The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Pants on fire for what reason?

People in and out of the Trump Administration have lied so often and about so many things. The Post asks, but why?

Did the president’s men lie to protect a still-hidden dark secret about the campaign’s interaction with Russia, engaging in a broad effort to obstruct the probe — one that included perhaps even Trump?

Did they lie to avoid diminishing Trump’s victory by acknowledging Russia played a role in his election?

Did they each lie for their own reasons, taking their cue from the president — who has told many whoppers of his own, including about Russia?

Trump’s former campaign chairmandeputy campaign managerformer national security adviserpersonal lawyerand a campaign foreign policy adviser have all been accused of lying to investigators exploring Russia activity.

In the first two years of his administration, the president made 8,158 false or misleading claims. Perhaps like attracts like? 

Restauranteur caught in Spain

Former Embeya owner Attila Gyulai, accused of embezzling over a million dollars from the restaurant he co-owned with chef Thai Dang his wife Komal Patel, was arrested in Spain yesterday:

Gyulai and his wife, Komal Patel, disappeared in summer 2016 after abruptly shutting the restaurant. They abandoned their Ford Flex SUV in front of their River West home, a detail uncovered in an exhaustive investigation by Crain's. Police ticketed the car two​ weeks later and impounded it in mid-August. By then, bank records later would show, their accounts had been used for a series of payments outside the United States.

Though the West Loop restaurant had won praise for its design and Asian cuisine, Cook County Circuit Court records show the couple took $1.5 million out of the restaurant, which was partly owned by chef Thai Dang. Judges had ordered Gyulai and Patel to pay the money back. Gyulai and Patel were last known to be living in Tulum, Mexico.

Dang, who was left to pay creditors after his partner disappeared, now owns Haisous, a restaurant in Pilsen, with his wife, Danielle. "We never thought this day would come this quick," he said via text upon learning of Gyulai's arrest. "We just knew we had to keep moving on with our lives."

Good. If the accusations prove true, he needs to go to jail.

Stuff to read on the plane

Just a quick post of articles I want to load up on my Surface at O'Hare:

Off to take Parker to boarding. Thence the Land of UK.

How sellers use Amazon's monopsony power against each other

Via Bruce Schneier, a report on how third-party Amazon sellers use Amazon's own policies to attack their rivals:

When you buy something on Amazon, the odds are, you aren’t buying it from Amazon at all. Plansky is one of 6 million sellers on Amazon Marketplace, the company’s third-party platform. They are largely hidden from customers, but behind any item for sale, there could be dozens of sellers, all competing for your click. This year, Marketplace sales were almost double those of Amazon retail itself, according to Marketplace Pulse, making the seller platform alone the largest e-commerce business in the world.

For sellers, Amazon is a quasi-state. They rely on its infrastructure — its warehouses, shipping network, financial systems, and portal to millions of customers — and pay taxes in the form of fees. They also live in terror of its rules, which often change and are harshly enforced. A cryptic email like the one Plansky received can send a seller’s business into bankruptcy, with few avenues for appeal.

Sellers are more worried about a case being opened on Amazon than in actual court, says Dave Bryant, an Amazon seller and blogger. Amazon’s judgment is swifter and less predictable, and now that the company controls nearly halfof the online retail market in the US, its rulings can instantly determine the success or failure of your business, he says. “Amazon is the judge, the jury, and the executioner.”

An algorithm flags sellers based on a range of metrics — customer complaints, number of returns, certain keywords used in reviews, and other, more mysterious variables — and passes them to Performance workers based in India, Costa Rica, and other locations. These workers choose between several prewritten blurbs to send to sellers. They may see what the actual problem is or the key item missing from an appeal, but they can’t be more specific than the forms allow, according to Rachel Greer, who worked as a fraud investigator at Amazon before becoming a seller consultant. “It feels like it’s a bot, but it’s actually a human who is very frustrated about the fact that they have to work like that,” she says.

The Performance workers’ incentives favor rejection. They must process approximately one claim every four minutes, and reinstating someone who later gets suspended again counts against them.... When they fall behind...they’ll often “punt” by sending requests for more information....

Scary. And an example of why monopolies are bad. As Schenier says, "Amazon is basically its own government—with its own rules that its suppliers have no choice but to follow. And, of course, increasingly there is no option but to sell your stuff on Amazon."

Note that I say this while watching an old TV show on Amazon Prime, waiting for Amazon to deliver a replacement Fitbit band, and on and on.

Grisly Chicago history

Forty years ago, Des Plaines, Ill., police arrested John Wayne Gacy on suspicion of murder. Then they found more than 20 bodies in his crawlspace. The Tribune has a retrospective:

John Wayne Gacy’s confession to the rape and murder of more than 30 people didn’t just awaken America to a nightmare hidden in its own backyard. The discovery 40 years ago of the dank, muddy mass grave underneath Gacy's yellow brick ranch house at 8213 W. Summerdale Ave. forever shattered the image of the safe suburban community.

A police search for missing Maine West sophomore Robert Piest led investigators to 36-year-old Gacy, a “stocky, bull necked contractor,” described by neighbors and business associates as a pillar of the community: a likable, boastful divorced businessman and Democratic precinct captain who hosted themed neighborhood parties and entertained children as a clown named Pogo.

“(The public) would feel much more comfortable if Gacy was this type of creepy, sequestered ghoul that was unkempt and heinous,” Detective Sgt. Jason Moran of the Cook County sheriff’s office, who is a point man on the Gacy case, said recently. “But instead, he dressed as a clown and bounced kids on his knee. He would knock at your door and say vote for my candidate.”

Gacy’s nice-guy persona masked something far more sinister. Once they were safely restrained — usually in a pair of handcuffs as he demonstrated a “trick” he learned as a clown — Gacy’s easy smile melted away, revealing a cold, growling predator who sexually assaulted his victims before strangling many of them with a knotted rope. He buried 29 of his 33 victims in trenches underneath and around his home and dumped four others from bridges once his property could hold no more bodies.

Yes: this is the guy that made us Gen-X kids fear clowns.

Queued up for later

Some questions:

And finally, when can I take a nap?

"A Constitutional Nobody"

Former Assistant Solicitor General Neal Katyal and George Conway III (yes, Kellyanne's husband) say President Trump's "appointment" of Matthew Whittaker to oversee the Justice Department is flatly unconstitutional:

Mr. Whitaker has not been named to some junior post one or two levels below the Justice Department’s top job. He has now been vested with the law enforcement authority of the entire United States government, including the power to supervise Senate-confirmed officials like the deputy attorney general, the solicitor general and all United States attorneys.

We cannot tolerate such an evasion of the Constitution’s very explicit, textually precise design. Senate confirmation exists for a simple, and good, reason. Constitutionally, Matthew Whitaker is a nobody. His job as Mr. Sessions’s chief of staff did not require Senate confirmation.

Because Mr. Whitaker has not undergone the process of Senate confirmation, there has been no mechanism for scrutinizing whether he has the character and ability to evenhandedly enforce the law in such a position of grave responsibility. The public is entitled to that assurance, especially since Mr. Whitaker’s only supervisor is President Trump himself, and the president is hopelessly compromised by the Mueller investigation. That is why adherence to the requirements of the Appointments Clause is so important here, and always.

As Josh Marshall said earlier today, "It’s really, really bad. ... But it was also clear that it was impulsive, poorly thought out and in many ways counterproductive." In other words, as bad as the Whitaker appointment is on the surface, past Administration actions call into question whether it will actually work out the way they hope.

Brian Kemp wants his own election to fail

By now you may have heard that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who oversees elections in Georgia, and who is running for governor of Georgia this coming Tuesday, claims the Democratic Party hacked the voter registration database.

No. What happened is, when the state Democratic Party's voter protection director reached out to his office directly after being alerted to a gaping data vulnerability, he turned his own malfeasance into an attack on his opposition:

By the time Democrats reached out to the experts, Kemp’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had already been alerted to the problem on Saturday morning by David Cross of the Morrison Foerster law firm. Cross is an attorney for one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Kemp and other elections officials concerning cyber weaknesses in Georgia’s election system.

A man who claims to be a Georgia resident said he stumbled upon files in his My Voter Page on the secretary of state’s website. He realized the files were accessible. That man then reached out to one of Cross’s clients, who then put the source and Cross in touch on Friday.

The next morning, Cross called John Salter, a lawyer who represents Kemp and the secretary of state’s office. Cross also notified the FBI.

WhoWhatWhy, which exclusively reported on these vulnerabilities Sunday morning, had consulted with five computer security experts on Saturday to verify the seriousness of the situation. They confirmed that these security gaps would allow even a low-skilled hacker to compromise Georgia’s voter registration system and, in turn, the election itself. It is not known how long these vulnerabilities have existed or whether they have been exploited.

In this election and during the primaries, voters have reported not showing up in the poll books, being assigned to the wrong precinct, and being issued the wrong ballot.

All of that could be explained by a bad actor changing voter registration data.

Kemp's incompetence at securing voter registration data should be criminal. If he were a corporate executive, he could personally be sued in the EU and in other parts of the world for his negligence.

But, see, if you're running in a state where the majority of voters want your opponent to win, and you're a Republican, and you have the means and opportunity, you just bollocks up data security so badly that the entire registration process looks suspect. Then you either win, because the opposition can't vote, or you lose, and start bogus investigations to call the election's legitimacy into doubt.

This has been the Jim Crow strategy for a century and a half. That Kemp's opponent is an African-American woman with clear support from a majority of Georgians only makes Kemp's behavior more brazen.

The Republican Party can't win on the merits in most of the country, so they're throwing the game where they can. And the fact that their behavior undermines the legitimacy of elections in general is a feature, not a bug.

I've said this for 30 years: the Republican Party doesn't want to govern; they want to rule. And they are not going to give up their losing battle quietly. Nihilism doesn't care, after all.

Vote on Tuesday, if you haven't already. Enough of this shit. We have real problems to solve, and we need real people to solve them. Don't let the nihilists win.

Blaming the victim isn't new

It seems timely for me to dredge up this PSA I did for Hofstra Television in October 1991:

On later viewing, though, it seems to me like we still had trouble seeing that date rape was exponentially more common than random street rape. That said, I was pretty proud that HTV broadcast the video, from a script that we used in crisis hotline training.

Cast: Heather Maidat (Hofstra '94). Director: Sean Pearson (Hofstra '92).