The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Getting away with it

President Trump's two biggest liars supporters made news today, one by quitting, and the other by refusing to.

First, the president announced yesterday that Press Secretary Sarah Sanders would leave at the end of the month. Though it remained unclear whether Sanders knew about this before the Tweet, she confirmed she will depart government service in two weeks, after successfully destroying the credibility of her office over the past two years:

The White House press secretary—the office, if not the person—is an outgrowth of the idea that, in a democracy, information matters, and facts matter, and while politicians and the press may tangle and tussle, they are ultimately on the same team. Sanders, who ascended to the press-secretary role in July of 2017, after the brief and peevish tenure of Sean Spicer, publicly rejected that idea. To watch a Sanders press conference, or to watch her representing the White House on cable news, was to be confronted with a vision of America that is guided by political Darwinism—an environment in which everything is a competition, with the winner determined by who can shout the loudest, who can distract the most effectively, who can get in the best insult before the time for questioning is over.

Here is some of the misinformation Sanders has spread on behalf of the White House: She has insisted that her boss never “promoted or encouraged violence,” although Donald Trump, among many other such promotions, said of a protester who’d been ejected from a 2016 rally, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” She has outright dismissed the stories of the multiple women who have accused Trump of sexual abuse as lies. She has told reporters that she’d heard from “countless” FBI agents who were happy that Trump had fired James Comey in 2017; she would later characterize that, to Robert Mueller, as a mere “slip of the tongue.”

Her broader legacy, though, is an acquiescence to the idea that facts themselves have a political bias. The agent of a president who has transformed “fake news” from an offhanded insult into a democratic anxiety, Sanders has used her powerful pulpit to promote the “Fake News Awards,” her boss’s carnivalesque attempt to institutionalize his mockery of the American media. She has accused reporters of “purposefully misleading the American people.” She has deflected; she has belittled; she has eye-rolled; she has condescended; she has obfuscated; she has misled; she has lied. And she has treated it all as a battle to be won. So many of the public interactions Sanders has conducted with reporters—whether Acosta or April Ryan or Jim Sciutto or Brian Karem or the many other members of the press who are charged with reporting on the daily doings of the White House—have been wars in miniature. And, day by day, the martial logic lurking in the way Americans talk about their politics—the campaign and the press corps, the war room—has been made ever more literal. What is true about the world we all navigate, together? That becomes a less important question than who is winning in it.

Margaret Sullivan calls Sanders "the disdainful Queen of Gaslighting."

Meanwhile, after years of obvious, repeated violations of the Hatch Act (prohibiting government employees from making public political statements), the Office of Special Counsel recommended that the White House fire Kellyanne Conway. The Trump-appointed OSC head made this recommendation. Conway's response? "Blah, blah, blah:"

It’s not that Conway is unaware of the rules. She’s openly thumbed her nose at them. In a May interview, when asked about overstepping the rules, she replied, “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work … Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

Her cavalier attitude toward the law, while galling, is also probably safe. The Hatch Act is written with the understanding that the president would not want his aides flagrantly and wantonly violating the law, and only the president can fire a senior aide for violating the law. In the Trump administration, that has been revealed as a loophole, since this particular president has no inclination to punish violations that benefit him. (One of the most outspoken critics of Trump’s disrespect for laws and regulations has been the longtime Republican lawyer George Conway, who has used his Twitter feed to criticize the president. He also happens to be married to Kellyanne Conway. As of this writing, George Conway had not yet commented.)

We need to get these people out of office as soon as legally possible. Unfortunately, they can still do a lot of damage between now and January 2021.

Incomprehensible privacy policies

Kevin Litman-Navarro, writing for the Times, analyzed dozens of privacy policies online for readability and brevity. The situation is grim:

The vast majority of these privacy policies exceed the college reading level. And according to the most recent literacy survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of Americans may struggle to comprehend dense, lengthy texts. That means a significant chunk of the data collection economy is based on consenting to complicated documents that many Americans can’t understand.

Despite efforts like the General Data Protection Regulation to make policies more accessible, there seems to be an intractable tradeoff between a policy’s readability and length. Even policies that are shorter and easier to read can be impenetrable, given the amount of background knowledge required to understand how things like cookies and IP addresses play a role in data collection.

“You’re confused into thinking these are there to inform users, as opposed to protect companies,” said Albert Gidari, the consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

As data collection practices become more sophisticated (and invasive), it’s unlikely that privacy policies will become any easier to comprehend. And if states continue to draft their own data protection laws, as California is doing with its Consumer Privacy Act, privacy policies could balloon with location-specific addendums.

Litman-Navarro called out the BBC for its readable, short policy that explains to normal people exactly how the Beeb will use their data. He also called out AirBnB for the opposite: a lawyerly document of incredible length that tells users nothing.

Here at the Daily Parker, we only collect your personal information (specifically, your email address and name) if you give it to us through the Comment form, and we don't show your email address to anyone. Sometimes we will use it to get in touch with you directly about a comment you've left. Otherwise we treat it as we treat our own private information. Clear?

A fun rant to read

Not a lot new in David Roth's takedown of the president today, but he does have a few good bits:

The spectacle of expert analysts and thought leaders parsing the actions of a man with no expertise or capacity for analysis is the purest acid satire—but less because of how badly that expert analysis has failed than because of how sincerely misplaced it is. Trump represents an extraordinary challenge to political media precisely because there is nothing here to parse, no hidden meanings or tactical elisions or slow-rolled strategic campaign. Mainstream political media and Trump’s opponents in the Democratic Party conceive of politics as chess, a matter of feints and sacrifices and moves made so as to open the way for other moves. There’s an element of romance to this vision, which is a crucial tenet in a certain type of big-D Democratic thought and also something like the reason why anyone would need to employ a political analyst. But Trump is not playing chess. The man is playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.

And here at last we are beginning to circle around Trump’s true superpower, and are closer to identifying the small and stubborn thing that defines him. It’s what binds his deliriously incoherent politics, and helps him thread together his wildly far-flung grievances—Trump never forgets a slight, and pursues ancient grudges against bygone New York showbiz figures with the same tireless vigor that he brings to his campaigns against his various Deep State persecutors—into a single rancid system of being. There is nothing artful or concealed about Donald Trump, which is one of the secrets of his strange success as a politician. His lies are preposterous and glaring and never anything but the obvious opposite of what is actually true; his unquestioned desires and deeply held, deeply unreasoning bigotries and petty fixations are all absolutely untouched from the 1988 Rich Guy factory settings; the sheer mass of his annihilating selfishness leaves no room for anything like subtext. Trump is nothing but what he appears to be, and his superpower comes from this. His superpower is getting upset.

It's comforting that the latest polls show him losing to at least five of the Democratic candidates running against him, with Biden and Sanders mopping the floor with him. But it's also a long way to the election.

The mechanical voids that make billionaires' erections bigger

Developers have learned to game New York City's zoning laws to construct buildings far larger than the plain meaning of those laws should allow:

Now, in a Second Gilded Age with magnates looking to park their millions in Manhattan real estate, developers stop at little to deliver the high-status goods, which these days are calculated in height and views.

As a result, New York is facing the “mechanical void” problem. It may sound like an embarrassing medical condition, but the voids are actually just air above floors occupied by equipment (mainly heating, ventilating, and cooling systems). That air becomes extraordinarily valuable when it can boost apartments higher above view-blocking neighbors. Raising the ceiling of mechanical spaces (which usually need only 10- to 15-foot ceilings) to as high as 350 feet becomes not absurd but savvy.

New York City does not generally limit building heights, but instead controls bulk and density by what’s called the floor area ratio (FAR). This means that a residential developer can build nine times the square feet of the lot area in an R-9 district. Depending on how the building bulk is arranged, the usual result is a building of about 15 stories.

Ridiculously tall mechanical spaces, which are not counted toward FAR, are not the only abusive (though ostensibly legal) tactic developers use to push buildings to ever greater heights.

If you think this through, however, these developments still go through the zoning board. So yes, the legal interpretations twist the law into painful shapes for the sake of bragging rights, but also a city agency lets them do it.

This reminds me of one of Chicago's ugliest buildings, at 2314 N. Lincoln Park West, which juts out from the rest of the buildings on the block (some of them historic) and looks like someone measured wrong. I haven't confirmed this, but I think the error was measured in thousands of dollars, and involved an alderman or two.

Sod off, bra

The secular Israelis who work at a Jerusalem coffee shop got so sick of ultra-right religious nutters screaming at them that they chose a targeted counter-protest:

Bastet, a vegan and LGBT-friendly cafe whose blue tables spill across a central Jerusalem sidewalk, is a secular oasis for residents seeking Saturday refreshment in a city that largely comes to a standstill for the Jewish Sabbath.

But each week, a procession of ultra-Orthodox men, some in their finest fur hats and gold robes, invariably marches past in a show of displeasure at the cafe’s desecration of the day of rest. “Shabbos!” they chant, using the Yiddish word for the Sabbath.

On a recent Saturday, the wait staff struck back, lifting their shirts to reveal their bras in an attempt to push back the religiously conservative demonstrators.

But while the Bastet staff may have won a small reprieve, the wider battle is only expected to escalate. The ultra-Orthodox, also known as Haredim, make up only 12 percent of the population but are the fastest-growing segment of Israelis, with women giving birth to an average of 6.9 children.

In the early days of the Israeli state, many of the ultra-Orthodox were opposed to the secular Zionist movement that created it, fearing it would eradicate their form of Judaism. Now, they are increasingly using their power in Israel’s 120-member parliament, where they most recently won 16 seats, to promote and protect their interests, rather than shunning it.

Ah, religion. If you believe a supernatural, all-powerful entity has sanctioned your desire to do nothing but pray all day, every day, you might run into conflicts with the other several billion people in the world who find this behavior parasitical (or, at least, a head-slapping example of the free rider problem).

And yet this is how a significant minority of Israelis behave. Not only do they find it offensive that the majority of Israelis want them to, you know, give something back for all the privileges they receive, but also they find it offensive that the majority of Israelis don't sit around talking to the supernatural entity all day.

I'm glad to see, with the inability of Benyamin Netanyahu to get concessions from the center-right about these issues, that secular Israelis have had enough and have started pushing back in earnest.

About that Russian ship playing chicken

On Friday (Thursday evening in the US) the Russian destroyer Vinogradov maneuvered to within 30 meters of the USS Chancellorsville in the Philippine Sea:

According to Cmdr. Clay Doss of the U.S. 7th Fleet, the Chancellorsville was recovering its helicopter while maintaining a steady course when the Russian ship came from behind and “accelerated and closed to an unsafe distance” of about 50 to 100 feet.

“This unsafe action forced Chancellorsville to execute all engines back full and to maneuver to avoid collision,” Doss said in a statement. “We consider Russia’s actions during this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional.”

The Russian statement, however, said the U.S. cruiser “suddenly changed directions and came within 50 meters [164 feet] of the Russian destroyer.” Russia, which stated that the incident took place in the East China Sea, said its ship was forced to perform an emergency maneuver and warned the American ship of inadmissible actions.

According to a senior US Navy Surface Warfare Officer with whom I spoke, the Chancellorsville was "flying limited maneuvering and Hotel," meaning they had flags on their mast signaling to other ships in the area that they were unable to maneuver freely because they were recovering a helicopter. The Russian crew had no doubt that the American ship would continue in a straight line at low speed no matter what the Russians did. (The officer declined to be identified because the Navy did not authorize our conversation.)

When I asked about the forbearance of the Chancellor's skipper, the officer replied, "I know what I would have done," adding that the rules of engagement allow any military asset to take defensive action, including using lethal force, without waiting for orders if there is an immediate threat.

"Back in the Cold War, the Soviet navy behaved very professionally, since no one wanted to destroy the world because a 19-year-old kid turned the boat the wrong direction by mistake," the officer continued. "We all kept in our lanes. But in the last few years, they've gotten reckless."

The conclusion: the Russian captain, obviously acting under orders from much higher up, deliberately provoked the US warship in a "saber-rattling" maneuver.

Fun times. I think I liked the Soviet navy better than this new Russian one.

Today's reading list

If only it weren't another beautiful early-summer day in Chicago, I might spend some time indoors reading these articles:

Time to go outside...

Epic trolling, or actually that dumb?

Tucker Carlson last night spent a full 90 seconds ranting against the "yoke of tyranny" called the "metric system:"

Fox News host Tucker Carlson railed against the metric system of measurement in his show on Wednesday night, describing it as "inelegant" and "creepy." James Panero, a cultural critic and executive editor of The New Criterion, joined Carlson for the segment.

Panero recently wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal attacking the metric system with its meters and kilograms and urging America to stick to its customary system of measurement, which resembles the old British Imperial system.

"Almost every nation on Earth has fallen under the yoke of tyranny—the metric system," Carlson said. "From Beijing to Buenos Aires, from Lusaka to London, the people of the world have been forced to measure their environment in millimeters and kilograms. "The United States is the only major country that has resisted, but we have no reason to be ashamed for using feet and pounds."

Panero called the metric system "the original system of global revolution and new world orders."

Carlson replied: "God bless you, and that's exactly what it is. Esperanto died, but the metric system continues, this weird, utopian, inelegant, creepy system that we alone have resisted."

They went on to laud the "ancient wisdom" of 12s and 60s that divide more easily into thirds, as opposed to the international system that's "totally made up."

I really wish I had made this up.

Knowing a bit about Carlson, I really can't tell if he's trolling. He may actually believe all of this. But knowing a bit about Fox News, it seems more likely that this rant fits more in the us-vs-them dynamic Fox encourages in its viewers. Anti-intellectualism separates "real muricans" from the kilogram-loving "coastal elites," I suppose.

I wonder if anyone told his viewers that most of our economy outside agriculture, and all of our defense spending, uses SI units?

Whatever. As Media Matters says, this is all part of Carlson's "absurd, ongoing caricature of 'the left'."

Meanwhile, in London...

As the only president we have leaves the UK after a bizarre visit, he leaves behind a collection of inventive and colorful protest effigies:

A giant rendering of US President Donald Trump astride a golden toilet while tweeting has appeared in Central London ahead of protests against Mr Trump’s state visit.

The 16-foot model, nicknamed “Dump Trump”, reportedly also has an audio function that makes fart noises and repeats the president's most famous statements, including “no collusion”, “witch-hunt”, “you are fake news” and “I’m a very stable genius.”

“Dump Trump” appeared early on Tuesday in Trafalgar Square, ahead of the planned demonstration.

More seriously, when speaking with an uncomfortable Irish premier Leo Varadkar, the president compared the Irish/UK border with his own fantasy of a wall between the US and Mexico. I can imagine how well that went over well in Derry:

“I think it will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border,” he said at a joint press conference. “I mean, we have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here. But I hear it’s going to work out very well here.”

Varadkar interjected that Ireland wished to avoid a border or a wall, a keystone of Irish government policy.

“I think you do, I think you do,” Trump said. “The way it works now is good, you want to try and to keep it that way. I know that’s a big point of contention with respect to Brexit. I’m sure it’s going to work out very well. I know they’re focused very heavily on it.”

In London on Tuesday Trump met the Brexiter politicians Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, all of whom have played down the idea that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be a problem after the UK leaves the EU.

The Irish government has mounted an intense, three-year diplomatic effort arguing the opposite, that Brexit threatens peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland.

I find it baffling how vulnerable he is to other charlatans and frauds. I doubt anyone with a sense of...well, sense would trust anything Farage or Smith say about...well, anything. And that's true of Trump as well.

Our man in London, part 2

Britons' revulsion of President Trump knows few bounds. Fortunately they seem to have drawn a distinction between him and the country he represents:

But despite the sense of (bad) business as usual, two things are already becoming clear that both highlight the particularly disturbed nature of current British politics, and the U.S.’s general loss of global standing under Trump. Firstly, the president’s popularity in Britain is so low that attacking him has become an easy way for local officials to build political capital. And secondly, that even among potential allies, Trump is now mainly seen as an agent of chaos.

A few pro-Brexit words from Trump might help this future leader sell the process to a doubtful and divided electorate—or at least the small part of it that will vote for a new Conservative leader—but so far, they’re not getting it. Indeed, on Sunday, U.S. ambassador to the U.K. and Trump ally Woody Johnson did the exact opposite. In an interview with the BBC, Johnson said “all aspects” of the U.K. economy would be up for negotiation during a post-Brexit U.S./U.K. trade deal—including healthcare. By this he meant opening up Britain’s National Health Service to tenders from U.S. health companies, a move that could well presage the break-up of the system as we know it. Whatever party they support, this kind of talk turns most British people’s blood to ice.

Yes, that's right. And the president doubled down on putting NHS "on the table" in his news conference today with soon-to-be-ex PM Theresa May.

But this is Trump. Protests? What protests?

11:27 a.m. EDT: Trump dismissed a news conference question about London protests during his trip. “As far as the protests, I have to tell you… yesterday we left the prime minister, the queen, the royal family,” he said. “There were thousands of people on the streets cheering.”

“Even coming over today, there were thousands of people cheering, and then I heard that there were protests. I said, ‘Where are the protests? I don’t see any protests.’ I did see a small protest today when I came. Very small. So a lot of it is fake news, I hate to say.”

“You saw people waving the American flag, waving your flag. I was tremendous spirit and love. There was great love. It was an alliance.”

Washington Post London correspondent Karla Adam has been out in the streets with demonstrators all day. She writes: “A giant blimp of a diaper-clad “baby Trump” and a talking “Trump robot” sitting on a toilet were among the most vivid props on Tuesday as protesters descended on central London to register their disapproval of President Trump.” Read her full report.

Oh, dear.

Britain, on behalf of the majority of voters in the U.S., I apologize.