The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

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.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 1933-2020

The Notorious RBG died at her home earlier today:

The cause was complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer, the Supreme Court said.

Justice Ginsburg’s pointed and powerful dissenting opinions, usually speaking for all four, attracted growing attention as the court turned further to the right. A law student, Shana Knizhnik, anointed her the Notorious R.B.G., a play on the name of the Notorious B.I.G., a famous rapper who was Brooklyn-born, like the justice. Soon the name, and Justice Ginsburg’s image — her expression serene yet severe, a frilly lace collar adorning her black judicial robe, her eyes framed by oversize glasses and a gold crown perched at a rakish angle on her head — became an internet sensation.

[President] Clinton, making his first nomination to the court, conducted an almost painfully public search among judges and political figures, with contenders including Mario Cuomo, then the governor of New York, who turned him down, and Bruce Babbitt, the incumbent secretary of the interior.

As the search wound down, it appeared the president had chosen Stephen G. Breyer, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, who had come to Washington at the president’s invitation for an interview. Judge Breyer was in pain from broken ribs suffered in a recent bicycle accident, and the interview did not go well. Martin Ginsburg, meanwhile, had been urging New York’s senior senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to press his wife’s case with the president. Mr. Clinton was at first reluctant, grumbling to Mr. Moynihan that “the women are against her.” But after a 90-minute private meeting with Judge Ginsburg on Sunday, June 13, the president made up his mind. He called her at 11:33 that night to tell her that she was his choice.

Surprising absolutely no one, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasted no time in repudiating the "McConnell Rule" against nominating a new justice during an election year:

There’s nothing in the Constitution that prevents a Supreme Court vacancy from being filled, regardless of how close to an election it opens up.

Precedent in such a situation is different. Until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked President Obama’s 2016 pick nine months before the election, this hadn’t been done very often, says Russell Wheeler, an expert on Supreme Court history with the Brookings Institution.

McConnell can’t say he is flip-flopping on his 2016 position about election-year court vacancies because doing so benefits him politically now. So he has offered some logic that does little to disguise its political convenience: This time is different because the Senate and the presidency are held by the same party, which wasn’t the case when there was a vacancy in the last year of Obama’s presidency.

And in 2016, McConnell actually argued against the Senate considering a lame-duck president’s nomination. “President Obama has every right to nominate someone on his way out the door,” McConnell said at the time. “The Senate has every right to hold its consent.”

It’s a lot to consider. But McConnell has the chance to thrust the Supreme Court in a more conservative direction for perhaps generations. It’s a remarkable legacy for McConnell that he doesn’t seem to want to pass up, no matter the risk for him or the Senate majority.

To that I would remind the gentleman from Kentucky that 28 USC §1 is just a statute, which the next Congress could easily change.

Lunchtime Tuesday

I put on a long-sleeved shirt to walk Parker this morning, and I'm about to change into a polo. It's a lovely early-autumn day here in Chicago. Elsewhere...

Finally, the city received over 600 submissions from 13 countries on how to have outdoor dining in a Chicago winter.

While Garmin tries to fix its Cloudflare setup...

I'm glad I took a long walk yesterday and not today, because of this:

In other news:

  • State health officials warn that suburban Cook County (the immediate suburbs surrounding Chicago) has experienced a resurgence in Covid-19 cases, and placed it and 29 other counties on warning that social restrictions could resume next week.
  • Moreover, Covid-19 leads in a massive wave of excess deaths reported by the Cook County Medical Examiner this week. Suicides, homicides, and overdoses are also at near-record levels.
  • Jonathan Russo, writing in TPM Cafe, lays out the case that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin got what he wanted with his meddling in the 2016 US elections, and stands to gain even more if the president wins (or somehow achieves) re-election.
  • The nationalist, right-wing disease has started to infect Canada as well, as their new Conservative Party leader Erin O'Toole has adopted a "Canada First" platform.
  • Graceland Cemetery, which doubles as an arboretum, will be closed for the longest period in its 160-year history because of damage from the August 10th derecho.
  • Mother Jones obtained video from a 10 December 2015 deposition showing Donald Trump boasting about his lack of ethics and ignorance of the law.

Finally, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has called for an end to Daylight Saving Time—not just the twice-annual time changes associated with the practice.

"Unprecedented, historic corruption"

The pardon power granted in Article II of the Constitution exists so that the President can save people from true miscarriages of justice. Well, originally, anyway. Now it exists to save President Trump's friends from their own misdeeds, as demonstrated once again last night:

President Trump has said he learned lessons from President Richard M. Nixon’s fall from grace, but in using the power of his office to keep his friend and adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. out of prison he has now crossed a line that even Mr. Nixon in the depths of Watergate dared not cross.

For months, some of Mr. Trump’s senior White House advisers warned him that it would be politically self-destructive if not ethically inappropriate to use his clemency power to help Mr. Stone, who was convicted of lying to protect the president. But in casting aside their counsel on Friday, Mr. Trump indulged his own sense of grievance over precedent and restraint to reward an ally for his silence.

Democrats immediately condemned the commutation of Mr. Stone’s 40-month prison term and vowed to investigate, just as Mr. Trump’s advisers had predicted they would. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling the move an act of “staggering corruption,” said she would pursue legislation to prevent the president from using his power to protect those convicted of a cover-up on his own behalf, although that would face serious constitutional hurdles and presumably would never be signed into law by Mr. Trump.

Utah US Senator Mitt Romney (R) condemned the action immediately:

So did just about everyone else except other Congressional Republicans:

The list goes on. All of them seem to agree with Max Boot: "the worst president ever keeps getting worse."

Let's recall what Roger Stone did: he acted as an interlocutor between the Trump 2016 Campaign and the Russian intelligence services to help get Trump elected, and then lied in court about this to protect his boss. (Fun fact: it's not illegal to work with an adversarial intelligence service openly. The crime here was providing foreign aid to an election campaign.) Some might call that pattern of behavior treason. Some certainly would if the perpetrator were a Democrat, or if the president were one. But not the modern Republican party.

As Roger Cohen wrote yesterday, we're going into "the most dangerous phase of Trump's rule," and we're still 115 days from the election.

The US is now a joke to the rest of the world

Thanks, Obama!

No, really. The countries that don't pity us are laughing their asses off. This video from a Chinese satire program sums it up nicely:

Josh Marshall is outraged—at the Trump Administration:

[The video] is certainly self-serving from the Chinese perspective. But big picture, good lord, pretty much completely guilty as charged. China initially bobbled the outbreak, had a major crisis. They mobilized. They shared information with the world. They mounted a massive, historic containment effort, built whole hospitals in a matter of days. The US hung back and did a mix of ignoring it or talking down to the Chinese. Look how they wear masks! Haha. Masks don’t work. Whether poo-pooing or derision the big message was that this didn’t have anything to do with us. Or it was a hoax. Until we had our own catastrophic outbreak and then suddenly you didn’t tell us! You hid the truth from us! You will pay the price! Also please send us masks! We really need masks! Please!

On COVID19 we are not only suffering horribly. We are also a joke. “We” is doing a lot of work here. “We” is really our national government, the Trump administration. But for the moment it’s the only national government we have and it’s calling the shots. As the closing puts it “Gosh!! Just listen to yourself.” Perhaps most tellingly, with perhaps the greatest longterm repercussions, the Trump administration has failed so badly, so accurately modeled the behavior of five year olds that we’ve gone a decent way toward discrediting the model of civic democracy and the rule of law we should be supporting at home and around the world. We’ve done about as good a job as one could imagine telling the story that maybe the authoritarians just handle things better.

It’s embarrassing. We’re an embarrassment.

I know it won't make anyone change his or her mind about why (or even whether) Russia interfered in our 2016 election, but this outcome is glorious for Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinpeng, and every other authoritarian and totalitarian out there.

Elections matter.