• ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, March 28

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

     Democrats want Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia inquiry. (New York Times)

    Comment: The attacks on Nunes are a sideshow, featuring displays of faux outrage by Democrats. Nunes will never recuse himself. The game is to discredit him so they can discredit the information he uncovers.

    The big questions–the show in the center ring–are 

    1. Will the FBI find anything between Trump campaign people and the Russians? and
    2. Did the Obama White House or its political appointees at CIA or DNI unmask names and circulate “collateral” material through the White House?  
      • From the leak of Flynn’s name and phone call, it is clear the intelligence agencies picked up “collateral information” on US citizens as the agencies were spying on foreigners. That happens occasionally, but, when it does,
        • The names of US citizens are supposed to be masked and never disclosed to the public; we know Flynn’s name was, and that disclosure is a felony;
        • The collection of “collateral materials on US citizens” is not supposed to be the purpose of the surveillance; to surveil US citizens, you need a warrant and you cannot use CIA and other intel agencies; you must use the FBI.
      • The Republicans are hinting that the White House and the intel agencies it controlled were playing fast and loose with these hard-and-fast rules and legal constraints, which prohibit domestic spying and the use of information for domestic political purposes. If the Obama White House was doing that, its ultimate disclosure would be a very big deal, legally and politically. If Nunes has a whistleblower with information about this, then the Democrats are right to be scared and to try and discredit him in advance. If not, then it is all smoke but no fire.

     Trump moves aggressively to undo Obama-era environmental regulations  (Washington Post)

    President Trump will take the most significant step yet in obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record Tuesday, instructing federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions.

    The sweeping executive order also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

    The order sends an unmistakable signal that just as President Barack Obama sought to weave climate considerations into every aspect of the federal government, Trump is hoping to rip that approach out by its roots. –Washington Post

    Comment: Trump sees the issue primarily as “jobs and excessive regulations.” His Democratic opponents see the issue primarily as “climate change”

     Attorney General Sessions threatens to yank DOJ funding from “Sanctuary Cities”  (Philly.com)

    To receive grants from his agency, [Sessions] said, cities will have to certify they are in compliance with a federal law banning local governments from restricting communication with the feds over their residents’ immigration status.

    And cities and states who fail to do so, Sessions said, could see the DOJ withhold grants, bar them from receiving grants in the future, or even “claw back” grants that had already been handed out. –Philly.com

    Comment: Assuming this threat is not blocked by the courts, it will force cities to make very hard political choices. Cities with greatest financial need will likely opt for the money. A few others will try to hold out.

     Canada will legalize recreational pot in 2018, a senior official in Justin Trudeau’s government says  (CBS News)




  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, March 27

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

    Blame game for health care continues. WaPo reports Trump blames Freedom Caucus and far right.  One member of the caucus, Ted Poe of Texas, resigns over health care failure.

    Comment: No news here, IMO. Everybody blames everybody. But the main things to notice are (a) how little of the blame is attaching to Trump and (b) how unprepared the R’s were to govern after 7 years of making this issue their top priority.

     Jared Kushner selected to lead a White House team to overhaul the federal bureaucracy  (Washington Post)

    The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements. –Washington Post

    Comment: Kushner, age 36 and Trump’s son-in-law, is a rising power in the White House. Taking on an arteriosclerotic bureaucracy, where almost everyone has civil-service protections, will be an enormous challenge.

     After months of political difficulty, Germany’s Angela Merkel gets very good news from a state election, which her party won easily  (New York Times)

    Ms. Merkel is seeking a fourth term in national elections on Sept. 24, a race that has grown more challenging in recent weeks after her center-left rivals, the Social Democrats, unanimously selected a new candidate, Martin Schulz, to lead them into the fight. –New York Times

    Comment: Merkel’s long tenure as German leader has lent stability to Europe and the EU. 

     Uber suspends its self-driving car program until it figures out why one crashed in Arizona  (CNBC)

    The accident occurred when the driver of a second vehicle “failed to yield” to the Uber vehicle while making a turn, said Josie Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the Tempe Police Department.

    “The vehicles collided, causing the autonomous vehicle to roll onto its side,” she said in an email. “There were no serious injuries.” –CNBC

    Comment: Sounds like the Uber vehicles did not initiate the crashes, and it is unclear to me whether better tech and programming could have avoided them. That, I assume, is what Uber wants to figure out.

     Cities and monuments switch off electricity for “Earth Hour”  (Phys.org)

    Comment: And they all get to pin “I’m Virtuous” Merit Badges on themselves.

     Scientists Turn Spinach Leaves into Beating-Heart Tissue  (Science Alert)

    Current bioengineering techniques, like 3-D printing, can’t build the intricate, branching network of blood vessels that makes up the heart tissue. However, a team of researchers from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), University of Wisconsin-Madison and Arkansas Sate University-Jonesboro have successfully turned to plants. –Science Alert

    Comment: Popeye smiles.



  • When the “wrong people” fail the test . . . stop giving the test? Another case of identity-group politics harming kids

     New York state requires prospective teachers to take a basic test for reading and writing.

     A federal judge has evaluated the test and ruled it is fair and not discriminatory.

     No matter. This competency test for teachers is being stopped because it screens out too many minorities, reports the Associated Press.

    NEW YORK (AP) – New York education officials are poised to scrap a test designed to measure the reading and writing skills of people trying to become teachers, in part because an outsized percentage of black and Hispanic candidates were failing it. . . .

    Leaders of the education reform movement have complained for years about the caliber of students entering education schools and the quality of the instruction they receive there. A December 2016 study by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that 44 percent of the teacher preparation programs it surveyed accepted students from the bottom half of their high school classes.

    The reformers believe tests like New York’s Academic Literacy Skills Test can serve to weed out aspiring teachers who aren’t strong students.

    But the literacy test raised alarms from the beginning because just 46 percent of Hispanic test takers and 41 percent of black test takers passed it on the first try, compared with 64 percent of white candidates. –AP


    Comment #1: This revision is designed to help adult school employees (and potential employees) at the expense of children’s learning. 

    That misses the whole point of proper K-12 Education Policy. It should focus exclusively on what is best for the students, not the adult employees. In too many cities and states, it doesn’t.

    If what is best for kids is also best for teachers, as it often is, that’s great. If the two diverge, go with what is best for the kids. That should be the goal of education policy, even though students don’t have well-paid lobbyists or union organizations working for them. (Ah, see the problem!)

    In New York’s case, any help to minority teachers from slackening requirement will surely come at the expense of minority students in classes taught by poorly-qualified teachers. Who speaks for the kids?

    Comment #2: If the test’s content is not biased, and if it is directly related to the job, then the test is not biased, regardless of the outcome. Period.

    Unfortunately, progressives now consider a test biased if the outcome does not suit them, even if the underlying process is neutral and non-discriminatory.

    The test itself has been ruled non-discriminatory, meaning that it has neutral content. The Obama Administration was moving to reverse these rulings based solely on outcomes they did not like, even if the content was neutral and the process fair. Under Eric Holder, the Dept. of Justice filed suits against employment tests, even if they were fair and directly relevant to the job requirements, solely because more minorities failed them. That viewpoint is firmly embedded in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, inherited by Jeff Sessions. Any wonder the “career civil servants” in that department are pushing back, reading to do everything they can to undermine the Administration? They have civil service protection, but the are highly politicized advocates and were put there by previous administrations for that very reason.

    More broadly, the whole idea that outcomes, not process, should be the legal measure of discrimination is wrong. If the outcomes show “too few” of group X or Y, we should focus on correcting the underlying reasons, not changing a subsequent result reached by a fair process.

    Comment #3: MEDIA BIAS: The Associated Press gave this story a seriously misleading headline. Local papers are repeating it.

    That headline is both slanted and inaccurate. The key word is “instead.”

    According to the article, the test did screen teachers for competence in reading and writing. That it, it did its job and did it using a neutral test, pre-tested for non-discrimination and approved by a federal judge. It also “weeded out” people who could not pass, whatever their race. More minorities than white failed, but many whites failed, too.

    But the test did not “weed out minorities” instead of screening teachers for competence. It weeded them out because it screened teachers for competence.

    The AP has written an editorial instead of a neutral, descriptive headline.

    Once upon a time, readers could count on the Associated Press for fair reporting, adhering to the Joe Friday rule, “Just the facts, m’am.” No more.



  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 9

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

     “Economy is emerging as the untold story of Trump’s first 100 days” and much of it is about the prospect of cutting red tape (NY Sun)

    By every measure, the United States has been sinking into economic mediocrity over the last decade because of excessive regulation.

    When President Obama took office in 2009, the United States ranked third among all nations as a place to do business. Since then it has plummeted to eighth, according to the World Bank. Why? Eight years ago, it took 40 days to get a construction permit in the United States. Today, it’s double that.

    Regulatory overkill started long before Mr. Obama. But Mr. Donohue calls the last eight years a “regulatory onslaught that loaded unprecedented burdens on business and the economy.”

    The Heritage Foundation, which grades nations on economic freedom, now puts the United States 17th in the world, our lowest-ever ranking. That’s below Chile, and former Soviet states like Estonia, Lithuania and Georgia. –Betsy McCaughey in New York Sun

    Virtually the same story appears in Forbes, quoting top hedge-fund manager David Tepper on the growth impact of deregulation (Forbes)

     “FBI prepares for new hunt for WikiLeaks’ source” It is a very big deal (Washington Post)

    The FBI has begun preparing for a major mole hunt to determine how anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks got an alleged arsenal of hacking tools the CIA has used to spy on espionage targets, according to people familiar with the matter.

    The leak rattled government and technology industry officials, who spent Tuesday scrambling to determine the accuracy and scope of the thousands of documents released by the group. They were also trying to assess the damage the revelations may cause, and what damage may come from future releases promised by WikiLeaks, these people said. –Washington Post

    The Wall Street Journal says the focus will be on CIA contractors

     The depths of depravity: ISIS terrorists, dressed as doctors, attack a major hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing 30 or more (CNN)

     Cloud computing services: Can Google complete with Amazon and Microsoft? They’ve spent $30 billion trying and they are “making some undeniable progress,” according to Business Insider.

     Uber gets permit to test autonomous cars in California, one of 20 companies now testing there. Uber is also testing self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh. (PC World)




  • Uber and Lyft take a hit from politicians working with cab companies and unions

    Give the customer better service at lower prices or lose out to those who do. That’s how it should work in a market system.

    I take advantage of that every time I use Uber and Lyft. I really appreciate their services; the drivers I have spoken with are equally upbeat. As a bonus, competition from these ride-sharing services is making regular taxis better. Improve or lose.

    That’s why services where is no competition, such as urban schools and the US Post Office, offer such lousy service–and why their prices are so high.

    To take the schooling example, the US pays more per K-12 student than all but two countries in the world. But our rankings are miserable because the public school system is run largely as an adult-employment operation, not a child-education service.

    Preventing competition–and preserving a monopoly–is precisely why politicians, cab companies, and unions in deep blue cities want to drive the ride-sharing services out of business. They succeeded in Austin, TX, and they are working hard to do it in Seattle. See the story here.


    CommentWhy do politicians, unions, and cab companies cooperate in this anti-competitive game? Because creating or sustaining a monopoly generates monopoly profits. There is enough for the unions, companies, and politicians to share. They do so at the public’s expense.

    Since the politicians are generating these monopoly profits, and since they can eliminate them, the companies and unions have powerful incentives to donate to friendly politicians, effectively dividing the spoils with them.

    It’s an old game. It is also why new, fast-rising cities that are not already encumbered by these monopolies usually escape them and gain competitive advantages. That Austin, Texas, gave in despite its youngish population is probably an indication that anti-competitive (because “anti-capitalist”) ideology is also important.

    It should be obvious, though, that Uber and Lyft riders and drivers are lower-income so the anti-competitive policies also amount to regressive taxes. Apparently, that’s okay if your intentions are good. (Charles Lipson comment)

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . .Tuesday, Dec. 19

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

    ◆”I’m more oppressed.” “No, I AM more oppressed.” Berkeley conference among victims groups turns into a nasty bidding contest about which one is more oppressed. Blacks wanted it all to be about their oppression. Muslims wanted it to be about their oppression. And so on. The conference breaks down in recriminations about which one is most oppressed. The article is here, at The College Fix.

    ⇒ Related Story: Hispanic student describes her mistake in telling other UCLA students that her family was “not here illegally.” Turns out you cannot use the word “illegal.” Jacqueline Alvarez in The Daily Bruin

    ◆ How Israel turned a toy into an invaluable, high-tech military tool. (Commentary Magazine)

    ◆ Overregulation Nation = Stagnation Nation. Bret Stephens lays out the grim details of how much worse regulatory burdens have gotten under Obama. (WSJ) One characteristic data point. When Obama came into office, it took 40 days to get a construction permit; now, thanks to smart regulation, it takes 81.  When Obama entered office, the US was third in the world in “ease of doing business.” Now, it’s eighth and declining.

    ⇒ Comment: IMO, the decline is partly due to a government of European-style social democrats, partly to an administration entirely composed of lawyers who have never run a two-car funeral. (Charles Lipson)

    ◆ Apple uses its Irish domicile to minimize EU taxes. The EU hates that and has fined Apple billions for what appears to be perfectly sensible tax planning. Now, Apple is fighting back. Here’s the essence of the Wall Street Journal report:

    [Apple’s legal] filings highlight sharp disagreements between the EU commission on one side and Ireland and Apple on the other, presaging a years-long battle in the EU’s top courts that will determine the extent of the bloc’s powers to rein in alleged tax avoidance by multinational companies doing business in Europe. –WSJ

    ◆ Noam Chomsky has now decided that the worst organization in human history, surpassing the Nazis, Stalin, Mao, the Khmer Rouge is . . . wait for it . . the Republican party. (Independent, UK)

    ◆ I confess, I love it when live TV goes wrong. Here, our morning anchor shares her Christmas-time artichoke dip. Not a tasty treat, it turns out.


    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Ed Vidal and Thomas Lifson
     for the Berkeley Olympics of oppression article.
    ◆ Kate Hardiman for the article in the College Fix and the link to one in the Daily Bruin.

    ◆ Tom Elia for Noam Chomsky’s insights


  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Sunday, Dec. 4

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

    ◆ Can Trump simply cancel Obama’s Executive Actions? It’s harder and slower than it sounds, says Andrew Rudalevige in the Washington Post.

    The items in [President-elect Trump’s] list range from things clearly within the president’s unilateral authority to those that will require a fair bit of cooperation from others.

    For instance, rolling back federal regulations may be slow going because of legal requirements.regulations-labeled-200px-no-margins

    Repealing an existing regulation requires a rulemaking process of its own, subject to the Administrative Procedure Act — this can take months or years. The Supreme Court has held that a rule can’t be rescinded simply to reduce regulation; there has to be “a reasoned basis for the agency’s action.” . . .

    More important, the issuance of regulations is often required by law — and the power to write those regulations is normally vested in a given department or agency, not in the White House. Presidents cannot unilaterally veto a regulation that an agency is determined to issue, or repeal one an agency is determined to keep. –Andrew Rudalevige in the Washington Post

    ◆ Jonah Goldberg on what Trump’s intervention at Carrier portends (National Review Online) Goldberg reiterates his previous stance that Trump’s populism is not traditional conservative.trump-carrier-200px

    The more traction Trump got, the weaker the grip traditional conservative ideology had on quite a few famous ideologues. [Goldberg is not apologizing.] It would be weird for me to apologize for telling the truth as I see it about Trump — and then continuing to do it.

    But this Carrier decision shows that the damage will not be nearly so surgical. The rot is already setting in. … the White House is going to pick winners and losers, that it can be rolled, that industrial policy is back, that Trump cares more about seeming like a savior than sticking to clear and universal rules, and that there is now no major political party in America that rejects crony capitalism as a matter of principle. –Jonah Goldberg at NRO

    Actual CNN op-ed: “Why sex is about to get a lot less fun” under Donald Trump.

    Comment: The double-entendre is just too rich.

    ◆ Striking economic comparison:
    California [Russia + Saudi + Iran + South Africa].

    California’s economy is $2.5 trillion (International Spectator)

    ◆ Tweets of Note



    ◆ Apple gives a strong hint it is working on a self-driving car (The Verge)

    ◆ Yet another troubling dimension of the Syrian tragedy: Russian soldiers pal around with Hezbollah (Liveuamap)



    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Tom Elia
     for story about sex being “less fun” under Trump
    ◆ Blake Fleisher for the Hezbollah-Russian story



    ◆ Send interesting stories to
    Charles (dot) Lipson at Gmail (dot) com



  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Wednesday, November 30

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

    ◆ Trump’s initial Cabinet appointments tell me he intends to move swiftly to pass a far-reaching agenda and will work closely with a Republican House and Senate to do it.

    Comment: Tom Price is an expert of health care and committed to dismantling Obamacare and replacing it with a market-oriented system. Betsy DeVos is an expert on charter schools and vouchers and will make big changes at the Department of Education. Elaine Chou has extensive experience in government and a background in infrastructure, which she will bring to the Department of Transportation.

    The ties to Capitol Hill are strong, without the K-Street strings. Price has worked extremely closely with Paul Ryan, as has Chief of Staff, Reince Preibus. Chou, who was born in Taiwan and has helped manage her family’s transportation interests, was a long-serving Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush. She is married to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell. Vice-President-elect Pence served in both the House and Senate before becoming Governor of Indiana.

    These appointments suggest the Trump Administration will work closely with Ryan and McConnell to move a big agenda. They have majorities in both houses (but not a super-majority in the Senate), and have already passed a lot of Republican proposals that died on Pres. Obama’s desk. So, they won’t have to start from scratch.

    regulations-labeled-200px-no-marginsPaul Ryan lays out his top 4 priorities:

    1.  Economic growth, beginning with deregulation
    2.  Repealing and replacing Obamacare
    3.  Tax Reform
    4.  Security the border

    He discussed those priorities in a Wisconsin radio interview and says he is in close touch daily with Pres.-elect Trump. (Talking Points Memo)

    ◆ UN Security Council to pass tighter sanctions on North Korea with China’s help. (Fox News)

    Comment: China’s problem here is vexing. They do not want to break the vulnerable Kim regime, but they don’t want to see South Korea and Japan start arming themselves to cope with North Korea’s rising threat.

    ◆ Indonesia has always had a huge Muslim population but not a militant, extremist one. That’s changing, says Time Magazine, and the Chinese minority in the country are fearful.

    ◆ ISIS calls attacker at Ohio State a “soldier.” (New York Times) He appears to have been inspired online, rather than trained directly.

    Comment: White House spokesman Josh Ernest was truly embarrassing as he tried to describe the attack without saying the word “Islam.” It was like the author who wrote an entire novel without using the letter “e.” Yes, you can do it. But why?


    Seen any interesting news or commentary?

    I welcome your suggestions. Charles (dot) Lipson at Gmail (dot) com