Posted: August 17, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Barack Obama, U.S. Politics | Tags: Anthony Scaramucci, Benjamin Netanyahu, Black Cat Appreciation Day 2019, caturday, dementia, Donald Trump, israel, Joe Biden, Palestine, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Royal Dutch Shell, Tom Joseph
Today is National Black Cat Appreciation Day!
On Black Cat Appreciation Day, August 17, black cats could use a good spin doctor. They’re so sleek and seductive with their all-knowing yellow eyes, that black cats seldom get positive publicity even though they’re just as adorable as other cats. So, who’s to blame for this negative black cat spin? Superstition! During the Middle Ages, people (mainly the Catholic Church) saw witches as shape-shifting black cats and the damage was done.
Today, pop culture loves black cats. There’s the sarcastic Thackery Binx in “Hocus Pocus”, Salem, in “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and Pyewacket in the classic ”Bell, Book and Candle.” It’s National Black Cat Appreciation Day with big ups to America’s sultry, mysterious and mostly, sweet black cats!
In Other News . . .
By Irina Kalentieva, 1965
Former Trump supporter Anthony Scaramucci is now predicting that Trump won’t be on the ballot in November 2020.
William D. Cohan interviewed Scaramucci for Vanity Fair: “Oh My God, This Jackass”: The Mooch Explains Why He Thinks Trump is “Crazy,” “Narcissistic,” and a “Paper Tiger” Who Will Drop Out By March 2020. Some highlights:
Cohan: But what was the moment the scales actually fell from your eyes?
Scaramucci: The red line was the racism—full-blown racism. He can say that he’s not a racist, and I agree with him, okay? And let me explain to you why he’s not a racist, ’cause this is very important. He’s actually worse than a racist. He is so narcissistic, he doesn’t see people as people. He sees them as objects in his field of vision. And so therefore, that’s why he has no empathy. That’s why he’s got his thumb up in the air when he’s taking a picture with an orphan. That’s why when someone’s leaning over the desk and asks [Nobel Prize–winning human rights activist Nadia Murad], “Well, what happened to your family members?”—they were murdered—he just looks at her and says, “Okay, when are we getting coffee here?”
You know, he doesn’t look at people—and by the way, if you and I were in his field of vision and he had a cold and the two of us had to die for him to get a Kleenex, you’re fucking dead. I mean, there’s no chance. You understand that, right?
Cohan: And then there’s the mental element, right?
The Black Cat, by Christian Schloe
Scaramucci: I think the guy is losing it, mentally. He has declining mental faculties; he’s becoming more petulant; he’s becoming more impetuous. Okay, you see just by the way he’s sweating, his body’s not doing well. It’s obviously not a guy that takes care of himself, right? And he doesn’t listen to anybody. And just think about this, okay? There’s no one—there’s no Jim Mattis; there’s no Gary Cohn; there’s no one to check him anymore. Whatever my differences were with General John Kelly, after he left, this thing has completely unspooled….
He’s gonna drop out of the race because it’s gonna become very clear. Okay, it’ll be March of 2020. He’ll likely drop out by March of 2020. It’s gonna become very clear that it’s impossible for him to win. And is this the kind of guy that’s gonna want to be that humiliated and lose as a sitting president? He’s got the self-worth in terms of his self-esteem of a small pigeon. It’s a very small pigeon. Okay. And so you think this guy’s gonna look at those poll numbers and say—he’s not gonna be able to handle that humiliation. And by the way, he is smart enough to know that that entire Congress hates his guts.
Of course Scaramucci isn’t the first to predict that Trump will have to drop out. Tom Joseph has been documenting Trump’s rapidly advancing dementia symptoms on Twitter for a long time now. Here’s his latest thread on the subject:
Check out his Twitter feed to read more.
Last Tuesday Trump gave a speech to union workers in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t supposed to be a campaign event, but he turned it into one. The Washington Post:
MONACA, Pa. — President Trump criticized the media, mocked his Democratic challengers, critiqued the Academy Awards, lamented losing money while president and boasted of his poll numbers while visiting a construction site here to give remarks about U.S. energy production.
The president spoke for more than an hour, meandering between his prepared remarks and a campaign-style speech listing grievances and currying votes. He touched on his 2016 victory in Pennsylvania, his love of trucks, “fake news,” China, trade, immigration, the Green New Deal, windmills, the Paris climate accord, former president Barack Obama’s $60 million book deal, Iran, veterans and New York energy policies.
Pierrot et le Chat, Theophile Alexandre Steinlen
Standing in a room full of construction workers in the middle of the day, many wearing their fluorescent work vests, Trump urged them to support his reelection and to convince their union leaders to do the same…..
Trump’s visit to Royal Dutch Shell’s Pennsylvania Petrochemical Complex here, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, was an official White House trip intended to promote the administration’s energy policies.
Yesterday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the workers were told they would have to attend the speech or lose a day’s pay. They were also ordered not to protest.
The choice for thousands of union workers at Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical plant in Beaver County was clear Tuesday: Either stand in a giant hall waiting for President Donald Trump to speak or take the day off with no pay.
“Your attendance is not mandatory,” said the rules that one contractor relayed to employees, summarizing points from a memo that Shell sent to union leaders a day ahead of the visit to the $6 billion construction site. But only those who showed up at 7 a.m., scanned their ID cards, and prepared to stand for hours — through lunch but without lunch — would be paid.
That company and scores of other contractors on site and their labor employees all have their own contracts with Shell. Several said the contracts stipulate that to get paid, workers must be onsite.
Portrait of Mo von Haugk, 1932 – Conrad Felixmüller, (German 1897-1977)
Those who decided not to come to the site for the event would have an excused but non-paid absence, the company said, and would not qualify for overtime pay on Friday.
Shell spokesman Ray Fisher explained that the workers onsite have a 56-hour workweek, with 16 hours of overtime built in. That means those workers who attended Mr. Trump’s speech and showed up for work Friday, meeting the overtime threshold, were being paid at a rate of time and a half, while those who didn’t go to hear the president were being paid the regular rate, despite the fact that both groups did not do work on the site Tuesday.
Show up to cheer for Trump or lose a day’s pay and overtime to boot.
Yesterday, The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush reported that President Obama tried to caution Joe Biden about running for president in 2020 and has been warning Biden that he needs younger advisers.
The two men spoke at least a half dozen times before Mr. Biden decided to run, and Mr. Obama took pains to cast his doubts about the campaign in personal terms.
“You don’t have to do this, Joe, you really don’t,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Biden earlier this year, according to a person familiar with the exchange.
Mr. Biden — who thinks he could have defeated Donald Trump four years ago — responded by telling Mr. Obama he could never forgive himself if he turned down a second shot at Mr. Trump.
In the boudoir, 1869, Lucius Rossi
Mr. Obama has said he will not make an endorsement in the primary, and has offered every candidate his counsel. But he has taken an active interest in the inner workings of his friend’s campaign, to an extent beyond anything offered to other candidates.
In his interactions with Mr. Biden — the pair had a quiet lunch in Washington last month — Mr. Obama has hammered away at the need for his campaign to expand his aging inner circle.
He has communicated his frustration that Mr. Biden’s closest advisers are too old and out of touch with the current political climate — urging him to include more younger aides, according to three Democrats with direct knowledge of the discussion.
Biden also met with Biden’s advisers and issued a warning:
In March, Mr. Obama took the unusual step of summoning Mr. Biden’s top campaign advisers, including the former White House communications director Anita Dunn and Mr. Biden’s longtime spokeswoman, Kate Bedingfield, to his Washington office for a briefing on the campaign’s digital and communications strategy with members of his own staff, including his senior adviser, Eric Schultz.
When they were done, Mr. Obama offered a pointed reminder, according to two people with knowledge of his comments:
Win or lose, they needed to make sure Mr. Biden did not “embarrass himself” or “damage his legacy” during the campaign.
Well Biden has already put his foot in his mouth numerous times, but he’s still leading in the polls. I can only hope voters will wake up before the primaries begin.
Katherina Goncharova – Midday Dream
Yesterday, Benjamin Netanyahu banned Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from traveling to Israel, after he was egged on by Trump. Later in the day, Netanyau told Tlaib she could come to visit her grandmother who lives in the occupied West Bank, with certain restrictions on her freedom of speech. Tlaib declined to accept the conditions. Now Democrats in the House are considering an official response.
The Miami Herald: House Democrats weigh action against U.S. and Israel ambassadors over banned visit.
Senior Democratic members of Congress are considering action against top emissaries of the Israeli government and the Trump administration for their roles in Israel’s decision to bar two House members from entering the country.
About a dozen lawmakers, including senior Jewish members, began discussions on Friday morning over ways to communicate a “deep lack of confidence and trust” in Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
The group is weighing issuing a statement of no confidence in Dermer and opening an inspector general investigation into Friedman’s conduct, the sources said.
Israel banned Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from a planned visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, provoking outrage among Democrats and several Republicans, including some who have harshly criticized the two lawmakers on policy grounds.
So . . . that’s it for me. what stories are you following today?
Posted: February 28, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Barbara McQuade, Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Joyce White Vance, Kim John Un, Matt Gaetz, Michael Cohen, Otto Warmbier, Vladimir Putin, women reading
Trump’s “summit” with Kim John Un accomplished nothing, but he did manage to disgrace himself and our country by once again sucking up to a murderous dictator.
The Daily Beast: Trump on Otto Warmbier: I Believe Kim Jong Un When He Says He Didn’t Know.
Donald Trump has sided with Kim Jong Un over the death of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea for 17 months for stealing a propaganda poster and died days after being returned home to his family in a coma. Trump said he discussed the case with Kim, and repeatedly absolved him of any blame. Trump said, “Those prisons are rough, rough places, and bad things happened, but I really don’t believe [Kim] knew about it… he felt badly about it, he felt very badly, he knew the case very well but he knew it later.” Trump, speaking at a press conference after talks aimed at persuading Kim to give up his nuclear weapons collapsed, added: “You have a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto. Some really, really bad things. But [Kim] tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.
Just like he took Putin’s word and MBS’s word over the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.
Trump also found time to call Rep. Matt Gaetz to think him for threatening Cohen before the hearing, so now we know who told Gaetz about Cohen’s alleged “girlfriends.”
So now Trump is implicated in Gaetz’s witness tampering.
Trump is also pissed off because the U.S. media largely ignored his kabuki theater in Hanoi in order to cover Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee yesterday.
The Wall Street Journal:Trump: Democrats Did a ‘Terrible Thing’ by Scheduling Cohen Hearing During Summit.
HANOI, Vietnam—President Trump on Thursday said the House Oversight Committee did a “terrible thing” by scheduling a hearing with his former lawyer Michael Cohen to coincide with the timing of his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Having it during this very important summit is sort of incredible,” Mr. Trump told reporters during a press conference in Hanoi after announcing that talks with Mr. Kim failed because of an impasse over sanctions relief.
It’s behind the paywall, but that’s all you need. Trump also said it was a “fake hearing.”
The Washington Post on the aborted summit: Trump and Kim abruptly cut short summit after failing to reach nuclear deal.
HANOI — President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cut short their two-day summit Thursday after they were unable to reach an agreement to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.
Talks collapsed unexpectedly amid a disagreement about economic sanctions, with the two leaders and their delegations departing their meeting site in Vietnam’s capital without sitting for a planned lunch or participating in a scheduled signing ceremony.
Kim said he was prepared in principle to denuclearize, and Trump said an agreement was “ready to sign.” But Trump said the main impediment to a deal was Kim’s requirement that the United States lift all economic sanctions on North Korea in exchange for the closure of only one nuclear facility, which still would have left Pyongyang with a large arsenal of missiles and warheads.
The New Book (1920). Harold Harvey (British 1874-1921)
“We had some options, but at this time we decided not to do any of the options,” Trump said. He added, “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.”
For Trump, the surprising turn of events amounted to a diplomatic failure. The president flew 20 hours to Vietnam with hopes of producing demonstrable progress toward North Korea’s denuclearization, building upon his first summit with Kim last summer in Singapore.
More from The New York Times:
The premature end to the negotiations leaves the unusual rapprochement between the United States and North Korea that has unfolded for most of a year at a deadlock, with the North retaining both its nuclear arsenal and facilities believed to be producing additional fissile material for warheads.
It also represents a major setback at a difficult political moment for Mr. Trump, who has long presented himself as a tough negotiator capable of bringing adversaries into a deal and had made North Korea the signature diplomatic initiative of his presidency.
Even as the talks began, Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, was delivering dramatic and damaging testimony in Congress, accusing him of an expansive pattern of lies and criminality.
Aaron Shikler 1922-2015
Word of the collapse of the Hanoi talks sent stocks lower in Asia, and Wall Street futures were down as the opening bell neared.
Mr. Trump had flown across the world to try to work face-to-face with Mr. Kim for the second time, an effort to reduce what American officials regard as one of the world’s foremost nuclear threats. Experts estimate that the North has 30 to 60 nuclear warheads as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles that can hit the United States, though it has not demonstrated the technology to protect warheads as they re-enter the atmosphere.
In other international news, Trump/Kushner close friend Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted. The Times of Israel: Netanyahu to stand trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending hearing.
In a decision that drastically shakes up Israeli politics less than six weeks before general elections, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending a hearing.
The decision marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.
by Iman Maleki, Iranian, born 1976
Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, unless he can persuade Mandelblit to reconsider in the course of the hearing process.
The attorney general detailed the allegations in a 57-page document that was released on Thursday evening.
Mandelblit, in his decision, wrote that according to suspicions the prime minister “damaged the image of the public service and public trust in it” and is suspected of abusing his position and status, and of “knowingly taking a bribe as a public servant in exchange for actions related to your position.”
If Israel can indict Netayahu, then the U.S. should be able to indict Trump.
Some reactions to Michael Cohen’s testimony:
Barbara McQuade at The Daily Beast: The Case Against Trump Has Never Been Stronger After Cohen Testimony.
One brick does not make a wall, but many bricks do.
When I was a federal prosecutor, a supervisor of mine frequently used this metaphor to remind us that one piece of evidence alone is rarely enough to prove a crime, but enough pieces of evidence are sufficient to prove guilt.
Michael Cohen’s public testimony on Wednesday did not constitute a wall of evidence, but it did provide several new bricks that could be used to build a case against President Donald Trump. Depending on other evidence in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, these pieces of evidence may be enough to prove Trump guilty of criminal or impeachable offenses.
Trump’s former lawyer testified about several facts that are significant bricks in the figurative wall of evidence.
by Edouard John Mentha
First, Cohen testified that he was present when Trump spoke to Roger Stone on speakerphone in July 2016, when Stone said that he had talked to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about an upcoming “massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, this call came just days before the Democratic National Convention. If Cohen is correct on the timing, this event also occurred after the DNC had announced in June that it had been hacked by Russia, and so Russia’s involvement in the release would have been known by Trump. Cohen said that Trump responded by saying words to the effect of “wouldn’t that be great.”
Read the rest at the link. It’s interesting.
Joyce White Vance at The Washington Post: Yes, Michael Cohen’s a liar and a criminal. So how come you believed him?
Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday was a master class in how prosecutors can present cooperating witnesses who have lied and engaged in criminal conduct, and use their testimony to obtain convictions from juries. This is stock-in-trade for prosecutors because of one simple truth: Choirboys don’t often end up in the middle of criminal conspiracies. Prosecutors don’t pick their witnesses; defendants do.
Although Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer and personal attorney, did not testify in a criminal trial, under questioning from a prosecutor, but rather in a congressional proceeding, under questioning from lawmakers, what we saw was an example of how someone who has stood before a judge at the lowest moment of his life, acknowledging participation in criminal acts, can become a credible witness.
Shelley Thayer Layton, the Library Window
It is the very fact of a defendant’s criminality that creates the baseline for this transformation. Prosecutors require witnesses with firsthand knowledge. Witnesses with firsthand knowledge are mostly high-level participants in serious crimes. But how does the conversion take place? How does a defendant who has been involved in sustained criminal activity, who has threatened people, who has lied, who has participated in fraud and is generally subject to being excoriated on cross examination by the defense because of that behavior, become a witness whom jurors, or a country, can believe, even if they don’t like him or his conduct?
It starts with the nonnegotiable commitment by the defendant to cooperate fully and truthfully, to assist as requested in other investigations and cases. We know that the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III believes that Cohen did this — it told us so in its sentencing recommendation for him. Cohen himself told us on Wednesday that he was in “constant contact” with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. To be caught lying again can render the cooperator potentially unredeemable — a Paul Manafort, so to speak.
Again, there’s much more at the link.
Charles Pierce lambastes the Republicans who neither addressed Cohen’s testimony, nor defended Trump: The Republican Party Completely and Utterly Disgraced Itself at Michael Cohen’s Hearing.
On July 24, 1974, a congressman named Thomas Railsback leaned into the microphone in front of him on the broad, curving dais of the House Judiciary. Railsback was a Republican from Moline, Illinois. The issue before him that night was whether to vote to send to the full House of Representatives articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, a Republican from California who, at that moment, was the President of the United States. You could see the anguish on Railsback’s face the way you can see the current still running in a river that is only thinly iced. “I wish,” Railsback said in a ragged voice,”that the president could do something to absolve himself.” Then, Tom Railsback, Republican of Illinois, voted “Yea” on all three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.I mention this bit of history only to illustrate how utterly and completely the Republican Party disgraced itself on Wednesday when Michael Cohen, the current president*’s former king fixer, sat before the House Oversight Committee to describe some of the garish and baroque offenses against the law and the republic committed by Donald Trump. There was not a single Railsback to be found. Not one Republican asked a question about the specific offenses that Cohen had illuminated in his opening statement.Instead, they hammered away at Cohen’s own crimes—which, of course, did nothing but remind the folks watching at home on whose behalf Cohen had told so many lies and paid off so many women. They spent great chunks of their time trying to get Cohen to promise he wouldn’t sign a book deal after he gets out of the federal sneezer in three years. Rep. Michael Cloud of Texas told Cohen that any subsequent book deal would be “kind of sweet,” as though he’d be willing to spend three years in a federal prison if an editor from Random House would be waiting on the day he got out.
Nakamura Daizaburo [Japanese Nihonga painter 1898-1947
Read the rest at Esquire.
It’s been an exciting week so far. I wonder if we’ll get any news from the Special Counsel’s office tomorrow? What stories have you been following?
Posted: October 22, 2015 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, Republican politics, U.S. Politics | Tags: Adolf Hitler, Benghazi, Benjamin Netanyahu, Hillary Clinton, lynching, open thread, the Holocaust, Trey Gowdy
Hillary Clinton will testify before Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi “special committee” today, beginning at 10AM. I’m going to watch as much of the testimony as I can. If you’re watching too, please post your reactions in the comment thread. Unfortunately for Gowdy and the other GOP mutants on the joke of a committee, even the corporate media isn’t taking them seriously anymore.
From US News and World Report: The Gowdy Doody Show. Hillary Clinton’s appearance before the Benghazi Committee recalls less Watergate than Whitewater, by James Warren.
Yes, boy[s] and girls, it’s Gowdy Doody Time.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, on Thursday gavels to likely disorder the long awaited House select committee hearing on Benghazi, the latest in the rich tradition of congressional spectacles that often go nowhere.
Indeed, America had far more positive anticipation when “Buffalo Bob” Smith led a cheering throng of kids in the theme song of “Howdy Doody,” a 1950s mega-TV hit named after a puppet with 48 freckles (yes, civics mavens, this was before Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the Union)….
The investigation started as a dissection of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks by Islamic militants on two U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died.
We’ve paid for nine different congressional and internal probes and Gowdy’s has morphed into a look at Clinton’s emails and her use of a private email server while secretary of state. Its work alone has cost about $4.6 million – if only such GOP ardor was exhibited in pursuing President George W. Bush’s weapons of mass destruction claims against Saddam Hussein – even though it hasn’t even interviewed most of the defense, intelligence and White House officials it promised.
Instead, it is primed to take testimony from a small army that includes Clinton, speechwriters and the guy who oversaw the server.
Gowdy and his Hillary-suspicious Republicans are so sensitive to the claim of political pandering that they have strategized privately about their own decorum and presenting themselves as sober legislators. It’s like my 6-year-old prior to his first-grade class going to a suburban Chicago pumpkin patch Monday: Everybody promised to be on their best behavior on the bus.
More at US News.
House Select Committee on Benghazi chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Yesterday commenter Sara posted a link to an excellent Newsweek opinion piece by Kurt Eichenwald: Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages.
That is the name of the “classified source” in an old email from Hillary Clinton released last week by Republicans purportedly investigating the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Under the instructions of the Benghazi committee’s chairman, Republican Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, Koussa’s name was blacked-out on the publicly issued email, as Republicans proclaimed revealing his identity would compromise national security. The media ran with it, saying Clinton had sent classified information through her personal email account.
But the CIA never said the name was secret. Nor did the Defense Intelligence Agency or the FBI. No, Koussa’s role as an intelligence source is about as classified as this column. He is the former intelligence chief and foreign minister of Libya. In 2011, he fled that country for Great Britain, where he provided boodles of information to MI6 and the CIA. Documents released long ago show Koussa’s cooperation. Government officials have openly discussed it. His name appears in newspapers with casual discussions about his assistance. Sanctions by the British and the Americans against Koussa were lifted because of his help, and he moved to Qatar. All of that is publicly known.
But, as they have time and again, the Republicans on the Benghazi committee released deceitful information for what was undoubtedly part of a campaign—as Kevin McCarthy of the House Republican leadership has admitted—to drive down Clinton’s poll numbers. Republicans have implied—and some journalists have flatly stated—that Clinton was reckless and may have broken the law by sending an email that included thirdhand hearsay mentioning Koussa’s name. The reality is that the Republicans continue to be reckless with the truth.
Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa
And why is this such an outrage?
The historical significance of this moment can hardly be overstated, and it seems many Republicans, Democrats and members of the media don’t fully understand the magnitude of what is taking place. The awesome power of government—one that allows officials to pore through almost anything they demand and compel anyone to talk or suffer the shame of taking the Fifth Amendment—has been unleashed for purely political purposes. It is impossible to review what the Benghazi committee has done as anything other than taxpayer-funded political research of the opposing party’s leading candidate for president. Comparisons from America’s past are rare. Richard Nixon’s attempts to use the IRS to investigate his perceived enemies come to mind. So does Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting during the 1950s, with reckless accusations of treason leveled at members of the State Department, military generals and even the secretary of the Army. But the modern McCarthys of the Benghazi committee cannot perform this political theater on their own—they depend on reporters to aid in the attempts to use government for the purpose of destroying others with bogus “scoops” ladled out by members of Congress and their staffs. These journalists will almost certainly join the legions of shamed reporters of the McCarthy era as it becomes increasingly clear they are enablers of an obscene attempt to undermine the electoral process.
The consequences, however, are worse than the manipulation of the electoral process. By using Benghazi for political advantage, the Republicans have communicated to global militants that, through even limited attacks involving relatively few casualties, they can potentially influence the direction of American elections. The Republicans sent that same message after the Boston Marathon bombing, where they condemned Obama for failing to—illegally—send the American perpetrators to Guantánamo, among other things. They slammed the president because federal law enforcement agents read the failed underwear bomber his rights after they arrested him in 2009. Never mind that federal agents did the exact same thing under President George W. Bush when they arrested the failed shoe bomber years earlier. Republicans even lambasted Obama when he spoke about ISIS decapitating journalists, saying the president did not sound angry enough.
Please read the rest at Newsweek.
J.J. wanted me to call attention to another outrageous story that has been somewhat overshadowed by the political goings on in the U.S. this week.
Washington Post: Netanyahu says a Palestinian gave Hitler the idea for the Holocaust.
Jerusalem – In a speech here Tuesday evening, Netanyahu sought to explain the surge in violence in Israel and the West Bank by reaching for historical antecedents. He said that Jews living in what was then British Palestine faced many attacks in 1920, 1921 and 1929 — all instigated by the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who allied himself with the Nazis during World War II.
Then Netanyahu dropped his bombshell. He said: “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time; he wanted to expel the Jews. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ ‘So what should I do with them?’ he asked. He said, ‘Burn them.’ ”
Netanyahu, the son of a historian, said the mufti played “a central role in fomenting the Final Solution,” as the Nazis termed their plan to exterminate the Jews.
The remarks were made in a speech to the World Zionist Congress about “the 10 big lies” told by Palestinians and their backers.
As supporters of the Israeli leader wondered what he was doing, his critics said that his claims were outrageous enough to give cover to Holocaust deniers.
The speech came on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit to Germany. After Netanyahu’s outrageous claim, Angela Merkel chided him, saying that Germans know that the “final solution” was a German plan. Time Magazine reports:
“All Germans know the history of the murderous race mania of the Nazis that led to the break with civilization that was the Holocaust,” said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for German Chancellor, according to the Independent. “This is taught in German schools for good reason, it must never be forgotten and I see no reason to change our view of history in any way.”
From The Daily Beast: What Benjamin Netanyahu’s Insane Holocaust Claim Really Means.
It was factually wrong and morally outrageous for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say that a Palestinian mufti gave Hitler the idea for the Holocaust. Almost the entire mainstream of historians, scholars, and politicians has now said so.
The question, though, is why he did it—and the answer is that it was an unintentional, Romney-47%-moment at which a commonplace partisan lie is suddenly revealed to the world. In Romney’s case, it was the Republican talking point that half of America depends on government welfare. In Netanyahu’s, it’s that the Israel/Palestine conflict is actually a result of Arab anti-Semitism.
Why did Netanyahu do it?
First, Netanyahu’s remarks were off the cuff. The transcript of his speech at the 37th Zionist Congress makes that clear. The entire speech was conversational in tone, with corrections and colloquialisms, and the particular reference to al-Husseini was an aside.
Its context was Netanyahu talking about the “big lie” that the Israeli government is seeking to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque—which is indeed a big lie spread widely on pro-Palestine social media. In that context, he mentioned that al-Husseini had told a similar lie in the 1920s, and by the way, al-Husseini supported the Holocaust too.
It was an aside within an aside. But precisely because it was off the cuff, it offers a valuable peek behind the curtain of Israeli nationalist ideology.
Like Romney’s comment about the 47%, comments like Netanyahu’s are made all the time on the Israeli Right. They’re meant for domestic consumption, to inspire the nationalist base. The Arabs hate us, anti-Zionism is just anti-Semitism, and most importantly, the Intifada is about Jew-hatred, not resistance to the occupation.
Haptom Zerhom, shot by police and then lynched.
Meanwhile, in Israel hatred of Palestinians is festering. From the World Socialist Website: Israel: Racist mob lynches migrant as violence intensifies.
An angry Jewish mob lynched an unarmed Eritrean migrant worker in the southern city of Beer Sheba after an Israeli security guard repeatedly shot him on Sunday. The crowd cursed and kicked him, chanting, “Death to Arabs!” “Arabs out!” and “Am Israel Hai!” (“The people of Israel still live”).
The murder underscores the noxious atmosphere of xenophobia, racism and fear that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has stoked up in a bid to deflect rising social discontent among Jewish Israelis, whose living conditions are in many cases only marginally better than those of the Palestinians. At the last elections, Netanyahu urged Jewish Israelis to vote, saying that “swarms of Arabs” were going to the polling stations.
Ultra-nationalist Jewish politicians have encouraged the mobilisation of vigilante groups and fascistic mobs that go on the rampage while the police stand and watch. Settler gangs that murder Palestinians and attack and destroy their property go unpunished. Now, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has openly encouraged Jewish Israelis to arm themselves and take vigilante action.
The Eritrean, 29-year-old Haptom Zerhom, had been working as a gardener in a plant nursery in a village near Beer Sheba for the last three years. He was on his way to collect his renewed work visa when 21-year-old Muhannad al-Okbi, a Bedouin Israeli, shot and killed an Israeli soldier and wounded 10 others, including four police officers, at Beer Sheba’s central bus station.
The police shot al-Okbi and then shot Zerhom, believing him to be al-Okbi’s accomplice. As Yedioth Ahronoth’s headline made clear, Zerhom was shot “Just because of his skin colour.”
As Zerhom came under attack from the mob, a bystander found his visa and held it up, shouting, “He’s Eritrean, he’s not a terrorist.”
No one heard him above the melee and Zerhom died of his injuries.
Shades of the Old South.
Finally, from Black Agenda Report: Black Lives Don’t Matter in Israel.
If you want to observe a racist lynch mob, go to Israel, the “world’s worst apartheid state.” After being shot by police, an innocent Eritrean immigrant was pursued by an Israeli mob that “kicked him, threw chairs and benches at his head and shouted ‘son of a whore,’ ‘break his head’ and more to the point, ‘Kill him!’” But of course, no one will be punished, and the U.S. Black Misleadership Class will say nothing.
The United States does not have a monopoly on the lynch law murder of black people. Israel, both America’s client state and master, is awash in racist state-sponsored violence. Palestinians are usually the intended targets, but Africans are inevitably caught in this terrorism too. The mob murder of Mulu Habtom Zerhom reveals everything that the world needs to know about Israeli apartheid and the settler mentality which it exemplifies.
Zerhom was an Eritrean asylum seeker living in Israel, confined to one of the camps used to hold Africans. He was at a bus station where a Bedouin man shot an Israeli soldier. Zerhom was trying to flee but was himself shot by the police. Video footage shows him lying bleeding and incapacitated as a mob of Israelis kicked him, threw chairs and benches at his head and shouted “son of a whore,” “break his head” and more to the point, “Kill him!”
Unbelievable! Will the U.S. corporate media follow up on this story? Stay tuned.
This is an open thread. Please feel free to comment on any topic or post your comments on the Benghazi hearings.
Posted: April 9, 2015 Filed under: 2016 elections, Barack Obama, Civil Rights, Congress, Foreign Affairs, GLBT Rights, homophobia, House of Representatives, Iran, Israel, morning reads, Republican politics, U.S. Politics | Tags: #BridgeGate, Benjamin Netanyahu, Chris Christie, conversion therapy, gender neutral bathrooms, George Washington Bridge scandal, Secret Service, sexual assault, Twitter, Valerie Jarrett, White House
I’m not seeing any particular theme in today’s news, but there is quite a bit of good stuff to read; so I’ll just toss out a few items that interested me.
Poor Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems all his efforts to use the Republican Congress to squash President Obama’s negotiations is one big giant fail. He managed to get reelected with the help of John Boehner et al., but that’s about it. First Obama said that Iran recognizing Israel wouldn’t be part of any deal, and then yesterday the White House mocked Bibi on Twitter.
The Washington Post: Why Obama says Iran does not have to recognize Israel as part of a nuclear deal.
President Obama, who doesn’t get along with Netanyahu, seemed to dismiss the Israeli premier’s latest demand in an interview this week. When asked by NPR’s Steve Inskeep whether Iranian recognition of the state of Israel would be included in any final deal, Obama deemed such a move a “fundamental misjudgment.” Here’s an excerpt of his remarks:
Well, let me say this — it’s not that the idea of Iran recognizing Israel is unreasonable. It’s completely reasonable and that’s U.S. policy….
There’s still going to be a whole host of differences between us and Iran, and one of the most profound ones is the vile, anti-Semitic statements that have often come out of the highest levels of the Iranian regime. But the notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons, in a verifiable deal, on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.
The point here is one that diplomats would take for granted. When attempting to make a deal with your interlocutor, particularly one where there’s a considerable history of grievance and animosity, you can’t expect to win a total capitulation.
Duh. Poor Bibi, like today’s Republicans doesn’t comprehend the notion of compromise.
David Knowles at Bloomberg Politics on the Twitter gag: White House Trolls Netanyahu on Iran with Bomb Graphic.
The White House has employed a graphic first used by Benjamin Netanyahu to push its case for a nuclear deal with Iran that the Israeli Prime Minister opposes. On Wednesday, the president’s office posted a tweet that borrowed the graphic representation of a bomb that Netanyahu had held up during a speech to the United Nation’s General Assembly in which he warned of Iran’s growing nuclear capability.
The fuse on the original image was intact, and there was no sign of the metaphorical scissors or accompanying text that the White House saw fit to add.
And how about this op-ed from the Jerusalem Post: How Netanyahu is single-handedly hurting the US-Israel relationship.
Benjamin Netanyahu is singlehandedly hurting a relationship that has resulted in over $100 billion in military aid to Israel since 1962. The Prime Minister is hurting a relationship with a country that constantly defends Israel at the UN; resulting in over 30 U.S. vetoes of resolutions critical to Israel. Because of Netanyahu, some are wondering if the U.S. should continually give $3.1 billion in annual aid and professors like Harvard’s Steven Strauss have written about ending this perpetual assistance. Sadly, the Prime Minister’s supporters in Israel and abroad don’t seem moved by the magnitude of what could be lost if Netanyahu’s feud with Obama “gets even worse.” [….]
even those whose job it was to protect Israel from the threats trumpeted by Netanyahu feel that the Prime Minister has overstepped the boundaries of rationality.
According to The Jerusalem Post recently, “Former Mossad chief slams Netanyahu for insistence that Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Efraim Halevy also predicted a“dramatic” improvement in Israeli relations with the U.S. if Netanyahu were to be defeated in the latest elections. Another former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, called Netanyahu’s speech to Congress “bull—t” and views the Prime Minister’s policies as dangerous to Israel’s future. A third former Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, stated that a nuclear Iran did notpost an existential threat to Israel; a viewpoint directly at odds with the hysteria (fueled by Netanyahu’s political ideology) surrounding Obama’s nuclear deal.
When three former Mossad chiefs are forced to speak out, an Israeli Prime Minister should tone down his paranoid rhetoric, not increase the tempo of his political exploits. Say what you will about Bibi’s critics, but former Mossad chiefs aren’t “leftist” and they know quite a bit about Israeli security threats. Their sober assessment of Netanyahu’s P. T. Barnum inspired diplomacy (regarding Israel’s U.S. relationship) is just cause to reassess the Prime Minister’s behavior; not champion his constant criticism of Obama’s nuclear deal.
The Economist writes that “RARELY have relations between an American president and an Israeli prime minister sunk so low.” The New Yorker published an article titled A Bad Day In American-Israeli Relations. Senator Dianne Feinstein recently stated she wished that Netanyahu “would contain himself” and I echoed the California Senator’s sentiment in a recent Congress Blog piece. Tzipi Livni has warned that Netanyahu is leading Israel into “crisis and diplomatic isolation.” Like Livni, Yair Lapid has lamented over the state of relations between the White House and Israel, stating, “This damage will take a long time to mend.” Everyone from former Mossad chiefs, U.S. Senators, Israeli politicians, and journalist have expressed dismay about the decline in a relationship that is essential to Israel’s future.
From The Washington Post, here’s more interesting news from the White House: White House condemns therapy to ‘cure’ gay youth.
The statement was issued in response to a White House petition signed by more than 120,000 people after the suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio whose suicide note condemning the society’s treatment of transgender people went viral after her death. In the note, she indicated she had been subjected to such therapies.
“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” Alcorn wrote in her note.
The White House statement, issued by President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, condemned “conversion” therapy, also known as “reparative” therapy, which she defined as any treatment aimed at changing a person’s sexual identity.
“The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm,” she wrote. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”
Shortly before releasing the White House response to the petition on conversion therapy, according to a White House official, Jarrett spoke with organizers of the petition. “She listened to their personal stories about why this was important to them and thanked them for their efforts,” said the official, who asked for anonymity in order to describe a private conversation.
And from The Advocate: The White House’s Executive Office Now Has Gender-Neutral Bathroom.
An all-gender restroom is for the first time available in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, confirms a White House spokesman. Alternatively, guests are invited to use whichever bathroom fits with their gender identity.
“The White House allows staff and guests to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity,” said White House spokesman Jeff Tiller, “which is in keeping with the administration’s existing legal guidance on this issue and consistent with what is required by the executive order that took effect today for federal contractors.”
Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, had mentioned the policy change in an op-ed today for The Advocate, saying the adminstration had “closely examined” its policies on “restroom access” to help “ensure that everyone who enters this building feels safe and fully respected.”
Gender neutral bathrooms, if single-stall, also often offer a safe space to differently abled users, parents with their children, and anyone else seeking privacy.
The push for gender-neutral restrooms in public buildings and workplaces has been one cause taken up by transgender rights activists — and one that’s found the most visible sucecss on university campuses — making Jarrett’s anouncement feel to many like a win for trans Americans.
“It is heartening to see that, even if legislators in some states are attacking the dignity and humanity of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, at least the White House is still moving in the direction of dignity and common sense,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told The Advocate.
Within the past several years, the Obama administration has been increasingly affirming of trans citizens, with Vice President Joe Biden referring in 2012 to transgender discrimination as the “civil rights issue of our time” and President Obama using the word “transgender” (in addition to “lesbian” and “bisexual”) in this year’s State of the Union Address for the first time ever for any president. Federal employees have had the right to use the bathroom that accords with their gender identiy since 2011.
Around the country, heads of Republican homophobes must be exploding. Read the whole article for more on LGBT-positive actions the Obama administration has taken.
Some not so good news: the Secret Service’s credibility continues to slide downhill rapidly.
WaPo: Secret Service manager put on leave during probe of alleged assault.
The D.C. police’s sex-crimes unit and a government inspector general are investigating the female agent’s allegation that Xavier Morales, a manager in the security clearance division, made unwanted sexual advances and grabbed her on the night of March 31 after they returned to the office from a party at a downtown restaurant, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the probe.
The woman told police and agency investigators that Morales, her boss, told her during the party at Capitol City Brewing Company that he was in love with her and would like to have sex with her, according to two people briefed on her statements. In the office later, she alleged, Morales tried to kiss her and grabbed her arms when she resisted, according to the two people briefed on her complaint. The woman alleged that the two scuffled until Morales relented.
Through an agency spokesman, Morales declined to comment, and he did not respond to requests for comment left on his personal phone.
Late last week, the Secret Service took the unusual step of placing Morales on indefinite administrative leave and adding his name to an internal “do not admit” list prohibiting entry to the office, a Secret Service official said. The Secret Service also took away his gun and badge after agency investigators launched a preliminary review of the complaint and conducted “subsequent corroborative interviews” Thursday afternoon, said agency spokesman Brian Leary.
More details at Heavy.com: Xavier Morales: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.
Ugh. Maybe we need more female Secret Service agents to quell the “boys will be boys” atmosphere in the agency.
More trouble may be coming for NJ governor and possible GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie.
NJ.com reports: Indictments may come very soon in Bridgegate, report says.
Indictments may be coming very soon in Bridgegate, the investigation into improper lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in late 2013 that has also led to questions about bribery and conflicts of interest possibly involving Gov. Christie and the Port Authority, sources told The New York Times.
New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman launched the probe a few months after three lanes were closed to the bridge in September 2013, causing gridlock in Fort Lee. The closures were initially attributed to a traffic study by a Port Authority executive, Bill Baroni, but emails unearthed during an investigation revealed that the lanes were shut down on the orders of a Christie aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, to a Port Authority official appointed by Christie, David Wildstein. Some believe the lane closures were retribution for the failure of Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election at a time when the governor and likely Republican presidential candidate was trying to build bipartisan support.
The Times previously reported that Fishman’s office may bring indictments to the operators of the bridge under a little-used statute that makes it a crime to use the bridge for something other than its intended purpose. Fishman’s office declined to say what course the investigation is taking.
This could be very interesting.
I have more news links, but I’m running out of space and time. I’ll add them to the comments.
What stories are you following? I’d love to read your comments on this post and click on your links to your recommended reads for today.
Posted: March 3, 2015 Filed under: Barack Obama, Foreign Affairs, U.S. Politics | Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, John Boehner, partisan foreign policy, US-Israel relations
This morning at 10:45, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress. You can watch it on C-Span. I might try watching for awhile to see what kind of reaction he gets.
I plan to put up another post a little later. There’s another far more significant event happening tomorrow. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in King vs. Burwell, a lawsuit based on a ludicrous misreading of the ACA law. It will be up to John Roberts to decide if he wants to throw 8,000,000 people off their health care plans, and that’s exactly what Republicans are hoping for.
The other “issues” in the news are a tempest in a teapot over Hillary Clinton using private e-mail when she was Secretary of State and another fuss over when the State Department properly vetted contributions to Bill Clinton’s foundation. If we want Hillary to run for president, we are going to have to get used to this garbage.
For now, here are some quick links on the Netnyahu speech and the negotiations with Iran.
CNN: White House warns Netanyahu not to reveal Iran details.
The White House is uncertain what precise details may come out but aides spent Monday frantically mobilizing after Israeli officials said that the prime minister planned to disclose sensitive details of an agreement taking shape in talks between six world powers and Iran, which has entered a delicate final stage.
Concern and anger among American officials about the nature of what Netanyahu might expose heightened already roiling tensions between the two countries. Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned about the damage such revelations might have on the negotiations and President Barack Obama himself attacked Netanyahu’s judgment.
Netanyahu is expected to use the details to bolster his argument before Congress that the deal under discussion will not prevent Iran from getting a bomb and could therefore threaten the Jewish state’s existence.
From the AP via Syracuse.com: Kerry working on Iran nuke deal, Netanyahu to criticize in speech to Congress.
As Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and their teams sought to hammer out an agreement at a luxury hotel in the Swiss resort of Montreux, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to make his case against one 4,090 miles away in Washington.
The U.S. and Iranian sides met for two hours on Tuesday morning before taking a break, according to U.S. officials. The officials said they expected the talks would resume later and likely continue through Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress, which will be delivered in the late afternoon local time in Montreux.
“We’re working away, productively,” Kerry told reporters.
“We are moving and we are talking to be able to make progress,” said Zarif. “There are issues and we want to address them. But there is a seriousness that we need to move forward. As we have said all along we need the necessary political will to understand that the only way to move forward is to negotiate.”
However, in a sign that Netanyahu’s speech is resonating outside Washington, Zarif decried comments that President Barack Obama made on Monday — as part of an administration-wide effort to push back on the Israeli’s criticism — in which he said that Iran would have to suspend its nuclear activities for at least a decade as part of any final agreement.
“It is clear that Obama’s stance is aimed at confronting propaganda by Zionist regime’s prime minister and other extremist opponents of the negotiations,” Zarif told Iranian reporters, calling it “unacceptable and threatening.” Zarif’s remarks were carried by Iran’s official news agency IRNA.
This speech that John Boehner and Netanyahu cooked up is causing all kinds of mischief.
According to John Ferziger at Bloomberg Politics, Netanyahu Risks Diplomatic, Political Pain If Speech Is Flat.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes to Congress on Tuesday gambling that disclosing compromises the U.S. made in trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran will delay or derail any agreement.
Netanyahu, a former Israeli army commando, has further damaged his frayed relationship with the White House by ignoring administration warnings and trying to undermine President Barack Obama’s effort to resurrect ties with the Islamic Republic. If his speech to a joint meeting of the House and Senate proves unpersuasive, Israelis may vote him out of office.
The Israeli leader, running for his fourth term in a March 17 election, will seek to “reinforce doubts that people have” and raise congressional pressure to better answer “the legitimate questions that are out there,” said Dennis Ross, a former special adviser to Obama on Iran and the Middle East.
However, said Yoram Meital, a political scientist at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel: “If he doesn’t reveal something significant or provides little hard evidence for his claims, it could affect the vote. Israelis are, by and large, afraid of Iran’s nuclear program, but they are ready to punish Netanyahu if he doesn’t deliver in this speech.”
Netanyahu will reveal details of the agreement being negotiated with Iran against a late March deadline by the U.S. and five other world powers that will show why he’s afraid it could lead to Israel’s nuclear annihilation, an official who asked not to be named because of the trip’s diplomatic sensitivity told reporters aboard the prime minister’s flight to the U.S.
Isn’t that just ducky? Boehner’s decision to invite a foreign leader to speak to Congress without informing the White House is unprecedented in U.S. history. The next time Republicans control the White House, Democrats could now feel invite a foreign leader to speak against that president’s policies. It’s a terrible precedent.
Two days ago Diane Feinstein called Netanyahu “arrogant” and added that “he doesn’t speak for her.” CNN reported:
The California Democrat’s comments to CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday’s “State of the Union” come days ahead of Netanyahu’s high-profile speech to Congress, in which he’s set to lobby against a deal to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“My responsibility is to worry not only about the state of Israel, but also the future of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said Saturday in Jerusalem. “And for that reason, we are strongly opposed to the agreement being formulated between the world powers and Iran that could endanger Israel’s very existence.”
Feinstein said she’ll attend Netanyahu’s speech — which President Barack Obama’s administration has heavily criticized. But she wasn’t happy with those comments.
“He doesn’t speak for me on this,” she said. “I think it’s a rather arrogant statement. I think the Jewish community is like any other community. There are different points of view. I think that arrogance does not befit Israel, candidly.”
From the Boston Herald: U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern blasts Netanyahu for ‘disrespectful’ speech.
Congressman Jim McGovern, one of a growing number of Democrats refusing to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech before Congress tomorrow, ripped the foreign leader for turning Capitol Hill into a campaign “rally” point just weeks before his own county’s election.
“Joint sessions of Congress are not supposed to be political speeches … This is not a place for a foreign leader to do a re-election rally,” the Democrat said today in an interview on Boston Herald Radio’s “Morning Meeting” with hosts Hillary Chabot and Jaclyn Cashman.
“With joint session so close to his own reelection campaign and before we have reached a (nuclear) deal with negotiators with Iran, I think it’s disrespectful to our president, I think it’s disrespectful to our foreign policy leaders who are trying … to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” he added. “I don’t feel like I want to be a prop in a campaign ad for Prime Minster Netanyahu.”
McGovern, who called the speech’s timing “unprecedented” given the March 17 vote in Israel, also echoed Democratic slams of Speaker John Boehner, who has been criticized, including by the White House, for inviting Netanyahu to speak to the joint session of Congress without consulting the president.
The Worcester Democrat said Netanyahu should have sought a different avenue to speak with members of Congress, noting attempts by some Senate Democrats to arrange a separate meeting with him.
Fellow Bay State Congresswoman Katherine Clark has said she also plans to skip the speech, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren last month called on officials to postpone it, saying she sides with the Anti-Defamation League’s stance on the address.
From Slate’s Joshua Keating: What Does it Mean for the Leader of a Foreign Country to Be a Republican?
In his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected charges that he is injecting partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship. “The last thing anyone who cares about Israel, the last thing that I would want, is for Israel to become a partisan issue, and I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here this week as doing that,” he said. “Israel has always been a bipartisan issue. Israel should always remain a bipartisan issue.”
It’s a little late for that, Bibi. Tuesday, Netanyahu is giving what was billed from the moment it was announced as a rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address. Much of the controversy surrounding the visit has been over the perceived mutual snubbing and sniping between Netanyahu’s office and the White House and what it says about the relationship between the two leaders. (Nothing good.) But the bigger story is Netanyahu firmly aligning himself in the camp of one of America’s political parties to the exclusion of the other one—a strategy that could, in the long term, be extremely detrimental to Israel’s interests.
Given the “very real difference” between Obama and Netanyahu over Iran’s nuclear program, the Israeli leader’s decision to accept John Boehner’s invitation to address Congress made some tactical sense. Netanyahu believes Obama is on the verge of making a historically dangerous deal with Iran and doesn’t see any prospect for changing his mind. Given that his officials say he’s “written off” Obama and doesn’t see any chance of changing his mind, why not reach out to Congress, the “last brake” to stop the deal, diplomatic niceties be damned?
But even if he’s not particularly interested in what the White House thinks of him at this point, what’s harder to understand is the cold shoulder Netanyahu has given congressional Democrats, some of whom have been willing in the past to push back against the White House on the Iran issue. The most striking moment in this whole mess was not so much Netanyahu accepting Boehner’s invitation, though that could certainly have been handled more deftly. It was when Netanyahu declined a closed-door meeting with congressional Democrats. This would seem to have been a welcome opportunity for some fence-mending given that a number of prominent members of Congress, including the most senior senator, Patrick Leahy, and a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are skipping his speech over the perceived insult to Obama. Instead, Netanyahu dug in deeper, making the long-standing joke about Netanyahu being the “Republican senator” from Israel seeming not really like a joke anymore.
It’s certainly troubling. What kind of precedent is this going to set? What do you think? If you’re planning to watch the speech, I hope you’ll post comments about it with me below. And please check back later for a regular Tuesday post.
Posted: July 18, 2014 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Israel, morning reads, Russia, U.S. Politics, Ukraine, Women's Rights | Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Gaza, Hamas, International AIDS conference, Malaysian Airlines, Reproductive Rights
Lately I’ve been remarking about how slow the news is in these dog days of summer. Suddenly there is lots going on–even on a Friday–and the news isn’t good. It’s difficult to say which is worse: the escalating battle between Israel and Hamas in Gaza or the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet over Ukraine. And of course there is the ongoing war on women’s reproductive freedom. This post is going to be a link dump without a lot of commentary because, quite frankly, I’m at a loss for words.
Israel Invades Gaza
The LA Times reports: Israeli troops and tanks move into the Gaza Strip.
After 10 days of Israeli airstrikes and rocket attacks by Palestinian militants, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered ground troops into the Gaza Strip on Thursday night, escalating an exchange of fire that has claimed more than 240 lives, all but one of them Palestinian.
Under cover of darkness, tanks rolled across the northern border of the coastal enclave, backed by intense shelling from the land, air and sea all along the frontier, witnesses said.
The immediate objective was to strike at tunnels Hamas and its allies use to smuggle weapons and fighters into Israel, according to a statement issued by Netanyahu’s office….
Israeli officials said Netanyahu made the decision to send in ground forces after Hamas, the militant movement that has controlled the enclave since 2007, rejected a cease-fire brokered by Egypt this week and fired rockets at Israel during a five-hour truce Thursday that was requested by the United Nations. The truce was meant to allow Gaza’s battered residents to stock up on food, cash and other necessities.
There’s much more information at the link.
From the NYT: Israeli Military Invades Gaza, With Sights Set on Hamas Operations.
As rockets continued to rain down on Israeli cities, a military spokesman said the mission’s expansion was “not time bound” and was aimed to ensure Hamas operatives were “pursued, paralyzed and threatened” as it targeted “terrorist infrastructure” in the north, south and east of Gaza “in parallel.”
As midnight approached Thursday, residents of some sparsely populated farmland in northern Gaza were cowering in their homes, afraid to answer mobile phones or peek out windows. Some sent text messages reporting that they could hear tank shelling, heavy artillery, and F-16s dropping bombs. Moussa al-Ghoul, 63, who lives northwest of Beit Lahiya, said his neighborhood had turned into “a war zone” with tanks surrounding his home, having destroyed those of two of his sons. He said shells were landing “everywhere.”
Gaza news outlets reported that electricity had been cut to 80 percent of the coastal territory after cables bringing power from Israel were damaged….
“We will strike Hamas and we are determined to restore peace to the state of Israel,” the military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, told reporters in a conference call. “It will progress according to the situation assessment and according to our crafted and designed plan of action to enable us to carry out this mission.”
Israel began to call up 18,000 reservists, adding to 50,000 already mobilized in recent days; Colonel Lerner said the ground forces would include infantry and artillery units, armored and engineer corps, supported by Israel’s “vast intelligence capabilities,” air force and navy.
Again, many more details at the link.
From Reuters a short time ago this morning: Israel steps up Gaza ground offensive, civilian casualties grow.
Israel intensified its land offensive in Gaza with artillery, tanks and gunboats on Friday and warned it could “significantly widen” an operation Palestinian officials said was killing ever greater numbers of civilians.
Palestinian health officials said 27 Palestinians, including a baby, two children and a 70-year-old woman, had been killed since Israel sent ground forces into the densely-populated strip of 1.8 million Palestinians on Thursday.
The Israeli military said it killed 17 Palestinian gunmen while another 13 surrendered and were taken for questioning after the infantry and tank assault began in the Islamist Hamas-dominated territory.
One Israeli soldier was killed and several others were wounded in the operations, in which some 150 targets, including 21 concealed rocket launchers and four tunnels, have been attacked, according to the military.
Read more at the link.
I don’t even know what to say about this conflict other than I’ve pretty much lost any sympathy I once had for Israel. I can’t understand why the Israeli people keep electing far right warmongering leaders.
Downing of Malaysian Airlines Jet Over Ukraine
After the downing of a Malaysian Airlines plane with nearly 300 people on board, the conflict in Ukraine has become a full blown international crisis.
From the Kyiv Post this morning: SBU intercepts phone conversations of separatists admitting downing a civilian plane (FULL TRANSCRIPT; VIDEO).
Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was allegedly shot down by a group of Russian-backed Cossack militants near the village of Chornukhine, Luhansk Oblast, some 80 kilometers north-west of Donetsk, according to recordings of intercepted phone calls between Russian military intelligence officers and members of terrorist groups, released by the country’s security agency (SBU).
One phone call apparently was made at 4:40 p.m. Kyiv time, or 20 minutes after the plane crash, by Igor Bezler, who the SBU says is a Russian military intelligence officer and leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. He reports to a person identified by Ukraine’s SBU as a colonel in the main intelligence department of the general headquarters of the armed forces of the Russian Federation Vasili Geranin regarding the shot down plane, which is about to be examined by the militants.
The second intercepted conversation released by the Security Service of Ukraine was apparently between militants nicknamed “Major” and “Greek” immediately upon inspection of the crash site.
“It’s 100 percent a passenger (civilian) aircraft,” Major is recorded as saying, as he admitted to seeing no weapons on site. “Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.”
In the third part of conversation Cossack commander Nikolay Kozitsin talking to an unidentified militant cynically suggests that the Malaysia Airlines airplane could’ve been carrying spies, as, otherwise, it would have no business flying in that area.
Read the rest of the transcript at the link–lots of “Oh shit”-type quotes.
Julia Ioffe writes at The New Republic, The Crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 is a Game Changer: This Conflict is Now Officially Out of Control.
Over the last couple of months, pro-Russian separatists have beendowningUkrainian military planes with increasing regularity—and mounting casualties on the Ukrainian side. Just earlier Thursday, separatists had shot down another one. All of that seemed to undermine the narrative, propagated by the Kremlin, that the separatists were just a ragtag people’s militia who didn’t stand a chance against a proper, organized military. The constant downing of Ukrainian jets showed that these men were equipped with some pretty serious stuff: You can’t really shoot down a jet with a Kalashnikov.
And, in fact, Russian a state media report from late June indicates the rebels got a hold of a Buk missile system, a Russian/Soviet surface-to-air missile system. Rebels are now denying that they shot down the plane, but there are now screenshots floating around the Russian-language internet from what seems to be the Facebook page of Igor Strelkov, a rebel leader in eastern Ukraine, showing plumes of smoke and bragging about shooting down a Ukrainian military Antonov plane shortly before MH17 fell. “Don’t fly in our skies,” he reportedly wrote. If that’s true, it would seem rebels downed the jetliner, having mistaken it for a Ukrainian military jet….
Make no mistake: this is a really, really, really big deal. This is the first downing of a civilian jetliner in this conflict and, if it was the rebels who brought it down, all kinds of ugly things follow. For one thing, what seemed to be gelling into a frozen local conflict has now broken into a new phase, one that directly threatens European security. The plane, let’s recall, was flying from Amsterdam.
For another, U.S. officials have long been saying that there’s only one place that rebels can get this kind of heavy, sophisticated weaponry: Russia. This is why a fresh round of sanctions was announced yesterday. Now, the U.S. and a long-reluctant Europe may be forced to do more and implement less surgical and more painful sanctions.
This also seems to prove that Russia has lost control of the rebels, who have been complaining for some time of being abandoned by President Vladimir Putin. There is no way that, a day after criticizingthe recklessness of American foreign policy, his military shoots down a passenger plane. Rather, it seems that the rebels made a mistake that paints Putin into a corner. Putin hates corners, and when he’s backed into one, he tends to lash out.
Adding another level of shock to the story, Buzzfeed reports that at least 100 passengers on the Mayaysian jet were on their way to an international AIDS conference.
And a related story from from the WSJ, Ukraine Accuses Russia of Shooting Down Fighter Jet: Ministry of Defense Says Missiles Probably Fired By Aircraft Patrolling Border.
MOSCOW—Ukraine on Thursday accused Russia’s armed forces of shooting down one of its fighter jets over Ukrainian territory, marking Kiev’s most direct accusation yet of Moscow’s involvement in the separatist conflict in the country’s east.
The accusation came hours before a Malaysia Airlines3786.KU -11.11% plane carrying 295 passengers and crew crashed while flying over the east Ukraine region of Donetsk.
A Russian military plane fired on and downed a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet that was flying over the town of Amvrosiivka in Ukraine’s Donetsk region on Wednesday night, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Spokesman Andriy Lysenko said at a briefing.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said the jet was shot in the tail section from the direction of the Russian border while it was turning around at approximately 7 p.m. on Wednesday night. (Follow the latest updates on the crisis in Ukraine.)
“In this way, Russia has executed another provocation,” the ministry said in a statement. “The bombardment probably came from air-to-air missiles fired by a pair of Russian Armed Forces aircraft patrolling the border in a certain area.”
Also well worth a read: at Pando, Mark Ames offers Five things to consider about the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in Ukraine.
The Ongoing War on Women’s Reproductive Rights
Laura Bassett at HuffPo reports, White House: Employers Must Disclose Objections To Covering Birth Control.
The Department of Labor updated its website to indicate that closely held for-profit corporations must include in their insurance plans “a description of the extent to which preventive services (which includes contraceptive services) are covered under the plan.” If the company chooses to opt out of covering any of the 20 contraceptives required by the Affordable Care Act, it has 60 days to disclose the change to its employees.
A senior administration official said the move was in response to the Senate failing to pass a bill Wednesday that would have required all for-profit employers, regardless of their owners’ religious objections, to cover the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraception in their health care plans. The bill would have overridden a recent Supreme Court decision that allowed Hobby Lobby, a craft supply company owned by evangelical Christians, to opt out of covering certain contraceptives to which the owners religiously object.
“Yesterday, a majority of the Senate voted for a bill to keep bosses from interfering in a woman’s health care,” the official said. “Now the House should act. In the meantime, we are making clear that if a corporation like Hobby Lobby drops coverage of contraceptive services from its health plan, it must do so in the light of day by letting its workers and their families know.”
The clarification is not a new rule. Current law already states that employers must disclose changes in their health benefits to employees. But the new guidance on the ACA makes clear that the disclosure requirement applies to those corporations opting out of birth control coverage after the Hobby Lobby decision.
Jezebel tells it like it is: Your Employers Must Tell You If They Think You’re a Babykilling Slut.
After the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision went down, many women wondered if they would suddenly find themselves at the mercy of their boss’s heretofore unknown beliefs that women who take birth control are abortion-happy harlots. Unfortunately, the answer is still yes. Fortunately, thanks to new rules set forth by the White House today, your boss has to inform you if and when this is happening….
Ideally, today’s directive will force companies with “religious beliefs” to be straightforward with their employees rather than sneaky about how badly they’re hosing everyone. And critics of this directive might wonder what the benefit is. If companies are run by zealots, then what good will telling the employees do?
Here’s what this “inform your employees of your conscientious objections” mandate will do: it will leave a paper trail that disgruntled employees could easily pass onto media outlets, which media outlets can then convey to the general public. The public can then avoid shopping at places run by people who think that birth control is murder.
And now’s as good a time as any to say this: if your boss informs you that your birth control is no longer covered because Jesus Loves Zygotes, let us know.
Those are my recommendations for today. What stories are you reading and blogging about?
Posted: March 26, 2013 Filed under: Barack Obama, Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: 2008 presidential campaign, Ben Rhodes, Benjamin Netanyahu, CBS, David Rhodes, James M. Rhodes, Jon Favreau, Russ Baker, speechwriters
Ben and David Rhodes
On March 15, The New York Times ran a puff piece on Obama foreign policy adviser and speechwriter Ben Rhodes, by Mark Landler. Landler tells us that not so long ago, Rhodes was “[a]n aspiring writer from Manhattan [with] unfinished novel in a drawer, “Oasis of Love,” about a woman who joins a megachurch in Houston, breaking her boyfriend’s heart,” and that
worked briefly for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s re-election campaign in 1997, was living a writer’s life in Queens on Sept. 11, 2001, when he watched from the Brooklyn waterfront as the World Trade Center towers collapsed. The trauma of that experience, he said, led him to move to Washington in 2002.
Mr. Rhodes went to work for a Democratic foreign-policy elder, former Representative Lee Hamilton, helping draft the 9/11 Commission report as well as the Iraq Study Group report. That report was a template for the anti-Iraq war positions taken by Barack Obama, then a senator, whose campaign Mr. Rhodes joined as a speechwriter in 2008.
Wow! A Star is born!
Landler writes that Rhodes attends National Security Council meetings and has a powerful influence on Obama’s policies. He credits Rhodes for helping convince Obama to stop supporting Egyptian dictator President Hosni Mubarak and to intervene in Libya, as well as pushing the President to engage with Myanmar. At the moment, Landler says, Rhodes is trying to convince Obama to get more involved in Syria.
Jack Shaafer at Reuters calls the Landler’s story a “beat sweetener.
A beat sweetener, as press-watchers know, is an over-the-top slab of journalistic flattery of a potential source calculated to earn a reporter access or continued access. They’re most frequently composed on the White House beat when a new administration arrives in Washington and every Executive Office job turns over, but they can appear any time a reporter is prepared to demean himself by toadying up to a source in exchange for material.
As a beat sweetener, the Rhodes piece excels on so many levels that I’ll bet the subject’s parents have framed and hung the clipping over the family mantel. Landler portrays Rhodes as a young fella with “old man” wisdom; as possessing a “soft voice” that delivers “strong opinions”; as one whose “influence extends beyond what either his title or speechwriting duties suggest”; and as someone who “cares” to the point of “anguish” but is “very realistic.”
The information content of these testimonials, made by both Landler and his sources, is just about zero.
According to Shafer, the purpose of the “beat sweetener” isn’t just to make Ben Rhodes happy.
Sucking up to Rhodes won’t necessarily earn Landler or other journalists covering the White House an automatic scoop. But beat sweeteners aren’t written with anything so crass in mind as scoops. They’re designed to keep the information conveyor lubricated (“source greaser” is another term for the practice) with journalistic goodwill. As someone who is inside the White House decision loop, Rhodes is a much better friend than an enemy.
Getting back to the NYT puff piece: two-thirds of the way through, Landler mentions offhandedly that that Ben’s older brother David (who is 38) is the president of CBS News, a job he landed in February of 2011.
Landler provides no background on brother David, never mentioning that he previously held influential positions at Bloomberg and Fox News. In fact David is the first top CBS executive who previously worked for Fox News, and he’s the youngest president in CBS history. Shouldn’t this relationship between merit more than a throwaway line in a fawning profile of an influential adviser to the President of the U.S.?
Even Benjamin Netanyahu seemed a bit startled when he was told about it during Obama’s visit to Israel.
During a receiving line on the airport tarmac, Obama and Netanyahu stopped briefly to chat with Obama’s deputy national security, Ben Rhodes.
Obama noted that Rhodes’ brother, David, is president of CBS News.
“Sounds like a very incestuous relationship,” Netanyahu observed, chuckling at the idea of siblings in power roles within the administration and the news media.
“Not if you watch CBS News,” Obama replied.
There’s video of the interaction at Politico. Netanyahu may have been “chuckling,” but I’m not. How many times has Obama appeared on 60 Minutes? Has there ever been a mention of this relationship during those interviews? I haven’t checked, but I don’t recall it happening.
Of course relationships between media powerhouses and influential politicians and their advisers aren’t unusual. Here’s a short piece on this problem at TV Newser. Alex Weprin writes:
Let’s get this out of the way: conflicts of interest are rife in the TV news business.
CBS News president (and former Fox News executive) David Rhodes is the brother of one of President Obama’s advisers Ben Rhodes. NBC News anchor Andrea Mitchell is married to former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan. Bob Schieffer‘s brother Tom Schieffer was President Bush’s Ambassador to Japan.
In other words: potential conflicts happen all the time. The question is when should they be disclosed? Typically subjects with a conflict aren’t allowed to cover anything related to that conflict. If they do, a disclosure is a must….
In Washington, the journalists, the politicians and the lobbyists hobnob at the same parties, and many of them are friends. If everything was disclosed then just about every story from every reporter in DC would end with “I am a friend of a friend of this person” or “I hooked up with this person at 3 AM after the White House Correspondents Dinner.” Obviously that doesn’t happen, but sometimes a story does hit a little too close to home.
But isn’t this also an important reason why we don’t have an independent or serious news media?
Thinking about the incestuous nature of our Washington-New York oligarchy also leads to questions about how a young guy like Ben Rhodes–he’s just 35 now, so he was barely 30 when he began working for Obama in 2008–managed to come so far so fast.
Investigative reporter Russ Baker was stimulated to ask these and other questions after he read the Lindler’s NYT article. He notes that Rhodes appears to have come out of nowhere directly to the halls of power, just as his boss seemingly did. Baker writes:
What’s especially strange about the article is that, for those of us who continue to wonder how a virtual cipher rose so quickly from the Illinois legislature to become the most powerful person in the world, we end up wondering the same thing about an aspiring novelist from New York City who fairly catapults to enormous influence in shaping policy regarding some of the most complex and sensitive matters facing this country….
Though the Times never underlines this, the careful reader comes to realize that Rhodes’s guiding philosophy is as hard to discern as the precise reasons that he has the president’s ear. In 1997, he briefly worked on the re-election campaign of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican. Shortly after 9/11, the aspiring novelist suddenly decided to do his part for society, moving in 2002 from Queens to Washington, and quickly found himself “helping draft the 9/11 Commission report as well as the Iraq Study Group report.” [….]
We are never even told what kind of education Rhodes got, or where, or whether he has ever been anything beyond an aspiring novelist. There’s no indication of what he did on Giuliani’s campaign (he would only have been about 19 or 20 at the time) or whether his preference for the mayor who presided over the 9/11 response had anything to do with his going to Washington, or miraculously being hired by Democrat Lee Hamilton to explain 9/11 to the public.
From these improbable beginnings, Rhodes is suddenly a speechwriter on Obama’s presidential campaign. How did he come to Obama’s attention? The article doesn’t say. However, it does note that the Iraq Study group report on which Rhodes worked “was a template for the anti-Iraq war positions taken by Barack Obama” as a senator and candidate.
Baker sums up his suspicions as follows:
Once we start asking questions about Benjamin Rhodes, this leads to questions about Obama, about the Times and CBS and journalism in general. And it leads to questions about how much we, the most smugly self-assured people on earth, understand about how anything of significance actually works.
In this case, it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether some particular faction or other might have spotted “talent” and “agreeability” in Rhodes, and helped hasten his rapid ascent to the top.
Baker located answers to some of these questions. From a very stunted Wikipedia entry, Baker learned that Ben Rhodes got his undergraduate degree from Rice University. He pulled together a timeline of the twin careers of Ben and his brother David:
Searching sources other than the Times, we find that David Rhodes was a production assistant at the fledgling Fox News Channel around the same time Benjamin was volunteering for Giuliani—and was the conservative channel’s news desk Assignment Manager when the planes struck the Twin Towers. Highly trusted by Fox’s chairman Roger Ailes, he managed Fox’s coverage of three presidential elections, including the one where his brother was writing Obama’s speeches, was hired by Bloomberg TV right after Obama’s election, and in 2011 was named president of CBS News.
It was Baker’s article that got me started I found Googling for more background on the very successful and powerful Ben Rhodes. In fact I spent much of the day yesterday searching for more background on the very successful and powerful Ben Rhodes. I’ll put that into a second post that I hope to put up later today.
Oh, and I admit I was also inspired by my memory of this photo that I know you’ll also likely recall from early in Obama’s first term. The smiling guy sitting at the table in the back on the right side is Ben Rhodes. After head speechwriter Jon Favreau (on the left of the Hillary cardboard image) posted it on his Facebook page, Dak and I figured out who the other speechwriters in the room were and wrote a little about them.
You can treat this as a regular morning post and put your links in the comments as always. But I do hope some folks will wade through this post and discuss what I think are serious issues about the incestuous relationship between the corporation media and the government.