Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019


State Farm League

Of all the things that are being broken in Washington, the State Department is the entity that will take the longest to fix. Every time we lose a midlevel diplomat, we're also losing the personal relationships the diplomat has developed with their counterparts abroad. That's what non-political DC folks have told me over the past few years. And that's what Julia Ioffe reports in GQ. Trump Is Waging War on America's Diplomats: how the president is politicizing our embassies, alienating our allies, and decimating the ranks of the foreign service. "What's striking is both the decapitation of the State Department and the loss of people who should have been the next leadership of the department. It's a hollowing out of the foreign service. You can't replace those mid-level people easily at the numbers at which they're losing them. That will take a generation to rebuild."

+ Meanwhile, our foreign diplomacy is currently being handled by President Trump who is at the NATO summit, where he clashed with allies (Macron), praised tyrants (Kim), attacked American opponents (Schiff), and served up a series of misleading statements (on topics ranging from NATO spending to the country of origin of most ISIS members). In other words, about what we (and our allies) have come to expect. Here's the latest from CNN.


Face Paint

"Chinese scientists are trying to find a way to use a DNA sample to create an image of a person's face. The technology, which is also being developed in the United States and elsewhere, is in the early stages of development and can produce rough pictures good enough only to narrow a manhunt or perhaps eliminate suspects. But given the crackdown in Xinjiang, experts on ethics in science worry that China is building a tool that could be used to justify and intensify racial profiling and other state discrimination against Uighurs ... Sketching someone's face based solely on a DNA sample sounds like science fiction. It isn't." NYT: China Uses DNA to Map Faces, With Help From the West.


Poland Mine

"Analysts monitoring extremist groups have called the event one of Europe's biggest gatherings of ultra-fascists, extreme right-wingers and nationalists. Participants throw firecrackers, pose with flares and don jackets and sweaters reading, 'Death to the enemies of the fatherland.' Many of them say the greatest threat to Poland is Jewish property restitution claims." Poland's far-right leaders seek to criminalize World War II restitution. So for those scoring at home, it isn't a rise in the level of antisemitism not seen since before World War 2 that threatens Poland. The threat lies instead with the few remaining Jewish victims of the Holocaust. This is the kind of wanton demagoguery that is sweeping Europe and the world (including America).


You Reap What You Quid Pro Quo

"The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation's upcoming presidential election to his advantage. In doing so, the President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election process, and endangered US national security." House Dems have released the impeachment report, chronicling the Ukrainian quid pro quo and the president's obstruction. "Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a stronger or more complete case of obstruction than that demonstrated by the President since the inquiry began."

+ The report adds: "Senior U.S. officials, including the Vice President, the Secretary of State, the Acting Chief of Staff, the Secretary of Energy, and others were either knowledgeable of or active participants in an effort to extract from a foreign nation the personal political benefits sought by the President." Here's the latest from the impeach pit.

+ "Since the late winter, the city's elite had been aware of the mayor's emissaries, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, whom he had dispatched to uncover incriminating material about Joe Biden and his son. The bumbling pair, who had won a meeting with the incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, spoke a little too freely about their 'secret mission.' But while Giuliani's strip-club-going proxies could be dismissed, the arrival of President Trump's lawyer himself was another matter." Franklin Foer in The Atlantic: The Betrayal of Volodymyr Zelensky. "The surreal story of how a comedian who played the Ukrainian president on TV became the president in real life—then found himself at the center of an American political scandal." (Who would have thought that this version of all the president's men would include a couple of guys named Igor and Lev?)


The Prosecution Rests

"I've taken stock and looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life. My campaign for president simply doesn't have the financial resources we need to continue." Kamala Harris's campaign started off with a bang but ended early and quietly as she becomes one of the biggest names in the race to call it quits. In some ways, Kamala vs Donald would have been the perfect matchup for the era. Woman vs Man. Black vs White. Prosecutor vs Defendant. That matchup isn't entirely over. Freed from the campaign, Kamala Harris will now focus her attention on the Senate trial of Donald Trump, a setting where she will likely be the most effective questioner in the room.



"Some Facebook employees recently told their managers that they were concerned about answering difficult questions about their workplace from friends and family over the holidays. What if Mom or Dad accused the social network of destroying democracy? Or what if they said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, was collecting their online data at the expense of privacy?" So Facebook developed a chatbot named Liam to help provide the ideal company line for any of these thorny questions. (If Dave Eggers had put this chatbot into The Circle, they would have said he was crazy.) NYT: Facebook Gives Workers a Chatbot to Appease That Prying Uncle. (I already have a bot that helps me when my family asks uncomfortable questions: "Hey Siri, turn up the music and send for an Uber.")


Cash Flow

"The net effect: Every dollar in cash aid increased total economic activity in the area by $2.60." Want to give something on Giving Tuesday. Give Cash. NPR: Researchers Find A Remarkable Ripple Effect When You Give Cash To Poor Families.


I’ve Seen It All in a Small Town

"McKee, an Appalachian town of about twelve hundred tucked into the Pigeon Roost Creek valley, is the seat of Jackson County, one of the poorest counties in the country. There's a sit-down restaurant, Opal's, that serves the weekday breakfast-and-lunch crowd, one traffic light, a library, a few health clinics, eight churches, a Dairy Queen, a pair of dollar stores, and some of the fastest Internet in the United States." The New Yorker: The One-Traffic-Light Town with Some of the Fastest Internet in the U.S. Or, how bringing broadband to small towns can change everything.


Photo Finish

"Massive protests were staged against existing governments in Hong Kong, Chile, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Haiti, Algeria, Sudan, and Bolivia, while climate-change demonstrations and strikes took place worldwide. An impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump was started, conflict in Syria continued, the United States won the Women's World Cup, Hurricane Dorian lashed the Bahamas, and so much more." The Atlantic's always excellent Alan Taylor with the Top 25 News Photos of 2019.


Bottom of the News

"Inevitably, Scooby draws the biggest cheers with his grand finale: jumping from one basketball to another without losing his balance." WaPo: How a circus performer and his beloved Chihuahua became the NBA's ‘premier' halftime act.

+ Why the Apostrophe Protection Society has closed in disgust.

+ These guys just drove across America in a record 27 hours 25 minutes. (I wonder if they're available to hire for family trips.)