• 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.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, May 5

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

    No punning pictures of mayo in kitchen sinks for the “Cinco de Mayo.”

    Yesterday, no comments on “May the Fourth be with you”

    You’re welcome.

     A Comment on Health Care: Repeal and Replace, Relief and Regrets 

    ZipDialog will feature specific elements of the Repeal-and-Replace bill over the next weeks. For now, though, I want to comment on the overall concept.

    • Obama’s achievement. It is easy to see the mammoth problems with the Affordable Care Act. The ACA did not meet the basic promises Obama made to pass it (you can keep your doctor and your existing insurance), is financially unsustainable, and is now melting down. But that wreck should not obscure what Pres. Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid achieved. After the ACA passed, most Americans came to believe that they have a right to healthcare and to the insurance policies needed to pay for it.  That right extends to the poor and to people with costly pre-conditions. It is politically perilous to remove that very costly new right/entitlement. Except for the Freedom Caucus, even fiscally-conservative Republicans are unwilling to risk it. That’s what the fight among conservatives is about.
    • Democrats are perfectly happy with the mess created by Obamacare and would be even if Clinton were president. (Well, I should say the ones who remain in office. Many were defeated because they voted for it.) If Hillary was president, the current mess would probably lead to single-payer. The D’s would certainly press for it. With Trump, it leads to a bipartisan lock-in for a vast new entitlement, which will be there forever, in some form or other. Since the hybrid public/private arrangement the Republicans are trying to fashion may not work, the Dems could end up with single payer anyway. If it new bill does not pass, they will certainly pin the failure on the Republicans, and so will many voters. If the bill passes and some people have to pay more or get less coverage, the D’s will blame the R’s, and so will some voters. In a country as angry and divided as America today, it is much easier to be the party out-of-power, as R’s are learning.
    • False comparisons. The Democrats and mainstream media will favor comparisons between any new Republican bill and the current ACA promises. The problem is that these are comparisons between a hypothetical Republican plan and an nonexistent Obamacare future. The current ACA is simply not sustainable. To say that “2 million people will lose benefit X or Y” is to assume that they would retain it under Obamacare. But that plan is falling of its own weight, so those people would lose the benefit anyway.
    • The falseness of the comparisons probably does not matter to most voters. If they were promised their preexisting conditions were covered, then they will hold Trump and the Republicans accountable for covering them–and paying for it.

    ◆ This political no-win situation is why the NYT headline reads: G.O.P. Cheers a Big Victory. But Has It Stirred a ‘Hornet’s Nest’? 

    Comment: Yes, but failing to act would have stirred it, too. The big questions now are

    • Whether the R’s can pass anything that gets signed into law?
    • Whether too many people are disappointed? and
    • Whether the program is financially sustainable?

     North Korea accuses US and South Korea of plotting to kill Kim Jong Un  (New York Times)

    Says it was a vast, $20,000 plot. That’s right, $20k.

     Trump to make first foreign trip: Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Vatican before visiting NATO headquarters and G7 meeting  (CBS)

    Comment: In Saudi Arabia, he will try to erase the region’s fears over their abandonment by Obama and his tilt toward Iran. That’s crucial. The NATO meeting will presumably mix his reaffirmation of the alliance with his complaints about free-riding.

    We don’t know what he plans for Israel and how much it will involve Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. The broader goal, as Trump said on Friday, is to build a “coalition of friends.” That coalition will be directed against Iran and Islamic terrorism. (It should be noted that Trump still uses the term “Islamic terrorism” but far less often.)

     Trump fires the White House “chief usher,” hired under Obama but usually considered non-political. The job involves supervising all White House “personal” staff

    The Washington Post says she was the first woman and features her picture, showing she is African-American. They have a historian quoted saying how unusual the firing is.

    Comment: It is only speculation, but here’s my guess about the motivation: the Trump people are concerned that Obama hirelings are leaking. They already know insider leaks are a problem, so they are putting in somebody they want to do the hiring and firing.

    UPDATE: The person let know, we find out, was a Hillary loyalist. Trump wants a loyalist of his own. That’s what the Daily Mail reports.

     George Will writes a very strong column, basically saying Trump is a no-nothing idiot  (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

    It is urgent for Americans to think and speak clearly about Donald Trump’s inability to do either. This seems to be not a mere disinclination but a disability. It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence. –George Will

    Comment: Whatever you think of Will’s judgment here, it is important to note that his opinion represents an important view among traditional conservatives–and not just Democrats. Part of it, I think, is about Trump’s anti-intellectual, populist style. Part of it is because Trump has never been a part of the conservative movement, a movement with deep intellectual traditions that George Will knows well and respects immensely. Part of it is because of traditionalists’ never-ending revulsion at the nouveau riche and their gold-plated faucets. They wish the arrivistes would depart, and quickly.  Note that these objections are different from those of centrists and progressives.

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    Thanks to Philip Hummer for the George Will column

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 2

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

     Trump offers to meet with North Korea leader under the right conditions.  Even says he would be “honored” to meet him. (Washington Post) 

    Why the sweet talk about one of the world’s most noxious humans?

    Comment: My guess is that Trump and his aides are trying to give Kim Jong Un a face-saving way out, even as the US ratchets up the pressure. Trump would never meet with Kim unless the deal itself was already set.

    It’s all a long shot in any case. Everything hinges on China, and the only reason China will pressure Pyongyang is the now-credible fear that, if Beijing does not act, Washington will.

    Who knows if the whole thing will disintegrate? Still, Trump and his team have handled this carefully, so far, and have managed to assert leverage from threats that were simply impossible under Obama and the Bush administration (which was tied down in Iraq).

    To put it simply: Trump is coupling his coercive diplomacy with a carrot.

    Brexit: Brits and EU off to a bad start. Strong words at Downing St. meeting between PM Theresa May and European Commission Pres. Jean-Claude Juncker (BBC)

    The UK will not enter into “a briefing war” with the European Commission over Brexit talks, Tory sources have said.

    It follows reports in a German paper of repeated clashes between Theresa May and Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at a Downing Street dinner.

    EU sources claimed UK misunderstanding of the talks process, and ignorance about how Brussels works, could lead to no deal being agreed on the UK’s exit. –BBC

    Comment: These will be complicated, difficult negotiations. Each is a huge trading partner of the other. But the EU does not want to set an example that it is easy to leave the union. Nor does it want to see EU nations, currently living in the UK, forced out.

     Dozens of Putin’s opponents killed over the years. USA Today says those “cast suspicion on Vladimir Putin”

    What do they have in common? They are among 38 prominent Russians who are victims of unsolved murders or suspicious deaths since the beginning of 2014, according to a list compiled by USA TODAY and British journalist Sarah Hurst, who has done research in Russia.

    The list contains 10 high-profile critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, seven diplomats, six associates of Kremlin power brokers who had a falling out — often over corruption — and 13 military or political leaders involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including commanders of Russian-backed separatist forces.. –USA Today

    Comment: Looks like a previous leader passed along his advice.

     Why are US corporate earnings so high when the economy looks weak, CNBC asks.  Short Answer: International Earnings in a strong global economy.

     How is Europe’s problem with Islamic terror going? Not Well.

    The US State Department just issued a travel alert for the whole continent. (Reuters)

      Just heard Elvin Bishop singing “I’m Old School,” with the great line,

    Don’t send me no email.

    Send me a female.

     

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, April 30

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

     The White House correspondents had a dinner. Nobody cares.

     North Korea launches another test missile. Everybody cares, even though the launch failed.

    It was the fourth failure in a row. But it’s the thought that counts.  (CNN)

    The launch came immediately after Sec. of State Rex Tillerson went to the UN to criticise North Korea and shortly after the communist state conducted a major live-fire military exercise.

    Even failures, like the recent ones, can teach Pyongyang scientists something. They are working hard on the project. The US estimates they will produce a nuclear-capable missile that can strike the US within 4 to 8 years.

     Pope Francis visits Egypt, where Christians are under constant threat from Islamists despite protection from the Sisi regime  (Crux) The Catholic site, Crux, says the visit may be one of those “big deal” moments and says the biggest recent change is the “mounting frustration of ordinary people here with terrorism and violence.”

    Comment: The Pope’s visit is all the more important because most Egyptian Christians are Coptics, not Catholics. 

     Turkey’s Erdogan: No more Mr. Nice Guy. Fires another 4k officials, saying they were somehow involved in last summer’s coup (or faux coup). (BBC) 

    1,000 worked in the Justice Ministry, which seems increasingly misnamed.

    The latest sackings follow the suspension of more than 9,000 police officers and the arrest of 1,000 more last Wednesday on suspicion of having links to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

    President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Mr Gulen of instigating last year’s coup attempt, a charge the cleric denies. –BBC

     Four US states still haven’t bounced back from 2008-9. Economies in Louisiana, Wyoming, Alaska, and Connecticut are smaller than in June 2009.

    Several others have stalled recoveries: Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and West Virginia. (CNBC)

     A simple Israeli invention to treat “resistant hypertension.” It tricks the body into modulating its own blood pressure (Israel 21c)

    Approximately 75 million Americans have hypertension, and more than five million of them are resistant to drug therapy. Worldwide, it’s estimated that one billion people have elevated blood pressure not adequately controlled by medication. –Israel 21c

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Thomas Lifson
     at American Thinker for the Israeli invention story.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, April 29

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

     North Korea responds to US criticism at United Nations by launching a test missile. It blows up, their 4th straight failure

    The Reuters headline has it exactly right: North Korea test-fires ballistic missile in defiance of world pressure

    North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.

    U.S. and South Korean officials said the test, from an area north of the North Korean capital, appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March. –Reuters

    Comments:

    • If someone is hacking these launches, they are doing a good job.
    • China’s reaction here is crucial. If Kim did this after he was warned by Beijing, he will pay for it.
    • Trump is playing the China card correctly. His public position is “China and the US are working together on this.” That does more than save face for China. It says, subtly, that if China cannot stop North Korea, it is Pyongyang that is showing up Beijing, and Beijing won’t want to let that happen.
    • Sending Tillerson to the UN was important. It says to the world: “This is on our front burner.”
    • At some point, the US will have to decide whether to include Chinese entities in any sanctions aimed at North Korea. All North Korean connections to the world, meager as they are, go through China. Any sanction against Chinese entities, even a small move against a small bank, meant as a signal, would risk future collaboration with China on the North Korean issue. So, the US will probably hold off on that for a while.
    • What has been missing in the analysis: those missiles aimed at South Korea and Japan could also hit China, and Beijing has to worry about that if North Korea continues its nuclear program.

     Despite all the happy talk, the US economy grew very slowly in the first quarter. Under 1%.  (New York Times)

    The reason: a sharp, unexpected slowdown in consumer spending. The NYT offers a sensible explanation of the political and economic consequences of the 0.7% growth number:

    The softness last quarter also provides crucial ammunition for the Trump administration’s arguments that big tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks are necessary for the economy to grow the way it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

    Tax cuts, regulatory relief, trade renegotiations and an unfettered energy sector are needed “to overcome the dismal economy inherited by the Trump administration,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Business and consumer sentiment is strong, but both must be released from the regulatory and tax shackles constraining economic growth.”

    The first-quarter fade is also sure to be noticed by the Federal Reserve as it contemplates whether to proceed with two more interest-rate increases planned for this year. –New York Times

     MS-13 Murderous Drug Gang targeted by DOJ. Jeff Sessions tells them: “We are coming after you”  The South American drug cartel has spread across the US, branched into other criminal enterprises, and committed a string of murders recently on Long Island. (Fox News)

    Comment: They are major profiteers from the opioid epidemic and were among the targets of candidate Trump’s famous “bad hombres” comment.

    Politically, the Trump Administration is wise to focus on gangs like this. US citizens are being victimized, and even the staunchest defenders of open borders don’t want to defend the entrance of criminal gangs like MS-13.

    Bernie calls Barack’s Wall Street paydays “distasteful”  (CNN)

    Comment: Sanders made the comment from his office, not one of his three homes.

    Elizabeth Warren has made similar comments about Obama’s high-priced speeches to financial executives.

    Pres. Obama’s spokesman, Eric Schultz, responded,

    Obama will continue to focus most of his post-presidency on writing a book, giving speeches and “training and elevating a new generation of political leaders in America.” –CNN

    Comment: Neither Sanders nor Warren will want to go too far here. They want to keep up the heat on Wall Street for their progressive base, but attacking the former President, who is very popular among Democrats, is not a game with much upside for them.

    Comment: Democrats certainly need a new generation of political leaders, the ones Obama’s spokesman is promising.

    • The most popular Democrat is not even a member of the party. He is a Socialist.
    • The current, elected leadership is all drawing Social Security
    • Rising D’s in their 40s and 50s were wiped out en mass during the Obama presidency. His record of grooming future leaders is, ahem, not strong. 

     Marine Le Pen, in the runoff for France’s presidency, faces more stench from her political base, the National Front

    After Le Pen advanced to the runoff last Sunday, she resigned her leadership of the National Front. Her successor was Jean-François Jalkh. In on-the-record interviews in 2000, he denied the Nazis used poison gas to kill millions in concentration camps. When those comments were publicized this week, Jalkh denied making them. But they were on tape. So, now, Mr. Jalkh has decided to spend more time with his family and has been replaced by the mayor of a northern industrial town. The search is undoubtedly on to see if he said what he really thinks to anybody who recorded it.

    The story is in the Washington Post.

    Comment: Le Pen is an underdog in the runoff, but her presence at the top of French politics is a very disturbing sign.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, April 28

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

     Trump Warns That ‘Major, Major Conflict’ With North Korea Is Possible  (New York Times) The interview was with Reuters and everyone is reporting the same lede.

    Comment: The policy is to make the US threat credible, including the real possibility of war, since that is the only way to get China to move away from their long-standing policy of unflinching support for the Kim Family Enterprise. China has not been happy with young Kim, but they have feared a regime collapse even more. Now, they realize that an even worse outcome–war–could happen if they don’t use leverage.

    Trump has been very careful to say the right things about Beijing and hasn’t gratuitously insulted Kim. Plus, there are steady hands on the security side, even though it would be much better if the State Dept. had its top Asia appointments in place. 

     Government Shutdown? Ryan makes that less likely by postponing healthcare vote until the shutdown issue is resolved (Washington Post)

     South Carolina acts against campus anti-Semitism, despite opposition by pro-Palestinian groups  (The State, SC) The state House bill

    which requires S.C. colleges to use a U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism when investigating alleged civil rights violations on campus, was OK’d Thursday by a Senate panel. –The State (South Carolina)

    The governor has said he will sign it into law.

    Comment: EVERY campus has well-organized, single-minded, virulently anti-Israel groups. They sprang up simultaneously on all campuses a few years ago and troll every pro-Israel event. 

     Eliz. Warren “troubled” by Obama’s $400k fee from Wall Street firm for one-hour speech (ABC News)

    Irony alert: She said so in a radio talk promoting her book.

     Amazon, Google release great corporate results, buoy markets Reuters report on Amazon here. Their report on Alphabet (Google) here.

     Trump orders Sec. of Ed. Betsy DeVos to end federal government’s “top-down mandates” and restore local control of schools (USA Today) Devos’ top adviser, Rob Goad, explain the logic

    Since our founding, education was intended to be under state and local control. In recent years, however, too many in Washington have advanced top-down mandates that take away autonomy and limit the options available to educators, administrators, and parents. –USA Today

    According to Goad, Trump’s Executive Order gives the Dept. of Education the power “to modify anything that is inconsistent with federal law.”

    Comment: Good idea, but this is just posing–so far. The Sec. of Education already has the power to “modify anything that is inconsistent with federal law.”

     

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Robert May
    for the South Carolina bill on anti-Semitism

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 27

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

     Trump goes BIG with proposed tax cuts

    New York Times: “Trump Proposes Sharply Cutting Tax Rates for Individuals”

    The plan is still broad strokes, rather than details, but the strokes are bold.  The point men are Steven Mnuchin at Treasury and Gary Cohn at the National Economic Council.

    The proposal envisions slashing the tax rate paid by businesses large and small to 15 percent. The number of individual income tax brackets would shrink from seven to three — 10, 25 and 35 percent — easing the tax burden on most Americans, including the president, although aides did not offer the income ranges for each bracket.

    Individual tax rates currently have a ceiling of 39.6 percent and a floor of 10 percent. Most Americans pay taxes somewhere between the two.

    The president would eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, a parallel system that primarily hits wealthier people by effectively limiting the deductions and other benefits available to them. –New York Times

    The Times also has a perceptive story: Trump’s Tax Plan Is a Reckoning for Republican Deficit Hawks

    The White House insists that economic growth will cover the cost, which could be as high as $7 trillion over a decade. But the question will dog Republicans and could fracture their party as they face the prospect of endorsing a plan that many economists and budget analysts warn will increase the deficit. –New York Times

    Comment: The main story on tax cuts is riddled with editorial attacks on Trump and often personal ones. The opening line of the lead story is that the tax cuts benefit the rich. And all the stories emphasize the NYT’s speculation–and that is all it is–that the cuts will benefit Trump personally. The implications are that he is self-dealing and that this plan is just another “favor-the-rich, Republican plutocrat” idea. They also love to follow the “benefit the rich” with the words “like Donald Trump.” They have given up all pretense of distinguishing their hard-news reporting from their editorial stance. The difference is the first thing student journalists learn.

     US THAAD anti-missile system, sent to South Korea, to be active within days  (CNN)

    Comment: The US has also sent major naval assets to the area, while China and Russia have deployed significant land forces, possibly fearing an influx of refugees if the Kim regime collapse. But also a signal to Kim Jong Un that he is facing pressure on multiple fronts. 

     Obamacare repeal: House GOP factions making progress, Senate Republicans still an obstacle.  Politico reports: GOP senators not so keen on House’s Obamacare repeal

    The House may finally be on its way to scrapping Obamacare, but don’t expect the Senate to go along: Any plan sent over will undergo major surgery — and survival is far from assured.

    The hurdles in the upper chamber were on vivid display Wednesday as House Republicans celebrated their breakthrough on the stalled repeal effort. The compromise cut with House Freedom Caucus members won over the right flank, but the changes will almost surely make it harder to pick up votes in the more moderate-minded Senate. –Politico

    Comment: The pressure to get this done will be enormous. The GOP knows that they face electoral disaster if they don’t pass their biggest promise of the past seven years.

     How good is the economy in Austin, Texas? “Employers struggling to find workers who will take less than $15 an hour” (KXAN)

    The story also notes, oddly, that unemployment there has crept up slightly in the past few months.

    Comment: When I was in Austin this winter, I asked some workers at a fast-food chain what the starting wage was. “$12 an hour.” I often ask that question when I travel since the starting wage at a McDonald’s or Dairy Queen is the effective minimum wage in the area. 

    I draw two lessons from the Austin story.

    First, the only lasting way to raise the minimum wage is to strengthen business demand for workers, which means making it easier for them to do business and prosper. That’s the Texas story, in a nutshell.

    Second, if unemployment is creeping up (though still very low in Austin) but businesses cannot find workers, then something is wrong. Either people don’t have the right skills or there are disincentives to work. Either way, those are problems that need solutions.

     First settlers came to America 130,000 years ago, long before previous estimates, according to a new study.  (Science News)

    An unidentified Homo species used stone tools to crack apart mastodon bones, teeth and tusks approximately 130,700 years ago at a site near what’s now San Diego. This unsettling claim upending the scientific debate over the settling of the Americas comes from a team led by archaeologist Steven Holen of the Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and paleontologist Thomas Deméré of the San Diego Natural History Museum. If true, it means the Cerutti Mastodon site contains the oldest known evidence, by more than 100,000 years, of human or humanlike colonists in the New World, the researchers report online April 26 in Nature. –Science News

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Michael Lipson
     for the Austin, Texas, story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, April 24

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

     French elections: For the first time in modern history, both main parties were defeated in first round; Centrist Emmanuel Macron faces right-wing nationalist Marine Le Pen in the May 7 final ballot.  

    This from France 24:

    French centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen have qualified for the second round in the French presidential election with 23.7 percent and 21.7 percent of the vote respectively.

    • Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen have qualified for the second round of the French presidential election, according to early results.
    • French President François Hollande has called Macron to congratulate him.
    • Conservative leader François Fillon conceded defeat and called on supporters to vote Macron
    • Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon, who got just 6.2% of the vote, said he took full responsibility for the election drubbing. –France 24

    The Associated Press says:

    French voters shut out the country’s political mainstream from the presidency for the first time in the country’s modern history, and on Monday found themselves being courted across the spectrum for the runoff election.

    The May 7 runoff will be between the populist Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron, and French politicians on the moderate left and right immediately urged voters to block Le Pen’s path to power. . . .

    Both center-right and center-left fell in behind Macron, whose optimistic vision of a tolerant France and a united Europe with open borders is a stark contrast to Le Pen’s darker, inward-looking “French-first” platform that calls for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the French franc.

    European stock markets surged on the open as investors welcomed the first-round results, with Macron favored to win. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wished Macron “all the best for the next two weeks.”–AP

    Big week coming in Washington: Looming deadline to avoid government shutdown, Trump promises to roll out tax-reform plan this week, and the negotiations on health care continue.  Fox News report here.

    The Hill reports that “Top Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms” Democrats say that is a deal-breaker for them.

    Comment: I don’t see a Republicans willing to risk a shutdown for it, either. At least a significant number in both the House and Senate will think it’s the wrong fight right now.

     Krauthammer on US leverage in the North Korea crisis  (National Review Online)

    His main arguments:

    • It is not a fake crisis.
      • He argues (as I did here last week) that North Korea is headed for a nuclear breakout that would be irreversible.
      • He fears that deterrence might not work because we cannot be sure the Kim Regime is rational.
    • The US has strong cards to play, short of war, by pressuring China. As Krauthammer puts it:
    • Chinese interests are being significantly damaged by the erection of regional missile defenses to counteract North Korea’s nukes. South Korea is racing to install a THAAD anti-missile system. Japan may follow. THAAD’s mission is to track and shoot down incoming rockets from North Korea but, like any missile shield, it necessarily reduces the power and penetration of the Chinese nuclear arsenal.
    • For China to do nothing risks the return of the American tactical nukes in South Korea, which were withdrawn in 1991.
    • If the crisis deepens, the possibility arises of South Korea and, most important, Japan going nuclear themselves. The latter is the ultimate Chinese nightmare. These are major cards America can play.

    Our objective should be clear: At a minimum, a testing freeze. At the maximum, regime change. –Charles Krauthammer at National Review Online

     Venezuela meltdown, on edge of civil war

    The NYT headline is “Armed Civilian Bands in Venezuela Prop Up Unpopular President

    Comment: The word “leftist” appears for the first time in paragraph 5. The word “socialist” first appears in paragraph 19, referring to Hugo Chávez “vision of a Socialist revolution to transform Venezuela’s poor neighborhoods.”

    No word yet from political analysts Sean Penn or Danny Glover.

     “Union chief asks public to withhold judgment on American Airlines flight attendant”  (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

    The attendant is

    accused of “violently” snatching away a baby stroller from a mother, inadvertently hitting her with the stroller and narrowly missing her small child on a Dallas-bound flight from San Francisco on Friday. –Fort Worth Star-Telegram

    Comment: “We know you have a choice of airlines to smash your head in. We’re glad you chose ours.” 

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, April 22

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

     There are four big, dangerous big international stories:

    1. Reports that China is squeezing North Korean gasoline supplies
      • If true, Beijing is sending an unmistakable signal
    2. Reports that Iran has a secret new facility to develop nuclear triggers for its future bombs
      • The report comes from a dissident group that has been accurate in the past (story here)
    3. French elections Sunday that could undermine the European integration project
      • Two of the four major candidates in Sunday’s election will go into the runoff
      • Three candidates have Russian backing
      • Two of those could undermine the European integration project and pull France out of its (partial) NATO membership
      • The implications of those withdrawals would be grave and would transform European and world politics . . . for the worse
    4. Turkey’s Erdogan using a fraudulent vote count to seize all power in his country

      • Ataturk’s project, begun a century ago, was to create a secular state
      • It never became a full democracy, but it was not a full dictatorship, either
      • Erdogan, who is fundamentally reversing Ataturk’s project, has “coup-proofed” his military, taken control of the judiciary, and a diminished role for the legislature
      • To complete this consolidation of power, he will have to repress a restive population and hold together a country on the verge of splitting apart

    These are obviously not “one-day stories,” and ZipDialog will stay with them and highlight what’s most important about them as they unfold.

     Pyongyang, North Korea: Gas stations sharply restrict purchases, suggesting China is reducing supplies  (Fox News)

    China would not confirm or deny.

    It is the main source of North Korea’s energy.

    Comment: For China, the difficult task is to get a stubborn Pyongyang to change policies without breaking the regime, which is not in China’s interest. Doing too little risks deeper American involvement, which is not in China’s interest either.

     Michigan doctor, wife arrested for (allegedly) conspiring to perform female genital mutilation  (Fox News)

    According to the criminal complaint, some of Attar’s victims, ranging from ages 6 to 8, are believed to have traveled interstate to have the procedure performed.

    Female genital mutilation is prevalent in some majority Muslim countries and is sometimes called “cleansing” by its practitioners. It involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, often performed without anesthesia. It is designed to ensure females remain virgins until marriage.

    According to a 2013 census by the Population Reference Bureau, approximately 500,000 women and girls in the United States have undergone the procedure or are at risk of the procedure–Fox News

    The Los Angeles Times reports:

    International health authorities say female genital mutilation has been performed on more than 200 million girls, primarily in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. –LA Times

     The inside story from lawyers who brought down Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes before him  (Washington Post)

    The accuser was wavering. She wanted to go public . . . but Perquita Burgess was afraid, her attorney Lisa Bloom said.

    The attorney worked hard to convince Burgess to go public, asking her explicitly to do what Rosa Parks had done. Then, according to the WaPo

    [Bloom] also explained to her client in stark terms what she hoped to accomplish: “The mission was to bring down Bill O’Reilly.” –Washington Post

     American Airlines: Video of flight attendant who “whacks a mother with a stroller while she holds her twin babies and reduces her to tear” (Daily Mail)

    Comment: This is why market competition is so great. First, United Airlines drags a passenger off the plane. Well, in a cutthroat market, you cannot expect American Airlines to stand still. It’s great to see them step up their game and start smacking around their customers, too. They must be poaching some of the ace customer-service folks from United.

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  • “Can You Hear Me Now?” Trump Team Voices Credible Threat of Force Against North Korea

    My op-ed at The Hill discusses the challenges of coercive diplomacy.

    The central question of the piece:

    Why has the United States has fundamentally changed its strategy toward the North Korea, given the risks of the new strategy?

    My answer:

    The short answer is that the Trump Administration has concluded that time is on North Korea’s side, not ours. Temporizing, they think, will only magnify the dangers as Pyongyang steadily develops its intercontinental missiles and miniaturizes the nuclear weapons that sit atop them.

    Washington’s new strategy is to direct military threats at Pyongyang via Beijing, which dreads a war on the peninsula.

    The hard part is to resolve the issue without actually using force, which could lead to vast casualties.

    In making these threats, Trump has already achieved a huge advantage over Pres. Obama.

    The advantage? Trump’s threats to use force are credible. For the first time in years, the Chinese and North Koreans–and America’s friends in the region–have to take that seriously. So should Americans as this knife-edge drama unfolds.