Recent Posts by Charles Lipson

ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, October 20

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

◆ Tax Cuts, Tax Reform gaining momentum

The Senate passed a Budget Resolution, the essential prelude to any effort to pass tax reform. Without the resolution, the tax bill could be stopped unless it had 60 votes. With the resolution, it needs 50 votes.

Analysis: Whether it can get 50 votes depends on the details, which will affect different states, income groups, and economic sectors differently.

Ending the deduction for state and local taxes, for example, hurts high-income people in high-tax states. That could cost Republican House votes if they represent such districts. (Most analysis misses the point that the state taxes hit high earners more so Republicans from middle-class districts might not be affected.)

Giving everyone a large standard deduction sounds great . . . except to the residential real-estate industry, which thinks it will render mortage deductions meaningless for many middle-income buyers.

Plus, we don’t yet know the breakpoints between tax brackets, so the impact on middle-income families cannot be forecast accurately.

Politically, the Republicans must pass tax cuts. Whether they must pass larger reforms is less obvious. But even “must pass” legislation is a problem for this bunch.

 Unmasking investigation

Obama’s UN Ambassador Samantha Power made more unmasking requests than McDonald’s makes hamburgers. Now, Power has told the House Intel Committee that she did not make those unmasking requests. Somebody else did, using her name. (Fox News)

Since the testimony was behind closed doors, it is unclear if she knew or assented to the requests, if she knows who made the requests, or if “masking” an unmasking request is itself illegal. It is certainly unethical.

Now, the same committee has called Obama’s last Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, to find out what she knows about these unmaskings and the Russia-Trump investigation. (Fox News)

Comment #1: This massive unmasking for what seems like political purposes by the Obama Administration is not only a scandal in its own right. It will have real effects on national security if it blocks the renewal of FISA court authority, which must be done soon.

Comment #2: It has also been reported that the FBI and DOJ knew about Russian bribery to obtain uranium ownership during the Obama years, when Hillary Clinton was Sec. of State. Bill Clinton was paid substantial funds personally for speaking to Russian entities at this time and the family foundation received vast sums (over $100 million) from investors with stakes in the transaction.

This investigation was not revealed to the heads of Congressional Intelligence Committee, as is required.

Moreover, this Russian scandal directly involves the FBI when it was head by . . . . Robert Mueller, now in charge of investigating Russian scandals.

This stinks.

US-backed forces declare “victory” over ISIS in Raqqa after 4-month battle (CBS)

Comment: Now that ISIS is circling the drain, the real question is what comes afterwards in Sunni regions of Iraq and Syria.

Iran and its proxies, Syria and Iraq, are determined to keep the Shiites in charge.

That will fuel more radical Sunni insurgencies like ISIS and Al Qaeda.

Catalonia’s bid for independence: Spain’s central government is now preparing to strip the region of its local powers (Los Angeles Times)

The region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, did not renounce independence despite a Thursday deadline imposed by the central government.

The escalating confrontation between Madrid and Spain’s most prosperous region sent ripples of unease across the continent, where European Union leaders are already wary of fissures within the bloc.

Spain’s worst political crisis in nearly four decades of democracy could hamper a still fragile economic recovery in the country as a whole and cause particular financial harm to Catalonia, which is already experiencing a flurry of corporate flight. –Los Angeles Times

 Comment on Presidents and Fallen Soldier in separate ZipDialog post (here)



Presidents and Soldiers of Blessed Memory: A Comment

As is so often the case, an issue with several important elements has been compressed and distorted, both by politicians and by the media.

Here are a few thoughts on these somber issues, which are now, unfortunately, the subject of mudslinging.

  • It is right and fitting that presidents phone or write the loved ones who gave their lives for our country and for their comrades in arms. How Presidents undertake this terrible responsibility should be their choice.
  • It was wrong and unbecoming of Pres. Trump to criticize his predecessors about their ways of honoring our fallen soldiers.
    • ALL his predecessors were decent, honorable men who took these losses seriously.
    • It is beneath the Office of the President to criticize President Obama on this issue. It should be publicly shamed.
    • Trump’s false and undignified criticism was sufficiently upsetting to Pres. George W. Bush, who has been the most dignified of recent ex-Presidents, that he spoke out publicly, at least indirectly criticizing Trump.

  • It is wrong and unbecoming for others, such as the Congresswoman from Florida, to do the same thing, turning a private moment of grief into her public moment in the spotlight.
    • Her bad behavior was made worse because she took a benign statement by the President and twisted into something malicious.
    • Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, known for her hats and not what’s under them, has now personally attacked Gen. Kelly, a Gold Star father.
    • She’s loathsome.
  • The loss of service members in Niger, which gave rise to this controversy, was a tragic military error, compounded by a lot of uncertainty about the events in their immediate aftermath. It is unclear why the military was slow to reveal publicly what happened.
    • The Democrats have implied that it is Pres. Trump’s “Benghazi” (that is, a high-level political coverup). It’s not.
  • CNN has run the story 24/7. That’s media malpractice. That, unfortunately, is also CNN’s motto.



ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, October 19

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

◆ US consulting firm with ties to the Clintons lobbied on behalf of Russia’s nuclear giant (Circa)

A Russian nuclear executive, whose company was the target of an FBI investigation and who admitted to corrupt payments to influence the awarding of contracts with the Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation, paid millions of dollars in consulting fees to an American firm in 2009 and 2010 to lobby the U.S. regulatory agencies and assist the Russian’s who were then attempting to acquire twenty percent of American uranium, according to court documents, a former FBI informant and extensive interviews with law enforcement sources.

Roughly $3 million in payments from 2010 to 2011 were made to APCO Worldwide Inc., which is described on their website as the second largest lobbying firm in the United States. The firm also provided in kind pro-bono services to Bill Clinton’s foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, services they begin 2007, according to APCO officials who spoke with Circa

and press releases from the company. It was during the same time that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was part of the Obama administration board that would eventually approve the sale of the U.S. uranium to Russia. –Sara A. Carter at Circa

◆ Great News about the US Economy: Lowest jobless claims since 1973 (Bloomberg)

Comment: One-month data contains random effects, but the trend is great.

Head of NBC News dined with Harvey Weinstein, then spiked the well-sourced exposé from Ronan Farrow. Pressure to resign–but he’s still on the job. (Fox News)

NBC says they are not investigating.

NBC News is coming under increasing criticism for its failure to investigate why its embattled president, Noah Oppenheim, spiked a bombshell story that would have been the first to expose Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator.

An NBC spokesperson says the network is not investigating the matter, despite new revelations that Oppenheim sat at small table with Weinstein at an exclusive New York gala in April, when Oppenheim reportedly already knew that his reporter, celebrity scion Ronan Farrow, had obtained damning audio recordings in which Weinstein admitted groping the breasts of an Italian model. –Fox News (link here)

 Screenwriter close to Weinstein highlights Hollywood’s code of omertà: “Everybody f**king knew” (Mashable)

Scott Rosenberg worked with Weinstein and company for almost a decade:

“Everybody fucking knew,” he wrote (not once, not twice, but three times) in a lyrical, near novella-length Facebook response to those shrinking away from responsibility in enabling Weinstein’s behavior.

Hollywood’s general unwillingness to face the music of personal accountability for the rot in their own industry added insult to injury in the onslaught of allegations. Because those (seemingly) well-meaning yet spineless responses only ensure one thing: that this will keep happening. –Mashable

Comment: Mr. Rosenberg’s choice of words is certainly apt.

I just hope this little unpleasantness doesn’t keep Hollywood from preaching to the rest of us.

◆ John Kelly speaks eloquently about his son’s combat death, says he was “stunned” by a Congresswoman’s criticism of Pres. Trump’s condolence call

NYT gives it a straightforward headline: Kelly Speaks About Son’s Death and Criticizes Congresswoman Wilson

CNN gives it an ugly spin: John Kelly’s stirring but incomplete attempt to clean up for Donald Trump

Comment: CNN’s spin, presented as hard news, is shameful.

◆ FUSION GPS:  Founders of the firm behind Trump-Russia dossier take the Fifth (Business Insider)

Won’t talk to House Intel Committee. Refuse to say who paid for the smear job.

Comment: The now-discredited dossier is important because then-director of the FBI, James Comey, used it as the basis for an investigation of the Trump campaign.


Hat Tip to

◆ Tom Elia for the Mashable “everybody knew” story.

Cambridge students given trigger warnings: Shakespeare plays may distress them

The delicacy of these students pales beside that of theology students at the University of Glasgow. More on that in a minute.

At Cambridge, one of the “distressing” Shakespeare plays is named perfectly: Comedy of Errors.

According to The Telegraph (link here):

English literature undergraduates have been advised that a lecture which focusses on Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors will include “discussions of sexual violence” and “sexual assault”.

The trigger warnings were published in the English Faculty’s “Notes on Lectures” document, which is circulated to students.  –The Telegraph

As is so often the case, the warning were included by the ubiquitous bureaucrats and administrations that now attempt to control academic life.

The best response came from David Crilly, artistic director of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival:

If a student of English Literature doesn’t know what Titus Andronicus contains scenes of violence they shouldn’t be on the course.

This degree of sensitivity will inevitably curtail academic freedom. If the academic staff are concerned they might say something students find uncomfortable they will avoid doing it. –David Crilly, quoted in The Telegraph

The Topper???

You think the Shakespeare warning is bad?? Oh, you delicate soul.

Wait for this gem:

The University of Glasgow alerted theology students that they may see distressing images of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and gave them the opportunity to leave the room. –The Telegraph

To assist these students, I have xxx’d out the discomforting parts of these images.


How Pols Wring Money From Businessmen: Chicago Example

The other day, I posted an extraordinary story of abusive political power.

ZipDialog Post: Your property? Yeah, right, pal. I got friends who want it

First, the story in a nutshell. Then, the larger meaning.

Alderman Bullies Property Owner to Help a Friend

Chicago Alderman Proco Joe Moreno wanted to help a business [Double Door Music Hall] that had contributed to his campaign coffers. So he told Brian Strauss, a firefighter and property owner, to rent his building to the business or suffer the consequences. When Strauss refused to comply, Moreno made good on his threats, downzoning Strauss’s building and scuttling multiple attempts to sell the property.

Strauss is now suing, arguing that Moreno’s abuses of his aldermanic powers violate Strauss’ rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. –Reason blog (Link here)

Fortunately, some of the strong-arm tactics were caught on cellphone video.

It has also been investigated and reported by CBS2 Chicago, but largely missed by the local media.

Chicago politicians acting badly is a “dog bites man” story in Chicago, just as it is in New Orleans or New Jersey–but not Minneapolis. Some jurisdictions are actually pretty honest; the voters demand it and toss out the miscreants.


The Larger Meaning, Beyond the Usual Chicago Political Stench

The larger meaning of the Moreno story is that politicians who can impose costly rules and regulations (or waive them), who can violate property rights and contractual rights with ease (or respect them) can use that discretion to extract benefits for themselves or their campaigns.
If I, as an alderman, can prevent Chick-Fil-A or Walmart from erecting a store in my ward, as Alderman Moreno also did, then I can either
  • Extract donations from Chick-Fil-A or Walmart
  • Extract donations from their potential competitors or others who don’t like them, such as grocery owners and their unionized workers in Walmart’s case.

Those political uses of weak property rights illustrates something significant–well beyond Chicago.

When most people think of strong property rights, they think (correctly) that they are essential for economic growth. Why invest if the state can come and steal your profits?

What they miss is a second implication: strong property- and contractual-rights constrain overreach by the state.

That’s why FDR had to knock them down in 1937. They were blocking his New Deal programs, which had been ruled unconstitutional because they violated citizens’ economic rights.

FDR told the Supreme Court Justices that, if they didn’t rule his way in the future, he would pack the court with more judges who favored him. This threat went beyond traditional appointments; there were no Constitutional limits on how many judges sit on the Supreme Courts, just as, at the time, there was only a norm (not a law) saying Presidents could not run for a third term. Faced with FDR’s threat, the judges caved in and began ruling New Deal programs were just fine with them.

Aldermen use the same logic in a slightly different way: they say, I already have the power to crush you. So, give to me or I will.

Bottom Line

Whether the rights are free speech, free association, property, or contract, the message is the same. The state will overreach unless its limits are well-specified and institutionalized.

That’s a Core Western Value. It ought to extend even to Chicago aldermen.

ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, October 17

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

Biggest story of the week is just under the radar: China’s Xi is consolidating his power to become most powerful leader since Mao

Comment: This week’s Party Congress, held every five years, is the moment when Xi will try to push aside many of the constraints installed after Mao to prevent one-man rule. He has already done a lot of that, installing his people in the military and using the anti-corruption campaign to remove adversaries (and leave political friends and family untouched).

By the end of the week, we’ll know if Xi has succeeded since some rule-breaking will be obvious by then (particularly waiving a rule that would require his political enforcer to retire because of age).

 No Cigar for the Drug Czar: Nominee Tom Marino Withdraws after news reports he weakened an anti-opioid bill (Washington Post)

The Washington Post/CBS 60 Minutes piece showed he not only weakened the bill, his office was very close to big pharma companies with interest in the legislation.

Comment: The swift move by Trump was inevitable after the report, given Trump’s focus on the Washington Swamp and the importance of opioid issues to the country and especially to his base.

 FBI Uncovered Russian Bribery Plot Before Obama Administration Approved Controversial Nuclear Deal with Moscow (The Hill)

  • Clintons were involved
  • The FBI kept it all under wraps

Before the deal was approved

The FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill. –John Solomon and Alison Spann in The Hill

Austria’s new leader: very young (31), very opposed to floods of new immigrants (x)

NYT headline: Austria Shifts Right as Refashioned Conservatives Win. Socialists finished third, slightly behind nationalist-populist “Freedom Party”

Under Mr. Kurz, the staid, traditionally conservative People’s Party was refashioned into a social-media-savvy political movement that attracted hundreds of thousands of new supporters in a campaign focused on limiting immigration and strengthening the country’s social welfare system.

Kurz will need to form a coalition government.

The most likely coalition partner appeared to be the nationalist, populist Freedom Party, which initial results showed winning 27.1 percent of the vote. The party complained during the election campaign that Mr. Kurz had stolen its playbook, seizing on issues like limits to immigration and the threat posed to Austrian identity by Islam.–New York Times

North Korea warns that “nuclear war could break out at any moment” (Bloomberg)

Comment: Kim Jong Un’s desire for a deliverable nuclear arsenal is comprehensible as a defense for his regime. These kinds of threats are not comprehensible–or are badly misjudged. Presumably, they are trying to move the US off any military option. But Kim’s statements do highlight the very real danger of accident or inadvertent escalation.

 Trump and McConnell show unity . . . at least for now

The New York Times story is here.

Comment: It is all tactical, and it’s all about the tax reform bill, which is essential politically for Republicans on the Hill.

They will also look for other areas to notch some wins, including judicial nominees, which have moved far too slowly through the Senate, as conservatives see it. Democrats have used every delaying tactic on the nominees and Republicans have let them get away with it.


Hat Tip to

Clarice Feldman for the FBI-Russia story

The Cubs’ Troubles Described in 5 Words

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Those Five are:

  • Weak Middle Relief
  • Slumping Sluggers

Comment: The North Siders, down 2-0 in a best-of-7-series, are not out of it yet. The Dodgers are good, but so are the Cubs.

The Cubs have outstanding starters, an excellent defensive infield and catcher, and normally effective power hitting from the first- and third-basemen.

They have a good (one-inning) closer, though Los Angeles has an even better one who can go longer.

In Joe Maddon, we have a savvy, experienced, and calm manager.

But we’ve had erratic pitching between the starter’s exit (around inning 6 or 7) and the closer’s appearance in the 9th. We’ve filled the gap only partially by using starters as middle relievers. Los Angeles has a stronger, deeper bullpen.

And we will suffer offensively until Bryant and Rizzo return to form.

Here’s hoping the Friendly Confines live up to their name as the Cubs return home.

ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, October 16

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

◆ North Korean Cyber Threats: A Growing Problem

New York Times has a major article

What’s different about these hacks by a state actor? They are mostly about financial extortion.

The country’s primitive infrastructure is far less vulnerable to cyberretaliation, and North Korean hackers operate outside the country, anyway. Sanctions offer no useful response, since a raft of sanctions are already imposed. And Mr. Kim’s advisers are betting that no one will respond to a cyberattack with a military attack, for fear of a catastrophic escalation between North and South Korea. –New York Times

Comment: Since all of North Korea’s internet connections run through China and they house their “outside the country” hackers there currently, why does Beijing permit it? And why don’t we hold Beijing accountable? If they are in Tehran, then hold them accountable.

Comment #2: Some of North Korea’s actions are about security but this one is about money. For decades, the regime has used kidnapping, forgery, hacking, and all the other Tony Soprano techniques to get it. A side-benefit for them is that they acquire skills that could later be used for security-related attacks or defense.

Leading journalist in Malta who reported on government corruption killed by car bomb (Politico Europe)

Caruana Galizia, 53, had spent the last year publishing stories about allegations of corruption involving Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his closest allies. The story first came to light in the Panama Papers scandal — a leak in April 2016 of more than 11 million documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.

She subsequently published stories alleging that Muscat’s wife, Michelle, received $1 million from the daughter of Azerbaijan’s president through a company set up by the same law  –Politico Europe

Comment: When you  kill journalists very publicly in Europe, you are taking a huge political risk. That means the dangers from the corruption story must be very, very damaging.

Claude Rains award for being “shocked, shocked” to hear these allegation of corruption goes to Malta’s Prime Minister.

 Clinton Foundation decides to keep Harvey Weinstein’s donations (Washington Times)

Comment: These two are made for each other.

Neither one could find truth, integrity, or honesty if they were stapled to their butts.

Too Centrist? Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) gets a primary challenge from the left (Los Angeles Times)

The challenger is Kevin de León, head of the state Senate. His campaign will focus on progressive issues and attack Feinstein as “soft on Trump.”

Comment: More on ZipDialog as the polling begins to emerge.

Bowe Bergdahl finally pleads guilty in connection with his disappearance in Afghanistan (Washington Post)

He pleads to charges of desertion and “misbehavior before the enemy.” Key facts:

  • He went AWOL after carefully planning the disappearance
  • He was held captive by Taliban for 5 years
  • Bergdahl was returned after Pres. Obama released five senior Taliban captives from Guantanamo in a controversial prisoner swap
  • Obama announced the deal in the Rose Garden, next to Bergdahl’s parents (who have consistently defended their son’s actions)
  • Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, went on Sunday talk shows after the release to say, falsely, that Bergdahl had served with “honor and distinction.”
  • Thousands of US soldiers hunted for Bergdahl after his disappearance and some were killed in the effort.

Comment: Who has to break the news to Susan Rice?





The Clinton Foundation Decides to Keep Donations from Harvey Weinstein

◆ Clinton Foundation decides to keep Harvey’s money (Washington Times)

It’s all about helping women, don’t ya know.

Comment: The Clinton Foundation consulted its moral conscience, found it missing in action, and went with the money.

Who’s gonna administer it?

According to a flurry of texts, the frontrunner is Anthony Weiner.

To call this move “tone deaf” is an understatement