• ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, June 24

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Healthcare bill:

    • Another Republican Senator says no (that’s 5).
    • The Democrats go all in on vitriolic criticism.
    • Warren calls it “blood money,” etc.
    • Even Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat, will vote against the bill.

    The conventional wisdom is that the R’s cannot get it through the Senate  and that the D’s will escape all blame from voters.

    Comment: I don’t think the Democrats are home free on this.

    The Republicans will get a lot of the blame, to be sure, if they can’t pass a bill. They should. They have both Houses and the Presidency.

    But the Democrats’ entire strategy on everything in both Houses and in the streets is to resist and obstruct.

    It remains to be seen if voters will endorse that. I don’t think it appeals beyond the base in NY, CA, and university towns.

    Republicans will surely say, “It’s our bill versus Obamacare. The Democrats love Obamacare and won’t do anything but small changes. So now we’re all stuck with it.”

    That stance is reinforced by former Pres. Obama coming out so forcefully against the Republican bill.

    What happens when voters get the bad news from insurance companies in November about next year?  

    Ultimately, the electoral question comes down to this: Which do you hate more? Obamacare or the Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace it?

     Suicide bomber in Saudi Arabia blows himself up, but fails to reach his main target in Mecca: the Grand Mosque (Washington Post)

    The [Saudi Interior] ministry did not name the group involved in the attack. The ultraconservative Sunni kingdom battled an al-Qaida insurgency for years and more recently has faced attacks from a local branch of the Islamic State group.

    Neither group immediately claimed those arrested, though Islamic State sympathizers online have urged more attacks as an offensive in Iraq slowly squeezes the extremists out of Mosul and their de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria comes under daily bombing from a U.S.-led coalition. –Washington Post

    Comment: Remember, bringing down Saudi Arabia was the major goal of Al Qaeda all along. So far, not much progress.

    My guess is that the real political risk is related to Saudi efforts to liberalize the economy, which requires freer information and freer women.

     Loretta Lynch, Attorney General in Obama’s final years, is now being investigated by the Senate. Hacked emails from a Democratic campaign official said Lynch “would not to let the Clinton investigation go too far.” That doesn’t look good. Nor does Comey’s testimony that Lynch ordered him to falsely characterize the investigation in public. (USA Today story here)

    Another email, now public,

    indicated that Lynch had privately assured Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria that the FBI’s investigation wouldn’t “go too far.” –USA Today

    The Congressional letter asking Lynch to provide documents was bipartisan, and Lynch has promised to cooperate.

    Comment: First, the Senate has to determine if these emails are real or fake. If they are real, Ms. Lynch may be be able to dance around them. For example, “I only meant I didn’t want it to go too far afield” or that she was simply guessing what the FBI would do. (Why would she be talking about such a secret matter to staffers for the person being investigated?) Or that the staffer misunderstood, etc.

    The fact that Democrats signed the letter to Lynch indicates the Senate committee, led by Grassley and Feinstein, is operating in a bipartisanship fashion, although it could also indicate that Lynch has reassured Democrats she can defend her position.

    Still, the documents now publicly available reek of political interference in a criminal investigation if they are real, not faked by the Russians. As this investigation moves forward, remember, the Democrats refused to allow the FBI to look into their computers after the Russian hack. They haven’t said why.

     When corruption stinks. Literally. The White Plains, NY, city council gave a $175k judgeship to someone who cannot work because she is too fat to climb the three steps to the bench (Daily Caller) Judge Eliz. Shollenberger is chair of the local Democratic Party and all council members are Democrats.

    It actually gets worse. Judge Shollenberger comes to the court house with what we will delicately call “gastrointestinal issues,” which leave the place looking and smelling terrible.

    Shollenberger further dismayed her colleagues by displaying “complete arrogance” following the embarrassing incidents.

    “She would just say, ‘There is a mess over there. I think someone should clean it up,’” a court source told the NY Post. –NY Post, quoted in the Daily Caller

    Comment: The over/under on how long it takes for Judge Shollenberger to play the victim here: 2 minutes. “I’m sick” “This is fat shaming.” Etc.

    Meanwhile, the public has to pay for a non-working judge and a hard-working janitorial crew.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, June 23

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Republican Senators introduce their health-care bill. In its current form, the bill is at least 3 votes short of the 50 votes needed. Moving right to capture them could lose centrist Republicans.

    On the current vote count, here’s the Washington Post story.

    And the criticism from outside groups is fierce. Here’s one report on criticism by healthcare groups (Bloomberg)

    Surprisingly, Obama doesn’t like it, either. He posted on FB. I planned to quote it but it runs longer than a Fidel Castro speech.

    The best summary of the differences between the House bill (as passed) and the Senate bill (as introduced) is here at the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (link)

    Comment: Negotiations ahead in the Senate. Uncertain if Pres. Trump will get involved.

     Russian “Old Believer” Priest tells men to grow beards to “protect themselves from homosexuality”  (Moscow Times)

    Comment: I asked an expert, a Mr. W. Whitman,  . . . .

     Quick Tip: If you have a huge weapons stash, don’t get caught shoplifting ammo

    Ramadan Abdullah was arrested for theft in upstate New York (Binghamton Homepage)

    Police recovered:

    -4 loaded handguns
    -8 assault weapons
    -64 high-capacity ammunition feeding devices
    -1 loaded shotgun
    -2 rifles
    -thousands of rounds of ammunition for rifles, pistols, and assault weapons, including 50 caliber armor piercing incendiary rounds, numerous firearm parts, and flak jackets.

    Cornwell says subsequent search warrants executed at other properties tied to the suspect resulted in the seizure of:

    -numerous rounds of 38 caliber ammunition
    -high-capacity ammunition feeding devices and ammunition
    -an additional loaded firearm –Binghamton Homepage

    Comment: Mr. Abdullah said that being arrested during his namesake holiday was especially ironic.

     Trump’s infrastructure proposal includes expansion of rural broadband (Engadget)

    Comment: This could be a valuable expenditure, if it were done right and not too expensive.

     Qatar’s neighbors issue a long list of demands to end crisis (Associated Press)

    The Saudis, Egyptians, and others issued a 13-point list

    insisting that their Persian Gulf neighbor shutter Al-Jazeera, cut back diplomatic ties to Iran and sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

    In a 13-point list — presented to the Qataris by Kuwait, which is helping mediate the crisis — the countries also demand an end to Turkey’s military presence in Qatar. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the list in Arabic from one of the countries involved in the dispute. –Associated Press

    Comment: Getting the Turks out and keeping Iran out are the keys. They also want to shut Al Jazeera. 

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  • Democrats Latest Strategy on Repeal-and-Replace: Shut Down the Entire Senate

    To show they are grumpy about the Republicans’ negotiations to repeal-and-replace ObamaCare, the Democrats have a new idea.

    They plan to halt all business in the Senate, even the most routine measures.

    Those normally pass unanimously without objection.

    That is what CNN is reporting.

    Senate Democrats will move to bring the chamber to a halt Monday night to protest the Republicans’ closed-door process to gut Obamacare in the coming days, according to a senior Democratic aide.

    Democrats plan to object to routine requests to let the chamber operate — whether it’s scheduling votes or allowing committees to meet for extended hearings — in a move aimed at escalating the fight over health care. –CNN

    CNN reports the Democratic base is enthusiastic about the strategy.

    It is not clear if the Democrats plan to continue the strategy after Monday’s protest.

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    Comment: Rachel Maddow, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Steyer might like it, but ordinary people won’t.

    This is a temper tantrum wearing the thin guise of political strategy.

    The correct allegation is that the Republican Senators are doing this behind closed doors.

    The Republicans rightly respond that the Democrats have said they won’t agree to anything if it repeals and replaces Obamacare.

    So, Republicans figure, if we can’t get their votes, why tell them in advance what we are doing?

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 4

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     England’s third major terror attack in 10 weeks raises fundamental questions about how to prevent these assaults

    Comment: Kudos to the London police for their immediate response. It was swift, sure, and effective. 8 minutes from first incident to squads arriving in force. Their swift action prevented countless additional casualties.

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    The problem is how to prevent these attacks, both in the short run (surveillance, arrests, etc.) and long run (tougher restrictions on immigration and rethinking the obvious failure to integrate the communities into the liberal west).

    All Europe is facing a high threat from Islamic extremists, many (like the Manchester bomber) born in the very Western countries they are terrorizing.

    As ISIS is squeezed abroad, they will try to revive their organization by killing in Europe.

    Ordinary Europeans will refuse to live in perpetual terror and demand answers from their failing political leaders.

     US media reported the London attack, wall-to-wall, but buried one aspect of the story. Any guesses? You are correct.

    I explain the MSM’s fecklessness, and illustrate it concretely, in a separate post, here. I call it PC BS.

     In happier news, one of baseball’s all-time greats, Albert Pujols become the 9th player to hit 600 homers. (ESPN) The cherry on top: it was a grand slam. Another cherry: it comes in the post-steroid era. His head and arms actually look human. 

     Japan holds evacuation drills as North Korea’s nuclear program advances  (Reuters)

    Comment: The Japanese navy is also conducting joint exercises with the US fleet.

    My sense is that the Chinese are playing rope-a-dope, doing a little to slow down Pyongyang but not nearly enough. That is simply unsustainable for the US and Japan.

     Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell hopeful on tax cuts, less so on healthcare  (Reuters)

    Comment: Tax reform is essential, and the Republicans know it, not just for the economy but for their reelection.

    On healthcare, the pressure in late autumn, when next year’s premium notices go out, will be enormous. Obamacare is melting down, and that means suffering. The Republicans will point at Obama and the D’s. But that won’t cut it. People elected the R’s to fix it.

     California progressives really, really want single-payer, and they want their state to provide it. (Fortune)

    The state Senate, with a big Democratic majority, passed it easily. They skipped over the pesky problem of paying for it. (Honestly, they did absolutely nothing about funding it.)

    How expensive would it be? $400 billion. That’s huge. More than twice as big as the entire state budget today.

    No one knows if the State Assembly will pass it or if Gov. Jerry Brown will sign it.

    Naturally, they would need to heft tax hikes to pay for it, but economic studies show there is still a big shortfall. (ABC News)

    Comment: The leading Democratic contender for Governor, Gavin Newsom (former mayor of S.F.), put on his tin-foil hat and strongly backed the single-payer plan.

     Another “can you top this” in college crazies: Black students at Evergreen State U. in Olympia, WA, demand all white people leave the campus for a day.  (Washington Post) 

    Their demands managed to close the entire school for a day.

    For some reason, not everyone thought this white-leave-campus thing was a good idea.

    One long-time progressive, Prof. Bret Weinstein, did not favor it. And he didn’t like the students’ demands that new academic hires deemphasize academic ability and focus on race/gender/undocumented/social justice/etc.

    As you can imagine, those opposed to Weinstein were not looking for a debate.

    The were looking for blood.

    In fact, the other professors at Evergreen State also turned on Weinstein. (National Review Online)

    It’s so nasty, so crazy that even the NYT’s Frank Bruni writes a column against it. Naturally, he begins by condemning the US, thus establishing his bona fides as a morally superior person, but he still doesn’t like the ideas out in Olympia. It’s a strong column–and one the NYT readership needed to see.

    There are names for people like Frank Bruni. Fascist. Racist. Sexist. Columnist.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Richard Siegler
     and Tom Wyckoff for the Frank Bruni column.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, May 27

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Trump’s back home and the Russian mess is still dogging him.

    He’s considering major changes at the White House to cope. Washington Post says the allegations “threaten to consume his Presidency”

    The White House plans to far more aggressively combat the cascading revelations about contacts between Trump associates — including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser — and Russia.

    White House officials also are trying to find ways to revive Trump’s stalled policy agenda in Congress and to more broadly overhaul the way the White House communicates with the public.

    That includes proposals for more travel and campaign-style rallies nationwide so that Trump can speak directly to his supporters, as well as changes in the pace and nature of news briefings, probably including a diminished role for embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer. –Washington Post

    Comment: These allegations are why the investigation by Special Council Robert Mueller are so important–and why it needs to move quickly. If there really was collusion with the Russians, the public and Congress need to know. Same if there was no collusion since the allegations themselves are making it hard to govern.

     The most important comment in US politics this week:

    Mitch McConnell’s “I don’t know how we get to 50,” votes to pass a health-care reform bill

    He did express some optimism on tax reform. (Reuters via Business Insider)

    Politico reports: “McConnell Steps Into ObamaCare Firing Line”

    Comment: This process is going to be very painful as the insurance markets narrow and premiums go up. Those who pay them are going to be mad as hell. Those who might be harmed by reforms are going to be just as mad.

    Politically, the question is whether voters will hold Democrats responsible for making the mess or Republicans for failing to fix it.

    My hunch: it is much easier to be the party out of power, casting the blame for failure. Since the Republicans hold both Houses and the Presidency, they won’t have much luck pointing the finger at Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi.

     American Airlines passenger tried to bite flight attendant, then ran off the plane. Now in custody.  (Washington Post)

    Likely Sentence: To be dragged repeatedly up and down the aisle of a United flight while listening to an endless loop of instructions on how to buckle your seat belt.

    (Btw, is there anybody left who doesn’t grasp the vexing concept of buckling a seat belt? Still, I am delighted to hear the detailed explanation on every single flight. I’m sure the flight attendants love doing it, too. Also, except for Sully Sullenberger, is there any such thing as a “water landing”? Isn’t there another term for that?)

     Uber and Lyft beat the city of Austin, will return on their terms  (The Verge)

    Austin didn’t give in on the requirements that led the ride-sharing companies to pull out for a year. But the Texas legislature just passed a bill that says the state, not the city, is in charge of setting the requirements. The key state requirement is annual background checks on the drivers.

     Little Caesar’s delivered a pizza (allegedly) labeled “halal.” The recipient says it was pepperoni. So, naturally, he is suing . . . for $100 million  (USA Today)

    Comment: I can see the plaintiff’s point. Pepperoni is virtually impossible to detect on pizza.

    But is $100 million really enough?

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, May 7

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

     Biggest event of the day: French election  Why? First, it’s already been important because the country’s main parties are out. Voters are not happy.

    Second, if Marine Le Pen is elected France could well exit the European Union, which it helped form.

    The latest ripple is massive computer hack of Emmanuel Macron’s computer files. (BBC)

    The main suspect is Russia, which is backing Le Pen.

    Macron is heavily favored. (Reuters)

    Comment: Even the prospect will rock European politics. It should have already done; there is clearly widespread dissatisfaction with the excessive bureaucracy, lack of democratic controls, erosion of national control over borders, and other key elements of the European project.

    There is also fury over the massive migration of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa who are not integrating into European society, reject many elements of Enlightenment liberalism and toleration, and, in some cases, pose terror threats.

    Le Pen is expected to lose to center-left candidate, Emmanuel Macron. Whether he can lift France from the economic and social doldrums is another matter.

     Next up on Health Care: Trump and Mitch McConnell try to craft a deal (Washington Post)

    For months, McConnell, the consummate political insider, has been dispensing his counsel to Trump, the ultimate outsider, who has been absorbing the Kentuckian’s words. The dynamic has provided a degree of stability in the still-forming relationship between the low-key Senate leader and the loquacious president, who are starkly different types of people.

    But cracks have also emerged in their partnership, most notably when Trump has casually suggested that McConnell change the long-standing rules of the Senate and McConnell has bluntly brushed him off.

    Their fragile alliance is about to face its biggest challenge yet in the next phase of the Republican effort to overhaul the nation’s health-care laws. –Washington Post

    Comment: Trump will surely rely on McConnell to work on the deal in the Senate itself, with Vice President (and former Rep.) Mike Pence as the main intermediary for the White House. Trump will be involved enough to show he cares a lot about it and then push harder when the Senate deal is close to done. 

    Of course, the Senate bill and the House bill will be different, requiring a conference committee–the kind of thing that used to be standard before the Obama years essentially jettisoned normal Congressional procedures.

     The New York Times wastes no time attacking: “Health Act Repeal Could Threaten U.S. Job Engine”

    How? Because fewer people might be employed in health care. They report devastating numbers in manufacturing in Ohio and then say, well, treating people for illnesses has softened the blow to employment.

    Comment: Oddly, this editorial was printed as a news story.

     Warren Buffett: I’m a ‘broken record’ on the US economy, we’re stuck at 2% growth  (CNBC)

    Don’t pay much attention to the quarterly numbers, which oscillate, he says. It’s been slow and steady since the autumn of 2009.

     Colombian civil war: Should the US fund the peace deal, as Obama wanted? Monica Crowley says no.  (NY Post)

    In mid-April, President Trump had a brief, cordial exchange with two former presidents of Colombia — Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana — at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. After the Miami Herald reported the encounter, critics suggested it might “undermine” the Colombian “peace deal” struck by the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

    In fact, it’s less a peace agreement than a pathway to dictatorship for a key US ally and to an expansion of drug trafficking here — developments that would pose grave challenges to Trump’s national security agenda and fight against opioid addiction.

    Remarkably, this disastrous course will likely be partially financed with nearly half a billion US taxpayer dollars — promised by then-President Barack Obama — unless Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan deny the appropriation to implement the deal. –Monica Crowley in the New York Post

    Comment: This deadly civil war has lasted for decades. Colombian voters rejected a previous peace deal.

    I simply don’t know enough about the current situation to comment on it, or on Crowley’s views, intelligently.

     Richard Dawkins reports on very disturbing views in North Africa

    The underlying article is here (National Secular Society, UK) It reports on a large survey in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine.

    Just 45% of Egyptian men believed there should be laws “criminalizing domestic violence, including marital rape.” And only 70% of Egyptian women agreed with this statement. –National Secular Society

    Comment: This matters for women in the region and it matters for Europe, where refugees from North Africa are retaining the views for generations, not adapting to liberal western values.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Marcia Sukenik Weiss
    for the Colombia peace deal
    ◆ Seth Charnes
    for correcting me on Pence serving in the House, not the Senate

     

  • Thoughts on the Health Care Bill: Repeal and Replace = Relief and Regret

    ZipDialog will feature specific elements of the Repeal-and-Replace bill over the next weeks.

    For now, though, I want to comment on the overall concept.

    • Obama’s achievement. It is easy to see the mammoth problems with the Affordable Care Act. The ACA did not meet the basic promises Obama made to pass it (you can keep your doctor and your existing insurance), is financially unsustainable, and is now melting down. But that wreck should not obscure what Pres. Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid achieved. After the ACA passed, most Americans came to believe that they have a right to healthcare and to the insurance policies needed to pay for it.  That right extends to the poor and to people with costly pre-conditions.
    • It is politically perilous to remove that very costly new right/entitlement. Except for the Freedom Caucus, even fiscally-conservative Republicans are unwilling to risk it. That’s what the fight among conservatives is about.
    • Democrats are perfectly happy with the mess created by Obamacare and would be even if Clinton were president. (Well, I should say the ones who remain in office. Many were defeated because they voted for it.)
      • If Hillary was president, the current mess would probably lead to single-payer. The D’s would certainly press for it.
      • With Trump, it leads to a bipartisan lock-in for a vast new entitlement, which will be there forever, in some form or other. Since the hybrid public/private arrangement the Republicans are trying to fashion may not work, the Dems could end up with single payer anyway.
      • If it new bill does not pass, D’s they will certainly pin the failure on the Republicans, and so will many voters.
    • As the negotiations become difficult this summer and fall, some R’s may think: “wait, let Obamacare fail this year and next, and we can pick up the pieces after that.” Dangerous calculation, I’d say, both politically for Republicans and physically for sick people.
    • If the bill passes and some people have to pay more or get less coverage–as some inevitably will-then D’s will blame the R’s, and so will some voters. These are fundamentally false comparisons between coverage offered by a new law and an imaginary future in which Obamacare lives on happily in cloud coocoo land.
      • In a country as angry and divided as America today, it is much easier to be the party out-of-power, as R’s are learning.
    • False comparisons. The Democrats and mainstream media will favor comparisons between any new Republican bill and the current ACA promises. The problem is that these are comparisons between a hypothetical Republican plan and an nonexistent Obamacare future. The current ACA is simply not sustainable. To say that “2 million people will lose benefit X or Y” is to assume that they would retain it under Obamacare. But that plan is falling of its own weight, so those people would lose the benefit anyway.
    • The falseness of the comparisons probably does not matter to most voters.
      • If they were promised their preexisting conditions were covered–and Trump said they would–then they will hold Trump and his party for covering them–and paying for it. 
      • Doing so will break the bank or force higher taxes, but the potential losers will demand those sacrifices. Given the public’s acceptance of the new entitlement, they have a strong chance of getting them.

    ◆ This political no-win situation is why the NYT headline reads: G.O.P. Cheers a Big Victory. But Has It Stirred a ‘Hornet’s Nest’? 

    Comment: Yes, but failing to act would have stirred a hornet’s nest, too.

    The big questions now are

    • Whether the R’s can pass anything that gets signed into law?
    • Whether too many people are disappointed? and
    • Whether the program is financially sustainable?
  • 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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