The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Latter days of the Republic

"A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot."

Robert HeinleinFriday

Montana's at-large congressional district will stay Republican after millionaire Greg Gianforte won yesterday's special election by 6 points. This is despite him assaulting a reporter Wednesday afternoon and being charged with the crime:

The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting: “Get the hell out of here.”

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “I think he whaled on me once or twice … He got on me and I think he hit me … This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

A Fox News TV team corroborated Jacobs' report.

Reactions immediately split along Republican/everyone else lines:

The Montana donnybrook quickly became a Rorschach Test that highlighted the divide within the conservative media between the serious and unserious outlets. It also showcased how many prominent figures on the right reflexively rally behind Republican politicians, whether the president or a House candidate, even when they are very clearly in the wrong. This is part of a growing tribalism that contributes to the polarization of our political system.

Laura Ingraham aggressively questioned the Fox reporter on her radio show: “You can’t body-slam someone by holding both hands on the neck. That’s impossible…Didn’t he grab him near the neck and throw him down? Just asking.” Acuna held firm: “I saw both his hands go up not around his neck in a strangling type of way, but more just on each side of his neck, just grabbed him. I guess it could have been on his clothes, I don’t know. I can’t say that for sure. But he grabbed him and slammed him down. … He had one hand on each side of his neck.”

And while the news division at Fox covered the story seriously and showed integrity, at least one commentator said on the air that the reporter had it coming.

And then there was this gem, demonstrating what happens when a media outlet becomes a monopoly in a market:

The Montana NBC Affiliate reportedly refused to cover the Gianforte story at all on Wednesday night, a shocking blackout. Irate sources inside 30 Rock appear to have called up New York Magazine’s Yashar Ali to complain: “KECI news director Julie Weindel was called by NBC News to see if KECI would cover the story or had any footage of the Gianforte incident that NBC News and its affiliates could use. … She was unyielding in her refusal to share any footage she may have had access to, or run a report on the story. … Weindel said that they weren’t covering the story, though it was running in outlets across the country at the time, explaining, ‘The person that tweeted [Jacobs] and was allegedly body slammed is a reporter for a politically biased publication.’ Weindel then added, ‘You are on your own for this.’ … The station was acquired, last month, by the conservative media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcasting.”

Here’s why that’s a big deal: Sinclair Broadcasting just struck a deal with Tribune Media to buy dozens of local TV stations. “Already, Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation. If the $3.9 billion deal gets regulatory approval, Sinclair would have 7 of every 10 Americans in its potential audience,” Margaret Sullivan explained in a column last weekend. “Sinclair would have 215 stations, including ones in big markets such as Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, instead of the 173 it has now. There’s no reason to think that the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, will stand in the way. Already, his commission has reinstated a regulatory loophole — closed under his predecessor, Tom Wheeler — that allows a single corporation to own more stations than the current 39 percent nationwide cap…"

Meanwhile, the president appeared to shove the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way at a photo-op yesterday.

Who said Donald Trump would spread poison to everything he touched? Oh right. Everyone paying attention.

Post-revival Chicago

The U.S. Census Bureau yesterday released new estimates showing that Chicago's population declined slightly last year. The deeper numbers are more troubling:

According to Alden Loury, director of research and evaluation at the Metropolitan Planning Council, while the degree of black flight from the city has slowed some this decade, it's still averaging about 12,000 a year, based on data from the American Community Survey, also issued by the Census Bureau. Blacks leaving Cook County tended to move either to northwest Indiana or farther out in the metro area, or to Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Dallas-Fort Worth, Indianapolis or Milwaukee, in that order of popularity of destinations.

The same data show the population of whites, Latinos and people of Asian heritage growing, he said.

Loury's conclusion: "The numbers show Chicago has an issue. . . .Areas around the Loop and the central area are doing well, but overall, the city as a whole is not doing well."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner blame each other for the declines.

Citylab, analyzing a Times Op-Ed by Jed Kolko, adds color:

A more finely grained geographic analysis shows that the closer you get to the city center in most metros, the stronger has been the performance. While it’s true that the more outlying parts of some cities are losing population, their cores are becoming increasingly vibrant. As we’ve noted, that notion of critical mass at the neighborhood level is one of the defining characteristics of urban growth.

[And] there’s a baseline issue here. City growth has decelerated from the past year or two. But city growth this decade looks far different than it did a decade ago. While Kolko’s FiveThirtyEight.com post just shows the change in city and suburb growth rates over the past few years (and emphasizes the one-year change between 2015 and 2016), his longer blog post on his own website shows the change in population by type of county since 2001. Taking this longer view, it’s apparent that growth rates in suburbs have declined sharply since the last decade, while growth rates in urban counties were up.

We're still not candidates for The Atlantic's latest (really cool) photo collection of "A World Without People," thankfully.

Gun violence in Chicago

Crain's has a 3-part series this week on why Chicago has so much gun violence:

So far in 2017, more than 1,200 people have been shot and 220 killed in Chicago. Shockingly, 30 of those deaths were children 18 or younger. As Memorial Day approaches—historically one of the city's most violent weekends—Crain's examines a facet of the issue that isn't often discussed: the psychological reason so many young men in Chicago are pulling the trigger.

The sobering statistics suggest that the rate of violence in Chicago this year could run apace with the dramatic levels registered in 2016, which saw more than 750 homicides and 3,600 shootings—the highest in 20 years.

The inability to quell the violence is alarming. So is the fact that these numbers exceed the joint total of those documented for New York City and Los Angeles, cities with a combined population nearly four times that of Chicago.

But Chicago's homicide rate cannot be explained simply by demographic characteristics, impoverishment, the ready availability of illegal handguns or alienation from the police in minority neighborhoods. All play a role, but the major factors promoting violence are likely to lie elsewhere.

Based on many years of interactions with young men who were in jail, on probation supervision or in treatment, we believe that "elsewhere" mostly rests at the intersection of Chicago youths' psychological vulnerability and the environments and circumstances that encourage the expression of violent tendencies. This conclusion stems from our varied careers and professional activities, which include regular contact with detainees in the Cook County Jail who are receiving behavioral health care services, as well as the directorship of a youth clinic that served the Near North Side and Cabrini-Green.

The whole series is worth a read.

Justice Thomas joins the liberals

In yesterday's ruling in Harris v Cooper, the Supreme Court ruled against North Carolina's blatant gerrymandering. The surprising bit is that Justice Clarence Thomas voted in the majority on both issues. New Republic's Scott Lemieux postulates reasons why:

In a 2015 case, Thomas provided the fifth vote to an opinion holding that Texas was not required to issue license plates with the Confederate flag as part of its option of personalized license plates. It is not terribly surprising that even a conservative African-American who grew up impoverished in the rural Jim Crow South would have a different perspective on the Confederacy and its legacy than the typical conservative.

Thomas’s votes yesterday were squarely within that tradition. His brief concurring opinion emphasized that the result comported with two of his longstanding views. First, he believes that any use of race by the government, for any purpose, triggers strict scrutiny, a high burden North Carolina could not meet. Since the state conceded that District 1 was intentionally created as a majority-minority district, this made the case easy for Thomas as well as the other conservatives.

He also explained that he joined the liberal faction with respect to District 12 in part because of his belief in deferring to the findings of the trial court unless it clearly errs.

This isn't an evolution, but who Thomas really is, Lemieux says. Maybe Antonin Scalia so overshadowed Thomas that we really didn't see it? I'll need more convincing.

The President reaches the limits of his eloquence

Responding to the horrible bombing of Ariana Grande's concert in Manchester, England, last night, this morning President Trump had this to say:

We stand in absolute solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom. So many young beautiful, innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name. I will call them, from now on, losers, because that’s what they are. They are losers. And we will have more of them. But they are losers, just remember that.

I'm going to guess two things: first, that only the first sentence of that paragraph was scripted (which is more obvious when you hear it), and second, that he had no idea (nor would he have cared anyway) how much his off-script remarks would grate on just about everyone whose view of the world has changed since junior high school.

Speaking of grating, Trump apologist Scott Adams thought the president totally nailed a presidential tone and communicated the gravity of the situation appropriately, saying the "losers" epithet "is – literally – weapons-grade persuasion from the most powerful Master Persuader of our time."

Next, our Master Persuader in Chief will call them "stupid-heads" and take his ball home.

Because that's exactly how we want our head of state to memorialize the killers of children.

Mueller appointed special counsel

Surprising everyone in Washington last night, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia. The Washington Post sees this as really bad news for the president:

“The risk is that you lose control of your agenda,” added Robert Luskin, a Washington white-collar attorney who represented Karl Rove in the Plame investigation, as well as a pair of Clinton senior officials during Whitewater. “It’s an enormous distraction. It’s an energy suck. As long as the clouds hang over a presidency it becomes much more difficult to get anything else done.”

This is why White House officials and GOP leaders in Congress have so strongly resisted a special counsel until now.

The FiveThirtyEight blog has a balancing view:

Although the simple case is that Mueller’s appointment is not welcome news for Trump — the White House was surprised by the announcement — it does have some plausible benefits for the president, especially in the near term. The Russia investigation had been dogging the Trump administration, and his firing of Comey had turned into a debacle.

Trump can now say there is an independent investigation going on, by someone he did not personally appoint and who is not beholden to his party. And Mueller has very strong credentials. The president and his team, in theory, can turn the focus to governing, while deferring questions about the investigation. And maybe Comey, who appears to have notes of every conversation he has had with the president, will share them with Mueller and not The New York Times.

But:

Mueller’s appointment ensures that the Russia controversy won’t just go away — at least not anytime soon. And he could gravely threaten Trump’s presidency if he finds clear, improper connections between the president’s campaign and Russian officials. There was a reason that Republicans on Capitol Hill and the Trump administration were trying to stop the appointment of a special counsel. Prosecutors with broad authority to investigate can cause major problems. Just ask Bill Clinton.

Greg Sargent simply says "Trump is totally delusional about what’s happening to him right now."

On the other side, Fox News is downplaying the appointment, reporting that Mueller and Comey have had a "long, close relationship." Otherwise they seem more preoccupied with Roger Ailes' death ("and his legacy of free speech"). And I'm not going to look at the far-right reactions just now.

So is this a good development? We'll see.

A cautionary tale

The New York Times yesterday published a chilling description of how Venezuela's democracy sputtered and died:

Venezuela, by the numbers, resembles a country hit by civil war.

Its economy, once Latin America’s richest, is estimated to have shrunk by 10 percent in 2016, more than Syria’s. Its inflation that year has been estimated as high as 720 percent, nearly double that of second-ranked South Sudan, rendering its currency nearly worthless.

In a country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves, food has grown so scarce that three in four citizens reported involuntary weight loss, averaging 19 pounds in a year.

Venezuela’s crisis came through a series of steps whose progression is clear in retrospect, and some of which initially proved popular.

The entire article is worth reading. Not that it could happen here, right? No, of course not.

Things that I can't read until I have a few drinks

Just, I dunno, man.

Sleep is overrated.

This fake news is from Donbass, dumbass

Laura Reston at New Republic has a good piece on how the Soviets Russian government is doubling down on its disinformation campaign against Western democracies:

One of the most recent battles in the propaganda war took place on January 4, less than a week after President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. election. The Donbass International News Agency, a small wire service in Eastern Ukraine, published a short article online headlined “MASSIVE NATO DEPLOYMENT UNDERWAY.” Some 2,000 American tanks were assembling on the Russian border, the agency reported. The United States was preparing to invade.

The story was a blatant fabrication.

Such tactics were pioneered during the Cold War, as the Soviet Union worked covertly to influence political dialogue in the West. From KGB rezidenturas scattered around the world, a small division called Service A planted false stories in newspapers, spread rumors, and worked to stir up racial tensions. In 1964, a KGB front group helped Joachim Joesten, a former Newsweek reporter, publish a sprawling conspiracy theory about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which later became the basis for Oliver Stone’s JFK. In 1983, Russian operatives planted a story in a small Indian newspaper claiming that the U.S. government had manufactured the AIDS virus at a military facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland—and Soviet wire services then trumpeted the story all over the world. As U.S. officials later explained in a report to Congress, “This allows the Soviets to claim that they are just repeating stories that have appeared in the foreign press.”

The internet has enabled the Kremlin to weaponize such tactics, making propaganda easier to manufacture and quicker to disseminate than any guided missile or act of espionage. Russian operations like the Internet Research Agency have employed hundreds of bloggers to mass-produce disinformation in the form of misleading tweets, Facebook posts, and comments on web sites ranging from The Huffington Post to Fox News. “Since at least 2008,” Peter Pomerantsev, a Russian media expert, observes, “Kremlin military and intelligence thinkers have been talking about information not in the familiar terms of ‘persuasion,’ ‘public diplomacy,’ or even ‘propaganda,’ but in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert, and paralyze.”

Meanwhile, our deranged President this morning openly threatened private citizen James Comey on Twitter, which should give everyone pause.