June 2, 2018

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Self-driving cars will kill people and we need to accept that (JAYSON DEMERS, 6/02/18, The Verge)

First, we need to recognize that no matter what safeguards we put in place or how cautious we are with rolling out self-driving technology, autonomous vehicles are going to be involved in fatal collisions.

There are 325 million people in the United States and more than 260 million registered vehicles. Cars and pedestrians are constantly engaging in a world with random variables, from unexpected traffic patterns to crazy weather conditions to sudden falling objects obstructing the road. With a fleet of vehicles traveling millions of miles, it's inevitable that some conditions could make an accident unavoidable--no matter how advanced the driving algorithm is.

No matter what, people are going to die at the "hands" of an autonomous vehicle.

Next, we need to acknowledge just how bad human drivers are at controlling their own vehicles - and how they compare to autonomous vehicles. In 2016, there were 40,200 vehicular fatalities just in the United States. A Stanford review found that 90 percent of accidents are caused, at least in part, by human error, whether that's overcorrecting, falling prey to a distraction, or drinking alcohol before getting behind the wheel. Some quick math tells you that's 36,180 lives that were lost because a human behind the wheel of a car made a mistake, with similar numbers year over year.

Despite this, our standards for human testing are incredibly lax. Anyone can get a driver's license, and the majority of the United States population either drives or rides in a car on a regular basis--even though your odds of dying in a car accident over a lifetime are something like 1 in 114, which is relatively high. Autonomous vehicles may actually already be capable of transporting us more safely than comparable human drivers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Trump's Lawyers Cite Outdated Statute in Long Letter to Mueller Rejecting Interview Request (DANIEL POLITI, JUNE 02, 2018, NY Times)

In what the New York Times describes as "a brash assertion of presidential power," the president's lawyers claim he can't actually obstruct the investigation into Russia's involvement in the presidential election because Trump has the power to "if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon." That broad view of presidential power could be at the heart of any legal battle over a subpoena.

Yet any battle in the courts may not turn out so well for Trump's attorneys considering their understanding of obstruction of justice law seems to, at the very least, be outdated. In one portion of the letter, the president's lawyers say investigators are looking into Trump asking then FBI chief James Comey to end the investigation into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn. According to Trump's lawyers, that couldn't have possibly been obstruction because Trump didn't know Flynn was under investigation. But the attorneys cite an outdated statute to make that claim, failing to mention that a broader 2002 law makes it a crime to obstruct an investigation even before it officially starts. "The president's lawyers do not mention this statute, whose existence appears to render several of their arguments beside the point," notes the Times.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Trump Is Preparing to Prop Up Unprofitable Coal Plants With 'Emergency' Subsidies (Eric Levitz, 6/02/18, New York)

As with so many other myths about American conservatism, the Trump era has turned the GOP's supposed reverence for "small government" into dark comedy. A few short years ago, Republicans were decrying the Obama administration's attempts to subsidize sustainable-energy development as "crony capitalism." And when then-President Obama adopted an expansive interpretation of the Clean Air Act -- and began aggressively using his executive authority to combat carbon emissions -- Republicans lamented his efforts as a tyrannical usurpation of Congress's authority.

Now, the Trump administration is preparing to unilaterally bestow massive subsidies on unprofitable coal companies by invoking extraordinary executive powers that can only be legally exercised in the context of a national- security emergency.

Six major allies blast US over tariffs (Donna Borak, June 2, 2018, CNN)

Finance ministers from the G7 expressed "disappointment" over unilateral trade actions taken by the US government, and they asked US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnunchin to communicate their concerns to President Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Rhode Island Becomes Latest State to Pass New Gun-Reform Laws (Benjamin Hart, 6/02/28, New York)

One bans bump stocks, the devices that modify semiautomatic rifles into automatic-fire weapons. Though bump stocks rarely make an appearance in shootings, they were used to deadly effect by Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people in Las Vegas last year. Since then, the federal government has moved to ban them, though that process could take years.

The other bill is a so-called "red flag" law, which lets authorities seize firearms from those who authorities deem a risk to themselves or others. Rhode Island's law allows state police to petition a state court for an "extreme risk protection order." A judge can then permit authorities to take a resident's firearms temporarily; the law allows the person in question a hearing within two weeks to assess whether such a seizure is warranted. Eight other states have similar laws on the books, including Florida, which passed one in the aftermath of the Parkland shootings in February.

The state's House and Senate passed both bills overwhelmingly before Raimondo's signature on Friday.

The new laws may seem like relatively piecemeal measures, but as the Providence Journal notes, "they were almost unimaginable as recently as two years ago at the Rhode Island State House, where the gun lobby has powerful supporters and lobbyists, including a former House speaker whose portrait literally loomed, from the wall, over past hearings on stymied gun-control measures."

But the shootings in Las Vegas, Parkland, and Santa Fe, Texas changed the equation.

The National Rifle Association fought against both bills...

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A Woman Dedicated to Saving Lives Loses Hers in Gaza Violence (Iyad Abuheweila and Isabel Kershner, June 2, 2018, NY Times)

She had become a fixture at the weekly protests along the fence dividing the Gaza Strip from Israel, a young woman in a white paramedic's uniform rushing into harm's way to help treat the wounded.

As a volunteer emergency medical worker, she said she wanted to prove that women had a role to play in the conservative Palestinian society of Gaza.

"Being a medic is not only a job for a man," Razan al-Najjar, 20, said in an interview at a Gaza protest camp last month. "It's for women, too."

An hour before dusk on Friday, the 10th week of the Palestinian protest campaign, she ran forward to aid a demonstrator for the last time.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


The Most Important Thing that the New York Times Left Out (Marian L. Tupy and Chelsea Follett | @HumanProgress)

The Homo sapiens has been on this earth for 200,000 years. For 99.9 percent of that time, we lived in ignorance, poverty and misery. What has changed? Reading the NYT, the reader is left with the impression that "good stuff," like manna from heaven, suddenly was conjured up out of thin air. 

Not so. The key to the improvements in the lives of ordinary people over the last 200 years were industrialization and trade, which generated historically unprecedented rates of growth. And the importance of growth cannot be overemphasized. There is not a single example of a country emerging from widespread poverty without sustained economic growth. As University of Oxford Professor Paul Collier writes, "Growth is not a cure-all, but lack of growth is a kill-all." 

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Found: Roseanne Season 2, the Lost Episodes: In which our columnist reveals the riveting, pathos-filled episodes of Roseanne that we'll never get to see, thanks to those globalist snowflakes at ABC. (Rick Wilson, 06.01.18, Daily Beast)

We could discuss how Roseanne is infected with the same strain of dumb conspiracy disease that has eaten the brains of much of the GOP base like a memetic Creutzfeldt-Jacob prionic parasite. We could mock the social media meltdown over Kim Jong Don meeting with Kim Jong Kim in the Oval Office. We could hold up the ludicrous Trumpian defenses Roseanne's tweets about Valerie Jarrett to ridicule. "But Bill Maher compares Trump to a baboon, so Roseanne is totally not racist comparing a black women to a monkey" is a bad look, people. I'm trying to help you here.

Sure, we could worry about the desperate, fawning, oh-please-love-me need of today's Republicans to have some celebrity, any celebrity, embrace Esoteric Trumpism. We could talk about how that led the Trump and the GOP into bed with a crank like Roseanne. We could ponder why King Stompy Foot of the Kingdom of Delicate Egos is ragetweeting apology demands to ABC.  

That would be fun, but it would be missing the big story. The big story is how the cancellation of Roseanne endangers a vital cultural window into red-state America and how the Liberal Snowflake Globalist Soros-Progressive Deep State Antifa Supersoldiers, Bilderbergers, Illuminati, and Lizard Alien Overlords who run ABC have insulted the Real America and the President of Real America.

...is how consistently they strive to earn the disdain of decent people and then say they only entertained disdainful ideas because of your disdain.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Congressional Candidate In Virginia Admits He's A Pedophile (Jesselyn Cook & Andy Campbell, 5/31/18, HuffPost)

On the phone, he was open about his pedophilia and seemingly unfazed about his long odds of attaining government office.

"A lot of people are tired of political correctness and being constrained by it," he said. "People prefer when there's an outsider who doesn't have anything to lose and is willing to say what's on a lot of people's minds."

When asked whether he's a pedophile or just writes about pedophilia, he said, "It's a mix of both. When people go over the top there's a grain of truth to what they say."

Asked whether there was a "grain of truth" in his essay about father-daughter incest and another about raping his ex-wife repeatedly, he said yes, offering that plenty of women have rape fantasies. 

Which partisans would defend him depends only on his abortion, immigration and 2nd amendment positions.

Yet Another Report Indicates That the Trump White House Worked Closely With a Twice-Convicted Pedophile (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, JUNE 01, 2018, Slate)

NBC posted a story Friday about a crony of Jared Kushner's named Rick Gerson who may have been involved in a still-mysterious backchannel meeting between Trump advisers and officials from Russia and the United Arab Emirates in the Seychelles in January 2017. Gerson, NBC says, was brought into the Seychelles plan through a UAE lobbyist named George Nader when they both attended a different meeting in New York City with Kushner. [...]

Here's the other thing about George Nader: He was convicted of child pornography charges in Virginia in 1991 and of sexually abusing minors in the Czech Republic in 2003.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Kim's tunnel explosions a goodwill gesture? Not so fast (Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen,  June 1, 2018, CNN)

No weapons inspectors or nonproliferation experts were invited to witness the detonation, and now initial assessments indicate that the show was essentially a charade.

"The explosions seem to have been too small" for scientists to have discerned any significant geologic activity such as collapsing tunnels, an international arms control official who follows North Korea closely told CNN.

"The fact that journalists were reportedly only around 500 meters from the explosions is a good indication that these were small blasts. And the amount of dust leads us to believe that they were quite superficial," the official said.

This finding is also underscored by US intelligence.

The entire program is fake.

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


Special report: How the robot revolution is changing our lives (Mike Allen, 6/02/18, Axios)

The upsides:

Manual, back-breaking jobs will go away (this is good only if replaced by better gigs). Far less time will be spent doing menial tasks like driving or cleaning. And your ability to get more of what you want, when you want it, will be greatly enhanced.

Health care will be more precise and sophisticated: Medical robots could make surgery more precise, and micro-bots will target the delivery of drugs within the body. Empathetic ones could help care for us as we age. Soft, flexible ones could aid in search and rescue operations.

Robots and other autonomous devices will power apps on your phone that advocate for you with doctors; and could cut through government bureaucracy.

The next big wow to your house will be smart appliances, especially in your kitchen: Your refrigerator will know its contents and order refills, and will communicate with your oven and dishwasher -- to make us even lazier and less essential than we already are. 

Manuela Veloso of Carnegie Mellon University told Axios that ultimately humans will be in control of how robots operate and the role they play: "These robots did not come from Mars and fall on Earth. They were invented by us and they will continue to be invented by us."

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


Trump allies gang up on Gowdy: The GOP lawmaker was once a conservative hero. Now he's under fire on the right for balking at Trump's 'spygate' theory. (KYLE CHENEY 06/02/2018, Politico)

Rep. Trey Gowdy has been a pitbull investigator for Republicans for years. Now, he's is in President Donald Trump's doghouse for daring to challenge the president's unsupported claim that Democrats and their sympathizers in the FBI embedded a spy in his 2016 campaign.

Trump allies have been pummeling Gowdy in recent days, branding him a gullible or clueless backer of the intelligence community. Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, labeled him "uninformed." Another Trump-tied attorney, Victoria Toensing, said Gowdy "doesn't know diddly-squat" about the particulars of federal investigations. And Fox News host Lou Dobbs tagged him a "RINO" -- a term for a fake Republican.

It's the latest twist in Gowdy's enigmatic tenure in Congress. Once a conservative hero for his headline-grabbing inquisitions of the Obama administration -- over the "Fast and Furious" gun-running program and alleged IRS targeting of conservatives, as well as his highly charged Benghazi probe -- Gowdy has also bedeviled partisans by sometimes refusing to toe a pro-Trump line. At times, Trump himself has seemed perplexed; in the span of two years, the president once hailed Gowdy as a brilliant lawmaker before bashing him as a failure and then embracing him once again.

..are the ones who can be less partisan because they're retiring/retired.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Why some scientists say physics has gone off the rails (Dan Falk / Jun.02.2018, NBC News)

"All of the theoretical work that's been done since the 1970s has not produced a single successful prediction," says Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada. "That's a very shocking state of affairs."

This doesn't mean physicists aren't busy; the journals are publishing more research than ever. But Turok says all that research isn't doing much to advance our understanding of the universe -- at least not the way physicists did in the last century.

Physicists today "write a lot of papers, build a lot of [theoretical] models, hold a lot of conferences, cite each other -- you have all the trappings of science," he says. "But for me, physics is all about making successful predictions. And that's been lacking." [...]

The most celebrated ongoing experiments have failed to produce some long-anticipated discoveries.

Take the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the enormous particle accelerator built underground near Geneva, Switzerland. After it confirmed the existence of the Higgs Boson, physicists hoped research at the LHC would quickly yield evidence of supersymmetry, a sort of supplement to the Standard Model that predicts an array of new, heavier particles that correspond to the known ones -- but no luck yet.

Ditto for the search for dark matter particles being conducted at facilities including the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota and the Gran Sasso lab in central Italy. No dark matter particles have yet been found.

And if string theory so far has resisted experimental verification, the so-called multiverse -- the idea that our universe is but one of many and perhaps an infinite number of universes -- seems to some scientists more like science fiction than a description of reality.

"What does it mean for something to exist if you can't observe it?" asks Sabine Hossenfelder, a physicist at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany. "I think that's a discussion that belongs safely in the realm of philosophy," she adds. "People can believe in the multiverse all they want -- but it's not science."

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Once Ruled By Taliban, Residents Of Pakistan's Swat Valley Say Army Should Leave (Diaa Hadid, 6/02/18, NPR)

The Taliban, based in Imam Dherai, took control of the entire Swat Valley and held power until the Pakistani military retook the area in 2009. But nearly a decade later, the soldiers remain. Military checkpoints dot the roads. Residents say soldiers occupy government buildings in their towns and villages. And they say the military has overstayed its welcome.

When a Pakistani airstrike crushed the radio station in 2009, many residents said they cheered. Fazlullah escaped, and now leads the Pakistani Taliban, who remain violently opposed to the Pakistani state.

"It's a black chapter of our history," Waris, a 22-year-old Swat Valley resident, said with a sigh. "We prefer to forget it." He requested NPR only use his first name because he still fears the Taliban.

Still, he pointed out, "There is also our Malala Yousafzai."

Pakistan's Nobel Peace laureate, who recently returned to Swat for the first time since she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, was born and raised here. As a child, she defied the Taliban by calling for girls' education.

Fawad, a 28-year-old activist, said the army routinely points to Swat as a success story. He preferred not to use his full name, to avoid possible repercussions from the military.

"As they are saying, we have established peace in Swat," Fawad said. "We want them to give full authority to civilian government -- to police and local government."

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Catalan nationalists back in power, target secession in challenge to Sanchez (Jesús Aguado, Ingrid Melander, 6/02/18, Reuters) 

Nationalists regained control of Catalonia's government on Saturday and immediately pledged to seek independence for the wealthy region, posing a swift challenge to new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez who took office on the same day.

The new Catalan cabinet was sworn in after months of tensions with the central government, ending Madrid's seven-month direct rule of the region, imposed by Sanchez's predecessor after separatists declared independence.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Apartheid with Chinese characteristics: China has turned Xinjiang into a police state like no other (The Economist, May 31st 2018)

Hasan is one of hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, a Turkic-language people, who have disappeared in Xinjiang, China's north-western province. It is an empty, far-flung place; Hasan's home town of Yarkand is as close to Baghdad as it is to Beijing. It is also a crucial one. The region is China's biggest domestic producer of oil and gas, and much of the fuel imported from Central Asia and Russia passes through on its way to the industries of the east coast. It is now a vital link in the Belt and Road Initiative, a foreign policy which aims to bind the Middle East and Europe to China with ties of infrastructure, investment and trade.

But on top of that it is the home of the Uighurs, the largest Muslim group in the country, and ethnically quite distinct from the Han Chinese. A recent history of Uighur unrest--in particular bloody inter-ethnic violence in Urumqi in 2009 that followed the murder of Uighurs elsewhere in China--and subsequent terrorism have sent the government's repressive tendencies into overdrive. Under a new party boss, Chen Quanguo, appointed in 2016, the provincial government has vastly increased the money and effort it puts into controlling the activities and patrolling the beliefs of the Uighur population. Its regime is racist, uncaring and totalitarian, in the sense of aiming to affect every aspect of people's lives. It has created a fully-fledged police state. And it is committing some of the most extensive, and neglected, human-rights violations in the world.

The government is building hundreds or thousands of unacknowledged re-education camps to which Uighurs can be sent for any reason or for none. In some of them day-to-day conditions do not appear to be physically abusive as much as creepy. One released prisoner has said he was not permitted to eat until he had thanked Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, and the Communist Party. But there have been reports of torture at others. In January, 82-year-old Muhammad Salih Hajim, a respected religious scholar, died in detention in Urumqi.

Kashgar, the largest Uighur city, has four camps, of which the largest is in Number 5 Middle School. A local security chief said in 2017 that "approximately 120,000" people were being held in the city. In Korla, in the middle of the province, a security official recently said the camps are so full that officials in them are begging the police to stop bringing people.

As a result, more and more camps are being built: the re-education archipelago is adding islands even faster than the South China Sea. Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology in Kortal, Germany, has looked at procurement contracts for 73 re-education camps. He found their total cost to have been 682m yuan ($108m), almost all spent since April 2017. Records from Akto, a county near the border with Kyrgyzstan, say it spent 9.6% of its budget on security (including camps) in 2017. In 2016 spending on security in the province was five times what it had been in 2007. By the end of 2017 it was ten times that: 59bn yuan.

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How can you build wealth when you don't have enough money? This guy has the answer (Elyse Steinhaus, May 29, 2018, Marketwatch)

Nearly 20 years ago, you and Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler developed 'Save More Tomorrow,' a program that helps people shore up a secure retirement. Can you tell us more about that?

Benartzi: Save More Tomorrow [is] a savings tool that consists of three central components: First, we asked people to commit now to saving more in the future. This helps them avoid 'present bias,' or the tendency to overvalue immediate rewards at the expense of long-term intentions. Second, we proposed that increases in their savings rates were linked to future pay raises. This minimizes the influence of loss aversion--the tendency to experience the pain of loss more intensely than the pleasure of an equivalent gain--since their take-home pay never decreases. Third, once enrolled, [employees] remained in the program unless they opted-out. This makes good use of inertia, which is the tendency to stick with your current path.

According to the latest calculations, it's estimated that [Save More Tomorrow] has helped approximately 15 million Americans significantly boost their savings rate.

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Founding philosophy: A review of The Political Theory of the American Founding by Thomas G. West. (Michael Anton, June 2018, New Criterion)

 West is forthright about the enormous influence of the early moderns--especially Locke--on the founders' natural-rights doctrine. But he finds illumination from an earlier philosophic tradition that distinguishes, while recognizing the essential connectivity, between "form and matter."

For the American founders, the matter was their country as they found it: the people, their language, traditions, customs, and religion(s); the topography, resources, and climate; its site, situation, and relations with neighbors and other world powers. In other words, the "brute facts." The form was the regime, or mode of government, and above all the principles informing that mode. There may be, as the ancient Greek philosophers assert, one regime that is simply best. But even they quickly add that this best form is not always practicable or possible; it is suitable only for the finest matter, and only in those rare instances when circumstances permit. Philosophers from Plato to "the celebrated Montesquieu" (Madison's phrase) insist that form must always suit matter. The great task of statesmanship facing the American founders was to devise a form consistent with timeless truths about human nature--above all, equal natural rights--while appropriate to the particular characteristics and circumstances of the actual American people at that time.

The above should suffice to dismiss another error, this one from a certain quarter of the contemporary Right, which holds that any appeal to equal natural rights amounts to "propositionism"--as in, the "proposition that all men are created equal"--which in turn inevitably leads to the twin evils of statist leveling and the explicit or tacit denial that there is anything distinct about the American nation. In this telling, "all men are created equal" is dangerous nonsense that means "all men are exactly the same." Among other dismal policies we are allegedly compelled to enact if we recognize the existence of equal natural rights are redistribution, racial quotas, and open borders.

Refuting this is easy, and well-trodden, ground. The true meaning of natural equality is clear from the founders' words, as West shows, and in Lincoln's, and in the works of scholars such as Harry V. Jaffa, and in West himself. But like a picket fence that must be continually repainted if it is to remain white, there are some self-evident truths that must be restated over and over.

West does so, in perhaps the clearest articulation of natural human equality penned since the founding itself. The idea is elegantly simple: all men are by nature equally free and independent. Nature has not--as she has, for example, in the case of certain social insects-- delineated some members of the human species as natural rulers and others as natural workers or slaves. (If you doubt this, ask yourself why--unlike in the case of, say, bees--workers and rulers are not clearly delineated in ways that both groups acknowledge and accept. Why is it that no man--even of the meanest capacities--ever consents to slavery, which can be maintained only with frequent recourse to the lash?) No man may therefore justly rule any other without that other's consent. And no man may injure any other or infringe on his rights, except in the just defense of his own rights. The existence of equal natural rights requires an equally natural and obligatory duty of all men to respect the identical rights of others.

Because men are driven by passions as well as reason, the temptation to violate the rights of others is always present, especially in the strong over the weak. Men in the state of nature-- that is, without government, whether understood as a pre-political state or one following the dissolution of a political order--while free, are thus at grave risk of injury and depredation. Such afflictions are not merely bad for individual men, they violate a moral standard which nature provides but leaves to man to enforce. Moreover, in the state of nature, men cannot utilize to their full potential those talents God and nature have given them. Living well requires not merely the society of others, but also security, which requires government. Hence men consent to government to secure their equal natural rights and to thrive within that security. Upon establishing a government, men conditionally cede some of their rights and liberty to secure the far larger remainder. For instance, men must surrender to government their natural right to inflict just punishment personally. (This insight was not the founders' innovation. The lesson of Aeschylus's Oresteia is that if there is to be lasting civilization, private vengeance must give way to pubic penalty.) This ceding is conditional because men's rights remain the gift of God and nature, not of government, and men's consent can be withdrawn if the government fails in its duties or abuses its powers. Therefore, there is an inalienable natural right "to alter or to abolish" an oppressive or incompetent government.

Men naturally differ in virtue, intelligence, and talent. This natural inequality will inevitably lead to unequal outcomes, especially when equal natural rights to use unequal talents are properly secured. Since excellence in husbandry, the arts and sciences, commerce, and many other endeavors is a boon to individual men, to society, indeed to all mankind, inequality of outcomes is welcome and just.

These principles, while universally valid for all men in all times and places, are subject to practical limits. First, any social compact--and hence any political community--is inherently particular. Its scope and authority extend only to those men who have consented to its terms, and whose membership has been consented to by all other citizen-members. The equal natural rights of all men do not demand or imply world government or open borders. To the contrary, a social compact without limits is impossible, a self-contradiction. A compact that applies indiscriminately to all is not a compact. If--as the founders insist--mutual consent is an indispensable foundation of political legitimacy, then the political community must be invitation-only. Moreover, the same "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" that endow men with inalienable natural rights similarly entitle the nations of the world to a "separate and equal station" with respect to other nations. "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master," Lincoln said. Applied to international relations, we may similarly express the founders' thought: as no nation is by right a colony, none should be an empire.

Second, as noted, form must fit matter. It is, in the founders' view, a sad but intractable fact that not all peoples in all times and places are ready or able to assume the responsibilities of liberty or to secure their equal natural rights through republican government. (Here is a lesson our own political leaders should have heeded before upsetting the imperfect but--at least before they intervened--stable political order of the Middle East.) The particular traditions, customs, laws, talents, education, religious practices, and private habits of America's largely English-descended colonists made that people especially--perhaps uniquely-- qualified to devise, institute, and maintain a regime based on equal natural rights.

West shows that the founders, far from being hostile to or dismissive of religion, tradition, and other non-rational sources of guidance for human life, saw these things as not only broadly useful for political society but fully compatible with natural rights and absolutely indispensable to a political order based thereon. In the founders' view, it is reasonable that the God who both revealed the Decalogue and is author of the natural world created that world with natural moral principles that accord with His law. The alternative--moral commands with no basis in, or that contradict, nature--seemed to the founders profoundly irrational and implausible.

But the founders also agreed that religions and traditional sources of human guidance should not be authoritative for politics. In Europe, resting political legitimacy on religion led, first, to a millennium of oligarchic stagnation and, later, to bloody religious wars. Any attempt to do so in America would also crash into the many deeply held religious convictions on the new continent. Whose understanding of God would rule? Better to ground politics in a reasoned account of human nature that admits man's inability to know the mind of God and respects each person's equal natural right to follow his own conscience in matters of worship. Similarly, traditions not infringing on the equal natural rights of others were to be tolerated, and even celebrated. Under the new "form," men would be freer to live as men than ever before in human history.

This points to other, closely related but distinct, errors with which West also contends. In doing so, he is unafraid to criticize many eminent scholars, some of them ostensibly on "his side," as conservatives, Straussians, or both. One such error identifies the founding as identical with "liberalism"--in that term's original, Enlightenment meaning--and holds that the founders' political theory emphasizes rights at the expense of duties, or even that the founders' idea of rights logically excludes any concept of duty. At the extreme, this view insists that the founders saw getting and spending as the ends of political life. Another error admits that there is a "republican" as well as "liberal" element to the founding but finds the two in irresolvable tension. Another allegedly irresolvable tension is said to be that between equality and liberty.

West answers all of this, both in the book's more theoretical first part and in its more practical second and third parts. We have seen that, according to the founders, the concept of equal natural rights is logically incoherent without a concomitant duty to respect the rights of others. Morality and virtue, they insisted, are indispensable both for private happiness and for the common good. The former is too often simply identified with "liberalism," the latter with "republicanism," as if the two are always at odds. The founders didn't see any conflict, and neither does West. Similarly, equality and liberty are the two inherent sides of the same philosophic coin. Men are equal in being equally free of domination by others, and they are justly free because they are naturally equal.

Our social compact--republican liberty--requires that the surrender of rights be equal for all men and recognizes that this is what makes a free society functional.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Border Crossings Defy Crackdown (Nick Miroff, 6/01/18, The Washington Post)

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to publish its closely watched monthly arrest totals in coming days, and Trump administration officials are bracing for a new eruption from the president. He has treated the statistics as a gauge for the success of his hard-line immigration policies, and when border arrests fell to historic lows in the months after his inauguration last year, Trump touted the decrease as a personal triumph.

Since then, migration trends have reversed. In March and again in April, border arrests exceeded 50,000, the highest monthly totals of Trump's presidency, sending him into fits of rage, aides say. Trump unloaded on DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a Cabinet meeting May 9, scorching her for nearly 30 minutes over the spike in illegal crossings, while demanding she "close" the border.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 AM



According to Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel, Alexander Downer, the former top Australian diplomat to the U.K., passed information about a conversation he had on May 10, 2016 with Papadopoulos to the U.S. embassy in London.

Downer claimed that Papadopoulos told him during a barroom conversation that Russia had information that was potentially damaging to Hillary Clinton. Downer has said he found the comment "interesting," and contacted his Australian colleagues. The information also made its way to Elizabeth Dibble, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London, according to Strassel.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 AM


Herbert Hoover's Ghost (Bret Stephens, June 1, 2018, NY Times)

In the grip of the Great Depression, the 31st president was under intense political pressure to sign the Tariff Act of 1930, better known as Smoot-Hawley after its Republican authors in Congress. Hoover himself was a somewhat reluctant protectionist. And while 1,028 economists signed a petition imploring the president not to sign, he could not then know that "Smoot-Hawley" would become a byword for economic folly. Between 1930 and 1933, the value of global trade declined from $4.9 billion to $1.8 billion.

Trump has no such excuses. The economy is humming. The overwhelming majority of Americans want more trade deals, not fewer, and are leery of a trade war. Congressional Republicans are broadly pro-trade and aren't trying to push the administration into a political corner. And the opposition to tariffs among professional economists is about as universal now as it was then.

The same might be said for many U.S. executives who know something about how the tariffs will work. On Friday I spoke with Gary Stein, C.E.O. of Houston-based Triple-S Steel, which sells about one million tons of steel products a year, mostly for construction and heavy manufacturing. He calls the tariffs "just juvenile."

"These guys in Washington don't understand how real supply lines work," he says. "You can't crack the economy on the end of a whip like that when you are dealing with real jobs and real people and real products coming across borders. There's a lot of special stuff that comes from only one mill, and now suddenly you can't get it or it's going to cost you 25 percent more."

So what motivates the president to pick these fights? Rust-belt politics surely plays a role. But it's also the same ideological obsession he has held since at least the 1980s -- as dated and ugly as his mullet -- not to mention his sneering indifference to what was once called "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind."

When the Wall Street Journal editorial board (of which I was then a member) asked Trump in 2015 whether he worried that his immigration and trade policies could have disastrous political effects in Mexico, he answered: "I don't care about Mexico honestly, I really don't care about Mexico." Next month, Mexicans, who do care, will likely elect their most anti-American president in nearly 50 years.

...who at least got to govern an America that still honored Jim Crow laws....