• ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, July 31

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

     Comment: What the White House Shakeup Means

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Related article: OPEC’s big troubles  (Bloomberg)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The driver? Consumer Spending

     

     

  • US-Russian Relations: What matters but isn’t covered in all the tabloid news

    Russia’s interference in America’s 2016 election matters. So do any possible connections to the Trump campaign

    But the media’s obsession with those issues is missing other major developments in US-Russian relations

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The news about US-Russian-European relations goes far beyond the 2016 election interference and possible connections to the Trump campaign.

    On the international stage, Vladimir Putin has skilfully played a very weak hand, while the US misplayed its own for 8 years. Putin has taken an economy the size of Italy’s and returned it to status as an international power.

    It is Iran’s major outside supporter and a major player in Syria, where, in return for supporting the Assad regime, it has acquired major bases.

    It has used Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas for political leverage.

    And it has effectively offered to step in and assist North Korea if they want assistance beyond China’s.

    But he can only stay in power by running a corrupt kleptocracy, in close alignment with the oligarchs, with everything stage-managed from Moscow.

    That’s a good way for him to stay in power, but it is a terrible way to grow a diverse, modern economy. Over the long run, the Russian economy will continue to sputter as the US grows.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    What has the Trump Administration done to cope with Putin internationally?

    The media focus has been entirely on US weakness, especially Trump’s mixed statements about NATO and his inexplicable reluctance to recognize the threat from Russia in clear, unambiguous language. There has been some focus on the recent cease-fire in Syria, too.

    But there is much more to the story. And all these other developments put pressure on a Kremlin ill-equipped to handle it.

    NATO

    On NATO, as I have noted, Trump is now a firm supporter but he still wants two major changes: a focus on terrorism and fair-share payments from European partners, as they promised. One reasonable interpretation of his threats to back away from NATO is that they are meant to get Europe to pay up.

    Poland

    In Poland, Trump did more than make a speech (a very good one in my opinion, a very bad one in the opinion of Democrats). He also agreed to an important arms sale the Obama Administration had refused.

    In a move set to counter Russia’s reinforcement on NATO’s borders, Poland and the U.S. have agreed that Warsaw will purchase the American-made Patriot air defense missile, the Polish government announced Thursday.

    Although Poland is a long-term advocate for more U.S. military presence in Europe, Russia’s decision to deploy Iskander missile systems on its borders in November made the demand for assistance more urgent. The S-400 surface-to-air missiles and nuclear-capable Iskander systems are set to be delivered in Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave bordering Poland. –Newsweek, story here

    Ukraine

    Totally missing from news coverage is the startling news that Ukraine is now openly seeking NATO membership–understandable, given the Russian threat, but an open insult to the Kremlin, which refused even to let Ukraine strike a trade deal with the EU.

    The Reuters story is headlines: “Pledging Reforms by 2020, Ukraine Seeks Route into NATO

    [Ukraine’s] President Petro Poroshenko, whose country is fighting a Kremlin-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, revived the prospect of NATO membership during a visit by NATO Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg who himself used the occasion to call on Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

    “Ukraine has clearly defined its political future and its future in the sphere of security,” Poroshenko speaking to reporters alongside Stoltenberg.

    “Today we clearly stated that we would begin a discussion about a membership action plan and our proposals for such a discussion were accepted with pleasure.”

    Russia, deeply opposed to enlargement of NATO toward its borders, weighed in quickly, saying the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine would not promote stability and security in Europe. –Reuters

    It’s unclear how NATO will approach this or what the Trump Administration will say (or even if it will speak with one voice).

    But the very fact that Ukraine has raised the NATO issue is sure to be a major irritant in US-Russian relations.

    Energy

    The Russian economy depends on oil revenues, and so does the Kremlin to retain support from oligarchs.

    The problem is that energy prices are under permanent, long-term pressure from the US, where shale technology is getting more and more efficient. The US is now a major (and growing) energy exporter, and Trump is doing everything he can to ramp up production and ramp down prices.

    The impact on Russia is not his primary concern here. He’s more concerned with the positive impact of lower prices on the US economy. But the impact on Russia is real, nonetheless, and Trump means to exploit it.

    On his recently completed trip, the president said:

    Let me be clear about one crucial point. The United States will never use energy to coerce your nations, and we cannot allow others to do so,” Trump said at a press conference flanked by European leaders. “You don’t want to have a monopoly or a monopolistic situation. –CNBC story here

    Trump did not name Russia, but everyone understood his message. After all, Russia had cut gas supplies to Europe in 2008 over a Ukraine dispute. Trump was saying, in effect, that we intend to stop that blackmail by giving you an alternative supplier.

    Bottom Line

    The possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign are worth a thorough investigation, as Mueller is doing.

    But don’t be mislead by Democrats’ talking tough: they did little to buttress Central European defenses during the Obama years. Pres. Obama had no intention of increasing US hydrocarbon production, if he could prevent it. (He couldn’t, thanks to new technology.) Lower energy prices it contradicted his broader concerns about fossil fuels and global warming. Fracking technology beat his regulatory onslaught, just as it beat the Saudis’ attempt to drive them out of business with low energy prices.

    For all Trump’s inexplicably warm language about Putin, his actions tell a different story. He’s selling arms to Poland, pressuring Europeans to pay up for NATO, unlocking American oil reserves to lower prices over the long-term, and working to ween Europe from Russian natural.

    Taken together, these actions put enormous pressure on a Kremlin underperforming economically, highly dependent on oil prices, and overstretched by its foreign commitment.

     

     

     

  • Deep Troubles in America’s Deep Coal Mines

    Guest Author: Terry Jackson

    [Editor’s note: Terry Jackson has worked in the coal industry for years and knows it well. ZipDialog is delighted to include his personal views. Readers are invited to respond. We take the “Dialog” in ZipDialog seriously.]

    All of the damage done to the Coal Industry in the Obama Administration cannot be undone, and I am not a Climate Change Denier.

    As a matter of fact, through intelligent dialogue on Charles Lipson’s ZipDialog blog and its related postings on Facebook, I am now FB friends with two Climate Scientists as a result.

    Deregulating Utilities and Regulating Coal

    coal-labeled-300px-no-marginThe problem began with the deregulation of electric utilities and the lack of a moral compass in the executives of those publicly-owned and traded utilities. It was made worse by Bill Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, eliminating the “Chinese Wall” between banking and investment banking.

    Instead of replacing coal-fired units all over the East Coast with new and clean coal plants, the utilities sold their coal plants, which had already been full depreciated, to Independent Power Producers (IPPs), who brushed them off to merely comply with minimal EPA regulations in force and then ran them into the ground, fully depreciating them again.

    The utility executives got bonuses, their shareholders got dividends, the banking and investment banking pigs got fat. I should add that the trend started earlier than 1999 with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall legislation, and IPP’s have been around since Jimmy Carter. They just got bolder and less moral over the years.

    The coup de grace was Obama’s EPA director coming up with even more and more “pollutants” to lay on the remaining coal-fired generating stations and his willingness to empower the oil and gas companies with expanded fracking.

    Most oil and gas companies owned coal companies, as did chemical companies like DuPont, and they divested. They got out knowing that they could dump their coal assets with the help of the same banks and investment bankers who helped them buy coal assets for their huge cash flows in the first place.

    Even the Sierra Club, which was all for more gas instead of coal, came to find out that the 6% losses of gas at the well head and through the pipelines was more damaging to the environment than the coal it replaced.  Friends at DOI [Department of the Interior] have known that for years, for what it is worth.

    climate-change-labeled-300pxReducing Pollution is a Global Problem

    The globe is now producing and consuming 200 million tons per year more than they were in 2000, and American production, and hence revenue and taxes from exporting coal as well as domestic markets is down 100 million tons. During Obama’s administration 95,000 American coal miners have been put out of work.

    I didn’t make any of that up. Those are facts, and while America has been punished, we seem to be fighting the war against Global Warming and Climate Change without the cooperation or the rest of the planet. Germany, Japan and Scandinavia are installing new clean coal capacity mostly because they don’t trust the Russians or nuclear power.

    The Politics of Betrayal

    Meanwhile, we’ve been misled and lied to including by the President and the Left Wing and Progressives who do not understand and have never really wanted to understand because coal miners are just trash with few teeth to most Americans on both coasts. Meanwhile, China and India are going to bury the West coast in their pollution.

    ♦ Do I believe in Climate Change? Absolutely.

    ♦ Do I believe in Clean Coal Technology and Technology in general? Absolutely.

    ♦ Do I believe most Americans are the useful idiots that Saul Alinsky talks about? Absolutely, because it is Lenin and Saul who really looked and looks down on the intellectual short comings of most people.

    People aren’t stupid–stupid cannot be fixed–but most are ignorant when it comes to peeling the onion and getting behind the political motives of each party.

    So I pray. I hope you can read that without feeling I am condescending in any way but trying to use my experience, education etc. to make you more aware of how deep our problems run, including having a terrible person as our new POTUS.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The opinions in this post are those of Terry Jackson. He and ZipDialog welcome your response

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Friday, Nov 11

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

    ◆ November 11: Veterans Dayveterans-day-300px-no-margins

     

    A serious analysis of why the polls got it wrong. 

    zd-polling-201px-w-marginsThe author, Milt Rosenberg, is known by millions for hosting one of the country’s most interesting talk shows. But his “day job” was always as a professor of social pyschology, with special expertise on polling bias. His analysis emphasizes “evaluation apprehension,” in which respondents fail to report their views accurately to pollsters for fear they will be judged negatively. (American Spectator)

    ◆ ‘Not my president’: Thousands protest Trump in rallies across the US (Washington Post)

     NY Daily News, which hates Trump, runs this headline: President-elect Donald Trump complains about ‘unfair’ protesters

    clinton-foundation-300px-no-margins◆ IRS sued for Clinton Foundation Documents (Fox)

    Comment on the Foundation: The Clinton Foundation is extremely vulnerable to a thorough, honest investigation by a neutral DOJ. But it is vital that a Trump Administration act with probity. If this investigation looks like vengeance or retribution, it will be as bad as the Obama DOJ.

    Comment on the Clintons’ Personal Enrichment: For anyone who thought it was not influence buying to hire Bill and Hillary for speaking fees of $400k-$750k, or hiring Bill as an “honorary chancellor” of a private university for $16 million, ask yourself this:

    Is anybody willing to pay the Clintons those astronomical rates now? Why not? Because the Clintons are out of power for good. Not temporarily. They are never coming back.

    No investor buys an option that will expire worthless. And people paying them those fees were “investing” in the Clintons. (Charles Lipson comment)

    energy-composite-solar-coal-nat-gas-oil-fracking-labeled-300-no-margins◆ What will a Trump Presidency Mean for Energy? Good News for Oil and Gas. Bad News for Solar  (Buffalo News, republished in GovTech) Growth was already slowing in the solar industry, but Trump’s recognition that low BTU prices mean economic growth translates into pro-oil and gas policies, not subsidies for higher cost renewables.

    ◆ Thanks to so many of you for reading my op-ed at Real Clear Politics: What Happens After the Electoral Earthquake?

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Tu, Oct 18

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

    ◆ Hillary Clinton, confident in her big lead in all the polls, has shifted her focus from battleground states to some traditional Republican states she thinks she can win. (NY Times) Why take the risk? Because it widens the map Trump has to defend and, more important, could improve her chances of governing if she wins. A very large win in the electoral college, plus having some Senators in your debt, would give her a stronger position than a narrow victory. That’s true even if Republicans hold the House.

    ◆ Comment, if Trump loses, he could well attack the foundations of our Constitutional Democracy.  

    constitutional-democracy-key-elements-300px-no-marginsOne of the great achievements of American government is its stability. That stability was particularly notable in 2000, when Al Gore conceded a razor-thin and contested election to George Bush after the Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore. No riots in the streets. No attempt by political leaders to foment them. Donald Trump seems to be raising that possibility in 2016.

    If Trump goes beyond saying the media is prejudiced against him and charges that the formal election process is rigged (without providing solid proof), then he would be striking at the heart of our constitutional system. Yes, the media loathe him and slant their coverage. Yes, Hillary and her aides at the Democratic National Committee didn’t give Bernie Sanders a fair shot. Yes, there is significant evidence that the FBI and DOJ had more than enough evidence to indict Hillary and her aides and refused to do so on political grounds. trump-rigged-tweet

    On the other side, Trump has been helped by Russian state hackers, who have been leaking anti-Hillary documents, according to intelligence sources. It is not a squeaky clean election.

    But to try to raise a populist revolt against the outcome of a US Presidential Election is yet another reason so many people fear Trump, should he win. (Charles Lipson comment)

    republican-versus-republican-elephants-fighting-300px-no-margins◆ Comment, if the Democrats win the White House and Senate, the Republican Party will face a bloody civil war.  The Trump supporters will either fight from within (saying they were stabbed in the back), or start their own party. If Trump joins them, he could keep up the disturbances for months. The big factions in Washington will be traditional, center-right conservatives, led by Paul Ryan, versus the House Freedom Caucus, which grew out of the Tea Party. Outside the Beltway, Republicans will split among traditional fiscal conservatives (mostly from big business), social conservatives (Evangelicals), and anti-corruption outsiders (the angry middle class Trump has appealed to). Foreign-policy hawks (neo-Cons) will fight to have their voices heard but they aren’t big enough to form a major faction of their own. In this environment, it is quite possible Republican leadership could shift to state capitols and Republican governors such as Greg Abbott of Texas.

    ◆ Hillary’s hacked emails have not led the Trump businesses to ramp up their electronic security.trump-server-vulnerability

    ◆ Austria, fearing the house were Hitler was born is becoming a tourist attraction, will tear it down. (NPR)

    ◆ Chicago’s worst areas were a free-fire zone last year. This year is worse, much worse. (Chicago Tribune)

    At least 3,475 people had been shot in the city as of shortly after midnight Monday compared with 2,441 people shot this time last year, an increase of 1,034, according to Tribune data. There have been at least 595 homicides this year compared with 409 this time last year, an increase of 186. -Chicago Tribune

    ◆ An energy-related take on America’s much lower profile in the Middle East and Russia’s much larger one. (George Papadopoulos, interview in Natural Gas World) Papadopoulos makes a particularly interesting (and overlooked) point about the Obama Administration’s confusion in Egypt and the larger role it ceded to Russia.

    egypt-labeled-map-tight-crop-300px-no-marginsWhen the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood were overthrown by el-Sisi, over the last year and a half Russia filled the vacuum when the United States did not know whether to support the coup or not…. . It is a tremendous achievement in just one year in what happened between Russia and Egypt. Russia is now incredibly active in Syria and in Lebanon. Whether Israel likes it or not, they will have to deal with Russia for their own security because the facts on the ground have changed so fast and Russia exerted so much influence so quickly that Israel left no other choice but to cooperate over Syria and Lebanon and potentially Egypt. And this is all a result of U.S. policy leaving the vacuum and leading from behind [which] unfortunately the Obama administration advocated for. -George Papadopoulos interviewed in Natural Gas World

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Mike Lipson
     for Twitter item on Trump
    ◆ David Henley for Ezra Klein’s article on Trump’s allegations of a rigged election (background useful in my comment above)