• Michigan’s infamous Mddle East specialist, Juan Cole, comes up with another doozy

    Carbon dioxide, Cole says, is “a far more deadly gas” than what was used in “the gas attack in Syria on April 4.”

    His basic argument is encapsulated in the headline of his recent article in The Nation:

    The Other Poison Gas Killing Syrians: Carbon Dioxide Emissions

    If Trump and his cronies really cared about children killed by noxious gases, they wouldn’t be trying to spew ever more CO2 into the atmosphere –Juan Cole

    You see, it’s about drought. Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s the drought that caused everything to go wrong in Syria.

    Oh, yes, and Trump is to blame. Plus, he’s a hypocrite for bombing a Syrian base to stop more chemical weapon attacks because Trump doesn’t also agree with Al Gore on climate change. If you can follow that logic, check with your doctor. If you agree with it, apply to graduate studies with Prof. Cole at Michigan.

    Again, to quote the professor:

    The Syrian civil war has left more than 400,000 people dead, among them graveyards full of children and innocent noncombatants. About half the country’s 23 million people have been left homeless, and of those, 4 million have been driven abroad (some of them contributing to Europe’s refugee crisis and its consequent rightward political shift). The war occurred for many complex reasons, including social and political ones. The severest drought in recorded modern Syrian history in 2007–10, however, made its contribution. –Juan Cole

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comment:  Notice that, in the fine print, Cole relegates the drought to a much more ambiguous status. It “made a contribution” to the humanitarian disaster, he now says. How much contribution? He refuses to say.

    Yet the whole point of the article is that carbon dioxide in Syria is more deadly than poison gas attacks, which are war crimes (for good reasons). In short, the article is bait-and-switch, seasoned with hyperbole, political correctness, and a steadfast refusal to look true evil in the eye.

    The most appropriate comment comes from the movie, Billy Madison. It is pitch perfect for Prof. Cole’s analysis:

    In other words, a drought may have contributed, indirectly, to the carnage in Syria. But to emphasize it as a major cause is misleading, tendentious, and wrong.

    To put it differently, California had multiple years of drought and, according to recent statistics, the civil war there has claimed far fewer than 400,000 lives. Perhaps under 300,000.

    Hey, let’s at least give Jerry Brown some credit for avoiding barrel bombs in the Central Valley. So far.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip: Daniel Pipes and Campus Watch. They found the Cole article and publicized it. Kudos.

    Tom Blumer at NewsBusters, who initially publicized the article.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, March 28

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

     Democrats want Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia inquiry. (New York Times)

    Comment: The attacks on Nunes are a sideshow, featuring displays of faux outrage by Democrats. Nunes will never recuse himself. The game is to discredit him so they can discredit the information he uncovers.

    The big questions–the show in the center ring–are 

    1. Will the FBI find anything between Trump campaign people and the Russians? and
    2. Did the Obama White House or its political appointees at CIA or DNI unmask names and circulate “collateral” material through the White House?  
      • From the leak of Flynn’s name and phone call, it is clear the intelligence agencies picked up “collateral information” on US citizens as the agencies were spying on foreigners. That happens occasionally, but, when it does,
        • The names of US citizens are supposed to be masked and never disclosed to the public; we know Flynn’s name was, and that disclosure is a felony;
        • The collection of “collateral materials on US citizens” is not supposed to be the purpose of the surveillance; to surveil US citizens, you need a warrant and you cannot use CIA and other intel agencies; you must use the FBI.
      • The Republicans are hinting that the White House and the intel agencies it controlled were playing fast and loose with these hard-and-fast rules and legal constraints, which prohibit domestic spying and the use of information for domestic political purposes. If the Obama White House was doing that, its ultimate disclosure would be a very big deal, legally and politically. If Nunes has a whistleblower with information about this, then the Democrats are right to be scared and to try and discredit him in advance. If not, then it is all smoke but no fire.

     Trump moves aggressively to undo Obama-era environmental regulations  (Washington Post)

    President Trump will take the most significant step yet in obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record Tuesday, instructing federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions.

    The sweeping executive order also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

    The order sends an unmistakable signal that just as President Barack Obama sought to weave climate considerations into every aspect of the federal government, Trump is hoping to rip that approach out by its roots. –Washington Post

    Comment: Trump sees the issue primarily as “jobs and excessive regulations.” His Democratic opponents see the issue primarily as “climate change”

     Attorney General Sessions threatens to yank DOJ funding from “Sanctuary Cities”  (Philly.com)

    To receive grants from his agency, [Sessions] said, cities will have to certify they are in compliance with a federal law banning local governments from restricting communication with the feds over their residents’ immigration status.

    And cities and states who fail to do so, Sessions said, could see the DOJ withhold grants, bar them from receiving grants in the future, or even “claw back” grants that had already been handed out. –Philly.com

    Comment: Assuming this threat is not blocked by the courts, it will force cities to make very hard political choices. Cities with greatest financial need will likely opt for the money. A few others will try to hold out.

     Canada will legalize recreational pot in 2018, a senior official in Justin Trudeau’s government says  (CBS News)

     

     

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  • Really Cool: Solar-Powered “Mr. Trash Wheel” Goes Automatically through the Harbor, collecting and recycling trash

    I love technology that makes our environment cleaner and more livable.

    Now, two inventors have built a device–“Mr. Trash Wheel”–that goes through rivers and harbors, removes the floating garbage, and packages it for recycling.

    If this proves effective in Baltimore, then let’s hope they spread far and wide.

    Cool, brief video and explanation:

    There is more information about the program at Baltimore’s healthy harbor site, Mr. Trash Wheel.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Tip of the green environmental hat to Mary Smith Hughes for finding this!

    And kudos to Daniel Chase and John Kellett for inventing it.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, March 27

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

    Blame game for health care continues. WaPo reports Trump blames Freedom Caucus and far right.  One member of the caucus, Ted Poe of Texas, resigns over health care failure.

    Comment: No news here, IMO. Everybody blames everybody. But the main things to notice are (a) how little of the blame is attaching to Trump and (b) how unprepared the R’s were to govern after 7 years of making this issue their top priority.

     Jared Kushner selected to lead a White House team to overhaul the federal bureaucracy  (Washington Post)

    The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements. –Washington Post

    Comment: Kushner, age 36 and Trump’s son-in-law, is a rising power in the White House. Taking on an arteriosclerotic bureaucracy, where almost everyone has civil-service protections, will be an enormous challenge.

     After months of political difficulty, Germany’s Angela Merkel gets very good news from a state election, which her party won easily  (New York Times)

    Ms. Merkel is seeking a fourth term in national elections on Sept. 24, a race that has grown more challenging in recent weeks after her center-left rivals, the Social Democrats, unanimously selected a new candidate, Martin Schulz, to lead them into the fight. –New York Times

    Comment: Merkel’s long tenure as German leader has lent stability to Europe and the EU. 

     Uber suspends its self-driving car program until it figures out why one crashed in Arizona  (CNBC)

    The accident occurred when the driver of a second vehicle “failed to yield” to the Uber vehicle while making a turn, said Josie Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the Tempe Police Department.

    “The vehicles collided, causing the autonomous vehicle to roll onto its side,” she said in an email. “There were no serious injuries.” –CNBC

    Comment: Sounds like the Uber vehicles did not initiate the crashes, and it is unclear to me whether better tech and programming could have avoided them. That, I assume, is what Uber wants to figure out.

     Cities and monuments switch off electricity for “Earth Hour”  (Phys.org)

    Comment: And they all get to pin “I’m Virtuous” Merit Badges on themselves.

     Scientists Turn Spinach Leaves into Beating-Heart Tissue  (Science Alert)

    Current bioengineering techniques, like 3-D printing, can’t build the intricate, branching network of blood vessels that makes up the heart tissue. However, a team of researchers from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), University of Wisconsin-Madison and Arkansas Sate University-Jonesboro have successfully turned to plants. –Science Alert

    Comment: Popeye smiles.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, March 25

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

     House Republicans cannot pass healthcare. What happens to the rest of their agenda? 

    The proposed reforms were blocked by fiscal conservatives.

    Big loss for Ryan, Trump.

    Americans now stuck with Obamacare as it implodes.

    Comment: Like a major earthquake, this will come with big aftershocks. The most important are 

    • Will voters go berserk over the Republicans’ failure to carry out their biggest promise over the past seven years?
    • How weakened are Ryan and Trump? Will R’s start eating their own?
    • How will this affect Trump’s proposed tax reforms, on which there are also big splits among Republicans, especially over the “border adjustment tax”?
    • What will happen to Obamacare, now that America is stuck with this clunker for the foreseeable future?

    Count on this: Republicans will do nothing to save the Affordable Care Act from self-destruction.

    Democrats will then blame R’s for not fixing the law (“every law needs a little tweaking,” they will say, disingenuously).

    Then, everybody blames everybody for the resulting mess and real pain as insurers pull out of the market, rates go up, and so on.

     Aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal:  Jury finds Penn State ex-president Graham Spanier guilty on one count of child endangerment (Morning Call, Allentown, PA)

    Spanier was acquitted of the more serious felony charges, but the jury said he still did not do enough to stop Jerry Sandusky’s predations. He could face up to 5 years in prison.

    Note to ZipDialog readers: When stories have strong local content, as this one does, I look for the best local news sources. Their reporters know the stories in more depth.

     Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos touts affordable higher education during visit to Orlando community college  (Naples Daily News, FL)

    Comment: This story has a personal meaning for me. My son, Jon, graduated from this college, Valencia, and transferred his credits to the University of Central Florida, also in Orlando.

    I completely agree with DeVos’ point about affordability, not only because tuition is low but also because students often live at home and work part-time.

     A Federal judge in VA rules Trump’s travel ban is constitutional. No practical effect since two other judges have ruled the other way. (CNN)

    California Upholds Auto Emissions Standards, Setting Up Face-Off With Trump  (New York Times)

    Mr. Trump, backing industry over environmental concerns, said easing emissions rules would help stimulate auto manufacturing. He vowed last week to loosen the regulations. . . . .

    But California can write its own standards because of a longstanding waiver granted under the Clean Air Act, giving the state — the country’s biggest auto market — major sway over the auto industry. Twelve other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, as well as Washington, D.C., follow California’s standards . . . .

    Now, the question is how — or whether — the Trump administration will handle California’s dissent. The administration could choose to revoke California’s waiver, at which point experts expect the state would sue. –New York Times

     Next month, Tesla will start taking orders for its new solar roof tiles  (Bloomberg) Will look like regular tiles from most angles. Likely to be a premium product since they mimic terra cotta and slate.

    The roof tiles are made of textured glass. From most viewing angles, they look just like ordinary shingles, but they allow light to pass through from above onto a standard flat solar cell. The plan is for Panasonic Corp. to produce the solar cells at Tesla’s factory in Buffalo and for Tesla to put together the glass tiles and everything that goes along with them. –Bloomberg

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  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Wednesday, January 18

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

     German court rules burning a synagogue is a justified expression of criticism of Israel

    The article in the Jerusalem Post says

    A regional court in Germany has decided that a brutal attempt to set fire to a local synagogue in 2014 was an act meant to express criticism against Israel’s conduct in its ongoing conflict with Hamas.

    A German regional court in the city of Wuppertal affirmed a lower court decision last Friday stating that a violent attempt to burn the city’s Bergische Synagogue by three men in 2014 was a justified expression of criticism of Israel’s policies.

    The court sentenced the three men – Muhammad E., 31, Ismail A., 26, and Muhammad A., 20 – to suspended sentences for tossing firebombs at the synagogue. and causing €800 worth of damage.

    The original synagogue in Wuppertal was burned by Nazis during the Kristallnacht pogroms in 1938. –Jerusalem Post

     Betsy DeVos survives tough questioning, on path to confirmation as Sec. of Education according to Politico. (Story here.)

    Comment: Listening to Sen. Elizabeth Warren ask DeVos if she or her children had taken out student loans to go to college left me embarrassed as a fellow human being. When DeVos said “no,” that she and her family had been fortunate but that she had worked with children who had experienced student debt, Warren could see the answer was going in a bad direction and immediately cut off DeVos. Whether you agree with Warren’s views or not, this is demagoguery masquerading as inquiry.

     Samantha Power’s exit speech is a blistering attack on Russia  Time magazine has the story.

    Comment: It is a very strange world, indeed, to see a Republican president-to-be so restrained about Russia and to see the Democrats so hawkish.

    ◆ Related Story: NYT Editorial headlined, “Russia Gains When Donald Trump Trashes NATO”  Editorial here.

    Comment: The Times is absolutely right. Although NATO has serious flaws, including free-loading by allies, it is the lynchpin of US international relationships. Trump’s comments create serious dangers for America, particularly if they encourage Putin to think he can push harder against Russia’s European neighbors. 

     State Department sends $500 million to UN Climate Fund this week, just beating the change of administration  Obama had pledged $3 billion; he send $500 million in March, and now this next $500 million, according to the Washington Post. (Story here)

    Comment: I am sure Kerry and Obama are correct in thinking, “no one’s going to cut that check next week.”

     Why aren’t any Senators boycotting the Trump Inauguration, as more than 50 Congressmen are?  Simple, says the Washington Post. They are looking at broader constituencies, including lots of people who voted for the President-elect. For some, that’s people in their own state. For others, that’s a national electorate for a future presidential run.

    Senate Democrats represent far broader numbers of people and have to be respectable and responsive to, in most cases, millions of their constituents who voted for Trump. And 25 of them are up for reelection in 2018. “So there are 25 senators who probably think it’s risky,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who will join [Rep. John] Lewis’s boycott. –Washington Post

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Seth Charnes
     for the disturbing story about the firebombing of a German synagogue

    ◆ Andrew Aronson for the Betsy DeVos hearings

     

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Friday, January 13

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

     Barone on Trump and the Intelligence Community  Michael Barone, always worth reading, has a nicely-balanced opinion piece on Trump, Russia, and the intel community. Pressing Trump hard to clarify his views about Russia are absolutely “in bounds” for serious journalists and policymakers. But it should be out of bounds to circulate sleazy, unverified dossiers about him. News organizations should first do what the reputable ones are doing: investigate and see if the allegations can be substantiated.  If they cannot be substantiated, don’t publish. And don’t spread gossip.

    It’s Barone’s second point that is so troubling. There is a real possibility that the intelligence community is behind the leaked document. If so–and they have vigorously denied it–then that is very disturbing.

    I lack knowledge of just how the 35-page dodgy dossier found its way into the computerized hands of BuzzFeed. But what we’re seeing looks an awful lot like an attempt to intelligence officials, probably including presidential employees, to delegitimize the president-elect and his administration. It’s in line with the warnings to Trump by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer not to tangle with the intelligence community.

    That’s disturbing, even if you are troubled also, as I am, by Trump’s persistent unwillingness to criticize and persistent propensity to praise Vladimir Putin. –Michael Barone

     Touching: Pres. Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Joe Biden, who is overcome with emotion  A wonderful gesture by Pres. Obama, in recognition of Joe Biden’s decades in public service.

     Strong appearance by James Mattis, nominee for Sec. of Defense  He sailed through the confirmation-hearing questions and presented a strong, thoughtful analysis of US strategic posture and military preparedness. The Financial Times headline: “James Mattis calls Vladimir Putin a threat to global order”

    ⇒ The NYT Take is characteristically snarky: Latest to Disagree With Donald Trump: His Cabinet Nominees

     Sen. Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, and Dems to vote against Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. They oppose him on a wide range of civil-rights issue. (New York Daily News)

    Other Democrats weighed in against Sessions throughout the day, highlighting concerns about his controversial views on immigrants, civil rights, voting rights, disability rights, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights.

     “Trump’s Pick for Education Could Face Unusually Stiff Resistance,” says NYT. The story (here) focuses on potential conflicts of interest related to Betsy DeVos’s $5 billion fortune. She has not yet completed her ethics forms and the Democrats are complaining.

    Comment: That’s the issue the Times and Democrats are focusing on today, but it is a side-show. The real issue–the one that should be joined as a public-policy debate–is about increasing school choice via charters, vouchers, and other approaches. The problem for Democrats is that, even in today’s hyperpartisan environment, the rule is normally “the President gets his cabinet choices unless they have legal or ethical problems.” The policy debates come afterwards.

    But Education, Justice, and Environmental Protection are departments so central to the Democrats’ agenda and so vital to their donors that they will tooth and nail to kill these nominations

     Plunging costs for solar energy leads to greater use in Arab Gulf  CNBC reports the surprising rise of solar energy in the land of oil.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

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

     

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . .Saturday, January 6

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

    ◆Intel report directly accuses Putin of meddling in US election. The declassified report reaches this conclusion:

    We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

    The full report is available here.

    ◆ Congressman takes down offensive painting sponsored by his colleague. The painting, depicting police as killers and as pigs, was the bright idea of Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) and was done by a high school student.

    Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) asked Clay to take it down and, after a week without response, took it down himself.

    “I was angry,” Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told FoxNews.com. “I’ve seen the press [reporting] on this for about a week or so. … I’m in the Marine Corps. If you want it done, just call us.”

    The Fox News story is here. The story in Rep. Hunter’s hometown San Diego paper, with effusive thanks from police, is here. Rep. Clay has refused to comment.

    ◆ The coming fight over the Environmental Protection Agency. Pres.-elect Trump has nominated, Scott Pruitt, a strong backer of hydrocarbons and a sharp critic of EPA overregulation, which he fought as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. The environmental groups are gearing up to oppose him and now, Politico reports, his supporters are raising big dollars to back the nominee.

    ◆ Charles Manson, who led a murderous cult in the late 1960s, is now too weak for surgery. (NY Daily News) Turns out he wasn’t a model prisoner, either. (Daily Mail). Now 82, he’s been in prison for 45 years and seems to be near death.

    ◆ Paris suffers drop in museum visits as tourists fear terror. Visits to the Louvre have dropped 20%. The story is here. (Daily Mail)

    ◆ ISIS had a factory in Iraq making weaponized drones. The US military has now confirmed what observers long suspected. (Weekly Standard)

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Fred Lawson
     for the Duncan Hunter, Lacy Clay story. Lawson was once a police officer himself.