• 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.

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    Hat Tip to

    Clarice Feldman for the FBI-Russia story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, October 11

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

    ◆ The devastation–human and material–keeps growing from California wildfires

     

    Stand and Deliver: Goodell send letter telling NFL players he wants them to stand during anthem(ESPN)

    No specifics on how the league plans to ensure it or act toward players who do not stand.

    Comment #1: ESPN broke into their political coverage to cover this sports story.

    Comment #2 re Trump vs NFL kneelers: ZipDialog predicted

    (a) the league would cave after seeing the fans’ and advertisers’ reactions,
    (b) Trump was politically smart to make this an issue; most people respect the flag, and ALL his base does; and
    (c) when Trump won on this issue, he wouldn’t be shy about saying so.

     Horny Harvey and Hollywood Hypocrisy

    Harvey Weinstein’s Behavior Was ‘Worst Kept Secret in Hollywood,” says actor (Fox News)

    Comment: Now that he has been destroyed, the powerful people and institutions will finally speak.

    I completely understand why the weak and vulnerable kept quiet; they are victims. But the powerful and well-entrenched who knew about this have no such excuses.

     The next phases of the Weinstein story, as I see it

    Comment: Here are some obvious angles. The question is whether the media wants to investigate, given that they are directly implicated, along with their powerful friends:

    • Democrats who were close to him will have to defend themselves and offer stories about their ignorance (some true, some false)
      • Many are now saying they are “shocked, shocked” to find out this about Mr. Weinstein. Gimme a break.
      • Why did Hillary, Barack, and all the others wait five days after the NYT broke the story before commenting?
      • Why did all the late-night comedians (except John Oliver) maintain radio silence, as Saturday Night Live did? They will jump on Weinstein’s figurative corpse now, but where were they after the story broke?
    • The media will be all over the Weinstein story but they will downplay or ignore the media’s complicity or the Democrats role in it (just as the conservative media will harp on it)
      • The NYT, the most MSM of MSM outlets, deserves lots of credit for breaking the story. But they need to explain why they didn’t dig further a decade ago, when they first had the story. Lots of women were harmed in the intervening years.
    • What about the media outlets, like the NYT and NBC, that had the story and didn’t run it?  What about the gossip sites like TMZ? Why didn’t they investigate this well-known rumor?
    • What about the others sexual harassment and exploitation in Hollywood? Will the media investigate or wait for Gloria Allred? There have been rumors for years about pedophilia, but no real reporting.

    Henry Kissinger meets with Trump. What’s that about?

    Comment: Kissinger  has made one of the most sensible and serious proposals about working with China to resolve the North Korean crisis. He is also the most trusted intermediary to broker a deal between Beijing and Washington and to carry back-channel messages between the two. (Kissinger’s proposal was contained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, subscription)

    My guess: Trump listened to Kissinger, said “great, if Xi is willing to do it. But if he won’t or it doesn’t work, tell him the US will act unilaterally in a wide variety of ways that the Chinese won’t like.”

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Randy Helm for pointing out that the NYT deserves credit for breaking the story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, October 1

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

    Trump says his own Sec. of State is wasting his time trying to talk with North Korea (New York Times)

    Trump added a personal insult to the North Korean leader, calling him “Little Rocket Man.”

    The NYT says the President “seemed to undercut” Tillerson.

    Comment: There are four possibilities.

    First, personal pique: always insults adversaries. Not at all helpful here. Could prompt irrational action by Kim.

    Second, it could be “good cop, bad cop.” Quite likely.

    Third, Tillerson is sending a message to Pyongyang, while Trump is sending one to Beijing. Virtually certain.

    Finally, it is possible that Trump thinks, “We will ultimately have to use force here. If so, it is far better if Kim does something that China (and other international actors) consider so provocative that the US must respond. Let’s see if I can goad him into that since it will build international support for something we will have to do anyway.”

    In any case, this situation is lethally dangerous. That’s been true for some time. Trump’s strategy depends on keeping the heat up, not turning it down. That’s the only way to get China to act.

    Trump Administration slashing red tape that slows business growth (Fox News)

    Big rollout of the PR side of this on Monday.

    Trump has directed federal agencies to lower the overall cost of their regulations during fiscal 2018, the Washington Times reported. Specific dollar figures were not available.

    But Neomi Rao, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, told the Times that new rules enacted by the Trump administration have so far saved U.S. businesses some $300 million in annualized costs.

    By contrast, Rao said the Obama administration saddled businesses with $80 billion in costs over eight years.

    Comment: Really important initiative, vastly underreported because there are no visuals and MSM does not like Trump. When they do report on regulations, they emphasize harm to individuals.

    ◆ The pain in Spain lies mainly in . . . Barcelona: Clashes and chaos as Madrid steps in to forcibly prevent Catalonia’s vote to become independent (New York Times)

    Catalonia’s defiant attempt to stage an independence referendum descended into chaos on Sunday, with hundreds injured in clashes with police in one of the most serious tests of Spain’s democracy since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s.

    National police officers in riot gear deployed in thick phalanxes as they fanned out across Catalonia, the restive northeastern region of Spain, to shut down polling stations and seize ballot boxes. –New York Times

    BBC story here.

    Comment: The fallout from the attempted vote and the violence will be serious and ongoing, with ramifications for separatist movements across Europe.

    ◆ Today in Islamic Terror: Marseilles train station

    Chicago Tribune headline: Man kills 2 with knife at French station, yells ‘Allahu Akbar’

    Associated Press headline for the same story: Fatal attack disrupts Marseille train travel

    Comments:

    • The Tribune actually uses the AP story and gives it the correct and informative headline. Kudos.
    • The AP doesn’t just bury the lede. It deliberately makes the headline less informative, presumably for PC reasons

    The Tribune website does not give my attention to the story. It treats it as a minor one. That’s not necessarily wrong. In fact, it tells you that lethal attacks in European public spaces where the Islamist killer yells his religious motivation are now so common that they receive only modest attention unless the death toll is high.

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  • What Is the Point of Trump’s “Rocketman” Language?

    Most people, included sophisticated foreign policy professionals, think Trump was flying off the handle when he attacked Kim Jong-Un personally.

    Maybe.

    But I want to briefly discuss another possibility which has been ignored: Is there a “mad man” strategic logic in Trump’s personal attacks?

    At this point, it’s simply impossible to say, but we cannot rule it out.

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    The Conventional View

    Most commentators think

    1. Trump was speaking primarily to a US audience, which wants to see America project a strong image in the world.
      • Trump certainly does that often enough.
    2. Trump was doing what he habitually does, attacking anyone who attacks him, as he did on the campaign trail, and going beyond the normal bounds of political language.
      • In other words, it was unprofessional, personal pique.
    Those are the main interpretations I’ve seen.
    Those could well be right, but there is another possibility.

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    Keeping the Language Hot Makes War Seem Credible

    That’s the Only Way to Get China to Act

    This third possibility is interesting and quite plausible for a skilled negotiator.
    3) Trump’s over-the-top language is a rational bargaining strategy. He is continuing to ratchet up the language and pressure because
    • Only China can resolve this issue, and
    • China will not act unless they genuinely fear the alternative is even worse: unilateral US military action

    Since starting a preventive war would be so costly for the US (and everybody else), it is hard to make that alternative credible.

    Indeed, it was not credible under previous US presidents, despite their language that “all options are on the table.” Adversaries did not think those options were credible.

    Trump has already changed that. He has made China fear the possibility of US military action. That’s the reason why China’s central bank acted (or says it has), stopping domestic banks from cooperating with North Korea.

    Still, to keep China working on this, Trump has to keep the pressure high, and he has to make war seem like a real possibility for Beijing, either because the US wages a preemptive war or because Kim starts one accidentally. (Btw, Kim Jong-Un’s “mad man” language has no international strategic rational. It scares Beijing and prompts the US to act, not back down. Of course, Kim’s language may be directed as his generals and other key figures in the regime.)

    Trump’s language does keep the international pressure up. And the hint of a “mad man” in his hot rhetoric turns up the pressure even more.

     

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    Bottom Line: Trump Might Use Hot (Mad?) Language to Make War Seem Credible

    I am not saying that Trump’s language is part of a deeply-considered negotiating strategy.

    I am saying we cannot rule it out–and it would dovetail with his overall approach to North Korea.

    Of course, it’s scary. Of course, it’s dangerous.

    That’s the whole point.

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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

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, September 21

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

    ◆ Puerto Rico: direct hit by Cat 4 hurricane. Massive damage, whole Island without power

    An overview of the impact (New York Times)  

    The NYT is providing live updates here.

    Mexico’s massive 7.1 earthquake. Death total already 245, likely to rise  (Washington Post)

    The saddest stories are coming from K-12 schools, where parents await the fate of children. A lot of interest is focused on one hope story of a child trapped alive.

     As the Democratic party shifts left and makes Bernie Sanders’ single-payer healthcare a vital issue, centrist Dems face 2018 problems (Fox News)

    If Democrats in purple or red states go with single-payer, they will pay the price in the general election.

    If they reject it, though, they could face a primary opponent from the left (mirroring the Tea Party attacks on centrist Republicans).

    Comment: There is one piece of good news for Democrats, however. Their general election opponents are Republicans, who have a woeful record on Capitol Hill this session.

    Big Deal: Chinese banks reportedly cut ties to North Korea (Fox News)

    This is huge since China is the conduit for all North Korea’s international trade.

    The bad news is that South Korea is providing a small “humanitarian” gift to North Korea at the same time.

    Comment: Good as humanitarian aid sounds, it always gives leverage to dictatorships, which use the money for themselves and their favorites.

    I assume that North Korea will turn to Russia and Iran for financing, but they would face financial peril themselves if they provide it.

    Trump praises China’s new sanctions against North Korea and ratchets up US sanctions (CNN)

    Comment: The US measures show it has not run out of “non-kinetic” options.

    China’s measures show both that it is frustrated with North Korea’s reckless, autonomous actions and that it fears what the US might do.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, September 11

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

    ◆ Remembering those who died in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

    Those in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the airplanes, and the selfless first responders.

    As the prayer says, “May their memory be for a blessing.”

    Florida’s massive cleanup begins

    Miami Airport closed Monday because of “significant water damage.” Fears for Florida Keys and southwest FL

    Updated coverage in Miami Herald

    Gangs loot in Ft Lauderdale. Smash windows, grab boxes of shoes and clothes from stores (NBC Miami)

    Comment: They will claim to be victims, not the perps, in 3, 2, 1 . . .

    Btw, Houston and south Texas maintained law and order after their disaster. Let’s hope other cities in Florida can, too.

    Speaking of crime, the creator of McGruff, the Crime-Fighting Dog, dies. Jack Keil was 94. (New York Times)

    Comment: He was 650 in dog years.

     Yawn: Hillary criticizes Donald as she rolls out her book. Upset about identity politics . . . when used by others.

    That’s a shocker. She says Trump “used race to win the election” (Washington Post)

    She adds that his inaugural speech was a white-nationalist cry from the gut.

    Comment: Mrs. Clinton is shocked, shocked to discover identity politics is being practiced in America.

    She plans to search high and low to find the political party that relies on it and on divisive ethnic- and racial-mobilization.

    We wish her the best of luck.

    China pushing for lots more electric cars. Global manufacturers rush in, despite risks (New York Times)

    Comment: The main risk is to intellectual property.

    To gain access to their market, the Chinese demand outsiders give away their proprietary technology to local firms.

    First, robot vacuum cleaners. Now, lawnmowers.

    The best ones, by Husqvarna, currently run $2,000 to $3,500. They rely on GPS and advanced electronics, mow 1.25 acres, and have anti-theft devices. (Link to story here)

    Comment: As with all electronics, expect the prices to drop steadily.

    Once manufactures produce really heavy-duty machines, the robots should save enormous $$$ maintaining highways and parks.

    Expect autonomous snow-plows and more over the next few years.

    Equifax: Still neck-deep in trouble after the hack. Their site to see if you have been hacked is returning random results (Slashdot TechCrunch)

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    Hat Tip to

    Michael Lipson for the Equifax story

    ◆ Ed Vidal for Ft. Lauderdale

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Labor Day, Monday, September 4

    Articles chosen with care. Local sources when possible.
    Your comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ North Korea The question now is how hard will China push, given that this latest test

    1. Humiliates Beijing, flaunting their open calls to stop, and
    2. Will certainly bring extremely tough reaction from the US and its allies.

    The US will seek very harsh sanctions at the UN, daring China and Russia to show their hands and veto.

    The effect will turn on the scale of the sanctions and the willingness of China (and Russia) to comply in practice, not just in rhetoric.

    For news, link here. (Washington Post)

    China says Trump’s trade threat over North Korea is “unacceptable” (Fox News)

    Comment: The US says the same about China’s behavior toward North Korea.

    Watch to see if China cuts off fuel for a few days. If they don’t, it’s all rope-a-dope game for them, and the US-China relationship will get very tense.

    DACA deferrals for illegal immigrants likely to end six-months from now. Trump action gives Congress time to act (Politico)

    Comment: Nearly all legal scholars agree that Obama’s actions on DACA were unconstitutional and won’t survive a legal challenge.

    So Congress has to act. Trump has not signalled what bill would be acceptable to him.

    Turkey continues to slam Germany rhetorically, as Erdogan ramps up his Islamist dictatorship (Washington Post)

    Comment: Erdogan has recently referred to NATO allies as “enemies”

    Congress returns Tuesday with crushing agenda (New York Magazine)

    • Harvey relief
    • Debt ceiling
    • Funding for major programs that are running out, such as Children’s Health Insurance
    • Tax cuts and tax reform
    • Healthcare (still lurking, hasn’t been addressed)
    • DACA
    • Confirmation of dozens of Trump nominees (all of which the Democrats are delaying)

    Comment: Several of these are must do’s, and the Republicans know it.

    Hong Kong, traditional an economic leader, now slowing in innovation and other areas (South China Morning Post)

    Comment: China, which promised (by treaty with UK), to let Hong Kong govern itself, has effectively scuttled that promise.

     

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