The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

More on Parliament vs the PM

More stories since yesterday about how Boris Johnson wants to wreck Britain:

Fun times, fun times.

Johnson whips out his Johnson

In a move that surprised almost no one but angered almost everyone, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today that, at his request, the Queen prorogued Parliament from mid-September to October 14th:

The effect of the decision will be to curtail the time MPs have to introduce legislation or other measures aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit – and increase the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to table a vote of no confidence next week.

If Johnson lost that vote, there would then be a 14-day period in which the Labour party leader, or an alternative candidate, could seek to assemble a majority. If no new government emerges, a general election would have to be held.

But government sources insist Johnson is determined not to go to the polls before Britain is due to leave the EU. “We have been very clear that if there’s a no-confidence vote, he won’t resign. We get to set an election date. We don’t want an election, but if we have to set a date, it’s going to be after 31 October,” said a senior government source.

In practice, given MPs do not sit on most Fridays, they are only likely to lose between four and six sitting days in parliament, depending on which day parliament is prorogued on the second week of September. MPs would have been due to hold conference recess anyway, from 12 September until 7 October.

The plan would leave Parliament out of session for the longest period since 1945. The Speaker, John Bercow, said he will "fight with every breath in [his] body" to prevent the recess.

Columnist Tom Kibasi says Johnson is trying to set up a "people vs Parliament" election:

The last time parliament stepped in to block no deal earlier in the year, the necessary legislation was passed in just three days. Johnson has deliberately left enough time for parliament to seize control again. That’s because Johnson’s real objective is to use Brexit to win a general election, rather than use a general election to secure Brexit. By forcing the hands of his opponents, he has defined the terrain for a “people versus parliament” election. Expect him to run on “Back Boris, Take Back Britain”. He will say that the only way to definitely leave on 31 October is to give him a parliamentary majority to do so. The man of Eton, Oxford and the Telegraph will position himself as the leader of the people against the hated establishment and “remainer elite”.

Johnson's Conservative party are polling ahead of Labor, but none of the four major parties is polling above 33%. A Labour-Liberal Democratic coalition could happen; so could a grand coalition of Remainers.

Parliament returns from its August holiday on September 3rd. Expect fireworks.

Truly a unique mind

One of the articles I read at lunchtime concerned the president's press conference at the G7 in Biarritz, France, yesterday. It bears examining, not for anything new, but for the shift in the way journalists are describing his thought processes:

Asked why he continued to falsely blame Obama for the annexation of Crimea, as he did almost a dozen times Monday, the president suggested that he knew the black journalist asking the question, Yamiche Alcindor of PBS News, had an ulterior motive. “I know you like President Obama,” he said, without saying how he knew that.

“I’m not blaming him,” he said, before blaming him extensively because “a lot of bad things happened.”

In four days, Trump imposed new tariffs on China, called the country’s president an “enemy,” admitted “second thoughts” on the escalating trade war, reversed course hours later to say he only wished he had raised the tariffs higher, and then vowed a deal would be coming soon — because China wants one desperately, in the president’s telling. Doesn’t that make it harder, a reporter asked, to make a deal? 

“Sorry, it’s how I negotiate,” he said. “It’s been very successful over the years.”

Why the press corps don't laugh him out of the room escapes me. Because no other response seems appropriate.

Lunchtime queue

I'll circle back to a couple of these later today. But at the moment, I've got the following queued up for my lunch hour:

That's enough of a queue for now.

End the Crazy

Writer Jennifer Rubin argues that the Democratic Party needs to present the president as what he really is:

After all, Trump’s most defining feature these days is a frightful, manic personality more detached from reality than ever before.

We don’t need a medical diagnosis or the 25th Amendment to conclude Trump is crazy in the colloquial sense — cuckoo, nuts, non compos mentis, off his rocker, unhinged. Even Republicans who like the tax cuts or the judges at some level understand this is not normal behavior and, at key moments, feels downright scary.

Now, you might say that in the 2016 campaign Hillary Clinton and the entire Democratic Party made the case he was a mean, lying, cruel bully. People didn’t care and still voted for him (although to his chagrin, not a majority or even plurality of those who cast ballots). Why is this different?

This is crucial: It’s one thing to be mean and corrupt. His defenders say lots of politicians are. It is quite another to say he’s so erratic, so unhinged, so crazy that he sends the economy into a tailspin and risks international conflict (or capitulation to enemies such as Kim Jong Un, who Trump — crazily — believes likes him). Tying Trump’s unfitness to dangers to the country and to voters’ personal safety and prosperity should be a key objective for the eventual nominee.

Of course, fully a third of the country doesn't care that the president has gone off the reservation. They'll vote for him anyway. But the middle third of the electorate needs reminding why we can't allow this guy to have another four years in office.

Mid-morning link roundup

So much to read, so much eye strain from the fluorescent lights:

And finally, this year's Punderdome competition took on food; the audience ate it up.

The Golden Age of Comics

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman (Maus) submitted an essay for a Marvel Comics compendium to be published this fall, but withdrew it when Marvel asked him to delete a reference to the "Orange Skull." The Guardian published it instead:

Auschwitz and Hiroshima make more sense as dark comic book cataclysms than as events in our real world. In today’s all too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America. International fascism again looms large (how quickly we humans forget – study these golden age comics hard, boys and girls!) and the dislocations that have followed the global economic meltdown of 2008 helped bring us to a point where the planet itself seems likely to melt down. Armageddon seems somehow plausible and we’re all turned into helpless children scared of forces grander than we can imagine, looking for respite and answers in superheroes flying across screens in our chapel of dreams.

I turned the essay in at the end of June, substantially the same as what appears here. A regretful Folio Society editor told me that Marvel Comics (evidently the co-publisher of the book) is trying to now stay “apolitical”, and is not allowing its publications to take a political stance. I was asked to alter or remove the sentence that refers to the Red Skull or the intro could not be published. I didn’t think of myself as especially political compared with some of my fellow travellers, but when asked to kill a relatively anodyne reference to an Orange Skull I realised that perhaps it had been irresponsible to be playful about the dire existential threat we now live with, and I withdrew my introduction.

A revealing story serendipitously showed up in my news feed this week. I learned that the billionaire chairman and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, is a longtime friend of Donald Trump’s, an unofficial and influential adviser and a member of the president’s elite Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. And Perlmutter and his wife have each recently donated $360,000 (the maximum allowed) to the Orange Skull’s “Trump Victory Joint Fundraising Committee” for 2020. I’ve also had to learn, yet again, that everything is political... just like Captain America socking Hitler on the jaw.

Apolitical indeed.

Why the GOP aren't winning

Author Matt Grossmann argues that the Republican Party hasn't gotten their agenda through the states because most people just don't like their agenda:

Where Republicans gained policy victories, the consequences on the ground were surprisingly limited. Abortion and gun laws changed in every state, but not enough for Republican control to produce changes in state abortion numbers or crime rates. Republicans opposed raising income taxes on the rich, but not enough to exacerbate inequality or accelerate economic growth in their states. They promoted traditional families, but not enough to reduce divorces or increase births.

Republicans did not fail for lack of an ideological agenda. Their state legislative caucuses moved steadily rightward, replacing moderates with far-right Republicans. They nationalized state policymaking, often joining forces in state efforts to counter federal initiatives. They developed cookie-cutter legislation by organizing their allied interest groups and legislators.

But they faced the same problem of conservative parties worldwide: Translating a philosophy of small government and traditionalism into major cuts to public services is quite unpopular. The public sides with protesting teachers once schools are on the chopping block. Expanding health care draws far more support than cutting programs. Republican governors would rather announce new prekindergarten efforts than shutter nursing homes. Republican legislators reconsider their most ambitious tax promises once the consequences are clear. Unlike at the federal level, politicians in the states have to avoid deficits — meaning the service consequences of tax cuts are clear to voters. Since Republicans came to power mostly in the states that already had the smallest public sectors, there was less room to cut.

Does this mean Republicans will stop trying to impose idealistic right-wing policies? Don't be silly; ideologues never listen to reason. But it does mean that maybe our policies can win elections, now that people have seen theirs.

How to combat influence operations

Bruce Schneier has an eight-step plan—though he recognizes Step 1 might not be possible:

Since the 2016 US presidential election, there have been an endless series of ideas about how countries can defend themselves. It's time to pull those together into a comprehensive approach to defending the public sphere and the institutions of democracy.

Influence operations don't come out of nowhere. They exploit a series of predictable weaknesses -- and fixing those holes should be the first step in fighting them. In cybersecurity, this is known as a "kill chain." That can work in fighting influence operations, too­ -- laying out the steps of an attack and building the taxonomy of countermeasures.

Step 1: Find the cracks in the fabric of society­ -- the social, demographic, economic, and ethnic divisions. For campaigns that just try to weaken collective trust in government's institutions, lots of cracks will do. But for influence operations that are more directly focused on a particular policy outcome, only those related to that issue will be effective.

Countermeasures: There will always be open disagreements in a democratic society, but one defense is to shore up the institutions that make that society possible. Elsewhere I have written about the "common political knowledge" necessary for democracies to function. That shared knowledge has to be strengthened, thereby making it harder to exploit the inevitable cracks. It needs to be made unacceptable -- or at least costly -- for domestic actors to use these same disinformation techniques in their own rhetoric and political maneuvering, and to highlight and encourage cooperation when politicians honestly work across party lines. The public must learn to become reflexively suspicious of information that makes them angry at fellow citizens. These cracks can't be entirely sealed, as they emerge from the diversity that makes democracies strong, but they can be made harder to exploit. Much of the work in "norms" falls here, although this is essentially an unfixable problem. This makes the countermeasures in the later steps even more important.

Also unfortunately, most of the countermeasures require informed and conscientious political leaders. Good luck with that.

Anti-daylight saving time article is early this year

Apparently the morning people haven't let up in their assault on us night people:

[S]o far, legislation to go on year-round daylight saving time has passed in at least seven states, including Delaware, Maine and Tennessee this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Oregon was the most recent, approving year-round daylight saving on June 17.

“After the 2018 time change, I don’t know what happened, but people got grouchy,” Oregon state Rep. Bill Post, a Republican who sponsored the bill, toldthe Oregon Public Broadcasting network.

The grouchiness is not just in Oregon. A month earlier, Washington legislators adopted year-round daylight saving time. California voters have approved the same, and sometime as early as next month, the California state Senate is expected to review the matter, according to state Assemblyman Kansen Chu, a Democrat and the bill’s author.

OK, let's review: clock time is completely arbitrary. It has no relation to the iron-clad astronomical motion that determines when the sun comes up and when it sets.

I think the permanent DST idea attacks the problem from the wrong side. Maybe the problem is that so much of our life requires people to get up and go to sleep when their bodies don't want to. Changing wall-clock time twice a year just shuffles the furniture.

But, hey, let's apply our energy to this anyway. It's easier than fixing real problems.