The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

How Russia is screwing with us

That the President hasn't condemned Russian interference in American politics demonstrates how unfit for office he and his associates are. Because Russian interference has real consequences. Via TPM, the Russians have had extraordinary success dividing Americans through social media:

Last year, two Russian Facebook pages organized dueling rallies in front of the Islamic Da’wah Center of Houston, according to information released by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican.

Heart of Texas, a Russian-controlled Facebook group that promoted Texas secession, leaned into an image of the state as a land of guns and barbecue and amassed hundreds of thousands of followers. One of their ads on Facebook announced a noon rally on May 21, 2016 to “Stop Islamification of Texas.”

A separate Russian-sponsored group, United Muslims of America, advertised a “Save Islamic Knowledge” rally for the same place and time.

On that day, protesters organized by the two groups showed up on Travis Street in downtown Houston, a scene that appeared on its face to be a protest and a counterprotest. Interactions between the two groups eventually escalated into confrontation and verbal attacks.

Burr, the committee's chairman, unveiled the ads at a hearing Wednesday morning and said Russians managed to pit Texans against each other for the bargain price of $200.

Russia wants to render the US unable to defend its own interests in the world. The President, and by extension Republicans in Congress who are letting him off the hook, don't care.

Let me be clear: It is in the interests of Russia and China, but not in the interests of the United States, for us to be debilitated by internal divisions. Trump may not care, because he wants wealth and power for himself, not for the country. But the rest of us should care deeply.

Russia has been trying to do this since just after World War II. Now, they're getting so good at it, Americans can't even come together to say it's a hostile act by a foreign power, let alone fix the problems it's caused.

Relitigating the Civil War

Jeet Heer thinks it's about time to confront the history of our greatest failure in light of recent events:

At the end of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary, which aired on TV in 1990, the historian Barbara Fields says “the Civil War is still going on. It’s still to be fought and regrettably it can still be lost.” This is hard to deny: That war still shapes the basic contours of American politics. The heartland of the American conservatism is the old Confederacy. Figures like Robert E. Lee are still the subject of heated debate, as are the very origins of the war itself.

Some analysts think such debates over history only serve to empower Trump, giving him a phony culture war to distract from his political failures. But Trumpism is a byproduct of the unfinished conflicts produced by the Civil War; thus, combatting Trumpism requires combatting this pernicious view of the war. Avoiding the subject would cede the central narrative of American history to people like Trump, and would fatally damage our ability to understand and fight one of our core political problems: the endurance of racism in America.

John Kelly and Sarah Sanders’s emphasis on “compromise” is part of a larger understanding of the American story, which historians call the “reconciliationist” narrative.” As developed by turn-of-the-century scholars like Ulrich B. Phillips and William Archibald Dunning (father of the influential “Dunning School.”), the reconciliationist narrative told a false, sweeping story about American race relations: that slavery was a mostly benign institution, and antebellum America was bedeviled by fanatical abolitionists committed to the false idea of human equality.

Ta-Nahesi Coates took on this notion  in a series of Tweets yesterday.

I've never understood how people can talk about any Confederate figures as "loyal" to anything. They committed treason against the United States, in order to maintain chattel slavery. That's as unacceptable as the three-fifths compromise and Dred Scott.

Limbo lower now

President Trump's approval ratings have fallen to the lowest in his presidency:

Thirty eight percent of Americans say they approve of Trump’s job performance — down five points since September — while 58 percent disapprove.

Trump’s previous low in approval in the national NBC/WSJ poll was 39 percent back in May.

The drop for Trump has come from independents (who shifted from 41 percent approval in September to 34 percent now), whites (who went from 51 percent to 47 percent) and whites without a college degree (from 58 percent to 51 percent).

[A] near-majority of voters, 46 percent, say their vote in November 2018 will be to send a message for more Democrats to serve as a check and balance to Trump and congressional Republicans.

History will remember Trump (assuming anyone is alive after his presidency) as the worst of the 44 men to serve the office. Not that he cares.

Two great things that are effectively dead now

The Tribune has two sad stories this evening.

First, the FCC has taken steps to end the main-studio rule—apparently to allow the Sinclair/Tribune deal to go through:

The regulation, which was first adopted almost 80 years ago, requires broadcasters to have a physical studio in or near the areas where they have a license to transmit TV or radio signals. Known as the "main studio rule," the regulation ensured that residents of a community could have a say in their local broadcast station's operations.

"At a time when broadcast conglomerates like Sinclair are gobbling up more stations," the consumer advocacy group Free Press said in a regulatory filing on the matter in July, "the Commission's proposal would allow these conglomerates to move even more resources away from struggling communities and further centralize broadcasting facilities and staff in wealthier metropolitan areas."

Sinclair, the right-wing broadcaster, is currently trying to buy up Tribune Media in a $3.9 billion deal. The consolidation of the media industry has become a political flashpoint amid wider concerns about fake news and the polarization of news consumption. Even some conservatives have opposed the merger, on the grounds that it could limit the number of voices on the airwaves.

Meanwhile, with Whirlpool and Sears ending a century-old relationship, event the blind can see Sears is nearly dead:

Sears contends Whirlpool sought to “use its dominant position in the marketplace,” which would have “prohibited” the retailer from selling the appliances at a reasonable price, according to a memo addressed to Sears employees and sent to me by the company.

In response, Whirlpool CEO Marc Bitzer told investors on a conference call Tuesday that losing Sears is no biggie —only 3 percent of its global revenue.

“The entire Sears business declined over time,” he asserted.

It's 1895 all over again. Or 1885. I hope the latter, because then we only have to wait 20 years for the trusts to get busted.

This is what corruption looks like

Trump's friends have started looting Puerto Rico:

For the sprawling effort to restore Puerto Rico’s crippled electrical grid, the territory’s state-owned utility has turned to a two-year-old company from Montana that had just two full-time employees on the day Hurricane Maria made landfall.

The company, Whitefish Energy, said last week that it had signed a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to repair and reconstruct large portions of the island’s electrical infrastructure. The contract is the biggest yet issued in the troubled relief effort.

Whitefish Energy is based in Whitefish, Mont., the home town of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Its chief executive, Andy Techmanski, and Zinke acknowledge knowing one another — but only, Zinke’s office said in an email, because Whitefish is a small town where “everybody knows everybody.” One of Zinke’s sons “joined a friend who worked a summer job” at one of Techmanski’s construction sites, the email said. Whitefish said he worked as a “flagger.”

Zinke’s office said he had no role in Whitefish securing the contract for work in Puerto Rico. Techmanski also said Zinke was not involved.

The scale of the disaster in Puerto Rico is far larger than anything Whitefish has handled. The company has won two contracts from the Energy Department, including $172,000 to replace a metal pole structure and splice in three miles of new conductor and overhead ground wire in Arizona. 

Uh huh.

I hope everyone realizes that the President's relentless criticism of the press, and his surrogates' suggestions that maybe we don't need a First Amendment after all, is about this. Authoritarians hate free press and informed citizenry because, at root, authoritarians are interested first and foremost in personal enrichment.

And this, right here, is what that looks like.

Lunchtime links

Too much to read today, especially during an hours-long download from our trips over the past two weeks. So I'll come back to these:

But more seriously:

Lunch break is over.

Links to read on the plane

I'm about to fly to San Antonio for another round of researching how the military tracks recruits from the time they get to the processing center to the time they leave for boot camp (officially "Military Basic Training" or MBT).

I have some stuff to read on the plane:

OK, off to K20. Or K18. Or wherever my plane has got to.

 

Pence pulls a political stunt at an NFL game

Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game (after spending $250,000 of taxpayer money to get there) when several players took a knee during the national anthem. His press office followed up with a statement that Pence "left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem."

Meanwhile, the press pool following him had previously been told to wait in the press van because "there may be an early departure." And President Trump later tweeted that he "asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled," both of which rather undermine any claim Pence had to be following his own conscience.

Let us return to the Book of Clemens, Chapter 23, verses 3-5:

Patriotism is merely a religion -- love of country, worship of country, devotion to the country's flag and honor and welfare.

In absolute monarchies it is furnished from the Throne, cut and dried, to the subject; in England and America it is furnished, cut and dried, to the citizen by the politician and the newspaper.

The newspaper-and-politician-manufactured Patriot often gags in private over his dose; but he takes it, and keeps it on his stomach the best he can. Blessed are the meek.

As Josh Marshall has pointed out repeatedly, "In Trumpland, everyone gets hurt. No one emerges with any dignity intact. He’s that ravening maw of ego and appetite and above all else unquenchable need and he has the country by the throat."

 

On assholes and disagreements

Two articles crossed my laptop today. First, from New York, Stanford professor Robert Sutton makes an argument that "we are living in Peak Asshole:"

Sutton doesn’t want to be, you know, an asshole: “Most of politics is everybody calling everybody else assholes.” And assholism, after all, is contagious. “Nasty behavior spreads much faster than nice behavior, unfortunately,” Sutton says. As he points out in his book, research shows that even a “single exposure” to negative behavior, like receipt of an insulting email, can turn a person into a “carrier.” “Literally like a common cold,” he adds. Similarly, when the president calls his detractors “haters and losers” in a tweet, when the wallpaper of life is made up of faces that belong to certified assholes like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, Don Jr., etc., etc., ad infinitum, it most likely has a trickle-down effect. “The more assholes you’re around, the more asshole-y you get.” But there are other factors that have led to this explosion of assholes, Sutton points out, everything from heat and crowding to imbalances in power and the wealth gap. “The research says that when we’re in those situations, there’s envy going up, and sort of disdain goes down.” Research also shows that technology has increased the “asshole problem,” as Sutton puts it, because people are much more likely to be mean if they don’t have to make eye contact. And because technology has created the expectation for things to happen faster, and at all hours of the day, hurriedness and sleep deprivation have become major factors.

Although the new book seems exceptionally well timed, Sutton finished writing before the election, and he notes in it that he doesn’t buy into the adage that assholes finish first. The presence of a major-league asshole in the Oval Office would seem to prove him wrong, but Sutton stands by this theory. “The evidence generally is that when you treat people badly, the only time it really seems to work is if you’re in a zero-sum game and it’s a shorter-term game,” he explains. “And my perspective is that even if you’re in the zero-sum game, where the assholes get ahead, there’s all this negative carnage. The people around them, their physical and mental health and personal relationships, they all suffer. And I don’t want to go to Trump too much, but God, look how many people he’s gone through.” In the long run, he concludes, “people who treat each other with some civility generally do better.”

Very much in the same vein, New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens gave a lecture in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday about the dying art of disagreement:

To say the words, “I agree” — whether it’s agreeing to join an organization, or submit to a political authority, or subscribe to a religious faith — may be the basis of every community.

But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes — ego non — these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere. Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky — such are the ranks of those who disagree.

And the problem, as I see it, is that we’re failing at the task.

There’s no one answer [about why this is happening]. What’s clear is that the mis-education begins early. I was raised on the old-fashioned view that sticks and stones could break my bones but words would never hurt me. But today there’s a belief that since words can cause stress, and stress can have physiological effects, stressful words are tantamount to a form of violence. This is the age of protected feelings purchased at the cost of permanent infantilization.

The mis-education continues in grade school. As the Brookings findings indicate, younger Americans seem to have no grasp of what our First Amendment says, much less of the kind of speech it protects. This is a testimony to the collapse of civics education in the United States, creating the conditions that make young people uniquely susceptible to demagogy of the left- or right-wing varieties.

Both articles are worth reading.