The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

No debates unless...

Tom Friedman gives Joe Biden some good advice:

First, Biden should declare that he will take part in a debate only if Trump releases his tax returns for 2016 through 2018. Biden has already done so, and they are on his website. Trump must, too. No more gifting Trump something he can attack while hiding his own questionable finances.

And second, Biden should insist that a real-time fact-checking team approved by both candidates be hired by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates — and that 10 minutes before the scheduled conclusion of the debate this team report on any misleading statements, phony numbers or outright lies either candidate had uttered. That way no one in that massive television audience can go away easily misled.

Of course, Trump will stomp and protest and say, “No way.” Fine. Let Trump cancel. Let Trump look American voters in the eye and say: “There will be no debate, because I should be able to continue hiding my tax returns from you all, even though I promised that I wouldn’t and even though Biden has shown you his. And there will be no debate, because I should be able to make any statement I want without any independent fact-checking.”

We'll see. But really, Biden has no reason to debate Trump otherwise. (Note: I am a financial contributor to Joe Biden's campaign.)

In other news:

Back to coding.

After-work reading

I was in meetings almost without break from 10am until just a few minutes ago, so a few things have piled up in my inbox:

And no matter where you are in the world, you can attend Apollo After Hours next Friday at 19:00 CDT / midnight UTC. It's going to be a ton of fun.

NYC district attorney may obtain Trump financial records

The US Supreme Court handed down a pair of 7-2 decisions this morning about who can see the president's financial records, both written by Chief Justice John Roberts, and both dissented by Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

In the first, Trump v Vance, private citizen Donald Trump appealed a decision of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a district court order to Trump's accountants to hand over documents to a grand jury empaneled by New York City District Attorny Cyrus Vance, Jr. Citing precedents going back to Aaron Burr's treason trial in 1807, the Court affirmed the lower court order, holding: "Article II and the Supremacy Clause do not categorically preclude, or require a heightened standard for, the issuance of a state criminal subpoena to a sitting President." Trump appointees Kavanaugh and Gorsuch concurred, but said the lower court should "how to balance the State’s interests and the Article II interests." Thomas, dissenting, agrees "with the majority that the President does not have absolute immunity from the issuance of a grand jury subpoena," but "he may be entitled to relief against its enforcement" (emphasis in original). Alito, consistent with his expansive views on presidential authority, believes a state prosecutor has no authority even to investigate a sitting president for state crimes, even if the alleged conduct occurred before the person was president.

Just a few minutes later, the Court announced its decision in Trump v Mazars, vacating the DC District and Circuit Courts decisions granting the House of Representatives authority to subpoena the president's financial records from his accounting firm, holding "[t]he courts below did not take adequate account of the significant separation of powers concerns implicated by congressional subpoenas for the President’s information." Roberts distinguished this case from Vance and others, writing:

This case is different. Here the President’s information is sought not by prosecutors or private parties in connection with a particular judicial proceeding, but by committees of Congress that have set forth broad legislative objectives. Congress and the President—the two political branches established by the Constitution—have an ongoing relationship that the Framers intended to feature both rivalry and reciprocity.

When Congress seeks information “needed for intelligent legislative action,” it “unquestionably” remains “the duty of all citizens to cooperate.” Watkins, 354 U. S., at 187 (emphasis added). Congressional subpoenas for information from the President, however, implicate special concerns regarding the separation of powers. The courts below did not take adequate account of those concerns.

Again, Alito and Thomas dissented. Thomas would reverse the decision rather than vacate it, because he "would hold that Congress has no power to issue a legislative subpoena for private, nonofficial documents—whether they belong to the President or not. Congress may be able to obtain these documents as part of an investigation of the President, but to do so, it must proceed under the impeachment power." Given that the President stonewalled Congress during the impeachment earlier this year, and the Supreme Court essentially said that's Congress's problem, not ours, Thomas would essentially hold the president immune from any discovery process. Alito agrees with Thomas to some extent, but believes "legislative subpoenas for a President’s personal documents are inherently suspicious," and would require Congress to "provide a description of the type of legislation being considered," which they did, but apparently not to Alito's satisfaction.

The president's response was as measured and thoughtful as one might expect:

He has spent the last hour whining like a spoiled toddler narcissistic, demented old man about this.

Sadly, none of this information will come out before the election. Once he's out of office in January, however, expect that his businesses will not survive long in their present forms. I really can't wait to see what he's been hiding.

Wrong kind of hedge fund

A couple on the north side of Chicago planted hedges around a patch of public park land and fought the city's attempts to get the land back for 15 years. Then a local blog got ahold of the story, and the hedges came right out:

About 8:30 a.m., a landscaping crew was at the home in the 3000 block of North Lake Shore Drive West to remove the hedgerow on public land. The politically connected homeowner, businessman Michael Tadin Jr., confirmed he ordered the bushes removed.

As neighbors watched the hedgerow being torn out, one person passing by said, “I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.”

Another walked up, threw an egg at the house and left a bag of dog poop on the lawn.

Block Club revealed Tuesday that Tadin Jr. and his wife, Natalie Tadin, planted hedges around the 3,000 square feet of Chicago Park District land in front of their home, according to an inspector general report issued last week.

The entire block from Wellington to Barry that faces Lake Shore Drive West was previously a convent for a religious order. About 15 years ago, the mansion and chapel on Barry were converted to residential use when the property was sold and the land around it was rezoned.

I have a particular interest in this story because I used to live directly above the property in question. I'll try to find a photo of it from before the convent closed.

Happy Monday!

Need another reason to vote for Biden? Slower news cycles. Because just this morning we've had these:

So, you know, nothing too interesting.

So much to read

I'm back in the office tomorrow, after taking a 7:15 am call with a colleague in India. So I won't spend a lot of time reading this stuff tonight:

OK, I need 3,700 steps before 10pm, and then I need to empty my dog and go to bed.

It's way past time for this amendment

Attorney General William Barr's behavior since taking office, and especially over the past week, demonstrates the need for the United States to do what 43 other states already do: elect the Attorney General.

Here's my proposed Constitutional amendment:

Sec. 1. The chief legal officer of the United States and chief executive officer of the Department of Justice shall be an Attorney General, elected by the People for a term of four years, to commence on January 10th of the third year following the most recent election of the President.

Sec. 2. No Person shall be eligible to the Office of Attorney General who shall not have attained to the age of thirty years, and been nine years a Citizen of the United States, and been seven years a resident within the United States.

Sec. 3. No person shall be elected to the office of the Attorney General more than twice, and no person who has held the office of Attorney General, or acted as Attorney General, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected Attorney General shall be elected to the office of the Attorney General more than once.

Sec. 4. No person who has held the office of Attorney General, or acted as Attorney General, shall serve in any Office created by Articles II or III of this Constitution, or legislation based thereon, until four years have passed after serving as Attorney General.

Sec. 5. The Attorney General shall have the power to appoint and remove, with the advice and consent of the Senate, a United States Attorney for each Judicial District that Congress may establish, and a Deputy Attorney General, who shall assume the office of Attorney General should the office become vacant during the term of office. The Attorney General shall have the power to appoint other officers of the Department of Justice as Congress may provide by legislation.

Sec. 6. This article shall take effect on January 10th of the third year following its ratification.

Section 1 establishes that the office and the department she runs are separate from the Executive Branch, and chosen in the midterm elections. Section 2 sets the requirements for office to be the same as for US Senator. Section 3 sets term limits in the same language as the 22nd Amendment. Section 4 shuts the revolving door, except a former AG can still run for Congress. Section 5 gives the AG, and not the President, the power to appoint US Attorneys and her own deputy, with Senate approval; but she can appoint other officers that Congress may create without Senate approval. Section 6 gives the Executive-branch Justice Department two years to fully devolve into its own Constitutional realm.

If this were to be ratified in 2024, for example, we would vote for AG in November 2026 and swear her in on 10 January 2027. That person would then serve until 2031, and be ineligible to serve in the Executive branch or as a Federal judge until 2035.

Thoughts?

What just happened in SDNY?

On Friday night, US Attorney General William Barr announced that Jeffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had resigned. Minutes later, Berman said "the hell I have."

A couple of problems immediately present themselves when you think about this. First, only the president can fire a US Attorney. (President Trump finally did that last night.) Second, the highest law-enforcement official in the country, lied in writing about this. Third, the SDNY has multiple, ongoing investigations into the president's associates and businesses. Fourth, Barr's first announcement of Berman's replacement (a well-known Trump fellatist supporter) flouted the actual black-letter law giving that power to the judges of the SDNY (who, in fact, appointed Berman).

Calling this "extraordinary" doesn't do justice to the violence this dealt to the rule of law.

The Times:

The attorney general’s interventions in high-profile cases involving the onetime Trump advisers Roger J. Stone Jr. and Michael T. Flynn have prompted accusations from current and former law enforcement officials that Mr. Barr has politicized the department.

Over the last year, Mr. Berman’s office brought indictments against two close associates of the president’s current lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, and began an investigation into Mr. Giuliani himself, focusing on whether his efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on the president’s political rivals violated laws on lobbying for foreign entities.

Mr. Berman’s office also conducted an investigation into Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, subpoenaing financial and other records as part of a broad inquiry into possible illegal contributions from foreigners.

David Kurtz doesn't stop at "accusations...Barr has politicized the department:"

We’re deep into the worst crisis in the history of the Justice Department, and it keeps deepening. This isn’t alarming for what it signifies or for what it suggests might happen next or because it raises vague future concerns. It’s alarming because this is the corruption and the wrongdoing and the malfeasance. Right here, right now. Not some theoretical future threat. This is the nightmare of a president run amok with a captive Justice Department. We’re there. We’re living it.

James Comey, who worked as an assistant US Attorney in SDNY early in his career, has also spoken up:

There has always been a tension — much of it healthy — between Washington and the Southern District, but the attempt to fire the current United States attorney feels very different. Geoffrey Berman’s office has apparently been handling cases very close to the president. In 136 days, there is an election that the incumbent appears likely to lose. The attorney general, surely not proceeding on his own, acts to bump the well-regarded head of the Office on a Friday night, in the middle of a pandemic. Something stinks.

The country is well-served by the independent spirit and reputation of the Southern District of New York. It has long been the place where hard cases could be done in a way Americans trusted. It was where Bill Clinton’s 11th-hour pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich could be credibly investigated. It is also the place with jurisdiction over so much of this president’s complicated life.

And it is a place that follows the facts alone to reach conclusions, without regard to politics, just as [Henry L.] Stimson wanted. Maybe that’s why William P. Barr moved to knock off Berman on a Friday night and announced President Trump’s intention to replace him with someone who has never worked there. And maybe that’s why Berman, in the finest traditions of the office, stood up.

House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has opened an investigation, with a hearing already scheduled for Tuesday.

Big names with big warnings

The Washington Post this morning has two pieces with impressive bylines, both warning about the path the United States is walking right now. First, Salman Rushdie:

In my life, I have seen several dictators rise and fall. Today, I’m remembering those earlier incarnations of this unlovely breed.

In India in 1975, Indira Gandhi, found guilty of electoral malpractice, declared a state of emergency that granted her despotic powers. The “emergency,” as it became known, ended only when she called an election, believing she would win, and was annihilated at the polls. Her arrogance was her downfall. This cautionary tale formed a part of my novel “Midnight’s Children.”

In Pakistan in 1977, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq staged a coup against Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and executed him in 1979. This dark story was the inspiration for my novel “Shame.” The circumstances of my life have given me some understanding of the dictatorial cast of mind.

Extreme narcissism, detachment from reality, a fondness for sycophants and a distrust of truth-tellers, an obsession with how one is publicly portrayed, a hatred of journalists and the temperament of an out-of-control bulldozer: These are some of the characteristics.

President Trump is, temperamentally, a tinpot despot of this type. But he finds himself in charge of a country that has historically thought of itself — by no means always correctly — as being on the side of liberty. So far, with the collusion of the Republican Party, he has ruled more or less unchecked. Now an election looms, and he is unpopular, and flails about looking for a winning strategy. And if that means trampling over American freedoms, then so be it.

Second, a coterie of 89 former defense and military officials demonstrate all-party condemnation of the president's use of the military:

President Trump has given governors a stark choice: either end the protests that continue to demand equal justice under our laws, or expect that he will send active-duty military units into their states. While the Insurrection Act gives the president the legal authority to do so, this authority has been invoked only in the most extreme conditions when state or local authorities were overwhelmed and were unable to safeguard the rule of law. Historically, as Secretary Esper has pointed out, it has rightly been seen as a tool of last resort.

Beyond being unnecessary, using our military to quell protests across the country would also be unwise. This is not the mission our armed forces signed up for: They signed up to fight our nation’s enemies and to secure — not infringe upon — the rights and freedoms of their fellow Americans. In addition, putting our servicemen and women in the middle of politically charged domestic unrest risks undermining the apolitical nature of the military that is so essential to our democracy. It also risks diminishing Americans’ trust in our military — and thus America’s security — for years to come.

The members of our military are always ready to serve in our nation’s defense. But they must never be used to violate the rights of those they are sworn to protect.

Know hope.

Strange turns of IP law

First, four publishers have sued the Internet Archive for "mass copyright infringement" following IA temporarily suspending waiting lists on borrowing e-books:

The plaintiffs — John Wiley & Sons and three of the big five U.S. publishers, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House — are trying to block the nonprofit group's operations and recover damages for scores of allegedly infringed works.

"Its goal of creating digital copies of books and providing them to whomever wants to download them reflects a profound misunderstanding of the costs of creating books, a profound lack of respect for the many contributors involved in the publication process, and a profound disregard of the boundaries and balance of core copyright principles," the publishers argued.

The Internet Archive didn't respond immediately to NPR's request for comment on Wednesday. But in a statement issued Monday, Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive expressed the group's disappointment with the lawsuit.

"As a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done. This supports publishing, authors and readers. Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone's interest," Kahle said. "We hope this can be resolved quickly."

Second, Netflix has defended a worldwide trademark on "Space Force," to the chagrin of the United States Space Force:

When Donald Trump has discussed the newest branch of the U.S. armed services, he struck a bellicose tone. "Space is a war-fighting domain just like the land, air and sea," the president told an audience of Marines in March 2018. Two years later, after Congress appropriated money for his vision for a Space Force, and Trump held an Oval Office ceremony to unveil the official flag of the unit, he added that it was high time the country moved to protect strategic American space infrastructure. "As you know, China, Russia, perhaps others, started off a lot sooner than us," Trump said.

But his administration has proven dovish when it comes to protecting the "Space Force" name itself. On May 29, Netflix premiered its comedy series Space Force, from The Office showrunner Greg Daniels and star Steve Carell. The U.S. military has done nothing to stop the streamer’s satirical take, nor could it thanks to the First Amendment. But less noticed is how around the globe, the streaming giant has outmaneuvered the U.S. government to secure trademark rights to "Space Force" in Europe, Australia, Mexico and elsewhere. Meanwhile, the Air Force merely owns a pending application for registration inside the United States based on an intent to use. Meaning that the feds have gotten a place in line but no confirmed trademark rights thus far.

That's not necessarily a problem. Netflix can produce a television series without confusing consumers, just as the military can train fighting astronauts without anyone mistakenly thinking the streamer is sponsoring such an academy.

Conflict potentially arises when trademark users begin trafficking in similar products. Imagine for a moment that a “Space Force” jumper begins appearing in retail stores. Who’s selling? The U.S. military or Netflix? Trademarks help clarify the source of goods and services.

I'll just stick with US Navy-branded goods—or just call them both "Bruce"—to avoid confusion.