• ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, June 10

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

     The aftermath of Comey remains “He said. He said.” One he is Comey, the other is Trump.

    Other than Trump’s foolhardy bravado in offering to testify under oath to Mueller, nothing really happened.

    The newspapers generally covered the testimony honestly. The outlier was the New York Times. Here’s my blog post on that:

    How Five Newspapers Headline Comey’s Testimony: Four are Fair, One is Not

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    Comment on Conspiracy Theories: The Comey testimony and its aftermath underscore and reinforce a larger shift in public discourse that is very troubling: the rise of conspiracy theories.

    America’s media in tandem with the Democratic party and progressives are now playing a constant drumbeat of conspiracy theories, mostly about secret collaboration between the Kremlin and Trump to throw the 2016 election.

    We haven’t seen anything like that since Joe McCarthy.

    Trump does not come to this with clean hands. His claims about Barack Obama’s birth certificate were a major conspiracy theory for years.

     Britain’s Tories face a trainwreck. Their call for a snap election has produced a hung Parliament and likely a shaky coalition government

    The headline in The Independent: Theresa May tries to move on after humiliating result as critics begin to circle

    A chastened Theresa May is attempting to move on from her botched election gamble, under intense pressure from members of her own cabinet and Tory backbenchers to dramatically improve her game. . . .

    Ahead of what is promising to be a bruising meeting with Tory backbenchers next week, MPs publicly questioned Ms May’s position and her campaign, with one even branding it “madness”, while others demanded changes to her Brexit strategy and raised concerns about a deal with the Northern Irish DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] . –The Independent

    May met with the Queen and said she intends to form a government. But there is considerable question about her future.

    The Tories could toss her out before the next election, which is likely to come fairly soon.

    Meanwhile, here are the main effects of the British election. It

    • Requires Conservatives to partner with a small party (DUP) from Northern Ireland to form a government
    • Shows the failure of Theresa May’s campaign; she was a bad candidate who ran on her personality, not future policy
    • Rejects the Conservatives positioning themselves as mushy, big-state centrists, far away from Thatcher’s free-market policies.
    • Gives Labour its biggest gains since late 1940s, even though (or perhaps because) the party is headed by a very, very far leftist.
      • Labour’s huge gains under Jeremy Corbyn, an unabashed socialist who supports a number of terrorist regimes, mark a major political shift in the electorate.

     Spain’s Catalonia region (Barcelona and surrounding area) will hold a referendum on leaving Spain (NPR)

    The Spanish central government sees the vote as illegal, so this sets up a confrontation.

    The Washington Post story is here.

    “There is not going to be any illegal referendum that goes against the Constitution,” the government’s spokesman . . . said after a weekly cabinet meeting. “We are facing an increasingly radical strategy that has less and less support.”

    [But Catalonia’s regional president] Carles Puigdemont said the decision to call for the vote was reached after more than 18 months of efforts failed to establish a dialogue with Madrid.

    He also said the vote was nonnegotiable because Catalans backed his plan for secession by voting for his coalition of pro-independence parties at the end of 2015. –Washington Post

    Comment: The region has a long history and its own language, Catalan, that is related to Spanish but different.

     Repealing Obamacare puts the Senate’s centrist Republicans in a bind. An example from Ohio, in his USA Today story:

    Rob Portman’s dilemma: How to repeal Obamacare without undermining opioid fight

    The key problem: any cutbacks in Medicaid, which Ohio expanded as part of the ACA, would harm addicts’ ability to get care.

    Comment: Repealing and Replacing Obamacare depends on solving very hard problems like this. 

     Meanwhile, Politico reports that “Conservatives near revolt on Senate health care negotiations”

    Comment: Staunchest opponents appear to be Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT).

    Skepticism about the bill voiced by Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AK) 

    Republicans have 52 votes. They would need 50 votes plus the Vice President to pass a bill and send it to a reconciliation committee with the House.

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  • How Five Newspapers Headline Comey’s Testimony: Four are Fair, One is Not

    I have written a separate post summarizing Comey’s testimony: what he said, what he didn’t, what he implied, and what I think is significant about it.

    Comey’s testimony lacerated the president and laid the basis for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate obstruction of justice. That and self-justification were his main goals, and he succeeded.

    But Comey’s testimony was careful.

    Here are some fair representations of it.

    The best, I think, is the Wall Street Journal’s because it

    • Puts Comey’s accusation against Trump in the headline
    • Gives it the most prominent place on the front page without stretching it to World War III headline size
    • Makes clear that Comey is saying how he “felt.” The WSJ is not taking a hard-news stance that he is correct or incorrect in that interpretation

    The Chicago Tribune is fair, too. It gives the story more prominence (a perfectly reasonable decision) and puts the hard news in the subheader.

    The headline merely says what we all know: he testified.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Here are two more, equally fair and tough.

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Now, the New York Times.

    The Times’ headline represents everything that is wrong with mainstream media.

    It is an editorial without saying so.

    Why? Because Comey did not testify that Trump tried to “sink” the inquiry.  He was more careful, more lawyers, more “touchy-feely” about what he “felt” (which, of course, is entirely subjective and so cannot be refuted).

    Comey did not say Trump tried to stop the inquiry.

    He didn’t say Trump ordered him to do anything.

    He didn’t report anything like obstruction of justice at the time, as he would have been required to do.

    What he testified was that he felt pressured.

    Comey may be exactly right–or not. We can make our own judgments, but we don’t know for sure.

    His testimony was a lawyerly self-defense, designed to help himself and get revenge on Trump.

    But he did not testify, under oath, that Trump “tried to sink” the investigation. That’s the NYT’s editorial spin.

    Their interpretation may be exactly right, but it belongs on the editorial pages.

    All the other stories above the fold are designed–and headlined–to reinforce the NYT’s editorial viewpoint.

    Their headline should be hard news, and it should be accurate.

    That would be a refreshing change. 

  • London attacks: Media buries the religious motivations. It’s just “terrorism” of some sort

    First, some background.

    News organizations can bury entire stories or part of them.

    That’s not always bad. It may represent solid news judgment that the story or some part of it does not deserve much coverage.

    Too often, though, it represents news bias, in effect editorializing by downplaying what is really significant.

    The reverse also happens. The media can overplay or hype stories, as when CNN played the “lost Malaysian airliner” story for weeks on end.

    To consume news intelligently, it helps to look for these biases, which nudge you in one direction or another.

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    I had a hunch that would happen with the London Bridge attack. The story itself is huge news.

    What I wanted to know was whether the major news organizations would downplay the religious fury behind the attacks, which was known almost immediately.

    Here’s the answer.

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    New York Times lead story is here. At the bottom of paragraph 8, the Times slips this in:

    The police treated that attack, in which 50 were injured, as “Islamist-related terrorism.” –NYT

    That is the first mention of any motivation.

    The Times mentions a related point in the 10th paragraph.

    Then, way, way down in the story, it quotes an eyewitness telling the BBC the terrorists were shouting: “This is for Allah.” (I understand eyewitness testimony may not be accurate so you might be cautious about that in the early going. Turns out there were several witnesses and the motivations were not in doubt–except to the NYT and its readers.)

    And that’s it. Two mentions of Islamic radicalism in the entire story, both in lower paragraphs. That’s the only context the give for this story, other than saying it is “terrorism.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    NBC News, predictably, skips all mention of the Islamist motivations until it includes the quote, “This is for Allah,” in paragraph 9.  The story makes no other mention of the apparent religious motivation of the attackers. None.

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    SHAMEFUL: The Washington Post tops ’em, an impressive feat. Their lead story has no mention of Islamic terrorism at all, and only one glancing mention of that “This is for Allah” quotation somewhere around paragraph 30! (I confess I gave up counting somewhere after paragraph 20.)

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    Fox News also mentioned the ubiquitous quotation in para. 9, but it did something the others did not. It added further information immediately.

    Witnesses told Sky News and the BBC that the attackers shouted “This is for Allah.”

    The attacks came just over two months after the car-and-knife attack at British Parliament and less than two weeks after the suicide bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester that killed 22 people. Britain just recently lowered its official terror threat from “critical.”

    The threats targeting Europe have been among the worst that American intelligence officials have seen in a decade, a U.S. government official told Fox News. Both London Mayor Sadiq Khan and U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert described the attacks as “cowardly.” –Fox News

    Notice that the Allah quote is now attributed to several witnesses, not one. That’s important confirmation.  Second, it notes that this attack comes after two other recent terrorist attacks, though it refrains from calling them “Islamic terrorism.”

    Finally, Fox features another major story on its front web page, devoted to their larger meaning of this string of attacks, calling them a “bellweather of assaults on Western civilization.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    My conclusion is straightforward.

    The MSM, like European politicians, does not want to report awkward facts than undermine their political preferences.

    If they can’t bury the whole story, they at least bury those inconvenient truths.

    My view: Put your political preferences on your editorial pages. Report the news and the crucial context, and cut the PC BS.

  • The Caddyshack Presidency. That’s the undertone of the Times’ sneering coverage of Melania’s fashion

    Commentary: The Times even uses its style pages to snark at the Trumps.

    Their headline: “Melania Trump on Display, Dressed in Ambivalence and Armor” (New York Times)

    Let’s decode:

    “On Display” likens her to a non-human mannequin.

    “Ambivalence” is less clear. But they quickly add she is ” a cipher cloistered in a gilded New York penthouse.” 

    And, of course, she is armored, as opposed to open and authentic.

    The Times continues, plunging in the knife and twisting it:

    And her embrace of the high-end, and refusal to go through the motions of adopting the occasional accessible item, was fully in line with her husband’s gold-toned dollar-sign spiel–Vanessa Friedman in the New York Times

    The phrase “gold-toned dollar-sign spiel” is particularly revealing. First, they use “gold-toned” instead of “gold” to indicate it is fake class, not the real thing you find in old-money living rooms on Central Park and Park Avenue.

    This line of criticism highlights one of the things that most irritates the NYT and intellectuals.

    The Trumps, they sneer, are so brash, so brassy, so . . . nouveau riche. They are not sophisticates like us.

    They are, of course, right that Donald Trump himself is a poster child for brash, brassy, and nouveau riche. He made his name hyping that lifestyle to people who wanted to buy in.

    And, as everyone knowns, Pres. Trump can be blunt, rude and crude.

    But Melania is none of those.. Neither are Jared and Ivanka. (I don’t know enough about the others to say.)

    So why smear Melania except to throw mud on her husband?

    For that noble purpose, they overlook no opportunity.

    The media, intellectuals, and the left basically think Trump and his ilk are Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack.

    If Melania is his spouse, she must be Mrs. Dangerfield.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Trump’s supporters have their own cartoon image of the left, the media, and their ilk. They are Ted Knight’s pretentious Judge Elihu Smails. (The “Elihu” is a nice touch, says this Yalie.)

    Only the NYT would look at Caddyshack and root for the Judge.

    As Carl Spackler would say, “So Trump’s got that going for him.”

    And Trump would reply, “The Times. Oh, they must have been something before electricity.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Post script: After I wrote this, I looked through the NYT files and found that, lo and behold, they had run an op-ed piece calling Trump “The Caddyshack President.” They were not laughing.

    Since the NYT op-ed pages run the gamut of opinions, from A to B, we can assume they agreed with the opinion.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, May 27

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

    ◆ Comment: Trump’s Trip in a Nutshell 

    • Saudi: Completely reverses Obama’s disastrous tilt toward Iran, reorients US policy to fight Iran and terrorism, makes a promising effort to incorporate a large coalition of Muslim states in the fight; good speech, too
    • Israel: Hard to say whether the Palestinian-Israel talks will go anywhere; what Trump did in Saudi does set a positive context, but it is still a stretch; the negatives are that Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas will do everything they can to stop it, and the Palestinians have no effective government to make peace with, nor has their population come to grips with the far-reaching and permanent concessions they will have to make; the Israelis have no confidence that a peace deal would be adhered to or give them more security
    • NATO: Telling the Europeans the hard truth that they need to pay up is good. What’s bad is Trump’s failure to restate the core principle of NATO, that an attack on one is an attack on all (Article 5). That omission could send a catastrophic signal to Russia about the vulnerable Baltic states, which are NATO members. The only reasonable explanation is that Trump is signaling the Europeans that, if you don’t pay up, you cannot expect us to treat you as full alliance partners. Very risky business.

     Jared Kushner’s talk with Russians during transition included possibility of establishing back channel to discuss issues such as Syria  (Washington Post)

    Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports. . . .

    The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

    The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

    Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team. –Washington Post

    Comment: Initial public interest has focused on the idea of a “back channel.” That’s not what’s important here; back channel communications are common. What’s important here is two things. First, the idea of using the Russians’ equipment to communicate this is amazingly amateurish and reckless (or at least at seems that way to me, as a non-professional in secret communications with adversaries). This scheme was probably Flynn’s misjudgment and Kushner’s inexperience. Second, it says the Trump team was extremely concerned the Obama administration was monitoring everything they had to figure out a different way to communicate securely.

    A third issue is bound to come up. What did they want to talk about? If they were talking about Syria, you could criticize them for undermining the sitting president. If they were doing anything that affected the business interests of private parties–and there is no indication they were–then that would be corruption.

     Hillary reappears at Wellesley Commencement, bitter, and attacking Trump (Washington Post)

    Comment: This has to be a Republican plot. It has to be.

    Only the Republicans could possibly gain from having Hillary out there hectoring the crowds, her shrill voice and tone-deaf delivery proving she still cannot give a decent speech, despite her having received tens of millions for giving them. (That’s a cruel joke, of course. She was paid because she and Bill provided access to power. It was a corrupt, rent-extraction game on a vast scale.)

    For Democrats, the real problem is that she reminds people of the none-too-glorious past and makes it harder for the party to develop new faces for the future. To recharge things, the Democrats need some new voices. It would help if they were not yet living in a retirement community on Social Security and a Reverse Mortgage.  

     US, worried about North Korea, plans a test shoot-down of ICBM  (ABC)

    Comment: The dangers from North Korean nukes are real and present. Their last test was a solid-fuel rocket (which means it can be launched quickly) and went to a very high altitude (which means it can already hit targets as far away as Guam).

    To kill these intercontinental missiles, which leave the atmosphere, is different from killing shorter-range missiles.

    The US has been working on this incredibly complex technical task since Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). The latest iteration is what they will be testing.

    There is a partisan-political dimension here, too, aside from the need to fund the program. Now that America needs a serious anti-missile defense to protect against a North Korean attack on the continental US, people might want to look back and ask who has opposed, undermined, and underfunded that research at every stage over the past three decades. These political opponents, unlike North Korean missiles, won’t be especially hard to identify.

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  • NYT leaks on Manchester terror bombing pale beside their Scoop on the D-Day Invasion

    Sure, there’s a lot of furor about the New York Times needlessly publishing secret police information about the Manchester terror bombing, hampering the on-going investigation. (Washington Post)

    Pres. Trump wants the leaks investigated, and rightly so. The US leaks caused the Brits to immediately suspend sharing information about terrorists, something vital to US homeland security. Beyond that, they damage the trust essential between US and British intelligence.

    Critics charge (rightly, I think) that the Times published the terrorist’s name and crime scene photos out of badly misguided editorial judgment. Some Times’ readers may enjoy it, but the editors surely knew it would damage the frantic race to track down the members of the bomber’s cell.

    All true. So is the loathsome conduct of US spies who illegally shared this secret information, serving no public purpose.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Still, it all pales beside these two amazing NYT scoops from June 1944.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, May 21

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

     My quick take on Trump’s Trip:

    There are two key elements to Trump’s trip, in my opinion.

    The first is to reorient US policy in the Middle East after what most of the region considers the disastrous Obama years.

    Pres. Trump is saying “we are back and we oppose Iran.”

    In return, Trump wants (and expects) local partners to start cutting off terror funding from their locals and participate in the larger battles against Iran and terrorism.

    This stage of the trip, now completed, went very well and included a full-throated speech by Trump that touched the right issues without stepping on toes. It ended, significantly, with “God Bless America,” a phrase seldom uttered in the Land of the Two Holy Places.

    The speech was far-better received than Obama’s famous speech in Cairo, which was a prolonged apology for American policy and included ample references to the Koran. Those were overshadowed by his weak stance toward friends, even weaker stance toward enemies, and refusal to give the speech unless the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood could sit among the dignitaries–another of his disastrous miscalculations, as the region quickly came to see it.

    Trump’s second goal is to reestablish strong ties with NATO, while still pressing the Europeans for more payments.

    His visit to Israel does not have such clear objectives; we’ll know more soon.

    The Vatican trip is simply for show.

    ◆ Further comments: Dan Pipes calls the Saudi speech “pretty good”.

    Pipes is not an easy grader, so that’s a high mark. His praise is related to Trump’s reorientation of US policy toward Iran and Islam more generally.

    But he has some withering criticisms, too, calling the speech “incoherent” and “neither eloquent nor insightful.”

    It’s farcical to announce the opening in Riyadh, the headquarters of Wahhabism, of a “Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology.” –Daniel Pipes

    As always, he is well worth reading.

     Conservative media owner Sinclair is buying the Tribune’s broadcast TV stations. The MSM does not like it.

    The NYTimes has already opposed it, vigorously. Now the Washington Post does, too.

    Here’s the WaPo headline: Sinclair’s TV deal would be good for Trump. And his new FCC is clearing the way.

    When French voters resoundingly elected a centrist president rather than a right-leaning antiglobalist this month, one reason may have been the nation’s news media.

    As a French newspaper editor commented: “We don’t have a Fox News in France.”

    The United States certainly does have one. Pretty soon, it may have the equivalent of two.

    Sinclair Broadcast Group has struck a deal with Tribune Media to buy dozens of local TV stations.

    And what Fox News is for cable, Sinclair could become for broadcast: programming with a soupcon — or more — of conservative spin.

    Already, Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation. If the $3.9 billion deal gets regulatory approval, Sinclair would have 7 of every 10 Americans in its potential audience.

    That’s too much power to repose in one entity,” Michael Copps, who served on the FCC from 2001 to 2012, told me. –Margaret Sullivan, Washington Post media columnist

    Comment: There is a real possibility Sinclair will form a national, conservative network to rival Fox, which has struggled recently.

    You would expect Fox to be grumpy. Nobody likes competition.

    But opposition by the Washington Post and New York Times is different. They don’t oppose Sinclair because it will compete with them for revenue. Their opposition is ideological.They oppose Sinclair because it will compete with them for hearts and minds. 

    Still, you have to be amused when the paper owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos trots out anti-trust reasons.

     World Health Organization moves around in style, spending more on travel and upscale hotels than on fighting AIDS  (NY Post)

    The UN health agency blows around $200 million a year on travel costs so its honchos can fly business class and stay in five-star hotels — more than what it reserves for battling some of the world’s biggest health crisis, the AP reports. –NY Post

    The travel budget was also larger than the amount they spent fighting malaria or TB. They did spend more fighting polio.

    Comment: The WHO seems to have adopted Marie Antoinette’s motto. They should remember: it did not work out well for her.

     NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio honors a Marxist-Leninist, Puerto Rican terrorist  (PJ Media)

    Ron Radosh lacerates Pres. Obama for releasing the miscreant, de Blasio for honoring him, and the NY Times for papering over the evil:

    A few days ago, a New York Times headline informed readers that the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade held in New York City  would honor Oscar Lopez Rivera, a person they described as a “long-jailed militant” and a “nationalist” — certainly  a misleading description of the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist and terrorist.

    If you’re wondering how this could have happened, you should thank President Barack Obama, who paid off any debts he had to the far left by granting Lopez Rivera clemency in the last few days of his administration. –Ron Radosh at PJ Media

     The real story is much hotter than the AP headline: “California Democrats take aim at Trump, GOP Congress  Well, d’uh.

    Here’s the real, crude, and disgusting story:

    In a sign of the vigor of the party’s distaste for the president, outgoing party Chair John Burton, a longtime Democratic lawmaker and powerbroker known for his blunt and profane manner, extended two middle fingers in the air as the crowd cheered and joined him.

    “F— Donald Trump,” he said. –AP

    Comment: Read that again to see what bias looks like. This crude, foul treatment of a democratically-elected leader is called “a sign of vigor.”

    Ask yourself this, if the Republican convention in Texas or Minnesota had chanted “F**k Obama” and held up middle fingers, do you think the Associated Press would have called it “a sign of vigor”? Not a chance. They would have blasted it with their biggest cannon.

    If you treat the same event differently, depending on whose ox is gored, then your reporting is biased.

    That’s one reason Trump’s backers are incensed that the MSM, which was somnolent during so many scandals in recent years, has come out of hibernation now that they have found a President they can hate.

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Tom Elia
    for the California Democrats story

     

  • ZipDialog for Wednesday, May 17: Making Sense of the News about Trump, Comey, and Russia

     The two big stories are about Pres. Trump:

    (1) The discussion with then-FBI Director Comey about the Mike Flynn investigation, and

    (2) The discussion with the Russians about ISIS.

    Let me offer comments on each, rather than a regular news roundup.

    My goal is to say what we know and don’t know about each and put their importance and potential consequences in some perspective.

     Comment on FBI Director Comey’s private meeting with President Trump

    The meeting was in mid-February, the day after Flynn was fired as National Security Adviser

    The most grievous possibility is that Trump was asking Comey to stop the investigation, which could be seen as obstruction of justice. That’s a very serious charge.

    Comey claims to have written a memo-to-self after the meeting. He held it secretly for three months and then had friends leak it to the press on Tuesday. The anonymous friends read excerpts from the memo and did not release it to the press. They kept their own identities secret, as well.

    Since it was Comey’s own memo, the leak had to come from him. No one besides Comey and the friends though whom he is leaking has actually seen the memo. We don’t know if he wrote memos on other meetings with Trump (or with others), but he probably did.

    I suspect this memo and any others he wrote will be subpoenaed. That could get very interesting. The Democrats, in particular, will enjoy the circus and the stench of scandal, using it to block the Trump presidency.

    Personally, I am disturbed Trump even broached the subject of the Flynn-Russia investigation with Comey.

    Excluding Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the meeting casts further doubt on the propriety of the President’s behavior.

    But there are problems with interpreting the information we currently have as an attempt to obstruct justice, which is how the Democrats and their favorite media are spinning it.

    • First, if there was an attempt to obstruct justice, Comey had a clear legal obligation to report it. He did not. That suggests he thought it was not such an attempt.
    • Second, Comey never discussed this potential obstruction with the second-in-command at his agency, which he presumably would have done if it were a disturbing issue or a close call.
    • Third, Comey never threatened to resign, a threat he famously made during the George W. Bush administration over a DOJ decision. He presumably would have done so–or told his associates about his doubts–if he thought Trump was trying to block an FBI investigation.
    • Fourth, Comey gave very detailed briefings to senior Congressional investigators about the Russian investigation and never mentioned it.
    • Fifth, Comey did not leak this bombshell memo while he was employed at the FBI. He kept it private for three months and only disclosed it after being fired. That means he either did not think the information sufficiently damning or else he thought it was his “job insurance” in case Trump wanted to fire him (a very disturbing possibility, reminiscent of J. Edgar Hoover). Right now, we simply don’t know why he kept it secret, especially if he thought it was so important.
    • Sixth, it is possible that Trump’s statement was less a request to kill the investigation of Michael Flynn (which would be obstruction, if that was Trump’s specific intention) and more a vague aspiration that he hoped this mess would end soon with Flynn cleared. (Again, I do not think the President should say any such thing to the leader of that investigation. That’s true even if his statement falls well short of obstruction.)
    • Finally, we know that the FBI investigation has continued full-throttle and that the former second-in-command, now heading the agency temporarily, said in public testimony that no one has attempted to impede the FBI inquiry. That’s vitally important.
      • If Trump were attempting to obstruct the investigation, it seems likely he would have done more. Of course, the Democrats say he did: he fired Comey. But he did so long after the “bombshell” meeting, so it is hard to connect the two.
      • Comey has also said that he didn’t get the additional resources he needed for the investigation. But that has been rebutted by the acting director (who says he has adequate resources) and the deputy AG (who says flatly that Comey never made such a request).

    Bottom Line:

    1. Trump’s political enemies see the whole episode as more evidence of Nixonian malfeasance, a wonderful chance for hearings that put Trump and the Republicans on the defensive, and a great way to impede and undermine Trump.
    2. Trump’s friends see it as something like an attempted coup by Comey, the intelligence agencies, the sore-loser Democrats, and their friends in the media.
    3. Expect many more shoes to drop, including a grand jury investigation of Russian financial ties by some former Trump campaign aides.

    ◆ Comment on Trump and the Russia Leaks

    Now, several days after the news broke, we still don’t know all the details. But we can reasonably conclude that Trump shared some highly-classified information with the Russians. Although Trump has full authority to do that and did not disclose “sources and methods,” he seems to have spoken without fully recognizing the sensitivity of the information or clearing it in advance with his national-security team.

    After the meeting, they called a couple of the US intelligence agencies to clean up after the fact. Some senior people in those agencies almost certainly were the ones who then leaked that information to the media, vastly compounding the damage as well as committing felonies by disclosing the secret information.

    The New York Times and Washington Post played this story as a huge Trumpian error, endangering US national security. But they never explained how, other than saying that such leaks were terrible and, because the leak came from a US ally, it could endanger that relationship.

    My assessment: Trump may have shared too much; it is hard too say since we don’t know the details publicly. If he did, then it was probably a combination of inexperience handling this classified material and an overestimation of our common interest with the Russians.

    But there is a huge irony here. The media’s main claim is that Trump endangered the US with his leaks.

    But it was the WaPo and NYT that spread that information around the world (via leaks they received) and it was the NYT that went further and identified the US partner who “owned” the intelligence, the Israelis. If the information Trump gave the Russians truly jeopardized the US and was a major violation of our security, then what exactly was the justification for publishing detailed descriptions of this secret data, which shares it not only with the Russians but also Iran, ISIS, and everyone else?

    Bottom Line:

    1. Trump may have made a mistake, but it doesn’t look like a huge one (from what we know so far). It may have been done out of hubris, inexperience, or overestimation of our potential to work with the Russians but not out of malice–and certainly not treason as some unhinged commentators have said.
    2. The media, the Democrats, and Trump’s other opponents, including many traditional conservatives, have exploited his error, exaggerated its impact, and actually compounded the problem by publishing additional classified materials, contradicting their claim that they were only worried about the national-security impact of Trump’s (presumed) error.

    ◆ Bottom Line on the two big stories taken together: the Comey meeting and the Russia meeting:

    This whole ruckus–the damage he inflicted on himself, the damage his adversaries are inflicting on him–destabilizes his presidency, sucks the oxygen out of his policy initiatives, splits the Republican party (whose elected officials don’t know whether to back him or back away), and weakens the country.

    If there is real fire beneath the smoke, the damage will get worse. Much worse.

    On the other hand, if Trump’s supporters think he is being railroaded out of office without conclusive, damning evidence, they will see what they feared all along: a Washington establishment that runs the country, regardless of what the electorate says–an entrenched, unelected elite determined to fight dirty to retain its power.

    Given the already-deep cleavages in the country, either alternative poses serious dangers to America’s consensual, constitutional order.

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  • 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 Friday, May 12

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

     Comey Commotion: Neither side’s story survived intact–and Comey didn’t do so well, either (a comment)

    • Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he intended to fire Comey, regardless of what the DOJ report said. That completely blows up the story the White House press office has been peddling that pinned the decision on Rod Rosenstein, the new number 2 at DOJ. Rosenstein’s memo gave Trump cover and may have changed the timing, but this was Trump’s doing. He said so himself.
      • And many sources are saying the ultimate cause was his frustration that the Russia investigation didn’t wrap up. That, too, is a serious blow. He should not interfere with such investigations. Ever. Period.
    • The Democrats’ narrative suffered an even more serious blow, in my opinion. The entire logic of the Democrats’ position is that Trump fired Comey as part of a coverup. The No. 2 at FBI, who is now running the show, testified to Congress that the investigation is a high priority and that it had plenty of resources to do the job. He also said that there had been no pressure from the White House on the FBI’s conduct of the investigation. That makes the obstruction-of-justice claim against Trump and his aides look tenuous, at best. And it makes Comey’s claim he needed more money for the investigation (see below) look bad.
    • Comey himself doesn’t look so good in the day’s news, either. He said that he asked Rosenstein for money $$ for the investigation. Rosenstein says, flatly, that such a request was never made. And McCabe (the #2 at the FBI, married to a Democratic politician) said there was already enough resources. So Comey’s statement, which supported the idea that Trump and his administration were trying to block the investigation, collapses.
    • Comey also told Trump several times he was no under investigation. We might not believe Trump’s statement on this but it was confirmed by the top Democrat and Republican on a Congressional Committee, who said Comey told them the same thing about Trump. It is unclear whether the FBI Director should ever make such disclosures.

     The New Yorker has a brilliantly clever cover. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the political perspective, artist Barry Blitt deserves credit for a mordant pen.

     More biased coverage at the NYT. Sun rises in East.

    The story is headlined: “In a private dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey Demurred” 

    To see the bias in that pitch, just look at what the story actually says.

    • There were only two people in the room at that dinner: Trump and Comey.
    • Comey says, “Trump demanded loyalty from me. I, brave soul, refused.”
    • Trump says, loyalty was never even discussed.

    I have no way of knowing what happened in the meeting. You have no way. And the New York Times has no way. But look at their news headline. Comey is telling the truth, they are saying; Trump is lying. That’s possible. But it is not certain.

    The headline should have read “Comey says Trump Demanded Loyalty. Trump says the issue never came up.”

    Here’s the story, which is more accurate than the editorializing in the NYT headline:

    Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.

    The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.

    As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

    Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.

    The White House says this account is not correct. And Mr. Trump, in an interview on Thursday with NBC, described a far different dinner conversation with Mr. Comey in which the director asked to have the meeting and the question of loyalty never came up. It was not clear whether he was talking about the same meal, but they are believed to have had only one dinner together. –New York Times

    Comment: Is there anybody at the NYT who knows the difference between reporting and commentary? If there is, she’s not anywhere near the masthead.

     Quotas, Quotas, Quotas!! Freshman Senator wants mandated diversity on everything in Congress (Fox News)

    One of the U.S. Senate’s newest members is proposing to shake up the chamber by mandating “diversity” quotas for everything from staffs to committees.

    A proposal by Nevada’s freshman Democratic senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, could mimic efforts in corporate America. . . .

    “You just have to walk in the room and look at the Senators that are there — the 100 Senators, right? You could see the lack of diversity.”

    Comment: I’m absolutely opposed to discrimination on the usual prohibited grounds. And I appreciate diversity on multiple dimensions, including not everybody working on Capitol Hill being a lawyer (as, of course, Sen. Masto is).

    But, Sen. Masto, as I understand it, Senators are selected by an alternative mechanism. So, how does Sen. Masto plan to mandate her kind of diversity there. Btw, some democracies actually do mandate such gender diversity, requiring parties to put up slates that meet their regulatory standards.

    Typically, when these mandates go in, we get upper-middle-class, highly educated people who check off different boxes for some things, while we ignore all the other similarities among them.

     Former Rep. Corrine Brown stole big-time from the charities associated with her. Now, she’s been convicted  (News4Jax, Jacksonville, FL)

    She said that she never knew where the money was coming from; her staff handled such things. The staff testified otherwise. The jury didn’t buy her story.

     North Korea, still claiming the US (under Obama) tried to assassinate Kim Jong Un, demands the US hand over the culprits  (Washington Post)

    Comment: This won’t end well.

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    ZipDialog will post less frequently for the next few days, as I travel the friendly skies. Sarcasm off.