The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Monday evening reading

Stuff I didn't get to because I was doing my job today:

Time for a martini, clearly.

Great restaurant, pity about the massive theft

The owners of one of the West Loop's hippest restaurants fled the country, leaving behind $1.5m in debts and judgments and nearly bankrupting the chef:

One day last summer, sometime after Attila Gyulai and his wife and business partner abruptly shut what was once one of the hottest restaurants in Chicago, they abandoned their Ford Flex SUV in front of their River West home. Police ticketed the car two​ weeks later and impounded it in mid-August. By then, bank records later would show, their accounts had been used for a series of payments outside the United States. The co-owners of Embeya, a progressive Asian restaurant in the West Loop that won national accolades for its inventive cooking and sleek design, have not been seen in Chicago since.

In all, Cook County court documents show, they absconded​ with more than $1.5 million from the restaurant, which was owned in part by their former chef, Thai Dang, and Dang's older brother, Kenny. The couple also racked up personal and business debts to purveyors, banks, suppliers, landlords, attorneys and credit card companies, according to court records, bank statements and interviews with more than a dozen former colleagues, friends, family members and neighbors. They've been ordered by judges to pay the Dang brothers nearly $1.5 million to cover their losses.

Dang, 32, and his wife, Danielle Dang, 36, who are about to open their next restaurant, have tracked Gyulai and Patel's movements through bank records obtained with a subpoena. They say it's clear the two schemed to take money from the business​ far in advance of their departures. "He threw his life away here—burned it with a match, all in the name of money," Thai Dang says. "He went through painstaking efforts and a great extent to hide money and move it out so nobody could find it." Adds Danielle Dang: "What they did to us is unspeakable. It takes so much hate and effort to do something like that to another person."

It was a great restaurant, and I ate there many times. And I hope Gyulai and Patel are apprehended and remanded to Chicago soon.

In case you're having trouble keeping up

The Washington Post has a quick guide to who's being investigated for what:

Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign

This is where it all started. James B. Comey, who led the law enforcement investigation until he was fired as FBI director May 9, testified last week before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he has no doubt that Russia attempted to influence the presidential race by hacking the Democratic National Committee and launching cyberattacks on state election systems, among other tactics.

Possible attempts to obstruct justice

Comey testified last week that while he was still head of the FBI, he told Trump on three occasions that the agency was not investigating him, individually. “Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing,” The Post reported Wednesday.

Possible financial crimes

We know less about this prong than the other two. The Post reported last month that “in addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes — but the people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, did not specify who or what was being examined.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions personally asked congress to prosecute medical-marijuana clinics, so that we can spend millions of Federal law-enforcement dollars hurting sick people. Gotta love the Republican Party.

Latter days of the Republic

"A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot."

Robert HeinleinFriday

Montana's at-large congressional district will stay Republican after millionaire Greg Gianforte won yesterday's special election by 6 points. This is despite him assaulting a reporter Wednesday afternoon and being charged with the crime:

The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting: “Get the hell out of here.”

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “I think he whaled on me once or twice … He got on me and I think he hit me … This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

A Fox News TV team corroborated Jacobs' report.

Reactions immediately split along Republican/everyone else lines:

The Montana donnybrook quickly became a Rorschach Test that highlighted the divide within the conservative media between the serious and unserious outlets. It also showcased how many prominent figures on the right reflexively rally behind Republican politicians, whether the president or a House candidate, even when they are very clearly in the wrong. This is part of a growing tribalism that contributes to the polarization of our political system.

Laura Ingraham aggressively questioned the Fox reporter on her radio show: “You can’t body-slam someone by holding both hands on the neck. That’s impossible…Didn’t he grab him near the neck and throw him down? Just asking.” Acuna held firm: “I saw both his hands go up not around his neck in a strangling type of way, but more just on each side of his neck, just grabbed him. I guess it could have been on his clothes, I don’t know. I can’t say that for sure. But he grabbed him and slammed him down. … He had one hand on each side of his neck.”

And while the news division at Fox covered the story seriously and showed integrity, at least one commentator said on the air that the reporter had it coming.

And then there was this gem, demonstrating what happens when a media outlet becomes a monopoly in a market:

The Montana NBC Affiliate reportedly refused to cover the Gianforte story at all on Wednesday night, a shocking blackout. Irate sources inside 30 Rock appear to have called up New York Magazine’s Yashar Ali to complain: “KECI news director Julie Weindel was called by NBC News to see if KECI would cover the story or had any footage of the Gianforte incident that NBC News and its affiliates could use. … She was unyielding in her refusal to share any footage she may have had access to, or run a report on the story. … Weindel said that they weren’t covering the story, though it was running in outlets across the country at the time, explaining, ‘The person that tweeted [Jacobs] and was allegedly body slammed is a reporter for a politically biased publication.’ Weindel then added, ‘You are on your own for this.’ … The station was acquired, last month, by the conservative media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcasting.”

Here’s why that’s a big deal: Sinclair Broadcasting just struck a deal with Tribune Media to buy dozens of local TV stations. “Already, Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation. If the $3.9 billion deal gets regulatory approval, Sinclair would have 7 of every 10 Americans in its potential audience,” Margaret Sullivan explained in a column last weekend. “Sinclair would have 215 stations, including ones in big markets such as Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, instead of the 173 it has now. There’s no reason to think that the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, will stand in the way. Already, his commission has reinstated a regulatory loophole — closed under his predecessor, Tom Wheeler — that allows a single corporation to own more stations than the current 39 percent nationwide cap…"

Meanwhile, the president appeared to shove the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way at a photo-op yesterday.

Who said Donald Trump would spread poison to everything he touched? Oh right. Everyone paying attention.

Gun violence in Chicago

Crain's has a 3-part series this week on why Chicago has so much gun violence:

So far in 2017, more than 1,200 people have been shot and 220 killed in Chicago. Shockingly, 30 of those deaths were children 18 or younger. As Memorial Day approaches—historically one of the city's most violent weekends—Crain's examines a facet of the issue that isn't often discussed: the psychological reason so many young men in Chicago are pulling the trigger.

The sobering statistics suggest that the rate of violence in Chicago this year could run apace with the dramatic levels registered in 2016, which saw more than 750 homicides and 3,600 shootings—the highest in 20 years.

The inability to quell the violence is alarming. So is the fact that these numbers exceed the joint total of those documented for New York City and Los Angeles, cities with a combined population nearly four times that of Chicago.

But Chicago's homicide rate cannot be explained simply by demographic characteristics, impoverishment, the ready availability of illegal handguns or alienation from the police in minority neighborhoods. All play a role, but the major factors promoting violence are likely to lie elsewhere.

Based on many years of interactions with young men who were in jail, on probation supervision or in treatment, we believe that "elsewhere" mostly rests at the intersection of Chicago youths' psychological vulnerability and the environments and circumstances that encourage the expression of violent tendencies. This conclusion stems from our varied careers and professional activities, which include regular contact with detainees in the Cook County Jail who are receiving behavioral health care services, as well as the directorship of a youth clinic that served the Near North Side and Cabrini-Green.

The whole series is worth a read.

The President reaches the limits of his eloquence

Responding to the horrible bombing of Ariana Grande's concert in Manchester, England, last night, this morning President Trump had this to say:

We stand in absolute solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom. So many young beautiful, innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name. I will call them, from now on, losers, because that’s what they are. They are losers. And we will have more of them. But they are losers, just remember that.

I'm going to guess two things: first, that only the first sentence of that paragraph was scripted (which is more obvious when you hear it), and second, that he had no idea (nor would he have cared anyway) how much his off-script remarks would grate on just about everyone whose view of the world has changed since junior high school.

Speaking of grating, Trump apologist Scott Adams thought the president totally nailed a presidential tone and communicated the gravity of the situation appropriately, saying the "losers" epithet "is – literally – weapons-grade persuasion from the most powerful Master Persuader of our time."

Next, our Master Persuader in Chief will call them "stupid-heads" and take his ball home.

Because that's exactly how we want our head of state to memorialize the killers of children.

Mueller appointed special counsel

Surprising everyone in Washington last night, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia. The Washington Post sees this as really bad news for the president:

“The risk is that you lose control of your agenda,” added Robert Luskin, a Washington white-collar attorney who represented Karl Rove in the Plame investigation, as well as a pair of Clinton senior officials during Whitewater. “It’s an enormous distraction. It’s an energy suck. As long as the clouds hang over a presidency it becomes much more difficult to get anything else done.”

This is why White House officials and GOP leaders in Congress have so strongly resisted a special counsel until now.

The FiveThirtyEight blog has a balancing view:

Although the simple case is that Mueller’s appointment is not welcome news for Trump — the White House was surprised by the announcement — it does have some plausible benefits for the president, especially in the near term. The Russia investigation had been dogging the Trump administration, and his firing of Comey had turned into a debacle.

Trump can now say there is an independent investigation going on, by someone he did not personally appoint and who is not beholden to his party. And Mueller has very strong credentials. The president and his team, in theory, can turn the focus to governing, while deferring questions about the investigation. And maybe Comey, who appears to have notes of every conversation he has had with the president, will share them with Mueller and not The New York Times.

But:

Mueller’s appointment ensures that the Russia controversy won’t just go away — at least not anytime soon. And he could gravely threaten Trump’s presidency if he finds clear, improper connections between the president’s campaign and Russian officials. There was a reason that Republicans on Capitol Hill and the Trump administration were trying to stop the appointment of a special counsel. Prosecutors with broad authority to investigate can cause major problems. Just ask Bill Clinton.

Greg Sargent simply says "Trump is totally delusional about what’s happening to him right now."

On the other side, Fox News is downplaying the appointment, reporting that Mueller and Comey have had a "long, close relationship." Otherwise they seem more preoccupied with Roger Ailes' death ("and his legacy of free speech"). And I'm not going to look at the far-right reactions just now.

So is this a good development? We'll see.

Things that I can't read until I have a few drinks

Just, I dunno, man.

Sleep is overrated.

They can't be that stupid, can they?

I'll get to Eddie Lampert's interview with the Chicago Tribune later today. But first, let's take a moment to realize that as we shake our heads at the amateur hour over at the White House, we knew damn well they were going to cause a Constitutional crisis at some point.

And that point arrived last night:

President Trump on Tuesday fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s presidency raised the specter of political interference by a sitting president into an existing investigation by the nation’s leading law enforcement agency. It immediately ignited Democratic calls for a special counsel to lead the Russia inquiry.

Mr. Trump explained the firing by citing Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, even though the president was widely seen to have benefited politically from that inquiry and had once praised Mr. Comey for his “guts” in his pursuit of Mrs. Clinton during the campaign.

But in his letter to Mr. Comey, released to reporters by the White House, the president betrayed his focus on the continuing inquiry into Russia and his aides.

The White House staff, apparently caught off-guard about their boss's unprecedented, earth-shaking action, rushed into full Keystone Kops mode:

After [White House Press Secretary Sean] Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged.

“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,” he ordered. “We'll take care of this. ... Can you just turn that light off?”

Spicer got his wish and was soon standing in near darkness between two tall hedges, with more than a dozen reporters closely gathered around him. For 10 minutes, he responded to a flurry of questions, vacillating between light-hearted asides and clear frustration with getting the same questions over and over again.

The first question: Did the president direct Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to conduct a probe of FBI Director James B. Comey?

As Spicer tells it, Rosenstein was confirmed about two weeks ago and independently took on this issue so the president was not aware of the probe until he received a memo from Rosenstein on Tuesday, along with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending that Comey be fired.

Nobody believes that last bit. Not even a little. In fact, CNN reported that President Trump asked Rosenstein to come up with a rationale for firing Comey last week, so the thought that Rosenstein did this sua sponte is preposterous. Josh Marshall:

There is only one reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the decision to fire Comey: that there is grave wrongdoing at the center of the Russia scandal and that it implicates the President. As I write this, I have a difficult time believing that last sentence myself. But sometimes you have to step back from your assumptions and simply look at what the available evidence is telling you. It’s speaking clearly: the only reasonable explanation is that the President has something immense to hide and needs someone in charge of the FBI who he believes is loyal. Like Jeff Sessions. Like Rod Rosenstein.

Yes. Under any other administration, this would be an unbelievable development. But under this administration, it's not only believable, it seems inevitable. And we're 603 days away from a new Congress taking their seats, which seems the earliest that anyone will have the political will to start impeachment proceedings.

Fitbit helping to solve crimes?

Via security expert Bruce Schneier, the AP reports that police in central Connecticut obtained an arrest warrant partially on the timing of a murder victim's Fitbit step data:

Connecticut State Police allege [Richard] Dabate killed 39-year-old Connie Dabate at their Ellington home two days before Christmas in 2015, while their two young sons were in school.

Dabate told investigators a masked man shot his wife and tied him up before he burned the intruder with a torch. Authorities responded to a burglary alarm at the home and found Richard Dabate with superficial knife wounds, with one arm and one leg zip-tied to a folding chair.

But police said evidence contradicted Dabate's story and timeline of events, including information from Connie Dabate's Fitbit that showed she was still moving around the house an hour after Richard Dabate said she was shot.

Dabate pleaded not guilty to the crime. Also, the Fitibit data, while helpful to the police, may have had less impact than the allegation that "Dabate also told his pregnant girlfriend before the slaying that he was going to divorce his wife, state police said in an arrest warrant affidavit."

NBC has more.