The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The successes of Frances Willard

David Frum argues that anti-abortion organizers have a lot in common with the prohibitionists of the early 20th century—and have similar prospects for long-term success:

The culture war raged most hotly from the ’70s to the next century’s ’20s. It polarized American society, dividing men from women, rural from urban, religious from secular, Anglo-Americans from more recent immigrant groups. At length, but only after a titanic constitutional struggle, the rural and religious side of the culture imposed its will on the urban and secular side. A decisive victory had been won, or so it seemed.

The culture war I’m talking about is the culture war over alcohol prohibition. From the end of Reconstruction to the First World War, probably more state and local elections turned on that one issue than on any other. The long struggle seemingly culminated in 1919, with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment and enactment by Congress of the National Prohibition Act, or the Volstead Act (as it became known). The amendment and the act together outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States and all its subject territories. Many urban and secular Americans experienced those events with the same feeling of doom as pro-choice Americans may feel today after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Only, it turns out that the Volstead Act was not the end of the story. As Prohibition became a nationwide reality, Americans rapidly changed their mind about the idea. Support for Prohibition declined, then collapsed. Not only was the Volstead Act repealed, in 1933, but the Constitution was further amended so that nobody could ever try such a thing ever again.

I think his analysis is apt.

Missed anniversary, weather app edition

I've been a little busy this weekend so even though I remembered that yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Harry Potter's publication, I forgot that Friday was the 25th anniversary of Weather Now v0. Yes, I've had a weather application on the Internet for 25 years.

The actual, standalone Weather Now application launched on 11 November 1999, which I plan to make a bigger deal of. And that comes after this blog's 25th anniversary (13 May 1998). But it's kind of cool that I have an app running continuously since the early days of Bill Clinton's second term.

The illegitimacy of the Supreme Court

Some fun facts about the Justices of the United States:

  • Five were appointed by presidents who took office despite losing the popular vote. All 5 voted to overturn Roe.
  • Three of the Republicans on the Court—the Chief Justice, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett—worked for President George W Bush's Florida recount team.
  • The 52 senators who voted in favor of Justice Kavanaugh's (R) confirmation represent 145.9 million Americans. The 48 senators who voted against him represent 180.7 million.
  • The 50 senators who voted in favor of Justice Coney Barrett (R) represent 157.0 million to the 170.5 million the 48 no votes represent.
  • Eight have law degrees from Harvard or Yale. (This will remain true next month when Justice Brown takes office.)

With those facts in mind, James Fallows argues that the Court burned its own legitimacy to ashes by not remembering the simple truth about judicial power:

[D]emocratic legitimacy depends in the long run on majority rule, combined with minority rights.

We’re now closer to systematic rule by a minority, rather than respect for its rights. A democracy cannot forever function this way.

The Supreme Court has a long up-and-down history of glory and of tawdriness. But I argue that the leaders and eras that stand up best in retrospect showed awareness that the Court’s power depended on legitimacy, and legitimacy depended on the Court’s care about how it fit into the longer-term life of a democracy.

[A] court concerned about legitimacy, would under- rather than over-intrude in public affairs.

Over-intrusion is what we have. In the anti-Miranda ruling. In the blocking of gun control. In the outright voiding of Roe v. Wade.

The Court can make its rulings. From behind its barricaded and no-guns-allowed building.

It cannot preserve its legitimacy this way.

Linda Greenhouse concurs:

Consider the implication of Justice Alito’s declaration that Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong” from the start. Five of the seven justices in the Roe majority — all except William O. Douglas and Thurgood Marshall — were appointed by Republican presidents. The votes necessary to preserve the right to abortion 19 years later in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Roe follow-up decision that the court also overturned on Friday, came from five Republican-appointed justices.

In asserting that these justices led the court into grave error from which it must now be rescued, Justice Alito and his majority are necessarily saying that these predecessors, joining the court over a period of four decades, didn’t know enough, or care enough, to use the right methodology and reach the right decision. The arrogance and unapologetic nature of the opinion are breathtaking.

There will be turmoil now, for sure, as the country’s highways fill with women desperate to regain control over their lives and running out of time, perhaps followed by vigilantes across state lines. But the only turmoil that was caused by Roe and Casey was due to the refusal of activists, politicians and Republican-appointed judges to accept the validity of the precedents. Justice Alito’s reference to “turmoil” reminded me of nothing so much as Donald Trump’s invocation of “carnage” in his inaugural address. There was no carnage then, but there was carnage to come.

No, justices, your work isn’t done. What you have finished off is the legitimacy of the court on which you are privileged to spend the rest of your lives.

Here's some "turmoil:" some asshole in Iowa drove his truck into a pro-choice demonstration yesterday, injuring at least one woman.

One simple solution: 18-year terms. If we adopt this reform, Thomas (R) would be the first one to go followed by the Chief Justice (I) and Alito (R), which are strong arguments in favor as far as I'm concerned.

One bit of good news

About an hour ago, President Biden signed the first significant gun safety law we've passed in 30 years:

The bill provides grants to states for “red flag” laws, enhances background checks to include juvenile records, and closes the “boyfriend loophole” by keeping guns away from unmarried dating partners convicted of abuse. It will also require enhanced background checks for people ages 18 to 21 and funding for youth mental health services.

The bipartisan gun legislation sped through Congress in the month after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. Democrats unanimously voted in favor of the bill along with more than two dozen Republicans in the House and the Senate, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"When it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential," Biden said. "If we can reach a compromise on guns, we ought to be able to reach a compromise on other critical issues, from veterans health care to cutting-edge American innovation to so much more."

I don't think the President is quite correct in that conclusion. And while the law doesn't do some things we desperately need to do, like ban military-grade weapons for most civilians (including civilian police forces), it's a start. If you recall how long it took to get car safety rules passed, even incremental steps will help.

The fantasies of the Christianist Right

Mark Thiessen took a victory lap in the Post this afternoon, congratulating himself and his fellow travelers for succeeding in their 50-year project to make abortions illegal in most of the US:

Overturning Roe v. Wade has been the overarching, seemingly impossible goal of the pro-life movement for almost five decades. Now that it has finally been achieved, four words should be on the lips of every pro-life conservative today: Thank you, Donald Trump.

Looking back on Trump’s chaotic presidency, some understandably ask: Was it all worth it for a few conservative justices? To which I answer: Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Every Republican president before Trump failed miserably when it came to Supreme Court picks. In 1970, Richard M. Nixon nominated Harry A. Blackmun, who would go on to be the ignominious author of Roe. Gerald Ford picked only one justice, John Paul Stevens, who became the leader of the court’s liberal bloc. Ronald Reagan had three appointees (Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy), but only Scalia was a consistent conservative vote on the court. George H.W. Bush named one brilliant conservative (Clarence Thomas) and one catastrophic liberal (David Souter).

But as Josh Marshall points out, the reason Republican presidents didn't pick partisan Justices in the past—at least until Thomas—was because they didn't want to corrupt the Court:

Certainly the Warren Court was “liberal” by modern standards. But its creation was fundamentally organic. The justices’ positions didn’t clearly line up with those of the parties’ whose presidents nominated them. Indeed, many of the appointments were surprisingly casual and confirmed in much the same way.

The idea that you would create a political movement, harnessed to one political party, dedicated to building up a pipeline of future judges and justices, often all but created in a test tube to overrule specific decisions, was an innovation of the modern conservative judicial movement with no precedent. It had never happened before. And even as judicial liberals have belatedly reacted to that movement, they haven’t replicated it or really even tried.

And here is something of the catch. Conservatives really did convince themselves that the Warren Court and to an extent the Burger Court were the handiwork of a liberal political elite. As is the case in other instances, what’s actual belief or pretended belief gets murky. They claimed to set out to duplicate or create an opposite version of something that had never really existed. And in so doing they created the politicization of the federal judiciary that had never existed before, not in the same way.

At one level, give them their due. They had a goal. They worked tirelessly for half a century, building organizations, think tanks, chapters at every law school, political alliances and more all to get to this one day. And they got there. But it is a legitimate Court or judicial body as much as Fox News is a real news organization. And that’s no accident since they are the creation of the same political movement, often literally the same people and the same ideology and mindset.

So when Justice Thomas, one of the most partisan jurists ever to sit in the Supreme Court, bemoans the degradation of the institution and its authority, someone tell him to look in a mirror. By creating a partisan, activist Court majority, the Republican Party has won the battle against Roe. But I think historians in the future will look back on this moment as the Christianist-Conservative movement's sinking of the Lusitania.

Thomas and Alito unchained

As everyone expected, the Supreme Court today overturned Roe v Wade, ending Federal protections for abortion rights until we find a political fix to the reactionary Court supermajority. (We will; it'll just take time.) I haven't read the published opinion, which 4 of the partisan Justices joined. Chief Justice Roberts (I) wrote his own concurrence accepting the outcome in this specific case but rejecting the broader reversal.

At first glance, Justice Alito's (R) opinion seems close enough to the draft leaked last month, so I'll move on from that for now. But we should all regard with horror and alarm this line from Justice Thomas's (R) concurrence, in which he expresses just how batshit crazy fundamental Christianist he really is:

[I]n future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,” Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U. S. ___, ___ (2020) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment) (slip op., at 7), we have a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents, Gamble v. United States, 587 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (THOMAS, J., concurring) (slip op., at 9).

Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization, 587 US __ (2022) (THOMAS, J., citing himself as evidence for his own insane assertions.)

In other words, Thomas wants to return to the halcyon days of the '50s—the 1850s. And isn't it a bit rich that this particular Justice wants to undo so much progress? If only he had the courage of his convictions so he'd resign as the Founders intended.

I think we're in for about 10 years of this kind of crap before people finally have enough, or worse. At least Thomas and Alito no longer make any pretense of impartiality or reason.

Another thing to remember: we need to look at the commercial cases the Court has decided this term. Abortion isn't the prize for the Right; it's the payoff to their supporters. The real money's in the real money. Don't forget that.

Thursday afternoon round-up

A lot has happened in the past day or so:

Finally, let's all congratulate Trumpet, the bloodhound who won the Westminster Kennel Club's dog show last night. Who's a good boy!

Covid recovery, graphed

I've written often enough about wearing a fitness tracker, and I've been pretty happy with my Garmin Venu. The device has a feature called "body battery" which uses heart-rate variability and other measures to estimate how much energy you have. I've actually found it a reliable measure, in that when I check in on how I feel and then compare that to my body battery score, it seems right.

For instance, I would say this chart is a pretty decent proxy of how I've felt for the past week:

My symptoms hit Thursday night, were worst on Friday (I took a rapid test when I woke up Friday), but by this afternoon almost non-existent. In fact, I feel better today than I have in a while, 

I've found the body battery metric useful in other ways, too, mainly in timing activities and socializing. That Scotch right before bed, even if it's the only drink I have all day? There's a cost. I've also learned that as much as I enjoy traveling, being in a moving vehicle is draining.

I've got a stressful week coming up, followed by a couple of very-low-stress weeks. I'm interested to see how I manage my energy levels with this metric.

A quick dictionary of political terms

Back in February, Tom Nichols published a short primer on what political terms actually mean, in hopes of more reasonable and accurate discussion:

There was a thing, years ago, called The Handbook of Political Science. It’s now out of print, but no one wants to read hundreds of pages of that. Instead, let me offer a quick and dirty version of some of these terms, with a bit of snark and apologies to Ambrose Bierce (wherever he is) for incompetently lifting a Devil’s Dictionary approach.

Some of my fellow political scientists and historians will take issue with what I have here. I say to them: If you want to have long arguments about Juan Linz or Hannah Arendt, let’s do that in our patched elbows over some sherry. For now, I just want informed and engaged citizens to think twice about the kinds of words they’re slinging about a tad too loosely these days.

Liberal Democracy

What it is: A system of government that lets you read cranky articles about politics like the one you’re reading right now.

More specifically, democracies derive a ruling mandate from the free choices of citizens, who are equal before the law and who can freely express their preferences. Liberal democracies enshrine a respect for basic human rights (including the right of old cranks to speak their mind). Rights are, one might say, unalienable: The losers of elections do not have their rights stripped away. All citizens abide by constitutional and legal rules agreed upon in advance of elections and are willing to transfer power back and forth to each other peaceably.

What it isn’t: “The majority always rules.” Getting everything you want every time. Governing without negotiation or compromise. Winning every election. Never living with outcomes that disappoint you. Never running out of toilet paper or cat food.

Democracy, in sum, is not “things you happen to like.”

It turns out, most things, in sum, are not “things you happen to (dis-)like.”

He also has some comforting words about what the end of our democracy will look like to most people. Not very comforting, but, well... "Remember always that the post-Trump Republicans are now, at heart, mostly a kind of venal junta, a claque of avaricious mooks who want to stay in office but who don’t really know why, other than that they like money, power, and being on television. (Also, I firmly agree with George Will that they don’t want to live among their own constituents, who mostly scare the bejeebers out of them.) Most of them have no actual program beyond political survival."