Saturday, April 14, 2018

Your Money Or Your Life

Sometimes a successful joke only works when the comedian has developed a well-defined persona.  That was the case with Jack Benny who had enormous success on radio, TV, and in his live act from the 1930s until his death in 1974.  Benny's stage persona was of a vain, insufferable, and incredibly cheap man. By all accounts the real Benny was a warm, gracious, and generous.

(Benny's trademark look)
Image result for jack benny hand on elbow

That's why, along with Benny's impeccable timing, this joke works so well.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Why Scooter Libby Was Pardoned Now

Until the strike on Syria was announced this evening (I guess I'm just an old-fashioned guy but I sure would like to have seen a Congressional authorization of force), the big news of the day was President Trump's pardon of former VP Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby, convicted in 2007 for making a false statement during the Valerie Plame investigation.

It’s not widely recognized that the current situation is the second time James Comey has launched a special counsel at a Republican administration. The first was during the GW Bush administration. When Joe Wilson first published his “16 Words” op-ed in the New York Times, and then his wife, Valerie Plame (that’s in Joe Wilson & Valerie Plame, the “we’re not anti-semites, we just don’t want Jews running everything” couple), was outed to Bob Novak by an administration source as a CIA agent, and AG Ashcroft recused himself (sound familiar?), his deputy Comey saw an opportunity to get his arch-nemesis Dick Cheney.

Comey and Cheney were at crosshairs because of their differing views on the War on Terror and the role of the CIA/FBI and surveillance (I was closer to Comey than Cheney on the substance of their disagreement). Comey, convinced the source of the leak about Plame was Cheney or one of his staff, decided he could use the situation to nail the Veep, and so appointed his friend Patrick Fitzgerald (who was also godfather to Comey’s daughter) as special counsel and set him loose.

Unfortunately within a couple of weeks, Fitzgerald knew the source of the leak was Richard Armitage.  The problem was Armitage worked for Secretary of State Colin Powell, not Cheney. Moreover, Armitage and Powell were also opposed to Cheney's take on the War on Terror (and it appears no law was broken by the Armitage disclosure, as he was unaware that she may have been an undercover agent, though even her actual status remains in dispute). So instead of winding up his investigation, Fitzgerald asked Armitage not to disclose his role and proceeded to spend the next year setting perjury traps for Cheney and his staff, finally nabbing Libby. I would be shocked if Fitzgerald acted on his own without consulting his supervisor, James Comey.

For more background on the Comey/Cheney dispute read this this 2007 post from Tom Maguire who covered the investigation and trial extensively.  He describes Fitzgerald as a torpedo dropped in the water by Comey “towards the USS Cheney

Whether you can objectively determine whether Libby actually committed perjury is difficult.  The question centered around one of those who heard what from whom and when controversies in Libby's various conversations with media personalities like Tim Russert.  For what it's worth, one of the chief prosecution witnesses, Judith Miller, has since recanted her testimony, stating she was misled by the prosecutors and today released a statement called Libby's pardon "long overdue".  Of course, getting a conviction was not difficult with a DC jury when the defendant is an aide to an unpopular Vice-President.

That’s why Trump is pardoning Libby. It’s a direct rebuke of Comey’s sleazy machinations, which the sitting President has direct experience with.  After all, Comey admitted he told the president on three occasions he was not under investigation, yet at the same time was leaking unfavorable takes on the Chief Executive to the New York Times, but not leaking the accurate news that the president was not under investigation.  He was also party to using the Steele Dossier, cooked up by the Clinton campaign in collusion with Russian intelligence in order to convince a FISA Court (which was not fully informed of the Clinton connection) to issue a surveillance authorization on Carter Page which would give the government broad access to the Trump campaign.  And then, to top it off, when Comey briefed the incoming president on the Steele Dossier he didn't tell him of the Clinton campaign involvement!

It is also likely that another motive for the pardon is to send a message to Trump associates that he stands ready to pardon them.  I hope he does not follow through on that.  Or at least, that he makes distinctions among them.  There is a difference between a Michael Flynn, caught in the same type of dubious perjury trap as Scooter Libby, and Paul Manafort, who may have illegally enriched himself through bank and tax fraud.


In retrospect the Wilson/Plame story is also a precursor to today's Russian collusion story in the lack of mainstream media interest in anything that would interfere with the preferred narrative.

For instance, I was always struck that no one in the media asked why Joe Wilson waited to make his revelation only in July 2003, after the initial conventional of the war was over and Saddam Hussein deposed, since he’d made his Africa trip more than a year earlier.

Let’s look at the timeline:

Joe Wilson is sent by the CIA to West Africa in February 2002 to investigate allegations that Saddam is trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Oddly, it appears the CIA never asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

On October 11, 2002, the Senate voted to authorize the President to use force in Iraq. Half of the Senate Democrats, including Biden, Kerry, and Clinton, supported the authorization.

On January 28, 2003, President Bush gave the speech that later became known as the “16 Words” speech because of his reference to Saddam’s efforts to obtain yellowcake in Africa.

The Iraq War began on March 20, 2003.

Joe Wilson’s op-ed in the NY Times appeared on July 6, 2003.

As to the substance of Wilson's accusation that Bush lied about yellowcake in his January speech here is the Washington Post reporting in July 2004 on a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report on the matter (this is before the WaPo publicly announced its aspiration to smother democracy in darkness). From the article:
Wilson’s assertions — both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information — were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report.
In any event, why, if Wilson thought Bush had a “lack of candor” in his January 28 speech did he not raise his concerns before the start of the invasion in March? I think it is because of Wilson’s own views about Saddam’s capabilities, and internal Democratic party politics.

Specifically, in a talk Wilson gave in the fall of 2002 to an audience in DC (I listened to a recording of it years ago, and am trying to find it on the internet once again), he believed Saddam had significant chemical and biological warfare capabilities. In fact, he opposed the invasion for two reasons. First, he thought the US would suffer significant casualties because of Saddam’s WMD capabilities, and second, he didn’t want American “boys and girls” dying on behalf of Israel (I don’t think he was referring to Israeli Arabs when he was making that statement).

Further, Wilson was interested in Democrats being successful in the 2004 election cycle.  If he went public with his concerns prior to the invasion, it would have put a lot of public pressure on Clinton, Kerry, and Biden to declare whether they would change their authorization vote and demand another vote. Since none of them knew how the war would turn out and whether WMD would be found that would have put them in an untenable position with a lot of political risk, a position none of them wanted to be in.

It was only politically safe for Wilson to make his accusations after the invasion when little WMD, and no nuclear material, was found.

The other important element in the specific timing of publications by the New York Times was that it created a media frenzy right in the middle of George Bush’s trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Since the media narrative was that Bush was a racist, there was a need to divert attention from his obvious concern about, and commitment to, improving conditions in Africa. The Wilson story also helped to overshadow President Bush’s speech at Goree Island in Senegal, the most remarkable speech by an American president on race and slavery since Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.


Joe Wilson wasn’t the only one in his family concerned about Jews. In 2017, Valerie Plame’s long-standing history of similar views finally became public over her endorsing tweet of an article entitled “America’s Jews are driving America’s wars”, published on a website that also carried articles like “It’s time to rethink David Duke”.

There are two interesting aspects of the 2017 tweet, which, once again, was not an aberration by Plame. First, it led to her resignation the Board of the Ploughshares Foundation. Ploughshares is the leftist foundation that worked with the Obama Administration to create what Ben Rhoades, President Obama’s right hand man on the Iran Nuclear Deal, called the “echo chamber”, a coordinated effort to help sway public opinion, an effort that included accusations of dual loyalty by American Jews.

Secondly, the Wilson/Plame worldview also obscured differences between American neo-cons and Israel on foreign policy. During the run up to the Iraq War the Sharon government in Israel told the Bush Administration that it thought Saddam was successfully contained and that Iran was a much bigger threat. Once it was clear that Bush was set on prioritizing Iraq, Sharon directed his officials to stand down on the basis that as an American ally, Israel needed to support the United States. In other words, causation was the opposite of Wilson/Plame’s accusations.

The same dynamic occurred during the Arab Spring in 2011 when many neo-cons supported the uprisings, while the Israeli government did not.

You would probably not be surprised to hear that American media did not report on Wilson and Plame's troublesome views on Jews.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Facebook

I’m so old I remember when a presidential campaign using Facebook data, and getting help from Facebook in doing so, was considered cool and hip, while the campaign that didn’t use Facebook data was considered a bunch of old fogey losers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Complex Or Complicated?

An intriguing essay from the always interesting Arnold Kling (you should make Askblog a regular stop) on the differences between something that is complicated and something that is complex.  The failure to distinguish between the two can lead to bad decisions and outcomes by individuals, companies, and government.

Kling starts by referring to a recent article by Jordan Greenhall for the proposition that:
With complex problems, we need to lower our expectations about our ability to arrive at fully satisfactory solutions.
Greenhall offers this illustration: the behavior of a simple bumblebee is complex, because it has response mechanisms that we do not fully understand; but a Boeing 747 is merely complicated, because its behavioral range is limited by a design and structure that we understand and can model. 
He then goes on to talk about economics and the (misnamed) "social sciences".
When I was a graduate student in economics in the late 1970s, we were trained as if the economy is complicated, but not complex. We were told that if we learned enough mathematics and statistics and applied these tools, then eventually we could predict and control economic outcomes.

In fact, economic behavior is complex. There are too many causal factors, feedback loops, non-linear effects, and unprecedented phenomena involved to enable economists to control the economy precisely and reliably. Often, the best mathematical models are not even useful, as was dramatically shown a decade ago by the failure to anticipate the financial crisis and its aftermath.

In fact, complexity is a challenge in all of what we unfortunately call “the social sciences.” The very term social science gives the impression that human behavior is merely complicated, so that social outcomes can be predicted and managed by experts.

Many complicated problems have been solved by human beings and by our powerful computing tools. But I think this creates the expectation that we can solve complex problems as well. By understanding the difference between complication and complexity, we can take a more realistic view.
And perhaps, by understanding those differences, it will induce some humility in those who think they can solve any problem.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Family

Posting has not occurred during the past few days as THC and the Mrs traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota for the wedding of the THC Daughter and the new THC Son-in-Law (SIL).  Although both parties to the wedding live in Phoenix, the parents of the THC SIL live in Bismarck and are unable to travel so the Daughter and SIL decided on a small wedding there, followed by a larger reception in Phoenix in two weeks.  We applaud them for their decision; it was the right thing to do and the SIL's parents are delightful folks whom we enjoyed meeting.

The wedding day was one to remember.  It was 25 degrees, windy, and snowy.  It was also a lovely and beautiful day that we will all treasure.

And here are the newly wed couple at their reception dinner.  The Mrs and THC are very happy also.




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Parting The Waters

If you are interesting in reading a fine combined biography of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr through the time of the March on Washington, and the tale of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and early 1960s, I recommend Parting The Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 by Taylor Branch.