The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why did Trump meet Putin alone?

The Post's Aaron Blake has three possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive:

1. There is something nefarious going on

If there is something nefarious going on, a private, undisclosed conversation that was reportedly out of earshot of other world leaders would be a great place to do it. And given the Russian government's and Trump's track records, it's not like we're going to get a straight answer on what they talked about.

2. Trump is oblivious to how this might be perceived

I've framed many of Trump's actions under the rubric of Adam Carolla's “Stupid or Liar” theory before. This reason would be the “stupid” part of that equation.

3. Trump is simply addicted to causing controversy and/or sees it as a GOP base play

[A]t this point, Trump and his team have to be wondering: What's the payoff? What is he really getting out of it? Trump's approval rating is the lowest in modern presidential history, the GOP-controlled Congress hasn't passed any signature legislation, his party split on one of his major promises on the health-care bill, and all Trump has to show for it is a mostly intact group of Republican voters who say they still like him.

I'm betting on all three, though #2 may be the root cause.

The End is Nigh?

The Post's Dana Milbank thinks that President Trump's polling numbers—already the lowest for any president since polling began 70 years ago—are about to get worse:

I asked The Post’s polling chief, Scott Clement, to run a regression analysis testing how views of the economy shape overall support for Trump when other variables such as party are held constant. The result was powerful: People who approve of his handling of the economy are 40 or 50 percentage points more likely to approve of him overall. While views of the economy closely correlate with partisanship, this means, all things being equal, that Trump’s overall approval rating should drop four or five points for each 10-point drop in views of his economic performance. Because Trump supporters are largely unconcerned with his personal antics, economic woes — not the Russia scandal or zany tweets — are what would doom Trump in public opinion.

The problem for Trump is many of his populist promises are starting to look fraudulent.

So what happens if — and when — Trump’s core backers discover that they’ve been had: They’re losing health-care coverage and other benefits, while manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back and a Trump-ignited trade war is hurting U.S. exports?

Meanwhile, New Republic's Bryce Covert suggests how Democrats could change the conversation:

If Democrats want to win elections, they should imbue Trump’s empty rhetoric with a real promise: a good job for every American who wants one. It’s time to make a federal jobs guarantee the central tenet of the party’s platform. This is the type of simple, straightforward plan that Democrats need in order to connect with Americans who struggle to survive in the twenty-first-century economy. And while a big, New Deal–style government program might seem like a nonstarter in this day and age—just look at the continuing battle over the Affordable Care Act—a jobs guarantee isn’t actually so far-fetched.

Americans overwhelmingly want to work: Most people say they get a sense of identity from their job and would keep working even if they won the lottery. Joblessness is even associated with poorer mental and physical health for entire families—not working appears to make us sick. And there’s already strong support for a jobs guarantee: In a 2014 poll, 47 percent said they favor such a program. A jobs guarantee holds the promise not just of jobs for all, but of a stronger and more productive economy for everyone. The biggest obstacle, in fact, might be the Democratic Party’s own timidity.

A Federal jobs program and universal health care? What's next, rising productivity and declining inequality? Haul up the drawbridges!

Still, it's going to be a long 1,282 days.

How civil wars happen

Paul Krugman was inspired by his CUNY colleague Branko Mlianovic to think about our current partisan divide as a bloodless civil war:

Branko – who knows something about Yugoslavia! – argues against the view that civil wars are caused by deep divisions between populations who don’t know each other. The causation, he argues, goes the other way: when a civil war begins for whatever reason, that’s when the lines between the groups are drawn, and what may have been minor, fairly benign differences become irreconcilable gulfs.

[A] large segment of the population was no longer hearing the same news – basically not experiencing the same account of reality – as the rest of us. So what had been real but not extreme differences became extreme differences in political outlook.

In the long run, it makes you wonder whether and how we can get the country we used to be back. As Branko says, there was a time when Serbs and Croats seemed to get along fairly well, indeed intermarrying at a high rate. But could anyone now put Yugoslavia back together? At this rate, we’ll soon be asking the same question about America.

Bloodless so far, he points out.

Why the ACA repeal effort is failing

Krugman nails it:

Believe it or not, conservatives actually do have a more or less coherent vision of health care. It’s basically pure Ayn Rand: if you’re sick or poor, you’re on your own, and those who are more fortunate have no obligation to help. In fact, it’s immoral to demand that they help.

This is a coherent doctrine; it’s what conservative health care “experts” say when they aren’t running for public office, or closely connected to anyone who is. I think it’s a terrible doctrine – both cruel and wrong in practice, because buying health care isn’t and can’t be like buying furniture. Still, if Republicans had run on this platform and won, we’d have to admit that the public agrees.

But think of how Republicans have actually run against Obamacare. They’ve lambasted the law for not covering everyone, even though their fundamental philosophy is NOT to cover everyone, or accept any responsibility for the uninsured. They’ve denied that their massive cuts to Medicaid are actually cuts, pretending to care about the people they not-so-privately consider moochers.

The trouble they’re having therefore has nothing to do with tactics, or for that matter with Trump. It’s what happens when many years of complete fraudulence come up against reality.

This is the same adolescent fantasy drove Eddie Lampert to destroy Sears.

The low-down on Robert Moses and the Southern State

Robert Moses was well known as a bigot during his lifetime. But there has always been some question about a story Robert Caro told in his 1974 biography of Moses, The Power Broker. In his book, Caro said that Moses deliberately designed the bridges along Long Island's Southern State Parkway too low for buses to keep "those people" out of Jones Beach.

Well, Cornell historian Thomas J. Campanella has analyzed data from the era and concluded...Caro was probably right:

There is little question that Moses held patently bigoted views. But to what extent were those prejudices embedded in his public works? Very much so, according to Caro, who described Moses as “the most racist human being I had ever really encountered.” The evidence is legion: minority neighborhoods bulldozed for urban renewal projects; simian-themed details in a Harlem playground; elaborate attempts to discourage non-whites from certain parks and pools. He complained of his works sullied by “that scum floating up from Puerto Rico.”

But Moses was complex. He gave Harlem a glorious pool and play center—now Jackie Robinson Park—one of the best public works of the New Deal era anywhere in the United States.

And contrary to a claim in The Power Broker, Moses clearly meant buses to serve his “little Jones Beach” in the Rockaways—Jacob Riis Park. While oriented mainly toward motorists (the parking lot was once the largest in the world), it is simply not true that New Yorkers without cars were excluded. The original site plan included bus drop-off zones, and photographs from the era plainly show buses loading and unloading passengers.

Limiting my search to only those arched stone or brick-clad structures in place or under construction when Moses began work on the Southern State, I recorded clearances for a total of 20 bridges, viaducts and overpasses: 7 on the Bronx River Parkway (completed in 1925); 6 on the initial portion of the Saw Mill River Parkway (1926) and 7 on the Hutchinson River Parkway (begun in 1924 and opened in 1927). I then took measure of the 20 original bridges and overpasses on the Southern State Parkway, from its start at the city line in Queens to the Wantagh Parkway, the first section to open (on November 7, 1927) and the portion used to reach Jones Beach. The verdict? It appears that Sid Shapiro was right.

Overall, clearances are substantially lower on the Moses parkway, averaging just 2.73 m (eastbound), against 3.08 m on the Hutchinson and 3.13 m on the Saw Mill. Even on the Bronx River Parkway—a road championed by an infamous racist, Madison Grant, author of the 1916 best seller The Passing of the Great Race—clearances averaged 2.94 m.

It's a very pretty road. But clearly, Moses didn't intend it for the masses.

Trump-proofing your company

Last week's Economist had a semi-serious "letter from the CEO" on Plan C:

When I left the White House yesterday, after another two-hour round-table with the president, I knew in my gut that it was time to put in place “plan C” for this great company. The boxer, Mike Tyson, had a point when he said “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” But so did Winston Churchill when he observed that “plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” We owe it to our investors, customers and 131,000 employees globally, to have a reset.

It is now clear that dysfunction at the White House and in Congress means plan B is off the table. The markets agree. Sure, equity prices are still up. But after the election, bond yields soared in anticipation of an economic boom, only to give up half of their gains. The “Trump Bump” has faded. Yet life won’t return to normal. Our firm faces many risks. We have to fight back.

That calls for plan C, which has three elements: winning, tackling and the future. I like to use the acronym “WTF”. For a start we have to win profits from our proximity to power.

But plan C also requires us to recognise new dangers coming at us hard and fast. They need to be tackled—stopped and brought down. One of the Wall Street bankers I know likes to say that the president has three personalities: chairman, showman and con man. It is the last two we need to worry about.

If companies are thinking anything like this columnist believes, we should expect economic stagnation for the next couple of years.

A small man gives a small speech in Poland

Looking back on speeches American presidents have made in Europe, James Fallows points out just how much President Trump diminished our country and its ideals when he spoke in Warsaw this week:

When John F. Kennedy gave his celebrated remarks in Berlin a few months before his death, he presented both the United States and free West Berlin as proud illustrations of a larger idea: “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum.’ Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’” (You can read the text of the speech, and see a video of its still-remarkable five-minute entirety, here.)

Nearly 25 years later, when Ronald Reagan went to the Berlin Wall, he gave a speech that became famous for its rhetorical plea, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” But the surrounding tone was like Kennedy’s.

How was Trump’s speech, which you can read here, different?

The minor problem was the routine neuralgia of Trump’s “formal” (from a script) rhetoric. These included the almost willfully pedestrian language (has no one there bothered to read even the great conservative orators, from Churchill to Reagan?). And the off-hand misstatements of fact, as when Trump discussed NATO obligations as if they were club-dues on which members were in arrears. And the unique-to-Trump phenomenon of his ad-libbed “Hey, that’s interesting!” commentary when he comes across information in a prepared text that is apparently new to him. This was most breathtaking in today’s speech when he read a line about Poland fighting simultaneously against Hitler’s Nazi army and Stalin’s Soviet army in 1939, and then said: “That's trouble. That's tough.”

But the major departure in Trump’s speech was its seeming indifference to the American idea. At least when speaking to the world, American presidents have emphasized an expanded “us.” All men are created equal. Every man is a German. Ich bin ein Berliner. Our realities in America have always been flawed, but our idea is in principle limitless. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Trump gave grace-note nods to goals of liberty and free expression. Mainly, though, he spoke not about an expanded us but instead about us and them. He spoke repeatedly about our “heritage,” our “blood,” our “civilization,” our “ancestors” and “families,” our “will” and “way of life.” Every one of these of course has perfectly noble connotations. But combined and in practice, they amount to the way the Japanese nationalists of the early 20th century onward spoke, about the purity of “we Japanese” and the need to stick together as a tribe. They were the way Mussolini spoke, glorifying the Roman heritage—but again in a tribal sense, to elevate 20th century Italians as a group, rather than in John F. Kennedy’s allusion to a system of rules that could include outsiders as civis romanus as well. They are the way French nationalists supporting Marine LePen speak now, and Nigel Farage’s pro-Brexit forces in the U.K., and “alt-right” activists in the United States, and of course the Breitbart empire under presidential counselor Steve Bannon. They rest on basic distinctions between us and them as peoples—that is, as tribes—rather than as the contending ideas and systems that presidents from our first to our 44th had emphasized.

Every day this man remains in office, we are diminished just a little bit more.

The cost of climate change (and France's contribution)

Citylab has two complementary stories today. First, the bad news. A new study in Science shows that climate change will cost the southeast U.S. a lot more than the northeast:

Overall, the paper finds that climate change will cost the United States 1.2 percent of its GDP for every additional degree Celsius of warming, though that figure is somewhat uncertain. If global temperatures rise by four degrees Celsius by 2100—which is very roughly where the current terms of the Paris Agreement would put the planet—U.S. GDP could shrink anywhere between 1.6 and 5.6 percent.

Across the country’s southern half—and especially in states that border the Gulf of Mexico—climate change could impose the equivalent of a 20-percent tax on county-level income, according to the study. Harvests will dwindle, summer energy costs will soar, rising seas will erase real-estate holdings, and heatwaves will set off epidemics of cardiac and pulmonary disease.

The loss of human life dwarfs all the other economic costs of climate change. Almost every county between El Paso, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, could see their mortality rate rise by more than 20 people out of every 100,000. By comparison, car accidents killed about 11 Americans out of every 100,000 in 2015.

But in the South and Southwest, other damages stack up. Some counties in eastern Texas could see agricultural yields fall by more than 50 percent. West Texas and Arizona may see energy costs rise by 20 percent.  

And now the good news. France has banned the manufacture and sales of cars with internal-combustion engines by 2040:

The Thursday announcement justifiably sent ripples through the automotive and environment world, as it would greatly aid new President Emmanuel Macron’s drive to make France carbon neutral by 2050. This isn’t the first plan of its kind—Norway already plans to phase out petrol and diesel car sales by 2025—but given France’s status as a major car manufacturer and a state with over 66 million citizens, it’s by far the most drastic announcement to date. Achieving this goal—calling it “ambitious” is an understatement—will require not just a slight change of lifestyle, but a massive cultural shift.

But if any city is laying the groundwork for this new world, it’s Paris, where a slew of car-calming, anti-diesel policies is already forcing people to rethink their relationship to cars. This radically different future for cars is surely unsettling for some, but Paris might just know how to ease people into it.

Nous esperons bien.

Bias in science?

Two stories today about science, one implicitly about how money influences reported outcomes, and another about how people don't really understand science.

First, the New York Times reported Monday on a $100m National Institutes of Health clinical trial that is getting $67m indirectly from five major alcohol producers:

[T]he mantra that moderate drinking is good for the heart has never been put to a rigorous scientific test, and new research has linked even modest alcohol consumption to increases in breast cancer and changes in the brain. That has not stopped the alcoholic beverage industry from promoting the alcohol-is-good-for-you message by supporting scientific meetings and nurturing budding researchers in the field.

Five companies that are among the world’s largest alcoholic beverage manufacturers — Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg — have so far pledged $67.7 million to a foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health, said Margaret Murray, the director of the Global Alcohol Research Program at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which will oversee the study.

George F. Koob, the director of the alcohol institute, said the trial will be immune from industry influence and will be an unbiased test of whether alcohol “in moderation” protects against heart disease. “This study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry, and they’re going to have to live with it,” Dr. Koob said.

“The money from the Foundation for the N.I.H. has no strings attached. Whoever donates to that fund has no leverage whatsoever — no contribution to the study, no input to the study, no say whatsoever.” But Dr. Koob, like many of the researchers and academic institutions playing pivotal roles in the trial, has had close ties to the alcoholic beverage industry.

Keep in mind, funding does not automatically create bias. But it does make people wonder about the study's legitimacy. (This is an enormous problem in elections, too.)

When people start doubting the legitimacy of a study—or an entire body of research—we can get into real trouble. In an op-ed in today's Washington Post, climate scientist Ben Santer explains how he's fighting back against ignorance:

After decades of seeking to advance scientific understanding, reality suddenly shifts, and you are back in the cold darkness of ignorance. The ignorance starts with President Trump. It starts with untruths and alternative facts. The untruth that climate change is a “hoax” engineered by the Chinese. The alternative fact that “nobody really knows” the causes of climate change. These untruths and alternative facts are repeated again and again. They serve as talking points for other members of the administration. From the Environment Protection Agency administrator, who has spent his career fighting against climate change science, we learn the alternative fact that satellite data show “leveling off of warming” over the past two decades. The energy secretary tells us the fairy tale that climate change is due to “ocean waters, and this environment in which we live.” Ignorance trickles down from the president to members of his administration, eventually filtering into the public’s consciousness.

I have to believe that even in this darkness, though, there is still a thin slit of blue sky. My optimism comes from a gut-level belief in the decency and intelligence of the people of this country. Most Americans have an investment in the future — in our children and grandchildren, and in the planet that is our only home. Most Americans care about these investments in the future; we want to protect them from harm. That is our prime directive. Most of us understand that to fulfill this directive, we can’t ignore the reality of a warming planet, rising seas, retreating snow and ice, and changes in the severity and frequency of droughts and floods. We can’t ignore the reality that human actions are part of the climate-change problem, and that human actions must be part of the solution to this problem. Ignoring reality is not a viable survival strategy.

People are attacking truth on several fronts. We've got to keep fighting.

One possible improvement in the schools

Perhaps, if more people had history classes in school in America, something this stupid would be less likely:

For 29 years, National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” has celebrated the Fourth of July with a reading of the Declaration of Independence by hosts, reporters, newscasters and commentators.

This historically uncontroversial testament to the nation’s founding document proved uncontroversial-no-more in the year 2017.

After NPR tweeted the accompanying text of the declaration line by line, Donald Trump backers (seemingly unaware of the source document) accused the media organization of playing partisan politics and attacking the president.

“So, NPR is calling for a revolution,” Twitter user @JustEsrafel wrote.

“Propaganda is that all you know?” another asked.

I...I just...