• ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, April 17

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

     Turkey’s Erdogan claims he won a major national vote, giving him near-dictatorial powers. The opposition says “not so fast”  (Associated Press)

    Comment: He has been accumulating power steadily and moving the country toward Islamism, rejecting the century-old secularist tradition of the country’s modern founder, Atatürk.

     How bad is Libya? Well, there are now slave markets there, according to the United Nations  (BBC)

    Comment: Beyond the horrific human tragedy, there are other lessons for the US and Europe here. The biggest–and one we have had to learn repeatedly–is that it is far easier to knock down a regime, such as Muammar Gaddafi’s or Saddam Hussein’s, than it is to stand up a stable replacement.

     NYT calls North Korea a “Cuban Missile Crisis in Slow Motion”

    Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has said repeatedly that “our policy of strategic patience has ended,” hardening the American position as Mr. Kim makes steady progress toward two primary goals: shrinking a nuclear weapon to a size that can fit atop a long-range missile, and developing a hydrogen bomb, with up to a thousand times the power than the Hiroshima-style weapons he has built so far. –New York Times

    Comment: The NYT headline is insightful, highlighting the dangers ZipDialog has long stressed.

    But there are two crucial differences worth pondering. First, in October 1962, the US was dealing with a rational rival. Now, we’re not sure. Second, in 1962, we dealt with Russia, which had complete control over the nuclear weapons, which were theirs, after all. Now, we are dealing with North Korea and its own arsenal. Beijing has tremendous leverage, but it ultimately has to get Pyongyang to act. Moscow didn’t have that problem with Havana.

    Related story: Vice President Pence, visiting South Korea, tells North Korea not to test US resolve. (Washington Post)

     “Against all odds,” says the WaPo, “a communist soars in French election polls”

    [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon is running as the candidate of the Unbowed France political movement, in an alliance with the French Communist Party. The latest polls show him narrowly trailing Emmanuel Macron, long seen as the favorite, and Le Pen, expected to qualify for the final round of the two-round vote but to lose to Macron in the end. In the final days of a truly unprecedented campaign, Mélenchon’s unexpected surge is a reminder that radical change is in the air and that its extremist apostles — on the right or the left — may soon hold power. –Washington Post

    Comment: Who knows which two candidates will make the runoff? But the strong showing of an extreme left and an extreme right candidate are deeply disturbing. Trouble for markets, the EU, and, most of all, stable democracies in a stable Europe. Time for paintings from Weimar?

     Shameful NYT headline on a story that has NOTHING to do with Justice Neil Gorsuch:

    Why Gorsuch May Not Be So Genteel on the Bench

    The only connection between the story and Gorsuch is that he is male and conservative, and a recent study deals with conservative males on the Supreme Court before Gorsuch.

    Comment: The Times reports on a forthcoming law review article that says male SCOTUS justices interrupt more often than female justices and that conservatives interrupt more often than liberals. That may or may not interest you. For me, it ranks #1257 on my list of important public issues. Perhaps it ranks higher for you. 

    The problem here is that the academic has nothing, zero, nada, zip, bupkes to do with new Justice Neil Gorsuch. The NYT just wanted a current news hook and was delighted to smear Gorsuch in the process.

    Nice work, Times, and special kudos to the reporter, Adam Liptak, whose sleazy hook should earn him extra dinner invitations in Georgetown and the Upper West Side.

     

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  • Russia’s UN Ambassador Goes Berserk at Security Council meeting on Syria’s Chemical Bombs

    As the Washington Post headline accurately puts it:

    ‘Don’t you look away from me!’: How a Russian diplomat’s tirade broke U.N. tradition

    Russian diplomat Vladimir Safronkov’s speech on the floor of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday was unusual. Accusing the British of blocking political efforts to end the Syrian conflict, the Russian deputy envoy to the United Nations suddenly wagged a finger at Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s permanent representative to the United Nations, and said: “Look at me! Don’t you look away from me! Why are you looking away?”

    “Don’t you dare insult Russia again,” he added later. . . .

    Safronkov’s tone, not just what he said but how he said it, turned heads. Even RT, the state-funded Russian media network, called the harangue an “extraordinary attack on his British counterpart, using some decidedly undiplomatic language.” –Washington Post

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, April 12

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

     We’re learning more about one possible connection between Russia and the Trump campaign  The Washington Post reports that last summer the FBI and DOJ obtained a FISA warrant to monitor Carter Page, a Trump adviser.

    The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

    This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

    Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. …

    Page is the only American to have had his communications directly targeted with a FISA warrant in 2016 as part of the Russia probe, officials said.–Washington Post

    How involved was Carter Page in the campaign?

    In March 2016, Trump identified Page, who had previously been an investment banker in Moscow, as a foreign policy adviser to his campaign. Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks later described Page’s role as “informal.” –Washington Post

    Comment: Reports are that Page’s connection to the campaign was at a lower level and that he never met Trump. We’ll soon learn more, I wager.

     Close call for Republicans for open Congressional seat in red-state Kansas Mike Pompeo held the seat until he became Trump’s CIA head. Ron Estes, the state’s treasurer, faced a surprisingly sharp challenge from a Democrat. Estes won, 53% to 46% in a district Trump won by 27 points. The New York Times story is here.

    Comment: The race was seen as an early test for Trump. He passed, but just barely. 

    Florida death-penalty dispute: Gov. takes death-penalty cases away from rogue state prosecutor who refuses to seek the death penalty. She sues him  (Miami Herald) Her legal claim: the governor overstepped his authority in removing the cases from her.

     United Airlines finally grovels and apologizes. Passenger lawyers up.  (Chicago Tribune)

    Comment: The airlines initial reaction was to say the passenger was truculent.  The viral video killed them and they changed direction.

     Latinos in US: A “hidden force turbocharging the US economy,” says CNBC

    It’s been nearly 10 years since this country was hit with a recession, the likes of which we hadn’t seen for decades. Businesses across the country were closing their doors and unemployment soared. This bleak situation was sharply magnified among Latinos, which reported a 66 percent drop in wealth and a 13 percent unemployment rate.

    Yet during this bleak period, Latino entrepreneurs created new businesses at a startling rate, increasing from 2.3 million in 2007 to approximately 4.1 million today. –CNBC

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  • Very disturbing: Chechen leader, close ally of Putin, sends 100 gays to concentration camp as part of larger crackdown

    Chechen’s dictatorial leader is Ramzan Kadyrov, installed by Putin.

    The news report itself comes from the International Business Times (here), which says it is part of a larger suppression of gays in the region.

    The Guardian has published a similar report. The Chechen government claims this story is entirely lies and disinformation, spread by Russian opponents of Putin.

    Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, described the report as “absolute lies and disinformation”, basing his denial on the claim that there were no gay people in Chechnya. “You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” he told Interfax news agency.

    “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.” –Chechnya government spokesman, reported in The Guardian (UK)

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    Kyle W. Orton writes extensively about Syria and fighting across the Middle East (see his blog here).

    For some brief background on the Chechen leader, see this article in The Sun (UK), which calls him Putin’s Pitbull.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, April 9

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

     “Trump’s Syria Missile Strike Ramps Up Tensions with Moscow” (Bloomberg)

    The Trump administration warned that it’s ready to take further military action if the regime of Bashar al-Assad wages another chemical attack, even as this week’s missile strike ratcheted up tensions with Russia. . . .

    Russia pushed back. “Our western colleagues live in their own parallel reality, in which they first try to build joint plans single-handedly and then — again single-handedly — change them, inventing absurd reasons,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said by phone. –Bloomberg

    Comment: Equally important, the strike puts Iran’s huge investment in Assad in peril.

     Oddly, Vogue‘s glowing article on Bashar Al-Assad’s wife doesn’t seem to be online anymore at their site. Not sure why.  (The Atlantic on the story gone missing. And here, dear readers, is the actual article, “A Rose in the Desert,” in Vogue, which has been preserved by Gawker.)

    Comment: Still checking to see if GQ ran something on Bashar’s attire for launching chemical-weapons attacks.

     Good morning, Pyongyang: US sending aircraft carrier group to Korean Peninsula  (CNN)

    US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump and [China’s] Xi agreed on the “urgency of the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program” and agreed to work together to resolve the issue “peacefully.” –CNN

    Comment: The Vinson carrier group is a message, not a foreshadowing of conflict. China has hard choices to make here, as does the US.

     He lobbied for gay rights and opposed Trump — now Seattle’s mayor is accused of sexually assaulting minors  (Washington Post)

    Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a nationally famous champion of gay rights and progressive causes, has been accused by three men of having sex with them as children. –Washington Post

    Comment: These scandals are equal opportunity. Yesterday, the sex scandal involved Alabama’s socially-conservative Republican governor. (Here’s a CNN report on it.) Today, it’s Seattle’s ultra-liberal mayor.

     Creative Destruction: Online purchases driving out bricks-and-mortar retailers faster than ever (Bloomberg) Both high-end and low-end stores are affected.

    At the bottom, the seemingly ubiquitous Payless Inc. shoe chain filed for bankruptcy and announced plans to shutter hundreds of locations. Ralph Lauren Corp., meanwhile, said it will close its flagship Fifth Avenue Polo store — a symbol of old-fashioned luxury that no longer resonates with today’s shoppers. –Bloomberg

     Another Islamist attack on Middle Eastern Christians, this one on a Coptic Church in Egypt (BBC)

    Comment: These crazed terrorists come from regions and religions that have not transitted through the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the hard-won achievement of political and religious tolerance.

    The only reason you don’t read about even more such attacks is that intolerance and terror has driven them, as well as Jews, from these countries.

    It is shameful that, for several years, the US has done so little to speak out against these systematic, lethal attacks on Christians in the Middle East. Let us hope that changes now.

     

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  • MSNBC officially jumps the shark: “What if Putin planned the Syrian chemical attack to help Trump?”

    Lawrence O’Donnell actually asked that question on air. (Washington Post)

    He actually had the headline “Wag the Dog” as he talked.

    This bottom-feeding, conspiracy peddling is what passes for political analysis on NBC’s cable news network.

     

     

  • 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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