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Saturday, February 07, 2004

Liberty 

No American can believe in freedom and believe in our Constitution, and accept something like this.

DES MOINES, Iowa -- In what may be the first subpoena of its kind in decades, a federal judge has ordered a university to turn over records about a gathering of anti-war activists.

In addition to the subpoena of Drake University, subpoenas were served this past week on four of the activists who attended a Nov. 15 forum at the school, ordering them to appear before a grand jury Tuesday, the protesters said.
Unless the activists were planning violent protests at their meeting, which sounds pretty unlikely, no court has any business ordering Drake to turn over anything. For more information see "United States Constitution, Amendment I."

I've mentioned my background once or twice, but I'm going to bring it up again, because it has a strong influence on how I feel about this story. I did not raise my right hand nearly 11 years ago, and I do not continue to serve as a reservist today, to see this kind of BS happen. The oath I and every other servicemember swore was to defend the Constitution. We exist to prevent this kind of thing and I'm pissed. I don't care if these activists were against something I strongly favor. They have that right. Their right to gather and to speak their mind is part of the bedrock on which this country was built.

I can only hope that a higher court will promptly rip this case to shreds. And whoever this judge is, he needs to be removed from the bench, perhaps disbarred. He obviously doesn't have a clue about the law of the land.
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Tearing war critics a new one 

Victor Davis Hanson gets on a serious roll in this National Review Online column.

The United States has lost less than 350 American dead in actual combat in Iraq, deposed the worst tyrant on the planet, and offered the first real hope of a humane government in the recent history of the Middle East — and is being roundly condemned rather than praised for one of the most remarkable occurrences of our age. Yet a careful postbellum anatomy of the recent WMD controversy makes the original case for the war stronger rather weaker.
Click over to NRO and read this one. And check out Hanson's past columns if you're not familiar with his work.
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Iraq's intellectuals murdered 

From the NYT:

These white-collar killings, American and Iraqi officials say, are separate from — and in some ways more insidious than — the settling of scores with former Baath Party officials, or the singling-out of police officers and others thought to be collaborating with the occupation. Hundreds of them have been attacked as well in an effort to sow insecurity and chaos.

But by silencing urban professionals, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a spokesman for the occupation forces, the guerrillas are waging war on Iraq's fledgling institutions and progress itself. The dead include doctors, lawyers and judges.
The people being killed represent the foundation of Iraqi civil society. Whoever is killing them is against progress and against modernity. I'm reminded of a passage from Ian Buruma's "The Origins of Occidentalism:"

Calculation -- the accounting of money, interests, scientific evidence, and so on -- is regarded as soulless. Authenticity lies in poetry, intuition, and blind faith. The Occidentalist view of the West is of a bourgeois society, addicted to creature comforts, animal lusts, self-interest, and security. It is by definition a society of cowards, who prize life above death. As a Taliban fighter once put it during the war in Afghanistan, the Americans would never win, because they love Pepsi-Cola, whereas the holy warriors love death.
The people who are trying to kill Iraq's future fear it. There has been very little mention of an Islamic fundamentalist element within the Iraqi resistance. But the growing number of attacks on secular intellectuals makes one wonder if fundamentalists are playing a part after all.
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Iran moderates roll over, play dead 

Iran president yields over polls

Iran's president has agreed February's general election can go ahead - despite pressing for a delay in a row over the barring of 2,000 reformist candidates...

Mr Khatami and the parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi have been working frantically to try to defuse the crisis.

However they now appear to have admitted failure and have bowed reluctantly to the ruling by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran.
I guess the people who want a better, freer Iran don't have the cojones to do what it takes to get it. What a shame.
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Friday, February 06, 2004

Iran behind the lens 

Since everyone else is doing such a great job of rounding up Iran news today, I'm going to take a detour from the election coverage.

I came across a Wired article about underground filmmakers in Iran. These courageous people face imprisonment for some of the ideas they explore on film, and their determination to reach people is remarkable.

And in the modern world it's much harder for a government to suppress ideas:

These underground films always have been difficult to exhibit -- you won't find them in theaters or on TV in their countries of origin. [Director Ali] Mantini's films have not been seen outside his neighboring villages. However, low-cost video decks are helping get banned movies out into the world.

"These films have never had distribution and so could not be seen, and they haven't grown to the same strength as the official cinema," said [exiled journalist and filmmaker Moslem] Mansouri. "But the distribution and viewing of these underground films have increased a great deal. As soon as anyone gets their hands on something that can be considered a banned film they make copies and pass them on."
Just one more way the mullahs' grip on Iranian society is slipping.
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Thursday, February 05, 2004

State Department's take on Iran 

I asked where Foggy Bottom stands on the Iranian crisis, and it turns out that Iran has been addressed in five press briefings by Richard Boucher and Adam Ereli since the new year. No statements from Secretary Powell, no press releases, just a few press briefings, each time as a result of a question from a member of the press.

The responses don't go beyond general statements of support for free and fair elections, the right of the people to choose their government, etc. Pretty standard stuff. It's apparent that State is semi-aware of things but not really putting any energy into the issue. That could come back to bite them. Hopefully someone at the Iran desk is on top of the situation.

Press conference transcripts:

12 January
13 January
14 January
30 January
02 February
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Iranian MPs end sit-in 

From the BBC.

Iranian reformist MPs have called off a mass parliamentary protest but vowed to continue fighting an election ban.

More than 80 members of the outgoing parliament had staged a sit-in for 26 days to express anger at a ban on more than 2,000 would-be candidates.

The deputies, most of whom have been disqualified by conservative vetters, said they would now boycott the polls.
The end of the sit-in represents a realization among the reformers that they're not going to get their candidates reinstated. The boycott shows that they believe the election will go on regardless. What remains to be seen is the popular response to the election if it is allowed to be held without the reformist candidates.

This could get explosive... Why am I getting most of my news about this from overseas sources? Where is the American press on this? For that matter, where are Foggy Bottom and the White House?
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Iran compromise fails 

The Deputy Speaker of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) says that the Guardian Council is once again interfering with efforts to reinstate moderate candidates. Yesterday, Ayatollah Khameini ordered a second review of the banned candidates, this time by the Intelligence Ministry.

Under the plan announced Wednesday, the Intelligence Ministry was to review the list of 2,400 reformist candidates who have been disqualified by the hard-line Guardian Council. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered the ministry, which is led by reformists, to conduct the review.

"The Intelligence Ministry had to provide the list to the Guardian Council as a legal formality, and the council was required to forward that list to the Interior Ministry without any intervention," Reza Khatami said.

Instead, the Guardian Council approved only 51 of a list of 600 names endorsed by the Intelligence Ministry, he said.

"The compromise has failed. The Guardian Council has interfered after the Intelligence Ministry approved 600 candidates who were previously disqualified," he said.
The two reviews of candidates, first by the Guardian Council and now by the Intelligence Ministry, have reinstated only one third of those originally banned. Well over two thousand moderate candidates are still barred from running for the parliament.

So much for all the talk we heard yesterday about the crisis being over... The religious conservatives must feel very confident in their ability to wrest power from the reformers and to weather any storm that results.

Speaking of conservatives and reformers, Amir Taheri doesn't believe those are accurate descriptions of the two sides, which he sees as "two brands of Khomeinism, one presumably 'lite', the other hard."

Interesting. But do the people of Iran see it that way?
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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Geeks' patience with technophobes wearing thin 

From the NYT:

Many of the million or so people who have so far infected their computers with MyDoom say it is not their fault. The virus often comes in a message that appears to be from someone they know, with an innocuous subject line like "test" or "error." It is human nature, they say, to open the mail and attachments.

But computer sophisticates say it reflects a willful ignorance of basic computer skills that goes well beyond virus etiquette. At a time when more than two-thirds of American adults use the Internet, they say, such carelessness is no longer excusable, particularly when it messes things up for everyone else.

For years, many self-described computer geeks seemed eager to usher outsiders onto their electronic frontier. Everyone, it seemed, had a friend or family member in the geek elite who could be summoned — often frequently — in times of computer crisis.

But as those same friends and family members are called upon again and again to save the computer incompetents from themselves, the geeks' patience is growing thin.
Can I get an Amen?
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Iran crisis deadline set 

For what it's worth, the reformist government has set a deadline of Thursday afternoon for a solution to the election crisis. No word on the consequences of failure.
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Possible outcomes in Iran 

From the Economist:

Several outcomes are possible in the short term: the reformists’ quiet capitulation to the conservatives’ relentless pressure; or a student-led counter-revolution, which is either repressed harshly by the hardliners, or which succeeds in overthrowing the theocracy; or, indeed, Ayatollah Khamenei may, at the last minute, defuse the crisis by ordering the Council of Guardians to overturn the bans on reformist candidates. On Wednesday, there were signs that this might be about to happen: government officials said Ayatollah Khamenei had asked the Guardians to review their decisions a second time; and they predicted that a compromise solution would be reached shortly. But whatever happens now, it will not banish altogether the prospect of Iran’s next revolution. The pressure for change should, sooner or later, prove irresistible.
If the review of candidates results in a large number being reinstated, I'll be surprised. But whatever happens, one side will have to blink eventually, or else the student-led counter-revolution scenario will become quite likely. The ball is in the hardliners' court, and you can bet their decisions will be based on an analysis of which course of action will help them retain as much power as possible. I have said before, and I still believe, that any uprising would be dealt with harshly and crushed swiftly. The military and the police are the wild card, and nobody is saying anything about them in the context of the current crisis. If things get serious enough for the military to step into the fray, the side they join will be the winner.
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Iranian candidates get another look 

Ayatollah Khameini has opened another review of the disqualified candidates for this month's parliamentary elections. The last review of the banned candidates only reinstated about one third of them. With this new review, Khameini is either giving in to the reformers, or appearing to do so in order to buy time. The way things have been going, the latter seems more plausible.
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Clark wins OK 

So Wesley Clark has won the Oklahoma primary in a squeaker. A race that close must have been stolen, right?
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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Grand Ayatollah speaks his mind 

Iranian Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of the leaders of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and one-time successor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, recently gave an interview to an Italian newspaper, and MEMRI has a translation. He's critical of everyone from the Guardian Council to Ayatollah Khameini to President Khatami, and of everything from press censorship to the repression of students. Small wonder he's under close watch after a long period of house arrest.
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Israeli/Palestinian happenings 

Ariel Sharon really seems serious about his plan to vacate all Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip. Opinion polls support the idea, and even Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei calls the plan "good news."

Sharon has pledged to form a new government if the pro-settler elements of his governing coalition try to block the removal of settlements. Good for him.

Then there is a story about Sharon considering a territorial swap with the Palestinians--Arab Israeli towns for Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Qurei likes this idea too. Will wonders never cease? Sharon is opposed by the pro-settler movement on this plan as well, which tells me he's doing something right.

The swap would only take place under a final peace agreement, and that's a long, long way off. But putting this kind of idea on the table is a step forward.

In related news, Syria once again says it is ready to resume talks with Israel. But... the two countries can't agree on where to start.

Syria has reiterated that it is ready to resume peace talks with Israel, but it has dismissed Israel's call to begin them again from scratch.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa told the BBC that peace talks were a cumulative process and that to start every round from the beginning would lead to a vicious circle.

Syria says it wants to restart talks from where they broke off four years ago.
Plus ça change...
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Iran heating up 

Lots of goings-on in Iran...

First, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini is opposing a postponement of the February 20th parliamentary elections, from which nearly 2,500 reformist candidates have been banned.

"The leader insisted that elections must be held on Feb. 20 under any circumstances," Mazrouei, who has been barred by hard-liners from running in the polls, said.

The meeting between Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, and the embattled president was seen as a last chance to ease Iran's worst political crisis in years.
The reformers have threatened to boycott the election if it is held. They have made good on their past threats, so it's likely they'll stick to their guns on this one as well. They haven't given up on a postponement, though, having asked President Mohammad Khatami to push for a delay.

"We insisted on two demands: Elections must be postponed and all candidates disqualified illegally must be reinstated," IRNA quoted vice speaker Khatami, who also was disqualified, as saying.
If the demands are not met, and it's not likely they will be, it's hard to say what will happen. But to call the situation volatile would be an understatement.

Meanwhile, we finally hear from the students, who normally lead the way on protests, but who have been largely silent during the electoral crisis. They have threatened to boycott classes if the election is held without the reformist candidates, and have planned a demonstration, which was, of course, quickly banned.

The more I hear about this, the more convinced I become that things could get very ugly in Iran. Seventeen days until the election...

UPDATE: Jason Broander is doing a great job blogging the Iranian crisis, and once again comes through with good analysis, examining the possible outcomes.

If the moderates do not back down, and continue to let their voices be heard through print and protest, will the clerics crush a student protest (ala Tiananmen Square) or will one of two things happen: will the government refuse to use force, and therefore let the whirlwind sweep them out of power like when the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR collapsed, or will perhaps the police and military refuse to crush the moderates (ala Petrograd and Red October, when the Czars personal guard refused to fire on the crowds in the streets) and either turn against their masters or sit the conflict out?
All of the above are possible, but my gut says "Tiananmen." I don't see the clerics giving up power without a fight, and while there are dissenters in the ranks, the security apparatus is too closely tied to the regime to sit this one out. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm not optimistic.

On the other hand, it appears that the regime is at least a little concerned about military loyalty and resorted to foreigners for help in putting down the student protests last July.

Time will tell.
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Monday, February 02, 2004

What if a nuke is detonated in the U.S.? 

A Democratic Underground poster asks this question, hoping for a serious discussion. Unfortunately, he/she did not get many serious responses.

Many of the serious responses demonstrate a serious United Nations/mulitlateralism fetish, as if the international community is automatically a source of moral legitimacy. I would demand that my government go after the perpetrators, international opinion be damned. But hey, that's just me...

Others talk about treating the Middle East more respectfully or arresting Bush. One says we should "just deal with it." Another says, "start arresting RWers, repooks and other various and sundry conservatives for their role in pissing off the rest of the world so badly that they felt retaliation was their last recourse to stop the US from using the rest off the world as its chattel."

Notice a theme? Yep, the "it's our fault" thing, even when talking about hypothetical future events! The level of America-blaming astounds.

You may say this guy is a dreamer: "We should grieve for the dead, repair the damage, try to correct the mistakes that caused it to happen and work for a more peaceful world."

So, the range of responses runs from "it's our fault, do nothing about it, make everyone like us," to, well... that's really about it.

Finally, there's this comment, which is so good I'm posting it in its entirety. The commenter manages to weave in executions for treason, quasi-martial-law, forced resignations of the nation's leadership in a time of crisis, and even abolition of the electoral college. Kudos for that last one... There's no opportunity, however small, that these sore losers will not grab to harp on the "stolen" election.

step 1) Have all CIA and NSA members arrested and shot in the back for treason.
step 2) Reallocate money from the defense budget for a brand new intelligence network and to fully fund Nunn-Lugar.
step 3) Bring home all troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to help with the immediate evacuation of all living civilians wounded, or suffering from radiation sickness.
step 4) Seize all medical resources and food available from private corporations, along with other necessary commodities to help those in need.
step 5) Begin to seal off the contaminated area once people are evacuated.
step 6) Introduce a constitutional amendment requiring the Secretary of Defense, the President, and all other administration officials to act only under the strict supervision of the elected Congress.
step 7) Introduce another amendment stating that all administration officials and the President would be elected directly by the people, not by an electoral college.
step 8) ask all administration officials to testify before Congress, and release all classified info to them during judicial hearings.
step 9) ask for emergency assistance from the U.N. and members of NATO.
step 10) take responsibility for the disaster, ask for the resignation of every cabinet member, and then resign for not honoring the oath of office.
Enough. You get the picture.
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True evil 

This is absolutely horrifying. "Axis of evil" is such a judgmental and mean phrase, don't you think?

Well, I don't. North Korea tops my list of regimes that need to meet a violent end, sooner rather than later.
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Iran crisis roundup 

Jason at MaroonBlog has an excellent roundup of stories about the Iranian electoral crisis. He doesn't rule out the possibility of civil war. I think it could happen, but I don't have much faith that it would end in favor of the reformers, as I've said a couple of times here. I hope things don't spiral into violence, but if they do, I will hope and pray for victory by the moderates. I just think the mullahs' control of the security apparatus and military would make any revolt short-lived.
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Super Bowl ads and Bush 

"Huh?" you say? Well, Atrios blogged about the Super Bowl ads, Janet Jackson, etc... Post went up, comments opened, and it only took 5 tries before "Tom P." linked the quality of the Super Bowl advertisting and halftime entertainment to the President:

Welcome to George Bush's Amerika.
It's not rape, it's just good ol' boys havin' a little fun.
Seriously, where do these people come from?
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Iran election boycott 

Iran's reformers have made good on another of their threats--to boycott the Feb. 20th parliamentary election. If the election goes forward, conservative candidates will run unopposed and the election will be widely viewed as illegitimate. Unfortunately that is probably what will happen, because Iranians have apparently stopped caring.
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Sunday, February 01, 2004

24-16 

That's my prediction for the Super Bowl score. Patriots winning, of course. Enough of the pregame shows and pre-pregame shows. Let's kick it off already!

UPDATE: Wrong score, but definitely the RIGHT outcome. Congrats to the Pats! Party time in New England. (Although it's a different feeling this time... almost like we expected it.)
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Saudi cleric denounces terror 

Here's some good news from Saudi Arabia:

MOUNT ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia's top cleric called on Muslims around the world Saturday to forsake terrorism, saying those who claim to be holy warriors were an affront to the faith.

In a sermon that was remarkable not only for its strong language but also its timing — at the peak of the annual hajj — Sheik Abdul Aziz al-Sheik told 2 million pilgrims that terrorists were giving their enemies an excuse to criticize Muslim nations.
The timing is key, and I'm glad the article mentioned it. The hajj is one of the holiest times for Muslims, and the Sheik had the widest possible audience for his sermon. This isn't the first time a prominent Saudi cleric has denounced terrorism--a number of clerics have done so in recent months--but this is huge, considering it came from the leading Saudi cleric during the hajj. Let's hope his listeners took the message to heart.

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Iran parliament members resign 

One hundred members of Iran's parliament have resigned in protest of the ban on reformist candidates for this month's elections, making good on their earlier threat.

TEHRAN, Iran - More than a third of the Iranian parliament resigned Sunday and the speaker delivered a stinging rebuke to the hard-line Guardian Council for its disqualification of hundreds of liberal candidates in upcoming elections.
It might be a "stinging rebuke," but it's hard not to see this as a victory for the hardliners. They have reinstated a relative handful of reformist candidates--about 1,160 out of around 3,600 who were disqualified originally. If they go ahead with the elections, the hardliners will come out way ahead, and it's hard not to see them taking that opportunity, even with all 28 provincial governors calling for a boycott. With many reformist candidates still barred, and with the strong possibility of reform-minded Iranians staying home on election day, it could turn out to be nearly a clean sweep for the conservatives. The interesting part would be to see what happens if events unfold that way. It could mean the end of any hope for real democracy in Iran for some time to come. It could lead to a large uprising, but the conservatives control the military, so any rebellion could be easily squashed. Stay tuned... this could get very interesting very quickly.
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