August 17, 2023

Opinion: Joe Biden’s Non-Katrina Moment

“No comment.” That was the response earlier this week from President Joe Biden regarding devastating wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, that have killed an untold number of people.

More than anything, the comment has brought to light a paradox in the world of politics: the dissonance between public image and action. The president’s “no comment” reaction, following weeks of leisure activities, rips to shreds the authenticity of his empathetic persona—a portrayal meticulously woven by a barrage of media coverage during his 2020 campaign.

President Biden’s detached response contrasts sharply with his projected image as a compassionate and empathetic leader. One might recall the media’s repeated insistence on his empathetic attributes, with headlines such as “How Empathy Defines Joe Biden” from Forbes and “Biden’s Empathy Is What Matches Him to This Moment” by the Atlantic. Even Time magazine jumped on the bandwagon with “Joe Biden’s Empathy Offensive.”

The contemporary era of performative politics has created an odd expectation that politicians personally arrive at disaster sites to demonstrate both control and genuine concern. However, it seems that this expectation doesn’t apply universally, particularly when it comes to politicians of different affiliations.

The discrepancy in responses becomes glaring when examining instances like Hurricane Katrina, which led to a deliberate political dismantling of President George W. Bush’s reputation. That was a clear attempt to divert attention from local shortcomings by attributing all blame to the federal government—an approach that holds true only when the local administration is led by Democrats.

Similar partisan bias was seen in the condemnation of Senator Ted Cruz for his ill-timed vacation during Texas’s winter storm crisis back in 2021. Cruz’s decision to travel to Mexico was met with outrage, overshadowing the severity of the situation and his inability to directly address the crisis. Here too, we saw the curious dichotomy between emotional reactions and the nuanced responsibilities and roles of political leaders.

What remains puzzling is how President Biden, with his proclaimed empathy brand, can escape rigorous scrutiny for his “no comment” response, given the partisan backlash against his Republican counterparts.

The answer may lie in understanding the strategic manipulation of emotions in politics. For many members of the Democratic Party, empathy appears to be little more than a tool employed for political gain rather than a genuine sentiment. It’s an emotional facade which can be deployed strategically to obscure underlying motivations and serve as a smoke screen for the pursuit of power.

It seems that the Democratic Party’s regard for empathy is no different from its regard for any other emotion—it’s merely a means to an end. This distinction allows leaders within the party to exhibit behaviors incongruent with their image, as long as they maintain their power and influence. Which brings into focus the disparity in expectations: while a Democratic leader can bask in relaxation while a natural disaster unfolds, a Republican official would face intense backlash for a seemingly less egregious action.

The juxtaposition between public image and actual conduct in political leadership is not a new phenomenon. However, it serves as a reminder of the intricate interplay between optics, partisan agendas, and genuine empathy. The Maui wildfires could have been President Biden’s Hurricane Katrina moment, but thankfully for him, he’s not a Republican.

Israel-Saudi Deal Reached (Maybe)

The Wall Street Journal reported that officials from the United States and Saudi Arabia have reached preliminary understandings for a potential normalization agreement with Israel. The intention is for the finer points of this agreement to be worked out over the next year, according to the report.

However, US officials have pushed back against the report, with state department spokesman Matthew Miller saying the tentative diplomatic contacts between Israel and the Saudi kingdom still have “a long road to go, with an uncertain future.”

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu indicated that he was open to gestures to Palestinians if a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia depended on them. He also hinted that he would not let coalition members block an agreement.

“Do I think it’s feasible to have that, and do I think that political questions will block it? I doubt it,” Netanyahu told Bloomberg News. “If there’s political will, there will be a political way to achieve normalization and a formal peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia. I think there’s enough room to discuss possibilities.”

Hawaii Inferno

A devastating wind-driven blaze with mysterious origins tore across the Hawaiian island of Maui, with the deadly fire wiping out entire neighborhoods, burning historic landmarks to the ground, and displacing thousands.

The death toll was 99 as of Tuesday, making the wildfire the deadliest since 1918, when 453 people were killed in Minnesota and Wisconsin by the Cloquet and Moose Lake Fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Losses are estimated to be approaching $6 billion after roughly 2,200 structures were destroyed in West Maui across the 2,170 acres burned by the blaze.

The death toll was sadly expected to rise, possibly exponentially, as officials said the 96 killed were found across just 3 percent of the burnt-out structures. Hawaii governor Josh Green said rescue officials expected to find “scores” of more victims.

FBI Kills Would-Be Assassin

The FBI last Wednesday shot and killed a Utah man who allegedly made online threats to kill President Joe Biden and New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg.

The suspect, identified as Craig Deleeuw Robertson, made a threat Monday that referenced the president’s trip to Utah, saying he needed to prepare his camouflage and sniper rifle. In an alleged threat to Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney who is prosecuting Donald Trump, Robertson called him a political hack and plotted to assassinate him in a parking garage.

In an interesting twist, Truth Social, the social media site Trump founded and uses regularly, alerted the FBI in March about Robertson’s threats against Bragg on the site.

According to officials, Robertson was armed when FBI agents confronted him. No agents were injured, and the incident is under review by the agency’s Inspection Division.

Ron’s Reset, Part 2

Florida governor Ron DeSantis shook up his campaign leadership, bringing in James Uthmeier, his longtime chief of staff, as his new presidential campaign manager, the latest move in a reset that is now almost a month in the making.

Out is Generra Peck, who was DeSantis’s campaign manager through his 2022 reelection and during the tumultuous first three months of his presidential campaign. DeSantis trails Donald Trump in most public polling, and he has already laid off 40 percent of his initial campaign staff in an attempt to cut costs.

Uthmeier, the chief of staff in DeSantis’s governor office, has become campaign manager at a key moment. Top aides see the first debate, scheduled for August 23 in Milwaukee, as a key moment for DeSantis to regain some momentum and try to close the yawning gap with Trump.

More Max Problems

US regulators are warning airlines to limit the use of an anti-icing system on Boeing 737 Max jets in dry air to avoid overheating engine-housing parts, which could cause them to break away from the plane. If the engine inlet gets too hot, parts of the housing could come off and strike a window, causing decompression and a hazard to passengers in window seats.

In 2018, a Southwest Airlines passenger died after part of the engine housing on an older version of Boeing’s 737 jet flew off and broke the window next to her seat. That engine failure started with a broken fan blade.

It’s just the latest in a series of nightmares concerning the Boeing 737 Max. Two Boeing Max jets crashed in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people. Investigations focused on an automated flight-control system which pushed the nose of the plane down based on faulty sensor readings. Boeing did not tell pilots and airlines about the system until after the first crash.

Covid’s Comeback

As social distancing and safety measures have faded away, vacations and gatherings have returned this summer—but so has covid.

Hospitals have been reporting a steady uptick in covid cases after months of declining rates. The CDC reported a 12.5 percent increase in covid hospital admission for the week of July 29, totaling 9,056 patients. National surveillance of the virus in wastewater, another primary means of tracking covid, shows that cases have been trending upward since the last week of June. However, the number of new hospitalizations for covid is nowhere near that of its peak, in early 2022, soon after omicron emerged.

Of note, researchers say that while the uptick in hospitalizations has been relatively mild, it’s an indication that the virus is not following the same seasonal pattern of other respiratory viruses, like the flu, which many researchers had anticipated it would.


“This craven act of appeasement will only embolden the ayatollahs to take more hostages.” —Senator Tom Cotton

Iran released five imprisoned Iranian-Americans to house arrest in the first move of a tentative agreement with the US that would unfreeze approximately $6 billion in Iranian assets held in South Korea. According to reports, the US would also release “a handful” of Iranians serving time in American prisons for violating sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

But many, like Senator Cotton, were dismayed that the US was giving what they called “ransom payments” to the Iranian regime.

“As long as ransom payments continue to be the US foreign policy response, Iran will continue to take Americans and hold them hostage,” said Rep. French Hill. “We must severely punish those countries that take Americans solely for their blue passport, rather than reward them with a windfall of billions.”

Frum Israel Ambassador?

David Friedman, a Modern Orthodox Jew, served as ambassador to Israel under the Trump administration. He was succeeded by Tom Nides, who resigned from the position several weeks ago. Now, the top candidate to replace him is reportedly another Modern Orthodox Jew, former treasury secretary Jack Lew.

Lew, 67, has a bit more of a history of engagement on the relevant issues than Nides did. He has long expressed his support for Israel but has also been critical of Binyamin Netanyahu. Lew infamously supported the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and defended Obama’s 2016 decision not to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. He also expressed reservations about Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim.

The first Jew to have his signature appear on US currency, Lew also served a stint as chief of staff to President Obama, as well as deputy secretary of state for management and resources and director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Hunter Gets a Special Prosecutor

US attorney David Weiss was appointed special counsel in the ongoing probe of the president’s son Hunter Biden, attorney general Merrick Garland announced on Friday.

Weiss will be responsible for the “ongoing investigation” of President Joe Biden’s son “as well as for any other matters that arose or may arise from that investigation,” the justice department said in a statement.

Weiss, who was already overseeing the Hunter Biden probe and is based in Delaware, asked to be appointed special counsel on Tuesday, and Garland agreed it was “in the public interest” to do so, the attorney general said.

If Weiss negotiated the sweetheart deal that couldn’t get approved, how can he be trusted as a special counsel?” House speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted shortly after the announcement.

“Let’s be clear what today’s move is really about,” House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer said. “The Biden justice department is trying to stonewall congressional oversight, as we have presented evidence to the American people.”

Cyberattack Strikes Mayanei HaYeshua

Mayanei HaYeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak was targeted with a serious cyberattack last week, forcing the hospital to close its emergency room and grinding its operations to a halt.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack, though Iranian agents had previously wreaked havoc on Israeli hospitals with similar targeting.

In October 2021, Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Chadera was targeted in a ransomware attack by hackers from the Iranian Black Shadow group.

That year, Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point reported that Israeli institutions are targeted with about twice as many cyberattacks as the average in other countries, including the country’s health sector, which experiences an average of 1,443 a week.

The most targeted sectors around the world, including Israel, are education and research, followed by government and security organizations and then health institutions.

Hatzalah Comes to Cleveland

The Cleveland Jewish community will be getting its own Hatzalah emergency squad. Hatzalah of Cleveland said it plans to train in at least 30 new EMTs over the next 12 months, with classes beginning shortly after Sukkos, and will launch the service next summer.

Unlike more local Hatzalah branches, Hatzalah of Cleveland will not provide hospital transports to patients. Rather, it is intended to provide a rapid emergency response that is critical during serious medical episodes.

Perplexed Pilots

A miscommunication between pilots led to a United Airlines plane diving within 748 feet of the ocean’s surface shortly after takeoff from Hawaii.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the crew failed to manage the plane’s path, airspeed, and nose direction after the mix-up between the captain and copilot.

After a normal takeoff in heavy rain, the captain asked the copilot, or first officer, to reset the wing flaps, but the copilot heard “fifteen” instead of “five.” The Boeing 777 climbed above 2,200 feet after taking off from Kahului Airport on the island of Maui, then dropped more than 1,400 feet toward the Pacific Ocean.

Both pilots told investigators they heard the plane’s ground-proximity warning system call out, “Pull up, pull up.” The pilots were able to recover and resume climbing, then continued on to San Francisco without further incident.

Kidnapping Plot Thwarted

Israel’s Shin Bet announced on Monday that it had arrested nine members of a Hamas terror cell that was in the final stages of planning to kidnap an IDF soldier and carry out various shooting and bombing attacks in the Binyamin region.

The terrorists meticulously surveilled IDF troops in the area to gather intelligence on how to successfully carry out their plot and had even identified a spot where they planned to hold the IDF soldier once kidnapped, according to the Shin Bet.

The terror cell also studied the process of manufacturing explosives and went as far as establishing its own explosives laboratory in a residential home. As part of its investigation, the Shin Bet seized the lab and explosive materials, including raw materials for producing fireworks, parts for pipe bombs, and machine guns.