The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Like RAGBRAI, but 8 times farther

The Great American Rail-Trail is nearing completion:

On Wednesday, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy gave the grand reveal for an entirely car-free way to get across the country—the Great American Rail-Trail—that would connect Washington, D.C., to Seattle. The path runs through 12 states: Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

The launch event kicked off at Capitol Hill in D.C., near where the Capital Crescent Trail begins the cross-country route, as part of a live-streamed broadcast of events at stops along the way, including Columbus, Ohio; Three Forks, Montana; and South Cle Elu, Washington.

The vision for a complete cross-country route was one of the founding dreams for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, an organization hatched in 1986 to help convert former rail corridors into public trails for bikers, strollers, and other active transportation types. Founders David Burwell and Peter Harnik were railroad history buffs, and a coast-to-coast backbone was always part their vision. Not coincidentally, this week marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.

The group believes that they can finish the project in about 20 years.

How to protect your data from being stolen

Sadly, you can't. But you can protect yourself from identity theft, as Bruce Schneier explains:

The reality is that your sensitive data has likely already been stolen, multiple times. Cybercriminals have your credit card information. They have your social security number and your mother's maiden name. They have your address and phone number. They obtained the data by hacking any one of the hundreds of companies you entrust with the data­ -- and you have no visibility into those companies' security practices, and no recourse when they lose your data.

Given this, your best option is to turn your efforts toward trying to make sure that your data isn't used against you. Enable two-factor authentication for all important accounts whenever possible. Don't reuse passwords for anything important -- ­and get a password manager to remember them all.

Do your best to disable the "secret questions" and other backup authentication mechanisms companies use when you forget your password­ -- those are invariably insecure. Watch your credit reports and your bank accounts for suspicious activity. Set up credit freezes with the major credit bureaus. Be wary of email and phone calls you get from people purporting to be from companies you do business with.

At the very least, download a password safe (like the one Schneier himself helped write) and make sure that you use a different, random password for everything.

Is it time to break up Facebook?

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes thinks so:

America was built on the idea that power should not be concentrated in any one person, because we are all fallible. That’s why the founders created a system of checks and balances. They didn’t need to foresee the rise of Facebook to understand the threat that gargantuan companies would pose to democracy. Jefferson and Madison were voracious readers of Adam Smith, who believed that monopolies prevent the competition that spurs innovation and leads to economic growth.

A century later, in response to the rise of the oil, railroad and banking trusts of the Gilded Age, the Ohio Republican John Sherman said on the floor of Congress: “If we will not endure a king as a political power, we should not endure a king over the production, transportation and sale of any of the necessities of life. If we would not submit to an emperor, we should not submit to an autocrat of trade with power to prevent competition and to fix the price of any commodity.” The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 outlawed monopolies. More legislation followed in the 20th century, creating legal and regulatory structures to promote competition and hold the biggest companies accountable. The Department of Justice broke up monopolies like Standard Oil and AT&T.

For many people today, it’s hard to imagine government doing much of anything right, let alone breaking up a company like Facebook. This isn’t by coincidence.

Starting in the 1970s, a small but dedicated group of economists, lawyers and policymakers sowed the seeds of our cynicism. Over the next 40 years, they financed a network of think tanks, journals, social clubs, academic centers and media outlets to teach an emerging generation that private interests should take precedence over public ones. Their gospel was simple: “Free” markets are dynamic and productive, while government is bureaucratic and ineffective. By the mid-1980s, they had largely managed to relegate energetic antitrust enforcement to the history books.

This shift, combined with business-friendly tax and regulatory policy, ushered in a period of mergers and acquisitions that created megacorporations. In the past 20 years, more than 75 percent of American industries, from airlines to pharmaceuticals, have experienced increased concentration, and the average size of public companies has tripled. The results are a decline in entrepreneurship, stalled productivity growth, and higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.

The same thing is happening in social media and digital communications. Because Facebook so dominates social networking, it faces no market-based accountability. This means that every time Facebook messes up, we repeat an exhausting pattern: first outrage, then disappointment and, finally, resignation.

Hughes makes excellent points. Just because the industries look different than those in the 1890s doesn't mean they haven't consolidated too much. History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

The fart of the deal

Everyone knew that Donald Trump lost millions on bad business deals and bad management in the 1980s and 1990s. But we never knew how badly he dealt and managed until now. The New York Times obtained official IRS data on Trump's tax returns from the years 1985 to 1994, showing he lost a staggering $1.17 billion during that period—equivalent to more than $2 billion today:

Mr. Trump appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer, The Times found when it compared his results with detailed information the I.R.S. compiles on an annual sampling of high-income earners. His core business losses in 1990 and 1991 — more than $250 million each year — were more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.

Over all, Mr. Trump lost so much money that he was able to avoid paying income taxes for eight of the 10 years. It is not known whether the I.R.S. later required changes after audits.

The new information also suggests that Mr. Trump’s 1990 collapse might have struck several years earlier if not for his brief side career posing as a corporate raider. From 1986 through 1988, while his core businesses languished under increasingly unsupportable debt, Mr. Trump made millions of dollars in the stock market by suggesting that he was about to take over companies. But the figures show that he lost most, if not all, of those gains after investors stopped taking his takeover talk seriously.

Jennifer Rubin finds five takeaways from the report, and Trump's non-denial of it. Her final point is spot-on:

Finally, do not expect the revelations to dim the Trump cult’s reverence for its leader. If he isn’t really as rich as he said, they will commend him for pulling a fast one (even on voters). If the story is false, it’s one more bit of evidence for their media paranoia. Sadly, the Fox News and talk-radio crowd long ago jettisoned any concerns that they’ve invested their hopes in a con man, someone who has lied and finagled his way through life and into the White House. To admit that would be to recognize they were dupes, victims of another Trump scam. That, they will never do.

The Trump cultists have gone this far and they will go farther. As Matt Ford says, we have not even begun to approach "peak Trump." It's going to be a very long 18 months until the next election.

Well, yes, and he still might be

So far, 657 former Federal prosecutors, appointed by presidents from both parties, have signed a letter pointing out the obvious conclusions of the Mueller Report:

Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.

The Mueller report describes several acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge: conduct that obstructed or attempted to obstruct the truth-finding process, as to which the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming. These include:

· The President’s efforts to fire Mueller and to falsify evidence about that effort;

· The President’s efforts to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation to exclude his conduct; and

· The President’s efforts to prevent witnesses from cooperating with investigators probing him and his campaign.

As former federal prosecutors, we recognize that prosecuting obstruction of justice cases is critical because unchecked obstruction — which allows intentional interference with criminal investigations to go unpunished — puts our whole system of justice at risk. We believe strongly that, but for the OLC memo, the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favor of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller Report.

At some point, the president will leave office. Could the DOJ indict him at that point? The statute of limitations on obstruction is 5 years.

Each of the Republicans in the Senate who continue to cover for the president are complicit in this obstruction. So are the cabinet officials, including Attorney General Barr, who continue to obfuscate or outright lie about it.

The election is in 546 days.

First, let's kill all the townships

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 divided most of the land west of Pennsylvania into 6-by-6 mile squares called "townships." You can see the physical effects of the Ordinance any time you fly over the Great Plains: uniform squares of roads linking towns about 9½ km apart.

The Ordinance established townships to allow rural residents to get to their centers of government and home in the same day. In the era of travel by horseback, this saved days or weeks of travel for farmers and townsfolk alike.

In the era of travel by car, however, we no longer need the redundancy. Chicago magazine recommends getting rid of them altogether:

It’s not just urban counties that find remnant townships burdensome. Some rural counties want to get rid of their townships, too. Last month, State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, passed a bill that would allow McHenry County townships to dissolve themselves.

“My goal is to reduce the number of governmental bodies — it’s one of the reasons our property taxes are so high,” McSweeney said. “Consolidation, I think, is the key to reducing property taxes and administrative fees.”

Like most Illinois counties, Cook was originally platted with a grid of townships. The townships now contained by Chicago, including Rogers Park, Hyde Park, and Lake View, passed out of existence upon annexation. In the suburbs, townships still exist, even if all their land has been incorporated. In Cook County, remnant unincorporated bits of township could be required to join the nearest municipality, which would then take over township duties, as Evanston did.

There’s a saying that bureaucracy perpetuates itself, and that’s certainly true of townships. They’re so hard to get rid of because they’re a juicy source of jobs, patronage, and double-dipping for elected officials.

The Daily Parker agrees. Time to move on from one of the best ideas of the 1780s.

Illinois' upcoming comprehensive cannabis statute

Crain's outlines how Illinois' statutory approach to legalizing pot will make the state a leader in the country:

Illinois is trying to do something no other state has accomplished, legalizing recreational marijuana by statute instead of coming up with a program on the fly after a ballot initiative.

The bill, outlined Saturday, covers the mechanics of licensing, distribution and taxation, as well as some thorny criminal and social-justice matters that are crucial to lining up support.

The 522-page bill is a lot to digest, and some legislators have proposed legislation to slow down the legalization process. The bill includes language to automatically expunge marijuana-possession convictions, giving State Police two years to come up with the list of people who qualify. 

The legislation also would create a $20 million low-interest loan fund to help “social equity applicants” from communities that have been hit hard by poverty and arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis use to win licenses to grow, produce and sell cannabis for recreational use. The Cannabis Business Development Fund would be seeded with $12 million from the existing medical cannabis fund.

An even trickier balance is trying to put in regulations necessary to keep the industry under control but large and competitive enough to cut into the illegal pot market. That’s been a challenge in California, where the legalized cannabis market opened last year, with seemingly little impact on the black market, the New York Times reported.

State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and State Representative Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) plan to introduce the bill today. Fun fact: The Daily Parker resides in Steans' legislative district.

Can't suspend disbelief on this point (GoT spoilers)

If you haven't seen Game of Thrones Season 8, episode 4 ("The Last of the Starks"), stop reading now.

I need to rant about the impossible—not just improbable, but impossible—success of the Iron Fleet's attack in the middle of the episode.

<rant>

Now, I get that Game of Thrones is fantasy. White walkers, dragons, magic, and all that, I get it. I gladly suspend my disbelief in the fantasy elements of fantasy stories all the time. As a relevant example, when the Night King speared Viserion last season, it made sense, because the Night King was a magical being. Obviously he had a magic spear! I'm cool with that.

But dammit, get shit right when it's not a fantasy element.

Unlike the Night King, Euron Greyjoy is not a magical being, no matter what he thinks of himself. So him shooting down Rhaegal with a battery of ship-mounted, artillery-sized crossbows was total bullshit. It served the plot 

Hitting a fast-moving aircraft with a deck-mounted gun is so insanely difficult that navies could not reliably do it until the 1960s. You need computer-assisted, radar-guided targeting systems and gyroscopically-stabilized guns. Or ship-to-air guided missiles, which have radar and computers built in. Even then, they miss all the time.

Before computers, anti-aircraft guns worked by saturating the sky with rapid-fire, explosive ordnance. Flying through hundreds of exploding 50mm rounds will, sometimes, bring your plane down—but not as often as one might expect. And that's true even with guns mounted on solid ground. Ship-mounted AA guns gave sailors more of a feeling than a fact of protecting their ships from aerial attack. Just ask, oh, anyone who served on a ship before the Vietnam War. Or the guys on the Arizona.

Only after the 1890s, thanks to an invention US Navy brass didn't even understand at the time and almost killed, could a ship even hit another ship reliably from any distance over 100 meters. Even in World War I ships would pound away at each other with 15-inch guns and hit one time out of 100. (Of course, one or two hits with ordnance that size could sink a ship.)

The problem is roll. Ships roll in the water, even when at anchor, even in nearly-still water. Deck-mounted guns therefore need to float freely in their mounts so that they don't change position after you have a firing solution on your target. That was the invention the US Navy didn't even want until the officer who invented it demonstrated it in a live-fire exercise.

But even if the ships sat in completely placid water, the Iron Fleet's crossbows would have huge variations in accuracy because their projectiles lack flight stability. They had small fletching and the crossbows themselves provided no rifling. (Notice the bolts in the show don't spin in flight, even though archers in ancient times knew enough to add spin to their arrows by tweaking the fletching.) I would bet half the Lannister gold that one of those things firing from a fixed position on land at a range of 1,000 meters couldn't hit a barn twice in 100 shots.

So: The idea that a ship-mounted crossbow could hit a dragon in flight at a range of well over 1,000 meters while the dragon is actively evading it is so stupid I'm annoyed that it happened even once, let alone multiple times.

And let's not even discuss the energy required to launch a ballistic projectile that large across that distance. Energy that comes from human beings winding them up. It would take minutes to reload those things using human power. So even if they scored a nearly-impossibly-lucky, fatal hit on Rhaegal, Drogon would roast them alive while they were reloading.

Bottom line: unless the Iron Fleet secretly brought a modern destroyer to the battle, they couldn't have hit Rhaegal if he were sitting on the next boat, let alone flying evasively thousands of meters away. Hell, they couldn't have hit Denarys's ships at that range, except by accident.

And no, that's not my only problem with the episode, but it's the one that annoyed me the most.

</rant>

Republicans don't want POCs to vote

In Florida yesterday, despite a constitutional amendment giving felons the right to vote after they've completed their sentences, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a law effectively preventing thousands of them from voting:

In a move that critics say undermines the spirit of what voters intended, thousands of people with serious criminal histories will be required to fully pay back fines and fees to the courts before they could vote. The new limits would require potential new voters to settle what may be tens of thousands of dollars in financial obligations to the courts, effectively pricing some people out of the ballot box.

The new restrictions have been attacked by civil rights groups and some of the initiative’s backers as an exercise in Republican power politics, driven by fears that people with felony convictions are mostly liberals who could reshape the electorate ahead of presidential elections in 2020 and beyond. Republicans have dominated Florida’s state government for more than two decades, but elections are often decided by a fraction of a percentage point.

Civil rights organizations [say] that legislators went too far, and that the more than five million Floridians who voted for the ballot measure did not intend for court debts to become an exception to the right to vote. The text of Amendment 4 said voting rights would be automatically restored for felons “after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.”

Republicans in power will do anything they can to stay in power. They don't want to govern; they want to rule. And letting people vote gets in the way of ruling.