The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Losing the Joint Chiefs, one by one

Former football coach and mediocre white guy Tommy Tuberville (R-MS), currently fighting for the Dumbest Person in Congress title against several of his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate, has continued his one-man blockade in the Senate against confirming the promotions of general and flag officers across the US military. As a consequence, for the first time in a century, the US Marine Corps has no Commandant:

[Commandant General David] Berger, whose four-year tour as the Marines’ top officer came to an end, was supposed to hand the reins over to Gen. Eric Smith, who has been nominated for the job. Instead, Smith will run the Corps on a temporary basis while he waits for Senate confirmation, thanks to the hold. Because he’s not confirmed, Smith will have to hold off on making any making strategic decisions for the service. He will also simultaneously serve in his current position as the Marine Corps’ No. 2.

Tuberville, an Alabama Republican and Senate Armed Services Committee member, placed the hold in protest of the Pentagon’s new policy that pays travel expenses for troops if they cannot obtain abortions in their state. He has also voiced frustration that President Joe Biden has yet to reach out to discuss the matter.

The senator’s procedural holds mean that senior officers across the military are unable to move their families to their new assignments, and in many cases are losing out on the pay raises that promotions entail.

Berger is the first of four members of the eight-member Joint Chiefs of Staff who will begin retiring this year. With the hold in place, half the chiefs, the leaders of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, along with the chair, will have no confirmed successor in the seat to replace them.

Obviously the US Marine Corps can function with only an acting Commandant for a while. But because Tuberville has stopped almost 300 promotions to O7 and above, critical lower-level posts have gone unstaffed as well. (Let's just forget for a moment that arcane Senate rules, specifically designed to halt legislative business far beyond the "cooling saucer" envisioned by the founders, allows this to happen.)

Yesterday, US Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) had this to say about the Coach:

This hold is unnecessary, unprecedented, and, at a critical time in national security, it is driving the U.S. military to a potential breaking point. It is also an affront to the military and their families, who so many of us just lauded for their sacrifices during the Fourth of July festivities. My colleagues thanked them profusely, but do not recognize that they are professional officers who deserve consideration, not as political chips but as men and women of our services.

Those of my colleagues who support this unprecedented delay are themselves politicizing the military by the very nature of their actions. These promotions have always been confirmed by unanimous consent very soon after being reported to the floor or, on the rare occasion, a single overwhelming vote without cloture. But now, in refusing to confirm these promotions, the uniformed military, previously and appropriately shielded from partisan politics, is being thrust into the midst of politics. This behavior was once reserved only for individual political appointees, civilian political appointees on specific matters of dispute, usually with some reasonable or negotiable outcome. No more. It seems it is ‘‘my way’’ or no way at all. And that is a sad demonstration of individual hubris.

The Senator from Alabama often says if we really wanted these generals and admirals, we would just vote, but I would like to explain that. The Senator is not allowing a simple vote; he is demanding cloture first on every nomination. So we asked the Congressional Research Service what it would take to process 251 nominations with cloture. They estimate to file cloture on all the nominations being held, it would take approximately 5 hours. Then 2 days later, the Senate could start voting.

It will take approximately 668 hours to confirm all these military nominations. That is 27 days if the Senate works around the clock, 24 hours a day. If the Senate just did military nominations for 8 hours a day, it would take 84 days. So ‘‘just vote’’ is not an answer. This is not a feasible solution to this issue.

Right now, a number of military officers who were planning to retire are on an indefinite hold because they have no one confirmed to take their jobs. Others want to go to new commands but cannot for the same reason. Their families cannot move to their new homes. Their children cannot get ready for a new school. Their spouses cannot take new jobs.

This is not a game. These are real lives that have been upended. Due to the pure obstinacy of the Senator from Alabama, the Senate is, in effect, holding thousands of loyal members of the U.S. military and their families in limbo. I believe we owe them more than that.

Hear, hear. This isn't a game to anyone but Tuberville. But it's kind of what we'd expect from a mediocre old white guy from Alabama, isn't it? Except...weren't the Republicans the party of military preparedness a few years ago? I guess we have always been at war with Oceania after all...

Toujours, quelque damn chose

But for me, it was Tuesday:

  • The Democratic National Committee has selected Chicago to host its convention next August, when (I assume) our party will nominate President Biden for a second term. We last hosted the DNC in 1996, when the party nominated President Clinton for his second term.
  • Just a few minutes ago, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed suit in the Southern District of New York to enjoin US Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) from interfering in the prosecution of the XPOTUS.
  • Speaking of the House Moron Caucus, Jonah Goldberg worries that the kids following people like Jordan and the XPOTUS have never learned how to behave in public, with predictable and dire consequences for public discourse in the future.
  • And speaking of, uh, discourse, New York Magazine features Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) on its cover this week, in which the actor describes her meeting in 2006 with a "pop-culture curiosity" years before destroying American democracy even entered into his dementia-addled brain. It...isn't pretty.
  • Jennifer Rubin thinks the Religious Right's "victory" in politicizing the Federal judiciary will cripple the Republican Party. (I believe she's right.)
  • Today I learned that Guthrie's Tavern did not die during the pandemic, and in fact will offer free hot dogs during Cubs home games to all paying customers (while supplies last).
  • Rishi Shah and Shradha Agarwal, the CEO and president of Chicago tech company Outcome Health, were convicted on 32 counts of fraud and other crimes for their roles in stealing investors' money.
  • The Hubble Space Telescope has detected a runaway black hole moving close to 1,000 km/s with a 200,000-light-year tail of baby stars following it. (Those baby stars happened because at that speed, it wasn't able to pull out in time...)
  • MAD Magazine cartoonist Al Jaffee, inventor of the Fold-In, died Monday at 102.

Finally, Tupperware has warned its creditors and shareholders that it may go out of business in what I have to call...an uncontained failure of the company.

The worst Federal judge in the US

The US Federal District Courts have 670 Article III judges (that is, Senate-confirmed, lifetime-appointed), almost all of them competent and conscientious jurists. They make mistakes sometimes, for which we have nine Circuit Courts of Appeals, and ultimately, the Supreme Court. In the entre history of the US, the US Senate has convicted only 8 Federal judges in impeachment trials, the most recent, Thomas Porteous for perjury, in 2010

XPOTUS appointee Matthew Kacsmaryk, of the Northern District of Texas, apparently wants the 9th slot:

The competition is fierce and will remain so, but for now he holds the title: worst federal judge in America.

Not simply for the poor quality of his judicial reasoning, although more, much more, on this in a bit. What really distinguishes Kacsmaryk is the loaded content of his rhetoric — not the language of a sober-minded, impartial jurist but of a zealot, committed more to promoting a cause than applying the law.

In an opinion released Friday, Kacsmaryk invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of the abortion drug mifepristone and, for good measure, found that abortion medications cannot be sent by mail or other delivery service under the terms of an 1873 anti-vice law.

Before being nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump in 2017, Kacsmaryk served as deputy general counsel at the conservative First Liberty Institute. He argued against same-sex marriage, civil rights protections for gay and transgender individuals, the contraceptive mandate and, of course, Roe v. Wade.

A trio of law professors writing in Wired take a step back but agree that Kacsmaryk went far beyond his authority:

[W]e would like to offer some clarification here. Because despite the barrage of predictions that this case could ban mifepristone and take it off the market, there are several basic legal principles suggesting that Judge Kacsmaryk’s power is limited and that a ruling for the plaintiffs will not necessarily change much at all with medication abortion.

First, as an amicus brief from FDA law scholars (including one of the authors of this piece) makes clear, Congress crafted procedures by statute for the FDA to use to withdraw approval of a drug. Judge Kacsmaryk cannot force the FDA to adopt another process to do the same—doing so would violate federal law. At best, he should only be able to order the agency to start the congressionally mandated process, which involves public hearings and new agency deliberations. This could take months or years, with no guarantee of the result.

Second, even if Judge Kacsmaryk forgoes this process and rules that the FDA’s approval was unlawful and that mifepristone is now deemed a drug without approval, he cannot force the FDA to enforce the decision. Because the FDA does not have the capacity to enforce its statute against every nonapproved product on the market, it has long been settled law, decided in a unanimous 1985 Supreme Court decision, that the agency has broad enforcement discretion, meaning the agency, not courts, gets to decide if and when to enforce the statute.

Times columnist Kate Shaw agrees:

The Biden administration should be swift and forceful in its response to Judge Kacsmaryk’s ruling, using every tool available to highlight the lawlessness of what the judge has done and to limit any damage that may occur.

Despite the Dobbs majority’s claim that overruling Roe and Casey would merely return the issue of abortion to the people and the democratic process, these plaintiffs seem driven by a single goal, one that has nothing to do with respecting democratic choices: to render abortion as inaccessible as possible in as much of the country as possible, even in states whose voters have elected to make abortion legal and accessible.

Much of the opinion is tonally shocking and medically unsound. Rather than using the term “fetus,” it refers exclusively to “unborn children” and “unborn humans.” It describes mifepristone as used to “kill” or “starve” a fetus, rather than end a pregnancy. It accuses the Biden administration of promoting “eugenics” for identifying the harms to families and existing children that flow from women being denied access to wanted abortions.

[T]he White House must recognize that adherence to well-worn norms — for instance, an orderly appeals process — is less consistent with a principled commitment to the rule of law than more aggressive responses to lawlessness.

The Religious Right knows it doesn't have the votes to prevail on the merits--especially since the "merits" of their arguments around abortion rest on assumptions that most people do not accept. And being religious makes them inflexible, which in turn makes them put their religious goals ahead of everything else, including the law and the lives of people who disagree with them.

When people lose, they get desperate. So while Kacsmaryk's ruling won't survive on appeal, you can bet he, and his co-religionists, won't stop trying to impose "god's" will on everyone else. 

Tuesday night round-up

In other news:

And finally, a glimmer of hope that the 10-year project to build one damn railroad station near my house might finally finish in the next few weeks.

Friday night I crashed your party

Just a pre-weekend rundown of stuff you might want to read:

  • The US Supreme Court's investigation into the leak of Justice Samuel Alito's (R) Dobbs opinion failed to identify Ginny Thomas as the source. Since the Marshal of the Court only investigated employees, and not the Justices themselves, one somehow does not feel that the matter is settled.
  • Paul Krugman advises sane people not to give in to threats about the debt ceiling. I would like to see the President just ignore it on the grounds that Article 1, Section 8, Article VI, and the 14th Amendment make the debt ceiling unconstitutional in the first place.
  • In other idiotic Republican economics (redundant, I know), Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) has proposed a 30% national sales tax to replace all income and capital-gains taxes that I really hope the House passes just so the Senate can laugh at it while campaigning against it.
  • Amazon has decided to terminate its Smile program, the performative-charity program that (as just one example) helped the Apollo Chorus raise almost $100 of its $250,000 budget last year. Whatever will we do to make up the shortfall?
  • How do you know when you're on a stroad? Hint: when you really don't want to be.
  • Emma Collins does not like SSRIs.
  • New York Times science writer Matt Richtel would like people to stop calling every little snowfall a "bomb cyclone." So would I.
  • Slack's former Chief Purple People Eater Officer Nadia Rawlinson ponders the massive tech layoffs this week. (Fun fact: the companies with the most layoffs made hundreds of billions in profits last year even as market capitalization declined! I wonder what all these layoffs mean to the shareholders? Hmm.)
  • Amtrak plans to buy a bunch of new rail cars to replace the 40-year-old rolling stock on their long-distance routes. Lots of "ifs" in there, though. I still hope that, before I die of old age, the US will have a rail travel that rivals anything Europe had in 1999.
  • The guy who went to jail over his fraudulent and incompetent planning of the Fyre Festival a couple of years ago wants to try again, now that he's out.

Finally, Monica Lewinsky ruminates on the 25 years since her name popped up on a news alert outing her relationship with President Clinton. One thing she realized:

The Tonight Show With Jay Leno died in 2014. For me, not a day too soon. At the end of Leno’s run, the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University analyzed the 44,000 jokes he told over the course of his time at the helm. While President Clinton was his top target, I was the only one in the top 10 who had not specifically chosen to be a public person.

If you don't follow her on social media, you're missing out. She's smart, literate, and consistently funny.

Good thing there's an El

My commute to work Friday might get a little longer, as Metra has announced that 9 out of its 11 lines (including mine) would likely not operate if railroad engineers and conductors go on strike Friday. Amtrak has already started cancelling trains so they won't get stranded mid-route should the strike happen.

In other news:

  • Cook County tax bills won't come out until late autumn, according to the County President, meaning no one knows how much cash they have to escrow when they sell real estate.
  • The Post has an interactive map showing everywhere in the US that hit a record high temperature this summer.
  • US Rep. Marjorie Taylor "Still Smarter than Lauren Boebert" Greene (R-GA) has come up with a climate-change theory so dumb it actually seems smart.
  • US Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), another intellectual giant of the 117th Congress, proposed a Federal abortion ban, demonstrating a keen command of how most people in the United States view the issue.
  • Robert Wright explores "why we're so clueless about Putin."
  • Block Club Chicago explains why my neighborhood and a few others experienced massive geysers coming out of storm drains during Sunday's flooding rains.

Finally, right-wing lawyer Kenneth Starr died at age 76. No reaction yet from Monica Lewinsky.

Health choice amendments keep abortions legal

When the right wing fell all to pieces because Obamacare made health care easier for poor people to obtain, they managed to pass constitutional amendments in several states to hobble implementation of the Act. Flash forward 10 years and welcome to the delicious irony of unintended consequences:

Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in Wyoming, one of the 13 states with a “trigger” law on the books that was designed to immediately outlaw abortions once Roe was overturned.

In late-July, a coalition of Wyoming residents, medical providers, and abortion-supporting nonprofits filed a lawsuit alleging that House Bill 92—the state law which makes performing an abortion in Wyoming a felony crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison except in rare cases of rape, incest or health risks—was unlawful and unenforceable. Among the plaintiffs’ many arguments against the legislation was that it allegedly violated Article 1, Sec. 38 of the Wyoming state constitution, which guarantees that “each competent adult shall have the right to make his or her own health care decisions.”

That the amendment was intended as a spiteful measure, kicking back against Obamacare, is not in question; indeed, during a hearing before Teton County District Judge Melissa Owens, who was presiding over the abortion-rights supporters’ suit last week, attorneys for the state of Wyoming argued as much in an effort to uphold the abortion trigger law. “That statute was supposed to push back on the Affordable Care Act,” Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde told the Wyoming judge, “not to implicitly confer the right to an abortion.”

I'm interested to see where this fight winds up.

The Christianists next door

Indiana sits at the "crossroads of America," interposing itself between Chicago and points east like that old racist yutz at the end of your block that you hope isn't sitting on his porch when you walk by. Yesterday, with much fanfare, they became the first state to ban almost all abortions after Dobbs, for many of the same reasons that they once declared pi to be equal to 22/7:

Indiana became the first in the nation to sign new restrictions into law – stripping away a right afforded to Hoosier women for the last 50 years over the course of a two-week special legislative session.

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 1, which prohibits abortion at any stage of gestation except in cases of rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies or when the pregnant person’s life is at risk, within an hour of its passage late Friday night.

Late Friday, the Indiana Senate voted 28-19 to accept Senate Bill 1 as passed by the House earlier in the day.

The bill passed the House, 62-38, on Friday afternoon. The chamber’s 71 Republicans split on the issue, with nine voting against the bill. The party has been divided on the issue, with some feeling the bill goes too far in restricting abortion and others feeling it doesn’t go far enough.

Within hours, businesses started to pack their bags, with pharmaceutical mega-firm Eli Lilly the first to point out they won't get anyone talented to move to Indiana now. Doctors, too, don't want to work there.

As I said, people traveling over land from Chicago to anyplace east can't practically avoid Indiana, but that doesn't mean we have to spend money there. (Pity, because I had planned to check out two breweries in Michigan City this summer.)

Since 1816 Indiana has demonstrated what happens when too many stupid people occupy a single political unit. Now they've added religious extremism. Because when you get down to it, Indiana is pretty much the Afghanistan of the United States.

Wait, Monday is August?

Somehow we got to the end of July, though I could swear March happened 30 seconds ago. If only I were right, these things would be four months in my future:

I will now go out into this gorgeous weather and come back to my office...in August.

Tuesday morning...uh, afternoon reading

It's a lovely day in Chicago, which I'm not enjoying as much as I could because I'm (a) in my Loop office and (b) busy as hell. So I'll have to read these later:

Finally, Mick Jagger turns 79 today, which surprised me because I thought he was closer to 130.