The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Gosh, who do you root for?

The Times is reporting that Michael Cohen has sued the Trump Organization for $1.9m in unpaid legal fees:

The lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, said that the Trump Organization had agreed to pay Mr. Cohen attorney’s fees or related costs connected to his work with the Trump Organization but had failed to live up to that promise.

Mr. Cohen is also seeking reimbursment for an additional $1.9 million he was ordered to pay in fines, forfeitures and restitution after he pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws, tax evasion and lying to Congress, the lawsuit said.

The complaint said that around July 2017, Mr. Cohen and the Trump Organization entered an agreement under which the company would pay for Mr. Cohen’s legal fees and costs connected to investigations being conducted by Congress and Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

This should be interesting. I wonder if Trump will plead that the contract was unlawful because it served a corrupt purpose?

Europe may end Daylight Saving Time...badly

The EU could vote this month to end Daylight Saving Time in 2021, but it turns out popular support for the measure may have been...überwiegend Deutsch:

Time is up for European Union-mandated daylight savings time. The European Commission and European Parliament have agreed on that. All the relevant committees in Parliament are for the change, according to Germany's conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) MEP Peter Liese, who has devoted a lot of time to the issue.

Now that the lead committee on transport and tourism has given its blessing, by a large majority, EU lawmakers could vote on the change by the end of March. After that, all 28 member states will need to rubberstamp the ruling.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's brash statement back in September, asserting that the amendment would go ahead quickly, has proven to be premature. At the time, Juncker was referring to an overwhelming response to an EU online survey, where an unexpected 80 percent of respondents said the practice of changing the clock twice a year was outdated.

But the survey was not representative, with 3 million of the 4.6 million votes coming from Germany. This led to diplomats from smaller EU countries complaining behind closed doors that the European Commission wanted to impose German will on the other states through sheer populism.

That's great, but some member states want to keep daylight saving time. Won't that be fun.

Chicago's sinking, but don't worry

Wherever a landmass had several kilometers of ice on top, it deformed. Glaciers covered much of North America only 10,000 years ago. Since they retreated (incidentally forming the Great Lakes and creating just about all the topography in Northern Illinois), the Earth's crust has popped back like a waterbed.

Not quickly, however.

But in the last century, Chicago has dropped about 10 cm while areas of Canada have popped up about the same amount:

In the northern United States and Canada, areas that once were depressed under the tremendous weight of a massive ice sheet are springing back up while others are sinking. The Chicago area and parts of southern Lake Michigan, where glaciers disappeared 10,000 years ago, are sinking about 10 to 20 cm each century.

One or 2 millimeters a year might not seem like a lot, but “over a decade that’s a centimeter. Over 50 years, now, you’re talking several inches,” said Daniel Roman, chief geodesist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s a slow process, but it’s a persistent one.”

While Chicago’s dipping is gradual, this dynamic could eventually redefine flood plains and work against household sewer pipes that slope downward to the sewer main.

The same phenomenon has affected the UK as well. Scotland is popping up and England is sinking, as are other pairs of regions similarly glaciated. (Sterling, however, has a long way to go...)

More winning by the administration! Well, the Putin administration, anyway

Paul Krugman points out how President Trump's alternating bluster and surrender over trade has left us "less trusted, less respected, and weaker than we were before:"

On U.S. unreliability, consider the way the current administration has treated Canada, probably the friendliest neighbor and firmest ally any nation has ever had. Despite generations of good relations and a free-trade agreement, Trump imposed large tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel, invoking national security as a justification. This was obviously specious — in fact, Trump himself basically conceded this point, justifying the tariffs instead as retaliation for Canadian dairy policy (which was also specious).

The lesson for the world is that America can’t be trusted. Why bother making deals with a country that’s willing to slap sanctions on the best of allies, and clearly lie about the reasons, whenever it feels like it?

Meanwhile, the sudden retreat in the confrontation with China shows that we talk loud but carry a small stick. It would be one thing if the U.S. had changed course on the merits. But backing down so easily, after all the posturing, tells the world that the way to deal with America is not to bargain in good faith, but simply to threaten the president’s political base, and maybe offer some payoffs, political and otherwise. (I’m still wondering about those floors China’s largest bank rents at Trump Tower.)

Meanwhile, Michelle Goldberg looks forward to the multiple congressional inquiries launched this week as "Trump's TV Trial."

As America and the West get weaker, Russia gets stronger. So much winning. Just not ours.

What about RICO?

Author Garrett M. Graff, writing for the Times, suggests that Rudy Giuliani's approach to prosecuting cases under the Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) could provide the model for dismantling the Trump Organization:

Fighting the Mafia posed a uniquely hard challenge for investigators. Mafia families were involved in numerous distinct crimes and schemes, over yearslong periods, all for the clear benefit of its leadership, but those very leaders were tough to prosecute because they were rarely involved in the day-to-day crime. They spoke in their own code, rarely directly ordering a lieutenant to do something illegal, but instead offering oblique instructions or expressing general wishes that their lieutenants simply knew how to translate into action.

Those explosive — and arresting — hearings led to the 1970 passage of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO, a law designed to allow prosecutors to go after enterprises that engaged in extended, organized criminality. RICO laid out certain “predicate” crimes — those that prosecutors could use to stitch together evidence of a corrupt organization and then go after everyone involved in the organization as part of an organized conspiracy. While the headline-grabbing RICO “predicates” were violent crimes like murder, kidnapping, arson and robbery, the statute also focused on crimes like fraud, obstruction of justice, money laundering and even aiding or abetting illegal immigration.

The sheer number and breadth of the investigations into Mr. Trump’s orbit these days indicates how vulnerable the president’s family business would be to just this type of prosecution. In December, I counted 17, and since then, investigators have started an inquiry into undocumented workers at Mr. Trump’s New Jersey golf course, another crime that could be a RICO predicate; Mr. Cohen’s public testimony itself, where he certainly laid out enough evidence and bread crumbs for prosecutors to verify his allegations, mentioned enough criminal activity to build a racketeering case. Moreover, RICO allows prosecutors to wrap 10 years of racketeering activity into a single set of charges, which is to say, almost precisely the length of time — a decade — that Michael Cohen would have unparalleled insight into Mr. Trump’s operations. Similarly, many Mafia cases end up being built on wiretaps — just like, for instance, the perhaps 100 recordings Mr. Cohen says he made of people during his tenure working for Mr. Trump, recordings that federal investigators are surely poring over as part of the 290,000 documents and files they seized in their April raid last year.

Indicting the whole Trump Organization as a “corrupt enterprise” could also help prosecutors address the thorny question of whether the president can be indicted in office; they could lay out a whole pattern of criminal activity, indict numerous players — including perhaps Trump family members — and leave the president himself as a named, unindicted co-conspirator.

Of course, the President could try to pardon everyone but himself, even if that leaves himself open to state charges in New York and elsewhere. But for the time being, the Southern District of New York and other bodies seem to be laying out the larger RICO case just fine. Can't wait to see it.

Last blast of winter

It's March, meaning it's meteorologically spring, but this morning it doesn't feel that way. The overnight low at O'Hare bottomed out at -19.4°C, with a forecast high today around -9°C. We may even hit a record for the coldest March 4th in recorded history. Real spring-like weather won't come until Saturday, at the earliest, when it'll stay above freezing all day while it rains on us.

At least we have a pleasant side-effect to this Arctic high-pressure system squatting over Chicago right now:

How to cut 50% of our carbon emissions for only $14 trillion

Andrew Sullivan points to an energy source we already know how to build that can completely eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions wherever it comes online:

Here’s a suggestion: Focus on a non-carbon energy source that is already proven to be technologically feasible, can be quickly scaled up, and can potentially meet all our energy demands. What we need, given how little time we have, is a massive nuclear energy program. Sure, we can keep innovating and investing in renewables, and use as much as we can. But they are not going to save us or the planet in time. We know nuclear works and does so quickly. As argued in Scientific American:

The speediest drop in greenhouse gas pollution on record occurred in France in the 1970s and ‘80s, when that country transitioned from burning fossil fuels to nuclear fission for electricity, lowering its greenhouse emissions by roughly 2 percent per year. The world needs to drop its global warming pollution by 6 percent annually to avoid “dangerous” climate change in the estimation of [respected climate scientist James] Hansen and his co-authors in a recent paper in PLoS One.

What’s the catch? It’s superexpensive. While the price of renewables keeps falling, nuclear remains very costly. The plants take a long time to build, and they’re difficult to site. One estimate is that it would cost $7 trillion to build a thousand nuclear plants, which would allow us to get a quarter of our energy from this non-carbon source. For the U.S. to get half its energy from nuclear would cost around $14 trillion. But if we committed to a huge nuclear investment, and the innovation that comes with it, that cost would come down. Compared with one estimate of $93 trillion for the Green New Deal, it’s a bargain.

Illinois used to have a lot more nuclear power. Vermont, at one point, got 100% of its electricity from the Yankee One plant. Maybe we can get back there, and cut greenhouse gas emissions in the balance?

Same space, different restaurant

I live only a short walk from the space formerly occupied by 42 Grams, one of the best restaurants I've ever experienced. The food at 42 Grams was so good that they earned two Michelin stars just a few months after opening. But when the owners' marriage fell apart, so did the restaurant, closing suddenly one weekend in May 2017.

A new restaurant opened in the space at the end of September, and...well, it might be worth trying, but maybe not yet.

Brass Heart opened last summer. Chicago Eater was optimistic:

Last year, there was worry about a lack of fine dining options in Chicago after a rash of closings including Tru and 42 Grams. Brass Heart swings the pendulum the other way.

The Robb Report interviewed chef Matt Kerney on his ambitions for the space:

“It’s a chef’s dream to have a little tasting menu-only restaurant, and when given the opportunity, I wanted to do my high-end, hyper-refined restaurant,” he says.

“Everything that we cook I want to taste like the purest form of itself. I want the lobster to be the most lobster-y lobster you’ve had and the tomato to be the most tomato-y,” he says. “For our tomato dish we make a tomato oil, and then a tomato vinegar on top of that. Everything is about amplifying exact flavors.” And where at Longman he worked magic with a lot of off cuts, he gets the luxury of creating with high-end ingredients at Brass Heart, using A5 wagyu and lobster in his menu.

But the post-open reviews do not encourage. Chicago magazine gave it 1½ out of 4 stars:

Alas, the procession of zillion-megawatt meteorites is interspersed with miscalculations and filler. The course before that magical halibut involved cappelletti chewier than bubblegum, stuffed with oversalty pheasant, and served in a broth so aggressively earthy it almost tasted like dirt. After the halibut came a shockingly bland seared lamb loin sitting atop ground hazelnuts and surrounded by beets and 25 dots of flavorless persimmon purée. Next came the Kobe beef masterpiece and, with it, hope. But the following course? A nutty Grayson cheese that had been transformed into a slice of cheesecake and paired, for some nefarious reason, with Dijon mustard foam: a marriage that makes no sense. The 15 courses began to feel like a Ping-Pong game between James Beard and an art school freshman. The three-and-a-half-hour meal’s rhythm, which was relaxed bordering on somnolent, only accentuated the problem.

It does have 4½ stars on Yelp, but so do Wildberry Pancakes and Dog Haus Biergarten.

So I may not plunk down the $125 for the entry-level omnivore menu just yet. We'll see what the Michelin folks say.

Stuff I'm reading this weekend

From the usual sources:

Time to walk the dog.

This sort of thing has cropped up before

...and it has always been due to human error.

Today, I don't mean the HAL-9000. Amtrak:

Amtrak said “human error” is to blame for the disrupted service yesterday at Union Station.

A worker fell on a circuit board, which turned off computers and led to the service interruption, according to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

The delay lasted more than 12 hours and caused significant overcrowding at Union Station.

The error affected more than 60,000 Amtrak and Metra passengers taking trains from Union to the suburbs, according to reports. Some riders resorted to taking the CTA or using ride-sharing services to get home, Chicago Tribune reported.

An analysis of the signal system failures and determined they were caused by “human error in the process of deploying a server upgrade in our technology facility that supports our dispatch control system” at Union Station, Amtrak said in a statement. Amtrak apologized in the statement for failing to provide the service that’s expected of it.

Which led my co-workers to wonder, why the hell were they doing a critical server upgrade in the middle of the day?