• A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma: Two Important Articles on Russia vs. US and NATO

    America is preoccupied, understandably, with its deep internal divisions, roiled by the riots and killing in Charlottesville and Pres. Trump’s reaction.

    But major world events don’t stop while we are preoccupied, whether it is with race relations at home or Kim Jong Un abroad.

    Russian expansion and NATO’s response to it remains one of America’s most important–and dangerous–security challenges.

    Here are two probing articles on US-NATO-Russian relations, one from a leading US strategist, the other from a country Russia invaded a decade ago, Georgia.

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    Michael Mandelbaum is one of America’s leading thinkers on international relations and US foreign policy. A centrist and a Realist, he writes here about NATO’s role:

    “Pay Up, Europe: What Trump Gets Right About NATO” (Foreign Affairs, subscription)

    European leaders may find [Trump’s] demands grating, especially given Trump’s unpopularity among their constituents, but they should heed them. In recent years, Europe has become a dangerous place. In search of domestic support, Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned to aggression abroad, invading Ukraine and intervening in Syria….

    Putin will always need new victims. That makes him an ongoing threat. Just when NATO has once again become necessary for Europe’s security, however, Trump’s election has thrown the future of the U.S. role in the alliance into doubt.

    For these reasons, Trump is right: to strengthen NATO and encourage the United States to continue its commitment to European security, the alliance’s European members should contribute more. Just as important for European and Western security, however, is for the United States to lead other multilateral initiatives to defend the interests and values that North America and Europe have in common. Without that leadership, Europe—and the rest of the world—will be a harsher place. –Michael Mandelbaum in Foreign Affairs mag.

    Mandelbaum’s conclusion:

    For Western responses to expansive Chinese and Russian conduct to succeed, the United States must lead the way. Only it has the power and the standing to launch global initiatives of this kind, as it did, for example, in 1990, when President George H. W. Bush assembled the worldwide coalition that evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Unfortunately, Trump has shown neither the inclination nor the ability to exercise such leadership.

    Forming a global coalition to resist Chinese economic bullying and Russian aggression will also require a broad sense of community among democracies, based not only on shared interests but also on common values. –Michael Mandelbaum in Foreign Affairs mag.

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    The same issues is examined by one of Israel’s top think tanks, BESA (the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University).

    The author, Emil Avdaliani, observes these issues from a sensitive location, Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

    Russia invaded a portion of Georgia in 2008 and still holds territory there.

    Russia Feels American Pressure, writes Avdaliani.

    Russian-US relations have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. President Donald Trump has signed a new package of anti-Russian sanctions into law and increased the US military presence across former Soviet territory and eastern Europe. He also sent VP Mike Pence on a tour of Estonia, Montenegro, and Georgia – a trip viewed by Moscow as western encroachment on an area it considers a buffer zone.

    This standoff does not mean the two superpowers will not be able to find common ground in other areas, but the potential for cooperation is limited. Former Soviet territory will likely remain a major confrontation line between the US and Russia. –Emil Avdaliani for BESA

    Russia’s economy is too weak to impose serious counter-sanctions, says Avdaliani.

    There are some areas for US-Russian cooperation, he thinks, but they are sharply limited.

    There are reasons for Moscow to be worried. American politicians openly state how supportive the US will be towards eastern European countries and Georgia in the event that Russia increases its military capabilities in the region…..

    A steady US/NATO military and security buildup is underway in eastern Europe and the South Caucasus.

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  • Suddenly, North Korean rockets are much better. Why? NYT says they bought engines from a Russian-linked firm in Ukraine

    The New York Times is reporting important news: “North Korea’s Missile Success is Linked to Ukrainian Plant

    That plant, which has historic ties to the Russian missile program, sold North Korea the equipment on the black market, according to classified assessments by the US intelligence community.

    Such a degree of aid to North Korea from afar would be notable because President Trump has singled out only China as the North’s main source of economic and technological support. He has never blamed Ukraine or Russia, though his secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson, made an oblique reference to both China and Russia as the nation’s “principal economic enablers” after the North’s most recent ICBM launch last month.

    Analysts who studied photographs of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, inspecting the new rocket motors concluded that they derive from designs that once powered the Soviet Union’s missile fleet. The engines were so powerful that a single missile could hurl 10 thermonuclear warheads between continents.

    Those engines were linked to only a few former Soviet sites.–New York Times

    Comment: This assessment (assuming it is accurate and accurately reported) raises disturbing questions about Russia’s malign role in this crisis.

    If the Ukrainian plant still has strong ties to Russia, then it would not transfer such lethal materials without political approval from Moscow.

    The intelligence report could lead to even worse bilateral relations between Washington and Moscow, already at their post-Cold War low.

    It also raises the possibility (discussed in previous ZipDialog posts) that if Beijing edges away from Pyongyang, then Moscow could step in as a diplomatic supporter.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, August 4

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Comment: It means the investigation is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Comment: Likely outcome: Netanyahu indicted.

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

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

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

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

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

    Fragile economy limits Putin (Reuters)

    And US sanctions weak him further.

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

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    Hat Tip to

    ◆ Michael Lipson for the Grand Jury story

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, July 31

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

     Comment: What the White House Shakeup Means

    It was obvious Priebus had to go. He had failed to impose order on the warring factions in the West Wing, which were leaking furiously to the media.

    He had also failed (through no fault of his own) at the main task for which he was hired: getting legislation passed. As a friend of House Speaker Paul Ryan, Priebus was expected to mediate between the Hill and an outsider President. But there were no legislative triumphs to point to, aside from a Supreme Court appointment and a Health Care bill that passed one chamber.

    What about the new guy? Trump’s choice of John Kelly says three things.

    1. The most important thing now is managing the factions in the West Wing and creating a smooth, efficient work flow for the President.
    2. The legislative agenda will have to be handled by others, not the Chief of Staff, who has no experience on the Hill.
    3. Trump is willing to move decisively on personnel. He fires people. (The obvious exception is the shameful treatment of Jeff Sessions, whom Trump wants out but doesn’t want to fire, for some reason.)

    Firing Priebus was not a bold move, but putting Kelly in that job is. Trump better get this one right. His Presidency is in deep trouble right now, and he needs to right the ship immediately.

    What I’d love to know: What did Kelly say to Trump before taking the job? What guarantees did he need? Military officers are trained to say “yes” to the commander-in-chief. If the President said, “John, I need you in this job,” then Gen. Kelly would be disposed to accept the position. My question is what kind of authority he asked for and whether he confronted the rogue elephant in the room: the guy sitting in the other chair.

     Putin hits back at US sanctions: tells most US diplomats to leave  (Washington Post)

    Comment: There are still plenty of US officials left in Russia, but this is a strong, escalatory response.

    Still, Putin is playing a very weak hand. What’s weakest? His economy, which is a basket case and depends completely on hydrocarbons, which are under tremendous, long-term downward pressure because of fracking and alternative energy. He is dangerous, not because his strength is growing but because he’s a wounded bear.

     Related article: OPEC’s big troubles  (Bloomberg)

    Comment: They have cut back production, but it failed to ramp up prices. Why? US oil-and-gas technology and global tech for alternative energy.

    Trump and Japan’s leader, Abe, talk about “grave and growing threat” from North Korea(Reuters)

    Nikki Haley tells UN that we are “done talking” about North Korea. Wants real action. 

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday and agreed on the need for more action on North Korea just hours after the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said Washington is “done talking about North Korea”.

    Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement China must decide if it is willing to back imposing stronger U.N. sanctions on North Korea over Friday night’s long-range missile test, the North’s second this month.

    Any new U.N. Security Council resolution “that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value”, Haley said, adding that Japan and South Korea also needed to do more. –Reuters

    Comment: We are on the edge of war. The next US action, short of a naval embargo or other act of war, would be serious economic sanctions on any bank or other company doing business with North Korea. This would hit Chinese banks hard because it would exclude them from US currency transactions. The Japanese could take actions against North Korea criminal earnings in their country. And both the South Koreans and Japanese could install more anti-missile systems. 

    Beijing has played a double game here, as it has for years. It offers weak help to the US, but it is not willing to risk the collapse of the Kim regime. The question Trump is posing is whether they will stick to that position if the US decides to put much more pressure on Pyongyang, threatening both war and China’s connection to the world trading system.

    Finally, some good economic news: US economy grew at 2.6% rate in second quarter  (NPR)

    The driver? Consumer Spending

     

     

  • ZipDialog for Friday, July 14: All Trump Jr.: What we know, what we don’t know, and what matters

    UPDATED

     The big story continues to be fallout from Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.

    Amid the firestorm, it is important to remember what matters and why.

    Comment and Analysis:

    • What matters is less the meeting itself and more the reasons DJT, Jr., himself says he wanted to have it after being told it involved information from the Russian government, which (he was told) wanted to help his father
    • That help was not given at the meeting.
    • If it had been given, it probably would not have been illegal
    • But it is a terrible idea to accept help from a foreign government.
    • It is even worse when the government is an adversary. And it is still worse when it is part of a multi-pronged attempt by the foreign government to interfere in the US election.
    • It completely obliterates the Trump White House’s denials for months that they had no contacts with Russian government agents during the campaign.
    • It is now consuming Washington, damaging the Trump presidency, and making it more difficult for him to move forward on health care, taxes, immigration, and other policy issues

    More information will continue to dribble out, such as yesterday’s story about how Loretta Lynch’s DOJ let the lawyer. Natalia Veselnitskaya, into the country and today’s story that one of the lobbyists the lawyer brought to the meeting was an ex-Russian intel officer.

    To me, the main questions now about the Trump side are whether

    1. There were more contacts?
    2. This was just chaos and confusion at the Trump campaign or part of a coherent plan and, if so, did the plan bear any fruit?
    3. The Democrats (Hillary, the DNC, their donors) had any hand in this or other dirty tricks?
    4. Manafort, the experienced guy on the Trump side, knew about the extent of the Russian involvement?
    5. This sought-after cooperation with the Russians involved the nominee himself?

    Now that this line of inquiry has opened up, it is also important to know what contacts the Clinton campaign had with foreign-government agents, especially those of unfriendly governments. Those would show that this game is played by all sides and show her campaign’s intent. BUT the Clinton campaign’s activities are much less important now because she lost.

    Trump is in the Oval Office so his campaign’s integrity, or lack of it, matters more.

    Everyone seems to think the Russians are loving this mess. I’m sure they do–but they probably have more mixed opinions since their fingerprints are all over the room and, because of that, are blocked from all but minor, tactical cooperation with the US.  Who could doubt they are adversaries and malevolent actors?

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    Question: Was this meeting a criminal offense, as Trump’s sharpest critics have charged.

    Answer: Most experienced attorneys have said that the information made public so far is not a prosecutable crime. But that it hardly the end of the matter.

    It is still a nasty business politically. It is either a political “crime,” or at least an attempted one, or else extraordinary incompentence. The presence of an experienced operative like Paul Manafort being part of this is inexplicable and disturbing.

    It’s not the end for another reason: further information might still come to light and suggest crimes really were commited. You can be certain that the mainstream media, which loathes Trump and now sees blood in the water, will spare no resources to investigate those possibilities. Plus, there’s Mueller’s investigation. Nobody is getting away with anything here.

     

     

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, July 13

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

     US had a clear shot at killing Kim Jong Un recently but decided not to pull the trigger (Yahoo News)

    They had him in their sights when he went to the ICBM launch. The fear, of course, is that a US strike would begin a devastating war.

    Comment: So, what’s behind this leak? The US is sending a very threatening message to Kim. Move against us and you die. Or you might want to live underground for a while.

     Politico reports: White House aides feeling ‘helpless’ as Trump Jr. scandal explodes

    The news in the story is that key White House aides are not bothering to play down this meeting as fake news or a false scandal, though some of Trump’s staunchest supporters do.

    Comment: The in-fighting will increase and, with it, the leaks. 

    If you think it’s bad now, imagine how much worse it gets if Congress cannot enact bills on healthcare and tax reform.

    Another strange aspect of the “Russian lawyer” story: Why did Loretta Lynch’s DOJ give her special permission to come to the US? (The Hill)

    This revelation means it was the Obama Justice Department that enabled the newest and most intriguing figure in the Russia-Trump investigation to enter the country without a visa. –The Hill

    Comment: She appears to have been given permission to come to do some specific legal work for a client but quickly shifted over to lobbying for Russian sanctions relief.

    ◆ Another day in Florida: Instagram model arrested for attacking police during nude encounter at Florida hotel (Fox News)

    According to the Clearwater Police report obtained by The Smoking Gun, [25-year old Brissa] Dominguez had trespassed onto the Edge Hotel’s property at approximately 4:20 a.m. on July 5. Officer Richard Edmonds later arrived on the scene to find Dominguez naked, so he handed her a towel. But instead of covering up, Dominguez used the towel to “strike [Edmonds] in the face by swinging it in a whipping motion.”

    Dominguez then proceeded to kick at the responding officers. The police report says she also tried biting and spitting on an officer before delivering a “mule kick” to Edmonds as police attempted to restrain her.

     Brazil’s former leader, Lula da Silva, indicted for corruption  (Washington Post)

    Comment: The corruption seems to have been pervasive in his government and that of his party.

     Fed Chair Janet Yellen: US economy strong enough to warrant more interest-rate increases  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Barring some shock, expect a couple more increases this year.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, July 12: All Donald Jr.

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

     Trump, Jr.’s troubles  The news is important, and we need to know more. The front page of the Washington Post captures the range of issues.

    Comments:

    What does the email chain mean?

    It means that

    • Trump Jr. knew (or thought he did) that the Russian government was trying to aid his father’s campaign by providing information on Hillary.
    • He wanted to cooperate with them if they had information
    • All his prior statements and those of the campaign that they were not having any meetings with the Russians were false, and they knew they were false
    • He, Kushner, and Manafort, who, as an experienced pol, should have known better, were effectively  drawn into an “information honey trap”
    • They didn’t already have good ties to the Kremlin, which means they had probably not been colluding (but sure looks like they wanted to do so)
    • They apparently still do not  grasp that this is far over the line of appropriate conduct in a US presidential race since it involves collaborating with a foreign adversary; that is true, whether or not the transaction violated any laws

    What else do we need to know? 

    Lots.

    We need to understand, among other things

    • Who was behind this, both in the US and in Russia?
    • What was their goal? Entrapment or future collaboration? Something else?
    • What links does the Russian lawyer have, in Russia and in the US?
    • What internal communications got Kushner and Manafort into the room for this meeting?
    • What other meetings did any high-level Trump staffers have with Russian operatives?
    • Where were the campaign’s legal team during this fiasco?
    • Did the Clinton campaign team have any similar meetings with foreign powers?

    One more thing: it is now obvious (at least to me) that the Russians have succeeded far beyond what they hoped for–and it is damaging to them because it blocks any conceivable glide path to better relations with the US in the near future.

    The domestic political implications are serious, even if this doesn’t go much further.

    Trump is weakened and his policy agenda is impeded as a result. Independently elected officials will edge away from him unless he squashes these legitimate questions with real answers.

    If there is more to the attempted collaboration, then the implications are far more serious.

    If it turns out to be a honey trap that somehow involved the Democrats, they will suffer, too.

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  • US-Russian Relations: What matters but isn’t covered in all the tabloid news

    Russia’s interference in America’s 2016 election matters. So do any possible connections to the Trump campaign

    But the media’s obsession with those issues is missing other major developments in US-Russian relations

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    The news about US-Russian-European relations goes far beyond the 2016 election interference and possible connections to the Trump campaign.

    On the international stage, Vladimir Putin has skilfully played a very weak hand, while the US misplayed its own for 8 years. Putin has taken an economy the size of Italy’s and returned it to status as an international power.

    It is Iran’s major outside supporter and a major player in Syria, where, in return for supporting the Assad regime, it has acquired major bases.

    It has used Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas for political leverage.

    And it has effectively offered to step in and assist North Korea if they want assistance beyond China’s.

    But he can only stay in power by running a corrupt kleptocracy, in close alignment with the oligarchs, with everything stage-managed from Moscow.

    That’s a good way for him to stay in power, but it is a terrible way to grow a diverse, modern economy. Over the long run, the Russian economy will continue to sputter as the US grows.

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    What has the Trump Administration done to cope with Putin internationally?

    The media focus has been entirely on US weakness, especially Trump’s mixed statements about NATO and his inexplicable reluctance to recognize the threat from Russia in clear, unambiguous language. There has been some focus on the recent cease-fire in Syria, too.

    But there is much more to the story. And all these other developments put pressure on a Kremlin ill-equipped to handle it.

    NATO

    On NATO, as I have noted, Trump is now a firm supporter but he still wants two major changes: a focus on terrorism and fair-share payments from European partners, as they promised. One reasonable interpretation of his threats to back away from NATO is that they are meant to get Europe to pay up.

    Poland

    In Poland, Trump did more than make a speech (a very good one in my opinion, a very bad one in the opinion of Democrats). He also agreed to an important arms sale the Obama Administration had refused.

    In a move set to counter Russia’s reinforcement on NATO’s borders, Poland and the U.S. have agreed that Warsaw will purchase the American-made Patriot air defense missile, the Polish government announced Thursday.

    Although Poland is a long-term advocate for more U.S. military presence in Europe, Russia’s decision to deploy Iskander missile systems on its borders in November made the demand for assistance more urgent. The S-400 surface-to-air missiles and nuclear-capable Iskander systems are set to be delivered in Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave bordering Poland. –Newsweek, story here

    Ukraine

    Totally missing from news coverage is the startling news that Ukraine is now openly seeking NATO membership–understandable, given the Russian threat, but an open insult to the Kremlin, which refused even to let Ukraine strike a trade deal with the EU.

    The Reuters story is headlines: “Pledging Reforms by 2020, Ukraine Seeks Route into NATO

    [Ukraine’s] President Petro Poroshenko, whose country is fighting a Kremlin-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, revived the prospect of NATO membership during a visit by NATO Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg who himself used the occasion to call on Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

    “Ukraine has clearly defined its political future and its future in the sphere of security,” Poroshenko speaking to reporters alongside Stoltenberg.

    “Today we clearly stated that we would begin a discussion about a membership action plan and our proposals for such a discussion were accepted with pleasure.”

    Russia, deeply opposed to enlargement of NATO toward its borders, weighed in quickly, saying the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine would not promote stability and security in Europe. –Reuters

    It’s unclear how NATO will approach this or what the Trump Administration will say (or even if it will speak with one voice).

    But the very fact that Ukraine has raised the NATO issue is sure to be a major irritant in US-Russian relations.

    Energy

    The Russian economy depends on oil revenues, and so does the Kremlin to retain support from oligarchs.

    The problem is that energy prices are under permanent, long-term pressure from the US, where shale technology is getting more and more efficient. The US is now a major (and growing) energy exporter, and Trump is doing everything he can to ramp up production and ramp down prices.

    The impact on Russia is not his primary concern here. He’s more concerned with the positive impact of lower prices on the US economy. But the impact on Russia is real, nonetheless, and Trump means to exploit it.

    On his recently completed trip, the president said:

    Let me be clear about one crucial point. The United States will never use energy to coerce your nations, and we cannot allow others to do so,” Trump said at a press conference flanked by European leaders. “You don’t want to have a monopoly or a monopolistic situation. –CNBC story here

    Trump did not name Russia, but everyone understood his message. After all, Russia had cut gas supplies to Europe in 2008 over a Ukraine dispute. Trump was saying, in effect, that we intend to stop that blackmail by giving you an alternative supplier.

    Bottom Line

    The possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign are worth a thorough investigation, as Mueller is doing.

    But don’t be mislead by Democrats’ talking tough: they did little to buttress Central European defenses during the Obama years. Pres. Obama had no intention of increasing US hydrocarbon production, if he could prevent it. (He couldn’t, thanks to new technology.) Lower energy prices it contradicted his broader concerns about fossil fuels and global warming. Fracking technology beat his regulatory onslaught, just as it beat the Saudis’ attempt to drive them out of business with low energy prices.

    For all Trump’s inexplicably warm language about Putin, his actions tell a different story. He’s selling arms to Poland, pressuring Europeans to pay up for NATO, unlocking American oil reserves to lower prices over the long-term, and working to ween Europe from Russian natural.

    Taken together, these actions put enormous pressure on a Kremlin underperforming economically, highly dependent on oil prices, and overstretched by its foreign commitment.

     

     

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, July 9

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

     Donald Trump, Jr., says he, Paul Manafort, and other campaign aides met with a Russian lawyer. The New York Times (here) and Washington Post (here) both play this as big news, but they don’t explain why. The Russian lawyer is connected to Putin’s circle, though it is not clear if Jr. or others knew. It was a brief meeting (20 minutes) and mostly raised the issue of resuming US adoptions in Russia.

    Comment: There are two reasons the meeting could be significant.

    First, Trump’s people had earlier denied any meetings at all. There was at least this one brief meeting.  Were there more? Did they go anywhere?

    Second, there is speculation (at the Daily Beast) the meeting was surreptitiously set up by a Democratic group, the Fusion GPS people. These are the fine folks who produced the dicey dossier on Trump. We don’t know a lot about Fusion GPS, including which Democrats paid for their services and why they were hired, but they seem to be part of an opposition research program. If that speculation pans out, then it looks like the Democrats were leading Trump’s people into a trap–not because anything really happened at the meeting but because the mere fact of a meeting with Russians looks bad in this increasingly anti-Russian environment.

    So far, a lotta would-a, could-a. Not much did-a, so far.

     ISIS, its “caliphate” in ruins, its capital of Raqqa about to fall, still inspires jihadis globally (New York Times)

    In Iraq, the group still controls Tal Afar, Hawija, other towns and much of Anbar Province. In Syria, most of its top operatives have fled Raqqa in the past six months for other towns still under ISIS control in the Euphrates River valley . . . .

    Many have relocated to Mayadeen, a town 110 miles southeast of Raqqa near oil facilities and with supply lines through the surrounding desert. They have taken with them the group’s most important recruiting, financing, propaganda and external operations functions, American officials said. Other leaders have been spirited out of Raqqa by a trusted network of aides. –New York Times

    Comment: About 18% of the ISIS-inspired attacks in Europe and North America involved fighters who returned from the battlefield. The other 82% were terrorists who had not been on the battlefield but were “inspired” by ISIS propaganda and radical imams, either in-person on online.

    Since these are typically low-tech attacks on soft targets, such as pedestrians on sidewalks, they are very hard to stop.

     The latest in aggie tech: farms inside shipping containers, using precise LEDs (Washington Post)

    Local Roots, a California company, has created an indoor farm that can turn any produce into local produce, anywhere. They grow fruits and vegetables in shipping containers that are stacked in old warehouses or parking lots, which can either be connected to the grid or, eventually, powered by solar energy. Local Roots has designed the custom growing technology and hardware, and it owns and operates the farms, selling its produce to restaurants and food distributors under its own brand. The fact that the company is vertically integrated differentiates it from other container farming systems. . . .

    Local Roots has figured out how to make the farm efficient enough that it can sell produce at a comparable cost to conventionally-grown fruits and veggies.

     Parental vetoes? Reports they are increasingly concerned about children attending universities with little tolerance for different ideas, little protection for free speech, and a uniform, “progressive” ideology (Inside Higher Ed)

    Comment: The parents are absolutely right. But the impact of the “parental veto” is probably exaggerated.

    There is no evidence that top schools like Brown are pinched–or intend to change. They still get the cream-of-the-SAT-crop and teach them to march in lock-step ideologically.

     Corrupt Illinois totters along: Passed the first budget in two years, huge tax increases, ZERO reforms  As the Chicago Tribune reports:

    Illinois’ bruising two-year run without a state budget is over, but business leaders are left feeling they got the short end of the stick: higher taxes with virtually none of the regulatory and political changes they sought.

    The $36.1 billion budget plan increases the corporate income tax rate to 7 percent from 5.25 percent and the personal rate to 4.95 percent from 3.75 percent. –Chicago Tribune

    Comment: The Democrats delivered for the public-sector unions and shafted taxpayers, once again. 

     This is real. I swear.

    Comment: It sounds eerily like the scene at the Star Wars bar.

     

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Ed Vidal
    for the article on parental vetoes of elite colleges
    ◆ Christina Sommers for VIDA survey

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, July 8

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

     The main stories come out of the G20 meetings in Hamburg.

    • Anti-capitalist riots in the street by extreme left and anarchists
      • Comment: Idiots with nihilist agenda
    • Trump has very long 1-on-1 with Putin
      • Full range of issues, beyond US election meddling, with focus on Syrian cease-fire and division of territory there after ISIS defeat
    • Trump has China’s Xi on schedule on 1-on-1 today
      • North Korea is top of the agenda, of course, but also trade
    • Ivanka briefly sits in for Pres at G20 meeting on Africa alongside world leaders  (Washington Post) (Comment: A nothingburger; still, it should have been the Sec. of State sitting there)

    Comment: We won’t know the results (as opposed to the agendas) of the Putin and Xi meetings until the effects on the ground are seen, beginning next week. The fact that Putin and Trump met without advisors is interesting, too. It indicates how serious the leaks are. The US cannot trust anybody to be in room.

    Comment on Silences at G20: This was supposed to be a showcase for German leader, Angela Merkel. She has been overshadowed by Putin, Xi, Trump, and rioters. Second, we have heard little so far about the shared challenges of Islamic terrorism and vast immigration flows from North Africa and the Middle East.

     US B1 bombers fly over South Korea as heads-up to North Korea after its ICBM test  (CNN)

    Comment: The signal is “the US can easily can incinerate you.” The problem is, if we launch a military attack, the North Koreans can kill large numbers in Seoul. Moreover, the Chinese might come in to prevent a Korea unified under American leadership.

    There are no good US options here. My guess is that the US starts to up financial sanctions on all North Korean trading partners, including Chinese banks.

     Venezuela’s top opposition leader released from prison to house arrest  (CNN)

    Comment: The country is tottering toward civil war, and oppo leader Leopoldo Lopez is a threat to the regime. The surprise here is that he did not die in prison.

     Chuck Schumer skewers Rex Tillerson over Russian meddling in US election  (The Hill)

    “For Secretary Tillerson to say that this issue will remain unresolved is disgraceful,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “To give equal credence to the findings of the American Intelligence Community and the assertion by Mr. Putin is a grave dereliction of duty and will only encourage Russia to further interfere in our elections in the future.” –The Hill

    Comment: Schumer is correct. This issue is not “unresolved.” His base loves it; it reinforces their view that Trump is illegitimate. But voters are interested in forward-looking solutions to real problems in the economy, foreign policy, etc. Schumer knows that, of course, but he has to toss red meat to the base. 

     Morgan Stanley: Renewables will be the cheapest power source within three years (Business Insider)

    Numerous key markets recently reached an inflection point where renewables have become the cheapest form of new power generation.

    A dynamic we see spreading to nearly every country we cover by 2020. The price of solar panels has fallen 50% in less than two years (2016-17). –Morgan Stanley via Business Insider

     K-12 Education: Betsy DeVos takes hard line on enforcing federal laws, surprising states who thought she would support local control (New York Times)

    The basic issue is an Obama-era law, replacing No Child Left Behind, that requires “ambitious” educational goals to meet federal standards. How much latitude will the Washington’s Dept. of Ed. give states to determine for themselves what it “ambitious”?

    “It is mind-boggling that the department could decide that it’s going to challenge them on what’s ambitious,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who worked in the Education Department under President George W. Bush. He called the letter “directly in opposition to the rhetoric and the promises of DeVos.” –quoted in New York Times

    Comment: Conservatives as well as liberals are concerned about this issue. They weren’t surprised by Washington’s heavy hand under Obama; they don’t expect it under DeVos and fear they may be getting it.

    Alternative possibilities are that

    • Lower-level officials did this without DeVos’ approval (the person who wrote it is a Democratic advocate for charter schools, appointed by DeVos)
    • The Dept. is actually enforcing the law, as written, until Congress rewrites it

    José Luis Cuevas, a Dark Master of Mexican Art, Dies at 83 (New York Times)

    Comment: He was continually greeted by folks at the bar singing: 

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