The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Justice Thomas joins the liberals

In yesterday's ruling in Harris v Cooper, the Supreme Court ruled against North Carolina's blatant gerrymandering. The surprising bit is that Justice Clarence Thomas voted in the majority on both issues. New Republic's Scott Lemieux postulates reasons why:

In a 2015 case, Thomas provided the fifth vote to an opinion holding that Texas was not required to issue license plates with the Confederate flag as part of its option of personalized license plates. It is not terribly surprising that even a conservative African-American who grew up impoverished in the rural Jim Crow South would have a different perspective on the Confederacy and its legacy than the typical conservative.

Thomas’s votes yesterday were squarely within that tradition. His brief concurring opinion emphasized that the result comported with two of his longstanding views. First, he believes that any use of race by the government, for any purpose, triggers strict scrutiny, a high burden North Carolina could not meet. Since the state conceded that District 1 was intentionally created as a majority-minority district, this made the case easy for Thomas as well as the other conservatives.

He also explained that he joined the liberal faction with respect to District 12 in part because of his belief in deferring to the findings of the trial court unless it clearly errs.

This isn't an evolution, but who Thomas really is, Lemieux says. Maybe Antonin Scalia so overshadowed Thomas that we really didn't see it? I'll need more convincing.

Things that I can't read until I have a few drinks

Just, I dunno, man.

Sleep is overrated.

They can't be that stupid, can they?

I'll get to Eddie Lampert's interview with the Chicago Tribune later today. But first, let's take a moment to realize that as we shake our heads at the amateur hour over at the White House, we knew damn well they were going to cause a Constitutional crisis at some point.

And that point arrived last night:

President Trump on Tuesday fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s presidency raised the specter of political interference by a sitting president into an existing investigation by the nation’s leading law enforcement agency. It immediately ignited Democratic calls for a special counsel to lead the Russia inquiry.

Mr. Trump explained the firing by citing Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, even though the president was widely seen to have benefited politically from that inquiry and had once praised Mr. Comey for his “guts” in his pursuit of Mrs. Clinton during the campaign.

But in his letter to Mr. Comey, released to reporters by the White House, the president betrayed his focus on the continuing inquiry into Russia and his aides.

The White House staff, apparently caught off-guard about their boss's unprecedented, earth-shaking action, rushed into full Keystone Kops mode:

After [White House Press Secretary Sean] Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged.

“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,” he ordered. “We'll take care of this. ... Can you just turn that light off?”

Spicer got his wish and was soon standing in near darkness between two tall hedges, with more than a dozen reporters closely gathered around him. For 10 minutes, he responded to a flurry of questions, vacillating between light-hearted asides and clear frustration with getting the same questions over and over again.

The first question: Did the president direct Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to conduct a probe of FBI Director James B. Comey?

As Spicer tells it, Rosenstein was confirmed about two weeks ago and independently took on this issue so the president was not aware of the probe until he received a memo from Rosenstein on Tuesday, along with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending that Comey be fired.

Nobody believes that last bit. Not even a little. In fact, CNN reported that President Trump asked Rosenstein to come up with a rationale for firing Comey last week, so the thought that Rosenstein did this sua sponte is preposterous. Josh Marshall:

There is only one reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the decision to fire Comey: that there is grave wrongdoing at the center of the Russia scandal and that it implicates the President. As I write this, I have a difficult time believing that last sentence myself. But sometimes you have to step back from your assumptions and simply look at what the available evidence is telling you. It’s speaking clearly: the only reasonable explanation is that the President has something immense to hide and needs someone in charge of the FBI who he believes is loyal. Like Jeff Sessions. Like Rod Rosenstein.

Yes. Under any other administration, this would be an unbelievable development. But under this administration, it's not only believable, it seems inevitable. And we're 603 days away from a new Congress taking their seats, which seems the earliest that anyone will have the political will to start impeachment proceedings.

How will it end?

The New Yorker's Evan Osnos explores how President Trump might leave office before the end of his term, and how likely that is:

Trump’s approval rating is forty per cent—the lowest of any newly elected President since Gallup started measuring it. Even before Trump entered the White House, the F.B.I. and four congressional committees were investigating potential collusion between his associates and the Russian government. Since then, Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, have become senior White House officials, prompting intense criticism over potential conflicts of interest involving their private businesses. Between October and March, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics received more than thirty-nine thousand public inquiries and complaints, an increase of five thousand per cent over the same period at the start of the Obama Administration. Nobody occupies the White House without criticism, but Trump is besieged by doubts of a different order, centering on the overt, specific, and, at times, bipartisan discussion of whether he will be engulfed by any one of myriad problems before he has completed even one term in office—and, if he is, how he might be removed.

Trump’s critics are actively exploring the path to impeachment or the invocation of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which allows for the replacement of a President who is judged to be mentally unfit. During the past few months, I interviewed several dozen people about the prospects of cutting short Trump’s Presidency. I spoke to his friends and advisers; to lawmakers and attorneys who have conducted impeachments; to physicians and historians; and to current members of the Senate, the House, and the intelligence services. By any normal accounting, the chance of a Presidency ending ahead of schedule is remote. In two hundred and twenty-eight years, only one President has resigned; two have been impeached, though neither was ultimately removed from office; eight have died. But nothing about Trump is normal. Although some of my sources maintained that laws and politics protect the President to a degree that his critics underestimate, others argued that he has already set in motion a process of his undoing. All agree that Trump is unlike his predecessors in ways that intensify his political, legal, and personal risks.

Osnos does a good job of lining up those risks, how they might manifest, and how Trump's large and growing opposition might use them. It's worth the time.

Also worth noting in the same issue, David Remnick comments on Trump's first 100 days.

Narcissist in chief

President Trump met with the 2017 state Teachers of the Year yesterday, and, as usual, made the event all about himself:

Usually, the National Teacher of the Year speaks. This year, that didn’t happen. Usually, the president spends some time talking with the teachers, giving many of them individual attention. That barely happened Wednesday, according to several participants who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity because they said they fear Trump addressing them on Twitter or press secretary Sean Spicer bringing them up at a daily briefing. Usually family members join the winners to meet the president. This time few were allowed — and relatives of the teachers, some who had traveled at their own expense for many hours to attend, were left to wait in a building near the White House, with, as one said, “no water in the hot rooms.”

Rather than a ceremony in the East Room or the Rose Garden, as past presidents have done, Trump invited the teachers into the Oval Office, where he asked them all to gather around him, standing, while he sat at his desk. In the crowd were first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Pence, second lady Karen Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. It was the first lady’s birthday, and the teachers sang “Happy Birthday” to her.

In the Oval Office, with the teachers and others standing around him, Trump spoke about the teachers and engaged with a few of them (see video above), and briefly singled out the 2017 National Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, from Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, Mass. A ninth-grade teacher, she is the first national winner from a charter school in the program’s 65-year history....

How interesting that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has financial stakes in charter schools, oversaw an event where a charter-school teacher won a major honor from her boss? And Trump still couldn't be gracious about it.

Read the rest of the article for how Presidents Obama and G.W. Bush honored the teachers, and ponder how often Trump will, over the next 1,362 days

Don't know much about history (or anything else)

The Washington Post's Daily 202 column yesterday pointed out how difficult President Trump's job is because President Trump doesn't know anything about history:

[T]he fact our president needed an introductory tutorial on Sino-Korean relations to understand how hard it is to contain Pyongyang is just the latest illustration of one of his blind spots: He and his inner-circle have very little sense of history.

It is a cliché, but there is truth to it: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Sean Spicer’s cringe-worthy comments this week that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s actions were worse than Adolf Hitler’s suggested a more endemic problem of historical illiteracy in the White House. The press secretary has since apologized for saying that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing.” He also referred to concentration camps as “the Holocaust centers.”

Because Spicer made his comment on the first day of Passover, the observant staff members at the Anti-Defamation League had their phones and televisions off. So they didn’t find out until Wednesday night what had happened. Leaders of the group reached out to the White House yesterday to offer a training session on the Holocaust.

Josh Marshall thinks it's not just ignorance, but militant ignorance:

What is key though is to understand that this is not just ignorance. Ignorance is just the first stage of Trump’s fairly advanced problem. He is not only ignorant but clearly unaware of his level of ignorance. This is compounded by a seeming inability to understand that everyone else isn’t equally ignorant to him. Those of us who are parents know the wonder of discovery experienced by small children. They find out there were things such as dinosaurs or close primate relatives called lemurs. As loving parents we indulge them, sometimes feigning ignorance of things we actually already knew to support a child’s joy in discovery.

But Donald Trump is a 70 year old man. And not a terribly nice man.

His ignorance is not endearing. We don’t need to lie to him to make him feel good about himself. Still it is good to understand his condition. Ignorance is just lack of information. But there’s something wrong with Trump’s brain – maybe cognitive, perhaps simple entitlement or just broad spectrum derp – which appears to make it genuinely impossible not to project his own ignorance onto everybody else.

Lest you think this problem may abate, Jeet Heer says Trump isn't actually learning, he only cares about winning.

Only 1,376 days left in this awful, awful presidential term.

Betsy DeVos behaving as predicted

When you have someone with the background, education, and beliefs of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, you know you're not going to get any policies that benefit education. Sure enough, yesterday she started rolling back reforms begun under the Obama administration that tried to correct the abuses of the student loan industry:

The former president's administration issued a pair of memorandums last year requiring that the government's Federal Student Aid office, which services $1.1 trillion in government-owned student loans, do more to help borrowers manage, or even discharge, their debt.

But in a memorandum to the department's student aid office, DeVos formally withdrew the two Obama memos. The Obama administration's approach, DeVos said, was inconsistent and full of shortcomings. She didn't detail how the moves fell short, and her spokesmen, Jim Bradshaw and Matthew Frendewey, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

DeVos' move "will certainly increase the likelihood of default," said David Bergeron, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with close ties to Democrats, who previously worked under Democratic and Republican administrations during his more than 30 years at the Education Department before retiring as the head of postsecondary education.

It's an absolute scandal that student loans, which are some of the safest investments a bank can make because they can't be discharged in bankruptcy, have high interest rates and a history of predatory collection practices. DeVos has investments in the for-profit education companies that benefit directly from this situation. And people wonder why the Republican Party has a reputation for screwing the disadvantaged in favor of rich businesses.

The man who broke the Senate

When people see their fortunes waning, they get desperate. Enter Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate Republicans:

No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership, the triumph of tactics in service of short-term power.

After McConnell justified his filibuster-ending “nuclear option” by saying it would be beneficial for the Senate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said this: “Whoever says that is a stupid idiot.”

After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was confirmed last year, it took McConnell less than an hour to say that the vacancy should be filled by the next president. He called keeping Obama’s nominee off the court “one of my proudest moments.”

Two years ago, when a Democrat was in the White House, McConnell said he would only abolish filibusters of Supreme Court justices if there were 67 votes for such a change. This week, he employed a maneuver to do it with 51 votes. It suited his momentary needs, but the damage will remain long after McConnell’s tombstone is engraved.

Again, the Republican Party doesn't care about governing; they only care about winning. And now the dog has caught the car.

Why try to filibuster Gorsuch?

Josh Marshall says the filibuster is already dead, so it's the right thing to do for Democrats in the Senate to force the Republicans to take the next step:

If Gorsuch will be confirmed one way or another, why go through the nuclear option motions? I would say it's important for this reason. I've heard a number of pundits arguing that the real issue here, or much of the issue, is that Democrats still haven't gotten over the treatment of Judge Garland. That argument is both deeply flawed and entirely correct. This really is mainly about Judge Garland.

As Rep. Adam Schiff put it yesterday on Twitter, Mitch McConnell's historically unprecedented and constitutionally illegitimate decision to block President Obama from nominating anyone a year before he left office was the real nuclear option. The rest is simply fallout. Senate Republicans had the power to do this. But that doesn't make it legitimate. The seat was stolen. Therefore Gorsuch's nomination is itself illegitimate since it is the fruit of the poisoned tree.

Democrats likely have no power to finally prevent this corrupt transaction. It is nonetheless important that they not partake in the corruption. Treating this as a normal nomination would do just that. There are now various good arguments to vote against Gorsuch's nomination on the merits. But to me that's not even the point. Democrats should filibuster the nomination because it is not a legitimate nomination. Filibustering the nomination is the right course of action.

The Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow on the nomination.