• ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, June 13

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

     Reports that Trump is considering firing Mueller as Special Counsel  (New York Times)

    The comments came from a Trump friend, Christopher Ruddy, but the White House would not confirm them.

    His comments appeared to take the White House by surprise.

    “Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in a statement hours later. “With respect to this subject, only the president or his attorneys are authorized to comment.”

    Allies of the president cast doubt on the idea that Mr. Trump would take such a drastic step, and White House officials said Mr. Ruddy had not met directly with the president while he was there.

    Comment: Firing Mueller is within the President’s authority, but it would set off fireworks since they would appear that Trump could not withstand an investigation.

    Mueller, however, has done himself no favors by hiring major Democratic donors for his staff. His friendship with Comey is also a problem and should be reason enough for him to recuse himself from that portion of the investigation.

    Comey got a “steely silence” from Loretta Lynch when he confronted her over political interference in Hillary investigation (Circa)

    Ex-FBI Director James Comey has privately told members of Congress that he had a frosty exchange with Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year when he confronted her about possible political interference in the Hillary Clinton email investigation after showing Lynch a sensitive document she was unaware the FBI possessed, according to sources who were directly briefed on the matter. –Circa

    Comment: Sure looks like Lynch was in the tank for Clinton.

    AG Jeff Sessions will testify publicly before the Senate Intel Committee Tuesday  (Washington Post)

    The Democrats are in attack mode.

    Democrats plan to ask about his contacts during the 2016 campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, which the attorney general failed to disclose fully during his confirmation hearing.

    They also want him to explain his role in the firing of Comey, despite the attorney general’s recusal in March from the Russia investigation after revelations about his meetings with Kislyak. –Washington Post

    Comment: The Democrats have made incendiary assertions about Sessions having improper meetings with the Russians and lying about them.

    But so far, there is simply no evidence of anything wrong. That’s what the hearings will be about.

     North Korea sent drones to spy on US anti-missile system in South Korea  (Reuters)

    The drone crashed on its way home.

    Comment: All this effort to spy, so little effort to feed and clothe the tyrannized population.

     France’s Macron: in a year and a half, he came out of nowhere to win the Presidency and now dominate the National Assembly (New York Times)

    Comment: Parties of the right and left have collapsed. Now, Macron is in a position to move a major reform agenda.

     The Palestinian Authority wants to pressure Hamas, so they have asked Israel to cut back on electricity supplies to Gaza. Israel has agreed.  (Los Angeles Times)

    Israel has approved a request by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cut by roughly a third the electricity it provides to the Gaza Strip.

    The move is aimed at undermining the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has controlled Gaza for the last decade.

    But the decision reached Sunday by Israel’s security Cabinet is stoking concern that it could trigger a humanitarian crisis among Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians and a new round of fighting between Hamas and Israel.

    In a statement on Monday afternoon responding to news of the Israeli decision, Hamas said that power cuts are “dangerous” and would lead to an “explosion.” –Los Angles Times

    Comment: Hamas is under considerable pressure, given the Muslim Brotherhood loss of power in Egypt, the sanctions on Qatar, and increasing resistance from international donors, who are themselves under pressure for funding terrorism indirectly.

    Although Israel is no friend of the Palestinian Authority, they know Hamas is much worse.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, June 8

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

     What to expect when you’re expecting Comey: A brief comment 

    Comment: It will be extremely difficult for Comey to drop a bombshell that is not a suicide bomb.

    He was legally obligated to report obstruction and would likely have resigned. He mentioned some concerns to colleagues, but nothing approaching obstruction.

    His prepared remarks do not allege obstruction, either. They simply say Trump demanded “loyalty.”

    That could be interpreted as pressure, or not, but it’s not obstruction. And the intel agency chiefs testified Wednesday they had not been interfered with for political or personal reasons.

    Second, it is hard to question witnesses seriously in the rotating format of public committees. If you really wanted information, you would turn it over to a skilled lawyer for each side, who would question and follow up.

    Third, the two parties are now painted into corners on this. The Republicans, though cautious about Trump, will defend him against Comey unless the evidence is overwhelming. It isn’t. The Democrats are now all obstruction, all the time, and their base loves it.

    Neither side is searching for evidence. They are searching for talking points.

    They will treat the testimony like a Rorschach test, seeing in it whatever preconceived mental images they have.

    Comey is out for revenge, and he’ll do his best to bloody-up Trump (while trying to appear calm, restrained and judicial). He may do some damage, but only Maxine Waters and her ilk will think its enough.

    The biggest damage to Trump always comes from the guy in the mirror.

     Speaking of the FBI: Trump will nominate Christopher Wray as the Bureau’s next Director  (Washington Post)

    He comes with plenty of experience. Currently in private practice, the graduate of Yale and Yale Law headed the DOJ’s Criminal Division during the George W. Bush administration.

    A retired FBI agent, with 28 years service in the Bureau, emailed me to endorse the appointment:

    Although I’ve favored the selection of someone from inside the FBI as a succeeding Director in the past, that was not an option in the current selection process.

    I’ve never been sold on that idea and preferred to open the appointment process to the best man . . . for the job, and in the cases of Judge William Webster and Robert Mueller I think they served the FBI very effectively, respectfully and professionally as “outsiders” during their tenures as Director of the FBI. Both stayed out of the limelight, projected a positive image and never embarrassed the FBI.

    [Turning to the selection of Christopher Wray, who I do not know] I think he will be an excellent fit for the FBI. He appears to be a Director who will be committed to focusing on the primary mission of the FBI and avoiding the kind of issues and faulty judgment that resulted in James Comey’s shortened tenure. –Jack Keller, retired FBI special agent

    Comment: I am grateful to Mr. Keller for his comments and his service.

     Britain votes today. Polls are notoriously bad there, but, as the locals say, “the punters favour Theresa May”

    All 650 Members of Parliament are up for election as well. So, the question is not only whether May wins, but whether she retains a majority big enough to govern.

    Her final appeal was to “patriotic Labour” voters. (Guardian)

    Comment: Here’s hoping. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is everything execrable about the Europe left, cozying up to terrorists, proposing ever-larger governments, and, in Corbyn’s case, even talking about renationalizing some industries. If the Brits vote for him, they will be mostly voting against the status quo. Bad as things are, they could always get worse. And with Corbyn, they would.

     North Korea keeps launching missiles; even the new leftist government of South Korea complains (ABC)

    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who has expressed a desire to reach out to Pyongyang, said during a National Security Council meeting he “won’t back off even a single step and make any compromise” on the issue of national security. He warned that North Korea could only face further international isolation and more economic difficulties.

    The North’s missile tests present a difficult challenge to Moon.North Korea, which could have a working nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile in the next several years, may also be the most urgent foreign policy concern for the Trump administration. –ABC

    Comment: South Korea’s Moon has said that the US cannot install new anti-missile systems there (a concession to China), but can keep the ones already there.

     In more amusing news, North Korea has criticized Donald Trump for pulling out of the Paris Climate deal  (Huffington Post)

    Instead of ridiculing the gall of Pyongyang’s statement, the HuffPo headlines it positively, sayings “Even North Korea Thinks Donald Trump’s Decision to Quit Paris Deal ‘Short-Sighted'”

    Comment: Whether Trump’s decision is short-sighted or not, the HuffPo should never dignify any statement by North Korea’s murderous regime with such a headline.

     Amazon offers a discounted version of Prime to attract low-income shoppers  It will be half-price for people with government benefit cards. (Business Insider)

    Amazon doesn’t necessarily need a huge swell of lower-income shoppers to join Prime for the effort to pay off. Even if Amazon were to get a tiny fraction of them hooked on Prime, which offers free two-day shipping on millions of items, it could pay off in the long run because Prime customers are highly loyal. –Business Insider

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 30

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

     No more Mr. Nice Guy: America changes tactics on ISIS, don’t make them flee, make them die (Fox News)

    Defense Secretary James Mattis said Sunday the U.S. has switched to “annihilation tactics” against the Islamic State and is focused on completely surrounding the militants instead of moving them from place to place.

    “Our strategy right now is to accelerate the campaign against ISIS. It is a threat to all civilized nations. And the bottom line is we are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot,” Mattis said. –Fox News

     Iran to renew funding for Hamas terrorists  (Times of Israel)

    This was actually not an easy negotiation since they two differed over Syria, with Iran backing Assad, Hamas opposing him.

    They also come from different Islamic sects, Shiite for Iran, Sunni for Hamas.

    The deal to restore Hamas’s financial support came after marathon meetings in Lebanon between officials from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hamas, and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group, the report said.

    Relations between Iran and Hamas have been rocky since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, when the Palestinian terror organization came out against Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is backed by Tehran. –Times of Israel

    Comment: Despite their differences, these Hamas and Iran do have one thing in common. They love killing Jews.

     Pentagon will test new anti-missile system as North Korean offensive capabilities continue to advance  (CNN)

    Comment: The issue is rapidly coming to a head as Pyongyang speeds up its testing. Intel experts are forecasting North Korea will be able to miniaturize its nuclear missiles and reach the US in as little as 3 years. South Korea and Japan will be in the crosshairs sooner.

    The danger here is profound, not only from a North Korean nuclear attack but from a conventional war. Seoul, South Korea, is a huge city and within easy reach of thousands of North Korean short-range missiles in hardened sites.

    As the US works hard on this system, with millions of lives in multiple countries at stake, the short-sighted politicians who have opposed anti-missile research for decades have a lot to answer for. 

     All Germany’s top politicians agree with Angela Merkel’s criticism of Donald Trump, say Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands” (Washington Post)

    As they campaign against each other ahead of national elections in September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her chief political rival, Martin Schulz, find themselves united in opposition to President Trump.

    Speaking at a beer hall rally in Munich on Sunday, Merkel suggested that the era when Europe could rely on the United States may be coming to an end and that the continent “really must take our fate into our own hands.” . . .

    Yet rather than criticize his rival or her Christian Democratic Union-led government for the strained relationship with Trump, Schulz has passionately offered support. –Washington Post

    Comment: It is unclear what “taking their fate into their own hands” actually means. If it means a Europe led by Germany, the world order will shake, but not before France and Russia do.

     Venezuela in chaos: opposition leaders injured (Reuters)

    Two Venezuelan opposition leaders were wounded on Monday by security forces dispersing protests in the capital Caracas against President Nicolas Maduro, according to one of the leaders and an opposition legislator.

    Maduro’s adversaries have for two months been blocking highways and setting up barricades in protests demanding he call early elections and address an increasingly severe economic crisis that has left millions struggling to get enough to eat.

    Fifty-nine people have died in the often violent street melees, which Maduro calls an effort to overthrow his government. –Reuters

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, May 27

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

    ◆ Comment: Trump’s Trip in a Nutshell 

    • Saudi: Completely reverses Obama’s disastrous tilt toward Iran, reorients US policy to fight Iran and terrorism, makes a promising effort to incorporate a large coalition of Muslim states in the fight; good speech, too
    • Israel: Hard to say whether the Palestinian-Israel talks will go anywhere; what Trump did in Saudi does set a positive context, but it is still a stretch; the negatives are that Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas will do everything they can to stop it, and the Palestinians have no effective government to make peace with, nor has their population come to grips with the far-reaching and permanent concessions they will have to make; the Israelis have no confidence that a peace deal would be adhered to or give them more security
    • NATO: Telling the Europeans the hard truth that they need to pay up is good. What’s bad is Trump’s failure to restate the core principle of NATO, that an attack on one is an attack on all (Article 5). That omission could send a catastrophic signal to Russia about the vulnerable Baltic states, which are NATO members. The only reasonable explanation is that Trump is signaling the Europeans that, if you don’t pay up, you cannot expect us to treat you as full alliance partners. Very risky business.

     Jared Kushner’s talk with Russians during transition included possibility of establishing back channel to discuss issues such as Syria  (Washington Post)

    Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports. . . .

    The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

    The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

    Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team. –Washington Post

    Comment: Initial public interest has focused on the idea of a “back channel.” That’s not what’s important here; back channel communications are common. What’s important here is two things. First, the idea of using the Russians’ equipment to communicate this is amazingly amateurish and reckless (or at least at seems that way to me, as a non-professional in secret communications with adversaries). This scheme was probably Flynn’s misjudgment and Kushner’s inexperience. Second, it says the Trump team was extremely concerned the Obama administration was monitoring everything they had to figure out a different way to communicate securely.

    A third issue is bound to come up. What did they want to talk about? If they were talking about Syria, you could criticize them for undermining the sitting president. If they were doing anything that affected the business interests of private parties–and there is no indication they were–then that would be corruption.

     Hillary reappears at Wellesley Commencement, bitter, and attacking Trump (Washington Post)

    Comment: This has to be a Republican plot. It has to be.

    Only the Republicans could possibly gain from having Hillary out there hectoring the crowds, her shrill voice and tone-deaf delivery proving she still cannot give a decent speech, despite her having received tens of millions for giving them. (That’s a cruel joke, of course. She was paid because she and Bill provided access to power. It was a corrupt, rent-extraction game on a vast scale.)

    For Democrats, the real problem is that she reminds people of the none-too-glorious past and makes it harder for the party to develop new faces for the future. To recharge things, the Democrats need some new voices. It would help if they were not yet living in a retirement community on Social Security and a Reverse Mortgage.  

     US, worried about North Korea, plans a test shoot-down of ICBM  (ABC)

    Comment: The dangers from North Korean nukes are real and present. Their last test was a solid-fuel rocket (which means it can be launched quickly) and went to a very high altitude (which means it can already hit targets as far away as Guam).

    To kill these intercontinental missiles, which leave the atmosphere, is different from killing shorter-range missiles.

    The US has been working on this incredibly complex technical task since Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). The latest iteration is what they will be testing.

    There is a partisan-political dimension here, too, aside from the need to fund the program. Now that America needs a serious anti-missile defense to protect against a North Korean attack on the continental US, people might want to look back and ask who has opposed, undermined, and underfunded that research at every stage over the past three decades. These political opponents, unlike North Korean missiles, won’t be especially hard to identify.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 9

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

     Obama reenters the fray, urging Democrats to stop Trump and the Republicans from repealing-and-replacing Obamacare (NPR) He did not use Trump’s name, but his message about the ACA was unmistakable.

    Comment: This is an unprecedented step for an ex-president, reentering contentious partisan politics so soon after leaving office. Still, it is his signature achievement, and he wants to protect it legally, even as it disintegrates financially.

     FBI paid $900K to break into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone  (Engadget) The company itself famously refused to assist the government.

    Comment:  Apple’s decision was controversial, of course, since this was a high-profile terrorism case  The company wanted to keep its customers’ confidence, obviously, but I think they were also worried that dictatorships like the Peoples Republic of China could demand the same thing from them. If word of that kind of cooperation spread, it would be very damaging, indeed.

    Beyond these calculations, one tech expert told me, was another calculation. Apple feared “they’d be responsible for building a tool to break security for their millions of customers,” with unknown ramifications legally and commercially.

     Russian spying and Michael Flynn discussed in public testimony by senior Obama officials, James Clapper and Sally Yates  The NYT has a brief synopsis with “six takeaways” 

    Comment: To me, the biggest takeaway is that nothing much was revealed. The bigger issues are still lurking, and either could be huge.

    1. Was there any high-level collaboration between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin?
    2. Was the Obama administration actually spying on political opponents by “reverse targeting”? 

     South Korea heads to the polls today to pick a new leader, likely one who wants much closer relations with the North and less cooperation with the US  (CNN). More on this after the results are in.

    Comment: W One reason the US rushed the THAAD anti-missile system to South Korea recently was to have it in place before the election. It’s more difficult politically to tell the US to remove it than it would be to say, “No, you cannot bring it in here.”

     The Trump Travel Ban was heard by the entire Federal appeals court in Richmond.

    At issue: is this a security decision within the President’s purview or do his statements about threats from the Muslim world make it a “religious test.”

    Here’s the Washington Post report.

    Comment: The same issues are being heard in California. This will surely head to the Supreme Court, and quickly.

     Goldman Sachs thinks the current economic expansion could become the longest one on record (CNBC)

    The expansion has already lasted 95 months, making it the third longest expansion since records began in 1854.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, May 3

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

     D-I-V-O-R-C-E  “BREXIT: UK and EU at odds over size of ‘divorce bill,’ ” says BBC. 

    The UK won’t pay a 100bn-euro (£84bn) “divorce bill” to leave the EU, Brexit Secretary David Davis has said, as the two sides clashed over the issue. –BBC

    Comment: Also, they demand to see the children during the summer.

     South Korea likely to elect a far-left president next Tuesday. He asks US to “respect its democracy” (Washington Post) 

    Comment: The WaPo calls him “liberal.” That’s misleading. He’s very much on the left and is likely to create real problems for bilateral relations with US as he sidles up to Pyongyang.

     Can this marriage be saved? FBI translator, already married, decides to marry an ISIS terrorist. Our “dream guy” has already been pictured holding severed heads  (USA Today)

    Comment: Just another case of good people making bad choices. That’s what his friends told him. 

     American Airlines thinks you have too darned much leg room. They’ll shrink it again  (Skift)

    Comment: “Our target market is simply torsos,” said the CEO.

     Major player in Obamacare insurance markets just fired the company founder, citing poor financials  (LA Times)

    Comment: All those savvy insurance companies that provided crucial political backing for Obama’s program  . . . not looking so savvy anymore.

     World Press Freedom Day highlights many journalists and editorial cartoonists jailed in Erdogan’s Turkey  (Time)

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 27

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

     Trump goes BIG with proposed tax cuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I draw two lessons from the Austin story.

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • “Can You Hear Me Now?” Trump Team Voices Credible Threat of Force Against North Korea

    My op-ed at The Hill discusses the challenges of coercive diplomacy.

    The central question of the piece:

    Why has the United States has fundamentally changed its strategy toward the North Korea, given the risks of the new strategy?

    My answer:

    The short answer is that the Trump Administration has concluded that time is on North Korea’s side, not ours. Temporizing, they think, will only magnify the dangers as Pyongyang steadily develops its intercontinental missiles and miniaturizes the nuclear weapons that sit atop them.

    Washington’s new strategy is to direct military threats at Pyongyang via Beijing, which dreads a war on the peninsula.

    The hard part is to resolve the issue without actually using force, which could lead to vast casualties.

    In making these threats, Trump has already achieved a huge advantage over Pres. Obama.

    The advantage? Trump’s threats to use force are credible. For the first time in years, the Chinese and North Koreans–and America’s friends in the region–have to take that seriously. So should Americans as this knife-edge drama unfolds.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, April 18

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

     The big news continues to be tension in Korea, where Vice President Pence is visiting and told the North Koreans not to mistake the president’s resolve

    Comment: This is a crisis of choice, in a sense. Trump, like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, could have kicked it down the road. All those presidents tried and failed to resolve the issue.

    Delay is not always a bad solution, but it’s not always a good one, either. You have to figure out whether time is on your side or your adversary’s.

    The problem here is that North Korea is making steady progress on two deadly fronts, and it is no longer willing to delay them for small bribes, like those paid by previous administrations.

    North Korea is getting better at building nuclear bombs. It is trying hard to make them smaller, so they can fit on a missile, and it is trying to build a hydrogen bomb. Second, it is making steady progress building medium-range missiles and is seeking to build an ICBM. The combination of small nukes and long-range missiles would put the US within range of nuclear attack by a hyper-dangerous regime whose leader does not appear to be calm, steady, and rational.

    The US has long said a North Korean nuclear threat to the US was unacceptable. Saying it, as several presidents have, is a far cry from making it an effective policy. That is what none have been able to do, and not for lack of trying. Trump seems to be doing something. We don’t know exactly what and we don’t know how effective he and his team will be. We do know it is risky to try; the Trump team has calculated that it is far more dangerous in the long run to sit and wait.

    Over the longer horizon, then, it is Pyongyang’s policies and erratic, bellicose pronouncements that created the crisis.

    Over the short term, though, the crisis was initiated by the US.

    My interpretation: Trump, Mattis, Tillerson, and McMaster (and probably Coats and Pompeo) looked that North Korea’s military program and asked themselves a fundamental question: Is time on our side or theirs? If it is on ours, then delay. If it is on their’s, then force the issue. We can see first-hand what their strategic assessment is.

    The hard part now is to force the issue with threats and not the actual use of force, which could lead to vast casualties. 

    In using threats, Trump has a huge advantage over Obama. Trump’s threats to use force are credible. The Chinese and North Koreans–and America’s friends in the region–have to take that seriously for the first time in years.

     “Calexit” supporters drop their secession bid . . . for now (Washington Post)

    Comment: Ken Burns is particularly disappointed.  His proposed PBS series began with a letter,

    My dearest Tiffany–
    If we should lose tomorrow’s battle, if I should die far from the gnarly waves of Newport Beach, I want you to know . . . .

     New York Times runs op-ed by “a leader and parliamentarian.”  That’s what the NYT calls him–and that’s all they say.

    The paper overlooked his day job: he’s a convicted terrorist who murdered five Israelis.

    Comment: You really can’t blame the Times if a writer omits a detail from their résumé.  

    Of course, the writer is the most prominent Palestinian terrorist in jail. The NYT deliberately hid the crucial information about his murders from readers.

    To compound this nasty piece of work, the Times ran it to gin up American public support for a hunger strike by jailed Palestinians.

    The Daily Caller excoriates the paper, rightly.

    And Elliott Abrams, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations blog, rips the Times a new one. Well worth reading. His conclusion nails a crucial point: the readers deserve the information.

     Shocking News: The US economy keeps growing but electricity use is flat. That’s what Bloomberg says. Per capita, it has fallen for six straight years.

     Lawsuit of the Day:

    • Professor comes into Wal-Mart to get fishing license
    • Get license but finds his employment listed as “toilet cleaner”
    • Humorless fisherman files suit

    The AP story is here.

    Comment: According to the lawsuit, the professor feared mockery every time he yelled “I caught another big one.”

     A serious story on the sexual-harrassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly  (Washington Post)

    A key part of the story is the allegation by a Los Angeles author and radio personality, Wendy Walsh, who is not seeking money, which then led to an independent investigation by the prominent NYC law firm. It was the law firm’s negative findings on Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes that led to his departure.

    As the Washington Post puts it:

    A similar fate [to Ailes] could await O’Reilly; a negative finding by the law firm could force the hands of Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, who run Fox’s parent company.–Washington Post

     Here is tomorrow’s Washington Post opinion page. Notice a pattern?

    The list continues beyond this screenshot. It is, as the mathematicians say, “finite but large.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Robert Lieber and Ed Lasky
    for different reports on the New York Times‘ hiding the background of a Palestinian terrorist.

     

  • North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: What Steps Should the US Take?

    Richard Friedman

    Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

    [Editor’s note: ZipDialog is delighted to include this post. The opinions are those of the author.   

    Readers are invited to respond. At ZipDialog, we take dialog seriously.]

    ◆ North Korea’s Nuclear Threat

    There are six components to the potential US/North Korea nuclear confrontation:

    1. North Korea rational
    2. North Korea irrational
    3. US rational
    4. US irrational
    5. China, and
    6. South Korea

    China is the best bet for the US because they have urged US and North Korea restraint and calm.

    South Korea is undergoing a government leadership crisis. They also urge calm because they would be the battleground in the event that North Korea would be provoked by the US or would be self-provoked.

    China is proactive. In addition to urging calm, they have restricted their coal exports to North Korea and they have canceled their air carrier flights to Pyongyang. China’s most important leverage is its substantial food exports to North Korea.

    A future North Korean Nuclear Test is Likely

    It is likely that North Korea will conduct its sixth nuclear test in the near future. The appropriate US response is to do nothing, certainly no retaliation. The US should keep the Vinson First Strike Carrier Group on station within striking distance of North Korea as a show of force, with weapons muzzled for a few more weeks awaiting mutual calm, and then depart for Australia as planned. The US has proved in Syria its tactical military capability to obliterate North Korea’s nuclear weapon sites and degrade its delivery system. There is no US need to engage in media military posturing.

    An indicia for calm is North Korea’s recent intermediate missile launch that failed. Speculation is that the US used its cyber Stuxnet capability to scramble the North Korea missile test code, resulting in failure.

    The US frame for its North Korea objective should be: no preemptive, kinetic first strike; and reliance on its counter-incoming missile capability that can intercept and destroy 60-80 percent of North Korea’s incoming missiles to the US west coast (solace is somewhat lacking for Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington).

    Etymology is part of the military force consideration array. The word “provoke” is hugely imprecise because it has different meanings for both sides. For the US, it would be North Korea’s active launch preparation of its nuclear-tipped ICBM. For North Korea, “US provocation” would be any discernible military force attack on North Korea’s targets, or their perception that a US strike is imminent.

    Notwithstanding the recent perceived crisis, North Korea remains relatively stable. This could change because of the variables that are involved: removal of Kim, either by a targeted US strike followed by a North Korean military attack on South Korea.

    Contemporary US history suggests that broad US domestic support for major US military action is essential – political unity and public and media support. The US administration must make a clear and persuasive argument that justifies a US military attack on North Korea. Failure to do so would portray the US as trigger-happy.

    The Trump administration primary objective was to focus on domestic issues such as health care, middle class employment, tax reform, and enhancing and protecting the US critical infrastructure. Surprise! The global issues are the US priority: North Korea, Russia, Iran, Syria, and ISIS.

    The potential US strategy:

    America First, with the condition that addressing and partially resolving international matters is the predicate for focusing on domestic issues.

    The US has recaptured global perception of its international leadership role and responsibility: fear the US, respect us, and love us, maybe.
    Recent international developments suggest that the US is in the process of developing a comprehensive domestic and international strategy to be followed by tactical implementation.

    The US can enhance the efficacy of its strategy by adopting a “complementary strategy” approach, wherein the US consults with other states to determine their strategic objectives, if any, and incorporate item, if possible, into overall US strategy. An example of US transformative strategy is the US/China burgeoning favorable relationship.

    Overall, the current North Korea crisis is not a crisis, rather it is part of a prolonged, oscillating adversarial relationship. In this context, the North Korean threat is not its nuclear capability, rather, it is how the US manages the current North Korea non-crisis.

    The opinions in this post are those of Richard Friedman. He and ZipDialog welcome your response, either here or on Facebook, where it is also posted.