May 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Taboo-breaking election tests how much dissent Iran can handle (Scott Peterson, MAY 18, 2017, CS Monitor)

Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani accuses his hard-line opponent, cleric Ebrahim Raisi, of knowing only "death and imprisonment" - an oblique reference to Mr. Raisi's role in ordering the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, an event usually taboo to talk about in Iran - and charges that victory for Raisi will stymie budding freedoms and return Iran to a dark period of isolation.

Raisi, in turn, accuses Mr. Rouhani - who championed the 2015 nuclear deal with Western powers as providing a path to prosperity - of "deceiving" Iranians with unfulfilled promises, "starving people" by neglecting the poor, and betraying Iran's revolutionary credentials by selling out to the West. Raisi's supporters chant, "Death to the liar!" at campaign rallies.

The blunt violation of taboos dramatizes the knife-edge balance demanded of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as he seeks to simultaneously allow and contain dissent, ensuring enough democratic expression to validate the regime with a majority-accepted choice for president, while stopping short of undermining it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM



Washington is a lawyer's town, built on protocols and rules. If this tends to make happy-hour conversation in the city a little more pedantic than the American norm, then it also has its advantages, among them a fanaticism for records. James Comey, the fired F.B.I. director, began his career as an associate at the powerhouse law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Later, during his years of government service, he routinely documented conversations with his superiors as a method of self-preservation. During the Bush Administration, he documented his resistance to the use of torture, which helped extend his career from a conservative epoch to a liberal one. "A showboat," President Trump called Comey, last week, in defending his decision to fire the man. Perhaps, but one with the daily routines of a clerk.

The conversation between Trump and Comey in the Oval Office in February--whose details the F.B.I. director circulated in a memo at the time, and which became public this week after a source close to Comey read it to Michael S. Schmidt, of the Times--was an extraordinary one. The two men were discussing Michael Flynn, who had briefly been Trump's national-security adviser before being forced to resign over his failure to disclose pre-Inauguration contact with the Russian government, and was now a focus of F.B.I. investigators. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Trump told Comey. This declaration, in which the President seemed to lean on the F.B.I. director to cut short an investigation into an associate, was the part that, by Tuesday night, had Senator John McCain comparing the current situation to Watergate "in size and scale." But the rest of the exchange was interesting, too, in the clues it offered about how the President saw his own relationship to Comey. Trump said of Flynn, "He's a good guy."

Consider the scene. The President has already asked his own Attorney General and chief of staff to leave the room, so that, instead of a formal meeting, Comey and Trump were now in the kind of informal, one-on-one negotiation in which Trump's supporters believe he thrives. Perhaps he sensed in Comey--towering, earnest, self-regarding--a familiar type, and so the President sounded a bit like the son of a Queens developer talking to the grandson of a Yonkers cop, which both was and wasn't the situation. Surely the President misunderstood Comey, who took the opportunity to agree that Flynn was "a good guy" and then rushed off to write a memorandum about the episode. But Trump may also have misunderstood the kind of city he was in.

One way to understand the events of the past ten days is to see them as the revenge of the capital's professional classes.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


House May Be Forced to Vote Again on GOP's Obamacare Repeal Bill (Billy House, May 18, 2017, Bloomberg)

According to several aides and other procedural experts, if Republicans send the bill to the Senate now and the CBO later concludes it doesn't save at least $2 billion, it would doom the bill and Republicans would have to start their repeal effort all over with a new budget resolution. Congressional rules would likely prevent Republicans from fixing the bill after it's in the Senate, the aides said.

If Republican leaders hold onto the bill until the CBO report is released, then Ryan and his team could still redo it if necessary. That would require at least one more House vote of some sort.

That vote could be cloaked in some kind of arcane procedural move, but it would still be depicted as a proxy for yet another vote on the same bill -- and reluctant Republicans will once again be forced to decide whether to back it. Only this time, they would also be saddled with the CBO's latest findings about the bill's costs and impacts.

...making them face the costs!

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


Revealed: Dutch King Has Been a KLM Pilot for 21 Years (AP, May 18, 2017)

King Willem-Alexander told national newspaper De Telegraaf in an interview published Wednesday that he has ended his role as a regular "guest pilot" after 21 years on KLM's fleet of Fokker 70 planes and before that on Dutch carrier Martinair. He will now retrain to fly Boeing 737s as the Fokkers are being phased out of service. [...]

Willem-Alexander said he is rarely recognized by passengers, especially since security was tightened on board planes in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

"Before Sept. 11, the cockpit door was open. People regularly came to have a look and thought it was nice or surprising that I was sitting there," he said, adding that very few people recognize him as he walks through Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport in KLM uniform and cap.

And even when he makes announcements to passengers, Willem-Alexander says that as a co-pilot he doesn't have to give his name. So while some people recognize his voice, it is far from all passengers.

"But most people don't listen anyway," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Consuming Journalism 101 (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, May 17, 2017, National Review)

For conservatives, hating the media is a reflex, and sometimes a funny one: Speaking on his "Morning Minute," Sean Hannity once read breathlessly from an Associated Press report on a federal surveillance program, ending with the instinctual harrumph: "The mainstream media won't tell you about that!" There is no media more mainstream than the Associated Press, which is a nonprofit cooperative owned by its member newspapers, television networks, and radio stations. Its reports appear in practically every daily newspaper in the United States, and big scoops like the one that caught Hannity's eye routinely lead front pages from sea to shining sea. The Associated Press has bias problems and some notable competency problems, and, like any organization that does any substantive reporting, it makes errors. But it does not, for the most part, traffic in fiction. [...]

Which is to say, a critical eye is warranted. Newspapers, like all the works of men, are imperfect things, and the nation's newspaper editors and television-news producers are very much at fault for the low general level of trust in the media. But they do not traffic wholesale in fiction. All of the cries of "fake news!" in the world are not going to change that.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


McCaskill: Rosenstein Admitted He Knew Comey Would Be Fired Before Writing His Memo (David Rutz, May 18, 2017, Free Beacon)

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) said Thursday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein admitted to senators that he knew FBI Director James Comey was going to be fired by President Trump before he wrote his recommendation for Comey's dismissal. [...]

Trump later admitted himself that he was going to fire Comey regardless of any recommendation.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


U.S. strikes Syria militia threatening U.S.-backed forces: officials (Phil Stewart and Suleiman Al-Khalidi, 5/18/17, rEUTERS)

The U.S. military carried out an air strike on Thursday against militia supported by the Syrian government that posed a threat to U.S.-backed fighters in the country's south, U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday.

One of the U.S. officials said the strikes near the town of At Tanf destroyed at least one tank and a bulldozer, and another said it followed warning shots by U.S. aircraft meant to dissuade the fighters from advancing further.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Inside Russia's Social Media War on America (Massimo Calabresi, 5/17/17, Time)

Like many a good spy tale, the story of how the U.S. learned its democracy could be hacked started with loose lips. In May 2016, a Russian military intelligence officer bragged to a colleague that his organization, known as the GRU, was getting ready to pay Clinton back for what President Vladimir Putin believed was an influence operation she had run against him five years earlier as Secretary of State. The GRU, he said, was going to cause chaos in the upcoming U.S. election.

What the officer didn't know, senior intelligence officials tell TIME, was that U.S. spies were listening. They wrote up the conversation and sent it back to analysts at headquarters, who turned it from raw intelligence into an official report and circulated it. But if the officer's boast seems like a red flag now, at the time U.S. officials didn't know what to make of it. "We didn't really understand the context of it until much later," says the senior intelligence official. Investigators now realize that the officer's boast was the first indication U.S. spies had from their sources that Russia wasn't just hacking email accounts to collect intelligence but was also considering interfering in the vote. Like much of America, many in the U.S. government hadn't imagined the kind of influence operation that Russia was preparing to unleash on the 2016 election. Fewer still realized it had been five years in the making.

In 2011, protests in more than 70 cities across Russia had threatened Putin's control of the Kremlin. The uprising was organized on social media by a popular blogger named Alexei Navalny, who used his blog as well as Twitter and Facebook to get crowds in the streets. Putin's forces broke out their own social media technique to strike back. When bloggers tried to organize nationwide protests on Twitter using #Triumfalnaya, pro-Kremlin botnets bombarded the hashtag with anti-protester messages and nonsense tweets, making it impossible for Putin's opponents to coalesce.

Putin publicly accused then Secretary of State Clinton of running a massive influence operation against his country, saying she had sent "a signal" to protesters and that the State Department had actively worked to fuel the protests. The State Department said it had just funded pro-democracy organizations. Former officials say any such operations-in Russia or elsewhere-would require a special intelligence finding by the President and that Barack Obama was not likely to have issued one.

After his re-election the following year, Putin dispatched his newly installed head of military intelligence, Igor Sergun, to begin repurposing cyberweapons previously used for psychological operations in war zones for use in electioneering. Russian intelligence agencies funded "troll farms," botnet spamming operations and fake news outlets as part of an expanding focus on psychological operations in cyberspace.

He wanted an easily manipulated stooge instead.
Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


As investigators circled Flynn, he got a message from Trump: Stay strong (Michael Isikoff, 5/18/17, Yahoo News) 
Late last month, fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn -- under investigation by federal prosecutors, with his lawyer seeking immunity for him to testify to Congress -- met with a small group of loyalists at a restaurant in the northern Virginia suburbs.

Saddled with steep legal bills, Flynn wanted to reconnect with old friends and talk about potential future business opportunities. But one overriding question among those present were his views on the president who had fired him from his national security advisor post.

Flynn left little doubt about the answer.  Not only did he remain loyal to President Trump; he indicated that he and the president were still in communication. "I just got a message from the president to stay strong," Flynn said after the meal was over, according to two sources who are close to Flynn and are familiar with the conversation, which took place on April 25.

The comment came at the end of an especially difficult day for Flynn, during which his legal woes appeared to grow: Two congressmen -- House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings, D-Md. -- after reviewing classified Pentagon documents, had just accused Flynn of failing to disclose foreign income from Russia and Turkey when he sought to renew his security clearance.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Trump bemoans 'witch hunt' after counsel appointed to probe Russian links (Mamta Badkar, 5/18/17, Financial Times)

US president Donald Trump says the probe into his campaign's ties to Russia is "the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!"

A rare moment of insight from Little Finger--witch hunts are how society enforces norms against deviants.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


US sticking by Iran nuclear deal is good news for Rouhani (ERIC RANDOLPH May 18, 2017, AFP) 

The US decision to stick by the nuclear deal with Iran, despite new sanctions on its missile program, provided welcome news for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday, a day before his bid for re-election.

The administration of US President Donald Trump chose to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions on Wednesday despite its criticism of the agreement.

That was a relief to Rouhani, who made the 2015 nuclear deal the centrepiece of his efforts to end Iran's isolation and rebuild its economy with foreign investment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


White House PR strategy in chaos: Conway interview offered to Fox, then canceled (Brian Stelter, May 18, 2017, CNN)

Kellyanne Conway's Wednesday night interview on Fox News was going to be a big deal.
Fox promoted it ahead of time as the administration's first on-camera reaction to the news about former FBI Director Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel overseeing the federal government's Russia investigation.

But the White House abruptly canceled Conway's appearance, causing Fox host Tucker Carlson to fill the air time by discussing the cancellation. [...]

The change was notable because no members of President Trump's inner circle appeared on TV Wednesday. Conway was going to be the first.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


What will the Pence presidency be like? (Paul Waldman, May 18, 2017, The Week)

[P]ence would immediately change the focus of the administration. While Trump doesn't have much of a personal ideological agenda, Pence would work intently on enacting hard-right social conservatism in every way possible. Don't get me wrong: Pence loves tax cuts and deregulation like any Republican. But his career has been marked above all by the culture war, his efforts to fight the acceptance of gay Americans, roll back reproductive rights, and create special privileges for Christians.

How much of that he'd be able to pass into law is hard to say. But on legislation, he'd certainly be more likely to get things done than Trump -- having served in Congress for 12 years he knows how it works, and he wouldn't be the kind of erratic, disruptive force Trump has been to GOP legislative efforts. That wouldn't necessarily make the ambitious items on the Republican agenda, like repealing the Affordable Care Act and enacting tax reform, much easier. But it would likely produce progress on smaller bills.

And while nobody ever accused Mike Pence of being a genius, it's safe to say that his White House wouldn't be the kind of Thunderdome of infighting, backstabbing, and press leaks that Trump's is. He'd probably replace many of Trump's cadre of revolutionaries and nincompoops with standard-issue operatives and policy wonks, the kind you'd find in any Republican administration (many of whom have refused to work for Trump). Which means the entire government would start working better -- but whether you think that's a good thing depends on your political perspective.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


The Genius of Literature : Bernard-Henri Lévy draws from the well of late-18th-century French philosopher Chateaubriand for a broad defense of the aesthetics and morals of liberalism (Paul Berman, May 16, 2017, Tablet)

Does society require a solid spiritual foundation of some sort to stave off social decay and political collapse? Is this is our problem right now, a shakiness in what is supposed to be firm, which has led to political crises in one country after another? I have been reading Bernard-Henri Lévy's book from a couple of months ago, The Genius of Judaism, which circles around this question, and I notice that his discussion and even his title invoke a very old book called The Genius of Christianity, by Chateaubriand. This is clever of BHL. It is fitting. It invites a comment. Chateaubriand is one of those writers whom everyone has heard of and hardly anyone has read; and yet, reading him is a grand and delightful experience. The tenor of his voice alone makes him a master of world literature--a gorgeous tone, supple, composed, and indefatigable. And, on the question of spiritual foundations and social collapse, Chateaubriand does have something to say. He says it with an easy air of fresh observation, too, as if he were the first person ever to have seen the problem, which surely he was not. But he did see it from a dramatic angle.

This was the unhappy perspective of a liberal aristocrat in the French Revolution--a disciple of Rousseau and a man of the Enlightenment and, all in all, a believer in human progress, even if he felt no particular urgency about progress. He believed in the Revolution, too, in its early, tepid, and reformist moments. But the early moments were brief. He happened to be in Paris on July 14, 1789, and he stood at the window of his sister's apartment and watched in horror as a revolutionary mob paraded down the street carrying severed heads on pikes. Within a few years, his brother was guillotined, together with the brother's wife and her grandfather and other people in her family. His mother and sister were jailed, and they died of their sufferings after their release. Chateaubriand himself, having lost his revolutionary sympathies, enlisted in the royalist and counterrevolutionary army, which led to battlefield wounds and illnesses and a shadow over his own life. He recovered. And, having been to hell and back, he set out, as a proper philosopher in the 18th-century mode, to sort out his intellectual confusions and to discover the roots and causes of social collapse, not just in the case of aristocratic France but universally and throughout history, beginning with the Greeks and the Romans, with lessons to apply to the future.

His first volume on this topic, which truly no one reads (but why not?), was a treatise in 1797 capaciously titled Historical, Political, and Moral Essay on Revolutions Ancient and Modern, Considered in Their Relations to the French Revolution of Our Time, or, less wordily, Essay on Revolutions. This is a delicious book. It is an inquiry into his own identity--"Who am I?" (his first sentence)--and into world history at the same time. He dwells on the Athenians and the Spartans and the Syracusans. Then again, he recounts an exploratory expedition that he undertook into the far-away forests of the United States of America, where, in the course of his wanderings, he nearly fell into the cataracts at Niagara and was rescued by wild Indians!--which yields to a still more vivid chapter, "Night Among the Savages of America," about the spiritual superiority of the Indians and his good fortune in having spent a night lost in ecstatic contemplation of the Niagara moonlight.

But mostly he contemplates the causes of social collapse. These, in his analysis, boil down to a single recurrent and contemptible cause. It is frivolous intellectuals and their cynical mockeries. In ancient Athens the frivolous intellectuals were the sophists, who mocked the reigning Greek polytheism, and in 18th-century France the frivolous intellectuals were the philosophes, who mocked Catholicism; and, in both cases, mockery dealt a blow to the social and cultural mores, which led to disaster. The French deterioration was especially severe because the priests in the countryside were superstitious bigots, and the priests in the cities were hopelessly corrupt, and nobody in the Catholic Church was capable of resisting the fanatical anti-Catholics, who were in the grip of their own bigotries and corruption.

...lies in our mockery of Intellectualism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM



Harvard University researchers examined health-related trends over time in three states: Kentucky, which expanded Medicaid under the ACA: Arkansas, which used the federal marketplace established by the law to provide more low-income adults private insurance; and Texas, which did neither.

They report the rate of uninsured residents dropped dramatically between 2013 and 2016 in the two states that expanded coverage. At the end of last year, it stood at 7.4 percent in Kentucky, and 11.7 percent in Arkansas, while remaining at a stubbornly high rate of 28.2 percent in Texas.

And for the people who enrolled, having insurance really mattered.

"For uninsured people gaining coverage," the researchers write in the journal Health Affairs, "this change was associated with a 41 percentage point increase in having a usual source of care; a $337 reduction in annual out-of-pocket spending; significant increases in preventive health visits and glucose testing; and a 23 percentage point increase in 'excellent' self-reported health."

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Historian Tom Holland's film goes to the Islamic roots of ISIS (Jennifer Taylor, May 17, 2017, Providence)

On Wednesday night, historian Tom Holland--leading writer on the ancient world and author of no less than five award-winning civilizational epics--sticks his neck on the line.

He has made a film for Channel 4 TV in Britain--sadly not available yet in the US--about the Islamic State called Isis: The Origins of Violence that even he admits was "brave".

In it he goes back to Sinjar in northern Iraq, the scene of genocide against the Yazidi people, escorted by a former SAS security advisor, and gets to within one mile of where ISIS fighters are based.

Fearful of abduction and standing by a mass grave of women considered too old to enslave, he evacuates the contents of his stomach. You don't see that bit. Too gross.

But later he retches again in the stinking rubble, and the camera deliberately lingers on his misery.

Tormented by the unreality of a genocide sanctioned by a holy text but ignored by the West's liberal intelligentsia, he believes only a changed sensibility will result in a desperately needed and more effective foreign policy.

And he believes that message is so urgent, only a graphic film can do justice to it. [...]

Holland travels to Jordan to speak to a leading Salafi who directly cites, to camera, the Qur'anic justification for the actions of ISIS.

"It had never crossed my mind that I would witness in the lands occupied by the Assyrians and the Romans, a campaign in which men were being crucified and women enslaved", says Holland.

Yet the sanction for such behavior is in the Qur'an and being actualized as we live.

Ideology and terror combined to make other empires great, says the author of Persian Fire and Rubicon. And it also made the Islamic State great.

To defeat the group, you must defeat the ideology--as the new religion of Christianity eventually defeated the brute imperialism of Rome. [...]

Holland insists the West must be more robust "at every level" in its interrogation of what's really at stake, in the same way people in Europe were obliged to interrogate nationalism and Darwinism after Nazism, and in the way that Christianity interrogated how the Gospels had fostered anti-Semitism.

"What's needed is acknowledging the problem, at every level. I am just astonished there's not more of an interrogation of that by Muslims predominantly. It's their faith that is spattered with blood."

Holland's articulacy has won him a huge following and many awards, and in 2015 he was included among the Sunday Times' 100 Most Influential People. Does he not fear he will be branded in some way for so negative a portrayal of Islam?

"Well it's not illiberal to object to ideological genocide," he says.

He received death threats after his first film Islam: The Untold Story, also screened by Channel 4. Is he worried about that?

"ISIS is Islamic which doesn't mean they embody Islam. Islam is just a name we give to the vast agglomeration of perspectives that go by that name.

"You are morally obliged to ask, well, what's within that tradition that has encouraged this rather than just burying your head in the sand and saying it has nothing to do with it whatsoever."

It is something Europeans should be peculiarly sensitive to. European civilization after all gave us Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Locke, as well as imperialism and the Holocaust.

"It's part of the continuum, but a measure of self-criticism is incumbent on a people whose culture has resulted in such crimes."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Flynn blocked military move Turkey opposed - report (AP, May 18, 2017)

Days before US President Donald Trump took office, incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn blocked a military plan against the Islamic State group that was opposed by Turkey, a country he had been paid more than $500,000 to advocate for, the McClatchy news service reported.

According to the report, Flynn declined a request from the Obama administration to approve an operation in the IS stronghold of Raqqa, effectively delaying the military operation. 

Trump team knew Flynn was being investigated, report says (Melanie Eversley, 5/17/17, USA TODAY)

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was under investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the White House campaign and the Trump team knew, two sources tell The New York Times.

Trump asked FBI's Comey to drop Flynn inquiry - reports (BBC,17 May 2017)

President Donald Trump asked FBI chief James Comey to drop an inquiry into links between his ex-national security adviser and Russia, US media report.

"I hope you can let this go," Mr Trump reportedly told Mr Comey after a White House meeting in February, according to a memo written by the ex-FBI director.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Special counsel named to head Russia investigation; White House caught by surprise (Joseph Tanfani, Noah Bierman and Brian Bennett, 5/17/17, LA Times)

Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation because Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions recused himself, did not inform either the White House or Sessions about the decision until after he had signed the order appointing Mueller, according to a Justice Department spokesperson who spoke on condition of anonymity.

About half an hour before the order was made public, a Justice Department official informed White House Counsel Don McGahn. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer abruptly left a scheduled meeting with reporters as White House aides huddled to draft a response.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Exclusive: Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians - sources (Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel, 5/17/17, Reuters)

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump's campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.

The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia.

  Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Kislyak and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


'The Flight 93 Election' Crashes Again (Bret Stephens MAY 17, 2017, NY Times)

In case you've had the pleasure of forgetting, "The Flight 93 Election" was the title of a portentous essay, published last September under a Roman pseudonym in The Claremont Review of Books, that declared the stakes for the United States in 2016 thus: "Charge the cockpit or you die."

In the lurid imagination of the author -- it turned out to be Michael Anton, who now holds a senior job in the White House -- the American republic was Flight 93, a plane deliberately set on a course for destruction by liberals and their accomplices in the Republican establishment and the globalist "Davoisie." As for Donald Trump, Anton implied that he was the political equivalent of Todd Beamer, the heroic passenger who cried "Let's Roll" in a desperate bid for salvation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Mr. Balagan and mismanagement : Between Comey, leaked intel and American ineptitude in planning for Trump's visit, Israeli papers see (or deftly ignore) swirling chaos of Sharknado proportions (JOSHUA DAVIDOVICH May 18, 2017, Times of Israel)

According to Yedioth's top story, though, there are no plans, but just a "balagan," or total mess, and the only thing set so far is that singer Shiri Maimon will perform for Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a state dinner.

"Trump lands in four days and all the details are far from being finalized; Jerusalem is waiting for answers from Washington and Washington is changing the schedule all the time," the paper reports, noting that the sides haven't been able to come together on whether there will be speeches at the airport or just handshakes, and that's just the start.

Columnist Nadav Eyal christens Trump "Mr. Balagan" and has a laundry list of questions for the way the visit is being handled.

"If the president is already coming, who announced that his important visit to Yad Vashem will be only 15 minutes? What's up with that? And who announced a speech at Masada, a dramatic issue for Israelis, only to cancel it casually? It's true that this is nonsense in the face of more troubling behavior, say exposing of secret Israeli efforts to get intelligence on the Islamic State to the Russians, but there's one word that ties it all together: balagan," he writes. "The Americans have always demonstrated the abilities of a superpower on such visits. Having the fundamentals ready weeks beforehand, well-studied, the Americans looked derisively at Israel's improvisation. Now, it's the other way around: The Israelis are shocked at the Americans' management."