The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Planting seeds to dispute the election

President Trump today signed an executive order that will likely have no legal effect and could very well backfire on him, directing the Federal Communications Commission to revisit Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act:

Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, online companies have broad immunity from liability for content created by their users.

But the draft of the executive order, which refers to what it calls “selective censoring,” would allow the Commerce Department to try to refocus how broadly Section 230 is applied, and to let the Federal Trade Commission bulk up a tool for reporting online bias.

It would also provide limitations on how federal dollars can be spent to advertise on social media platforms.

Although the law does not provide social media companies blanket protection — for instance, the companies must still comply with copyright law and remove pirated materials posted by users — it does shield them from some responsibility for their users’ posts.

This apparently comes in response to Twitter having the temerity to label one of his lies as such, but not really. The president more likely sees this as another way to whip up his base of the illegitimacy of November's election, which (a) is only 159 days away and (b) looking more like a Biden win. Keep in mind the specific lie that Twitter called out concerned mail-in ballots. We can expect more attacks on the people actually trying to keep the election free and fair as we get closer.

Because 2020 couldn't get any more fun, right?

Predicting the future based on history

This morning, the Labor Department reported 2.1 million new unemployment claims, bringing the total to almost 41 million since the pandemic hit the US. As horrifying as that number is, I actually wanted to highlight two articles that appeared today.

The first, by Trump biographer Tony Schwartz in Medium, warns us that having a psychopathic president makes November's election "a true Armageddon:"

The trait that most distinguishes psychopaths is the utter absence of conscience — the capacity to lie, cheat, steal and inflict pain to achieve his ends without a scintilla of guilt or shame, as Trump so demonstrably does. What Trump’s words and behavior make clear is that he feels no more guilt about hurting others than a lion does about killing a giraffe.

What makes Trump’s behavior challenging to fathom is that our minds are not wired to understand human beings who live far outside the norms, rules, laws and values that the vast majority of us take for granted. Conscience, empathy and concern for the welfare of others are all essential to the social contract. Conscience itself reflects an inner sense of obligation to behave with honesty, fairness, and care for others, along with a willingness to express contrition if we fall short of those ideals, and especially when we harm others.

So what does all this tell us about how we can expect Trump to behave going forward? The simple answer is worse. His obsession with domination and power have prompted Trump to tell lies more promiscuously than ever since he became president, and to engage in ever more unfounded and aggressive responses aimed at anyone he perceives stands in his way.

In the end, Trump does what he does because he is who he is, immutably.

Trump revels in attention, domination and cruelty. “The sociopath wants to manipulate and control you,” explains Martha Stout, “and so you are rewarding and encouraging him each and every time you allow him to see your anger, confusion or your hurt.” Even so, in order to protect our democracy and our shared humanity, it’s critical to push back, calmly and persistently, against every single lie Trump tells, and every legal and moral boundary he violates. We must resist what Hanna Arendt has called “the banality of evil” — the numbness and normalizing that so easily sets in when unconscionable acts become commonplace. “Under conditions of terror, most people will comply,” Arendt has written, “but some people will not.”

Understanding what we’re truly up against — the reign of terror that Trump will almost surely wage the moment he believes he can completely prevail — makes the upcoming presidential election a true Armageddon.

The second, from Jeremy Peters at the New York Times, reviews a 1991 book by William Strauss and Neil Howe that predicted the "Crisis of 2020:"

Their conclusions about the way each generation develops its own characteristics and leadership qualities influenced a wide range of political leaders, from liberals like Bill Clinton and Al Gore to pro-Trump conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Stephen K. Bannon.

Seems as if they were on to something. So now what?

More insightful than the date itself was the assertion that historical patterns pointed toward the arrival of a generation-defining crisis that would force millennials into the fire early in their adulthood. (Mr. Strauss and Mr. Howe were the first to apply that term to those born in the early 1980s because they would come of age around the year 2000.)

More than just a novelty, their theory helps explain why some of the most prominent voices calling for political reform from left, center and right have been young — Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 30; Pete Buttigieg, 38; Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, 40.

And as baby boomers continue to age out of public service, the theory says, fixing the problems created by the pandemic will fall to this younger, civically oriented generation. Mr. Howe, who at 68 is a member of the cohort he is critical of, said in an interview that it was no coincidence that the boomer president and many people in his generation — especially the more conservative ones — have generally taken a more lax attitude toward the coronavirus than younger people.

But now, I have to debug an Azure function app...

Many whine! Much sad!

The most powerful man in the world threw a hissy fit yesterday when Twitter finally—finally!—slapped a misinformation warning on one of his lies:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened social media companies with new regulation or even shuttering a day after Twitter added fact checks to two of his tweets.

The president can’t unilaterally regulate or close the companies, which would require action by Congress or the Federal Communications Commission. But that didn't stop Trump from angrily issuing a strong warning.

Claiming tech giants “silence conservative voices,” Trump tweeted, “We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen.”

Trump and his campaign angrily lashed out Tuesday after Twitter added a warning phrase to two Trump tweets that called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted that “mail boxes will be robbed,” among other things. Under the tweets, there is now a link reading “Get the facts about mail-in ballots” that guides users to a Twitter “moments” page with fact checks and news stories about Trump’s unsubstantiated claims.

Trump replied on Twitter, accusing the platform of “interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election” and insisting that “as president, I will not allow this to happen.” His 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said Twitter’s “clear political bias” had led the campaign to pull “all our advertising from Twitter months ago.” Twitter has banned all political advertising since last November.

Since the only response that people of any intelligence should give this malarkey is laughter, I present to you the president's own words as lip-synced by comedian Sarah Cooper:

Grabbing the loot with both hands

Perhaps knowing that they only have a few more months to steal billions from American taxpayers, the president and his allies have used the pandemic to award huge no-bid contracts to their friends:

Several weeks ago, President Donald Trump forced the Food and Drug Administration to reverse a safety ruling and clear the way for one of the nation's premier defense contractors to sell, service and operate new machines that reprocess N95 face masks for health care workers.

Within two weeks, Battelle, the company that makes the machines, had a contract from the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency to recycle masks for up to 20 uses each at locations across the country. The no-bid deal, ordered up by the White House coronavirus task force, is worth up to $600 million.

But nurses, doctors and scientists who have spoken to NBC News about Battelle's hydrogen peroxide vapor chambers said the process it uses remains unproven over long-term use and using masks cleaned by it more than a couple of times could leave front-line health care workers vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus.

There is effectively no independent oversight of the Battelle deal or others like it.

The lack of oversight means voters will have less information by which to judge the president when they go to the polls. Trump surely understands that.

But because Trump has effectively gutted oversight of his administration, only voters can hold him accountable if his decisions were bad — or made for the wrong reasons.

And the money came rolling in from every side. Reminder: populists are corporatists first. It's about the money, not the politics.

He wants us to fire him

Author Franklin Schneider, who wrote a book about getting fired from 13 jobs in 10 years, thinks the president is begging someone to fire him:

We didn’t need insider exposés about “executive time” spent shouting at the TV to know that Trump hates being president. It’s there in every seething tweet, every prickly exchange with reporters, every shrug of a coronavirus briefing. He despises everything about Washington — the modesty, the expertise, the functionaries around him who have the temerity to do their jobs and expect him to do his. At night, he must dream of telling them (us) to take this job and shove it, so he can return to his natural calling of selling subpar steaks and repeatedly filing for bankruptcy.

He wants out, but we all know he'd never step down. I get it. I do! It’s the reverse of the Groucho Marx saying about how he’d never want to be in a club who’d have him as a member: I’d never voluntarily leave an office where I wasn’t wanted. They had to drag me out each time, the HR lady snatching the key card out of my hand, then signaling for security to escort me to the elevator. Why did I resist leaving so many places I hated, and why does he? It’s a matter of spite: At some point, making your enemies unhappy becomes more important than making yourself happy. And if that was true for me, it has to be true for Trump, too: Spite animates his personality as much as his politics.

Take heart from this: No matter how horrifying a second Trump term sounds to you, it probably sounds even worse to Trump. And there’s still the outside chance that he could find the guts to seize his destiny and just quit. Donny, if you’re reading this, trust me: It feels wonderful when you finally escape. Resign, go home, block all your former co-workers on social media, and have a good cry. Someone else will take care of the whole coronavirus thing. It’s not like you were really trying, anyway.

Along the same lines, HHS Secretary Alex Azar says we should open up right away, no matter who it kills, and Josh Marshall points to the other billionaires demanding the same thing as evidence of an even worse divide in American life than we thought.

The sun! Was out! For an hour!

Since January 2019, Chicago has had only two months with above-average sunshine, and in both cases we only got 10% more than average. This year we're ticking along about 9% below, with no month since July 2019 getting above 50% of possible sunshine.

In other news:

Finally, having "walktails" with friends may be a thing, but because drinking alcohol on public streets in Chicago is prohibited by city ordinance, I cannot admit to ever doing this.

Lunchtime roundup

You have to see these photos of the dark Sears Tower against the Chicago skyline—a metaphor for 2020 bar none. Also:

And oh! My long-running unit test (1575.9 seconds) has finished. I can get up now.

Did someone call "lunch?"

I think today is Tuesday, the first day of my 10th week working from home. That would make today...March 80th? April 49th? Who knows.

It is, however, just past lunchtime, and today I had shawarma and mixed news:

Earlier, I mentioned that the state's unemployment office accidentally revealed thousands of records in an own goal. Turns out, Deloitte Consulting did the work, so I am no longer surprised. Note to anyone who needs software written: don't hire a big consulting firm. They don't attract the best developers because they use manager-driven development patterns that irritate the hell out of anyone with talent.

Evening round-up

Long day, with meetings until 8:45pm and the current sprint ending tomorrow at work, so I'll read most of these after the spring review:

Finally, Sheffield, U.K., wildlife photographer Simon Dell built a Hobbiton for the local field mice. It's as adorable as it sounds.

Domestic terrorism in Michigan

Charlie Pierce, noting that "[p]eople with firearms forced the civil government of the state of Michigan to shut itself down," wants to know in what sense this isn't terrorism. In other fun weekend stories:

And it's pouring, and will continue to do so for several more hours.