• 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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  • 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: 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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  • Russia enters the North Korea issue–against the US

    What that means and why Putin did it

    Yesterday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley spoke very strongly against North Korea’s nuclear program and ICBM tests, which violate more than a dozen resolutions from the UN Security Council.

    Today, the US began circulating a statement to Security Council members to impose new sanctions on Kim Jong Un’s regime.

    Russia nixed it behind the scenes, arguing that the missile launch had not be verified as an intercontinental missile, even though North Korea said it was and the US verified it. (Report here at the Washington Times)

    Comment: Should make for an interesting meeting between Trump and Putin this week.

    Three larger possibilities:

    1. Russia is signaling Pyongyang that, if China offers less than full-throated support, then Moscow is ready to become a much more important ally.
    2. Putin probably wants to know what Trump will offer in other areas, probably Syria, in exchange for backing the resolution
    3. The Russians are still furious with what Obama did after the 2011 UN resolution about Libya; they think that, after the resolution passed, the US and NATO went beyond their promises on military action; hence, they don’t want to give the US an open door now

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, June 29

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

     Sex charges against top Vatican official (Fox)

    Cardinal George Pell, head of Vatican finances and the most senior Catholic in Australia, has been charged with sex offenses. He will return to Australia’s state of Victoria and vows to fight the charges. He calls them “relentless character assassination.”

    Comment: This is grim, sad stuff, if the charges can be proven.

     Closing in on the leakers who are giving highly-classified materials to the media to sink the Trump administration and prove the Obama administration was effective in dealing with Russia, Iran, and other problems

    In a very important story, Adam Kredo says the latest wave of leaks is very serious

    A new wave of leaks targeting the Trump administration has actively endangered ongoing intelligence and military operations being conducted by the United States and its allies, sparking anger and concern inside and outside the White House. –Adam Kredo, Washington Free Beacon

    So, who was it?

    The leaks have been traced to a number of former Obama administration officials, including Ben Rhodes—the former National Security Council official responsible for creating an in-house ‘echo chamber’ meant to mislead reporters and the public about the landmark nuclear deal with Iran—and Colin Kahl, former Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser.

    Another source, this one a senior administration official who is also intimately familiar with the situation, confirmed the assessment to the Washington Free Beacon. –Kredo in Washington Free Beacon

    Comment: Kredo has done superb reporting on this story for months. The nation’s most prominent papers have done no investigating because, of course, they are the recipients of these leaks.

    I had always suspected Rhodes was one of the culprits. After all, it was Rhodes who bragged about his ability to manipulate the media, creating “an echo chamber” among journalists who didn’t really know anything about Iran or the nuclear deal.

    Now, the goals are different: undermine Trump and defend the great achievements of the Obama Administration.

    The FBI should be investigating this. Whoever did it should be fitted for prison garb. There are echo chambers there, too: concrete walls.

     Georgetown’s new dean of their Doha campus has written openly of his support for Hezbollah

    The former head of Islamic studies on Georgetown’s Washington campus, Ahmad Dallal

    signed a 2006 petition declaring his “conscious support for the Lebanese national resistance [Hezbollah] as it wages a war” against Israel, adding

     that it is “a war to safeguard the dignity of the Lebanese and Arab people.” The statement declared Hezbollah’s murderous campaign a “heroic operation.”

    In his previous position as provost of American University of Beirut, Dallal slammed one of his colleagues for collaborating with Israeli scholars, declaring that the school would boycott the Jewish state. –Conservative Review, link here

    Comment: His graduate education came at ground zero for the decline and fall of Middle East Studies: Edward Said’s Columbia. Dallal has carried that torch forward and now reaches a very prominent position.

    There is a Yiddish word for what Georgetown has done: Shonda. It means shameful.

    I can only hope Prof. Dallal will pardon me for using such a word. 

     Venezuela is mired in conflict, suffering food shortages, and may be sliding into civil war (Washington Post)

    If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian Revolution destroyed, we would go to combat,” Maduro said to a crowd of supporters, referring to the socialist, populist platform that transformed Venezuela under his charismatic predecessor, Hugo Chávez. “We would never give up, and what couldn’t be done with votes, we would do with weapons. We would liberate the fatherland with weapons.” –Washington Post

    Comment: There was a saying about East Germany: it takes a really, really bad political structure to get the Germans to build a bad car. But East Germany was up to the task. 

    That applies to Venezuela, which has the world’s largest supply of oil underground, but cannot afford bread.

     Chair of EPA’s outside Board of Scientific Counselors says she was pressed by a Trump EPA official to change her Congressional testimony. The pressure came from the EPA’s chief of staff.

    Swackhamer said she “felt intimidated” but refused to change her testimony.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Dan Pipes and Gregg Roman
     for the Georgetown-Doha story
    ◆ Cheryl Brownstein for the EPA story

     

  • Congressional Testimony: Efforts to stop Iran’s terror-financing were systematically undermined by the Obama Administration

    Why? To get a nuclear deal, says an insider from the Obama Administration

    The testimony is stunning and deeply disturbing.

    Efforts to stop terror financing not only involved Iran but also its partners, Syria and Venezuela.

    US government efforts to investigate and roll up these networks were all quashed in pursuit of a nuclear deal.

    The investigative units themselves were actually disbanded, lest they trouble Iran and make the nuclear deal more difficult to achieve. That, at least, is the testimony of someone who saw it first-hand.

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    David Asher, an adviser to Gen. John Allen at Defense and State, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that

    The Obama administration “systematically disbanded” law enforcement investigative units across the federal government focused on disrupting Iranian, Syrian, and Venezuelan terrorism financing networks out of concern the work could cause friction with Iranian officials and scuttle the nuclear deal with Iran, according to a former U.S. official who spent decades dismantling terrorist financial networks. –Washington Free Beacon

    The story is here, reported by the Free Beacon’s Susan Crabtree.

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    Why?

    Why did the Obama Administration roll up the units stopping terror financing?

    Asher’s answer: The administration feared the efforts to investigate and disrupt terror-financing would be an obstacle to reaching an Iranian Nuclear Deal.

    Senior leadership, presiding, directing, and overseeing various sections [of these agencies] and portions of the U.S. intelligence community systematically disbanded any internal or external stakeholder action that threatened to derail the administration’s policy agenda focused on Iran,” [Asher] testified.

    He detailed extensive collaboration among the Iranians, Syrians, and Venezuelans and said there was enough evidence to take down the terror-financing networks.

    What was taken down instead were the anti-terror units in the US government.

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    Comment: We still don’t know all the side deals and payoffs the Obama Administration made to get the deal.

    The depths of their strategic incompetence continue to amaze.

    They seem to have outsourced it to Dunder Mifflin in Scranton.

    That was a comedy.

    This is a tragedy.

    We will be living with the dangers fostered by their blunders for years to come.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, June 2

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

     The big news is President Trump announcing the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, with predictable reactions

    Analysis

    • All Democrats denounced Trump for two reasons: abdicating US leadership of a multilateral effort and weakening commitment to environmental protection
    • Centrist Republicans and virtually all big businesses opposed the withdrawal; Mitt Romney was very vocal about it, for instance
    • Trump’s base loved it and loved his dual rationale: jobs and America First.

    The arguments for the agreement are that America has isolated itself from a global movement, backed by scientists, that supports collective action to slow global warming, some of it man-made.

    The counter-argument is that the costs to the US are very high but positive effects on the climate are vanishingly small. There is also a fairness and effectiveness argument that China and India’s sweet deals (basically, they don’t have to do anything) mean that some of the world’s biggest polluters are unchecked by this deal.

     What is being overlooked in the furor over the withdrawal? That the process by which the US entered the accord. That created its own problems.

    The Paris deal was never a treaty, only a presidential agreement (like the Iran Deal). After all, treaties need ratification, and that’s a higher hurdle. Why not just let the President sign it himself, call it something besides a treaty, and skip that whole pesky ratification thingy?

    That’s just what President Obama did with the Paris Climate Agreement, and just what he did with the Iran nuclear deal. The US seems to be abandoning the quaint idea that its major commitments should be treaties, just as it has abandoned the idea that it should vote to declare wars. We’ve been at war repeatedly over the last few decades, but the last war the US declared was on December 8, 1941.

    Avoiding the treaty process comes at a price, however. What one president signs, the next one can undo. That’s what Pres. Trump did on Thursday.

    There is a second, less obvious problem that is also being overlooked. US environmental groups were planning lawsuits to compel the government to implement Obama’s promises under the Paris Accords. Of course, the environmental bureaucracies themselves would want to implement those promises, too. The substance of those actions might be good or bad, depending on your perspective, but no one could argue that they were determined by laws passed by Congress and signed by the President.

    Skirting these constitutionally-designed, democratic processes has become a standard feature of modern American government.

    It has been a hallmark of progressivism from the beginning, in the early 20th century. A core principle of the progressive movement, initially aimed at corrupt, big-city patronage machines, was decisionmaking by “disinterested” experts: technocrats. Today, that has morphed into rule by regulation, with regulations poured out of bureaucracies whose employees are immune from firing because of civil-service protections (a key feature of the progressive program, designed to block firings by partisan politicians).

    So, one hidden effect of the withdrawal is to slow the pace of new environmental regulations, which the EPA would issue to implement the Paris Accords, either of its own volition or because the courts required them.

     Trump administration asks Supreme Court to Reinstate its Travel Ban  (New York Times)

    Comment: We don’t know if the Court will take the case. If it doesn’t, the lower court decisions to block Trump’s order will stand.

     Mitch Daniels, the nation’s most innovative university leader, discusses Purdue’s purchase of for-profit Kaplan  (Indianapolis Star)

    Purdue President Mitch Daniels painted the move as Purdue’s ticket into the future.

    “None of us know how fast or in what direction online higher education will evolve, but we know its role will grow and we intend that Purdue be positioned to be a leader as that happens,” Daniels told the Education Writers Association.

    Daniels has been working to make a Purdue education more accessible since stepping onto the West Lafayette campus. Purdue’s been on a tuition freeze since 2013, became the first major U.S. research university to offer income-sharing agreements and struck a deal with Amazon to lower textbook costs for its students.

     

    The bid to acquire Kaplan, though, is taking innovation to a new level and was seen as a tectonic shift in the higher education landscape when it was announced unexpectedly in April. –Indianapolis Star

     Massachusetts judge denies defendant’s motion to juggle–yes, juggle–at his trial  (AP, via St. Mary Now, Louisiana)

    The defendant, who is representing himself, wanted to juggle to show “he was just clowning around when he allegedly tried to rob a convenience store with a toy gun.”

     

     

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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