The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Johnson resigns

In what The Economist calls "Clownfall," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Cons) this morning resigned as Conservative Party leader and will leave Number 10 as soon as the party chooses his replacement. But the Tories have deeper issues—after all, they supported him through every scandal but this last one:

Boris Johnson’s government has collapsed at last. For months Britain’s prime minister wriggled out of one scandal after another. Now, irretrievably rejected by his own MPs, he has accepted that his premiership is over. He has asked to stay until the autumn, but he should go immediately.

Mr Johnson was brought down by his own dishonesty, so some may conclude that a simple change of leadership will be enough to get Britain back on course. If only. Although Mr Johnson’s fingerprints are all over today’s mess, the problems run deeper than one man. Unless the ruling Conservative Party musters the fortitude to face that fact, Britain’s many social and economic difficulties will only worsen.

Right up until the end Mr Johnson clung desperately to power, arguing that he had a direct mandate from the people. That was always nonsense: his legitimacy derived from Parliament. Like America’s former president, Donald Trump, the more he hung on the more he disqualified himself from office. In his departure, as in government, Mr Johnson demonstrated a wanton disregard for the interests of his party and the nation.

Despairing of yet another scandal, over 50 ministers, aides and envoys joined an executive exodus so overwhelming that the BBC featured a ticker with a running total to keep up. In the end the government had so many vacancies that it could no longer function—one reason Mr Johnson should not stay on as caretaker.

As for staying on as a caretaker PM, his party have other ideas:

[S]enior Conservative MPs are pushing back against the idea that Johnson should be allowed to stay in office for any longer and want to see an interim leader in place, such as Dominic Raab. Labour also said it would force a confidence vote on the prime minister unless he stepped down from No 10 in short order.

Support drained away from Johnson as more than 50 ministers and government aides resigned in a rolling walkout, while a slew of once supportive backbenchers declared no confidence in his leadership.

The revolt began on Tuesday evening with the resignations of Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak as health secretary and chancellor respectively.

On the news, Sterling immediately started climbing from post-pandemic low of $1.19, and the FTSE 100 index also rose a bit. (The Pound hasn't traded at these levels since the mid-1980s, in fact, so I may have to stock up when I'm there later this month.)

Under the UK Constitution, the Prime Minister remains in office until the Queen invites a successor to take over, which will happen in this case when the Conservative Party elects a new leader. An early election seems unlikely, so the Tories will likely remain in power for a while, possibly until the next mandated election in January 2025.

Johnson being shown the door

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Cons) may finally have reached the limit of his ability to avoid consequences. Earlier today, five ministers resigned en masse, and now several others (including the Home Secretary) have gathered at Number 10 to hand Johnson his hat:

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, went in recently, and Priti Patel, the home secretary, arrived by a side entrance, according to PA Media. According to the Times’ Steven Swinford, four other cabinet ministers are saying Johnson should go (although that does not necessarily mean they are there now in person).

This news comes just minutes after Johnson left a meeting where the 1922 Committee (essentially the party rules committee) told him he's an "obstacle to the work of the government."

PMQs this morning was epic.

Updates as conditions warrant.

A suggestion to reduce gun violence that can pass the current Court

To absolutely no one's surprise, the little shit arrested for murdering six people in Highland Park, Ill., yesterday turned out to be a 22-year-old white kid with a violent social media history. And of course he bought the gun legally.

Every society has its psychopaths and angry young men. But most societies acknowledge this, and make it really hard for those assholes to buy guns. Here, we make it easier to buy a gun than to buy a car. That's just insane, but politically hard to change.

Right now, with the current right-wing Supreme Court and Senate, we can't pass meaningful gun safety laws. But I have an idea. Let's make it harder to get military-grade weapons through taxation.

What if Illinois added use taxes for ammunition and magazines? Any ammunition of magazines purchased in or brought into Illinois must have a tax stamp. Failure to show the proper stamp multiplies the tax by 10. Tax rifle ammunition at $1 per round, pistol ammunition at 25¢ per round, and shotgun ammunition at 10¢ per round, reflecting the social costs (externalities) of each. And tax magazines at $10 per round for the first 10 rounds and then $100 per round after.

So if you really want that Glock 9mm pistol with the 17-round magazine, filling it will cost you $800 in magazine tax and $4.25 in ammunition tax. But if you simply must have that AR-15 with its 20-round mag, then it's $1,100 for the magazine and $20 for the ammo.

This tax won't really bother legitimate hunters as hunting rifles tend to have 5-round magazines ($50 + $5), and a good hunter won't waste rounds on a deer. And, of course, there would be exemptions for law enforcement and Federal agencies. (Illinois has a huge Navy presence, for example, and the state can't tax them.)

Is this nibbling at the edges? Of course; obviously we need to ban these weapons entirely. But I think it would pass the current Court. And if it adds enough friction to purchasing military-style rifles to deter just one mass shooting a year, it will have saved lives.

Thoughts?

Six murdered in Highland Park

A "well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free State" just killed 5 people (update: now 6 confirmed dead) for no discernable reason in Highland Park, Ill., the next town over from the village I grew up in. I should note that Highland Park has one of the earliest and strictest gun prohibitions on record in the Chicago area, but cannot enforce these restrictions because a trade association bent on enriching its member manufacturers and retailers has convinced people living in rural areas that we city folk shouldn't decide for ourselves what constitutes appropriate gun regulations.

The body count of today's shooting—5 dead (so far), 16 wounded—suggests the shooter used a military-style weapon. I have had a firearms license for 28 years and I've got good pistol training. And yet I have never heard a good argument for anyone to have a military-style weapon like this.

Current Guard, military, or reservists can, of course, get these weapons—if they go to their base or post armory and sign them out according to regulations. Really: not even a full general officer or Navy admiral has any authority to get an assault rifle from an armory without showing cause. So if our own military keeps these things locked up, why can't a city?

One Daily Parker reader speculated that this may have been an anti-Semitic attack, given the demographics of Highland Park. I really don't care what the asshole's motivations were. I just care that he's hunted down, tried, and locked up for the rest of his life. (Illinois has a "guilty-but-mentally-ill" law that can keep someone who shoots up parades from rejoining society as long as it takes to treat them, even without a criminal conviction.)

Fuck you, Clarence Thomas. Fuck you, the lot of you reactionaries who think a  bunch of suburban moms being shot to death at a parade celebrating our country's self-governance is an acceptable price to pay so Wayne LaPierre can stay rich. Fuck you, everyone who thinks that having more guns in the area would have prevented this, given the huge police presence already in place around the parade route.

It's time Illinois passes gun safety laws and enforces them as long as possible. And it's time everyone who isn't a right-wing nut-job demand adequate gun-safety rules for the entire US.

Plug-in hybrid car + city living

Many people, particularly in the US, have suffered recently because of their choices to live in places without meaningful alternatives to driving, their neighbors' choices not to fund meaningful alternatives to driving, and a war in Eastern Europe that has directly and indirectly raised worldwide oil prices to real values not seen since 1973.

I feel a bit of smugness coming on. See, my house has a Walk Score of 95 and a transit score of 81. I live within 1500 meters (about a mile*) of two rapid-transit train lines and a heavy-rail line, not to mention nine bus routes, three of which operate 24 hours a day. I live within a short walk of multiple grocery stores, bars, restaurants, my Alderman's office, a Target, and basically everything I need.

Also, when my last car gave up the ghost 3½ years ago, I decided to get a plug-in hybrid. It can go about 40 km (25 miles) on a charge, so I hardly ever have to use its gasoline engine when I run ordinary errands.

So yesterday, when I drove to Bloomington, Ill., and back (round-trip: 466 km, 291 mi), I had to fill up for the first time since March 25th. Over the 100 days I went without buying gasoline, I drove 1,400 km (900 mi) and burned 34 L (9 gal) of gas, for an average economy of 2.4 L/100 km (97.9 MPG). In 3½ years I've driven 20,000 km (12,300 mi) and spent $395 on gasoline.

I know many people can't make the same choices I've made, but as a nation, we could make better transit and regulatory choices so that my experience is much more common.

* I'm going to translate everything into American** measurements for the benefit of readers who need to think about these concepts.

** Sure, they're technically "Imperial" measurements, but as that Empire no longer exists, and its remaining bits use the International System (SI), really the only people who need translations live in the United States.

The successes of Frances Willard

David Frum argues that anti-abortion organizers have a lot in common with the prohibitionists of the early 20th century—and have similar prospects for long-term success:

The culture war raged most hotly from the ’70s to the next century’s ’20s. It polarized American society, dividing men from women, rural from urban, religious from secular, Anglo-Americans from more recent immigrant groups. At length, but only after a titanic constitutional struggle, the rural and religious side of the culture imposed its will on the urban and secular side. A decisive victory had been won, or so it seemed.

The culture war I’m talking about is the culture war over alcohol prohibition. From the end of Reconstruction to the First World War, probably more state and local elections turned on that one issue than on any other. The long struggle seemingly culminated in 1919, with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment and enactment by Congress of the National Prohibition Act, or the Volstead Act (as it became known). The amendment and the act together outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States and all its subject territories. Many urban and secular Americans experienced those events with the same feeling of doom as pro-choice Americans may feel today after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Only, it turns out that the Volstead Act was not the end of the story. As Prohibition became a nationwide reality, Americans rapidly changed their mind about the idea. Support for Prohibition declined, then collapsed. Not only was the Volstead Act repealed, in 1933, but the Constitution was further amended so that nobody could ever try such a thing ever again.

I think his analysis is apt.

The illegitimacy of the Supreme Court

Some fun facts about the Justices of the United States:

  • Five were appointed by presidents who took office despite losing the popular vote. All 5 voted to overturn Roe.
  • Three of the Republicans on the Court—the Chief Justice, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett—worked for President George W Bush's Florida recount team.
  • The 52 senators who voted in favor of Justice Kavanaugh's (R) confirmation represent 145.9 million Americans. The 48 senators who voted against him represent 180.7 million.
  • The 50 senators who voted in favor of Justice Coney Barrett (R) represent 157.0 million to the 170.5 million the 48 no votes represent.
  • Eight have law degrees from Harvard or Yale. (This will remain true next month when Justice Brown takes office.)

With those facts in mind, James Fallows argues that the Court burned its own legitimacy to ashes by not remembering the simple truth about judicial power:

[D]emocratic legitimacy depends in the long run on majority rule, combined with minority rights.

We’re now closer to systematic rule by a minority, rather than respect for its rights. A democracy cannot forever function this way.

The Supreme Court has a long up-and-down history of glory and of tawdriness. But I argue that the leaders and eras that stand up best in retrospect showed awareness that the Court’s power depended on legitimacy, and legitimacy depended on the Court’s care about how it fit into the longer-term life of a democracy.

[A] court concerned about legitimacy, would under- rather than over-intrude in public affairs.

Over-intrusion is what we have. In the anti-Miranda ruling. In the blocking of gun control. In the outright voiding of Roe v. Wade.

The Court can make its rulings. From behind its barricaded and no-guns-allowed building.

It cannot preserve its legitimacy this way.

Linda Greenhouse concurs:

Consider the implication of Justice Alito’s declaration that Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong” from the start. Five of the seven justices in the Roe majority — all except William O. Douglas and Thurgood Marshall — were appointed by Republican presidents. The votes necessary to preserve the right to abortion 19 years later in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Roe follow-up decision that the court also overturned on Friday, came from five Republican-appointed justices.

In asserting that these justices led the court into grave error from which it must now be rescued, Justice Alito and his majority are necessarily saying that these predecessors, joining the court over a period of four decades, didn’t know enough, or care enough, to use the right methodology and reach the right decision. The arrogance and unapologetic nature of the opinion are breathtaking.

There will be turmoil now, for sure, as the country’s highways fill with women desperate to regain control over their lives and running out of time, perhaps followed by vigilantes across state lines. But the only turmoil that was caused by Roe and Casey was due to the refusal of activists, politicians and Republican-appointed judges to accept the validity of the precedents. Justice Alito’s reference to “turmoil” reminded me of nothing so much as Donald Trump’s invocation of “carnage” in his inaugural address. There was no carnage then, but there was carnage to come.

No, justices, your work isn’t done. What you have finished off is the legitimacy of the court on which you are privileged to spend the rest of your lives.

Here's some "turmoil:" some asshole in Iowa drove his truck into a pro-choice demonstration yesterday, injuring at least one woman.

One simple solution: 18-year terms. If we adopt this reform, Thomas (R) would be the first one to go followed by the Chief Justice (I) and Alito (R), which are strong arguments in favor as far as I'm concerned.

One bit of good news

About an hour ago, President Biden signed the first significant gun safety law we've passed in 30 years:

The bill provides grants to states for “red flag” laws, enhances background checks to include juvenile records, and closes the “boyfriend loophole” by keeping guns away from unmarried dating partners convicted of abuse. It will also require enhanced background checks for people ages 18 to 21 and funding for youth mental health services.

The bipartisan gun legislation sped through Congress in the month after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. Democrats unanimously voted in favor of the bill along with more than two dozen Republicans in the House and the Senate, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"When it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential," Biden said. "If we can reach a compromise on guns, we ought to be able to reach a compromise on other critical issues, from veterans health care to cutting-edge American innovation to so much more."

I don't think the President is quite correct in that conclusion. And while the law doesn't do some things we desperately need to do, like ban military-grade weapons for most civilians (including civilian police forces), it's a start. If you recall how long it took to get car safety rules passed, even incremental steps will help.

The fantasies of the Christianist Right

Mark Thiessen took a victory lap in the Post this afternoon, congratulating himself and his fellow travelers for succeeding in their 50-year project to make abortions illegal in most of the US:

Overturning Roe v. Wade has been the overarching, seemingly impossible goal of the pro-life movement for almost five decades. Now that it has finally been achieved, four words should be on the lips of every pro-life conservative today: Thank you, Donald Trump.

Looking back on Trump’s chaotic presidency, some understandably ask: Was it all worth it for a few conservative justices? To which I answer: Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Every Republican president before Trump failed miserably when it came to Supreme Court picks. In 1970, Richard M. Nixon nominated Harry A. Blackmun, who would go on to be the ignominious author of Roe. Gerald Ford picked only one justice, John Paul Stevens, who became the leader of the court’s liberal bloc. Ronald Reagan had three appointees (Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy), but only Scalia was a consistent conservative vote on the court. George H.W. Bush named one brilliant conservative (Clarence Thomas) and one catastrophic liberal (David Souter).

But as Josh Marshall points out, the reason Republican presidents didn't pick partisan Justices in the past—at least until Thomas—was because they didn't want to corrupt the Court:

Certainly the Warren Court was “liberal” by modern standards. But its creation was fundamentally organic. The justices’ positions didn’t clearly line up with those of the parties’ whose presidents nominated them. Indeed, many of the appointments were surprisingly casual and confirmed in much the same way.

The idea that you would create a political movement, harnessed to one political party, dedicated to building up a pipeline of future judges and justices, often all but created in a test tube to overrule specific decisions, was an innovation of the modern conservative judicial movement with no precedent. It had never happened before. And even as judicial liberals have belatedly reacted to that movement, they haven’t replicated it or really even tried.

And here is something of the catch. Conservatives really did convince themselves that the Warren Court and to an extent the Burger Court were the handiwork of a liberal political elite. As is the case in other instances, what’s actual belief or pretended belief gets murky. They claimed to set out to duplicate or create an opposite version of something that had never really existed. And in so doing they created the politicization of the federal judiciary that had never existed before, not in the same way.

At one level, give them their due. They had a goal. They worked tirelessly for half a century, building organizations, think tanks, chapters at every law school, political alliances and more all to get to this one day. And they got there. But it is a legitimate Court or judicial body as much as Fox News is a real news organization. And that’s no accident since they are the creation of the same political movement, often literally the same people and the same ideology and mindset.

So when Justice Thomas, one of the most partisan jurists ever to sit in the Supreme Court, bemoans the degradation of the institution and its authority, someone tell him to look in a mirror. By creating a partisan, activist Court majority, the Republican Party has won the battle against Roe. But I think historians in the future will look back on this moment as the Christianist-Conservative movement's sinking of the Lusitania.

Thomas and Alito unchained

As everyone expected, the Supreme Court today overturned Roe v Wade, ending Federal protections for abortion rights until we find a political fix to the reactionary Court supermajority. (We will; it'll just take time.) I haven't read the published opinion, which 4 of the partisan Justices joined. Chief Justice Roberts (I) wrote his own concurrence accepting the outcome in this specific case but rejecting the broader reversal.

At first glance, Justice Alito's (R) opinion seems close enough to the draft leaked last month, so I'll move on from that for now. But we should all regard with horror and alarm this line from Justice Thomas's (R) concurrence, in which he expresses just how batshit crazy fundamental Christianist he really is:

[I]n future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,” Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U. S. ___, ___ (2020) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment) (slip op., at 7), we have a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents, Gamble v. United States, 587 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (THOMAS, J., concurring) (slip op., at 9).

Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization, 587 US __ (2022) (THOMAS, J., citing himself as evidence for his own insane assertions.)

In other words, Thomas wants to return to the halcyon days of the '50s—the 1850s. And isn't it a bit rich that this particular Justice wants to undo so much progress? If only he had the courage of his convictions so he'd resign as the Founders intended.

I think we're in for about 10 years of this kind of crap before people finally have enough, or worse. At least Thomas and Alito no longer make any pretense of impartiality or reason.

Another thing to remember: we need to look at the commercial cases the Court has decided this term. Abortion isn't the prize for the Right; it's the payoff to their supporters. The real money's in the real money. Don't forget that.