The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

200,000

The official death toll in the US for Covid-19 has passed a milestone Deborah Birx predicted back in March:

In the predawn hours of March 30, Dr. Deborah Birx stepped in front of the camera on the White House lawn and made an alarming prediction about the coronavirus, which had, by then, killed fewer than 3,000 people in the United States.

"If we do things together, well, almost perfectly, we can get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities," Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, told Savannah Guthrie of NBC News' "Today" show.

On Saturday, Birx's prediction came true, as the number of lives lost to Covid-19 in the U.S. topped 200,000.

Meanwhile, though they have consistently done almost nothing right in the six months when 200,000 ordinary Americans have died, the Republican Party has put the pedal to the metal mobilizing after one Associate Justice died. It's all about power, nothing about the people.

Actions must have consequences

Yesterday evening I wrote that the only appropriate response to the Republican Senate putting another Federalist Society pretty boy on the Supreme Court (or, really, anyone other than Merrick Garland) would be to revisit 28 USC §1i.e., passing a simple statute to increase the size of the court and thereby dilute its right-wing majority. This was also Josh Marshall's first thought:

We are here because of the Republican party’s increasing unwillingness to accept limits on political action. To up the ante on that tendency, to meet it, is itself a grave threat to democratic governance. But an even graver threat is to remove any mechanism of consequences or accountability. Then there is truly no limit or disincentive to corruption, law breaking and bad action. That reality is precisely the one in which we currently find ourselves.

In war or in sports or really any kind of contest you never let the other side hold all the initiative. You can say that McConnell and Trump shouldn’t take this step, that the American people should get to decide. Because the reality is they can take this step. So what will you do when they do that? The answer is you take the clearest and most economical step to undo the corrupt act. Adding new Justices is the way to do that.

Make this new corruption a centerpiece of the campaign, hold it over the heads of embattled Republican senators, try in every way to get a just result, which is to put this in the hands of the next President and Congress. But make clear that if it happens Democrats will undo it next year if the people give them to power to do so.

The Washington Post's Jill Filipovic makes the same points:

Democrats have only one play here: If Trump and McConnell jam an appointee through, it is not enough for Democrats to raise hell about the hypocrisy, the duplicity and the Republican refusal to play by McConnell’s own rules. It is not enough to target every Republican senator who goes along. It is not enough to have voters bombard their Republican senator’s office with phone calls and protests. Because those things have been happening for four years, and none of them have persuaded the GOP to put the stability of the country or the obligations of office ahead of that party’s thirst for power.

So Democrats should threaten to pack the court. And, if McConnell pushes through a new justice and then Joe Biden wins, they should follow through.

Our party has to hold the line here. Another ultra-right-wing Associate Justice will cement the power of the right wing for another 30 years, prevent us—the clear majority—from passing any meaningful legislation when we do re-take power in January, and contribute to the loss of faith in the institutions of government. All three of these outcomes are exactly what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has worked his whole career to accomplish. Even if Amy McGrath takes his seat, he will have won.

Except for this one little thing: Article 1 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to set the Supreme Court's size and jurisdiction. We can counter all these things with simple legislation requiring only a majority in Congress.

The Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader need to get out in front, now, and rhetorically pump that shotgun. Sure, go ahead and put one of Brett Kavanaugh's frat bros on the Court. President Biden will have Merrick Garland and three other liberals in the four new seats Congress will create before the end of March.

I've sent notes to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) making these points.

(Note: I have contributed money to both Joe Biden's and Amy McGrath's campaigns.)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933-2020

The Notorious RBG died at her home earlier today:

The cause was complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, the Supreme Court said.

Justice Ginsburg’s pointed and powerful dissenting opinions, usually speaking for all four, attracted growing attention as the court turned further to the right. A law student, Shana Knizhnik, anointed her the Notorious R.B.G., a play on the name of the Notorious B.I.G., a famous rapper who was Brooklyn-born, like the justice. Soon the name, and Justice Ginsburg’s image — her expression serene yet severe, a frilly lace collar adorning her black judicial robe, her eyes framed by oversize glasses and a gold crown perched at a rakish angle on her head — became an internet sensation.

[President] Clinton, making his first nomination to the court, conducted an almost painfully public search among judges and political figures, with contenders including Mario Cuomo, then the governor of New York, who turned him down, and Bruce Babbitt, the incumbent secretary of the interior.

As the search wound down, it appeared the president had chosen Stephen G. Breyer, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, who had come to Washington at the president’s invitation for an interview. Judge Breyer was in pain from broken ribs suffered in a recent bicycle accident, and the interview did not go well. Martin Ginsburg, meanwhile, had been urging New York’s senior senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to press his wife’s case with the president. Mr. Clinton was at first reluctant, grumbling to Mr. Moynihan that “the women are against her.” But after a 90-minute private meeting with Judge Ginsburg on Sunday, June 13, the president made up his mind. He called her at 11:33 that night to tell her that she was his choice.

Surprising absolutely no one, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasted no time in repudiating the "McConnell Rule" against nominating a new justice during an election year:

There’s nothing in the Constitution that prevents a Supreme Court vacancy from being filled, regardless of how close to an election it opens up.

Precedent in such a situation is different. Until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked President Obama’s 2016 pick nine months before the election, this hadn’t been done very often, says Russell Wheeler, an expert on Supreme Court history with the Brookings Institution.

McConnell can’t say he is flip-flopping on his 2016 position about election-year court vacancies because doing so benefits him politically now. So he has offered some logic that does little to disguise its political convenience: This time is different because the Senate and the presidency are held by the same party, which wasn’t the case when there was a vacancy in the last year of Obama’s presidency.

And in 2016, McConnell actually argued against the Senate considering a lame-duck president’s nomination. “President Obama has every right to nominate someone on his way out the door,” McConnell said at the time. “The Senate has every right to hold its consent.”

It’s a lot to consider. But McConnell has the chance to thrust the Supreme Court in a more conservative direction for perhaps generations. It’s a remarkable legacy for McConnell that he doesn’t seem to want to pass up, no matter the risk for him or the Senate majority.

To that I would remind the gentleman from Kentucky that 28 USC §1 is just a statute, which the next Congress could easily change.

Home stretch?

With 58 days until the election, the noise keeps increasing. Here's some of it:

Finally, The Smithsonian describes how Greg Priore managed to steal priceless documents from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, because he was in charge of security for those items.

Incompetent Peronistas

All autocratic regimes suffer from endemic incompetence. It's easy to see why: if you can't contradict the autocrat, the government is only as competent as he is. When the autocrat is a pathological narcissist, you get another level of stupid on top. People work in governments like this for one reason only: to get rich. And they get rich by stealing from the public. Competence only gets in the way of the grift.

So here we find ourselves 65 days from an election in which the incumbent claims to have the ability to put out a fire that he started, who leads a party that has given up any pretense of governing in favor of supporting this circus clown no matter what he says.

And the president is a clown, a kind of malicious Zaphod Beeblebrox, whose only role as president of the galaxy was to distract from the people who really ran things.

I'm venting some frustration given two things that have come up in the last 24 hours. First, from the New York Times, an admission (of sorts) from the administration that demeaning the office of President of the United States by having a gauche campaign event on the lawn of the White House was all about owning the libs:

[The president's] aides said he enjoyed the frustration and anger he caused by holding a political event on the South Lawn of the White House, shattering conventional norms and raising questions about ethics law violations. He relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him, said the aides, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal conversations.

Of course he did. The show is all that matters. Which, presumably, why he plans to visit Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday (the second thing) so he can personally add gasoline to the fire burning there—a fire he started:

White House spokesman Judd Deere told reporters aboard Air Force One on Saturday that Trump will be meeting with law enforcement officers and “surveying” some of the damage from recent protests that turned destructive.

Joe Biden, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, have accused Trump of rooting for violence amid unrest in Wisconsin.

“He views this as a political benefit,” Biden said in an interview on MSNBC. “He’s rooting for more violence, not less. And it’s clear about that.”

Of course he is. The show is all that matters. All of this destruction and death is fun to a man like the president.

Meanwhile, 183,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 and another 1,000 die every day, while Europe gets to enjoy a normal autumn, because our incompetent, nihilistic, narcissistic president cares about nothing other than enriching himself by any means available.

How long is this going to take?

I'm sitting at my desk waiting for my work laptop to finish updating, a process now in its 24th minute, with "Working on updates 25%" on the screen for the past 5. Very frustrating; I have things to do today; and if I'd known how long it would take (I'm looking at you, help desk), I would have started the update when I left this evening.

So, all right, I'll read a few things:

My laptop has rebooted three times now and appears to have gotten up to 83% complete. I may in fact get something done today.

Afternoon round-up

There's a lot going on today, what with the Republican National Convention celebrating the apocalypse they desperately want, but a few things outside of that also happened:

Finally, only a few blocks from my house my neighbors have set up a Wee Free Library...of sticks...for dogs.

Above target, not in a good way

Chicago's key Covid-19 metric, the 7-day rolling average positivity rate, ticked above 5% yesterday, as it's been near the 5% threshold for a couple of weeks. It rose from 4% to 5% between July 19th and 30th, suggesting that relaxed discipline has led to more infections.

Today Governor JB Pritzker announced stricter policies requiring masks to protect restaurant workers:

[The] new statewide restaurant and bar policy requiring all patrons to wear a mask while interacting with waitstaff and other employees, when food and beverages are brought to the table and when picking up carryout orders.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike admonished people to “stop wearing your face covering incorrectly. You’re literally contributing to infection transmission by doing so.”

Meanwhile, public health officials warn that this year's flu season could make the Covid-19 pandemic worse, and have asked everyone who's able to get a flu shot.

Meanwhile, speakers at the Republican National Convention said everything's all right, so don't worry about the virus.

The vacuity of the modern Republican Party

Politico's Tim Alberta describes what happens "when a party gives up on ideas:"

It can now safely be said, as his first term in the White House draws toward closure, that Donald Trump’s party is the very definition of a cult of personality. It stands for no special ideal. It possesses no organizing principle. It represents no detailed vision for governing. Filling the vacuum is a lazy, identity-based populism that draws from that lowest common denominator Sanford alluded to. If it agitates the base, if it lights up a Fox News chyron, if it serves to alienate sturdy real Americans from delicate coastal elites, then it’s got a place in the Grand Old Party.

“Owning the libs and pissing off the media,” shrugs Brendan Buck, a longtime senior congressional aide and imperturbable party veteran if ever there was one. “That’s what we believe in now. There’s really not much more to it.”

The party is now defined primarily by its appetite for conflict, even when that conflict serves no obvious policy goal.

The result is political anarchy. Traditionally, the run-up to a convention sees a party attempting to tame rival factions and unite around a dynamic vision for the future. Instead, Republicans have spent the summer in a self-immolating downward spiral.

And only this morning I had an online altercation with a friend-of-a-friend who lives in rural Upstate New York. It went like this:

Original poster: Register to Vote! Wear a mask! Make sure you vote! Fight systemic racism! Orange man bad! Resist Fascism! (OK, you can stop ORDERING me about what to do in our FREE COUNTRY! - that last "order" isn't TOO ironic)

Me: Thank you for laying it out so plainly: "I'm not going to do anything anyone tells me to do no matter how many lives it saves."

OP: "I will do whatever anyone tells me in order to save 'just one life' (including wear a seat belt in the back of a limousine) but will allow babies to be killed even after the moment of birth" because it's a women's right.

Me: "I'm not going to respond to your point because it's correct, so look over here at something irrelevant to what you said."

Me, thinking twice:

But let me take up your misdirection as if it were a serious point: abortion rights is an actual policy difference between us. We may never agree, but we can have an actual discussion about it as adults. Both sides have good points. Both sides have blind spots. And that's why we have a compromise that both sides hate (which is a good sign that it's a good compromise, at least from a policy perspective). You want to support pro-life or pro-choice candidates, that's your choice.

If you don't want to register to vote, you will get no argument from me. In fact, why don't you just rip up your registration card right now and let the rest of New York go about its business without you? You want to vote, or not vote; that's your choice.

If you don't want to fight systemic racism, you'll get a big argument from me, but not because of policy; because of morality. You don't have to go to a protest, but if you won't even entertain the possibility that we as white people may have to do more than just be nice to the people of color we personally know, then I'm going to question your prejudices. Can or should the state make you fight racism? Absolutely not. Go ahead and be a racist, or fight racism, or anything in between; that's your choice.

If you don't want to resist fascism, I will simply question your sanity. But hey, again, that's your choice.

But if you don't want to wear a mask in public, then yes, I will support fining your ass if you refuse, because this isn't [just] a policy dispute or a moral question. It's about everyone else's right to avoid dying from something preventable trumping your right to avoid a little discomfort when you're at a supermarket. The virus doesn't care about public policy. Wearing a mask works; we can see that in literally every other country that has mandated it. The only policy difference here is that some people don't want to be "told" what to do, in the same way they didn't like to be "told" to go to bed when they were 6. It's not a choice; it's the easiest way to end the pandemic, and the state is right to use its public health authority to make you.

Of course, as my old grand-pappy never said, "The thing about mud-wrasslin' with a pig is, you both get covered in shit, but the pig likes it."

Kind of sums up Trumpism in one video

Yesterday, a scheduled "Boat Parade" on Portland, Oregon's Willamette River supporting the president's re-election campaign caused a bystander's boat to sink:

Video posted to Twitter showed the boat taking on water as its occupants called for help while more than 20 boats and personal watercraft flying President Donald Trump flags headed south on the Willamette River near downtown Portland.

Sgt. Bryan White, a spokesman for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, said river patrol deputies responded to the incident but that the people on the boat had already been picked up by other boaters in the area by the time the deputies arrived. Video appeared to show at least one of the boats that stopped to help was a parade participant.

Here's the video:

I expect none of the Trumpers were wearing masks, either.

As for liability, people I spoke with who have knowledge of maritime law said this would most likely lead to a tort case in an Oregon state court.