The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Could be worse. Will be worse.

Heading home from New York just now, and came across an infographic from today's Chicago Tribune about the weather in Chicago on this day in 1934. My heavens. After 21 days of 32°C-plus temperatures, Midway Airport hit 43°C on July 23rd, with the official temperature at University of Chicago hitting 41°C the next day—the hottest temperature officially recorded in Chicago history. (Lakeside temperatures were 9°C cooler than even a short distance inland.)

It's not quite that hot today, but it could be again in a few years. Regularly. But at least it won't be as bad for us as for the folks in the Southwest and Southeast.

Hot enough for ya?

I'm in New York for a friend's wedding this weekend, so light posting, depending on what blows up in Washington tonight. Josh Marshall is already in total freak-out mode. But President Trump tends not to do any work over the weekend, or in the evenings, or at all.

Anyway, regular posting returns Monday.

What kind of day has it been

Aaron Sorkin never imagined a White House this dysfunctional, or a president this contemptuous of the law. Apparently the circus has gotten too much even for Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who resigned in a huff this morning over the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci to be his boss.

Chait argues that President Trump thinks the entire Federal government should be "operated for his personal benefit:"

Six months into his presidency, foundational republican concepts remain as foreign as ever to Trump. He believes the entire federal government owes its personal loyalty to him, and that the office of the presidency is properly a vehicle for personal and familial enrichment. If the rule of law survives this era intact, it will only be because the president is too inept to undermine it.

Meanwhile, sometime after Chait filed his column, news leaked that Trump asked aides if he could pardon himself. The Washington Post examined that question:

The short answer is that no one really knows. The longer answer is that the reasons he might want to are more complex than we might usually assume.

[T]he Constitution doesn’t say he can’t do it is, itself, a strong argument for his being allowed to. Samuel Morison is an attorney who specializes in pardon law, having spent 13 years in the Office of the Pardon Attorney within the Department of Justice.

“My opinion is that in theory that he could,” Morison said. “But then he would be potentially subject to impeachment for doing that.” Morison’s rationale is simple: “There are no constraints defined in the Constitution itself that says he can’t do that.”

Impeachment itself is specifically carved out of the presidential pardon power within the Constitution, so if Trump were impeached, he’d have no counter to that action.

There’s another clearly articulated boundary in the pardon provision that’s important: It applies only to any federal laws. If Trump were to issue himself a pardon, that would cover only any violations of federal law. And that, Kalt notes, might open a can of worms: State attorneys general (like New York’s, who has been eager to investigate Trump since even before the president was elected) would see the pardon as a signal that their digging might pay off.

University of Chicago law professors Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner make the case that issuing pardons in this case could be construed as prima facie obstruction of justice.

About that impeachment business: as Fallows points out this morning, there are three people in the U.S. who could, at any moment, put a stop to Trump's nonsense: any three Republican U.S. Senators.

With three votes, a Senate majority could issue subpoenas and compel sworn testimony from Administration officials. It could empower its own thorough investigation, even re-hiring Robert Mueller to lead it. It could compel Donald Trump to release the tax returns about which he is so evidently nervous. It could act as if America in fact possessed a system of rule-of-law, rather than whim-of-one-man.

It would take only three. Some—Grassley? Heller? McCain if he is able to vote?—might think: What do they have to lose? They might as well wind up with dignity. Others—Paul, Burr, Johnson, Murkowski—are so far away from re-election that a lot will happen in the meantime. And all of them are senators, part of a body self-consciously proud of its independence, its individual judgment, its role in defending the long-term principles of governance.

A country of 300-plus million people, with the world’s largest economy and most powerful military, should not rely for its orderly stability on the decisions-of-conscience of just three people. But the United States may soon be in that situation. These names will go down in history, depending on the choices they make.

This is entirely the fault of the Republican Party. We have no road map right now, because the last time one party decided that they wanted to take the country into hell, we fought a four-year civil war over it.

If Clinton had won

Nate Silver dives into a parallel universe with a thoughtful examination of alternative facts:

Clinton did manage one significant political accomplishment: getting Merrick Garland appointed to the Supreme Court. With the court set to consider a slate of landmark cases this year on matters including redistricting and abortion, the importance of that achievement should not be understated. But it came at a price. The deal she struck with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which gave him input on several Cabinet appointments in exchange for his finding a few Republicans to back Garland, has come back to haunt her. The McConnell-approved choices, such as Attorney General Joe Lieberman and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, have often seemed to side more with congressional Republicans than with the White House. Furthermore, the deal meant Clinton paid for something — the Senate’s approval of well-qualified Cabinet and court picks — that other presidents have gotten for free.

Despite the roadblocks in Congress, Clinton does have the powers of the executive branch and all that entails. But since Democrats had already held the White House for eight years, there aren’t many presidential actions Clinton can take that Obama didn’t pursue already. Mostly, she’s been left to preserve his legacy, which Trump or another Republican president surely would have attempted to dismantle, especially in areas such as immigration, drug policy and criminal justice — and perhaps most importantly, Obamacare, which Trump repeatedly pledged to “repeal and replace” on the campaign trail. Fairly or not, it’s been hard for Clinton to get a lot of credit from the Democratic base for not undoing things as opposed to doing new things, and although she remains broadly popular with Democrats (with an 85 percent approval rating), her enthusiasm numbers are tepid.

The whole thing is worth a read.

I've heard Alzheimer's patients make more sense

Yesterday, the New York Times published an interview with President Trump that no president in history could have given. It contains so many wild assertions and outright lies that its value to the public may only be in its demonstration of the man's mendacity:

Mr. Trump rebutted [former FBI director James] Comey’s claim that in a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office on Feb. 14, the president asked him to end the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

Mr. Comey testified before Congress that Mr. Trump kicked the vice president, attorney general and several other senior administration officials out of the room before having the discussion with Mr. Comey.

“I don’t remember even talking to him about any of this stuff,” Mr. Trump said. “He said I asked people to go. Look, you look at his testimony. His testimony is loaded up with lies, O.K.?”

He expressed no second thoughts about firing Mr. Comey, saying, “I did a great thing for the American people.”

Uh huh. But that's nothing compared with this:

But Mr. Trump left little doubt during the interview that the Russia investigation remained a sore point. His pique at [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions, in particular, seemed fresh even months after the attorney general’s recusal. Mr. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump’s candidacy and was rewarded with a key cabinet slot, but has been more distant from the president lately.

“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” he added. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

Mr. Trump also faulted Mr. Sessions for his testimony during Senate confirmation hearings when Mr. Sessions said he had not had “communications with the Russians” even though he had met at least twice with Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak. “Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers,” the president said. “He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.”

The president with fewer legislative accomplishments to his name than William Henry Harrison has outdone Ronald Reagan in incoherence and lack of focus:

He has turned completely against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of his staunchest loyalists, who he now blames for essentially launching the Russia probe. He is also lashing out at Rod Rosenstein. Sessions and Rosenstein, were complicit, substantively if not legally, in firing FBI Director James Comey, what I believe is to date the greatest impeachable offense of his Presidency.  He is setting out the terms upon which he will fire Robert Mueller. He inexplicably admitted to using his second conversation with Vladimir Putin to discuss the issues that had come up a year ago in that Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr.

You’ve heard about those. What I was almost more interested was the litany of bizarre and often inexplicable statements and claims that came before he even got to those issues. So I took a moment to annotate each of these passages …

We're not shocked anymore by the President's flaws, but maybe we should be. Because this is not a man in control of himself, his job, or his life. This is a deeply disturbed, possibly mentally-ill person, who shouldn't run a lemonade stand, let alone the most powerful country the world has ever seen.

Everything but the parents

A new apartment building called "Common Damen" is geared towards millennials who don't want to make commitments:

All furnishings (beds, couches, etc.) are included in the rent, as well as utilities, cable, high-speed WiFi, in-unit laundry, a cleaning service every other week, and an on-site group leader who organizes events like potluck dinners, yoga and book clubs.

“Renters are able to walk right in and have many of the things it could take years to establish — a place in a great neighborhood, access to their workplace and popular destinations, a core social network. For people who are mobile, professional, and have other priorities besides owning property, this is an ideal solution," [the developer] said.

So, for about the same rent as your own 1-bedroom apartment on the same block, you can live with random roommates for a few months with all the comforts of your parents' house, including, possibly, a random couple living in the master suite.

I don't know whether this is a good idea or evidence of the ever-extending adolescence of millennials. Possibly it's just an effort to capture consumer surplus from them?

Why did Trump meet Putin alone?

The Post's Aaron Blake has three possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive:

1. There is something nefarious going on

If there is something nefarious going on, a private, undisclosed conversation that was reportedly out of earshot of other world leaders would be a great place to do it. And given the Russian government's and Trump's track records, it's not like we're going to get a straight answer on what they talked about.

2. Trump is oblivious to how this might be perceived

I've framed many of Trump's actions under the rubric of Adam Carolla's “Stupid or Liar” theory before. This reason would be the “stupid” part of that equation.

3. Trump is simply addicted to causing controversy and/or sees it as a GOP base play

[A]t this point, Trump and his team have to be wondering: What's the payoff? What is he really getting out of it? Trump's approval rating is the lowest in modern presidential history, the GOP-controlled Congress hasn't passed any signature legislation, his party split on one of his major promises on the health-care bill, and all Trump has to show for it is a mostly intact group of Republican voters who say they still like him.

I'm betting on all three, though #2 may be the root cause.

Not sure that's a bad thing...

I just saw a comment on a review site listing the following as a "con" for a particular Web-based product:

I really feel like this company doesn't fix problems that only affect a couple of customers. Instead they prioritize fixes that affect the whole system and only fix specific problems when they have time.

Yes. Also, you might be interested to learn that businesses try to make profits by selling things for more than it cost to obtain them.

On behalf of the company in question—a small business in Chicago whose principal constituents are non-profit organizations with budgets under $1m—you're either new to this whole "commerce" thing or you have a magnificently droll sense of humor. Either way, good day to you, sir. I said good day!

The End is Nigh?

The Post's Dana Milbank thinks that President Trump's polling numbers—already the lowest for any president since polling began 70 years ago—are about to get worse:

I asked The Post’s polling chief, Scott Clement, to run a regression analysis testing how views of the economy shape overall support for Trump when other variables such as party are held constant. The result was powerful: People who approve of his handling of the economy are 40 or 50 percentage points more likely to approve of him overall. While views of the economy closely correlate with partisanship, this means, all things being equal, that Trump’s overall approval rating should drop four or five points for each 10-point drop in views of his economic performance. Because Trump supporters are largely unconcerned with his personal antics, economic woes — not the Russia scandal or zany tweets — are what would doom Trump in public opinion.

The problem for Trump is many of his populist promises are starting to look fraudulent.

So what happens if — and when — Trump’s core backers discover that they’ve been had: They’re losing health-care coverage and other benefits, while manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back and a Trump-ignited trade war is hurting U.S. exports?

Meanwhile, New Republic's Bryce Covert suggests how Democrats could change the conversation:

If Democrats want to win elections, they should imbue Trump’s empty rhetoric with a real promise: a good job for every American who wants one. It’s time to make a federal jobs guarantee the central tenet of the party’s platform. This is the type of simple, straightforward plan that Democrats need in order to connect with Americans who struggle to survive in the twenty-first-century economy. And while a big, New Deal–style government program might seem like a nonstarter in this day and age—just look at the continuing battle over the Affordable Care Act—a jobs guarantee isn’t actually so far-fetched.

Americans overwhelmingly want to work: Most people say they get a sense of identity from their job and would keep working even if they won the lottery. Joblessness is even associated with poorer mental and physical health for entire families—not working appears to make us sick. And there’s already strong support for a jobs guarantee: In a 2014 poll, 47 percent said they favor such a program. A jobs guarantee holds the promise not just of jobs for all, but of a stronger and more productive economy for everyone. The biggest obstacle, in fact, might be the Democratic Party’s own timidity.

A Federal jobs program and universal health care? What's next, rising productivity and declining inequality? Haul up the drawbridges!

Still, it's going to be a long 1,282 days.

Maybe someday the U.S. will catch up to Europe and Canada

Specifically today, I'm talking about chipped credit cards, which the rest of the world has had for years longer than we have, and they're a lot less annoying. Bloomberg's Ben Steverman explains why:

It's an awkward and irritating experience, and payment companies are aware of the problems. "Some places, it's seamless and beautiful," said Robert Martin, North American vice president of security solutions at Ingenico Group, the second-largest maker of payment terminals in the U.S. "Other places, not so much. But we're learning." 

Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes. To connect to card networks, retailers use a countless array of software providers and payment processors. Payments can also be linked to more than a dozen other applications controlling store operations, from coupons to inventory. If not configured perfectly, this tangle of systems and vendors can slow chip transactions to a crawl. 

Customers' experience with chip cards should improve gradually, one upgrade at a time, as the systems become more standardized, industry experts say. Slow transactions and confusing interfaces will disappear, or retailers risk losing customers to rivals with more pleasant checkout experiences.

Once again, the U.S. is way behind the rest of the world. In the U.K. and Canada, about 40 percent of Visa's transactions are contact-less, the payment network says. In Australia, the number is 85 percent.

And let's not forget: in the rest of the world they use chip and PIN systems, which are far more secure than chip and signature. Maybe someday...