The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Such a nasty little man

President Trump—oh, how I hate writing that, but I still respect the office—shut down the National Park Service Twitter account after they tweeted two photos comparing the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations. From Snopes:

On 20 January 2017, the day Donald J. Trump took office as President of the United States, news outlets posted photos purporting to compare the size of the crowd attending Trump's inauguration to that attending Barack Obama's first inaugural ceremony in 2009. Although there was not yet an official count of how many people actually showed up at the Trump event, so an accurate numerical comparison couldn't be made, the photos did appear to show a significant disparity between the sizes of the crowds, with far fewer in attendance at Trump's inauguration than Obama's.

For obvious reasons, the side-by-side images were relished by anti-Trump factions, who shared and retweeted them all day long.

All of which caused a small uproar on Twitter, where some users joked that the National Park Service had "gone rogue," others wondered about the legality of the retweets, and still others defended their content as "factual, not anti-Trump." Later that day, the NPS Twitter account, along with all the other Department of Interior accounts, went silent.

Snopes quotes a CNN report that the order came from a career civil servant, not the administration, but still the optics are really bad for the president. Meanwhile, he continues to whine that the news media reported crowd estimates incorrectly. Here are the photos; you judge:

The Late Republic

While there are vast differences between the Roman Republic and the United States, there are many ways they compare directly. There is always a temptation, in any system of government, for public officials to rule rather than govern; but a well-functioning republic has institutional safeguards to prevent that. Institutions can be corrupted from within, however. And just a few minutes ago, one of the deepest infections in American history just burrowed into the center of our government.

I'll leave it to Brooks and Krugman to suggest what we do now. First, Brooks:

We’ve wondered if there is some opponent out there that could force us to unite and work together. Well, that opponent is being inaugurated, not in the form of Trump the man, but in the form of the chaos and incompetence that will likely radiate from him, month after month. For America to thrive, people across government will have to cooperate and build arrangements to quarantine and work around the president.

People in the defense, diplomatic and intelligence communities will have to build systems to prevent him from intentionally or unintentionally bumbling into a global crisis. People in his administration and in Congress will have to create systems so his ill-informed verbal spasms don’t derail coherent legislation.

Krugman agrees, to an extent, but has more fear:

Crises of some kind are bound to occur on any president’s watch. They appear especially likely given the crew that’s coming in and their allies in Congress: Given the stated priorities of the people about to take charge, we could very well see collapsing health care, a trade war and a military standoff with China just in the next year.

Real crises need real solutions. They can’t be resolved with a killer tweet, or by having your friends in the F.B.I. or the Kremlin feed the media stories that take your problems off the front page. What the situation demands are knowledgeable, levelheaded people in positions of authority.

But as far as we know, almost no people meeting that description will be in the new administration, except possibly the nominee for defense secretary — whose nickname just happens to be “Mad Dog.”

No more than 1,469 days, 23 hours, and 54 minutes remain in this horrible, horrible administration.

Already 5pm?

And I haven't fully read any of these:

Only a few more hours until we see how much closer to Rome we get.

Third time running: warmest year ever

Not that the incoming administration cares:

Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016 — trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.

The findings come two days before the inauguration of an American president who has called global warming a Chinese plot and vowed to roll back his predecessor’s efforts to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases.

The heat extremes were especially pervasive in the Arctic, with temperatures in the fall running 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal across large stretches of the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice in that region has been in precipitous decline for years, and Arctic communities are already wrestling with enormous problems, such as rapid coastal erosion, caused by the changing climate.

Since 1880, NOAA’s records show only one other instance when global temperature records were set three years in a row: in 1939, 1940 and 1941. The Earth has warmed so much in recent decades, however, that 1941 now ranks as only the 37th-warmest year on record.

Meanwhile, in Chicago this January week, it feels like March.

Long day, so much to read later

Tabs open but not read in my browser:

There was one more item, but it's too big to gloss over.

Thanks, Obama!

Two big Obama stories today.

First, the president has commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence. She'll be freed in May:

In recent days, the White House had signaled that Mr. Obama was seriously considering granting Ms. Manning’s commutation application, in contrast to a pardon application submitted on behalf of the other large-scale leaker of the era, Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who disclosed archives of top secret surveillance files and is living as a fugitive in Russia.

Asked about the two clemency applications on Friday, the White House spokesman, Joshua Earnest, discussed the “pretty stark difference” between Ms. Manning’s case for mercy with Mr. Snowden’s. While their offenses were similar, he said, there were “some important differences.”

“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” he said. “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”

(Brian Beutler notes that Snowden's future is pretty uncertain now, too.)

Second, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that, should Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act, it could lead to 18 million people losing health insurance right away and another 12 million in 20 years:

The bill that the budget office analyzed would have eliminated tax penalties for people who go without insurance. It would also have eliminated spending for the expansion of Medicaid and subsidies that help lower-income people buy private insurance. But the bill preserved requirements for insurers to provide coverage, at standard rates, to any applicant, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions.

“Eliminating the mandate penalties and the subsidies while retaining the market reforms would destabilize the nongroup market, and the effect would worsen over time,” the budget office said.

The office said the estimated increase of 32 million people without coverage in 2026 resulted from three changes: about 23 million fewer people would have coverage in the individual insurance market, roughly 19 million fewer people would have Medicaid coverage, and there would be an increase in the number of people with employment-based insurance that would partially offset those losses.

Republicans complained that they will pass an alternative plan, but no one is taking this seriously. Because they're not.


American authoritarianism

I grew up in Chicago, so I have some recollection of how things were before Harold Washington's mayoral administration. Particularly under the first Mayor Daley, large sections of the city lived under authoritarian rule. It wasn't pretty.

New Republic's Graham Vyse explains what this might look like nationally. It won't be The Hunger Games—and that's part of the problem:

Tom Pepinsky, a government professor at Cornell University, recently argued that Americans conceive of authoritarianism in a “fantastical and cartoonish” way, and that popular media—especially film—is to blame.

“This vision of authoritarian rule,” he wrote, “has jackbooted thugs, all-powerful elites acting with impunity, poverty and desperate hardship for everyone else, strict controls on political expression and mobilization, and a dictator who spends his time ordering the murder or disappearance of his opponents using an effective and wholly compliant security apparatus.”

“If you think of authoritarianism as only being The Hunger Games and Star Wars, you’re likely to focus on the wrong types of threats to democracy,” he said in an interview. “You’re out there looking for something unlikely to happen and you’re missing the things much more likely to happen.” Such as legal gerrymandering, he said. “One way to not lose elections that’s very common and essential to Malaysia is the construction of so many safe legislative seats that the party doesn’t need to get most of the voters to get most of the seats.”

In other words, it's already happening in places where Republican governments rule with minority popular votes, such as in North Carolina and (starting Friday) at the Federal level.

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall lays out pretty clearly how Trump and Putin are trying to destroy the EU and NATO, which average Americans might not care about until they're gone.

The next few years are going to suck.

Who ya gonna believe, me or your lyin' spies?

The latest scandal surrounding Trump is either farcical or truly scary:

Seven months ago, a respected former British spy named Christopher Steele won a contract to build a file on Donald J. Trump’s ties to Russia. Last week, the explosive details — unsubstantiated accounts of frolics with prostitutes, real estate deals that were intended as bribes and coordination with Russian intelligence of the hacking of Democrats — were summarized for Mr. Trump in an appendix to a top-secret intelligence report.

Mr. Trump denounced the unproven claims Wednesday as a fabrication, a Nazi-style smear concocted by “sick people.” It has further undermined his relationship with the intelligence agencies and cast a shadow over the new administration.

Remarkably for Washington, many reporters for competing news organizations had the salacious and damning memos, but they did not leak, because their contents could not be confirmed. That changed only this week, after the heads of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency added a summary of the memos, along with information gathered from other intelligence sources, to their report on the Russian cyberattack on the election.

Now, after the most contentious of elections, Americans are divided and confused about what to believe about the incoming president. And there is no prospect soon for full clarity on the veracity of the claims made against him.

Of course, Trump doesn't want this investigated further, thus his protestations that it's a complete fabrication. But as others have pointed out, if non-partisan officials in our government and others believe that the incoming president may be compromised by a long-standing adversary, shouldn't we find out the truth?

But Trump isn't interested in the truth, and never has been. Which is why taking anything he says at face value is farcical. But not clearing him of being a Russian asset? That's scary.

How Eddie Lampert benefits from destroying Sears

Via Crain's, Business Insider explains in detail how Eddie Lampert has structured his financial holdings so that he may benefit more from Sears' destruction than from its success:

For all the problems in Sears stores, Lampert has set up his various businesses in a way that means he has other ways to gain no matter what happens to the company.

ESL holds a majority share of Sears, and that stake has lost three-quarters of its value just in the past few years — more than $1.5 billion since early 2015 alone.

But Lampert, through ESL, has loaned Sears more than $1.12 billion and promised an additional $679 million over the past two years to help keep the company afloat. In return, Sears pays origination fees and interest directly to ESL, and, by extension, Lampert. A recent shareholder complaint claims that Lampert and ESL made at least $19 million in fees and interest payments from a $400 million loan in 2014.

Lampert and ESL could potentially seize stores and inventory if Sears can't pay its bills. That $400 million loan, for instance, is backed by collateral of 25 stores valued at $500 million total.

Even if the company went bankrupt, Lampert wouldn't walk away empty-handed, according to bankruptcy experts and former executives.

How on earth did Sears' board allow this to happen? Oh, right—Lampert owns 54% of the company, and so appoints the board.

There are shareholder lawsuits, of course, though it's doubtful they'll succeed. And so the murder continues.