• 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 Wednesday, April 26

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

     The story today that will most affect Americans for years to come: a proposed big tax cut for business, with a special focus on small businesses.

    The Washington Post frames it this way “Trump to propose large increase in deductions Americans can claim on their taxes

    President Trump on Wednesday plans to call for a significant increase in the standard deduction people can claim on their tax returns, potentially putting thousands of dollars each year into the pockets of tens of millions of Americans, according to two people briefed on the plan. . . .

    Trump will call for a sharp reduction in the corporate tax rate, from 35 percent to 15 percent. He will also propose lowering the tax rate for millions of small businesses that now file their tax returns under the individual tax code, two people familiar with the plan said.. –Washington Post

    The New York Times is far grumpier. “Trump Tax Plan: Low Rate for Corporations, and for Companies Like His” and “The ‘Voodoo Economics’ of the Laffer Curve Return

    Comment: The NYT slant reminds me of the old joke about their front page headline: “World to End. Poor Affected Most” 

    Where’s Perry White? Save the editorials for the editorial page.

     No Sanctuary? Another judge from the 9th Circuit nixes a major Trump policy, this time blocking policies that could defund Sanctuary Cities

    The Reuters story is here.

    The ruling from U.S. District Judge William Orrick III in San Francisco said Trump’s Jan. 25 order targeted broad categories of federal funding for sanctuary governments and that plaintiffs challenging the order were likely to succeed in proving it unconstitutional.

    The Republican president’s moves on immigration have galvanized legal advocacy groups, along with Democratic city and state governments, to oppose them in court. –Reuters

    Fox counters, predictably (but interestingly): Judge Who Blocked Trump Sanctuary City Order Bundled $200K for Obama and personally donated more than $30k to groups supporting him.

    Comment: I’m going to make a wild guess here: the DOJ will appeal. Since this case will go to the 9th Circuit, which will rule predictably against Trump, this one will go up to the Supremes.

    ◆ Iran Nuclear Deal: Politico publishes a major investigation headlined, “Obama’s Hidden Iran Deal Giveaway”  The article goes further, effectively saying the Obama Administration misled the American public about the scale of their giveaways in their desperate effort to get a deal with the Mullahs.

    In his Sunday morning address [January 17, 2016] to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as “civilians.” The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”

    In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran. –Josh Meyer investigation in Politico

    It gets worse–and more dangerous:

    In its determination to win support for the nuclear deal and prisoner swap from Tehran — and from Congress and the American people — the Obama administration did a lot more than just downplay the threats posed by the men it let off the hook, according to POLITICO’s findings.

    Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort. –Josh Meyer in Politico

    One immediate effect: House Foreign Affairs chair, Ed Royce, asks DOJ and State to revive probes that the Obama Administration “may have” killed. (Politico)

    Comment: If you think the major networks gave this major story any play at all, you still believe in the tooth fairy. Story on non-reporting here

    While ABC, CBS and NBC on Monday and Tuesday found time to celebrate the return of “easy-going,” rested Barack Obama to the public scene, none of them covered the release of a blockbuster expose that reveals the buried secrets of the ex-President’s Iran deal giveaway. –Newbusters

     Ann Coulter to speak in public plaza in college town Thursday; Berkeley police prepare for D-Day Invasion.  (Washington Post)  

    Comment: The fact that people riot at this is simply insane. This was once the home of the free-speech movement. Now, it’s “free speech for me but not for thee.”

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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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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 6

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

     A word of caution on two evolving scandals: Russia-Trump and Susan Rice

    • If there is evidence of serious crimes, each of these could become truly major events.
    • But so far we have few hard facts, shrouded in extremely sharp partisan attacks, mimicked and exacerbated by the news media.

    Russia’s role in the US election:

    • The mainstream media continues to say that Russian interference in the US election (a fact) also involved direct collusion with senior Trump officials (a conjecture). So far, top intel officials not associated with Trump have said there is zero evidence of collusion.
    • There is an FBI counter-intelligence investigation of these issues. If it finds some self-dealing from Trump officials, using their positions to make money, that’s bad news for them and certainly newsworthy, but it is not a catastrophic national scandal. If if finds significant collusion between Russians and top Trump officials, that is a truly enormous crime against our democracy.

    Susan Rice:

    • We know Rice lied publicly when she told PBS two weeks ago that she knew nothing about the unmasking of names.
    • Her story has changed. Now, she simply says she did nothing improper.
    • That may be correct. It seems to be very unusual to ask for as many unmasked names as Rice requested, but she will undoubtedly say she needed to know them to understand US intelligence. Whether that is true or false will depend on the scale of her requests and especially on the type of information contained in the intercepted conversations. If they were entirely related to US national security, she’s in the clear, or at least she can plausibly argue that she had good reasons for doing what she did. If the conversations are far removed from US national security issues, she’s in trouble–and so is the country for having a National Security Adviser who used US intelligence resources for domestic political purposes.
    • At this point, we simply do not know enough to discriminate between those two interpretations, one benign and one malign.

     News you haven’t seen about Susan Rice, the Obama Administration, and spying on US Citizens: 

    Lee Smith, writing in The Tablet, says Rice “may have been rifling through classified transcripts for over a year” with info about Trump and associates. 

    Smith focuses on the Iranian Nuclear Deal and says the US spied extensively on Israeli officials (who opposed the deal). No problem there; that is completely within the purview of the intel agencies. Since Israeli officials worked closely with US citizens, including lawmakers, who opposed the deal, their conversations were picked up, too. The question is whether the Obama White House, in possession of this information, restricted its use to national security or went beyond that, abusing the foreign intelligence system.

    Smith reaches a devastating conclusion:

    I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.

    “At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

    This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. –Lee Smith in The Tablet

     Pres. Trump harshly condemns Syria after deadly sarin gas attack, calling it “horrendous” and saying it crossed “several” red lines, deliberately invoking Obama’s language

    Comment: The shift in US policy was abrupt. Only a few days earlier the US had resigned itself to Assad’s continued rule. The change is clearly the result of the chemical attack. Pres. Trump’s language, especially his use of Obama’s term, signals some kind of military strike.

    I would be shocked if the US put troops into this no-win situation. The US can certainly damage the Assad regime from the air, but, even there, a strike runs the risk of conflict with Russia, which (along with Iran) is the main foreign support for Assad’s regime. 

    The larger strategic problem for the US is that there is no way to stand up a pro-western regime there without enormous costs and high risks.

    Two big Thursday events: Chinese leader Xi meets Trump in Florida, US Senate moves to end debate and vote on Gorsuch for Supreme Court

    Comment: More on them tomorrow when we have real news.

     McMaster asserts his control over the National Security Council

    • All news outlets are reporting Steve Bannon is out (he should never have been in);
    • What many are not noticing is that McMaster is filling out his organization with skilled professionals.

    Good report at Politico.

     

     

     

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  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Saturday, February 4

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Congressional Black Caucus very upset at “Latino” who wants to join. 

    Actually, he is a Dominican of African descent.  (Politico)

    [Representative Adriano] Espaillat’s district, while majority Latino, has a sizable African-American population and includes Harlem, long the intellectual and cultural center for black America.

    “See that complicates matters. Even though our agendas are typically parallel, occasionally they are not. So it may be problematic if someone wants to belong to two ethnic caucuses,” said. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a former chairman of the CBC. “If he’s considered an African-American then he’s certainly welcome in the caucus. But I can’t speak for the caucus.” –Politico

    Comment: “Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we organize as identity-politics cheerleaders.” Why? Because it is unclear how to determine identity and who gets to determine it. As the CBC dispute illustrates, the left is now in the odd position of asserting that “male” and “female” are subjective, fluid categories, to be determined by each individual and accommodated by others, but that somehow “race” is not a largely-subjective category to be determined by each individual.

    As far as I’m concerned, the CBC should be able to determine their own rules for membership. But it is interesting to watch their hypocrisy in dealing with these identity issues.

    ◆ Post of the Day: “Some Typos Are Worse Than Others,” says Judge Rakoff

    Comment:  “I’m so embarrassed,” said the editor. “This went out prematurely.”

     New Defense Secretary, Mattis, faces big problems in Europe (Russia, NATO), the Middle East (Iran, ISIS, other terrorism), and Asia-Pacific (China). He goes to Asia first  CNN reports key American allies, Japan and South Korea, are reassured by the meeting but still anxious about China’s aggressive actions.

    Predictably, China pushes back (AP)

    Comment: The global problems are so vexing and manifold that the new Administration would be well advised to move very carefully in establishing priorities and clear strategies. We have limited resources. 

    Mattis did make one clear, strong statement. In a modulated tone, he said that any use of North Korean nuclear weapons would lead to an “overwhelming” US response. The US also committed itself to installing high-tech missile defense in South Korea.

     Islamist attacks the Louvre and its tourists with machete. (NYT) Good lord, why? Still grumpy over Charles Martel and the Battle of Tours?

    Updated reports from France24 are here, covering not only the Louvre attack but also French raids on Islamists in its aftermath. 

     Another Putin opponent poisoned and near death (Daily Beast)

    Comment: This thuggish regime will face increasing trouble as its economy continues to decline and its population continues to age. Yes, they are playing a weak handle well internationally, but it is hard to see how the regime gains much tangibly from its costly international engagements.

     Prominent German weekly, Der Spiegel, has cover of Pres. Trump beheading the Statue of Liberty  (Daily Mail)

    An Irish publication, The Village, features a cover with a rifle sight centered on Trump’s head.

    Comment: Seeing this cover, a sense of revulsion should run through all decent people. You don’t have to like Trump to understand that democratic governance cannot tolerate casual discussion of assassination as a political strategy. 

     Immediately after Trump imposes sanctions on Iran, the Mullahs schedule weekend military exercises to test its missile and radar systems and cyber warfare capabilities  (Reuters)

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  • US-Iran Nuclear Deal: What Has Been Overlooked

    Admid all the discussion of whether Pres. Trump will abandon the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran, enforce it scrupulously, or do something else, one item has been overlooked almost entirely.

    Pres. Obama and Sec. of State Kerry resolutely refused to disclose what was in the complete deal, including the side agreements, and what waivers they have given Iran as it moves forward.

    My guesses:

    (1) Guess #1: One of the first thing Congress will demand and Pres. Trump will do is disclose the full extent of the deal, including the side agreements, the waivers Obama has given the Mullahs, and the cash and other finance they have received as part of the deal.

    (2) Guess #2: There will be popular outrage in the US and in Congress at the laxness and one-sidedness of the bargain and the duplicity in keeping it secret from the American public and their representatives.

    (3) Guess #3: Trump will not abandon the deal, at least initially, but will say he expects Iran to return to compliance.