The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Barr's press conference, re-imagined

The always-incisive Alexandra Petri provides a more honest view of AG William Barr's press conference yesterday:

Hello, everyone. I am here to repeat the words “no collusion” as many times as I can without sounding suspicious, but first, I would like to thank Rod Rosenstein. He is here standing behind me. He had plans to step back from public service before I came along and asked him to assist me. Then again, some would argue that by assisting me, he did not perform a public service. Anyway, he is here.

I would also like to thank Robert Mueller for making this report for me to redact. I feel like it is a joint creation between the two of us. He is not standing here with me today. Instead, there is a bearded man who, no doubt, is familiar to you all. I will certainly not introduce him at any point. I will leave his identity to your imagination! Worst-case scenario, this will just accustom you to seeing strange facts without context, something that will help you as you consume the report!

The good news is that, although the Russian government did interfere in the 2016 election with hacking and disinformation campaigns, it did not do so literally at the behest of the Trump campaign, in my opinion. Was that the opinion of the Mueller team? Who can say? But if it wasn’t, it should have been, I think. Make no mistake, Russia did interfere to help him, but this effort was just sort of a fun lagniappe. Nobody asked for it.

The Post has the full (redacted) Mueller report online. I'll be reading it on a plane today.

Brew...stills? Take my money!

Brewpubs, but at distilleries and serving their own spirits, may be coming to Illinois:

Legislation approved Thursday by the Illinois House would license craft distillers similar to the way craft brewers are regulated, with the aim of giving a boost to the burgeoning community of artisan spirits makers in the state.

The bill, which still faces a vote in the Senate, would create a license that allows small distillers to self-distribute some product, removing a major hurdle for unknown brands trying get on store shelves, and another license that allows distillers to open up to three satellite locations where they can serve their house-made spirits as well as other alcohol in a pub environment.

The changes would allow craft distillers to build brand awareness and new revenue streams, helping them grow and encouraging new distillers to set up shop in the state, said Noelle DiPrizio, who co-owns Chicago Distilling in Logan Square.

FEW Spirits already has something like this in the form of a tasting room. But this would be a much more all-encompassing experience. I'm looking forward to it.

Too funny, except it's not

I had planned to talk about this thoughtful article on congestion pricing and how free roads aren't really free, but just a few minutes ago I saw a headline that made me laugh out loud:

President Trump is planning to nominate former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, two people familiar with the push said, a move that would significantly escalate the White House’s effort to exert political pressure on the U.S. central bank.

A Senate GOP leadership aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the nominee’s prospects, predicted that Cain would ultimately not have the support to be confirmed.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the ranking Democrat on the Banking Committee, suggested Cain and Moore were both underqualified for the Fed board.

"I thought it was a joke at first when I heard that, but I guess it's at least as serious as Stephen Moore," he said. "I'll just leave it at that for now."

"Underqualified." No, I'm underqualified for the Fed. The administration's proposed nominees are so unqualified laughter is the only option at this point. Remember, Cain is the guy who ran for president in 2012 without the slightest guess about the location (or names) of several strategically-important countries, making Rex Tillerson look like a Rhodes scholar.

Remember, these guys hate competence, especially in government. But wow, I didn't think they'd go this far. It's hard to believe Trump filed for bankruptcy all those times, with his giant brain.

Lightfoot elected mayor of Chicago

Last night, Chicago elected its first African-American female mayor:

After waging a campaign focused on upending the vaunted Chicago political machine, Lightfoot dismantled one of its major cogs by dispatching Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, whose candidacy had been hobbled in part by an anti-incumbent mood among voters and an ongoing federal corruption investigation at City Hall.

Lightfoot’s campaign, which started last May as a long-shot bid to replace the city’s clouted politics with inclusive change, took the former federal prosecutor and first-time candidate from toiling in relative political obscurity to toppling the head of the Cook County Democratic Party.

With roughly 97 percent of the city’s precincts reporting, Lightfoot had swept all 50 of Chicago’s wards, winning 74 percent of the unofficial vote to 26 percent for Preckwinkle, a 28-year officeholder who prior to her eight years as the county’s chief executive served 19 years as a Hyde Park alderman.

Lightfoot will be sworn in as Chicago’s 56th mayor on May 20 while Preckwinkle will return to her third term running the county after a humiliating defeat that included losing her own 4th Ward by 20 points.

In my own ward, the incumbent alderman wound up ahead by just 23 votes out of about 12,000 cast, but there are still some provisional and absentee ballots to count. I suspect this will go to a recount.

Readings between meetings

On my list today:

Back to meetings...

The UK and US governments continue to make crises worse

First, in the UK this week, while people can feel slightly relieved the country won't crash out of the European Union in three days, things haven't gotten any less chaotic:

Downing Street aides directly asked hard-Brexit Conservatives at Chequers on Sunday whether Theresa May’s resignation as prime minister would be enough to get them to endorse finally the exit deal struck with the European Union, it has emerged.

A source said that in those private conversations several aides to the prime minister present asked whether it would help them vote for the controversial Brexit deal if May were to quit. “It didn’t look like a coincidence; aides like this are not meant to think for themselves,” they added.

And let's not forget:

Brexit would inflict immediate and profound economic shocks on Ireland, hitting households, businesses and government finances, according to a study.

Britain’s departure from the European Union, with or without a deal, would cause significant damage to jobs and economic growth, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) said in a comprehensive report published on Tuesday.

A decade after Brexit, Ireland’s output would be 2.6%, 4.8% or 5% lower than if Britain had stayed in the EU, it said, painting a stark picture as policymakers in Dublin try to grapple with a possibly imminent blow.

A disorderly no-deal Brexit would mean 80,000 fewer jobs being created in Ireland over a decade, derailing the government’s budget planning, said the thinktank, which works closely with the Department of Finance.

Meanwhile, back home, the GOP has whipped up their spin machine to whip up a Benghazi-style counter-offensive in the wake of the Mueller Report:

The strategy — currently loose and informal — is still in its infancy. But all signs indicate a Trump operation seeking vengeance and accountability from critics it says maligned the president over the investigation into whether his campaign or associates conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. An adviser who talked to the president said Trump has an appetite to see his critics investigated. The adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation.

While Trump and his allies have portrayed Attorney General William P. Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings as a complete vindication of the president, Barr made it clear that the special counsel was not exonerating the president on the question of obstruction of justice. And details of the report, if made public, could prove troublesome for Trump. Mueller’s work led to criminal charges against 34 people, including six former Trump associates and advisers, and showed that Russia sought to influence the election and help Trump.

Still, the president’s aides and allies have shown little desire to turn the page, preferring to write a new book detailing what they say is a rush to judgment from a Washington establishment unwilling to ever give Trump an unbiased assessment.

The over-arching strategy, remember, is to whip up the base enough to get the president re-elected in 2020. 

In both the UK's Brexit catastrophe and the destructive tribal politics driven by the GOP for the last 10 years, we see people desperately trying to cling to power even if it takes the whole system down.

These things happen every so often, as right-leaning groups, driven by fear, blow things up so that they personally don't lose anything. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the most prominent historical examples of this behavior (1930s Europe, 1860s US, 1770s UK, 1690s Europe, 1630s England...) do not inspire confidence.

Not out of the woods yet, Britain

Even though the EU has agreed to extend the UK's Article 50 exit date to mid-May, Parliament still has to pass the enabling legislation to accept the deal. After that, Brexit Minister and England's Most Unhappy Frontbencher Kwasi Kwarteng spent half an hour yesterday getting to the phrase "next week," partly because the Government still haven't fully sorted what they will present to Commons then:

Almost half an hour into Kwarteng’s response to an urgent question following the EU’s imposition of an extended Brexit timetable at a summit in Brussels, the Labour MP David Hanson told the minister there was “a world outside this chamber who would like to know what day we are voting on any meaningful vote”.

Kwarteng responded: “The government fully intends to have a meaningful vote next week.”

The secondary legislation needed to change the departure date would also be tabled next week, he said, but declined to give any further details on timings, adding: “On this Friday I’m not going to say the exact hour and time of when the meaningful vote will take place.”

Separately, No 10 said the EU’s agreement to extend article 50 was contingent on holding the vote next week. The exact date has not been set, but it is likely to be on Tuesday or Wednesday, to give MPs and peers time to pass legislation to change the exit date before 29 March.

“The consideration is to hold it when we believe we have a realistic prospect of success,” May’s spokesman said. “My understanding of last night is that the extension to 22 May was contingent on winning the vote next week.”

May will meet cabinet ministers in Downing Street and spend the weekend working at Chequers, her country retreat.

Holy Brinksmanship, Batman. Vladimir Putin has to be sitting in the Kremlin with the Soviet equivalent of popcorn watching this farce, laughing out loud. Of course, he could be laughing at President Trump's announcement yesterday that the US will recognize Israel's conquest of the Golan Heights, which makes Putin's conquest of Crimea almost legitimate:

Trump’s push to assert Israel’s ownership of the strategic heights along the Syrian-Israeli border, conveyed in a tweet on Thursday, marked a major shift in U.S. policy and has been welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it also raised concerns that confrontations along the cease-fire line could escalate.

Israel seized two-thirds of the Golan during the 1967 war, and since 1973 Syria has made no military effort to regain it. Its army is no match for Israel’s superior military capabilities.

The U.S. assertion of Israeli claims will give Iran a propaganda boost at a time when the Trump administration is pressing allies in the region to join efforts to roll back Iranian influence. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Beirut on Friday morning on a visit aimed at urging Lebanese leaders to take action to limit Hezbollah’s growing prominence in the Lebanese government.

This, the day before our Secretary of State visits the region. I'd call it unbelievable but it really isn't.

White House stonewalls Congress

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, would like the White House to provide documents. Any documents:

I have sent 12 letters to the White House on a half-dozen topics — some routine and some relating to our core national security interests. In response, the White House has refused to hand over any documents or produce any witnesses for interviews.

Let me underscore that point: The White House has not turned over a single piece of paper to our committee or made a single official available for testimony during the 116th Congress.

As a reminder of what used to be “normal,” previous presidential administrations turned over tens of thousands of pages of documents in response to Oversight Committee investigations under both parties just a few years ago. The George W. Bush White House gave us more than 20,000 pages relating to Hurricane Katrina; numerous documents and witnesses relating to the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity; and nearly 1,500 pages of emails between senior White House officials about the death of Pat Tillman. Similarly, the Obama White House produced many documents and emails relating to the Solyndra controversy, as well as witnesses and documents regarding the Benghazi, Libya, attacks, including communication between top White House officials and National Security Council staff.

By contrast, the complete refusal by the Trump White House to produce any documents or witnesses to the primary investigative committee in the House reflects a decision at the highest levels to deny congressional oversight altogether. The president dictated this approach the day after the election when he threatened a “warlike posture” against Democrats and then vowed that, at the end of two years, “I’m just going to blame them.”

President Trump’s actions violate our Constitution’s fundamental principle of checks and balances. If our committee must resort to issuing subpoenas, there should be no doubt about why. This has nothing to do with presidential harassment and everything to do with unprecedented obstruction.

You don't want Congress to issue subpoenas if you're the president, because then you've lost control over what they'll see. My guess is that Rep. Cummings fired this shot across the White House's bow to let them know subpoenas are coming soon.

The Art of the Possible, Illinois marijuana edition

Yet another Chicago-based medical marijuana company has merged with an out-of-state company ahead of an expected legalization of recreational pot this summer:

Chicago’s Cresco Labs on Monday unveiled a $120 million merger that allows it to expand into Florida, where analysts predict demand for medical marijuana will significantly grow in the coming years. By 2022, the market for medical pot could reach a whopping $1.7 billion, according to analysts’  projections.

Under the agreement, Cresco will acquire Florida marijuana grower and retailer VidaCann, a move that will allow Cresco to operate 30 medical dispensaries in the nation’s third most populous state. The company aims to significantly expand its operations by the end of the year, in part by doubling the size of its medical marijuana cultivation center. It also plans to have 20 dispensaries open by year’s end.

Last week, a Phoenix company announced one of the largest pot deals in U.S. corporate history by taking over Chicago-based Verano Holdings for $850 million.

If Cresco’s ownership of VidaCann is approved, Cresco could surpass another major marijuana player based in Chicago — Green Thumb Industries, which currently has 11 cultivation centers.

A vote on legalizing recreational cannabis could come as early as July, and is expected to pass.

More on the 737 MAX 8 crashes

Pilot and author James Fallows points out this Seattle Times article as a good explanation of how the Boeing-led safety process for the 737 MAX 8 airplane may have contributed to their recent accidents:

The FAA, citing lack of funding and resources, has over the years delegated increasing authority to Boeing to take on more of the work of certifying the safety of its own airplanes.

Early on in certification of the 737 MAX, the FAA safety engineering team divided up the technical assessments that would be delegated to Boeing versus those they considered more critical and would be retained within the FAA.

But several FAA technical experts said in interviews that as certification proceeded, managers prodded them to speed the process. Development of the MAX was lagging nine months behind the rival Airbus A320neo. Time was of the essence for Boeing.

A former FAA safety engineer who was directly involved in certifying the MAX said that halfway through the certification process, “we were asked by management to re-evaluate what would be delegated. Management thought we had retained too much at the FAA.”

“There was constant pressure to re-evaluate our initial decisions,” the former engineer said. “And even after we had reassessed it … there was continued discussion by management about delegating even more items down to the Boeing Company.”

Wow, that sounds familiar. And this is why we need competent, well-funded regulators for safety-critical industries.

The Ethiopian government says they'll release the preliminary accident report in 30 days.