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Hardliners And The Republican Caucus”: Why Israel’s Security Experts Support The Iran Deal — And Why Iran’s Hardliners Don’t

As congressional Republicans seek to undermine the nuclear agreement between Iran and the international powers, they assert that hardline Islamists in the Islamic Republic are delighted with the deal, while Israelis concerned over their country’s security are appalled. The same theme is now repeated constantly on Fox News Channel and throughout right-wing media.

But that message is largely false – and in very important respects, the opposite is true.

In arguing for the agreement at American University last Wednesday, President Obama noted that the most hostile factions in the Tehran regime aren’t celebrating this agreement – as the cover of the New York Post suggested. “In fact, it’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo,” he said. “It’s those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.”

Indeed, while vast throngs of Iranians greeted their government’s negotiators in a joyous welcome, the fanatical reactionaries in the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij movement – which have violently repressed democratic currents in Iran – could barely control their outrage. Upon reading the terms, a Basij spokesman said last month, “We quickly realized that what we feared…had become a reality. If Iran agrees with this, our nuclear industry will be handcuffed for many years to come.”

Hoping and perhaps praying for a veto by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, their Supreme Leader, the Basijis, the right-wing media in Teheran, and their regime sponsors pointed to “red lines” that the agreement allegedly crossed. “We will never accept it,” said Mohammed Ali Jafari, a high-ranking Revolutionary Guard commander.

Such shrill expressions of frustration should encourage everyone who understands the agreement’s real value. Iran’s “Death to America, Death to Israel” cohort hates this deal – not only because of its highly restrictive provisions, but because over the long term, it strengthens their democratic opponents and threatens their corrupt control of Iranian society.

In Israel, meanwhile, the alarmist criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – a sage whose confident predictions about Iran, Iraq, and almost everything else are reliably, totally wrong – has obscured support from actual military and intelligence leaders. Like experts in this country and around the world, the best-informed Israelis understand the deal’s imperfections very well — and support it nevertheless.

“There are no ideal agreements,” declared Ami Ayalon, a military veteran who headed the Israeli Navy and later oversaw the Jewish state’s security service, the Shin Bet. But as Ayalon explained to J.J. Goldberg of the Forward, this agreement is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives” — including the most likely alternative which is, as Obama explained, another extremely dangerous Mideast war.

Efraim Halevy, who formerly ran the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, and later headed its National Security Council, concurs with Ayalon (and Obama). Writing in Yedioth Aharonoth, the national daily published in Tel Aviv, Halevy points out a profound contradiction in Netanyahu’s blustering complaints. Having warned that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose a unique existential threat to Israel, how can Bibi logically reject the agreement that forestalls any bomb development for at least 15 years and increases the “breakout time” from one month to a year — even if Iran ultimately violates its commitments?

Such a deal is far preferable to no deal, the ex-Mossad chief insists, although it won’t necessarily dissuade Tehran from making trouble elsewhere. Halevy also emphasizes that no mythical “better” deal would ever win support from Russia and China, Iran’s main weapons suppliers, whose leaders have endorsed this agreement.

In short, both of these top former officials believe the agreement with Iran will enhance their nation’s security – and contrary to what Fox News Channel’s sages might claim, they represent mainstream opinion in Israel’s military and intelligence circles.

So perhaps we can safely discount the partisan demagogues and feckless opportunists who claim to be protecting the Jewish state from Barack Obama. And when someone like Mike Huckabee – who memorably escaped military service because of his “flat feet”denounces the president for “marching Israelis to the oven door,” let’s remember the sane and serious response of Israel’s most experienced defenders.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, August 6, 2015

August 7, 2015 Posted by | House Republican Caucus, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Israel | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“What Bernie Sanders’s Rise Means For American Politics”: Candidacy Will Leave Behind Policy Markers And Arguments About The Future

The exhaustive and exhausting analysis of the Fox News debate promises to produce days more of Trump-mania. It’s thus an excellent time to ponder the other big surprise of the 2016 campaign: the Democrats’ extended Weekend at Bernie’s.

No one is more amazed about the buoyancy of his presidential candidacy than Bernie Sanders himself, which only adds to its charm. The Vermont independent and proud democratic socialist got into the race mainly to remind the country what a progressive agenda actually looks like. You can’t keep calling President Obama a socialist once you are confronted with the real thing.

Then magic struck: Sanders started surging in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states that are demographically well set up for him and that also happen to hold next year’s first two contests. A poll this week from WMUR-TV in New Hampshire showed Sanders within 6 points of Hillary Clinton. The survey had a relatively small sample size and a rather large margin of error, but the trend it measured is consistent with other polls.

To paraphrase the late Robert Bork, the Sanders candidacy is a political analyst’s feast because it allows everyone to peddle his or her favorite preconceptions.

Conservatives point to his strength as proof positive of how left-wing the Democrats have become. Clinton’s critics cite his rise as a product of her weaknesses. Progressives argue that Bernie taps into a deep frustration with inequality and the power of big money in politics while also reflecting the public’s interest in bold proposals to correct both. And those who go for big sociological theories link Sanders and Trump as avatars of a populist rebellion rooted in widespread impatience with the system and traditional politicians.

Let’s begin with a caveat: Bernie is for real, and his authentic authenticity is enchanting. But it’s not clear how big his candidacy will get. He is drawing large and boisterous crowds, but he is still not close to threatening Clinton in the national polls, partly because he hasn’t broken through among African Americans and Latinos. They matter in the states that vote after Iowa and New Hampshire. This week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Clinton with a 59 percent to 25 percent lead over Sanders nationally. Clinton’s share was down 16 points from June while Sanders was up 10 points. But a 34-point lead is still a 34-point lead.

Is Sanders’s ascent about Clinton’s problems? The evidence is mixed. In the WMUR poll, 73 percent of New Hampshire Democrats had a favorable view of Clinton; Sanders’s favorability was at 69 percent. A fair share of Bernie’s people like Hillary, too.

But when asked about specific personal qualities, the poll’s respondents presented Clinton with a to-do list. Clinton was far ahead of Sanders as a strong leader, as having the best chance of winning in November and as having the right experience to be president. But Sanders led as the most likable and most progressive. And when asked who was the “least honest,” 31 percent picked Clinton; only 3 percent picked Sanders. Washington punditry exaggerates Clinton’s problems, but her campaign should not underestimate them.

The ideological claims are more complicated. It’s true that Democrats — and not only Democrats — are far more aggressive in their opposition to economic inequality than they were, say, in the 1990s. But that’s because the problems of inequality, blocked mobility and wage stagnation are now more severe. And anybody who doubts that the super rich have gained even more power in the political system isn’t following the super PAC news. Sanders is marshaling these discontents.

On the other hand, Democrats have not changed nearly as much ideologically as conservatives claim. In 2008, according to numbers the Pew Research Center ran at my request, 34 percent of Democrats called themselves liberal, 37 percent called themselves moderate, and 24 percent called themselves conservative. In 2015, 41 percent were liberal, 35 percent were moderate, and 21 percent were conservative. Is there an uptick in Democratic liberalism? Yes. Has the party shifted sharply leftward? No.

As for alienation from the system, Trump and Sanders do speak to a disaffection that currently roils most of the world’s democracies. But their way of doing it is so radically different — Sanders resolutely programmatic, Trump all about feelings, affect and showmanship — that they cannot easily be subsumed as part of the same phenomenon. Sanders’s candidacy will leave behind policy markers and arguments about the future. Trump’s legacy will be almost entirely about himself, which is probably fine with him.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 5, 2015

August 7, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Progressives | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“One Of The Starkest Ideological Divides Facing Voters”: GOP Candidates Range From Hopeless To Hapless On Climate Change

The vast majority of scientists who have devoted their professional lives to studying the Earth’s climate believe human-induced warming is an urgent problem requiring bold action. Republican candidates for president insist they know better.

With one possible exception — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who barely registers in the polls — GOP contenders either doubt the scientific consensus on climate change or oppose attempts to do anything about it. This promises to be one of the starkest ideological divides facing voters next year.

No pressure; it’s only the fate of the planet hanging in the balance.

Before President Obama could even announce his administration’s tough new curbs on carbon emissions from power plants, Republican hopefuls launched pre-emptive attacks. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who flat-out denies that climate change is taking place, accused scientists of “cooking the books” and Democrats of choosing “California environmentalist billionaires and their campaign donations” over “the jobs of union members.” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida charged that the new rules “will make the cost of electricity higher for millions of Americans.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called the regulations “unconstitutional” and claimed they would cost jobs.

These comments came at Sunday’s Freedom Partners forum, organized by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch to give GOP candidates a chance to strut their stuff. In that setting, I suppose, reality-based rhetoric would be too much to hope for.

For the record, let’s take a moment to deal with the above-quoted blather, which is typical of the lines of “argument” from the multitudinous GOP field.

To claim there is no atmospheric warming, Cruz cherry-picks one set of satellite measurement data — paying no attention to other data sets, which show continued warming — and chooses 1998 as a starting point. But that year was an obvious outlier; temperatures took a huge and anomalous leap, likely because of an unusually strong El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.

Any graph of yearly global temperatures forms a saw-tooth pattern, but the overall trend is unambiguously upward. Cruz and other climate-change deniers ignore the fact that nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century — the one exception being 1998. The deniers also pretend to be unaware that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by a stunning 40 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when humans began burning fossil fuels in large quantities. Unless Cruz has rewritten the fundamental rules of physics, such an increase has to cause warming.

Rubio claims the new carbon rules will be too expensive for consumers, but he seems not to know that utility companies are already moving away from coal, which releases more carbon dioxide than other fuels such as natural gas. The Obama administration has estimated that electricity prices might rise 4.9 percent by 2020 — a small price to pay given the stakes.

As for Bush’s claim that the regulations are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled last year that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions by power plants, factories and other polluting facilities. The 7-2 decision was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. Enough said.

The rest of the GOP field ranges from hopeless to hapless on the issue. Front-runner Donald Trump — I can’t believe I wrote those words, but that’s what he is — firmly belongs in the former camp. He has called global warming a “hoax” and once tweeted thatthe whole idea “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” Trump has also cited cold winter weather in the United States as “evidence.”

These Republicans seem to forget that the Earth is really, really big — so big that it can be cold in one place, such as Manhattan, and hot in other places. At the very same time.

Of the other candidates, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former New York Gov. George Pataki and businesswoman Carly Fiorina have all at times acknowledged the scientific consensus on climate change but hemmed and hawed about what, if any, action to take. Rick Santorum joins Trump and Cruz in full denial. The rest — Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Ben Carson and Jim Gilmore — either aren’t sure warming is taking place or don’t know if humans are causing it.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both promise even tougher action against climate change than Obama has taken. This is a very big reason why elections matter.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 3, 2015

August 7, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Global Warming, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Emerging From The Ferment”: The Real Irony Of Scott Walker’s Messy Personal Finances

The finances of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker got a rather stern once-over from National Journal on Monday.

“Walker has two credit-card debts of more than $10,000 apiece on separate cards and is paying an eye-popping 27.24 percent interest rate on one of them,” the Journal harrumphed, before quickly lasering in on the irony. “The Republican presidential candidate has cast himself as both a fiscal conservative leader and a penny-pinching everyman on the campaign trail, often touting his love of Kohl’s, the discount department store.”

Walker isn’t the first Republican presidential hopeful to get this treatment either. Back in June, The New York Times took Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to task for a “strikingly low savings rate” and some household purchases of questionable wisdom.

This is a deeply silly genre of journalism. It treats troubles the vast majority of Americans grapple with as vaguely scandalous. And it implicitly assumes the same rules of thumb that should guide household budgets should also guide the federal budget, which is catastrophically wrong.

More to the point, other details in the Journal piece offer a brief look at a presidential candidate of relatively modest means.

“Walker listed only six investments worth between $1,000 and $15,000, a whole life insurance plan worth between $15,000 and $50,000, and a deferred compensation plan from Milwaukee County worth between $15,000 and $50,000,” the Journal continued. Walker received a $45,000 advance for a book in the last year, and it looks like his annual salary since assuming the governorship in 2011 has been around $140,000. That’s certainly a lot of income compared to most Americans — it puts Walker just below the threshold for the top 10 percent — but it’s obviously nothing compared to the fortunes Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton have amassed.

This gets at something poignant about Walker the politician, and by extension Walker the man. While most all presidential candidates and politicians have a significant amount of socioeconomic distance from the median American, Walker has less than most. Besides his income and wealth, Walker came from modest beginnings as a preacher’s kid in a small Wisconsin manufacturing town. He attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, but didn’t finish his degree — passing on one of the key status symbols that American elites use to separate themselves from the pack.

And yet few Republicans, and certainly no other Republican presidential candidate, has been so ferociously focused on grinding everyday workers into the ground.

Like any good conservative, Walker pushed massive tax cuts for the well-to-do through Wisconsin’s state budget, creating a hole he’s now trying to fill by slicing education spending. But he also drove a blistering and brutally successful push to crush Wisconsin’s public-sector unions, followed by “right to work” laws that will likely cripple the state’s private unions as well.

Nor does it look like Walker did this because Republican and business interests were demanding it — he did it because he wanted to, as a matter of ideology.

An explanation probably lies in the unique and poisonous way the history of race and class intersected in the Milwaukee political milieu Walker came from. In the early 20th century, large numbers of black Americans migrated from the South to northern urban centers. But no sooner had they put down roots than the mid-century collapse of manufacturing arrived, sucking away jobs and bringing poverty to the cities.

Black Americans had never been permitted to build up the wealth that white Americans had: Along with the aftereffects of slavery and the social consequences of segregation, they were initially excluded from policies like Social Security and the G.I. Bill, which helped build the white middle class. And racist policies like redlining and the construction of the highway system destroyed many of their neighborhoods and prevented them from accessing areas of economic vibrancy.

So when the white middle class fled to the suburbs, the poorer black populations could not follow. That set up Reaganite white suburbs, which surrounded and disdained the urban interiors of impoverished African-Americans, and all the vicious politics that followed. The funny thing, as Alec MacGillis laid out in a 2014 profile of Walker, was that this process came a few decades late to Milwaukee. The future governor cut his political teeth as a member of Milwaukee’s fleeing white upper-middle class, just as this conflict was reaching its apex.

So it should come as no surprise that those public-sector jobs Walker helped crush have also been one of the great economic havens where black Americans can actually earn a decent living.

For decades, American macroeconomic policy has done a terrible job providing enough work to keep everyone employed. That’s introduced a bottom-up desperation that’s trickled higher and higher over the years. On top of that, while America has a hidden welfare state for the rich and the upper-middle class, its explicit social safety net is skimpy and targeted at the poorest Americans. This creates a perverse circumstance in which many Americans in the middle of the pack feel left behind, while they see people with different skin colors and alien cultural habits — habits often shaped by poverty — receiving aid (however grossly inadequate).

More and more, American society is becoming a brute contest, in which the groups of varying power must trample one another for the scraps that fall from the elite table. This sort of divide-and-conquer effect, in populations that should be uniting over common interests and common foes, has a long history in U.S. labor struggles.

When people find themselves outside the elite inner circle, and see themselves as in a zero-sum economic game with impoverished subcultures that look and act different from them, the likes of Scott Walker is often what emerges from the ferment.

 

By: Jeff Spross, The Week, August 5, 2015

August 7, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primaries, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Maine Court Smacks Down GOP Governor”: Caught Abusing His Power, Gov. Paul LePage Is In A World Of Trouble

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is in a world of trouble, which may even lead to his impeachment, after the far-right governor was caught abusing his power to punish the Democratic state House Speaker. An official investigation and civil suit are already underway.

And then there’s his other problem, which in policy terms, is just as serious. The Portland Press Herald reported this afternoon:

Maine’s top court has ruled unanimously against Gov. Paul LePage in his dispute with the Legislature over whether he has more time to veto 65 bills already processed into law, delivering a significant blow to a governor already engulfed in withering criticism and scrutiny seven months into his second term.

The court’s advisory opinion ruled that the governor misread the Maine Constitution when he failed to veto 65 bills within the 10-day period prescribed by law. LePage’s legal team argued that the Legislature prevented the governor from returning the vetoes because lawmakers had temporarily adjourned. However, the ruling by six of the seven justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected that reasoning. The seventh justice recused himself and did not participate in the proceedings.

The entirety of the unanimous, 55-page ruling is online here (pdf).

It’s hard to overstate what a disaster this is for Maine’s Tea Party governor.

To recap our previous coverage, the procedural aspect of this gets a little complicated, but in practical terms, LePage thought was giving a “pocket veto” to dozens of bills, letting them expire without his signature.

But that only works when the state legislature is adjourned and no longer in session. When the governor tried this little gambit, Maine’s legislative session was still ongoing.

And when the legislature is still in session, a bill becomes law automatically after 10 days if a governor doesn’t sign or veto it.

In other words, LePage, in his fifth year as governor, thought he was derailing dozens of pieces of legislation, some of which he strongly opposes, but he was apparently allowing them to become law – by accident.

Lawmakers and the state attorney general said those laws had become, well, law, but the GOP governor balked. Now, the state Supreme Court has ruled against LePage, too.

The governor has suggested in recent weeks that he’ll refuse to enforce the state laws he considers illegitimate, though that was before today’s state court ruling. If LePage’s posture doesn’t change, it would seem state lawmakers would have additional grounds for his impeachment.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 6, 2015

August 7, 2015 Posted by | Maine, Maine Legislature, Paul LePage | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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