The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The debt limit "disagreement"

James Fallows destroys any idea you may have that "reasonable people on both sides" have a disagreement about raising the Federal debt ceiling:

In reality, as nearly everyone reporting on this issue understands, this is not a “showdown.” It is not even a “disagreement.” Those terms might apply to questions like the size of the infrastructure-spending bill, or prospective judicial nominees, or what to do about Haitian refugees.

Instead, this is a naked threat. It has exactly zero legitimacy as a “policy” for either party to espouse. I’ll explain why in a moment—in the course of arguing that reporting that fails to convey the fraudulence of the issue, is diminishing rather than increasing our awareness of the truth.

  • The annual U.S. government deficit, and the cumulative U.S. debt, are the results of decisions Congress and an Administration make, not independent variables.Congress votes to authorize spending, and to raise or reduce taxes. The debt and deficit reflect these decisions, rather than controlling them, or being subject to outside dictates about their size.The check you get at the end of a restaurant meal reflects what you have ordered and eaten. The number you see on a bathroom scale reflects calories in, versus energy out. The reading on a thermometer reflects outside heat.In just the same way, the annual deficit-and-debt totals indicate what Congress has already decided on. They’re a measure, not a control. Putting limits on them is like limiting what the bathroom scale can show.
  • [S]tarting in the 1990s, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich began “weaponizing” the debt limit as a political tool. He recognized that there was no “rational” reason to refuse to raise the limit, for spending Congress had already approved. But the threat of doing so would be a serious problem for whatever president was in power—because in practice it would mean that for some time the Treasury would have to stop issuing bonds and notes, which are the backbone of international finance.
  • Final point: Why is a refusal to raise the debt limit a problem? It is not because anyone thinks the U.S. will ultimately default on its Treasury bonds, bills, and notes. It is because, as a technical matter, the Treasury would have to suspend issuing these financial instruments—which are a backbone of international finance.

In short, no one can make a rational policy argument about failing to raise the debt limit. And yet, here we are, with one party trying to govern and the other trying not to.

And the band played on...

How close is the end of the Republic?

According to the Washington Post's Robert Kagan, the end has already begun:

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves. The warning signs may be obscured by the distractions of politics, the pandemic, the economy and global crises, and by wishful thinking and denial.

The stage is thus being set for chaos. Imagine weeks of competing mass protests across multiple states as lawmakers from both parties claim victory and charge the other with unconstitutional efforts to take power. Partisans on both sides are likely to be better armed and more willing to inflict harm than they were in 2020. Would governors call out the National Guard? Would President Biden nationalize the Guard and place it under his control, invoke the Insurrection Act, and send troops into Pennsylvania or Texas or Wisconsin to quell violent protests? Deploying federal power in the states would be decried as tyranny. Biden would find himself where other presidents have been — where Andrew Jackson was during the nullification crisis, or where Abraham Lincoln was after the South seceded — navigating without rules or precedents, making his own judgments about what constitutional powers he does and doesn’t have.

Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian. They have followed the standard model of appeasement, which always begins with underestimation. The political and intellectual establishments in both parties have been underestimating Trump since he emerged on the scene in 2015. They underestimated the extent of his popularity and the strength of his hold on his followers; they underestimated his ability to take control of the Republican Party; and then they underestimated how far he was willing to go to retain power. The fact that he failed to overturn the 2020 election has reassured many that the American system remains secure, though it easily could have gone the other way — if Biden had not been safely ahead in all four states where the vote was close; if Trump had been more competent and more in control of the decision-makers in his administration, Congress and the states. As it was, Trump came close to bringing off a coup earlier this year. All that prevented it was a handful of state officials with notable courage and integrity, and the reluctance of two attorneys general and a vice president to obey orders they deemed inappropriate.

So, is the Republican Party a modern-day Catilinarian conspiracy? I guess we'll find out in the next few years. Should be exciting.

Excuse me while I Google a few things...

A pot of pot money

After years of legal marijuana sales at the state level, the House of Representatives has finally proposed a solution to the problem of what to do with the money:

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote this week on a bill that would let banks do business with cannabis companies without fear of penalty. 

The so-called SAFE Banking Act, which is the least disputed reform sought by the growing industry, got picked up as part of broader legislation, and its inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act was approved by voice vote late Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether the bill will pass the Senate, but the House action gives it a better shot.

The act would be a boon for marijuana companies, which have so far been stymied by the need to deal in cash because of federal restrictions. That has meant they have extra security costs and logistical problems, even as marijuana increasingly becomes legal. Some three dozen states now allow medical or recreational use, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis research firm. 

For the first time, it looks like the rule change will pass. This means, among other things, consumers will finally be able to pay for their pot with credit cards.

Late morning things of interest

So these things happened:

And finally, break out the Glühwein: Chicago's Christkindlmarket will return to Daley Plaza and Wrigleyville this winter.

End of day links

While I wait for a continuous-integration pipeline to finish (with success, I hasten to add), working a bit later into the evening than usual, I have these articles to read later:

  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Lib-Papineau) called a snap election to boost his party, but pissed off enough people that almost nothing at all changed.
  • Margaret Talbot calls out the State of Mississippi on the "errors of fact and judgment" in its brief to the Supreme Court about its draconian abortion law.
  • Julia Ioffe expresses no surprise that the press and the progressives have come to grief with each other over President Biden.
  • Josh Marshal examines the "crumbling firmament" signified by France's indignation at our deal to supply nuclear submarines to the Australian Navy.
  • New regulations allowing hunters to kill wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain states may have the unintended result of putting the animals back on the endangered-species list.

And I am sad to report, Cassie will not get to the dog beach tomorrow, what with the 4-meter waves and all.

Third Monday in September

Today might be the last hot day of the year in Chicago. (I hope so, anyway.) While watching the cold front come through out my office window, with the much-needed rain ahead of it, I have lined up some news stories to read later today:

And finally, Metallica has an unexpected show tonight at Metro Chicago, about two kilometers from my house. Tickets are $20. I hope people show up for my board meeting tonight.

What happened to public transit in the US?

In a CityLab article from this summer (which for some reason they put on today's newsletter, and not the one from June 25th), Tony Frangie Mawad examines the decline in American public transit since the late 20th century:

Back in 1970, 77 million Americans commuted to work every day, and 9% of them took a bus or a train. By 2019, the number of U.S. workers had nearly doubled, to more than 150 million. But the vast majority of these new workers chose to drive: The number of public transit riders increased by only around 1 million during those years, and their share of the country’s overall commuters collapsed to 5%.

“In a number of other countries, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are combined in one entity,” [said Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute]. “In the United States, we ended up with two different entities.” As a result, housing and mobility needs have been poorly aligned; the landscape is laden with housing that lacks access to public transportation, light rail lines that course through sparsely settled areas, and too many cities whose transit networks can’t connect riders with jobs.

But as Freemark’s new analysis of commuting data shows, based on his database of long-term trends in U.S. metros, regional patterns reveal a more complex story. Some cities have bucked national trends and gained transit commuters over the last 50 years. Coastal cities like New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston saw an increase of hundreds of thousands of transit commuters between 1970 and 2019. Pre-pandemic, 3 million New Yorkers commuted by bus, subway and train daily — 500,000 more than in 1970 — and the region’s share of transit commuters held relatively steady.

Cities where transit use has seen massive reductions tend to be those that have endured deindustrialization and suburbanization during the last 50 years, with a concurrent rise in investments in highways designed to shuttle car-driving commuters in and out of town. “These used to be places that had really successful downtowns, but now most of their workforce has suburbanized,” says Freemark.

Here in Chicago, former Illinois Governors Bruce Rauner (R) and James Thompson (R) starved the Regional Transit Authority of funds—Rauner going so far as to halt almost all infrastructure improvements throughout the Chicago transit area.

Declines in transit use, therefore, come from policy decisions that we can reverse. Let's start by adequately funding the existing transit networks, and de-funding highway expansions, for example.

Total recall failure

As expected (but not as most news organizations made it seem), California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) did not lose his job yesterday:

With 100% of precincts reporting at least some results, Gavin Newsom has avoided being recalled by a 63.9% to 36.1% margin.

The numbers from the California Secretary of State show a clear divide in the state: coastal counties, the Bay Area and nearly all of Southern California voted to keep Newsom. Central California and most of the rural Northern California counties voted to oust him. 

Republican Larry Elder was the top candidate to replace Newsom, but he only received a paltry 2,373,551 votes. That was good for 46% of the votes for a replacement candidate, followed by Democrat YouTuber Kevin Paffrath (9.8%) and former San Diego mayor Kevin L. Faulconer (8.6%).

Author John Scalzi yawns:

California governor Gavin Newsom has defeated the recall initiative against him, and apparently by a margin large enough that even committed conspiracists can’t make a claim that the vote was tainted with a straight face. Oh, some of them will, because they can’t not, but every time they do they weaken the argument for later by showing that there’s no election result they won’t claim “fraud” for, no matter the circumstances. So on second thought, go right ahead, conservatives, whine that this election was tainted.

Back in the real world, however, the result is not entirely surprising in a state where the Democrats have a 2-1 party registration advantage over the GOP, and where the conservative candidate’s pitch was that he planned to make California more like Florida, where the recent infectious peak of COVID (August 16) was almost four times higher than California, despite the latter state having far more people. “Make California More Infected” turns out not to be the winning slogan GOP folks seem to think it is.

The vote to deny his recall had as much to do with Democratic (and Californian) annoyance at the GOP wasting everyone’s time (and Elder being a pro-COIVD dimwit with a shady history) than any referendum on Newsom himself. In my view as a former Californian who spends at least a little time keeping up with my former state’s politics, it was unlikely that Newsom would have been recalled in any circumstance, but if I were Newsom, I wouldn’t be smug about the result. He’s still got fences to mend, and not with the GOP.

Sacramento Republican strategist Rob Stutzman pointed out "when you have the near-perfect caricature of a MAGA candidate, well, you can turn your voters out." But that in itself should give us hope that perhaps voters have gotten tired of Republican whining. When the party in opposition has nothing to say other than they're not the party in government, people start to lose interest.

I am serious. And don't call me partisan.

Matt Ford points out the surreality of Justice Amy Coney Barrett's appearance at an event with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over the weekend:

If you were a parodist for The Onion, “Justice Amy Coney Barrett Insists Supreme Court Isn’t Partisan at McConnell Center Event” probably wouldn’t even get you a courtesy chuckle from your co-workers at a pitch meeting. Reality, however, clearly has a more surreal sense of humor than any mortal can muster, because this incredible moment of irony is exactly what occurred this weekend in Louisville, Kentucky.

“My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks,” the court’s newest justice reportedly told an audience at an event celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center. The center is named for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was present as Barrett spoke, and who has, for these past many years, served as the loyal bagman for the larger conservative judicial project.

conservatives have navigated between the Scylla and Charybdis of judicial politics over the past few decades. They can’t nominate Supreme Court justices whose views are too well known, à la Bork, lest they share his fate. Nor can they throw their support behind nominees whose views on constitutional law are too mysterious, lest they nominate another David Souter, the George H.W. Bush pick who quickly became a reliable liberal justice after his confirmation. One of their solutions to this quandary was social networking: Groups like the Federalist Society function less like the top-down clearinghouse that most liberals imagine it to be and more like a Facebook or LinkedIn for like-minded lawyers.

So, no, Barrett, Kavanaugh, and the rest of the Republican justices don't self-identify as Republicans anymore. But Barrett's claim that they're apolitical is as nonsensical as it seems.

What have we learned?

Elections have consequences. The events of 20 years ago transformed the world in ways I can't imagine happening had the Supreme Court not thrown the 2000 election. Of course, had Al Gore won, the terrorists probably would not have attacked; they wanted the rage and violence that followed as part of their plan to drag the world back to the 12th Century.

But because the president was a draft-dodging chickenhawk, and because his vice-president was a power-hungry paranoid, the terrorists won:

The terms of the debate were set by the Islamic extremists on one side, and Western neoconservatives on the other. People like me found ourselves caught in the middle. Through my entire adolescence and young adulthood, I was forced to distinguish myself from the terrorists, to prove I was one of the “good ones.” George W. Bush had called it a “crusade” against an elusive foe who might be your neighbor. He said that you were either with us or with the terrorists, implying that anyone who did not support the United States was supporting Al Qaeda. Those were the parameters of the post-9/11 era.

Only by getting the West drawn into endless wars abroad, and into plots against enemies at home, could [Osama bin Laden] bankrupt the American behemoth. In the decade since his death, the results have been plain to see: conflict and instability across the greater Middle East; more refugee flows into the West, combined with anti-immigrant violence in response; the rise in America of terrorist attacks carried out by white extremists, goaded on by an authoritarian leader who made a name for himself demonizing Muslims. The surveillance state now has extensive access to every facet of our lives. Trust in political institutions is decaying. Democracy itself is in peril.

[S]omething much worse than terror wounded our society over the last two decades. An essential faith in the future was lost. Perhaps this is true for the end of all empires, and despair always precedes the fall. But if younger generations are to emerge from the darkness of the 9/11 era — and it remains my naïve hope that they will — we must first acknowledge the damage we wrought on ourselves. That was the deepest cut of all.

It helped them that we got everything wrong after 9/11:

The nation’s failures began in the first hours of the attacks and continue to the present day. Seeing how and when we went wrong is easy in hindsight. What’s much harder to understand is how—if at all—we can make things right.

The most telling part of September 11, 2001, was the interval between the first plane crash at the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m., and the second, at 9:03. In those 17 minutes, the nation’s sheer innocence was on display.

[A]fter that second crash, and then the subsequent ones at the Pentagon and in the fields outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, our government panicked. There’s really no other way to say it. Fear spread up the chain of command.

Rather than recognizing that an extremist group with an identifiable membership and distinctive ideology had exploited fixable flaws in the American security system to carry out the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched the nation on a vague and ultimately catastrophic quest to rid the world of “terror” and “evil.”

[R]emoving the terror cases from traditional federal courts and sending them to military tribunals has still produced no closure for the families of 9/11 victims. So far, none of the alleged 9/11 plotters sitting in Guantánamo have faced trial. Military-commission proceedings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly a mastermind of the attacks, and four co-defendants are still in a pretrial phase.

DHS has the wrong DNA. Unlike the Justice Department, it has no institutional culture rooted in respect for the rule of law. Unsteeped in America’s traditions of freedom and openness, the new department was built to view everything through a lens of “Can it hurt us?” This corrosive mindset became particularly visible on immigration and border-control issues, as a culture of welcoming new citizens and families shifted to one of questioning and suspicion—especially if you happened to have dark skin.

Meanwhile, for all the original talk of banishing evil from the world, the [Global War on Terror's] seemingly exclusive focus on Islamic extremism has led to the neglect of other threats actively killing Americans. In the 20 years since 9/11, thousands of Americans have succumbed to mass killers—just not the ones we went to war against in 2001. The victims have included worshippers in churchessynagogues, and temples; people at shopping mallsmovie theaters, and a Walmart; students and faculty at universities and community colleges; professors at a nursing school; children in elementarymiddle, and high schools; kids at an Amish school and on a Minnesota Native American reservation; nearly 60 concertgoers who were machine-gunned to death from hotel windows in Las Vegas. But none of those massacres were by the Islamic extremists we’d been spending so much time and money to combat.

Looking back after two decades, I can’t escape the conclusion that the enemy we ended up fighting after 9/11 was ourselves.

Other analyses:

And the New York Times has a running blog on the events of today's anniversary.