• ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 27

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

     Trump goes BIG with proposed tax cuts

    New York Times: “Trump Proposes Sharply Cutting Tax Rates for Individuals”

    The plan is still broad strokes, rather than details, but the strokes are bold.  The point men are Steven Mnuchin at Treasury and Gary Cohn at the National Economic Council.

    The proposal envisions slashing the tax rate paid by businesses large and small to 15 percent. The number of individual income tax brackets would shrink from seven to three — 10, 25 and 35 percent — easing the tax burden on most Americans, including the president, although aides did not offer the income ranges for each bracket.

    Individual tax rates currently have a ceiling of 39.6 percent and a floor of 10 percent. Most Americans pay taxes somewhere between the two.

    The president would eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, a parallel system that primarily hits wealthier people by effectively limiting the deductions and other benefits available to them. –New York Times

    The Times also has a perceptive story: Trump’s Tax Plan Is a Reckoning for Republican Deficit Hawks

    The White House insists that economic growth will cover the cost, which could be as high as $7 trillion over a decade. But the question will dog Republicans and could fracture their party as they face the prospect of endorsing a plan that many economists and budget analysts warn will increase the deficit. –New York Times

    Comment: The main story on tax cuts is riddled with editorial attacks on Trump and often personal ones. The opening line of the lead story is that the tax cuts benefit the rich. And all the stories emphasize the NYT’s speculation–and that is all it is–that the cuts will benefit Trump personally. The implications are that he is self-dealing and that this plan is just another “favor-the-rich, Republican plutocrat” idea. They also love to follow the “benefit the rich” with the words “like Donald Trump.” They have given up all pretense of distinguishing their hard-news reporting from their editorial stance. The difference is the first thing student journalists learn.

     US THAAD anti-missile system, sent to South Korea, to be active within days  (CNN)

    Comment: The US has also sent major naval assets to the area, while China and Russia have deployed significant land forces, possibly fearing an influx of refugees if the Kim regime collapse. But also a signal to Kim Jong Un that he is facing pressure on multiple fronts. 

     Obamacare repeal: House GOP factions making progress, Senate Republicans still an obstacle.  Politico reports: GOP senators not so keen on House’s Obamacare repeal

    The House may finally be on its way to scrapping Obamacare, but don’t expect the Senate to go along: Any plan sent over will undergo major surgery — and survival is far from assured.

    The hurdles in the upper chamber were on vivid display Wednesday as House Republicans celebrated their breakthrough on the stalled repeal effort. The compromise cut with House Freedom Caucus members won over the right flank, but the changes will almost surely make it harder to pick up votes in the more moderate-minded Senate. –Politico

    Comment: The pressure to get this done will be enormous. The GOP knows that they face electoral disaster if they don’t pass their biggest promise of the past seven years.

     How good is the economy in Austin, Texas? “Employers struggling to find workers who will take less than $15 an hour” (KXAN)

    The story also notes, oddly, that unemployment there has crept up slightly in the past few months.

    Comment: When I was in Austin this winter, I asked some workers at a fast-food chain what the starting wage was. “$12 an hour.” I often ask that question when I travel since the starting wage at a McDonald’s or Dairy Queen is the effective minimum wage in the area. 

    I draw two lessons from the Austin story.

    First, the only lasting way to raise the minimum wage is to strengthen business demand for workers, which means making it easier for them to do business and prosper. That’s the Texas story, in a nutshell.

    Second, if unemployment is creeping up (though still very low in Austin) but businesses cannot find workers, then something is wrong. Either people don’t have the right skills or there are disincentives to work. Either way, those are problems that need solutions.

     First settlers came to America 130,000 years ago, long before previous estimates, according to a new study.  (Science News)

    An unidentified Homo species used stone tools to crack apart mastodon bones, teeth and tusks approximately 130,700 years ago at a site near what’s now San Diego. This unsettling claim upending the scientific debate over the settling of the Americas comes from a team led by archaeologist Steven Holen of the Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and paleontologist Thomas Deméré of the San Diego Natural History Museum. If true, it means the Cerutti Mastodon site contains the oldest known evidence, by more than 100,000 years, of human or humanlike colonists in the New World, the researchers report online April 26 in Nature. –Science News

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Michael Lipson
     for the Austin, Texas, story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, April 16

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

     North Korea: no nuclear test (yet), failed missile test on day of big celebration  No comment from Trump or top aides. (Washington Post)

    Comment: We don’t know if North Korea simply wasn’t ready for its next nuclear test or was pressured by China. Either way, expect Kim Jong Un to continue pushing the envelope in dangerous ways. 

     Sec. of State Rex Tillerson’s stock is high and rising inside the White House. Outsiders have simply missed it  (Politico)

    Tillerson has far more White House visits than other Cabinet members, as well as weekly private dinners with Trump.

    Politico says Trump admires Tillerson’s skills in managing large organizations (he was superb at Exxon), and that Trump thinks, as executives do, in terms of quarterly results. And Tillerson is finishing the quarter strong, with his guidance on Syria, Iraq, and Russia.

    The American Interest has a related article on Tillerson’s rise in what they call “Donald Trump’s Transactional Diplomacy.”

     Him no talk. Elizabeth Warren whines that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to speak to her  (Washington Examiner)

    Comment: Warren, you might remember, refused to shake hands with Judge Gorsuch and led the opposition to fellow Senator Jeff Sessions’ successful nomination to become Attorney General.

     Julian Assange grumpy with CIA after its head calls WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service” (Fox News)

    Assange says CIA Director Mike Pompeo is trying to “subvert” his “First Amendment Rights.”

    Quick Tip to Assange: Non-US citizens living in London do not have First Amendment Rights. Try a different gambit.

     

     

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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 Roundup for Wednesday, April 5

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

     The big news day this week will be Thursday, when

    • Pres. Trump meets with China’s Xi for two days in Florida, and
    • Senate decides how to move forward on Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch

    Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that Gorsuch will get an up-or-down vote, which he will win, and I have no reason to doubt him. By Monday, Justice Gorsuch.

     There are three big issues in the Trump-Xi talks, but I suspect they will focus on only 2.

    • Will China stop North Korea’s nuclear/missile program (done in close cooperation with Iran)?
    • What happens to US-China’s bilateral economic ties?
    • Will China stop its territorial aggression in the South China Sea?  (I suspect this will get less attention)

    Comment: Trump will likely tell Xi that the US intends to sanction Chinese banks and companies doing business with North Korea and that the US will work toward regime change in North Korea. China can go along, and have a say, or do nothing.

    On economic issues, China’s economy has slowed and is vulnerable to US pressure, which Trump will apply. He will also highlight China’s systematic, state-sponsored theft of US intellectual property. These are high-stakes issues and Trump’s nationalist position on trade makes his threats credible. So far, no word on what he is proposing or how flexible Xi will be.

     Huge jobs increase in March  Over 260k, compared to 180k estimate. Widespread gains in private payrolls. (CNBC)

    Comment: Optimism about US growth taking root.

     That red line Pres. Obama drew in Syria? It is a Code Red Line after another deadly chemical attack. Russia denies the Assad regime is involved, naturally (CNN)

    A chemical weapons expert, Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told the BBC’s Radio 4 that all signs showed the chemical used was sarin gas and that Russia’s versions of events was “completely unsustainable.”
    “I think this is pretty fanciful and no doubt the Russians trying to protect their allies. Axiomatically, if you blow up sarin you destroy it,” he said. –CNN

    Comment: A vast human tragedy in Syria unfolding over years, with perhaps 500,000 civilians dead.

    Pressure is building to get a full explanation of what Susan Rice did, why she needed the unmasked names of US citizens, and who she shared that information with. Her record of public dissembling does not help her.

    Senate intel committee says Ms. Rice “may be of interest” to us.  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Well, duh.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, April 4

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

     St. Petersburg, Russia hit by deadly Islamacist terrorist attack, probably retaliation for Russian action in Syria. (Washington Post)

    At least 11 dead, 30+ injured.

    No one has claimed responsibility yet, but everyone suspects Islamic terrorists associated with the fighting in Syria.

    A crackdown by Putin is certain.

     Democrats have enough votes to filibuster Gorsuch. (New York Times)

    Comment: Mitch McConnell won’t let it prevent Gorsuch’s confirmation. For D’s in purple and red states, this opposition is perilous. Their base loves it, their donors love it, but the general public does not.

     President of Northern Arizona Univ. rejects idea of “safe spaces.” Students now demand her resignation.  (Heat Street)

    Rita Cheng had the courage to tell students they had to confront ideas they don’t like.

    Comment: Well, they didn’t like that idea.

     White House says mainstream media not showing interest in Obama-era spying (Washington Post)

    Comment: Absolutely right. In a separate post (here), I show screenshots from CNN, NYT, and WaPo that completely ignored the revelations about Susan Rice on Monday.  That’s worse than spin. 

     CNN’s chief national security correspondent say Susan Rice story is a “distraction” that the Trump Administration “ginned up” (Daily Caller)

    Comment: CNN is the name of a former news organization

     Odd, new job titles: “Sales Enablement Associate” Yes, someone just emailed me with that title.

    Comment: Like all right-thinking people at universities, I object to Enableism.

     

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  • Which Democrats Will Filibuster Gorsuch?

    To break a Senate filibuster once required 60 votes. No longer. Now, nearly all nominees require only a simple majority. The one exception: Supreme Court appointments.

    Why Did the Senate Rules Change?

    Former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), with only a slim majority but determined to confirm Pres. Obama’s appointments to federal district and appeals courts, changed Senate rules so that only a simple majority was needed. Now, his slim majority was enough, and the President used it to reshape the federal bench over 8 years.

    Reid did not have to change the rules for Supreme Court nominations–Republicans voted for Sotomayor and Kagan–so he didn’t.

    Why the Rule Change Matters

    Although Reid got his lower-court appointments, he changed the Senate in a fundamental way.

    That’s because the president’s need for a supermajority pushes him to find nominees that can win broad support.

    If he needs only a simple majority, he can ignore the minority party in the Senate.

    We will see the consequences this week, as the Senate debates and votes on the nomination of Federal Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the Supreme Court.

    The Filibuster To Come . . . and to Go

    Senator Minority leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), will pay for Reid’s changes this week, and the Republicans will benefit.

    Schumer, responding to his outraged voter and donor base, has said he will not only vote against Gorsuch, he will organize a filibuster.

    Nearly all Senate Democrats have fallen in line, including two are facing reelection in states Trump carried easily. Senators like Missouri’s Claire McCaskill will have a much harder path in the 2018 general election after this filibuster. The political logic behind their position has to be fear of a primary opponent on their left, who might defeat them within a shrinking Democratic base.

    The Republicans Will Blow Up the Filibuster if They Need To

    Faced with the prospect of losing the Gorsuch nomination, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), will surely propose to change the Senate rules and demand an up-or-down majority vote on Gorsuch. Even defenders of Senate traditions, such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, know they cannot let the Democrats block this nomination.

    By Friday, the Senate will have shed another of its traditions, and Judge Gorsuch will become Justice Gorsuch.  

     

  • Best depiction of Senate invoking “nuclear option” for Gorsuch nomination

    Sen. Bill Nelson has said he will not only vote against Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, he will filibuster him. (Tamp Bay Times)

    That’s significant because, without centrist D’s like Nelson, who comes from a state Trump won, the Senate is sustain a 40-vote filibuster.

    Confronted with that prospect, Mitch McConnell will surely try to change the Senate rules to allow a majority, up or down, on Gorsuch.

    Kudos to William Jacobson!

  • 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)

     

     

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  • 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.

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