"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Netanyahu’s Missed Opportunity”: And If Bibi Is Correct, The Real Solution Is … What Exactly?

All eyes were on Capitol Hill this morning, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress, hoping to undermine nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Everyone involved in the debate, regardless of their position, had a pretty good idea as to what the Israeli leader was going to say, and he met expectations.

A senior administration official told Jake Tapper there was “literally not one new idea” in Netanyahu’s speech, and “not one single concrete alternative” to the ongoing P5+1 talks. The official added that the prime minister’s speech was “all rhetoric, no action.”

The complaints have the benefit of being true.

Putting aside the fear-mongering and the Cheney-esque rhetoric, what Netanyahu’s remarks boiled down to was a straightforward message: Iran is bad and the deal that’s coming together with Iran won’t work. What Netanyahu’s speech was supposed to do was offer policymakers and critics of the talks a viable alternative solution, and on this front, the prime minister blew it. As Jon Chait noted:

Netanyahu’s panicked plea for what he called  ”the survival of our country” is hardly a figment of his imagination. His recitation of the evils of Iran’s regime was largely correct. He might conceivably be correct that the Obama administration could have secured a stronger deal with Iran than the one it is negotiating, though that conclusion is hard to vouchsafe without detailed knowledge of the negotiations. […]

But Netanyahu did not make even the barest case for a better alternative.

It’s a familiar problem for President Obama’s critics: there’s an obvious problem in need of a solution; there’s a proposal preferred by the White House; and there are Obama’s critics, insisting they hate the president’s solution without offering a credible alternative of their own.

It’s not that Netanyahu critique is necessarily unpersuasive. Iran does not have a trustworthy track record, and no one in the Western world thinks it’d be a positive development for Tehran to have nuclear weapons. In fact, Obama has already said all of this; it’s an accepted consensus.

But it’s the case the Israeli leader builds on this foundation that’s problematic.  For Netanyahu, no deal with Iran will work. No system of inspections will work. No verification process will work. No promises from Iran can be trusted.

And if Netanyahu is correct, the real solution is … what exactly? The prime minister had the platform to present a more effective vision, but he chose not to present one.

Perhaps the message was implicit and unstated. Maybe the audience was supposed to simply understand that Netanyahu prefers a military solution, disrupting an Iranian nuclear program through airstrikes. But (a) if that is the prime minister’s solution he should say so; and (b) there’s no reason to assume that a military campaign against a possible Iranian threat will permanently derail the country’s nuclear ambitions. On the contrary, it might even do the opposite.

“The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal,” he told American lawmakers today. In theory, that sounds great – better deals are always, by definition, superior to bad deals. But where is this elusive better deal? What are its details? How would it receive international support? How would it be implemented?

Netanyahu didn’t, and wouldn’t, say. What a missed opportunity.

Postscript: At one point, the prime minister said, “I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past.” This isn’t what Netanyahu meant, one of the mistakes of our recent past was listening to him when he said invading Iraq was a great idea. If we’re going to avoid repeating mistakes, maybe we can start here.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 4, 2015

March 4, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Israel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This SCOTUS Destroyed America”: How Citizens United Is Ruining More Than Our Elections

In the years since conservative Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s landmark Citizens United v. FEC decision gave wealthy interests the political power they’d apparently lacked, the media has mostly been interested in how the ruling was affecting elections. On the presidential level, the consensus, at least among political scientists, is that the impact has been marginal. But in less rarefied air, like the grubby environs of Congressional campaigns or the sometimes sordid realm of state and municipal politics, the consequences of the ruling have been substantial. It is quite likely that dozens of state governments in the U.S. will reflect Kennedy’s vision — as well as that of the Koch brothers — for decades to come.

What has gone less-examined, however, is the role that dark money — which is spending by groups that are supposedly devoted to “social welfare,” and that consequently don’t have to reveal their donors — has played since 2010 in the crafting of legislation. This is somewhat odd, in retrospect, since the ostensible point of winning an election, after all, is to legislate. But perhaps the political and media class’s lack of attention to the new reality of sausage-making can be attributed to a campaign-finance version of climate change fatalism. One can gaze up at only so many seemingly insurmountable obstacles before wondering if one’s time would be better spent coming to terms with giving up.

And make no mistake: The reality of lawmaking in post-Citizens United Washington is enough to make even the most stalwart campaign finance reformers wonder if their advocacy and organizing is little more than professionalized windmill tilting. As the Huffington Post showed this week in a lengthy, impressive and profoundly dispiriting report, the walls separating the interests of the wealthy from the legislative process that a century of reformers fought to build have been leveled. They were never as lofty or sturdy as reformers would have wished, of course. But they now exist as little more than rubble and dust.

One of the things the report from HuffPo’s Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim makes clear is the way Citizens United’s pernicious effect on lawmaking is at once deliberately opaque and ploddingly simple. To take one of the many examples of now-kosher corruption they detail as a case in point, look at the story of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) and the 2014 election. Blumenthal and Grim note that PCI is lucky enough to have two former aides to Speaker of the House John Boehner on its lobbying team. Even better for PCI, the trade group had the foresight to donate significant chunks of money as of late to pro-Republican outside groups: $185,000 since 2012, they report.

But they weren’t done there. In addition to all of those obviously stringless donations to arms of the GOP machine, PCI also decided to give $75,000 to Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-affiliated “social welfare” nonprofit, and $25,000 to the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a “non-partisan” nonprofit. Both organizations, according to HuffPo, are run by Steven Law, who just so happens to be a member of now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “inner circle.” Incidentally, both groups also happened to spend large amounts of money to support McConnell in his 2014 campaign against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. Outside groups spent $1.3 million in support of Grimes and $16.4 million in opposition, while McConnell got $5.7 million outsider bucks in his favor and $10.5 million going the other way.

For PCI, the pro-McConnell donations ended up being money well spent. McConnell obliterated Grimes after a campaign that had been, for the most part, surprisingly competitive. And because GOP Senate candidates in Iowa and Georgia, who also were supported by outside groups using PCI money, defeated their Democratic opponents, too, McConnell became the new majority leader of the Senate. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the first things the McConnell-run Senate did with the reins of power was to pass a provision rolling back capital standards on insurance companies that were implemented by Dodd-Frank. Believe it or not, this was an act of deregulation that PCI strongly supported.

Now, is this all proof that McConnell engaged in a quid pro quo with PCI and other members of the insurance industry? That the current Senate majority leader told the folks at PCI to make a gesture or two (or three, or 4,000) to show how much they care about supporting a “coalition” to enhance Kentucky’s “opportunity”? No, it’s not. It may be suggestive — and to the jaundiced eye, extremely so — but it’s hardly irrefutable evidence. As defenders of these types of arrangements are quick to note, it’s eminently possible that removing obscure provisions of Dodd-Frank just happens to be an issue on which the Kentucky senator and big insurance fortuitously agree.

But what’s lost in all the fuzziness, which Blumenthal and Grim deftly filter out, is that the world Justice Kennedy’s decision created was, by his own admission, supposed to be one in which even the appearance of corruption was negated. Democracy would suffer no harm, Kennedy assured us, by letting “independent” groups like Crossroads GPS or the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition spend at will with precious little regulation. “[I]ndependent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption,” Kennedy writes in the majority opinion for Citizens United. “That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt,” he assures. “And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.”

At the time that the ruling was delivered, Kennedy’s faith that access and influence would not corrupt the system was exceeded in curiousness only by his belief that the American people would feel similarly. But as the years have passed, and as studies showing the U.S. to be a donor-run system akin to oligarchy have gone mainstream, his declaration has begun to make a bit more sense. Just so long as “the electorate” is defined as the lobbying industry and its clients, his prediction looks downright clairvoyant. I bet the fine people at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America — who are probably investing right now in the Jeb Bush-affiliated Right to Rise “social welfare” group — would strongly agree.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, February 28, 2015

March 4, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Netanyahu’s ‘Mr. Security’ Mirage”: If Anything, He Has Done Far More To Damage Israel’s Security Than Strengthen It

Ahead of Israel’s March 17 election, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in Washington on a mission to undermine President Obama’s Iran policy. This, his latest and greatest diplomatic affront, has starkly revealed the degree to which many here have tired of his shtick.

But what may come as a surprise is that Israelis are sick of Bibi too.

Of course, not all feel indigestion at the thought of Netanyahu being reelected next month. But polls show his favorability rating at an all-time low. Meanwhile, the cost of living for the average Israeli has become extraordinarily high — 40 percent of Israelis are unable to make ends meet — and a majority claim socio-economic and social justice issues as their top priority in this election. A majority also say that Netanyahu’s main rival, Labor’s Yitzhak Herzog, is most fit to handle this issue.

Yet, Netanyahu continues to run neck-and-neck with Herzog and his center-left “Zionist Union” alliance. The reason for this is revealed in the same polls that show voters’ distaste for Netanyahu’s handling of the economy: they still trust him most when it comes to security. With his “It’s either me or ISIS” campaign line, Netanyahu has shown that he will stop at nothing to define the election in alarmist terms. Indeed, Israelis have always voted according to this most existential of issues. Assuming they do again, it seems likely that Netanyahu will be Prime Minister for the fourth time.

But the case to be made for Netanyahu as “Mr. Security” is flimsy at best — an assessment consistently put forth by former heads of Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence services. If anything, he has done far more to damage Israel’s security than strengthen it.

Netanyahu’s ongoing Congressional speech fiasco is only the most recent example, whereby he has weakened Israeli security on multiple fronts. In choosing to publicly challenge President Obama on his home turf, the Prime Minister has further eroded their personal relationship — a feat that seemed nearly impossible. Polls show that over two-thirds of Americans oppose the speech.

Because of Obama’s unpopularity in Israel, Netanyahu’s perceived “toughness” in standing up to the President may provide short-term political gains at home. But Netanyahu is harming bipartisan support for Israel and alienating young Americans in particular — an ever-more dangerous prospect for Israel’s future.

Even worse for Israel’s security is what Netanyahu seeks to accomplish: undermining any nuclear deal with Iran that could possibly be achieved. The likely result of his success would be a war devastating for Israel, the U.S., and the region — and one that would not prevent Tehran from ultimately getting the bomb. Iran has the technical know-how to build a nuclear weapon, yet it has so far chosen not to. An attack by the U.S. or Israel would likely convince Iranians that possession of nuclear weapons is in their best interest.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s record on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a similar disaster for Israel’s security. The ongoing occupation of the West Bank (alongside continued expansion of settlements) and Gaza is far from the only reason for the Palestinian terrorism Israel faces, but it is nonetheless a fundamental factor. Netanyahu has not offered a single initiative to end the conflict. To those proposed by others, such as the Arab Peace Initiative offering Israel full diplomatic relations with most of the Arab and Muslim world, he has never even offered a response.

Instead, Netanyahu now states that Israeli control of the West Bank must continue forever, and his government has made clear that it has no strategic vision beyond management of the status quo.

But Netanyahu has failed to even manage the status quo effectively. He has no strategy for dealing with Hamas — negotiating with them to release hundreds of prisoners one day and fighting a new war against them the next. Before last summer’s conflict, he failed to deal with the vast system of Hamas tunnels, which led to the avoidable deaths of Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers. Further loss of Israeli life was largely prevented by the Iron Dome missile defense system – funded by the same administration Netanyahu continually thumbs his nose at. And his decision to massively bombard civilian areas in Gaza and its horrific consequences hurt Israel’s image abroad and provoked strong criticism from the White House and State Department.

Ultimately, nothing was gained from the war besides a temporary weakening of Hamas, who Israeli military intelligence says is “ready to go [to war] today”. In the meantime, Gaza has sunk further into misery and extremism.

That’s not all. In the immediate wake of the war in Gaza, Netanyahu’s security failures were again on full display in Jerusalem. He declined to prevent right-wing MKs from making provocative visits to the Temple Mount, leading Jordan — one of only two Arab countries with which Israel has a peace treaty — to withdraw its ambassador. Meanwhile, he allowed Israeli settlers to carry out midnight takeovers of houses in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, another action that helped fuel months of Palestinian rioting and “lone-wolf” terrorism. Netanyahu has blamed the latter actions on alleged incitement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but most Israelis think Netanyahu has done nothing to curb incitement from his own side.

In reality, the only thing Netanyahu has managed to secure is his own political survival. Though his resume is a desert littered with failure, he has managed to create a “Mr. Security” mirage. In a matter of weeks, we will find out if the Israeli public has finally seen through it.


By: Aaron Mann, Outreach and Research Consultant at Americans for Peace Now; The Blog, The Huffington Post, March 2, 2015

March 4, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Israel, Palestine | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Liberia Says ‘Thank You'”: If Anyone Is Looking For A Reason To Be Proud Of Our Country And This President, There You Have It!

Being a consumer of American media can sometimes be compared to reading a gripping mystery/adventure novel and just when you get to the height of the suspense, someone takes the book away and hands you a new one to start reading. No one ever writes the last chapter.

It’s like we get to the part where the villain has his hostage tied to the tracks and the train is approaching. Then we cut away to the next story. That is why too many Americans think the world is going to hell in a hand basket (see CPAC).

Now…I know that very few real life stories come to a clear THE END. But occasionally we get an approximation of something like that. Today I’d like to write about one of those.

This week Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressed her country’s gratitude for the role the United States played in combating Ebola.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid emotional tribute to the American people on Thursday as the United States formally wound up its successful five-month mission to combat the west African nation’s Ebola outbreak.

With Liberia now in recovery from the worst outbreak of the deadly virus in history, the visiting Sirleaf thanked the United States for coming to the region’s aid in its hour of need.

“America responded, you did not run from Liberia,” Sirleaf told US lawmakers in Washington, expressing the “profound gratitude” of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

The American public has moved on from the hysteria created by the Ebola epidemic only a few months ago. So this kind of news won’t get much attention. But if anyone is looking for a reason to be proud of our country and this President, there you have it!


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 28, 2015

March 4, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Communicable Diseases, Ebola | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Polls Show Most Americans Favor Pathway To Citizenship”: GOP Continues To Be Held Hostage By Aging, Nativist Tea Partiers

With all the high drama in Washington over immigration, you’d think the fate of undocumented workers represented a cataclysmic political divide — an ever-widening chasm that cannot be bridged. But it doesn’t.

Polls have long shown that a majority of Americans favor a pathway to citizenship for those residents who entered the country illegally. But new data show that isn’t a matter of blue states overwhelming red ones. In fact, there isn’t a state in the union, from the bluest to the reddest, where a majority opposes a path to citizenship, provided certain criteria are met, for those without papers, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

The PRRI has used its data to create an American Values Atlas that shows the political inclinations of voters in each state. Unsurprisingly, some states are more immigrant friendly than others. In California, for example, 66 percent support a path to citizenship for the undocumented. In crimson-red Alabama, that drops to 56 percent. But that’s still a majority.

Yet, that very pathway is the mechanism that congressional Republicans have denounced as “amnesty” and refused to support. House Speaker John Boehner’s caucus has declined even to hold a vote on a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform.

Last fall, when President Obama took action through executive orders to grant temporary papers to as many as 4 million immigrants who met certain criteria, Republicans were apoplectic, claiming he was violating the Constitution and behaving like a despot. They have used every instrument at their disposal, from lawsuits to a pitched battle over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, to overturn the president’s orders.

Yet even the president’s executive action on immigration is not as unpopular as you might think. While his decision to use executive powers does not draw universal support, the aim of his action does. Three-quarters of Americans favor his policy of granting temporary documents to certain groups of immigrants. Said Robert Jones, CEO of the institute, “In today’s polarized politics, there are few major issues that attract this kind of bipartisan and cross-religious agreement.”

It makes you wonder: Who are those congressional Republicans listening to? Why are they opposing a policy with widespread support, even among GOP voters? (While more Democrats — 70 percent, according to the PRRI — support a path to citizenship, 51 percent of Republicans do, as well.)

The answer is depressing, if not surprising: The Republican Party continues to be held hostage by an aging and nativist minority of Tea Partiers who cannot stomach the idea of a browning America. (It isn’t considered polite to point this out, but more Tea Partiers hold views that show racial resentment than the public at large. As just one example, a 2010 New York Times poll showed Tea Partiers are “more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.”)

Among those who identify with the Tea Party, only 37 percent support a pathway to citizenship, according to the PRRI poll. Twenty-three percent would give them legal residency, while 37 percent want to deport each and every one of them, the poll said. (Never mind the logistical and financial nightmare that trying to round up every undocumented resident would represent.)

This is a huge problem for the GOP, as its strategists have pointed out for years. The party cannot afford to alienate Latinos, a growing bloc, as they have alienated black voters with their resistance to civil rights measures.

So rather than pander to an ultraconservative and xenophobic minority, the Republican Party’s leaders ought to educate them about the need for comprehensive immigration reform. As a practical matter, demographic change is already preordained: By the year 2042, according to the U.S. Census, whites will no longer constitute a majority, no matter what happens to undocumented immigrants. The GOP needs the allegiance of more voters of color if it is to regain the Oval Office.

But there is more at stake here than the survival of a political party. The nation also needs those immigrants; it needs their energy, their youth, their hopes and dreams. We ought to welcome them with open arms.


By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, March 2, 2015

March 4, 2015 Posted by | Immigration Reform, Nativism, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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