The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Truly a unique mind

One of the articles I read at lunchtime concerned the president's press conference at the G7 in Biarritz, France, yesterday. It bears examining, not for anything new, but for the shift in the way journalists are describing his thought processes:

Asked why he continued to falsely blame Obama for the annexation of Crimea, as he did almost a dozen times Monday, the president suggested that he knew the black journalist asking the question, Yamiche Alcindor of PBS News, had an ulterior motive. “I know you like President Obama,” he said, without saying how he knew that.

“I’m not blaming him,” he said, before blaming him extensively because “a lot of bad things happened.”

In four days, Trump imposed new tariffs on China, called the country’s president an “enemy,” admitted “second thoughts” on the escalating trade war, reversed course hours later to say he only wished he had raised the tariffs higher, and then vowed a deal would be coming soon — because China wants one desperately, in the president’s telling. Doesn’t that make it harder, a reporter asked, to make a deal? 

“Sorry, it’s how I negotiate,” he said. “It’s been very successful over the years.”

Why the press corps don't laugh him out of the room escapes me. Because no other response seems appropriate.

Lunchtime queue

I'll circle back to a couple of these later today. But at the moment, I've got the following queued up for my lunch hour:

That's enough of a queue for now.

End the Crazy

Writer Jennifer Rubin argues that the Democratic Party needs to present the president as what he really is:

After all, Trump’s most defining feature these days is a frightful, manic personality more detached from reality than ever before.

We don’t need a medical diagnosis or the 25th Amendment to conclude Trump is crazy in the colloquial sense — cuckoo, nuts, non compos mentis, off his rocker, unhinged. Even Republicans who like the tax cuts or the judges at some level understand this is not normal behavior and, at key moments, feels downright scary.

Now, you might say that in the 2016 campaign Hillary Clinton and the entire Democratic Party made the case he was a mean, lying, cruel bully. People didn’t care and still voted for him (although to his chagrin, not a majority or even plurality of those who cast ballots). Why is this different?

This is crucial: It’s one thing to be mean and corrupt. His defenders say lots of politicians are. It is quite another to say he’s so erratic, so unhinged, so crazy that he sends the economy into a tailspin and risks international conflict (or capitulation to enemies such as Kim Jong Un, who Trump — crazily — believes likes him). Tying Trump’s unfitness to dangers to the country and to voters’ personal safety and prosperity should be a key objective for the eventual nominee.

Of course, fully a third of the country doesn't care that the president has gone off the reservation. They'll vote for him anyway. But the middle third of the electorate needs reminding why we can't allow this guy to have another four years in office.

Second look at the federal electors story

In the articles I linked earlier today, one noted at 10th Circuit decision about so-called "faithless electors:"

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Colorado secretary of state violated the Constitution in 2016 when he removed an elector and nullified his vote because the elector refused to cast his ballot for Democrat Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote.

The Electoral College system is established in the Constitution. When voters cast a ballot for president, they are actually choosing members of the Electoral College, called electors, who are pledged to that presidential candidate. The electors then choose the president.

Electors almost always vote for the popular vote winner, and some states have laws requiring them to do so.

But the split decision by a three-judge panel on the Denver appeals court said the Constitution allows electors to cast their votes at their own discretion. "The state does not possess countervailing authority to remove an elector and to cancel his vote in response to the exercise of that Constitutional right," the ruling said.

Colorado's current secretary of state, Jena Griswold, decried the ruling Tuesday in Colorado but did not immediately say if she would appeal.

"This court decision takes power from Colorado voters and sets a dangerous precedent," she said. "Our nation stands on the principle of one person, one vote."

Except that the Constitution doesn't. Instead, it says that the states choose their electors, and the electors vote for president. The entire point of that system is to remove the people from the equation entirely. To have the people choose the president would require a Constitutional amendment, which will never happen, for the simple reason that the states who would lose their disproportionate power in selecting the president would have to vote for the amendment.

What we can say, however, is that the American Left hates the Electoral College right now. This has more to do with the rightward shift of small states than any actual policy differences, of course. But twice in the last 20 years, the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral vote. In both cases the popular winner was a Democrat, and the electoral winner a hard-right Republican.

Unfortunately, the system is working as designed. It's supposed to give disproportionate power to smaller, more-agricultural states. In one of history's ironies, New Jersey proposed having each state get one vote in Congress. Today, New Jersey is 100% urban, according to the Census Bureau, and Wyoming has the most power per person in the country. (Let me tell you how happy I am that a bunch of old, white ranchers has almost 8 times my voting power per person in the Senate and about double my power in the Electoral College.)

I also found it interesting that the dissenting judge in the case would have held that the electors simply had no standing to sue, because the court could grant them no relief. I'm glad the other two let the case go forward. And I'm interested to see if it makes a difference in 2020.

Mid-morning link roundup

So much to read, so much eye strain from the fluorescent lights:

And finally, this year's Punderdome competition took on food; the audience ate it up.

The Golden Age of Comics

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman (Maus) submitted an essay for a Marvel Comics compendium to be published this fall, but withdrew it when Marvel asked him to delete a reference to the "Orange Skull." The Guardian published it instead:

Auschwitz and Hiroshima make more sense as dark comic book cataclysms than as events in our real world. In today’s all too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America. International fascism again looms large (how quickly we humans forget – study these golden age comics hard, boys and girls!) and the dislocations that have followed the global economic meltdown of 2008 helped bring us to a point where the planet itself seems likely to melt down. Armageddon seems somehow plausible and we’re all turned into helpless children scared of forces grander than we can imagine, looking for respite and answers in superheroes flying across screens in our chapel of dreams.

I turned the essay in at the end of June, substantially the same as what appears here. A regretful Folio Society editor told me that Marvel Comics (evidently the co-publisher of the book) is trying to now stay “apolitical”, and is not allowing its publications to take a political stance. I was asked to alter or remove the sentence that refers to the Red Skull or the intro could not be published. I didn’t think of myself as especially political compared with some of my fellow travellers, but when asked to kill a relatively anodyne reference to an Orange Skull I realised that perhaps it had been irresponsible to be playful about the dire existential threat we now live with, and I withdrew my introduction.

A revealing story serendipitously showed up in my news feed this week. I learned that the billionaire chairman and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, is a longtime friend of Donald Trump’s, an unofficial and influential adviser and a member of the president’s elite Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. And Perlmutter and his wife have each recently donated $360,000 (the maximum allowed) to the Orange Skull’s “Trump Victory Joint Fundraising Committee” for 2020. I’ve also had to learn, yet again, that everything is political... just like Captain America socking Hitler on the jaw.

Apolitical indeed.

Why the GOP aren't winning

Author Matt Grossmann argues that the Republican Party hasn't gotten their agenda through the states because most people just don't like their agenda:

Where Republicans gained policy victories, the consequences on the ground were surprisingly limited. Abortion and gun laws changed in every state, but not enough for Republican control to produce changes in state abortion numbers or crime rates. Republicans opposed raising income taxes on the rich, but not enough to exacerbate inequality or accelerate economic growth in their states. They promoted traditional families, but not enough to reduce divorces or increase births.

Republicans did not fail for lack of an ideological agenda. Their state legislative caucuses moved steadily rightward, replacing moderates with far-right Republicans. They nationalized state policymaking, often joining forces in state efforts to counter federal initiatives. They developed cookie-cutter legislation by organizing their allied interest groups and legislators.

But they faced the same problem of conservative parties worldwide: Translating a philosophy of small government and traditionalism into major cuts to public services is quite unpopular. The public sides with protesting teachers once schools are on the chopping block. Expanding health care draws far more support than cutting programs. Republican governors would rather announce new prekindergarten efforts than shutter nursing homes. Republican legislators reconsider their most ambitious tax promises once the consequences are clear. Unlike at the federal level, politicians in the states have to avoid deficits — meaning the service consequences of tax cuts are clear to voters. Since Republicans came to power mostly in the states that already had the smallest public sectors, there was less room to cut.

Does this mean Republicans will stop trying to impose idealistic right-wing policies? Don't be silly; ideologues never listen to reason. But it does mean that maybe our policies can win elections, now that people have seen theirs.

How to combat influence operations

Bruce Schneier has an eight-step plan—though he recognizes Step 1 might not be possible:

Since the 2016 US presidential election, there have been an endless series of ideas about how countries can defend themselves. It's time to pull those together into a comprehensive approach to defending the public sphere and the institutions of democracy.

Influence operations don't come out of nowhere. They exploit a series of predictable weaknesses -- and fixing those holes should be the first step in fighting them. In cybersecurity, this is known as a "kill chain." That can work in fighting influence operations, too­ -- laying out the steps of an attack and building the taxonomy of countermeasures.

Step 1: Find the cracks in the fabric of society­ -- the social, demographic, economic, and ethnic divisions. For campaigns that just try to weaken collective trust in government's institutions, lots of cracks will do. But for influence operations that are more directly focused on a particular policy outcome, only those related to that issue will be effective.

Countermeasures: There will always be open disagreements in a democratic society, but one defense is to shore up the institutions that make that society possible. Elsewhere I have written about the "common political knowledge" necessary for democracies to function. That shared knowledge has to be strengthened, thereby making it harder to exploit the inevitable cracks. It needs to be made unacceptable -- or at least costly -- for domestic actors to use these same disinformation techniques in their own rhetoric and political maneuvering, and to highlight and encourage cooperation when politicians honestly work across party lines. The public must learn to become reflexively suspicious of information that makes them angry at fellow citizens. These cracks can't be entirely sealed, as they emerge from the diversity that makes democracies strong, but they can be made harder to exploit. Much of the work in "norms" falls here, although this is essentially an unfixable problem. This makes the countermeasures in the later steps even more important.

Also unfortunately, most of the countermeasures require informed and conscientious political leaders. Good luck with that.

Anti-daylight saving time article is early this year

Apparently the morning people haven't let up in their assault on us night people:

[S]o far, legislation to go on year-round daylight saving time has passed in at least seven states, including Delaware, Maine and Tennessee this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Oregon was the most recent, approving year-round daylight saving on June 17.

“After the 2018 time change, I don’t know what happened, but people got grouchy,” Oregon state Rep. Bill Post, a Republican who sponsored the bill, toldthe Oregon Public Broadcasting network.

The grouchiness is not just in Oregon. A month earlier, Washington legislators adopted year-round daylight saving time. California voters have approved the same, and sometime as early as next month, the California state Senate is expected to review the matter, according to state Assemblyman Kansen Chu, a Democrat and the bill’s author.

OK, let's review: clock time is completely arbitrary. It has no relation to the iron-clad astronomical motion that determines when the sun comes up and when it sets.

I think the permanent DST idea attacks the problem from the wrong side. Maybe the problem is that so much of our life requires people to get up and go to sleep when their bodies don't want to. Changing wall-clock time twice a year just shuffles the furniture.

But, hey, let's apply our energy to this anyway. It's easier than fixing real problems.

Chaotic mind, chaotic world

In another example of how President Trump's incompetence and disordered thinking has real-world consequences, Michelle Goldberg lays out the connection between the president's lies to one leader have caused another country to take a frightening rightward turn:

n July, during a White House visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump offered to mediate India and Pakistan’s long-running conflict over Kashmir, even suggesting that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to do so. Modi’s government quickly denied this, and Trump’s words reportedly alarmed India, which has long resisted outside involvement in Kashmir. Two weeks later, India sent troops to lock Kashmir down, then stripped it of its autonomy.

Americans have grown used to ignoring Trump’s casual lies and verbal incontinence, but people in other countries have not. Thornton thinks the president’s comments were a “precipitating factor” in Modi’s decision to annex Kashmir. By blundering into the conflict, she suggested, Trump put the Indian prime minister on the defensive before his Hindu nationalist constituency. “He might not have had to do that,” she said of Modi’s Kashmir takeover, “but he would have had to do something. And this was the thing he was looking to do anyway.”

At the same time, Modi can be confident that Trump, unlike previous American presidents, won’t even pretend to care about democratic backsliding or human rights abuses, particularly against Muslims. “There’s a cost-benefit analysis that any political leader makes,” said Ben Rhodes, a former top Obama national security aide. “If the leader of India felt like he was going to face public criticism, potential scrutiny at the United Nations,” or damage to the bilateral relationship with the United States, “that might affect his cost-benefit analysis.” Trump’s instinctive sympathy for authoritarian leaders empowers them diplomatically.

We have, at minimum, 522 more days of this clown. What more damage can he do? I'm not looking forward to finding out.