ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, September 20

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

Pres. Trump’s speech to the UN was blunt and aimed squarely at North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela 

It combined two main elements:

  1. A traditional Republican assertion of US military strength and global engagements
  2. Trump’s own nationalist, anti-globalist agenda, praising “strong sovereign nations” (not international institutions) as the basis of global order

The blunt language attracted a lot of attention. Conservatives (including many who don’t support Trump) were positive. Liberals cringed, longing for Obama’s soft tone, soft policies, and strategic patient.

He called the nuclear deal with Iran “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.”  He spoke of Iran’s aggressive support of terror and expansion in the Middle East. He specifically spoke about the threat from “Radical Islamic Terror,” words his predecessor never used (and that Trump himself has used less often in recent months).

He said nothing about “democracy promotion,” a centerpiece of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.

His comment on Venezuela was equally blunt, saying they had turned a rich country into an impoverished failure and done so not because it misapplied socialist policies but because it applied them exactly as they were intended.

Without using the term “axis of evil,” his speech clearly echoed those themes from Pres. Bush’s War on Terror.

As CNN put it, “No American President has ever spoken to the world like this,” calling terrorists and some nations “evil.”

The best comment about the speech came from

 

Rich Lowery in the National Review Online:

As someone said on Twitter, never before has been there so much murmuring of “holy sh**” in so many different languages.

 Two natural disasters: 

  1. Cat 5 Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico with 175 mph winds, the second major hurricane within a month
  2. Mexico suffers a 7.1 magnitude quake.

Numerous casualties and fatalities from both, unfortunately.

Comment: The best way to keep up with news about each is with your favorite breaking-news site online. The cable channels will show you the gritty aftermath but take hours to give you the hard news you can get in a few minutes reading.

Republicans on the hill embrace big tax cuts, even if they increase the deficit (New York Times)

Senate Republicans, abandoning a key fiscal doctrine, agreed on Tuesday to move forward on a budget that would add to the federal deficit in order to pave the way for a $1.5 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.

The Republican lawmakers, under mounting pressure to score a legislative win on taxes, say a tax cut of this magnitude will stimulate economic growth enough to offset any deficit impact.

Yet critics say a deficit-financed tax cut is at odds with longstanding Republican calls for fiscal discipline, including that tax cuts not add to the ballooning federal deficit.

Comment: Tax bills must originate in the House, which is dribbling out some information but not the key details. Those should come in the next week or so.

Former Chicago cop, wanted for shaking down drug dealers, has been arrested in Detroit after 15 years on the run (Chicago Tribune)

He and his gang of corrupt officers were tripped up in 2001 when they tried one ripoff while the dealer happened to be on the phone with his girlfriend. She mistakenly thought another drug dealer was the robber and called the cops. Honest cops showed up, saw what was happening, and that was the beginning of the end.

Turkey increasingly uses its thuggish, dictatorial tactics in Western democracies. It did it again this week

They did it in May, 2017, when Turkish security officers assaulted peaceful demonstrators in Washington, DC. (New York Times report here.)

This week, they tried to stop a speaker at a conference in Philadelphia. The event was hosted by the Middle East Forum (MEF) for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, known as NATO-PA.

NATO PA organizers asked that MEF remove a speaker, Emre Çelik, from the program in response to a demand issued by the office of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. MEF removed the speaker from the program, but invited him to address the gathering anyway.

When Çelik rose to speak, the Turkish delegation grew visibly agitated and acted quickly to shut down the event. –Middle East Forum

Daniel Pipes, who heads the Middle East Forum, spoke plainly about the incident, which was captured on video:

President Erdoğan’s attempt to stifle free speech at a Middle East Forum event today was despicable. We did not accept it. –Daniel Pipes

The MEF report on the incident is here.

Paul Manafort wants investigations of leaks, which may have come from Special Counsel Mueller’s office, which is trying to rachet up the pressure on Manafort (Reuters)

“If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” [Manafort’s spokesman said].

“The U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General should immediately conduct an investigation into these leaks and to examine the motivations behind a previous administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent,” he said.

The special counsel’s office and the FBI both declined to comment on Maloni’s statement. They also did not comment on CNN’s original report about surveillance of Manafort. –Reuters

Comment: There are several disturbing aspects of this story, all requiring serious investigation. Manafort’s role is obviously one. So is the apparent release of secret information, the presence of a government wiretap on the manager of a political campaign, the possibility President Trump was picked up on the surveillance, and the statements by several Obama administration intelligence officials that they knew of no such surveillance. It is unclear if those officials made false statements under oath.

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ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, August 10

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

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

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

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

Trump and SecDef Mattis issue threats.

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

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

Deportation orders up 30% under Trump (Fox News)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ZipDialog for Friday, July 14: All Trump Jr.: What we know, what we don’t know, and what matters

UPDATED

 The big story continues to be fallout from Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.

Amid the firestorm, it is important to remember what matters and why.

Comment and Analysis:

  • What matters is less the meeting itself and more the reasons DJT, Jr., himself says he wanted to have it after being told it involved information from the Russian government, which (he was told) wanted to help his father
  • That help was not given at the meeting.
  • If it had been given, it probably would not have been illegal
  • But it is a terrible idea to accept help from a foreign government.
  • It is even worse when the government is an adversary. And it is still worse when it is part of a multi-pronged attempt by the foreign government to interfere in the US election.
  • It completely obliterates the Trump White House’s denials for months that they had no contacts with Russian government agents during the campaign.
  • It is now consuming Washington, damaging the Trump presidency, and making it more difficult for him to move forward on health care, taxes, immigration, and other policy issues

More information will continue to dribble out, such as yesterday’s story about how Loretta Lynch’s DOJ let the lawyer. Natalia Veselnitskaya, into the country and today’s story that one of the lobbyists the lawyer brought to the meeting was an ex-Russian intel officer.

To me, the main questions now about the Trump side are whether

  1. There were more contacts?
  2. This was just chaos and confusion at the Trump campaign or part of a coherent plan and, if so, did the plan bear any fruit?
  3. The Democrats (Hillary, the DNC, their donors) had any hand in this or other dirty tricks?
  4. Manafort, the experienced guy on the Trump side, knew about the extent of the Russian involvement?
  5. This sought-after cooperation with the Russians involved the nominee himself?

Now that this line of inquiry has opened up, it is also important to know what contacts the Clinton campaign had with foreign-government agents, especially those of unfriendly governments. Those would show that this game is played by all sides and show her campaign’s intent. BUT the Clinton campaign’s activities are much less important now because she lost.

Trump is in the Oval Office so his campaign’s integrity, or lack of it, matters more.

Everyone seems to think the Russians are loving this mess. I’m sure they do–but they probably have more mixed opinions since their fingerprints are all over the room and, because of that, are blocked from all but minor, tactical cooperation with the US.  Who could doubt they are adversaries and malevolent actors?

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Question: Was this meeting a criminal offense, as Trump’s sharpest critics have charged.

Answer: Most experienced attorneys have said that the information made public so far is not a prosecutable crime. But that it hardly the end of the matter.

It is still a nasty business politically. It is either a political “crime,” or at least an attempted one, or else extraordinary incompentence. The presence of an experienced operative like Paul Manafort being part of this is inexplicable and disturbing.

It’s not the end for another reason: further information might still come to light and suggest crimes really were commited. You can be certain that the mainstream media, which loathes Trump and now sees blood in the water, will spare no resources to investigate those possibilities. Plus, there’s Mueller’s investigation. Nobody is getting away with anything here.

 

 

 

ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, June 28

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

 First, thanks to so many of you for reading my latest column at Real Clear Politics. And I want to thank many others who shared it with friends by email or as Facebook posts.

It’s important to shame the organizers of the Dyke March–if such embarrassment is even possible.

In any case, it is important to explain how they mistreated the Jewish lesbians who wished to march with a pride banner that included the Star of David. Instead, they were banned.

Today, the march organizers saw the criticism and, rather than recanting, actually doubled-down on their idiocy. They even repeated the grotesque charge of “pinkwashing,” as if Israel’s positive treatment of gays were somehow a subterfuge. Truly paranoid reasoning.

It’s passing strange to see the extreme left and extreme right find one thing they can agree on.

 Healthcare bill postponed in the Senate: Mitch McConnell doesn’t have the votes and delays a vote until after the Fourth of July recess. He has some dollars to bargain with.

But his main leverage, as I see it, is individual Republican holdouts understanding the grave political dangers they face if they cannot pass a reform bill, however imperfect.

Mitch puts a smiley face on the delay and says they continue to make progress (story here at the Washington Post)

Meanwhile, the nineteenth Obamacare cooperative has failed; only four are left standing. (Washington Free Beacon)

It’s like an Agatha Christie movie as we wait to find out which one is left alive.

◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ 

Comment on the basic political problem facing Republicans on the healthcare bill

The biggest problem for Republicans who want a smaller central government but still want to be reelected is this:

Obamacare subsidizes health insurance for everyone up to four times the poverty level.

That’s extremely costly, of course, and actually has the perverse effect of lowering the quality of care (to keep costs down) and channeling subsidies away from the most needy (because so much is devoted to others, just above them).

Whatever the problems, people get hooked on “free” benefits, especially if somebody else is paying.

Unwinding those benefits is nearly impossible politically.

The Democrats knew that when they passed the bill.   

Indeed, passing out such largess and locking in these big-government social programs has been the basic Democratic strategy since the mid-1960s.

That’s exactly what they did here.

Among the beneficiaries are lots of “working poor,” including the lower-middle-class whites who voted for Trump but won’t vote for Senators who take away their benefits.

What Republicans are coming to recognize, however painfully, is that they may be able to scale back the subsidies a bit and promote market-based solutions, but they cannot undo the basic features of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi subsidy program. It has already metastasized. 

 As Venezuela descends into chaos and civil war, a policeman stole a helicopter and strafed the country’s Supreme Court (CNN)

Regime loyalists shot back and lobbed grenades.

Comment: Sean Penn had no comment.

 Three Chicago cops indicted for lying to coverup an infamous 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white officer.  (Chicago Tribune)

When tapes of the shooting were finally released after more than a year, the city was engulfed by protests.

The shooter, Officer Jason Van Dyke, was charged with murder, and the DA who withheld the tapes was defeated in her campaign for reelection.

But people also wanted to know about all the other officers on the scene. What did they say and do?

That’s what the current charges, made by a special prosecutor, are about.

They strike at what critics call a “blue wall of silence,” sometimes buttressed by outright lies.

 Former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, finally registers as a foreign agent (Politico)

He did not register while he was receiving the money and doing the lobbying. Now, he has. His firm

made more than $17 million working as a foreign agent of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, according to newly filed disclosure reports. –Politico

These pro-Russian groups didn’t put all their eggs in one basket. No sir.

They also hired two other firms for big money, one of them with a family name, The Podesta Group.

Who runs the Podesta Group? Why, it’s the brother of the chair of Hillary’s campaign.

Comment: That sulfurous smell? It’s the Washington Swamp, and it’s bipartisan.

 How big is Facebook? Two billion monthly users. YouTube is up to 1.5 billion (Techcrunch)

Whatsapp is now over a billion, as is Facebook Messenger.

Twitter, by contrast, has 328 million monthly users, all with very short attention spans.

 The Onion: Robert Mueller Begins Thirteenth Day Undercover As White House Janitor

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zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Bob Schwartz
 for the update on the Dyke March Collective
◆ Michael Lipson for the Manafort story

ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, May 25

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

 Now, the Brits are hunting in Libya for some members of the Manchester terror cell.

They’ve already made a half-dozen arrests, including the bomber’s brother, in the UK  (New York Times)

Officials were looking into reports that people who knew Mr. Abedi — including an imam at his mosque — had contacted the authorities as early as 2015 with concerns that he may have been recruited by extremists. –New York Times

Comment: The police, overwhelmed with tips, sometimes drop the ball. That’s always disturbing, but it would be more disturbing if they shied away for PC reasons. That’s been a problem for UK police. Here, for example, is the Manchester police apologizing for a 2016 training exercise that resembled an Islamist attack.

 Meanwhile, UK officials are furious that the NYT published secret information about the crime (BBC) The UK had shared it with the US. The Brits believes the leakers were US police, not the White House.

 Circa’s John Solomon and Sara Carter running circles around the MSM, this time on Obama Administration illegal spying on Americans

How bad was it? Bad enough that the lap dog FISA court judges were infuriated by the deceit and illegal action.

 Congressional Budget Office says Trump-Ryan health plan will be budget neutral but leave 23 million more uninsured over a decade (Associated Press)

The report said older people with lower income would disproportionately lose coverage. Over half of those becoming uninsured, 14 million people, would come from the bill’s $834 billion in cuts to Medicaid, which provides health coverage to poor and disabled people, over 10 years. –AP

Comment: These numbers are disturbing but it compares this bill to Obamacare on the assumption that the ACA will survive. It won’t. It’s melting down and to save it would cost trillions.

 Mike Flynn has clammed up, but Paul Manafort has given Congressional investigators his documents related to Russian contacts (Washington Post)

◆ Richard Friedman on NATO’s purpose today (ZipDialog post)

 Who controls the South China Sea? China claims it, but it is an international waterway, and the US ensures it. The US navy sends occasional ships through to make sure it is open. Now, the US navy is conducting its first such operation of the Trump presidency. (CNN)

 Today in PC lunacy: White women’s burrito shop is forced to close after being hounded with accusations it was ‘culturally appropriating Mexican food and jobs’ (Daily Mail) In Portland, naturally.

Comment: The city will give up Hindu-Arabic numerals when they discover they were invented in South Asia in the 6th or 7th century  and stolen from those poor folks. (Britannica)

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zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Fred Lawson
 for the Manchester police apology
◆ Tim Favero and Tom Elia for the burrito story; they clearly know me!

ZipDialog for Saturday, April 1: Three Scandals–What Do We Know?

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

 Single topic today: Explaining the Three Scandals Consuming Washington

Key Point: There are Three Distinct Scandals (or purported scandals). They overlap but are distinct.

One reason it is so hard to follow the Washington/FBI/Intel/Congress/Trump administration scandals is that there are

  • So many players,
  • Several separate scandals, and
  • Very little public information. 

The opposing parties emphasize different scandals

American citizens should be interested in all three as they unfold.

  1. Russian interference in 2016 election
  2. Team Trump’s Connections to Russians Before and After the Election
  3. Obama White House spying on Team Trump and “unmasking” secret name(s)

What do we know about each and why does it matter?

What do we know about each and why does it matter?

  1. Russian interference in 2016 election
    • We know the Kremlin used disinformation and other dirty tricks. We also know they didn’t change the vote count but may have influenced voter opinions.
    • To me, their attack on the integrity of our election is a fundamental attack on our democracy. It ought to be investigated throughly so we can understand what they did, how they did it, and how to counter, deter, and punish in the future.
    • This should be a bipartisan goal, but Republicans have been reticent. Why? Two reasons. First, they think Democrats are using Russian interference as a way of saying “we didn’t lose fair and square.” Republicans think that’s delegitimating their success. Second, they fear the Democrats are trying to link Russian interference to Trump’s team.
  2. Team Trump’s Connections to Russia
    • So far, senior intel officials have testified publicly that there is nothing there.
    • BUT there is an open FBI counter-intelligence investigation into this.
    • The Senate Intel Committee is looking into this and Russian interference (item 1) but the parallel House investigation is stalled over Democrats’ accusations about Chairman Devin Nunes’ partisan connection to Trump
    • We know that Michael Flynn did foreign lobbying for Turkish entities, for which he belatedly registered as a lobbyist
    • Allegations have been made that other Trump team members had business connections to Russian-related entities. Democrats and media outlets have focused on Paul Manafort and Carter Page
  3. Team Obama Spying on Trump Transition
    • We know Trump tweeted about “wiretapping,” an antiquated term
    • It appears that senior Obama officials did receive information about the Trump transition from intel intercepts directed at foreign nationals. Names of US nationals uncovered in such surveillance is supposed to be masked
    • We know that one of the senior Obama appointees unmasked and leaked Michael Flynn’s name; that is a felony
    • We do not yet know who leaked the name
    • We do not know what legitimate reasons, if any, the Obama White House had for circulating information among its officials about internal Trump planning
    • We do not know if the “collateral” information collected on these Trump officials was actually a hidden goal of US spy agencies, tasked by the Obama White House

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