The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

If our guy's corrupt, arrest him

US Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has gotten himself indicted again for stupefying corruption:

The three-count federal indictment depicts a brazen plan hatched during furtive dinners, in text messages and on encrypted calls — much of it aimed at increasing U.S. assistance to Egypt and aiding businessmen in New Jersey.

Mr. Menendez’s wife, Nadine Menendez, is accused of acting as a go-between, passing messages to an American-Egyptian businessman, Wael Hana, who maintained close connections with Egyptian military and intelligence officials, the indictment said. In one text, to an Egyptian general, Mr. Hana referred to the senator, who held sway over military sales, financing and other aid, as “our man.”

Friday’s charges describe an intermingling of the bare-knuckle, back-room dealings of Mr. Menendez’s home state of New Jersey and delicate matters of security in the Middle East. They represent the latest episode in a decades-long political career that took Mr. Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, from the Union City, N.J., school board to the halls of the Senate, a career marked by accusations of corruption and an earlier federal indictment that ended in a hung jury.

Dan Friedman marvels at the indictment:

Prosecutors say the New Jersey Democrat and his wife took hundreds of thousands of dollars via gold bars, mortgage payments, a Mercedes-Benz convertible, and cash that investigators found hidden in envelopes inside jackets bearing the senator’s name.

But what’s particularly striking about this indictment—besides the sheer brazenness of the alleged bribery—is that this is the second time Menendez has faced corruption charges in less than a decade. In 2015, he was charged with using his office to do favors for a Florida eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, who lavished Menendez with luxury items and free travel. Menendez, who claimed he and Melgen were simply friends who exchanged gifts, avoided conviction after a hung jury caused a mistrial in 2017. Melgen was convicted of Medicare fraud in 2017, but President Donald Trump commuted his 17 year prison sentence.

In 2018, the Senate Ethics Committee admonished Menendez, noting that despite the mistrial, Menendez had admitted to taking official actions to help Melgen while accepting gifts from him that the senator failed to disclose “as required by Senate Rules and federal law.” The committee said that Menendez’s actions “reflected discredit upon the Senate.”

The new charges suggest that the unusually sharp condemnation from his colleagues did not cause Menendez to cease ethically questionable, if not illegal, conduct. And Senate Democrats did nothing to stop him. Menendez’s 2018 reelection to a third Senate term, and an agreement by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats to allow Menendez to return to a top spot on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—he became chairman when his party took control of the chamber in 2021—gave Menendez the power that the Justice Department now alleges he used corruptly.

I lived in New Jersey years ago—in fact, just after I started The Daily Parker—so I get that the state has a rep to uphold. But wow, the man needs to resign right now. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is also a Democrat, so should Menendez unexpectedly do the right thing, Murphy would appoint a new senator immediately. (As long as Murphy doesn't start marveling at "this thing [that's] fucking golden," we should be all right.)

But for me, it was Tuesday

Another Tuesday, another collection of head-shaking news stories one might expect in the waning days of an empire:

Closer to home, the old candy-making laboratory on the 13th floor of the historic Marshal Field building has come back to life, 24 years after the the last Frango mint was produced there. (Note to readers who speak Portuguese: no one checked a Portuguese dictionary before naming the candy.)

He will shut up someday, just not soon enough

Special prosecutor Jack Smith has requested US District Court Judge Tanya S Chutkan issue an order telling the XPOTUS to stop threatening people online:

In a 19-page motion, prosecutors said that some of the people Mr. Trump has gone after on social media — including the special counsel, Jack Smith, who has filed two indictments against him — have experienced subsequent threats from others. Mr. Trump’s statements, they said, could also affect witnesses and the potential jury pool for the trial, which is scheduled to take place in Washington starting in March.

“Like his previous public disinformation campaign regarding the 2020 presidential election,” [prosecutors] wrote, “the defendant’s recent extrajudicial statements are intended to undermine public confidence in an institution — the judicial system — and to undermine confidence in and intimidate individuals — the court, the jury pool, witnesses and prosecutors.”

Meanwhile, attorney Jenna Ellis, who had greatness thrust upon her but now regrets it, called her former boss a "malignant narcissist" who poisons everything he touches. Of course, he doesn't seem to know who he's running against next year, saying in a speech yesterday that he thought Obama was going to take us into World War II if we're not careful... And 46% of the country will still vote for him.

Unrelated to the 2024 election, I found this website very interesting...

Slight warm-up before the next bit of autumn

IDTWHQ almost made it to 22°C this afternoon, with a low dewpoint, sunny skies, and a lake breeze. In other words, perfect. Of course, the sun sets just after 7pm tonight, fully an hour earlier than it did five weeks ago...but that's autumn for you.

Not everything in the world went perfectly today, of course:

  • House Speaker and noted invertebrate Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) continues to survive as third in line to the Presidency even though his unhinged back bench keeps forcing him to do stupid things, like start an impeachment inquiry on literally zero evidence.
  • Alex Shephard actually sees this as a good thing for Democrats, as the "clown show" comes just as the House needs to pass a spending bill or the government will, once again, shut down.
  • Meanwhile, satirist Andy Borowitz jokes that House Republicans "demand Biden tell them why they are impeaching him."
  • Back in Chicago, it turns out only 9.6% of the city's waste got recycled in 2022, compared with 20% in New York and 80% in San Francisco.
  • On Monday, Illinois becomes the first state in the union to eliminate cash bail.

Finally, our moderate drought continues in Illinois, but so far most agriculture seems unaffected. A dry autumn usually means a colorful one, so maybe we'll stay just under normal rainfall long enough to repeat last autumn's amazing display?

Perfect early-autumn weather

Inner Drive Technology WHQ cooled down to 14°C overnight and has started to climb up into the low-20s this morning, with a low dewpoint and mostly-clear skies. Perfect sleeping weather, and almost-perfect walking weather! In a few minutes I'm going to take Cassie out for a good, long walk, but first I want to queue up some stuff to read when it's pissing with rain tomorrow:

Finally, my indoor Netatmo base station has picked up a funny mid-September thing: cicadas. The annual dog-day cicadas have only a few more days to get the next generation planted in the ground, so the remaining singletons have come out this morning instead of waiting for dusk. As you can see, the ones in the tree right outside the window closest to the Netatmo have been going at it since dawn:

The predominant species in my yard right now are neotibicen pruinosus, or "scissor-grinder" cicadas. But we also have our share of other species in Northern Illinois. And, of course, next May: Brood XIII comes out. That'll be fun (especially for Cassie)!

Recycle all your creds in LastPass

Via Molly White, thieves made off with data from LastPass containing the encrypted passwords from 25 million users. They still have to crack the vaults to get at the data, which takes a long time, but Brian Krebs worries they have already succeeded in cracking a few of them:

In November 2022, the password manager service LastPass disclosed a breach in which hackers stole password vaults containing both encrypted and plaintext data for more than 25 million users. Since then, a steady trickle of six-figure cryptocurrency heists targeting security-conscious people throughout the tech industry has led some security experts to conclude that crooks likely have succeeded at cracking open some of the stolen LastPass vaults.

Armed with your secret seed phrase, anyone can instantly access all of the cryptocurrency holdings tied to that cryptographic key, and move the funds to anywhere they like.

Which is why the best practice for many cybersecurity enthusiasts has long been to store their seed phrases either in some type of encrypted container — such as a password manager — or else inside an offline, special-purpose hardware encryption device, such as a Trezor or Ledger wallet.

[Security researcher Nick] Bax said the only obvious commonality between the victims who agreed to be interviewed was that they had stored the seed phrases for their cryptocurrency wallets in LastPass.

If you use LastPass, MetaMask's lead project manager Taylor Monahan urges you to update your credentials now:

According to MetaMask’s Monahan, users who stored any important passwords with LastPass — particularly those related to cryptocurrency accounts — should change those credentials immediately, and migrate any crypto holdings to new offline hardware wallets.

“Really the ONLY thing you need to read is this,” Monahan pleaded to her 70,000 followers on Twitter/X: “PLEASE DON’T KEEP ALL YOUR ASSETS IN A SINGLE KEY OR SECRET PHRASE FOR YEARS. THE END. Split up your assets. Get a hw [hardware] wallet. Migrate. Now.”

If you also had passwords tied to banking or retirement accounts, or even just important email accounts — now would be a good time to change those credentials as well.

Another idea: don't hold your assets in crypto, which, unlike real banking, has no protection against theft and few ways to recover stolen funds.

Last hot weekend of 2023, I hope

The temperature has crept up towards 34°C all day after staying at a comfortable 28°C yesterday and 25°C Friday. It's officially 33°C at O'Hare but just a scoshe above 31°C at IDTWHQ. Also, I still feel...uncomfortable in certain places closely associated with walking. All of which explains why I'm jotting down a bunch of news stories to read instead of walking Cassie.

  • First, if you have tomorrow off for Labor Day, you can thank Chicago workers. (Of course, if you have May 1st off for Labor Day, you can also thank us on the actual day that they intended.)
  • A new study suggests 84% of the general population want to experience an orchestral concert, though it didn't get into how much they want to pay for such a thing. (You can hear Händel's complete Messiah on December 9th at Holy Name Cathedral or December 10th at Millar Chapel for just $50!)
  • An FBI whistleblower claims Russian intelligence co-opted Rudy Giuliani in the run-up to the 2020 election—not as a Russian agent, mind you, just as a "useful idiot."
  • Rapper Eminem has told Republican presidential (*cough*) candidate Vivek Ramaswamy—who Michelle Goldberg calls "very annoying"—to stop using his music in his political campaign.
  • The government of Chile has promised to investigate the 3000 or so disappearances that happened under dictator Agosto Pinochet, though they acknowledge that it might be hard to find the ones thrown out of helicopters into the sea, or dropped down mine shafts. And with most of the murderers already dead of old age, it's about time.
  • Julia Ioffe wonders when the next putsch attempt will get close to Moscow, now that Prigozhin seems to be dead.
  • About 70,000 people continue to squelch through ankle-deep mud at Black Rock City after torrential rains at Burning Man this weekend. (I can't wait to see the moop map...)
  • University of Michigan Law Professor Nicholas Bagley had a cogent explanation of why pharmaceutical companies don't want to negotiate drug prices with Medicare. (Hint: record profits.)
  • Switching Chicago's pre-World War II bungalows from gas to electric heating could cut the city's GHG emissions by 14%.
  • Molly White's weekly newsletter starts off with some truly clueless and entitled behavior from Sam Bankman-Fried and gets weirder.
  • Zoning laws, plus the inability of the Portland, Ore., government to allow variances in any useful fashion, has condemned an entire high school to send its kids an hour away by bus while the building gets repaired, rather than just across the street to the community college many of them attend in the evenings. (Guess what skin color the kids have. Go on, guess.)
  • A group of hackers compromised a Portuguese-language "stalkerware" company and deleted all the data the company's spyware had downloaded, as well as the keys to the compromised phones it came from, then posted the company's customer data online. "Because fuck stalkerware," they said.
  • Traffic engineers, please don't confuse people by turning their small-town streets into stroads. It causes accidents. Which you, not they, have caused.
  • Illinois had a mild and dry summer, ending just before our ferociously hot Labor Day weekend.
  • James Fallows talks about college rankings, "which are marginally more encouraging than the current chaos of College Football."

Finally, I'll just leave this Tweet from former labor secretary Robert Reich as its own little monument to the New Gilded Age we now inhabit:

Last day of summer

Meteorological autumn begins at midnight local time, even though today's autumn-like temperatures will give way to summer heat for a few days starting Saturday. Tomorrow I will once again attempt the 42-kilometer walk from Cassie's daycare to Lake Bluff. Will I go 3-for-4 or .500? Tune in Saturday morning to find out.

Meanwhile:

  1. Quinta Jurecic foresees some problems with the overlapping XPOTUS criminal trials next year, not least of which is looking for a judicial solution to a political problem.
  2. Even though I prefer them to rabbits, even I can see that Chicago has a rat problem.
  3. Pilot Patrick Smith laments the endless noise in most airport terminals, but praises Schiphol for its quiet. (Yet another reason to emigrate?)

Finally, it seems like anyone with a valid credit card number (their own or someone else's) can track the owner of that credit card on the New York City subway. I wonder how the MTA will plug that particular hole?

High time for a schedule change

The Dept of Health and Human Services (HHS) has signed off on rescheduling THC as a Schedule III drug, the first of three steps required for marijuana to become just another medication:

A top official at the Department of Health and Human Services wrote Drug Enforcement Agency administrator Anne Milgram calling for marijuana to be reclassified as a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act, according to a letter dated Aug. 29 seen by Bloomberg News. This would mark a critical shift from its current status as a Schedule I substance, which includes drugs with a high abuse risk like heroin.

Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine said in the letter that her recommendation was based on a Food and Drug Administration review of marijuana’s classification. The Controlled Substances Act places substances regulated under federal law into one of five schedules based on its medical use, potential for abuse, and safety or dependence liability.

HHS approval is one step in the process to rescheduling. The Drug Enforcement Administration also must sign off. The timeline is uncertain. But HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra recently said he hoped to have a decision for President Biden “this year.”

Cannabis companies and shareholders chortled with joy:

Cannabis stocks jumped more than 10% on news that the federal government is moving closer to reclassifying marijuana, which would cut taxes on companies at a time when they desperately need the cash.

Verano Holdings stock jumped 20% to $3.20 per share Green Thumb Industries shares rose 18% to $8.15 and Cresco Labs stock climbed 13% to $1.15.

Verano CEO George Archos said in a statement: “It’s about damn time.”

“We at Verano are incredibly excited to hear the news that the Department of Health & Human Services is calling for the rescheduling of cannabis to Schedule III,” the statement said. “For far too long, cannabis prohibition and its outdated status as a Schedule I substance have unduly harmed countless individuals affected by the failed war on drugs."

Rescheduling cannabis to a Schedule III drug would allow marijuana companies to claim the same types of normal deductions as other businesses, which would dramatically improve their financials at a time when even the largest companies are hurting.

It is about damn time. Schedule I drugs include heroin and LSD; Schedule III drugs include Tylenol with codeine, testosterone, and ketamine.

Not to mention, rescheduling cannabis would result in the cessation of Federal drug enforcement efforts against marijuana users and sellers, regardless of what party controls Congress or the White House. (Unfortunately for servicemembers, marijuana has its own special place in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Article 112a will still enable the JAG corps to recommend dishonorable discharge for servicemembers caught with up to 30 grams of pot.)

Disclosure: I own shares of Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries.

Worth the time

I tried something different yesterday after watching Uncle Roger's stab at adobo:

Ng's basic outline worked really well, and I got close to what I had hoped on the first attempt. Next time I'll use less liquid, a bit more sugar, a bit less vinegar, and a bit more time simmering. Still, dinner last night was pretty tasty.

Much of the news today, however, is not:

  • US District Judge Tanya Chutkan set the XPOTUS's Federal criminal trial for next March 4th, two years earlier than he wanted it.
  • Writing for The Guardian, Margaret Sullivan blasts Republican presidential wannabe Vivek Ramaswamy as "a demagogue in waiting," and a distressing preview of Millennial politicians.
  • The MiG pilot who ejected during an airshow on August 13th blamed the non-flying observer in the back seat for pulling the ejection cord on his own.
  • Chicago has struggled for 15 or more years to get critical repairs to our international dock on the South Side.
  • Elizabeth Spiers has a pretty good idea why Michael Oher, subject of Michael Lewis's 2006 book The Blind Side and the 2009 film of the same name, is pissed off at the white family that didn't actually adopt him.

Finally, via Bruce Schneier, a couple of kids with $30 worth of radio equipment managed to stop 20 trains in Poland by exploiting a mind-boggling weakness in Polish train dispatching equipment. Despite some media sources calling this a "cyber attack," it was nothing of the sort. The instructions for how to do this have existed for decades.