• 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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  • 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 Roundup for Monday, March 20

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

     Darwin at work: “Selfie-crazed teens keep falling through frozen Central Park pond” (New York Post)

    Another group of kids attempting to take a selfie on top of some ice at The Pond in Central Park plunged into its icy waters, officials said.

    Luckily, they were able to swim ashore and then walked away from the scene, multiple witnesses told the NYPD. –New York Post

     North Korea’s Test of Rocket Engine Shows “Meaningful Progress,” South Says  (New York Times). North Korea certainly agrees.

    North Korea said on Sunday that it had conducted a ground jet test of a newly developed high-thrust missile engine, which its leader, Kim Jong-un, called “a great event of historic significance.” –New York Times

    Comment: I expect the US to ratchet up the pressure significantly over the coming year.  Yes, the Chinese have been reluctant to put the screws to Pyongyang, mainly because they fear the regime could collapse. But the Chinese must be growing concerned themselves. Why? Because

    • The US is not rolling over anymore
    • The Japanese and South Koreans are certain to begin arming themselves in defense
    • Something rarely mentioned: The Koreans are historic enemies of China, and Beijing might be worried about which way those missiles might point

     Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch hearings begin Monday. 

    Washington Post headline suggests the expectation: “Gorsuch seen by man as smart, modest nominee for High Court” 

    Comment: He should sail through. But first . . . the Senators will preen for their political bases. Meaningless theater. 

    Then, the Senators will try to get him to say how he would decide controversial cases. He won’t. They know he won’t. Again, meaningless theater.

    Cable TV will feature more meaningless blather.

    Democratic Senators from deep blue states will likely vote no. D’s from purple states probably won’t want to vote against an obviously well-qualified, mild-mannered nominee.

    They’ll save their powder for the next nominee.

     Chance the Rapper: making contributions to his community

    The story is here, at Bustle.

     Bad news for brick-and-mortar retailers as shopping moves online. No simple fix for declining foot traffic and lower profit margins, says the Wall Street Journal, as chains scale back.

     

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    ♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Randi Belisomo
    for the Chance the Rapper tweet

     

  • Stepping down as CEO: Howard Schultz of Starbucks, a true marketing genius

    Howard Schultz founded Starbucks and, with his gift for marketing, turned it into an iconic global brand.

    In early April, he will step down from his position as CEO. (Seattle Times)

    Starbucks ubiquity obscures Schultz’s remarkable marketing achievement

    Marketing does not simply mean selling.

    It means discovering what consumers want–perhaps even before consumers have figured it out themselves.

    It means sticking to what your customers want and then expanding your product line sensibly, without diluting the experience.

    “The experience” is Starbucks’ edge

    Under Schultz’ direction, Starbucks have figured out a way to create a modern substitute for the old corner bar, one updated for a new generation while still welcoming older customers.

    They do it reliably, too, across the US and around the world.

    To do that with a generic product, one with very low barriers to entry, one that any local vendor can imitate, and still achieve market dominance is remarkable.

    That puts Schultz is in a class with Steve Jobs as visionary marketing geniuses who created and delivered an “experience,” as much as a product, for their customers.