Thursday, January 3, 2019

Tom Nichols: Are Facts Dead?

Trump Escalates His Assault on Civil-Military Relations

We’ve gotten used to so much in Donald Trump’s two years in office, from the cruelty of his immigration policies to his childlike understanding of international trade, and from his apparent fear of Vladimir Putin to his whipsawing of the financial markets. Too many Americans have simply become accustomed to the president’s antics as a normal part of the background noise of their lives. Sometimes Trump’s disjointed thoughts are merely an embarrassment; at other times, he makes dangerous policy changes or wipes out great amounts of wealth in a tweet.
Now, however, the president has opened a Pandora’s box by escalating his attacks on senior U.S. military leaders. No American president has ever dared risk the American civil-military relationship for less cause or with such childish malice.
American citizens don’t think much about civil-military relations. That’s good: It’s a sign of a healthy polity. We don’t worry about tanks rolling up North Capitol Street or paratroopers lolling about in Lafayette Square. We’re not that kind of country. But the president has taken a dangerous path, excoriating retired military leaders who criticize him and lavishing praise and make-believe pay raises on the active-duty military voters who he believes support him. A precious heritage built on the dual pillars of military obedience to civilians and civilian respect for military professionals is now at severe risk.

Brains of 3 People Have Been Successfully Connected, Enabling Them to Share Thoughts

Neuroscientists have successfully hooked up a three-way brain connection to allow three people to share their thoughts – and in this case, play a Tetris-style game.
The team thinks this wild experiment could be scaled up to connect whole networks of people, and yes, it's as weird as it sounds.
It works through a combination of electroencephalograms (EEGs), for recording the electrical impulses that indicate brain activity, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), where neurons are stimulated using magnetic fields.
The researchers behind the system have dubbed it BrainNet, and say it could eventually be used to connect many different minds together, even across the web.

President Trump’s error-filled holiday tweets on the border wall


Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking,Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country.”
—President Trump, in a tweet, Dec. 27, 2018
Over the holidays during the government shutdown, President Trump repeatedly posted on Twitter a variety of rationales for why a wall along the southern border is necessary. He also spoke to reporters before and after his brief post-Christmas visit to Iraq. We’ve covered many of these issues in previous fact checks, but here’s a quick overview for readers who might have missed — or tried to ignore — the tweets between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“The Democrats don’t want it, because they don’t want open borders, and yet every one of those Democrats approved the wall, or a fence, or very, very substantial barriers. Every single one. I don’t think there’s one — but let’s assume, let’s use the word, almost everyone approved a wall, or a fence, or exactly what we’re talking about, as little as three years ago.”
—remarks after Christmas video conference with troops, Dec. 25
Sen. Charles E. Schumer and many Democrats (though not Rep. Nancy Pelosi) voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was signed by President George W. Bush and authorized building a fence along nearly 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. But the fence they voted for is not as substantial as the wall Trump is proposing. Trump has called the 2006 fence “such a nothing wall.”
To Trump, opposing the wall is tantamount to not wanting any border security at all. But Democrats have offered support for $1.3 billion in security enhancements. That doesn’t include funding for Trump’s wall, but it includes 65 miles of pedestrian fencing along the Southeast Texas border with Mexico, similar to what already exists. (Note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly said Pelosi voted for the law. It passed 283-138 in the House, with 64 Democrat votes, and 80-19 in the Senate, with 26 Democrat votes.)
“We’re going to have safety. We need safety for our country, even from this standpoint. We have terrorists coming in through the southern border. We have the terrorists also coming in, fellas, through the southern border.”
—remarks in Iraq, Dec. 26
Trump is creating an association between the southern border and terrorists when there is none. As we’ve previously reported, almost all terrorism suspects are apprehended at airports. Plus, a recent report from the State Department showed there was little credible information suggesting terrorists were trying to enter the United States through the southern border.
“This isn’t about the Wall, everybody knows that a Wall will work perfectly (In Israel the Wall works 99.9%). This is only about the Dems not letting Donald Trump & the Republicans have a win. They may have the 10 Senate votes, but we have the issue, Border Security. 2020!”
—Tweet, Dec. 27
Only one-tenth (33 miles) of the Israeli barrier with Palestinian territories is an eight-meter (26-foot) concrete wall. The other 90 percent is a two-meter (6.5-foot) electronic fence. As for 99.9 percent, those numbers are a fantasy. The New York Times in 2016 reported on a vast smuggling industry that easily evades the Israeli security fence and wall that divides Israeli and Palestinian areas.
“Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border. Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking,Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country.”
—Tweet, Dec. 27
Most drugs come into the United States across the southern border with Mexico. But a wall would not limit this illegal trade, as much of it travels through legal borders or under tunnels unaffected by any possible physical barrier. Even if the wall could curb illicit drug trafficking, it would have a minimal impact on the death toll from drug abuse. Prescription drug overdoses claim more lives than cocaine and heroin overdoses combined. (This is a Bottomless Pinocchio claim.)
“Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”
—Tweet, Dec. 27
There is no evidence that most of the government workers affected by the government shutdown are Democrats. Trump at one point also claimed, without evidence, that most of the workers affected by the shutdown supported his stance.
“The reason the DACA for Wall deal didn’t get done was that a ridiculous court decision from the 9th Circuit allowed DACA to remain, thereby setting up a Supreme Court case. After ruling, Dems dropped deal - and that’s where we are today, Democrat obstruction of the needed Wall.”
—Tweet, Dec. 27
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was in November 2018. Pelosi and Schumer announced they had a deal with Trump on extending DACA in September 2017 that did not include wall funding, but then Trump later backed out of it after pressure from his right flank and he began to push for broad changes to the immigration system in exchange for allowing DACA-eligible people to remain. No judge had ruled to uphold DACA in the interim.

A bipartisan coalition in the Senate last year rejected, by a vote of 60 to 39, a measure backed by Trump that would have all but ended the family-based migration system that has been in place for decades. A separate bipartisan measure that would have legalized the DACA “dreamers” and allocated $25 billion for a wall on the border with Mexico fell six votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to a final vote. But it earned far more votes than Trump’s preferred approach and might have succeeded if it had White House backing.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

'A sad day for Jews in Europe and for religious freedom'

A regional ban on kosher and halal slaughter will go into effect in northern Belgium on Tuesday, affecting the majority of Belgium’s Jewish community.
In 2017, Belgium’s two regions – the Dutch-speaking Flanders region and the French-speaking Wallonia – voted to require that all animals being slaughtered be stunned first, effectively banning traditional Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughter.
The bans did not go into effect immediately, however, with the Flanders law taking effect first, on January 1st, 2019.
The slaughter law in Flanders will force the Jewish community in Antwerp, which makes up close to two-thirds of the country’s Jewish population, to find new, imported sources of kosher meat and poultry.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, lamented the kosher slaughter ban, calling it a “sad day for religious freedom in Europe”.
"We are in the midst of an attack on the freedom of religion. The European capital has, with its laws and lack of tolerance for minorities, proven that radical Islam has won. We managed to block many [similar pieces] of legislation in other country in Europe and attempts to pass bills in the European parliament and initiatives in the the EU's agencies."

Israel's withdrawal from UNESCO goes into effect


Israel’s withdrawal from UNESCO has gone into effect a year after it officially notified the international body that it would leave.
Israel announced at the end of 2017 that it would leave the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in solidarity with the United States, whose withdrawal also became official on Tuesday.
It takes a year for the withdrawal to take effect.
Israel and the United States will remain as observer states of UNESCO.
Israel, which joined the body on Sept. 16, 1949, has nine cultural sites on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites, including Masada, Acre, the White City of Tel Aviv, and the Necropolis of Beit She’arim.
In recent years, UNESCO has passed resolutions rejecting Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, and placed the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Old City of Hevron in the State of Palestine on the list of world heritage sites in danger. It frequently refers to the Temple Mount only by its Arabic name, Al-Haram al-Sharif.
Between 2009-2014, UNESCO adopted 46 resolutions against Israel; 1 on Syria; and none on Iran, Sudan, North Korea, or any other country in the world.


Senator Lindsey Graham had been slamming US President Donald Trump’s Syria policy for more than a week when he finally met the president in the White House on Sunday. He was “reassured,” he said, that Trump would make sure that any withdrawal from Syria doesn’t result in Iran filling the void left by America, and that US Kurdish allies “are protected.”

Now, reports indicate that the US will allow “months” for the withdrawal, as opposed to a specific 30-100 day timeline. This is in contrast to Trump’s speech at Al-Asad airbase in Iraq on December 26, where he emphasized that he was bringing the troops home. Trump has been adamant on this since his December 19 decision to end US involvement in Syria.

The new timeline presented and reported in the US now appears to be within 120 days; Trump says that the US is “slowly” bringing the troops home. 

There are also new questions about the degree to which the withdrawal will be coordinated with Turkey. Trump made his decision after a conversation with the Turkish president on December 14. Ankara had threatened a military operation in northern Syria against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it accuses of being linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Trump claimed on December 23 that the US withdrawal would be “slow and highly coordinated” with Turkey.

But those plans appeared dashed on Friday when the Syrian regime announced that it would send forces to Manbij, a city where the US has forces and which is run by a local council affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main US partners on the ground. The SDF and YPG were concerned that Turkey would launch an attack on Manbij, backed by Syrian opposition forces. Some of the Turkish-backed forces are extremists and locals fear them. 

The Syrian regime seemed to be riding to the rescue, but it would be an embarrassment for the US to be seen as handing over parts of Syria to the regime which the US officially opposes. Damascus is also allied to Iran, so it would mean that the US was turning over these area to an Iranian ally, the opposite of the policy that Washington had been advancing throughout 2018.

Turkey, which Trump appeared to want to be in coordination with, sent a high level delegation to Moscow on Saturday, including the defense minister, foreign minister, presidential adviser and intelligence chief. Ankara was basically sending every key official it could to discuss with Russia – an ally of the Syrian regime – how to coordinate the US withdrawal. In short, Turkey and Russia were discussing the US withdrawal, not Turkey and the US. Not the coordination that Trump had promised.

John Bolton, the national security adviser, is now planning a trip to the region – along with chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Syria envoy James Jeffrey – to discuss the withdrawal in Turkey and Israel. According to CNN’s Kevin Liptak, only Bolton will travel to Israel, not the whole delegation. This comes on the heels of reports that Israel had sought to convince Trump to slow down the withdrawal.

Trump attacks McChrystal after retired general called Trump immoral


In one of his first tweets of the new year, President Donald Trump attacked retired four-star Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal after he criticized the President on Sunday.
"'General' McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama," Trump tweetedTuesday morning. "Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!"
Trump was retweeting a post from Fox News' Laura Ingraham sharing a story headlined "Media Didn't Like McChrystal Until He Started Bashing Trump."
    The commander in chief's name-calling comes after McChrystal said during an interview Sunday that Trump was dishonest and immoral.
    "I don't think he tells the truth," McChrystal told ABC's Martha Raddatz on "This Week." When asked if he thought Trump was immoral, McChrystal responded: "I think he is."
    "What I would ask every American to do is again, stand in front of that mirror and say, what are we about?," McChrystal continued. "Am I really willing to throw away or ignore some of the things that people do that are pretty unacceptable normally just because they accomplish certain other things that we might like. If we want to be governed by someone we wouldn't do a business deal with because they're their background is so shady, if we're willing to do that then that's in conflict with who I think we are."
    "And so I think it's necessary in those times to take a stand," he said.

    Pro-Israel Groups Turn Their Backs on Trump for the First Time Over Syria Withdrawal

    President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria has, for the first time since he entered the White House, led him to face strong criticism from leading pro-Israel groups in Washington.
    The shift comes after two years in which those same groups mostly endorsed his administration’s Middle East policies, with some even claiming that his support for Israel was important enough to justify ignoring aspects of his presidency deemed less than palatable by many in the American Jewish community.
    Trump won praise from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group, and from other groups supportive of the Israeli government, for his decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He won similar accolades for his decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. His administration’s voting record on issues related to Israel and the Middle East in the United Nations also won praise.
    However, AIPAC took to Twitter last week to retweet a number of senators – both Democrats and Republicans – who severely criticized Trump’s decision on Syria. One tweet, by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, described the withdrawal as a “huge mistake.” Another, by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, called the decision “ill-informed and hasty,” and warned that it will “breathe new life into ISIS and other terrorist groups.”
    It was the first time that AIPAC even tacitly endorsed such strong-worded criticism against Trump since he became president in January 2017. 

    Timetable of Trump's pullout from Syria being questioned


    Amid questions about the pace of his exit from Syria, President Donald Trump complained Monday that he’s getting “bad press” for his decision to pull American troops out of the country and insisted he was simply making good on his campaign promise against U.S. involvement in “never ending wars.”
    Trump abruptly announced in mid-December that he was withdrawing 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. The decision was roundly criticized by his national security advisers and Democratic and Republican lawmakers, several of whom asked him to reconsider. It prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to step down, and the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting Islamic State militants resigned in protest.
    Trump fought back against the criticism.
    “I am the only person in America who could say that, ‘I’m bringing our great troops back home, with victory,’ and get BAD press,” Trump tweeted Monday. “It is Fake News and Pundits who have FAILED for years that are doing the complaining. If I stayed in Endless Wars forever, they would still be unhappy!”
    Critics not only warn of a resurgence of IS, but worry that the American exit is a betrayal of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria and leaves them vulnerable to an attack from Turkish forces. Turkey considers the U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which now controls nearly 30 percent of Syria, a terrorist group linked to an insurgency within its own borders.
    Critics also contend that the U.S. withdrawal would embolden Iran and Russia, which have supported the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
    Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, will be traveling to Israel and Turkey in early January to discuss what the White House says is the “deliberate and coordinated” withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria. Bolton also will be discussing increased cooperation with the Turkish military and other partners.
    Bolton’s spokesman, Garrett Marquis, said in a statement Monday that Bolton will be joined in Turkey by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and James Jeffrey, the secretary of state’s special representative for Syria engagement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to speak with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on New Year’s Day at the inauguration of Brazil’s new president in Brasilia.
    Some critics also have expressed fear of a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops.
    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump backer and leading voice on national security and foreign affairs on Capitol Hill, had lunch with the president Sunday and emerged from the White House saying that Trump was slowing down the withdrawal from Syria.
    “I think we’re in a pause situation where we’re re-evaluating what’s the best way to achieve the president’s objective of having people pay more and do more,” Graham said. “The pause is to assess the effects of the conditions on the ground.”
    “I think we’re slowing things down in a smart way,” Graham said, adding that Trump was very aware of the plight of the Kurds.
    Graham said his meeting with Trump was reassuring. “The president will make sure any withdrawal from Syria will be done in a fashion to ensure 1) ISIS is permanently destroyed, 2) Iran doesn’t fill in the back end, and 3) our Kurdish allies are protected,” Graham tweeted.
    The National Security Council at the White House declined to answer questions about whether the president was re-evaluating or whether he was slowing his timetable for pulling troops out. The White House referred questions to the Pentagon.
    When he announced he was pulling troops from Syria, Trump said the withdrawal would be rapid. On Monday, he said he was “slowly” pulling troops out. Initially, Trump said IS had been destroyed in Syria. Now he said the militant group is “mostly done,” although the network, with its hard-line extremist ideology, continues to inspire sympathizers and has affiliated groups in other parts of the world.
    “If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero. ISIS is mostly gone, we’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants,” Trump tweeted.
    “I campaigned on getting out of Syria and other places. Now when I start getting out the Fake News Media, or some failed Generals who were unable to do the job before I arrived, like to complain about me & my tactics, which are working. Just doing what I said I was going to do!”

    High school teacher suspected of molesting his students

    times of Israel

    Three girls aged 14-15 say educator at prestigious institution touched them inappropriately; suspect denies allegations, is sent to house arrest

    A teacher in a prestigious high school in central Israel has been arrested on suspicion of molesting at least three of his female students, authorities announced on Tuesday.
    The teacher, who hasn’t been named, was arrested last week and was released Tuesday to house arrest for seven days.
    He teaches at a top school in the city of Rehovot, and all his alleged victims were 14-15 years old, reports said.

    yeschurin aguna fixes

    Can It Happen Here? Madeleine Albright Examines Fascism Then and Now


    George H. W. Bush declared that “the end of the Cold War has been a victory for all humanity,” and Vaclav Havel predicted Europe would create “a new kind of order” where the powerful would no longer suppress the less powerful and disputes would no longer be settled by force.
    How far away those days seem. What happened to this optimism? Why has the momentum toward democracy and international comity slowed? Why, as Madeleine Albright asks early in her new book, “are we once again talking about fascism?”
    Who better to address these questions than Albright, whose life was shaped by fascism and whose contribution to the cultivation of democracy as a stateswoman and private citizen is unparalleled? In “Fascism: A Warning” Albright (with Bill Woodward) draws on her personal history, government experience and conversations with Georgetown students to assess current dangers and how to deal with them.