• ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, August 15

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

    The aftershocks of Charlottesville continue

    The main story is the fallout from Pres. Trump’s initial failure to single out the instigators of the fatal attack. He has since issued a full-throated condemnation of the white nationalists, but not until he incurred serious political damage.

    The Washington Post makes an important point: “Turmoil in Virginia touches a nerve across the country

     Kim Jong Un backs down from his threat to Guam.  (Story here)

    Comment: The Chinese probably told him he went too far, but we don’t know the next shoe to fall. Kim has not been seen recently, which may indicate another test is near. In any case, the main problem remains, and there is no indication yet that China intends to resolve it.

    Henry Kissinger, writing an op-ed in the WSJ over the weekend, says the only solution lies in the US and China working out a joint plan to deal with North Korea. The incentive for China is that North Korea’s provocative behavior could lead to nuclear proliferation in the region, which would be very bad for China. (Op-ed in WSJ, subscription)

    Iran announces that it could restart its nuclear program within hours if the US pulls out of the agreement (BBC)

    Comment: Another problem with pulling out: Obama front-loaded all the benefits–ace negotiators, eh?–so the Iranians have already received them.

    Democratic Party flailing: Four-state tour to reconnect with workers (New York Times)

    The need for the Democratic Party and the labor movement to take stock of their historically close alliance became clear after November’s election when Hillary Clinton’s support among union voters declined by 7 percentage points from 2012 when former President Barack Obama was re-elected.

    For months, Democrats have been grappling with how to reconnect with the union and working class vote they once considered their base, prompting former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to lament after the election that “my party did not talk about what it always stood for.” –New York Times

    Comment: For the party of Nancy Pelosi, Tom Steyer, and Keith Ellison to connect with workers, they will need to hire an anthropologist.

    China’s economy continues to cool as Trump Administration looks into its unfair trade practices (US News and World Report)

    Comment: The investigation could lead to tariffs or other punishment. As for Chinese economic performance, it is hard to assess because no serious economist trusts Beijing’s official data.

    Today in teaching

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  • Suddenly, North Korean rockets are much better. Why? NYT says they bought engines from a Russian-linked firm in Ukraine

    The New York Times is reporting important news: “North Korea’s Missile Success is Linked to Ukrainian Plant

    That plant, which has historic ties to the Russian missile program, sold North Korea the equipment on the black market, according to classified assessments by the US intelligence community.

    Such a degree of aid to North Korea from afar would be notable because President Trump has singled out only China as the North’s main source of economic and technological support. He has never blamed Ukraine or Russia, though his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, made an oblique reference to both China and Russia as the nation’s “principal economic enablers” after the North’s most recent ICBM launch last month.

    Analysts who studied photographs of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, inspecting the new rocket motors concluded that they derive from designs that once powered the Soviet Union’s missile fleet. The engines were so powerful that a single missile could hurl 10 thermonuclear warheads between continents.

    Those engines were linked to only a few former Soviet sites.–New York Times

    Comment: This assessment (assuming it is accurate and accurately reported) raises disturbing questions about Russia’s malign role in this crisis.

    If the Ukrainian plant still has strong ties to Russia, then it would not transfer such lethal materials without political approval from Moscow.

    The intelligence report could lead to even worse bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow, already at their post-Cold War low.

    It also raises the possibility (discussed in previous ZipDialog posts) that if Beijing edges away from Pyongyang, then Moscow could step in as a diplomatic supporter.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, August 14

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

    ◆ Quick Update on Charlottesville, which remains the top story.

    1. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are now facing a federal investigation for violating civil rights.
    2. The driver of the deadly car, to be arraigned today, will be looked at closely to see if he was part of a conspiracy
    3. Pres. Trump still being excoriated (across the political spectrum) for his failure to single out the neo-Nazis and supremacists in his statement condemning the violence
    4. National Security Adviser McMaster calls the act “terrorism,” and Ivanka Trump condemns the supremacists in clear language, at the outset
    5. More attention is now focusing on the failure of the police to intervene and stand between the opposing groups. They appear to have “stood down,” much like the police in Baltimore.
      • We need to know why
      • We need to have a clear set of “best practices” for police in these dangerous confrontations

    Comment: It is shameful that the President did not speak out as clearly as his daughter. Yes, the left-wing and anarchist Antifada was there and did fight, but the main responsibility for violence belongs to the extreme right in this case. In other cases, when the responsibility belongs elsewhere, the President should condemn that, too, and do so in clear language.

    Today in Islamic terror: 18 killed in attack in West African state of Burkino-Faso, at restaurant frequented by foreigners (CNN)

     As part of UN sanctions, China bans North Korea iron, lead, coal imports (Washington Post)

    But China also warned the US:

    In an editorial, the state-owned China Daily newspaper said Trump was asking too much of China over North Korea….

    Trump’s “transactional approach to foreign affairs” was unhelpful, it said, while “politicizing trade will only exacerbate the country’s economic woes, and poison the overall China-U.S. relationship.” –Washington Post

    Comment: China is doing the minimum to avoid becoming the focus of international pressure, but not enough to really change North Korean policy.

     Ooooops! Next shoe drops in Google’s controversy over women in tech, and that shoe is polished with irony:

    Google’s international competition for computer coders–“Google Code Jam”–has all-male finalists for 14th year in row (Daily Caller)

    Google uses the event to identify candidates for potential employment, recruiting tech wizards from all over the world—from the Philippines and Japan, all the way over to Russia, Sweden, and across the ocean to Latin America and the United States….

    Every year, tens of thousands of would-be programming masters sign up for the competition—solving programming puzzles in record time. Only the best of the best make it to the final stage…..

    Based on merit alone, the Code Jam does not make any considerations to contestants’ race, gender, political affiliation, or social status. It’s a test of pure skill. –Daily Caller

    Comment: One of the great achievements of the Enlightenment was the shift in how people are selected for top jobs and prizes–away from status and caste (are you an aristocrat? a member of the dominant race or religion?) and toward merit-based selection.

    That achievement is now being challenged without intellectual clarity. That is, some favor affirmative action because it will “level the playing field” and so allow true merit to shine. Others think of it as a benefit that is owed to groups formerly discriminated again; that approach is inherently opposed to merit-based selection. So is retaining preferences well into a person’s career, by which time merit should have already been apparent.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, August 12

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

    Good ole Kim says he’s “on standby to launch” (Fox News)

    If the Trump administration does not want the American empire to meet its tragic doom . . ., they had better talk and act properly.

    –North Korean regime in official newspaper, quoted in Fox News

    Riding tide in New Orleans (NOLA)

    With another rainy weekend looming for New Orleans, the Sewerage & Water Board scrambling to shore up its neglected network of temperamental pumps, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declaring a pre-emptive state of emergency, the national media is casting an eye south in the event that the city experiences a repeat of the flooding that hit the city on Saturday (Aug. 5). –NOLA

    Comment: ZipDialog always tries to use local sources for local news. They do better reporting than fly-in media.

    90th birthday for former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, known as “The Golden Zipper,” long before Bill Clinton (NOLA)

    These are some of the Zipper’s best quotes:

    1983: “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.” (He won!)

    1983: “David Treen is so slow it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes.” (Zing! Edwards defeated Treen.)

    1991: “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important.” (Okay, not exactly a quote. It was Edwards’s informal campaign slogan, thanks to Buddy Roemer.)

    1991: “The only thing we have in common is we’re both wizards under the sheets.” (Edwards was talking about opponent David Duke.)

    1991: “No, it wasn’t that way. He (the author) was gone when the last one came in.” (Edwards was asked about a claim he slept with six women in one night.)

    — quoted in Washington Post (link here)

     Republicans have “tough hill to climb” on tax reform, says GOP strategist (CNBC)

    [Republican strategist Ron] Christie thinks Trump needs to work with McConnell on tax reform, not insult him over social media.

    “If we can’t get anything done in the Congress, and we have the largest governing majority since 1929, it tells you perhaps that Republicans don’t deserve the trust to govern.” –CNBC

    Comment: Ron Christie is exactly right on this. No healthcare reform and no tax reform means the Republicans cannot exactly run on their record.

    Actual headline: “The big loser during the solar eclipse? Solar panels” (Mashable)

    Comment: Wait! Wait! Let me see if I’ve got this right . . . .

     

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  • Actual headline: City Of Chicago Offers Advice In Event Of Nuclear Attack

    Here’s the apocalyptic story (CBS2 Chicago)

    And here is the actual page on the City of Chicago website.

    Let me paraphrase:

    1. You still owe your real-estate taxes and parking tickets, even if your house and car are burnt toast
    2. If you live on the South Side or West Side, remember: you are still at risk of drive-by shootings
    3. If you live near a church with a “nuclear-free zone” sign, you may ignore all warnings. You are safe and smug.
      • Also, please note that even a nuclear blast cannot crack the shell of your moral superiority
    4. Please replace your old City of Chicago flag with the newly-redesigned one below

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, August 10

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

    ◆ How serious is the North Korean crisis?
    Answer: Deadly serious
    My column on the crisis appears today in Real Clear Politics (link here).

    Washington Post headline: “Trump’s threat to North Korea contrasts with calm reassurances of other administration officials” (Washington Post)

    Comment: No. It’s “good cop, bad cop.”

    Trump and SecDef Mattis issue threats.

    Meanwhile, Sec. of State Tillerson holds out hope for negotiations.

    Although these differences could be seen as inconsistency or disarray, the more likely explanation is that the administration is holding out a hope for negotiations as the outcome of military threats.

    Deportation orders up 30% under Trump (Fox News)

    The president has vowed to speed deportations and cut down on the growing backlog of cases. He issued an executive order in January calling for a national crackdown.

    After Trump issued the order, the Justice Department dispatched dozens of immigration judges to detention centers across the country and hired an additional 54 judges. The agency said it has continued to hire more immigration judges each month. –Fox News

    Related story: Newspaper in El Salvador helpfully explains which 18 states illegal immigrants should avoid because “police agencies [in those states] are able to enforce immigration law.” (Daily Caller)

    Manafort’s home is not his castle. FBI conducts pre-dawn raid (New York Times)

    Why such an aggressive move against a white-collar suspect who is already cooperating? The NYT offers some ideas:

    The search is a sign that the investigation into Mr. Manafort has broadened, and is the most significant public step investigators have taken since the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was appointed in May. Investigators are expected to deploy a wide array of similar measures — including interviews and subpoenas — in the coming months as they move forward with the intensifying inquiry. . . .

    Legal experts said that Mr. Mueller might be trying to send a message to Mr. Manafort about the severity of the investigation, and to pressure him into cooperating. –New York Times

    How nasty are the Cubans? Well, they planted sonic devices around the homes of US diplomats, causing them hearing losses (Miami Herald)

    The use of sonic devices to intentionally harm diplomats would be unprecedented. –Miami Herald

    This began in 2016, shortly after President Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry opened relations with Cuba and proclaimed a new day in bilateral relations.

    Comment: These physical attacks on US personnel were known to the Obama administration, though the specific causes were not known.

    Pioneering type 1 diabetes therapy, using immunotherapy, is safe (BBC)

    The disease is caused by the body destroying cells in the pancreas that control blood sugar levels. The immunotherapy – tested on 27 people in the UK – also showed signs of slowing the disease, but this needs confirming in larger trials. Experts said the advance could one day free people from daily injections.

    Patients given the therapy did not need to increase their dose of insulin during the trial. However, it is too soon to say this therapy stops type 1 diabetes and larger clinical trials will be needed. And further types of immunotherapy that should deliver an even stronger reaction are already underway.–BBC

    Comment: Promising but larger studies needed. Note that it slows the progression of the disease; it does not reverse it.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup: Breaking News for Tuesday, August 8

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

    ◆ BREAKING: North Korea now making miniaturized, missile-ready nuclear weapons, U.S. analysts say (Washington Post)

    North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.

    The new analysis completed last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency comes on the heels of another intelligence assessment that sharply raises the official estimate for the total number of bombs in the communist country’s atomic arsenal. The U.S. calculated last month that up to 60 nuclear weapons are now controlled by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Some independent experts believe the number of bombs is much smaller. –Washington Post, reporting on Defense Intelligence Agency

     

    North Korea’s dangerous game: Trump is not Obama (BESA, Israeli think tank)

    Pyongyang uses the buzz that accompanies its ballistic missile and nuclear tests, as well as the obscurity that conceals the extent of its infrastructure for weapons grade fissile materials production and nuclear weaponization, as tools with which to challenge Washington. Trump is not Obama, however. Kim Jong-un will need to tread carefully to avoid provoking an American preemptive strike. — Raphael Ofek for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies

     Robust US economy: Record number of job openings (Bloomberg)

    The gain in job openings underscores the need for workers in an economy that’s continuing to expand. At the same time, the pool of qualified Americans is shrinking and making some positions tougher to fill, one reason economists expect the monthly pace of hiring will eventually cool. –Bloomberg

    Comment: Great news. Now, to get wages moving up and people trained to fill those openings.

     Google fires author of viral memo on the downside of diversity hiring (Bloomberg)

    Google was already being sued for discrimination, and some executives said that, after the memo, they could not “in good conscience” assign some people to work the memo’s author, James Damore. They claimed his memo “perpetuated gender stereotypes.”

    Mr. Damore’s own response, which virtually nobody prints begins this way:

    I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem.
    Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber. –James Damore

    James Damore’s complete, original memo and response are here (Medium.com)

    Comment:

    • Expect him to sue.
    • Expect him to find it hard to gain employment in Silicon Valley.
    • Expect an honest discussion of these issues to become impossible.

    More troubles for Obamacare: Major insurers keep leaving the marketplace (Fox News)

    Exchanges are now down to 3 states. Insurers lost over $1 billion in last two years.

     

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, August 7

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

    China tells North Korea to “be smart” and stop testing its missiles and nuclear devices (Washington Post)

    US Sec. of State Rex Tillerson held out the possibility of direct talks with North Korea “when conditions are right.”

    China delivered frank advice to North Korea, its outcast neighbor, telling Pyongyang to make a “smart decision” and stop conducting missile launches and nuclear tests.

    The statement by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi came on the heels of a U.N. Security Council decision to impose additional sanctions on North Korea and its exports, and it suggested that the American push to further isolate the regime of Kim Jong Un is reaping some dividends. But Wang also called on the United States to dial back the tension. –Washington Post

    Comment: If North Korea continues to test after China’s open statement, Xi and his government will lose face and be forced to react. Still, my guess is that China won’t put harsh pressure on North Korea because it fears the regime’s collapse. The only calculation that will change that? If Beijing thinks Japan could go nuclear or that the US will take military action.

    Baltimore’s community leaders proposed a “weekend without killing.” The city made it til Saturday night (Hot Air)

    Baltimore is on-track for another near-record number of killings this year.

    Unfortunately, the group organizing the ceasefire took to their social media pages to decry the violence but somehow couldn’t resist the temptation to spread the blame around a bit too far.

    “There is a war going on in Baltimore right now. We are experiencing genocide among our African-American males, both by the hands of the Police Department and from one another.” –quoted in Hot Air

    Baltimore’s City Paper reports 205 murders (as of August 2, 2017), about one per day.

    Hot Air’s reporter found only one involved a police shooting.

    And that guy was holding a foot-long knife to the throats of a one year old and a four year old when negotiations finally broke down and the cops took him out. –Hot Air

    Comment:  So, does the statement about a “genocide” by the police look accurate–or like blame-shifting or even incitement? Not a difficult call.

    University of Southern California in midst of a nasty scandal (Los Angeles Times)

    The case [involves] former medical school dean Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito. The [LA] Times reported last month that Puliafito, while leading USC’s Keck School of Medicine, partied with a circle of addicts, prostitutes and other criminals who said he used drugs with them, including on campus.

    The problem is compounded by the fact Puliafito’s behavior had been a subject of controversy for some time, as this headline indicates:

    Complaints of Drinking, Abusive Behavior Dogged USC Medical School Dean for Years–KTLA

    USC had reappointed Puliafito after those complaints five years ago, raising questions about the school’s administrative oversight.

    Entrenched poverty tough to shake in the Mississippi Delta (ABC News)

    Otibehia Allen is a single mother who lives in a rented mobile home in the same isolated, poor community where she grew up among the cotton and soybean fields of the Mississippi Delta.

    During a summer that feels like a sauna, the trailer’s air conditioner has conked out. Some nights, Allen and her five children find cooler accommodations with friends and relatives.

    Comment: The story is about Jonestown, Mississippi, about 15 miles from my hometown of Marks. The poverty in these small towns is grinding, and lives are hard. Otibehia Allen’s life, as it is described in the story, sounds like a modern version of Dickensian poverty.

    But there is something missing from the story, which focuses entirely on poverty, the Great Society programs, and the promises of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

    There is no interest at all in three “elephants in the room.”

    1. Why on earth would a 32-year-old single woman have five children? How can even the best-hearted parent hope to give them the guidance and support they need?
      • Who could manage that, even with lots of money? With hardly any money, how can even the most loving mother give these children the attention and direction they need?
      • Yet having five kids–and beginning to have them as a teenager–is simply taken as a “given” in this article. Nobody seems to be responsible for it. People are just victims.
    2. Why are things in our poorest communities is such bad shape all over the country after five decades of big-government programs designed in Washington to deal specifically with poverty, crime, unemployment, and poor education? The article doesn’t bother asking.
      • That question needs asking because these problems are as pervasive in Detroit as in the Delta. (See the article on Baltimore above).
    3. As heart-wrenching as stories about the Delta or Appalachia are, shouldn’t we be focused on getting people to adapt to a changing environment, to move to where jobs are growing, and to get the skills they need for those jobs?
      • Of course, it would be great if the jobs came to where people already lived. But that’s magical thinking. Gary, Indiana, was built when steel was produced in giant mills. The Mississippi Delta was populated when small farms needed lots of agricultural workers, and they needed to live near the farms because transportation was so bad. If cities can transform their economic base, as Pittsburgh and Chicago have, that’s great. But our focus needs to be on people, not places.
      • Unfortunately, nobody with five kids can move easily. Nobody who starts having multiple kids as a teenager is going to gain many job skills after that. It’s hard to even imagine solutions for people in these terrible situations.

    Please don’t mistake these tough questions for a hard heart. That poor mother and her five children deserve our sympathy. The kids, in particular, deserve our support, all the more so because it is hard to see how they can avoid being trapped themselves.

    But a sympathetic heart doesn’t mean a soft head. It doesn’t imply that well-intentioned policies lead to good results. They might. They might not.

    In America’s poorest areas, things will not get better by repeating the same failed policies, by refusing to confront the cycle of generation-after-generation remaining poor and uneducated, and then well-meaning people strutting with pride over how much we care.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, August 6

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

    UN bans key North Korean exports because of missile tests (Reuters)

    Could cut up to 1/3 of the state’s meager $3 billion export revenue.

    Nikki Haley, America’s ambassador to the UN, offered a weary, pessimistic assessment:

    We should not fool ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem. Not even close. The North Korean threat has not left us, it is rapidly growing more dangerous. –Amb. Nikki Haley to UN Security Council

    Meanwhile, China and Russia sharply criticized US deployment of anti-missile systems in South Korea.

    Related Story: US tells China it will be watching closely to see if Beijing actually executes the promised sanctions (Associated Press)

    Comment: This will only get more dangerous.

    Administration leakers should not be hard to catch, says Washington Post.

    The headline news has been Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepping up the number of investigations and saying that journalists who receive classified information should not be immune if lives are endangered (a questionable argument, in light of Supreme Court precedents).

    The Post, citing cyber-security experts, lists four steps in the investigations:

    1. Find a pool of suspects
    2. Shrink your pool using digital tools
    3. Subpoena and grab personal data
    4. Question and prosecute

    Comment: The key thing to notice about these leaks is that they are not whistle-blower leaks, designed to expose wrongdoing. They are designed either to damage the President or his administration or, alternatively, to win internal battles over policy. Neither is tolerable when the information is classified. The damage to the country should be obvious.

    Gang Warfare: Arch-rivals of MS-13, the Barrio-18 gang are equally lethal (Daily Mail)

    Barrio-18 was founded in Los Angeles and has now spread across the US, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. It has “an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 members across 20 US states and is linked to drugs, murder, kidnappings and other violent crime from Central America to Canada.”

    ◆◆ Two “Dumb Criminal” Stories so breathtaking in their stupidity, I have to include both

    Meth dealer walks into a bank with a $1 million dollar bill (fake, of course) and a deposit slip. What could possibly go wrong? (Daily Mail)

    Comment: Such a carefully thought-out plan, too. Where did he trip up?

     Anthony Thomas is an impressive co-winner of “perp of the day” (New York Daily News)

    Comment: “Does this mean I don’t get the job?”

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