The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Trump's National Mall event is both better and worse than you think

That's what screenwriter Jeff Greenfield, writing for Politico, says:

Celebrations of the Fourth do not tend to benefit both parties equally, and here, Trump may well be demonstrating his instinctive grasp of which way a big event tends to nudge the populace. In 2011, two academics who studied the political effect of Fourth of July festivities concluded that: "Fourth of July celebrations in the United States shape the nation's political landscape by forming beliefs and increasing participation, primarily in favor of the Republican Party. … The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century, [so] there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican Party.”

For all that, history also suggests there's good reason that his plan is rubbing people the wrong way. For one, it really is rare; it's far more common for presidents to vacate Washington on the Fourth of July, or to remain at the White House, than to insert themselves into the proceedings.

Someone who can say of himself that he has been treated worse than any president in history—four of whom were assassinated—has an impressively unique understanding of his own role in the American story, to say the least.

NPR says the event will cost taxpayers millions. And Rick Atkinson takes a broader view, comparing us on our 243rd anniversary of independence from Britain to Britain of that time.

A new taxonomy for the GOP

Michael Tomasky draws on Steven Levitsky to give us the best description yet of the modern Republican Party:

If you pay close attention to such things, you will recognize Mr. Levitsky’s name — he was a co-author, with Daniel Ziblatt, of last year’s book “How Democracies Die,” which sparked much discussion. “Competitive Authoritarianism” deserves to do the same.

What defines competitive authoritarian states? They are “civilian regimes in which formal democratic institutions exist and are widely viewed as the primary means of gaining power, but in which incumbents’ abuse of the state places them at a significant advantage vis-à-vis their opponents.” Sound like anyone you know?

Now, I should say that I don’t think we’re there yet. Neither does Mr. Levitsky. “For all of its unfairness and growing dysfunction, American democracy has not slid into competitive authoritarianism,” he told me. “The playing field between Democrats and Republicans remains reasonably level.”

So we’re not there right now. But we may well be on the way, and it’s abundantly clear who wants to take us there.

Read this back-to-back with yesterday's Op-Ed from political scientist Greg Weiner on "the Trump Fallacy" and have a great day.

Not enough time on my hands

I thought the weekend of Canada Day and the weekend before Independence Day wouldn't have much a lot of news. I was wrong:

  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford (the brother of Rob Ford) cancelled Canada Day celebrations in Toronto*. (Imagine the Governor of Virginia or the Mayor of DC canceling the 4th of July and you've about got it.) Fortunately for the city, the Ontario legislature reinstated them.
  • You know how I write about how urban planning can make people happier, healthier, and friendlier? Yah, this city in California is my idea of hell. I hope the developers lost all their money.
  • In contrast, I learned of the Lil Yellow House while in Toronto, and the rap video the real-estate agent created to sell it. (It sold quickly, for C$500,000.)
  • Apparently, my drinking gets me a B-. (80% of Americans drink 6.75 drinks per week or less; the top 10% drink 15.28 per week. This is the one B- I'm happy to have.)
  • My alma mater recently published new research linking your email address to your credit score.
  • Alabama prosecutors have brought charges for manslaughter against a woman who miscarried after getting shot. No, really. Because Alabama.
  • Former President Jimmy Carter called out President Trump on the (alleged) illegitimacy of his election.
  • The New Republic adds to the chorus of organizations surprised at what it actually took to get the Supreme Court to call bullshit.
  • Ever wonder how often two bags of Skittles candy have the same proportions of flavors? No, me neither. But this guy did.
  • Windows has a case-insensitive file system; Git is case-sensitive. Do the math.
  • Um. That's not a pet bird.

*Those celebrations will be here, on the right, in this view from my hotel room yesterday:

Reactions to the Rucho decision

It turns out, I wasn't the only one to have a strong reaction to Rucho v Common Cause. We start with Justice Elena Kagan (citations removed):

The majority disputes none of what I have said (or will say) about how gerrymanders undermine democracy. Indeed, the majority concedes (really, how could it not?) that gerrymandering is “incompatible with democratic principles.” And therefore what? That recognition would seem to demand a response. The majority offers two ideas that might qualify as such. One is that the political process can deal with the problem—a proposition so dubious on its face that I feel secure in delaying my answer for some time. The other is that political gerrymanders have always been with us. To its credit, the majority does not frame that point as an originalist constitutional argument.

After all (as the majority rightly notes), racial and residential gerrymanders were also once with us, but the Court has done something about that fact. The majority’s idea instead seems to be that if wehave lived with partisan gerrymanders so long, we will survive.

That complacency has no cause. Yes, partisan gerrymandering goes back to the Republic’s earliest days. (As does vociferous opposition to it.) But big data and modern technology—of just the kind that the mapmakers in North Carolina and Maryland used—make today’s gerrymandering altogether different from the crude line drawing of the past. Old-time efforts, based on little more than guesses, sometimes led to so-called dummymanders—gerrymanders that went spectacularly wrong. Not likely in today’s world. Mapmakers now have access to more granular data about party preference and voting behavior than ever before. County-level voting data has given way to precinct-level or city-block-level data; and increasingly, mapmakers avail themselves of data sets providing wide-ranging information about even individual voters.

Crain's Chicago Business columnist Greg Hinz:

We’re all used to momentous U.S. Supreme Court rulings at the end of June. But rarely has the potential impact here in Chicago and Illinois been as great as it will be after a pair of key decisions today, in which the court upheld partisan gerrymandering and temporarily blocked a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census.

One decision likely removes much doubt that Illinois Democrats—led by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state House Speaker Mike Madigan—will remain in power here and assure that allies do the same in the Illinois House and Senate and in the state’s congressional delegation. The other raises the odds that Illinois will lose one, not two, U.S. House seats in the upcoming decennial reapportionment—and keep hundreds of millions of federal dollars that are allotted on the basis of population.

Back in Illinois—unless Democrats were to somehow lose their majorities in the 2020 elections—that means that they'll draw the next set of legislative and congressional maps. There will be no court challenge, at least not one base on the new map's partisan tilt.

Gov. Pritzker has promised not to be partisan in the upcoming remap, and a reform group, Change Illinois, today called on him to honor that pledge, saying in a statement that "we deserve competitive elections and an equitable democracy in Illinois."

But if you really think Pritzker, who may have national political ambitions, is going to throw away the Democratic edge here while Republicans in states such as Indiana work to screw Democrats, you don't know politics. I'm not sure how he'll wiggle out of this one. But wiggle he will.

Had Garland been confirmed to the court, he quite possibly would have sided with the court's liberal justices and been a fifth vote to outlaw partisan gerrymandering. But he didn't get confirmed. As a result, states that already are blue (like Illinois) likely will get even bluer. And states that are red will turn redder.

Democratic presidential candidates:

“Today the Supreme Court refused to stop politicians rigging our democracy by writing election rules for their own benefit,” former vice president Joe Biden said on Twitter. “It couldn’t have happened without Justices put there by Donald Trump and Republicans — another reason why Democrats must take back the White House in 2020.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another presidential candidate, called the decision an “abomination.”

“Five Republican-appointed justices gave the green light to partisan gerrymandering — which lets Republicans pursue their extreme agenda without accountability to the people,” Warren said in a tweet. “It’s bad for our democracy and we need to fight back.”

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), another White House hopeful, said a ban on partisan gerrymandering would be “a top priority” for her if elected president.

“Politicians shouldn’t be able to pick their voters, voters should choose their representatives,” Harris said on Twitter. “The Supreme Court’s gerrymandering decision will have drastic consequences for the future of our nation.”

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), another White House hopeful, called the court decision “misguided” and “an insult to our democracy.”

And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also weighed in on Twitter, quoting from the dissenting opinion of Justice Elena Kagan.

“Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one,” Kagan said. “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government.”

This isn't over, by the way. Kagan's dissent was sound; and 5-4 decisions by nakedly partisan courts tend not to live past the next appointment.

Still, it's a bad decision for the country, and a good one for the Republican Party. Those things usually go together, after all.

SCOTUS embraces partisanship

Remember when US Senator Mitch McConnell blocked the confirmation of Merrick Garland to the US Supreme Court because he could? And when I and lots of others warned that the election of 2016 would have far-reaching consequences? Good morning, it's the last day of the Supreme Court's term, and they are publishing their far-reaching consequences to the world.

In a decision that surprised no one but saddened a lot of people who believe the Court has drifted into naked partisanship, the five Republican-appointed justices voted against the minority parties of North Carolina and Maryland, deciding that gerrymandering was "a political question:"

The drafters of the Constitution, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority, understood that politics would play a role in drawing election districts when they gave the task to state legislatures. Judges, the chief justice said, are not entitled to second-guess lawmakers’ judgments.

“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” the chief justice wrote.

When I was in law school, my constitutional law professor joked that "political question" means "we can't come up with anything logical that will pass a smell test." As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent, "For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities. And not just any constitutional violation. The partisan gerrymanders in these cases deprived citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives. In so doing, the partisan gerrymanders here debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people."

Let's not gloss over this: the Republican-appointed justices voted for their own party.

Maryland, like Illinois, California, New York, and Massachusetts, already have Democratic majorities. Sure, this decision means Republicans won't ever again have anything approaching real representation in those states. But Democratic voters already outnumber Republicans in North Carolina, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. So this decision very much favors the Republican party, and will enable Republicans to hold on to power even as their numbers dwindle over time. Both of which, I don't need to point out, are happening.

So this decision makes explicit what everyone already knew: the Republican-appointed justices are Republicans first, justices second. This was a party-line vote, not a conservative vs. liberal vote, and it diminishes the Court.

The Court also decided today that the White House explanation for its proposed citizenship question was so much bullshit and sent the case back to the lower courts, meaning the Commerce Dept. probably won't put it on the forms they send out next spring. Chief Justice John Roberts' opinion for a unanimous court, however, held that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied about the rationale for putting the question on the 2020 form, but there was nothing wrong with the question itself. This decision resulted in five separate concurrences and dissents, with the Republican justices generally supporting the question and the other justices not.

In other words, the Republican justices couldn't come up with a rationale that supported their party that could pass the laugh test in this case either, but also couldn't call it a "political question," because Ross was just too incompetent at lying to help them. This isn't a victory for anyone; this is an own goal by the GOP.

That's right. We live in a country that still has the rule of law because the ruling party are too incompetent to do authoritarianism correctly. (It helps that authoritarians tend to incompetence by definition.) And the rope-a-dope strategy the Democratic Party are currently using just isn't working.

John Irving on abortion

He buries the lede a bit, but he isn't wrong:

When “The Cider House Rules” was published, some of my younger friends and fellow feminists thought it was quaint that I’d written a historical novel about abortion. They meant: now that abortion rights were secure, now that Roe v. Wade was the law of the land. At the time, I tried to say this nicely: “If you think Roe v. Wade is safe, you’re one of the reasons it isn’t.” Not surprisingly, my older women friends — women who were old enough to have had sex before 1973 — knew better than to imagine that Roe v. Wade would ever be safe. Men and women have to keep making the case for women’s reproductive rights; women have been making the case for years, but more men need to speak up.

Of an unmarried woman or girl who got pregnant, people of my grandparents’ generation used to say: “She is paying the piper.” Meaning, she deserves what she gets — namely, to give birth to a child. That cruelty is the abiding impetus behind the dishonestly named right-to-life movement. Pro-life always was (and remains) a marketing term. Whatever the anti-abortion crusaders call themselves, they don’t care what happens to an unwanted child — not after the child is born — and they’ve never cared about the mother.

Which is why I'm not going to Georgia this year.

What about that new park in Atlanta?

I have a dilemma.

Under the rules I set up for the 30-Park Geas back in 2008, if a park got torn down before I completed the Geas, I would have to go to the replacement park in order to call it "done." Call it an acceptance criterion.

Two years ago, Atlanta repurposed Turner Field and opened SunTrust Park well outside their public transit service area.

Then, after Brian Kemp created a very real fear that his election may have been illegitimate, he signed an abortion law that clearly runs afoul of Roe v Wade and reminded us why it's hard to think of the state as a modern democracy.

So, I really don't want to give any money to Georgia, now or in the foreseeable future. Maybe if the white male establishment there accepts they're in the minority and stops trying to steal elections, kill women, and put baseball parks so far away from the cities they "serve" that only rich white people can even get to them.

Obviously none of this will matter to anyone in Georgia's white-supremacist government. They're not going to repeal onerous legislation because a blogger from Chicago doesn't want to go to their new ballpark.

But to me, I'm going to strike SunTrust from the Geas. Call it a moral exception to the rules of the Geas. This coming Friday, I'll go to my penultimate park in Toronto, and then at the end of September, I'll see the Cubs play the Cardinals in what was always going to be the last park on the tour.

The Laffer-stock of real economists

In a move one can bet the President Trump himself doesn't really understand, he will later today confer the Presidential Medal of Freedom—our nation's highest civilian honor—on fraud economist Art Laffer:

Laffer's journey to this moment began 45 years ago with a round of drinks in a Washington cocktail lounge. At the time, Laffer was a young economist at the University of Chicago, trying to persuade President Ford's deputy chief of staff — a guy named Dick Cheney — that lowering taxes could actually boost government revenue.

"Art was trying to explain to Cheney how the Laffer Curve works," recalls Grace-Marie Turner, a journalist who later went to work on Ford's reelection campaign.

Cheney was struggling with the idea, so Laffer resorted to a visual aid.

"He sketched out this Laffer Curve on a paper cocktail napkin at the Hotel Washington, just across the street from the White House," Turner said.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman has had a lot to say about Laffer over the years. For example:

Back in 1980 George H. W. Bush famously described supply-side economics — the claim that cutting taxes on rich people will conjure up an economic miracle, so much so that revenues will actually rise — as “voodoo economic policy.” Yet it soon became the official doctrine of the Republican Party, and still is. That shows an impressive level of commitment. But what makes this commitment even more impressive is that it’s a doctrine that has been tested again and again — and has failed every time.

Yes, the U.S. economy rebounded quickly from the slump of 1979-82. But was that the result of the Reagan tax cuts, or was it, as most economists think, the result of interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve? Bill Clinton provided a clear test, by raising taxes on the rich. Republicans predicted disaster, but instead the economy boomed, creating more jobs than under Reagan.

Then George W. Bush cut taxes again, with the usual suspects predicting a “Bush boom”; what we actually got was lackluster growth followed by a severe financial crisis. Barack Obama reversed many of the Bush tax cuts and added new taxes to pay for Obamacare — and oversaw a far better jobs record, at least in the private sector, than his predecessor.

So history offers not a shred of support for faith in the pro-growth effects of tax cuts.

The recent history of Kansas also provides just the evidence you need to conclude the Laffer curve is laughable.

Essentially, then, the president is handing out a medal to a party stalwart, much as previous authoritarian rulers would have handed out the Order of Lenin. We can no doubt expect more of this over the next two years.

Between Iraq and a hard place

The Daily Parker will have a bit of activity today, so let me get the two political stories out of the way immediately.

First, Josh Marshall points out a yuge consequence of President Trump's constant lying: people have a hard time believing the administration's claim that Iran had anything to do with the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. He connects the dots:

[Y]ou don’t need to assume irrationality or perfidy on the part of the Iranians for them to be behind this. We had a deal with the Iranians backed by all the global powers. We broke the agreement and are now trying to strangle the Iranian economy with new sanctions. By historical standards those actions are reasonably understood to be acts of war. Low level attacks on commercial shipping just under the level that might trigger direct US retaliation has a clear logic to it.

On the other hand, pretty much every regional adversary has a strong incentive to mount some kind of false flag operation, or rush to blame the Iranians. At least a couple have recent histories of reckless, high-risk gambits to advance their perceived goals. The obvious player here is Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman. Others seem possible as well.

US claims are further undermined by statements from the owner of the Japanese tanker. The President of the company didn’t dispute or validate the US accusations about who was at fault but contradicted how the US claims the attack happened. The US says it was a mine. The tanker owner said it was a flying object (presumably a missile or projectile of some sort) which had an impact entirely above the ship’s waterline. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the US version of events.

The truth is all the players involved have huge incentives to lie. And a few of them have very recent histories of the most flagrant falsehoods and dirty tricks on an international scale.

Second, the Atlantic's Adam Serwer bemoans the right wing trend to abandon democracy when they lose their arguments:

The tide of illiberalism sweeping over Western countries and the election of Donald Trump have since renewed hope among some on the religious right that it might revive its cultural control through the power of the state. Inspired by Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Vladimir Putin in Russia, a faction of the religious right now looks to sectarian ethno-nationalism to restore its beliefs to their rightful primacy, and to rescue a degraded and degenerate culture. All that stands in their way is democracy, and the fact that most Americans reject what they have to offer.

The past few weeks have witnessed a nasty internecine fight among religious conservatives about whether liberal democracy’s time has passed. Sohrab Ahmari, writing at First Things, attacked National Review’s David French for adhering to a traditional commitment to liberal democracy while “the overall balance of forces has tilted inexorably away from us.” Would the left have stood by liberal democracy in the face of such circumstances? In fact, the balance of forces tilted away from the left’s cultural priorities for most of my lifetime, and the left’s response was to win arguments—slowly, painfully, and at incalculable personal cost.

We've always known the right were crybabies. And we've always known that they are on the losing side of history. But they're not going quietly into the night; nor are they trying to convince anyone through logic. Same as always.

Epic trolling, or actually that dumb?

Tucker Carlson last night spent a full 90 seconds ranting against the "yoke of tyranny" called the "metric system:"

Fox News host Tucker Carlson railed against the metric system of measurement in his show on Wednesday night, describing it as "inelegant" and "creepy." James Panero, a cultural critic and executive editor of The New Criterion, joined Carlson for the segment.

Panero recently wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal attacking the metric system with its meters and kilograms and urging America to stick to its customary system of measurement, which resembles the old British Imperial system.

"Almost every nation on Earth has fallen under the yoke of tyranny—the metric system," Carlson said. "From Beijing to Buenos Aires, from Lusaka to London, the people of the world have been forced to measure their environment in millimeters and kilograms. "The United States is the only major country that has resisted, but we have no reason to be ashamed for using feet and pounds."

Panero called the metric system "the original system of global revolution and new world orders."

Carlson replied: "God bless you, and that's exactly what it is. Esperanto died, but the metric system continues, this weird, utopian, inelegant, creepy system that we alone have resisted."

They went on to laud the "ancient wisdom" of 12s and 60s that divide more easily into thirds, as opposed to the international system that's "totally made up."

I really wish I had made this up.

Knowing a bit about Carlson, I really can't tell if he's trolling. He may actually believe all of this. But knowing a bit about Fox News, it seems more likely that this rant fits more in the us-vs-them dynamic Fox encourages in its viewers. Anti-intellectualism separates "real muricans" from the kilogram-loving "coastal elites," I suppose.

I wonder if anyone told his viewers that most of our economy outside agriculture, and all of our defense spending, uses SI units?

Whatever. As Media Matters says, this is all part of Carlson's "absurd, ongoing caricature of 'the left'."