• 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 Roundup for Thursday, March 23

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

     Health Care Bill in the Intensive Care Unit.

    Doubts Ryan and Trump have the votes to pass the bill in the House, but the arm twisting continues to move Freedom Caucus members to the “yes” side.

    If the vote is postponed, you will know Ryan did not convince enough members on the party’s right.

    The New York Times has the most accurate headline: Leaders Struggle to Unite House Republicans Behind Health Bill. The words in the article are “uncertain fate.”

     Islamist attack near Big Ben and Parliament kills 5, including a police officer, and injures dozens

    The extent of the terrorist’s support network and connections are being investigated urgently by British police and intelligence units.

    Prime Minister Theresa May was resolute in response, saying Parliament would not postpone its Thursday session.

    Comment: Before becoming PM, May was in charge of Britain’s homeland security and was highly regarded in the position. She’s the ideal politician to lead her country through this difficult time.

     “House Intelligence chair says Trump campaign officials were ensnared in surveillance operations” (Washington Post)

    The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday accused U.S. spy agencies of abusing their surveillance powers by gathering and sharing information about President Trump and his transition team, an unproven charge that was quickly embraced by the White House but threatened to derail the committee’s investigation of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.

    Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, said he was alarmed after seeing intelligence reports disseminated after the Nov. 8 election that made references to U.S. citizens affiliated with Trump, and possibly the president-elect himself. –Washington Post

    His Democratic counterpart on the committee, Adam Schiff, immediately blasted Nunes for revealing this to Trump and to the public before disclosing it privately to fellow committee members.

    Comment: I watched CNN’s take on this. It skimmed over the issue headlined in the Washington Post and, instead, emphasized Adam Schiff’s position that Nunes had destroyed the investigation and that an independent commission was now needed. The cable channel virtually ignored the substance of Nunes’ comments, which implied that some intelligence agencies did collect information on Trump campaign officials and might have shared it within the Obama White House, a serious charge.

    CNN panelists kept emphasizing the Russia investigation and suggesting that Trump’s impeachment was a real possibility if collusion was found. The CNN story is here.

     “Iran Charges Russia with Selling Out its Air Defense Secrets to Israel” (Popular Mechanics)

    An engineer with Tehran’s Ministry of Defense alleged that codes forcing anti-aircraft missiles to treat hostile Israeli fighters as friendly were sold to Tel Aviv, effectively neutralizing Syria and Iran’s S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.

    An Iranian official, described by the Jerusalem Post as a senior member of Iran’s Defense Ministry, told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida that Russia had sold “codes” to Israel that identified Israeli aircraft as friendly. The codes were used by Israel to prevent its aircraft from being targeted. Israel has flown dozens of air raids over Syria, and despite advanced air defenses, only the latest raid, flown last Friday, involved an actual missile launch. –Popular Mechanics

    Comment: Well, those allies in the Syrian fight seem to have some differences.

    Hard to know if the Iranian charges are true, but it is known that the Israelis generally have good relations with Russia and have worked assiduously to make sure Israeli planes do not create problems for Moscow when they fly over Syria to interdict Tehran’s shipments to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a client Iran supplies with lethal tools to threaten Israel. Israel, in turn, tries to prevent those ships as they transit Syria, and it wants to do so without creating conflicts with Moscow.

     “New research identifies a ‘sea of despair’ among white, working-class Americans”  (Washington Post)

    Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists [Anne Case and Nobel-prize-winner Angus Deaton] –Washington Post

    Comment: This confirms what Charles Murray wrote in his pathbreaking book, Coming Apart. Murray, you will recall, is the scholar whose presence at Middlebury College set off left-wing students, who rioted, prevented him from speaking, and injured Prof. Allison Stanger, who was escorting him.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, March 21

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

     The top three stories all involve public testimony by FBI Director James Comey

    1. Comey confirms his agency is conducting a counter-intelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, including any possible contacts with Trump campaign officials. He said no one was excluded from the investigation, but said little beyond that. (Washington Post report here.) 
    2. Comey said no US Government agency authorized any wiretaps or surveillance of Trump Tower. He added that no foreign agencies have been discovered doing such surveillance. Democrats focused on stories #1 and #2. (New York Times report on take-aways from the hearing here.)
      • Comment: Comey’s testimony directly contradict’s Pres. Trump’s tweet. So do the comments of senior members of Congressional Intelligence committees, who have been briefed on the matter. The White House is refusing to back down from its allegations and says it will present evidence later. Perhaps. But no one outside the White House is convinced.
      • Sidenote: Fox News judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, asserted last week that British intelligence had done the surveillance and had done so at the request of the Obama White House. That has been vigorously rejected by the British and has not been confirmed by another else. For that reason, Fox News has temporarily taken him off the air, according to the New York Times.
    3. Comey said that a major criminal investigation is being conducted into the “unmasking” of Gen. Michael Flynn’s name from an intercepted phone call with a Russian diplomat.  Republicans focused on this crime, led (as they are so often) by Rep. Trey Gowdy’s skilled prosecutorial questioning. (Los Angeles Times story here.)
      • Comment:
        • The release of Flynn’s name is a felony. US intelligence agencies charged with surveillance of foreign countries sometimes capture their conversations with US citizens. By law, the names of those citizens are supposed to be “masked,” that is, kept secret since they were captured without an appropriate court warrant.
        • VERY few people in the intelligence community, White House, and Department of Justice have access to these “unmasked names.” Professionals say it is probably less that two dozen, all senior political appointees of the Obama Administration, such as National Security Adviser Susan Rice, her number 2, Ben Rhodes, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director James Brennan, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, as well as the President.
        • One of those senior people leaked Flynn’s name to selected reporters, leading to a bombshell story in the Washington Post (link here), and then to Flynn’s resignation. It is possible, but less likely, that another senior administration official learned the information and then leaked it. But the crucial point is that the information itself was tightly held.
        • The FBI is now under enormous pressure to solve this.
      • My Advice: Once the groundwork has been laid, the Department of Justice should convene a Grand Jury and take testimony, under oath. Every official who had access to Flynn’s unmasked name should be questioned.

     Healthcare Bill: House Republicans unveil changes to bill, on which they expect to vote this Thursday. According to the Washington Post,

    The tweaks addressed numerous GOP concerns about the legislation, ranging from the flexibility it would give states to administer their Medicaid programs to the amount of aid it would offer older Americans to buy insurance. They are the product of two weeks of negotiations that stretched from the Capitol to the White House to President Trump’s Florida resort.

    The bill’s proponents also appeared to overcome a major obstacle Monday after a key group of hard-line conservatives declined to take a formal position against the bill, known as the American Health Care Act. –Washington Post

    Comment: With these changes, the bill should pass the House. It will likely require significant changes to gain 50 votes in the Senate (the number needed for a Reconciliation Budget Bill, with VP Pence breaking the tie). The bill will then go to a conference committee to produce a single joint bill, repealing and replacing Obamacare. That bill will then have to pass both Houses before Pres. Trump can sign it.

    Comment: If this process seems unfamiliar, it is only because Pres. Obama never used “regular order,” even when he controlled both Houses. Until then, it had been the normal way to pass legislation (which, in turn, is the normal way the US passes its laws, not via bureaucratic rule-making).

     Neil Gorsuch hearings for Supreme Court  The NYT lists six highlights. Actually, there were zero.

    Comment: Gorsuch made a calm opening presentation, following by Republicans preening (accurately saying he is supremely well qualified) and Democrats complaining (accurately saying they would not be sitting here if Pres. Obama’s nominee had been given a hearing and a vote).

    That’s why Republicans are secretly so grateful to Mitch McConnell, who saved this seat for them. 

     Kudos to the University of Chicago:

    Free tuition for any children of Chicago Public School employees admitted to the University.

    The parents can be children of teacher, nurse, janitors, counselors–anyone employed by CPS, and do not have to be graduates of Chicago Public Schools. (WBEZ)

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, March 15

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

    ◆ It’s the Ides of March

     Sometimes, you just need good news. Well, here it is

    McDonald’s employee, Pedro Viloria, jumps out the drive-thru window to save unconscious police officer.

    First-responders later revive her (Local 10 Miami)

    Comment: Mr. Viloria’s decency and quick-thinking saved her life.

     Trump’s Taxes (on Rachel Maddow): A Nothingburger

    Except for the destruction of confidentiality, which we all expect for our taxes

    Knowing they were about to be shown on Maddow, Trump released something just before she showed them, which she did in a breathless, hour-long pseudo-event. The “news” was so meaningless that some Democratic activists speculated in social media that Trump himself must be behind this. Unlikely, but a good indication of their impact.

    Slate, a reliable indicator of progressive thinking, called it “a cynical, self-defeating spectacle(Slate)

    Trump, of course, blasted MSNBC for revealing these 2 pages of decade-old documents. (Fox News)

    Comment: Maddow’s “revelation” was trivial, but we do have two legitimate interests here:

    1.  Office Holders’ Conflicts of Interest: We need to see Trump’s returns so we can judge questions about conflicts of interest
    2.  Confidentiality by public agencies and private professionals: We expect everyone’s taxes to be kept secret by the government and private tax preparers, legally bound to confidentiality

    We can–and should–demand transparency but we should be revulsed when public agencies or private tax preparers break bright-line fiduciary rules of confidentiality. Same for doctors’ responsibilities of privacy and confidentiality.

     Failure to pass healthcare could jeopardize other big elements of Trump agenda, says Washington Post

    Comment: Exactly.

    That’s why the Administration and Republican leaders will push so hard for it. But there is a lot of resistance on the right (about locking-in health-care entitlements) and understandable concern that weakening those entitlements would kill the bill in the Senate, where it needs votes from centrist Republicans.

    The WaPo is right in saying a lot hinges on this, beyond healthcare itself.

     A microwave can’t spy on you (yet), but plenty of other internet-connected appliances can  (Popular Mechanics)

    Comment: I’m not just depressed about the spying. I’m depressed my appliances are smarter than I am. Except my blender. I am smarter than my blender.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, March 14

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

     CBO projects Trump/Ryan Obamacare replacement would save money but that 24 million fewer people would be covered  (Washington Post)

    The analysis, released late Monday afternoon by the Congressional Budget Office, predicts that 24 million fewer people would have coverage a decade from now than if the Affordable Care Act remains intact, nearly doubling the share of Americans who are uninsured from 10 percent to 19 percent. The office projects the number of uninsured people would jump 14 million after the first year –Washington Post

     CBO ignites firestorm with ObamaCare repeal score, reports The Hill

    Democrats highlighted President Trump’s campaign promises to provide “insurance for everybody,” saying the bill falls woefully short.

    “The CBO’s estimate makes clear that TrumpCare will cause serious harm to millions of American families,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said in a statement. –The Hill

    How does the CBO get these numbers?

    The CBO estimated that 24 million people would become uninsured by 2026 under the bill, largely due to the proposed changes to Medicaid. Seven million fewer people would be insured through their employers over that same time frame because some people would choose not to get coverage and some employers would decline to offer it. –The Hill

    Comment: The numbers create obvious political problems for Republicans, and the Democrats will exploit them.

    Here is how I figure Republicans will respond, at least publicly:

    1. The basic problem with the CBO score is that it compares the new program to Obamacare, as if the ACA will continue to exist and cover people. But it won’t. Obamacare is collapsing financially, so those people will actually lose coverage if we don’t repeal it and replace it with something sustainable. Even if Obamacare totters on for another year or two, insurers are dropping out and, as they do, monopoly providers will raise rates, forcing more people off Obamacare insurance.
    2. CBO projections are often wrong, and they certainly have been about healthcare costs and coverage.
    3. Even if 24 million fewer are covered, some of them may choose not to buy coverage since, unlike Obamacare, it is not mandated.
    4. By law, the CBO can only score the bill in front of them. For technical reasons (related to Senate reconciliation rules), we cannot include key measures that will reduce insurance costs and thus attract some of those 24 million to purchase insurance. The main measure will be sale of insurance across state lines and, secondarily, reform of costly tort laws.

     A quote to celebrate spring training: Bob Uecker’s thoughts on catching Phil Niekro’s knuckleball:

    The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up. –Bob Uecker

     The “progressive left” makes a regressive argument for stamping out speech…and they get to decide which speech.

    Here’s Slate’s cover story:  “The Kids Are Right: There’s nothing outrageous about stamping out bigoted speech

    Comment: The article is an artful scam, making its argument by allusion and demonization, without confronting serious counter-arguments.

    It says some speech is bad and “informal rules” ought to limit it, without explaining who gets to set those rules and what criteria should be used. Then, it notes that our Constitution does permit some restrictions on speech. That’s right, but it is a good reason to say, “Let the First Amendment set the restrictions, not Slate magazine writers.”

    The article goes on to attack Trump, Bannon (whom it explicitly calls racist), William Buckley (too religious), and others loathed by Slate readers.

    It concludes, “The purveyors of logic, of facts dutifully checked and delivered to the public, lost big league in November.”

    Why is that an argument for shouting down Charles Murray? It’s not. 

     Two airlines cancel routes to Cuba. Too little demand. Other airlines are cutting back flights and using smaller planes  (Miami Herald)

    Comment: Fortunately, one airline is still flying to Cuba, and doing it on their terms.

     EU’s top court rules employers may prohibit staff from wearing visible religious symbols, such as Islamic headscarves, at work (Reuters)

     Democrats cannot figure out how–or whether–to oppose Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch (Politico)

    Comment: He’ll win easily in the Senate and go onto the Court. The only question is how quickly Sen. leader McConnell will move.

     

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Ed Vidal
     for the airlines cancelling flights to Cuba and the story at Slate favoring speech suppression.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, March 11

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

    ◆ Comment: The Trump presidency will be in deep trouble if it cannot pass a repeal-and-replace bill.

    Right now, the White House and Congressional leadership face real problems from the right in House (which doesn’t want to keep Obamacare’s big subsidies to the poor, locking in an entitlement) and centrist Republicans in the Senate (who fear they cannot be reelected in moderate states if they repeal these subsidies). Think: small fairway with a water hazard on the right and thick bushes on the left.

    The House Freedom Caucus expresses principled opposition to entitlement expansion. Basically, they want repeal without replace. The members are all in safe districts that Trump won, so the members may be reluctant to oppose a president popular among their voters. It’s hard to know if these members can be pressured by Speaker Ryan and the White House to sell out their principles.

    The moderate Senators are harder to pressure because they fear a wrong vote could cost them their seats. In the past, they could be coaxed by side-payments. That’s what Pres. Obama did with the “Cornhusker Kickback” and “Louisiana Purchase.” Those backfired and they won’t work this time.

    This is sausage-making at its bloodiest. It’s not even clear the pig is dead yet.

     Michael Flynn, former NSC adviser, was paid to represent Turkish interests during the Trump campaign  (New York Times)

    Comment: Although Turkey is a NATO member and the lobbying work was not illegal, it is stunning that he did not register as a “foreign agent” contemporaneously (he is only doing so now) and that the Trump vetting team didn’t catch this advance. He can’t say he forgot. The check was for $500k. It is a very good thing he’s already gone. 

     Top Democrats’ tech aide, now under criminal investigation, had access to their private emails, including DNC emails  The details are here. (Daily Caller)

    Imran Awan — the lead suspect in a criminal probe into breaches of House of Representatives information security systems — possessed the password to an iPad used by then-Democratic National Committee Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz when DNC emails were given to WikiLeaks. . . .

    The FBI requested access to the DNC’s server to find out who was responsible, but the DNC refused, FBI Director James Comey said, according to The Hill.

    Politico reported that New York Rep. Gregory “Meeks and, to a larger extent, Wasserman Schultz, are said to have a friendly personal relationship with Awan and his wife, according to multiple sources.”

    House authorities set their sights on the Awans while investigating the existence of a secret server that was funneling congressional data off-site.

    They also suspect Imran of stealing money and equipment. –Daily Caller

     Good News on Free Speech: Univ. of Chicago proposes ‘free speech deans’ to prevent disruptive conduct (Campus Reform)

    The University of Chicago could soon implement new policies that would severely limit “those engaged in disruptive conduct” from preventing “others from speaking or being heard.”

    A recently-released faculty committee report also suggests establishing “free speech deans-on-call” trained to “deal with disruptive conduct” in order to ensure students are not prevented from expressing themselves on campus. –Anthony Gockowski at Campus Reform

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, March 8

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

     Murderer released from jail because he was not given a speedy trial in Chicago

    • The good news (for him) is that he was released
    • The bad news (for him) is that he left this mortal coil on his ride home.

    Chicago man accused of murder who beat his case when prosecutors couldn’t give him a speedy trial was killed after leaving Cook County Jail on Monday night, according to authorities.

    Kamari Belmont, 23, was being held on separate murder and robbery cases stemming from a single night in 2015 in which he was accused of shooting one man during a robbery who later died and robbing another man a couple of hours later. Chicago Tribune story here

    Belmont’s attorney, who advised him to get out of his neighborhood immediately, said “Unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this.”

     Roger L. Simon: WikiLeaks’ CIA Download Confirms Everybody’s Tapped, Including Trump (PJ Media)

    The WikiLeaks documents (everyone believes their downloads now) show how the CIA, via their eerily named “Weeping Angel” program, has devised a method of listening to us through our smart TVs.  Even when we think they’re off, they are able to keep them on — and recording — through a “fake-off” program. –Roger Simon at PJ Media

    Related Article: How CIA allegedly turns everyday devices into high-tech spy weapons (New York Post)

     “US and North Korea set for ‘head-on collision’, China warns  (CNN)

    In a week of heightened tensions in the region, Foreign Minister Wang Li cautioned the US in unusually frank language against the deployment of a controversial missile defense system in South Korea, which is vehemently opposed by China.
    But he also had strong words for North Korea, saying Pyongyang should suspend its nuclear weapons program. –CNN

    Comment: China has misplayed this badly. Beijing has done nothing to corral its reckless client.

     Washington Post highlights Freedom Caucus opposition to Trump/Price/Ryan Bill to Repeal and Replace Obamacare

    Comment: Since the WaPo is itself such an active player opposing the Trump agenda, it’s hard to know how much weight to give their assessment.

     Comment: China keeps lowering its economic growth targets (now 6.5%). But

    • Nobody believes their numbers
    • Achieving even these lower numbers requires lots of exports to the US. Bad time for that strategy.

     Standard operating procedure: Palestine Liberation Organization names children’s camp for terrorist bomber who killed 37, including a dozen children  (Palestinian Media Watch)

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Fred Lawson
     for Chicago murder story
    ◆ Martin Kramer for PLO children’s camp

     

  • 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 Roundup for Friday, March 3

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

     Regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

    Republicans say, “He did nothing wrong. These are purely partisan attacks. He could have phrased his answer better, but he did nothing wrong and, to be on the safe side, has taken himself out of any investigations of Russian interference in the US election.”

    Democrats say, “He is Benedict Arnold. Or at least he might be if we can find any evidence.”

    Comment: He should have corrected his misstatement to Sen. Franken. It’s hard to say if the false statement was deliberate or referred to anything serious. My guess is that you don’t commit treasonous collusion at a public event (at the Heritage Foundation) on your Senate office, meeting with the Russian ambassador, with other people in the room. 

    Still, the whole Russian connection needs a serious investigation and I publicly called for it some time ago.

    My guess is that Putin now realizes that he badly overplayed his hand. After the issue of Russian interference blew up, the chances of more amicable relations between Washington and Moscow were significantly reduced.

    The leaks from US intelligence sources are also very disturbing, not only because they disclose secrets but because they appear partisan. That seriously damages the intel community’s reputation.

     “White House Needs To Curb Iran’s Cruise Missiles” (Breaking Defense) Jonathan Ruhe and Blake Fleisher note that the US and Iran’s opponents in the Middle East focus, understandably, on nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. But, they argue, Iran’s developing cruise missile capabilities are also a major problem.

    Usually, it’s Iran’s ballistic missiles that grab the headlines. The largest such arsenal in the Middle East, they can strike anywhere in the region, and Tehran has transferred thousands to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran also tests new nuclear-capable versions regularly, as they have done in recent weeks.

    [But, the Trump Administration] must ensure the new administration reverses a decades-old pattern of neglecting Iran’s nuclear-capable cruise missile capabilities and their importance to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. . . . The nuclear deal will raise this high ceiling for Iran’s cruise missile program even further. –Ruhe and Fleisher in Breaking Defense

    What to do?

    The United States and its allies must act to halt Iran’s progress. Unlike its predecessor, the Trump Administration should utilize the nuclear deal’s Procurement Working Group to block Tehran’s illicit missile technology acquisition efforts. It is time to demand verification – as authorized by the JCPOA – of the end use of sensitive Iranian imports. Because Resolution 2231 was passed under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, the United States and its partners should consider enforcement actions, including sanctions and use of force, against any material breaches by Iran. –Ruhe and Fleisher in Breaking Defense

    Related Story: “Yemen Has Become Iran’s Testing Ground for New Weapons” (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    The Houthi rebels are getting ongoing assistance from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), mainly via Hizbullah trainers, in the use of missiles and rockets, drones, explosive devices, and battlefield materiel. –JCPA

     “Paul Ryan’s feeling confident about repeal-and-replace. McConnell not so much” (Washington Post)

    Ryan and his top lieutenants are increasingly optimistic they will have the votes to pass their version of legislation to repeal the health-care law and replace some elements of it. –Washington Post

    The Freedom Caucus is still not on board but Ryan has extra votes to play with. There is hardly any margin for error in the Senate.

    In the Senate, under special budget rules allowing a simple majority for the repeal effort, McConnell can lose just two GOP senators and then use Vice President Pence to cast the tiebreaking vote to get the legislation to President Trump’s desk.

    Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a leading moderate, might oppose the legislation because it would revoke Planned Parenthood funding, and a bloc of conservatives is threatening to vote no because Ryan’s emerging bill relies on new tax credits to help consumers buy health insurance. Some big-state Republicans worry that the House bill would leave millions of their constituents without health care because of its approach to the expansion of Medicaid that took place in their states after the ACA became law.

    “It’s just a very narrow path,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a junior member of McConnell’s leadership team, said Thursday. –Washington Post

     Related story: NPR blames the Republican “hard liners,” not moderates, like Susan Collins, for opposing health-care reform

    Comment: In this case, both NPR and the Washington Post are right. Lots of Senators and some Representatives recognize they have leverage because of the thin margins. 

     How nasty is the opposition to Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch?

    Well, here is a fundraising letter I saw today:

    Comment: When you resort to saying Gorsuch is “clear unqualified,” then your definition of “qualified” is nothing more than “he does not agree with my preferred policy outcomes.”

     Chuck Schumer: Trump’s new immigration crime office is “ridiculous”  (Business Insider)

    The overwhelming majority of immigrants are law abiding, they want to be part of the American dream, and most Americans agree with that. So to put an office like this out there shows how anti-immigrant this president is. –Chuck Schumer

     

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