• ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, October 4

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Pres. Trump heads to Las Vegas. If he’s wise, he’s stick to one role, that of “head of state.” This should be a journey of grief and remembrance, not politics.

    At times, the President is asked to speak for all his countrymen, to express our grief. Pres. Reagan set the standard with his speech after the Challenger Disaster. Actually, he did it twice, once from the Oval Office that night (the speech where he said the astronauts had waved goodbye to us this morning and “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God”) and then several days later, with a sad, powerful elegy at their memorial service (below).

    For a wonderful memory of that speech, here’s Peggy Noonan talking about it–and being asked by Reagan to write it. (Washington Post)

    Comment: Of course, there was nothing controversial about that event, as there is after each mass shooting.

    Each shooting raises important political issues, always about guns and sometimes about mental health, racism, and other issues.

    But, for the sake of the country, put aside the controversies for one more day, Mr. President.

    And do the same, Mr. Schumer, Ms. Clinton, and Ms. Pelosi.

    Then return to the fray.

    We know the Las Vegas killer planned meticulously, but we still don’t know his motive (Washington Post)

    Comment: The absence of a clearly-stated motive raises questions. The most important is whether there is anything to ISIS’ repeated statements that it was behind the shooting. Most experts discount that claim, but they also note it is unusual for ISIS to repeat its claims, as it has in this case.

    Today in hypocrisy:  Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), popular with pro-life movement, urged abortion in affair, texts suggest (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

    The congressman has been lauded by the Family Research Council, for his stance on abortion, as well as for family values, generally. He also has been endorsed by LifePAC, which opposes abortion rights, and is a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, an affiliation that is often cited by his office. –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    The FCC is considering Net Neutrality Again and asked for comments. They got plenty . . . from robots (Vice/Motherboard)

    The Trump administration and its embattled FCC commissioner are on a mission to roll back the pro-net neutrality rules approved during the Obama years, despite the fact that most Americans support those safeguards.

    But there is a large number of entities that do not: telecom companies, their lobbyists, and hordes of bots.

    Of all the more than 22 million comments submitted to the FCC website and through the agency’s API found that only 3,863,929 comments were “unique,” according to a new analysis by Gravwell, a data analytics company. The rest? A bunch of copy-pasted comments, most of them likely by automated astroturfing bots, almost all of them—curiously—against net neutrality.

    That means 80% Of all “Net Neutrality” comments were sent by bots, all on one side.

     Today in Islamist terror: France passes a tough, new counter-terrorism law

    • Anti-terror law described here at BBC. One feature: easier to search homes and jail individuals without judge’s approval
    • Terrorists tried and failed to detonate gasoline bombs in a wealthy Paris neighborhood; they were captured. According to The Telegraph:

    Judicial sources said the explosive device included two gas canisters inside the building in the affluent 16th arrondissement of western Paris and two outside, some of them doused with petrol and wired to connect to a mobile phone. It appears there were several unsuccessful attempts to detonate the canisters.

    The five arrested over the Paris bomb, men in their thirties, are known to authorities and one is on an intelligence services list of “radicalised” people, which includes the names of potential Islamist militants. –Telegraph

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    Hat Tip to

    Michael Lipson for the net-neutrality bots story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, October 1

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    Trump says his own Sec. of State is wasting his time trying to talk with North Korea (New York Times)

    Trump added a personal insult to the North Korean leader, calling him “Little Rocket Man.”

    The NYT says the President “seemed to undercut” Tillerson.

    Comment: There are four possibilities.

    First, personal pique: always insults adversaries. Not at all helpful here. Could prompt irrational action by Kim.

    Second, it could be “good cop, bad cop.” Quite likely.

    Third, Tillerson is sending a message to Pyongyang, while Trump is sending one to Beijing. Virtually certain.

    Finally, it is possible that Trump thinks, “We will ultimately have to use force here. If so, it is far better if Kim does something that China (and other international actors) consider so provocative that the US must respond. Let’s see if I can goad him into that since it will build international support for something we will have to do anyway.”

    In any case, this situation is lethally dangerous. That’s been true for some time. Trump’s strategy depends on keeping the heat up, not turning it down. That’s the only way to get China to act.

    Trump Administration slashing red tape that slows business growth (Fox News)

    Big rollout of the PR side of this on Monday.

    Trump has directed federal agencies to lower the overall cost of their regulations during fiscal 2018, the Washington Times reported. Specific dollar figures were not available.

    But Neomi Rao, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, told the Times that new rules enacted by the Trump administration have so far saved U.S. businesses some $300 million in annualized costs.

    By contrast, Rao said the Obama administration saddled businesses with $80 billion in costs over eight years.

    Comment: Really important initiative, vastly underreported because there are no visuals and MSM does not like Trump. When they do report on regulations, they emphasize harm to individuals.

    ◆ The pain in Spain lies mainly in . . . Barcelona: Clashes and chaos as Madrid steps in to forcibly prevent Catalonia’s vote to become independent (New York Times)

    Catalonia’s defiant attempt to stage an independence referendum descended into chaos on Sunday, with hundreds injured in clashes with police in one of the most serious tests of Spain’s democracy since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s.

    National police officers in riot gear deployed in thick phalanxes as they fanned out across Catalonia, the restive northeastern region of Spain, to shut down polling stations and seize ballot boxes. –New York Times

    BBC story here.

    Comment: The fallout from the attempted vote and the violence will be serious and ongoing, with ramifications for separatist movements across Europe.

    ◆ Today in Islamic Terror: Marseilles train station

    Chicago Tribune headline: Man kills 2 with knife at French station, yells ‘Allahu Akbar’

    Associated Press headline for the same story: Fatal attack disrupts Marseille train travel

    Comments:

    • The Tribune actually uses the AP story and gives it the correct and informative headline. Kudos.
    • The AP doesn’t just bury the lede. It deliberately makes the headline less informative, presumably for PC reasons

    The Tribune website does not give my attention to the story. It treats it as a minor one. That’s not necessarily wrong. In fact, it tells you that lethal attacks in European public spaces where the Islamist killer yells his religious motivation are now so common that they receive only modest attention unless the death toll is high.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, September 25

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Germany’s Merkel wins, but she is significantly weaker. Far-right party (AfD) will have third most seats in parliament.

    The BBC calls it a “hollow victory.”

    The chancellor knew she would most likely win this election. But it is not the victory she or her party had hoped for. It is the conservatives’ worst election result under her leadership. A verdict, perhaps, on her decision to open Germany’s doors to one million refugees.

    Addressing her party, Mrs Merkel acknowledged the past four years had been hard. Nevertheless the party had still achieved its aim – to finish first.

    The cheers rang a little hollow. Because the real success story of this election belongs to AfD.–BBC

    Comment: Germany has been the most stably governed country in Europe for several decades, so this is a blow to the whole European project.

    The AfD includes real neo-Nazis, but it won votes from a lot of Germans who opposed the mainstream parties on gut issues such as immigration. Merkel’s open-immigration policy has saddled her country with real problems, and she is paying the price.

    Travel ban 3.0: This is a longer-term policy and will be phased in over several weeks.

    President Trump issued the order on Sunday. (Story here in the New York Times)

    The new order adds Venezuela, North Korea, and Chad to the list, which now covers eight countries. Most citizens these countries will be banned from entering the US, though the specifics differ for each country.

    Comment: Attorneys General from Democratic states will inevitably sue. They may win in some liberal courts but will lose at SCOTUS, if it makes it that far.

     Lots of NFL players kneel, supported (at least publicly) by coaches and owners. Trump keeps tweeting, driving the issue

    The Washington Post headline is typical: In showings of protest and solidarity, NFL teams respond to Trump’s criticisms

    The Chicago Tribune, which has a midwestern-conservative editorial page, ran an editorial ripping the President for adding to the nation’s divisions, adding that he did the same thing after Charlottesville.

    Going forward, how about he leaves discussions of free speech, race relations and religious protection to leaders who still have credibility?” –Chicago Tribune editorial

    Although national polls have no appeared on the issue, I see three positions emerging.

    • The players are right, or at least they have every right to do it. People on this side emphasize racial inequities, income inequalities, police brutality, and other progressive agenda items.
    • Trump is right. These players ought to show some respect for the country that made their success possible. People on this side emphasize patriotism and other conservative agenda items (some traditional conservative, some more nationalist).
    • Each side has a point, and each has a problem. The players have a right to protest, if they wish, but they have imposed a political agenda on an escapist entertainment for most fans. Do it somewhere else. They add that Trump may be right to defend patriotism but it is un-Presidential to call the players SOB’s and to urge consumer boycotts.

    Comment: Whether this dispute is good for Trump or for the players (I think it is smart politics for Trump), it is not good for the country. It highlights and deepens serious divisions among Americans.

    I’m sure Roger Goodell would love to get back to his main job: explaining why 300 lb people smashing into each other repeatedly has no effect on the brain “that we have really proven, etc.” It’s the Marlboro Man redux.

    London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan compares Trump to ISIS (Fox News)

    He has also said Britain should not host Trump on a visit and certainly not consider it a “state visit.”

    Comment: Khan has time on his hands until the next terrorist attack on his city.

    He has taunted Trump and flaunted the safe, multicultural environment of London before. After that tweet in May 2016, he watched as his city was lethally attacked by terrorists several times.

    GOP will roll out its tax plan later this week with cuts and maybe reform.

    The Washington Post is already stirred up, saying it will help the rich

    Comment: Here’s the problem: the top 1% pay about 40% of the country’s income taxes. If you cut taxes, even if you tilt the cuts toward the middle class, you are bound to help a lot of rich people.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, September 19

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Trump’s campaign manager wiretapped. That’s a big deal.

    The story was broken by CNN: Exclusive: US government wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman, starting in 2014 and continuing, off an on, until this year. The tap, authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), would include periods when he was known to speak with Donald Trump. (Manafort also owned an apartment in Trump Tower; that might be relevant because Trump spoke of wiretaps in Trump Tower.)

    There is increasingly strong public speculation that Manafort will be indicted by Robert Mueller’s office.

    At this point, we do not know who the FISA warrant(s) targeted.

    Comment: At this point, we simply don’t know enough about this surveillance. (In fact, the information released to CNN was almost certainly a felony violation of secret proceedings.)

    • Anti-Trump people think the fact that a federal judge would authorize surveillance on such a senior figure in the Trump campaign suggests something very bad was afoot and that collaboration with the Russians may have been Manafort’s aim (if not necessarily that of others in the campaign).
    • Pro-Trump people think this information vindicates his repeated claims that he was wiretapped.
    • And, of course, a lot of people, myself included, want to know more before they reach a conclusion.

    I think a lot of people will agree with Dan Drezner (a centrist and no friend of Trump’s):

    Trump at the UN: Very tough talk. Threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea, calls Kim “rocket man,” and labels Iran a “rogue nation” (New York Times)

    He included terms he had seldom used recently: “radical Islamic terrorism.”

    The full speech is available here on YouTube.

    Comment: Trump’s speech was an unusually blunt, full-throated defense of America’s interests, as opposed to globalism, and included particularly sharp and detailed attacks on Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.

    Critical responses to the speech line up as expected.

    More censorship calls on campus, this time because a professor wrote a scholarly article called “The Case for Colonialism” 

    The article, by Prof. Bruce Gilley of Portland State, was published in a peer-reviewed journal that is very anti-colonial, which presumably thought the piece was serious, well-researched, and would spark scholarly debate. The basic argument does not deny the evils of colonialism but says they must be balanced against the benefits and that anti-colonialism has itself carried high costs.

    Recently, Gilley publicly resigned from the American Political Science Association for its ideological bias.

    Here’s the report at Legal Insurrection.

    Comment: Given the political climate on today’s campuses, especially those on the coasts, what Gilley’s article sparked was not discussion but calls for him to be fired, censured, and tarred-and-feathered.

    Will the End of Syria’s civil war spell disaster in Europe as battle-hardened terrorist fighters return? (BESA Center)

    Mordechai Kedar says “yes” and adds that Iran has now effectively taken over Syria, strengthened Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and given a free hand to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

    Comment: Iran’s expansion across the region was facilitated by the Obama administration and will cause death and destruction for years to come.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Labor Day, Monday, September 4

    Articles chosen with care. Local sources when possible.
    Your comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ North Korea The question now is how hard will China push, given that this latest test

    1. Humiliates Beijing, flaunting their open calls to stop, and
    2. Will certainly bring extremely tough reaction from the US and its allies.

    The US will seek very harsh sanctions at the UN, daring China and Russia to show their hands and veto.

    The effect will turn on the scale of the sanctions and the willingness of China (and Russia) to comply in practice, not just in rhetoric.

    For news, link here. (Washington Post)

    China says Trump’s trade threat over North Korea is “unacceptable” (Fox News)

    Comment: The US says the same about China’s behavior toward North Korea.

    Watch to see if China cuts off fuel for a few days. If they don’t, it’s all rope-a-dope game for them, and the US-China relationship will get very tense.

    DACA deferrals for illegal immigrants likely to end six-months from now. Trump action gives Congress time to act (Politico)

    Comment: Nearly all legal scholars agree that Obama’s actions on DACA were unconstitutional and won’t survive a legal challenge.

    So Congress has to act. Trump has not signalled what bill would be acceptable to him.

    Turkey continues to slam Germany rhetorically, as Erdogan ramps up his Islamist dictatorship (Washington Post)

    Comment: Erdogan has recently referred to NATO allies as “enemies”

    Congress returns Tuesday with crushing agenda (New York Magazine)

    • Harvey relief
    • Debt ceiling
    • Funding for major programs that are running out, such as Children’s Health Insurance
    • Tax cuts and tax reform
    • Healthcare (still lurking, hasn’t been addressed)
    • DACA
    • Confirmation of dozens of Trump nominees (all of which the Democrats are delaying)

    Comment: Several of these are must do’s, and the Republicans know it.

    Hong Kong, traditional an economic leader, now slowing in innovation and other areas (South China Morning Post)

    Comment: China, which promised (by treaty with UK), to let Hong Kong govern itself, has effectively scuttled that promise.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup: What to Know about Barcelona and the Jihadist Attack; Friday, August 18

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Barcelona: What to Know about the Terror on Las Ramblas

    Explanation: Barcelona is one of the great cities of Europe, with a very mixed population. It has fabulous architecture and is a particularly good city for walking, strolling, having a cup of coffee outdoors. Americans think of it as “Spanish,” but it is also the capital of the Catalan region, which has its own language and which has voted to become independent. (Madrid has resisted and, unlike the Basque separatists, those in Catalan have not be violent.)

    One of Barcelona’s main spots for strolling is a pedestrian street, Las Ramblas, which runs a couple of miles from the port to a major plaza. It is next to a medieval quarter, which is also great for strolling or sitting at a cafe.

    The only vehicles permitted are those delivering merchandise to the store, and those are rare (most deliveries are at night or by small carts).

    A picture will help you understand the ambiance. 

    A Jihadist attack there was bound to kill many tourists, strike terror into the whole city, damage its vital tourist industry, and perhaps reiterate the Islamist claim that the Iberian peninsula should revert to Muslim control because, long ago, it was conquered by Islam.

    Of particular concern: The fact that the attack was so well-organized and seems to be linked to a strong support network (how else could the driver have been hidden after escape? how else would a bomb factory be found in another town?)

    Yes, there will be a lot of attention to the missed signals from the US to Spanish and Catalan authorities, as there should be.

    There will be a lot of attention to the huge, illegal migration from North Africa to Spain, a short boat ride away from Morocco.

    And there will rightly be a lot of concern about

    • The sophistication of this Islamist plot
    • The morphing of Islamist tactics as they lose their “caliphate” and send battle-hardened veterans back to Europe and North America to control local terror ops
    • The ease of killing people on sidewalks all over the world
      • If you harden one such targets, there are thousands more
      • These attacks are not limited to one city or one country; they are spread across the civilized world
    • The unregulated flow of North Africans and Middle Easterners into Europe
      • Still supported by clueless politicians, led by Germany’s Angela Merkel
    • The support network of local extremists, some of whom have lived in Europe for 2-3 generations without becoming European and accepting basic values of tolerance, peaceful contestation of grievances, and acceptance of social and religious differences
      • Note that the idea of a caliphate deeply contradicts western Europe’s hard-won achievement of separating political authority from religious authority; our leaders are not our chief priests and political dissent is not apostacy, as they are in an Islamic caliphate

    There should be deep concern about all of these issues.

    There should be much more attention to the spread of pernicious Islamist ideologies and their support from state sponsors, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and, of course, Iran.

    There should be deep concern about how to suppress the threats and how to do so without crushing the very liberties we seek to protect.

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  • 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 Saturday, July 8

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

     The main stories come out of the G20 meetings in Hamburg.

    • Anti-capitalist riots in the street by extreme left and anarchists
      • Comment: Idiots with nihilist agenda
    • Trump has very long 1-on-1 with Putin
      • Full range of issues, beyond US election meddling, with focus on Syrian cease-fire and division of territory there after ISIS defeat
    • Trump has China’s Xi on schedule on 1-on-1 today
      • North Korea is top of the agenda, of course, but also trade
    • Ivanka briefly sits in for Pres at G20 meeting on Africa alongside world leaders  (Washington Post) (Comment: A nothingburger; still, it should have been the Sec. of State sitting there)

    Comment: We won’t know the results (as opposed to the agendas) of the Putin and Xi meetings until the effects on the ground are seen, beginning next week. The fact that Putin and Trump met without advisors is interesting, too. It indicates how serious the leaks are. The US cannot trust anybody to be in room.

    Comment on Silences at G20: This was supposed to be a showcase for German leader, Angela Merkel. She has been overshadowed by Putin, Xi, Trump, and rioters. Second, we have heard little so far about the shared challenges of Islamic terrorism and vast immigration flows from North Africa and the Middle East.

     US B1 bombers fly over South Korea as heads-up to North Korea after its ICBM test  (CNN)

    Comment: The signal is “the US can easily can incinerate you.” The problem is, if we launch a military attack, the North Koreans can kill large numbers in Seoul. Moreover, the Chinese might come in to prevent a Korea unified under American leadership.

    There are no good US options here. My guess is that the US starts to up financial sanctions on all North Korean trading partners, including Chinese banks.

     Venezuela’s top opposition leader released from prison to house arrest  (CNN)

    Comment: The country is tottering toward civil war, and oppo leader Leopoldo Lopez is a threat to the regime. The surprise here is that he did not die in prison.

     Chuck Schumer skewers Rex Tillerson over Russian meddling in US election  (The Hill)

    “For Secretary Tillerson to say that this issue will remain unresolved is disgraceful,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “To give equal credence to the findings of the American Intelligence Community and the assertion by Mr. Putin is a grave dereliction of duty and will only encourage Russia to further interfere in our elections in the future.” –The Hill

    Comment: Schumer is correct. This issue is not “unresolved.” His base loves it; it reinforces their view that Trump is illegitimate. But voters are interested in forward-looking solutions to real problems in the economy, foreign policy, etc. Schumer knows that, of course, but he has to toss red meat to the base. 

     Morgan Stanley: Renewables will be the cheapest power source within three years (Business Insider)

    Numerous key markets recently reached an inflection point where renewables have become the cheapest form of new power generation.

    A dynamic we see spreading to nearly every country we cover by 2020. The price of solar panels has fallen 50% in less than two years (2016-17). –Morgan Stanley via Business Insider

     K-12 Education: Betsy DeVos takes hard line on enforcing federal laws, surprising states who thought she would support local control (New York Times)

    The basic issue is an Obama-era law, replacing No Child Left Behind, that requires “ambitious” educational goals to meet federal standards. How much latitude will the Washington’s Dept. of Ed. give states to determine for themselves what it “ambitious”?

    “It is mind-boggling that the department could decide that it’s going to challenge them on what’s ambitious,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who worked in the Education Department under President George W. Bush. He called the letter “directly in opposition to the rhetoric and the promises of DeVos.” –quoted in New York Times

    Comment: Conservatives as well as liberals are concerned about this issue. They weren’t surprised by Washington’s heavy hand under Obama; they don’t expect it under DeVos and fear they may be getting it.

    Alternative possibilities are that

    • Lower-level officials did this without DeVos’ approval (the person who wrote it is a Democratic advocate for charter schools, appointed by DeVos)
    • The Dept. is actually enforcing the law, as written, until Congress rewrites it

    José Luis Cuevas, a Dark Master of Mexican Art, Dies at 83 (New York Times)

    Comment: He was continually greeted by folks at the bar singing: 

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