The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lunchtime reading

Not that anything has happened lately...

Finally, the New York Times had a feature yesterday on new architecture for Antarctic research stations. Cool stuff (ah ha ha).

Who could have guessed this would be a problem?

Peter Nichols, writing in The Atlantic, points out the problem with President Trump's credibility gap:

Trump faces the gravest foreign-policy crisis of his tenure at a time when his credibility has been shredded. It’s not yet known how Iran will respond to the killing yesterday of its military leader Qassem Soleimani, but the country is already vowing “harsh” revenge. A conflict that has been escalating steadily on Trump’s watch is at risk of erupting into an armed confrontation. In times of war, commanders in chief need people’s trust, but for large swaths of the population, Trump hasn’t earned it. As Samantha Power, who was the ambassador to the United Nations under former President Barack Obama, tweeted this morning: “This is where having credibility—and having a president who didn’t lie about everything—would be really, really helpful.”

Compounding his credibility problem is a desiccated national-security team. Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, might be leaving soon to campaign for a Senate seat in Kansas. His longtime defense secretary, James Mattis, resigned last year and was replaced only this summer. His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, has been in place just a few months—the fourth person to hold the title in three years.

Among his tweets recounting the praise he’s gotten for killing Soleimani, Trump revealed he’s still stuck on impeachment and his own political survival. He posted a video of Representative Russ Fulcher, a Republican from Idaho, delivering a speech on the House floor in his defense, in which the congressman said he would tick off Trump’s crimes and misdemeanors. Then Fulcher stayed silent.

That sight gag, in between messages of support for the killing, is what the 45th president wanted his countrymen to see as they anxiously watched the news and wondered whether war was looming.

Meanwhile, it turns out the president blabbed to anyone who would listen at Mar-a-Lago about his plans to attack Soleimani before it happened.

Does this make any sense at all?

Yesterday, the United States assassinated Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps and its elite Quds Force.

While this may feel tactically advantageous, it makes no sense strategically. Even as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters today that the assassination made the world a safer place for Americans, his own department ordered Americans to leave Iraq immediately, and our forces overseas went on high alert.

President Trump appears to have taken this action on his own, without consulting the Gang of Eight as required by law. Or, apparently, without consulting anyone knowledgeable about Middle East policy. Jennifer Rubin:

if there is an overall strategy here, it is hidden under a pile of contradictory impulses. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper claimed that we acted to deter further attacks on Americans. Nevertheless, it is widely anticipated that Iran will make good on its threat to avenge Soleimani’s death. One immediate consequence: Instead of mass protests against the regime, thousands of Iranians took to the streets to denounce the United States.

In other words, Trump has raised strategic incoherence to new levels. Acting without so much as briefing Congress and despite his own party’s qualms about a new war in the Middle East, Trump risks not only war but also political blowback should Iran retaliate. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted the question on most lawmakers’ minds: “Soleimani was an enemy of the United States. That’s not a question. The question is this — as reports suggest, did America just assassinate, without any congressional authorization, the second most powerful person in Iran, knowingly setting off a potential massive regional war?”

There is plenty of reason for anxiety. We stand on the precipice of an international conflagration, with a president whose word cannot be trusted and whose impulsivity and ignorance are unmatched by any modern U.S. president. He is surrounded by yes men who command little if any respect outside the Trump cult.

Colin Powell famously said you need to answer eight questions before going to war: is a vital national security interest threatened? Do we have a clear, obtainable objective? Do we have genuine, broad, international support?

I don't have any idea how we can answer "yes" to any of these questions right now. But I do know that we have lots of strategic interests in the Middle East that Iran threatens. So why kick the hornets' nest like this? Is it, as Donald Trump once said of President Obama, to win an election?

I have a very bad feeling about this.

Long lines at head shops

As marijuana sales became legal (-ish) in Illinois yesterday, budding demand became overwhelming demand even before the stores opened:

Weed shops around the state opened at 6 a.m. to throngs of people. Cars packed the streets of a light-industrial park in Mundelein, home to the state’s busiest dispensary, Rise, owned by Green Thumb Industries. It’s one of the few that’s open in the northern suburbs.

When CEO Ben Kovler arrived at 5:30 a.m., there were more than 500 people lined up in the parking lot. “Our first customer said he got here at 5 last night,” Kovler said. “It’s a bigger crowd than we expected. The tidal wave (around recreational cannabis) is real.”

The first sale in the state was recorded at Dispensary 33 on North Clark Street in Uptown.

Cresco said it sold more than 9,000 cannabis items to about 3,400 customers at its five shops around the state. The average ring was $135.

So that's a lot of tax revenue. Let's hope it stays high. I did not wait in line to buy weed yesterday and I'm unlikely to do so any time soon. But I'm glad people can relax when they relax now.

And if you don't know how, the Chicago Tribune published some tips.

Two big 20th anniversaries today (and a centennial)

We typically think of January 1st as the day things happen. But December 31st is often the day things end.

On 31 December 1999, two things ended at nearly the same time: the presidency in Russia of Boris Yeltsin, and the American control of the Panama Canal Zone.

Also twenty years ago, my company gave me a $1,200 bonus ($1,893 in 2019 dollars) and a $600 suite for two nights in midtown Manhattan because I volunteered to spend four hours at our data center on Park Avenue, just so that Management could say someone was at the data center on Park Avenue continuously from 6am on New Year's Eve until 6pm on New Year's Day. Since all of the applications I wrote or had responsibility for were less than two years old, literally nothing happened. Does this count as an anniversary? I suppose not.

And one hundred years ago, 31 December 1919 was the last day anyone could legally buy alcohol in the United States for 13 years, as the Volstead Act took effect at midnight on 1 January 1920.

I'm DD tonight, but I will still raise a glass of Champagne to toast these three events.

Photo by Harris & Ewing - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Link

Four stories, more related than they seem

Article the first: Stocks have continued going up relentlessly even though producer prices are also up, exports are way down, and wages have stagnated. This means, essentially, our economy is rent-seeking and not producing.

Article the second: President Trump's tariffs have hurt agriculture and commodities, caused job losses, and hit the most vulnerable people in Trump Country. They haven't helped the economy at all. Question: bugs or features?

Article the third: Michiko Katutani draws direct parallels between the "end of normal" of the 2010s and Richard Hofstadter's "paranoid style."

Article the fourth: The 2010s also had good-looking celebrities pushing (almost literal) snake oil on us, and people bought it up wholesale. Actors and other Dunning-Krueger sufferers made billions on imaginary health and wellness products that helped neither health nor wellness.

So as we go into the bottom of the 10s, this is America today. Can't wait to see the '20s on Wednesday when it's all better.

War criminal

New information has come out that retired Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the convicted (and pardoned) war criminal, did some truly abhorrent shit while fighting in Iraq:

The trove of materials also includes thousands of text messages the SEALs sent one another about the events and the prosecution of Chief Gallagher. Together with the dozens of hours of recorded interviews, they provide revealing insights into the men of the platoon, who have never spoken publicly about the case, and the leader they turned in.

Platoon members said they saw Chief Gallagher shoot civilians and fatally stab a wounded captive with a hunting knife. Chief Gallagher was acquitted by a military jury in July of all but a single relatively minor charge, and was cleared of all punishment in November by Mr. Trump.

In the video interviews with investigators, three SEALs said they saw Chief Gallagher go on to stab the sedated captive for no reason, and then hold an impromptu re-enlistment ceremony over the body, as if it were a trophy.

“I was listening to it, and I was just thinking, like, this is the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Special Operator Miller, who has since been promoted to chief, told investigators.

Special Operator Miller said that when the platoon commander, Lt. Jacob Portier, told the SEALs to gather over the corpse for photos, he did not feel he could refuse. The photos, included in the evidence obtained by The Times, show Chief Gallagher, surrounded by other SEALs, clutching the dead captive’s hair; in one photo, he holds a custom-made hunting knife.

From the outside looking in, the culture in the Navy SEALS seems particularly toxic. People like Portier and Gallagher, far from making Americans safer, put other units in danger through their actions. These are the kinds of people President Trump wants to reward, further threatening our troops overseas.

Defending debate is not defending all sides

OK, guys, chill.

On Wednesday, researcher Maya Forstater lost an employment arbitration case in London after being fired for expressing the belief that "it is impossible to change sex." (Andrew Sullivan believes the same thing, but as a Tory and a cis-gendered gay man apparently when he says it no one freaks out.)

Author JK Rowling Tweeted out a narrow bit of support for Forstater:

What constitutes gender and what constitutes sex are, to put it mildly, controversial topics. And in a free society, we have to be free to have that debate. That is Rowling's point.

But in the last few days, a good chunk of the Left has lost its collective mind. Rowling has received scathing criticism for her Tweet, as if the last three words suddenly make people think trans wizards wouldn't be welcome at Hogwarts. (You remember that the school had a gay headmaster for fifty years, right?)

But my god, read the words. Rowling is defending free speech, period. (She also defends the rights of people to live "in peace and security," something all of us probably agree with.) Nowhere in the Tweet does Rowling express agreement with Forstater's views. And even if she does...maybe persuasion might help change them? Because militant condemnation won't.

Sullivan:

One of the long-held principles of the gay-rights movement has been that it’s wrong to fire someone just because they’re gay. Now, one of the principles of the LGBTQ movement is that it’s fine to fire someone if they disagree in the slightest with every claim of gender ideology.

This shift from a “live and let live” to a “do what I say or else” movement is one reason I don’t identify with this activism any more. I loathe the idea of forcing people to say things they don’t believe, demonizing and ostracizing them for their dissent, and enshrining in law penalties for wrongthink. I am very happy to live alongside people whose faith makes them consider me a sinner. As long as they cannot touch a hair on my head or use the law to punish me for what I believe and how I live, I’m fine. But that pluralist worldview is anathema to the “social justice” movement, as it proves every single day.

It’s vital to note that Forstater is prepared to treat any trans woman as a woman in real life, defends trans people’s rights to define themselves as they wish, has not been charged with any kind of harassment or in-person abuse, is happy to accept anyone’s adoption of any of a thousand possible genders, but simply refuses to say what she doesn’t believe: that sex can be chosen or assigned, rather than simply observed as a matter of biology. “I accept everybody’s gender identity; I just do not believe it overrides their sex,” she told the court. “I refuse to believe human beings can change their sex.” This view — almost universally held for millennia until five minutes ago, and rooted in the plain facts of science — is now, the court ruled, subject to legal sanction. Such a view is “incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others“ and “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” So anyone expressing an opinion like Forstater’s can be fired with no recourse.

My point in wading into this mess is simply that without free debate, the Right will win every time. The entire point of liberalism is that ideas must be free, even bad ideas, even hateful ideas. Stifling expression must be rare and well-thought (e.g., "falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing panic"). If we, on the Left, give in to the idea that sometimes it's OK to censor speech we don't like, the Right will run with that to an extreme we haven't seen in the English-speaking world for centuries.

We have a long way to go to settle questions about sex and gender. I've been thinking about these questions for 35 years and I'm no closer to answers than I was in 1985. Rowling, Forstater, Sullivan, and you aren't close, either. And I guarantee you that neither Rowling, Forstater, Sullivan, nor I will ever discriminate against someone on the basis of sex, gender, or identity.

Seriously. Let's chill for a bit and not eat our own.

Johnson, Clinton, Trump

Yesterday, the House of Representatives impeached the president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress:

After 11 hours of fierce argument on the House floor between Democrats and Republicans over Trump’s conduct with Ukraine, lawmakers voted almost entirely along party lines to impeach him. Trump becomes the third president in U.S. history to face trial in the Senate — a proceeding that will determine whether he is removed from office less than one year before he stands for reelection.

The Democratic-controlled House passed two articles of impeachment against Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — related to the president’s attempts to withhold military aid to Ukraine and pressure its government to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 Democratic opponent.

The House voted 230 to 197 to approve the article charging abuse of power, with the gavel falling about 8:30 p.m. On the obstruction of Congress vote, which followed soon after, the tally was 229 to 198.

All Republicans voted against both articles. Among Democrats, two voted no on the first article and three on the second, with one — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — voting “present” both times.

George Conway says the president's malignant narcissism made impeachment inevitable:

It was inevitable because of Trump himself, his very character, whose essential nature many who now support him have long understood.

In essence, Trump thinks everything should be about him, for him, for his benefit and glorification—and he can’t comprehend, and doesn’t care about, anything that isn’t. The American diplomat David Holmes testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland explained to him that “the president only cares about ‘big stuff’”—clarifying, according to Holmes, that this meant “big stuff that benefits the president.”

And that’s why Trump can’t comply with his duties to the nation, and why he now stands as the third president ever to have been impeached. His own stated view of his constitutional authority can only be described as narcissistic: “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president.” But as the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report rightly explains, “Impeachment is aimed at Presidents who believe they are above the law, and who believe their own interests transcend those of the country and Constitution.” Or, as then-Representative Mike Pence put it in 2008: “This business of high crimes and misdemeanors goes to the question of whether the person serving as President of the United States put their own interests, their personal interests, ahead of public service.” It was inevitable that, given his boundlessly self-centered bent, this president would do precisely that.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has put the Articles of Impeachment in a drawer, ostensibly to get cooperation from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on trial procedures, but also, as Josh Marshall points out, to keep the initiative and keep the focus on Republican intransigence.

And so, as we go into the last two weeks of the decade, things keep getting more interesting. To that end, I'll have a bit about this morning's Queen's Speech once I've read it.

I'll take an antacid with my lunch now

With only two weeks left in the decade, it looks like the 2010s will end...bizarrely.

More people have taken a look at the President's unhinged temper tantrum yesterday. I already mentioned that Aaron Blake annotated it. The Times fact-checked it. And Jennifer Rubin says "It is difficult to capture how bizarre and frightening the letter is simply by counting the utter falsehoods...or by quoting from the invective dripping from his pen."

As for the impeachment itself, Josh Marshall keeps things simple:

Here are three points that, for me, function as a sort of north star through this addled and chaotic process.

One: The President is accused of using extortion to coerce a foreign power to intervene in a US presidential election on his behalf.

Two: There is no one in US politics who would ever find that behavior remotely acceptable in a President of the opposite party.

Three: The evidence that the President did what he is accused of doing is simply overwhelming.

In the UK, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry (Labour—Islington South and Finsbury) has announced a run for Labour Party leader: “Listening to Labour colleagues on the media over the last week, I have repeatedly heard the refrain that the problem we faced last Thursday was that ‘this became the Brexit election’. To which I can only say I look forward to their tweets of shock when next Wednesday’s lunch features turkey and Brussels sprouts … I wrote to the leader’s office warning it would be ‘an act of catastrophic political folly’ to vote for the election, and set out a lengthy draft narrative explaining why we should not go along with it."

The Times review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker left me feeling resigned to seeing the movie, rather than excited. A.O. Scott said:

The director is J.J. Abrams, perhaps the most consistent B student in modern popular culture. He has shepherded George Lucas’s mythomaniacal creations in the Disney era, making the old galaxy a more diverse and also a less idiosyncratic place.

Abrams is too slick and shallow a filmmaker to endow the dramas of repression and insurgency, of family fate and individual destiny, of solidarity and the will to power, with their full moral and metaphysical weight. At the same time, his pseudo-visionary self-importance won’t allow him to surrender to whimsy or mischief. The struggle of good against evil feels less like a cosmic battle than a longstanding sports rivalry between teams whose glory days are receding. The head coaches come and go, the uniforms are redesigned, certain key players are the subjects of trade rumors, and the fans keep showing up.

Which is not entirely terrible. “The Rise of Skywalker” isn’t a great “Star Wars” movie, but that may be because there is no such thing. That seems to be the way we like it.

Well, that's a ringing endorsement. I mean, I'm sure I'll come out of it feeling like it was worth $15, but I'm not sure I'll see it over 200 times like I have with A New Hope. (It helps that ANH came out when I was about to turn 7.)

And in other news:

Will the world be better in 2020? We'll see.