September 3, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


The Taliban Scoff at Trump's Afghan Peace Talks Bluff (Sami Yousafzai, Erin Banco, Christopher Dickey,  09.03.19, Daily Beast)

[T]he longer the talks go on, the clearer it is that the Taliban have the final say. They know Trump is desperate to leave, and they are determined not only to remain a power in their country, but to re-establish what they call the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

"The Taliban have been rather rude with the U.S. throughout the peace process because they have the impression that a withdrawal deal is a desperate desire of the USA, not the Taliban," says a senior European diplomat in Kabul. "Imagine how rudely and offensively the Taliban will treat the already upset and isolated President [Ashraf] Ghani."

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Trump's Wacky, Angry, and Extreme August (Susan B. Glasser, 9/03/19, The New Yorker)

To revisit a month in the life of this President was exhausting, a dark journey to a nasty and contentious place. And, while Trump's performance raised many questions that we can't answer about just what is going on in his head, it was also revelatory: the thirty-one days of August, 2019, turn out to be an extraordinary catalogue of Trump's in-our-faces meltdown.

At first I wasn't sure that anything about Trump's frenetic August was really different. There had been many previous months of dysfunction. He has always courted controversy and trafficked in insults. But then I looked at August, 2017, during the first summer of his Presidency, which was one of the more shocking months of his early tenure. Back then, Trump warned of "fire and fury" against North Korea and spoke of good people on both sides of the white-supremacist march in Charlottesville that culminated in the killing of a peaceful counter-protester. And yet the Trump of two years ago was different--to a degree. He was provocative and insulting and fact-challenged, of course, but to a much lesser extent than he is today. Then and now, he was boastful and braggadocious. He picked fights. But there was much less of that behavior over all--the Trump Twitter archive records two hundred and eighty-seven Trump tweets and retweets in August, 2017, compared to six hundred and eighty in August, 2019--and the volume seems to have been turned up along with the frequency. Today's Trump is not just more prone to misspeaking and stumbling, he is also more overtly confrontational more of the time, more immersed in a daily cycle of Presidential punditry, and more casually incendiary with his words and sentiments.

Is he finding it harder to break through? Does he simply have fewer meetings on his schedule and more free time? Maybe it is all of the above. Trump has such little confidence in his third and current chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, that he's still not removed Mulvaney's title of "acting" White House boss, more than eight months into his tenure. It's also true that the outrage cycle that his Presidency has become requires more fuel than it did two years ago, when the wacky pronouncements and shrill insults emanating directly from the Oval Office were still seen as a shocking novelty. Sure enough, the anger and abuse have dramatically and notably increased. Two years ago, Trump used his feed to criticize, belittle, or humiliate specific targets fourteen times in the month of August. (Interestingly, many were Republican senators who were still offering him resistance, including "publicity-seeking Lindsey Graham," who is now one of his most faithful public promoters; and the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, whom Trump disparaged as a "loser.") In August of this year, the number shot up: the President made or shared fifty-two direct insults on his Twitter feed, by my count. Many were aimed at individual members of the media--from "Crazy Lawrence O'Donnell," of MSNBC, to "Lunatic" Chris Cuomo, of CNN, to "Psycho" Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC, and "pathetic" Juan Williams, of Fox. Other targets who were singled out included "the Three Stooges running against me in the G.O.P. primary"; Denmark; nato; the euro; "car company executives"; "Sleepy Joe Biden" (August 10th: "Does anybody really believe he is mentally fit to be President?"); Beto O'Rourke; liberal Hollywood, "the true racists"; the "anti-Semite" Representative Rashida Tlaib; the "nut job" Anthony Scaramucci, the former Trump White House communications director who finally broke with his former boss last month; and, in a retweet to start off the month, "the nipple-height mayor of Londonistan."

Another frequent target was the Federal Reserve and its Trump-appointed chairman, Jerome Powell. For months, Trump has been crusading against Powell in what appears to be an unprecedented public-pressure campaign to turn the Fed into an arm of the President's reëlection campaign. In August, Trump's focus on the Fed dramatically escalated, as fears mounted about a slowing economy and the intensifying trade war with China. I counted thirty separate tweets by Trump in August criticizing Powell or the Fed, in which the President variously referred to "clueless Jay Powell," complained about Powell's "horrendous lack of vision," and, most strikingly, on August 23rd, blamed the Fed for China's alleged currency manipulation. On that day, Trump tweeted, "My only question is who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powell or Chairman Xi?" [...]

Like his insults, Trump's praise has become more flamboyant, and the list of those whom he Twitter-flattered this August included populist nationalists, such as India's Narendra Modi and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro; the "great leader" and "good man" Xi Jinping, of China; and the shambolic and duplicitous new pro-Brexit British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. The naïveté of his praise is sometimes as alarming as the vitriol of his hatred. On August 15th, with fears rising of a Chinese crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong, Trump tweeted, "If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt!" On August 10th, he revealed a letter from Kim Jong Un in which the North Korean dictator "very nicely" asked for a meeting while offering a "small apology" for his latest missile tests and claimed that the tests would end when U.S.-South Korean military exercises did (they did not).

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Cherokee Nation Names First Delegate To Congress (GRAHAM LEE BREWER, 9/03/19, All Things Considered)

The article outlining the right to a delegate is in the Treaty of New Echota. The 1835 treaty is also the document that led to the Trail of Tears, something that has been top of mind for Teehee. She points out the treaty gave up the Cherokee's homelands and cost the tribe thousands of lives. [...]

Newly elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation Chuck Hoskin Jr. made Teehee's appointment one of his administration's first priorities. He said her ability to reach across the aisle on a number of important areas for Indian Country is what led him to choose Teehee for the position.

"One thing that I have learned is that you never know what the next issue will be, and so we need somebody that is nimble, has studied up on the issues and is a quick study when those things come up," Hoskin said.

For her part, Teehee says she understands her appointment will help bring visibility to a nearly invisible part of American society. And that could have a lasting impact on areas like Indian Health Services funding, education expansion on tribal lands and treaty rights, like the one that led to her appointment.

"The education piece of it also means, what do treaty rights actually mean? Why do these old documents still live today?"

In this case, the Treaty of New Echota, a document that led to the horrors of genocide nearly 200 years ago, could today lead to a new chapter in relations between the U.S. and the Cherokee Nation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Walmart ends all handgun ammunition sales and asks customers not to carry guns into stores (Nathaniel Meyersohn, September 3, 2019,  CNN Business)

Walmart on Tuesday announced it will reduce its gun and ammunition sales, one month after more than 20 people were killed in a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Walmart also pressured Congress to enact gun safety measures.

The company, America's largest retailer, said it will stop selling handgun ammunition and ammunition commonly used in assault-style weapons after selling all of its current inventory. Walmart (WMT) will also stop selling handguns in Alaska, the only state where it still sells handguns. And Walmart will request that customers no longer openly carry guns into its 4,700 US stores, or its Sam's Club stores, in states that allow open carry.
"It's clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable," Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a memo to employees on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Augustine of Hippo, Christian Democrat (Paul D. Miller, September 3, 2019, Providence)

What can Augustine teach twenty-first-century Americans about how to renew a culture of self-government?

Augustine starts from a very different understanding of human nature. Rather than defining us by our ability to reason, he defines us by our ability to love--because that is what it means to be made in God's image. "As a body is impelled by its gravity to move in a particular direction, so the psyche or soul is moved by love. 'By it I am carried wherever I am carried.'"[1] We are defined by the object of our love and devotion. Those who love God are marked by caritas or charity; when we love sinfully, we have cupidity, the libido dominandi--not merely the will to power, but the lust for it.

Put another way, Augustine starts with the biblical view that "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them," (Gen. 1:27). As part of God's good creation--indeed, as the pinnacle thereof--humanity is unique and good, the "greatest adornment of things earthly."[2] For all the naïve optimism of the Enlightenment, Augustine affirms something even more astonishingly positive about humanity: we are, in some sense, like God. And this likeness to God accounts for humanity's seemingly innate feeling for goodness, justice, beauty, and truth. "If the image of God and the law of God were completely obliterated from man's soul by would have no conception of justice, righteousness, or peace," according to Augustinian scholar Herbert Deane.[3]

Additionally, we are naturally social creatures. Augustine melds the biblical idea that "it is not good for man to be alone" with Aristotle's concept that "man is a political animal" and stressed the natural sociability of humankind. "The philosophers also consider that the life of the wise man is a social one; and this is a view of which we much more readily approve. could that City [of God] have first arisen and progressed along its way, and how could it achieve its proper end, if the life of the saints were not social?"[4] This is a key difference with the Enlightenment, which downplayed humanity's social nature in favor of an emphasis on our individuality.

Augustine departs even more sharply from the Enlightenment and complements his view of humanity's original goodness with a stark, even brutal appraisal of humanity's sinfulness. When we love anything more than we love God, we sin--and we become enslaved to that love. "A man is necessarily a slave to the things by means of which he seeks to be happy...those who think to escape servitude by not worshipping anything are in fact the slaves of all kinds of worldly things."[5] Naturally, we all do this. "All men are a mass of sin," he argues. The human race is "sick and sore...from Adam to the end of the world."[6] He sees "man as essentially selfish, avaricious, ambitious for power and glory, and lustful."[7] This naturally leads to selfishness, materialism, and conflict when people struggle to get the basic necessities of life and satisfy their needs--but, contrary to Marx, it does not stop there. "Even if all material desires were satisfied, the lust for power and glory would still remain and would continue to drive men into personal and societal struggles and wars."[8]

Augustine is drawing on the older, pre-Enlightenment understanding of human nature. The book of Genesis says that "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). The prophet Jeremiah laments that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). The biblical view of man is that he is ignorant and foolish at best, downright bestial and wicked at worst. This view differs decisively from the view of human nature found in unconstrained visions, including progressivism and nationalism, as well as socialism, communism, fascism, and more--all of which are premised on the improvability, even perfectibility, of mankind.

Augustinian Liberalism

Humanity's god-like dignity, sociability, sin, wickedness, and brokenness have social and political implications. Because of our sin, "it is therefore absolutely impossible to establish on earth a society or state made up of saints or true Christians. Thus, if we wish to understand how social, economic, and political life operate, and how, indeed, they must operate, we have to start with the assumption that we are dealing, for the most part, with fallen, sinful men," according to Deane.[9] As a result, "every human society from the family to the empire is never free from slights, suspicions, quarrels, and war, and 'peace' is not true peace but a doubtful interlude between conflicts."[10]

True peace and true justice are, in fact, not possible in the earthly City of Man. "True justice, however, does not exist other than in the commonwealth whose Founder and Ruler is Christ."[11] Such a city has never been found among the cities of men. Augustine goes so far as to reject Scipio's definition of a "people" as a group united in their understanding of justice under the reductio ad absurdum that Rome, marred by civil wars and injustice, was not a people under Scipio's definition. True justice cannot be essential to the definition of a commonwealth because if so, there have never been any commonwealths. Instead, Augustine adopts a humbler definition of a people: "an assembled multitude of rational creatures bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love."[12] This is descriptively more accurate and prescriptively more realistic.

This is why Augustinian liberalism is, at heart, a constrained vision of political and society life par excellence. Augustinian liberalism does not pretend we are able to definitively solve social and political problems, eradicate evil, eliminate all poverty, or enable flourishing for every person. It does not try to do most of the things that progressivism or nationalism try to do. It does not burden the state with the responsibility of policing identity, of manifesting the unfolding historical idea of American national promise, or of embodying the heritage and culture of the American nation. Augustinian liberalism expects less of politics.

Augustinian politics is the comparatively humbler task of adjudicating disputes peacefully, allocating power in a roughly fair way, enforcing agreed-upon rules, and upholding the best approximation of justice we can expect in this sinful world. We will never through political action build the Kingdom of Heaven, achieve the perfected American ideal, or revive the fabled organic polity of antiquity. As Deane says, "rebirth and salvation come through Christ and the Church that He established, and not through the activities or instrumentalities of the state."[13] Augustinian liberalism is not merely anti-utopian. It is anti-utopianism: the ideology of principled opposition to utopian politics. All illiberal movements are utopian because of the boundless faith they invest in some leader or group of leaders.

Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM


Nuts and Bolts of the IG Report on Comey: Correcting Misconceptions (Kel McClanahan, September 3, 2019, JustSecurity)

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General's report is as close to a definitive history as one could hope for in the saga of former FBI Director James Comey's handling of memos he prepared documenting his private conversations with President Donald Trump. The IG report describes the meetings he had with President Trump, the memos he wrote, what he did with them, and everything that came after.

The purpose of this article is to explain the practical ramifications of the actions Comey took and offer an educated guess as to the likely reason for DOJ's decision not to attempt a prosecution. As for the rest of the report, at 61 pages (plus 18 pages of exhibits), it is an admittedly long read, but I highly advise anyone interested in this field to read it. It is written in plain English and reads faster than expected.

And yet, the report appears almost designed to be misunderstood and mischaracterized.

For our purposes, the primary point of the report is basically this: Comey violated his non-disclosure agreement (NDA) when he gave copies of four memos to his attorneys, but when one personal attorney, Daniel Richman, provided portions of one memo -- called "Memo 4" -- to New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt, none of the information provided was classified. The secondary and related point is that six words in another memo Comey gave his attorneys -- called "Memo 2" -- were classified at the Confidential level, but Comey did not label them as such and the classification happened at the FBI only after the fact. [...]

[C]omey was not an ordinary intelligence employee. He was the FBI Director. He had the authority to bestow appropriate clearances and "need to know" on his attorneys if he so chose -- until, that is, he was no longer FBI director. Unfortunately, Comey hired all three attorneys after he was fired, so he no longer had that authority. Had he hired them while he was still director, this story would have a much different end.

So, in the final analysis, Comey transmitted four memos he wrote as FBI Director to three attorneys who were not authorized to receive them. That was a violation of his NDA, and it does not even matter whether they actually included classified information or not. That was not his call to make. [...]

[W]hen Comey wrote Memo 2 and did not classify it, it was not classified. When he gave it to his attorneys, it was not classified. When it was later classified by other FBI officials, that designation did not apply retroactively because it went against the official decision of an original classification authority who was also their senior in the hierarchy. Therefore, Comey could not be charged with mishandling classified information because at the time he allegedly "mishandled" it, it was not classified information. He could not be charged with mishandling unclassified information, because that is not a crime.

Posted by orrinj at 12:27 PM


The Benefits of a Progressive Consumption Tax (KENNETH ROGOFF, 9/03/19, Project Syndicate)

One of the main objections is that switching systems would require a potentially complex transition to avoid penalizing existing wealth holders, who would be taxed when they try to spend accumulated savings on which they had already paid income taxes. Yet, in an environment where wealth inequality is rising inexorably, that drawback may be a virtue. Moreover, a great strength of a consumption tax system is that it does not tax saving, and also gives firms more incentive to invest. [...]

Back in the mid-1980s, Stanford University's Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka advocated what was essentially a twist on a value-added tax (VAT) that segregated wage income and allowed for greater progressivity (even more so in a refinement proposed by Princeton University's David Bradford in his "X-tax"). A consumption tax (which is not a sales tax, but rather uses similar information to that required by the existing tax system) is simple and elegant, and could save a couple hundred billion dollars a year in deadweight accounting costs. Importantly, these plans contain a large exclusion so that lower-income families pay no tax at all.

But instead of using an exclusion for low-income households, the system can achieve progressivity by providing a large lump-sum transfer (as in a universal basic income), as suggested by leading Portuguese macroeconomist Isabel Correia, who estimates that her plan would result in both higher growth and greater income equality than under the current tax system. Correia's analysis focuses on the long run, but with a transition suitably designed to protect small family businesses, it should be possible to ensure short-run gains as well.

Of course, in terms of fairness, much depends on how large the transfers and exemptions are, and how low the tax rate is set. Until now, it has mostly been a smattering of Republicans who have favored switching to progressive consumption taxes (though a variant was championed by the liberal icon Bill Bradley, a former US senator from New Jersey). Ironically, one reason the idea has not received broader Republican support is conservatives' recognition that a consumption tax would be so efficient that the government could too easily raise funds to expand social programs.

Tax what you don't want.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Virtue Signalling' May Annoy Us. But Civilization Would Be Impossible Without It (Geoffrey Miller, 9/03/19, Quillette)

We all virtue signal. I virtue signal; you virtue signal; we virtue signal.

And those guys over there, in that political tribe we don't like--they especially virtue signal. (Just as they believe that we do.)

Let's not pretend otherwise. We are humans, and humans love to show off our moral virtues, ethical principles, religious convictions, political attitudes and lifestyle choices to other humans. We have virtue signaled ever since prehistoric big-game hunters shared meat with the hungry folks in their clan, or cared for kids who weren't their own. Our descendants will continue to virtue signal to each other in Mars colonies, and on spaceships heading for other star systems. As humans colonize the galaxy, virtue signaling will colonize the galaxy.

The phrase "virtue signaling" only became popular with the 2016 American election. Yet virtue signaling goes back millions of years, to the origins of human morality. And I've had a love/hate relationship with virtue signaling ever since high school.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Despite promises, Trump's trade deficits are only growing (Neal Rothschild, 9/03/19, Axios)

Among the U.S.'s 15 biggest trading partners, the trade balance has moved in the wrong direction for Trump in 10 of those countries between 2016 and 2018, while the aggregate trade deficit has jumped from $503 billion to $628B.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Amateurs Identify U.S. Spy Satellite Behind President Trump's Tweet (Geoff Brumfiel, 9/02/19, NPR)

The image almost certainly came from a satellite known as USA 224, according to Marco Langbroek, a satellite-tracker based in the Netherlands. The satellite was launched by the National Reconnaissance Office in 2011. Almost everything about it remains highly classified, but Langbroek says that based on its size and orbit, most observers believe USA 224 is one of America's multibillion-dollar KH-11 reconnaissance satellites.

"It's basically a very large telescope, not unlike the Hubble Space Telescope," Langbroek says. "But instead of looking up to the stars, it looks down to the earth's surface and makes very detailed images."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Will 2020 Be Another 'Change' Election? Polls Say Yes (Mark Shields, September 2, 2019, National Memo)

To appreciate Trump's political peril, let us turn to the Wall Street Journal-NBC News Poll, which, guided by respected pollster Peter Hart, has asked voters over the years to assess presidents -- not just separately on the job the president is doing or on the president's personal likability but on both qualities straightforwardly in one question:

Which of the following statements comes closest to your opinion of (the president)?

A) I like (the president) personally, and I approve of most of his policies.

B) I like him personally, but I disapprove of many of his policies.

C) I don't like him personally, but I approve of most of his policies.

D) I don't like him personally, and I disapprove of many of his policies.

The most recent president to win reelection, Democrat Barack Obama, was consistently liked personally by about 7 out of 10 voters (the great majority of whom also approved of most of his policies). Barely 3 out of 10 both disliked Obama personally and disapproved of his policies. For another reelected Democrat, Bill Clinton, 55 percent liked him personally (36 percent both liked him and approved most of his policies), while fewer than 3 out of 10 both disliked Clinton and disapproved of his policies.

Both men, proving the maxim that "before they vote for you, they first have to like you," handily won second terms.

But not so for President Trump. Fewer than 3 out of 10 voters personally like Trump and just over 1 out of 4 both like him personally and approve of his policies. Contrast that with the average of 47 percent of voters who both personally dislike Trump and also disapprove of his policies. This tells us that 2020 should be about change rather than continuity.

we're just negotiating the size of the landslide.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Things Are Big in America (JONAH GOLDBERG, August 22, 2019, National Review)

America is also large of spirit. Foreigners know this and will often tell you this. Abroad, Americans stand out so much, they almost glow. What Texans and Californians are to other Americans, Americans are to much of the world. Our flintiest New Englanders are like cruise directors compared with many Eastern Europeans. We're a deeply charitable people -- far more charitable than any European country, no matter how you measure it.

We've got the biggest businesses, or at least the biggest number of them. We also have the biggest amount of the biggest stuff -- whether it's the world's largest ball of string or the solar system's biggest piñata.

And just like a giant piñata, we contain multitudes. Bigness doesn't necessarily mean sameness. We're generous but quick-tempered, moralistic yet forgiving. (We declared war against the British and then became BFFs. We duked it -- and in one case nuked it -- out with the Axis powers and now we're all buds, too.) Just as you can hit a piñata from any angle and get some reward, America is big enough to be vulnerable to almost any criticism. But those criticisms require focusing on the negatives to the exclusion of the lion's share of positives.

America may be more than just an idea, but man, what an idea.