The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Voting underway...

Voting in the UK general election started at 1am Chicago time (7am GMT) last night and goes until 4pm Chicago time (10pm GMT) this afternoon. Because we have regular readers in the UK, the Daily Parker will observe UK law and precedent against reporting or commenting on the election while the polls are open.

Instead, I'd like to call attention to an article in yesterday's Times outlining the problems with the FBI's wiretap on Carter Page. While the inspector general found that the investigation started from genuine criminal suspicion rather than politics, he also unearthed many abuses of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) rules in the investigation's early stages:

The Justice Department’s independent inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, and his team uncovered a staggeringly dysfunctional and error-ridden process in how the F.B.I. went about obtaining and renewing court permission under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser.

To give just three examples:

First, when agents initially sought permission for the wiretap, F.B.I. officials scoured information from confidential informants and selectively presented portions that supported their suspicions that Mr. Page might be a conduit between Russia and the Trump campaign’s onetime chairman, Paul Manafort.

But officials did not disclose information that undercut that allegation — such as the fact that Mr. Page had told an informant in August 2016 that he “never met” or “said one word” to Mr. Manafort, who had never returned Mr. Page’s emails. Even if the investigators did not necessarily believe Mr. Page, the court should have been told what he had said.

Second, as the initial court order was nearing its expiration and law-enforcement officials prepared to ask the surveillance court to renew it, the F.B.I. had uncovered information that cast doubt on some of its original assertions. But law enforcement officials never reported that new information to the court.

Finally, the report stressed Mr. Page’s long history of meeting with Russian intelligence officials. But he had also said that he had a relationship with the C.I.A., and it turns out that he had for years told the agency about those meetings — including one that was cited in the wiretap application as a reason to be suspicious of him.

On the other hand, the FBI had credible suspicions that a hostile foreign power had begun to intervene in our election.

On the third hand, civil libertarians (and The Daily Parker) have criticized FISA for years, both in law and application, because it makes abuses like these far too easy.

We'll be back after 4pm with the latest news from Britain.

Another long-predicted climate change force is confirmed

The US government's 2019 Arctic Report Card finds that melting permafrost has made the arctic a net producer of greenhouse gasses:

Especially noteworthy is the report’s conclusion that the Arctic already may have become a net emitter of planet-warming carbon emissions due to thawing permafrost, which would only accelerate global warming. Permafrost is the carbon-rich frozen soil that covers 24 percent of the Northern Hemisphere’s land mass, encompassing vast stretches of territory across Alaska, Canada, Siberia and Greenland.

Warming temperatures allow microbes within the soil to convert permafrost carbon into the greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide and methane — which can be released into the air and accelerate warming. Ted Schuur, a researcher at Northern Arizona University and author of the permafrost chapter, said the report “takes on a new stand on the issue” based on other published work including a study in Nature Climate Change in November.

Taking advantage of the new studies — one on regional carbon emissions from permafrost in Alaska during the warm season, and another on winter season emissions in the Arctic compared to how much carbon is absorbed by vegetation during the growing season — the report concludes permafrost ecosystems could be releasing as much as 1.1 billion to 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. This is almost as much as the annual emissions of Japan and Russia in 2018, respectively.

Only, if you can believe, it's worse than that. Because the microbes also produce methane, which gram-for-gram causes about 4 times more warming. And as the region gets warmer, more microbes produce more gas, in a negative spiral.

Happy Wednesday.

In other news...

Let me first acknowledge that the biggest news story today today came from the House Judiciary Committee, which has drawn up two articles of impeachment against President Trump. This comes after committee chair Jerry Nadler nearly lost control of yesterday's meeting.

As Josh Marshall points out, no one expects the Senate to remove the president from office. So the Democratic Party's job is just to demonstrate how much malfeasance and illegality the Republican Party will tolerate from their guy.

If only that were the only story today.

And tonight, I get to preside over a condo-board meeting that will be at least as fun as yesterday's Judiciary Committee meeting.

Alexandra Petri nails it, again

I had the misfortune of hearing the entirety of Rep. Doug Collins' (R-GA) opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee this morning, and I almost ran off the road because I was rolling my eyes too much.

Fortunately, Alexandra Petri neatly summed up the Republican positions he advanced:

You bet I would love to support impeachment! Nothing would delight me more — if it were just bipartisan, which unfortunately it’s not, because I have vowed to oppose it at all costs. This is sure an unfortunate coincidence. I keep asking: Why isn’t there bipartisan support for this? I could support it, if only I were not against it — which I am, vehemently, and will hear no reason to change my mind. A most ingenious paradox!

We must consider the facts. Alas, the facts are in dispute, coincidentally again by me. So, there we are. Who can say what’s true? I understand you to be saying that a certain set of things are demonstrably true, but to that I say, “What if they weren’t? Also, think about President Andrew Johnson.”

It is your fault that this impeachment process is not bipartisan, and you ought to feel bad. If I had not vowed that this process was illegitimate and I would oppose it, I would consider it legitimate, and support it. It is your fault that I won’t, for starting this process, instead of waiting for me to start it.

Which I would have! If the president were a Democrat.

As long as the Republican members of Congress do not care at all how President Trump executes his office, all the Democrats can do is point out how bad it is. And also their hypocrisy. Remember, when the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton for lying about an affair, they made all the arguments that Democrats are now making for far worse conduct.

Think of the children

This article came up in an online discussion some friends and I had this morning about, let's just say, a public figure with high-profile children:

Being raised by a narcissistic parent is emotionally and psychologically abusive and causes debilitating, long-lasting effects to children. It is often missed by professionals, because narcissists can be charming in their presentation, displaying an image of how they wish to be seen. Behind closed doors, the children feel the suffocation of self and struggle with loneliness and pain. The narcissist is not accountable for their own mistakes or behavior, so the child believes they are to blame and that they flunked childhood. Having worked as a mental health provider with thousands of children, as well as the adult children of narcissistic parents, I see the above symptoms again and again. The lifestyles differ, and the stories differ, but they all wave the same emotional banners. It’s quite a list. It takes serious recovery work to get better and feel better.

Note: Narcissism is a spectrum disorder, so think of it as a continuum ranging from low-level traits that we all have to some degree to a full-blown personality disorder. The higher the level of traits, the more damage gets done to children.

Scary stuff. And we can see the results in the news every day.

Why do kids love garbage trucks?

The Atlantic scoops up the hypotheses:

When I asked Sheila Williams Ridge, who teaches early-childhood education at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, for any insights she could give me on why kids love garbage trucks so much, she thought of her own daughter, now 21. When her daughter was little, Williams Ridge remembered, the weekly arrival of the garbage truck was both dazzling and, in a way, reassuring.

“Humans have always thrived with routine,” she told me. “But children, their memories aren’t long enough. Sometimes, when we’re getting our 3-year-olds dressed for winter, they’re like, ‘I can’t do it!’ And we’re like, ‘You’ve put on snow pants before. You’ve put on boots.’ But for them, it’s so long ago. They don’t remember snow from when they’re 2; it’s new again for them.” So having something happen every week at the same time—and especially something that “seems a little bit magical”—can boost kids’ sense of familiarity with the world, not to mention give them something to look forward to.

Plus, what the truck is actually doing when it arrives has an air of the forbidden. Despite the fact that kids are frequently discouraged from making messes at home or at school (or perhaps because of that fact), “children love dumping things. They just do,” Williams Ridge said. “So the fact that a truck is coming to do this on purpose, and everyone is happy about it? It’s like, ‘Yes! This is my dream! I just want to dump stuff out, and you let this person do it!’”

I loved watching the garbage truck when I was about 4. I still have no idea why. Any parents want to hazard a guess?

Andrew Sullivan on Boris Johnson

Sullivan, who attended Oxford with the British Prime Minister, takes a nuanced view:

It’s hard to take the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, completely seriously. Just look at him: a chubby, permanently disheveled toff with an accent that comes off as a parody of an upper-class twit, topped off by that trademark mop of silver-blond hair he deliberately musses up before venturing into the public eye. Then there are those photo-op moments in his long career that seem designed to make him look supremely silly — stuck dangling in midair on a zip line with little Union Jacks waving in his hands; rugby-tackling a 10-year-old in Japan; playing tug-of-war in a publicity stunt and collapsing, suited, onto the grass; or declaring at one point that he was more likely to be “reincarnated as an olive,” “locked in a disused fridge,” or “decapitated by a flying Frisbee” than to become prime minister.

And yet he has. And more than that: This comic figure has somehow managed to find himself at the center of the populist storms sweeping Britain and the West — first by becoming the most senior politician in Britain to back Brexit in 2016, and now by plotting a course that might actually bring the United Kingdom out of the epic, years-long, once-impossible-looking mess he helped make. Just over four months into office as PM, he appears poised to win an election he called and, if the polls are anywhere near correct, score a clear victory and take Britain out of the E.U. by the end of January.

Shallow, lazy, incompetent, and bigoted, this clown has somehow leveraged the fears of the many to advance the only thing he has ever genuinely believed in: his own destiny.

But there is another story to be told about him: that he has been serious all along, using his humor and ridiculousness to camouflage political instincts that have, in fact, been sharper than his peers’. He sensed the shifting populist tides of the 2010s before most other leading politicians did and grasped the Brexit issue as a path to power.

I can't quite tell where Sullivan comes down on Johnson, but as a lifelong liberal Tory, Sullivan seems to see Johnson as the right person for the job right now. He has no love of Johnson's mendacity or narcissism, and thinks he'd sell his sister for ten votes. But Sullivan sees Johnson as a strong politician who managed to neuter the far right by co-opting it.

Next week will be interesting. The UK election is in six days.

Feeling insecure? Blame these guys

The Post reported today that a simple review of phone logs shows how the president and his stooges left themselves open to Russian espionage by using insecure cell phones:

The disclosures provide fresh evidence suggesting that the president continues to defy the security guidance urged by his aides and followed by previous incumbents — a stance that is particularly remarkable given Trump’s attacks on Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign for her use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state.

The connection to the Ukraine campaign is also troubling because of how Moscow could exploit knowledge that Trump was secretly engaged in efforts to extract political favors from the government in Kyiv.

Trump and Giuliani have effectively “given the Russians ammunition they can use in an overt fashion, a covert fashion or in the twisting of information,” said John Sipher, former deputy chief of Russia operations at the CIA. Sipher and others said that it is so likely that Russia tracked the calls of Giuliani and others that the Kremlin probably knows more now

“Congress and investigators have call records that suggest certain things but have no means whatsoever of getting the actual text” of what was said, Sipher said. “I guarantee the Russians have the actual information.”

Ordinarily I'd chalk this up to stupidity. But GOP strategist Rick Wilson sees something far darker:

The traitors deliberately ignore the reporting, counsel, and warnings of the intelligence community when it comes to Russia’s attacks and Vladimir Putin’s vast, continuing intelligence and propaganda warfare against the United States.

The traitors — be they United States senators like John Kennedy and Lindsey Graham or columnists from the Federalist, Breitbart, and a slurry of other formally conservative media outlets — repeat the Kremlin-approved propaganda messages and tropes of that warfare, word for word.

It’s not simply treason by making common cause with a murderous autocrat in Russia, or merrily wrecking the alliances around the world that kept America relatively secure for seven decades.

Their betrayal is also to our system of government, which as imperfect — and often downright fucked up — as it is, has been remarkably capable of surviving.

And if you can’t spot the treason yet, you will soon enough. That’s the thing about spies, traitors, and those who betray their country — they rarely stay hidden forever.

We need to get this administration out of office in 2021, and help the American people understand the danger their sympathizers represent. If only we still taught civics in schools.

Traffic jam at the top of the world

The Apollo Chorus performed Joby Talbot's Everest a few weeks ago, and to prepare for the opera I read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. (The opera is based on the events described in that book.) I concluded that climbing Mt Everest is insane.

That didn't stop about 100 climbers from attempting to summit on May 23rd of this year, contributing to one of the deadliest days in the mountain's history:

[T]wo decades on, the Everest experience often seems to have devolved even further into a circus-like pageant of stunts and self-promotion. In April 2017, DJ Paul Oakenfold outraged mountaineering purists by hosting an EDM concert at the base camp in Nepal; this year three Indian climbers returned home to celebratory crowds after they supposedly summited on May 26, only to be accused of fraud after other mountaineers claimed that they never made it past 23,500 feet.

And then there are the growing crowds. For this year's climbing season, Nepal handed out 381 permits to scale Everest, the most ever. The Chinese government distributed more than 100 permits for the northern side. According to the Himalayan Database, the number of people summiting Everest has just about doubled in the past decade. And in that time the mountain has become accessible even to relative novices, thanks to a proliferation of cut-rate agencies that require little proof of technical skill, experience, or physical fitness. “Some of these companies don't ask any questions,” says Rolfe Oostra, an Australian mountaineer and a founder of France-based 360 Expeditions, which sent four clients to the summit this year. “They are willing to take anybody on, and that compounds the problems for everyone.”

On May 22—the day before Grubhofer reached the top—a long line near the summit had already begun to form. One of those pinned in the throng was a Nepali climber named Nirmal Purja. That morning, Purja snapped a photo of the chaos. The picture showed a near unprecedented traffic jam on the popular southern side: a column of hundreds of climbers snaking along the knifelike summit ridge toward the Hillary Step, the last obstacle before the top, packed jacket-to-jacket as if they were queued up for a ski lift in Vail. The image rocketed around the world and, as the events on the mountain were still developing, raised an urgent question: What the hell is going on atop Mount Everest?

I still think these people are crazy. If I ever see Mt Everest, it will be from the pressurized cabin of a transport-class airplane. I'm fine with that.

I will, however, see the opera again when it comes to the Barbican on June 20th.