• ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, September 21

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

    ◆ Puerto Rico: direct hit by Cat 4 hurricane. Massive damage, whole Island without power

    An overview of the impact (New York Times)  

    The NYT is providing live updates here.

    Mexico’s massive 7.1 earthquake. Death total already 245, likely to rise  (Washington Post)

    The saddest stories are coming from K-12 schools, where parents await the fate of children. A lot of interest is focused on one hope story of a child trapped alive.

     As the Democratic party shifts left and makes Bernie Sanders’ single-payer healthcare a vital issue, centrist Dems face 2018 problems (Fox News)

    If Democrats in purple or red states go with single-payer, they will pay the price in the general election.

    If they reject it, though, they could face a primary opponent from the left (mirroring the Tea Party attacks on centrist Republicans).

    Comment: There is one piece of good news for Democrats, however. Their general election opponents are Republicans, who have a woeful record on Capitol Hill this session.

    Big Deal: Chinese banks reportedly cut ties to North Korea (Fox News)

    This is huge since China is the conduit for all North Korea’s international trade.

    The bad news is that South Korea is providing a small “humanitarian” gift to North Korea at the same time.

    Comment: Good as humanitarian aid sounds, it always gives leverage to dictatorships, which use the money for themselves and their favorites.

    I assume that North Korea will turn to Russia and Iran for financing, but they would face financial peril themselves if they provide it.

    Trump praises China’s new sanctions against North Korea and ratchets up US sanctions (CNN)

    Comment: The US measures show it has not run out of “non-kinetic” options.

    China’s measures show both that it is frustrated with North Korea’s reckless, autonomous actions and that it fears what the US might do.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, September 20

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

    Pres. Trump’s speech to the UN was blunt and aimed squarely at North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela 

    It combined two main elements:

    1. A traditional Republican assertion of US military strength and global engagements
    2. Trump’s own nationalist, anti-globalist agenda, praising “strong sovereign nations” (not international institutions) as the basis of global order

    The blunt language attracted a lot of attention. Conservatives (including many who don’t support Trump) were positive. Liberals cringed, longing for Obama’s soft tone, soft policies, and strategic patient.

    He called the nuclear deal with Iran “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.”  He spoke of Iran’s aggressive support of terror and expansion in the Middle East. He specifically spoke about the threat from “Radical Islamic Terror,” words his predecessor never used (and that Trump himself has used less often in recent months).

    He said nothing about “democracy promotion,” a centerpiece of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.

    His comment on Venezuela was equally blunt, saying they had turned a rich country into an impoverished failure and done so not because it misapplied socialist policies but because it applied them exactly as they were intended.

    Without using the term “axis of evil,” his speech clearly echoed those themes from Pres. Bush’s War on Terror.

    As CNN put it, “No American President has ever spoken to the world like this,” calling terrorists and some nations “evil.”

    The best comment about the speech came from

     

    Rich Lowery in the National Review Online:

    As someone said on Twitter, never before has been there so much murmuring of “holy sh**” in so many different languages.

     Two natural disasters: 

    1. Cat 5 Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico with 175 mph winds, the second major hurricane within a month
    2. Mexico suffers a 7.1 magnitude quake.

    Numerous casualties and fatalities from both, unfortunately.

    Comment: The best way to keep up with news about each is with your favorite breaking-news site online. The cable channels will show you the gritty aftermath but take hours to give you the hard news you can get in a few minutes reading.

    Republicans on the hill embrace big tax cuts, even if they increase the deficit (New York Times)

    Senate Republicans, abandoning a key fiscal doctrine, agreed on Tuesday to move forward on a budget that would add to the federal deficit in order to pave the way for a $1.5 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.

    The Republican lawmakers, under mounting pressure to score a legislative win on taxes, say a tax cut of this magnitude will stimulate economic growth enough to offset any deficit impact.

    Yet critics say a deficit-financed tax cut is at odds with longstanding Republican calls for fiscal discipline, including that tax cuts not add to the ballooning federal deficit.

    Comment: Tax bills must originate in the House, which is dribbling out some information but not the key details. Those should come in the next week or so.

    Former Chicago cop, wanted for shaking down drug dealers, has been arrested in Detroit after 15 years on the run (Chicago Tribune)

    He and his gang of corrupt officers were tripped up in 2001 when they tried one ripoff while the dealer happened to be on the phone with his girlfriend. She mistakenly thought another drug dealer was the robber and called the cops. Honest cops showed up, saw what was happening, and that was the beginning of the end.

    Turkey increasingly uses its thuggish, dictatorial tactics in Western democracies. It did it again this week

    They did it in May, 2017, when Turkish security officers assaulted peaceful demonstrators in Washington, DC. (New York Times report here.)

    This week, they tried to stop a speaker at a conference in Philadelphia. The event was hosted by the Middle East Forum (MEF) for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, known as NATO-PA.

    NATO PA organizers asked that MEF remove a speaker, Emre Çelik, from the program in response to a demand issued by the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. MEF removed the speaker from the program, but invited him to address the gathering anyway.

    When Çelik rose to speak, the Turkish delegation grew visibly agitated and acted quickly to shut down the event. –Middle East Forum

    Daniel Pipes, who heads the Middle East Forum, spoke plainly about the incident, which was captured on video:

    President Erdoğan’s attempt to stifle free speech at a Middle East Forum event today was despicable. We did not accept it. –Daniel Pipes

    The MEF report on the incident is here.

    Paul Manafort wants investigations of leaks, which may have come from Special Counsel Mueller’s office, which is trying to rachet up the pressure on Manafort (Reuters)

    “If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” [Manafort’s spokesman said].

    “The U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General should immediately conduct an investigation into these leaks and to examine the motivations behind a previous administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent,” he said.

    The special counsel’s office and the FBI both declined to comment on Maloni’s statement. They also did not comment on CNN’s original report about surveillance of Manafort. –Reuters

    Comment: There are several disturbing aspects of this story, all requiring serious investigation. Manafort’s role is obviously one. So is the apparent release of secret information, the presence of a government wiretap on the manager of a political campaign, the possibility President Trump was picked up on the surveillance, and the statements by several Obama administration intelligence officials that they knew of no such surveillance. It is unclear if those officials made false statements under oath.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, September 19

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

    ◆ Trump’s campaign manager wiretapped. That’s a big deal.

    The story was broken by CNN: Exclusive: US government wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman, starting in 2014 and continuing, off an on, until this year. The tap, authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), would include periods when he was known to speak with Donald Trump. (Manafort also owned an apartment in Trump Tower; that might be relevant because Trump spoke of wiretaps in Trump Tower.)

    There is increasingly strong public speculation that Manafort will be indicted by Robert Mueller’s office.

    At this point, we do not know who the FISA warrant(s) targeted.

    Comment: At this point, we simply don’t know enough about this surveillance. (In fact, the information released to CNN was almost certainly a felony violation of secret proceedings.)

    • Anti-Trump people think the fact that a federal judge would authorize surveillance on such a senior figure in the Trump campaign suggests something very bad was afoot and that collaboration with the Russians may have been Manafort’s aim (if not necessarily that of others in the campaign).
    • Pro-Trump people think this information vindicates his repeated claims that he was wiretapped.
    • And, of course, a lot of people, myself included, want to know more before they reach a conclusion.

    I think a lot of people will agree with Dan Drezner (a centrist and no friend of Trump’s):

    Trump at the UN: Very tough talk. Threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea, calls Kim “rocket man,” and labels Iran a “rogue nation” (New York Times)

    He included terms he had seldom used recently: “radical Islamic terrorism.”

    The full speech is available here on YouTube.

    Comment: Trump’s speech was an unusually blunt, full-throated defense of America’s interests, as opposed to globalism, and included particularly sharp and detailed attacks on Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.

    Critical responses to the speech line up as expected.

    More censorship calls on campus, this time because a professor wrote a scholarly article called “The Case for Colonialism” 

    The article, by Prof. Bruce Gilley of Portland State, was published in a peer-reviewed journal that is very anti-colonial, which presumably thought the piece was serious, well-researched, and would spark scholarly debate. The basic argument does not deny the evils of colonialism but says they must be balanced against the benefits and that anti-colonialism has itself carried high costs.

    Recently, Gilley publicly resigned from the American Political Science Association for its ideological bias.

    Here’s the report at Legal Insurrection.

    Comment: Given the political climate on today’s campuses, especially those on the coasts, what Gilley’s article sparked was not discussion but calls for him to be fired, censured, and tarred-and-feathered.

    Will the End of Syria’s civil war spell disaster in Europe as battle-hardened terrorist fighters return? (BESA Center)

    Mordechai Kedar says “yes” and adds that Iran has now effectively taken over Syria, strengthened Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and given a free hand to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

    Comment: Iran’s expansion across the region was facilitated by the Obama administration and will cause death and destruction for years to come.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Labor Day, Monday, September 4

    Articles chosen with care. Local sources when possible.
    Your comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ North Korea The question now is how hard will China push, given that this latest test

    1. Humiliates Beijing, flaunting their open calls to stop, and
    2. Will certainly bring extremely tough reaction from the US and its allies.

    The US will seek very harsh sanctions at the UN, daring China and Russia to show their hands and veto.

    The effect will turn on the scale of the sanctions and the willingness of China (and Russia) to comply in practice, not just in rhetoric.

    For news, link here. (Washington Post)

    China says Trump’s trade threat over North Korea is “unacceptable” (Fox News)

    Comment: The US says the same about China’s behavior toward North Korea.

    Watch to see if China cuts off fuel for a few days. If they don’t, it’s all rope-a-dope game for them, and the US-China relationship will get very tense.

    DACA deferrals for illegal immigrants likely to end six-months from now. Trump action gives Congress time to act (Politico)

    Comment: Nearly all legal scholars agree that Obama’s actions on DACA were unconstitutional and won’t survive a legal challenge.

    So Congress has to act. Trump has not signalled what bill would be acceptable to him.

    Turkey continues to slam Germany rhetorically, as Erdogan ramps up his Islamist dictatorship (Washington Post)

    Comment: Erdogan has recently referred to NATO allies as “enemies”

    Congress returns Tuesday with crushing agenda (New York Magazine)

    • Harvey relief
    • Debt ceiling
    • Funding for major programs that are running out, such as Children’s Health Insurance
    • Tax cuts and tax reform
    • Healthcare (still lurking, hasn’t been addressed)
    • DACA
    • Confirmation of dozens of Trump nominees (all of which the Democrats are delaying)

    Comment: Several of these are must do’s, and the Republicans know it.

    Hong Kong, traditional an economic leader, now slowing in innovation and other areas (South China Morning Post)

    Comment: China, which promised (by treaty with UK), to let Hong Kong govern itself, has effectively scuttled that promise.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, September 1

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

    ◆ The Fix was In: James Comey, then director of the FBI, drafted his memo exonerating Hillary before the key witnesses had been interviewed (CBS News)

    Fired FBI Director James Comey drafted a statement to announce the conclusion in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server before the FBI interviewed key witnesses, including Hillary Clinton herself, top Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee claim.

    Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, reached that conclusion from transcripts of interviews with people close to Comey and provided by the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Those transcripts, the Republicans said in a Thursday letter to current FBI Director Chris Wray, show Comey had already drafted a conclusion for his investigation before interviewing 17 key witnesses, including Clinton, and before the DOJ had reached immunity agreements with former Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson. CBS News

    The full text of Grassley and Graham’s letter to the FBI is here.

    ◆ Trump plans to end to DACA, perhaps on Friday (Austin Statesman)

    McClatchy’s bureau in Washington, D.C., was reporting Thursday that President Donald Trump is expected to announce and end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era program that had temporarily deferred deportation of undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as children. –Austin Statesman

    Attorneys General from several states were suing to end the program as an unconstitutional overreach of Pres. Obama’s authority, something Obama himself acknowledged before actually doing it. The AGs’ suit says DACA

     confers eligibility for work authorization and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress –quoted in Austin Statesman

    Comment: The details of Trump’s policy are crucial, and we simply won’t know them until the White House issues its decision.

    Here is what is most likely.

    • First, ending the program will mean stopping coverage for any new arrivals. They will simply be illegal immigrants (or undocumented, if you prefer), regardless of age.
    • Second, mass deportations of current DACA beneficiaries won’t happen.
    • Third, what is uncertain is whether DACA permissions to stay will renewed for current “dreamers.” Most likely, they will not. If so, then those people will lose DACA status at some future date. They will then be subject to deportation on a case-by-case basis, just as other illegal immigrants are.
    • Fourth, the status of Dreamers already in the US could be one of Trump’s bargaining chips in future negotiations about immigration reform and the wall.

    More on this as it develops.

    ⇒ Btw, expect calm, reasoned responses, like this one: Killing DACA is a ‘violent white supremacist priority’ The op-ed, written by a DACA recipient, also calls the Trump Administration white supremacist.  (op-ed by Belen Sisa in the Arizona Capitol Times)

     Oh, those Iranian mullahs. Now they have Al Qaeda affiliates mining uranium in Africa to send to them (Fox News)

    Meanwhile, remember how the IAEA (the Int. Atomic Energy Agency) was going to inspect the Obama deal? 

    Well, they aren’t doing it.

     To develop self-driving cars, manufacturers need a clear legal framework for road tests. The House will vote on one next week (Reuters)

    The bill would bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles and

    would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year, a cap that would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually over three years.–Reuters

    Comment: The coming changes in transportation will be enormous, the biggest since the introduction of cars.

    Take public transportation, for instance, where about three-quarters of the costs are wages, much of it for drivers (some for mechanics, who will still be needed). The cost of bus drivers is why the vehicles are large; you need fewer drivers that way. If driver wages are eliminated, the buses can be smaller and arrive more frequently. They can also serve less traveled routes.

    Ultimately, the biggest question is whether lots of drivers will switch out of car ownership and take self-driving Ubers in urban areas.

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    Hat tip to Clarice Feldman for the text of the Grassley-Graham memo and to Tom Elia for highlighting this latest Comey contretemps.