Pointing the Finger

The editors of the Wall Street Journal echo the point about the Russian indictments I’ve been making, in their case pointing the finger at the CIA:

The indictment also makes us wonder what the Obama Administration was doing amid all of this. Where were top Obama spooks James Clapper and John Brennan ? Their outrage became public only after their candidate lost the election. If they didn’t know what was going on, why not? And if they did, why didn’t they let Americans in on the secret? President Obama sanctioned Russia for its meddling only after the election.

The difference between the FBI and the CIA is that the FBI has an affirmative responsibility for dealing with domestic espionage while the CIA is proscribed from such efforts.

They also make the following prescription:

he indictment’s details underscore Russia’s malicious anti-American purposes. An authoritarian regime spent tens of millions of dollars to erode public trust in American democracy. As Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) put it Friday, “Putin’s shadow war is aimed at undermining Americans’ trust in our institutions. We know Russia is coming back in 2018 and 2020—we have to take the threat seriously.”

All of which makes the White House reaction on Friday strangely muted. Its statement understandably focused on the lack of collusion evidence and made one reference to “the agendas of bad actors, like Russia.” But given how much Russia’s meddling has damaged his first year in office, Mr. Trump should publicly declare his outrage at Russia on behalf of the American people. The Kremlin has weakened his Presidency. He should make Russia pay a price that Mr. Obama never did.

with which I concur.

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My Advice for President’s Day

While I believe that Washington and Lincoln are worthy of commemoration I deeply disapprove of President’s Day. I think we should celebrate Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday on the actual anniversaries of their births and commend the rest to sweet oblivion.

However, I will offer some advice in recognition of the day. End the Imperial Presidency. Return the presidency to its pre-Rooseveltian insignificance. Demand a more responsible, more responsive Congress. Seats in Congress shouldn’t be sinecures with lifetime tenure. Congress should also limit the appellate jurisdiction of the federal courts as is within its power but that’s a different subject.

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Caging the Tiger

I think that if Robert Samuelson is going to warn us about impending inflation he has a moral obligation to explain to us why we haven’t seen significant inflation in a very long time. I’ve already given my answer. Inflation isn’t rising. Prices are rising in health care and gasoline and the Northeast had a cold winter. Those may have run-on effects. They may not. But those price increases call for a different policy response than inflation would.

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What Should Be Done?

In an op-ed in the Washington Post Max Boot demands that something be done about Russian psy-ops directed against us. He opens with a hypothetical:

Imagine if, after 9/11, the president had said that the World Trade Center and Pentagon could have been attacked by “China” or “lots of other people.” Imagine if he had dismissed claims of al-Qaeda’s responsibility as a “hoax” and said that he “really” believed Osama bin Laden’s denials. Imagine if he saw the attack primarily as a political embarrassment to be minimized rather than as a national security threat to be combated. Imagine if he threatened to fire the investigators trying to find out what happened.

What if Franklin Roosevelt had ignored the attack on Pearl Harbor and taken no action afterwards? Would criticism be better directed at Truman or Roosevelt? It seems to me that the Russians are not the only ones engaging in psychological operations.

I agree that the Russians should pay some price for their psy ops actions directed against us. Beyond enforcing sanctions what should happen? Here’s my additional suggestion: reverse the move towards electronic voting.

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Best and Worst Presidents

In their op-ed at the New York Times poli sci profs Brandon Rottinghaus and Justin S. Vaughn list the best and worst presidents, based on a survey of other poli sci profs but helpfully broken down by the scholars’ party leanings. There is general agreement among them on who the four best presidents have been: Washington, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt although opinions on relative greatness among them vary by the party affiliation of those being surveyed.

In what will probably come as no surprise Trump is listed by all three groups (Democrats, Republican, and independents) as one of the five worst presidents. Others among the bottom five with all three groups are W. H. Harrison, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan.

It would be helpful if the professors listed the absolute numbers of Democrats, Republicans, and independents. That can be gleaned by going to the original report and looking at another question in the survey: roughly three-quarters of respondents are Democrats, less than 10% self-declare as Republicans and about 15% self-declare as independents. Compare this with American party affiliations: Democrats 32%, Republicans 22%, independents 44%.

It would be interesting to know where the respondents place within their parties and by age cohort. I suspect that most of the respondents skew left within their parties and skew old. That would explain why Truman is highly ranked among Democratic respondents and why Johnson is ranked low, for example (Truman because he integrated the military, Johnson because of the Viet Nam War).

In the end I’m not sure that this survey tells us as much about American presidents as it does about poli sci professors.

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Toxic Partisanship

At the New York Times Amanda Taub and Max Fisher point out that Russian meddling merely exploited a pre-existing opening:

Russian interference tended to focus on telling the targeted group to fear and distrust the other side. Posts that targeted Republicans, for instance, portrayed Mrs. Clinton as a threat to the Constitution and public safety, and in one memorable example said that her election would be a victory for Satan himself.

In taking this approach, the Russians were merely riding a trend that has been building for decades. Since the 1980s, surveys have found that Republicans and Democrats’ feelings toward the opposing party have been growing more and more negative. Voters are animated more by distrust of the other side than support for their own.

This highlights a problem that Lilliana Mason, a University of Maryland political scientist, said had left American democracy dangerously vulnerable. But it’s a problem driven primarily by American politicians and media outlets, which have far louder megaphones than any Russian-made Facebook posts.

“Compromise is the core of democracy,” she said. “It’s the only way we can govern.” But, she said, “when you make people feel threatened, nobody compromises with evil.”

We already have an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling and potential Trump campaign complicity with it and I support that. I think that there should be an additional investigation into why American law enforcement failed to detect these Russian activities or do anything about them in the period 2014-2016, the period during which the activities alleged in the indictments filed last week took place. Events move too fast these days, propelled on the wings of electronic communications, for the sort of tardy, long after the fact sort of activities presently being taken. Specifically, since the FBI has an explicit responsibility for counter-espionage activites, we need to understand why the FBI failed to do its job and how it can be reformed to do its job better.

I think that President Trump should order these investigations as well as enforce sanctions already in his power against Russians and the Russian government but I wouldn’t stop there. I don’t think the United States or Americans should meddle in other countries’ electoral process in any way other than as observers and we definitely should not overthrow foreign governments either directly or by abetting opposition groups.

Otherwise we should merely accept that these activities are business as usual and be prepared to oppose them domestically. They are asymmetric warfare in spades and its benefits accrue more to the weak than they do to us.

However, I don’t think that hysteria and hyperbole contribute to domestic political harmony, to addressing our manifest problems, or to moving forward.

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China’s Steel

I’m really full of questions today. For example, this article at Bloomberg, basically an editorial against imposing duties on steel imported from China masquerading as a news article, fails to take something fundamental into account: nearly all of China’s steel is produced by state-owned companies.

Should we be importing steel from anybody’s state-owned companies? Should we be importing steel from Chinese state-owned companies? Which is freer? Imposing tariffs on subsidized imported steel or not imposing them? Can trade in state-owned and subsidized products be meaningfully described as “free trade”, particularly when the state is a monetary sovereign?

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Do We Need an FBI?

The news about the FBI’s having dropped the ball on the shooter in the Parkland massacre is one more bit of evidence that has emerged, not just recently but over the period of the last 20 years which, when considered in aggregate, suggest that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has organizational problems. Have we reached a point at which the FBI is chronically unable to execute its mission?

I don’t mean an end to federal law enforcement ability. Every federal agency now has its own enforcement wings. For goodness sake, there are presently at least 271 distinct tactical response (SWAT) teams in the federal government and most of them don’t fall under the FBI. Their use has doubled over the period of the last 15 years. The National Institutes of Health has a SWAT team.

So, here are my questions. Do we need an FBI? Is the FBI really dropping the ball a lot or does it just look that way because those are stories that receive attention? Should there be distinct armed enforcement arms for every government agency? Does the FBI need a change in focus?

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Question

Did the election of Donald Trump to the presidency foment the greatest crisis in American political history? Discuss.

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The Size of Texas

One of the things I got out of this report (PDF) from Strata on land usage for various energy sources was that for the U. S. to get all of its energy from solar power would require an area roughly the size of Texas be devoted to the purpose. Wind power would require nearly twice as much or about half the state of Alaska.

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