The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

"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.

Party time! Excellent!

I'm getting ready for my annual Prez Day Bash, which I inherited from a very talented and very funny Andy Ball back in 2004.

This is the 13th Bash—the Fillmore—so I hope less goes wrong than in previous years. The first ten ran from 1995 to 2004, then the 11th came back in 2015. (I suppose that means the 21st will be in 2035?)

I'll post more if I get a lull in preparations.

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...

Mid-week link roundup

Lots of things popped up in my browser today:

And now, back to work.

More follow-up from Tuesday

Aside: how the hell is it already February?

Moving on. Two more articles popped up about Tuesday night's State of the Union speech. First, via Deeply Trivial, Andrea Jones-Rooy at 538 points out that very little of what presidents propose in the SOTU actually gets enacted:

From Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama, according to [Donna Hoffman and Alison Howard], presidents made an average of 34 proposals in each State of the Union or initial address to a joint session of Congress. The most requests a president made during this period were Bill Clinton’s 87 in 2000. The fewest were just nine by Jimmy Carter in 1980.1

About 25 percent of policy announcements were ultimately successful, according to Hoffman and Howard’s definition of success, which is a complete enactment of the president’s recommended policy within a year of the address.2 They grade 14 percent more as partial successes — times when the president got a portion of the policy he asked for. The average policy agenda success rate increased to 32.7 percent when a president’s party controlled both houses of Congress, which Trump’s does.3

Altogether, an average of 60.6 percent of policy proposals mentioned in the State of the Union never materialized, suggesting that any one request from Trump is more likely not to be turned into legislation. The least successful — or, if you prefer, most ambitious — president since Johnson was Gerald Ford, with a 71.4 percent failure rate over his time in office. Johnson was the most successful — or, if you prefer, most realistic — with a 47.1 percent failure rate.

Given a hostile minority and a comical lack of bipartisanship, I don't expect much of the president's program to survive until the election.

Meanwhile, James Fallows—who has written parts of SOTUs in his life—annotates this one.

Increasing inequality correlates with urbanization: Richard Flordia

Writing for CityLab today, Richard Florida cautions that Republican policies will increase the wealth and political divides in the country (which, after all, may be their plan):

[T]he declining parts of America now control our politics, and not just nationally, but also in the states. As Brownstein sums up: “The nation is poised for even greater tension between an economic order that increasingly favors the largest places—and a political dynamic that, for now, sublimates them to the smaller places that are economically falling behind.”

Far from Making America Great Again, Trump and the GOP are putting into place a backward-looking economic and social policy that threatens to undermine the key pillars of American innovation and economic prosperity. They are curtailing immigration and excluding global talent; slashing federal spending for research and development; lashing out at gay and women’s rights; cutting back on spending for state universities; and making efforts to undermine and preempt cities.

Once America’s innovative engine is dismantled, and talented people start to go elsewhere, it will be hard to put it back together again. For the first time in a very long time—perhaps since the Civil War—America’s divides threaten to put it on the wrong side of history.

After reading Why Britain Is At War over the weekend, and remembering Before the Deluge from a couple of years ago, I have to say the GOP's strategy sounds familiar. And troubling.

Even on weekends I'm busy

A few links to click tomorrow when I have more time:

And now, I rest.

Zoning out

All the news yesterday and today has talked about Mike Wolff's new book, and how it puts into black-and-white terms what we already knew about the President. I'm reading a lot of it, and I've even pre-ordered David Frum's new book, coming out a week from Tuesday.

Fortunately, Chicago magazine published an article today about the origin of time zones in the United States, which is political but only in the nuts-and-bolts sense and not really in a partisan way. And Chicago has the story because, basically, Chicago invented time zones:

America was divided into its (mostly accepted) time zones in Chicago. Which makes sense. Chicago was and still is the biggest railroad town in the country, and the railroads were, in both the United States and Europe, the catalyst for the creation of time zones. In fact, there’s a historical argument that the challenges of scheduling trains inspired Albert Einstein’s development of the general theory of relativity...

Take this time and distance indicator from 1862: when it was noon in Philadelphia, it was 12:04 in New York, 12:06 in Albany, 12:16 in Boston, and 11:54 in Baltimore. Meanwhile, it was 11:10 in Chicago, 10:59 in St. Louis, and 11:18 in Indianapolis. Synchronizing relative time across cities might have inspired Einstein’s thought experiments, but it was a poor way to run a railroad.

In 1880 Britain officially adopted Greenwich Mean Time. The Canadian railway engineer Sandford Fleming and the astronomer and meteorologist Cleveland Abbe, chief scientist of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, began correspondence about a worldwide system of time zones, proving themselves persistent advocates of what Fleming called terrestrial time. Their work was presented at the Third International Geographical Congress in Venice in 1881, the General Conference of the European Geodetic Association in 1883, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1881 and 1882.

Such a system was politically messy, requiring the coordination of governments for which time zones had political symbolism. But the railroads had only the bottom line to consider.

And so, the standard time zone was born. And at this writing, according to the Time Zone Database (of which I am a contributor), there are only 494 of them.

Two Constitutional amendments I'd like to see

Hyper-partisanship is not only bad in itself, but it's causing a long-term erosion of our civic institutions. When people suspect that judges are partisans, it reduces respect for the judicial system in general, which causes people to lose faith in the rule of law itself.

Lifetime appointments to the Federal judiciary were supposed to solve this problem. By holding their offices "during good behaviour", Federal judges are supposed to keep above the political fray, and let their consciences guide them.

Well, organizations like the Heritage Foundation have long been recommending people for the Federal bench strictly based on ideology, rather than jurisprudence. This problem isn't going away. And neither are the judges, some of whom could wind up serving for 50 years.

So the first Article of Amendment I would propose is this:

Section 1. Judges of the Supreme Court shall hold their offices for a term of 19 years. Judges of the inferior courts shall hold their offices for a term of 15 years.

Section 2. This Article shall apply to all persons appointed after its ratification, and to all other persons five years after its ratification.

This still means someone could serve as a Federal judge for life, because they could get appointed to different courts at 15-year intervals. But every 15 years, they'd need to be reappointed, and re-confirmed by the Senate. Yes, it would be a political process, but we wouldn't be stuck with incompetent or rabidly ideological judges forever.

If this Amendment were ratified today, Justices Bryer, Ginsburg, Thomas, and Kennedy would be forced out in 2022, leaving Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Chief Justice Roberts—who would be the next to go, in 2024. (Alito would be out in 2025.)

Appointing four Justices to 19-year terms could fall to Trump in that case, but unlikely as the amendment would not be ratified soon.

Even less likely to be ratified, but I think no less helpful in these partisan times, would be to get some turnover in the legislature. Now, I'd hate to lose my most senior legislators, Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Jan Schakowsky. But I'd really like to be done with Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, and even Nancy Pelosi, believe it or not.

So here's my second proposed Article of Amendment:

Section 1. No person shall be elected to the House of Representatives more than eight times, nor serve in the House more than 17 years.

Section 2. No person shall be elected to the Senate more than three times, nor serve in the Senate more than 19 years.

Section 3. No person elected to either House and later to the other House shall serve in Congress for more than 24 years in his or her lifetime.

Section 4. This article shall not apply to any person serving in either House when this article was proposed by the Congress, until the next election of Representatives shall have intervened.

That would clean out the House and most of the Senate. It would be disruptive. But we would no longer have as many cranky old white men making policy for a younger, more colorful generation.

I'd like to hear from readers about this. What do you think?