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Archive for June, 2009

He’s Not God

Monday, June 29th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I don’t know if it’s the central role the President plays in our contemporary political narratives, or a general desire to find one person to blame (for which The President is obviously a better stand-in than The Congress), but the tendency to blame Barack Obama for what are essentially Congressional, or structural, failings seems somewhat bizarre to me, if somewhat understanable, particularly coming from people who presumably spend enough time observing politics to understand the systemic problems. This post from Whiskey Fire seems representative of the genre:

The economy is in shambles and people realize that we need safety net services like extended unemployment and maybe a government health insurance option. The time is ripe to strike while the iron is hot and Obama is shrugging his shoulders and saying ” I don’t know what do you guys think we should do?” Spineless, like a jellyfish. They call themselves Centrists, but to me they are conservative reactionaries, including Obama. He seems to be waffling on all the important issues that he received my vote and that of many other liberals to address.

On health care he is providing little leadership and seems to be waiting for the lowest common denominator, in this case both parties, to decide what it will allow so that it looks like something is changing while allowing the insurance company fuckers to continue raping us all wholesale. He has made no movement on repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and has completely left the gay community to hang out in the wind on the issue of marriage. Guantanamo is humming along with no real trials in site for the people detained there. Lest we forget, that 16 month withdrawal timetable in Iraq seems to have evaporated.

Now, I can empathize with the frustration, but putting all of this squarely on Obama is somewhere between unfair and childish. To take the points individually:

1. On the question of a timeline for withdrawing from Iraq, we do have a timeline in place, as part of the Status of Forces Agreement Agreement with the Iraqi government. It’s not exactly the plan Obama proposed, but it’s close enough that the costs of a new government unilaterally abrogating agreements with other countries would have outweighed the benefit of going with the plan Obama was proposing during the campaign. And really, this is one of those times where political observers should take pains to note that sometimes events change plans. When Obama was a candidate proposing a 16 month timetable for withdrawal, SOFA was not in place. By the time he was inaugurated, it had been agreed to by both the US and Iraqi government. So this isn’t so much an example of a politician saying one thing and doing another, so much as it’s an example of changing plans based on a new circumstance. And people who rightly mocked Bush for his “stay the course” attitude and complained about the hubris of unilateralism run amok during the last 8 years shouldn’t be complaining that the new President won’t rigidly adhere to a peviously outlined plan made under a different set of facts, nor unilaterally abrogate an agreement with another government.

2. As far as Gitmo goes, I don’t really see how you can make this kind of a complaint without so much as noting in passing that Obama asked Congress for the money to facilitate closing the place, but Congress rejected it. Regardless of the other issues surrounding Obama’s performance here, Congress certainly isn’t without substantial blame.

3. I haven’t written much about Obama and gay rights, mostly because I don’t care to challenge what seems to be a pretty comprehensive truism at this point, and because my argument against it isn’t really that riveting. Bsically, I just don’t see what Obama can actually do. The progressive line on gay rights strikes me as very similar to the neocon line on Iran; if only Obama would say X, everything would be awesome. The notion that Obama can unilaterally end DADT is just false. The UCMJ is law, and as such it requires an act of Congress to change it. Obama could take a tougher line on it, but he’s just not likely to walk into that minefield while healthcare reform is working its way through Congress. And he could theoretically issue a stop-loss order to prevent the discharging of indiduals found guilty under it, but that would leave the policy in place, officially, and probably destroy any will on the Hill to repeal it altogether, which doesn’t strike me as being desireable from a social justice standpoint. On the question of gay marriage, the President has even less authority. Obviously he can’t order the states to recognie same-sex marriage, and it’s not even clear to me that Congress would have the authority to pass such a bill. Unsatisfying as it may be, the only real way the federal government can move anything forward on gay marriage is through the courts, which Obama has no control over, short of appointing judges, and through a Constitutional amendment, which the President has nothing to do with, and which is also highly unlikely to be successful. So while I can appreciate that the lack of progress on gay rights is frustrating, I really don’t see what the President, any President, could realistically do to change that fact given the present circumstances.

4. Finally, on healthcare, this is just a common refrain at this point; the bill has to go through Congress, and there’s nothing the executive can do to affect that. He can threaten to veto an ultimate bill, but that’s not going to work, because it just won’t be believeable, if for no other reason than that the White House needs a bill much more than Congress does. But this would be the case even if Obama were taking a more overtly active role in public; this would still be Congress’s baby, and the President would lack any real ability to substantively affect the sausage making.

On the one hand, I’m sure this all sounds like nit-picking, unjustified Obama defense. But I don’t really think that’s the issue. If you’re looking to “pressure” people i politics, it’s very important you pressure the right people. That goes for laying blame as well. If progressives are routinely blaming failings of Congress, or of the underlying system, on the White House, that just leaves you aiming at a target who can’t really respond to your criticism, because they’re not the problem, and it also deflects attention from the real problem spot, as well as giving Congress more cover to continue what they’re doing, because they’re not catching the heat for it.

Goldblog: Wrong About Everything

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Can Jeffrey Goldberg do anything right? Trying to defend newspapers and take a rather cheap insult at The Huffington Post, everyone’s favorite hack Very Serious Person writes:

The Washington Post today features a beautifully-written article by Eli Saslow about the people who survived the Red Line crash on the Washington Metro earlier this week. The story is deeply-reported, authoritative, riveting and altogether a reproach to those who say that newspapers are somehow unnecessary, that the Huffington sweatshop and Google and the Daily Beast will keep us sufficiently informed. Read the whole thing and tell me I’m wrong.

Well, I read the entire piece, and I have to say that Goldberg picks some rather odd words to desribe it. I won’t disagree with the notion that it is both a riveting read and an extremely well written story, but that’s pretty much it. It certainly doesn’t come off as “deeply reported,” it more or less reads like the writer interviewed a handful of people who were on the train, decided to focus on one in particular, and went about writing their story. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you, but there’s no sense pretending it’s Watergate all over again or something. It’s also not particularly informative either. For as interesting as it may be, the information that it presents about the feelings on the train and so forth I probably could have guessed even without the piece. Which, again, isn’t really a dig at the piece, so much as it’s a dig at Goldberg’s ridiculous hyperbole about it.

I’m also not really sure why, exactly, Goldberg thinks you couldn’t get this sort of thing from HuffPo. I mean, it’s basically a very well written human interest story about a jarring event, but one that really appears to have involved only minimal legwork. A talented, D.C. based writer for Huffington easily could have produced more or less the exact same thing. What institutions like The Washington Post are positioned to do that internet outlets like HuffPo aren’t is to put to use a vast disparity in resources, as well as trading on the established credibility of their brands to assert new information about a matter of public policy, politics, or whatever. This piece, good as it may be, really doesn’t de either, so it’s not clear to me why, exactly, this is evidence of the necessity of The Washington Post.

But hey, at least Goldberg isn’t shilling for another war this time.


Friday, June 26th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I don’t really have very much to say about the Gov. Sanford debacle. I don’t particularly subscribe to the notion that adultery is no big deal, especially when there are kids involved, but I also don’t think it’s much of a reason to tear down public officials, especially when there’s so many things about them that are so much work. Although I guess there really isn’t much of a leap from ditching your family, including 4 kids, on Father’s Day to go fornicate with an Argentine woman in South America to trying to toss thousands of families off of unmployment insurance in the midst of a very serious recession is there? And I think that’s what bothers me the most about this; as screwed up as this scenario is, at the end of the day, it’s nowhere near as bad as Sanford’s active attempts to cause a lot fo very real suffering to very real people in his state.

With regards to the future, I’d say his political career is pretty much over. It might be possible to survive something like this, but not, I don’t think, if you’ve made a big deal about family values, and not given the sheer bizarreness level of this whole story. Sanford might be able to appeal to the more libertarian contingent of the GOP in 2012 if he does decide to go ahead with a Presidential run, but that’s just not a sizeable enough bloc to deliver many, if any, delegates, and certainly not enough to keep him in the hunt in a crowded field. And this coming from a guy who, if you made me choose, would have been the prohibitive favorite for the nomination. This may be one of the great political flameouts of all time.


Thursday, June 25th, 2009

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Michael Jackson was a contemporary of mine. The fact that he died suddenly and without regard to the resources available to him can only raise my own sense of mortality. It should remind all of us how precious every minute, every sunrise, every moment with those we love really is.

Despite enormous talent, enormous success and enormous wealth, Michael Jackson seemed to be tormented throughout his life.

Tonight we hope that he finally finds peace…

By Writeside

He’s Got This: Healthcare Edition

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Does President Obama need to say more about healthcare reform to help it through Congress? A lot of people are saying so lately, but Ezra doesn’t think so:

In 1994, President Bill Clinton exhausted his political capital guiding the development of the legislation. Barack Obama, by contrast, has saved his to push for its passage. Once Finance and HELP and the House Tri-Committee have laid down their markers, then the White House will, and should, get involved. They’ll have to figure out which edges need to be sanded off for political passage and which priorities are too important to sacrifice on the altar of senatorial ego. But there’s no reason to rush that moment. For now, the White House should have as little to do as possible with the various legislative products. Let the committees absorb the blows of the bad weeks. Let the early coalitions present themselves. Let the Republicans show their strategy in the mark-up sessions. Let the CBO score all the different options. Let the legislature familiarize itself with different revenue options. Wait. Wait and wait and wait. Wait until Congress has pushed this as far upfield as it’s able.

Then open up the White House. Then have Obama on TV. Then have Rahm on the phone with legislators. Then take Olympia Snowe for a ride on Marine One. The White House can exert explosive force on a piece of legislation, but it can only do so effectively for a short period of time. That was the mistake Clinton White House made in 1994. By the time their legislation was near reality, administration officials were so deeply involved that they couldn’t add external momentum.

I mostly agree with Ezra’s take on the question. The White House, in general, is traditionally pretty good for whipping votes and twisting the arms of lingering lawmaker, but it’s usually pretty hard for the White House to directly influence the nuts and bolts of a bill, particulary one as big as a fundamental, decades coming, overhaul of healthcare. This is why the Clinton administration’s approach was a fundamental mistake; for better or worse, the vast majority of institutional power in making domestic policy is concentrated in Congress. Even if Obama had followed Clinton’s lead and sent Congress a full bill, ready to be voted on, it would still be going through the same processes as it is right now. There would still be relevant committee hearings, CBO scorings, and amendments. Things would still be handled on Congress’s schedule, and there really wouldn’t be anything the White House could do to change it. By letting Congress take the lead, you eventually get something people can agree on, and that can get to the President’s desk. What that is, exactly, is important, but it’s an important first step. And it’s one I think people overlook more than they should. We’re going to get some kind of healthcare reform this Congress. It’s too fundamental an issue to the Democratic Party, and too much talk has been put into it to not pass anything on the issue. The question is simply how good the bill is going to be. I think the White House should be doing what they can to make sure the bill that gets to Obama’s desk is a good one, but you’re not going to see those kinds of negotiations play out on CNN.

More Socialism Please

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Via DDay, this Washington Post report on the shortage of primary doctors reminds me of a fairly salient point that needs to be made often in the healthcare reform debate; it really is true that almost no one is proposing a package that even remotely resembles “socialized healthcare.” Socializing healthcare would involve the government directly employing providers and running facilities, and I don’t see anyone looking to get into that, at least not now. And that’s actually a real shame, for the reason this article gets at. Primary care is just not a money making endeavor. Overhead and administrative costs are high, and the marginal benefits are drastically lower than for those of specialists. So for anyone going through medical school, you’re looking at the prospect of making an awfully lot more money by specializing, as opposed to going into general practice. Which isn’t bad at the micro level, but ultimately you come away with a real shortage of general practioners, and that’s not a good thing for the system.

One thing we really could do to alleiviate this problem, and subsequently lower costs elsewhere in the system, would be to establish a robust system of primary care facilities available on a universal basis to provide basic care. On the one hand, by making vaccines, check ups, and simple everyday care more available, you’d be increasing public health outcomes in a meaningful way. On the other hand, you’d instantly create new jobs in nursing and primary care, which would yield obvious economic benefits. There really isn’t any downside to doing it, even on an industrial basis. But it still won’t happen, because that would be socialism, and having no socialism is much more important than making sure your co-worker can get treated for that communicable disease they’re walking around with. I mean, is staying flu free really worth socialism to you?

Supreme Court Gets Wingnuttier

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

You can’t make this stuff up:

In 1993, William Osburne was convicted of kidnapping, assaulting and raping a woman in Anchorage, Alaska. He spent the next 14 years of his life behind bars. Osburne insists that he is innocent, the State of Alaska has in its possession DNA evidence which will once and for all prove his guilt or innocence, and Osburne has offered to pay for DNA testing out of his own pocket. Allowing Osburne to prove—or disprove–his claim of innocence will cost Alaska literally nothing.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court held today in a 5-4 decision by Chief Justice Roberts that Osburne is out of luck. Although Roberts conceded that “[i]t is now often possible to determine whether a biological tissue matches a suspect with near certainty,” he determined that Osburne has no right to pay for a test that could exonerate him for a crime he did not commit. Allowing Osburne to prove his potential innocence, Roberts said, risks “unnecessarily overthrowing the established system of criminal justice.”

I was going to compare the decision to Dred Scott, but that’s not really fair; Dred Scott was probably decided correctly given the law of the day. But there really isn’t anyway to defend this decision, and I’d be very interested in seeing how someone tried to defend it. Scott Lemieux seems to classify it as a case of federalism run amok but, assuming some level of seriousness by the Justices, I’m really not sure how that could be the case. The 14th amendment pretty clearly extends the due process requirement to the states, which would trump any “state’s rights” claim, it would seem. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Justices decided to just ignore the plain text (ignoring the ver existence of the 9th amendment is a cornerstone of conservative legal theory after all), or that the conservative members onthe court simply don’t think due process includes the right to present exonerating evidence in court.

It seems to me, however, that this is probably just an isolated case, and the Justices are primarily concerned with protecting the image of the criminal justice system. If the decision is absurd (and it is), it’s really not that much more absurd than the nature of the system itself, which prizes process over truth, and then tilts heavily in its own favor upon conviction.

What To Do About North Korea

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

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The speech President Obama should give from the East Room at the White House:

Good evening. I would like to address my comments to the leaders and citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

With your recent tests of nuclear weapons and tests of both short and long range missiles, it is apparent to all the nations of the world that you have entered the “Nuclear Club.”

While being a member of that club means that you have achieved a certain level of technological adeptness for which you can be justifiably proud as a nation, reaching that goal also has some very unfortunate consequences.

At this moment, because of your newfound technological abilities, many nations around the world, including the other nations that have missile and nuclear technology equal to and beyond yours, have programmed military and other targets in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea into the guidance systems of their multiple warhead nuclear tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles.

A nuclear explosion anywhere around the world that can be traced or otherwise associated with your development and manufacturing of nuclear weapons will likely cause an immediate launch of perhaps hundreds of nuclear tipped ICBMs that would destroy much of your country and mean certain death for a large portion of your population, leaving behind land that would be useless to support human life for a generation or more. The effects of the nuclear war that would thus be ignited would kill hundreds of thousands more around the world, and disrupt life for every living person.

I say this not as a threat, but as a reminder to the leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea of the awesome responsibility that comes with being a nuclear power. Presidents of the United States since Harry Truman have lived with this threat of mutually assured destruction and have thus far been able to keep these weapons from further use. I urge you to take whatever precautions are necessary to do the same to ensure a future for your children and grandchildren.

If you need assistance in ensuring the security of your nuclear weapons, we would be willing to help as would many other nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Sadly, there is another cost to your recent technological breakthroughs. When you abrogated your agreements to suspend your nuclear program, you also abrogated the willingness of countries around the world to provide you with the food, fuel and other assistance that was a part of those agreements.

We here in the United States stand willing to help you meet the needs of your people. We would love to once again offer assistance through trade and by delivering food and other needed supplies.

But we will not do that with a country that is an acknowledged nuclear power and has the means to threaten the rest of the countries in the world with destruction. To that end, I urge you to consider abandoning your nuclear program having already shown the world your technological capabilities and achievements. The world now understands the brilliance of Korean scientists in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but it is time to put those advances aside in order to better care for your people.

If you wish, we can assist you in dismantling your nuclear program and returning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to its former non-nuclear status. Again, I am sure that many countries around the world would be willing to assist you in that regard.

After you are free from the responsibilities of being a nuclear power, we would be very happy to re-engage in discussions for ongoing trade and aid. We are always ready partners for peace.

As I said earlier: welcome to the club. It is a sad welcome because of the heavy burden you now bear both in terms of mutually assured destruction and in the loss of desperately needed aid, but I must believe that you did not make this decision without careful consideration of the consequences. Having made your point, you can now make the courageous decision to walk away from this terrible power, to show the world that you can make a decision that is best for your people and for all of the people in the world.

Again, the United States is always a ready partner for peace with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and we look forward to peace and prosperity in the future for both of our countries.

Thank you. Good night. And May God Bless America.

By Writeside


Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Do the recent developments in Iran call the regime’s rationality into question? Ezra thinks so, but Eric Martin chides him for it. I tend to agree with Martin, for the simple reason that I keep coming back to a lot of my opinions about the Iranian situation; we don’t really have any hard information about the nature of the actions in Iran. And that’s a pretty relevant piece of information to this question. Namely, it’s very hard to evaluate whether an action is “rational” without knowing exactly who undertook said action, and for exactly what reason. There’s plenty of scenarios to imagine in Iran wherein the election rigging seems perfectly rational, and Tehran Bureau posits the most believable one I’ve seen yet. Namely, Khamieni, Amadinejad, and Ayatollah Yazdi are extreme hard-liners to the right of the Ayatollah Khomieni who don’t believe in the governing structure he set up, or his theological beliefs, and who don’t approve of elections in the first place. They’re afraid that Khamieni will die soon and Rafsanjani, who has led the Assembly of Experts, would be his most likely replacement. With that in mind, this was intended as a showy display that would repudiate Mousavi, another Khomieni ally, and by extension Rafsanjani, and raise the profile of Yazdi. That seems like a perfectly plausible thought process, and completely rational if you believe there was no other way to undercut Rafsanjani. And certainly Khamieni and Yazdi would have a better feel for the mood of the Assembly of Experts than anyone in the West commenting on the situation.

It’s also important to note that international relations is the wrong prism to gauge the rationality of the action through. Elections, particularly in Iran, wouldn’t really have anything to do with the regime’s relationship with the United States, so much as it would be a matter of who wields internal political power.

Better Manufactured Outrage Please

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Apparently the wingnut outrage of the day is Obama “taking over the programming of ABC.” Drudge was all over it, calling it an “ethical firestorm” that ABC was going to broadcast the news from inside the White House, because obviously the secret service will be standing behind the cameras waiting to kill the child of anyone who says something mean about the President from inside the White House. Or something.

Anyway, as I understand it, Diane Sawyer will interview the President for Good Morning America, the evening news will be broadcast from the White House, and then Sawyer and Charlie Gibson will moderate a townhall meeting with the President taking questions from a live audience about healthcare. Which actually seems like selling yourself short from the White House. After all, if he was taking questions from the White House press corps, instead of non-journalisty people, he’d get to be on every network. We could call it something like a “primetime press conference.” It would be awesome! (Ok, I made that part up)

Anyway, the RNC is apparently mad that there won’t be any “opposition.” You know, that damn liberal media and all, giving the President a platform to speak to the people without any Congressional Republicans there to provide a counterpoint. There’s a lot of ways you could slice that up, but the question that immediately comes to mind for me is; when is the President ever directly confronted by the political opposition on television? I’m coming up with campaign debates, and that’s pretty much it. Indeed, senior administration officials are almost always solo when they appear on television. Can anyone point me to a Sunday morning interview with Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, or Powell that weren’t one-on-ones? Anyone remember Bush doing joint press conferences in primetime with Nancy Pelosi? For better or worse, this is just standard protocol for dealing with the executive branch.

I’m old enough to remember when accusations of liberal bias made some superficial sense.

Why America’s Not Ready for an Iranian Revolution

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

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Just take a look at the nonsense that is being peddled by the right wing today (and the last few days). A lot of empty words attempting to incite a war or something (?!?) against Iran in the aftermath of their election that featured truly horrible stagecraft.

There are many who are “analyzing” the Iranian election results, from the statisticians at fivethirtyeight.com to editorialists and columnists around the world and I don’t want to rehash any of that here, particularly because they have – no doubt – done a better job than I would do, but really. Did they not notice the crowds in the streets supporting the4 opposition candidate when they decided to announce that the incumbent won with 63% of the vote? Laughable. If they had said that it was close, but Ahmadinejad ended up with 51% of the vote, likely very few would have done more than yawn.

But back to our story.

Some Americans seem to want to incite an armed insurrection in Iran (okay, some want to incite an armed insurrection in the United States, but that’s a different post, okay?). They do so without knowing who they are supporting.

They reflexively want to oust the theocracy currently in place. Perhaps they want a military dictator, someone who will rule with an iron hand but ensure that the next Iranian government is secular. Kind of like Saddam, right?

Would the United States be in a position to help a fledgling actual democracy in Iran? Could we “get over’ the fact that they are almost all Muslim in that country – and we “know” that all Muslims just want to kill Americans and Jews (and not necessarily in that order), right?

You would think that we would have learned our lesson from instigating revolution in Iran in 1953 what could happen when you do things like that.

Or Chile.

Or South Vietnam.

Or Guatemala.

Or Pakistan.

Or Iraq…

Point is that unless we know for sure that the next government will be. Unless we can be certain that the next group will in fact be democrats, and will have the best interests of the Iranian people and world peace at heart, why the hell would we get involved?

And the truth is that we CANNOT know what would happen next.

The best we can do is to watch and see what happens, and wait to offer support and aid or to continue our discussions and hope to be able to achieve a level of diplomacy with whatever government ends up running that country.

Oh wait. That’s what the Obama administration is doing…

Never mind.

By Writeside

Bomb Bomb Bomb…

Monday, June 15th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

It was entirely predictable, of course, that the neocons would use the situation in Iran to urge the ratcheting up of rhetoric or some esoteric American action with regards to the situation, but that doesn’t really make it any less depressing. The worst offenders, from a moralist standpoint, are probably Max Boot and John Podhoretz, neither of which is really able to contain their sheer glee at the possibility that someone might launch a new military attack they could cheer on. What’s more, both of them, particularly Boot, seem downright happy about the situation, giving the lie to the notion that the neoconservative right-wing is in any way concerned about “the Iranian people.” But certainly the most unnerving remarks came from Senator McCain, who demanded that we “act?” Against whom? Beats me, and McCain doesn’t know either. In fact, none of us really know the answer to that, because we don’t really have any idea who exactly is involved in the conspiracy.

Ultimately this is just a reminder that the only way to understand the neoconservative mindset is through that of a child. Preferably a spoiled pre-adolescent. It completely lacks empathy, any sense of patience, and any understanding that everything is not about them. But that’s how neoconservatives see the world, as how it relates to them, and what they’re going to do about it. McCain is the bona fide poster child for this, as more or less everything about the world is filtered through his head this way.

On the other hand, it really is worth pointing out that we have no idea what is going on behind the scenes in Iran, and that the neoconservatives are playing off of that.

Here’s Jeffrey Goldberg, for example. Goldberg has been advocating for war with Iran for some time, that’s what he does, after all, but you’ll notice that, like Podheretz, he makes reference to “the regime.” So my question would be, what in the hell is “the regime.” Wouldn’t the Grand Ayatollah who accompanied Mousavi at his rally yesterday likely be part of the “mullahcracy?” What about the head of th Assembly of Experts, a former close ally of Khomieni himself, who was a major Mousavi supporter. What’s infurating about this warmongering is that, like the absurd assertions leading up the Iraq war, there’s just a large amount of obvious hackery going on, and people like Goldberg are smart enough that it has to be deliberate.

On a more positive note, the Obama administration is doing exactly the right thing by questioning the results, and little more. Obviously the US doesn’t have a lot of goodwill built up within Iran, and given the results of our last political intervention there, any explicit support for the opposition will create an immediate baclash against the reformers, who will be painted as US stooges. And, as I said earlier, there’s also the problem of not knowing exactly who is behind the coup, and to what extent various actors are involved. Waiting for a more complete picture to come into focus before any action is taken, or any direct rhetoric deployed, is far and away the best course of action. Indeed, it’s really the only one available to us.


Sunday, June 14th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

To state the obvious, the Iranian election was a sham. Even assuming that it is possible that Ahmadinejad won more votes than any of the other 3 candidates, the idea that he won nearly 2/3 of the vote in a 4 way race is simply not plausible. And as Juan Cole helpfully breaks down, the supposed provincial results make even less sense. The question now is, who is responsible for what can only be called fabricating the results of the election.

The first thing of relevance to note is that Supreme Leader Khamieni is pretty clearly in on the conspiracy. He quickly certified the bogus numbers, even though he’s supposed to wait at least 3 days for the Guardian Council to present the numbers to him, and re-affirmed that today. It seems equally unlikely that “the mullahs” are behind the coup, for the simple reason that Ahmadinejad is very unpopular with the regime’s religious leaders. So the most likely scenario is one of coup-by-Revolutionary Guard, with an assist from the Minister of the Interior, an Ahmadinejad ally who’s been significantly advantaged by the past 4 years.

The relevant question now, of course, is how this will wind up breaking down. Mousavi supporters and college students are clashing with “police” (there’s some speculation that the police are actually refusing to confront the protesters, and it’s Basij militia forces carrying out the governmental violence) in a situation eerily reminiscent of the 1979 revolution. People are chanting insults at the Supreme Leader, and there’s actually rumors of a possbile “impeachment” by the Assembly of Experts. Mousavi’s supporters are planning marches tomorrow, with Mousavi planning on leading the one in Tehran, to end at the Khomieni shrine, if a permit is denied for the demonstration. If Khatami and Rafsanjani show up as well, the situation could be very volatile, with a government whose impulse will be violence restrained by the presence of such popular, high profile figures. If violence erupts in such a scenario, we could be looking at a bona fide Lincoln and Concord moment. The smartest play for the government is to ride out the protests in relatively non-violent fashion, but so far they show no inclination to do so.

Iranian elections may be limited, but we’re not talking about a state like Egypt, where everyone knows the voting is a sham. Iranians take their elections pretty seriously, and in the past the clerics have shown a lack of willingness to interfere with the voting. Khatami won 2 elections with overwhelming support, even if the ayatollahs ultimately frustrated the implementation of his espoused policy preferences. Such obvious fraud is an affront, not just to the young liberalizers, but to the mainstream of the Iranian populace, and plenty of players in the Iraqi establishment as well. Such an obvious fraud isn’t likely to be accepted by much of anyone, and the resulting violence, or more appropriately, the government’s response to it, could set off the revolution many of us have been hoping for in Iran.

Do What’s Right

Friday, June 12th, 2009

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In the NY Times today Paul Krugman calls out Fox News Network (and specifically Glen Beck) and the Washington Times, citing them as examples of how the dividing line between “main stream conservatism and the black helicopter crowd” has all but disappeared.

I agree with him that making irrational statements like Beck’s that FEMA might be building concentration camps does very little to help the situation in the country, and, by ratcheting up partisan tensions may certainly instigate some of the less stable to violence.

But should Beck temper his rants, which some find entertaining? Does he and others like him have a responsibility for the idiots out there who are killing people? As much as I would love to say that they do, as much as I despise Beck and liars like him, the answer is “no.”

Entertainers do what entertainers do. If you don’t like it, you don’t watch it or listen to it, or buy it.

Even newspapers – especially newspapers – have a long history of slanting themselves to the whims of their publishers, going all the way back to the beginning of the country. Again, if no one buys the paper (or visits the website) that is what will make a difference there.

That being said, those who make statements that might lead others to violence need to make it clear that they do not advocate such.

Irresponsibly quoting Jefferson and saying “The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed, from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” can be nothing BUT a call to violence.

“Warning” the public that the Obama administration is “totalitarian” and building “concentration camps” can also be nothing BUT a call to violence – UNLESS IT IS COUPLED WITH A STATEMENT AGAINST VIOLENCE.

That’s what is owed here. Fox News needs to make it very clear that it abhors violence and that anyone interpreting any of its hosts to be calling for violence are wrong.

What is needed are prominent citizens from the right who will decry violence and declare that it is un-American.

I believe that everyone should have the right to pursue their own dreams, to make money where they can, to exercise their freedoms to speak, write, and whatever to their hearts content – until that activity infringes someone else\’s rights to do the same. Then there has to be compromise, there has to be accommodation.
When people are killing other people because what you are saying riles everything up, you need to do something about it.

I am not asking right wing entertainers to give up their schtick.

I just want them to also do what is right…

By Writeside

It’s No Surprise To Me…

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Jane Hamsher is our own worst enemy. Now she’s trying to whip up opposition to the war funding supplemental:

I just want to take a minute to thank everyone who is taking time out of their day to make calls and stand by their commitment to end the war. When I look over the lists and read about the thousands of calls people are making to the offices of members of congress, and I see people like Toby who called 25 offices in one day, it makes it all worthwhile.

We really appreciate the efforts of everyone who has called, and who continue to call.  It’s a highly fluid situation, and Rahm Emanuel is furiously horse trading for votes.  Sources on the Hill say that they’ve never seen this kind of full-court press from the White House.  Members are being bribed, bullied and cajoled into abandoning their commitment to vote against any war funding that doesn’t include a time table to bring the troops home.

There’s some controversy about giving money to the IMF, which I’m not really as familiar with as I should be, so I won’t comment on that yet, but Hamsher doesn’t address that here either. Instead, she talks about “war funding that doesn’t include a time table to bring the troops home,” which is just bizarre. It’s not bizarre because we shouldn’t have a time table, of course, it’s bizarre because the US has already agreed to a time table for withdrawing troops from Iraq. It was one of, if not the, key point of the status of forces agreement we signed with the Iraqi government. So insisting on including something you already have in order to vote for something is just odd.

And that’s without even pointing out what a political disaster it would be to have Democrats killing funding for American troops in combat. Say what you will about public opinion about the Iraq war, people just aren’t going to be comfortable with cutting off funding for supplies while troops are in the field. Nor should they be. If Democrats do kill this, and I doubt they will, they’ll lose a lot of ground for it very quickly. And I doubt that much matters to Hamsher who, like a Rush Limabugh or a Sean Hannity, is much better served, personally, by being in the minority.

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