Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Trump and Biden

 Tommy Christopher (MEDIAITE) notes Jake Tapper on CNN yesterday addressing the legal finding that former President Donald Trump can be held accountable for his actions:

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I’m Jake Tapper.

We start today with our law and justice lead and a massive legal defeat for Donald Trump.

Today, a federal appeals court in D.C. unanimously ruled that Mr. Trump is not immune from prosecution for alleged crimes he may have committed during his presidency as he attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The three federal judges strongly writing in their decision that, quote, “for the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become a citizen Trump, with all of the defenses of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as president no longer protects him against this prosecution.”

The three female judges, two appointed by Democrats, one by a Republican, went even further than that today, however, repeatedly eviscerating citizen Trump’s behavior after the 2020 election as an attack on American institutions.

The judges writing, quote: “Former President Trump’s alleged efforts to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election were, if proven, an unprecedented assault on the structure of our government. He allegedly injected himself into a process in which the president has no role. The counting and certifying of the Electoral College votes, thereby undermining constitutionally established procedures, and the will of the Congress,” unquote.

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump and his legal team are signaling that they’re going to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, potentially with the former president writing on his social media platform that, quote, “if immunity is not granted to a president, every president that leaves office will be immediately indicted by the opposing party. Without complete immunity, a president of the United States would not be able to properly function,” unquote.

It’s odd, one might observe, that the republic has somehow managed to survive more than 200 years without this being an issue until Donald Trump tried to overturn the election.

Meanwhile, Jose Pagliery (DAILY BEAST) reports, "Donald Trump’s expected massive loss to the New York Attorney General in his bank fraud case suddenly took a turn for the worse on Tuesday, when lies that his longtime company accountant apparently told on the stand potentially opened the door for an even more devastating multi-million dollar judgment that could destroy the Trump Organization. In an email to the AG and Trump defense team on Monday, Justice Arthur F. Engoron asked for both sides to respond to the news that former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg is secretly negotiating a guilty plea with another law enforcement agency: the Manhattan District Attorney."  We noted that story yesterday via a different outlet.  I just find it humorous enough to note again.  I am sure that Mr. Trump never thought he had anything to worry about with Mr. Weisselberg.  But people like Mr. Trump mislead themselves when they fancy that someone else will jump out ahead of them to take the bullet.  

It is not looking good for the former president.  As for the current president?  BLOOMBERG reports:

An AI-generated cloned audio message of President Joe Biden that attempted to dissuade registered Democrats from voting in the New Hampshire primary election was traced to a Texas company and its owner.

Attorney General John Formella said on Tuesday the audio deepfake was tracked back to Life Corporation, a Texas company owned by Walter Monk, who also owns companies which provide political robocall and phone polling services. The deepfake sounded like Biden — it even used a favorite catchphrase, “What a bunch of malarkey” — and urged New Hampshire voters not to cast their ballots in the state’s Jan. 23 primary election.

The people responsible for the fake audio could face criminal and civil charges, Formella said, citing laws that prohibit voter suppression and displaying inaccurate caller ID with the intent to cause harm. He described the episode as a real-life example of using AI in an attempt to interfere with an election. 

“AI-generated recordings used to deceive voters have the potential to have devastating effects on the democratic election process,” he said in a statement.

New Hampshire's Office of the Attorney General issued the following:

Concord, NH – Attorney General John M. Formella announces that the Attorney General’s Office Election Law Unit has identified the source of the January 21, 2024, robocalls received by numerous New Hampshire residents, which played a message with what appeared to be an AI-generated voice clone of President Biden’s voice, and which encouraged recipients not to vote in the January 23, 2024, New Hampshire Presidential Primary Election. This Office immediately launched an investigation into these calls in coordination with state and federal partners, including the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force, which is a bipartisan task force made up of 50 state attorneys general, and the Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau. Through these collective efforts, the source of these calls has been identified as Texas-based Life Corporation and an individual named Walter Monk.

“Ensuring public confidence in the electoral process is vital. AI-generated recordings used to deceive voters have the potential to have devastating effects on the democratic election process,” said Attorney General Formella. “I would like to thank the members of our Election Law Unit, the experts from the offices of my fellow state Attorneys General who make up the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force, as well as members of the Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau for their invaluable support, cooperation, and investigative efforts in this matter. I would also like to thank YouMail and Nomorobo for helping to identify these robocalls, as well as Industry Traceback Group for its efforts in tracing the source of the identified robocalls. The partnership and fast action in this matter sends a clear message that law enforcement, regulatory agencies, and industry are staying vigilant and are working closely together to monitor and investigate any signs of AI being used maliciously to threaten our democratic process.”

The illegal robocalls in this case directly encouraged recipients not to participate in the New Hampshire Primary. Specifically, the message stated: “It’s important that you save your vote for the November election,” as well as “Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.” The robocalls also illegally spoofed their caller ID information to appear to come from a number belonging to a former New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair. The message instructed recipients to call the number belonging to that person to be removed from future calls.

After identifying specific calls, the Election Law Unit requested ‘tracebacks’ via an entity known as Industry Traceback Group. These tracebacks identified the source of the calls to be Life Corporation and Walter Monk. The tracebacks further identified the originating voice service provider for many of these calls to be Texas-based Lingo Telecom. After Lingo Telecom was informed that these calls were being investigated, Lingo Telecom suspended services to Life Corporation.

Today the Election Law Unit is issuing a cease-and-desist order to Life Corporation for violating RSA 659:40, III, which prohibits any person from engaging in voter suppression by knowingly attempting to prevent or deter another person from voting or registering to vote based on fraudulent, deceptive, misleading, or spurious grounds or information. The cease-and-desist order requires Life Corporation to immediately cease violating RSA 659:40, III and all other New Hampshire election laws, and the order notes that the Election Law Unit reserves the right to take further enforcement actions based on conduct preceding the date of the order.

The Election Law Unit is additionally issuing document preservation notices and subpoenas for records to Life Corporation and to multiple other entities, including Lingo Telecom, that may possess records relevant to the Attorney General’s ongoing investigation.

The Unit has also been working closely with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Enforcement Bureau. Today the FCC issued a cease-and-desist letter against Texas-based Lingo Telecom—the entity that is alleged to have originated robocall traffic using AI-generated voice cloning to spread misinformation to voters prior to New Hampshire’s primary election. The letter demands the company immediately stop supporting illegal robocall traffic on its networks. In addition, the Bureau issued an order, which strongly encourages other providers to refrain from carrying suspicious traffic from Lingo. The FCC may require other network providers affiliated with Lingo to block its traffic should the company continue this behavior.

Separately, the Election Law Unit has been working with the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force on this matter. Today the Task Force is issuing a letter to Life Corporation notifying the company that the Task Force received information identifying Life Corporation as the originating calling customer responsible for transmitting the suspected illegal robocall traffic. That notice will request that Life Corporation ensure that the company is following all applicable federal and state laws, including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act; the Truth in Caller ID Act; and the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, Telemarking Sales Rule.

The Attorney General is continuing to investigate potential election law violations, consumer protection act violations, and telephone consumer protection act violations, while still determining the total number of robocalls made. The call monitoring service, Nomorobo, estimates between 5,000 and 25,000 calls were made. The Election Law Unit is also aware of media reports that the recorded message was likely made using software from ElevenLabs. At this time, the Unit is continuing to investigate and cannot confirm whether that reporting is accurate. Finally, the Attorney General is continuing to investigate whether Life Corporation worked with or at the direction of any other persons or entities and at this time cannot comment on whether other persons or entities were involved.

Everyone involved needs to serve time.  Life Corporation needs to shut its doors.  This is not what you do in a democratic country.  

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

Wednesday, February 7, 2024.  Did John Kirby lie last Friday or yesterday, talk of another pause in the slaughter of Gaza, a Texas hate crime targets Palestinians, and much more.

It's not just Gaza.  It's inflaming the entire region and Joe Biden is bombing multiple countries.  One of which is Iraq.  From yesterday's snapshot:

Karwan Faidhi Dri (RUDAW) reports:                 
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Washington had “informed” Baghdad "prior" to carrying out the attacks, an assertion denied by Iraqi government spokesperson Basim al-Awadi. 

“The American side then deliberately deceived and falsified the facts by announcing prior coordination to commit this aggression, which is a false claim aimed at misleading international public opinion and disavowing legal responsibility for this rejected crime in accordance with all international laws and laws,” Awadi stated on Saturday.

Iraq’s foreign ministry on Saturday summoned the charge d’affaires of the US Embassy in Baghdad, David Burger, to protest against the “American aggression that targeted Iraqi military and civilian sites.”

Did Iraq call it?  Apparently they did.

Late morning yesterday, John Kirby held a press briefing by teleconference.  Everyone was warned he had "a few words" to say before getting to questions.  A few words?  Like these:

And then, just before I close out, I’m sure many of you saw the statement that I issued yesterday, correcting what I had said Friday night about pre-notification to Iraqi officials on Friday night before the strikes that we took on facilities related to the Iran-backed militia groups.  And I deeply apologize for the error, and I regret any confusion that it caused.  It was based on information we had or that was provided to me in those early hours after the strikes.  Turns out that information was incorrect.  And I certainly regret the error. 
And I hope that you’ll understand there was no ill-intent behind it, no deliberate intent to deceive or to be wrong.  I take those responsibilities very, very seriously.  And I deeply regret the mistake that I made. 
And with that, we can take some questions.

If he's telling the truth -- IF -- then let's note something.  A glaring error -- a lie -- was told to the press by John Kirby last week and they wait until this week to correct it.  And the reaction from the press corps?

They go on to ask about 20 questions (check my math).  Not one of them is, "Could you go into more detail on your erroneous statements?"  Not one is, "When did you realize that you had gotten the facts wrong?"  Not one was, "Has there been an apology to the Iraqi government for these false remarks made on behalf of the White House?"

No, not one.

They all averted their eyes and ignored the elephant in the room.

And then this:

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And as Kirby said, we’re going to hear from the President in a wee bit, so we’ll let you go. 
If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out, and we’ll get back to you. 
Oh, wait, Kirby has one more thing.
MR. KIRBY:  Yep.  Just again, I want to foot-stomp my apology at the top.  I made a mistake there on Friday night, and I do really regret it.  And I promise you I’ll do a better job going forward and work harder to not put bad information out there.  Again, my apologies.  Thanks.
MODERATOR:  Great.  Again, if there’s anything else we can do, feel free to email us, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.  Thanks.  

If John Kirby told the truth in yesterday's briefing -- IF -- then this is dysfunctional press at best -- a craven and cowed press at worse.

There is an alternate explanation.  Kirby didn't lie and the press knows it.  He wasn't convincing in his statements at the briefing.

Between his Friday remarks and then his Tuesday correction, a lot went down.  Including Iraqi government officials screaming at Joe Biden's administration.  The US government had no popularity to spare in Iraq before the Israeli government launched the assault on Gaza.  When that slaughter began and Joe Biden backed the slaughter and refused to call for a cease-fire, Iraqi anger at the US became even greater.  

The prime minister of Iraq, Mohammed Shia' Al Sudani, has been playing a dancing game.  The Iraqi people have only grown louder in their demands that all US forces leave Iraq.  He publicly backs that call while, behind the scenes,  he desperately tries to curry favor with the US government.  

Joe Biden's bombing on Friday was a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.  It was also an attack on Iraq's national army because the 'militias' were legally folded into that army over seven years ago.  Attacking the militias is attacking the Iraqi military.

In America, many don't grasp that reality because we have a press that keeps lying and lying about this.  

Let's drop back to the January 5th snapshot for when a US outlet finally got it right:

Lastly, we covered a topic yesterday, we're not going all into it again, the snapshot's already late in going up.  Short story: The US government attacked the Iraqi military.  US outlets need to stop distorting reality with their "Iran-linked militia" nonsense.  In December of 2017, the Iraqi government officially, legally made the militias part of the Iraqi military.  By not noting that reality, you are misinforming the American people.  Alissa J. Rubin and Eric Schmitt (NEW YORK TIMES) reported on the event late yesterday:

A U.S. Special Operations drone strike in Baghdad on Thursday killed a senior figure in an Iran-linked militant group that is part of Iraq’s security apparatus, drawing sharp criticism from the Iraqi government, as well as allied groups.

Would I have worded it that way?  No.  But that's much better than other US outlets have done and it does provide a reader with actual information.  They can read that sentence and they can grasp why the Iraqi government might be angered (and they are) by what happened.  And an editor at NYT noted that to me and I said I'd work in the sentence in because it is a huge improvement over what everyone else has done.  "A group that is part of Iraq's security apparatus" makes it clear to any news consumer.  So applause for THE TIMES and Rubin and Schmitt for getting it right.

If Kirby lied on Friday?  I don't think he did (two friends with the State Dept say his remarks Friday were accurate).  I don't think he did based on the way he delivered the remarks.  I don't think he did  based on the press being 100% uninterested in asking even one question about this major announcement.  

I think the Iraqi government reamed the White House over the remarks.  I think they made it clear how much damage the accurate statement made -- the Iraqi government was informed ahead of time -- and what a threat those remarks were to the prime minister.

If John got the facts right on Friday, then the Iraqi government was informed ahead of a US attack that the Iraqi security forces were about to be bombed and the prime minister just went along with it, that's reason for Parliament to call for a no-confidence vote.  

The ongoing violence and repeated strikes by third parties in Iraq have placed the country on a “knife edge” and carry the potential to destabilize and roll back hard-earned gains made towards stability and security, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said on Tuesday. 

“I am compelled to reiterate our appeal to all sides to exercise maximum restraint. With Iraq cloaked in an already-complicated tapestry of challenges, it is of the greatest importance that all attacks cease,” UNAMI Head Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said at a UN Security Council session discussing Iraq in New York. “Iraq, and the wider region, remains on a knife edge.” 

The US on Friday night launched a major retaliation campaign against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and Iran-aligned militias in Iraq and Syria, striking more than 85 targets and killing at least 16 Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) fighters and injuring another 36 in Iraq’s western Anbar province, near the Syrian border.

On the Biden administration, let's note this from yesterday's DEMOCRACY NOW!

 NERMEEN SHAIKH: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Nermeen Shaikh, joined by Amy Goodman. Hi, Amy!

AMY GOODMAN: Hi, Nermeen. And welcome to all our listeners and our viewers around the country and around the world. Well, I’m not a NOVID anymore. For four years I somehow avoided getting COVID, but I ended up getting it. Asymptomatic. I’m at the tail end of it. I just have to go from positive to negative. It’s not exactly in my nature to go negative, but I’m really working on it. Until then, Nermeen is there, and I am here. And most importantly, on with the show.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We look forward to having you back, Amy.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken is heading to Qatar and then to Israel and the West Bank, after holding talks in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This comes as Israel threatens to launch a ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where over half of all residents of Gaza have sought refuge. Palestinian health officials say Israeli attacks killed 107 Palestinians over the past day, bringing the Palestinian death toll to over 27,500, including over 11,500 children.

This is Blinken’s fifth trip to the Middle East since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th. The State Department says Blinken is pushing for a pause to Israel’s assault and for Hamas to release all remaining hostages seized nearly four months ago.

On Monday, Blinken met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, where they discussed a potential deal involving Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel in exchange for Israel agreeing to a pathway for a Palestinian state. Saudi Arabia is also seeking a new military pact with the United States and U.S. assistance with its nuclear program. This comes as Hamas is reportedly reviewing a truce and hostage deal negotiated in part by mediators from Egypt and Qatar.

Blinken’s trip comes just days after the United States bombed 85 targets in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for a recent drone strike by Iran-backed militants on a base in Jordan that killed three U.S. troops. The U.S. has also repeatedly bombed Yemen over the past two weeks, targeting sites controlled by Houthi forces who have been targeting ships linked to Israel and the United States to protest Israel’s assault on Gaza.

We begin today’s show with Akbar Shahid Ahmed, senior diplomatic correspondent for HuffPost based in Washington, D.C.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Akbar. We are very happy to have you here. If you could first respond — tell us what’s most important about the meetings that Blinken had already with the crown prince and his meetings today in Egypt. What’s at stake?

AKBAR SHAHID AHMED: Thanks for having me, Nermeen.

Secretary Blinken is hoping that Arab officials will finally believe the U.S. is serious about an end to the carnage in Gaza. It’s a hard ask, because a lot of Arab diplomats, a lot of regional diplomats who are worried about the spiraling conflict feel the Biden administration has no real interest in pressuring Israel to stop. And you’ve got repeated comments from Israeli officials, most recently Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just yesterday, saying, “We want to see Hamas leaders killed. We want to see months more of war, if not a year,” and ideas for a resettlement of Gaza — extremely controversial proposals.

So, Blinken, on the one hand, is dealing with Israelis who are not saying what Arab diplomats and the U.S. want to hear, he’s representing a president who has a policy of near-total support for Israel, and he’s getting flak from Arab diplomats. Blinken is, of course, a skilled foreign policy official, a skilled mediator, but it’s a very hard task for him, Nermeen, because there’s not a lot of goodwill or faith right now for the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Akbar, if you can talk more about what you think took place before the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and Blinken, and the significance of what exactly Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel are proposing? The Hamas attack on October 7th took place just around the time that Saudi Arabia was going to normalize relations with Israel. Talk about what that would mean and exactly what these proposals are and how possible you think they are.

AKBAR SHAHID AHMED: Absolutely, Amy. So, prior to the October 7th attack, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Israel were talking about this kind of tripartite deal that would involve the Saudis giving Israel recognition from Saudi Arabia, which is a huge win for Israel, right? After many years of conflict, feeling threatened by its Arab neighbors, this would be the biggest, most important Muslim-majority country in the world, essentially, saying, “We recognize Israel,” and, importantly, without Israel having to make significant concessions on the Palestinian file.

So, that’s where this whole process, while it’s been beneficial for the U.S., for Saudi, for Israel, the Palestinians and their advocates have been saying, “Where are we in this conversation?” So, prior to October 7th, there was already huge anxiety about these talks. There was dissatisfaction. And then the attacks happened. And, you know, no one less than President Biden has said they see that U.S.-Israel-Saudi process as part of the reason for the October 7th attacks, right? It was a way, in part, for Palestinians to kind of bring this issue back on the negotiating table. However, since then, what we’ve seen, four months into this war, is that rather than considering, “Well, maybe this approach got us to conflict,” the Biden administration has doubled down on the U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal. So they’ve taken the Gaza war, and they’ve tied it to what they were doing before the Gaza war.

Their new proposal is we’ll rebuild Gaza using Saudi money. This will be part of the whole package that will get the Israelis to make some significant concessions to Palestinians. It’ll get the Saudis to have the American commitments they want. But in terms of feasibility, it’s quite, I would say, at best, contentious, right? The U.S. officials I talked to within the government, one described this as, quote, “delusionally optimistic.” You’ve got so many parties involved. You do not have a serious commitment from the U.S. to get Palestine anything major — right? — beyond economic guarantees or the reconstruction of Gaza. And then you’ve got what you referenced earlier, Nermeen, the strikes by Iran-backed militias. There are a lot of what’s called spoilers, a lot of other forces around the region who don’t like this deal, who certainly see the deal, especially between Saudi, Israel and the U.S., opponents of Iran, as very risky for Iran and its network.

So, in terms of the actual feasibility of something being approved, I’m skeptical. And it’s important to remember there’s a very short runway now prior to the election. And if the Biden administration wants to get a security treaty with Saudi Arabia through the Senate while they still have control of the Senate, I mean, they’ve only got six months to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, can you talk about what’s happening today with Tony Blinken in Cairo and Qatar before going to Israel and then the occupied West Bank?

AKBAR SHAHID AHMED: Absolutely. So, the Egyptians and the Qataris are critical mediators, because the U.S. does not speak directly to Hamas, which the U.S. lists as a terror organization. So any messages from the U.S. have to go through Qatar and Egypt. And Israel also doesn’t really like directly dealing with Hamas. So, Blinken is in Cairo, and he was in Doha, kind of hoping to get those governments to pressure Hamas.

Now the “yes” is on Hamas’s side. Israel has kind of tacitly agreed to a truce and hostage release. But the longer there’s a delay here, the more it seems that this deal isn’t achieving what the Palestinians or Hamas might really want, right? So, you’ve seen Prime Minister Netanyahu come out and say, “I want to kill Hamas leadership.” That raises the stakes for Hamas, if they’re saying, “Why would we agree to a two-week deal if, after that, you’re just going to come back, invade Rafah, kill our leadership?” So, I think there’s — the prospects of a deal, to me, seem low right now.

Some of the other important sticking points are, of course, there’s broad agreement that the hostages, particularly civilians, particularly older people and children, should be released. That’s kind of generally agreed upon. But the question is: How many Palestinian political prisoners is Israel willing to release in return? There’s a certain Palestinian leader called Marwan Barghouti, really seen as a unifying Palestinian figure, and Hamas has said they want him out of jail. Now, for a lot of Israelis who don’t want to see a kind of unified Palestinian movement, that’s a no-go.

So there are a lot of sticking points here. And it’s up to Secretary Blinken to kind of push everyone towards a median. I think the Qataris can certainly play a very helpful role here with Hamas, but any indication of U.S. seriousness is what’s needed, and we haven’t yet had that, certainly not from President Biden.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Akbar, I mean, as you said, the issue of the release of Palestinian prisoners is something that Netanyahu, at least, has ruled out, as well as the creation of a Palestinian state. So it’s unclear how, you know, these positions can be reconciled, because there’s no incentive for Hamas to go along with this. But I wanted to ask: I mean, Saudi Arabia is also pushing minimally for the minimal condition of the creation of a Palestinian state, but where do other Arab states stand, including Egypt and Qatar, who are the negotiators, as you said, the mediators? Where else do Arab states stand on this? And is it important at all?

AKBAR SHAHID AHMED: You know, it’s critical. I love how you phrase it, Nermeen, because the Saudis certainly want us to think they are pushing for the creation of a Palestinian state, but the language is sort of shifting, right? Sometimes they say “creating a Palestinian state.” Sometimes they say “a pathway towards a Palestinian state” or “irreversible steps.” So, that goalpost is shifting all the time. And I think for the Saudis, in particular, who have, especially under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, really expressed disdain for the Palestinian cause in recent years and the sense that it’s been a burden for the Arab world, and a deep enthusiasm for relations with Israel, for the Saudis, I’d say, kind of limited Palestinian concessions would be acceptable, if they can get some kind of Palestinian window dressing of approval. And I’ve heard from my sources that there are quite conversations going on between the Saudis and maybe some friendly Palestinians who might be willing to bless whatever the Saudis can get.

In terms of other states, Qatar is one of the firmest in terms of wanting to see a resolution here. I think for a lot of states that maybe were not taking the strongest position earlier — so, think about the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Arab countries that have made deals with Israel — I think, after this war and after the spiraling tensions — right? — the risk of a huge Middle East war, those countries are feeling more and more we need a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is meaningful.

For Egypt, I think that desire is there, particularly because, because of the strikes you mentioned by the Houthi movement in Yemen, shipping is not going through the Suez Canal as much, and for Egypt, that’s an economic lifeline, right? So they want the war over so the Houthis stop attacking shipping. At the same time, it’s really critical to remember Egypt helped Israel with its blockade of Gaza — right? — for the last 16 years. Egypt has not, for years, wanted to see a strong, independent Palestinian presence. So I think they’ll be weighing that quite cautiously, and they won’t necessarily be such firm advocates for serious Palestinian statehood.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Akbar, you’ve written extensively — at the moment, we see Netanyahu being, you know, singled out as the person who is responsible for the present situation. He certainly hasn’t made it any easier and, arguably, of course, much more brutal. Although as you point out, it’s important to look at the long-term context in Israel and, in particular, U.S. support for Israeli policies, whatever form they’ve taken. So, if you could elaborate on that and what distinctions you see between Netanyahu and his predecessors on the question of Gaza?

AKBAR SHAHID AHMED: Absolutely. So, Netanyahu is an easy bogeyman from a U.S. political standpoint. You’re already seeing Democrats who are kind of struggling, scrambling to defend President Biden’s policy here. They’re saying, “Well, it’s not really about Biden. It’s about Netanyahu.” And given that Netanyahu was so close to former President Trump, opposed President Barack Obama so vocally, for Democratic voters, yes, Netanyahu is an easy bogeyman.

But, absolutely, we have to look at the context. And for the first three years of the Biden administration, two of those years they did not have a Prime Minister Netanyahu. They had a different Israeli government, slightly more moderate, certainly including non-Netanyahu figures. And in that moment, the U.S. did not, Nermeen, try to pursue any kind of progress, right? President Biden didn’t even reverse policies that President Trump had imposed that were anti-Palestinian and pro-Israeli.

So, to me, the thing that needs to be questioned in this moment, certainly, Netanyahu, personally corrupt, attempting to hold onto power for as long as he can, but as one Israeli analyst put it, there’s a, quote, “culture of impunity” — right? — in U.S.-Israel relations. And that’s what really needs to be analyzed right now.

So, if you think about the broader Israeli political establishment, the person who would take over, if Netanyahu were to be unseated in weeks, months, later this year, is someone called Benny Gantz. He’s a former Israeli general. The military is understood to be a bit more pragmatic on the Palestinian issue, just from a strategic and security standpoint, than politicians are. All that said, even a Prime Minister Benny Gantz might not be willing to accept statehood — right? — might not be willing to give Palestinians security control in Gaza.

So, the actual culture of the U.S. and Israel, unfortunately, over decades, has become one in which even these small steps towards progress are so difficult. It’s like pulling teeth. And I just draw people back to the last few examples of effective U.S. leverage over Israel. Interestingly, they’ve been under Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, to some extent. But we haven’t seen that in the last 10 or 15 years, and certainly not under Presidents Biden or, really, Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: Akbar, I wanted to talk about the level of dissent in this country and in other countries that are supporting Israel right now. You just wrote a piece about over 800 government officials in the United States and Europe that have anonymously signed a statement that their own governments’ support for Israel is in violation of their values. If you can talk more about that, and also the level at the grassroots in the United States, right up into the White House and the State Department? In fact, let me play a clip. We interviewed Josh Paul, a high-level State Department official, when he quit. You were the one who broke the story about Josh Paul.

AMY GOODMAN: I just have to ask before we go, Josh Paul. We spoke to you soon after you resigned from the State Department in October. This was, of course, in the midst of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which came after the October 7th surprise attack on Israel that killed 1,200. Can you talk about the response of your colleagues at the State Department? Have others resigned in other parts of the government?

JOSH PAUL: So, we have seen, certainly from the U.N., a U.N. senior official, Craig Mokhiber, resign. We have not seen, to my knowledge, significant resignations within the U.S. government. But I have heard, and continue to hear, from many of my former colleagues who are really trying to find what mechanisms they can use to slow this down, to change the policy. I fear that their efforts at this point continue to be in vain. I think we need to see a policy change from the top. But I know a lot of good people are continuing to make the argument.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Josh Paul, who quit the State Department. And he is not the only one. And I wanted to get a sense from you how aware is President Biden of the enormous, as our guest yesterday said, Matt Duss, “incandescent” kind of rage in the Democratic base, but also in high levels of the government. We just — Nermeen just read headlines. In Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, over a hundred people, led by Jewish Voice for Peace, were arrested, demanding a ceasefire and much more. Talk about all these levels of dissent in the United States and outside and what effect it’s having. Is Biden fearful that his very reelection is in jeopardy?

AKBAR SHAHID AHMED: Absolutely, Amy. I’ll start with the letter you mentioned, because it’s a fascinating statement, more than 800 officials in the U.S., in European institutions, in the Netherlands, France, Britain. I just heard from another European official yesterday who just signed the letter. So, the numbers on that letter are just going to keep growing. It’s not closed yet.

I’d say the dissent is — it’s striking because, given the initial attack, there was such deep sympathy for Israel, which is a close U.S. partner. There was such a sense of “We want to do something to help.” But I think it became so clear, within three or four days, to people that President Biden’s approach to helping Israel was not going to be measured or strategic or involve planning, consultation, all of that. It was just, full tilt, whatever they want, whatever the consequences. And I think that’s where you see a lot of dissent come from. It comes from moral reasons, certainly, for some folks within government, from people in the Democratic base, also from strategic considerations — right? — also from a sense of is the U.S. tearing up goodwill and shoving away the good work that we have done over years and decades, particularly after former President Trump, to reestablish America’s reputation in the world, right? Is that all moot now? And I think that’s only grown since October, because President Biden has not been willing to shift in any tangible way.

In terms of his own awareness of that, what’s so striking about this moment, too, is there is a huge national security establishment here in Washington, as I know you both know, so many layers — counterterror, State Department, Treasury. But this policy is being controlled in a group of, I would say, 20 to 30 close officials around the president, right? So, what’s really important to remember there is there is a real filtering of information. And it’s indisputable, of course, President Biden is going to campaign rallies and events, and he’s seeing the protesters. But to what extent is he aware that many of the actual foreign policy and national security experts within his government, who are nonpartisan, are opposed to this policy, I think that’s a little questionable, right? Because advisers around him have their own priorities. A gentleman called Brett McGurk, the top White House Middle East official, who I’ve reported on extensively, is really pushing that U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal, and President Biden has been going along with that.

I think there’s very heated debates in the president’s close circle, but because especially the State Department has been so frozen out at this moment — and the way I’ve heard it from State Department officials is they’ve literally been told, “We understand your concern. Why don’t you try to work on another part of the world? You know, why don’t you look sort of the Pacific or Latin America? Just apply your skills there.” I think that kind of dismissal of this really reasoned dissent, and response to it of listening sessions and town halls and “we feel your pain” — people don’t want their pain to be felt. They want to see a shift. So I think you’ll see even more pushback from within government, certainly from within the party base.

I think one of the important things — and maybe this is how the message will get through to the president — is not necessarily from his White House national security team of Jake Sullivan, Brett McGurk, Tony Blinken, but maybe through his political contacts. Right? You’ve seen multiple Democratic senators, Chris Van Hollen, importantly, of Maryland, but many others, Chris Coons even, of Delaware, who’s personally close to the president, they’ve publicly started to say, “OK, we need to see a shift from Israel.” So, once those lawmakers, once governors, once others who are actually elected officials start standing up, you might see a shift from the president. But right now there’s still a wariness even on those fronts. I reported yesterday that this new bipartisan border package that was unveiled had Democratic senators agreeing to defund the U.N. agency for Palestinians. That’s a reversal from the Biden administration’s own policy, a reversal from Democrats, a triumph from Republicans. So, I think as soon as elected Democrats kind of find that assertiveness, that’s when you might start to see a shift from the president.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, we’ll just be speaking to a doctor who’s recently returned from Gaza, where we’ll discuss what’s happening with UNRWA in Gaza. Thank you so much, Akbar Shahid Ahmed, senior diplomatic correspondent for HuffPost, based in Washington, D.C.

Next, we speak to an American doctor recently returned from Gaza, pediatrician Dr. Seema Jilani with the International Rescue Committee. Back in a minute.

Gaza remains under assault. Day 124 of  the assault in the wave that began in October.  Binoy Kampmark (DISSIDENT VOICE) points out, "Bloodletting as form; murder as fashion.  The ongoing campaign in Gaza by Israel’s Defence Forces continues without stalling and restriction.  But the burgeoning number of corpses is starting to become a challenge for the propaganda outlets:  How to justify it?  Fortunately for Israel, the United States, its unqualified defender, is happy to provide cover for murder covered in the sheath of self-defence."   CNN has explained, "The Gaza Strip is 'the most dangerous place' in the world to be a child, according to the executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund."  ABC NEWS quotes UNICEF's December 9th statement, ""The Gaza Strip is the most dangerous place in the world to be a child. Scores of children are reportedly being killed and injured on a daily basis. Entire neighborhoods, where children used to play and go to school have been turned into stacks of rubble, with no life in them."  NBC NEWS notes, "Strong majorities of all voters in the U.S. disapprove of President Joe Biden’s handling of foreign policy and the Israel-Hamas war, according to the latest national NBC News poll. The erosion is most pronounced among Democrats, a majority of whom believe Israel has gone too far in its military action in Gaza."  The slaughter continues.  It has displaced over 1 million people per the US Congressional Research Service.  Jessica Corbett (COMMON DREAMS) points out, "Academics and legal experts around the world, including Holocaust scholars, have condemned the six-week Israeli assault of Gaza as genocide."   The death toll of Palestinians in Gaza is grows higher and higher.  United Nations Women noted, "More than 1.9 million people -- 85 per cent of the total population of Gaza -- have been displaced, including what UN Women estimates to be nearly 1 million women and girls. The entire population of Gaza -- roughly 2.2 million people -- are in crisis levels of acute food insecurity or worse." THE NATIONAL notes, "The death toll in Gaza has risen to 27,708 after Israeli strikes killed 123 Palestinians in the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry has announced."  AP has noted, "About 4,000 people are reported missing."  February 5th, the United Nations' Phillipe Lazzarini Tweeted:

And the area itself?  Isabele Debre (AP) reveals, "Israel’s military offensive has turned much of northern Gaza into an uninhabitable moonscape. Whole neighborhoods have been erased. Homes, schools and hospitals have been blasted by airstrikes and scorched by tank fire. Some buildings are still standing, but most are battered shells."  Kieron Monks (I NEWS) reports, "More than 40 per cent of the buildings in northern Gaza have been damaged or destroyed, according to a new study of satellite imagery by US researchers Jamon Van Den Hoek from Oregon State University and Corey Scher at the City University of New York. The UN gave a figure of 45 per cent of housing destroyed or damaged across the strip in less than six weeks. The rate of destruction is among the highest of any conflict since the Second World War."   

Though no cease-fire is being sought, another pause in the slaughter make take places -- a pause, not an ending, just a momentary pause.  Bethan McKernan (GUARDIAN) reports:

Hamas has responded to a US-backed Israeli ceasefire plan for the war in Gaza with its own far-reaching proposal for a permanent end to the fighting.

It is a position Israel is almost certain to reject, but which mediators are viewing positively, as it appears the group is willing to engage in further negotiations.

Hamas put forward its three-stage plan late on Tuesday via Qatari and Egyptian mediators. Under the plan, Palestinian militants would exchange Israeli hostages they captured on 7 October for 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, secure the reconstruction of Gaza, ensure the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces and an exchange of bodies and remains, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

The proposal envisions three phases of a truce, of 45 days each. It comes in response to a plan put forward by Israel two weeks ago for a six-week cessation of hostilities and the phased release of the estimated 130 Israelis still held hostage in Gaza in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

This morning, THE NATIONAL notes:

An Israeli air strike on a home in northern Gaza killed 20 people and wounded many more on Tuesday night, Palestinian media reported.

At least 20 people were wounded in the strike on Al Shanti family home, east of the Jabalia refugee camp, the official Wafa news agency reported.

Fourteen people were killed in a strike on the Al Hanawi school in Rafah, while "violent raids" were reported near the border with Egypt.

Several people were also shot dead by snipers in the southern city, according to Wafa.

Several Rafah fishermen were also injured when their boats were targeted by navy gunships, it added.

Several people were killed in strikes in the central city of Deir Al Balah, while at least eight injured people arrived at the Al Aqsa Hospital.


A 14-year-old girl was out in Khan Younis trying to get water when she was shot by a sniper. This is definitely not the first time, and people here are certain it’s not going to be the last.

She was left in the street bleeding until she passed away. It is another example of how unsafe the situation is in the southern city. There are Israeli attack drones, intense bombing and snipers on the rooftops.

Hours before this murder, a 40-year-old woman was also shot and killed by a sniper just metres away from the main gate of Nasser Hospital. She was trying to get food and water for her wounded son inside.

  Democratic Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib on Tuesday joined a leading Muslim advocacy group in urging the U.S. Department of Justice to open a hate crime investigation following the stabbing of a young Palestinian American man in Texas.

Zacharia Doar, 23, and three other Muslim American men were driving home from a Sunday evening demonstration against Israel's war on Gaza—which has killed, wounded, or left missing more than 100,000 Palestinians—when "a white male riding a bicycle, later identified as Bert James Baker, allegedly attempted to rip a flagpole with a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf reading 'Free Palestine' off of their car," according to the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

CAIR continued:

According to the victims, Baker repeatedly screamed the n-word and other obscenities, opened the passenger door, pulled one of the victims out of the car, and physically attacked him. The three others in the car say they then exited the car and fought off Baker. After Baker appeared to be subdued, he allegedly pulled out a knife and stabbed one of the young men in the chest, breaking one of his ribs.

The stabbing victim again subdued Baker, who was arrested after police arrived on the scene. The father of the stabbing victim reports that he has undergone a successful surgery and is recovering at the hospital.

The Austin Police Department said Tuesday that it believes the attack was "bias-motivated" and it would forward details of the incident to the city's Hate Crime Review Commission.

"A 23-year-old Palestinian American was stabbed last night in Texas—the latest hate crime against Palestinian Americans," Tlaib said on social media. "The constant dehumanization of Palestinians, Arab, and Muslim Americans has real, dangerous consequences. The Justice Department must investigate this as a hate crime." 

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