The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Is Alexandra Petri single?

(Asking for a friend.)

Because today she flayed Alan Dershowitz's laughable argument about presidential power by laughing at it:

The will of the voters found its highest and best expression in the election of President Trump, and anything that seems likely to remove him from power or even just inconvenience him a little goes against their will. If the Founders had wanted it to be possible to legitimately remove from office a president the people had selected, they would have made three equal branches of government and devised a specific mechanism for this to occur by a two-thirds vote, or something!

This is why the prospect of another election fills me with so much alarm. We know the voters want Donald J. Trump! They said so, resoundingly, with a minority of their votes, in 2016. Dare we risk overturning that election by holding another? Suppose he were not to win it! That would certainly go against the will of the voters. It would be just as much an overturning of 2016′s results as this impeachment is — perhaps more so, because Mike Pence would not immediately get to become president afterward.

The argument gets even sillier under scrutiny.

(No, she's not, by the way.)

Britain leaves the EU

At midnight Central European Time about five hours from now (23:00 UTC), the United Kingdom will no longer be a European Union member state.

It will take years to learn whether the bare-majority of voters in the UK who wanted this were right or wrong. My guess: a bit of both, but more wrong than right.

It will also take years to fully understand why the developed world collectively decided to throw out the institutions that brought us the longest period of peace and economic growth in the history of the planet.

It might be like how an airplane actually flies. Until recently, people understood the Bernoulli effect as the mechanism for lift. New research (sub. req.) suggests that lift actually has four different components that work together to keep 200-tonne airplanes airborne.

Increasing wealth inequality, the apex of political power for the Baby Boomer generation (possibly the most selfish and whiny generation in American history), psychological warfare of unprecedented sophistication designed specifically to fracture Western politics...they all go together. And those of us who believe that democratic, liberal government is the best force for making the world a better place despair a little more every day.

Things of interest when I have the time to spend on them

Not just articles today, but also a whole HBO mini-series:

For yet another thing to worry about today, after this post and the one before it, the New Yorker has started a series about the last time democracy almost died. (Hint: it got better.)

In case you didn't have enough to worry about

Via Bruce Schneier, two Harvard undergraduates have demonstrated that the volume of easily-obtainable information from multiple, large-scale data breaches makes targeting people for cybercrime easier than you could have guessed:

The students found a dataset from a breach of credit reporting company Experian, which didn’t get much news coverage when it occurred in 2015. It contained personal information on six million individuals. The dataset was divided by state, so [students Dasha] Metropolitansky and [Kian] Attari decided to focus on Washington D.C. The data included 69 variables—everything from a person’s home address and phone number to their credit score, history of political donations, and even how many children they have.

But this was data from just one leak in isolation. Metropolitansky and Attari wondered if they could identify an individual across all other leaks that have occurred, combining stolen personal information from perhaps hundreds of sources.

There are sites on the dark web that archive data leaks, allowing an individual to enter an email and view all leaks in which the email appears. Attari built a tool that performs this look-up at scale.

“We also showed that a cyber criminal doesn’t have to have a specific victim in mind. They can now search for victims who meet a certain set of criteria,” Metropolitansky said.

For example, in less than 10 seconds she produced a dataset with more than 1,000 people who have high net worth, are married, have children, and also have a username or password on a cheating website. Another query pulled up a list of senior-level politicians, revealing the credit scores, phone numbers, and addresses of three U.S. senators, three U.S. representatives, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and a Cabinet member.

"We're two college students. If someone really wanted to do some damage, I'm sure they could use these same techniques to do something horrible," [Metropolitansky said].

As Schneier points out, "you can be sure that the world's major intelligence organizations have already done all of this."

This is also why we need government regulation or stricter liability laws around data breaches. Experian's sloppiness imperiled six million people, and has probably resulted in crime already. But they have no incentive to fix their issues. In fact, they didn't even reveal the breach for years.

Occlusion

In Chicago this week, a persistent temperature inversion has kept us under a layer of stratus clouds that have obscured the sun for the past 5 days. Instead of the normal 42% of possible sunshine we get in January, this year we've only gotten 28%. It's a little depressing.

The only silver lining, so to speak, is that the cloud layer has kept temperatures a lot warmer than normal, especially overnight. So we've gotten temperatures a degree or two above freezing and a degree or two below freezing, which we like tons better than the insanity of this time last year.

In other news of persistent fogginess and concealment, Senate Republicans claim that John Bolton's book has "blindsided" them—even though Bolton's revelations are precisely what the Republicans wanted to avoid hearing in the Trump Impeachment Trial:

What’s morbidly amusing about this is that it’s actually self-incriminating. It’s deeply revealing about the true nature of the GOP coverup.

[T]his will not be a real trial unless we hear from those people, who include Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. It cannot by definition be anything other than an effort to carry through Trump’s own coverup to completion.

What actually blindsided Senate Republicans was that the details of Bolton’s account leaked before they could carry out their preordained vote to acquit. They were blindsided by this terribly inconvenient timing, which upended their coverup.

So: how much will voters actually care about this? I hope just enough to give the Democratic nominee more than 271 electoral votes this fall.

Takei slams the new US Space Force

The Star Trek actor likens the Space Force under President Trump to the Starfleet of the "Mirror, Mirror" universe:

In this terrifying version of reality, violence and cruelty have displaced peace and diplomacy as the hallmarks of governance.

The “evil” version of my own character, Sulu, plots to kill both Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock so that he can take command of the ship. In classic “Star Trek” style, the script for this episode carried loaded meaning. The writers were issuing a warning: A free and democratic society can flip in the blink of an ion storm, and all that we take for granted about the rule of law, the chain of command and the civilized functions of government can be gone in an instant.

I thought of “Mirror, Mirror” after seeing the Trump administration’s new Space Force logo, which the president tweeted out Friday with a characteristically awkward nod to our “Great Military Leaders” of the “Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military!” (caps and punctuation his). Within minutes, the logo was lampooned widely for appearing to rip off the logo for Starfleet Command from “Star Trek.” Indeed, with the two logos placed side by side, the resemblance is so remarkable that I had to wonder whether Melania Trump was part of the design committee:

Takei's suggestion for an alternative Space Force logo elicited nervous chuckles from The Daily Parker...

100% agreement with one of my favorites

Author John Scalzi (The Old Man's WarAndroid's Dream, the Interdependency Trilogy) posted this morning a summary of his political beliefs. I agree completely with everything he said:

1. The president is the worst president of my lifetime, who is ignorant, bigoted, incurious, corrupt, has almost certainly engaged in criminal conduct before and after he was in office, is either a complicit or unwitting tool for the Russian government and its goals, never should have been in a position to become president, and now that he is president, should be removed from the office, whether through a Senate trial or simply by losing the popular (again) and electoral vote later this year.

2. Per the previous, the president amply deserved to be impeached by the House of Representatives, and amply deserves to be removed from the office he holds by the Senate. That he will not be removed, and that the vote for removal will not be anywhere near to close, is proof that the current iteration of the Republican party is complicit in the president’s criminality and has become little better than a criminal enterprise in itself.

It's nice to find new reasons to admire someone I already admired.

Unlike Scalzi, I post so often about politics that I doubt any readers have questions for me. That said, later this week, I'll post a list of the media outlets I get my news and opinion from and financially support.

The nihilism machine

Author Nicole Hemmer outlines how the American right wing has prepared itself for the impeachment trial for the past 50 years, and it's to all our detriments:

If you tuned in to Fox News to watch the opening arguments of the impeachment trial on Wednesday night, you were out of luck. Oh, the trial was still technically being broadcast on the network, but it had been reduced to a muted box on the side of the screen, while Sean Hannity assured viewers, “None of this will matter.”

This was the purest representation so far of conservative media’s efforts to minimize not just impeachment but the full array of President Trump’s misconduct. But minimization is only half the strategy to protect Republican control of the White House. The other half is scandalization: an effort to create an air of nonstop scandal around previous Democratic presidents and presidential hopefuls.

The rapid expansion of conservative media in the 1990s and 2000s, and the conservative scandal machine that powered it, transformed American politics. During the Bill Clinton era, new scandal-mongering magazines and websites made up what Hillary Clinton accurately called a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” What followed was a cynical, partisan impeachment that treated the serious constitutional remedy as just another political game. In so doing, Republicans diminished the significance of impeachment, making it less likely the public would take the current impeachment crisis seriously.

To write off Mr. Trump’s wrongdoing as run-of-the-mill politics, then, requires both minimizing what he has done and scandalizing what other politicians do. As an added bonus, the strategy damages Americans’ faith in government and public service, bolstering the Republican Party’s anti-government agenda. As such, it’s a powerful, effective political strategy — and a deeply nihilistic one.

These tactics have also served right-wing governments the world over as well. The Soviet Union and its successor, the Russian Federation, have always tried to portray the west as just as bad as Russia, as just one example.

Remember: the right wants to rule, so that they can enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. Making people believe "government is the problem" serves this narrative well.

Warm and happy in his own little pile of shit

Dana Milbank puts a hunk of the blame for the impeachment trial on the Chief Justice of the United States himself:

Roberts’s captivity is entirely fitting: He is forced to witness, with his own eyes, the mess he and his colleagues on the Supreme Court have made of the U.S. political system. As representatives of all three branches of government attend this unhappy family reunion, the living consequences of the Roberts Court’s decisions, and their corrosive effect on democracy, are plain to see.

Ten years to the day before Trump’s impeachment trial began, the Supreme Court released its Citizens United decision, plunging the country into the era of super PACs and unlimited, unregulated, secret campaign money from billionaires and foreign interests. Citizens United, and the resulting rise of the super PAC, led directly to this impeachment. The two Rudy Giuliani associates engaged in key abuses — the ouster of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the attempts to force Ukraine’s president to announce investigations into Trump’s political opponents — gained access to Trump by funneling money from a Ukrainian oligarch to the president’s super PAC.

Certainly, the Supreme Court didn’t create all these problems, but its rulings have worsened the pathologies — uncompromising views, mindless partisanship and vitriol — visible in this impeachment trial. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), no doubt recognizing that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is helping to preserve his party’s Senate majority, has devoted much of his career to extending conservatives’ advantage in the judiciary.

We just have to get through this year. Maybe things will get better in 2021?

Impeachment, day 2

As if by design, the Senate trial of President Trump looked more farcical than serious yesterday. But contra popular belief, David Ignatius argues that impeachment actually bolsters our brand overseas:

A consistent theme through the Nixon and Clinton dramas, and now with Trump, is the presidents’ conviction that they didn’t commit any impeachable offenses and that the process is a partisan political sham.

Nixon wrote: “I never for a moment believed that any of the charges against me were legally impeachable.” Clinton declared in his memoir that his impeachment was “a politically motivated action by a majority party in Congress that couldn’t restrain itself.”

And so it goes. Impeachment is an inherently political process for resolving allegations of abuse of power, as the Founders intended. But past evidence suggests that it helps break the fever, rather than making it worse.

Meanwhile, Frank Bruni suggests we all take a moment to comfort the Whiner in Chief:

He’s always right and yet always wronged. He demands that we marvel at his invincibility even as we tremble at his degradation. He can vanquish any enemy — and his enemies are legion! — but look at how he’s pushed around. Trump takes a textbook oxymoron and gives it presidential form. Behold, at the Resolute Desk, a jumbo shrimp.

It’s disgusting. It’s also part of his political genius. He has turned himself into a symbol of Americans’ victimization, telling frustrated voters who crave easy answers that they’re being pushed around by foreigners and duped by the condescending custodians of a dysfunctional system.

Thanks to Republicans in the Senate, he’s poised to evade punishment again. We should all be such victims.

Yes, thanks to Republicans in the Senate, particularly those in diverse states who face election in a few months.