The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Lunchtime reading

Stuff that landed in my inbox today:

Also, while we're on the subject of the C-word, I love Minnie Driver's response: "That was the wrong word for Samantha Bee to have used. But mostly because (to paraphrase the French) Ivanka has neither the warmth nor the depth."

Horrifying realization

One of my Facebook friends just posted a photo of our high school graduation program—from 5th June 1988. Thirty years ago.

I am screaming in my head, not just because I missed the anniversary yesterday, but also because 30 YEARS.

The flaw in the argument

Lawfare Editor in Chief Benjamin Wittes points out that President Trump's legal team has not only made a frivolous argument about the president's obstruction of justice, but a stupid one:

The president’s argument leads to an absurdity and it therefore must have a flaw, but identifying what precisely is wrong with it is a bit of a puzzle. And it’s worth doing carefully—not simply dismissing the argument because of the clownish aspects of the letter or because of the argument’s audacity.

The key question here is not whether Article II limits the application of the obstruction laws but how much it does so—whether it does so absolutely or only partially. And critically, if it does so only partially, what is the principle under which the obstruction statutes operate against the president?

Let’s dispense with the easy question first: It is definitely possible for a president to obstruct justice. A president who coaxes a witness to lie, who pays off a witness, who bribes a juror, or who picks up the phone and threatens a federal judge would of course be amenable to criminal prosecution (at least after he leaves office) for obstruction of justice. There would be no plausible defense that he was entitled to do these things because of Article II.

But the allegations against Trump are different, and trickier. They are allegations that his use of his acknowledged Article II powers might constitute an obstruction. The allegations all involve acts—firing people, for example, and supervising investigations and staff—that the Constitution specifically gives the president the power to do. So these allegations raise a different question: Is it possible for a president to obstruct justice in the context of performing his constitutionally assigned role, that is, using only otherwise valid exercises of his constitutional powers?

Before your knee jerks as you exclaim, “Of course!” keep in mind that Congress cannot with a mere criminal statute take away power that the Constitution gives the president. With that principle in mind, it simply has to be the case that Article II, at least to some degree, limits application of the obstruction statutes to otherwise valid presidential actions.

We knew we wouldn't get out of this era without a serious constitutional crisis or two. How we resolve this, and the ones to follow, will define our country for the next century.

You can't con a con man? Pull the other one

New Republic's Matt Ford points to Rod Blagojevich's cynical attempts at getting President Trump to pardon him as evidence that Trump is "the world's most powerful rube:"

All of this makes Trump essentially the perfect mark: a man who’s easily flattered, short-tempered, quick to blame others, intellectually incurious, brimming with self-assurance, and unwilling to reflect on his own misjudgments.

That’s an extraordinary stroke of luck for Blagojevich, since any other president would probably have seen right through the ex-governor’s plea for mercy.

Blagojevich’s description makes it sound like he was somehow convicted of bribery even though no bribes or explicit promises for bribes were exchanged. That would indeed be odd. In reality, he was convicted of attempted extortion, attempted bribery, conspiracy to commit extortion, and conspiracy to solicit bribes, among other charges. 

That Blagojevich failed to successfully exchange his honest services as Illinois’s governor for cash and favors doesn’t make his behavior less corrupt. John Chase and Bob Secter, who covered the trials for The Chicago Tribune, noted last week that most of the evidence that felled him came from Blagojevich’s own comments in wiretapped conversations. “The portrait that emerged from that up-close observation was of a leader sublimely self-righteous, comically vain, untrustworthy, uninterested in the process of governing, unsophisticated in the arts of policy and deal making and not particularly discriminating in whose counsel he sought,” they wrote.

Aiding Blagojevich’s campaign is a sympathetic conservative media that’s defending Trump against Mueller’s investigation. If those overzealous prosecutors in the Justice Department would topple a Democratic governor of Illinois on dubious grounds, the logic goes, why wouldn’t they do the same thing to a Republican president?

In reality, Blagojevich and Trump are cut from similar cloth. It doesn't surprise me that Blagojevich is trying this strategy.

Parker update

We just got back from the vet. The x-rays show that Parker's leg is almost completely healed, so he's finally cleared to go back to his play group. He has no idea about this right now but tomorrow morning he'll be very, very happy.

Now I'm about to run to my office, so I'm queuing up these articles to read later:

OK. Chugging some tea, and hitting the CTA. More later.

Drunken fumbling becomes a Constitutional case

A student at the University of Cincinnati has filed a fascinating lawsuit against the school for discrimination in its enforcement of sexual misconduct:

Is it possible for two people to simultaneously sexually assault each other? This is the question—rife with legal, anatomical, and emotional improbabilities—to which the University of Cincinnati now addresses itself, and with some urgency, as the institution and three of its employees are currently being sued over an encounter that was sexual for a brief moment, but that just as quickly entered the realm of eternal return. The one important thing you need to know about the case is that according to the lawsuit, a woman has been indefinitely suspended from college because she let a man touch her vagina.

The event in précis, as summarized by Robby Soave of Reason magazine: “Male and female student have a drunken hookup. He wakes up, terrified she's going to file a sexual misconduct complaint, so he goes to the Title IX office and beats her to the punch. She is found guilty and suspended.”

By some kind of weird alchemy involving the sum of its parts, this strange little event manages to hit upon almost every troubling aspect of the way that these cases are interpreted and punished on the contemporary campus. It proceeds from the assumption that if two drunk college students make out, one of them—and only one of them—is a victim of the event. It resulted in a fairly common but extremely severe consequence meted on students found guilty of very minor offenses—banishment from the university until the complainant graduates. And it suggests how easily the system can be manipulated by a student with an alleged grudge.

I'm curious to see how this turns out. It seems hard to believe that I went to university during a brief, golden age when we were treated as adults. I served 5 semesters on the Student Judiciary Board and heard so many stories of ridiculous student behavior, and still managed to find them odious enough to ban the offenders from campus a handful of times. I fear for our children that they won't ever grow up, because their parents and institutions won't let them.

Hottest May in Illinois history

Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel has a report:

Based on preliminary data, the statewide average temperature for May in Illinois was 21.4°C, 4.4°C above normal and the warmest May on record. The old record was 20.8°C set back in 1962. A brief examination of daily records indicates that Springfield, Champaign, Quincy, and Carbondale all had daily mean temperatures at or above normal for each day of the month. On the other hand, Chicago, Rockford, and Peoria had a few dips into the below-normal territory but overall finished above-normal for the month.

In Chicago, we also had the warmest last week of May ever. Fun times. And today, it's 14°C by the Lake.

Unprecedented lying

The Washington Post reported today that it has cataloged 3,251 false or misleading claims that President Trump has made since taking office:

That’s an average of more than 6.5 claims a day.

When we first started this project for the president’s first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day. But the average number of claims per day keeps climbing as the president nears the 500-day mark of his presidency.

In the month of May, the president made about eight claims a day — including an astonishing 35 claims in his rally in Nashville on May 29.

Our interactive graphic, created with the help of Leslie Shapiro and Kaeti Hinck of The Washington Post’s graphics department, displays a running list of every false or misleading statement made by Trump. We also catalogued the president’s many flip-flops, since those earn Upside-Down Pinocchios if a politician shifts position on an issue without acknowledging that he or she did so.

Meanwhile, former CIA director John Brennan, writing in the same newspaper, compares Trump to the "corrupt, incompetent and narcissistic foreign officials who did whatever they thought was necessary to retain power" that he met and studied while working for the agency.

It's going to get worse before it gets better, you know. Especially between election day and January 3rd, when Congress has its lame-duck session. That's going to be epic.

Active voice, passive voice, weasel voice

The Economist's Johnson column last week (which I just got around to reading tonight) took on verb conjugations in journalism:

On May 14th, as Palestinians massed at the Gaza Strip’s border, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing around 60 people. Shortly afterwards, the New York Times tweeted: “Dozens of Palestinians have died in protests as the US prepares to open its Jerusalem embassy.” Social media went ballistic. “From old age?” was one incredulous reply. #HaveDied quickly became a hashtag campaign.

English and most other European languages have both an active voice (Steve kicked John) and a passive (John was kicked by Steve). Style manuals, including The Economist’s, generally deprecate the passive voice. It is longer, for one thing. For another, it is often found in heavy academic and bureaucratic prose. Inexperienced writers tend to over-use it.

But critics of the passive often confuse two different things: syntax and semantics. Syntax has to do with the mechanics of putting a sentence together. In Steve kicked John, Steve is the subject and John is the direct object. But in John was kicked by Steve, John is now the subject, even though he is still the kickee, and Steve is still the kicker.

So what the critics really meant is that the Times erred in using an intransitive verb.

I analyzed this not as an argument for a particular kind of prose, but as an argument for learning the vocabulary of the thing you want to criticize. Critics of the Times' headline aren't wrong; they're just arguing the wrong point. One can understand viscerally why the Times' headline got under the skin. But as in so much of life, people on one side argued feelings and people on the other argued correctness.

Until people hear what the opposition really wants to say—until people make an effort to hear it, I mean—we're going to keep talking past each other. That said, I want everyone to read Orwell right now.

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.