The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Big names with big warnings

The Washington Post this morning has two pieces with impressive bylines, both warning about the path the United States is walking right now. First, Salman Rushdie:

In my life, I have seen several dictators rise and fall. Today, I’m remembering those earlier incarnations of this unlovely breed.

In India in 1975, Indira Gandhi, found guilty of electoral malpractice, declared a state of emergency that granted her despotic powers. The “emergency,” as it became known, ended only when she called an election, believing she would win, and was annihilated at the polls. Her arrogance was her downfall. This cautionary tale formed a part of my novel “Midnight’s Children.”

In Pakistan in 1977, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq staged a coup against Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and executed him in 1979. This dark story was the inspiration for my novel “Shame.” The circumstances of my life have given me some understanding of the dictatorial cast of mind.

Extreme narcissism, detachment from reality, a fondness for sycophants and a distrust of truth-tellers, an obsession with how one is publicly portrayed, a hatred of journalists and the temperament of an out-of-control bulldozer: These are some of the characteristics.

President Trump is, temperamentally, a tinpot despot of this type. But he finds himself in charge of a country that has historically thought of itself — by no means always correctly — as being on the side of liberty. So far, with the collusion of the Republican Party, he has ruled more or less unchecked. Now an election looms, and he is unpopular, and flails about looking for a winning strategy. And if that means trampling over American freedoms, then so be it.

Second, a coterie of 89 former defense and military officials demonstrate all-party condemnation of the president's use of the military:

President Trump has given governors a stark choice: either end the protests that continue to demand equal justice under our laws, or expect that he will send active-duty military units into their states. While the Insurrection Act gives the president the legal authority to do so, this authority has been invoked only in the most extreme conditions when state or local authorities were overwhelmed and were unable to safeguard the rule of law. Historically, as Secretary Esper has pointed out, it has rightly been seen as a tool of last resort.

Beyond being unnecessary, using our military to quell protests across the country would also be unwise. This is not the mission our armed forces signed up for: They signed up to fight our nation’s enemies and to secure — not infringe upon — the rights and freedoms of their fellow Americans. In addition, putting our servicemen and women in the middle of politically charged domestic unrest risks undermining the apolitical nature of the military that is so essential to our democracy. It also risks diminishing Americans’ trust in our military — and thus America’s security — for years to come.

The members of our military are always ready to serve in our nation’s defense. But they must never be used to violate the rights of those they are sworn to protect.

Know hope.

Strange turns of IP law

First, four publishers have sued the Internet Archive for "mass copyright infringement" following IA temporarily suspending waiting lists on borrowing e-books:

The plaintiffs — John Wiley & Sons and three of the big five U.S. publishers, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House — are trying to block the nonprofit group's operations and recover damages for scores of allegedly infringed works.

"Its goal of creating digital copies of books and providing them to whomever wants to download them reflects a profound misunderstanding of the costs of creating books, a profound lack of respect for the many contributors involved in the publication process, and a profound disregard of the boundaries and balance of core copyright principles," the publishers argued.

The Internet Archive didn't respond immediately to NPR's request for comment on Wednesday. But in a statement issued Monday, Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive expressed the group's disappointment with the lawsuit.

"As a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done. This supports publishing, authors and readers. Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone's interest," Kahle said. "We hope this can be resolved quickly."

Second, Netflix has defended a worldwide trademark on "Space Force," to the chagrin of the United States Space Force:

When Donald Trump has discussed the newest branch of the U.S. armed services, he struck a bellicose tone. "Space is a war-fighting domain just like the land, air and sea," the president told an audience of Marines in March 2018. Two years later, after Congress appropriated money for his vision for a Space Force, and Trump held an Oval Office ceremony to unveil the official flag of the unit, he added that it was high time the country moved to protect strategic American space infrastructure. "As you know, China, Russia, perhaps others, started off a lot sooner than us," Trump said.

But his administration has proven dovish when it comes to protecting the "Space Force" name itself. On May 29, Netflix premiered its comedy series Space Force, from The Office showrunner Greg Daniels and star Steve Carell. The U.S. military has done nothing to stop the streamer’s satirical take, nor could it thanks to the First Amendment. But less noticed is how around the globe, the streaming giant has outmaneuvered the U.S. government to secure trademark rights to "Space Force" in Europe, Australia, Mexico and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Air Force merely owns a pending application for registration inside the United States based on an intent to use. Meaning that the feds have gotten a place in line but no confirmed trademark rights thus far.

That's not necessarily a problem. Netflix can produce a television series without confusing consumers, just as the military can train fighting astronauts without anyone mistakenly thinking the streamer is sponsoring such an academy.

Conflict potentially arises when trademark users begin trafficking in similar products. Imagine for a moment that a “Space Force” jumper begins appearing in retail stores. Who’s selling? The U.S. military or Netflix? Trademarks help clarify the source of goods and services.

I'll just stick with US Navy-branded goods—or just call them both "Bruce"—to avoid confusion.

Good (and surprising) news on jobs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its May jobs report this morning, showing that despite 2.7 million people losing their jobs in May, 2.5 million got back in work, and the unemployment rate dropped 2.4% to 13.3%:

The surprising data comes amid the phased reopening of businesses across the country after months of economic pain from the coronavirus pandemic, which pushed up unemployment to Great Depression-era levels and obliterated all job gains since the Great Recession.

Congress is currently considering another $3 trillion infusion into the economy that would extend various federal aid programs, including the $600 additional unemployment benefit that expires next month.

"The prospect of unemployment benefit enhancements ending may encourage more individuals to return to work," Moody's wrote in an investor note on Friday. "There is a risk, however, that as the PPP stimulus measures run their course, unless they are renewed or economic momentum has gained significant steam, the pace of rehiring will slow or could even reverse."

Still, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt for a decade and wipe almost $8 trillion off the nation's economic growth, the Congressional Budget Office said on Monday. The agency also projected that economic output would plunge by almost $16 trillion over the 2020–2030 period.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman was surprised as well, and made it clear he believes the BLS figures:

This is good news. It means we're coming out of the storm, though slowly. Of course, states opening up businesses and restaurants prematurely may have caused the change in direction for new Covid-19 infection numbers...and the protests may not have helped either...

A busy day

Last weekend's tsunami continues to ripple:

Just another quiet week in 2020...

Observers see big stumble in American democracy

President Trump's ham-fisted photo-op in front of St John's Episcopal Church on Monday rattled friendly intelligence officers and emboldened our adversaries. Former CIA officer Gail Helt saw a familiar pattern emerging:

“This is what autocrats do. This is what happens in countries before a collapse. It really does unnerve me.”

Helt, now a professor at King University in Tennessee, said the images of unrest in U.S. cities, combined with President Trump’s incendiary statements, echo clashes she covered over a dozen years at the CIA tracking developments in China, Malaysia and elsewhere.

The impression Trump created was only reinforced by others in the administration. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper urged governors to “dominate the battlespace” surrounding protesters, as if describing U.S. cities as a foreign war zone. Later, as military helicopters hovered menacingly over protesters, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, toured the streets of the nation’s capital in his battle fatigue uniform.

Former intelligence officials said the unrest and the administration’s militaristic response are among many measures of decay they would flag if writing assessments about the United States for another country’s intelligence service.

Josh Marshall noted that the military, at least, rapidly distanced themselves from the event, which he views with some optimism:

Because, as I noted last night, it seems clear this was so crude and transparent and overplayed that they now appear to be in what we might call the political equivalent of an exposed salient. And most of those how had a hand in it are now claiming they were out of the loop.

We also need to keep in mind that the administration's attempts to justify a military presence in American cities relies on fabricated claims about civil unrest. Cities have experienced two kinds of violence over the past week: looting by criminals not connected with the peaceful protests that took place, and police using exactly the excessive force that people were protesting against. Federalizing the response to the protests would be a political, authoritarian act, not a public-safety measure. And people all across the political spectrum seem to understand that.

Re-reading the ur-text

Italian author Umberto Eco lived through the last half of Mussolini's reign, and through the fall of Communism in Europe. In 1995 he wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books entitled "Ur-Fascism," which seems like a timely read as cities around the country (but not Chicago, I'm pleased to report) looked a lot like police states this past weekend. It's worth a re-read:

I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

1. The first feature of Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, "the combination of different forms of belief or practice"; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

2. Traditionalism implies the rejection of modernism. ... In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action's sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism...

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

He lists a total of 14 characteristics. In the Trump-dominated Republican Party I count...hmm...14. Well, that's comforting.

Some other points he makes:

[B]y a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

...

Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

...

We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares." Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.

In this vein, Matt Ford says American police forces "have become the standing armies that the Founders feared."

Wet, warm spring

The second-wettest spring in Chicago's history ended Sunday, clocking in at 427 mm of precipitation since March 1st. (The record was 445 mm set in 1983.)

Temperatures averaged just a bit above normal for the season, at 10.2°C (1.0°C above normal).

Today we might get a record high temperature. The forecast calls for 33°C, which would tie the record set in 1944.

Also, the Lake Michigan-Huron system finished its fifth straight month with record water levels, averaging about 930 mm above normal.

The Illinois State Climatologist office has more.

No larger message here. I just thought a post about the weather would be a good break from everything else.

Channeling Chavez

In a move reminiscent of the authoritarian dictators he adores, President Trump yesterday had protesters forcibly cleared from the streets in front of St John's Episcopal Church in Washington so he could pose for a photo-op holding a Bible:

Moments before President Donald Trump vowed to use military might to stop rioting, police backed by the National Guard stormed into a peaceful protest outside the White House and scattered a large group of people protesting unprovoked police violence against African Americans.

At the time, none of the protesters or nearby journalists knew the reason for clearing the street. But the purpose became clear as soon as Trump finished his speech in the Rose Garden.

Trump left the podium and walked through Lafayette Square with staff in tow, crossed H Street NW, where the protesters had been assembled, and came to a stop at St. John's Episcopal Church, a congregation known as the Church of the Presidents, which was damaged by fire during an uprising Sunday.

Outside the church, Trump posed for photos with a Bible. And then he walked back.

It was a show of force for demonstration purposes, and it injected danger into what had been a calm protest as those in the street fled mounted police to avoid being trampled, struck by projectiles or gassed. It also came as a surprise to the protesters, who were flanked by police after National Guard and federal agents acted as decoys by advancing from the front in full riot gear.

The Episcopal Bishop of Washington was incensed:

“I am outraged,” [Bishop Marianne] Budde said in a telephone interview a short time later, pausing between words to emphasize her anger as her voice slightly trembled.

“I ... was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop,” Budde said.

“Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde [said] of the president. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”

In a written statement, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, head of the Episcopal denomination, accused Trump of using “a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.”

“This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us,” Curry wrote.

Even Republicans disapproved:

“We long ago lost sight of normal, but this was a singularly immoral act,” said Brendan Buck, a longtime former Hill aide who is now a Republican operative. “The president used force against American citizens, not to protect property, but to soothe his own insecurities. We will all move on to the next outrage, but this was a true abuse of power and should not be forgotten.”

“It was just to win the news cycle,” one Trump adviser said. “I’m not sure that things are any better for us tomorrow.”

But Trump’s campaign team viewed the visit as a success. By late Monday, campaign officials were already tweeting a black-and-white photo of him walking to the church with a coterie of aides in his wake. Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s top spokesman, posted the picture without a caption.

As the president drives his poll own numbers down to bedrock with this crap, he will become more deranged and violent. He thrives on chaos, and doesn't care who gets hurt as long as he "wins." It's going to be a very long 22 weeks until election day.

Psycopathic response to state violence

Not content to give psychologists circumstantial evidence of psycopathy, the president became even more unhinged and reactive this weekend. Since he has no capacity for empathy or even, it seems, metacognition of any sort, one could have (and did) predict much of this. To begin, in a conversation with state governors today, he advocated increased state-sanctioned violence to counter peaceful protests against state-sanctioned violence:

As the country reels from nearly a week of intense protests marked by countless acts of police brutality, President Donald Trump on Monday pressured governors to deploy more aggressive and violent tactics against protesters, telling them they would look like “jerks” if they didn’t get tougher. He also threatened to unleash the powers of the Justice Department in order to empower law enforcement officials to “fight back” against demonstrators.

“You have to dominate,” Trump said on a private call with governors, according to reporting by multiple news outlets that obtained a recording of the explosive conversation. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you. You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”

“You’ve got to arrest people,” he continued. “You have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years, and you’ll never see this stuff again.”

Fun fact: he (and bestie Vladimir Putin, almost forgot) wins when the country is divided against itself. And to him, nothing else matters except winning—even if he only wins the moment and loses the war.

While cowering in the White House basement, the president contemplated invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy active-duty troops to American cities. The last time this happened, California governor Pete Wilson requested President George HW Bush send troops to Los Angeles in 1992 to help quell the Rodney King protests. But I think most people can see the problem of putting armed regulars on American streets against the express wishes of state governors, if for no other reason than we last did that in 1877. And in that case, the army went in to protect civil rights, not prevent them.

More views:

Unfortunately, all of this means that the president, being scared out of his tiny mind, will show even more psychopathic behavior, because that's all he knows how to do. Even on his best days he couldn't reason himself out of a losing game of Tic-Tac-Toe. These are his worst days, and they're getting worse for him.

On the left, we have to bang the drum from now until November 3rd that the president, not the protesters, is making America less American. Quoting Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer: “The president’s dangerous comments should be gravely concerning to all Americans, because they send a clear signal that this administration is determined to sow the seeds of hatred and division, which I fear will only lead to more violence and destruction. We must reject this way of thinking.”