• ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 18

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

     Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signs hotly-contested education bill (Orlando Sentinel)

    The major bill

    tackles everything from recess to teacher bonuses to testing. Backers called it “landmark” and “transformational” legislation, while critics said it will harm public schools and their most vulnerable students. . . . .

    The measure includes the “schools of hope” provision [House Speaker Richard] Corcoran championed, which will use state money to lure high-performing charter schools to neighborhoods where students in traditional schools have struggled academically.

    “These are kids who are being robbed of dignity and hope,” Corcoran said. “We want every single child to have an opportunity to get a world-class education.”

    The bill’s provisions related to charter schools — privately run public institutions — have prompted some of the biggest outcry, with many educators and school advocates urging Scott to veto the bill because they think it will reduce funding for traditional public schools.

    Comment: The bill was strongly opposed by teachers’ unions and other supporters of traditional public schools, strongly supported by proponents of charters and private schools.

     Carol Felsenthal has a thoughtful, succinct opinion piece at ZipDialog: Will Trump Ax Mueller?

    She thinks there is an excellent chance he will and that the political consequences will be very serious.

     Illinois state comptroller says she cannot pay the bills. State finances are in a “crisis mode” (Associate Press)

    [Comptroller Susana] Mendoza says a recent court order regarding money owed for Medicaid bills means mandated payments will eat up 100 percent of Illinois’ monthly revenue.

    There would be no money left for so-called “discretionary” spending – a category that in Illinois includes school buses, domestic violence shelters and some ambulance services. –Associated Press

    Comment: For years, the state spent lavishly on pensions for unionized state employees, who were so beloved by legislators that they actually wrote into the state constitution that pensions can never be reduced.

    On those rare occasions when the Democrats and Republicans agreed on budget cuts, they were struck down by the courts because they reduced future pension benefits, which violates the constitution.

    For years, the state has been deep blue, with House Majority Leader Mike Madigan (of Chicago) as the most powerful figure. Several years ago, a tough-minded Republican (Bruce Rauner) won the governorship, but he and Madigan have not been able to strike a deal. 

    Unlike Puerto Rico, Illinois and other US states cannot seek bankruptcy protection. But lots of city and state agencies can, and there is a real prospect that some will have to do so if the state cannot pay its share of their budget.

    You can easily imagine what the D’s and R’s say. “The other side is intransigent, and what we need to do is (a) raise taxes or (b) cut services.” You can guess who says A and who says B. (The one quirk is that not all Republicans favor being hard on unionized state employees. In some downstate districts, they are vote in large numbers, often for Republicans.)

     “Put down you make-up kit, m’am, and come out of the beauty shop with your hands up.”

    Idaho governor vetoed legislation to make it easier to work in cosmetology  (FEE, Foundation for Economic Education) Then, his wife called and asked her usual, unlicensed make-up artist to come and do some work. The make-up artist, Sherry Japhet, told her no.   

    Here’s what Ms. Japhet said on Facebook:

    Got a call to do [First Lady] Lori Otter’s makeup for a commercial on location and I said…

    “I would be more than happy to do it but her husband [Gov. Butch Otter, R] vetoed a bill to make it legal for me or any other makeup artist and stylist to do so. She will have to go to a salon or do it all herself.”

    She added in the Facebook post: “That felt so damn good.” –FEE

    Comment: Too many people need costly, time-consuming, irrelevant licenses.

    Bureaucracies love imposing them. That’s what they live to do. Professionals already in the field often favor them to prevent competition.

    So, who loses? Consumers lose, unless the licenses protect health and safety.

    Licenses for commercial truck drivers and food handlers are obviously necessary. But many others are unnecessary or are saddled with lots of unnecessary classroom hours. They raise costs and force people to go to unlicensed or blackmarket providers–or do without.

     The answer, my friend, is blowing in the . . . Spark Notes???  (Slate)

    Slate asks, “Did the singer-songwriter take portions of his Nobel lecture from SparkNotes?”

    Sounds like their lawyer went over that headline, doesn’t it? Anyway, they note the following:

    Across the 78 sentences in the lecture that Dylan spends describing Moby-Dick, even a cursory inspection reveals that more than a dozen of them appear to closely resemble lines from the SparkNotes site. And most of the key shared phrases in these passages (such as “Ahab’s lust for vengeance” in the above lines) do not appear in the novel Moby-Dick at all. –Slate

     Bodies of missing US sailors found in ship’s flooded compartment  (New York Times)

    The collision occurred in a  crowded shipping lane and the cause of the accident has not yet been determined.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • Will Trump Ax Mueller?

     My Hunch: Yes, he will. And the ramifications will be huge

    I’m betting Trump orders Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to ax special counsel Bob Mueller.

    Trump’s reason—not that he needs one—will be the friendship between Mueller and Trump’s fired FBI chief, Jim Comey.

    Trump could get that ball rolling, but then, I predict, shortly after the 2018 midterms, we’ll be calling Mike Pence, “Mr. President.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    An Impossible Triangle?

     

    ◆ MY ADVICE:

    If I were advising Trump, which would be about as likely as my advising Rahm Emanuel, I’d tell him, “Stick with the special counsel you’re stuck with.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Does Mueller Have a Conflict of Interest?

    Trump’s Allies Now Say “Yes”

    ◆ MY ADVICE: 

    Give up this charge that the friendship between Mueller and Comey represents a “conflict of interest,” especially given that one of your closest cronies (think Newt Gingrich] couldn’t praise Mueller, a 12-year veteran of the top FBI job under both W. Bush and Obama, enough when Rod Rosenstein made the appointment last month. (See The Hill’s article on Trump allies attacking the Mueller-Comey relationship (link here).)

    That high praise was bestowed, of course, before leaks seemed to reveal that Mueller’s probe had morphed from Russian collusion to, reportedly, investigating Trump personally for obstruction of justice over his allegedly pressuring Comey to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.  Not only that, but rumors are also swirling that Mueller is looking at Trump’s financial dealings and those of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    “Bobby Three Sticks” and His Friend

    Mueller will not destroy his distinguished career and reputation, even for a friend

     Robert S. Mueller III (“”Bobby Three Sticks” to his friends) is close to heading home at the close of a distinguished career.

    Among other honors, Mueller, 72,  is a decorated Marine for service in Vietnam.

    Mueller is not going to allow a personal friendship with Trump’s (and Hillary’s) enemy #1, Jim Comey, to sully his reputation.

    One could argue that the fact that Mueller and Comey are friends will make Mueller more careful about charging Trump with obstruction of justice, etc. in the absence of a rock-solid case.

    One could also argue that Mueller should have declined the appointment.   The Hill this morning quotes a “Justice Department statute that says recusal is necessary when there is the `appearance’ of a `personal’ conflict of interest.”

    Looking for a way this afternoon to postpone the pain of transcribing an interview tape from last week, I started to search narrowly whether Mueller had ever expressed his affection for Comey.

    It took a matter of seconds to find this quote from Mueller in a Washington Post story dated August 23, 2013. (link here). The context is Mueller reflecting on the bittersweetness of leaving the FBI and turning over the job to Comey.  Mueller called Comey a “`good friend,’  an `excellent choice’ and a `superb prosecutor.’”

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Does Anyone on Team Trump Do a Google Search?

     Mueller’s affection for Comey should have been no surprise to anyone who follows Washington politics.  Yet Gingrich tweeted that Mueller was “a superb choice…His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down.”

    Did anyone on Trump’s press team research the relationship?

    In 2004, the two men—Mueller then FBI chief and Comey deputy attorney general– survived the kind of experience—a civilian version of combat–that cements friendships.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    “To Be, or Not To Be . . . FBI Director”

    Comey, who I think would have been better suited for a career on the stage than in law enforcement–ran up the stairs of the George Washington University Medical Center, to prevent George W. Bush’s attorney general, John Ashcroft, incapacitated after emergency surgery, from signing a reauthorization of a surveillance program.  Mueller, also on the scene, backed Comey, then serving as acting attorney general in the wake of Ashcroft’s surgery, in calling the program illegal.

    More important, Mueller assisted Comey in getting to Ashcroft’s bedside by ordering Ashcroft’s FBI agents to let Comey through.  The two men, working together, thus succeeded in preventing Ashcroft from signing a document, thrust before him by W’s White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., that would have reauthorized a program of warrantless domestic eavesdropping.

    Comey, showing once more his flair for the dramatic,” called the scene “an apocalyptic situation…” (Washington Post)

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    ◆ MY FINAL ADVICE: 

    Again, if I were advising Trump, I’d tell him to keep his head down, his mouth shut and get on with the business of leading the country, so voters will care if Trump is forced from office because of  what he has described, via tweet, of course, as a “WITCH HUNT.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

    Carol Felsenthal is much-published author. Besides a long list of magazine credits, she has written a number of acclaimed biographies:

    • Citizen Newhouse: Portrait of a Media Merchant,
    • Power, Privilege, and the Post: The Katharine Graham Story,
    • Princess Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, and
    • Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House, a look at Bill Clinton’s post presidency

    She is also a contributing writer for Chicago Magazine and the political blogger for their website, Chicagomag.com.

    She has taught biographical writing at the University of Chicago and written profiles of everyone from Ann Landers to Michelle Obama.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, June 17

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

     Sailors missing after US destroyer collides with container ship off Japan  (Washington Post)

    The cause of the collision is not yet know. The US ship is not in danger of sinking but needs to be towed back to port. The container ship is safe, as well.

    Comment: Somebody screwed up big-time.

     Obituary: Helmut Kohl, Chancellor who reunited Germany after fall of Berlin Wall (New York Times)

    Comment: Kohl knew that integrating East Germany would be difficult and costly, but he also knew that the chance for a reunited Germany might not come again. With US support (from George H. W. Bush), he overcame behind-the-scenes objections from France and England. The US brushed aside Soviet objections to integrating all Germany in NATO. Actually, the Soviets were ambivalent because they did not want a rich, powerful, united Germany to have an independent military. In short, Kohl presided over a world-historical change.

     Lawsuit threatened to recover records Comey “unlawfully removed” from the FBI (Fox News)

    Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch is calling on Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to recover and release federal records and memos it claims were “unlawfully” removed by former Director James Comey, threatening the FBI with a lawsuit should the bureau not comply. –Fox News

    Comment: To me, these records are unambiguously US public documents and ought to be returned and released unless they contain classified materials–in which case the FBI will simply leak them to the New York Times or Washington Post.

     Amazon to buy Whole Foods, which will continue to operate under its name  (Wall Street Journal, subscription)

    Analysts said they expect Amazon eventually to use the stores to promote private-label products, integrate and grow its artificial-intelligence-powered Echo speakers, boost Prime membership and entice more customers into the fold. . . .

    Whole Foods has come under fire as traditional grocers offer more natural and organic items, which are Whole Foods’ mainstay. Its shares had lost nearly half their value since a 2013 peak, and sales at stores open at least a year had slumped. –WSJ

    Comment: I think the key here is going to be home delivery.

    Amazon’s goal is to provide us every good and service without our leaving home.

     Speaker Paul Ryan: Stand back and let Robert Mueller do his job  (Washington Examiner)

    Comment: He’s smart and Donald Trump would do well to follow it unless there is concrete evidence of malfeasance or vast overreach by Mueller’s office. That’s also Rod Rosenstein’s job at the Justice Department

    But there is a problem in the potential scope of Mueller’s inquiry, which blends counter-intelligence (no limits) with possible US criminal violations.

     Miami Herald: Trump’s new Cuba policy is too much for some, not enough for others  (Miami Herald)

    Neither side in the emotional debate — those who favor a more hardline approach and those who favor the former Obama administration approach — got exactly what they wanted from Trump, although those who favor a middle ground that aims at sanctioning the Cuban military while not hampering Cuban Americans’ ability to travel and send money to relatives on the island may be most pleased. –Miami Herald

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • The Sessions hearing in a nutshell

    What did Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee amount to?

    Fairly little except for Sessions’ effective defense of his own reputation and conduct of his office.

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    My take aways

    I watched the entire hearing. Here’s my unvarnished take.

    • There was little new information added, but some misinformation and innuendo was swatted down.
    • Sessions seemed completely credible.
      • He was calm, even when being interrupted frequently
        • California Democrat Kamala Harris was especially aggressive and did not allow Sessions time to answer. She was considerably more interested in her questions. The chair had to intervene several times to let the witness answer
      • The only time Sessions became intense was when he defended his honor and integrity against public slurs, mostly those of James Comey (which were indirect rather than clear and candid)
    • The main news was that Sessions did not recuse himself because of any involvement with the Russians but, he said, because of DOJ policy that he should not be part of any investigation of a political campaign in which he participated.
    • Last week, former FBI Director James Comey slimed Sessions very carefully, saying that Sessions really had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation for reasons that Comey said he couldn’t go into, at least in public session.
    • Comey’s innuendo turned out to be a nothingburger, as we learned from leaks, except for its intended damage to Sessions’ reputation
    • The damaging implication, which Democrats had been pushing for a several weeks, was that Sessions had lied in his confirmation because he had several undisclosed meetings with the Russians.
    • The reality: the only thing that might not have been mentioned was a reception where twenty or so guests were present to say hello before a larger gathering they were attending. There would have been no private time for Sessions and the Russian Ambassador to work on their plot to overthrow the Republic. The whole thing is ridiculous.

      ♦♦♦♦♦

    The Democrats and Sessions

    There are two areas to keep the Democrats, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post busy attacking.

    • Sessions did not answer some questions related to his private conversations with Pres. Trump, even though Trump has not (or not yet) invoked Executive Privilege in that area. The Democrats were tenacious on that point. They may be right, but Sessions position was actually much more forthcoming than the Obama appointees, like Susan Rice, who refused to attend hearings at all. (I don’t think they even bothered to give a reason, but I could be wrong.)
    • The Democrats said Sessions recusal on the Russia investigation means he should have had not role in the Comey firing. (He supported the firing in a memo to Trump, who was going to do it anyway.) Their argument: if Comey was fired over Russia, as Trump said on TV, then Sessions should have stayed out. Sessions’ defense: his memo on Comey was not about the Russia investigation but about the Comey’s poor performance as FBI director.
    • Sessions actually showed that he had gone beyond his formal recusal and refused to be involved in the Russia matters at DOJ from Day One, before he submitted his formal statement.

      ♦♦♦♦♦

    The Democrats’ Purpose: Nothing to do with Sessions, Everything to Do with Trump

    So far, the Democrats have found nothing on their main allegation: that Trump won the election unfairly, and is therefore an illegitimate president, because he and the Russians worked together to throw the election. It’s important to remember that the Obama Administration controlled the CIA, NSA, DOJ, and FBI for two and half months after the election and didn’t find anything then.

    There is evidence of attempted Russian interference in the election., but the Democrats on the Intel Committee today showed themselves utterly uninterested in that today, despite major breaking news about Russia’s attempted hacks of US state election systems. Virtually no questions on that because it didn’t lead back to Trump.

    Having failed (so far) to find significant evidence of collusion, the Democrats’ “get Trump” strategy has morphed into vague claims about obstruction of justice.

    Again, no evidence of that so far, either.

    Worse for them, there is no underlying crime whose investigation could be obstructed.

    Today’s hearing was really about political resistance and personal destruction, not serious investigation.

    If there is serious investigation, it is far more likely to come from Robert Mueller’s operation, which is now gearing up.

     

  • 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.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, June 12

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

     Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) wants the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate when Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, provided cover for the Hillary Clinton campaign, telling FBI director Comey to say, falsely, that their criminal investigation of Hillary’s email server was merely a “matter,” not an investigation.

    It was a direct order to him, Comey testified. (Politico)

    Feinstein made her statement on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

    Comment: Lynch’s conduct looks questionable and does deserve investigation.

    Meet with Bill on the tarmac and get covered in tar yourself.

     Democratic Party: Split between establishment liberal leadership and activist-left base  (New York Times)

    Democrats are facing a widening breach in their party, as liberal activists dream of transforming the health care system and impeaching President Trump, while candidates in hard-fought elections ask wary voters merely for a fresh chance at governing.

    The growing tension between the party’s ascendant militant wing and Democrats competing in conservative-leaning terrain, was on vivid, split-screen display over the weekend. In Chicago, Senator Bernie Sanders led a revival-style meeting of his progressive devotees, while in Atlanta, Democrats made a final push to seize a traditionally Republican congressional district. –New York Times

    Comment: The Republicans have faced the same internal split, in their case between establishment leaders who want to govern and Tea Party/Freedom Caucus activists who want to roll back big government.

    To me, these internal splits represent the electorate’s deep distrust of insiders and their self-dealing and an erosion of the party system itself.

     Pakistani terrorism court sentences man to to death for allegedly “insulting” Mohammed on Facebook  (Fox News)

    The man, Taimoor Raza, is from the minority Shiite sect and was initially charged with a lesser offense.

    Raza’s verdict comes at a time when officials are increasingly pounding down on blasphemy claims across the country. At least 15 Pakistanis are said to have been arrested by the counterterrorism department under the umbrella of blasphemy, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Four other people were sentenced to death for the crime in 2016 alone. . . .

    Scores of others in Pakistan remain on death row for alleged blasphemy, including Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who remains in solitary confinement after being convicted in 2010 following a debate with two Muslim women in a Punjab village.–Fox News

    Comment: The obvious point is that Pakistan is a deeply illiberal state. The less obvious point is that Europe, especially England, has admitted a lot of people from that country who have retained those beliefs, posing serious challenges to UK’s tradition of religious tolerance.

     Puerto Rico votes in favor of statehood (Associated Press)

    Some boycotted the vote, which had a very low turnout.

    Comment: Good luck with that, he said sardonically. The Republican Congress is not going to greenlight it.

     The University of Dallas: An impressive reading list if you want to catch up on truly great books.

    The school is proudly Catholic but its reading list is largely non-sectarian. The section on theology naturally emphasizes Catholic documents, but also includes Luther. Neither he nor the Council of Trent would be pleased. And Calvin would not be happy, either.

    The link to the readings is here; click on “A Selection of the Great Books.” The choices are excellent, and the initial suggestions are not an overly long list.

    Comment: The University’s impressive curriculum, plus its commitment to seminar discussion, should allow students to explore serious subjects and gain a deep understanding of Western civilization and its values.

    There is nothing wrong with critiquing that civilization, of course. Nothing at all. Lively criticism–and response–is an essential part of higher education.

    But my sense is that far too many university students begin (and often end) their critique of everything that is wrong with America, Canada, and Europe without actually knowing anything about the traditions they have inherited, including the precious right to engage in this kind of free and open cultural self-criticism.

    That right was hard won and, as we saw too often in the 20th century, easily lost, even in the heart of Europe.

     A liberal establishment power-lawyer in DC signed up to represent Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Her friends now think she’s pond scum (Washington Post story on Jamie Gorelick)

    Some attack her publicly; others hide behind anonymity, proving the know what zip code they live in.

    In a quintessentially D.C. move, some longtime friends of Gorelick contacted for this article offered complimentary comments about her on the record, and then, after asking if they could make other remarks without attribution, bashed their colleague to smithereens. –Washington Post

    Comment: The issue here is not Jared and Ivanka. It is Gorelick’s Washington “friends,” who say one thing in public and another behind her back, under the cloak of anonymity, which the newspapers print freely.

    Their behavior is capture in a quote attributed to Harry Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

    The attribution is probably incorrect.

    But the sentiment is 100% correct.

    The only discordant bark here is from my dog Lola, who says, for the record, “Do not bring me into this mess.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    Rod Dreher’s column, “Adult Seeks Classical Education”
     and to one of its commenters (Janine) for the University of Dallas story

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, June 10

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

     The aftermath of Comey remains “He said. He said.” One he is Comey, the other is Trump.

    Other than Trump’s foolhardy bravado in offering to testify under oath to Mueller, nothing really happened.

    The newspapers generally covered the testimony honestly. The outlier was the New York Times. Here’s my blog post on that:

    How Five Newspapers Headline Comey’s Testimony: Four are Fair, One is Not

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comment on Conspiracy Theories: The Comey testimony and its aftermath underscore and reinforce a larger shift in public discourse that is very troubling: the rise of conspiracy theories.

    America’s media in tandem with the Democratic party and progressives are now playing a constant drumbeat of conspiracy theories, mostly about secret collaboration between the Kremlin and Trump to throw the 2016 election.

    We haven’t seen anything like that since Joe McCarthy.

    Trump does not come to this with clean hands. His claims about Barack Obama’s birth certificate were a major conspiracy theory for years.

     Britain’s Tories face a trainwreck. Their call for a snap election has produced a hung Parliament and likely a shaky coalition government

    The headline in The Independent: Theresa May tries to move on after humiliating result as critics begin to circle

    A chastened Theresa May is attempting to move on from her botched election gamble, under intense pressure from members of her own cabinet and Tory backbenchers to dramatically improve her game. . . .

    Ahead of what is promising to be a bruising meeting with Tory backbenchers next week, MPs publicly questioned Ms May’s position and her campaign, with one even branding it “madness”, while others demanded changes to her Brexit strategy and raised concerns about a deal with the Northern Irish DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] . –The Independent

    May met with the Queen and said she intends to form a government. But there is considerable question about her future.

    The Tories could toss her out before the next election, which is likely to come fairly soon.

    Meanwhile, here are the main effects of the British election. It

    • Requires Conservatives to partner with a small party (DUP) from Northern Ireland to form a government
    • Shows the failure of Theresa May’s campaign; she was a bad candidate who ran on her personality, not future policy
    • Rejects the Conservatives positioning themselves as mushy, big-state centrists, far away from Thatcher’s free-market policies.
    • Gives Labour its biggest gains since late 1940s, even though (or perhaps because) the party is headed by a very, very far leftist.
      • Labour’s huge gains under Jeremy Corbyn, an unabashed socialist who supports a number of terrorist regimes, mark a major political shift in the electorate.

     Spain’s Catalonia region (Barcelona and surrounding area) will hold a referendum on leaving Spain (NPR)

    The Spanish central government sees the vote as illegal, so this sets up a confrontation.

    The Washington Post story is here.

    “There is not going to be any illegal referendum that goes against the Constitution,” the government’s spokesman . . . said after a weekly cabinet meeting. “We are facing an increasingly radical strategy that has less and less support.”

    [But Catalonia’s regional president] Carles Puigdemont said the decision to call for the vote was reached after more than 18 months of efforts failed to establish a dialogue with Madrid.

    He also said the vote was nonnegotiable because Catalans backed his plan for secession by voting for his coalition of pro-independence parties at the end of 2015. –Washington Post

    Comment: The region has a long history and its own language, Catalan, that is related to Spanish but different.

     Repealing Obamacare puts the Senate’s centrist Republicans in a bind. An example from Ohio, in his USA Today story:

    Rob Portman’s dilemma: How to repeal Obamacare without undermining opioid fight

    The key problem: any cutbacks in Medicaid, which Ohio expanded as part of the ACA, would harm addicts’ ability to get care.

    Comment: Repealing and Replacing Obamacare depends on solving very hard problems like this. 

     Meanwhile, Politico reports that “Conservatives near revolt on Senate health care negotiations”

    Comment: Staunchest opponents appear to be Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT).

    Skepticism about the bill voiced by Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AK) 

    Republicans have 52 votes. They would need 50 votes plus the Vice President to pass a bill and send it to a reconciliation committee with the House.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • How Five Newspapers Headline Comey’s Testimony: Four are Fair, One is Not

    I have written a separate post summarizing Comey’s testimony: what he said, what he didn’t, what he implied, and what I think is significant about it.

    Comey’s testimony lacerated the president and laid the basis for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate obstruction of justice. That and self-justification were his main goals, and he succeeded.

    But Comey’s testimony was careful.

    Here are some fair representations of it.

    The best, I think, is the Wall Street Journal’s because it

    • Puts Comey’s accusation against Trump in the headline
    • Gives it the most prominent place on the front page without stretching it to World War III headline size
    • Makes clear that Comey is saying how he “felt.” The WSJ is not taking a hard-news stance that he is correct or incorrect in that interpretation

    The Chicago Tribune is fair, too. It gives the story more prominence (a perfectly reasonable decision) and puts the hard news in the subheader.

    The headline merely says what we all know: he testified.

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    Here are two more, equally fair and tough.

     

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    Now, the New York Times.

    The Times’ headline represents everything that is wrong with mainstream media.

    It is an editorial without saying so.

    Why? Because Comey did not testify that Trump tried to “sink” the inquiry.  He was more careful, more lawyers, more “touchy-feely” about what he “felt” (which, of course, is entirely subjective and so cannot be refuted).

    Comey did not say Trump tried to stop the inquiry.

    He didn’t say Trump ordered him to do anything.

    He didn’t report anything like obstruction of justice at the time, as he would have been required to do.

    What he testified was that he felt pressured.

    Comey may be exactly right–or not. We can make our own judgments, but we don’t know for sure.

    His testimony was a lawyerly self-defense, designed to help himself and get revenge on Trump.

    But he did not testify, under oath, that Trump “tried to sink” the investigation. That’s the NYT’s editorial spin.

    Their interpretation may be exactly right, but it belongs on the editorial pages.

    All the other stories above the fold are designed–and headlined–to reinforce the NYT’s editorial viewpoint.

    Their headline should be hard news, and it should be accurate.

    That would be a refreshing change. 

  • What matters in Comey’s Testimony . . . and what doesn’t

    What was in the brew Comey stirred up and served to the world on Thursday?

    There was some red meat for both Democrats and Republicans. So you can expect them to emphasize different things.

    • In the media world, that means ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and others will see it one way.
    • Fox News commentators will see it another. Fox News’ flagship program, Special Report with Bret Baier, plays it straight. The other shows feature a lot more conservative, pro-Trump commentary.

    The Washington Post thinks the big news is Comey’s statement that “Trump lied” about the reasons for Comey’s firing since he, Comey was doing a great job and the FBI was not demoralized, as the president said. That was Trump’s lie, said Comey.

    That is a headline grabbing statement. But it is not what’s important.

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    Remember, there are ultimately two big legal issues:

    1. Did the Trump campaign collude with the Russians to throw the 2016 election?
    2. Did Pres. Trump obstruct justice in the FBI’s investigation of the Russian matter, Michael Flynn, or any other politically-sensitive issue

    There is one big political issue: Can the Democrats damage the Trump Administration? 

    • To do that, they need to find enough material to keep Trump on the defensive.
    • While Trump is on the defensive, he’s have a harder time moving appointments and legislative agenda (a gain for the Democrats)

    A weakened and vulnerable President will increase the Democrats’ chances of winning the House in 2018.

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    Turning to Comey’s testimony. . . he

     Confirmed that Trump has never been the subject of an FBI investigation and said he told that to Trump several times (as Trump claimed)

    Effectively stirred up the Russia issue again without offering anything substantive

    • Comey simply said what he now thinks 

    “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

    Comey’s testimony threatened to deepen the legal and political crisis engulfing the White House, which has struggled to respond to growing questions about the president’s conduct. -Washington Post (link here)

     Said Trump did not try to slow or stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 US election

    Comey declined to say whether he thought the president had obstructed justice, saying that was a determination to be made by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

    In response to Comey’s testimony, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement saying the president “never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone.” –Washington Post

    • Comey offered no evidence of obstruction, which he would have been legally required to report contemporaneously.
    • He tried to square the circle by saying he now thought it might be obstruction
    • And, by raising the issue’s profile, he made set it high on Mueller’s agenda (and gave the Democrats talking points)

    ◆ Reaffirmed the leaks of “people familiar with Comey’s thinking” that Trump had privately told him he “hoped” Comey would be able to conclude the Flynn investigation and clear Flynn. But he did not order him to end the investigation.

    • At the time, he did not think that was obstruction, did not tell the President he was uncomfortable or that the conversation should end, but he did feel some pressure

    Confirmed that, in one disputed conversation, Trump asked AG Sessions to leave the room. 

    • Trump’s desire for secrecy supports those who think he was doing something improper. (Note, however, that improper is not the same as illegal.)

    ◆ But–and this is crucial–Comey changed his mind after being fired: now Trump was “directing” him to end the investigation of Flynn

    • His public statements about this pressure and his carefully chosen term, “directed” will force Special Counsel Mueller to look at the matter as possible obstruction
    • Mueller might have done that anyway
    • It won’t come to anything legally, but Democrats will seize on “possible obstruction” as a political hammer

    ◆ Admitted that he had orchestrated leaks of his private conversations, as FBI director, with the President.  

    • These documents almost certainly did not belong to Comey but to the government (but that is a legal matter)
    • He lacked the courage to leak the documents himself or simply disclose them in a press conference. He gave them to a “cutout,” a friendly law professor at Columbia and had him leak them to the New York Times.
    • Under questioning from Congress, he effectively outed the professor without naming him directly. NBC names the professor as Daniel Richman. (NBC)
    • Comey’s statement that he took the memoranda, which belong to the government, and converted them to private use is potentially a legal violation in its own right.

    Claimed his leaks were done for an explicitly political reason: to get a special counsel appointed. An extraordinary admission

    Admitted that Attorney General Loretta Lynch (in Obama’s final years) ordered him not to call an ongoing criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails what it was: “an investigation.” She told him to call it only a “matter.”

    • Comey said he knew Lynch’s terminology was deliberately false and misleading,
    • Comey acknowledges bowing to this order. Apparently, he did not push back.
    • Comey thinks Lynch’s order was to ensure the DOJ and FBI used the same language the Clinton Campaign was using, even though they knew it was false.
    • This is clear evidence that Lynch was using her office to try and influence the 2016 election.

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    The most interesting comment on the Comey-Trump fight

     Matthew Continetti writes a fascinating opinion column in the Washington Free Beacon, entitled:

    This One Tweet May Lead to Donald Trump’s Impeachment

    The logic is this:

    • A Trump tweet after firing Comey further angers the former director; this is the one that said Comey better hope there are no “tapes.”
    • Comey decides to leak his Cover Your Ass memos (via a friend) with the goal of getting a Special Counsel
    • He succeeds
    • The investigation by that Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, could ultimately undermine the Trump administration and even lead to impeachment

    Continetti writes:

    It now looks like the most consequential Tweet of his presidency to date came a few days after he fired James Comey as FBI director. At 8:26 a.m. on Friday, May 12, Trump wrote: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

    That tweet, Comey told the Senate, prompted the now-private citizen to instruct a friend, Columbia Law professor Daniel Richman, to share with the New York Times the contents of contemporaneous memos he had written describing his interactions with the president. The article, published a week to the day Comey was fired, revealed that the president had asked the FBI director to end the criminal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

    Why did Comey have Richman call the Times? Because, he told the Senate, he hoped that the disclosure of the memo would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with associates of the president’s campaign. That is exactly what happened May 17, the day after the Times piece, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named as counsel former FBI director Robert Mueller. –Continetti in the Washington Free Beacon

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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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