The Daily Parker

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The intensifying battle against voting

The Republican Party has been stepping up its program of voter suppression in an increasingly-desperate effort to remain in power despite being in the minority. Having hitched its wagon to the older, whiter (i.e., diminishing) part of the electorate, they have few other options, since their policies offend and repel most of the country.

Josh Marshall and TPM Media have started a 10-part series looking at this problem, just as New Republic reports that more voters are being purged from registration rolls than any time in the past decade. Marshall:

In many ways, today’s battles over voter ID, felon disenfranchisement, gerrymandering and more are simply a continuation of a struggle that has been going for more than two centuries, with a clear line of continuity stretching through the battle for voting rights in the Civil Rights Era South. But there are key differences between past battles and those today, ones we can now see coming to the fore in the last years of the 20th century. Restrictions on voting have long been most effective against the young, racial minorities and the poor — constituencies that, increasingly over the last few decades, have voted for Democrats.

[C]hanging demographics created a simple and stark reality. Whereas attacks on voting rights did not used to clearly advantage one party over another, now voting restrictionism clearly advantaged Republicans and disadvantaged Democrats. The 2000 election with its tight margins and county officials peering at dangling chads through magnifying glasses focused Republicans on the importance of every single vote and more ominously how small shifts in the shape of the electorate could have dramatic results. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Republican politics was filled with a growing chorus of claims of “voter fraud,” usually focusing on minority and youth voting, and the need to crack down on voter fraud with new security measures (voter roll purges and voter ID) and increased prosecutions.

The series we are beginning today is made up of ten articles. They will include historical perspective, as well as extensive reporting on the current moment and policy prescriptions for advancing and securing voting rights against a tide that appears everywhere to be flowing against them. We will have pieces on felon disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, history going back to the 19th century and up through recent decades, voter ID laws, automatic voter registration along with numerous related issues. We will also have reporters in the field covering events as they unfold over the next five months. Our goal is to survey the full breadth of this critical topic, examining the history, the current range of threats and opportunities and, to the extent possible, helping readers understand the scope of the issue, its importance and avenues for positive change over the coming years.

The Daily Parker will be following this series with great interest.

Another slice of Occam's Razor

Andrew Sullivan doesn't think we need to dig too deeply into President Trump's dealings to understand why he behaves the way he does:

The lies come and go. But his deeper convictions really are in plain sight.

And they are, at root, the same as those of the strongmen he associates with and most admires. The post-1945 attempt to organize the world around collective security, free trade, open societies, non-zero-sum diplomacy, and multicultural democracies is therefore close to unintelligible to him. Why on earth, in his mind, would a victorious power after a world war be … generous to its defeated foes? When you win, you don’t hold out a hand in enlightened self-interest. You gloat and stomp. In Trump’s zero-sum brain — “we should have kept the oil!” — it makes no sense. It has to be a con. And so today’s international order strikes Trump, and always has, as a massive, historic error on the part of the United States.

He always hated it, and he never understood it. That kind of complex, interdependent world requires virtues he doesn’t have and skills he doesn’t possess. He wants a world he intuitively understands: of individual nations, in which the most powerful are free to bully the others. He wants an end to transnational migration, especially from south to north. It unnerves him. He believes that warfare should be engaged not to defend the collective peace as a last resort but to plunder and occupy and threaten. He sees no moral difference between free and authoritarian societies, just a difference of “strength,” in which free societies, in his mind, are the weaker ones. He sees nations as ethno-states, exercising hard power, rather than liberal societies, governed by international codes of conduct. He believes in diplomacy as the meeting of strongmen in secret, doing deals, in alpha displays of strength — not endless bullshit sessions at multilateral summits. He’s the kind of person who thinks that the mafia boss at the back table is the coolest guy in the room.

All of this has been clear from the start. So while the Mueller probe may continue to uncover massive criminal activity all around Trump, it may never find true collusion with Russia. But the probe is still necessary, because (a) there really is criminal behavior there and (b) it can preserve the West that much longer.

But we simply must take the House back this November, and send Trump packing in 2020. Otherwise the world will become a much worse place very soon.

A "sad, embarrassing wreck of a man"

That's how lifelong Republican George Will describes his party's leader:

Americans elected a president who — this is a safe surmise — knew that he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

The explanation is in doubt; what needs to be explained — his compliance — is not. Granted, Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

Kathleen Parker says "a cancer lives among us:"

Sure, he’s rude and crude, they’ve said, but he’s going to make America great again.

No, he’s not.

Nor was he ever, notwithstanding a column I wrote just before Election Day, saying that America would survive no matter who won. My optimism was based solely on faith in the U.S. Constitution and the inherent checks and balances prescribed therein. To be wrong would mean that the checks aren’t being applied when imbalances occur.

We are there.

When our chief executive, whose principal job is to defend both the Constitution and the nation against aggressors, stands alongside our chief geopolitical foe and betrays two of our most important institutions in the service of his own ego, he has dimmed the lights in the shining city on a hill and left the world a far darker place.

It’s often said that America is great because America is good. My faith in the institutions and the individuals who conferred upon us a singular role in the history of humankind is yet unshaken. But a cancer lives among us, and the good people of this country must be precise in its excision.

Those are Republicans. Democratic Party members haven't been so kind.

Holy mother of veracity, what a press conference

This is not an innocent man:

I mean, credit to Putin for keeping a straight face. But I can see why officials in both major U.S. parties have called this treasonous or nearly so.

Let's see what the Republicans in Congress do now.

Update: Around 30:15, Putin offers to have Russian law enforcement interrogate the Russian GRU agents who were named in the Justice Department indictment from Friday. Where does one even start? What does he have on Trump, seriously?

Trial runs for fascism

Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole points to the Trump Administration putting babies in cages as one example of how they're building up to fascism:

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.

One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities. Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about 40 per cent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your 40 per cent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too. And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.

To see, as most commentary has done, the deliberate traumatisation of migrant children as a “mistake” by Trump is culpable naivety. It is a trial run – and the trial has been a huge success. Trump’s claim last week that immigrants “infest” the US is a test-marketing of whether his fans are ready for the next step-up in language, which is of course “vermin”. And the generation of images of toddlers being dragged from their parents is a test of whether those words can be turned into sounds and pictures. It was always an experiment – it ended (but only in part) because the results were in.

The best we can hope for at this point is to take back the House of Representatives in 115 days. But we now know the Russian Government will try to disrupt or discredit those elections—so we need to prepare for that as well.

Interesting times.

Lunchtime reading

It's been a busy news day:

There was also an article on tuple equality in C# 7.3 that, while interesting to me, probably isn't interesting to many other people.

Rauner confident; should Pritzker worry?

Greg Hinz reports that Republican Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner's internal polling numbers suggest his re-election race is a lot closer than the rest of the state believes:

The message came in an exclusive interview with Rauner campaign manager Betsy Ankney in which she claimed the incumbent has pulled within single digits of Democratic nominee J.B. Pritzker in internal campaign polls, and promised to empty a "very full" book of opposition research on him.

 "In our focus groups, people can't cite a single positive thing about Pritzker even after he's spent $80 million" on TV ads, Ankney said. That's why, when Rauner in the spring spent "$4 million over six weeks" running ads tying Pritzker to imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, "his positive rating dropped 20 (percentage) points."

Ankney declined to release the latest results from her campaign's pollster, Dave Sackett. But said Rauner has pulled "closer than any public poll indicates." The closest poll that I'm aware of came a couple of weeks ago from We Ask America for Capital Fax. It showed Pritzker ahead just 36 percent to 27 percent, a nine-point margin. (Pritzker hasn't released his poll figures either, but it's believed they show him much further ahead.)

I'm not yet worried, because Rauner remains unusually unpopular for a governor (though he's still polling better than Rod Blagojevich's 9%). But I am curious how the polls can all be so different.

The worst case is probably true

Jonathan Chait lays out the evidence that we know about, and concludes that President Trump is almost certainly colluding with Vladimir Putin:

A case like this presents an easy temptation for conspiracy theorists, but we can responsibly speculate as to what lies at the end of this scandal without falling prey to their fallacies. Conspiracy theories tend to attract people far from the corridors of power, and they often hypothesize vast connections within or between governments and especially intelligence agencies. One of the oddities of the Russia scandal is that many of the most exotic and sinister theories have come from people within government and especially within the intelligence field.

Suppose we are currently making the same mistake we made at the outset of this drama — suppose the dark crevices of the Russia scandal run not just a little deeper but a lot deeper. If that’s true, we are in the midst of a scandal unprecedented in American history, a subversion of the integrity of the presidency. It would mean the Cold War that Americans had long considered won has dissolved into the bizarre spectacle of Reagan’s party’s abetting the hijacking of American government by a former KGB agent. It would mean that when Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes in on the president and his inner circle, possibly beginning this summer, Trump may not merely rail on Twitter but provoke a constitutional crisis.

[I]f you’re Putin, embarking upon a coveted summit with the most Russophilic president since World War II, who is taking a crowbar to the alliance of your enemies, why wouldn’t you help him in 2018 and 2020? Ever since the fall of 2016, when Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately turned down an Obama-administration proposal for a bipartisan warning to Russia not to interfere in the election, the underlying dynamic has been set: Most Republicans would rather win an election with Putin’s help than lose one without it. The Democrats, brimming with rage, threaten to investigate Russian activity if they win a chamber of Congress this November. For Putin to redouble his attack — by hacking into voting machines or some other method — would be both strategic and in keeping with his personality. Why stop now?

It's straightforward and logical, as Occam's Razor should be. And it's deeply frightening.

Daily Parker timing: impeccable

Just hours after I posted a Citylab article reciting all the ways the EPA has helped people's lives over the years, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned:

Mr. Pruitt had been hailed as a hero among conservatives for his zealous deregulation, but he could not overcome the stain of numerous ethics questions about his alleged spending abusesfirst-class travel and cozy relationships with lobbyists.

Mr. Pruitt also came under fire for enlisting aides to obtain special favors for him and his family, such as reaching out to the chief executive of Chick-fil-A, Dan T. Cathy, with the intent of helping Mr. Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, open franchise of the restaurant.

White House advisers for months have implored Mr. Trump to get rid of Mr. Pruitt, including his chief of staff, John F. Kelly. Ultimately, the president grew disillusioned with Mr. Pruitt after a cascade of accusations of impropriety and ethical missteps overshadowed Mr. Pruitt’s policy achievements.

In recent days, people who have spoken with Mr. Trump said he sounds exasperated with his EPA administrator’s negative headlines. “It’s one thing after another with this guy,” one person close to Mr. Trunp quoted the president as saying.

Notice that the scandals didn't matter to Trump; only that the scandals "overshadowed...policy achievments."

So the swampiest critter in Trump's new swamp has quit. This is excellent news. But don't get too excited:

The E.P.A.’s deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who shares Mr. Pruitt’s zeal to dismantle climate change regulations, will act as the agency’s leader until a new administrator is nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by the Senate.

So the policies won't actually change; but at least Pruitt finally got fired.

Ode to the EPA

Before Scott Pruitt and friends destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, it's worth remembering the good it has done over the years:

Whatever happens to the EPA, this might be a good time to reflect on its legacy, especially in urban spaces. Though environmentalism conjures “America the Beautiful” images of purple mountains and unspoiled wilderness, much of the EPA’s heaviest lifting in rescuing this nation from its own filth happened in cities.

Long before fracking made tap water ignitable, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire—a lot. The saga is a well-trod part of the EPA’s origin story, but it’s still worth revisiting. A 1969 river fire caught Time’s attention in an article on American sewage systems, headlined in print as “The Cities: The Price of Optimism.

The EPA also went to great lengths to clean up the Great Lakes. That Time article described Lake Erie as a “cesspool" created by the waste of “Detroit's auto companies, Toledo's steel mills, and the paper plants of Erie, Pa.” More notable city water cleanup projects include the agency’s 1983 project to restore the Chesapeake Bay or the 2002 project to clean up the Hudson River after New York City became the last city to dump sewage at sea in 1992.

Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, but it was the creation of the EPA, combined with amendments to the law in 1970 and 1977, that added regulatory weight to the law’s mandate of reducing air pollution. The agency worked with companies and set limits on air pollutants and emissions from source like chemical plants, utilities and steel mills. Before the EPA, smog enrobed many U.S. cities in a lethal hydrocarbon haze, none more infamously than Los Angeles.

On that last point, I remember L.A. in the 1970s, and I watched it transform. Same here in Chicago. When Republicans whine about regulations hurting business, what they really mean is they want to pass along all the external costs of industry to us, the way they used to. Environmental regulations do cost industry money—because those are the real costs.

So when Scott Pruitt says he wants to reduce the burden on business, realize that he wants to put that burden right back on you.