• UPDATED COMMENTARY on Presidents and Soldiers of Blessed Memory

    As is so often the case, an issue with several important elements has been compressed and distorted, both by politicians and by the media.

    It is increasingly obvious that the most important element of this whole story is

    • how low our public discourse has sunk,
    • how vile are the statements we make about political opponents, and, sadly,
    • how we impute the most foul motives to all our adversaries, turning them from “the loyal opposition” into “enemies and traitors.”

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    Here are a few more thoughts on these somber issues, which are now, unfortunately, the subject of mudslinging.

    • It is right and fitting that presidents phone or write the loved ones who gave their lives for our country and for their comrades in arms. How Presidents undertake this terrible responsibility should be their choice.
    • It was wrong and unbecoming of Pres. Trump to criticize his predecessors about their ways of honoring our fallen soldiers.
      • ALL his predecessors were decent, honorable men who took these losses seriously. That should be acknowledged, not turned into a partisan football.
        • We can differ with people politically without concluding that they are, by definition, knuckle-dragging, immoral fools.
        • American politics is being corrupted by our collective inability to differ politically without slinging mud personally.
      • It is beneath the Office of the President to criticize President Obama on this issue. It should be publicly shamed.
      • Trump’s false and undignified criticism was sufficiently upsetting to Pres. George W. Bush, who has been the most dignified of recent ex-Presidents, that he spoke out publicly, at least indirectly criticizing Trump.
        • UPDATE: Steve Bannon’s criticism of GWB on these issues is noxious. Not surprising, but still noxious.

    • It is wrong and unbecoming for others, such as the Congresswoman from Florida, to do the same thing, turning a private moment of grief into her public moment in the spotlight.
      • Her bad behavior was made worse because she took a benign statement by the President and twisted into something malicious.
      • Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, known for her hats and not what’s under them, has now personally attacked Gen. Kelly, a Gold Star father.
      • She’s loathsome.
      • UPDATE: General Kelly incorrectly characterized Rep. Wilson’s speech in Florida at the building dedication. It was not all about her, as he said. She shared the credit for the building. (I am sure he misremembered, rather than lied.)
      • UPDATE: Sarah Sanders statement that Gen. Kelly cannot be criticized is clearly wrong and misunderstands the roll of free speech in our political discourse. That would be true even if Kelly were still an active-duty military officer. Sanders has properly walked back most of her statement, but, like most political figures, she can’t quite say the plain truth: “I was wrong.”
    • The loss of service members in Niger, which gave rise to this controversy, was a tragic military error, compounded by a lot of uncertainty about the events in their immediate aftermath. It is unclear why the military was slow to reveal publicly what happened.
      • The Democrats have implied that it is Pres. Trump’s “Benghazi” (that is, a high-level political coverup). It’s not unless there is a full-scale coverup and months of lying and misrepresentation, as there was after Benghazi.
    • CNN has run the story 24/7. That’s media malpractice. That, unfortunately, is also CNN’s motto.
      • CNN is like a dog with a bone: they bite it and hang on, long after all the meat is gone.
      • The problem is not that CNN’s panels are false. It is the channel’s bizarre news judgment that the story merits round-the-clock coverage for days, driven, I am sure, by their (correct) conclusion that the story harms Trump.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, October 20

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

    ◆ Tax Cuts, Tax Reform gaining momentum

    The Senate passed a Budget Resolution, the essential prelude to any effort to pass tax reform. Without the resolution, the tax bill could be stopped unless it had 60 votes. With the resolution, it needs 50 votes.

    Analysis: Whether it can get 50 votes depends on the details, which will affect different states, income groups, and economic sectors differently.

    Ending the deduction for state and local taxes, for example, hurts high-income people in high-tax states. That could cost Republican House votes if they represent such districts. (Most analysis misses the point that the state taxes hit high earners more so Republicans from middle-class districts might not be affected.)

    Giving everyone a large standard deduction sounds great . . . except to the residential real-estate industry, which thinks it will render mortage deductions meaningless for many middle-income buyers.

    Plus, we don’t yet know the breakpoints between tax brackets, so the impact on middle-income families cannot be forecast accurately.

    Politically, the Republicans must pass tax cuts. Whether they must pass larger reforms is less obvious. But even “must pass” legislation is a problem for this bunch.

     Unmasking investigation

    Obama’s UN Ambassador Samantha Power made more unmasking requests than McDonald’s makes hamburgers. Now, Power has told the House Intel Committee that she did not make those unmasking requests. Somebody else did, using her name. (Fox News)

    Since the testimony was behind closed doors, it is unclear if she knew or assented to the requests, if she knows who made the requests, or if “masking” an unmasking request is itself illegal. It is certainly unethical.

    Now, the same committee has called Obama’s last Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, to find out what she knows about these unmaskings and the Russia-Trump investigation. (Fox News)

    Comment #1: This massive unmasking for what seems like political purposes by the Obama Administration is not only a scandal in its own right. It will have real effects on national security if it blocks the renewal of FISA court authority, which must be done soon.

    Comment #2: It has also been reported that the FBI and DOJ knew about Russian bribery to obtain uranium ownership during the Obama years, when Hillary Clinton was Sec. of State. Bill Clinton was paid substantial funds personally for speaking to Russian entities at this time and the family foundation received vast sums (over $100 million) from investors with stakes in the transaction.

    This investigation was not revealed to the heads of Congressional Intelligence Committee, as is required.

    Moreover, this Russian scandal directly involves the FBI when it was head by . . . . Robert Mueller, now in charge of investigating Russian scandals.

    This stinks.

    US-backed forces declare “victory” over ISIS in Raqqa after 4-month battle (CBS)

    Comment: Now that ISIS is circling the drain, the real question is what comes afterwards in Sunni regions of Iraq and Syria.

    Iran and its proxies, Syria and Iraq, are determined to keep the Shiites in charge.

    That will fuel more radical Sunni insurgencies like ISIS and Al Qaeda.

    Catalonia’s bid for independence: Spain’s central government is now preparing to strip the region of its local powers (Los Angeles Times)

    The region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, did not renounce independence despite a Thursday deadline imposed by the central government.

    The escalating confrontation between Madrid and Spain’s most prosperous region sent ripples of unease across the continent, where European Union leaders are already wary of fissures within the bloc.

    Spain’s worst political crisis in nearly four decades of democracy could hamper a still fragile economic recovery in the country as a whole and cause particular financial harm to Catalonia, which is already experiencing a flurry of corporate flight. –Los Angeles Times

     Comment on Presidents and Fallen Soldier in separate ZipDialog post (here)

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  • Presidents and Soldiers of Blessed Memory: A Comment UPDATED

    As is so often the case, an issue with several important elements has been compressed and distorted, both by politicians and by the media.

    Here are a few thoughts on these somber issues, which are now, unfortunately, the subject of mudslinging.

    • It is right and fitting that presidents phone or write the loved ones who gave their lives for our country and for their comrades in arms. How Presidents undertake this terrible responsibility should be their choice.
    • It was wrong and unbecoming of Pres. Trump to criticize his predecessors about their ways of honoring our fallen soldiers.
      • ALL his predecessors were decent, honorable men who took these losses seriously. That should be acknowledged, not turned into a partisan football.
        • UPDATE: We can differ with people politically without concluding that they are, by definition, knuckle-dragging, immoral fools.
        • American politics is being corrupted by our collective inability to differ politically without slinging mud personally.
      • It is beneath the Office of the President to criticize President Obama on this issue. It should be publicly shamed.
      • Trump’s false and undignified criticism was sufficiently upsetting to Pres. George W. Bush, who has been the most dignified of recent ex-Presidents, that he spoke out publicly, at least indirectly criticizing Trump.
        • UPDATE: Steve Bannon’s criticism of GWB on these issues is noxious. Not surprising, but still noxious.

    • It is wrong and unbecoming for others, such as the Congresswoman from Florida, to do the same thing, turning a private moment of grief into her public moment in the spotlight.
      • Her bad behavior was made worse because she took a benign statement by the President and twisted into something malicious.
      • Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, known for her hats and not what’s under them, has now personally attacked Gen. Kelly, a Gold Star father.
      • She’s loathsome.
      • UPDATE: General Kelly incorrectly characterized Rep. Wilson’s speech in Florida at the building dedication. It was not all about her, as he said. She shared the credit for the building. (I am sure he misremembered, rather than lied.)
      • UPDATE: Sarah Sanders statement that Gen. Kelly cannot be criticized is clearly wrong and misunderstands the roll of free speech in our political discourse. That would be true even if Kelly were still an active-duty military officer. Sanders has properly walked back most of her statement, but, like most political figures, she can’t quite say the plain truth: “I was wrong.”
    • The loss of service members in Niger, which gave rise to this controversy, was a tragic military error, compounded by a lot of uncertainty about the events in their immediate aftermath. It is unclear why the military was slow to reveal publicly what happened.
      • The Democrats have implied that it is Pres. Trump’s “Benghazi” (that is, a high-level political coverup). It’s not unless there is a full-scale coverup and months of lying and misrepresentation, as there was after Benghazi.
    • CNN has run the story 24/7. That’s media malpractice. That, unfortunately, is also CNN’s motto.
      • CNN is like a dog with a bone: they bite it and hang on, long after all the meat is gone.

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  • What Is the Point of Trump’s “Rocketman” Language?

    Most people, included sophisticated foreign policy professionals, think Trump was flying off the handle when he attacked Kim Jong-Un personally.

    Maybe.

    But I want to briefly discuss another possibility which has been ignored: Is there a “mad man” strategic logic in Trump’s personal attacks?

    At this point, it’s simply impossible to say, but we cannot rule it out.

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    The Conventional View

    Most commentators think

    1. Trump was speaking primarily to a US audience, which wants to see America project a strong image in the world.
      • Trump certainly does that often enough.
    2. Trump was doing what he habitually does, attacking anyone who attacks him, as he did on the campaign trail, and going beyond the normal bounds of political language.
      • In other words, it was unprofessional, personal pique.
    Those are the main interpretations I’ve seen.
    Those could well be right, but there is another possibility.

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    Keeping the Language Hot Makes War Seem Credible

    That’s the Only Way to Get China to Act

    This third possibility is interesting and quite plausible for a skilled negotiator.
    3) Trump’s over-the-top language is a rational bargaining strategy. He is continuing to ratchet up the language and pressure because
    • Only China can resolve this issue, and
    • China will not act unless they genuinely fear the alternative is even worse: unilateral US military action

    Since starting a preventive war would be so costly for the US (and everybody else), it is hard to make that alternative credible.

    Indeed, it was not credible under previous US presidents, despite their language that “all options are on the table.” Adversaries did not think those options were credible.

    Trump has already changed that. He has made China fear the possibility of US military action. That’s the reason why China’s central bank acted (or says it has), stopping domestic banks from cooperating with North Korea.

    Still, to keep China working on this, Trump has to keep the pressure high, and he has to make war seem like a real possibility for Beijing, either because the US wages a preemptive war or because Kim starts one accidentally. (Btw, Kim Jong-Un’s “mad man” language has no international strategic rational. It scares Beijing and prompts the US to act, not back down. Of course, Kim’s language may be directed as his generals and other key figures in the regime.)

    Trump’s language does keep the international pressure up. And the hint of a “mad man” in his hot rhetoric turns up the pressure even more.

     

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    Bottom Line: Trump Might Use Hot (Mad?) Language to Make War Seem Credible

    I am not saying that Trump’s language is part of a deeply-considered negotiating strategy.

    I am saying we cannot rule it out–and it would dovetail with his overall approach to North Korea.

    Of course, it’s scary. Of course, it’s dangerous.

    That’s the whole point.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, September 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The full speech is available here on YouTube.

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

    Critical responses to the speech line up as expected.

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

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

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

    Here’s the report at Legal Insurrection.

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

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

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

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

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  • Remembering a GREAT spy, who located the Nazi rocket program at Peenemünde

    0 No tags Permalink

    Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, Valiant World War II Spy, Dies at 98

    A French native who spoke flawless German, she was

    an amateur spy who passed a wealth of information to the British about the development of the V-1 and V-2 rockets during World War II and survived stays in three concentration camps for her activities. –New York Times obituary

    She used skill and charm, hiding her sharp mind and photographic memory as she interacted with German officers in Paris.

    She was a favorite with the German officers, who were completely unaware that the woman they knew as Madeleine Chauffour had been reporting to a French intelligence network, the Druids, organized by the Resistance.

    Getting wind of a secret weapons project, she made it her mission to be on hand when the topic was discussed by the Germans, coaxing information through charm and guile.

    “I teased them, taunted them, looked at them wide-eyed, insisted that they must be mad when they spoke of the astounding new weapon that flew over vast distances, much faster than any airplane,” she told The Washington Post in 1998. “I kept saying, ‘What you are telling me cannot be true!’ I must have said that 100 times.”

    One officer, eager to convince her, let her look at drawings of the rockets. –New York Times

    She gave her information to the French resistance, who passed it to London. That information included

    precise details about operations at the testing plant in Peenemünde, on the Baltic coast in Pomerania; and showed planned launch locations along the coast from Brittany to the Netherlands.

    Relying on this information, the British organized several bombing raids against the plant, which delayed development of the V-2 and spared untold thousands of lives in London. –NYT

    The Times obituary includes stories of her escapes from German imprisonment and more.

    It’s a helluva tale.

    Rest in Peace, Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, a hero of the French Resistance.

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  • Pres. Trump’s speech on Afghanistan: The Essential Points

    Here are the essentials of Trump’s Afghanistan policy 

    US policy toward Afghanistan must be considered as part of an overall regional approach, worked out after a major policy review by the Trump administration’s national security team

    • It was striking how little information leaked prior to Trump’s prime-time address. The White House staff was very disciplined, a sharp contrast to previous behavior, when internal opponents advanced their position anonymously in the press.

    The US is staying in Afghanistan and recommitted to the fight.

    We are not revealing operational details, beyond implying that it will not involve large numbers of US troops

    We’re relying ultimately on the Afghans themselves, not on US troops

    We’ve rejected the trial balloon of a US mercenary army (implied but not stated explicitly in the speech)

    We’ve put Pakistan on notice that their territory cannot be a safe haven for Islamic networks that kill Americans or attack US-supported forces in Afghanistan

    • The implication is that Pakistan must deal with these problems or the US will (a dangerous possibility in terms of bilateral relations)
    • Trump’s speech clearly positioned the Afghanistan fight as part of a regional strategy for South Asia.
    • The outreach to India was part of that and will undoubtedly scare Pakistan, which will be split internally on this and may reach out to China (at great risk)

    We are changing our troops’ rules of engagement; instead of tight restraints, the new rule is “kill the bastards”

    No more nation building. America’s only goal is security, for the US and US interests (including our allies).

    To the extent that anyone speaks of a “Trump doctrine,” it will be:

    Kill the bad guys, rely heavily on local partners, hold them accountable, and don’t do nation building.

    What outcome does Trump envision, if his policy works?

    Trump gave a hint of the end-state he wanted. At this stage, he was wise not to spell it out in more detail.

    He wants a political solution. The implication is that the US will not put in enough resources to win unilaterally on the battlefield.

    His implicit goal, then, is not only to keep the Taliban (and their Pakistani allies) from winning but to convince them that they cannot simply outlast the US and thus win a war of attrition.

    Trump explicitly said the political solution could include some elements of the Taliban, as long as that end-state was stable and would not lead to attacks on the US or US interests. Clearly, he thinks that will be possible only if the Taliban don’t think they cannot win unilaterally, or cannot win at a tolerable cost.

    For all Trump’s talk about “winning,” this is really a political compromise, made possible by greater success on the battlefield.

    Comment

    Trump’s initial comments voiced a hope that a divided America could come together, clearly a reference to Charlottesville and its aftermath.

    After that, his speech was very much directed at the military men and women in the audience and offered them strong support.

    Trump’s comments that he initially wanted to pull out were not so much narcissism (as is usually the case with him) and more an attempt to explain to a war-weary nation why it made sense to recommit to the fight there.

    The speech was filled with sharp criticism of the Obama administration’s strategy, without specifically naming Obama.

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    Hat tip to David Nix for asking about Trump’s vision for an end-state

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, August 21

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

    ◆ Trump to announce new strategy, troop levels for Afghanistan tonight

    Comments:

    • The absence of leaks well before the announcement is a good sign of the internal discipline of the National Security team
    • Make no mistake: we are losing everything we fought for in Afghanistan;
    • Even the capital city is now a war zone; this dramatic deterioration happened on Obama’s watch, even though he had campaigned on the (false) promise that this was the war that really mattered; it is yet another example of his disastrous foreign policy strategy and tactics.
      • George W. did not succeed there, either, but things have gotten much, much worse in recent years.
    • There are really no good options here for Trump, but there are some much worse ones; the key is to remember the main US goal: simply to prevent staging areas for attacks on the US like 9/11; there is zero chance of turning Afghanistan into something good on the ground, only something less bad

    Barbie doll and meat-grinder bombs were weapons in foiled ISIS plot to blow up Australian airliner (Fox News)

    Why did they fail?

    An elementary mistake: the luggage they were packed in was 15 pounds over the airline’s weigh limit.

    Meant as real journalism; actually, self-parody: Solar eclipse reveals racism (The Atlantic)

    The classic joke about the New York Times is the apocryphal, apocalyptic headline: “World to End. Poor Affected Most.”

    The Atlantic does them one better and actually writes a story like that.

    On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will arrive mid-morning on the coast of Oregon. The moon’s shadow will be about 70 miles wide, and it will race across the country faster than the speed of sound, exiting the eastern seaboard shortly before 3 p.m. local time. It has been dubbed the Great American Eclipse, and along most of its path, there live almost no black people.

    Presumably, this is not explained by the implicit bias of the solar system. It is a matter of population density, and more specifically geographic variations in population density by race, for which the sun and the moon cannot be held responsible. –Alice Ristroph, in The Atlantic

    Naturally, the article ends with a peroration condemning America for its awfulness.

    America is a nation with debts that no honest man can pay. It is too much to ask that these debts simply be forgiven. But perhaps the strange path of the eclipse suggests a need for reorganization. We have figured out, more or less, how to count every person. We have not yet found a political system in which every person counts equally. –The Atlantic

    Comment: Prof. Ristoph has a Harvard BA, JD, and PhD and teaches at Seton Hall Law School.

     Another disastrous US Naval wreck: this time, the USS John S. McCain seriously damaged, 10 sailors missing after collision with oil tanker (Fox News)

    Comment: What’s going on with our ships colliding at sea? 4th major mishap this year.

    The ship is named after Sen. McCain’s father and grandfather.

    Barcelona bombing: Hunt still on. Bomber hijacked car to escape (BBC)

    A manhunt has been extended across Europe and police say he may be armed.

    Some 90 minutes after mowing down dozens of people on the central Las Ramblas avenue, Abouyaaqoub fled to the city’s university district, police say.

    Abouyaaqoub is alleged to have hijacked the car before driving it through a police checkpoint and later abandoning the vehicle. Police say he may have crossed into France. –BBC

    Comment: Through a police checkpoint? Were they using the TSA?

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    Hat tip to Sam Stubbs for the solar eclipse story.

     

  • Now THAT’S a serious golfing hazard

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    On their way to attack England’s industrial and military targets, the Nazi aircraft would clear their guns by firing a few rounds at golf courses en route.

    Naturally, the golfers were urged to take cover.

    Here are the actual rules from one club.

    My favorite is #7: “A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place. Penalty one stroke.”

    Got it? If you are disturbed by a bomb exploding, you can hit another shot but you have to take a penalty!