Monday, June 15, 2009

Walking A Fine Line

President Obama has at least commented on the situation in Iran, and is wisely remaining prudent. He still will have to pick a side eventually (note that when I say "pick a side" I mean "diplomatically recognize somebody as President of Iran"), but for now he seems to realize that rushing into this is a bad idea.
President Obama weighed in for the first time on the riots taking place in Iran after Friday’s sharply divisive presidential election.

Congressional Republicans were intensely critical of the White House’s wait-and-see approach, but Obama said late Monday afternoon he wanted to try and keep the U.S. out of the rhetoric and heated atmosphere dividing that country.

"It would be wrong for me to be silent on what we've seen on the television the last few days," Obama said, addressing reporters in the Oval Office after a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

He added that he is “deeply troubled by the violence that I’ve been seeing on television.”

Riots irrupted throughout Iran after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected. There were allegations of ballot fraud but Obama noted there was no way to know if the results were valid since neither the U.S. nor the international community had election observers in the country.

The president said the democratic process, free speech and the ability of people to peacefully dissent are values he considers universal and they “should be respected.”

Obama noted that backers of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who lost by a surprisingly large margin, “now feel betrayed.”
As BooMan reminds us, the Iranian revolution 30 years ago took more than a year to play out.
This is just a reminder that the 1979 revolution in Iran took over a year to unfold. Here's a timeline to refresh your memory. One key was that each clash with protesters that resulted in fatalities led to new more impassioned protests as people gathered for funerals and memorials. It's often said that the revolution advanced in 40-day stages, as forty days is the traditional period of mourning in Iran's culture. Americans are not accustomed to such slow-motion revolution with massive (over month-long) pauses. Add to this, the new 24-hour news environment, and this feature of Iran's political and religious tradition should solidly flummox most analysts.
By that logic, we should look to July 22-25 for more protests...then again predicting the flow of a revolution is a tricky thing.

Daniel Larison also weighs in saying that the cautious long game is where it's at.
Western policing of other nations’ elections, like our annual lectures to other states about the state of their human rights record, is getting very old. We readily assume not only that their elections are in some way our business, but we also usually identify with one side as being somehow more valid, genuine or representative of that country’s people. In Lebanon, the right people won, so the structural biases built into the Lebanese system are not only tolerated in the West, while similarly crude biases in the Iranian system are decried as outrageous, but the fruits of the Lebanese system are celebrated as a great triumph for freedom and light. The absurdity of avidly cheering Mousavi’s supporters, who voted for a man likely instrumental in the creation of Hizbullah, a few days after avidly cheering the so-called “crushing defeat” of Hizbullah in Lebanese elections earlier in the week should be apparent to everyone, but it is not clear to many people at all.
Since Obama seems to have his entire Presidency geared for playing for long-term gains, it seems the President's measured response is both intelligent and appropriate for a number of reasons.

No Room At The Inn

Chalk up another major commercial real estate bankruptcy, this time it's hotel chain Extended Stay Hotels.
Extended Stay Hotels, saddled with a huge debt burden from its $8 billion top-of-the-market buyout, filed for Chapter 11 protection Monday, in one of the largest bankruptcy filings by a commercial real-estate company.

The filing, made in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, came as a legal battle accelerated among the creditors who hold debt from the buyout by Lightstone Group LLC. Those lenders include Bank of America and its Merrill Lynch unit and Wells Fargo & Co.'s Wachovia. Since late last year, creditors have been negotiating with Lightstone over a possible restructuring of the debt.

U.S. taxpayers also have had an interest in the 680-property chain because another lender in the buyout was Bear Stearns Cos., whose stake was taken over by the Federal Reserve after Bear collapsed in March 2008. BlackRock Inc. has been representing the Fed in the restructuring talks, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations.

The voluntary bankruptcy petition came as a surprise because up until now, industry experts have said the way the loan is structured would have made a bankruptcy filing unlikely. For one thing, they have said, a filing would expose the other assets owned by Lightstone's owner, David Lichtenstein, to Extended Stay's creditors. Mr. Lichtenstein wasn't immediately available for comment.

In its court papers filed Monday, Extended Stay listed $7.1 billion in assets and $7.6 billion in debts at the end of last year. The company has about 10,000 employees.

There's one of these where I live near Cincy, just off I-71/75. It'll be interesting to see what happens to it, as there's at least two other extended stay hotel chains on the same exit.

Taking Stock

U.S. stock indicators are down over 2% at this hour. Profit taking seems to be the order of the day. VIX index is above 30 as well, signifying increased volatility in the markets. Things are getting weird out there.

Hey Where Did This Massive Protest Come From, Anyway?

The Iranian Interior Ministry threatened a major crackdown today should people show up for any massive protests or anything.

Naturally, this means tens of thousands of Iranians decided to protest in Tehran's Revolution Square.
Many tens of thousands of Iranians chanted support for Mirhossein Mousavi in Tehran on Monday after a presidential election they say was stolen from him and handed to the hardline incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest), they converged on Revolution Square, where Mousavi addressed a small part of the crowd through a loud hailer and held his fists clenched above his head, in a sign of victory, after two days of the capital's most violent unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The gathering, which took place in defiance of an Interior Ministry ban, was a reply to Ahmadinejad's government-organized victory rally, which also drew vast crowds on Sunday.

Supporters stretching along several kilometers of a Tehran boulevard waved green flags, Mousavi's campaign colors, and held portraits of him aloft as they tried to take pictures on their cellphones -- even though his words could not be heard above the noise of the crowd.

Iran's state television said Mousavi, looking smiling and relaxed in a striped shirt, had said he was ready in case the election was re-run.

"Mousavi, take back our votes," the marchers chanted before Mousavi appeared, along with other pro-reform leaders who backed his call for Friday's election result to be overturned.

The disputed election has dismayed Western powers trying to induce the world's fifth-biggest oil exporter to curb nuclear work that they suspect is for bomb-making, a charge Iran denies.

Indeed, the wearing of the green in support of Mousavi today has gone somewhat global. Is this the beginning of a new beginning, or the beginning of the end?

[UPDATE] The UK Guardian newspaper is putting the crowd at over 100,000.

Do Work, Son (But Don't Get Paid For It)

Via Digby and Corrente, we see logical endpoint of the Katrina response shock doctrine as applied to California's budget disaster: It's your fault for being poor in California. You should have known you were living in a budget disaster prone area. We're not going to help you.

Al-Jazeera's report on California is eye-opening to say the least. Part 1 of the report:

And here's part 2:

As Amanda Marcotte notes in the NY Times article on California state workers having to increasingly work through furloughs without pay, there's a very real cautionary lesson coming down the pike on California's response.
Now that the threat of being laid off if you don’t work for free is being dangled over people’s heads, you have to wonder how far they’ll take this exciting new libertarian experiment. (And I say libertarian, even though I know I’ll get the “no true Scotsman” whiners who are constantly shifting the definition when it makes them look like monsters, but let’s face it---they’re the ones who’ve been saying forever that we don’t have to worry about management exploiting labor, since labor makes “free” choices.) Libertarians have pinned all their hopes on the pipe dream of getting rid of the minimum wage in order to create an environment where you can pay people nothing and get labor out of them, but this innovation is a much more exciting one, a real example of the ways that crisis can cause creative thinking in the art of oppressing and exploiting the ordinary working stiff.

The one fly in the ointment is that there seems to be a built-in limit on how much work you can force people to do for free in this situation. If you start increasing the number of “furloughs” that are in fact days you have to come to work without getting paid, there’s going to be a point where people aren’t scared to lose their jobs, because they aren’t getting paid that much anyway, and they start quitting. This is an obvious roadblock to the ultimate goal of creating an entirely unpaid labor force, or at least one that only gets token payment to maintain the illusion of free choice.* That said, patience appears to be the key. Think: frog/boiling water. You need to introduce more furlough days slowly, giving people time to get used to having to work more and more unpaid days over a long period of time, with lots of time in between introductions, and they’ll reduce expectations accordingly, and will be much less likely to just quit in frustration. They’re much less likely to start looking for other jobs if they think each salary reduction will be the last, and so every time you do it, you can exploit their desperation to have even more money coming in.

Best part? Once you’ve dramatically reduced huge percentages of the middle class to poverty while getting the same amount of work out of them, that’s going to create more economic collapse, as more mortgages will go into foreclosure and tax revenues continue to soar downwards. Which just means more creative thinking in how to squeeze working people even harder! It’s win/win, as long as you continue to believe that people that have to go work for their paychecks aren’t real people at all.
And there's the rub, of course. The systematic decimation of the labor movement over the last 30 years has brought us to the point where Americans are being told the problem that really created the financial meltdown in California is the fault of state workers earning too high a wage.

All this does of course is give cover to the rest of corprate America to do the same thing to the rest of America's workers. We've been told time and time again especially by the Republican party that big labor is corrupt, it destroys competition, and that it costs jobs, that unions are a gigantic scam to enrich union bosses at the expense of workers. The fact that corporate America has actually been doing the things they accuse the unions of since the Reagan years hasn't occurred to non-union workers.

So now we've come to the point where workers are being asked to make a Hobson's choice between working days with no pay or not having a job at all. After all, if they stay, you can continue to screw them over. Productivity goes up, wages go down. If they quit, you still have the survivors to screw over and they just have more work to do, and the same thing occurs.

It's the shock doctrine in action, Hurricane Katrina writ large. When large segments of the poor and undesirable are in sudden need of a government safety net, make sure the net fails, deride the failed saftey net as inefficient and not worth funding, declare the government is unable to provide the net anymore, then blame anyone who still needs the net as lazy and shiftless. The aim is to rid the state of the most vulnerable and for the rest, well, furloughs certainly are becoming a way of life in the Golden State.

A generation of union-bashing and anti-labor hysteria have gotten the anti-labor forces to the gates of the promised land. We're on the verge of indentured servitude in this country once again as those of us with jobs are being told "Well look how much you'll have to pay to support all those lazy people on welfare with no jobs! Wouldn't it be much better for us to get rid of government help? After all, only the lazy need it. Why enable them? You work hard after all. Why should you have to enable these losers?"

And in the background, the job cuts and the layoffs and the furloughs and the benefit slashing and the wage drops continue, blamed on the increasing number of people being put out of work, while the survivors are told to do more and more work for less money.

Thank you sir, may I have another?

Tehran Calling: Day 3

The major political newspapers here in the states aren't buying the notion of election fraud in Iran, in fact both the Washington Post and the New York Times are pushing the notion that Ahmedinejad won fairly. First the Post:
The election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people. Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin -- greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday's election.

While Western news reports from Tehran in the days leading up to the voting portrayed an Iranian public enthusiastic about Ahmadinejad's principal opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, our scientific sampling from across all 30 of Iran's provinces showed Ahmadinejad well ahead.

Independent and uncensored nationwide surveys of Iran are rare. Typically, preelection polls there are either conducted or monitored by the government and are notoriously untrustworthy. By contrast, the poll undertaken by our nonprofit organizations from May 11 to May 20 was the third in a series over the past two years. Conducted by telephone from a neighboring country, field work was carried out in Farsi by a polling company whose work in the region for ABC News and the BBC has received an Emmy award. Our polling was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

The breadth of Ahmadinejad's support was apparent in our preelection survey. During the campaign, for instance, Mousavi emphasized his identity as an Azeri, the second-largest ethnic group in Iran after Persians, to woo Azeri voters. Our survey indicated, though, that Azeris favored Ahmadinejad by 2 to 1 over Mousavi.

The Times too seems to think that the Iranian people spoke clearly on Friday, and that either way, Ahmadinejad is now the man in charge.
Whether his 63 percent victory is truly the will of the people or the result of fraud, it demonstrated that Mr. Ahmadinejad is the shrewd and ruthless front man for a clerical, military and political elite that is more unified and emboldened than at any time since the 1979 revolution.

As president, Mr. Ahmadinejad is subordinate to the country’s true authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who commands final say over all matters of state and faith. With this election, Mr. Khamenei and his protégé appear to have neutralized for now the reform forces that they saw as a threat to their power, political analysts said.

“This will change the face of the Islamic Republic forever,” said one well-connected Iranian, who like most of those interviewed declined to be named in the current tense climate. “Ahmadinejad will claim an absolute mandate, meaning he has no need to compromise.”
So what's going on here? Two things: the US press got scooped by Twitter feeds from Iran and now they are casting doubt on the information coming from there. Second, let's not forget the neo-cons want us to see Iran as The Enemy, and that the idea of a compliant Iranian populace plays right into the scenario proposed by guys like Max Boot.

On the principle of “the worse the better” for our enemies–and, make no mistake, Iran is our enemy–it is possible to take some small degree of satisfaction from the outcome of Iran’s elections.

If the mullahs were really canny, they would have let Mousavi win. He would have presented a more reasonable face to the world without changing the grim underlying realities of Iran’s regime–the oppression, the support for terrorism, the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. He is the kind of “moderate” with whom the Obama administration could happily engage in endless negotiations which probably would not accomplish anything except to buy time for Iran to weaponize its fissile material.

But instead it appears that the mullahocracy was determined to anoint Ahmadinejad the winner–and by a margin which no one can take seriously as a true representation of Iranian popular will. Ahmadinejad is about the worst spokesman possible to make Iran’s case to the West–a president who denies the Holocaust, calls for Israel’s eradication, claims there are no homosexuals in Iran, and generally comes off like a denizen of an alternative universe. Even the Obama administration will be hard put to enter into serious negotiations with Ahmadinejad, especially when his scant credibility has been undermined by these utterly fraudulent elections and the resulting street protests.

In other words, an Ahmedinejad re-election means it's much more likely that Israel will attack Iran, and that Obama will allow it.

Should the regime instead be brought down from within, why, we might be willing to see Iranians as human beings interested in basic freedoms and democracy rather than an Islamist madhouse run by loonies intent on bombing Israel out of existence.

Remember who's running the press in this country. Remember that the notion that Iranians being willing to choose Ahmadinejad mean the neocons can claim Obama's overtures of peace are useless and were rejected by the Islamists of Iran. The Cairo speech was a flop! See, you can't trust anyone in Iran! They want to get nuclear weapons to destroy Israel!

Brave Iranian resistors fighting for democracy doesn't jibe with the narrative. Iranians rejecting Obama and wanting to re-elect a madman does jibe.

[UPDATE] Juan Cole calls BS on the Post article.


Related Posts with Thumbnails