Monday, April 1, 2024

On The Prowl On Our Weekly "Virtual Route 66" As a New Quarter Dawns

It has been quite a quarter in our World as we present our first 2nd Quarter 2024 edition of our
"Virtual Route 66" as we look forward to the continued privilege to serve:

Pro-Israel Advocates Are Weaponizing “Safety” on College Campuses

Natasha Lennard

Some schools are acting on the misbegotten notion that Palestinian freedom is a threat to Jewish safety.


NBC Rejects Trump Voice but Embraces War Party

Ken Klippenstein

Ex-RNC chair Ronna McDaniel is unhired, but NBC still pays retired generals and admirals who have a personal stake in what they “analyze.”

Protecting freedom of the press has never been more important. Be the next person to support The Intercept’s independent journalism by becoming a member today.


Top Stories

PEN America in Damage-Control Mode Amid Revolt From Staff and Palestinian Writers

Prem Thakker, Ryan Grim

“We’re not going to clean up your mess,” said analyst Rula Jebreal about PEN America’s recent outreach to prominent Palestinian voices.


Spy Agencies Skewed Intel to Please Trump, and Obama Too

Ken Klippenstein, Daniel Boguslaw

“Individuals looked to avoid conflict and please political masters,” a Pentagon-backed RAND corporation study finds.

Pentagon Ignores Law Calling for Report on How It Trained So Many African Coup Leaders

Nick Turse

The Defense Department blew the deadline for a mandatory briefing to Congress on coups by U.S.-trained African military officers.

Kamala Harris Touts Secret Service Program Encouraging High School Spying

Daniel Boguslaw

The Secret Service program stresses more behavioral monitoring as well as students spying on other students.


How the Gaza War Is Reshaping Social Media


As reports of Gaza censorship on Instagram and Facebook raises alarms, Congress targets TikTok while X profits from government surveillance.


Russia’s war against Ukraine

A Ukrainian servicemember drives a British FV103 Spartan armored personnel carrier on a road that leads to the town of Chasiv Yar in Donetsk Oblast on March 30, 2024. Ukrainian forces face a tense situation near Chasiv Yar as Russia focuses its offensive there, a Ukrainian army official said on March 25, 2024. (Roman Pilipey / AFP via Getty Images)

Zelensky shakes up Presidential Office with more dismissals. President Volodymyr Zelensky on March 30 dismissed two more members of the Presidential Office and four advisors, in a continuing reshuffle of his inner circle.

Zelensky says more government reshuffles to come. Ukrainians can expect more government reshuffles in the near future, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening address on March 30.

Zelensky: Ukrainian retreat looms without US support, ATACMS are ‘the answer.’ Ukraine’s armed forces could soon be forced to retreat further if U.S. military aid continues to be delayed, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said, as he called on Washington to provide more long-range missiles to strike airfields in occupied Crimea.

Centrenergo: Russia's March 22 strike destroys biggest power plant in Kharkiv Oblast. Russian troops destroyed the Zmiiv thermal power plant in Kharkiv Oblast during the recent large-scale attack, the state-owned energy company Centrenergo reported on March 29.

80% of DTEK's energy capacity damaged, destroyed after Russian March attacks. In March, Russian attacks damaged or completely destroyed 80% of the thermal generating capacity of Ukraine's largest private energy company DTEK, the company's Executive Director Dmytro Sakharuk said on March 30.

On Tuesday morning, on his social media outlet, former president Trump encouraged his supporters to buy a “God Bless The USA” Bible for $59.99. The Bible is my “favorite book,” he said in a promotional video, and said he owns “many.” This Bible includes the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the Pledge of Allegiance. It also includes the chorus of country music singer Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the USA,” likely because it is a retread of a 2021 Bible Greenwood pushed to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of 9-11.

That story meant less coverage for the news from last Monday, March 25, in which Trump shared on his social media platform a message comparing him to Jesus Christ, with a reference to Psalm 109, which calls on God to destroy one’s enemies.  

This jumped out to me because Trump is not the first president to compare himself to Jesus Christ. In 1866, President Andrew Johnson famously did, too. While there is a financial component to Trump’s comparison that was not there for Johnson, the two presidents had similar political reasons for claiming a link to divine power.

Johnson was born into poverty in North Carolina, then became a tailor in Tennessee, where he rose through politics to the U.S. House of Representatives and then the Senate. In 1861, when Tennessee left the Union, Johnson was the only sitting senator from a Confederate state who remained loyal to the United States. This stand threw him into prominence. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln named him the military governor of Tennessee. 

Then, in 1864, the Republican Party renamed itself the Union Party to attract northern Democrats to its standard. To help that effort, party leaders chose a different vice president, replacing a staunch Republican—Hannibal Hamlin of Maine—with the Democrat Johnson.

Although he was elected on what was essentially a Republican ticket, Johnson was a Democrat at heart. He loathed the elite southern enslavers he thought had become oligarchs in the years before the Civil War, shutting out poorer men like him from prosperity, but he was a fervent racist who enslaved people himself until 1863. Johnson opposed the new active government the Republicans had built during the war, and he certainly didn’t want it to enforce racial equality. He expected that the end of the war would mean a return to the United States of 1860, minus the system of enslavement that concentrated wealth upward. 

Johnson was badly out of step with the Republicans, but a quirk of timing gave him exclusive control of the reconstruction of the United States from April 15, 1865, when he took the oath of office less than three hours after Lincoln breathed his last, until early December. Congress had adjourned for the summer on March 4, expecting that Lincoln would call the members back together if there were an emergency, as he had in summer 1861. It was not due to reconvene until early December. Members of Congress rushed back to Washington, D.C., after Lincoln’s assassination, but Johnson insisted on acting alone.

Over the course of summer 1865, Johnson set out to resuscitate the prewar system dominated by the Democratic Party, with himself at its head. He pardoned all but about 1,500 former Confederates, either by proclamation or by presidential pardon, putting them back into power in southern society. He did not object when southern state legislatures developed a series of state laws, called Black Codes, remanding Black Americans into subservience.

When Congress returned to work on December 4, 1865, Johnson greeted the members with the happy news that he had “restored” the Union. Leaving soldiers in the South would have cost tax money, he said, and would have “envenomed hatred” among southerners. His exclusion of Black southerners from his calculus, although they were the most firmly loyal population in the South, showed how determined he was to restore prewar white supremacy, made possible by keeping power in the states. All Republican congressmen had to do, he said, was to swear in the southern senators and representatives now back in Washington, D.C., and the country would be “restored.”

Republicans wanted no part of his “restoration.” Not only did it return to power the same men who had been shooting at Republicans’ constituents eight months before and push northerners’ Black fellow soldiers to a form of quasi-enslavement, but also the 1870 census would count Black Americans as whole people rather than three fifths of a person, giving former Confederates more national political power after the war than they had had before it. Victory on the battlefields would be overturned by control of Congress.

Congressional Republicans rejected Johnson’s plan for reconstruction. Instead, they passed the Fourteenth Amendment  in June 1866 and required the former Confederate states to ratify it before they could be readmitted to the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment put the strength of the national government behind the idea that Black Americans would be considered citizens—as the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision had denied. Then it declared that states could neither discriminate against citizens nor take away a citizen’s rights without due process of the law. To make sure that the 1870 census would not increase the power of former Confederates, it declared that if any state kept men over 21 from voting, its representation in Congress would be reduced proportionally. 

Johnson hated the Fourteenth Amendment. He hated its broad definition of citizenship; he hated its move toward racial equality; he hated its undermining of the southern leaders he backed; he hated its assertion of national power; he hated that it offered a moderate route to reunification that most Americans would support. If states ratified it, he wouldn’t be able to rebuild the Democratic Party with himself at its head. 

So he told southern politicians to ignore Congress’s order to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, calling Congress an illegal body because it had not seated representatives from the southern states. He promised white southerners that the Democrats would win the 1866 midterm elections. Once back in power, he said, Democrats would repudiate the Republicans’ “radicalism” and put his plan back into place. 

As he asserted his vision for the country, Johnson egged on white supremacist violence. In July, white mobs attacked a Unionist convention in New Orleans where delegates had called for taking the vote away from ex-Confederates and giving it to loyal Black men. The rioters killed 37 Black people and 3 white delegates to the convention. 

By then, Johnson had become as unpopular as his policies. Increasingly isolated, he defended his plan for the nation as the only true course. In late August he broke tradition to campaign in person, an act at the time considered beneath the dignity of a president. He set off on a railroad tour, known as the “Swing Around the Circle,” to whip up support for the Democrats before the election. 

Speaking from the same set of notes as the train stopped at different towns and cities from Washington, D.C., to New York, to Chicago, to St. Louis, and back to Washington, D.C., Johnson complained bitterly about the opposition to his reconstruction policies, attacked specific members of Congress as traitors and called for them to be hanged, and described himself as a martyr like Lincoln. And, noting the mercy of his reconstruction policies, he compared himself to Jesus.  

It was all too much for voters. The white supremacist violence across the South horrified them, returning power to southern whites infuriated them, the reduction of Black soldiers to quasi-slaves enraged them, and Johnson’s attacks on Congress alarmed them. Johnson seemed determined to hand the country over to its former enemies to recreate the antebellum world that northerners had just poured more than 350,000 lives and $5 billion into destroying, no matter what voters wanted. 

Johnson’s extremism and his supporters’ violence created a backlash. Northerners were not willing to hand the country back to the Democrats who were rioting in the South and to a president who compared himself to Jesus. Rather than turning against the Republicans in the 1866 elections, voters repudiated Johnson. They gave Republicans a two-thirds majority of Congress, enabling them to override any policy Johnson proposed.

And, in 1868, the states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, launching a new era in the history of the United States.

A Tectonic Shift in US-Israel Relations is Underway

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's recent speech is just the biggest signal of a generational change.


It’s been a week since I got back from my trip to Israel/Palestine and I’m still processing the experience, which is challenging. Sometimes I feel as though this conflict is like a black hole. You approach the event horizon at your peril, and if you get too close, you will be sucked in, unable to ever escape. Even worse, no light emerges from inside this black hole, just deadly radiation. But that’s an overly dark metaphor, if you’ll forgive the pun. Light is emerging; you just need to know where to look for it.

I’m reminded of a story my dear friend Josh Yarden shared with me as we ate dinner together on my last night before my flight home. Josh teaches anthropology at the Givat Haviva International School, where Israeli citizens, both Jews and Palestinians/Arabs study and live on campus, together with students from dozens of other countries. (He’s also the poet I quoted a few issues back).

In a recent class discussion about minority-majority relations, Josh told me a Jewish student said there are no tensions between Jews and Arabs in the mixed city where his family lives. (In fact, there have been instances of violence there in the past, as well as some robust Jewish-Arab “shared society” programs.) An Arab/Palestinian girl whose uncle was killed in the violence in another mixed city in 2021, quickly pointed out, ‘Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. The Arabs won’t necessarily share what they’re thinking with you.’ The boy immediately said he was confident she was wrong. Josh pointed out to him that we often cannot know the truth of each other’s lived experience, and that this was an opportunity to listen and learn.

Later that week, in another class discussion that touched on the concept of “competitive victimhood,” the same Jewish student said, ‘The Holocaust doesn’t matter here. In order to find the solution for an ongoing conflict, people should not address the past in order to prove their victimhood.’ The same Arab student perked up and said, ‘That’s very ironic of you to say. I would expect you to bring up the Holocaust.’ This time, Josh asked her to listen to the boy who had contradicted her the other day. He went on to say, ‘The people who suffered and the people who caused their sufferings in the past are now all dead and arguing about who was right and who was wrong back then will not get us anywhere in the conflict resolution. Just as for me the Holocaust is not a reason to hate Germans, the events of 1948 should not be a reason for Palestinians to fight or hate Jews.’ 

Then, he paused the action and asked the class to put both of the exchanges from that week into perspective, to see how hard it can be to understand each other’s viewpoints when they contradict our expectations. It was a classic “teachable moment,” and the lesson perhaps sank in more than usual.

“So there is hope,” I said over dinner, after hearing this story. Josh lamented that this happened in the rare context of an integrated classroom. He said, “We have some sort of impact, and we can hope that the ripple effects will lead to positive changes, but most arguments in society take place without a teacher who can freeze a moment to help both sides see past their initial assumptions.” He’s right, but I tell him this is why teaching at a high school like Givat Haviva is so important.

Now consider, by contrast, what happens when someone with national standing in our political discourse tries to put his arms around the whole mess that is Israel/Palestine, encompassing much of its complexity and contradictions, sums up the moment and speaks some hard truths. He gets whacked from all sides.

I’m speaking of Chuck Schumer, the Democrat who is the Senate Majority Leader and probably the most powerful Jewish elected official in America. In 2022, New Yorkers re-elected him by a comfortable 57%-43% margin, which means he’s politically quite secure. He got 3.3 million votes in that election, and just for argument’s sake, if Jews make up 15% of the overall New York electorate but vote for Democrats by a 70-30 margin, one might estimate that Schumer got the vote of about 700,000 Jews—which would put him not far from the 1.1 million votes Netanyahu’s Likud party got in the last Israeli election. Schumer certainly represents more American Jews (there are 1.8 million in New York) than any other politician, and probably also more American Arabs than any other (there are 400,000 in New York). In 2022, Schumer was the Senate’s #1 recipient of campaign donations from pro-Israel donors, according to

I’ve met Senator Schumer a few times, though not one-on-one. He is smart, chummy, and very good at charming a crowd; when he wants to he can turn on the borsch-belt shtick with ease. He is also known in many quarters as a consummate transactional politician. That is, he is very good at sussing out who has power and how much, and then to what degree they need to be wooed or placated. Here’s an example I saw up close: Back in early 2012, when Hollywood and the copyright cartel thought they had a permanent lock on Congress and they tried to push through the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, Schumer—who was a co-sponsor of the legislation—took immediate note of the uprising in the tech community. At the height of the fight over the legislation, several thousand tech workers rallied outside his midtown office during the lunch hour, insisting that the bills would not only hobble the Internet, they’d kill lots of jobs. Until then Schumer hadn’t really paid much attention to the tech sector, but he quickly recalibrated his position. Within days he was on the phone to the leaders of the New York Tech Meetup, which organized the rally, listening to their concerns and working to build them into his power base.

Those were the days: Netanyahu is hugged by Schumer, as US Ambassador Thomas Nides (l), Senator Jack Reed, and Senator Mark Warner (rear center) look on. Photo by Israeli government press office, Amos Ben-Gershom. Feb. 24, 2023.

So, when Schumer shifts from embracing Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu (as he did quite cravenly a year ago, shown above, during the pro-democracy protests, leading pundit Thomas Friedman to call him Bibi’s “useful idiot”) to declaring on the Senate floor that Bibi is one of four “major obstacles” to peace, that’s no small change. (The other three obstacles, according to Schumer, are “Hamas, and the Palestinians who support and tolerate their evil ways, radical right-wing Israelis in government and society, [and] Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”) Schumer’s words about Netanyahu are worth quoting in full:

“The fourth major obstacle to peace is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has all too frequently bowed to the demands of extremists like Ministers [Bezalel] Smotrich and [Itamar] Ben-Gvir, and the settlers in the West Bank.

“I have known Prime Minister Netanyahu for a very long time. While we have vehemently disagreed on many occasions, I will always respect his extraordinary bravery for Israel on the battlefield as a younger man. I believe in his heart his highest priority is the security of Israel.

“However, I also believe Prime Minister Netanyahu has lost his way by allowing his political survival to take the precedence over the best interests of Israel. He has put himself in coalition with far-right extremists like Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, and as a result, he has been too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows. Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has also weakened Israel’s political and moral fabric through his attempts to co-opt the judiciary. And he has shown zero interest in doing the courageous and visionary work required to pave the way for peace, even before this present conflict. As a lifelong supporter of Israel, it has become clear to me the Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after October 7. The world has changed — radically — since then, and the Israeli people are being stifled right now by a governing vision that is stuck in the past.

Nobody expects Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the things that must be done to break the cycle of violence, to preserve Israel’s credibility on the world stage, and to work towards a two-state solution. If he were to disavow Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, and kick them out of his governing coalition, that would be a real meaningful step forward.

But regrettably, there is no reason to believe Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that. He won’t disavow Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir and their calls for Israelis to drive Palestinians out of Gaza and the West Bank. He won’t commit to a military operation in Rafah that prioritizes protecting civilian life. He won’t engage responsibly in discussions about a “day-after” plan for Gaza, and a longer-term pathway to peace.”

Schumer concludes by calling for new elections in Israel. But he also warns that if the current governing coalition remains in power, “and continues to pursue dangerous and inflammatory policies that test existing U.S. standards for assistance, then the United States will have no choice but to play a more active role in shaping Israeli policy by using our leverage to change present course.”

This is a tectonic shift in the heart of the Democratic party. It comes alongside additional moves by senior Democrats in both the House and Senate, including a new letter from six top House Democrats to President Biden urging him to restrict additional military aid to Israel because of its failure to allow humanitarian aid to flow more freely into Gaza. In no uncertain words, these Democrats warn of an imminent famine in Gaza, noting that “despite [the Biden Administration’s] efforts to ensure that life-saving humanitarian assistance reaches civilians in need, the Israeli government has repeatedly obstructed the delivery of U.S.-funded and supported humanitarian aid.” They argue that Israel is violating the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, a provision of the larger Foreign Assistance Act, and is therefore “ineligible to receive continued US weapons.” Last week, 19 US Senators, a substantial portion of the Democratic caucus, sent Biden a letter urging US recognition of the state of Palestine in the context of a regional peace initiative.

Schumer’s shift was a shock to many in the so-called pro-Israel establishment in America. (I say so-called because organizations that prop up the rejectionist/annexationist goals of the rightwing coalition behind Netanyahu are actually doing great harm to Israel.) The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which tilts to the right, issued a statement expressing “deep reservations” about the speech and arguing “it is not a time for public criticisms that serve only to empower the detractors of Israel, and which foster greater divisiveness.” AIPAC criticized Schumer for calling for new elections, instead declaring that “Israel is an independent democracy that decides for itself when elections are held and chooses its own leaders.” On the left, Schumer was criticized by the likes of If Not Now for not going far enough; they demanded that he "call for a lasting ceasefire, reverse course on weapons transfers, and push for Israel to dismantle its systems of occupation and apartheid over Palestinians."

The truth is Schumer is much closer to solid ground than the so-called pro-Israel crowd, and not just because American public opinion has become more critical of Israel since the war began. Schumer is quite in tune with most Israelis. Since October 7, a consistent majority of Israeli voters have told the aChord Center’s pollsters that they want Netanyahu out of office. Back in mid-October, 23% said they wanted him to resign immediately with another 49% saying he should resign after the war. Now, facing a quagmire, fierce international criticism, a rupture with the US and the still unresolved nightmare of 134 hostages in Hamas’ hands, those numbers have hardened. Forty percent of Israelis want Bibi to resign now, with another 35% saying he should resign once the war is over.

Google translate of a slide from aChord Center’s March 7-11 poll on public attitudes among Israelis towards the war in Gaza

One final observation about what this all means. Two groupings to the left of the so-called pro-Israel establishment helped make this shift happen—progressive Zionists and the anti- or non-Zionists further to their left. For months, the latter group—centered on Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now as well as numerous Palestinian and Arab-American groups—has gotten the lion’s share of the headlines with mediagenic and disruptive rallies demanding a cease-fire and an end to “genocide.” Their efforts were later transmuted very effectively into the “Uncommitted” campaign in several early primary states, that succeeded in tamping down the most anti-Israel side of this movement and funneled its passions into sending a clear message to Biden as he runs unopposed for the Democratic presidential nomination. I’ve been critical of these groups in a lot of my writing since October 7 for how they helped open the discourse to unvarnished nonsense about Hamas’ “legitimate resistance” and other ideological formulations, but respect is also due—these groups have moved the needle. Credit is also due to Netanyahu and his corrupt, messianic, annexationist and racist governing coalition, which is a gift that will keep on giving as long as Bibi can stay in office by prolonging the war.

At the same time, less confrontational organizations grounded inside the broad American Jewish community with solid ties to a majority of Democratic members of Congress like J Street and Americans for Peace Now have kept up a strong inside game, steadily advancing arguments critical of Israel’s rightwing government that are now clearly in the mainstream of the Democratic party. The Biden Administration’s decision Monday to stop wielding its veto in the UN Security Council—something J Street called for back in December—is a clear sign that this strategy is also bearing fruit. If you want to put this in historical perspective, what is going on now in American Jewish politics is a bit like the push-me/pull-you dynamics between the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the heyday of the civil rights movement, with the more radical groups pushing the envelope, making room for the more moderate groups to make headway.

I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this process. Yesterday, J Street and seventeen US Senators called on the White House to decertify Israel for not being in full compliance with international law not only around the humanitarian aid crisis, but also its conduct of the war in Gaza and unlawful expansion of West Bank settlements. Netanyahu, meanwhile, is just digging in his heels. So something previously unthinkable in US-Israel relations is about to happen: the Biden Administration is, in my humble opinion, about to suspend offensive military aid to its longtime ally. That will be an earthquake, but the cracks in US-Israel alliance may finally allow some light to get in. We shall see.

Other Reading

—While Netanyahu complains about Schumer interfering in Israel’s internal politics, Haaretz’s Omer Benjakob reports that disinformation researchers at the Israeli organization Fake Reporter have uncovered an Israeli influence operation that has used hundreds of coordinated fake social media accounts to target American politicians, primarily Democrats of color, to amplify pro-war and anti-Hamas messages.

—Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR in Los Angeles was a bellwether of progressive Jewish leadership before October 7, and her weekly sermons are all worth reading. This one, titled “The Last Bulwark Against Authoritarianism,” which she gave two weeks ago, is important for what it says about the rising expressions of antisemitism coming not just from the right in America but also the left.

—That said, a lot of Jews in Hollywood seems to have lost their minds over Jonathan Glazer’s brave call at the Oscars for an end to the dehumanization of Palestinians.

—And in the wake of a bunch of performative resignations at Guernica magazine over an essay written by Israeli journalist and translator Joanna Chen, Mike Tomasky of The New Republic walks Chen through the lessons of the experience. “I believe the heart is capable of grieving for two peoples at once,” she tells him. Amen.

Theo Baker reports for The Atlantic (gift link) on the polarized environment at Stanford in the wake of October 7. The kids are not all right.

—Also in the “have people lost their minds” department, I enjoyed this local story about a Hasidic rabbi who is suing the town of Ramapo, NY, for its unconstitutional display of the Israeli flag over town hall. Other local towns have been challenged for doing the same thing, but it’s hard to argue with a rabbi, even if he is an anti-Zionist one.

—As usual, Peter Beinart makes some trenchant points about what is, and what isn’t, antisemitism in the debate about Israel and Gaza.

—RIP Hal Malchow, the Democratic digital strategist who almost single-handedly invented voter targeting, and who late in life came to argue that too much campaign money is being spent on individual races rather than building up party identification. Sasha Issenberg has the inside story on his brave last days.

—If you thought the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s company and imprisonment marked the end of crypto’s political influence, think again—the industry lobby is still wielding cash and twisting arms in Washington, as Henry Burke of the Revolving Door Project reports.

New From CBO

    The Long-Term Budget Outlook: 2024 to 2054

    The federal budget deficit increases significantly in relation to gross domestic product over the next 30 years, in CBO’s projections, pushing federal debt held by the public far beyond any previously recorded level.

    The pain of becoming uninsurable
    A military officer standing in flood water speaks to residents outside their home in Texas after Hurricane Harvey (Credit: Alamy)
    When extreme weather hits, it can be a huge financial as well as an emotional burden for local residents. Credit: Alamy
    Last month a friend of mine told me she's selling her Los Angeles home. Not because she can't afford the mortgage payments – the house is paid off – but because she can't afford the insurance. She pays $1,200 (£940) a month because she lives in an area with a high wildfire risk – and the looming threat of a large earthquake.
    It's a story I've been investigating over the past few months – as extreme weather in the US grows more frequent and intense, insurance companies are either drastically hiking their prices or telling Americans they can no longer offer them home insurance.
    In some high risk areas, such as in parts of Florida and California, insurance companies are so concerned about making a loss that they are stepping back from offering new policies entirely.
    My friend is not the only person I know being forced to move. Frances Acuña, a community activist in Austin, Texas, thought she'd be in her home forever, but is moving out this spring. Her annual insurance had risen from $450 to $1,893 (£355 to £1,490) because her neighbourhood was recently designated a zone that was likely to flood. She simply couldn't afford to pay it. Others in her community just go without.
    A boat navigates between houses in a flooded town (Credit: Getty Images)
    The risk of flooding is rising as the climate changes, leaving many homeowners unable to get insurance cover for their property. Credit: Getty Images
    One in 13 American homeowners are currently uninsured, amounting to around six million people, according to a recent report, which notes that uninsurance is an important contributor to racial inequality.
    Plus the most severe harms from climate change also fall disproportionately on underserved communities, who are least able to cope with the impacts.
    Rising seas, rising rents
    "I've been asked why I'd live in a flood zone," says Frances. "If we live in a flood zone, it's not because we love to see how high the water comes inside our homes, it's because we can't afford to live on higher ground." (This is especially evident in Miami, where higher ground areas such as Little Haiti – home to low-income and communities of colour – are now being gentrified by the wealthy looking to escape sea level rise in the luxurious Miami Beach.)
    It's a crisis waiting to unfold; one weather event could mean a household loses everything with no way to rebuild or repair their home. And with the country's climate worsening, the economic disparity in America only appears set to become more extreme.
    Read my full report on the extreme weather making American homes hard to insure.

    Donald Trump, COVID-19, And The Francis 

    Scott Key Bridge Calamity

    If he becomes president again, he'll extort Maryland and Baltimore rather than 

    be president for all Americans—just like last time.

    (Photo by WilliamSherman)

    Four years ago this week, it became clear that Donald Trump would husband emergency pandemic resources like ventilators and personal protective equipment for Republican-run states. Or rather, Trump made it clear. Blue-state leaders would get to see their residents die gasping for air unless they feigned fulsome praise for his pandemic response in public. “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” he declared.

    Three days ago this morning, an enormous cargo ship lost power and drifted into a pillar holding up the Francis Scott Key bridge, which collapsed instantly into the Patapsco River in Baltimore, MD. 

    If early reports are accurate, the catastrophe in Maryland has shined a light on the very best of public service: With just two minutes to act between the distress call and the collision, police were able to block access quickly, such that the final vehicle to pass the point of no return had crossed safely before the bridge disintegrated. Officials even attempted to save a crew of eight construction workers filling potholes, but could not alert them in time. Six of them died. On Tuesday, President Biden promised the federal government would prioritize rebuilding the bridge and reopening the port as quickly and frictionlessly as possible. 

    “It’s my intention that federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge,” Biden said, “and I expect Congress to support my effort.”

    Already the contrast with Trump’s response to COVID-19, devoid as it was of common humanity, is stark. But its not just the contrast that looms large in my mind. It’s also the recognition that the Baltimore rescue might still be underway seven months from now when voters cast their ballots for president. And we know from Trump’s response to COVID, and to a number of other disasters that struck non-Republican states and territories during his single term, that if he inherits the effort to rebuild after this disaster, he will likely sabotage it or hold it hostage until the leaders of Baltimore and Maryland offer him political favors or concessions. It’s a reminder in microcosm of one of Trump’s most disqualifying abuses of power, and why it’s critical for real reporters to press him for a response to the Key bridge calamity—whether he intends to resume using federal disaster resources as a tool to extort his political enemies. 


    As of this writing, Trump has said nothing at all about the Key bridge collapse. And why would he? It can not after all be blamed on the Democratic mayor of Baltimore, or the Democratic governor of Maryland, or the Democratic president of the United States. The men killed in the accident were immigrants, rather than blue-collar white men. So as far as Trump is concerned, it merits no comment. No condolences to the families of the dead; no assurances to the affected communities that he intends to be their president, too. 

    Left to his own devices, Trump will either continue to ignore the incident, or he’ll respond only when prompted by an ally in right-wing media. Extrapolating from his response to every other tragedy, he might assert monomaniacally that the accident simply wouldn’t have happened if he’d been president. He’ll almost certainly assert that if he were president, the bridge would be rebuilt in a matter of weeks instead of months, notwithstanding his famously abysmal failure to build anything of significance during his presidency. 


    But unless cornered, he won’t say whether the government should foot the bill for the recovery or whether he’d attach conditions to it like he did with ventilators and PPE. 

    Reporters should be intent on pressing him for a response anyhow, but President Biden and Democrats should do their part, too. For starters, they should begin to make good on Biden’s rebuilding commitment by introducing supplemental legislation to fund the project as soon as possible, and see whether Trump—either directly or through his sock puppet Mike Johnson—supports it, or tries to take it hostage. 


    Since the earliest days of the Biden presidency I’ve encouraged him—all Democrats, really, but in this matter him specifically—to treat natural and man-made emergencies as occasions to remind Americans that the Trump-era days of playing partisan favorites with disaster victims were over. That his predecessor would let Americans of all persuasions suffer if he held a grudge against their elected representatives, and that Republicans in Congress happily played along. 

    It’s admittedly a close call, but of Trump’s myriad corrupt acts and abuses of power prior to the January 6 insurrection, I found this tendency most infuriating. Unlike most of his antics, this one carried murderously evil intent. Trump could steal federal dollars to play golf, or accept payments from foreign governments, or shake down allies, and while all those things were corrosive and reflective of his contempt for the public interest, they didn’t amount to hateful vengeance against his own citizens. 

    His response to disasters was morally disqualifying conduct, and worth denouncing repeatedly, if only as a matter of civic education. Americans should know that it’s not acceptable conduct for leaders of democracies, and incompatible with the ideal of a free and equal citizenry. But I’ve always believed it would be a politically potent attack, too. 

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    There are about as many Republican voters in Maryland as there are adults of any political persuasion in the state of New Hampshire. The states Trump most completely abandoned to COVID-19 are home to tens of millions of Americans, and while most of them are Democrats, a huge minority are Republicans. Trump imagines most MAGA voters will thrill to the idea of abandoning the Americans they most hate in moments of distress, even if they happen to be collateral damage. And there surely are some Republicans so in thrall to Trump that they cheered along as he blamed California for its wildfires even as their homes were surrounded by kindling. But not all! The most reliable force driving people out of the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party is the realization that the leopards will come for their faces, too, eventually.

    That’s the most direct angle. Make it clear to Republican-leaning voters in Wisconsin and Michigan and elsewhere that Trump will hurt them because of where they live. But here’s another: Ask why. Why, beyond petty vendettas and a lust for dominance does Trump single out places like Baltimore. Or Puerto Rico. Why does he think there’s a political edge for him in kicking them when they’re down?

    I know why! Republicans see it as an opportunity, like so many others, to pander to bigots under the cover of some other excuse. Trump would notionally pretend that the places he shook down “horribly run” and thus undeserving of government largesse—at least that’s what Trump would have you believe. But the racists know: it’s because they’re filled with non-white people. 

    There are obvious moral problems with GOP race politics. But the biggest practical one is that, under Trump, the swapping out of dog whistles for train whistles means Republicans can no longer pander to reactionaries without kicking open the door to the most vile of bigots.

    Trump’s supporters have filled his void of silence just as you’d expect. They’ve blamed “DEI” for the accident, because the political leadership of the city and state is black. They’ve fanned antisemitic conspiracy theories and conspiracy theories about terrorism and immigrants because a) that’s what bigots do, and b) if they have no legitimate basis to blame bad news on their perceived enemies, they can always be counted on to fabricate one. 

    Leave a comment

    If you squint at the polls just so, you can find Republicans on the majoritarian side of narrow “DEI” controversies, just as you can find them on the majoritarian side of the narrow issue of trans high-school sports athletes. But Republicans plainly have no first-principles commitments on either matter. They dredged them up for the purposes of anti-black and anti-trans pandering. And so there’s no principle limiting the political appeals to the narrower issues. They aren’t really fixed solely on the merits of white-guilt seminars or the tiny number of trans girls outcompeting cis girls. And so, by picking these fights, they made it open season on whole races and genders.

    Americans might have nuanced misgivings about this or that—who has to make wedding cakes for whom, for instance—but given a choice between siding with a tolerant faction or a bigoted one, most will flock to the former. 

    Even some of the right-wing operatives responsible for igniting the initial culture wars seem to grasp this

    For three years, Biden has chosen not to force a reckoning with this facet of the Trump presidency—the one that screamed, you don’t get a ventilator if your governor if a Democrat, and who cares anyhow, since most of you aren’t even white. I’m surprised that even now, when the “four years ago” comparisons are insanely favorable to Biden, how thin and uncoordinated the Democratic effort is to remind the public just how badly COVID-19 exposed the bankruptcy of MAGA politics. It should not be left to a rapid-response Twitter account and a passing speech. We can not go back, and if you can’t bring yourself to reflect on the pandemic to understand why, a nightmarish reminder now protrudes from the Patapsco River. The government needs to rebuild the Key bridge without punishing the people who need it. And voters deserve to know: Will Trump do what’s right? Or is Baltimore too black to be worthy of federal help? 

    Senegal's opposition leader Bassirou Diomaye Faye set to
    become president
    Senegal’s little-known, 44-year-old opposition leader Bassirou Diomaye Faye was
     named the country's next president on Monday, less than two weeks after being
    released from prison to run in the election.

    The campaign

    Democrats are taking third-party threats seriously this time

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during a Miami campaign event in October 2023. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during a Miami campaign event in October 2023. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

    The presidential race is official, with President Biden and former president Donald Trump clinching their parties’ nominations Tuesday.

    But this year, Democrats are clear: They do not want a rerun of 2016, when third-party candidates got millions of votes, leading many political observers to say even today that those votes helped Trump defeat Hillary Clinton

    This time, Democrats are prepared. The Biden campaign and the political apparatus hoping to defeat Trump are taking third-party candidates seriously — a stark difference from the Democratic Party in 2016.

    Before the third-party candidates get on a significant number of state ballots (and before some candidates are even set), Democrats have started to organize:

    • The Democratic National Committee has a dedicated staff, including veteran strategist Lis Smith, working to defeat third-party candidates. They have filed complaints about alleged violations of campaign law by the super PAC American Values 2024, which is backing independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., to the Federal Election Commission.
    • In a memo provided exclusively to The Early, center-left think tank Third Way, which opposes a Trump presidency, debunked moderate group No Labels’ claim that its prospective “unity ticket” will drop out if it appears the bid would benefit Trump, calling the group’s “off-ramp” a “fantasy.”
    • Third Way has filed complaints to secretaries of state about the super PAC backing Kennedy.
    • American Bridge, the Democratic opposition research group, is tracking third-party candidates closely. 
    • “Allies of President Biden have formed a super PAC called Clear Choice, aimed stopping any third-party or independent candidates from gaining traction before the November election,” our colleague Michael Scherer reports this morning.

    “We’re expecting a close election in 2024, and we are going to be prepared for every contingency,” DNC spokesman Matt Corridoni said. “This includes making sure independent and third-party candidates play by the rules.”


    The third-party candidates this cycle could be numerous and their impact significant.

    Kennedy is set to announce his running mate in the coming days, and he’s spoken with football player Aaron Rogers and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, our colleague Michael reports.

    Meanwhile, No Labels will appoint a panel today to discuss its presidential ticket, Michael reports.

    While the group has had trouble finding a nominee after most high-profile politicians have declined, relatively low-profile Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan is reportedly in talks to be the candidate.

    Princeton University professor Cornel West could run, and so could repeat Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the general. 

    In an election where voters are dreading a rematch from 2020, voters might be more inclined to at least be third-party curious.

    History suggests disaffected voters gravitate back toward the main two party candidates, but we’ve never had two party candidates that are this unpopular where their negatives are higher than the positives for both of them,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said. “It would not be surprising to see a larger proportion of voters pick somebody other than the two major candidates.”

    While it’s unclear where third-party voters will come from at this point, Democrats are worried that they might be potential Biden voters.

    “I think you’ll see a much more concerted effort about who these people are and why they should be avoided,” said Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way. 

    A REPEAT OF 2016?

    In 2016, the third-party spoiler moniker was real. 

    Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, the three closest swing states that determined the election, by just 67,000 votes total. Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Stein received more than half a million votes among those three states. 

    In 2020, Biden won narrowly when there were no major third-party options. That year, the third-party candidates didn’t garner a significant amount of the vote.

    Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans worry that third parties will take potential Biden voters. Those voters could be critical, as Biden pulled disaffected Trump voters for his narrow victory in 2020.

    “In 2020, if you were a Republican who refused to support Trump, you didn’t have another choice,” said Marc Short, top adviser to former vice president Mike Pence


    Kennedy’s national polling is sitting in the mid-teens, extraordinarily high for a third-party candidate. He entered the Democratic primary but switched to run as an independent in the general election. He has also toyed with running on the Libertarian party ticket.

    Political observers say he’s polling high now because voters know the Kennedy name but know little about him, including his anti-vaccine platform and embrace of conspiracy theories.

    On the surface, it might seem like Kennedy would take votes from Trump, but Democrats fret that he’ll eventually also hurt Biden. One top donor to Kennedy’s super PAC, Timothy Mellon, who has given at least $20 million per FEC filings, is also a major Trump donor.

    As the New York Times wrote after holding a focus group with disaffected Trump voters, “the Kennedy factor in this election should be taken pretty seriously in the swing states where he’s likely to make the ballot this fall.”


    What we're watching


    U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon will hold a hearing today on two motions to dismiss the classified documents case against Trump. Here’s what you need to know: 

    The Presidential Records Act: One of the dismissal motions centers on the Presidential Records Act, which says presidential and vice-presidential records — including classified documents — “belong to the public and are to be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration at the end of a presidency,” our colleague Perry Stein reports.

    • Trump’s argument: “Trump’s lawyers argued in a 17-page filing last month that as president, he had ‘virtually unreviewable’ authority to designate presidential records as personal ones. They said the National Archives has authority over only presidential records — not personal ones — and therefore had no right to demand that he return the materials. Trump’s legal team also argues that the responsibility to recover presidential documents falls to the Archives, as a civil matter, and that the records agency should not have referred the matter to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution.”

    The Espionage Act: In the second dismissal motion, Trump’s lawyers argue that the section of the Espionage Act he is accused of violating — which prohibits the willful retention of national defense information by someone not authorized to have it — “is unconstitutionally vague as applied to President Trump,” Perry reports. 

    • Trump’s argument: “Trump is essentially saying that as president, he was the person who had ultimate authority to determine what is classified. He therefore cannot be considered someone who is unauthorized to view these materials, according to his dismissal motion. Trump’s lawyers also appear to argue that the term ‘national defense information’ is broad and that Congress has provided no guidance to conclusively determine what it includes.”

    Special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution team has rejected Trump’s PRA and Espionage Act arguments as “plain wrong.”


    From the courts


    Race is an ever present source of tension in Trump Georgia case

    Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) at her office in Atlanta in 2022. (David Walter Banks/The Washington Post)

    Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) at her office in Atlanta in 2022. (David Walter Banks/The Washington Post)

    Our colleague Amy Gardner examines the ways in which race has affected Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani T. Willis’s (D) election interference case against Trump and his allies, as well as the effort to disqualify her from the case over her romantic relationship with prosecutor Nathan Wade and to dismiss all charges. 

    “It’s hard to argue that race hasn’t infused the controversy,” Amy writes. “Race has repeatedly popped up in testimony, court filings and even email exchanges between Willis’s team and the defense lawyers for Trump and his co-defendants.”

    Here’s an excerpt: 

    “Within weeks after Willis took office in January 2021, she came under harsh criticism for her prosecution decisions — and the threats against her began,” Amy writes. “At first, they were mostly tied to her prosecution of rapper Young Thug, who is on trial for alleged gang activity in the Atlanta area. Then Willis launched an investigation of Trump’s attempts to try to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia, leading to felony charges in August against Trump and 18 of his allies.”

    “She has had her home address published and has had false 911 calls made to her home. Her voice mail inbox has become a steady stream of hate-filled messages, with some callers wishing for her death, telling her to watch her back or threatening to target her family. Some used racist slurs such as calling her a ‘monkey’ and the n-word. Willis moved out of her South Fulton home, stopped going to the grocery store and now travels with a security detail of at least four officers, who often vary her route to the courthouse, she has said.”

    • “One Alabama man, Arthur Ray Hanson IIfaces federal felony charges stemming from threatening voice mails he left for Willis as well as Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat. Hanson referred to Willis as a ‘big fat black a--.’ One lawyer for Hanson, Timothy Mays of Duluth, Ga., suggested that Hanson did not address Willis in the first person and therefore did not commit a crime — but the transcript of his voice mail suggests otherwise.”
    • “Any time you’re alone, be looking over your shoulder, because I’ve been informed that there’s people that are going to want to f--- you up,” he told Willis on the recording. “Not just you but your whole entire f---ing piece of s--- family. So all of you sorry a-- coons that are coming after Trump because you’ve got this power — watch your back.”

    “Then in early January, Trump co-defendant Mike Roman filed a motion accusing Willis of hiring Wade in November 2021 while in a romance with him, and then profiting from the hire by allowing him to take her on ‘lavish’ international trips,” Amy writes. “In the weeks that followed, the racist messages to Willis — some of them anonymous and difficult to trace — ramped up significantly in volume and tone, according to a sampling of them obtained by The Washington Post.”

    • “Willis received an email with her picture in it and the words, ‘You god damn N-----.’ Another email shows her face imposed on a gallows. Another note, this one handwritten, says, ‘What? Some crackers have been b------’ about you putting that black buck of yours on the payroll? What’s their business? Don’t they now that’s the way n------ function?’ The note ends with the phrase, ‘SLAVERY FOREVER.’”

    “Now, the probing of Willis’s private life has unleashed a new round of bigoted attacks perpetuating ugly sexual stereotypes about Black men and women,” Amy writes.

    • “A few weeks after Roman’s filing, a woman showed up at a Fulton County Board of Commissioners meeting with a prop — a foot-long hot dog labeled ‘Nathan’s.’ ‘Nothing comes between me and my Nathan’s hot dog,’ the woman said during the public comments portion of the meeting. ‘Come on up in here now, my dark and lovely lunch.’”
    Billionaires hate this one weird trick: taxing them.
    In 2023, the world’s billionaires were worth a collective $12.7 trillion dollars. For a sense of scale, that’s a value roughly half of the 2023 US GDP, which was $23.4 trillion. As Oxfam reports, from 2020 to 2022, the planet’s top 1 percenters took in nearly twice as much wealth as the rest of the world combined. The organization also found that the average billionaire manages to pay a lower tax rate than the workers from whom they derive their wealth.

    The wealth of the ultrarich contrasts sharply with people worldwide struggling to make ends meet. People are grappling with declining purchasing power and general immiseration, pushing them to the brink. This is evident in the United States and Canada, where housing crises and high staple prices have made day-to-day survival an uphill battle. Interest rates remain high, and the threat of a recession hangs over the heads of workers.
    Read more

    Rising anxiety in Warsaw


    The U.S. is on the verge of selling Poland nearly $4 billion in missiles. That includes 821 AGM-158B-2 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles with Extended Range (at $1.77 billion); 745 AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles ($1.69 billion); and 232 AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II Tactical Missiles ($219 million), the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced this week.


    Poland already has each of those missiles in its inventory. “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a NATO ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Europe,” DSCA said in its Tuesday announcement. U.S. lawmakers could still oppose the sales, but that seems highly unlikely. 


    The U.S. also wants to sell Warsaw 96 AH-64 Apache helicopters, the White House said after Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited Washington Tuesday. “This is a major step to provide Poland’s armed forces with cutting-edge capability to defend itself, strengthen NATO interoperability, and further bolster the U.S. defense industry,” administration officials said in their post-meeting readout.


    Bigger picture: Poland is a NATO and European Union leader when it comes to defense spending by GDP. And the country has significantly raised its commitment over the past two years, as Defense One’s Sam Skove reported during a trip to eastern Europe in September. Indeed, shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion, Warsaw said it aims to double the Polish Army’s size to 300,000 soldiers over five years. And the Polish government vowed in 2023 to raise its defense budget to four percent of gross domestic product, which is more than double NATO’s two-percent target. 


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    Global Defense Spending Insights in 2024

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    Prime Minister Tusk had a message Tuesday for Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, who has refused to take up bipartisan legislation passed in the Senate that would send another $60 billion in military aid to Ukraine. The House last passed a supplemental funding bill for Ukraine in December 2022.


    “This is not some political skirmish that [only] matters on the American political scene,” Tusk told reporters in Washington. “Mr Johnson's failure to make a positive decision will cost thousands of lives,” he said, and added, “He takes personal responsibility for that.”


    Johnson “must be aware,” said Tusk, that “the fate of millions of people depends on his individual decisions. And thousands of lives in Ukraine today and tomorrow depend on his decisions.” 


    Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski also pleaded with Johnson to authorize a vote on the supplemental aid bill during an event Tuesday morning in Washington. Russia “persecutes religious minorities, including Baptists” in occupied Ukraine, Sikorski said.

    Related reading: 


    Weapons for Ukraine

    The U.S. will soon send an emergency aid package worth $300 million in missiles, rockets, artillery rounds and more to Ukraine after officials said that they’d recently found “unanticipated cost savings in contracts that DOD negotiated to replace equipment we've already sent to Ukraine,” according to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaking to reporters at the White House Tuesday.


    “When we sent Ukraine weapons last year,” said Sullivan, “we budgeted the full amount of appropriated funds for those contracts. It turns out we negotiated well. Those contracts came in under budget. So we have a modest amount of funding available,” he explained. 


    For example, when it comes to 25mm ammunition, “We estimated initially a unit cost of $130 each, but we ended up getting a better price of $93 to help us as we negotiated the contract with the vendor,” a senior defense official told reporters Tuesday. “We did something very similar with joint light tactical vehicles,” and with humvees, he said. 


    “This is a bit of a unique occurrence, not that we've not had savings before,” said another defense official. “About six percent of all the funds appropriated have been returned and reused so far,” he added. 


    “We certainly can't count on this as a way of doing business,” the defense official said, “so we do need the House to act, [or rather] the House to be allowed to act and allowed to vote on the supplemental to send authority approved.”


    Sullivan also urged House lawmakers to pass the supplemental aid bill that advanced in the upper chamber one month ago since he didn’t anticipate these sort of cost savings arising again anytime soon. 


    “We cannot provide ongoing assistance to Ukraine without significantly impacting our military readiness, absent congressional action,” Sullivan said. “That remains the case despite this modest amount of cost savings that we are putting to use on an urgent basis. Congress must act,” said Sullivan.  


    In terms of when, “Ukraine has processes in place to ensure that this aid can be delivered as quickly as possible,” said Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder on Tuesday. “So it's going to be fast,” he said, without elaborating. 


    How long is this new package estimated to last? “Weeks. Maybe even just a couple of weeks,” said Sullivan. “It’s not going to be for a long time. And that’s why we so urgently need them to act on the supplemental” aid package.


    For what it’s worth: “This funding does not appear to be part of the reported $4 billion in presidential drawdown authority fund still available for Ukraine,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War noted Tuesday evening. That materiel would come from U.S. stocks. 


    Battlefield latest: “Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on March 12,” ISW wrote in its latest assessment. And Russian officials are moving ahead with several “industrial projects in occupied Ukraine,” apparently including at the Avdiivka Coke Plant, similar to Russians are doing at the Azovstal Metallurgical Plant in occupied Mariupol. 


    Whack-a-drone on the Red Sea, continued

    The U.S. military and allies in the Red Sea destroyed two aerial drones likely launched by the Houthis in Yemen on Tuesday. The drones appeared to threaten commercial and military ships in the region, U.S. officials announced after the shootdowns. 


    The Houthis tried to attack another U.S. Navy ship (USS Laboon) in the Red Sea using a close-range ballistic missile in the early morning hours Tuesday. “The missile did not impact the vessel and there were no injuries or damage reported,” officials at Central Command said. 


    The Houthis also tried to attack a merchant vessel in the Red Sea on Monday, but their two anti-ship ballistic missiles “did not impact the vessel and there were no injuries or damage reported,” CENTCOM said in a separate announcement. 


    Later that afternoon, U.S. forces “conducted six self-defense strikes destroying an unmanned underwater vessel and 18 anti-ship missiles in Houthi controlled areas of Yemen,” according to CENTCOM. “These weapons presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the region,” said CENTCOM. 


    Around the services

    Orbital “service stations”? The Space Force is launching an effort to develop technology to refuel and maintain satellites, the service’s top officer said in a Monday interview. “We're investing in demonstrations and capabilities to start to explore what you would need on orbit to be able to service and maintain satellites. This gives us some opportunities to explore dynamic maneuvering [and] maneuver without regret. These are things that will make our satellites harder to target, more defensible,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman said as part of Defense One’s State of Defense series. Audrey Decker has this report.


    F-35 gets thumbs-up for full production, years late. The program had been stuck in its operational testing phase since 2018, even as Lockheed Martin has been turning out the jets at its maximum capacity of 156 jets per year. Decker has the story, here.


    Opinion: Congress should block the Navy’s plan to put another two years between its new carriers. “Monday’s FY25 budget rollout revealed that the Navy plans to delay procurement of the next aircraft carrier—CVN 82—by at least two years, from 2028 to beyond the new five-year plan that ends in FY 2029,” writes Bryan McGrath. This will stress the industrial base and likely reduce the carrier fleet below the current 11, he argues, here.

    March 13, 2024 HEATHER COX RICHARDSON MAR 14 READ IN APP After yesterday’s primary contests, we appear headed toward a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024. But this year’s election is an entirely different kettle of fish than that of 2020. In 2020 there were plenty of red flags around Trump’s plans for a second term, but it was not until after it was clear he had lost the election that he gave up all pretense of normal presidential behavior. Beginning the night of the election, he tried to overturn that election and to install himself as president, ignoring the will of the voters, who had chosen Joe Biden. His attack on the fundamental principle of democracy ended the tradition of the peaceful transfer of power established in 1797 when our first president, George Washington, deliberately walked behind his successor, John Adams, after Adams was sworn into office. Trump then refused to step aside for his successor as all of his predecessors had done, and has continued to push the Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. His loyalists in the states have embraced that lie, undermining faith in our electoral system, although they have never produced any evidence for their claims of voter fraud. (Remember the Cyber Ninjas who handled the election “audit” in Arizona? The company went out of business in 2022.) Then, a year after he left office, news broke that Trump had compromised the country’s national security by retaining highly classified documents and storing them in unsecured boxes at Mar-a-Lago. When the federal government tried to recover them, he hid them from officials. In June 2023 a grand jury in Miami indicted Trump on 37 felony counts related to that theft. Trump is not the same as he was in 2020, and in the past three years he has transformed the Republican Party into a vehicle for Christian nationalism. In 2016 the Republican Party was still dominated by leaders who promoted supply-side economics. They were determined to use the government to cut taxes and regulations to concentrate money and power among a few individuals, who would, theoretically, use that money and power to invest in the economy far more efficiently than they could if the government intervened. Before 2016 that Reaganesque party had stayed in office thanks to the votes of a base interested in advancing patriarchal, racist, and religious values. But Trump flipped the power structure in the party, giving control to the reactionary base. In the years since 2020, the Republican Party has become openly opposed to democracy, embracing the Christian nationalism of leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who maintains that the tenets of democracy weaken a nation by giving immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and women the same rights as heterosexual, native-born white men. Rather than calling for a small federal government that stays out of the way of market forces, as Republicans have advocated since 1980, the new Trump Party calls for a strong government that enforces religious rules and bans abortion; books; diversity, equity, and inclusion programs; and so on. In 2022, thanks to the three extremists Trump put on the Supreme Court, the government ceased to recognize a constitutional right that Americans had enjoyed since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision: the right to abortion. Last week, Trump formally took over the apparatus of the Republican Party, installing loyalists—including his daughter-in-law—at the head of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and purging the organization of all but his own people. Indicating its priorities, the RNC has hired Trump lawyer Christina Bobb, former correspondent at the right-wing media outlet One American News Network and promoter of the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, as senior counsel for election integrity. In Congress, far-right Trump supporters are paralyzing the House of Representatives. The Republicans took power after the midterm elections of 2022 and have run one of the least effective congresses in history. Far-right members have refused to agree to anything that didn’t meet their extremist positions, while first Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and then Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) refused to reach out to Democrats to pass legislation except for must-pass laws like appropriations, when Democrats provide the majority of the votes that keep the government functioning. The result has been a Congress that can get virtually nothing done and instead has focused on investigations of administration officials—including the president—which have failed spectacularly. Republican members who actually want to pass laws are either leaving or declining to run for reelection. The conference has become so toxic that fewer than 100 members agreed to attend their annual retreat that began today. "I'd rather sit down with Hannibal Lecter and eat my own liver," a Republican member of Congress told Juliegrace Brufke of Axios. Meanwhile, Trump has promised that if he returns to office, he will purge the nonpartisan civil service we have had since 1883, replacing career employees with his own loyalists. He has called for weaponizing the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense, and his advisors say he will round up and put into camps 10 million people currently living in the U.S., not just undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers but also those with birthright citizenship, tossing away a right that has been enshrined in the Constitution since 1868. Internationally, he has aligned with dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and has threatened to abandon the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a security pact that has protected the U.S. and like-minded nations since 1949. If Trump has descended into authoritarianism since 2020, Biden has also changed. For all his many decades of public service, it was unclear in 2020 what he could actually accomplish as president, especially since Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had weaponized the filibuster to stop Congress from passing anything on the Democrats’ wish list. But on January 5, 2021, in a special election, Georgia voters elected Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, and the Democrats took control of the Senate as well as of the House. In Biden’s first two years—with the help of then–House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who managed a squeaky-small House majority—Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the Democratic majority, and on occasion, a few Republicans set out to demonstrate that the government could work for ordinary Americans. They passed a series of laws that rivaled President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan rebuilt the economy after the worst of the coronavirus pandemic; the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act) is rebuilding the nation’s roads and bridges; the $280 billion Chips and Science Act invests in semiconductor manufacture and scientific research; the $739 billion Inflation Reduction Act enables the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and invests in programs to combat climate change. Projects funded by these measures are so popular that Republicans who voted against them are trying to claim credit. Biden, Harris, and the Democrats have diversified the government service, defended abortion rights, reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, relieved debt by enforcing the terms of student loans, passed a gun safety law, and reinforced NATO. They set out to overturn supply-side economics, restoring the system on which the nation had been based between 1933 and 1981, in which the government regulated business, maintained a basic social safety net, promoted infrastructure, and protected civil rights. The result was the strongest economic recovery from the pandemic of any country in the world. “Now, the general election truly begins, and the contrast could not be clearer,” Harris wrote after Biden secured the nomination. “Donald Trump is a threat to our democracy and our fundamental freedoms. He is proud of his role in overturning Roe, and has talked openly about plans for a nationwide abortion ban. He routinely praises authoritarian leaders and has himself vowed to be a dictator on Day One. Just this week, he said that cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be on the table if he receives a second term. Each of these stances ought to be considered disqualifying by itself; taken together, they reveal the former President to be an existential danger to our country. “With his State of the Union speech last week, President Biden passionately presented our alternative vision. We will reduce costs for families, make housing more affordable, and raise the minimum wage. We will restore Roe, protect voting rights, and finally address our gun violence epidemic. The American people overwhelmingly support this agenda over Donald Trump’s extreme ideas, and that will propel our campaign in the months ahead.” It appears that Biden and Trump will square off again in 2024 as they did in 2020, but the election is not a replay of four years ago. Both candidates are now known quantities, and they have clearly laid out very different plans for America’s future.

    #############After Five Months of War#############################Rabbi Stephen Wise


    © UNRWA

    We do not know what the end of the Israel-Hamas conflict will look like. Netanyahu remains committed to the full destruction of Hamas (however unlikely that may be.) Washington wants a reformed Palestinian Authority in charge (however unlikely that may be.) One idea floating in the ether is to deploy a multinational peacekeeping force (however unlikely that may be.) Meanwhile, some extremist elements in Israeli politics want to simply take the land as a spoil of war.

    But even as the so-called “day after” is unclear, one thing is becoming apparent: it will not include UNRWA, the 75-year-old UN agency tasked with supporting the health and welfare of Palestinians.

    In January, the Biden administration suspended funding for UNRWA following Israeli allegations that 12 (out of 13,000) staff took part in the October 7 attack. It now appears more likely than not that this temporary “pause” may last indefinitely. On Tuesday, the State Department suggested as much. “We have to plan for the fact that Congress may make that pause permanent,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters.

    This would represent a major shift in US policy and politics around UNRWA.

    In my nearly twenty years of covering the United Nations, UNRWA has always been at least mildly politically controversial in the United States. But UNRWA has nonetheless generally received support from both Democrats and Republicans. It was seen as a necessity. In Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Syria, the agency provided humanitarian relief and social services, like schools and hospitals, where the state was too weak or ill-equipped to do so itself. Supporting UNRWA was considered an investment in stability in an otherwise volatile region. After Hamas took control in Gaza in 2005, UNRWA was seen as an alternative to a terrorist group. Better to have the secular UNRWA run schools than the Islamist Hamas, or so the thinking went.

    To be sure, UNRWA sometimes incited controversy in US political circles. But by and large, there was a bipartisan consensus that funding UNRWA was a better bet than the alternative.

    That consensus began to unravel in the Trump years — specifically, during Nikki Haley’s tenure as US Ambassador to the United Nations...

    As Israel launches a propaganda campaign against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), millions of Palestinians continue to rely on the agency’s critical support when it comes to healthcare, education, and food.

    In this latest DEBUNKED!, we refute the top 7 Israeli lies about UNRWA.

    March 15, 2024

    Darren Bailey, who ran for governor of Illinois in 2022 and lost by nearly 13 points, is challenging Representative Mike Bost for the House seat he has held for 10 years. Rachel Mummey for The New York Times

    The House races that tell a bigger story

    Author Headshot

    By Jonathan Weisman

    Congressional Correspondent, Washington

    Reliably Democratic Illinois is nobody’s idea of a swing state.

    But three heated House primaries in the Land of Lincoln next week illustrate the broader vulnerabilities of both major political parties going into the general election: age, extremism and immigration. In today’s newsletter, I’m going to tell you about some fascinating primary races that will shed light on some broader trends in U.S. politics.

    Let’s start with Illinois’s 12th Congressional District, in the southern part of the state. Mike Bost, a Republican and Marine Corps veteran, was first elected to the House in 2014. Democrats tried to tar him as “Meltdown Mike,” highlighting his angry outbursts in the State Legislature and warning, “He’d make Washington worse.”

    Well, those were simpler times. A decade later, Bost is what passes for an establishment Republican. He is the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and sits on the committees on agriculture and transportation, from which he can steer money and projects to the largely rural district that stretches across the bottom third of the state.

    His primary opponent, Darren Bailey, is proving that in the era of Donald J. Trump, there may be no limits to the G.O.P.’s rightward drift. Bailey, as you might recall, was the ardent, pro-Trump Republican whom Illinois’s Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, spent big money to elevate in the Republican primary for governor in 2022, figuring he’d be easy to beat — which he was. Pritzker won by nearly 13 percentage points.

    Bailey is calling Bost “Amnesty Mike,” an insufficient apostle of Trump’s “America First” agenda. But Bost has Trump’s endorsement. And to make matters even more interesting, Bailey has been endorsed by Matt Gaetz, a high-profile Trump ally and firebrand, who has had heated run-ins with Bost. It’s all enough to spin heads.

    Don’t say ‘age’

    Democrats have their own issues that are captured in races in their stronghold of greater Chicago. Let’s start with age: Danny Davis has represented a swath of Chicagoland stretching from Lake Michigan to the western suburbs for nearly 28 years, and at 82, he’s determined to stay in Washington.

    Chicago’s treasurer, Melissa Conyears-Ervin, and a youthful community organizer, Kina Collins, would like to send him to a well-deserved retirement on Tuesday.

    But to the Democratic establishment, “age” is a word not spoken aloud, not with President Biden in the White House. Davis is a year older than the president, and the Democratic elite, including Pritzker, have rallied around him once again. The governor cited Davis’s “steadfast commitment to serving the people of Illinois with integrity, compassion and dedication.”

    In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, even Conyears-Ervin took pains not to question Davis’s age. “It’s the energy, it’s the vision, it’s the relevance,” she said.

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