines both himself and the Party every time he Tweets.

It's still horrifying to watch. And we still have 390 days until the next election.

Pausing from parsing

My task this afternoon is to parse a pile of random text that has, shall we say, inconsistencies. Before I return to that task, I'm setting aside some stuff to read later on:

And finally, Crain's reviews five relatively-new steakhouses in Chicago. Since we probably won't eat steak past about 2030, these may be worth checking out sooner rather than later.

Moscow on the Potomac

Author Peter Pomerantsev says that the behavior of the Trump Administration, especially around its false accusations of illegal behavior by Hunter Biden, could not have better demonstrated how much Vladimir Putin has taught the West:

The message of much of Kremlin propaganda is not to showcase Russia as a beacon of progress, but to prove that Western politics is just as rotten as President Vladimir Putin’s. We may have corruption, the argument goes, but so does the West; our democracy is rigged, but so is theirs.

The media manipulation of the early Putin years didn’t try to convince you of a fabricated version of “truth.” Instead, it worked by seeding doubt and confusion, evoking a world so full of endlessly intricate conspiracies that you, the little guy, had no chance to work out or change. Instead of conspiracy theories being used to merely buttress an ideology as under Communist rule, a conspiratorial worldview replaced ideology as a way to explain the world, encouraging the public to trust nothing and yearn for a strong leader to guide it through the murk — a tactic that’s as common in Washington these days as in Moscow.

This attitude is what makes Kremlin propaganda today different from its Soviet predecessor. The Soviets tried to make their lies sound factual. Even their disinformation in the West was meant to feel foolproof: For example, the 1980s campaign to show that the C.I.A. had invented AIDS was carefully curated through Soviet-controlled medical conferences. When President Ronald Reagan called out the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev feigned horror at the idea that the Soviet Union would stoop to lies. Today, when the Kremlin pushes conspiracies claiming Americans invented Ebola or Zika, these stories are thrown online with no serious attempt to make them sound believable. Their aim as much to confuse as to convince. And there’s no shame in being caught lying.

And Putin is loving it.

Trump isn't Nixon; he's Johnson

I wanted to call special attention to an article in Mother Jones I linked to earlier this evening. In it, Tim Murphy shows that the historical precedent for President Trump's impeachment isn't Richard Nixon, it's Andrew Johnson. Key paragraph:

The real tragedy of the trial wasn’t poor, pathetic Edmund Ross losing his seat. When the vote fails, Wineapple takes us to places that Kennedy never ventured in his book—churches in Charleston and Memphis where African Americans mourned what they knew they’d lost, steeling themselves for the fight to come. They knew what the impeachment was really about, and they knew who had won. As [Eric Foner, the nation’s foremost Reconstruction scholar,] put it at that panel, “Andrew Johnson was impeached over violating a fairly minor act of Congress, whereas his real crime was trying to deprive 4 million American citizens of all their rights.”

Or more succinctly: "The president was a white nationalist who was nullifying a war." Sound familiar?

Pile-up on the Link Highway

I was busy today, and apparently so was everyone else:

I'm sure there was other news today. But this is what I have open in my browser for reading later on.