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The $14 billion question Judd Legum



After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which killed 2,977 victims, there was a tremendous and justifiable desire for the government to take action against those responsible. On October 7, 2001, the United States and its allies launched “Operation Enduring Freedom.” By mid-November, through an extensive bombing campaign and ground invasion, United States-led forces were able to topple the Taliban government, which harbored the Al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The United Nations was brought in to help establish an interim government. 

On October 16, 2002, 9/11 was cited as the justification for the Congressional authorization of military force against Iraq. Among other things, the resolution stated that Iraq continues to “possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability.” The United States began military operations against Iraq on March 20, 2003. Within a few weeks, the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had collapsed. On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush (R) stood behind a “Mission Accomplished” banner and declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” 

In both cases, the initial military objectives were accomplished quickly. But leaders did not fully consider the question: what’s next?

U.S. combat against the Taliban in Afghanistan continued for nearly two decades. The lengthy conflict claimed the lives of 6,294 American service members and contractors, 66,000 members of the allied Afghan military and security forces, and 47,245 Afghan civilians. When the United States finally withdrew the last of its forces in August 2021, the Taliban immediately re-established control.  

In Iraq, U.S. forces maintained a presence until 2011. The operation resulted in the deaths of 8,160 American service members and contractors, 50,000 allied Iraqi forces, and 200,000 or more Iraqi civilians. No weapons of mass destruction were found, and Hussein’s regime had no involvement in 9/11.

Both operations, which produced few tangible benefits, also had massive financial costs. According to Brown University’s Watson Institute, the direct cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was $2.2 trillion. Since the wars were financed with debt, the total cost could exceed $4 trillion by 2030 and $6.5 trillion by 2050. 

On October 7, 2023, Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israeli towns on the border of Gaza, killing at least 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostages. President Biden described the attack, due to Israel’s smaller size, as equivalent to “15 9/11s.” Biden noted that the deaths tapped into a “kind of primal feeling in Israel, just like it did… in the United States.” Israel’s response has been unsparing, blanketing Gaza in airstrikes. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 4,385 Gazans have been killed as of October 21. There is also a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza after Israel cut off most sources of electricity and water. Israel also ordered more than 1 million Palestinians in Gaza in the northern part of the territory to evacuate south. On Saturday, Israel permitted the first shipments of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza but those supplies only represent a small fraction of what is needed. 

In an Oval Office address Friday night, Biden announced he was sending to Congress “an urgent budget request to fund America’s national security needs [and] to support our critical partners, including Israel.” The request includes “$14.3 billion in aid for Israel,” which would be in addition to the approximately $3 billion in military aid the United States provides to Israel annually. (The $105 billion budget request also includes tens of billions in aid to Ukraine.) 

The money earmarked for Israel includes about $10 billion in direct military aid that will fund both “more air and missile defense support” and “munitions.” The request, the White House says, does not specify what munitions the Department of Defense will provide Israel. Ariel Cohen, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, says Israel has a particular need for “bombs that can penetrate the reinforced concrete of Hamas structures in Gaza” and “air tankers, which are crucial to extending the range of Israel’s air force.” Biden’s request also lifts the cap on direct weapons transfers from the U.S. to Israel, which could push the total amount of military assistance higher. 

Biden said the money “will sharpen Israel’s qualitative military edge” and “make sure other hostile actors in the region know that Israel is stronger than ever.”

But one question Biden did not answer is: what’s next? 

According to reports, Israeli officials will “soon” launch a ground invasion. “You now see Gaza from afar, soon you will see it from the inside,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops on the front line. “The order will come.” Gallant says the Israeli military is in the “first phase” of a three-part operation. The initial phase includes airstrikes and a ground invasion “with the purpose of destroying operatives and damaging infrastructure in order to defeat and destroy Hamas.” The second phase “will be continued fighting but at a lower intensity as troops work to ‘eliminate pockets of resistance.'” The final phase involves “the creation of a new security regime in the Gaza Strip, the removal of Israel’s responsibility for day-to-day life in the Gaza Strip.”

The final step, which involves ending the conflict, is much easier said than done. In many respects, what Israel is attempting to do in Gaza is more difficult than what the United States attempted to do in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both of those countries, there were factions that were generally supportive of America’s presence — the Shiites and Kurds in Iraq and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. But there are no significant number of Palestinians in Gaza who will welcome an Israeli occupying force. And any “security regime” established by the Israelis will likely be viewed with extreme skepticism, at best, by the people of Gaza.   

Previous attempts at a ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces are a cautionary tale. In 2014, Israeli forces engaged in a battle in Gaza City. The conflict “killed more than 1,600 innocent bystanders and wounded more than 10,000 in a little more than a month.” But “Israel eventually retreat[ed] with no significant strategic victories.” The dense urban environment in much of Gaza makes for an extraordinarily challenging battlefield. 

Former President Bush, who set the strategy for the United States invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, has expressed support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aggressive approach. Bush described himself as “a hardliner” and encouraged Israel to take “whatever actions [are] necessary to defend herself.” Bush acknowledged that “[i]t’s going to be ugly for a while because “going into the neighborhoods of Gaza is going to be tough.” But, according to Bush, there are no other options for Netanyahu. “[H]e’s got to do what he’s got to do,” Bush said. In a video obtained by Axios, Bush does not describe how he envisions the conflict ending. 

In an October 15, 2023 interview on 60 Minutes, Biden said that it would be “a mistake to… for Israel to occupy… Gaza again.” But now, Biden is proposing more than $14 billion to aid Israeli operations in Gaza which appears to include a ground invasion. Israel’s position is a paradox. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, said that Israel has “no interest” in an occupation. But Israeli officials have simultaneously warned operations in Gaza “will be lengthy.” 

According to the New Yorker, “senior Israeli officials told the Americans [visiting Israel] to expect a war that could last as long as ten years.” If that’s the case — and the United States remains committed to helping finance Israel’s war effort — $14 billion will only be a small down payment. And, in light of the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no guarantee that the situation in Gaza will be any better after many years of war.

In his remarks during his visit to Israel last week, Biden acknowledged that, in its response to 9/11, the United States “made mistakes.” Two decades later, is the United States repeating the same mistakes in its efforts to back Israel? 


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Disenchanted with Democrats: The Black Voters Going for Trump Bari Weiss




For the past few decades, it’s been conventional wisdom in D.C. that “demographics are destiny.” That the increased share of immigrants, young people, and racial minorities across the country would build a bulletproof coalition for the Democratic Party, swelling their ranks and keeping them in power forever.

Those who deviated from this expectation could expect to be called sellouts, race traitors, and Uncle Toms. Recall Joe Biden’s infamous interview with radio host Charlamagne tha God, when he said: “If you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black.”

But in the past year, Donald Trump has been winning over more minority voters than any Republican in decades. Recent polls have consistently shown that Trump has reached a shocking 20 percent support among black voters. That’s compared to the 8 percent he got in 2016. And Biden’s polling with black voters has dropped dramatically.

This is a monumental, and to many, unexpected turn. And it was noticeable at the RNC. When Michael Moynihan went to the 2016 Republican Convention in Cleveland, the audience was more monochromatic. While certainly not as racially diverse as the Democratic coalition, the convention in Milwaukee felt younger and less white.

Monday night, Amber Rose opened the proceedings. Tuesday night, Madeline Brame, the mother of a murdered veteran, gave a thunderous speech explaining why she’s supporting Trump. She said: “Our eyes have been opened, just like so many other poor minorities across America. Donald Trump shares our values, love of God and family and country. He’s been a victim of the same corrupt system that I have been and my family has been.”

What’s behind this shift? Why do Biden and the Democratic Party seem to be losing their edge with black voters? And could this end up making a real difference for the 2024 election?

Last night, Michael Moynihan went to an event at the RNC put on by the Black Conservative Federation to ask them why they think that MAGA conservatism is appealing to black voters.

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Abigail Shrier: California’s New Law Lets Schools Keep Secrets from Parents Abigail Shrier




Protests at a Chino Valley Board of Education meeting on gender policy on July 20, 2023, in Chino, California. (Photo by David McNew via Getty Images)

Child predators follow a common playbook: target the victim, gain their trust, fill a need, and, crucially, isolate the child from her parents. For several years, this has also been standard California state protocol with regard to schoolchildren questioning their gender identities. On Monday, this scheme became law.

The “SAFETY Act,” AB 1955, signed by California Democratic governor Gavin Newsom, legally forbids schools from adopting any policy that would force them to disclose “any information related to a pupil’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to any other person without the pupil’s consent.” Schools may not, as a matter of policy, inform parents of a child’s new gender identity unless the child volunteers her approval. The law also prohibits schools from punishing any school employee found to have “supported a pupil” hurtling down a path toward risky and irreversible hormones and surgeries.

The law effectively shuts down the local parents’ rights movement in California by eliminating its most important tool: the ability to organize at the community level to stop schools from deceiving them. No longer can families hope to convince their school boards to require schools to notify parents that their daughter, Sophie, has been going by “Sebastian” in class; that her teacher, school counselor, and principal have all been celebrating Sebastian’s transgender identity; that they’ve been letting her use the boys’ bathroom and reifying the sense that she is “really a boy.” 

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the law supports the priming of minor children for a secret life with a new gender identity. This includes having school-aged children participate in sexualized discussions and make identity declarations with school faculty, which are often actively hidden from the child’s parents. Elon Musk called the law “the final straw” for families and announced his intention to move both SpaceX and X, two of California’s most prominent tech companies, out of the state as a result. “The goal [of] this diabolical law,” he tweeted, “is to break the parent-child relationship and put the state in charge of your children.”

While researching my book, Irreversible Damage, and in the four years since its publication, I have talked to hundreds of parents whose daughters suddenly identified as transgender. Many of their daughters were encouraged in this revelation by school counselors and teachers in school districts across America. One parent told me a California school counselor had given her son the address of an LGBTQ youth shelter and suggested he emancipate himself from parents who were loving but skeptical of his sudden transgender identity. Another recent California law, AB 665, would have made reclaiming that young man from the youth center all but impossible because he was over the age of twelve.

In California, instruction in sexual orientation and gender identity has been mandatory for all public school students K–12 since the passage of the Healthy Youth Act in 2016. Because such instruction typically occurs within the required “anti-bullying curriculum” rather than the sex education curriculum, parents cannot elect that their children opt out of what is, in practice, a full-bore indoctrination into gender ideology. 

When a child then predictably decides in class that she too may be nonbinary or transgender, this revelation will often trigger schools’ gender support plan, effectively a school-wide conspiracy to promote the child’s new name and gender identity without tipping off Mom and Dad. Official documents and emails and report cards are sent to parents to preserve the child’s birth name and pronouns, concealing the social transition from parents. 

I have talked to parents who discovered their middle-school daughters had spent the better part of an entire academic year known to the entire school as “Spencer” or “Ethan.” One of these girls had even roomed with the boys on an overnight school trip.

I have investigated many cases in which social transitions were concealed from families. In no case did the girl flourish with this new identity. Maintaining a new, secret identity more often became a weight and burden to the girls. Inexplicably to the parents, their daughters became morose, dropped activities they once loved, wore baggier clothing, and begged to cut their hair shorter. The parents became desperate and unsure of what to do. The hidden transition resulted in children’s alienation from loving parents trying to protect them. 

But in the years since I first reported on this practice, political opposition has grown. Parents whose daughters were socially transitioned behind their backs have filed lawsuits against the school districts in California and Florida and Michigan. California public school teachers have sued school districts to block policies that could result in their firing if they inform parents that their children’s names and identities have been changed behind their backs. And a recent statewide initiative in California to require parental notification before a school changes a child’s gender identity as well as ban puberty blockers and gender surgeries for minors garnered over 400,000 signatures, falling just short of making it onto the ballot. 

The SAFETY Act would significantly stymie, if not eliminate, this local pushback to the increasingly unpopular practice of schools playing adoptive parents with other people’s children. (Although already, the Chino Valley Unified School District has filed suit against Newsom over this act.) The plain text of the California law claims that it merely prevents schools from adopting policies that “forcibly out” trans kids—as if confused fifth-grade girls are in the same position as closeted gay adults in decades past who risked arrest and firing for being outed. 

The law’s clever sponsors are typically quiet on the subject of “outing” to whom. The entire school already knows that Lily is now “Tyler.” Teachers will cheerfully share that information with each other, school mental health staff, administrators, and other students. The only ones who don’t get to know are the parents.

A favorite talking point of activists on the left is that with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity, schools must keep secrets with young children to protect them from transphobic and homophobic parents. Even in the most progressive of states, the claim that parents who discover that their child is transgender might abuse or kick her out is used to justify a policy that would otherwise be difficult to understand and impossible to justify.

Aurora Regino is a single mother in California who last year sued the Chico Unified School District for secretly pushing social transition on her then–11-year-old daughter. Regino told me that the “phobia” rationale seemed “ridiculous.” She added, “How is it not outing a kid if you’re telling an entire school that they’re a different sex? That’s outing right there. So everybody knows except the parents? That doesn’t really make any sense to me.”

Erin Friday, a California attorney and author of bills in several states requiring parental notification for any change in a child’s gender identity at school, vented exasperation at the idea that California parents are so homophobic or transphobic they cannot be trusted. “This is California, for crying out loud.”

Regino agreed. “Both my girls are very active. We do swimming, theater, soccer, softball. We are in connection with I don’t know how many families. And there’s not one family that I can think of that we are around that would kick out their kid because they thought that they were ‘nonbinary’ or trans or gay,” she said. “I mean, to me, that’s an extreme statement that these kids are going to get kicked out. Are we saying one in ten thousand? So we’re going to risk the rest of the children and separate them from their parents during the time that they need them the most?” Her now–13-year-old daughter no longer wants to be a boy.

One might think Newsom would realize that a policy this unpopular for Democrats could easily become a political albatross in an election year. Perhaps realizing this, the governor—who is frequently mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential candidate if Biden drops out—when defending the bill resorts to dissembling. On Wednesday, the governor’s press office declared on X that the bill “protects the child-parent relationship by PREVENTING politicians & school staff from inappropriately intervening in family matters & attempting to control if, when & how families have deeply personal conversations.” The bill only “protects” the parent-child relationship if you assume that relationship depends on the parents’ being entirely ignorant of their child’s growing attachment to this new, secret identity.

Governor Newsom also declared: “Under California law, minors CANNOT legally change their name or gender WITHOUT parental consent.” That’s placing a lot of weight on the word legally. The obscurantist governor is correct only in the most technical sense: yes, a child’s legal name can be changed only on official records with parental approval. But in the world of the SAFETY Act, the parents may be the only ones in a child’s life who use that name. 

In the past few years, moderates across the American political spectrum have awakened to the pernicious effects of gender ideology on children. England, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have, in recent years, warned the public of the risks of pediatric gender medicine, banned the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones in children, or restricted their use to research settings. The Cass Review, published this year by one of England’s premier physicians, noted the serious risks and specious benefits of pediatric gender transition. My own investigation, published four years earlier, reached the same conclusions. The Cass Review also acknowledged that social transition is an active intervention that puts many children on an inexorable path to medical transition. 

Recent polling shows that voters across the political spectrum believe that schools should be required to inform parents if their children are using different gender pronouns at school than they are at home.

But California Democrats appear ready to drag their party down with them. Parents’ best hope may be federal legislation mandating parental notification before a school can reassign a child’s name and gender. Candidates for president and vice president ought to be asked whether they would support such a bill.

Until her daughter was socially transitioned behind her back, Regino had been a lifelong progressive Democrat. “Now, I’m a registered Republican,” she said.

Abigail Shrier is the New York Times bestselling author of Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up

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July 17, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson





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