The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Party like it's 1879

Atlantic editor Adam Serwer draws a straight line between the ways the Redemption court of the 1870s paved the way for the Gilded Age and Jim Crow, and how the Roberts court now (and especially with Brett Kavanaugh on it) is returning to those halcyon days:

The decision in Cruikshank set a pattern that would hold for decades. Despite being dominated by appointees from the party of abolition, the Court gave its constitutional blessing to the destruction of America’s short-lived attempt at racial equality piece by piece. By the end, racial segregation would be the law of the land, black Americans would be almost entirely disenfranchised, and black workers would be relegated to a twisted simulacrum of the slave system that existed before the Civil War.

The justices did not resurrect Dred Scott v. Sandford’s antebellum declaration that a black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect. Rather, they carefully framed their arguments in terms of limited government and individual liberty, writing opinion after opinion that allowed the white South to create an oppressive society in which black Americans had almost no rights at all. Their commitment to freedom in the abstract, and only in the abstract, allowed a brutal despotism to take root in Southern soil.

The conservative majority on the Supreme Court today is similarly blinded by a commitment to liberty in theory that ignores the reality of how Americans’ lives are actually lived. Like the Supreme Court of that era, the conservatives on the Court today are opposed to discrimination in principle, and indifferent to it in practice. Chief Justice John Roberts’s June 2018 ruling to uphold President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting a list of majority-Muslim countries, despite the voluminous evidence that it had been conceived in animus, showed that the muddled doctrines of the post-Reconstruction period retain a stubborn appeal.

Roberts wrote that since the declaration itself was “facially neutral toward religion” and did not discriminate against all Muslims, it did not run afoul of the Constitution. In doing so, he embraced the logic of decades of jurisprudence from his predecessors on the high court, whose rulings ensured that the Constitution would not interfere with the emergence of Jim Crow in the American South. The nation’s founding document is no match for a dedicated majority of justices committed to circumventing its guarantees.

He lays out that in the Roberts court at least they're not vociferously white supremacist. But the deference to corporate rights, he points out, almost guarantee another generation of increasing wealth disparities in America.

Unless we win all three branches of government and pass an amendment or two. But it'll have to get a lot worse before we do that, if history is any guide.

Update: Longtime reader MB sent this: "At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past."—Maurice Maeterlinck

The snakes are biting each other now

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an anonymous op-ed from a "senior White House official" that described a "resistance" inside the White House against President Trump's insanity. Greg Sargent calls bullshit:

If anything, the sum total of the revelations offered, while valuable in some respects, reveals the sharp limits on which Trumpian impulses these greatly alarmed patriots discern to be seriously damaging to the country. In so doing, it actually reveals just how deeply insufficient these constraining efforts really are. If the people around Trump think this sort of display will insulate them from any post-Trump reckoning, we’d better make sure it fails ignominiously.

Perhaps the most pointed charge is directed at Trump’s “amorality.” As the piece says: “Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.”

Except in a sense, Trump absolutely does have “first principles,” and these are precisely the problem. Among them are racism and white nationalism; the prioritization of self-enrichment over all else, even extending to a total lack of concern about foreign sabotage of our democracy, simply because he was its beneficiary; and the corrupt, intertwined convictions that law enforcement is merely an instrument of his political will and that he and his cronies should be protected from institutional accountability at all costs, no matter what damage is done along the way.

These do not come in for condemnation. Nor do the policies and actions they have given rise to — policies and actions that are inflicting an untold human toll and great damage on the country. In this sense, the claim that Trump is “amoral” lacks meaningful moral content, and the assertion that Trump is “anti-democratic” lacks meaningful pro-democratic content.

Josh Marshall agrees:

I say ‘faux-resistance leader’ because I see this exercise primarily as one of anticipatory self-exculpation. As things look darker and darker for the President we are beginning to see the first glimmers of the argument that those who should be tainted forever by their association with President Trump may actually be “unsung heroes” who were resisting from within.

This argument has no merit. Not only does this amount to late in the game special-pleading, on the merits what is described here is not good. Presidents are elected by the people. They run the executive branch. If a President is unfit, committing criminal acts or guilty of misrule, our system has open and lawful paths to rectify the situation. There is the 25th Amendment. There is impeachment. There is the simpler course of disclosure: speaking out publicly, revealing the truth to the people in your own name and being fired. The “two-track presidency” which the author describes, with top advisers using subterfuge and stealth insubordination to frustrate the President’s constitutional rule is, at least in concept, clearly unconstitutional. A more hard-boiled version of what the author describes is this: We are fully cognizant of the the danger the President poses to the country and the fact that he is manifestly unfit for the job. But we are going along with the charade as long as it lasts to pocket deregulation and tax cuts.

The upshot is that the administration is coming apart, which is as unsurprising as it is horrifying.

As Tom Lehrer once said, I'm feeling like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.

STBX Mayor Emanuel

Getting off the airplane yesterday, I discovered that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is hanging them up:

After nearly three decades of intense public life, from Chicago to the White House to Congress and back again, it was time for this “empty nester”—the term Emanuel kept dropping, to move on. Likely with a huge push from his wife. The prospect of the upcoming election, which Emanuel insisted he “without a doubt” would have won, wasn't the deciding factor.

In the interview, Emanuel also said he’s “probably not” going to get involved in the race to succeed him. He added that he intends to pursue projects such as Elon Musk’s proposed underground express train to O’Hare International Airport and admitted that his departure could hurt the city’s bid to lure Amazon’s HQ2 and a promised 50,000 well-paying jobs.

“I love this job,” he told me. But “you haven’t sat in the cockpit. I know what this job demands. I have to be honest with the public as to whether I have everything this job takes.”

One thing that took a toll was the city’s incessant and horrid gang violence. “That wears on your soul,” he said. Though the city under his leadership has improved Chicago Public Schools, remade much of its economy and stabilized its finances, his big regret is that public safety does not exist “in all parts our city. . . .That tears at me.”

Another thing clearly was personal, though.

Emanuel spoke about how he yanked his family to Washington only to move them back here after he won the mayor’s job. That forced some difficult choices, he said, like the time “I had to leave my son’s bar mitzvah early to go to the White House to count votes” on the bill to enact Obamacare.

Now that the kids are gone, “We’re empty nesters. We’re still young enough to write another chapter.”

In today's issue of Crains, along with the Emanuel interview is a similar statement from a local former CEO. Pete Kadens, who led Green Thumb Industries, a Chicago-based (technically Canadian) company that grows medical marijuana, insists he really did want to spend more time with his family.

This should not be a difficult position to take

Apparently Josef Ratzinger, who resigned from being Pope, seems not to understand how resignations actually work:

Ever since Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff in six centuries to abdicate the papacy, transitioning to a life of near seclusion in a Vatican City monastery, there have been questions about how the notion of two living popes would impact the Roman Catholic Church.

The events of last week offer something of an answer.

Although many people hoped to hear from Benedict amid new allegations that a cover-up of sexual misconduct reached the highest levels of the church, he has established that an ex-pope should maintain a vow of silence about church matters — even during crises and even though he is particularly well positioned to affirm or knock down the accusations.

Some historians say that, for all of Benedict’s theological work, it is his resignation that will most come to define his legacy. Before his abdication, no pope since Gregory XII in 1415 had been willing to step down. Pope Paul VI had at least considered it, according to a book collecting his letters and documents. But Paul VI, who died in 1978, feared that doing so could open future popes to factional fighting, according to an essay by Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest. Pope John Paul II reportedly prepared a letter of resignation to submit in the event of a debilitating condition; he never used it. Instead, his physical faculties declined painfully and publicly as he dealt with Parkinson’s disease.

Yes, because it's hard to answer a simple question about whether raping children is acceptable to the organization you used to head. I can totally understand, from a PR perspective, why the organization wouldn't want its previous leader to stand on the balcony of St Peters Square and shout at the top of his lungs, "Thou shalt not rape children!"

Look, my only interest in Catholic Church politics is as far as they don't affect United States politics. Unfortunately that ship sailed when it came out that this particular religious institution, with tens of millions of American followers, was trying to avoid secular laws abut raping children to such an extent that the secular authorities (in the U.S. and Ireland at least) brought the hammer down so hard the organization is about to avail itself of secular bankruptcy laws.

And writing from some basic ignorance of Catholicism, it just seems stupid to me that there is a living ex-Pope who anyone listens to. I'm not even getting into the specifics of that guy. It just seems clear from the theology that the Catholic Church has promulgated in my lifetime that God appoints the Pope, and God calls the Pope home when God has moved on from that relationship.

I mean, if you get into it literally, God should be the ultimate polyamorist, since He literally loves everyone; but still, how do you get to papal infallibility with a papal resignation? It's almost as if the office of Pope were political and not ordained by a supernatural entity. Dear me, doesn't that call into question the entire basis of the Catholic Church's authority?

But again, I'm just an outsider trying to make sense of a news story that only makes sense if you believe that any secular government on earth should care one whit what an obsolete, morally corrupt, and entirely political organization believes. As soon as American Catholics get any distance from believing that the Catholic Church has any influence over their relationships with the Christian God or Jesus, then I think we can start addressing the horrors that the institution has afflicted on Americans for the last century. Just look at Ireland: it is possible.

One more thing. This has nothing to do with people who believe in Jesus or the Christian God. This is entirely about men taking advantage of that belief and using it to cover up gruesome crimes. I don't personally care whether someone believes in God or Jesus; but when they say that the men who wear the big hats can't be brought to justice because they are men of God, I say, render unto Caesar. We have laws in the U.S. (and just about everywhere else) against covering up crimes, which is just the legalistic entree into the basic fact that using a power relationship to take advantage of someone sexually is a crime everywhere in the Christian world.

If ex-Pope Ratzinger has any difficulty understanding that raping children is wrong, or if current Pope Bergoglio doesn't believe that purging the organization he heads of people who rape children is perhaps a win for everyone, then the Catholic Church has no moral authority whatsoever, and should be treated so.

No human being can speak for God; this seems axiom, regardless of your religion. But certainly, no one can claim that God approves of raping children or burying the babies of unwed girls in a field while they're still alive with a straight face that all of us wouldn't line up to punch.

As an outsider, with some respect for the political power of the Catholic Church, and the willingness of that organization to quit themselves of someone like Ratzinger, I had hope for this Pope. But they just can't do it, even with overwhelming evidence that so many of their people are committing crimes against children. Unfortunately for Pope Francis, this is his responsibility. Either God commanded it or he signed up for it; that's a distinction without difference in this case.

Pope Francis has an opportunity for perhaps another few days to make this right, and take an unequivocal position against raping children. If he doesn't, the world will have all the evidence it needs to evaluate the Catholic Church as an institution. That is, to the extent that it doesn't already. But as an outsider, looking at this organization that claims to speak for the creator of the universe, I just. Can't. Even. And neither can my Catholic friends.

This might be what someone used to attack us in Cuba

In late 2016, someone apparently attacked American diplomats in Cuba and China with a device that caused people to hear loud sounds and experience concussion-like brain damage. Now, doctors working with the attack victims may have figured out what it was:

The medical team that examined 21 affected diplomats from Cuba made no mention of microwaves in its detailed report published in JAMA in March. But Douglas H. Smith, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a recent interview that microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury.

“Everybody was relatively skeptical at first,” he said, “and everyone now agrees there’s something there.” Dr. Smith remarked that the diplomats and doctors jokingly refer to the trauma as the immaculate concussion.

Strikes with microwaves, some experts now argue, more plausibly explain reports of painful sounds, ills and traumas than do other possible culprits — sonic attacks, viral infections and contagious anxiety.

In particular, a growing number of analysts cite an eerie phenomenon known as the Frey effect, named after Allan H. Frey, an American scientist. Long ago, he found that microwaves can trick the brain into perceiving what seem to be ordinary sounds.

Military strategists have talked about various nonlethal weapons for a long time. I don't remember reading about microwave weapons until now, since sound on its own seemed to be a pretty good way of disabling troops. But this is interesting, and disturbing.

Another win for the Vogons

Two weeks after a local artist completed a mural commissioned by the local chamber of commerce, Chicago's Streets and Sanitation department destroyed it:

Chicago-based artist JC Rivera’s signature bright yellow “bear champ” went up earlier this month at the CTA Paulina Brown Line stop. But the mural, commissioned by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and paid for out of a special taxpayer fund, wasn’t long for this world: In fact, it was on display for a shorter time than it took Rivera to paint the piece.

Late last week, someone notified the city’s 311 nonemergency center and reported the mural as graffiti, triggering a request for its removal, said Marjani Williams, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation. The city did not detail the 311 request.

It’s the latest instance of Streets and Sanitation workers wiping out something considered public art. In March, the work of French street artist Blek le Rat was blasted away from the side of Cards Against Humanity’s headquarters as the city stepped up graffiti cleanup near proposed sites for Amazon’s second headquarters.

Sigh.

It doesn't seem like Streets & San is doing this on purpose. They just don't care. Fortunately, one of our aldermen has proposed a city-wide mural registry to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

When you think it can't get stupider...

President Trump, after hearing a report on Fox News that Google search results on his name aren't totally flattering, now believes that Google is part of the conspiracy against him:

The Trump administration is “taking a look” at whether Google and its search engine should be regulated by the government, Larry Kudlow, President Trump’s economic adviser, said Tuesday outside the White House.

“We’ll let you know,” Kudlow said. “We’re taking a look at it.”

The announcement puts the search giant squarely in the White House’s crosshairs amid wider allegations against the tech industry that it systematically discriminates against conservatives on social media and other platforms.

Greg Sargent sees this as Trump once again, by instinct or design, trying to inflame his rump supporters:

Trump’s claim is, of course, absurd: As Daniel Dale explains, this is based on a bogus right wing media claim, and all it really means is that when you google about Trump, you are likely to initially see stories from major news organizations that are legitimately reporting aggressively on Trump, rather than from conservative opinion sites that are putting out propaganda on his behalf.

But while this might seem like typical Trumpian buffoonery, at its core is some deadly serious business. These attacks on the media — which are now spreading to extensive conspiracy-mongering about social media’s role in spreading information — form one part of an interlocking, two-piece Trumpian strategy (whether by instinct or design is unclear) that serves to underscore the urgency of this fall’s elections.

Trump is unleashing endless lies and attacks directed at the mechanisms of accountability that actually are functioning right now — the media, law enforcement and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation — to persuade his supporters not only that they shouldn’t believe anything they hear from these sources, but also to energize them and get them to vote, to protect him from those institutions’ alleged conspiracy against him.

At the same time, that campaign of lies is designed to get Republican voters out for the purpose of keeping in place the mechanism of accountability that is not functioning right now — the GOP-led Congress — preventing a Democratic takeover of the House, which would impose genuine accountability.

At the same time, Republicans in Congress have circulated a list of all the scandals Democrats want to hold hearings on as soon as they win a majority in either legislative house:

The list hints at the overflowing sewer of Trumpian corruption and incompetence, and the refusal of congressional Republicans to investigate any of it. Oddly enough, this list is being circulated by Republicans in Congress. The list, composed of Democratic requests for hearings that Republicans have blocked, is meant to warn of what Congress would look into if Democrats win the midterms. Axios reports that Republican “stomachs are churning” at the mere thought that any of the items on the list could receive a public hearing.

The list includes the kinds of policies a normally functioning Congress would probe, including “Election security and hacking attempts,” “White House security clearances,” and “Hurricane response in Puerto Rico.” (Congress held bipartisan hearings on the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, but has not done so for the response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico, where hundreds of Americans died.) But most of the cases listed focus on corruption: “President Trump’s tax returns,” “Trump family businesses — and whether they comply with the Constitution’s emoluments clause, including the Chinese trademark grant to the Trump Organization,” “Trump’s dealings with Russia, including the president’s preparation for his meeting with Vladimir Putin,” and on and on.

Probably the most picayune item on the list would be “White House staff’s personal email use,” though of course it might be difficult for Republicans to dismiss this issue given that they based their entire campaign on the premise that the use of personal email constitutes a grave criminal defense and continue to demand the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton for this very offense.

The most predominant theme of the list is corruption.

In other words, the Republican Party has completely abandoned its previously-held beliefs in the rule of law, and are now openly running on a platform of supporting the rule of Donald Trump.

We have 70 days until the Mid-Terms. Can't wait to see how bad it will get before then.

The next war

Via Bruce Schneier, retired USMC Colonel Mark Canclan has authored a report outlining what threats we're likely to face in the next few years, and how to cope with them. He includes some chilling strategic possibilities:

The cyber attacks varied. Sailors stationed at the 7th Fleet' s homeport in Japan awoke one day to find their financial accounts, and those of their dependents, empty. Checking, savings, retirement funds: simply gone. The Marines based on Okinawa were under virtual siege by the populace, whose simmering resentment at their presence had boiled over after a YouTube video posted under the account of a Marine stationed there had gone viral. The video featured a dozen Marines drunkenly gang-raping two teenaged Okinawan girls. The video was vivid, the girls' cries heart-wrenching the cheers of Marines sickening And all of it fake. The National Security Agency's initial analysis of the video had uncovered digital fingerprints showing that it was a computer-assisted lie, and could prove that the Marine's account under which it had been posted was hacked. But the damage had been done.

There was the commanding officer of Edwards Air Force Base whose Internet browser history had been posted on the squadron's Facebook page. His command turned on him as a pervert; his weak protestations that he had not visited most of the posted links could not counter his admission that he had, in fact, trafficked some of them. Lies mixed with the truth. Soldiers at Fort Sill were at each other's throats thanks to a series of text messages that allegedly unearthed an adultery ring on base.

The report is fascinating, and the vignettes that Canclan describes should be keeping US military and defense personnel up at night.

The Great Lakes Compact in a drying world

After watching the Aral Sea disaster unfold in the second half of the last century, governors of the states and provinces around the Great Lakes formed a compact to prevent a similar problem in North America. Crain's looks at how well it's done for the past 10 years:

Hammered out over five years, the Compact, aimed at keeping Great Lakes water in the Great Lakes, was approved by the legislatures of all eight states bordering the Great Lakes, Congress and the Canadian provinces and signed into law by President George W. Bush on Oct. 3, 2008.

The Great Lakes Compact prohibits new or increased diversions outside the Great Lakes Basin with limited exceptions for communities and counties that straddle the basin boundary and meet rigorous standards. It asks states to develop water conservation plans, collect water use data, and produce annual water use reports. Great Lakes states as well as Ontario and Quebec are to keep track of impacts of water use in the basin.

Certainly, the future of water on the planet seems fraught enough to make one wonder how the Great Lake Compact will fare as the years pass. The most ardent supporters of the Compact say that challenges abound. These include a changing climate that is expected to bring drought as well as heightened political pressure to open up what some view as an invaluable public resource now off limits to the rest of the world.

So it is easy to see why the Great Lakes loom large in the eyes of those who seek to solve their water woes. The lakes are the largest system of fresh surface water on Earth. They hold 84 percent of North America's surface fresh water and about 21 percent of the world's supply, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This will be one to watch. Being adjacent to Lake Michigan is one of the biggest reasons I'm optimistic about Chicago; but what if the shoreline were 20 kilometers away? It could happen.

The President's no-good, very bad day

Yesterday, President Trump's longtime fixer Michael Cohen plead guilty to 8 crimes at almost the exact moment a jury convicted his former campaign manager of another 8. The Atlantic explains what the first part means:

The most important takeaway Tuesday is that the president’s own former personal attorney pleaded guilty to breaking campaign-finance laws at his alleged direction.

While the bank- and tax-fraud charges do not involve the president, the campaign-finance charges indisputably do. Cohen made the payments—$130,000 to Daniels and $150,000 to McDougal—through shell companies. He said Tuesday that the payments were intended to influence the election, making them a violation of campaign-finance laws, and that he had done so at the direction of the candidate.

That exposes several lies that the president made about the hush money. The White House initially denied that Trump had any knowledge of the payments. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” the president said in April.

David Frum just comes out and says "the president is a crook."

Over at WaPo, Paul Waldman decries the institutions that failed to get us to this point, while Isaac Stanley-Baker reports that right-wing media carried on like every other day.

For his part, the president Tweeted how proudly he felt about Manafort "not break[ing]," which, when you think about it, means that Manafort really does have the goods and the president just admitted it.

I'm happy some of these criminals are facing justice. But just imagine how quickly we'd be rid of this guy if we had a functioning Congress.