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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Middle East Situation Gets Messier. Rinse and Repeat.
      •  Louisiana: Thou Shalt Post the Ten Commandments in Classrooms
      •  Trouble in Supreme Court Paradise?
      •  The Love-Hate Relationship of Donald Trump and Fox
      •  The Love-Hate Relationship of Donald Trump and the CEOs
      •  Everybody Must Get Stone

Middle East Situation Gets Messier. Rinse and Repeat.

We've been trying to get to this for several days, but it's tricky, and there's been a lot of other news. Anyhow, in the last week, the Gordian knot that is Israel got even tougher for Joe Biden to unravel (if that is possible). There have been three major storylines; we'll take them in chronological order.

First, as we wrote last week, there is a ceasefire proposal that is backed by the White House and that was endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. At various times, it was reported that Israel was on board but Hamas was not, or that Hamas was on board but Israel was not. We found both sets of reporting to be questionable, and pointed out that despite these various claims, the fighting was still underway. Clearly, someone was not on board.

Since then, a lot more information has come out, some through official channels, some through leaks. It is clear, first of all, that neither side has actually signed off on the ceasefire proposal, because the ceasefire proposal is essentially in draft form. It somewhat lays out what the first phase of what a cease fire process would look like, has some information about the second phase and has not much about the third phase. No combatant, in any war, is going to go all-in on a plan that is part-vaporware.

To take one particularly significant example, Israel wants to retain the right to resume the war in Gaza once hostages have been exchanged, assuming that a workable peace plan cannot be hammered out. Hamas is unwilling to exchange hostages unless there is a permanent cessation of hostilities. These are mutually contradictory positions. There cannot be both a contingent cessation of hostilities and a permanent cessation. It has to be one or the other. If you'd like a further discussion of how the two sides are not on the same page, and maybe not in the same book, this piece is pretty solid.

Then, if things were not messy enough, over the weekend Hamas added new demands to their list, some of which are literally impossible to accommodate. For example, the militant group says that on the first day of a ceasefire, it wants all Israeli troops withdrawn from the populated areas of Gaza. This is not something that can be done on such a short timeline. Several of the other new demands from Hamas are equally unrealistic. In response, Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed out that if one of the sides in a negotiation keeps changing their terms, including on things they have already agreed to, then they aren't really negotiating.

Moving on to the second story, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dissolved the Israeli war cabinet late Friday (U.S. time). With the resignation of Benny Gantz, the cabinet was down to two full members (Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant) along with three observers (government ministers Aryeh Deri and Gadi Eisenkot, and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer). Now it's down to zero members. Netanyahu will replace the war cabinet with a more informal six-person "kitchen cabinet" made up of people chosen by him.

On one hand, this looks like an effort to replace critics with cronies, so that the PM is less constrained. And maybe it is, although of the four members of the kitchen cabinet who are already known, three (Netanyahu, Gallant and Dermer) were also part of the war cabinet. The only new member of the team, so far, is National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi, who is a close ally of Netanyahu, but is known for being fairly moderate. Meanwhile, dissolving the war cabinet allowed Netanyahu to put an end to calls to add hard-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to the body. So while this change in approach is clearly meaningful, it's not yet clear exactly what the impact will be. It may afford Netanyahu a freer hand, but it might also allow him to keep the war from expanding.

And finally, the most recent news is, for lack of a better term, the pi**ing contest that has been going on between Netanyahu and the White House for the past few days. As readers will recall, the Biden administration chose to withhold some heavy bombs back in May. Although great care was taken to avoid pointing the finger at the Israeli government, the White House took the position that the bombs carried the risk of killing a lot of civilians, and that the U.S. was not willing to go down that road until there was a better plan for containing the damage done. Other than that, there have been no delays and, in fact, $15 billion in sales of F-15s was approved this week.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu publicly blamed Biden on Tuesday for the slow progress of the Israeli offensive in Rafah, and decreed: "It's inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel." Netanyahu is under increasing pressure internally (see above, for one example), and this allows him to shift some of the heat to Biden. It is not a coincidence that the PM's speech before Congress is coming up soon; that will give him another opportunity to say the same thing before an even bigger global audience.

The White House was not happy about Netanyahu's remarks, but there isn't too much Biden can do. He obviously has no power to shut the PM up. And he can't push back too aggressively due to domestic political concerns. The administration did cancel a planned meeting between Biden and Netanyahu at the White House. And Antony Blinken has been doing a PR blitz, telling anyone and everyone that the weapons are being supplied as normal.

In the end, the fundamental problem is this: Between Biden, Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, only Biden is under massive time pressure. He would prefer a resolution yesterday, and he would really, really prefer a resolution before oh, say, Tuesday, November 5. At the moment, Netanyahu and Sinwar are not time constrained. They both want and need a big win, and they both think that is possible. Under such circumstances, they are not likely to agree to a Korean War-style "let's just all go home" truce.

Eventually, things will change. Maybe the domestic pressure will become too much for Netanyahu. Maybe the international pressure will become too much for both sides. Maybe one side will score the total victory they think is possible. But most likely, as with Korea, it will require a lot of attrition, and severe war exhaustion on one or both sides. If that is the case, then take a look at how long the Korean War ran, or how long the Ukraine War has been going on, or at any of a dozen wars of the last half-century or so, and you know the odds that things will unfold on Biden's preferred timetable. Put another way, if he's going to win reelection, he's likely going to have to do it despite a lack of success in the Middle East. (Z)

Louisiana: Thou Shalt Post the Ten Commandments in Classrooms

There's a new sheriff in town in Louisiana. Gov. Jeff Landry (R-LA) has only been on the job for about 6 months, but he's clearly tired of his peers Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Greg Abbott (R-TX) getting all the culture wars glory. So, he got to work on what was obviously a top-priority matter, and steered a bill through the Louisiana legislature requiring the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every public school classroom. The governor signed the bill into law yesterday afternoon.

This is an absolutely terrible idea. Obviously, it tramples all over separation of church and state, and turns classrooms into proselytization centers. If you're Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist or a member of some other religious tradition, and you're trying to learn in a classroom whose decorations imply that you're fundamentally wrong about your beliefs? Too bad!

Even if you're a believer in the Ten Commandments, however, and you are also not bothered by the church and state implications, it's still a bad idea. This is a historical document that is particularly dependent on context, and ripping it out of that context cheapens both the Commandments and the Bible. CNN had an op-ed about this yesterday; for our part, let's try to illustrate via analogy. This artwork is not too bad:

The moon from Van Gogh's 'The Starry Night'

But isn't this orders of magnitude better?

The complete 'The Starry Night'

Clipping out the Ten Commandments is not all that different than clipping out the moon from The Starry Night.

Yet another problem is that nobody is going to convert to Christianity because of a poster on a classroom wall. In fact, it is more likely to turn potential adherents off, then to bring them into the fold, particularly at a time when polls make clear that skepticism about religion is at an all-time high. No doubt, Landry knows this, and does not actually expect the proselytizing to have an effect.

Landry also knows something else: The bill he signed yesterday is illegal. The Supreme Court reached that exact conclusion in Stone v. Graham (1980). But the Governor figures he might as well take another whack at the piñata, given the makeup of the current Court. If he succeeds, he's a right-wing hero. If he fails, he's still a right-wing hero. We're not just speculating here; when Landry spoke to reporters yesterday, he said, "I can't WAIT to be sued!."

So, there's now another of these performative Southern governors, trying to set themselves up for the next stop in their political careers. Meanwhile, the folks who will be casting ballots in November of this year just keep getting reminder after reminder of how very much the people who control the Republican Party right now would love, love, love to make the U.S. into a theocracy. (Z)

Trouble in Supreme Court Paradise?

We're in decision-a-palooza season right now, as the Supreme Court works desperately hard to try to get out of Dodge before July 1. As part of that, there was a decision announced last week that got more attention from late-night comedians than it did from the news media. With Associate Justice Clarence Thomas writing for a unanimous court, California lawyer and activist Steve Elster was denied the right to trademark the phrase "Trump too small." Elster has been printing the obvious double entendre on the front of t-shirts, which on the back run down how small Trump's (legislative) package is.

Buried in that decision was something interesting, however. Thomas, of course, wrote an originalist decision, justifying the court's ruling based on precedents of dubious relevance from a century or more in the past. Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett agreed with the decision (remember: unanimous), but in her concurrence she ripped Thomas to shreds. "[The ruling] presents tradition itself as the constitutional argument," she writes. "Yet what is the theoretical justification for using tradition that way?" In other words, she's not so persuaded that the evidence used by Thomas is correct. And, more importantly, she's not persuaded that the approach used by Thomas is correct. To call into question Thomas' "theoretical justification" is to, in so many words, call into question originalism as a legal theory.

It is entirely plausible that Coney Barrett, though undoubtedly a conservative, really feels this way. Here is a non-exhaustive list of reasons that could be the case:

  • The Justice is intellectually honest, and is unwilling to sign onto a convoluted legal approach, just because it generates the "right" results.

  • The Justice prefers to craft decisions that will have staying power, and suspects that decisions rooted in the aforementioned convoluted approach will not do so, particularly given the damage this Court has already done to stare decisis.

  • The Justice believes that some/many of the decisions that have come out of the Court have damaged its reputation, leading some people/government entities to largely ignore the Court, while others openly challenge existing rulings (see above).

  • The Justice realizes that she will likely be on the Court for decades, and that it's going to be the younger justices that get to clean up the mess made by sloppy, problematic decisions.

Note that little of this applies to, say, Thomas, Associate Justice Samuel Alito, or Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. They are all originalists, so they are clearly OK with a convoluted approach, and with making controversial and problematic decisions and letting the cards fall where they may. Further, at ages 75 and 73 (for Thomas and Alito), they don't much care about the reputation of the Court, or about cleaning up messes in, say, 10 years, because they will likely be gone from the bench by then.

Coney Barrett's concurrence, which has much more the tone of a dissent, has SCOTUS-watchers speculating, yet again, that we're entering a 3-3-3 era in which there are three staunch conservatives, three swing votes and three staunch liberals. You can't be sure of that, based on just one concurrence, even if the concurrence was hotter than the sun. But it's certainly worth keeping an eye on. (Z)

The Love-Hate Relationship of Donald Trump and Fox

It is not much of a secret that the Rupert Murdoch propaganda empire would prefer to move on from Donald Trump, having gone so far as to semi-shift its allegiances to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) early in this presidential cycle. However, Trump is what the audience wants, and Trump is going to be the nominee, and Fox, etc. know what side their bread is buttered on. So, they are back on board with the former president.

Meanwhile, Trump is angry with Fox right now, for roughly the 100,000th time. What crime has been committed? There are two of them, actually. The first is that former speaker Paul Ryan, who is also on Fox's board of directors, was a guest of not-so-Trumpy host Neil Cavuto last week. During that appearance, Ryan shared his view, at great length, that Trump is unfit for office and revealed that he won't be getting any votes from the Ryan household. Once Trump was made aware of the remarks, he responded:

Nobody can ever trust Fox News, and I am one of them, with the weak and ineffective RINO, Paul Ryan, on its Board of Directors. He's a total lightweight, a failed and pathetic Speaker of the House, and a very disloyal person. Romney was bad, but Paul Ryan made him look worse. As a team, they never had a chance. Rupert and Lachlan, get that dog off your Board—You don't need him. ALL YOU NEED IS TRUMP. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

Nobody ever said that correct syntax is Trump's strong suit.

Fox's second offense, meanwhile, was its latest national preference poll. It has 50% of Americans voting for Joe Biden and 48% voting for Trump. That's the first time Biden has cracked 50% in a Fox poll this cycle, and the first time he's led Trump in a Fox poll since October of last year. The changes are driven by an overall 3-point swing from Trump to Biden since May, which includes an 11-point swing among independent voters. These are not numbers that please Trump, since they suggest that he's being hurt by his felony convictions.

In any event, Trump may be unhappy, but he's stuck with Fox just as much as Fox is stuck with him. They are the right-wing outlet of record, and 95% of the time, the entertainers on the channel tote his water. The latest numbers from The Righting, which does a monthly tally of Trump-posted links, bears this out. In May, between donaldjtrump.com and his @RealDonaldTrump account on his suspiciously valuable social media platform, here's how many times he linked to various outlets:

Outlet Links
Fox 56
Right Side Broadcasting Network 26
FoxNews.com 11
Newsmax TV 11
Breitbart 9
Real America's Voice 8
The New York Post 7
Real America's Voice TV 5

In case you are wondering, the Right Side Broadcasting Network is a YouTube-only concern that might as well be called the Trump Side Broadcasting Network. And Real America's Voice is a fourth-tier cable/satellite channel that also streams. They too are swimming in the Trump Kool-Aid.

Anyhow, as you can see, Trump links to Fox/FoxNews.com more than two times per day, on average. He also links to Fox/FoxNews.com more than all the other sites combined. He even linked to them yesterday, just hours before he began ranting and raving about the outlet.

What it amounts to is that the alliance between Fox and Trump may be uncomfortable, but it's also rock solid on both sides, out of necessity. The next time the former president lashes out like this, which will probably be sometime in the next 72 hours, don't read anything into it, because it doesn't mean anything. (Z)

The Love-Hate Relationship of Donald Trump and the CEOs

Now that we've talked about the unhealthy symbiotic relationship between Donald Trump and Fox, how about the unhealthy symbiotic relationship between Donald Trump and corporations? It's pretty clear that his policies are often problematic for business interests. For example:

  • Haphazardly implemented tariffs introduce uncertainty and instability into the system, screwing up both supply and distribution chains

  • Anti-immigrant measures deprive businesses of labor.

  • Anti-LGBTQ maneuvering alienates employees.

  • Aggressive changes in government standards—say, regarding electric vehicles—make long-term planning difficult or impossible.

  • Government shutdowns disrupt the economy and the stock market.

  • Spending most of one's time talking (and tweeting) instead of governing means that not a lot gets done.

Certainly, there are some corporate types—your Uihleins and your Adelsons and your Mellons—who are motivated substantially by personal political concerns, and so have a permanent, reserved seat on the S.S. Trump. But earlier this cycle, there was much evidence of movement away from Trump on the part of the broader CEO class.

Not so much anymore, as the corporate types are once again willing to meet with, and donate to, Trump. Note that their general opinion of him, and his policies, has not changed. In fact, it may have gotten worse. For example, the former president attended the Business Roundtable's quarterly meeting last week, where the audience wanted to hear more about his plans for corporate tax cuts and for deregulation. It did not go well. Several attendees talked to reporters from CNBC afterwards, and gave negative reviews. "Trump doesn't know what he's talking about," said one CEO who was in attendance. "[Trump] was remarkably meandering, could not keep a straight thought [and] was all over the map," remarked another.

The CEOs also know, by the way, that the Biden economy has been good for their companies and good for their stock prices. Biden has also invested a lot of federal money in things like microchips and green energy, and that money tends to diffuse throughout the corporate economy. And, unlike Trump, Biden is basically predictable. Even if he does something the corporate types don't really like, such as declare 1 million acres off-limits to oil drilling, he won't do anything reckless that could crash the economy or crash a particular industry.

So why would CEOs warm up to Trump, even when they were previously cool? Is it because they are that desperate for fewer regulations and less taxes? Not particularly. It's because they think he might win. And also because they are aware of one really, really big difference between the current president and the previous one: Biden will not actively work to hurt individual businesses or CEOs, while Trump certainly will.

Last month, Trump tried to shake down the CEOs of petroleum concerns, strongly hinting that they will need to come up with $1 billion for his campaign if they want a petroleum-friendly Trump administration. And over the weekend, he went on his social media platform to threaten non-Trumpy CEOs directly, declaring that any CEO who does not support him should be fired for incompetence.

Biden will still get money from corporate types. And many of those corporate types are absolutely hoping he will win. But they are largely going to have to keep things on the down-low. And they are also going to have to play the other side of the street, because they don't want to be enemies of the state if Trump wins. After all, they saw what Ron DeSantis (a.k.a. mini-Trump) did to Disney.

It's just another way in which Trump v2.0, if it happens, will have many/most of the features of a dictatorship. (Z)

Everybody Must Get Stone

The game Rochambeau involves paper, which is very useful, and scissors, which are sharp. Roger Stone is appropriately named after the third option, because he is neither useful nor very sharp. In the latest chapter of his Mr. Magoo-like career of bumbling and fumbling, he was secretly recorded by Lauren Windsor (the same liberal documentarian who got the Alitos on tape) and one of Windsor's accomplices, sharing some inside information about the Donald Trump campaign's plans for the upcoming presidential election.

Among the things that Stone shared across the two recorded conversations:

  • The Trump campaign is trying to drag out his various court cases, and is succeeding.

  • Trump and his insiders expect Aileen Cannon to dismiss the documents case.

  • The Trump campaign is on an "offensive footing" and is already ready to file "voter fraud" lawsuits in six states

  • The Trump campaign is prepared to do a lot of "voter monitoring"

Anyone who reads this site already knew that the people in Trump's orbit were thinking these things. But now you have proof, because Stone said the quiet part out loud. This has angered many left-leaning and independent voters who were not paying as close attention as readers of this site are, and it's angered many Trumpy folks who don't appreciate Stone spilling the beans in this way. (Z)


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