• ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, November 20

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

    Merkel’s Troubles–and Germany’s After her narrow election win, she cannot form a coalition government. Prefers new election (Deutsche Welle, in English)

    The coalition problem was that she needed support from the leftist Greens and pro-market Free Democrats.

    She couldn’t find common ground between them.

    Comment: Her larger problem is that she’s past her “sell-by” date and has a tin-ear for ordinary Germans’ disgust with open borders, which have led to millions of immigrants and serious problems with unassimilated Muslim populations.

     Charles Manson dead at 83. Remembering his victims: Rich, famous, fringe, and random (Los Angeles Times)

    Comment: Unspeakable evil–with the power to persuade others to join his malign fantasy.

    US designates North Korea as state sponsor of terrorism (Politico)

    Iran, Sudan, and Syria are already on the list. It had been placed on the list in 1988 and removed by George W. Bush in 2008 as a carrot during failed nuclear negotiations.

    “This designation will impose further sanctions and penalties on North Korea and related persons and supports our maximum pressure campaign to isolate the murderous regime.

    Should have happened years ago. –Pres. Trump (quote at Reuters, link here)

    Comment: The big question remains: Will China adhere to US-imposed sanctions or call our bluff by cheating on them?

     Sen. Franken: Second woman accuses of “inappropriate touching” (New York Times)

    He won’t resign, says his hometown paper, the Star-Tribune.

     Roy Moore: Obstinate denials despite mounting evidence, stays in the race

    Comment: His refusal to withdraw leaves Senate Republicans in a world of hurt.

    Meanwhile, Moore received support at a press conference, featuring women who have worked with him.

    Unfortunately, all these women have the same drawback. They are adults.

     

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, November 8

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

    ◆ Democrats win big in off-year elections. The most important: a surprisingly large victory in the Virginia Governor’s race

    Comment: NJ returning to a Democratic governor is not surprising. In Virginia, which is shifting from purple to a blue state because of the DC suburbs, the surprise is not Ralph Northam’s win but his 9-point margin over a good Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie.

    Northam’s margin tells me Democrats are motivated, even after a divisive primary. Hillary won Virginia by 5 points. Down-ballot Democrats are also doing very well.

    President Trump’s begins his biggest stop: Beijing

    There are three major issues on the table: North Korea, China’s expansion in the South China Sea, and China’s asymmetrical trade relations with the US.

    Comment: More on this stop as news emerges.

    Texas Mass Killing: “Botched Air Force handling of Texas shooter’s criminal history may be ‘systemic’ issue” (Fox News)

    The 2015 Department of Defense Inspector General report analyzed a sample of 1,102 convictions, including felonies, handled in the military court system and found the Navy, Air Force and Marines failed to send criminal history or fingerprint data to the FBI in about 30 percent of them. –Fox News

    Ratcheting up the financial sanctions on Chinese banks doing business with North Korea (Reuters)

    Senate Finance Committee votes unanimously on these sanctions, just as Pres. Trump lands in Beijing.

    The U.S. Senate Banking Committee unanimously backed new sanctions targeting Chinese banks that do business with North Korea on Tuesday, just before President Donald Trump visits Beijing for the first time since taking office….

    Washington so far has largely held off on imposing new sanctions against Chinese banks and companies doing business with North Korea, given fears of retaliation by Beijing and possibly far-reaching effects on the world economy.–Reuters

    ◆ Curiouser and Curiouser: Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr also met with FusionGPS before and after the Trump Tower meeting (Fox News)

    The story about Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson and Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, comes from one of our best investigative reporters, Catherine Herridge.

    The co-founder of Fusion GPS, the firm behind the unverified Trump dossier, met with a Russian lawyer before and after a key meeting she had last year with Trump’s son, Fox News has learned. The contacts shed new light on how closely tied the firm was to Russian interests, at a time when it was financing research to discredit then-candidate Donald Trump….

    Simpson and Fusion GPS were hired by BakerHostetler, which represented Russian firm Prevezon through Veselnitskaya. –Catherine Herridge for Fox News

    Comment: So, Fusion GPS was simultaneously working for this Russian firm and the Clinton campaign. That could be an innocent coincidence . . . or it could lead to some “synergies.”  So far, Fusion GPS has taken the 5th before Congressional investigative committees and fiercely resisted subpoenas for any records of their financial transactions.

    “Oh, what a tangled web we weave . . . ”

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  • Trump in South Korea: What Does the US Want?

    ◆ What’s on Trump’s Agenda in Seoul? 

    Comment: Mostly North Korea but also some trade issues.

    For the US and its strong ally, Japan, the problem is South Korea’s leftist president, Moon Jae-In.

    He was soft on North Korea before the election, a long-held, principled position. He has been somewhat firmer since then because of Kim’s provocations.

    The main problem, though, is that he wants much closer relations with Beijing and is willing to back away from the US to get that. Beijing is concerned about US anti-missile defense in South Korea and would be very concerned if the US returned nuclear weapons to the peninsula. South Korea’s Moon has essentially caved to Beijing’s demands.

    China’s leaders will be taking the measure of Trump’s clout during his visit to Seoul. If he can get real strategic, security cooperation from Moon, China will be more inclined to cooperate with Trump’s initiatives. If not, not.

    Xi and his advisers were doubtless pleased by Trump’s offer to negotiate with North Korea. So was Moon. But Trump, unlike Obama, believes in negotiating from a position of strength, not making “feel good” concessions without reciprocity. He won’t do anything that hints he is taking harsher actions off the table.

    The key, then: The visit to Seoul is mostly about Beijing, and all the stops are about Pyongyang.

     

     

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, October 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Before the deal was approved

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Kurz will need to form a coalition government.

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

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

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

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

    The New York Times story is here.

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

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

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    Hat Tip to

    Clarice Feldman for the FBI-Russia story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, October 1

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

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

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

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

    Comment: There are four possibilities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Big rollout of the PR side of this on Monday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    BBC story here.

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

    ◆ Today in Islamic Terror: Marseilles train station

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

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

    Comments:

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

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

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  • North Koreans Reach Out to Republicans to “Understand Trump”

    The Washington Post headline: North Korea taps GOP analysts to better understand Trump and his messages

    I wonder if this will be their followup?

    GOP, Democratic Analysts Ask North Korea for Help Understanding Trump’s Message.

  • What Is the Point of Trump’s “Rocketman” Language?

    Most people, included sophisticated foreign policy professionals, think Trump was flying off the handle when he attacked Kim Jong-Un personally.

    Maybe.

    But I want to briefly discuss another possibility which has been ignored: Is there a “mad man” strategic logic in Trump’s personal attacks?

    At this point, it’s simply impossible to say, but we cannot rule it out.

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    The Conventional View

    Most commentators think

    1. Trump was speaking primarily to a US audience, which wants to see America project a strong image in the world.
      • Trump certainly does that often enough.
    2. Trump was doing what he habitually does, attacking anyone who attacks him, as he did on the campaign trail, and going beyond the normal bounds of political language.
      • In other words, it was unprofessional, personal pique.
    Those are the main interpretations I’ve seen.
    Those could well be right, but there is another possibility.

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    Keeping the Language Hot Makes War Seem Credible

    That’s the Only Way to Get China to Act

    This third possibility is interesting and quite plausible for a skilled negotiator.
    3) Trump’s over-the-top language is a rational bargaining strategy. He is continuing to ratchet up the language and pressure because
    • Only China can resolve this issue, and
    • China will not act unless they genuinely fear the alternative is even worse: unilateral US military action

    Since starting a preventive war would be so costly for the US (and everybody else), it is hard to make that alternative credible.

    Indeed, it was not credible under previous US presidents, despite their language that “all options are on the table.” Adversaries did not think those options were credible.

    Trump has already changed that. He has made China fear the possibility of US military action. That’s the reason why China’s central bank acted (or says it has), stopping domestic banks from cooperating with North Korea.

    Still, to keep China working on this, Trump has to keep the pressure high, and he has to make war seem like a real possibility for Beijing, either because the US wages a preemptive war or because Kim starts one accidentally. (Btw, Kim Jong-Un’s “mad man” language has no international strategic rational. It scares Beijing and prompts the US to act, not back down. Of course, Kim’s language may be directed as his generals and other key figures in the regime.)

    Trump’s language does keep the international pressure up. And the hint of a “mad man” in his hot rhetoric turns up the pressure even more.

     

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    Bottom Line: Trump Might Use Hot (Mad?) Language to Make War Seem Credible

    I am not saying that Trump’s language is part of a deeply-considered negotiating strategy.

    I am saying we cannot rule it out–and it would dovetail with his overall approach to North Korea.

    Of course, it’s scary. Of course, it’s dangerous.

    That’s the whole point.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, September 22

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

    ◆ North Korea was sufficiently flummoxed by Trump’s speech that it postponed its own UN speech til Saturday

    The official NK media called Trump names normally heard only at Antifa rallies: “Mentally Deranged U.S. Dotard” (New York Times).

    The word itself is sufficiently odd that the Washington Post had to run an article explaining it. (Link here) Short definition: A person in his dotage.

    His latest threat is an H-Bomb test over the Pacific (Wall Street Journal, subscription)

    Comment: Expect fire and brimstone from the North Koreans at the UN on Saturday.

    This is not going to end well.

    The really big news is that China’s Central Bank has told all the country’s banks to stop all dealings with North Korea. That’s a major step, one Trump himself called unexpected (Reuters)

    It does not mean all banks will comply, but the penalty (from the US and perhaps China) will be severe for cheating.

    North Korea will undoubtedly try to utilize other currency streams: British Pounds, Euros, Gold, Bitcoins, whatever, but I expect London and Frankfurt will follow Washington’s lead on this.

    Comments:

    1. North Korea is very canny in finding and hiding new sources of financing. The US and others will have to monitor transactions very carefully and punish violators harshly.
    2. It is quite likely that Pres. Trump’s very strong speech to the UN and the credibility of US military threats moved China to take measures against North Korea it clearly did not wish to take and has avoided for two decades.

    Raging Bull Jake LaMotta dead at 95. Champion fighter in the early post-war years was subject of Scorsese movie(New York Times)

    Obama Presidential Library getting lots of pushback from black neighborhood (Chicago Tribune)

    Now that Obama is about to build his presidential center in Woodlawn’s Jackson Park, some residents are wary of his ability to transform neighborhoods without doing harm to longtime residents who could end up displaced by gentrification.

    A nasty fight over a community benefits agreement with the Obama Foundation has exposed an unexpected rift between the former president and some of the South Side residents who helped lift him to prominence. –Chicago Tribune

    Comment: Part of the issue is “rent seeking.” Locals want a cut of the action, and Obama won’t sign an agreement with them.

    Another part is that the whole complex, including a fancy golf course, is an upscale project on the lakefront. Pres. Obama had a chance to build it two miles away, in an area with much better transportation and a neighborhood that really needed it.  He preferred the more prestigious site instead. Finally, a lot of the pushback is that activists claim his presidency “didn’t do enough for black people.”

    According to the Tribune:

    At a community forum Wednesday night, a discussion about the proposed agreement morphed into a shouting match over whether Obama actually loves black people. One man in the audience yelled, “No,” while others said he wasn’t necessarily “their brother.” –Chicago Tribune

    ◆ Paging Alex Haley

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