• ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, October 17

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

    Biggest story of the week is just under the radar: China’s Xi is consolidating his power to become most powerful leader since Mao

    Comment: This week’s Party Congress, held every five years, is the moment when Xi will try to push aside many of the constraints installed after Mao to prevent one-man rule. He has already done a lot of that, installing his people in the military and using the anti-corruption campaign to remove adversaries (and leave political friends and family untouched).

    By the end of the week, we’ll know if Xi has succeeded since some rule-breaking will be obvious by then (particularly waiving a rule that would require his political enforcer to retire because of age).

     No Cigar for the Drug Czar: Nominee Tom Marino Withdraws after news reports he weakened an anti-opioid bill (Washington Post)

    The Washington Post/CBS 60 Minutes piece showed he not only weakened the bill, his office was very close to big pharma companies with interest in the legislation.

    Comment: The swift move by Trump was inevitable after the report, given Trump’s focus on the Washington Swamp and the importance of opioid issues to the country and especially to his base.

     FBI Uncovered Russian Bribery Plot Before Obama Administration Approved Controversial Nuclear Deal with Moscow (The Hill)

    • Clintons were involved
    • The FBI kept it all under wraps

    Before the deal was approved

    The FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

    Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

    They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill. –John Solomon and Alison Spann in The Hill

    Austria’s new leader: very young (31), very opposed to floods of new immigrants (x)

    NYT headline: Austria Shifts Right as Refashioned Conservatives Win. Socialists finished third, slightly behind nationalist-populist “Freedom Party”

    Under Mr. Kurz, the staid, traditionally conservative People’s Party was refashioned into a social-media-savvy political movement that attracted hundreds of thousands of new supporters in a campaign focused on limiting immigration and strengthening the country’s social welfare system.

    Kurz will need to form a coalition government.

    The most likely coalition partner appeared to be the nationalist, populist Freedom Party, which initial results showed winning 27.1 percent of the vote. The party complained during the election campaign that Mr. Kurz had stolen its playbook, seizing on issues like limits to immigration and the threat posed to Austrian identity by Islam.–New York Times

    North Korea warns that “nuclear war could break out at any moment” (Bloomberg)

    Comment: Kim Jong Un’s desire for a deliverable nuclear arsenal is comprehensible as a defense for his regime. These kinds of threats are not comprehensible–or are badly misjudged. Presumably, they are trying to move the US off any military option. But Kim’s statements do highlight the very real danger of accident or inadvertent escalation.

     Trump and McConnell show unity . . . at least for now

    The New York Times story is here.

    Comment: It is all tactical, and it’s all about the tax reform bill, which is essential politically for Republicans on the Hill.

    They will also look for other areas to notch some wins, including judicial nominees, which have moved far too slowly through the Senate, as conservatives see it. Democrats have used every delaying tactic on the nominees and Republicans have let them get away with it.

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    Hat Tip to

    Clarice Feldman for the FBI-Russia story

  • Scott Stantis’ Wonderful Cartoon on the Iran Nuclear Deal

    My friend, Scott Stantis, draws consistently insightful pieces for the Chicago Tribune.

    A member of their editorial board, he covers the full range of issues, capturing complex issues in a few well-chosen lines.

    His latest–on the Iran’s peaceful intentions–is brilliant.

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  • Trump threatens network licenses over “fake news”

    False news is bad and fake news is ever worse.

    But, in this case, Pres. Trump’s counterpunch against NBC crosses a line.

    It’s a line we need to uphold to ensure powerful state actors squelch a free press.

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    Why is Pres. Trump’s tweet so objectionable?

    Because it threatens to use the state’s vast powers against his political opponents.

    That threat is the antithesis of constitutional, democratic governance.

    That was the essence of the charge against the IRS during the Obama years: weaponize the IRS.

    That’s the essence of the charges against the Deep State.

    And that is what Trump is doing now (Fox News)

    It is perfectly fine for him to say the news report about his wanting more nuclear weapons is completely wrong. (Link to NBC story here.)

    • The story certainly appears to be false. Gen. Mattis has backed up the President on that point. Mattis’ word is good enough for me.
    • By Wednesday evening, NBC News had not corrected or withdrawn its “exclusive report.”

    It is fine for the President to call this report and others “fake news,” although his repeated use of the term and his broad brush raise troubling questions, both about Trump and about the media.

    But, unless there is direct evidence that the media have knowingly falsified news reports to damage their political foes, the President should never threaten them with loss of their license.

    That’s an abuse of executive power.

    Threats like that from the powerful perch of the Oval Office should be called out for what they are: threats to an open, democratic, constitutional government of laws.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, October 11

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

    ◆ The devastation–human and material–keeps growing from California wildfires

     

    Stand and Deliver: Goodell send letter telling NFL players he wants them to stand during anthem(ESPN)

    No specifics on how the league plans to ensure it or act toward players who do not stand.

    Comment #1: ESPN broke into their political coverage to cover this sports story.

    Comment #2 re Trump vs NFL kneelers: ZipDialog predicted

    (a) the league would cave after seeing the fans’ and advertisers’ reactions,
    (b) Trump was politically smart to make this an issue; most people respect the flag, and ALL his base does; and
    (c) when Trump won on this issue, he wouldn’t be shy about saying so.

     Horny Harvey and Hollywood Hypocrisy

    Harvey Weinstein’s Behavior Was ‘Worst Kept Secret in Hollywood,” says actor (Fox News)

    Comment: Now that he has been destroyed, the powerful people and institutions will finally speak.

    I completely understand why the weak and vulnerable kept quiet; they are victims. But the powerful and well-entrenched who knew about this have no such excuses.

     The next phases of the Weinstein story, as I see it

    Comment: Here are some obvious angles. The question is whether the media wants to investigate, given that they are directly implicated, along with their powerful friends:

    • Democrats who were close to him will have to defend themselves and offer stories about their ignorance (some true, some false)
      • Many are now saying they are “shocked, shocked” to find out this about Mr. Weinstein. Gimme a break.
      • Why did Hillary, Barack, and all the others wait five days after the NYT broke the story before commenting?
      • Why did all the late-night comedians (except John Oliver) maintain radio silence, as Saturday Night Live did? They will jump on Weinstein’s figurative corpse now, but where were they after the story broke?
    • The media will be all over the Weinstein story but they will downplay or ignore the media’s complicity or the Democrats role in it (just as the conservative media will harp on it)
      • The NYT, the most MSM of MSM outlets, deserves lots of credit for breaking the story. But they need to explain why they didn’t dig further a decade ago, when they first had the story. Lots of women were harmed in the intervening years.
    • What about the media outlets, like the NYT and NBC, that had the story and didn’t run it?  What about the gossip sites like TMZ? Why didn’t they investigate this well-known rumor?
    • What about the others sexual harassment and exploitation in Hollywood? Will the media investigate or wait for Gloria Allred? There have been rumors for years about pedophilia, but no real reporting.

    Henry Kissinger meets with Trump. What’s that about?

    Comment: Kissinger  has made one of the most sensible and serious proposals about working with China to resolve the North Korean crisis. He is also the most trusted intermediary to broker a deal between Beijing and Washington and to carry back-channel messages between the two. (Kissinger’s proposal was contained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, subscription)

    My guess: Trump listened to Kissinger, said “great, if Xi is willing to do it. But if he won’t or it doesn’t work, tell him the US will act unilaterally in a wide variety of ways that the Chinese won’t like.”

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Randy Helm for pointing out that the NYT deserves credit for breaking the story

  • Columbus Day–and Its Enemies

    My latest at Real Clear Politics.

    Here’s the link

    Here’s an overview

    It’s a minor holiday, but it celebrates something epochal, beyond the success of one brave explorer. His voyage of discovery–and those of others who quickly followed–forever changed the world: they opened the Americas, North and South, to a permanent connection with Europe.

    That has continued unabated for over 500 years and led to momentous achievements, from mass democracy to mass prosperity.

    Those who attack and deface his statues say, rightly, that tragedy also followed the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

    • Native populations were ravaged by diseases for which they had no immunities.
    • Millions of slaves were brought across the Atlantic to dig the mines and harvest the sugar, tobacco, and cotton.

    We can face those terrible truths and still celebrate the achievements begun by Columbus. The European voyages of discovery forged a trans-Atlantic world. It is a world in which America and its European partners have created unprecedented levels of human freedom, material comfort, and longevity. That’s a legacy worth remembering—and reclaiming.

    (Link here to RCP op-ed)

  • Thanks to the New York Times: They ran my Tweet on “Fearless Girl” prominently below their story

    The story, as you may recall from my ZipDialog post (here), is that the company that erected  inspiring statue of “Fearless Girl” on Wall Street just settled a pay-discrimination charge by the US government.

    The allegation is that they paid women and black executives less than their white counterparts. It didn’t seem to matter if they were fearless or not.

    The settlement amount was trivial for a large financial corporation like State Street.

    But the irony is rich.

    I created a picture about it, wrote the post, and linked to it on Twitter. When the New York Times ran its story on the episode today, they included my tweet just below the story itself on their website.  Many thanks to Carol Felsenthal for letting me know.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, October 1

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

    Trump says his own Sec. of State is wasting his time trying to talk with North Korea (New York Times)

    Trump added a personal insult to the North Korean leader, calling him “Little Rocket Man.”

    The NYT says the President “seemed to undercut” Tillerson.

    Comment: There are four possibilities.

    First, personal pique: always insults adversaries. Not at all helpful here. Could prompt irrational action by Kim.

    Second, it could be “good cop, bad cop.” Quite likely.

    Third, Tillerson is sending a message to Pyongyang, while Trump is sending one to Beijing. Virtually certain.

    Finally, it is possible that Trump thinks, “We will ultimately have to use force here. If so, it is far better if Kim does something that China (and other international actors) consider so provocative that the US must respond. Let’s see if I can goad him into that since it will build international support for something we will have to do anyway.”

    In any case, this situation is lethally dangerous. That’s been true for some time. Trump’s strategy depends on keeping the heat up, not turning it down. That’s the only way to get China to act.

    Trump Administration slashing red tape that slows business growth (Fox News)

    Big rollout of the PR side of this on Monday.

    Trump has directed federal agencies to lower the overall cost of their regulations during fiscal 2018, the Washington Times reported. Specific dollar figures were not available.

    But Neomi Rao, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, told the Times that new rules enacted by the Trump administration have so far saved U.S. businesses some $300 million in annualized costs.

    By contrast, Rao said the Obama administration saddled businesses with $80 billion in costs over eight years.

    Comment: Really important initiative, vastly underreported because there are no visuals and MSM does not like Trump. When they do report on regulations, they emphasize harm to individuals.

    ◆ The pain in Spain lies mainly in . . . Barcelona: Clashes and chaos as Madrid steps in to forcibly prevent Catalonia’s vote to become independent (New York Times)

    Catalonia’s defiant attempt to stage an independence referendum descended into chaos on Sunday, with hundreds injured in clashes with police in one of the most serious tests of Spain’s democracy since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s.

    National police officers in riot gear deployed in thick phalanxes as they fanned out across Catalonia, the restive northeastern region of Spain, to shut down polling stations and seize ballot boxes. –New York Times

    BBC story here.

    Comment: The fallout from the attempted vote and the violence will be serious and ongoing, with ramifications for separatist movements across Europe.

    ◆ Today in Islamic Terror: Marseilles train station

    Chicago Tribune headline: Man kills 2 with knife at French station, yells ‘Allahu Akbar’

    Associated Press headline for the same story: Fatal attack disrupts Marseille train travel

    Comments:

    • The Tribune actually uses the AP story and gives it the correct and informative headline. Kudos.
    • The AP doesn’t just bury the lede. It deliberately makes the headline less informative, presumably for PC reasons

    The Tribune website does not give my attention to the story. It treats it as a minor one. That’s not necessarily wrong. In fact, it tells you that lethal attacks in European public spaces where the Islamist killer yells his religious motivation are now so common that they receive only modest attention unless the death toll is high.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, September 28

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

    Republican Tax Plan: The Essential Features

    The details still need to be worked out through negotiations.

    It is a 9-page framework at this stage, more detailed than previous releases but still not a fleshed-out bill.

    Key features:

    • Lower corporate tax rates: Nominal rates cut significantly–to 20%
      • Whether actual rates for Company X or Company Y are lowered depend on whether previous deductions are eliminated.
    • Fewer personal brackets
    • Much bigger standard deduction for each individual or family
      • Big benefit to lower-income earners
    • Many fewer deductions
    • Keeps big deductions for mortgages, charity, and medical
    • Repeals the Alternative Minimum Tax,
      • Initially meant for a few rich individuals but now affects millions of taxpayers
    • Eliminates the Estate Tax (“death tax”)
    • Repeals deduction for state and local taxes (very contentious)
    • Keeps a special carve-out for hedge fund called “carried interest” (very contentious)

    ◆ The Essential Politics 

    First, the goal is growth, even if it raises projected budget deficits.

    Second, everybody is making hypocritical arguments.

    • The Democrats doubled the country’s debt over the Obama Administration. Now, they are complaining about deficits.
    • The Republicans screamed about debt and deficits during the Obama Administration. Now, most of them say deficits are less important than growth

    Third, the main political arguments are conventional and obvious for both sides.

    • Democrats: “This will only help the rich” (redistribution argument)”
    • Republicans: “Everybody wins when the economy grows faster” (growth argument)

    The New York Times weights in reliably with this analysis headline: Trump Tax Plan Benefits Wealthy, Including Trump. Most analysts agree with this regressive-distribution effect, at least in the initial proposal.

    Big Court Threat to Public Employee Unions (USA Today)

    The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear a challenge to the so-called “fair share” fees public employee unions collect from non-members, posing a major threat to organized labor.

    Unlike the past three times the court has considered similar cases, its five-member conservative majority appears poised to rule that workers opposed to union representation cannot be forced to pay for collective bargaining and other benefits. –USA Today

    Comment: The Republicans really want to weaken the public unions, as Scott Walker’s campaign in Wisconsin showed.

    The unions know it and uniformly support Democratic candidates.

    The legal argument by conservative and moderate union members is that so much of what these unions do is inherently political that the members’ free-speech rights are trampled by forcing them to pay union dues as a compulsory aspect of working at, say, a public school or Department of Motor Vehicles.

    My guess: Compulsory union fees will be ruled unconstitutional violations and national membership in public-employee unions will drop significantly, following the Wisconsin pattern.

    The biggest impact will be on K-12 school policy in the states.

    There will be a longer-term impact in other areas since weaker unions cannot stop the rise of autonomous busses or autonomous lawnmowers and floor cleaners, which will give cities and states more service for less money.

    Megyn Kelly: No thanks, say critics and potential guests, after her terrible start (Washington Post)

    Stars now shying away from interviews after Jane Fonda mess

    Megyn Kelly said on the first episode of her new NBC morning show, which aired Monday, that for years she’d “dreamed of hosting an uplifting show.”

    But just three episodes in, her celebrity guests seem to find the show anything but uplifting. Kelly’s penchant for speaking her mind, regardless of how her words might be perceived, caused two of her celebrity guests to speak out against the host after their respective appearances.

    The most recent was Jane Fonda, whom Kelly pressed to discuss her plastic surgery. –Washington Post

    Comment: One problem is that Fox viewers think she “betrayed” her network and thus her “side.”

    A second is that she was always better at hard-news interviews than soft-focus ones. But her new time slot is tailored for morning uplift, not hard news.

    Third, some media critics have said that she is the kind of woman who appeals more to male viewers than female viewers. But the morning audience is heavily female.

    NBC gave her bucket loads of cash and removed a steady program to give her a slot. They must be slashing their wrists.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, September 19

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

    ◆ Trump’s campaign manager wiretapped. That’s a big deal.

    The story was broken by CNN: Exclusive: US government wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman, starting in 2014 and continuing, off an on, until this year. The tap, authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), would include periods when he was known to speak with Donald Trump. (Manafort also owned an apartment in Trump Tower; that might be relevant because Trump spoke of wiretaps in Trump Tower.)

    There is increasingly strong public speculation that Manafort will be indicted by Robert Mueller’s office.

    At this point, we do not know who the FISA warrant(s) targeted.

    Comment: At this point, we simply don’t know enough about this surveillance. (In fact, the information released to CNN was almost certainly a felony violation of secret proceedings.)

    • Anti-Trump people think the fact that a federal judge would authorize surveillance on such a senior figure in the Trump campaign suggests something very bad was afoot and that collaboration with the Russians may have been Manafort’s aim (if not necessarily that of others in the campaign).
    • Pro-Trump people think this information vindicates his repeated claims that he was wiretapped.
    • And, of course, a lot of people, myself included, want to know more before they reach a conclusion.

    I think a lot of people will agree with Dan Drezner (a centrist and no friend of Trump’s):

    Trump at the UN: Very tough talk. Threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea, calls Kim “rocket man,” and labels Iran a “rogue nation” (New York Times)

    He included terms he had seldom used recently: “radical Islamic terrorism.”

    The full speech is available here on YouTube.

    Comment: Trump’s speech was an unusually blunt, full-throated defense of America’s interests, as opposed to globalism, and included particularly sharp and detailed attacks on Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.

    Critical responses to the speech line up as expected.

    More censorship calls on campus, this time because a professor wrote a scholarly article called “The Case for Colonialism” 

    The article, by Prof. Bruce Gilley of Portland State, was published in a peer-reviewed journal that is very anti-colonial, which presumably thought the piece was serious, well-researched, and would spark scholarly debate. The basic argument does not deny the evils of colonialism but says they must be balanced against the benefits and that anti-colonialism has itself carried high costs.

    Recently, Gilley publicly resigned from the American Political Science Association for its ideological bias.

    Here’s the report at Legal Insurrection.

    Comment: Given the political climate on today’s campuses, especially those on the coasts, what Gilley’s article sparked was not discussion but calls for him to be fired, censured, and tarred-and-feathered.

    Will the End of Syria’s civil war spell disaster in Europe as battle-hardened terrorist fighters return? (BESA Center)

    Mordechai Kedar says “yes” and adds that Iran has now effectively taken over Syria, strengthened Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and given a free hand to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

    Comment: Iran’s expansion across the region was facilitated by the Obama administration and will cause death and destruction for years to come.

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