The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The tariffs get personal

The WTO approved a set of tariffs that the US can levy against the EU recently in retaliation for subsidies from EU governments to Airbus Industrie. These tariffs will now affect me personally, and I am displeased:

[W]ith the Oct. 31 deadline for Brexit fast approaching, the Trump administration imposed 25 percent tariffs on a menu of goods including French wine, Italian cheese and — in a move that could drive a Scotsman to drink — single malt whisky.

Whisky underpins the economy of Islay and much of Scotland. Kilchoman and eight rival Scotch whisky distilleries have flourished here in the past decade. Tourists from the United States, Europe and Japan come to wonder at Islay’s coastal beauty, take pictures of hillsides filled with sheep and hairy Highland cattle that look as if they’ve had vigorous blow dries, and soak up the pricey local spirits.

Annual exports of Scotch whisky are worth £4.7 billion, or about $5.9 billion, accounting for 70 percent of Scotland’s food and drink exports and 21 percent of Britain’s.

Karen Betts, the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said the Trump administration’s decision to apply tariffs only to single malts was likely to hit smaller producers harder.

By "smaller producers" they mean some of the best in Scotland, including Kilchoman on Islay. And even if Brexit happens in two weeks, the tariffs may stay in place.

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?

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.

The sources of pollution

The Guardian has ranked the 20-largest polluters worldwide based on their addition to atmospheric greenhouse gases since 1965. You will not be surprised:

New data from world-renowned researchers reveals how this cohort of state-owned and multinational firms are driving the climate emergency that threatens the future of humanity, and details how they have continued to expand their operations despite being aware of the industry’s devastating impact on the planet.

The analysis, by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in the US, the world’s leading authority on big oil’s role in the escalating climate emergency, evaluates what the global corporations have extracted from the ground, and the subsequent emissions these fossil fuels are responsible for since 1965 – the point at which experts say the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known by both industry leaders and politicians.

The top 20 companies on the list have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totalling 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965.

Those identified range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell – to state-owned companies including Saudi Aramco and Gazprom.

Chevron topped the list of the eight investor-owned corporations, followed closely by Exxon, BP and Shell. Together these four global businesses are behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965.

Columnist George Monbiot says the companies got away with this by blaming you and me for their fossil-fuel extraction:

Even as their own scientists warned that the continued extraction of fossil fuels could cause “catastrophic” consequences, the oil companies pumped billions of dollars into thwarting government action. They funded thinktanks and paid retired scientists and fake grassroots organisations to pour doubt and scorn on climate science. They sponsored politicians, particularly in the US Congress, to block international attempts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. They invested heavily in greenwashing their public image.

These efforts continue today, with advertisements by Shell and Exxon that create the misleading impression that they’re switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy. In reality, Shell’s annual report reveals that it invested $25bn in oil and gas last year. But it provides no figure for its much-trumpeted investments in low-carbon technologies. Nor was the company able to do so when I challenged it.

The ideology of consumerism is highly effective at shifting blame: witness the current ranting in the billionaire press about the alleged hypocrisy of environmental activists. Everywhere I see rich westerners blaming planetary destruction on the birth rates of much poorer people, or on “the Chinese”. This individuation of responsibility, intrinsic to consumerism, blinds us to the real drivers of destruction.

And the band played on.

What's Ukraine got to do with it?

Hard to believe that I visited Ukraine more than 10 years ago, but not hard to believe that it keeps coming up in US politics. Julia Ioffe explains why:

Whenever Ukraine appears in our news cycle, it is talked about as if it’s a simpler place than it is. The political dynamic gets reduced to neat binaries—the forces there are either pro-Russia or pro-West; leaders are either corrupt actors or laudable reformers; the good guys versus the bad guys. But that framework belies the moral complexity of the place, which is why it pops up in our domestic political scandals in the first place.

Ukraine would like America and Europe to think of it as a promising young democracy, the good little country struggling to fend off the gravitational pull of evil Russia. There is a lot of truth in that. But it is also an oligarchy where a very small number of people control the country’s natural resources, a legacy of its Soviet past. Around each of these people is a clan vying for influence, resources, and political power. They sponsor media outlets and politicians. Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, for example, has promised to fight corruption but is also closely linked with one of the country’s most powerful oligarchs.

Ukraine pops up in our domestic political scandals because it is in the middle of a tug-of-war between Russia and the West, and because Westerners go there to enrich themselves doing questionable work. But in our minds, it is a small country somewhere over the horizon, full of people with funny Slavic names. Ukraine is much easier to think about if we cram it into our own political dichotomies, even if that distorts what’s really happening on the ground. The problem in doing so, however, is that we become unwitting participants in someone else’s games.

Julia Ioffe is one of our best reporters on post-Soviet countries. She's right: the more private American citizens muck about in Ukraine, the more we're going to get sucked into post-Soviet politics.

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.

Why does Greta Thunberg bother you?

The arrival in New York this week of climate activist Greta Thunberg has thrown the Right into their version of pearl-clutching hyperventilation. Unfortunately for civil discourse, their version involves death threats and impotent rage. So why has Thunberg's quest for a reduction in climate-changing pollution make so many people so irrational?

Possibly they're hyper-masculine climate deniers, with more than a soupçon of misogyny:

In 2014, Jonas Anshelm and Martin Hultman of Chalmers published a paper analyzing the language of a focus group of climate skeptics. The common themes in the group, they said, were striking: “for climate skeptics … it was not the environment that was threatened, it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity.”

The connection has to do with a sense of group identity under threat, Hultman told me—an identity they perceive to be under threat from all sides. Besieged, as they see it, both by developing gender equality—Hultman pointed specifically to the shock some men felt at the #MeToo movement—and now climate activism’s challenge to their way of life, male reactionaries motivated by right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism increasingly overlap, the three reactions feeding off of one another.

“There is a package of values and behaviors connected to a form of masculinity that I call ‘industrial breadwinner masculinity.’ They see the world as separated between humans and nature. They believe humans are obliged to use nature and its resources to make products out of them. And they have a risk perception that nature will tolerate all types of waste. It’s a risk perception that doesn’t think of nature as vulnerable and as something that is possible to be destroyed. For them, economic growth is more important than the environment” Hultman told Deutsche Welle last year.

Or perhaps it's because she's a teenager:

Thunberg and a handful of other young climate activists were receiving the Ambassador of Conscience Award from Amnesty International in Washington, D.C., last Monday. In the past 17 years, Amnesty has given the award to other icons: Nelson Mandela, Colin Kaepernick, and Ai Weiwei. Backstage, grizzled men in their 40s exchanged boisterous handclasps. Interns and assistants buzzed around: anxious, helpful, and attuned to hierarchy. Somewhere Maggie Gyllenhaal was in a dressing room.

Yet when I saw Thunberg—in jeans, sneakers, and a pink tank top—she seemed small, quiet, and somewhat overwhelmed. Thunberg has Asperger’s, which she calls her “superpower,” and which she says allows her to be more direct and straightforward about climate change.

Her answers were direct but earnest. She sometimes searched for an English word. Unlike politicians and book-touring authors who have been brain-poisoned by media training, she answered the questions posed. When I asked whether there was a climate fact that caused her particular worry, she frowned and first said she could not think of any one fact in particular. Then she added that she was worried about what she’d heard would be in the upcoming UN Intergovernmental Panel report on sea-level rise. Same, Greta.

She is strikingly nonradical, at least in tactics. Unlike other young climate activists—such as members of the Sunrise Movement in the United States, which is led by college students and early 20-somethings—she rejects specific policy proposals such as the Green New Deal, instructing politicians instead to “listen to the science.” She has even declined to endorse a specific platform in the European Union, where her “Fridays for Future” movement has taken hold. When I asked how other teenagers should fight climate change, she said, “They can do everything. There are so many ways to make a difference.” Then she gave, as examples, joining an activist movement and “also to, if you can, vote.”

Thunberg epitomizes, in a person, the unique moral position of being a teenager. She can see the world through an “adult” moral lens, and so she knows that the world is a heartbreakingly flawed place. But unlike an actual adult, she bears almost no conscious blame for this dismal state. Thunberg seems to gesture at this when referring to herself as a “child,” which she does often in speeches.

But if you just read what Thunberg says, ignoring her age, gender, and national origin--not to mention every other irrelevancy--then she makes a lot of sense. So attacking Thunberg really just exemplifies the old adage, "If the facts are against you, hammer the law. If the law is against you, hammer the facts. If the fact and the law are against you, hammer opposing counsel."

The Right are, as always, hammering opposing counsel.

Feminist thought on smart-phone use

Via Bruce Schneier, Irish writer Maria Farrell explains how a feminist perspective leads to some creepy realizations about smart phones:

Here are some of the ways our unequal relationship with our smartphones is like an abusive relationship:

  • They isolate us from deeper, competing relationships in favour of superficial contact – ‘user engagement’ – that keeps their hold on us strong. Working with social media, they insidiously curate our social lives, manipulating us emotionally with dark patterns to keep us scrolling.
  • They tell us the onus is on us to manage their behavior. It’s our job to tiptoe around them and limit their harms. Spending too much time on a literally-designed-to-be-behaviorally-addictive phone? They send company-approved messages about our online time, but ban from their stores the apps that would really cut our use. We just need to use willpower. We just need to be good enough to deserve them.
  • They betray us, leaking data / spreading secrets. What we shared privately with them is suddenly public. Sometimes this destroys lives, but hey, we only have ourselves to blame. They fight nasty and under-handed, and are so, so sorry when they get caught that we’re meant to feel bad for them. But they never truly change, and each time we take them back, we grow weaker.

Feminists are often the canary in the coalmine, warning us years in advance of coming threats. Feminist analysis of Gamergate first exposed the online radicalization of legions of angry young men for whom misogyny was a gateway drug to far-right politics. More practically, when the US military finally realised the enemy could use running app, Strava, to track the habits and route-maps of soldiers based in hostile environments, domestic violence activists collectively sighed. They’d been pointing out for years that the app is used by stalkers and aggrieved exes to track women. I’m not the first person to notice that in cyber-security, feminism is a secret super-power. Checking every app, data-set and shiny new use-case for how men will use it to endanger women and girls is a great way to expose novel flaws and vulnerabilities the designers almost certainly missed. So, while looking at our relationship with our phones through a feminist lens may be disconcerting, it’s incredibly useful, and in a deliciously counter-intuitive way.

I'll be mulling her thoughts over for a while.