• ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, October 13

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Very good economic news, twice over

    Overall, a very strong report across multiple economic sectors, despite the hurricanes.

    The retail sales report is closely watched because it provides an early read on consumer activity each month. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of the economy.

    U.S. economic growth likely slowed in the July-September quarter as the hurricanes shut down thousands of businesses, people were forced to miss work, and power was cut to millions of homes. Analysts forecast that the economy expanded at a 2% annual pace in the third quarter, down from a 3% gain in the April-June quarter.

    Yet the economy is expected to rebound in the final three months of the year as rebuilding and repair work accelerates. –USA Today

    Comment: Very good news, indeed. To keep it going, especially as interest rates rise and the job market gets tighter, the administration needs to keep reducing regulations and get a tax cut through Congress.

    Trump refuses to certify the Iran Nuclear Deal, saying it is not in America’s best interests

    He made a strong speech, which included an itemized list of Iran’s lethal attacks on Americans and its sponsorship of terror throughout the Middle East.

    The hardest immediate blow to Iran was Trump’s decision to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity. That’s important because the Revolutionary Guard is the regime’s enforcer and controls a huge chuck of the country’s economy.

    Next up: Congress has to determine whether to impose sanctions on Iran.

    If it does, then the US effectively withdraws from the multilateral “Joint Agreement.” But who knows what Congress will do, especially with Trump’s latest personal foe, Bob Corker, as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

    As expected, the other signatories to the agreement didn’t like Trump’s decision.

    No improvement in the horrific California wildfires. Death toll above 30 and expected to rise (Los Angeles Times)

    15 fires have burned over 200k acres so far.

    Trump hits Obamacare with a double whammy, ending subsidies to private insurers and urging competition across state lines

    Without subsidies, the insurers will likely stop providing policies to lower-middle-class consumers. The poorest are not affected because they are on Medicaid. The better off are not affected if they have employer healthcare plans.

    Whether insurers can operate across state lines will depend on whether state regulators allow it. Right now, they don’t.

    Conservatives are furious at Mitch McConnell and establishment Republicans for the very slow pace at which Trump appointees are approved (Daily Signal)

    Comment: The pace is extremely slow. Trump has been slow to put forward nominees in some areas. The Democrats have opposed everything, tooth and nail. And the Republicans have refused to change any rules to speed things along, giving free rein to the Democrats’ delaying tactics. Since many establishment Republicans oppose Trump, the delays may be just fine with them.

    But rank-and-file Republicans and many donors are not happy. They especially want to see judicial nominees moved along expeditiously.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, July 31

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

     Comment: What the White House Shakeup Means

    It was obvious Priebus had to go. He had failed to impose order on the warring factions in the West Wing, which were leaking furiously to the media.

    He had also failed (through no fault of his own) at the main task for which he was hired: getting legislation passed. As a friend of House Speaker Paul Ryan, Priebus was expected to mediate between the Hill and an outsider President. But there were no legislative triumphs to point to, aside from a Supreme Court appointment and a Health Care bill that passed one chamber.

    What about the new guy? Trump’s choice of John Kelly says three things.

    1. The most important thing now is managing the factions in the West Wing and creating a smooth, efficient work flow for the President.
    2. The legislative agenda will have to be handled by others, not the Chief of Staff, who has no experience on the Hill.
    3. Trump is willing to move decisively on personnel. He fires people. (The obvious exception is the shameful treatment of Jeff Sessions, whom Trump wants out but doesn’t want to fire, for some reason.)

    Firing Priebus was not a bold move, but putting Kelly in that job is. Trump better get this one right. His Presidency is in deep trouble right now, and he needs to right the ship immediately.

    What I’d love to know: What did Kelly say to Trump before taking the job? What guarantees did he need? Military officers are trained to say “yes” to the commander-in-chief. If the President said, “John, I need you in this job,” then Gen. Kelly would be disposed to accept the position. My question is what kind of authority he asked for and whether he confronted the rogue elephant in the room: the guy sitting in the other chair.

     Putin hits back at US sanctions: tells most US diplomats to leave  (Washington Post)

    Comment: There are still plenty of US officials left in Russia, but this is a strong, escalatory response.

    Still, Putin is playing a very weak hand. What’s weakest? His economy, which is a basket case and depends completely on hydrocarbons, which are under tremendous, long-term downward pressure because of fracking and alternative energy. He is dangerous, not because his strength is growing but because he’s a wounded bear.

     Related article: OPEC’s big troubles  (Bloomberg)

    Comment: They have cut back production, but it failed to ramp up prices. Why? US oil-and-gas technology and global tech for alternative energy.

    Trump and Japan’s leader, Abe, talk about “grave and growing threat” from North Korea(Reuters)

    Nikki Haley tells UN that we are “done talking” about North Korea. Wants real action. 

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday and agreed on the need for more action on North Korea just hours after the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said Washington is “done talking about North Korea”.

    Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement China must decide if it is willing to back imposing stronger U.N. sanctions on North Korea over Friday night’s long-range missile test, the North’s second this month.

    Any new U.N. Security Council resolution “that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value”, Haley said, adding that Japan and South Korea also needed to do more. –Reuters

    Comment: We are on the edge of war. The next US action, short of a naval embargo or other act of war, would be serious economic sanctions on any bank or other company doing business with North Korea. This would hit Chinese banks hard because it would exclude them from US currency transactions. The Japanese could take actions against North Korea criminal earnings in their country. And both the South Koreans and Japanese could install more anti-missile systems. 

    Beijing has played a double game here, as it has for years. It offers weak help to the US, but it is not willing to risk the collapse of the Kim regime. The question Trump is posing is whether they will stick to that position if the US decides to put much more pressure on Pyongyang, threatening both war and China’s connection to the world trading system.

    Finally, some good economic news: US economy grew at 2.6% rate in second quarter  (NPR)

    The driver? Consumer Spending

     

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, June 8

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

     What to expect when you’re expecting Comey: A brief comment 

    Comment: It will be extremely difficult for Comey to drop a bombshell that is not a suicide bomb.

    He was legally obligated to report obstruction and would likely have resigned. He mentioned some concerns to colleagues, but nothing approaching obstruction.

    His prepared remarks do not allege obstruction, either. They simply say Trump demanded “loyalty.”

    That could be interpreted as pressure, or not, but it’s not obstruction. And the intel agency chiefs testified Wednesday they had not been interfered with for political or personal reasons.

    Second, it is hard to question witnesses seriously in the rotating format of public committees. If you really wanted information, you would turn it over to a skilled lawyer for each side, who would question and follow up.

    Third, the two parties are now painted into corners on this. The Republicans, though cautious about Trump, will defend him against Comey unless the evidence is overwhelming. It isn’t. The Democrats are now all obstruction, all the time, and their base loves it.

    Neither side is searching for evidence. They are searching for talking points.

    They will treat the testimony like a Rorschach test, seeing in it whatever preconceived mental images they have.

    Comey is out for revenge, and he’ll do his best to bloody-up Trump (while trying to appear calm, restrained and judicial). He may do some damage, but only Maxine Waters and her ilk will think its enough.

    The biggest damage to Trump always comes from the guy in the mirror.

     Speaking of the FBI: Trump will nominate Christopher Wray as the Bureau’s next Director  (Washington Post)

    He comes with plenty of experience. Currently in private practice, the graduate of Yale and Yale Law headed the DOJ’s Criminal Division during the George W. Bush administration.

    A retired FBI agent, with 28 years service in the Bureau, emailed me to endorse the appointment:

    Although I’ve favored the selection of someone from inside the FBI as a succeeding Director in the past, that was not an option in the current selection process.

    I’ve never been sold on that idea and preferred to open the appointment process to the best man . . . for the job, and in the cases of Judge William Webster and Robert Mueller I think they served the FBI very effectively, respectfully and professionally as “outsiders” during their tenures as Director of the FBI. Both stayed out of the limelight, projected a positive image and never embarrassed the FBI.

    [Turning to the selection of Christopher Wray, who I do not know] I think he will be an excellent fit for the FBI. He appears to be a Director who will be committed to focusing on the primary mission of the FBI and avoiding the kind of issues and faulty judgment that resulted in James Comey’s shortened tenure. –Jack Keller, retired FBI special agent

    Comment: I am grateful to Mr. Keller for his comments and his service.

     Britain votes today. Polls are notoriously bad there, but, as the locals say, “the punters favour Theresa May”

    All 650 Members of Parliament are up for election as well. So, the question is not only whether May wins, but whether she retains a majority big enough to govern.

    Her final appeal was to “patriotic Labour” voters. (Guardian)

    Comment: Here’s hoping. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is everything execrable about the Europe left, cozying up to terrorists, proposing ever-larger governments, and, in Corbyn’s case, even talking about renationalizing some industries. If the Brits vote for him, they will be mostly voting against the status quo. Bad as things are, they could always get worse. And with Corbyn, they would.

     North Korea keeps launching missiles; even the new leftist government of South Korea complains (ABC)

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who has expressed a desire to reach out to Pyongyang, said during a National Security Council meeting he “won’t back off even a single step and make any compromise” on the issue of national security. He warned that North Korea could only face further international isolation and more economic difficulties.

    The North’s missile tests present a difficult challenge to Moon.North Korea, which could have a working nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile in the next several years, may also be the most urgent foreign policy concern for the Trump administration. –ABC

    Comment: South Korea’s Moon has said that the US cannot install new anti-missile systems there (a concession to China), but can keep the ones already there.

     In more amusing news, North Korea has criticized Donald Trump for pulling out of the Paris Climate deal  (Huffington Post)

    Instead of ridiculing the gall of Pyongyang’s statement, the HuffPo headlines it positively, sayings “Even North Korea Thinks Donald Trump’s Decision to Quit Paris Deal ‘Short-Sighted'”

    Comment: Whether Trump’s decision is short-sighted or not, the HuffPo should never dignify any statement by North Korea’s murderous regime with such a headline.

     Amazon offers a discounted version of Prime to attract low-income shoppers  It will be half-price for people with government benefit cards. (Business Insider)

    Amazon doesn’t necessarily need a huge swell of lower-income shoppers to join Prime for the effort to pay off. Even if Amazon were to get a tiny fraction of them hooked on Prime, which offers free two-day shipping on millions of items, it could pay off in the long run because Prime customers are highly loyal. –Business Insider

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, May 3

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

     D-I-V-O-R-C-E  “BREXIT: UK and EU at odds over size of ‘divorce bill,’ ” says BBC. 

    The UK won’t pay a 100bn-euro (£84bn) “divorce bill” to leave the EU, Brexit Secretary David Davis has said, as the two sides clashed over the issue. –BBC

    Comment: Also, they demand to see the children during the summer.

     South Korea likely to elect a far-left president next Tuesday. He asks US to “respect its democracy” (Washington Post) 

    Comment: The WaPo calls him “liberal.” That’s misleading. He’s very much on the left and is likely to create real problems for bilateral relations with US as he sidles up to Pyongyang.

     Can this marriage be saved? FBI translator, already married, decides to marry an ISIS terrorist. Our “dream guy” has already been pictured holding severed heads  (USA Today)

    Comment: Just another case of good people making bad choices. That’s what his friends told him. 

     American Airlines thinks you have too darned much leg room. They’ll shrink it again  (Skift)

    Comment: “Our target market is simply torsos,” said the CEO.

     Major player in Obamacare insurance markets just fired the company founder, citing poor financials  (LA Times)

    Comment: All those savvy insurance companies that provided crucial political backing for Obama’s program  . . . not looking so savvy anymore.

     World Press Freedom Day highlights many journalists and editorial cartoonists jailed in Erdogan’s Turkey  (Time)

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, April 29

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

     North Korea responds to US criticism at United Nations by launching a test missile. It blows up, their 4th straight failure

    The Reuters headline has it exactly right: North Korea test-fires ballistic missile in defiance of world pressure

    North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.

    U.S. and South Korean officials said the test, from an area north of the North Korean capital, appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March. –Reuters

    Comments:

    • If someone is hacking these launches, they are doing a good job.
    • China’s reaction here is crucial. If Kim did this after he was warned by Beijing, he will pay for it.
    • Trump is playing the China card correctly. His public position is “China and the US are working together on this.” That does more than save face for China. It says, subtly, that if China cannot stop North Korea, it is Pyongyang that is showing up Beijing, and Beijing won’t want to let that happen.
    • Sending Tillerson to the UN was important. It says to the world: “This is on our front burner.”
    • At some point, the US will have to decide whether to include Chinese entities in any sanctions aimed at North Korea. All North Korean connections to the world, meager as they are, go through China. Any sanction against Chinese entities, even a small move against a small bank, meant as a signal, would risk future collaboration with China on the North Korean issue. So, the US will probably hold off on that for a while.
    • What has been missing in the analysis: those missiles aimed at South Korea and Japan could also hit China, and Beijing has to worry about that if North Korea continues its nuclear program.

     Despite all the happy talk, the US economy grew very slowly in the first quarter. Under 1%.  (New York Times)

    The reason: a sharp, unexpected slowdown in consumer spending. The NYT offers a sensible explanation of the political and economic consequences of the 0.7% growth number:

    The softness last quarter also provides crucial ammunition for the Trump administration’s arguments that big tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks are necessary for the economy to grow the way it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

    Tax cuts, regulatory relief, trade renegotiations and an unfettered energy sector are needed “to overcome the dismal economy inherited by the Trump administration,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Business and consumer sentiment is strong, but both must be released from the regulatory and tax shackles constraining economic growth.”

    The first-quarter fade is also sure to be noticed by the Federal Reserve as it contemplates whether to proceed with two more interest-rate increases planned for this year. –New York Times

     MS-13 Murderous Drug Gang targeted by DOJ. Jeff Sessions tells them: “We are coming after you”  The South American drug cartel has spread across the US, branched into other criminal enterprises, and committed a string of murders recently on Long Island. (Fox News)

    Comment: They are major profiteers from the opioid epidemic and were among the targets of candidate Trump’s famous “bad hombres” comment.

    Politically, the Trump Administration is wise to focus on gangs like this. US citizens are being victimized, and even the staunchest defenders of open borders don’t want to defend the entrance of criminal gangs like MS-13.

    Bernie calls Barack’s Wall Street paydays “distasteful”  (CNN)

    Comment: Sanders made the comment from his office, not one of his three homes.

    Elizabeth Warren has made similar comments about Obama’s high-priced speeches to financial executives.

    Pres. Obama’s spokesman, Eric Schultz, responded,

    Obama will continue to focus most of his post-presidency on writing a book, giving speeches and “training and elevating a new generation of political leaders in America.” –CNN

    Comment: Neither Sanders nor Warren will want to go too far here. They want to keep up the heat on Wall Street for their progressive base, but attacking the former President, who is very popular among Democrats, is not a game with much upside for them.

    Comment: Democrats certainly need a new generation of political leaders, the ones Obama’s spokesman is promising.

    • The most popular Democrat is not even a member of the party. He is a Socialist.
    • The current, elected leadership is all drawing Social Security
    • Rising D’s in their 40s and 50s were wiped out en mass during the Obama presidency. His record of grooming future leaders is, ahem, not strong. 

     Marine Le Pen, in the runoff for France’s presidency, faces more stench from her political base, the National Front

    After Le Pen advanced to the runoff last Sunday, she resigned her leadership of the National Front. Her successor was Jean-François Jalkh. In on-the-record interviews in 2000, he denied the Nazis used poison gas to kill millions in concentration camps. When those comments were publicized this week, Jalkh denied making them. But they were on tape. So, now, Mr. Jalkh has decided to spend more time with his family and has been replaced by the mayor of a northern industrial town. The search is undoubtedly on to see if he said what he really thinks to anybody who recorded it.

    The story is in the Washington Post.

    Comment: Le Pen is an underdog in the runoff, but her presence at the top of French politics is a very disturbing sign.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, April 22

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

     There are four big, dangerous big international stories:

    1. Reports that China is squeezing North Korean gasoline supplies
      • If true, Beijing is sending an unmistakable signal
    2. Reports that Iran has a secret new facility to develop nuclear triggers for its future bombs
      • The report comes from a dissident group that has been accurate in the past (story here)
    3. French elections Sunday that could undermine the European integration project
      • Two of the four major candidates in Sunday’s election will go into the runoff
      • Three candidates have Russian backing
      • Two of those could undermine the European integration project and pull France out of its (partial) NATO membership
      • The implications of those withdrawals would be grave and would transform European and world politics . . . for the worse
    4. Turkey’s Erdogan using a fraudulent vote count to seize all power in his country

      • Ataturk’s project, begun a century ago, was to create a secular state
      • It never became a full democracy, but it was not a full dictatorship, either
      • Erdogan, who is fundamentally reversing Ataturk’s project, has “coup-proofed” his military, taken control of the judiciary, and a diminished role for the legislature
      • To complete this consolidation of power, he will have to repress a restive population and hold together a country on the verge of splitting apart

    These are obviously not “one-day stories,” and ZipDialog will stay with them and highlight what’s most important about them as they unfold.

     Pyongyang, North Korea: Gas stations sharply restrict purchases, suggesting China is reducing supplies  (Fox News)

    China would not confirm or deny.

    It is the main source of North Korea’s energy.

    Comment: For China, the difficult task is to get a stubborn Pyongyang to change policies without breaking the regime, which is not in China’s interest. Doing too little risks deeper American involvement, which is not in China’s interest either.

     Michigan doctor, wife arrested for (allegedly) conspiring to perform female genital mutilation  (Fox News)

    According to the criminal complaint, some of Attar’s victims, ranging from ages 6 to 8, are believed to have traveled interstate to have the procedure performed.

    Female genital mutilation is prevalent in some majority Muslim countries and is sometimes called “cleansing” by its practitioners. It involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, often performed without anesthesia. It is designed to ensure females remain virgins until marriage.

    According to a 2013 census by the Population Reference Bureau, approximately 500,000 women and girls in the United States have undergone the procedure or are at risk of the procedure–Fox News

    The Los Angeles Times reports:

    International health authorities say female genital mutilation has been performed on more than 200 million girls, primarily in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. –LA Times

     The inside story from lawyers who brought down Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes before him  (Washington Post)

    The accuser was wavering. She wanted to go public . . . but Perquita Burgess was afraid, her attorney Lisa Bloom said.

    The attorney worked hard to convince Burgess to go public, asking her explicitly to do what Rosa Parks had done. Then, according to the WaPo

    [Bloom] also explained to her client in stark terms what she hoped to accomplish: “The mission was to bring down Bill O’Reilly.” –Washington Post

     American Airlines: Video of flight attendant who “whacks a mother with a stroller while she holds her twin babies and reduces her to tear” (Daily Mail)

    Comment: This is why market competition is so great. First, United Airlines drags a passenger off the plane. Well, in a cutthroat market, you cannot expect American Airlines to stand still. It’s great to see them step up their game and start smacking around their customers, too. They must be poaching some of the ace customer-service folks from United.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, April 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How involved was Carter Page in the campaign?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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