Monday, November 23, 2020

Janet Yellen Will Be Treasury Secretary

 I have long been a great fan of hers as well as knowing her and her husband, George Akerlof, personally.  Back in 2009 I was the first person to call for her to be named Fed Chair. I am very pleased with this appointment.  This is as good as it gets. (For those who wanted Lael Brainerd, we need her at the Fed where all the current governors are Trump appointees other than her).  Elizabeth Warren also would have been good, but Mass has a GOP governor who would appoint her successor, not so good. Yellen is the best pick and will be great.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, November 20, 2020

The New Coup Attempt

 OK, I thought that the collapse of Trump's lawsuits and the flight of his top lawyers was going to do in his coup attempt.  But we now see a far more desperate effort going on, although with Trump still trying to stay at least marginally within legal boundaries, although not by much, and clearly trying every single thing he can do to block Biden's victory.  It is getting down to blocking certification of results in enough states so that even if he cannot get legislatures to approve pro-Trump electors, highly unlikely as illegal in all the swing states actually, but to have the situation undecided so that nobody goes from enough states so that when Electoral College votes on Dec. 14, Biden falls short of the necessary 270, which would then throw it to the House of Representatives, where Trump would win because a majority of the states have majority GOP representation, and the voting is by state. The last time the House determined the outcome was in 1824, when second place John Quincy Adams defeated first place in both popular and electoral votes Andrew Jackson, as Henry Clay threw his support to Adams in return for being appointed Secretary of State.

The sign of how desperate Trump has become is that even though GOP Sec of State in Georgia Raffensperger has certified that Biden won Georgia, in the face of calls for his resignation and death threats, that needs to be signed by the GOP Governor Kemp, whom apparently Trump is calling and pressuring not to sign off, again, the effort to simply have things unresolved as of Dec. 14.

Needless to say, the conspiracy theory pushed by Guiliani and Sidney Powell in yesterday's insane press conference is completely off the wall, that there has been a nationwide conspiracy to use Dominion machines to add votes for Biden in certain major cities, with the program coming from Venezuela via some antifa people where it was written originally to help keep Hugo Chavez in power. Wow. But only two GOP senators have stepped forward to denounce this nonsense: Romney and Sasse, with supposedly 70% of GOP voters still buying the story that the election was "stolen" from Trump, with this wild Venezuela theory the latest to support that, even as nearly all the legal cases have collapsed due to a total lack of any evidence.

The immediate focus of this new coup effort has been on Michigan, where Trump is encouraging the militias who have threatened to take over the state house and start executing "tyrants" on TV, most certainly including Gov. Whitmer.  For the first time in US history ever we nearly had a Board of Canvassers not certify a clear electoral outcome, this in Wayne County, which includes Detroit.  The two Republicans initially blocking the certification then backed off after pressure arrived, but with Trump calling them on the phone, they apparently want to go back to non-certifying.  But too late, all counties have now certified.  Which puts it up to the state board, which must act on Monday, Nov. 23, but one of the two GOP members there is talking about non-certifying, and Trump is meeting right now with the GOP leaders of the legislature, presumably about trying to get them to appoint pro-Trump electors in any case, in clear violation of existing law.  The only good thing there, aside from Biden having a 157,000 vote lead, is that apparently Gov. Whitmer has the legal authority to replace a member of the State Board of Canvassers, so hopefully if they do try to refuse to certify, she will act to make sure there is a certification. But the hard fact is that Trump is throwing everything he has to block Biden getting the 16 electoral votes from Michigan.

He has called for a recount in the two most Dem counties in Wisconsin, which is going on now and will probably not change Biden's 20,000 plus lead much.  But also he is playing to the state legislature and the Board of Canvassers to block Biden.  Apparently the legislature has no authority to do anything other than support the certified winner. The positive there is that ultimately it is the Chair of that board who certifies, and she is a Dem.  It is astounding that we are getting down to this.

He is making efforts in AZ and NV, but they do not look like they are going anywhere, although in AZ GOP is in control of the state machinery, so cannot yet be ruled out.

Which brings us to the big prize of PA, where Trump has been throwing more efforts, both legal and political, than anywhere else, well, with the possible exception of MI. Biden has a more than 50,000 vote lead, but the effort has been to block certification in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (Allegany County).  He did get one of his few legal victories there, leading to over 2,000 absentee ballots in Allegany Cty not getting counted. But that will not overturn things there.  The gov and AG are Dem, but I am not sure who is in charge of certification at the state level, and Trump has been playing to legislators. There are more suits there still ongoing, with apparently 18 still nationwide, including at least one in NV, also trying to block certification.

It may be that MI and PA are Trump's best shots, unless he can get Gov. Kemp in GA not to sign off on the certification that has already happened there. If he can keep MI and PA from sending electors, Biden would still win with just barely 270, PA having 20 and MI having 16, with Biden currently leading with 306.  So if it is just those two, Biden will squeak in, although at this point I am now worrying that indeed Trump is so desperate he may yet try something else.  But he needs a third state, and I do not think it will be Wisconsin, with its good government traditions, despite some bad GOP actors there.  We may still be back to the He who wins Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, wins the White House, but maybe only by a hair against a wildly extra-constitutional coup-like effort.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Biden Won Because Of White Men?

 OK, I confess I am mystified.  An article in The Guardian by Musa al-Gharbi looks at the data now available on voting patterns in the US presidential elections of 2016 compared to 2020.  Almost all groups moved towards being more pro-Trump, including both Black men and women, Hispanic men and women, Asian men and women, and white women.  The only group that moved away from Trump was white men, with his margin declining from 31% to 23%.  It is true that the minority groups overall supported Biden more than Trump, but they did so by smaller margins than they supported Clinton over him in 2016.  Some sub=groups of minorities actually favored Trump, including Cuban Americans and Vietnamese Americans.  The only sub-group moving away from Trump was Japanese Americans.

In terms of swing states, the move of Hispanics toward Trump gave him Florida and Texas, and the move of Blacks toward him gave him North Carolina. However the flips of Michigan and Arizona were led by shifts of white men.

As I opened, I really do not know what is going on with all this, although the article noted that most of these trends have been going on for some time, if not especially noticed before.

Barkley Rosser

Will President Biden Scrap GILTI?

Congratulations to Brad Setser for being selected to be the Agency Review Team for the Office of the United States Trade Representative. I’m curious, however, as to his views on certain aspects of President Elect’s proposals with respect to corporation taxation. There was lots to criticize as to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Conservative economists were correct to note that it made corporation taxation more complicated. Progressives objected to the dramatic reduction in corporate tax rates. Biden wants the statutory rate raised to 28%. He also is not happy with certain aspects of the Global Intangible Low-Tax Income (GILTI) provisions. Brad Setser ties trade policy and international taxation in a post that brings up transfer pricing abuse. The Cliff Notes version of his insights is that Big Pharma may source production of these new coronavirus treatments in places like Ireland so that they can abuse transfer pricing to make sure their high profits face low tax rates even if the patient is American. My understanding of all that BEAT, FDII, and GILTI jazz was to shore up transfer pricing enforcement by complex legal schemes. Conservatives can rightfully complain that all these legal complications make compliance by multinationals just trying to pay their fair share of taxes very costly. Progressives will note that the large multinationals who want to avoid US taxes find clever means around these silly rules. And to add to our woes – these bizarre rules frustrate our allies abroad who will respond with their own complex rules both in trade and tax issues. Maybe a simple idea might be for all parties involved including our foreign allies to sit down and scrap these legalese and simply get back to enforcing the arm’s length standard using sound economic principles. Just saying.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

New Reasons To Believe Trump Will Not Attempt A Coup

 Officially Trump continues to hold a hard line of denying he has lost, with most GOP officeholders continuing to support his denials publicly, and he is likely to continue to not officially concede in various ways, including such as blocking official support for the transition process to a future Biden admin, which is potentially damaging in various ways.  Nevertheless, after some important developments in the last day or so and Trump's presser today (well, technically yesterday as it is now early morning on Saturday, Nov. 14), I think there is good reason to believe that whatever irresponsible and damaging things he may yet do, I think it is now seriously unlikely that he will attempt a coup to block the transition.

I think the most important development that has triggered this is one I did not foresee: the sudden withdrawal of law firms supporting his legal efforts to demand ballots to be thrown our and to block certification of results, with those efforts becoming less able to overturn the electoral results given the calling of both Arizona and Georgia for Biden. A crucial part of the scenario I posed was Trump piling on endless lawsuits, however frivolous and vacuous, in various crucial states in a way to block clear certification of results in those states, leading ultimately to a confused or contested outcome when the Electoral College votes in mid-December, all of this opening the door for him to refuse to step down while bringing in various forces to support him.  

What I did not know is that courts can punish attorneys for bringing clearly ridiculous lawsuits, especially repeatedly, with judges able to actually throw them in jail for contempt of court, not to mention them possibly losing their licenses to practice.  Add all this to just more general public embarrassment as these suits became increasingly absurd, we have now seen several major law firms that were making these suits for Trump decide to withdraw from doing so.  This has crucially undercut Trump's strategy, such as it was.  He has always liked to sue and sue and sue, but I do not think he has ever so overdone it that his own lawyers have abandoned him.  But they have been doing so now, and I think this is the bottom line fatal development for any coup effort by him, with others supposedly under his authority in various parts of the government beginning to openly refuse to do his bidding.

On the sort of positive side is this alternative that he has been reportedly increasingly considering seriously, to let Biden get in, even if he continues not to allow a proper transition and engages in other inappropriate and damaging conduct, but not to concede and continue to claim he deserved to win, but then to use this as a basis for running for president in 2024.  For various reasons, such a run may well run into serious problems quite quickly once he is out of office, but the hope to be able to do so, bolstered by his 89 million Twitter followers, may be sufficient to allow him not go to the extreme move of trying to remain in office by means of a coup.

While he certainly did not clearly concede in his remarks in his presser (in which he showed up with gray/white hair with the orange gone), one aside remark suggests he knows that the end has arrived.  In talking about future Covid policy, he referenced "whatever administration will be in charge" after Jan. 20 to carry out the policy, obviously a recognition of the possibility it might not be his administration.  Let us hope indeed that the reality he has lost the election really is penetrating and Donald J. Trump will not attempt to remain in power via a coup.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Project Perjury

The Washington Post has a story about the Erie, Pennsylvania postal worker who claimed to not have not recanted his fantasy about overhearing a conspiracy to backdate ballots. For some unknown reason Project Veritas thinks the audiotape of the postal worker's interview with investigators from the Post Office Inspector General's proves the opposite of what it does. There is no coercion in the interview. The investigators repeatedly advise Hopkins of his right to not speak to them and his right to have a lawyer present. And in no uncertain terms, he recants his affidavit story, even claiming he didn't read what the Project Veritas lawyers had written for him to sign.

Of course the MAGA cultists commenting on the Youtube audio are aghast that an investigator would ask a courageous whistleblower questions in a way that makes him think twice about what he had sworn to in an affidavit. I would copy and paste the Washington Post article here but I don't want to violate copywrite. I'm sure it will show up in comments.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Is Trump Going To Attempt A Coup?

 I realize that Joe Biden just held a press conference where he basically dismissed the refusal of Trump and a lot of other Republicans to concede the presidential election to Biden as "embarrassing," laughing at SecState Pompeo who earlier today talked about a transition to a second Trump term, and said it will all be over and fine by Jan. 20.  Maybe, but I am somebody who has taken seriously for a long time words from people like Michael Cohen and more recently Mary Trump who have said he simply will not go willingly and will continue to refuse to accept defeat.  I have watched various commentators supporting him from time to time thinking, "Will they support him if he declares martial law?"  Unfortunately, I think a lot of them will.

He certainly is laying the groundwork for making an attempt. The obvious such sign was yesterday's firing of SecDef Esper, reportedly because Esper made it clear in June he would not order US troops to move on peaceful civilian demonstraters in Washington.  Rumor has it he is about to replace the FBI and CIA directors also. And the Undersec of DOD is also out.  It certainly looks like he is trying to stock the top levels of the military and intelligence establishment with total toadies who will do his bidding.  If he makes the move and invokes the Insurrection Act or simply declares a National Emergency, which, frankly, is in his legal power. Will these newly installed flunkies stand up to him?  Who will?

I am seriously worried about this, and the more I see people like Mitch McConnell and Sean Hannity just spouting rank lies about the election, my concern grows.  I hope I am wrong, but I am now afraid we may be facing a very serious showdown over this, and I see the refusal of certain foreign authoritarian leaders friendly to Trump, such as Putin, not accepting the result, as a sign that they would support him if he made such a move, and we know he really likes and admires those guys.  This is a very bad situation.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, November 9, 2020

The Language of Slavery

 The New York Times today has a story about a new study that claims Alexander Hamilton owned slaves right up to the end of his life.  There doesn’t seem to be new evidence but a new, more assertive interpretation of it.  I know little about the period or Hamilton in particular, so my opinion doesn’t mean much, but the argument struck me as persuasive.  I would be surprised to find out that Hamilton wasn’t a slave owner.

But here’s the thing: the article’s writing endorses the new language around slavery.  We no longer have slaves but enslaved people, not slave owners but enslavers.  It is an attempt to personalize the issue.  The word “slave” is said to carry a connotation that the individual in question was somehow different by virtue of their status; instead we want to convey the idea that they were just like anyone else except that, at some point (or repeatedly), other people enslaved them.  Myself, I never thought that slaves were anything other than ordinary folks who had been delivered into slavery, so for me it’s a distinction without a difference, but if other people need the change in terminology to respect the full humanity of slaves I’m OK with that.

The enslaver bit is a different story.  An enslaver is someone who alters the status of another human being from non-slave to slave.  Those who captured previously unenslaved people, whether from a village in Africa or a native community in the New World, were enslavers.  Those who participated in the institution of slavery by buying or selling those already enslaved or by directing their work were slave traders or slave owners but not enslavers.  If we care about precision in language, we should be careful about the words we use.

But the problem goes much deeper than this.  The campaign to replace slave owner with enslaver is part of the larger movement to make politics a matter of individual responsibility.  Slavery was a horror, and this horror, we are to believe, was the product of the individual consciousness and behavior—personal racism—on the part of each person who participated in it.  According to this view, we need to use the word “enslaver” to not let these evildoers off the hook.  If Alexander Hamilton was an enslaver he was personally responsible for the enslavement of the individuals forced to work in his household.

Now personal responsibility is real, but not mainly in this way.  We are all called upon to consider our position in an unjust social order, not because each of us individually creates some small piece of it, but because it rests on our acceptance of it.  It was not Hamilton who authored the enslavement of his servants; it was the slave system itself that placed them in that position and ensured that, with few exceptions, if he didn’t own the slave in question someone else would.  At the margin, an enlightened rich person like George Washington could free a few slaves (in his case upon his death), but slavery as an institution grew and prospered.

At stake is the understanding of politics itself.  Is slavery just an accretion of individual choices by enslavers or an institution with legal, economic and social underpinnings?  Is racism today also institutionalized and reproduced legally, economically and politically, or is it mainly the outcome of racist thoughts and actions one individual at a time?  How does social change happen?

In the case of slavery, it didn’t really matter that Hamilton was active in the Manumission Society, which encouraged slave owners to release individual slaves, nor would it have mattered much for the course of slavery in America if he had refused to purchase slaves from their prior owners.  At the margin again, it was better to promote manumission than not, and it would have been even better if Hamilton weren’t such a hypocrite about it by owning some of his own.  But manumission did not end slavery nor could it: that was accomplished only by a civil war and the subsequent constitutional amendments outlawing it.  It took collective action, and a lot of bloodshed, to bring about this social change.

Obviously the battle for social justice is far from over.  Our society is riven by deep inequalities and change is still on the agenda.  But just as in Hamilton’s day, more enlightened personal behavior is nice but also something of a distraction.  The real personal morality is about participation in movements to dismantle the institutions of inhumanity.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Visiting Charlottesville On The Day Biden-Harris Declared Victors Over Trump-Pence

 Really, it was not planned with politics in mind.  In Harrisonburg, VA we are an hour drive from Charlottesville, VA, and we have in the past maybe about 2 times every 3 months or so gone over there to shop, eat, hang out, etc.  I used to go to UVa to the library or to see people I know, but all that has faded away to nothing over time.  In the pandemic we have cut it way back, and it had been several months since we had been there.  But today the weather was nice, clear and in the 70s, with the leaves just past max over there, so time to go, not to mention picking up some holiday stuff.  We had been planning it for several days, again, nothing to do with politics at all.

The word of the Biden-Harris victory came just before we left to go there, but we still did not think about political implications. Indeed we initially did some upscale grocery shopping elsewhere before we went down to the Mall, where 4th Street crosses, where Heather Heyer was killed by a white nationalist, and where the statues of both Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jonathan Jackson (that is what is no the base of it) still stand, probably to go in the not too distant future finally.  

I had thought nothing of all that as got there, although we did see the statues as we drove up and discussed their status.  We parked several blocks away, but it was only as we got within a block of the Mall, oh about 3 PM, that it finally dawned on me.  People were randomly breaking out into cheers. Music was playing, and people were clearly celebrating vigorously and with great pleasure.  We would eat at a funky restaurant sitting on the Mall, and regularly people coming by would start shouting and cheering, and everybody would join in (or most of them anyway), and the place was packed on this gorgeous afternoon.  It was a massive and total spontaneous celebration.

Of course as we first encountered the celebrations I remembered the significance of this particular location in all this, and how it was totally appropriate that it would be erupting in ongoing outbursts of loud celebration, people jumping up and down and dancing, with many musicians playing all kinds of music.  Heck it was just plain great.  I loved it.

We did go to Fourth Street to the site that has since Heather Heyer died there has been festooned with many signs and objects commemorating her and what happened there.  I am also extremely aware of the fact that when Joseph R. Biden, Jr. announced his candidacy for the presidency, the main point of his talk, what he claimed motivated him more than anything else to run, was his disgust with Donald Trump's characterization of the violent demonstrations by overt racists and neo-Nazis on August 17, 2017 that "there were good people on both sides" or words to that effect.  Biden said that this comment of Trump on the death of Heather Heyer on August 17, 2017 on Fourth Street in Charlottesville, Virginia motivated him to run for President of the United States of America, and given that, I am glad he has defeated the man who made those odious remarks, and I hope for the best not only for the USA, but for the whole world, as I know that most people outside of the US have been hoping for the outcome that has arrived today.

My deepest regards and peace to all who read this.

Barkley Rosser



UPDATE: George W. Bush: “I just talked to the President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden. I extended my warm congratulations and thanked him for the patriotic message he delivered last night.”

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Whining Pundits

 As I write this the outcome of the presidential election remains uncertain, although the trends seem to be heading steadily in Biden's favor and it seems very unlikely he will lose, but the hanging on of this is beginning to get to many of us.  Most other races have been decided, although some of those are still up in the air.  In any case, although it is near certain Biden will win, it will be by a substantially lower margin that forecast by the main polls, with him not taking several states he was forecast to take.  This is also mirrored in Congressional (and some state legislative) races, with it unlikely, although not completely out of the realm of possibility, that Dems will control the Senate as had been forecast as a 2 to 1 likely outcome by 538, and instead of gaining seats, the Dems lost some in the House while retaining control, with the exact number of losses also still a bit uncertain.  In short, Trump and the Republicans did much better than generally forecast, and this has lots of people upset and lashing out at each other, including, reportedly, Dem members of the House.

No, I am not going to join the mob howling at the pollsters, nor am I going to join the mob howling at Schumer and Pelosi.  I shall look at how I think the pollsters got it wrong, although I think they have been doing their best and trying to avoid certain errors they made in 2016, when they also underpredicted how well Trump would do.  Nor am I going to join those dumping on Schumer and Pelosi. I think the Congressional outcomes have a big fat zero to do with anything either of them have done or said or not done or not said.  It was all about the down-ballot GOPs gaining from the underpredicted surge of Trump supporters coming out to vote for him, the phenomenon that needs to be understood.

Who I am going to pick on, although not too much really, are some reporters and commentators I shall simply label as pundits, "whining pundits" to be precise.  To name three who all appeared in the Style section of the Washington Post, not the editorial page, I note Monica Hesse, Hank Stuever, and Margaret Sullivan, roughly in order of how annoying and hypocritical I find their whining.  

I note of these I have long respected Margaret Sullivan a lot, and she was mostly fairly factual, covering in fact the difficult problem of the pollsters messing up ("Who who won, but it wasn't the pollsters"). In fact while accurately noting details of how off the pollsters were, she, who regularly covers the media, extended the critique to the broader media beyond the pollsters. She accurately noted the sparcity of coverage of the degree to which Trump was appealing to Latino males, especially those in South Florida.  But she may have overdone it when she appeared to blame the media for relentlessly covering Trump's mishandling of the pandemic, which she suggested allowed Trump to appeal to his followers by pointing to a hostile mainstream media.  What she did not do when she came up with that was to note that she herself has much of the time in recent years dumped on the media for not being relentless enough in exposing the various flaws of Trump.

From his byline of "Critics Notebook," Hank Stuever ("Difficult to tune out, but even harder to watch") focused on the election night TV coverage.  Much of this is reasonable, but he too turned to whining, not about the polls or even the coverage, but the naive optimism of sucker liberals among the public.  He did this by quoting TV reporters who made sneery such remarks as the results began to turn unexpectedly so much for Trump.  So we get "Long before the post-midnight madness, CNN anchor Jake Tapper reminded viewers that there has been a lot of magical thinking lately on the part of Democrats and liberal pundits, who spent too much time entertaining pie-in-the-sky dreams of tipping Texas and Georgia [which now appears likely to in fact end up gong for Biden] to blue states, imagining a landslide victory for Biden. "As they say, 'You can't get high on your own supply,'" Tapper zinged."  OK, but I am unaware of either Tapper or Stuever expressing such views prior to the election.  Ooops!

Somehow Monica Hesse ("Crushed by a landslide that never heppened") makes these other two look completely reasonable with her sneering whining, also lacking any previous reporting on how wildly over-optimistic all these people were.  She accurately notes that election officials had warned of "an election week," but then we had "in some liberal circles there was a jacked-up fantasy that nobody would have to wait for Pennsylvania's tortured ballot count because by 10 p.m. Joe Biden would turn Florida and North Carolina blue [this latter remains a possibility, although not too likely] - and maybe Texas, why not?"  As an added dig she adds that "for the past years, the demographics in my inbox who most fervently believed in a 2020 blue landslide were White liberal men and occasionally White liberal women. Surely, they insisted, what had happened in 2016 was a blip." This may be right, and she does then argue that Black women and others did not have such illusions. 

OK, for all the hypocritical whining and sneering by these folks who did not issue these warnings previously, the problem seems to boil down to observers taking polls seriously.  538 had a national gap of 8% nationally for Biden while Real Clear Politics had it at 7%.  A likely outcome will have Biden at 4-5% ahead.  This is a larger gap than in 2016, when the final 538 predicted national advantage for Clinton was 3%, with her getting a 2.1% lead. How then did things go so wrong in 2016?  Ah, the errors varied across states, with some having the polls on the money, but they messed up badly in the crucial three states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, especially the first, and they were what provided the surprising outcome of a Trump electoral college victory.

The national gap this time looks to be somewhat larger, but the variation across states also seems to have reappeared. Some have been on the money, such as the respected Selzer poll in Iowa that nailed the Trump lead almost on the head.  But then we have Wisconsin again, where one poll in the last few weeks actually had Biden ahead by 17%, with the overall averages having Biden ahead by 5-6%, but in the end having less than 1 percent lead (again, thank you Prairie du Chien!). 

For myself on Facebook in comments I speculated that due to a likely higher turnout with such intensity on both sides, there was a larger variance to the likely outcome, with the 538 projections of the expected for Biden too optimistic, but with indeed there being also a non-trivial chance of him getting a landslide. And we should note that if 538's main forecast had happened, 8% lead, this would have been viewed as a landslide, with indeed both Florida and North Carolina for Biden by 2% and with Texas a tossup, despite the whiny sneering by Monica Hesse.  It was not just obviously pie-in-the-sky fantasy to take such an outcome seriously, although arguing it as an inevitability clearly was so.

As it was, even though I thought the pollsters had made some appropriate changes since 2016, with one for a bias about educational levels widely reported, I worried about "silent Trump supporters," and I think those in the end were out there, especially among the better educated, despite the awfully loud and proud shouting by many Trump supporters. So I generally lopped 2% off the forecasted projections, but that was still not enough by a percent or two, although it does actually lead to pretty close to accurate the outcomes of which states would go which way.  

I shall note that besides election officials one group that was also cautious about this and preparing for a high turnout by Trump's supporters has been those in the Biden campaign.  Many criticized him for not going to Texas and some other out-there possible states (although he made a few such trips).  Of course, he laid low a lot in his basement, possibly too much.  But when he was out he very heavily concentrated on the core three states that unexpectedly flipped in 2016, and it looks like this was a good decision, with Wisconsin and Michigan flipped back, and hopefully and likely Pennsylvania as well.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Two Questions about the Election

 I am about to turn in and let the vote counting continue without me.  It will be a troubled sleep, since the election was mostly a disaster.  (Universal preschool won in Oregon, and if everywhere were like here I would be happier.)

Meanwhile two questions:

1. What went wrong with the polls?  They didn’t do too badly in 2016; the popular vote was close to the consensus prediction, and the electoral college was a squeeker within the margin of error.  This time though the polls were apparently way off.  Yes, the votes are not all in, but it doesn’t look like we’ll see the massive popular victory for Biden they foretold.  In fact, as I fade away tonight, it’s still possible that Trump could pull out a legitimate electoral college victory, something that seemed almost impossible a day or two ago.  Take Wisconsin (my home state) for instance.  We saw numbers ranging from 5-13% for Democrats, and now it’s nip and tuck.  Meanwhile, analysts were giving the Dems a better than even chance of taking the senate, but that looks out of reach now.  So what gives?  Supposedly the weights were adjusted to better reflect the role of education, and the “shy Trumpster” effect was taken into consideration.  But here we are.

2. And how do we understand the politics?  We’re dealing with a president whose failures were about as massive as could be, especially in the context of a pandemic.  He made a fool of himself in the first debate.  He is mired in corruption.  And the Republican senate has repeatedly blocked measures to support workers, small business and local governments devastated by the economic effects of the virus.  If this isn’t enough to expunge them from office, what is?

I hope the news is better when I wake up.

Biden Narrowly Leads In Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin

 Several months ago I forecast that "He who wins Prairie du Chien wins the White House."  I also argued more generally that SW Wisconsin would determine Wisconsin.

As of right now Trump is leading by about 2% in Wisconsin, and he seems to be ahead in most of the counties of SW Wisconsin, although Milwaukee has not yet come in.  And the county Prairie du Chien is in, Crawford Trump is leading 4620 to 3953.

But, for what it is worth, in the City of Prairie du Chien itself Biden is ahead 1303 to 1223.  So we shall see.

BTW, I think this is all the votes for that area, but I am about to go to bed, waiting to see Trump make a statement, but I am not going to wait up for the Milwaukee or other long counts.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Signs and Portents

 My favorite ; A hand-made sign a few blocks away from my house:


Amen to that!

The Queen’s Gambit Declined

 I made it through episode 5 of The Queen’s Gambit last night, but I doubt I will finish it.  A noticeable deterioration takes place on all fronts as the story proceeds: weak dialog, dull cinematography, clumsy editing.  It’s as if the creative folks behind the project had done what they set out to do and were now just playing out the endgame.

But here I want to focus on the chess, the way the game is portrayed in the Netflix series.  I have some experience at this, since I was a “promising young player” during the mid-sixties, the period during which The QG is set.  I traipsed around to open tournaments, staying in downtown hotels in mostly midwestern cities (few as glamorous as the ones Beth Harmon visits), and developing a bit of a reputation on the circuit.  No, I never made the leap to professional stardom, not having either the talent or dedication it requires, but I saw the real life version of what the TV series portrays.

Some gripes:

1. The pace and ambience are all wrong.  No, players don’t routinely blitz out their moves, nor do they slam the pieces down and stare into their opponents’ faces, much less talk with them during the game.  Tournament rooms are eerily quiet, with the loudest sound at the board being the nerve-wracking ticking of the chess clocks.  I realize that drama has to be poured on for mass entertainment purposes, but surely a few sequences could have been taken slowly and silently to convey a different, truer type of tension.

2. No post-mortems!  In real chess tournaments, as soon as the game is over the players head to the analysis room, where they try to figure out what just happened.  The winner, of course, takes the lead in explaining where the loser went wrong, unless the stronger player was the one who lost.  (More on that in a moment.)  There are a lot of “what were you thinking when....?” questions, or “what about this other move?”, when alternatives rejected during the game are given a new look.  If the players are highly rated, their board is quickly surrounded by a crowd of observers eager to see how the best chess minds think.  The jockeying and camaraderie of the analysis room is where the social side of chess tournaments gets played out.

3. The role of luck in chess is completely eliminated in the show.  No, the stronger player doesn’t always win, nor does a single win demonstrate who is stronger.  And lots of games are draws, especially as you move up to the higher ranks of the sport.  Chess players talk about the “draw zone”, the window between a small advantage and a small disadvantage in which neither side, with reasonably accurate play, can bring home the full point.  A better player can blunder, get caught in an opening they hadn’t prepared for, or just randomly miss something crucial beyond their calculation horizon.  And often the advantage that results from better play just isn’t enough to move the game beyond the draw zone.  A brilliant player regularly loses and draws against their inferiors, although of course they win often enough to maintain their position.  How one deals with regular, unavoidable disappointment is the central emotional issue in competitive chess.

4. Soviet chess is misrepresented to feed Cold War stereotypes.  Yes, Soviet players playing abroad were often accompanied by KGB agents, more to keep them in line than to strategize with them.  But, the greatest chess sin committed by the QG is to present Soviet chess as stolid, boring and “bureaucratic”.  (This word actually appears in the dialog.)  But the opposite was true.  It’s not a defense of the ugliness of the Soviet regime to acknowledge the innovative, creative accomplishments of the players churned out by its chess machine.  The art of positional sacrifice, for example, advanced by leaps and bounds among the Soviets, along with paradoxical opening ideas—consider the Taimanov variation in the Sicilian Defense, to take one example.  Yes, Soviet chess was the best, but not at the expense of inspiration.  (I began subscribing to Shachmatny Bulletin, the leading Russian chess magazine, when I was 14 to get that inspiration from the source.)

I could add a lot more, but these were the jarring miscues that undermined the chessic part of the story.  The believability of the emotional side I’ll leave for others.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Did The Hunter Biden Laptop Come From China?

 The election season is nearly over, thank heavens, but I guess I shall throw one more story for it out there, one I really did not expect and find plenty weird, but with two different sources pushing it, well.  As it is, I must say that given how totally lacking in any credible support this whole Hunter Biden story was from the get go, I found it hard to believe that the Russian GRU was behind it. I think they are more competent that that. The Chinese I think are maybe less practiced at this sort of thing, although the versions of this going around are plenty weird.

So one version I saw this morning in in the editorial page section in the Washington Post by Josh Rogin, who, it must be noted, seems to have somewhat of an anti-China bias, so I note that and would not have posted this if that were the only source.  According to him the story was promulgated by a supposedly dissident Chinese figure who many now think has switched and is now working for the CCP, attacking various dissidents abroad.  This story is a serious mess, frankly, and Rogin at the end of it admits that he really cannot figure it out and is not sure what is going on.

I saw the second one on daily kos in a post by Mark Sumner.  In that one he reports that various right wing social media sites have been claiming that the laptop and its emails are for real based on an analysis by a "Marten Aspen," supposedly a cybersecurity expert in Switzerland.  But, according to Sumner (he does not report his sources), there is no such person, certainly not one in Switzerland, and that the photo supposedly of him seems to have been artificially created.  

According to Sumner, the story was initially reported by Christopher Balding, an economist and blogger based in Beijing, although with him not reporting the ultimate source.  Also supposedly there were three laptops taken from California to the blind, pro-Trump, repairman in Delaware, who not only sat on in for several months but then broke the law by recording what was on it.  Where all these laptops are is unclear, although supposedly the FBI has one, with them saying zero about it, and maybe Rudy Giuliani has one?  Where is the other?

I note that these two accounts do not seem to agree with each other, so I really do not know what to make of this.  I am also not going to comment on the resignation of Glenn Greenwald, who apparently has been taking the story seriously, but I have not seen his piece the Intercept reportedly would  not publish as is. 

Again, bottom line: I do not know where this wild laptop story originated, but it looks pretty phoney, with the proof on that pudding being in the New York Post story that initially reported on it, which repeated the repeatedly discredited claim that Ukrainian prosecutor Shokin was fired at Joe Biden's request because Shokin was investigating Burisma.  This is simply a lie, but I have no doubt that if Biden wins, Fox News will continue to spout this lie as they have been doing for a long time now, with it being the leading candidate to become the first Fox Benghazi story of the Biden administration they can keep their faithful hooked on watching them to see repeated over and over yet again.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Open Thread

My friends, 

If you post endless copies of off-topic news articles and list of corona virus statistics to my substantive posts, I will simply hide all comments on that post. DO NOT DO IT! Effectively, all you do with those "comments" is to prevent conversation. If that is your intention, you are trolls. One way or the other it is SPAM. You are welcome to post whatever you want on an "Open Thread." 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

No Bumper Crop in 2020

We took a trip this weekend, driving 180 miles each way on I-5 through Oregon and Washington State.  We kept our eyes peeled for bumper stickers relating to the upcoming election but counted only three for Trump and an amazing zero for Biden.

I’ve never seen anything like this before in the US.  (In Europe bumper stickers don’t seem to exist at all.)  Just four years ago you could see Clinton and Trump plastered on cars everywhere.

Is this your experience too?

And what does it mean?  This election is supposed to be attracting more interest than any in decades; why is it practically stickerless?  Is it because there are fewer non-virtual events and less door-to-door canvassing where bumper stickers can be handed out?

An Irony About Interest Rates And Income Distribution

 It has long been a truism of economics that high interest rates were favored by wealthy capitalist lenders against poor borrowers, with such a view lying behind the populist demands of the late 19th century.  We are used to applauding Keynes's forecast of the "euthanasia of the rentiers." But now that such a situation is upon us of increasingly likely very low interest rates for a long time ahead, this euthanasia does not seem so much like something poorer people should be all that happy about.

Increasingly it looks like the largest effect of prolonged very low interest rates is a booming stock and real estate market.  The latter may help the middle class, but those gaining from the former are much more heavily concentrated among the wealthy, even though somehow Donald Trump thinks that nearly every American is totally focused on their 401ks and that really is what matters in the economy.  After all, we all know that it was the potentially negative impact on the stock market that had Trump worrying about public "panic" back in early February when he told Woodward that he was not going to publicize how serious the coronavirus is.  Ironically he would probably be in much better electoral shape now if he had done so back then, with the economy probably doing better than it is, although I have no idea what the stock market would be doing. But Trump still has not figured all that out.

Anyway, it is not just that the poor do not seem to get much of the obvious gains from asset price appreciation that seems to be the main effect of lower interest rates.  It is also that the future viability of pensions, both public and private may become endangered, although this is not an immediate worry.  But in today's WaPo Allan Sloan reiterated a case he has made previously, citing several new studies on this, warning that low interest rates on bonds will make it harder for pension funds to pay out what they have promised to pay out, with this affecting Social Security as well, although the greater damage and danger seems to be for state and local pension funds, as well as private pension funds, with insurance companies and others facing problems down the road some years if interest rates really do stay so low.

A particular point on this that Sloan notes is that there is a huge difference in the share of wealth that pensions constitute for different parts of the income distribution.  For the 20-80 percentiles it is the largest portion, even exceeding homes.  For the top 1% it is less than 2% of their wealth, essentially nothing.  So damage to the value and viability is potentially a serious hit for the middle and poorer classes, whereas it is a big nothing for the super wealthy.  

Thus we have this new irony of interest rates: lower ones hurt the poorer parts of the population while helping the wealthier parts of it.  The rentiers that may end up getting euthanized may well be the middle and poorer classes in the longer run.

Barkley Rosser

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Ponzi Finance II: quid pro quo

The real story revealed by the New York Times Trump tax returns bombshell is not that Donald Trump paid no taxes in 10 out of 15 years or that he paid $750 in 2016 and 2017. The real story is that he doesn't have net income to service his debt. There is nothing inherently illegal about that. He did it before in the 1980s and when real estate prices stopped rising in 1990, his creditors were left holding the bag.

Hyman Minsky wrote about Donald Trump's investment strategy in a 1990 talk, "The Bubble in the Price of Baseball Cards."

One of the puzzles of the 1980s was the rapid rise in the financial wealth of Donald Trump, author of The Art of the Deal, and what else. Trump’s fortune was made in real estate. Many large fortunes have been made in real estate, since real estate is highly leveraged. Two factors made Trump somewhat unique — one was the he developed a fortune in the period of high real interest rates, and the second was that the cash flows on most of Trump’s properties were negative.

Trump’s wealth surged because the market value of his properties — or at least the appraised value — was increasing faster than the interest rate. Trump obtained the funds to pay the interest on his outstanding loans by increasing the draw under what in effect was a home equity credit line. The efficiency with which Trump managed these properties was more or less irrelevant — hence Trump could acquire the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City without much concern about the impacts on the profits of the two casinos he already owned. Trump was golden — he had a magic touch — as long as property prices were increasing at a more rapid rate than the interest rate on the borrowed funds.

The puzzle is that the lenders failed to recognize that the arithmetic of his cash flows was virtually identical with that of the developing countries; in effect Trump was Brazil in drag. In the short run Trump could make his interest payments with funds from new loans — but when the increase in property prices declined to a value below the interest rate, Trump would become short of the cash necessary to pay the interest on the outstanding loans.

The increase in U.S. real estate prices in the 1980s was regional, and concentrated in the Northeast and in coastal California; for the country as a whole, real estate did not increase relative to the price level. The regional dispersion in the movement in real estate prices more or less paralleled the changes in personal income. Real estate prices dipped in the oil patch, climbed modestly in the rust belt, and surged in those areas that benefitted from the rapid increases in incomes in banking and financial services — sort of a derived demand from the financial success of Drexel Burnham. In effect, those individuals with high incomes in financial services — and with the prospect of sharp increase in incomes — set the pace for increases in real estate prices. 


Trump’s cousins were alive and well and flourishing in Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul especially in the second half of the 1980s. The prices of equities and real estate were increasing because they were increasing — the "greater fool theory" may have been relevant, in that the recent buyers believed there was a greater fool to whom they could sell these assets before the bubble imploded.

In any market economy the price of real estate will tend to reflect both its rental return and the rate of return on the riskless bond. Real estate is a riskier investment than bonds and even public utility stocks, so the anticipated return should be higher. But the real estate offers investors a more effective hedge against inflation. The cliché, "land is a good investment, the price of land always increases is right, wrong and irrelevant. The price of land rises and the price of land sometimes falls — the relevant question is whether the anticipated increase in the price of land is sufficiently higher than the interest rate on bonds to justify a riskier investment.

To make a long story short, when the interest rate on bonds rose above the rate of increase in real estate prices, Trump's real estate stopped being a "good investment." He could no longer pay off his old loans with the proceeds of new loans. Since his properties were money losers, there was no question of paying off his loans from his negative cash flow. That was Trump Ponzi Finance I.

The mystery of Ponzi Finance II is who would be "stupid" enough to loan hundreds of millions of dollars to a guy who had a track record of defaulting on hundreds of millions of dollars of loans and was recycling the same old racket? I'm sure you've all heard the expression quid pro quo? 



Monday, September 28, 2020

A Beady-Eyed Religious Fanatic For The Supreme Court

 Others may not see what I see when I look at a full-face photo of Amy Conet Barrett, but I see someone who looks like a fanatic to me, although that may be me reading in what I have heard of her views on things, she being Trump's nominee for the SCOTUS, with GOPsters in the Senate hypocritically ready to put her in there in time to help Trump steal the election.  

I know we are not supposed to pick on people for their religious views, but she does belong to a weird cult, the Praise for People group, which is not strictly Catholic as many have claimed, but did come out of the Catholic Charismatic movement in 1971 with most of its members Catholic.  It accepts such things as speaking in tongues, which is not something generally accepted by most Catholics, generally something practices by extreme Protestant sects. It also is sexist, with women forbidden from holding leadership position and with each member having to follow the lead of a "Head.

Those defending Barrett claim she is "very intelligent."  I am sure she is, but that does not keep her from being a fanatic.  She clerked for the late Justice Scalia, and conservatives want someone like him, but her views are more extreme than his.

Of course, she has criticized Roe v. Wade as well as the ACA, with a case on that being heard on Nov. 10 by the SCOTUS.  Clearly this is the issue Dems need to run hardest on in trying to oppose her, which will be hard given that even Sen. Murkowski of AK is thinking of supporting her.

As an example of just how extreme she is I note one item I have seen written about things she has written in academic publications.  It is known that she is an "Originalist," a term Scalia used for himself, which means one tries to rely on the original meaning of a term in a case from when the Constitution was writeen or when an amendment was adopted.  However, what is not so well known is that there are factions among these people, and apparently Barrett is part of an especially extreme faction that views both the 14th and 15th Amendments as not being legitimate because when they were passed by Congress, the Confederat states were not represented in Congress. Of course these amendments, especially the 14th, are the foundation of all SCOTUS rulings on civil rights and against discrimination on any grounds.

I shall add that indeed I am sorry RBG did not take the reportedly subtle invitation to resign that Obama offered to her in a lunch in 2013. But I also understand why she did not. One factor was that she had this competition with her old friend going on, Scalia, for whom Barrett clerked.  By the time he died 11 months before the next president would be sworn in was too late for her to do so, as we all know McConnell blocked even the moderate centrist Merrick Garland from even getting a hearing. And, of course, RBG was expecting HRC to be the next prez.  But that did not work out, much to all our disappointments, and for RBG, well, it looks that her final wish will not be obeyed, even though it is supported by a solid majority of the American public, including even 49% of Republicans reportedly. But the current Senate is not paying any attention to that in their rush to confirm Barrett before the election.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, September 25, 2020

Open Thread

It annoys me when people "comment" by pasting articles from the media that are unrelated to the original posts they are pasted to. The original post may get 500 or less visits and it is likely the irrelevant article is read by no one -- and certainly not by me. So here is a space for readers to paste articles from the media that they perhaps think no one else has seen. If it is successful in diverting irrelevant pasting, maybe I'll put up an open thread regularly.

Laughing to keep from Freaking Out

 On the theory that one effective weapon against an Insane Clown Would-be Dictator is ridicule, here is something I wrote a while ago.

The Second Coming 

This is the greatest president for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world. Not just in America, Trump is the best president for Israel in the history of the world. And the Jewish people love him like he is the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God." –Wayne Allan Root

 “I take the gospel whenever it’s possible, but with a grain of salt.” –Sportin’ Life, in Porgy and Bess


Ok, Scoffers, I scoffed, too. But I went back to the Scriptures –the true scriptures, not the ones the dem--marxist-atheist haters just make up—and Lo, what do I find?

 Jesus made his first million shekels selling water with a little purple food-coloring as Jesus Wine. 

He met the woman at the well and called her a “Horse-face.”

 He started Jesus University, which promised that graduates would be able to do miracles just like him, the curriculum of which consisted of memorizing the entirety of The Art of the Heal, a Ghost-written, worthless piece of fiction. He was sued for fraud and settled.

 He started a foundation, the Jesus Foundation, which solicited funds for the poor and used them to pay off his own debts and finance giant pictures of himself.

 He mocked lepers and amused his followers with imitations of them.

 He sent the wise-men away from the manger, telling them “I love the poorly-educated.”

 After threatening Satan with fire and fury, he met him and “fell in love.”

 He evaded taxes and stone-walled all of Herod’s tax collectors’ requests for information, telling them, “You’ll have better luck getting a camel through the eye of a needle than you will getting a penny from me!”

 When he began to go bald, he went into the desert and asked God to “Take this cup from me.” God replied: “Verily I say unto you, comb it over already!”

 He threw the money-changers out of the Temple so he could turn it into luxury condos – financed by coerced loans from the money-changers themselves, who were never repaid.

 His dismissal of aspiring candidates for discipleship on his show Celebrity Disciple --“You’re damned!”— became a by-word in Jerusalem.

 Of course, his success came at a price. He knew what God wanted in return: that he must suffer for the sins of mankind by forfeiting his life. Here is where his brilliant negotiating skills saved him. As it is written: “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son....bone-spurs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020


Democratic Despotism

"We find latent in their conception of law— and some have been publicly preaching this view— that law emanates solely from the will of the majority of the people, and can, therefore, be modified at any time to meet majority wishes. This doctrine is absolutely totalitarian, and is contrary to our basic conceptions of the source of law. We have seen that our political system is predicated on the doctrine that there are some immutable laws of nature and certain other divinely sanctioned rights, which the Constitution and our tradition recognized as being above and beyond the power of the majority, or of any other group of individuals or officials of the Government. There are, also, other rights, which because of man's historic experience, that are specifically protected by the Constitution, and which can only be modified under the prescribed method set forth in the Constitution; and, consequently the majority- will is not free to modify them as it pleases, but only in the circumscribed manner prescribed by the Constitution. That is why our system has been characterized as a government of laws, not of men. That is the distinction between impersonal law and personal law. Americanism is the system of government by impersonal law: totalitarianism is the system of government by personal law.” (emphasis added) -- Raoul E. Desvernine, vice-president of the American Liberty League, Democratic Despotism. 1936 (cited in "Business Organized as Powerr: The New Imperium in Imperio" see also "Constitutionalism: Political Defense of the Business Community during the New Deal Period.")
"Business Organized as Power":
"As stated in its constitution, the [American Liberty] League's purposes were, among others, "to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States," "to teach the necessity of respect for rights of persons and property," "to encourage and protect individual and group initiative and enterprise, to foster the right to work, earn, save and acquire property, and to preserve the ownership and lawful use of property when acquired." To win these goals the League went further than any previous liberty-loving, liberty-saving organization in our history. Crucial to its functioning was the National Lawyer's Committee, a group of some 58  prominent attorneys, which issued reports or opinions in advance of Supreme Court decisions, opinions setting aside with solemnity and erudition one after another of the entire New Deal legislative mélange. The League went still further: this private court having, for example, formally declared the Wagner Labor Relations Act unconstitutional, openly advised employers to ignore its provisions."

Monday, September 21, 2020

The "Trump Effect" On Happiness

 In a column in yesterday's Washington Post, Dana Milbank has written on "Trump has made our lives worse. Here's the proof."  He labels this apparent outcome the "Trump Effect."

Since 1972 the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago has annually studied the nation's mood. They survey people to find out how they identify their level of happiness. As of this summer an all time record low of 14% declared themselves "very happy." This compares with 29% saying that at the lowest point after the 2008 financial crisis. OTOH, fully 36% declared themselves to be "satisfied" with their financial situation and a record low expressed dissatisfaction, the survey taken at a time when expanded unemployment benefits were still in effect.  But Milbank declared that this amounted to a disjuncture between peoples' economic conditions and declared happiness, with this contradicting, or at least failing to support, a longstanding finding from happiness surveys in the past.

This may be an overstated conclusion. Milbank did not report on it, but studies over the years have found that higher income people tend to declare themselves to be happier than lower income people. This may still hold.  In the US this finding has been part of the famous "Easterlin Paradox," that higher income people report higher levels of life satisfaction (or happiness) at any given point in time while over time as national income rises, happiness levels do not rise. Indeed, another data source with a longer time horizon on this found US national happiness to have gradually declined since 1957. It must be noted that this finding of declining national happiness as national income rises does not show up in al nations, although it has been observed in several others besides the US, leading to much controversy and debate. Richard Easterlin himself (still alive well into his 90s) has emphasized the impact of distribution of income and perceived economic security, with peoples' happiness depending on how they compare themselves with others.  So even though income rose rapidly, the ending of old age pensions and rising income inequality led happiness levels in China to decline from around 1990 to around 2004, although they have increased again since as pensions were extended to rural areas.

In any case, even as there seems to have been a drift over time downwards in US happiness levels even as national income has risen, Milbank sees the NORC time series as exhibiting a specifically identifiable "Trump Effect."  In 2017, the first year of his presidency, 21 states exhibited a decline in happiness while not a single one showed an increase.  Apparently there was a correlation with voting, with most of the clearly declining states being ones that did not support Trump. But Milbank notes that there seems to have been no offset of an increase in happiness in states that did support him. While views of "pleasure in activities and positive energy from friends, family, and leaders" were stable from 2014 through 2016, but fell noticeably in 2017 and have stayed down since.

Other studies have found similar results, with unsurprisingly things worsening during the pandemic. The American Psychological Association found in 2017 that two thirds of the US population, including a majority of Republicans, were "stressed about the future of the nation." This rose to 83% this year, with 66% declaring that the government was mismanaging the pandemic. According to Rachel Garfield of the Kaiser Family Foundation, an August poll found 53% of the population say that their "mental health" has been "hurt," with rising problems regarding sleeping, eating, and alcohol and drug abuse.  Those reporting "depressive symptoms" quadrupled to 40% during the pandemic.

It is unsurprising that things would get worse during the pandemic, but Milbank notes they had already worsened prior to the pandemic starting even while the economy was still getting better on most fronts.  That Trump is perceived to have handled the pandemic more poorly than leaders in nearly every other nation certainly adds to the idea that he has especially aggravated the unhappiness problem in America, exacerbating the apparent "Trump Effect" that had already been going on.  Milbank notes Trump administration official Michael Caputo taking a leave of absence this past week due to his high "stress level" and declares that if Trump is reelected "Surely four more years would cause the losing of the American mind." There really is little to add to this foreboding forecast, although getting the pandemic back under control might mitigate this somewhat, assuming that happens.

Barkley Rosser