• ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, June 8

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

     What to expect when you’re expecting Comey: A brief comment 

    Comment: It will be extremely difficult for Comey to drop a bombshell that is not a suicide bomb.

    He was legally obligated to report obstruction and would likely have resigned. He mentioned some concerns to colleagues, but nothing approaching obstruction.

    His prepared remarks do not allege obstruction, either. They simply say Trump demanded “loyalty.”

    That could be interpreted as pressure, or not, but it’s not obstruction. And the intel agency chiefs testified Wednesday they had not been interfered with for political or personal reasons.

    Second, it is hard to question witnesses seriously in the rotating format of public committees. If you really wanted information, you would turn it over to a skilled lawyer for each side, who would question and follow up.

    Third, the two parties are now painted into corners on this. The Republicans, though cautious about Trump, will defend him against Comey unless the evidence is overwhelming. It isn’t. The Democrats are now all obstruction, all the time, and their base loves it.

    Neither side is searching for evidence. They are searching for talking points.

    They will treat the testimony like a Rorschach test, seeing in it whatever preconceived mental images they have.

    Comey is out for revenge, and he’ll do his best to bloody-up Trump (while trying to appear calm, restrained and judicial). He may do some damage, but only Maxine Waters and her ilk will think its enough.

    The biggest damage to Trump always comes from the guy in the mirror.

     Speaking of the FBI: Trump will nominate Christopher Wray as the Bureau’s next Director  (Washington Post)

    He comes with plenty of experience. Currently in private practice, the graduate of Yale and Yale Law headed the DOJ’s Criminal Division during the George W. Bush administration.

    A retired FBI agent, with 28 years service in the Bureau, emailed me to endorse the appointment:

    Although I’ve favored the selection of someone from inside the FBI as a succeeding Director in the past, that was not an option in the current selection process.

    I’ve never been sold on that idea and preferred to open the appointment process to the best man . . . for the job, and in the cases of Judge William Webster and Robert Mueller I think they served the FBI very effectively, respectfully and professionally as “outsiders” during their tenures as Director of the FBI. Both stayed out of the limelight, projected a positive image and never embarrassed the FBI.

    [Turning to the selection of Christopher Wray, who I do not know] I think he will be an excellent fit for the FBI. He appears to be a Director who will be committed to focusing on the primary mission of the FBI and avoiding the kind of issues and faulty judgment that resulted in James Comey’s shortened tenure. –Jack Keller, retired FBI special agent

    Comment: I am grateful to Mr. Keller for his comments and his service.

     Britain votes today. Polls are notoriously bad there, but, as the locals say, “the punters favour Theresa May”

    All 650 Members of Parliament are up for election as well. So, the question is not only whether May wins, but whether she retains a majority big enough to govern.

    Her final appeal was to “patriotic Labour” voters. (Guardian)

    Comment: Here’s hoping. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is everything execrable about the Europe left, cozying up to terrorists, proposing ever-larger governments, and, in Corbyn’s case, even talking about renationalizing some industries. If the Brits vote for him, they will be mostly voting against the status quo. Bad as things are, they could always get worse. And with Corbyn, they would.

     North Korea keeps launching missiles; even the new leftist government of South Korea complains (ABC)

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who has expressed a desire to reach out to Pyongyang, said during a National Security Council meeting he “won’t back off even a single step and make any compromise” on the issue of national security. He warned that North Korea could only face further international isolation and more economic difficulties.

    The North’s missile tests present a difficult challenge to Moon.North Korea, which could have a working nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile in the next several years, may also be the most urgent foreign policy concern for the Trump administration. –ABC

    Comment: South Korea’s Moon has said that the US cannot install new anti-missile systems there (a concession to China), but can keep the ones already there.

     In more amusing news, North Korea has criticized Donald Trump for pulling out of the Paris Climate deal  (Huffington Post)

    Instead of ridiculing the gall of Pyongyang’s statement, the HuffPo headlines it positively, sayings “Even North Korea Thinks Donald Trump’s Decision to Quit Paris Deal ‘Short-Sighted'”

    Comment: Whether Trump’s decision is short-sighted or not, the HuffPo should never dignify any statement by North Korea’s murderous regime with such a headline.

     Amazon offers a discounted version of Prime to attract low-income shoppers  It will be half-price for people with government benefit cards. (Business Insider)

    Amazon doesn’t necessarily need a huge swell of lower-income shoppers to join Prime for the effort to pay off. Even if Amazon were to get a tiny fraction of them hooked on Prime, which offers free two-day shipping on millions of items, it could pay off in the long run because Prime customers are highly loyal. –Business Insider

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 4

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

     England’s third major terror attack in 10 weeks raises fundamental questions about how to prevent these assaults

    Comment: Kudos to the London police for their immediate response. It was swift, sure, and effective. 8 minutes from first incident to squads arriving in force. Their swift action prevented countless additional casualties.

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    The problem is how to prevent these attacks, both in the short run (surveillance, arrests, etc.) and long run (tougher restrictions on immigration and rethinking the obvious failure to integrate the communities into the liberal west).

    All Europe is facing a high threat from Islamic extremists, many (like the Manchester bomber) born in the very Western countries they are terrorizing.

    As ISIS is squeezed abroad, they will try to revive their organization by killing in Europe.

    Ordinary Europeans will refuse to live in perpetual terror and demand answers from their failing political leaders.

     US media reported the London attack, wall-to-wall, but buried one aspect of the story. Any guesses? You are correct.

    I explain the MSM’s fecklessness, and illustrate it concretely, in a separate post, here. I call it PC BS.

     In happier news, one of baseball’s all-time greats, Albert Pujols become the 9th player to hit 600 homers. (ESPN) The cherry on top: it was a grand slam. Another cherry: it comes in the post-steroid era. His head and arms actually look human. 

     Japan holds evacuation drills as North Korea’s nuclear program advances  (Reuters)

    Comment: The Japanese navy is also conducting joint exercises with the US fleet.

    My sense is that the Chinese are playing rope-a-dope, doing a little to slow down Pyongyang but not nearly enough. That is simply unsustainable for the US and Japan.

     Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell hopeful on tax cuts, less so on healthcare  (Reuters)

    Comment: Tax reform is essential, and the Republicans know it, not just for the economy but for their reelection.

    On healthcare, the pressure in late autumn, when next year’s premium notices go out, will be enormous. Obamacare is melting down, and that means suffering. The Republicans will point at Obama and the D’s. But that won’t cut it. People elected the R’s to fix it.

     California progressives really, really want single-payer, and they want their state to provide it. (Fortune)

    The state Senate, with a big Democratic majority, passed it easily. They skipped over the pesky problem of paying for it. (Honestly, they did absolutely nothing about funding it.)

    How expensive would it be? $400 billion. That’s huge. More than twice as big as the entire state budget today.

    No one knows if the State Assembly will pass it or if Gov. Jerry Brown will sign it.

    Naturally, they would need to heft tax hikes to pay for it, but economic studies show there is still a big shortfall. (ABC News)

    Comment: The leading Democratic contender for Governor, Gavin Newsom (former mayor of S.F.), put on his tin-foil hat and strongly backed the single-payer plan.

     Another “can you top this” in college crazies: Black students at Evergreen State U. in Olympia, WA, demand all white people leave the campus for a day.  (Washington Post) 

    Their demands managed to close the entire school for a day.

    For some reason, not everyone thought this white-leave-campus thing was a good idea.

    One long-time progressive, Prof. Bret Weinstein, did not favor it. And he didn’t like the students’ demands that new academic hires deemphasize academic ability and focus on race/gender/undocumented/social justice/etc.

    As you can imagine, those opposed to Weinstein were not looking for a debate.

    The were looking for blood.

    In fact, the other professors at Evergreen State also turned on Weinstein. (National Review Online)

    It’s so nasty, so crazy that even the NYT’s Frank Bruni writes a column against it. Naturally, he begins by condemning the US, thus establishing his bona fides as a morally superior person, but he still doesn’t like the ideas out in Olympia. It’s a strong column–and one the NYT readership needed to see.

    There are names for people like Frank Bruni. Fascist. Racist. Sexist. Columnist.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Richard Siegler
     and Tom Wyckoff for the Frank Bruni column.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, June 3

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

     Sec. of Defense James Mattis calls North Korea “a clear and present danger,” not just to America but to the world (AP via Washington Post)

    Significantly, Mattis made the speech in Asia.

    More bad news: On Friday, China blocked US-supported sanctions against North Korea at the UN Security Council.

    North Korea is accelerating its push to acquire a nuclear-armed missile capable of threatening the United States and other nations, and the U.S. regards this as a “clear and present danger,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday.

    Speaking at an international security conference in Singapore, Mattis said the Trump administration is encouraged by China’s renewed commitment to working with the U.S. and others to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons. He also said he thinks China, which is North Korea’s closest ally, ultimately will see it as a liability. –Washington Post

    Mattis gave mixed reviews to US relations with China:

    “We cannot and will not accept unilateral, coercive changes to the status quo” in the South China Sea, he said.

    Overall, Mattis’ speech struck a positive, hopeful tone for cooperation and peace in the Asia-Pacific region, where he and his predecessors have made it a priority to nurture and strengthen alliances and partnerships.

    “While competition between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies, is bound to occur, conflict is not inevitable,” he said. “Our two countries can and do cooperate for mutual benefit. We will pledge to work closely with China where we share common cause.”

    He was, however, unrelentingly critical of North Korea, a politically and economically isolated nation whose leaders have long viewed the United States as a military threat, in part because of periodic U.S. military exercises with South Korea, which the North sees as preparations for attacks aimed at destroying its ruling elite. –Washington Post

    Comment: The US is turning up the temperature on both China and North Korea.

     Comey’s upcoming testimony

    Comment: The ABC story is reported by Captain Obvious

     Early Trump administration was preparing to ease Russia sanctions, but was blocked by US diplomats who went to Congress  That’s what NBC is reporting, with retired diplomats going on the record.

     Three former top execs at Penn State given jail time for failing to act on reports of sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky (ESPN)

    Comment: By failing to do their jobs, they put more children in danger. 

     Kathy Griffin has decided that she’s the victim. “Trump broke me” (CBS)

    Comment: She’s disgusting.

     LA Times covers for her. Their Headline: She’s “tearful but resilient”

    Comment: They’re disgusting

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, May 25

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

     Now, the Brits are hunting in Libya for some members of the Manchester terror cell.

    They’ve already made a half-dozen arrests, including the bomber’s brother, in the UK  (New York Times)

    Officials were looking into reports that people who knew Mr. Abedi — including an imam at his mosque — had contacted the authorities as early as 2015 with concerns that he may have been recruited by extremists. –New York Times

    Comment: The police, overwhelmed with tips, sometimes drop the ball. That’s always disturbing, but it would be more disturbing if they shied away for PC reasons. That’s been a problem for UK police. Here, for example, is the Manchester police apologizing for a 2016 training exercise that resembled an Islamist attack.

     Meanwhile, UK officials are furious that the NYT published secret information about the crime (BBC) The UK had shared it with the US. The Brits believes the leakers were US police, not the White House.

     Circa’s John Solomon and Sara Carter running circles around the MSM, this time on Obama Administration illegal spying on Americans

    How bad was it? Bad enough that the lap dog FISA court judges were infuriated by the deceit and illegal action.

     Congressional Budget Office says Trump-Ryan health plan will be budget neutral but leave 23 million more uninsured over a decade (Associated Press)

    The report said older people with lower income would disproportionately lose coverage. Over half of those becoming uninsured, 14 million people, would come from the bill’s $834 billion in cuts to Medicaid, which provides health coverage to poor and disabled people, over 10 years. –AP

    Comment: These numbers are disturbing but it compares this bill to Obamacare on the assumption that the ACA will survive. It won’t. It’s melting down and to save it would cost trillions.

     Mike Flynn has clammed up, but Paul Manafort has given Congressional investigators his documents related to Russian contacts (Washington Post)

    ◆ Richard Friedman on NATO’s purpose today (ZipDialog post)

     Who controls the South China Sea? China claims it, but it is an international waterway, and the US ensures it. The US navy sends occasional ships through to make sure it is open. Now, the US navy is conducting its first such operation of the Trump presidency. (CNN)

     Today in PC lunacy: White women’s burrito shop is forced to close after being hounded with accusations it was ‘culturally appropriating Mexican food and jobs’ (Daily Mail) In Portland, naturally.

    Comment: The city will give up Hindu-Arabic numerals when they discover they were invented in South Asia in the 6th or 7th century  and stolen from those poor folks. (Britannica)

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Fred Lawson
     for the Manchester police apology
    ◆ Tim Favero and Tom Elia for the burrito story; they clearly know me!

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, May 21

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

     Well, knock me over with a feather.

    Now that Comey has been fired, he has decided Trump really was trying to influence him  (CNN)

    Former FBI Director James Comey now believes that President Donald Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe, a person familiar with his thinking says, but whether that influence amounts to obstruction of justice remains an open question.

    “You have to have intent in order to obstruct justice in the criminal sense,” the source said, adding that “intent is hard to prove.” –CNN

     

     Finally, somebody likes Trump: the Saudis. Partly, it’s Trump. Partly, it’s joy over Obama leaving

    The WaPo doesn’t put it like that, but the Saudi King came out in 110 degree heat to greet the President. No Saudi King did that for BHO.

    Comment: Why? Because they thought Obama had tilted away from them and toward Iran. 

     I love these success stories: Myron Rolle, former NFL safety and Rhodes Scholar, gets degree in neurosurgery  (Fox)

    The medical degree is from Florida State, his residency will be at Harvard’s Mass General.

     Smart, thoughtful article by a student who turned down her “dream college” because it was too expensive.

    Emma Krupp, now a junior at another school, is thriving and, despite regrets, is glad she didn’t mortgage her future. It’s an uplifting article, not a bittersweet one.  (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: It’s an uplifting article, not a bittersweet one. I took two things away from it. The first is how mature Ms. Krupp is in recognizing that life is filled with trade-offs. She wanted to go into a career in journalism without a huge debt burden, but doing so required her to turn down one of the country’s top J-Schools. Second, it reinforces the need for donors to keep helping universities with student scholarships. America has always been a country of private generosity and still is. College students need that help–with scholarships, paid internships in the summer, and more.

     The Democrats keep lurching left, aggressively booing DNC Chair Tom Perez at California Convention (Sacramento Bee)

    State Democrats’ three-day convention had a raucous start Friday, as liberal activists booed and heckled Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez after marching from the state Capitol to promote a universal heath care program.

    The leader of the nurses’ union that opposed Perez’s recent election had just warned California Democrats that they would put up primary election challengers against lawmakers if they don’t support a bill to create public-funded, universal healthcare. . . .

    “Vote them out,” the crowd chanted, referring to Democrats in the Legislature wavering on whether to support their cause.–Sacramento Bee

    Comment: Their state is broke, despite Silicon Valley. It’s actually losing population for the first time in memory. The Democrats are firmly in control there. And what they want is to spend a lot more money.

     China had a way of stopping US spying. It killed the spies (New York Times)

    The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward. . . . 

    The number of American assets lost in China, officials said, rivaled those lost in the Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, formerly of the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., who divulged intelligence operations to Moscow for years.–New York Times

    Comment: Hanssen turned out to be the spy the Chinese used.

     As Obamacare edges toward death tremors, the NYT does it best to lay the on . . . , oh, go ahead and guess  (New York Times)

    When Humana announced plans to leave all the health law’s marketplaces next year, the president chimed in, “Obamacare continues to fail.”

    Left unremarked on was a big reason for the instability: The Trump administration and Congress are rattling the markets. –New York Times

    Comment: Yep, the problem with the ACA is Trump.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 16

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

     The big stories are all about spying and cyber crime.

     The Washington Post and New York Times lead the reporting on Trump revealing highly-classified information to the Russians. Although the reports are anonymously sourced, they include considerable detail, including the fact that White House people had to clean up after the spill in Aisle 6. They also cite “former intelligence officials,” suggesting Obama’s people are still in the mix, leaking.

    • Washington Post report here.
    • NYT report here
    • The White House has publicly said the reports are false, but they didn’t really say what was false.
    • Every news organization is working on this and I expect plenty more to emerge. 

    Assessment: The anti-Trump left is at DEFCON3, preparing to go nuclear. The anti-Trump right is almost as vocal. Today, their favorite word is treason; tomorrow, it will be impeachment. 

    Those reactions are excessive. At least they are excessive given what we know right now.

    Let’s step back and see what we know.

    Assuming the news reports are largely accurate, Trump told the Russians about a particular kind of terrorist threat that he thought would be of mutual concern. The basic charge against him is that he spoke too freely.

    That’s not illegal, and it’s certainly not treason.

    But it’s not smart, either.

    At this point, we still do not know what damage, if any, his “loose lips” caused–or might cause.

    Although Trump did not disclose “sources and methods” directly, he said enough (according to the WaPo and NYT) that Russian intelligence agencies can walk back the remarks and discover something they shouldn’t know about those sources and methods, particularly about our sources of sensitive human intelligence. We are told that this human intelligence came through an ally, which “owns” the information and will be none-to-pleased. For years, our allies have thought that telling a secret to Washington is pretty close to publishing it.

    Again, assuming these basic facts are accurate, why did Trump do it? My guess: Inexperience, braggadocio, and likely a continued misreading of Russia’s intentions.

    What concerns me is not treason. You don’t do that in a room full of people, as I have tried to remind some friends.

    What concerns me is an undisciplined personal style combined with a chaotic White House organization. This is no way to run a railroad. Or a superpower.  

     Who executed the ransomware attacks? Clues point to North Korea, says the NYT

    The software uses tools we know the North Koreans used in earlier attacks on Sony Pictures and the Bangladesh Central Bank.

    The indicators are far from conclusive, the researchers warned, and it could be weeks, if not months, before investigators are confident enough in their findings to officially point the finger at Pyongyang’s increasingly bold corps of digital hackers. The attackers based their weapon on vulnerabilities that were stolen from the National Security Agency and published last month. –New York Times

    Comment: The attack on Sony was political, designed to punish them for a comedic film they thought mocked Kim Jong Un. The attack on the Bangladesh Central Bank was simply a robbery. That’s what the latest attack was–a crime to earn money.

    I doubt they will earn much money, and I think they will pay a high price because the Chinese were hit by these attacks. You think Beijing likes that?

    Btw, as China puts more pressure on Pyongyang, who will step in to help the North Koreans. There is already evidence the Russians are interested. We know the Iranians are already helping, too.

     Will the US move its embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital? Fox News’ Connor Powell recently reported that Netanyahu told Trump not to move the US embassy right now. Powell’s report is completely false, according to contemporaneous notes of the meeting by the Israelis. Netanyahu was so infuriated by the story that he released private documents proving it false. The story is here in the Jerusalem Post. Similar story here in the Daily Beast.

    It remains to be seen if Fox will withdraw the report–and the reporter.

     Sharp clash between Trump’s team and Netanyahu after a “senior White House official” said the Western Wall was part of the West Bank and not part of Israeli territory. Story here in the Jerusalem Post.

    It seems that the official was prompted to make the statement after members of Netanyahu’s team asked if Netanyahu could join Trump on the visit to the Western Wall and whether Israeli photographers could document the event, to which the Americans replied that the Western Wall was a “disputed territory.”

    The official allegedly went on to say: “This is not your territory but rather part of the West Bank.”

    A source close to the preparations team in Israel told Channel 2 that the statements made by the White House official were received with utter shock by Netanyahu’s team. –Jerusalem Post

    Reuters reports the Israelis are asking the White House to explain the diplomat’s comment, which contradicts the most deeply held views of nearly all Israelis and the stated views of the US President himself.

    Until the 1967 war, Jerusalem was divided and Jews were prohibited (by Jordan) from visiting the Western Wall. Israel, by contrast, perhaps Christians and Muslims to visit their Holy Sites freely within Israel, including sites within Jerusalem’s Old City.

    Comment: Are the Keystone Cops running the White House? Or are the Arabists still running the State Department, perhaps as holdovers from the Eisenhower Administration?

    Whatever the problem is, somebody needs to come in, clean house, and get these operations running efficiently and working in the same direction.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, May 16

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

     Hospitals, corporations, the world brace for more “ransomware” cyberattacks on Monday  (Financial Times)

    Current data show more than 1.3m computer systems are still vulnerable to infection by WannaCry, which has paralysed hospitals, disrupted transport networks and immobilised businesses, according to cyber security analysts.

    So far, 200,000 computers across 150 countries are known to have been infected in the first wave of the WannaCry cyber attack. ….

    Russia, Ukraine, India and Taiwan were the most seriously affected countries, according to cyber security company Kaspersky Lab. –Financial Times

     How to catch the crooks? Mostly cyber-sleuthing, plus some old-fashioned techniques (New York Times)

    Investigators are following much the same process that detectives in the physical world have used for decades: secure the crime scene, collect forensic evidence and try to trace the clues back to the perpetrator.

    But for all of their similarities to traditional crimes, cyberattacks have major digital twists that can make them much harder to solve and can greatly magnify the damage done.

    Private cybersecurity firms typically help the official agencies, and the official agencies stretch around the world. Some governments pitch in, some don’t, especially authoritarian governments unwilling to see outside investigators search their internal networks.

    The problem is finding “real” clues among the red herrings.

    Criminals are aware their emails contain revealing clues, and they try to cover their tracks. “People use cloakers, which hide your identity, making you look as if you are someone and somewhere else,” she said.

    Like tracing the license plates of a stolen car back to the wrong person, this can lead investigators astray. “But a good detective can track them,” Patricia Lewis [of London’s Chatham House think tank] said. “They always leave digital bread crumbs that can be followed.” –New York Times

     North Korea fires another missile, says (probably falsely) it can launch nuclear weapons.

    ⇒ Australia says it holds China responsible for North Korea  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Russia is not happy either, since the latest missile landed near their port of Vladivostok.

     Today in lawsuits before the Supreme Court! Can a student, arrested for creating mayhem in school by repeated belching, sue the officer who was sent in to arrest him?  (Daily Caller)

    Comment: Our country has a heckuva lot of problems. This is not one of them. Hand it to Judge Judy.

     Congressional Republicans have overturned 14 last-minute Obama regulations and kept one  (Washington Post)

    The 1996 Congressional Review Act gave Republicans the power to reverse end-of-term rules by the president with a simple majority, within a set time.

    The deadline for scuttling the rules that President Barack Obama imposed during his final months in office was last Thursday. –Washington Post

    The regulations overturned affect the coal industry, broadband customers, hunters, and women seeking health care at abortion providers.

    Bloomberg reports: “The US Economy is Back on Track” Steady growth, it says, but not much more.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 2

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

     Trump offers to meet with North Korea leader under the right conditions.  Even says he would be “honored” to meet him. (Washington Post) 

    Why the sweet talk about one of the world’s most noxious humans?

    Comment: My guess is that Trump and his aides are trying to give Kim Jong Un a face-saving way out, even as the US ratchets up the pressure. Trump would never meet with Kim unless the deal itself was already set.

    It’s all a long shot in any case. Everything hinges on China, and the only reason China will pressure Pyongyang is the now-credible fear that, if Beijing does not act, Washington will.

    Who knows if the whole thing will disintegrate? Still, Trump and his team have handled this carefully, so far, and have managed to assert leverage from threats that were simply impossible under Obama and the Bush administration (which was tied down in Iraq).

    To put it simply: Trump is coupling his coercive diplomacy with a carrot.

    Brexit: Brits and EU off to a bad start. Strong words at Downing St. meeting between PM Theresa May and European Commission Pres. Jean-Claude Juncker (BBC)

    The UK will not enter into “a briefing war” with the European Commission over Brexit talks, Tory sources have said.

    It follows reports in a German paper of repeated clashes between Theresa May and Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at a Downing Street dinner.

    EU sources claimed UK misunderstanding of the talks process, and ignorance about how Brussels works, could lead to no deal being agreed on the UK’s exit. –BBC

    Comment: These will be complicated, difficult negotiations. Each is a huge trading partner of the other. But the EU does not want to set an example that it is easy to leave the union. Nor does it want to see EU nations, currently living in the UK, forced out.

     Dozens of Putin’s opponents killed over the years. USA Today says those “cast suspicion on Vladimir Putin”

    What do they have in common? They are among 38 prominent Russians who are victims of unsolved murders or suspicious deaths since the beginning of 2014, according to a list compiled by USA TODAY and British journalist Sarah Hurst, who has done research in Russia.

    The list contains 10 high-profile critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, seven diplomats, six associates of Kremlin power brokers who had a falling out — often over corruption — and 13 military or political leaders involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including commanders of Russian-backed separatist forces.. –USA Today

    Comment: Looks like a previous leader passed along his advice.

     Why are US corporate earnings so high when the economy looks weak, CNBC asks.  Short Answer: International Earnings in a strong global economy.

     How is Europe’s problem with Islamic terror going? Not Well.

    The US State Department just issued a travel alert for the whole continent. (Reuters)

      Just heard Elvin Bishop singing “I’m Old School,” with the great line,

    Don’t send me no email.

    Send me a female.

     

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, April 29

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

     North Korea responds to US criticism at United Nations by launching a test missile. It blows up, their 4th straight failure

    The Reuters headline has it exactly right: North Korea test-fires ballistic missile in defiance of world pressure

    North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.

    U.S. and South Korean officials said the test, from an area north of the North Korean capital, appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March. –Reuters

    Comments:

    • If someone is hacking these launches, they are doing a good job.
    • China’s reaction here is crucial. If Kim did this after he was warned by Beijing, he will pay for it.
    • Trump is playing the China card correctly. His public position is “China and the US are working together on this.” That does more than save face for China. It says, subtly, that if China cannot stop North Korea, it is Pyongyang that is showing up Beijing, and Beijing won’t want to let that happen.
    • Sending Tillerson to the UN was important. It says to the world: “This is on our front burner.”
    • At some point, the US will have to decide whether to include Chinese entities in any sanctions aimed at North Korea. All North Korean connections to the world, meager as they are, go through China. Any sanction against Chinese entities, even a small move against a small bank, meant as a signal, would risk future collaboration with China on the North Korean issue. So, the US will probably hold off on that for a while.
    • What has been missing in the analysis: those missiles aimed at South Korea and Japan could also hit China, and Beijing has to worry about that if North Korea continues its nuclear program.

     Despite all the happy talk, the US economy grew very slowly in the first quarter. Under 1%.  (New York Times)

    The reason: a sharp, unexpected slowdown in consumer spending. The NYT offers a sensible explanation of the political and economic consequences of the 0.7% growth number:

    The softness last quarter also provides crucial ammunition for the Trump administration’s arguments that big tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks are necessary for the economy to grow the way it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

    Tax cuts, regulatory relief, trade renegotiations and an unfettered energy sector are needed “to overcome the dismal economy inherited by the Trump administration,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Business and consumer sentiment is strong, but both must be released from the regulatory and tax shackles constraining economic growth.”

    The first-quarter fade is also sure to be noticed by the Federal Reserve as it contemplates whether to proceed with two more interest-rate increases planned for this year. –New York Times

     MS-13 Murderous Drug Gang targeted by DOJ. Jeff Sessions tells them: “We are coming after you”  The South American drug cartel has spread across the US, branched into other criminal enterprises, and committed a string of murders recently on Long Island. (Fox News)

    Comment: They are major profiteers from the opioid epidemic and were among the targets of candidate Trump’s famous “bad hombres” comment.

    Politically, the Trump Administration is wise to focus on gangs like this. US citizens are being victimized, and even the staunchest defenders of open borders don’t want to defend the entrance of criminal gangs like MS-13.

    Bernie calls Barack’s Wall Street paydays “distasteful”  (CNN)

    Comment: Sanders made the comment from his office, not one of his three homes.

    Elizabeth Warren has made similar comments about Obama’s high-priced speeches to financial executives.

    Pres. Obama’s spokesman, Eric Schultz, responded,

    Obama will continue to focus most of his post-presidency on writing a book, giving speeches and “training and elevating a new generation of political leaders in America.” –CNN

    Comment: Neither Sanders nor Warren will want to go too far here. They want to keep up the heat on Wall Street for their progressive base, but attacking the former President, who is very popular among Democrats, is not a game with much upside for them.

    Comment: Democrats certainly need a new generation of political leaders, the ones Obama’s spokesman is promising.

    • The most popular Democrat is not even a member of the party. He is a Socialist.
    • The current, elected leadership is all drawing Social Security
    • Rising D’s in their 40s and 50s were wiped out en mass during the Obama presidency. His record of grooming future leaders is, ahem, not strong. 

     Marine Le Pen, in the runoff for France’s presidency, faces more stench from her political base, the National Front

    After Le Pen advanced to the runoff last Sunday, she resigned her leadership of the National Front. Her successor was Jean-François Jalkh. In on-the-record interviews in 2000, he denied the Nazis used poison gas to kill millions in concentration camps. When those comments were publicized this week, Jalkh denied making them. But they were on tape. So, now, Mr. Jalkh has decided to spend more time with his family and has been replaced by the mayor of a northern industrial town. The search is undoubtedly on to see if he said what he really thinks to anybody who recorded it.

    The story is in the Washington Post.

    Comment: Le Pen is an underdog in the runoff, but her presence at the top of French politics is a very disturbing sign.

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