The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Labour's Love Lost

Seven Labour MPs quit the party today, accusing the party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, of anti-Semitism and mishandling Brexit:

At a morning news conference, Parliament member Luciana Berger said she had become “embarrassed” and “ashamed” of the Labour Party, which she said was “institutionally anti-Semitic.” Berger, who is Jewish, added she was leaving behind a culture of “bullying, bigotry and intimidation.”

Chris Leslie, another breakaway lawmaker, said the party had been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left” and that Labour’s “betrayal on Europe was visible for all to see.” While many Labour party members support a second referendum on whether to leave the European Union, Corbyn has been cold to the idea of a do-over.

Leslie said, however, that “our differences go far deeper than Brexit” — revealing the depth of antipathy to the 69-year-old Corbyn, whose self-described “radical” agenda for Britain energized new and young voters in the last election, but has alienated the center of the party.

“The last three years have confirmed how irresponsible it would be to allow this leader of the opposition to take the office of prime minister of the United Kingdom. Many people still in the Labour Party will privately admit this to be true,” Leslie said.

The Guardian, generally a Labour-supporting newspaper, has more:

In the short term the group has one central task – to convince 29 more disgruntled MPs from any party colour to join their group. That would give them official third party status – overtaking the SNP and access not just to more short money but also a prized guaranteed slot for the group’s leader at every PMQs, replacing the SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford.

The group will meet later this week to decide how to structure their group – which could involve a process for selecting a leader. Much of the future will depend how many more MPs join them.

At the moment, all members of the new grouping are supporters of a second referendum. Yet sources suggested this would not necessarily be a prerequisite forever. Members of the group would hardly admit it in public, but there may come a point in the next few months when it becomes apparent that that campaign has failed and the group’s aims for the next phase of Brexit become more flexible.

This really is an interesting period for the West. Fifty years from now it will be a lot clearer whether the 2010s represented the beginning of a realignment in Western politics, or just a scream of frustration from people who feel left out. Right now, though, it feels a little chaotic, and it's a gift to those, like the Russian and Chinese governments, who have always wanted to discredit our political philosophy.

Lunchtime reading

I had these lined up to read at lunchtime:

Meanwhile, for only the second time in four weeks, we can see sun outside the office windows:

We've already seen what happens when the UK leaves abruptly

Author Pankaj Mishra thinks Brexit may be comeuppance for the British ruling class. Exhibit 1: Indian Partition:

Describing Britain’s calamitous exit from its Indian empire in 1947, the novelist Paul Scott wrote that in India the British “came to the end of themselves as they were” — that is, to the end of their exalted idea about themselves. Scott was among those shocked by how hastily and ruthlessly the British, who had ruled India for more than a century, condemned it to fragmentation and anarchy; how Louis Mountbatten, accurately described by the right-wing historian Andrew Roberts as a “mendacious, intellectually limited hustler,” came to preside, as the last British viceroy of India, over the destiny of some 400 million people.

Britain’s rupture with the European Union is proving to be another act of moral dereliction by the country’s rulers. The Brexiteers, pursuing a fantasy of imperial-era strength and self-sufficiency, have repeatedly revealed their hubris, mulishness and ineptitude over the past two years. Though originally a “Remainer,” Prime Minister Theresa May has matched their arrogant obduracy, imposing a patently unworkable timetable of two years on Brexit and laying down red lines that undermined negotiations with Brussels and doomed her deal to resoundingly bipartisan rejection this week in Parliament.

Mountbatten, derided as “Master of Disaster” in British naval circles, was a representative member of a small group of upper- and middle-class British men from which the imperial masters of Asia and Africa were recruited. Abysmally equipped for their immense responsibilities, they were nevertheless allowed by Britain’s brute imperial power to blunder through the world — a “world of whose richness and subtlety,” as E.M. Forster wrote in “Notes on the English Character,” they could “have no conception.”

From David Cameron, who recklessly gambled his country’s future on a referendum in order to isolate some whingers in his Conservative party, to the opportunistic Boris Johnson, who jumped on the Brexit bandwagon to secure the prime ministerial chair once warmed by his role model Winston Churchill, and the top-hatted, theatrically retro Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose fund management company has set up an office within the European Union even as he vehemently scorns it, the British political class has offered to the world an astounding spectacle of mendacious, intellectually limited hustlers.

And yet, here we are, 10 weeks from Brexit with no plan and no likelihood of one. I hope on Her Majesty's petticoats that they hold another referendum and stop this from happening.

Warmest oceans ever

The planet's oceans have absorbed most of the extra heat greenhouse gases have prevented leaving the atmosphere, with consequences:

“2018 is going to be the warmest year on record for the Earth’s oceans,” said Zeke Hausfather, an energy systems analyst at the independent climate research group Berkeley Earth and an author of the study. “As 2017 was the warmest year, and 2016 was the warmest year.”

But the surging water temperatures are already killing off marine ecosystems, raising sea levels and making hurricanes more destructive.

As the oceans continue to heat up, those effects will become more catastrophic, scientists say. Rainier, more powerful storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Florence in 2018 will become more common, and coastlines around the world will flood more frequently. Coral reefs, whose fish populations are sources of food for hundreds of millions of people, will come under increasing stress; a fifth of all corals have already died in the past three years.

People in the tropics, who rely heavily on fish for protein, could be hard hit, said Kathryn Matthews, deputy chief scientist for the conservation group Oceana. “The actual ability of the warm oceans to produce food is much lower, so that means they’re going to be more quickly approaching food insecurity,” she said.

And still the leaders of the world's biggest economies deny this is happening.

Correlation is not causation

American diplomats injured in Cuba in 2016 reported hearing strange noises before their symptoms set in. Apparently they heard crickets:

[W]hen the biologist Alexander Stubbs heard a recording, uploaded by the Associated Press, he heard not mechanical bugs, but biological ones. He realized that the noise sounded like the insects he used to hear while doing fieldwork in the Caribbean.

Together with Fernando Montealegre-Z, an expert on entomological acoustics, Stubbs scoured an online database of insect recordings. As first reported by Carl Zimmer in The New York Times, they found that one species—the Indies short-tailed cricket—makes a call that’s indistinguishable from the enigmatic Cuban recording. The duo have written a paper that describes their findings and are set to submit it to a journal for formal peer review.

That's interesting, but not the point. There was some speculation that the diplomats' injuries came from a microwave weapon, but that hypothesis didn't hold up. Last month, some evidence appeared that it may have been a sonic weapon after all. But probably not crickets.

Mattis resigns

As someone joked after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned yesterday, "we have to worry when the grown-up in the room is nicknamed 'Mad Dog.'" His resignation letter doesn't seem that mad:

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO's 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model - gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions - to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Interesting times. And to the reason that Mattis has resigned (a disagreement with the president over pulling out of Syria), Josh Marshall rightly points out that if we don't know why the president is doing something, that's a problem in itself:

This most basic level of transparency – knowing roughly the reasons why the government is doing the things its doing – is something Americans have mostly been able to take for granted. But today we can’t. And that has knock-on effects down the line of democratic self-government and accountability. If we don’t know why things are happening, whether they’re happening for plausible policy reasons or because of pay-offs or extortion or whims, we can’t properly react to them. We can’t properly understand what is happening with no clear idea why it is happening. We lack the basic information around which political groupings properly react to those in power, supporting the government’s actions or opposing them. It generates a climate of profound uncertainty and civic paralysis.

Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is exactly what Russia and China want. We really are in an upside-down world, when Democrats are worried about our adversaries and Republicans don't care.

Pas de Bourbon pour l'Europe

Craft distillers in the U.S., like home-town FEW Spirits, are getting creamed by the European Union's retaliatory tariffs:

Following the European Union's June implementation of a 25 percent tariff on bourbon, the popular U.S. whiskey variety, the impact has been clear. One American producer said his exports have "dropped to zero" as a result. Last year, they made up 15 percent of revenue.

"Every U.K. buyer backed off," said Paul Hletko, the owner of Evanston-based Few Spirits. "They may want to buy it, but if they can't sell it at the right price, that's not doing us any favors."

Small distillers cite the drought as proof their fears of a global trade war are coming to fruition. Europe had been blossoming as a source of new revenue — but this market has been effectively cut off for producers that lack the clout or brand recognition of titans like Brown-Forman and Diageo. Now they've been sent back to square one.

Remember: we didn't want these tariffs, we didn't need the tariffs that prompted them, and we are all (European and American alike) suffering because of them. So why did the president start this fight? Does he even know?

President Trump does not put "America first"

Greg Sargent points out the obvious reality of who the president is really looking out for:

The suggestion here is that we are now seeing what “America first” really looks like. That is, when Trump says “America first,” he means it.

But this concedes too much. In an inadvertent but pernicious way, it supports Trump’s preferred framing of his presidency. In this case and many others, Trump is not being “frank” about his real priorities, and he is not putting America first. He’s putting his own naked self-interest over what’s good for America, and prioritizing the real-world policy realization of his own prejudices over any good-faith, fact-based effort to determine, by any discernible standard, what might actually be in the country’s interests.

But I’d like to take this further and point out that here Trump is not actually operating from any meaningful conception of what is good for the country. It isn’t just those lies [about our relationship with Saudi Arabia]. It’s also Trump’s insistence that we’ll never know whether the crown prince actually ordered the killing, which breaks from the intelligence community’s conclusion, and the subtle slandering of Khashoggi via the floating of the Saudi claim that he was an “enemy of the state.”

Again, this has been obvious for years. Decades, even. As Michelle Goldberg writes in today's Times, Trump's entire presidency is based on a con.

And the House of Representatives can start dismantling that con in just six weeks.

But where are the elephants?

Journalist Kelly Weill, writing for the Daily Beast, went to a flat-earth convention:

Thousands of years after ancient Greeks began referencing Earth as a sphere in mathematical proofs, people who believe in a flat Earth have become a movement. They’ve found their voice in the disinformation age, fueled by YouTube videos. For true believers, it’s more than just a conspiracy theory. It’s whole world view, a level plane onto which hucksters, trolls, and Christian fundamentalists can insert their own ideologies.

In an age of rising conspiracy theories—voter fraudQAnonanti-vaxxerschemtrails—Flat Earth might be the most foundational conspiracy theory of them all.

Religious conspiracy (some people I speak to at the conference accuse the Freemasons, not the Jews of covering up Flat Earth) and political uncertainty go hand in hand. Embittered by Germany’s loss in World War I, fascists falsely accused the country’s Jews of “stabbing Germany in the back” during the war. The conspiracy theory contributed to the Holocaust under Nazi rule. The ongoing genocide of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, during a period of political strife has been fueled by a dramatic increase in anti-Rohingya hate speech and conspiracy on Facebook. In a period of political unrest in America, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and subsequent murders of Jews are on the rise.

When the entire world feels uncertain, it’s no wonder people look for an easy culprit. Flat Earthers say the planet is a stationary disk that does not rotate or orbit the sun. But I speak to enough to suspect they still feel off-balance in the world.

I probably don't have to convince any regular readers of this blog of the (mostly) spherical shape of our home. But I have seen proof with my own eyes, and posted it here previously:

That is the shadow of the earth stretching straight out into space as the earth itself curves away under it. You, too, can see this any time you fly across the terminator, as thousands of people do daily.

Meanwhile, with a modern-day Know-Nothing party in control of our government, it seems almost natural that so many people would reject the only possible explanation for so many readily-observable phenomena in favor of something so insane it took a fantasy writer to describe it comprehensively. All hail the Great A'Tuin!

Where are the feminists for May?

Why is a white, gay, male, naturalized American the only journalist I have come across saying Theresa May deserves a lot more credit for persisting in the face of unrelenting male hostility? Sullivan:

I don’t know how else to describe Theresa May’s grueling slog toward the least worst Brexit possible.

The awkward prime minister is still standing upright, though maybe not for much longer. In this respect, I’m surprised more feminists haven’t come to May’s defense. May’s bourgeois Toryism, like Margaret Thatcher’s, doubtless disqualifies her from any respect from the left. But her tenacity in the midst of male obloquy is emblematic of many themes American feminists focus on.

May, after all, is taking responsibility while her male colleagues posture and preen and complain or resign; she gets almost no credit for negotiating one of the more complex international deals in British history for two demoralizing years; she works harder than anyone else in her government; and the deal she has struck is almost certainly the only one the E.U. will ever accept. A woman, in other words, got the toughest job in government in decades, did the best that could be done, has been pilloried for it, but still plowed on, and even now, won’t surrender. Her pragmatism and resilience — along with remarkably good cheer in public — are a wonder to behold. I guess May’s feminism, like Thatcher’s, requires no labeling.

Yes. Brexit is pathologically stupid; yet May has to make it work. She'll probably be out of office by March, of course, leaving the hard work up to someone who hasn't got the tools to get it done. Oh, England.