• 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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  • US Job Market Is Tightening Significantly: Why It Matters. What Policies Would Help

    ◆ That tightening sound you hear in the economy is coming from the labor market.

    And you soon may hear a more ominous sound – the US economy choking, unless policy makers begin addressing the regulatory and education constraints on labor.

    The Evidence Is Increasingly Clear

     Commercial real estate contractors told the Wall Street Journal Monday (May 8) that major building projects are soaking up huge gulps of available electricians, carpenters and other subcontractor laborers.

    Those labor-hungry projects include O’Hare modernization in Chicago, office-building projects in New York, condo and rental-housing projects in Boston, Miami and Los Angeles.

    Elsewhere, shortages of auto mechanics due to increasing complexity of cars are driving up labor rates to where a certified master mechanic can command $100,000 pay check. Fiat Chrysler Corp. said its dealers – forget about your local auto mechanic — will need 25,000 new mechanics in the next five years.

    With the US unemployment rate now at 4.4 percent – lowest since the recession began, according to the April jobs report – and with 700,000 workers having moved in the past year to fulltime status from part-time status, the market grows tighter.

    It seems unlikely the Trump administration will encourage immigration to mitigate the shortage.

    Exasperated employers are raising wage rates, but there are fewer workers on the sidelines to lure into jobs. That’s a stiff headwind for any economy, even one growing at the dismal 0.7 percent annual rate for the first quarter.

    What Policies Could Help?

    (1)  US business needs a skills-certification program for key jobs – an education and certification program that’s national in scope so certified workers can move easily and quickly into jobs in many states without having to jump through local-union apprenticeship hoops.

    (2) Long term, the US education system has to confront its depressing record of failing to educate students for 21st Century jobs in the trades.

    Indeed, social and education policies discourage students from investing in a trade-school education.

    Dan Miller is one of Chicago’s most respected and experienced economic journalists.

    He served as Chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission in the 1990s, then business editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, and, in recent years, as policy adviser to the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank.  He also co-founded the Chicago Innovation Awards, which as recognized best-practices in products and services for over 15 years.

  • ZipDialog Explainer: What Do the Unemployment Numbers Mean?

    Each month, we hear news reports about “today’s unemployment figures,” numbers that are currently very good and getting better.

    What do those unemployment numbers measure? Are there different ways to figure them?

    Basically, the numbers we hear are the “top line” numbers, collected by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), based on their surveys. But, just as the Dow-Jones Average is only one measure of how the overall stock market is doing, those top line numbers are only one gauge of employment.

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    The goal here is simply to explain what those unemployment numbers include and what they leave out.

    First, the official BLS numbers come from sample surveys, which are adjusted later as additional data comes in.

    Second, the numbers need to be adjusted for seasonal-weather effects. If we didn’t do that, then we couldn’t fairly compare unemployment in January and July. So, we adjust for known seasonal effects. The problem is that the average effects for January may not apply to this January. Perhaps it is warmer than normal so more construction can be done outdoors. Or perhaps a major storm knocked out power. These differences mean seasonal adjustments are always approximate. That’s why it is more reliable to look at trends and averages.

    BLS data includes both seasonally-adjusted and raw numbers, but the news reports only the adjusted number. That’s reasonable. Sometimes, they add the caveat that this year’s weather may tilt the numbers in one direction or another.

    Third, there are different ways to decide

    • Whether someone is fully employed, unemployed, or underemployed (either working fewer hours than full-time or working in a lesser position), and
    • Whether someone is part of the potential work force or not. Are they of working age and fit to work, mentally and physically? Are they actually looking for work?

    Since there are different ways to answer these questions, the BLS offers several ways of measuring unemployment, from U1 to U6. These are the 3 most important:

    1. U1: The narrowest measure of unemployment.
      • Persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force
    2. U3: The standard measure–the one reported in the news
      • Total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force
      • These are people who are without jobs and have actively looked for work within the past four weeks
    3. U6: The broadest, most comprehensive measure
      • Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force

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    These numbers usually go up and down in sync, but not always. When the job market gets stronger, some people move off the sidelines and begin hunting for jobs again. If they don’t find them right away, their failure actually increases the U3 unemployment number (since they had not been counted as unemployed when they were not actively looking).

    Since we mostly hear about the U3 rate, it is important to understand who is not included. If I were laid off, age 39 as the Chicago White Sox backup shortstop and stopped looking for work because I knew nobody was hiring 39 year-old shortstops, I would not be counted as unemployed. Why? Because I wasn’t looking for work.

    If I decided, as a last resort, to work 10 hours a week coaching a high-school baseball team, I would be counted as employed, even though I wanted to work 40 hours. So, the U3 rate leaves out some people that you or I might consider “unemployed” or “underemployed.”

    To get this larger picture, you can look at a more comprehensive measure, such as U5 or U6.

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    Fortunately, the numbers on all these measures is good and getting better. Here are the seasonally-adjusted numbers.

    Here is the ten-year trend for U3,  showing the drastic rise with the financial crash and the steady improvement since unemployment peaked in late 2009. If GDP growth had been stronger, the numbers might have been better sooner. But the Obama Administration can rightly look at this steady improvement in employment numbers and tout it as a major achievement.♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 27

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

     Trump goes BIG with proposed tax cuts

    New York Times: “Trump Proposes Sharply Cutting Tax Rates for Individuals”

    The plan is still broad strokes, rather than details, but the strokes are bold.  The point men are Steven Mnuchin at Treasury and Gary Cohn at the National Economic Council.

    The proposal envisions slashing the tax rate paid by businesses large and small to 15 percent. The number of individual income tax brackets would shrink from seven to three — 10, 25 and 35 percent — easing the tax burden on most Americans, including the president, although aides did not offer the income ranges for each bracket.

    Individual tax rates currently have a ceiling of 39.6 percent and a floor of 10 percent. Most Americans pay taxes somewhere between the two.

    The president would eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, a parallel system that primarily hits wealthier people by effectively limiting the deductions and other benefits available to them. –New York Times

    The Times also has a perceptive story: Trump’s Tax Plan Is a Reckoning for Republican Deficit Hawks

    The White House insists that economic growth will cover the cost, which could be as high as $7 trillion over a decade. But the question will dog Republicans and could fracture their party as they face the prospect of endorsing a plan that many economists and budget analysts warn will increase the deficit. –New York Times

    Comment: The main story on tax cuts is riddled with editorial attacks on Trump and often personal ones. The opening line of the lead story is that the tax cuts benefit the rich. And all the stories emphasize the NYT’s speculation–and that is all it is–that the cuts will benefit Trump personally. The implications are that he is self-dealing and that this plan is just another “favor-the-rich, Republican plutocrat” idea. They also love to follow the “benefit the rich” with the words “like Donald Trump.” They have given up all pretense of distinguishing their hard-news reporting from their editorial stance. The difference is the first thing student journalists learn.

     US THAAD anti-missile system, sent to South Korea, to be active within days  (CNN)

    Comment: The US has also sent major naval assets to the area, while China and Russia have deployed significant land forces, possibly fearing an influx of refugees if the Kim regime collapse. But also a signal to Kim Jong Un that he is facing pressure on multiple fronts. 

     Obamacare repeal: House GOP factions making progress, Senate Republicans still an obstacle.  Politico reports: GOP senators not so keen on House’s Obamacare repeal

    The House may finally be on its way to scrapping Obamacare, but don’t expect the Senate to go along: Any plan sent over will undergo major surgery — and survival is far from assured.

    The hurdles in the upper chamber were on vivid display Wednesday as House Republicans celebrated their breakthrough on the stalled repeal effort. The compromise cut with House Freedom Caucus members won over the right flank, but the changes will almost surely make it harder to pick up votes in the more moderate-minded Senate. –Politico

    Comment: The pressure to get this done will be enormous. The GOP knows that they face electoral disaster if they don’t pass their biggest promise of the past seven years.

     How good is the economy in Austin, Texas? “Employers struggling to find workers who will take less than $15 an hour” (KXAN)

    The story also notes, oddly, that unemployment there has crept up slightly in the past few months.

    Comment: When I was in Austin this winter, I asked some workers at a fast-food chain what the starting wage was. “$12 an hour.” I often ask that question when I travel since the starting wage at a McDonald’s or Dairy Queen is the effective minimum wage in the area. 

    I draw two lessons from the Austin story.

    First, the only lasting way to raise the minimum wage is to strengthen business demand for workers, which means making it easier for them to do business and prosper. That’s the Texas story, in a nutshell.

    Second, if unemployment is creeping up (though still very low in Austin) but businesses cannot find workers, then something is wrong. Either people don’t have the right skills or there are disincentives to work. Either way, those are problems that need solutions.

     First settlers came to America 130,000 years ago, long before previous estimates, according to a new study.  (Science News)

    An unidentified Homo species used stone tools to crack apart mastodon bones, teeth and tusks approximately 130,700 years ago at a site near what’s now San Diego. This unsettling claim upending the scientific debate over the settling of the Americas comes from a team led by archaeologist Steven Holen of the Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and paleontologist Thomas Deméré of the San Diego Natural History Museum. If true, it means the Cerutti Mastodon site contains the oldest known evidence, by more than 100,000 years, of human or humanlike colonists in the New World, the researchers report online April 26 in Nature. –Science News

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Michael Lipson
     for the Austin, Texas, story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, April 5

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

     The big news day this week will be Thursday, when

    • Pres. Trump meets with China’s Xi for two days in Florida, and
    • Senate decides how to move forward on Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch

    Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that Gorsuch will get an up-or-down vote, which he will win, and I have no reason to doubt him. By Monday, Justice Gorsuch.

     There are three big issues in the Trump-Xi talks, but I suspect they will focus on only 2.

    • Will China stop North Korea’s nuclear/missile program (done in close cooperation with Iran)?
    • What happens to US-China’s bilateral economic ties?
    • Will China stop its territorial aggression in the South China Sea?  (I suspect this will get less attention)

    Comment: Trump will likely tell Xi that the US intends to sanction Chinese banks and companies doing business with North Korea and that the US will work toward regime change in North Korea. China can go along, and have a say, or do nothing.

    On economic issues, China’s economy has slowed and is vulnerable to US pressure, which Trump will apply. He will also highlight China’s systematic, state-sponsored theft of US intellectual property. These are high-stakes issues and Trump’s nationalist position on trade makes his threats credible. So far, no word on what he is proposing or how flexible Xi will be.

     Huge jobs increase in March  Over 260k, compared to 180k estimate. Widespread gains in private payrolls. (CNBC)

    Comment: Optimism about US growth taking root.

     That red line Pres. Obama drew in Syria? It is a Code Red Line after another deadly chemical attack. Russia denies the Assad regime is involved, naturally (CNN)

    A chemical weapons expert, Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told the BBC’s Radio 4 that all signs showed the chemical used was sarin gas and that Russia’s versions of events was “completely unsustainable.”
    “I think this is pretty fanciful and no doubt the Russians trying to protect their allies. Axiomatically, if you blow up sarin you destroy it,” he said. –CNN

    Comment: A vast human tragedy in Syria unfolding over years, with perhaps 500,000 civilians dead.

    Pressure is building to get a full explanation of what Susan Rice did, why she needed the unmasked names of US citizens, and who she shared that information with. Her record of public dissembling does not help her.

    Senate intel committee says Ms. Rice “may be of interest” to us.  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Well, duh.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 30

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

     State Department official arrested; accused of economic spying for China  (Los Angeles Times)

    A longtime State Department employee [Candace Claiborne] was arrested Wednesday and charged with repeatedly lying about her contacts with Chinese businessmen who had plied her with thousands of dollars in cash and gifts to glean inside information about U.S. economic policy, U.S. officials said. . . .

    The case offers a window into Beijing’s efforts to gain an advantage in its economic jockeying with the United States, and how business owners in China often double as agents for state intelligence. –Los Angeles Times

     FBI director Comey wanted to publicly expose Russian spying before the election; Obama White House blocked him  (Newsweek)

    Comey pitched the idea of writing an op-ed about the Russian campaign during a meeting in the White House’s situation room in June or July. . . .

    [The op-ed] would have included much of the same information as the bombshell declassified intelligence report released January 6, which said Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to influence the presidential election, the source said.–Newsweek

     Federal Reserve says the US economy is finally back to normal  (CNN Money). Unemployment is officially under 5% and adding 200k jobs monthly, which the Fed considers full employment for its purposes. This data is why the Fed is gradually raising interest rates, hoping to keep the economy from overheating.

     Attorney General for Mexican state of Nayarit arrested in San Diego on drug trafficking charges  (San Diego Union-Tribune)

    Comment: You hate to see their courts and law enforcement system besmirched.

     Dead: The misanthrope who wrote “The Anarchist Cookbook” in the late 1960s. It featured recipes for bombs, gun silencers, and all sorts of weapons. It sold over 2 million copies and 

    is believed to have been used as a source in heinous acts of violence since its publication in 1971, most notably the killings of 12 students and one teacher in 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. –New York Times

    Comment: Oddly, given his contributions to this world, he died of natural causes.  I have deliberately omitted his name.

     Headline: “This Chicago man saved $1 million by the time he was 30. Here’s how he did it.” (Chicago Tribune)

    Let me explain how he did it:

    1. He made pretty good money, though not fantastic amounts
    2. He didn’t spend very much.

    Honestly, that’s what the article says. And, frankly, it is good advice if you want to accumulate resources and can restrain your consumption.

    Try to make good money and don’t splurge. If your investments get good returns, that helps, too.

    Comment: Works every time.

    But I would add: as you accumulate, give some to worthy charities. Others less fortunate need your help.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 23

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

     Health Care Bill in the Intensive Care Unit.

    Doubts Ryan and Trump have the votes to pass the bill in the House, but the arm twisting continues to move Freedom Caucus members to the “yes” side.

    If the vote is postponed, you will know Ryan did not convince enough members on the party’s right.

    The New York Times has the most accurate headline: Leaders Struggle to Unite House Republicans Behind Health Bill. The words in the article are “uncertain fate.”

     Islamist attack near Big Ben and Parliament kills 5, including a police officer, and injures dozens

    The extent of the terrorist’s support network and connections are being investigated urgently by British police and intelligence units.

    Prime Minister Theresa May was resolute in response, saying Parliament would not postpone its Thursday session.

    Comment: Before becoming PM, May was in charge of Britain’s homeland security and was highly regarded in the position. She’s the ideal politician to lead her country through this difficult time.

     “House Intelligence chair says Trump campaign officials were ensnared in surveillance operations” (Washington Post)

    The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday accused U.S. spy agencies of abusing their surveillance powers by gathering and sharing information about President Trump and his transition team, an unproven charge that was quickly embraced by the White House but threatened to derail the committee’s investigation of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.

    Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, said he was alarmed after seeing intelligence reports disseminated after the Nov. 8 election that made references to U.S. citizens affiliated with Trump, and possibly the president-elect himself. –Washington Post

    His Democratic counterpart on the committee, Adam Schiff, immediately blasted Nunes for revealing this to Trump and to the public before disclosing it privately to fellow committee members.

    Comment: I watched CNN’s take on this. It skimmed over the issue headlined in the Washington Post and, instead, emphasized Adam Schiff’s position that Nunes had destroyed the investigation and that an independent commission was now needed. The cable channel virtually ignored the substance of Nunes’ comments, which implied that some intelligence agencies did collect information on Trump campaign officials and might have shared it within the Obama White House, a serious charge.

    CNN panelists kept emphasizing the Russia investigation and suggesting that Trump’s impeachment was a real possibility if collusion was found. The CNN story is here.

     “Iran Charges Russia with Selling Out its Air Defense Secrets to Israel” (Popular Mechanics)

    An engineer with Tehran’s Ministry of Defense alleged that codes forcing anti-aircraft missiles to treat hostile Israeli fighters as friendly were sold to Tel Aviv, effectively neutralizing Syria and Iran’s S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.

    An Iranian official, described by the Jerusalem Post as a senior member of Iran’s Defense Ministry, told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida that Russia had sold “codes” to Israel that identified Israeli aircraft as friendly. The codes were used by Israel to prevent its aircraft from being targeted. Israel has flown dozens of air raids over Syria, and despite advanced air defenses, only the latest raid, flown last Friday, involved an actual missile launch. –Popular Mechanics

    Comment: Well, those allies in the Syrian fight seem to have some differences.

    Hard to know if the Iranian charges are true, but it is known that the Israelis generally have good relations with Russia and have worked assiduously to make sure Israeli planes do not create problems for Moscow when they fly over Syria to interdict Tehran’s shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a client Iran supplies with lethal tools to threaten Israel. Israel, in turn, tries to prevent those ships as they transit Syria, and it wants to do so without creating conflicts with Moscow.

     “New research identifies a ‘sea of despair’ among white, working-class Americans”  (Washington Post)

    Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists [Anne Case and Nobel-prize-winner Angus Deaton] –Washington Post

    Comment: This confirms what Charles Murray wrote in his pathbreaking book, Coming Apart. Murray, you will recall, is the scholar whose presence at Middlebury College set off left-wing students, who rioted, prevented him from speaking, and injured Prof. Allison Stanger, who was escorting him.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, March 18

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

    ◆ Happy St. Patrick’s Day

     House, Senate Republicans don’t care for Trump’s Budget (Washington Post)

    • Defense not raised enough, say hawks
    • Welfare programs cut too deeply, say some rural congressmen

    Nobody thinks the budget is going anywhere. Obama’s didn’t, either.

    The House GOP plan to revise the Affordable Care Act is embattled, as is Trump’s push to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. His tax reform and infrastructure plans have yet to get off the ground.

    As he passes the halfway mark of his first 100 days, Trump is under increasing pressure to show that he can make good on his ambitious promises. –Washington Post

     Two Federal judges block Trump’s latest travel ban (New York Times)

    Comment: I am no lawyer, but I do think about constitutional issues. In the temporary immigration ban and court rulings, I see several thorny constitutional/legal issues:

    • First, the President has very clear, wide-ranging statutory authority to issues these bans, using his national-security authority
    • The President’s authority in this area has not been limited by Supreme Court rulings, as far as I know
    • On the other hand, the US does have various laws, court rulings, and regulations that prevent religious discrimination and prohibit “religious tests.” The courts blocking Trump seem to rely heavily on those laws and rulings.
    • To say that non-citizens, who are not already on US soil, have some constitutional rights related to our immigration laws is very striking–and perhaps novel. The courts know that and have been very reluctant to even make those arguments. They seem to say that the rights apply to US citizens who want their sister to come here from a banned country. Whether that is a stretch or not will have to be determined by higher courts.
    • The courts’ rulings against Trump explicitly say they are not ruling based solely on the text of the Presidential order. Rather, they are “putting this it in context.” The context is that candidate Trump explicitly promised a ban on Muslim immigration. Since the banned countries are Muslim, that must have been his intent. (His counter-argument is that other Muslim countries are not included in the ban and, in any case, the courts have no business ruling on this matter, which is solely within the President’s discretion.)
    • SUMMARY COMMENT: I see four big questions here.
      1. Should court rulings be limited to a law’s explicit text or should they take into account the broader political “context” (and, if so, how should judges determine the appropriate context)?
      2. Previous court decisions (on other issues) have explicitly ruled that a candidate’s statements are not relevant to subsequent laws and regulations, passed after the candidate takes office. Why shouldn’t that restriction apply here?
      3. Do these courts imply that non-US citizens, who are not already on US soil, have some constitutional rights that the courts must protect?
      4. Are these rulings–and the clear distaste for Pres. Trump they evince–the prelude to courts assuming a much larger role in national-security issues than they have previously? That would be an important change. It would also put the courts in an very tenuous position. They lack the information (including classified information) and the expertise to make policy judgments in this area. That is why they have normally deferred to the President unless there were clear constitutional violations. The courts are vulnerable to arguments that they are overreaching to impose their own preferred policies in an area where they should be more restrained. They would rightly receive withering criticism if those rulings lead to bad outcomes.

     Syria fired missiles into Israel after the Israeli Air Force struck targets in Syria (Associated Press)

    Israeli Channel 10 TV reported that Israel deployed its Arrow defense system for the first time against a real threat and hit an incoming missile intercepting it before it exploded in Israel. –Associated Press

    The Jerusalem Post also has a story, reporting Israeli air defense sirens sounded in the Jordan Valley.

    Comment: Israel has been very careful about being drawn into the Syrian conflict, but it does have two vital interests that could lead to military strikes. Both involve Iran. The Israelis do not want to see Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shipping missiles to Hezbollah (based in southern Lebanon) through Syria. They have bombed those shipments when they learn of them. They are increasingly concerned that the Iranians are moving troops into Syrian territory bordering Israel.

     US economy’s strength apparent in new data on housing, unemployment, and consumer confidence (Reuters)

    Interest rates are slowly returning to normal, too, after years of near-zero rates, designed to buoy a flagging economy.

    U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data as investors digested the Fed’s decision on Wednesday to raise its overnight benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points to a range of 0.75 percent to 1.00 percent. The U.S. central bank also forecast two more rate hikes this year. —Reuters

     Venezuela: When a socialist economy has no bread, they know exactly how to solve the problem. They nationalize the bakeries(Miami Herald)

    Comment: Sean Penn had no comment.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Barry Shaw
     for the Israel missile story