• ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, April 17

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

     Turkey’s Erdogan claims he won a major national vote, giving him near-dictatorial powers. The opposition says “not so fast”  (Associated Press)

    Comment: He has been accumulating power steadily and moving the country toward Islamism, rejecting the century-old secularist tradition of the country’s modern founder, Atatürk.

     How bad is Libya? Well, there are now slave markets there, according to the United Nations  (BBC)

    Comment: Beyond the horrific human tragedy, there are other lessons for the US and Europe here. The biggest–and one we have had to learn repeatedly–is that it is far easier to knock down a regime, such as Muammar Gaddafi’s or Saddam Hussein’s, than it is to stand up a stable replacement.

     NYT calls North Korea a “Cuban Missile Crisis in Slow Motion”

    Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has said repeatedly that “our policy of strategic patience has ended,” hardening the American position as Mr. Kim makes steady progress toward two primary goals: shrinking a nuclear weapon to a size that can fit atop a long-range missile, and developing a hydrogen bomb, with up to a thousand times the power than the Hiroshima-style weapons he has built so far. –New York Times

    Comment: The NYT headline is insightful, highlighting the dangers ZipDialog has long stressed.

    But there are two crucial differences worth pondering. First, in October 1962, the US was dealing with a rational rival. Now, we’re not sure. Second, in 1962, we dealt with Russia, which had complete control over the nuclear weapons, which were theirs, after all. Now, we are dealing with North Korea and its own arsenal. Beijing has tremendous leverage, but it ultimately has to get Pyongyang to act. Moscow didn’t have that problem with Havana.

    Related story: Vice President Pence, visiting South Korea, tells North Korea not to test US resolve. (Washington Post)

     “Against all odds,” says the WaPo, “a communist soars in French election polls”

    [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon is running as the candidate of the Unbowed France political movement, in an alliance with the French Communist Party. The latest polls show him narrowly trailing Emmanuel Macron, long seen as the favorite, and Le Pen, expected to qualify for the final round of the two-round vote but to lose to Macron in the end. In the final days of a truly unprecedented campaign, Mélenchon’s unexpected surge is a reminder that radical change is in the air and that its extremist apostles — on the right or the left — may soon hold power. –Washington Post

    Comment: Who knows which two candidates will make the runoff? But the strong showing of an extreme left and an extreme right candidate are deeply disturbing. Trouble for markets, the EU, and, most of all, stable democracies in a stable Europe. Time for paintings from Weimar?

     Shameful NYT headline on a story that has NOTHING to do with Justice Neil Gorsuch:

    Why Gorsuch May Not Be So Genteel on the Bench

    The only connection between the story and Gorsuch is that he is male and conservative, and a recent study deals with conservative males on the Supreme Court before Gorsuch.

    Comment: The Times reports on a forthcoming law review article that says male SCOTUS justices interrupt more often than female justices and that conservatives interrupt more often than liberals. That may or may not interest you. For me, it ranks #1257 on my list of important public issues. Perhaps it ranks higher for you. 

    The problem here is that the academic has nothing, zero, nada, zip, bupkes to do with new Justice Neil Gorsuch. The NYT just wanted a current news hook and was delighted to smear Gorsuch in the process.

    Nice work, Times, and special kudos to the reporter, Adam Liptak, whose sleazy hook should earn him extra dinner invitations in Georgetown and the Upper West Side.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, April 10

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

     Neil Gorsuch will be sworn in on Monday, adding another “originalist” to the bench and returning the Supreme Court to its full 9 justices.

    Like everything else in Washington–and much of the country–opinions are deeply divided, though no one doubts his qualifications, experience, and intellectual heft. The dispute is over ideology.

    Writing for CNN, Ilya Shapiro says “Democrats have zero leverage after Gorsuch.”

    Comment: Shapiro is exactly right. The only question is whether the Republicans will change the rules for legislation, as well as nominations.

    Comment #2: McConnell’s decision to prevent a vote on Merrick Garland was a huge contributor to Trump’s victory in November. Trump shrewdly asked the Federalist Society to create a list of potential justices for the Court; then Trump pledge to choose from that list. We know from exit polling that this pledge was very important in convincing wavering conservatives to vote for Trump. As much as the Democrats hate McConnell for “stealing the seat from Obama,” that’s how much conservatives love his strategic brilliance for doing exactly that.

     Time to remember a moral giant: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian and anti-Nazi within Germany.

    Hitler ordered his execution on April 9, 1945, shortly before Hitler killed himself. Here is a description of his life(Christianity Today)

     Kicked upstairs: K. T. McFarland, a prominent commentator appointed to Mike Flynn’s NSC, is moved out to an ambassadorship by Flynn’s successor, H. R. McMaster.  McFarland will be nominated as US ambassador to Singapore. (New York Times)

    Comment: McMaster is quietly and smoothly filling out his staff with high-quality professionals. No more Bannons.

     If Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, now 83 and serving completing his seventh term, decides not to run again, Mitch McConnell is trying to convince Mitt Romney to run for the seat.  (CNN)

    Comment: Though Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he has deep roots in Utah, which is a reliably Republican state (one that is not especially enamored of Pres. Trump). McConnell’s goal is not simply to keep the seat. That’s not a problem. He wants to add political weight and extensive economic experience to the chamber.

     When you bet all your money on the losing horse, you pay the price. SEIU, one of the most politically active unions, did exactly that and is about lay off lots of staff.  

    The union, which represents some 2 million workers in government, healthcare, and service industries, spent $61 million on politics and lobbying last year and another $19 million fighting to raise the minimum wage to $15.

    They reluctantly endorsed Hillary instead of Bernie, even though Clinton favored a $12 minimum wage, not the SEIU’s preferred $15. They have succeeded in raising wages to $15 in only a few cities, with predictable impact on low-wage workers. (Daily Caller)

     

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Joanne Canda
    for the Dietrich Bonhoeffer 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!