Israel

The Netanyahu Paradox: How Obama is Using Bibi’s Arrogance to Box in the Right and Promote Peace

That moment when you learn the hard way not to mess with Barack Obama | Attribution: none

I ran across this site and decided to post an article written two days ago…

The People’s View 

“Informed Citizenry: Progressive analysis, Commentary and Rants”

TPV doesn’t aim to be a “tomorrow’s news today” kind of a site. Instead, our goal is to help you understand the news in depth. That in-depth exploration, however, does become an ahead-of-time understanding of news events  sometimes.

The breaking of [March 24th’s] story of Israeli espionage against US officials in the confidential Iran negotiations is such a moment.

While it is in and of itself newsworthy that Netanyahu’s government crossed a line by disseminating it to members of Congress and while it is particularly troubling that those members of Congress participated in espionage against our own country by not immediately notifying the White House about Netanyahu’s attempt to circumvent the diplomatic process, the one element of the story that seems to be falling by the wayside is something we highlighted three weeks ago: Barack Obama is closer than any leader has ever been to striking an international pact to peacefully put nuclear weapons out of Iran’s reach.

Three weeks ago, I had to rely on the dumbness of the GOP’s move and Netanyahu’s repeated appeals to “world powers” in his speech in front of the US Congress – World powers, I pointed out then, with whom President Obama had earned enormous capital by proving that his hard work on behalf of peace wasn’t mere lip service and by already having the disarmament of a middle eastern rogue power (Syria) under his belt.

The Wall Street Journal, breaking the spying story, describes that desperation:

“Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer early this year saw a rapidly closing window to increase pressure on Mr. Obama before a key deadline at the end of March, Israeli officials said.”

They decided to do so, WSJ goes on to say, by channeling to members of Congress confidential information the Israelis had learned in an attempt to derail the President’s plans. Little did they know that US counterintelligence had in short order discovered the Israeli spying however, and Netanyahu’s belligerence received blowback when the espionage turned off pro-Israel Democrats Netanyahu had counted on to scuttle the President’s plans.

But it didn’t stop at ticking off Democratic members. Netanyahu’s petulance and the following fallout not only backfired, it has angered officials who aren’t necessarily political appointees, and thus whose times of service aren’t always linked to the length of their presidents’ administrations.

““People feel personally sold out,” a senior administration official said. “That’s where the Israelis really better be careful because a lot of these people will not only be around for this administration but possibly the next one as well.””

On the other end, Netanyahu’s screw-ups – including an election-eve assertion he has now been forced to backpedal on – has enabled the White House to make a point too many American administrations have been afraid to due to fear of the We-gotta-be-more-pro-Israel-than-Israel lobby. This weekend, in a speech to J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization, the President’s Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough made the case for and end to occupation (which Netanyahu said he would expand) and the establishment of a free Palestinian state as not only the best option for Israel’s long term security but the only way for Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic.

McDonough’s speech, though making the usual rounds among the right wing echo chamber, has done what right wing dogmatism hasn’t allowed in decades: established the United States as both pro-Israel and pro-peace. McDonough was even backed up at J Street by the George Bush Sr’s Secretary of State Jim Baker (before that Reagan’s Secretary of Treasury), who lit into Netanyahu in his own speech.

Frankly, Netanyahu has done so much to draw attention to himself that even some conservatives are finding it difficult to defend his rhetoric and actions. By making himself the cause celeb, Netanyahu has put the American right wing in the uncomfortable position of having to reject the longstanding, bipartisan goal of a two-state solution and defending expanded settlements and now, spying on the United States, all at the behest of a foreigner.

The Right’s open contempt for peace and Netanyahu’s open defiance of the United States may well have had a big part in creating the atmosphere in which the White House Chief of Staff can articulate in clearest of terms that indefinite occupation and settlement does not have the backing of the United States, and that Benjamin Netanyahu is part of the problem against a peaceful resolution in the Middle East, without allowing the press to instantly brand this longstanding American position as anti-Israel. It is better understood than ever that the President is merely dropping support of a petulant, arrogant foreign leader, not his proven commitment to the security of the state of Israel.

Let’s recount. Netanyahu’s attempt to derail the Iran negotiations – from spying and secretly talking to members of Congress to the belligerent electioneering on the floor of the US Congress – not only failed but backfired, reiterating to our allies as well as to Iran that the window to make a deal is now. Bibi’s rhetoric following that has now resulted in what is a well-earned rebuke from the White House and loss of support on the Right. Not for Israel, but for Bibi.

Netanyahu may have won an election, but he seems to have lost a tremendous amount of ground on the global stage and within the US.

Barack Obama has generally taken a simple but deadly effective approach to neutralizing Right wing belligerence. Hand them enough rope, wait for them to screw up, then move in at lightening speed. He said it a long time ago, even before he was president, that he would work with anyone, but if you come at him with an attack posture, he will knock you out.

Now he has used that tactic with the precision of a neurosurgeon against Bibi’s follies, and at the same time, tied and hung Netanyahu like a sinking rock around the American far Right’s neck, all the while continuing to advance his global leadership. The GOP is back in a box: if they now back Netanyahu, they are committing sedition by backing a foreign leader who not only spied on the US but passed that info to unauthorized individuals, and if they don’t, their base is going to call them a n____ lover. Welcome to the Netanyahu Paradox.

Well done, Mr. President.

NOTE: Please please please understand that this article’s comments section is not an invitation to jump into the “Israel good, Palestine bad” or vice versa kind of a discussion. Rather, it is meant to be an introspection on American leadership and moving the peace process (both between Israel and Palestine and the current negotiations with Iran), and exactly who’s getting in the way (Netanyahu, the American Right wing).  As such, please keep your comments on that topic. I know passions run high on both sides, but since that cat has already been skinned every way possible, let’s be forward looking to the solutions. ~  (Author of this article)

(Original article dated 3-24-15)

 

10 things you need to know today: March 24, 2015

(AP Photo/dpa, Jan-Arwed Richter)

The Week

1.Israel spied on U.S.-Iran nuclear talks
Israel spied on negotiations between the U.S. and Iran on curbing Tehran’s controversial nuclear program, then shared what it learned with U.S. lawmakers to fuel opposition to any deal, The Wall Street Journal reported. The snooping was not out of the ordinary — U.S. intelligence agencies discovered it while spying on Israel — but a U.S. official said Israel went too far by sharing the information with U.S. lawmakers “to undermine U.S. diplomacy.” Israel denied spying directly on U.S. negotiators.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, USA Today

2.German budget airliner crashes in France with 148 people on board
A Germanwings airliner crashed in southern France on Tuesday with 148 people on board. “The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors,” French President Francois Hollande said. The Airbus jet, operated by Lufthansa’s budget airline unit, was traveling from Barcelona to Dusseldorf when it went down in rugged terrain in the foothills of the French Alps, about 65 miles north of the French Riviera city of Nice.

Source: Reuters

3.Police find no evidence supporting Rolling Stone rape account
Charlottesville, Virginia, police said Monday that they had found no “substantive” evidence of a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house described in a November article in Rolling Stone. A female student identified in the story as “Jackie” told the magazine that she had been assaulted in September 2012 at the Phi Kappa Psi house. Phi Psi leaders said they enforce a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault. They said the “false accusations” had damaged their organization and they were considering their “legal options.”

Source: CNN, The Washington Post

4.Ted Cruz kicks off presidential campaign with “imagine” speech at Liberty University
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Monday announced his 2016 presidential bid with a speech at Liberty University in which he asked voters to “imagine” a more prosperous America free of ObamaCare and the IRS. “It is a time for truth,” he said. “It is a time for liberty. It is a time to reclaim the Constitution.” Cruz cast himself as the religious “courageous conservative” candidate, proclaiming that rights “don’t come from man, they come from God Almighty.” Though other prospective candidates have formed exploratory committees in preparation for 2016 bids, Cruz is the first major candidate to join the race.

Source: Politico

5.U.S. vows to fund Afghan security forces at peak levels into 2017
The Obama administration on Monday promised Afghanistan’s leaders enough money to keep Afghan security forces at 352,000 personnel until at least 2017. That peak level is considered crucial to helping Afghan forces provide stability as foreign soldiers leave the country. The announcement came as Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, heads into talks with President Obama. Ghani is expected to ask Obama at the White House Tuesday to leave 10,000 troops longer than planned. Obama is expected to agree.

Source: Reuters, The New York Times

6.Utah governor signs law bringing back firing squads
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed a law Monday that will allow firing squads to carry out executions if lethal injection drugs are not available. Herbert said the method is “a little bit gruesome,” but allows the state to have a Plan B when it comes to executions. The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield, who said firing squads are a more humane form of execution. Critics believe it is too brutal and puts Utah in a bad light.

Source: The Associated Press

7.Netanyahu apologizes for warning of Arab voter turnout
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized Monday for his last-minute warning that Arab voters were “being bused to the polling stations in droves” ahead of last week’s parliamentary election. Netanyahu’s party was trailing ahead of the vote but won after he appealed to hardliners by saying there would be no Palestinian state as long as he remained in office. Netanyahu said his comments on Arab turnout had offended many Israelis. “This was never my intent,” he said. “I apologize for this.”

Source: Times of Israel, CBS News

8.Judge refuses to release Durst
A New Orleans judge called millionaire accused killer Robert Durst dangerous and a flight risk on Monday, and refused a request by defense lawyers for his release on bail. Durst, heir to a New York real estate fortune, is accused in the shooting death of family friend Susan Berman in Los Angeles 15 years ago, days before she was to talk to investigators about the disappearance of Durst’s first wife. Durst was arrested on March 14, hours before the airing of an HBO documentary episode in which he appeared to admit to killing Berman, his wife, and another person.

Source: Bloomberg

9. Former football star Darren Sharper sentenced for rapes
Former NFL star Darren Sharper pleaded no contest to sexual assault charges in Arizona and Los Angeles on Monday. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but his lawyer said he will serve about nine years behind bars. Sharper, 39, faced nine charges that he drugged and raped women in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Tempe, Arizona. He also is expected to plead guilty to the charges in Las Vegas and New Orleans, and serve sentences for all of the crimes concurrently.

Source: USA Today

10.Angelina Jolie reveals she had her ovaries removed to prevent cancer
Angelina Jolie said in an opinion article published Tuesday in The New York Times that she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to prevent cancer. The surgery last week came two years after the actress underwent a preventative double mastectomy. A blood test had found that Jolie, who lost her mother, grandmother, and an aunt to cancer, had a gene mutation giving her an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. “I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer.'” Jolie wrote.

GOP Hero: Where Bibi Leads, the GOP Will Follow

Nir Elias/Reuters

The Daily Beast

A day before his apparent victory in Israel, the prime minister rejected a two-state solution. Now expect Republicans to follow him—destroying a rare point of unity with Democrats.

Yes, it looks like Bibi Netanyahu has a better shot than Bougie Herzog does of forming the next government. There are many moving parts here, so it’s not completely set in stone. But the clear consensus by 5 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, an hour after the polls closed, was that Netanyahu and Likud have a clearer path to 61 seats than Herzog and the Zionist Union party do.

I’ll leave it to others who know the intricacies of Israeli politics better than I to parse all that. But let’s talk about the impact of a possible Netanyahu victory on our politics here in the United States. The answer is appallingly simple, I think: Though we won’t see this happen immediately or sensationally, it seems clear that, month by month and inch by gruesome inch, a Netanyahu win will move the Republican Party further to the right, to an unofficial (and who knows, maybe official) embrace of Netanyahu’s pivotal and tragic new position of opposition to a two-state solution.

Netanyahu declared said opposition, as you know, the day before the voting, when he stated, in a videotaped interview: “Whoever today moves to establish a Palestinian state and withdraw from territory is giving attack territory for Islamic extremists against the state of Israel. Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand.” When his questioner asked if this meant a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch, the prime minister said: “Indeed.”

Now, it’s been known in Israel and America that this was Netanyahu’s true view of things for some time. He partially gave the game away last summer during a press conference. But he never quite said it as directly as he did Monday, in the culminating event of his final, frenzied, fear-mongering campaign. Israeli leaders of the major parties have at least officially supported a two-state solution for many years. But as of Monday, opposition to a two-state solution is official Israel policy, and as long as Bibi’s the boss, it will remain so.

The United States has officially supported a two-state solution at least since George H.W. Bush was president. Presidents of both parties, and even virtually all serious presidential contenders from both parties, have been on record in favor of a two-state solution. Each president has put varying spins on what it means, and has invested more (Bill Clinton) or less (George W. Bush) elbow grease in trying to bring such a solution about. But it has been the bipartisan position in the United States for 25 years or more, and that has meant there at least was a pretense—and sometimes more than that—of a shared goal somewhere down the road between Israel and Fatah (admittedly not Hamas).

Now Netanyahu has ditched that. How will our Republicans react? Well, they love Netanyahu. As they recently demonstrated to us all, he is, in effect, their president, at least on matters relating to the Middle East and Iran. Is it so crazy to think that what Bibi says, the Republicans will soon also be saying?

Now throw Sheldon Adelson into this stewpot. There are many reasons the Republican Party as a whole has become so epileptically pro-Israel in recent years: their ardor for Bibi, the power of the lobby, the influence of the Christian Zionist movement, and more. But another one of those reasons is surely Adelson. When you’re that rich and that willing to throw multiple millions into U.S. and Israeli electoral politics (to the GOP and Likud), you become influential. Adelson is completely opposed to a Palestinian state. “To go and allow a Palestinian state is to play Russian roulette,” he said in October 2013.

There is already a history of GOP candidates making their hajjes, so to speak, out to Adelson’s Las Vegas base of operations and saying what he wants to hear. John Judis wrote about this in The New Republic a year ago. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and John Kasich trotted out to Vegas and filled Adelson’s ear with pretty music. Judis: “The presidential hopefuls made no attempt to distinguish their views on Israel and the Palestinians from Adelson’s.” Christie even apologized for having once used the phrase “occupied territories”!

So here we are today: Bibi, their hero, has said it openly, and “proved” (for the time being) that saying it pays electoral dividends; their base certainly believes it; and Adelson and his checkbook make it potentially quite a profitable thing for them to say. So watch the Republican candidates start announcing that they’re against the two-state solution. Some will be coy about it (Bush, probably). Others—Ted Cruz, and I suspect Walker, who’s already been acting like foreign policy isjust a little make-believe game anyway, an arena that exists merely for the purpose of bashing Barack Obama and pandering to the base—will likely be less coy.

If this happens, do not underestimate the enormity of the change it heralds. As of now, I am told by people who know, no Republican legislator in Washington has explicitly disavowed a two-state solution. The closest Congress has come to doing so was on a 2011 resolution offered by ex-Rep. Joe Walsh that called for congressional support for Israeli annexation of “Judea and Samaria.” Walsh got a number of co-sponsors, 27 of whom are still in office.

But that was then. Four years later, Bibi is the American right’s über-hero, and there’s every reason to think Republicans will follow where he leads. And so a rare point on which our two parties were, however notionally, united, will likely be yet another point of division—and given the intensity of feeling here, bitter division. Republicans will think they can increase their percentage among Jewish voters. The current polls indicate that three-quarters to four-fifths of U.S. Jews (about the percentage that votes Democratic) back a two-state solution. But if Bibi proved anything these last few days, he proved that demagoguery and lies can alter percentages. Brace yourselves.

Senate Democrats Leave Door Open To Skip Netanyahu Speech

ASSOCIATED PRESS Susan Walsh

BuzzFeed

Only one senator asked by BuzzFeed News — Sen. Ben Cardin — said he’d definitely go.

WASHINGTON — When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress in March, it is unclear whether everybody invited will actually show up.

Democrats have criticized House Speaker John Boehner for circumventing the administration when he invited Netanyahu to speak, and the White House has already said Obama will not meet with him when he’s here.

BuzzFeed News asked several Senate Democrats whether they planned on skipping the speech or not. Most said they either hadn’t thought about it or they hadn’t decided. But there were no hard answers in the negative. Only one senator definitively said he would go.

Sen. Tim Kaine, who serves on both the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees and recently traveled to Israel, said it’s “too early” to decide whether he’ll attend or not.

“It is not the norm to do this right before an election and it is being widely reported in the Israeli press as the U.S. expressing some kind of a preference,” Kaine said.

Sen. Chris Murphy expressed a similar sentiment.

“I’m sick about the fact that protocol has been violated, but you know, I’m always eager to hear what he has to say,” Sen. Chris Murphy said. “It’s not something that I have thought about one way or the other.”

A Democratic aide said their office was only informed of the scheduled date on Thursday and it was unclear if “anything’s been discussed at this point by anyone in the Senate.”

Netanyahu’s arrival will come at a tense time. He’s up for re-election in mid-March and many have said they are uncomfortable having him make a political speech to Congress so close to that vote. The U.S. is also in talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

Netanyahu is slated to address Congress on March 3.

When asked whether he’d attend, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he’d “figure that out later.”

Sen. Chris Coons, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, said, “I’ll be weighing what’s the best thing to do.”

“I remain hopeful that his address would be delayed until after their election,” the Delaware Democrat told BuzzFeed News.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein declined to comment. Sen. Ed Markey referred BuzzFeed News to his press office.

Sen. Ben Cardin, a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, was the lone senator who said he would attend no matter what.

“I’d be more than happy to meet with opposition leaders if they want to meet with us, give them opportunities, etcetera,” Cardin told BuzzFeed News. “But if the Prime Minister of Israel addresses a joint session of Congress, I would be there.”

Speaking at the Democrat retreat in Philadelphia Wednesday night, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned of the effects a visit from Netanyahu could have on the Iran talks.

“In terms of invitations to speak to Congress — the Prime Minister has spoken two times. The only person who has spoken more is Winston Churchill,” Pelosi said. “One of the times, my father was in the room; Dec. 26 — the day after Christmas — 1941, right when we were going into World War II. It’s a serious, big honor that we extend. That it should be extended two weeks before an election in a country, without collaboration among the leaders of Congress, and without collaboration with the White House, is not appropriate. It is not appropriate.”

5 things you need to know now – 1-29-2015

Al-Kassasbeh, a Jordanian pilot, was captured by ISIS last month after the fighter jet he was flying crashed in Syria. ISIS says he’s still alive, but Jordan’s foreign minister told CNN his government has asked for a proof of life, but hasn’t received it. | CNN

The Week

1.

ISIS gives Jordan until sunset Thursday for prisoner swap

In a new audio message posted Wednesday, a person purported to be ISIS hostage and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto says that if Jordan does not bring a failed suicide bomber to the Turkish border by sunset Thursday, a Jordanian fighter pilot held by the group will be executed. ISIS had previously said it would kill both Goto and the pilot, Mu’ath al-Kasaesbeh, unless Jordan releases Sajida al-Rishawi, a woman who was put in prison for her involvement in a 2005 botched suicide attack targeting a hotel in Amman. The latest message only mentions al-Kasaesbeh’s fate, and not Goto’s.

Source: NBC News

2.

Raul Castro demands U.S. return Guantanamo Bay before ties restored

On Wednesday, Cuban President Raúl Castro publicly issued some new demands before the two countries normalize bilateral relations. Among them: Ending the U.S. trade embargo, agreeing to “give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base,” and paying Cuba hundreds of millions of dollars as “just compensation to our people for the human and economic damage that they’re suffered” from the embargo. Castro’s demands, made in a speech at a Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Costa Rica, aren’t likely to be met, but the nascent U.S.-Cuba negotiations will continue.

Source: The Associated Press

3.

Hezbollah not planning to escalate skirmish, Israel says

Israel’s defense minister announced Thursday that Lebanese militant group Hezbollah isn’t planning further action against Israel after Wednesday’s attack. Hezbollah’s missile strike on an Israeli convoy in a disputed area near the Israel-Lebanon border killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven. After the attack, Israel sent helicopters and fired at least 35 artillery shells into Lebanon, according to Lebanese security officials. “We received a message that from their standpoint, the incident is over, but we are, of course, prepared for any development,” Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon said on Army Radio. The attack area was quiet Thursday, but Israeli troops remained on high alert.

Source: Reuters, The New York Times

4.

New Greek leader halts privatization plans

Greece’s new prime minister, anti-austerity leader Alexis Tsipras, on Wednesday abruptly ordered a halt to privatization plans called for under the recession-ravaged country’s international bailout. The move was a direct challenge to Greece’s European creditors, whose aid Greece needs to pay its massive public debts. Germany has warned it would not negotiate Greece’s $270 billion bailout package. The clash spooked investors, dragging down financial markets.

Source: Reuters

5.

Malaysia declares airliner’s 2014 disappearance an accident

Malaysia’s Civil Aviation Authority on Thursday formally declared the March 2014 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 an accident. Officials also said none of the 239 passengers and crew survived. The declaration cleared the way for relatives to receive compensation. No trace of the airliner, which was traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, has been found despite an international search covering 5,300 square miles in the southern Indian Ocean, where the plane was presumed to have crashed.

Source: BBC News

10 things you need to know today: January 4, 2015

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee | Darren McCollester / Getty Images

The Week

Mike Huckabee prepares for a 2016 run, the first popularly elected black senator dies, and more.
1. Mike Huckabee leaves Fox News to consider 2016 bid

Fox News host Mike Huckabee announced Saturday he would leave his TV show while weighing whether to mount another White House bid. The former Arkansas governor, who fell short to eventual nominee John McCain in 2008, said the speculation surrounding his intentions was not fair to Fox and that the “honorable thing to do at this point” was leave the network. Huckabee said he would make a final decision on a 2016 bid by late spring. [Politico]

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2. Edward Brooke, first elected black senator, dies

Edward W. Brooke, the first African-American ever elected by popular vote to serve in the U.S. Senate, died Saturday at the age of 95. A Republican, Brooke won his first Senate election in Massachusetts in 1966, and later became the first Republican senator to call for President Richard Nixon’s resignation. The only two black senators to precede Brooke, Blanche K. Bruce and Hiram R. Revels, were both elected by Mississippi’s legislature — not the people — in the 1870s. [The Boston Globe]

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3. Israel withholds Palestinian tax payment

Israel on Saturday froze about $127 million in tax payments in retaliation for Palestine applying to join the International Criminal Court. Palestine moved on Friday to join the ICC in hopes of addressing alleged Israeli war crimes. Collected by Israel on behalf of Palestine, the tax revenue makes up more than half of the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget. [The Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera]

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4. North Korea blasts U.S. over Sony hack sanctions

North Korea on Sunday struck back at the U.S. over new sanctions aimed at punishing the Hermit Kingdom for its alleged role in the massive Sony cyberattack. Imposed Friday, the sanctions target three companies and 10 government officials the U.S. claims had a hand in the hack. In response, North Korea continued to deny any involvement in the breach, instead accusing Washington of “groundlessly stirring up bad blood” and maintaining an “inveterate repugnancy and hostility” toward the Pyongyang. [BBC]

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5. Funeral to be held Sunday for slain NYPD officer

The funeral of New York Police Department officer Wenjian Liu, who was killed in the line of duty last month, will be held Sunday in Brooklyn. Thousands of police officers and politicians from around the country are expected to attend the memorial service. At a funeral last weekend for Rafael Ramos, the other officer killed in the December ambush, some members of the city’s police force turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio, highlighting lingering tension between City Hall and the NYPD. [CBS]

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6. U.N. report: 12,300 civilian deaths in Iraq last year

An estimated 12,282 civilians died last year in violence across Iraq, making it the deadliest year there since 2007, according to the United Nations. The bulk of the deaths came later in the year as ISIS gained ground in the country. “This is a very sad state of affairs,” Nickolay Mladenov, a U.N. representative for Iraq, said. [The Los Angeles Times]

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7. Boko Haram abducts dozens in Nigeria

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram last week abducted about 40 men and boys from a village in northern Nigeria. The group seized its captives on Dec. 31, but news of the abduction didn’t trickle out for a few days due to faulty communications infrastructure destroyed in previous Boko Haram attacks. [CNN]

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8. Pope Francis names 15 new cardinals

Pope Francis on Sunday named 15 new cardinals from disparate places around the globe, saying the selections were intended to “show the indelible tie with the church of Rome to churches in the world.” Francis tabbed cardinals from Myanmar, Ethiopia, and Tonga, among others. [The Associated Press]

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9. Oregon, Ohio, to change name for college football championship

The town of Oregon, Ohio, says it will temporarily change its name ahead of next week’s college football title game. The first ever College Football Playoff National Championship pits the Oregon Ducks against the Ohio State Buckeyes, which prompted two Oregon — the suburb, not the state — natives to petition the city council for a name change. Oregon City Administrator Michael Beazley told the Toledo Free Press the town had not settled on a new name yet, but that they were “going to do something” in the next few days. [Toledo Free Press, ESPN]

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10. Opry star Jimmy Dickens dead at 94

Jimmy Dickens, a Country Music Hall of Fame member known best for his decades-long presence at the Grand Ole Opry, died Friday at a hospital in Nashville after suffering a stroke. He was 94 years old. Standing at just 4-foot-11, the country music star earned the nicknames “Little Jimmy Dickens,” and, as he called himself, “Mighty Mouse in Pajamas.” [The New York Times]

Texas Christian Fundamentalist Arrested in Israel for Allegedly Planning to Blow Up Islamic Sites

Are  Christian evangelicals trying to rush the “end-times”?  One has to wonder about the motives in cases like the following:

Alternet

Further evidence that most terrorism in the United States is conducted by non-Muslims.

Although the news media typically focuses on Muslim terrorists, the truth is that most terrorism in the United States is conducted by non-Muslims. Out of Israel this week comes a case that involves our country actually exporting this terror, as American Adam Livix was arrested for allegedly plotting to blow up Muslim holy sites.

Livix is a 30-year-old evangelical from Texas who left the United States last year when he was sought for drug-related charges. He has lived in Israel since March 2013, apparently overstaying his tourist visa (his charges include being an undocumented resident).

Livix first lived in Hebron and Bethlehem, among West Bank Palestinians, claiming to be a Navy SEAL. Interestingly, Livix lived in the section of Hebron where Jewish extremists who likely killed Palestinian-American Alex Odeh once fled to. The Israeli security agency Shin Bet claimed he was asked by Palestinian activists to be part of a plot to assassinate President Obama, but that he declined that offer (it isn’t clear who exactly who approached him about this earlier alleged plot, or if it even existed beyond conjecture).

Livix later moved to Israel, and began planning terror attacks on Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. He was assisted in this endeavor by an Israeli soldier with whom he lived. His roommate slowly obtained explosives and other armaments stolen from the Israeli army and “expressed … his negative opinion of the Arab population of Israel and his wish to harm sites in Israel holy to Islam,” according to Israel’s Justice Ministry.

Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper, correspondent Ben Wedeman said Livix was “ fairly close” to pulling off the plot, having successfully staked out sites for attacks and receiving the explosives from his roommate.

H/t: DB

10 things you need to know today: December 9, 2014

Samaria Rice calls for an indictment. 

Samaria Rice calls for an indictment |(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The Week

U.S. embassy security tightened ahead of torture report, Tamir Rice’s mother calls for an indictment, and more

1. American embassies tighten security ahead of torture report
The U.S. beefed up security at embassies and military posts overseas ahead of the expected Tuesday release of a report on CIA terrorism techniques, including torture, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Pentagon placed 2,000 Marines on alert to respond to any threats in the Persian Gulf or Mediterranean. Republicans have criticized the decision by the Democratic majority on the Senate Intelligence Committee to release the report, the first public review of secret post-9/11 CIA interrogation centers overseas. [The Associated Press, NBC News]

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2. Tamir Rice’s mother calls for charges against the officer who shot him
The mother of Tamir Rice, the black 12-year-old fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer last month, on Monday called for indicting the rookie officer on criminal charges. The officer had been deemed unfit for duty by his superiors in a suburban police department before he quit, and was hired in Cleveland. He shot Tamir Rice when responding to a report that the boy was threatening people outside a rec center with a gun that turned out to be a toy. [The New York Times]

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3. Israeli lawmakers vote to dissolve parliament
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted Monday to dissolve and hold elections two years earlier than planned. The unanimous vote came a week after the ruling coalition broke up when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired two members of his cabinet who had harshly criticized some of his policies, including the budget and a proposal to formally declare Israel to be a Jewish state. Netanyahu’s Likud party is expected to win the most seats in the March vote, but he will have to get other parties to align with him to gain the majority he needs. [Voice of America]

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4. U.N. asks for $16.4 billion to handle refugee crises
United Nations aid agencies warned Monday that armed conflicts around the world created an “unprecedented” refugee crisis. The groups said it would take $16.4 billion to deal with the problem in 2015. About 70 percent of global relief needs come from war-torn South Sudan, Iraq, Central African Republic, and Syria. The World Food Program recently had to shut down a rationing program for 1.7 refugees from Syria’s civil war due to a $64-million funding shortfall. [Los Angeles Times]

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5. Six die when plane crashes into Maryland house
Six people were killed Monday when a private jet crashed into a Maryland home, igniting a fire. Three of the dead were passengers on the plane. The others were a woman who lived in the house and her two small children, identified as Marie Gemmell, 36, and her two sons, 3-year-old Cole Gemmell and Devon Gemmell, an infant. Their bodies were found together on the second floor. “She tried to save these kids,” Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger said. “She had nowhere to go.” [The Baltimore Sun]

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6. Oil prices fall to a five-year low
Oil prices dropped by more than $2 per barrel on Monday, hitting a five-year low. Brent crude fell by $2.42 to $66.62 a barrel. Oil has been declining this year due to falling demand and a glut in global supply. A Dec. 5 Morgan Stanley report predicted that oil prices could continue falling to as low as $43 per barrel in 2015. Kuwait, a member of OPEC, said prices could continue to be pushed downward for six months. [Reuters]

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7. Syria urges the U.N. to condemn Israel over airstrikes
Syria is calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Israel, accusing its neighbor of bombing areas near Damascus’ international airport and its border with Lebanon. Syria’s military and other sources say that during the country’s civil war Israel has carried out airstrikes targeting missiles believed to belong to long-time foe Hezbollah, the Lebanese Islamist militant group. Israel has not confirmed the strikes. [Reuters, The Associated Press]

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8. VH1 star Stephanie Moseley dies in apparent murder-suicide
Dancer and VH1 star Stephanie Moseley and her husband, rapper Earl Hayes, were found dead Monday in a Los Angeles apartment in what police suspect was a murder-suicide. TMZ reported that boxer Floyd Mayweather was on FaceTime with Hayes when the fighter allegedly pulled a gun and shot Moseley, then himself, in a rage because he suspected she had an affair. [US Weekly, TMZ]

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9. Curiosity uncovers evidence of ancient lake on Mars
NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered evidence that Mars had a massive, 96-mile wide lake 3.5 billion years ago. Curiosity found sedimentary rocks in what is now called Gale Crater, suggesting that the crater was once filled with water, and that Mount Sharp, a 3.5-mile high mountain within the crater, was created by sediment deposits that built up over tens of millions of years. NASA scientists said revelations about Mount Sharp could help in the search for signs of Martian life. [CNET]

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10. Actor Ken Weatherwax, The Addams Family‘s Pugsley, dies
Ken Weatherwax, the actor who portrayed Pugsley in the classic 1960s TV series The Addams Family show, has died at age 59. Weatherwax reportedly suffered a heart attack, and was found at his California home. His character was the son of Gomez and Morticia Addams, whose family of spooky oddballs appeared in 64 episodes on ABC from 1964 to 1966. Weatherwax also voiced Pugsley’s role in an animated Addams Family series in the 1970s, and played Pugsley senior in a 1977 Halloween reunion show. [BBC News]

10 things you need to know today: October 31, 2014

The Palestinian Authority said it saw Israel's closure of a holy site as a "declaration of war."

The Palestinian Authority said it saw Israel’s closure of a holy site as a “declaration of war.” (REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

The Week

Marshals capture Pennsylvania police ambush suspect, Israel reopens a key holy site, and more

1. Suspect in Pennsylvania police killing caught after 48-day search
Law enforcement officers captured Eric Frein, one of the FBI’s 10 most-wanted fugitives, in Pennsylvania on Thursday after a 48-day manhunt. Frein, a 31-year-old survivalist, is suspected of killing one Pennsylvania trooper and wounding another in a September sniper attack on a state police barracks in Blooming Grove. U.S. Marshals on routine patrol caught him inside a hangar at a small airport that had been abandoned since 1998. Authorities said Frein was armed but surrendered without a fight. [USA Today]

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2. Israel reopens holy site as tensions rise
Israel on Friday reopened the holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount, and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, but said that Muslim men under 50 would not be allowed in for Friday prayers. Israel had closed off the Jerusalem sanctuary a day earlier after Israeli security forces killed a Palestinian man suspected in the attempted assassination of Rabbi Yehuda Glick, an American-born right-wing activist calling for letting Jews pray at the site. Palestinian leaders called the closing “a declaration of war.” [BBC News, The New York Times]

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3. Ebola nurse challenges Maine quarantine rules
The dispute between nurse Kaci Hickox and Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) escalated on Thursday, after Hickox went for a bike ride in violation of the state’s Ebola quarantine. Hickox tested negative after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone for Doctors Without Borders. LePage said he would “exercise the full extent of his authority” to enforce the 21-day quarantine. Doctors Without Borders said such policies had a “chilling effect” on anti-Ebola efforts in West Africa. [New York Daily News]

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4. U.N. says more jihadists than ever are entering Iraq and Syria
A United Nations Security Council report warned that foreign Islamist extremists are entering Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale.” About 15,000 jihadists from more than 80 countries, including some that “have not previously faced challenges related to al Qaeda,” have joined ISIS and other extremist groups. The U.S. says more than 1,000 foreign fighters are entering Syria every month despite airstrikes against ISIS. [The Guardian, The Washington Post]

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5. Plane crashes at Kansas airport
Four people were killed Thursday when their small plane crashed into a building near Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport, igniting a fire. Among the dead were the pilot and two people inside the building. Four others were still unaccounted for several hours after the crash. Five people were sent to hospitals. “Firefighters engaged in a horrific fight for several minutes,” Fire Chief Ron Blackwell said. “We have the fire under control. [CNN]

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6. Judge approves Stockton’s plan to exit bankruptcy
A federal bankruptcy judge on Thursday approved a plan proposed by Stockton, California, to exit bankruptcy without cutting planned pension payments to retired city workers. Earlier this month, the judge ruled that payments to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System were fair game as the city’s debts were restructured. But CalPERS had said that if Stockton bailed out it would owe $1.6 billion, immediately, and Judge Christopher Klein said Thursday that re-doing the city’s pensions would just be too difficult. [Los Angeles Times]

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7. Former Boston mayor Thomas Menino dies
Thomas Menino, who served an unprecedented five straight terms as Boston’s mayor, died Thursday of cancer. He was 71. Menino, a Democrat, was diagnosed shortly after leaving office early this year. He was a down-to-earth politician who avoided lofty promises and focused on fixing problems. “Visionaries don’t get things done,” he once said. His approach got results — on his watch, Boston experienced a renaissance, and he left office with a rare 82 percent approval rating. [The Boston Globe]

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8. Burkina Faso president refuses to leave despite escalating protests
Burkina Faso’s government collapsed on Thursday as protesters demanding the resignation of President Blaise Compaore torched Parliament. Compaore, who has already held office for 27 years, dissolved his government but said he would not step down. He did, however, promise to open talks with the opposition. After protests across Ouagadougou, the capital, grew increasingly violent, a government spokesman said a bill extending Compaore’s term had been put on hold. [The New York Times]

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9. Poland declines to arrest director Roman Polanski over U.S. sex case
Polish authorities questioned film director Roman Polanski about U.S. charges of having sex with a minor in the 1970s, but declined a U.S. request to arrest him, a spokesman for the Polish Prosecutor General’s office said Thursday. Prosecutors decided there was no need to detain him while the U.S. tries to get him extradited. Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to having sex with a 13-year-old (he was 43) but fled before sentencing. He said he hoped Poland’s decision settled the extradition question “once and for all.” [CNN]

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10. French town takes a stand against clowns
The tiny town of Vendargues in southern France has banned clown costumes on its streets this Halloween. Mayor Pierre Dudieuzere imposed the rule after a rash of incidents across France in which people dressed as clowns scared children in the streets, and in several cases attacked passersby. The town’s website said the ban was “absolute” on Halloween, and that nobody aged 13 or older would be allowed to sport clown garb in the street through November. [The Irish Times]

Ted Cruz and the most cynical, despicable political stunt of the year

Berating a persecuted religious minority for your own political gain? Not a good look, senator.

Berating a persecuted religious minority for your own political gain? Not a good look, senator. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The following quote is not about Ted Cruz but given his hubris…it fits:

“No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.”  ~― Babara Tuchman

The Week

Aggressively supporting Israel is a political winner for conservatives. But when it comes at the expense of persecuted Christians who fear for their lives…

Since the second half of the 20th century, some of my fellow Christians have been the most persecuted religious group in the world. They still are. You probably are surprised to hear this. That’s because most of these persecuted Christians don’t live in the West. They are, as the awful phrase has it, too foreign for the right and too Christian for the left.

In recent weeks and months, however, the West has heard about the plight of at least one set of these persecuted Christians: those in the Middle East. These communities, many of which date back to the very beginning of Christianity, are now facing outright extinction. And it’s happening at the hands of ISIS, the West’s Public Enemy No. 1.

It is in this context that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) indulged in what might be the most cynical and despicable political stunt of the year, which is certainly saying a lot.

A summit was held this week in Washington, D.C., in support of Middle East Christians, and Cruz was supposed to be a keynote speaker. However, right in the second paragraph of his speech, he began exalting Israel. After a while, the assembly started to boo and heckle him. Cruz said, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you,” and left the podium.

Keep in mind that many Christians in the Middle East are ethnic Arabs who live under Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and therefore have negative feelings about Israel. Of course, there are also many Middle East Christians who are supporters of Israel (indeed, there are even Arab Christians who serve, with distinction, in the Israeli Defense Forces).

As the excellent coverage, transcript, and recording provided by The American Conservative‘s Jonathan Coppage shows, the audience in Washington applauded Cruz’s first lines of support for Israel and the Jews. The crowd turned against him only when it became clear that he was launching into a rah-rah pro-Israel stump speech that had nothing to do with what they were doing there.

Now, I am no Ted Cruz antagonist. I am a supporter of the Tea Party — it’s done, on the whole, a world of good for the Republican Party by reinvigorating it and strengthening it. I even supported Cruz’s push to shut down the government to stop ObamaCare implementation. And I am also a full-throated supporter of Israel.

But let’s be clear about what Cruz was doing in D.C.: using one of the world’s most beleaguered minorities as a prop for his own self-aggrandizement.

Why would he do this? This is speculation, but perhaps Cruz, who is a Southern Baptist and whose father is a fundamentalist Baptist preacher, was subtly pandering to a segment of fundamentalist Christians who do not believe that Middle East Christians are “real” Christians. To a serious undercurrent of American Fundamentalism, the Catholic Church is the Antichrist that has been oppressing the “true” Church for millennia, and anything that looks vaguely Catholic, with ordained priests and ornate liturgies, is equally evil. Of course, this is hokum: Middle East Christians were Christians (with their priests and liturgies and incense and icons) for 1,800 years before the Fundamentalists invented their revisionist history.

This much, however, is absolutely clear: Cruz tarred and attacked one of the most powerless and beleaguered minorities in the world, solely for personal political gain. He was speaking truth to the powerless. He was strong against the weak.

In the end, what was most striking about Cruz’s tirade was the last phrase: “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.” Cruz was literally standing in a room with his fellow Christians. In the Bible, the idea of the fellowship of Christian believers is a very important one, and to break fellowship is to put oneself outside the community. What Cruz was saying was that agreeing to his views on Israel was more important as a badge of fellowship than believing in Jesus Christ.

There are many things Christians disagree about, but surely one of the things they should agree on is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is more important than anything, and certainly more important than any political cause, as good as that cause may be.

That is Christianity. Obviously, whatever Ted Cruz believes in, it’s something different. And I hope that Christians who are registered to vote in America realize it.