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The Fair and Unfair Critiques of Kamala Harris

Real Clear Politics -

Vox is a general interest news site for the 21st century. Its mission is simple: Explain the news. Politics, public policy, world affairs, pop culture, science, business, food, sports, and everything else that matters are part of our editorial ambit. Our goal is to move people from curiosity to understanding.

As crisis engulfs Israel, Biden’s words go only so far

Politico -

The political crisis engulfing Israel is exposing the limits of American influence on the country — limits that are, to some degree, self-imposed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to overhaul Israel’s judiciary is the most direct cause of the recent chaos — prompting huge protests and strikes, with even Israeli military members speaking out in opposition.

Netanyahu’s goal: make changes to Israel’s judicial system that would, among other things, let Israeli lawmakers override court rulings — a move that critics fear will badly damage Israeli democracy.

Over the weekend, Netanyahu fired his defense minister for opposing the overhaul — sparking more protests and exposing cracks in the ruling coalition. On Monday, as more coalition members reportedly threatened to quit, Netanyahu announced he was putting the overhaul on hold and would seek a compromise measure.

Throughout the crisis, whose roots stretch back months, President Joe Biden and his aides tried to strike a balance with Israel: Keeping appeals and criticisms largely private, but going public on occasion with carefully worded statements designed to pressure Netanyahu to back off the overhaul plan. But those U.S. appeals didn’t seem to do the trick. Internal Israeli pressure has clearly been far more powerful.

The big question now is how much influence the United States still has with Netanyahu and what level of pressure it’s willing to apply when Netanyahu or his party take future destabilizing actions.

So the crisis is all about the judicial reform?

No. Netanyahu returned to power late last year— after the latest in a series of seemingly endless elections — by aligning himself with extreme right-wing figures, some of whom have racist, misogynist and homophobic views.

This has alarmed more moderate and left-leaning Israelis, whose political power is limited. Many worry that the far-right coalition now in charge of the country — some members of whom have extreme religious views — will undermine secular Israelis’ rights, not to mention those of Israeli Arabs, Palestinians and others.

To top it off, many of his critics suspect that the main reason Netanyahu is pushing the judicial overhaul and other initiatives desired by his far-right partners is so that they will ultimately protect him from prosecution in Israeli courts, where he’s facing corruption charges.

How are Biden and his aides reacting to all this?

Very, very cautiously.

For the most part, Biden administration officials have tried to keep their conversations with the Israelis private, and, even then, they tend to say things in carefully worded ways.

The administration has — often in a coded manner — warned Netanyahu that he needs to protect Israeli democracy. The administration also has stressed its support for LGBTQ rights and Palestinian rights in ways designed to signal to Netanyahu that he should rein in his extremist allies.

Administration officials have said they will hold Netanyahu responsible for his coalition, pointing out that he’s insisted he’s the one in charge. And top administration officials have refused to meet with far-right figures surrounding the Israeli prime minister.

But the Biden administration also insists that its commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad. The president has long said he will not impose conditions on the billions of dollars in security aid the U.S. provides to Israel, and there’s no sign he’s changed his mind about that.

While the administration insists that it does have some leverage over Israel — such as assisting it against attacks at the United Nations or helping it pursue deeper cooperation with some Arab states — the reality is that it has largely stuck to rhetoric as its main weapon.

Is it working?

Not really.

Just days ago, Biden spoke to Netanyahu, and the White House readout of the call emphasized that Biden wanted Israel to find a compromise on the judicial reform issue because it’s critical to safeguarding Israeli democracy.

“Democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support,” the readout said.

It was an unusually frank call, the readout suggested, especially given the usual niceties involved in the relationship. But in the days after, there was no sign that Netanyahu had taken Biden’s warnings to heart.

The Israeli leader proceeded ahead with the judicial reform plans. It wasn’t until Netanyahu’s coalition started to crack amid popular pressure that he began to rethink his stance this past weekend.

What factors must Biden consider when dealing with Israel?

First, there’s the pure national security aspect. Israel is a critical partner to the United States in the Middle East, especially when it comes to intelligence sharing about the various players in the region.

This is especially important in regard to Iran, a longtime U.S. and Israeli adversary with a nuclear program.

Second, there’s just a lot of history. The United States has always been a stalwart partner to Israel ever since it was created as a homeland for the Jewish people fleeing persecution in Europe and beyond.

Biden has been, for decades, a champion of Israel. He genuinely loves the country and the many successes it has achieved in its short existence.

Biden has often touted his friendship with Netanyahu, even when the latter has tested that friendship.

Israel also is a rare democracy in the Middle East. Many U.S. officials also want to keep good ties with Israel in part to resolve the lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has left the Palestinian people in misery for decades.

Third, there’s the question of how things could play out in America’s 2024 presidential campaign.

For many years, there was broad bipartisan support for Israel in the United States, and any president who criticized the country risked being attacked by members of his own party. This is changing, somewhat.

Generally speaking, Democrats are still strong supporters of Israel. But there has been growing worry in recent years among Democrats about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s wholehearted embrace of former President Donald Trump angered many Democrats. His new government’s make-up also has alarmed even some of his strongest Democratic backers, suggesting Biden could feel pressure from his party to be tougher on Israel going forward.

Is the calculus different for the GOP?

Pro-Israel organizations are strong and politically active, and they command significant support from evangelical Christians in particular — an important Republican base.

In a sign of how strident the GOP support is for Israel, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently told Axios that Washington shouldn’t weigh in on the judicial overhaul plan, calling it an Israel internal matter.

Republicans eyeing the White House already are trying to prove their pro-Israel bona fides.

Some, such as former Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, won’t say if they support a future state for Palestinians, for instance. Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has touted her many efforts to protect Israel at the world body.

But there are signs that Netanyahu’s overhaul plan goes too far for even some of Israel’s biggest supporters on the American right. Former Trump administration ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is among those who’ve reportedly voiced concerns.

How much does the U.S. really care about the Middle East right now, given threats from Russia and China?

It still cares a lot.

The United States has military bases in the Middle East, and the region remains a key source of oil and gas for the world — one even more critical given the damage Russia’s war in Ukraine has done to energy markets.

Without question, the Biden administration believes the top threat to America’s long-term global power is China. But China — as well as Russia — is trying to gain influence in the Middle East amid perceptions that the United States is backing away from the region. That means the competition with those two countries will include the arena of the Middle East.

For the Biden administration, one key goal is to push for a more peaceful Middle East, with the idea that a more stable Middle East means the United States can focus more on the grander challenges posed by China and Russia.

Opinion | Stormy Daniels, Feminist Hero?

Politico -

History has a habit of overlooking the contributions of powerful women. Which is why, this week, it’s worth considering Stormy Daniels, who refused to do what women involved in political sex scandals have so often done: Stay silent.

After the media broke news of her alleged affair with former President Donald Trump and his alleged payment to her to keep quiet about it, Daniels leaned into the spotlight, taking control of her narrative and speaking out on her own terms, loudly and unabashedly, with humor and candor. And in the end, she’s coming out on top, while men involved in the Daniels-Trump scandal have either ended up in jail or are now at risk of being indicted. When this whole sordid episode is over, will a porn star have rewritten the rules on women, sex and power?

From time immemorial, women involved with philandering men, especially powerful ones, have been vilified, branded as sluts, homewreckers and vixens. That has certainly applied to political sex scandals as well. Monica Lewinsky, a 22-year-old intern when she had an affair with President Bill Clinton, was eviscerated in the public square, hounded by the media and called a tramp, slut, whore, tart, bimbo, floozy and even a spy. New York Post’s Page Six labeled her “the portly pepper pot.” Under such intense and sexist scrutiny, she remained silent, speaking about the affair only to her lawyers and family.

It was 10 years before she finally broke that silence. Speaking at the Forbes 30 under 30 conference, she delivered a powerful speech about bullying and her experience surviving shame and public humiliation. Later she wrote an essay for Vanity Fair after the death of Roger Ailes, the man who had orchestrated much of her public torment at emerging Fox News. “The media were able to brand me. And that brand stuck, in part because it was imbued with power,” she wrote. (Lewinsky has focused much of her time since writing and speaking about the effects of bullying, shame and silence on young women.)

Years before Lewinsky, Donna Rice, a 29-year-old actress and model, became the central female figure in the first political sex scandal of the TV age. After the Miami Herald broke the story of Democratic presidential nominee Gary Hart’s affair with Rice, she was endlessly dragged through the mud. As they would later do to Lewinsky, the press hounded Rice for years — following her, camping out at her home and tracking her every move. Pictures of her in skimpy bathing suits were splashed on every TV screen and magazine cover. She was lambasted as a bimbo. (Hart didn’t fare so well either; he ended his presidential campaign just a few days after the story was made public.)

Rice herself didn’t speak publicly about the affair until 31 years later, after a Hollywood studio made a movie about the scandal starring Hugh Jackman without consulting her. “I chose silence. … I chose the high road,” she told ABC’s Amy Robach in 2018. But the price she paid for taking that high road was steep. The pictures and images of her “fit the narrative that I was a temptress, a bimbo.” She told People, “I felt I was put on trial. … My reputation was destroyed worldwide.” (Rice has spent much of her professional life running a non-profit called Enough is Enough, aimed at making the internet safer for families and children.)

It’s easy to see why neither Rice nor Lewinsky felt they had anything to gain from trying to tell their side of the story or defend themselves, given the vast power imbalance of their circumstances. They were women alone, up against an entire media establishment hell bent on getting ratings off public shaming. They were on the wrong side of powerful political figures and living in a world that needed them to be the vixens.

All of which is why the Stormy Daniels scandal stands apart. From the beginning, powerful men tried to keep her silent, yet she repeatedly and doggedly fought to tell the world her story. Her first effort came in 2011, when she In Touch magazine","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://apnews.com/article/entertainment-north-america-donald-trump-ap-top-news-publishing-6bb9533272744928b5d2d6050c72be09","_id":"00000187-24b2-d391-a9f7-fcb312ba0004","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000187-24b2-d391-a9f7-fcb312ba0005","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">reportedly struck a deal with In Touch magazine, even taking a lie detector test to validate the story. Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen reportedly threatened to sue, and In Touch killed the story.

Undeterred, Daniels tried again in 2016 when Trump was running for president, contacting the National Enquirer to make a deal. But instead, editor in chief David Pecker, a Trump ally, allegedly collaborated with Michael Cohen to offer her a “catch and kill” deal. They would buy the rights to her story in exchange for $130,000 and a non-disclosure agreement. The details of how that money was initially paid by Cohen and reimbursed by Trump from the White House in 2017 are at the heart of Trump’s legal peril now. (Trump denies having an affair with Daniels.)

Daniels initially complied with the non-disclosure deal she signed. But in 2018, the Wall Street Journal broke the story","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-lawyer-arranged-130-000-payment-for-adult-film-stars-silence-1515787678","_id":"00000187-24b2-d391-a9f7-fcb312ba000b","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000187-24b2-d391-a9f7-fcb312ba000c","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">Wall Street Journal broke the story of Trump’s alleged payment to Cohen, publishing images of the checks. When Trump claimed he never signed the agreement, Daniels saw an opening. She challenged the validity of the NDA head on, suing to invalidate it. Then she wrote a tell-all book, doing interviews with media outlets and forging lucrative business deals and a massive social media following along the way.

Since then, Daniels has leveraged her platform to emasculate Trump at every turn, first by revealing salacious details about his manhood in her book and then by mastering Twitter, where she refers to him only as “Tiny” to her 1.2 million followers, cutting him where it hurts most — his macho persona. Several times a day she confronts her trolls and harassers, reasserting her story, using humor and sarcasm to disarm the haters. Examples are too numerous and inappropriate for these pages but it’s worth a scroll.

Obviously, Daniels is no saint or altruist. She’s making every possible dollar off the scandal. Merch sales and movie promotions feature prominently on her social media accounts. But there is also something admirable about her chutzpah, her refusal to back down, be sidelined, silenced, ignored or underestimated. She has persisted.

So far, the strategy has worked, and things have not gone well for the men who have tried to intimidate her. Cohen went to jail for his role in buying her silence. Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, tried to defraud her, stealing her book advance by forging documents with her name on them. But he also landed in jail. And now Trump may end up a loser too. Daniels assisted prosecutors in the case against Trump. But perhaps as importantly, she might have assisted in influencing the court of public opinion. An Economist/YouGov March poll found 46 precent of Americans believe Trump should be indicted for his actions.

Why was Daniels able to break the cycle of silence that has held women back for so long? For one, by choosing a career in porn, she had already rejected social norms and sexual mores, embracing a life of maximum exposure. That set her up to challenge a sexist social convention in ways that other women who preferred not to have their sex lives exposed could not.

Still, it's easy to say that as a porn star, Daniels had nothing to lose by speaking out. But that would diminish the courage it takes to confront powerful bullies. Challenging Trump, who has an uncanny ability to unleash hate and even violence against those who go up against him, can be especially dangerous. Even if, in a post #MeToo age, traditional media might be less apt to pillory Daniels than it was Lewinsky or Rice, she faced plenty of real danger in speaking out. In recent weeks, she has had to increase her personal security in response to threats against her.

To consider Daniels a kind of feminist hero may seem discordant on the surface. She’s immensely self-interested and works in an industry that can be profoundly exploitive and abusive of women. Still, in many ways she’s exactly what feminism espouses: A self-possessed woman in full control of her choices, sexually liberated, free and confident enough to do as she pleases with her body, career, life and voice.

It remains to be seen whether Daniels has made it easier for other women to speak out on their own terms and break the cycle of shame and silence that has held us back for too long. Perhaps she is uniquely able to break norms because she never accepted them in the first place. But it’s just as possible that she forged a new paradigm where the cycle of women’s evisceration in the public square has ended.

Here’s hoping.

3 children, 3 adults fatally shot at Nashville grade school

Politico -

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A female shooter wielding two “assault-style” rifles and a pistol killed three students and three adults at a private Christian school in Nashville on Monday in what marks the latest in a series of mass shootings in a country growing increasingly unnerved by bloodshed in schools.

The suspect also died after being shot by police following the violence at The Covenant School, a Presbyterian school for about 200 students from preschool through sixth grade. Police said the shooter was a 28-year-old woman from Nashville, after initially saying she appeared to be in her teens.

Authorities were working to identify her and whether she had a connection to the school.

The killings come as communities around the nation are reeling from a spate of school violence, including the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, last year; a first grader who shot his teacher in Virginia; and a shooting last week in Denver that wounded two administrators.

The Nashville victims were pronounced dead upon arrival at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. One officer had a hand wound from cut glass.

Other students walked to safety Monday, holding hands as they left their school surrounded by police cars, to a nearby church to be reunited with their parents.

“In a tragic morning, Nashville joined the dreaded, long list of communities to experience a school shooting,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper wrote on Twitter, thanking first responders and medical professionals. “My heart goes out to the families of the victims. Our entire city stands with you.”

Jozen Reodica heard the police sirens and fire trucks blaring from outside her office building nearby. As her building was placed under lockdown, she took out her phone and recorded the chaos.

“I thought I would just see this on TV,” she said. “And right now, it’s real.”

On WTVF TV, reporter Hannah McDonald said that her mother-in-law works at the front desk at The Covenant School. The woman had stepped outside for a break Monday morning and was coming back when she heard gunshots, McDonald said during a live broadcast. The reporter said she has not been able to speak with her mother-in-law but said her husband had.

The Covenant School was founded as a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church in 2001, according to the school’s website. The school is located in the affluent Green Hills neighborhood just south of downtown Nashville, situated close to the city's top universities and home to the famed Bluebird Café – a beloved spot for musicians and song writers.

The grade school has 33 teachers, the website said. The school’s website features the motto “Shepherding Hearts, Empowering Minds, Celebrating Childhood.”

The shooter entered the school through a side entrance and went to the second story, police spokesperson Don Aaron said during a news briefing.

Democratic state Rep. Bob Freeman, whose district includes The Covenant School, called Monday’s shooting an “unimaginable tragedy.”

“I live around the corner from Covenant and pass by it often. I have friends who attend both church and school there,” Freeman said in a statement. “I have also visited the church in the past. It tears my heart apart to see this.”


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