ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 25

Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

◆ Speculation grows that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will announce his retirement.

The current Court year ends Monday, and any announcement would come soon after.

Kennedy is 80, was appointed by a Republican, and has served 29 years on the Court, recently as a crucial swing vote.

There are several elderly Democrats on the court, but they want to hang on (if health permits) in hopes of another Democratic president.

Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, have lawyered up to defend against allegations of bank fraud(CBS)

When Jane was president of Burlington (VT) College, she got big bank loans for an expansion project that ultimately failed and bankrupted the college.

The investigation is (1) whether the loans were based on Jane’s false representations about the college’s fundraising and (2) whether Bernie used his office to pressure the bank to make the loan.

 The battle for post-ISIS Syria is shaping up

The background: the Obama Administration did nothing in Syria and pulled out of Iraq, opening the door wide for Iran to control Baghdad and Damascus (the Assad government) and providing political space for ISIS to build its “caliphate” for Sunnis.

The change: Trump dramatically altered US policy, and, under the leadership of Mattis at DOD and McMaster at NSC, the US has been taking the fight to ISIS.

The result: Iran is closing in on ISIS from one direction, the US from the other.

There are three big issues in this end-game:

  1. Will ISIS turn to move civilian attacks in Europe (and possibly America)?
  2. Will US and Iranian forces be able to avoid direct military confrontation as they converge on ISIS’ last strongholds
  3. Who controls what territory in post-ISIS Syria?

An excellent primer on the emerging issues is Udi Dekel’s “East-West-North-South: The Race for Syria after the Islamic State” from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS, Israel)

The current race for control of territory in Syria now appears to be a competition between Iran and the United States, which have established two respective axes – with a vertical American (north-south) effort on the one hand, and a horizontal Iranian (east-west) effort on the other hand. In practice, this is another stage in the shaping of Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State. In the meantime, the country’s southwestern region, from Daraa to the Golan Heights, remains open for activity and influence by Israel and Jordan, which must begin taking action before it is too late. Contacts are apparently underway to formulate a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American strategy aimed at preventing Iranian influence and the presence of its proxies, especially Hezbollah and Shiite militias, in the southern Syria. –Udi Dekel

◆ Political correctness to stop free speech in Arkansas? Yep.

But the University stepped in and did the right thing.

The Univ. of Arkansas’ King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies decided to hold a symposium on honor killings.

The Center’s director, a geosciences professor named Tom Paradise, included Prof. Phyllis Chesler (from CUNY) on one panel since she has published widely on the subject, arguing that scholars have underplayed the role of Islam in these killings.

Three Arkansas professors raised holy hell about it, saying the could never “countenance” Chesler’s participation, even though it would simply be a Skype call.

The Center caved and disinvited Chesler, according to an editorial in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Now, the University has done the right thing.

They removed Prof. Paradise from the center’s leadership, saying “The decision to disinvite a participant for his or her views is not reflective of the values and practices of our institution.”

Comment: The university did the right thing.

 Palestinians “disappointed” after “tense meeting” with Jared Kushner, Trump’s special emissary (The Hill)

Key disagreement: US wants Palestinians to stop paying terrorists for killing Jews.

Palestinian Authority likes paying them. Abbas told Trump it would stop and simply assumed the president knew he was lying.

Trump held him to account.

The PA has also been adamant about keeping incendiary, anti-Semitic materials in their school textbooks.

The larger problems for Abbas: no succession lined up, and the Middle East is moving forward without them.

Comment: My guess: Trump will look at Kushner’s report of the meetings and decide this is not a good time to push forward with negotiations.

Trump has always understood something about these negotiations that most presidents don’t: the US can help if both parties want an agreement. But it cannot force an agreement on parties that don’t want one and aren’t prepared to make serious concessions.

 Oklahoma doctor prescribed so many painkillers, she’s being charged with murder in one patient’s death  (Washington Post)

The patient, Sheila Bartels, received

what drug addicts call “the holy trinity” of prescription drugs: the powerful painkiller Hydrocodone, the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and a muscle relaxant known as Soma.

In total, pharmacists handed her 510 pills that day — all legal, because she had a prescription with the signature of her doctor, Regan Ganoung Nichols, scrawled at the bottom, according to a probable cause affidavit. –Washington Post

Comment: Cracking down on excessive prescriptions is crucial in this fight.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Sam Stubbs
 for the Sanders bank fraud story
◆ Gregg Roman for the University of Arkansas speech-suppression story

 

Important new book: How Pakistan and Iran supported Bin Laden and Al Qaeda

 Documenting how some states helped Al Qaeda

Pakistan has long been known to have supported the Taliban and to have had links with al-Qaeda.  A new book by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, and reviewed here by one of America’s premier terrorism experts, Bruce Hoffman, documents not only how extensive the ties were, but also the important complicity of Iran.

The authors detail Pakistan’s harboring of Osama bin-Laden. 

Yet, due to the Afghan War and its difficult logistics requirements, the Bush administration was ineffective in pressuring the Pakistani regime to take a firmer line toward its own ISI military intelligence service and the refuge they provided.

In turn the Obama administration walked a delicate line with Iran in the hope not only of reaching the nuclear agreement, but of establishing rapport with Tehran.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Bruce Hoffman’s Very Positive Review of Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy’s The Exile

 Hoffman reviews the book at the War on the Rocks blog (link)

The book’s main argument is that neither bin Laden nor the movement he created could have survived without the active support of persons at the apex of both Pakistan’s and especially Iran’s intelligence services. The critical roles played by both countries in sheltering and protecting key al-Qaeda leaders and their families has of course long been known. But no other publicly available source comes as close to The Exile in presenting this familiar story either in as much detail or from the first-hand perspective of the key dramatis personae. New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall’s 2014 book, The Wrong Enemy, for example, had forcefully advanced the same claim regarding Pakistan’s complicity. The Exile goes considerably further: both in fleshing out the story and providing additional substantiation through the new information from multiple first-hand perspectives that Scott-Clark and Levy rely on. –Bruce Hoffman review of Scott-Clark and Levy’s The Exile

Hoffman concludes

The Exile’s main value . . . is in the new light that it sheds on the day-to-day Herculean efforts required simultaneously to protect bin Laden and his family while maintaining open lines of communications to his deputies, acolytes, financiers, and factotums dispersed across Pakistan, Iran, and more distant battlefields.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Robert Lieber, a professor at Georgetown, is one of the country’s leading analysts of US foreign policy, with special interests in the Middle East, Europe, and energy.

His most recent book is Retreat and Its Consequences: American Foreign Policy and the Problem of World Order (Cambridge University Press).

ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, June 24

Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

 Healthcare bill:

  • Another Republican Senator says no (that’s 5).
  • The Democrats go all in on vitriolic criticism.
  • Warren calls it “blood money,” etc.
  • Even Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat, will vote against the bill.

The conventional wisdom is that the R’s cannot get it through the Senate  and that the D’s will escape all blame from voters.

Comment: I don’t think the Democrats are home free on this.

The Republicans will get a lot of the blame, to be sure, if they can’t pass a bill. They should. They have both Houses and the Presidency.

But the Democrats’ entire strategy on everything in both Houses and in the streets is to resist and obstruct.

It remains to be seen if voters will endorse that. I don’t think it appeals beyond the base in NY, CA, and university towns.

Republicans will surely say, “It’s our bill versus Obamacare. The Democrats love Obamacare and won’t do anything but small changes. So now we’re all stuck with it.”

That stance is reinforced by former Pres. Obama coming out so forcefully against the Republican bill.

What happens when voters get the bad news from insurance companies in November about next year?  

Ultimately, the electoral question comes down to this: Which do you hate more? Obamacare or the Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace it?

 Suicide bomber in Saudi Arabia blows himself up, but fails to reach his main target in Mecca: the Grand Mosque (Washington Post)

The [Saudi Interior] ministry did not name the group involved in the attack. The ultraconservative Sunni kingdom battled an al-Qaida insurgency for years and more recently has faced attacks from a local branch of the Islamic State group.

Neither group immediately claimed those arrested, though Islamic State sympathizers online have urged more attacks as an offensive in Iraq slowly squeezes the extremists out of Mosul and their de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria comes under daily bombing from a U.S.-led coalition. –Washington Post

Comment: Remember, bringing down Saudi Arabia was the major goal of Al Qaeda all along. So far, not much progress.

My guess is that the real political risk is related to Saudi efforts to liberalize the economy, which requires freer information and freer women.

 Loretta Lynch, Attorney General in Obama’s final years, is now being investigated by the Senate. Hacked emails from a Democratic campaign official said Lynch “would not to let the Clinton investigation go too far.” That doesn’t look good. Nor does Comey’s testimony that Lynch ordered him to falsely characterize the investigation in public. (USA Today story here)

Another email, now public,

indicated that Lynch had privately assured Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria that the FBI’s investigation wouldn’t “go too far.” –USA Today

The Congressional letter asking Lynch to provide documents was bipartisan, and Lynch has promised to cooperate.

Comment: First, the Senate has to determine if these emails are real or fake. If they are real, Ms. Lynch may be be able to dance around them. For example, “I only meant I didn’t want it to go too far afield” or that she was simply guessing what the FBI would do. (Why would she be talking about such a secret matter to staffers for the person being investigated?) Or that the staffer misunderstood, etc.

The fact that Democrats signed the letter to Lynch indicates the Senate committee, led by Grassley and Feinstein, is operating in a bipartisanship fashion, although it could also indicate that Lynch has reassured Democrats she can defend her position.

Still, the documents now publicly available reek of political interference in a criminal investigation if they are real, not faked by the Russians. As this investigation moves forward, remember, the Democrats refused to allow the FBI to look into their computers after the Russian hack. They haven’t said why.

 When corruption stinks. Literally. The White Plains, NY, city council gave a $175k judgeship to someone who cannot work because she is too fat to climb the three steps to the bench (Daily Caller) Judge Eliz. Shollenberger is chair of the local Democratic Party and all council members are Democrats.

It actually gets worse. Judge Shollenberger comes to the court house with what we will delicately call “gastrointestinal issues,” which leave the place looking and smelling terrible.

Shollenberger further dismayed her colleagues by displaying “complete arrogance” following the embarrassing incidents.

“She would just say, ‘There is a mess over there. I think someone should clean it up,’” a court source told the NY Post. –NY Post, quoted in the Daily Caller

Comment: The over/under on how long it takes for Judge Shollenberger to play the victim here: 2 minutes. “I’m sick” “This is fat shaming.” Etc.

Meanwhile, the public has to pay for a non-working judge and a hard-working janitorial crew.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

 

 

ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, June 23

Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

 Republican Senators introduce their health-care bill. In its current form, the bill is at least 3 votes short of the 50 votes needed. Moving right to capture them could lose centrist Republicans.

On the current vote count, here’s the Washington Post story.

And the criticism from outside groups is fierce. Here’s one report on criticism by healthcare groups (Bloomberg)

Surprisingly, Obama doesn’t like it, either. He posted on FB. I planned to quote it but it runs longer than a Fidel Castro speech.

The best summary of the differences between the House bill (as passed) and the Senate bill (as introduced) is here at the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (link)

Comment: Negotiations ahead in the Senate. Uncertain if Pres. Trump will get involved.

 Russian “Old Believer” Priest tells men to grow beards to “protect themselves from homosexuality”  (Moscow Times)

Comment: I asked an expert, a Mr. W. Whitman,  . . . .

 Quick Tip: If you have a huge weapons stash, don’t get caught shoplifting ammo

Ramadan Abdullah was arrested for theft in upstate New York (Binghamton Homepage)

Police recovered:

-4 loaded handguns
-8 assault weapons
-64 high-capacity ammunition feeding devices
-1 loaded shotgun
-2 rifles
-thousands of rounds of ammunition for rifles, pistols, and assault weapons, including 50 caliber armor piercing incendiary rounds, numerous firearm parts, and flak jackets.

Cornwell says subsequent search warrants executed at other properties tied to the suspect resulted in the seizure of:

-numerous rounds of 38 caliber ammunition
-high-capacity ammunition feeding devices and ammunition
-an additional loaded firearm –Binghamton Homepage

Comment: Mr. Abdullah said that being arrested during his namesake holiday was especially ironic.

 Trump’s infrastructure proposal includes expansion of rural broadband (Engadget)

Comment: This could be a valuable expenditure, if it were done right and not too expensive.

 Qatar’s neighbors issue a long list of demands to end crisis (Associated Press)

The Saudis, Egyptians, and others issued a 13-point list

insisting that their Persian Gulf neighbor shutter Al-Jazeera, cut back diplomatic ties to Iran and sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

In a 13-point list — presented to the Qataris by Kuwait, which is helping mediate the crisis — the countries also demand an end to Turkey’s military presence in Qatar. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the list in Arabic from one of the countries involved in the dispute. –Associated Press

Comment: Getting the Turks out and keeping Iran out are the keys. They also want to shut Al Jazeera. 

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

 

ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, June 22

Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

 Trump proposes major change in immigration policy, barring new immigrants from public aid for 5 years  (Fox News)

Trump’s proposal would build on the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which allows federal authorities to deport immigrants who become public dependents within five years of their arrival. Many of that law’s provisions were rolled back during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, but Trump’s proposal would make more categories of federal benefits off-limits to immigrants.

Currently,states typically have the authority to determine eligibility for local public assistance programs. –Fox News

Those who are here on non-immigrant visas or who are not here legally are already barred in most cases.

The White House is citing studies that show half the families headed by new immigrants are on welfare, compared to 30 percent of non-immigrant families.

Comment: Expect a firestorm.

 The Banana Republic of Illinois. The Wall Street Journal writes a withering editorial: “The Illinois Capitulation: Gov. Bruce Rauner cries uncle on taxes and economic reform” (WSJ subscription)

My friend, Joe Morris, quotes that editorial, writing that Rauner decided to

accede to Democratic legislators’ demands that he “accept a four-year increase in the flat state income tax to 4.95% from the current 3.75%, expand the sales tax and implement a cable and satellite TV tax” is “a political defeat by any definition since Mr. Rauner campaigned on lowering the income tax to 3%, not on restoring the rate close to what it was under the last Democratic Governor” but that “the citizens of Illinois will suffer the most.” –Joe Morris, quoting the WSJ editorial

Comment: Rauner won a rare Republican victory in Illinois by promising to “shake up Springfield,” as his campaign slogan had it. Instead, Springfield, controlled by Boss Mike Madigan, shook him up. It’s hard to see how Rauner can win reelection against strong Democratic contenders, who are salivating.

 Remembering a Federal judge who blazed a trail for women: Phyllis Kravitch  (New York Times)

Broke barriers in Georgia in the 1940s and became the third woman on the US Court of Appeals in the 1979.

Judge Kravitch embarked on her legal career in Savannah, Ga., her hometown, in 1944, more than a decade before women were allowed to sit on juries in the state. Though she had graduated second in her law school class at the University of Pennsylvania, she said in an interview with the American Bar Association in 2013, she was turned down when she applied for a clerkship with a justice of the United States Supreme Court. He told her that no woman had ever clerked at the court, she recalled, and that he did not want to break with precedent.

She was also turned down for jobs at one law firm after another, at least one of which explicitly refused to hire Jews. So she returned to Savannah to practice law with her father, Aaron, who represented black and indigent clients struggling to find legal counsel. –New York Times

 Nancy Pelosi takes the heat for Democratic loss in Georgia special election  (Washington Post)

Comment: ZipDialog made the same point as soon as the election results were in. Pelosi was an albatross for the local candidate. She is for every House Democrat outside the coasts and college towns.

But the WaPo and others who focus on Nancy and Chuck miss the larger point. The Democrats have no positive message. Their negative message is simple: Trump bad.

Bernie had an affirmative message. It was unrealistic, unaffordable, and, if it were ever adopted, catastrophic. But Hillary had no message, and neither does the national party. They are running on the charred remains of social programs begun by FDR and LBJ, plus identity politics.

 Black Lives Matter try to block a Gay Pride Parade in Columbus, OH. Virtually no media coverage despite arrests and injured police.  (ABC6 in Ohio) PJ Media and Heat Street also reported it. No one else.

BLM was protesting a police shooting in another town. Unclear why they decided to use that issue to block a gay parade in Ohio.

Comment: Why does the story matter? Because the left makes a big, big deal out of “intersectionality,” which means all progressive groups must support each other. That’s an old-fashioned strategy (you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours), dressed up in fancy words. But BLM’s action shows its limits. The left knows it cannot easily criticize them (because they would be called the worst word in the lexicon); BLM knows that and exploits it.  

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Joe Morris
 for Wall Street Journal editorial on Illinois
◆ A friend for the Columbus, Ohio, Gay pride versus BLM protest

 

ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, June 21

Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

 The Republicans’ held the Georgia seat vacated when Dr. Tom Price left to head Health and Human Services.

The seat has long been Republican, of the traditional-conservative variety, but was thought to be vulnerable because Trump won so narrowly. The Democrats’ poured in vast sums from around the country and had an attractive, middle-of-the-road candidate (albeit an inexperienced one). He almost won in the First Round of voting. In the Final Round, though, Republicans’ came home and came out, handing the seat to Karen Handel, who has held state-wide office and is well-known in the district.

Comment: The R’s victory is less significant than their loss would have been. If the D’s had won, it would signal that Trump’s vulnerability, and Republicans in marginal districts would begin backing away from Trump and his agenda. A Democratic victory in a traditionally Republican seat would also have made it easier to recruit Democratic candidates for 2018. Now, Democrats realize all those immediate hopes are dashed.

Less obvious: the Democrats “nationalized” the race, and it didn’t work.

Nationalizing the race means focusing on big US issues, rather than local ones. That’s often a smart strategy when the opponent’s party is unpopular. In this case, nationalizing the race mean linking the Republican candidate to Trump. That didn’t work. In fact, the Republican embraced Trump and vice versa. More important, the Republicans, not the Democrats, may have the advantage in nationalizing these races. Nancy Pelosi’s name is poison outside of deep blue states, and any Democratic victor would be voting to make her Speaker. Republican candidates love to make that point.

As expected, Republicans also won a vacant seat in South Carolina, though the race was closer than forecast.

That makes the Democrats 1-4 in special elections (D win in Calif; R wins in Georgia, So. Carolina, Montana, and Kansas). They will be 1-5 after Utah elects a successor to Jason Chaffetz. 

 Today in Islamic Terror in Europe: Belgium. Police killed the jihadist in Brussels’ main train station and safely destroyed his explosives. 

Comment: It’s the thought that counts. Well, that and as many innocent infidels as they can kill.

 Saudi king switches successors. Out: the counterterror chief. In: King Salmon’s son, who is currently defense minister  CBS reports:

The all-but-certain takeover of the throne by Mohammed bin Salman [age 31] awards near absolute powers to a prince who has ruled out dialogue with rival Iran, moved to isolate neighboring Qatar for its support of Islamist groups, and leads a devastating war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.

The prince already oversees a vast portfolio as defense minister. He has become popular among some of Saudi Arabia’s majority young population for pushing reforms that have opened the deeply conservative country to entertainment and greater foreign investment as part of an effort to overhaul the economy. –CBS

Comment: The youth of the heir-apparent contrasts sharply with a series of elderly kings and could lead to a long reign. 

 Mitch McConnell expects a health care bill on the Senate floor by Thursday. What’s in it? No one besides the Republican negotiators knows.

 Supreme Court says that people cannot be banned from the Internet, even if they committed horrible crimes and might be predators on social media sites  (Tech Dirt) The courts’ reasoning: The First Amendment’s protection of free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of due process make it unconstitutional for courts to prohibit sex offenders from visiting social media sites.

 Palestinians continue their non-stop program at the United Nations to deny any Jewish connection to the most-prominent and well-documented Jewish heritage sites  Legal Insurrection article here.

Comment: What’s shocking is how many countries routinely vote with the Palestinians on issues that baldly deny the most basic historical facts. This goes beyond politics and historical denial into outright anti-Semitism.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Miriam Elman
for the article on Palestinians at the UN
◆ Michael Lipson for the Supreme Court decision on the Internet