Tuesday, October 17th, 2023


Traveling Salesman

In a move that is risky politically and personally, and one that shows just how much is at stake, President Biden will visit Israel on Wednesday. The trip, in addition to showing unity, is intended to serve several key purposes. First, before agreeing to the trip, the Biden team demanded that Israel agree to safe zones and a plan for humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza. Second, the president is pushing Israel to have a plan for what happens if they are able to remove Hamas from power. Third, the president wants to emphasize to Israeli leaders the importance of minimizing civilian casualties. And Fourth, critically, the president wants to ensure that other actors don't take the opportunity to start a much wider war in the region. Ben Rhodes does a good job of explaining the hours of negotiation that led to Biden's visit.

+ "Biden is walking into an emotional maelstrom." David Remnick in The New Yorker: Biden's Middle East Burden. "Visiting Israel, the President will express support for a traumatized nation, but he must also try to steer it from the blindness of rage."

+ The visit is not the only deterrent. "The decisions also come as the US military has been steadily bolstering its presence in Middle East, including deploying a second aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to join the USS Ford strike carrier group there, and sending Air Force fighter jets to the region." US Marine rapid response force moving toward Israel as Pentagon strengthens military posture in region.

+ "Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken hurried into a bunker as air raid sirens wailed in Tel Aviv on Monday, in the most dramatic moment of a whirlwind — and unusually chaotic — Middle East tour for America's top diplomat." NYT (Gift Article): 10 Stops in 5 Days, Plus an Air Raid Shelter, for Blinken."A trip originally scheduled for two days has now extended into its sixth, with 10 stops and counting. For an official whose travel schedule is meticulously planned and rarely revised, Mr. Blinken's frenetic journey has underscored the scale and complexity of the diplomatic crisis he faces."

+ If nothing else, the Biden visit will at least briefly delay the Israeli ground invasion. Tom Friedman in the NYT (Gift Article): Why a Gaza Invasion and ‘Once and for All' Thinking Are Wrong for Israel. "Just ask this question: If Israel announced today that it was forgoing, for now, a full-blown invasion of Gaza, who would be happy, and who would be relieved, and who would be upset? Iran would be totally frustrated, Hezbollah would be disappointed, Hamas would feel devastated — its whole war plan came to naught — and Vladimir Putin would be crushed, because Israel would not be burning up ammunition and weapons the U.S. needs to be sending to Ukraine. The settlers in the West Bank would be enraged. Meanwhile, the parents of every Israeli soldier and every Israeli held hostage would be relieved, every Palestinian in Gaza caught in the crossfire would be relieved, and every friend and ally Israel has in the world — starting with one Joseph R. Biden — would be relieved." (I'm not sure if all the parties listed by Friedman would agree, but the big question he introduces is critical: How does Israel protect itself and punish and disable Hamas without doing wider damage to the long term prospects in the region.)

+ No part of this tragedy is more complex than the hostage situation. And there are no easy answers. Dennis Ross who has worked on the Middle East in a variety of roles for decades: The Best of Bad Options for Recovering the Hostages.

+ An amazing and brutal interview with the father of the one of the women abducted by Hamas. Haaretz (Gift Article): I'm fighting in my own way. Not with anger. Through dialogue."

+ "I am begging the world to bring my baby back home."

+ Hundreds are reported dead after a hospital was hit in Gaza, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cancels his scheduled meeting with Biden (whose trip just got even more urgent and more complicated), IDF says the hospital was hit by a failed Islamic Jihad rocket, Israeli embassy attacked in Jordan, Hamas releases a hostage video, humanitarian relief negotiations continue. Here's the latest from CNN, BBC, Times of Israel, and NBC.


River Jordan Up Sh-t Creek

I know there's a working theory that having Jim Jordan as Speaker would gravely damage the GOP and cost them the House, and be a net win for Dems. My take is that having the despicable, election-denying, Jim Jordan—a flame-thrower and a liar who has never authored a bill that has passed the House—as Speaker is too high a price to pay for any political gains. His assent to that position would be a tragedy for America, a serious threat to the 2024 election, and shame in front of the world. On the first ballot, Jordan failed to get enough votes for the speakership. Let's hope the same holds true when the House votes again. Here's the latest from CNN.

+ WaPo: Why Jim Jordan's speaker bid failed — for now. (Hint: It has nothing to do with his election denying or his general unfitness.)

+ Kevin McCarthy blames the GOP's inability to elect a Speaker on ... Democrats. (Even the Fox News reporter was like, Wait, what?)


The Poles and the Polls

"Even if you don't live in Poland, don't care about Poland, and can't find Poland on a map, take note: The victory of the Polish opposition proves that autocratic populism can be defeated, even after an unfair election. Nothing is inevitable about the rise of autocracy or the decline of democracy. Invest your time in political and civic organization if you want to create change, because sometimes it works." Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic (Gift Article): Poland Shows That Autocracy Is Not Inevitable.


Lunch Counter Productive

"While many nations have adopted more-nutritious school meals and stricter advertising standards, pizza sauce and french fries still count as vegetables for schoolchildren in the United States, and U.S. food companies remain virtually free to advertise to youngsters any way they like." Big pharma is coming up with some ways to address diabetes and obesity in America, but we're not doing much about the root cause. WaPo (Gift Article): How Lunchables ended up on school lunch trays. The dominance of food lobbyists is enough to make you lose your lunch.


Extra, Extra

Counter Strike: We're not hearing as much about the Russian invasion of Ukraine this week. Here's some news from that front. "The Ukrainian military on Tuesday used U.S.-supplied longer-range missiles to strike nine Russian helicopters in eastern Ukraine, after Washington secretly shipped the weapons in recent weeks ... Biden had been hesitant to deliver the Army Tactical Missile System for fear of escalating the conflict. The transfer indicates the administration's calculus has changed after a slow-moving Ukrainian counteroffensive." And Politico takes you Inside Biden's decision to secretly send longer-range U.S. missiles to Ukraine. Meanwhile, not everyone is shunning Putin. NPR: Putin begins visit in China, underscoring Moscow's ties with Beijing.

+ Screenage Wasteland: "Across age groups, the average time spent on social media ranges from as low as 4.1 hours per day for 13-year-olds to as high as 5.8 hours per day for 17-year-olds. Girls spend nearly an hour more on social media than boys." Teens Spend Average of 4.8 Hours on Social Media Per Day. (No wonder my kids have no time to subscribe to NextDraft.)

+ That's the Ticket: California is trying to address the increase in traffic deaths by installing new speed cameras that will automatically ticket drivers who exceed speed limits in high danger areas.

+ J School: "Within the past year, young journalists have produced investigations that led to the resignation of Stanford University's president, the firing of Northwestern University's football coach, and a school shooting graphic so striking that it led a veteran newsman to say, 'I've never seen a better front page.' All while making sure to get their homework in on time." While the news industry struggles, college students are supplying some memorable journalism.

+ Di-elect: NYC Mayor Eric Adams uses AI to make robocalls in languages he doesn't speak, including "thousands in Spanish, more than 250 in Yiddish, more than 160 in Mandarin, 89 in Cantonese, and 23 in Haitian Creole."

+ Sandal in the Wind: "Birkenstock, the 250-year-old German brand best known for its flat, orthopedic sandals embraced by hippies and grandparents, is no longer the antithesis of high-fashion." How Birkenstock went from "ugly" hippie sandal to billion-dollar brand.


Bottom of the News

"Starting Oct. 26, the carrier will implement a boarding process that puts window-seat passengers in economy class on the plane ahead of their peers in the middle and the aisle." United making revolutionary change to its boarding procedure. (This is logical. Revolutionary would be providing enough legroom so getting into a window seat wouldn't be so difficult.)

+ "Ed Currie, the South Carolina hot pepper expert who crossbred and grew the Carolina Reaper that's hotter than most pepper sprays police use to subdue unruly criminals, has broken his own world record with a pepper that's three times hotter."