The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Meanwhile, in other news...

If you haven't got plans tonight, or you do but you're free Sunday afternoon, come to our Spring Concert:

You can read these during the intermission:

Speaking of huge animals, two amateur botanists kayaking on the Chicago River near Division encountered the biggest snapping turtle I've ever seen. Chicagoans have named the specimen Chonk, short for Chonkosaurus. I have to wonder what Chonk has been eating...

More court politicization

The North Carolina supreme court reversed itself on a major Gerrymandering question for the simple reason that it flipped parties. Guess which way:

Last year, Democratic justices on the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that maps of the state’s legislative and congressional districts drawn to give Republicans lopsided majorities were illegal gerrymanders. On Friday, the same court led by a newly elected Republican majority looked at the same facts, reversed itself and said it had no authority to act.

The practical effect is to enable the Republican-controlled General Assembly to scrap the court-ordered State House, Senate and congressional district boundaries that were used in elections last November, and draw new maps skewed in Republicans’ favor for elections in 2024. The 5-to-2 ruling fell along party lines, reflecting the takeover of the court by Republican justices in partisan elections last November.

Legal scholars said the ruling also seemed likely to derail a potentially momentous case now before the U.S. Supreme Court involving the same maps. In that case, Moore v. Harper, leaders of the Republican-run legislature have argued that the U.S. Constitution gives state lawmakers the sole authority to set rules for state elections and political maps, and that state courts have no role in overseeing them.

I've got $1 to bet you that they'd have gone the other way if Democrats controlled the legislature. Note, also, that North Carolina's judicial districts also have a patina of Governor Gerry about them, and the state has a slight (1-2 point) Republican majority. But in the long run, a loss of faith in the courts doesn't hurt Republicans, as they generally don't want to govern, but to rule. You know, like their Russian friends.

My domain name is 25 years old

On this day in 1998, I registered, and just a few weeks later built the first draft of what became this blog. When I registered it, only about a million domain names existed, though 1998 turned out to be the year the Internet exploded worldwide. Just seven years earlier, only 100 .org names existed, so may be one of the oldest .orgs out there. (For comparison, there are just about 350 million registered domain names today.)

Of course, the 25th anniversary of hasn't yet become a global holiday, so a few other things happened in the last 24 hours:

  • The Democratic Party really wants US Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) to retire, as it has become painfully clear she can no longer perform her duties in the Senate, preventing us from confirming new judges. Seriously, ma'am, go.
  • We also want Justice Clarence Thomas (R) to go, especially after a new revelation that he sold property to the billionaire "friend" who has taken him on half-million-dollar vacations. Seriously, sir, go.
  • At least his colleagues on the Supreme Court all seem unimpressed with the "independent state legislature" bullshit espoused by some right-wing Republican state legislators.
  • New Republic's Timothy Noah thinks "remote work sucks," but (our hero writes from his open and airy home office just steps from his dog and refrigerator) not all of us do.
  • Paul Krugman explains how immigrants are saving America's economy.
  • The New York Times has a lot of good things to say about Chicago hosting next year's Democratic National Convention.
  • Your local, urban apiary might actually be hurting your neighborhood.

Finally, we have another gorgeous day in Chicago, a bit cooler than yesterday where I live thanks to delightful lake breeze, but still more like July than April. 

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 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. 

We knew who he was in 1991

Justice Clarence Thomas (R) began his lifetime tenure to the United States Supreme Court with the help of some old men who knew their behavior towards their subordinates would get them in trouble if they held Thomas accountable for his deplorable behavior towards Anita Hill. Since confirmation, Thomas has become more like himself, as the saying goes. In 1991 he was an arrogant, contemptuous middle-aged man who assumed anyone criticizing him or his behavior had a mental deficiency. Ah, but how much he's grown in those 32 years, right?

Ah, ha ha, ha. Between his extremist views on just about everything, to his intellectually dishonest theory of jurisprudence, to his flatly lying about his wife's corruption, we can add new charges of eye-popping sleaze more befitting a Chicago alderman than a Justice of the United States:

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Friday he had been advised “by colleagues and others in the judiciary” that luxury trips financed by a close billionaire friend and conservative activist should be considered personal hospitality that did not have to be disclosed.

Thomas’s statement came more than 24 hours after a ProPublica report revealed that he had accepted luxury trips around the globe for more than two decades, including travel on a superyacht and private jet, from Harlan Crow, a Dallas business executive and influential donor to causes related to the law and judiciary.

“As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them,” Thomas said in the statement. “Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable.”

The arrogance and disdain for even minimal application for the rules that everyone else has to follow boggles the mind.

Alexandra Petri wasted no time laughing right in his face, particularly at his ridiculous assertion that "I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Walmart parking lots to the beaches and things like that:"

Well, that describes me. I am not above anyone, except in the slight technical sense that I do control what rights you get to have. But you need not worry: I understand you and I am not contemptuously pandering to you: I genuinely think that you drive to Walmart for the delight of it! The simple joy of moving the carts around and putting them back, stopping at the little stop sign, and yelling indistinctly at your children not to run in front of other people’s cars! A classic American vacation!

I prefer to be where the rest of you — the rest of us! — love to be, which I assume from how much time you seem to spend there must be the parking lot of Walmart. Or an RV park! Yes, that is all I wish. The simple life.

So, you see, I could not possibly disclose any of these things, for they were not blessings but curses. These are the weights I must bear in my position. If someone with the power I wield were not meant to accept these heavy burdens, surely we as a court would have adopted a formal ethics code. But there is no need: It is understood that I take no pleasure in any of this. The American people need not worry. The yachts were suffering enough.

Uh huh. Vanity Fair's Eric Lutz isn't laughing:

Lest we forget, Thomas has already shown, time and again, exactly what he thinks of those ethical obligations. After all, this is the justice who refused to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election, despite his wife supporting—and encouraging—Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn that year’s election results. But the lifestyle that Thomas' friendship with Crow has afforded him shine an even more glaring light on his indifference to the principles of judicial integrity and independence—and underscore the need for real accountability on the nation’s high court, a lack of which has called the court's legitimacy into question.

The Supreme Court's conservatives have steadfastly resisted such calls, lamenting the public's deteriorating trust while refusing to do anything to earn it. “All of our opinions are open to criticism,” Chief Justice John Roberts said last year, amid public outcry over its disastrous Dobbs decision—an activist ruling if there ever was one. “But simply because people disagree with an opinion is not a basis for criticizing the legitimacy of the court.”

Roberts, of course, was arguing with a straw man. Public trust hasn’t cratered because people “disagree” with one opinion. It has plummeted because its right-wing majority—strong-armed into existence by Mitch McConnell and the Republicans—has abandoned the pretense that it is much more than the enforcement arm of the GOP. The conservatives have run roughshod over precedentreverse-engineered their legal rationales for seemingly ideological decisions; and, in the case of Dobbs’ author Samuel Alito, openly mocked critics.

I remind everyone that Congress has the power to set term limits on the Supreme Court. (The Constitution provides lifetime appointments to the Federal courts, but not to any specific court.) We need 67 votes in the Senate to toss Thomas on his ear, as the Senate failed to do when they had the chance in October 1991. But we only need 50 votes in the Senate and 217 in the House to retire his ass tomorrow.

XPOTUS, criminal defendant

The New York County District Attorney charged the XPOTUS with 34 felony counts stemming from his payment of hush money to Stephanie Clifford, aka adult film actor Stormy Daniels:

The indictment against the former president, People of the State of New York against Donald J. Trump, Indictment No. 71543-23, has been unsealed.

The former president was charged with 34 felonies and pleaded not guilty before State Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan.

The charges include filing false business records in the first degree, a low level felony that carries a maximum of four years in prison for each count, though if he is convicted a judge could sentence him to probation.

Trump has walked out of the courtroom and back into the district attorney’s office. He did not stop to talk to the press.

Unfortunately, the District Attorney declined to get a mug shot of the XPOTUS, probably because half the country would immediately change their social media profile photos to mock it. More seriously, the DA has discretion of mug shots, and understandably declined to take one for the same reason they didn't ask for bond. I mean, the XPOTUS has Federal law enforcement agents around him every minute of the day, and it's not like he can outrun them.

I still think Finland joining NATO is a more important story. So does the White House.

And if you're curious, the Post has the indictment and statement of facts for the case.

History, courtesy of authoritarian incompetence

No, not that incompetent authoritarian; that bit of history hasn't happened yet. I mean the one whose adventure in Ukraine has succeeded in adding 1,300 km to his border with NATO:

Finland has become the 31st member of the Nato security alliance, and its flag will soon be raised at the alliance's headquarters.

The Finnish foreign minister handed the accession document to the US secretary of state who declared Finland a member.

Finland's accession is a setback for Russia's Vladimir Putin, who repeatedly complained of Nato's expansion before his full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The length of Russia's border with NATO member states has now doubled.

Putin remains master strategist!

Honestly, Finland joining NATO matters in the long term a lot more than the nonsense in New York. I'll address that mishigos when the New York County DA unseals the indictment.

In other news

Stuff read while waiting for code to compile:

Finally, Chicago Tribune food critic Louisa Chu says I should take a 45-minute drive down to Bridgeview to try some Halal fried chicken—just, maybe, after Ramadan ends.

How Disney beat DeSantis

I mentioned Thursday that the Disney Corp. appears to have beaten Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' (R) plan to penalize them for taking a pro-queer stance. Our side are laughing out loud at how incompetent the DeSantis Administration had to be to let this happen, given it took Disney 10 months of public hearings to neuter the incoming board. But as Josh Marshall points, DeSantis never cared about the win; he only cared about the spectacle:

Florida has particularly robust public notice laws. So this was all done in plain sight. Obviously local governing board meetings don’t get carried live on Fox and CNN. But this has been a big effort by the DeSantis administration. And well … they’re the state government. So “who follows local government board meetings!” really isn’t an excuse that cuts it for them. They just weren’t paying attention. Didn’t sweat the details.

There’s at least a pale analog here to conservative governance in general. When you don’t really care about governing or actually despise government you tend not to sweat the details and inner workings of how it functions. I would think this might be a bit of an exception. But maybe not.

The state government can go to court and try to get this undone. The state law experts interviewed in this Miami Herald article say Disney has by far the stronger case. But the deeper problem is that the kinds of state legal precedents you’d set to undo this would have the effect of weakening the security of a lot of property and contractual rights, especially in real estate. And you know who cares a ton about property and contractual rights in real estate? Right, rich people.

It’s quite unlikely that even Ron DeSantis will give a crap about [litigating this] in a year or two, let alone some other future governor who may not agree with the original decision and if they did agree will certainly have better things to do with their time than creating bad legal precedent by litigating the long tail of DeSantis’s strutting nonsense from all the way back in 2021.

The Republican Party has become a farcical doppelgänger of itself. They have no policies of their own except to take power so they can rob people blind. It's all performance art and deep corruption. I look forward to the day when most voters understand that, so we can get a proper opposition party and get on with the business of governing.