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.

Elizabeth Warren's early career

I'll be watching the debate tonight, as the candidate I support (including financially) has become the party's front-runner. Today's Washington Post takes a long look at how she got started in her career:

Warren loved her job [as an associate law professor at the Houston Law Center]. To keep it, she realized she would have to maintain a good relationship with [Professor Eugene Smith], while also deflecting what she described as increasingly inappropriate behavior from him.

He regularly sat in on her classes, evaluating her talent as a professor. He wrote memos to the law school dean and others as part of the process to determine whether she would be promoted from associate professor to tenured faculty member. He was, in many ways, the gatekeeper to her future.

But, according to Warren, he was also increasingly a harasser: He commented on her clothes and appearance in ways that made her feel uncomfortable. He told dirty jokes and invited her out for drinks, which she declined. She had to get home to her family, she reminded him, hoping he would get the hint.

Warren thought she was managing him until that day in early 1979 when she said he lunged for her in his office.

“If Gene wanted to sink me, he could,” she said. “If he had said, ‘She’s not very good. Let’s push her out the door,’ I would have been gone. And so, when he chased me around his office, I wasn’t afraid of him physically so much as I was afraid of what I knew he could take away from me.”

He didn't. And right now, Warren is ahead in the polls for both the Democratic Party nomination and for winning the general election next year.

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.

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.

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.

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.