• ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, October 20

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

    ◆ Tax Cuts, Tax Reform gaining momentum

    The Senate passed a Budget Resolution, the essential prelude to any effort to pass tax reform. Without the resolution, the tax bill could be stopped unless it had 60 votes. With the resolution, it needs 50 votes.

    Analysis: Whether it can get 50 votes depends on the details, which will affect different states, income groups, and economic sectors differently.

    Ending the deduction for state and local taxes, for example, hurts high-income people in high-tax states. That could cost Republican House votes if they represent such districts. (Most analysis misses the point that the state taxes hit high earners more so Republicans from middle-class districts might not be affected.)

    Giving everyone a large standard deduction sounds great . . . except to the residential real-estate industry, which thinks it will render mortage deductions meaningless for many middle-income buyers.

    Plus, we don’t yet know the breakpoints between tax brackets, so the impact on middle-income families cannot be forecast accurately.

    Politically, the Republicans must pass tax cuts. Whether they must pass larger reforms is less obvious. But even “must pass” legislation is a problem for this bunch.

     Unmasking investigation

    Obama’s UN Ambassador Samantha Power made more unmasking requests than McDonald’s makes hamburgers. Now, Power has told the House Intel Committee that she did not make those unmasking requests. Somebody else did, using her name. (Fox News)

    Since the testimony was behind closed doors, it is unclear if she knew or assented to the requests, if she knows who made the requests, or if “masking” an unmasking request is itself illegal. It is certainly unethical.

    Now, the same committee has called Obama’s last Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, to find out what she knows about these unmaskings and the Russia-Trump investigation. (Fox News)

    Comment #1: This massive unmasking for what seems like political purposes by the Obama Administration is not only a scandal in its own right. It will have real effects on national security if it blocks the renewal of FISA court authority, which must be done soon.

    Comment #2: It has also been reported that the FBI and DOJ knew about Russian bribery to obtain uranium ownership during the Obama years, when Hillary Clinton was Sec. of State. Bill Clinton was paid substantial funds personally for speaking to Russian entities at this time and the family foundation received vast sums (over $100 million) from investors with stakes in the transaction.

    This investigation was not revealed to the heads of Congressional Intelligence Committee, as is required.

    Moreover, this Russian scandal directly involves the FBI when it was head by . . . . Robert Mueller, now in charge of investigating Russian scandals.

    This stinks.

    US-backed forces declare “victory” over ISIS in Raqqa after 4-month battle (CBS)

    Comment: Now that ISIS is circling the drain, the real question is what comes afterwards in Sunni regions of Iraq and Syria.

    Iran and its proxies, Syria and Iraq, are determined to keep the Shiites in charge.

    That will fuel more radical Sunni insurgencies like ISIS and Al Qaeda.

    Catalonia’s bid for independence: Spain’s central government is now preparing to strip the region of its local powers (Los Angeles Times)

    The region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, did not renounce independence despite a Thursday deadline imposed by the central government.

    The escalating confrontation between Madrid and Spain’s most prosperous region sent ripples of unease across the continent, where European Union leaders are already wary of fissures within the bloc.

    Spain’s worst political crisis in nearly four decades of democracy could hamper a still fragile economic recovery in the country as a whole and cause particular financial harm to Catalonia, which is already experiencing a flurry of corporate flight. –Los Angeles Times

     Comment on Presidents and Fallen Soldier in separate ZipDialog post (here)

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, September 11

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

    ◆ Remembering those who died in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

    Those in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the airplanes, and the selfless first responders.

    As the prayer says, “May their memory be for a blessing.”

    Florida’s massive cleanup begins

    Miami Airport closed Monday because of “significant water damage.” Fears for Florida Keys and southwest FL

    Updated coverage in Miami Herald

    Gangs loot in Ft Lauderdale. Smash windows, grab boxes of shoes and clothes from stores (NBC Miami)

    Comment: They will claim to be victims, not the perps, in 3, 2, 1 . . .

    Btw, Houston and south Texas maintained law and order after their disaster. Let’s hope other cities in Florida can, too.

    Speaking of crime, the creator of McGruff, the Crime-Fighting Dog, dies. Jack Keil was 94. (New York Times)

    Comment: He was 650 in dog years.

     Yawn: Hillary criticizes Donald as she rolls out her book. Upset about identity politics . . . when used by others.

    That’s a shocker. She says Trump “used race to win the election” (Washington Post)

    She adds that his inaugural speech was a white-nationalist cry from the gut.

    Comment: Mrs. Clinton is shocked, shocked to discover identity politics is being practiced in America.

    She plans to search high and low to find the political party that relies on it and on divisive ethnic- and racial-mobilization.

    We wish her the best of luck.

    China pushing for lots more electric cars. Global manufacturers rush in, despite risks (New York Times)

    Comment: The main risk is to intellectual property.

    To gain access to their market, the Chinese demand outsiders give away their proprietary technology to local firms.

    First, robot vacuum cleaners. Now, lawnmowers.

    The best ones, by Husqvarna, currently run $2,000 to $3,500. They rely on GPS and advanced electronics, mow 1.25 acres, and have anti-theft devices. (Link to story here)

    Comment: As with all electronics, expect the prices to drop steadily.

    Once manufactures produce really heavy-duty machines, the robots should save enormous $$$ maintaining highways and parks.

    Expect autonomous snow-plows and more over the next few years.

    Equifax: Still neck-deep in trouble after the hack. Their site to see if you have been hacked is returning random results (Slashdot TechCrunch)

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    Hat Tip to

    Michael Lipson for the Equifax story

    ◆ Ed Vidal for Ft. Lauderdale

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, September 1

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

    ◆ The Fix was In: James Comey, then director of the FBI, drafted his memo exonerating Hillary before the key witnesses had been interviewed (CBS News)

    Fired FBI Director James Comey drafted a statement to announce the conclusion in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server before the FBI interviewed key witnesses, including Hillary Clinton herself, top Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee claim.

    Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, reached that conclusion from transcripts of interviews with people close to Comey and provided by the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Those transcripts, the Republicans said in a Thursday letter to current FBI Director Chris Wray, show Comey had already drafted a conclusion for his investigation before interviewing 17 key witnesses, including Clinton, and before the DOJ had reached immunity agreements with former Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson. CBS News

    The full text of Grassley and Graham’s letter to the FBI is here.

    ◆ Trump plans to end to DACA, perhaps on Friday (Austin Statesman)

    McClatchy’s bureau in Washington, D.C., was reporting Thursday that President Donald Trump is expected to announce and end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era program that had temporarily deferred deportation of undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children. –Austin Statesman

    Attorneys General from several states were suing to end the program as an unconstitutional overreach of Pres. Obama’s authority, something Obama himself acknowledged before actually doing it. The AGs’ suit says DACA

     confers eligibility for work authorization and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress –quoted in Austin Statesman

    Comment: The details of Trump’s policy are crucial, and we simply won’t know them until the White House issues its decision.

    Here is what is most likely.

    • First, ending the program will mean stopping coverage for any new arrivals. They will simply be illegal immigrants (or undocumented, if you prefer), regardless of age.
    • Second, mass deportations of current DACA beneficiaries won’t happen.
    • Third, what is uncertain is whether DACA permissions to stay will renewed for current “dreamers.” Most likely, they will not. If so, then those people will lose DACA status at some future date. They will then be subject to deportation on a case-by-case basis, just as other illegal immigrants are.
    • Fourth, the status of Dreamers already in the US could be one of Trump’s bargaining chips in future negotiations about immigration reform and the wall.

    More on this as it develops.

    ⇒ Btw, expect calm, reasoned responses, like this one: Killing DACA is a ‘violent white supremacist priority’ The op-ed, written by a DACA recipient, also calls the Trump Administration white supremacist.  (op-ed by Belen Sisa in the Arizona Capitol Times)

     Oh, those Iranian mullahs. Now they have Al Qaeda affiliates mining uranium in Africa to send to them (Fox News)

    Meanwhile, remember how the IAEA (the Int. Atomic Energy Agency) was going to inspect the Obama deal? 

    Well, they aren’t doing it.

     To develop self-driving cars, manufacturers need a clear legal framework for road tests. The House will vote on one next week (Reuters)

    The bill would bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles and

    would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year, a cap that would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually over three years.–Reuters

    Comment: The coming changes in transportation will be enormous, the biggest since the introduction of cars.

    Take public transportation, for instance, where about three-quarters of the costs are wages, much of it for drivers (some for mechanics, who will still be needed). The cost of bus drivers is why the vehicles are large; you need fewer drivers that way. If driver wages are eliminated, the buses can be smaller and arrive more frequently. They can also serve less traveled routes.

    Ultimately, the biggest question is whether lots of drivers will switch out of car ownership and take self-driving Ubers in urban areas.

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    Hat tip to Clarice Feldman for the text of the Grassley-Graham memo and to Tom Elia for highlighting this latest Comey contretemps.

  • 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 Saturday, June 24

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

     Healthcare bill:

    • Another Republican Senator says no (that’s 5).
    • The Democrats go all in on vitriolic criticism.
    • Warren calls it “blood money,” etc.
    • Even Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat, will vote against the bill.

    The conventional wisdom is that the R’s cannot get it through the Senate  and that the D’s will escape all blame from voters.

    Comment: I don’t think the Democrats are home free on this.

    The Republicans will get a lot of the blame, to be sure, if they can’t pass a bill. They should. They have both Houses and the Presidency.

    But the Democrats’ entire strategy on everything in both Houses and in the streets is to resist and obstruct.

    It remains to be seen if voters will endorse that. I don’t think it appeals beyond the base in NY, CA, and university towns.

    Republicans will surely say, “It’s our bill versus Obamacare. The Democrats love Obamacare and won’t do anything but small changes. So now we’re all stuck with it.”

    That stance is reinforced by former Pres. Obama coming out so forcefully against the Republican bill.

    What happens when voters get the bad news from insurance companies in November about next year?  

    Ultimately, the electoral question comes down to this: Which do you hate more? Obamacare or the Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace it?

     Suicide bomber in Saudi Arabia blows himself up, but fails to reach his main target in Mecca: the Grand Mosque (Washington Post)

    The [Saudi Interior] ministry did not name the group involved in the attack. The ultraconservative Sunni kingdom battled an al-Qaida insurgency for years and more recently has faced attacks from a local branch of the Islamic State group.

    Neither group immediately claimed those arrested, though Islamic State sympathizers online have urged more attacks as an offensive in Iraq slowly squeezes the extremists out of Mosul and their de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria comes under daily bombing from a U.S.-led coalition. –Washington Post

    Comment: Remember, bringing down Saudi Arabia was the major goal of Al Qaeda all along. So far, not much progress.

    My guess is that the real political risk is related to Saudi efforts to liberalize the economy, which requires freer information and freer women.

     Loretta Lynch, Attorney General in Obama’s final years, is now being investigated by the Senate. Hacked emails from a Democratic campaign official said Lynch “would not to let the Clinton investigation go too far.” That doesn’t look good. Nor does Comey’s testimony that Lynch ordered him to falsely characterize the investigation in public. (USA Today story here)

    Another email, now public,

    indicated that Lynch had privately assured Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria that the FBI’s investigation wouldn’t “go too far.” –USA Today

    The Congressional letter asking Lynch to provide documents was bipartisan, and Lynch has promised to cooperate.

    Comment: First, the Senate has to determine if these emails are real or fake. If they are real, Ms. Lynch may be be able to dance around them. For example, “I only meant I didn’t want it to go too far afield” or that she was simply guessing what the FBI would do. (Why would she be talking about such a secret matter to staffers for the person being investigated?) Or that the staffer misunderstood, etc.

    The fact that Democrats signed the letter to Lynch indicates the Senate committee, led by Grassley and Feinstein, is operating in a bipartisanship fashion, although it could also indicate that Lynch has reassured Democrats she can defend her position.

    Still, the documents now publicly available reek of political interference in a criminal investigation if they are real, not faked by the Russians. As this investigation moves forward, remember, the Democrats refused to allow the FBI to look into their computers after the Russian hack. They haven’t said why.

     When corruption stinks. Literally. The White Plains, NY, city council gave a $175k judgeship to someone who cannot work because she is too fat to climb the three steps to the bench (Daily Caller) Judge Eliz. Shollenberger is chair of the local Democratic Party and all council members are Democrats.

    It actually gets worse. Judge Shollenberger comes to the court house with what we will delicately call “gastrointestinal issues,” which leave the place looking and smelling terrible.

    Shollenberger further dismayed her colleagues by displaying “complete arrogance” following the embarrassing incidents.

    “She would just say, ‘There is a mess over there. I think someone should clean it up,’” a court source told the NY Post. –NY Post, quoted in the Daily Caller

    Comment: The over/under on how long it takes for Judge Shollenberger to play the victim here: 2 minutes. “I’m sick” “This is fat shaming.” Etc.

    Meanwhile, the public has to pay for a non-working judge and a hard-working janitorial crew.

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  • The Language Police Troll Me After the London Attacks. Here is My Response

    After my plain-langue posts on the London attacks, the language police tried to collar me with a Citizens Arrest.

    Here’s the comment, in its full glory.

    Stop saying “Islamist”. It’s a made-up, racist term only used for hate. Usually by hateful, right-wing “Christist” bigots, but sometimes by “Judeists”, too.

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    Why did I refuse to approve this comment?

    • I like dialog. I put it in the blog name for a reason.
    • I like intelligent, reasoned views, whether I agree with them or not.
    • I loathe ad hominem attacks.
    • I loathe moral poseurs, virtue signaling and trying to shut down arguments simply by saying “you are wrong,” “you are hateful,” etc.

    This comment fell firmly into the “I loathe” category.

    I wouldn’t stop them from broadcasting their views.

    But I won’t publish them as a “comment,” either. Set up their own “language police” page, if they wish.

    They don’t add to the discussion on ZipDialog. They attempt to shut it down

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  • How Did British Intel miss the Signals before Manchester Bombing? They are now trying to answer that

    Britain’s domestic intelligence arm, MI5,  opens inquiries into the warnings they received–and missed–before the Manchester terror bombing  (Guardian, UK)

    Their security services will explore who failed and why.

    Investigations like this are vital if they are to prevent the same mistakes next time.

    They are like an “after-action” reports following military operations. In this, sadly, it is an “after-inaction” report.

    Actually, the Brits are launching two investigations,

    • A rush-job to make sure they roll up the whole network
    • An in-depth probe to prevent these problems from happening again.

    Quite sensible to have two investigations.

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    The overriding problem this time is that police and security services were warned multiple times about this particular terrorist.

    Salman Abedi was a known danger, and he had just returned from Libya. Red flags ought to be everywhere.

    The police, senior politicians, and the public want to know how they dropped the ball, leaving so many dead and injured? According to the Guardian

    MI5 has launched two urgent inquiries into how it missed the danger posed by the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, amid claims his interest in being a potential terrorist killer was repeatedly reported to the authorities.

    Britain’s domestic security service started one review last week, which will aim to quickly identify any glaring errors, while the other will be more in depth, the Guardian has learned. . . .

    The reviews come with security officials warning that the threat from Islamist terrorism keeps rising and is at an “unprecedented scale”, with other attack plots feared.–Guardian

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    Comment: There are several typical reasons for these errors

    1. Too much information for police to cope with
      • Lots of irrelevant information obscures the really troubling “real” data, often called a “signal to noise” problem
      • Too few counter-terrorism officers to sort out the signal-to-noise problem because there are so many known Islamists in the UK
    2. Bad communication among different policy bureaucracies
      • Information is dropped accidentally as it moves from one part of the bureaucracy to another
      • “Silos” or stove-pipes: information that comes into to one bureaucratic fiefdom stays there, either to maintain control or because they don’t trust each other (this was a major problem between the FBI and CIA, identified by the 9/11 commission)
    3. Legal restrictions on acquiring relevant information
      • Probably not a problem in this case, but it could be in future US cases, depending on the renewal of some laws about NSA information collection. (The problem, of course, is balancing civil liberties and public safety.)
    4. Political correctness: Reluctance to investigate possible crimes by Muslims
      • This is exactly why thousands of children were sexually abused in northern England, a catastrophic scandal that occurred because no one wanted to probe the Muslim networks for fear it would be unfriendly to an immigrant group.

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  • A Comment on the Terror Bombing in England

     

    ◆ A terrorist bombing aimed at killing innocent children–killing them deliberately–is so vile I cannot truly comprehend it.

    May the innocents rest in peace.

    May the wounded recover fully, in body and mind.

    May the police be safe as they root out the terror cells that prepared and executed this heinous act.

    May we, as citizens, name this evil plainly and call it out for what it is.

    The sources of funding must be cut off. Individuals across the Middle East who donate to these organizations are part of the conspiracy and should face the full force of the law. Nations that support it, either because of religious ideology or to divert the fury away from themselves, should be named, shamed, and sanctioned, not appeased.

    Israelis have faced these attacks for years–and been given the back of the hand by Europeans, morally supercilious in safe homes.

    Meanwhile, in southern Israel, bunkers have to be built beneath kindergarten playgrounds so the children can rush to safety within 15 seconds of hearing a warning siren that Hamas has fired a rocket.

    Now, these same forces of militant Islam have come to Europe, welcomed as refugees by clueless politicians. Most refugees are completely innocent. But some are not–and they work hard to recruit others as they do their dirty work in Germany, Belgium, France, Denmark, or England. Angela Merkel still doesn’t grasp the problem.

    Equally troubling, the refugees new life in Europe has failed to socialize many of them to Western values of religious tolerance, free speech, and democratic engagement. In these immigrant communities, the second and third generations are rife with the same views and problems they brought from North Africa or the Middle East.

    As the civil war deepened in Syria, some decided to join it and are now returning as, well-trained, battle-hardened veterans. They are ready to make war on the streets of Europe.

    Beyond the immediate problem of terror are the equally serious problems of controlling immigration and integrating those who are already in the west.

    Law enforcement is an essential part of the solution, but these problems go well beyond it. They require clear-eyed assessment and tough-minded action by citizens and leader who value the hard-won liberties of western, constitutional democracy and who can defend those liberties without eroding them.

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  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . .Sunday, Dec. 25

    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Intel Committee of US House issues a heavily-redacted report showing Edward Snowden was a habitually-unhappy worker whose stolen information harmed US security and has been used by the Russians. (NY Times) Snowden tweets his contempt for the report.

    ◆ Boko Haram, one of the nastiest Islamic terror groups, has been driven out of its stronghold in the Nigerian forest, near Cameroon. (LA Times)

    ◆ In China, Christmas means jail time for human-rights activists. (Guardian)

    ◆ Chicago: Arrests down, murders up in 2016 (Chicago Sun-Times)

    ◆ Barclay’s Bank is diverging from its peers, which settled with the US Government over bad mortgage loans. “If you want our money,” Barclay’s says, “then sue us.”

    Barclay’s own consultants called some of the loans “craptacular,” but the bank says the USG has overreached. Bloomberg has the story here.

    ◆ And finally, a tweet of real note and a perfect one for today, Dec. 25.

     

     

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