The Daily Parker

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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.

Lunchtime reading

Articles that piqued my interest this morning:

Back to writing software.

A timeless hoax by a government agency

NPR and other outlets reported earlier this week that the far-north Norwegian island of Sommaroy planned to abolish timekeeping:

If the 350 residents of Sommaroy get their way, the clocks will stop ticking and the alarms will cease their noise. A campaign to do away with timekeeping on the island has gained momentum as Norway's parliament considers the island's petition.

Kjell Ove Hveding spearheaded the No Time campaign and presented his petition to a member of parliament on June 13. During the endless summer days, islanders meet up at all hours and the conventions of time are meaningless, Hveding says.

Only, a subsequent press release admitted the whole thing was a marketing campaign:

NRK.no revealed today that the initiative to make Sommarøy a time-free zone was in fact a carefully planned marketing campaign, hatched by the government-owned Innovation Norway.

The story has been covered in more than 1650 articles in 1479 different media, including CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Independent, Time, El País, La Repubblica, Vanity Fair and Der Spiegel, potentially reaching 1.2 billion people. The value of the coverage is estimated to 11.4 million USD - a pretty good return on investment for Innovation Norway, which spent less than 60,000 USD on the campaign.

Paul Koning, one of the moderators of the IANA Time Zone group--the group that maintains the Time Zone Database used in millions of computers, phones, and applications worldwide, including The Daily Parker--was not pleased:

That's very disturbing. It's problematic enough that not all governments give timely notice about time zone rule changes.

But if in addition we have to deal with government agencies supplying deliberately false information, the TZ work becomes that much more difficult.

Difficult indeed. The group has to deal with dictators changing time zones with almost no notice, political groups attacking the spellings of time zone identifiers, and all sorts of hassles. For a government agency to do this on purpose is not cool.

Egregiously misleading headline on CNBC

I saw this on the video monitor of an elevator I took heading back to my desk just now, and laughed out loud with all the derision I could muster (I was alone in the elevator):

This debt could force you into bankruptcy, and it’s not student loans

No shit. Student loans have huge barriers to discharge in bankruptcy in the US, so it's unlikely they would show up as "the cause" of bankruptcy actions.

I'm not sure what CNBC's goal was, but my guess is to counter the talking points from some of the Democratic primary campaigns about forgiving student loan debt.

One-third San Francisco and two-thirds Detroit?

So says urbanist Pete Saunders on the economic bifurcation in Chicago:

[T]he two economic narratives emerging across two wildly different sets of Chicago neighborhoods are being reflected in changing demographics. The downtown and Near North Side, stretching from the Loop to neighborhoods such as Bucktown and Logan Square, has boomed in ways similar to superstar cities such as New York, D.C., Seattle, and Austin, while large stretches of the rest of the city have suffered from decreasing middle class populations, disinvestment, and in the worst cases, abandoned property and increased crime.

“On its own, the portions of the city that includes the Loop, north lakefront, West Loop, and Logan Square have the population of San Francisco, are about the size of Manhattan and nearly as dense, and have been booming,” he tells Curbed. “It’s as safe, vibrant, and walkable as any of the other cities you’d associate with success.”

[R]ecent economic growth has been unevenly distributed. According to recent UIC research, in 1970, roughly half the city was considered middle income. In 2017, that distinction applied to just 16 percent of Chicago. Income segregation and extreme, concentrated poverty have become more pronounced. Saunders called it Global Chicago versus Rust Belt Chicago.

“A few years ago, I published something on my personal blog that characterized Chicago as one-third San Francisco and two-thirds Detroit,” he says. “I caught some flack from Rahm Emanuel for that, and I get it. Nobody wants to be associated with Detroit; it’s my hometown, so I know how that goes.”

Saunders recently pointed out on his blog that we Gen-Xers started the Back-to-the-City movement, ultimately blazing a trail that our Boomer parents and Millennial (and now Gen Z) followers benefited from.

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.

Fundamental self-parody

A religious group has petitioned Netflix to cancel Amazon Prime's miniseries Good Omens:

The six-part series was released last month, starring David Tennant as the demon Crowley and Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale, who collaborate to prevent the coming of the antichrist and an imminent apocalypse. Pratchett’s last request to Gaiman before he died was that he adapt the novel they wrote together; Gaiman wrote the screenplay andworked as showrunner on the BBC/Amazon co-production, which the Radio Times called “a devilishly funny love letter to the book”.

But Christians marshalled by the Return to Order campaign, an offshoot of the US Foundation for a Christian Civilisation, disagree. More than 20,000 supporters have signed a petition in which they say that Good Omens is “another step to make satanism appear normal, light and acceptable”, and “mocks God’s wisdom”. God, they complain, is “voiced by a woman” – Frances McDormand – the antichrist is a “normal kid” and, most importantly, “this type of video makes light of Truth, Error, Good and Evil, and destroys the barriers of horror that society still has for the devil”. They are calling on Netflix to cancel the show.

Actually, McDormand is technically not God but the voice of God, otherwise known as the Metatron. Pity Alan Rickman wasn't around to reprise his role from Dogma.

Also a pity none of the religious nutters involved watched the show. On Amazon. Because it's a much better adaptation than I thought possible, probably because the novel's co-author Neil Gaiman wrote the screenplay and is one of the executive producers.

But the crazies will crazy, even if they haven't figured out how to stream video online.

Trump's Federal Guest Worker Program

An alarming number of executive agencies have no Senate-confirmed leadership right now:

The president’s nominees to lead federal agencies must be confirmed by the Senate before they can exercise the duties of the office. There’s an exception, however: The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA) gives the president a certain amount of leeway to install other top federal officials into posts on a temporary basis.

Perhaps the most glaring example of Trump circumventing the Senate’s constitutional duty came earlier this month. In May, White House officials confirmed that Trump intended to pick Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general, to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But the prospect quickly faced strong opposition from Senate Republicans, many of whom Cuccinelli targeted from the right as president of the Senate Conservatives Fund. Facing near-certain defeat, Trump didn’t formally nominate Cuccinelli, naming him to the post in an acting capacity instead.

The Constitution’s framers saw the danger in letting the president staff the executive branch without oversight and gave the Senate the power to advise and consent to nominations. But the FVRA short-circuits this process. Generally speaking, it allows the president to name an acting replacement if a Senate-confirmed official “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” There are limits, including a restriction that an acting head can only serve for 210 days, but there are also exceptions that can extend that length of time.

Once again, a perfectly reasonable statute has allowed perfectly unreasonable results under this president. A law exists to solve a specific problem; this administration sees how to abuse it; they abuse it; a future Congress will have to curtail it.

Woe to thee, o land, when thy king is a child.