• 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 Thursday, April 6

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

     A word of caution on two evolving scandals: Russia-Trump and Susan Rice

    • If there is evidence of serious crimes, each of these could become truly major events.
    • But so far we have few hard facts, shrouded in extremely sharp partisan attacks, mimicked and exacerbated by the news media.

    Russia’s role in the US election:

    • The mainstream media continues to say that Russian interference in the US election (a fact) also involved direct collusion with senior Trump officials (a conjecture). So far, top intel officials not associated with Trump have said there is zero evidence of collusion.
    • There is an FBI counter-intelligence investigation of these issues. If it finds some self-dealing from Trump officials, using their positions to make money, that’s bad news for them and certainly newsworthy, but it is not a catastrophic national scandal. If if finds significant collusion between Russians and top Trump officials, that is a truly enormous crime against our democracy.

    Susan Rice:

    • We know Rice lied publicly when she told PBS two weeks ago that she knew nothing about the unmasking of names.
    • Her story has changed. Now, she simply says she did nothing improper.
    • That may be correct. It seems to be very unusual to ask for as many unmasked names as Rice requested, but she will undoubtedly say she needed to know them to understand US intelligence. Whether that is true or false will depend on the scale of her requests and especially on the type of information contained in the intercepted conversations. If they were entirely related to US national security, she’s in the clear, or at least she can plausibly argue that she had good reasons for doing what she did. If the conversations are far removed from US national security issues, she’s in trouble–and so is the country for having a National Security Adviser who used US intelligence resources for domestic political purposes.
    • At this point, we simply do not know enough to discriminate between those two interpretations, one benign and one malign.

     News you haven’t seen about Susan Rice, the Obama Administration, and spying on US Citizens: 

    Lee Smith, writing in The Tablet, says Rice “may have been rifling through classified transcripts for over a year” with info about Trump and associates. 

    Smith focuses on the Iranian Nuclear Deal and says the US spied extensively on Israeli officials (who opposed the deal). No problem there; that is completely within the purview of the intel agencies. Since Israeli officials worked closely with US citizens, including lawmakers, who opposed the deal, their conversations were picked up, too. The question is whether the Obama White House, in possession of this information, restricted its use to national security or went beyond that, abusing the foreign intelligence system.

    Smith reaches a devastating conclusion:

    I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.

    “At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

    This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. –Lee Smith in The Tablet

     Pres. Trump harshly condemns Syria after deadly sarin gas attack, calling it “horrendous” and saying it crossed “several” red lines, deliberately invoking Obama’s language

    Comment: The shift in US policy was abrupt. Only a few days earlier the US had resigned itself to Assad’s continued rule. The change is clearly the result of the chemical attack. Pres. Trump’s language, especially his use of Obama’s term, signals some kind of military strike.

    I would be shocked if the US put troops into this no-win situation. The US can certainly damage the Assad regime from the air, but, even there, a strike runs the risk of conflict with Russia, which (along with Iran) is the main foreign support for Assad’s regime. 

    The larger strategic problem for the US is that there is no way to stand up a pro-western regime there without enormous costs and high risks.

    Two big Thursday events: Chinese leader Xi meets Trump in Florida, US Senate moves to end debate and vote on Gorsuch for Supreme Court

    Comment: More on them tomorrow when we have real news.

     McMaster asserts his control over the National Security Council

    • All news outlets are reporting Steve Bannon is out (he should never have been in);
    • What many are not noticing is that McMaster is filling out his organization with skilled professionals.

    Good report at Politico.

     

     

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, April 5

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

     The big news day this week will be Thursday, when

    • Pres. Trump meets with China’s Xi for two days in Florida, and
    • Senate decides how to move forward on Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch

    Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that Gorsuch will get an up-or-down vote, which he will win, and I have no reason to doubt him. By Monday, Justice Gorsuch.

     There are three big issues in the Trump-Xi talks, but I suspect they will focus on only 2.

    • Will China stop North Korea’s nuclear/missile program (done in close cooperation with Iran)?
    • What happens to US-China’s bilateral economic ties?
    • Will China stop its territorial aggression in the South China Sea?  (I suspect this will get less attention)

    Comment: Trump will likely tell Xi that the US intends to sanction Chinese banks and companies doing business with North Korea and that the US will work toward regime change in North Korea. China can go along, and have a say, or do nothing.

    On economic issues, China’s economy has slowed and is vulnerable to US pressure, which Trump will apply. He will also highlight China’s systematic, state-sponsored theft of US intellectual property. These are high-stakes issues and Trump’s nationalist position on trade makes his threats credible. So far, no word on what he is proposing or how flexible Xi will be.

     Huge jobs increase in March  Over 260k, compared to 180k estimate. Widespread gains in private payrolls. (CNBC)

    Comment: Optimism about US growth taking root.

     That red line Pres. Obama drew in Syria? It is a Code Red Line after another deadly chemical attack. Russia denies the Assad regime is involved, naturally (CNN)

    A chemical weapons expert, Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told the BBC’s Radio 4 that all signs showed the chemical used was sarin gas and that Russia’s versions of events was “completely unsustainable.”
    “I think this is pretty fanciful and no doubt the Russians trying to protect their allies. Axiomatically, if you blow up sarin you destroy it,” he said. –CNN

    Comment: A vast human tragedy in Syria unfolding over years, with perhaps 500,000 civilians dead.

    Pressure is building to get a full explanation of what Susan Rice did, why she needed the unmasked names of US citizens, and who she shared that information with. Her record of public dissembling does not help her.

    Senate intel committee says Ms. Rice “may be of interest” to us.  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Well, duh.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, April 4

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

     St. Petersburg, Russia hit by deadly Islamacist terrorist attack, probably retaliation for Russian action in Syria. (Washington Post)

    At least 11 dead, 30+ injured.

    No one has claimed responsibility yet, but everyone suspects Islamic terrorists associated with the fighting in Syria.

    A crackdown by Putin is certain.

     Democrats have enough votes to filibuster Gorsuch. (New York Times)

    Comment: Mitch McConnell won’t let it prevent Gorsuch’s confirmation. For D’s in purple and red states, this opposition is perilous. Their base loves it, their donors love it, but the general public does not.

     President of Northern Arizona Univ. rejects idea of “safe spaces.” Students now demand her resignation.  (Heat Street)

    Rita Cheng had the courage to tell students they had to confront ideas they don’t like.

    Comment: Well, they didn’t like that idea.

     White House says mainstream media not showing interest in Obama-era spying (Washington Post)

    Comment: Absolutely right. In a separate post (here), I show screenshots from CNN, NYT, and WaPo that completely ignored the revelations about Susan Rice on Monday.  That’s worse than spin. 

     CNN’s chief national security correspondent say Susan Rice story is a “distraction” that the Trump Administration “ginned up” (Daily Caller)

    Comment: CNN is the name of a former news organization

     Odd, new job titles: “Sales Enablement Associate” Yes, someone just emailed me with that title.

    Comment: Like all right-thinking people at universities, I object to Enableism.

     

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  • Which Democrats Will Filibuster Gorsuch?

    To break a Senate filibuster once required 60 votes. No longer. Now, nearly all nominees require only a simple majority. The one exception: Supreme Court appointments.

    Why Did the Senate Rules Change?

    Former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), with only a slim majority but determined to confirm Pres. Obama’s appointments to federal district and appeals courts, changed Senate rules so that only a simple majority was needed. Now, his slim majority was enough, and the President used it to reshape the federal bench over 8 years.

    Reid did not have to change the rules for Supreme Court nominations–Republicans voted for Sotomayor and Kagan–so he didn’t.

    Why the Rule Change Matters

    Although Reid got his lower-court appointments, he changed the Senate in a fundamental way.

    That’s because the president’s need for a supermajority pushes him to find nominees that can win broad support.

    If he needs only a simple majority, he can ignore the minority party in the Senate.

    We will see the consequences this week, as the Senate debates and votes on the nomination of Federal Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the Supreme Court.

    The Filibuster To Come . . . and to Go

    Senator Minority leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), will pay for Reid’s changes this week, and the Republicans will benefit.

    Schumer, responding to his outraged voter and donor base, has said he will not only vote against Gorsuch, he will organize a filibuster.

    Nearly all Senate Democrats have fallen in line, including two are facing reelection in states Trump carried easily. Senators like Missouri’s Claire McCaskill will have a much harder path in the 2018 general election after this filibuster. The political logic behind their position has to be fear of a primary opponent on their left, who might defeat them within a shrinking Democratic base.

    The Republicans Will Blow Up the Filibuster if They Need To

    Faced with the prospect of losing the Gorsuch nomination, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), will surely propose to change the Senate rules and demand an up-or-down majority vote on Gorsuch. Even defenders of Senate traditions, such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, know they cannot let the Democrats block this nomination.

    By Friday, the Senate will have shed another of its traditions, and Judge Gorsuch will become Justice Gorsuch.  

     

  • Best depiction of Senate invoking “nuclear option” for Gorsuch nomination

    Sen. Bill Nelson has said he will not only vote against Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, he will filibuster him. (Tamp Bay Times)

    That’s significant because, without centrist D’s like Nelson, who comes from a state Trump won, the Senate is sustain a 40-vote filibuster.

    Confronted with that prospect, Mitch McConnell will surely try to change the Senate rules to allow a majority, up or down, on Gorsuch.

    Kudos to William Jacobson!

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, March 26

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

     The main news continues to be the aftermath of Republican failure to repeal-and-replace Obamacare.

    The main political questions:

    • Who wears the jacket?
    • How does it affect Trump’s legislative agenda going forward?

    The main practical question:

    • How will this affect ordinary Americans who need health insurance?

     Here’s a shocker: Russian police arrest people protesting the regime’s corruption.  (Washington Post)

    Comment: They will have a hard time buying life insurance.

     North Korean missile failure “won’t stop Kim Jong Un Trying to Strike U.S.” says NBC News.

    Analysts said it may be a mere bump in the road, and do little to dissuade North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un from his ultimate objective of building a nuclear weapons capable of hitting the United States.

    Comment: This program poses a serious threat to the US, indeed an existential one. Several previous administrations have been unable to stop it and, so far, the Chinese (NK’s main external supporter) has been unwilling to press them.

     Today in Obvious: New York Times says “Paul Ryan Emerges from Health Care Defeat Badly Damaged”

    Comment: The Freedom Caucus doesn’t trust him, and everyone else wonders if he has the clout to get anything controversial passed.

    Since the bill didn’t make it to the Senate, Mitch McConnell remains unscathed.

     Chuck Schumer says delay vote on Gorsuch for Supreme Court because of “Russia Probe” (The Hill)

    Comment: Yeah, like that delay is going to happen. This is just sliming.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, March 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     The NYT’s spin misses the main story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, March 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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