• ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, September 30

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

    ◆ Why Trump fired Tom Price and what it means, going forward

    Comment: He was only appointed because he was the most knowledgeable Republican Congressman on healthcare.

    So, he was a good choice as point man to repeal and replace Obamacare with a new bill. When that didn’t succeed, he was expendable.

    We’ll never know if he would have survived another year or two if he had simply behaved himself. But he didn’t.

    Flying private jets on the public dime is justifiable if and only if the trips are vital to the senior official’s time and the private plane saves a lot of otherwise wasted time.

    Flying them in other cases and asking the public to pay is simply an unjustified perk and a perfect example of the Washington Swamp. Trump was right to fire Price for that reason alone. 

    Comment #2: Trump’s cabinet is not the first to misuse these privileges. I’m impressed that Chief of Staff John Kelly learned from this mess and immediately set up new procedures, requiring Cabinet officials to go through his office whenever they want to fly private jets at government expense.

    Mike Pence protégé, Seema Verma, seen as frontrunner to replace Price: She has deep experience running government health care programs (New York Post)

    Verma currently heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which administers the Affordable Care Act.

    Verma led Indiana’s expansion of Medicaid when Pence was governor.

    Comment: Experience is essential. HHS has 80,000 employees and a $1 trillion budget.

    Indiana has been one of the three or four best-run state governments for two decades or more. Running programs there is high praise. Running them in Illinois normally leads to indictment.

    Victor Davis Hanson on “A Lying Quartet”: The Obama Officials who Surveilled their Political Opponents (American Greatness)

    The names are familiar:

    Susan Rice
    James Clapper
    John Brennan
    James Comey

    With a lot of details about their publicly-stated falsehoods, plus plenty on Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, and others.

    Rarely has an intelligence apparatus engaged in systematic lying—and chronic deceit about its lying—both during and even after its tenure. Yet the Obama Administration’s four top security and intelligence officials time and again engaged in untruth, as if peddling lies was part of their job descriptions.

    So far none have been held accountable. –Victor Davis Hanson

    Colin Kaepernick: Imperfect Messenger. Donated $25,000 to group named after convicted cop killer who broke out of jail and fled to Cuba (Daily Mail)

    Comment: Kaepernick started something big politically when he knelt. That brings scrutiny–and he has not fared well under that microscope.

    Comment #2Cuba really needed American recognition when Obama handed it to them. As usual, he got nothing in return, not even the return of convicted US criminals who were given asylum by Castro’s government.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Tom Elia for the Kaepernick story 

    ◆ Clarice Feldman for the Victor Davis Hanson op-ed

  • The Sessions hearing in a nutshell

    What did Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee amount to?

    Fairly little except for Sessions’ effective defense of his own reputation and conduct of his office.

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    My take aways

    I watched the entire hearing. Here’s my unvarnished take.

    • There was little new information added, but some misinformation and innuendo was swatted down.
    • Sessions seemed completely credible.
      • He was calm, even when being interrupted frequently
        • California Democrat Kamala Harris was especially aggressive and did not allow Sessions time to answer. She was considerably more interested in her questions. The chair had to intervene several times to let the witness answer
      • The only time Sessions became intense was when he defended his honor and integrity against public slurs, mostly those of James Comey (which were indirect rather than clear and candid)
    • The main news was that Sessions did not recuse himself because of any involvement with the Russians but, he said, because of DOJ policy that he should not be part of any investigation of a political campaign in which he participated.
    • Last week, former FBI Director James Comey slimed Sessions very carefully, saying that Sessions really had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation for reasons that Comey said he couldn’t go into, at least in public session.
    • Comey’s innuendo turned out to be a nothingburger, as we learned from leaks, except for its intended damage to Sessions’ reputation
    • The damaging implication, which Democrats had been pushing for a several weeks, was that Sessions had lied in his confirmation because he had several undisclosed meetings with the Russians.
    • The reality: the only thing that might not have been mentioned was a reception where twenty or so guests were present to say hello before a larger gathering they were attending. There would have been no private time for Sessions and the Russian Ambassador to work on their plot to overthrow the Republic. The whole thing is ridiculous.

      ♦♦♦♦♦

    The Democrats and Sessions

    There are two areas to keep the Democrats, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post busy attacking.

    • Sessions did not answer some questions related to his private conversations with Pres. Trump, even though Trump has not (or not yet) invoked Executive Privilege in that area. The Democrats were tenacious on that point. They may be right, but Sessions position was actually much more forthcoming than the Obama appointees, like Susan Rice, who refused to attend hearings at all. (I don’t think they even bothered to give a reason, but I could be wrong.)
    • The Democrats said Sessions recusal on the Russia investigation means he should have had not role in the Comey firing. (He supported the firing in a memo to Trump, who was going to do it anyway.) Their argument: if Comey was fired over Russia, as Trump said on TV, then Sessions should have stayed out. Sessions’ defense: his memo on Comey was not about the Russia investigation but about the Comey’s poor performance as FBI director.
    • Sessions actually showed that he had gone beyond his formal recusal and refused to be involved in the Russia matters at DOJ from Day One, before he submitted his formal statement.

      ♦♦♦♦♦

    The Democrats’ Purpose: Nothing to do with Sessions, Everything to Do with Trump

    So far, the Democrats have found nothing on their main allegation: that Trump won the election unfairly, and is therefore an illegitimate president, because he and the Russians worked together to throw the election. It’s important to remember that the Obama Administration controlled the CIA, NSA, DOJ, and FBI for two and half months after the election and didn’t find anything then.

    There is evidence of attempted Russian interference in the election., but the Democrats on the Intel Committee today showed themselves utterly uninterested in that today, despite major breaking news about Russia’s attempted hacks of US state election systems. Virtually no questions on that because it didn’t lead back to Trump.

    Having failed (so far) to find significant evidence of collusion, the Democrats’ “get Trump” strategy has morphed into vague claims about obstruction of justice.

    Again, no evidence of that so far, either.

    Worse for them, there is no underlying crime whose investigation could be obstructed.

    Today’s hearing was really about political resistance and personal destruction, not serious investigation.

    If there is serious investigation, it is far more likely to come from Robert Mueller’s operation, which is now gearing up.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, June 7

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

     ISIS attack at the heart of Iran’s government is stunning. ISIS, a Sunni group, has been under attack by the Iranian-led Shia forces in Iraq and Syria, and now they’ve struck back.

    The spectacular event is designed to humiliate the Iranians and show that ISIS can strike anywhere, even hard targets in a hostile country.

    Comment: More as it develops. 

     Qatar Qrisis: Trump suggests he led Saudis to act against Qatar’s support of terror (New York Times)

    Comment: True and dumb. True because Trump’s meetings in Saudi Arabia were a key to the new pressure the Arab states are putting on Qatar. Not smart to trumpet the US role when you are relying on others to lead. Makes them look like lap-dogs. 

     Two big stories broken by ABC News:

    1. Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign because Trump was furious Sessions had recused himself in Russian investigation
    2. Former FBI Director Comey will not say Trump tried to obstruct justice

     Sessions offer to resign (ABC) Jonathan Karl reports:

    The relationship between President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has become so tense that Sessions at one point recently even suggested he could resign.

    The friction between the two men stems from the attorney general’s abrupt decision in March to recuse himself from anything related to the Russia investigation — a decision the president only learned about minutes before Sessions announced it publicly. Multiple sources say the recusal is one of the top disappointments of his presidency so far and one the president has remained fixated on. –ABC News

    At a White House press briefing, Sean Spicer would not say whether Trump still supported AG Sessions.

    Comment: First, Sessions was right to recuse himself.

    Second, it’s over; he’s already done it; let it go, Donald.

    Third, if your earliest and strongest supporter from the Senate is not comfortable in the Cabinet, who will be?

    Four, this is still more evidence that, in this ship of state, everybody is rowing in different directions and the captain keeps changing course. What’s missing: self-discipline and a solid staff, given some authority to create order.

     Comey will stop short of saying Trump obstructed justice in Flynn probe (ABC)

    Although Comey has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice, he will dispute the president’s contention that Comey told him three times he is not under investigation.

    The president allegedly said he hoped Comey would drop the Flynn investigation, a request that concerned Comey enough that he documented the conversation in a memo shortly after speaking with the president. In the memo, according to sources close to Comey who reviewed it, Trump said: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” during a February meeting.

    The request made Comey uncomfortable, but the source tells ABC News that Comey has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice.

    “He is not going to Congress to make accusations about the president’s intent, instead he’s there to share his concerns,” the source said, and tell the committee “what made him uneasy” and why he felt a need to write the memo documenting the conversation. –ABC

    Comment: Here’s how I read that. Comey cannot say the president tried to obstruct justice without creating big problems for himself. He would be legally required to report it and, if he had any integrity, would have resigned. Also, he subsequently testified to Congress that no one had tried to obstruct his investigation.

    Given those constraints, he will do everything in his power to destroy Trump.

     Comey himself is being sued over an alleged coverup; a whistleblower says he gave Comey evidence of a huge, illegal surveillance operation on Americans by the CIA (using FBI computers) during the Obama administration (Circa)

    A former U.S. intelligence contractor tells Circa he walked away with more than 600 million classified documents on 47 hard drives from the National Security Agency and the CIA, a haul potentially larger than Edward Snowden’s now infamous breach.

    And now he is suing former FBI Director James Comey and other government figures, alleging the bureau has covered up evidence he provided them showing widespread spying on Americans that violated civil liberties.

    The suit, filed late Monday night by Dennis Montgomery, was assigned to the same federal judge who has already ruled that some of the NSA’s collection of data on Americans violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, setting up an intriguing legal proceeding in the nation’s capital this summer.

    Comment: Circa’s Sara Carter and John Solomon have done first-rate reporting on potential violations of civil liberties by US intel agencies.

     Why did Trump decline to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as he promised during the campaign?

    Because he thought it would hamper his goal of an “ultimate deal” between the Israelis and Palestinians, says Eytan Gilboa  (Begin-Sadat Center, Bar-Ilan University)

    Trump completely reversed the attitude of Obama, which verged on hostility, towards both the pro-American Arab states and Israel. –Eytan Gilboa

     Excellent news: One of the country’s staunchest, most experienced advocates for free speech, Adam Kissel, has been to head the Dept. of Education’s higher ed programs  (Inside Higher Ed)

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 4

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

     England’s third major terror attack in 10 weeks raises fundamental questions about how to prevent these assaults

    Comment: Kudos to the London police for their immediate response. It was swift, sure, and effective. 8 minutes from first incident to squads arriving in force. Their swift action prevented countless additional casualties.

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    The problem is how to prevent these attacks, both in the short run (surveillance, arrests, etc.) and long run (tougher restrictions on immigration and rethinking the obvious failure to integrate the communities into the liberal west).

    All Europe is facing a high threat from Islamic extremists, many (like the Manchester bomber) born in the very Western countries they are terrorizing.

    As ISIS is squeezed abroad, they will try to revive their organization by killing in Europe.

    Ordinary Europeans will refuse to live in perpetual terror and demand answers from their failing political leaders.

     US media reported the London attack, wall-to-wall, but buried one aspect of the story. Any guesses? You are correct.

    I explain the MSM’s fecklessness, and illustrate it concretely, in a separate post, here. I call it PC BS.

     In happier news, one of baseball’s all-time greats, Albert Pujols become the 9th player to hit 600 homers. (ESPN) The cherry on top: it was a grand slam. Another cherry: it comes in the post-steroid era. His head and arms actually look human. 

     Japan holds evacuation drills as North Korea’s nuclear program advances  (Reuters)

    Comment: The Japanese navy is also conducting joint exercises with the US fleet.

    My sense is that the Chinese are playing rope-a-dope, doing a little to slow down Pyongyang but not nearly enough. That is simply unsustainable for the US and Japan.

     Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell hopeful on tax cuts, less so on healthcare  (Reuters)

    Comment: Tax reform is essential, and the Republicans know it, not just for the economy but for their reelection.

    On healthcare, the pressure in late autumn, when next year’s premium notices go out, will be enormous. Obamacare is melting down, and that means suffering. The Republicans will point at Obama and the D’s. But that won’t cut it. People elected the R’s to fix it.

     California progressives really, really want single-payer, and they want their state to provide it. (Fortune)

    The state Senate, with a big Democratic majority, passed it easily. They skipped over the pesky problem of paying for it. (Honestly, they did absolutely nothing about funding it.)

    How expensive would it be? $400 billion. That’s huge. More than twice as big as the entire state budget today.

    No one knows if the State Assembly will pass it or if Gov. Jerry Brown will sign it.

    Naturally, they would need to heft tax hikes to pay for it, but economic studies show there is still a big shortfall. (ABC News)

    Comment: The leading Democratic contender for Governor, Gavin Newsom (former mayor of S.F.), put on his tin-foil hat and strongly backed the single-payer plan.

     Another “can you top this” in college crazies: Black students at Evergreen State U. in Olympia, WA, demand all white people leave the campus for a day.  (Washington Post) 

    Their demands managed to close the entire school for a day.

    For some reason, not everyone thought this white-leave-campus thing was a good idea.

    One long-time progressive, Prof. Bret Weinstein, did not favor it. And he didn’t like the students’ demands that new academic hires deemphasize academic ability and focus on race/gender/undocumented/social justice/etc.

    As you can imagine, those opposed to Weinstein were not looking for a debate.

    The were looking for blood.

    In fact, the other professors at Evergreen State also turned on Weinstein. (National Review Online)

    It’s so nasty, so crazy that even the NYT’s Frank Bruni writes a column against it. Naturally, he begins by condemning the US, thus establishing his bona fides as a morally superior person, but he still doesn’t like the ideas out in Olympia. It’s a strong column–and one the NYT readership needed to see.

    There are names for people like Frank Bruni. Fascist. Racist. Sexist. Columnist.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Richard Siegler
     and Tom Wyckoff for the Frank Bruni column.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, May 25

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

     Now, the Brits are hunting in Libya for some members of the Manchester terror cell.

    They’ve already made a half-dozen arrests, including the bomber’s brother, in the UK  (New York Times)

    Officials were looking into reports that people who knew Mr. Abedi — including an imam at his mosque — had contacted the authorities as early as 2015 with concerns that he may have been recruited by extremists. –New York Times

    Comment: The police, overwhelmed with tips, sometimes drop the ball. That’s always disturbing, but it would be more disturbing if they shied away for PC reasons. That’s been a problem for UK police. Here, for example, is the Manchester police apologizing for a 2016 training exercise that resembled an Islamist attack.

     Meanwhile, UK officials are furious that the NYT published secret information about the crime (BBC) The UK had shared it with the US. The Brits believes the leakers were US police, not the White House.

     Circa’s John Solomon and Sara Carter running circles around the MSM, this time on Obama Administration illegal spying on Americans

    How bad was it? Bad enough that the lap dog FISA court judges were infuriated by the deceit and illegal action.

     Congressional Budget Office says Trump-Ryan health plan will be budget neutral but leave 23 million more uninsured over a decade (Associated Press)

    The report said older people with lower income would disproportionately lose coverage. Over half of those becoming uninsured, 14 million people, would come from the bill’s $834 billion in cuts to Medicaid, which provides health coverage to poor and disabled people, over 10 years. –AP

    Comment: These numbers are disturbing but it compares this bill to Obamacare on the assumption that the ACA will survive. It won’t. It’s melting down and to save it would cost trillions.

     Mike Flynn has clammed up, but Paul Manafort has given Congressional investigators his documents related to Russian contacts (Washington Post)

    ◆ Richard Friedman on NATO’s purpose today (ZipDialog post)

     Who controls the South China Sea? China claims it, but it is an international waterway, and the US ensures it. The US navy sends occasional ships through to make sure it is open. Now, the US navy is conducting its first such operation of the Trump presidency. (CNN)

     Today in PC lunacy: White women’s burrito shop is forced to close after being hounded with accusations it was ‘culturally appropriating Mexican food and jobs’ (Daily Mail) In Portland, naturally.

    Comment: The city will give up Hindu-Arabic numerals when they discover they were invented in South Asia in the 6th or 7th century  and stolen from those poor folks. (Britannica)

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Fred Lawson
     for the Manchester police apology
    ◆ Tim Favero and Tom Elia for the burrito story; they clearly know me!

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, May 23

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

     Britain is now on the highest terror alert, with the military deployed.

    Complex terror operations like the one in Manchester are not executed by one man in his early 20s. The race is on to find the rest of the cell before they strike again.

     Crocodile tears from Europe’s clueless politicians. That’s what Bruce Bawer sees in the aftermath of Manchester. He’s furious about a political class that has casually invited a jihad into Europe

    His commentary on the Manchester slaughter is entitled: “Enabling Murder: Western politicians worry more about being called “Islamophobic” than they do about stopping jihadist slaughter” (City Journal)

    He quotes some of the European pols saying how sad they were and then blows them away:

    Meaningless words, all of them. But Angela Merkel takes the cake: “People in the UK can rest assured that Germany stands shoulder to shoulder with them.” Well, isn’t that . . . reassuring. In what way do such words help anybody to “rest assured” of anything? In any case, how dare she? This, after all, is the woman who opened the floodgates—the woman who, out of some twisted sense of German historical guilt, put European children in danger by inviting into the continent masses of unvetted people from the very part of the world where this monstrous evil has its roots. –Bruce Bawer in City Journal

    He concludes with a fierce, dead-on criticism:

    Today, British leaders refuse to deport imams who preach murder but ban from their shores respected writers and knowledgeable critics of Islam who dare to take on those imams and their theology.

    Strength? Don’t you dare speak of strength. You have the blood of innocent children on your hands.

    Comment: Bawer knows it all first-hand. A cultural critic and poet, he moved from America to Europe two decades ago and soon began writing about the hostility he and his gay partner faced from Muslims there, as well as their intolerance toward Westernized women, Jews, and secular law. He has become a vigorous and much-published critic of multiculturalism, which he sees as a disastrously failed experiment. He now lives in Norway. 

     “Obama intel agency secretly conducted illegal searches on Americans for years” That’s the story from Circa, where John Solomon and Sara Carter’s reporting has run circles around the somnolent MSM. To quote Solomon and Carter, who have seen the classified internal reports:

    The National Security Agency under former President Barack Obama routinely violated American privacy protections while scouring through overseas intercepts and failed to disclose the extent of the problems until the final days before Donald Trump was elected president last fall, according to once top-secret documents that chronicle some of the most serious constitutional abuses to date by the U.S. intelligence community.

    More than 5 percent, or one out of every 20 searches seeking upstream Internet data on Americans inside the NSA’s so-called Section 702 database violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs vowed to follow in 2011, according to one classified internal report reviewed by Circa. . . .

    The normally supportive [FISA] court excoriated Obama administration officials. –Circa

    Comment: Why did the Obama administration reveal it at all? My guess: less CYA than telling the FISA Court about it to prevent the Trump Administration from doing the same illegal spying, perhaps on their political enemies. This whole thing is a very nasty piece of work.

     Why the “secular stagnation” of the economy? Nobel economist Robert Schiller, who predicted the housing bubble, has an idea (Here

    His thoughts center on two fears: that jobs are being replaced by technology and that the deep recession of 2008 could recur. Schiller writes:

    My own theory about today’s stagnation focuses on growing angst about rapid advances in technologies that could eventually replace many or most of our jobs, possibly fueling massive economic inequality. People might be increasingly reluctant to spend today because they have vague fears about their long-term employability – fears that may not be uppermost in their minds when they answer consumer-confidence surveys. If that is the case, they might increasingly need stimulus in the form of low interest rates to keep them spending.

    A perennial swirl of good news after a crisis might instill a sort of bland optimism, without actually eliminating the fear of another crisis in the future. –Robert Schiller

     Israel and the Palestinians: Is there any possibility for a settlement?

    One of the most interesting analyses I’ve read comes from Israeli Col. Eran Lerman, writing at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He situates the Israel-Palestinian problem within the larger diplomatic alignment against Iran, led by Trump and the Saudis (reversing Obama’s tilt toward Iran).

    President Trump’s efforts to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table are taking place against the background of a broader effort to recast US policy in the region. The memory of Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s failed effort, back in 1981, to put together a regional “strategic consensus” against the Soviets may have faded, but the idea behind it is making a comeback. Facing the Iranian revolutionary regime and its proxies on the one hand and radical Sunni versions of Islamist totalitarianism on the other, key regional players are now more open than ever to an informal US-led alliance against their common enemies. The semblance, perhaps even the substance, of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front can facilitate this; but even more important would be a firm policy on Iran.

    Comment: Peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is still a very long shot, partly because Hamas and Iran would do everything possible to undermine it, partly because any Palestinian political leaders who made the concessions essential to peace would have great difficulty surviving it, much less implementing it effectively.  

     Does good news ever come from Iran? No. Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reports:

    Iranians Re-Elect a Fake Reformer in a Fake Election

    Rouhani was the lesser of two evils, but Westerners vastly overestimate what an Iranian president can do. –Bloomberg

     Moody’s downgrades China, warning of mounting debts, weakening finances  (Reuters)

    It’s the first time China has been downgraded in 30 years.

    The one-notch downgrade in long-term local and foreign currency issuer ratings, to A1 from Aa3, comes as the Chinese government grapples with the challenges of rising financial risks stemming from years of credit-fueled stimulus.

    “The downgrade reflects Moody’s expectation that China’s financial strength will erode somewhat over the coming years, with economy-wide debt continuing to rise as potential growth slows,” the rating agency said in a statement, changing its outlook for China to stable from negative. –Reuters

    Comment: If China’s economy continues to slow, the global ramifications will be vast. And the regime will worry more about hanging on to power.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Richard Baehr
     for the Bruce Bawer article
    ◆ Tom Elia for the Circa article on spying
    ◆ BESA for Lerman article on Israel-Palestine

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, May 21

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

     Well, knock me over with a feather.

    Now that Comey has been fired, he has decided Trump really was trying to influence him  (CNN)

    Former FBI Director James Comey now believes that President Donald Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe, a person familiar with his thinking says, but whether that influence amounts to obstruction of justice remains an open question.

    “You have to have intent in order to obstruct justice in the criminal sense,” the source said, adding that “intent is hard to prove.” –CNN

     

     Finally, somebody likes Trump: the Saudis. Partly, it’s Trump. Partly, it’s joy over Obama leaving

    The WaPo doesn’t put it like that, but the Saudi King came out in 110 degree heat to greet the President. No Saudi King did that for BHO.

    Comment: Why? Because they thought Obama had tilted away from them and toward Iran. 

     I love these success stories: Myron Rolle, former NFL safety and Rhodes Scholar, gets degree in neurosurgery  (Fox)

    The medical degree is from Florida State, his residency will be at Harvard’s Mass General.

     Smart, thoughtful article by a student who turned down her “dream college” because it was too expensive.

    Emma Krupp, now a junior at another school, is thriving and, despite regrets, is glad she didn’t mortgage her future. It’s an uplifting article, not a bittersweet one.  (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: It’s an uplifting article, not a bittersweet one. I took two things away from it. The first is how mature Ms. Krupp is in recognizing that life is filled with trade-offs. She wanted to go into a career in journalism without a huge debt burden, but doing so required her to turn down one of the country’s top J-Schools. Second, it reinforces the need for donors to keep helping universities with student scholarships. America has always been a country of private generosity and still is. College students need that help–with scholarships, paid internships in the summer, and more.

     The Democrats keep lurching left, aggressively booing DNC Chair Tom Perez at California Convention (Sacramento Bee)

    State Democrats’ three-day convention had a raucous start Friday, as liberal activists booed and heckled Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez after marching from the state Capitol to promote a universal heath care program.

    The leader of the nurses’ union that opposed Perez’s recent election had just warned California Democrats that they would put up primary election challengers against lawmakers if they don’t support a bill to create public-funded, universal healthcare. . . .

    “Vote them out,” the crowd chanted, referring to Democrats in the Legislature wavering on whether to support their cause.–Sacramento Bee

    Comment: Their state is broke, despite Silicon Valley. It’s actually losing population for the first time in memory. The Democrats are firmly in control there. And what they want is to spend a lot more money.

     China had a way of stopping US spying. It killed the spies (New York Times)

    The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward. . . . 

    The number of American assets lost in China, officials said, rivaled those lost in the Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, formerly of the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., who divulged intelligence operations to Moscow for years.–New York Times

    Comment: Hanssen turned out to be the spy the Chinese used.

     As Obamacare edges toward death tremors, the NYT does it best to lay the on . . . , oh, go ahead and guess  (New York Times)

    When Humana announced plans to leave all the health law’s marketplaces next year, the president chimed in, “Obamacare continues to fail.”

    Left unremarked on was a big reason for the instability: The Trump administration and Congress are rattling the markets. –New York Times

    Comment: Yep, the problem with the ACA is Trump.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog for Wednesday, May 17: Making Sense of the News about Trump, Comey, and Russia

     The two big stories are about Pres. Trump:

    (1) The discussion with then-FBI Director Comey about the Mike Flynn investigation, and

    (2) The discussion with the Russians about ISIS.

    Let me offer comments on each, rather than a regular news roundup.

    My goal is to say what we know and don’t know about each and put their importance and potential consequences in some perspective.

     Comment on FBI Director Comey’s private meeting with President Trump

    The meeting was in mid-February, the day after Flynn was fired as National Security Adviser

    The most grievous possibility is that Trump was asking Comey to stop the investigation, which could be seen as obstruction of justice. That’s a very serious charge.

    Comey claims to have written a memo-to-self after the meeting. He held it secretly for three months and then had friends leak it to the press on Tuesday. The anonymous friends read excerpts from the memo and did not release it to the press. They kept their own identities secret, as well.

    Since it was Comey’s own memo, the leak had to come from him. No one besides Comey and the friends though whom he is leaking has actually seen the memo. We don’t know if he wrote memos on other meetings with Trump (or with others), but he probably did.

    I suspect this memo and any others he wrote will be subpoenaed. That could get very interesting. The Democrats, in particular, will enjoy the circus and the stench of scandal, using it to block the Trump presidency.

    Personally, I am disturbed Trump even broached the subject of the Flynn-Russia investigation with Comey.

    Excluding Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the meeting casts further doubt on the propriety of the President’s behavior.

    But there are problems with interpreting the information we currently have as an attempt to obstruct justice, which is how the Democrats and their favorite media are spinning it.

    • First, if there was an attempt to obstruct justice, Comey had a clear legal obligation to report it. He did not. That suggests he thought it was not such an attempt.
    • Second, Comey never discussed this potential obstruction with the second-in-command at his agency, which he presumably would have done if it were a disturbing issue or a close call.
    • Third, Comey never threatened to resign, a threat he famously made during the George W. Bush administration over a DOJ decision. He presumably would have done so–or told his associates about his doubts–if he thought Trump was trying to block an FBI investigation.
    • Fourth, Comey gave very detailed briefings to senior Congressional investigators about the Russian investigation and never mentioned it.
    • Fifth, Comey did not leak this bombshell memo while he was employed at the FBI. He kept it private for three months and only disclosed it after being fired. That means he either did not think the information sufficiently damning or else he thought it was his “job insurance” in case Trump wanted to fire him (a very disturbing possibility, reminiscent of J. Edgar Hoover). Right now, we simply don’t know why he kept it secret, especially if he thought it was so important.
    • Sixth, it is possible that Trump’s statement was less a request to kill the investigation of Michael Flynn (which would be obstruction, if that was Trump’s specific intention) and more a vague aspiration that he hoped this mess would end soon with Flynn cleared. (Again, I do not think the President should say any such thing to the leader of that investigation. That’s true even if his statement falls well short of obstruction.)
    • Finally, we know that the FBI investigation has continued full-throttle and that the former second-in-command, now heading the agency temporarily, said in public testimony that no one has attempted to impede the FBI inquiry. That’s vitally important.
      • If Trump were attempting to obstruct the investigation, it seems likely he would have done more. Of course, the Democrats say he did: he fired Comey. But he did so long after the “bombshell” meeting, so it is hard to connect the two.
      • Comey has also said that he didn’t get the additional resources he needed for the investigation. But that has been rebutted by the acting director (who says he has adequate resources) and the deputy AG (who says flatly that Comey never made such a request).

    Bottom Line:

    1. Trump’s political enemies see the whole episode as more evidence of Nixonian malfeasance, a wonderful chance for hearings that put Trump and the Republicans on the defensive, and a great way to impede and undermine Trump.
    2. Trump’s friends see it as something like an attempted coup by Comey, the intelligence agencies, the sore-loser Democrats, and their friends in the media.
    3. Expect many more shoes to drop, including a grand jury investigation of Russian financial ties by some former Trump campaign aides.

    ◆ Comment on Trump and the Russia Leaks

    Now, several days after the news broke, we still don’t know all the details. But we can reasonably conclude that Trump shared some highly-classified information with the Russians. Although Trump has full authority to do that and did not disclose “sources and methods,” he seems to have spoken without fully recognizing the sensitivity of the information or clearing it in advance with his national-security team.

    After the meeting, they called a couple of the US intelligence agencies to clean up after the fact. Some senior people in those agencies almost certainly were the ones who then leaked that information to the media, vastly compounding the damage as well as committing felonies by disclosing the secret information.

    The New York Times and Washington Post played this story as a huge Trumpian error, endangering US national security. But they never explained how, other than saying that such leaks were terrible and, because the leak came from a US ally, it could endanger that relationship.

    My assessment: Trump may have shared too much; it is hard too say since we don’t know the details publicly. If he did, then it was probably a combination of inexperience handling this classified material and an overestimation of our common interest with the Russians.

    But there is a huge irony here. The media’s main claim is that Trump endangered the US with his leaks.

    But it was the WaPo and NYT that spread that information around the world (via leaks they received) and it was the NYT that went further and identified the US partner who “owned” the intelligence, the Israelis. If the information Trump gave the Russians truly jeopardized the US and was a major violation of our security, then what exactly was the justification for publishing detailed descriptions of this secret data, which shares it not only with the Russians but also Iran, ISIS, and everyone else?

    Bottom Line:

    1. Trump may have made a mistake, but it doesn’t look like a huge one (from what we know so far). It may have been done out of hubris, inexperience, or overestimation of our potential to work with the Russians but not out of malice–and certainly not treason as some unhinged commentators have said.
    2. The media, the Democrats, and Trump’s other opponents, including many traditional conservatives, have exploited his error, exaggerated its impact, and actually compounded the problem by publishing additional classified materials, contradicting their claim that they were only worried about the national-security impact of Trump’s (presumed) error.

    ◆ Bottom Line on the two big stories taken together: the Comey meeting and the Russia meeting:

    This whole ruckus–the damage he inflicted on himself, the damage his adversaries are inflicting on him–destabilizes his presidency, sucks the oxygen out of his policy initiatives, splits the Republican party (whose elected officials don’t know whether to back him or back away), and weakens the country.

    If there is real fire beneath the smoke, the damage will get worse. Much worse.

    On the other hand, if Trump’s supporters think he is being railroaded out of office without conclusive, damning evidence, they will see what they feared all along: a Washington establishment that runs the country, regardless of what the electorate says–an entrenched, unelected elite determined to fight dirty to retain its power.

    Given the already-deep cleavages in the country, either alternative poses serious dangers to America’s consensual, constitutional order.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 16

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

     The big stories are all about spying and cyber crime.

     The Washington Post and New York Times lead the reporting on Trump revealing highly-classified information to the Russians. Although the reports are anonymously sourced, they include considerable detail, including the fact that White House people had to clean up after the spill in Aisle 6. They also cite “former intelligence officials,” suggesting Obama’s people are still in the mix, leaking.

    • Washington Post report here.
    • NYT report here
    • The White House has publicly said the reports are false, but they didn’t really say what was false.
    • Every news organization is working on this and I expect plenty more to emerge. 

    Assessment: The anti-Trump left is at DEFCON3, preparing to go nuclear. The anti-Trump right is almost as vocal. Today, their favorite word is treason; tomorrow, it will be impeachment. 

    Those reactions are excessive. At least they are excessive given what we know right now.

    Let’s step back and see what we know.

    Assuming the news reports are largely accurate, Trump told the Russians about a particular kind of terrorist threat that he thought would be of mutual concern. The basic charge against him is that he spoke too freely.

    That’s not illegal, and it’s certainly not treason.

    But it’s not smart, either.

    At this point, we still do not know what damage, if any, his “loose lips” caused–or might cause.

    Although Trump did not disclose “sources and methods” directly, he said enough (according to the WaPo and NYT) that Russian intelligence agencies can walk back the remarks and discover something they shouldn’t know about those sources and methods, particularly about our sources of sensitive human intelligence. We are told that this human intelligence came through an ally, which “owns” the information and will be none-to-pleased. For years, our allies have thought that telling a secret to Washington is pretty close to publishing it.

    Again, assuming these basic facts are accurate, why did Trump do it? My guess: Inexperience, braggadocio, and likely a continued misreading of Russia’s intentions.

    What concerns me is not treason. You don’t do that in a room full of people, as I have tried to remind some friends.

    What concerns me is an undisciplined personal style combined with a chaotic White House organization. This is no way to run a railroad. Or a superpower.  

     Who executed the ransomware attacks? Clues point to North Korea, says the NYT

    The software uses tools we know the North Koreans used in earlier attacks on Sony Pictures and the Bangladesh Central Bank.

    The indicators are far from conclusive, the researchers warned, and it could be weeks, if not months, before investigators are confident enough in their findings to officially point the finger at Pyongyang’s increasingly bold corps of digital hackers. The attackers based their weapon on vulnerabilities that were stolen from the National Security Agency and published last month. –New York Times

    Comment: The attack on Sony was political, designed to punish them for a comedic film they thought mocked Kim Jong Un. The attack on the Bangladesh Central Bank was simply a robbery. That’s what the latest attack was–a crime to earn money.

    I doubt they will earn much money, and I think they will pay a high price because the Chinese were hit by these attacks. You think Beijing likes that?

    Btw, as China puts more pressure on Pyongyang, who will step in to help the North Koreans. There is already evidence the Russians are interested. We know the Iranians are already helping, too.

     Will the US move its embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital? Fox News’ Connor Powell recently reported that Netanyahu told Trump not to move the US embassy right now. Powell’s report is completely false, according to contemporaneous notes of the meeting by the Israelis. Netanyahu was so infuriated by the story that he released private documents proving it false. The story is here in the Jerusalem Post. Similar story here in the Daily Beast.

    It remains to be seen if Fox will withdraw the report–and the reporter.

     Sharp clash between Trump’s team and Netanyahu after a “senior White House official” said the Western Wall was part of the West Bank and not part of Israeli territory. Story here in the Jerusalem Post.

    It seems that the official was prompted to make the statement after members of Netanyahu’s team asked if Netanyahu could join Trump on the visit to the Western Wall and whether Israeli photographers could document the event, to which the Americans replied that the Western Wall was a “disputed territory.”

    The official allegedly went on to say: “This is not your territory but rather part of the West Bank.”

    A source close to the preparations team in Israel told Channel 2 that the statements made by the White House official were received with utter shock by Netanyahu’s team. –Jerusalem Post

    Reuters reports the Israelis are asking the White House to explain the diplomat’s comment, which contradicts the most deeply held views of nearly all Israelis and the stated views of the US President himself.

    Until the 1967 war, Jerusalem was divided and Jews were prohibited (by Jordan) from visiting the Western Wall. Israel, by contrast, perhaps Christians and Muslims to visit their Holy Sites freely within Israel, including sites within Jerusalem’s Old City.

    Comment: Are the Keystone Cops running the White House? Or are the Arabists still running the State Department, perhaps as holdovers from the Eisenhower Administration?

    Whatever the problem is, somebody needs to come in, clean house, and get these operations running efficiently and working in the same direction.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, May 12

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

     Comey Commotion: Neither side’s story survived intact–and Comey didn’t do so well, either (a comment)

    • Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he intended to fire Comey, regardless of what the DOJ report said. That completely blows up the story the White House press office has been peddling that pinned the decision on Rod Rosenstein, the new number 2 at DOJ. Rosenstein’s memo gave Trump cover and may have changed the timing, but this was Trump’s doing. He said so himself.
      • And many sources are saying the ultimate cause was his frustration that the Russia investigation didn’t wrap up. That, too, is a serious blow. He should not interfere with such investigations. Ever. Period.
    • The Democrats’ narrative suffered an even more serious blow, in my opinion. The entire logic of the Democrats’ position is that Trump fired Comey as part of a coverup. The No. 2 at FBI, who is now running the show, testified to Congress that the investigation is a high priority and that it had plenty of resources to do the job. He also said that there had been no pressure from the White House on the FBI’s conduct of the investigation. That makes the obstruction-of-justice claim against Trump and his aides look tenuous, at best. And it makes Comey’s claim he needed more money for the investigation (see below) look bad.
    • Comey himself doesn’t look so good in the day’s news, either. He said that he asked Rosenstein for money $$ for the investigation. Rosenstein says, flatly, that such a request was never made. And McCabe (the #2 at the FBI, married to a Democratic politician) said there was already enough resources. So Comey’s statement, which supported the idea that Trump and his administration were trying to block the investigation, collapses.
    • Comey also told Trump several times he was no under investigation. We might not believe Trump’s statement on this but it was confirmed by the top Democrat and Republican on a Congressional Committee, who said Comey told them the same thing about Trump. It is unclear whether the FBI Director should ever make such disclosures.

     The New Yorker has a brilliantly clever cover. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the political perspective, artist Barry Blitt deserves credit for a mordant pen.

     More biased coverage at the NYT. Sun rises in East.

    The story is headlined: “In a private dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey Demurred” 

    To see the bias in that pitch, just look at what the story actually says.

    • There were only two people in the room at that dinner: Trump and Comey.
    • Comey says, “Trump demanded loyalty from me. I, brave soul, refused.”
    • Trump says, loyalty was never even discussed.

    I have no way of knowing what happened in the meeting. You have no way. And the New York Times has no way. But look at their news headline. Comey is telling the truth, they are saying; Trump is lying. That’s possible. But it is not certain.

    The headline should have read “Comey says Trump Demanded Loyalty. Trump says the issue never came up.”

    Here’s the story, which is more accurate than the editorializing in the NYT headline:

    Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.

    The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.

    As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

    Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.

    The White House says this account is not correct. And Mr. Trump, in an interview on Thursday with NBC, described a far different dinner conversation with Mr. Comey in which the director asked to have the meeting and the question of loyalty never came up. It was not clear whether he was talking about the same meal, but they are believed to have had only one dinner together. –New York Times

    Comment: Is there anybody at the NYT who knows the difference between reporting and commentary? If there is, she’s not anywhere near the masthead.

     Quotas, Quotas, Quotas!! Freshman Senator wants mandated diversity on everything in Congress (Fox News)

    One of the U.S. Senate’s newest members is proposing to shake up the chamber by mandating “diversity” quotas for everything from staffs to committees.

    A proposal by Nevada’s freshman Democratic senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, could mimic efforts in corporate America. . . .

    “You just have to walk in the room and look at the Senators that are there — the 100 Senators, right? You could see the lack of diversity.”

    Comment: I’m absolutely opposed to discrimination on the usual prohibited grounds. And I appreciate diversity on multiple dimensions, including not everybody working on Capitol Hill being a lawyer (as, of course, Sen. Masto is).

    But, Sen. Masto, as I understand it, Senators are selected by an alternative mechanism. So, how does Sen. Masto plan to mandate her kind of diversity there. Btw, some democracies actually do mandate such gender diversity, requiring parties to put up slates that meet their regulatory standards.

    Typically, when these mandates go in, we get upper-middle-class, highly educated people who check off different boxes for some things, while we ignore all the other similarities among them.

     Former Rep. Corrine Brown stole big-time from the charities associated with her. Now, she’s been convicted  (News4Jax, Jacksonville, FL)

    She said that she never knew where the money was coming from; her staff handled such things. The staff testified otherwise. The jury didn’t buy her story.

     North Korea, still claiming the US (under Obama) tried to assassinate Kim Jong Un, demands the US hand over the culprits  (Washington Post)

    Comment: This won’t end well.

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    ZipDialog will post less frequently for the next few days, as I travel the friendly skies. Sarcasm off.