29 November 2009

Panarin, Panarin, where do you Roam?

In Texas, apparently.

It seems that American Conservatives are entranced with the theories espoused by a Russian academic, Igor Panarin, who is a professor at Russia's Diplomatic Academy, which is associated with the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry. He is also a former member of the KGB.

Professor Panarin predicts that by this time next year the USA will consist of six disparate regions, each of which will be controlled by a foreign power (you can see a map of his fragmented U.S.A. here). The fragmentation, Panrain claims, will result from a civil war stemming from economic, ethnic, and moral divisions.

In 2008, he predicted that this civil war would commence "next fall." In other words, this year.

It seems strange to me that Americans, especially patriotic Americans, would so cheerfully embrace the theories of someone who even Russians consider anti-American--and who is closely identified with the Kremlin--that Tea Party activists sponsored one of his lectures while he was in Texas earlier this month (see FaceBook announcement here). Granted, overall, it seems like it's only a minority who have completely fallen for Panarin's ideas, but the fact the he is feted just puzzles me.

I'm curious to know more about the American activists' attraction to Panarin. For example, does he present support material to build his case, or is it based on "what ifs" and "maybes"? When he speaks to these activists, does he suggest how national dissolution might be avoided, or is it merely doom and gloom? In other words, what about Panarin's theories do some people find so compelling?

Aside: Panarin asserts that the American west, post-breakup, will fall under Chinese rule or, at the very least, Chinese influence. His reasoning? "Panarin points out that most Californians' laptops are made in China and that the West has a 'growing Chinese population'" (Mother Jones). Yes, the laptops and the Chinese immigrants (a minority last time I checked) mean that the west coast will, very soon, be part of China.

28 November 2009

Obama Did Sweet F A in Asia

That's the MSM's meme, right?

With the recent rush of positive news stories out of China, in which China has agreed to certain US policies and requests (or has become remarkably more amenable to them), there's a lot of egg on a lot of faces, as Andrew Sullivan points out.

For even more in the "let the facts shame the 'journalists' who completely missed what actually happened," see James Fallow's post here, and do take a look at his previous posts documenting the MSM's "professionalism" in covering the Asia trip.

26 November 2009

The War on Thanksgiving

Time to gear up for the culture warriors' annual complaints about a "secular war on Christmas," but were you aware that there's a similar "secular war on Thanksgiving"? AlterNet has the details.

25 November 2009

Six Weeks

I so not want to turn this into a widow's blog, a place where I would log on to vent, rage, and communicate something like anguish; however, I do want to note that, as of today, my husband has been gone for six weeks.

Grief is inexplicable. I'll be fine for a day, maybe two, but then I'm overpowered by this misery that appears out of nowhere. I do understand it will lessen, and I understand that this is perfectly normal. But sometimes the pain is just debilitating. When those big, hot tears want to roll, it seems I have no control.

I'm fortunate enough to have a job that keeps me busy beyond the 9-to-5 (I went to work immediately after my beloved passed--the next week--in order to keep my mind occupied. I think some people took that as a sign of callousness. Many colleagues expressed some shock when they saw me. Oh well). In fact, I've marked out tomorrow --Thanksgiving Day--as all work, which will keep me away from all things turkey and Macy's Parade and Miracle on 34th Street (which we watched every Thanksgiving afternoon after finishing our dinner).

Numerous kind-hearted souls have asked me to dinner, and I've turned them all down. No, I think I need to spend the day alone. I want to blank Thanksgiving, which was always a special day for us, one of ritual and comfort. Tomorrow, I will work until the early evening, when I will watch a non-holiday-related film or two. Chances are that I will also drink heavily.

In the morning, I will get up, pour my darling a glass of port, just as I did for every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning of our time together, and I will get on with it.

And I will be thankful for the wonderful years I had with him.

31 October 2009

Loss and Absence

I've not posted here for some time; in fact, my posts have decreased markedly since December 2008. The reason for this: my beloved, who was treated for colorectal cancer in 2003, suffered a resurgence of the disease late last summer. The doctors were optimistic about treatment, at the time, for it seemed that only a single vertebrae was affected. In December, however, we learned that the disease had metastasized into his brain, lungs, and pelvic bone.

He had a hard year: two courses of radiation and chemo. But he fought and he maintained an incredibly optimistic perspective. At least, he tried to do so when around others. He struggled with depression (and wouldn't you?), and he told me several times that he was too tired, too distanced from his "normal" self, for the fight to end well.

In early September, he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He underwent three courses of antibiotics, but he didn't improve. His pain only increased.

He went into hospital on 11 October. He entered a coma on the following Thursday. He departed this life on Wednesday, 21 October.

All I can say, really, is that I loved him dearly, he loved me dearly, and I was lucky--very fortunate indeed--to have spent the past ten years with him.

03 September 2009

Words Fail

Sometimes you come across things so callous, you don't know how to respond. For example, see RNC Chairman Michael Steele's response to a young woman, Amanda Duzak, whose mother passed away from cancer six months ago. Following Steele's dismissal of Duzak as someone wanting a television moment, the woman was escorted from the event by security.

29 August 2009

Ex-Cigna Executive on Health Care Rationing

Wendell Potter enjoyed a 20 year career with health insurance corporations, such as Humana and Cigna. At Cigna, he was Head of Corporate Communications; he retired from this post last year.

In June this year, he testified before a Senate committee investigating insurance (see his testimony here [pdf]). Before the committee, Potter asserted that,
companies routinely drop seriously ill policyholders so they can meet "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

"They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment," Potter said. "…(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line."(ABC News)

According to Potter, there there are three ways in which health insurance companies strive to maintain their companies' stock prices:

1) Rescission: "seizing upon a technicality to cancel the policy of someone who has been paying premiums" who then "gets cancer or another expensive disease" (Kristof).
2) Deny permission for expensive procedures
3) Raising premiums for a small business after am employee is diagnosed "with an illness that would be very expensive to treat. That forces the [small] business to drop coverage for all its employees or go elsewhere" (Kristof).

Blue Cross has used rescission "to cancel more than 20,000 policies over five years, saving the company $300 million in claims" (Kristof). Perhaps you recall the fury unleashed at Blue Cross last year (2008) when the public learned about the company's practice of "asking physicians in a letter to look for medical conditions that could be used to cancel patients' insurance coverage" (L A Times). The company had sent out 1,000 such letters per month "for years" before someone complained about it (L A Times). Blue Cross stopped its letter-writing campaign when it became known.

If you, who pay your premiums dutifully, are diagnosed with a disease, and your insurer tells you that the cost of treatment exceeds your policy (or they deem treatment as "experimental" and, therefore, ineligible for coverage), or if you lose your job and, consequently, your health insurance benefits, or if a colleague becomes ill and forces your employer to drop all coverage, what then?

Added: A subsidiary of WellPoint, Anthem Blue Cross, has just sent its customers an email warning of the horrors of a public option. This post, "WellPoint Calls Attention To Its Own Immoral Practices In Effort To Smear Health Reform," points our how WellPoint undermines its claims about health care reform.

25 August 2009

John McCain: "Be Respectful"

You can disagree with a person, but you can still acknowledge that person as a human being and treat that person with courtesy and respect. John McCain showed us how it's done today.

Think back to his campaign, and when his audience would boo or shout when then-Senator Obama's name came up. Senator McCain would chastize his audience and insist on Obama's decency.

Today, Senator McCain held a town hall for seniors in Sun City, Arizona. When an attendee claimed that President Obama's health care plan is "against the Constitution," and asked "Doesn't he know that we live under the Constitution?'' McCain negated that statement and asked that people treat the President with respect. His audience responded by booing him. McCain certainly differs with Obama on most issues, but he won't cave to the audience and cater to its paranoias and conspiracy theories.

Further, when it appeared that a woman was trying to introduce a spot of "Birtherism" into the town hall by stating, out of the blue, that "we" should stand behind Representative Franks, he ignored her comment (as did the entire audience). Granted, the woman did not clarify why people should stand up for Representative Franks, but he's been in the news lately, and roundly mocked, for initially supporting, then backing away from, a Birther lawsuit. Today he signed onto the "Birther bill."

Anyway, it's great to see Senator McCain resisting the recent trend of demonization.

And the bit about health care reform being "against the Constitution"? Thanks go to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann for that one. It's a faulty claim, but it's the current one.

24 August 2009

UPS Stops Advertising on Fox News

Well, that call for a boycott against Glenn Beck's FNC show really backfired, didn't it?

33 companies have removed advertising from Glenn Beck's show or have requested Fox that ads run elsewhere in the day. This isn't really news, as it's been posted and discussed everywhere.

What is news? UPS "has temporarily halted buying ads on Fox News Channel as a whole" (AP). UPS's spokesman declines to say how long this moratorium will last, but UPS is a huge company, and this could signal the beginning of a serious shift in media. As political talk show hosts grow more hyperbolic and histrionic, chances are that advertisers will become less eager to associate themselves with divisive characters--be they Olbermann, Hannity, or Dobbs--who may alienate the broader public. Clorox, for example, has declared that it will no longer advertise on any political talk shows. But if companies begin yanking ads from entire networks . . . well, then networks will be forced to make changes. Otherwise, what's the point? They'd be losing monies regardless of their audience share.

Also, a good read: Russ Smith on American political dialogue: "Our Never-Ending Political Anger." Smith situates the health care debate along a continuum of similar arguments in the past, and he asserts that the anger expressed in the current argument--over health care--serves as a sort of catch-all for our collective dissatisfaction with government. Smith concludes, that, unfortunately, the current discussion about health care is, or has become, only oppositional: "The issue has become like abortion, you're either for it or against it, and no middle ground exists."

13 August 2009

M, Ph.D., & G S

Please excuse the trumpet blowing, but The Project is completed (excepting some minor fine tuning), an official "title" has been granted, and a newly-minted Ph.D. ventures into the job market.

And this newly-minted doctor of philosophy doesn't come from "the elite," the moneyed, the influential. I come from the working class--laborers, miners, and factory workers.

My great-grandmother was born and raised in a tiny community in the Smokey Mountains (a genuine hillbilly, as she called herself). She married and had three children--two boys and a girl. Her oldest son, my granddad, joined the Navy and moved to the Chicago area during the war. My great-grandma, aunt, and uncle followed. I expect Grandma B wasn't feeling up to living in that mountain community alone with two young kids.

In Chicago, my granddad met my grandma, the daughter of immigrants, who was born and raised in a North Dakota hamlet just a touch south from the Canadian border. Having lost everything (even though they had little to begin with), my grandma's family moved to Chicago during the Depression.

After marrying and having four children, my grandparents moved to the Southwest because one of their boys had asthma. My grandpa worked as a laborer and as a cop. Grandma worked as an aid in an asylum.

In the Southwest, my parents met, wed, had three children, and divorced. The three of us lived with mother, who worked in a series of jobs (waitress, factory worker, and--get this--she was one of the first female security guards at a Southwestern arena). She went onto Welfare because we couldn't make it on her wages (and because my father refused to pay child support, which was a miserable $100 a month in total. He refused "on principle." He didn't want that hundred bucks going to my mom). My mother's sense of shame at being on Welfare prompted her to go back to school and obtain the equivalent of a high school diploma. She joined the Army Reserves--my mum was a WAC--and went to boot camp in SC. However, she discovered that the diploma and the Reserves experience weren't enough to get her a good job, a decent wage. She enrolled in a community college and, thanks to government grants, she became an RN. In her low wage jobs, in her studies, and in her graveyard shifts at the hospital, my mom worked herself to the bone to support us.

Even with her determination and work ethic, I hate to think where my family would be right now without the safety net of Welfare and food stamps. My mother wouldn't be an RN, nor I a Ph.D., without government grants and student loans.

Before my mother, the highest level of education my family got was junior high--they had to quit school and go to work in the fields. And if my grandad hadn't joined the Navy, who knows how things would have turned out. He spent his post-Navy life working for Chrysler, and, when that fell apart for him, he moved to the Pacific Northwest and, with his sons--my uncles--worked for Hecla Mines. Sadly, that Pacific Northwest town where my family lived is now pretty much decimated. People began moving away when the bottom fell out of the silver market in the late 70s/early 80s, and that mine essentially shut down.

The point of this: I don't come from money, and I don't come from "the elite." I come from mountain folk, laborers, and miners. Any success I have comes from their hardiness and determination, and from a government that believes people shouldn't go starving or in rags because of circumstances beyond their control, and that it should help people embrace their God-given potential.

I wish my grandparents and my great-grandma were around to share in my success, but all of them died too young (my lovely, wonderful grandma only made it to 59). They lived hardscrabble lives that ended too early. I know, however, that if they were about, each of them would be sporting, in one of my grandpa's favorite phrases, a shit-eating grin. I know that without them, I wouldn't be where I am today. Underemployed, perhaps, but a Ph.D.

11 August 2009

Rumor Central: Obamacare (Updated)

Taking a break from The Project to post some links regarding the plethora of rumors on health care reform.

1. For seniors concerned about Medicare and the fears of the government controlling "life and death decisions": the AARP has a page on "Myths vs. Facts"

2. "Health Insurance Reform Reality Check" addresses the claims that health insurance reform will:
-lead to a "government takeover" of health care or lead to "rationing."
-would encourage or even require euthanasia for seniors.
-will affect veterans' access to medical care.
-will harm small businesses.
-would be financed by cutting Medicare benefits.
-will force people out of their current insurance plans / force them to change doctors.
3. The rumors and distortions--on both sides--have kept Factcheck.org pretty busy. See the entries under:
"Health Care"
"Health Insurance"
4. The Truth-O-Meter at Politifact goes wild in the "Health" category.

5. The Associated Press fact checks rumors about "death panels" and clarifies the bill's statements on advanced care planning.

6. The Institute for Southern Studies corrects some of the misinformation presented by, among others, The Liberty Counsel (you can see the Liberty Counsel's full list of talking points here. This list appears to be one of the sources for Sarah Palin's much debunked claim about government run "death panels").
Note: Politifact approached the Liberty Counsel about a particularly specious claim on the list: that the health care bill "'will establish school-based 'health' clinics. Your children will be indoctrinated and your grandchildren may be aborted!". . .the bills now before the House say nothing about the school clinics being able to offer abortions." Politifact "spoke with Sarah Speller at the Liberty Counsel, who told us that the group had been getting a lot of calls about the memo and that everyone there was very busy as a result. However, she assured us that 'as far as our office can tell, everything in the overview is accurate. That's about all I can tell you,' she said. 'I'm just relaying what I've been told to say.' [Politifact] see no language in the three main versions of the bill that would allow school-based clinics, which have a long history of providing basic health services to underprivileged students, to provide abortions. Nor would the clinics even be new — they have been around for three decades. So we rate the claim Pants on Fire!
7. McClatchy publishes "Headed to a health care 'town brawl?' Read this first," a brief guide to wild claims about health care reform.

8. C Q Politics does a decent job at "Vetting the Health Care Rhetoric."

9. Factcheck has a fresh entry tackling a chain-email currently making the rounds: "Twenty-Six Lies About H. R. 3200." Factcheck notes that the email makes 48 claims. Of these, 26 are demonstrably false, 18 are misleading, and 4 are true.

If you find yourself in a muddle from all the misinformation floating about, the sites included above offer some clarity.

And it's back to The Project.

30 July 2009

Hiatus, Interrupted

Focusing on The Project; consequently, very little time spent on m, p, & g s (or even following the news as closely as desired). Once The Project concludes, expect regular updates and some (possibly) striking revelations.

But first, some oddities:

--many hits on an old post about Stephen King and the highbrow/lowbrow divide, thanks to visitors from The Seated View.

--Lots of hits on the post about the "Sarah Obama tape"

--Many, many hits on the "If I wanted to visit Pakistan in 1981" post.
(these last two really puzzle me, as the rumors they discuss have been repeatedly and thoroughly disproven, beginning last winter).

--lots of people searching for "Birther jokes." I'm not sure how they end up here.

Anyway, more later. Best to ye.

28 July 2009

Hawaii Reaffirms Obama Legitimacy

For the second time (the first was in October 2008), Hawaii's Director of Health, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, verifies that President Obama was, indeed, born in Hawaii, per The Honolulu Advertiser.

The Honolulu Advertiser story also offers details on how the state deals with vital records, including who is, or isn't, permitted to view the original versions of items such as birth certificates, and how the state's COLB formatting has changed over time (the COLB posted online by the Obama campaign reflects the most recent incarnation of the COLB).

It also deflates theories that the Obama birth announcements, which appeared in the Advertiser as well as the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, were "phoned in" from elsewhere: Janice Okubo, the spokesman for the Hawaii Health Department, confirms that such announcements "were not sent to the newspapers by the general public but by the Health Department, which received the information directly from hospitals," (HA). She adds that: "Birth announcements from the public ran elsewhere in both papers and usually included information such as the newborn's name, weight and time of birth" (HA).

So there you go.

Aside: Here is The Guardian's overview of the Birther movement.

24 July 2009

McCain's Camp Checked Out Birther Claims

And came up with nada.

David Weigel reveals that lawyers working with the McCain Campaign's general counsel "monitered" the Birther lawsuits. They did a little investigating of their own as well:

While they ruled out any chance of the ‘birther’ lawsuits holding up in court, lawyers for the McCain campaign did check into the rumors about Obama’s birth and the assertions made by Berg and others. “To the extent that we could, we looked into the substantive side of these allegations,” said [Trevor] Potter. “We never saw any evidence that then-Senator Obama had been born outside of the United States. We saw rumors, but nothing that could be sourced to evidence. There were no statements and no documents that suggested he was born somewhere else. On the other side, there was proof that he was born in Hawaii. There was a certificate issued by the state’s Department of Health, and the responsible official in the state saying that he had personally seen the original certificate. There was a birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser, which would be very difficult to invent or plant 47 years in advance.” (Washington Independent)

It's worth your time to read Weigel's entire article, which soundly (and sanely) debunks most of the various Birther claims. While this won't stop the more fervent Birthers, it might help check the mainstream "interest" in the story.

05 July 2009

FBI: No Palin Investigation

There's been a flurry of speculation over Palin's decision to resign her office. One supposition might now be struck off: an FBI agent flat out denies any investigation into the Governor's dealings:
the FBI's Alaska spokesman said the bureau had no investigation into Palin for her activities as governor, as mayor or in any other capacity.

"There is absolutely no truth to those rumors that we're investigating her or getting ready to indict her," Special Agent Eric Gonzalez said in a phone interview Saturday. "It's just not true." He added that there was "no wiggle room" in his comments for any kind of inquiry. (L A Times)
Pretty unequivocal.

25 June 2009

Iran: "Ahmadinejad's useful idiots"

Salon offers a compelling interview with Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American whose father was an Iranian diplomat and whose grandfather was an ayatollah.

Last year sawe the publication of Majd's study of contemporary Iran, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran. The book examines Iran as,
a country that is fiercely proud of its Persian heritage, mystified by its outsider status, and scornful of the idea that the United States can dictate how it should interact with the community of nations. [. . . .] a country that is deeply religious yet highly cosmopolitan, authoritarian yet with democratic and reformist traditions—an Iran that is a more nuanced nemesis to the United States than it is typically portrayed to be.
It has been well reviewed. But it looks as though Majd's audience doesn't include some important US players. In Majd's view, folks like John McCain, Mike Pence, and Lindsey Graham might find it helpful to study up a bit more on Iran prior to vocalizing support for the anti-Ahmadinejad movement. Salon's Jeanne Carstensen posed a question to Mojd about such actions:

Would you say that the neoconservatives’ extremely vocal calls to intervene on behalf of Mousavi are playing into the hands of the most conservative forces in Iran?

The neocons know nothing about Iran, nothing about the culture of Iran. They have no interest in understanding Iran, in speaking to any Iranian other than Iranian exiles who support the idea of invasions — I’ll call them Iranian Chalabis. It’s offensive, even to an Iranian American like me. These are people who would have actually preferred to have Ahmadinejad as president so they could continue to demonize him and were worried, as some wrote in Op-Eds, that Mousavi would be a distraction and would make it easier for Iranians to build a nuclear weapon and now all of a sudden they want to be on his side? Go away.

I’m not saying Obama is the most knowledgeable person on Iran, but he’s obviously getting good advice right now. He understands way more about the culture of the Middle East than any of the neocons. For them to be lecturing President Obama is a joke. I have criticized Obama; for instance, I criticized him for having a patronizing tone in his Persian New Year message. But right now I think he’s doing a good job. The John McCains of the world, they’re Ahmadinejad’s useful idiots. They’re doing a great job for him.

This is something we've heard, continually, from Iran and from Iranians. How these Americans think they're actually serving the protesters puzzles me. Surely they knew, based on the USA's history with Iran, that the moment they opened their mouths the conservative ayatollahs would use them to discredit the opposition movement, to demonize its leaders, and to punish the protesters as traitors. And no, saying "well, they would have blamed America anyway" is no excuse. What McCain, Pence, Graham, et. al. have done is provided the hardliners with support for their false claims of US involvement.

Iran: The Heir

The L A Times has published an article on Mojtaba Khamenei, son of the Supreme Leader, and the would-be heir to Ayatollah Khamenei's position when he passes away. Analysts have conjectured that Supreme Leader Khamenei's insistence on Ahmadinejad's re-election has everything to do with the planned succession: allegedly, the Khameneis are not "popular in Qom," amongst the men who choose Iran's Supreme Leader (LAT). Mojtaba Khamenei, however, has allies in the Revolutionary Guard and the intelligence service, as does Ahmadinejad, who shares an affinity for "messiani rhetoric and Islamic fervor" with Mojtaba Khamenei (LAT). He could prove to be a useful friend.

Rather than comment on it at the moment (busy night), I'll leave you with another link. This one leads you to a profile of Mojtaba Khamenei at The Guardian, which describes him as "one of the driving force" behind the bloody crackdowns. Key quote:

"There has been a lot of talk lately that this is all about Mojtaba and the succession," said Ali Ansari, an Iran analyst at St Andrews University.

"He may be securing the position for the long term, and protecting it. The argument is that he is protecting his future."

So this all might be about re-establishing a ruling dynasty, if you will. According to rumor (let me re-emphasize: rumor) Rafsanjani and the clerics of Qon will be weighing in on the matter soon, possibly by Friday, when Ayatollah Khamenei will again lead prayers.

Added: The New York Times's Neil MacFarquhar offers a fine, but disconcerting, overview of Ahmadinejad, the Khameneis, and the anti-democratic brand of Islam they endorse.

24 June 2009

AWOL in Argentina

Four days after he'd vanished into thin air, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford contacted people to let them know he was fine. He was hiking. After staying away for a few more days, Sanford returned to explain that he'd been visiting the woman with whom he's having an affair.

The media is focusing on the story's salacious elements (not only did he cheat, but he was cheating on Father's Day, etc.), and Sanford has held a news conference to admit to moral failings and to prostrate himself before the state's "people of faith." A South Carolina Republican appeared on CNN to publicly give Sanford the benefit of a doubt, because "life has its problems." Fair enough. We all fall down, and infidelity is not exactly a rare activity.

What's not being addressed, and what seems infinitely more significant to me, is that not only did Sanford up and disappear for nearly a week, but he up and disappeared out of the country. We're not talking Cancun or Toronto--he went to Argentina. Again, a state governor left the country (heck, left the continent) for a week without telling anyone where he was going or how he might be reached. He deserted his state, and he should step down.

I'll close with this, which might offer some insight into Sanford's mindset:
Heading to South Carolina from Georgia this morning, Sanford said: "I don't know how this thing got blown out of proportion." (LA Times).

Added: The entirety of the news conference shows that some reporters did ask Sanford about his disappearance (rather than focus explicitly on the affair).

Also, CNN's resident curmudgeon Jack Cafferty did a fine job airing views similar to my own. In fact, his featured question at the moment asks whether Sanford should be removed from office. Some of the comments are a hoot.

The Downing Street Memo: No One-Off

It emerged over the weekend (but largely missed because of media coverage of the Iran crisis), but it seems that the infamous "Downing Street Memo," which alluded to the manufacturing of the Iraq, has a successor, which pretty much confirms that the war was manufactured. A second secret memo has been released that must have both Bush and Blair cringing, for it further clarifies how the men, and their cabinets, considered how they might go about prompting a war with Iraq.

Excerpts from the "Downing Street Memo," 23 July 2002.
(full facsimile of the document at the Times)
John Scarlett [Director General of BSIS] summarised the intelligence and latest JIC assessment. Saddam's regime was tough and based on extreme fear. The only way to overthrow it was likely to be by massive military action. Saddam was worried and expected an attack, probably by air and land, but he was not convinced that it would be immediate or overwhelming. His regime expected their neighbours to line up with the US. Saddam knew that regular army morale was poor. Real support for Saddam among the public was probably narrowly based.

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
[. . . .]
The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.
So it's established that in summer 2002 Blair and Bush had decided on war, were trying to find a justification for striking Iraq, and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of war. This is well-known. Old news.

Well, it turns out that in January 2003 (when Rumsfeld had originally wanted to begin attacks), Bush and Blair again reviewed their plans. The problem was that no WMDs had been found, nor was it likely that they might be found. So they had to explore different ways to "legitimize" invading Iraq. A five page memo, from 31 January 2003, records their planning. From The Guardian:

Bush told Blair the US had drawn up a provocative plan "to fly U2 reconnaissance aircraft painted in UN colours over Iraq with fighter cover". Bush said that if Saddam fired at the planes this would put the Iraqi leader in breach of UN resolutions.

The president expressed hopes that an Iraqi defector would be "brought out" to give a public presentation on Saddam's WMD or that someone might assassinate the Iraqi leader. However, Bush confirmed even without a second resolution, the US was prepared for military action. The memo said Blair told Bush he was "solidly with the president".
[. . . .]
Paraphrasing Bush's comments at the meeting, Manning [the document's scribe], noted: "The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled in for 10 March. This was when the bombing would begin." [it actually began 10 days later--20 March]
[. . . .]
The memo notes there had been a shift in the two men's thinking on Iraq by late January 2003 and that preparing for war was now their priority. "Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning," Manning writes [essentially a repetition of ""the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy"]. This was despite the fact Blair that had yet to receive advice on the legality of the war from the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, which did not arrive until 7 March 2003 - 13 days before the bombing campaign started.

There have been rumors and allegations about the run-up to the war, but to have it presented so clearly, and cynically, is pretty gobsmacking. If they were aware that Iraq had no WMD, what in God's name was the point of the entire enterprise in the first place? They cannot hide behind "well, our intelligence failed" now. We've evidence of the cock up. It wasn't the intelligence. It was them.

No more sweeping under carpets. Let's have this out.

23 June 2009

Ed McMahon, 1923-2009

Ed MacMahon died in hospital this morning. He'd had a hard time since Johnny left The Tonight Show, but he always seems to retain the nation's affection. His last years were hard--much misfortune--but others rallied 'round. He will be missed.

(I could continue about how, when staying over at my late grandmother's house, I had to sleep on the sofa in the living room. Every weekday night, she'd sit on the carpet in front of The Tonight Show playing solitaire. It was her only "alone time" of the day. I was supposed to be asleep, of course, but I would draw the blanket right up to my eyes, and from that vantage, I'd watch the show, and my grandmother. I'll always associate Johnny and Ed with Grandma, and now I've gone all maudlin. Anyway, thanks Ed.)

22 June 2009

Iran: Rafsanjani Set to "Outflank" Khamenei

This, if true, is huge news. According to EurasiaNet, Iran's hardliners sense "that a shoe is about to drop."

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- Iran’s savviest political operator and an arch-enemy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s -- has kept out of the public spotlight since the rigged June 12 presidential election triggered the political crisis. The widespread belief is that Rafsanjani has been in the holy city of Qom, working to assemble a religious and political coalition to topple the supreme leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Apparently, the hardliners in Khamenei's camp are more worried about Rfsanjani than about the popular uprising. And so they should:

Now that Ayatollah Khamenei has become inexorably connected to Ahmadinejad’s power grab, many clerics are coming around to the idea that the current system needs to be changed [. . . .]
A reformist website, Rooyeh, reported that Rafsanjani already had the support of nearly a majority of the Assembly of Experts, a body that constitutionally has the power to remove Ayatollah Khamenei. The report also indicated that Rafsanjani’s lobbying efforts were continuing to bring more clerics over to his side. Rafsanjani’s aim, the website added, is the establishment of a leadership council, comprising of three or more top religious leaders, to replace the institution of supreme leader. Shortly after it posted the report on Rafsanjani’s efforts to establish a new collective leadership, government officials pulled the plug on Rooyeh.

We'll know more later in the week. As it stands. Mousavi has called for a nation-wide strike on Tuesday the 23rd. More demonstrations are planned for the upcoming days, ostensibly as a display of mourning for the victims of the past week's brutalities.

Iran: Global Protest Thursday

From NiacINsight:
Mousavi’s facebook page just announced that they want to hold global solidarity demonstrations on Thursday “for the martyrs that have been lost so far in our fight for justice.” In Tehran, the demonstration will be held at Imam Khomeini Shrine, according to the announcement.
Considering the number of rallies in support of the opposition movement, there ought be no problems attracting significant numbers of people to a local demonstration Thursday.

Iran: National Strike Tuesday, 23 June (& Weds, Thurs)

It's been confirmed by several sources in Iran:

NATIONAL STRIKE TOMORROW (TUESDAY) in objection to the attacks & killings & the coup
(someone else adds: "People - no business in Iran TUESDAY - sorry we are all on STRIKE").

Added: extension of the strike to last throughout the week:

MOUSAVI Declares ALL IRAN STRIKE TUESDAY & Rest of Week! Do NOT WORK! STAY HOME OR PROTEST! Close ALL Bazaars!

Getting Medieval at 3 A.M.

So I'm at the OED online looking up "medieval" as an adjective to check its usage history (for a project), and I find this:
b. U.S. to get medieval: to use violence or extreme measures on, to become aggressive.
1994 Q. TARANTINO & R. AVARY Pulp Fiction 131, I ain't through with you by a damn sight. I'm gonna git Medieval on your ass. 1996 Rolling Stone 13 July 85/3 And with the metal-on-metal grinding and old-school synth whoops..Faust and O'Rourke really get medieval. 1999 Washington Post 9 May F1, I have no idea why we're talking about sending ground troops to Kosovo when we can send a fleet of Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators over there. What's Milosevic going to throw at them--Yugos? These things will get medieval with Yugos. 2000 N.Y. Times 5 May E8/1 The teenage crowd screamed and cheered--but only when Macbeth got medieval on someone.

Maybe it's just me being up at three a.m. and all, but I find this--and the illustrative quotes--hysterical. Pulp Fiction in the OED? C'mon. But I'm happy to know that teenagers are whooping it up at a performance of Macbeth (rather, they have done in the past ten years).

Aside: sometimes I hate that I can get the OED is online. It's too easy. My beloved bought me a (used) copy of the two volume compact. I love it, and I enjoy the whole magnifying glass thing like crazy, but I tend to use it as a place to pile bills more than anything else. Pathetic.

21 June 2009

Chatham House's Iran Election Report (and Guardian Council Begins to 'Fess Up)

The Royal Institute for International Affairs has released its report on the recent elections in Iran.
From the Institute's site, Chatham House:
Working from the province by province breakdowns of the 2009 and 2005 results, released by the Iranian Ministry of Interior, and from the 2006 census as published by the official Statistical Centre of Iran, this paper offers some observations about the official data and the debates surrounding the 2009 Iranian Presidential Election.
You can download a copy here.

Added: This from Iranian state media organization Press TV:
Iran's Guardian Council has suggested that the number of votes collected in 50 cities surpass the number of people eligible to cast ballot in those areas.

The council's Spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, who was speaking on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Channel 2 on Sunday, made the remarks in response to complaints filed by Mohsen Rezaei -- a defeated candidate in the June 12 Presidential election.

"Statistics provided by Mohsen Rezaei in which he claims more than 100% of those eligible have cast their ballot in 170 cities are not accurate -- the incident has happened in only 50 cities," Kadkhodaei said.
Even so, and even though "
the vote tally affected by such an irregularity could be over 3 million and the council could at the request of the candidates re-count the affected ballot boxes," the Guardian Council might not act. After all, three million votes won't change the ultimate outcome, which, they insist, results from a 10 million vote difference between Ahmadinejad and the oppostion candidates.

20 June 2009

Iran: Saturday Rally

Mousavi has not died, has not been injured, has not been arrested, and has not canceled the rally.

From a reliable, credible source in Iran:
confirmed - Mousavi - SATURDAY 4pm Enghelab Sq - HISTORY will be watching us

Update:
News reports, inside and outside of Iran, confirm that the government cracked down with tear gas, batons, and chains. Other sources claim that guns and unknown chemical agents were used (the latter apparently dropped on crowd via helicopter). Many killed, many others wounded. Still the protesters continue into the night. Some sold sources for up-to-the minute reports from Iran not issued by Iran's State media:

19 June 2009

Mousavi NOT Arrested (Updated)

Interesting how Twitter is quickly acting to turn misinformation into "real" news (because people are unable or unwilling to vet sources), and how eager some young Americans are to engage themselves in the Iran protests, but who get so caught up with revolutionary fever that they forget to think. Even well-intentioned misinformation remains misinformation, and in a situations as impassioned as Iran's, that misinformation can be destructive. Case in point:

Earlier today, someone on Twitter posted a link to an article at The Guardian by a friend of Mr. Mousavi's named Mohsen Makhmalbaf, which said the following:
I have been given the ­responsibility of telling the world what is happening in Iran. The office of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who the Iranian people truly want as their leader, has asked me to do so. They have asked me to tell how Mousavi's headquarters was wrecked by plainclothes police officers. To tell how the commanders of the revolutionary guard ordered him to stay silent. To urge people to take to the streets because Mousavi could not do so directly.
[. . . .]
Some suggest the protests will fade because nobody is leading them. All those close to Mousavi have been arrested, and his contact with the outside world has been restricted. People rely on word of mouth, because their mobile phones and the internet have been closed down. That they continue to gather shows they want something more than an election. They want freedom, and if they are not granted it we will be faced with another revolution.
The person who Tweeted the link to this article posted it with the assertion "MOUSAVI ARRESTED!!! RT RT RT," and
Okay, maybe I need to repeat this loudly to get it RTed: MOUSAVI AND STAFF HAS BEEN ARRESTED
As you can imagine, this caused a bit of a stir. When Twittering skeptics confronted the poster, he reacted with something like outrage at being challenged:
@[redacted] No, because I have as much confirmation on this (if not more) as on many other "confirmed" things. [he had one article that he misread]

@[redacted] Would you rather I stop reporting the news and leave you to wait 2-3 days if not longer for CNN to cover it?
Eventually, he admitted to misreading the article, apologized, and proceeded to retract the posts that directly asserted Mousavi's arrest. However, others remain, for example:
Mousavi's offices are trashed, Mousavi's staff in police custody, Mousavi is missing. #iranelection #gr88 #clarification
However, those posts caught the attention of others. It's now appeared at Daily Kos, and at least one American news personality (I will keep her anonymous) signaled interest in the story. If Ed Henry picks it up, Lord know what it will turn into (I think he still insists that the State Department shut down Twitter on Tuesday).

I'd like to add this: Mr. Makhmalbaf's column repeats old news.
1) Mousavi's office was "looked over" earlier this week (Sunday), and members of the opposition (e.g., "those who are close to him") have been arrested over the course of the week.
2) Mousavi has been pretty low key all week. Recall that similar reports of him being under house arrest showed up earlier this week). He's not addressed the media, and, excepting his appearances at rallies, he communicates to his followers via the Internet and through others (hence The Guardian article). Also, as he's been quiet over hte past day or so, it's useful to recall that recent news reports announced that Supreme Leader Khatemei had directed Mousavi to be quiet or else. It rather makes sense that he's keeping a low profile in the runup to Saturday's rally. Anyway, there's a difference between being arrested, being ordered silent, and being pragmatic (e.g., playing your cards close to your chest). My guess is it's a bit of the latter two mixed together.
Added: Mr. Makhmalbaf spoke with the AP via telephone today; the AP reports:
Mir Hossein Mousavi is not under arrest, but cannot talk with journalists, take phone calls or stand at a microphone at his rallies, his spokesman said Friday from Paris.

Faced with the limitations at rallies, Mousavi has had to speak "into a megaphone that can maybe be heard by 100 people, if everyone is quiet,"
[. . . .]
Authorities are closely watching Mousavi because arresting him would spark further outrage among his supporters, he said, speaking in Farsi. Makhmalbaf said he is in contact with people close to Mousavi in the capital Tehran, but it's become increasingly difficult to reach them.

Mr. Mousavi and the opposition have undergone an horrific week; that's for certain. My concern is that the tenor of the posts seemed design to inflame rather than inform, and that the poster's outrage at being questioned by skeptics illustrates that some people are relying on Twitter to become the news (e.g., so eager to "break" a story that he or she puts it out there without really thinking). Moreover, the story itself, coming after Supreme Leader Khamenei's uber-aggressive oratory, and at an especially heated, anxious moment in Iran, could have resulted in even more news--and little of it pleasant. Think--and verify--before you Tweet.

Caveat:
I've not linked to the Tweeter, nor given his name, because he has been helpful to the opposition, and I don't want to embarrass him further.

Further:
Several credible people in Iran have claimed that Mousavi is safe, and that the rallies planned for Saturday will proceed.

Update: 6/21:
Mir-Hossein Mousavi still not under arrest. This rumor emerged early last week, gained new life late last week, and refuses to go away. Approach Twitter with caution. There's some solid, verifiable material there, but there's a significant amount of disinformation as well (some of it from misinterpreting information [see below], some of it aimed at misdirecting protesters, but some of it for lulz: one Tweeter who sent out a version of the latest Mousavi "arrest" story, declaring that it had been "confirmed by BBC and CNN," has the following on his feed:
hipsters sitting at Starbucks tweeting about Iran, envisioning themselves as players in a revolution. Viva la revolucion! #IranElection
--
you RETARDS! There aren't "Spies" on Twitter - we're just dudes on computer fucking with you. Hee hee, "Spies" #IranElection
Worth keeping in mind.

Iran: Friday Opposition Events

News about Friday's events in Iran have been in something of a flux: it looks as though someone has been sending misleading information about the opposition leaders' plans for Fridays. Mir-Hossein Mousavi's website appears to have been hacked earlier today, and someone has been tweeting and retweeting misinformation over Twitter. The best I can ascertain :
People should attend Friday prayers.
and
All rallies have been postponed until Saturday, 4:00 pm (I'll post more later).
There seems to be a consensus about no Friday rallies. For information on Friday prayers, I've relied on reliable Tweeters as well as news sources that excel at vetting information, such as NiacINsight (a blog for the Iranian-American community) and Nico Pitney at The Huffington Post. See the following posts on Friday prayers:

From NIAC:
6:32 pm: What’s going on here?

Earlier in the day, we saw a message posted on Mousavi’s facebook page saying “Mousavi & Karoubi ask supporters NOT to attend Friday prayers (which is being delivered by supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei).” We thought this was strange, since they were saying exactly the opposite just a little while ago. Now, Nico and the NYT both have commented about the same message going up on Twitter. [ed: NYT only posted the Tweeted message. No commentary]

Just as we were trying to figure out what was going on on Mousavi’s facebook page, the message was removed. This appears to be an organized attack on Mousavi and Karroubi’s facebook and twitter accounts to send misleading messages to supporters. We got the impression that they were trying to take these messages down as fast as possible, so we are pretty convinced they’re not legitimate.
And from Pitney at HuffPo:
5:58 PM ET -- Fishy. This was just posted on Mousavi's official Twitter account. "Mousavi & Karoubi ask supporters NOT to attend Friday prayers (which is being delivered by supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei)." This seems quite unlikely to me, trying to get to the bottom of it.

Update: Patrick Disney from the NIAC says this message was also posted on Mousavi's Facebook page and then removed a little later. Seems like someone outside is trying to cause trouble.
Like I said, the message that Pitney posts has been tweeted and retweeted all night long, and it seems to have overwhelmed messages noting that Mousavi's sites have been hacked.

18 June 2009

Ohio Man Attacked. . .By Iran?

Here's a potentially frightening scenario--Iranians in the USA assaulting Americans sympathetic to the opposition.

Someone who has been truly helpful at helping Iranians with proxies announced on Twitter that he'd been on his way to university in Ohio was attacked by "Iranian or Lebanese" men. This appeared on one Twitter feed:
Leaving for college now. Not sure if I'll be permitted to tweet from class. If not, will write full summary of events between classes.

Am safe, hidden away. Will continue to post reports from Iran, no more info about me.

Details: was attacked by single vehicle throwing rocks while walking. Am safe now, though not in contact with anyone in Iran.

@[redacted] No, I live in America.

I'm fine, filed police report (though they seemed uninterested) Huffington Post will be posting more details at some point.
In an interview with a DailyKos diarist, the man elaborated, saying that his attackers were "a group of men that seemed to be either Iranian or Lebanese [. . . .] They drove up besides him and threw rocks at him while shouting, "Mousavi Fraud." Also, the man told the interviewer "that his personal information was leaked, and is currently being spread both online and inside of Iran amongst the government." The interviewer took this as "a strong indicator of how international in scope these events are. A [sic] American on American soil has already been attacked due to these protests in Iran."

As the man alerted folks on Twitter, The Huffington Post did post more details.
10:35 AM ET -- A word of caution. This DailyKos diary, now featured in the "recommended" section, reports that a man in Ohio who has been helping Iranians on Twitter had his personal information leaked, and then was harassed by three men shouting anti-Mousavi slogans as he walked to his university.

We heard the same rumors yesterday, and my colleague Sam Stein tried to figure out what happened. The Ohio college that the man told us he attended said they had no record of him as a student. And after saying he had called 911 to report the incident, the man gave a reason for why he thought that the police wouldn't end up having a record of the 911 call.

It's certainly possible that this attack occurred, which would obviously be unfortunate and disturbing. But more confirmation is definitely needed.
Indeed. It's horrific that this might happen; there's every chance that it did occur. However, it's troubling that nobody, besides Nico Pitney and Sam Stein, seems to have checked up on this story (e.g., checking with sources other than the alleged victim). People seem to prefer stoking paranoia.

Confirm. Verify.

Update: The story has now appeared at Democratic Underground and the commentators are, well, skeptical. It's also appeared at Slashdot, where the commentators are a bit more accepting. It's also being posted at Rush Limbaugh's site, as well as a few other places.

Fresh Air on Conspiracy Theories, Extremism, Racism, Violence

On the Fresh Air broadcast for 18 June, Terry Gross interviews Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates who "has studied extremism, conspiracy theories and hate groups for more than 25 years." (NPR). The broadcast focuses on the links between conspiracy theories, extremism, and violence.

According to Berlet, there have been nine murders linked to white supremacist groups and/or prompted by conspiracy theories since Obama's election [correction: since the inauguration].

You can listen to the show here.

Aside: Berlet addresses both right wing and left wing conspiracy theories, extremism, and scapegoating.

And on a related note: The OC Weekly has published a profile of Dr. Orly Taitz, an anti-Obama activist and birth certificate conspiracy theorist, as well as an overview (and debunking) of her various claims. Read it here.

Iran: Fights in Parliament Over Attacks on Protesters

Etemaad.ir, a Farsi news site, recently posted an item describing an altercation that broke out in Iran's Parliament this week. The MP's had been discussing Basiji attacks on students. Nico Pitney has posted a translation of the story at The Huffington Post (see his update at 2:33 PM ET [6/19]). Excerpt:
After Ansari [MP], Abutorabi [Parliament Secretary] took the floor again and continued questioning the plainclothes security forces once again. At this point Hosseinian, Koochakzadeh, and resaee, the three biggest supporters of Ahmadinejad in the parliament, started a verbal argument which ended with a number of physical fights. As a result a number of pro and ant Ahmadinejad members of the parliament join the fight and start slapping and pushing each other.
Head to HuffPo for the rest.

Additionally, and significantly, MPs claim to know the identities of members of the Basij, and assert that "they will expose the identities of those behind the plainclothes security forces" (qtd. in Pitney). Whether because of these threats or because photographs of Basiji have been posted on the Internet, the forces have started covering their faces (see the 12:12 PM update here). Concerns over being identified suggests concerns about retaliation--either by protesters or, should there be a President, by imprisonment.

17 June 2009

Iran: Fax & Post Service

A new service for the Iranian opposition members who can't access the Internet! From Nico Pitney's update at The Huffington Post:
The revolution will be faxed. A valuable service being organized by Eric Purdy and his crew at the University of Chicago:
We have set up a website to receive faxes from Iran, which we will post online. Hopefully this will be another way for information about what's going on in Iran to make its way out of the country.

Please disseminate this fax number as widely as possible: 001 773 321 0202. We will post any faxes we receive at iranfax.org.

As long as you have a fax machine and a working phone line, you're golden.

Iran: Thursday Rallies (Updated)

From a reliable Iranian Twitter feed:

Events for Thursday(conf by Mousavi) at 14:00 Pasdaran, Shahrzad Blvd UN Building,17:00 Emam Khomeini Sq.

Updated: There's a change in plans:

Today's protest is ONLY in Toopkhaneh Sq at 4pm according to Kalameh. Mousavi is going to be there

The State Department & Twitter

This is kind of petty, but the State Department's claim of contacting Twitter about postponing its downtime irritates me. Here's why:

1) Monday, June 15, Twitter announces
We will have 90 minutes of maintenance starting tonight at 9:45p Pacific [8:15 AM Tehran]. Critical network upgrades will be performed during this time.
2) Immediately after the announcement appeared, people began to flood Twitter with requests to postpone the downtime because of the sudden rise in traffic to and from members of the Iranian opposition [requests made by email and on Twitter. See #nomaintenance].

3) Monday, 4:24 pm, Twitter announces:
"Downtime has been rescheduled for 2p Pacfiic [sic] tomorrow, June 16th" [5 pm EST, 1:30 AM Tehran time].
4) Tuesday, June 16th: The State Department claims that it had contacted Twitter about the Monday outage. According to Reuters, the contact happened "over the weekend." That is, before the downtime was announced and before Twitter exploded as a critical tool for communications between the Iranian opposition and the outside world. According to the New York Times, the contact happened on Monday afternoon, when a 27 year old State Department official emailed a Twitter co-counder to request a delay (in other words, he joined the Twittering throngs). Over the weekend or Monday afternoon--which is it?

5) Tuesday, 2:00 pm PDT, Twitter's delayed upgrade occurred as planned.

6) Tuesday, 3:21 pm PDT: Twitter denies that they shifted the upgrade because of the State Department. In fact, the Twitter blog features a delightfully ambiguous statement that alludes to the State Department, but that neither confirms nor denies the State Department's claims of contact:
It's humbling to think that our two-year old company could be playing such a globally meaningful role that state officials find their way toward highlighting our significance. However, it's important to note that the State Department does not have access to our decision making process. Nevertheless, we can both agree that the open exchange of information is a positive force in the world.
Now, it may very well be that the State Department official got in touch with Twitter on Monday, but it may also be that the State Department jumped onto the "mail Twitter about the Monday outage" after the fact: after Twitter had rescheduled and after the media began to report (or hype) Twitter's significance. Either way, the media reports the contact as though Twitter delayed the outage because of the State Department, and that's simply incorrect.

Like I said--it's petty. But it seems that the State Department is taking credit for citizens' initiatives. It also seems like a silly stunt (why would the State Department announce the contact? Especially when the President had repeated his points about not meddling. It might not be a huge deal to the general public, but the mullahs might see it differently).

Added: At Wired, Nicholas Thomson splashes some cold water on the Iran/Twitter hype.

Iran Wednesday

This morning, as ever, Nico Pitney has some fascinating entries on his Iran liveblog--go here to read up on the Iranian soccer team's show of support, Iranian authorities' threats against 'bloggers, and Rafsanjani's (alleged) emergency meeting with the Assembly of Experts (which, if true, is a huge deal), and a concrete example of how the army is protecting pro-Mousavi protesters from militia.

Also: this article from The Guardian reviews evidence of a purge of reformist figures in Iran, as well as this item:
There were also unconfirmed reports that Mohammad Asgari, who was responsible for the security of the IT network in Iran's interior ministry, was killed yesterday in a suspicious car accident in Tehran. Asgari had reportedly leaked evidence that the elections were rigged to alter the votes from the provinces. Asgari was said to have leaked information that showed Mousavi had won almost 19m votes, and should therefore be president.
Mousavi has called for a silent protest today to honor those killed in the past several days. According to this Reuters story, the crowd measures in the "tens of thousands" (The Guardian estimates "more than 500,000") and is, indeed, largely silent.

Iran: Rallies Planned for Weds and Thurs

From Tehran Bureau's Twitter feed:
Tehran Rallies confirmed-Wed jun17. 5pm SILENT PROTEST 7 Tir Square . Tehran - Thursday jun18. 2pm bolvare sharzad sazmane melal

Keep It Classy, GOP

After a solid week of hearing about David Letterman's incredibly tasteless joke about a Palin daughter, we've got more bad comedy to talk about, and all of it involves race. Moreover, all of it came forth from Republicans. Anyway...

Mike Green, a GOP political operative in South Carolina, decided to Tweet a racist Obama joke over the weekend (the "aspirin" joke, which is kind of tiresome). TPM asked Green about the joke, and he's admitted he'd written it (and he's apologized).

Meanwhile, another South Carolina Republican, Rusty DePass, responded to "a report posted to Facebook about a gorilla escape at a zoo in Columbia, S.C., Friday, [. . .] DePass wrote, "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle's ancestors - probably harmless."

Oh, that's clever, DePass. The New York Daily News adds:
DePass told WIS-TV in Columbia, "I am as sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest."

Then he added, "The comment was hers, not mine," claiming Michelle Obama made a recent remark about humans descending from apes. The Daily News could find no such comment.
Can anyone point to any comments Michelle Obama has made on evolution? No? Okay, a cheap (and lazy) attempt to cover his arse (and appeal doubly to a certain crowd?) via Darwin.

Third, we've got Sherri Goforth, a senior staffer for a TN state senator, who thought it wise to send out an that "depicts the Presidents of the United States with President Barack Obama as a pair of eyes in a black background" (NIT).

It turns out that Goforth sent the image to the wrong group of people, which she regrets.

No, the GOP isn't itself racist, but here we've got three GOPers passing along racist material on Twitter, Facebook, and regular old email; that they're distributing this juvenile nonsense is disconcerting, but that they're doing it so sloppily is especially troubling--is this stuff so acceptable to them that they needn't even think about what they're doing?

16 June 2009

Khamenei Fast Tracks Voting Fraud Investigation

An Iranian Tweeter reports: "Khamenei LIVE say he is re-confirming #iranelection was A'nejad win"

Everyone saw this coming. But it's important to note that Mousavi declined a recount and stated that only a re-vote could settle the matter.

In other news: Khamenei tries to discredit the protests by blaming any unrest on West--Obama played it right.

BBC Goes Green

Iranian protesters take this as a sign of support.
(I don't recall the BBC site's typical colors--it might always be green--but folks are taking its current shade as a gesture).

Iran: Rally and Counter-Rally

Shortly after the massive Mousavi rally in Tehran on Monday, people protesting the Iran election results arranged for a second rally on Tuesday. In response, the government arranged its own rally against the "revolutionaries"--a counter-protest--to begin in the same location and just shortly before the Mousavi rally was scheduled to begin. Many Twitterers wondered if the government hoped for clashes to occur between the two groups. Scenes from the pro-government rally were televised by Iran's State TV.

I haven't heard anything about clashes between the pro-and anti-government marchers, but according to eyewitnesses who Tweet, "The people are gathering around in front of Radio and TV HQ in Vali Asr St The situation is calm and everyone is silent," "nearly 4000 of mosavi's supporters are sitting silently in Azadi st."[updated: this source now estimates the crowd at 12,000]; and marchers are slowly making their way to the UN building in Tehran.

Added: BBC reports that eyewitnesses claim Tuesday's pro-Mousavi rally "was even bigger than Monday's - though this cannot be independently confirmed. "

Security forces are on the street, of course, and several human rights activists have been arrested. There are rumors that the army has turned on the pro-Mousavi protesters: while some report witnessing this, others respond that it's not confirmed and may be intended to frighten people away from the streets. Certainly there is a good deal of misinformation on Twitter, and some of it does seem designed to scare rather than inform.

Clerics Reject Ahmadinejad?

Now this doesn't look good for Ahmadinejad. The Wall Street Journal records this bit from Monday's pro-Mousavi rally:
A young cleric from the Shiite holy city of Qom addressed the crowd. "I have come to bring you a message from Qom," he said. "Without a doubt, all clerical scholars are against the current situation. The only person acceptable to them is Mr. Mousavi, they have rejected Mr. Ahmadinejad's request to meet them in the past two days."
[. . . .]
The 12-member council of clerics and scholars is required to approve elections, and technically has the power to nullify them, though it has never done so before. It is unclear how deeply the council would probe the vote, or what action it could take if it found irregularities.
What this might mean we'll have to wait and see, but if Ahmadinejad loses the Clerics' support, well. . .

Iran: Revolutionary Guards Arrested?

Okay no solid confirmation, but the following has cropped up on various sites--including The Washington Times--that "16 senior members of the Revolutionary Guard" were arrested Tuesday morning, and "these commanders have been in contact with members of the Iranian army to join the people's movement." They are now in an undisclosed location in Tehran.

The story's source is the Cyrus News Agency, which the Times links to. However, the CNA script is in Farsi. If you can translate, here's the link.

15 June 2009

Iran: Twitter Down Tonight (Updated)

The timing is pretty gobsmacking, but Twitter has scheduled a 90 minute outage for tonight.
Maintenance window tonight, 9:45p Pacific 16 minutes ago
We will have 90 minutes of maintenance starting tonight at 9:45p Pacific. Critical network upgrades will be performed during this time.
The information was posted around 4:30 PM EDT today (Monday).

Surely the folks at Twitter are aware of how crucial the service has been for the Iranian protesters? Twitter has been the only tool the Iranian government hasn't been able to block. Surely the service can postpone the upgrades?

Added: Twitter has noted the public's concern over the outage and has posted this followup:
Update (2:03p): Unfortunately the timing of this maintenance period is not within our control as our provider needs to perform these network upgrades. We apologize for the outage and hope to be back from the maintenance as quickly as our host can perform the work.
The shutdown is distressing because reports about armed militias victimizing protesters are increasing--all over the country, not just in Tehran.

If Twitter goes down, the protesters will lose their ability to warn fellow Iranians about the presence of Bajiji forces and about which areas come under attack by vigilantes. In ninety minutes, many youth could die because they took the wrong street in Tehran and ran smack into security.

They will lose the surest tool to debunk rumors generated by pro-government / anti-Mousavi forces (for example, yesterday's attempt to suppress Monday's via unverifiable stories that Mousavi himself canceled the march). And in ninety minutes, many rumors can take root.

They will lose their global voice, their ability to share the events in Iran with the world and expose the abuses that would otherwise be swept under the rug.

Twitter, please speak with your provider and postpone the maintenance. You are an indispensable medium of history.

Update: Twitter has postponed the upgrades! Thank you, Twitter!

UPDATE TWO: The upgrades are scheduled to occur Tuesday at 5 pm EDT. Protesters and their supporters remain concerned about losing touch with Iran.

Also, the U. S. State Department claims to have spoken to Twitter about delaying Monday's upgrade [Added: for more on that claim, see this post].

Iran: General Strike on Tuesday

Added: A source in Iran confirms that a second national strike will occur on Tuesday, 23 June:
NATIONAL STRIKE TOMORROW (TUESDAY) in objection to the attacks & killings & the coup.
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Iran's protesters have planned a nation-wide strike for Tuesday, 16 June.



Another rally is in the works for Tuesday evening: 5:00 pm Valiasr Square

Iran: Monday Updates

The Iranian people have taken to their rooftops again to shout "Allah Akbar" and "death to the dictator."

The militia are targeting the students again: Madyer Tweets that two dormitories are under siege: Tarasht and Shiraz.

StopAhmadi
Tweets that sources in Rasht claim that authories are wiretapping phone calls, while others report that citizens are leaving their gates and doors unlocked so that people begin chased by vigilantes may escape.

PersianKiwi Tweets that while moving locations, "were attacked in streets by mob on motorbikes with batons - firing guns into air - streetfires all over town - roads closed; #Iranelection" These must be the same people whom CNN's Rick Sanchez identified on air as questionable members of the opposition. According to eyewitnesses, Basiji are in plainclothes and are attacking civilians.

Persian Kiwi also asks that pedestrians in Tehran be aware, and try to avoid, the area of the military barracks off Pasdaran Street. Tweeted: "large number of plain clothes with bikes hiding in military barraks off Pasdaran - dont know what they are planning."

StopAhmadi confirms that protesters have burned the Basiji headquarters in Tehran. Molotov cocktails.

Iran: Where's Obama?

He's being smart.

Some are demanding that President Obama issue a statement of support for the protesters in Iran. I'm inclined to back off on Obama for a bit. He's smart enough to observe and consider prior to making crucial statements that will ultimately impact foreign policy.

I'm guessing that he does stand with the Iranian protesters philosophically and emotionally. Pragmatically, however, he's got to play it cool because any support Obama shows might backfire: Ahmadinejad and Khamenei can spin any encouraging statement into evidence that the West orchestrated the protests. This would not only minimize the people's efforts and discredit the movement (by presenting protesters as dupes of the West), it would also provide the Iranian government with an excuse for an all-out purge.

Also, there's the nukes. We don't know how Iran's current internal strife will play out, and we don't know who we'll be sitting down to discuss nuclear terms with. Cold and unromantic, but that is the reality.

Update: Journalist Michael Scherer Tweets that President Obama will address the Iranian matter Monday evening at a press conference with Italy's Berlusconi. Of course reporters will deluge the men with questions about their stances on Iran. My guess? Any responses will be rather noncommittal; expect no Bush-like declarations of outrage or support for the protesters.

Iran: Post-Rally

Despite the rumors, the misinformation, and the threats, they did it. Thousands and thousands of them. And Mousavi attended. Sadly, violence erupted, and one protester was killed. But the Iranian people stood their ground [see The Huffington Post, Tehran Bureau or niacINsight for more].

Tonight, they refuse to back off. PersianKiwi confirms that "karbaschi and karoubi heading to Tajreesh sq tonight" to speak to supporters. The people have seen what they can do, and they know that the world is paying attention to, and standing with them all.

Khamenei threatens Mousavi and Supporters

Tweeters, including PersianKiwi, IranElection09, are reporting that on live television Supreme Leader Khamenei threatened Mousavi and his supporters. From PersianKiwi:
if Moussavi does not retreat he will be dealt with according to law.
No additional details at the moment.

The government is panicking. And Mousavi's supporters aren't backing down. They're still marching.