Netanyahu’s Long History of Being Wrong

JJ GoldbergJJ Goldberg provided a little history for us regarding the brilliant statesmanship of Netanyahu, How Bibi and Bush Made a Mess of the Middle East. At the time of 9/11, Ariel Sharon was prime minister of Israel. And when the Bush administration started talking war with Iraq, Sharon’s administration was shocked. They advised against it. They correctly predicted three things: it would cause sectarian warfare; it would keep the US stuck in the country for a decade; and it would empower Iran, which they rightly considered a far greater threat. But that wasn’t what the Bush administration wanted to hear.

But there was someone in Israel who was telling Bush what he wanted to hear: the once and future prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s kind of like the John McCain of Israel: there is no problem that cannot be solved with a war. He is a great example of how if you are powerful and — in this country anyway — conservative, being wrong never matters. He was shockingly wrong about the Iraq War. Here is video of him testifying before Congress about the “enormous positive reverberations on the region” that it would have. And maybe his idea of enormous positive reverberations is the rise of the Islamic States. But for most people, this has been a bad thing.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Netanyahu and all of the neocons are disinterested in the health and safety of the United States, Israel, and the world. They just want to go to war. They don’t believe in diplomacy. As Robert Parry noted recently, “The neocons are so confident in their skills at manipulating the U.S. decision-making process that some have gone so far as to suggest Americans should side with al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in Syria or the even more brutal Islamic State, because those groups love killing Shiites and thus are considered the most effective fighters against Iran’s allies.” There is no long-term thinking in any of this. We hate Iraq, destroy it. If that gives the Islamic State power, destroy it. It we decide that Iran is the real threat, back the Islamic State (we can destroy it later). The idea that Obama was playing 11-dimensional chess was always fatuous. But this “bomb Iran” crowd is playing one-dimensional chess.

Benjamin NetanyahuWhat’s really interesting about Goldberg’s narrative of the long process that led us to the current Iran nuclear deal is how the American and Israeli governments switched in 2009. The US went from only halfheartedly trying to make a deal with Iran to being very interested in it. Meanwhile, Israel went from the much more open-minded leadership of Ehud Olmert to that of Benjamin Netanyahu (so mean he once shot a man just for snoring). As Daniel Larison wrote recently, there is a generalized rejection among conservatives in the very idea of diplomacy.

Indeed, this is what Fred Kaplan concluded in an article at Slate, The Deal of a Lifetime. He was blunt, “Anyone who denounces this framework is not a serious person or is pursuing a parochial agenda.” But we knew this; after the framework came out and it looked better than we could have hoped, Netanyahu claimed that the deal must include Iran recognizing Israel’s right to exist. In other words, no deal would be good enough. If he got that totally irrelevant concession, he would then require that all Iran convert to Judaism — or something similarly silly and outrageous.

According to conservatives in the United States, we should listen to Netanyahu. But just like Netanyahu’s complains about the Iraq deal, our own conservatives only look to him because he is telling them what they want to hear. If he suddenly deciding that the deal was good for Israel, conservatives would abandon him with claims like, “I don’t see why we are looking to the leaders of other countries to decide what American foreign policy should be.” And if they did that, they’d be making the most sense they’ve made in a long time.

Perceptions of Republican Carping on Iran Deal

Daniel LarisonBy itself, opposition to the deal may not sway many voters one way or the other, but it will make it harder for these candidates to get a hearing beyond their usual hawkish audiences. If this were an isolated case of opposing one deal, that would be one thing, but for all intents and purposes the position that virtually the entire field has taken is the rejection of diplomatic engagement itself. These candidates have had to adopt increasingly hard-line positions on Iran to placate the party’s ideological enforcers on these issues, and because of that they appear to everyone else to be actively hostile to any and all diplomacy. Combined with the GOP field’s lack of foreign policy experience, that is very likely to be a drag on whoever emerges as the nominee. If the eventual nominee could point to a record of good foreign policy judgment in the past, that could make criticisms of the nuclear deal a bit more persuasive. When criticisms are made by candidates with little or no relevant experience, they are more likely to be received as carping from people that don’t know what they’re talking about. When it comes to Iran and the nuclear issue, that perception will be grounded in reality.

—Daniel Larison
The Politics of the Nuclear Deal

Police Lie Even When Cameras Aren’t Around

Walter ScottNorth Charleston, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager has been charged with the murder of Walter Scott. We’ll see if he gets convicted, and if so, of what charge. Obviously, this is a tragedy. Scott should be busy planning his wedding. And it certainly seems that Slager is guilty. So the criminal justice system works! Hooray! But I don’t see it that way.

Let’s start with the fact that somehow Slager thought that it was proper to shoot eight bullets at the back of Scott while he ran away. How is it that police officers — who we are told ad nauseam are such highly trained professionals — so often don’t seem to have a clue about the law? It seems that in our police departments, the philosophy is: the police are always right and any civilian who doesn’t do exactly what an officer wants deserves to die.

But what bothers me about this case is that if it weren’t for the video recording of the stop, there would be no story. It would just be yet another case when a police officer was fully justified in using deadly force against an unarmed civilian. It appears in America, the only way you have a chance at justice is if you have a gang of people following you around surreptitiously filming you.

The Daily Beast published an interesting article, Michael Slager’s Attorney Dumped Him As Soon As He Saw Video. The lawyer is cagey because he can’t break attorney-client privilege. But reading between the lines, it seems that what he’s saying is that Slager lied to him in a way that the video made very clear.

What I find most striking about the video is how unreal it seems. The officer shows no emotion. And then, after Scott is bleeding on the ground, there is no rush to get help. It seems like just another day — nothing to get especially excited about.

The mystery in the video is the way that Slager picks up something from the ground where he shot from and casually drops it next to Scott body. Speculation is that it had to do with the taser. Regardless, it would seem that Slager is tampering with the crime scene. And the other officer doesn’t say a thing. Again: just another day on the job.

According to Bustle, Slager had a pretty clean employment record. There was, however, one incident reported “in September 2013 by a man who alleged that Slager had ‘shot him with a taser for no reason.’ The matter was subsequently investigated internally, and Slager was exonerated of any wrongdoing.” Of course, that goes without saying; there was no video of the incident and in this country, we always assume that the police are honest — despite a mountain of evidence indicating that this isn’t true.

Here is a summary of the official story the police department told before the video surfaced:

A statement released by North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said a man ran on foot from the traffic stop and an officer deployed his department-issued taser in an attempt to stop him. That did not work, police said, and an altercation ensued as the men struggled over the device. Police allege that during the struggle the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer. The officer then resorted to his service weapon and shot him, police alleged.

This might all be technically true. Nowhere in it does it say that Slager had to resort to his service weapon. The video is consistent with Scott grabbing the taser. But very clearly, Scott is running away while Slager is drawing his gun. And slowly, he aims and kills Scott. There are two circumstances under with an officer can use deadly force. The first is when someone’s life is in danger. That’s clearly not the case here. The second is when the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect has “committed a serious violent felony.” That doesn’t seem to be the case either; though we can be certain that Slager will argue just that, “He grabbed my taser!” And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if a jury accepts that excuse.

The main thing is that this case is exceptional in that we have evidence that the officer and the department were at least being deceptive. The statement above was designed to give an incorrect impression about what had happened. But that is not exceptional. I’m sure that happens all the time. And I fear that after officers are all wearing body cameras, there will be lots of cases where the cameras don’t work or were accidentally turned off. We are a very long way from holding our police forces accountable.

Update (10 April 2015 10:07 pm)


Why People Say Obamacare Has Hurt Them

Andrew SprungAndrew Sprung wrote a really interesting article, Why Do More People Say the ACA Has Harmed Than Helped Them? In addition to all the polling data from people saying that they don’t like Obamacare, there are also people who claim that they have been directly hurt by the new healthcare law — more than say that they have been helped. And that is, well, not factually true. Sprung tried to get to the bottom of why that is.

How exactly can someone be hurt by Obamacare? It’s a curious question, because if lots of people were hurt by the law, the Republicans would be parading them everywhere. Yet polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation currently finds that 22% of Americans think the law has hurt them and only 19% think it has helped them.

To some extent, this is predictable. Insurance rates generally go up each year. With the very effective propaganda campaign of the conservative movement, many people simply think that any changes in their healthcare are the fault of Obamacare. It is hard for people to see the fact that their premiums are rising more slowly than before as something that is helping them. But there are good signs. Last May, 24% of the people thought the law had hurt them and only 14% thought it had helped them.

What really seems to be going on is that companies all over the nation are using Obamacare to scare employees and to justify things they are doing for other reasons. I discussed a particular instance of this back in January, Worker Delusions and Corporate Profits. A local FedEx driver was complaining that Obamacare had more than doubled his health insurance costs. But the truth was that FedEx was just using “Obamacare” as a way to cut “the company’s fastest-growing expenses.”

There is a lot of complaining about how individuals and voters just aren’t very rational. That’s often true. But I don’t see how we can complain when businesses show the same irrationality. More reasonable businesses have applauded Obamacare as a way to reduce their expenses. For example, Trader Joe’s put their part-time employees in the public exchanges and gave them $500 per year. That increased the amount of money that the employees had and decreased expenses for the company. A win-win for everyone.

The companies like FedEx are in the middle ground where they take advantage of Obamacare where they can directly, but mostly just use it as an excuse to change worker contracts that hurt workers and help the company. And then there are the truly delusional companies who are just certain that Obamacare is destroying their profits — often even before the law went into effect.

Of course, fundamentally, the “Obamacare hurt me” meme is based on people just not liking and understanding the law because of the “nonstop disinformation and smear campaign conducted by the GOP these past six years.” For example, 40% of Republicans claimed the law had hurt them. There’s no way the law can have that kind of a partisan effect. I wouldn’t doubt that we would see similar numbers if Republicans were asked, “Did Obamacare kill a baby you know?”

A number of healthcare observers have noted that Obamacare will never be popular because it was designed to be invisible. Most people who benefit from Obamacare (for example, by getting cheap insurance on the exchanges) don’t see it as getting Obamacare). But it does seem that over time, people will stop thinking about Obamacare at all. And that is the way the law works. I think after Obama is out of office, things should improve more rapidly. But meanwhile, people will continue to blame the law for everything they don’t like about our admittedly screwed up healthcare system.

Morning Music: The Stone Poneys

The Stone PoneysIn Will’s recent core dump of music recommendations came The Stone Poneys doing “Different Drum.” It’s a curious song. Musically, it is hard to make work, but The Stone Poneys do so. And Linda Ronstadt’s voice is, as always, beautiful. She would later do the song as a solo act.

The song was written by Michael Nesmith of The Monkeys fame. In fact, the song was apparently first performed on their television show. When I was a kid, I didn’t much like the show. But it might have been very good. Does anyone remember it fondly?

Regardless, here it is:

Anniversary Post: Prince Charles’ Wedding

Prince Charles and Camilla Parker BowlesToday in the tenth wedding anniversary of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. I think this is great because they have been in a love a long time and their love was denied BY the expectations of their situation. I have never been one of those fans of Princess Diana. Other than being something of a fashion icon, who cares? It’s sad she’s dead, but it is also sad that Charles was forced to marry her. And if you ask me, Diana acted rather gauche once the marriage went south. Of course, the reporting — at least here in America — always made her out to be long suffering and him as some kind of villain.

I have no use for the royal family. But they are the perfect modern celebrities. They are useless. And they are known for being known. I don’t know why Americans — just out of a sense of national pride — don’t hate the royal family. We did, after all, start a war just to get away from them. They represent everything that our country is supposed to be against. In their defense, at least the royal family is explicitly a blood line aristocracy. Here in the United States we still hold on to the myth of meritocracy, even while we deprive poor children of a decent education.

But I’m glad that Charles and Camilla got married and are now celebrating their tin anniversary. Even useless people have a right to good lives and for expressing their love to the people they actually love.

Happy anniversary Charles and Camilla!