• ZipDialog Roundup for June 1

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

     Oddly, no new scandal today.

    No terrible new allegations or fierce rebuttals.

    No new leaks from the intelligence agencies.

    Makes me wonder if the internet is down in Washington.

     House Intel Committee Issues Subpoenas to Unmask Obama’s Unmaskers (Real Clear Politics)

    Some familiar names, but one new and important one: Samantha Power, Obama’s UN Ambassador who previously served on the National Security Council.  No one had mentioned her before, though Trey Gowdy may have hinted at her in a cryptic question last week.

    House investigators told [James Rosen at] Fox News they are now devoting more scrutiny to Power, and they have come to see her role in the unmasking as ‘larger than previously known.’ Allegedly eclipsing the others named. –Real Clear Politics

    Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, was also named in the subpoenas.

     Comey will testify in public next week.

    The Democrats think of him as a White Knight, riding to the rescue.

    Republicans think of him as the Knight Who Says Ni. 

    Comment: Comey thinks of himself a

    • a white knight
    • who has done absolutely everything right and nothing wrong in his public life, and
    • is now in the fight to redeem his reputation, which, he thinks,
    • will require him to destroy Trump
    • without saying that he, Comey, failed to report obstruction of justice, as he was required to do.

    This is going to be nasty, very nasty.

     Paris Climate Discord: Trump could pull US out of it this week, as he promised during the campaign.

    The New York Times has a primer on the accord itself.

    The opposition is well framed in the op-ed in the WaPo: If Trump quits the Paris climate accord, he will lead the U.S. into the wilderness

    If the United States withdraws from the accord, it would find itself in farcically lonely company. The pact was signed by 195 countries, with only Nicaragua and Syria bowing out. . . . Some climate experts actually suggest that, given Trump’s steady dismantling of environmental protections, it’s better for the United States to leave the pact altogether than to undermine it from within.

    The other effect of a withdrawal: the disappearance of U.S. leadership on a fundamental issue affecting the future of the planet. –Washington Post op-ed

    A pro-Trump take, from the Washington Examiner: “Trump could rally GOP, reward voters with Paris Agreement exit”

    Comment: There has been a ferocious fight among Trump’s White House advisers, but it looks like the “pull out” side won.

     China sees an opening in relations with Germany after Merkel’s spat with Trump  (New York Times)

    India is also visiting Berlin.

    Comment: Germany is playing a larger global role these days. But that role will be limited unless it can round up support from other Europeans for a collective effort.

    Robert Lieber has just published a brief post on ZipDialog voicing skepticism that the Europeans really can come together. (Lieber post here.

     Solar Energy Storage systems are getting smaller, cheaper, better, allowing some solar homes to begin disconnecting from the grid (Deutsche Welle)

    Comment: Batteries and storage have been the bottleneck for a long time, and a major focus of research. Progress has been steady, but still far short of consumer needs.

     Lebanon bans new Wonder Woman movie because the lead is an Israeli actress (BBC)

    Lots of Lebanese viewers want to see it but, as one upset potential customer puts it, “a vocal minority” was against.

    Comment: Yep. The kind of vocal minority whose movie critic blows up the theater.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, May 19

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

     Today in Trump Turmoil 

    The Mueller appointment has been widely applauded. The only exceptions, and they are few, are not to the person selected but to the idea of appointing a special counsel (Dan Henninger of the WSJ) or the fact that Mueller is formally under the authority of the DOJ (Nancy Pelosi). The latter point is loony. If anyone holds a whip hand, it is Mueller. If he resigns over any interference, it’s Archie Cox redux and a Constitutional Crisis.

    In the short term, this lowers the temperature. Anybody who faces legal jeopardy will avoid testifying to Congress while Mueller is on the case. That leaves the stage to Comey, who wants to testify and take his revenge in public for the shabby way he was treated.

    There are three larger concerns for us citizens. We need to know

    1. We need to know the scale of Russia’s intervention in our 2016 election
    2. We need to know about Russia’s connections, if any, with the Trump campaign
    3. We need an expeditious investigation. It should not drag on for years. And it should not go off on tangents like the infamous Patrick Fitzgerald investigation.

     Today in over-reaction: Talk about impeachment is not only premature, it shows a cavalier disregard for the gravity of overturning a democratic election. That should only be done if there is strong evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

    It should never be done for lesser reasons: because you think Pence would be a more stable and reasonable leader, because you think Democrats would do a better job, or because you have deep (and sincere) questions about Trump’s policies or personality. He was elected President of the United States for a four-year term. Unless he committed a serious crime to win that election or has committed one since then (such as obstructing justice), or has a debilitating illness, then we live with the voters’ choice in 2016.

    If large numbers of Trump supporters think he is being hounded out of office, overturning the election results, there will be hell to pay.

    Short of that, the Democrats want to overturn control in both Houses in 2018. Undermining Trump and blocking Republican policies are crucial stepping stones to that goal.

        

     Antarctica “starting to turn green,” reports a New Zealand paper (New Zealand Herald)

    Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent’s northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet.

    Amid the warming of the past 50 years, the scientists found two species of moss undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than 1mm a year, now growing more than 3mm a year on average. . . .

    The moss growth is still modest compared to what’s happening in the Arctic, where a large-scale greening trend has even been captured by satellite. There’s so much plant growth there that scientists hope it will at least partially offset the loss of carbon from thawing permafrost beneath those plants. –New Zealand Herald

     Trey Gowdy keeps rising. Likely to head House Oversight Committee after Jason Chaffetz leaves Congress this summer.  (Politico)

    Comment: One tough investigator. One tough cross-examiner.

     Biomedical innovation–this one on diabetes

    The body-location of the transplant is particularly promising:

    By using the omentum, a fatty membrane in the belly, as the transplant site, the researchers were able to avoid complications associated with the traditionally used site, the liver.

    The longterm goal of the research is to identify a suitable location for a pancreas-mimicking mini-organ called the BioHub.

    Based on this patient’s response, the omentum is looking like it just may be the ideal spot. –Science Alert

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Michael Lipson
    for the Antarctica story

     

  • Nancy Pelosi Takes another Deep Dive into the Shallow End

    We need more and more and more investigations, says Minority Leader Pelosi. Here’s how she justifies her clarion call, according to The Hill

    While calling [newly-appointed Special Counsel Robert] Mueller a “respected public servant of the highest integrity, [he] will still be in the chain of command under the Trump-appointed leadership of the Justice Department,” Pelosi said. “He cannot take the place of a truly independent, outside commission that is completely free from the Trump Administration’s meddling.” –The Hill

    Comment: Her idea of an independent commission would have been good–earlier. I supported it myself in the aftermath of the election since we need to understand how Russia meddled here and in Europe so we can deter future attempts.

    But that moment faded, not because the need for inquiry went away but because it is already being done.

    • There are several serious investigations underway,
    • The Senate investigation is moving forward in a bipartisan way,
    • Robert Mueller will lead another one that has won bipartisan support, and
    • Rod Rosenstein is in place at DOJ (again with bipartisan support) to oversee the FBI as it moves forward. 

    Nancy Pelosi wants something that is no longer needed and justifies it with a rationale no one believes.

    I’m not sure any of these overlapping investigations will be forward-looking, developing ways to limit future meddling. That’s unfortunate, but Nancy’s plan wouldn’t address that problem, either.

  • 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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  • The “Comey firing” story is going according to script: A comment

    ◆ The Partisans are saying exactly what you expect them to say

    • The Democrats are calling the firing Nixonian, an obstruction of justice because, they say, it was designed to block the Russian investigation.
    • The Republicans are saying that the FBI director’s appointment is within the President’s responsibilities and that Comey’s immediate boss at the Dept. of Justice, a highly-regarded, non-political attorney, lacked confidence in him.

    • The Republicans are stressing the role of Rod Rosenstein, as I expected. Rosenstein memo to his superiors clearly says he lacked confidence in Comey, who, he says, not only made serious mistakes (for which the Democrats had lacerated him) but was still saying he did nothing wrong. By failing to acknowledge his mistakes and learn from them, he raises the likelihood that he will keep making them.
    • The memo, plus news that Trump was frustrated with the continuing Russia investigation (d’uh!), are among the few nuggets of real news since the initial story broke.
    • I explain the basic logic of the two parties’ positions in a previous post here.

    The Democrats are clearly on the offensive, but they have a problem. You cannot coverup a crime–which is essentially their charge against Trump–unless there is a crime.

    So far, there is simply no evidence of such a crime involving Trump or his campaign. Yes, there is a serious investigation into Michael Flynn and perhaps into others, and, yes, the Russians meddled in our election, but so far there is nothing to suggest Trump collaborated with the Russians. (Related story: The Senate committee investigating the Russia issue has ordered Flynn to turn over relevant papers after he failed to do so voluntarily. BBC)

    The Democrats’ call for a special independent counsel will fail unless they can come up with some evidence to support their basic allegation.

    Meanwhile, Trump absolutely must appoint a top-notch, apolitical, experienced law enforcement leader to the FBI. The best names I have heard are Bill Bratton and Ray Kelly, people who have run large police departments very successfully.

    That appointment is not only crucial for Trump politically. It is crucial for the country, which wants to restore confidence in the justice system. And it will be crucial down the line for Trump, who needs to be able to say that the Russia connection was bunk and that a serious FBI inquiry proves it. If the FBI leader doesn’t pass the tests for neutrality and competence, Trump won’t be able to say that.

    ◆ Related story: In the meantime, Trump has hung a nickname on Schumer: “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” (The Hill) Before deriding Trump’s childishness, remember that he has a real knack for picking nicknames that highlight an opponent’s vulnerability. They stick and they work–not always, but mostly. Jeb Bush was low energy. Marco Rubio did seem too little in the campaign. Hillary was and is corrupt. The Schumer nickname highlights his whining negativity–and Trump could make it stick.

  • A Quick Guide to the Political Firestorm over Comey’s Firing. What matters and why. What Democrats and Republicans will argue

    Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey has set off a firestorm, mostly along party lines, but not entirely. Some Republicans have expressed concern, too, and more will wring their hands in the next few days if the Democrats’ narrative takes hold.

    How long the fire lasts and how much it consumes depends, crucially, on information that will emerge out over the coming days, as media organizations pump their sources and Comey defends himself.

    Here are the basic messages you will hear from Democrats and Republicans, starting immediately.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The Democrats’ message is remarkably disciplined. They are speaking with one voice, Chuck Schumer’s.

    They will repeat two key words: Nixon and Watergate.

    Their meaning is clear: Comey was fired to cover up Trump’s crimes.

    Here is their message:

    • Trump, not some underlying, is the person who fired Comey.
    • Trump fired Comey because the FBI was getting to close to uncovering malfeasance by the Trump campaign and transition.
      • This is focused on Russian collaboration with Trump and usually implied rather than asserted directly. Why?
        • First, the intelligence agencies agree that Russia actively meddled in the US campaign, sought to harm Hillary Clinton, and favored Trump.
        • We know that some Trump advisers had connections of various sorts to Russian entities. The most important is Michael Flynn, who was briefly the National Security Adviser. There are reports that he and his associates are now under investigation by a grand jury. Some questions have also swirled around Paul Manafort, head of Trump’s campaign in the summer, and Carter Page, a lower-level figure.
      • Key question: Do the connections between the Trump team and Russia rise to the level of collaboration? If so, that would be a huge scandal and lead to calls for impeachment. If such evidence were found and were convincing, many would consider it a “high crime and misdemeanor.”
        • So far, no evidence of such collaboration has been found. Senior figures of the intelligence community, associated with the Obama Administration, have specifically said that they have looked and that there is no such evidence.
    • Because Trump “interfered” with the FBI, which was investigating the Russia issue, we cannot leave this investigation to the Congress or Department of Justice.
      • Key claim: We are now seeing a Watergate-style coverup by the Trump Administration since they cannot fairly investigate themselves and we cannot count on the FBI, the DOJ, etc.
      • Key demand: We must have an independent special counsel to investigate
      • This demand will receive unanimous backing from Democrats, I expect, and has already received a lot of vocal support from them.
      • The demand will succeed politically if the public thinks there is a coverup and enough Republicans agree that an independent counsel is needed.
    • What’s missing from the Democrats’ argument?
      • None of them actually defend Comey or say he should have been kept in the job. They can hardly make the affirmative case since they have repeatedly called for him to be fired.
      • They simply say “the timing is bad” or “looks suspicious.” But they would have said that if Trump had fired Comey on Day 1. They would have said Trump is trying to stop an on-going investigation.
      • They have not produced any evidence that the firing was actually related to the coverup of a crime, which was the essence of the Watergate firing of Archie Cox and his associates.
      • They have not explained why the firing of Comey impedes the Senate investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
    • What to expect?
      • Democrats will keep pushing hard to get an independent counsel and, if possible, stop Trump’s policy agenda by tying up the Congress and undercutting public support for him.
      • Hearings, of course. Lights, camera, preening. The goal of public hearings is to push agendas, not discover information. And the Democrats have a perfect opportunity here.
      • huge fight over whoever Trump picks as the new FBI director. The fight will be less intense if the nominee is a highly-regarded, career professional, but the Democrats will still use the selection and confirmation hearings to slash and burn the Trump administration.

        ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    What are Republicans saying?

    They have said, or will say,

    • Comey deserved to be fired for cause, totally unrelated to any Russian investigation.
    • Rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey, making it impossible for him to lead the agency.
    • Senators from both parties had already expressed their lack of confidence in Comey.
    • There is zero evidence, so far, of collusion between Trump and the Russians, much less that Trump was trying to stop any investigation (the obstruction of justice charge against Nixon).
    • If you D’s think Comey is so great, why did you call repeatedly for him to be fired? That is, R’s will try to get D’s to defend Comey, an untenable position, and move them away from simply attacking Trump and the Republicans.
    • The acting director at the FBI is a dreadful candidate to lead the agency, even in the interim. Why? Because his wife, an unsuccessful candidate for local office in Virginia, was handsomely funded by Clinton confidante, Terry McAuliffe. At the very least, that was a horrible judgment, given the FBI’s interest in the Clinton machine.

    Significantly, I expect Republican activists to demand a fresh start to several failed investigations Comey led.

    They think Comey botched them and that the DOJ blocked them under Lynch and Holder. Besides thinking that’s true–and wanting to get evidence that it is–they would be happy to distract attention from incoming fire.

    • Why, they ask, were all Hillary’s aides given immunity without an indictment in prospect for the bigger fish, the one with the private, unsecured server? Why was no Grand Jury empanelled? Why didn’t the FBI interview Hillary under oath? Why wasn’t the Clinton Foundation seriously investigated?
    • They will want a major investigation of the Obama Administration’s alleged spying on Americans, including members of Congress, the Trump team, and so on. If such spying really did take place, and if it was directed against political opponents, that is a scandal as big as anything since Watergate.
    • They want to know exactly who ordered all the unmasking of names, which should be readily available, and they will want to know the purported national security purposes for the large number of such requests from the White House. They will note that Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, has already refused to testify voluntarily on that issue.
    • They know the leaking of Flynn’s name was a felony, and they want to see an indictment in that case.

    My guess: if the Democrats look like they might get a special prosecutor for the Russia issue, the Republicans will want one for the Obama spying.

    The Republicans in Congress know–or ought to know–that if Trump’s firing of Comey takes firm root as a major scandal, an attempted coverup by the White House, then the GOP’s grip on power will slip away.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • Thoughts on the Health Care Bill: Repeal and Replace = Relief and Regret

    ZipDialog will feature specific elements of the Repeal-and-Replace bill over the next weeks.

    For now, though, I want to comment on the overall concept.

    • Obama’s achievement. It is easy to see the mammoth problems with the Affordable Care Act. The ACA did not meet the basic promises Obama made to pass it (you can keep your doctor and your existing insurance), is financially unsustainable, and is now melting down. But that wreck should not obscure what Pres. Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid achieved. After the ACA passed, most Americans came to believe that they have a right to healthcare and to the insurance policies needed to pay for it.  That right extends to the poor and to people with costly pre-conditions.
    • It is politically perilous to remove that very costly new right/entitlement. Except for the Freedom Caucus, even fiscally-conservative Republicans are unwilling to risk it. That’s what the fight among conservatives is about.
    • Democrats are perfectly happy with the mess created by Obamacare and would be even if Clinton were president. (Well, I should say the ones who remain in office. Many were defeated because they voted for it.)
      • If Hillary was president, the current mess would probably lead to single-payer. The D’s would certainly press for it.
      • With Trump, it leads to a bipartisan lock-in for a vast new entitlement, which will be there forever, in some form or other. Since the hybrid public/private arrangement the Republicans are trying to fashion may not work, the Dems could end up with single payer anyway.
      • If it new bill does not pass, D’s they will certainly pin the failure on the Republicans, and so will many voters.
    • As the negotiations become difficult this summer and fall, some R’s may think: “wait, let Obamacare fail this year and next, and we can pick up the pieces after that.” Dangerous calculation, I’d say, both politically for Republicans and physically for sick people.
    • If the bill passes and some people have to pay more or get less coverage–as some inevitably will-then D’s will blame the R’s, and so will some voters. These are fundamentally false comparisons between coverage offered by a new law and an imaginary future in which Obamacare lives on happily in cloud coocoo land.
      • In a country as angry and divided as America today, it is much easier to be the party out-of-power, as R’s are learning.
    • False comparisons. The Democrats and mainstream media will favor comparisons between any new Republican bill and the current ACA promises. The problem is that these are comparisons between a hypothetical Republican plan and an nonexistent Obamacare future. The current ACA is simply not sustainable. To say that “2 million people will lose benefit X or Y” is to assume that they would retain it under Obamacare. But that plan is falling of its own weight, so those people would lose the benefit anyway.
    • The falseness of the comparisons probably does not matter to most voters.
      • If they were promised their preexisting conditions were covered–and Trump said they would–then they will hold Trump and his party for covering them–and paying for it. 
      • Doing so will break the bank or force higher taxes, but the potential losers will demand those sacrifices. Given the public’s acceptance of the new entitlement, they have a strong chance of getting them.

    ◆ This political no-win situation is why the NYT headline reads: G.O.P. Cheers a Big Victory. But Has It Stirred a ‘Hornet’s Nest’? 

    Comment: Yes, but failing to act would have stirred a hornet’s nest, too.

    The big questions now are

    • Whether the R’s can pass anything that gets signed into law?
    • Whether too many people are disappointed? and
    • Whether the program is financially sustainable?
  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, May 1. . . May Day! May Day!

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

     Government to stay open through September, thanks to bipartisan agreement over a Continuing Resolution (Washington Post)

    The bipartisan agreement includes policy victories for Democrats, whose votes will be necessary to pass the measure in the Senate, as well as $12.5 billion in new military spending and $1.5 billion more for border security requested by Republican leaders in Congress. –Washington Post

    Comment: Rare agreement–on anything.

     Bret Stephens’s first NYT column just ran. It said some climate science findings are clear-cut, others less so. HERETIC ALERT!!! NYT readers immediately began cancelling their subscriptions.

    You can agree or disagree with Bret’s views, which are balanced and presented with supporting data. But heads exploded all over Cambridge, Berkeley, Ann Arbor, and the Upper West Side.

    Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science. It’s to acknowledge it honestly.

    By now I can almost hear the heads exploding. . . .

    Let me put it another way. Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.

    None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. –Bret Stephens in the NYT

    For this kind of wild-and-crazy talk, CNN reports “NYT subscribers dropping paper over climate column” Here’s just one example:

    Comment: Who says religion is dead? The Times’ readers reaction is roughly the same as citizens in Calvin’s Geneva if you had said, “Let’s discuss whether to keep one or two Saints’ Days.” 

     The impact of ISIS terror attacks on Europe’s “state of mind”  (Dr. Tsilla Hersco at Begin-Sadat Center, Bar-Ilan Univ., Israel)

    EU now favors discreet cooperation with Israel to combat terror, while still opposing Israel’s own measures to combat Islamic terrorism

    The appalling terrorist assaults perpetrated by ISIS in Europe have led to significant changes in the European state of mind. By exposing the vulnerability of EU state borders, they have prompted rudimentary initiatives to secure those borders and increase counter-terror cooperation among EU member states, while also boosting the popularity of far-right parties.

    The attacks have given rise to a discreet cooperation between EU member states and Israel in dealing with the terrorist threat, but have not prompted the EU to change its critical position regarding Israel’s defensive measures against Palestinian terror. The moral double standard of the EU on this issue might undermine its own fight against Islamist terrorism. –Dr. Tsilla Hersco at BESA Center

     Nancy Pelosi to face primary opponent associated with Bernie Sanders  (The Observers) Her adversary, Stephen Jaffe, is a prominent SF lawyer, specializing in discrimination, sexual harassment, and whistleblowers.

    Comment: Pelosi will be wading in campaign cash, but she won’t be able to run on a record of recent achievements. There aren’t any.

    Larger issue: The prospect of being “primaried” from the left could become a major obstacle for any Democrats who want to work with Trump, and vice versa. My guess is that it already affected Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who voted to filibuster Neil Gorsuch even though Trump easily won Missouri.

     Here are two words I’ve never seen before in one sentence: “accordion heartthrob” But that is the NYT headline for Dick Contino’s obituary. His career in B-Movies also inspired novel by James Ellroy (who also wrote L.A. Confidential).

     Sure hope he likes irony: Chicago Police Chief’s SUV broken into during a ‘crime of opportunity’  (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: Imagine, if you will, breaking into Al Capone’s car by accident. What’s the over/under on how long you live? One day?

    In today’s Chicago, what’s the likelihood they’ll even find the perps?

     Macron (leading Le Pen in the French election runoff) is right about this. It’s not just France that will want out if the EU if it doesn’t reform. BBC article here.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat tip to Ed Vidal for the CNN story about NYT cancellations.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 27

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

     Trump goes BIG with proposed tax cuts

    New York Times: “Trump Proposes Sharply Cutting Tax Rates for Individuals”

    The plan is still broad strokes, rather than details, but the strokes are bold.  The point men are Steven Mnuchin at Treasury and Gary Cohn at the National Economic Council.

    The proposal envisions slashing the tax rate paid by businesses large and small to 15 percent. The number of individual income tax brackets would shrink from seven to three — 10, 25 and 35 percent — easing the tax burden on most Americans, including the president, although aides did not offer the income ranges for each bracket.

    Individual tax rates currently have a ceiling of 39.6 percent and a floor of 10 percent. Most Americans pay taxes somewhere between the two.

    The president would eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, a parallel system that primarily hits wealthier people by effectively limiting the deductions and other benefits available to them. –New York Times

    The Times also has a perceptive story: Trump’s Tax Plan Is a Reckoning for Republican Deficit Hawks

    The White House insists that economic growth will cover the cost, which could be as high as $7 trillion over a decade. But the question will dog Republicans and could fracture their party as they face the prospect of endorsing a plan that many economists and budget analysts warn will increase the deficit. –New York Times

    Comment: The main story on tax cuts is riddled with editorial attacks on Trump and often personal ones. The opening line of the lead story is that the tax cuts benefit the rich. And all the stories emphasize the NYT’s speculation–and that is all it is–that the cuts will benefit Trump personally. The implications are that he is self-dealing and that this plan is just another “favor-the-rich, Republican plutocrat” idea. They also love to follow the “benefit the rich” with the words “like Donald Trump.” They have given up all pretense of distinguishing their hard-news reporting from their editorial stance. The difference is the first thing student journalists learn.

     US THAAD anti-missile system, sent to South Korea, to be active within days  (CNN)

    Comment: The US has also sent major naval assets to the area, while China and Russia have deployed significant land forces, possibly fearing an influx of refugees if the Kim regime collapse. But also a signal to Kim Jong Un that he is facing pressure on multiple fronts. 

     Obamacare repeal: House GOP factions making progress, Senate Republicans still an obstacle.  Politico reports: GOP senators not so keen on House’s Obamacare repeal

    The House may finally be on its way to scrapping Obamacare, but don’t expect the Senate to go along: Any plan sent over will undergo major surgery — and survival is far from assured.

    The hurdles in the upper chamber were on vivid display Wednesday as House Republicans celebrated their breakthrough on the stalled repeal effort. The compromise cut with House Freedom Caucus members won over the right flank, but the changes will almost surely make it harder to pick up votes in the more moderate-minded Senate. –Politico

    Comment: The pressure to get this done will be enormous. The GOP knows that they face electoral disaster if they don’t pass their biggest promise of the past seven years.

     How good is the economy in Austin, Texas? “Employers struggling to find workers who will take less than $15 an hour” (KXAN)

    The story also notes, oddly, that unemployment there has crept up slightly in the past few months.

    Comment: When I was in Austin this winter, I asked some workers at a fast-food chain what the starting wage was. “$12 an hour.” I often ask that question when I travel since the starting wage at a McDonald’s or Dairy Queen is the effective minimum wage in the area. 

    I draw two lessons from the Austin story.

    First, the only lasting way to raise the minimum wage is to strengthen business demand for workers, which means making it easier for them to do business and prosper. That’s the Texas story, in a nutshell.

    Second, if unemployment is creeping up (though still very low in Austin) but businesses cannot find workers, then something is wrong. Either people don’t have the right skills or there are disincentives to work. Either way, those are problems that need solutions.

     First settlers came to America 130,000 years ago, long before previous estimates, according to a new study.  (Science News)

    An unidentified Homo species used stone tools to crack apart mastodon bones, teeth and tusks approximately 130,700 years ago at a site near what’s now San Diego. This unsettling claim upending the scientific debate over the settling of the Americas comes from a team led by archaeologist Steven Holen of the Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and paleontologist Thomas Deméré of the San Diego Natural History Museum. If true, it means the Cerutti Mastodon site contains the oldest known evidence, by more than 100,000 years, of human or humanlike colonists in the New World, the researchers report online April 26 in Nature. –Science News

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Michael Lipson
     for the Austin, Texas, story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, April 12

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

     We’re learning more about one possible connection between Russia and the Trump campaign  The Washington Post reports that last summer the FBI and DOJ obtained a FISA warrant to monitor Carter Page, a Trump adviser.

    The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

    This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

    Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. …

    Page is the only American to have had his communications directly targeted with a FISA warrant in 2016 as part of the Russia probe, officials said.–Washington Post

    How involved was Carter Page in the campaign?

    In March 2016, Trump identified Page, who had previously been an investment banker in Moscow, as a foreign policy adviser to his campaign. Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks later described Page’s role as “informal.” –Washington Post

    Comment: Reports are that Page’s connection to the campaign was at a lower level and that he never met Trump. We’ll soon learn more, I wager.

     Close call for Republicans for open Congressional seat in red-state Kansas Mike Pompeo held the seat until he became Trump’s CIA head. Ron Estes, the state’s treasurer, faced a surprisingly sharp challenge from a Democrat. Estes won, 53% to 46% in a district Trump won by 27 points. The New York Times story is here.

    Comment: The race was seen as an early test for Trump. He passed, but just barely. 

    Florida death-penalty dispute: Gov. takes death-penalty cases away from rogue state prosecutor who refuses to seek the death penalty. She sues him  (Miami Herald) Her legal claim: the governor overstepped his authority in removing the cases from her.

     United Airlines finally grovels and apologizes. Passenger lawyers up.  (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: The airlines initial reaction was to say the passenger was truculent.  The viral video killed them and they changed direction.

     Latinos in US: A “hidden force turbocharging the US economy,” says CNBC

    It’s been nearly 10 years since this country was hit with a recession, the likes of which we hadn’t seen for decades. Businesses across the country were closing their doors and unemployment soared. This bleak situation was sharply magnified among Latinos, which reported a 66 percent drop in wealth and a 13 percent unemployment rate.

    Yet during this bleak period, Latino entrepreneurs created new businesses at a startling rate, increasing from 2.3 million in 2007 to approximately 4.1 million today. –CNBC

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