The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Minor bit of Schadenfreude

It turns out, Carter Page PhD—who worked for the Trump campaign and is now suspected of being a Russian asset—failed his PhD thesis defense twice:

Page first submitted his thesis on central Asia’s transition from communism to capitalism in 2008. Two respected academics, Professor Gregory Andrusz, and Dr Peter Duncan, were asked to read his thesis and to examine him in a face-to-face interview known as a viva.

Andrusz said he had expected it would be “easy” to pass Page, a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas). He said it actually took “days and days” to wade through Page’s work. Page “knew next to nothing” about social science and seemed “unfamiliar with basic concepts like Marxism or state capitalism,” the professor said.

The viva, held at University College, London, went badly. “Page seemed to think that if he talked enough, people would think he was well-informed. In fact it was the reverse,” Andrusz said. He added that Page was “dumbfounded” when the examiners told him he had failed.

Their subsequent report was withering. It said Page’s thesis was “characterised by considerable repetition, verbosity and vagueness of expression”, failed to meet the criteria required for a PhD, and needed “substantial revision”. He was given 18 months to produce another draft.

Page resubmitted in November 2010. Although this essay was a “substantial improvement” it still didn’t merit a PhD and wasn’t publishable in a “learned journal of international repute”, Andrusz noted. When after a four-hour interview, the examiners informed him he had failed again, Page grew “extremely agitated”.

I almost want to read the final, final, final draft. And I want to see him convicted of secretly meeting with foreign agents. Neither is likely.

Memphis finds a loophole to get rid of racist monuments

The city of Memphis petitioned the Tennessee Historical Commission to get permission to remove its statues to traitorous politician Jefferson Davis and Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest. The THC refused, so Memphis found a novel way to do it anyway:

In a surprise move Wednesday evening, Memphis’s city council voted to sell the two parks to a new private nonprofit corporation that will run them, on condition that they keep the parks public. Mayor Jim Strickland signed a contract with the nonprofit, Memphis Greenspace, on Friday, and the council ratified it. Soon afterward, Greenspace, which was incorporated in October, began removing the statues, with celebratory crowds gathering to watch, singing, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” The statues have been removed to a place nobody can find, according to the city’s chief legal officer.

Its stealthy, sudden removal of the statues echoes the actions of leaders in other cities, including New Orleans and Baltimore, who opted to take down Confederate monuments with little warning for reasons of security. But the legal maneuver is a new one—the latest, and perhaps most unorthodox, strategy by local leaders to get rid of monuments that local communities detest but are forbidden by state law from removing.

Perhaps the state will reconsider other requests to remove statues and monuments to the war to preserve slavery. Perhaps.

Who will the Republican tax law help or hurt next November?

Both the WaPo's James Hohmann and TPM's John Judis believe the Republican Party won't suffer as much as people hope after passing their massive giveaway to big corporations. Judis:

I am not a fan of the new tax bill that the Republican Congress passed. It will widen the gap between the wealthy and everyone else and increase the likelihood over a decade or so of another crash. And it contains all kinds of unpleasant ancillary provisions, such as the one killing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate. But I don’t buy the argument – voiced by Democratic pundits, political consultants, and even a few economists – that the bill will doom the Republicans to defeat in 2018 and even 2020. Like many things I read or hear these days from liberals, it’s wish fulfillment disguised as analysis. 

Democrats argue that the bill will be unpopular because it increases inequality by giving huge tax breaks to the rich and corporations. But most American voters don’t object to inequality and to the rich per se. (I wrote a long essay for TPM arguing this two years ago, and it was borne out in the 2016 election.) They object to inequality when a policy is so skewed that everything goes to the rich – when there is nothing in it for them. And they object to inequality when, as in 1932 or 2008, they see it conveying favor on a group that is responsible for wrecking the economy. But neither condition is likely to hold in this case.

Hohmann, yesterday:

THE BIG IDEA: The best thing going for Republicans right now is low expectations.

[H]ere’s the truth: 8 in 10 Americans will pay lower taxes next year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the final bill. Only 5 percent of people will pay more next year. Mostly, those are folks who earn six figures and own expensive houses in places with high local taxes, such as New York and California.

Bottom line: Nancy Pelosi says, “This is Armageddon.” But the sky will not fall. At least not next year.

To be sure, over the long-term, this bill may set in motion a fiscal disaster a la Kansas by exploding the national debt and forcing painful cuts to popular programs, including entitlements. The rich and corporations do get the vast majority of the benefits. The new code will cause confusion and uncertainty. It will also worsen income inequality. And there’s a chance that it gives the economy a sugar high that forces the Federal Reserve to raise rates faster than planned and hastens a recession.

Overnight, though, Hohmann got a lot of pushback from Democrats:

In the two-and-a-half years I’ve been writing the 202, I’ve never received so much pushback. Top operatives at all the relevant Democratic committees and outside groups, as well as the most prominent progressive pollsters in town and campaign managers in the states, argued passionately that the tax bill is not going to become a winner for the GOP. They shared a battery of private polling and reports on focus groups to make their case.

“Calling this thing a win because Republicans finally got something done is like saying the captain of the Titanic won when he successfully found that reclusive iceberg,” said Jesse Ferguson, the former director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm. 

1. Most folks who pay lower taxes will not save enough to care.

I noted yesterday that 8 in 10 Americans will pay lower taxes next year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the final legislation. Only 5 percent of people will pay more next year, and mostly those are folks who earn six figures and own expensive houses in places with high local taxes.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin of Hart Research replied that 80 percent of taxpayers will see an increase of less than 2 percent in their after-tax income, and it is not until you get to the 95th percentile that the after-tax income benefits are much greater. “There is no history of voters being grateful for tax cuts that small,” he said.

One thing is certain: Nobody knows nothing. But I'm pretty optimistic about November 6th.

My project in the news

The Washington Post is reporting tonight something that I've known for several weeks. My current project's customer, USMEPCOM, recently promulgated a directive to begin accepting transgender applicants into the U.S. armed forces:

The military distributed its guidance throughout the force Dec. 8. Lawyers challenging President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender military service, which he announced on Twitter in July, have since included the document in their lawsuits. The memorandum states the Pentagon will comply with federal court orders, now under appeal, that direct the military to begin accepting transgender recruits Jan. 1.

The policy paper was issued by the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command in Chicago, “and shall remain in effect until expressly revoked,” the memorandum said. It states that allowing transgender military service is “mandatory” and repeats a previous directive from Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has said all people will be “treated with dignity and respect.”

Military recruiting personnel are responsible for inputting into databases recruits’ personal information. They should do so while using a copy of a recruit’s birth certificate, court order or U.S. passport “reflecting preferred gender,” according to the Pentagon’s new guidance.

“For the purposes of military entrance processing, the applicant’s preferred gender will be used on all forms asking for the ‘sex’ of an applicant,” the guidance said.

So, it turns out, we're writing the database mentioned in the article. In fact, our Scrum board has this story: "As a user, I can enter the preferred gender of a applicant, so that I can enroll them into the military." And the USMEPCOM directive from December 8th is attached to the card.

Months of policy disputes between the President and the Federal courts, news articles, marches, protests, lawsuits, and committee meetings has produced...one database field.

This is our crazy country right now.

If you're curious, here's the policy memo. Don't worry, you can read it: it's unclassified.

We're Number...Six?

The Census Bureau released new estimates today that show Illinois has slipped below Pennsylvania, and is now the 6th most populous state. Says Crains' Greg Hinz:

The bureau had no breakdown on what's responsible for the decrease. But recent political infighting likely didn't help, and the state's job growth has been half or less of the nation's in recent years. Also, the state is believed to be attracting far fewer immigrants than in the 1990s and 2000s, something that boosted the state's population then.

Illinois had surpassed Pennsylvania a couple of decades ago, but never was more than 200,000 or so ahead.

Some initial reaction from Democratic gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker, in a statement: "Just as Bruce Rauner finally admits that he purposefully created a crisis to ram through his special interest agenda, the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed that his damage is done. Rauner's damage drove Illinoisans out of this state, losing talent and wasting opportunities when we needed them most. This failed governor's only accomplishment is decimating our economy and forcing thousands to look for stability elsewhere."

Well, yes, Bruce Rauner may have contributed. But we're stuck with him for another year, so he may not be done hurting us.

Welcome to the 2010s!

I'm on a train, using my mobile phone to tether my laptop to the Intertubes. I know this is an old technology, and also the reason I have unlimited data on my mobile, but I still love this stuff.

Things I'm reading:

Now approaching...Highwood! And soon off to my meeting.

Blah day

I'm under the weather today, probably owing to the two Messiah performances this weekend and all of Parker's troubles. So even though I'm taking it easy, I still have a queue of things to read:

I will now...nap.

Too dishonest even to evaluate

As the Washington Post rounds up their biggest Pinocchios of 2017, they've encountered an unprecedented problem:

Usually, this is an easy task, as we sort through the craziest Four-Pinocchio claims on issues of substance made by members of both parties. But this is the era of Trump, and nothing is ever easy. If we were not careful, we’d end up with an all-Trump list.

After all, there has never been a serial exaggerator in recent American politics like the president. He not only consistently makes false claims but also repeats them, even though they have been proved wrong. He always insists he is right, no matter how little evidence he has for his claim or how easily his statement is debunked. Indeed, he doubles down when challenged.

When we last updated our database of false or misleading claims made by the president, the number stood at 1,628 after 298 days. That’s an average of 5.5 per day.

Given the profusion of Trump claims, in two cases we have wrapped some of his statements into all-around categories: flip-flops and taking all credit. Even so, he still ended up with six of the “biggest Pinocchios,” topping his 2016 record (when he received five.)

That makes their inclusion of a few Democrats seem even more like false equivalence, which is how we got here to begin with.

Occam's razor

I keep wondering if the Trump administration keeps doing the things its doing to destroy the Republican Party because they're secretly Democrats. Mark Theissen hints at this, but sarcastically:

Stephen K. Bannon and his alt-right movement have helped accomplish something no one in a quarter-century has been able to do: get a Democrat elected in the state of Alabama.

Alabama is one of the most reliably Republican states in the country. The last time a Democrat was elected was in 1992, and no Democrat has won more than 40 percent of the vote in a Senate race there since 1996. The closest election in recent memory was in 2002, when Jeff Sessions won reelection by a razor-thin margin of 19 points. Sen. Richard Shelby has won his last three elections by 35 points, 30 points and 28 points, respectively. So it takes a special kind of stupid to pick a candidate who can lose to a Democrat in Alabama.

Not just any Democrat, but an uncompromising pro-abortion Democrat.

Ah, but you see the last sentence of the second paragraph. And that hits on the logical test wherein you pick the simplest explanation for the facts at hand. In this case, it's what my Wills professor called "the omnibus explanation," or the thing that explains everything when other explanations come up wanting.

Stupidity.

Think about previous intellectual midgets who have served as President and the current occupant shows up impressively. Harding? A giant by comparison. Buchanan? Brilliant. McKinley? Magisterial.

What irony if we avoid Armageddon because Donald Trump is the stupidest person ever elected President of the United States.