• ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, October 2: Key Elements of Las Vegas Massacre

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

    ◆ The machine-gun massacre in Las Vegas dominates our thoughts–and news coverage

    It is remarkable how a few sad points encapsulate so many hours of heartbreaking TV coverage

    • 58 dead, so far
    • Over 500 injured, many seriously, so death toll may rise
    • Single gunman, perched on 32nd floor of hotel, had 10 guns in room
    • Shot into outdoor country-music festival
    • No link to international terror groups
      • Some groups did make false claims that they were responsible
    • Gunman was retired Nevada resident, no criminal history, lived in retirement community
    • Episode lasted 72 minutes
    • Gunman killed himself
    • Pres. Trump will travel to Las Vegas later in the week

    The media coverage is intense, naturally.

    The best coverage of the event itself is always a good local paper, in this case the Las Vegas Sun.

    Comment: The coverage will soon move in its predictable arc:

    • Who was the gunman?
    • What about the families of the fallen?
    • And, of course, “Gun Control” versus “Second Amendment.”

    This is the type of story we’ll see about the gunman: “Led a quiet life,” neighbors never suspected, etc. (Washington Post)

    The main goal is to explore what motivations–psychological or political–drove him to do this.

    Politically, the episode will also follow a predictable arc. In this case, the gun control advocates raised the issue immediately, led by Pelosi and Hillary. Of course, these cleavages are heavily correlated with party affiliation, now that there are so few Democrats from the south and rural districts.

    The early political calls after this massacre are worth noting because, in the past, the gun-control side often waited a day or two. Why the difference now? Probably because so many massacres have dulled the political motive to “wait a decent interval to mourn” and weakened the counter-argument that “now, when people are grieving, is not the right time to raise this issue.” (The same logic applies to terrorist events. As soon as we know whether it was actually a terrorist attack, people begin making political points. In the past, they often waited a few days.)

    In this case, gun-control advocates want to raise the issue immediately because they know it is very hard for their opponents to make persuasive arguments. Usually, the most effective NRA-type argument is that “even if we did everything you gun-control advocates want, it wouldn’t have stopped this shooting.”

    ◆ All other news pales as the terrible aftermath unfolds

     Here’s a small tidbit to watch for: It’s a good time to dump bad news for government agencies or corporations 

    They know people are preoccupied so fewer will notice. So, “Ooops, we polluted your river” is better disclosed now than next Monday.

    It’s the “Friday afternoon news dump” on steroids.

    So, keep an eye out.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, September 14

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

    Dreamer Deal Possible: Chuck, Nancy and Donald agree to work on deal to avoid deportations (Washington Post)

    The border wall is not included.

    Democratic leaders announced late Wednesday that they agreed with President Trump to pursue a legislative deal that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and enact border security measures that don’t include building a physical wall. –Washington Post

    Republican leaders are on the outside, looking in.

    And some of Trump’s base is furious.

    In a sign of the potential trouble for the president, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an immigration hard-liner and early Trump supporter, wrote that if reports of a potential immigration deal are accurate, the president’s “base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.” –Washington Post

    Post-Irma tragedy: Eight patients died in south Florida nursing home without power during sweltering heat (Orlando Sun-Sentinel)

    Police have launched an investigation.

    Comment: One larger policy issue: Why doesn’t Florida require nursing homes to have generators?

    The Sun-Sentinel reports that 150 nursing homes (out of 700 in the state) are still without power.

    North Korea threats to reduce US to “ashes and darkness” and “sink Japan” (Reuters)

    Regional tensions have risen markedly since the reclusive North conducted its sixth, and by far its most powerful, nuclear test on Sept. 3.

    The 15-member Security Council voted unanimously on a U.S.-drafted resolution and a new round of sanctions on Monday in response, banning North Korea’s textile exports that are the second largest only to coal and mineral, and capping fuel supplies.

    The North reacted to the latest action by the Security Council, which had the backing of veto-holding China and Russia, by reiterating threats to destroy the United States, Japan and South Korea. –Reuters

    Comment: Meanwhile, there are reports North Korea is preparing another nuclear test.

    US News and World Report College Rankings

    Familiar names, great schools. They compete hard against each other and are not just tops in the US, they are tops in the world (along with Oxford and Cambridge)

    Two Comments: First, students can get a great education at many schools. The important thing is to find one that “fits.” Fit depends on your needs, your interests, and your personality, as well as the school’s strengths and weaknesses and the niches it provides for students.

    Second, I don’t see how you can say Harvard ranks above or below, say, Stanford or Chicago. I think you can say that some schools rank in the very top-tier and others are a half-step back. Even that depends on whether you are interested in biology or French literature.

    You knew it was coming: CEO of Equifax called to testify before Congress (The Hill)

    Prediction: Kabuki Theater. The CEO will be contrite, the Congressmen angry.

    The CEO will say his company takes this very seriously, is really working on these problems, and will help those affected.

    The Representatives will posture for the cameras, expressing the public’s genuine anger.

    Meanwhile, this extraordinary piece of news about Equifax’s internal security:

     

    Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduces bill to make it easier to conduct medical marijuana research (The Verge)

    The Marijuana Effective Drug Study Act of 2017 would streamline the process for approving research and increase the national marijuana quota for medical and scientific research. Marijuana has been shown to have potential health benefits such as treating seizures and managing pain. –The Verge

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Mike Lipson for the Equifax BBC story

  • Important Judicial Ruling: IRS MUST reveal names of all employees involved in targeting the Tea Party

    The IRS has fought this transparency for years, ever since Lois Lerner denied any wrongdoing.

    Eventually, they did admit wrongdoing but still refused to say who was involved.

    That secrecy meant it was impossible to depose the people involved and see how far up the food chain this scandal went.

    Finally, Federal Judge Reggie Walton has ruled that the IRS must release the names of all IRS employees involved in the illegal targeting to the groups suing the agency (Fox News)

    “We’re thrilled the judge has taken this step and it feels good to have it recognized that they need to be held to account,” True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht told Fox News on Monday. “What happened to me was very personal—my name was thrown around the IRS, and the names of the people involved need to be known. What they did was criminal.”

    The targeting scandal drew much attention in 2013 when the IRS, headed at the time by Lois Lerner, admitted it was applying extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for nonprofit status. –Fox News

    The agency has until mid-October to complete its internal search to uncover everyone involved.

    Chris Farrell, director of investigations at Judicial Watch, one of the litigants, praised the judge and attacked the IRS:

    “This [IRS targeting] was creepy, chilling stuff,” Farrell told Fox News. “Judge Walton has accomplished more with one ruling than all of the rest of the federal government—all three branches—over the last six years.” –Fox News

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comment: It is understandable that the Obama Administration would try to delay this and prevent disclosure. The targeting advanced their policy goals, and the coverup only helped them. We still don’t know if any of their political people were involved in this weaponization of the IRS.

    But it is beyond belief that the Trump/Sessions DOJ was still fighting for the IRS and against the Tea Party groups in this case. WHY?

    Are they just incompetent? Or are they letting lower-level people run this for their own political agenda.

    Since the IRS is under Treasury, why doesn’t Mnuchin’s Treasury Department demand that all these records be produced?

    This scandal began in the Obama Administration. Their coverup is understandable.

    Not understandable: the Trump Administration doing nothing positive, despite its promise to drain the swamp.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, August 4

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

    ◆ EXCELLENT ECONOMIC NEWS: Surging jobs in July means that the US has now regained all the jobs lost in the recession. Wages rose 2.5% last year. Unemployment remains 4.3% Dow-Jones above 22k for the first time ever (Washington Post)

    Comment: Now, to get more healthy people back into the labor force.

     

     ◆ After latest leaks of private Presidential phone calls to foreign leaders, AG Jeff Sessions announces more measure to find and punish the perps (Fox News)

    Based on the leaked documents, The Washington Post reported new details Thursday about Trump’s tense phone calls in late January with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In the former, Trump reportedly told the Mexican leader to stop publicly saying his government would not pay for a border wall.

    The newspaper said the transcripts had notes indicating they had been classified by the chief of staff on the National Security Council. The Post said it obtained full transcripts, which were “produced by White House staff” and based on records kept by White House note-takers. –Fox News

    Comment: My guess: holdover staff from the last administration or people who have just been fired.

    Special Counsel Mueller empanels Grand Jury in Washington (The Hill)

    They already had one in Virginia, so this is really not new, just a more convenient location for Mueller’s office, which now has 16 full-time prosecutors.

    Comment: It means the investigation is

    • Clearly a criminal one, not limited to counter-intelligence
    • Not limited to Mike Flynn, who was the subject of the Virginia panel
    • Likely to last many more months

    Who should be worried? Anybody in Trump’s circle who has extensive business dealings with Russia or Russian-sponsored entities and, of course, anybody who lies to Federal agents. Lying to the media is not a crime, but a pattern of lying could indicate intent to cover up and prompt further inquiry.

    West Virginia’s Democratic Governor announces switch to GOP at Trump rally (Charleston WVa Gazette-Mail)

    West Virginia, once reliably Democratic, has voted for Republicans in each presidential race since 2000, and dramatically last year. Four of the state’s five Congressional seats have flipped to Republican.

    The most important elected Democrat in the state is now centrist Joe Manchin, who said he will remain a Democrat.

    Comment: Democrats now control only 15 governorships and the fewest state legislatures in the party’s history.

    Sticking with Bernie and Nancy is not going to help, but the ineptitude of the current Congress will.

    Israel: PM Netanyahu’s top aide agrees to testify against him in a bribery, fraud investigation (Bloomberg)

    Comment: Likely outcome: Netanyahu indicted.

    It’s grim when top officials are suspected of corruption, but it is good news when an independent judiciary can investigate them, as they do in constitutional democracies . . . and nowhere else.

    Chief of Staff John Kelly emerges as key supporter of National Security Council Adviser McMaster in White House in-fighting (Politico)

    Comment: Yes, it helps that they are both former generals. But the main point is that they are both experienced at high-level Washington bureaucratic politics.

    McMaster has been cleaning house in his operation, putting his own people in place.

    The problems: McMaster has a violent temper, often on display in staff meetings, and is frequently pitted against Steve Bannon, who is an important link to Pres. Trump’s populist constituency–and who would be harder on the Trump Administration outside the tent than inside.

    Fragile economy limits Putin (Reuters)

    And US sanctions weak him further.

    Comment: ZipDialog has made this point repeatedly. Most news commentary has overlooked it.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Michael Lipson for the Grand Jury story

  • What matters in Comey’s Testimony . . . and what doesn’t

    What was in the brew Comey stirred up and served to the world on Thursday?

    There was some red meat for both Democrats and Republicans. So you can expect them to emphasize different things.

    • In the media world, that means ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and others will see it one way.
    • Fox News commentators will see it another. Fox News’ flagship program, Special Report with Bret Baier, plays it straight. The other shows feature a lot more conservative, pro-Trump commentary.

    The Washington Post thinks the big news is Comey’s statement that “Trump lied” about the reasons for Comey’s firing since he, Comey was doing a great job and the FBI was not demoralized, as the president said. That was Trump’s lie, said Comey.

    That is a headline grabbing statement. But it is not what’s important.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Remember, there are ultimately two big legal issues:

    1. Did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians to throw the 2016 election?
    2. Did Pres. Trump obstruct justice in the FBI’s investigation of the Russian matter, Michael Flynn, or any other politically-sensitive issue

    There is one big political issue: Can the Democrats damage the Trump Administration? 

    • To do that, they need to find enough material to keep Trump on the defensive.
    • While Trump is on the defensive, he’s have a harder time moving appointments and legislative agenda (a gain for the Democrats)

    A weakened and vulnerable President will increase the Democrats’ chances of winning the House in 2018.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Turning to Comey’s testimony. . . he

     Confirmed that Trump has never been the subject of an FBI investigation and said he told that to Trump several times (as Trump claimed)

    Effectively stirred up the Russia issue again without offering anything substantive

    • Comey simply said what he now thinks 

    “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

    Comey’s testimony threatened to deepen the legal and political crisis engulfing the White House, which has struggled to respond to growing questions about the president’s conduct. -Washington Post (link here)

     Said Trump did not try to slow or stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 US election

    Comey declined to say whether he thought the president had obstructed justice, saying that was a determination to be made by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

    In response to Comey’s testimony, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement saying the president “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.” –Washington Post

    • Comey offered no evidence of obstruction, which he would have been legally required to report contemporaneously.
    • He tried to square the circle by saying he now thought it might be obstruction
    • And, by raising the issue’s profile, he made set it high on Mueller’s agenda (and gave the Democrats talking points)

    ◆ Reaffirmed the leaks of “people familiar with Comey’s thinking” that Trump had privately told him he “hoped” Comey would be able to conclude the Flynn investigation and clear Flynn. But he did not order him to end the investigation.

    • At the time, he did not think that was obstruction, did not tell the President he was uncomfortable or that the conversation should end, but he did feel some pressure

    Confirmed that, in one disputed conversation, Trump asked AG Sessions to leave the room. 

    • Trump’s desire for secrecy supports those who think he was doing something improper. (Note, however, that improper is not the same as illegal.)

    ◆ But–and this is crucial–Comey changed his mind after being fired: now Trump was “directing” him to end the investigation of Flynn

    • His public statements about this pressure and his carefully chosen term, “directed” will force Special Counsel Mueller to look at the matter as possible obstruction
    • Mueller might have done that anyway
    • It won’t come to anything legally, but Democrats will seize on “possible obstruction” as a political hammer

    ◆ Admitted that he had orchestrated leaks of his private conversations, as FBI director, with the President.  

    • These documents almost certainly did not belong to Comey but to the government (but that is a legal matter)
    • He lacked the courage to leak the documents himself or simply disclose them in a press conference. He gave them to a “cutout,” a friendly law professor at Columbia and had him leak them to the New York Times.
    • Under questioning from Congress, he effectively outed the professor without naming him directly. NBC names the professor as Daniel Richman. (NBC)
    • Comey’s statement that he took the memoranda, which belong to the government, and converted them to private use is potentially a legal violation in its own right.

    Claimed his leaks were done for an explicitly political reason: to get a special counsel appointed. An extraordinary admission

    Admitted that Attorney General Loretta Lynch (in Obama’s final years) ordered him not to call an ongoing criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails what it was: “an investigation.” She told him to call it only a “matter.”

    • Comey said he knew Lynch’s terminology was deliberately false and misleading,
    • Comey acknowledges bowing to this order. Apparently, he did not push back.
    • Comey thinks Lynch’s order was to ensure the DOJ and FBI used the same language the Clinton Campaign was using, even though they knew it was false.
    • This is clear evidence that Lynch was using her office to try and influence the 2016 election.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The most interesting comment on the Comey-Trump fight

     Matthew Continetti writes a fascinating opinion column in the Washington Free Beacon, entitled:

    This One Tweet May Lead to Donald Trump’s Impeachment

    The logic is this:

    • A Trump tweet after firing Comey further angers the former director; this is the one that said Comey better hope there are no “tapes.”
    • Comey decides to leak his Cover Your Ass memos (via a friend) with the goal of getting a Special Counsel
    • He succeeds
    • The investigation by that Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, could ultimately undermine the Trump administration and even lead to impeachment

    Continetti writes:

    It now looks like the most consequential Tweet of his presidency to date came a few days after he fired James Comey as FBI director. At 8:26 a.m. on Friday, May 12, Trump wrote: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

    That tweet, Comey told the Senate, prompted the now-private citizen to instruct a friend, Columbia Law professor Daniel Richman, to share with the New York Times the contents of contemporaneous memos he had written describing his interactions with the president. The article, published a week to the day Comey was fired, revealed that the president had asked the FBI director to end the criminal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

    Why did Comey have Richman call the Times? Because, he told the Senate, he hoped that the disclosure of the memo would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with associates of the president’s campaign. That is exactly what happened May 17, the day after the Times piece, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named as counsel former FBI director Robert Mueller. –Continetti in the Washington Free Beacon

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  • Today’s British Tabloids have Dramatically Different Front Pages. Is America Moving that Direction?

    Britain’s tabloids have always been feisty and highly partisan.

    Today’s front pages are a perfect illustration.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    British Media: Always Partisan

    American Media: Getting More So

    Strong covers matter for tabloids because they depend on newsstand sales. That’s true in the US, as well as Britain.

    But US papers are less overtly partisan, less stark. Every reader still knows the NY Daily News is liberal, the NY Post conservative, but the differences are more muted, less in-your-face than those of Britain’s Sun and Mirror.

    In my opinion, though, America’s mainstream media is sliding down the same slippery slope. That’s not confined to the few remaining tabloids. It’s true of mainstream papers, cable news, and broadcast channels.

    The trend is not new, but it has accelerated with their hatred of Donald Trump and his vituperative reciprocation, calling them “enemies” of the people. Lots of presidents have thought that, but he has shouted it from the bully pulpit.

    If we continue down this slope, those tabloid front pages await us.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Is Open Partisanship Actually Better than Subtle Suasion?

    There is one interesting response, worth considering.

    Many conservatives already think the New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN are “homers” for the Democrats and progressives. But their slanted coverage is more pernicious, these critics say, because it is less obvious. Ordinary readers and viewers find it harder to detect. They drink the Kool Aid, not knowing it is a sugary drink of editorial bias slipped into hard news stories. If would be better, these critics say, if the media simply declared themselves, as MSNBC has, so viewers would understand.

    Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe you do.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Hat tip to Joe Morris for the English tabloids and for stimulating this response