The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

More Dobbs reactions

A day and a half after the unprecedented leak of Justice Alito's (R) draft opinion in Dobbs v Jackson, everyone and her dog has a reaction piece:

  • David Von Drehle in the Post warns that Alito's arguments in Dobbs, if accepted as the final majority opinion, would imperil many other rights based on privacy law: "[S]hould Alito’s draft opinion be affirmed by the court’s majority, there will be little to prevent states from enacting limits [on contraception] if they wish. Women will have only as much guaranteed autonomy over their childbearing as they had in 1868. Alito’s draft recognizes the rights of an hour-old zygote, but not of a 12-year-old impregnated by a rapist."
  • Jennifer Rubin concurs, saying the Court's "religion-driven mission" puts other settled law like Griswold v Connecticut and Lawrence v Texas in the crosshairs: "At its core, this Supreme Court’s right-wing majority seems eager to cast aside the restraints of precedent, making good on their supporters’ agenda rooted in Christian nationalism. In assuming life begins at conception (thereby giving the states unfettered leeway to ban abortion), Alito and his right-wing colleagues would impose a faith-based regimen shredding a half-century of legal and social change."
  • Josh Marshall calls bullshit on Alito's long-professed "originalism:" "Alito recognizes that there are interpretive frameworks that address new issues not explicitly referenced in the constitution. That’s in this decision. But he keeps coming back to “history and tradition” as what really seems like a separate basis of authority. Basically old school values. And lots of rights won’t make that cut."
  • Alex Shephard calls bullshit on Republicans trying to blame the leak for the Court's loss of legitimacy when, really, the activist Republican justices killed it: "There is a long tradition in conservative circles of finding every opportunity to claim victimhood. ... [But] the court’s legitimacy problems can, frankly be traced back to Bush v. Gore, if not earlier, when five Republican-appointed justices decided a presidential election based on their own partisan affiliations; this paved the way for President George W. Bush to appoint Samuel Alito."
  • Law professor and former Federal prosecutor Joyce Vance concurs, saying "Reversing Roe, particularly in the manner Alito does, condescending, patronizing, forcing an end to women’s full participation as equals in society, will forever change the belief that the court is above politics and the public’s confidence in the Court."
  • Adam Liptak of the Times agrees, hinting that Alito or one of his clerks might have leaked the draft as away of pressuring Justices Kavanaugh (R) or Gorsuch (R) to stay in the majority.
  • George Will, fresh from his local dispensary, says the end of Roe gives everyone a chance to start over. Everyone, I suppose, except the women whose lives will be ruined or lost because of unwanted or unsafe pregnancies.
  • Stephen Colbert Tweets, "I can’t believe how gullible Susan Collins is. But Susan Collins can." But Eric Garland reports on some aspects of Collins' history that paint a much worse picture of the Senator.
  • Julia Ioffe reminds us that five of six of the Republican justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote.

But, hey, guys? Please keep covering the other stories of the day. Like, for example, the corruption of Justice Thomas (R) and his wife.

Somebody call lunch!

I've gotten two solid nights of sleep in a row, and I've got a clean desk for the first time in weeks. I hope that this becomes the norm, at least until November, when I'll have a packed musical schedule for six weeks as the Apollo Chorus rehearses or performs about 30 times. But that's seven months off.

That gives me plenty of time to listen to or read these:

And finally, in compiling geographic source data for Weather Now, I discovered that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) assigned an official designator the location where the Ingenuity helicopter landed on Mars: JZRO, for Jezero Crater.

Slow-ish afternoon

I've sent some test results off to a partner in Sydney, so I have to wait until Monday morning before I officially mark that feature as "done." I'm also writing a presentation I'll give on March 16th. So while the larger part of my brain noodles on Microsoft Azure CosmosDB NoSQL databases (the subject of my presentation), the lesser part has this to read:

Finally, software developer Ben Tupper has created a Myst-like game surrounding the mysterious door at 58 Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights. I walked past that door every day for almost two years, and even got a peek inside once. It's not really a townhouse, after all.

Partisan court takes another swipe at the Voting Rights Act

The two most recent US Supreme Court appointees may have agreed with the moderate justices on a couple of issues this term, but as the last opinions come out this morning, they have reminded us that the Republican Party's anti-democratic policies remain their top priorities.

Despite no evidence of retail election fraud, in 2016 Arizona's Republican majority enacted a law making it a crime to collect ballots from voters. Many voters in Arizona and elsewhere have difficulty making it to the polls, and in some cases, to the nearest mailbox. Ballot collection drives helped ensure they could still cast votes. Given who benefitted most from these drives, no one had any illusions about why Arizona Republicans passed this bill.

The Court today ruled, in a 6-3 decision right along party lines, that this does not violate section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Justice Alito delivered the opinion, which repeats the Republican Party's canards about voting fraud as if channeling the voice of Mitch McConnell:

Finally, the strength of the state interests served by a challenged voting rule is also an important factor that must be taken into account. As noted, every voting rule imposes a burden of some sort, and therefore, in determining “based on the totality of circumstances” whether a rule goes too far, it is important to consider the reason for the rule. Rules that are supported by strong state interests are less likely to violate §2.

One strong and entirely legitimate state interest is the prevention of fraud. Fraud can affect the outcome of a close election, and fraudulent votes dilute the right of citizens to cast ballots that carry appropriate weight. Fraud can also undermine public confidence in the fairness of elections and the perceived legitimacy of the announced outcome.

(Brnovich v DNC, opinion at 19; citations removed.)

He then retreats deep into his epistemological bubble to declare that, even though Arizona has no documented instances of such fraud, and even though it will make it harder for Black, Hispanic, and poor people to cast ballots, the law doesn't really discriminate. Because, of course, the Arizona Secretary of State's office are all, all honourable men:

The State makes accurate precinct information available to all voters. When precincts or polling places are altered between elections, each registered voter is sent a notice showing the voter’s new polling place. Arizona law also mandates that election officials send a sample ballot to each household that includes a registered voter who has not opted to be placed on the permanent early voter list, and this mailing also identifies the voter’s proper polling location. In addition, the Arizona secretary of state’s office sends voters pamphlets that include information (in both English and Spanish) about how to identify their assigned precinct.

The Court of Appeals noted that Arizona leads other States in the rate of votes rejected on the ground that they were cast in the wrong precinct, and the court attributed this to frequent changes in polling locations, confusing placement of polling places, and high levels of residential mobility. But even if it is marginally harder for Arizona voters to find their assigned polling places, the State offers other easy ways to vote. Any voter can request an early ballot without excuse. Any voter can ask to be placed on the permanent early voter list so that an early ballot will be mailed automatically. Voters may drop off their early ballots at any polling place, even one to which they are not assigned. And for nearly a month before election day, any voter can vote in person at an early voting location in his or her county.

(Id. at 26-27, citations removed.)

So, once again, the Republican justices take the position that because the Voting Rights Act has done its job over the years, we don't need the Voting Rights Act anymore. (Kind of like how we taught the Germans a lesson in 1918 and they hardly bothered us after that.)

In her dissent, Justice Kagan expresses no patience for any of this crap:

If a single statute represents the best of America, it is the Voting Rights Act. It marries two great ideals: democracy and racial equality. And it dedicates our country to carrying them out. Section 2, the provision at issue here, guarantees that members of every racial group will have equal voting opportunities. Citizens of every race will have the same shot to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. They will all own our democracy together—no one more and no one less than any other.

If a single statute reminds us of the worst of America, it is the Voting Rights Act. Because it was—and remains—so necessary. Because a century after the Civil War was fought, at the time of the Act’s passage, the promise of political equality remained a distant dream for African American citizens. Because States and localities continually “contriv[ed] new rules,” mostly neutral on their face but discriminatory in operation, to keep minority voters from the polls. Because “Congress had reason to suppose” that States would “try similar maneuvers in the future”— “pour[ing] old poison into new bottles” to suppress minority votes. Because Congress has been proved right.

Today, the Court undermines Section 2 and the right it provides. The majority fears that the statute Congress wrote is too “radical”—that it will invalidate too many state voting laws. So the majority writes its own set of rules, limiting Section 2 from multiple directions. Wherever it can, the majority gives a cramped reading to broad language. And then it uses that reading to uphold two election laws from Arizona that discriminate against minority voters. I could say—and will in the following pages—that this is not how the Court is supposed to interpret and apply statutes. But that ordinary critique woefully undersells the problem. What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten—in order to weaken—a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses. What is tragic is that the Court has damaged a statute designed to bring about “the end of discrimination in voting.”

(Kagan Dissent at 1, 3; citations removed).

When a few commentators tut-tutted that the Court "is less one-sided than liberals feared," they missed the point. Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh seem less unhinged than they did at their confirmation hearings, but they never lost their party loyalty. Sure, they upheld Obamacare (for the 17th time); sure, they ruled that children don't lose First Amendment protections just because they say something their school doesn't like. And just as sure, they will vote every single time to limit the franchise, because voting rights have become an existential threat to the Republican Party.

The Republicans' 40-year program of selecting and promoting young, partisan judges continues to pay off. Until we Democrats start using the political power we actually have, the Republicans will continue to drive the United States toward minority corporatist rule that will take decades to undo.

Thursday evening post

Some stories in the news this week:

Finally, the House Oversight and Reform Committee advanced DC statehood legislation. The full house may even pass the DC Admission Act next week.

The final election map of 2020

The New York Times and NBC have called Georgia for Joe Biden and North Carolina for the president, giving Biden 306 Electoral College votes to the president's 232. This is the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has won Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992. It also means that in addition to taking over 5 million more popular votes than the president, Biden has won exactly the same number of electoral votes as the president did in 2016.

In 68 days, we'll finally have a new president.

Anniversaries of blunders in presidential politics

On this day 4 years ago, the Cubs won the World Series. Just six days later, we experienced one of the worst things ever to happen in US presidential politics.

It turns out, today is the anniversary of other horrible things that happened to the Presidency:

  • In 1795, James K Polk was born.
  • In 1865, Warren G Harding was born.
  • In 1948, Dewey defeated Truman defeated Dewey. (At least this one turned out OK.)

I'm going into tomorrow a great deal more optimistic than I've felt in years. Tonight I'll have a run-down of the races I plan to watch tomorrow, though we may not know for days what the final results will be. For example, because we need to know the total number of votes cast to determine whether Illinois' Fair Tax Amendment passes, we can't know the final outcome until the 17th.

As of this morning, The Economist has lowered Biden's chances of winning from 96% to 95%, and 538 has Biden at 90%. The president can still win. I just don't think he will.

By the way, I was not wrong about the outcome of the last election.

Day of the Dead

Fifty years ago today, the Grateful Dead released American Beauty:

There are countless versions of the Grateful Dead to tap into, hundreds of bootlegs and remastered live recordings to queue up. Many bona fide Deadheads would say it's not even worth bothering with the studio recordings. But American Beauty, released Nov. 1, 1970, and lined with back-to-back classics that earned them the title of the great American jam band, stands out from all the rest.

Meanwhile, yesterday set a couple more milestones that historians will talk about 50 years from now:

  • Tropical Storm Eta became the 28th named storm of the North Atlantic hurricane season, setting a new record. Hurricane season officially ends a month from today.
  • More than 91 million people have already voted in this election, about 2/3 of the total ballots cast (136.5 m) in 2016.
  • The monthly average water level in the Lake Michigan-Huron system finally dipped below last year's levels, following 9 straight months of record or near-record levels.

Only 60 shopping days left until we finally exit this bizarre and horrible year.

The most timely video you can watch this month

On 30 April 2011, President Obama addressed the White House Correspondents Dinner.

The funniest bit starts 9 minutes in, when he takes on his successor, so many years before anyone thought that would ever be a true sentence. And at 12:45, roasts the 46th president, even more years before anyone expected that to happen.

And he's really funny:

Oh, one other thing. Don't forget that the next evening (Washington time), the US Navy killed Osama bin Laden, for which Obama took complete responsibility—as he would have done had the raid failed. Which Obama had ordered just a couple hours before attending the dinner.

After that, watch his roast from 2015 for another dozen laughs. Man, I miss him.

All the president's taxes

The New York Times dropped a bomb over the weekend with its revelation that it obtained 20 years of the president's tax returns. The documents show that either the president is one of the worst businessmen in American history, or he has committed (and indeed may still be committing) one of the largest tax frauds in American history. Actually, it looks like both:

The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.

The picture that perhaps emerges most starkly from the mountain of figures and tax schedules prepared by Mr. Trump’s accountants is of a businessman-president in a tightening financial vise.

Most of Mr. Trump’s core enterprises — from his constellation of golf courses to his conservative-magnet hotel in Washington — report losing millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars year after year.

His revenue from “The Apprentice” and from licensing deals is drying up, and several years ago he sold nearly all the stocks that now might have helped him plug holes in his struggling properties.

The tax audit looms.

And within the next four years, more than $300 million in loans — obligations for which he is personally responsible — will come due.

I've had a security clearance, and let me just say that debt will keep you from getting one. You can be a paid-up member of the Communist Party and have a secret drug stash in your basement and still get a top secret clearance—as long as you have no significant debts and you admit the drug stash in your SF-86. But that's just one of the president's problems, according to the documents:

He appears to have paid off none of the principal of the Trump Tower mortgage, and the full $100 million comes due in 2022. And if he loses his dispute with the I.R.S. over the 2010 refund, he could owe the government more than $100 million (including interest on the original amount).

In the 1990s, Mr. Trump nearly ruined himself by personally guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, and he has since said that he regretted doing so. But he has taken the same step again, his tax records show. He appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.

Should he win re-election, his lenders could be placed in the unprecedented position of weighing whether to foreclose on a sitting president. Whether he wins or loses, he will probably need to find new ways to use his brand — and his popularity among tens of millions of Americans — to make money.

You can predict the reactions. The president called it "fake news," which means it's true. The Wall Street Journal appears to have ignored it—there's not a single story on their main or opinion pages about it at this writing. Fox News highlighted the president's and his press secretary's responses, but below the fold, in small headlines.

On our side, NBC's Jonathan Allen believes this is "devastating for his campaign:"

The vast majority of his base voters won't care whether he paid taxes or lied about being a successful businessman. His ability to pull one over on the public or the government — perhaps both — will be accepted by most of his supporters as evidence of his cunning, his acumen and his strategic brilliance.

But that base is simultaneously Trump's greatest strength and weakness on the electoral battlefield.

His inability to expand beyond his base and court the less strident is the main challengeto his re-election hopes. And the tax records make things worse. The documents reinforce narratives about Trump that fire up Democrats and give pause to Republican-leaning voters who might be persuaded either to cast ballots for Democratic nominee Joe Biden or simply stay home.

So while the tax records don't contain many surprises for those who have paid close attention to Trump's business dealings — and the distance between his boasts and the reality of his record as the head of the firms that make up "Trump Inc." — they do put Trump in a position he would like to have avoided.

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post agrees with me:

For his part, Trump has previously argued that shirking his tax obligations made him “smart.” He suggested that he merely took advantage of legal loopholes, the kind available to deep-pocketed Americans who can afford top-notch tax preparation advice. And as I’ve written before, the real estate industry enjoys tons of loopholes and other opportunities for legally minimizing tax obligations, most notably through depreciation deductions. But per the Times, Trump’s “three European golf courses, the Washington hotel, Doral and Trump Corporation reported losing a total of $150.3 million from 2010 through 2018, without including depreciation as an expense.”

That is: They were money pits.

Additionally, Times reporters Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire include details of tax practices that were, at best, extraordinarily aggressive and, at worst, suggest possible fraud on a massive scale.

These include deducting lifestyle expenses, such as the cost of haircuts, as if they were business expenses. Or appearing to pay Ivanka Trump consulting fees on the same hotel deals that she helped manage as part of her job at her father’s business, an arrangement that may have been a way to transfer assets without paying gift taxes.

One might reasonably wonder why Trump, who appears to tweet, watch TV and golf more than he exercises his duties as president, has ever wanted a second term. Well, in addition to his desire to finally build his border wall or continue dodging potential indictments, we now know that Trump has about a half-billion dollars’ worth of motivation to stay in office four more years.

These documents show what we've really known all along: the president has perpetrated the biggest con on the American people in the country's history. But you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Will this really change the election? Well, a 1% swing in any of the battleground states would have done it four years ago.

In related news, Showtime's The Comey Rule will frustrate the hell out of you. I strongly recommend it.