The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Relitigating the Civil War

Jeet Heer thinks it's about time to confront the history of our greatest failure in light of recent events:

At the end of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary, which aired on TV in 1990, the historian Barbara Fields says “the Civil War is still going on. It’s still to be fought and regrettably it can still be lost.” This is hard to deny: That war still shapes the basic contours of American politics. The heartland of the American conservatism is the old Confederacy. Figures like Robert E. Lee are still the subject of heated debate, as are the very origins of the war itself.

Some analysts think such debates over history only serve to empower Trump, giving him a phony culture war to distract from his political failures. But Trumpism is a byproduct of the unfinished conflicts produced by the Civil War; thus, combatting Trumpism requires combatting this pernicious view of the war. Avoiding the subject would cede the central narrative of American history to people like Trump, and would fatally damage our ability to understand and fight one of our core political problems: the endurance of racism in America.

John Kelly and Sarah Sanders’s emphasis on “compromise” is part of a larger understanding of the American story, which historians call the “reconciliationist” narrative.” As developed by turn-of-the-century scholars like Ulrich B. Phillips and William Archibald Dunning (father of the influential “Dunning School.”), the reconciliationist narrative told a false, sweeping story about American race relations: that slavery was a mostly benign institution, and antebellum America was bedeviled by fanatical abolitionists committed to the false idea of human equality.

Ta-Nahesi Coates took on this notion  in a series of Tweets yesterday.

I've never understood how people can talk about any Confederate figures as "loyal" to anything. They committed treason against the United States, in order to maintain chattel slavery. That's as unacceptable as the three-fifths compromise and Dred Scott.

The Angriest Librarian

An MLS student in Portland, Ore., wants you to understand that even though you don't personally use them, libraries are thriving:

Today, depending on the community they serve, a public librarian is part educator, part social worker, and part Human Google. What they aren’t is a living anachronism, an out-of-touch holdout in a dying job who’s consigned to a desk, scolding kids for returning books a few days late.

An urban librarian in a struggling neighborhood, like Chera Kowalski in Philadelphia’s Kensington, is just as likely to be saving lives by giving Narcan to overdosed patrons as she is to be recommending a new Young Adult series. The new model of librarianship is about embracing more than just books—it’s about making a positive impact on the lives of patrons. My liberal use of the word “motherfucker” may have been the most popular aspect of my Twitter rant, but the most important was my message to LGBT teens, and to immigrants, and to the homeless and poor: The library is a safe place for you to come and get what you need.

Someone asked me why I got into libraries. My answer—though I’ve been “into” libraries my whole life—was simple: I believe in reducing barriers to better outcomes for marginalized and underserved populations, motherfucker.

Mazel tov.

Limbo lower now

President Trump's approval ratings have fallen to the lowest in his presidency:

Thirty eight percent of Americans say they approve of Trump’s job performance — down five points since September — while 58 percent disapprove.

Trump’s previous low in approval in the national NBC/WSJ poll was 39 percent back in May.

The drop for Trump has come from independents (who shifted from 41 percent approval in September to 34 percent now), whites (who went from 51 percent to 47 percent) and whites without a college degree (from 58 percent to 51 percent).

[A] near-majority of voters, 46 percent, say their vote in November 2018 will be to send a message for more Democrats to serve as a check and balance to Trump and congressional Republicans.

History will remember Trump (assuming anyone is alive after his presidency) as the worst of the 44 men to serve the office. Not that he cares.

Political typology

The Pew Research Center just released a massive study of American political attitudes:

The political typology reveals that even in a political landscape increasingly fractured by partisanship, the divisions within the Republican and Democratic coalitions may be as important a factor in American politics as the divisions between them.

In some cases these fissures are not new – they were evident in six previous Pew Research Center typology studies conducted over the past three decades, most recently in 2014. Yet, especially within the GOP, many of the divisions now center on the issues that have been front-and-center for Trump since he first launched his presidential campaign.

This study is based on surveys of more than 5,000 adults conducted over the summer. This was also the data source for our Oct. 6 report, “The Partisan Divide on Political Values Grows Even Wider.” These reports were made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which received support for the surveys from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Want to know where you fit? Take the quiz.

Two great things that are effectively dead now

The Tribune has two sad stories this evening.

First, the FCC has taken steps to end the main-studio rule—apparently to allow the Sinclair/Tribune deal to go through:

The regulation, which was first adopted almost 80 years ago, requires broadcasters to have a physical studio in or near the areas where they have a license to transmit TV or radio signals. Known as the "main studio rule," the regulation ensured that residents of a community could have a say in their local broadcast station's operations.

"At a time when broadcast conglomerates like Sinclair are gobbling up more stations," the consumer advocacy group Free Press said in a regulatory filing on the matter in July, "the Commission's proposal would allow these conglomerates to move even more resources away from struggling communities and further centralize broadcasting facilities and staff in wealthier metropolitan areas."

Sinclair, the right-wing broadcaster, is currently trying to buy up Tribune Media in a $3.9 billion deal. The consolidation of the media industry has become a political flashpoint amid wider concerns about fake news and the polarization of news consumption. Even some conservatives have opposed the merger, on the grounds that it could limit the number of voices on the airwaves.

Meanwhile, with Whirlpool and Sears ending a century-old relationship, event the blind can see Sears is nearly dead:

Sears contends Whirlpool sought to “use its dominant position in the marketplace,” which would have “prohibited” the retailer from selling the appliances at a reasonable price, according to a memo addressed to Sears employees and sent to me by the company.

In response, Whirlpool CEO Marc Bitzer told investors on a conference call Tuesday that losing Sears is no biggie —only 3 percent of its global revenue.

“The entire Sears business declined over time,” he asserted.

It's 1895 all over again. Or 1885. I hope the latter, because then we only have to wait 20 years for the trusts to get busted.

This is what corruption looks like

Trump's friends have started looting Puerto Rico:

For the sprawling effort to restore Puerto Rico’s crippled electrical grid, the territory’s state-owned utility has turned to a two-year-old company from Montana that had just two full-time employees on the day Hurricane Maria made landfall.

The company, Whitefish Energy, said last week that it had signed a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to repair and reconstruct large portions of the island’s electrical infrastructure. The contract is the biggest yet issued in the troubled relief effort.

Whitefish Energy is based in Whitefish, Mont., the home town of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Its chief executive, Andy Techmanski, and Zinke acknowledge knowing one another — but only, Zinke’s office said in an email, because Whitefish is a small town where “everybody knows everybody.” One of Zinke’s sons “joined a friend who worked a summer job” at one of Techmanski’s construction sites, the email said. Whitefish said he worked as a “flagger.”

Zinke’s office said he had no role in Whitefish securing the contract for work in Puerto Rico. Techmanski also said Zinke was not involved.

The scale of the disaster in Puerto Rico is far larger than anything Whitefish has handled. The company has won two contracts from the Energy Department, including $172,000 to replace a metal pole structure and splice in three miles of new conductor and overhead ground wire in Arizona. 

Uh huh.

I hope everyone realizes that the President's relentless criticism of the press, and his surrogates' suggestions that maybe we don't need a First Amendment after all, is about this. Authoritarians hate free press and informed citizenry because, at root, authoritarians are interested first and foremost in personal enrichment.

And this, right here, is what that looks like.

Should I be sad, alarmed, or both?

The Annenberg Public Policy Center has released a poll of Americans showing widespread and extensive misunderstandings about our Constitution:

Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) say that freedom of speech is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. But, unprompted, 37 percent could not name any First Amendment rights. And far fewer people could name the other First Amendment rights: 15 percent of respondents say freedom of religion; 14 percent say freedom of the press; 10 percent say the right of assembly; and only 3 percent say the right to petition the government.

Contrary to the First Amendment, 39 percent of Americans support allowing Congress to stop the news media from reporting on any issue of national security without government approval. That was essentially unchanged from last year. But the survey, which followed a year of attacks on the news media, found less opposition to prior restraint (49 percent) than in 2016 (55 percent).

Only 26 percent of respondents can name the three branches of government (executive, judicial, and legislative), the same result as last year. In the presence of controls, people who identified themselves as conservatives were significantly more likely to name all three branches correctly than liberals and moderates. The 26 percent total was down significantly from APPC’s first survey on this question, in 2011, when 38 percent could name all three.

I'm sad, because this is basic stuff. I don't know how alarming this is because I don't know whether things are getting worse, and if so, how quickly. But it's clear that we're already experiencing the effects of ignorance on an unprecedented scale.

Rainy Monday lunchtime links

A succession of cold fronts has started traversing the Chicago area, so after an absolutely gorgeous Saturday we're now in the second day of cold, wet, gray weather. In other words, autumn in Chicago.

So here's what I'd like to read today but probably won't have time:

Meeting time. Yay.