• ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, October 1

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

    Trump says his own Sec. of State is wasting his time trying to talk with North Korea (New York Times)

    Trump added a personal insult to the North Korean leader, calling him “Little Rocket Man.”

    The NYT says the President “seemed to undercut” Tillerson.

    Comment: There are four possibilities.

    First, personal pique: always insults adversaries. Not at all helpful here. Could prompt irrational action by Kim.

    Second, it could be “good cop, bad cop.” Quite likely.

    Third, Tillerson is sending a message to Pyongyang, while Trump is sending one to Beijing. Virtually certain.

    Finally, it is possible that Trump thinks, “We will ultimately have to use force here. If so, it is far better if Kim does something that China (and other international actors) consider so provocative that the US must respond. Let’s see if I can goad him into that since it will build international support for something we will have to do anyway.”

    In any case, this situation is lethally dangerous. That’s been true for some time. Trump’s strategy depends on keeping the heat up, not turning it down. That’s the only way to get China to act.

    Trump Administration slashing red tape that slows business growth (Fox News)

    Big rollout of the PR side of this on Monday.

    Trump has directed federal agencies to lower the overall cost of their regulations during fiscal 2018, the Washington Times reported. Specific dollar figures were not available.

    But Neomi Rao, administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, told the Times that new rules enacted by the Trump administration have so far saved U.S. businesses some $300 million in annualized costs.

    By contrast, Rao said the Obama administration saddled businesses with $80 billion in costs over eight years.

    Comment: Really important initiative, vastly underreported because there are no visuals and MSM does not like Trump. When they do report on regulations, they emphasize harm to individuals.

    ◆ The pain in Spain lies mainly in . . . Barcelona: Clashes and chaos as Madrid steps in to forcibly prevent Catalonia’s vote to become independent (New York Times)

    Catalonia’s defiant attempt to stage an independence referendum descended into chaos on Sunday, with hundreds injured in clashes with police in one of the most serious tests of Spain’s democracy since the end of the Franco dictatorship in the 1970s.

    National police officers in riot gear deployed in thick phalanxes as they fanned out across Catalonia, the restive northeastern region of Spain, to shut down polling stations and seize ballot boxes. –New York Times

    BBC story here.

    Comment: The fallout from the attempted vote and the violence will be serious and ongoing, with ramifications for separatist movements across Europe.

    ◆ Today in Islamic Terror: Marseilles train station

    Chicago Tribune headline: Man kills 2 with knife at French station, yells ‘Allahu Akbar’

    Associated Press headline for the same story: Fatal attack disrupts Marseille train travel

    Comments:

    • The Tribune actually uses the AP story and gives it the correct and informative headline. Kudos.
    • The AP doesn’t just bury the lede. It deliberately makes the headline less informative, presumably for PC reasons

    The Tribune website does not give my attention to the story. It treats it as a minor one. That’s not necessarily wrong. In fact, it tells you that lethal attacks in European public spaces where the Islamist killer yells his religious motivation are now so common that they receive only modest attention unless the death toll is high.

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  • 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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  • 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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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 20

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

     Tillerson, Mattis turn up the heat on Iran. Says it is still sponsoring terrorism throughout the Middle East  (Washington Post)

    But they do not want to overturn the nuclear agreement. They see cheating at the margins but not full-frontal violations

    Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis slammed Iran as a destabilizing influence, particularly in Yemen, during a visit to Saudi Arabia. “Everywhere you look, if there’s trouble in the region, you find Iran,” Mattis told reporters.

    This week, the Trump administration said it will undertake a comprehensive, 90-day review to judge whether lifting sanctions on Iran serves U.S. interests. So expect to hear more about this topic in the coming months.

    In the meantime, amid all the criticism, here’s a development worth noting: Iran has met all of its commitments under the nuclear deal so far, the administration officially told Congress this week. –Washington Post

     The sheer fun of reading a slash-and-burn column. Not good as a steady diet, but, like cheese cake, great fun as an occasional treat.

    Here’s Howie Carr’s take-down of Elizabeth Warren and her new book. The succession of nicknames alone is worth the read, and so is his parody of what she claims is her favorite curse word: poop. Really. That, she claims, is a f*^king curse word. (My own is “drat.”)  Howie’s column is here. (Boston Herald)

    This is a rough week for Chief Spreading Bull to be starting her tour of the trustafarian gated communities and alt-left fake-news media that are her main, make that only, constituencies. The authors of the Hillary campaign post-mortem, “Shattered,” are also making the green-room rounds. Ditto Bernie Sanders and the DNC’s Dumb and Dumber — Tom Perez and Keith Ellison.

    That’s a lot of poop for the non-working classes to be wading through, but nevertheless, she will persist. . . .

    “Trump slammed back at me repeatedly,” she says on page 226, “hitting me over and over with his lame nicknames.”

    Like, what, Liewatha? What kind of poop did he hit you with? Was it something about your, ahem, Native American heritage? Why no mention of that anymore? She’s still demanding that the president release his taxes. Maybe he should agree to — right about the time she puts out her employment applications to the two Ivy League law schools that hired her as a
    “woman of color.” –Howie Carr

    Comment: Cowabonga.

     Scott Walker continues policies opposing mandatory unions, this time on state construction projects (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

    Contractors won’t have to work with unions on taxpayer-funded building projects and parents will have an easier time getting an anti-seizure drug derived from marijuana, under legislation Gov. Scott Walker signed Monday.

    The measure on labor agreements, which passed the Legislature on party-line votes, is the latest in a series of moves to roll back union power by Republican lawmakers in recent years. –Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

    Comment: Wisconsin rises, Indiana Rises, Illinois sinks, California Sinks. Notice a pattern? Local voters do.

    ◆ Terror and the Fresno Murders: A comment 

    Kori Ali Muhammad has admitted killing three people–he was caught in the act–and said he wanted to kill more “white people.”

    Police has said that, although he yelled “Allahu Akbar,” his crime was based solely on race, not Islamic terror.

    What he did IS terrorism, in the sense that he meant to cause terror and did.

    The question is whether it is connected to the broader movement of Islamic terror, included “inspired” lone-wolf actions.

    Right now, it is hard to know whether he yelled the Arabic phrase as

    • A signal of black nationalism (National of Islam style),
    • Pure hatred of America,
    • Support for global terrorism, or
    • Some other motive.

    Since he has already begun talking, he might say more about his motivations. We’ll gain other information, too, as police uncover his internet search history, personal and political affiliations, and more.

    As Fresno police and the FBI release their findings, we will gain a sense of how these murders are is connected to the larger Islamic terrorism issue, as well as Muhammad’s hatred of white people.

     Hillary campaign working to discover who leaked embarrassing info for new book, Shattered (NY Post’s Page Six)

    We’re told the details in the book, which depicts the campaign as inept, “could only have come from someone in the inner circle.” Dennis Cheng, the finance director of Clinton’s presidential campaign, has been sending out messages to determine where the leaks come from.

    One source said, “The knives are out to find the people who spoke about the campaign to the authors of this book. –NY Post

    Comment: In other news, the Adlai Stevenson campaign is doing a “top-to-bottom look at why we lost and what to do next.”

     

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Bryan Caisse 
    for the Howie Carr piece on Elizabeth Warren

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, April 17

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

     Turkey’s Erdogan claims he won a major national vote, giving him near-dictatorial powers. The opposition says “not so fast”  (Associated Press)

    Comment: He has been accumulating power steadily and moving the country toward Islamism, rejecting the century-old secularist tradition of the country’s modern founder, Atatürk.

     How bad is Libya? Well, there are now slave markets there, according to the United Nations  (BBC)

    Comment: Beyond the horrific human tragedy, there are other lessons for the US and Europe here. The biggest–and one we have had to learn repeatedly–is that it is far easier to knock down a regime, such as Muammar Gaddafi’s or Saddam Hussein’s, than it is to stand up a stable replacement.

     NYT calls North Korea a “Cuban Missile Crisis in Slow Motion”

    Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has said repeatedly that “our policy of strategic patience has ended,” hardening the American position as Mr. Kim makes steady progress toward two primary goals: shrinking a nuclear weapon to a size that can fit atop a long-range missile, and developing a hydrogen bomb, with up to a thousand times the power than the Hiroshima-style weapons he has built so far. –New York Times

    Comment: The NYT headline is insightful, highlighting the dangers ZipDialog has long stressed.

    But there are two crucial differences worth pondering. First, in October 1962, the US was dealing with a rational rival. Now, we’re not sure. Second, in 1962, we dealt with Russia, which had complete control over the nuclear weapons, which were theirs, after all. Now, we are dealing with North Korea and its own arsenal. Beijing has tremendous leverage, but it ultimately has to get Pyongyang to act. Moscow didn’t have that problem with Havana.

    Related story: Vice President Pence, visiting South Korea, tells North Korea not to test US resolve. (Washington Post)

     “Against all odds,” says the WaPo, “a communist soars in French election polls”

    [Jean-Luc] Mélenchon is running as the candidate of the Unbowed France political movement, in an alliance with the French Communist Party. The latest polls show him narrowly trailing Emmanuel Macron, long seen as the favorite, and Le Pen, expected to qualify for the final round of the two-round vote but to lose to Macron in the end. In the final days of a truly unprecedented campaign, Mélenchon’s unexpected surge is a reminder that radical change is in the air and that its extremist apostles — on the right or the left — may soon hold power. –Washington Post

    Comment: Who knows which two candidates will make the runoff? But the strong showing of an extreme left and an extreme right candidate are deeply disturbing. Trouble for markets, the EU, and, most of all, stable democracies in a stable Europe. Time for paintings from Weimar?

     Shameful NYT headline on a story that has NOTHING to do with Justice Neil Gorsuch:

    Why Gorsuch May Not Be So Genteel on the Bench

    The only connection between the story and Gorsuch is that he is male and conservative, and a recent study deals with conservative males on the Supreme Court before Gorsuch.

    Comment: The Times reports on a forthcoming law review article that says male SCOTUS justices interrupt more often than female justices and that conservatives interrupt more often than liberals. That may or may not interest you. For me, it ranks #1257 on my list of important public issues. Perhaps it ranks higher for you. 

    The problem here is that the academic has nothing, zero, nada, zip, bupkes to do with new Justice Neil Gorsuch. The NYT just wanted a current news hook and was delighted to smear Gorsuch in the process.

    Nice work, Times, and special kudos to the reporter, Adam Liptak, whose sleazy hook should earn him extra dinner invitations in Georgetown and the Upper West Side.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, April 16

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

     North Korea: no nuclear test (yet), failed missile test on day of big celebration  No comment from Trump or top aides. (Washington Post)

    Comment: We don’t know if North Korea simply wasn’t ready for its next nuclear test or was pressured by China. Either way, expect Kim Jong Un to continue pushing the envelope in dangerous ways. 

     Sec. of State Rex Tillerson’s stock is high and rising inside the White House. Outsiders have simply missed it  (Politico)

    Tillerson has far more White House visits than other Cabinet members, as well as weekly private dinners with Trump.

    Politico says Trump admires Tillerson’s skills in managing large organizations (he was superb at Exxon), and that Trump thinks, as executives do, in terms of quarterly results. And Tillerson is finishing the quarter strong, with his guidance on Syria, Iraq, and Russia.

    The American Interest has a related article on Tillerson’s rise in what they call “Donald Trump’s Transactional Diplomacy.”

     Him no talk. Elizabeth Warren whines that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to speak to her  (Washington Examiner)

    Comment: Warren, you might remember, refused to shake hands with Judge Gorsuch and led the opposition to fellow Senator Jeff Sessions’ successful nomination to become Attorney General.

     Julian Assange grumpy with CIA after its head calls WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service” (Fox News)

    Assange says CIA Director Mike Pompeo is trying to “subvert” his “First Amendment Rights.”

    Quick Tip to Assange: Non-US citizens living in London do not have First Amendment Rights. Try a different gambit.

     

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 16

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Diplomacy with North Korea is a failed strategy, Rex Tillerson, US Sec. of State says in Asia  (Washington Post)

    It’s time to take a “different approach” to dealing with North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Tokyo on Thursday, because 20 years of diplomacy had “failed” to convince the regime in Pyongyang to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

    Tillerson’s comments will fuel fears in the region that military options might be on the table to deter North Korea — an approach that could prove devastating for Seoul, where more than 20 million people live within North Korean artillery range. –Washington Post

    Comment: By far the most dangerous region in today’s world. Tillerson’s message is also aimed at China, since US diplomacy has focused in vain on getting China to use its leverage with North Korea.

     Rachel Maddow: People disappointed by Trump story expected too much (Washington Post)

    The NY Post says parent NBC is none-too-happy with this whiff either.

    Comment: Gee, wonder who hyped it for 20 minutes at the start of her own show (I watched so you didn’t have to). By then, she already knew the hype was false. 

    People have compared it to Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault and finding nothing. The difference is that Geraldo didn’t already know the vault was empty.

     Kremlin spies orchestrated huge Yahoo! hack, according to US indictment (New York Times)

    If true, the allegations offer an extraordinary case study of Russian cyber espionage, and particularly the symbiotic relationship between identity thieves and spammers and Russia’s elite intelligence services.

    Cybersecurity experts and the F.B.I. have long suspected that Russian spies employed and protected criminal hackers to a striking degree, but evidence has been scarce. The indictment made public on Wednesday describes this collusion in detail for the first time.

    The Washington Post thinks the indictment and investigation could shed light on other hacks.

     When the US spies on foreigners, it sometimes picks up Americans’ communications. It is supposed to “mask them” to cover up their identities. It appears the Obama White House asked for some of those masked names. Now, Congress wants to know who asked and whether they received the answers (CNN) The request is bipartisan.

    The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee asked the three leaders of the intelligence community Wednesday about any time during the last seven months of the Obama administration whenever any of its agents and officials improperly named, or “unmasked,” and disseminated the identities of American citizens picked up in intelligence collection.

    Chairman Devin Nunes, R-California, and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, wrote that they were concerned that members of the intelligence community have not been sufficiently honoring previously established “robust ‘minimization procedures'” to protect the identities of US citizens, including “masking” their names. The letter they sent refers to the disclosure to the public that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had several conversations with the Russian Ambassador. –CNN

    Comment: If White House aides asked for unmasking, they could well be investigated criminally for the subsequent leaks.

     Tesla raises $1.5 billion as it begins testing its much-anticipated, high-volume Model 3  (Daily Mail)

    Comment: A lot hinges on the success of the mass-market Model 3 if Tesla is to move beyond its high-end niche.

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