• 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

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    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.

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    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.

     

     

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Memorial Day, May 29

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

     Memorial Day should be about more than bar-b-q and store-wide sales. It is a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. May their memories forever be a blessing.

     After Trump leaves, Merkel tells Europe it cannot rely on ‘others.’ She means the United States  (Washington Post)

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Trump last week, saying that Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands.”

    It was the toughest review yet of Trump’s trip to Europe, which inflamed tensions rather than healed them after the U.S. president sparred with the leaders of Washington’s closest and oldest allies on trade, defense and climate change.

    Merkel, Europe’s de facto leader, told a packed beer hall rally in Munich that the days when her continent could rely on others was “over to a certain extent. This is what I have experienced in the last few days.” –Washington Post

    Comment: Merkel was grumpy about Trump publicly demanding NATO’s European partners pay their fair share. Germany has been a special target.

    He also publicly criticized Merkel, repeatedly during the campaign, about her catastrophic decision to throw open German borders to huge numbers of unvetted refugees from the Middle East. Really bad idea, and he called her out on it.

    And now she is grumpy and telling Europe to go it alone, or at least rely on itself (without the US) a lot more.

    So, here’s are the two big problems.

    First, there is no indication that Europeans actually want to pay for their own defense.

    Second, this Europe-on-its-own would inevitably be led by its richest, most powerful state: Germany.

    Europe’s experience with German leadership has not been a happy one. Nobody summarizes that experience better Norm Macdonald in these 90 seconds:

     Immigrant Rights groups are not happy with the head of Homeland Security. Not happy at all.  (Washington Times)

    Immigrant-rights groups were left steaming after Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said most of the illegal immigrant children who streamed into the U.S. in recent years were “a huge scam,” abusing lax policies to gain a foothold here.

    Mr. Kelly also said the families in Central America and here in the U.S. who orchestrated the dangerous journeys were guilty of “human trafficking” of their own children. . . .

    He was tapping into a fierce debate between security advocates and immigrant-rights activists in recent years. –Washington Times

     North Korea tests yet another missile (New York Times)

    The Pentagon is moving urgently to test a long-distance anti-missile system, one that has failed about half the time.

    Comment: W Trump is still relying on China to put pressure on Pyongyang, but either Beijing is not doing enough or lacks the leverage. 

    The US is moving more naval assets to the region. I should also sanction any bank or other institution (most of them in China) that has anything to do with North Korea.

     Oil prices sinking again. Now below $50  (Bloomberg)

    Bloomberg thinks the markets doubt OPEC cutbacks will stick.

    Comment: Fracking costs are also coming down as technology improves.

    Lower energy prices are like a tax cut for consumers.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, March 6

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

     The new healthcare bill, replacing Obamacare, has been introduced in the House. Keeps several key (and expensive) features of Obamacare and adds tax credits (direct cash payments) to help poor pay for coverage. No mandates.

    • As specialists begin offering detailed commentary, I will include summaries.
    • As political battlelines form, I will include stories and excerpts.

     Robert Osborne, warm and knowledgeable host of Turner Classic Movies, dead at 84. (New York Times)

    He got us excited and reawakened to the greatest stories ever told with the most charismatic stars in the world. –Steven Spielberg on Robert Osborne

     Self-driving bus with no backup driver will soon be on the road in California. Part of a pilot program. (Reuters)

    The bus project in San Ramon, at the Bishop Ranch office park complex, involves two 12-passenger shuttle buses from French private company EasyMile.

    The project is backed by a combination of private companies and public transit and air quality authorities, with the intention of turning it into a permanent, expanded operation . . . .

    California legislators late last year passed a law to allow slow-speed testing of fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals on public roads, with the Bishop Ranch test in mind. –Reuters

     South Korea receives US missile defense system, strongly opposed by China  (CNN)

    Comment: Quick heads up for Beijing: A lot more of this is coming, including stronger US-Japanese ties, and you know why. It’s your wingman in Pyongyang, plus your own aggressive moves in the South China Sea. The THAAD missile system is, of course, solely to defend against North Korean missiles. China has a large arsenal that could overwhelm it.

     Big new Exxon investments in chemical and oil refining plants. $20 billion, 12k permanent jobs, plus 35k construction jobs building the plants in Texas and Louisiana (Reuters)

    The plants had been planned for some time but their scope has grown significantly.

     New findings from the University of the Obvious: “Sex might make you happier at work, study says”  (New York Daily News)

    The U of O always does great work.

     

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  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Monday, January 30

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

     The WaPo headline captures the main story succinctly

     Delta Airlines again stars in “Computer Bloopers and Practical Jokes” Their computers go down again, leaving thousands of people stranded. Their Compaqs are back up now. Everything’s coming up roses in Atlanta. (Bloomberg)

    Comment: In other news, lots of great job openings for programmers in Atlanta.

     NY Post: “Why Israel has the most technologically advanced military on Earth”  The author, Yaakov Katz, has co-authored a new book on Israel’s high-tech military.

    Despite Israel’s small size, about 4.5 percent of its GDP is spent on research and development, almost twice the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development average. Of that amount, about 30 percent goes to products of a military nature. By comparison, only 2 percent of German R&D and 17 percent of the US R&D is for the military.

    Another major contribution is the culture of innovation and creativity in Israel. Israelis are more willing to take risks than other nations. They get this from their compulsory military service during which they are tasked, at a young age, to carry out missions often with deadly consequences.

    Lastly, Israel has been in a perpetual state of conflict since its inception, fighting a war almost every decade. This reality, of having your back up against the wall, sharpens the mind.

    –Yaakov Katz

     Great review for Chevy’s forthcoming “Bolt,” all-electric vehicle.  Engadget says “The Chevy Bolt Makes Green Driving Fun. It’s a wonderful car that just happens to be electric.” The price is expected to be around $30K.

     Oil prices, now over $50/barrel, are under downward pressure because of rising US production  (Reuters) OPEC had gotten prices back up by agreeing to production cuts. But Trump’s policies and ever-improving technology are weighing on prices.

    Comment: The Obama administration openly favored higher prices, both to cut hydrocarbon consumption directly and to encourage long-term growth of renewables. The Trump administration is completely reversing those policies.

     Pivotal Moment for Senate Democrats: All-out resistance to Trump nominees and initiatives? Rick Hasen poses the question in Election Law Blog:

    Senate Democrats will face a pivotal choice: will they work their remaining levers of power to protest President Trump’s policies and power? Even without a filibuster for nominations, Senate Democrats can withhold unanimous consent, demand 30 hours of debate per nomination, etc.

    The question is if there is any strategic reason for Senate Democrats to hold back.  . . . [They]  risk their base’s support by doing nothing. –Rick Hasen

    Comment: The protests around immigration, compounded by the certain clash over the Supreme Court, is likely to push all Democratic legislators into “full combat mode.”

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  • 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.

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    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?

     

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