The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Maybe not chess, but checkers

Yesterday I worried aloud that the Sessions/Miller/Trump immigration policy separating children from their parents at the border was a move in a longer game to get rid of Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller without making it obvious that was the goal. With the President's apparent policy reversal yesterday, that no longer seems the case. Josh Marshall has a new hypothesis taking into account yesterday's executive order:

And there you have it. DOJ confirms that the White House knows the President’s executive order is in fact illegal on its face. What it does is set a 20 day countdown until Trump blames a court for forcing him to separate more families again.

The Post agrees:

[I]t remained highly uncertain whether the president’s hastily drafted order to keep families together in federal custody while awaiting prosecution for illegal border crossings would withstand potential legal challenges. And senior administration officials said the order did not stipulate that the more than 2,300 children already separated from their parents would be immediately reunited with them.

At the same time, a senior Justice Department official told reporters that the administration had little legal recourse but to release the families after 20 days unless a judge grants an exemption to a 1997 court settlement and subsequent rulings limiting the detention of children.

Trump’s order “seeks to replace one form of child abuse with another,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “Instead of protecting traumatized children, the President has directed his Attorney General to pave the way for the long-term incarceration of families in prisonlike conditions.”

Remember, the immorality of the administration's immigration policies is a feature, not a bug.

States can charge sales tax on Internet purchases now

The Supreme Court handed down its ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. this morning:

Brick-and-mortar businesses have long complained that they are disadvantaged by having to charge sales taxes while many of their online competitors do not. States have said that they are missing out on tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue under a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that helped spur the rise of internet shopping.

On Thursday, the court overruled that ruling, Quill Corporation v. North Dakota, which had said that the Constitution bars states from requiring businesses to collect sales taxes unless they have a substantial connection to the state.

South Dakota responded to Justice Kennedy’s invitation by enacting a law that required all merchants to collect a 4.5 percent sales tax if they had more than $100,000 in annual sales or more than 200 individual transactions in the state. State officials sued three large online retailers — Wayfair, Overstock.com and Newegg — for violating the law.

Here's a really interesting bit: "KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which THOMAS, GINSBURG, ALITO, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., and GORSUCH, J., filed concurring opinions. ROBERTS, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined."

Ginsburg siding with Thomas and Alito against Roberts, Sotomayor, and Kagan? That's just weird.

The pro-wrestling hypothesis

I had a thought last night that disturbed me. It goes something like this:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is being set up as the heel, so the President can fire him without it looking like a step in shutting down the Mueller probe.

Think about it. Sessions has doubled down on a monstrous policy decision that almost the entire Republican Congressional caucus wants to stop. He has become almost a comic-book villain now, taking responsibility for a policy that actually came directly from the White House. Even he has to see how unpopular the policy is, as Republicans in Congress certainly do because their jobs are on the line. Why would he persist?

So this gives Trump an opportunity to be the hero that fires Sessions, reverses the policy, and (oh, incidentally) installs a new Attorney General much more likely to fire Rod Rosenstein. That this policy came directly from the Oval Office, and that firing Sessions would be a complete reversal of everything Trump has said about it for weeks, really won't make a difference.

If this sounds like a pro-wrestling storyline, don't forget where Trump came from. He doesn't really care about policy; he cares about ratings. And this story has given his reality show tremendous ratings. Never mind that thousands of real children will never see their parents again. When has this administration cared about real consequences?

As the President frequently says, "we'll see what happens." If this is, in fact, the play, I expect it to happen in the next week, before Congress can pass a law that would set the President up for a veto fight with his own party.

Stephen Miller will always be a troll

McKay Coppins, who profiled Miller for The Atlantic last month, believes that the outrage over the immorality of the administration's immigration policy is exactly the point:

A seasoned conservative troll, Miller told me during our interview that he has often found value in generating what he calls “constructive controversy—with the purpose of enlightenment.” This belief traces back to the snowflake-melting and lib-triggering of his youth. As a conservative teen growing up in Santa Monica, he wrote op-eds comparing his liberal classmates to terrorists and musing that Osama bin Laden would fit in at his high school. In college, he coordinated an “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” These efforts were not calibrated for persuasion; they were designed to agitate. And now that he’s in the White House, he is deploying similar tactics.

As public backlash has intensified in recent days against the new border policy, Trump administration officials have predictably struggled to formulate a coherent, unified defense. Amid all the bumbling recriminations and shifting talking points, one can sense in some of these officials a natural response to the situation developing at the border—if not shame, then at least chagrin.

But for Miller, it seems, all is going according to plan—another “constructive controversy” unfolding with great potential for enlightenment. His bet appears to be that voters will witness this showdown between Trump and his angry antagonists, and ultimately side with the president. It’s a theory that will be put to the test in November. In the meantime, the heartrending orchestra on the border will play on.

We may be stuck with this asshole for another 2½ years. But in just 140 days, we can send him and his boss a clear message.

Women's voices have changed

That's the conclusion of a researcher at the University of South Australia:

Cecilia Pemberton at the University of South Australia studied the voices of two groups of Australian women aged 18–25 years. The researchers compared archival recordings of women talking in 1945 with more recent recordings taken in the early 1990s. The team found that the “fundamental frequency” had dropped by 23 Hz over five decades – from an average of 229 Hz (roughly an A# below middle C) to 206 Hz (roughly a G#). That’s a significant, audible difference. 

The researchers had carefully selected their samples to control for any potential demographic factors: the women were all university students and none of them smoked. The team also considered the fact that members of the more recent group from the 1990s were using the contraceptive pill, which could have led to hormonal changes that could have altered the vocal chords. Yet the drop in pitch remained even when the team excluded those women from their sample.

Instead, the researchers speculated that the transformation reflects the rise of women to more prominent roles in society, leading them to adopt a deeper tone to project authority and dominance in the workplace.

I have a lot of friends who might agree; some of them sing soprano and speak tenor. No joke.

No decision in gerrymandering cases

To almost everyone's frustration, the Supreme Court rendered two unanimous decisions today in which they declined to rule on the constitutionality of two gerrymandering cases. This means both Wisconsin and Maryland will keep their district maps through the November election:

In the Wisconsin case, the court said that the challenges must be brought district by district, with voters in each proving that their rights had been violated. The challengers asked the court to consider the state map as a whole.

The Maryland case was still at a preliminary stage, and the court in an unsigned opinion said the lower court had not been wrong when it decided not to make the state redraw the maps in time for the 2018 election.

The justices sent the [Wisconsin] case back to a panel of three federal judges to see if the challengers could modify their suit to show they have plaintiffs in the individual districts.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the plaintiffs should be able to do so.

“Courts—and in particular this court—will again be called on to redress extreme partisan gerrymanders,” she wrote. “I am hopeful we will then step up to our responsibility to vindicate the Constitution against a contrary law.”

I totally understand why SCOTUS punted, because they really do not want to weigh in on such a politicized issue. But wow, given that a majority of Wisconsin voters are Democrats, it's obvious that the current Wisconsin map is a power-grab by Republicans who fear they're losing power against urban Democrats.

We're not going to be done with this in my lifetime.

Sweet little lies, tell me sweet little lies

The President has essentially admitted he lies constantly:

In short, the president is saying that it’s totally acceptable to lie to the press, and by extension the public, as long as he is not under oath in the justice system. (As I’ve reported, Trump is far more honest under oath.) As a matter of law, this is true, but as a matter of character and leadership, it is not. The president is freely telling the public that he has no compunctions about lying through his teeth. Why does anyone still debate whether he means it?

There were other dishonest statements peppered throughout his remarks. He said that the inspector general’s report found “total bias” in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails; in fact, it found the reverse, saying political bias did not affect decisions. He said that the report “totally exonerated” his statements; in fact, it rejected the entire thrust of his statements about Comey. Trump said that Comey acted criminally; the IG report does not say that. He said Mueller’s team has no Republicans; Mueller is a lifelong Republican who has served under GOP presidents as well as Democrats.

There’s a long list of these lies, both in what Trump said today and running back for months. It becomes tiresome to fact-check them, trying to prove that Trump is not telling the truth about them. But there’s no need to take reporters’ word for it: The president makes no secret that he thinks it’s OK to lie to the public. After all, he said so himself.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the same Bible verse that previous generations of slave-owners invoked to justify forcibly separating children from their parents:

Romans 13 does indeed say to “submit to the authorities,” because they “are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” But this is in the context of what comes before it (“share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality”) and after (“owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”) – and, indeed, admonitions to care for the poor and the oppressed that come from Isaiah, Leviticus, Matthew and many more.

Evangelical leaders who looked the other way when Stormy Daniels and the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced this time have denounced Trump’s recent “zero-tolerance” policy that, as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention and others wrote to Trump this month, has the “effect of removing even small children from their parents.”

“God has established the family as the fundamental building block of society,” they wrote. The leaders urged Trump to end zero tolerance and use “discretion” as previous administrations did.

I guess we should all be happy they haven't come for us yet.

Creating reality?

Andrew Sullivan says the President "is making us all live in his delusional reality show:"

The president believes what he wants to believe, creates a reality that fits his delusions, and then insists, with extraordinary energy and stamina, that his delusions are the truth. His psychological illness, moreover, is capable of outlasting anyone else’s mental health. Objective reality that contradicts his delusions is discounted as “fake news” propagated by “our country’s greatest enemy,” i.e., reporters. If someone behaved like this in my actual life, if someone kept insisting that the sea was red and the sky green, I’d assume they were a few sandwiches short of a picnic. It’s vital for us to remember this every day: Almost no one else in public life is so openly living in his own disturbed world.

This, in fact, is the poignant and quite bonkers script in Trump’s head: that the economy was in free-fall until he took office, after which it soared; that he alone has brought black and Hispanic unemployment down; that his administration has accomplished more than any other at this point in its term; that the Democrats colluded with the Kremlin to try to rig the election; that Robert Mueller is a closet Democrat; that climate change is a hoax; that the American-created international trading system was designed to hurt the U.S.; that you can borrow over a trillion dollars in a full employment economy with no consequences in inflation or debt; and that sabotaging the ACA will lead to lower premiums, greater choice, and better health outcomes for all. Each one of these assertions is what he wants to be true. And so they are true. As the chairwoman of the GOP just explained to any skeptics left in the formerly conservative party: “Anyone that does not embrace the Donald Trump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.”

The bad news is that a vast chunk of the American public wants all this to be true as well.

Woe to thee, o land, when thy king is a child.

I am shocked—shocked!—by this event

New York State has sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation for—wait for it—self-dealing and general corruption:

The lawsuit, which seeks to dissolve the foundation and bar President Trump and three of his children from serving on nonprofit organizations, was an extraordinary rebuke of a sitting president. The attorney general also sent referral letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action, adding to Mr. Trump’s extensive legal challenges.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, culminated a nearly two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s charity, which became a subject of scrutiny during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. While such foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, the complaint asserts that Mr. Trump’s was often used to settle legal claims against his various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs.

The foundation was also used to curry political favor, the lawsuit asserts. During the 2016 race, the foundation became a virtual arm of Mr. Trump’s campaign, email traffic showed, with his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski directing its expenditures, even though such foundations are explicitly prohibited from political activities.

The attorney general’s referrals to the I.R.S. and the F.E.C. could add another wrinkle that might slow the foundation’s dissolution. The agencies are not known for their expeditious handling of enforcement actions, and the lawsuit notes that the foundation cannot legally complete its wind down “until the complaints to the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission have been resolved and it is determined if any penalties or fines will be imposed on the foundation.”

Trump immediately blamed "New York democrats," because of course he did.

Pass the popcorn.

Three items, implicitly related

Item the first: Bruce Schneier discusses how Russian censors have tried to shut down Telegram, an encrypted communications app:

Russia has been trying to block Telegram since April, when a Moscow court banned it after the company refused to give Russian authorities access to user messages. Telegram, which is widely used in Russia, works on both iPhone and Android, and there are Windows and Mac desktop versions available. The app offers optional end-to-end encryption, meaning that all messages are encrypted on the sender's phone and decrypted on the receiver's phone; no part of the network can eavesdrop on the messages.

Since then, Telegram has been playing cat-and-mouse with the Russian telecom regulator Roskomnadzor by varying the IP address the app uses to communicate. Because Telegram isn't a fixed website, it doesn't need a fixed IP address. Telegram bought tens of thousands of IP addresses and has been quickly rotating through them, staying a step ahead of censors. Cleverly, this tactic is invisible to users. The app never sees the change, or the entire list of IP addresses, and the censor has no clear way to block them all.

A week after the court ban, Roskomnadzor countered with an unprecedented move of its own: blocking 19 million IP addresses, many on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. The collateral damage was widespread: The action inadvertently broke many other web services that use those platforms, and Roskomnadzor scaled back after it became clear that its action had affected services critical for Russian business. Even so, the censor is still blocking millions of IP addresses.

Whatever its current frustrations, Russia might well win in the long term. By demonstrating its willingness to suffer the temporary collateral damage of blocking major cloud providers, it prompted cloud providers to block another and more effective anti-censorship tactic, or at least accelerated the process. In April, Google and Amazon banned—and technically blocked—the practice of “domain fronting,” a trick anti-censorship tools use to get around Internet censors by pretending to be other kinds of traffic. Developers would use popular websites as a proxy, routing traffic to their own servers through another website—in this case Google.com—to fool censors into believing the traffic was intended for Google.com. The anonymous web-browsing tool Tor has used domain fronting since 2014. Signal, since 2016. Eliminating the capability is a boon to censors worldwide.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., a Federal judge has cleared the path for AT&T to purchase Time Warner, which will create one of the largest companies the world has ever seen.

All of this is scary to a lot of people. Which is why charlatans are on the rise once again.

We live in interesting times.