A Marine Passing Time in the Desert

H/t: Terminal Lance.

Hillary Clinton Cancelling Headphones

Probably more popular before the election, but still ...

Product Description at Amazon:

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Christmas Charity

If any of you are looking for an appropriate place to donate, here are two that are on my radar:

1) Wreaths Across America had some trouble reaching its goal, although it did, to fund its annual placement of wreaths on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery. The laying happened today, in what Uncle Jimbo says were icy conditions. People came anyway. If you want to help them get started on next year, you can.

2) Dolly Parton is helping those hurt by the recent wildfires near Gatlinburg, TN, which is her part of the world (and also much of my family's). Her foundation has started what she is calling the "My People Fund," which is soliciting donations from those who'd like to help families from the Great Smoky Mountains who must rebuild after the fires.

Why do the Irish hate Christmas?

Or maybe they just love it ... differently ...

Has Russia Subverted US Intelligence?

John R. Schindler raises the possibility in his latest piece.

North Carolina Legislature Pushes Hard Against Incoming Governor

He's threatened to sue, which I suppose will test the validity of all this legislation. North Carolina is a state where the urban/rural division troubling America is on particularly clear display. A technology-driven immigration has caused some of the urban areas to boom, leading people who vote like Twitter and Facebook employees to surge in numbers. At the same time, outside of those urban corridors North Carolina is a very rural, Southern state.

The Democrats captured the governor's house in this year's election, ousting a Republican governor over anti-transgender legislation that had caused economic boycotts. However, the legislature remains in Republican control.

So, the legislators did something they now claim they'd been meaning to do for a long time: they gutted the power of the governor's office, and transferred it to themselves.
The legislature approved a proposal along party lines Friday that would effectively give Republicans control of the state Board of Elections during election years and split partisan control of local boards of elections, as opposed to giving the governor’s party the majorities on those panels. Outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed the bill into law Friday, despite not issuing any comment on the drama wracking North Carolina politics since Wednesday.

The legislature also looks poised to pass, for the first time in decades, a law requiring the governor to get approval by the state Senate for his Cabinet appointees and ending his ability to appoint members to the board of trustees of the powerful UNC school system. The bill would also drastically reduce the number of state employees the governor can directly hire and fire from 1,500 to 425.

The measures were just two of several bills the legislature considered in a last-minute, year-end special session that would reduce the governor's influence in state government, the judicial branch, the education system and elections oversight, while strengthening the GOP-dominated legislature's influence in all those areas.
The courts will presumably be asked to rule on whether or not these changes were both legal and fair. They are certainly political hardball. They are also a product of the hostility that is certain to result when a traditional, rural population finds itself under the domineering influence of an urban elite that disdains them.

Figuring out how to let the cities and countryside live the very different lives they want is going to be a tremendous political challenge for the next years. It'd be nice if the cities were each states, so we could let Federalism work. Instead, the conflicts are strongest in cases like this one, where big cities exercise a powerful influence within a state that is culturally very different overall.

Less and less convinced

From James Taranto today:
Two additional points. First, the Post describes the CIA’s report as “secret.” So how is it that everyone knows about it? The answer, obviously, is that officials who were privy to the secrets improperly provided them to the press. (Here we should note that we do not fault the Post or the Times for having published the information they received, and that we would have done the same.)
Second, according to the Times report, even if the Russians were trying to help Trump, they didn’t expect to be successful:
The Russians were as surprised as everyone else at Mr. Trump’s victory, intelligence officials said. Had Mrs. Clinton won, they believe, emails stolen from the Democratic committee and from senior members of her campaign could have been used to undercut her legitimacy.
So American officials made secret information public with the effect—and, one may surmise, the intent—of raising questions about the legitimacy of President-elect Trump. That’s exactly what they accuse the Russians of having planned to do to Mrs. Clinton.

The DHS Hacks Multiply

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that more states have followed Georgia in finding DHS hacking attempts on their computers.

The two states to come forward now are West Virginia and Kentucky, plus Georgia. Attacks seem to have targeted voter registration sites. I wonder if this was part of an investigation to see whether Southern states were involved in voter suppression tactics. Would DHS run something like that?

President Obama is Not Going to Save You From Trump

In terms of the relationship between his White House and the incoming Trump administration, Obama said Friday there was no "squabbling" between them and insisted that a roiling debate over Russia's intrusion into the US election should be confronted on a bipartisan basis....

Despite his assurances, his White House has increasingly been engaged in an escalating rift with Donald Trump's transition team over Moscow's intrusion into the US vote. At the same time, Obama is working to foster a productive relationship with his successor in a bid to influence his presidential decision-making.
That idea is both wise and good, and a welcome change from the near-nuclear language we've been seeing from elements of the left. Good for him.

I also endorse the view that this should be a bipartisan issue, and that we should take steps to identify weaknesses in our voting process and correct them for the future. One of them that seems highly plausible to me is Wretchard's two-step proposal to have paper ballots, plus voter ID laws requiring a secure form of identification.

We should certainly oppose manipulation through information warfare, as well. However, insofar as an adversary sticks to telling the truth, it's hard to be very opposed to that. Lies, distortions, propaganda -- all these things we should oppose. That a foreign government may have access to some uncomfortable truths is not necessarily. We also run intelligence and information operations (even if you doubt RT's claim, cited below, that Hillary Clinton's support of NGOs in Russia was aimed at influencing public confidence in their election process, we certainly have done many such things over the years). Telling uncomfortable truths is something that probably should be part of how we operate with regard to manipulative elections in places like Iran or China. It's hard to object to having it done right back to us.

The better thing would be for the DNC -- and, insofar as they have similar practices, the RNC -- to straighten up and fly right.

What Do We Mean When We Say, "I Don't Know The Future"?

A useful introduction to the philosophical problems about knowing the future. There are important questions about whether or not there is anything to know, what it would mean to say that you did or didn't know something about the future, and other questions as well. This article is a helpful historical survey of the development of thought about this set of problems.

Turnabout is What Kind of Play?

RT, which is openly Russian propaganda, would like you to be aware that Hillary Clinton paid NGOs to manipulate Russia's last election by calling into question its fairness.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had harsh words for Clinton, saying she had “set the tone for some opposition activists, gave them a signal … and [they] started active work.”

Speaking at a meeting of the Popular Front Federal Coordinating Council this week, Putin said that “representatives of some foreign states” were paying politically-active NGOs in Russia to “influence the course of the election campaign in our country.”

“We need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs and defend our sovereignty,” the Prime Minister said. “It is necessary to think about improving the law and toughening responsibility for those who take orders from foreign states to influence internal political processes.”

Putin, stressing that Russia has nothing against the presence of foreign observers at elections, said Russia would draw the line at interference in its internal affairs from abroad.

"When financing comes to some domestic organizations which are supposedly national, but which in fact work on foreign money and perform to the music of a foreign state during electoral processes, we need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs and defend our sovereignty.”
Grain of salt and all that, but it does put a different spin on Russian actions in this election cycle here. The DNC leaks were true information, after all. Perhaps Russia was just pointing out how biased, rigged, and unfair Hillary Clinton's own electoral process happened to be.

Meanwhile, Putin's language here sounds almost as if it were lifted from some left-leaning blogs or Twitter accounts in the last few days. But this article is from 2011. (H/t: Hot Air)

Hard Times at the Plaza Hotel, Manhattan

A farewell dinner for big donors from the Woman Who Would Have Been Queen. An observer notes:
A bellman stood in a brocade uniform, and the sight of him brought to mind one of his profession who had been listed among thousands of Clinton donors who were mega by another measure in the Federal Election Commission records, which include occupation and amount.

Hotel bellman—$45...

If the Clinton campaign had used meaning and not just moolah as a measure of mega, if she had insisted that a dollar from a contributor who did not have a dollar to spare and was giving it with no expectation of anything in return meant more than millions from a mogul looking to buy influence and cachet, then she might have had a party at the grand ballroom of the Plaza Hotel to outdo any in its storied history.
If she had been the kind of person who would do that, she would have been having a victory party instead.

Sometimes a high profile isn't your friend

The one faithless elector who actually seems to exist has got a bit of a "stolen valor" issue.

Summer in the Outer Hebrides

This is the right moment to be nostalgic for summer, as winter is about to come upon us. Such islands as the Hebrides are rich in story, as well as the glory of nature.

Summer in the Outer Hebrides from ToddWellFilms on Vimeo.

A Good Argument for Divesting

Why should Trump give up his business interests in order to be President? To avoid having to spend endless hours being deposed in celebrity chef cases.
Trump sued Andrés last year after the chef reneged on an agreement to open a restaurant in the real estate mogul-turned-president’s new luxury D.C. hotel. Andrés backed out in protest weeks after Trump declared his presidential candidacy...

The judge dismissed arguments from Trump’s lawyers that the president-elect was “extremely busy handling matters of very significant public importance” and ruled the deposition could proceed in early January.
Yeah, it's not like he's got anything super important going on right now.

More on the Trump voter

More from a compilation of 100 articles that tried to sum up the Zeitgeist in 2016.  David Frum, of all people, channeled a composite Trump voter last summer from his many conversations, and did a pretty good job:
“The Putin thing. You think you’ve really nailed Donald with the Putin thing. Get it through your head: Our people are done fighting wars for your New World Order. We fought the Cold War to stop the Communists from taking over America, not to protect Estonia. We went to Iraq because you said it was better to fight them over there than fight them over here. Then you invited them over here anyway! Then you said that we had to keep inviting them over here if we wanted to win over there. And we figured out: You care a lot more about the “inviting" part than the “winning" part. So no more. Not until we face a real threat, and have a real president who’ll do whatever it takes to win. Whatever it takes. . . .
I noticed that when Tim Kaine took a bow for his son’s military service, he pointed out that he was a Marine—because we all know that what you’ve done to the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Yeah, they’re just as lethal as Obama and Hillary said. When you spend as much as the rest of the planet combined, you can make a lot of things go boom—even if the soldiers can’t do chin ups any more and the sailors get pregnant when they decide their tours of duty have gone on too long. And the cops! One minute you’re calling them murderers, the next you’re slobbering all over them. Our voters are cops. They know who’s on their side. Not you. . . .
“You’ve been building up to this for a long time. No more Superheroes rescuing women in the movies. The girl always has to throw the last punch herself. In the commercials, Dad’s either an idiot—or he’s doing the housework with his boyfriend.
"And you know what? It’s not just our hillbilly voters who are going to vote ‘no’ to all that. A lot of men you never imagined will vote for us. Trump’s going to do better with Latino men than you expect—probably no worse than Romney. He’s going to do better with black men than Romney ever did. And his numbers with white men will be out of sight. Every time you demand that Donald show respect to Hillary—while laughing as Hillary disrespects Donald—you push those numbers up.

Authentic Authority, or Confirmation Bias?

Or both, I suppose. The argument is pretty plausible, and she cites a number of studies of the issue independent of her own argument. On the other hand, given her experience, she has to have a huge confirmation bias issue in terms of which stories (and studies) she finds believable.

My guess is that Vice found her article (a piece of fairly academic sociology) newsworthy just because of her experiences, which gives her an authentic voice to speak to the issue at hand. But isn't it that very authenticity that makes the probability of confirmation bias worse?

All of us have this cognitive bias, so it's no slur to suggest that she must be to some degree motivated by a universal human condition. Nor, I think, is the answer to find the story less newsworthy because it was written by someone with direct experience with the problem. Still, it's an interesting fact that the authenticity and the cognitive bias seem to ride on the same track. Increasing one increases the likelihood of the other, so that our most obvious authorities are also most likely to be wrong in this particular way? That's a frustrating realization.

Entire Police Force Quits Indiana Town

It's always interesting when this happens. In the short term it sounds like the Sheriff's department will simply assume the duties of the city police, which could always be the long-term solution as well provided the Sheriff can obtain the necessary resources. If the city government is corrupt, as it sounds like it might be, having the county take over law enforcement might be a good idea.

This seems like a radical act, but in fact it's come up a number of times before. Typically chaos does not result. Americans have a long tradition of self-governance, and overlapping institutions (one of the characteristics of an anti-fragile system), which means that these cases are more opportunities for reform than disasters waiting to happen.

Dialects on Parade

Thesis: 'The Electoral College is a vestige of slavery and should be abolished!'

Antithesis: 'The Electoral College should do the job the Founders intended and save us from Trump!'

Synthesis: 'Born of slavery, the Electoral College should redeem its history (by saving us from Trump!).'

More on the Russian Information Warfare Campaign

NBC News claims to have learned that the CIA now believes with a high level of confidence that Putin directed much of the information warfare campaign aimed at the US elections. That of course makes perfect sense: were the United States to direct an effort to alter a democratic election, as it has done from time to time, it would probably be reported to the President on a regular basis (and likely be based on a Presidential Finding).

Of great interest is the insight as to the aims:
Putin's objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a "vendetta" against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to "split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn't depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore," the official said.
Great powers don't do vendettas, but they do punish their enemies in ways that are useful to them. The DNC hack was useful to Putin at home because it defused the force of the Clinton charges against his own electoral system (which he will face again, to whatever degree of peril, in 2018). Showing that Clinton was herself the leader of a deeply manipulative, indeed rigged, primary system would make the presumptive President Clinton less powerful as a Russian critic.

So, in addition to her devotion to a "No Fly Zone" in Syria -- which we've discussed repeatedly -- here was an important enough interest to make this worth doing. If the leaks did nothing else, Putin could point to US media outlets' coverage of the DNC corruption as a defense against American criticism of his re-election campaign.

What is of importance here is that the leaks were anti-Clinton, rather than pro-Trump. Since the leaks began around the time of the DNC, when both primaries were decided, it is easy to become confused about that: the race was binary at that point. But the campaign seems to have been targeted at Clinton and at doing damage to what the Russians probably assumed (like everyone else) would be the incoming administration.

Further evidence along this line comes from a Newsweek report from before the election. The author is sure the Russians are 'favoring Trump,' rather than 'opposing Clinton,' but look at this:
By August, however, fears began to emerge within the Kremlin that the effort was falling apart. Trump’s attacks on the parents of a slain Muslim American soldier following the father’s speech at the Democratic convention created dismay in the Kremlin. Top Russian officials came to believe Trump would be forced to withdraw from the race because of his psychological state and apparent unsuitability for the presidency, according to information obtained by the Western intelligence source. In particular, Kremlin officials feared they could not predict what impact it might have on Russia should Trump step aside. As a result, the Russians decided to stop forwarding material through channels to WikiLeaks...

By October, “buyer’s remorse” had set in at the Kremlin, according to a report obtained by Western counterintelligence. Russia came to see Trump as too unpredictable and feared that, should he win, the Kremlin would not be able to rely on him or even anticipate his actions.
I've cut out a bit in the middle about an alleged Russian attempt to buy one of Trump's advisers, Manafort, who was forced to resign from the Trump campaign over the charges. The truth of the charges is contested, but the Russians wouldn't be trying to buy something they already owned -- and they wouldn't bother buying the adviser if they owned the candidate.

So it looks like Putin started off with the hope of damaging Clinton's credibility as President, and securing his own position. If he could beat her, he had a great deal more to gain in Syria.

However, Trump is just as much a roll-of-the-dice for the Russians as he is for us. He's his own man, for good or ill, and nobody's sure just what he might do. I'm not sure how much of a comfort that is, but it is at least not 'politics as usual' from here on.

UPDATE: An excellent discussion called, "When does a President become a National Security risk?" featuring John McLaughlin. It's a fair-minded look at the whole set of questions.

The Trump voter

A writer for The American Interest realized last spring that neither he nor anyone he knew had personal contact with any Trump supporters. He decided to drive through the American Southeast and talk to Trump supporters:
I learned that people who describe Trump’s supporters as ignorant haven’t talked to them.
I learned that many, possibly a majority, of Trump’s supporters vote for him not because, but despite, his frequently outrageous comments.
I learned that many of Trump’s supporters don’t necessarily trust him.
I learned that, although much of the country today appears to be brimming with anger, very little of that anger seems to take the form of class resentment. Trump’s self-proclaimed status as a billionaire appears to be an unambiguous plus for him as a candidate. Non-affluent Americans seem increasingly to detest and mistrust politicians, but far fewer seem to detest or mistrust rich people, big corporations, or the growing concentration of wealth in the upper tiers of U.S. society.
I learned that very large proportions of Southern and of blue-collar white people, especially men, hold Hillary Clinton in utter contempt. In all my conversations, I met exactly one woman, and not a single man, who said anything positive about Clinton. . . .
I learned that, in addition to a steadily growing partisan divide—liberals vilifying conservatives and vice versa—the United States is also experiencing a growing governing divide, such that millions of Americans find themselves voting for candidates that they can’t stand and don’t trust. The overwhelming majority of those I interviewed simply do not believe that their elected leaders, including those from their own party, are honest or can be trusted even to try to do the right thing. In my view, this sentiment is toxic, particularly in a democracy, and, probably more than any other factor, explains Trump’s rise. He’s an alluring candidate for the large and growing proportion of Americans who believe that the core problem with our politics is politicians.
I learned that many non-affluent Americans fear that the hour is late and that “we’re losing everything.”
I learned that many decent, sincere people who feel disregarded, disrespected, and left behind—in ways that I do not feel and have never felt—can disproportionately embrace political opinions that I view as bigoted or paranoid. And I wonder, if there is fault here, whose fault is it?

Some of these Mexicans Would Make Good Americans

Headline: "Mexican townsfolk kidnap drug boss' mom, demand loved ones."

Suddenly the Mexican government has found soldiers to dispatch to the region, "in hopes of defusing the situation."

I don't know. Sounds like your citizen militia has got it under control.

It's a tough spot, I feel pretty bad about it

Mark Hemingway offers some campaign advice:
It’s conceivable, per Nate Silver, that the Comey letter in late October gave Trump momentum and possibly swung the election. But my response, like most Americans, is “So what?” If you’re worried about an FBI investigation influencing a presidential election DON’T NOMINATE A CANDIDATE UNDER FBI INVESTIGATION. And you really, really, don’t want to nominate a candidate under investigation whose top aide’s husband is also being investigated by the FBI for child pornography who is also allegedly in possession of emails relevant to the candidate’s FBI investigation that he’s keeping on the same computer as his grody sex pics.
Seriously, stop and read those two previous sentences again, and think about why any normal person would be in any way sympathetic to this predicament.

Good, government jobs

A big factor in my defection from the Democratic Party in the 1990s came when the evening newscasters analyzed the big, scary government-shutdown threat and couldn't find any heartrending stories about vital services not being provided to the citizens.  Instead, the stories were all about poor Betty, who wouldn't be able to draw her paycheck this Friday in exchange for doing some kind of job that the reporter didn't even bother describing, let alone justifying the tax cost of.

They're at it again:  CNBC sniffs and huffs at the "fox guarding the henhouse" quality of Trump's anti-departmental picks for department heads.  It's even worse than that, CNBC complains:
Some people are using the "fox guarding the hen house" metaphor to describe these picks. But that's not exactly right. Remember the fox just wants to eat the chickens, not tear down the hen house and put the chickens out of a job.
But you know, guys, the point of the Department of Energy is not supposed to be to provide bureaucrats at the DOE with a nice paycheck. Rick Perry doesn't want to eat the chickens. He wants them to go get an honest job in the private sector and quit eating the taxpayers out of house and home. Alternatively, the chickens might try persuading someone that they're doing work that's actually worth their chicken feed.  As it is, they're essentially expecting the farmer to keep them as pets.  "You wouldn't eat us, would you?"

Thanks, Jill Stein

How funny would it be if the principal effect of the futile Michigan recount initiative was to spur an audit of the corrupt and incompetent Detroit voting system?

I'll Bet A Lot of Investigations Are Coming

Georgia's Secretary of State asks the Donald to investigate DHS's hacking of our state-level computers.

Over/under on how many other change-of-administration investigations will happen? IRS & Loretta Lynch? ATF "Fast and Furious"? DOJ and the Clinton Investigation Suppressions?

Filling the air with Democratic scandals would be a useful way of going on offense against the constant effort to find new Trump scandals.

Conflicts, Part II+

Allahpundit at Hot Air notes a poll showing that most Americans think that Donald Trump's investments will affect his decisions as Presidents, but that a strong majority of Republicans think that's a good thing. Even independents are closely divided, 39/44 good/bad.

Maybe Republicans read the question differently, Allah says, but...
I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that GOPers really did understand this as a question about conflicts of interest and just shrugged it off because they’re willing to let Trump get away with self-enrichment as president. He slayed the Clinton dragon. Giving him a “bonus” by letting special interests shower cash on his properties in hopes of winning the federal government’s favor is really the least we can do to say thanks.
As someone who believes that Trump should definitely do the blind trust option, and get out of the business world entirely, I obviously recognize the downside of these conflicts of interest. Still, there's an upside of a sort that Allah is missing.

Remember the McDonald's Theory of International Relations? It's not quite defunct, although the pure form of the theory ("No two countries both having a McDonald's will ever go to war") is now disproven. But a weaker version of the theory -- and the theory itself was really just a shorthand for a bigger idea about the effect of economic ties on the probability of war -- remains widely held.

I think a close reading of the outbreak of the First World War shows that the theory isn't really solid even in its weaker form. The First World War occurred in spite of very close economic ties, because of a problem associated with the need to mobilize one's forces as early as possible in order to avoid being overrun by an earlier enemy mobilization. Thus, once it seemed likely a potential enemy would mobilize for war, everyone had to do so immediately to avoid being behind the curve, and thus losing everything on the first cast. We have a very similar problem today with regard to the deployment of nuclear forces. (Indeed, if Hillary Clinton is to be believed -- always a chancy proposition! -- a decision has to be made within four minutes. Zbigniew Brzezinski appeared to confirm that timeline, adding that the President's adviser has about three minutes to decide whether to inform the President -- so we're talking about ~10 minutes or less for this set of persons to make its series of decision.)

So I think the theory is wrong, and the same kinds of problems that caused WWI could easily cause a Russian-American war now. But let's ask the question another way: is it ridiculous to think that Trump's business ties in Russia make it less likely that we'll get to the four-minute problem? Or is it likely that his personal cupidity in pursuing Russian business interest lower the probability of a disastrous war? Won't they incline Trump to pursue enriching rather than destructive solutions?

Well, maybe not; so far he seems to be willing to play at brinkmanship with China, which is no wiser than brinkmanship with Russia if avoiding war is your primary goal. There are questions about his temperament (perhaps having a Twitter account will be a satisfying enough revenge for his pricklish pride; perhaps not).

Still, my guess is that Republicans who say his business conflicts are a good thing are thinking of something like the McDonald's Theory. As a statement of probabilities rather than certainties, it's not wholly ridiculous for them to think it. It's just that there's a lot more that the theory doesn't capture.

Antifragility: A Summary

The Art of Manliness has summarized Taleb's new book. I'd like to hear from AVI on how well their understanding of it matches his own, as well as from any of the rest of you who have read it.

This Doesn't Sound Very Russian

Detroit voting machines counted too many votes.

In a set of precincts that went hardcore for the Democrats, that doesn't like the ordinary poor-maintenance issues that trouble Detroit generally, either.

Sexual Objects

Warning: this is an intensely philosophical post that most of you may wish to skip.

A couple of recent articles have touched on the issue of "sexual objectification." The philosophy around right sexuality is something that I've had an interest in for decades, ever since I first encountered Catholic theological arguments in a Comparative Religious Philosophy class. They're very interesting, well-reasoned, but from the beginning they struck me as missing something. This concept of "objectification" has also bothered me for a long time, as it also seems to be missing something.

Before I get into my new thoughts on the matter, let me put the articles in front of you. First, and most important, here is a brief account of Kant's theory of objectification (which goes way beyond sexuality, to embrace the entirety of moral philosophy). It's a longer piece, but I can't usefully excerpt it as the whole argument is needed for the following discussion.

Second, here is an account by Dennis Prager on why sexual objectification is perfectly normal in human males.

It's really the Kantian argument I'm concerned with here, but I think it has much broader application.

So, Kant makes exactly one exception to sex as being morally wrong -- and not just wrong, but intensely wicked because it leads to the objectification of the self as well as the other. That one exception is marriage. Here's the argument on why marriage is permissable:

Does any of this pass the laugh test?

Even if we assume that not only Russians but official Russians were behind the DNC hack, I'm having a hard time understand the compelling nature of an argument that they did it to put Trump over the finish line.  As HotAir comments, "A DNC hack would be a really indirect way of electing any Republican, let alone Trump."  It's like something out of The DaVinci Code.  For once, Julian Assange is sounding more credible; he claims the source of the leak was a disgruntled Bernie supporter at the DNC.

That Russians, official or otherwise, wanted to jack with public confidence in our institutions seems reasonable enough, but the rest of it is a bit Rube Goldberg for my taste.  In any case, if all it takes to undermine confidence in our institutions is the publication of completely genuine and true information about the inner workings of the DNC, bring it on.

An anti-Cabinet

I can really get behind the appointment of cabinet secretaries whose primary aim is to get their departments to quit exceeding their authority and screwing everything up for everybody.

The Russian candidate

From HotAir:
Weirdly, the Russian government is doing Tillerson no favors. If Putin and his loyalists want Tillerson at State, the obvious play right now is to lie low and not say anything too encouraging, especially with anti-Trumpers of all stripes aggravated by the CIA news about Russia interfering in the campaign. Instead you’ve got excited quotes from Russian apparatchiks showing up in English-language media today. “The choice of Tillerson is sensational. Trump continues to amaze,” said one Russian senator. “This is a fantastic team. These are people that Russia can do business with,” a consultant to Putin’s staff agreed. Um, okay. John Bolton it is, then.
One interesting question for Trump’s first year, regardless of who ends up at State: What sort of face-saving “victories” will Putin hand to him to encourage entente between the two countries? Trump’s not going to lift sanctions or pull back from eastern Europe for nothing; he’ll be flogged by hawks for “weakness,” which will irritate him to no end and could sway public opinion unless he has concessions from Russia to point at. Putin must be prepared to do something to make America’s strongman look superficially “strong,” but what? He could lend the U.S. some help in reining in China, but he needs to be careful about making too much of an enemy of a much, much more populous nuclear power on his border. The U.S. can pull back internationally; there’s no place Putin can “pull back to” to avoid China. Perhaps Russia will suddenly discover that it’s badly understocked on luxury hotels? The new Trump International in Vladivostok will be the classiest of all Trump properties, that I can tell you.
The whole thing may have been worth the silly hoopla if it gets the press back into the habit of evaluating U.S. officials in terms of their loyalty to this country's interests instead of how cool they sound holding forth in the faculty lounge.

Get Out Of Your Defensive Crouch

So, yesterday, Instapundit linked a piece entitled "Abandoning Defensive Crouch Conservatism." The phrase (by Randy Barnett, who led the fight against Obamacare all the way to the Supreme Court) struck me because I've heard it several times lately from others. One of those others has been asked to join the new administration.

I'd like to propose that you take stock of some of your recent reactions, to see how much of them entail a defensive crouch. Do you find yourself thinking or saying things like these?

* There's no point in working with the left, because they always change the rules.

* No part of government can be trusted.

* We can't afford to compromise or we'll get rolled.

Those are defensive reactions, which are understandable given eight years out of power. What you have in front of you is the opportunity to change these things.

* You won't have to work with the left, because Republicans will control the whole government. They have to decide whether to work with you. Are there things they want that you also want? Those things can now be used to your advantage, as reasons to get them to go along with your larger program.

* The broken parts of the government can be fixed -- or better yet, insofar as they conflict with the 10th Amendment, reduced or eliminated. The government will work a lot better if it is a lot smaller, for the reasons we've so often discussed regarding Schumpeter and ossification. It also happens to be the Constitutional thing to do.

* Don't get rolled, get involved. This is your chance -- and it may be the last chance -- to change the course of the American nation for something healthier and better.

Trump can't do it alone, and frankly he may not be up to the task. He lacks the experience we'd have looked for by preference, he does have some conflicts of interest that will dog him, and he may not have the proper temperament or mindset for the job he's undertaking. But all of you have something to offer to the things you care about most. Each of you has a certain expertise that could help in the monumental task of reform that stands ahead of us. It won't happen if we don't find ways to help make it happen.

I'm not suggesting that you should all rush off to join the Trump administration. It may be that more important things exist to be done at the state or local level, or that your own expertise better fits something closer to home. Nor am I suggesting that we should all pull together to support Trump, right or wrong. I think he'll be wrong a lot of the time, and one of the most important things we should be doing is pulling in the right direction when he tries to go in the wrong one.

I am suggesting it's time to stop thinking defensively about the government, and start thinking offensively. It's time to start hitting, making reforms, devising strategies and then implementing them. Do it wherever you can, wherever you are. This is a chance, but it's only a chance, it's no more than a chance, and it'll likely come to little good without you. Find a place to push.

A Brief Guide to Russian Hacking of the US Election

Over at RCP, Charles Lipson provides a useful summary of the issue and makes a reasonable suggestion for how to proceed.

He summarizes what we know, including the fact that no credible source gives any evidence for the idea that Trump didn't win, and then states that this is a matter of election integrity which everyone should be concerned about. He proposes something like the 9/11 commission to investigate and highlight areas of vulnerability.

Overall, I think he's on the right track. One problem for me is that I increasingly don't trust any part of the US government to conduct a reasonable, non-partisan investigation. The failure to indict Clinton was a big blow to that confidence.

Is there any part of the government we can really trust to do the right thing anymore? Or am I being uncharitable?

All Hat and No Cattle, Prof

Maybe substance is overrated. In an article titled "How fascist is Donald Trump? There's actually a formula for that", Prof. John McNeill at Georgetown U. measures Trump's level of fascism on "the 11 attributes of fascism". Those are:

Ideological Attributes
  1. Hyper-nationalism
  2. Militarism
  3. Glorification of violence and willingness to use it in politics
  4. Fetishization of youth
  5. Fetishization of masculinity
  6. Leader cult
  7. Lost-golden-age syndrome
  8. Self-definition by opposition
Attributes as a Political Movement
  1. Mass mobilization and mass party
  2. Hierarchical party structures and tendency to purge the disloyal
  3. Theatricality
Isn't something missing? Maybe, totalitarianism? Corporatism? You know, fundamental stuff that's a lot more central to defining fascism than fetishization of youth or theatricality? Maybe?

Of course, the WaPo also recently published Donald Trump is actually a fascist and Don't compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. It belittles Hitler, so there you are.

Update: To be fair to McNeill, he does give Trump only 26 of a possible 44 Benitos (the standard unit of fascism?) on those 11 attributes, each rated from 0-4.

Also, has the WaPo just gone nuts? I've exceeded my free article limit, but if Stephen Green is right, here's another: New York should seize Trump Tower.

Conflicts of Interest

Vox has been compiling a list of all of Trump's known conflicts of interest. It prompted me to a thought experiment wondering if corporate involvement in foreign economies doesn't cancel out at some point.

Consider a President who was secretly completely motivated by personal greed. If that President had 1 foreign investment, that 1 investment would determine his actions whenever they were threatened (or, inversely, could be grown). That's an obvious problem for us as Americans.

If he has more than one, however, there might be at least some cases when there are opportunity costs. Taking this action would benefit that investment, whereas the alternative action would benefit another. There might be important facts about the size of the investment that would rule, but the overall effect of multiple conflicts of interest is to reduce the power of each on his decision-making process if (and only if) they conflict.

With a small enough set of foreign investments, such conflicts should be rare. However, as the set grows, conflicts become more frequent. An adequately diversified President, even the totally corrupt one of the thought experiment, might eventually be as unmoved by his conflicts of interest as a president with no foreign investments at all.

This isn't to defend Trump, whom I think really should take seriously the conflicts-of-interest problem. It's just interesting to realize that adding many new ones doesn't make the situation worse: arguably, it makes the situation better.

A Major Opportunity

Potentially a huge upside to Trump's victory is that the left will start taking Federalism and State's Rights seriously again. If we get as far as reinvigorating the 10th Amendment, we may attain an America that doesn't have to wrap itself in hatred for each other constantly (and especially on even-numbered Novemembers).

That's hopeful, at least.

You're Probably Not Going to "See the Evidence," Baer

A former CIA officer should know that the evidence he's asking for, to be of use in evaluating the truth of the claim, would have to reveal the sources and methods of collection. Otherwise, you'd have stuff that reads like, "We assess with high confidence that Russia had the goal of electing Donald Trump, and here's the evidence: [Redacted] and on [Redacted] date [Redacted] [Redacted] [Redacted]..."

All you'd end up with evidence of is that the CIA had produced an assessment.

Now, one of the immediate and pressing problems facing American intelligence is these Russian information warfare programs. Giving up our sources and methods would cripple our ability to address these programs. We would have to start all over from zero.

Of course, President Obama could choose to do that anyway. Or he could reveal only part of the evidence, sacrificing only part of our collection efforts in order to make what he thought was the strongest aspect of the case.

The bipartisan group of Senators speaking to this issue, by the way, are talking more sense.
'While protecting classified material, we have an obligation to inform the public about recent cyberattacks that have cut to the heart of our free society.

'Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks.

'This cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are too high for our country.

'We are committed to working in this bipartisan manner, and we will seek to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.'
Richard Fernandez recommends a two-step solution as an initial measure to prevent future concerns:

1) Go back to paper ballots,

2) Require a secure ID to vote on Election Day.

If you do those two things, the concerns about the vote being hacked largely disappear. You still have the Tammany Hall concerns, but not the computer hacking issues. Nobody would be able to electronically alter vote totals: you'd have to get physical access to the election sites, and the ballots themselves.


Apparently Baer is not the only former CIA officer who has not thought through the ramifications of publicizing our sources and methods, on the very topic we are most sensitive about right now. This one does, at least, know who is at fault for the information not being public already.
Obama knew before any other policy maker that the Russian government attempted — and possibly succeeded — in altering the outcome of an American presidential election to Russia’s (at least theoretical) advantage. So, the obvious and deeply troubling question is this: why did Obama not make the CIA assessment, and all supporting raw intelligence used in its production, public within a day of receiving it? It’s possible he believes the CIA’s case is not as strong as the CIA asserts....

The mistake the seven Senators made in their declassification request letter to Obama was in not giving him a deadline to make the information public. They should do so now and tell him that if he has not made the information public by close of business on December 12 — one week before the Electoral College meets — they will take to the Senate floor during Tuesday’s pro forma session and read into the record everything in their possession on Russian interference in our election.

I’m not holding my breath that they will do this, but if these same Senators truly believe the CIA’s evidence of Russian interference — or even steering — of our 2016 presidential election is credible, they have a duty to communicate that evidence to American voters, and now.
You want highly classified information touching on how we know about Russia's efforts to influence our election systems read into the public record? Leaving aside the legal questions related to intentionally exposing Top Secret information -- after the continued support of the Democratic Party for Hillary Clinton, I have to assume that we just don't care about the laws pertaining to handling classified information any more -- are you sure that's really the best way to proceed here? At least Nancy Pelosi's daughter is calling for "temporary security clearances" for Electors, although I doubt she has any idea what would be involved in cranking out 535 of those in a week.

Get a Grip, Please

Michael Tomasky calls for "World War III: Democrats and America vs. Trump and Russia."

Republican leaders, he kindly allows, are not actually traitors. But they are a hair's breadth from traitors. Those are his exact words.
A foreign government may have determined the outcome of a presidential election. And not Canada or Costa Rica, but Russia: the United States’ chief historic adversary and an oligarchy ruled by a tyrant who has systematically taken away rights.... On top of all the above, leaders of one of our two political parties—I’ll let you hazard a guess as to which one—argued against letting the American public know about all this before the election, reportedly saying it would be too partisan. That’s not hardball politics. That’s a hair’s breath away from treason.
Not one person in the Republican leadership had any authority to block the declassification of that CIA report. Also, not one person in the Republican leadership had any authority to require it to be declassified. Their "arguing" was purely advisory. The head of the CIA could have done it. However, given the politically explosive nature of the revelations, he likely deferred to his boss, the President of the United States, whose original classification authority is broad enough to have ordered the review partially or wholly declassified before the election.

For some reason, a man well known for unilateral actions taken without any Congressional approval elected not to do it.  Barack Obama chose not to go public with this without Republicans providing him with political cover.
McConnell, according to the Post story, showed no concern about the truth of the allegations. And bear this nugget in mind: This was not Barack Obama trying to persuade him to join in this bipartisan effort. This was Lisa Monaco, the president’s counterterrorism adviser; and Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security secretary; and FBI Director James Comey. McConnell told Comey, in essence, to go take a jump in the lake. McConnell was interested only in party, not at all in country. That’s not treason, but it sure isn’t patriotism.
So Obama decided he didn't want to do this on his own. Again, though, that was completely his decision alone.  Barack Obama didn't need to persuade anyone to join in any bipartisan effort. He had the full power to do what he decided to do independently, and no Republican could have stopped him.

All the Republican leadership is plausibly guilty of is refusing to give the President political cover to destroy their candidate in the last days of an election. Why would they refuse this tremendous opportunity to show their patriotism? Perhaps because the FBI isn't on the same page as the CIA.
And yet, there is skepticism within the American government, particularly at the F.B.I., that this evidence adds up to proof that the Russians had the specific objective of getting Mr. Trump elected.

A senior American law enforcement official said the F.B.I. believed that the Russians probably had a combination of goals, including damaging Mrs. Clinton and undermining American democratic institutions. Whether one of those goals was to install Mr. Trump remains unclear to the F.B.I., he said.

The official played down any disagreement between the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., and suggested that the C.I.A.’s conclusions were probably more nuanced than they were being framed in the news media.

The agencies’ differences in judgment may also reflect different methods of investigating the Russian interference. The F.B.I., which has both a law enforcement and an intelligence role, is held to higher standards of proof in examining people involved in the hacking because it has an eye toward eventual criminal prosecutions. The C.I.A. has a broader mandate to develop intelligence assessments.
Having said that, I think the CIA is perfectly correct here. Of course Russia was involved in influence operations to try to sway the outcome of the election, and there's every reason to think that they wanted Trump to win. As I wrote yesterday, this preference makes sense just given Clinton's repeated devotion to a No-Fly Zone in Syria that would have put American warplanes flying against Russian warplanes, creating an extreme risk of war between these nuclear powers. The fact that Trump thinks of Russia as a great place to do business is icing on the cake. They didn't need any additional reason to prefer him: the Syria policy difference is fully sufficient to explain the Russian support. They have invested heavily in a major strategic push there, which at best would have been badly endangered by Clinton's policy; at worst, they'd have found themselves with a nuclear exchange over downed warplanes.

So, to recap:

1) Republican leaders are not only not traitors, they didn't have any power to betray you. They couldn't do anything to stop this from being declassified. Talk to Barack Obama. He's the one who made the call.

2) The FBI dispute with the CIA gives Republicans plausible reasons to question the wisdom of suffering a huge political blow, even though I think the CIA is quite right. It's not ridiculous to think the FBI is right, and given the dispute, I can see why ordinary rational people would not elect to pay a huge cost to get this out there right before an election.

3) That Russia supports Trump in no way implies that Trump has been suborned or bribed by Russia. There are perfectly rational strategic reasons for them to support Trump that are more than adequate to account for their support. Clinton represented a serious threat to Russian interests, and maybe a serious threat to the Russian mainland if things escalated into full-scale nuclear war. Indeed, Russia's reaction to our election is perhaps the most fully rational thing that the 2016 election has produced.

So let's tone down this talk of 'treason.'  It's not wise, and it's not warranted.

Lot of Hacking to Go Around

Why would someone at DHS hack the state of Georgia, though? Presumably they could get whatever information they wanted, either just by asking or certainly with a Federal court order.

The Real Threat to Science is on the Left

So writes John Tierney:
First, there’s the Left’s opposition to genetically modified foods, which stifled research into what could have been a second Green Revolution to feed Africa. Second, there’s the campaign by animal-rights activists against medical researchers, whose work has already been hampered and would be devastated if the activists succeeded in banning animal experimentation. Third, there’s the resistance in academia to studying the genetic underpinnings of human behavior, which has cut off many social scientists from the recent revolutions in genetics and neuroscience. Each of these abuses is far more significant than anything done by conservatives, and there are plenty of others. The only successful war on science is the one waged by the Left.
He goes on to argue that "two huge threats to science are peculiar to the Left—and they’re getting worse." The first is confirmation bias, which is getting worse as the sciences follow the arts in sorting out conservatives in favor of those with left-leaning minds.

The second, obviously related, is the threat that comes of mixing science and politics.

Dostoevsky vs. Socrates

It's interesting to me that this article in the Guardian leaves Dostoevsky's question rhetorical.
Oh, tell me who was it first announced, who was it first proclaimed, that man only does nasty things because he does not know his own interests; and that if he were enlightened, if his eyes were opened to his real normal interests, man would at once cease to do nasty things, would at once become good and noble because, being enlightened and understanding his real advantage, he would see his own advantage in the good and nothing else?
It was Socrates, of course -- he makes that argument in the Protagoras, at the very beginning of the philosophical tradition. It's presented as part of a utilitarian argument -- i.e., that good and evil cash out in terms of pleasure or pain -- that Socrates doesn't seem very wedded to in other dialogues. But his idea that evil is a kind of ignorance is something that appears very regularly in his words as Plato reports them. I won't reproduce the long argument here, but if you want to follow it, scroll to "When men are overcome by eating and drinking and other sensual desires which are pleasant..."

We have firmer reason to think that Socrates held this view, too, because Aristotle also ascribes it to him in the Nicomachean Ethics (scroll to section two of this part, which is Book VII).

Also it is interesting to me that the Guardian author, Pankaj Mishra, seems to regard the rhetorical question as adequately forceful to settle the matter -- at least in the light of, as he cites them, Nietzsche, Max Weber, and Freud. In fact, Socrates has kind of a good argument. Aristotle devoted a substantial part of a book to considering the problem.

We know that people do act in ways that they certainly must know are not in their best interests. The classic case is addiction, but that medicalizes the problem in a way that may make it seem as if the moral philosophy no longer applies. Rather, many who drink as if they were alcoholics prove to have no physical addiction to alcohol. They know, of course, that there is a long term harm that is all but certain if they continue in this manner; the only thing that can save them from it is dying young.

But of course dying young is a possibility, in which case the harm is completely avoided, and whatever pleasures came from the drink were obtained free of charge. So you have a case of an immediate certain gain (at least of pleasure) in return for an uncertain future harm. However, the gain is marginal, and the harm is extreme.

This is one kind of calculation that Nassim Taleb says human beings regularly make badly. So it may be the answer is not that humans are irrational, but that this is a place where human reason regularly leads to a conclusion that is in conflict with itself. The best choice is regularly indicated by reason to be just what a more formal examination of the case would suggest it is not. That is, we very regularly choose the short-term certain gain and dare the uncertain (but quite likely) immense future harm. But our formal examination suggests this is not the wise way to proceed, even though it is how we do in fact reason.

Perhaps it is that we came up in a more dangerous world, one in which the probability of living long enough for those future harms to materialize was not so very high. Socrates, though, was an old man when he died (of execution, not illness). Life spans haven't grown that much in recorded history; it's just that more people died of things like childbirth and childhood. And it would seem that both of those examples would favor an evolutionary response that mitigated against pursuing immediate pleasures in favor of longer-term gains.

So let's not treat this as an easy or settled matter. It's still an interesting question.

A Journalist and the Principle of Distinction

A Marine-turned-journalist was suspended by the Blaze for taking some shots at ISIS while on assignment for them:

Jason Buttrill, a former Marine and a foreign affairs correspondent for the Glenn Beck-owned Blaze ... fired six times at ISIS fighters with a rifle while on the Mosul front.
"Exclusive: TheBlaze’s Jason Buttrill shoots at ISIS members and shares footage from the Mosul front," reads the headline. The story is still live on the site despite The Blaze's recalling Buttrill from Mosul and suspending him from the publication. 
The reprimand by The Blaze comes after Jason Stern of the Committee to Protect Journalists warned Buttrill that his actions could be deadly for other journalists in or near war zones. 
“Jason, journalists are detained and killed all over the world over false accusations of being combatants,” Stern tweeted on Friday. “This doesn't help.” 

I don't care much for the argument Stern is making. America's enemies haven't respected non-combatant roles like that of the journalist for at least half a century, so the idea that some journalist's misconduct will lead to more problems is a bit blind, I think.*
No, my question is about the ethics and legality of it. Mr. Buttrill was there as a journalist; should he be taking part in combat? I don't know the details, but for the sake of argument, let's assume that this was not self-defense. If someone isn't officially part of one of the combatant groups, and it is not self-defense, should that person engage in the fighting?

There is part of me that wonders what right-minded person would not shoot at members of ISIS, given the opportunity. But another part of me is bothered by this. Doesn't it violate the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants? If that's right, then Buttrill might have been an unlawful combatant.

Or, maybe I don't really understand this. I am not any kind of lawyer, so this is quite likely. Or, maybe in a war like this where the enemy doesn't make even a pretense of following the law it just doesn't matter. And, of course, whether it's lawful or not doesn't necessarily answer the ethical question.
Any thoughts?
*I have the same problem with arguments against torture that go "if we do it, they'll do it." I am not supporting torture, but that particular argument against it doesn't make sense since pretty much every enemy we've faced for the last century has used torture against captured American soldiers. Maybe the Nazi's were an exception, but the Japanese certainly did, and every enemy since.

My Theme Song for the Last Several Months

Just a bit further, then time to catch up. Think I might head out to the woods for a while.

However, I'm a bit afraid I'll go away for a week and come back to find Hillary's taken over in a CIA-led coup. :-(