• ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, April 9

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

     “Trump’s Syria Missile Strike Ramps Up Tensions with Moscow” (Bloomberg)

    The Trump administration warned that it’s ready to take further military action if the regime of Bashar al-Assad wages another chemical attack, even as this week’s missile strike ratcheted up tensions with Russia. . . .

    Russia pushed back. “Our western colleagues live in their own parallel reality, in which they first try to build joint plans single-handedly and then — again single-handedly — change them, inventing absurd reasons,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said by phone. –Bloomberg

    Comment: Equally important, the strike puts Iran’s huge investment in Assad in peril.

     Oddly, Vogue‘s glowing article on Bashar Al-Assad’s wife doesn’t seem to be online anymore at their site. Not sure why.  (The Atlantic on the story gone missing. And here, dear readers, is the actual article, “A Rose in the Desert,” in Vogue, which has been preserved by Gawker.)

    Comment: Still checking to see if GQ ran something on Bashar’s attire for launching chemical-weapons attacks.

     Good morning, Pyongyang: US sending aircraft carrier group to Korean Peninsula  (CNN)

    US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump and [China’s] Xi agreed on the “urgency of the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program” and agreed to work together to resolve the issue “peacefully.” –CNN

    Comment: The Vinson carrier group is a message, not a foreshadowing of conflict. China has hard choices to make here, as does the US.

     He lobbied for gay rights and opposed Trump — now Seattle’s mayor is accused of sexually assaulting minors  (Washington Post)

    Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a nationally famous champion of gay rights and progressive causes, has been accused by three men of having sex with them as children. –Washington Post

    Comment: These scandals are equal opportunity. Yesterday, the sex scandal involved Alabama’s socially-conservative Republican governor. (Here’s a CNN report on it.) Today, it’s Seattle’s ultra-liberal mayor.

     Creative Destruction: Online purchases driving out bricks-and-mortar retailers faster than ever (Bloomberg) Both high-end and low-end stores are affected.

    At the bottom, the seemingly ubiquitous Payless Inc. shoe chain filed for bankruptcy and announced plans to shutter hundreds of locations. Ralph Lauren Corp., meanwhile, said it will close its flagship Fifth Avenue Polo store — a symbol of old-fashioned luxury that no longer resonates with today’s shoppers. –Bloomberg

     Another Islamist attack on Middle Eastern Christians, this one on a Coptic Church in Egypt (BBC)

    Comment: These crazed terrorists come from regions and religions that have not transitted through the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the hard-won achievement of political and religious tolerance.

    The only reason you don’t read about even more such attacks is that intolerance and terror has driven them, as well as Jews, from these countries.

    It is shameful that, for several years, the US has done so little to speak out against these systematic, lethal attacks on Christians in the Middle East. Let us hope that changes now.

     

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  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Tuesday, February 14, Valentine’s Day

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     What a Mess: Mike Flynn, National Security Adviser, “resigns”  Obviously, he was forced out. My hunch is that the problem was not talking with the Russians, despite the legal problems that raised and the DOJ’s suggestion, leaked to the WaPo, that it could leave Flynn open to blackmail. Nope, the real problem was lying about it to VP Mike Pence, who (in good faith) repeated the lie. Mike Flynn just learned you cannot do that and survive in this White House.

    Now, the Trump White House must right this ship quickly because there is considerable pressure from America’s adversaries and hard policy choices to make–and make soon.

    Flynn’s interim replacement is his number two, Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, Jr. (age 72). It is unclear if Trump considers him a possible long-term replacement.

    Comment: My hunch is that Trump will turn to Mattis, Coats, and Corker, all experienced Washington hands, for advice on this choice. All are reliable, experienced hands in foreign policy who know the potential candidates and the policy issues they will face. James Mattis is Sec. of Defense; Dan Coats, a former Senator, is Director of National Intelligence, and Bob Corker is current head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Normally the Sec. of State would be involved, but Rex Tillerson is new to Washington and not yet familiar with all the candidates. Mattis, Coats, and Corker not only know the players, they know how the National Security Council should run. Trump would also be wise to turn to former Sec. of Defense Bob Gates and former Sec. of State (and NSC Adviser) Condi Rice for guidance.

    The first name they will have to decide on is Gen. David Petraeus, the most effective military leader in America’s unconventional wars and then head of the CIA.  The question is whether his enormous expertise offsets his baggage from mishandling of classified documents.  Note that the National Security Adviser does not require Senate approval.

    Second CommentThe talking heads will all say, “This is a huge mess this is for the new Trump Administration.” That’s right, and I have already said so myself. But the mess is only half the story. Trump has also shown that he is willing to cut his losses and make hard choices clearly, decisively, and quickly. He did it during the campaign, when he fired two successive campaign leaders who were falling short and finally got the team he wanted. He didn’t let this issue linger, either. That sends a strong message to all his senior appointments: “I hold you accountable. Produce results at the standards I expect or I will fire you.”

     One of the main security challenges for any administration is cyber. David Benson, an expert in the subject, gives a very positive review to Martin Libicki’s new book, Cyberspace in Peace and War  

    Cyberspace in Peace and War is a very good book. While the disordered state of cyber-strategy makes it impossible to write the “final” work on the subject, Libicki imposes order upon an incredibly wide ranging topic. –David Benson, writing at “The Bridge”

    The book treats both technical and strategic issues, but, as Benson makes clear, its focus is on international strategy.

     Dutch professor Ruud Koopmans gives the EU a deeply troubling report on Muslim views  (Daily Mail)

    Koopmans said that of the 1 billion adult Muslims in the world, ‘half of them are attached to an arch-conservative Islam which places little worth on the rights of women, homosexuals, and people of other faiths’. –Ruud Koopmans in the Daily Mail

    Koopmans estimates that at least 50 million are “willing to sanction violence” and thinks that is likely an underestimate.

    In several Islamic countries, 14 per cent of local Muslims think suicide attacks against innocents are ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ justified to defend Islam, said Koopmans, citing a study by the US-based Pew Research Center. –Daily Mail

    Koopmans, from the Netherlands, leads a major university center for migration research in Berlin.

    Comment: Western governments have focused, understandably, on the problem of violent immigrants, but Koopmans is highlighting a second grave problem: large numbers of Muslims who seek to live in the West but reject its basic norms and values. The same hostile views are often held by the second and third generation of these migrants.

     True: America’s top fortune cookie writer has “writer’s block” and is stepping down after three decades (Fox News)

    For 30 years, Donald Lau has been the “Chief Fortune Writer” at Wonton Foods, a manufacturer that touts itself to be one of the world’s largest producers of fortune cookies.

    But now,Lau is leaving his position following a long bout of writer’s block.

    According to Good Food, 4.5 million cookies are produced by Wonton Foods each day. –Fox News

    Comment: No one saw it coming.

     After senseless delaying tactics by Senate Democrats, the body finally approves Steven Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary  (New York Times)

    Comment: Yeah, like the country actually needs a Treasury Secretary.

    I am not arguing the merits of Mnuchin’s candidacy here. I am saying that once the Democrats had produced no information to sink the nomination and it was clear he would win Senate confirmation, dragging it out for weeks with delaying tactics is harmful to the country.  Blame Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren.

     

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  • Canada’s Anti-Islamophobia Motion

    motion is pending in Canada’s House of Commons that, if approved, calls for recognizing the need to

    • quell the increasing public climate of fear and hatred,
    • [condemn] Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and
    • take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it.

    It also requests a study of how the government should create a “whole-of-government” approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination and collecting data on hate crime reports.

    The House of Commons petition e-411 takes pains to separate violent extremists from the rest of the Muslim population.

    Comment: The heart of the motion may be in the right place, but it does not add much beyond the existing Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which already guarantees equal rights and freedom from discrimination based on religion.

    While this motion does not go so far as to criminalize speech deemed to be Islamophobic, it does open the door to the Canadian government policing speech. That is a slippery slope indeed. (Comment by Patricia Padurean)

  • Good News: Rising Momentum FOR Free Speech at Universities

    The pushback in favor of free discourse is gaining steam

     This week had lots of news about free speech, including the bad news about rioting at Cal-Berkeley that prevented a speech. It wasn’t hard to see the irony: the home of the 1960s Free Speech Movement has become the Home of the Anti-Speech Movement. 

    Despite Berkeley’s long arc of descent, the opposing movement–the movement in favor of free speech–is starting to win advocates and adoption elsewhere.

     Peter Berkowitz does a superb job of explaining the central issues and pointing the way forward in this op-ed:

    How State Lawmakers Can Restore Freedom on Campus (link here) (Wall Street Journal)

    Colleges and universities promulgate speech codes. Administrators, professors and students encourage “trigger warnings” and demand punishment for “microaggressions”—a pretentious word for inadvertent slights—and insist on “safe spaces” from which troubling opinions and ideas are banished. Campus authorities disinvite controversial speakers and look the other way when students shout down dissenters who somehow slipped through. The transparent goal is to prevent any deviation from the reigning orthodoxy. ….

    The yawning gap between universities’ role as citadels of free inquiry and the ugly reality of campus censorship is often the fault of administrators who share the progressive belief that universities must restrict speech to protect the sensitivities of minorities and women. Even those who aren’t ideologically committed can be wary of bad publicity. They often capitulate to the loudest and angriest demonstrators to get controversies off the front page. –Peter Berkowitz, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal

     What Berkowitz recommends–and I do, too–is well-considered state laws to ensure free speech at public universities.

     Fortunately, model legislation has been developed, building on programs some universities already have in place. The principles of this model legislation, and the language itself, are in a new report by the Goldwater Institute. Here are the key points:

    The model legislation presented and explained in this brief does several things:

    • It creates an official university policy that strongly affirms the importance of free expression, nullifying any existing restrictive speech codes in the process.
    • It prevents administrators from disinviting speakers, no matter how controversial, whom members of the campus community wish to hear from.
    • It establishes a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others.
    • It allows persons whose free-speech rights have been improperly infringed by the university to recover court costs and attorney’s fees.
    • It reaffirms the principle that universities, at the official institutional level, ought to remain neutral on issues of public controversy to encourage the widest possible range of opinion and dialogue within the university itself.
    • It ensures that students will be informed of the official policy on free expression.
    • It authorizes a special subcommittee of the university board of trustees to issue a yearly report to the public, the trustees, the governor, and the legislature on the administrative handling of free-speech issues.

    Taken together, these provisions create a system of interlocking incentives designed to encourage students and administrators to respect and protect the free expression of others. –Goldwater Institute’s “Campus Free Speech: A Legislative Proposal”

    The full report is here.

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    ◆ Comment: These are wise protections for unpopular speech. I like the idea of state legislatures taking the lead so we can see if any practical problems emerge and need to be solved.

    Once the kinks, if any, are worked out, then we ought to consider clear-cut national protections for campus speech. Why shouldn’t the First Amendment apply on the quadrangles, just as it does on the sidewalks surround them?

    The clout behind this legislation would obviously be federal funding. After all, the threat of withholding federal funds is the clout behind almost every federal rule and law affecting universities.

    Let’s hope several states try this model legislation, see how it works, and fix any glitches. Once that is done, let’s consider laws that cover all universities in the country.

    National laws are the only way you’ll get free speech in California, Maryland, or Rhode Island universities,unless courts step in to protect free speech and due process for students, faculty and staff. The courts will be in a stronger position with explicit laws protecting speech at universities.

    Politicians in deep-blue states are reluctant to pass these laws, partly because of political pressure from the left, partly because the legislators themselves believe that their vision of “social justice” should override free speech and that they alone should decide what counts as social justice.

    If you doubt that Social Justice Vigilantes really do want to suppress divergent viewpoints, just listen to the call-ins at Michael Krasny’s Forum program at KQED-San Francisco Public Radio discussing the rioting at Berkeley. Most condemned the violence, but very few said they favored robust free speech. Krasny himself is even-handed and professional, but his callers openly state that “bad” speech should be blocked, even if it is permitted by First Amendment. (Remember, the First Amendment allows restrictions on dangerous and coercive speech, as well as reasonable rules about when and where speakers can voice their views. No bullhorns at 2 am!)

    So what exactly is this “bad speech” that the Social Justice Vigilantes would prevent?

    They alone know, and they alone decide. Right now, that is what they are doing on too many college campuses. They get plenty of help from a phalanx of administrators, some determined to push their political agenda, others simply missing a backbone.

    If the universities themselves are unwilling to guarantee their students the protections afforded them in the Bill of Rights, then their elected representatives should. (Charles Lipson comment)

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    ♥ Thanks to
    ◆ Peter Berkowitz for his fine WSJ piece
     

    ◆ Stanley Kurtz, James Manley, and Jonathan Butcher for the important proposal at the Goldwater Institute 

     

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Tuesday, Dec. 13

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Senate leaders, R and D, call for investigation into Russian hacking of US election. (New York Times)

    ◆The always-penetrating Peter Berkowitz on “Can Trump and Constitutional Conservatism Coexist?” (Real Clear Politics)

    Berkowitz begins by emphasizing the value of constitutional conservatism, particularly its protection of individual freedom:

    Limited constitutional government protects individual liberty by restricting the federal government, through a variety of checking and balancing mechanisms, to the powers enumerated in the Constitution while ensuring that government has the necessary and proper means to accomplish its legitimate and vital tasks.

    Limited constitutional government also protects traditional morality and religious faith by shielding from government interference the nongovernmental institutions—starting with the family and extending outward to religious communities, neighborhoods, and the great variety of voluntary associations that compose civil society—where character is formed, attachments are developed, and lives are lived to their fullest. –Peter Berkowitz

    He concludes with his anxiety about whether Trump is committed to these limits:

    Trump rarely invokes the Constitution. Even as conservatives have reason to be generally pleased with his Cabinet picks, his impetuousness, brazenness, showmanship, and peculiar mix of policy prescriptions is hard to reconcile with the spirit of modern American conservatism. –Peter Berkowitz

    ◆ The great blues-rock guitarist, Joe Bonamassa, was playing a concert in Tulsa, when he saw a bouncer harassing a fan. Joe used his rare 1951 Fender guitar to bonk the bouncer on the head! Bouncers should note that one of Bonamassa’s hits is called “Headaches to Heartbreaks.”

    ◆ Nate Silver and Harry Reid agree: It was the FBI’s James Comey who defeated Hillary. (Salon)

    Comment: Pres. Kennedy once quoted the maxim that “victory has a thousand fathers. Defeat is an orphan.” But he had not seen the paternity game after Hillary’s defeat.

    ◆ Signs the Congress is an independent branch: Mitch McConnell doesn’t want a “Trillion-Dollar Stimulus” Infrastructure plan. (Huffington Post)

    Obama administration sticks with calling China a “non-market economy.” Changing that designation could lower trade barriers to Chinese exports. (Wall Street Journal)

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  • Anonymity Online? The FBI Finds a Way Around “Tor”

    The FBI Outfoxes a Program that Lets Users Hide their Identity

    The FBI recently used an as yet undisclosed mechanism to circumvent the Tor protocol.

    Tor Logo

    Tor Logo

    Tor is a project which uses a series of network servers primarily in an attempt to circumvent government surveillance. Tor forms a core backbone of the dark web, as well as an important tool for citizens of less free countries. Here’s their self-description:tor-described

    ⇒ The fact that the FBI has found a way around it implies that Tor is not as good at that task as previously believed, and that other countries may already posses the capability to identify Tor users, too.

    The news highlights the ongoing trend of the FBI leveraging security issues in software and devices, especially as criminal suspects turn to anonymization technology such as Tor, or use consumer products that have encryption features baked into them. –Motherboard

    Beyond civil liberties issues, technology companies and organizations will also be concerned if the FBI used a vulnerability without disclosing it. Hoarding vulnerabilities may empower the FBI and other government agencies to better collect information, but also places consumers and citizens at risk.

    “Governments and technology companies both have a role to play in ensuring people’s security online. Disclosing vulnerabilities to technology companies first, allows us to do our job to prevent users from being harmed and to make the Web more secure,” Dixon-Thayer wrote in a blog post at the time. The FBI using a zero-day would thus be notable as it would mean the bureau used an exploit in investigations while leaving regular users vulnerable. –Motherboard

    Because the targets in this case are users of the child pornography site “Playpen,” they are not a particularly sympathetic defendant. Nevertheless, this news will likely create waves in the cybersecurity and civil liberties communities as more information becomes available.

  • Interesting question about a Core Western Value: Toleration

    A thought experiment for tolerant people (based on a course I have taught)

    One goal of ZipDialog is to create real dialog among people with different perspectives.

    That’s the goal of this post.

    The Background: A News Story about Transgender Bathrooms

    Today, a good friend posted a positive comment on Facebook that started me thinking. He is thoughtful, ethical, and caring, and so was his comment.

    He said–and I completely agree-that he was pleased a particular university had created “All-Gender Bathrooms.”all-gender-bathroom-241px-no-margin

    According to the news article he posted:

    The school recently converted about 62 existing single-occupancy bathrooms to all-gender.

    It’s hard to see how any person of good will could disagree. These restrooms are single-occupancy, so some people are helped and no one is harmed. Really, all the university needed to do was post signs that included transgender or simple said, “Available for any single user.”

    Let’s make this more interesting and difficult

    The bathroom issue reminded me of a seminar I taught for several years. The students were college seniors with strong academic backgrounds who wanted to think about important, complicated questions. I wanted to join them.

    The course was called “Core Western Values,” and dealt with subjects such as freedom of speech, religious toleration, government by consent, property rights, individual autonomy, scientific experimentation and proofs, and so on. We dealt with the dark side of Western history, as well, including slavery, genocide, and discrimination based on race, religion, and gender.

    We focused on the underlying values:

    • What’s the right thing to do?
    • How have the values changed over time?
    • What’s the right public policy, given our current values?
    • We did not approach these as legal questions. (The course was not about law, and I am not qualified to teach one.)

    The issue of religious toleration elicited some interesting and vigorous discussion. In today’s western world, we all support religious toleration in the abstract. But we have different views when that toleration bumps up against other values: such as toleration of others’ sexual orientation. One obvious example is wedding cakes for gay marriages. Most bakers are happy to provide them. But what should be the policy toward the owner/operator of a small bakery who has sincere religious objections? Before you answer too quickly, let me ask another question: What if I wanted a cake with the picture of Hitler on it? Should you be required to prepare it for me?

    Let’s make the question about transgender bathrooms more difficult, then. The purpose is to require some thinking about trade-offs and priorities among values.

    I only want you to answer if you are both

    1. Tolerant of others religious/ethnical values ANDreligious-tolerance-300px-no-margins
    2. Tolerant of others’ gender orientations, that is, tolerant of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ). transgender-tolerance-300px-no-margins

    The question is interesting only if these two types of toleration might come into conflict.

    The hard, interesting question

    Assume all of the following conditions:

    • A high school has two bathrooms, each with multiple stalls. One has urinals (in addition to the stalls) and is currently labeled “men.” One has no urinals and is labeled “women.”
    • The school has several transgender students who were born male but now identify themselves as female. They have not had operations to change their genders.
    • These transgender students prefer to use the women’s room and consider it offensive to be asked to use the “men’s room.” They find it offensive because they do not think they are men.
    • The school also has several female students who have sincere religious objections to potentially being exposed to male genitalia. They find it offensive because they think young men should not expose themselve sexually to women to whom they are not properly married. (But the same objections would surely arise from other religious backgrounds, as well.)

    How would you think about this issue?

    Would it matter if the objections from other students and their parents were not religious (such as, “we think it is inappopriate for the psychological development of our child.”)

    Again, answer only if you believe in tolerance for both religious differences and gender-identity. And, of course, be respectful and courteous to each other in your responses.