Saturday, June 13, 2009

Last Call

As expected, North Korea has upped the stakes in response to yesterday's UN Security Council sanctions vote.
North Korea said Saturday it would strengthen its nuclear capabilities, a defiant protest against the U.N. Security Council's move to tighten sanctions against it.

North Korea officials said they were enriching uranium and would weaponize all plutonium, according to KCNA, the state-run North Korean news agency.

When enriched to a high degree, uranium can be used for weapons-grade material. Plutonium can be used in atomic bombs.

These moves are in response to Friday's U.N. resolution, according to the news agency, which referred to the resolution as a blockade.

"No matter how hard the U.S.-led hostile forces may try all sorts of isolation and blockade, the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea), a proud nuclear power, will not flinch from them," KCNA said.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously voted Friday to expand and tighten sanctions on North Korea after the nation's recent nuclear test.

The 15-0 vote on U.N. Resolution 1874 imposes an embargo on the shipment of arms from the communist regime and broadens a ban on the import of weapons.

The resolution comes amid rising tension surrounding North Korea, which recently conducted a nuclear test, fired test rockets and threatened United States and South Korean ships near its territorial waters. The nuclear test and the firing of six short-range rockets occurred in late May.

No additional nuclear testing has come yet, but we'll see how things will proceed.

A busy, busy weekend in the Obama State Department, that's for sure.

And Iran, Iran So Far Away...

Over at his blog, Informed Comment, Middle east affairs expert Dr. Juan Cole shares his analysis of Iran's election and concludes indeed that it was stolen:
I am aware of the difficulties of catching history on the run. Some explanation may emerge for Ahmadinejad's upset that does not involve fraud. For instance, it is possible that he has gotten the credit for spreading around a lot of oil money in the form of favors to his constituencies, but somehow managed to escape the blame for the resultant high inflation.

But just as a first reaction, this post-election situation looks to me like a crime scene. And here is how I would reconstruct the crime.

As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning. Mousavi's spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi's camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory.

The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable. And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose.

They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts.

This clumsy cover-up then produced the incredible result of an Ahmadinejad landlside in Tabriz and Isfahan and Tehran.

The reason for which Rezaie and Karoubi had to be assigned such implausibly low totals was to make sure Ahmadinejad got over 51% of the vote and thus avoid a run-off between him and Mousavi next Friday, which would have given the Mousavi camp a chance to attempt to rally the public and forestall further tampering with the election.

This scenario accounts for all known anomalies and is consistent with what we know of the major players.

More in my column, just out, in "Ahmadinejad reelected under cloud of fraud," where I argue that the outcome of the presidential elections does not and should not affect Obama's policies toward that country-- they are the right policies and should be followed through on regardless.

The public demonstrations against the result don't appear to be that big. In the past decade, reformers have always backed down in Iran when challenged by hardliners, in part because no one wants to relive the horrible Great Terror of the 1980s after the revolution, when faction-fighting produced blood in the streets. Mousavi is still from that generation.

My own guess is that you have to get a leadership born after the revolution, who does not remember it and its sanguinary aftermath, before you get people willing to push back hard against the rightwingers.

So, there are protests against an allegedly stolen election. The Basij paramilitary thugs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will break some heads. Unless there has been a sea change in Iran, the theocrats may well get away with this soft coup for the moment. But the regime's legitimacy will take a critical hit, and its ultimate demise may have been hastened, over the next decade or two.

What I've said is full of speculation and informed guesses. I'd be glad to be proved wrong on several of these points. Maybe I will be.
So what now? Nico Pitney is keeping up with the aftermath, protests are rocking Tehran today. Opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi has apparently been placed under house arrest and there are clashes with riot police and other reports of violence. Gary Sick points out:

If the reports coming out of Tehran about an electoral coup are sustained, then Iran has entered an entirely new phase of its post-revolution history. One characteristic that has always distinguished Iran from the crude dictators in much of the rest of the Middle East was its respect for the voice of the people, even when that voice was saying things that much of the leadership did not want to hear.

In 1997, Iran’s hard line leadership was stunned by the landslide election of Mohammed Khatami, a reformer who promised to bring rule of law and a more human face to the harsh visage of the Iranian revolution. It took the authorities almost a year to recover their composure and to reassert their control through naked force and cynical manipulation of the constitution and legal system. The authorities did not, however, falsify the election results and even permitted a resounding reelection four years later. Instead, they preferred to prevent the president from implementing his reform program.

In 2005, when it appeared that no hard line conservative might survive the first round of the presidential election, there were credible reports of ballot manipulation to insure that Mr Ahmadinejad could run (and win) against former president Rafsanjani in the second round. The lesson seemed to be that the authorities might shift the results in a close election but they would not reverse a landslide vote.

The current election appears to repudiate both of those rules. The authorities were faced with a credible challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who had the potential to challenge the existing power structure on certain key issues. He ran a surprisingly effective campaign, and his “green wave” began to be seen as more than a wave. In fact, many began calling it a Green Revolution. For a regime that has been terrified about the possibility of a “velvet revolution,” this may have been too much.

On the basis of what we know so far, here is the sequence of events starting on the afternoon of election day, Friday, June 12.

  • Near closing time of the polls, mobile text messaging was turned off nationwide
  • Security forces poured out into the streets in large numbers
  • The Ministry of Interior (election headquarters) was surrounded by concrete barriers and armed men
  • National television began broadcasting pre-recorded messages calling for everyone to unite behind the winner
  • The Mousavi campaign was informed officially that they had won the election, which perhaps served to temporarily lull them into complacency
  • But then the Ministry of Interior announced a landslide victory for Ahmadinejad
  • Unlike previous elections, there was no breakdown of the vote by province, which would have provided a way of judging its credibility
  • The voting patterns announced by the government were identical in all parts of the country, an impossibility (also see the comments of Juan Cole at the title link)
  • Less than 24 hours later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene`i publicly announced his congratulations to the winner, apparently confirming that the process was complete and irrevocable, contrary to constitutional requirements
  • Shortly thereafter, all mobile phones, Facebook, and other social networks were blocked, as well as major foreign news sources.

All of this had the appearance of a well orchestrated strike intended to take its opponents by surprise – the classic definition of a coup. Curiously, this was not a coup of an outside group against the ruling elite; it was a coup of the ruling elite against its own people.

So where does Iran go from here? Nearly everyone I've read on Friday's election seems to think that the election was stolen, including Iranians themselves.

We've reached a turning point, I think. Something like this is not forgotten overnight. How will President Obama, Israel, and the rest of the world react to this?

We'll see.

Six Flags Flying At Half-Staff

Back in March I noted that the parent company of Six Flags was on the verge of bankruptcy. Today, it's official as the company filed for Chapter 11 in Delaware.
Six Flags Inc., the owner of 20 theme parks, sought bankruptcy protection 3 1/2 years after Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder become chairman and hired new managers in an attempt to return it to profitability.

The New York-based company, which said in a statement that it had debt of $2.4 billion, filed a Chapter 11 petition today in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

Snyder began a shakeup of Six Flags in late 2005 after winning three seats on the board. The 48-year-old company hasn’t posted an annual profit since 1998 and posted losses of $558.8 million in the two years after Snyder became chairman.

Six Flags shares have fallen 86 percent in the past 12 months as investors have grown skeptical about the company’s ability to refinance preferred income equity redeemable shares, or PIERS, before their August redemption date.

The company is seeking court approval of a prearranged reorganization plan that will cut its debt by about $1.8 billion and eliminate more than $300 million worth of preferred stock obligations, Six Flags said in a statement.

What will become of the 20 theme parks around the country? Fair number of jobs there too. Times are hard.

They'll get worse before they get better.

[UPDATE] For now anyway, all 20 parks will remain open, CNN reports. I can't imagine that will remain the status quo for long.

Iranian Poll-arization

It seems the Obama administration is strongly hinting that it doesn't believe the legitimacy of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's landslide election yesterday.

U.S. analysts find it "not credible" that challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi would have lost the balloting in his hometown or that a third candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, would have received less than 1 percent of the total vote, a senior U.S. officials told FOX News.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini apparently has released a statement calling the results "final" and hailing the election as a legitimization of the regime and its elections.

Turnout appears to have reached 82 percent, an all-time high. But when asked if the turnout figures should be considered suspect, given the "not credible" counts for Mousavi and Karoubi, the official said the turnout clearly was questionable.

There already are reports of violence outside Mousavi's campaign headquarters and of huge demonstrations for both sides in central Tehran, with Mousavi trying to make his way to the one organized by his supporters. Even if widespread violence occurs, analysts see no prospect that this event would lead to a full-scale attempt at revolution or the toppling of the regime.

The dominant view among Obama administration officials is that the regime will look so bad as a result of whipping up Iranian hopes for democracy and then squelching them that the regime may feel compelled to show some conciliatory response to Obama's gestures of engagement.

Which is one side of the table: smart diplomacy and democracy wins in the end, or at least acts as a catalyst for true change. The BBC is reporting riots with thousands of opposition supporters taking on plice in violent street protests.

The other view of Ahmedinejad's victory is a bit more bellicose, especially in Israel.

Vice Premier Silvan Shalom and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Saturday stressed the danger posed by the Iranian nuclear threat, following the initial reports that the Islamic republic had reelected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to serve as their president, a result that became official later Saturday afternoon.

"The Iranian election results are a slap in the face of those who believed Iran was built for real dialogue with the free world and would halt its nuclear program," Shalom said.

"Ahmadinejad's victory sends a clear message to the world that there is wide support for the current policy, and it will continue unchanged. The United States and the free world must reevaluate the policy on Teheran's nuclear ambitions," he was quoted by Israel Radio as saying.

So which view is the truth? Is Iran ready to come to the table in order to pacify its increasingly angry populace, or is this proof that Iran is going for broke on developing nuclear weapon technology?

In other words, will Obama and Hillary Clinton be able to get some sort of real diplomatic concessions from Iran before Israel decides is has no other choice but to attack?

I'm not sure, frankly. It's entirely possible both could happen this year.

More On Defending The Indefensible

After having a night to think about the DoJ's defense of DOMA, (the Defense Of Marriage Act), I've come back to the same conclusions I had last night:
  1. We're a nation of laws, and the DoJ was defending a federal law on the books. Fine.
  2. But, the defense itself of that law could have stopped at "we leave this issue to the states at this time."
  3. That defense instead became a sickening attack on gays that was totally uncalled for, specious in its legal structure, borrowed heavily from Bush-era nonsense, and at the very minimum is a massive insult to the LGBT community that voted for Obama, a candidate that campaigned to end this very kind of attack.
I'd be pissed too if I were a member of the LGBT community, and I am pissed off as a bi-racial man who has seen his share of discrimination, bigotry, and hatred.

More on this from Bob Cesca, Pam Spaulding, Joe Sudbay and Andrew Sullivan.

Yoo Gotta Testify

Bush torture memo author John Yoo has been ordered to testify in the federal trial of Jose Padilla, but I sincerely doubt it will happen.

Yoo was one of several administration lawyers who authored legal memos which outlined a legal range for torture, a war crime under the Geneva Convention relative to the prisoners of war.

“Judge [Jeffrey S.] White denied most elements of Mr. Yoo’s motion and quoted a passage from the Federalist Papers that in times of war, nations, to be more safe, ‘at length become willing to run the risk of being less free,’” noted The New York Times.

Yoo, while at the Office of Legal Council in 2002, authored a majority of the department’s opinions on torture along with Jay Bybee, who now serves as a judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Steven Bradbury, the former OLC chief who now practices law in Washington, D.C.

In a Wall Street Journal editorial, John Yoo, the OLC’s former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, explained that the Bush administration’s torture techniques were initially designed to outwit crafty defense attorneys.

“The first thing any lawyer will do is tell his clients to shut up,” writes Yoo. “The [Khalid Sheikh Mohammeds] or Abu Zubaydahs of the future will respond to no verbal questioning or trickery — which is precisely why the Bush administration felt compelled to use more coercive measures in the first place.”

Scott Horton, a contributing editor to Harper’s, said Yoo’s memos “freed [the Bush administration] from the constraints of the Bill of Rights” during wartime “with respect to anything [Bush] chose to label as counter-terrorism operations inside the United States.”

Attempting to explain his theory on executive power in wartime to a reporter, Yoo also agreed with an analysis which posited the hypothetical situation in which the president might order a boy’s testicles “crushed” in order to affect a response from his parents.

On the legality of such an order, Yoo said, “I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that.”

It's very telling that the first question I have right now is "Will the Obama/Eric Holder DoJ step in a prevent Yoo from having to testify under oath?" I would not put it past them to bring heavy pressure to bear to see that Yoo never speaks under oath in a public trial. After all, the Holder DoJ has been for the most part as bad as the Gonzales/Mukasey DoJ under Bush and in some very real ways, they have actually surpassed Bush-era perfidy.

Recent events must bear out the assumption that Obama, through Eric Holder, will want to prevent Yoo from having to testify.

Watch very closely what the reaction of the DoJ is to this order. I hope I am wrong and Yoo is forced to sing like a bird. My money is on the almost assured possibility that Yoo never even takes the stand.

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