• 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 Thursday, August 10

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

    ◆ How serious is the North Korean crisis?
    Answer: Deadly serious
    My column on the crisis appears today in Real Clear Politics (link here).

    Washington Post headline: “Trump’s threat to North Korea contrasts with calm reassurances of other administration officials” (Washington Post)

    Comment: No. It’s “good cop, bad cop.”

    Trump and SecDef Mattis issue threats.

    Meanwhile, Sec. of State Tillerson holds out hope for negotiations.

    Although these differences could be seen as inconsistency or disarray, the more likely explanation is that the administration is holding out a hope for negotiations as the outcome of military threats.

    Deportation orders up 30% under Trump (Fox News)

    The president has vowed to speed deportations and cut down on the growing backlog of cases. He issued an executive order in January calling for a national crackdown.

    After Trump issued the order, the Justice Department dispatched dozens of immigration judges to detention centers across the country and hired an additional 54 judges. The agency said it has continued to hire more immigration judges each month. –Fox News

    Related story: Newspaper in El Salvador helpfully explains which 18 states illegal immigrants should avoid because “police agencies [in those states] are able to enforce immigration law.” (Daily Caller)

    Manafort’s home is not his castle. FBI conducts pre-dawn raid (New York Times)

    Why such an aggressive move against a white-collar suspect who is already cooperating? The NYT offers some ideas:

    The search is a sign that the investigation into Mr. Manafort has broadened, and is the most significant public step investigators have taken since the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was appointed in May. Investigators are expected to deploy a wide array of similar measures — including interviews and subpoenas — in the coming months as they move forward with the intensifying inquiry. . . .

    Legal experts said that Mr. Mueller might be trying to send a message to Mr. Manafort about the severity of the investigation, and to pressure him into cooperating. –New York Times

    How nasty are the Cubans? Well, they planted sonic devices around the homes of US diplomats, causing them hearing losses (Miami Herald)

    The use of sonic devices to intentionally harm diplomats would be unprecedented. –Miami Herald

    This began in 2016, shortly after President Obama and Sec. of State John Kerry opened relations with Cuba and proclaimed a new day in bilateral relations.

    Comment: These physical attacks on US personnel were known to the Obama administration, though the specific causes were not known.

    Pioneering type 1 diabetes therapy, using immunotherapy, is safe (BBC)

    The disease is caused by the body destroying cells in the pancreas that control blood sugar levels. The immunotherapy – tested on 27 people in the UK – also showed signs of slowing the disease, but this needs confirming in larger trials. Experts said the advance could one day free people from daily injections.

    Patients given the therapy did not need to increase their dose of insulin during the trial. However, it is too soon to say this therapy stops type 1 diabetes and larger clinical trials will be needed. And further types of immunotherapy that should deliver an even stronger reaction are already underway.–BBC

    Comment: Promising but larger studies needed. Note that it slows the progression of the disease; it does not reverse it.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, August 5

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

    Special Counsel Mueller’s office ask White House for docs on Mike Flynn; doing a full investigation of Flynn’s financial dealings, especially those with Turkey (New York Times)

    Taking money from Turkey or any foreign government is not illegal. But failing to register as a foreign agent is a felony, and trying to hide the source of the money by routing it through a private company or some other entity, and then paying kickbacks to the middleman, could lead to numerous criminal charges, including fraud.

    Prosecutors have also asked during interviews about Mr. Flynn’s speaking engagements for Russian companies, for which he was paid more than $65,000 in 2015, and about his company’s clients — including work it may have done with the Japanese government. –New York Times

    Comment: Besides Flynn’s vulnerability, the thing to note here is that Mueller’s office appears to be illegally leaking confidential investigation materials to the NYT.

    Venezuela’s march toward complete dictatorship continues (New York Times)

    Hugo Chavez’s successors are rewriting the Constitution to give themselves total power.

    Predictably, the economy is collapsing, people are trying to flee, etc.

    Comment: Sean Penn had no comment.

    US proposes even tougher UN sanctions against North Korea (Channel NewsAsia)

    Vote expected Saturday in UN Security Council after a month of negotiations with China. It will be the 7th set of UN sanctions on North Korea.

    The [proposed] measures that include a ban on exports of coal, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore, as well as seafood by the cash-starved state. . . .

    The draft text would also prevent North Korea from increasing the number of workers it sends abroad, prohibit all new joint ventures and ban new investment in the current joint companies. –Channel NewsAsia

    The proposal would also blacklist the regime’s Foreign Trade Bank but would not prohibit shipments of oil to North Korea.

    Comment: The EU, Japan, and South Korea have supported US efforts.

    My guess: These sanctions will not stop Kim’s pursuit of nuclear-tipped ICBMs.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan “casts doubt on Pres. Trump’s plan to cut legal immigration” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

    To quote Ryan:

    With baby boomers leaving the workforce, we’re still going to have labor shortages in certain areas and that is where a well-reformed legal immigration system should be able to make up the difference. –Paul Ryan interview with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    Comment: ZipDialog has noted that the proposal to cut the number of legal immigrants is separable from the proposed new point system, focusing on higher skills and English language. Big business does not want the total numbers cut, and Ryan’s comments suggest those concerns have resonance.

    Nissan workers in Mississippi overwhelmingly reject high-profile unionization bid from United Autoworkers (New York Times)

    In a test of labor’s ability to expand its reach in the South, workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi have overwhelmingly rejected a bid to unionize.

    Out of roughly 3,500 employees at the Canton-based plant who voted Thursday and Friday, more than 60 percent opposed the union. It was an emphatic coda to a years-long organizing effort underwritten by the United Automobile Workers, which has been repeatedly frustrated in its efforts to organize major auto plants in the region. –New York Times

    Experienced workers make $26 hour there, well above average wages in the state. Detroit wages are a few dollars higher. Nissan’s contributions to employees’ retirement accounts are similar to those of Michigan automakers, according to the NYT.

    Comment: The majority of plant workers are black, and the UAW had contributed heavily to civil-rights organizations as part of the organizing effort.

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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 Tuesday, August 1

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

     Comment: What the Scaramucci ouster shows:

    • The initial appointment was another of Trump’s unforced errors
    • John Kelly has quickly asserted control over White House staff, obviously with Pres. Trump’s blessing
    • The White House desperately needs to assemble a stable, competent communications team (Rumors are that Kellyanne Conway could be the new Communications Director; she would be a good choice.)

    ⇒ More at a separate ZipDialog post here.

    If anybody can run this circus, it’s Kelly. The biggest question is whether he can get the Ringmaster to restrain himself. Conway did it for several months as campaign manager. Perhaps Conway and Kelly can do it again. But they are facing an impulsive, temperamental, thin-skinned boss.

     More night-time lights in North Korea show an improving economy, despite sanctions  (Fox)

    Comment: Blame China. They’ve played the US for years. Trump, James Mattis, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pence have all declared that the time for talk–and waiting for China’s voluntary assistance–is over. Easier to say than to do.

    The question is whether any pressure on North Korea, either directly or via China, will stop them? China will only act if they fear a dreadful alternative. The only possible alternative short of war that they might fear is a nuclear-armed Japan. Moving in that direction is obviously fraught with dangers.  Before that, expect more anti-missile batteries, possible shoot-downs of North Korean launches, and economic sanctions against Chinese banks and trading companies.

     Pres. Trump himself dictated Jr’s misleading statement about meeting with Russian lawyer  (Washington Post)

    Comment: It’s hard to be stunned by this White House–or the leaks–but this qualifies. It is almost certainly not obstruction of justice in its own right, but it will undoubtedly attract the interest of Special Council Robert Mueller, who will look for a pattern.

     Venezuela sinking into a chaotic dictatorship, with economy in free fall  (Washington Post)

    Comment: The US is imposing more sanctions and could impose even more stringent ones. If so, expect the Iranians, Russians, and Chinese to step up and offer support in bids for more influence. The Iranians already have big-time connections there, forged under Chavez.

     Alabama inmates escaped using peanut butter. In jam after capture.  (Washington Post)

    They used peanut butter to renumber the jail cells and fool an inexperienced guard.

     Alphabet (Google) working on new way to store lots of energy; alternative to lithium-ion batteries (Bloomberg)

    They have a “skunk works” operation that tries to develop these long-shot projects. The idea here is to send energy to a heat pump, some of which will supercool antifreeze (or some alternative liquid), some of which will heat molten salt. When air from the separate hot and cold tanks are combined, they produce wind vortexes that spin turbines and generate electricity.

    Alphabet is working with prototype plants now and could be ready to work with a manufacturer soon to build a real-world version. The plants could range in size from as small as a garage to as large as a conventional electric plant.

    Besides scaling up, the researchers are looking for ways to build the plan with cheaper materials.

    Storage like this is crucial if renewable energy sources are to play a larger role since most renewables only produce power intermittently (when the sun is shining, the winds are blowing, etc.).

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  • Two interpretations of Scaramucci’s outster–and my take

    After 10 tempestuous days as White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci is out.

    He seemed to be an authentic representation of Trump’s own in-your-face approach and reported directly to the President.

    The Wall Street Journal headline is instructive: Scaramucci Removed as White House Communications Director at Kelly’s Urging (Wall Street Journal)

    Those words–“at Kelly’s Urging”–are crucial. They show John Kelly is moving quickly to remove the wreckage after months of hurricane damage.

    I haven’t watched the pundits, but here’s my prediction of how they will react.

    1.  Anti-Trump Take: It’s total chaos. These guys are the Keystone Cops.
    2. Pro-Trump Take: President took decisive action to correct a problem.

    My take:

    • Yes, there has been total chaos in the White House
      • There are always warring factions, but they have been uncontrollable death matches in Trump’s White House
      • They were leaking to advance their positions and, worse, to undermine their West Wing adversaries
      • There were no clear lines of communication, no smooth flow of information and views to the President’s desk
    • Kelly needed to fire Scaramucci for three reasons
      1. To show he was willing to act decisively and immediately
      2. To put a severed head on his pike to show exactly who is in charge–that he, Kelly, had the President’s mandate
      3. To toss out the spaghetti network of authority in the West Wing; the senior staff will no longer report to the President, as Scaramucci had (and as Trump’s businesses had been run); they will report only through the Chief of Staff. They will meet with the President only when Kelly says they can. Their memos to the President will go through him.
        • The exceptions, in every White House, are the National Security Adviser and Vice President. They report directly to the President and meet with him whenever they wish; I’m sure that will continue
        • It will be fascinating to see how Steve Bannon’s shop reports and how Jared Kushner’s formal line of authority works (his informal line is obviously different)
    • My bets:
      • Bannon is asked to stay (assuming Trump wants him) but only if he agrees to report through Kelly; he will be told that leaks are over
      • The next head on a pike will be any self-serving leaker; of course, lots of leaks are done to serve the President; but Kelly needs to show that he won’t tolerate leaks due to in-fighting since those undermine the President’s agenda
      • This is Trump’s last chance to get the White House staff in order; if Kelly fails, there’s no Mulligan, no “do over”
      • Kelly’s most important appointment will be the legislative liason (who, I would guess, would be picked from a list Mike Pence selects)
    • Kelly’s two most important tasks:
      1. Control the President’s off-message tweets and impromptu statements. Loose lips are sinking his ship
      2. Work with Pence to get second- and third-level appointments in all the agencies and departments. It is outrageous that these are unfilled.

    What to look for immediately?

    Will Trump lay off Jeff Sessions? If he does, it means Kelly (or perhaps the family) has told the President how self-destructive that strategy is and actually gotten him to listen.

    That’s my immediate take, and I could well be wrong. 

    One important caveat for everyone to remember: Trump’s ability to recover from setbacks that would have sunk everyone else.

    When the Billy Bush audiotape surfaced, with Donald Trump talking about women in such horrific ways, few observers thought he could even come close in the Presidential election.

    The same recovery is possible here, if the economy grows, the tax code is reformed (or at least taxes are cut), the healthcare mess doesn’t destroy everything, the Mueller investigation doesn’t touch Trump himself, and there is some positive resolution to the North Korea danger.

    Big if’s. But not impossible.

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  • 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 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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  • What Is Trump’s Russia Policy? Who Knows?

    Trump: Putin said Russia didn’t do it. I accepted this.

    Trump: We must work closely with Russia. (on Cyber Security, too?)

    Trump in Warsaw: We will defend the West against threats from an expansive Russia.

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    Nikki Haley: We know it was the Russians. Everyone knows it was the Russians.

    Nikki Haley: We don’t trust Russia, never will.

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    Trump: US and Russia agree not to meddle in each others domestic affairs.

    Tillerson: Russia must restore Ukraine territory.

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    Comment: Well, thanks. That clarifies things.

    There are not only too many hands on the driver’s wheel, there’s no clear sense of where this car is going.

    Strategic ambiguity is fine–as long as the ambiguity is in their head, not yours.

     

    Hat tip to Michael Lipson

  • 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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