The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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...

Crossing the Rubicon

Eric Schnurer outlines the alarming similarities between our present and Rome's past; specifically, the end of the Republic in 54 BCE:

History isn’t destiny, of course; the demise of the Roman Republic is a point of comparison—not prediction. But the accelerating comparisons nonetheless beg the question: If one were to make a prediction, what comes next? What might signal the end of democracy as we know it?  There is, it turns out, an easy answer at hand.

While there is no precise end date to the Republic, there was a bright-line occurrence generally recognized as the irreversible beginning of the end for participatory government. In fact, it is such a bright line that the event itself has become universally synonymous with “point-of-no-return”: Julius Caesar’s crossing of the river Rubicon.

And there is indeed an event looming—probably before the end of this year— that poses almost precisely the same situation as what provoked Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon: the possible indictment of former president Donald J. Trump.

When Trump’s supporters urge him to cross the Rubicon and cast the die—events that become highly likely if he, like Caesar, faces indictment—that is what they contemplate.

Well, at least the fall of the Republic will probably work out OK for urban areas...maybe...

What a real filibuster looks like

Josh Marshall points to the Great Texas Democratic Legislator Escape going on today as an example of what a filibuster should be:

Democrats are making a huge spectacle. No one’s going to miss that. They also have to be very clear why they’re doing it. It’s because of an assault on voting rights in the state. They have to own that. And they’re taking this step because they’re clearly quite willing to own that.

Just as clear, this can only go on for so long. How do I know? Basically logic really but also history. We’ve seen this in Texas, Oregon, Wisconsin and various other places. Legislators are only willing to stay on the lam for so long. Over time there are various tools legislative majorities can use to get their way. (That’s not a bad thing. Majority rule is our fundamental system.) You also need a really good reason for doing it. Otherwise public opinion will rapidly turn against you.

The whole effort is best seen as an effort to stall, buy some time and they hope either slow the process down or shift public opinion in their favor. It’s not pretty but there’s some value in having that kind of escape valve in the legislative process. It’s public. It’s self-limiting. You have to own it and be politically accountable for your actions.

In other words, the Texas Democrats didn't just send an email to halt all progress in the Texas Legislature. Imagine if US Senate Republicans had to do the same thing.

Partisan court takes another swipe at the Voting Rights Act

The two most recent US Supreme Court appointees may have agreed with the moderate justices on a couple of issues this term, but as the last opinions come out this morning, they have reminded us that the Republican Party's anti-democratic policies remain their top priorities.

Despite no evidence of retail election fraud, in 2016 Arizona's Republican majority enacted a law making it a crime to collect ballots from voters. Many voters in Arizona and elsewhere have difficulty making it to the polls, and in some cases, to the nearest mailbox. Ballot collection drives helped ensure they could still cast votes. Given who benefitted most from these drives, no one had any illusions about why Arizona Republicans passed this bill.

The Court today ruled, in a 6-3 decision right along party lines, that this does not violate section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Justice Alito delivered the opinion, which repeats the Republican Party's canards about voting fraud as if channeling the voice of Mitch McConnell:

Finally, the strength of the state interests served by a challenged voting rule is also an important factor that must be taken into account. As noted, every voting rule imposes a burden of some sort, and therefore, in determining “based on the totality of circumstances” whether a rule goes too far, it is important to consider the reason for the rule. Rules that are supported by strong state interests are less likely to violate §2.

One strong and entirely legitimate state interest is the prevention of fraud. Fraud can affect the outcome of a close election, and fraudulent votes dilute the right of citizens to cast ballots that carry appropriate weight. Fraud can also undermine public confidence in the fairness of elections and the perceived legitimacy of the announced outcome.

(Brnovich v DNC, opinion at 19; citations removed.)

He then retreats deep into his epistemological bubble to declare that, even though Arizona has no documented instances of such fraud, and even though it will make it harder for Black, Hispanic, and poor people to cast ballots, the law doesn't really discriminate. Because, of course, the Arizona Secretary of State's office are all, all honourable men:

The State makes accurate precinct information available to all voters. When precincts or polling places are altered between elections, each registered voter is sent a notice showing the voter’s new polling place. Arizona law also mandates that election officials send a sample ballot to each household that includes a registered voter who has not opted to be placed on the permanent early voter list, and this mailing also identifies the voter’s proper polling location. In addition, the Arizona secretary of state’s office sends voters pamphlets that include information (in both English and Spanish) about how to identify their assigned precinct.

The Court of Appeals noted that Arizona leads other States in the rate of votes rejected on the ground that they were cast in the wrong precinct, and the court attributed this to frequent changes in polling locations, confusing placement of polling places, and high levels of residential mobility. But even if it is marginally harder for Arizona voters to find their assigned polling places, the State offers other easy ways to vote. Any voter can request an early ballot without excuse. Any voter can ask to be placed on the permanent early voter list so that an early ballot will be mailed automatically. Voters may drop off their early ballots at any polling place, even one to which they are not assigned. And for nearly a month before election day, any voter can vote in person at an early voting location in his or her county.

(Id. at 26-27, citations removed.)

So, once again, the Republican justices take the position that because the Voting Rights Act has done its job over the years, we don't need the Voting Rights Act anymore. (Kind of like how we taught the Germans a lesson in 1918 and they hardly bothered us after that.)

In her dissent, Justice Kagan expresses no patience for any of this crap:

If a single statute represents the best of America, it is the Voting Rights Act. It marries two great ideals: democracy and racial equality. And it dedicates our country to carrying them out. Section 2, the provision at issue here, guarantees that members of every racial group will have equal voting opportunities. Citizens of every race will have the same shot to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. They will all own our democracy together—no one more and no one less than any other.

If a single statute reminds us of the worst of America, it is the Voting Rights Act. Because it was—and remains—so necessary. Because a century after the Civil War was fought, at the time of the Act’s passage, the promise of political equality remained a distant dream for African American citizens. Because States and localities continually “contriv[ed] new rules,” mostly neutral on their face but discriminatory in operation, to keep minority voters from the polls. Because “Congress had reason to suppose” that States would “try similar maneuvers in the future”— “pour[ing] old poison into new bottles” to suppress minority votes. Because Congress has been proved right.

Today, the Court undermines Section 2 and the right it provides. The majority fears that the statute Congress wrote is too “radical”—that it will invalidate too many state voting laws. So the majority writes its own set of rules, limiting Section 2 from multiple directions. Wherever it can, the majority gives a cramped reading to broad language. And then it uses that reading to uphold two election laws from Arizona that discriminate against minority voters. I could say—and will in the following pages—that this is not how the Court is supposed to interpret and apply statutes. But that ordinary critique woefully undersells the problem. What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten—in order to weaken—a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses. What is tragic is that the Court has damaged a statute designed to bring about “the end of discrimination in voting.”

(Kagan Dissent at 1, 3; citations removed).

When a few commentators tut-tutted that the Court "is less one-sided than liberals feared," they missed the point. Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh seem less unhinged than they did at their confirmation hearings, but they never lost their party loyalty. Sure, they upheld Obamacare (for the 17th time); sure, they ruled that children don't lose First Amendment protections just because they say something their school doesn't like. And just as sure, they will vote every single time to limit the franchise, because voting rights have become an existential threat to the Republican Party.

The Republicans' 40-year program of selecting and promoting young, partisan judges continues to pay off. Until we Democrats start using the political power we actually have, the Republicans will continue to drive the United States toward minority corporatist rule that will take decades to undo.

Gotta love the centrists

The Washington Post has three opinion pieces this morning that outline where the "centrists" in my party actually stand. The first, by US Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), argues in favor of letting 40 Senators, representing about 30% of the country, block legislation that the other 70% of the country want merely by threatening to block the legislation:

Once in a majority, it is tempting to believe you will stay in the majority. But a Democratic Senate minority used the 60-vote threshold just last year to filibuster a police reform proposal and a covid-relief bill that many Democrats viewed as inadequate. Those filibusters were mounted not as attempts to block progress, but to force continued negotiations toward better solutions.

And, sometimes, the filibuster, as it’s been used in previous Congresses, is needed to protect against attacks on women’s health, clean air and water, or aid to children and families in need.

My support for retaining the 60-vote threshold is not based on the importance of any particular policy. It is based on what is best for our democracy. The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles.

To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass the For the People Act (voting-rights legislation I support and have co-sponsored), I would ask: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to see that legislation rescinded a few years from now and replaced by a nationwide voter-ID law or restrictions on voting by mail in federal elections, over the objections of the minority?

Well, yes, actually, writes Greg Sargent: "That truly is frightful. Imagine a world in which legislative majorities could pass voting restrictions over the objections of minorities!"

As one of the last Democratic holdouts against filibuster reform, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is making big news with an op-ed in The Post laying out her rationale. Some of its central pronouncements have already been debunked: Despite her claims otherwise, the filibuster does not facilitate moderation or bipartisan cooperation.

But there’s an even more fundamental flaw in Sinema’s argument: Defending democracy and the filibuster simultaneously, in the terms that Sinema herself employs, is simply incoherent to its core.

Sinema’s own treatment of these questions inadvertently serves to reveal that a choice must inevitably be made between the two — and that Sinema is choosing the filibuster over defending democracy.

Josh Marshall simply calls her "a preening clown," while New Republic's Matt Ford asks "how dumb does Kyrsten Sinema think we are?" But WaPo columnist Catherine Rampell argues that Manchin actually got Senate Republicans to admit to their lie that they only care about protecting the integrity of elections:

In a memo, Manchin proposed building upon parts of the For the People Act and a narrower bill, known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, with a few amendments. His proposal would make Election Day a public holiday, require two weeks of early voting, automatically register voters through motor vehicle departments and eliminate partisan gerrymandering. It’s not everything Democrats want — and has some oversights — but it addresses most of the party’s goals for promoting free and fair elections.

Perhaps more important, from a political standpoint: Manchin’s compromise completely undercuts Republicans’ case for blocking reform.

It does this by including new requirements to safeguard election security, which is — or was — the top priority of Republicans concerned by “questions” the 2020 election supposedly raised.

Republicans, on the other hand, rejected the framework. Immediately, forcefully, unambiguously.

“It needs to be blocked,” remarked Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who a week earlier praised Manchin as “saving our country” by encouraging bipartisanship.

Let's not forget, simple demographics and the Constitution already give the Republican Party a disproportionate influence on legislation. And also remember, the Republican Party doesn't want to govern; they want to rule.

Wednesday afternoon

I spent the morning unsuccessfully trying to get a .NET 5 Blazor WebAssembly app to behave with an Azure App Registration, and part of the afternoon doing a friend's taxes. Yes, I preferred doing the taxes, because I got my friend a pile of good news without having to read sixty contradictory pages of documentation.

I also became aware of the following:

Tomorrow morning, I promise to make my WebAssembly app talk to our Azure Active Directory. Right now, I think someone needs a walk.

The overlap between stupid and criminal

Boy, did we get a clown car full of them today. Let's start with Joel Greenberg, the dingus whose bad behavior got US Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) caught up in a sex-trafficking investigation:

Records and interviews detailed a litany of accusations: Mr. Greenberg strutted into work with a pistol on his hip in a state that does not allow guns to be openly carried. He spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to create no-show jobs for a relative and some of his groomsmen. He tried to talk his way out of a traffic ticket, asking a police officer for “professional courtesy.” He played police officer himself, putting a flashing light on his car to pull over a woman and accuse her of speeding. He published an anti-Muslim Facebook post. He solicited help to hack critics on the county commission.

Stalking a rival candidate got him arrested. Federal agents looking into the matter found at least five fake IDs in his wallet and backpack, and kept digging.

Their inquiry culminated in 33 federal charges against Mr. Greenberg, 36, including sex trafficking of a minor, bribery, fraud and stalking — and led to a mushrooming political scandal that burst into national news in recent days and ensnared Mr. Gaetz, who is a close ally of President Donald J. Trump, and other influential Florida Republicans, with the investigation continuing.

I mean, of course they live in Florida.

Moving on, local restaurant Tank Noodle must pay back a $150,000 pandemic grant to the state because of previous bad behavior:

Tank Noodle will have to return the $150,000 business interruption grant it received from the state of Illinois last year. The popular Vietnamese restaurant at 4953 N. Broadway violated the terms of the state grant program by running afoul of federal labor laws, said Lauren Huffman, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

The mandate to return the grant money comes weeks after Tank Noodle also was forced to pay almost $700,000 in back wages to employees it didn’t adequately compensate, federal investigators found as part of a two-year investigation.

Tank Noodle withheld pay and used illegal employment practices for 60 of its employees, a labor department investigation concluded. In addition to making servers work for tips, a violation of federal work laws, the investigation also found Tank Noddle shorted servers when the business pooled tips and divided the money among all staff, including management.

The restaurant drew ire from customers after its owners attended a Jan. 6 rally in support of former President Donald Trump that ended in the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Former customers, I should say. The stretch of Argyle Street they anchor has about 15 Vietnamese restaurants that not only serve better food than Tank Noodle, but also don't steal from their employees.

Finally, the Brennan Center has taken notice of 361 proposals in 47 states designed to limit voting participation:

These measures have begun to be enacted. Five restrictive bills have already been signed into law. In addition, at least 55 restrictive bills in 24 states are moving through legislatures: 29 have passed at least one chamber, while another 26 have had some sort of committee action (e.g., a hearing, an amendment, or a committee vote).

During the same timeframe, pro-voter legislators, often in the very same state houses, are pushing back, seeking to make permanent the changes that led to the biggest voter turnout in over a century. In a different set of 47 states, 843 bills with expansive provisions have been introduced in a different set of 47 states (up from 704 bills as of February 19, 2021). Of these, nine expansive bills have been signed into law. In addition, at least 112 bills with expansive provisions are moving in 31 states: 9 have passed both chambers and are awaiting signature (including a bill to restore voting rights in Washington), 41 have passed one chamber, and 62 have had some sort of committee action.

I'll comb through some of those later. Now, I have a meeting, following which Cassie has to go to the dog park. Really, she has to, or I'll lose my mind with her nudging me.

It's Monday again

In case you needed proof that the world didn't suddenly become an Enlightenment paradise on January 20th, I give you:

You will be happy to know, however, that Egypt has passed its 400-meter kidney stone.

Evening news

Just a few stories:

Finally, it only took 375 years and satellite imagery, but geologists have demonstrated that New Zealand is on its own continent.

The GOP continues to eat its own

Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), one of the ten GOP representatives who voted for the Article of Impeachment against the XPOTUS two weeks ago, finds himself on the outs with his party:

Kinzinger's future prospects depend largely on Trump's continuing role in Republican politics. If the party remains in thrall to the former president at every level, Kinzinger's perceived betrayal makes political survival, let alone advancement, uncertain.

What does Kinzinger want to do in 2022? "I don't know," he says. "Do I have an interest in a statewide run? I would say, a few months ago I was certainly going to look at it, and it's still not something I'm going to rule out. I also look at it and go, who knows what the new districts look like? Who knows if I belong in the party in two years?"

Some conservatives want Kinzinger to face consequences. The Winnebago County Republican Party is considering censuring him for his impeachment vote. State Sen. Darren Bailey called for the Illinois Republican Party to sanction him, and former Cook County GOP Chair Aaron Del Mar has predicted Kinzinger would not survive a primary. Politico reports he already has a challenger: Gene Koprowski, a former official at the Heartland Institute think tank.

"I think that people are not over what (Trump) stood for at all. In fact, they're more spun up about that than ever," says Richard Porter, a member of the Republican National Committee and a potential Illinois gubernatorial candidate.

But just what, exactly, does the XPOTUS actually stand for, other than himself? This question also vexes the Republican establishment (cf. the Republican party) in Arizona, where this past weekend the state GOP convention censured Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, former US Senator Jeff Flake, and former US Senator John McCain's widow, Cindy, for failing to show appropriate obsequience to the Spiritual Leader of the Party:

The sweeping — yet essentially symbolic — rebuke took place during a meeting to figure out how to move forward after the state flipped blue in November, narrowly giving its 11 electoral votes to now-President Biden.

McCain and Flake, both of whom endorsed Biden for president, were censured for their outspoken opposition to Trump and for their support of globalist interests, according to state GOP members.

In condemning Ducey, the party cited the governor's decision to enact emergency orders during the coronavirus pandemic that the committee said are unconstitutional and "restrict personal liberties."

Much of the meeting, held indoors at Dream City Church in Phoenix, was largely a pep rally for state Republicans who support the former president and his baseless claims of election fraud.

I wonder how long after the Republican party splits into the fantasy and reality factions before we hear cries of "c'est le sang de Danton qui t'étouffe?"