The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Reactions to the weekend

Apparently, life went on in the US while I was abroad last week. First, to James Damore:

Of course, that wasn't the big story of the weekend. About the terrorist attack and armed ultra-right rally in Virginia, there have been many, many reactions:

Can we have a discussion about domestic right-wing domestic terrorism now? Before we have another Oklahoma City?

Noted, with sadness

I'm back from the UK, and I hope my laundry will be done soon because my body thinks it's 1:30 in the morning.

I did want to note the horror in Virginia over the weekend, and James Fallows' observations about the President's abject failure to respond appropriately:

Donald Trump had an opportunity yesterday to show that he was more than the ignorant, impulsive, reckless opportunist he appeared to be during the election. To show, that is, that the  burdens and responsibilities of unmatched international power had in fact sobered him, and made him aware of his obligations to the nation as a whole.

Of course, he failed.

And those who stand with him, now, cannot claim the slightest illusion about what they are embracing.

It was so tempting, being at O'Hare with my passport and a packed bag, just to hop on another plane...

Not enough outrage?

New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker says President Trump's outrages aren't outraging us anymore:

After six months in office, Mr. Trump has crossed so many lines, discarded so many conventions, said and done so many things that other presidents would not have, that he has radically shifted the understanding of what is standard in the White House. He has moved the bar for outrage. He has a taste for provocation and relishes challenging Washington taboos. If the propriety police tut tut, he shows no sign of concern.

[Last week,] Mr. Trump urged uniformed sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford to call their members of Congress to lobby for his military spending plan and his proposed repeal of Mr. Obama’s health care program. Traditionally, the commander in chief does not tell the troops who serve under him to involve themselves in politics or policy battles on his behalf.

"Traditionally?" The President politicizing the military is such a bright line that only George W. Bush has even come close to doing so in my lifetime. Never, in my knowledge, has a president solicited votes from uniformed personnel, and for good reason. Baker:

“It was a mistake for the president to make this comment,” said Peter D. Feaver, a specialist on civilian-military matters at Duke University and a former national security aide to Mr. Bush. “While there is a legitimate role for senior brass to explain military affairs to the public, it is not good for civil-military relations to have the military viewed as a special interest group pleading for bigger budgets.”

And then there's the matter of calling for the prosecution of his defeated opponent:

The closest analogies that historians could summon occurred a century or more ago. Aaron Burr, who sought to snatch the presidency from Thomas Jefferson when the contest went to the House of Representatives in 1800, was prosecuted in a treason case for later plotting to break off territory and create a new nation. (He was acquitted.) Eugene V. Debs, the Socialist candidate who lost the 1912 election to Woodrow Wilson, was jailed for sedition for speaking out against World War I. In both cases, they were prosecuted for actions taken after the election.

So...never before have we come this close to being a banana republic. Meanwhile, Trump is inverting the way the White House has worked for nearly a century—or, rather, allowing his new communications director to do so:

Assistant Press Secretary Michael Short, according to Politico, is among the first to get canned. It seems likely that that even if Scaramucci remains Communications Director and doesn’t become chief of staff himself – which I would not rule out – that the White House will now be run from the communications office, with a new chief of staff effectively, if not formally, reporting to Scaramucci.

This, while signalling that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is about to get his walking papers. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, sure; but it's still a little insane. Check out Jennifer Rubin's column yesterday in the Independent UK: "Trump's presidency can't be saved—so what happens next?"

Does anyone else have this website prominently on your favorites bar?

The End is Nigh?

The Post's Dana Milbank thinks that President Trump's polling numbers—already the lowest for any president since polling began 70 years ago—are about to get worse:

I asked The Post’s polling chief, Scott Clement, to run a regression analysis testing how views of the economy shape overall support for Trump when other variables such as party are held constant. The result was powerful: People who approve of his handling of the economy are 40 or 50 percentage points more likely to approve of him overall. While views of the economy closely correlate with partisanship, this means, all things being equal, that Trump’s overall approval rating should drop four or five points for each 10-point drop in views of his economic performance. Because Trump supporters are largely unconcerned with his personal antics, economic woes — not the Russia scandal or zany tweets — are what would doom Trump in public opinion.

The problem for Trump is many of his populist promises are starting to look fraudulent.

So what happens if — and when — Trump’s core backers discover that they’ve been had: They’re losing health-care coverage and other benefits, while manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back and a Trump-ignited trade war is hurting U.S. exports?

Meanwhile, New Republic's Bryce Covert suggests how Democrats could change the conversation:

If Democrats want to win elections, they should imbue Trump’s empty rhetoric with a real promise: a good job for every American who wants one. It’s time to make a federal jobs guarantee the central tenet of the party’s platform. This is the type of simple, straightforward plan that Democrats need in order to connect with Americans who struggle to survive in the twenty-first-century economy. And while a big, New Deal–style government program might seem like a nonstarter in this day and age—just look at the continuing battle over the Affordable Care Act—a jobs guarantee isn’t actually so far-fetched.

Americans overwhelmingly want to work: Most people say they get a sense of identity from their job and would keep working even if they won the lottery. Joblessness is even associated with poorer mental and physical health for entire families—not working appears to make us sick. And there’s already strong support for a jobs guarantee: In a 2014 poll, 47 percent said they favor such a program. A jobs guarantee holds the promise not just of jobs for all, but of a stronger and more productive economy for everyone. The biggest obstacle, in fact, might be the Democratic Party’s own timidity.

A Federal jobs program and universal health care? What's next, rising productivity and declining inequality? Haul up the drawbridges!

Still, it's going to be a long 1,282 days.

How civil wars happen

Paul Krugman was inspired by his CUNY colleague Branko Mlianovic to think about our current partisan divide as a bloodless civil war:

Branko – who knows something about Yugoslavia! – argues against the view that civil wars are caused by deep divisions between populations who don’t know each other. The causation, he argues, goes the other way: when a civil war begins for whatever reason, that’s when the lines between the groups are drawn, and what may have been minor, fairly benign differences become irreconcilable gulfs.

[A] large segment of the population was no longer hearing the same news – basically not experiencing the same account of reality – as the rest of us. So what had been real but not extreme differences became extreme differences in political outlook.

In the long run, it makes you wonder whether and how we can get the country we used to be back. As Branko says, there was a time when Serbs and Croats seemed to get along fairly well, indeed intermarrying at a high rate. But could anyone now put Yugoslavia back together? At this rate, we’ll soon be asking the same question about America.

Bloodless so far, he points out.

Friday afternoon link round-up

While I'm trying to figure out how to transfer one database to another, I'm putting these aside for later reading:

Back to database analysis and design...

Why the ACA repeal effort is failing

Krugman nails it:

Believe it or not, conservatives actually do have a more or less coherent vision of health care. It’s basically pure Ayn Rand: if you’re sick or poor, you’re on your own, and those who are more fortunate have no obligation to help. In fact, it’s immoral to demand that they help.

This is a coherent doctrine; it’s what conservative health care “experts” say when they aren’t running for public office, or closely connected to anyone who is. I think it’s a terrible doctrine – both cruel and wrong in practice, because buying health care isn’t and can’t be like buying furniture. Still, if Republicans had run on this platform and won, we’d have to admit that the public agrees.

But think of how Republicans have actually run against Obamacare. They’ve lambasted the law for not covering everyone, even though their fundamental philosophy is NOT to cover everyone, or accept any responsibility for the uninsured. They’ve denied that their massive cuts to Medicaid are actually cuts, pretending to care about the people they not-so-privately consider moochers.

The trouble they’re having therefore has nothing to do with tactics, or for that matter with Trump. It’s what happens when many years of complete fraudulence come up against reality.

This is the same adolescent fantasy drove Eddie Lampert to destroy Sears.

Could we get a budget today?

Maybe, if enough Republicans show up to the Illinois House for this afternoon's veto override vote:

[S]tate government is two years into a record budget impasse that has universities on the brink of losing their accreditation, many social service nonprofits too broke to serve the needy and roadwork at a standstill. Without a budget deal by mid-August, many elementary and high schools will have to scrape the barrel of their reserves in order to be able to open their doors for the new school year.

The budget plan that [Republican Illinois Governor Bruce] Rauner vetoed would have the state spend more than $36 billion on primary and secondary education, colleges and universities, social services, medical care for the poor and other government functions, with nearly $5 billion in new taxes to help pay for it. The personal income tax rate would rise from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. The corporate tax rate would go from 5.25 percent to 7 percent. The plan also would have the state pay down about half of the nearly $15 billion pile of unpaid bills through a combination of borrowing and using cash from other state accounts.

Now the ball is in the House's court. In recent days, low attendance at the statehouse has made it impossible for lawmakers to complete any business at all, much less a veto override. On Wednesday, just 59 of the chamber's 118 lawmakers showed up to work.

Meanwhile, Moody's Investors Service has stated that they might not raise Illinois' credit rating even if the House overrides Rauner's veto, owing to $15bn in bills the State will have to pay just to get current.

Awesome. Ideologue Rauner has pushed Illinois nearly to bankruptcy with his intransigence and rich-white-guy policy agenda. How long until we can vote him out?

Bias in science?

Two stories today about science, one implicitly about how money influences reported outcomes, and another about how people don't really understand science.

First, the New York Times reported Monday on a $100m National Institutes of Health clinical trial that is getting $67m indirectly from five major alcohol producers:

[T]he mantra that moderate drinking is good for the heart has never been put to a rigorous scientific test, and new research has linked even modest alcohol consumption to increases in breast cancer and changes in the brain. That has not stopped the alcoholic beverage industry from promoting the alcohol-is-good-for-you message by supporting scientific meetings and nurturing budding researchers in the field.

Five companies that are among the world’s largest alcoholic beverage manufacturers — Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Carlsberg — have so far pledged $67.7 million to a foundation that raises money for the National Institutes of Health, said Margaret Murray, the director of the Global Alcohol Research Program at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which will oversee the study.

George F. Koob, the director of the alcohol institute, said the trial will be immune from industry influence and will be an unbiased test of whether alcohol “in moderation” protects against heart disease. “This study could completely backfire on the alcoholic beverage industry, and they’re going to have to live with it,” Dr. Koob said.

“The money from the Foundation for the N.I.H. has no strings attached. Whoever donates to that fund has no leverage whatsoever — no contribution to the study, no input to the study, no say whatsoever.” But Dr. Koob, like many of the researchers and academic institutions playing pivotal roles in the trial, has had close ties to the alcoholic beverage industry.

Keep in mind, funding does not automatically create bias. But it does make people wonder about the study's legitimacy. (This is an enormous problem in elections, too.)

When people start doubting the legitimacy of a study—or an entire body of research—we can get into real trouble. In an op-ed in today's Washington Post, climate scientist Ben Santer explains how he's fighting back against ignorance:

After decades of seeking to advance scientific understanding, reality suddenly shifts, and you are back in the cold darkness of ignorance. The ignorance starts with President Trump. It starts with untruths and alternative facts. The untruth that climate change is a “hoax” engineered by the Chinese. The alternative fact that “nobody really knows” the causes of climate change. These untruths and alternative facts are repeated again and again. They serve as talking points for other members of the administration. From the Environment Protection Agency administrator, who has spent his career fighting against climate change science, we learn the alternative fact that satellite data show “leveling off of warming” over the past two decades. The energy secretary tells us the fairy tale that climate change is due to “ocean waters, and this environment in which we live.” Ignorance trickles down from the president to members of his administration, eventually filtering into the public’s consciousness.

I have to believe that even in this darkness, though, there is still a thin slit of blue sky. My optimism comes from a gut-level belief in the decency and intelligence of the people of this country. Most Americans have an investment in the future — in our children and grandchildren, and in the planet that is our only home. Most Americans care about these investments in the future; we want to protect them from harm. That is our prime directive. Most of us understand that to fulfill this directive, we can’t ignore the reality of a warming planet, rising seas, retreating snow and ice, and changes in the severity and frequency of droughts and floods. We can’t ignore the reality that human actions are part of the climate-change problem, and that human actions must be part of the solution to this problem. Ignoring reality is not a viable survival strategy.

People are attacking truth on several fronts. We've got to keep fighting.

One possible improvement in the schools

Perhaps, if more people had history classes in school in America, something this stupid would be less likely:

For 29 years, National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” has celebrated the Fourth of July with a reading of the Declaration of Independence by hosts, reporters, newscasters and commentators.

This historically uncontroversial testament to the nation’s founding document proved uncontroversial-no-more in the year 2017.

After NPR tweeted the accompanying text of the declaration line by line, Donald Trump backers (seemingly unaware of the source document) accused the media organization of playing partisan politics and attacking the president.

“So, NPR is calling for a revolution,” Twitter user @JustEsrafel wrote.

“Propaganda is that all you know?” another asked.

I...I just...