The Daily Parker

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So much corruption! We're going to do corruption like you've never seen it

President Trump's list of felons to whom he granted clemency yesterday seems to have a common element. First, Rod Blagojevich, possibly the most corrupt governor Illinois has ever had, which is saying something in a state that sent 4 of its last 8 to prison, and who seems less than contrite about his crimes:

“I had a unique opportunity to represent Congress and be (Illinois’) governor for six years and fight for things I truly believe is good for people,” he said, adding “the fight” now was against the “people that did this to me” and to regain the public’s trust.

“That if I were to give in to the pressure and give in to the shakedown that was done to me, that I would be violating my oath of office to fight for the Constitution and fight for the rule of law and keep my promises to (the public),” he said. “ ’Cause I didn’t do the things they said I did. And they lied on me.”

And the president also pardoned Michael Milken, who has his own glorious history of malfeasance:

Lest history be entirely rewritten, it’s worth considering what Judge Kimba M. Wood told Mr. Milken at his sentencing on Nov. 21, 1990, on charges including conspiracy and fraud:

“When a man of your power in the financial world, at the head of the most important department of one of the most important investment banking houses in this country, repeatedly conspires to violate, and violates, securities and tax laws in order to achieve more power and wealth for himself and his wealthy clients, and commits financial crimes that are particularly hard to detect, a significant prison term is required in order to deter others.”

[I]t’s not hard to fathom why Mr. Milken’s saga would resonate with Mr. Trump.

Like the president, Mr. Milken studied business at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania but was largely shunned by New York’s elite.

Mr. Milken’s early clients were corporate raiders who, like Mr. Trump, were disdained by establishment firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Mr. Milken and his junk-bond-fueled takeovers were seen as disruptive forces, threats to a complacent status quo on Wall Street and in corporate America, just as Mr. Trump has upended Washington.

And of course Mr. Milken underwent years of distracting investigations and related bad publicity.

NPR interviewed NYU law professor Rachel Barkow this morning, who summed it up nicely. (I'll edit this post later today to add her comments when the transcript comes out.)

I really hope whoever gets the Democratic nomination hammers the president on this stuff. The corruption! Such corruption! It's the one thing Donald Trump does best.

I actually LOL'd when I saw this news alert

The President was busy this morning:

President Trump has commuted the 14-year prison sentence of former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois, the Democrat who was convicted of trying to essentially sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat for personal gain, as well as the financier, Michael R. Milken and Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, the president announced on Tuesday.

The president’s decision came the same day that he pardoned Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., a former owner of the San Francisco 49ers who pleaded guilty in 1998 to concealing an extortion attempt and eventually surrendered control of his team.

Mr. DeBartolo, the scion of a prominent real estate development family who created one of the National Football League’s greatest dynasties, was prosecuted after agreeing to pay $400,000 in brand-new $100 bills to Edwin W. Edwards, the influential former governor of Louisiana, to secure a riverboat gambling license for his gambling consortium.

Like attracts like, I suppose. I wonder, will he now turn his attention to freeing the immigrants he's detained at our borders? Or the millions of low-level drug offenders clogging our prisons?

The best Attorney General we have

Bill Barr's beliefs about executive power have engendered a bit of pushback. Former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer says Barr should resign:

[P]erhaps the most outrageous and alarming ideas that Barr advances come in his attacks on the judiciary, which occupy fully a third of his speech. In his mind, it seems, the courts are the principal culprit in constraining the extraordinarily broad powers that the president is constitutionally entitled to exercise. His discussion ignores a pillar of our legal system since almost the very beginning—Chief Justice John Marshall’s magisterial pronouncement in the early days of our republic that “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”

Barr yearns for a day when the president can bully everyone else in government, and leave them no ability to seek relief in court.

The benefit of the doubt that many were ready to extend to Barr a year ago—as among the best of a bad lot of nominees who had previously served in high office without disgrace—has now run out. He has told us in great detail who he is, what he believes, and where he would like to take us. For whatever twisted reasons, he believes that the president should be above the law, and he has as his foil in pursuit of that goal a president who, uniquely in our history, actually aspires to that status. And Barr has acted repeatedly on those beliefs in ways that are more damaging at every turn. Presently he is moving forward with active misuse of the criminal sanction, as one more tool of the president’s personal interests.

Bill Barr’s America is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go. It is a banana republic where all are subject to the whims of a dictatorial president and his henchmen. To prevent that, we need a public uprising demanding that Bill Barr resign immediately, or failing that, be impeached.

And while Barr may represent the curdled cream of the kakistocracy now running the executive branch, Max Boot worries that no one cares enough:

I don’t see massive marches in the streets. I don’t see people flooding their members of Congress with calls and emails. I don’t see the outrage that is warranted — and necessary. I see passivity, resignation and acquiescence from a distracted electorate that has come to accept Trump’s aberrant behavior as the norm.

A recent Gallup poll found that Trump’s approval rating among Republicans — the supposed law-and-order party — is at a record-high 94 percent. His support in the country as a whole is only 43.4 percent in the FiveThirtyEight average, but he is still well positioned to win reelection, because most people seem to care a lot more about the strength of the stock market than about the strength of our democracy. This is how democracies die — not in darkness but in full view of a public that couldn’t care less.

On the other hand, we have an election in 260 days. I think the public had enough long ago, and contra Boot, want to turf these guys out through the ballot. If Trump wins re-election, however, let's see about those boots in the street.

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.

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...

Spot the theme

A few articles to read at lunchtime today:

  • Will Peischel, writing for Mother Jones, warns that the wildfires in Australia aren't the new normal. They're something worse. (Hint: fires create their own weather, causing feedback loops no one predicted.)
  • A new analysis finds that ocean temperatures not only hit record highs in 2019, but also that the rate of increase is accelerating.
  • First Nations communities living on Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron—the largest freshwater island in the world—warn that human activity is disrupting millennia-old ecosystems in the Great Lakes.

Fortunately, those aren't the only depressing stories in the news today:

Now that I'm thoroughly depressed, I'll continue working on this API over here...

Long lines at head shops

As marijuana sales became legal (-ish) in Illinois yesterday, budding demand became overwhelming demand even before the stores opened:

Weed shops around the state opened at 6 a.m. to throngs of people. Cars packed the streets of a light-industrial park in Mundelein, home to the state’s busiest dispensary, Rise, owned by Green Thumb Industries. It’s one of the few that’s open in the northern suburbs.

When CEO Ben Kovler arrived at 5:30 a.m., there were more than 500 people lined up in the parking lot. “Our first customer said he got here at 5 last night,” Kovler said. “It’s a bigger crowd than we expected. The tidal wave (around recreational cannabis) is real.”

The first sale in the state was recorded at Dispensary 33 on North Clark Street in Uptown.

Cresco said it sold more than 9,000 cannabis items to about 3,400 customers at its five shops around the state. The average ring was $135.

So that's a lot of tax revenue. Let's hope it stays high. I did not wait in line to buy weed yesterday and I'm unlikely to do so any time soon. But I'm glad people can relax when they relax now.

And if you don't know how, the Chicago Tribune published some tips.

Two big 20th anniversaries today (and a centennial)

We typically think of January 1st as the day things happen. But December 31st is often the day things end.

On 31 December 1999, two things ended at nearly the same time: the presidency in Russia of Boris Yeltsin, and the American control of the Panama Canal Zone.

Also twenty years ago, my company gave me a $1,200 bonus ($1,893 in 2019 dollars) and a $600 suite for two nights in midtown Manhattan because I volunteered to spend four hours at our data center on Park Avenue, just so that Management could say someone was at the data center on Park Avenue continuously from 6am on New Year's Eve until 6pm on New Year's Day. Since all of the applications I wrote or had responsibility for were less than two years old, literally nothing happened. Does this count as an anniversary? I suppose not.

And one hundred years ago, 31 December 1919 was the last day anyone could legally buy alcohol in the United States for 13 years, as the Volstead Act took effect at midnight on 1 January 1920.

I'm DD tonight, but I will still raise a glass of Champagne to toast these three events.

Photo by Harris & Ewing - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Link