• US-Russian Relations: What matters but isn’t covered in all the tabloid news

    Russia’s interference in America’s 2016 election matters. So do any possible connections to the Trump campaign

    But the media’s obsession with those issues is missing other major developments in US-Russian relations

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    The news about US-Russian-European relations goes far beyond the 2016 election interference and possible connections to the Trump campaign.

    On the international stage, Vladimir Putin has skilfully played a very weak hand, while the US misplayed its own for 8 years. Putin has taken an economy the size of Italy’s and returned it to status as an international power.

    It is Iran’s major outside supporter and a major player in Syria, where, in return for supporting the Assad regime, it has acquired major bases.

    It has used Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas for political leverage.

    And it has effectively offered to step in and assist North Korea if they want assistance beyond China’s.

    But he can only stay in power by running a corrupt kleptocracy, in close alignment with the oligarchs, with everything stage-managed from Moscow.

    That’s a good way for him to stay in power, but it is a terrible way to grow a diverse, modern economy. Over the long run, the Russian economy will continue to sputter as the US grows.

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    What has the Trump Administration done to cope with Putin internationally?

    The media focus has been entirely on US weakness, especially Trump’s mixed statements about NATO and his inexplicable reluctance to recognize the threat from Russia in clear, unambiguous language. There has been some focus on the recent cease-fire in Syria, too.

    But there is much more to the story. And all these other developments put pressure on a Kremlin ill-equipped to handle it.

    NATO

    On NATO, as I have noted, Trump is now a firm supporter but he still wants two major changes: a focus on terrorism and fair-share payments from European partners, as they promised. One reasonable interpretation of his threats to back away from NATO is that they are meant to get Europe to pay up.

    Poland

    In Poland, Trump did more than make a speech (a very good one in my opinion, a very bad one in the opinion of Democrats). He also agreed to an important arms sale the Obama Administration had refused.

    In a move set to counter Russia’s reinforcement on NATO’s borders, Poland and the U.S. have agreed that Warsaw will purchase the American-made Patriot air defense missile, the Polish government announced Thursday.

    Although Poland is a long-term advocate for more U.S. military presence in Europe, Russia’s decision to deploy Iskander missile systems on its borders in November made the demand for assistance more urgent. The S-400 surface-to-air missiles and nuclear-capable Iskander systems are set to be delivered in Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave bordering Poland. –Newsweek, story here

    Ukraine

    Totally missing from news coverage is the startling news that Ukraine is now openly seeking NATO membership–understandable, given the Russian threat, but an open insult to the Kremlin, which refused even to let Ukraine strike a trade deal with the EU.

    The Reuters story is headlines: “Pledging Reforms by 2020, Ukraine Seeks Route into NATO

    [Ukraine’s] President Petro Poroshenko, whose country is fighting a Kremlin-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, revived the prospect of NATO membership during a visit by NATO Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg who himself used the occasion to call on Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

    “Ukraine has clearly defined its political future and its future in the sphere of security,” Poroshenko speaking to reporters alongside Stoltenberg.

    “Today we clearly stated that we would begin a discussion about a membership action plan and our proposals for such a discussion were accepted with pleasure.”

    Russia, deeply opposed to enlargement of NATO toward its borders, weighed in quickly, saying the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine would not promote stability and security in Europe. –Reuters

    It’s unclear how NATO will approach this or what the Trump Administration will say (or even if it will speak with one voice).

    But the very fact that Ukraine has raised the NATO issue is sure to be a major irritant in US-Russian relations.

    Energy

    The Russian economy depends on oil revenues, and so does the Kremlin to retain support from oligarchs.

    The problem is that energy prices are under permanent, long-term pressure from the US, where shale technology is getting more and more efficient. The US is now a major (and growing) energy exporter, and Trump is doing everything he can to ramp up production and ramp down prices.

    The impact on Russia is not his primary concern here. He’s more concerned with the positive impact of lower prices on the US economy. But the impact on Russia is real, nonetheless, and Trump means to exploit it.

    On his recently completed trip, the president said:

    Let me be clear about one crucial point. The United States will never use energy to coerce your nations, and we cannot allow others to do so,” Trump said at a press conference flanked by European leaders. “You don’t want to have a monopoly or a monopolistic situation. –CNBC story here

    Trump did not name Russia, but everyone understood his message. After all, Russia had cut gas supplies to Europe in 2008 over a Ukraine dispute. Trump was saying, in effect, that we intend to stop that blackmail by giving you an alternative supplier.

    Bottom Line

    The possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign are worth a thorough investigation, as Mueller is doing.

    But don’t be mislead by Democrats’ talking tough: they did little to buttress Central European defenses during the Obama years. Pres. Obama had no intention of increasing US hydrocarbon production, if he could prevent it. (He couldn’t, thanks to new technology.) Lower energy prices it contradicted his broader concerns about fossil fuels and global warming. Fracking technology beat his regulatory onslaught, just as it beat the Saudis’ attempt to drive them out of business with low energy prices.

    For all Trump’s inexplicably warm language about Putin, his actions tell a different story. He’s selling arms to Poland, pressuring Europeans to pay up for NATO, unlocking American oil reserves to lower prices over the long-term, and working to ween Europe from Russian natural.

    Taken together, these actions put enormous pressure on a Kremlin underperforming economically, highly dependent on oil prices, and overstretched by its foreign commitment.

     

     

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, July 6

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

     Poland gives Trump enthusiastic greeting. Why? 

    Radio Poland gives part of the answer: He says US stands firmly behind “mutual defense” commitment

    Comment: The main answer is that they perceive him as tough and ready to deter Russia, which the Poles (understandably) see as militarily aggressive and expansionist. 

     Rep. Steve Scalise, who survived assassination attempt, back in intensive care for infection  (CNN)

    He barely survived the initial injuries, was recovering well until this setback, which puts him in “serious” condition in the ICU

     Anarchists, left-wing radicals plan massive demonstrations in Hamburg, site of G20 meetings  (Washington Post)

    Up to 100,000 protesters [plan to] turn the old merchant city into a site of a global contest over capitalism, the environment and ethnic nationalism. . . .

    Warning of violence, security officials say the demonstration could draw as many as 8,000 members of the militant left, from Germany and beyond. Among its participants will be  “black bloc” demonstrators with anarchist sympathies who wear dark clothes and cover their faces. Authorities said their concerns mounted following the discovery of materials used to prepare molotov cocktails, along with knives, slingshots and baseball bats. –Washington Post

    Comment: Peaceful protests are fine, of course, but not violent one. Those should be contained, with arrests leading to stiff sentences. People who organized the violence should be dealt with harshly by the courts.

     Japan and Europe agree on broad outlines of huge trade deal  (Washington Post)

    will cover nearly 30 percent of the global economy, 10 percent of the world’s population and 40 percent of global trade. –Washington Post

    Comment: The Post says it is aimed at Trump. Partly true. But it is also aimed at Brexit. But its main aim is simpler than these strategic ploys: it is aimed at increasing income in Europe and Japan.

     Air pollution reduces solar power output  (KUOW)

    The story began with a Duke scientist noticing the Taj Mahal had to be cleaned every few years because of pollution deposits.

    Bottom line: cleaning the solar panels regularly helps.

    Comment: It seems to obvious; I was struck that scientists seem not to have noticed it earlier. 

     Green-tech auto company promised a lot of jobs, got a lot of state money, but didn’t deliver. Now Mississippi wants $$ back. (AP)

    Clinton friend and now Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe was CEO of this company when this doozy was pulled off.

    Comment: The problem with targeted subsidies is that they always favor insiders. That’s true even when the projects succeed.

     “Israel’s high-tech industry is brimming with products that have made the jump from military application to civilian markets,” beginning with Iron Dome air-defense technology (CNBC)

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  • NATO Summit Underscores Durable Alliance. The US Should Do Nothing to Undermine It

    Guest Author: Arthur Cyr

    Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of After the Cold War.” (Palgrave Macmillan and NYU Press).

    [Editor’s note: ZipDialog is delighted to include this post. The opinions are those of the guest author. Readers are invited to respond, both here and on social media. At ZipDialog, we take dialog seriously.]

     The NATO summit in Brussels on May 25 has received relatively little attention, thanks to the crowded schedule of President Donald Trump’s visit to the Middle East and Europe.

     The diplomatic whirlwind commenced with the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. Leaders from 55 nations addressed the threat of terrorism. The NATO summit is followed immediately by a meeting of the G7, comprised of the world’s principal industrial nations, in Taormina Italy. Since World War II, economic collaboration has been consciously employed as a counter to militarism.

     The brief Brussels meeting contained heavy symbolism. Remnants of the Berlin Wall, and World Trade Center destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, were dedicated. Traditional United States complaints that European allies should spend more on defense are rightly overshadowed by the momentous events these symbols represent. European military aircraft under NATO were patrolling the skies over North American quickly after 9/11.

     The terrorist attack in Manchester in the United Kingdom underscores the continued importance of military cooperation, and doubtless muted the sorts of disagreements which can become public when allied nations gather.

     Indirectly, the attacks draw attention to Britain’s important historic and current roles in transatlantic alliance. Winston Churchill’s World War II government worked assiduously to court American public and leadership opinion.

    Britain steadily fostered cross-Atlantic military cooperation as the Cold War developed. Britain’s Foreign Secretary after World War II, Ernest Bevin, kept the far left of his Labour Party at bay. He was effective in dealing with European leaders in forging the European Coal and Steel Community and forming NATO, key building blocs of modern Europe and the trans-Atlantic relationship with America.

    ◆ In a time of uncertainty, NATO continues to provide promising transatlantic cooperation. The U.S. should do nothing to undermine this.

    The opinions in this post are those of the guest author, Arthur I. Cyr . He and ZipDialog welcome your response here or on social media. Prof. Cyr can also be reached at [email protected]

  • 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.

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    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 Friday, March 31

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

     Michael Flynn’s lawyers float an idea: he’ll testify if House and Senate investigators give him immunity. At issue, Russia’s influence in the 2016 election and their contacts with the Trump campaign.

    The Wall Street Journal broke the story.

    Flynn’s lawyer confirmed it; and now everyone is reporting it.

    According to the New York Times, Congressional investigators want to be further along in their inquiry before deciding how to handle Flynn.

    Comment: The Senate will take the lead here, in cooperation with the FBI. The committee on the House side is tied up in controversy over ties between its chairman, Devin Nunes (R-CA), and the Trump White House.

     Trump begins trade-policy review “as he levels new threats at China”  (Washington Post)

    • The review will cover major products and major trade partners.
    • China’s leader, Xi Jinping, visits Trump next week.

     Historic first: SpaceX launches a satellite into orbit on a reused rocket booster.  A tremendous technical achievement for Elon Musk’s company, one that dramatically lowers costs. SpaceX is aiming to launch new payloads every 2-3 weeks. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ firm, has also reused rockets but has done so on suborbital missions. (Space.com)

     Opiates: Ohio officials, led by Gov. John Kasich, working to restrict painkiller prescriptions (Toledo Blade)

    Calling the proposed rules a “done deal,” Gov. John Kasich said these actions, coupled with a crackdown on the law enforcement side, will eventually reverse Ohio’s distinction of ranking first in the nation in overdose deaths.

    “We’re paying the price right now for a lot of the neglect that happened in the past,” he said.

    In battling their patients’ acute pain, doctors and other health-care providers could prescribe no more than seven days’ worth of opioid dosages for adults and five days for minors. The potency could not exceed an average of 30 morphine equivalent doses per day.

    Physicians could prescribe more than that only after they’ve justified it based on the patient’s medical records. Exceptions would be made for cancer, palliative care, end-of-life, and addiction treatment. –Toledo Blade

     Dumbest comment of the Day: EU top bureaucrat, Jean-Claude Juncker, says he will urge “Ohio and Austin, Texas” to secede from the US if Trump doesn’t stop praising Brexit Story here.

    Comment: Looks like ole Jean-Claude’s been in the liquor cabinet again.

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  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Tuesday, Dec. 13

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

    ◆ Senate leaders, R and D, call for investigation into Russian hacking of US election. (New York Times)

    ◆The always-penetrating Peter Berkowitz on “Can Trump and Constitutional Conservatism Coexist?” (Real Clear Politics)

    Berkowitz begins by emphasizing the value of constitutional conservatism, particularly its protection of individual freedom:

    Limited constitutional government protects individual liberty by restricting the federal government, through a variety of checking and balancing mechanisms, to the powers enumerated in the Constitution while ensuring that government has the necessary and proper means to accomplish its legitimate and vital tasks.

    Limited constitutional government also protects traditional morality and religious faith by shielding from government interference the nongovernmental institutions—starting with the family and extending outward to religious communities, neighborhoods, and the great variety of voluntary associations that compose civil society—where character is formed, attachments are developed, and lives are lived to their fullest. –Peter Berkowitz

    He concludes with his anxiety about whether Trump is committed to these limits:

    Trump rarely invokes the Constitution. Even as conservatives have reason to be generally pleased with his Cabinet picks, his impetuousness, brazenness, showmanship, and peculiar mix of policy prescriptions is hard to reconcile with the spirit of modern American conservatism. –Peter Berkowitz

    ◆ The great blues-rock guitarist, Joe Bonamassa, was playing a concert in Tulsa, when he saw a bouncer harassing a fan. Joe used his rare 1951 Fender guitar to bonk the bouncer on the head! Bouncers should note that one of Bonamassa’s hits is called “Headaches to Heartbreaks.”

    ◆ Nate Silver and Harry Reid agree: It was the FBI’s James Comey who defeated Hillary. (Salon)

    Comment: Pres. Kennedy once quoted the maxim that “victory has a thousand fathers. Defeat is an orphan.” But he had not seen the paternity game after Hillary’s defeat.

    ◆ Signs the Congress is an independent branch: Mitch McConnell doesn’t want a “Trillion-Dollar Stimulus” Infrastructure plan. (Huffington Post)

    Obama administration sticks with calling China a “non-market economy.” Changing that designation could lower trade barriers to Chinese exports. (Wall Street Journal)

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  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page–Special: NOTHING about the election . . Tuesday, Nov. 8

    Not a peep, not a murmur about the election here.

    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ US rushing a missile defense system to South Korea. China is really unhappy about it. (International Business Times)

    Comment: There are excellent reasons to extend missile defense to South Korea. If China is as unhappy as they say, then they can put some pressure on their North Korean ally. So far, they have declined to do so.

    ◆ Headline of the day: “California voters mull sex, drugs and plastic bags” (CNN). These are election propositions and, fortunately, they are separate.

    ◆ Finland’s self-driving buses show the future of public transportation (NY Times)

    Comment: I think that’s right since some 80% of public transit costs are labor. My hunch is that public and private self-driving vehicles will displace a lot of privately-owned cars.

    ◆ Good US economic news: Number of construction cranes at work in Chicago at 8 year high (Chicago Tribune)

    ◆ Bad global economic news: China’s October exports fall in new sign of global weakness (US News)

    ◆ Now, almost 10 million more work for US government than in manufacturing. (CNS News Service)

    ◆ US Navy’s new Zumwalt-class warships have guns that can shoot 80 miles, precisely. That’s the good news. The bad news is that each shot costs $800,000 so they cannot afford to use them. (Daily Mail)

    ◆ Fearing a flood of refugees, a town near Munich builds a 12-foot-high wall (higher than the Berlin Wall). (Fox News)

    ◆ Islamists have infiltrated German Army. Some discovered. More being searched for. (Israel National News)

     

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  • Hillary’s Dream of Open Trade and Open Borders

    I can tell my friend Dan Drezner something that would make him more enthusiastic.

    If Hillary said publicly what she says privately. She has backed away from economic intergration in her public statements.

    Somebody is being conned. Is it the donors or the voters?

    Of course, Trump is even more aggressive in his protectionist nationalism. That would be disastrous for America and the world.