• ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, October 13

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

    ◆ Very good economic news, twice over

    Overall, a very strong report across multiple economic sectors, despite the hurricanes.

    The retail sales report is closely watched because it provides an early read on consumer activity each month. Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of the economy.

    U.S. economic growth likely slowed in the July-September quarter as the hurricanes shut down thousands of businesses, people were forced to miss work, and power was cut to millions of homes. Analysts forecast that the economy expanded at a 2% annual pace in the third quarter, down from a 3% gain in the April-June quarter.

    Yet the economy is expected to rebound in the final three months of the year as rebuilding and repair work accelerates. –USA Today

    Comment: Very good news, indeed. To keep it going, especially as interest rates rise and the job market gets tighter, the administration needs to keep reducing regulations and get a tax cut through Congress.

    Trump refuses to certify the Iran Nuclear Deal, saying it is not in America’s best interests

    He made a strong speech, which included an itemized list of Iran’s lethal attacks on Americans and its sponsorship of terror throughout the Middle East.

    The hardest immediate blow to Iran was Trump’s decision to label Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity. That’s important because the Revolutionary Guard is the regime’s enforcer and controls a huge chuck of the country’s economy.

    Next up: Congress has to determine whether to impose sanctions on Iran.

    If it does, then the US effectively withdraws from the multilateral “Joint Agreement.” But who knows what Congress will do, especially with Trump’s latest personal foe, Bob Corker, as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

    As expected, the other signatories to the agreement didn’t like Trump’s decision.

    No improvement in the horrific California wildfires. Death toll above 30 and expected to rise (Los Angeles Times)

    15 fires have burned over 200k acres so far.

    Trump hits Obamacare with a double whammy, ending subsidies to private insurers and urging competition across state lines

    Without subsidies, the insurers will likely stop providing policies to lower-middle-class consumers. The poorest are not affected because they are on Medicaid. The better off are not affected if they have employer healthcare plans.

    Whether insurers can operate across state lines will depend on whether state regulators allow it. Right now, they don’t.

    Conservatives are furious at Mitch McConnell and establishment Republicans for the very slow pace at which Trump appointees are approved (Daily Signal)

    Comment: The pace is extremely slow. Trump has been slow to put forward nominees in some areas. The Democrats have opposed everything, tooth and nail. And the Republicans have refused to change any rules to speed things along, giving free rein to the Democrats’ delaying tactics. Since many establishment Republicans oppose Trump, the delays may be just fine with them.

    But rank-and-file Republicans and many donors are not happy. They especially want to see judicial nominees moved along expeditiously.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, October 6

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

    Leaks that Pres. Trump plans to “decertify” the Iran nuclear deal

    That action doesn’t kill the multilateral deal, but it does begin a process that could.

    When Trump makes his formal decision about Iran’s behavior, as he is required to do periodically by law, the Congress will then have to decide whether to reimpose sanctions.

    Comment: The issue is complicated because (1) the agreement is multilateral and most other signatories want to stay in, (2) Obama front-loaded nearly all the benefits for Iran, among the most incompetent negotiating moves ever, and (3) the agreement does not limit Iran’s deadly, malevolent action in other areas, including missile tests (another major shortcoming).

    Obama, Susan Rice, and John Kerry thought that Iran’s financial windfall would make them a more responsible actor.

    That magical thinking is best captured by a Yiddish phrase:

    More nasty weather headed our wayTropical Storm Nate could cause flooding in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast (NOLA.com)

    It is expected to hit late Saturday night.

    Comment: The Mississippi Gulf Coast has no protection, but New Orleans has wetlands to the south, which ought to afford some protection. Unfortunately, those wetlands–and the protection they afford–have shrunk dramatically over the past few decades, thanks to canals cut for pipelines and ships. The water moving through those cuts has changed the local ecology and harmed the wetlands.

    Harvey Weinstein, film mogul and, according to interviews in the NYT, perpetrator of serial sexual harassment against actresses and employees

    The New York Times broke the story as an exclusive, with vivid details and on-the-record accusations (link here).

    Now, all the other news outlets are on the case.

    BuzzFeed reports that Weinstein, a major player in national Democratic politics, is relying on key Clinton and Obama aides to cope with the fallout. (link here)

    Normally, Gloria Allred appears as a plaintiff’s lawyer in the harassment cases, beginning with a huge press conference.

    But that doesn’t happen when the allegations are against a major Democrat. Actually, Gloria’s daughter, Lisa Bloom, is involved–working for Weinstein and, she says, trying to educate him that “times have changed.”

    Allred offered a half-hearted comment, saying she “would have declined” because she never represents people accused of harassment, only alleged victims. She offered no criticism of Mr. Weinstein.

    Comment: Expect gloating and finger pointing from Republicans, who are happy to gain a moment’s relief from their own scandal, an anti-abortion Congressman who is resigning after texts surfaced, urging his mistress to terminate her pregnancy.

     After Las Vegas, Republicans open to banning “bump stocks” used to convert semi-automatic rifles into fully-automatic ones (New York Times)

    The NRA seems open to some regulation, as well.

    Comment: Because passing a law would take time, many are urging the ATF to change its regulatory interpretation. That’s passing the buck–and evading what should be a Congressional and Presidential responsibility. We’ve gotten so used to passing everything by Presidential decree or bureaucratic regulations, even Republican congressmen want to avoid the normal, constitutional process for changing our laws.

    Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly (D) is facing a tough reelection in a Republican-leaning state. Now, he gotten more bad news: a non-partisan report rates him the least effective Democrat in the Senate (Indianapolis Star)

    Even when Democrats were in the majority, he accomplished almost nothing, they say.

    Comment: His prospective Republicans opponents were shocked, shock, and appalled. “Indiana needs….”

     Nobel Prizes

    • Literature: Kuzuo Ishiguro, author of “Remains of the Day”
    • Chemistry: 3 scientists who improved images of molecules
    • Physics: 3 scientists who detected gravitational waves, confirming a prediction of Einstein’s
    • Medicine: 3 scientists who discovered the genes regulating the body’s biological clock

    One of the winners in Medicine, Jeffrey Hall (emeritus, Brandeis) said that he collaborated with a Brandeis colleague, Michael Roshbash, because they shared common interests in “sports, rock and roll, beautiful substances and stuff.” He quit science ten years ago, he said at the time, because his grant funding ran out, the grant-review process was corrupt and biased, and he was fed up with academia. (story here)

    Comment: Looks like he was proven right about the bias.

    The Peace Prize will be given Friday. If they can find an innocent child or a do-gooder organization, fine. Otherwise, they should remember that they gave one to Arafat. They might want to think about what’s happening in Myanmar, either, since the country is headed by another Peace Prize winner and is now driving Rohingya Muslims out of the country.

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

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

    I wonder if this will be their followup?

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

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, September 28

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

    Republican Tax Plan: The Essential Features

    The details still need to be worked out through negotiations.

    It is a 9-page framework at this stage, more detailed than previous releases but still not a fleshed-out bill.

    Key features:

    • Lower corporate tax rates: Nominal rates cut significantly–to 20%
      • Whether actual rates for Company X or Company Y are lowered depend on whether previous deductions are eliminated.
    • Fewer personal brackets
    • Much bigger standard deduction for each individual or family
      • Big benefit to lower-income earners
    • Many fewer deductions
    • Keeps big deductions for mortgages, charity, and medical
    • Repeals the Alternative Minimum Tax,
      • Initially meant for a few rich individuals but now affects millions of taxpayers
    • Eliminates the Estate Tax (“death tax”)
    • Repeals deduction for state and local taxes (very contentious)
    • Keeps a special carve-out for hedge fund called “carried interest” (very contentious)

    ◆ The Essential Politics 

    First, the goal is growth, even if it raises projected budget deficits.

    Second, everybody is making hypocritical arguments.

    • The Democrats doubled the country’s debt over the Obama Administration. Now, they are complaining about deficits.
    • The Republicans screamed about debt and deficits during the Obama Administration. Now, most of them say deficits are less important than growth

    Third, the main political arguments are conventional and obvious for both sides.

    • Democrats: “This will only help the rich” (redistribution argument)”
    • Republicans: “Everybody wins when the economy grows faster” (growth argument)

    The New York Times weights in reliably with this analysis headline: Trump Tax Plan Benefits Wealthy, Including Trump. Most analysts agree with this regressive-distribution effect, at least in the initial proposal.

    Big Court Threat to Public Employee Unions (USA Today)

    The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to hear a challenge to the so-called “fair share” fees public employee unions collect from non-members, posing a major threat to organized labor.

    Unlike the past three times the court has considered similar cases, its five-member conservative majority appears poised to rule that workers opposed to union representation cannot be forced to pay for collective bargaining and other benefits. –USA Today

    Comment: The Republicans really want to weaken the public unions, as Scott Walker’s campaign in Wisconsin showed.

    The unions know it and uniformly support Democratic candidates.

    The legal argument by conservative and moderate union members is that so much of what these unions do is inherently political that the members’ free-speech rights are trampled by forcing them to pay union dues as a compulsory aspect of working at, say, a public school or Department of Motor Vehicles.

    My guess: Compulsory union fees will be ruled unconstitutional violations and national membership in public-employee unions will drop significantly, following the Wisconsin pattern.

    The biggest impact will be on K-12 school policy in the states.

    There will be a longer-term impact in other areas since weaker unions cannot stop the rise of autonomous busses or autonomous lawnmowers and floor cleaners, which will give cities and states more service for less money.

    Megyn Kelly: No thanks, say critics and potential guests, after her terrible start (Washington Post)

    Stars now shying away from interviews after Jane Fonda mess

    Megyn Kelly said on the first episode of her new NBC morning show, which aired Monday, that for years she’d “dreamed of hosting an uplifting show.”

    But just three episodes in, her celebrity guests seem to find the show anything but uplifting. Kelly’s penchant for speaking her mind, regardless of how her words might be perceived, caused two of her celebrity guests to speak out against the host after their respective appearances.

    The most recent was Jane Fonda, whom Kelly pressed to discuss her plastic surgery. –Washington Post

    Comment: One problem is that Fox viewers think she “betrayed” her network and thus her “side.”

    A second is that she was always better at hard-news interviews than soft-focus ones. But her new time slot is tailored for morning uplift, not hard news.

    Third, some media critics have said that she is the kind of woman who appeals more to male viewers than female viewers. But the morning audience is heavily female.

    NBC gave her bucket loads of cash and removed a steady program to give her a slot. They must be slashing their wrists.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, September 27

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

    Roy Moore wins in Alabama Republican Primary. Trump endorsed the loser, but it is still a victory for Trumpism, right-wing populism 

    Biggest loser outside Alabama: Mitch McConnell, who convinced Trump to get involved on the losing side.

    My guess is that Trump is beside himself with fury at McConnell. The only thing keeping them from all-out war is the need to pass tax reform.

    The main newspaper/website in Alabama has a concise headline on the outcome: Roy Moore rattles GOP in win over Luther Strange. They expect a “donnybrook” in the general election.

    I have a separate post on the politics of Moore’s victory (here)

    Comment on origin of word “donnybrook”: I hadn’t seen the word in a while and wondered where it came from.  I was shocked, shocked to find it is an area of Dublin, known for . . . .

    Tax Cuts and Reforms to be unveiled on Wednesday. More on that later this week when the details are available.

    The goal is to simplify, cut rates, and stimulate growth.

     The Health Care repeal and reform has died for this year. All that talk. No action. 

    The New York Times report is here.

    Comment: The Senate Republicans are in such a knot, they can’t even hold “regular order” hearings on the latest proposal, Graham-Cassidy’s federalist proposal.

    McCain and Susan Collins put the stake in it, but several other Republicans were also “no” votes.

     Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, won’t run for reelection. He is a center-right Republican from Tennessee (Washington Post)

    Two Chicago police officers “take a knee” in the police station. They are reprimanded by the department–but Mayor Rahm Emanuel offers no criticism (Chicago Tribune)

     

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  • US Senate Race in Alabama: Roy Moore Wins Republican Primary

    Defeats incumbent Senatorial appointee, Luther Strange, despite Trump’s endorsement

    “Big Luther,” as Trump nicknamed him, was saddled with trouble from the beginning.

    He was appointed to office and many Alabama voters thought the decision was corrupt.

    It was made by the embattled, embarrassed, and now-departed Gov. Bentley.

    Somehow, the investigation of Bentley was stopped by the State AG’s office, headed by Strange. It’s not hard to figure what most people thought of that.

    Still, Strange was the incumbent, was endorsed and funded by Sen. Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and, thanks to McConnell, received Trump’s endorsement.

    Trump and Pence made trips to Alabama but never attacked Moore and, in fact, said they would support him in the general election. Moore is not so appealing to a general population but is still likely to win in a Deep Red State.

    Backed by Steve Bannon and the populist wing, Moore’s win is a “victory for Trumpism but not for Trump.” The president will take some (small) comfort from that. And he’ll be leery of opposing that movement again at the ballot box.

    Who is the Big Loser, Besides Luther Strange?

    Who is the big loser? Mitch McConnell.

    He loses twice over. First, he loses a reliable vote in the Senate. Roy Moore is a loose cannon (though he lacks much firepower). Assuming he wins the seat, he won’t be a reliable vote any more than Mike Lee or Susan Collins.

    Second, ole Mitch is not going to enjoy his talks with Trump. He got Trump to endorse a loser. Trump is gonna love that. Mitch couldn’t get his own guy over the finish line and managed to associate Trump with the thing he hates most: losing. And, of course, Mitch cannot get key legislation passed. Trump is gonna treat him like road kill, restrained only by his desperate need to pay tax cuts and tax reform.

    Moore is Less

    As for Moore, he is

    • Dumb as a box of rocks, which doesn’t seem to faze Alabama Republican voters
    • Knows nothing about public policy, which takes some doing for a man who has been in public office for years
    • Considered by Alabama Republicans to be the authentic voice of populist anger and religious fervor.

    It was this last point–populist fury and Moore’s identification with it–that led to his victory.

    Expect to hear plenty from the Democrats about the “rule of law” in our country. They will move to exploit Moore’s flat refusal to remove the Ten Commandments from a court building, despite being to do so by a Federal Court. We’ve been through that issue before in our country. It was decided right the first two times. Moore’s refusal to obey a legitimate court order is despicable. It got him booted off the Alabama State Supreme Court but was apparently a feather in his cap politically. Uggh.

    With all those deficits, it tells you a lot about the primary electorate’s mood that he won. And it tells you a lot about how conservative Alabama is that Moore is favored to win the General Election.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, September 5

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

    ◆ Another huge, devastating hurricane coming: Cat 5. Will hit Puerto Rico, then south Florida

    No one knows whether it might swing due north through Florida or later, after it hits the Gulf.

    DACA exemptions to end in 6 months unless Congress fixes 

    Washington Post story here

    The Trump administration announced Tuesday it would begin to unwind an Obama-era program that allows younger undocumented immigrants to live in the country without fear of deportation, calling the program unconstitutional but offering a partial delay to give Congress a chance to address the issue.

    The decision, after weeks of intense deliberation between President Trump and his top advisers, represents a blow to hundreds of thousands of immigrants known as “dreamers” who have lived in the country illegally since they were children. But it also allows the White House to shift some of the pressure and burden of determining their future onto Congress, setting up a public fight over their legal status that is likely to be waged for months. –Washington Post

    The announcement was made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

    He called it an “open-ended circumvention of immigration law through unconstitutional authority by the executive branch” and said the program was unlikely to withstand court scrutiny. –AG Jeff Sessions in WaPo

    Congressional Republicans plan legislation to fix. Democrats vigorously condemn Trump (Fox News)

    Congressional Republicans indicated Tuesday they will take up the Trump administration’s call to consider legislation to replace the Obama-era DACA program, though condemnation from Democrats over the decision to end it points to a heated battle ahead.

     America’s universities deny students fair hears on sexual-assault allegations, according to new report (FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education)

    FIRE’s Spotlight on Due Process report for 2017 (link here)

    A new survey reveals that the overwhelming majority of America’s top universities fail to provide students accused of serious misconduct with the most basic elements of fair procedure

    A shocking 85 percent of top institutions maintain policies that receive a D or F grade for due process protections

    Nearly 74 percent of institutions don’t even presume a student innocent until proven guilty. –FIRE

    Comment: The worthy effort to protect victims and ensure their rights has undercut the rights of those accused. This erosion began with orders from Washington bureaucrats during the Obama administration and has been carried out zealously on campus.

    GOP could move debt-ceiling and relief for Hurricane Harvey this week in Congress (Politico)

    Fiscal conservatives have objections.

    Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program: why he wants it (Washington Post)

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, August 30

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

    Kim Jong Un keeps up his threats, calling his recent missile launch over Japan a “meaningful prelude” to “containing Guam” (Fox News)

    The mid-range missile he launched this week is specifically designed to carry nuclear payloads.

    Comment: This deliberate escalation and incendiary rhetoric by North Korea, plus their rapid technical advances, are bringing this issue to a head.

    An environmental mess: A powerful, new herbicide, designed to be used with genetically-modified soybeans–has drifted onto untreated farms, killing their crops (Washington Post)

    The damage here in northeast Arkansas and across the Midwest — sickly soybeans, trees and other crops — has become emblematic of a deepening crisis in American agriculture.

    Farmers are locked in an arms race between ever-stronger weeds and ever-stronger weed killers.

    The dicamba system, approved for use for the first time this spring, was supposed to break the cycle and guarantee weed control in soybeans and cotton. The herbicide — used in combination with a genetically modified dicamba-resistant soybean — promises better control of unwanted plants such as pigweed, which has become resistant to common weed killers.

    The problem, farmers and weed scientists say, is that dicamba has drifted from the fields where it was sprayed, damaging millions of acres of unprotected soybeans and other crops in what some are calling a man-made disaster. Critics say that the herbicide was approved by federal officials without enough data, particularly on the critical question of whether it could drift off target. –Washington Post

    The problem is dicamba’s toxicity to unmodified plants:

    According to a 2004 assessment, dicamba is 75 to 400 times more dangerous to off-target plants than the common weed killer glyphosate, even at very low doses. It is particularly toxic to soybeans — the very crop it was designed to protect — that haven’t been modified for resistance. –Washington Post

    Comment: Everybody is suing everybody.

    How will “Trump Republican” candidates and Trump himself affect the 2018 Senate elections? (New York Times)

    The news hook is the entry of a Trump ally, Rep. Lou Barletta, into the crowded Republican field against Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey.

    The announcement by Representative Lou Barletta gives Republicans a relatively well-known challenger to Mr. Casey as the party tries to take advantage of an electoral map that heavily favors Republicans. But it also shows the political headwinds the Republicans face: The party’s base voters remain loyal to the president and his agenda, even as the larger electorate drifts away. –New York Times

    The electoral map should favor Republicans.

    Thirty-four senators — 25 aligned with the Democrats and nine Republicans — are up for re-election next year. While Democrats are defending 10 seats in states won by Mr. Trump, only one Republican — Senator Dean Heller of Nevada — is seeking re-election in a state carried by the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. –New York Times

    Will the supplemental appropriation bill for Hurricane Harvey include other items?

    Sen. Ted Cruz and others had claimed that the relief package for Hurricane Sandy included many such items, but that was not the case, according to the politically-neutral Congressional Research. Washington Post report here.

    Correction: Yesterday, ZD reported there had been pork in the final Sandy bill. There was pork in the Senate version (Cruz fought to take it out), but little or none in the law ultimately passed.

    Some good academic news: Several Ivy League professors, led by Princeton’s Robbie George, circulate a public letter telling students to think for themselves

    The letter puts it well:

    The love of truth and the desire to attain it should motivate you to think for yourself. The central point of a college education is to seek truth and to learn the skills and acquire the virtues necessary to be a lifelong truth-seeker. Open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate are essential to discovering the truth. Moreover, they are our best antidotes to bigotry. –Letter to incoming students (link here)

    Comment: The letter itself is excellent.

    The fact that such basic values are currently unfashionable is a fundamental crisis in higher education.

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Ken Freed for the Hurricane Sandy relief bill correction

    ◆ Tom Elia for the Princeton story