Monday, April 15, 2024

Biden Issues Urgent Warning of Imminent Iran Attack on Israel

Iran embassy, Damascus
Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria allegedly attacked by Israel

The long-simmering tensions between Iran and Israel have reached a boiling point, with the possibility of a direct retaliatory strike by Tehran looming large. President Biden made it clear Friday that Iran’s planned attack against Israel could happen soon. 

While Israel has not officially claimed responsibility for the strike, both Iran and Syria have accused the Jewish state of carrying out the attack and vowed retaliation. The loss of such prominent figures, particularly Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a top Quds Force commander, has sparked outrage in Tehran and heightened the urgency for a decisive response.

Biden and Blinken Warn Iran

Joe Biden
Photo: Prachatai

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been at the forefront of these diplomatic efforts, engaging with his counterparts in China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia in the hopes of defusing the escalating tensions. Blinken's message has been clear: escalation is not in anyone's interest, and Iran must be urged to exercise restraint.

“We have also engaged with European allies and partners over the past few days and urged them as well to send a clear message to Iran that escalation is not in Iran's interest, it's not in the region's interest, and it's not in the world's interest,” said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Germany, whose Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit China next week, has also been in contact with Beijing regarding the situation with Iran, where China wields considerable influence.

The delicate balancing act for Western powers lies in denouncing China as a trade risk while simultaneously urging it to leverage its diplomatic sway with countries like Iran, which are isolated by Western sanctions.

The backdrop to these frantic diplomatic maneuvers is the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Tehran-backed Palestinian organization Hamas, which erupted in October 2022 after a deadly terror attack by the militant group. Israel's campaign against Hamas has also drawn in Iran's proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, further exacerbating the regional tensions.

The spark that has ignited the current crisis was the April 1st airstrike on an Iranian consulate building in Damascus, which killed several high-ranking Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commanders, including two generals. Tehran and Damascus have accused Israel of orchestrating the attack, a claim that Jerusalem has not denied.

In the aftermath of the Damascus strike, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed that Israel “should be punished and will be punished” for the killings. This prompted a stern response from Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who warned that “if Iran attacks from its territory—Israel will react and attack in Iran.”

Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Photo: khamenei.ir

Heightened Security in Israel

Israeli officials have warned of the high likelihood of an Iranian retaliatory strike, potentially involving a barrage of drones and missiles targeting military installations within Israel. According to U.S. officials cited by CBS News, the attack could involve over 100 drones and dozens of missiles, posing a significant challenge for Israel's air defenses.

In response, Israel has heightened its security, calling up reserve units to bolster air defense systems and canceling leave for combat soldiers. The Israeli military has also conducted comprehensive assessments of its readiness for various scenarios, with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi stating, “The IDF is well prepared in attack and defense against any threat. We are at war and have been on high alert for about six months.”

The high-level diplomatic engagements and the heightened state of alert within the Israeli military underscore the gravity of the situation. CENTCOM chief Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla has met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi to discuss “readiness for an Iranian attack against the State of Israel, which may lead to regional escalation.”

Gallant has struck a defiant tone, declaring that “our enemies think that they can pull apart Israel and the United States, but the opposite is true, they are bringing us together and strengthening our ties. We stand shoulder to shoulder.” He has also vowed that “we are prepared to defend ourselves on the ground and in the air, in close cooperation with our partners, and we will know how to respond.”

Iran's Potential Response to Damascus Attack

Military analysts and officials have cautioned that while neither side appears interested in provoking an all-out war, misunderstandings could inadvertently lead to a broader conflict.

Iran's response is widely expected to be measured, aimed at restoring a semblance of deterrence following the loss of high-ranking officials. However, the nature and location of the strike will be crucial in determining Israel's response.

“If we manage to intercept most of what's incoming, that would be excellent — it would moderate our need to respond offensively,” said Danny Citrinowicz, a former Israeli military intelligence officer and fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies.

An attack launched from Iranian territory would be considered an escalation by Israel, potentially prompting a more robust military response. Israel has warned that such an action would be seen as “clear evidence of Iran's intentions to escalate the Middle East and stop hiding behind the proxies,” according to IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari.

Regional and Global Implications

The potential for a direct confrontation between Iran and Israel has rippled through the region and beyond. Several countries, including India, France, and Poland, have issued travel advisories, warning their citizens against visiting Iran, Israel, and neighboring countries because of the volatile situation.

The United States has also taken precautionary measures, restricting personal travel for its employees in Israel and their family members outside of major cities.

Moreover, any escalation in hostilities could have broader implications for global markets and trade routes. The ongoing conflict in Gaza has already contributed to higher oil prices due to disruptions in the Red Sea because of attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. And an escalation of hostilities between Israel and Iran would almost certainly spike global oil prices. 

Calls for Restraint and Diplomacy

Amid the rising tensions, international leaders have called for restraint and a return to diplomacy. U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong have urged Iran to use its influence in the region to promote stability rather than escalate the conflict.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, while acknowledging the diplomatic efforts, maintained that “legitimate defense with the objective of punishing the aggressor becomes a necessity” when international laws and conventions are violated.

As the powder keg of tensions between Iran and Israel ramps up, the international community must act urgently to prevent a regional conflict with potentially catastrophic consequences. Diplomacy remains the only viable path forward, with key global powers like the United States, China, and European allies intensifying their efforts to de-escalate the situation and persuade both sides to exercise maximum restraint. 

Failure to do so could unleash a spiral of violence that would reverberate far beyond the borders of Iran and Israel, potentially hitting global markets and disrupting critical trade routes. The stakes are high and world leaders must demonstrate principled leadership to avert a crisis that could plunge the Middle East into all-out war. 

McCarthy Accuses Matt Gaetz Of Ousting Him As Speaker To Kill Underage Sex Ethics Probe

Matt Gaetz
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) has revealed the sinister motivation behind the Republican efforts to oust him as Speaker of the House. In a shocking admission, McCarthy has accused Matt Gaetz (R-FL) of orchestrating the push to remove him from power because he refused to interfere with an ethics investigation into Gaetz's alleged sex trafficking of a minor.

According to McCarthy, the real reason he was ousted as Speaker had nothing to do with policy disagreements or debt ceiling negotiations, as Gaetz had claimed. Instead, McCarthy asserted that Gaetz's actions were driven by a desperate attempt to stop an ongoing ethics probe into his alleged criminal activities. 

During an interview on Tuesday at Georgetown University, McCarthy said, “I’ll give you the truth why I’m not speaker. It’s because one person, a member of Congress, wanted me to stop an ethics complaint because he slept with a 17-year-old. An ethics complaint that started before I ever became speaker, and that’s illegal, and I’m not going to get in the middle. Did he do it or not? I don’t know, but Ethics is looking at it. There’s other people in jail because of it. And he wanted me to influence it.” 

The details of the ethics investigation into Gaetz are deeply troubling. The probe is reportedly examining a range of allegations against the Florida congressman, including not just the alleged sex trafficking of a minor, but also public corruption, solicitation of prostitution, drug use, and the distribution of nude photos of his sexual partners on the House floor. 

Matt Gaetz's "Personal Vendetta"

Yet, according to McCarthy, Gaetz was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to derail this probe, even at the cost of toppling the House Republican leadership. Private correspondence reviewed by The Daily Beast indicates that Gaetz privately acknowledged that his efforts to oust McCarthy were indeed motivated by a personal vendetta over the ethics investigation, rather than any policy disagreements over the debt limit deal. 

Kevin McCarthy
Photo: Matt Johnson

“Gaetz singled out McCarthy individually for reviving the Ethics Committee probe against him, and he indicated that his animus toward McCarthy was over that investigation.” 

The details of Gaetz's alleged transgressions read like a lurid tale of abuse and exploitation. According to a confession letter from Gaetz's close friend Joel Greenberg (who is now cooperating with the House Ethics Committee after being convicted of sex trafficking) the Florida congressman paid for sex with multiple women and a 17-year-old girl who they believed to be 19 at the time. 

“On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida's 1st Congressional District and myself,” Greenberg wrote, referring to the underage girl. He admitted to using payment apps like Venmo and Cash App to funnel money to these women on Gaetz's behalf, with some transfers exceeding $1,000.

Yet in a scathing indictment of the two-tiered justice system that favors the wealthy and connected, federal prosecutors opted not to bring charges against Gaetz. As Greenberg's lawyer lamented, “After so many years of defense practice, I've slowly come to the realization that our country has a two-tier system of justice. To be fair, why expend resources prosecuting the privileged, when there's undoubtedly a minority out there with a small amount of pot?”

His words ring painfully true in a nation where black men like Kalief Browder (who later committed suicide) spend years in Rikers Island without trial after being falsely accused of stealing a backpack, while wealthy elite like Gaetz and his ilk almost never face justice for their alleged crimes. The stark disparity in treatment is a damning rebuke of the criminal justice system's professed values of equality and justice for all.

Disturbingly, this is far from an isolated incident in the modern Republican Party. From the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape where Donald Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, to his recent civil judgment for sexual battery against columnist E. Jean Carroll, the GOP has cultivated a toxic culture of misogyny and male entitlement that enables and even celebrates the exploitation of women.

McCarthy's Ouster

In orchestrating this leadership coup, Gaetz manipulated reluctant allies into embracing his personal vendetta under the façade of lofty conservative principles such as fiscal responsibility—which seem to go by the wayside when a Republican is in the White House. With disturbing Trumpian demagoguery, he whipped his Freedom Caucus cohorts into a frenzy, exploiting their ideological zeal while concealing his true motivations—naked self-preservation.

This haphazardly orchestrated coup led to McCarthy becoming the first speaker removed by motion to vacate in American history. It was a victory for Gaetz that came at an immense cost, severely impeding the new Republican House majority's policy agenda and hurting the party’s ability to raise money, as McCarthy was a prolific fundraiser. 

And therein lies the great tragedy–that a once-respected political party of Lincoln and Eisenhower has been irredeemably warped into a cult of personality that has no issue setting aside criminal behavior. The Republican Party's Faustian bargain in embracing the unmoored extremism of Donald Trump has dissolved its last remnants of integrity.

Matt Gaetz's actions did not occur in a vacuum–they are symptomatic of a deeper malignancy within the modern Republican Party. One that has jettisoned core tenets of decency, ethics, and respect for the rule of law in favor of the raw pursuit of power at all costs. 

The path forward for the GOP lies not in laundering its image or reviving a discredited “family values” image, but in purging the likes of Gaetz and Trump in favor of true patriots like Liz Cheney, who put her country first and was punished for it. Only then can it begin rebuilding its integrity on an ethical foundation worthy of the public's trust. 

Arizona’s Abortion Ban: A Chilling Preview of America Under Trump

Donald Trump/Kari Lake
Photo: Gage Skidmore

In a devastating blow to reproductive rights and women's health, the Arizona Supreme Court has upheld a draconian 1864 law that effectively bans all abortion in the state. This archaic and extreme measure, which was enacted before Arizona even achieved statehood, is a chilling reminder of the relentless assault on reproductive freedom being waged by the Republican Party across the country.

The court's 4-2 ruling, which has been temporarily stayed to allow for further legal arguments, sends a clear message that the hard-won protections of Roe v. Wade are now a thing of the past. Thanks to the Trump orchestrated Dobbs decision, which overturned the federal constitutional right to abortion, state-level Republicans have seized the opportunity to impose their extreme ideological agenda on women and families. 

Arizona's 1864 law is among the most restrictive in the nation, banning abortion from the moment of conception, with only a narrow exception to save the life of the mother. This draconian measure makes no allowances for cases of rape or incest, effectively forcing women to carry pregnancies resulting from the most traumatic of circumstances. The potential consequences are dire, as women in Arizona will now have to travel hundreds of miles to neighboring states like California, New Mexico, or Colorado to access a fundamental healthcare service.

This ruling is not only a profound violation of bodily autonomy, but it also puts women's lives at risk. Forcing women to carry pregnancies to term, even in cases where their health is jeopardized, is unconscionable and betrays the most basic principles of human dignity and compassion. Even though the law allows for abortion to save the life of the mother, the reality is that doctors won’t feel safe to perform an abortion until a woman is at death’s door, which increases the risk of death. 

As Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes rightly stated, this decision “will go down in history as a stain on our state.” Mayes, a Democrat, has vowed that under her watch, “no woman or doctor will be prosecuted under this draconian law.” This courageous stance stands in stark contrast to the cowardly and opportunistic behavior of Republican leaders in Arizona and around the country.

Kari Lake's Abortion Flip-Flop

The most glaring example of this is Kari Lake, the Republican candidate running for Arizona’s Senate seat, who has flip-flopped shamelessly on the issue of abortion. Lake, who previously praised the 1864 law as a great law, now feigns opposition to the court's ruling, calling on the state legislature to come up with a “common sense solution.”

This transparent attempt to recast herself as a moderate on abortion is nothing more than a cynical political ploy, designed to obscure her true extremist views. Lake's past support for the 1864 law, as well as her calls for a six-week abortion ban and her opposition to exceptions for rape and incest, make it obvious that she is no friend to women's reproductive rights.

That Lake is now trying to distance herself from her own record is a testament to the growing political toxicity of the Republican Party's extremist stance on abortion. Voters, especially women and young people, have made it clear that they won’t tolerate the erasure of their fundamental freedoms.

This sentiment was echoed by Ruben Gallego, the Democratic candidate for the US Senate in Arizona, who condemned the court's ruling as “devastating” and vowed to “fight this together” with the people of Arizona. Gallego's unwavering commitment to abortion rights stands in stark contrast to the opportunistic maneuvering of his Republican counterpart.

President Biden has already weighed in, denouncing the court's decision as “cruel” and warning that it could be a harbinger of a nationwide ban on abortion should Republicans and Trump regain power. Vice President Harris will visit Arizona this week to underscore the administration's commitment to protecting reproductive rights.

Trump & The Supreme Court

This is a fight that transcends state lines, as the Republican Party's crusade against abortion rights is a coordinated national effort. And Donald Trump’s recent rhetoric about leaving it up to the states is mere empty posturing that shouldn’t be taken at face value. 

The truth is that Trump's Supreme Court appointments, which included the three justices who formed the majority in the Dobbs decision, are the reason why abortion is no longer a federally protected right. By overturning Roe v. Wade, the court has opened the floodgates for a patchwork of restrictive laws that has robbed millions of women of their bodily autonomy. And Trump is completely responsible for that. 

abortion
Source: New York Times

The Republican Party's cynical attempts to rebrand themselves as moderates on this issue are nothing more than a desperate ploy to cling to power. Their true agenda, as evidenced by the Arizona court's ruling and Trump’s extremist anti-abortion Supreme Court appointments, is to impose a nationwide ban on abortion, regardless of the will of the people.

Donald Trump and Kari Lake’s recent attempts to paint themselves as moderate on abortion should fool no one. Trump’s empty rhetoric cannot obscure the immense damage he has already done, and the fact that he has openly bragged about being responsible for overturning Roe v. Wade. Similarly, Kari Lake's professed dismay over Arizona's reinstatement of a near-total abortion ban rings hollow, given her previous ringing endorsement of the draconian law as “a great law that's already on the books.”

Attempts by these Republican figures to soften their stances are clearly calculated to regain mainstream appeal after the nationwide backlash over the Dobbs ruling. However, their prior actions and statements make it obvious that their newfound “moderation” lacks credibility.

His supposed evolution on the issue is nothing more than a cynical ploy for votes. If Trump returns to power, there is no doubt he will pursue and achieve the long desired goal of the Republican Party—the implementation of a nationwide abortion ban that would rob millions more women of their fundamental freedoms. The American people cannot be misled by his lies and need to understand that Trump can and will ban abortion nationwide if we give him the power to do so. 

Special Counsel Jack Smith Rips Apart Trump’s Bogus ‘Personal Records’ Claim In Classified Documents Case

Jack Smith

In a late night court filing on Tuesday, Special Counsel Jack Smith launched a blistering counterattack against U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s nonsensical reasoning that would hand Trump a win in his classified documents case. Smith's court filing not only slammed Judge Cannon's flawed reasoning but also exposed the origins of Trump's latest defense, which appears to be nothing more than a far-fetched legal theory concocted by conservative activist Tom Fitton.

The saga began with a tweet from Tom Fitton, the head of the conservative nonprofit Judicial Watch, who argued that Trump had the discretion to retain documents as personal records while in office. Fitton's perspective was informed by a 2012 case involving former President Bill Clinton's audio recordings, in which a judge ruled that the president had the sole discretion to segregate personal materials from presidential records.

Seizing upon this precedent, Fitton contacted Trump's post-presidency office, offering to discuss the issue with the former president and even providing a proposed public statement for Trump's consideration. Although Trump never issued the statement, it appears that some of Fitton's message got through, as evidenced by Trump's “unusually lawyerly response” to the controversy just two days later.

Federal prosecutors have since revealed the extent to which they have questioned Trump's advisers, noting that before Fitton's intervention, no one in Trump's circle had ever heard the former president claim that he was designating records as personal or that his removal of records amounted to such a designation under the Presidential Records Act (PRA). In fact, every witness questioned by investigators had never heard Trump make such a claim.

The origin story of the “they're personal” defense is now pivotal, as federal prosecutors scramble to stop Judge Cannon from adopting this legal theory, which would effectively hand Trump a total victory in the case against him. Prosecutors have cautioned Judge Cannon against embracing this alternative reading of the PRA, stressing that Trump hasn't even formally asserted that he deemed these government documents as his own belongings.

Special Counsel Smith has warned Judge Cannon that she is pursuing a legal premise that “is wrong” and has threatened to appeal to a higher court if she rules the PRA can protect Trump from prosecution. Smith's filing represents a stark confrontation between the judge and the prosecutor, illustrating the potential for a ruling by Cannon to eviscerate the historic case and delay the trial well beyond November's presidential election.

Smith has clarified that the PRA has no bearing on the national security crimes Trump is accused of committing, arguing that the law “should not play any role at trial at all.” He has also questioned the premise of Cannon's order, which indulged some mangled interpretations of laws pushed by Trump's lawyers and supporters. Essentially, Cannon is doing the bidding of the man who appointed her in the first place. 

The standoff between Smith and Cannon is a clear indication of the frustration felt by the prosecution team, who want the judge to make her ruling already and take ownership if she believes Trump is right on the law. Smith's filing is a direct challenge to Cannon's jurisprudence and raises the possibility that he might try to go around her as the case proceeds.

Perhaps most damning is Smith's assertion that Trump's justification for retaining the classified documents was effectively invented long after he took them, by a conservative activist who is not even an attorney and considered a joke by actual attorneys. This revelation, coupled with the fact that no key witness has any knowledge of Trump designating the documents as personal records, suggests that the former president's defense is nothing more than a post hoc legal invention.

What is particularly galling about Trump's defense is the way in which it seeks to twist and distort the Presidential Records Act to serve his own interests. The PRA was enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandal to ensure that presidential records would be preserved and made available to the public, rather than being subject to the whims of individual presidents. By claiming that he had the authority to designate any document as a personal record, even if it contained highly classified information, Trump is effectively arguing that he is above the law. 

This is a deeply dangerous and anti-democratic position, as it suggests that presidents have unfettered power to do as they please with government documents, regardless of their sensitivity or importance. It is a position that is fundamentally at odds with the importance of safeguarding our national security.

Special Counsel Jack Smith's blistering counterattack against Judge Aileen Cannon's flawed reasoning in the Trump classified documents case has exposed the absurdity and danger of the former president's defense. By relying on a far-fetched legal theory, Trump’s legal team is effectively arguing that he is above the law and has unfettered power to do as he pleases with government documents, regardless of their sensitivity or importance. It is imperative that Judge Cannon reject this specious argument and allow the case against Trump to proceed based on the facts and the law, rather than partisan politics and blind loyalty to a corrupt former president.