The Daily Parker

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The whole truth

Former DNI James Clapper, now a private citizen (though one who knows a lot more about these things than almost everyone else), believes Russia threw our 2016 presidential election:

Clapper noted that the intelligence community’s formal 2017 assessment of Russian interference was not charged with assessing its impact. But this is exactly the point. It wasn’t the place of the intel community to place its imprimatur on this debate one way or the other. But now that Clapper is free to offer his own view, he believes Russia did swing the election — and he knows a lot more about the specifics of what Russia did than we do.

We probably will never know whether Russia’s interference — whose tip we only glimpsed in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals for their sabotage plot — was sufficient to swing the election. The result had many causes. But allow me to point out that journalists regularly suggest, on an even flimsier basis, that this or that Hillary Clinton failing caused the outcome. Yet even asking whether Russian interference — or, say, James B. Comey’s 11th-hour intervention — might have been sufficient to swing a relative handful of votes is regularly greeted with knee-slapping ridicule, even though, as Brian Beutler has noted, every journalist knows that it is absolutely plausible.

But this Clapper claim has relevance well beyond whether Russian interference was decisive. It places the ongoing efforts by Trump and his allies to frustrate an accounting of what happened in a whole new light.

The key point is this. Even if you put aside whatever the Trump campaign did or didn’t do to conspire with Russian sabotage, what’s left is this obvious fact: Trump and his GOP allies don’t want to know the full story of what Russia’s operation entailed in and of itself, because it doesn’t concern them in the least, and indeed they are engaged in an active effort to keep that story suppressed.

Why might they not want the truth to come out? I mean, if I believed I were innocent of something someone accused me of, I'd want all the evidence of my innocence possible. (Remember the dialogue in Shawshank Redemption: "Since I am innocent of this crime, I find it decidedly inconvenient that the gun was never found.")

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall is tired of equivocation about what the President and his team are actually up to:

“Norms” aren’t laws for a reason. They are like bumpers on the roads of our civic and political life which are there to keep people of basically good faith from crossing lines they shouldn’t cross. They can also be warning posts so others can see when someone is either going down a bad path or needs to be brought back into line.

One reason that “norms” aren’t laws is that sometimes new or unique sets of facts create situations in which they do not or cannot or should not apply. But the problem with almost everything President Trump is doing today is not that he’s violating norms. The problem is that he is abusing his presidential powers to cover up his crimes and his associates’ crimes. Full stop.

Don't even get him started on "conflicts of interest:"

What we’re seeing now are not conflicts of interest. They’re straight-up corruption. It’s like “norms”. Defining “conflicts of interest” is meant to keep relatively honest people on the straight and narrow or create tripwires that allow others to see when people in power cross the line. Nothing like that is happening here. We have an increasingly open effort to make vast sums of money with the presidency. It’s happening in front of our eyes, albeit not quite as visibly as the coverup.

Future historians won't have any trouble coming to these conclusions. So why are people ignoring these things right now?

What sort of fish are you?

When reading Josh Marshall, one has to let any phrase starting with "big" go through several levels of filters before investing a lot of emotion into it. Many things, according to Marshall, are "big deals" and "big problems" for the President. Perhaps in a normal world, they would be; but here on Bizzaro World, so many things that would have ended another politician's career bounce off Trump's hair like clichés off a hack's keyboard.

Tonight, however, he may have chosen the right adjective phrase:

[A Michael] Cohen business partner...has agreed to cooperate [with prosecutors]. Bad news for Cohen. But here’s where it gets more interesting and complicated. These are not federal charges. They’re state charges. But the agreement obligates [Evgeny "Gene"] Freidman to cooperate with state and federal prosecutors, basically on an as-needed basis.

Freidman also got a very good deal. The charges he was looking at carried, in theory, as much as a hundred years of prison time. The deal he made will allow him to avoid any jail time. He’s literally getting a get-out-of-jail-free card. ... The state is basically walking away from a very big case and it’s not clear what kind of cooperation on other state prosecutions would merit such a generous deal. Freidman is also cooperating with the feds. You don’t do that unless you have a clear understanding that the the feds won’t come at your with further indictments based on your cooperation. Finally, note that this is a prosecution out of the office of the now-disgraced ex-New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who we know was working assiduously to backstop Mueller’s probe with potential state charges.

[M]y sense is that federal prosecutors probably have more than enough to indict Cohen on various bank fraud- and financial fraud-type crimes. It’s always great to have more evidence, more pressure. But the kind of deal Friedman got seems like one that assumes something more than just adding to the evidence against Cohen on those sorts of crimes.

Don't get me wrong; I've read Marshall's blog since it started in the winter of 2000. He's usually absolutely correct about the facts but never quite right about the outcomes. In this case, he might be right about both.

Kim plays chess while Trump plays Chutes and Ladders

What happens when an id-driven man-child with no curiosity who loathes nuance and knowledge tries to negotiate a complex geopolitical deal with the most secretive regime in the world? One of them gets punked, bigly:

The North Koreans appear to have waited until Trump announced a date and a venue to shift gears and make clear that giving up their nuclear weapons was definitely not on the agenda. In the lead-up President Trump was veritably giddy. In late April Trump praised Kim as “very honorable” for his good faith negotiations in preparation for the summit and then later effused over his “excellent” treatment of US prisoners and how “nice” he had been to free them early. (22 year old Otto Warmbier received an unexplained fatal brain injury in North Korean custody last year.)

After all this it was just five days later when the North Koreans canceled a planning meeting and began signaling that “denuclearization” was not up for debate. It’s all pretty clear (and this was widely predicted by area experts). Kim waited and waited and waited, fluffed and fluffed and fluffed until Trump had locked himself into a time and a place before threatening to cancel and saying publicly North Korea would not give up its nuclear weapons. This way Trump is either faced with attending the summit in which the two men will meet as equals and with nuclearization not up for discussion or canceling a meeting upon which Trump has banked so much both domestically and internationally.

This might have something to do with President Trump not caring about the actual contents of the deal. He just wants a deal. Any deal. Whereas Kim really only wants legitimacy, which any photo showing him standing next to Trump will give him.

The Economist points out that this is, in fact, an old script:

South Korea’s unification ministry said the North’s about-face was “regrettable”. [South Korean president] Moon’s office did not even go that far, claiming the move was “just part of the process”. The White House said it had received no indication that the Singapore summit would not go ahead.

North Korea says the summit can proceed only if America is “sincere” about improving relations. But it is the North’s sincerity that has always been in question. At the very least, the kerfuffle is a reminder that until a few months ago, Mr Kim was seen as untrustworthy and belligerent. There is little reason to imagine he has changed.

If all it takes is for Kim to act like a reasonable negotiator for a few weeks for him to get literally everything he wants from the Trump administration, why would he behave differently?

And if Kim has even one percent more patience than Trump—not hard, given that Parker has at least ten—how difficult will this be, really?

Will we be able to undo the damage?

TPM's Zachary Roth thinks the latest developments in the Justice Department portend the end of its independence:

DOJ essentially taking orders from the president on this represents a level of political interference in the U.S. justice system that may go further even than anything else we’ve seen under Trump. It’s true that DOJ’s announcement back in March that it would probe the FISA issue came after weeks of agitation by Trump and his allies own Congress. But even that sequence of events felt less direct in terms of cause and effect than what played out on Sunday.

This isn’t to criticize Rosenstein. He may well have concluded that, given a set of bad options, the least bad was to hand the issue off to the IG, with the hope of defusing it. Trump allies are already calling it a “Potemkin investigation.”

But it’s worth recognizing what’s happened. Until Trump, it was basically thought that the appropriate response from DOJ to a demand by the president that it launch an investigation, especially on an issue of such political sensitivity, was to say: We’ll consider that on the merits like any other matter, but the president doesn’t dictate the department’s priorities.

I'm not sure things have gotten as bad as TPM thinks. (I almost never do.) But President Trump has done tremendous damage to the country's institutions already, and has two and a half years to do more. How will we fix the damage once he's finally out of office?

Past performance is no guarantee of future results, craft beer edition

Ballast Point, a former craft brewery that sold out to Constellation Brands for $1 billion in 2015, hasn't given the buyers everything they had hoped for:

Ballast Point has plummeted back to earth after its meteoric rise, though, a sales decline that reflects early missteps after the merger and the slowing growth of craft beer in general, according to industry experts and Constellation executives. The San Diego-based brewer of Sculpin IPA faces numerous challenges in its quest to grow as national craft brand, but perhaps none more significant than this: There are almost 6,500 breweries in the U.S. today — at least 2,000 more than when Constellation bought Ballast Point.

“We have a great high-end Mexican portfolio and wanted to get into craft. We entered in a big way with Ballast Point. … This is really an example of where we’re headed right here in terms of executing our strategy,” said Marty Birkel, Ballast Point president, in an interview at the new Chicago brewpub.

Michigan-based Founders Brewing Co., best known for its lower-priced, lower-alcohol All Day IPA, was roughly the same size as Ballast Point in 2015, but could end up shipping twice as much beer to wholesalers this year. Founders CEO Mike Stevens called the Ballast Point decline a “perfect storm” of high price point — a six-pack of Sculpin regularly sold for $15 — and what he believes to be a fading trend in fruit-flavored IPAs.

“They were obviously just screaming to the top of the peak, riding that price point, riding their fruit IPAs. … Right when that (deal) went down, we kind of all knew that they were going to have to fix the price points because the consumers were going to lose interest,” Stevens said.

Given that "small" and "craft" are two of the things people who drink beers from small, craft breweries want, and that these things go away when a conglomerate buys them, none of this should surprise anyone. And yet, the culture at large companies almost compels this kind of behavior.

At least Constellation isn't trying to kill its acquisitions, as InBev and MillerCoors have been accused. And craft breweries continue to flourish, both here and abroad. So all is not lost...just Ballast Point.

The new American aristocracy?

Writing in this month's Atlantic (a magazine by and for the very people he writes about), Matthew Stewart says the 9.9%, not the 0.1%, are the real story in American inequality:

Let’s talk first about money—even if money is only one part of what makes the new aristocrats special. There is a familiar story about rising inequality in the United States, and its stock characters are well known. The villains are the fossil-fueled plutocrat, the Wall Street fat cat, the callow tech bro, and the rest of the so-called top 1 percent. The good guys are the 99 percent, otherwise known as “the people” or “the middle class.” The arc of the narrative is simple: Once we were equal, but now we are divided. The story has a grain of truth to it. But it gets the characters and the plot wrong in basic ways.

It is in fact the top 0.1 percent who have been the big winners in the growing concentration of wealth over the past half century. According to the UC Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the 160,000 or so households in that group held 22 percent of America’s wealth in 2012, up from 10 percent in 1963. If you’re looking for the kind of money that can buy elections, you’ll find it inside the top 0.1 percent alone.

In between the top 0.1 percent and the bottom 90 percent is a group that has been doing just fine. It has held on to its share of a growing pie decade after decade. And as a group, it owns substantially more wealth than do the other two combined. In the tale of three classes (see Figure 1), it is represented by the gold line floating high and steady while the other two duke it out. You’ll find the new aristocracy there. We are the 9.9 percent.

I recommend reading the whole article. But his conclusions jibe with things I've worried about for most of my adult life:

The toxic wave of wealth concentration that arose in the Gilded Age and crested in the 1920s finally crashed on the shoals of depression and war. Today we like to think that the social-welfare programs that were planted by the New Deal and that blossomed in the postwar era were the principal drivers of a new equality. But the truth is that those efforts belong more to the category of effects than causes. Death and destruction were the real agents of change. The financial collapse knocked the wealthy back several steps, and war empowered labor—above all working women.

That gilded, roaring surge of destruction was by no means the first such destabilizing wave of inequality to sweep through American history. In the first half of the 19th century, the largest single industry in the United States, measured in terms of both market capital and employment, was the enslavement (and the breeding for enslavement) of human beings. Over the course of the period, the industry became concentrated to the point where fewer than 4,000 families (roughly 0.1 percent of the households in the nation) owned about a quarter of this “human capital,” and another 390,000 (call it the 9.9 percent, give or take a few points) owned all of the rest.

The slaveholding elite were vastly more educated, healthier, and had much better table manners than the overwhelming majority of their fellow white people, never mind the people they enslaved. They dominated not only the government of the nation, but also its media, culture, and religion. Their votaries in the pulpits and the news networks were so successful in demonstrating the sanctity and beneficence of the slave system that millions of impoverished white people with no enslaved people to call their own conceived of it as an honor to lay down their life in the system’s defense.

That wave ended with 620,000 military deaths, and a lot of property damage. It did level the playing field in the American South for a time—though the process began to reverse itself all too swiftly.

I like where I am, no lie. But I recognize, as does Stewart, that we have a choice to make in how we reverse the trending inequality that has historically led to revolution. Food for thought.

Because who needs cyber security, anyway?

Lawyer Paul Rosensweig and national security analyst Megan Reiss think John Bolton getting rid of the "cyber czar" position is "a magnificent idea:"

Bolton is completely correct that there is no need for any coordinationbetween the various federal agencies on this issue. Cybersecurity is not a cross-cutting problem that affects all sorts of equities. We have no concerns that eliminating this position will result in conflicting mission imperatives. We have every confidence that the National Security Agency, for example, can work out vulnerability disclosure equities without the need for input from the Departments of Commerce, Justice or Homeland Security (much less Treasury or State).

We also are confident that the decision accurately reflects the diminished importance of cybersecurity as a national issue. Cybersecurity is no longer deserving of the prominence that so many national security experts seem to give it. We fully expect the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to eliminate the cybersecurity menace from its annual threat assessment. We are confident that the trend lines for cyber threats and intrusions are down.

Didn't we already know John Bolton was incompetent

The art of the deal

North Korea may have pwned President Trump, for some pretty predictable reasons:

Most U.S. presidents would see North Korea’s threats as a test and would therefore neither budge from the U.S. negotiating stance nor allow our foe to dictate who advises the president. Whether Trump will crumble (as he did in offering China an olive branch on ZTE) remains to be seen. This should nevertheless serve as a warning for U.S. officials, and Trump specifically, to cut the happy talk and maintain a high degree of skepticism about Pyongyang’s intentions.

Trump’s insistence that “no one” has gotten as far as he has in negotiations with North Korea is misguided in several respects. First, we’ve actually had full-blown agreements with North Korea — which North Korea did not abide by. We’ve had many rounds of negotiations with North Korea over the years and even release of imprisoned Americans. Trump on the other hand has gotten nothing concrete from North Korea on its denuclearization; he has not gotten anything of lasting value. Second, the promise of a summit is already buying Kim some international stature and credibility while raising questions as to whether our South Korean partners have been engaged in some wishful thinking regarding the prospects for denuclearization. By offering North Korea a summit, Trump is now at risk of losing something of no strategic value — a world-class photo op — if he does not accede to North Korea’s table-setting demands for the summit. And should he ever get into a room with Kim, one can only imagine what he would give up to get his own version of “peace in our time.”

New Republic's Heather Souvaine Horn agrees:

Three and a half weeks ago, after North Korea announced it would be shutting down its nuclear tests, New Republic contributor Jon Wolfsthal cautioned not to celebrate President Donald Trump’s diplomatic victory just yet. Now, that analysis is looking remarkably prescient.

The reality, Wolfsthal wrote, was that any kind of lasting agreement with North Korea would take months to negotiate and years to implement. If America, led by an impatient president, walks away in frustration, then North Korea can “paint the United States as the unreasonable party.” By raising American expectations and then engaging in periodic obstructionism, Kim could be setting the talks up to fail. If the administration takes the bait, Wolfsthal argued, that would suit Kim just fine.

You know, I really want the U.S. to succeed in the world. Unfortunately, we have a child in the White House, looking out only for himself, and not competent even to understand where he's incompetent.

Two Londons

Citylab has an excerpt of Stephen Griffith's and Penny Woolcock's new book exploring the parallel worlds in London:

Penny: I’m halfway between Upper Street with its snooty estate agents, boutique shops and dozens of expensive bars and restaurants and the Caledonian Road—the Cally—still shabby but sprinkled with the telltale signs of gentrification. Apart from remnants of the white working class and Asian market traders on Chapel Market, it’s uniformly posh and very safe.

Or is it?

Look carefully and you might notice a uniformed security guard outside the McDonald’s on Chapel Market, a sign that there is a parallel world right here. There are teenagers for whom this tranquil area is a deadly battlefield, laced with landmines and traps and this particular McDonald’s is one of its most hotly contested territories. These same streets have doppelgangers, not elsewhere in the universe but under our noses. In London we literally don’t see the young people dying right under our noses, their bloodstains just seem to evaporate. My eyes were opened after making two films about gang life in inner-city Birmingham, leaving me no longer able to conveniently unsee this parallel world.

Steve: O J said, “Say I need to go Angel now, it’s only a short walk. Maybe I catch the 274 [the 274 bus] and maybe that’s safe. But it’s a warm evening so say I decide to walk, well I could be caught slipping and something happens.” Sadly, a year later O J was in intensive care after a stabbing. It seemed he had been caught slipping. O J was one of the lucky 1,000 London stab victims every month who survive. Over a single fortnight in May, 11 young people were stabbed to death. This is not Chicago but we’re on our way.

I've spent plenty of time in Islington, and saw only a few hints of the divide between my world and the Cally Boys'. It's kind of freaky. I will have to read this book on my next trip to London.

Four unrelated stories

A little Tuesday morning randomness for you:

Back to debugging acceptance tests.