• Russia’s UN Ambassador Goes Berserk at Security Council meeting on Syria’s Chemical Bombs

    As the Washington Post headline accurately puts it:

    ‘Don’t you look away from me!’: How a Russian diplomat’s tirade broke U.N. tradition

    Russian diplomat Vladimir Safronkov’s speech on the floor of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday was unusual. Accusing the British of blocking political efforts to end the Syrian conflict, the Russian deputy envoy to the United Nations suddenly wagged a finger at Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s permanent representative to the United Nations, and said: “Look at me! Don’t you look away from me! Why are you looking away?”

    “Don’t you dare insult Russia again,” he added later. . . .

    Safronkov’s tone, not just what he said but how he said it, turned heads. Even RT, the state-funded Russian media network, called the harangue an “extraordinary attack on his British counterpart, using some decidedly undiplomatic language.” –Washington Post

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, March 31

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Michael Flynn’s lawyers float an idea: he’ll testify if House and Senate investigators give him immunity. At issue, Russia’s influence in the 2016 election and their contacts with the Trump campaign.

    The Wall Street Journal broke the story.

    Flynn’s lawyer confirmed it; and now everyone is reporting it.

    According to the New York Times, Congressional investigators want to be further along in their inquiry before deciding how to handle Flynn.

    Comment: The Senate will take the lead here, in cooperation with the FBI. The committee on the House side is tied up in controversy over ties between its chairman, Devin Nunes (R-CA), and the Trump White House.

     Trump begins trade-policy review “as he levels new threats at China”  (Washington Post)

    • The review will cover major products and major trade partners.
    • China’s leader, Xi Jinping, visits Trump next week.

     Historic first: SpaceX launches a satellite into orbit on a reused rocket booster.  A tremendous technical achievement for Elon Musk’s company, one that dramatically lowers costs. SpaceX is aiming to launch new payloads every 2-3 weeks. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ firm, has also reused rockets but has done so on suborbital missions. (Space.com)

     Opiates: Ohio officials, led by Gov. John Kasich, working to restrict painkiller prescriptions (Toledo Blade)

    Calling the proposed rules a “done deal,” Gov. John Kasich said these actions, coupled with a crackdown on the law enforcement side, will eventually reverse Ohio’s distinction of ranking first in the nation in overdose deaths.

    “We’re paying the price right now for a lot of the neglect that happened in the past,” he said.

    In battling their patients’ acute pain, doctors and other health-care providers could prescribe no more than seven days’ worth of opioid dosages for adults and five days for minors. The potency could not exceed an average of 30 morphine equivalent doses per day.

    Physicians could prescribe more than that only after they’ve justified it based on the patient’s medical records. Exceptions would be made for cancer, palliative care, end-of-life, and addiction treatment. –Toledo Blade

     Dumbest comment of the Day: EU top bureaucrat, Jean-Claude Juncker, says he will urge “Ohio and Austin, Texas” to secede from the US if Trump doesn’t stop praising Brexit Story here.

    Comment: Looks like ole Jean-Claude’s been in the liquor cabinet again.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, March 24

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Repeal and Replace goes down to the wire. Vote postponed Thursday, will happen Friday

    The Washington Post reports the President gave holdouts a clear choice: “Trump delivers ultimatum to House Republicans: Pass health-care measure on Friday or he’ll move on”

    The move was a high-risk gamble for the president and the speaker, who have invested significant political capital in passing legislation that would replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act. For Trump, who campaigned as a skilled negotiator capable of forging a good deal on behalf of Americans, it could either vindicate or undercut one of his signature claims. If the measure fails, it would be a defeat for Trump in his first effort to help pass major legislation and it may also jeopardize other items on his wish list, including a tax overhaul and infrastructure spending.

    Defeat would also mean that Obamacare — something that congressional Republicans have railed against for seven years — would remain in place. –Washington Post

     Democrats Plan to Filibuster Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch  (New York Times)

    To break the filibuster, the Republicans need 60 votes and, according to the NYT, they don’t have the 8 Democrats they need to do that.

    Comment: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is playing to his enraged, activist base. I see two main consequences, one for elections, two for the Senate.

    1. D’s from states Trump won by significant margins are made much more vulnerable. They will have to vote with the party base or the larger electorate in their states.
    2. Mitch McConnell will toss out the 60 vote filibuster rule for Supreme Court  nominees, following Harry Reid’s precedent in overturning it for all other federal appointments.
      • McConnell didn’t hold this position open–blocking hearings for Obama nominee, Merrick Garland–to let the Democrats block this appointment.
    3. The change in Senate rules, executed mostly by Reid, alters that body in fundamental ways. It now looks much more like the House, where a simple majority is enough to ram through legislation if you can whip your party in line.

     The NYT’s spin misses the main story:

    Their headline: Devin Nunes Puts Credibility of House Panel He Leads in Doubt

    The real headline story:  Devin Nunes says he has hard evidence the Trump Transition team was spied on; Hints at “smoking gun” connecting spying to Obama Administration (ZipDialog post)

    Nancy Pelosi clearly did not like Nunes’ doing this. She called him a stooge. Presumable the 4th one.

     London’s terror killer identified as Khalid Masood  Now, the Brits want to know how he slipped through their net (Independent, UK)

    Comment: Actually, he slipped through the net twice. The intel services didn’t connect his name to terrorism; they just knew him as a criminal. At this point, nobody knows whether he was connected to a wider network or not. Second, Masood slipped through an open gate and got very near Parliament itself.

    That said, British and European counter-terrorism services face overwhelming tasks. Decades of anti-Western immigrants, who have failed to assimilate, have been systematically ignored by political leaders who thought–quite wrongly–that “nobody would come to Britain [or Belgium or France or ….] unless they wanted to become like us.” Nope. And simply celebrating it as “multiculturalism” turned out to be a catastrophic failure, as Theresa May has recognized.  

    This problem goes far beyond beefing up domestic intelligence and policing. That’s part of the answer, but the problem is much larger.

     Former Russian lawmaker, critical of Putin, gunned down in broad daylight in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. (CNN) Denis Voronenkov joins a long line of former Putin critics. The suspected killer was himself killed by Voronenkov’s bodyguard.

    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called Thursday’s killing a “Russian state terrorist act” on Twitter, and described Voronenkov as “one of the key witnesses of the Russian aggression against Ukraine” — referring to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and a subsequent war with pro-Russian rebels. –CNN

    Ukraine’s president called it an “act of terrorism.”

    Comment: This killing makes Pres.-elect Trump’s excuses for Putin, especially those in his 2017 Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly, all the more noxious (Transcript here)

    “But he’s a killer though,” O’Reilly said. “Putin’s a killer.”

    “There are a lot of killers,” Trump responded. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent.”

     Bright Future for Solar Energy in India: Hopes for a booming domestic market and exports of solar panels manufactured there (Business Insider) PM Narendra Modi wants to spend over $3 billion aiding the industry. In a country where some 300 million are not connected to the grid, the government hopes to draw 40% of its energy from renewables by 2030.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 23

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Health Care Bill in the Intensive Care Unit.

    Doubts Ryan and Trump have the votes to pass the bill in the House, but the arm twisting continues to move Freedom Caucus members to the “yes” side.

    If the vote is postponed, you will know Ryan did not convince enough members on the party’s right.

    The New York Times has the most accurate headline: Leaders Struggle to Unite House Republicans Behind Health Bill. The words in the article are “uncertain fate.”

     Islamist attack near Big Ben and Parliament kills 5, including a police officer, and injures dozens

    The extent of the terrorist’s support network and connections are being investigated urgently by British police and intelligence units.

    Prime Minister Theresa May was resolute in response, saying Parliament would not postpone its Thursday session.

    Comment: Before becoming PM, May was in charge of Britain’s homeland security and was highly regarded in the position. She’s the ideal politician to lead her country through this difficult time.

     “House Intelligence chair says Trump campaign officials were ensnared in surveillance operations” (Washington Post)

    The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday accused U.S. spy agencies of abusing their surveillance powers by gathering and sharing information about President Trump and his transition team, an unproven charge that was quickly embraced by the White House but threatened to derail the committee’s investigation of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.

    Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, said he was alarmed after seeing intelligence reports disseminated after the Nov. 8 election that made references to U.S. citizens affiliated with Trump, and possibly the president-elect himself. –Washington Post

    His Democratic counterpart on the committee, Adam Schiff, immediately blasted Nunes for revealing this to Trump and to the public before disclosing it privately to fellow committee members.

    Comment: I watched CNN’s take on this. It skimmed over the issue headlined in the Washington Post and, instead, emphasized Adam Schiff’s position that Nunes had destroyed the investigation and that an independent commission was now needed. The cable channel virtually ignored the substance of Nunes’ comments, which implied that some intelligence agencies did collect information on Trump campaign officials and might have shared it within the Obama White House, a serious charge.

    CNN panelists kept emphasizing the Russia investigation and suggesting that Trump’s impeachment was a real possibility if collusion was found. The CNN story is here.

     “Iran Charges Russia with Selling Out its Air Defense Secrets to Israel” (Popular Mechanics)

    An engineer with Tehran’s Ministry of Defense alleged that codes forcing anti-aircraft missiles to treat hostile Israeli fighters as friendly were sold to Tel Aviv, effectively neutralizing Syria and Iran’s S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.

    An Iranian official, described by the Jerusalem Post as a senior member of Iran’s Defense Ministry, told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida that Russia had sold “codes” to Israel that identified Israeli aircraft as friendly. The codes were used by Israel to prevent its aircraft from being targeted. Israel has flown dozens of air raids over Syria, and despite advanced air defenses, only the latest raid, flown last Friday, involved an actual missile launch. –Popular Mechanics

    Comment: Well, those allies in the Syrian fight seem to have some differences.

    Hard to know if the Iranian charges are true, but it is known that the Israelis generally have good relations with Russia and have worked assiduously to make sure Israeli planes do not create problems for Moscow when they fly over Syria to interdict Tehran’s shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a client Iran supplies with lethal tools to threaten Israel. Israel, in turn, tries to prevent those ships as they transit Syria, and it wants to do so without creating conflicts with Moscow.

     “New research identifies a ‘sea of despair’ among white, working-class Americans”  (Washington Post)

    Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists [Anne Case and Nobel-prize-winner Angus Deaton] –Washington Post

    Comment: This confirms what Charles Murray wrote in his pathbreaking book, Coming Apart. Murray, you will recall, is the scholar whose presence at Middlebury College set off left-wing students, who rioted, prevented him from speaking, and injured Prof. Allison Stanger, who was escorting him.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, March 22

    Topics and Articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Gorsuch cruises through hearing: Democrats spend a very long day attacking, but they don’t land a punch.

    The best the Washington Post can do is “Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch stresses his independence from President Trump.”

    Comment #1: As if any nominee with an IQ bigger than his shoe size would say anything other than “I am completely independent of the president who nominated me.”

    Comment #2: The Democrats explicitly stressed their support for a “living Constitution,” without saying what restraints they would place on Constitutional interpretation.

    They also highlighted cases where the judge’s decision varied from their policy preference; he rebutted, in a calm way, that he simply interpreted within the four corners of the law. A draw.

    Quick hint for Al Franken: do not attempt to best a skilled professional in constitutional interpretation. If Franken could be embarrassed, he would be.

    Chuck Schumer pointedly noted that no Democrats have yet endorsed Gorsuch. That sounds like they want to filibuster. Frankly, if they do that to Gorsuch, the Republicans will reasonably conclude that no Republican nominee is acceptable to Democrats. That may please their base, but

    • They should realize that Republicans will reciprocate when the tables are turned; and
    • They should recognize that their hard-line opposition gives the White House incentives to pick future candidates who only need to win support from the Republican Senate Caucus.

     Tea-Party Conservatives say they have the votes to block Trump/Ryan healthcare bill.  (Fox News)

    Comment: Who knows? They might have the votes today, but not Thursday. We’ll know if Speaker Ryan postpones the vote.

     Philadelphia’s District Attorney indicted on bribery and fraud charges  (New York Times)

    A 50-page, 23-count indictment accused Mr. Williams of accepting lavish gifts — including trips to a Dominican resort, Burberry accessories, checks for thousands of dollars and a custom sofa worth $3,212 — from businessmen for whom he was willing to do favors. The indictment also accused Mr. Williams of diverting money from a relative’s pension and Social Security for his personal use. –New York Times

     Paul Manafort, former chair of Trump campaign, faces corruption allegations in Ukraine  (Washington Post)

    Comment: The good news for Manafort is that nobody thinks Ukraine is a model of legal purity. The bad news is that he could well be under investigation from a far more serious organization, the FBI.

    Sean Spicer seemed to have trouble remembering that Manafort had more than a passing connection to the Trump campaign. Embarrassing to see the President’s Press Aide deliver this nonsense.

     Britain’s Labour Party, the very definition of “loony left” under Jeremy Corbyn, hemorrhaging members and voters  (The Guardian, UK) 

    Comment: They are not serious competitors for national leadership and won’t be until they jettison Corbyn and return to mainstream policies.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, March 21

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     The top three stories all involve public testimony by FBI Director James Comey

    1. Comey confirms his agency is conducting a counter-intelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, including any possible contacts with Trump campaign officials. He said no one was excluded from the investigation, but said little beyond that. (Washington Post report here.) 
    2. Comey said no US Government agency authorized any wiretaps or surveillance of Trump Tower. He added that no foreign agencies have been discovered doing such surveillance. Democrats focused on stories #1 and #2. (New York Times report on take-aways from the hearing here.)
      • Comment: Comey’s testimony directly contradict’s Pres. Trump’s tweet. So do the comments of senior members of Congressional Intelligence committees, who have been briefed on the matter. The White House is refusing to back down from its allegations and says it will present evidence later. Perhaps. But no one outside the White House is convinced.
      • Sidenote: Fox News judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, asserted last week that British intelligence had done the surveillance and had done so at the request of the Obama White House. That has been vigorously rejected by the British and has not been confirmed by another else. For that reason, Fox News has temporarily taken him off the air, according to the New York Times.
    3. Comey said that a major criminal investigation is being conducted into the “unmasking” of Gen. Michael Flynn’s name from an intercepted phone call with a Russian diplomat.  Republicans focused on this crime, led (as they are so often) by Rep. Trey Gowdy’s skilled prosecutorial questioning. (Los Angeles Times story here.)
      • Comment:
        • The release of Flynn’s name is a felony. US intelligence agencies charged with surveillance of foreign countries sometimes capture their conversations with US citizens. By law, the names of those citizens are supposed to be “masked,” that is, kept secret since they were captured without an appropriate court warrant.
        • VERY few people in the intelligence community, White House, and Department of Justice have access to these “unmasked names.” Professionals say it is probably less that two dozen, all senior political appointees of the Obama Administration, such as National Security Adviser Susan Rice, her number 2, Ben Rhodes, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director James Brennan, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, as well as the President.
        • One of those senior people leaked Flynn’s name to selected reporters, leading to a bombshell story in the Washington Post (link here), and then to Flynn’s resignation. It is possible, but less likely, that another senior administration official learned the information and then leaked it. But the crucial point is that the information itself was tightly held.
        • The FBI is now under enormous pressure to solve this.
      • My Advice: Once the groundwork has been laid, the Department of Justice should convene a Grand Jury and take testimony, under oath. Every official who had access to Flynn’s unmasked name should be questioned.

     Healthcare Bill: House Republicans unveil changes to bill, on which they expect to vote this Thursday. According to the Washington Post,

    The tweaks addressed numerous GOP concerns about the legislation, ranging from the flexibility it would give states to administer their Medicaid programs to the amount of aid it would offer older Americans to buy insurance. They are the product of two weeks of negotiations that stretched from the Capitol to the White House to President Trump’s Florida resort.

    The bill’s proponents also appeared to overcome a major obstacle Monday after a key group of hard-line conservatives declined to take a formal position against the bill, known as the American Health Care Act. –Washington Post

    Comment: With these changes, the bill should pass the House. It will likely require significant changes to gain 50 votes in the Senate (the number needed for a Reconciliation Budget Bill, with VP Pence breaking the tie). The bill will then go to a conference committee to produce a single joint bill, repealing and replacing Obamacare. That bill will then have to pass both Houses before Pres. Trump can sign it.

    Comment: If this process seems unfamiliar, it is only because Pres. Obama never used “regular order,” even when he controlled both Houses. Until then, it had been the normal way to pass legislation (which, in turn, is the normal way the US passes its laws, not via bureaucratic rule-making).

     Neil Gorsuch hearings for Supreme Court  The NYT lists six highlights. Actually, there were zero.

    Comment: Gorsuch made a calm opening presentation, following by Republicans preening (accurately saying he is supremely well qualified) and Democrats complaining (accurately saying they would not be sitting here if Pres. Obama’s nominee had been given a hearing and a vote).

    That’s why Republicans are secretly so grateful to Mitch McConnell, who saved this seat for them. 

     Kudos to the University of Chicago:

    Free tuition for any children of Chicago Public School employees admitted to the University.

    The parents can be children of teacher, nurse, janitors, counselors–anyone employed by CPS, and do not have to be graduates of Chicago Public Schools. (WBEZ)

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