The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Similar origins, different outcomes

The Washington Post has a long biography of two men born into wealthy New York City families just after World War II but have arrived at different places:

They are the sons of wealth, brought up in families accustomed to power. They were raised to show and demand respect, and they were raised to lead.

They rose to positions of enormous authority, the president of the United States and the special counsel chosen to investigate him. They dress more formally than most of those around them; both sport meticulously coiffed hair. They have won unusual loyalty from those who believe in them. They attended elite all-male private schools, were accomplished high school athletes and went on to Ivy League colleges. As young men, each was deeply affected by the death of a man he admired greatly.

Yet Robert Swan Mueller III and Donald John Trump, born 22 months apart in New York City, also can seem to come from different planets. One is courtly and crisp, the other blustery and brash. One turned away from the path to greater wealth while the other spent half a century exploring every possible avenue to add to his assets.

At pivotal points in their lives, they made sharply divergent choices — as students, as draft-age men facing the dilemma of the Vietnam War, as ambitious alpha males deciding where to focus their energies.

It's a long read, but worth it for Mueller's story. You can't help respecting the guy, even if you've never seen him in person. As for the President...well, his story is better known, and instills in me a somewhat different reaction.

The consequences of Parkland

The shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last week have galvanized students across the country. Here are three of the more thoughtful reactions.

First, David Kurtz at TPM Prime (sub.req.) thinks these murders might finally, and suddenly, break the NRA's choke-hold on the Republican Party:

The NRA’s power lies in having made anything other than maximal support for gun rights a nearly impossible position for Republican officeholders to sustain. The very definition of Republican is to be lockstep in opposition to gun control. That wasn’t always true. The politicization of the GOP that saw the winnowing of moderate Republicans, especially in the Northeast, accelerated the process of making absolutism on guns a defining feature of the modern GOP, more so even than opposition to abortion.

The challenge for the NRA has been to continue to raise the price of apostasy on guns for Republican officeholders high enough and fast enough that it outpaces the cost of holding the line through the carnage of the last decade. It’s a breathtaking political calculation all the way around. Again, I go back to Newtown. For GOP elected officials, it’s safer to cluck and shake your head over Newtown and do nothing than to break with the NRA and the party. Until that calculation changes, nothing else will.

But when it does change, it will change everything.

WaPo's Paul Waldman explains why the Parkland students have made the pro-gun right wing so angry:

The plainer reason is that as people who were personally touched by gun violence and as young people — old enough to be informed and articulate but still children — the students make extremely sympathetic advocates, garnering attention and a respectful hearing for their views. The less obvious reason is that because of that status, the students take away the most critical tool conservatives use to win political arguments: the personal vilification of those who disagree with them.

So right now, conservatives are engaged in a two-pronged attempt to take it back. On the more extreme side, you have the social media trolls, the conspiracy theorists, the more repugnant media figures, who are offering insane claims that the students are paid agents of dark forces, and can therefore be ignored. On the more allegedly mainstream side, you have radio and television hosts who are saying that the students are naive and foolish, and should not by virtue of their victimhood be granted any special status — and can therefore be ignored.

Meanwhile, writing for the New York Times, Michael Ian Black argues that part of the problem is how too many boys are "trapped in an outdated model of masculinity"

...where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.

And so the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage. We’ve seen what withdrawal and rage have the potential to do. School shootings are only the most public of tragedies. Others, on a smaller scale, take place across the country daily; another commonality among shooters is a history of abuse toward women.

To be clear, most men will never turn violent. Most men will turn out fine. Most will learn to navigate the deep waters of their feelings without ever engaging in any form of destruction. Most will grow up to be kind. But many will not.

Are we finally at a point where we can prevent gun murders without adding more guns to the mix? Do we all have to live in fear of angry men with military-grade weapons?

And let's remember one of the best public service announcements on the topic:

Bronze age defenses, modern attacks

Via Bruce Schneier, DHS Senior Analyst Jack Anderson describes how walls are still a dominant security metaphor, and the consequences of that choice:

Walls don’t fail gracefully. But there is a bewitching tendency to trust them more than we should, and this leads to dangerous liabilities. Extreme risk prognosticator Pasquale Curillo calls this tendency to depend too much on controls we’ve put in place the “fence paradox.” By protecting things — which they must — organizations can encourage situations where they stand to lose a lot if their wall is breached. When that fortification fails (and eventually, every fortress fails) it fails catastrophically. The scale of the Equifax hack in 2017 and the Brussels bombings in 2016 both illustrate the way that organizations and systems organize risk, tending to put together massive targets for potential threats. Walls actually encourage this kind of thinking. If you build walls to protect something, it makes sense to expect them to work. But network architects and airport security designers both need to listen to de Montluc, the 16th century French military mastermind: “Nothing is impregnable.”

We need a new awareness of what walls do. It’s tempting to think of them as blocking threats, but they don’t. They behave more like filters — winnowing out only those threats not serious enough to circumvent them. And this implies a secondary problem apart from the fence paradox. A wall that prevents large-scale foot traffic across unsecured locations in the U.S border means that only determined, capable adversaries will be able to cross the wall. The people who are the least threatening are the only ones who are easily deflected. It may prevent smaller scale losses, but it actually encourages your biggest threat to innovate, leaving room for catastrophe. Bag checks and barricades moved a perimeter outward at the Mandalay Bay Casino last October, but Stephen Paddock circumvented this by moving his position upward. As Washington considers the marginal benefits of a massive border wall, it needs to think equally of this revenge effect.

This weakness is where the idea of “defense in depth” (layered security) comes from. A good summary of the reasons for defense in depth comes from a 1921 Infantry Journal, published by the U.S. Infantry Association: “All essential elements of the defense should be organized in depth. If the forward defensive areas are captured, resistance is continued by those in the rear.”

That's bronze-age wisdom, in fact. And yet security designers don't seem to learn. And the President's wall around Fantasyland will not prevent the threats he fears, not one little bit.

"Told you so."—George Washington, 1796

Thomas Pickering and James Stoutenberg, writing for the New York Times, point out that George Washington warned us about someone like the modern Republican Party or Donald Trump taking power in the U.S.:

In elaborate and thoughtful prose, Washington raised red flags about disunity, false patriotism, special interests, extreme partisanship, fake news, the national debt, foreign alliances and foreign hatreds. With uncanny foresight, he warned that the most serious threat to our democracy might come from disunity within the country rather than interference from outside. And he foresaw the possibility of foreign influence over our political system and the rise of a president whose ego and avarice would transcend the national interest, raising the threat of despotism.

He wrote that should one group, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge,” gain domination over another, the result could be “a more formal and permanent despotism.” The despot’s rise would be fueled by “disorders and miseries” that would gradually push citizens “to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual.”

“Sooner or later,” he concluded, “the chief of some prevailing faction, more able and more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purpose of his own elevation on the ruins of public liberty.”

And then he arrived at one of his greatest concerns: The ways in which hyperpartisanship could open the door “to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”

As someone with a degree in history, all I can do is watch the train wreck and hope to survive it.

Laughing their asses off in the Kremlin

As Jennifer Rubin points out, President Trump's unhinged tweets over the weekend have some truth to them—but not in the way Trump meant:

Trump lashed out: “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!” Actually, they succeeded and are laughing, very likely, because they helped elect an unhinged, erratic president who will not protect the United States against Russian meddling. The discord comes from Trump smearing the FBI and making up lies (e.g., accusing President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower).

It was a new low, hiding behind the bodies of dead children and teachers to shield himself from accountability.

He blamed Democrats for not passing gun control when it was Republicans who torpedoed a compromise bill after the Sandy Hook massacre. David Hogg, a 17-year-old survivor of the massacre at his high school, spoke for many when he responded on “Face the Nation”: “President Trump, you control the House of Representatives. You control the Senate and you control the executive. You haven’t taken a single bill for mental health care or gun control and passed it. And that’s pathetic."

Aside from the blizzard of lies, one is struck by how frantic Trump sounds. The number and looniness of the tweets arguably exceed anything he has previously done. His conduct reaffirms the basic outline of an obstruction charge: Desperate to disable a Russia probe that would be personally embarrassing to him, he has tried in many ways to interfere with and end the investigation. In doing so, he, at the very least, has abused his office.

How is this man our President? Because one of the major parties in our country have descended into winner-takes-all, scorched-earth politics, and will hold onto power until the voters finally pry it from the party's cold, dead fingers.

Notorious RBG on #MeToo

United States Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sat down with the Atlantic's Jeffrey Rosen recently for an extensive interview. She discussed #MeToo, her own history with bad supervisors, and cases she would like to see overturned:

Rosen: Which of your powerful dissents do you most hope to become a majority?

Ginsburg: Well, I’d would like to see Shelby County undone. That was a case involving the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The way the law works is this—if a state or a city or a county has had a history of blocking African Americans from voting, any change in voting legislation would have to be pre-cleared either by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice or by a three-judge court sitting in the District of Columbia.

The [majority’s] position was, that was 1965, it’s many years later, some states that discriminated may not be discriminating anymore. So then Congress has to come up with a new formula. Well what member of Congress is going to stand up and say, “My district is still discriminating.” And I thought my colleagues were not as restrained as they should be because they should have respected the overwhelming vote in the Congress to renew the Voting Rights Act. That’s one decision.

Rosen: How about two or three more?

Ginsburg: Well, one of them is the so-called, what did they call it, partial-birth abortion. This is a medical procedure that is no one’s first choice but it may be the only option for a woman, and the Court refused to recognize that a ban on such a procedure just overlooked that some women had no other choice, so that’s a decision I would like to see overruled. If you go back in time—two decisions from the 70s—the Supreme Court held that Medicaid coverage was not available for any abortion, therapeutic or nontherapeutic. Which left us with the situation in our country where any woman of means, any woman who can afford to go to a neighboring state, will have access to abortion. The people who won’t are poor people who can’t travel, who can’t take off days from work. And that’s a sorry situation. People ask me, “Oh, what would happen if Roe v. Wade were overruled?” And my answer is for affluent women, it won’t make any difference.

Man, I hope she stays on the bench for four more years, at least...

We can't even have a conversation

Josh Marshall argues that our inability to discuss gun control in any meaningful way has rendered us collectively impotent to prevent gun massacres:

Do you really need an AR-15? For some people, it’s just fun to fire off an AR-15. I begrudge no one that fun. You’re at the range. It’s just cool. I get it. But maybe, because it’s also the weapon of choice for virtually every school massacre, to have that fun you need to do a background check not just for institutionalization or felony records but something a bit more thorough-going to know you’re not someone with all the markers of a mass shooter. Or maybe you can have it and fire it as often as you want but you need to leave it in a locker at the range. These changes would be a bit of a pain for enthusiasts. But changing mores about drunken driving also made social drinking a bit more difficult. You have to think through how you’re getting home if you’re going to go out and have more than a couple drinks. Does your spouse or partner not drink? Do you have a designated driver? Public transportation? It’s a bit of a pain. We’ve decided this pain is more than worth it. The ability to drink in any way or to any extent at any time is not an absolute value.

The specific reforms are beside the point for these purposes. The point is the need for and public agreement to some balancing, some inconveniences and impediments to total freedom to do anything with guns up to the doorstep of a felony or a massacre. Until we do this, not only do we not have any of even the most basic reforms which could begin to make it a little harder to commit massacres, we also collectively send a signal as a society. Guns are not only potentially fatal as tools. They are all powerful totems. They are untouchable. They reduce adults who promise to spare no exertion to protect the country from various public or domestic threats to be reduced to the gibberish and nonsense of “thoughts and prayers.” Nothing is a deeper testament to the cultural power and invincibility of the gun in our society. And it is that power which is at the heart of the massacre spectacle – the desire and all-consuming need and drive to destroy lives including your own indiscriminately in a final burst of total power. Our collective impotence not only sharpens that weapon, that symbol for the perpetrators of the actual massacres. It also gives sanction for all the precursor behavior (the gun nut who is stockpiling AR-15s and ammo but never actually kills anyone).

The reforms are critical. And more of them than are even close to the current debate will be required. But the core of the culture of massacre is equally driven by the social sickness of inaction itself. It is the ultimate validation of the power of the gun that is at the heart of the sick social disease. Until we recognize that the collective message of the power and singular importance of guns is at the heart of the gun massacre scourge, we’ll never be rid of it.

My current Facebook status is, "Have we all forgotten that, at its core, the NRA is a trade association?" And one with questionable sources of funds at that.

Plain old paper can make our elections more secure

Via Bruce Schneier, Michael Chertoff and Grover Norquist (of all people) explain in the Washington Post how we can make our elections more secure:

It should also be no surprise that hackers have U.S. voting systems in their sights. They’re a relatively easy target. Researchers have studied a range of electronic voting infrastructure — including touch screens, optical scanner systems and registration databases — and found serious vulnerabilities that could allow even moderately sophisticated attackers to pose threats to voting integrity. This year, about 40 states are set to use electronic voting or tabulation systems that are more than a decade old — many of which run on software that’s too old to be serviced with vendor security patches. A survey of nearly 300 election officials in 28 states found that a clear majority report needing new voting systems.

We believe there is a framework to secure our elections that can win bipartisan support, minimize costs to taxpayers and respect the constitutional balance between state and federal authorities in managing elections. In September, Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, introduced legislation that would help solve the problem with an elegantly simple fix: paper ballots. Meadows’s Paper Act would authorize cost-sharing with states for the replacement of insecure electronic systems with those that produce a voter-verified physical record. The bill also lays the groundwork for states to regularly implement risk-limiting audits — procedures that check a small random sample of paper records to quickly and affordably provide high assurance that an election outcome was correct.

Of course, the Trump administration has no interest in returning people's faith in the elections process. Like authoritarians everywhere, they benefit from FUD. So it's interesting seeing Chertoff and Norquist taking a position I completely agree with.

Mid-week link roundup

Lots of things popped up in my browser today:

And now, back to work.

Anti-liberalism on the left

Andrew Sullivan cautions the American left against turning into the very thing it hates about the far-right:

The idea of individual merit — as opposed to various forms of unearned “privilege” — is increasingly suspect. The Enlightenment principles that formed the bedrock of the American experiment — untrammeled free speech, due process, individual (rather than group) rights — are now routinely understood as mere masks for “white male” power, code words for the oppression of women and nonwhites. Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of “hate,” rather than a function of nature or choice or freedom or individual agency. And anyone who questions these assertions is obviously a white supremacist himself.

Polarization has made this worse — because on the left, moderation now seems like a surrender to white nationalism, and because on the right, white identity politics has overwhelmed moderate conservatism. And Trump plays a critical role. His crude, bigoted version of identity politics seems to require an equal and opposite reaction. And I completely understand this impulse. Living in this period is to experience a daily, even hourly, psychological hazing from the bigot-in-chief. And when this white straight man revels in his torment of those unlike him — and does so with utter impunity among his supporters — there’s a huge temptation to respond in kind. A president who has long treated women, in his words, “like shit,” and bragged about it, is enough to provoke rage in any decent person. But anger is rarely a good frame of mind to pursue the imperatives of reason, let alone to defend the norms of liberal democracy.

Look: I don’t doubt the good intentions of the new identity politics — to expand the opportunities for people previously excluded. I favor a politics that never discriminates against someone for immutable characteristics — and tries to make sure that as many people as possible feel they have access to our liberal democracy. But what we have now is far more than the liberal project of integrating minorities. It comes close to an attack on the liberal project itself. Marxism with a patina of liberalism on top is still Marxism — and it’s as hostile to the idea of a free society as white nationalism is. So if you wonder why our discourse is now so freighted with fear, why so many choose silence as the path of least resistance, or why the core concepts of a liberal society — the individual’s uniqueness, the primacy of reason, the protection of due process, an objective truth — are so besieged, this is one of the reasons.

The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke.

I'm not sure I completely agree with him, but I see some signs that he may be more right than wrong.

The answer to the right-wing's ascendance in American politics through obnoxious bigotry and inflaming feelings of identity-based resentment cannot be obnoxious bigotry and inflaming feelings of identity-based resentment. That's insane.