The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Late in the evening...

I did a lot today, so I've just gotten around to these stories:

Finally, I may be published in a national magazine next month. Details as I learn them.

VP debate reactions

Generally, reactions to last night's debate follow three patterns: Vice President Mike Pence mansplained to Senator Kamala Harris; Harris told the truth significantly more than Pence did; and the fly won. (My favorite reaction, from an unknown Twitter user: "If that fly laid eggs in Pence's hair, he'd better carry them to term.") Other reactions:

  • The Washington Post, NBC, and the BBC fact-checked the most egregious distortions, most of which came from Pence.
  • James Fallows believes "both candidates needed to convince voters they possess the right temperament for the job. Only one pulled it off."

In other news:

  • Following the president's positive Covid-19 test, and Pence's and the president's repeated interruptions and talking over the moderators, the Commission on Presidential Debates has decided the October 15th presidential debate will be virtual. The crybaby-in-chief got angry: "It’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want." ("Speaking to reporters in Delaware, Biden said it was still possible [the president] would show up because 'he changes his mind every second.'")
  • Alex Shephard bemoans "the final message of a dying campaign:" "With his poll numbers collapsing, [the president] keeps adopting dumber and more destructive political messages."
  • The New Yorker dives into "the secret history of Kimberly Guilfoyle's departure from Fox."
  • For total Daily Parker bait, National Geographic explores the Russian military map collection at Indiana University, with 4,000 secret Russian maps drawn between 1883 and 1947, many captured from wartime intelligence services.
  • As today is the 149th anniversary of the Chicago Fire, the Chicago History Today blog looked at the history of the house at 2121 N. Hudson Ave., the only wood-frame building to survive in the burn zone.
  • Speaking of wood fires in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune has yet another ranking of pizzas. Happy lunchtime.

Finally, the FBI arrested six men who plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. They didn't get close, but still.

The Missouri Compromise and the 2020 election

Jamelle Bouie thinks 1820 offers a better view of today's politics than 1850 or 1968:

There is no one-to-one comparison from the past to current events; there never is. But drawing on the Missouri controversy, I do have an observation to make about our present situation. Once again, under the guise of ordinary political conflict, Americans are fighting a meta-legal battle over the meaning of both the Union and the Constitution.

A fight over the fate of the Supreme Court is weighty enough, but beneath the surface of this conflict is an even fiercer struggle about what the Constitution means, one taking place in the context of minority rule and incipient democratic failure.

Many democratic political systems allow for minority-led governments, although they often force parties to build majority coalitions to achieve them. That’s because minority government becomes an unacceptably bitter pill when the winning party rejects compromise and consensus in favor of factionalism and unilateral action. The problem comes when a political system allows for minority winners but doesn’t require coalition government. Stability is possible, but it depends on forbearance and good faith from all sides. You can play political and constitutional hardball, but it might bring conflict out into the open that you can’t ultimately control, and it will raise questions about your mandate to govern.

Trump, McConnell and the Republican Party have embraced a kind of political total war. Democrats and their liberal allies say this violates the democratic principles against which we judge the fairness of our institutions. In response, Republicans say the Constitution is what counts. Whether or not an action violates some abstract principle, if it’s in the rules, it’s in the rules.

The Missouri controversy was, of course, settled with a compromise. Missouri would enter the Union as a slave state, and Maine would enter as a free state, but Congress would prohibit slavery in all land of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36° 30’ parallel. This defused the fight over the territory, but could not resolve the conflict over the Union. This was legislation, a good faith agreement between two irreconcilable sides, not a permanent addition to the constitutional framework.

The Republican Party has created a situation where no compromise is possible. Biden winning in five weeks won't change that. But at least a clear win, and taking the Senate back, will allow us to repair some of the damage that four years of Republican rule has inflicted.

Shakespeare was right

Andrew Sullivan takes a step back and explains, carefully and quietly, the tyrant's mindset:

[T]yranny is not, in its essence, about the authoritarian and administrative skills required to run a country effectively for a long time. Tyrants, after all, are often terrible at this. It is rather about a mindset, as the ancient philosophers understood, with obvious political consequences. It’s a pathology. It requires no expertise in anything other than itself.

You need competence if you want to run an effective government, or plan a regular campaign, or master policy with a view to persuading people, or hold power for the sake of something else. You need competence to create and sustain something. But you do not need much competence to destroy things. You just need the will. And this is what tyrants do: they destroy things.

This is Trump’s threat. Not the construction of a viable one-party state, but the destruction of practices, norms, civility, laws, customs and procedures that constitute liberal democracy’s non-zero-sum genius. He doesn’t need to be competent to destroy our system of government. He merely needs to be himself: an out-of-control, trust-free, malignant narcissist, with inexhaustible resources of psychic compulsion, in a pluralist system designed for the opposite. All you need is an insatiable pathological drive to avoid any constraint on your own behavior, and the demagogic genius to carry a critical mass of people with you, and our system, designed as the antidote to tyranny, is soon unspooling into incoherence, deadlock, and collapse.

In every Shakespeare play about tyranny — from Richard III to Coriolanus to Macbeth — the tyrant loses in the end, and often quite quickly. They’re not that competent at governing, or even interested in it. The forces they unleash come back to wipe them from the stage, sooner or later. They flame out. Richard III lasted a mere couple of years on the throne.

But in every case, they leave a wrecked and reeling society in their wake. Look around you now and see the damage already done.

He then goes into the normal panic of everyone watching this election unfold, but until that point, he's absolutely correct. The president has no genius other than his own self-preservation; and if I seem angry, it's because this fact is obvious to anyone who has studied history.

A lack of compassion

More than 200,000 people have died of Covid-19 since we started paying attention six months ago. Let me put that into perspective:

The columns represent the total number of deaths for each event (blue) or per year (gray). The line represents those deaths on an annualized basis. At 400,000 deaths per year, Covid-19 now ranks as the third leading cause of death in the US for 2020 after cancer and heart disease. We're on course to have 133 9/11s or 12 times our usual number of car crash deaths just this year.

Whatever you might think about the policy distinctions between our two political parties, surely the Republicans' callous disregard for human life in this pandemic matters, right?

Remember all those storms in 2005?

Tropical Storm Zeta formed in the Atlantic on 30 December 2005 and almost became a hurricane on 2 January 2006. When Zeta finally dissipated on January 6th, it ended the most active Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history, and also one of the most destructive: category-5 hurricanes Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma caused incredible damage and loss of life throughout the US. The season also included three unnamed tropical depressions and an unnamed tropical storm.

That season, Tropical Storm Alpha formed on October 22nd, and Hurricane Beta formed on October 26th.

Flash forward 15 years, and it looks like we're going to break a few of 2005's records. This year, storms Alpha and Beta both formed on September 18th. So far only Hurricanes Laura and Teddy—the latter now about to pound Nova Scotia and Newfoundland—got up to category 4, and we haven't yet had any category 5 storms. But the season shows no sign of winding down.

We have known for decades that climate change would cause more frequent tropical storm activity. Welcome to the future.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933-2020

The Notorious RBG died at her home earlier today:

The cause was complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, the Supreme Court said.

Justice Ginsburg’s pointed and powerful dissenting opinions, usually speaking for all four, attracted growing attention as the court turned further to the right. A law student, Shana Knizhnik, anointed her the Notorious R.B.G., a play on the name of the Notorious B.I.G., a famous rapper who was Brooklyn-born, like the justice. Soon the name, and Justice Ginsburg’s image — her expression serene yet severe, a frilly lace collar adorning her black judicial robe, her eyes framed by oversize glasses and a gold crown perched at a rakish angle on her head — became an internet sensation.

[President] Clinton, making his first nomination to the court, conducted an almost painfully public search among judges and political figures, with contenders including Mario Cuomo, then the governor of New York, who turned him down, and Bruce Babbitt, the incumbent secretary of the interior.

As the search wound down, it appeared the president had chosen Stephen G. Breyer, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, who had come to Washington at the president’s invitation for an interview. Judge Breyer was in pain from broken ribs suffered in a recent bicycle accident, and the interview did not go well. Martin Ginsburg, meanwhile, had been urging New York’s senior senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to press his wife’s case with the president. Mr. Clinton was at first reluctant, grumbling to Mr. Moynihan that “the women are against her.” But after a 90-minute private meeting with Judge Ginsburg on Sunday, June 13, the president made up his mind. He called her at 11:33 that night to tell her that she was his choice.

Surprising absolutely no one, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasted no time in repudiating the "McConnell Rule" against nominating a new justice during an election year:

There’s nothing in the Constitution that prevents a Supreme Court vacancy from being filled, regardless of how close to an election it opens up.

Precedent in such a situation is different. Until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked President Obama’s 2016 pick nine months before the election, this hadn’t been done very often, says Russell Wheeler, an expert on Supreme Court history with the Brookings Institution.

McConnell can’t say he is flip-flopping on his 2016 position about election-year court vacancies because doing so benefits him politically now. So he has offered some logic that does little to disguise its political convenience: This time is different because the Senate and the presidency are held by the same party, which wasn’t the case when there was a vacancy in the last year of Obama’s presidency.

And in 2016, McConnell actually argued against the Senate considering a lame-duck president’s nomination. “President Obama has every right to nominate someone on his way out the door,” McConnell said at the time. “The Senate has every right to hold its consent.”

It’s a lot to consider. But McConnell has the chance to thrust the Supreme Court in a more conservative direction for perhaps generations. It’s a remarkable legacy for McConnell that he doesn’t seem to want to pass up, no matter the risk for him or the Senate majority.

To that I would remind the gentleman from Kentucky that 28 USC §1 is just a statute, which the next Congress could easily change.

Lunchtime Tuesday

I put on a long-sleeved shirt to walk Parker this morning, and I'm about to change into a polo. It's a lovely early-autumn day here in Chicago. Elsewhere...

Finally, the city received over 600 submissions from 13 countries on how to have outdoor dining in a Chicago winter.

Slow news day? In 2020? Ha!

Just a few of the things that crossed my desktop this morning:

And last night, Cubs pitcher Alec Mills threw the club's 16th no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers. In the history of Major League Baseball, there have only been 315 no-hitters. The last time the Cubs won a no-hitter was 51 years ago.