• ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, June 26

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

     After indications that Syria’s Assad might use chemical weapons again, Trump warns he will pay “a heavy price” for “mass murder” (New York Times)

    Comment: As with most deterrent threats, it is hard to know whether it will work.

    What we do know is that it is could work because it is credible.

    That is, the target (Syria, in this case) has good reasons to believe we will do what we threaten if he acts.

    After Pres. Obama’s failed “red line” and other missteps, our threats were heavily discounted.

    It is worth noting, then, that Trump has managed to reestablish America’s deterrent threat quickly after 8 years of neglect and decline.

     CNN has made several major errors in reporting the Trump-Russia investigation, all adverse to the Administration.

    After the retractions, three CNN journalists are going to spend more time with their families. Story here (Washington Post)

    Comment: My sense is that CNN’s main viewership is airport passengers delayed in boarding.

    I hope the transportation industry survives this setback.

     Amazing story, if further proof emerges. Circa reports that the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn began after he intervened to help a (purported) victim of FBI sexual discrimination.  Circa’s John Solomon and Sara Carter have done first-rate reporting on scandals, so their coverage should be taken seriously. The key here is that the person accused of discrimination is very high-ranking. Indeed, he was acting head of the agency after Comey stepped down.

    The FBI launched a criminal probe against former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn two years after the retired Army general roiled the bureau’s leadership by intervening on behalf of a decorated counterterrorism agent who accused now-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and other top officials of sexual discrimination, according to documents and interviews.

    Flynn’s intervention on behalf of Supervisory Special Agent Robyn Gritz was highly unusual, and included a letter in 2014 on his official Pentagon stationary, a public interview in 2015 supporting Gritz’s case and an offer to testify on her behalf. His offer put him as a hostile witness in a case against McCabe, who was soaring through the bureau’s leadership ranks.

    There is more than simple correlation here, according to Solomon and Carter.

    McCabe eventually became the bureau’s No. 2 executive and emerged as a central player in the FBI’s Russia election tampering investigation, putting him in a position to impact the criminal inquiry against Flynn.

    Three FBI employees told Circa they personally witnessed McCabe make disparaging remarks about Flynn before and during the time the retired Army general emerged as a figure in the Russia case.

    Comment: The report is stunning and looks like corruption, in the form of personal animus. 

    The weak part of the Circa allegation (so far) is that the Russia investigation began fully two years after the contretemps.

    The strong part is that McCabe seemed to have a personal grievance against someone he was investigating. That cannot be acceptable within any neutral investigative agency.

    This alleged corruption must be part of Mueller’s investigation.

     California regulators are moving to require Roundup weed killer to come with a “cancer-causing” label.  They say the main ingredient, glyphosate, is the problem. Monsanto, which makes the product, disputes the claim. Story here (ABC News)

     That attempted mass assassination of Republican lawmakers? The one by the rabid Bernie Sanders supporter?

    Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the No. 2 official in the Democratic National Committee, blames . . . go ahead, guess. You are correct. Trump.

    Story here.

    Comment: Check the man for rabies.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Tom Elia
    for the Circa story on the FBI

    ◆ Sam Stubbs for the CNN story.

    Sam reported it correctly, unlike CNN

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 25

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

    ◆ Speculation grows that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will announce his retirement.

    The current Court year ends Monday, and any announcement would come soon after.

    Kennedy is 80, was appointed by a Republican, and has served 29 years on the Court, recently as a crucial swing vote.

    There are several elderly Democrats on the court, but they want to hang on (if health permits) in hopes of another Democratic president.

    Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, have lawyered up to defend against allegations of bank fraud(CBS)

    When Jane was president of Burlington (VT) College, she got big bank loans for an expansion project that ultimately failed and bankrupted the college.

    The investigation is (1) whether the loans were based on Jane’s false representations about the college’s fundraising and (2) whether Bernie used his office to pressure the bank to make the loan.

     The battle for post-ISIS Syria is shaping up

    The background: the Obama Administration did nothing in Syria and pulled out of Iraq, opening the door wide for Iran to control Baghdad and Damascus (the Assad government) and providing political space for ISIS to build its “caliphate” for Sunnis.

    The change: Trump dramatically altered US policy, and, under the leadership of Mattis at DOD and McMaster at NSC, the US has been taking the fight to ISIS.

    The result: Iran is closing in on ISIS from one direction, the US from the other.

    There are three big issues in this end-game:

    1. Will ISIS turn to move civilian attacks in Europe (and possibly America)?
    2. Will US and Iranian forces be able to avoid direct military confrontation as they converge on ISIS’ last strongholds
    3. Who controls what territory in post-ISIS Syria?

    An excellent primer on the emerging issues is Udi Dekel’s “East-West-North-South: The Race for Syria after the Islamic State” from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS, Israel)

    The current race for control of territory in Syria now appears to be a competition between Iran and the United States, which have established two respective axes – with a vertical American (north-south) effort on the one hand, and a horizontal Iranian (east-west) effort on the other hand. In practice, this is another stage in the shaping of Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State. In the meantime, the country’s southwestern region, from Daraa to the Golan Heights, remains open for activity and influence by Israel and Jordan, which must begin taking action before it is too late. Contacts are apparently underway to formulate a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American strategy aimed at preventing Iranian influence and the presence of its proxies, especially Hezbollah and Shiite militias, in the southern Syria. –Udi Dekel

    ◆ Political correctness to stop free speech in Arkansas? Yep.

    But the University stepped in and did the right thing.

    The Univ. of Arkansas’ King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies decided to hold a symposium on honor killings.

    The Center’s director, a geosciences professor named Tom Paradise, included Prof. Phyllis Chesler (from CUNY) on one panel since she has published widely on the subject, arguing that scholars have underplayed the role of Islam in these killings.

    Three Arkansas professors raised holy hell about it, saying the could never “countenance” Chesler’s participation, even though it would simply be a Skype call.

    The Center caved and disinvited Chesler, according to an editorial in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

    Now, the University has done the right thing.

    They removed Prof. Paradise from the center’s leadership, saying “The decision to disinvite a participant for his or her views is not reflective of the values and practices of our institution.”

    Comment: The university did the right thing.

     Palestinians “disappointed” after “tense meeting” with Jared Kushner, Trump’s special emissary (The Hill)

    Key disagreement: US wants Palestinians to stop paying terrorists for killing Jews.

    Palestinian Authority likes paying them. Abbas told Trump it would stop and simply assumed the president knew he was lying.

    Trump held him to account.

    The PA has also been adamant about keeping incendiary, anti-Semitic materials in their school textbooks.

    The larger problems for Abbas: no succession lined up, and the Middle East is moving forward without them.

    Comment: My guess: Trump will look at Kushner’s report of the meetings and decide this is not a good time to push forward with negotiations.

    Trump has always understood something about these negotiations that most presidents don’t: the US can help if both parties want an agreement. But it cannot force an agreement on parties that don’t want one and aren’t prepared to make serious concessions.

     Oklahoma doctor prescribed so many painkillers, she’s being charged with murder in one patient’s death  (Washington Post)

    The patient, Sheila Bartels, received

    what drug addicts call “the holy trinity” of prescription drugs: the powerful painkiller Hydrocodone, the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and a muscle relaxant known as Soma.

    In total, pharmacists handed her 510 pills that day — all legal, because she had a prescription with the signature of her doctor, Regan Ganoung Nichols, scrawled at the bottom, according to a probable cause affidavit. –Washington Post

    Comment: Cracking down on excessive prescriptions is crucial in this fight.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Sam Stubbs
     for the Sanders bank fraud story
    ◆ Gregg Roman for the University of Arkansas speech-suppression story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, June 24

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

     Healthcare bill:

    • Another Republican Senator says no (that’s 5).
    • The Democrats go all in on vitriolic criticism.
    • Warren calls it “blood money,” etc.
    • Even Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat, will vote against the bill.

    The conventional wisdom is that the R’s cannot get it through the Senate  and that the D’s will escape all blame from voters.

    Comment: I don’t think the Democrats are home free on this.

    The Republicans will get a lot of the blame, to be sure, if they can’t pass a bill. They should. They have both Houses and the Presidency.

    But the Democrats’ entire strategy on everything in both Houses and in the streets is to resist and obstruct.

    It remains to be seen if voters will endorse that. I don’t think it appeals beyond the base in NY, CA, and university towns.

    Republicans will surely say, “It’s our bill versus Obamacare. The Democrats love Obamacare and won’t do anything but small changes. So now we’re all stuck with it.”

    That stance is reinforced by former Pres. Obama coming out so forcefully against the Republican bill.

    What happens when voters get the bad news from insurance companies in November about next year?  

    Ultimately, the electoral question comes down to this: Which do you hate more? Obamacare or the Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace it?

     Suicide bomber in Saudi Arabia blows himself up, but fails to reach his main target in Mecca: the Grand Mosque (Washington Post)

    The [Saudi Interior] ministry did not name the group involved in the attack. The ultraconservative Sunni kingdom battled an al-Qaida insurgency for years and more recently has faced attacks from a local branch of the Islamic State group.

    Neither group immediately claimed those arrested, though Islamic State sympathizers online have urged more attacks as an offensive in Iraq slowly squeezes the extremists out of Mosul and their de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria comes under daily bombing from a U.S.-led coalition. –Washington Post

    Comment: Remember, bringing down Saudi Arabia was the major goal of Al Qaeda all along. So far, not much progress.

    My guess is that the real political risk is related to Saudi efforts to liberalize the economy, which requires freer information and freer women.

     Loretta Lynch, Attorney General in Obama’s final years, is now being investigated by the Senate. Hacked emails from a Democratic campaign official said Lynch “would not to let the Clinton investigation go too far.” That doesn’t look good. Nor does Comey’s testimony that Lynch ordered him to falsely characterize the investigation in public. (USA Today story here)

    Another email, now public,

    indicated that Lynch had privately assured Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria that the FBI’s investigation wouldn’t “go too far.” –USA Today

    The Congressional letter asking Lynch to provide documents was bipartisan, and Lynch has promised to cooperate.

    Comment: First, the Senate has to determine if these emails are real or fake. If they are real, Ms. Lynch may be be able to dance around them. For example, “I only meant I didn’t want it to go too far afield” or that she was simply guessing what the FBI would do. (Why would she be talking about such a secret matter to staffers for the person being investigated?) Or that the staffer misunderstood, etc.

    The fact that Democrats signed the letter to Lynch indicates the Senate committee, led by Grassley and Feinstein, is operating in a bipartisanship fashion, although it could also indicate that Lynch has reassured Democrats she can defend her position.

    Still, the documents now publicly available reek of political interference in a criminal investigation if they are real, not faked by the Russians. As this investigation moves forward, remember, the Democrats refused to allow the FBI to look into their computers after the Russian hack. They haven’t said why.

     When corruption stinks. Literally. The White Plains, NY, city council gave a $175k judgeship to someone who cannot work because she is too fat to climb the three steps to the bench (Daily Caller) Judge Eliz. Shollenberger is chair of the local Democratic Party and all council members are Democrats.

    It actually gets worse. Judge Shollenberger comes to the court house with what we will delicately call “gastrointestinal issues,” which leave the place looking and smelling terrible.

    Shollenberger further dismayed her colleagues by displaying “complete arrogance” following the embarrassing incidents.

    “She would just say, ‘There is a mess over there. I think someone should clean it up,’” a court source told the NY Post. –NY Post, quoted in the Daily Caller

    Comment: The over/under on how long it takes for Judge Shollenberger to play the victim here: 2 minutes. “I’m sick” “This is fat shaming.” Etc.

    Meanwhile, the public has to pay for a non-working judge and a hard-working janitorial crew.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, June 23

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

     Republican Senators introduce their health-care bill. In its current form, the bill is at least 3 votes short of the 50 votes needed. Moving right to capture them could lose centrist Republicans.

    On the current vote count, here’s the Washington Post story.

    And the criticism from outside groups is fierce. Here’s one report on criticism by healthcare groups (Bloomberg)

    Surprisingly, Obama doesn’t like it, either. He posted on FB. I planned to quote it but it runs longer than a Fidel Castro speech.

    The best summary of the differences between the House bill (as passed) and the Senate bill (as introduced) is here at the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (link)

    Comment: Negotiations ahead in the Senate. Uncertain if Pres. Trump will get involved.

     Russian “Old Believer” Priest tells men to grow beards to “protect themselves from homosexuality”  (Moscow Times)

    Comment: I asked an expert, a Mr. W. Whitman,  . . . .

     Quick Tip: If you have a huge weapons stash, don’t get caught shoplifting ammo

    Ramadan Abdullah was arrested for theft in upstate New York (Binghamton Homepage)

    Police recovered:

    -4 loaded handguns
    -8 assault weapons
    -64 high-capacity ammunition feeding devices
    -1 loaded shotgun
    -2 rifles
    -thousands of rounds of ammunition for rifles, pistols, and assault weapons, including 50 caliber armor piercing incendiary rounds, numerous firearm parts, and flak jackets.

    Cornwell says subsequent search warrants executed at other properties tied to the suspect resulted in the seizure of:

    -numerous rounds of 38 caliber ammunition
    -high-capacity ammunition feeding devices and ammunition
    -an additional loaded firearm –Binghamton Homepage

    Comment: Mr. Abdullah said that being arrested during his namesake holiday was especially ironic.

     Trump’s infrastructure proposal includes expansion of rural broadband (Engadget)

    Comment: This could be a valuable expenditure, if it were done right and not too expensive.

     Qatar’s neighbors issue a long list of demands to end crisis (Associated Press)

    The Saudis, Egyptians, and others issued a 13-point list

    insisting that their Persian Gulf neighbor shutter Al-Jazeera, cut back diplomatic ties to Iran and sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

    In a 13-point list — presented to the Qataris by Kuwait, which is helping mediate the crisis — the countries also demand an end to Turkey’s military presence in Qatar. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the list in Arabic from one of the countries involved in the dispute. –Associated Press

    Comment: Getting the Turks out and keeping Iran out are the keys. They also want to shut Al Jazeera. 

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  • Democrats Latest Strategy on Repeal-and-Replace: Shut Down the Entire Senate

    To show they are grumpy about the Republicans’ negotiations to repeal-and-replace ObamaCare, the Democrats have a new idea.

    They plan to halt all business in the Senate, even the most routine measures.

    Those normally pass unanimously without objection.

    That is what CNN is reporting.

    Senate Democrats will move to bring the chamber to a halt Monday night to protest the Republicans’ closed-door process to gut Obamacare in the coming days, according to a senior Democratic aide.

    Democrats plan to object to routine requests to let the chamber operate — whether it’s scheduling votes or allowing committees to meet for extended hearings — in a move aimed at escalating the fight over health care. –CNN

    CNN reports the Democratic base is enthusiastic about the strategy.

    It is not clear if the Democrats plan to continue the strategy after Monday’s protest.

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    Comment: Rachel Maddow, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Steyer might like it, but ordinary people won’t.

    This is a temper tantrum wearing the thin guise of political strategy.

    The correct allegation is that the Republican Senators are doing this behind closed doors.

    The Republicans rightly respond that the Democrats have said they won’t agree to anything if it repeals and replaces Obamacare.

    So, Republicans figure, if we can’t get their votes, why tell them in advance what we are doing?

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, June 19

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

     Terror attack in London, killing and injuring Muslims as they left Ramadan prayers. We already know it was deliberate. We’ll know more soon about the motives. The initial indications are that the 48-year-old man wanted to kill Muslims as a hate crime. But, again, details are still sketchy.

    Comment: The rise of political, religious, and ethnic hatred and killing because of that hatred is one of the most troubling developments in Europe and the US.

    Democrats have no affirmative plans on health, so they turn to a familiar tactic: obstruct.

    Democrats planning to slow GOP efforts to vote on ObamaCare by July 4 (Fox News)

    Their complaint: the Republicans are drafting the bill behind closed doors and not allowing Democrats to participate.

    Comment: They Democrats are understandably upset about being excluded. But no one on the Democratic side has said they would vote for any repeal-and-replace bill. They have said they will talk only if the R’s agree to tweak the ACA. Since the R’s are committed to replacing Obamacare, it’s hard to see why they would invite the fox into the hen house. 

    ◆ Washington Post editorial: “Single-payer health care would have an astonishingly high price tag”

    But the government’s price tag would be astonishing. When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed a “Medicare for all” health plan in his presidential campaign, the nonpartisan Urban Institute figured that it would raise government spending by $32 trillion over 10 years, requiring a tax increase so huge that even the democratic socialist Mr. Sanders did not propose anything close to it.

    The goal still must be universal coverage and cost restraint. But no matter whether the government or some combination of parties is paying, that restraint will come slowly, with cuts to the rate of increase in medical costs that make the system more affordable over time. –Washington Post editorial

    Comment: The standard solution to these high costs is to ration care. Typically, governments also impose cost controls which discourage innovation and channel potential doctors and nurses into other fields.

    The fact that support for single-payer is now a litmus test for California Democrats is stunning. It would cost 2.5 times the current state budget.

     “Flounder” of Animal House has died Stephen Furst, who remained proud of his role as a hapless doofus, had heart problems brought on by diabetes.  He had other roles, but “Kent Dorfman” (Flounder) was his timeless one.

    Comment: Flounder (the character’s name was Kent Dorfman) was less famous for the lines he said in Animal House than for something said to him. He was on the receiving end of the best advice every given by a college administrator, when Dean Vernon Wurmer told him, “Fat, Drunk, and Stupid is no way to go through life, son.” He concluded that scene famously by responding to Wurmer’s command, “Out with it.” 

    He also played the central role in the “horse scene” (here). “I didn’t even point the gun at him!”

     Megyn Kelly and NBC “take the gloves off in Alex Jones interview–and now he’s mad” (Los Angeles Times)

    Megyn Kelly presented a highly critical 19-minute piece on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on her NBC newsmagazine “Sunday Night” after a week of harsh criticism over the decision to present his views on network TV.

    Jones is notorious for saying the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was staged to promote tougher gun control laws. Twenty-six people, including 20 children, died, making it the second-deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at the time. –LA Times

    They even brought Tom Brokaw onto the show to say the grieving Newtown parents “should not have to hear the cruel claim that it’s a lie.”

    Comment: Good point, Tom. But your bosses completely undercut it by giving a platform to the man who spread this “cruel claim that it’s a lie.”

    Why did NBC do it? To sell viewers’ eyeballs to advertisers, of course.

    Megyn Kelly and NBC made the despicable decision to climb into this ditch. They shouldn’t be surprised they got covered in mud.

    ◆ Good News: Cong. Steve Scalise’s condition upgraded to “serious” after the Virginia shooting (CNN)

    Comment: Great news.

     

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