The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Well, they've done it again

The U.S. government has shut down its nonessential functions (including the President's vacation travel) because the ruling party can't play nicely with others:

The federal government shut down for the first time in more than four years Friday after senators rejected a temporary spending patch and bipartisan efforts to find an alternative fell short as a midnight deadline came and went.

Republican and Democratic leaders both said they would continue to talk, raising the possibility of a solution over the weekend. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Friday that the conflict has a “really good chance” of being resolved before government offices open Monday, suggesting that a shutdown’s impacts could be limited.

But the White House drew a hard line immediately after midnight, saying they would not negotiate over a central issue — immigration — until government funding is restored.

Republicans resolved not to submit to the minority party’s demands to negotiate, while Democrats largely unified to use the shutdown deadline to force concessions on numerous issues — including protections for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

So the Republicans control all three branches of government but couldn't avoid a repeat of their mistakes in 1994 and 2014.

As for my current project, we're fully funded, so we can continue working and getting paid. But about a third of our team are civil servants who are now on furlough. Let's hope that the Republican Party shows a little more willingness to make a deal with the minority over the weekend.

Lies, Damned Lies, and the President's Polysyllabic Exhalations

The Washington Post's Fact Checker found that the President made 1,950 false or misleading claims in his first 347 days of office:

As regular readers know, the president has a tendency to repeat himself — often. There are now more than 60 claims that he has repeated three or more times. The president’s impromptu 30-minute interview with the New York Times over the holidays, in which he made at least 24 false or misleading claims, included many statements that we have previously fact-checked.

We currently have a tie for Trump’s most repeated claims, both made 61 times. Both of these claims date from the start of Trump’s presidency and to a large extent have faded as talking points.

One of these claims was some variation of the statement that the Affordable Care Act is dying and “essentially dead.” The Congressional Budget Office has said that the Obamacare exchanges, despite well-documented issues, are not imploding and are expected to remain stable for the foreseeable future. Indeed, healthy enrollment for the coming year has surprised health-care experts. Trump used to say this a lot, but he’s quieted down since his efforts to repeal the law flopped.

An astonishing 85 times, Trump has celebrated a rise in the stock market — even though in the campaign he repeatedly said it was a “bubble” that was ready to crash as soon as the Federal Reserve started raising interest rates. Well, the Fed has raised rates three times since the election — and yet the stock market has not plunged as Trump predicted. It has continued a rise in stock prices that began under President Barack Obama in 2009. Again, Trump has never explained his shift in position on the stock market.

At this rate, he'll utter his 2,000th lie as President sometime on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Rubin, James Fallows, Josh Marshall, Chris Cillizza, the Telegraph U.K., the Twitterverse, and Wile E. Coyote have weighed in on the President asserting that he's a "very stable genius."

We might have this guy for another 1,109 days...

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.

The Open Secret

James Fallows points out the alarming parallels between sexual harassment in Hollywood and President Trump's manifest unfitness for office:

In the very short term, a few people reflexively offered “open secret” as an explanation, even a rationalization. Of course everybody knew that Harvey/Roger/Kevin was this way (the reasoning went). If you were smart, you kept your distance, and you’d never take the bait of going for “a meeting” up in the hotel room. Want to give, or get, a “massage”? No way!

But you rarely hear rationalizations of that sort any more. Now the open-secret premise usually leads to a follow-up question. If “everyone” knew what was going on, why didn’t anyone do more to stop it? And this in turn has led to institutional and personal self-examinations.

Based on the excerpts now available, Fire and Fury presents a man in the White House who is profoundly ignorant of politics, policy, and anything resembling the substance of perhaps the world’s most demanding job. He is temperamentally unstable. Most of what he says in public is at odds with provable fact, from “biggest inaugural crowd in history” onward. Whether he is aware of it or not, much of what he asserts is a lie. ...

This is “news,” in its detail, just as the specifics of Harvey Weinstein’s marauding were real, hard-won news. But it also is an open secret. This is the man who offered himself to the public over the past two-and-a-half years.

This is scary stuff. It's bad enough when you're talking about a powerful entertainment executive; quite another thing when talking about the most powerful office on earth.

Into the garbage chute, flyboy

2017 is officially over for us here in Chicago. Let auld lang syne be forgot; we've got 309 days until what all my friends (except that one guy) hope will be a corrective election.

We're also hoping for warmer weather, which is actually more certain to happen, and sooner, than the Democratic Party regaining power in the U.S.

Still, we can look forward to the future, and hope.

Link round-up

Today is the last work day of 2017, and also the last day of my team's current sprint. So I'm trying to chase down requirements and draft stories before I lose everyone for the weekend. These articles will just have to wait:

We now return to "working through lunch," starring The Daily Parker...

 

Paying taxes will be less fun in Illinois next year

Due to a combination of city, county, regional, state, and federal policies, just about every tax and fee I pay is going up next year. My initial math suggests my Federal taxes will remain almost exactly the same, thanks to the increased individual exemption that covers my itemized deductions only because I'm renting out the flats I own. But my state taxes went up in July by 67%, my property taxes (on those flats) are going up, and even my gas bill is going up.

The Tribune explains how I'm not alone:

[T]he average property tax increase for the owner of a $250,000 home will be an estimated $97. Owners of a home worth $500,000 can expect a $369 tax hike. That’s because the larger homeowners’ exemption shifts the burden of paying property taxes to higher-priced homes and commercial properties.

  • Other tax and fee hikes start sooner. The CTA fare increase of 25 cents per bus and “L” ride goes into effect Jan. 7, raising the price of those rides to $2.25 and $2.50, respectively. For people commuting to and from work 50 weeks a year, that’s $125 more out of their pockets. The cost of a 30-day pass will go up by $5, to $105. Those increases will help fill a hole left by state public transportation funding cuts, CTA officials have said.
  • In February, Metra is boosting fares for one-way tickets by 25 cents. The cost of 10-ride tickets is going up by $4.25, to $7.75. Monthly passes will increase by $9 to $12.50, depending on the length of the trip. The price of $8 weekend passes will rise to $10.
  • Taking an Uber or Lyft in Chicago will cost more too. The start of the year brings a 15-cent increase to the 52 cents already charged for ride-sharing trips. The Emanuel administration expects to collect $16 million for CTA projects.
  • Also taking effect with the new year are higher fees charged to every cell and landline phone billed to a city address. Those fees are going up by $1.10 a month, to $5. The cost to a family with three phone lines is an extra $39.60 a year. The money will be used for emergency services costs and technology upgrades, freeing up about $30 million in general city funds for the city to spend as it sees fit.

Also going up: the city entertainment tax, city vehicle licenses, park and forest-preserve district taxes...the list goes on. It costs a lot to run a city the size of Chicago, and the Federal government under the Republican party is hosing us good. Subsidizing Mississippi and Alabama annoys me, especially when the people I'm subsidizing revere other people who tried to leave the United States so they could preserve human slavery.

A lot of people feel the way I do. My vote won't do much, because I live in a bright-blue state with Democratic representation in both the House and Senate; but in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—states that went to Trump by the narrowest of margins—other people are going to be pissed off. The next election is in 313 days. Let's see how it goes.

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?

No more daily PE in Illinois

For my entire school life, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, I had daily gym class. In 1957, Illinois became the first state to require all kids to have daily PE. This was the case until this school year:

The law cuts daily PE to a minimum of three days per week and, starting in seventh grade, students involved in interscholastic or extracurricular athletic programs could skip PE. Those moves and more were touted as a way to save money, but some fear the changes will push PE to the back burner of the curriculum lineup, even as physical education has been supported by public officials, including former first lady Michelle Obama, as a way to combat childhood obesity.

In the Illinois Report Card data released each year, the Illinois State Board of Education notes that 60 minutes of physical activity per day can improve academics and prevent childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease. “For students of all ages, physical education provides opportunities to learn motor skills, develop fitness, build team skills, strengthen problem solving abilities, and learn about healthy lifestyles,” ISBE said.

In fact, there has been confusion in various districts about aspects of the new law and whether districts are pursuing waivers correctly.

This fall, Champaign Community Unit School District 4 was moving to get a new five-year waiver to allow ninth- and 10th-graders to skip PE during the time they were involved in an interscholastic sport.

The waiver was withdrawn because it was no longer necessary based on a new provision in the PE law: Now, seventh- through 12th-graders may be excused from PE if they participate in interscholastic or extracurricular athletic programs. The law previously allowed only high school juniors and seniors to be excused under those circumstances.

Meanwhile, administrators in several high school districts told the Tribune they don’t plan to reduce their usual five days of PE, in part because of the complicated scheduling of high school classes as well as the potential difficulties of eliminating full-time PE teachers.

It seems like this change to the law wasn't well thought-out, wasn't well publicized, and wasn't particularly effective. Welcome to Illinois. I'm going to try to find out how my state rep and senator voted on this thing.

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.