The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Articles that annoyed me today

In descending order of pissed-off-making:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called making Election Day a holiday "a power grab," because more people voting does in fact take power away from the Republican Party. (We used to call this sort of thing a gaffe.)
  • US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized adolescent Sears Holdings CEO Eddie Lampert for exactly the things The Daily Parker has criticized him for all along. "It appears that you have enriched yourself while driving the company into bankruptcy," said Warren. No kidding. (She didn't annoy me; Lampert did.)
  • Restaurants have gotten so loud even restaurant critics have noticed: "Those beautiful, minimalist spaces that are so in vogue reflect sounds, making it hard to hear your dining companions."
  • The tolerant, thoughtful guys over at Immigration and Customs Enforcement set up a fake university to find and deport people committing immigration fraud through student visa abuse. (I'm not as much annoyed as concerned when law enforcement uses blatant deception to catch people, but I agree that policing student visas is appropriate.)
  • Lack of sleep has become a national health crisis. (I almost forgot to add that I've averaged 6½ hours for the first 30 nights of 2019, getting 7 hours only 9 times this year, according to my Fitbit.)

And with that last one, I may now go take a nap.

Pants on fire for what reason?

People in and out of the Trump Administration have lied so often and about so many things. The Post asks, but why?

Did the president’s men lie to protect a still-hidden dark secret about the campaign’s interaction with Russia, engaging in a broad effort to obstruct the probe — one that included perhaps even Trump?

Did they lie to avoid diminishing Trump’s victory by acknowledging Russia played a role in his election?

Did they each lie for their own reasons, taking their cue from the president — who has told many whoppers of his own, including about Russia?

Trump’s former campaign chairmandeputy campaign managerformer national security adviserpersonal lawyerand a campaign foreign policy adviser have all been accused of lying to investigators exploring Russia activity.

In the first two years of his administration, the president made 8,158 false or misleading claims. Perhaps like attracts like? 

Unthinkable

The Atlantic shares "50 moments that define an improbably presidency:"

This week marks the midway point of Trump’s term. Like many Americans, we sometimes find the velocity of chaos unmanageable. We find it hard to believe, for example, that we are engaged in a serious debate about whether the president of the United States is a Russian-intelligence asset. So we decided to pause for a moment and analyze 50 of the most improbable, norm-bending, and destructive incidents of this presidency to date.

Our 2016 editorial was a repudiation of Donald Trump’s character as much as it was an endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president. It was not meant to be partisan. The Atlantic’s founders promised their readers that we would be “of no party or clique.” This remains a core governing principle of the magazine today. What follows is a catalog of incidents, ranked—highly subjectively!—according to both their outlandishness and their importance. In most any previous presidency, Democratic or Republican, each moment on this list would have been unthinkable.

Number 50: "Donald Trump touches the magic orb." Number 1: "Children are taken from their parents and incarcerated."

It's chilling, seeing them all together in one place.

STFU, Donnie, you're out of your element

We're gonna have the greatest government shutdown ever! It'll be a big, beautiful shutdown, because we need a wall!

Yep. It's the biggest one ever, all right:

Approximately 800,000 federal employees are estimated to be furloughed or working without pay because President Donald Trump and Congress cannot reach a deal to reopen the government. They are at an impasse over $5.7 billion for construction of a wall along the southern border.

The number of furloughed employees does not include federal contractors like Estes. It’s unclear how many contract or grant employees are affected by the shutdown — or even how many there are in total — but a Volcker Alliance report estimated that nearly 5.3 million worked as contractors in 2015.

Unlike furloughed federal employees, who have received assurances that they will be paid once the shutdown ends, contractors are not owed back pay. That has left them in an even murkier economic position.

Of course, I have to take NBC for saying the President and Congress cannot reach a deal, as if they're equally responsible. Nope! The buck stops at the Resolute Desk, let's not forget:

Seriously.

By the way, has anyone told Mitch McConnell that Congress can pass a law without the president's signature?

Warmest oceans ever

The planet's oceans have absorbed most of the extra heat greenhouse gases have prevented leaving the atmosphere, with consequences:

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.

As the oceans continue to heat up, those effects will become more catastrophic, scientists say. Rainier, more powerful storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 will become more common, and coastlines around the world will flood more frequently. Coral reefs, whose fish populations are sources of food for hundreds of millions of people, will come under increasing stress; a fifth of all corals have already died in the past three years.

People in the tropics, who rely heavily on fish for protein, could be hard hit, said Kathryn Matthews, deputy chief scientist for the conservation group Oceana. “The actual ability of the warm oceans to produce food is much lower, so that means they’re going to be more quickly approaching food insecurity,” she said.

And still the leaders of the world's biggest economies deny this is happening.

Not getting it done

President Trump is, and has always been, a fraud. And now it may have caught up with him.

The man who claims to have written a book on negotiating couldn't get what he claimed was his first priority through a friendly Congress. Now Congress is no longer friendly. Josh Marshall concludes from this that "Trump cannot learn how to be President:"

Democrats were actually quite willing to fund the wall. They offered tens of billions of dollars for it, far more than they’re refusing to support now. But Trump had to give them DACA. He said he would but then refused, apparently because his most rage-driven advisors said it would make him weak, much as he was goaded into this shutdown by Coulter and Limbaugh. He’s weak in respect to his supporters who control him and manipulate him. It’s probably better to say that he couldn’t than he wouldn’t.

There were a number of red state Democrats who were quite ready to make deals and the entire Democratic caucus would have in exchange for something they wanted. But he couldn’t do it. He can only dictate. This shouldn’t surprise us. He couldn’t manage to get Obamacare repealed, even by the 50 vote standard, one in which he needed only Republican votes, even though Republicans had campaigned on doing just that for almost a decade. That’s a remarkable level of governance failure.

And now he's discovering that his self-lauded negotiating skills just don't seem to work:

Trump’s approach is a hallmark of a president who eschews strategic planning and preparation in favor of day-to-day tactical maneuvering and trusting his gut. But as he digs in against an emboldened Democratic opposition, Trump has found that his go-to arsenal of bluster, falsehoods, threats and theatrics has laid bare his shortcomings as a negotiator — preventing him from finding a way out of what may be the biggest political crisis of his presidency.

White House allies professed confusion over the president’s tactics. Trump aides initially signaled he would support a continuing resolution from Congress to fund the government through early February, but the president reversed course in the face of intense criticism from conservative talk show hosts and border hawks.

As James Fallows said:

Give me a lever that is long enough, and I can move the world, Archimedes is supposed to have said. We now have a Coulter corollary, descended perhaps from Iago and Lady Macbeth. It is: Give me a man who is weak enough, and I can taunt him into anything.

We're still 10 days away from the half-way point of this administration. Heaven help us all.

Don't air the speech

James Fallows argues that television networks have clear precedents as well as unprecedented reasons not to air President Trump's speech tonight:

The challenge for the news media was to “make the important interesting,” rather than to search for the purely interesting. Car-crash footage, or the last seconds of a sudden-death playoff game, will always be more eye-catching than reports on a drought, or on sexual-harassment patterns, or emergency-room standards, or a million other topics. But things that are merely interesting will never lack for coverage. The definition of news is that it attempts to explain things that matter, things that a democratic society needs to know about in order to make sane decisions.

Donald Trump has been the most entertaining figure on the public stage since he came down the golden escalator in 2015. TV news, in particular, has therefore not been able to resist showing him (and his rallies) or talking about him. It’s the civic equivalent of seeing that 9-year-olds are guzzling down the Mountain Dew and asking for more Spam. Trump’s going live? Let’s switch to the White House! This needs to change.

Trump just lies. He doesn’t know, or he doesn’t care, about the difference between claims that are true and those that are obviously made up. (Daniel Dale, of the Toronto Star, has indefatigably catalogued Trump’s lies, at a rate of more than 100 per week.) Maybe 4,000 “terrorists” have been apprehended at the southern border? Maybe zero? Who can ever really know? Over the past week Trump has claimed that former presidents “privately” told him they supported building his wall. All four living ex-presidents have taken the unusual step of denying that they said any such thing.

The network executives’ position has a lot in common with that of the Senate Republicans. Each group knows with perfect clarity what Trump is actually doing. The Senate Republicans know that Trump is using the wall as a distraction and life raft. They know that because they had unanimously approved, by voice-vote, a plan to keep the government open, with no mention of the wall, before Trump panicked in the face of criticism from Ann Coulter and Fox News. They could pass that resolution again tomorrow—but they won’t speak up in public, so fearful do they remain of being criticized, too. For their part, the network executives know exactly what Trump will do if given air time. (Though they also realize that the formal Oval Office speech is Trump’s weakest venue. He’s not good at reading prepared texts, with his trademark ad-libs of “that’s so true” when he encounters lines he had clearly not seen before.) But they are giving it to him.

They were not afraid of criticism for turning down Obama. They are afraid about what would happen if they turned down Trump. You can think of lots of explanations. But the difference is clear.

I won't watch or listen to the speech live because I have other plans, and because Fallows is right. Why listen to half an hour of untruths coming from a person manifestly unfit to sit behind the desk he'll be sitting behind?

Shoot first, ask what a gun is later

President Trump's administration had no idea what a government shutdown would do until they started looking into it after shutting down the government:

Two devastating reports in the Washington Post over the weekend detail the horrifying scope of their ignorance. The administration did not realize that 38 million Americans lose their food stamps under a shutdown, nor did it know that thousands of tenants would face eviction without assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It’s likely the administration was lulled into complacency by a previous, abbreviated shutdown that took place in early 2018. This interruption in funding lasted only a few days and had barely any effect. Perhaps the administration assumed a longer shutdown would work the same way, but, you know, more of it. The reality is that the effects of a shutdown compound over time. Government agencies can creatively stretch their budgets to mask gaps in funding, but at some point, their capacity to maintain services snaps. The relationship between the length of a shutdown and its impact is not linear. A 30-day shutdown is not ten times as damaging as a three-day shutdown. It is probably 100 times as damaging.

The impending reality of millions of Americans going hungry and homeless is just one aspect of the horrors that await us. At some point, the shutdown will impinge upon Trump’s C-suite constituency. Employees of the Transportation Security Administration have had to work without pay, but that cannot continue indefinitely. Already, employees at some airports have begun staging sick-outs. At some point, air travel will grind to a halt, and with it large segments of the economy. By next month, tax refunds will be in jeopardy.

Facing an economic cataclysm, Trump appears to have no endgame in mind.

Also, there's this matter of the air-traffic control system.

We're only two weeks short of the the half-way point in this presidential term, and the White House still hasn't figured out how to do their jobs.

No comment, no response

The White House has simply stopped responding to basic press enquiries, not even bothering to issue a "no comment:"

“This is the least responsive White House press operation I’ve ever dealt with by far,” said Peter Baker, a veteran White House reporter for the New York Times and one of the co-authors of the story about Trump’s isolation. “There are certainly individuals there who are professional and try to be helpful when they can, and I appreciate their efforts, I really do. But as a whole, I’ve learned not to expect answers even to basic questions.”

The White House has had no response to stories large and small in recent days: reports that Trump planned to meet with Federal Reserve chairman Jerome H. Powell, whom he has criticized (no response to Agence France-Presse); the partial shutdown of the federal government (no response to Reuters or USA Today); a report by an advocacy group that wealthy donors gave $55 million to groups supporting his reelection, despite Trump’s stated opposition to such donations during the 2016 campaign (no response to Washington Post); Trump’s statement that former secretary of state Rex Tillerson was “dumb as a rock” (no response to CNBC); a piece in the Times reporting that a podiatrist may have helped Trump dodge the draft when Trump was a young man at the height of the Vietnam War.

At the same time, the White House seems to have all but stopped explaining Trump’s bizarre tweets.

I don't think this should surprise anyone. The current administration, abetted by the Republican Party, don't believe that the US Government works for anyone but them. They have shown for almost two years they don't value the basic values of civic engagement that a republic requires.

Regardless of which Democrats run in 2020, I think at least we can expect that their campaigns (and the resulting new administration) will at least issue a no-comment response.

Bankruptcy laws in the US

Whether the US bankruptcy code intended to create a new indentured class of university graduates, its prohibition on discharging student-loan debt has done so.

But the code really helps badly-run businesses, and not just at the criminal scale of Sears. The private-equity fund that owned a grocery store chain in Indiana has done very well under the code, while destroying the future of the chain's retirees:

The anger arises because although the sell-off allowed Sun Capital and its investors to recover their money and then some, the company entered bankruptcy leaving unpaid more than $80 million in debts to workers’ severance and pensions.

For Sun Capital, this process of buying companies, seeking profits and leaving pensions unpaid is a familiar one. Over the past 10 years, it has taken five companies into bankruptcy while leaving behind debts of about $280 million owed to employee pensions.

The unpaid pension debts mean that some retirees will get smaller checks. Much of the tab will be picked up by the government’s pension insurer, a federal agency facing its own budget shortfalls.

“They did everyone dirty,” said Kilby Baker, 70, a retired warehouse worker whose pension check was cut by about 25 percent after Marsh Supermarkets withdrew from the pension. “We all gave up wage increases so we could have a better pension. Then they just took it away from us.”

Truly, the law is a ass. It's also working as its Republican authors intended.