The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Daily Parker bait, times 3

Of course I'm going to blog about these three articles.

First, former George W. Bush speechwriter and lifelong Republican Michael Gerson looks at the culture of celebrity that surrounds the President and says "our republic will never be the same:"

The founders generally believed that the survival and success of a republic required leaders and citizens with certain virtues: moderation, self-restraint and concern for the common good. They were convinced that respect for a moral order made ordered liberty possible.

The culture of celebrity is the complete negation of this approach to politics. It represents a kind of corrupt, decaying capitalism in which wealth is measured in exposure. It elevates appearance over accomplishment. Because rivalries and feuds are essential to the story line, it encourages theatrical bitterness. Instead of pursuing a policy vision, the first calling of the celebrity is to maintain a brand.

Is the skill set of the celebrity suited to the reality of governing? On the evidence, not really.

Second, Crain's business columnist Joe Cahill calls out Eddie Lampert's offer to buy Kenmore for $400m as a call to put Sears into hospice care:

There's plenty to worry about in the latest letter from Lampert's ESL Investments. First, Lampert is offering just $400 million for Kenmore, supposedly the company's crown jewel. When he first floated the idea of buying the household appliance brand in April, estimates pegged the likely selling price at $500 million or more. Maybe the lower bid is intended to elicit higher offers from potential third-party acquirers. Or it may signal that nobody else is interested and ESL is angling for a bargain.

Second, the offer is both nonbinding and contingent on ESL finding a third-party equity backer to finance the purchase. The letter says ESL is "confident" it can find such a backer. In other words, billionaire Lampert isn't willing to risk his own money buying Kenmore. This is consistent with his recent reluctance to raise his bet on Sears Holdings as a whole. As I've written before, he could easily take the company private—at the current market capitalization, the 46 percent he doesn't already own would cost less than $100 million—and capture the full upside of a turnaround. He's shown no interest in doing so.

And finally, on a happier note, the Chicago Tribune lists eight bars where people can go to read:

After living in the United Kingdom, freelance book publicist Jonathan Maunder turned to Chicago’s literary greats to connect to his adopted city. He remembered a night last year visiting Rainbo Club, the bar favored by “Chicago, City on the Make” author Nelson Algren.

“As I stepped out of the bar, a little drunk on both a couple of pints and Algren’s beautiful writing, I stood for a moment under the red neon of the Rainbo Club sign, which was reflected on the just rained on street, and felt a powerful connection to the place I was in and its history,” he said.

[He recommends] Kopi, A Traveler’s Cafe
5317 N. Clark St., 773-989-5674

A friendly, relaxed cafe/bar, which always has people and a good atmosphere (and sometimes accordion players) but never feels overly busy and hectic, in a way that might be distracting from reading.

Given that Kopi is a 20-minute walk from my house, I may just stop in this weekend.

I was a little bummed that the Duke of Perth didn't make the list, though.

Hard to know for sure

Jennifer Rubin believes she's found President Trump's stupidest Tweet ever:

President Trump has issued shameful tweets, offensive tweets and self-serving tweets. Rarely, however, has he sent out a tweet that better conveys his abject ignorance about the country and economics than the tweet he posted Wednesday:

No, no, no.

Our country was founded on a principle Trump often seems unacquainted with: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

[T]he notion that other countries are stealing our wealth is wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. We send dollars to foreign exporters, who in turn invest in America and hire our workers. They are making the United States richer.

Trump doesn't really care about all that, because if he can keep enough people believing that free trade is the problem, rather than Republican policies that transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, then he and his cronies can continue looting the populace.

As Aaron Sorkin once wrote,

Meant to post yesterday

Four articles I read late in the day and wanted to spike here:

And now, I will start working.

Why all the optimism?

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, watching the Manafort trial unfold, wonders why anyone thinks our institutions are up to the challenge of stopping the Trump organization:

America’s federal institutions are not the only ones designed to prevent someone like Trump from undermining the Constitution. We have other kinds of institutions, too — legal organs, regulatory bodies, banks — that are supposed to prevent men like Trump from staying in business, let alone acquiring political power. The truth is that many of these equally important American institutions failed a long time ago. Trump is not the cause of their failure. He is the result.

Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, Trump employed 200 illegal Polish workers to destroy the Bonwit Teller department store, a historic building on Fifth Avenue, to make way for what would become Trump Tower. The men earned half the union wage and worked 12-hour shifts without hard hats; at one point, their contractor stopped paying them. Eventually they sued. In 1998, Trump paid $1.375 million to settle the case.

Trump broke immigration law and employment law, and he violated union rules, too. Yet neither immigration authorities nor employment regulators nor union bosses put him out of business. Why not? Why were the terms of that settlement kept confidential? Why, with his track record, was he allowed to get a casino license? Building permits? Wall Street banks did, it is true, stop lending to him. But when he began looking abroad for cash — doing extremely dodgy deals in Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example — no one stopped him.

She's right. A country with functioning legal institutions would have stopped this guy long ago. The Russian government has had so much success undermining our faith in democracy because we'd already eroded it ourselves.

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.

Deadly heatwave in Iberia

Temperatures in southern Portugal and Spain have reached 45°C as dust from the Sahara turns skies orange:

In the latest phase of a summer of extreme weather that has brought blistering heat to Britaindrought to the Netherlands and deadly wildfires to Greece, the heatwave affecting parts of southern Europe has reached a new intensity this weekend. According to IPMA, the Portuguese weather agency, about a third of the country’s meteorological stations broke temperature records on Saturday. The highest was 46.4°C in Alvega, 120km from Lisbon.

In the southern Algarve, more than 700 firefighters battled a forest fire that had spread across 1,000 hectares near the town of Monchique; in the capital, Lisbon, the usually busy terrace cafes of the Chiado district were quiet as people stayed indoors. And in Amareleja, a sleepy town as famous for its hot summers as for its full-bodied red wines, the large outdoor thermometer at the Farmácia Portugal read 44.5°C just after midday. Petrol station attendant Joaquim, however, was not fazed: the past couple of days had been abnormal, he said, but locals were “used to the heat and know how to adapt”.

The high temperatures in Portugal and Spain are caused by a plume of warm air from the Sahara, which yesterday turned the sky an eerie orange in places, including above Amareleja.

Meanwhile, the best President we have right now is trying to tank fuel-economy standards for cars.

Hot pants in the White House

Hot, as in "on fire." The Washington Post has found that the President has made more than 4,200 false or misleading claims since taking office, half of them in the last six months. Moreover:

On July 5, the president reached a new daily high of 79 false and misleading claims. On a monthly basis, June and July rank in first and second place, with 532 and 446 claims, respectively.

Trump has a proclivity to repeat, over and over, many of his false or misleading statements. We’ve counted nearly 150 claims that the president has repeated at least three times, some with breathtaking frequency.

Almost one third of Trump’s claims — 1,293 — relate to economic issues, trade deals or jobs. He frequently takes credit for jobs created before he became president or company decisions with which he had no role. He cites his “incredible success” in terms of job growth, even though annual job growth under his presidency has been slower than the last five years of Barack Obama’s term.

On the other hand, this is the one category in which Trump truly is the best in class. Everyone has his talents, I suppose.

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.