• ZipDialog Roundup for Memorial Day, May 29

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

     Memorial Day should be about more than bar-b-q and store-wide sales. It is a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. May their memories forever be a blessing.

     After Trump leaves, Merkel tells Europe it cannot rely on ‘others.’ She means the United States  (Washington Post)

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Trump last week, saying that Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands.”

    It was the toughest review yet of Trump’s trip to Europe, which inflamed tensions rather than healed them after the U.S. president sparred with the leaders of Washington’s closest and oldest allies on trade, defense and climate change.

    Merkel, Europe’s de facto leader, told a packed beer hall rally in Munich that the days when her continent could rely on others was “over to a certain extent. This is what I have experienced in the last few days.” –Washington Post

    Comment: Merkel was grumpy about Trump publicly demanding NATO’s European partners pay their fair share. Germany has been a special target.

    He also publicly criticized Merkel, repeatedly during the campaign, about her catastrophic decision to throw open German borders to huge numbers of unvetted refugees from the Middle East. Really bad idea, and he called her out on it.

    And now she is grumpy and telling Europe to go it alone, or at least rely on itself (without the US) a lot more.

    So, here’s are the two big problems.

    First, there is no indication that Europeans actually want to pay for their own defense.

    Second, this Europe-on-its-own would inevitably be led by its richest, most powerful state: Germany.

    Europe’s experience with German leadership has not been a happy one. Nobody summarizes that experience better Norm Macdonald in these 90 seconds:

     Immigrant Rights groups are not happy with the head of Homeland Security. Not happy at all.  (Washington Times)

    Immigrant-rights groups were left steaming after Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said most of the illegal immigrant children who streamed into the U.S. in recent years were “a huge scam,” abusing lax policies to gain a foothold here.

    Mr. Kelly also said the families in Central America and here in the U.S. who orchestrated the dangerous journeys were guilty of “human trafficking” of their own children. . . .

    He was tapping into a fierce debate between security advocates and immigrant-rights activists in recent years. –Washington Times

     North Korea tests yet another missile (New York Times)

    The Pentagon is moving urgently to test a long-distance anti-missile system, one that has failed about half the time.

    Comment: W Trump is still relying on China to put pressure on Pyongyang, but either Beijing is not doing enough or lacks the leverage. 

    The US is moving more naval assets to the region. I should also sanction any bank or other institution (most of them in China) that has anything to do with North Korea.

     Oil prices sinking again. Now below $50  (Bloomberg)

    Bloomberg thinks the markets doubt OPEC cutbacks will stick.

    Comment: Fracking costs are also coming down as technology improves.

    Lower energy prices are like a tax cut for consumers.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, May 18

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

    It’s wonderful to see a growing community of readers here at ZipDialog. Thanks for visiting and for sharing it with friends.

    I hope it really does build a dialog of diverse viewpoints on public issues.

     What does the Mueller appointment mean?

    Here’s my take:

    • The appointment was widely applauded. Everybody said that, if anyone had to do the job, Mueller was the best choice. He is
      • A straight-shooter, not a partisan
      • A work horse, not a show horse
      • An experienced hand at the FBI, which he directed. That means he can get up-to-speed quickly and choose a staff quickly.
      • An experienced prosecutor, who will know what to pursue and what to leave aside.
      • A focused investigator, who is unlikely to go off on tangents, as previous special prosecutors have
    • The appointment decision was made by Rod Rosenstein, the second-in-command at DOJ and, in this case, acting Attorney General because Jeff Sessions has recused himself.
      • Rosenstein continues to acquit himself well. He made the decision himself and simply gave the White House a heads-up shortly before the public announcement.
    • Some strong Trump supporters think a special counsel was not needed and is a victory for the Democrats. They are mistaken, IMO.
      • It is a victory for the Democrats in the sense that they, and not the Republicans, have been seeking such an appointment.
      • But it was essential to restore public trust after the Comey firing and conflicting stories about what caused it, following by Comey’s leaked memo.
      • The reason why the appointment was essential is that only a trusted, non-partisan, and highly-competent investigator, such as Mueller, can clear Trump of the serious allegations against him and his team, namely that they collaborated with the Russians and that Trump tried to kill the investigation in a private conversation with Comey.
        • If the prosecutor or special counsel were tainted, the findings would be, too.
        • If Trump wants to reboot his Presidency and move beyond the Democrats’ unsubstantiated charge that he stole the election and committed a high crime to cover it up, then he needs Mueller and not some toady to say so.
    • The big question about the scope of the investigation is how much it will delve into Russia’s overall involvement in the 2106 election.

    I will stay on top of this issue and, in later posts, will take up other aspects.

    Meanwhile, we need an equally thorough investigation by the intel agencies themselves into who is leaking their crown jewels to hackers and highly-classified material to the Washington Post and New York Times.

     How bad is Turkey’s sinking Islamic autocracy? Erodogan’s thugs beat up protesters in Washington, DC, outside the Turkish Embassy (Washington Post)

    D.C. police arrested two men, one from Virginia and one from New York, and said they are pursuing charges against additional suspects since the melee outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence at Sheridan Circle. Eleven people were injured, among them a police officer. Some were kicked and stomped, their heads bloodied.

    Included in the police search are members of Erdogan’s armed protective detail, according to two people with direct knowledge of the case. –Washington Post

    Comment: This is really nasty and some of the thugs will escape justice because of diplomatic immunity.

     Twenty-one members of the violent MS-13 Gang arrested in LA raid (Los Angeles Times)

    Twenty-one people accused of being part of the notoriously violent MS-13 gang were arrested Wednesday as federal and local investigators forced their way into homes and businesses across Los Angeles County in a pre-dawn sweep that came as a result of a more than two-year racketeering investigation. . . .

    MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, preys on immigrants without legal status.

    “They extort them. They rob them. They rape them. They murder them. Without their cooperation as witnesses, none of this would be possible,” [LA Police Chief Charlie] Beck said, noting that LAPD officers do not check immigration statuses before talking to witnesses. –LA Times

    Comment: This needs to keep going, month after month.

    ◆$ The tech sector is leaving the rest of the US economy in its dust: Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft  (The Verge) Their dominance in the stock market rally is clear-cut.

    It took Amazon 15 years to match the market capitalization of Walmart. Two years later, it is worth more than double its biggest rival. –The Verge

    ◆$ Ben Bernanke says America’s economy is now nearing capacity  (Financial Review, Australia)

    “We’ve got basically a 2 per cent economy here and that means it doesn’t take that much to knock you off track,” Bernanke told attendees at the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference in Las Vegas. “We have already approached the limits of our capacity and unemployment is pretty much about as low as it can go, so we don’t have that extra capacity to create growth.” –Financial Review

     Here’s what free speech means: Univ. of Chicago students get to hear a talk by the head of Homeland Security and actually engage with a key policymaker on crucial issues  (WLS, ABC7 Chicago)

    Comment: At many universities, the head of DHS, retired general John Kelly, would be shouted down because he is the front line of Trump’s immigration policy and anti-terrorism efforts. Because he was not shouted down, our students got to hear him, ask tough questions, and make their own decisions, without intimidation.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, April 26

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

     The story today that will most affect Americans for years to come: a proposed big tax cut for business, with a special focus on small businesses.

    The Washington Post frames it this way “Trump to propose large increase in deductions Americans can claim on their taxes

    President Trump on Wednesday plans to call for a significant increase in the standard deduction people can claim on their tax returns, potentially putting thousands of dollars each year into the pockets of tens of millions of Americans, according to two people briefed on the plan. . . .

    Trump will call for a sharp reduction in the corporate tax rate, from 35 percent to 15 percent. He will also propose lowering the tax rate for millions of small businesses that now file their tax returns under the individual tax code, two people familiar with the plan said.. –Washington Post

    The New York Times is far grumpier. “Trump Tax Plan: Low Rate for Corporations, and for Companies Like His” and “The ‘Voodoo Economics’ of the Laffer Curve Return

    Comment: The NYT slant reminds me of the old joke about their front page headline: “World to End. Poor Affected Most” 

    Where’s Perry White? Save the editorials for the editorial page.

     No Sanctuary? Another judge from the 9th Circuit nixes a major Trump policy, this time blocking policies that could defund Sanctuary Cities

    The Reuters story is here.

    The ruling from U.S. District Judge William Orrick III in San Francisco said Trump’s Jan. 25 order targeted broad categories of federal funding for sanctuary governments and that plaintiffs challenging the order were likely to succeed in proving it unconstitutional.

    The Republican president’s moves on immigration have galvanized legal advocacy groups, along with Democratic city and state governments, to oppose them in court. –Reuters

    Fox counters, predictably (but interestingly): Judge Who Blocked Trump Sanctuary City Order Bundled $200K for Obama and personally donated more than $30k to groups supporting him.

    Comment: I’m going to make a wild guess here: the DOJ will appeal. Since this case will go to the 9th Circuit, which will rule predictably against Trump, this one will go up to the Supremes.

    ◆ Iran Nuclear Deal: Politico publishes a major investigation headlined, “Obama’s Hidden Iran Deal Giveaway”  The article goes further, effectively saying the Obama Administration misled the American public about the scale of their giveaways in their desperate effort to get a deal with the Mullahs.

    In his Sunday morning address [January 17, 2016] to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as “civilians.” The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”

    In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran. –Josh Meyer investigation in Politico

    It gets worse–and more dangerous:

    In its determination to win support for the nuclear deal and prisoner swap from Tehran — and from Congress and the American people — the Obama administration did a lot more than just downplay the threats posed by the men it let off the hook, according to POLITICO’s findings.

    Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort. –Josh Meyer in Politico

    One immediate effect: House Foreign Affairs chair, Ed Royce, asks DOJ and State to revive probes that the Obama Administration “may have” killed. (Politico)

    Comment: If you think the major networks gave this major story any play at all, you still believe in the tooth fairy. Story on non-reporting here

    While ABC, CBS and NBC on Monday and Tuesday found time to celebrate the return of “easy-going,” rested Barack Obama to the public scene, none of them covered the release of a blockbuster expose that reveals the buried secrets of the ex-President’s Iran deal giveaway. –Newbusters

     Ann Coulter to speak in public plaza in college town Thursday; Berkeley police prepare for D-Day Invasion.  (Washington Post)  

    Comment: The fact that people riot at this is simply insane. This was once the home of the free-speech movement. Now, it’s “free speech for me but not for thee.”

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, March 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, March 18

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

     The “inspired” has expired: “I’m here to die in the name of Allah,” and the attacker did just that at Paris Orly Airport  (CNN)

     Chuck Berry, who helped create rock-and-roll, dead at 90. A full account here at ZipDialog, along with a recording of Johnny B. Goode.

     Trump wants to build a wall 30 feet high that is hard to climb or cut through and looks good from the US side, according to contract notices posted on a US Government website.  (Associated Press)  There will be automated gates for people and vehicles.

    The government will award a contract based on 30-foot-wide sample walls that are to be built in San Diego. –AP

    Pres. Trump’s proposed budget included an initial $2.6 billion request. The total cost is expected to be $12-15 billion.

     Hillary Clinton says she is “ready to come out of the woods.” (New York Times)

    Comment: The woods are overjoyed.

     Republican House bill on healthcare would allow states to tailor some requirements, including whether to require able-bodied adults to work or engage in some substitute, such as volunteer work or education.

    Here is how the Washington Post headlines that news. You be the judge if this is a fair headline:

    “Republicans threaten to deny poor people medical care if they aren’t working” (Washington Post headline)

    Many forms of public assistance, including food stamps, require recipients to work, look for work, volunteer or participate in vocational training. The work requirements vary from one program to the next and have varying requirements vary by the program and traits of the recipients, such as their ages and whether they have children.

    Yet when it comes to health insurance, such requirements would be nearly impossible to enforce, conservative and independent experts on the Medicaid program said Friday. –Washington Post

    Comment: If you wondered what Harry Reid is doing after retirement, he’s writing headlines for the Washington Post

     Parody Song: “I’ve Got Friends in Safe Spaces” 

    Come on in and let’s be cozy. Showin’ off participation trophies

    Watching CNN in safe spaces –Chad Prather and Steve Mudflap McGrew

     Finally, Donna Brazile admits that she was cheating at CNN.

    She was doing it to help Hillary but still won’t admit that. (She says she did it to make “all our candidates look good.” A bald-faced lie. What did you leak to Bernie, Donna?)

    Of course, Hillary still won’t admit she received the questions in advance.

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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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