The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Thirty years ago

I remember the early evening of 9 November 1989. A bunch of us were hanging out on our floor in my college dorm when my roommate told us to come in and watch what was on TV. We saw Germans atop the Berlin Wall waving the Federal (West German) flag, and not getting shot.

Today's Times has a good set of photos from the wall's construction in 1961 to its destruction in 1989. as does CNNBerliner Zeitung has an interview with Andrei Gratchev, Mikhail Gorbachev's spokesman from then, about the relationship between East Germany and the USSR. The Beeb explains how illegal raves brought the younger generation together and helped precipitate the East's collapse.

Germany reunified less than a year later.

Forty years ago today

On 4 November 1979, "students" stormed the American Embassy in Tehran:

After a three-hour struggle, the students took hostages, including 62 Americans, and demanded the extradition of the deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was receiving medical treatment in the United States for the cancer that ultimately would kill him. Some hostages would later be released amid the crisis, but it would take over a year for all to be freed.

It would take 444 days—until the last day of President Jimmy Carter's term—for Iran to release the hostages.

NPR this morning had an interview with Ambassador John Limbert, one of the hostages.

The real divide

As someone who's had an online presence since 1983, I have learned a thing or two about online discourse. Principally, it's mostly crap. Most people know this.

But the dangerous thing is, in the last few years, people have forgotten it's crap. Everyone gets so worked up about the specific meaningless thing someone else posts they forget that there is a clear pattern of discourse going back to the beginning of politics.

The basic goal of the right is to consolidate wealth. The basic goal of the left is to live in an egalitarian utopia. And the basic goal of probably 90% of the world is just to live peacefully.

Notice the asymmetry. Living in an egalitarian utopia will never happen, for the simple reason that no one can agree on what that looks like. So the left's ultimate goal will forever be out of reach. We reform one thing, and discover inequality in another. So we try to fix that, and it turns out there's more inequality. It's Whack-a-Mole, for eternity. But the point is, we're trying. We will never live in a utopia, but we can make lives better anyway.

The right, on the other hand, has a long track record of achieving its goal, because it's easy to understand and easy to implement. They get your money; you lose your money; they win.

Now, most people don't vote to hand their money over to people who just want to get rich. So the challenge on the right has always been how to get people to give them money. And because their end goal is easy to understand, and tends to be popular with the people who achieve it, they've developed a few strategies to get your money and huge money-making enterprises to promote these strategies.

Right now, their main strategies are these: sell you things you want on easy terms and strangle you with interest, scare you into handing over your money, borrow from you to give you things you want and then make the other side explain how you were screwed (and not pay you back), make you borrow money to survive, or just steal it outright.

This post is really only about how the Right uses fear. Because everything else they do is just commerce.

As much as we may believe that the Right-wing parties care about jobs, the working class, traditional values, immigration, or whatever they claim to be for in any particular election, they really don't. Again, they care only about consolidating wealth. Because of that, they hate the free press, hate the poor, hate the middle-class, and hate anyone else who gets in their way.

It doesn't help that the center and the left have math, history, and numbers on their side. The right has a powerful message that appeals to a huge swath of people: give us your money and we'll protect you from everything you fear.

Only, they won't. They never have. One has only to look at every dictatorship ever, starting with the kleptocracy in Venezuela (or Russia or Zimbabwe or Hungary or Turkey...) right now to see how simple the whole problem is.

Since about the mid-1960s—not coincidentally, after a Democratic president passed the Civil Rights Act against the wishes of six states' worth of racist Democrats—left and right in this country have increasingly aligned by party, by geography, and by religion. Not just in the US: Canada just had an election yesterday in which a flawed center-left candidate almost lost to a frightening far-right candidate. And don't even get me started on Brexit.

The solution is equally simple: financial transparency. Demand to know where the money is going. Who voted to spend it; who voted to take it; what the actual effect of a government budget will be on you and your people. Then pay attention to what politicians actually say.

An honest person doesn't fear the truth.

Let's take Attorney General Bill Barr's speech at Notre Dame University this week as an example. He said a lot of controversial things, many of them just to rile up his base or piss off his opposition. Mainly, he said that people of faith are under attack from people who have read the First Amendment. (That's not exactly what he said, but given the miniscule portion of irreligious people in the US vs. the 70% who identify as Christian, it seems the top law-enforcement officer of this country fails to understand the Establishment Clause.)

But if you read how he concluded the speech, you see his primary  and clearly-articulated goal: he wants to send American tax dollars to religious private schools. Private schools owned by large corporations. Large corporations owned by the Secretary of Education.

Does Bill Barr care about giving every child in America the word of Jesus? Maybe. Who knows. Probably not. But he and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos care a lot about funneling public money to themselves. That bit is obvious.

I'm never going to have an abortion; you're never going to get fired for praying in your office. The vitriol ginned up about that sort of thing just distracts from the real issue of the early 21st century: Rich people are stealing from you, and you're letting them.

So do this. Vote your conscience on abortion, if your candidate discloses where he got all his money. Vote to protect your job, if your candidate doesn't get paid by your employer. Vote to protect your kids against bad medical research, if your candidate doesn't work for big drug company. Or better yet: run for office yourself.

And for fuck's sake, vote in local elections on local issues. Your alderman can't change foreign policy, but she can decide whether your alley gets paved this year, which might be more relevant to you.

To sum up: The "right" doesn't actually oppose the center or the left on philosophical or policy grounds. They oppose everyone on avaricious grounds. The religion and morality are just camouflage, meant to get votes from the very people they're stealing the most from.

A vote for the modern, movement-conservative Republican Party, or the Brexit-addled UK Conservative Party, or the Canadian Conservative Party (seeing a pattern?), is a vote for aristocracy and against your retirement account. (And hey, for everyone who isn't a trader on Wall Street, how did your private 401(k) accounts work out for you? Yeah, me neither.) It's really that simple.

If you really can only manage to vote on a single issue, then vote against thieves. We can find common ground on policy. We can't find common ground if someone else steals the land.

The sack of Kurdistan

Could President Trump be not only a very stable genius, but a strategic one as well, for pulling American troops out of Syria ? I mean, given the obvious consequences of our pull-out (i.e., Russia and Turkey carving up Kurdistan), the alternative explanation is that the Situation Room this week looked a lot like Sir Bedevere explaining to King Arthur how the wooden rabbit trick would work.

Maybe his 71-minute oration at his cabinet meeting yesterday could give us more information about his state of mind and battlefield thinking:

“We have a good relationship with the Kurds. But we never agreed to, you know, protect the Kurds. We fought with them for 3½ to four years. We never agreed to protect the Kurds for the rest of their lives.”

Trump misleadingly frames the agreement as the “rest of their lives.” But the United States had certainly made a deal with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which lost 11,000 soldiers in defeating the Islamic State, after being trained and equipped by the United States. (Turkey considers elements of this force to be a terrorist threat.) To prevent a Turkish invasion, the United States persuaded the SDF to pull back up to nine miles from the Turkish border. In August, the SDF destroyed its own military posts after assurances the United States would not let thousands of Turkish troops invade. But then Trump tossed that aside.

“I don’t think you people, with this phony emoluments clause — and by the way, I would say that it’s cost me anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion to be president — and that’s okay — between what I lose and what I could have made.”

The emoluments clause is not phony; it’s right in the Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8): “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

Trump’s net worth is valued at $3 billion, so it’s difficult to see how being president could cost him even more than his net worth. Bloomberg News recently estimated that his net worth grew 5 percent in 2018, following two years of declines, bringing it back to the level calculated in 2016. Forbes calculated that as of September, his net worth is $3.1 billion.

So, my conclusion, based on this tiny bit of evidence (and the years of evidence that came before) is that the president is a narcissistic idiot. Why are we still talking about impeachment when the 25th Amendment makes more sense? Oh, right. The Republican Party.

Climate-change protesters pick the worst target possible

Extinction Rebellion, a climate-change protest group, targeted three working-class Tube stops near the Canary Wharf financial district in east London this week. In doing so they've given their opponents a massive boost:

The stations targeted by activists—Canning TownStratford, and Shadwell—are physically very close to the financial district of Canary Wharf. But they are a world removed from it. These stations serve some of the poorest areas not just in London, but in Western Europe. Most commuters shuffling to the train platforms at 7 a.m. (in a country where professionals usually start work after 9) are not wealthy financiers—they’re lower-income workers scraping a living in a notoriously expensive city. Footage of climate protesters with what British people would instantly read as middle-class accents blocking working-class men and women trying to get to their jobs soon after dawn—where they might be sanctioned for lateness—is terrible image-making. It plays into the hands of people who dismiss environmental activism as a hobby for privileged progressives.

These protests not only missed their intended target—the finance companies of Canary Wharf, which are located on private land with ludicrously tight security controls—they ended up creating a false dichotomy, setting up a conflict between the climate movement and public transit users. The optics of the incident end up wrongly implying that working-class London commuters neither care about, nor are affected by climate change.

As the urgency for climate action grows, Londoners who support Extinction Rebellion’s broader aims can only hope that the group can learn from this experience and adjust their tactics accordingly. The group suggested as much in a statement it released after the incident: “In light of today’s events, Extinction Rebellion will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division.”

If that happens, a vital lesson will have been learned. The U.K. capital is a critical player in the global battle for decarbonization. The climate movement needs victories here, and can ill afford to lose the sympathies of its residents.

Nice work, guys. Even absent the class conflict this particular action set up, I would recommend not disrupting public transport, which, you know, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The tariffs get personal

The WTO approved a set of tariffs that the US can levy against the EU recently in retaliation for subsidies from EU governments to Airbus Industrie. These tariffs will now affect me personally, and I am displeased:

[W]ith the Oct. 31 deadline for Brexit fast approaching, the Trump administration imposed 25 percent tariffs on a menu of goods including French wine, Italian cheese and — in a move that could drive a Scotsman to drink — single malt whisky.

Whisky underpins the economy of Islay and much of Scotland. Kilchoman and eight rival Scotch whisky distilleries have flourished here in the past decade. Tourists from the United States, Europe and Japan come to wonder at Islay’s coastal beauty, take pictures of hillsides filled with sheep and hairy Highland cattle that look as if they’ve had vigorous blow dries, and soak up the pricey local spirits.

Annual exports of Scotch whisky are worth £4.7 billion, or about $5.9 billion, accounting for 70 percent of Scotland’s food and drink exports and 21 percent of Britain’s.

Karen Betts, the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said the Trump administration’s decision to apply tariffs only to single malts was likely to hit smaller producers harder.

By "smaller producers" they mean some of the best in Scotland, including Kilchoman on Islay. And even if Brexit happens in two weeks, the tariffs may stay in place.

The president's gut

...has once again gotten us into calamity that literally everyone predicted. Pity his gut is so much bigger than his brain:

Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the generous description of a senior American diplomat — probably will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.

But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.

“This president keeps blindsiding our military and diplomatic leaders and partners with impulsive moves like this that benefit Russia and authoritarian regimes,” said Senator Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat and longtime member of the Armed Services Committee.

“If this president were serious about ending wars and winning peace, he’d actually articulate a strategy that would protect against a re-emergence of ISIS and provide for the safety of our Syrian partners,” Mr. Reed added. “But he has repeatedly failed to do that. Instead, this is another example of Donald Trump creating chaos, undermining U.S. interests, and benefiting Russia and the Assad regime.”

The other major beneficiary is Iran, perhaps Mr. Trump’s most talked-about geopolitical foe, which has long supported the Syrian regime and sought freer rein across the country.

Yesterday I called this an own-goal, but really it's more like our goalie plays for the other team.

Either he's a very stable genius, or he's the biggest chump ever to live in the White House. His father would be so proud.

Own goal to Erdogan and Putin

I don't know how much closer to shooting someone on 5th Avenue the President needs to get to show people he does not have American interests at heart. His abrupt withdrawal of our forces from Syria comes awfully close:

U.S. forces, caught unawares by the move, began a hasty and logistically problematic retreat; at one point American troops found themselves deliberately “bracketed” by Turkish artillery fire—pinned in position and wholly reactive to the movements of a foreign state’s force, one set in motion by their own commander in chief. This may have been the first time any nation that houses U.S. nuclear weapons—there are an estimated 50 thermonuclear air-drop warheads at Incirlik Air Force Base in Turkey—targeted U.S. troops with its own army.

Since then, U.S. forces on the ground are in anguish and “ashamed,” witnessing atrocities and abandoning allies to potential Turkish war crimes. The Kurds, having seen Trump almost pull this last year, had asked their American partners’ help in planning for a post-U.S. scenario by aligning with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Russian backers. The U.S. had said no, assuring the Kurds it would not abandon them. After all, Trump had publicly bragged last year that he’d singlehandedly stopped Erdogan from going in before; “I called him and asked him not to do it, and he hasn’t done it,” he said in June. But Erdogan did it. And he told Trump that he was doing it.

Like so many others who have covered Trump and his coterie of dullards, I have often been caught up in questions of whether despots have blackmail leverage over Trump or offer him favors; of whether he recognizes his kind or he’s an easily influenced idiot. Motives would be wonderful to pin down—after we stop the serial arsonist from starting fires. What’s happening in Syria shows that it doesn’t matter whether Trump is a dope, weak bluffer, toddler-in-chief, serial abuser, narcissist, pathological liar, or mob grifter. It doesn’t matter if he’s been recruited as an agent of a foreign government. It makes no difference whether he’s evil, stupid, or a madman.

You don’t need a psychological sketch to understand the events in Syria, just the bare and obvious truth: Because Trump is president, people are being murdered before cameras, the world is more unsafe, and American promises are worth less than the cursed, disembodied presidential account that they’re tweeted on.

Putin must be tired of all the winning.

Losing our place in the world

Michelle Goldberg details how Rudy Giuliani and President Trump have created a dangerous situation in Ukraine:

The Ukrainians I spoke to aren’t naïve; they understand that America, like any other country, generally acts from self-interest rather than high principle. But there was a time when America at least viewed the projection of democratic values as being in its self-interest. That gave liberals in countries like Ukraine leverage against recalcitrant officials.

“The majority of the reforms, especially on anti-corruption, were passed because there was a very strong demand from civil society, and there was the I.M.F. and the U.S. Embassy pushing it hard,” said Oleksandra Ustinova, a former board member of AntAC who was elected to Parliament this year.

Now that’s all changed. As The New York Times reported, after Trump recalled the U.S. ambassador, Lutsenko gloated to the head of AntAC that he had “eliminated your roof,” using Russian mafia slang for guardian.

Throughout our history, America has committed many sins against democracy around the world, but we used to be on the right side in Ukraine. Not anymore. As one former U.S. diplomat said to me recently, “The beacon has gone out.” We’re with the oligarchs now.

Only 465 days until President Warren gets sworn in. Will we make it?

What's happening today?

Not too much:

And two algorithms I'm testing that should produce similar results are not. So back to the coding window I go.