The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Friday afternoon reading list

The following appeared in my inbox while I was in the air. I'll read them later:

I'll probably read them after my body wakes me up at 6am local time tomorrow. The westbound time change is so much easier than eastbound, but it's still hard to sleep in.

The threats to our democracy

New Republic has excerpted How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, to be published this January. Salient points:

If constitutional rules alone do not secure democracy, then what does? Much of the answer lies in the development of strong democratic norms. Two norms stand out: mutual toleration, or accepting one’s partisan rivals as legitimate (not treating them as dangerous enemies or traitors); and forbearance, or deploying one’s institutional prerogatives with restraint—in other words, not using the letter of the Constitution to undermine its spirit (what legal scholar Mark Tushnet calls “constitutional hardball”).

Donald Trump is widely and correctly criticized for assaulting democratic norms. But Trump didn’t cause the problem. The erosion of democratic norms began decades ago.

In 1979, newly elected Congressman Newt Gingrich came to Washington with a blunter, more cutthroat vision of politics than Republicans were accustomed to. Backed by a small but growing group of loyalists, Gingrich launched an insurgency aimed at instilling a more “combative” approach in the party.

Though few realized it at the time, Gingrich and his allies were on the cusp of a new wave of polarization rooted in growing public discontent, particularly among the Republican base. Gingrich didn’t create this polarization, but he was one of the first Republicans to sense—and exploit—the shift in popular sentiment. And his leadership helped to establish “politics as warfare” as the GOP’s dominant strategy.

If, 25 years ago, someone had described to you a country where candidates threatened to lock up their rivals, political opponents accused the government of election fraud, and parties used their legislative majorities to impeach presidents and steal Supreme Court seats, you might have thought of Ecuador or Romania. It wouldn’t have been the United States of America.

The rest is history. Let's just hope that it's the history of a successful republic, not a Weimar one.

Stuff to review

I've been in frenetic housecleaning mode today, since it's the first work-from-home Wednesday I've had in...let me see...10 weeks. And apparently I last had my housekeeping service here 16 weeks ago. (It wasn't that bad; I do clean up occasionally.)

The activity and actually having to do my job has led me to miss a couple of news stories, which I will now queue up to read:

  • Former President Obama spoke at the Economic Club of Chicago last night, and said, at one point, "American democracy is fragile, and unless care is taken it could follow the path of Nazi Germany in the 1930s."
  • Citylab outlines how the tax bill now working its way through reconciliation between the House and Senate will be really, really bad for cities. As if we didn't know. As if that wasn't a feature, rather than a bug.
  • And it doesn't take a Nobel-winning economist to understand the chutzpah behind the Republican Party's bait-and-switch on taxes and deficits. "Now, to be fair, there are some people in America who get lots of money they didn’t lift a finger to earn — namely, inheritors of large estates." How true.
  • In more neutral news, the Atlantic has the the year in photos (part 1), with more on the way later this week. I especially like the Turkish seagull (#22).
  • Finally The Daily WTF has an example of life imitating satire, and it's sad and funny all at the same time.

I'm now going to throw out all the empty boxes in my office closet, though it pains me to do so. After all, someday I might need to return this pair of wired headphones from 1998...

Shut up about impeachment

Jeet Heer states what should be obvious: if Democrats try to impeach the president and fail, it will completely legitimize his presidency.

The practical problem is that for impeachment to be meaningful, Trump would not just have to be impeached by the House of Representatives (which requires a simple majority) but also removed by the Senate (requiring a two-thirds vote). It’s easy to imagine a scenario where the Democrats win the House of Representatives in 2018 and have the necessary votes for impeachment. But even in that best-case scenario, in which Democrats win every toss-up race for the Senate, they would still be well short of the votes they need in the Senate. Which means that kicking Trump out of the White House by necessity has to be a bipartisan effort with significant Republican buy-in.

The Republican Party has proven that they will tolerate just about anything from Trump. They continue to stand with him despite his demented tweeting, the political support he’s given to Roy Moore, his repeated expressions of contempt for the justice system, and his cavalier threats to launch a nuclear war. Unless Robert Mueller finds the possibly apocryphal “pee tape,” Republicans are likely to remain loyal to Trump. In fact, there’s a real possibility that even if the “pee tape” is real and widely viewed, Trump would still remain politically sacrosanct among his own party.

The most promising route for stopping Trump, then, is through the ballot box.

This means that we're probably stuck with him for 1142 more days, but if we win back the legislature, we can thwart him nearly completely.

Really, he's nuts

I'd rather have an incompetent, sane person as president (see, e.g., most of the past Republican presidents) than an incompetent, insane one. But ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya:

And why would the Republican Party allow all of this to continue? Gosh, who can say.

This administration, summarized

Michele Goldberg today:

If you think 2017 was bad, imagine an America without allies fighting another two-front war, this one involving nuclear weapons, under the leadership of the most hated president in modern history, while a torture apologist runs the C.I.A. The world right now is a powder keg. Trump, an untethered maniac, sits atop it, flicking a lighter that Republicans in Congress could take away, but won’t. If everything goes up in flames, we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Why imagine? He's literally insane.

Who's in charge of the CFPB?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's director resigned last week and named his chief of staff, Leandra English, acting director. Citing a statute predating the Dodd-Frank Act (which created the CFPB), the Trump Administration appointed the current OMB Director, Mick Mulvaney, to run the CFPB.

The result is chaos:

On Monday, Mulvaney occupied the CFPB director’s office, dispensed excellent New England doughnuts and emailed the agency staff to “disregard any instructions you receive from Ms. English in her presumed capacity as Acting Director.” English, for her part, sent her own email greetings to agency staff — and filed a lawsuit calling Mulvaney “the person claiming to be acting director” and herself “the rightful director” of the CFPB.

The legal question turns on whether the FVRA gives the president an option for appointing its head — i.e., the deputy or someone else — or whether the text of Dodd-Frank forecloses that option. The FVRA says it is the “exclusive means” of filling a position, except if another statute specifies a particular acting successor. English’s proponents argue that Dodd-Frank does precisely that. Better yet, in doing so it uses the word “shall,” not “may.” That word “shall” is significant, legal scholars such as Marty Lederman emphasize.

The Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, by contrast, issued an opinion defending the president’s right to use the FVRA procedure. Perhaps more surprisingly, so did the CFPB’s own general counsel Mary McLeod. Quoting an earlier Office of Legal Counsel opinion, McLeod concluded the fact that the FVRA “is not exclusive does not mean that it is unavailable.”  That is to say, the FVRA may not be the only way to handle the matter, but it is a possible (an “available”) way, and it’s up to the president to make the call — as other legal scholars such as Adam White emphasize.

On Tuesday, a district court judge declined to grant a temporary restraining order against Mulvaney’s claim to the CFPB throne. That does not settle the merits of the case, of course. And in the meantime, other subplots abound.

One is that the judge in the case, Timothy Kelly, was appointed by Trump and only took the bench in September.

The whole analysis is worth a read. Because like just about every other action of the current administration, it's bloody insane.

 

Only six strange things?

The Post's Aaron Blake, writing about yesterday's odd story of Project Veritas being kind of stupid, provides six examples of how they were stupid:

4. She used her real name and left a paper trail

The above Web page was a GoFundMe account seeking to raise money for the relocation to New York of a woman named Jaime Phillips. One of the donors to it matches the name of Phillips's daughter, according to public records.

So Phillips apparently went to work as a covert operative, still used her real name and left a paper trail suggesting that she was working for such an organization.

Yeah. I'm not sure why that was 4th, but it's still definitely a top-5 idiotic thing.

Making ride-shares pay for roads

CityLab has an interesting suggestion to manage the externalities of Uber and Lyft:

The policy journey of São Paulo, Brazil, a vast metropolitan region of 20 million people, has been telling. The city council initially banned all ride-hailing services via apps, spurred on by allies of the taxi industry. Other parties, recognizing the inevitable popularity of Uber as well as two more homegrown companies, 99 and Easy Taxi, pushed back. The compromise allows the companies to operate, but charges them for the use of streets per mile. A sliding scale was established—more if in the city center during peak hours with only one passenger; less for more passengers, cars in underserved areas, electric vehicles, women drivers, and accessible vehicles. A standing committee meets regularly on whether the charge needs to be modified. In the process, the city gets some raw data that can help with mobility policy.

The charges—for the privilege of using a public asset, the roadways, for commercial purposes—are estimated to bring in $50 million per year. Nearly a year after the policy was set, the experiment is going well, said Ciro Biderman, who recently left his position as chief innovation officer for São Paulo, where he led the design and rollout of the charges on transportation network companies.

Imagine, charging private companies a fee to use public assets.

Don't criticize what you don't understand

Jaime Peters approached the Washington Post with a story about Republican Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. The Post this afternoon published a story about her:

A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets.

In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore’s candidacy if she went public.

The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists.

But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover “stings” that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias.

The best bit is about Philips' GoFundMe campaign.

But I digress. It's fascinating how much effort O'Keefe's organization puts into this crap, and how they're going after organizations that know a whole lot more about investigation than they do. I'm reminded of the scene in the last Superman movie where Batman is punching a Kryptonite-weakened Superman in the face...as the Kryptonite wears off. By punch #3, Superman is just looking at him like, "Dude." That seems to be where WaPo is with these clowns.