The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

We the people...

Of all the eye-rolling things the new House majority has done in the past day, Speaker Boehner's squawking about taking the government back for the people grated the most. Given the Republicans' 20-year reign as the country's least popular option—if we had a parliamentary system we'd have had Democratic governments since 1992 without interruption—I wonder which people he means.

But by far the oddest thing they've decided to do, the House will today read the U.S. Constitution on the House floor. I'm not so much concerned with the cost of the exercise (about $1.1m), and in fact I think many of our representatives could use a refresher course. But given this is a Republican initiative, it brings up several touchy points. First, do they plan to read the entire document? If so, who gets to read the bits about "three-fifths of other persons?" How will they bring the requisite drama and pomp to the twelfth amendment, most of which has been superseded anyway? What about the 18th and 21st, which cancel each other out?

I'm so sorry I'll be on an airplane and unable to watch. I really do like the document, even if I'm pretty sure not to like the GOP's interpretation of it.

Render unto Caesar, part 2

The Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee is bankrupt:

On the first anniversary of his installation, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki announced Tuesday afternoon that the archdiocese will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Listecki said the move was necessary to fairly compensate victims and continue the "essential ministries" of the church, and urged the faithful not to blame the victims.

Yes, Archbishop, blaming the children that priests raped for the Church passing the criminals around instead of surrendering them to the secular authorities would be in poor taste.

The story continues:

The bankruptcy petition will not include parishes, schools and other Catholic entities that are separately incorporated, he said.

Just before the news conference, a group of advocates for the victims of clergy sex abuse said bankruptcy allows Listecki to avoid depositions and questions under oath in court about the abuse cases.

"This is about protecting church secrets, not church assets," said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests. "The goal here is to prevent top church managers from being questioned under oath about their complicity, not 'compensating victims fairly.' "

Do you suppose Ratzinger will pass the plate in the Vatican to help the archdiocese?

Render unto Caesar?

I admit that phrase doesn't have as much pull with Orthodox Jews as it might with other religious groups. Still, the story of an Orthodox couple who don't accept that they're divorced even though they have a perfectly valid divorce under state law encapsulates much of what frustrates me about fundamentalists:

The Friedman case has become emblematic of a torturous issue in which only a husband can "give" a get. While Jewish communities have historically pressured obstinate husbands to give gets, this was a very rare case of seeking to shame the husband in the secular world.

Holding signs saying, "Do the right thing" and "Free your wife," the crowd [protesting outside the husband's apartment] included religious women with their heads covered, men in skullcaps and a rabbi with a bullhorn who shouted, "Withholding a get is abusive."

All parties have said that Mr. Friedman is angry about the custody order, which grants him three weekends a month with his daughter, two of them in Philadelphia, beginning at 6 p.m. on Fridays. As a religious Jew, Mr. Friedman will not drive from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday — so he cannot see his daughter until Sunday.

The custody order is "a joke," said Yisroel Belsky, a prominent Brooklyn rabbi. "The court decided in a bullheaded way not to respect the Shabbos," or Sabbath, he said in a interview.

On the first point: they're divorced. The only reason to get the Get is to marry someone else in a religious service. Nothing, at all, legally prevents either party from marrying right now. But they have chosen to follow their religious laws instead of Maryland's and Pennsylvania's. That's a choice.

On the second point, which is similar: Belsky has it backwards. Mr. Friedman is deciding in a bullheaded way not to drive. He's choosing his religious beliefs over seeing his daughter. Rabbi Belsky should be advised that the judge really can't respect the Sabbath qua Sabbath because of the first amendment; but the judge should respect the agreement of the couple. So the question should be, why did Friedman's lawyer agree to a custody arrangement that ran afoul of Friedman's religion? Or what happened in the courtroom that led to this outcome?

Protesting outside the guy's house and writing to his employer (like one rabbi) cross the line. Get your crazy back in shul where it belongs.

And not to fan the crazy, but can someone tell me why the ex-wife doesn't just rip up the ketubah? Doesn't that accomplish the same thing as a get?

Guys, he lives here. Move on.

The fight continues today over whether Rahm Emanuel meets Chicago's residency requirements. Of course he does: he always intended to return to Chicago after finishing his service with the Federal Government, which makes him prima facie a Chicago resident. But don't take my word for it; let Cecil Adams explain it:

Let's review. There are two laws applying to Rahm's situation. My friend Greg Hinz says one is a city law and one is a state law. Not so — they're both state laws. If you read only the first one, things look bad for Rahm. Here's what Section 3.1-10-5 of the Illinois Municipal Code says:

A person is not eligible for an elective municipal office unless that person is a qualified elector of the municipality and has resided in the municipality at least one year next preceding the election or appointment.

Rahm did not, of course, live in Chicago for at least one year prior to the election. As one of the petitions objecting to his spot on the ballot states, he moved with his family to Washington, D.C., where he served as Obama's chief of staff from January 2009 till October 2010.

Let's turn to the second law. Chapter 36, Section 3.2(a) of the Illinois Compiled Statutes includes the following provision:

A permanent abode is necessary to constitute a residence within the meaning of Section 3-1 [which says who's allowed to vote in Illinois]. No elector or spouse shall be deemed to have lost his or her residence in any precinct or election district in this State by reason of his or her absence on business of the United States, or of this State.

Does this second law contradict the first law? Of course not; it merely provides an exception.

It's a distracting petition, and the petitioners know it. But every fool must have his day in court. (Cecil supplies a few other reasons why the petitioners might be even more foolish.)

Health Care and the Commerce Clause

Constitution scholar and writer Garrett Epps lays out the case for the constitutionality of requiring Americans to "maintain a minimum level of health insurance." Well, for starters, it doesn't:

This snappy apothegm is the logical equivalent of saying that the Defense Appropriations Act "requires that every United States citizen, other than those who leave the country, engage in accepting a minimum level of protection by the United States military." The provisions of the Health Care Act provide a benefit. The majority of Americans, who already have health coverage (and seem, by and large, to regard this coverage as worth bargaining for) will simply see improvements in their existing health care benefits, such as an end to lifetime benefit limits and the right to include older adult children on their policies. A significant number of others who are currently uninsured will become eligible for government-funded health insurance.

There will remain a small but significant number of Americans who can afford health care insurance but choose not to buy it. But contrary to the sound bite above, even they are not required to "maintain a minimum level of health insurance." If they wish to keep their uninsured status, they may do so by paying an addition to their income tax bills--ranging from as little as $695 for an individual taxpayer to $2085 for a family of six or more. The claim that the government is "forcing individuals to buy a commercial product" is worse than spin; it is simply false.

He sums up:

The doctrine under which the Act is being assailed quite simply constitutes a threat to most of the significant advances in federal law of the past 100 years: federal pension programs, national wildernesses and parks, consumer protection, environmental regulation, and most particularly statutory guarantees of civil rights.

It's not coincidental that right now Ron Paul laments the Civil Rights Act and that Haley Barbour speaks fondly the segregated South, that anti-immigrant extremists target birthright citizenship, or that right-wingers seek to wreck the Constitution with an old-South style amendment letting states repeal federal laws. A decision to void the Act would furnish a powerful precedent for those who would "restore" a libertarian dreamland that never existed, and that for most of us would quickly become a nightmare.

The next year will be interesting. The U.S. might become a 21st-Century nation. Or we might remain the only developed country without this basic protection.

Wait! Keep jailin' em, just not for so long!

A spokesman for Pat Robertson has clarified the Rev's stance on pot:

Dr. Robertson did not call for the decriminalization of marijuana. He was advocating that our government revisit the severity of the existing laws because mandatory drug sentences do harm to many young people who go to prison and come out as hardened criminals. He was also pointing out that these mandatory sentences needlessly cost our government millions of dollars when there are better approaches available. Dr. Robertson's comments followed a CBN News story about a group of conservatives who have proven that faith-based rehabilitation for criminals has resulted in lower repeat offenders and saved the government millions of dollars. Dr. Robertson unequivocally stated that he is against the use of illegal drugs.

Yes, faith-based rehabilitation for the criminals who use the Demon Weed will surely result in less economic deadweight loss and fewer ruined lives than, say, accepting that prohibition failed. (Whoops! I mean marijuana prohibition, which is obviously and totally unlike the 18th Amendment's prohibition of alcohol. I mean, everyone knows that was a disaster. Alcohol, as everyone knows, is safer than pot and more culturally relevant, so of course drawing a general lesson about drug laws from the 1930s isn't appropriate.)

Obstructionist Republicans

Do you know why the Senate doesn't seem to get anything done? It might have something to do with the 63 filibusters they perpetrated in the current Congress. That's more filibusters than the Senate had from 1919 to 1982 combined, and two more than the previous record, which they set in the last Congress.

Drill down into the lists of individual cloture actions in each Congress, and you get a sense of just how obstructionist the Republicans have become.

Like Nixon in China

Even Pat Robertson—yes, that Pat Robertson—can no longer pretend that U.S. drug policy has in any way succeeded:

The salient part:

We're locking up people that take a couple of puffs of marijuana and the next thing you know they've got ten years—they've got mandatory sentences and these judges, they throw up their hand and say, "Nothing we can do, it's mandatory sentences." We've got to take a look at what we're considering crimes, and that's one of them. I mean, I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don't get me wrong, but I just believe criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, and that kind of thing, I mean it's just, it's costing us a fortune, and it's ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths, and they come out as hardened criminals.

Wow. Decriminilization has forded the mainstream all the way to the other side.

I'm worried about...

Gulliver follows up on the 'sno-good situation at Heathrow:

Gatwick used to be owned by BAA, like Heathrow. But under its new owners, Global Infrastructure Partners, it has coped better than its London rival and is now fully operational. Part of the problem at Heathrow, of course, is that it operates at up to 98% capacity so small problems can have massive knock-on effects. But even so, the differences between snow-fighting provisions at Heathrow and Gatwick are notable, as the BBC has reported:

Earlier this year, BAA published an investment programme of £5.1bn for Heathrow over five years, of which £500,000 was invested in snow and ice-fighting technology this year, with another £3m planned for the next four years. By comparison, reports suggest that Gatwick Airport, which is half the size of Heathrow and was sold by BAA last year, spent £1m on snow and ice this year and plans to spend another £7m next year. Heathrow's "snow fleet" is made up of 69 vehicles; Gatwick's is a reported 150.

It reminds me of a statistic I encountered in 2003, when I worked for a time in Richmond, Va. That year, as many on the East Coast remember, the mid-Atlantic states had 12 snowstorms in three months. I got trapped in DC for two days in February returning from New York; I watched panicked Virginians buy all the bread and milk they could carry upon seeing the first snowflake.

Anyway, it turned out that the Commonwealth of Virginia (area: 110,785 km²) owned the same number of snowplows as the City of Chicago (area: 606 km²). It may be an unfair comparison—after all, municipalities also have snow-removal equipment—but I swear I didn't see Richmond start plowing until the snow had gotten at least 50 mm deep.

And if you want a laugh, the title of this post harks back to this old Monty Python ditty:

Incompetence and snow

Back in 1979, Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic lost re-election to Jane Byrne mostly for his failure to clear the streets of snow after the worst snowfall in the city's recorded history. His story didn't end too badly, as he ultimately became Chief Justice of Illinois; but it taught all the city's subsequent mayors to get the snowplows out before the first flake hits the ground.

The Spanish company Ferrovial—owner of the British Airports Authority, which runs Heathrow—hasn't, apparently, learned this lesson, according to Daily Beast aviation blogger Clive Irving:

[Y]ou might think that, given its importance, the ability of Heathrow not simply to wreck the holiday travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people but to undermine economies, disrupt international air cargo and, most significantly, to visit disaster on the travel industry, plans would be in place to ensure that it can function after a 13 cm snowfall. After all, terrorists would be delighted to have wrought such harm.

Here we are, though, four days after the weekend shutdown of Heathrow and even now the airport is still barely functional.

And it’s all because the people in charge of Heathrow could not muster the resources to plow two runways and clear ice and snow from terminal gates—not exactly rocket science and something hundreds of airports have to face on a regular basis in winter.

It's interesting how O'Hare manages to keep 7 runways clear (or at least the three in use at any point) during 30 cm snow events, without resorting to the army.