By Robert A. Vella
While the news media talking heads feverishly chase their tails in anticipation of the Mueller report possibly coming out soon, and while they debate President Trump’s daily rhetoric about anything and everything ad nauseam, there is real news happening in the world which people should be aware of. That will be our focus for today.
Vast areas of the United States are at risk of flooding this spring, even as Nebraska and other Midwestern states are already reeling from record-breaking late-winter floods, federal scientists said on Thursday.
Nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states will have an elevated risk of some flooding from now until May, and 25 states could experience “major or moderate flooding,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The flooding this year could be worse than anything we’ve seen in recent years, even worse than the historic floods of 1993 and 2011,” said Mary C. Erickson, deputy director of the National Weather Service, in a conference call with reporters. The major flooding this month in Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and elsewhere is “a preview of what we expect throughout the rest of the spring,” she said.
The politics of Israel, anti-Semitism and the 2020 presidential campaign will move to center stage in Washington over the next few days as the powerful pro-Israel group AIPAC holds its annual policy conference and President Donald Trump prepares to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
The dual meetings come as Trump pushes his party ever closer to Israel — most recently with a Thursday announcement that the U.S. will recognize Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights — and Democrats face an internal debate over their party’s support for arguably the most important U.S. ally in the Middle East.
Why is there a controversy? Contrary to what Trump, his Republican allies, and centrist Democrats want the American public to believe – that any criticism of Israel is equivalent to anti-Semitism – there are legitimate reasons to question the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is not only running for reelection but is also under the cloud of a pending criminal indictment for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust (see: Final decision on Netanyahu indictment to follow Israeli vote). Furthermore, the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights and the West Bank are illegal under international law; and, Netanyahu’s embrace of a racist, right-wing extremist political organization in Israel has triggered condemnation from across the globe.
Until recently in Israeli politics, the extremist Otzma Yehudit party served as a useful foil, allowing other right-wing parties to look reasonable by contrast. Now, the party and its hateful, violent ideology could be entering the political mainstream thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a move that even some of his staunchest backers won’t defend.
The leaders of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) are disciples of U.S.-born rabbi Meir Kahane, whose original party, Kach, was banned from the Knesset in the 1980s and later listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Kahane advocated the annexation of the Palestinian territories—involving the mass expulsion of Arabs and limiting the rights of those who remained—banning intermarriage between Jews and Arabs, and replacing Israel’s democratic government with a Jewish theocracy. He was assassinated in 1990.
The modern incarnation of the party has undergone an “alt right”–style rebranding but hasn’t strayed too far from its Kahanist roots. It still supports the annexation of the Palestinian territories, canceling the Oslo Accords, and taking over the Temple Mount, and it calls, vaguely, for expelling “enemies” of Israel. Some of its leaders hold regular celebrations in honor of Baruch Goldstein, the Kahanist who massacred 29 Palestinians at a mosque in Hebron in 1994. Three of the party’s four leaders have been arrested for incitements to violence, including posting photos of Arab politicians with nooses around their necks. The party currently holds no seats in the Knesset, having failed to pass the 3.25 percent threshold in 2015.
Trump’s executive order
Pushed by Christian fundamentalist and white supremacist activists who are upset with the growing backlash against divisive hate speech in America, President Trump has opted to take executive action himself. Make no mistake, this isn’t about free speech. This is all about empowering those activist groups which oppose legalized abortion, the nation’s constitutional separation of church and state, and the cultural acceptance of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday requiring U.S. colleges to protect free speech on their campuses or risk losing federal research funding.
The order follows a growing chorus of complaints from conservatives who say their voices have been stifled on campuses across the U.S. Joining Trump at the ceremony were students who said they were challenged by their schools while trying to express views against abortion or in support of their faith.
Enforcement of the order will be left to federal agencies that award grants, but how schools will be monitored and what types of violations could trigger a loss of funding have yet to be seen. White House officials said details about the implementation will be finalized in coming months.
The American Council on Education, which represents more than 1,700 college presidents, called the order “a solution in search of a problem.”
GOP power grab blocked
MADISON, Wis. — A judge on Thursday temporarily blocked Wisconsin Republicans’ contentious lame-duck laws limiting the powers of new Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who immediately used his restored authority to pull the state out of a multistate challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess brushed aside GOP concerns that the move would leave thousands of statutes passed in so-called extraordinary sessions susceptible to challenge. Republican legislative leaders vowed to appeal.
The order is part of a lawsuit filed by a coalition of liberal-leaning groups. They allege the Legislature met illegally when it passed the lame-duck bills in December.
BRUSSELS — Worn down by three years of indecision in London, European Union leaders on Thursday grudgingly offered the U.K. more time to ease itself out of the bloc, delaying by several weeks — but not eliminating — the threat of a chaotic British exit.
After a meeting that stretched through the afternoon and over dinner, the bloc said Britain could postpone its March 29 departure to May 22 — if the U.K. Parliament approves Prime Minister Theresa May’s divorce deal with the bloc next week.