• 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

     

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, March 6

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

     There are two overriding stories today:

    1. Trump, the Russians, and the FBI (of course)

    2. North Korean missiles fired toward Japan, creating an ever-growing crisis in the region

    The North Korean story has not received the attention it deserves.

    North Korea launches more four missiles; three of them land in Japanese waters  (Washington Post)

    The launches follow a remarkable month in which Kim Jong Un’s regime tested a solid-fuel rocket that it says is part of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States and in which the regime is accused of assassinating the leader’s half brother. Both actions have angered allies and adversaries in the region, and Monday’s launches will only exacerbate that. . . .

    The launches have ratcheted up the tensions in the region. . . .

    In Japan, the government said three of the missiles had landed perilously close to Japan, splashing down within its exclusive economic zone and within about 200 miles of its coastline in Akita prefecture.

    “These missile launches clearly show that North Korea has developed a new threat,” a visibly worried Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo. “We will collect information and strongly protest to North Korea.” –Washington Post

    Comment: The obvious reason this is dangerous is the immediate threat to South Korea and Japan and, in a few years, to the US mainland.  There are now very strong incentives for Japan to build military capacity. That is not good for China, and China knows it. The fact that they cannot or will not curb Pyongyang shows how delicate these issues are.

    There are less obvious risks, too. One is that Kim Jong Un’s willingness to use a weapon of mass destruction in a foreign airport, surely knowing it would be attributed to North Korea, strongly suggests the regime is quite unstable and willing to take those risks to remove other Kim family members the Chinese could install if they engineer a coup. If the regime does melt down, the complications from Chinese and Western involvement will be enormous, with commensurate dangers. 

     The clearest statement of the Trump wiretapping imbroglio is this tweet by Senator Ben Sasse

    Sasse is one of the most intelligent and thoughtful members of the Senate. Elected from Nebraska in 2015, he is a Republican who  never backed Trump.

     

     GREAT MEDICAL NEWS: “Sickle cell anemia patient ‘cured’ by gene therapy, doctors say” (Fox 31 Denver)

    In a world first, a teenager with sickle cell disease achieved complete remission after an experimental gene therapy at Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris, researchers say.

    People with sickle-cell disease, a group of inherited blood disorders, have abnormal hemoglobin in their red blood cells, causing blood to clog in the tiny vessels and organs of the body.

    After 15 months since treatment, the patient — who began therapy at age 13 — no longer needs medication, and his blood cells show no further sign of the disease, according to a case report published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine. –Fox 31 Denver

    Comment: The treatment is a proof of concept and could bring hope to millions. Worldwide, 275,000 babies are born each year with the disease.

     Shocking: The New York Times says criticism of Kellyanne Conway is “sexist,” and that Democrats deserve blame  (New York Times)

    They quickly add that Hillary Clinton receives the same criticism and Republicans deserve blame for criticizing her.

    Misogyny, it seems, remains a bipartisan exercise. Whatever legitimate criticisms can be leveled at each woman, it’s striking how often that anger is expressed using the same sexist themes, from women as well as men.

    Witness the furor over [Conway] sitting on her knees on a couch in the Oval Office during a reception for presidents of historically black colleges. While she drew fire for disrespect, some of the criticisms included digs about her spreading her legs and raunchy allusions to oral sex, Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. Representative Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana, told a now-notorious joke that hers was a “familiar” position in the Oval Office of the 1990s, drawing a rebuke from none other than Chelsea Clinton.–NYT

    Comment: The Times is certainly correct in saying the criticism of Conway has been suffused with contempt, some because she is a woman, some because she is a Republican. In fact, she is the first woman to manage a successful Presidential campaign. She grew up in a lower-middle-class area of New Jersey, raised by a divorced mother and relatives. She deserves enormous credit for her professional success, all while raising a family, including four kids. 

    Turkey’s Erdogan compares German behavior with Nazi period  (Reuters)

    Why such a fierce attack? Because Erodgan wants a positive vote for his April 16 referendum that would abolish the checks and balances on his power that still remain. He has already gotten rid of many, and he wants to remove the rest.

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Germany on Sunday of “fascist actions” reminiscent of Nazi times in a growing row over the cancellation of political rallies aimed at drumming up support for him among 1.5 million Turkish citizens in Germany.

    German politicians reacted with shock and anger. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told broadcaster ARD that Erdogan’s comments were “absurd, disgraceful and outlandish” and designed to provoke a reaction from Berlin. . . .

    The row has further soured relations between the two NATO members amid mounting public outrage in Germany over the arrest in Turkey of a Turkish-German journalist. It has also spurred growing demands for Merkel to produce a more forceful response to Erdogan’s words and actions.–Reuters

     There are real hate crimes, but there are fake ones, too. Kevin Williamson argues that the scale of hate crimes in the US has been exaggerated.  (National Review Online)

    The Left desperately wants Americans to be indecent people who go around attacking Muslims and foreigners with funny names, but, by and large, we aren’t. Campus feminists desperately want “rape culture” to be a reality, and so they invent phony rape stories from Duke to the University of Virginia, making sure to target fraternities and sports teams, which are to them symbols of patriarchy. These stories are given currency and credence by incompetent journalists. –Kevin Williamson in National Review Online

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Graham Lewis
     for the Kevin Williamson article on hate.
    ◆ Eliot Cohen and Bob Pahre for the Ben Sasse tweet on Trump and wiretapping

     

  • North Korean missile launch: Trump Administration’s First Big Challenge

    Launch violates UN Resolutions

    North Korea’s goal: Nuclear-tipped ICBMs that can hit America

    It will probably reach that objective during Trump’s presidency, says Richard Haass, an experienced policymaker and now head of the Council on Foreign Relations in NY. (Bloomberg report here.)

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    Comment: The fact that Pyongyang launched this provocative test while Japan’s Prime Minister Abe was visiting the US is an unmistakable message of defiance.

    Its immediate effect will be to tighten US alliances with South Korea and Japan and to encourage considerably more military expenditures on their part. That, in turn, will raise concerns in China, which could try to halt North Korea but has been unwilling to do so.

    North Korea is also very closely aligned with Iran, which purchases its missile technology from Pyongyang and cooperated with them on nuclear technology.

    The US can ratchet up sanctions on North Korea, of course, but that country has so few ties to the international system that leverage is hard to achieve.

    In short, this is a very dangerous country that several US administrations have tried–and failed–to stop.

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Saturday, February 11

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

     Trump rejects Tillerson’s choice for No. 2 at State, Elliott Abrams  Tillerson wanted Abrams, an experienced strategist who had served in the Reagan Administration and in a more senior position under George W. Bush. Abrams had attracted opposition from both left (predictably) and some on the right for too close to neoconservatives and interventionists. (New York Times)

    Mr. Trump had a productive meeting with Mr. Abrams on Tuesday, according to a White House official and a person close to Mr. Abrams. But after it took place, Mr. Trump learned of Mr. Abrams’s pointed criticisms of the president when he was running for president, the administration official said. Among those criticisms was a column headlined “When You Can’t Stand Your Candidate,” which appeared in May 2016 in The Weekly Standard.  –New York Times

    Comment: Trump’s decision appears to be based on personal pique and disloyalty, not policy issues, but we will learn more over the next few days.

     Newly-confirmed Sec. of Education, Betsy DeVos physically blocked from entering Washington, DC, elementary school (WJLA, ABC7)

    The Washington Teacher’s Union organized a gathering outside of the school, but were not among the protesters who blocked her. –WJLA

    She eventually made it into the school.

    Comment: The Teacher’s Union peaceful protests are fully protected by the First Amendment. They are fine, whether you agree with their viewpoint or not. By contrast, the others, who tried to block DeVos entry and enter her car, deserve full-throated condemnation.

     Trump has very positive meeting with Japanese PM Abe, says US committed to defense of Japan (Reuters via CNBC) The US defense commitment represents a significant change from Trump’s rhetoric as a candidate

    At the same time, Pres. Trump had a positive phone call with China’s leader, Xi, reaffirming Washington’s traditional “one-China” policy.

    Comment: These are significant, positive steps to stabilize both deterrence (protecting Japan) and diplomacy (discussions with China).

     Michael Barone is worried–and for good reason–that liberals are not condemning street violence in the US

    The response of liberal politicians? So far as I know, there has been almost none. At the Powerline blog John Hinderaker links to a Grabien video showing Democratic politicians and celebrities making statements that some may take as endorsements of violence, such as Sen. Tim Kaine’s urging followers to “fight in the streets.” I suspect he would claim that he was speaking metaphorically and only urging peaceful protest. But it would be nice if he could find time to condemn the violence we have seen at Berkeley — and which is increasingly unsurprising on our college and university campuses, which have become the part of our society most hostile to free speech. Michael Barone on Berkeley riots in the Washington Examiner

    Comment: My answer to Barone’s question: Liberal politicians probably do care, but they care more about their political standing. That means they do not want to alienate the highly-mobilized left, much of which supports the violence or is simply too cowardly to speak out again it.

     To help build its self-driving cars, Ford spends $1 Billion to buy majority stake in Silicon Valley startup (Detroit Free Press)

    Comment: Ford is buying the expertise of Argo AI’s founders and their robotics expertise. Ford has already made considerable progress on its “virtual driver system”

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