The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The nihilism of the GOP

Writing for New Republic, Garret Keizer argues that nihilism, not racism or anger at elites, really drives Trump voters:

A nihilist is someone who dedicates himself to not giving a shit, who thinks all meanings are shit, and who yearns with all his heart for the “aesthetic pleasure” of seeing the shit hit the fan. Arguing with a nihilist is like intimidating a suicide bomber: The usual threats and enticement have no effect. I suspect that is part of the appeal for both: the facile transcendence of placing oneself beyond all powers of persuasion. A nihilist is above you and your persnickety arguments in the same way that Trump fancies himself above the law.

[I]t’s probably a mistake to view nihilism as “an explanation apart” from the common analyses of the Trump phenomenon. Economic dispossession and virulent racism stand in relation to nihilism not as alternative theories but as reciprocal causes and effects. In other words, all three flourish in a moral vacuum.

A sense of radical incredulity, spectacularly typified by Trump’s refusal to believe his own intelligence services, is but one manifestation of the nihilism that brought him to power. What makes him “the real deal” in the eyes of his most ardent admirers is largely his insistence that almost everything else is fake. Like him, they know that the news is fake, the melting ice caps are fake, the purported citizenship of certain voters is fake, science is fake, social justice is fake, the whole notion of truth is fake. Whatever isn’t fake is so relative that it might as well be fake; “true for you,” maybe, but that’s as far as it goes. Among those who call themselves “believers” and are thus at least technically not nihilists, one frequently finds an obsession with apocalypse, a gleeful anticipation of the living end that will destroy the inherent fakery of all things. The social teachings of the Gospels need not trouble the Christian conscience so long as the troubles predicted in Revelation come to pass.

Another pertinent factor is envy, a basic human emotion that rising social inequality can only exacerbate. To put it in cruder terms: “The world sucks for me, so I am going to make it suck for you too. I have lost my job, my status as a white male, and may even lose my gun. So you, my smug, privileged friend, are going to lose your civil liberties, your faith in social progress, your endangered species, your affirmative action, your reproductive freedom, your international alliances, your ‘wonderful’ exchange student from Syria.” The rationale is probably not too distant from that of the jealous husband who shoots his wife, her lover, and himself. Enjoying ourselves, are we? We will enjoy nothing!—which is to say, we will enjoy the only thing a nihilist can enjoy.

It's a slightly depressing essay, but probably accurate. Sigh.

Serious national-security risk

Worse than the president's unsecured iPhone are the obvious but undisclosed conflicts of interest in his family. Add the unelected, unconfirmed Jared Kushner on top and we've got serious problems:

Senior adviser Jared Kushner was the one who pushed a Saudi-centric policy. One can easily see why. In the crown prince Kushner no doubt saw a kindred spirit — a young sophisticate living in his family’s shadow who had great potential to transform the region. He (Kushner) and the actual crown prince, MBS, were a match made in heaven, although hardly an even match. Kushner seemed to ingest every foolish idea about the Middle East (“the conflict between Arabs and Israelis was essentially a real-estate problem, a deal to be worked out”) and, like his father-in-law, fell prey to the flattery of whomever he faced at the moment. MBS convinced Kushner that making the Saudis the Trump administration’s surrogate would work out for both.

The irony is that conservatives with varying degrees of justification accused the Obama team of not driving hard enough bargains on foreign policy. The Trump-Kushner team, however, has done one better (worse?) — giving our worst foes a pass on egregious human rights violations and allowing our allies to run wild. This comes from the president who is always accusing our allies of taking advantage of us. Well, now they are, and what does Trump intend to do about it?

Putting together a viable policy while simultaneously trying to avoid U.S. commitments to the region won’t be easy. His effort to peddle minimalist sanctions is unlikely to work — and judging from his willingness to dump the problem into Congress’s lap, the White House knows it. The Saudis will not escape unscathed if Congress has its way, and the young menace, the callow heir, who has arguably made the Middle East more unstable and less amenable to U.S. leadership, should go. And MBS should go as well.

Both families need to go in their entireties. Unfortunately we're stuck with ours for the next 818 days.

Dog bites man, Sears edition

The Chicago Tribune points out that Sears' $5 bn in losses could actually help the guy who killed it, Eddie Lampert:

As of the retailer's bankruptcy on Oct. 15, Sears estimated it had net operating losses it could use to offset $5 billion of future taxable income, and separate tax credits of around $900 million. These are the most valuable assets Sears has, and under U.S. tax law, they could disappear in bankruptcy if another company or investor takes the company over.

When a company has accumulated net operating losses, it can use them to offset future taxable income, which in turn cuts into its tax bills. The rule is meant to give struggling companies more breathing room. That means big benefits on the balance sheet. For example, Sears saved $1.7 billion in deferred taxes in 2017, according to its most recent quarterly filing.

While a sale in bankruptcy would often mean a change in control, meaning that such tax benefits are lost, Lampert's stock and debt stakes would help him avoid that. Lampert and his hedge fund ESL Investments Inc., together own about 49 percent of Sears shares, and are among Sears's biggest creditors, having extended it $2.66 billion in debt through various loans.

Creditors who have held debt for 18 months before the filing and whose debt rose in the ordinary course of Sears's business are "qualified creditors" who can thus avoid losing the tax assets even if there's a shift in control towards them.

He profits from destroying the company. Ain't America grand?

What to do while waiting for tonight's deployment

We have a deployment at work tonight at 5pm (because in financial firms, you always deploy at 5pm on Friday). Fortunately, we've already done a full test, so we're looking forward to a pretty boring deployment tonight.

Fortunately, we have the Internet, which has provided me with all of these things to read:

Back to planning for next week's post-deployment fixes.

Links before packing resumes

I'm about to go home to take Parker to the vet (he's getting two stitches out after she removed a fatty cyst from his eyelid), and then to resume panicking packing. I might have time to read these three articles:

Moving tomorrow. I just want this to be over...

Other things I'm reading

If the Kanye West–Donald Trump crazyfest didn't do it for you, there are plenty of other things to take a look at this lunchtime:

That's all for now. Enough crazy for one Friday.

How to out-crazy the President while in the Oval Office

I just read through the complete, official transcript of Kanye West's meeting with President Trump yesterday, and...wow. That man has some serious untreated mental illness and should seek help.

I know, that sentence was ambiguous, because "that man" could refer to either Trump or West, but in this case I thought West came across as the less coherent. Sample:

MR. WEST:  We have a good — and the thing is, let’s stop worrying about the future.  All we really have is today.  We just have today.  Over and over and over again, the eternal return.  The hero’s journey.  And Trump is on his hero’s journey right now.  And he might not have expected to have a crazy motherfucker like Kanye West run up and support, but best believe we are going to make America great.

And, earlier:

There’s a lot of things affecting our mental health that makes us do crazy things that puts us back into that trap door called the 13th Amendment.

I did say “abolish” with the hat on.  Because why would you keep something around that’s a trap door?  If you’re building a floor — the Constitution is the base of our industry, right?  Of our country, of our company.  Would you build a trap door that if you mess up and you — accidentally something happens, you fall and you end up next to the Unabomber?  You end up — you got to remove all that trap door out of the relationship.

The four gentlemen that wrote the 13th Amendment — and I think the way the universe works, it’s perfect.  We don’t have 13 floors, do we?  You know, so the four — the four gentlemen that wrote the 13th Amendment didn’t look like the people they were amending.  Also at that point, it was illegal for blacks to read — or African Americans to read.  And so that meant if you actually read the Amendment, you would get locked up and turned into a slave.

What is all that? Word salad? Dog-whistle quodlibet?

Here's the pool video from NBC; judge for yourself:

What we can really expect from climate change

Washington Post political reporter Philip Bump lays it out:

[T]he effects of the increased heat are much broader than simply higher temperatures. In an effort to delineate what scientists expect to see as the world warms, I spoke with Alex Halliday, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Direct effects of higher temperatures

Increased health risks. One of the most immediate effects of higher temperatures is an increased threat of health risks such as heat stroke. As noted above, this is probably the most easily understood risk.

Drought. There will be more droughts. For one thing, higher temperatures will lead to faster evaporation of surface water. For another, they will mean less snowfall, as precipitation will be more likely to fall as rain. In some regions, like much of the Southwest, flows of water through the spring and summer are a function of snow melting in the mountains. Reduced snowpack means less water later in the year.

Wildfires. Higher temperatures and drier conditions in some places will also help wildfires spread and lengthen the wildfire season overall.

It gets better from there. So its nice to know that the world's second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases plans to reduce regulations to allow even more emissions.

Warming up to climate change

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an alarming new report this weekend:

The world stands on the brink of failure when it comes to holding global warming to moderate levels, and nations will need to take “unprecedented” actions to cut their carbon emissions over the next decade, according to a landmark report by the top scientific body studying climate change.

With global emissions showing few signs of slowing and the United States — the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide — rolling back a suite of Obama-era climate measures, the prospects for meeting the most ambitious goals of the 2015 Paris agreement look increasingly slim. To avoid racing past warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels would require a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of human civilization at a magnitude that has never happened before, the group found.

Most strikingly, the document says the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, which amount to more than 40 billion tons per year, would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures. As of 2018, emissions appeared to be still rising, not yet showing the clear peak that would need to occur before any decline.

Overall reductions in emissions in the next decade would probably need to be more than 1 billion tons per year, larger than the current emissions of all but a few of the very largest emitting countries. By 2050, the report calls for a total or near-total phaseout of the burning of coal.

Meanwhile, the next person to regulate the coal industry in the U.S. will likely come from the coal industry.

Go Dutch!

As in, "nice work, Dutch military, for unraveling a GRU operation and blowing 300 GRU agents worldwide:"

Dutch authorities have photographs of four Russian military intelligence (GRU) operatives arriving at the Amsterdam airport last April, escorted by a member of the Russian embassy. They have copies of the men’s passports — two of them with serial numbers one digit apart. Because they caught them, red-handed, inside a car parked beside the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague — the GRU team was trying to hack into the OPCW WiFi system — Dutch authorities also confiscated multiple phones, antennae and laptop computers.

On Thursday, the Dutch defense minister presented this plethora of documents, scans, photographs and screenshots on large slides at a lengthy news conference. Within seconds, the images spread around the world. Within hours, Bellingcat, the independent research group that pioneered the new science of open source investigation, had checked the men’s names against several open Russian databases. Among other things, it emerged that, in 2011, one of them was listed as the owner of a Lada (model number VAZ 21093) registered at 20 Komsomolsky Prospekt, the address of the GRU. While they were at it, Bellingcat also unearthed an additional 305 people — names, birthdates, passport numbers — who had registered cars to that very same address. It may be the largest security breach the GRU has ever experienced.

That's a great way to fight back: exposure. This is an example of the integrity and ingenuity which almost led to the Dutch controlling the world instead of the British way back when.