The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Similar origins, different outcomes

The Washington Post has a long biography of two men born into wealthy New York City families just after World War II but have arrived at different places:

They are the sons of wealth, brought up in families accustomed to power. They were raised to show and demand respect, and they were raised to lead.

They rose to positions of enormous authority, the president of the United States and the special counsel chosen to investigate him. They dress more formally than most of those around them; both sport meticulously coiffed hair. They have won unusual loyalty from those who believe in them. They attended elite all-male private schools, were accomplished high school athletes and went on to Ivy League colleges. As young men, each was deeply affected by the death of a man he admired greatly.

Yet Robert Swan Mueller III and Donald John Trump, born 22 months apart in New York City, also can seem to come from different planets. One is courtly and crisp, the other blustery and brash. One turned away from the path to greater wealth while the other spent half a century exploring every possible avenue to add to his assets.

At pivotal points in their lives, they made sharply divergent choices — as students, as draft-age men facing the dilemma of the Vietnam War, as ambitious alpha males deciding where to focus their energies.

It's a long read, but worth it for Mueller's story. You can't help respecting the guy, even if you've never seen him in person. As for the President...well, his story is better known, and instills in me a somewhat different reaction.

Bronze age defenses, modern attacks

Via Bruce Schneier, DHS Senior Analyst Jack Anderson describes how walls are still a dominant security metaphor, and the consequences of that choice:

Walls don’t fail gracefully. But there is a bewitching tendency to trust them more than we should, and this leads to dangerous liabilities. Extreme risk prognosticator Pasquale Curillo calls this tendency to depend too much on controls we’ve put in place the “fence paradox.” By protecting things — which they must — organizations can encourage situations where they stand to lose a lot if their wall is breached. When that fortification fails (and eventually, every fortress fails) it fails catastrophically. The scale of the Equifax hack in 2017 and the Brussels bombings in 2016 both illustrate the way that organizations and systems organize risk, tending to put together massive targets for potential threats. Walls actually encourage this kind of thinking. If you build walls to protect something, it makes sense to expect them to work. But network architects and airport security designers both need to listen to de Montluc, the 16th century French military mastermind: “Nothing is impregnable.”

We need a new awareness of what walls do. It’s tempting to think of them as blocking threats, but they don’t. They behave more like filters — winnowing out only those threats not serious enough to circumvent them. And this implies a secondary problem apart from the fence paradox. A wall that prevents large-scale foot traffic across unsecured locations in the U.S border means that only determined, capable adversaries will be able to cross the wall. The people who are the least threatening are the only ones who are easily deflected. It may prevent smaller scale losses, but it actually encourages your biggest threat to innovate, leaving room for catastrophe. Bag checks and barricades moved a perimeter outward at the Mandalay Bay Casino last October, but Stephen Paddock circumvented this by moving his position upward. As Washington considers the marginal benefits of a massive border wall, it needs to think equally of this revenge effect.

This weakness is where the idea of “defense in depth” (layered security) comes from. A good summary of the reasons for defense in depth comes from a 1921 Infantry Journal, published by the U.S. Infantry Association: “All essential elements of the defense should be organized in depth. If the forward defensive areas are captured, resistance is continued by those in the rear.”

That's bronze-age wisdom, in fact. And yet security designers don't seem to learn. And the President's wall around Fantasyland will not prevent the threats he fears, not one little bit.

"Told you so."—George Washington, 1796

Thomas Pickering and James Stoutenberg, writing for the New York Times, point out that George Washington warned us about someone like the modern Republican Party or Donald Trump taking power in the U.S.:

In elaborate and thoughtful prose, Washington raised red flags about disunity, false patriotism, special interests, extreme partisanship, fake news, the national debt, foreign alliances and foreign hatreds. With uncanny foresight, he warned that the most serious threat to our democracy might come from disunity within the country rather than interference from outside. And he foresaw the possibility of foreign influence over our political system and the rise of a president whose ego and avarice would transcend the national interest, raising the threat of despotism.

He wrote that should one group, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge,” gain domination over another, the result could be “a more formal and permanent despotism.” The despot’s rise would be fueled by “disorders and miseries” that would gradually push citizens “to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.”

“Sooner or later,” he concluded, “the chief of some prevailing faction, more able and more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purpose of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”

And then he arrived at one of his greatest concerns: The ways in which hyperpartisanship could open the door “to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

As someone with a degree in history, all I can do is watch the train wreck and hope to survive it.

Laughing their asses off in the Kremlin

As Jennifer Rubin points out, President Trump's unhinged tweets over the weekend have some truth to them—but not in the way Trump meant:

Trump lashed out: “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!” Actually, they succeeded and are laughing, very likely, because they helped elect an unhinged, erratic president who will not protect the United States against Russian meddling. The discord comes from Trump smearing the FBI and making up lies (e.g., accusing President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower).

It was a new low, hiding behind the bodies of dead children and teachers to shield himself from accountability.

He blamed Democrats for not passing gun control when it was Republicans who torpedoed a compromise bill after the Sandy Hook massacre. David Hogg, a 17-year-old survivor of the massacre at his high school, spoke for many when he responded on “Face the Nation”: “President Trump, you control the House of Representatives. You control the Senate and you control the executive. You haven’t taken a single bill for mental health care or gun control and passed it. And that’s pathetic."

Aside from the blizzard of lies, one is struck by how frantic Trump sounds. The number and looniness of the tweets arguably exceed anything he has previously done. His conduct reaffirms the basic outline of an obstruction charge: Desperate to disable a Russia probe that would be personally embarrassing to him, he has tried in many ways to interfere with and end the investigation. In doing so, he, at the very least, has abused his office.

How is this man our President? Because one of the major parties in our country have descended into winner-takes-all, scorched-earth politics, and will hold onto power until the voters finally pry it from the party's cold, dead fingers.

Mid-week link roundup

Lots of things popped up in my browser today:

And now, back to work.

Setting up lunchtime reading

Over the weekend I made a couple of minor updates to Weather Now, and today I'm going to spend some time taking it off its Azure Web Role and moving it to an Azure Website. That will (a) save me money and (b) make deployments a lot easier.

Meanwhile, a number of articles bubbled up overnight that I'll try to read at lunchtime:

Back to Azure deployment strategies.

The administration's insane attack on law enforcement

Confronted with the options that these guys are master strategists or they're not even thinking about their next move, Occam's Razor suggests we're dealing with serious stupidity here:

The war between the president and the nation’s law enforcement apparatus is unlike anything America has seen in modern times. With a special counsel investigating whether his campaign collaborated with Russia in 2016 and whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in 2017, the president has engaged in a scorched-earth assault on the pillars of the criminal justice system in a way that no other occupant of the White House has done.

At the start of his administration, Mr. Trump targeted the intelligence community for his criticism. But in recent months, he has broadened the attacks to include the sprawling federal law enforcement bureaucracy that he oversees, to the point that in December he pronounced the F.B.I.’s reputation “in tatters” and the “worst in history.”

In his telling, that bureaucracy, now run by his own appointees, is a nest of political saboteurs out to undermine him — an accusation that raised fears that he was tearing at the credibility of some of the most important institutions in American life to save himself.

This is insane. Even the Republicans in Congress who are enabling this behavior must know, on some level, it's insane.

In other news, the next presidential term begins in only 1,081 days...

What else I'm reading today at lunch

Fun times, fun times.

More follow-up from Tuesday

Aside: how the hell is it already February?

Moving on. Two more articles popped up about Tuesday night's State of the Union speech. First, via Deeply Trivial, Andrea Jones-Rooy at 538 points out that very little of what presidents propose in the SOTU actually gets enacted:

From Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama, according to [Donna Hoffman and Alison Howard], presidents made an average of 34 proposals in each State of the Union or initial address to a joint session of Congress. The most requests a president made during this period were Bill Clinton’s 87 in 2000. The fewest were just nine by Jimmy Carter in 1980.1

About 25 percent of policy announcements were ultimately successful, according to Hoffman and Howard’s definition of success, which is a complete enactment of the president’s recommended policy within a year of the address.2 They grade 14 percent more as partial successes — times when the president got a portion of the policy he asked for. The average policy agenda success rate increased to 32.7 percent when a president’s party controlled both houses of Congress, which Trump’s does.3

Altogether, an average of 60.6 percent of policy proposals mentioned in the State of the Union never materialized, suggesting that any one request from Trump is more likely not to be turned into legislation. The least successful — or, if you prefer, most ambitious — president since Johnson was Gerald Ford, with a 71.4 percent failure rate over his time in office. Johnson was the most successful — or, if you prefer, most realistic — with a 47.1 percent failure rate.

Given a hostile minority and a comical lack of bipartisanship, I don't expect much of the president's program to survive until the election.

Meanwhile, James Fallows—who has written parts of SOTUs in his life—annotates this one.

I will need alcohol after this exercise

I'm finally reading last night's State of the Union address, and...well...oy, gevalt.

The speech doesn't really have a lot of coherence, but SOTU speeches rarely do. Still, there's something about reading it that makes me wonder who Steve Miller actually thought would deliver it.

For example, these two passages:

All Americans deserve accountability and respect—and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.

In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.

First, that's a single excerpt, one clip, of the speech. There are three thoughts here, and I kind of see how they hang together. But eliminating regulations doesn't to me have much to do with accountability. In fact, the specific regulations they're eliminating will, in fact, make industry less accountable to the people, and we should start seeing unintended consequences (like death and destruction) pretty soon.

But look what he's asking for: an end to civil service protections and the politicization of the Federal bureaucracy. That's pretty consistent with authoritarian rulers the world over. It must not happen here.

Later:

America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs, and our Nation's wealth.

The era of economic surrender is over.

From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal.

We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones.

And we will protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.

So...we're scrapping multilateral trade deals in favor of making lots of bilateral deals, all while removing regulations from industry? How will that work, exactly? Won't having ten or a hundred bilateral treaties cause a hundredfold increase in regulations? I know the President doesn't know how this works, but surely someone in the administration must, right?

And then this:

So tonight, I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties—Democrats and Republicans—to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed. My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans—to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.

You know what? F you too, Donnie. "Let's work together, we all want the same thing, and you know what? You're all ugly." (This is where some Democrats booed him.)

I could go on to his bald-face lies about how visas work, to his claiming a number of President Obama's achievements as his own, to his touting a tax "reform" that swindles the middle class out of being middle class...but no, I'll let the professionals chime in for the rest:

I can't wait till the next one, and hope he gives it to a Democratic majority.