• Trump in South Korea: What Does the US Want?

    ◆ What’s on Trump’s Agenda in Seoul? 

    Comment: Mostly North Korea but also some trade issues.

    For the US and its strong ally, Japan, the problem is South Korea’s leftist president, Moon Jae-In.

    He was soft on North Korea before the election, a long-held, principled position. He has been somewhat firmer since then because of Kim’s provocations.

    The main problem, though, is that he wants much closer relations with Beijing and is willing to back away from the US to get that. Beijing is concerned about US anti-missile defense in South Korea and would be very concerned if the US returned nuclear weapons to the peninsula. South Korea’s Moon has essentially caved to Beijing’s demands.

    China’s leaders will be taking the measure of Trump’s clout during his visit to Seoul. If he can get real strategic, security cooperation from Moon, China will be more inclined to cooperate with Trump’s initiatives. If not, not.

    Xi and his advisers were doubtless pleased by Trump’s offer to negotiate with North Korea. So was Moon. But Trump, unlike Obama, believes in negotiating from a position of strength, not making “feel good” concessions without reciprocity. He won’t do anything that hints he is taking harsher actions off the table.

    The key, then: The visit to Seoul is mostly about Beijing, and all the stops are about Pyongyang.

     

     

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, November 6

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

    Trump in Asia: What Matters about the Trip (a comment)

    The trip has three main goals, all important but in tension with each other

    • Contain or eliminate North Korean nuclear threat to US and US allies (depends on China’s cooperation)
    • Reduce China’s trade surplus with US, ideally by opening China’s domestic market to US exports
    • Deter an expanding Chinese threat in South China Sea (reinforce America’s partnership with nations surrounding China)

    Trump is also likely to meet with Putin, with North Korea, Syria, and Iran as major topics

     Texas church shooting: A crazed, well-armed guy furious with his former in-laws, who worshipped at the church he attacked

    That’s the report from local news outlets in the San Antonio area (KSAT in San Antonio)

    Comment: Some commentators will stress his beliefs (“he was an atheist”). That is not what drove him. Anger and crazed impulsiveness, not ideology, are the drivers here.

     Mueller Leaking: NBC reports he has enough evidence to charge Mike Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser

    Special ZipDialog commentary here

    Another college attack on free-speech: Vassar students smear Wm. Jacobson (of Legal Insurrection blog) because he supports free speech (USA Today)

    Comment: Vassar, like so many small, elite colleges, is suffused with hard-left ideology.

    They should call these schools “Illiberal Arts Colleges.”

    Chicago nearing 600 homicides, most since 2003 (Chicago Tribune)

    How bad is it? The city has instituted a new program to show people how to stop bleeding from gunshot wounds (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: N

    Investigators suspect US journalists were paid to spread materials from the Clinton/FusionGPS/Russian Dossier (Washington Times)

    In U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Fusion GPS, the dossier’s financier via the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign money, is fighting a House committee chairman’s bid to find out if the opposition research firm paid journalists.

    In U.S. District Court in Florida, a self-described dossier victim wants a judge to order the news website BuzzFeed, which published the dossier in full, to disclose who gave it to them. –Washington Times

    Comment: Fusion GPS is fighting so tenacious to prevent any disclosures of their receipts and expenditures, you can’t help but think they might have something to hide.

    Pleading the 5th Amendment before Congress was also a hint.

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Tim Favero for the Vassar, William Jacobson story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, October 22

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

    Japan’s tough, pro-American prime minister, Shinzo Abe, wins overwhelming reelection (Reuters)

    If he completes his upcoming 3-year term, he would become Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. Economically, he has tried to relaunch the economy with monetary easing. Militarily, he has tried to ease the constraints of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

    [Japan’s] U.S.-drafted constitution’s Article 9, if taken literally, bans the maintenance of armed forces. But Japanese governments have interpreted it to allow a military exclusively for self-defense.

    Backers of Abe’s proposal to clarify the military’s ambiguous status say it would codify the status quo. Critics fear it would allow an expanded role overseas for the military.

    Abe said he would not stick to a target he had floated of making the changes by 2020. –Reuters

    Comment: Abe’s reelection, which infuriates China, helps the US in squeezing North Korea.

    Pres. Trump says he will bring “biggest tax cuts ever in the history of this country” (Fox News, Trump interview with Maria Bartiromo)

    Says he thinks he has the votes, emphasizing the cuts but says there will be reform, also.

    Expresses some optimism on health-care changes, praises Lamar Alexander and emphasizes block grants to states.

     UN’s World Health Organization cancels outrageous appointment of dictator Robert Mugabe as “goodwill ambassador” (Washington Post)

    The outcry rocketed around the world after this week’s announcement and seemed centered around one primary point: Can you be a “goodwill ambassador” if the world widely regards you as a violent, tyrannical despot? –Washington Post

    Comment: Some Twitter responses parodied the appointment, suggesting Kim Jong Un as Mugabe’s replacement.

    Battle among Republicans:  McConnell says Bannon, others gunning to knock off GOP incumbents are ‘specialists at nominating people who lose’ (Washington Post)

    McConnell went on to say that the effort of Bannon and others “isn’t going to help President Trump achieve his agenda. He needs a Republican Senate and a Republican House to confirm judges, to pass legislation that is important to him and to the country.” –Washington Post

    Comment: Bannon and his supporters respond that McConnell’s people have not actually passed the Trump agenda.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, September 14

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

    Dreamer Deal Possible: Chuck, Nancy and Donald agree to work on deal to avoid deportations (Washington Post)

    The border wall is not included.

    Democratic leaders announced late Wednesday that they agreed with President Trump to pursue a legislative deal that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and enact border security measures that don’t include building a physical wall. –Washington Post

    Republican leaders are on the outside, looking in.

    And some of Trump’s base is furious.

    In a sign of the potential trouble for the president, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an immigration hard-liner and early Trump supporter, wrote that if reports of a potential immigration deal are accurate, the president’s “base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.” –Washington Post

    Post-Irma tragedy: Eight patients died in south Florida nursing home without power during sweltering heat (Orlando Sun-Sentinel)

    Police have launched an investigation.

    Comment: One larger policy issue: Why doesn’t Florida require nursing homes to have generators?

    The Sun-Sentinel reports that 150 nursing homes (out of 700 in the state) are still without power.

    North Korea threats to reduce US to “ashes and darkness” and “sink Japan” (Reuters)

    Regional tensions have risen markedly since the reclusive North conducted its sixth, and by far its most powerful, nuclear test on Sept. 3.

    The 15-member Security Council voted unanimously on a U.S.-drafted resolution and a new round of sanctions on Monday in response, banning North Korea’s textile exports that are the second largest only to coal and mineral, and capping fuel supplies.

    The North reacted to the latest action by the Security Council, which had the backing of veto-holding China and Russia, by reiterating threats to destroy the United States, Japan and South Korea. –Reuters

    Comment: Meanwhile, there are reports North Korea is preparing another nuclear test.

    US News and World Report College Rankings

    Familiar names, great schools. They compete hard against each other and are not just tops in the US, they are tops in the world (along with Oxford and Cambridge)

    Two Comments: First, students can get a great education at many schools. The important thing is to find one that “fits.” Fit depends on your needs, your interests, and your personality, as well as the school’s strengths and weaknesses and the niches it provides for students.

    Second, I don’t see how you can say Harvard ranks above or below, say, Stanford or Chicago. I think you can say that some schools rank in the very top-tier and others are a half-step back. Even that depends on whether you are interested in biology or French literature.

    You knew it was coming: CEO of Equifax called to testify before Congress (The Hill)

    Prediction: Kabuki Theater. The CEO will be contrite, the Congressmen angry.

    The CEO will say his company takes this very seriously, is really working on these problems, and will help those affected.

    The Representatives will posture for the cameras, expressing the public’s genuine anger.

    Meanwhile, this extraordinary piece of news about Equifax’s internal security:

     

    Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduces bill to make it easier to conduct medical marijuana research (The Verge)

    The Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017 would streamline the process for approving research and increase the national marijuana quota for medical and scientific research. Marijuana has been shown to have potential health benefits such as treating seizures and managing pain. –The Verge

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Mike Lipson for the Equifax BBC story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Labor Day, Monday, September 4

    Articles chosen with care. Local sources when possible.
    Your comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ North Korea The question now is how hard will China push, given that this latest test

    1. Humiliates Beijing, flaunting their open calls to stop, and
    2. Will certainly bring extremely tough reaction from the US and its allies.

    The US will seek very harsh sanctions at the UN, daring China and Russia to show their hands and veto.

    The effect will turn on the scale of the sanctions and the willingness of China (and Russia) to comply in practice, not just in rhetoric.

    For news, link here. (Washington Post)

    China says Trump’s trade threat over North Korea is “unacceptable” (Fox News)

    Comment: The US says the same about China’s behavior toward North Korea.

    Watch to see if China cuts off fuel for a few days. If they don’t, it’s all rope-a-dope game for them, and the US-China relationship will get very tense.

    DACA deferrals for illegal immigrants likely to end six-months from now. Trump action gives Congress time to act (Politico)

    Comment: Nearly all legal scholars agree that Obama’s actions on DACA were unconstitutional and won’t survive a legal challenge.

    So Congress has to act. Trump has not signalled what bill would be acceptable to him.

    Turkey continues to slam Germany rhetorically, as Erdogan ramps up his Islamist dictatorship (Washington Post)

    Comment: Erdogan has recently referred to NATO allies as “enemies”

    Congress returns Tuesday with crushing agenda (New York Magazine)

    • Harvey relief
    • Debt ceiling
    • Funding for major programs that are running out, such as Children’s Health Insurance
    • Tax cuts and tax reform
    • Healthcare (still lurking, hasn’t been addressed)
    • DACA
    • Confirmation of dozens of Trump nominees (all of which the Democrats are delaying)

    Comment: Several of these are must do’s, and the Republicans know it.

    Hong Kong, traditional an economic leader, now slowing in innovation and other areas (South China Morning Post)

    Comment: China, which promised (by treaty with UK), to let Hong Kong govern itself, has effectively scuttled that promise.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, August 30

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

    Kim Jong Un keeps up his threats, calling his recent missile launch over Japan a “meaningful prelude” to “containing Guam” (Fox News)

    The mid-range missile he launched this week is specifically designed to carry nuclear payloads.

    Comment: This deliberate escalation and incendiary rhetoric by North Korea, plus their rapid technical advances, are bringing this issue to a head.

    An environmental mess: A powerful, new herbicide, designed to be used with genetically-modified soybeans–has drifted onto untreated farms, killing their crops (Washington Post)

    The damage here in northeast Arkansas and across the Midwest — sickly soybeans, trees and other crops — has become emblematic of a deepening crisis in American agriculture.

    Farmers are locked in an arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weed killers.

    The dicamba system, approved for use for the first time this spring, was supposed to break the cycle and guarantee weed control in soybeans and cotton. The herbicide — used in combination with a genetically modified dicamba-resistant soybean — promises better control of unwanted plants such as pigweed, which has become resistant to common weed killers.

    The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster. Critics say that the herbicide was approved by federal officials without enough data, particularly on the critical question of whether it could drift off target. –Washington Post

    The problem is dicamba’s toxicity to unmodified plants:

    According to a 2004 assessment, dicamba is 75 to 400 times more dangerous to off-target plants than the common weed killer glyphosate, even at very low doses. It is particularly toxic to soybeans — the very crop it was designed to protect — that haven’t been modified for resistance. –Washington Post

    Comment: Everybody is suing everybody.

    How will “Trump Republican” candidates and Trump himself affect the 2018 Senate elections? (New York Times)

    The news hook is the entry of a Trump ally, Rep. Lou Barletta, into the crowded Republican field against Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey.

    The announcement by Representative Lou Barletta gives Republicans a relatively well-known challenger to Mr. Casey as the party tries to take advantage of an electoral map that heavily favors Republicans. But it also shows the political headwinds the Republicans face: The party’s base voters remain loyal to the president and his agenda, even as the larger electorate drifts away. –New York Times

    The electoral map should favor Republicans.

    Thirty-four senators — 25 aligned with the Democrats and nine Republicans — are up for re-election next year. While Democrats are defending 10 seats in states won by Mr. Trump, only one Republican — Senator Dean Heller of Nevada — is seeking re-election in a state carried by the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. –New York Times

    Will the supplemental appropriation bill for Hurricane Harvey include other items?

    Sen. Ted Cruz and others had claimed that the relief package for Hurricane Sandy included many such items, but that was not the case, according to the politically-neutral Congressional Research. Washington Post report here.

    Correction: Yesterday, ZD reported there had been pork in the final Sandy bill. There was pork in the Senate version (Cruz fought to take it out), but little or none in the law ultimately passed.

    Some good academic news: Several Ivy League professors, led by Princeton’s Robbie George, circulate a public letter telling students to think for themselves

    The letter puts it well:

    The love of truth and the desire to attain it should motivate you to think for yourself. The central point of a college education is to seek truth and to learn the skills and acquire the virtues necessary to be a lifelong truth-seeker. Open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate are essential to discovering the truth. Moreover, they are our best antidotes to bigotry. –Letter to incoming students (link here)

    Comment: The letter itself is excellent.

    The fact that such basic values are currently unfashionable is a fundamental crisis in higher education.

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Ken Freed for the Hurricane Sandy relief bill correction

    ◆ Tom Elia for the Princeton story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, August 5

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

    Special Counsel Mueller’s office ask White House for docs on Mike Flynn; doing a full investigation of Flynn’s financial dealings, especially those with Turkey (New York Times)

    Taking money from Turkey or any foreign government is not illegal. But failing to register as a foreign agent is a felony, and trying to hide the source of the money by routing it through a private company or some other entity, and then paying kickbacks to the middleman, could lead to numerous criminal charges, including fraud.

    Prosecutors have also asked during interviews about Mr. Flynn’s speaking engagements for Russian companies, for which he was paid more than $65,000 in 2015, and about his company’s clients — including work it may have done with the Japanese government. –New York Times

    Comment: Besides Flynn’s vulnerability, the thing to note here is that Mueller’s office appears to be illegally leaking confidential investigation materials to the NYT.

    Venezuela’s march toward complete dictatorship continues (New York Times)

    Hugo Chavez’s successors are rewriting the Constitution to give themselves total power.

    Predictably, the economy is collapsing, people are trying to flee, etc.

    Comment: Sean Penn had no comment.

    US proposes even tougher UN sanctions against North Korea (Channel NewsAsia)

    Vote expected Saturday in UN Security Council after a month of negotiations with China. It will be the 7th set of UN sanctions on North Korea.

    The [proposed] measures that include a ban on exports of coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore, as well as seafood by the cash-starved state. . . .

    The draft text would also prevent North Korea from increasing the number of workers it sends abroad, prohibit all new joint ventures and ban new investment in the current joint companies. –Channel NewsAsia

    The proposal would also blacklist the regime’s Foreign Trade Bank but would not prohibit shipments of oil to North Korea.

    Comment: The EU, Japan, and South Korea have supported US efforts.

    My guess: These sanctions will not stop Kim’s pursuit of nuclear-tipped ICBMs.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan “casts doubt on Pres. Trump’s plan to cut legal immigration” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

    To quote Ryan:

    With baby boomers leaving the workforce, we’re still going to have labor shortages in certain areas and that is where a well-reformed legal immigration system should be able to make up the difference. –Paul Ryan interview with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    Comment: ZipDialog has noted that the proposal to cut the number of legal immigrants is separable from the proposed new point system, focusing on higher skills and English language. Big business does not want the total numbers cut, and Ryan’s comments suggest those concerns have resonance.

    Nissan workers in Mississippi overwhelmingly reject high-profile unionization bid from United Autoworkers (New York Times)

    In a test of labor’s ability to expand its reach in the South, workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi have overwhelmingly rejected a bid to unionize.

    Out of roughly 3,500 employees at the Canton-based plant who voted Thursday and Friday, more than 60 percent opposed the union. It was an emphatic coda to a years-long organizing effort underwritten by the United Automobile Workers, which has been repeatedly frustrated in its efforts to organize major auto plants in the region. –New York Times

    Experienced workers make $26 hour there, well above average wages in the state. Detroit wages are a few dollars higher. Nissan’s contributions to employees’ retirement accounts are similar to those of Michigan automakers, according to the NYT.

    Comment: The majority of plant workers are black, and the UAW had contributed heavily to civil-rights organizations as part of the organizing effort.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, August 1

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

     Comment: What the Scaramucci ouster shows:

    • The initial appointment was another of Trump’s unforced errors
    • John Kelly has quickly asserted control over White House staff, obviously with Pres. Trump’s blessing
    • The White House desperately needs to assemble a stable, competent communications team (Rumors are that Kellyanne Conway could be the new Communications Director; she would be a good choice.)

    ⇒ More at a separate ZipDialog post here.

    If anybody can run this circus, it’s Kelly. The biggest question is whether he can get the Ringmaster to restrain himself. Conway did it for several months as campaign manager. Perhaps Conway and Kelly can do it again. But they are facing an impulsive, temperamental, thin-skinned boss.

     More night-time lights in North Korea show an improving economy, despite sanctions  (Fox)

    Comment: Blame China. They’ve played the US for years. Trump, James Mattis, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pence have all declared that the time for talk–and waiting for China’s voluntary assistance–is over. Easier to say than to do.

    The question is whether any pressure on North Korea, either directly or via China, will stop them? China will only act if they fear a dreadful alternative. The only possible alternative short of war that they might fear is a nuclear-armed Japan. Moving in that direction is obviously fraught with dangers.  Before that, expect more anti-missile batteries, possible shoot-downs of North Korean launches, and economic sanctions against Chinese banks and trading companies.

     Pres. Trump himself dictated Jr’s misleading statement about meeting with Russian lawyer  (Washington Post)

    Comment: It’s hard to be stunned by this White House–or the leaks–but this qualifies. It is almost certainly not obstruction of justice in its own right, but it will undoubtedly attract the interest of Special Council Robert Mueller, who will look for a pattern.

     Venezuela sinking into a chaotic dictatorship, with economy in free fall  (Washington Post)

    Comment: The US is imposing more sanctions and could impose even more stringent ones. If so, expect the Iranians, Russians, and Chinese to step up and offer support in bids for more influence. The Iranians already have big-time connections there, forged under Chavez.

     Alabama inmates escaped using peanut butter. In jam after capture.  (Washington Post)

    They used peanut butter to renumber the jail cells and fool an inexperienced guard.

     Alphabet (Google) working on new way to store lots of energy; alternative to lithium-ion batteries (Bloomberg)

    They have a “skunk works” operation that tries to develop these long-shot projects. The idea here is to send energy to a heat pump, some of which will supercool antifreeze (or some alternative liquid), some of which will heat molten salt. When air from the separate hot and cold tanks are combined, they produce wind vortexes that spin turbines and generate electricity.

    Alphabet is working with prototype plants now and could be ready to work with a manufacturer soon to build a real-world version. The plants could range in size from as small as a garage to as large as a conventional electric plant.

    Besides scaling up, the researchers are looking for ways to build the plan with cheaper materials.

    Storage like this is crucial if renewable energy sources are to play a larger role since most renewables only produce power intermittently (when the sun is shining, the winds are blowing, etc.).

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, July 31

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

     Comment: What the White House Shakeup Means

    It was obvious Priebus had to go. He had failed to impose order on the warring factions in the West Wing, which were leaking furiously to the media.

    He had also failed (through no fault of his own) at the main task for which he was hired: getting legislation passed. As a friend of House Speaker Paul Ryan, Priebus was expected to mediate between the Hill and an outsider President. But there were no legislative triumphs to point to, aside from a Supreme Court appointment and a Health Care bill that passed one chamber.

    What about the new guy? Trump’s choice of John Kelly says three things.

    1. The most important thing now is managing the factions in the West Wing and creating a smooth, efficient work flow for the President.
    2. The legislative agenda will have to be handled by others, not the Chief of Staff, who has no experience on the Hill.
    3. Trump is willing to move decisively on personnel. He fires people. (The obvious exception is the shameful treatment of Jeff Sessions, whom Trump wants out but doesn’t want to fire, for some reason.)

    Firing Priebus was not a bold move, but putting Kelly in that job is. Trump better get this one right. His Presidency is in deep trouble right now, and he needs to right the ship immediately.

    What I’d love to know: What did Kelly say to Trump before taking the job? What guarantees did he need? Military officers are trained to say “yes” to the commander-in-chief. If the President said, “John, I need you in this job,” then Gen. Kelly would be disposed to accept the position. My question is what kind of authority he asked for and whether he confronted the rogue elephant in the room: the guy sitting in the other chair.

     Putin hits back at US sanctions: tells most US diplomats to leave  (Washington Post)

    Comment: There are still plenty of US officials left in Russia, but this is a strong, escalatory response.

    Still, Putin is playing a very weak hand. What’s weakest? His economy, which is a basket case and depends completely on hydrocarbons, which are under tremendous, long-term downward pressure because of fracking and alternative energy. He is dangerous, not because his strength is growing but because he’s a wounded bear.

     Related article: OPEC’s big troubles  (Bloomberg)

    Comment: They have cut back production, but it failed to ramp up prices. Why? US oil-and-gas technology and global tech for alternative energy.

    Trump and Japan’s leader, Abe, talk about “grave and growing threat” from North Korea(Reuters)

    Nikki Haley tells UN that we are “done talking” about North Korea. Wants real action. 

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday and agreed on the need for more action on North Korea just hours after the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said Washington is “done talking about North Korea”.

    Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement China must decide if it is willing to back imposing stronger U.N. sanctions on North Korea over Friday night’s long-range missile test, the North’s second this month.

    Any new U.N. Security Council resolution “that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value”, Haley said, adding that Japan and South Korea also needed to do more. –Reuters

    Comment: We are on the edge of war. The next US action, short of a naval embargo or other act of war, would be serious economic sanctions on any bank or other company doing business with North Korea. This would hit Chinese banks hard because it would exclude them from US currency transactions. The Japanese could take actions against North Korea criminal earnings in their country. And both the South Koreans and Japanese could install more anti-missile systems. 

    Beijing has played a double game here, as it has for years. It offers weak help to the US, but it is not willing to risk the collapse of the Kim regime. The question Trump is posing is whether they will stick to that position if the US decides to put much more pressure on Pyongyang, threatening both war and China’s connection to the world trading system.

    Finally, some good economic news: US economy grew at 2.6% rate in second quarter  (NPR)

    The driver? Consumer Spending