May 15, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM

LEAVING THE WEST:

Opposition lambastes Netanyahu after report says he will push for immunity law (Times of Israel, 5/15/19)

Opposition politicians on Wednesday evening lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after a report said he had resolved to push for legislation granting himself immunity from three pending corruption cases, despite repeatedly denying such intentions ahead of last month's Knesset elections.

Having until now given mixed signals about whether he would seek to pass legislation in order to evade prosecution in the three criminal cases for which he faces indictment, Netanyahu has now taken the firm decision to push legislation to guarantee himself immunity from prosecution, the Channel 12 report said. The legislation has reportedly been discussed in the current negotiations on the formation of Netanyahu's new coalition government.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM

AT LEAST HE HAD NO GOOD REPUTATION TO RUIN:

Jeff Sessions's Grave Conflict of Interest (Murray Waas, 5/15/19, NYRB)

Last year, in March 2018, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions enlisted his subordinates to lie on his behalf that he did not know he was under federal investigation when he fired then Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe--an investigation initiated by McCabe and overseen by him until it was taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

By doing so, Sessions and his allies succeeded in shutting down a major controversy. If it had been made public that the attorney general had knowingly fired the deputy FBI director (and later, acting director) who'd opened and supervised that criminal investigation, the resulting scandal would have engulfed Sessions and would likely have even more seriously threatened his already tumultuous tenure as attorney general. Besides the scrutiny of the media and Congress, Sessions might have faced an inquiry by one of the Justice Department's internal watchdog agencies, the Department's Inspector General or Office of Professional Responsibility, as well as incurring the wrath of an already embittered president.

A government official with first-hand knowledge of the matter told me that the attorney general therefore instructed aides to make false statements in briefings to the press. The official's account of what was at stake for Sessions is corroborated in part by a mass of evidence in the Mueller Report detailing the special counsel's investigation of the former attorney general.

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM

TAX WHAT YOU DON'T WANT:

Association of a Beverage Tax on Sugar-Sweetened and Artificially Sweetened Beverages With Changes in Beverage Prices and Sales at Chain Retailers in a Large Urban Setting (Christina A. Roberto, PhD1; Hannah G. Lawman, PhD2; Michael T. LeVasseur, PhD, MPH1; et al Nandita Mitra, PhD3; Ana Peterhans, MPH1; Bradley Herring, PhD4; Sara N. Bleich, PhD5, 5/14/19, JAMA)

Question  What was the association between a beverage excise tax on sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages implemented in Philadelphia in 2017 with changes in beverage prices and volume of sales?

Findings  In this difference-in-differences analysis of retailer sales data in the year before and the year after implementation of an excise tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, the tax was associated with significant increases in price-per-ounce of 0.65 cents at supermarkets, 0.87 cents by mass merchandise stores, and 1.56 cents at pharmacies. Total volume sales of taxed beverages in Philadelphia decreased by 1.3 billion ounces after tax implementation (51%), but sales in Pennsylvania border zip codes increased by 308.2 million ounces, partially offsetting the decrease in Philadelphia's volume sales by 24.4%.

Meaning  A beverage excise tax on sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages in a large urban setting was associated with a significant increase in beverage prices and a significant reduction in volume sales of taxed beverages, although changes in sales volume were partially offset by purchases in neighboring areas.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM

ONLY DONALD CAN STALL THE OBAMA BOOM:

Weak U.S. retail sales point to slowing economy (Lucia Mutikani, 5/15/19, Reuters) 

U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fell in April as households cut back on purchases of motor vehicles and a range of other goods, pointing to a slowdown in economic growth after a temporary boost from exports and inventories in the first quarter.

Thankfully Donald and company are consumed by racism, because if he shifted back towards the American norm of free movement of goods and people the economy might save even him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM

THERE ARE NO DARWINISTS:

It's time we stopped human evolution - geneticist (1Alasdair Mackenzie, Reader, Molecular Genetics, University of Aberdeen, 5 May, 2019, Big Think)

Our greatest achievement as a species has been to break free from the sheer naked ferocity of evolution. 

Sublime.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM

PITY THE POOR FLATLANDERS:

After Walking Thousands Of Miles, Mink The Bear Is Almost Back Home (BRITTA GREENE, 5/15/19, NPR: Morning Edition)

She had become comfortable around humans, and people in town grew to love her -- a lumbering, strong but gentle animal that would come right up to your door. She's named Mink, after a local natural area called Mink Brook.

"She's a beautiful bear. She's an amazing bear," said Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin. "Anybody that likes animals was enchanted by her."

But others were scared, and state wildlife officials decided, for safety's sake, the bear needed to go. They planned to shoot her, but local news outlets picked up the story and a petition to save Mink got thousands of signatures.

Then, New Hampshire's governor intervened, and had Mink relocated instead.

Mink had to move

Just under a year ago, officials dropped Mink off with a tracking collar far north, near the Canadian border.

But she immediately started making her way back.

"She was going 30 miles a day," said Ben Kilham, a biologist who has been tracking Mink's location. "If anything, we should get her into a triathlon."

She has logged thousands of looping miles, crossing Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River multiple times.

The lead bear official for the state of New Hampshire said he's never dealt with an animal that's traveled so long, hibernating for the winter and then continuing on. He now checks her progress first thing every morning.

He's not alone in his interest. Even the governor asked to be included on the data. "And he's clearly been watching," Kilham said. "Probably the whole office down there has been watching, because it's fascinating the way she moves."

Bears are known to be able to find their way home, or at least try to. That's why wildlife officials believed killing Mink was more humane than putting her through an arduous journey.

"To see how far she traveled, and how thin she was last fall, we all felt like -- oh boy -- what have we done to this sow?" Griffin said.

Until recently, though, the general public didn't know Mink was getting close. But earlier this spring, a woman named Patricia Campbell spotted a bear outside her house, less than 20 miles from Hanover.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM

DONALD WHO?:

Ignoring Trump's Orders, Hoping He'll Forget: Slow-walking or flat-out disobeying Trump's fleeting obsessions has become common practice across various sectors of government. (ELAINA PLOTT, 5/15/19, The Atlantic)

On March 29, during a weekend jaunt to Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump announced a major policy decision that surprised top-ranking officials within several government agencies. The United States was cutting off aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the president said. Never mind that Trump lacked the authority to unilaterally scrap and redirect the funds in question; his decision was sure to please supporters such as Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who had previously argued that one of the only ways to stop the "border crush" is to threaten a "foreign aid cut-off."

Stunned State Department officials hurried to put together a statement that evening. The letter promised to "[carry] out the president's direction and [end] FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle. We will be engaging Congress as part of this process." A similar situation played out in January 2017, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection was sent into a frenzy trying to implement Trump's Muslim ban seven days after he took office.

A month and a half has passed since the president's Central America announcement, and according to lawmakers and aides, the administration is not advancing the issue. Senator Patrick Leahy, who serves as the ranking member of the subcommittee that funds foreign aid, told me that this was the inevitable result of an "impulsive and illogical" decision by the president. "It caught the State Department and USAID by surprise, and they have been scrambling to figure out how to limit the damage it would cause," Leahy said.

"We have heard nothing so far," a senior Democratic official on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which must sign off on any funds that State wants to reallocate, told me. "What money are we talking about? For what purposes? What's the timeline for this? It's been weeks now, and we've asked multiple times, and we know nothing." (The State Department did not respond to my request for comment.)

In the Trump White House a month and a-half is more like a lifetime, meaning that many officials, voters, and reporters--not to mention Trump himself--have long since moved on from the momentary chaos. (Indeed, one outside adviser to the president's 2020 campaign told me he didn't even recall that Trump had pledged to cut off the aid.)

This routine has both drawbacks and benefits for the president. But for American taxpayers and citizens of other countries, the effects can be devastating. By impulsively announcing a policy, Trump often harms his chances of actually seeing it brought to life, given a directive's typical lack of vetting. But because so much of the news cycle is driven by Trump's off-the-cuff statements and tweets--and not necessarily the follow-through--his supporters are often left with the image of a president who has, in fact, slashed aid to Central America, even if the money is still flowing into the three countries in question. (It is.) As one senior Trump-campaign official told me last week, the president's appeal is about "the fight," not "the resolution."

It's the best of both worlds; the Trumpbots are satisfied that he's done stuff while the Deep State renders him a nullity.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM

OUR TWO REPUBLICAN PARTIES:

Did the Left Misread the 2020 Democratic Primary? (Bill Scher, 5/14/19, Politico)

For a huge swath of political observers, from pundits to Democratic activists, it was obvious that Joe Biden was going to flop. Before the former vice president entered the race, he was written off as a relic. He was too old (a problem for a party pulsating with millennials and Generation Z). He was too undisciplined (a flaw exposed during his short-lived presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008.) And he was too wedded to a bygone era of bipartisanship--a centrist out of step with rising progressive stars like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.

"Biden is opposing where the center of energy is in the Democratic Party," Justice Democrats communications director Waleed Shahid said.

"I think there's going to be a lot less air in the room than it looks like for Biden. The reality is that Biden's time is passed," predicted Democracy for America chairman Charles Chamberlain.

"We're in a new moment. This is not Joe Biden's moment," Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder Adam Green said.

But it was Joe Biden's moment, and it sure still seems to be Joe Biden's moment. He has dominated the polls since he entered the race last month. Before Biden announced, he was at a measly 29 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, only 6 percentage points ahead of progressive favorite Bernie Sanders, who not all that long ago looked like a genuine co-front-runner. Since then, Biden has surged to 40 percent, kicking Sanders down to the mid-teens. In the past week, Biden has posted intimidating double-digit leads in polls from the early-contest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. His dominance of the Democratic Party's moderate wing has helped stall the rise of Mayor Pete Buttigieg while also squeezing the ability of candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris from positioning themselves as more viable progressive alternatives to Sanders.

It's not just Biden's rising poll numbers that suggest that the activist left is out of step with most Democrats; it's the ideological makeup of the entire Democratic Party. Fifty-six percent of Democrats self-identify as "moderate" and 9 percent even embrace "conservative," according to an April poll from the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. While leftist activists pine for the end of the legislative filibuster to grease the skids for partisan legislation, a December GW Politics poll found that 66 percent of Democrats said they prefer elected officials who "make compromises with people they disagree with" over those who "stick to their positions." Only 36 percent of Republicans said the same.

The analysis for months has been that there are three pools of voters to appeal to for Democrats--those who want a reassuring hand at the wheel (older voters); women and minorities (particularly black women); and the ideological Left.  No one is running who ticks all three boxes, so one would expect the eventual nominee to be able to get votes from two. Uncle Joe nails pool one and has residual cred in pool two.  In the absence of a governor who has substantial minority constituents, who else can even compete besides Kamala Harris, at least on paper (a black female prosecutor)?  

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM

THE ONLY BATTLEGROUNDS ARE RED STATES:

Why Arizona Is Emerging as Top 2020 Battleground (Josh Kraushaar, May 14, 2019, National Journal)

If there's one development that threatens to disrupt the best laid plans of Republicans, it's the transformation of Arizona from a rock-ribbed GOP stronghold into a bona fide battleground state. In recent years, Republicans have struggled to balance the energy of their activist base with the pragmatism necessary to win over the state's critical mass of suburban independents.

At the same time, Democrats are eyeing Arizona as a critical political prize that could make or break their national ambitions. Win Arizona, and the party could withstand a Rust Belt stumble in Wisconsin. Pick off the state's second Senate seat, and the prospect of an upper-chamber majority becomes more realistic. Hold their 6-3 advantage in the House delegation, and Democrats should feel confident about their ability to maintain control in the lower chamber.

There have been some troubling signs for Arizona Republicans in recent weeks. A statewide poll showed Joe Biden leading Trump by 5 points--with the president failing to hit 50 percent against any of the prospective Democratic challengers (including Bernie Sanders). The same poll found appointed Sen. Martha McSally leading presumptive Democratic nominee Mark Kelly by only 1 point, 45 to 44 percent.

All this is taking place with the state GOP infrastructure in shambles after controversial hard-liner Kelli Ward won the chairmanship in January. Since then, Arizona Republicans have struggled to raise money and maintain a unified front. Ward, as a Senate candidate, alienated the party's moderate wing with deeply personal attacks against former Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake.

"Joe Biden would create a real race here in Arizona," said Arizona-based GOP operative Barrett Marson. "There's substantial dissatisfaction with the president among independents and Republican-leaners."

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM

TRUMPONOMICS:

U.S. Farmer Income Drops Most Since 2016 as Trade War Losses Mount (Mike Dorning  and Katia Dmitrieva, April 29, 2019, Bloomberg)

Personal income for farmers fell by the most in three years in the first quarter, as losses to U.S. agriculture mount from President Donald Trump's trade wars.




Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM

THE rIGHT VS THE rEPUBLIC:

Trump untouchable? His lawyers argue Congress can't probe for corruption (William Goldschlag and Dan Janison, May 14, 2019, Newsday)

Donald Trump's lawyers argued in federal court Tuesday that Congress has no power to investigate potential corruption by a president. The judge reacted with astonishment, according to The Washington Post.

The hearing was on Trump's suit to stop his former accounting firm from turning over years of his financial records that have been subpoenaed by the House oversight committee. It's the first of what are expected to be many courtroom battles over Trump's effort to stonewall probes by the Democratic-led House.

"Say a president was involved in some corrupt enterprise, you mean to tell me because he is the president of the United States, Congress would not have power to investigate?" Judge Amit P. Mehta asked Trump's legal team. He continued: What if "we're talking about a presidential violation of a constitutional prohibition that only Congress has authority to approve," such as the acceptance for emoluments or gifts from a foreign government?

Trump's attorney William Consovoy said that's a job for "law enforcement," not Congress. 

Mehta asked whether under that reasoning, Congress was within its rights to have investigated cases such as Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon's resignation, and the Whitewater case involving President Bill Clinton. Consovoy avoided a direct answer, saying he would have to look at them more closely.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM

WITH THE BARK ON:

The Folly of Protectionist Tariffs (MICHAEL TANNER, May 15, 2019, National Review)

Trump's insistence to the contrary notwithstanding, most of the cost of tariffs is paid by American consumers (through higher prices), not by the countries being sanctioned. For instance, it is estimated that the president's latest round of tariffs on China will cost the American family an average of at least $767.

But that cost does not fall equally on poor and rich alike. To state the obvious, $767 means a lot more to a poor family struggling to pay its bills than it does to a wealthy one. Moreover, tariffs are more likely to fall on goods and services that the poor depend on, daily necessities of which they often lack a reserve supply.

Consider that among the companies that have announced they will be most impacted by the China tariffs are Walmart, Target, and Costco, none of which are known as the store of choice for global elites.

Studies show that the lower your income is, the harder you'll be hit by tariffs. Tariffs imposed by Trump last year have already cost poor families 0.33 percent of after-tax income, as opposed to 0.28 percent for wealthy families, and hurt single parents even more than they hurt families. Trump's latest tariffs will likely be even more regressive. And while each new tariff's impact is relatively small, they cumulatively take a big hit out of poor people's income.

"Sadly, there has to be some collateral damage in the war on the Asiatic horde."

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 AM

"AND"?:

A Friend to Israel, and to Bigots: Viktor Orban's 'Double Game' on Anti-Semitism (Patrick Kingsley, May 14, 2019, NY Times)

In late November, the office of Hungary's far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, announced it would donate $3.4 million to causes fighting anti-Semitism in Europe.

The next day, a magazine controlled by Mr. Orban's lawyer devoted its cover to an image depicting Andras Heisler, the leader of Hungary's largest Jewish organization, showered with bank notes. Jewish groups across the world swiftly denounced the cover as anti-Semitic. [...]

A hero to many far-right nationalists in Europe and the United States, Mr. Orban won a major public relations prize on Monday: an Oval Office meeting with President Trump. The two men gushed over each other. Mr. Trump described the Hungarian leader as "controversial," but he clearly meant it as a compliment -- Mr. Trump said some people considered him controversial, too.

The meeting itself caused controversy, as critics accused Mr. Trump of coddling a neo-authoritarian leader accused of rolling back democracy in the heart of the European Union. Nine Democratic members of Congress had demanded that Mr. Trump cancel the meeting because of Mr. Orban's record of alleged anti-Semitism, as well as his remarks critical of Muslims.

But if anything, Mr. Orban and Mr. Trump have followed the same playbook, with each leader navigating to his own political advantage the confusing and contradictory ways in which anti-Semitism has resurfaced in Europe and North America. It is a point of overlap for both the far left and the far right, for Islamists and Islamophobes, for those who revile Israel as well as those who support it.

Mr. Orban is the apogee of these contradictions: He is a far-right leader of a country whose Jewish citizens say they face less harassment than Jews in any other part of Europe. Mr. Orban and his party, Fidesz, have used anti-Semitic tropes to promote his vision of Hungarian nationalism, and have been accused of trying to understate Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust -- even as he has bankrolled many Jewish institutions and causes.

And he has drawn close to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in a bid to win respectability abroad, even as he instigated a series of anti-Semitic political campaigns in Hungary in an attempt to appeal to bigots at home. [...]

Mr. Orban's critics acknowledge that his approach to Judaism has a certain political logic. He supports the Israeli prime minister because the two politicians share a wariness of Islam and cosmopolitan liberalism. 

It's a single game: Israeli Nationalism combines with its immunity from criticism to give other Nationalisms cover.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM

THE DEBATES WILL NEED TO RUN IN THE AFTERNOON:

Trump Can't Stop Attacking Biden. G.O.P. Strategists Wish He Would. (Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, May 14, 2019, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's attacks on Mr. Biden have defied the pleadings of his own aides, who think almost any other candidate would be easier to defeat, and left Republicans puzzled while delighting Biden supporters.

"It just shows everybody that the vice president is the candidate Trump is most concerned about," said Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, a Biden supporter, adding with evident relish: "He just can't help himself during executive time."

Matt Gorman, a veteran of past Republican presidential campaigns, said that Mr. Trump was simply handing Mr. Biden a gift.

"In a Democratic primary, attacks from President Trump are the best thing that can happen to you," Mr. Gorman said. "It elevates you, gives you a huge fund-raising boost and sucks the oxygen from your competitors."

The president's drumbeat of attacks on Mr. Biden have also gotten the attention of congressional Republicans, who would prefer a more easily caricatured boogeyman on top of the Democratic ticket next year. "Bernie Sanders is the perfect guy for us," said Chris LaCivita, a longtime Republican strategist. "He looks like the professor out of 'Back to the Future' and is a hard-core socialist."

Mr. Trump's offensive has also hastened calls by G.O.P. officials to bring together White House aides, Trump campaign officials and Capitol Hill Republicans in a gathering similar to one last year at Camp David, according to a senior Republican Senate official.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM

THE TIGHTENING NEWS:

House panel opens inquiry into claims Trump legal team edited Michael Cohen's testimony (LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN, May 14, 2019, ABC News)

During public testimony in March, before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen said Trump's current personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, changed his statement to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees regarding the duration of those discussions before he submitted it to Capitol Hill.

In his initial statement to Congress, Cohen said discussions about the Moscow project ended in January of 2016, when in reality conversations about the prospective deal continued through the summer of 2016 -- well after Trump became the Republican nominee for president. Federal prosecutors in special counsel Robert Mueller's office later wrote that Cohen also sought to "minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1," referring to then-candidate Trump.

Cohen, who is currently serving a three-year prison term at the federal corrections facility in Otisville, New York, pleaded guilty late last year to lying to Congress about the content of that statement. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

STRIP AWAY THE RACISM AND ALL YOU HAVE LEFT IS THE CORRUPTION:

An Oral History of Trump's Bigotry: His racism and intolerance have always been in evidence; only slowly did he begin to understand how to use them to his advantage. (DAVID A. GRAHAM, ADRIENNE GREEN, CULLEN MURPHY, AND PARKER RICHARDS  JUNE 2019, The Atlantic)

VI. "On Many Sides"

Roughly six months into Trump's presidency, on the night of Friday, August 11, 2017, hundreds of neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched onto the University of Virginia's campus in Charlottesville chanting "Jews will not replace us" and "Blood and soil," a Nazi slogan. The "Unite the Right" rally was protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Confrontations arose between members of the so-called alt-right and groups of counterprotesters, including members of the anti-fascist movement known as "antifa."

Mike Signer, Charlottesville's mayor, had been dealing with far-right protests all summer. Richard Spencer was one of the key figures behind the "Unite the Right" rally.

MIKE SIGNER: The first event was in May of 2017, led by Richard Spencer, who invented the term alt-right and is a UVA graduate. He had done an event right after Trump's inauguration where he had led a fascist salute with all these people at a hotel in Washington, D.C.--buzz cuts, uniforms, very frightening.

RICHARD SPENCER: There is no question that Charlottesville wouldn't have occurred without Trump. It really was because of his campaign and this new potential for a nationalist candidate who was resonating with the public in a very intense way. The alt-right found something in Trump. He changed the paradigm and made this kind of public presence of the alt-right possible.

David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, who participated in the Charlottesville rally, called it a "turning point" for his own movement, which seeks to "fulfill the promises of Donald Trump." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

60-40 NATION:

Poll: 'Medicare for All' Support Is High ... But Complicated (Carl M. Cannon, 5/15/19, RCP)

The first question was this one: "Do you support or oppose Medicare for All, which is a system where all Americans, not just older ones, get health insurance through the government's Medicare system? Nearly two-thirds of respondents answered yes, with only 27% opposed (and the rest undecided). When the description of the proposal was phrased in a different way -- that Medicare for All entails the end of their existing health insurance, which is what several prominent proponents have conceded -- support for it ebbed, but not by as much as Republicans might think.

"Do you support or oppose Medicare for All, which is a system that will eliminate all private health insurance companies, and where all Americans, not just older ones, get health insurance through the government's Medicare system?" Even with that caveat, 55% were in support, with 34% opposed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

NO ONE BELIEVES IRAN IS A THREAT...:

Allies split with US over Iranian threat as war worries mount (AP, 5/15/19)

As tensions in the region started to surge, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said his nation was worried about the risk of accidental conflict "with an escalation that is unintended really on either side." Then on Tuesday, Spain temporarily pulled one of its frigates from the US-led combat fleet heading toward the Strait of Hormuz. That was followed by the unusual public challenge to the Trump administration by the general.

"No, there's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria," said Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, a British senior officer in the US-backed coalition fighting the Islamic State group. Ghika, speaking in a video conference from coalition headquarters in Baghdad, told reporters at the Pentagon that the coalition monitors the presence of Iranian-backed forces "along with a whole range of others because that's the environment we're in."


...except opponents of democracy in the Middle East.  Iran and the US are jointly a threat to their hold on power.


MORE:
Skeptical U.S. Allies Resist Trump's New Claims of Threats From Iran (Helene Cooper and Edward Wong, May 14, 2019, NY Times)

One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential internal planning, said the new intelligence of an increased Iranian threat was "small stuff" and did not merit the military planning being driven by Mr. Bolton. The official also said the ultimate goal of the yearlong economic sanctions campaign by the Trump administration was to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the United States. [...]

Iraqi officials said they were skeptical of the American intelligence that Mr. Pompeo presented last week on a surprise trip to Baghdad. Mr. Pompeo said the threat was to American "facilities" and military personnel in Iraq. [...]

Some of the president's critics accept that Iran continues to engage in what United States officials call "malign behavior," be it in Yemen, Syria or the Palestinian territories. But they blamed the administration for aggravating the standoff with Tehran.

"This is a crisis that has entirely been manufactured by the Trump administration," said Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

He pointed to Mr. Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, coupled with the administration's failure to get any other nations to do so.

"None of the other signatories to the deal were persuaded by the case the U.S. was making," Mr. Nasr said. "And that is because this administration's policy on Iran, at a fundamental level, does not have credibility."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

MANNING UP:

EDITOR'S COLUMN: What did Rashida Tlaib say about the Holocaust? It's probably not what you think. (ANDREW SILOW-CARROLL, MAY 14, 2019, Jewish Telegraph Agency)

[I]t's not just Republicans who appeared to distort Tlaib's now notorious remarks. It was the ostensibly nonpartisan Jewish commentariat and media as well, in which I will include our own site, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and take full responsibility. [...]

Tlaib does not assert that Palestinians welcomed Jews or worked in any way to create  the "safe haven." Instead, she says, using the passive voice, that Palestinians were displaced "in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews." In fact, "it was forced on them" -- that is, the Palestinians. And despite the cost to her people in property and dignity, she goes on, she "love[s] the fact that" something good came of it  -- a safe haven for Jews who were suffering "horrific persecution" around the world.

She does say that it was her "ancestors that provided that," but "provided" is different than "created." And Tlaib qualifies "provided" with "in many ways" -- hardly an assertion of open arms -- and immediately says that "they did it" (presumably, Jews created the haven) in a way that "took their human dignity" (that is, the Palestinians' dignity).

Far from claiming that her ancestors worked to bring Jews to Palestine, or welcomed them when they arrived, she is saying that even if the Jews did come and take their land and rights away, at least it was for the alleviation of another people's suffering.

In acknowledging that suffering and noting her own people's, her remarks are closer in spirit to the anti-Zionist refrain that the Jews escaped the window of a burning house only to land on someone else's head.

Rashida Tlaib's Comments Weren't Anti-Semitic - They Were Philosemitic (Raphael Magarik, May 14, 2019, The Forward)

Yesterday, Representative Rashida Tlaib was smeared as an anti-Semite by Donald Trump and company. The accusation is false, but that's not news. Republicans have been using the anti-Semitism charge cynically for some time.

What is new, bitterly ironic, and quite sad, is that not only did Tlaib say nothing at all anti-Semitic, but what she did say was remarkably philo-Semitic. She made a morally courageous attempt to reach out to American Jews, a statement of almost heartbreaking moral generosity--and for that, she is being called "anti-Semitic."