• ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, June 25

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Speculation grows that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will announce his retirement.

    The current Court year ends Monday, and any announcement would come soon after.

    Kennedy is 80, was appointed by a Republican, and has served 29 years on the Court, recently as a crucial swing vote.

    There are several elderly Democrats on the court, but they want to hang on (if health permits) in hopes of another Democratic president.

    Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, have lawyered up to defend against allegations of bank fraud(CBS)

    When Jane was president of Burlington (VT) College, she got big bank loans for an expansion project that ultimately failed and bankrupted the college.

    The investigation is (1) whether the loans were based on Jane’s false representations about the college’s fundraising and (2) whether Bernie used his office to pressure the bank to make the loan.

     The battle for post-ISIS Syria is shaping up

    The background: the Obama Administration did nothing in Syria and pulled out of Iraq, opening the door wide for Iran to control Baghdad and Damascus (the Assad government) and providing political space for ISIS to build its “caliphate” for Sunnis.

    The change: Trump dramatically altered US policy, and, under the leadership of Mattis at DOD and McMaster at NSC, the US has been taking the fight to ISIS.

    The result: Iran is closing in on ISIS from one direction, the US from the other.

    There are three big issues in this end-game:

    1. Will ISIS turn to move civilian attacks in Europe (and possibly America)?
    2. Will US and Iranian forces be able to avoid direct military confrontation as they converge on ISIS’ last strongholds
    3. Who controls what territory in post-ISIS Syria?

    An excellent primer on the emerging issues is Udi Dekel’s “East-West-North-South: The Race for Syria after the Islamic State” from the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS, Israel)

    The current race for control of territory in Syria now appears to be a competition between Iran and the United States, which have established two respective axes – with a vertical American (north-south) effort on the one hand, and a horizontal Iranian (east-west) effort on the other hand. In practice, this is another stage in the shaping of Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State. In the meantime, the country’s southwestern region, from Daraa to the Golan Heights, remains open for activity and influence by Israel and Jordan, which must begin taking action before it is too late. Contacts are apparently underway to formulate a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American strategy aimed at preventing Iranian influence and the presence of its proxies, especially Hezbollah and Shiite militias, in the southern Syria. –Udi Dekel

    ◆ Political correctness to stop free speech in Arkansas? Yep.

    But the University stepped in and did the right thing.

    The Univ. of Arkansas’ King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies decided to hold a symposium on honor killings.

    The Center’s director, a geosciences professor named Tom Paradise, included Prof. Phyllis Chesler (from CUNY) on one panel since she has published widely on the subject, arguing that scholars have underplayed the role of Islam in these killings.

    Three Arkansas professors raised holy hell about it, saying the could never “countenance” Chesler’s participation, even though it would simply be a Skype call.

    The Center caved and disinvited Chesler, according to an editorial in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

    Now, the University has done the right thing.

    They removed Prof. Paradise from the center’s leadership, saying “The decision to disinvite a participant for his or her views is not reflective of the values and practices of our institution.”

    Comment: The university did the right thing.

     Palestinians “disappointed” after “tense meeting” with Jared Kushner, Trump’s special emissary (The Hill)

    Key disagreement: US wants Palestinians to stop paying terrorists for killing Jews.

    Palestinian Authority likes paying them. Abbas told Trump it would stop and simply assumed the president knew he was lying.

    Trump held him to account.

    The PA has also been adamant about keeping incendiary, anti-Semitic materials in their school textbooks.

    The larger problems for Abbas: no succession lined up, and the Middle East is moving forward without them.

    Comment: My guess: Trump will look at Kushner’s report of the meetings and decide this is not a good time to push forward with negotiations.

    Trump has always understood something about these negotiations that most presidents don’t: the US can help if both parties want an agreement. But it cannot force an agreement on parties that don’t want one and aren’t prepared to make serious concessions.

     Oklahoma doctor prescribed so many painkillers, she’s being charged with murder in one patient’s death  (Washington Post)

    The patient, Sheila Bartels, received

    what drug addicts call “the holy trinity” of prescription drugs: the powerful painkiller Hydrocodone, the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and a muscle relaxant known as Soma.

    In total, pharmacists handed her 510 pills that day — all legal, because she had a prescription with the signature of her doctor, Regan Ganoung Nichols, scrawled at the bottom, according to a probable cause affidavit. –Washington Post

    Comment: Cracking down on excessive prescriptions is crucial in this fight.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Sam Stubbs
     for the Sanders bank fraud story
    ◆ Gregg Roman for the University of Arkansas speech-suppression story

     

  • Important new book: How Pakistan and Iran supported Bin Laden and Al Qaeda

     Documenting how some states helped Al Qaeda

    Pakistan has long been known to have supported the Taliban and to have had links with al-Qaeda.  A new book by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, and reviewed here by one of America’s premier terrorism experts, Bruce Hoffman, documents not only how extensive the ties were, but also the important complicity of Iran.

    The authors detail Pakistan’s harboring of Osama bin-Laden. 

    Yet, due to the Afghan War and its difficult logistics requirements, the Bush administration was ineffective in pressuring the Pakistani regime to take a firmer line toward its own ISI military intelligence service and the refuge they provided.

    In turn the Obama administration walked a delicate line with Iran in the hope not only of reaching the nuclear agreement, but of establishing rapport with Tehran.

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    Bruce Hoffman’s Very Positive Review of Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy’s The Exile

     Hoffman reviews the book at the War on the Rocks blog (link)

    The book’s main argument is that neither bin Laden nor the movement he created could have survived without the active support of persons at the apex of both Pakistan’s and especially Iran’s intelligence services. The critical roles played by both countries in sheltering and protecting key al-Qaeda leaders and their families has of course long been known. But no other publicly available source comes as close to The Exile in presenting this familiar story either in as much detail or from the first-hand perspective of the key dramatis personae. New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall’s 2014 book, The Wrong Enemy, for example, had forcefully advanced the same claim regarding Pakistan’s complicity. The Exile goes considerably further: both in fleshing out the story and providing additional substantiation through the new information from multiple first-hand perspectives that Scott-Clark and Levy rely on. –Bruce Hoffman review of Scott-Clark and Levy’s The Exile

    Hoffman concludes

    The Exile’s main value . . . is in the new light that it sheds on the day-to-day Herculean efforts required simultaneously to protect bin Laden and his family while maintaining open lines of communications to his deputies, acolytes, financiers, and factotums dispersed across Pakistan, Iran, and more distant battlefields.

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    Robert Lieber, a professor at Georgetown, is one of the country’s leading analysts of US foreign policy, with special interests in the Middle East, Europe, and energy.

    His most recent book is Retreat and Its Consequences: American Foreign Policy and the Problem of World Order (Cambridge University Press).

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, June 24

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Healthcare bill:

    • Another Republican Senator says no (that’s 5).
    • The Democrats go all in on vitriolic criticism.
    • Warren calls it “blood money,” etc.
    • Even Joe Manchin, the most conservative Democrat, will vote against the bill.

    The conventional wisdom is that the R’s cannot get it through the Senate  and that the D’s will escape all blame from voters.

    Comment: I don’t think the Democrats are home free on this.

    The Republicans will get a lot of the blame, to be sure, if they can’t pass a bill. They should. They have both Houses and the Presidency.

    But the Democrats’ entire strategy on everything in both Houses and in the streets is to resist and obstruct.

    It remains to be seen if voters will endorse that. I don’t think it appeals beyond the base in NY, CA, and university towns.

    Republicans will surely say, “It’s our bill versus Obamacare. The Democrats love Obamacare and won’t do anything but small changes. So now we’re all stuck with it.”

    That stance is reinforced by former Pres. Obama coming out so forcefully against the Republican bill.

    What happens when voters get the bad news from insurance companies in November about next year?  

    Ultimately, the electoral question comes down to this: Which do you hate more? Obamacare or the Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace it?

     Suicide bomber in Saudi Arabia blows himself up, but fails to reach his main target in Mecca: the Grand Mosque (Washington Post)

    The [Saudi Interior] ministry did not name the group involved in the attack. The ultraconservative Sunni kingdom battled an al-Qaida insurgency for years and more recently has faced attacks from a local branch of the Islamic State group.

    Neither group immediately claimed those arrested, though Islamic State sympathizers online have urged more attacks as an offensive in Iraq slowly squeezes the extremists out of Mosul and their de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria comes under daily bombing from a U.S.-led coalition. –Washington Post

    Comment: Remember, bringing down Saudi Arabia was the major goal of Al Qaeda all along. So far, not much progress.

    My guess is that the real political risk is related to Saudi efforts to liberalize the economy, which requires freer information and freer women.

     Loretta Lynch, Attorney General in Obama’s final years, is now being investigated by the Senate. Hacked emails from a Democratic campaign official said Lynch “would not to let the Clinton investigation go too far.” That doesn’t look good. Nor does Comey’s testimony that Lynch ordered him to falsely characterize the investigation in public. (USA Today story here)

    Another email, now public,

    indicated that Lynch had privately assured Clinton campaign staffer Amanda Renteria that the FBI’s investigation wouldn’t “go too far.” –USA Today

    The Congressional letter asking Lynch to provide documents was bipartisan, and Lynch has promised to cooperate.

    Comment: First, the Senate has to determine if these emails are real or fake. If they are real, Ms. Lynch may be be able to dance around them. For example, “I only meant I didn’t want it to go too far afield” or that she was simply guessing what the FBI would do. (Why would she be talking about such a secret matter to staffers for the person being investigated?) Or that the staffer misunderstood, etc.

    The fact that Democrats signed the letter to Lynch indicates the Senate committee, led by Grassley and Feinstein, is operating in a bipartisanship fashion, although it could also indicate that Lynch has reassured Democrats she can defend her position.

    Still, the documents now publicly available reek of political interference in a criminal investigation if they are real, not faked by the Russians. As this investigation moves forward, remember, the Democrats refused to allow the FBI to look into their computers after the Russian hack. They haven’t said why.

     When corruption stinks. Literally. The White Plains, NY, city council gave a $175k judgeship to someone who cannot work because she is too fat to climb the three steps to the bench (Daily Caller) Judge Eliz. Shollenberger is chair of the local Democratic Party and all council members are Democrats.

    It actually gets worse. Judge Shollenberger comes to the court house with what we will delicately call “gastrointestinal issues,” which leave the place looking and smelling terrible.

    Shollenberger further dismayed her colleagues by displaying “complete arrogance” following the embarrassing incidents.

    “She would just say, ‘There is a mess over there. I think someone should clean it up,’” a court source told the NY Post. –NY Post, quoted in the Daily Caller

    Comment: The over/under on how long it takes for Judge Shollenberger to play the victim here: 2 minutes. “I’m sick” “This is fat shaming.” Etc.

    Meanwhile, the public has to pay for a non-working judge and a hard-working janitorial crew.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, June 23

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Republican Senators introduce their health-care bill. In its current form, the bill is at least 3 votes short of the 50 votes needed. Moving right to capture them could lose centrist Republicans.

    On the current vote count, here’s the Washington Post story.

    And the criticism from outside groups is fierce. Here’s one report on criticism by healthcare groups (Bloomberg)

    Surprisingly, Obama doesn’t like it, either. He posted on FB. I planned to quote it but it runs longer than a Fidel Castro speech.

    The best summary of the differences between the House bill (as passed) and the Senate bill (as introduced) is here at the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (link)

    Comment: Negotiations ahead in the Senate. Uncertain if Pres. Trump will get involved.

     Russian “Old Believer” Priest tells men to grow beards to “protect themselves from homosexuality”  (Moscow Times)

    Comment: I asked an expert, a Mr. W. Whitman,  . . . .

     Quick Tip: If you have a huge weapons stash, don’t get caught shoplifting ammo

    Ramadan Abdullah was arrested for theft in upstate New York (Binghamton Homepage)

    Police recovered:

    -4 loaded handguns
    -8 assault weapons
    -64 high-capacity ammunition feeding devices
    -1 loaded shotgun
    -2 rifles
    -thousands of rounds of ammunition for rifles, pistols, and assault weapons, including 50 caliber armor piercing incendiary rounds, numerous firearm parts, and flak jackets.

    Cornwell says subsequent search warrants executed at other properties tied to the suspect resulted in the seizure of:

    -numerous rounds of 38 caliber ammunition
    -high-capacity ammunition feeding devices and ammunition
    -an additional loaded firearm –Binghamton Homepage

    Comment: Mr. Abdullah said that being arrested during his namesake holiday was especially ironic.

     Trump’s infrastructure proposal includes expansion of rural broadband (Engadget)

    Comment: This could be a valuable expenditure, if it were done right and not too expensive.

     Qatar’s neighbors issue a long list of demands to end crisis (Associated Press)

    The Saudis, Egyptians, and others issued a 13-point list

    insisting that their Persian Gulf neighbor shutter Al-Jazeera, cut back diplomatic ties to Iran and sever all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

    In a 13-point list — presented to the Qataris by Kuwait, which is helping mediate the crisis — the countries also demand an end to Turkey’s military presence in Qatar. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the list in Arabic from one of the countries involved in the dispute. –Associated Press

    Comment: Getting the Turks out and keeping Iran out are the keys. They also want to shut Al Jazeera. 

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, June 20

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     American Otto Warmbier dies after being imprisoned in North Korea. Pres. Trump condemns it as “a brutal regime” and adds “we’ll be able to handle it.” (Fox News)

    Sec. of State Rex Tillerson referred to Warmbier’s “unjust imprisonment” and called for the release of 3 other Americans held there.

    Now, China’s tour agency that takes Americans to North Korea says it will stop those tours. (Fox)

    Comment: The brutality of the North Korean regime is well known. The question is how to constrain the danger they pose to South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

    Russia Warns Washington after US fighter downs a Syrian Warplane. (New York Times)

    Long-running tensions between the United States and Russia erupted publicly on Monday as Moscow condemned the American military’s downing of a Syrian warplane and threatened to target aircraft flown by the United States and its allies west of the Euphrates.

    The Russians also said they had suspended their use of a hotline that the American and Russian militaries used to avoid collisions of their aircraft in Syrian airspace.

    The episode was the first time the United States downed a Syrian plane since the civil war began there in 2011 and came after the SU-22 jet dropped bombs on Sunday near American-backed fighters combating the Islamic State. It followed another major American military action against the Syrian government: a cruise missile strike to punish a nerve gas attack that killed civilians in April. –New York Times

    That’s not the only major development.  

    The latest escalation comes as competing forces converge on ungoverned swaths of Syria amid the country’s six-year civil war. Syrian forces and Iranian-backed militias that support them are extending their reach east closer to American-backed fighters, including forces that the Pentagon hopes will pursue the militants into the Euphrates River valley after they take the Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa. The collision of the disparate forces has, in effect, created a war within a war. –New York Times

    Comment: With so many factions fighting in close proximity, there is a huge risk of unintended engagement among the states backing different groups. That, of course, could lead to escalation.

     Theresa May’s weakness casts shadow over Brexit negotiations (Financial Times)

    Britain began the long process of leaving Europe on Monday, but many Conservative MPs are privately speculating whether Theresa May can make it as prime minister through the next few months. –Financial Times

    Comment: May is now deeply unpopular–she’s been called a “dead woman walking”–and leading Tories are trying to find a consensus candidate to replace her as Prime Minister.

    As far as Brexit goes, the PM has also replaced many of the negotiators; the new ones are in disarray. No one knows what Britain’s goal in the negotiations really are.

     Today in European terror: A car with an armed terrorist (he was on France’s watch list) rammed a police car on the Champs-Élysée in Paris. The terrorist’s car burst into flames on the busy street and he later died.  (CNN story here)

    According to the BBC:

    Police found a Kalashnikov rifle, handguns and gas bottles in the car.

    “Security forces have been targeted in France once again,” Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said, calling it an “attempted attack”. –BBC

    Comment: This problem goes beyond police and intelligence work, although it certainly calls for that. As long as Europe is filled large numbers of unassimilated Muslims, attracted to extreme ideologies, this problem will continue. The key is to work on assimilation, restrictions on new immigration, and more intense intel work.

     Well, at least she didn’t waste the money she stole  Report: Stolen city funds paid for her ‘Brazilian butt lift’ (Gainesville Sun)

    Natwaina Clark’s 177 bogus purchases — totaling more than $93,000 — included cosmetic surgery, SunPass and PayPal.

    An investigative report released Wednesday shows a former city of Gainesville employee, accused of stealing more than $93,000 from the city, spent some of it on a Brazilian butt lift. –Gainesville Sun

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, June 19

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Terror attack in London, killing and injuring Muslims as they left Ramadan prayers. We already know it was deliberate. We’ll know more soon about the motives. The initial indications are that the 48-year-old man wanted to kill Muslims as a hate crime. But, again, details are still sketchy.

    Comment: The rise of political, religious, and ethnic hatred and killing because of that hatred is one of the most troubling developments in Europe and the US.

    Democrats have no affirmative plans on health, so they turn to a familiar tactic: obstruct.

    Democrats planning to slow GOP efforts to vote on ObamaCare by July 4 (Fox News)

    Their complaint: the Republicans are drafting the bill behind closed doors and not allowing Democrats to participate.

    Comment: They Democrats are understandably upset about being excluded. But no one on the Democratic side has said they would vote for any repeal-and-replace bill. They have said they will talk only if the R’s agree to tweak the ACA. Since the R’s are committed to replacing Obamacare, it’s hard to see why they would invite the fox into the hen house. 

    ◆ Washington Post editorial: “Single-payer health care would have an astonishingly high price tag”

    But the government’s price tag would be astonishing. When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed a “Medicare for all” health plan in his presidential campaign, the nonpartisan Urban Institute figured that it would raise government spending by $32 trillion over 10 years, requiring a tax increase so huge that even the democratic socialist Mr. Sanders did not propose anything close to it.

    The goal still must be universal coverage and cost restraint. But no matter whether the government or some combination of parties is paying, that restraint will come slowly, with cuts to the rate of increase in medical costs that make the system more affordable over time. –Washington Post editorial

    Comment: The standard solution to these high costs is to ration care. Typically, governments also impose cost controls which discourage innovation and channel potential doctors and nurses into other fields.

    The fact that support for single-payer is now a litmus test for California Democrats is stunning. It would cost 2.5 times the current state budget.

     “Flounder” of Animal House has died Stephen Furst, who remained proud of his role as a hapless doofus, had heart problems brought on by diabetes.  He had other roles, but “Kent Dorfman” (Flounder) was his timeless one.

    Comment: Flounder (the character’s name was Kent Dorfman) was less famous for the lines he said in Animal House than for something said to him. He was on the receiving end of the best advice every given by a college administrator, when Dean Vernon Wurmer told him, “Fat, Drunk, and Stupid is no way to go through life, son.” He concluded that scene famously by responding to Wurmer’s command, “Out with it.” 

    He also played the central role in the “horse scene” (here). “I didn’t even point the gun at him!”

     Megyn Kelly and NBC “take the gloves off in Alex Jones interview–and now he’s mad” (Los Angeles Times)

    Megyn Kelly presented a highly critical 19-minute piece on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on her NBC newsmagazine “Sunday Night” after a week of harsh criticism over the decision to present his views on network TV.

    Jones is notorious for saying the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was staged to promote tougher gun control laws. Twenty-six people, including 20 children, died, making it the second-deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at the time. –LA Times

    They even brought Tom Brokaw onto the show to say the grieving Newtown parents “should not have to hear the cruel claim that it’s a lie.”

    Comment: Good point, Tom. But your bosses completely undercut it by giving a platform to the man who spread this “cruel claim that it’s a lie.”

    Why did NBC do it? To sell viewers’ eyeballs to advertisers, of course.

    Megyn Kelly and NBC made the despicable decision to climb into this ditch. They shouldn’t be surprised they got covered in mud.

    ◆ Good News: Cong. Steve Scalise’s condition upgraded to “serious” after the Virginia shooting (CNN)

    Comment: Great news.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, June 13

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Reports that Trump is considering firing Mueller as Special Counsel  (New York Times)

    The comments came from a Trump friend, Christopher Ruddy, but the White House would not confirm them.

    His comments appeared to take the White House by surprise.

    “Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in a statement hours later. “With respect to this subject, only the president or his attorneys are authorized to comment.”

    Allies of the president cast doubt on the idea that Mr. Trump would take such a drastic step, and White House officials said Mr. Ruddy had not met directly with the president while he was there.

    Comment: Firing Mueller is within the President’s authority, but it would set off fireworks since they would appear that Trump could not withstand an investigation.

    Mueller, however, has done himself no favors by hiring major Democratic donors for his staff. His friendship with Comey is also a problem and should be reason enough for him to recuse himself from that portion of the investigation.

    Comey got a “steely silence” from Loretta Lynch when he confronted her over political interference in Hillary investigation (Circa)

    Ex-FBI Director James Comey has privately told members of Congress that he had a frosty exchange with Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year when he confronted her about possible political interference in the Hillary Clinton email investigation after showing Lynch a sensitive document she was unaware the FBI possessed, according to sources who were directly briefed on the matter. –Circa

    Comment: Sure looks like Lynch was in the tank for Clinton.

    AG Jeff Sessions will testify publicly before the Senate Intel Committee Tuesday  (Washington Post)

    The Democrats are in attack mode.

    Democrats plan to ask about his contacts during the 2016 campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, which the attorney general failed to disclose fully during his confirmation hearing.

    They also want him to explain his role in the firing of Comey, despite the attorney general’s recusal in March from the Russia investigation after revelations about his meetings with Kislyak. –Washington Post

    Comment: The Democrats have made incendiary assertions about Sessions having improper meetings with the Russians and lying about them.

    But so far, there is simply no evidence of anything wrong. That’s what the hearings will be about.

     North Korea sent drones to spy on US anti-missile system in South Korea  (Reuters)

    The drone crashed on its way home.

    Comment: All this effort to spy, so little effort to feed and clothe the tyrannized population.

     France’s Macron: in a year and a half, he came out of nowhere to win the Presidency and now dominate the National Assembly (New York Times)

    Comment: Parties of the right and left have collapsed. Now, Macron is in a position to move a major reform agenda.

     The Palestinian Authority wants to pressure Hamas, so they have asked Israel to cut back on electricity supplies to Gaza. Israel has agreed.  (Los Angeles Times)

    Israel has approved a request by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cut by roughly a third the electricity it provides to the Gaza Strip.

    The move is aimed at undermining the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has controlled Gaza for the last decade.

    But the decision reached Sunday by Israel’s security Cabinet is stoking concern that it could trigger a humanitarian crisis among Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians and a new round of fighting between Hamas and Israel.

    In a statement on Monday afternoon responding to news of the Israeli decision, Hamas said that power cuts are “dangerous” and would lead to an “explosion.” –Los Angles Times

    Comment: Hamas is under considerable pressure, given the Muslim Brotherhood loss of power in Egypt, the sanctions on Qatar, and increasing resistance from international donors, who are themselves under pressure for funding terrorism indirectly.

    Although Israel is no friend of the Palestinian Authority, they know Hamas is much worse.

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