The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Good ol' Indiana spirit

Chances are, that bourbon you're drinking came from an industrial distillery in southern Indiana:

In just the last 10 years, the number of craft distilleries in this country has ballooned from around 100 to more than 1,400. That growth is a product of consumer demand, but it’s also due to the easing of state distillation laws and the availability of sourced whiskey from suppliers like MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

Templeton Rye — marketed as Al Capone’s favorite whiskey and proud product of Templeton, Iowa — is also distilled by MGP. Tincup Whiskey, a self-described “mountain whiskey” replete with commercials conjuring a frontiersman image and Rocky Mountain ethos, is mostly MGP, too.

Those brands aren’t alone in their Indiana provenance. Even super-premium brands like High West and Whistle Pig have sourced from MGP at some point in their respective histories. And the list goes on.

MGP isn’t a household name in bourbon, but it’s well known among industry insiders and connoisseurs. With distilling operations headquartered in the old Seagram’s Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, MGP is one of the largest whiskey sourcers in the industry.

So why do so few people know MGP’s name?

For one, it maintains strict confidentiality agreements with all of its customers; the purchasing brand only has to reveal MGP as its source if it wants to — an option many decline.

In addition, labeling regulations only require that the bottler list in which state the liquid was distilled — easily done in tiny print on the back of the bottle.

This is why I've got Trader Joe's $15 "Kentucky Bourbon" at home instead of $60 Whistle Pig. It's the same whiskey.

Single-malt Scotch, on the other hand, is by UK law exactly what it says on the bottle.

Elections matter

Every time the Supreme Court votes 5-4 in favor of a conservative policy initiative, remember that Merrick Garland would almost certainly have voted the other way, and that the Republican Party essentially stole a Supreme Court seat. They got away with it because 48% of the country voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

Take voter rights, for example. The Court this morning ruled, 5-4, that Ohio's method of purging its voter rolls does not violate Federal law:

Beyond the prohibition on removing voters because they failed to vote, the law calls on states to keep accurate rolls and allows removal when a person fails to respond to a request to confirm registration and then fails to vote in two federal elections.

Ohio sends a notice after a voter skips a single federal election cycle. If they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years, their names are removed from the rolls.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the court’s job was not to decide whether Ohio has adopted the “ideal method” for keeping rolls up to date, but only whether it complies with federal law.

Meanwhile, a Fox News presenter made a Freudian slip over the weekend when she referred to President Trump and North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un "the two dictators."

We can take back Congress in 148 days.

The totality of the circumstances

Way back in my first day of law school, Prof. Neil Williams exclaimed that the basis of contract law was "the totality of the circumstances!" Meaning, when evaluating a contract (from whether it exists to whether it's enforceable), you have to look at the context, the facts, the intentions of the parties—everything.

Take, for example, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice's description of the following circumstances:

If Mr. Putin were calling the shots, he would ensure that America’s reliability is doubted, its commitments broken, its values debased and its image tarnished. He would advise the new president to take a series of steps to advance those aims:

First, withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership....

Second, criticize NATO and cast doubt on America’s willingness to defend its allies....

Third, for the coup de grâce: start a trade war with our closest allies.

There is no evidence that Mr. Putin is dictating American policy. But it’s hard to imagine how he could do much better, even if he were.

Josh Marshall ups the volume on the same issue, and points out whether there was active collusion doesn't really matter:

If candidate Trump and President Putin had made a corrupt bargain which obligated President Trump to destabilize all US security and trade alliances (especially NATO, which has been Russia’s primary strategic goal for 70 years) and advance the strategic interests of Russia, there’s really nothing more remotely realistic he could have done to accomplish that than what he has in fact done.

We have a President who clearly got a great deal of assistance from Russia in getting elected. We can argue about how important it was to his victory. But the reality of the help is not in any real dispute. His campaign at a minimum had numerous highly suspicious contacts with people either in the Russian government or acting on behalf of the Russian government while that was happening. That is a very generous interpretation. He’s doing all the stuff he’d have been asked to do if such a corrupt bargain had been made. At a certain point – and I’d say we’re clearly at or past that point – it really doesn’t matter whether we can prove such a bargain was made. I’m not even sure it matters whether it was explicit or even happened. The bank robber helped the teller get the job and now the teller just won’t seem to lock the safe or even turn on the alarm. We can debate forever whether the teller is just absent-minded or has some odd philosophical aversion toward locks. The debate may be unresolvable. It truly doesn’t matter.

No, it really doesn't, though I expect historians will spend centuries debating why Trump has so thoroughly trashed our country to the benefit of Russia. What matters, right now, is that we at the very least install a Democratic Congress this fall, so that we can at the very least put the brakes on.

Illinois' population decline isn't actually a problem

Tim Jones, writing in Crain's for the Better Government Association, says the experiences of Minnesota and Kansas put the lie to claims that people are leaving Illinois because of taxes:

The scapegoat nominees include not just high taxes but House Speaker Michael Madigan, Gov. Bruce Rauner, government regulations, financial chaos and uncertainty from a two-year budget stalemate, not to mention old standbys greed and corruption.

That's where Minnesota looms as a spoiler of the tax-cutting political narrative embraced by many Midwestern states. Minnesota is a high-tax state, rated the sixth-highest in the nation in state and local individual income tax collections per capita and eighth in the combined state and local tax burden, according to the most recent rankings of the Washington-based Tax Foundation.

Minnesota has a graduated income tax, with rates ranging from 5.35 percent for those of modest incomes to 9.85 percent for individuals with annual incomes above $156,000.

The Tax Foundation ranked Minnesota's overall business tax climate among the nation's worst. Even so, the state was among Midwestern leaders in population growth, with a 5.1 percent gain since 2010 and a 13.3 percent jump since 2000. The state also has the highest median household income and the lowest poverty rate.

Focusing on taxation produces a distorted picture, said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota.

“Clearly in Minnesota there are other things going on. Taxes are one component but also jobs, wages, quality of life, the education system,” Jacobs said.

The flip side of the taxation narrative, put into action by Kansas six years ago, is that cutting taxes will give a jolt to economic development and drive population growth. But it did neither, and Republicans who control the legislature had to backtrack on the tax cuts last year when revenue loss became untenable.

See, taxes pay for things that people want and need, like transport, schools, and police. Cutting taxes, as Kansas demonstrated, means you can't pay for those things anymore. Then people don't want to live there. QED. I'm not wild about higher taxes in general, but I understand we all need to pay them to get better living conditions. I hope that J.B. Pritzker makes that point as he runs for governor this fall.

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."

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.

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.