The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Party like it's 1879

Atlantic editor Adam Serwer draws a straight line between the ways the Redemption court of the 1870s paved the way for the Gilded Age and Jim Crow, and how the Roberts court now (and especially with Brett Kavanaugh on it) is returning to those halcyon days:

The decision in Cruikshank set a pattern that would hold for decades. Despite being dominated by appointees from the party of abolition, the Court gave its constitutional blessing to the destruction of America’s short-lived attempt at racial equality piece by piece. By the end, racial segregation would be the law of the land, black Americans would be almost entirely disenfranchised, and black workers would be relegated to a twisted simulacrum of the slave system that existed before the Civil War.

The justices did not resurrect Dred Scott v. Sandford’s antebellum declaration that a black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect. Rather, they carefully framed their arguments in terms of limited government and individual liberty, writing opinion after opinion that allowed the white South to create an oppressive society in which black Americans had almost no rights at all. Their commitment to freedom in the abstract, and only in the abstract, allowed a brutal despotism to take root in Southern soil.

The conservative majority on the Supreme Court today is similarly blinded by a commitment to liberty in theory that ignores the reality of how Americans’ lives are actually lived. Like the Supreme Court of that era, the conservatives on the Court today are opposed to discrimination in principle, and indifferent to it in practice. Chief Justice John Roberts’s June 2018 ruling to uphold President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting a list of majority-Muslim countries, despite the voluminous evidence that it had been conceived in animus, showed that the muddled doctrines of the post-Reconstruction period retain a stubborn appeal.

Roberts wrote that since the declaration itself was “facially neutral toward religion” and did not discriminate against all Muslims, it did not run afoul of the Constitution. In doing so, he embraced the logic of decades of jurisprudence from his predecessors on the high court, whose rulings ensured that the Constitution would not interfere with the emergence of Jim Crow in the American South. The nation’s founding document is no match for a dedicated majority of justices committed to circumventing its guarantees.

He lays out that in the Roberts court at least they're not vociferously white supremacist. But the deference to corporate rights, he points out, almost guarantee another generation of increasing wealth disparities in America.

Unless we win all three branches of government and pass an amendment or two. But it'll have to get a lot worse before we do that, if history is any guide.

Update: Longtime reader MB sent this: "At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past."—Maurice Maeterlinck

The snakes are biting each other now

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an anonymous op-ed from a "senior White House official" that described a "resistance" inside the White House against President Trump's insanity. Greg Sargent calls bullshit:

If anything, the sum total of the revelations offered, while valuable in some respects, reveals the sharp limits on which Trumpian impulses these greatly alarmed patriots discern to be seriously damaging to the country. In so doing, it actually reveals just how deeply insufficient these constraining efforts really are. If the people around Trump think this sort of display will insulate them from any post-Trump reckoning, we’d better make sure it fails ignominiously.

Perhaps the most pointed charge is directed at Trump’s “amorality.” As the piece says: “Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.”

Except in a sense, Trump absolutely does have “first principles,” and these are precisely the problem. Among them are racism and white nationalism; the prioritization of self-enrichment over all else, even extending to a total lack of concern about foreign sabotage of our democracy, simply because he was its beneficiary; and the corrupt, intertwined convictions that law enforcement is merely an instrument of his political will and that he and his cronies should be protected from institutional accountability at all costs, no matter what damage is done along the way.

These do not come in for condemnation. Nor do the policies and actions they have given rise to — policies and actions that are inflicting an untold human toll and great damage on the country. In this sense, the claim that Trump is “amoral” lacks meaningful moral content, and the assertion that Trump is “anti-democratic” lacks meaningful pro-democratic content.

Josh Marshall agrees:

I say ‘faux-resistance leader’ because I see this exercise primarily as one of anticipatory self-exculpation. As things look darker and darker for the President we are beginning to see the first glimmers of the argument that those who should be tainted forever by their association with President Trump may actually be “unsung heroes” who were resisting from within.

This argument has no merit. Not only does this amount to late in the game special-pleading, on the merits what is described here is not good. Presidents are elected by the people. They run the executive branch. If a President is unfit, committing criminal acts or guilty of misrule, our system has open and lawful paths to rectify the situation. There is the 25th Amendment. There is impeachment. There is the simpler course of disclosure: speaking out publicly, revealing the truth to the people in your own name and being fired. The “two-track presidency” which the author describes, with top advisers using subterfuge and stealth insubordination to frustrate the President’s constitutional rule is, at least in concept, clearly unconstitutional. A more hard-boiled version of what the author describes is this: We are fully cognizant of the the danger the President poses to the country and the fact that he is manifestly unfit for the job. But we are going along with the charade as long as it lasts to pocket deregulation and tax cuts.

The upshot is that the administration is coming apart, which is as unsurprising as it is horrifying.

As Tom Lehrer once said, I'm feeling like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.

When you think it can't get stupider...

President Trump, after hearing a report on Fox News that Google search results on his name aren't totally flattering, now believes that Google is part of the conspiracy against him:

The Trump administration is “taking a look” at whether Google and its search engine should be regulated by the government, Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s economic adviser, said Tuesday outside the White House.

“We’ll let you know,” Kudlow said. “We’re taking a look at it.”

The announcement puts the search giant squarely in the White House’s crosshairs amid wider allegations against the tech industry that it systematically discriminates against conservatives on social media and other platforms.

Greg Sargent sees this as Trump once again, by instinct or design, trying to inflame his rump supporters:

Trump’s claim is, of course, absurd: As Daniel Dale explains, this is based on a bogus right wing media claim, and all it really means is that when you google about Trump, you are likely to initially see stories from major news organizations that are legitimately reporting aggressively on Trump, rather than from conservative opinion sites that are putting out propaganda on his behalf.

But while this might seem like typical Trumpian buffoonery, at its core is some deadly serious business. These attacks on the media — which are now spreading to extensive conspiracy-mongering about social media’s role in spreading information — form one part of an interlocking, two-piece Trumpian strategy (whether by instinct or design is unclear) that serves to underscore the urgency of this fall’s elections.

Trump is unleashing endless lies and attacks directed at the mechanisms of accountability that actually are functioning right now — the media, law enforcement and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation — to persuade his supporters not only that they shouldn’t believe anything they hear from these sources, but also to energize them and get them to vote, to protect him from those institutions’ alleged conspiracy against him.

At the same time, that campaign of lies is designed to get Republican voters out for the purpose of keeping in place the mechanism of accountability that is not functioning right now — the GOP-led Congress — preventing a Democratic takeover of the House, which would impose genuine accountability.

At the same time, Republicans in Congress have circulated a list of all the scandals Democrats want to hold hearings on as soon as they win a majority in either legislative house:

The list hints at the overflowing sewer of Trumpian corruption and incompetence, and the refusal of congressional Republicans to investigate any of it. Oddly enough, this list is being circulated by Republicans in Congress. The list, composed of Democratic requests for hearings that Republicans have blocked, is meant to warn of what Congress would look into if Democrats win the midterms. Axios reports that Republican “stomachs are churning” at the mere thought that any of the items on the list could receive a public hearing.

The list includes the kinds of policies a normally functioning Congress would probe, including “Election security and hacking attempts,” “White House security clearances,” and “Hurricane response in Puerto Rico.” (Congress held bipartisan hearings on the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, but has not done so for the response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, where hundreds of Americans died.) But most of the cases listed focus on corruption: “President Trump’s tax returns,” “Trump family businesses — and whether they comply with the Constitution’s emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization,” “Trump’s dealings with Russia, including the president’s preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin,” and on and on.

Probably the most picayune item on the list would be “White House staff’s personal email use,” though of course it might be difficult for Republicans to dismiss this issue given that they based their entire campaign on the premise that the use of personal email constitutes a grave criminal defense and continue to demand the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton for this very offense.

The most predominant theme of the list is corruption.

In other words, the Republican Party has completely abandoned its previously-held beliefs in the rule of law, and are now openly running on a platform of supporting the rule of Donald Trump.

We have 70 days until the Mid-Terms. Can't wait to see how bad it will get before then.

The President's no-good, very bad day

Yesterday, President Trump's longtime fixer Michael Cohen plead guilty to 8 crimes at almost the exact moment a jury convicted his former campaign manager of another 8. The Atlantic explains what the first part means:

The most important takeaway Tuesday is that the president’s own former personal attorney pleaded guilty to breaking campaign-finance laws at his alleged direction.

While the bank- and tax-fraud charges do not involve the president, the campaign-finance charges indisputably do. Cohen made the payments—$130,000 to Daniels and $150,000 to McDougal—through shell companies. He said Tuesday that the payments were intended to influence the election, making them a violation of campaign-finance laws, and that he had done so at the direction of the candidate.

That exposes several lies that the president made about the hush money. The White House initially denied that Trump had any knowledge of the payments. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” the president said in April.

David Frum just comes out and says "the president is a crook."

Over at WaPo, Paul Waldman decries the institutions that failed to get us to this point, while Isaac Stanley-Baker reports that right-wing media carried on like every other day.

For his part, the president Tweeted how proudly he felt about Manafort "not break[ing]," which, when you think about it, means that Manafort really does have the goods and the president just admitted it.

I'm happy some of these criminals are facing justice. But just imagine how quickly we'd be rid of this guy if we had a functioning Congress.

More sad but true news about politicians

Shocking, I know, but politicians seem comically unaware of how technology works:

We’re now a dozen years past the infamous “series of tubes” speech. Yet our political leaders still don’t seem to have learned much about those “tubes” or the cyber-sewage that frequently flows through them.

Consider a recent, noncomprehensive history.

These days Trump lashes out at private companies that suspend nut jobs and neo-Nazis, decrying that “censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to police.” But in what feels like a million years of crazy ago, then-candidate Trump said he planned to hobble recruiting by the terrorist Islamic State by asking Bill Gates to “clos[e] that Internet up in some way.”

This was a baffling proposal, not only because Chinese-style, government-enforced Internet censorship would run afoul of the First Amendment. The other problem was that the Microsoft founder-turned-philanthropist does not, uh, “control” the Internet.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some politicians out there who seem to know their way around the information superhighway. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who represents part of Silicon Valley but has called for stronger privacy rights, is among them. Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), as Senate Intelligence Committee chair and vice chair, respectively, have shown an inclination to ask tougher questions of tech companies on Russian interference.

But the problems infecting the tech sector go well beyond those limited areas, alas. And, generally speaking, our policymakers are ill prepared to protect the public from those who wish us harm — or even from companies willing to profit off that harm.

None of this is really new. Politicians typically know less than most people about the daily lives of the people they represent. What's different, at least as far as the governing party in the U.S. goes, is that they're proud of their ignorance. That is what we should be afraid of.

Don't be fooled; Sessions is reactionary and dangerous

Despite President Trump's Tweets deriding the man, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has done much of what he set out to do in office. He's partying like it's 1959:

Since taking office, Sessions has installed a punitive agenda based on the “Massive Resistance” strategy followed by attorneys general throughout the Deep South during the segregation era to use the law to thwart justice. The aim then was to hobble the civil rights movement, limit the number of black elected officials and impose sentencing guidelines that fell most harshly on black lawbreakers and white citizens guilty of lifestyle “crimes” like recreational drug use and “deviant” sexual behavior. This, of course, is the same legal agenda now being pursued ferociously by Sessions. Far from being “missing in action” as Trump claims, the much-ridiculed Sessions is bent on a root-and-branch revision of federal law enforcement.

Sessions’ connection to this living tradition of punitive law enforcement is well documented. As an U.S. attorney, he selectively prosecuted black elected officials in the Alabama Black Belt for voter fraud. Later, as Alabama attorney general, he opposed the funding of gay and lesbian student associations as a threat to his state’s sodomy laws. While his alma mater, the University of Alabama Law School, did produce some white civil rights champions like federal Judge Frank M. Johnson and former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley, it mainly schooled the lawyer-politicians who ordered poll taxes and phony literacy tests to keep blacks from voting. This latter tradition seems to have shaped Sessions’ thinking; witness his abolition earlier this year of the Justice Department's Office for Access to Justice, devoted to equal justice for persons in need. The once energetic Civil Rights Division now labors under what the Atlantic magazine calls the Sessions Doctrine, which aims to “erase many of the legal gains of modern America's defining movement.”

This is the Jeff Sessions story writ short. He has made Alabama’s tradition of weaponizing the legal system against minorities, immigrants and political opponents into the official policy of the United States Justice Department and its legal and prosecutorial agencies. And a nation transfixed by presidential misdirection seems hardly to have noticed.

It's not just the authoritarian and reactionary disaster in the White House from which we will take a generation to recover; Sessions' work will make it harder to get started.

Daily Parker bait, times 3

Of course I'm going to blog about these three articles.

First, former George W. Bush speechwriter and lifelong Republican Michael Gerson looks at the culture of celebrity that surrounds the President and says "our republic will never be the same:"

The founders generally believed that the survival and success of a republic required leaders and citizens with certain virtues: moderation, self-restraint and concern for the common good. They were convinced that respect for a moral order made ordered liberty possible.

The culture of celebrity is the complete negation of this approach to politics. It represents a kind of corrupt, decaying capitalism in which wealth is measured in exposure. It elevates appearance over accomplishment. Because rivalries and feuds are essential to the story line, it encourages theatrical bitterness. Instead of pursuing a policy vision, the first calling of the celebrity is to maintain a brand.

Is the skill set of the celebrity suited to the reality of governing? On the evidence, not really.

Second, Crain's business columnist Joe Cahill calls out Eddie Lampert's offer to buy Kenmore for $400m as a call to put Sears into hospice care:

There's plenty to worry about in the latest letter from Lampert's ESL Investments. First, Lampert is offering just $400 million for Kenmore, supposedly the company's crown jewel. When he first floated the idea of buying the household appliance brand in April, estimates pegged the likely selling price at $500 million or more. Maybe the lower bid is intended to elicit higher offers from potential third-party acquirers. Or it may signal that nobody else is interested and ESL is angling for a bargain.

Second, the offer is both nonbinding and contingent on ESL finding a third-party equity backer to finance the purchase. The letter says ESL is "confident" it can find such a backer. In other words, billionaire Lampert isn't willing to risk his own money buying Kenmore. This is consistent with his recent reluctance to raise his bet on Sears Holdings as a whole. As I've written before, he could easily take the company private—at the current market capitalization, the 46 percent he doesn't already own would cost less than $100 million—and capture the full upside of a turnaround. He's shown no interest in doing so.

And finally, on a happier note, the Chicago Tribune lists eight bars where people can go to read:

After living in the United Kingdom, freelance book publicist Jonathan Maunder turned to Chicago’s literary greats to connect to his adopted city. He remembered a night last year visiting Rainbo Club, the bar favored by “Chicago, City on the Make” author Nelson Algren.

“As I stepped out of the bar, a little drunk on both a couple of pints and Algren’s beautiful writing, I stood for a moment under the red neon of the Rainbo Club sign, which was reflected on the just rained on street, and felt a powerful connection to the place I was in and its history,” he said.

[He recommends] Kopi, A Traveler’s Cafe
5317 N. Clark St., 773-989-5674

A friendly, relaxed cafe/bar, which always has people and a good atmosphere (and sometimes accordion players) but never feels overly busy and hectic, in a way that might be distracting from reading.

Given that Kopi is a 20-minute walk from my house, I may just stop in this weekend.

I was a little bummed that the Duke of Perth didn't make the list, though.

Hard to know for sure

Jennifer Rubin believes she's found President Trump's stupidest Tweet ever:

President Trump has issued shameful tweets, offensive tweets and self-serving tweets. Rarely, however, has he sent out a tweet that better conveys his abject ignorance about the country and economics than the tweet he posted Wednesday:

No, no, no.

Our country was founded on a principle Trump often seems unacquainted with: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

[T]he notion that other countries are stealing our wealth is wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. We send dollars to foreign exporters, who in turn invest in America and hire our workers. They are making the United States richer.

Trump doesn't really care about all that, because if he can keep enough people believing that free trade is the problem, rather than Republican policies that transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, then he and his cronies can continue looting the populace.

As Aaron Sorkin once wrote,

Meant to post yesterday

Four articles I read late in the day and wanted to spike here:

And now, I will start working.

Lunchtime reading

Happy August! (Wait, where did April go?)

As I munch on my salad at my desk today, I'm reading these stories:

And finally, a bit of good news out of Half Moon Bay, Calif. The corporate owner of the local paper told them they had to shut down, so a group of townspeople formed a California benefit corporation to buy the paper out.