• ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 30

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

     State Department official arrested; accused of economic spying for China  (Los Angeles Times)

    A longtime State Department employee [Candace Claiborne] was arrested Wednesday and charged with repeatedly lying about her contacts with Chinese businessmen who had plied her with thousands of dollars in cash and gifts to glean inside information about U.S. economic policy, U.S. officials said. . . .

    The case offers a window into Beijing’s efforts to gain an advantage in its economic jockeying with the United States, and how business owners in China often double as agents for state intelligence. –Los Angeles Times

     FBI director Comey wanted to publicly expose Russian spying before the election; Obama White House blocked him  (Newsweek)

    Comey pitched the idea of writing an op-ed about the Russian campaign during a meeting in the White House’s situation room in June or July. . . .

    [The op-ed] would have included much of the same information as the bombshell declassified intelligence report released January 6, which said Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to influence the presidential election, the source said.–Newsweek

     Federal Reserve says the US economy is finally back to normal  (CNN Money). Unemployment is officially under 5% and adding 200k jobs monthly, which the Fed considers full employment for its purposes. This data is why the Fed is gradually raising interest rates, hoping to keep the economy from overheating.

     Attorney General for Mexican state of Nayarit arrested in San Diego on drug trafficking charges  (San Diego Union-Tribune)

    Comment: You hate to see their courts and law enforcement system besmirched.

     Dead: The misanthrope who wrote “The Anarchist Cookbook” in the late 1960s. It featured recipes for bombs, gun silencers, and all sorts of weapons. It sold over 2 million copies and 

    is believed to have been used as a source in heinous acts of violence since its publication in 1971, most notably the killings of 12 students and one teacher in 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. –New York Times

    Comment: Oddly, given his contributions to this world, he died of natural causes.  I have deliberately omitted his name.

     Headline: “This Chicago man saved $1 million by the time he was 30. Here’s how he did it.” (Chicago Tribune)

    Let me explain how he did it:

    1. He made pretty good money, though not fantastic amounts
    2. He didn’t spend very much.

    Honestly, that’s what the article says. And, frankly, it is good advice if you want to accumulate resources and can restrain your consumption.

    Try to make good money and don’t splurge. If your investments get good returns, that helps, too.

    Comment: Works every time.

    But I would add: as you accumulate, give some to worthy charities. Others less fortunate need your help.

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  • Wiretapping Trump Tower: The Allegation is VERY Serious. So Where’s the Evidence?

    The accusation is extremely serious.

    President Trump, by then sitting in the Oval Office, accused his predecessor of authorizing wiretaps on “Trump Tower.”

    Worse yet, he said, the wiretaps were done during the campaign. The clear inference is that the wiretaps were political. A very serious charge, indeed.

    There are three possibilities, and maybe a fourth:

    1. Legitimate reasons for the wiretap that passed muster with a federal judge
    2. Political skullduggery by Obama, a very risky and likely illegal act
    3. A false charge by Pres. Trump, an incendiary accusation, made without any basis.

    There are other possibilities, too. For example,

    • A foreign power or private party could have engaged in surveillance and masked itself as a US agency (or perhaps simply been mistaken for one).

    It is even possible that you US and friendly foreign powers surveil each others’ citizens and exchange information about them to avoid legal restrictions on surveilling their own citizens.

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    The problem here simple:

    If true, the charge that President Obama ordered this surveillance is a very damaging one since it goes to the heart of our free and fair elections.

    If untrue, then making the charge is damaging to Pres. Trump, whose words ought to carry weight. If the charges are reckless, they damage his reputation–and ours as a country.

    Now’s the time to show some evidence or show some humility and retract.

    That is what Sen. John McCain said, and he is right.

    Instead, Press Secretary Sean Spicer is saying:

    • “Wiretapping” didn’t mean exactly that; it meant any type of surveillance
    • “Pres. Obama” didn’t the President himself; it meant his administration

    CNN’s report on today’s Spicer Press Briefer, where he made these comments, is here.

    Comment: I read Spicer’s comment as

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    Comment #2: Lest the Democrats feel too smug about all this.

    They have been suggesting for months that they lost the election because of the Russians.

    US spy agencies have said that Russians engaged in disinformation, but there is zero evidence they affected the outcome, and the Democrats have presented none.

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Wednesday, February 8

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

     After a bruising battle over Betsy DeVos for Sec. of Education (DeVos was finally confirmed), The Hill reports “Democrats seek new targets

    Comment: Seek and ye shall find. Next in Chuck Schumer’s sights is Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the nominee for Attorney General. Then Scott Pruitt for the EPA, Dr. Tom Price at HHS, and Andy Puzder for Labor. The Democrats will drag these out and then lose the votes. The electoral-politics question is whether these slash-and-burn tactics build their base or simply please the existing one.

    Republicans say, rightly, that these Democratic tactics play to that party’s activists and donors and that the minority party can only delay, not stop, the nominations.

    Democrats say, rightly, that they oppose these candidates because of profound policy differences. These nominees will directly attack core Democratic policies; it is hardly surprising that the constituencies built around them are fighting like feral cats.

     Related story: Democrats show fierce anger at Republican lawmakers in town halls  (The Hill)

     “Homeland Security Chief Admits Travel Ban Was Rushed” (NYT headline) 

     This is the kind of innovative cost-savings the private sector can bring to government  (The Postillon, Link here)

     Why Children Ask “Why” and What Makes a Good Explanation  (Aeon)

    Giving a good answer to a ‘Why?’ question is not just a philosophical abstraction. An explanation has cognitive, real-world functions. It promotes learning and discovery, and good explanatory theories are vital to smoothly navigating the environment.

    Results from psychology . . . expose a striking similarity between children’s and scientists’ explanatory reasoning. Both children and scientists look out in the world, trying to find patterns, searching for surprising violations of those patterns, and attempting to make sense of them based on explanatory and probabilistic considerations. Children’s explanatory practices offer unique insight into the nature of good explanation. –Matteo Colombo, writing in Aeon

     “Paul Ryan says Obamacare replacement bill will be completed this year” (Reuters via CNBC)

    Doing that, major tax reform, and something permanent about immigration–all of them demanded by Trump voters–will strain the White House and Congress to the limit, especially because the Democrats will fight them hard.

     The World Foremost Authority, Prof. Irwin Corey, has died, still speaking gibberish at age 102 Prof. Corey was a staple of variety shows in the 1950s and 1960s, his disheveled hair pointing in all directions as he mumbled academic-sounding phrases that went nowhere (but pointed the way toward post-modernism).

    The high-point of his career, at least for us academics, was when he fooled the 1974 National Book Awards into thinking he was Thomas Pynchon, accepting the award for Gravity’s Rainbow.

    No one in the crowd had any idea what the reclusive Mr. Pynchon looked like, and when Mr. Corey arrived to accept the award for him (the novelist had approved the stunt), many people thought they were getting their first look at Mr. Pynchon.

    They soon learned otherwise. Beginning his remarks, as he often did, “However,” Mr. Corey referred to the author as “Richard Python” and said, “Today we must all be aware that protocol takes precedence over procedure.” He continued: “Marx, Groucho Marx, once said that religion is the opiate of the people. I say that when religion outlives its usefulness, then opium will be the opiate. Ah, that’s not a bad idea.” NYT obituary for Prof. Irwin Corey

    Here is a 1-minute glimpse of Prof. Corey doing his shtick.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ David Wayne Henley
     for the IKEA border wall
    ◆ Harry Bushwitz for “Why Children Ask Why?”

     

  • When Homeland Security Goes Rogue

    One of the most disturbing elements of the 2016 election was Russian interference.

    Denying it, as the Trump side has done, is not believable. There is widespread agreement among US intelligence agencies that the Russians were behind many hacks, including one at the Democratic National Committee, and they were sources of leaks of embarrassing internal documents, which they improperly accessed.

    The Democrats, for their part, have exaggerated the actual impact these hacks on the election outcome. They may have nudged it at the margins, but there is no evidence for Rep. John Lewis’ charge that Russian hacking had such a profound impact that Donald Trump was not legitimately elected.

    Still, the problems are serious and will only become more serious going forward unless the US acts to protect its election process.

    One response, advanced by Pres. Obama’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its head, Jeh Johnson, was to designate the US election system part of the country’s “critical infrastructure,” which would allow DHS to take a much larger role in state and local elections. Regularizing that large federal role would be unprecedented. Currently, Washington steps in to investigate potentially discriminatory voting procedures but, beyond that, only involves itself in local election procedures when specifically ordered by courts. Obama’s DSH wanted to change that.

    State and local officials pushed back to maintain control. One of the most vocal was Brian Kemp, who supervises voting in Georgia (he is secretary of state there).

    Apparently, DHS didn’t like that. In December, it was reported that Georgia’s election offices were, indeed, hacked multiple times, though without any impact on the integrity of the vote. The IP address of the hacker was . . . the US Department of Homeland Security. That, at least, is what Kemp’s office alleges.

    DHS has no legal authority to hack into the Georgia voting system. None.

    Without that authority, their actions are scandalous–and perhaps felonious.

    Now, investigators at DHS want to see Georgia’s records so they can investigate the hacking. Here is a report from a local Georgia outlet.

    Comment: The hacks certainly should be investigated, though I am not confident that the investigation should be carried out by the very department that is accused. If officials at DHS really did this, they should be fired and the cases taken before a Grand Jury.

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Thursday, January 26

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

     RIP MTM  Love the quote from James L. Brooks, who co-produced the “Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

    She was brilliant. Nobody Ever Found the Thing She Couldn’t Do. –James L. Brooks in the Hollywood Reporter

    The New York Times obituary is here, with the headline that Moore “Incarnated the Modern Woman on TV.

     Sanctuary Cities to Trump: Drop Dead, Keep Sending Money  The NBC story doesn’t have that tone, but that’s the message. Trump’s response is predictably blunt. (Here)

    Two Comments: First, Trump made a very smart move on this issue early. Until then, the narrative had been “be empathetic with the striving, yearning immigrants.” Trump reversed it: “Be empathetic with the victims of violent illegal immigrants.” He was predictably hyperbolic, of course, and the narrative does not easily generalize to non-violent illegal immigrants, but it was a shrewd political reimagining of the issue.

    Second, a fight with Trump over immigration is one many sanctuary-city mayors and sheriffs relish . . . until the money pinches. Chicago will be a particularly hard fight because Mayor Rahm Emanuel depends on support from Hispanic voters to offset his unpopularity among African-Americans. If he backs down without a smack-down, he’ll lose a key support group.

     Quote of the Day  When asked what he thinks about General Mattis when he was being considered for Secretary of Defense, Rob O’Neill (the man who killed Bin Laden) said:

    General Mattis has a bear rug in his home, but the bear’s not dead. It’s just afraid to move.

     Trump blocks Obama/Kerry transfer of $221 million to Palestinian Authority

    The Trump administration has informed the Palestinian Authority that it is freezing the transfer of $221 million which was quietly authorized by the Obama administration in its final hours on January 20, a senior Palestinian source has told The Times of Israel.

    US officials conveyed to PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Tuesday that the funds were not expected to be handed over in the immediate future, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. –AP and Times of Israel

     AP: “Trump intends to announce his Supreme Court pick on Feb. 2”

    Comment: If the nominee sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.

     Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): Refusing Refugee Admissions is Equivalent to Slavery  (Daily Caller) Trump has issued a temporary stay on visas from several countries with major terror problems, all predominantly Muslim.

    Nihad Awad, CAIR’s national executive director, called the proposed border wall a “multi-billion dollar monument to racism.” Awad went on to say that President Trump’s proposal has nothing to do with national security and is strictly an “Islamophobic” proposal. –Daily Caller

    Comment: An extreme left-wing rabbi, involved in many anti-Israeli causes, appeared at the same news conference and said barring refugees from Syria and Somalia is an “affront to God.”

     

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Sam Stubbs
     for the great quote about Gen. Mattis
    ◆ Ed Lasky for US funding for Palestinians; the story on that yesterday came thanks to Marcia Sukenik Weiss

     

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Thursday, Dec. 8

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

    ◆ Jill Stein’s chances of winning the presidency decline slightly. Federal judge, appointed by Obama, says “no” to Michigan recount. (The Hill)

    ◆ Artificial intelligence making progress in business, but it still has a long way to go, says Christopher Mims in the Wall Street Journal. 

    Mims highlights three main limitations:

    1. Most businesses don’t collect enough data to feed into AI systems
    2. Most businesses don’t have enough processes where the cost savings would justify the AI investment
    3. AI programmers and engineers are in short supply, making them expensive

    Of course, all these limitations can–and will–change. So will the availability of off-the-shelf AI systems, which will be much cheaper to use.

    ◆ Sharp opponent of Obama environmental initiatives picked to head Environmental Protection Agency. He is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has spent a lot of time suing the very agency he will head. (The Hill)

    ◆ Another day, another general in the Trump cabinet. This time, it is retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly for Homeland Security (Washington Post)

     

    ◆ The Washington Post runs news articles against Trump each day. Today’s says that “Paul Ryan’s attacks on Hillary Clinton could come back to haunt him.” How?

    With each passing day, Trump is tangling himself in a knot of potential business and family conflicts of interest while he runs the country. That means Republicans in Congress could soon find the tables turned: Democrats clamoring for ethics investigations of the president. And what’s more, they’d be able to point to Ryan’s own argument — that no one should be above the law — to make their case. –Washington Post

    Comment: Right and wrong. It’s certainly right that Trump’s business entanglements could become problems. In fact, I’m sure they will be. Political opponents have already started using them against him.

    But to say that Ryan will be hurt by those attacks is a stretch. Ryan said “no one should be above the law.” He’s right. That ought to include Trump, Clinton, and everyone else. (Charles Lipson comment)

    If Ryan meant only that no Democrats should be above the law but it’s ok if Republicans are, then he ought to be attacked. Maybe the WaPo should wait and see before judging him guilty.

    ◆ Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC, installs three sculptures to honor Hillary Clinton. (Fox News) Entitled “Red, White, and Hillary Blue Diamonds,” the installations include a placard saying they are:

    Dedicated to former Senator Hillary Clinton, who is the beacon of dignity and guiding light, as a thank you for her strength as we move forward.–Fox News

    Comment: The committee said the sculptures replace those honoring Thomas Dewey.

     

     

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    ◆ Send interesting stories to
    Charles (dot) Lipson at Gmail (dot) com