The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Chicago's great sports teams

Chicago's two baseball teams gave up a combined 36 runs yesterday, with the Cubs losing to the Reds 20-5 and the Sox losing to the Red Sox 16-7. Perhaps the bullpens could use a little work, hmm?

In other news:

Finally, astronomers have produced a photo of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, and were surprised to see it looks nothing like Ted Cruz's head.

We know how to prevent mass murder

Australia, Canada, and the UK managed to prevent mass shootings in the aftermath of horrible crimes. And as The Onion reminded people again this week—for the 21st time since 2014—the United States is the only place where this happens.

You know how they do it? How other free, English-speaking democracies keep their citizens alive? How every other civilized country in the world does? They ban the fucking guns.

Civilians do not need assault rifles. They do not need large-capacity magazines. They do not need guns of any kind before they prove they're capable of using them properly.

By civilians, I'm including civilian police forces in most places, who only think they need them right now because other civilians have them.

To be clear: I don't want to ban all guns. In the dense urban core of Chicago where I live, no one needs a gun. But at my colleague's father-in-law's place in Montana, 50 kilometers from the nearest town, you'd be stupid not to leave the cabin without a high-powered hunting rifle at hand. The Chicago Police Department has a response time of around 30 seconds to my neighborhood. No one will save you from a bear in rural Montana.

For fuck's sake, what kind of societal insanity does a country have when you can buy a military-grade weapon easier than you can adopt a dog?

Commonsense rules already exist to mitigate the worst risks: limit magazine sizes, raise the minimum age to own a gun, close the gun-show loophole, license gun owners and guns, and end the product-liability protections for gun manufacturers.

So why haven't we adopted these rules? After 27 mass shootings this year alone? Because we can't get 50 US Senators to retrieve their testicles from the NRA.

The next time a Republican politician offers "thoughts and prayers" for the families of murdered children while voting against even the least intrusive gun regulation, I hope someone punches him in the head. My thoughts and prayers will follow.

American exceptionalism in the worst way

Three reactions to this week's school shooting, the 27th of the year (despite this being only week 22 on the calendar). First, from Josh Marshall:

The “good guy with a gun” theory was always absurd. These events make that all the more clear. But this is a bit more than that. In both these incidents armed police officers or security guards exchanged gunfire with the perpetrator. But they were outgunned. The assailants had more powerful weapons and they had body armor that allowed them to absorb gun shots and return fire. These aren’t cases with a mythical armed good samaritan. The cops are there, armed and on the scene, and they’re losing in fire fights with the assailants.

When you combine high powered rifles and body armor, these guys are close to unstoppable, at least at first. That’s not their only advantage. These shooters have all accepted that they’re likely going to die within minutes. They also, by definition, have the element of surprise. Unless police have a decisive advantage in firepower and defensive equipment, the shooter is always going to have a big advantage in those engagements.

Second, from James Fallows:

The “originalist” conceit that Americans’ birthright is to be armed with AR-15s is lethal bullshit. You don’t have to have been around at the time of the Founders to know that. You only need to have been a working reporter, or sentient human being, as recently as the 1980s, when I happened to have done a hugely long Atlantic article on how the AR-15 was designed.

You can read the article here. Its central argument is that the AR-15 is an even more effective weapon-of-death than the U.S. military’s M-16, which was derived from the AR-15 and first put to serious use in Vietnam. Don’t believe it? Read the article, and the Congressional hearings it cites. Or check the footnotes in this recent post.

Gun control hasn’t ‘failed.’ Specific people have blocked it.

Many people have played their part. But none has mattered more than Mitch McConnell. I made the case in detail here, after the Parkland gun massacre.

The children and teachers of Uvalde are the latest who deserve a vote. As do the families of Buffalo, and of hundreds of other places.

Will they get it? Mitch McConnell is still there, with 50 members of his bloc, to say No.

“When in God’s name?” Joe Biden asked this evening. When in God’s name.

Third, from the governors of Texas and Illinois, when the former tried to smear my city to deflect blame from his own party's actions:

Taking the stage at a press conference today flanked by U.S. senators, law enforcement and other officials, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was asked about gun laws in other states. “I hate to say it,” Abbott said, “but there are more people who are shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, was quick to respond to Abbott’s remarks with an extended Twitter thread.

So we'll get "thoughts and prayers" from the Republican Party, then the National Rifle Association will go dark for a couple of days, then nothing will change. Because a large minority of people in this country fantasize about armed conflict and don't want the deaths of a thousand children to keep them from their guns.

Ruling seasons begins

The Supreme Court began its early-summer ruling season a bit early this year, starting with an opinion from Justice Thomas (R) that will make it easier for the state to kill innocent people:

[The] opinion claimed that a law restricting the power of federal courts to toss out convictions in state courts prevents Jones from seeking relief. But Thomas’s reading of this law is novel — his opinion had to gut two fairly recent Supreme Court decisions to deny relief to Jones.

Before Monday, the Supreme Court’s decisions in Martinez v. Ryan (2012) and Trevino v. Thaler (2013) should have guaranteed Jones a new trial. Both decisions deal with what should happen in the unusual circumstance when someone accused of a crime receives ineffective assistance of counsel, twice.

In Strickland v. Washington (1984), the Supreme Court held that a conviction must be tossed out if defense “counsel’s performance was deficient” and if this “deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” This safeguard against constitutionally inadequate lawyering would be meaningless if people who received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial could not challenge that conviction, either on appeal or in some other proceeding.

Martinez and Trevino established that someone convicted of a crime must have at least one shot at challenging their conviction on the grounds that they received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial.

“The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to the effective assistance of counsel at trial,” [Justice] Sotomayor (I) writes in the first line of her dissent. She continues that “this Court has recognized that right as ‘a bedrock principle’ that constitutes the very ‘foundation for our adversary system’ of criminal justice.”

Thus in Sotomayor’s mind, and in the minds of the two other justices appointed by Democratic presidents who joined her opinion, the purpose of a criminal trial is to determine whether or not someone is actually guilty of a crime — and to do so through an adversarial process where both sides are represented by lawyers who can present the best possible legal and factual case for the prosecution and the defense.

This is consistent with Thomas’s longtime position. As far back as Herrera v. Collins (1993), Thomas joined an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, which claimed that there is “no basis” in the Constitution for “a right to demand judicial consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after conviction.” At the time, however, Thomas was the only justice who joined Scalia in this view.

Scotusblog also has its doubts:

Thomas spent the first 11 pages of his 22-page opinion recounting the grisly facts of the murders the defendants were convicted of, extolling the states’ authority to enforce criminal laws, and emphasizing the importance of the finality of convictions. Finally arriving at the issue at hand, Thomas cited cases holding that defendants are generally held responsible for their attorneys’ errors, and noted that while that general rule does not apply when counsel is constitutionally ineffective, the Sixth Amendment does not guarantee a right to counsel at the post-conviction stage – therefore, at this stage, the defendants were “at fault.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, dissented. Her opinion was striking, even for a justice who is known for passionate dissents. She called the majority opinion “perverse,” “illogical,” and said it “makes no sense.”

The dissent zeroed in on the court’s prior holdings that the procedural default rule only applies to defendants who are “at fault” for failing to raise a claim, and that a defendant represented by a constitutionally ineffective lawyer cannot be held to be “at fault” for his lawyer’s errors. This requirement underscored what Sotomayor saw as the core absurdity in the majority’s reasoning: “A petitioner cannot logically be faultless for not bringing a claim because of postconviction counsel’s ineffectiveness, yet at fault for not developing its evidentiary basis for exactly the same reason.”

The debate between Thomas and Sotomayor in Shinn has reverberations beyond the cases of Barry Lee Jones and David Martinez Ramirez. Sotomayor argued that the majority opinion “tellingly” relied on dissents in Martinez and Trevino to support its reasoning. While the conservative majority’s explicit overruling of precedent has recently captured the public’s attention (albeit through a leaked draft), the practice of citing dissents to “hollow out” past precedents has garnered less scrutiny. But Sotomayor’s opinion subtly emphasized the danger that practice poses for the legitimacy of the court’s decision-making. Noting that the court in this case “resuscitates” an argument “that previously was relegated to a dissent,” Sotomayor contended that the argument “is just as unavailing now that it has captured a majority.”

Finally, one procedural quirk is worth mentioning in a case all about whether death row defendants are “at fault” for the failures of their constitutionally ineffective lawyers. In Ramirez’s case, Arizona did not object to the evidentiary hearing in the district court and did not raise AEDPA’s bar on developing new evidence until the case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Ordinarily, an argument not raised in the district court is forfeited. But here, in a footnote, Thomas stated that the Supreme Court has “discretion to forgive any forfeiture” and because deciding the issue would reduce the likelihood of future litigation, “we choose to forgive the State’s forfeiture before the District Court.”

We will no doubt see a series of rulings like this, shielding the state from its errors while making life much more random and unforgiving for people already at a disadvantage economically or socially. As I hinted yesterday, authoritarians don't accept dissent of any kind, no matter how obviously stupid their own positions. Thomas wants to live in the world of Inspector Javert and Brazil. So, clearly, do the other four Republicans on the Supreme Court, and for some reason in this case, the Chief Justice.

We're in for a decade or so of really bad judicial outcomes. Let's hope we can get the pendulum swinging the other way soon.

The ambassador's a dodger, yes, and I'm a dodger too

A little-known United Nations agency would like its $22 million back, please:

At the United Nations, two officials had a problem. The little-known agency they ran found itself with an extra $61 million, and they didn’t know what to do with it.

Then they met a man at a party.

Now, they have $25 million less.

In between was a baffling series of financial decisions, in which experienced diplomats entrusted tens of millions of dollars, the agency’s entire investment portfolio at the time, to a British businessman after meeting him at the party. They also gave his daughter $3 million to produce a pop song, a video game and a website promoting awareness of environmental threats to the world’s oceans.

Things did not go well.

Transparency and accountability: it's not just a good idea, it's the law.

(The headline comes from this traditional Anglo-American song. Grift goes back to the beginning of speech, it turns out.)

Earth Day

Today we celebrate the big rock that gives us days in the first place. One out of 364 is pretty good, I guess. And there are some good stories on my open browser tabs:

Finally, the Defense Department will open a Defense Innovation Unit just down the street from my current office in June. I knew about these plans a couple of years ago when I worked on an unclassified project for the US Military Enrollment Processing Command and was looking forward to it. I'm glad it's finally gotten to Chicago.

Florida wedding goes to pot

Authorities in Florida have charged a bride and her caterer with food tampering and the delivery of marijuana, both felonies, after they laced olive oil at the wedding reception with THC:

Investigators estimated about 50 people attended the wedding reception. None of the guests interviewed said they knew there would be marijuana in the food.

Now, Danya Svoboda and the wedding caterer, Joycelyn Bryant, have been charged with food tampering and the delivery of marijuana, both felonies, as well as negligence, a misdemeanor.

All of the accounts in court documents detailing the Svobodas’ wedding reception came from adults who had various levels of experience with the drug. In Florida, medical marijuana is legal, but recreational use remains prohibited.

[One guest] told deputies she remembered seeing Bryant, the caterer, putting food out. She recalled seeing Bryant pull out a “green substance” from a bowl and place it into small dishes that were then filled with olive oil, the affidavit states. With the mixture of pepper, it didn’t taste like marijuana, she said, and the green substance in the dishes may well have been “Italian herbs,” she told deputies.

Wow. Do not drug your wedding guests, no matter how much they deserve it.

Head (and kittens) exploding!

Leading off today's afternoon roundup, The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman) announced today that Netflix has a series in production based on his game Exploding Kittens. The premise: God and Satan come to Earth—in the bodies of cats. And freakin' Tom Ellis is one of the voices, because he's already played one of those parts.

Meanwhile, in reality:

  • A consumers group filed suit against Green Thumb Industries and three other Illinois-based cannabis companies under the Clayton Act, alleging collusion that has driven retail pot prices above $8,800 per kilo. For comparison, the group alleges that retail prices in California are just $660 per kilo. (Disclosure: The Daily Parker is a GTI shareholder.)
  • Illinois Governor JB Pritzker (D), one of the indirect defendants in the pot suit, signed a $46 billion budget for the state that includes $1.8 billion in temporary tax relief. Apparently, I'll get a $50 check from the State that I can apply to the $600 increase in property taxes Cook County imposed this year, which is nice, but I think the state could have aimed a bit lower on the income cap for that rebate and given more help to other people.
  • Shortly after US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle (a 35-year-old who never tried a case and who graduated summa cum mediocrae laude from the legal powerhouse University of Florida just 8 years ago and earned a rare "not qualified" rating from the ABA upon her appointment in 2020 by the STBXPOTUS) ruled against the CDC in a case brought by an anti-masker, the DOT dropped mask mandates for public transport and air travel in the US. In related news, the Judge also said it's OK to piss in other people's swimming pools and up to the other swimmers not to drink the water.
  • While the Chicago Piping Plovers organization waits for Monty and Rose to return to Montrose Beach, another one of the endangered birds has landed at Rainbow Beach on the South Side. He appears more inclined to rent than buy, but local ornithologists report the bird has a new profile on the Plōvr dating site.
  • NBC breaks down the three biggest factors driving inflation right now, and yes, one of them is president of Russia. None, however, is president of the US.
  • Along those lines, (sane) Republican writer Sarah Longwell, who publishes The Bulwark, found that 68% of Republicans believe the Big Lie that the XPOTUS won the 2020 election, but "the belief that the election was stolen is not a fully formed thought. It’s more of an attitude, or a tribal pose." Makes me proud to be an American!

And finally, via Bruce Schneier, two interesting bits. First, a new paper explains how a bad actor can introduce a backdoor into a machine learning training session to force specific outcomes (explained in plain English by Cory Doctorow). Second, an attacker used a "flash loan" to take over the Beanstalk crypto currency voting system and stole $182 million from it. Because Crypto Is The Future™.

Readings over lunch

I mean...

  • Josh Marshall takes another look at the astonishing bribe Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler paid to Jared Kushner and concludes it's not just a one-off favor; it's an ongoing relationship.
  • Joan Williams argues that Democrats need to look at the class and economic aspects of the Right's economic populism, and maybe perhaps argue (correctly) that blaming people of color just takes the spotlight off the super-rich who are stealing from the middle?
  • US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) makes essentially the same argument, with a reminder that the mid-term election is only 202 days away.
  • A homeless-rights organization in Chicago argues that increasing the transfer tax on property sales over $1 million could fund real homelessness relief for real people.

Finally, a quirk in US copyright law has created a bonanza for litigators, along with the original creators of such diverse works as The Thing and Hoosiers.

It's 5pm somewhere

Actually, it's 5pm here. And I have a few stories queued up:

Finally, author John Scalzi puts Rogue One in third place on his ranked list of Star Wars films, with some good reasons.