The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Stephen Miller will always be a troll

McKay Coppins, who profiled Miller for The Atlantic last month, believes that the outrage over the immorality of the administration's immoral immigration policy is exactly the point:

A seasoned conservative troll, Miller told me during our interview that he has often found value in generating what he calls “constructive controversy—with the purpose of enlightenment.” This belief traces back to the snowflake-melting and lib-triggering of his youth. As a conservative teen growing up in Santa Monica, he wrote op-eds comparing his liberal classmates to terrorists and musing that Osama bin Laden would fit in at his high school. In college, he coordinated an “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” These efforts were not calibrated for persuasion; they were designed to agitate. And now that he’s in the White House, he is deploying similar tactics.

As public backlash has intensified in recent days against the new border policy, Trump administration officials have predictably struggled to formulate a coherent, unified defense. Amid all the bumbling recriminations and shifting talking points, one can sense in some of these officials a natural response to the situation developing at the border—if not shame, then at least chagrin.

But for Miller, it seems, all is going according to plan—another “constructive controversy” unfolding with great potential for enlightenment. His bet appears to be that voters will witness this showdown between Trump and his angry antagonists, and ultimately side with the president. It’s a theory that will be put to the test in November. In the meantime, the heartrending orchestra on the border will play on.

We may be stuck with this asshole for another 2½ years. But in just 140 days, we can send him and his boss a clear message.

Women's voices have changed

That's the conclusion of a researcher at the University of South Australia:

Cecilia Pemberton at the University of South Australia studied the voices of two groups of Australian women aged 18–25 years. The researchers compared archival recordings of women talking in 1945 with more recent recordings taken in the early 1990s. The team found that the “fundamental frequency” had dropped by 23 Hz over five decades – from an average of 229 Hz (roughly an A# below middle C) to 206 Hz (roughly a G#). That’s a significant, audible difference. 

The researchers had carefully selected their samples to control for any potential demographic factors: the women were all university students and none of them smoked. The team also considered the fact that members of the more recent group from the 1990s were using the contraceptive pill, which could have led to hormonal changes that could have altered the vocal chords. Yet the drop in pitch remained even when the team excluded those women from their sample.

Instead, the researchers speculated that the transformation reflects the rise of women to more prominent roles in society, leading them to adopt a deeper tone to project authority and dominance in the workplace.

I have a lot of friends who might agree; some of them sing soprano and speak tenor. No joke.

No decision in gerrymandering cases

To almost everyone's frustration, the Supreme Court rendered two unanimous decisions today in which they declined to rule on the constitutionality of two gerrymandering cases. This means both Wisconsin and Maryland will keep their district maps through the November election:

In the Wisconsin case, the court said that the challenges must be brought district by district, with voters in each proving that their rights had been violated. The challengers asked the court to consider the state map as a whole.

The Maryland case was still at a preliminary stage, and the court in an unsigned opinion said the lower court had not been wrong when it decided not to make the state redraw the maps in time for the 2018 election.

The justices sent the [Wisconsin] case back to a panel of three federal judges to see if the challengers could modify their suit to show they have plaintiffs in the individual districts.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the plaintiffs should be able to do so.

“Courts—and in particular this court—will again be called on to redress extreme partisan gerrymanders,” she wrote. “I am hopeful we will then step up to our responsibility to vindicate the Constitution against a contrary law.”

I totally understand why SCOTUS punted, because they really do not want to weigh in on such a politicized issue. But wow, given that a majority of Wisconsin voters are Democrats, it's obvious that the current Wisconsin map is a power-grab by Republicans who fear they're losing power against urban Democrats.

We're not going to be done with this in my lifetime.

Sweet little lies, tell me sweet little lies

The President has essentially admitted he lies constantly:

In short, the president is saying that it’s totally acceptable to lie to the press, and by extension the public, as long as he is not under oath in the justice system. (As I’ve reported, Trump is far more honest under oath.) As a matter of law, this is true, but as a matter of character and leadership, it is not. The president is freely telling the public that he has no compunctions about lying through his teeth. Why does anyone still debate whether he means it?

There were other dishonest statements peppered throughout his remarks. He said that the inspector general’s report found “total bias” in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails; in fact, it found the reverse, saying political bias did not affect decisions. He said that the report “totally exonerated” his statements; in fact, it rejected the entire thrust of his statements about Comey. Trump said that Comey acted criminally; the IG report does not say that. He said Mueller’s team has no Republicans; Mueller is a lifelong Republican who has served under GOP presidents as well as Democrats.

There’s a long list of these lies, both in what Trump said today and running back for months. It becomes tiresome to fact-check them, trying to prove that Trump is not telling the truth about them. But there’s no need to take reporters’ word for it: The president makes no secret that he thinks it’s OK to lie to the public. After all, he said so himself.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the same Bible verse that previous generations of slave-owners invoked to justify forcibly separating children from their parents:

Romans 13 does indeed say to “submit to the authorities,” because they “are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” But this is in the context of what comes before it (“share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality”) and after (“owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”) – and, indeed, admonitions to care for the poor and the oppressed that come from Isaiah, Leviticus, Matthew and many more.

Evangelical leaders who looked the other way when Stormy Daniels and the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced this time have denounced Trump’s recent “zero-tolerance” policy that, as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention and others wrote to Trump this month, has the “effect of removing even small children from their parents.”

“God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society,” they wrote. The leaders urged Trump to end zero tolerance and use “discretion” as previous administrations did.

I guess we should all be happy they haven't come for us yet.

Creating reality?

Andrew Sullivan says the President "is making us all live in his delusional reality show:"

The president believes what he wants to believe, creates a reality that fits his delusions, and then insists, with extraordinary energy and stamina, that his delusions are the truth. His psychological illness, moreover, is capable of outlasting anyone else’s mental health. Objective reality that contradicts his delusions is discounted as “fake news” propagated by “our country’s greatest enemy,” i.e., reporters. If someone behaved like this in my actual life, if someone kept insisting that the sea was red and the sky green, I’d assume they were a few sandwiches short of a picnic. It’s vital for us to remember this every day: Almost no one else in public life is so openly living in his own disturbed world.

This, in fact, is the poignant and quite bonkers script in Trump’s head: that the economy was in free-fall until he took office, after which it soared; that he alone has brought black and Hispanic unemployment down; that his administration has accomplished more than any other at this point in its term; that the Democrats colluded with the Kremlin to try to rig the election; that Robert Mueller is a closet Democrat; that climate change is a hoax; that the American-created international trading system was designed to hurt the U.S.; that you can borrow over a trillion dollars in a full employment economy with no consequences in inflation or debt; and that sabotaging the ACA will lead to lower premiums, greater choice, and better health outcomes for all. Each one of these assertions is what he wants to be true. And so they are true. As the chairwoman of the GOP just explained to any skeptics left in the formerly conservative party: “Anyone that does not embrace the Donald Trump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.”

The bad news is that a vast chunk of the American public wants all this to be true as well.

Woe to thee, o land, when thy king is a child.

Boring Company will bore Chicago

Elon Musk's Boring Co. has gotten approval to start work on a high-speed underground connection between O'Hare and downtown Chicago:

The promised project: A closed-loop pair of tunnels from Block 37 in the central Loop to the airport that would whisk passengers to their flights in 12 minutes, using autonomous pod-like vehicles, or electric skates, that would depart as frequently as every 30 seconds and carry up to 16 passengers and their luggage.

If all goes as it should, [Deputy Mayor Robert] Rivkin said, construction work could begin next year with actual service in operation around 2022.

The Chicago project generally would use already existing "electric skate" technology, though it would link them together in a form and length that is unique to this country. The direct connection via a dedicated tunnel would allow those vehicles to accelerate to over 100 miles per hour, according to the city and Boring, slashing the time on the 27 km O'Hare run. And the project would-use the long mothballed CTA "superstation" under Block 37 as a terminal, with the end point located near the CTA's Blue Line terminus close to O'Hare terminals but outside of the airport's security perimeter.

I really, really hope the project succeeds. It will be nice to get from O'Hare to downtown that quickly, though I doubt the $25 fare will last long. For comparison to other under-20-minute express trains, the Heathrow Express costs $29 while the Schiphol Fyra (to Amsterdam) only costs $6.25. If you want to take an hour, the El costs $5 and the Tube $4.10 (off-peak).

I am shocked—shocked!—by this event

New York State has sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation for—wait for it—self-dealing and general corruption:

The lawsuit, which seeks to dissolve the foundation and bar President Trump and three of his children from serving on nonprofit organizations, was an extraordinary rebuke of a sitting president. The attorney general also sent referral letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action, adding to Mr. Trump’s extensive legal challenges.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, culminated a nearly two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s charity, which became a subject of scrutiny during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. While such foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, the complaint asserts that Mr. Trump’s was often used to settle legal claims against his various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs.

The foundation was also used to curry political favor, the lawsuit asserts. During the 2016 race, the foundation became a virtual arm of Mr. Trump’s campaign, email traffic showed, with his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski directing its expenditures, even though such foundations are explicitly prohibited from political activities.

The attorney general’s referrals to the I.R.S. and the F.E.C. could add another wrinkle that might slow the foundation’s dissolution. The agencies are not known for their expeditious handling of enforcement actions, and the lawsuit notes that the foundation cannot legally complete its wind down “until the complaints to the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission have been resolved and it is determined if any penalties or fines will be imposed on the foundation.”

Trump immediately blamed "New York democrats," because of course he did.

Pass the popcorn.

Three items, implicitly related

Item the first: Bruce Schneier discusses how Russian censors have tried to shut down Telegram, an encrypted communications app:

Russia has been trying to block Telegram since April, when a Moscow court banned it after the company refused to give Russian authorities access to user messages. Telegram, which is widely used in Russia, works on both iPhone and Android, and there are Windows and Mac desktop versions available. The app offers optional end-to-end encryption, meaning that all messages are encrypted on the sender's phone and decrypted on the receiver's phone; no part of the network can eavesdrop on the messages.

Since then, Telegram has been playing cat-and-mouse with the Russian telecom regulator Roskomnadzor by varying the IP address the app uses to communicate. Because Telegram isn't a fixed website, it doesn't need a fixed IP address. Telegram bought tens of thousands of IP addresses and has been quickly rotating through them, staying a step ahead of censors. Cleverly, this tactic is invisible to users. The app never sees the change, or the entire list of IP addresses, and the censor has no clear way to block them all.

A week after the court ban, Roskomnadzor countered with an unprecedented move of its own: blocking 19 million IP addresses, many on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. The collateral damage was widespread: The action inadvertently broke many other web services that use those platforms, and Roskomnadzor scaled back after it became clear that its action had affected services critical for Russian business. Even so, the censor is still blocking millions of IP addresses.

Whatever its current frustrations, Russia might well win in the long term. By demonstrating its willingness to suffer the temporary collateral damage of blocking major cloud providers, it prompted cloud providers to block another and more effective anti-censorship tactic, or at least accelerated the process. In April, Google and Amazon banned—and technically blocked—the practice of “domain fronting,” a trick anti-censorship tools use to get around Internet censors by pretending to be other kinds of traffic. Developers would use popular websites as a proxy, routing traffic to their own servers through another website—in this case Google.com—to fool censors into believing the traffic was intended for Google.com. The anonymous web-browsing tool Tor has used domain fronting since 2014. Signal, since 2016. Eliminating the capability is a boon to censors worldwide.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., a Federal judge has cleared the path for AT&T to purchase Time Warner, which will create one of the largest companies the world has ever seen.

All of this is scary to a lot of people. Which is why charlatans are on the rise once again.

We live in interesting times.

What the fuuuuuu?

Someday, soon I hope, we'll look back on this administration.

When we do, I expect this will come up:

Reporters thought this video was North Korea propaganda. It came from the White House.

But then the video looped, playing this time in English. And then Trump walked onto the stage and confirmed what some had already realized.

The film was not North Korean propaganda. It had been made in America, by or on the orders of his White House, for the benefit of Kim.

“I hope you liked it,” Trump told the reporters. “I thought it was good. I thought it was interesting enough to show. ... And I think he loved it.”

The crowd sounded skeptical. Some wondered if Trump had not, in fact, just provided U.S.-sanctioned propaganda to one of the country's oldest adversaries.

And then, in his usual style, Trump was thinking out loud about the “great condos” that might one day be built on the “great beaches” of North Korea.

“I explained it,” he said. “You could have the best hotels in the world. Think of it from the real estate perspective.”

As the screens above Trump emphasized, he certainly had.

I get it now. North Korea, a country so poor that it's nearly invisible from space at night, ruled by what may be the most repressive regime in modern history, is one big real-estate opportunity for the Trump family.

It's all about money. Lives, history, nuclear weapons pointed at Tokyo, handing an adversary we are still technically at war with one of the biggest propaganda coups they could dream of: none of that matters as long as Trump can make a buck.

(The frequency of posts today came from running some lengthy automated tests that I have to monitor.)