Israel Versus Iran: Who Has the Upper Hand?

Israel has dropped the facade and taken credit for airstrikes on Iranian infrastructure in Syria. This has led to a more open military standoff between Iran and Israel. Is it a conflict that Israel can end easily? More at Haaretz.

Israel’s military has slipped below its arch-nemesis Iran in the ranking of military powers, ranking 16 out of 137 countries, according to the international defense site Global Firepower (GFP). It was the third year in a row that Israel fell in the site’s ranking, falling one spot from the previous year and down five spots when it ranked 11th in 2016. Iran, meanwhile, climbed to 13th in 2018 from 20th in 2017.

The Iranians have again fallen into a well-hidden trap laid by Israel: The events of the past two days are an almost exact replica of Operation House of Cards from May 2018. In both cases, the Iranians tried to punish Israel for bombing Revolutionary Guards targets in Syria… The Iranian rockets did not cause any damage, but did provide a pretext as well as legitimacy for what followed: Israel used its own response to the Iranian violation of its sovereignty to eliminate the bulk of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria in one fell swoop. The Iranians fell for Israel’s poker face.

Israel does not have relations with Tehran or Damascus. The United States has little influence on events in Syria, and the recent announcement by the Trump administration of a pull-out has rendered Washington irrelevant. The Netanyahu government has long realized that the key to reducing Iranian influence in Syria is the attainment of cooperation with Russia…The increased tempo of Israeli bombing attacks in Syria, however, has taken its toll on Russian-Israeli relations. In November a Russian spy plane was downed by Syrian anti-air missiles during an Israeli air raid.

Why Did the Supreme Court Uphold Trump’s Transgender Military Ban?

Trump’s decision to severely limit the participation of transgender individuals in the military was justified as a national security issue, though its critics attacked it as a naked act of bigotry. Now the Supreme Court has ruled to uphold Trump’s ban. More at New York Times.

This Supreme Court ruling, while disappointing to many, is a solid ruling for two reasons: It’s almost always better for the lower courts to address cases and go through the appellate process working out the kinks, rather than immediately going directly to the Supreme Court… Second, and perhaps more interestingly, the transgender ban really is a national security issue, though some media outlets will no doubt paint it as a form of bigotry.

The courts are supposed to be bulwarks against this kind of overreach. One problem with democracy is the propensity of the majority to scapegoat and discriminate against the minority, which is part of the reason the judicial branch exists — to make sure rights are enjoyed equally. The current conservative court, including newly appointed Brett Kavanaugh, clearly does not see itself that way. Rather, the right-wing justices are making it clear that they are happy to be judicial activists when it serves their ideological preferences.

I remember not that long ago that a principal argument against allowing gay Americans to serve openly in the military was that it would disrupt unit cohesion. You don’t hear that very much any more… Once again, to feed the brain-fever of its all-powerful base, the administration* decides to do reckless damage to people’s lives. I’ll be glad when the executive branch isn’t being run by News Corp anymore.

Where Do Dreamers Stand in the Shutdown Drama?

The fate of the “Dreamers,” the undocumented migrants who arrived as children to the United States with temporary legal status due to the D.A.C.A. program, have long been a talking point for Democrats in discussions of immigration reform. But if Democrats could trade a border wall for a real solution for the Dreamers, why haven’t they? More at Newsweek.

Now that Democrats have another chance with Mr. Trump, will they take it? They may want to hold out until the Supreme Court rules on the Obama-Trump orders, but Mr. Trump’s leverage rises with a Court victory. Democrats should strike a deal now that the President is willing—unless their real purpose is to use immigrants as pawns and deny Mr. Trump even a modest political victory.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also shoulder blame for the shutdown: They might have sought a wall-for-Dreamers compromise at any time. But they wanted to humiliate Trump by forcing him to back down. Pelosi decided the wall idea was immoral. Democrats say Trump must reopen the government before any negotiations start on border security: Yes, we’ll duel, just as soon as you hand me your gun.

Now both sides are boxed in.

If House Democrats and the party’s filibuster squad in the Senate allocate even $1 to support the cruelest, most central element of Trump’s creeping fascism, they aren’t fixing the real crisis, the moral crisis. They will be feeding the cancer, helping it metastasize. It’s important to remember this because the big story — as this week, and the shutdown, drags on — will be increasing political and pundit pressure on the Democrats to back down, to somehow meet Trump halfway (which usually means more than halfway).

BuzzFeed & Covington: How Naive Are We About Fake News?

The media is under the spotlight because of two major stories this week – the BuzzFeed expose of Trump’s business dealings in Moscow and the viral video showing teens from Covington High School in MAGA hats purportedly “harassing” a Native American protestor. The BuzzFeed story is criticized for being overreported without verification. The Covington story, after the publication of more video footage, revealed a different narrative than the one originally assumed.

…both [stories] are indicative of something ominous that’s happening to our political culture. Extreme partisan polarization is combining with the technology of social media, and especially Twitter, to provoke a form of recurrent political madness among members of the country’s cultural and intellectual elite. And that madness, when combined with the rising extremism of the populist right, is pushing the country toward a dangerously illiberal forms of politics.

During times of moral outrage, the right to remain silent seems tenuous. Increasingly, everyone from Taylor Swift to Paul Ryan gets criticized for not speaking out on this or that political development. There is a sense that silence equals consent. So what should we do about the absence of patience in our lives?

As consumers of news, showing skepticism of stories before they’re fully confirmed is not enough. Simply saying something is “big, if true” does no service to the viewer. We must exercise judgment in the amount of times we air, discuss, and promote that story too.

Why didn’t the Times’ crack reporting team — or the multitude of other new outlets and pundits pushing the story — do the most basic job of any reporter before spreading falsehoods? Namely, check the facts. After all, none of the reporters or pundits had seen the altercation themselves.

The answer is simple: The brief and wildly misleading clip fed the narrative that Trump and his supporters are racists.

If those students hadn’t been wearing MAGA hats, there would have been no story.

Do We Need to “Break the Silence” About Palestine?

An op-ed in the New York Times (below) references Martin Luther King’s speech about Vietnam to make a case for “breaking the silence” about the situation in Palestine. Author Michelle Alexander claims that Congress and non-profit groups have been silent up until now on this issue. But has there actually been any silence on this issue?

Reading King’s speech at Riverside more than 50 years later, I am left with little doubt that his teachings and message require us to speak out passionately against the human rights crisis in Israel-Palestine, despite the risks and despite the complexity of the issues. King argued, when speaking of Vietnam, that even “when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict,” we must not be mesmerized by uncertainty. “We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”

There is no silence to break. What must be broken is the double standard of those who elevate the Palestinian claims over those of the Kurds, the Syrians, the Iranians, the Chechens, the Tibetans, the Ukrainians, and many other more deserving groups who truly suffer from the silence of the academia, the media, and the international community. The United Nations devotes more of its time, money, and votes to the Palestinian issue than to the claims of all of these other oppressed groups combined.

Let’s put aside the absurd notion that the civil rights world has been too “silent” about the plight of Palestinians, which is arguably the most talked about cause on the planet… The real question is: Why would Alexander single out the Jewish state?

In recent years, we’ve seen two strands of anti-Semitism percolate in America. Neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville represent the classic, blunt strand of Jew-hatred… The second strand of anti-Semitism is sneakier. It is made up of social justice activists who fight for the rights of blacks, gays, minorities and other oppressed people, but seem to have a real problem with Jews and the Jewish state.

What Do the Oscar Nominations Say About Our Entertainment Culture?

The Oscar Nominations have been released and it looks like it will be a strong year for diversity at the awards ceremony. But while a push towards diversity for the Oscars was expected, the nominations themselves held many surprises. More at Vulture.

The Academy Awards were asked for more diversity and this year’s set of nominations made up as variegated a mosaic as this proud old competition has ever tried to assemble. It may not have been as timely or as resounding as those who three years before first posted “#Oscarsowhite” might have wanted. But the effort is at least apparent — and also significant when framed against the stress test present-day America is undergoing on social and political fronts. They could still do better, though.

If this year’s Oscar nominations were the basis for a horror movie, it would be titled, “Revenge of the Anonymous Academy Member.” The nominations, which were announced Tuesday morning, read like an intentional rebuke to a year’s worth of beautiful, thoughtful films from every corner of the world.

The Academy Awards have never been a true indicator of quality, but 2019’s ceremony will almost certainly reward artists who catered to the laziest fantasies of people who support “resistance” only as far as it’s comfortable.

2018 was an extraordinary year for movies, and some of the year’s best movies even showed up in the roster of Oscar nominees. The gap between the industry at large and the art of the movies is growing increasingly wide, and many in the industry seem well aware of it—that’s why there was a move, widely decried and quickly walked back, by the Academy, last year, to inaugurate a new category, for Best Popular Film.

Today’s Hot Issues

Israel Versus Iran: Who Has the Upper Hand? Why Did the Supreme Court Uphold Trump’s Transgender Military Ban? Where Do Dreamers Stand in the Shutdown Drama? BuzzFeed & Covington: How Naive Are We About Fake News? Do We Need to “Break the Silence” About Palestine? What Do the Oscar Nominations Say About Our Entertainment Culture?