The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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...

We can't even have a conversation

Josh Marshall argues that our inability to discuss gun control in any meaningful way has rendered us collectively impotent to prevent gun massacres:

Do you really need an AR-15? For some people, it’s just fun to fire off an AR-15. I begrudge no one that fun. You’re at the range. It’s just cool. I get it. But maybe, because it’s also the weapon of choice for virtually every school massacre, to have that fun you need to do a background check not just for institutionalization or felony records but something a bit more thorough-going to know you’re not someone with all the markers of a mass shooter. Or maybe you can have it and fire it as often as you want but you need to leave it in a locker at the range. These changes would be a bit of a pain for enthusiasts. But changing mores about drunken driving also made social drinking a bit more difficult. You have to think through how you’re getting home if you’re going to go out and have more than a couple drinks. Does your spouse or partner not drink? Do you have a designated driver? Public transportation? It’s a bit of a pain. We’ve decided this pain is more than worth it. The ability to drink in any way or to any extent at any time is not an absolute value.

The specific reforms are beside the point for these purposes. The point is the need for and public agreement to some balancing, some inconveniences and impediments to total freedom to do anything with guns up to the doorstep of a felony or a massacre. Until we do this, not only do we not have any of even the most basic reforms which could begin to make it a little harder to commit massacres, we also collectively send a signal as a society. Guns are not only potentially fatal as tools. They are all powerful totems. They are untouchable. They reduce adults who promise to spare no exertion to protect the country from various public or domestic threats to be reduced to the gibberish and nonsense of “thoughts and prayers.” Nothing is a deeper testament to the cultural power and invincibility of the gun in our society. And it is that power which is at the heart of the massacre spectacle – the desire and all-consuming need and drive to destroy lives including your own indiscriminately in a final burst of total power. Our collective impotence not only sharpens that weapon, that symbol for the perpetrators of the actual massacres. It also gives sanction for all the precursor behavior (the gun nut who is stockpiling AR-15s and ammo but never actually kills anyone).

The reforms are critical. And more of them than are even close to the current debate will be required. But the core of the culture of massacre is equally driven by the social sickness of inaction itself. It is the ultimate validation of the power of the gun that is at the heart of the sick social disease. Until we recognize that the collective message of the power and singular importance of guns is at the heart of the gun massacre scourge, we’ll never be rid of it.

My current Facebook status is, "Have we all forgotten that, at its core, the NRA is a trade association?" And one with questionable sources of funds at that.

Plain old paper can make our elections more secure

Via Bruce Schneier, Michael Chertoff and Grover Norquist (of all people) explain in the Washington Post how we can make our elections more secure:

It should also be no surprise that hackers have U.S. voting systems in their sights. They’re a relatively easy target. Researchers have studied a range of electronic voting infrastructure — including touch screens, optical scanner systems and registration databases — and found serious vulnerabilities that could allow even moderately sophisticated attackers to pose threats to voting integrity. This year, about 40 states are set to use electronic voting or tabulation systems that are more than a decade old — many of which run on software that’s too old to be serviced with vendor security patches. A survey of nearly 300 election officials in 28 states found that a clear majority report needing new voting systems.

We believe there is a framework to secure our elections that can win bipartisan support, minimize costs to taxpayers and respect the constitutional balance between state and federal authorities in managing elections. In September, Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, introduced legislation that would help solve the problem with an elegantly simple fix: paper ballots. Meadows’s Paper Act would authorize cost-sharing with states for the replacement of insecure electronic systems with those that produce a voter-verified physical record. The bill also lays the groundwork for states to regularly implement risk-limiting audits — procedures that check a small random sample of paper records to quickly and affordably provide high assurance that an election outcome was correct.

Of course, the Trump administration has no interest in returning people's faith in the elections process. Like authoritarians everywhere, they benefit from FUD. So it's interesting seeing Chertoff and Norquist taking a position I completely agree with.

Mid-week link roundup

Lots of things popped up in my browser today:

And now, back to work.

Anti-liberalism on the left

Andrew Sullivan cautions the American left against turning into the very thing it hates about the far-right:

The idea of individual merit — as opposed to various forms of unearned “privilege” — is increasingly suspect. The Enlightenment principles that formed the bedrock of the American experiment — untrammeled free speech, due process, individual (rather than group) rights — are now routinely understood as mere masks for “white male” power, code words for the oppression of women and nonwhites. Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of “hate,” rather than a function of nature or choice or freedom or individual agency. And anyone who questions these assertions is obviously a white supremacist himself.

Polarization has made this worse — because on the left, moderation now seems like a surrender to white nationalism, and because on the right, white identity politics has overwhelmed moderate conservatism. And Trump plays a critical role. His crude, bigoted version of identity politics seems to require an equal and opposite reaction. And I completely understand this impulse. Living in this period is to experience a daily, even hourly, psychological hazing from the bigot-in-chief. And when this white straight man revels in his torment of those unlike him — and does so with utter impunity among his supporters — there’s a huge temptation to respond in kind. A president who has long treated women, in his words, “like shit,” and bragged about it, is enough to provoke rage in any decent person. But anger is rarely a good frame of mind to pursue the imperatives of reason, let alone to defend the norms of liberal democracy.

Look: I don’t doubt the good intentions of the new identity politics — to expand the opportunities for people previously excluded. I favor a politics that never discriminates against someone for immutable characteristics — and tries to make sure that as many people as possible feel they have access to our liberal democracy. But what we have now is far more than the liberal project of integrating minorities. It comes close to an attack on the liberal project itself. Marxism with a patina of liberalism on top is still Marxism — and it’s as hostile to the idea of a free society as white nationalism is. So if you wonder why our discourse is now so freighted with fear, why so many choose silence as the path of least resistance, or why the core concepts of a liberal society — the individual’s uniqueness, the primacy of reason, the protection of due process, an objective truth — are so besieged, this is one of the reasons.

The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke.

I'm not sure I completely agree with him, but I see some signs that he may be more right than wrong.

The answer to the right-wing's ascendance in American politics through obnoxious bigotry and inflaming feelings of identity-based resentment cannot be obnoxious bigotry and inflaming feelings of identity-based resentment. That's insane.

Another ruling in the gig economy

The Federal court in the Northern District of California ruled today that GrubHub delivery drivers are contractors, not employees:

The ruling may have far-reaching implications for other sharing economy companies, including Uber Technologies Inc., whose business models are built on pairing customers with products and services through apps and typically avoid the costs of traditional employment.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco concluded Thursday, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, that a gig-economy driver doesn't qualify for the protections of employees under California law.

Charlotte Garden, an associate law professor at Seattle University, said Corley's decision is a “doubly big” win for GrubHub due to California's relatively high standard for establishing workers as independent contractors.

“If they can make it here, they can more likely make it anywhere,” Garden said. “It is also the first federal court to reach a verdict on whether workers in the gig economy are employees or not, so companies like Uber and Lyft will also be celebrating this win.”

(Of course, Uber may not survive its ongoing struggle with the Justice Department for other reasons, but that's not the point.)

Judge Corley admonished the state legislature to fix the problem this case exposed: “Under California law whether an individual performing services for another is an employee or an independent contractor is an all-or-nothing proposition,” she wrote. “With the advent of the gig economy, and the creation of a low wage workforce performing low skill but highly flexible episodic jobs, the legislature may want to address this stark dichotomy.”

We can expect multiple lawsuits in other Federal circuits any day now. 

File that under "B" for "Bad OpSec"

Via Bruce Schneier (and other sources), the Australian government suffered one of its worst-ever disclosures of secrets caused by not looking through used furniture:

It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.

The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.

They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.

Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.

The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.

Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

But the ex-government furniture sale was not limited to Australians — anyone could make a purchase.

And had they been inclined, there was nothing stopping them handing the contents to a foreign agent or government.

The found documents ranged from embarrassing (to both major Australian parties) to seriously top secret (troop deployments, police investigations). In response, the Australian government is calling for increased penalties for publishing or even possessing secret documents—but as Schneier points out, in this case that would have made the breech immeasurably worse for Australia:

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government's perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.

In all, it's a reminder of the security adage that no security system can completely protect against human stupidity.

Setting up lunchtime reading

Over the weekend I made a couple of minor updates to Weather Now, and today I'm going to spend some time taking it off its Azure Web Role and moving it to an Azure Website. That will (a) save me money and (b) make deployments a lot easier.

Meanwhile, a number of articles bubbled up overnight that I'll try to read at lunchtime:

Back to Azure deployment strategies.

The peasants have no bread

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan tweeted early yesterday the great news about the tax breaks ordinary people are experiencing:

Never mind all the Democrats who call the GOP’s tax bill a deficit-busting giveaway to the rich; House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has been enthusiastically promoting it as a middle-class tax windfall.

He’s been coaching other Republican lawmakers to sell the $1.5 trillion tax cut to voters, and telling people on Twitter to check their paychecks for wage hikes. The bill — which was deeply unpopular when it passed along party lines in December — is now breaking even in a new opinion poll.

So Saturday morning, by way of good news, Ryan’s Twitter account shared a story about a secretary taking home a cool $6 a month in tax savings.

Wow. An extra $1.50 a week will make a huge difference to that taxpayer. That might even let her eat cake.

The administration's insane attack on law enforcement

Confronted with the options that these guys are master strategists or they're not even thinking about their next move, Occam's Razor suggests we're dealing with serious stupidity here:

The war between the president and the nation’s law enforcement apparatus is unlike anything America has seen in modern times. With a special counsel investigating whether his campaign collaborated with Russia in 2016 and whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in 2017, the president has engaged in a scorched-earth assault on the pillars of the criminal justice system in a way that no other occupant of the White House has done.

At the start of his administration, Mr. Trump targeted the intelligence community for his criticism. But in recent months, he has broadened the attacks to include the sprawling federal law enforcement bureaucracy that he oversees, to the point that in December he pronounced the F.B.I.’s reputation “in tatters” and the “worst in history.”

In his telling, that bureaucracy, now run by his own appointees, is a nest of political saboteurs out to undermine him — an accusation that raised fears that he was tearing at the credibility of some of the most important institutions in American life to save himself.

This is insane. Even the Republicans in Congress who are enabling this behavior must know, on some level, it's insane.

In other news, the next presidential term begins in only 1,081 days...