• 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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  • Nancy Pelosi calls chairman of House Intel Committee a “stooge of the President”

    The chair in question is Devin Nunes. 

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the minority leader on the committee is Adam Schiff. All are from California.

    The two Democrats, Pelosi and Schiff, are now going after Nunes with both guns blazing.

    Here’s Pelosi’s latest, quoted in The Hill:

    By being a stooge of the president of the United States, he has demonstrated very clearly that there is no way there can be an impartial investigation under his leadership on that committee. –Nancy Pelosi

    Pelosi’s vitriol has a purpose. She and other Democrats want to convene a special committee or, if possible, an independent counsel, to investigate Trump. Anything they can do to undermine Nunes advances that goal. She added,

    Chairman Nunes acted outside the circle of respect [for his committee by talking with President Trump about these issues.]

    Chairman Nunes is deeply compromised, and he cannot possibly lead an honest investigation. –Pelosi

    See?

    Comment: The “circle of respect” is a concept previously unknown in Washington.

    Sources close to Nancy Pelosi were shocked to hear her associated with “respect” in any way. She had previously avoided any contact with it.

    Fortunately, ZipDialog’s artists were able to capture a picture.

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    Hat tip to Tom Elia for the Nancy Pelosi quotation

     

     

     

  • President Trump’s Address to Congress: Thoughtful in tone, Effective in selling a big agenda

    (Note: When I comment on events like this, I watch the event itself but not the commentators so I can avoid the “echo chamber” effect.)

    Bottom Line: The speech was quite good, both as a performance and as an outline of Pres. Trump’s policy agenda.

    • You can like the agenda, or loathe it, but he put its best foot forward.
    • Most of all, the speech was “Presidential” and far more effective than the sharp tone of his Inaugural Address.

    As a performance, it was serious but uplifting, outlining his big agenda in affirmative terms.

    His decision to begin by condemning racial and religious hatred, and doing so with a bow to Black History Month, was perfect. It set the right tone.

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    The most riveting moment, one that brought together this deeply divided audience, was the President’s recognition of the widow of U.S. Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens. It was heart-wrenching to watch her stand there, crying over her loss and visibly praying for strength. Pres. Trump’s phrase that his sacrifice for our country is “etched into eternity” was perfect.

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    The most disheartening moments, at least for me, came when the Democrats refused to stand for even the most banal and uncontroversial applause lines. Why sit on their hands? Part of it, naturally, is policy. But part is politics, a party base seething over all-things-Trump and demanding full-frontal opposition from their representatives. Democrats who stand and clap do so at their electoral peril.

    I was even more disheartened by the gasps, thumbs down, and even a few boos that came when Trump laid out the more contentious elements of his agenda, particular his plans to recognize and help victims of immigrant violence. The Democrats hated his reference to “draining the swamp,” and made that plain. I’m sure many Republicans did, too, but they were smart enough to shut up.

    Again, my objection here is not to the Democrats’ substantive views here (though I do disagree with them). I simply wish they had listened respectfully in the chamber and then expressed their opposition outside it.

    Along the same lines, I did not like the one or two moments when President Trump seemed to point out House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. At least he didn’t repeat her infamous line about needing to pass Obamacare to find out what was in the bill. In this setting, it’s unfair of the President, just as it was unfair of Pres. Obama to attack the Supreme Court Justices sitting in front of him. Pelosi had no chance to respond to Trump’s attacks during the speech. All she can do is sit there. She did, grumbling and visibly fuming.

    Related point: I am not sure about the appropriateness of female representatives wearing “suffragette white,” which was done to support a variety of feminist political issues and take some attention away from the President. I can see both sides of the “appropriateness argument.” Again, the issue is the time and place, not the substance. It was a very visible political gesture, meant to counter the President. I couldn’t help but think that, grouped together, they looked like a church choir.

    This hostile gesture will surely initiate a tit-for-tat spiral of clothing to indicate political stances at future addresses. I much prefer those statements to come before and after the speech, not during the speech itself.

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    Substantively, the most important takeaway is Trump’s embrace of the Paul Ryan approach to health-care reform. The package will emphasize market-oriented solutions, insurance sales across state lines, and health savings accounts. Trump made clear that he would include (costly) coverage for pre-existing conditions, though he did not say how he intends to pay for it. He underscored that there would be no mandates and that consumers could buy whatever plans they want. These health-care issues will be on the front burner for the next month and Trump turned up the heat.

    Other issues were treated in broad terms, with a big emphasis on patriotism, “America First,” and (alas) economic nationalism. He underscored that he was elected President of the United States, not the world, but explicitly said that the US was committed to NATO and would remain engaged abroad.

    As Trump laid out his agenda, he repeatedly said he is keeping promises made during the campaign.  That’s smart politically, not only because it buttresses his reputation but because it tells Congress, “I ran specifically on these promises and won.” It tells them he has a mandate to accomplish these policy goals.

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    Trump’s plea for bipartisanship will fall unheeded, of course, but the Democrats will have to determine whether they are more endangered by their “hell no” base or by a “get something done” general public. My hunch: the base wins.

    ⇒ For Trump and his Republican allies, the speech was a strong, effective performance. They’ll need it for the coming battles on health care and taxes, battles within the party and with Democrats.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, February 28

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

     Man, that seemed like a short month

     NY Teamsters were promised excellent retirement benefits by the unions that handled the pension funds. Now, the pensions are running dry  (New York Daily News)

    [Tim] Chmil is one of roughly 4,000 retired Teamsters across New York State suffering a fate that could soon hit millions of working-class Americans — the loss of their union pensions.

    Teamsters Local 707’s pension fund is the first to officially bottom out financially — which happened this month.

    “I had a union job for 30 years,” Chmil said. “We had collectively bargained contracts that promised us a pension. I paid into it with every paycheck. Everyone told us, ‘Don’t worry, you have a union job, your pension is guaranteed.’ Well, so much for that.” –New York Daily News

    Comment: This is a tragic story. The only silver lining would be to learn from it. Workers’ retirement funds are their own in 401k plans so they cannot be lost like this. The downside is that workers (like me) have to invest their own money and never make as much as the “defined benefit” plans like those promised by the Teamster Local 707.

    But union leader will never, ever, never allow 401k plans if they can prevent them. Why? Because the unions themselves can determine who gets the heavy fees associated with their union funds. Because so much money is sloshing around, the chances for corruption are great. Those who control the pension money can direct it to their brother-in-law or to a friend who promises kickbacks. (Companies used to be able to do the same thing and often invested the money in those own company’s stock to raise the price. That is now illegal.) By contrast, 401k plans are normally very cheap to operate. Unions that control their own pension money can also determine which investments to fund. How do you think Las Vegas casinos were financed in the 1950s? 

    Among the few defined benefit plans still around are those of government employees. After all, the taxpayers have to pay them and, at the state level, cannot lessen the burden by bankruptcy.

    Well-governed states like Indiana have already converted all employees to 401k’s. Some states are unwilling to go that far but are at least putting all new public employees on 401k’s. And then there are Deep Blue states like Illinois, headed for a dumpster fire.

     “With Obamacare in jeopardy, California considers going it alone with ‘single-payer’ system”  (Los Angeles Times)

    The problem, in a nutshell, is that this program would be enormously expensive and California is already in financial trouble.

    In a single-payer system, residents would pay into a state agency that essentially functions as an insurance company. The agency would pay doctors and hospitals when people sought treatment.

    Single-payer has a long, troubled history in California. Bills made it through the Legislature in 2006 and 2008 only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    But advocates say Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) increased support for single-payer by championing it on the national stage last year while vying to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

    New York state unveiled single-payer legislation earlier this month. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) introduced a similar bill in Congress that would expand Medicare to cover all Americans.

    But a 2008 report from California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office found that even with a tax on Californians and the state’s pooled healthcare funds, the state would still be short more than $40 billion in the first full year of single-payer implementation.

    “Where were they going to come up with the $40 billion?” said Micah Weinberg, president of the Economic Institute at the Bay Area Council. “It’s just not feasible to do as a state.”

    Weinberg pointed out that a single-payer initiative was scrapped in a state as liberal and small as Vermont. A single-payer measure on Colorado’s November ballot also failed.

    Comment: The proponents are California Dreamin’ on a winter’s day.

     Tom Perez, new head of Democratic National Committee, must rebuild his party from the bottom up. Opinion writer James Downie says “Tom Perez’s biggest problem as DNC chair: His backers” (Washington Post)

    [The] reason for Perez’s entry and victory was simple: In defeating Ellison, the establishment wanted to rebuke the progressive wing and retain control of the party.

    Therein lies Perez’s — and the party’s — biggest problem. The Democratic Party needs the progressive wing’s energy and new ideas if it is to recover. . . . The fact is that the party establishment doesn’t want to admit its failings. –James Downie in the Washington Post

    Downie’s conclusion:

    Rescuing the Democrats from this deep hole requires grass-roots energy — energy that clearly is most prevalent in the more liberal wing of the party, as seen in the surprisingly successful campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Capturing it means working with outside groups and listening to new ideas, not doubling down on establishment control.–James Downie in the Washington Post

    Comment: Perez is whip-smart, well-educated, and skilled at insider politics.

    He has only a slim chance of winning the Senate. He has a better chance of winning back the House, though he will have to do so with Nancy Pelosi as the facelift of the Party.

    His biggest challenges:

    • Recovering some heft in state politics
    • Integrating the Sanders/Warren/socialist wing of the party without alienated more centrist voters. That would normally be impossible, but their shared opposition to Trump personally and to his agenda will help.

    The oddity here is that Perez is on the party’s far left wing. It’s just that he is not as far left as Bernie Sanders, who, after all, is a self-declared socialist and not a member of the Democratic Party. (He joined only for the presidential race and resigned after it ended.)

     Bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers, vandalism in Jewish cemeteries, and no arrests yet

    These threats are becoming regular events, as the Washington Post reports.

    It was the fifth round of bomb threats against Jewish institutions since January, prompting outrage and exasperation among Jewish leaders as well as calls for an aggressive federal response to put a stop to it. –Washington Post

    In addition to these bomb threats, Jewish cemeteries are being vandalized. Several hundred tombstones were pushed over in Philadelphia, on top of a similar attack last week in St. Louis.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Tom Elia
     for the NY union pension story
    ◆ Ron Hassner for list of Jewish Community Centers dealing with bomb threats

     

  • The Tale of a Pennsylvania County: From Solidly Democratic to Solidly Republican in One Decade–and what that means for Democrats as they Rebuild

    Linked articles are in bold purple

     How did one county go from 70% Democratic in 2006 to 70% Republican today?

    As the old car ads used to say, “Your mileage may differ,” and that’s true for county-by-county voting, as well. Still, the story of this county around Johnstown, Pennsylvania, is instructive–or at least it should be for Democrats hoping to rebuild a decimated national party.

    As Salena Zito reports

    This isn’t the story of Donald Trump. This is the story of how the Democratic Party fell into the darkness of the wilderness in a county that was once one of the most Democratic counties in this state.

    It is also the story of the near extinction of the Blue Dog Democrat, a moderate, pro-life, pro-gun legislator and fiscal hawk who used to fit like a glove in regions like this all over the country. –Salena Zito, Washington Examiner

    As late as 2006, there were 44 moderate Blue Dogs in Congress, 4 of them from Pennsylvania.

    Today, that dog don’t hunt. Only 17 are left in Congress, only 2 are women, and all of them are facing tough challenges from the Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders wing of the party.

    The question is whether the Democrats can regain a majority in Congress or dominance in state capitols without a broader coalition than the one emerging today: coastal elites, liberal suburbs, and impoverished inner cities.

    As one Democratic strategist put it:

    “Ignoring, deflecting or not facing the problem is just digging our heads in the sand, and quite frankly we are running out of sand.”

    If I know Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, they will urge the EPA to declare sand an endangered habitat.

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    Comment: When then-candidate Obama referred derisively to voters like these as people who “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” they noticed. They noticed, too, when Hillary spoke of a “basket of Deplorables,” when Democratic legislators ignored the plight manufacturing workers and told coal miners “we’re killing your job so you can install solar panels,” and when they refused to see the opioid addiction and heroin deaths in rural America. They knew that, for these politicians, their concerns–their lives–did not matter. If they held up a sign saying their lives did matter, they would be accused of racism.

    These citizens were not simply being overlooked. They were being treated with sneering contempt.

    Quick hint to politicians: voters don’t like that. In fact, they won’t stand for it. And they damn sure won’t vote for it. (Charles Lipson comment)

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Thanks for suggesting this article:
    ◆ Bob Lipson, with much appreciation
     

     

  • Nancy Pelosi, Political Analyst

    Today, on CBS’s Face the Nation, Nancy Pelosi offered up the following pearl of wisdom:

    HOST JOHN DICKERSON: “The Democratic Party is in a moment of questioning about its identity. You were reelected to lead the Democrats in the House. What do you tell Democrats who want a new direction and then, go to you, what are you going to do differently?”

    NANCY PELOSI: “Well, I don’t think people want a new direction.”

    (text excerpt from Grabien)nancy-pelosi-leades-dems-in-post-election-evaluation-401px

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Thursday, Dec. 1

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

    ◆ A cultural icon is gone. The inventor of the Big Mac dead . . at 98!  His name wasn’t known. But it is by their works, you shall know them. (The Sun)

    Franchisee ‘Jim’ Delligatti first put the treat on sale at one of his outlets in 1968 –The Sunbig_mac

    ◆ Oddly Related Story: Vegans–yes, vegans–are angry about Britain’s new £5 note. Turns out it contains a little tallow (animal fat) to help the bills slide in an out of ATMs. (Fox News)

    Note to British policymakers: remember how the Sepoy Mutiny started (British India, 1857).
    Note to self: remember Marx’s injunction that history repeats itself, the time first as tragedy, the second time as farce.

    tweet-vegan-301px

     

    rolling_stones-sympathy-for-the-devil◆ Today in PC University Life: Ohio State Diversity Officer Urges Compassion for Somali Terrorist Who Attacked Students (PJ Media)

    Stephanie Clemons Thompson [OSU assistant director of residence life] urged her followers to have compassion for Artan after he expressed a desire “to kill a billion infidels” and then tried to kill as many as he could at OSU. She also urged people to “think of the pain he must have been in,” and used the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHisName (which BLM uses to denote victims of police brutality). –PJ Media

    ◆ Nancy Pelosi Wins Reelection as House Democrats’ leader, continuing her 14-year leadership. (CBS News)

    Comment: Because the “flyover strategy” is working so well. Her victory is not because she’s been winning elections for House Dems. It’s not part of a youth movement. It’s not part of building a national party. It’s because a leader-in-power controls a lot of power and because she is a prodigious fundraiser in San Francisco, Hollywood, Manhattan, and DC.

    pelosi-in-flyover-country-300px

    ◆ Very well-dressed man spray-paints “F*&! Trump” on wall of newly constructed building in upscale Philadelphia neighborhood. Vandal turns out to be the Assistant City Solicitor, Duncan Lloyd. Since it is Philadelphia, no charges have been filed. (Philly.com)

    ◆ Nothing . . nothing at all . . beats the political advantage of being vastly underestimated. It was a huge advantage for Ronald Reagan. And it was for Donald Trump. George W. Bush’s malapropism is perfect: it is misunderestimation. To see that in action, here, in this short, telling video are the media reactions to Trump’s initial decision to run and his subsequent rise in the race.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Tom Elia
     for the Philadelphia Story
    ◆ Rick Brown for the video with media reactions to Trump candidacy

     

     

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    ◆ Send interesting stories to
    Charles (dot) Lipson at Gmail (dot) com