• 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 Sunday, June 25

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

    ◆ Speculation grows that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will announce his retirement.

    The current Court year ends Monday, and any announcement would come soon after.

    Kennedy is 80, was appointed by a Republican, and has served 29 years on the Court, recently as a crucial swing vote.

    There are several elderly Democrats on the court, but they want to hang on (if health permits) in hopes of another Democratic president.

    Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, have lawyered up to defend against allegations of bank fraud(CBS)

    When Jane was president of Burlington (VT) College, she got big bank loans for an expansion project that ultimately failed and bankrupted the college.

    The investigation is (1) whether the loans were based on Jane’s false representations about the college’s fundraising and (2) whether Bernie used his office to pressure the bank to make the loan.

     The battle for post-ISIS Syria is shaping up

    The background: the Obama Administration did nothing in Syria and pulled out of Iraq, opening the door wide for Iran to control Baghdad and Damascus (the Assad government) and providing political space for ISIS to build its “caliphate” for Sunnis.

    The change: Trump dramatically altered US policy, and, under the leadership of Mattis at DOD and McMaster at NSC, the US has been taking the fight to ISIS.

    The result: Iran is closing in on ISIS from one direction, the US from the other.

    There are three big issues in this end-game:

    1. Will ISIS turn to move civilian attacks in Europe (and possibly America)?
    2. Will US and Iranian forces be able to avoid direct military confrontation as they converge on ISIS’ last strongholds
    3. Who controls what territory in post-ISIS Syria?

    An excellent primer on the emerging issues is Udi Dekel’s “East-West-North-South: The Race for Syria after the Islamic State” from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS, Israel)

    The current race for control of territory in Syria now appears to be a competition between Iran and the United States, which have established two respective axes – with a vertical American (north-south) effort on the one hand, and a horizontal Iranian (east-west) effort on the other hand. In practice, this is another stage in the shaping of Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State. In the meantime, the country’s southwestern region, from Daraa to the Golan Heights, remains open for activity and influence by Israel and Jordan, which must begin taking action before it is too late. Contacts are apparently underway to formulate a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American strategy aimed at preventing Iranian influence and the presence of its proxies, especially Hezbollah and Shiite militias, in the southern Syria. –Udi Dekel

    ◆ Political correctness to stop free speech in Arkansas? Yep.

    But the University stepped in and did the right thing.

    The Univ. of Arkansas’ King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies decided to hold a symposium on honor killings.

    The Center’s director, a geosciences professor named Tom Paradise, included Prof. Phyllis Chesler (from CUNY) on one panel since she has published widely on the subject, arguing that scholars have underplayed the role of Islam in these killings.

    Three Arkansas professors raised holy hell about it, saying the could never “countenance” Chesler’s participation, even though it would simply be a Skype call.

    The Center caved and disinvited Chesler, according to an editorial in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

    Now, the University has done the right thing.

    They removed Prof. Paradise from the center’s leadership, saying “The decision to disinvite a participant for his or her views is not reflective of the values and practices of our institution.”

    Comment: The university did the right thing.

     Palestinians “disappointed” after “tense meeting” with Jared Kushner, Trump’s special emissary (The Hill)

    Key disagreement: US wants Palestinians to stop paying terrorists for killing Jews.

    Palestinian Authority likes paying them. Abbas told Trump it would stop and simply assumed the president knew he was lying.

    Trump held him to account.

    The PA has also been adamant about keeping incendiary, anti-Semitic materials in their school textbooks.

    The larger problems for Abbas: no succession lined up, and the Middle East is moving forward without them.

    Comment: My guess: Trump will look at Kushner’s report of the meetings and decide this is not a good time to push forward with negotiations.

    Trump has always understood something about these negotiations that most presidents don’t: the US can help if both parties want an agreement. But it cannot force an agreement on parties that don’t want one and aren’t prepared to make serious concessions.

     Oklahoma doctor prescribed so many painkillers, she’s being charged with murder in one patient’s death  (Washington Post)

    The patient, Sheila Bartels, received

    what drug addicts call “the holy trinity” of prescription drugs: the powerful painkiller Hydrocodone, the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and a muscle relaxant known as Soma.

    In total, pharmacists handed her 510 pills that day — all legal, because she had a prescription with the signature of her doctor, Regan Ganoung Nichols, scrawled at the bottom, according to a probable cause affidavit. –Washington Post

    Comment: Cracking down on excessive prescriptions is crucial in this fight.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Sam Stubbs
     for the Sanders bank fraud story
    ◆ Gregg Roman for the University of Arkansas speech-suppression story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 6

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

     A word of caution on two evolving scandals: Russia-Trump and Susan Rice

    • If there is evidence of serious crimes, each of these could become truly major events.
    • But so far we have few hard facts, shrouded in extremely sharp partisan attacks, mimicked and exacerbated by the news media.

    Russia’s role in the US election:

    • The mainstream media continues to say that Russian interference in the US election (a fact) also involved direct collusion with senior Trump officials (a conjecture). So far, top intel officials not associated with Trump have said there is zero evidence of collusion.
    • There is an FBI counter-intelligence investigation of these issues. If it finds some self-dealing from Trump officials, using their positions to make money, that’s bad news for them and certainly newsworthy, but it is not a catastrophic national scandal. If if finds significant collusion between Russians and top Trump officials, that is a truly enormous crime against our democracy.

    Susan Rice:

    • We know Rice lied publicly when she told PBS two weeks ago that she knew nothing about the unmasking of names.
    • Her story has changed. Now, she simply says she did nothing improper.
    • That may be correct. It seems to be very unusual to ask for as many unmasked names as Rice requested, but she will undoubtedly say she needed to know them to understand US intelligence. Whether that is true or false will depend on the scale of her requests and especially on the type of information contained in the intercepted conversations. If they were entirely related to US national security, she’s in the clear, or at least she can plausibly argue that she had good reasons for doing what she did. If the conversations are far removed from US national security issues, she’s in trouble–and so is the country for having a National Security Adviser who used US intelligence resources for domestic political purposes.
    • At this point, we simply do not know enough to discriminate between those two interpretations, one benign and one malign.

     News you haven’t seen about Susan Rice, the Obama Administration, and spying on US Citizens: 

    Lee Smith, writing in The Tablet, says Rice “may have been rifling through classified transcripts for over a year” with info about Trump and associates. 

    Smith focuses on the Iranian Nuclear Deal and says the US spied extensively on Israeli officials (who opposed the deal). No problem there; that is completely within the purview of the intel agencies. Since Israeli officials worked closely with US citizens, including lawmakers, who opposed the deal, their conversations were picked up, too. The question is whether the Obama White House, in possession of this information, restricted its use to national security or went beyond that, abusing the foreign intelligence system.

    Smith reaches a devastating conclusion:

    I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.

    “At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

    This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. –Lee Smith in The Tablet

     Pres. Trump harshly condemns Syria after deadly sarin gas attack, calling it “horrendous” and saying it crossed “several” red lines, deliberately invoking Obama’s language

    Comment: The shift in US policy was abrupt. Only a few days earlier the US had resigned itself to Assad’s continued rule. The change is clearly the result of the chemical attack. Pres. Trump’s language, especially his use of Obama’s term, signals some kind of military strike.

    I would be shocked if the US put troops into this no-win situation. The US can certainly damage the Assad regime from the air, but, even there, a strike runs the risk of conflict with Russia, which (along with Iran) is the main foreign support for Assad’s regime. 

    The larger strategic problem for the US is that there is no way to stand up a pro-western regime there without enormous costs and high risks.

    Two big Thursday events: Chinese leader Xi meets Trump in Florida, US Senate moves to end debate and vote on Gorsuch for Supreme Court

    Comment: More on them tomorrow when we have real news.

     McMaster asserts his control over the National Security Council

    • All news outlets are reporting Steve Bannon is out (he should never have been in);
    • What many are not noticing is that McMaster is filling out his organization with skilled professionals.

    Good report at Politico.

     

     

     

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