• ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, November 3

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Bowe Bergdahl, Army deserter held by Taliban, avoids prison sentence (Washington Post)

    Comment: This outcome is shocking. US soldiers died looking for this creep. Others were injured. Lots of resources devoted to finding a soldier who voluntarily abandoned his post and planned for weeks to do so.

    Pres. Trump immediately weighed in, via Twitter. My guess is that Trump’s position will be very popular on this issue. He’s implicitly daring the Democrats to come out on the other side, as many of them did (to their cost) on the NFL kneeling.

    More good economic news: Unemployment down to 4.1%, the lowest rate since 2000.

    Less good: Wage growth slow (Wall Street Journal, subscription)

    Best news of all: Strong Productivity Growth. (CNBC)

    Comments: Productivity growth is crucial. It is the underlying source of real wage growth.

    The biggest problem for the economy now is the misfit between the skilled jobs available and the unskilled workers who are unemployed.

    Tax Bill, next phase: We will find new details (none good, otherwise they wouldn’t be hidden), and gored oxen will come out to save themselves

    Example of hidden details:

    House Republicans claim the tax plan they introduced Thursday keeps the top individual rate unchanged at 39.6 percent—the level at which it’s been capped for much of the past quarter-century. But a little-noticed provision effectively creates a new band in which income is taxed at over 45 percent.

    Thanks to a quirky proposed surcharge, Americans who earn more than $1 million in taxable income would trigger an extra 6 percent tax on the next $200,000 they earn—a complicated change that effectively creates a new, unannounced tax bracket of 45.6 percent. –Politico

    Example of gored oxen:  Republican Tax Proposal Gets Failing Grade From Higher-Ed Groups (Chronicle of Higher Education)

    The House tax-reform proposal released today would discourage participation in postsecondary education, make college more expensive for those who do enroll, and undermine the financial stability of public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education and under secretary of education in the Obama administration, in a written statement.

    In broad terms, the bill would eliminate or consolidate a number of tax deductions meant to offset the costs of higher education for individuals and companies, including the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides a tax deduction of up to $2,000 for tuition, a credit for student-loan interest, and a $5,250 corporate deduction for education-assistance plans. –Chronicle of Higher Education

    Comment: There is also tremendous pushback on the limitations on deducting state and local taxes, led by Republicans in high-tax states.

    These issues will be fought out over the next month, first in House committee, then on the floor in both chambers, then in reconciliation.

     Spain issues arrest warrant for Catalonia’s leader, who has fled the country (BBC)

    ◆ Mainstream media ignore bombshell, documented revelation that Hillary and DNC rigged primaries

    All three major TV news networks completely skip the story (Fox News)

    NYT: nothing

    Comment: It’s not surprising that most Democratic politicians are silent. But the story is a significant one, and it’s omission by mainstream outlets is bias, pure and simple.

     Pressure builds on AG Jeff Sessions, accused of false or misleading statements to Congress. The issue: what he knew Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russia 

    The Atlantic magazine calls it: “Jeff Sessions’ Selective Memory

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Robert Pahre for the Chronicle of Higher Education story

     

  • Pres. Trump’s speech on Afghanistan: The Essential Points

    Here are the essentials of Trump’s Afghanistan policy 

    US policy toward Afghanistan must be considered as part of an overall regional approach, worked out after a major policy review by the Trump administration’s national security team

    • It was striking how little information leaked prior to Trump’s prime-time address. The White House staff was very disciplined, a sharp contrast to previous behavior, when internal opponents advanced their position anonymously in the press.

    The US is staying in Afghanistan and recommitted to the fight.

    We are not revealing operational details, beyond implying that it will not involve large numbers of US troops

    We’re relying ultimately on the Afghans themselves, not on US troops

    We’ve rejected the trial balloon of a US mercenary army (implied but not stated explicitly in the speech)

    We’ve put Pakistan on notice that their territory cannot be a safe haven for Islamic networks that kill Americans or attack US-supported forces in Afghanistan

    • The implication is that Pakistan must deal with these problems or the US will (a dangerous possibility in terms of bilateral relations)
    • Trump’s speech clearly positioned the Afghanistan fight as part of a regional strategy for South Asia.
    • The outreach to India was part of that and will undoubtedly scare Pakistan, which will be split internally on this and may reach out to China (at great risk)

    We are changing our troops’ rules of engagement; instead of tight restraints, the new rule is “kill the bastards”

    No more nation building. America’s only goal is security, for the US and US interests (including our allies).

    To the extent that anyone speaks of a “Trump doctrine,” it will be:

    Kill the bad guys, rely heavily on local partners, hold them accountable, and don’t do nation building.

    What outcome does Trump envision, if his policy works?

    Trump gave a hint of the end-state he wanted. At this stage, he was wise not to spell it out in more detail.

    He wants a political solution. The implication is that the US will not put in enough resources to win unilaterally on the battlefield.

    His implicit goal, then, is not only to keep the Taliban (and their Pakistani allies) from winning but to convince them that they cannot simply outlast the US and thus win a war of attrition.

    Trump explicitly said the political solution could include some elements of the Taliban, as long as that end-state was stable and would not lead to attacks on the US or US interests. Clearly, he thinks that will be possible only if the Taliban don’t think they cannot win unilaterally, or cannot win at a tolerable cost.

    For all Trump’s talk about “winning,” this is really a political compromise, made possible by greater success on the battlefield.

    Comment

    Trump’s initial comments voiced a hope that a divided America could come together, clearly a reference to Charlottesville and its aftermath.

    After that, his speech was very much directed at the military men and women in the audience and offered them strong support.

    Trump’s comments that he initially wanted to pull out were not so much narcissism (as is usually the case with him) and more an attempt to explain to a war-weary nation why it made sense to recommit to the fight there.

    The speech was filled with sharp criticism of the Obama administration’s strategy, without specifically naming Obama.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat tip to David Nix for asking about Trump’s vision for an end-state