• ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, April 15

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

     North Korea displays new missiles but holds off another nuclear test (Washington Post)

    Comment: The situation is incredibly dangerous. North Korea’s leader is not only bellicose. He may well be mentally unstable. No one is sure.

    South Korea’s capital and largest city, Seoul, is very close to the DMZ, and very vulnerable to attack–including a nuclear attack by Pyongyang.

    China could put the squeeze on North Korea, but that does not mean it has control over the Kim regime’s actions. Beijing knows that China’s population is also threatened by North Korean weapons and that the two countries have a complicated, sometimes fraught history.

    My hunch is that Beijing would prefer to engineer a change of leadership that is friendly to China, less bellicose, and willing to pursue a Chinese-style market opening. But trying to achieve that is very risky.

     Good news on free speech at one college, Wichita State They tried hard to do the wrong thing, but they eventually got it right.

    An embattled student group at Wichita State University is finally free to engage in on-campus activism as a registered student organization. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the Wichita State University Student Government overturned the Student Government Association’s unconstitutional decision to deny recognition to Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian student group, because of the group’s belief in First Amendment principles. –FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

    Comment: If you support free speech and don’t already know about FIRE, you’ll be happy to learn about it. It is truly even-handed, defending right and left alike.

     Related Story: Meanwhile, at Wellesley, a very selective liberal arts college, the student newspaper writes:

    Wellesley is certainly not a place for racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia or any other type of discriminatory speech. Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech. (The Wellesley News via HotAir)

    These students actually say that the “Founding Fathers” (a phrase that must stick in their craw) “put free speech in the Constitution as a way to protect the disenfranchised . . . [and] suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.”

    Comment: The First Amendment does not mean “anything is acceptable.” As everyone knows, you cannot yell fire falsely in a crowded theater. Nor can you take a bullhorn and wake up the whole neighborhood at 3 am with your rendition of “I did it my way.” There are, in other words, some legal restrictions on the time, place, and conditions for speech. There are legal remedies for “damaging” speech, if it is false and defamatory (and perhaps known to be false when uttered).

    But for Wellesley students to actually defend their speech suppression as being true to the First Amendment is either disingenuous or historically clueless. Either way, it is wrong. 

     Two data-driven opinion pieces on wealth disparities between blacks and whites with college degrees

    Comment: The disparity is troubling and thoughtful, open-minded discussion is valuable.

    Going back to the previous two stories: this kind of discussion is much harder to have on campuses where everyone walks on eggshells, fearing a wrong word might offend.

     How deep is the Clinton camp’s denial?

    Well, Hillary’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, told a Yale audience “Ukraine and the horrible ISIS beheadings” were “sort of manufactured press stories” (Daily Caller)

    There were the obvious crazy things happening like the website melting down, Ukraine, and the horrible ISIS beheadings; these sort of manufactured press stories that hopefully you all have forgotten about. –Daily Caller

    Comment: Those manufactured stories were nothing compared to that fake moon landing.

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    Many thanks to Christopher Buckley for the Wellesley story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 13

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

     US-Russia: “Candid discussions,” as the diplomats say. The rest of us say: “frosty”

    • Sec. of State Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, hold a chilly press conference.
    • Pres. Trump shrewdly holds a press conference with NATO head at the same time

    NYT headline: U.S. Takes Sharper Tone on Russia’s Role in Syria

    President Trump and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson sought on Wednesday to isolate President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for backing the Syrian government in the wake of its lethal chemical weapons attack on civilians, and worked to build international pressure on Moscow to change course.

    In Washington, Moscow and New York, the Trump administration publicly chastised Mr. Putin but privately worked to hash out increasingly bitter differences with him. At the same time, Mr. Trump embraced NATO — a military alliance he had previously derided as obsolete — as an effective and vital force for peace and security in a region where Russia has been an aggressive actor. –New York Times

    Comment: Right now, the issue is Syria, but tomorrow it could be Ukraine or the Baltics. There is a full plate of differences and, despite Russia’s high hopes that Trump would be a friendly patsy, he has been tougher than Obama (though not necessarily tougher than Hillary would have been). As Tillerson say today, relations are at a low point, and that’s a dangerous thing when both are bristling with nuclear weapons.

     Melania Trump, defamed by British tabloid, takes them to the cleaners. The UK’s Daily Mail pays her big money and issues an apology.Here’s what a fair headline looks like: Melania Trump wins damages from Daily Mail over ‘escort’ allegation (BBC)

    Now, watch here’s the Washington Post‘s effort to deny Melania won: Melania Trump settles lawsuits with Daily Mail.

    That headline actively avoids giving readers the story, which they could have done by using the words: “Melania Trump triumphs in lawsuit with Daily Mail”

     Today in WTF: Cursing banned at Philadelphia construction site

    The site is at Temple University, where students apparently need a lot of protection. (Fox News)

    Comment: Of course, they mostly need protection getting back and forth to school in that neighborhood. But I digress. Philadelphia is actually best known as the city that actually booed Santa Claus. (True.)

     CNN doubles down on its attack angle: Trump’s people colluded with Russia.

    Today’s CNN headline: “The Russia story just keeps getting worse for President Trump” (CNN)

    Comment: I watched some of Don Lemon’s show tonight. He had on several guests, but it was a charade. 

    The network plans to continue until an airplane is lost at sea. That always struck me as odd because airports are the main venue for CNN.

     Two men from Zion, Illinois, charged with giving support to terrorist Islamic State. (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: Odd choice for Zionists.

     Three Steps to Making Solar Power More Efficient (Edgy Labs) Two banal, one wrong.

    1. Put solar power into the grid instead of storing it
    2. Improve the cells’ efficiency
    3. Create practical infrastructure for solar

    Comment: The last two qualify as “well, d’uh.”

    And the first one seems wrong. We do want to put it into the grid, of course, but it is intermittent so we need better storage.

    What’s right about the article is that solar installation costs are falling and greater use would reduce pollution. 

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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 Thursday, April 6

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

     A word of caution on two evolving scandals: Russia-Trump and Susan Rice

    • If there is evidence of serious crimes, each of these could become truly major events.
    • But so far we have few hard facts, shrouded in extremely sharp partisan attacks, mimicked and exacerbated by the news media.

    Russia’s role in the US election:

    • The mainstream media continues to say that Russian interference in the US election (a fact) also involved direct collusion with senior Trump officials (a conjecture). So far, top intel officials not associated with Trump have said there is zero evidence of collusion.
    • There is an FBI counter-intelligence investigation of these issues. If it finds some self-dealing from Trump officials, using their positions to make money, that’s bad news for them and certainly newsworthy, but it is not a catastrophic national scandal. If if finds significant collusion between Russians and top Trump officials, that is a truly enormous crime against our democracy.

    Susan Rice:

    • We know Rice lied publicly when she told PBS two weeks ago that she knew nothing about the unmasking of names.
    • Her story has changed. Now, she simply says she did nothing improper.
    • That may be correct. It seems to be very unusual to ask for as many unmasked names as Rice requested, but she will undoubtedly say she needed to know them to understand US intelligence. Whether that is true or false will depend on the scale of her requests and especially on the type of information contained in the intercepted conversations. If they were entirely related to US national security, she’s in the clear, or at least she can plausibly argue that she had good reasons for doing what she did. If the conversations are far removed from US national security issues, she’s in trouble–and so is the country for having a National Security Adviser who used US intelligence resources for domestic political purposes.
    • At this point, we simply do not know enough to discriminate between those two interpretations, one benign and one malign.

     News you haven’t seen about Susan Rice, the Obama Administration, and spying on US Citizens: 

    Lee Smith, writing in The Tablet, says Rice “may have been rifling through classified transcripts for over a year” with info about Trump and associates. 

    Smith focuses on the Iranian Nuclear Deal and says the US spied extensively on Israeli officials (who opposed the deal). No problem there; that is completely within the purview of the intel agencies. Since Israeli officials worked closely with US citizens, including lawmakers, who opposed the deal, their conversations were picked up, too. The question is whether the Obama White House, in possession of this information, restricted its use to national security or went beyond that, abusing the foreign intelligence system.

    Smith reaches a devastating conclusion:

    I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.

    “At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

    This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. –Lee Smith in The Tablet

     Pres. Trump harshly condemns Syria after deadly sarin gas attack, calling it “horrendous” and saying it crossed “several” red lines, deliberately invoking Obama’s language

    Comment: The shift in US policy was abrupt. Only a few days earlier the US had resigned itself to Assad’s continued rule. The change is clearly the result of the chemical attack. Pres. Trump’s language, especially his use of Obama’s term, signals some kind of military strike.

    I would be shocked if the US put troops into this no-win situation. The US can certainly damage the Assad regime from the air, but, even there, a strike runs the risk of conflict with Russia, which (along with Iran) is the main foreign support for Assad’s regime. 

    The larger strategic problem for the US is that there is no way to stand up a pro-western regime there without enormous costs and high risks.

    Two big Thursday events: Chinese leader Xi meets Trump in Florida, US Senate moves to end debate and vote on Gorsuch for Supreme Court

    Comment: More on them tomorrow when we have real news.

     McMaster asserts his control over the National Security Council

    • All news outlets are reporting Steve Bannon is out (he should never have been in);
    • What many are not noticing is that McMaster is filling out his organization with skilled professionals.

    Good report at Politico.

     

     

     

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  • UPDATE: Burying the Lede–the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN refuse to even mention the Susan Rice story

    Bloomberg’s Eli Lake broke the story that Susan Rice had sought an extraordinarily large number of intel intercepts involving the Trump team, beginning in July, and had succeeded in seeing the real names of US citizens, rather than the normally masked versions.

    Sara Carter and John Solomon continue their excellent reporting on these issues at Circa: White House logs indicate Susan Rice consumed unmasked intel on Trump associates

    Rice’s requests seem to go well beyond an interest in national security issues, but information is still murky and Rice herself is refusing to comment. After her Benghazi performance, she may feel shy about public comments.

    Given the prominence Trump’s allegations that he was spied on and the felonious unmasking of Michael Flynn’s name, the story is obviously an important one.

    Drudge and Fox News lead with it, but one could imagine it is the second, third, or sixth-ranked story of the day, depending on your judgment about the Gorsuch hearings, etc..

    BUT CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post do not even mention the story. It should go without saying that NBC News skips the story.

    Silent as Calvin Coolidge getting a haircut.

    Omission, like commission, can be a sign of bias, and, in this case, it is.

    They didn’t just bury the lede. They cremated it and scattered the ashes at sea, at night.

    Two other ZipDialog stories today on this: one focusing on CNN’s bias, the other on Bloomberg’s report on Susan Rice.

    Here’s this evening CNN front page, with the Susan Rice story completely absent. Scroll down for screenshots of the NYT and WaPo.  Let’s hope they do better tomorrow.

    Here’s the NYT:

    And the Washington Post:

     

     

     

  • A Quick Guide to the Three-Ring Circus of Scandals (op-ed at Real Clear Politics)

    The goal is to distinguish among the 3 overlapping, but distinct, scandals consuming Washington, and to explain what we do know and don’t know about their murky details.
    The focus is on
    1. Russian interference in the 2016 election;
    2. Collusion, if any, between the Kremlin and senior Trump people, before and after the election;
    3. Surveillance, if any, of Trump transition officials by the Obama White House and intelligence agencies, and the internal dissemination of materials not related to national security.
     
    Please feel free to share and comment here, at Facebook, or at Real Clear Politics.
  • ZipDialog for Saturday, April 1: Three Scandals–What Do We Know?

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

     Single topic today: Explaining the Three Scandals Consuming Washington

    Key Point: There are Three Distinct Scandals (or purported scandals). They overlap but are distinct.

    One reason it is so hard to follow the Washington/FBI/Intel/Congress/Trump administration scandals is that there are

    • So many players,
    • Several separate scandals, and
    • Very little public information. 

    The opposing parties emphasize different scandals

    American citizens should be interested in all three as they unfold.

    1. Russian interference in 2016 election
    2. Team Trump’s Connections to Russians Before and After the Election
    3. Obama White House spying on Team Trump and “unmasking” secret name(s)

    What do we know about each and why does it matter?

    What do we know about each and why does it matter?

    1. Russian interference in 2016 election
      • We know the Kremlin used disinformation and other dirty tricks. We also know they didn’t change the vote count but may have influenced voter opinions.
      • To me, their attack on the integrity of our election is a fundamental attack on our democracy. It ought to be investigated throughly so we can understand what they did, how they did it, and how to counter, deter, and punish in the future.
      • This should be a bipartisan goal, but Republicans have been reticent. Why? Two reasons. First, they think Democrats are using Russian interference as a way of saying “we didn’t lose fair and square.” Republicans think that’s delegitimating their success. Second, they fear the Democrats are trying to link Russian interference to Trump’s team.
    2. Team Trump’s Connections to Russia
      • So far, senior intel officials have testified publicly that there is nothing there.
      • BUT there is an open FBI counter-intelligence investigation into this.
      • The Senate Intel Committee is looking into this and Russian interference (item 1) but the parallel House investigation is stalled over Democrats’ accusations about Chairman Devin Nunes’ partisan connection to Trump
      • We know that Michael Flynn did foreign lobbying for Turkish entities, for which he belatedly registered as a lobbyist
      • Allegations have been made that other Trump team members had business connections to Russian-related entities. Democrats and media outlets have focused on Paul Manafort and Carter Page
    3. Team Obama Spying on Trump Transition
      • We know Trump tweeted about “wiretapping,” an antiquated term
      • It appears that senior Obama officials did receive information about the Trump transition from intel intercepts directed at foreign nationals. Names of US nationals uncovered in such surveillance is supposed to be masked
      • We know that one of the senior Obama appointees unmasked and leaked Michael Flynn’s name; that is a felony
      • We do not yet know who leaked the name
      • We do not know what legitimate reasons, if any, the Obama White House had for circulating information among its officials about internal Trump planning
      • We do not know if the “collateral” information collected on these Trump officials was actually a hidden goal of US spy agencies, tasked by the Obama White House

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, March 31

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

     Michael Flynn’s lawyers float an idea: he’ll testify if House and Senate investigators give him immunity. At issue, Russia’s influence in the 2016 election and their contacts with the Trump campaign.

    The Wall Street Journal broke the story.

    Flynn’s lawyer confirmed it; and now everyone is reporting it.

    According to the New York Times, Congressional investigators want to be further along in their inquiry before deciding how to handle Flynn.

    Comment: The Senate will take the lead here, in cooperation with the FBI. The committee on the House side is tied up in controversy over ties between its chairman, Devin Nunes (R-CA), and the Trump White House.

     Trump begins trade-policy review “as he levels new threats at China”  (Washington Post)

    • The review will cover major products and major trade partners.
    • China’s leader, Xi Jinping, visits Trump next week.

     Historic first: SpaceX launches a satellite into orbit on a reused rocket booster.  A tremendous technical achievement for Elon Musk’s company, one that dramatically lowers costs. SpaceX is aiming to launch new payloads every 2-3 weeks. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ firm, has also reused rockets but has done so on suborbital missions. (Space.com)

     Opiates: Ohio officials, led by Gov. John Kasich, working to restrict painkiller prescriptions (Toledo Blade)

    Calling the proposed rules a “done deal,” Gov. John Kasich said these actions, coupled with a crackdown on the law enforcement side, will eventually reverse Ohio’s distinction of ranking first in the nation in overdose deaths.

    “We’re paying the price right now for a lot of the neglect that happened in the past,” he said.

    In battling their patients’ acute pain, doctors and other health-care providers could prescribe no more than seven days’ worth of opioid dosages for adults and five days for minors. The potency could not exceed an average of 30 morphine equivalent doses per day.

    Physicians could prescribe more than that only after they’ve justified it based on the patient’s medical records. Exceptions would be made for cancer, palliative care, end-of-life, and addiction treatment. –Toledo Blade

     Dumbest comment of the Day: EU top bureaucrat, Jean-Claude Juncker, says he will urge “Ohio and Austin, Texas” to secede from the US if Trump doesn’t stop praising Brexit Story here.

    Comment: Looks like ole Jean-Claude’s been in the liquor cabinet again.

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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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