• ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 25

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

    ◆ Speculation grows that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will announce his retirement.

    The current Court year ends Monday, and any announcement would come soon after.

    Kennedy is 80, was appointed by a Republican, and has served 29 years on the Court, recently as a crucial swing vote.

    There are several elderly Democrats on the court, but they want to hang on (if health permits) in hopes of another Democratic president.

    Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, have lawyered up to defend against allegations of bank fraud(CBS)

    When Jane was president of Burlington (VT) College, she got big bank loans for an expansion project that ultimately failed and bankrupted the college.

    The investigation is (1) whether the loans were based on Jane’s false representations about the college’s fundraising and (2) whether Bernie used his office to pressure the bank to make the loan.

     The battle for post-ISIS Syria is shaping up

    The background: the Obama Administration did nothing in Syria and pulled out of Iraq, opening the door wide for Iran to control Baghdad and Damascus (the Assad government) and providing political space for ISIS to build its “caliphate” for Sunnis.

    The change: Trump dramatically altered US policy, and, under the leadership of Mattis at DOD and McMaster at NSC, the US has been taking the fight to ISIS.

    The result: Iran is closing in on ISIS from one direction, the US from the other.

    There are three big issues in this end-game:

    1. Will ISIS turn to move civilian attacks in Europe (and possibly America)?
    2. Will US and Iranian forces be able to avoid direct military confrontation as they converge on ISIS’ last strongholds
    3. Who controls what territory in post-ISIS Syria?

    An excellent primer on the emerging issues is Udi Dekel’s “East-West-North-South: The Race for Syria after the Islamic State” from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS, Israel)

    The current race for control of territory in Syria now appears to be a competition between Iran and the United States, which have established two respective axes – with a vertical American (north-south) effort on the one hand, and a horizontal Iranian (east-west) effort on the other hand. In practice, this is another stage in the shaping of Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State. In the meantime, the country’s southwestern region, from Daraa to the Golan Heights, remains open for activity and influence by Israel and Jordan, which must begin taking action before it is too late. Contacts are apparently underway to formulate a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American strategy aimed at preventing Iranian influence and the presence of its proxies, especially Hezbollah and Shiite militias, in the southern Syria. –Udi Dekel

    ◆ Political correctness to stop free speech in Arkansas? Yep.

    But the University stepped in and did the right thing.

    The Univ. of Arkansas’ King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies decided to hold a symposium on honor killings.

    The Center’s director, a geosciences professor named Tom Paradise, included Prof. Phyllis Chesler (from CUNY) on one panel since she has published widely on the subject, arguing that scholars have underplayed the role of Islam in these killings.

    Three Arkansas professors raised holy hell about it, saying the could never “countenance” Chesler’s participation, even though it would simply be a Skype call.

    The Center caved and disinvited Chesler, according to an editorial in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

    Now, the University has done the right thing.

    They removed Prof. Paradise from the center’s leadership, saying “The decision to disinvite a participant for his or her views is not reflective of the values and practices of our institution.”

    Comment: The university did the right thing.

     Palestinians “disappointed” after “tense meeting” with Jared Kushner, Trump’s special emissary (The Hill)

    Key disagreement: US wants Palestinians to stop paying terrorists for killing Jews.

    Palestinian Authority likes paying them. Abbas told Trump it would stop and simply assumed the president knew he was lying.

    Trump held him to account.

    The PA has also been adamant about keeping incendiary, anti-Semitic materials in their school textbooks.

    The larger problems for Abbas: no succession lined up, and the Middle East is moving forward without them.

    Comment: My guess: Trump will look at Kushner’s report of the meetings and decide this is not a good time to push forward with negotiations.

    Trump has always understood something about these negotiations that most presidents don’t: the US can help if both parties want an agreement. But it cannot force an agreement on parties that don’t want one and aren’t prepared to make serious concessions.

     Oklahoma doctor prescribed so many painkillers, she’s being charged with murder in one patient’s death  (Washington Post)

    The patient, Sheila Bartels, received

    what drug addicts call “the holy trinity” of prescription drugs: the powerful painkiller Hydrocodone, the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and a muscle relaxant known as Soma.

    In total, pharmacists handed her 510 pills that day — all legal, because she had a prescription with the signature of her doctor, Regan Ganoung Nichols, scrawled at the bottom, according to a probable cause affidavit. –Washington Post

    Comment: Cracking down on excessive prescriptions is crucial in this fight.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Sam Stubbs
     for the Sanders bank fraud story
    ◆ Gregg Roman for the University of Arkansas speech-suppression story

     

  • Important new book: How Pakistan and Iran supported Bin Laden and Al Qaeda

     Documenting how some states helped Al Qaeda

    Pakistan has long been known to have supported the Taliban and to have had links with al-Qaeda.  A new book by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, and reviewed here by one of America’s premier terrorism experts, Bruce Hoffman, documents not only how extensive the ties were, but also the important complicity of Iran.

    The authors detail Pakistan’s harboring of Osama bin-Laden. 

    Yet, due to the Afghan War and its difficult logistics requirements, the Bush administration was ineffective in pressuring the Pakistani regime to take a firmer line toward its own ISI military intelligence service and the refuge they provided.

    In turn the Obama administration walked a delicate line with Iran in the hope not only of reaching the nuclear agreement, but of establishing rapport with Tehran.

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    Bruce Hoffman’s Very Positive Review of Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy’s The Exile

     Hoffman reviews the book at the War on the Rocks blog (link)

    The book’s main argument is that neither bin Laden nor the movement he created could have survived without the active support of persons at the apex of both Pakistan’s and especially Iran’s intelligence services. The critical roles played by both countries in sheltering and protecting key al-Qaeda leaders and their families has of course long been known. But no other publicly available source comes as close to The Exile in presenting this familiar story either in as much detail or from the first-hand perspective of the key dramatis personae. New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall’s 2014 book, The Wrong Enemy, for example, had forcefully advanced the same claim regarding Pakistan’s complicity. The Exile goes considerably further: both in fleshing out the story and providing additional substantiation through the new information from multiple first-hand perspectives that Scott-Clark and Levy rely on. –Bruce Hoffman review of Scott-Clark and Levy’s The Exile

    Hoffman concludes

    The Exile’s main value . . . is in the new light that it sheds on the day-to-day Herculean efforts required simultaneously to protect bin Laden and his family while maintaining open lines of communications to his deputies, acolytes, financiers, and factotums dispersed across Pakistan, Iran, and more distant battlefields.

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    Robert Lieber, a professor at Georgetown, is one of the country’s leading analysts of US foreign policy, with special interests in the Middle East, Europe, and energy.

    His most recent book is Retreat and Its Consequences: American Foreign Policy and the Problem of World Order (Cambridge University Press).

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, June 23

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

     Republican Senators introduce their health-care bill. In its current form, the bill is at least 3 votes short of the 50 votes needed. Moving right to capture them could lose centrist Republicans.

    On the current vote count, here’s the Washington Post story.

    And the criticism from outside groups is fierce. Here’s one report on criticism by healthcare groups (Bloomberg)

    Surprisingly, Obama doesn’t like it, either. He posted on FB. I planned to quote it but it runs longer than a Fidel Castro speech.

    The best summary of the differences between the House bill (as passed) and the Senate bill (as introduced) is here at the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (link)

    Comment: Negotiations ahead in the Senate. Uncertain if Pres. Trump will get involved.

     Russian “Old Believer” Priest tells men to grow beards to “protect themselves from homosexuality”  (Moscow Times)

    Comment: I asked an expert, a Mr. W. Whitman,  . . . .

     Quick Tip: If you have a huge weapons stash, don’t get caught shoplifting ammo

    Ramadan Abdullah was arrested for theft in upstate New York (Binghamton Homepage)

    Police recovered:

    -4 loaded handguns
    -8 assault weapons
    -64 high-capacity ammunition feeding devices
    -1 loaded shotgun
    -2 rifles
    -thousands of rounds of ammunition for rifles, pistols, and assault weapons, including 50 caliber armor piercing incendiary rounds, numerous firearm parts, and flak jackets.

    Cornwell says subsequent search warrants executed at other properties tied to the suspect resulted in the seizure of:

    -numerous rounds of 38 caliber ammunition
    -high-capacity ammunition feeding devices and ammunition
    -an additional loaded firearm –Binghamton Homepage

    Comment: Mr. Abdullah said that being arrested during his namesake holiday was especially ironic.

     Trump’s infrastructure proposal includes expansion of rural broadband (Engadget)

    Comment: This could be a valuable expenditure, if it were done right and not too expensive.

     Qatar’s neighbors issue a long list of demands to end crisis (Associated Press)

    The Saudis, Egyptians, and others issued a 13-point list

    insisting that their Persian Gulf neighbor shutter Al-Jazeera, cut back diplomatic ties to Iran and sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

    In a 13-point list — presented to the Qataris by Kuwait, which is helping mediate the crisis — the countries also demand an end to Turkey’s military presence in Qatar. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the list in Arabic from one of the countries involved in the dispute. –Associated Press

    Comment: Getting the Turks out and keeping Iran out are the keys. They also want to shut Al Jazeera. 

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, June 20

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

     American Otto Warmbier dies after being imprisoned in North Korea. Pres. Trump condemns it as “a brutal regime” and adds “we’ll be able to handle it.” (Fox News)

    Sec. of State Rex Tillerson referred to Warmbier’s “unjust imprisonment” and called for the release of 3 other Americans held there.

    Now, China’s tour agency that takes Americans to North Korea says it will stop those tours. (Fox)

    Comment: The brutality of the North Korean regime is well known. The question is how to constrain the danger they pose to South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

    Russia Warns Washington after US fighter downs a Syrian Warplane. (New York Times)

    Long-running tensions between the United States and Russia erupted publicly on Monday as Moscow condemned the American military’s downing of a Syrian warplane and threatened to target aircraft flown by the United States and its allies west of the Euphrates.

    The Russians also said they had suspended their use of a hotline that the American and Russian militaries used to avoid collisions of their aircraft in Syrian airspace.

    The episode was the first time the United States downed a Syrian plane since the civil war began there in 2011 and came after the SU-22 jet dropped bombs on Sunday near American-backed fighters combating the Islamic State. It followed another major American military action against the Syrian government: a cruise missile strike to punish a nerve gas attack that killed civilians in April. –New York Times

    That’s not the only major development.  

    The latest escalation comes as competing forces converge on ungoverned swaths of Syria amid the country’s six-year civil war. Syrian forces and Iranian-backed militias that support them are extending their reach east closer to American-backed fighters, including forces that the Pentagon hopes will pursue the militants into the Euphrates River valley after they take the Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa. The collision of the disparate forces has, in effect, created a war within a war. –New York Times

    Comment: With so many factions fighting in close proximity, there is a huge risk of unintended engagement among the states backing different groups. That, of course, could lead to escalation.

     Theresa May’s weakness casts shadow over Brexit negotiations (Financial Times)

    Britain began the long process of leaving Europe on Monday, but many Conservative MPs are privately speculating whether Theresa May can make it as prime minister through the next few months. –Financial Times

    Comment: May is now deeply unpopular–she’s been called a “dead woman walking”–and leading Tories are trying to find a consensus candidate to replace her as Prime Minister.

    As far as Brexit goes, the PM has also replaced many of the negotiators; the new ones are in disarray. No one knows what Britain’s goal in the negotiations really are.

     Today in European terror: A car with an armed terrorist (he was on France’s watch list) rammed a police car on the Champs-Élysée in Paris. The terrorist’s car burst into flames on the busy street and he later died.  (CNN story here)

    According to the BBC:

    Police found a Kalashnikov rifle, handguns and gas bottles in the car.

    “Security forces have been targeted in France once again,” Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said, calling it an “attempted attack”. –BBC

    Comment: This problem goes beyond police and intelligence work, although it certainly calls for that. As long as Europe is filled large numbers of unassimilated Muslims, attracted to extreme ideologies, this problem will continue. The key is to work on assimilation, restrictions on new immigration, and more intense intel work.

     Well, at least she didn’t waste the money she stole  Report: Stolen city funds paid for her ‘Brazilian butt lift’ (Gainesville Sun)

    Natwaina Clark’s 177 bogus purchases — totaling more than $93,000 — included cosmetic surgery, SunPass and PayPal.

    An investigative report released Wednesday shows a former city of Gainesville employee, accused of stealing more than $93,000 from the city, spent some of it on a Brazilian butt lift. –Gainesville Sun

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  • The “Game of Camps” Revisited: Why Qatar? Why Now?

    Brief background on Qatar

    Until recently, Qatar has managed to play a complex role in the Gulf as a small, very rich, Sunni-Arab sheikdom, with a citizen population of just 250,000-300,000 plus some two million “ex-pats” (the majority workers from South Asia on term contracts).

    Qatar, ruled by its monarchy, has until recently managed to navigate in such a way that it worked both sides of the geopolitical street. 

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    Between Two Worlds, Playing a Double Game

     On the one hand it takes part in the modern, Western-oriented, liberal world order.

    It hosts a vast U.S. airbase and related anti-terrorism facilities.

    It has created and funded Education City, an enclave for a half-dozen major American universities.

    Its national airline, Qatar Airways, has become one of the Gulf giants, challenging the legacy carriers of the US and Europe.

    And it continues to export vast quantities of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from its huge reserves — the largest of which it shares with Iran.

      On the other hand, it

    • Has long supported the Muslim Brotherhood, which other Sunni regimes see as a threat.
    • Maintains very close working relations with Iran.
    • Is widely alleged to be the source of funding for terrorism.
    • Hosts and funds Al-Jazeera, whose programming Egypt and Saudi Arabia see as a threat, and
    • Hosts Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a highly-influential militant Muslim scholar whose program on Al-Jazeera has a wide audience throughout the region, and who has justified suicide terrorism (“heroic martyrdom operations”), and justified domestic violence against women as well as female genital mutilation.

    For more on Sheikh Yush Al-Qaradawi, see this profile at the Investigative Project (link here).

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    Why Are the Saudis, Egyptians, and Emirates taking on Qatar now?

    In an increasingly fraught Middle East, with Iran increasingly seen as the predominant regional threat, Qatar’s big neighbor, Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, and other Sunni states now have found this an opportune time to rein in their troublesome Gulf neighbor.

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     Additional Readings, setting the Qatar Crisis in the context 

    Eran Lerman’s essay (link here) provides an incisive treatment of this issue.  It is up-to-date and deeply-informed. (BESA, the Begin-Sadat Institute, Bar-Ilan University, Israel)

    The Qataris have been playing a dangerous game for years. They have provocatively supported the Muslim Brotherhood and actively promoted the destabilization of existing regimes, using huge sums of money as well as the pernicious influence of Al Jazeera TV. The dramatic steps taken against them over the past few days are thus hardly surprising, but they shed some light on the present stage in the struggle for regional hegemony. –Eran Lerman

     Yaakov Amidror writes a complementary essay (link here, also at BESA) arguing the Qatar crisis is a sign of weakness in the Sunni Arab world.

    The fact that the Sunni Arab world was unable to impose its basic approach on a small peninsular emirate is indicative of the deep crisis brewing in the Gulf over the lack of real leadership in the Sunni world.

    Sunnis are the vast majority in the Muslim world, making up some 85% of Muslims – and yet somehow, the Iran-led Shiite minority is the driving force behind the processes moving the Middle East. –Yaakov Amidror

     Michael Rubin, writing at Commentary, urges the US to “Support the Anti-Qatari Coalition: A Long-Overdue Epiphany on Terrorism

    The simple fact is that Qatar supports destablizing, radical movements across the region. –Michael Rubin

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    Robert Lieber, a professor at Georgetown, is one of the country’s leading analysts of US foreign policy, with special interests in the Middle East, Europe, and energy.

    His most recent book is Retreat and Its Consequences: American Foreign Policy and the Problem of World Order (Cambridge University Press).

  • Congressional Testimony: Efforts to stop Iran’s terror-financing were systematically undermined by the Obama Administration

    Why? To get a nuclear deal, says an insider from the Obama Administration

    The testimony is stunning and deeply disturbing.

    Efforts to stop terror financing not only involved Iran but also its partners, Syria and Venezuela.

    US government efforts to investigate and roll up these networks were all quashed in pursuit of a nuclear deal.

    The investigative units themselves were actually disbanded, lest they trouble Iran and make the nuclear deal more difficult to achieve. That, at least, is the testimony of someone who saw it first-hand.

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    David Asher, an adviser to Gen. John Allen at Defense and State, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that

    The Obama administration “systematically disbanded” law enforcement investigative units across the federal government focused on disrupting Iranian, Syrian, and Venezuelan terrorism financing networks out of concern the work could cause friction with Iranian officials and scuttle the nuclear deal with Iran, according to a former U.S. official who spent decades dismantling terrorist financial networks. –Washington Free Beacon

    The story is here, reported by the Free Beacon’s Susan Crabtree.

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    Why?

    Why did the Obama Administration roll up the units stopping terror financing?

    Asher’s answer: The administration feared the efforts to investigate and disrupt terror-financing would be an obstacle to reaching an Iranian Nuclear Deal.

    Senior leadership, presiding, directing, and overseeing various sections [of these agencies] and portions of the U.S. intelligence community systematically disbanded any internal or external stakeholder action that threatened to derail the administration’s policy agenda focused on Iran,” [Asher] testified.

    He detailed extensive collaboration among the Iranians, Syrians, and Venezuelans and said there was enough evidence to take down the terror-financing networks.

    What was taken down instead were the anti-terror units in the US government.

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    Comment: We still don’t know all the side deals and payoffs the Obama Administration made to get the deal.

    The depths of their strategic incompetence continue to amaze.

    They seem to have outsourced it to Dunder Mifflin in Scranton.

    That was a comedy.

    This is a tragedy.

    We will be living with the dangers fostered by their blunders for years to come.

  • 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)

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, June 2

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

     The big news is President Trump announcing the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, with predictable reactions

    Analysis

    • All Democrats denounced Trump for two reasons: abdicating US leadership of a multilateral effort and weakening commitment to environmental protection
    • Centrist Republicans and virtually all big businesses opposed the withdrawal; Mitt Romney was very vocal about it, for instance
    • Trump’s base loved it and loved his dual rationale: jobs and America First.

    The arguments for the agreement are that America has isolated itself from a global movement, backed by scientists, that supports collective action to slow global warming, some of it man-made.

    The counter-argument is that the costs to the US are very high but positive effects on the climate are vanishingly small. There is also a fairness and effectiveness argument that China and India’s sweet deals (basically, they don’t have to do anything) mean that some of the world’s biggest polluters are unchecked by this deal.

     What is being overlooked in the furor over the withdrawal? That the process by which the US entered the accord. That created its own problems.

    The Paris deal was never a treaty, only a presidential agreement (like the Iran Deal). After all, treaties need ratification, and that’s a higher hurdle. Why not just let the President sign it himself, call it something besides a treaty, and skip that whole pesky ratification thingy?

    That’s just what President Obama did with the Paris Climate Agreement, and just what he did with the Iran nuclear deal. The US seems to be abandoning the quaint idea that its major commitments should be treaties, just as it has abandoned the idea that it should vote to declare wars. We’ve been at war repeatedly over the last few decades, but the last war the US declared was on December 8, 1941.

    Avoiding the treaty process comes at a price, however. What one president signs, the next one can undo. That’s what Pres. Trump did on Thursday.

    There is a second, less obvious problem that is also being overlooked. US environmental groups were planning lawsuits to compel the government to implement Obama’s promises under the Paris Accords. Of course, the environmental bureaucracies themselves would want to implement those promises, too. The substance of those actions might be good or bad, depending on your perspective, but no one could argue that they were determined by laws passed by Congress and signed by the President.

    Skirting these constitutionally-designed, democratic processes has become a standard feature of modern American government.

    It has been a hallmark of progressivism from the beginning, in the early 20th century. A core principle of the progressive movement, initially aimed at corrupt, big-city patronage machines, was decisionmaking by “disinterested” experts: technocrats. Today, that has morphed into rule by regulation, with regulations poured out of bureaucracies whose employees are immune from firing because of civil-service protections (a key feature of the progressive program, designed to block firings by partisan politicians).

    So, one hidden effect of the withdrawal is to slow the pace of new environmental regulations, which the EPA would issue to implement the Paris Accords, either of its own volition or because the courts required them.

     Trump administration asks Supreme Court to Reinstate its Travel Ban  (New York Times)

    Comment: We don’t know if the Court will take the case. If it doesn’t, the lower court decisions to block Trump’s order will stand.

     Mitch Daniels, the nation’s most innovative university leader, discusses Purdue’s purchase of for-profit Kaplan  (Indianapolis Star)

    Purdue President Mitch Daniels painted the move as Purdue’s ticket into the future.

    “None of us know how fast or in what direction online higher education will evolve, but we know its role will grow and we intend that Purdue be positioned to be a leader as that happens,” Daniels told the Education Writers Association.

    Daniels has been working to make a Purdue education more accessible since stepping onto the West Lafayette campus. Purdue’s been on a tuition freeze since 2013, became the first major U.S. research university to offer income-sharing agreements and struck a deal with Amazon to lower textbook costs for its students.

     

    The bid to acquire Kaplan, though, is taking innovation to a new level and was seen as a tectonic shift in the higher education landscape when it was announced unexpectedly in April. –Indianapolis Star

     Massachusetts judge denies defendant’s motion to juggle–yes, juggle–at his trial  (AP, via St. Mary Now, Louisiana)

    The defendant, who is representing himself, wanted to juggle to show “he was just clowning around when he allegedly tried to rob a convenience store with a toy gun.”

     

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 30

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

     No more Mr. Nice Guy: America changes tactics on ISIS, don’t make them flee, make them die (Fox News)

    Defense Secretary James Mattis said Sunday the U.S. has switched to “annihilation tactics” against the Islamic State and is focused on completely surrounding the militants instead of moving them from place to place.

    “Our strategy right now is to accelerate the campaign against ISIS. It is a threat to all civilized nations. And the bottom line is we are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot,” Mattis said. –Fox News

     Iran to renew funding for Hamas terrorists  (Times of Israel)

    This was actually not an easy negotiation since they two differed over Syria, with Iran backing Assad, Hamas opposing him.

    They also come from different Islamic sects, Shiite for Iran, Sunni for Hamas.

    The deal to restore Hamas’s financial support came after marathon meetings in Lebanon between officials from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hamas, and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group, the report said.

    Relations between Iran and Hamas have been rocky since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, when the Palestinian terror organization came out against Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is backed by Tehran. –Times of Israel

    Comment: Despite their differences, these Hamas and Iran do have one thing in common. They love killing Jews.

     Pentagon will test new anti-missile system as North Korean offensive capabilities continue to advance  (CNN)

    Comment: The issue is rapidly coming to a head as Pyongyang speeds up its testing. Intel experts are forecasting North Korea will be able to miniaturize its nuclear missiles and reach the US in as little as 3 years. South Korea and Japan will be in the crosshairs sooner.

    The danger here is profound, not only from a North Korean nuclear attack but from a conventional war. Seoul, South Korea, is a huge city and within easy reach of thousands of North Korean short-range missiles in hardened sites.

    As the US works hard on this system, with millions of lives in multiple countries at stake, the short-sighted politicians who have opposed anti-missile research for decades have a lot to answer for. 

     All Germany’s top politicians agree with Angela Merkel’s criticism of Donald Trump, say Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands” (Washington Post)

    As they campaign against each other ahead of national elections in September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her chief political rival, Martin Schulz, find themselves united in opposition to President Trump.

    Speaking at a beer hall rally in Munich on Sunday, Merkel suggested that the era when Europe could rely on the United States may be coming to an end and that the continent “really must take our fate into our own hands.” . . .

    Yet rather than criticize his rival or her Christian Democratic Union-led government for the strained relationship with Trump, Schulz has passionately offered support. –Washington Post

    Comment: It is unclear what “taking their fate into their own hands” actually means. If it means a Europe led by Germany, the world order will shake, but not before France and Russia do.

     Venezuela in chaos: opposition leaders injured (Reuters)

    Two Venezuelan opposition leaders were wounded on Monday by security forces dispersing protests in the capital Caracas against President Nicolas Maduro, according to one of the leaders and an opposition legislator.

    Maduro’s adversaries have for two months been blocking highways and setting up barricades in protests demanding he call early elections and address an increasingly severe economic crisis that has left millions struggling to get enough to eat.

    Fifty-nine people have died in the often violent street melees, which Maduro calls an effort to overthrow his government. –Reuters

     

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  • 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