The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Reactionary right-wing corruption under scrutiny

New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed suit to dissolve the National Rifle Association:

The lawsuit sets up a legal confrontation that could take years to play out and will leave the 148-year-old N.R.A. — long the nation’s most influential gun-rights lobby but recently hobbled by financial woes and infighting — fighting for its survival. The attorney general’s office previously presided over the dissolution of President Trump’s scandal-marred charitable foundation, but the N.R.A., with more than five million members, is a far larger organization that is expected to put up a more prolonged fight.

The lawsuit was swiftly followed by two others: The N.R.A. filed a suit against Ms. James’s office in federal court in Albany, claiming her action was politically motivated and violated the organization’s First Amendment rights. In addition, Karl Racine, the attorney general of Washington, D.C., filed suit against the N.R.A. and its charitable foundation, which is based in the city. Mr. Racine is seeking changes to the foundation and alleges that the N.R.A. misused millions of dollars of the foundation’s funds.

The suit accuses the N.R.A. and the executives of “violating numerous state and federal laws” by enriching themselves, as well as their friends, families and allies, and taking improper actions that cost the organization $64 million over three years. The attorney general has regulatory authority over the N.R.A. because it is chartered as a nonprofit in New York. She is also seeking to oust Mr. LaPierre and Mr. Frazer, and to bar all four men from ever serving on nonprofit boards in New York again.

The lawsuit, which was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, is a civil action, and outlined a number of alleged tax violations. Ms. James said during a news conference that she was referring the matter to the Internal Revenue Service in addition to taking her own action, and did not rule out making a future criminal referral.

Never forget: the purpose of authoritarianism is theft. And very few organizations the size of the NRA represent authoritarianism so obviously. Never mind what they say; watch what they do. (Hey, Mr LaPierre, where were all your members when actual jack-booted government agents came to Portland and DC?)

The Post has more:

James said at a news conference Thursday that she is seeking to dissolve the NRA because of the brazenness of the group’s violations of law.

“The corruption was so broad and because they have basically destroyed all the assets of the NRA,” she said. “Enough was enough … No one is above the law, not even the NRA.”

The lawsuit also claims LaPierre failed to report large sums of personal income to the IRS. James’s office said it found that the NRA chief funneled personal expenses through an outside public relations firm, allowing him to avoid reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal income.

In response, the NRA said Thursday that it was filing its own lawsuit against James, alleging that the New York attorney general has violated the group’s free speech rights.

“This was a baseless, premeditated attack on our organization and the Second Amendment freedoms it fights to defend,” NRA President Carolyn Meadows said in a statement. “You could have set your watch by it: the investigation was going to reach its crescendo as we move into the 2020 election cycle."

Waaaaah. Another thing authoritarians hate: being called on their wrongdoing.

Do I think the lawsuit will succeed in dissolving the NRA? No, sadly. And anyway, gun manufacturers would simply create a new trade and propaganda association to continue making the Second Amendment a parody of itself.

But with this suit, and the deepening investigation into the Trump Organization's finances, also in New York State, I think the era of right-wing over-reach may have reached its conclusion. Don't expect them to go quietly, however.

A small clearing in the woods we're not out of

For the first time since reporting its first Covid-19 death on March 11th, New York City yesterday reported zero confirmed or probable deaths from the virus:

The milestone came Sunday in initial data from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

New York State reported five deaths statewide on Sunday but didn’t specify where those fatalities occured. The highest number of deaths statewide was reported on April 9, at 799.

New York City has reported a total of 18,670 confirmed Covid-19 deaths and 4,613 probable ones.

State and local data often conflict, and numbers can change due to delays in lab results, as some deaths initially reported as probable may be later changed to confirmed.

This comes on a day when we hit all kinds of records, none of them good. I'll take it.

What just happened in SDNY?

On Friday night, US Attorney General William Barr announced that Jeffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had resigned. Minutes later, Berman said "the hell I have."

A couple of problems immediately present themselves when you think about this. First, only the president can fire a US Attorney. (President Trump finally did that last night.) Second, the highest law-enforcement official in the country, lied in writing about this. Third, the SDNY has multiple, ongoing investigations into the president's associates and businesses. Fourth, Barr's first announcement of Berman's replacement (a well-known Trump fellatist supporter) flouted the actual black-letter law giving that power to the judges of the SDNY (who, in fact, appointed Berman).

Calling this "extraordinary" doesn't do justice to the violence this dealt to the rule of law.

The Times:

The attorney general’s interventions in high-profile cases involving the onetime Trump advisers Roger J. Stone Jr. and Michael T. Flynn have prompted accusations from current and former law enforcement officials that Mr. Barr has politicized the department.

Over the last year, Mr. Berman’s office brought indictments against two close associates of the president’s current lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, and began an investigation into Mr. Giuliani himself, focusing on whether his efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on the president’s political rivals violated laws on lobbying for foreign entities.

Mr. Berman’s office also conducted an investigation into Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, subpoenaing financial and other records as part of a broad inquiry into possible illegal contributions from foreigners.

David Kurtz doesn't stop at "accusations...Barr has politicized the department:"

We’re deep into the worst crisis in the history of the Justice Department, and it keeps deepening. This isn’t alarming for what it signifies or for what it suggests might happen next or because it raises vague future concerns. It’s alarming because this is the corruption and the wrongdoing and the malfeasance. Right here, right now. Not some theoretical future threat. This is the nightmare of a president run amok with a captive Justice Department. We’re there. We’re living it.

James Comey, who worked as an assistant US Attorney in SDNY early in his career, has also spoken up:

There has always been a tension — much of it healthy — between Washington and the Southern District, but the attempt to fire the current United States attorney feels very different. Geoffrey Berman’s office has apparently been handling cases very close to the president. In 136 days, there is an election that the incumbent appears likely to lose. The attorney general, surely not proceeding on his own, acts to bump the well-regarded head of the Office on a Friday night, in the middle of a pandemic. Something stinks.

The country is well-served by the independent spirit and reputation of the Southern District of New York. It has long been the place where hard cases could be done in a way Americans trusted. It was where Bill Clinton’s 11th-hour pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich could be credibly investigated. It is also the place with jurisdiction over so much of this president’s complicated life.

And it is a place that follows the facts alone to reach conclusions, without regard to politics, just as [Henry L.] Stimson wanted. Maybe that’s why William P. Barr moved to knock off Berman on a Friday night and announced President Trump’s intention to replace him with someone who has never worked there. And maybe that’s why Berman, in the finest traditions of the office, stood up.

House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has opened an investigation, with a hearing already scheduled for Tuesday.

Back to your regularly-scheduled horror movie

Congratulations! You've made it to the end of April. This month has felt like one of the longest years of my life, and probably yours.

So as we head into May, here's what the last few hours of April have wrought:

Well, the only cops I've seen out in force recently were the guys who responded to a shooting and captured the two suspects a block from my home. (Yeah, that happened, and it didn't even make the paper.)

President of the Continental Congress

The only president this country has right now massively trolled my party and my state today:

As talk in Washington has swiftly moved to the next coronavirus relief package, President Donald Trump on Monday questioned whether federal taxpayers should provide money of “poorly run” states and cities run by Democrats, specifically citing Illinois.

“Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help?” Trump asked on Twitter.

Controversy over federal help to states was magnified when Illinois Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park earlier this month asked the state’s congressional delegation for more than $41.6 billion in federal aid, including $10 billion for the state’s vastly underfunded public employee pension system.

The state’s five GOP congressman rejected the request as an attempt to use federal money to paper over decades of mismanagement, including the pensions which have a $138 billion unfunded liability.

Well, why not? We've spent decades subsidizing Republican states for their unconscionable mismanagement of schools, disaster planning, highway construction...basically, we've subsidized their low tax rates and massive inequality. (Also, density in places like New York actually saves more lives every year than the pandemic will take this year.)

Obviously it's stupid to Balkanize the US. We are one nation. And we have been since 1789. Seriously, Republicans, if you don't like the Federal system, then let's see you pass a Constitutional amendment giving states the right to secede. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the nation has seen about 15,000 excess deaths in the past month, suggesting massive under-reporting of Covid-19 cases. And New York State has postponed the Democratic Party primary election from June 23rd to possibly just before the party's convention in August.

Fastest JFK-to-LHR flight since the Concorde

British Airways flight 112 arrived at 4:47 this morning at Heathrow, having made the trip from New York in an astonishing 4 hours, 56 minutes:

Virgin Atlantic wasn’t far behind British Airways, though. VS4 from New York JFK to London Heathrow was scheduled to depart at exactly the same time. The flight was operated by an A350-1000, and that plane completed the flight in just 4hr57min. It ended up arriving at the gate at Heathrow at 5:05AM, a full 1hr25min ahead of schedule.

Tail winds on both flights were as high as 425 km/h, and the planes reached maximum [ground] speeds of over 1,325 km/h.

It should be noted that this was not the fastest trans-Atlantic trip since Concorde, or even last night:

Aer Lingus flew from Boston to Dublin in a flight time of 4hr49min, which is actually not that impressive when you consider that the flight is nearly 800 km shorter (however, the 747 has a faster cruising speed than the A330).

It's still impressive.

...and winter isn't screwing around

At least, not in the Northeast:

In the Northeast, heavy snow, mixed precipitation and strong winds are expected to develop in many areas beginning as early as Sunday. Freezing rain was already falling in parts of Pennsylvania on Sunday, making roads hazardous, and the stage is set for a burdensome Monday morning commute for many from New York to Portland, Maine.

As of Sunday morning, the storm that will evolve into the first big storm of the 2019-2020 winter season in the Northeast was centered 700 miles west of New England, just east of Chicago.

But its expansive precipitation shield was branching well off to the east, with heavy rains and downpours reaching as far south as Augusta, Ga. That slug of moisture — which has slowed traffic on Interstate 95 along much of the Eastern Seaboard — wrapped all the way up through Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo and even into Detroit, before curling north as snow in northern Wisconsin and Michigan.

Snowfall totals of over 300 mm are possible in eastern New York state east of Interstate 81 by the time the long-duration storm ends. Pockets of up to 450 mm may punctuate some spots in the Catskills and Hudson Valley.

For once, Chicago will miss the worst of it.

Things to read on my flight Friday

I realized this morning that I've missed almost the entire season of The Good Place because I don't seem to have enough time to watch TV. I also don't have enough time until Friday to read all of these pieces that have crossed my desk only today:

And now, I must finish correlating two analyses of 1.48 million data points using similar but not identical algorithms. It's as much fun as it sounds.