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The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST
Netanyahu’s Iran Thing
MARCH 6, 2015
Let’s begin with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Iran logic. He portrays a rampaging Islamic Republic that “now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana,” a nation “gobbling” other countries on a “march of conquest, subjugation and terror.” Then, in the same speech, he describes Iran as “a very vulnerable regime” on the brink of folding.
Well, which is it?
The Israeli prime minister dismisses a possible nuclear accord, its details still unclear, as “a very bad deal” that “paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” He says just maintain the pressure and, as if by magic, “a much better deal” will materialize (thereby showing immense condescension toward the ministers of the six major powers who have been working on a doable deal that ring-fences Iran’s nuclear capacity so that it is compatible only with civilian use). Yet Netanyahu knows the first thing that will happen if talks collapse is that Russia and China will undermine the solidarity behind effective Iran sanctions.
So, where is the leverage to secure that “much better deal”?
Netanyahu lambastes the notion of a nuclear deal lasting 10 years (President Obama has suggested this is a minimum). He portrays that decade as a period in which, inevitably, Iran’s “voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year.” He thereby dismisses the more plausible notion that greater economic contact with the world and the gradual emergence of a young generation of Iranians drawn to the West — as well as the inevitable dimming of the ardor of Iran’s revolution — will attenuate such aggression.
With similar sleight of hand, he dances over the fact that military action — the solution implicit in Netanyahu’s demands for Iranian nuclear capitulation — would likely set back the Iranian program by a couple of years at most, while guaranteeing that Iran races for a bomb in the aftermath.
What better assures Israel’s security, a decade of strict limitation and inspection of Iran’s nuclear program that prevents it making a bomb, or a war that delays the program a couple of years, locks in the most radical factions in Tehran, and intensifies Middle Eastern violence? It’s a no-brainer.
No wonder Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party’s House Leader, saw Netanyahu’s speech to Congress as an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.” Netanyahu’s “profound obligation” to speak of the Iranian threat to the Jewish people proved to be a glib opportunity for fear-mongering and evasion above all.
Netanyahu’s credibility is low. In 1993, in an Op-Ed article in The Times headlined “Peace in Our Time?” he compared the late Yitzhak Rabin to Chamberlain for the Oslo Accords. Rabin’s widow never forgave him. For more than a decade now, he has said Iran was on the brink of a bomb and threatened Israeli military action — and hoped his hyperbole would be forgotten. He called the 2013 interim agreement with Iran a “historic mistake”; the accord has proved a historic achievement that reversed Iran’s nuclear momentum.
Invoking Munich and appeasement is, it seems, Netanyahu’s flip reaction to any attempt at Middle Eastern diplomacy. Here, once again, before the Congress, was the by-now familiar analogy drawn between Iran and the Nazis. Its implication, of course, is that Obama, like the great Rabin, is some latter-day Chamberlain.
The kindest thing that can be said of Netanyahu’s attempt to equate Iran with the medieval barbarians of Islamic State, and to dismiss the fact that Iranian help today furthers America’s strategic priority of defeating those knife-wielding slayers, is that it was an implausible stretch. Of course Netanyahu mentioned the Persian viceroy Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jews, but not Cyrus of Persia, who ended the Babylonian exile of the Jews. The prime minister’s obsessive Iran demonization runs on selective history.
The Islamic Republic is repressive. It is hostile to Israel, underwrites Hezbollah and has sponsored terrorism. Its human rights record is abject. The regime is wedded to anti-Americanism (unlike the 80 million people of Iran, many of whom are drawn to America). But the most important diplomacy is conducted with enemies. Given Iran’s mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle, there is no better outcome for Israel and the world than the successful conclusion of the tough deal sought by Obama; one involving the intensive verification over an extended period of a much-reduced enrichment program that assures that Iran is kept at least one year away from any potential “breakout” to bomb manufacture.
One word did not appear in Netanyahu’s speech: Palestine. The statelessness of the Palestinians is the real long-term threat to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Iran has often been a cleverly manipulated distraction from this fact.
Among foreign leaders, nobody has been invited to address Congress more often than Netanyahu. He now stands equal at the top of the table along with Winston Churchill. Behind Netanyahu trail Nelson Mandela and Yitzhak Rabin. That’s a pretty devastating commentary on the state of contemporary American political culture and the very notion of leadership.
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It started with a wine cooler, said Paige Cederna, describing that first sweet, easy-to-down drink she experienced as a “magic elixir.”
“I had no inhibitions with alcohol,” said Ms. Cederna, 24. “I could talk to guys and not worry about anyone judging me. I remember being really proud the day I learned to chug a beer. I couldn’t get that feeling fast enough.” But before long, to get over “that feeling,” she was taking Adderall to get through the days.
But it was now more than three years since she drank her last drop of alcohol and used a drug for nonmedical reasons. Her “sober date,” she told the group, many nodding their heads encouragingly, was July 8, 2011.
Ms. Cederna’s story of addiction and recovery, told in a clear, strong voice, was not being shared at a 12-step meeting or in a treatment center. Instead, it was presented on a cool autumn day, in a classroom on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, to a group of 30 undergraduate students in their teens and early 20s.
On the panel with Ms. Cederna were two other Michigan graduate students. Hannah Miller, 27, declared her “sober date” as Oct. 5, 2010, while Ariel Britt, 29, announced hers as Nov. 6, 2011. Like Ms. Cederna’s, Ms. Britt’s problems with drugs and alcohol started in her freshman year at Michigan, while Ms. Miller’s began in high school. All three are participants in a university initiative, now two years old, called the Collegiate Recovery Program.
Staying sober in college is no easy feat. “Pregaming,” as it is called on campus (drinking before social or sporting events), is rampant, and at Michigan it can start as early as 8 a.m. on a football Saturday. The parties take place on the porches and lawns of fraternities, the roofs and balconies of student houses, and clandestinely in dormitories — everywhere but inside the academic buildings.
For this reason — because the culture of college and drinking are so synonymous — in September 2012 the University of Michigan joined what are now 135 Collegiate Recovery communities on campuses all over the country. While they vary in size from small student-run organizations to large embedded university programs, the aim is the same: to help students stay sober while also thriving in college.
“It shouldn’t be that a young person has to choose to either be sober or go to college,” said Mary Jo Desprez, who started Michigan’s Collegiate Recovery Program as the director of Michigan’s Wolverine Wellness department. “These kids, who have the courage to see their problem early on, have the right to an education, too, but need support,” she said, calling it a “social justice, diversity issue.” Matthew Statman, the full-time clinical social worker who has run Michigan’s program since it began in 2012, added, “We want them to feel proud, not embarrassed, by their recovery.”
At the panel presentation, Ms. Britt, who temporarily dropped out of Michigan as an undergraduate, shared with the students her anxiety when she finally sobered up and decided to return to campus. “I had so many memories of throwing up in bushes here,” she said. “I wanted to have fun, but I also had no idea how to perform without partying.”
Ms. Cederna also remembers what it felt like to return to Michigan sober her senior year. Not only did she lose most of her friends (“Everyone I knew on campus drank,” she said), but she also dropped out of her sorority (“I was only in it to drink,” she said). “I ended up alone in the library a lot watching Netflix,” she said. Molly Payton, 24 (now a senior who once fell off an eight-foot ledge, drunk and high at a party), said, “I read all the Harry Potter books alone in my room my first months clean.”
Everything changed, however, when these students learned there were other students facing the same issues. Ms. Cederna first found Students for Recovery, a small student-run organization that, until the Collegiate Recovery Program began, was the only available support group on Michigan’s campus besides local 12-step meetings, most of which tend toward an older demographic.
“Through S.F.R., I ended up having five new friends,” she said of the organization, which still exists but is now run by the 25 to 30 Collegiate Recovery Program students; both groups meet every other week in the health center. The main difference between the two is that students in the Collegiate Recovery Program have to already be sober and sign a “commitment contract” that they will stay clean throughout college through a well-outlined plan of structure. Students for Recovery is aimed at those who are still seeking recovery, may be further into their recovery or want to support others in recovery.
When a young student incredulously asked the panel, “How do you possibly socialize in college without alcohol?” Ms. Britt, Collegiate Recovery Program’s social chairwoman, rattled off a list of its activities — sober tailgates, a pumpkin-carving night, volleyball games, dance parties, study groups, community service projects and even a film screening of “The Anonymous People” that attracted some 600 students. “But we also just hang out together a lot,” she said.
Indeed, looking around the organization’s lounge just before the holidays (a small, cordoned-off corner on the fourth floor of the health center, minimally decorated with ratty couches, a table and a small bookshelf stocking titles like “Wishful Drinking” and “Smashed”), it was hard to believe some of these young adults were once heroin addicts who had spent time in jail. On the contrary, they looked like model students, socializing over soft drinks and snacks as they celebrated one student who had earned back his suspended license.
“By far the biggest benefit to our students in the recovery program is the social component,” said Mr. Statman, who is hoping a current development campaign may provide more funding. (The program is currently supported by a mandatory student health tuition fee.) “Let’s just say, we all wish we could be Texas Tech,” he said.
The Collegiate Recovery Program was established at Texas Tech decades ago, and it is now one of the largest, with 120 recovery students enrolled (along with Rutgers University and Augsburg College in Minneapolis). Thanks to a $3 million endowment, the Texas Tech program now offers scholarships as well as substance-free trips abroad. The students there have access to an exclusive lounge outfitted with flat-screen TVs, a pool table and a Ping-Pong table, kitchen, study carrels and a seminar room. Entering freshmen in recovery even have their own dormitory.
“We found that simply putting them on the substance-free halls didn’t work,” said Kitty Harris, who, until recently, was the director for more than a decade of Texas Tech’s program (she remains on the faculty). “Most of the kids on substance-free floors are just there to make their parents happy.” (The Michigan students in the recovery program mostly live off campus for the same reason; they do not have their own housing.)
“Most students begin experimenting innocently in college with drugs and alcohol,” said Mr. Statman, who just celebrated his 13th year in recovery. “Then there are the ones who react differently. They are not immoral, pleasure-seeking hedonists, they are simply vulnerable, and for their whole life.”
Rates of substance-use disorders triple from 5.2 percent in adolescence to 17.3 percent in early adulthood, according to 2013 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It thus makes this developmental stage critical to young people’s future.
It is at the drop-in Students for Recovery meetings where one often sees nervous new faces. At the beginning of one meeting at Michigan last semester, a young woman introduced herself as, “One day sober.” Shortly afterward, a young man spoke up, “I am five days sober.” Danny (who asked that his last name not be published), a graduating recovery program senior applying to medical schools, later explained an important tenet all of them know from their various 12-step programs. “The most important person in the room is the new person,” he said, adding that after the Students for Recovery meetings, members try to approach any new participants, directing them to the C.R.P. website and to Mr. Statman, who is always on call for worried students.
“In the same way a diabetic might not always get their sugar levels right, part of addiction is relapsing, and we really don’t want our students to see that as a failure if it happens,” said Mr. Statman, adding that it is often the other students in the program who tell him if they suspect a student is using again.
Jake Goldberg, 22, now a junior, arrived at Michigan three years ago as a freshman already in recovery. “I did really well the first five months,” he said. “I was sober. I was loud and proud on panels, but I had internal reservations. I had few friends and felt like I wanted to be more a part of the school.” He recalled that in the spring of his freshman year, he suddenly found himself trying heroin for the first time. “I should have died,” he said, remembering how he woke up 14 hours later, dazed and bruised.
After straightening up, Mr. Goldberg relapsed again his sophomore year when he thought he might be able to have just one drink. “That drink led to drugs and to more drinking,” he said, remembering how Mr. Statman and Ms. Desprez called him into their office one day. “They told me this is not going to end well,” he said. Now sober two years, Mr. Goldberg said: “I now live recovery with all the structure, but I also am in a prelaw fraternity. When they drink a beer, I drink a Red Bull.”
Ms. Miller echoed Mr. Goldberg’s feelings over coffee one day on the Michigan campus. “Most of us did not get sober just to go to meetings all the time,” she said. “We want to live life too.” She also said that socializing with nonrecovery students is still challenging. “I went to a small party recently where everyone was eating pot edibles and drinking top-shelf liquor,” she said. “I got a bit squirrely in my head and had to leave.”
But now students in the Collegiate Recovery Program have a new place in Ann Arbor they can frequent: Brillig Dry Bar, a pop-up, alcohol-free spot that serves up spiced pear sodas and cranberry sours and features live jazz. And in March, four of the students in the program are joining dozens of recovery students from other colleges on a six-day, five-night, “Clean Break” in Florida, arranged by Blue Community, an organization that hosts events and vacations for young adults in recovery. (The vacation package includes music, guest speakers, beach sports and daily transport to local 12-step meetings.)
“My hope is that we continue to get more students who need a safe zone to our social events,” said Ms. Britt, who is about to publicize a “sober skating night” in March at the university ice rink. “They would see you can have a lot of fun in college without drinking.
“And honestly, we really do have fun.”
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PALM BEACH, Fla. — Instead of the corn dogs and pork chops on a stick ritually served up on the hustings of Iowa, the latest stop on the donor trail featured meals of diver scallops and chocolate mousse. The setting was the Breakers, a sprawling Italian Renaissance-inspired hotel here, where the cheapest available rooms fetched $800 a night. And for the half-dozen Republican presidential candidates invited to the annual winter meeting this weekend of the Club for Growth, an influential bloc of deep-pocketed conservatives, the prize was not votes. It was money.
Long before the season of baby-kissing and caucus-going begins in early primary states, a no less decisive series of contests is playing out among the potential 2016 contenders along a trail that traces the cold-weather destinations of the wealthy and private-jet-equipped. In one resort town after another — Rancho Mirage, Calif.; Sea Island, Ga.; Las Vegas — the candidates are making their cases to exclusive gatherings of donors whose wealth, fully unleashed by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, has granted them the kind of influence and convening power once held by urban political bosses and party chairmen.
Even a single deep-pocketed donor can now summon virtually the entire field of candidates. No fewer than 11 Republican White House hopefuls will fly to Iowa this week to attend the Iowa Agriculture Summit organized by Bruce Rastetter, a businessman and prominent “super PAC” donor. Each will submit to questions from Mr. Rastetter, who said he wanted the candidates to educate themselves on agriculture policy.
“I get it that it’s helpful that I’ve given nationally and been helpful in Iowa to different candidates,” said Mr. Rastetter, whose business interests range from meat processing to ethanol production, and who is not yet backing anyone for president. “They know I’m going to be a fair arbiter in this,” he added. “We’re going to have a good discussion around these issues.”
High season on the shadow campaign trail informally began in Coachella Valley in California the weekend before the Super Bowl, near the end of January, when Charles G. and David H. Koch hosted their annual seminar for a few hundred libertarian-minded donors. It continues through the early spring, when the Republican Jewish Coalition, a pro-Israel group bankrolled by the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, holds its annual meeting in Las Vegas, this year at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino.
In between are a number of other gatherings of donors, representing overlapping clubs of the wealthy with particular passions and interests. Some are informal gatherings, like a daylong meeting last Tuesday near Jackson Hole, Wyo., hosted by the TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and his son Todd, and featuring several Republican donors who favorsame-sex marriage and immigration reform. Others, like the Club for Growth’s conference here in Palm Beach, have been around in one shape or another for years, forming part of the longtime invisible primary for the allegiance of dono
But the high-dollar donor trail has taken on far more importance in recent years because of the Citizens United case and the super PACs for which the decision cleared the way. Candidates attend knowing that just a handful of donors can lift them from the second or third tier into the first. For Jeb Bush, who has spent much of the past two months meeting privately with potential donors, occasionally posting photos on Instagram taken from outside private equity firms and investment banks, Mr. Rastetter’s Iowa meeting will be his first official trip to the critical caucus state.
“They’re here to help themselves,” said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth. “And it’s a testimony that they think the club’s an important place to be in order to be the standard-bearer.”
Some of the gatherings are expressly intended to bring candidates in line with the policy positions of donors on issues like government spending and foreign policy. While Mr. Rastetter’s agriculture forum will cover a range of issues, much of the advocacy surrounding the event, including a “V.I.P. press reception” featuring Iowa’s Republican governor, is aimed at pushing the candidates to support the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is coveted by the ethanol industry.
Mr. McIntosh noted that the donors attending the Palm Beach event — among them Robert Mercer, a publicity-shy hedge fund executive, and John Childs, a Florida-based investor — had helped unseat numerous Republican lawmakers deemed soft on taxes, spending or free trade. The goal of the event, Mr. McIntosh said, was to “lay the plans for affecting both the policy debate and the elections in 2016.”
The season of donor events poses hurdles both logistical and ideological: Mr. Bush, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas all sought to attend both the Palm Beach gathering and the overlapping Conservative Political Action Conference, held just outside Washington. Mr. Walker’s appearances at donor conclaves will take him back and forth across the country several times between late January and early March.
In an interview, Mr. Walker said he was unconcerned about the appearance of spending so much time and energy courting donors, noting that he expected to do plenty of retail campaigning in the months ahead.
“Oh, I think along the way I’ll be at plenty of dairy events and farm events and factories just like when I was governor,” Mr. Walker said.
Some skip the time-consuming cattle calls in favor of a more targeted approach, wooing a handful of donors they know personally. Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who has pitched himself as a lunch-pail conservative, will attend the Iowa meeting but has otherwise passed up most of the gatherings.
“You have to understand what is the best use of your candidate’s time, and their appeal, and who is going to gravitate towards the candidate,” said Matt Beynon, an aide to Mr. Santorum. “The senator can identify who his folks may be — and in many instances knows who they are.”
For Democrats, who have not had a contested presidential primary since the Citizens United decision, the shadow campaign trail is less demanding, and the overwhelming favorite, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is under less pressure than her Republican opponents.
High-profile Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have appeared at meetings of the Democracy Alliance, a club of liberal donors. And Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmental activist who emerged as the leading super PAC donor in the country in 2014, is planning a series of meetings in response to the Koch brothers’ spending that are intended to get the candidates to commit to specific policies to combat climate change.
For Republican candidates and their aides, the donor gatherings sometimes have the feel of a command performance. While candidates did not attend the Ricketts meeting, a half-dozen of them — including Mr. Bush, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey — were invited to send high-ranking representatives. They were given 30 minutes each to make a case to the assembled donors, including the investor Paul Singer; Linda McMahon, the Connecticut wrestling magnate; and Charles R. Schwab, founder of one of the country’s largest financial services firms.
The presenters were not told ahead of time who would be there, and at least two were surprised to find former Vice President Dick Cheney among the guests. Afterward, the rival campaign strategists shared a slightly awkward drink with one another, before joining the assembled donors for a group dinner.
They had little choice, according to one Republican who attended, and who asked for anonymity so as not to offend any of the donors. “This is going to be the super PAC election,” he said.
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The Beauty Of Women All Around The World [Video]
My friend Lawrence Quilici sent me this link.
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5 facts about religious hostilities in Europe
While Europe is not the region with the highest level of religious hostilities – that remains the Middle East-North Africa region – harassment and attacks against religious minorities continue in many European countries. Indeed, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, hostilities against Jews in particular have been spreading.
Here are five facts about social hostilities – i.e., hostilities perpetrated by individuals or social groups rather than by governments – that tend to target religious minorities in Europe:
1In 2013, the most recent year covered by the study, harassment of Jews in Europe reached a seven-year high. Jews faced harassment in about three-quarters (34 of 45) of Europe’s countries. In France, for instance, three men attacked a teenager who was wearing a traditional skullcap, or kippa, in Vitry-Sur-Seine, reportedly threatening to “kill all of you Jews.” In Spain, vandals painted a large swastika on the side of a bull ring in the city of Pinto, along with the words “Hitler was right.” And in the town of Komarno in southern Slovakia, metal tiles in the pavement honoring a local Jewish family killed in the Holocaust were destroyed when vandals poured tar over them.
2Muslims experienced harassment in nearly as many European countries (32 of 45) as Jews. By comparison, the Middle East and North Africa was the only region where Muslims faced more widespread harassment, dealing with hostility in 15 of that region’s 20 countries. In Germany, bloody pig heads were found at a site where the Ahmadiyya Muslim community was planning to build Leipzig’s first mosque. And in Ireland, several mosques and Muslim cultural centers received threatening letters, withone of the letters stating: “Muslims have no right to be in Ireland.”
3In two-thirds of the countries in Europe, organized groups used force or coercion to try to impose their views on religion in 2013. Sometimes this activity is aimed at dominating a country’s public life with the group’s particular perspective on religion through means such as online intimidation of minority religious groups. Other times, it is focused on a particular religious group, such as anti-Semitic postings and anti-Muslim rhetoric on online forums. In Italy, for example, four men were sent to prison after they published lists of Jewish residents and businesses on neo-Nazi websites. This type of social hostility was more prevalent in Europe (30 of 45 countries, or 67%) than in any other region.
4Women were harassed over religious dress in about four-in-ten European countries (19 of 45) – about the same share as in the Middle East-North Africa region (where it occurred in eight of 20 countries, or 40%). This includes cases in which women were harassed for either wearing religious dress or for perceived violations of religious dress codes. In France, for example, two men attacked a pregnant Muslim woman, kicking her in the stomach and attempting to remove her headscarf and cut her hair; she suffered a miscarriage in the days following the attack. And in Italy, two Moroccan men attacked a young Moroccan woman, beating her for “offending Islam” when she refused to wear a headscarf.
5Individuals were assaulted or displaced from their homes or places of worship in retaliation for religious activities in roughly four-in-ten European countries. In Poland, for example, arsonists set fire to the door of a mosque in Gdansk. And in Greece, arsonists attacked Jehovah’s Witnesses’ houses of worship and several informal mosques in multiple cities during the year.
For details on the sources and methodology of this analysis, and to read an expanded sidebar on social hostilities toward religious minorities in Europe, see our full report on religious restrictions.