• ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, November 6

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

    Trump in Asia: What Matters about the Trip (a comment)

    The trip has three main goals, all important but in tension with each other

    • Contain or eliminate North Korean nuclear threat to US and US allies (depends on China’s cooperation)
    • Reduce China’s trade surplus with US, ideally by opening China’s domestic market to US exports
    • Deter an expanding Chinese threat in South China Sea (reinforce America’s partnership with nations surrounding China)

    Trump is also likely to meet with Putin, with North Korea, Syria, and Iran as major topics

     Texas church shooting: A crazed, well-armed guy furious with his former in-laws, who worshipped at the church he attacked

    That’s the report from local news outlets in the San Antonio area (KSAT in San Antonio)

    Comment: Some commentators will stress his beliefs (“he was an atheist”). That is not what drove him. Anger and crazed impulsiveness, not ideology, are the drivers here.

     Mueller Leaking: NBC reports he has enough evidence to charge Mike Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser

    Special ZipDialog commentary here

    Another college attack on free-speech: Vassar students smear Wm. Jacobson (of Legal Insurrection blog) because he supports free speech (USA Today)

    Comment: Vassar, like so many small, elite colleges, is suffused with hard-left ideology.

    They should call these schools “Illiberal Arts Colleges.”

    Chicago nearing 600 homicides, most since 2003 (Chicago Tribune)

    How bad is it? The city has instituted a new program to show people how to stop bleeding from gunshot wounds (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: N

    Investigators suspect US journalists were paid to spread materials from the Clinton/FusionGPS/Russian Dossier (Washington Times)

    In U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Fusion GPS, the dossier’s financier via the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign money, is fighting a House committee chairman’s bid to find out if the opposition research firm paid journalists.

    In U.S. District Court in Florida, a self-described dossier victim wants a judge to order the news website BuzzFeed, which published the dossier in full, to disclose who gave it to them. –Washington Times

    Comment: Fusion GPS is fighting so tenacious to prevent any disclosures of their receipts and expenditures, you can’t help but think they might have something to hide.

    Pleading the 5th Amendment before Congress was also a hint.

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Tim Favero for the Vassar, William Jacobson story

     

  • 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.

  • Your property? Yeah, right, pal. I got friends who want it

    The headline: “Chicago Alderman Who Told Businessman to ‘Come Back To Me On Your Knees’ Sued for Abuse of Power (Reason’s Hit and Run blog)

    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

    The story Reason reports is grotesque.

    The key for outsiders to understand: Chicago alderman hold tremendous power to zone buildings within their ward. That power to zone translates, naturally, into campaign donations from people with zoning needs.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Strauss’ family has owned the building housing Double Door since the 1960s. It’s in a now-popular area. According to Strauss, Double Door had violated their lease and he wanted to evict them.

    That’s when Alderman Moreno, the recipient of campaign donations from Double Door, stepped in–with rage and power:

    “I’m tired of hearing about the sympathy of you and your family,” the alderman reportedly told Strauss and his attorney at one meeting. “Double Door is going to be in that building, there will never be another tenant in there, there will never be another sign on that building.”

    Over the coming months, Moreno—in meetings brokered and attended by staffers for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—tried to get Strauss to sell his building to Double Door for $7 million, despite its market value of nearly $10 million.

    When that failed, the alderman started introducing downzoning proposals for Strauss’s property that would have made it off limits for most business uses. In June 2017, Moreno even tried to reclassify the building as a residential unit, which would prohibit practically all commercial uses.

    That failed, but in September the city council did pass a downzoning ordinance, which prevents Strauss from converting his property to a general restaurant, a bar, or even, ironically, its previous use as concert venue.

    In a very public, and very disturbing, encounter with Strauss, Moreno made clear his zoning changes were all about extracting concessions.

    “You can come back to me on your knees, which is going to happen,” he raged. “It’s gonna be an empty building with no income for you or your family.” –Reason blog

    In fact, Strauss has tried to sell but he says three sales have fallen through because of the zoning changes.

    Now, he’s suing, saying that Moreno’s “extreme and outrageous” conduct amounts to a taking of his property without due process.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    CBS2 Chicago investigated. Their findings confirm Moreno’s bullying behavior, some of it caught on cell phone video.

    Their headline: [CBS] 2 Investigators: Alderman Threatens To Ruin Landlord’s Business

    In the video, Moreno says he’s upset over the “tragedy” of the club’s closing.

    “It’s a part of life,” Strauss says.

    “Right,” Moreno says. “And part of life is also that you’re not going to have a tenant in here for three years.”

    The fight reportedly stems from Moreno wanting to keep the Double Door, a campaign donor, in the building. –CBS2 Chicago

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Another news investigation, this one by a former Inspector General for the city, has reached the same basic conclusions (Project Six investigations)

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comment: If the story reported by Reason and CBS2 is true, then the alderman’s conduct was “extreme and outrageous”–and utterly true to form for Chicago city government.

    Alderman have extensive control over zoning in their wards. Fellow aldermen defer to each other, enjoying the benefits of reciprocity and fearing anything that would undermine it.

    Their power to zone translates into the power to raise donations from anybody with real estate interests.

    It’s the circle of life in politics.

    My question: Why is this only a civil case? The actions alleged ought to be investigated as possible felonies by federal attorneys. (Expecting state attorneys to do such investigations of fellow pols is crazy talk.)

    Thanks to Tom Elia for this story.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, September 27

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

    Roy Moore wins in Alabama Republican Primary. Trump endorsed the loser, but it is still a victory for Trumpism, right-wing populism 

    Biggest loser outside Alabama: Mitch McConnell, who convinced Trump to get involved on the losing side.

    My guess is that Trump is beside himself with fury at McConnell. The only thing keeping them from all-out war is the need to pass tax reform.

    The main newspaper/website in Alabama has a concise headline on the outcome: Roy Moore rattles GOP in win over Luther Strange. They expect a “donnybrook” in the general election.

    I have a separate post on the politics of Moore’s victory (here)

    Comment on origin of word “donnybrook”: I hadn’t seen the word in a while and wondered where it came from.  I was shocked, shocked to find it is an area of Dublin, known for . . . .

    Tax Cuts and Reforms to be unveiled on Wednesday. More on that later this week when the details are available.

    The goal is to simplify, cut rates, and stimulate growth.

     The Health Care repeal and reform has died for this year. All that talk. No action. 

    The New York Times report is here.

    Comment: The Senate Republicans are in such a knot, they can’t even hold “regular order” hearings on the latest proposal, Graham-Cassidy’s federalist proposal.

    McCain and Susan Collins put the stake in it, but several other Republicans were also “no” votes.

     Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, won’t run for reelection. He is a center-right Republican from Tennessee (Washington Post)

    Two Chicago police officers “take a knee” in the police station. They are reprimanded by the department–but Mayor Rahm Emanuel offers no criticism (Chicago Tribune)

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, September 22

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

    ◆ North Korea was sufficiently flummoxed by Trump’s speech that it postponed its own UN speech til Saturday

    The official NK media called Trump names normally heard only at Antifa rallies: “Mentally Deranged U.S. Dotard” (New York Times).

    The word itself is sufficiently odd that the Washington Post had to run an article explaining it. (Link here) Short definition: A person in his dotage.

    His latest threat is an H-Bomb test over the Pacific (Wall Street Journal, subscription)

    Comment: Expect fire and brimstone from the North Koreans at the UN on Saturday.

    This is not going to end well.

    The really big news is that China’s Central Bank has told all the country’s banks to stop all dealings with North Korea. That’s a major step, one Trump himself called unexpected (Reuters)

    It does not mean all banks will comply, but the penalty (from the US and perhaps China) will be severe for cheating.

    North Korea will undoubtedly try to utilize other currency streams: British Pounds, Euros, Gold, Bitcoins, whatever, but I expect London and Frankfurt will follow Washington’s lead on this.

    Comments:

    1. North Korea is very canny in finding and hiding new sources of financing. The US and others will have to monitor transactions very carefully and punish violators harshly.
    2. It is quite likely that Pres. Trump’s very strong speech to the UN and the credibility of US military threats moved China to take measures against North Korea it clearly did not wish to take and has avoided for two decades.

    Raging Bull Jake LaMotta dead at 95. Champion fighter in the early post-war years was subject of Scorsese movie(New York Times)

    Obama Presidential Library getting lots of pushback from black neighborhood (Chicago Tribune)

    Now that Obama is about to build his presidential center in Woodlawn’s Jackson Park, some residents are wary of his ability to transform neighborhoods without doing harm to longtime residents who could end up displaced by gentrification.

    A nasty fight over a community benefits agreement with the Obama Foundation has exposed an unexpected rift between the former president and some of the South Side residents who helped lift him to prominence. –Chicago Tribune

    Comment: Part of the issue is “rent seeking.” Locals want a cut of the action, and Obama won’t sign an agreement with them.

    Another part is that the whole complex, including a fancy golf course, is an upscale project on the lakefront. Pres. Obama had a chance to build it two miles away, in an area with much better transportation and a neighborhood that really needed it.  He preferred the more prestigious site instead. Finally, a lot of the pushback is that activists claim his presidency “didn’t do enough for black people.”

    According to the Tribune:

    At a community forum Wednesday night, a discussion about the proposed agreement morphed into a shouting match over whether Obama actually loves black people. One man in the audience yelled, “No,” while others said he wasn’t necessarily “their brother.” –Chicago Tribune

    ◆ Paging Alex Haley

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, September 20

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

    Pres. Trump’s speech to the UN was blunt and aimed squarely at North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela 

    It combined two main elements:

    1. A traditional Republican assertion of US military strength and global engagements
    2. Trump’s own nationalist, anti-globalist agenda, praising “strong sovereign nations” (not international institutions) as the basis of global order

    The blunt language attracted a lot of attention. Conservatives (including many who don’t support Trump) were positive. Liberals cringed, longing for Obama’s soft tone, soft policies, and strategic patient.

    He called the nuclear deal with Iran “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.”  He spoke of Iran’s aggressive support of terror and expansion in the Middle East. He specifically spoke about the threat from “Radical Islamic Terror,” words his predecessor never used (and that Trump himself has used less often in recent months).

    He said nothing about “democracy promotion,” a centerpiece of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.

    His comment on Venezuela was equally blunt, saying they had turned a rich country into an impoverished failure and done so not because it misapplied socialist policies but because it applied them exactly as they were intended.

    Without using the term “axis of evil,” his speech clearly echoed those themes from Pres. Bush’s War on Terror.

    As CNN put it, “No American President has ever spoken to the world like this,” calling terrorists and some nations “evil.”

    The best comment about the speech came from

     

    Rich Lowery in the National Review Online:

    As someone said on Twitter, never before has been there so much murmuring of “holy sh**” in so many different languages.

     Two natural disasters: 

    1. Cat 5 Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico with 175 mph winds, the second major hurricane within a month
    2. Mexico suffers a 7.1 magnitude quake.

    Numerous casualties and fatalities from both, unfortunately.

    Comment: The best way to keep up with news about each is with your favorite breaking-news site online. The cable channels will show you the gritty aftermath but take hours to give you the hard news you can get in a few minutes reading.

    Republicans on the hill embrace big tax cuts, even if they increase the deficit (New York Times)

    Senate Republicans, abandoning a key fiscal doctrine, agreed on Tuesday to move forward on a budget that would add to the federal deficit in order to pave the way for a $1.5 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.

    The Republican lawmakers, under mounting pressure to score a legislative win on taxes, say a tax cut of this magnitude will stimulate economic growth enough to offset any deficit impact.

    Yet critics say a deficit-financed tax cut is at odds with longstanding Republican calls for fiscal discipline, including that tax cuts not add to the ballooning federal deficit.

    Comment: Tax bills must originate in the House, which is dribbling out some information but not the key details. Those should come in the next week or so.

    Former Chicago cop, wanted for shaking down drug dealers, has been arrested in Detroit after 15 years on the run (Chicago Tribune)

    He and his gang of corrupt officers were tripped up in 2001 when they tried one ripoff while the dealer happened to be on the phone with his girlfriend. She mistakenly thought another drug dealer was the robber and called the cops. Honest cops showed up, saw what was happening, and that was the beginning of the end.

    Turkey increasingly uses its thuggish, dictatorial tactics in Western democracies. It did it again this week

    They did it in May, 2017, when Turkish security officers assaulted peaceful demonstrators in Washington, DC. (New York Times report here.)

    This week, they tried to stop a speaker at a conference in Philadelphia. The event was hosted by the Middle East Forum (MEF) for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, known as NATO-PA.

    NATO PA organizers asked that MEF remove a speaker, Emre Çelik, from the program in response to a demand issued by the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. MEF removed the speaker from the program, but invited him to address the gathering anyway.

    When Çelik rose to speak, the Turkish delegation grew visibly agitated and acted quickly to shut down the event. –Middle East Forum

    Daniel Pipes, who heads the Middle East Forum, spoke plainly about the incident, which was captured on video:

    President Erdoğan’s attempt to stifle free speech at a Middle East Forum event today was despicable. We did not accept it. –Daniel Pipes

    The MEF report on the incident is here.

    Paul Manafort wants investigations of leaks, which may have come from Special Counsel Mueller’s office, which is trying to rachet up the pressure on Manafort (Reuters)

    “If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” [Manafort’s spokesman said].

    “The U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General should immediately conduct an investigation into these leaks and to examine the motivations behind a previous administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent,” he said.

    The special counsel’s office and the FBI both declined to comment on Maloni’s statement. They also did not comment on CNN’s original report about surveillance of Manafort. –Reuters

    Comment: There are several disturbing aspects of this story, all requiring serious investigation. Manafort’s role is obviously one. So is the apparent release of secret information, the presence of a government wiretap on the manager of a political campaign, the possibility President Trump was picked up on the surveillance, and the statements by several Obama administration intelligence officials that they knew of no such surveillance. It is unclear if those officials made false statements under oath.

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  • Chicago’s fine politics: Election board lists more general election votes than voters in Chicago

    Not one or two extra votes. 14,000 votes more than registered voters.

    The Chicago City Wire reports that Chris Cleveland, the chair of Chicago’s Republican Party, filed a FOIA request with the election board “on a whim.”

    That’s when the “discrepancy” appeared.

    Mr. Cleveland said that the Chicago Republicans have asked the board repeatedly since January to explain the discrepancy, but is has responded by saying only that “there will be a final report.”

    “I heard through a back channel that they are scrambling to put something together as a way of explanation,” he said. “This is either a case of massive incompetency or massive fraud.” –Chicago City Wire

    The board is coming up with an explanation. Their current version is that not all eligible voters were entered into the electronic system.

    But they’ll get back to you on that.

     

  • It’s the Chicago “Safe Summer” sports league, so what could possibly go wrong?

    0 No tags Permalink

    “The whole idea behind it was to keep kids safe.

    And then it evolved into what it did,” said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. (Chicago Tribune story here.)

    According to the Tribune:

    Police finally canceled the event after fighting broke out. At least one video circulating on social media showed two girls brawling with each other as some people in the crowd jumped in, striking the women. –Chicago Tribune

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

  • Kudos to a Chicago DA fighting FOR a prisoner’s rights

    Normally, the prosecutor gives a big “thumbs up” when a judge keeps a suspect in jail.

    Not this time.

    The second-ranking prosecutor in Cook County (Chicago) not only gave a thumbs down, he risked contempt of court by arguing so vociferously against the judge.

    • The judge: Nicholas Ford, known for his tough sentences.
    • The prosecutor: Eric Sussman. (Full disclosure: I have known Eric all his life.)
    • The defendant: Karen Padilla, held on several charges and mother of a new baby, born in jail

    The Chicago Tribune reports (link here):

    A longtime Cook County judge and a top prosecutor repeatedly shouted at each other Monday at a tense hearing over whether a pregnant woman should have been jailed without bail for more than a month this summer.

    “I have every right to hold her,” said Judge Nicholas Ford, a former prosecutor known for imposing tough sentences.

    “You do not!” countered First Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Sussman, his voice raised.

    At times, the argument grew so heated that the two talked over each other, making their comments nearly unintelligible, as Karen Padilla stood nearby with her 3-week-old daughter strapped on her chest in a carrier. –Chicago Tribune

    The defendant, Padilla, had several significant charges pending, none violent. Her current problems began when she was pulled over for a traffic violation, admitted that she had no driving license, and, when her records were checked, was found to have an outstanding arrest warrant (she was charged with pocketing customers’ payments at a restaurant where she worked).

    So, she was taken to jail and was scheduled for a hearing, where she might be released, pending a trial date.

    Because her hearing was delayed (no judge was available, apparently), the 25-year-old mother stayed in jail and gave birth there.

    “Mr. Sussman, this is simple,” [Judge] Ford said.

    “No, it’s not,” Sussman interjected, his voice raised, and the two again began to shout over each other.

    “She had to give birth to her daughter in jail!” said Sussman, noting that Padilla couldn’t afford to pay restitution or fees as she was ordered. “This is not a debtor’s prison you’re running, your honor … and you illegally sentenced her to jail.”

    “I didn’t sentence her to anything,” Ford shot back. –Chicago Tribune

    Padilla was ultimately released on her on own recognizance.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comment: I couldn’t be prouder of Eric Sussman for his conduct in this case.

    I know his family shares that pride.

    I only wish his father, Art (himself a very distinguished attorney), were here with mom Rita to smile at the work Eric is doing and the values he is fighting for.