Saturday, October 24, 2020

Abolish The Office Of The Director Of National Intelligence (ODNI)

 A sign that this entity should be abolished, and I mean really gone, done in, not with its parts redistributed to other entities, is that it is an an entity defined by its director, not itself.  In preparing to write this post I checked on it, and I thought it was the ONI, the Office of National Intelligence. But, no, it is the ODNI, spelled out as above, really. And it should go.

Why was it ever created in the first place, this unnecessary entity?  It was created in 2005 as a reaction to the failures of the US intel establishment to "connect the dots" in the runup to the 9/11/01 disastrous attack that killed about 3,000 people in a terrorist attack, about 1.5% of the number of people who have died this year in the coronavirus pandemic in the US. Indeed, there were failures of communication between the FBI and the CIA then that helped lead to that attack.  But the creation of a supposedly overseeing entity has not remotely overcome the tendency of these agencies not to share information with each other, even though various politicians at the time thought that it would achieve such a result.

Indeed, this ODNI simply became yet another entity among others, at least 17 others in fact, over which it theoretically has power, but which in fact it does not.  I cannot even name all 17 of those entities, although I know that some of the more important ones are barely known to the US public, such as the NRO and the NGIA (and no, kids, not going to tell you all what they are what they do.  If you do not know, tough). There was never any way it was going to be on top of or direct or do anything useful at all with respect to any of these 17 entities, some of which also should probably go. But none of them as much as what has now become not only a useless entity, but an odious one.

That it is not only useless but potentially dangerous has now become clear as Donald Trump has installed as the Director who justifies the existence of this entity, which is his "Office" after all, John Ratcliffe, five year far right Congressman from Texas with zero intelligence experience, but a record of supporting the most ridiculous conspiracy theories advocated by Donald Trump.  He promised not to be partisan in his new position, but almost everything he has done since his appointment suggests that he was lying when he made that promise.

Two items suggesting this include his affirmation that the New York Post story about a laptop supposedly belonging to Hunter Biden with various scandalous emails on it was not a product of Russian intelligence activity, even as over 40 former US intel officers publicly declared that it seriously looked like that was exactly the case, with this being pretty likely given that the person who provided the emails to the NY Post, Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, was reported many months ago to have been seriously involved with at least one known Russian intel agent.

One might think that given his supposedly high position overseeing all those 17 agencies, Ratcliffe, who arrived in his position very recently, would know more than any of them.  But according to a column in the Washington Post, Oct. 23, by David Ignatius, mot of the 17 agencies are not giving important intel info to Ratcliffe, the DNI overseer, because they do not trust him.  He is isolated and knows nothing, and his agency is being "hollowed out," as anybody with any remote competence is fleeing it as fast as they can.

The more recent example of Ratcliffe showing his utter inappropriateness for such a position was the press conference he held with is nominal underling, FBI Director Christopher Wray, two days ago. He studiously informed us of foreign interference in this US election.  While he mentioned that Russia was doing something, he never specified what it was and moved on from it to what he considered the important item, even though many intel agents are publicly saying that indeed it is the Russian activities that are the most dangerous.  But for Ratcliffe it is this alleged Iran interference that warranted the presser.  Supposedly some emails have been sent to individuals showing knowledge of their addresses and other personal info, supposedly from the Proud Boys, who deny doing so, demanding that the recipients vote for Trump, with these messages mostly in Florida, although a few in some other battleground states. This was supposedly done to create a conflict in the US and doubt about the election, something Trump and Russia would like. And Juan Cole points out that it is sort of bizarre to posit Iran wanting such an outcome or to call for people to vote for Trump. The whole thing stinks, frankly, although as of now we do not know what is really going on with this, even as it looks like the new DNI is playing a blatantly political game in contrast to his promise not to do so.

Given the already too many US intel agencies that are now retreating from dealing with the ODNI, if they can manage it, it is becoming clear that this office never had any chance of doing what it was supposed to do, and simply is getting in the way of those agencies doing what they are supposed to do when they are doing that. It does not connect the dots. This may not matter most of the time, but it does matter when an authoritarian president appoints a flunky hack to be ODNI to cherry pick intelligence to aid this president in his various political activities, which seems to be exactly what is going on now.

I close this by quoting Ignatius from his column:

"As the DNI office has become politicized, it's performing the opposite of what was intended - separating the agencies rather than integrating them. If Biden is elected next month, he should ask whether this bureaucratic behemoth, so susceptible to manipulation, should be scrapped."

Sure looks like it to me.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, October 22, 2020

“I don't know about the two gentlemen you mentioned."

Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon join a long list of people Donald Trump doesn't know about.

Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas

"I don't know those gentleman. Now, it's possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody. I don't know them, I don't know about them, I don't know what they do."

Jeffrey Epstein

"I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him, I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you."

Michael Flynn

"It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge, It would have been impossible for me to know this."

Roger Stone

"Now you know Roger didn't work for me in the campaign, Roger Stone didn't work on the campaign, except way, way at the beginning, long before we're talking about... Roger is somebody that I've always liked, but a lot of people like Roger. Some people probably don't like Roger, but Roger Stone's somebody I've always liked. … Roger wasn't on my campaign except way at the beginning."

Stormy Daniels

"I had nothing to do with her. So she can lie and she can do whatever she wants to do."

George Papadopoulos

"I don't know Papadopoulos. I don't know him, I saw him sitting, in one picture, at a table with me. That's the — that's the only thing I know about him. I don't know him. But they got him on — I guess, a couple of lies, is what they're saying."

"Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar."

Paul Manafort

"I didn't know Manafort well. He wasn't with the campaign long."

"I know Mr. Manafort — I haven't spoken to him in a long time, but I know him. He was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time, relatively short period of time."

Michael Cohen

"He's been a lawyer for me. Didn't do big deals, did small deals. Not somebody that was with me that much, They make it sound like I didn't live without him. … He was somebody that was probably with me for about 10 years. And I would see him sometimes, but when I had deals and big deals I had outside lawyers, and I have a lot of inside lawyers, too, in addition to Michael."

Vladimir Putin

"I don't know him. I met him a couple of times. I met him at the G-20. I think we could probably get along very well."

No More Concerts From Keith Jarrett

 I have just read that jazz pianist Keith Jarrett will not be performing live any more, indeed has not done so for some time.  He had two strokes back in 2018, the last year he released an album, and apparently he is simply not able to use one hand.  He does not wish to perform with only one hand.

I saw him once live, in 1967 in the Memorial Union theater at UW-Madison, when he was playing in the Charles Lloyd Quartet.  He got attention then for reaching over and directly playing strings on the piano with his hands. That was before he began doing his famous live solo albums or performing with his own group. Apparently his best selling albums, which I read is one of the greatest selling jazz albums ever, is the 1975 Koln Concert, which I have always loved a lot.  He is 75 years old.

I note that my youngest daughter, Sasha, is a composer now out with 12 albums.  She has long acknowledged him as an influence on her work and admired him greatly.  In any case, this is sad news as far as I am concerned, viewing him as the finest living jazz pianist.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Period Of Short Term Memory

 The election is two weeks from today.  When I took an into psych course over half a century ago, I was taught in it that two weeks is the period of short term memory, the period in which we remember events with special salience.  I do not know if this is still the official view of the profession, but it has since then made sense to me: I seem to be able, even now, to remember what happened day by day for the previous two weeks.  Things before then are "in the past," although certainly some are salient and on my mind. But those that happened in the past two weeks are just that much more on my mind.

With this in mind even four years ago when people asked me to forecast the election outcome I would drag this up and say "anything can happen in the last two weeks that can change it," and four years ago it happened with the James Comey public reopening of an email investigation into Hillary Clinton 11 days before the election.  Even though about two days before he announced nothing was found, the damage was done.  This year we all remember this, and while he is further ahead in national polls than she was at this point then, Joe  Biden is not much further ahead, and even behind in some, than she was in those crucial battleground states that will determine the outcome. So it remains fully possible that something unexpected can happen that will give Trump the victory.

I must admit, however, that I have been trying to think what could do it.  Much discussion focuses on "October Surprise," as if things early in October has as much salience as those in the last two weeks.  So far most of those surprises have hurt Trump more than Biden, and the poll gap has widened in Biden's favor, with the new rise in cases and hospitalizations of the coronavirus seeming to be the dominant issue, and with Trump's illness and superspreader events not helping him on that front. So if something happens to push it the other way, it is going to have to overcome a strong pressure coming on that front that I simply do not see moving in Trump's favor.  There will not be a vaccine approved prior to Nov. 3, much to Trump's distress and despite all his efforts to force one through.

Of course we have seen the Trump people try to push new stuff on the Hunter Biden case and Burisma, with last Wednesday's New York Post story about his supposed laptop. But, not only did it come out before the final two weeks, it does not seem to be convincing anybody not already in the Trump camp, just too many holes and nonsense I shall not bother  with.  Yes, the brief blocking of it by Twitter et al gives it a few more legs, but it seems not to be going anywhere  serious, mostly just another effort to get the Trump base out, if it  was not already out.

My suspicion is that at this point the only thing that could really do it would be a genuinely unexpected event, with something from abroad the most likely, given that we pretty much know all there is to know about Joe Biden himself.  A 9/11 style terror  attack from the Middle East might do it, fits Trump's narrative and would allow him to pull a "rally the troops around the national leader," or something equivalent.

I close by noting a report I just saw that looked at October Surprises, not just final two weeks stuff, over elections dating back to 1980.  In fact most of them were pretty well baked in by the beginning of October, with few seeing movement in national polls exceeding 1%.  2016 saw the second largest move, almost 3%.  That was the Comey Announcement Effect.  Curiously the only other election with a larger net move was 1992, when Clinton gained about 7%, although I do not remember a specific event or "surprise" that triggered that.  So, in fact, the probability of a something really election altering happening within the next two weeks is pretty low, although not yet to be ruled out.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Why Does MbS Want Hllary Clinton's Emails?

 In yesreday's Washington Post David Ignatius reports in a column about serious efforts by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to get the infamous emails of Hillary Clinton publicized, something that President Trump also wants and SecState Pompeo has been promising while complaining about problems getting them out.  My guess is there is nothing in them not already known, but MbS has really been pushing on this.  Aside from trying to help his pal, Trump, what is up with this?

Ignatius speculates that this is tied to a new effort to assert his dictatorial total power in Saudi Arabia by MbS, in particular against the man he removed and replaced as Crown Prince in a coup that was encouraged by the Trump administration. That man is Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN), who was much admired and respected by the US intelligence establishment due to his cooperation in combatting various internatrional terrorist groups.  His father, Mohammed bin Abdulaziz, a full Sudeiri Seven brother of MbS;s father, King Salman, was Minister of the Interior for a long time, and MbN served in that position, as well as being named Crown Prince by the previous king, Abdullah.

MbS had him arrested in his own palace by MbS's personal military, with him having access to plenty as Minister of Defense when he pulled this off in 2017.  MbN was kept from having medicines he needed and forced to abdicate.  He has remained under house arrest since.

But, according to Ignatius, MbS wants to charge him with treason, with attempting to overthrow him, MbS, as Crown Prince, when it was MbS who overthrew MbN.  This reminds me of MbS's pal Trump accusing others of being liars and crooks.  So MbS is looking for evidence of MbN's supposed plotting against him, MbS.  Somehow he thinks that such evidence can be found in in HIllary's emails, as well as communications by Joe Biden.  I think this is just ridiculous, but it certainly puts him in synch with his pal Trump just before Trump is up for reelection.

It may be that what is going on here is that MbS realizes that Trump may well be defeated and replaced by people who do not like him at all, Biden and crew, and he is unhappy.  The funny thing is that even Trump may be distancing himself from the murderous crown prince, having just cut a deal with the Yemeni Houthis that freed two Americans for the US freeing over 300 Houthi fighters, something MbS is very unhappy about, but MbS's awful war in Yemen is simply becoming less and less popular in he US.  He may indeed be about to get into real trouble with the US. So, all the more reason he needs to gin up a phony treason trial for the man he traitorously deposed in his coup.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Stealing Signs

 I know this is a widespread basically trivial matter, but since I had posted earlier about all of the BLM signs on my block (including at our house) accompanied more recently by signs related to the various political races (we have a Senate race, as well as House, and city council here) on the block, where we had some apparently hostile drivebys some while ago.

So last night somebody came and stole all the signs off our block that were not clearly for a GOP candidate in some race, with all the BLM signs going, including ours.  I really do not like the idea of somebody coming on my property and stealing something, even if it is just a political sign.  Oh well.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, October 12, 2020

In The Face Of Total Turbulence, Go Totally Conventional For The Nobel Prize

 I have noted in various places that I could not make a forecast this year on the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel because of all the turbulence on so many fronts going on.  So it occurred to me that the committee might avoid political controversy by going technical, although I thought it more likely they would give it for something in econometrics. But this year's award was clearlyi in the works after Jean Tirole and Alvin Roth got theirs.  The real question for this one was which of the "Gang of Four," David Kreps, Paul Milgrom, John Roberts, and Robert B. Wilson, who coauthored the super important game theory paper on reputation effects, allowing for cooperation over time in prisoner's dilemma and other games, would get it. 

In the end it was Milgrom and his major professor Wilson, leaving Kreps and Roberts in the dust. It is given for their work on helping set up the FCC spectrum auctions, something practical for these theoreticians to do.  Milgrom is the giant of this group, withover 100,000 google scholar citations and a long list of other major accomplishments, such as the no-trade theorem, and things even in macro and economic history.  But Wilson has substantially fewer google scholar citations than either Kreps or Roberts.  They both have about 50,000 while Wilson is just over half that, despite being older than any of these others.  So it was Wilson's work with Milgrom on the spectrum auction that got him to join Milgrom for the trip to Stockholm.

This is a non-controversial, almost boring, and certainly apolitical award, the committee playing it safe in this tumultuous year.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, October 10, 2020

When did Israel Become "America's Best Ally"?

 In the recent US Vice Presidential debate, the current US VP, Mike Pence dropped a throaway line that until nobody has noticed until now. He labeled Israel as America's "best ally," or a term meaning the same thing.

I think that from at least 1917 the "best ally" of the US was either Canada or UK. Under Trump both of those alliances were downgraded, although they were loyal to us for all that time.

So now we have the supposedly new "best ally" (might be slightly different wording, but it means this), Israel.  

Now I am much more for Israel than many on the left and elsewhere. I have long supported the two-state solution set in Oslo in 1992 or thereabouts. But the current admin throws that into a trash can.

On June 8, 1967, Israel sank the USS Liberty, killing 34 American citizens, wounding 171. 

Sorry, Israel may be an "ally" of the USA, but this throaway line that somehow it is US.s "best" or "top" or "leading ally" is just a joke.

For the record, if the current POTUS is not reelected, this fantasy will be undone and we shall return to our long established relationships.  Sorry any fantasists who think otherwise, but Canada is a closer ally of the US than Israel.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Voting in a Time of Covid: A Question about Judicial “Originalism”

The originalist theory of legal interpretation holds that judges, in reviewing the implementation of a statute, should be guided by the “plain meaning” of its language at the time it was adopted.  This is in opposition to the notion of a “living law”, whose interpretation should evolve as the conditions it addresses evolves.  For instance, originalists are appalled by Supreme Court decisions like Roe v Wade, since nowhere does the Constitution establish a right to bodily privacy, nor could the framers have plausibly thought back in the eighteenth century that the language they drafted encompassed such a right.  It is one interpretation of the living law view, on the other hand, that, as governments increasing acquired the administrative power to regulate our intimate lives, the zone of restriction implicit in the first amendment should be extended to measures that impinge on the freedom to control one’s own body.

Until his death the most vocal supporter of originalism on the Court was Antonin Scalia; now we are looking at the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, who describes herself as an acolyte of Scalia and a resolute defender of his philosophy.

Here is a case I would bring up if I were questioning Barrett.

The rules governing elections are established at the local and state levels, not federal, but the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of how they might be interpreted.  It is common for jurisdictions to have regulations prohibiting interference with or attempts to influence voters at voting sites.  In every instance I’ve seen this is expressed in terms of physical distance, something like “within 100 yards of the polling place”.  In enforcement this has always implied a radius extending from the door voters use to enter the building in which they will cast their vote.  You can’t hold signs and shout at voters, much less accost them, within so many feet of that door.

But voting has changed during the pandemic.  Social distancing has forced election officials to disperse voting booths, reducing the number of booths per site.  Lines also have to be distanced, and they now stretch out for many blocks, even the better part of a mile, from the door.  Because of this, voters waiting to cast their ballot are often beyond the specific distance specified in the law for prohibition of campaigning.

Should these prohibitions be interpreted according to their plain language, which unambiguously permits campaigning beyond a specified radial distance, or should they be understood more flexibly in terms of the changed circumstances of voting in a pandemic?

There is an easy way out, but on a little reflection it is obvious it doesn’t work.  That is, an originalist could say, “It’s clear that the purpose of the statute is to protect voters during the process of voting, which includes waiting to vote.  With the pandemic, that purpose can and should be served by overriding the numerical stipulation and extending prohibition to the entire voting line, no matter how long.”

Sounds good, but consider that (a) the authors of these laws could have used a qualitative description of the prohibited zone (“in close proximity to voting booths and lines”) but used a quantitative one instead, and (b) this is not the first pandemic; those in a position to write or amend these laws were familiar with the Spanish Influenza of 1918-19, where similar adaptations needed to be made.  Really, only one of two possibilities exist: either the laws should be taken at their word and judges, while they may lament how poorly they were written, can only enforce them literally, or it should be assumed that those drafting them expected that future generations would understand their purpose and apply them flexibly.  In the second possibility, the numerical demarcators were intended to convey a broader intent: you might say “within 100 yards” not to get out the tape measure but to express the idea that the immediate vicinity of the voting site should be differentiated from the community surrounding it.  That’s not a strange way of communicating intent.  Lots of rules parents set for children work that way.  “Be home by 11 pm” means you need to have a good reason to stay out later.  We could interpret voting regulations that way, but that puts us in living law-land.

So I’d ask Barrett about the enforcement of voting interference statutes during the pandemic and ask a follow up question when she tries, as she likely would, to give the easy-but-inadequate response about intent.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

"Papa Haydn" or "Papa Bach"

 So a cultural diversion from all the current shouting.  Was it "Papa Haydn" or "Papa Bach"? And if the latter, which one, hint, probably not the more famous Johann Sebastian.

So Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) gets called that as he largely invented the modern form of the string quartet and the symphony (of which he composed 104), starting in the late 1750s as he held positions with various aristocratic families, following a youth in which he suffered extreme poverty and serious malnutrition.  He also codified the sonata allegro form, which, would along with firmly establishing modern keys, would become the basis by the 1780s when he completed his musical form innovations the classical form of classical music, aided by his younger friend, W.A. Mozart (1756-1791), with whom he played string quartets in Vienna and who got him into the premier masonic lodge of the city. This standard of composition would be the form that later composers would rebel and modify and extend and finally completely overthrow over the next century and a half, starting with Haydn's student, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and arguably culminating with the total serialism of Elliott Carter in the mid-20th century.

However, it turns out that Haydn was deeply influenced by a particular composer, one who actually invented the sonata allegro form in particular.  That was Karl Philip Emmanuel Bach (1714-1788), whose manuscripts Haydn studied deeply during the 1760s as he developed his own style while working as Kappellmeister for the Estrhazy family from 1761 until his death, although he composed nothing after 1805 due to illness, the year Beethoven invented Romantic music with his Eroica Sympnyony No. 3, beginning the long deviation from Papa Haydn's standard.  K.P.E. Bach was the oldest son of J.S. Bach (1685-1750) and was long at the Court of Frederick the Great in Berlin, until moving in 1764 to Hamburg to replace his late godfather, Philip Telemann in a position there.

In his lifetime KPE Bach was far more well known and renowned than his father.  Both Haydn and Mozart were crucially influenced by him.  It was Mozart who recognized this by calling him "Papa Bach."  However, in the 19th century, Mendelsohn would revive interest in his father, who is now much better known.

Barkley Rosser

Open Thread

Spreadipus Rex seems to be suggesting that he deliberately infected himself and a whack of other people with the Covid "as your leader."

Saturday, October 3, 2020

"The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe, 1842

The red death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal -- the madness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease, were incidents of half an hour.

But Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his crenellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Is the Beady-Eyed Religious Fanatic A Major Superspreader Of The Pandemic?

 It now appears that the Rose Garden ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 26, presenting SCOTUS candidate Amy Coney Barrett, who has the beadiest eyes I have ever seen on any human being in my life, has turned into a superspreader event of SARS-Cov2. Among those who may have become infected include the president and his wife, along with at least two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (Lee of UT and Tillis of NC), the president of Notre Dame University where Barrett was a law school prof, as well as others, with it likely more will be learned to have gotten it there.

This is a low probability theory, but clearly there was probably a super spreader individual at this ceremony, one upfront apparently, given where those infected were sitting.  Apparently the SCOTUS candidate herself, she of the creepy beady eyes, has already had the virus.  But we now learn that one who has had it can continue to spread the virus for quite a long time afterward.  So, it may be that this fanatic who most assuredly does not belong on the SCOTUS is the actual superspreader at this awful event.

I note my disagreement with Anonymous about use of the term "beady-eyed" regarding this horrible nominee for the court.  I deeply respect Anonymous, and I recognize for the record that A holds the view that this descriptor is "prejudicial." I note this for the record. 

However, for the record, I have disagreed with this view, so I am not at all surprised that this possible superspreader of this deadly virus is Beady-eyed! Beady-Eyed! Beady-Eyed! 

Barkley Rosser