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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What happened in Iran today?

Tear gas and truncheons.

That's the answer to the question below.

What's going to happen in Iran today?

(AP, Reuters, NYTimes) No word yet on what's going to happen, but by the time you read this, you'll probably know. State TV is announcing that the rallies have been canceled, but, that appears to be propaganda.

The BBC says the rallies will go ahead, and says Moussavi will make an announcement imminently.
An aide to Mr Karroubi also told the BBC that a rally would take place and that it would be attended by Mr Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami - the former president, key reformist and ally of Mr Mousavi.

(The head of the State Security Council made a threat that Moussavi might be arrested if the rallies go on. Think they'd really try to arrest him?)

(AFP) Karroubi said the protest will go ahead.

And, neither Moussavi or Karroubi attended the official elections complaint meeting yesterday offered by Khamenei.

Again, by the time you read this, you will know alot more.

Friday, June 19, 2009

First N. Korean ship intercept.

The US Navy is setting up for its first N. Korean ship intercept since the UN Sec Council measure passed last week. The ship is suspected of being involved in banned weapons proliferation (most likely missile parts.)

In the twitchy world of N. Korea, this is going to be very dicey.

Ironically, the US vessel headed for intercept is the destroyer, the USS John McCain. (Named for McCain's admiral father.)

Later: The Guardian has a piece on this incident.

Picture of the Day - Credit where it's due

Whatever sins he committed, at least John Ensign didn't drag his wife to stand embarrassed and wronged at the news conference.

Later: More messiness about the affair, though. Hampton's husband apparently tried to get FoxNews to investigate Ensign just days before Ensign came clean. (That would be the impetus.)

The street protests must be working....

Supreme Leader Khamenei takes the absolutist line on the election results and threatens a crackdown on the protesters. (AP, Reuters, NYTimes, WaPo, Guardian....)

Khamenei has chosen to create a decision point in this crisis. He has effectively drawn the line in the sand which I fell pretty sure the protesters will cross. (Heck, I think he almost motivated them to cross it.) What does he do when they come back to the streets defying his position?

If the government does begin a harder crackdown, they're inviting escalation and shifting the ground of the protests from the election result to Khamenei himself.

My favorite quote,
"If the difference as 100,000 or 200,000 or 1 million, one may say fraud could happen. But how can one rig 11 million votes?" Khamenei asked during Friday prayers at Tehran University.

Related: (NYTimes) The Khamenei/Republican Guard affiliated militias, the Basijis, are threatening "bolder action," and the WaPo has a really nice short definitional piece on the history, structure, and role of the Basijj.

(PS. Calling these people "protesters" is slightly misrepresentative. They are far differently behaved than the word "protesters" generally connotates. If you watch these hundreds of thousands walk down the streets in silence, it's really uniquely creepy.)

Crazy N. Korea

The N. Koreans are threatening to launch a missile towards Hawaii.

This is designed to be provocative, and it is. But before everybody goes nuts (which I think they will,) I kinda want to add this reminder to the discussion. North Korea currently has a truck, ship, and railcar based nuclear threat,
But North Korea has yet to demonstrate it has the ability to build a nuclear warhead that could be fitted onto the tip of one of its ballistic missiles.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hapless GOP

Just when there's the first, very faint signs that the GOP might be beginning to gain a little issue traction on Obama, let's bring this guy back on the stage. to "discuss policy" and start a Bush v. Obama popularity contest.

I mean, seriously. Just when they thought they might be out, he drags them back in.....

(Former President George W. Bush waves as he is introduced to speak at the Manufacturers & Business Association's 104th annual event in Erie, Pa., Wednesday, June 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic))

(PS. Obama's popularity is still very high, and the "issue slippage" is really pretty minor. There's some contradictory evidence to the meme, but it's a story the media have been looking to write.)


A very long ESPN piece on how Obama's taste for basketball is turning the game into Washington's power hobby, and how everyone is angling to get into the power games.

Picture of the Day - Face as statement

At what point does a politician's face become a statement of its own? Not every politician's face becomes a stylized statement of .... "resistance"(?)

Just certain figures take on that iconic status. Clearly Obama's image did in 2008. There was a somewhat stylized image of Bin Laden that was very popular in some Islamic quarters around 2003-04, and clearly the iconic Che Guevara image still holds message today. I think you could argue the two tone Lenin still bumps around, although it's in something of a "camp" sense.

To my mind, it's a point where the affiliation/identity of the wearer/holder becomes the message beyond any particular position of the icon.

(Disclaimer: I still occasionally wear my Obama face shirt. I don't know what I'm trying to say with it, but I do have some emotional content when I put it on. ...and yet, nobody made John Kerry face tee shirts, and even if they had, I sincerely doubt I would have worn one. No iconic Gore 2000 tee shirts, or Clinton..... No stylized Bush or even really Reagan....)

So, what do you think? What dynamics make a stylized face a statement?

Moussavi as insider

The NYTimes has a very nice piece looking at the subtleties of Moussavi's position which I tried to write about in the post below.

If you're trying to get some sense of the top level state of play, it's kind of a must read.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iran framing

Just a little framing of what we're seeing in Iran. All the focus is on the street protesters, but they're not the real story.

The real battle going on is the institutional battle between Khamenei and his power structure versus the troika of Moussavi, Rafsanjani, and Khatami, each with followers and supporters spread throughout the power structure.

The elections and the street protests are merely a focal point and fuel for the larger battle. The street prtesters are not going to bring down or take over the government, but they're extremely important as they keep the crisis alive and keep stress on Khamenei.

While we're watching the protests, what we're not seeing is the larger battle for legitimacy and the levers of power. The "reformists" (although the definition of that may break down if you mean it as anything but against the current structures) don't even really have to "win" to have effect. If they damage the legitimacy of Khamenei and finish this with their current levels of influence, they've won.

On my TV, this "crisis" is being framed as the people (good) against the current government (bad,) but in reality, it's not that clean. It's really Khamenei and his structures against some who are trying to diminish his influence.

I don't really know what I'm trying to say. I'm just trying to get up above the rather meaningless, sensationalizing coverage of individual events on the street.

Here's where Iran gets interesting

There's an issue in that Supreme Leader Khamenei is not the highly regarded religious icon of his predecessor. His religious certifications are not of the highest orders and this has been an unchallenged vulnerability for awhile.

So, when top Iranian religious leaders are beginning to publicly voice support for Moussavi's side, it becomes an issue.

(Again, I just don't see the regime being overturned, but all of this is seriously damaging its sense of legitimacy which may have ramifications down the road.)

Thought for the Day

If you're going to blackmail a Senator over an affair he had with your wife, do it during the election year, not when he has 5 and 1/2 years left on his term.

Why we need gay marriage

Obama will announce same sex fed benefits today.

Yay! I agree with that, but without some formality of same sex marriage or civil unions or whatever, you have to write these weird legal bits defining when a threshold has been met to qualify for partner benefits, and these thresholds tend to vary from benefit to benefit and from each piece of legislation to the next. It makes the benefit process much more complicated.

Legally, we need an institution to recognize gay relationships.

There's also the politics of this act. Obama has been taking alot of heat from the gay community over some recent support for DOMA in a court case, not changing "Don't ask, Don't tell," appointments, and some other stuff.

But if you're going to play politics with a group's issues, it works better if you don't admit it.
But administration officials said the timing of the announcement was intended to help contain the growing furor among gay rights groups. Several gay donors withdrew their sponsorship of a Democratic National Committee fund-raising event next week, where Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is scheduled to speak.

Threats from the Revolutionary Guard

More media developments. The Revolutionary Guard (under Supreme Leader Khamenei) issues a vague and ominous threat against internet postings,
The Revolutionary Guard, an elite military force answering to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei , said through the state news service that Iranian Web sites and bloggers must remove any materials that "create tension" or face legal action.

And, a second, more official restriction is issued to foreign reporters. With no internal Iranian media reporting honestly on the state of play, foreign media really does matter.

As for what this means, think about Katrina. How different would the reaction have been if we hadn't had reporters inside showing us the people?

Plus, all of the focus thus far has been on Tehran. In the last segment of this piece, they talk about protests and the harsher responses going on in Isfahan.

The BBC has a video of a militia attacking a University dorm.

And, Mousavi himself calls for a mass rally Thursday.

Picture of the Day


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sen. Ensign admits affair

So, no more Presidential ambitions for Ensign....

As to why now? Politico carries sourced allegations from the Ensign camp of blackmail by the woman's husband.

...still waiting for that horrible picture with the broken wife by his side....

If the President comes calling....

There was a scheduled Twitter maintenance outage planned which Twitter postponed because of their product's role in the communications of the Iranian protesters.

Come to find out, the Obama administration asked Twitter to stay live.

(Or, maybe I should title, "The revolution won't be televised...")

A Carter assassination attempt?

Treat as rumor.
Palestinian sources reported Tuesday that former US president Jimmy Carter was the target of a thwarted assassination attempt, according to Israel Radio.

Reportedly, there was a cluster of explosive devices stashed near a road he was scheduled to travel during a visit to the Gaza Strip.

Iran bars journalists

As crowds once again begin to gather in Tehran, the Iranian authorities ban all foreign journalists from firsthand reporting in the streets.
The order issued Tuesday limits journalists for foreign media to work only from their offices, conducting telephone interviews and monitoring official sources such as state television.

....like those phone lines won't be monitored.... meaning their only sources will be official state TV and whatever leaks across the borders.

Interesting Ahmadinejad is out of the country for this. Pro-Ahmadinejad "supporters" are gathering in Vali-ye Asr Square where there will likely be conflicts today.

Picture of the Day

(Hundreds of thousands of supporters of leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi turn out to protest the result of the election at a mass rally in Azadi (Freedom) square in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis))

Russia plays politics

Russia publicly calls for a global currency basket to diminish the role of the dollar (and elevate the role of the ruble.)

Russia also uses its role as BRIC host to give Ahmadinejad a platform and to give the recent election some legitimacy.


The BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, and China, represent about $10 trillion of the world's annual GDP.

The US represents about $13.5 trillion.

The strange politics of a two tier leadership

It very much looks like Ahmadinejad is and will be the President of Iran, but I'm finding it interesting to watch how the public pressure is playing out on the Supreme Council which has now authorized a very limited recount.

Ahmadinejad is only concerned with the limited problem of his reelection, but Khamenei and the Council have a larger responsibility to maintain their role in the system of government. If Ahmadinejad loses some legitimacy before the people, it simply makes his life more politically difficult. If the Supreme Council loses legitimacy it threatens their institutional role, and the role of Islamic clerics to run the country.

The Supreme Council is not in any real threat of being unseated or anything, but they are at some risk of losing some of their moral influence before the entire youth of the country.

They have an interest in "winning back" some of the protesters while Ahmadinejad only has an interest in putting them down.

It's just interesting to see how the pressure has put different risks (and may force somewhat different courses) on the two tiers of Iranian leadership.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tailing N. Korean ships

Following N. Korean ships appears to be the "board and search" compromise the Chinese can live with, so the US will effectively be trailing N. Korean ships around the world cutting off their (alleged) hard currency generators of drugs and counterfeiting.

It should be interesting.

Pawlenty's running for President

Pawlenty has sent his people out to say that he is in for 2012.

Picture of the Day


(An Israeli settler stands next to a poster, hung by an extremist right wing group, depicting President Barack Obama wearing a traditional Arab headdress, near the settlement of Karmel, Sunday, June 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov))

More claims of media bans in Iran

The BBC says their satellite broadcasts were jammed by the Iranians. A couple of German outfits say their reporters were not allowed to broadcast. More influentially, Al-Arabiya has been banned from working in the capital for a week.

(Notice there's no US outfit that pushed hard enough to be on that list.)

For the US networks, here's some Italian coverage of police motorcycles charging a crowd to show how on the street reporting is done.

Iran's power games

A NYTimes "analysis" piece poses the idea that this "election" marks the end of internal governmental influence for the big name moderates Rafsanjani, and Khatami, that this display of naked, corrupt power effectively marginalizes them.

(Street protests alone don't generally make that much difference. They require some element from within the recognized power structure to harness the street movement's power to effect change. If the moderates are marginalized, all the street protests in the world won't make a difference.)

And, the crackdown on protesters continues with hundreds more arrests and pro-Ahmadinejad supporters taking to the streets with sticks and violence.

The Pakistanis are going in

I've got to admit, I thought they'd quit long before they got to Beitullah Mehsud and Waziristan.
Pakistan braced for militant reprisals on Monday as the army conducted softening-up operations ahead of an assault on the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, one of al Qaeda's main allies.

Now, of course, they'll face something of the same problem the US has faced across the border, of militants melting into the population only to reemerge, but it's still something. It's still some pressure. (...and a sign that the governments feeling more secure?)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Picture of the Day - 2

Let's not let the happy picture soften the fact that these guys were wrongly imprisoned at Guantanamo for 7 years, but if you gotta land somewhere, Bermuda ain't too bad.

5 other Uighurs were sent to Albania.

The BBC claims Iran jammed them.

The BBC said Sunday that the satellites it uses to broadcast in Persian were being jammed from Iran, disrupting its reports on the hotly-disputed presidential election.

The corporation said television and radio services had been affected from 1245 GMT Friday onwards by "heavy electronic jamming" which had become "progressively worse".

Satellite technicians had traced the interference to Iran, it said.

Picture of the Day

(A woman protests on the streets of Tehran. (AFP))

Rumors on Iran

TPM carries a rumor that foreign reporters are being asked to leave Iran.

And, Steve Clemons has perhaps the scariest "prediction" I've read on Iran.

Also, It is looking more and more like there was an "electoral coup" by the hard right to hang onto power. (Juan Cole, too.)

Sunday: (AP) A bit calmer on the streets Sunday. Cell phones have been turned back on in the capital, but not text messaging. Some of the top reformist leaders have been arrested, and the government has let it be known that internet monitoring is up. Some websites are blocked.
Reports that Mousavi was under house arrest could not be confirmed, but the 67-year-old former prime minister has not been seen in public since he gave a late night press conference Friday where he accused the government of voter fraud....

Mousavi's newspaper, Kalemeh Sabz, or the Green Word, did not appear on newsstands Sunday. An editor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the paper never left the printing house because authorities were upset with Mousavi's statements.

The paper's website reported that more than 10 million votes in Friday's election were missing national identification numbers similar to U.S. Social Security numbers, which make the votes "untraceable." It did not say how it knew that information.


Israel Hardline

The US-Israel back and forth is going to get sharper.
Advisers to Netanyahu and Israeli political analysts say the speech will be a response to President Obama's address to Muslims this month at Cairo University. Netanyahu, they say, wants to inject a Zionist "narrative" into a discussion that he believes was tilted in Obama's speech toward the Arab version of events.

Later: Netanyahu put a "poison pill" in his speech. Israel would recognize Palestine only if the Palestinians had no military and many other pre-rejected conditions.