The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Getting away with it

President Trump's two biggest liars supporters made news today, one by quitting, and the other by refusing to.

First, the president announced yesterday that Press Secretary Sarah Sanders would leave at the end of the month. Though it remained unclear whether Sanders knew about this before the Tweet, she confirmed she will depart government service in two weeks, after successfully destroying the credibility of her office over the past two years:

The White House press secretary—the office, if not the person—is an outgrowth of the idea that, in a democracy, information matters, and facts matter, and while politicians and the press may tangle and tussle, they are ultimately on the same team. Sanders, who ascended to the press-secretary role in July of 2017, after the brief and peevish tenure of Sean Spicer, publicly rejected that idea. To watch a Sanders press conference, or to watch her representing the White House on cable news, was to be confronted with a vision of America that is guided by political Darwinism—an environment in which everything is a competition, with the winner determined by who can shout the loudest, who can distract the most effectively, who can get in the best insult before the time for questioning is over.

Here is some of the misinformation Sanders has spread on behalf of the White House: She has insisted that her boss never “promoted or encouraged violence,” although Donald Trump, among many other such promotions, said of a protester who’d been ejected from a 2016 rally, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” She has outright dismissed the stories of the multiple women who have accused Trump of sexual abuse as lies. She has told reporters that she’d heard from “countless” FBI agents who were happy that Trump had fired James Comey in 2017; she would later characterize that, to Robert Mueller, as a mere “slip of the tongue.”

Her broader legacy, though, is an acquiescence to the idea that facts themselves have a political bias. The agent of a president who has transformed “fake news” from an offhanded insult into a democratic anxiety, Sanders has used her powerful pulpit to promote the “Fake News Awards,” her boss’s carnivalesque attempt to institutionalize his mockery of the American media. She has accused reporters of “purposefully misleading the American people.” She has deflected; she has belittled; she has eye-rolled; she has condescended; she has obfuscated; she has misled; she has lied. And she has treated it all as a battle to be won. So many of the public interactions Sanders has conducted with reporters—whether Acosta or April Ryan or Jim Sciutto or Brian Karem or the many other members of the press who are charged with reporting on the daily doings of the White House—have been wars in miniature. And, day by day, the martial logic lurking in the way Americans talk about their politics—the campaign and the press corps, the war room—has been made ever more literal. What is true about the world we all navigate, together? That becomes a less important question than who is winning in it.

Margaret Sullivan calls Sanders "the disdainful Queen of Gaslighting."

Meanwhile, after years of obvious, repeated violations of the Hatch Act (prohibiting government employees from making public political statements), the Office of Special Counsel recommended that the White House fire Kellyanne Conway. The Trump-appointed OSC head made this recommendation. Conway's response? "Blah, blah, blah:"

It’s not that Conway is unaware of the rules. She’s openly thumbed her nose at them. In a May interview, when asked about overstepping the rules, she replied, “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work … Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

Her cavalier attitude toward the law, while galling, is also probably safe. The Hatch Act is written with the understanding that the president would not want his aides flagrantly and wantonly violating the law, and only the president can fire a senior aide for violating the law. In the Trump administration, that has been revealed as a loophole, since this particular president has no inclination to punish violations that benefit him. (One of the most outspoken critics of Trump’s disrespect for laws and regulations has been the longtime Republican lawyer George Conway, who has used his Twitter feed to criticize the president. He also happens to be married to Kellyanne Conway. As of this writing, George Conway had not yet commented.)

We need to get these people out of office as soon as legally possible. Unfortunately, they can still do a lot of damage between now and January 2021.

Incomprehensible privacy policies

Kevin Litman-Navarro, writing for the Times, analyzed dozens of privacy policies online for readability and brevity. The situation is grim:

The vast majority of these privacy policies exceed the college reading level. And according to the most recent literacy survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of Americans may struggle to comprehend dense, lengthy texts. That means a significant chunk of the data collection economy is based on consenting to complicated documents that many Americans can’t understand.

Despite efforts like the General Data Protection Regulation to make policies more accessible, there seems to be an intractable tradeoff between a policy’s readability and length. Even policies that are shorter and easier to read can be impenetrable, given the amount of background knowledge required to understand how things like cookies and IP addresses play a role in data collection.

“You’re confused into thinking these are there to inform users, as opposed to protect companies,” said Albert Gidari, the consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

As data collection practices become more sophisticated (and invasive), it’s unlikely that privacy policies will become any easier to comprehend. And if states continue to draft their own data protection laws, as California is doing with its Consumer Privacy Act, privacy policies could balloon with location-specific addendums.

Litman-Navarro called out the BBC for its readable, short policy that explains to normal people exactly how the Beeb will use their data. He also called out AirBnB for the opposite: a lawyerly document of incredible length that tells users nothing.

Here at the Daily Parker, we only collect your personal information (specifically, your email address and name) if you give it to us through the Comment form, and we don't show your email address to anyone. Sometimes we will use it to get in touch with you directly about a comment you've left. Otherwise we treat it as we treat our own private information. Clear?

How many lawsuits is Eddie Lampert party to?

Two made the news this week. First, Lampert has sued Sears (which he owns) for not conveying property that his investment firm bought from the doomed retailer:

Lampert's Transform is accusing the Sears estate, a bankrupt shell entity that is winding down under court supervision, of multiple wrongs including breaking the agreement by holding on to the chain's headquarters in Illinois. The estate is also intentionally delaying payments to vendors and trying to shift $166 million in accounts payable costs, according to the Transform complaint filed on Saturday.

The allegations mirror those made in court filings from Transform earlier this year. The Sears estate also sued Lampert, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and others last month, claiming they wrongly transferred $2 billion of company assets beyond the reach of creditors in the years leading up to the retailer’s bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, in another case, Lampert filed court documents in which he threatens not to pay $43m in severance payments he promised to make:

Lampert also denied that he is responsible for making some payments to creditors he says Sears Holdings is trying to force him to pay, according to the filing. Sears Holdings is the bankrupt remnants of the old Sears. It exists only to settle claims against it involving its few remaining assets.

Lampert had previously agreed to pay the severance to workers who lost their jobs before and during Sears' bankruptcy. Creditors objected to Sears paying severance to people laid off before the bankruptcy, so those workers never received an exit package.

Lampert's attorneys told the bankruptcy court that Lampert and his hedge fund ESL were the best owners to help workers who lost their jobs in various rounds of store closings.

But in the latest court documents, ESL said it wouldn't make the severance payments because Sears didn't give the hedge fund all of the assets it spelled out in ESL and Lampert's agreement to buy Sears. That included the amount of store inventory originally promised by Sears, as well as the company's headquarters in suburban Chicago.

Wow, he really wants to win Worst CEO of the Century, doesn't he? And remember, Lampert never cared about Sears as a going entity; he has always and only wanted the land Sears owns. What a schmuck.

Laughed out of court

Federal judge Amit Mehta could not believe the arguments the president's lawyer, William Consovoy, made on Monday:

Consovoy, a beefy former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, offered two related points:

(A) Congress can’t issue a subpoena or otherwise probe a president unless it is doing so for a “legitimate legislative purpose.”

(B) Any “legitimate legislative purpose” Congress could conceivably devise would be unconstitutional.

As a result, Consovoy argued, Congress can’t investigate to see if a law is being broken, can’t inform the public of wrongdoing by the executive and can’t look for presidential conflicts of interest or corruption, because that would be “law enforcement.”

I can't believe these arguments either. Dana Milbank suggests that Consovoy expects to drag out the appeals process and essentially run out the clock on Congress's ongoing investigations.

This may explain why Democratic activist Tom Steyer released this ad yesterday:

Pretty damning stuff. And it gets to the frustration that many of us feel.

I'm willing to give the House Democrats more time. But just a little. Because we need to get the facts out there before the next election.

Stevens' own private Heller

Former Associate Justice John Paul Stevens believes District of Columbia v Heller was "unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Supreme Court announced during [his] tenure on the bench:"

The text of the Second Amendment unambiguously explains its purpose: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” When it was adopted, the country was concerned that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states.

Throughout most of American history there was no federal objection to laws regulating the civilian use of firearms. When I joined the Supreme Court in 1975, both state and federal judges accepted the Court’s unanimous decision in United States v. Miller as having established that the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms was possessed only by members of the militia and applied only to weapons used by the militia. In that case, the Court upheld the indictment of a man who possessed a short-barreled shotgun, writing, “In the absence of any evidence that the possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.”

So well settled was the issue that, speaking on the PBS NewsHour in 1991, the retired Chief Justice Warren Burger described the National Rifle Association’s lobbying in support of an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment in these terms: “One of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

And after Heller came Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs...and on and on.

Illinois' upcoming comprehensive cannabis statute

Crain's outlines how Illinois' statutory approach to legalizing pot will make the state a leader in the country:

Illinois is trying to do something no other state has accomplished, legalizing recreational marijuana by statute instead of coming up with a program on the fly after a ballot initiative.

The bill, outlined Saturday, covers the mechanics of licensing, distribution and taxation, as well as some thorny criminal and social-justice matters that are crucial to lining up support.

The 522-page bill is a lot to digest, and some legislators have proposed legislation to slow down the legalization process. The bill includes language to automatically expunge marijuana-possession convictions, giving State Police two years to come up with the list of people who qualify. 

The legislation also would create a $20 million low-interest loan fund to help “social equity applicants” from communities that have been hit hard by poverty and arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis use to win licenses to grow, produce and sell cannabis for recreational use. The Cannabis Business Development Fund would be seeded with $12 million from the existing medical cannabis fund.

An even trickier balance is trying to put in regulations necessary to keep the industry under control but large and competitive enough to cut into the illegal pot market. That’s been a challenge in California, where the legalized cannabis market opened last year, with seemingly little impact on the black market, the New York Times reported.

State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) plan to introduce the bill today. Fun fact: The Daily Parker resides in Steans' legislative district.

A NORML victory in Illinois

Illinois governor JB Pritzker announced proposed legislation today that would legalize recreational marijuana and expunge low-level possession convictions retroactively:

The governor and lawmakers touted a central social justice provision of their proposal: Expunging what they estimate would be 800,000 low-level drug convictions. Revenue from Illinois’ marijuana industry would be reinvested in communities that lawmakers said have been “devastated” by the nation’s war on drugs.

Under the proposed rules, no new large-scale commercial growers would be permitted to set up shop here, at least for now. Instead, the focus would be on small “craft” growers, with an emphasis on helping people of color become entrepreneurs in the weed industry. In addition, adults would be allowed to grow up to five plants per household, in a locked room out of public view, with the permission of the landowner.

Municipalities could ban retail stores within their boundaries within the first year of the program. After that, any ban would have to come through a voter referendum.

According to a summary from Pritzker’s office, permit fees would be $100,000 for growers and $30,000 for retailers, with lower fees for applicants from minority areas disproportionately affected by convictions in the war on drugs. There would also be a business development fee of 5 percent of total sales or $500,000, whichever is less, for cultivators, and up to $200,000 for dispensaries, with lower fees for “social equity applicants.”

The state’s current medical marijuana program would remain the same, lawmakers said, and dispensaries would be required to make sure enough supply is set aside for medical use.

A couple of barely-known groups oppose the bill, but the governor expects swift passage through the legislature and a quick signature.

I'm in favor, even though I don't smoke.

Law professor explains how Mueller proved a conspiracy

Fordham Law School professor Jed Handelsman Shugerman says Attorney General Robert Barr got it exactly backwards:

The Mueller report, holding itself to the higher standard, concluded that it did not find proof beyond a reasonable doubt of criminal conspiracy with Russia. It also offered an explanation: Lies by individuals associated with the Trump campaign “materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference.” Witnesses deleted emails and used applications with encryption or deletion functions, which also thwarted fact-finding. Part II of the report on obstruction explains why Part I may have fallen short of such a high burden.

Mr. Barr had the analysis backward in his summary letter. The failure to prove an underlying crime does not mean there was no obstruction. The obstruction meant that it became impossible to know whether there was a conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt — and it impeded the Russian investigation. Mr. Barr then used that doubt to question whether there was the corrupt intent required by obstruction statutes. To the contrary, the preponderance of conspiracy evidence confirms the corrupt intent.

This conduct by President Trump, his son and his campaign manager and deputy campaign manager are probably civil violations of coordination for enforcement by the F.E.C. Presidents should not be impeached for civil election violations, but one should still be able to conclude that Mr. Mueller established coordination with the Russian government as a factual matter. And it may have been so egregious that it was a “high misdemeanor,” and the obstruction was not faithful execution of the law, especially in light of new historical evidence of its meaning.

Meanwhile, the machinery of congressional investigation churns along...

Busy news day

A large number of articles bubbled up in my inbox (and RSS feeds) this morning. Some were just open tabs from the weekend. From the Post:

In other news:

And now, to work, perchance to write...

Agents of what, exactly?

Most members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) last week fired their agents because of the intrusion of finance into their business. Large agencies, some owned by finance companies and no longer partnerships, no longer appear to represent the writers they claim to represent, as the agents have interests on both sides of many deals.

The Association of Talent Agents (ATA) has responded to all these principals firing their agents with questionable logic:

For those of you who haven’t been following, the WGA (for which, until recently, my husband worked as a magazine editor) wants the talent agencies to sign a new code of conduct to ensure the agents do their jobs — getting their clients the best deals possible — and that’s it. No using clients as part of an overall package deal or working with affiliated production companies; too often, the WGA contends, these practices result in writers getting shafted.

The ATA says the agencies will not be signing any such code because the WGA is not the boss of them and writers actually benefit from packaging, which has been going on for years.

So the WGA instructed its members to fire their agents, which almost all of them have, and announced it is suing the four major talent agencies.

In response, the ATA accused the WGA of trying to throw Hollywood into “predetermined chaos” and instructed its members to keep a list of any writers trying to get work without using an agent because, according to ATA reps, this is illegal.

So just to recap: Writers are unhappy with how major talent agencies have been repping them. When confronted with this, the agents refused to make any changes, so the writers fired them. Now the agencies are saying the writers cannot do this because, according to them, writers are legally bound to be represented by people who they believe are shafting them.

Even by Hollywood standards, this is Absolutely Insane.

It's going to be interesting as lawyers and accountants start representing writers.

Note: I'm still going through photos from this weekend, so I'll have the official Park 29 and Park 30 postings up today or tomorrow.