The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Island time

I'm spending a couple of days on two U.S. islands in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and Vieques. So posting is a little iffy. Right now I'm waiting for the island hopper to take me between the two islands, a flight that will spend less time in the air than it will taxiing on the ground.

There has been a minor problem, though. It has rained every day, and the forecast calls for more rain every day. Here's Condado Lagoon from the roof of my hotel:

Right now it's a little sunny but still not what I would call dry. The rain also dumped a good layer of fresh water on the bioluminescent bay that I visited last night, sending all the glowing critters deep into the warmer, saltier water on the bay's floor. Disappointing, but hey, it's nature.

I'll have more photos and posts from Vieques, assuming there's WiFi.

Redress of grievances

Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of "Hamilton" in New York last night, and at the curtain call, actor Brandon Victor Dixon (who plays Aaron Burr) had something to say:


Pence reportedly left the auditorium before Dixon finished speaking, but a show spokesman told the Associated Press that the vice president-elect stood in the hallway and heard the full message.

Apparently unaware that (a) the Constitution grants all Americans the right to free speech and "to petition the government for redress of grievances," and (b) elected politicians should, by virtue of their jobs, expect direct and public criticism at all times, President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter:

Just, wow. The person almost half the voters chose to be president can't help himself, can he? I really look forward to this idiot blowing up our relationships with most of the world over Twitter. And to think, more than half the voters thought he hasn't got the temperament to be president.

Why authoritarian regimes fall apart

If you look at the regimes of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia, you see pretty much the end state of democracies run by populists who value loyalty over, say, competence: runaway inflation, shortages, brain drain, and increasingly repressive policies aimed only at keeping the power structure intact.

If you want to see what the beginning state of such regimes, look no further than Trump's transition team. Already they've defenestrated the policy wonks they'll need to actually do things, and they've so alienated civil servants in the executive branch that it's unclear who will actually run the day-to-day government of the U.S. come January.

For more confirmation that the Trump administration will not be normal, and will rely on loyalty more than competence to an extent rarely seen in advanced democracies with strong civil services, look who he's named Attorney General:

"If you have nostalgia for the days when blacks kept quiet, gays were in the closet, immigrants were invisible and women stayed in the kitchen, Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is your man," Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Illinois, said in a statement on Friday. "No Senator has fought harder against the hopes and aspirations of Latinos, immigrants, and people of color than Sen. Sessions."

Or how about National Security Advisor:

President-elect Donald Trump announced he will tap Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for the role of national security advisor, the transition announced Friday.

Flynn has a long history of controversial remarks and was fired as President Barack Obama's director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014.

Flynn's Twitter feed -- regularly updated with pro-Trump comments -- is another source of potential scrutiny. Flynn apologized in July after retweeting a message that bashed Jewish people.

So, looks like we're going to get ideologues, angry old white men, and hard-line right-wingers in cabinet—sometimes all in the same people. Now all he has to do is appoint a climate denier to Interior and a religious nutter to HHS and we'll be in business.

Krugman, who's called most economic and political events correctly in the past few decades, reminds everyone that nothing about Trump's congealing government is normal, and should not be accepted as such:

A lot of people in politics and the media are scrambling to normalize what just happened to us, saying that it will all be OK and we can work with Trump. No, it won’t, and no, we can’t. The next occupant of the White House will be a pathological liar with a loose grip on reality; he is already surrounding himself with racists, anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists; his administration will be the most corrupt in America history.

Here's to a continued hope that our institutions are stronger than these guys. The world depends on it.


Sunny days

Despite everything awful happening around the country, here in Chicago we've had unusually gorgeous weather. We've had 81% of possible sunshine this month, well above the normal 43%. And we've also had near-record heat, with today predicted to be 22°C, a whopping 14°C above normal.

Of course, tomorrow a cold front will come through to give us our first freeze since April, but hey, it's November.

Those who do not understand the past

Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat outlines the similarities between Trump and Mussolini. They're legion:

“These people are mass marketers. They pick up what’s in the air,” Ben-Ghiat said. The film reel was to Mussolini as Twitter is to Trump. “They give the impression of talking directly to the people,” she said. They can be portentous and relentlessly self-assertive. In a way, authoritarians have to be, Ben-Ghiat explained, since they’re selling a paradox: a savior fashioned as the truest, most authentic expression of the masses. Trump summed it up baldly at the Convention: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it.” The authoritarian makes the contradiction fall away, like an optical illusion.

In the speech of Mussolini, Putin, Trump, and also Berlusconi, Ben-Ghiat notes a pattern: they are at once transparent about their intentions and masters of innuendo. “Trump trails off. He uses ellipses and coded language. He lets his listeners fill in what they want.” ... On the stump, Trump keeps saying that order will be restored on January 20th, as soon as he takes office. “He means everything he says,” Ben-Ghiat said. “Authoritarians never pivot.”

Maybe not Mussolini, but Berlusconi? It's really hard to say at this point.

Of course, Trump's ability to act will initially encounter some difficulties as he's having quite a time hiring people to staff his administration. On the other hand, the staff he has hired are pretty scary.


Huckster in chief

They didn't even wait for the body to get cold:

One day after President-elect Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka spoke to "60 Minutes" about her father's rise to power, her jewelry line alerted journalists to a surprising fact: The First Daughter-elect's bracelet could be bought for $10,800.

The sales tactic marked one of the first moments since the election during which the Trump companies have sought to use Trump's presidential prominence to boost their private fortunes.

There is nothing illegal about the advertisements. Conflict-of-interest laws do not block a president from involving himself in matters that could boost his private companies' wealth or prominence.

Trump has also resisted the tradition set by most presidents before him of selling or handing over his assets into a "blind trust" controlled by an independent manager. He said he intends to give control of his companies to Ivanka and his other children, an arrangement that ethics experts say does little to put distance between Trump's presidential decision-making and personal estate.

"And the money kept rolling in from every side..."

A horrifying Zaphod

In a sense, Donald Trump seems like the former President of the Galaxy ("a role that involves no power whatsoever, and merely requires the incumbent to attract attention so no one wonders who's really in charge"): narcissistic, vain, not terribly bright, and uninterested in details to an unprecedented degree for someone holding his office.

That's all very funny in a Douglas Adams novel. But in real life, it's actually terrifying:

President Barack Obama’s remarks about Donald Trump in his Monday press conference contained some of the most ominous words I’ve heard since news networks began calling the election for Trump early last Wednesday morning. But you may not have heard them.

In a tense environment where reporters, government workers, world leaders, and anxious citizens and immigrants understandably are scrutinizing every Donald Trump tweet and utterance and leak, Obama’s closing thoughts on the presidency and his successor will be given short shrift. But the things he says about the transition contain critical information about its progress and his confidence that, on the other side of it, things will run smoothly.

Obama’s warning to Trump, and everyone who stands to suffer for his errors, is that living in a rhetorical fantasy will backfire on a president. “Regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up,” Obama said. “And those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don’t match up with reality—he will find shaken up pretty quick, because reality has a way of asserting itself.”

Because of the unique and awkward position he finds himself in, Obama can’t trash the incoming president or sow panic about the country’s coming stewardship. But it isn’t normal for an outgoing president to have to tell the incoming one he should follow the law, and that aspects of his temperament might get him into an economic crisis or a war or a massive corruption scandal. It’s certainly not normal for him to warn the public about it, however subtly, either.

Meanwhile, only a week since the election, Trump's transition team is eating its young:

We're hearing various blind quotes about a 'knife fight' in the transition team. Those quotes can be a dime a dozen. But remember, the Trump campaign is build on men who are driven by aggression as ideology and instinct. It's hardly surprising that infighting would amount to a "Game of Thrones" type scenario as another source called it. But what does seem clear is that the Bannon/white nationalist wing of the administration is trying to root out mainstream Republicans, except for ones who have fully taken the Trump yoke, like Priebus.

You have two totally inimical and contradictory groups here - the Trumpist party, made of the desperate and the extreme, and the mainstream GOP. Most House Republicans are jumping on the Trump Train. But confirmations go through the Senate. The amount of chaos and nonsense to come out of this is going to be immense. And it's just starting.

The good news is, it's hard to be fascistic when you're this incompetent. And hey, maybe they'll improve?

The wave function collapses

Throughout this past miserable campaign, I couldn't tell whether Trump was as frighteningly bigoted as his public utterances seemed, or if he were putting on a show to win the right-wingnut vote but was secretly just as establishment as his history suggested he'd be. And then two days after the election he appointed his running mate head of his transition team, yesterday appointed RNC Chair Reince Priebus his chief of staff, and in between named Steve Bannon a special advisor.

Seriously, Priebus as Chief of Staff? You have to wonder who else he could have appointed to the most important West Wing job that his angry, white, low-education supporters, were they interested in these things, would consider a total betrayal. Good news to them that Steve Bannon is in there somehow. But neither Pence nor Priebus cares one whit about the middle classes.

But that's all a side show. More important than the clown car he's loading up are the policies he's actually starting to propose. Because let's face it, "Trump is instinctively corrupt:"

He took a substantial amount of the campaign money he raised and ran it through his own companies. He practiced textbook self-dealing with his family foundation. Many of his private businesses were no better than glitzy cons and he developed a reputation for cheating partners, even if in many cases doing so in ways that didn't explicitly violate the law. He is placing his own children into prominent positions organizing his administration. His version of a "blind trust" is one in which his children and heirs administer his companies on his behalf while he is President. His companies are not 'public companies' in the corporate governance sense. But the vast majority of his companies' activities are carried out in public - hotels, golf resorts, licensing businesses, consumer businesses. None of this can really be blind even if there were any attempt to make it so. Trump and his children are in the process of building a real life version of the cartoonishly caricatured fantasy of the Clinton Foundation he created for his followers on the campaign trail.

Trump is so thoroughly corrupt in his dealings that it is probably fair to say that he doesn't even recognize the concept of self-dealing as being a problem in itself. They say hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue. In Trump's case there isn't even much hypocrisy. In every case we've seen him discuss it, he sees self-dealing and self-enrichment as a normal, meritorious way of doing things.

Let's see how much public money he can funnel into private hands before we have an opportunity to wrench Congress back from these thieves. For starters, his infrastructure proposal, which looks more like Chicago's disastrous lease of public parking spaces than it does a serious plan to fix broken roads:

[T]he details of Trump’s infrastructure plan are in keeping with the other thing he likes to do: license his name to private operators. Only his name in this case would be the U.S. government’s public assets, passed off in a privatization fire sale. In fact, the outsider Trump that rode a populist wave to the Oval Office would be engaging in a plan that reeks of the worst of neoliberalism.

Does this sound familiar? It’s the common justification for privatization, and it’s been a disaster virtually everywhere it’s been tried. First of all, this specifically ties infrastructure—designed for the common good—to a grab for profits. Private operators will only undertake projects if they promise a revenue stream. You may end up with another bridge in New York City or another road in Los Angeles, which can be monetized. But someplace that actually needs infrastructure investment is more dicey without user fees.

So the only way to entice private-sector actors into rebuilding Flint, Michigan’s water system, for example, is to give them a cut of the profits in perpetuity. That’s what Chicago did when it sold off 36,000 parking meters to a Wall Street-led investor group. Users now pay exorbitant fees to park in Chicago, and city government is helpless to alter the rates.

We knew this was coming. I have objected to Trump's candidacy on many grounds, but throughout I had some doubts about whether the campaign reflected his true beliefs. But I never doubted that a Trump presidency, especially with a Republican Congress behind him, would be a kleptocracy of the first order.

Trump isn't Hitler, Mussolini, or Pol Pot. He's Juan Peron, Hugo Chavez, or Silvio Berlusconi. So we probably won't get tossed into camps. But most of us will be a lot poorer when we finally dislodge these guys from government.

One more thing for this horrible, horrible week

I could post about Krugman's "Thoughts for the Horrified," Deeply Trivial's explanation of how the polling failure wasn't what you think it was, or how much rats like being tickled. Instead, I give you twins born on either side of the return to Standard Time:

Emily and Seth Peterson of West Barnstable welcomed their sons in the early morning hours of Nov. 6 at Cape Cod Hospital.

Samuel was born 5 pounds, 13 ounces at 1:39 a.m., shortly before the 2 a.m. hour when clocks were turned back an hour.

Brother Ronan arrived at 5 pounds, 14 ounces 31 minutes later. Because he was born after the clocks fell back one hour, his official time of birth was declared 1:10 a.m. instead of 2:10 a.m.

Of course, the hospital, the Petersons, and ABC News all completely failed to understand that wall-clock time is not absolute time, but it's still a cute story.

Why Clinton lost

TPM's John Judis has a decent set of hypotheses:

This year, Trump proved anything but hapless, and Clinton ran a campaign that sadly recalled Gore in 2000 and Dukakis in 1988. She was unable to distinguish her own approach from Obama’s – particularly on the explosive issues of Obamacare and immigration. She ran an almost entirely negative campaign focused on her opponents’ bigotry, sexism, and bilious temperament. To the extent that she made promises, her campaign consisted of appeals to particular interest and identity groups and of programs that read like the bullet points in a office memo and simply eluded the greater public.

She made little, if any, effort to speak to and allay the distrust the voters to whom Trump was appealing. They were a “basket of deplorables.” She and her campaign rested their hopes on the theory, popular among liberals, of a “rising American electorate of the young, minorities, and single woman. But her listless campaign failed to attract the same kind of support from the young and minorities that Obama had won in 2008 and 2012. In Iowa, she broke even among voters 18 to 29, and in Missouri lost them. And her vote among Hispanics fell six points short of Obama’s in 2012.

He also goes into how Trump won, which could be useful in defeating the Republicans in 2018.