• ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, July 13

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

     US had a clear shot at killing Kim Jong Un recently but decided not to pull the trigger (Yahoo News)

    They had him in their sights when he went to the ICBM launch. The fear, of course, is that a US strike would begin a devastating war.

    Comment: So, what’s behind this leak? The US is sending a very threatening message to Kim. Move against us and you die. Or you might want to live underground for a while.

     Politico reports: White House aides feeling ‘helpless’ as Trump Jr. scandal explodes

    The news in the story is that key White House aides are not bothering to play down this meeting as fake news or a false scandal, though some of Trump’s staunchest supporters do.

    Comment: The in-fighting will increase and, with it, the leaks. 

    If you think it’s bad now, imagine how much worse it gets if Congress cannot enact bills on healthcare and tax reform.

    Another strange aspect of the “Russian lawyer” story: Why did Loretta Lynch’s DOJ give her special permission to come to the US? (The Hill)

    This revelation means it was the Obama Justice Department that enabled the newest and most intriguing figure in the Russia-Trump investigation to enter the country without a visa. –The Hill

    Comment: She appears to have been given permission to come to do some specific legal work for a client but quickly shifted over to lobbying for Russian sanctions relief.

    ◆ Another day in Florida: Instagram model arrested for attacking police during nude encounter at Florida hotel (Fox News)

    According to the Clearwater Police report obtained by The Smoking Gun, [25-year old Brissa] Dominguez had trespassed onto the Edge Hotel’s property at approximately 4:20 a.m. on July 5. Officer Richard Edmonds later arrived on the scene to find Dominguez naked, so he handed her a towel. But instead of covering up, Dominguez used the towel to “strike [Edmonds] in the face by swinging it in a whipping motion.”

    Dominguez then proceeded to kick at the responding officers. The police report says she also tried biting and spitting on an officer before delivering a “mule kick” to Edmonds as police attempted to restrain her.

     Brazil’s former leader, Lula da Silva, indicted for corruption  (Washington Post)

    Comment: The corruption seems to have been pervasive in his government and that of his party.

     Fed Chair Janet Yellen: US economy strong enough to warrant more interest-rate increases  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Barring some shock, expect a couple more increases this year.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, July 5

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

     US confirms North Korean missile was ICBM, showing progress toward launchers that can hit continental US  (New York Times)

    The administration followed up that warning on Wednesday morning with a joint military exercise in which United States and South Korean forces fired ballistic missiles in the waters along the Korean Peninsula’s east coast.

    But North Korea reaffirmed Wednesday that it would never deviate from its determination to bolster its nuclear and missile abilities as long as the United States’ “hostile policy” and “nuclear threat” persisted. –New York Times

     US vows it will ‘never accept a nuclear North Korea’ after new missile test  (Fox News)

     These Pyongyang tests leave US with few options, NYT says

    A North Korean ability to reach the United States, as former Defense Secretary William J. Perry noted recently, “changes every calculus.” The fear is not that Mr. Kim would launch a pre-emptive attack on the West Coast; that would be suicidal, and if the North’s 33-year-old leader has demonstrated anything in his five years in office, he is all about survival. But if Mr. Kim has the potential ability to strike back, it will shape every decision Mr. Trump and his successors make about defending America’s allies in the region.

    So, the options (according to the David Sanger article in the NYT) are

    • Containment
    • Stronger Sanctions
    • Threaten Preemptive Strikes
    • Negotiations

    None work very well, Sanger says, and the tougher ones carry high risks.

    Comment: My hunch is that the US will try the first three and not show any interest in negotiations unless Kim really begs for it.

     Putin and Trump will meet at upcoming G20 summit. But the Russian controversy in the US limit Trump’s ability to maneuver (Washington Post)

    If Trump attempts to loosen sanctions against Russia for its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine or its interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Congress could defy him by pursuing even stronger penalties. And if he offers platitudes for Putin without addressing Russia’s election meddling, it will renew questions about whether Trump accepts the findings of his own intelligence officials that Russia intended to disrupt the democratic process on his behalf.

    “The president is boxed in,” said Nicholas Burns, who was U.S. ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush. “Why would you give Putin any kind of concession at the first meeting? What has he done to deserve that?” –Washington Post

     US Manufacturing picks up, signals positive future for US economy (Bloomberg) 2.9%  monthly gain.

    American factories powered up in June at the fastest pace in nearly three years, with robust advances in production, orders and employment that indicate a firming in the economy, data from the Institute for Supply Management showed Monday. –Bloomberg

     Tesla, introducing its first mass-market car this week, plans to introduce an all-electric, long-haul truck in September (Seeking Alpha)

    Trucking is a highly competitive industry, driven almost entirely by cost, cost, and cost. . . .  If Tesla can build a world-beating semi-truck that also delivers lower overall per mile cost, it might disrupt another industry. –Seeking Alpha

    The common wisdom in the trucking industry is that “electric trucks” aren’t possible.

     We need a “Netflix of Knowledge,” says TechCrunch

    They highlight four elements that are needed:

    1. Aggregation, so content is in one place
    2. Curation, so relevant content is available to you
    3. Personalization
    4. Creation, especially the unlocking of tacit knowledge

    With as much as half of all current jobs going away in the next 10-12 years, let’s adopt the following mission: making learning accessible and feasible for every single employee. –TechCrunch

     

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  • Robust job growth. Implication: More interest-rate hikes coming

    ADP is a private firm that does its own surveys of the job market, independent of the regular government reports.

    The headline: Private sector job growth ‘rip-roaring’ in May: ADP (Fox Business)

    Quickie Comment: Assuming the official report confirms ADP’s survey, the evidence is building that the economy is back so more Fed interest rate hikes will be coming this year.

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    “Quickies” are a new feature at ZipDialog.

    They are, as the name wryly implies, very short, usually a link to a story and a brief comment.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, May 18

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

    It’s wonderful to see a growing community of readers here at ZipDialog. Thanks for visiting and for sharing it with friends.

    I hope it really does build a dialog of diverse viewpoints on public issues.

     What does the Mueller appointment mean?

    Here’s my take:

    • The appointment was widely applauded. Everybody said that, if anyone had to do the job, Mueller was the best choice. He is
      • A straight-shooter, not a partisan
      • A work horse, not a show horse
      • An experienced hand at the FBI, which he directed. That means he can get up-to-speed quickly and choose a staff quickly.
      • An experienced prosecutor, who will know what to pursue and what to leave aside.
      • A focused investigator, who is unlikely to go off on tangents, as previous special prosecutors have
    • The appointment decision was made by Rod Rosenstein, the second-in-command at DOJ and, in this case, acting Attorney General because Jeff Sessions has recused himself.
      • Rosenstein continues to acquit himself well. He made the decision himself and simply gave the White House a heads-up shortly before the public announcement.
    • Some strong Trump supporters think a special counsel was not needed and is a victory for the Democrats. They are mistaken, IMO.
      • It is a victory for the Democrats in the sense that they, and not the Republicans, have been seeking such an appointment.
      • But it was essential to restore public trust after the Comey firing and conflicting stories about what caused it, following by Comey’s leaked memo.
      • The reason why the appointment was essential is that only a trusted, non-partisan, and highly-competent investigator, such as Mueller, can clear Trump of the serious allegations against him and his team, namely that they collaborated with the Russians and that Trump tried to kill the investigation in a private conversation with Comey.
        • If the prosecutor or special counsel were tainted, the findings would be, too.
        • If Trump wants to reboot his Presidency and move beyond the Democrats’ unsubstantiated charge that he stole the election and committed a high crime to cover it up, then he needs Mueller and not some toady to say so.
    • The big question about the scope of the investigation is how much it will delve into Russia’s overall involvement in the 2106 election.

    I will stay on top of this issue and, in later posts, will take up other aspects.

    Meanwhile, we need an equally thorough investigation by the intel agencies themselves into who is leaking their crown jewels to hackers and highly-classified material to the Washington Post and New York Times.

     How bad is Turkey’s sinking Islamic autocracy? Erodogan’s thugs beat up protesters in Washington, DC, outside the Turkish Embassy (Washington Post)

    D.C. police arrested two men, one from Virginia and one from New York, and said they are pursuing charges against additional suspects since the melee outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence at Sheridan Circle. Eleven people were injured, among them a police officer. Some were kicked and stomped, their heads bloodied.

    Included in the police search are members of Erdogan’s armed protective detail, according to two people with direct knowledge of the case. –Washington Post

    Comment: This is really nasty and some of the thugs will escape justice because of diplomatic immunity.

     Twenty-one members of the violent MS-13 Gang arrested in LA raid (Los Angeles Times)

    Twenty-one people accused of being part of the notoriously violent MS-13 gang were arrested Wednesday as federal and local investigators forced their way into homes and businesses across Los Angeles County in a pre-dawn sweep that came as a result of a more than two-year racketeering investigation. . . .

    MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, preys on immigrants without legal status.

    “They extort them. They rob them. They rape them. They murder them. Without their cooperation as witnesses, none of this would be possible,” [LA Police Chief Charlie] Beck said, noting that LAPD officers do not check immigration statuses before talking to witnesses. –LA Times

    Comment: This needs to keep going, month after month.

    ◆$ The tech sector is leaving the rest of the US economy in its dust: Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft  (The Verge) Their dominance in the stock market rally is clear-cut.

    It took Amazon 15 years to match the market capitalization of Walmart. Two years later, it is worth more than double its biggest rival. –The Verge

    ◆$ Ben Bernanke says America’s economy is now nearing capacity  (Financial Review, Australia)

    “We’ve got basically a 2 per cent economy here and that means it doesn’t take that much to knock you off track,” Bernanke told attendees at the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference in Las Vegas. “We have already approached the limits of our capacity and unemployment is pretty much about as low as it can go, so we don’t have that extra capacity to create growth.” –Financial Review

     Here’s what free speech means: Univ. of Chicago students get to hear a talk by the head of Homeland Security and actually engage with a key policymaker on crucial issues  (WLS, ABC7 Chicago)

    Comment: At many universities, the head of DHS, retired general John Kelly, would be shouted down because he is the front line of Trump’s immigration policy and anti-terrorism efforts. Because he was not shouted down, our students got to hear him, ask tough questions, and make their own decisions, without intimidation.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, May 16

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

     Hospitals, corporations, the world brace for more “ransomware” cyberattacks on Monday  (Financial Times)

    Current data show more than 1.3m computer systems are still vulnerable to infection by WannaCry, which has paralysed hospitals, disrupted transport networks and immobilised businesses, according to cyber security analysts.

    So far, 200,000 computers across 150 countries are known to have been infected in the first wave of the WannaCry cyber attack. ….

    Russia, Ukraine, India and Taiwan were the most seriously affected countries, according to cyber security company Kaspersky Lab. –Financial Times

     How to catch the crooks? Mostly cyber-sleuthing, plus some old-fashioned techniques (New York Times)

    Investigators are following much the same process that detectives in the physical world have used for decades: secure the crime scene, collect forensic evidence and try to trace the clues back to the perpetrator.

    But for all of their similarities to traditional crimes, cyberattacks have major digital twists that can make them much harder to solve and can greatly magnify the damage done.

    Private cybersecurity firms typically help the official agencies, and the official agencies stretch around the world. Some governments pitch in, some don’t, especially authoritarian governments unwilling to see outside investigators search their internal networks.

    The problem is finding “real” clues among the red herrings.

    Criminals are aware their emails contain revealing clues, and they try to cover their tracks. “People use cloakers, which hide your identity, making you look as if you are someone and somewhere else,” she said.

    Like tracing the license plates of a stolen car back to the wrong person, this can lead investigators astray. “But a good detective can track them,” Patricia Lewis [of London’s Chatham House think tank] said. “They always leave digital bread crumbs that can be followed.” –New York Times

     North Korea fires another missile, says (probably falsely) it can launch nuclear weapons.

    ⇒ Australia says it holds China responsible for North Korea  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Russia is not happy either, since the latest missile landed near their port of Vladivostok.

     Today in lawsuits before the Supreme Court! Can a student, arrested for creating mayhem in school by repeated belching, sue the officer who was sent in to arrest him?  (Daily Caller)

    Comment: Our country has a heckuva lot of problems. This is not one of them. Hand it to Judge Judy.

     Congressional Republicans have overturned 14 last-minute Obama regulations and kept one  (Washington Post)

    The 1996 Congressional Review Act gave Republicans the power to reverse end-of-term rules by the president with a simple majority, within a set time.

    The deadline for scuttling the rules that President Barack Obama imposed during his final months in office was last Thursday. –Washington Post

    The regulations overturned affect the coal industry, broadband customers, hunters, and women seeking health care at abortion providers.

    Bloomberg reports: “The US Economy is Back on Track” Steady growth, it says, but not much more.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 9

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

     Obama reenters the fray, urging Democrats to stop Trump and the Republicans from repealing-and-replacing Obamacare (NPR) He did not use Trump’s name, but his message about the ACA was unmistakable.

    Comment: This is an unprecedented step for an ex-president, reentering contentious partisan politics so soon after leaving office. Still, it is his signature achievement, and he wants to protect it legally, even as it disintegrates financially.

     FBI paid $900K to break into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone  (Engadget) The company itself famously refused to assist the government.

    Comment:  Apple’s decision was controversial, of course, since this was a high-profile terrorism case  The company wanted to keep its customers’ confidence, obviously, but I think they were also worried that dictatorships like the Peoples Republic of China could demand the same thing from them. If word of that kind of cooperation spread, it would be very damaging, indeed.

    Beyond these calculations, one tech expert told me, was another calculation. Apple feared “they’d be responsible for building a tool to break security for their millions of customers,” with unknown ramifications legally and commercially.

     Russian spying and Michael Flynn discussed in public testimony by senior Obama officials, James Clapper and Sally Yates  The NYT has a brief synopsis with “six takeaways” 

    Comment: To me, the biggest takeaway is that nothing much was revealed. The bigger issues are still lurking, and either could be huge.

    1. Was there any high-level collaboration between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin?
    2. Was the Obama administration actually spying on political opponents by “reverse targeting”? 

     South Korea heads to the polls today to pick a new leader, likely one who wants much closer relations with the North and less cooperation with the US  (CNN). More on this after the results are in.

    Comment: W One reason the US rushed the THAAD anti-missile system to South Korea recently was to have it in place before the election. It’s more difficult politically to tell the US to remove it than it would be to say, “No, you cannot bring it in here.”

     The Trump Travel Ban was heard by the entire Federal appeals court in Richmond.

    At issue: is this a security decision within the President’s purview or do his statements about threats from the Muslim world make it a “religious test.”

    Here’s the Washington Post report.

    Comment: The same issues are being heard in California. This will surely head to the Supreme Court, and quickly.

     Goldman Sachs thinks the current economic expansion could become the longest one on record (CNBC)

    The expansion has already lasted 95 months, making it the third longest expansion since records began in 1854.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, May 7

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

     Biggest event of the day: French election  Why? First, it’s already been important because the country’s main parties are out. Voters are not happy.

    Second, if Marine Le Pen is elected France could well exit the European Union, which it helped form.

    The latest ripple is massive computer hack of Emmanuel Macron’s computer files. (BBC)

    The main suspect is Russia, which is backing Le Pen.

    Macron is heavily favored. (Reuters)

    Comment: Even the prospect will rock European politics. It should have already done; there is clearly widespread dissatisfaction with the excessive bureaucracy, lack of democratic controls, erosion of national control over borders, and other key elements of the European project.

    There is also fury over the massive migration of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa who are not integrating into European society, reject many elements of Enlightenment liberalism and toleration, and, in some cases, pose terror threats.

    Le Pen is expected to lose to center-left candidate, Emmanuel Macron. Whether he can lift France from the economic and social doldrums is another matter.

     Next up on Health Care: Trump and Mitch McConnell try to craft a deal (Washington Post)

    For months, McConnell, the consummate political insider, has been dispensing his counsel to Trump, the ultimate outsider, who has been absorbing the Kentuckian’s words. The dynamic has provided a degree of stability in the still-forming relationship between the low-key Senate leader and the loquacious president, who are starkly different types of people.

    But cracks have also emerged in their partnership, most notably when Trump has casually suggested that McConnell change the long-standing rules of the Senate and McConnell has bluntly brushed him off.

    Their fragile alliance is about to face its biggest challenge yet in the next phase of the Republican effort to overhaul the nation’s health-care laws. –Washington Post

    Comment: Trump will surely rely on McConnell to work on the deal in the Senate itself, with Vice President (and former Rep.) Mike Pence as the main intermediary for the White House. Trump will be involved enough to show he cares a lot about it and then push harder when the Senate deal is close to done. 

    Of course, the Senate bill and the House bill will be different, requiring a conference committee–the kind of thing that used to be standard before the Obama years essentially jettisoned normal Congressional procedures.

     The New York Times wastes no time attacking: “Health Act Repeal Could Threaten U.S. Job Engine”

    How? Because fewer people might be employed in health care. They report devastating numbers in manufacturing in Ohio and then say, well, treating people for illnesses has softened the blow to employment.

    Comment: Oddly, this editorial was printed as a news story.

     Warren Buffett: I’m a ‘broken record’ on the US economy, we’re stuck at 2% growth  (CNBC)

    Don’t pay much attention to the quarterly numbers, which oscillate, he says. It’s been slow and steady since the autumn of 2009.

     Colombian civil war: Should the US fund the peace deal, as Obama wanted? Monica Crowley says no.  (NY Post)

    In mid-April, President Trump had a brief, cordial exchange with two former presidents of Colombia — Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana — at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. After the Miami Herald reported the encounter, critics suggested it might “undermine” the Colombian “peace deal” struck by the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

    In fact, it’s less a peace agreement than a pathway to dictatorship for a key US ally and to an expansion of drug trafficking here — developments that would pose grave challenges to Trump’s national security agenda and fight against opioid addiction.

    Remarkably, this disastrous course will likely be partially financed with nearly half a billion US taxpayer dollars — promised by then-President Barack Obama — unless Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan deny the appropriation to implement the deal. –Monica Crowley in the New York Post

    Comment: This deadly civil war has lasted for decades. Colombian voters rejected a previous peace deal.

    I simply don’t know enough about the current situation to comment on it, or on Crowley’s views, intelligently.

     Richard Dawkins reports on very disturbing views in North Africa

    The underlying article is here (National Secular Society, UK) It reports on a large survey in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine.

    Just 45% of Egyptian men believed there should be laws “criminalizing domestic violence, including marital rape.” And only 70% of Egyptian women agreed with this statement. –National Secular Society

    Comment: This matters for women in the region and it matters for Europe, where refugees from North Africa are retaining the views for generations, not adapting to liberal western values.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Marcia Sukenik Weiss
    for the Colombia peace deal
    ◆ Seth Charnes
    for correcting me on Pence serving in the House, not the Senate