The Daily Parker

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Two-tiered justice in the US

Veteran crime and justice reporter Rodney Balko outlines the pernicious effects of reducing Roger Stone's sentence while continuing to throw the book at ordinary people:

So we get righteous fury over the FBI’s mistakes in obtaining wiretaps for former foreign policy adviser Carter Page, even as Republicans vote to reauthorize the law that allowed those taps and reject proposed reforms. We get President Trump bashing the federal law enforcement apparatus even as he praises countries whose governments execute people accused of selling drugs. We get angry denunciations of the “jackboots” who arrested Roger Stone and raided Michael Cohen’s office and residence (though they were both treated far better than, say, your average suspected pot dealer), while Trump encourages police brutality against everyday suspects and Attorney General William P. Barr declares that people who criticize law enforcement for brutality against black people aren’t worthy of police protection. And now we have Stone, and Barr’s decision to rescind the seven-to-nine-year sentencing recommendation filed by the federal prosecutors working on the case.

There’s no better example of the Trump administration’s embrace of tiered justice than the one pointed out by Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly. On the very day that Barr intervened to rescind the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for Stone, he also gave a speech to a conference of county sheriffs in which he attacked progressive, reform-minded district attorneys for their refusal to prosecute certain types of crimes. He argued that those decisions jeopardize investigations of more serious crimes that “depend heavily on obtaining information from members of the community.”

Barr was accusing progressive DAs of undermining criminal investigations by enabling witness intimidation. One of the crimes for which Stone was convicted: undermining a criminal investigation by threatening a witness.

Meanwhile, the president continues raging against the people who still have the power to thwart his whims, even as Congress passes a war-powers resolution that has no chance of curbing the president's adventures in Iran.

Shaking my head, for the next 265 days

Some headlines this morning:

Happy Wednesday!

Boy, he sure learned his lesson

In just one more example of the president slipping his leash, thanks to the Republican trolls in the Senate giving him permission to do so, the Justice Department said it found prosecutors recommendations for Roger Stone's sentence "shocking." Three Assistant US Attorneys immediately quit the case:

Jonathan Kravis, one of the prosecutors, wrote in a court filing he had resigned as an assistant U.S. attorney, leaving government entirely. Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, a former member of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, said he was quitting his special assignment to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute Stone, though a spokeswoman said he will remain an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.

Adam Jed, also a former member of Mueller’s team, asked a judge’s permission to leave the case like the others, though gave no indication of resigning his job.

None provided a reason for their decisions.

Uh huh. Thanks, WaPo. ("Three people left their office in haste this afternoon after their work area became engulfed in flames. None provided a reason for their decisions.")

Greg Sargent says the president's strategy is "designed to get you to surrender:"

In the end, many of President Trump’s ugliest degradations — the nonstop lying, the constant efforts to undermine faith in our political system, the relentless delegitimization of the opposition — often seem to converge in some sense on a single, overarching goal:

To get you to give up.

To give up on what, exactly? On the prospects for accountability for Trump, via mediating institutions such as the media, or via other branches of government, or even via the next election, and more broadly, on the very notion that our political system is capable of rendering outcomes that have not been thoroughly corrupted to their core.

Meanwhile:

Fun times. Fun times. At least we can take some comfort in Japanese railway station psychology.

Things of interest when I have the time to spend on them

Not just articles today, but also a whole HBO mini-series:

For yet another thing to worry about today, after this post and the one before it, the New Yorker has started a series about the last time democracy almost died. (Hint: it got better.)

In case you didn't have enough to worry about

Via Bruce Schneier, two Harvard undergraduates have demonstrated that the volume of easily-obtainable information from multiple, large-scale data breaches makes targeting people for cybercrime easier than you could have guessed:

The students found a dataset from a breach of credit reporting company Experian, which didn’t get much news coverage when it occurred in 2015. It contained personal information on six million individuals. The dataset was divided by state, so [students Dasha] Metropolitansky and [Kian] Attari decided to focus on Washington D.C. The data included 69 variables—everything from a person’s home address and phone number to their credit score, history of political donations, and even how many children they have.

But this was data from just one leak in isolation. Metropolitansky and Attari wondered if they could identify an individual across all other leaks that have occurred, combining stolen personal information from perhaps hundreds of sources.

There are sites on the dark web that archive data leaks, allowing an individual to enter an email and view all leaks in which the email appears. Attari built a tool that performs this look-up at scale.

“We also showed that a cyber criminal doesn’t have to have a specific victim in mind. They can now search for victims who meet a certain set of criteria,” Metropolitansky said.

For example, in less than 10 seconds she produced a dataset with more than 1,000 people who have high net worth, are married, have children, and also have a username or password on a cheating website. Another query pulled up a list of senior-level politicians, revealing the credit scores, phone numbers, and addresses of three U.S. senators, three U.S. representatives, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and a Cabinet member.

"We're two college students. If someone really wanted to do some damage, I'm sure they could use these same techniques to do something horrible," [Metropolitansky said].

As Schneier points out, "you can be sure that the world's major intelligence organizations have already done all of this."

This is also why we need government regulation or stricter liability laws around data breaches. Experian's sloppiness imperiled six million people, and has probably resulted in crime already. But they have no incentive to fix their issues. In fact, they didn't even reveal the breach for years.

Too many things to read this afternoon

Fortunately, I'm debugging a build process that takes 6 minutes each time, so I may be able to squeeze some of these in:

Back to debugging Azure DevOps pipelines...

War criminal

New information has come out that retired Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the convicted (and pardoned) war criminal, did some truly abhorrent shit while fighting in Iraq:

The trove of materials also includes thousands of text messages the SEALs sent one another about the events and the prosecution of Chief Gallagher. Together with the dozens of hours of recorded interviews, they provide revealing insights into the men of the platoon, who have never spoken publicly about the case, and the leader they turned in.

Platoon members said they saw Chief Gallagher shoot civilians and fatally stab a wounded captive with a hunting knife. Chief Gallagher was acquitted by a military jury in July of all but a single relatively minor charge, and was cleared of all punishment in November by Mr. Trump.

In the video interviews with investigators, three SEALs said they saw Chief Gallagher go on to stab the sedated captive for no reason, and then hold an impromptu re-enlistment ceremony over the body, as if it were a trophy.

“I was listening to it, and I was just thinking, like, this is the most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Special Operator Miller, who has since been promoted to chief, told investigators.

Special Operator Miller said that when the platoon commander, Lt. Jacob Portier, told the SEALs to gather over the corpse for photos, he did not feel he could refuse. The photos, included in the evidence obtained by The Times, show Chief Gallagher, surrounded by other SEALs, clutching the dead captive’s hair; in one photo, he holds a custom-made hunting knife.

From the outside looking in, the culture in the Navy SEALS seems particularly toxic. People like Portier and Gallagher, far from making Americans safer, put other units in danger through their actions. These are the kinds of people President Trump wants to reward, further threatening our troops overseas.

Someone call lunch

Today in Chicago we have seen more sun than in the past several weeks, and yet here I toil in my cube. But a lot is going on outside it:

And we now return to our regular JSON debugging session, already in progress.

Sick day reading

I hate taking sick days, I really do. Fortunately, the Internet never takes one:

I'm now going to try to do a couple of hours of work, but really, I just want to go back to sleep.

The War-Crimes President

Historian Waitman Wade Beorn, who served in Iraq after graduating from West Point, is deeply disturbed by President Trump's intervention into the Eddie Gallagher case:

History warns us that leaders who condone war crimes find themselves in command of criminal militaries. Lessons from the past about war crimes and transgressive military cultures are not just academic: My research shows that subordinates generally read their superiors’ intent with accuracy, for better and for worse. By demonstrating his willingness to intercede in the minutiae of military justice and disciplinary procedures, the president tells those who step over ethical boundaries that they can appeal to a sympathetic ear in the Oval Office. This is exceptionally dangerous. Our military demands that its members be able to recognize and refuse unlawful orders and relies on them to uphold codes of honorable behavior. But this presidential short-circuit can critically undermine this ethos. Military judges and juries may well question their own decisions, wondering whether the president will intervene and pillory them instead of the guilty. The effects of a malfunctioning moral compass extend past our borders. Allies and host nations will be more hesitant to work with the United States if they cannot count on us to effectively punish those who cross ethical boundaries. This can imperil our troops overseas and threaten our strategic safety.

Most importantly, Trump’s actions create a chilling effect for those in uniform who take risks to report bad apples like Gallagher. What are the incentives for risking a career and enduring the stress of reporting a comrade if the president of the United States and his troll army line up in opposition? Why would someone go through all that if they think that all their efforts will be nullified in the end? How many Gallaghers, BehennasLorances, and Golsteyns will escape justice now? Even before Trump’s meddling, the Navy SEALs who turned in Gallagher were told by their commanding officer to “stop talking about it” and that doing so would ruin their careers. Ironically, that officer, Commander Robert Breisch, told those SEALs that they risked losing their tridents. Gallagher himself called them “traitors” and obliquely suggested that they might meet retribution from other SEALs.

In addition to describing the moral rot, Beorn also points out how Gallagher and others profit from their disgusting behavior. Because in Trumpland, everything ultimately comes down to money.