The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Why no one answers the phone anymore

Alexis Madrigal, closer to an X-er than a Millennial, rhapsodizes on how the telephone ring, once imperative, now repulses:

Before ubiquitous caller ID or even *69 (which allowed you to call back the last person who’d called you), if you didn’t get to the phone in time, that was that. You’d have to wait until they called back. And what if the person calling had something really important to tell you or ask you? Missing a phone call was awful. Hurry!

Not picking up the phone would be like someone knocking at your door and you standing behind it not answering. It was, at the very least, rude, and quite possibly sneaky or creepy or something. Besides, as the phone rang, there were always so many questions, so many things to sort out. Who was it? What did they want? Was it for … me?

There are many reasons for the slow erosion of this commons. The most important aspect is structural: There are simply more communication options. Text messaging and its associated multimedia variations are rich and wonderful: words mixed with emoji, Bitmoji, reaction gifs, regular old photos, video, links. Texting is fun, lightly asynchronous, and possible to do with many people simultaneously.

But in the last couple years, there is a more specific reason for eyeing my phone’s ring warily. Perhaps 80 or even 90 percent of the calls coming into my phone are spam of one kind or another. Now, if I hear my phone buzzing from across the room, at first I’m excited if I think it’s a text, but when it keeps going, and I realize it’s a call, I won’t even bother to walk over. My phone only rings one or two times a day, which means that I can go a whole week without a single phone call coming in that I (or Apple’s software) can even identify, let alone want to pick up.

Meanwhile, robocalling continues to surge, with a record 3.4 billion of them sent in April—approximately 40% of all calls placed that month by some reckonings.

Welcome to the 21st century, where your 19th-century technologies do more harm than good.

Today's batch

I've had a lot of things going on at work the past couple of weeks, and not many free evenings, leading to these link round-up posts that add nothing to the conversation.

But there should be a conversation, and here are some topics:

Finally, on Monday Parker will have his final check-out by his surgeon, which should clear him to go back to day camp on Tuesday. The poor fuzzy dude has spent way too much time home alone since his injury. I'm looking forward to him getting back into his pack.

Lunchtime reading

Not all of this is as depressing as yesterday's batch:

I'm sure there will be more later.

Amphiboly, or how to define crimes down

Aaron Blake explains how President Trump's legal team have seized on the ambiguous term "collusion" to set up their ultimate strategy for getting him off the hook for criminal activity:

Rudolph W. Giuliani went on TV and blurted out the Trump team's Russia investigation strategy this weekend.

It is for public opinion,” Giuliani said on CNN, “because, eventually, the decision here is going to be impeach/not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So, our jury is the American — as it should be — is the American people.”

Basically, the word “collusion” isn't in the applicable criminal code; that's technically true. But the Justice Department has used the term in its own filings in Robert S. Mueller III's probe, and it's something of a blanket term that encompasses several potential crimes such as conspiracy, public corruption and coercion. Assisting a foreign power in influencing a U.S. election may not typically be called “collusion,” but it's almost certainly illegal. The media have used a somewhat generic, umbrella term in the absence of a specific, known and provable offense, and Trump and Co. have (rather smartly, I would argue) seized upon its vagueness to set the goal posts at “collusion.”

If Mueller does use the term “collusion” in his report, the argument will be: “But it's not even a crime!” Conversely, if he doesn't charge people with “collusion” but instead one of those other crimes, the argument will be: “They couldn't prove collusion, so they picked another crime!”

However it turns out, the defense will be built-in, and there will be plenty for GOP voters and lawmakers who use it to argue that the whole thing is a “witch hunt” — regardless of whether real crimes are involved.

Blake also cites a report that Trump supporters already believe the investigation is bogus, notwithstanding (a) actual convictions for actual crimes, and (b) that finding out whether the President of the United States shared information with a hostile foreign power is in everyone's interest.

We really, really need to take back the House in November, even if all we can do with the majority is get all this administration's malfeasance out into the open.

Depressing lunchtime reading

I've queued up a few articles to read while eating lunch. I just hope I don't lose said lunch after reading them:

Le sigh.

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.

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?

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.

What if Trump hadn't fired Comey?

New Republic's Matt Ford contemplates the counter-factual:

Trump might also have had a better first year of his presidency. He wouldn’t be tweeting every morning about witch hunts and collusion, at least (though he’d still be tweeting). And while his poll numbers might have stayed the same, the Russia investigation might not have become the lightning rod that’s energized Democrats and demoralized Republicans. Yes, the 2018 midterms were always going to be tough for the GOP. But they would’ve been easier without the threat of more indictments from Mueller between now and Election Day.

What about legal danger? Without Comey’s removal, Trump wouldn’t be facing obstruction-of-justice questions and the risk of impeachment. The Russia investigation would have continued in a less intense form. The president’s family members might have avoided intense scrutiny from Mueller’s team. Cohen, who knows more about Trump’s legal and business dealings than almost anyone, maybe wouldn’t be facing for an imminent federal indictment. That might have spared him (and maybe the president) from questions about money laundering that are slowly starting to surface.

Experts and analysts spent the last year wondering how to contain the damage that Comey’s firing has done to the justice system. But perhaps the most effective safeguard is the example Trump has set for his successors. If civic virtue, political norms, or personal integrity don’t compel future presidents to uphold the rule of law, then maybe a simpler reason will suffice: It’s too costly not to.

Of course, if enough Republicans care more about personal enrichment than the rule of law—perish the thought!—then Trump and his cronies may not suffer any consequences for destroying it.