The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

Fallows on the Seattle plane crash

Friday evening, a baggage worker at SEATAC airport outside Seattle stole an empty commuter plane and crashed it into an uninhabited part of an island in Puget Sound. Pilot and journalist Jim Fallows has an analysis:

Bizarre, frightening, and tragic this certainly was. Was it a sign of an alarming failure in security practices, and some press accounts immediately asserted? (For instance, from the UK’s Telegraph, soon after the event: “It has raised fundamental questions about airline security at America’s major airports after the mechanic was able to board the plane, taxi onto the runway and take off without being stopped. Aviation experts questioned what the authorities would have been able to do if the pilot was determined to fly the plane into a city rather than do loop-the-loops.”

Maybe this will be the appropriate response when more facts are known. For the moment, as is usually the case with aviation disasters, many of the most important questions about what happened are impossible to answer right away.

I hope that, when the facts are in, the response to this odd, sad incident will resemble what the aviation system usually does with its failures, rather than the way the political system often behaves. That is, I hope it serves as a source of guidance for further threat reduction, rather than as fuel for panic and finger-pointing about the modern realities that some “What if?” will always remain.

What a strange story.

Why all the optimism?

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, watching the Manafort trial unfold, wonders why anyone thinks our institutions are up to the challenge of stopping the Trump organization:

America’s federal institutions are not the only ones designed to prevent someone like Trump from undermining the Constitution. We have other kinds of institutions, too — legal organs, regulatory bodies, banks — that are supposed to prevent men like Trump from staying in business, let alone acquiring political power. The truth is that many of these equally important American institutions failed a long time ago. Trump is not the cause of their failure. He is the result.

Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, Trump employed 200 illegal Polish workers to destroy the Bonwit Teller department store, a historic building on Fifth Avenue, to make way for what would become Trump Tower. The men earned half the union wage and worked 12-hour shifts without hard hats; at one point, their contractor stopped paying them. Eventually they sued. In 1998, Trump paid $1.375 million to settle the case.

Trump broke immigration law and employment law, and he violated union rules, too. Yet neither immigration authorities nor employment regulators nor union bosses put him out of business. Why not? Why were the terms of that settlement kept confidential? Why, with his track record, was he allowed to get a casino license? Building permits? Wall Street banks did, it is true, stop lending to him. But when he began looking abroad for cash — doing extremely dodgy deals in Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example — no one stopped him.

She's right. A country with functioning legal institutions would have stopped this guy long ago. The Russian government has had so much success undermining our faith in democracy because we'd already eroded it ourselves.

Lunchtime reading

Happy August! (Wait, where did April go?)

As I munch on my salad at my desk today, I'm reading these stories:

And finally, a bit of good news out of Half Moon Bay, Calif. The corporate owner of the local paper told them they had to shut down, so a group of townspeople formed a California benefit corporation to buy the paper out.

Too many things in my inbox

I probably won't have time to read all of these things over lunch:

Share that last one with your non-technical friends. It's pretty clever.

You know this crap will keep happening

Now that ICE and CBP feel like they have carte blanche to "do their jobs," stories like this will only become more frequent:

The coast of White Rock, British Columbia, in western Canada looks to be an ideal place for a run, with its sweeping views of the Semiahmoo Bay to the west and scores of waterfront homes and seafood restaurants to the east. That's what 19-year-old Cedella Roman thought when she went jogging along the area's smooth beaches — in a southbound direction, notably — on May 21.

Roman, who lives in France, had been visiting her mother in nearby North Delta, British Columbia. During Roman's run, she was admiring the scenery when she unwittingly crossed the border from Canada into the United States, Roman told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

On May 22, Roman was taken to ICE's Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash., about 140 miles south of the border point where she had been arrested. She remained detained until June 5 when, after two weeks of paperwork and processing, Roman was taken back to the border “and removed to Canada,” Cutrell said.

Two weeks in detention—basically, a kidnapping—because she didn't have her French passport with her while jogging. CBP commented:

If an individual enters the United States at a location other than an official port of entry and without inspection by a Customs and Border Protection officer, they have illegally entered the United States and will be processed accordingly. It is the responsibility of an individual traveling in the vicinity of an international border to maintain awareness of their surroundings and their location at all times to ensure they do not illegally cross the border.

Here's what the border looks like just 4 kilometers from where Roman was arrested:

That's what almost our entire border with Canada looks like. That's because, since its founding in July 1867, Canada has remained the United States' closest friend and ally.

Arresting visitors to Canada who accidentally jog across an invisible line and holding them for two weeks is not how you treat a friend. But this was a discretionary arrest and detention; the CBP agents had the authority to shoo her back across the border without an incident.

This is what happens when the guy at the top gives people at the bottom permission to behave like assholes: some of them will.

I am shocked—shocked!—by this event

New York State has sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation for—wait for it—self-dealing and general corruption:

The lawsuit, which seeks to dissolve the foundation and bar President Trump and three of his children from serving on nonprofit organizations, was an extraordinary rebuke of a sitting president. The attorney general also sent referral letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action, adding to Mr. Trump’s extensive legal challenges.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, culminated a nearly two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s charity, which became a subject of scrutiny during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. While such foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, the complaint asserts that Mr. Trump’s was often used to settle legal claims against his various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs.

The foundation was also used to curry political favor, the lawsuit asserts. During the 2016 race, the foundation became a virtual arm of Mr. Trump’s campaign, email traffic showed, with his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski directing its expenditures, even though such foundations are explicitly prohibited from political activities.

The attorney general’s referrals to the I.R.S. and the F.E.C. could add another wrinkle that might slow the foundation’s dissolution. The agencies are not known for their expeditious handling of enforcement actions, and the lawsuit notes that the foundation cannot legally complete its wind down “until the complaints to the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission have been resolved and it is determined if any penalties or fines will be imposed on the foundation.”

Trump immediately blamed "New York democrats," because of course he did.

Pass the popcorn.

New Chicago gang map released

The Associated Press has obtained the latest edition of the Chicago Crime Commission's "Gang Book." It shows the turfs claimed by 59 gangs, including many small areas formed as groups split off from other groups after top leaders go to jail. The book also highlights how social media make gang disputes worse:

Gangs put a premium on retaliation for perceived disrespect. In the past, insults rarely spread beyond the block. Now, they’re broadcast via social media to thousands in an instant.

“If you’re disrespected on that level, you feel you have to act,” said [Rodney] Phillips, employed with Target Area, a nonprofit group that seeks to defuse gang conflicts.

Police say there was a gang connection to most of the 650 homicides in Chicago recorded in 2017 — more than in Los Angeles and New York City combined. Homicides so far in 2018 are down around 20 percent. Police partly credit better intelligence and the deployment of officers to neighborhoods on the anniversaries of gang killings.

So integral is social media to gang dynamics that when Englewood-area pastor Corey Brooks brokered a truce between factions of the Black Disciples and Gangster Disciples in 2016, he insisted they agree to refrain from posting taunts. The gang truce lasted longer than most — 18 months.

Some gangs provoke enemy gangs by streaming live video showing them walking through rival turf. Others face off using a split-screen function on Facebook Live and hurl abuse at each other.

I kind of want to see that map. And I kind of don't. Chicago Public Media has an online, interactive map that doesn't reflect the 2018 changes.

The totality of the circumstances

Way back in my first day of law school, Prof. Neil Williams exclaimed that the basis of contract law was "the totality of the circumstances!" Meaning, when evaluating a contract (from whether it exists to whether it's enforceable), you have to look at the context, the facts, the intentions of the parties—everything.

Take, for example, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice's description of the following circumstances:

If Mr. Putin were calling the shots, he would ensure that America’s reliability is doubted, its commitments broken, its values debased and its image tarnished. He would advise the new president to take a series of steps to advance those aims:

First, withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership....

Second, criticize NATO and cast doubt on America’s willingness to defend its allies....

Third, for the coup de grâce: start a trade war with our closest allies.

There is no evidence that Mr. Putin is dictating American policy. But it’s hard to imagine how he could do much better, even if he were.

Josh Marshall ups the volume on the same issue, and points out whether there was active collusion doesn't really matter:

If candidate Trump and President Putin had made a corrupt bargain which obligated President Trump to destabilize all US security and trade alliances (especially NATO, which has been Russia’s primary strategic goal for 70 years) and advance the strategic interests of Russia, there’s really nothing more remotely realistic he could have done to accomplish that than what he has in fact done.

We have a President who clearly got a great deal of assistance from Russia in getting elected. We can argue about how important it was to his victory. But the reality of the help is not in any real dispute. His campaign at a minimum had numerous highly suspicious contacts with people either in the Russian government or acting on behalf of the Russian government while that was happening. That is a very generous interpretation. He’s doing all the stuff he’d have been asked to do if such a corrupt bargain had been made. At a certain point – and I’d say we’re clearly at or past that point – it really doesn’t matter whether we can prove such a bargain was made. I’m not even sure it matters whether it was explicit or even happened. The bank robber helped the teller get the job and now the teller just won’t seem to lock the safe or even turn on the alarm. We can debate forever whether the teller is just absent-minded or has some odd philosophical aversion toward locks. The debate may be unresolvable. It truly doesn’t matter.

No, it really doesn't, though I expect historians will spend centuries debating why Trump has so thoroughly trashed our country to the benefit of Russia. What matters, right now, is that we at the very least install a Democratic Congress this fall, so that we can at the very least put the brakes on.

Lunchtime reading

Stuff that landed in my inbox today:

Also, while we're on the subject of the C-word, I love Minnie Driver's response: "That was the wrong word for Samantha Bee to have used. But mostly because (to paraphrase the French) Ivanka has neither the warmth nor the depth."