The 15 Most Heartless Proposals in Trump’s Budget

Longtime federal budget experts quickly slammed the White House’s proposed 2018 budget on Tuesday. Its $1.4 trillion in cuts over the next decade would endanger tens of millions of households, especially the poor and vulnerable, while rewarding the wealthy with unneeded tax cuts and giving contracts to military contractors and others to privatize many government functions.

But inside the right-wing bubble that is the Trump White House and GOP-majority Congress, what’s taken as serious policy ideas, spending principles and rationales for the president’s 2018 budget is reality-averse craziness.

Even as budget watchers say there’s no way Trump’s blueprint will make it through Congress, the starting line—before compromises, concessions and deals begin—is not just mean, cruel and uninformed; it’s delusional. Not only would the budget hit working-class white voters who bet on Trump like a lottery ticket, but the budget also shows a White House living in a land of make-believe.

Here are 15 excerpts from the transcript of White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney’s briefing Tuesday. The excerpts reveal this crew lives in a land where red ink bleeds, but people don’t; where the only deserving Americans are those who served in the military, not the poor, disabled, hungry nor fixed-income seniors; and where freezing health care spending isn’t seen as a cut, even if the marketplace keeps jacking up prices year after year.

There have been many credible, lucid and analytical comments about this proposed budget, but sometimes it’s important to listen to what the actual authors say, as it is revealing about their thinking and values—or the lack thereof. Take a look.

1. This isn’t a budget, it’s dressed-up tax cuts. Mulvaney said as much at the start of his press briefing. “The name on the cover is ‘The New Foundation for American Greatness.’ As I read through it over the weekend, as I did—in fact, we’ve been working on this since before I actually got here—it struck me that the title should have been different; that the title should have been, “A Taxpayer-First Budget.” Because that’s what this is… We looked at this budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the bills.”

2. If they’re hurting people, well, that’s compassion. The George W. Bush administration used to label itself the “compassionate conservatives.” The Trump administration has updated that by saying government needs to take pity on taxpayers, not the recipients of government benefits—even if they are people who have paid taxes for years! “Compassion needs to be on both sides of that equation. Yes, you have to have compassion for folks who are receiving the federal funds, but also you have to have compassion for the folks who are paying it. And that is one of the things that is new about this president’s budget.”

3. It’s official. Trump-economics means 3 percent growth. People have been asking, what is their economic philosophy. It is what it has always been for Trump: exaggerated predictions about the future. “What is Trumponomics?” Mulvaney asks, then answers: “What is it? It’s sustained, 3 percent economic growth. Everything that we do in this administration, every single time I am called into the Oval Office, whether it’s on immigration policy, health care policy, tax reform policy, trade policy, budgets and spending—the focus is sustained, 3 percent economic growth.”

4. $54 billion for military, cops, border walls. Anybody in the business of creating arms or using force will get more, whether they need it or not. “National security, obviously [is] a priority for this president. Border security [is] another priority for him… The total plus-up, again, for the 2018 budget is $54 billion over the Congressional Budget Office baseline. The law enforcement gets a significant increase here, and that’s both at the federal and the state and local level as we follow through on our efforts to enforce the law.”

5. The needy always wear uniforms! This is where Mulvaney abandoned any pretense of having a moral compass. Mulvaney basically stated that only veterans are deserving of safety nets, and everyone else is a freeloader. “If I can look you in the eye and say, ‘Look, I need to take this [tax] money from you so that I can help this injured vet,’ I can do that in good conscience—I can look you in the eye, and my guess is you’re okay with that. I am a lot less comfortable to the point of not wanting to look you in the eye and say, ‘Look, I need to take this money from you to give to this person over here who really isn’t disabled but is getting a disabled benefit, or this person over here who is supposed to use the money to go to school…”

6. Unless they happen to be corporate privateers. The budget is a big boon to those seeking to privatize federal services: “We also increase spending for school choice and paid parental leave, making this president the first president of either party to propose a nationwide paid parental leave program for parents and adopted parents. There’s $20 billion in that over the course of the 10-year window… National security, border security, law enforcement, veterans, school choice, paid parental leave. They are all campaign promises that the president made while he was running for office.”

7. Red ink matters more than bleeding in real life. They want to cut federal spending regardless of the real-life consequences and say that’s compassion. “We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs. We’re not going to measure compassion by the amount of money that we spend, but by the number of people that we help. And that is how you can get 3 percent economic growth. That is how you can balance the budget in 10 years.”

8. They say spending freezes don’t amount to cuts as the years go by. This incredible claim, which presumes a world without price inflation, concerns their spending on state-run Medicaid, the health care program for poor people. “There are no Medicaid cuts in the terms of what ordinary human beings would refer to as a cut. We are not spending less money one year than we spent before. What we are doing is growing Medicaid more slowly over the 10-year budget window than the Congressional Budget Office says that we should or says that we will under current law.”

9. They would privatize Medicaid or turn it into block grants rationing care. “We happen to think, for example, that Medicaid is designed for more of an urban poor population than a rural poor, as predominates in South Carolina. And we would ask them every single year—would ask them, the federal government—give us more control over how this money gets spent. We think we can do it better. We think we can either provide the same services to the same number of people cheaper, or we can provide better service to more people at the same amount of money if you let us do it better. And the federal government always said no. In the [House-passed Obamacare repeal] American Health Care Act, we say yes, and we give the governors and the state legislatures a lot more control over Medicaid.”

10. Yes, that’s more than $800 billion in future cuts they’re touting. The Obamacare repeal passed by the House takes more than $800 billion out of future Medicaid spending over the next decade. Mulvaney says that will help treat the needy better: “Everyone is interested in seeing the truly needy in their state and in our nation get the care that we promised them in Medicaid. But there’s a better way to do it than under current law, which is Obamacare. We can also talk about what a failure that is. But there’s a better way to do it, and that’s what the American Health Care Act does.”

11. They could collect half a trillion in taxes, but will cut safety nets. This exchange from the Q&A part of Mulvaney’s press conference is stunning, as the White House budget director said there are hundreds of billions in uncollected taxes out there, but they don’t think it’s a good thing to collect the funds.

Mulvaney: “The tax gap is the amount of money that we should collect in taxes every single year, but don’t. 2016—that number is $486 billion. Almost enough to close the deficit that year. And we don’t assume an additional penny of that being closed as part of our tax reform. Why is that important? There’s probably two reasons that people—well, three reasons people don’t want to pay tax. Number one, they just don’t pay tax, and there’s always a certain number of people who don’t want to do that. Number two, it’s just too hard for them to do it. It’s too complicated for them to do it. Two reasons. Now I feel like I’m a Monty Python skit. But two reasons. And we think that—”

Question: “Airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.”

Mulvaney: “Exactly. That if it’s a simpler tax code, that people are more likely to pay. That simply makes sense. If you can really fill out your tax reform—tax returns on a single piece of paper, you’re much more likely to actually do it. It’s also easier for us to see if you’re paying the right amount. A simpler code is easy for you to pay and easy for the government to see if you’re paying the right amount, which would allow us very reasonably to assume a reduction in the tax gap. And we don’t do a single penny of that.”

12. The EPA cuts are anti-climate science, but that’s not anti-science! Huh? Here, Mulvaney said the Obama administration was overreacting to climate change and the only way to stop that was to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency. “What I think you saw happened during the previous administration is the pendulum went too far to one side, where we were spending too much of your money on climate change and not very efficiently. We don’t get rid of it here. Do we target it? Sure. Do a lot of the EPA reductions aimed at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes. Does it mean that we are anti-science? Absolutely not. We’re simply trying to get things back in order to where we can look at the folks who pay the taxes, and say, look, yeah, we want to do some climate science, but we’re not going to do some of the crazy stuff the previous administration did.”

13. They still want to build a border wall. They don’t want to do crazy stuff like staving off climate change, but they want to build a Mexican border wall. “We are absolutely dead serious about the wall. In fact, after taking care of national security and the vets, my guess is, it’s in the president’s top three. In fact, I know for a fact that it is. And we’ve made that very clear to the folks on the Hill that while we did not get as much money as we wanted for border security in the 2017 omnibus—we didn’t get a lot; many of you were here for the presentation I gave on that—that we will see increased border security between today and the end of the calendar year. By the same token, we’re going to continue to press on.”

14. People on SSDI—disability—are not really on Social Security and not really disabled. Trump promised older voters would not touch Social Security or Medicare, but Mulvaney says recipients of Social Security’s disability assistance are not really on Social Security and are just lazy and trying to avoid work. “Social Security disability. It is a welfare program for the long-term disabled. It is not what most people would consider to be Social Security… There are people who are getting SSDI who should not be getting it.”

15. Same with food stamps; people pretend to be hungry. This is unbelievable, pretending that there is no such thing as hunger in America, because national economic statistics are saying we’ve emerged from the 2008 recession. “During bad economic times, more people will go onto food stamps. So it’s completely within reason to look at that number—it went from 28 million on food stamps before the recession to 47 million at the height. It’s 44 or 42 today. Yet here we are, eight years removed from the end of the recession. We’ve had economic growth, albeit slow. We’re at what we consider to be full employment… Why is the number still that high?

The White House’s Right-Wing Bubble

The release of the White House’s proposed FY 2018 budget, for the year starting October 1, has prompted plenty of serious analyses—including some saying its assumptions fall apart if its 3 percent growth prediction is off. But those mainstream analyses are playing along as if this is a serious proposal grounded in grown-up governing. It’s not. Mulvaney, you may have noticed, did not discuss real details from federal programs to be fine-tuned.

This is another dressed-up version of the only thing this administration wants to do—cut taxes for the rich and make an army of contractors rich via privatization. This budget stops government revenues and blows up federal programs, leaving it up to states to clean up the mess. At the end of the briefing, Mulvaney was again asked by a reporter about cutting food stamps. Only on Monday did NPR air a report on how hunger was widespread throughout Appalachia and in many states that voted for Trump.

“Folks who are out there who are on food stamps and want to work, we’ll be able to work with them to solve the problem,” he replied. “They are not what’s causing the difficulties in SNAP [food stamps]. It’s the folks who are on there who don’t want to work. And that’s what we’re trying to point out to people is, look, if there’s 44 million people on there, eight years from the end of the recession, maybe, maybe it’s reasonable to ask if there are folks who are on there who shouldn’t be. That is a reasonable question to ask. I would even suggest to you it’s a compassionate question to ask.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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W.H.O. Elects Ethiopia’s Tedros as First Director General From Africa

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia was voted director general of the World Health Organization on Tuesday, the first African ever to head the agency.

The election was the first conducted by the W.H.O. under more open and democratic rules. After nearly two years of public campaigning, originally by six candidates, the voting took place in a closed-door session in which the health ministers of 186 countries cast their ballots in secret.

Dr. Tedros — a malaria expert who campaigned under his first name — ultimately beat Dr. David Nabarro of Britain after three voting rounds. The final tally was 133 votes to 50, with three abstaining or not voting. Dr. Sania Nishtar, a Pakistani cardiologist and expert in noncommunicable diseases, was eliminated after receiving 38 votes in the first round.

Dr. Tedros, 52, replaces Dr. Margaret Chan of China, who has held the post for a decade.

He is best known for having drastically cut deaths from malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis and neonatal problems when he was Ethiopia’s health minister. He trained 40,000 female health workers, hired outbreak investigators, improved the national laboratory, organized an ambulance system and oversaw a tenfold increase in medical school graduates.

He promised as the head of W.H.O. to pursue health insurance in even the poorest nations, strengthen emergency responses and make the agency more accountable and transparent.

He backs greater access to birth control and preventive care for women and is committed to having more gender and ethnic diversity in the agency. He also has promised to fight the health effects of climate change.

Dr. Nabarro, 67, has led the campaigns of various United Nations agencies against avian and swine flu, cholera, Ebola, malaria, hunger and other crises.

“It’s a joy, the continent is celebrating at last,” said Janine Barde, a Rwandan delegate, flashing a victory sign to another African representative. “I feel stakeholders are now in charge, not bureaucrats.”

The race, which began in 2015, turned bitter in recent weeks as an adviser to Dr. Nabarro accused Dr. Tedros of having covered up repeated outbreaks of cholera in Ethiopia, which may have delayed the international response and, more recently, the use of a cholera vaccine there.

Dr. Tedros was also accused of complicity in his country’s dismal human rights record, which includes massacring protesters and jailing and torturing journalists and political opponents.

Dozens of Ethiopians opposed to his candidacy demonstrated outside the Palace of Nations in Geneva, where the vote took place, and one person who interrupted the proceedings was escorted out.

Dr. Tedros is from the Tigray tribe, which holds political power in Ethiopia; many protesters are from the rival Amhara and Oromo tribes.

Although the W.H.O. directorship is the pre-eminent health policy post in the world — one in which bold leadership can turn the tide against epidemics — the organization itself is in peril.

The agency was accused of fumbling the response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic, and it is seriously underfinanced.

Dues from member countries make up less than third of its $2.2 billion budget. The rest comes from large donors, including the United States, Britain, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International and Norway.

Some of that money comes with strings attached, directing the organization to pursue specific projects, like polio eradication.

The United States is its largest donor. But President Trump has shown little interest in the United Nations and has strongly suggested that his administration will push for funding cuts.

Dr. Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, issued a statement congratulating Dr. Tedros. He did not threaten any cuts, but focused heavily on the need for change at the W.H.O., saying all members “must commit to further enhancing the transparency and accountability” of the agency.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, who until recently led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and who came to Dr. Tedros’s defense last week in a letter to The New York Times, called him “an excellent choice.”

In Ethiopia, Dr. Frieden said an email, Dr. Tedros “rapidly reformed a sclerotic bureaucracy and implemented effective community-based services.”

“Precisely the same thing is needed to make W.H.O. effective,” he added.

The W.H.O. is accused of fostering a culture in which bureaucrats live comfortably on tax-free United Nations salaries in Switzerland while making constant appeals for money to fight epidemics.

On Sunday, The Associated Press released a scathing report, based on internal W.H.O. documents, on its travel spending.

The report said the $200 million the agency spent on travel each year was more than it devoted to AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Staff members, it said, routinely broke internal rules against flying business class and staying in luxury hotels.

Because donors are skeptical, many tasks that might naturally belong to the W.H.O. have been shifted to other agencies.

For example, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is now the main conduit for fighting those diseases and raises about $5 billion a year. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which is funded by the Gates foundation, produces independent analyses of global death and disease rates.

Nonetheless, the W.H.O. remains essential during crises. Only it can declare a global public health emergency, which tends to stir member states to action.

And when hundreds of doctors and nurses, sometimes in military uniforms, must enter a small country to help defeat an outbreak — as happened during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014 — the W.H.O. provides the diplomatic cover necessary for those doctors to be seen by locals as medical peacekeepers, rather than invaders.

The agency also oversees cooperation among national laboratories, turning them into a vast surveillance network for fast-moving diseases like avian flu. It also sets global medical standards needed by poor countries, such as declaring which inexpensive generic drugs are safe and what are the best treatments for emerging diseases.

Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of law and public health at Georgetown University Law School and the informal adviser to Dr. Nabarro’s campaign who accused Dr. Tedros of covering up cholera outbreaks, said he “really wanted him to succeed.”

He also hoped Dr. Tedros would “make a clear statement of the importance of human rights and rapid reporting of outbreaks.”

Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa expert on law and global health, called Dr. Tedros “a good choice because he was very diligent on malaria,” but argued that geopolitics played a greater role than personalities in the election.

“Choosing an African to head W.H.O. was past time,” he said. “And Britain is in the doghouse for choosing Brexit and undermining global stability — it’s their Guantánamo, their Tiananmen.”

Scientists find 7.2-million-year-old pre-human remains in the Balkans

Scientists find 7.2-million-year-old pre-human remains in the Balkans
The lower jaw of the 7.175 million year old Graecopithecus freybergi (El Graeco) from Pyrgos Vassilissis, Greece (today in metropolitan Athens). Credit: Wolfgang Gerber, University of Tübingen

The common lineage of great apes and humans split several hundred thousand years earlier than hitherto assumed, according to an international research team headed by Professor Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen and Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The researchers investigated two fossils of Graecopithecus freybergi with state-of-the-art methods and came to the conclusion that they belong to pre-humans. Their findings, published today in two papers in the journal PLOS ONE, further indicate that the split of the human lineage occurred in the Eastern Mediterranean and not – as customarily assumed – in Africa.

Present-day chimpanzees are humans’ nearest living relatives. Where the last chimp-human common ancestor lived is a central and highly debated issue in palaeoanthropology. Researchers have assumed up to now that the lineages diverged five to seven million years ago and that the first pre-humans developed in Africa. According to the 1994 theory of French palaeoanthropologist Yves Coppens, climate change in Eastern Africa could have played a crucial role. The two studies of the research team from Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, France and Australia now outline a new scenario for the beginning of human history.

Dental roots give new evidence

The team analyzed the two known specimens of the hominid Graecopithecus freybergi: a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar from Bulgaria. Using computer tomography, they visualized the internal structures of the fossils and demonstrated that the roots of premolars are widely fused.

“While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused – a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans including Ardipithecus and Australopithecus“, said Böhme.

Scientists find 7.2-million-year-old pre-human remains in the Balkans
A 7.24 million year old upper premolar of Graecopithecus from Azmaka, Bulgaria. Credit: Wolfgang Gerber, University of Tübingen

The lower jaw, nicknamed ‘El Graeco’ by the scientists, has additional dental root features, suggesting that the species Graecopithecus freybergi might belong to the pre-human lineage. “We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who conducted this part of the study.

Furthermore, Graecopithecus is several hundred thousand years older than the oldest potential pre-human from Africa, the six to seven million year old Sahelanthropus from Chad. The research team dated the sedimentary sequence of the Graecopithecus fossil sites in Greece and Bulgaria with physical methods and got a nearly synchronous age for both fossils – 7.24 and 7.175 million years before present. “It is at the beginning of the Messinian, an age that ends with the complete desiccation of the Mediterranean Sea,” Böhme said.

Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study, added, “This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area.”

Environmental changes as the driving force for divergence

As with the out-of-East-Africa theory, the evolution of pre-humans may have been driven by dramatic environmental changes. The team led by Böhme demonstrated that the North African Sahara desert originated more than seven million years ago. The team concluded this based on geological analyses of the sediments in which the two fossils were found. Although geographically distant from the Sahara, the red-colored silts are very fine-grained and could be classified as desert dust. An analysis of uranium, thorium, and lead isotopes in individual dust particles yields an age between 0.6 and 3 billion years and infers an origin in Northern Africa.

Scientists find 7.2-million-year-old pre-human remains in the Balkans
An electron microscope image of a dust particle rounded by eolian transport. It originated in the Sahara desert and was found in 7.2 million year old sediments in Greece. Credit: Ulf Linnemann, Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, University of Tübingen

Moreover, the dusty sediment has a high content of different salts. “These data document for the first time a spreading Sahara 7.2 million years ago, whose desert storms transported red, salty dusts to the north coast of the Mediterranean Sea in its then form,” the Tübingen researchers said. This process is also observable today. However, the researchers’ modelling shows that, with up to 250 grams per square meter and year, the amount of dust in the past considerably exceeds recent dust loadings in Southern Europe more than tenfold, comparable to the situation in the present-day Sahel zone in Africa.

Fire, grass, and water stress

The researchers further showed that, contemporary to the development of the Sahara in North Africa, a savannah biome formed in Europe. Using a combination of new methodologies, they studied microscopic fragments of charcoal and plant silicate particles, called phytoliths. Many of the phytoliths identified derive from grasses and particularly from those that use the metabolic pathway of C4-photosynthesis, which is common in today’s tropical grasslands and savannahs. The global spread of C4-grasses began eight million years ago on the Indian subcontinent – their presence in Europe was previously unknown.

“The phytolith record provides evidence of severe droughts, and the charcoal analysis indicates recurring vegetation fires,” said Böhme. “In summary, we reconstruct a savannah, which fits with the giraffes, gazelles, antelopes, and rhinoceroses that were found together with Graecopithecus,” Spassov added

“The incipient formation of a desert in North Africa more than seven million years ago and the spread of savannahs in Southern Europe may have played a central role in the splitting of the human and chimpanzee lineages,” said Böhme. She calls this hypothesis the North Side Story, recalling the thesis of Yves Coppens, known as East Side Story.

The findings are described in two studies pubished in PLOS ONE titled “Potential hominin affinities of Graecopithecus from the late Miocene of Europe” and “Messinian age and savannah environment of the possible hominin Graecopithecus from Europe.”

How The Biggest Animal On Earth Got So Big

A blue whale, the largest animal on the planet, engulfs krill off the coast of California.

Silverback Films/BBC/Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Whales are the largest animals on the planet, but they haven’t always been giants. Fossil records show that ancient whales were much smaller than the currently living behemoths.

So when did whales get so big, and how?

A new study suggests it might be due to changes in climate that affected the food that some whales eat: krill and small fish. Instead of being spread throughout the ocean, lots of krill started being packed into a small area. Bigger whales were simply more efficient at eating the dense pockets of krill, and they beat out their smaller cousins.

These whales use filters to feed on the tiny krill. Known as baleens, they include the largest whale on Earth — the blue whale. The baleen filter looks like bristles of a comb and is made up of keratin — the same stuff in our fingernails. To eat, the whale opens its mouth and takes in a huge gulp of water. Then it spits the water back out, and food like krill are caught in the baleen filter. It’s a highly efficient way to eat, allowing whales to pack on the pounds.

But according to Stanford University researcher Jeremy Goldbogen, it can’t be the only reason whales got so big. “Baleen evolved about 20 million years ago, and we didn’t see the evolution of gigantism until about very recently, about 3 million to 5 million years ago.”

Goldbogen’s group looked back to see what was happening in the ancient oceans, and if there were any clues about what caused the massive growth spurt.

They found that around the time baleens began growing larger, the ice ages started. The researchers think changes in climate led to increased runoff and more nutrients pouring into the coasts. At the same time, there was an increase in ocean upwelling, which occurs when wind pushes surface waters off-shore and causing deeper ocean waters underneath surface waters to replace it. Those deep waters are often full of nutrients and food for the whales.

The combination of the ice ages and more upwelling resulted in dense patches of food in the ocean — setting the stage for massive whales to win out.

During upwelling, wind-displaced surface waters are replaced by cold, nutrient-rich water that “wells up” from below.

NOAA

“As animals are getting bigger, they’re getting much more efficient. So for every gulp, they’re getting tremendous amounts of energy” Goldbogen says.

Think about it this way: It takes a lot of energy for a giant whale to open its giant mouth. If a lot of food is packed into a small space, those whales can swallow it up in one big gulp and it’s worth all the energy it takes. But if the food is spread out and the whales have to swim around opening and closing their mouths a lot — then it’s not great to be a big ol’ whale.

So big whales are more efficient at eating the dense patches of food, while smaller whales might be more suited to eating food dispersed throughout the ocean.

The changes in the ocean also allowed to whales to get really big, really fast. The researchers reported in the journal Royal Society B on Tuesday, that the whales increased in body mass from 10 tons to 100 tons in just a few million years.

Although it’s hard to draw a direct connection between whale size and ocean dynamics 3 million years ago, other studies support the hypothesis. “There are cases where food limitation or food production can basically control body size changes on very short time scales,” Goldbogen says referring to a 2013 study published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science. Therefore, “the inference here is that if you have enough food available and very very efficient animals, that perhaps they can evolve larger and larger body sizes.”

Goldbogen is more than a little excited to be studying these ocean giants. “We’re totally living in a time of giants. Unlike no other time in Earth’s history” he says. “We have a unique opportunity to study how the largest animals of all time function in these different ecosystems, and that’s a lot of fun.”

Goldbogen thinks the next question is, “Are whales still getting bigger? If we fast-forward a few million years into the future if food is not limiting, can they evolve even greater body sizes?”

We’ll have to wait to find out.

New Orleans Mayor Celebrates the Unity of the Melting Pot as Confederate Statues Fall

Among his many political sins, President Donald Trump has cheapened the value of speeches. The Trump years are not a time for inspirational appeals to the better angels of our nature. They have so far been a time of guttural impulse: egotistical grunts and thoughtless flapping of the teeth and gums.

So when something as countercyclical as a great speech is given, particularly on the local level, it can seem easy to ignore. But any speech that addresses the arc of history directly demands our attention because it will matter in the fullness of time. And that’s exactly what New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu did on Friday with a speech regarding his controversial decision to take down his city’s Confederate monuments.

In the flurry of far-right panic about taking down the Confederate monuments, the paroxysms of white identity politics are usually masked as patriotic resistance to change that is fully consistent with our American commitment to form a more perfect union. The fact they occur in the Trump years underscores the extent to which the differences between patriotism and nationalism have been blurred.  Nationalism is about tribal identity. Patriotism is a belief in the ideal of America that is inclusive and open to all. In contrast to many of his critics, Mayor Landrieu’s speech is courageous and patriotic. It is open-eyed and has historical sweep. Most of all, it is committed to transcending our tribalism.

Our president is, sadly, an historical illiterate. In the absence of inspirational leadership from the Oval Office, there is a vacuum to fill.  Mayors are expected to be power players, not necessarily inspirational figures. But as a former speechwriter for a big city mayor, I believe that mayors need a sense of history to bridge the past and present and set a direction for the future rooted in policy.

That’s why we are reprinting Mayor Landrieu’s speech in full below, with a video link as well. It is a rare bit of wisdom from a public official in the Trump era. And that alone is worth savoring.

The soul of our beloved city is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way—for both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans—the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando de Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Colorix, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the South and Central Americans, the Vietnamese, and so many more.

You see, New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum—out of many we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold, and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor, of misery, of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 in Louisiana alone; where the courts enshrined “separate but equal”; where freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well, what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions; why are there no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans? So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.

For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth. As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other. So, let’s start with the facts.

The historic record is clear, the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This “cult” had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America. They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to contextualize and remember all our history. He recalled a piece of stone, a slave auction block engraved with a marker commemorating a single moment in 1830 when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke from it. President Obama said, “Consider what this artifact tells us about history … on a stone where day after day for years, men and women … bound and bought and sold and bid on like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet. For a long time the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque, were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.”

And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing, and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics, this is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naive quest to solve all our problems at once.

This is however about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile, and most important, choose a better future for ourselves making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong. Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division, and yes with violence.

To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future. History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost, and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.

And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans—or anyone else—to drive by property that they own, occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity, seems perverse and absurd. Centuries-old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place. Here is the essential truth. We are better together than we are apart.

Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that the people of New Orleans have given to the world? We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz, the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures. Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think.

All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity. We are proof that out of many we are one—and better for it! Out of many we are one—and we really do love it! And yet, we still seem to find so many excuses for not doing the right thing. Again, remember President Bush’s words, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial. We still find a way to say, “Wait, not so fast.” But like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Wait has almost always meant never.” We can’t wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now.

No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society, this would have all been in vain. While some have driven by these monuments every day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their presence casts; not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.

Earlier this week, as the cult of the lost cause statue of P.G.T Beauregard came down, world renowned musician Terence Blanchard stood watch with his wife, Robin, and their two beautiful daughters at their side. Terence went to a high school on the edge of City Park named after one of America’s greatest heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get there he had to pass by this monument to a man who fought to deny him his humanity.

He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride … it’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.” Yes, Terence, it is and it is long overdue. Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New Orleanians who can follow in Terence and Robin’s remarkable footsteps.

A message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond—let us not miss this opportunity, New Orleans, and let us help the rest of the country do the same. Because now is the time for choosing. Now is the time to actually make this the city we always should have been, had we gotten it right in the first place.

We should stop for a moment and ask ourselves—at this point in our history—after Katrina, after Rita, after Ike, after Gustav, after the national recession, after the BP oil catastrophe and after the tornado—if presented with the opportunity to build monuments that told our story or to curate these particular spaces … would these monuments be what we want the world to see? Is this really our story?

We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations. And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people. In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals. We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That is what really makes America great, and today it is more important than ever to hold fast to these values and together say a self-evident truth that out of many we are one. That is why today we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America. Because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all … not some. We all are part of one nation, all pledging allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America. And New Orleanians are in … all of the way. It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and flourishes. Instead of revering a four-year brief historical aberration that was called the Confederacy, we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse history as a place named New Orleans and set the tone for the next 300 years.

After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation, of humiliation, and of frustration. After public hearings and approvals from three separate community-led commissions. After two robust public hearings and a 6-1 vote by the duly elected New Orleans City Council. After review by 13 different federal and state judges. The full weight of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government has been brought to bear and the monuments in accordance with the law have been removed. So now is the time to come together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.

Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned, and now universally loved Nelson Mandela said after the fall of apartheid: “If the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s humanity.” So before we part, let us again state the truth clearly.

The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered. As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history.

Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause. Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish—a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Thank you.

A Chinese student praised the ‘fresh air of free speech’ at a U.S. college. Then came the backlash.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/05/23/a-chinese-student-praised-the-fresh-air-of-free-speech-at-a-u-s-college-then-came-the-backlash/?utm_term=.ce4af34fbe73

 

BEIJING — When Yang Shuping spoke Sunday of her eternal gratitude to the University of Maryland for teaching her about “free speech” and showing her that her “voice mattered,” she may not have realized just how much it mattered.

A video of her eight-minute address at her commencement ceremony at the university went viral in China, attracting 50 million views and provoking hundreds of thousands of critical comments by Chinese netizens the following day. Even the People’s Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, weighed in, reporting on a crescendo of criticism of Yang for “bolstering negative Chinese stereotypes.”

Accused by nationalist netizens of flattering the United States and belittling China, Yang was forced to make an apology Monday.

“People often ask me: Why did you come to the University of Maryland?” she said in her speech. “I always answer: Fresh air.”

“I grew up in a city in China where I had to wear a face mask every time I went outside, otherwise I might get sick. However, the moment I inhaled and exhaled outside the airport, I felt free,” she said, referring to her arrival in the United States.

“I would soon feel another kind of fresh air for which I will be forever grateful. The fresh air of free speech. Democracy and free speech should not be taken for granted. Democracy and freedom are the fresh air that is worth fighting for.”

student speaker: I have learned the right to freely express oneself is sacred. I learned at to speak freely. My voice matters

She spoke of the awakening of her “burning desire” to tell political stories after she first saw actors openly discussing racism, sexism and politics in “Twilight; Los Angeles,” a play by Anna Deavere Smith about the 1992 riots in that city. Before watching the play, Yang said, she was convinced that only authorities could define the truth.

Yang majored in psychology and theater, leaving China five years ago. But the country she left behind is one where the only permitted truth is that defined by the Communist Party and where dissenting voices are silenced. Online, leading liberal commentators have been largely cowed, and nationalists dominate the debate on social media, many actively encouraged by the authorities. They swiftly rounded on Yang.

“China does not need a traitor like you. Just stay in the US and breathe your fresh air. No matter how bad China is, and even though you are speaking of your personal opinion, as a student representative, it is irresponsible of you to paint an inadequate picture of China,” said @Mengmengadezhican.

Another popular comment expressed disappointment in U.S. universities, suggesting without any apparent irony that Yang should not have been allowed to make the remarks.

“Are speeches made there not examined for evaluation of their potential impact before being given to the public?” the commentator wrote.

“Our motherland has done so much to make us stand up among Western countries, but what have you done? We have been working so hard to eliminate the stereotypes the West has put on us, but what are you doing? Don’t let me meet you in the United States; I am afraid I could not stop myself from going up and smacking you in the face.”

The authorities’ delicate sensitivities also appeared to be hurt, with the Kunming city government posting Monday night on social media that the air in the city was “more than likely to be ‘sweet and fresh.’ ”

By Tuesday afternoon in China, the home address of Yang’s family had been shared widely in the commentary sections of local media websites, on Chinese social media posts and even in replies to her social media posts. China’s normally hyperactive censors apparently found no need to suppress that information.

However, some Chinese said Yang was merely speaking the truth.

“You don’t need to apologize. The meaning of studying abroad is to discover the differences and drawbacks of one’s own country. If you only believe your country is the greatest, then what is the point of going abroad? You are speaking about your true feelings, and this is normal. It is not normal to attack normal behavior like this,” wrote @Lijiayu in a reply that received 250 likes.

Others were critical not of Yang’s comments but of the venue in which she chose to make them.

“This kid is too naive. How can you forget the Chinese rule about how to talk once you get to the United States? Just lie or make empty talk instead of telling the truth. Only this will be beneficial for you in China. Now you cannot come back to China,” @Labixiaoxin said.

The Chinese Student and Scholar Association (CSSA) at the University of Maryland, a student body loyal to the Communist Party, quickly produced a video posting pictures of blue skies in their home towns in China, titled “Proud of China UMD.”

An anonymous organizer of the campaign against Yang told the People’s Daily Online that the campaign was meant to show that overseas Chinese students “have never forgotten our motherland or who we are.”

“Insulting the motherland to grab attention is intolerable. The university’s support for such slandering speech is not only ill-considered, but also raises suspicion about other motives,” a former president of the CSSA, Zhu Lihan, told the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid.

According to the Institute of International Education, 328,547 Chinese students studied in U.S. universities in 2015-2016, a more than fivefold increase from a decade ago. Some argue that student bodies like the CSSA are manipulated by the Communist Party to put pressure on students not to criticize Chinese authorities.

In March, Chinese students and alumni at the University of California at San Diego opposed the school’s invitation to the Dalai Lama to speak at its commencement ceremony, threatening “tough measures to resolutely resist the school’s unreasonable behavior.”

But student groups have also tried to defend Chinese students against racially motivated attacks. In February, Chinese students at Columbia University made a video explaining the meaning of their Chinese names after an incident of vandalism.

The University of Maryland released a statement Monday saying it proudly supports Yang’s right to share her views and her unique perspectives.

“To be an informed global citizen, it is critical to hear different viewpoints,” it wrote, also including a link to Yang’s apology on her personal social media page.

“I love my country and home town and I’m proud of its prosperity,” she wrote in the apology, which has been reposted more than 60,000 times.

“I hope to make contributions to it using what I have learned overseas. The speech was just to share my experiences overseas, and I had no intentions of belittling my country and home town. … I am deeply sorry and hope for forgiveness.”

Read more:

27 years later, China to release the final prisoner from Tiananmen Square protests

China sentences activist lawyer to 12 years as relentless crackdown continues

Republicans, Pushing Aside Trump’s Budget, Find Few Alternatives

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans greeted President Trump’s first full budget on Tuesday with open hesitation or outright hostility. But it was not clear that they could come up with an alternative that could win over conservatives and moderates while clearing a path for the tax cuts and policies they have promised for years.

The budget battle ahead mirrors the continuing health care fight, in which concessions to Republican moderates alienate conservatives, while overtures to conservatives lose moderate votes. But with Republicans in full charge of the government, the onus is on their leaders to reach a budget agreement in a matter of weeks that would ease passage of the president’s promised tax cuts as well as a new spending plan that would reshape the government in a Republican mold.

“It is now up to the Congress to act,” Mr. Trump said in his Budget Message. “I pledge my full cooperation in ending the economic malaise that has, for too long, crippled the dreams of our people. The time for small thinking is over.”

Mr. Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget, with its deep cuts to poverty programs, biomedical research, student loans and foreign aid, will not pass, as Republicans on Capitol Hill have freely acknowledged and even the White House is aware. Republicans on Capitol Hill parted ways with the president not only on many of his deepest cuts but also on some of his smaller proposals, like resurrecting a national nuclear waste repository in Nevada and ending the Great Lakes cleanup program.

Representative Harold Rogers, Republican of Kentucky and a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, called the cuts “very harmful.” Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, perhaps the most endangered Senate Republican up for re-election next year, labeled the budget “anti-Nevada.”

But the drastic reordering of government that Mr. Trump has embraced includes many measures long sought by conservatives on Capitol Hill, including adding work requirements for food-stamp eligibility and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It would also eliminate whole programs, including AmeriCorps, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The budget would increase military spending by 10 percent and calls for spending $2.6 billion on border security, including $1.6 billion to begin funding a wall on the border with Mexico.

Some of the president’s proposals are likely to survive.

For Republicans, the stakes of the coming budget season go beyond the intricacies of budgetary minutiae: Republicans want to use their budget to pave the way for an overhaul of the tax code that could skirt a Senate filibuster. If they cannot agree on a budget, Mr. Trump’s promised “biggest tax cut” in history will be doomed. A protracted fight over the budget would also further delay the orderly appropriations process that Republicans have promised to follow after years of neglect.

If congressional Republicans fail to pass spending bills this summer, they again run the risk of funding the government through stopgap resolutions that keep programs on autopilot — and in the shape that President Barack Obama left them in.

“It’ll be very difficult in both bodies to pass a budget proposal,” Mr. Rogers said.

The next step for Republicans in Congress is to agree on a budget blueprint, which sets spending levels and provides a road map for spending and revenue in the coming years. But first, they must find a way to overcome their diverse views on fiscal policy.

Mr. Trump’s budget, drafted by a budget director, Mick Mulvaney, who came from the most conservative corners of the House, starts the conversation on friendly House Republican turf.

Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said that was the right starting point. The budget negotiation “goes from conservative to moderate, and that’s the way that it should go,” Mr. Meadows said. “If you start in the middle, you make everybody mad when you move one way or another.”

Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, was noncommittal about the president’s budget. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who was the lead Democrat on the House Budget Committee for years, was not so sanguine.

“There’s always been a divide between the House and Senate Republicans on a lot of these issues, but this looks like it was written by House Republicans on steroids, and I think it will be difficult for them to get it through the Senate,” he said.

Republican lawmakers already face a time crunch, given that Mr. Trump offered his budget three months past the statutory deadline in February.

While new presidents routinely take more time to submit their inaugural budgets, Mr. Trump unveiled his unusually late, and in an uncommonly low-key fashion, dispatching his budget director to unveil the plan while he was overseas. That raised questions about whether he would take a leadership role in the coming spending debates.

The House and Senate budget committees both expect to introduce their proposals in June, according to congressional aides. The House plan is expected to incorporate the significant changes that Speaker Paul D. Ryan, a former budget committee chairman, has long championed for Medicare, a major break with Mr. Trump, who has promised to leave Medicare alone.

For years, Mr. Ryan has tried to shift Medicare away from its open-ended commitment to pay for medical services and toward a fixed government contribution for each beneficiary — a change he has said would inject market forces and competition into the program.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Republicans “dislike this budget almost as much as we do,” he said. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

Mr. Ryan told reporters on Tuesday that Congress would take the president’s budget “and then work on our own budget, which is the case every single year.”

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, was equally noncommittal.

“Every president since I’ve been here, and that covers a good period of time, has made a recommendation, and then we decide what we’re going to do with those recommendations,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. Mulvaney conceded that the plan would not be embraced in its entirety, but said it was a signal from the president to Congress about his priorities and goals.

“If Congress has a different way to get to that endpoint, God bless them — that’s great,” Mr. Mulvaney said Monday as he previewed the plan. “Do I expect them to adopt this 100 percent, wholeheartedly, without any change? Absolutely not. Do I expect them to work with the administration on trying to figure out places where we’re on the same page? Absolutely.”

Democrats came out strongly against the budget, saying it would hurt the poor and the working class. They are hoping that Republicans will brush off the White House’s requests, much as they did when Mr. Trump sought funding for his border wall as well as billions of dollars in cuts to domestic programs as lawmakers hammered out an agreement to fund the government through September.

The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said Republicans “dislike this budget almost as much as we do.”

“And so the likelihood is what happened with the 2017 budget will happen here,” Mr. Schumer said. “Democrats and Republicans will tell President Trump and his minions to stay at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Let us work out a budget together that will make America a better place.”

Israel gave Trump the royal treatment he longs for back home

JERUSALEM (JTA) – President Donald Trump must have felt like he was back behind his desk at Trump Tower.

During his whirlwind visit to Israel and the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday, the U.S. leader was treated with the deference befitting a CEO. His words were greeted with rapturous applause and vows of support.

After one of multiple standing ovations during his speech Tuesday at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, a beaming Trump joked with the crowd, “Thank you. I like you, too.”

Beyond the niceties, Trump won some real concessions during the trip. As he noted repeatedly, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to work with him toward his “ultimate deal” – without mentioning preconditions. But there is little faith in either leader’s ability to deliver much for peace and no specifics were announced.

Speaking ahead of Trump at the Israel Museum, Netanyahu said, “President Trump, working with you, I believe we can advance a durable peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as well as the Palestinians, because of the common danger that the Arab world and Israel face from Iran, and because of the leadership that you bring to this process.”

In Bethlehem hours earlier, Abbas said he hoped Trump “will go in history” as the president who finally achieved Middle East peace.

Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama, said both leaders appeared eager to accommodate the new president — partly out of fear of how he would react to rejection.

“Because he’s an unusual person and unpredictable, he has some leverage,” Shapiro told JTA. “Nobody wants to get caught saying no, and they haven’t. They haven’t necessarily said yes, but it explains why the initial resistance others have encountered, that we encountered, may not be as strong this time.”

Trump made it relatively easy for his hosts to agree with him by demanding little during the visit. Apparently satisfied with recent tweaks in Israel’s West Bank policy, Trump made no reference to Jewish settlements in the territory. Nor did he mention the Palestinian state that the United States and Israel officially support establishing there, but which Netanyahu has ceased referring to.

On Monday, responding to a request by Education Minister Naftali Bennett at Ben Gurion Airport to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which would reverse decades of U.S. neutrality on the city, Trump replied simply, “That’s an idea.”

Trump did, however, subtly repeat his admonition of the Palestinian Authority to stop encouraging terrorism, telling Abbas, “Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded. We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single unified voice.”

And he seemed to reject Netanyahu’s preferred plan to normalize Israeli-Arab relations as a step toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians, describing the reverse chronology: “I also firmly believe that if Israel and the Palestinians can make peace, it will begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East.”

Shapiro said that Trump has already said enough to make clear his vision of peace is not much different from Obama’s: direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks toward a two-state solution, with Arab support from the outside. While Trump benefits from growing Arab interest in working with Israel to counter Iran and the Islamic State group, Shapiro said, not much could be inferred from Israeli and Palestinian acquiescence to talks.

“The parties are very well practiced at making generally positive noises without really changing their behavior,” he said. “It’s possible the president and his team are going through a learning process where that’s the nature of the conversation they’re having.”

Shlomo Brom, the head researcher on Israeli-Palestinian relations at the Institute for National Security Studies, said if and when Trump presents a more concrete peace plan, Israel and the Palestinians would likely go along — each waiting for the other to play spoiler. But they see little to gain and much to lose politically from making significant concessions. Ultimately, he said, they would struggle to summon the political will necessary to make peace.

Netanyahu, who leads a historically right-wing government, struggled much of Sunday to get his ministers to approve even modest measures aimed at improving the Palestinian quality of life. Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, both of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, voted against a measure to boost Palestinian building in Area C of the West Bank, which Israel fully governs.

It does not help that Netanyahu is under police investigation for alleged corruption, which he denies.

For his part, Abbas is historically unpopular with his people and, at 82 years old, likely in the twilight of his presidency. Popular discontent in the West Bank has taken the form of violent protests on behalf of a mass hunger strike of prisoners in Israeli jails that has now gone on for six weeks.

Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador who served as the deputy chief of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Netanyahu and Abbas are not the only ones who are perceived as weak. He said Israel and the Palestinians do not expect Trump to be around for long given the investigations into potential collusion between his associates and Russia.

“If I put myself into the shoes of the ministers or MKs [Knesset members] right now, why should we get excited?” The clock is ticking, the countdown has begun and all we have to do is wait and see – and not get into too many confrontations with the administration,” he said.

“The most I expect is some sort of very partial, very timid, very limited steps, which at most will slightly change the atmosphere so they can look like they’re doing something.”

Brom and Shapiro disagreed that Trump’s domestic situation does not affect his clout with Israel and the Palestinians. They said if Trump managed to convince each side to call the other’s bluff for long enough, he might just end up making significant progress toward peace. But that would require skillful diplomacy.

“When the United States has a serious policy and people who are good at moving forward this policy, to some extent it can move the two sides to agree on things they didn’t previously agree on,” Brom said. “So far there is no reason to be optimistic that this administration is capable of doing that. We’ve seen complete chaos.”

In Manchester, Jews have been preparing for an attack for years

Manchester attack

(JTA) — Britain’s bloodiest terrorist attack in over a decade occurred Monday just two miles from Rabbi Yisroel Cohen’s synagogue.

Yet one day after the deadly bombing in Manchester, Cohen told JTA he has no intention of changing security arrangements at his congregation.

In fact Cohen, a Chabad emissary who works in a Jewish enclave in the northern part of the city surrounded by a heavily Muslim area, said there is little room for improving security across his tight-knit community.

After all, the Jewish community in Manchester — one of the U.K.’s fastest-growing spots thanks to an influx of immigrants and young couples seeking alternatives to pricey London — has been on its highest alert since long before the explosion that killed 22 people and wounded 50 at an Ariana Grande concert. On Tuesday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the act.

“Well, the radio equipment is working, the residents have been briefed, police are patrolling, security professionals from the Jewish community have been in place since the attacks in Belgium” last year, Cohen said when asked about security. “There is only so much you can do – except pray.”

On Kings Road, a busy street of the heavily Jewish borough of Prestwich, residents keep an eye out for strangers. Any abnormal behavior – particularly photography or the gathering of information — quickly invites polite but firm inquiries by both passers-by as well as shopkeepers who cater to the local population of haredi and modern Orthodox Jews.

The vigilance in Jewish Manchester owes much of its preparation and training to the local police, the Community Security Trust organization and other groups. But it is also born of circumstance: Manchester’s some 30,000 Jews are concentrated in a relatively small area. This makes them an easy target, but it also means that the community’s institutions are easier to protect and vigilance is easier to instill.

While there are also concentrations of Jews in North London, in Manchester — a city of 2.5 million, where 15.8 percent of the population is Muslim — there is added tension because the Jewish and Muslim communities live in close proximity. Kings Road, for example, is sandwiched between the Judaica World bookstore on its western end and the Masjid Bilal mosque on its eastern one.

This juxtaposition in recent years has generated some friction, including in the harassment of Jews on the street and the occasional violent incident.

At least one more premeditated plan to attack Manchester Jews was uncovered and foiled five years ago. In 2012, a British judge imprisoned a Muslim couple, Mohammed Sajid  and Shasta Khan, for seven years for gathering intelligence on Manchester Jews for an attack.

“That incident came at a time of reassessment about the threat to Jews in Manchester, and it was one of the reasons that led to a complete overhaul,” Cohen said.

“So today, we in the Jewish community are perhaps less surprised than others at what happened,” the rabbi added, though he also said that Mancunian Jews are “shocked at the horror” witnessed at the concert.

Paul Harris, editor of the city’s Jewish Telegraph weekly, told JTA he generally agrees that Manchester’s Jewish community is well prepared to deal with any emergency or fallout thereof, but he also flagged one weak point: On evenings and afternoons, observant Jews in the city congregate outside synagogue — a habit that makes them an easy target and which, for that reason, has largely been abandoned in at-risk communities in France and beyond.

“Maybe that will change now,” Harris said.

In a statement Tuesday following a suspect’s arrest, Prime Minister Theresa May said the bombing was a “callous terrorist attack” that targeted “defenseless young people.” Police believe a homemade explosive vest was detonated by a suicide bomber who may or may not have been working alone.

The explosion ripped through the 21,000-seat Manchester Arena at 10:30 p.m. after Grande, a 23-year-old pop singer from the United States, had already left the stage. At least 12 of the 22 killed in the attack were children younger than 16. News of the explosion sent worried parents to the arena, where children, teenagers and young adults streamed out of the main exit in a state of panic.

Cohen said that Chabad was not aware of Jewish fatalities in the attack.

The attack happened a little over two weeks before the June 8 general election in which hardliner Theresa May from the Conservative Party is running against Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party. The attack may further increase May’s lead in the polls on Corbyn, a left-leaning promoter of outreach to Muslims who has called Hezbollah and Hamas his friends.

Last year Corbyn — amid intense criticism in the media and from members of his own party for his perceived failures in curbing expressions of anti-Semitism within Labour’s ranks — said he regretted expressing affection to the two Islamist terror groups. Following the attack Monday, all parties agreed to suspend campaigning for three days.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference Tuesday in Jerusalem with President Donald Trump, who was visiting Israel, referenced the attack in criticizing incitement to terrorism by the Palestinian Authority under its president, Mahmoud Abbas.

“President Abbas condemned the horrific attack in Manchester,” Netanyahu said while standing next to Trump. “Well, I hope this heralds a real change, because if the attacker had been Palestinian and the victims had been Israeli children, the suicide bomber’s family would have received a stipend from the Palestinian Authority. That’s Palestinian law. That law must be changed.”

Speaking in Bethlehem, Trump joined other world leaders who condemned the attack.

“I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. I will call them losers,” he said.

Back in Manchester, Rabbi Shneur Cohen of the Chabad Manchester Center City organized a food and drinks distribution to police officers who were stationed outside the arena where the attack took place.

“We are Manchester, we stand together,” Cohen told reporters at the scene.

But Harris, the Jewish Telegraph editor, said that despite such gestures, “there is definitely a silence, a shocked silence” in the city following the attack.

Tel Aviv is the ‘home of Judaism.’ So is Boston, Sao Paulo, Marseille …

(JTA) — Donald Trump and his staff may have left Israel feeling pretty friendly to the Jews, but man, we don’t make it easy for them.

Flying with reporters from Saudi Arabia to Israel on Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that they were “[o]nto the second stop, Tel Aviv, home of Judaism.” Critics were not kind.

Jordan Schachtel of Conservative Review noted that because Tel Aviv does not have the religious significance of Jerusalem, Tillerson “managed to insult the people of Israel — and Jews worldwide.” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin accused the former ExxonMobil CEO of “bumbling his lines and committing gaffes a junior Foreign Service officer would never make.” And Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America fumed that “Only those who are blind cannot point to Jerusalem as the center of Judaism and Israel.” (I am anxiously waiting a comment from the Jewish Institute for the Blind.)

Granted, “Tel Aviv, home of Judaism,” is about as awkward as it gets. Besides sounding like the world’s least promising tourism slogan, it’s inaccurate for all the reasons Schachtel and Klein pointed out. And there’s a backstory here that makes people worry that it wasn’t a simple mistake on Tillerson’s part.

In the days leading up to the president’s big trip to Israel, there was much conjecture about how Trump would and wouldn’t tweak U.S. policy toward Israel, and especially Jerusalem, which no president has officially recognized as Israel’s capital or even, technically, part of Israel.

The back and forth on the issue was enough to give you whiplash. Trump seemed pretty committed to moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv — until he wasn’t. A White House live feed of Trump’s meetings was briefly labeled “Jerusalem, Israel” — until it wasn’t. Trump became the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall — but only days after some U.S. Consulate staffers managed to tick off Israelis ahead of the trip by sniping that the Western Wall doesn’t belong to Israel.

As for Tillerson, when he was asked aboard Air Force One whether he agrees with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley that the Western Wall is part of Israel, he replied, “The wall is part of Jerusalem.” That, to be fair, is a fine bit of Jesuitical rhetoric, which Cullen Murphy once defined as “language that on its face was unassailably true and that all parties could solemnly accept, even as it deliberately settled nothing whatsoever.”

It really isn’t up to Tillerson to set new U.S. policy on the fly, and Haley was definitely going rogue when she tried. As maddening as it can seem to Jews who feel Israel should be able to pick its own capital, Israel stands virtually alone in insisting that the status of Jerusalem is a settled matter.

But I am less interested at the moment in the political discussion than the theological one. The idea that even Jerusalem is the “home of Judaism” is both obvious and contentious. Obvious because, as Klein points out, it is the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples, the seat of King David’s Jewish kingdom and the focus of a people’s 2,000 years of longing for return. Contentious because, while a Jew’s eyes “gaze toward Zion,” they also have settled on places and communities around the world where Judaism has found a home. It was Heinrich Heine who called the Torah “the portable homeland for the Jews,” and Judaism flourished in many places — from Babylon to Brooklyn, as it were — when the Land of Israel seemed out of reach.

The idea that God dwells in one place is hardly alien to Judaism. The building of the Mikdash (the Holy Place) is a central theme of the Torah, and Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is understood as the place where God was to dwell among the people — specifically, in the Holy of Holies. The Western Wall — actually a retaining wall built to shore up the Temple Mount — is revered because of its proximity to the Holy of Holies, whose exact location was lost to history after Rome sacked the city in 70 C.E.

These were the terms of the debate that sprang up after Ivanka Trump tweeted, in all innocence, “It was deeply meaningful to visit the holiest site of my faith and to leave a note of prayer.” Observers harrumphed that the wall wasn’t the “holiest site” — that would be the Temple Mount itself. Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg, saying Ivanka’s people “botched an important piece of Jewish tradition,” suggested that the mistaken idea that the Western Wall is Judaism’s holiest site is a result of the custom, widely but not universally observed, that Jews are not to set foot on the mount lest they trample the original site of the Holy of Holies.

David B. Green, writing in Haaretz, defended Ivanka.

“For Jews who focus their religious devotion on physical locations, it is indeed the holiest spot in the world,” Green wrote, “certainly the holiest place they may visit, because it is part and parcel of the Temple Mount, and because the exact coordinates of the holy of holies are unknown and would be off-limits if they were known.”

So there.

There is a camp that worries that this focus on place ends up fetishizing walls and stones and archaeology in a way that feels — well, un-Jewish. Folks like these often quote Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the 20th-century theologian who insisted that Judaism is a religion of time, not space, and that Jews were given a temple only as a sort of concession after they showed their weakness by worshipping the Golden Calf.

“The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn,” he wrote.

According to this view, the “home of Judaism” is wherever a Jew learns Torah, or performs a mitzvah, or sits down to a Shabbat meal.

Judaism needs its holy places as much as it needs the flexibility and creativity to flourish wherever Jews find themselves. I feel an extra measure of holiness whenever I visit Israel, but honestly that’s more likely to be when I see kids romping in a playground in a Tel Aviv suburb than when I stand among the tourists at the Western Wall.

The late great Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai has a lovely poem, “Tourists,” about how our focus on space can distract us from what’s really holy. The narrator is shopping for groceries in the Old City of Jerusalem when a tour guide points out the Roman arch just above his head.

Amichai writes, “I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”