Tag Archives: israel

A Chill in the Air

Summer officially starts this weekend, but it’s getting cold out there.

The AMA reacted coolly to President Obama’s healthcare plan. Iran’s elections may have a chilling effect on its relations with the United States. Senate Republicans want to freeze the Sotomayor proceedings until fall. And Sarah Palin is going all ice queen on David Letterman.

Bundle up, dear reader.

The president addressed the American Medical Association’s annual convention yesterday, outlining his healthcare policy to a new level of detail. If doctors, hospitals, and insurers can cut care costs, the president offered, government will also work to lower medical liabilities (right now, a doctor’s greatest expense is malpractice insurance).

Here’s where it gets frosty: the president said his plan may cost $1 trillion. For a federal budget buckling under the weight of bailouts, bankruptcies, and decade-old tax breaks, another trillion-dollar program makes everyone shudder. Think spending may become a political problem for the Democrats? You ain’t the only one.

Congress will soon undertake healthcare reform, but this week, it’s focused on the environment and new financial regulations. And Sonia: the GOP is hoping to stall for time, but it’s running up against a concerted White House media strategy.

The president’s primary international concern is (still) west Asia. Iran’s presidential elections have been fascinating to watch.

The incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a bigot who thinks America sucks. The challenger, Mir Hossain Mousavi, quit politics 15 years ago to become an architect. Mousavi wasn’t supposed to be the main opposition, but former president Mohammed Khatami thought he had no chance this go-round, so he dropped out.

That’s because until recently, Ahmadinejad was very popular. He is a hero to rural conservatives and the urban poor, whose causes he championed. But 70 percent of Iran is under 30 years old, and many young people find Iran’s current brand of theocratic authoritarianism suffocating. They want freedom, and Mousavi is their man.

Ahmadinejad won, but it looks like he may have cheated. Mousavi supporters have taken to the streets, and Iran’s ruling clerics have opened an investigation into the election results. New elections, or even hard evidence of cheating, are unlikely. But it’s interesting to watch a government testing out the mechanics of democracy, especially a government at the center of the world stage.

Meanwhile, there may be “tough months” ahead for Afghanistan, according to Gen. David Petraeus, who oughta know. The Blog wonders: “tough” as opposed to what? All the easy living Afghanistan’s been soaking up lately?

Pakistan isn’t doing much better.

Even our allies are raising a ruckus. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Obama’s recent call for a Palestinian state with a big “pfff.” Actually, Netanyahu said the Palestinians could have their own country, so long as that country didn’t have an army and so long as Israelis could continue trying to take over Palestine one settlement at a time. The Palestinians—and the Blog—find his munificence overwhelming.

Twenty years ago, the New York Times’ Tom Friedman (see this week’s Top 5) wrote that Israel’s big problem is that it can only have two of the three things it wants: to be 100 percent Jewish, 100 percent democratic, and occupy 100 percent of all the territory of Old Testament Israel. It can have any two, Friedman argues, but not all three. Israel has still not chosen.

Finally this week, the Blog presents a moment of absurdity. Guess who is conservatives’ newest worst enemy? This moment of absurdity has been brought to you by Sarah Palin, defender of all that is right.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

The Washington Post: “Muted Response Reflects U.S. Diplomatic Dilemma” by Scott Tyson.

The New York Times: “Winds of Change?” by Tom Friedman.

Economist: “Tehran Rising.

Newsweek: “The Micawbers and Mrs. Roosevelt” by Jon Meacham.

Wall Street Journal: “White House Sends Signals on Deficit” by Gerald Seib.

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On the Road Again

The Wrap: Constellations

How’d last week go?

 

If you were Barack Obama, three of four stars. Your speech to the joint session of Congress was widely praised as candid and bold, though it did require some interpretation and didn’t bring the deets at least one publication wanted. Your budget was also generally well-received, though many folks wondered how you were gonna cut the deficit. You also filled voids at HHS and Commerce, but you’ve learned not to count those particular chickens before they hatch.

 

If you were Bobby Jindal, one star. Good news: you got to rebut the president. Bad news: you forgot to rebut the president.

 

If you were the economy, you still get zero stars.

 

If you were Karl Rove, you get zero stars this week and docked one star from next week. Why, you protest? For this special little nugget of irony in your WSJ column: “Everyone resorts to straw men occasionally, but Mr. Obama’s persistent use of the device is troubling. Continually characterizing those who disagree with you in a fundamentally dishonest way can be the sign of a person who lacks confidence in the merits of his ideas.”

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

 

The Washington Post: “President’s Historic Message Balances Urgency, Optimism” by Daniel Pearlstein.

 

Newsweek: “Why Obama is Moving so Quickly” by Howard Fineman.

 

The New York Times: “Will Africa Let Sudan off the Hook?” by Desmond Tutu.

 

Huffington Post: “Restore the Republic” by Gary Hart.

 

The New York Times: “Paging Uncle Sam” by Tom Friedman.

 

Feature: On the Road Again

Secretary Clinton is abroad again this week, which gives the Blog another excuse to take a gander at Team Obama’s foreign policy. As you may recall, Secretary Clinton is just back from East Asia. There, her to-do list included stopping a sociopath from getting nukes, reversing a half-century of crankiness in Sino-American relations, and reintroducing the world’s largest Muslim nation to its most-famous long-ago resident.

 

This time, she’s hoping to establish peace in the Holy Land. As the Blog has previously argued, Palestine is the single greatest inhibitor to world peace. A solution would not fix the economy, reverse climate change, or even banish terrorism from the face of the planet. But it would prove that even the most intractable human problems can be solved.

 

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Middle East peace is the stickiest of wickets. It has religious, political, economic, and social components that reach back 5,000 years, and since the 1970s, precious little progress has been made.

 

While lower Manhattan still smoldered, the Bush Administration got religion (pun!) about Palestine, and it briefly appeared they might make substantial progress. But six years went by without a peep from the West Wing. In November 2007, the White House sponsored a conference in Annapolis, Maryland hoping to grind out a solution before the next election. No dice.

 

Plusses since Annapolis: Tony Blair and George Mitchell have agreed to help, Dick Cheney has agreed to go back to Wyoming, and backdoor negotiations between Israel and Hamas resulted in a brief ceasefire.

 

Minuses: A small war broke out and Israel seriously considered electing a rightwing nut-job prime minister. So we’re breaking even. The good news is folks are starting to take the issue seriously again. To succeed, they’ll have to work on three levels.

 

The direct, grandiose efforts must go on. George Mitchell must do what he did in Northern Ireland: maintain grace in public, and wield a machete behind the scenes. He must have the full weight and confidence of the White House. So must Tony Blair.

 

The private negotiations must continue, too. More often than not, real solutions are brokered in such a way that nobody wins a Nobel Peace Prize. None of the parties involved can afford to look soft in front of the world, but genuine compromise is possible out of the limelight. Israel, Fatah, and Hamas must have a locked door behind which to negotiate.

 

Finally, everybody has to have a seat at the table. This may be the most excruciating part. Until now, Iran and Syria have been roadblocks to peace. That’s why the Obama Administration has advocated direct talks with Tehran (though perhaps the Secretary of State would like to keep her odds-making to herself), and sent two emissaries to Damascus. No peace is possible if Israel is threatened by a soon-to-be-nuclear power to the east and by a Hezbollah outpost to the north.

 

Likewise Russia, China, Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf states must be part of the process. Each has a vested stake in any arrangement. The impact of a workable settlement would be enormous for world affairs. Russia growls about U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Europe, which would guard against an Iranian launch. This morning, the press reported a secret message from Washington to Moscow: help us ensure Iran never becomes a nuclear power and we’ll scrap our shield plans. If we solved Palestine, Iran wouldn’t need nukes, we wouldn’t need the shield, and we could start working with Russia on issues like energy, trade, and human rights.

 

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These three processes working simultaneously may not provide a solution for years, but together they are the best and quickest hope for peace.

 

The White House has started well. George Mitchell is the right man for the job, and Secretary Clinton (private asides aside) may be the right woman. They have started by marshalling aid to Gaza, a necessary first step. But as they mend the material wounds of the December-January conflict, they must also begin triage on the political wounds. Left untreated, those may be far more damaging.

 

On Deck: Prognostications

As the Blog looks into its crystal ball, we predict this week will bring further proof that John Yoo is a total jerk (and not much of a lawyer), that CIA will once again be forced to wipe egg from its brow, and Sebelius and Locke’s confirmation proceedings will go smoother than those of their predecessors.

 

Looking further ahead, we see Jim Bunning being kicked by his own party (which Bunning has booted several times recently), a Lone Star throw down, and a nasty theme still building for administration nominees.

Pair of Parables

The Wrap: Four-Year Sprint

The new administration shot out of its starting block faster than Michael Phelps on Red Bull. The first week was a three-stroke medley. First leg, Gitmo. Second leg, the economy. Third, announced just yesterday, is energy. So far, so good for Team Obama.

 

Want the latest on new senators? Blog goin’ give it to you. Change has come to Illinois, New York (extra insight from Mike Lupica), Minnesota, and Colorado.

 

Blagojevich update—the end may be nigh. Key Blago quotes last week:

 

·        On his, er, expansive vocabulary: “If I knew [the Feds] were listening, I wouldn’t have used those words,” Compromising democracy? Meh. Dropping the f-bomb? My bad.

 

·        On going to jail: “I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, and Gandhi and tried to put some perspective to all this and this is what I am doing now.” Puke.

 

·        “I’ve done virtually everything right on behalf of the people.” Virtually—VIR-chu-al-lee—(adj.): almost entirely, with several exceptions: subverting democratic principles, blatant egoism, and dumb hair.

 

More from ABC News’ The Note: “Think he doesn’t know politics? He says he still wants to call Valerie Jarrett, Rahm Emanuel, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., as well as a ‘whole bunch of senators’ as witnesses.”

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary.

 

The Washington Post: “Week One,” Editorial.

 

Economist: “And Now to Work.”

 

Real Clear Politics: “In Obama Era, National Service’s Time Has Come” by Mort Kondrache.

 

The Boston Globe: “Roe and Doe, 36 Years On” by Jeff Jacoby.

 

The New Yorker: “The President’s Hero” by David Remnick.

 

Feature: Pair of Parables

When legendary Celtics center Bill Russell first broke into the NBA, larger, tougher opponents kept shoving him out of the paint. Then, before a nationally televised game, Celtics Coach Red Auerbach pulled Russell aside.

 

“Throw an elbow so everyone sees it,” Red advised. “It’ll be the only elbow you have to throw all season.”

 

The stimulus bill before Congress is about fixing the economy in one sense. But don’t miss the politics at work, dear reader. President Obama’s political goal in this debate is to assert himself with Congress. Land a sharp blow early, and each successive legislative priority will be easier to pass. Congress’ goal is to weaken the White House before it can get its sea legs. Parry this first presidential effort, and Obama will have diminished authority on the Hill for the rest of his term.

 

Both sides know everyone is watching. Both want to throw an elbow, and both hope it will be the only one they have to throw all season.

 

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When presidents try to throw elbows, they inevitably confront the constraints of their office. Bad presidents ignore those constraints (see: Nixon, Richard M.). Good presidents manage them. They manipulate the pressures of the political system to achieve their goals.

 

One key pressure is public opinion, which the presidency can affect more than any other single institution. Public opinion might seem trivial to folks inside the Beltway bubble, but remember: every two years, public opinion determines which members of Congress get to keep coming to work.

 

Both sides in the stimulus debate want to shape how the bill is defined in public opinion. Obama wants it to be about whether we’ll save the American economy. If you’re in favor of that, he’ll say, support my bill. Republicans want it to be about whether America really wants to let this rookie president dig us into deeper and deeper debt. If you’re against blank checks, oppose this bill.

 

But in addition to being president, Obama has three advantages. First, he’s a new president, and Americans want new presidents to succeed. For as long as presidential approval ratings have been measured, no president has entered office below 50 percent approval. Obama clocked in at 68 percent last week, the second-highest all time.

 

Second, he’s not George W. Bush. The previous chief executive was so reviled by last Tuesday that had Derek Jeter been inaugurated president, even Boston would have celebrated.

 

Third, Obama is a great communicator. Lawyers are professional persuaders, and HLS-grad Obama is better at it than most. During the campaign, he convinced more people to donate more money and volunteer more hours than any campaign for any public office ever.

 

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A group of progressive lobbyists once came to the Oval Office for a meeting with FDR. They asked for the president’s support on several necessary but politically unpopular measures, and presented a succinct rationale for each. When they were through, FDR shook their hands.

 

“I agree with everything you’ve said,” he offered. “Now go out and make me do it.”

 

To turn his stimulus plan into law, Obama will have to use his advantages to generate public pressure on moderate Republicans. He wants to force them to vote for his legislation.

 

Obama has already spoken eloquently about the need to quickly, boldly remake the economy, and will continue to make his case to the American people. But teetering members of Congress will not miss the prose beneath the poetry: fall in line, or prepare to defend your job.

 

On Deck: Find the Oxymoron

By Friday, the House may have voted on the stimulus bill. President Obama went to the Hill today to discuss his proposal with Republican leadership. After a brief conversation, the whole gang went out for banana splits. Not really, but the meeting was amicable.

 

Also by Friday, Illinois may be without a governor and Israel may be back at war in Gaza. The Blog will update you on both next week.

Oaths

The Wrap: Who Are You?

This week, if you…

 

…were hired, but your co-workers banned you from the office—then welcomed you with open arms—you might be Roland Burris.

 

…interviewed for a job you never thought you’d deign to accept, you might be Hillary Clinton.

 

…thought the transition from TV doctor to America’s doctor would be smooth, you might be Sanjay Gupta, and you’d be wrong.

 

Halfway around the world, Israel and Hamas continue to pummel each other. The Blog thought you might appreciate contrary perspectives on what’s going on there. Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu wrote this op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, and former PLO spokesguy Rashid Khalidi wrote this one for The New York Times.

 

Bottom line on this whole sitchu: both sides accuse one another of war crimes, but all wars are crimes. Said William Tecumseh Sherman, himself an authority on the subject: “War is cruelty; there’s no sense trying to reform it.”

 

Backroom bargaining and World War III aside, much of this week’s news was about next week’s news. More on that later, but while one president comes to town, another exits.

 

Top Five

The week’s best political reporting…

 

Los Angeles Times: “Bush’s ‘What ifs,’” Editorial.

 

Politico: “Can Obama Seize the Moment?” by David Rogers.

 

The Washington Post: “Hard Lesson for Israel” by Jackson Diehl.

 

Newsweek: “Era of Good Speaking” by Anna Quindlen.

 

The Washington Times: “Sharing the Dream” by Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal.

 

 

Feature: Oaths

As you may have heard, dear reader, we’ll have a new president next week. With all the hubbub and hullabaloo, the Blog wants to make sure you are hip to the flava about to be crunk’d. So bust out your Jesus piece, tip up your pimp cup, and put the safety on your Glock. Here we go.

 

Forty-eight years ago this week, John F. Kennedy took the oath of presidential office, gripped the lectern atop the cold Capitol steps and spoke to the world for the first time as president. “We observe today not a victory of party,” he began, “but a celebration of freedom.”

 

From our origins, Kennedy knew, transferring power has usually been a bloody affair. Agamemnon gained his kingdom by murdering Aegisthus and Thyestes, who had earlier slain his father. The Qins, for whom China is named, came to power by conquering six kingdoms. As human government evolved through Kennedy’s time and our own, violent power struggles were normal in most of the world, depravity escalating with the amount of power at stake. The Caesars, the Khans, Cromwell, Hitler and Mao all came to power through bloodshed.

 

Now consider what will happen one week from today. Barack Obama will climb the same Capitol steps Kennedy ascended, place his hand on the word of God and promise to serve his people.

 

That’s it. Transfer of power complete.

 

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When the Constitution was ratified in June of 1788, Article II Section 1 contained 35 words to be administered as an oath of presidential office. With the oath, power would be officially vested in its taker. On April 30th the next year, George Washington stood on a second-floor balcony at Federal Hall on Wall Street and recited the oath for the first time. It was administered that day by the Empire State’s highest judge, Robert Livingston, because there were no Supreme Court justices yet.

 

There was no requirement for the oath to be taken on a book of any kind, but during the ceremony, Washington placed his hand on a Masonic Bible. After following Livingston through the text prescribed by the Constitution, he added, “So help me, God.” Each successive president has done both since.

 

The oath of office has not changed since the 18th Century. Jefferson was the first to take the oath in Washington, DC after it became the capital in 1801. For many years, the oath was administered in March, allowing electors to gather and vote before confirming the new chief executive. In 1933, the designated day was moved to January to speed the presidential transition.

 

Substantial pomp (which would be a great name for a rock band) usually surrounds the oath’s recital. Notable exceptions include April 1865 and November 1963. But when circumstances permit Inauguration Day is, as Kennedy described, a day to celebrate. There are prayers, music, poems, crowds, bunting, parades and dances.

 

Most importantly, if you’re in the right frame of mind at the right moment, you’ll notice that all the blood in your body rushes to the capillaries just under the surface of your skin. That’s patriot pride, dear reader, and even if such a sensation is uncouth to mention aloud, quietly recognizing its presence is key to understanding Inauguration Day.

 

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The Blog’s mom, known to many of you, has always celebrated Inauguration Day as a personal holiday no matter who was elected. Her eyes usually fill as the mantle of power is peacefully passed from one person to another, and it took the Blog several inaugurations to decipher why.

 

Here’s the answer: Inaugurations reaffirm our faith in humankind’s capacity for self-government. Though we are objects of wrath, within our mortal scaffold is a divine spark hot enough to forge order from chaos.

 

Inaugurations are miracles, dear reader. Prepare accordingly.

 

On Deck: Party Like it’s 2009

Tim Geithner has a tax problem. Roland Burris has an acceptance problem. Eric Holder has a confirmation problem. But for now, Barack Obama has no problems. Why? Because next week is Inauguration Week. All other stories will get shelved for feel-good reports on the new boss.

 

Speaking of which: gonna be in the District for the inaug? Hit the Blog up. But you’d probably better text, not call.

Clash Deposits

The Wrap: Changes in Latitudes

Today in Honolulu, it will be sunny and 79 degrees. Today in Washington, it will be sleeting and 35 degrees. The weather is but one reason President-Elect Obama would rather still be on vacation. There are others.

 

Yesterday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew from consideration for Secretary of Commerce. Withdrawals happen from time to time (already once at Commerce this cycle), usually because senate confirmation looks dicey. An ongoing federal investigation into whether Richardson diverted state contracts to contributors would almost certainly delay or defeat his nomination.

 

In Chicago, Gov. Blagojevich continues to do whatever makes least sense. Last Tuesday, he named Roland Burris to Obama’s senate seat. Basically, Burris has nothing to lose but reputation: he’s 71 years old and can’t seriously contend for elected office. But it’s not going well so far. This morning, the senate refused to seat him. The legal wrangling has already begun.

 

Other notes: Former Clinton COS Leon Panetta will lead CIA, and Admiral Dennis Blair will serve as DNI. Not to be left out, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine got a promotion, too. Pell Grant creator Senator Claiborne Pell died last week. Also, dunno how the Blog missed this story. Our sincere apologies.

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting…

 

Newsweek: “Writing the Rules for a New World” by Fareed Zakaria.

 

The New York Times: “Inauguration is Family Affair for Residents of the Capital” by Ian Urbina.

 

Bloomberg News: “Obama’s Pledges Freighted with Promise, Peril” by Al Hunt.

 

Real Clear Politics: “Teach Our Children Shared Sacrifice” by David Ignatius.

 

The Economist: “Gaza: The Rights and Wrongs.”

 

Feature: Clash Deposits

Samuel Huntington died this past Christmas Eve. In 1993, he wrote a now-famous article called “The Clash of Civilizations” at a time when Americans were eager to celebrate our Cold-War triumph and welcome a new age of global unity. Huntington bid us caution.

 

He claimed our newly interconnected world would make each civilization aware of how different it is from the others. The Islamic world, for example, would see Britney Spears videos and gag at how insipid and vulgar the West can be. We would examine Sharia’s attitude toward women and see how barbaric the Muslim world could be, and there would be conflict.

 

Parts of Huntington’s thesis are bunk. He claimed fighting within civilizations would cease, for example. Africa’s brutal civil wars and the Russian invasion of Georgia indicate otherwise. But Huntington perhaps came closest to predicting 9/11 and the wars which followed. He saw how the absence of a binary world conflict (democracy versus communism) would lead to chaos, not order. As the Holy Land embraces bedlam afresh, Huntington can help us understand why.

 

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The conflict between Israel and Palestine is the single greatest inhibitor of world peace. You may have noticed, dear reader, that darn near every time an American politician talks about that region they proclaim staunch support for Israel. You may have also noticed how popular that makes us in Muslim lands.

 

We’ll spare you the history lesson, but there are good reasons for our support. America believes in the rule of law, democracy, and freedom of religion. Israel does too, and it’s often the only state that does in a region teeming with bullies. Between liberty and autocracy, America supports liberty. It’s that simple.

 

Well, it’s almost that simple. From Israel’s birth, Tom Friedman summarized, Israel has wanted to be three things: 100 percent Jewish, 100 percent democratic, and sovereign over 100 percent of the territory of biblical Israel. But it can only be two of the three at once.

 

Further complicating matters is Israel’s suspicion they’re always under attack. It’s mostly valid. The group that controls Gaza, Hamas, is dedicated to driving the Israelis out of Palestine. Last week, when an Israel-Hamas ceasefire ended, Hamas immediately began firing rockets into Israeli towns. Israel reacted by trying to bomb Hamas into smithereens. That’s typical. The Middle East is like Al Capone’s Chicago: he pulls a knife, you pull a gun; he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. Each death escalates blood feuds which last for generations.

 

The United States is right to support Israel. But however justified, Israel desires the unattainable, suspects its neighbors, and participates in an ever-expanding cycle of violence.

 

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Israel is a fault line between Westerners and Muslims. Palestinian Muslims cannot avoid contact with Western culture and values, nor can Israelis dodge Islam. The ensuing conflict is not between governments, it’s between peoples.

 

It’s an archetypal clash of civilizations, and it has real consequences for us. Israeli violence against Muslims is the most-oft justification for anti-U.S. sentiment among Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hizbollah. They all use perceived Palestinian oppression as an excuse to attack Israelis and Americans.

 

But there is reason to be encouraged. Most mainline Israelis now believe a two-state solution is in their long-term interest. They are right. A Palestinian state would surely not end all grievances between Israelis and Muslims, but it would remove the largest excuse for violence.

 

Pres. Bush endorsed a two-state solution early in his first term, but afterward worked little toward that end. Obama has pledged to do more. His efforts may be frustrated too, but as The Economist claims, we have to keep trying anyway. The stakes are too high to stay idle.

 

On Deck: Here Comes the Neighborhood

The Obamas have moved to D.C. The girls are making Friends, the Michelle dress debate continues, and the city is getting a spit shine, right down to Metro fare cards.

 

News elsewhere is less exciting. The December jobs report is due out Friday. Wanna bet which way that one’ll go? And at what point can we safely say the sky is actually falling? Paul Krugman’s answer: yesterday.

 

We may soon have a winner in Minnesota’s senate race. Al Franken was declared the winner yesterday, but faces a near-certain recount challenge from incumbent Norm Coleman. But as the rest of the 111th Congress was sworn in yesterday, Minnesota was represented by just one senator. Expect this drama (and maybe the Illinois kerfuffle) to wrap up this week.