The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Fallen on Hard Times

I've just yesterday finished Charles Dickens' Hard Times, his shortest and possibly most-Dickensian novel. I'm still thinking about it, and I plan to discuss it with someone who has studied it in depth later this week. I have to say, though, for a 175-year-old novel, it has a lot of relevance for our situation today.

It's by turns funny, enraging, and strange. On a few occasions I had to remind myself that Dickens himself invented a particular plot device that today has become cliché, which I also found funny, enraging, and strange. Characters with names like Gradgrind, Bounderby, and Jupe populate the smoke-covered Coketown (probably an expy for Preston, Lancashire). Writers since Dickens have parodied the (already satirical) upper-class twit and humbug-spewing mill owner so much that reading them in the original Dickens caused some mental frisson.

Dickens also spends a good bit of ink criticizing "political economics" in the novel, as did a German contemporary of his, whose deeper analysis of the same subject 13 years later informed political philosophy for 120 years.

It's going to sit with me for a while. I understand that Tom Baker played Bounderby in a BBC Radio adaptation in 1998; I may have to subscribe to Audible for that.

Know-Nothings come to Niles Public Library

The Niles, Ill., public library topped lists around the world for its best-in-class offerings. As part of the North Suburban Library System, it shares resources with other world-class public libraries, including the one I grew up in. But following the Library Board elections this past April, the Niles Public Library has become noteworthy for something completely different:

Over the course of the next few months and the installation of a new Board of Directors, the library’s funding has been deeply slashed, hours reduced to below-state-standard levels, the library director quit, and essential services to the community shuttered.

Three new Board members — Joe Makula, Susan Schoenfeldt, and Olivia Hanusiak — were elected, allowing for a return to a conservative, tax-conscious voting block. All three were candidates [Board member Carolyn] Drblik sought, and now she had enough support to be elected Board president. It’s rumored they spent up to $15,000 on this small local election. Makula himself is a Trump donor, and the group, Dove Lempke believes, is working to install themselves on taxing bodies across the state and country in order to gut public institutions from the inside.

Immediately upon the board being installed, they hired a technology consultant to investigate the library’s processes and procedures. This consultant, a wedding videographer with no auditing credentials, is simply a friend of Drblik and the rest of her new Board block and campaigned for their election.

He was hired at $100 an hour with no experience and no cap.

Consequence? The Niles Public Library is on its way to not being a world-class library. And in an odd turn of events, the entire library staff joined AFSCME Local 31 in June.

The moral of the story: vote, people! Especially in local elections.

About that Russian document

The Guardian reported on Thursday that they had obtained, and validated, a document purporting to come from a January 2016 meeting of Russian president Vladimir Putin and his security team. The document has everything an opponent of the XPOTUS could want:

They agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them “social turmoil” in the US and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position.

Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature.

There is a brief psychological assessment of Trump, who is described as an “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced individual who suffers from an inferiority complex”.

There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat, or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier “non-official visits to Russian Federation territory”.

Journalist Julia Ioffe, who has reported on Russia for years, and who has made no secret of her belief that the XPOTUS had no business visiting the White House, let alone living there, took all of this with an entire salt lick:

It sounds absolutely amazing and gratifying, but is it true? The short answer is: we don’t know, but there are...reasons to be skeptical.

As Marc Polymeropoulos, a retired C.I.A. officer who fought Russian active measures from 2017 to 2019 from inside Langley, put it, “this seems to be packaged too neatly. Kremlin documents like this don’t leak.” On this, I agree with Marc. It just seems too pat and fits the narrative we want to believe a little too neatly.

“This definitely looks like something the Kremlin could have written and ‘leaked’ for the purpose of making people look ridiculous when it’s published and everyone gets really excited about it,” said one former U.S. government official who worked on Russia. Look, for instance, at the response to the report: the American media is again talking about Trump and whether the election had been rigged by the Kremlin. (Let’s remember that undermining confidence in election security is not an exclusively Republican sport.)

Still, for all my skepticism and all my spidey senses (and sources) telling me this is probably bullshit, it’s important to allow some space for the possibility that this document is real. It might be! But it’s probably not. The real issue is, we just don’t know yet. So if you’re a journalist with good sources in the intelligence community or in the inner sanctum of the Kremlin, get on it. If you’re not, take a beat, and think about whether it’s worth sharing information we don’t yet know to be true. That’s always a good policy.

I'm with Ioffe. If something seems to good to be true, and all that. Plus, as Ioffe also says, it doesn't matter. The XPOTUS is out of office, and with all the state investigations for prosaic things like massive tax fraud coming at him, I don't think we have to worry too much about what Russia may or may not have done to him.

Scarier than we thought

According to an upcoming book by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley seriously worried about the XPOTUS attempting an autogolpe in January:

Milley described “a stomach-churning” feeling as he listened to Trump’s untrue complaints of election fraud, drawing a comparison to the 1933 attack on Germany’s parliament building that Hitler used as a pretext to establish a Nazi dictatorship.

In December, with rumors circulating that the president was preparing to fire then-CIA Director Gina Haspel and replace her with Trump loyalist Kash Patel, Milley sought to intervene, the book says. He confronted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows at the annual Army-Navy football game, which Trump and other high-profile guests attended.

“What the hell is going on here?” Milley asked Meadows, according to the book’s account. “What are you guys doing?”

When Meadows responded, “Don’t worry about it,” Milley shot him a warning: “Just be careful.”

Greg Sargent warns we need immediate reforms to make sure we never get that close to a coup again:

Milley’s general overarching fear was absolutely correct: Trump and key strains of the movement behind him were unquestionably willing to resort to potentially illegal and violent means to thwart the transfer of power from Trump to the legitimately elected new government. They actually did attempt this.

On certification of federal elections, Congress could set standards for states that streamline the certification process to take pressure off low-level election boards, and place ultimate control of certification in the hands of state judicial actors who are ostensibly nonpartisan. That would make it harder to corrupt certification.

On state legislatures sending rogue electors, Congress could revise the Electoral Count Act. Ideas include setting higher evidentiary standards for objections to electors, making the threshold for objecting higher than one senator and representative, and requiring two-thirds of Congress to sustain an objection.

This could avert a 2024 scenario in which a GOP legislature in one deciding state buckles this time under pressure to send rogue electors, and a GOP-controlled chamber in Congress counts them, creating a severe crisis at best and a stolen election at worst.

Whatever reforms we choose, the basic guiding idea here should be this. We don’t just want to make it harder to corrupt these processes, but also to reduce the incentive to pressure officials at all these levels to do so, since it would be less likely to succeed.

Milley’s fear of a Trump military coup was not borne out. But this shouldn’t lead us to congratulate ourselves over Trump’s incompetence or the virtues of individual players. It should add to our urgency to act.

Scary stuff. And the Republican Party continues to push towards minority rule, having given up on democracy itself. So yes, we need to fix this, to the extent possible.

Don't play the other guy's game

Adam Gopnik makes a good point about President Biden's successful, if invisible, ideology:

Biden and his team, widely attacked as pusillanimous centrists with no particular convictions, are in fact ideologues. Their ideology is largely invisible but no less ideological for refusing to present itself out in the open. It is the belief, animating Biden’s whole career, that there is a surprisingly large area of agreement in American life and that, by appealing to that area of agreement, electoral victory and progress can be found.

He didn’t say as much as he might have or as many might have wanted [about the XPOTUS's crimes]. But this was surely due to his conviction, and the conviction of his circle, that an atmosphere of aggravation can only work to the advantage of the permanently aggrieved. With so many Americans in the grip of a totalized ideology of Trumpism—one that surmounts their obvious self-interest or normal calculations of economic utility—the way to get them out of it is to stop thinking in totalized terms. You get people out of a cult not by offering them a better cult but by helping them see why they don’t need a cult.

[L]ike a virus that infects the country, long Trump is an ailment that won’t go away.

The urge to fight it, hard, before it can return, seems irresistible. Yet Biden and his circle resist this fight, and it would be foolish to think that they resist it only out of blindness and opacity. They are betting on Charley Goldman’s wisdom: you can’t win playing the other guy’s game. This wisdom has taken them further than the more aggressive conventional kind might have imagined.

The President is about to get a $3.5 trillion infrastructure package through Congress on Democratic votes alone. He's doing everything he said he'd do, and succeeding (mostly). He might know what he's doing.

Tennessee punishes teenagers with health mandate

The Tennessee Dept of Health will stop telling adolescents about vaccinesespecially about the HPV vaccine:

The Tennessee Department of Health will halt all adolescent vaccine outreach – not just for coronavirus, but all diseases – amid pressure from Republican state lawmakers, according to an internal report and agency emails obtained by the Tennessean. If the health department must issue any information about vaccines, staff are instructed to strip the agency logo off the documents.

The health department will also stop all COVID-19 vaccine events on school property, despite holding at least one such event this month. The decisions to end vaccine outreach and school events come directly from Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, the internal report states.

After the health department's internal COVID-19 report was circulated on Friday, the rollback of vaccine outreach was further detailed in a Monday email from agency Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones.

Jones told staff they should conduct "no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines" and "no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine." 

Staff were also told not to do any "pre-planning" for flu shots events at schools. Any information released about back-to-school vaccinations should come from the Tennessee Department of Education, not the Tennessee Department of Health, Jones wrote.

Decisions to ratchet back outreach comes amid pressure from conservative lawmakers, who have embraced misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine, said Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee's former top vaccine official.

Despite being Cassie's birthplace, not to mention the state other close friends come from, we must remember that it also hosted the Scopes trial in 1925. The state government has a long history of anti-science legislation. This mandate seems particularly idiotic, but we also have to remember that with the modern Republican Party, the cruelty is the point.

What a real filibuster looks like

Josh Marshall points to the Great Texas Democratic Legislator Escape going on today as an example of what a filibuster should be:

Democrats are making a huge spectacle. No one’s going to miss that. They also have to be very clear why they’re doing it. It’s because of an assault on voting rights in the state. They have to own that. And they’re taking this step because they’re clearly quite willing to own that.

Just as clear, this can only go on for so long. How do I know? Basically logic really but also history. We’ve seen this in Texas, Oregon, Wisconsin and various other places. Legislators are only willing to stay on the lam for so long. Over time there are various tools legislative majorities can use to get their way. (That’s not a bad thing. Majority rule is our fundamental system.) You also need a really good reason for doing it. Otherwise public opinion will rapidly turn against you.

The whole effort is best seen as an effort to stall, buy some time and they hope either slow the process down or shift public opinion in their favor. It’s not pretty but there’s some value in having that kind of escape valve in the legislative process. It’s public. It’s self-limiting. You have to own it and be politically accountable for your actions.

In other words, the Texas Democrats didn't just send an email to halt all progress in the Texas Legislature. Imagine if US Senate Republicans had to do the same thing.

Not exactly storming the ballustrades

Former Social Security commissioner, whom President Biden fired last week, "defiantly" "showed up" for "work" yesterday morning. It worked about as well as someone not born in the Pleistocene would have guessed:

Ousted Social Security commissioner Andrew Saul, the Trump appointee who declared Friday he would defy his firing by President Biden, on Monday found his access to agency computers cut off, even as his acting replacement moved to undo his policies.

“There will be more,” said Saul, a wealthy former women’s apparel executive and prominent Republican donor who had served on the board of a conservative think tank that has called for cuts to Social Security benefits. “Stay tuned.”

OK, Boomer.

Now, I'm not wild about the president firing an agency head, when the agency probably would have done better to stay out of politics. But when the head of said agency wants to dismantle the agency, maybe firing him is OK?

The preservationist leanings of Scooby-Doo

CityLab's Feargus O'Sullivan riffs on an Instagram account that celebrates Scooby-Doo's Victorian backdrops:

It should come as no surprise that creaking mansard roofs, vaulted dungeons and abandoned one-horse towns occur so often as settings. Americans have been identifying the Victorian with the macabre for more than 100 years. It still seems not completely coincidental that these particular backdrops were so often used for a show in its heyday in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

This, after all, is a period when America’s Victorian architecture lay on a major fault line. Long decaying as wealthier residents moved to the suburbs, America’s many Victorian neighborhoods fell prey to demolition during this period as urban renewal projects smashed through buildings that were often seen as musty, decrepit hangovers from a poorer, miserably car-less past.

San Francisco’s Fillmore District, for example, was substantially redeveloped, scattering its mainly African American residents to the East Bay, while the now celebrated Victorian district of Old Louisville saw over 600 buildings demolished between 1965 and 1971 alone.

Indeed, the show sometimes tackles these issues directly. The classic Scooby-Doo villain is a developer or greedy landowner, scaring people away from their property by dressing as a ghost or monster, only to be unmasked and confess everything to the band of “pesky kids” just before each episode’s final curtain. Occasionally, even urban renewal itself crops up. In one episode a developer constructing new buildings in Seattle is also secretly plundering treasures from the subterranean street network built in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1889.

Down the street from me, a 6-bedroom house built in 1897 just sold for $412,500—less than half its estimated value, and probably closer to a third of what it might fetch once its restoration finishes next year. It went for $28,500 in 1979, which works out to about $110,000 today, during the worst period of urban decay in Uptown. Other gorgeous houses and apartments from the 1890s through 1920s in Chicago barely survived the 1970s, sometimes only because no one wanted to invest in the neighborhoods.

I've written about this phenomenon before, of course.

Andrew Sullivan moves left a little

But he still has a lot to say about what he calls "successor ideology:"

The best moniker I’ve read to describe this mishmash of postmodern thought and therapy culture ascendant among liberal white elites is Wesley Yang’s coinage: “the successor ideology.” The “structural oppression” is white supremacy, but that can also be expressed more broadly, along Crenshaw lines: to describe a hegemony that is saturated with “anti-Blackness,” misogyny, and transphobia, in a miasma of social “cis-heteronormative patriarchal white supremacy.” And the term “successor ideology” works because it centers the fact that this ideology wishes, first and foremost, to repeal and succeed a liberal society and democracy.

In the successor ideology, there is no escape, no refuge, from the ongoing nightmare of oppression and violence — and you are either fighting this and “on the right side of history,” or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate. No space even for staying silent. (Silence, remember, is violence — perhaps the most profoundly anti-liberal slogan ever invented.)

And that tells you about the will to power behind it. Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.

Obama was a straddler, of course, and did not deny that “so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” I don’t deny that either. Who could? But neither did he deny African-American agency or responsibility:

It means taking full responsibility for own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

To say this today would evoke instant accusations of being a white supremacist and racist. That’s how far the left has moved: Obama as an enabler of white supremacy.

Personally, I favor liberalism, and I always will. We have the most successful multiracial society in history. We can do better; we must do better; but damn, we're not all good or all evil.