Saturday, June 23, 2018

How To Forget Occam's Razor: a Conservative Example

Scott Johnson at Powerline has a nice example of logic discussing an Andy McCarthy piece (which I did not read).  He believes the "fix" was in from the beginning for the investigation into the Clinton emails (yes, the conservatives are still digging over that--pretty soon they'll be tying it into the Clinton Filegate  scandal).  His reasoning: Obama said Clinton didn't have any bad intent in using a private email server.  Comey listened to Obama and said the same thing.

That's convincing, isn't it?

But apply Occam's Razor.  Which is simpler:

  1. There was no evidence of evil intent and two men of different political parties came independently to that conclusion.
  2. There was evidence of evil intent, Obama corruptly said there wasn't, Comey ran an investigation using FBI agents, usually considered conservative which was really just for show, made sure he didn't find any smoking gun evidence, and agreed with Obama. 
The second alternative is simpler only if you believe in Clinton's guilt from the beginning.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Improbability of Sustaining Sanctions on North Korea

I'm no expert in this area, but the Post had an article on Kim's visit to China which caused me to think.

Based on our experience with sanctions against various countries: Iran, North Korea, Russia, etc., I draw this lesson:  to some extent imposing sanctions is a moral cascade--there's a triggering event which gets leaders of countries/the ruling class upset and determined that "something must be done".  The answer is imposing sanctions.  Sometimes the sanctions are more for show, rather like arresting a few prostitutes used to be back in the middle of the last century, or cracking down on gambling in a gin joint in Casablanca.  But sometimes the outrage is enough to support strong sanctions, sanctions that hurt.

This seems to have been the result with Iran before the nuclear deal and North Korea after the tests of long range missiles and the hydrogen bomb.  It's hard, however, to sustain outrage.  It's particularly hard when the leaders who imposed the sanctions, Xi and Trump, are making nice with the leader of the sanctioned company.  The sanctions may be in effect still, but the bureaucrats who have the job of enforcing them aren't going to have their hearts in it.  They know there's not going to be calls from the leader's office asking them "what did you do today to make life hard for North Korea."

The analysis of the Singapore summit has been that Trump didn't give Kim anything which couldn't be reversed in the future, except the first meeting with the US president. But that analysis will be wrong if the sanctions are slowly eroding because of the change of attitude at the top,

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Caring for the Past: Cemeteries

The Rural Blog had this post--as rural communities dwindle in population there's less and less support for the institutions of the past.  I've run into this in my own life:  while the churches and cemeteries where my ancestors worshiped and are buried are still active, I can't be sure that's going to be true in another generation.

Personally, I'm going to be cremated.  Because I have no children no one will miss my gravestone.  But the church my Rippey ancestors helped found no longer has enough members to support a minister; it has been combined with another church.  My parents church was already combined with two others when I was growing up.  As the mainline denominations lose members the outlook is grim.

I think there is no answer.  We can't preserve everything from the past, so many churches and cemeteries will gradually disappear, just as the evidence of the ways of life of previous residents of this continent have already disappeared.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Updating Voting Lists--What SCOTUS May Have Missed

The Supreme Court has ruled on the methods Ohio uses to update their voting registers, deleting names if they don't vote  and don't respond to a postcard.  Good liberals are up in arms, wishy washy types like Kevin Drum are blah.

ASCS/FSA had a voting register, essentially a subset of the overall name and address file.  I never knew how well we maintained it, whether the county offices followed through on their instructions.  Basically, they were supposed to, once a year, do a mailing with the request for the postal service to report back any items where the address was wrong.  I don't know how well the postal service did this; I'm a bit suspicious of the quality.  As  far as I know, USPS still has the service though you have to pay a surcharge for the special handling.  As far as I know, Ohio doesn't use the approach nor did it become an issue in the litigation.  Just skimming the news accounts of the Court's decision it seems the debate was over whether it was rational to assume that a voter who failed to return a postcard had changed her address or was just not responsive to postal reminders.

It seems to me there are two aspects to the voting register: one is whether the register has an accurate mailing address; the other is whether the individual citizen is eligible to vote.  And it seems that Ohio and SCOTUS, perhaps many states, are conflating the two, likely because in the old days people didn't move.

Let's start at the beginning:

  1. a person turns 18 and registers to vote, providing whatever proof of identity and age is currently required by the state, whatever proof of "legal residence" (i.e., tying the citizen to a voting precinct) is required, and the current mailing address. Now in most cases the two addresses will be one and the same, but they needn't be.  (Actually, these days the mailing address should be replaced or amplified by email address/smartphone number--it's contact information.)
  2. Now, the manager of the registry can update the mailing address independently of the legal residence.  They can ask the USPS for changes of address, or do as ASCS used to.  
  3. When the person comes into vote, if there's no indication their legal residence has changed (because their mailing address is out-of-date or does not match the residence)  they can vote.  
  4. If there is an indication the legal address may have changed, the manager can go through a process to validate the change.  IMO logically you'd do an online-verification, ensuring the citizen has only the one legal residence recorded and thus can vote only in one precinct.
  5. The only reason to drop the citizen from the voting rolls (other than death) would be if the citizenship is revoked or eligibility to vote is lost due to a criminal conviction or declaration of incompetence.
As it stands for Ohio voters dropped from the rolls, they have to go through the process of re-enrolling, like photo-id.  

Monday, June 18, 2018

Emails on Weiners's PC

IIRC when the FBI announced they'd found Clinton emails on Weiner's PC I was doubtful it was important.  Granted, as a Clinton supporter I didn't want there to be any bombshells, but I saw it as something of a parallel to my situation.  With two PC's in a household, it only makes sense for materials from one to be backed up on, or copied over to, the other PC.  As far as I can tell that's how it turned out.

In my mind, that would be a reasonable assumption for any investigator, meaning if staff is short and other investigations press, as with the possibility of collusion with the Russians, it was reasonable to give priority to the Russian angle. Strzok didn't know at the end of September the way Comey would handle the matter.  Under normal rules the reopening of the investigation wouldn't have been announced.  If and when Strzok testifies, I expect that to be his explanation. 

We'll see.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Are We More Divided Than Ever?

There's lots of doom and gloom around these days: democracy is failing; our constitution is obsolete; drastic changes are need; the center is not holding.  We can lose ourselves in pessimism.

I'm thinking back over my impressions of politics over my life:

  • In the Truman administration and early Eisenhower we had all the controversy over communism and corruption, subversion, and demagoguery.  In addition, we had lots of labor strife, with John L. Lewis, Walter Reuther, and Harry Bridges prominent.   
  • In the late Eisenhower administration through the Nixon years we had divisions over civil rights.  Killings and demonstrations, "massive resistance", axe handles, ugly hatred and the threat of race war. We had "Impeach Earl Warren".
  • In LBJ and Nixon we had Vietnam, with the Weather Underground and radical terrorists bombing buildings.  
  • We also had Watergate, which some any saw as a coup. And we had Roe v Wade and the associated controversy over abortion.
I'd say two things are different these days:  a loss of confidence in institutions, and Trump's absolute domination of the news.  I doubt there's any day since summer of  2016 in which the name of Trump doesn't appear on the front page of either the Post or the Times.  IMHO we have to get past the Trump administration before we can begin to understand this time.  (Similarly, we couldn't understand Nixon in 1972 and 73.)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Sometimes You Can't Win: Bureaucracy

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution each day has a page of links. On Wednesday he had two of interest:

1. Has delegation in American government become much worse?
3. What made ARPA work well?

If you don't click, you'd think the answer to 1 is Congress is delegating a lot more to the executive and that is bad.  When you click on 3, you find part of the answer is lots of authority was delegated to ARPA.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Bureaucrat and Politics: Reagan and Me

The DOJ IG report is out.  Pro-Trump partisans see it as helping him; anti-Trump partisans see it as confirming Clinton lost the election due to Comey's announcements.  Both seem to agree that the Strzok-Page emails were beyond the pale, particularly his reassurance to Page that "we'll stop him" meaning stopping Trump from winning the election.  The only evidence he did anything to back up the promise is the idea he didn't work on the Weiner emails issue for a month because he was working on the Russian-collusion investigation.  At least in the discussions I've read there's little detail on this.

In defense of bureaucrats being able to separate personal opinions and professional duties I'll offer a story from the Reagan administration.  I was strongly opposed to Reagan's election, and remained so throughout his 2 terms.  I was in the habit of referring to him as "the senior idiot", and a boss of mine as "the junior idiot".  Although I don't remember saying that to my co-workers, I'm sure most of them knew I wasn't for him.  In ASCS at the time, at least in the program areas one was pretty well identified as Democrat or Republican.  While I steered away from active involvement and wasn't then contributing money, the players within the bureaucracy knew my tendencies.

Anyway, comes fall of 1982 and the Reagan administration decides to implement a legally-questionable multi-billion dollar program to both reduce CCC-owned surpluses and crop acreages without budget expenditures--the program known as Payment-in-Kind.  Because of my background on the administrative side I knew the people who needed to be involved to create the forms and handle the directives and regulations to implement the program.  Because of my experience on the program side I understood most of the complexities of creating the program, writing the regulations and the contract (the contract the OGC lawyers insisted on to provide a legal fig-leaf for the program), and dealing with Kansas City IT players, I was a key player in the implementation (Had a chance to watch Seeley Lodwick, then the Under Secretary ramrod morning coordination meetings, giving me an example of what to do, an example I dearly wish Obama had seen when implementing ACA.).

The bottom line: I and a lot of other bureaucrats did a good job and PIK was implemented.  We did it despite our political leanings, whether pro- or con- Reagan.

I've written before on this question: Trump trusts people working for him to be good soldiers, if not lickspittles, and support his positions even if they're very different than what the workers used to support.  (See Mulvaney, see Bolton.) The same should apply to FBI agents.

Addendum: I admit there's a difference between the FBI behavior I've seen described from articles on the OIG report and mine.  Some of the agents were more open in expressing their opinions to each other than I ever remember being.  That's a bit bothersome.   On the other hand, I'm sure many soldiers and marines involved in our years of recent wars openly voiced their adverse opinions, while still doing their jobs.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Trump as Quintessentially American

Trump has gained attention for his noting to KJU the potential of NK beaches.  While there's derision, it strikes me as quintessentially American.  Perhaps my opinion is swayed by my exposure to the "frontier thesis" of Frederick Jackson Turner which pointed to the impact of "free land" on the development of American society and culture.

Pointing out the parallel--Americans historically have found opportunity existing in new frontiers, first in land, later in new areas of endeavor.  So it's typically American for Trump to see development opportunities in an area which might become newly available to entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Farm Bill In the Senate

DTN reports on the progress of the Senate's version of the farm bill.  And from there you get this:
Censky also said that the Trump administration is continuing the modernization of technology at USDA and that officials hope that all the programs in the 2018 farm bill will be available online.

Farmers will still need to go to county Farm Service Agency offices to sign some papers, but Censky said he hopes farmers will be able to deal with applications and other forms online from home before going to the office. Farmers uncomfortable using a computer will still be able to go to the county office to fill out paperwork, he said.
I note there's a provision requiring use of the same county yields, requiring reconciliation of NASS and crop insurance figures.