The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The Little Dictator

Nicholas Kristof reminds us that you can beat a narcissistic authoritarian by laughing at him:

That’s one gauge of the power of humor: Dictators fear mockery. The Committee to Protect Journalists says it has intervened this year alone to defend seven cartoonists around the world who were arrested, threatened with prosecution or threatened with death.

Leaders like Trump who pose as religious are particularly easy to skewer, as Iranians have shown in their use of humor to highlight the hypocrisy of their own mullahs. Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi is still nicknamed “Crocodile” because of a cartoon many years ago by Nik Kowsar, who now lives in exile in America because hard-liners arrested him and threatened to murder him.

Citizens who aren’t political are often wary of pro-democracy leaders who are perceived as radical, as irreligious or as overeducated elitists. But those ordinary citizens appreciate a joke, so humor becomes a way to win them over.

“The grins of the people are the nightmares of the dictators,” wrote Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while in prison. He is best-known for his eloquent essays calling for democracy, but he argued that humor is also essential in undermining authoritarian rulers.

Liu generously added — and this may be relevant to a polarized country like the United States — that satirizing an authoritarian is good for the nation because it makes the eventual downfall and transition softer and less violent.

I sincerely hope that Joe Biden mocks the president mercilessly on Tuesday.

The Missouri Compromise and the 2020 election

Jamelle Bouie thinks 1820 offers a better view of today's politics than 1850 or 1968:

There is no one-to-one comparison from the past to current events; there never is. But drawing on the Missouri controversy, I do have an observation to make about our present situation. Once again, under the guise of ordinary political conflict, Americans are fighting a meta-legal battle over the meaning of both the Union and the Constitution.

A fight over the fate of the Supreme Court is weighty enough, but beneath the surface of this conflict is an even fiercer struggle about what the Constitution means, one taking place in the context of minority rule and incipient democratic failure.

Many democratic political systems allow for minority-led governments, although they often force parties to build majority coalitions to achieve them. That’s because minority government becomes an unacceptably bitter pill when the winning party rejects compromise and consensus in favor of factionalism and unilateral action. The problem comes when a political system allows for minority winners but doesn’t require coalition government. Stability is possible, but it depends on forbearance and good faith from all sides. You can play political and constitutional hardball, but it might bring conflict out into the open that you can’t ultimately control, and it will raise questions about your mandate to govern.

Trump, McConnell and the Republican Party have embraced a kind of political total war. Democrats and their liberal allies say this violates the democratic principles against which we judge the fairness of our institutions. In response, Republicans say the Constitution is what counts. Whether or not an action violates some abstract principle, if it’s in the rules, it’s in the rules.

The Missouri controversy was, of course, settled with a compromise. Missouri would enter the Union as a slave state, and Maine would enter as a free state, but Congress would prohibit slavery in all land of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 36° 30’ parallel. This defused the fight over the territory, but could not resolve the conflict over the Union. This was legislation, a good faith agreement between two irreconcilable sides, not a permanent addition to the constitutional framework.

The Republican Party has created a situation where no compromise is possible. Biden winning in five weeks won't change that. But at least a clear win, and taking the Senate back, will allow us to repair some of the damage that four years of Republican rule has inflicted.

Shakespeare was right

Andrew Sullivan takes a step back and explains, carefully and quietly, the tyrant's mindset:

[T]yranny is not, in its essence, about the authoritarian and administrative skills required to run a country effectively for a long time. Tyrants, after all, are often terrible at this. It is rather about a mindset, as the ancient philosophers understood, with obvious political consequences. It’s a pathology. It requires no expertise in anything other than itself.

You need competence if you want to run an effective government, or plan a regular campaign, or master policy with a view to persuading people, or hold power for the sake of something else. You need competence to create and sustain something. But you do not need much competence to destroy things. You just need the will. And this is what tyrants do: they destroy things.

This is Trump’s threat. Not the construction of a viable one-party state, but the destruction of practices, norms, civility, laws, customs and procedures that constitute liberal democracy’s non-zero-sum genius. He doesn’t need to be competent to destroy our system of government. He merely needs to be himself: an out-of-control, trust-free, malignant narcissist, with inexhaustible resources of psychic compulsion, in a pluralist system designed for the opposite. All you need is an insatiable pathological drive to avoid any constraint on your own behavior, and the demagogic genius to carry a critical mass of people with you, and our system, designed as the antidote to tyranny, is soon unspooling into incoherence, deadlock, and collapse.

In every Shakespeare play about tyranny — from Richard III to Coriolanus to Macbeth — the tyrant loses in the end, and often quite quickly. They’re not that competent at governing, or even interested in it. The forces they unleash come back to wipe them from the stage, sooner or later. They flame out. Richard III lasted a mere couple of years on the throne.

But in every case, they leave a wrecked and reeling society in their wake. Look around you now and see the damage already done.

He then goes into the normal panic of everyone watching this election unfold, but until that point, he's absolutely correct. The president has no genius other than his own self-preservation; and if I seem angry, it's because this fact is obvious to anyone who has studied history.

Misinformation about the Breanna Taylor case

Radley Balko has reported on criminal justice for over a decade, and I would argue he's the most-informed journalist on the subject in the United States. I therefore trust his analysis of Breanna Taylor's death more than most. In today's Washington Post, he lays out the facts about Kentucky law and about the case as far as he knows, and corrects some misinformation currently swirling around social media:

Wednesday’s announcement from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron about criminal charges in the Breonna Taylor case set off a frenzy of misinformation on social media. Based on what we do know — which I’ve culled from my own reporting, reporting from the New York Times and the Louisville Courier-Journal, as well as from conversations with the lawyers for Taylor’s family — the decision to charge Detective Brett Hankison with wanton endangerment was probably correct, as was the decision not to charge the other officers involved in the shooting. If ballistics had conclusively shown that one of the bullets from Hankison’s gun killed Taylor, he could be charged with reckless homicide, but according to Cameron, the bullets that struck Taylor could not be matched to Hankison’s gun. There’s the problem that the police who conducted the raid were relying on a warrant procured by another officer, which was then signed by a judge. There were many flaws and abrogations in that process, but it would be unfair and not legal to hold them accountable for any of that.

But “not illegal” should not mean “immune from criticism.” Part of the problem was Cameron himself, who was selective in what information he released to the point of misleading the public about key facts in the case. (This raises real questions about whether the grand jury was also misled. That’s why an attorney for Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who fired at the police during the raid, is demanding that Cameron release the evidence that was presented to the grand jury.)

Furthermore, Taylor’s death was not, as Cameron suggested, simply a tragedy for which no one is to blame. The police work in this case was sloppy, and the warrant service was reckless. Taylor is dead because of a cascade of errors, bad judgment and dereliction of duty.

To simply blow this off as a tragedy for which no one is to blame is an insult to the life and legacy of Taylor, but also to the dozens of innocent people who have been gunned down in their own homes before her. And the effort by Cameron and others to make all of this go away by feeding the public half-truths that blame the victims in this story — Taylor and Walker — for Taylor’s death is inexcusable.

We could prevent the next Breonna Taylor. We could ban forced entry raids to serve drug warrants. We could hold judges accountable for signing warrants that don’t pass constitutional muster. We could demand that police officers wear body cameras during these raids to hold them accountable, and that they be adequately punished when they fail to activate them. We could do a lot to make sure there are no more Breonna Taylors. The question is whether we want to.

Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop is on my to-be-read shelf.

Why is anyone listening to this clown?

In an interview yesterday, the president refused to say that he would allow a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election. Understandably, people are upset that a sitting president would hint at doing anything else. But as Josh Marshall points out, this guy lies more easily than most people breathe, so maybe we don't need to freak out as much as we are:

No one needs to tell us these threats and bogus claims are wrong. But it is still necessary to step back and realize that there’s no chaos. We are on the cusp of what should be an entirely orderly election process. There’s zero evidence there has been or will be any election fraud of any sort. Not only is there no evidence any of this is happening we have abundant, really incontrovertible evidence that organized election fraud is all but unknown in modern American electoral history. It simply doesn’t happen. Period. There’s zero reason to believe the Supreme Court or any Court will be required to decide the outcome of the election or make decisions which significantly affect the outcome.

That doesn’t mean everything is fine. This false drama and lying is all meant to set the stage for things that are very real. Certainly not to justify – but even for those of us who are gripping on to the sinews of our democracy with every strength, it creates a sense of forward motion, inevitability, disorder. But the reality check is still helpful, critical, necessary. Because none of it is really. It’s a storm of drama, completely fictive, to set the stage for an unpopular President to reject the results of an election that ends his presidency.

Even Mitch McConnell knows the president is more full of shit than a trainload of fertilizer. If the president or the GOP really had the power to steal this election, they wouldn't have to talk about it so much.

So, my fellow members of the Democratic Party, can we please just stop hyperventilating and get on with kicking this guy out of office through good old-fashioned voting? Everyone knows he's losing, including him and all of his cronies. That's why they're grabbing every bit of power they can with both hands while they still have time. That's why they're trying to jam through a nominee to the Supreme Court in an unprecedented time and manner.

Holy shit, folks. Let's start acting like the winners we are and get the Republican Party out of power until they can behave like grown-ups.

A lack of compassion

More than 200,000 people have died of Covid-19 since we started paying attention six months ago. Let me put that into perspective:

The columns represent the total number of deaths for each event (blue) or per year (gray). The line represents those deaths on an annualized basis. At 400,000 deaths per year, Covid-19 now ranks as the third leading cause of death in the US for 2020 after cancer and heart disease. We're on course to have 133 9/11s or 12 times our usual number of car crash deaths just this year.

Whatever you might think about the policy distinctions between our two political parties, surely the Republicans' callous disregard for human life in this pandemic matters, right?

Remember all those storms in 2005?

Tropical Storm Zeta formed in the Atlantic on 30 December 2005 and almost became a hurricane on 2 January 2006. When Zeta finally dissipated on January 6th, it ended the most active Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history, and also one of the most destructive: category-5 hurricanes Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma caused incredible damage and loss of life throughout the US. The season also included three unnamed tropical depressions and an unnamed tropical storm.

That season, Tropical Storm Alpha formed on October 22nd, and Hurricane Beta formed on October 26th.

Flash forward 15 years, and it looks like we're going to break a few of 2005's records. This year, storms Alpha and Beta both formed on September 18th. So far only Hurricanes Laura and Teddy—the latter now about to pound Nova Scotia and Newfoundland—got up to category 4, and we haven't yet had any category 5 storms. But the season shows no sign of winding down.

We have known for decades that climate change would cause more frequent tropical storm activity. Welcome to the future.

The return of Allie Brosh

The cartoonist and author behind Hyperbole and a Half has returned with a new book, which I should receive tomorrow. This news offsets pretty much all the other news from today:

I'm sure there's more, but I'm done for the day.

Let's all play by the rules

The GOP panic to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat makes three things absolutely clear: first, they expect to lose bigly in six weeks; second, they realize they're against public opinion; and third, they realize that public opinion is continuing to turn against them. In short, this is quite literally their last chance to get a SCOTUS seat for a generation.

You know what? Everyone else is sick of their bullshit.

We're going to win both houses and the presidency, and then we're going to cement that win by expanding the court, and then by granting statehood to DC and PR. Too many in our party are tired of playing nice against a bunch of thugs.

The Republicans have the power to do exactly what they're doing. And in four months, we'll have the power to undo all of it. They say they're just playing by the rules, and they're not wrong. So we need to play by the rules as well. All of them.

Or as I learned many years ago playing AD&D: lawful good does not mean lawful stupid.

Long day, long six weeks ahead

Choral board meeting followed by chorus rehearsal: all on Zoom, and as president and generally techy guy, I'm hosting. After a full day of work and a 5 km walk. Whew.

So what's new?

Finally, if you want to be a Cook County Judge of Election, you can still sign up—and earn $230.