February 22, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


How Biden Will End the Trump Sugar High for Israel and Saudi Arabia (AARON DAVID MILLER and RICHARD SOKOLSKY, 02/22/2021, Politico)

It's still stunning to reflect on the fact that Trump's initial stops on his first foreign trip as president in May 2017 were to Saudi Arabia and Israel. From that point on, Trump's presidency was a gift that just kept on giving. Never in the history of U.S. relations with either country has so much been given with so little asked for in return--and with so much bad behavior swept under the rug.

Without making Israel earn U.S. favors with any concessions of its own, the Trump administration orchestrated a campaign of maximum pressure on Iran; declared Jerusalem Israel's capital and opened an embassy there; turned a blind eye to Israel's settlement expansion; recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; promulgated a peace plan that all but conceded 30 percent of the West Bank to Israel before negotiations with Palestinians had even begun; downgraded U.S. diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority; drastically curtailed U.S. assistance to the Palestinian people; and perhaps most significantly, made a major effort to facilitate normalization between Israel, the Gulf states and other Arab countries.

The Saudis also got in on the action. The Trump administration gave a blank check to Riyadh to pursue its disastrous military campaign in Yemen and aided and abetted it with U.S. military assistance for Saudi operations; acquiesced in MBS's repression at home and covered up his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; and lavished arms sales on the Saudis over Congress' objections.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Hope for Yemen (Regina Munch, February 22, 2021, Commonweal)

The change in American posture and policy is long overdue, and welcome. Yet it's still unclear just what it will amount to. For one thing, though the administration has promised to end "offensive operations," the United States will continue to give Saudi Arabia defensive support. From the outset, Saudi Arabia has claimed that all its interventions in Yemen are defensive in nature; indeed, this was the grounds on which the Obama administration became involved in the first place. Also unclear is what qualifies as "relevant" arms sales. The vagueness of these terms suggests the administration is leaving itself room to maintain U.S. involvement in the war, perhaps in more or less the same manner as its predecessors.

That would be a mistake. Ending the catastrophe in Yemen means ending all military cooperation with the Saudis in Yemen and cutting off arms sales to the pro-government coalition. Now that the Houthis' terrorist designation has been revoked, the United States can and should support humanitarian-relief efforts--not only in the desperately impoverished north, but throughout the country. Biden must also commit to negotiating a ceasefire and, through the new envoy, work to broker a peace deal between the Yemeni government and the Houthis. The suffering in Yemen has gone on for far too long. That the United States has helped cause so much of it should be a source of lasting shame. The Biden administration has the opportunity, and the obligation, to correct course.

Posted by orrinj at 11:24 AM


Review: The 2021 XC40 Recharge Is Volvo's First All-Electric SUV, And It's a Contender (BENJAMIN HUNTING, 2/22/21, iNSIDE hOOK)

Dubbed the Volvo XC40 Recharge, it's a bold step that undercuts traditional German luxury on price without asking buyers to make a compromise on power.

The XC40 Recharge's party piece is its dual electric motor setup. With each axle driven by a 201 horsepower unit, both harnessed to a 78 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, Volvo's sport-utility parses its 402 ponies and 486 lb-ft of torque through a traction-grabbing all-wheel drive system.

Four-wheel propulsion isn't just there for dealing with snowy roads or slippery pavement, either. Mashing the XC40 Recharge's accelerator is enough to introduce the back of your skull to the leather-lined headrest, and it would certainly twist the steering wheel out of your hands were all of that torque shuttled exclusively to the front axle. In a straight line the Volvo will shame many a sport sedan with a 60-mph sprint that takes less than five seconds, and unlike some electric vehicles, it doesn't run out of breath when asked to overtake at highway speeds, either.

Another intriguing factor of the Volvo's EV character is the ultra-aggressive one-pedal driving mode baked into its regenerative braking system. Designed to fill the battery with recaptured momentum at every stop or slow-down, it's possible to pilot the XC40 Recharge without ever having to tap the brake, as simply lifting off of the go-pedal will bring the vehicle to a halt within a few seconds. It's not difficult to master, although there is a learning curve, and it can be switched off for a more traditional driving experience.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


Israeli forces arrest Hamas members in West Bank ahead of Palestinian elections (New Arab, 22 February, 202)

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has earlier warned of Israeli plans to carry out mass arrests ahead of planned Palestinian elections later this year, according to local reports.

Last month, senior Hamas members Hatem Naji Amr and Omar Barghouthi (not the detained Palestinian activist of the same name) told Anadolu Agency that they were threatened by the Israeli intelligence of imprisonment if they run in the upcoming elections. 

"Israeli forces are targeting Hamas members through individual arrests," activist Faoud Al-Kuffash told The New Arab's Arabic language site.

"Previously, the occupation forces would carry out campaigns of mass arrests against the political group, but they do not want to provoke public outrage ahead of the upcoming May elections.

"This is a clear message from Israel, that it does not want to see members of the Hamas party re-elected."

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


QAnon Is So Big in France That Even the Government Is Worried (David Gilbert, February 22, 2021, Vice News)

It's easy to believe that QAnon is a uniquely American problem. QAnon followers played a central role in the Capitol riots last month, and the movement is obsessed with former President Donald Trump and other U.S. political figures. But the news from France highlights that despite its U.S.-centric mythology, QAnon has morphed into a catch-all conspiracy theory that has obsessed people in dozens of countries around the globe.

That's because the core mythos of QAnon -- that a group of elites is running a secret child sex trafficking ring -- is a decades-old conspiracy belief that has been rehashed and promoted multiple times in different countries.

It also comes at a time in France when the majority of people believe their political system is entirely or partially broken. That disillusionment presents a huge opportunity for conspiracy theories to fill the void left by trust in government. During the pandemic anti-vaxx conspiracies surged in popularity, and those pushing QAnon quickly attached themsevlves to those groups.

QAnon first made its way to France through French-speaking Canada, according to Chine Labbe, the Europe editor of News Guard, a service that rates the reliability of news websites, which published a report on the rise of QAnon in Europe.

A fitting Frenchness. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


What makes your dog, a dog? Ask a dingo: A new Penn State study looks at the evolutionary step in between dogs and wolves (ARIANNE COHEN, 2/22/21, fAST cOMPANY)

If you want to truly understand your dog, look no further than dingoes, the whip-smart wild canines that live in the Australian outback.

Dingoes are, broadly speaking, a sort of genetic and behavioral midpoint between the wolf and dog. Dingoes understand what human pointing means, yet hunt and live independently, sometimes alone, and can sometimes outsmart dogs. "Part of the reason I'm so fascinated with dingoes is that if you see a dingo through American eyes you say, 'that's a dog,'" notes Pat Shipman, an anthropologist at Penn State, who just published an extensive study of dingoes. But they're not dogs, Shipman notes: "A dingo is a wolf on its way to becoming a dog, that never got there. In evolutionary terms, dingoes give us a glimpse of what started the domestication process."

They are dogs

Posted by orrinj at 10:52 AM

TRUMPISM IS RACISM (profanity alert):

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Mount Washington in winter, 150 years ago (Tom Eastman Feb 19, 2021, Conway Daily Sun)

Dartmouth College forester Bob Monahan and Appalachian Mountain Club hutmaster Joe Dodge co-founded the Observatory in 1932. But as Dr. Peter Crane, curator of the Obs' Gladys Brooks Memorial Library, will tell you, they weren't the first group to occupy the summit in winter.

In a detailed Zoom presentation -- part of the Obs' "Science in the Mountains" series -- Crane, 67, recently related the fascinating tale of the Huntington-Hitchcock winter occupation of 1870-71.

"Breaking the Ice: The First Winter Scientific Expedition to Mount Washington," which Crane presented Feb. 9, tells the remarkable story of five hardy souls who thought it would greatly aid science to spend the winter at the top of the Rockpile.

According to Crane, the idea was hatched on a summer's day on Lake Champlain in 1858 by Joshua H. Huntington, a young biologist doing field work for the Vermont Geological Survey under the direction of Charles H. Hitchcock.

Huntington had previously visited the White Mountains on two occasions; Hitchcock never, according to Crane. And only sketchy reports of a winter climb or two of the Northeast's highest peak existed at that time.

What fueled their dreams may never be known, yet the thought of a bold mountain expedition took root. "It would be more than a decade before this plan could be realized, but its impact remains with us a century and a half later," said Crane.

They weren't your average mountain climbers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Washington's Rules for Rebellion (Richard Samuelson, 2/22/21, Law & Liberty)

If words and the threat of bringing in troops is insufficient to stop the violence, then it is time to bring troops in. And in late September 1794, Washington officially Proclaimed that the Counties of Western Pennsylvania were in open rebellion and he determined to use troops to end the uprising. At the start, Washington explains his thinking. "I thought it sufficient, in the first instance, rather to take measures for calling forth the Militia, than immediately to embody them." Yet that proved to be insufficient. Hence, he notes, that " the moment is now come, when the overtures of forgiveness with no other condition, than a submission to law, have been only partially accepted--when every form of conciliation, not inconsistent with the being of Government, has been adopted without effect." Note again the public reason. Washington is explaining that these attacks cannot be reconciled with the very "being of Government." That is why a military response is necessary. It was necessary to defend the republican experiment, "as the people of the United States have been permitted under the divine favor, in perfect freedom, after solemn deliberation, and in an enlightened age, to elect their own Government; so will their gratitude for this inestimable blessing be best distinguished by firm exertions to maintain the Constitution and the Laws."

When one does use force against one's own citizens, one has to be smart about it. That entails selecting the target well, and using the right amount of force.

To state the obvious, no one likes to be attacked, and no one likes to see their neighbors attacked. In our day, images of police or National Guard attacking citizens are often used by clever organizers as recruitment tools. And it is often a tactic of radicals to undertake attacks that seem, to the uninitiated, to be minimally provocative, but which, in fact, need a strong response (think of using fireworks, which can spark larger fires, and laser pointers, which can cause permanent blindness, in Portland. Ditto "doxing" police officers who work to stop riots.  To prevent that, governments send in officers in unmarked cars, and officers with no name tags). What's the goal? To make recruits by convincing people who might be somewhat sympathetic but disinclined to radicalism that the government is run by thugs who cannot be trusted. Hence sending in a small force, which is likely to result in pitched battles, is not usually a good idea. It is as likely to increase alienation from government as it is to restore lawful order. Curfews keeping everyone off the streets after dark seem to have worked much better this past summer.

Washington knew what he was doing. He gathered an overwhelming force of nearly 13,000 militia from New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Moreover, Washington selected his target well. Anger at the Whiskey Tax, and resistance against it, was pervasive in the backcountry. Yet Washington focused on the part of the rebellion that took place in Pennsylvania. That was, perhaps, the best place for the strategy to work.  One has to be careful with such a strategy. It can backfire. The British had tried to focus on the rebellion in Boston after the Tea Party with the Coercive Acts of 1774. Rather than subduing Boston, the acts united the backcountry of Massachusetts with Boston, and the other colonies with Massachusetts.

The Whiskey Rebels felt that they were not being represented. They sometimes pointed back to the resistance to the Stamp Tax. There was, of course, one significant difference: they were, in fact, represented.

Washington himself rode to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, demonstrating that he was in charge. Given Washington's fame, and the love so many Americans had for him, reviewing the troops was also a way to provide an additional shot of confidence that these measures were necessary. Washington's presence in Carlisle also allowed him to manage the troops himself, minimizing the chance that they would be zealous and abusive in their efforts to stop the rebels.  The troops went into the countryside, and the rebellion dispersed. It was ended more than it was actively put down. And that was a very important part of the success of Washington's strategy. No martyrs were made, and minimal actual attacks by the militia on civilians. Hamilton wanted to make an example of some of the men who were caught in the end, to try them and execute them. Washington, almost certainly correctly, realized that that was a bad idea. He pardoned those who had been sentenced to death for their part in the insurrection. They would not become fallen heroes for the next wave of rebels to honor. By singling out the part of the Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania, Washington had, in fact, made an example of one group of rebels, even if he had also minimized actual violence. This was an important step. The U.S. was a new country. The nations of Europe were waiting for the republic to fail and/ or for the Union to break up. By ending the rebellion, Washington demonstrated that the government was capable of being a functioning government.

Step 4: Restoration

The problem was not yet solved. If people are disinclined to rebel in large numbers unless there are genuine injustices going on, one must address the underlying problems, even if one cannot be perceived to be doing so under duress. Aspirin alleviates fever, but does not end it until the disease has passed. Similarly, if a critical mass of people is angry enough to take up arms, they can, temporarily, be convinced to go back home.  But if the deeper problems that spurred the uprising remain, then it's just a matter of time till clever, ambitious, and designing men gin up another rebellion. It is, in other words, a bad idea not to remove the factors that made the region a tinderbox in the first place.

In some ways this is the most difficult step. Why? Partly due to our emotions. After a battle we are angry at the other side. Magnanimity after victory is difficult. And there are always men, like Hamilton, who are eager to punish those they blame for the rebellion. They cannot see past their anger at the attacks on the laws, and perhaps on members of their political tribe to see what is truly best for the republic. It's easy to dismiss their desires as wicked or misguided. Yet all governments rest on public opinion, a democratic republic more than any other. Public opinion is a political fact; it must be accommodated if there is to be no spiraling cycle of violence.

But the proximate cause of the rebellion and the deeper causes of the discontent are not always the same. To be sure, taxing whiskey was hard on people in the West because whiskey sometimes served as a medium of exchange in a region where coin was scarce. But there were deeper problems, and they could be addressed, and Washington ensured that they were addressed.

The Whiskey Rebels felt that they were not being represented. They sometimes pointed back to the resistance to the Stamp Tax. There was, of course, one significant difference: they were, in fact, represented.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Merrick Garland Can Fix DOJ's Special Counsel Problem (Neil Kinopf, February 22, 2021, Washington Monthly)

The independent counsel experiment failed because of the way the position was structured. In particular, the independent counsel was an independent contractor, hired to pursue a single matter, unconnected to the work of the Justice Department generally or to the work of any other independent counsel specifically. Is it any wonder that such a figure would pursue the object of their inquiry relentlessly?

No other prosecutor in the federal government has such a single-minded focus. In addition to this narrow targeting, the independent counsel has no other official priorities. That's important because, generally, prosecutor's zeal can be tempered by limited resources. Ordinary departmental prosecutions must decide whether to spend funds on one prosecution that will then be unavailable for other probes. They have to decide whether to spend time pursuing a given prosecution and, consequently, whether to divert time from others. Moreover, they have to consider whether pursuing a specific legal argument that might be helpful in securing a conviction in this case will undermine the interests of prosecutors in other cases. Or whether relentlessly pursuing a particular prosecution will make the department look overzealous and so harm the image of the department and its prosecutors in other cases. None of these institutional influences was brought to bear to temper the zeal of independent counsels, which almost inevitably led to Ken Starr's turn as Captain Ahab.

The path to reform, then, seems clear. The department should institutionalize the independent counsel approach. Instead of unleashing an unaccountable independent contractor (whether called an independent counsel or a special counsel), the department should establish a new section within the Criminal Division called the Rule of Law Section. The attorney general should appoint to head the section someone of unimpeachable integrity, respected by figures across the political aisle, with a lengthy record as a career prosecutor. The head of this new section would be independent from the attorney general's immediate supervision and control in the manner of the independent counsel (with this independence confirmed by a provision establishing that the section head could be removed only for cause). The section would have a permanent staff of career (that is, civil service) investigators and prosecutors. The section would be funded within the overall Department of Justice budget and its operations would be subject to DOJ regulations and the guidelines found in the U.S. Attorneys' Manual.

While the entirety of President Trump's term demonstrated the need for such an institution, the final days really clinch the case. A bipartisan supermajority of the Senate concluded, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, that President Trump was "morally and practically responsible for" provoking the Capitol insurrection on January 6. Indeed, McConnell was at pains to emphasize that Trump has not gotten away with anything "yet" because, as a private citizen, he remains subject to criminal prosecution. But this puts the Justice Department in an exceedingly difficult spot: How can the Biden Administration credibly investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute the former president?

To embark on such an investigation is to establish an uncomfortable precedent. No administration has ever conducted a criminal investigation of its predecessor. Once such a precedent is established, it opens a road that is frequently traveled in dysfunctional republics and autocracies. A Rule of Law Section, structured as I have outlined, provides the best resolution to this problem. The best way to maintain public confidence in an investigation of a predecessor administration is to vest the authority to initiate and conduct the matter in a section of the Justice Department that has independence and integrity built into its very structure.

The Republic still depends on not electing a president who is corrupt.  We're pretty good at it.  You don't blow up the place because we got one so very wrong. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Capitol Rioters Are Starting To Face Much More Serious Charges For The InsurrectionProsecutors are ramping up charges against people accused of carrying weapons, assaulting police, and conspiring with others. (Zoe Tillman, 2/19/21, BuzzFeed News)

Cua is one of a growing number of defendants charged in the insurrection seeing their felony counts -- and potential prison time -- stack up as the investigation presses on. Other defendants only charged with misdemeanors when they were arrested are now facing felonies post-indictment. Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin in Washington had told reporters one week after the assault on the Capitol that the early rounds of arrests on misdemeanor charges were "only the beginning," and promised more "significant charges" once prosecutors took these cases before a grand jury. New court documents in cases such as Cua's show how that's taking shape.

Of the more than 230 people charged to date, at least 70 are now facing a minimum of one felony count -- the most common is obstruction of Congress, which has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. More than 30 are charged with assaulting or interfering with law enforcement officers, and at least 14 are charged with carrying or using a weapon that day. Weapons identified in the government's court filings so far have included knives, Tasers, a hockey stick, a large metal pipe, baseball bats, fire extinguishers, and batons.

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Many more new cases are expected. Sherwin last month told reporters that federal law enforcement had opened up more than 400 subject case files -- a term that broadly refers to identifying people of interest -- in connection with the investigation. A Justice Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News this week that the number of subject files was up to approximately 540.

Sherwin also previously announced that the Justice Department had formed special task forces focused on building cases that involved more serious felony crimes, including assaulting law enforcement, conspiracy against the United States and sedition, and attacks on the media. No one has been charged yet with seditious conspiracy, a rarely invoked felony that also has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, or with assaulting members of the press.

Prosecutors have brought four conspiracy cases, alleging small groups of defendants acted in concert and in some cases preplanned the attack; they've left the door open to adding more alleged coconspirators in the future. Three of these cases involve defendants who prosecutors say are affiliated with the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group connected to violent incidents in the past, and the fourth involves alleged members of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia organization that recruits primarily from current and former members of the military and law enforcement.

Prosecutors expanded the Oath Keepers conspiracy case this week, from three defendants to nine. The Justice Department announced on Friday that a grand jury had returned a new indictment adding six more people, including Kelly Meggs, the self-described leader of an Oath Keepers chapter in Florida, and a retired couple from Ohio, Bennie and Sandra Parker. The Parkers allegedly coordinated with a woman charged in the original Oath Keepers indictment, Jessica Watkins. Prosecutors quoted text messages that Watkins exchanged with Bennie Parker leading up to Jan. 6 where the two discussed the Parkers joining the Oath Keepers, planning to travel to Washington, and whether to bring guns. The Parkers' charging papers also included images from surveillance footage inside the Capitol that prosecutors said showed Sandra Parker in a line, or "stack," with Watkins and other Oath Keepers.

After the insurrection, Watkins and Bennie Parker exchanged texts where they predicted they wouldn't be arrested, according to charging papers.