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How Bad Therapy Hijacked Our Nation’s Schools Abigail Shrier

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Photo illustration by The Free Press.

American kids are the freest, most privileged kids in all of history. They are also the saddest, most anxious, depressed, and medicated generation on record. Nearly a third of teen girls say they have seriously considered suicide. For boys, that number is an also alarming 14 percent. 

What’s even stranger is that all of these worsening mental health outcomes for kids have coincided with a generation of parents hyper-fixated on the mental health and well-being of their children.

What’s going on?

That mystery is the subject of Abigail Shrier’s fascinating, urgent new book: Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up.

Longtime readers of The Free Press will surely know Abigail’s name from her groundbreaking reporting in our pages. She is also the author of the best-selling 2020 book Irreversible Damage, which tackled the difficult subject of the enormous rise of gender dysphoria among teenage girls. It was named by The Economist as one of the best books of the year and has been translated into ten languages.

In Bad Therapy, out today, Abigail heads into the breach once more. The book makes the case that the advent of therapy culture, the rise of “gentle parenting,” and the spread of “social-emotional learning” in schools is actually causing much of the anxiety and depression faced by today’s youth. In other words, Abigail argues that in our attempt to keep kids safe, we are failing the next generation of American adults.

The best journalists are fearless. And that adjective certainly applies to Abigail, whose bravery in following the evidence wherever it leads is what has made her work on some of the most important and controversial issues of the day so essential.

So read on for an exclusive excerpt from Bad Therapy. And if you want to hear my conversation with Abigail on the latest episode of Honestly, click below. —BW

Most American kids today are not in therapy. But the vast majority are in school, where therapists and non-therapists diagnose kids liberally, and offer in-school counseling and mental health and wellness instruction. By 2022, 96 percent of public schools offered mental health services to students. Many of these interventions constitute what I call “bad therapy”: they target the healthy, inadvertently exacerbating kids’ worry, sadness, and feelings of incapacity.

Since a child’s first mental or behavioral diagnosis often comes from school, the Child Mind Institute—one of the premier nonprofits devoted to adolescent mental health—provides an online “symptom checker” specifically to help parents or teachers inform themselves about “possible diagnoses.”

I began to wonder what schools were doing in the name of improving kids’ mental health. I was in luck. Each year, the state of California sponsors a three-day public school teachers’ conference to showcase its vast array of emotional and behavioral services. Immediately, I registered. That is how, in July of 2022, I came to join more than 2,000 public school teachers at the Anaheim Convention Center, right next to Disneyland.

At the convention, ankle tattoos winked over fresh pedicures, Anne Taylor cardigans abounded, and the occasional mohawk sliced indoor air cool enough to crisp celery. We talked about “brain science” based on a YouTube video many of us had seen. It explained that the brain is like a hand, with the thumb folded into the palm. “Our amygdala is really important in serious situations,” said the voice-over. This sounded right. We felt like neuroscientists. 

We lamented the burdens placed upon school counselors, now part of an expanded psychology staff, which oversees every public school the way diversity officers dominate a university. We were leery of these new bosses, but we had to admit, they had a big job to do. Our kiddos were bonkers. (The word we were careful to use was dysregulated.) Counselors now routinely monitored the social-emotional quality of our teaching, sniffed out emotional disturbance in our students, and decided what assignments to nix or grades to adjust upward.

We talked about the need to give kids “brain breaks,” the salvific power of “Mindfulness Minutes,” and the importance of ending each day with an “optimistic closure.” Our purview was the “whole child,” meaning we needed to evaluate and track kids’ “social and emotional” abilities in addition to academic ones. Our mandate: “trauma-informed education.” We pledged to treat all kids as if they had experienced some debilitating trauma.

Subsequent interviews with dozens of teachers, school counselors, and parents across the country banished all doubt: therapists weren’t the only ones practicing bad therapy on kids. Often traveling under the name “social-emotional learning,” bad therapy had gone airborne. 

When I first heard the term social-emotional learning, I assumed a hokey but necessary call for kids to get a grip. Or maybe it was the new name for what they used to call character education: treat people kindly, disagree respectfully, don’t be a jackass. Proponents insist it arrives at those things, albeit through the somewhat circuitous route of mental health. Sometimes described by enthusiasts as “a way of life,” social-emotional learning is the curricular juggernaut that devours billions in education spending each year and more than eight percent of teacher time. (Many teachers say they try to ensure that social-emotional learning happens all day long.) Through a series of prompts and exercises, SEL pushes kids toward a series of personal reflections, aimed at teaching them “self-awareness,” “social awareness,” “relationship skills,” “self-management,” and “responsible decision-making.” 

Morning Emotions Check-in

Forget the Pledge of Allegiance. Today’s teachers are more likely to inaugurate the school day with an “emotions check-in.”

School counselor Natalie Sedano advised our assembled conference room of teachers to ask kids: “How are you feeling today? Are you daisy-bright, happy and friendly? Or am I a ladybug? Will I fly away if we get too close?”

This prompted great excitement in the audience, and teachers jumped up to share their own “emotions check-ins.” One teacher said every day, she asks her kids if they feel it’s a “bones” or “no bones” kind of a day, borrowing the verbiage from a viral TikTok video in which a pug owner shares the mood of his 13-year-old pug, Noodle. If Noodle sits upright, it’s a bones day! If he collapses, it’s a no-bones day. 

“That is so fun!” Sedano enthused. “Love it! Thank you!”

I asked Leif Kennair, a world-renowned expert in the treatment of anxiety, and Michael Linden, a professor of psychiatry at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, what they thought of practice. Both said this unceasing attention to feelings was likely to make kids more dysregulated.

If we want to help kids with emotional regulation, what should we communicate instead?

“I’d say: worry less. Ruminate less,” Kennair told me. “Try to verbalize everything you feel less. Try to self-monitor and be mindful of everything you do—less.”

There’s another problem posed by emotions check-ins: they tend to induce a state orientation at school, potentially sabotaging kids’ abilities to complete the tasks in front of them.

Many psychological studies back this up. An individual is more likely to meet a challenge if she focuses on the task ahead, rather than her own emotional state. If she’s thinking about herself, she’s less likely to meet any challenge.

“If you want to, let’s say, climb a mountain, if you start asking yourself after two steps, ‘How do I feel?’ you’ll stay at the bottom,” Dr. Linden said.

Ethical Violations 

In 2022, California announced a plan to hire an additional ten thousand counselors in order to address young people’s poor mental health. A new law encourages California school districts to bill federal Medicaid for mental health services allocated to kids in school. Meaning, however much in-school therapy kids have already received, they likely will soon be getting much more. California school psychologist Michael Giambona provides individual therapy sessions to his middle school students during the school day. 

Giambona also routinely runs interference with kids’ teachers on kids’ behalf. “My teachers have special training in working with individuals with behavior needs and mental health needs,” he told me. “And we meet weekly, and we talk about what’s going on with each student and how we can approach them and support them when they need it.”

There’s a problem with in-school therapy, an ethical compromise, which arguably corrupts its very heart. In a remarkably underregulated profession, therapists still have a few ethical bright lines. And among the clearest is—or was—the prohibition on “dual relationships.”

“The relationship in the therapy room needs to be its own, distinct and apart,” psychologist and author Lori Gottlieb explains in her book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. “To avoid an ethical breach known as a dual relationship, I can’t treat or receive treatment from any person in my orbit—not a parent of a kid in my son’s class, not the sister of coworkers, not a friend’s mom, not my neighbor.” This ethical guardrail exists to protect a patient from exploitation. A patient may reveal her deepest secrets and vulnerabilities to her therapist, who could then rule over her like a czarina does her kulaks. Anyone possessing this much knowledge of a patient’s private life may be tempted to exert undue power. And so the profession makes “dual relationships” off limits.

Except that school counselors, school psychologists, and social workers enjoy a dual relationship with every kid who comes to see them. They know all of a kid’s best friends; they may even treat a few of them with therapy. They know a kid’s parents and their friends’ parents. They know the boy a girl has a crush on, what romantically transpired between them, and how the relationship ended. They know a kid’s teammates and coaches and the teacher who’s giving him a hard time. And they report, not to a kid’s parents, but to the school administration. It’s a wonder we allow these in-school relationships at all.

The American Counseling Association appears to have noticed the obvious problem. In 2006, it revised the ACA Code of Ethics. While still prohibiting sexual relationships with current clients, it decided that “nonsexual” dual relationships were no longer prohibited—especially those that “could be beneficial to the client.”

As school counselors and psychologists came to see themselves as students’ “advocates,” they slipped into a dual relationship with their students: part therapist; part academic intermediary; part parenting coach. Today, school counselors and psychologists commonly evaluate, diagnose, and treat students with individual therapy; meet with their friends; intervene with their teachers; and pass them in the lunchroom. A teen who has just spent a tear-soaked hour telling the school counselor her deepest secrets might reasonably be fearful of upsetting anyone with that much power over her life.

But are school counselors and social workers exerting undue influence over kids?

Over the past two years, I have been so inundated with parents’ stories of school counselors encouraging a child to try on a variant gender identity, even changing the child’s name without telling the parents, that I’ve almost wondered if there are any good school counselors. One parent I interviewed told me that her son’s high school counselor had given him the address of a local LGBTQ youth shelter where he might seek asylum and attempt to legally liberate himself from loving parents.

There are good school counselors; I have interviewed several. But the power structure’s all wrong. Grant a leader the powers of a monarch, and he may gift his subjects freedom—but what’s to tether him to his promises? That’s placing a whole lot of trust in an individual counselor’s conscience. 

You might respond at this point: fortunately, my child has never been to see the school counselor. But more likely, you don’t know. In California, Illinois, Washington, Colorado, Florida, and Maryland, minors twelve or thirteen and up are statutorily entitled to access mental health care without parental permission. Schools are not only under no obligation to inform parents that their kids are meeting regularly with a school counselor, they may even be barred from doing so.

As long as a parent has not specifically forbidden it, a school counselor may be able to conduct a therapy session with a minor child without parental consent. School counselors are encouraged to make “judgment calls” about what information, gleaned in sessions with minor children, they may keep secret from the children’s parents.

School Staff Who Play Therapist 

Ever since her school adopted social-emotional learning in 2021, Ms. Julie routinely began the day by directing her Salt Lake City fifth graders to sit in one of the plastic chairs she’d arranged in a circle. “How is each of you feeling this morning?” she would ask, performing a more intensive version of the “emotions check-in.” One day, she cut to the chase: “What is something that is making you really sad right now?”

When it was his turn to speak, one boy began mumbling about his father’s new girlfriend. Then things fell apart. “All of a sudden, he just started bawling. And he was like, ‘I think that my dad hates me. And he yells at me all the time,’ ” said Laura, a mom of one of the other students.

Another girl announced that her parents had divorced and burst into tears. Another said she was worried about the man her mother was dating. Within minutes, half of the kids were sobbing. It was time for the math lesson, but no one wanted to do it. It was just so sad, thinking that the boy’s dad hated him. What if their dads hated them, too?

“It just kind of set the tone for the rest of the day,” Laura said. “Everyone just was feeling really sad and down for a really long time. It was hard for them to kind of come out of that.”

A second mom at the school confirmed to me that word spread throughout the school about the AA meeting–style breakdown. Except this AA meeting featured elementary school kids who then ran to tell their friends what everyone else had shared.

Thanks to social-emotional learning, scenes of emotional melee have become increasingly common in American classrooms. In 2013, The New York Times reported on a near identical scene that took place after a California teacher conducted a similar social-emotional learning session with his kindergarteners. “With children especially, whatever you focus on is what will grow,” Laura said. “And I feel like with [social-emotional learning], they’re watering the weeds, instead of watering the flowers.”

Advocates of social-emotional learning claim that nearly all kids today have suffered serious traumatic experiences that leave them unable to learn. They also insist that having an educator host a class-wide trauma swap before lunch will help such kids heal. Neither claim is well-founded.

But the predictable result is precisely what Ms. Julie saw: otherwise happy kids are brought low and a child seriously struggling has his private pain publicly exposed by someone in no position to remedy it.

Sometimes when a kid plunks himself down on the rug for morning circle, he is in no mood to exhibit a painful experience no matter how much it might expand the class’s emotional horizons. This leaves teacher-therapists with a problem: How to get kids to dish about their emotional lives when they really don’t want to?

One presenter at the conference, Amelia Azzam, a regional mental health coordinator for Orange County Public Schools, told a story that seemed to answer this quandary. She knew of a teaching assistant who trailed a seventh grader to lunch. She “goes out to lunch where this young student sits, and she always says ‘hi’ to him. And she has casual interactions with him.” And one day, he told her that his dad was getting out of jail. 

“Nobody else knew that,” Azzam said.

Good therapists know that it may be counterproductive to push a kid to share his trauma at school. Good therapists are trained specifically to avoid encouraging rumination, a thought process typified by dwelling on past pain and negative emotions. Rumination is a well-established risk factor for depression. But school staff who play therapist rarely seem aware that they might be encouraging rumination as they stalk a kid at lunch, waiting to see if he’ll open up about his father’s incarceration minutes before a history test.

Injecting Anxiety into Math Class

Social-emotional learning enthusiasts happily disrupt math or English or history because, to the true believers, education is merely a vehicle for their social-emotional lessons—the corn chip that carries the guac straight to a kid’s mouth. “I can’t think of a content area that needs more social-emotional learning than mathematics,” educational consultant Ricky Robertson told our assembled conference room.

But how would a teacher manage to make social-emotional learning the goal of a math class? To discover the answer, I sat through a presentation titled “Embedding SEL in Math.”

Our mock lesson commenced with—you guessed it—discussion of our feelings about math. “Anxiety!” more than one teacher volunteered. The presenters showed us a series of kindergarten-level “math problems” that asked us to look at a bunch of shapes and asked: “Which one doesn’t belong?” 

At the end, they revealed the correct answer: they all belong. No wrong answers! Everyone wins! See, that wasn’t hard.

I turned to the high school math teacher next to me and asked her how she could possibly incorporate this sort of approach into Algebra II. She stared back at me, a frozen rictus pinned to the corners of her mouth. She seemed to think Big Brother was watching us.

The only feeling apparently never affirmed in social-emotional learning is mistrust of emotional conversation in place of learning. A decent number of kids actually show up hoping to learn some geometry and not burn their limited instructional time on conversations about their mental health. But from every angle, such children could only be made to feel errant and alone.

In the minds of social-emotional learning advocates, healthy kids are those who share their pain during geometry. That is how a teacher knows they are emotionally regulated. They are willing to cry for the benefit of the class.

Excerpted from Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up, by Abigail Shrier, in agreement with Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Abigail Shrier, 2024.

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The Old Evil Chris Hedges

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Which Genocide Are You On? – by Mr. Fish

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RAMALLAH, Occupied Palestine: It comes back in a rush, the stench of raw sewage, the groan of the diesel, sloth-like Israeli armored personnel carriers, the vans filled with broods of children, driven by chalky faced colonists, certainly not from here, probably from Brooklyn or somewhere in Russia or maybe Britain. Little has changed. The checkpoints with their blue and white Israeli flags dot the roads and intersections. The red-tiled roofs of the colonist settlements — illegal under international law — dominate hillsides above Palestinian villages and towns. They have grown in number and expanded in size. But they remain protected by blast barriers, concertina wire and watchtowers surrounded by the obscenity of lawns and gardens. The colonists have access to bountiful sources of water in this arid landscape that the Palestinians are denied

The winding 26-foot high concrete wall that runs the 440 mile length of occupied Palestine, with its graffiti calling for liberation, murals with the Al-Aqsa mosque, faces of martyrs and the grinning and bearded mug of Yasser Arafat — whose concessions to Israel in the Oslo agreement made him, in the words of Edward Said, “the Pétain of the Palestinians” — give the West Bank the feel of an open air prison. The wall lacerates the landscape. It twists and turns like some huge, fossilized antediluvian snake severing Palestinians from their families, slicing Palestinian villages in half, cutting communities off from their orchards, olive trees and fields, dipping and rising out of wadis, trapping Palestinians in the Jewish state’s updated version of a Bantustan.

It has been over two decades since I reported from the West Bank. Time collapses. The smells, sensations, emotions and images, the lilting cadence of Arabic and the miasma of sudden and violent death that lurks in the air, evokes the old evil. It is as if I never left.  

I am in a battered black Mercedes driven by a friend in his thirties who I will not name to protect him. He worked construction in Israel but lost his job — like nearly all Palestinians employed in Israel — on Oct. 7. He has four children. He is struggling. His savings have dwindled. It is getting hard to buy food, pay for electricity, water and petrol. He feels under siege. He is under siege. He has little use for the quisling Palestinian Authority. He dislikes Hamas. He has Jewish friends. He speaks Hebrew. The siege is grinding him, and everyone around him, down.

“A few more months like this and we’re finished,” he says puffing nervously on a cigarette. “People are desperate. More and more are going hungry.”

We are driving the winding road that hugs the barren sand and scrub hillsides snaking up from Jericho, rising from the salt-rich Dead Sea, the lowest spot on the earth, to Ramallah. I will meet my friend, the novelist Atef Abu Saif, who was in Gaza on Oct. 7 with his 15-year-old son, Yasser. They were visiting family when Israel began its scorched earth campaign. He spent 85 days enduring and writing daily about the nightmare of the genocide. His collection of haunting diary entries have been published in his book “Don’t Look Left.” He escaped the carnage though the border with Egypt at Rafah, traveled to Jordan and returned home to Ramallah. But the scars of the genocide remain. Yasser rarely leaves his room. He does not engage with his friends. Fear, trauma and hatred are the primary commodities imparted by the colonizers to the colonized.

“I still live in Gaza,” Atef tells me later. “I am not out. Yasser still hears bombing. He still sees corpses. He does not eat meat. Red meat reminds him of the flesh he picked up when he joined the rescue parties during the massacre in Jabalia, and the flesh of his cousins. I sleep on a mattress on the floor as I did in Gaza when we lived in a tent. I lie awake. I think of those we left behind waiting for sudden death.”

We turn a corner on a hillside. Cars and trucks are veering spasmodically to the right and left. Several in front of us are in reverse. Ahead is an Israeli checkpoint with thick boxy blocks of dun colored concrete. Soldiers are stopping vehicles and checking papers. Palestinians can wait hours to get past. They can be hauled from their vehicles and detained. Anything is possible at an Israeli checkpoint, often erected with no advance warning. Most of it is not good.

We back up. We descend a narrow, dusty road that veers off from the main highway. We travel on bumpy, uneven tracks through impoverished villages.

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It was like this for Blacks in the segregated south and Indigenous Americans. It was like this for Algerians under the French. It was like this in India, Ireland and Kenya under the British. The death mask — too often of European extraction — of colonialism does not change. Nor does the God-like authority of colonists who look at the colonized as vermin, who take a perverse delight in their humiliation and suffering and who kill them with impunity. 

The Israeli customs official asked me two questions when I crossed into occupied Palestine from Jordan on the King Hussein Bridge. 

“Do you hold a Palestinian passport?” 

“Are either of your parents Palestinian?” 

In short, are you contaminated?

This is how apartheid works.

The Palestinians want their land back. Then they will talk of peace. The Israelis want peace, but demand Palestinian land. And that, in three short sentences, is the intractable nature of this conflict.

I see Jerusalem in the distance. Or rather, I see the Jewish colony that lines the hills above Jerusalem. The villas, built in an arc on the hilltop, have windows intentionally narrowed into upright rectangles to double as gun slits.

We reach the outskirts of Ramallah. We are held up in the snarl of traffic in front of the sprawling Israeli military base that oversees the Qalandia checkpoint, the primary checkpoint between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. It is the scene of frequent demonstrations against the occupation that can end in gunfire.

I meet Atef. We walk to a kebab shop and sit at a small outdoor table. The scars of the latest incursion by the Israeli army are around the corner. At night, a few days ago, Israeli soldiers torched the shops that handle money transfers from abroad. They are charred ruins. Money from abroad will now be harder to get, which I suspect was the point.

Israel has dramatically tightened its stranglehold on the more than 2.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, who are surrounded by more than 700,000 Jewish colonists housed in some 150 strategically placed developments with their own shopping malls, schools and medical centers. These colonial developments along with special roads that can only be used by the colonists and the military, checkpoints, tracts of land that are off limits to Palestinians, closed military zones, Israeli-declared “nature preserves” and military outposts form concentric circles. They can instantly sever the flow of traffic to isolate Palestinians cities and towns into a series of ringed ghettos.

“Since Oct. 7 it is hard to travel anywhere in the West Bank,” Atef says. “There are checkpoints at the entrances of every city, town and village. Imagine you want to see your mother or your fiancée. You want to drive from Ramallah to Nablus. It can take seven hours because the main roads are blocked. You are forced to drive through back roads in the mountains.”

The trip should take 90 minutes.

Israeli soldiers and colonists have killed 528 Palestinian civilians, including 133 children, and injured more than 5,350 others in the West Bank, since Oct. 7, according to the UN human rights chief. Israel has also detained over 9,700 Palestinians — or should I say hostages? — including hundreds of children and pregnant women. Many have been severely tortured, including doctors tortured to death in Israeli dungeons and aid workers killed upon their release. Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has called for the execution of Palestinian prisoners to free up space for more. 

Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, was in the past spared the worst of Israeli violence. Since Oct. 7, this has changed. Raids and arrests take place almost daily in and around the city, sometimes accompanied by lethal gunfire and aerial bombardments. Israel has bulldozed or confiscated more than 990 Palestinian dwellings and homes in the West Bank since Oct. 7, at times forcing owners to demolish their own buildings or pay exorbitant fines.

Heavily armed Israeli colonists have carried out murderous rampages on villages east of Ramallah, including attacks following the murder of a 14-year-old colonist on April 12 near the village of al Mughayyir. The colonists, in retaliation, burned and destroyed Palestinian homes and vehicles across 11 villages, ripped up roads, killed one Palestinian and wounded more than two dozen others. 

Israel has ordered the largest West Bank land seizure in more than three decades, confiscating vast tracts of land northeast of Ramallah. The extreme rightwing Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who lives in a Jewish colony and is in charge of colonial expansion, has promised to flood the West Bank with a million new colonists. 

Smotrich has vowed to obliterate the distinct areas in the West Bank created by the Oslo accords. Area A, which comprises 18 percent of the West Bank, is under exclusive Palestinian control. Area B, nearly 22 percent of the West Bank, is under Israeli military occupation, in collusion with the Palestinian Authority. Area C, over 60 percent of the West Bank, is under total Israeli occupation.

“Israel realizes that the world is blind, that no one will force it to end the genocide in Gaza, and no one will pay attention to the war in the West Bank,” Atef says. “The word war is not even used. This is called a normal Israeli military operation, as if what is happening to us is normal. There is no distinction now between the status of the occupied territories, classified as A, B and C. The settlers are confiscating more land. They are carrying out more attacks. They do not need the army. They have become a shadow army, supported and armed by Israel’s rightwing government. We have lived in a continuous war since 1948. This is simply the newest phase.” 

Jenin and its neighboring refugee camp are assaulted daily by Israeli armed units, undercover commando teams, snipers and bulldozers, which level entire neighborhoods. Drones equipped with machine guns and missiles, as well as warplanes and Apache attack helicopters, circle overhead and obliterate dwellings. Medics and doctors, as in Gaza, are assassinated. Usaid Kamal Jabarin, a 50-year-old surgeon, was killed on May 21 by an Israel sniper as he arrived for work at the Jenin Governmental Hospital. Hunger is endemic.

“The Israeli military carries out raids that kill Palestinians and then departs,” Atef says. “But it returns a few days later. It is not enough for the Israelis to steal our land. They seek to kill as many of the original inhabitants as possible. This is why it carries out constant operations. This is why there are constant armed clashes. But these clashes are provoked by Israel. They are the pretext used to continually attack us. We live under constant pressure. We face death daily.”

The dramatic escalation of violence in the West Bank is overshadowed by the genocide in Gaza. But it has become a second front. If Israel can empty Gaza, the West Bank will be next.

“Israel’s objective has not changed,” he says. “It seeks to shrink the Palestinian population, confiscate larger and larger tracts of Palestinian land and build more and more colonies. It seeks to Judaize Palestine and strip the Palestinians of all the means to sustain themselves. The ultimate goal is the annexation of the West Bank.”

“Even at the height of the peace process, when everyone was mesmerized by peace, Israel was turning this peace proposal into a nightmare,” he goes on. “Most Palestinians were opposed to the peace accords Arafat signed in 1993, but still they welcomed him when he returned. They did not kill him. They wanted to give peace a chance. In Israel, the prime minister who signed the Oslo accords was assassinated.”

 “A few years ago, someone daubed a strange slogan on the wall of the U.N. school east of Jabaliya,” Atef wrote from the hell of Gaza. “‘We progress backwards.’ It has a ring to it. Every new war drags us back to basics. It destroys our houses, our institutions, our mosques and our churches. It razes our gardens and parks. Every war takes years to recover from, and before we’ve recovered, a new war arrives. There are no warning sirens, no messages sent to our phones. War just arrives.”

The Jewish settler colonial project is protean. It changes its shape but not its essence. Its tactics vary. Its intensity comes in waves of severe repression and less repression. Its rhetoric about peace masks its intent. It grinds forward with its deadly, perverted, racist logic. And yet, the Palestinians endure, refusing to submit, resisting despite the overwhelming odds, grasping at tiny kernels of hope from bottomless wells of despair. There is a word for this. Heroic.

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TGIF: President Putin and Vice President Trump Edition Suzy Weiss

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Alex Soros and Huma Abedin arrive at the Booksellers Room of the White House on May 23, 2024. (Saul Loeb Getty Images)

Apparently, aunts don’t get parental leave in this country. Here I am, babysitting a two-year-old, blowing endless raspberries, sneaking illegal candy into tiny palms day and night, putting on the Moana soundtrack again and my thanks is. . . more deadlines? 

And for my other aunts out there, who, like me, always seem to show up after the diaper change and disappear before the bedtime meltdown, I see you. 

But here I am. And for my sister-in-law Nellie, and only for her, I’ll endure the wrath of the commenters.

Let’s get to it.

 → He’s answering every question: The leader of the free world had an important task on Thursday night. It would be a decisive moment for his presidency. According to Rachel Maddow, “the fate of the world” hung “in the balance.” What did Joe Biden have to do? Answer a few questions from the press without the help of a teleprompter in a manner that suggested he was of sound mind. The bar was set very, very low.  

Did he clear it? Well, at another event a few hours before his “big boy” press conference, he introduced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “President Putin.” That’s the geopolitical equivalent of calling the teacher “Mom.” And at the press conference itself he referred to Kamala Harris as “Vice President Trump.” 

In the end it was better than expected and worse than we deserve. But you know who thought Joe crushed it? His press guy. “To answer the question on everyone’s minds: No, Joe Biden does not have a doctorate in foreign affairs,” said Andrew Bates on X, answering a question on absolutely no one’s minds. “He’s just that fucking good.”  

When pressed on his health, Biden said his main issue is that after he broke his left foot, he didn’t wear the boot. Uh, relatable king check! A 20-year-old staffer clutched a microphone in front of each reporter’s face as they asked the president a bunch of variations of “So you’re really going to do this?” Biden says, after a few coughs and three seconds of silence: Yes. 

Best-in-Show-in-Chief: Apparently, most of the president’s movements, Cabinet meetings, public comments, and private comments—but like, only that stuff!—are being choreographed down to the minute. CNN reports that the president’s aides provide him with talking points and diagrams for where to walk and require advisers to submit questions ahead of meetings. He’s also not really having many Cabinet meetings—in fact, there hasn’t been a full Cabinet meeting since last October—and is seen less and less by staffers. 

Biden’s rare performances even come with stage direction, per Axios, which obtained pictures of an event prep document with two full pages dedicated to “Walk to podium” with pictures taken from the wings. Staffers claim this is part of their “advance work” and a sign of meticulous prep. I’m sure the latest OPEC data was right on the other side of the “Walk to podium” page. 

Meanwhile, The Daily Beast reports that the “acting chief of staff” and presidential “gatekeeper” is none other than Hunter Biden. So if you see a new executive order next week detailing penalties for hookers who steal your crack, that’s just that enduring Biden legacy of serving the American middle class. A Dem who worked for Biden said the whole arrangement “is more of a family thing than a political thing.” And I get that. It’s basically how we run TGIF. Give the crackhead Kennedys their privacy. 

Just a routine checkup with the Parkinson’s guy: Last week it came out that Dr. Kevin Cannard, a neurologist and Parkinson’s expert, has visited the White House at least eight times since last summer and met with the president’s personal physician. Karine Jean-Pierre, Biden’s press secretary, said on Tuesday that the meeting had nothing to do with the president. I guess the two doctors who treat the president just chose a weird place to hang out? Then later that same day, she confirmed that indeed the meeting was about the president and that she got confused about the dates and misspoke. 

There was a discrepancy too on whether Biden was treated by a doctor after the debate for his “cold,” which is a new word for “probably Parkinson’s.” (Tired means dementia and jet-lagged means it’s malignant.) Last Wednesday Jean-Pierre said he wasn’t checked out by his doctor, but Biden said in a meeting with Democratic governors a few hours later that he was. Jean-Pierre then corrected things and said that the appointment after the debate was not a full work up, but a “check-in,” which apparently happens a couple of times a week. A couple of times per week! That seems like a lot of times per week to go to the doctor for a routine annual checkup. 


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July 11, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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Yesterday, Raw Story reported that Ivan Raiklin, Trump’s self-declared “Secretary of Retribution” has compiled a “Deep State target list” of 350 people he wants to see arrested and punished for “treason” if Trump is reelected. The list includes Democratic and Republican elected officials, journalists he considers to be Trump’s enemies, U.S. Capitol Police officers, and witnesses against Trump in his impeachment trials and the hearings concerning the events of January 6, 2021.

Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told Raw Story: “His hit list is a vigilante death warrant for hundreds of Americans and a clear and present danger to the survival of American democracy and freedom.” The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Raiklin said the list was just the beginning. “This is the scratching of the surface of who is going to be criminalized for their treason, okay?” 

Former president Donald Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee, has tried to distance himself from the radical extremist blueprint outlined in Project 2025, spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation. Today, videos surfaced of Trump cheering the project on from the start. At a Heritage Foundation dinner in 2022, Trump, slurring his words, said: “Our country is going to hell…. This is a great group and they’re going to lay the groundwork and detail plans for exactly what our movement will do…when the American people give us a colossal mandate to save America. And that’s coming.”

On a right-wing podcast yesterday, Heritage Foundation president Kevin Roberts said that Trump’s agenda and Project 2025 have “tremendous” overlap. “There are some quibbles and differences of opinion here and there, which not only is okay, but it’s actually good,” Roberts said. “I mean, we’re gonna be able to sort those out once the presidential administration declares what their priorities are.” He said that Trump’s attempt to distance himself from the project was “a political tactical decision.” Media Matters uncovered a video in which Project 2025 director Paul Dans said that Trump is “very bought in with this.” 

The Heritage Foundation, the key author of Project 2025, is a sponsor of the Republican National Convention. 

Today the Heritage Foundation preemptively accused the Biden administration of cheating in the 2024 election and warned that Biden might try to hold the White House “by force.” It said that Biden and his administration could “circumvent constitutional limits and disregard the will of the voters should they demand a new president.” 

There is no indication that Biden, who has repeatedly said he will accept the election results, will try to launch a coup against the United States government. In contrast, Trump, who has refused to say he will accept the election result unless he agrees with it, has already done exactly what Heritage is trying to pin on Biden: Trump tried to stay in office against the will of the voters in 2021. 

Trump is currently under criminal indictment for that attempt, although the Supreme Court’s eye-popping July 1 decision in Trump v. U.S. declaring that a president cannot be prosecuted for crimes committed as part of a president’s “official duties” means Trump can challenge those indictments. Indeed, in the wake of that decision, Trump’s lawyers have filed a motion to vacate the jury’s conviction of Trump on 24 felony counts related to the falsification of business records in his attempt to skew the 2016 election, and to dismiss the indictment. 

While the U.S. and our allies celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Erin Banco of Politico reported yesterday that Trump advisors have told foreign officials that Trump plans to scale back U.S. cooperation and support for NATO, including reducing the sharing of intelligence with NATO countries.

This seems likely to be related to the news that the U.S. intelligence discovered a series of Russian plots to assassinate executives from European defense companies that are supplying arms to Ukraine. Americans took that intelligence to Germany and foiled a Russian plot to kill the chief executive officer of a German arms manufacturer. 

Trump has stayed home playing golf for the past two weeks, but on Tuesday he held a rally at his Doral golf club outside of Miami, where he kept the audience waiting outside in 90-degree heat before he showed up an hour late. His 75-minute speech was, as The Guardian’s Richard Luscombe reported, “full of evidence-free claims that his 2020 election defeat was fraudulent; baseless accusations that overseas nations were sending to the US ‘most of their prisoners’; and a laughable assertion that a gathering of supporters numbering in the hundreds was really a crowd of 45,000.” He also claimed that Biden had quadrupled the price of bacon and said, “We don’t eat bacon any more.” 

Trump did not mention his vice presidential pick. For the first time since 1988, it appears the Republicans will go into their convention without knowing who that pick will be. 

Luscombe reported that the crowd “appeared mostly subdued,” yawning and playing on their phones. 

Today, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Trump is “the only candidate in the race who is patently unfit for office—any office—and an imminent threat to democracy.” “If the [Republicans] had any decency left,” it wrote, they would dump him. Voters, the board said, must see the election as “a referendum on our 248-year democracy, and a choice between a trustworthy public servant who upholds American values and a serial liar who wants to push the country into authoritarianism.”

Almost two weeks after calling for Biden to step out of the 2024 race for the presidency, the editorial board of the New York Times also said that Trump is unfit to lead the United States of America, and urged voters “to see the dangers of a second Trump term clearly and to reject it.”

There was continued good news today about the American economy. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had collected more than $1 billion in overdue tax bills from millionaires. That crackdown was possible thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, which funded an initiative to pursue high-income, high-wealth individuals who have an income of more than $1 million and owe more than $250,000 to the IRS. 

Republicans have repeatedly tried to cut the funding that made this enforcement possible. 

Today’s inflation report for June showed that inflation continues to cool, falling in June for the first time since the start of the pandemic. It declined in June by –0.1%, as gas and electricity prices dropped and as rent had its smallest monthly increase since August 2021. Statistics also show that workers’ wages continue to grow more quickly than prices. 

Yesterday, the AFL-CIO executive council voted unanimously to reaffirm its support for President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, saying: “Unions have never wavered in our support of them because they’ve never wavered in their commitment to working people.” The Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Union quoted that statement and added: “BAC is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters across the labor movement in supporting the Biden-Harris re-election campaign.”

In a press conference this evening, Biden championed the economic boom his policies created for the middle class and reminded attending journalists that “none of you thought that would happen.” 

In that press conference, held after he presided over the three-day NATO summit and thus focused on foreign affairs, Biden answered press questions directly and fully, not only on his health but also on foreign affairs. He reiterated the importance of NATO and reminded reporters that he was key to reinforcing the alliance after Trump weakened it, then went on to talk about foreign affairs more broadly. He also noted that “I’ve spent more time with Xi Jinping than any other president,” adding: “And by the way I handed in my notes.” This was a reference to the fact that in an unprecedented move, Trump infamously refused to disclose the notes from one of his conversations with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

At the same time that Biden was holding a press conference that focused on NATO and foreign affairs, Trump was meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Putin ally Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán. On social media this evening, Trump indicated that he is trying to conduct his own foreign policy, although the Logan Act prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, and reiterated his support for Putin’s call for “peace” in Ukraine. Their plan calls for giving Putin the western regions of Ukraine that were central to his 2016 support for Trump; Trump’s 2016 campaign manager promised Trump would look the other way as Putin absorbed them. 

Orbán, who has openly called for Trump’s reelection, posted: “Peace mission 5.0[.] It was an honour to visit President [Trump] at Mar-a-Lago today. We discussed ways to make [peace]. The good news of the day: he’s going to solve it!”

Notes:

https://www.cnn.com/2024/07/11/economy/us-cpi-consumer-inflation-june/index.html?cid=ios_app

https://edition.cnn.com/2024/07/11/politics/us-germany-foiled-russian-assassination-plot/index.html

https://www.politico.eu/article/russia-plot-kill-arms-manufacturer-rheinmetall-ceo-armin-papperger-foiled-us-germany-cnn/

​​https://www.mediamatters.org/project-2025/heritage-foundation-president-kevin-roberts-overlap-tremendous-between-trumps-campaign

https://www.mediamatters.org/project-2025/unearthed-video-project-2025-director-said-project-has-great-relationship-trump-and

https://www.politico.com/news/2024/07/10/trump-considering-cutting-intel-sharing-europe-00167503

https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy2458

https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/elections/2024/07/09/project-2025-think-tank-heritage-foundation-signs-on-as-an-rnc-sponsor/74337029007/

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2024/07/11/opinion/editorials/donald-trump-2024-unfit.html

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2024-election/biden-campaign-brushes-snub-new-york-editorial-board-rcna159562

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/article/2024/jul/09/trump-doral-florida-campaign-rally

https://apnews.com/article/heritage-foundation-biden-trump-election-2024-3056df8a1ea882e23f8e2faf2eff7a3b

https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/a-look-at-five-unexpected-vice-presidential-nominations

https://www.thedailybeast.com/rep-jamie-raskin-sounds-the-alarm-on-trumps-self-declared-secretary-of-retribution

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2024-07-11/la-trump-unfit-for-office-biden-election

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