• ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, August 4

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

    ◆ EXCELLENT ECONOMIC NEWS: Surging jobs in July means that the US has now regained all the jobs lost in the recession. Wages rose 2.5% last year. Unemployment remains 4.3% Dow-Jones above 22k for the first time ever (Washington Post)

    Comment: Now, to get more healthy people back into the labor force.

     

     ◆ After latest leaks of private Presidential phone calls to foreign leaders, AG Jeff Sessions announces more measure to find and punish the perps (Fox News)

    Based on the leaked documents, The Washington Post reported new details Thursday about Trump’s tense phone calls in late January with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In the former, Trump reportedly told the Mexican leader to stop publicly saying his government would not pay for a border wall.

    The newspaper said the transcripts had notes indicating they had been classified by the chief of staff on the National Security Council. The Post said it obtained full transcripts, which were “produced by White House staff” and based on records kept by White House note-takers. –Fox News

    Comment: My guess: holdover staff from the last administration or people who have just been fired.

    Special Counsel Mueller empanels Grand Jury in Washington (The Hill)

    They already had one in Virginia, so this is really not new, just a more convenient location for Mueller’s office, which now has 16 full-time prosecutors.

    Comment: It means the investigation is

    • Clearly a criminal one, not limited to counter-intelligence
    • Not limited to Mike Flynn, who was the subject of the Virginia panel
    • Likely to last many more months

    Who should be worried? Anybody in Trump’s circle who has extensive business dealings with Russia or Russian-sponsored entities and, of course, anybody who lies to Federal agents. Lying to the media is not a crime, but a pattern of lying could indicate intent to cover up and prompt further inquiry.

    West Virginia’s Democratic Governor announces switch to GOP at Trump rally (Charleston WVa Gazette-Mail)

    West Virginia, once reliably Democratic, has voted for Republicans in each presidential race since 2000, and dramatically last year. Four of the state’s five Congressional seats have flipped to Republican.

    The most important elected Democrat in the state is now centrist Joe Manchin, who said he will remain a Democrat.

    Comment: Democrats now control only 15 governorships and the fewest state legislatures in the party’s history.

    Sticking with Bernie and Nancy is not going to help, but the ineptitude of the current Congress will.

    Israel: PM Netanyahu’s top aide agrees to testify against him in a bribery, fraud investigation (Bloomberg)

    Comment: Likely outcome: Netanyahu indicted.

    It’s grim when top officials are suspected of corruption, but it is good news when an independent judiciary can investigate them, as they do in constitutional democracies . . . and nowhere else.

    Chief of Staff John Kelly emerges as key supporter of National Security Council Adviser McMaster in White House in-fighting (Politico)

    Comment: Yes, it helps that they are both former generals. But the main point is that they are both experienced at high-level Washington bureaucratic politics.

    McMaster has been cleaning house in his operation, putting his own people in place.

    The problems: McMaster has a violent temper, often on display in staff meetings, and is frequently pitted against Steve Bannon, who is an important link to Pres. Trump’s populist constituency–and who would be harder on the Trump Administration outside the tent than inside.

    Fragile economy limits Putin (Reuters)

    And US sanctions weak him further.

    Comment: ZipDialog has made this point repeatedly. Most news commentary has overlooked it.

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Michael Lipson for the Grand Jury story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 16

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

     The big stories are all about spying and cyber crime.

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

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

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

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

    Let’s step back and see what we know.

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

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

    But it’s not smart, either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 6

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

     A word of caution on two evolving scandals: Russia-Trump and Susan Rice

    • If there is evidence of serious crimes, each of these could become truly major events.
    • But so far we have few hard facts, shrouded in extremely sharp partisan attacks, mimicked and exacerbated by the news media.

    Russia’s role in the US election:

    • The mainstream media continues to say that Russian interference in the US election (a fact) also involved direct collusion with senior Trump officials (a conjecture). So far, top intel officials not associated with Trump have said there is zero evidence of collusion.
    • There is an FBI counter-intelligence investigation of these issues. If it finds some self-dealing from Trump officials, using their positions to make money, that’s bad news for them and certainly newsworthy, but it is not a catastrophic national scandal. If if finds significant collusion between Russians and top Trump officials, that is a truly enormous crime against our democracy.

    Susan Rice:

    • We know Rice lied publicly when she told PBS two weeks ago that she knew nothing about the unmasking of names.
    • Her story has changed. Now, she simply says she did nothing improper.
    • That may be correct. It seems to be very unusual to ask for as many unmasked names as Rice requested, but she will undoubtedly say she needed to know them to understand US intelligence. Whether that is true or false will depend on the scale of her requests and especially on the type of information contained in the intercepted conversations. If they were entirely related to US national security, she’s in the clear, or at least she can plausibly argue that she had good reasons for doing what she did. If the conversations are far removed from US national security issues, she’s in trouble–and so is the country for having a National Security Adviser who used US intelligence resources for domestic political purposes.
    • At this point, we simply do not know enough to discriminate between those two interpretations, one benign and one malign.

     News you haven’t seen about Susan Rice, the Obama Administration, and spying on US Citizens: 

    Lee Smith, writing in The Tablet, says Rice “may have been rifling through classified transcripts for over a year” with info about Trump and associates. 

    Smith focuses on the Iranian Nuclear Deal and says the US spied extensively on Israeli officials (who opposed the deal). No problem there; that is completely within the purview of the intel agencies. Since Israeli officials worked closely with US citizens, including lawmakers, who opposed the deal, their conversations were picked up, too. The question is whether the Obama White House, in possession of this information, restricted its use to national security or went beyond that, abusing the foreign intelligence system.

    Smith reaches a devastating conclusion:

    I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.

    “At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

    This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. –Lee Smith in The Tablet

     Pres. Trump harshly condemns Syria after deadly sarin gas attack, calling it “horrendous” and saying it crossed “several” red lines, deliberately invoking Obama’s language

    Comment: The shift in US policy was abrupt. Only a few days earlier the US had resigned itself to Assad’s continued rule. The change is clearly the result of the chemical attack. Pres. Trump’s language, especially his use of Obama’s term, signals some kind of military strike.

    I would be shocked if the US put troops into this no-win situation. The US can certainly damage the Assad regime from the air, but, even there, a strike runs the risk of conflict with Russia, which (along with Iran) is the main foreign support for Assad’s regime. 

    The larger strategic problem for the US is that there is no way to stand up a pro-western regime there without enormous costs and high risks.

    Two big Thursday events: Chinese leader Xi meets Trump in Florida, US Senate moves to end debate and vote on Gorsuch for Supreme Court

    Comment: More on them tomorrow when we have real news.

     McMaster asserts his control over the National Security Council

    • All news outlets are reporting Steve Bannon is out (he should never have been in);
    • What many are not noticing is that McMaster is filling out his organization with skilled professionals.

    Good report at Politico.

     

     

     

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  • Israeli government sharply critical of Pres. Obama’s role in pushing for UN Resolution against Israel

    The Israeli government released a severe rebuke to the Obama Administration, issued by P.M. Netanyahu at the start of a cabinet meeting. The heart of the Israeli statement is this:

    From the information that we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed. This is, of course, in complete contradiction of the traditional American policy that was committed to not trying to dictate terms for a permanent agreement, like any issue related to them in the Security Council, and, of course, the explicit commitment of President Obama himself, in 2011, to refrain from such steps.  –Statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at start of Cabinet meeting, Dec. 25, 2016 

    The Obama Administration has denied any active involvement in the UN Resolution, but the Israelis have said they have “ironclad” proof to the contrary.

    UPDATEThe Ukrainians have now said they were personally lobbied by VP Joe Biden to vote for the anti-Israel resolution. Again, this is directly contrary to what the Obama administration has said publicly. It is interesting for a second reason: the US was apparently pushing other countries to vote against Israel but lacked the political conviction to do anything other than “abstain” itself.

    The Washington Post, reflecting on the US move at the United Nations, editorialized that it would inhibit a future people settlement: “The Obama Administration fires a dangerous parting shot“:

    It will encourage Palestinians to pursue more international sanctions against Israel rather than seriously consider the concessions necessary for statehood. –Washington Post editorial board

    CommentI think the Post’s assessment is correct but I doubt there will be movement toward a peace settlement in the foreseeable future, whatever the US does.

    For a superb, thoughtful evaluation of the Obama Administration’s vexed relationship with Israel, see Ron Radosh’s essay at PJ Media. 

    I have also written (in this post at ZipDialog) that Pres. Obama’s action will accelerate the movement of traditional Jews away from their historic attachment to the Democratic Party. Other than black voters, Jews are the most reliable ethnic/racial/religious group of Democratic voters. Secular Jews will remain Democrats, but more religious Jews have already shifted significantly and the movement will continue.

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     ♥ Hat tip to Clarice Feldman for the update about Joe Biden’s pressure on Ukraine. You can read “Clarice’s Pieces” every Sunday at the American Thinker blog.

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . .Saturday, Dec. 24

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

    ◆Pres. Obama reversed decades of US policy and allowed a Palestinian-initiated, Arab-backed initiative attacking Israel to pass the UN Security Council without a US veto. Obama’s parting stab at Israel is facing backlash from all Republicans and some Democrats, says The Hill.

    A characteristic comment on the Republican side is that of Paul Ryan, who calls Obama’s move “absolutely shameful.”

    CommentMy initial judgment is that Pres. Obama’s move will have a major impact on the political alignment of Jews. It will reinforcement the movement, which began under Obama, of the Democratic Party siding with the anti-Israeli left in the US and Europe, and that, in turn, will accelerate the movement of non-secular US Jews away from the Democrats and toward the Republicans.

    The fact that Democrats are even considering Rep. Keith Ellison, a former follower of Louis Farrakhan and still a speaker at events aimed at delegitimating Israel, is another blow to the decades-long connection between Jews and the Democratic Party.

    Obama’s move will also deepen the division among Jews, pitting the secular, social-justice left, which has little interest in Israel and is deeply critical of its security and settlement policies, and the more traditional, observant community, which sees a rising global threat to Jews and believes Israel is a Jewish homeland under threat from radical Islam and a hostile global left, centered in Europe and US universities.

    Bottom Line: Obama’s move harms Israel and harms the Democratic Party. Like so many of Obama’s policies over the past eight years, it is a political mistake that will cost his party for years to come.

    ◆ The latest Jihadi attack in Berlin will change German policies in two major ways, writes Joseph Joffe in The Guardian

    1. Angela Merkel’s “open door” policy has failed dramatically and will end; and
    2. Germany’s long-standing reluctance to permit more intensive surveillance will change.

    Joffe notes that the surveillance policies were already under pressure from Putin’s spying, but the need for change is more compelling now.

    ◆ Another politically-connected religious leader scamming the public; this time it is a Hasidic rabbi. (NY Daily News)

    ◆ How can the Inuit survive cold temperatures so well? The answer, according to a new study, may lie in some genetic inheritance from a now-extinct variant of humans, gone for 500,000 years. (NYT; link corrected)

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  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . .Friday, Dec. 23

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

    ◆ Utter failure in Berlin: They blame it on incompetence but political correctness also played a major role, say Rachel Ehrenfeld and Stephen Bryen (American Center for Democracy)

    German security agencies failed to arrest/deport Anis Amri, the Tunisian criminal, asylum seeker with known ties to radical Islamists groups, who was overheard volunteering as a suicide bomber. Apparently, their political correctness, enforced by government policies and decades-long pressure from rapidly growing Muslim communities yielded the Islamists’ desired results. Videos from ISIS instructing jihad-by tracks attacks, especially during the Christian holidays were ignored, as were last month’s U.S. warning. Incredibly, no efforts were made to even secure open Christmas markets. –Rachel Ehrenfeld and Stephen Bryen

    ◆ A serious inquiry into the relationship between radical Islam and the western nation-state. (Daniel Johnson in The New Criterion)

    The present confrontation between Islam and the West is thus not, strictly speaking, a clash of civilizations, but the attempt to impose a theocratic religion upon a secular civilization, if necessary by force. This is asymmetrical warfare in the widest possible sense . . . . It is all the more acute because the secular West is reluctant to face the fact that it is faced by a holy war for which it is almost entirely unprepared. –Daniel Johnson in The New Criterion

    ◆ Not since Nixon has a President faced such a tough China challenge, says Evan A. Feigenbaum of the Carnegie Endowment (National Interest) The major change, he says, is that for four decades the US has assumed a “successful” China would be good for the U.S.  Not anymore.

    ◆ An amazing behind-the-scenes story about Obama + Palestinians versus Israel + Egypt + Trump. The Times of Israel reports that Pres. Obama was about to change long-standing US policy toward Israel at the UN and was working with the Palestinians to do it. The Israelis, they say, blocked it by going to Trump, who worked with the Egyptians to block it.

    CommentThis action by a president-elect is extremely rare, but then, so was Obama’s plan to flip US policy.

    ◆ The Iran Deal Pres. Obama negotiated is the lynchpin of his foreign policy. But, says Lee Smith, it is fundamental mainly because it reorients US alignment in the region, much closer to Iran and away from the Saudis and Israel. Trump will face hard decisions in dealing with Iran, but he will begin with a very different approach. Obama gave significant carrots to Iran, just to keep them negotiating. Trump thinks that’s the opposite of smart negotiations. (Tablet)

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Ed Lasky
     for two stories, one on the Iran Deal, the other on the UN, Obama and Israel