Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Truest statement of the week

Parts of Taibbi’s reporting on the Twitter Files seemed to indicate that he was over-selling what he found in Files documents in order to appeal to the right wing audience both toward which his Substack site Racket News was increasingly oriented and which Musk clearly aimed to appeal to in marketing the Files. Mehidi Hassan brought up some of Taibbi’s errors and exaggerations in his Twitter Files reporting when he brought him on his MSNBC show for an acrimonious debate in April.  For example, in one Twitter Files thread, Taibbi claimed that the Department of Homeland Security funded academic non-profit Election Integrity Project (EIP) flagged 22 million posts for removal as “misinformation” during the 2020 election season across all social media platforms. Hassan pointed out that the actual number was 2890–these were flagged for social media companies to examine for possible violations of the companies’ Terms of Service. The 22 million figure was the number of election related posts the EIP studied during the 2020 election season. 

In another instance, Hassan pointed out the problem in Taibbi’s initial Twitter Files thread where he sought to prove the pro-Democrat bias of pre-Musk Twitter officials by featuring a case of Twitter removing a handful of tweets at the Biden campaign’s request prior to the 2020 election. The implication was that the Biden campaign got Twitter to remove political speech it didn’t like. Taibbi felt no need to inform his readers that the tweets  contained nude images of Hunter Biden taken from the infamous laptop and thus violated Twitter’s Terms of Service by being shared without Hunter Biden’s consent. Asked by Hassan why he did not inform his readers that the tweet URLs contained in the screenshot he shared in his Twitter Files reporting featured Hunter Biden “dick pics”, he blustered “because I didn’t need to!”

 -- Chris Green, "The Fundamentally Conservative Worldview of Matt Taibbi" (ZNET).




Truest statement of the week II

Americans have had to weather much in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic first began, including price inflation of basic necessities. Grocery bills, especially, are a drain on household finances. But, as recent reports show, inflation is easing across many industries, and yet food prices overall have remained stubbornly high. Not only is that an indication of a deep rot at the heart of the food industry, agribusinesses, and corporate grocery chains, but it is also a clear sign that we need to repair our entire food system.

Reporting on a new Census Bureau survey, USA Today’s Sara Chernikoff found that “[t]he average American household spends more than $1,000 per month on groceries.” And, while it’s not surprising that those residing in expensive states like California have high grocery bills, there’s little relief for those living in states with lower costs of living. An average California family’s weekly grocery bill is $297.72, but an average North Carolina family’s bill is $266.23—nearly as high.

Attempting to downplay this reality, Paul Donovan, chief economist of UBS Global Wealth Management, wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times that Americans might be overestimating how serious inflation is, feeling the pinch most especially when they buy something as small as a candy bar. “[C]onsumers perceive inflation as higher than it actually is,” wrote Donovan. Further, he claimed, “[h]umans are genetically programmed to emphasize bad news over good news when they make decisions.” Donovan is implying that we’re just imagining high grocery bills.

In fact, inflation in the grocery industry has been higher than in other industries, rising 25 percent over the past four years compared to 19 percent overall, and many have pointed to simple greed as the reason: food prices are high because the companies setting prices think they can get away with padding their profits. Since we all have to eat, naturally this hits lower-income families harder, rather like a regressive tax. A new report by the Groundwork Collaborative found that in 2022, “consumers in the bottom quintile of the income spectrum spent 25 percent of their income on groceries, while those in the highest quintile spent under 3.5 percent.”


--  Sonali Kolhatkar, "The Real Reason Your Grocery Bill Is Still So High" (COUNTERPUNCH).



A note to our readers

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Let's thank all who participated this edition which includes Dallas and the following:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess and Ava,
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Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz),
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and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub.

And what did we come up with?






-- Jim, Dona, Ty, Jess, Ava and C.I.








Repost from THE COMMON ILLS:

Iraq snapshot

Tuesday, February 6, 2023.  Sad and pathetic SNL doesn't amuse some people, the starvation of Gaza continues, and much more.

Let's start with something people are upset about in e-mails: SNL's WEEKEND UPDATE -- specifically the joke attacking Chicago.  Yeah, it wasn't funny and it was bad politics.

That tends to happen when you let a man -- or men -- stay in spot way too long.  Michael and Colin are old men on an aging show trying to be pretend they're young.  2014?  A decade ago.  It's time to sweep them off the set.  When old men get comfy like that?  SNL ends up blaming African-Americans for the housing bust in the '00s.  Which they did and which Lorne hates for me to mention because he knows that's exactly the image the show doesn't need.

Most of the time, I'm silent.

Norm McDonald was a raging homophobe.

Did I piss on anyone's mourning parade when he died?  Nope.  Just thought, "Oh, you either don't know or you just don't care."  Tom Arnold could talk about Norm's homophobia -- but he'd have to share his own, right?  

SNL, for those who've forgotten, didn't just platform Rudy G, they worshipped him.  They brought on John McCain to do a very unfunny and very hateful skit about Barbra Streisand.  I remember a Laraine Newman skit about A STAR IS BORN that was fair game.  And funny.  That wasn't the case with what SNL had McCain do -- had him do. He's not a comedy writer.  That remains an offensive skit.

If you're thinking SNL is a great show, you're thinking wrong.  Sexism, racism and hate for anyone that's not rich has long been ingrained in the show.

I'm sorry the joke offended you.  It was a bad joke.  You're not wrong to be offended.  But expect a lot more of that while they continue to keep the same two men at the WEEKEND desk for ten years and counting.  They're aging themselves out of an audience but Lorne's been running scared for years now and fear hasn't inspired him to be any better.

A call for a cease-fire isn't a joke unless you've gotten so wealthy and so pampered that you're out of touch with the world you live in.  Again, you don't let two men sit behind the desk for a decade.  They should have been replaced with younger people long ago.  But that's the reality of SNL and that certainly explains why their host this weekend will be someone they previously fired.  Lorne is not a liberal and never was.  He's a disgrace.  He can't do anything but SNL and that reality's coming to a close for him.  How pathetic, all this time on TV and he was never anything but a one trick pony.

While SNL was yucking it up,  Dr. Tariq Haddad has watched his family die.  From yesterday's DEMOCRACY NOW!

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Nermeen Shaikh.

Before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken left for his fifth Middle East trip since October 7th, he held a roundtable meeting Thursday to discuss the situation in Gaza with a number of Palestinian Americans. But some of them refused to attend, in protest against the Biden administration’s ongoing support for Israel’s assault on Gaza.

We’re joined now by one of those who refused. Dr. Tariq Haddad is a cardiologist and member of the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights, who grew up in Gaza. He laid out his reasoning in a 12-page letter to Blinken. Included in Dr. Haddad’s letter were pictures of his family members. One of Blinken’s staff reportedly made sure to print the letter in color. Dr. Tariq Haddad joins us now from Falls Church, Virginia.

Dr. Tariq Haddad, welcome to Democracy Now! Our condolences to you for the many family members of yours who have been killed in Gaza. If you could begin by talking about what you know of what happened in Gaza to your family members, and then explain this invitation that you received for a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and why you declined to attend?

DR. TARIQ HADDAD: Thank you. Thank you for having me. And I appreciate the condolences.

Yeah, I think some context is necessary here to understand why I turned this invitation down. So, I have hundreds of family members in Gaza, both sides of my family, both in the town of Khan Younis and the Gaza City. I’ve had about a hundred family members at this point who have been killed, including physicians, pharmacists, lawyers, engineers, dozens and dozens of children, multiple small babies. I can’t tell all their stories, but I just want to tell a few just for the audience.

October 25th, 10 members of my family, all three generations of one side of my family, were all killed. My cousin Jamal El-Farra, his son, who is a physician, Dr. Tawfiq El-Farra, his wife who was pregnant, two of their beautiful daughters, Reem and Hala, Jamal’s brother Esam, wife Semad, and their daughters, Rusul, Tuqa and Nadian, all, multiple generations all killed in one Israeli missile strike. Tuqa, one of the younger women in the family, her wedding date was the day she was killed. They were all from modest means. They actually built — the three brothers built their home themselves, ironically, the same home that the Israeli strikes destroyed.

Another day, a couple days later, my cousins Hatem and Aziz El-Farra from Khan Younis, who lived literally 20 yards from where I grew up, were killed along with 14 other members of their family, seven of their children. Aziz was actually a pharmacist, and Hatem was just an incredible community figure who always had a smile on his face, always was available to help anybody who needed it. The day before he was killed, Hatem had just gone up to my uncle and asked if he could house five families who were made homeless by the Israeli missile strikes, in our grandparents’ house.

One child, one child out of that whole three generations, survived, Hamza. He had an amputation, was in the hospital. He woke up to find out his siblings, his parents, his uncles and his aunts, his grandparents all had died. Excuse me. And then he died himself in the next day from the trauma injuries from the Israeli attacks, because there wasn’t adequate medical care to keep him alive.

A couple of days after that, November 2nd, my cousins Hani, Huda and Wafaa El-Haddad, all siblings, were killed in Gaza City along with my cousin Hani’s Croatian wife and my aunt. Huda and Wafaa were teachers. Hani was an interior decorator. My cousin Hani initially survived with — as a physician, I can tell you it was a fairly minor leg injury, but then he bled to death the next day, because he had no access to any functional medical facility, since they had all been bombed and destroyed by the Israeli attacks. Hani’s brother Wael survived and then had to witness the horror of seeing his mother buried from the waist up in the rubble, dead. And he saw his sister Wafa shredded into pieces. And this, you know, they’re messaging me and telling me.

My other cousin, Nael, who I grew up with and played with as a kid, literally had to bury all his family members in a makeshift grave, because he couldn’t even access a cemetery. And he’s been going 24 hours at a time with no food or water.

Even those in my family who actually fled what was thought to be dangerous areas to safe areas have been targeted. One of my cousins, Samar El-Farra, died in a refugee camp in Rafah around the time she had completed her doctorate for her Ph.D. And we were about to congratulate her on that doctorate when she was killed.

There are family members who have died from a lack of medical care, an inability to access medical care. One of my cousins, Abdulrahman El-Farra, died because he was unable to reach a functional hospital after he was injured. Four of my family members got killed in an Israeli bombing of their car while they were, ironically, trying to go to the Gaza European Hospital for shelter. And then, a few weeks ago, Sabri El-Farra, one of my cousins, died with seven of his sons. And then, most recently, just a few days ago, a baby in our family, Saber El-Farra, who was 20 days old, froze to death, died from hypothermia in the refugee camp that his family was in. And this is after — this 20-[day]-old just froze to death after nine of his siblings and his father were murdered by the Israeli military strikes a few weeks before.

The ones — the people in my family who have not been killed, arguably, are suffering a fate worse than death. Hundreds of my family are displaced. Not a single one of them is able to stay in their home. All their homes are either damaged or destroyed. One of my family members had to give birth on the rubble of her home that was destroyed, and did not even have clothes to put on her baby. Famine is common. Every one of my family members has mentioned it. They have no access to clean water. They’ve had to recycle water because there’s no access to clean water. And they’ve had dysentery and gastrointestinal illnesses. Famine. One of my cousins messages me all the time saying he’s gone 24 hours without food.

So, to answer your question, knowing all this and knowing what I’ve gone through week after week, month after month, checking every morning to see who’s alive, who’s dead, who’s suffered, who can we help, and as the dead rose to a hundred in my family to 15,000 children all across Gaza, to 30,000 civilians, as I saw the famine happen, I just kept looking for evidence that our government actually cares about the lives of my family. And I saw none. I kept waiting for a ceasefire, that Secretary Blinken had access, has the ability to do, and he refused to do it. I kept waiting for a United Nations resolution to call for a ceasefire, which the United States continued to veto. I kept waiting for something, and all I saw was the opposite. I saw our U.S. strategic Middle Eastern military reserve being used to replenish the Israeli ammunitions for this genocide. I saw, cruelly, just a few days ago, the withdrawal of funding for the United Nations, that was supplying military [sic] assistance to these over 2 million people that are going through famine.

So, getting back to your original question, I sort of — I wrote this letter to Secretary Blinken because I wanted him to see me and see Palestinians as human beings, not as some part of a political game or some sort of, you know, blame game. I wanted him to see us for who we were as human beings. And I wanted him to put himself in my shoes and ask himself, if he saw his family getting killed day after day, month after month, as a direct result of the government’s policies, and he knew that somebody in that government could have done something to prevent those 100 people from dying, the suffering of the remaining hundreds of people, how could you sit in a room, given three minutes to face that person, and face them, knowing that that person has been directly responsible for the death of your family and all the suffering that your family has seen, and do so simply as part of a political grandstanding? And that’s why I just ethically could not be there, because actions speak louder than words. And I just wanted him to see us as human beings, to empathize, and not play politics and not play games.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Tariq Haddad, thank you so much for joining us. And again, our condolences for the horrific — the horrors that your family has lived through in Gaza. Dr. Tariq Haddad, cardiologist and member of the Virginia Coalition for Human Rights who refused to attend a meeting in D.C. with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

When we come back, we talk about starvation in Gaza with Alex de Waal. Back in a minute.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Annie Lennox performing Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.” On Sunday night, Annie Lennox called for a ceasefire at the end of her performance at the Grammys.

ALJAZEERA reports this morning:

Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for Gaza’s Health Ministry, gave a news conference on the deteriorating situation at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. Here are the main points:

  • Israeli troops are putting the lives of 300 medical personnel, 450 wounded, and 10,000 displaced people in immediate danger.
  • Electric generators at Nasser Hospital will stop within four days because of fuel shortages.
  • The Israeli occupation tightens the siege on the hospital and intensively targets its surroundings.
  • Medical staff, and wounded and displaced people in the hospital are without food.
  • There is a severe shortage of surgical supplies and sutures.
  • Rescue crews risk their lives to save the wounded as a result of Israeli forces preventing the movement of ambulances.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This is Democracy Now!, I’m Nermeen Shaikh.

Israel is being accused of using starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza, as Israeli forces continue to severely restrict the delivery of humanitarian aid, food and medical supplies to millions inside the besieged territory after four months of indiscriminate bombardment and mass displacement. U.N. human rights experts warn Gaza’s 2.3 million population is facing severe levels of hunger, with the risk of famine increasing daily.

For more, we’re joined by Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University and author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine. His piece for The Guardian is headlined “Unless Israel changes course, it could be legally culpable for mass starvation.”

Alex de Waal, welcome to Democracy Now! Lay out the argument you have in your Guardian piece.

ALEX DE WAAL: So, my argument is essentially that while it may be possible to bomb a hospital by accident, it is not possible to create a famine by accident, and that for some months now, and particularly in mid-December, when the famine review committee, which is sort of the highest level of humanitarian assessment in the world, an independent, impartial, professional and extremely discrete body of experts, said that Gaza is heading towards famine, it is already in catastrophe — and these are very technical terms. And unless there is an end to active hostilities by the Israeli authorities and army and a full spectrum of relief operations, it is inevitable that sometime in the coming months — and they said beginning likely in early February — under the technical definitions, Gaza would be in famine.

So that is fair warning. And the actions undertaken by the government of Israel — and the war crime of starvation is defined thus: “using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including wilfully impeding relief supplies.” So the main element of the crime is destroying food, foodstuffs, hospitals, medical care, sanitation, shelter, etc. Unless that is all stopped, Gaza will be in famine.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Alex, if you could clarify? We just have a minute. You say that Palestinian children in Gaza will die in the thousands, even if the barriers to aid are lifted today. Explain.

ALEX DE WAAL: So, a humanitarian crisis is like a speeding freight train. Even if the driver puts on the brakes as hard as he possibly can, it will take many miles for that train to come to a stop. So, the levels of malnutrition that we are now seeing, the exposure to infectious disease through polluted water, through overcrowding and through lack of shelter, will mean that this humanitarian crisis continues. So, this is not something that can be stopped overnight.

And the fact that even after these warnings were issued, even after the International Court of Justice issued its provisional measures instructing Israel that it had to undertake these key actions, that this has continued, and the United States has not stopped it, makes them culpable for the crimes of starvation.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Alex de Waal, if you could speak — you’ve worked, obviously, on the question of famine and of mass starvation in many other contexts. If you could put what’s happening in Gaza in the broader context of what you’ve witnessed, from Sudan to Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Yemen?

ALEX DE WAAL: I think that the key element, key fact about what is happening in Gaza, has been happening for the last few months, is an exceptionally accelerated and concentrated and clearly deliberate, intentional reduction of a population to a state of outright starvation, of a nature that we have not seen in modern times. There is no parallel to this since World War II.

So, if we compare what is happening in Gaza to the other great famines in recent times, in Somalia, in Ethiopia, in Yemen, in the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960s, in China in the late 1950s, many of those were much bigger in terms of the numbers of people who died, because they impacted much larger populations. They were also much slower. They took many, many months or several years, usually, to unfold. They all have in common the fact that it is political or military decision that not only sets in motion starvation, but allows it to proceed without being halted. But this is an extraordinarily ruthless and concentrated example, as I said, without real parallel since World War II.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And could you explain why its intention doesn’t really come into this, why it doesn’t matter whether Israel is deliberately using starvation as a weapon of war, or if it’s a byproduct of its assault on Gaza? Why is that not relevant?

ALEX DE WAAL: So, let’s look at the case that was presented to the International Court of Justice by South Africa recently. And that used the Genocide Convention. And the key provision in the Genocide Convention is Article II, which is deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part. Now, the court is going to take a long time to rule as to whether this is genocide or not, because the key element that it has to determine is genocidal intent. Now, there are a lot of senior government ministers in Israel who have made blatantly genocidal statements, but that does not, in itself, prove that there is genocidal intent in the way that the Israeli Defense Forces are conducting their operations.

But the actual facts on the ground are that conditions of life that will bring about the physical destruction of a significant part of the population of Gaza, those are there. Those are actually existing, regardless of what is the intention. And there are different types of intention. So, the war crime of starvation, which is — the focus is on depriving civilians of objects indispensable to survival, which isn’t just food. It’s anything that is indispensable to survival. That can be deliberately intended, in the sense that the criminal, the perpetrator, wants to starve, or obliquely intended, in that the perpetrator is conducting the actions for another reason, like crushing a military adversary, but it has that outcome.

Now, the key thing about starvation is that it doesn’t stop just because you stop doing your action. And it continues, when you are being — and if you continue doing it even though you were warned of the outcome, you are also responsible. And that is the key here. The key is that Israel is knowingly creating these conditions, because it has been warned, and warned repeatedly, and yet it has continued. And so that makes it culpable. And regardless of the intent, the crime is being committed. And those who are arming Israel, supporting Israel and undermining the relief capacity, which is particularly the UNRWA, are complicit in this.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, another point that you make in your Guardian piece — I’ll just read a short sentence. You write, “Never before Gaza have today’s humanitarian professionals seen such a high proportion of the population descend so rapidly towards catastrophe,” you say. And this as residents in the north, northern Gaza, are reportedly eating grass and drinking polluted water. UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, said today a food convoy expected to move into northern Gaza was targeted by Israeli forces. So, Alex, if you could talk about that, and, of course, this coming as there are — you’re warning of famine, these are the conditions on the ground, and donor countries are considering defunding UNRWA?

ALEX DE WAAL: So, if we go back to what the Famine Relief Committee came up with back in December — and this was based on the data that they gathered primarily during the humanitarian truce at the end of November. They have a five-point scale of food stress, going from phase one, which is normal; phase two, which is stressed; phase three, crisis; phase four, emergency — and in emergency, this is when children start to die in significant numbers; and phase five, which is catastrophe or famine, depending on exactly how the different metrics and indicators work out. And the current, as of early December, was 17% in catastrophe, phase five, 42% in emergency, phase four. The projected, which was for this week, early February, was 26% in catastrophe or famine, and 53% in emergency, so three-quarters of the population in emergency or catastrophe or famine. And that is quite extraordinary, given that right at the beginning of the crisis, the population was under stress, but then the rates of severe acute malnutrition were actually pretty low. The number of children who suffered from wasting because of deprivation of food was about 1% or thereabouts. So, just to reiterate, this train of catastrophe is moving extremely fast.

Now, there is a principle that was adopted by international humanitarians and by the United States government some 12, 13 years ago in Somalia, which is broadly called “no regrets” programming, which is that if you see a catastrophe unfolding, you must set aside the strict criteria in two regards. First of all, how closely and clearly do you actually know how bad it is? You should operate on a worst-case assumption. It’s better to waste some — quote, “waste” some resources by feeding people who may not actually be starving to death. And secondly, you also need to work with authorities, or you have to have a humanitarian carveout that means you can work alongside or with authorities that you don’t fully trust, knowing that some of your aid may be diverted. In the case of Somalia in 2011, it was the terrorist group al-Shabab, because unless you worked with them, there was going to be a famine in the areas they controlled. And so, it was agreed we will have a humanitarian carveout.

Now, this “no regrets” principle is being inverted today in Gaza, in that the slightest suspicion that some members of UNRWA, which is the only capable relief organization able to deliver assistance at scale, the slightest suspicion that some of them, small number, are associated with Hamas and its actions, is leading to a potential major cutoff in funding. And that makes international donors doubly complicit in what is going on.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You also wrote in your piece — just to put what’s happening in a comparative frame, you wrote, quote, “Many wars are starvation crime scenes. In Sudan and South Sudan, it’s widespread looting by marauding militia. In Ethiopia’s Tigray [region], farms, factories, schools and hospitals were vandalized and burned, far in excess of any military logic. In Yemen, most of the country was put under starvation blockade. In Syria, the regime besieged cities, demanding they 'surrender or starve.' The level of destruction of hospitals, water systems and housing in Gaza, as well as restrictions [of] trade, employment and aid, surpasses any of these cases,” you write in your Guardian piece. So, if you could elaborate on that?

ALEX DE WAAL: So, what the Israeli Defense Forces are doing is not the full range of starvation crimes. For example, we don’t see them pillaging. We don’t see them stealing en masse. But what we do see is this relentless destruction of essential infrastructure. And this goes far beyond any proportionality. The laws of war are very clear, that if you are conducting a war in an area that is inhabited by civilians, that you have to have the — the damage to civilians, the deaths of civilians must be proportionate to your military objectives. And even the Israeli former Chief Justice Aharon Barak actually has said in a judgment, actually relating in this case to torture, that a law-abiding state or a democracy must — and I quote — “must sometimes fight with one hand tied behind its back,” because the fact that there are combatants embedded within a civilian population does not mean that that civilian population loses its civilian character, its protected character, according to the war. And what we are seeing in the case of Gaza is that the Israelis are essentially treating the entire population as a combatant population. That is de facto what we are seeing. And we did not see that with this intensity in any of these other cases.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Alex, if you could put this all in the context of ongoing U.S. support for Israel, and also U.K. support, but principally U.S. support? To the extent that Israel is guilty of creating the conditions for famine and already inducing mass starvation in Gaza, is the U.S. also complicit?

ALEX DE WAAL: I think morally, clearly, it’s complicit. And it could be legally liable in two ways. One, first of all, would be if the International Court of Justice does indeed find that Israel was — is responsible for genocide. And then the United States could be complicit in that crime in, certainly, the element of inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction. But even if the ICJ doesn’t find that, or it takes a long time to find that, the International Criminal Court prosecutor is also looking into war crimes and crimes against humanity, which have essentially the same provision, without the genocidal intent. And I think this would not be difficult to prove, that the same outcome is being — is occurring with just the intent to destroy these things, without the direct intent to cause starvation or to cause genocide, so starvation being the predictable outcome.

Now, if the prosecutor of the ICC were to begin to issue arrest warrants for Israeli officers or commanders or politicians, then the U.S. might find itself, by implication, complicit on those grounds, too. So the U.S. lawyers need to be very, very attentive to that as they give the administration its advice on whether it should continue in its current policy, which, as your correspondents have been saying, appears to be unconditional support for Israel.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We reported in our headlines that Belgium summoned the Israeli ambassador after Israel bombed Belgium’s development agency in northern Gaza. The bombing reportedly occurred on Wednesday after Belgium announced it would not pause funding for UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. So, Alex de Waal, could you respond to this? And if a direct link is established, though I’m not sure how that would be, what does it mean that Israel is carrying out this kind of retaliation against a humanitarian agency?

ALEX DE WAAL: That would be just an extraordinary violation, not only of international humanitarian law, but of international criminal law. And if it could be proven, it would mean that those responsible could and should end up in court on trial for those crimes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Alex de Waal, now we want to turn to — you know, you’ve done a lot of work in Sudan. So, if you could talk about — you recently wrote a piece for Chatham House on the situation now in Sudan. If you could elaborate on that?

ALEX DE WAAL: Well, let me actually take a little step back, because what we’re seeing in the Horn of Africa and in Yemen is something that we have not — in my almost 40-year career of studying food crises in these countries, we have not seen before, which is four major simultaneous food emergencies unfolding at the same time. So we have — in Sudan, we have about half the population. It’s a country of about 45 million people, and about half the population is in need of emergency assistance because of the war. In Ethiopia, we are seeing, in the northern part of the country, a rapid descent into famine conditions — are not yet there, but they are heading there — due to a combination of the effects of the war in northern Ethiopia, which unfolded over two years, came to an end a year ago, combined with drought. In Somalia, the continuing insecurity and conflict combined with severe drought, and now, in recent months, severe floods related to climate change. And in Yemen, the impact of the protracted war and siege, which just came to an end last year, which is now being exacerbated by the hostilities between the U.S. and the Houthis, and the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization.

So we’re seeing four massive food crises unfolding in parallel, at a time when two other things are happening. One is that the price of of food aid has shot up because of the Black Sea crisis and also the Red Sea crisis. It’s just the cost of shipping, the cost of insurance, getting food to these countries has gone up. And also, the budget of the major agencies, such as the World Food Programme, has been massively squeezed. And that’s primarily because there is a standard allocation from the U.S., the major donor, but then what we — what the World Food Programme and what USAID need is a supplemental allocation, and the supplementary budget is held up in Congress.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Thank you so much, Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University and the author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine. His new piece for The Guardian is titled “Unless Israel changes course, it could be legally culpable for mass starvation.” To see Part 1 of our conversation with Alex de Waal, go to This is Democracy Now! I’m Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

On UNRWA, THE GUARDIAN notes, "Channel 4 News obtained Isreal’s dossier outlining the claims that UNRWA staff were involved in the October Hamas attacks but concluded it 'provides no evidence' to support them."  So for over a month, the Israeli government is going to get away with lying -- face no punishment for lying (just like they lied that they weren't attacking hospitals) -- but people are going to continue to starve during this time?  

Yesterday, Doctors Without Borders released the following video.

Gaza remains under assault. Day 123 of  the assault in the wave that began in October.  Binoy Kampmark (DISSIDENT VOICE) points out, "Bloodletting as form; murder as fashion.  The ongoing campaign in Gaza by Israel’s Defence Forces continues without stalling and restriction.  But the burgeoning number of corpses is starting to become a challenge for the propaganda outlets:  How to justify it?  Fortunately for Israel, the United States, its unqualified defender, is happy to provide cover for murder covered in the sheath of self-defence."   CNN has explained, "The Gaza Strip is 'the most dangerous place' in the world to be a child, according to the executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund."  ABC NEWS quotes UNICEF's December 9th statement, ""The Gaza Strip is the most dangerous place in the world to be a child. Scores of children are reportedly being killed and injured on a daily basis. Entire neighborhoods, where children used to play and go to school have been turned into stacks of rubble, with no life in them."  NBC NEWS notes, "Strong majorities of all voters in the U.S. disapprove of President Joe Biden’s handling of foreign policy and the Israel-Hamas war, according to the latest national NBC News poll. The erosion is most pronounced among Democrats, a majority of whom believe Israel has gone too far in its military action in Gaza."  The slaughter continues.  It has displaced over 1 million people per the US Congressional Research Service.  Jessica Corbett (COMMON DREAMS) points out, "Academics and legal experts around the world, including Holocaust scholars, have condemned the six-week Israeli assault of Gaza as genocide."   The death toll of Palestinians in Gaza is grows higher and higher.  United Nations Women noted, "More than 1.9 million people -- 85 per cent of the total population of Gaza -- have been displaced, including what UN Women estimates to be nearly 1 million women and girls. The entire population of Gaza -- roughly 2.2 million people -- are in crisis levels of acute food insecurity or worse." THE GUARDIAN notes, "At least 27,585 Palestinians have been killed and 66,978 wounded in Israeli strikes on Gaza since 7 October, the health ministry in Gaza said on Tuesday."  AP has noted, "About 4,000 people are reported missing."  February 5th, the United Nations' Phillipe Lazzarini Tweeted:

And the area itself?  Isabele Debre (AP) reveals, "Israel’s military offensive has turned much of northern Gaza into an uninhabitable moonscape. Whole neighborhoods have been erased. Homes, schools and hospitals have been blasted by airstrikes and scorched by tank fire. Some buildings are still standing, but most are battered shells."  Kieron Monks (I NEWS) reports, "More than 40 per cent of the buildings in northern Gaza have been damaged or destroyed, according to a new study of satellite imagery by US researchers Jamon Van Den Hoek from Oregon State University and Corey Scher at the City University of New York. The UN gave a figure of 45 per cent of housing destroyed or damaged across the strip in less than six weeks. The rate of destruction is among the highest of any conflict since the Second World War."  Max Butterworth (NBC NEWS) adds, "Satellite images captured by Maxar Technologies on Sunday reveal three of the main hospitals in Gaza from above, surrounded by the rubble of destroyed buildings after weeks of intense bombing in the region by Israeli forces."   

While refusing to demand a cease-fire, US President Joe Biden is content to spread the conflict throughout the region and increase the war.  CNN’s Teele Rebane and Martha Zhou report:

The United States' actions in Syria and Iraq are “triggering new regional turbulence,” said Zhang Jun, Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, condemning US airstrikes in the region.

“Recently, the United States carried out airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, resulting in a large number of casualties. These actions gravely violate the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq,” Zhang said, speaking at the Security Council's Emergency Open Session on US Airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.
"The relevant military actions are undoubtedly triggering new regional turbulence," he added.

Zhang said the international community had the responsibility to reduce tensions and prevent the escalation of conflicts. 

"The US says it does not seek to create conflicts in the Middle East or anywhere else, but it runs in the opposite direction," he said, adding that "the root cause is that the ceasefire and cessation of hostilities in Gaza have been unable to be implemented."

This came after the US fired a series of airstrikes on Friday to destroy 84 targets of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.

Karwan Faidhi Dri (RUDAW) reports:                 
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Washington had “informed” Baghdad "prior" to carrying out the attacks, an assertion denied by Iraqi government spokesperson Basim al-Awadi. 

“The American side then deliberately deceived and falsified the facts by announcing prior coordination to commit this aggression, which is a false claim aimed at misleading international public opinion and disavowing legal responsibility for this rejected crime in accordance with all international laws and laws,” Awadi stated on Saturday.

Iraq’s foreign ministry on Saturday summoned the charge d’affaires of the US Embassy in Baghdad, David Burger, to protest against the “American aggression that targeted Iraqi military and civilian sites.”

The following sites updated:

TV: Things to praise, things to shake your head over

Following the strikes, as the TV season finally gets back to normal.






On the good side?  The sitcom EXTENDED FAMILY has a lot going for it including laughs and the cast. Jon Cryer plays the ex-husband to Abigail Spencer who is now engaged to Donald Faison -- the three adults are raising Jon and Abigail's two children.  


We're not supposed to notice that Donald's seven years older than Abigail or that Jon's 16 years older than here.  This being TV, well trained audiences probably will look the other way on that for now.  Jon's probably got at least 15 more years until his own version of LIFE WITH LUCY forces audience to recoil in horror at his age.  Even so, will they ignore the hair?  No, not Jon's hair, he's bald.  We're talking about Abigail Spencer's hair.  Did they forget she wasn't in a medical drama anymore?  It's too dark, it's too long, it's too shapeless, it's too much, it's too heavy.  She's buried under it and it's stepping on every one of her punch lines.  It so upstages her (and her performance) that it sometimes seems THE ADAMS FAMILY's cousin It has wandered onto the set.


If they could fix that, EXTENDED FAMILY would be an even stronger addition to the NBC schedule.  As it is, the series is already a better partner with Melissa Rauch's NIGHT COURT -- much, much better than AMERICAN AUTO.  And, as a lead-in, it's helped boost the ratings for season three of LA BREA.  If NBC can pull off Reba McEntire's return to comedy next year, they have everything for a solid, two hour comedy block: NIGHT COURT, EXTENDED FAMILY, LOPEZ VS LOPEZ and Reba's show.

Playing pitiful and timid is once again paying well for Jon Cryer.  But that's the role he's playing.  Max Blumenthal has no character to hide behind -- he's just being the vain nebbish he truly is. At 46, he's a study in failure.  A failure not because he was never given a chance, but a failure because he blew every chance he ever had.  Now he's a pathetic and insignificant nothing who sees himself as so much more.  On THE HILL's RISING last week, he and the Lola Falanda of the political set Briahna Joy Gray attempted to pass him off as Max The All Powerful as they both insisted that Maxie had forced THE NEW YORK TIMES to back away from their questionable and poorly sourced story claiming Hamas raped Israeli women during the October 7th attack.

And then, they wanted you to know, the paper didn't even credit Max Blumenthal by name, they just noted an amalgam of 'critics.'


Reality was in short supply on RISING so let's provide some here.


First off, no one has ever feared Max Blumenthal except for those few unfortunate enough to live near him and, even then, they only feared being detained by him as they tried to make it to their front door.  Secondly,  the ego on the two of them.


Max was far from the only one to call out the NYT coverage of still unproven, still mythical rapes -- rapes that have no actual witnesses, no actual victims and no evidence.  In the US, the paper's coverage of the mythical rapes have been called out by many.  


And the credit there includes WSWS, ZNET, COUNTERPUNCH, DEMOCRACY NOW! and especially THE ELECTRONIC INTIFADA.    The latter of which features the work of Nora Barrows-Friedman.  She's the journalist Max wishes he was.  She's not a hitchhiker on The Freeway of Fads.  She's someone who is known for her long, long history of covering Gaza and giving voice to the Palestinian people.  And, of course, outside the US, there were many outlet's questioning the NYT claims -- including ALJAZEERA but when you're Max Blumenthal -- with all the sadness that entails -- you have to make absurd and grandiose claims to mask the actual meaningless of your life.


A lot of masks are  being worn in MR. & MRS. SMITH.  The new AMAZON PRIME series is loosely based on the Angelie Jolie blockbuster from 2005.  In the film, Jane and John Smith are a married couple who work for different spy agencies.  In the new TV series, Jane and John Smith are brought together by one spy agency and they are married as part of their cover. This is how the agency works, in fact,  Pairing up a man that they name John with a woman that they name Jane.  They're paired up to be a team based on their mutual skills and deficiencies.  Falling in love after the marriage is apparently common as we learn in the first minutes of the first episode where a John and Jane -- played by Alexander Skarsgard and Eiza Gonzalez -- are killed.  Later in the series, they meet another John and Jane couple -- this time played by Wagner Moura and Parker Posey. 


The main John and Jane, the characters we focus on, are played by Donald Glover and Maya Erskine who manage not only to deliver compelling performances but also have a real and strong chemistry.  That doesn't just come through between the high octane action scenes, it's also what carries those scenes and every other.  The eight episodes zip quickly along and make you eager for a season two. 

And in a cast that includes outstanding work by Parker Posey, Alexander Skarsgard, John Turturro, Sarah Paulson, Urusla Cobero, Ron Pearlman and Michaela Coel, we still have to take a moment to single out and praise Beverly Glover -- Donald's real life mother who also plays his mom in the series.


A shocking rarity, AMAZON PRIME has two news series worth watching.  EXPATS is the other one and it continues the TV work of Nicole Kidman as both lead actress and executive producer that began in 2017 with BIG LITTLE LIES.  With that show, the excellent HBO series THE UNDOING, NINE PERFECT STRANGERS and SPECIAL OPS: LIONESS, Nicole has demonstrated both an eye for potential projects and the skill to shape them into something memorable, stories viewers want to see unfold.  Sophia Vergara's just done that with GRISELDA (NETFLIX) and, hopefully, she'll find the same streak that Nicole has.  


Nicole's doing some of her best acting in EXPATS.  She's a mother who's youngest child Gus disappears when new friend Mercy (Sarayu Blue) is supposed to be watching him at the market.  The family is torn apart.  Husband Clarke (Brian Tee) seeks out religious answers as he tries to deal with his son's disappearance.  The two other children have to deal with the obsessive fears of their mother Margaret (Nicole).  Margaret is on self-destruct, destroying friendships, making accusations, trying to find leads after the police have given up. It's really something to watch.


And then there's . . . Maude.
Well, at least, the Bea Arthur look alike Glynneth Greenwald.

No fool like a damn fool, Glynneth felt the need last week to again taste Trump's taint.  Insurrection!  There was no insurrection!

Glynneth made a right proud fool of himself as he started swearing that this didn't happen and that didn't happen.  It couldn't, heavy drama and pop eyes, be an insurrection!

We knew he was stupid when it came to the law.

Glynneth, no one has argued that it was a successful insurrection.  It was an attempted insurrection.

We'll come back to that in a moment.  Last week, PBS' FRONTLINE aired an episode that focused on January 6th.  It only served to remind us why we didn't rush to call it an insurrection in real time and how badly the bi-partisan commission of the House of Representatives did with it.

For one thing, then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi really should have shut her damn mouth.  Really.  She is a polarizing figure.  That alone should have led her to not comment.  Then there's the issue that this was not supposed to be fueled by politics. But Nancy couldn't shut her mouth -- and she wasn't on the committee.  

In addition, the Committee didn't focus on testimony.  Instead, they wanted to hire a 'narrative whisperer' to help them story time the hearings for a prime time broadcast.

That was insane and it was offensive.

We can go on with other examples including that Committee chairs need to look respectable.  They need to look knowledgeable.  That does not happen when you mispronounce basic legal terms and, yes, that was broadcast on prime time.  A chair looked like an idiot because he didn't know how to pronounce the word he had elected to use.  

We all mispronounce words from time to time.  But we don't all act as chair of an important hearing.  When people are already skeptical, you don't give them additional reasons to worry you don't what you're doing.

We're the perfect audience for Donald Trump's insurrection attempt. 

Unlike Glynneth we maintained a skeptical distance.  And, as we've noted, if it was just the Congressional Committee's findings, we wouldn't have arrived at the decision.  But prosecutors and witnesses (witnesses who turned on Donald to save their own asses) have made it clear that this was an attempted coup.  This was an insurrection.

Donald did nothing that day to stop the violence.  He gave a speech that was full of rehtoric -- over the top rhetoric -- and he knowingly incited that mob.  He then turned them loose on the US Congress.  Why?  It was supposed to stop the process.  

The electoral college was set to vote the result of the 2020 election.  Donald attempted to create panic and strife and did so to ensure Joe Biden was not named the president. He had fake electors ready to step in.  (January 7th, not 6th, was when the electoral college was able to certify Joe as the winner -- this was due to the machinations of Donald Trump and his mob.)  

It was a plan.

Glynneth, a legal idiot, please remember, thinks he can argue that Donald's innocent of insurrection charges because he wasn't able to pull it off.

No, you stupid, stupid, deeply stupid moron.  That's not how it works.  You may plan to murder Toby Keith and even take a shot at him but then find out the cancer got him.  That doesn't change the fact that you attempted murder.  You're failure to be good at the crime you pursued does not make you innocent.  

Glynneth clearly spent far more time kneeling at the glory holes then studying for the boards.

That's not our fault.  

And America shouldn't have to suffer due to Greenwald's ineptitude.

Some little Glynneths are opposed to Donald being removed from the ballot.

"P-p-p-eople won't get to vote for who they want to!"

When in a US presidential election has that been an option?  

Not very often.  

And we already have other rules on the books that disqualify certain people.  In 2020, a number of people would have been willing to vote for AOC, for example.  And she didn't get to run.  She was too young.  There are rules in place.

One of the most important has been debated endlessly and that's the 14th Amendment.  Any honest reading of it argues against Donald Trump being allowed to run again.

However, that's not all he violated.

He took an oath to the Constitution.  That includes Article 3.  He took an oath to uphold the Constitution.  Article 3 outlines the entire process for the electoral college.  Guess what?  No two sets of electors.  None of the crap he pulled is in Article 3.  He broke his oath to uphold the Constitution.  That alone makes him unfit to run for president.

The Great Glynneth can't tell you that because (a) it's the truth, (b) it's the law and (c) it doesn't fit the pattern he pledged himself to when he made his decision before considering all the facts.


The writers strike and the actors strike are over.  But, as some are determined to prove, the stupid always lives on.

From The TESR Test Kitchen




Cheetos Pretzels Cheddar Flavored.


Cheetos Pretzels Cheddar Flavored. from


Cheetos?  We like Cheetos.  The original version, the puff version.  Even the white cheddar version.


Pretzels.  We love pretzels.  Especially honey mustard pretzels.


But Cheetos Pretzels?


 Not to be Rosemary about it but they do have a chalky undertaste. 

They're also too thick.   A thinner version would probably taste better. (The sizes in a bag vary and the largest are thicker than the average Cheeto.)  As it is they're chalky and dull. They tend to end up in the side of your mouth and require you having to scrape them off your side teeth.

We each used a three-ounce bag.  No one got to the half way mark and Elaine could only take one of them before she said, "Forget it."

This should have been a home run.  Instead, we were all left disgusted.

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