The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The TSA finally talks frankly about security

Bruce Schneier says that the TSA's thoughts about security at smaller airports are exactly the conversation they should be having:

Last week, CNN reported that the Transportation Security Administration is considering eliminating security at U.S. airports that fly only smaller planes -- 60 seats or fewer. Passengers connecting to larger planes would clear security at their destinations.

To be clear, the TSA has put forth no concrete proposal. The internal agency working group's report obtained by CNN contains no recommendations. It's nothing more than 20 people examining the potential security risks of the policy change. It's not even new: The TSA considered this back in 2011, and the agency reviews its security policies every year.

We don't know enough to conclude whether this is a good idea, but it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. We need to evaluate airport security based on concrete costs and benefits, and not continue to implement security theater based on fear. And we should applaud the agency's willingness to explore changes in the screening process.

There is already a tiered system for airport security, varying for both airports and passengers. Many people are enrolled in TSA PreCheck, allowing them to go through checkpoints faster and with less screening. Smaller airports don't have modern screening equipment like full-body scanners or CT baggage screeners, making it impossible for them to detect some plastic explosives. Any would-be terrorist is already able to pick and choose his flight conditions to suit his plot.

And just think, it's only taken 15 years and $45 billion to get here...

Trollin' trollin' trollin', keep those Russkies trollin'

Researchers at Clemson University, working with 538.org, identified 3 million tweets from 2,800 Twitter handles belonging to Russian trolls:

“We identified five categories of IRA-associated Twitter handles, each with unique patterns of behaviors: Right Troll, Left Troll, News Feed, Hashtag Gamer, and Fearmonger. With the exception of the Fearmonger category, handles were consistent and did not switch between categories.”

The five types:

  • Right Troll: These Trump-supporting trolls voiced right-leaning, populist messages, but “rarely broadcast traditionally important Republican themes, such as taxes, abortion, and regulation, but often sent divisive messages about mainstream and moderate Republicans…They routinely denigrated the Democratic Party, e.g. @LeroyLovesUSA, January 20, 2017, “#ThanksObama We're FINALLY evicting Obama. Now Donald Trump will bring back jobs for the lazy ass Obamacare recipients,” the authors wrote.
  • Left Troll: These trolls mainly supported Bernie Sanders, derided mainstream Democrats, and focused heavily on racial identity, in addition to sexual and religious identity. The tweets were “clearly trying to divide the Democratic Party and lower voter turnout,” the authors told FiveThirtyEight.
  • News Feed: A bit more mysterious, news feed trolls mostly posed as local news aggregators who linked to legitimate news sources. Some, however, “tweeted about global issues, often with a pro-Russia perspective.”
  • Hashtag Gamer: Gamer trolls used hashtag games—a popular call/response form of tweeting—to drum up interaction from other users. Some tweets were benign, but many “were overtly political, e.g. @LoraGreeen, July 11, 2015, “#WasteAMillionIn3Words Donate to #Hillary.”
  • Fearmonger: These trolls, who were least prevalent in the dataset, spread completely fake news stories, for instance “that salmonella-contaminated turkeys were produced by Koch Foods, a U.S. poultry producer, near the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday.”

Will learning that Russian trolls' "mission was to divide Americans along political and sociocultural lines, and to sow discord within the two major political parties" help people call bullshit on trolling tweets and posts? Probably not. But a guy can dream.

Another look at Hiroshima

Yesterday was the 73rd anniversary of our nuclear attack on Hiroshima, Japan. On the event's 50th anniversary, The Atlantic asked, "Was it right?"

I imagine that the persistence of that question irritated Harry Truman above all other things. The atomic bombs that destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fifty years ago were followed in a matter of days by the complete surrender of the Japanese empire and military forces, with only the barest fig leaf of a condition—an American promise not to molest the Emperor. What more could one ask from an act of war? But the two bombs each killed at least 50,000 people and perhaps as many as 100,000. Numerous attempts have been made to estimate the death toll, counting not only those who died on the first day and over the following week or two but also the thousands who died later of cancers thought to have been caused by radiation. The exact number of dead can never be known, because whole families—indeed, whole districts—were wiped out by the bombs; because the war had created a floating population of refugees throughout Japan; because certain categories of victims, such as conscript workers from Korea, were excluded from estimates by Japanese authorities; and because as time went by, it became harder to know which deaths had indeed been caused by the bombs. However many died, the victims were overwhelming civilians, primarily the old, the young, and women; and all the belligerents formally took the position that the killing of civilians violated both the laws of war and common precepts of humanity. Truman shared this reluctance to be thought a killer of civilians. Two weeks before Hiroshima he wrote of the bomb in his diary, "I have told [the Secretary of War] Mr. Stimson to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. … " The first reports on August 6, 1945, accordingly described Hiroshima as a Japanese army base.

This fiction could not stand for long. The huge death toll of ordinary Japanese citizens, combined with the horror of so many deaths by fire, eventually cast a moral shadow over the triumph of ending the war with two bombs.

It's a sobering essay. It's also a good argument, indirectly, in favor of making sure nuclear weapons are never used again.

Late afternoon reading

When I get home tonight, I'll need to read these (and so should you):

And now, I'm off to the Art Institute.

Forgetting the "forgotten men"

Greg Sargent points out how President Trump's latest tweetstorm shows his utter contempt for the voters who elected him:

The campaign story Trump told about self-enriching globalist elites was that they have employed permissive immigration and misguided or corrupt trade policies to subject U.S. workers to debilitating labor competition from border-crossing migrants and slave-wage workers in China. Trump supplemented this economic nationalism with vows to make wealthy investors pay more, secure huge job-creating infrastructure expenditures and protect social insurance — thus promising a broad, dramatic ideological break with the GOP.

All that’s left of this vision, of course, is Trump’s draconian immigration crackdown, which is spreading terror and misery in immigrant communities, and Trump’s trade war, which is threatening to upend complex global supply chains and is badly rattling our international alliances. On everything else, Trump threw in with traditional GOP plutocratic priorities: He has done all he can to gut consumer, financial and environmental regulations; his tax plan lavished huge, regressive benefits on the wealthy; his infrastructure plan vanished; and his vow to replace Obamacare with better coverage “for everybody” morphed into a failed effort to cut health insurance for millions (to facilitate tax cuts for the wealthy).

Now Trump is mulling yet another plan to cut taxes by $100 billion mainly on the rich...

Yep. Trump's plan isn't even economic nationalism, Sargent adds. It's just xenophobic nationalism. The only good news here is that even people who voted for him in 2016 have had enough.

Mapping the 2016 election

The New York Times has published an interactive map showing the 2016 presidential election results at the precinct level. Generally, precincts are the smallest unit of reporting electoral data, often with just a few hundred people in them. My precinct, for example, has just over 1,000 residents and occupies less than 6 hectares.

A companion article breaks down how most of the precincts overwhelmingly went to one or the other candidate. Mine, for example, had 613 votes for Hillary Clinton and just 40 for Donald Trump. (And I'm wondering who the 40 could possibly be.)

The map we published also offers two bits of additional context to help you think about the 2016 vote.

First, we give you a measure of how the area around a precinct compares with other areas. That measure is based on the choices of the nearest 100,000 voters, as well as those within a 10-mile radius.

Second, we tell you how long it would take you to drive, without traffic, to the nearest precinct that voted for the other candidate of a major party. By these measures, for example, the area around the Times headquarters in Manhattan had a higher share of Clinton voters than 96 percent of the country, and the nearest Trump precinct, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is a 36-minute drive away.

It's total Daily Parker bait, of course.

The intensifying battle against voting

The Republican Party has been stepping up its program of voter suppression in an increasingly-desperate effort to remain in power despite being in the minority. Having hitched its wagon to the older, whiter (i.e., diminishing) part of the electorate, they have few other options, since their policies offend and repel most of the country.

Josh Marshall and TPM Media have started a 10-part series looking at this problem, just as New Republic reports that more voters are being purged from registration rolls than any time in the past decade. Marshall:

In many ways, today’s battles over voter ID, felon disenfranchisement, gerrymandering and more are simply a continuation of a struggle that has been going for more than two centuries, with a clear line of continuity stretching through the battle for voting rights in the Civil Rights Era South. But there are key differences between past battles and those today, ones we can now see coming to the fore in the last years of the 20th century. Restrictions on voting have long been most effective against the young, racial minorities and the poor — constituencies that, increasingly over the last few decades, have voted for Democrats.

[C]hanging demographics created a simple and stark reality. Whereas attacks on voting rights did not used to clearly advantage one party over another, now voting restrictionism clearly advantaged Republicans and disadvantaged Democrats. The 2000 election with its tight margins and county officials peering at dangling chads through magnifying glasses focused Republicans on the importance of every single vote and more ominously how small shifts in the shape of the electorate could have dramatic results. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Republican politics was filled with a growing chorus of claims of “voter fraud,” usually focusing on minority and youth voting, and the need to crack down on voter fraud with new security measures (voter roll purges and voter ID) and increased prosecutions.

The series we are beginning today is made up of ten articles. They will include historical perspective, as well as extensive reporting on the current moment and policy prescriptions for advancing and securing voting rights against a tide that appears everywhere to be flowing against them. We will have pieces on felon disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, history going back to the 19th century and up through recent decades, voter ID laws, automatic voter registration along with numerous related issues. We will also have reporters in the field covering events as they unfold over the next five months. Our goal is to survey the full breadth of this critical topic, examining the history, the current range of threats and opportunities and, to the extent possible, helping readers understand the scope of the issue, its importance and avenues for positive change over the coming years.

The Daily Parker will be following this series with great interest.

It can't happen here

I've been reading a novel written in 1935 that, except for its contemporary cultural references, could have been written in 2015. Or, heaven forfend!, 2020.

I can't recommend Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here enough. Donald Trump isn't exactly Buzz Windrip, but he's too close for comfort. 

The problem, of course, is that authoritarian demagogues follow a script, and if you've read that script, you know the ending. Worse, you know the chapters between here and there. Lewis's wife, Dorothy Thompson, covered Germany as a journalist in the early 1930s. In that decade, Americans worried more than we do today about fascism—even without knowing the truth about Nazism's final solution.

The novel has different pacing and dialogue than modern audiences might prefer. The protagonist also sounds a bit preachy. And don't get me started with the casual sexism of Lewis's worldview. But he was prescient. And he showed how, exactly, it could happen here.

The events of the last three years do too. Let's hope our institutions survive.

Another slice of Occam's Razor

Andrew Sullivan doesn't think we need to dig too deeply into President Trump's dealings to understand why he behaves the way he does:

The lies come and go. But his deeper convictions really are in plain sight.

And they are, at root, the same as those of the strongmen he associates with and most admires. The post-1945 attempt to organize the world around collective security, free trade, open societies, non-zero-sum diplomacy, and multicultural democracies is therefore close to unintelligible to him. Why on earth, in his mind, would a victorious power after a world war be … generous to its defeated foes? When you win, you don’t hold out a hand in enlightened self-interest. You gloat and stomp. In Trump’s zero-sum brain — “we should have kept the oil!” — it makes no sense. It has to be a con. And so today’s international order strikes Trump, and always has, as a massive, historic error on the part of the United States.

He always hated it, and he never understood it. That kind of complex, interdependent world requires virtues he doesn’t have and skills he doesn’t possess. He wants a world he intuitively understands: of individual nations, in which the most powerful are free to bully the others. He wants an end to transnational migration, especially from south to north. It unnerves him. He believes that warfare should be engaged not to defend the collective peace as a last resort but to plunder and occupy and threaten. He sees no moral difference between free and authoritarian societies, just a difference of “strength,” in which free societies, in his mind, are the weaker ones. He sees nations as ethno-states, exercising hard power, rather than liberal societies, governed by international codes of conduct. He believes in diplomacy as the meeting of strongmen in secret, doing deals, in alpha displays of strength — not endless bullshit sessions at multilateral summits. He’s the kind of person who thinks that the mafia boss at the back table is the coolest guy in the room.

All of this has been clear from the start. So while the Mueller probe may continue to uncover massive criminal activity all around Trump, it may never find true collusion with Russia. But the probe is still necessary, because (a) there really is criminal behavior there and (b) it can preserve the West that much longer.

But we simply must take the House back this November, and send Trump packing in 2020. Otherwise the world will become a much worse place very soon.

A "sad, embarrassing wreck of a man"

That's how lifelong Republican George Will describes his party's leader:

Americans elected a president who — this is a safe surmise — knew that he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

The explanation is in doubt; what needs to be explained — his compliance — is not. Granted, Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

Kathleen Parker says "a cancer lives among us:"

Sure, he’s rude and crude, they’ve said, but he’s going to make America great again.

No, he’s not.

Nor was he ever, notwithstanding a column I wrote just before Election Day, saying that America would survive no matter who won. My optimism was based solely on faith in the U.S. Constitution and the inherent checks and balances prescribed therein. To be wrong would mean that the checks aren’t being applied when imbalances occur.

We are there.

When our chief executive, whose principal job is to defend both the Constitution and the nation against aggressors, stands alongside our chief geopolitical foe and betrays two of our most important institutions in the service of his own ego, he has dimmed the lights in the shining city on a hill and left the world a far darker place.

It’s often said that America is great because America is good. My faith in the institutions and the individuals who conferred upon us a singular role in the history of humankind is yet unshaken. But a cancer lives among us, and the good people of this country must be precise in its excision.

Those are Republicans. Democratic Party members haven't been so kind.