Could the Cohen Tapes Incriminate President Trump?

When the FBI raided the office of Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, they retrieved a tape on which Trump discussed a payoff to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who allegedly had an affair with President Trump. The tape, which Cohen recorded without Trump’s knowledge, reveals Trump’s tactics for keeping details of his personal life out of the public eye – but do the tapes reveal something the public ought to know? More at CBS.

With accusations of treason flying around, some people dismissed the Cohen story as a distraction. Perhaps it is. But it’s also a reminder that Cohen’s legal troubles are ongoing, and that their potential ramifications for Trump are far from clear. As Paul Waldman pointed out in the Washington Post on Friday, “you never know when something that looks trivial today could turn out tomorrow to be anything but.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s kompromat [compromising material] might be hiding in plain sight: He’s the one who knows, and can say, that Trump didn’t win the presidency fair and square. On the home front, kompromat also seems near to hand. If Cohen recorded his boss prattling on about his sexual needs, his extramarital girlfriends and his efforts to silence them, Cohen probably has some other receipts, too.

…unless the recording shows that Trump authorized the payment with federal donations, there would appear to be no laws broken here. Indeed, Giuliani says that the president is recorded on the audiotape as telling Cohen to write a check to McDougal so as to ensure proper documentation for the payment. If that’s true and Giluliani’s contention that the payment to McDougal was never made is also true, then the president wouldn’t appear to have a major issue here. And we already know that at the margin, Trump’s base and most Americans care very little about whether presidents cheat on their spouses.

Is the “Long Peace” Coming to an End?

Post-nationalist Europe brought about the EU and over 70 years of peace on the continent, but do Trump’s policies signify an end to the long peace?

This U.S.-led network of international institutions has produced the longest period without a war between great powers since the days of the Roman Empire. We’re at 73 years and counting. Prior to its creation, Europe had plunged the world into two global wars in the span of just 25 years. This alone — peace among the great powers — has been worth every penny spent and every hour of haggling.

Security should not be an issue that pits the United States against Europe. Many Western societies are divided between those who believe in preserving the post-World War II order and those who would replace it with 19th-century nationalism. Europeans who believe that abandoning the Western liberal order would be an extraordinary act of stupidity must step up our game. But we won’t succeed without strong support from like-minded friends across the Atlantic. American patriots, will you work with us?

The only positive thing anyone can say about Trump’s European performance is the absence of a negative—he didn’t, as many feared, sabotage the substantive accomplishments of the NATO summit as he did at the G-7 meeting, or call for lifting sanctions against Russia, recognize Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea, or cut a bad deal on Syria (of course, we may eventually learn more about what he and Putin agreed to behind closed doors). Unlike trade, where Trump has implemented policies to divide the United States from Europe, he has so far left the policy agenda of trans-Atlantic security and Russia largely unscathed—perhaps due the that fact that while he has senior advisors who support and reinforce his trade approach, on issues like NATO and Russia he is more isolated.

Without Hamas Cooperation, Is Gaza Escalation Unavoidable?

Jared Kushner says the key to peace with Gaza lies with Hamas. But if Hamas doesn’t want peace with Israel, is there any way to avoid a full-blown war?

The cycle is clear: Rockets, mortars, terror tunnels, kite bombs and other weapons of aggression lead only to stricter constraints on the people of Gaza. Hamas’s acts of aggression have only produced misery for the people of Gaza… For far too long, Gaza has lurched from crisis to crisis, sustained by emergency appeals and one-time caravans of aid, without dealing with the root cause: Hamas leadership is holding the Palestinians of Gaza captive.

“Reconciliation was never closer than it seems now,” he says, on condition of anonymity. According to his assessment, the sides are close to agreement on an Egyptian-proposed compromise over their biggest dispute: control of Gaza’s security forces and disarming of the Hamas military wing. Israel is a passive, behind-the-scenes supporting actor in the deal that seems to be emerging, but for the first time it views such a development as being in its own best interests because of its potential to restore calm to the Gaza Strip.

As with the occupation of the West Bank, there is no alternative policy to the Gaza blockade. This is by design. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert initiated the blockade to strangle the Palestinians of Gaza until they voted out or overthrew their Hamas leaders. Every government since Olmert’s, each more right-wing than the last, has used that as the foundation for its own policies, which can occasionally be even more aggressive; MK Bezelel Smotrich from the Habayit Hayehudi party recently suggested Israel reinstate a military occupation of the Gaza Strip with boots on the ground. He also recommended building an Israeli settlement there.

Have We Reached a Tipping Point on Marijuana Legalization?

As recreational and medical marijuana become legal in more states, some are saying that the scales have tipped and that it is only a matter of time before marijuana is legal everywhere in the U.S. If so, is that a good thing?

I figured that once a majority of states had medical marijuana laws, it would tip the scales for the federal government to do something. I was wrong about that. There are now 30 states with some kind of medical marijuana accommodation… the feds still stonewall. The Drug Enforcement Administration has stubbornly maintained marijuana as a Schedule 1 dangerous drug because it insists that it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Marijuana should be legal in all 50 states. Across the country, nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana. Voters in Michigan and Oklahoma will be voting on marijuana initiatives this November, and efforts are underway in Missouri, Arizona, Nebraska and Utah to get legalization initiatives on the ballot. While I support these states for leading by example, this is an issue that affects every corner of our nation. You should not be able to legally buy a product in one state, just to be arrested for the very same act in another.

The country’s new attitude toward marijuana has depended on the notion that it isn’t very harmful. But I don’t think we yet know how harmful it is — and, specifically, what the health effects of widespread legalization and increased marijuana use will be. “The effects of legalization,” Mecia writes, citing academic research, are “mixed at best — far from the unqualified success that marijuana boosters like to project.” In Colorado, he explains, marijuana-related traffic deaths are up, as are marijuana-related hospitalizations and the number of newborns testing positive for it.

Did You Catch These Stories?

In case you missed them…

Does Steven Cohen’s #MeToo scandal taint his work as a sociologist?

Do Americans really know how many calories they’re consuming?

Can Israel’s tech sector lead the charge on gay rights?

Steven M. Cohen is perhaps the most important Jewish sociologist in America. A prolific writer and popular speaker on the Jewish circuit, Cohen is best known as the architect of the intermarriage “crisis” discourse… But as of this week, he will end up being known not for his sociological work, but for the shocking allegations of sexual assault and harassment levied against him… how surprised can we be that a man whose entire worldview hinged on women having more babies turned out to have no respect for women when it came to personal sexual boundaries?

Americans are actually pretty good at counting calories… But for certain dishes, Americans have serious blind spots. People are way off when it comes to predicting the calories in Chinese egg rolls, for example, or taco salad. In both cases, survey respondents guessed there were half as many calories in those dishes as there actually are. Blended alcoholic drinks were also problematic: Pina coladas and daiquiris have more than twice as many calories as the typical American thinks. (I believe this is willful ignorance.)

A pro-LGBT campaign that began with the support a few dozen companies snowballed over the weekend, with hundreds of major companies joining the nationwide strike set for Sunday to protest a law passed last week that denies state-supported surrogacy to homosexual couples and single men… “Companies are, for the first time on this scale, showing that there is social but also commercial value in standing up for equality, and are proving to be critical drivers for change. Through the Israel Diversity Standard, we plan to engage these companies (and many more) to ensure not just immediate action, but also long term defense of basic human rights.”

Roundtable Extra: Commemorating Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av) is a day of reflection and mourning for Jews – but how is it commemorated? Unlike other days of national mourning, Tisha B’Av, which is focused on the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, tends to be observed more by religious Jews than by secular Jews. A new study from the Jewish People Policy Institute sheds light on the spectrum of attitudes Jews in Israel have towards this holiday.

Those who think of Tisha B`Av as a national day of mourning may change their minds when they compare the data about Tisha B`av with those of other national days of mourning. Fifty-five percent of Israeli Jews claim that as far as they are concerned, Tisha B’av is just a regular day. For other national days of mourning like Yom HaShoah or Yom Hazikaron, only a small percentage of Jews (9 and 5 percent respectively, most of them Haredi) claim they are just regular days.

Should restaurants, bars and coffee houses remain open on the fast of Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the Temple and other calamities throughout Jewish history? Former Tel Aviv city councilman Haim Goren, a member of the Jewish Home party, believes so…

“We say Tel Aviv is a secular city. Let people open their restaurants.” Asked how opening a restaurant was any different from an ultra-Orthodox family barbecuing on Yom HaShoah, he replied that the two days of mourning were fundamentally different and that there was no consensus on the traditional fast.

Thousands of people flocked to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem immediately after the end of the holy Sabbath, for the traditional recitation of the Biblical Book of Lamentations (Eicha). The fast of Tisha B’Av began Saturday night after sunset, delayed in honor of the Sabbath which takes precedence in Jewish law. With one voice, together the multitudes gathered in the Western Wall plaza sang “Ani Ma’amin” — I Believe — the declaration of ultimate faith in the coming of Moshiach Tzidkenu, the Messiah.

Today’s Hot Issues

Could the Cohen Tapes Incriminate President Trump? Is the “Long Peace” Coming to an End? Without Hamas Cooperation, Is Gaza Escalation Unavoidable? Have We Reached a Tipping Point on Marijuana Legalization? Did You Catch These Stories? Roundtable Extra: Commemorating Tisha B’Av