The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

No decision in gerrymandering cases

To almost everyone's frustration, the Supreme Court rendered two unanimous decisions today in which they declined to rule on the constitutionality of two gerrymandering cases. This means both Wisconsin and Maryland will keep their district maps through the November election:

In the Wisconsin case, the court said that the challenges must be brought district by district, with voters in each proving that their rights had been violated. The challengers asked the court to consider the state map as a whole.

The Maryland case was still at a preliminary stage, and the court in an unsigned opinion said the lower court had not been wrong when it decided not to make the state redraw the maps in time for the 2018 election.

The justices sent the [Wisconsin] case back to a panel of three federal judges to see if the challengers could modify their suit to show they have plaintiffs in the individual districts.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the plaintiffs should be able to do so.

“Courts—and in particular this court—will again be called on to redress extreme partisan gerrymanders,” she wrote. “I am hopeful we will then step up to our responsibility to vindicate the Constitution against a contrary law.”

I totally understand why SCOTUS punted, because they really do not want to weigh in on such a politicized issue. But wow, given that a majority of Wisconsin voters are Democrats, it's obvious that the current Wisconsin map is a power-grab by Republicans who fear they're losing power against urban Democrats.

We're not going to be done with this in my lifetime.

Sweet little lies, tell me sweet little lies

The President has essentially admitted he lies constantly:

In short, the president is saying that it’s totally acceptable to lie to the press, and by extension the public, as long as he is not under oath in the justice system. (As I’ve reported, Trump is far more honest under oath.) As a matter of law, this is true, but as a matter of character and leadership, it is not. The president is freely telling the public that he has no compunctions about lying through his teeth. Why does anyone still debate whether he means it?

There were other dishonest statements peppered throughout his remarks. He said that the inspector general’s report found “total bias” in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails; in fact, it found the reverse, saying political bias did not affect decisions. He said that the report “totally exonerated” his statements; in fact, it rejected the entire thrust of his statements about Comey. Trump said that Comey acted criminally; the IG report does not say that. He said Mueller’s team has no Republicans; Mueller is a lifelong Republican who has served under GOP presidents as well as Democrats.

There’s a long list of these lies, both in what Trump said today and running back for months. It becomes tiresome to fact-check them, trying to prove that Trump is not telling the truth about them. But there’s no need to take reporters’ word for it: The president makes no secret that he thinks it’s OK to lie to the public. After all, he said so himself.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the same Bible verse that previous generations of slave-owners invoked to justify forcibly separating children from their parents:

Romans 13 does indeed say to “submit to the authorities,” because they “are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” But this is in the context of what comes before it (“share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality”) and after (“owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”) – and, indeed, admonitions to care for the poor and the oppressed that come from Isaiah, Leviticus, Matthew and many more.

Evangelical leaders who looked the other way when Stormy Daniels and the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced this time have denounced Trump’s recent “zero-tolerance” policy that, as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention and others wrote to Trump this month, has the “effect of removing even small children from their parents.”

“God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society,” they wrote. The leaders urged Trump to end zero tolerance and use “discretion” as previous administrations did.

I guess we should all be happy they haven't come for us yet.

Creating reality?

Andrew Sullivan says the President "is making us all live in his delusional reality show:"

The president believes what he wants to believe, creates a reality that fits his delusions, and then insists, with extraordinary energy and stamina, that his delusions are the truth. His psychological illness, moreover, is capable of outlasting anyone else’s mental health. Objective reality that contradicts his delusions is discounted as “fake news” propagated by “our country’s greatest enemy,” i.e., reporters. If someone behaved like this in my actual life, if someone kept insisting that the sea was red and the sky green, I’d assume they were a few sandwiches short of a picnic. It’s vital for us to remember this every day: Almost no one else in public life is so openly living in his own disturbed world.

This, in fact, is the poignant and quite bonkers script in Trump’s head: that the economy was in free-fall until he took office, after which it soared; that he alone has brought black and Hispanic unemployment down; that his administration has accomplished more than any other at this point in its term; that the Democrats colluded with the Kremlin to try to rig the election; that Robert Mueller is a closet Democrat; that climate change is a hoax; that the American-created international trading system was designed to hurt the U.S.; that you can borrow over a trillion dollars in a full employment economy with no consequences in inflation or debt; and that sabotaging the ACA will lead to lower premiums, greater choice, and better health outcomes for all. Each one of these assertions is what he wants to be true. And so they are true. As the chairwoman of the GOP just explained to any skeptics left in the formerly conservative party: “Anyone that does not embrace the Donald Trump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.”

The bad news is that a vast chunk of the American public wants all this to be true as well.

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

Standing up to our adversaries

Dana Milbank highlights President Trump's latest triumphs:

Finally, the United States has a president with the brains and the guts to stand up to the menace of the north. This weekend President Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “meek,” “very dishonest & weak” for protesting U.S. tariffs. Trump’s trade adviser said “there’s a special place in hell” for Trudeau, and Trump’s economic adviser said Trudeau “stabbed us in the back” and is guilty of “betrayal” and “double-crossing.”

Trudeau earned his place in the underworld for some truly appalling rhetoric, saying “we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.” Offensive! He also found it “kind of insulting” that the Trump administration said it was imposing tariffs on Canadian goods “for a national security reason” given that Canadians “stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far off lands in conflicts from the First World War onward.”

Trump bravely punished Canada by withdrawing the United States from the communique of the weekend’s Group of Seven meeting, which was hosted by Trudeau. The communique Trump rejected is loaded with objectionable provisions such as “a clean environment,” “a healthy, prosperous, sustainable and fair future for all,” “quality work environments,” “a more peaceful and secure world” and “ending violence against girls and women.” In other words, it was like all the other bad, terrible, crazily made, one-sided, miserable deals that make us the laughingstock of the world — such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the ­Trans-Pacific Partnership, NATO, the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

He goes on to list the "more sympathetic world leaders" our only president has cozied up to.

New Chicago gang map released

The Associated Press has obtained the latest edition of the Chicago Crime Commission's "Gang Book." It shows the turfs claimed by 59 gangs, including many small areas formed as groups split off from other groups after top leaders go to jail. The book also highlights how social media make gang disputes worse:

Gangs put a premium on retaliation for perceived disrespect. In the past, insults rarely spread beyond the block. Now, they’re broadcast via social media to thousands in an instant.

“If you’re disrespected on that level, you feel you have to act,” said [Rodney] Phillips, employed with Target Area, a nonprofit group that seeks to defuse gang conflicts.

Police say there was a gang connection to most of the 650 homicides in Chicago recorded in 2017 — more than in Los Angeles and New York City combined. Homicides so far in 2018 are down around 20 percent. Police partly credit better intelligence and the deployment of officers to neighborhoods on the anniversaries of gang killings.

So integral is social media to gang dynamics that when Englewood-area pastor Corey Brooks brokered a truce between factions of the Black Disciples and Gangster Disciples in 2016, he insisted they agree to refrain from posting taunts. The gang truce lasted longer than most — 18 months.

Some gangs provoke enemy gangs by streaming live video showing them walking through rival turf. Others face off using a split-screen function on Facebook Live and hurl abuse at each other.

I kind of want to see that map. And I kind of don't. Chicago Public Media has an online, interactive map that doesn't reflect the 2018 changes.

Good ol' Indiana spirit

Chances are, that bourbon you're drinking came from an industrial distillery in southern Indiana:

In just the last 10 years, the number of craft distilleries in this country has ballooned from around 100 to more than 1,400. That growth is a product of consumer demand, but it’s also due to the easing of state distillation laws and the availability of sourced whiskey from suppliers like MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

Templeton Rye — marketed as Al Capone’s favorite whiskey and proud product of Templeton, Iowa — is also distilled by MGP. Tincup Whiskey, a self-described “mountain whiskey” replete with commercials conjuring a frontiersman image and Rocky Mountain ethos, is mostly MGP, too.

Those brands aren’t alone in their Indiana provenance. Even super-premium brands like High West and Whistle Pig have sourced from MGP at some point in their respective histories. And the list goes on.

MGP isn’t a household name in bourbon, but it’s well known among industry insiders and connoisseurs. With distilling operations headquartered in the old Seagram’s Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, MGP is one of the largest whiskey sourcers in the industry.

So why do so few people know MGP’s name?

For one, it maintains strict confidentiality agreements with all of its customers; the purchasing brand only has to reveal MGP as its source if it wants to — an option many decline.

In addition, labeling regulations only require that the bottler list in which state the liquid was distilled — easily done in tiny print on the back of the bottle.

This is why I've got Trader Joe's $15 "Kentucky Bourbon" at home instead of $60 Whistle Pig. It's the same whiskey.

Single-malt Scotch, on the other hand, is by UK law exactly what it says on the bottle.

Elections matter

Every time the Supreme Court votes 5-4 in favor of a conservative policy initiative, remember that Merrick Garland would almost certainly have voted the other way, and that the Republican Party essentially stole a Supreme Court seat. They got away with it because 48% of the country voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

Take voter rights, for example. The Court this morning ruled, 5-4, that Ohio's method of purging its voter rolls does not violate Federal law:

Beyond the prohibition on removing voters because they failed to vote, the law calls on states to keep accurate rolls and allows removal when a person fails to respond to a request to confirm registration and then fails to vote in two federal elections.

Ohio sends a notice after a voter skips a single federal election cycle. If they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years, their names are removed from the rolls.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the court’s job was not to decide whether Ohio has adopted the “ideal method” for keeping rolls up to date, but only whether it complies with federal law.

Meanwhile, a Fox News presenter made a Freudian slip over the weekend when she referred to President Trump and North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un "the two dictators."

We can take back Congress in 148 days.

The totality of the circumstances

Way back in my first day of law school, Prof. Neil Williams exclaimed that the basis of contract law was "the totality of the circumstances!" Meaning, when evaluating a contract (from whether it exists to whether it's enforceable), you have to look at the context, the facts, the intentions of the parties—everything.

Take, for example, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice's description of the following circumstances:

If Mr. Putin were calling the shots, he would ensure that America’s reliability is doubted, its commitments broken, its values debased and its image tarnished. He would advise the new president to take a series of steps to advance those aims:

First, withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership....

Second, criticize NATO and cast doubt on America’s willingness to defend its allies....

Third, for the coup de grâce: start a trade war with our closest allies.

There is no evidence that Mr. Putin is dictating American policy. But it’s hard to imagine how he could do much better, even if he were.

Josh Marshall ups the volume on the same issue, and points out whether there was active collusion doesn't really matter:

If candidate Trump and President Putin had made a corrupt bargain which obligated President Trump to destabilize all US security and trade alliances (especially NATO, which has been Russia’s primary strategic goal for 70 years) and advance the strategic interests of Russia, there’s really nothing more remotely realistic he could have done to accomplish that than what he has in fact done.

We have a President who clearly got a great deal of assistance from Russia in getting elected. We can argue about how important it was to his victory. But the reality of the help is not in any real dispute. His campaign at a minimum had numerous highly suspicious contacts with people either in the Russian government or acting on behalf of the Russian government while that was happening. That is a very generous interpretation. He’s doing all the stuff he’d have been asked to do if such a corrupt bargain had been made. At a certain point – and I’d say we’re clearly at or past that point – it really doesn’t matter whether we can prove such a bargain was made. I’m not even sure it matters whether it was explicit or even happened. The bank robber helped the teller get the job and now the teller just won’t seem to lock the safe or even turn on the alarm. We can debate forever whether the teller is just absent-minded or has some odd philosophical aversion toward locks. The debate may be unresolvable. It truly doesn’t matter.

No, it really doesn't, though I expect historians will spend centuries debating why Trump has so thoroughly trashed our country to the benefit of Russia. What matters, right now, is that we at the very least install a Democratic Congress this fall, so that we can at the very least put the brakes on.

Illinois' population decline isn't actually a problem

Tim Jones, writing in Crain's for the Better Government Association, says the experiences of Minnesota and Kansas put the lie to claims that people are leaving Illinois because of taxes:

The scapegoat nominees include not just high taxes but House Speaker Michael Madigan, Gov. Bruce Rauner, government regulations, financial chaos and uncertainty from a two-year budget stalemate, not to mention old standbys greed and corruption.

That's where Minnesota looms as a spoiler of the tax-cutting political narrative embraced by many Midwestern states. Minnesota is a high-tax state, rated the sixth-highest in the nation in state and local individual income tax collections per capita and eighth in the combined state and local tax burden, according to the most recent rankings of the Washington-based Tax Foundation.

Minnesota has a graduated income tax, with rates ranging from 5.35 percent for those of modest incomes to 9.85 percent for individuals with annual incomes above $156,000.

The Tax Foundation ranked Minnesota's overall business tax climate among the nation's worst. Even so, the state was among Midwestern leaders in population growth, with a 5.1 percent gain since 2010 and a 13.3 percent jump since 2000. The state also has the highest median household income and the lowest poverty rate.

Focusing on taxation produces a distorted picture, said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.

“Clearly in Minnesota there are other things going on. Taxes are one component but also jobs, wages, quality of life, the education system,” Jacobs said.

The flip side of the taxation narrative, put into action by Kansas six years ago, is that cutting taxes will give a jolt to economic development and drive population growth. But it did neither, and Republicans who control the legislature had to backtrack on the tax cuts last year when revenue loss became untenable.

See, taxes pay for things that people want and need, like transport, schools, and police. Cutting taxes, as Kansas demonstrated, means you can't pay for those things anymore. Then people don't want to live there. QED. I'm not wild about higher taxes in general, but I understand we all need to pay them to get better living conditions. I hope that J.B. Pritzker makes that point as he runs for governor this fall.

Lunchtime reading

Stuff that landed in my inbox today:

Also, while we're on the subject of the C-word, I love Minnie Driver's response: "That was the wrong word for Samantha Bee to have used. But mostly because (to paraphrase the French) Ivanka has neither the warmth nor the depth."