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.

Immense iceberg floating free in the South Atlantic

A 5,800 km² iceberg broke free of the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica yesterday. That's not a good thing:

“It is a really major event in terms of the size of the ice tablet that we’ve got now drifting away,” said Anna Hogg, an expert in satellite observations of glaciers from the University of Leeds. 

At 5,800 sq km the new iceberg, expected to be dubbed A68, is half as big as the record-holding iceberg B-15 which split off from the Ross ice shelf in the year 2000, but it is nonetheless believed to be among the 10 largest icebergs ever recorded.

But while the birth of the huge iceberg might look dramatic, experts say it will not itself result in sea level rises. “It’s like your ice cube in your gin and tonic – it is already floating and if it melts it doesn’t change the volume of water in the glass by very much at all,” said Hogg.

Now at the mercy of the ocean currents, the newly calved iceberg could last for decades, depending on whether it enters warmer waters or bumps into other icebergs or ice shelves.

The Larsen C calving yesterday wasn't necessarily caused by global warming, but it didn't help. Now we just wait and see if the entire Larsen C shelf goes into the ocean in the next few years. Meanwhile, be careful boating off Patagonia for the next few 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.

How did Canada avoid the demagogues?

On this Canada Day, let's pause and reflect that populists of the Trumpian variety just don't get traction in Canada. Why? Because the Canadian identity is one of tolerance, according to New York Times columnist Amanda Taub:

n other Western countries, right-wing populism has emerged as a politics of us-versus-them. It pits members of white majorities against immigrants and minorities, driven by a sense that cohesive national identities are under threat. In France, for instance, it is common to hear that immigration dilutes French identity, and that allowing minority groups to keep their own cultures erodes vital elements of Frenchness.

Identity works differently in Canada. Both whites and nonwhites see Canadian identity as something that not only can accommodate outsiders, but is enhanced by the inclusion of many different kinds of people.

Canada is a mosaic rather than a melting pot, several people told me — a place that celebrates different backgrounds rather than demanding assimilation.

“Lots of immigrants, they come with their culture, and Canadians like that,” said Ilya Bolotine, an information technology worker from Russia, whom I met at a large park on the Lake Ontario waterfront. “They like variety. They like diversity.”

Taub says the trend started in 1971 on the Liberal side and continued through the Conservative victories in 2011 and 2015. It makes a thoughtful person wonder about spending time north of the border.

Happy 150th, OK?

The freest and most polite English-speaking nation on earth turned 150 today, and, being Canadian, the country isn't sure what that means:

The year 2017 marks 150 years since Confederation. Or rather, what we've come to call Confederation.

Canada is actually a federation, but the term Confederation caught on in the in the 19th century and it stuck — we've named squares and bridges after it, we refer to the "Fathers of Confederation" (and the Mothers too!), and the word has come to represent the country and the events that created it.

"It" being "one Dominion under the crown," a.k.a. the Dominion of Canada, as per the British North America Act of 1867 that unified the colonies (Province of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick).

In 1982, Canada "patriated" the constitution, a political process that led to Canadian sovereignty, allowing Canadians to amend our Constitution without requiring Britain's approval. This, the Constitution Act of 1982, was a landmark event and enacted our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yes, this declaration of independence took place in the '80s, and it was in 1982 that "Dominion Day," aka July 1, was renamed in Parliament to "Canada Day."

Oh Canada, you millennial, you.

In any event, and in honor of the day: O Canada, I stand on guard for thee.

Kamloops, B.C., 18 July 1991. Canon T-90, Kodachrome 64; exposure unrecorded.

The women who broke Nazi codes

Via Bruce SchneierTech Republic tells the story of the women who worked at Bletchley Park during World War II:

Because [Alan] Turing's individual achievements were so momentous, it's sometimes forgotten that more than 10,000 other people worked at the Government Code and Cypher School, of whom more than two-thirds were female. These servicewomen played a pivotal role in an operation that decrypted millions of German messages and which is credited with significantly shortening the war.

The code-breaking operation was spread over teams working in various huts around the manor house at Bletchley, with the bombe machines situated in outstations nearby. There were about 8,000 people involved in the code-breaking—what was known as the factory—and 4,000 support staff. Each team generally knew no more than was necessary about what the other groups were doing.

Teams worked in different huts on breaking the Enigma codes, focusing on the army and air-force ciphers in one and the tougher naval encryption in another. Unscrambled messages were then sent on to linguists for translation and officials who would decide how the information should be used and, more importantly, whether it could be used without revealing that the Allies had cracked Enigma.

This history is hinted at, however minimally, by Kiera Knightly's character in The Imitation Game.

Our most impressive weapon system is obsolete

Navies and naval strategy fascinate me. For 4,950 of the last 5,000 years, if you wanted to project military power fast and hard, you sent your navy. But even during the great naval battles of World War II, engineers had developed missiles and airplanes that could destroy just about any naval vessel anywhere, except (crucially) submarines.

Today, the U.S. Carrier Strike Group, with its 7,000 sailors and aviators supporting the largest military ships ever built, can put 90 deadly aircraft within striking range of any point on earth within 48 hours. If you see an aircraft carrier in international waters off your coast—and you will see it, because it's huge—you might adjust your foreign policy.

But note that aircraft carriers aren't the deadliest or most effective weapons systems we have. The deadliest are our nuclear ballistic missile submarines, each of the 14 containing up to 200 nuclear bombs that they can deliver to any point on earth. And to date, no other country has developed effective means of detecting and eliminating them. That's why they're our ultimate deterrent: strike the U.S. with nuclear weapons, and our submarines will end you.

Aircraft carriers, as previously noted, are quite obvious to everyone. And their attack range is less than the strike range of Chinese missiles. Which makes one wonder, what are they for anymore? Bloomberg has more:

For several years, the Pentagon has “admired the problem” of how long-range enemy missiles affect its carrier fleet but has avoided tough decisions about how to increase the fleets’ aircraft range and provide for more unmanned aircraft, said Paul Scharre, senior fellow and director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a nonprofit think tank. Meanwhile, the Navy’s strike range from its carrier wings has actually dipped by 50 percent, below 500 miles, according to Jerry Hendrix, another CNAS analyst.

Last year, the they recommended scrapping the Ford-class carriers after the Kennedy’s completion and boosting the Navy’s offensive range with a greater reliance on unmanned aircraft, including a long-range attack platform. The Navy’s submarine fleet would also grow to 74, from 58, under the author’s recommendations, which reflected a 2 percent annual increase in Pentagon funding.

Despite these strategic shortcomings, there’s still a political reality to wrestle with: The Navy’s largest ships remain politically untouchable. The carrier retains a mystique throughout the military and Congress; it’s an 1,100-foot giant that’s become a uniquely American symbol of dominating military power.

So, there it is. The incentives are wrong, and they're for fighting the last war. It's like when Germany built the Bismarck or when France built the Maginot Line.

But yeah, let's cut Medicaid and build another carrier!

Article round-up for Thursday

I really need some sleep. And some time to read all of these:

And now, back to my job.

Mrs May's own goal

Well. What a difference a few weeks can make. Last night, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who called a snap election in April to shore up her majority in Parliament, discovered that she no longer had a majority in Parliament:

 

We are heading for a hung parliament. The UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system means hung parliaments rarely happen in Britain, but it was the case following the 1974 election and most recently in 2010.

In the case of a hung parliament, the leader of the party with the most seats is given the opportunity to try to form a government. This can take two forms: one option is a formal coalition with other parties, in which the coalition partners share ministerial jobs and push through a shared agenda.

The other possibility is a more informal arrangement, known as “confidence and supply”, in which the smaller parties agree to support the main legislation, such as a budget and Queen’s speech put forward by the largest party but do formally take part in government.

May or her successor as Conservative leader will have the chance to try to form a government. She could attempt to scramble together a formal coalition of other parties, possibly including the DUP, that would take her over the threshold needed to obtain a House of Commons majority. Alternatively she may try to lead a minority government if she can convince other parties to back her in a vote of confidence.

If the Tories fail to form an alliance, Jeremy Corbyn could attempt to strike a deal with the SNP, the Lib Dems, the nationalist parties from Northern Ireland and the Greens. But this is an unlikely scenario.

Other reactions to the UK's election surprise:

And one other item of interest, especially as I'm visiting the Ancestral Homeland in August: Sterling dropped 2% against the dollar overnight, and is now, at $1.27 to the pound, near it's 10-year low of $1.20.