Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

Iran: The Gauntlet Is Thrown – Power To The People

We may be getting ready to see a repressive regime underestimating the power of the people or we may be on the cusp of another Tiananmen Square.

Ayatollah Khamenei didn’t budge an inch in his speech today:

Addressing Friday prayers at Tehran University, the bearded septuagenarian offered no concessions to the millions of irate Iranians who have taken to the streets this week. Instead he issued an unmistakable warning to Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the defeated candidates.

“Those politicans who have influence on people should be very careful about their behaviour if they act in an extremist manner,” he said. “This extremism will reach a level which they will not be able to contain. They will be responsible for the blood, violence and chaos.”

“The Supreme Leader has drawn a line in the sand, and he has the muscle to back it up,” one Iranian analyst said. “His speech was a polite way of saying ‘Hey – there’s a coup and we’re in charge.’ It was an absolute declaration of power.”

Indeed it was. And Fox just had a correspondent on now in Tehran who has been seeing armed militias setting up at all the key intersections in the city.

Ayatollah Khamenei demanded the demonstrations stop. “I want to tell everyone these things must finish. These street actions are being done to put pressure on leaders but we will not bow in front of them,” he said. “I call on all to put an end to this method…If they don’t they will be held responsible for the consequences and chaos.”

“Consequences and chaos” seems a pretty clear indication that Khamenei plans on taking action of some type should the planned protests materialize tomorrow.

And the opposition?

But protestors said they would attend today’s rally come what may. “If the crowd is large enough there’s nothing they can do,” Bahrooz, an engineer, said. “If they start killing people that would bring about the fall of the regime.”

“All my friends are coming and they’re bringing their families,” Taraneh, an office worker, said. ”How many people can they arrest or kill?”

Brave words. Courageous intent. I wish them well and pray for their success.

But the bottom line is the guy who presently enjoys the monopoly on the use of force in that country has, in a somewhat nuanced way, announced he’s willing to use it.

But then the protester has a point as well. I believe we’re going to see a violent crackdown. The question then is do those who will have to inflict the violence upon the protesters have the will to see it through to completion – completion being killing and/or arresting enough protesters necessary to completely gut the protest movement.

I’m not sure, but I’m afraid we’re going to find out.

~McQ

Iran: Khameni Speaks

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, head of the all powerful Guardian Council, gave his much anticipated speech in Iran today.

He effectively closed any chance for a new vote by calling the June 12 election a “definitive victory.”

The speech created a stark choice for opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters: drop their demands for a new vote or take to the streets again in blatant defiance of the man endowed with virtually limitless powers under Iran’s constitution.

This also leaves Mousavi with a very stark choice – back off and essentially support the regime, or put himself in a position to become an enemy of the regime. But what seems fairly clear is Khamenei isn’t going to sanction a new vote nor is he going to accept a different outcome. As proof of that, Khamenei essentially waves away the charge of voting fraud:

Khamenei said the 11 million votes that separated Ahmadinejad from his top opponent, Mousavi, was proof that fraud did not occur.

“If the difference was 100,000 or 200,000 or 1 million, one may say fraud could happen. But how can one rig 11 million votes?”

Of course we all know the arguments against this probability – i.e. Iran uses all paper ballots, polls were open until midnight and within hours the final results were announced (with skeptics pointing out it was physically impossible to count those ballots that quickly).

As was expected, Khamenei echoed the Ahmadinejhad charge of foreign (external) interference:

Khamenei blamed foreign media and Western countries of trying to create a political rift and stir up chaos in Iran.

“Some of our enemies in different parts of the world intended to depict this absolute victory, this definitive victory, as a doubtful victory,” he said, according to an official translation on state TV’s English-language channel. “It is your victory. They cannot manipulate it.”

Khameni’s speech sets up the possibility of a real confrontation between the regime and protesters:

Amnesty International said it was “extremely disturbed” by the speech, saying it indicated the “authorities’ readiness to launch violent crackdowns if people continue to protest”.

Amnesty says latest reports suggest that around 15 protesters have been killed and hundreds more injured or arrested by security forces.

A protest is scheduled in Tehran for tomorrow:

Demonstrators calling for a new election earlier vowed to stage fresh protests on Saturday.

But the governor of Tehran province, Morteza Tamadon, has said no permission has been given for such a rally and he hoped it would not be held.

The question, of course, is how will the regime react. Allahpundit at Hot Air has posted some interesting information about a rumored purge supposedly happening within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. If true they indicate that the regime is planning a violent and lethal crackdown of the protesters.

Developing…

~McQ

Supporting the “Obama” of Iran?

I got a good laugh out of this particular characterization by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the external spokesperson for Mir Hossein Mousavi. Foreign Policy magazine interviewed him in Paris:

FP: There has been growing criticism here in Washington that U.S. President Barack Obama hasn’t said or done enough to support those demonstrating in the streets of Iran. Do you think Obama is being too careful? Or even that he is helping Ahmadinejad by being cautious?

MM: Obama has said that there is no difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. Does he like it himself [when someone is] saying that there is no difference between Obama and [George W.] Bush? Ahmadinejad is the Bush of Iran. And Mousavi is the Obama of Iran.

FP: Would Mousavi pursue a different foreign policy than Ahmadinejad?

MM: As you may know, former President Mohammad Khatami, who is supporting Mousavi at the moment, was in favor of dialogue between the civilizations, but Ahmadinejad talks about the war of the civilizations. Is there not any difference between the two?

We [Iranians] are a bit unfortunate. When we had our Obama [meaning President Khatami], that was the time of President Bush in the United States. Now that [the United States] has Obama, we have our Bush here [in Iran]. In order to resolve the problems between the two countries, we should have two Obamas on the two sides. It doesn’t mean that everything depends on these two people, but this is one of the main factors.

The only problem is there is nothing to really indicate that concerning the large issues – nuclear weapons, funding terror organizations (Hamas/Hezbollah) and keeping the Palestinian/Israeli situation stirred up, there’d be any difference at all.

As the Times of London reminds us:

Mr Mousavi, 67, is a creature of the political Establishment — a former revolutionary and prime minister who would like to liberalise Iranian politics but has never challenged the system in the way his followers are doing.

So the question remains who is this guy in reality? In fact he may be more like Obama than we imagine. He’s riding a wave of “hope and change” in Iran that may be completely different than what he’s willing or able to deliver. In other words, just as here in the US, he’s letting those who support him decide what “hope and change” mean for the purpose of putting him in power. He’d then govern as an establishment president albeit with a softer and more diplomatic touch.

The first indicator of his true colors comes today:

The moderate Iranian leader who says that he was robbed of victory in last week’s presidential election faces a fateful choice today: support the regime or be cast out.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has told Mir Hossein Mousavi to stand beside him as he uses Friday prayers at Tehran University to call for national unity. An army of Basiji — Islamic volunteer militiamen — is also expected to be bussed in to support the Supreme Leader.

The demand was made at a meeting this week with representatives of all three candidates who claim that the poll was rigged, and it puts Mr Mousavi on the spot. He has become the figurehead of a popular movement that is mounting huge demonstrations daily against the “theft” of last Friday’s election by President Ahmadinejad, the ayatollah’s protégé.

Will he stand by Khamenei or will he defy him? My money’s on him supporting the regime.

~McQ

About Those “New Tough Measures” Against NoKo

You have to laugh some times.  Or maybe a rueful shake of the head is more appropriate. Here’s Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, answering questions about the reportedly tough measures the new UN resolution against NoKo allows the country, via the military, to take:

Q: Admiral Mullen, Secretary Gates, currently the U.S. military is tracking a North Korean-flagged ship, the Kang Nam, which is suspected of proliferating either weaponry, nuclear materials or missile parts. What are your options n terms of enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874? Are you prepared to board the ship at this time?

ADM. MULLEN: Without going into specific details, clearly we’re — we intend to vigorously enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874, to include — options to include certainly a hail and query. There are — part of the UNSCR is to, if a vessel like this is queried and doesn’t allow a permissive search, to direct it to go into a port, and the country of that port would, as required to, inspect the vessel, and to also keep the United Nations informed, obviously, if a vessel like this would refuse to comply.

But the United Nations Security Council resolution does not include an option for an opposed boarding or a noncompliant boarding with respect to that. And if we get to that point with a vessel that we suspect has material which is counter to — unauthorized in accordance with UNSCR, that’s a report that goes back to the United Nations as well.

Q: What do you think is on board this ship? What has made you suspicious that the military’s tracking it?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, I wouldn’t go into any kind of details, at this particular point in time, except to say that it’s very clear that the resolution prohibits North Korea from shipping these kinds of materials, the kinds of weapons that were laid out, in the material, from conventional weapons up to fissile material or nuclear weapons.

And we expect compliance. And I’ve gone through the steps that we would take.

Q: The north has said that they would take that, any sort of interdiction, as an act of war. Would that prevent you from pursuing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think, it’s important that this is a U.N. resolution. This is an international commitment. It’s not just the United States. It’s a lot of other countries as well. And the North taking steps to further isolate itself, to further non-comply with international guidance and regulations, in the long-run, puts them in a more difficult position.

With all due respect to Adm. Mullen, I’m having real difficulty, given what he said they could do -essentially send a report to the UN if NoKo doesn’t play along with the demands he’s authorized to make- seeing how NoKo is putting themselves “in a more difficult position” than they now occupy. More importantly, why would NoKo care?

Reading this carefully, it seems the UN has authorized them to “query” a NoKo ship and ask to inspect it. NoKo can say “no”. If NoKo says no, we can demand they go to the nearest port for inspection. But again, all the NoKo ship has to do is say “no” and that ends it. Result: Strong report sent to UN. Sounds more like punishment for those who have to fill out the report to the UN than NoKo.

Where else in the universe are such steps considered “tough” besides the UN?

~McQ

Why “Twitter” Became So Important In Iran

Some fascinating stuff here:

The state owned Data communication Company of Iran (or DCI) acts as the gateway for all Internet traffic entering or leaving the country. Historically, Iranian Internet access has enjoyed some level of freedom despite government filtering and monitoring of web sites.

In normal times, DCI carries roughly 5 Gbps of traffic (with a reported capacity of 12 Gbps) through 6 upstream regional and global Internet providers. For the region, this represents an average level of Internet infrastructure (for purposes of perspective, a mid size ISP in Michigan carries roughly the same level of traffic).

Then the Iranian Internet stopped.

One the day after the elections on June 13th at 1:30pm GMT (9:30am EDT and 6:00pm Tehran / IRDT), Iran dropped off the Internet. All six regional and global providers connecting Iran to the rest of the world saw a near complete loss of traffic.

Graphically, here’s what happened –iran1

Here’s a detailed look at the abrupt stop noted above –iran2

There’s no question, obviously, that internet traffic was almost totally blocked. And you don’t have to be a North Korean rocket scientist to know why.

So why has limited bandwidth been restored since?

I can only speculate. But DCI’s Internet changes suggest piecemeal migration of traffic flows. Typically off the shelf / inexpensive Internet proxy and filtering appliances can support 1 Gbps or lower. If DCI needed to support higher throughput (say, all Iranian Internet traffic), then redirecting subsets of traffic as the filtering infrastructure comes online would make sense.

Unlike Burma, Iran has significant commercial and technological relationships with the rest of the world. In other words, the government cannot turn off the Internet without impacting business and perhaps generating further social unrest. In all, this represents a delicate balance for the Iranian government and a test case for the Internet to impact democratic change.

Events are still unfolding in Iran, but some reports are saying the Internet has already won.

It would seem so, at least in this case, but I’m not so sure that a country which really didn’t care about maintaining the mirage of a “free” country, as does Iran, couldn’t and wouldn’t keep it shut down for a while longer than did Iran. China for instance.

What it does prove is how incredibly powerful and important the internet has become throughout the world, and how, as communications technology expands and networking options become more available (Twitter carried the day after Inet cutoff to the point that it can be asserted that there was no longer any positive reason to keep the Inet shut down), the ability of totalitarian regimes to control communications is degraded to the point of impotence. Someone is going to get the word out by some means, like it or not. And for the most part, Iran likes it not. But the ability of the communications network to bypass governmental blocks by other means may have been instrumental in making the mullahs finally take the sham election seriously and forcing them to finally address the alleged voting irregularities.

~McQ

Questions And Observations

Some conversation starters:

  • For new readers, the title is what the shortened “QandO” means.
  • I’m constantly amused by the anecdotal evidence I gather while on the road that says if you’re over 65 you have to drive a Buick.
  • One thing to keep in mind as you listen to all of these proponents tell you that government can do health care better than the private sector – The private sector is a net producer of wealth. The government sector is a net consumer of wealth. That’s why the more of the economy a government takes over the less wealth is produced and thus available within the economy.
  • Interesting chart showing the level of spending in the last 12 months compared to the spending over the last 206 years in inflation adjusted dollars.  How do people believe that such a massive increase in spending doesnt have to be paid for at some point?
  • Is Obama’s honeymoon over?  Is enough resistance building to derail some of these economy killing policies and programs now on the table?
  • Former President Bush speaks out, apparently tired of a president 150 days into his own administration continuing to blame the previous administration. Appropriate or should he remain silent? And interestingly, since the left excused Jimmy Carter’s criticism of the Bush administration, does that mean they’re fine with Bush speaking out?
  • Is it “IGgate”? What’s up with this story about the Americorps IG and are there more IGs with whom the administration has messed? Wasn’t this the administration which was going to “return” us to the “rule of law”? Why aren’t they following it?

~McQ

Health Care “Reform”: A Little History Is Always Useful

Daniel Henninger gives us a little walk down memory lane to remind us of the effect of our first attempt at “health care” reform.

Back before recorded history, in 1965, Congress erected the nation’s first two monuments to health-care “reform,” Medicaid and Medicare. Medicaid was described at the time as a modest solution to the problem of health care for the poor. It would be run by the states and “monitored” by the federal government.

The reform known as Medicaid is worth our attention now because Mr. Obama is more or less demanding that the nation accept another reform, his “optional” federalized health insurance program. He suggested several times before the AMA that opposition to it will consist of “scare tactics” and “fear mongering.”

Whatever Medicaid’s merits, this federal health-care program more than any other factor has put California and New York on the brink of fiscal catastrophe. I’d even call it scary.

Anyone who has paid any attention to the health care debate know full well that Medicare and Medicaid have become huge black holes with future funding obligations in the tens of trillions of trillions of dollars.

Now, pointing that out and doubting the government’s ability to do any better is apparently “scare tactics” and “fear mongering”. Reminds me of the AGW nonsense.

After 45 years, the health-care reform called Medicaid has crushed state budgets. A study by the National Governors Association said a decade ago that because of “new requirements” imposed by federal law — meaning Congress — “Medicaid has evolved into a program whose size, cost and significance are far beyond the original vision of its creators.”

There is nothing to convince anyone that the same won’t happen with a “public option”. And although the present plan is to have such an option pay for itself through premiums, there’s nothing to stop Congress from deciding the taxpayer should pick up the tab at some point in the future.

In his speech, Mr. Obama said the cost of the Public Option won’t add to the deficit: “I’ve set down a rule for my staff, for my team — and I’ve said this to Congress — health-care reform must be, and will be, deficit-neutral in the next decade.” If we’re honest, that means tax increases are inevitable.

The thing to remember – “deficit-neutral” doesn’t necessarily mean cuts in spending. It means that revenue must equal spending and that obviously means that spending increases must have added revenue – tax increases.

There is some resistance starting to form to the “reform”. The Democrats plan on rushing this through with limited debate. If they succeed, “Son of Medicare” will wander out the government lab and bankrupt this nation much more quickly than now anticipated.

~McQ

U.S. Spurns Aid To California. Really?

In one of those “make sure you read the whole article” stories in the Washington Post, it begins like this:

The Obama administration has turned back pleas for emergency aid from one of the biggest remaining threats to the economy — the state of California.

Top state officials have gone hat in hand to the administration, armed with dire warnings of a fast-approaching “fiscal meltdown” caused by a budget shortfall. Concern has grown inside the White House in recent weeks as California’s fiscal condition has worsened, leading to high-level administration meetings. But federal officials are worried that a bailout of California would set off a cascade of demands from other states.

If you read no further than that, you’d probably think, “thank goodness, a modicum of sanity has returned to the federal government”. It is California’s mess and California, along with the other states, need to learn a hard but necessary fiscal lesson here.

But, while perfectly correct in your assessment, you’d be wrong to think that the present rejection is final. Buried a few paragraphs down is this:

These policymakers continue to watch the situation closely and do not rule out helping the state if its condition significantly deteriorates, a senior administration official said. But in that case, federal help would carry conditions to protect taxpayers and make similar requests for aid unattractive to other states, the official said. The official did not detail those conditions.

I’m sure he or she didn’t. This is another Geithner plan based in the premise that California is “too big to fail” – the 8th biggest economy in the world and its failure would slow down the economic recovery of the US.

Given that inclination on the part of Geithner, it would appear that nothing has been learned from the Chrysler and GM bailouts, failure and eventual bankruptcies. Granted, California’s “failure” would be quite a bit larger than those two, but haven’t we yet learned that propping up a unsustainable business or government model just doesn’t work?

While it may be painful for both California and the US, nothing changes in California unless massive cuts and changes are made in that government. And, as has been evident to even the most tuned out of constituents, the California government model has been unsustainable for over a decade.

Naturally, California wants to characterize their plight in the way that will appeal the most to the emotions:

“After June 15th, every day of inaction jeopardizes our state’s solvency and our ability to pay schools and teachers and to keep hospitals and ERs open,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said Friday.

But the hard fact remains that the solvency of all those institutions are in jeopardy with or without a bailout. We’re simply talking about how long we want to extend the problem not how to solve it. Solutions mean massive cuts in government spending and resultant reductions in government services. Or said another way, California is finally going to have to live within its means or fail.

That’s not a condition the rest of the taxpayers in this country brought about, and it certainly isn’t one they should be on the hook to “bailout”. And that goes for every other state in that condition as well (see the article and its mention of how Treasury is thinking about doing something with auto suppliers in Michigan – is that the job of Treasury).

~McQ

Obama’s Foreign Policy Is Dangerous

Caroline Glick, writing in the Jerusalem Post, seems to have as good a measure of Barack Obama’s “foreign policy” as anyone I’ve read. Discussing that in the context of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Sunday speech (two state solution/demilitarized Palestine), Glick writes of Obama and his advisors:

To be moved by rational argument, a person has to be open to rational discourse. And what we have witnessed over the past week with the Obama administration’s reactions to both North Korea’s nuclear brinksmanship and Iran’s sham elections is that its foreign policy is not informed by rationality but by the president’s morally relative, post-modern ideology. In this anti-intellectual and anti-rational climate, Netanyahu’s speech has little chance of making a lasting impact on the White House.

If rational thought was the basis for the administration’s policymaking on foreign affairs, North Korea’s decisions to test long range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, send two US citizens to long prison terms and then threaten nuclear war should have made the administration reconsider its current policy of seeking the approval and assistance of North Korea’s primary enabler – China – for any action it takes against Pyongyang. As Nicholas Eberstadt suggested in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, rather than spending its time passing UN Security Council resolutions with no enforcement mechanisms against North Korea, the administration would be working with a coalition of the willing to adopt measures aimed at lowering the threat North Korea constitutes to regional, US and global security through its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its proliferation activities.

But the administration has done no such thing. Instead of working with and strengthening its allies, it has opted to work with North Korea’s allies China and Russia to forge a Security Council resolution harsh enough to convince North Korean leader Kim Jung Il to threaten nuclear war, but too weak to degrade his capacity to wage one.

Similar to Obama’s refusal to reassess his failed policy regarding North Korea, his nonreaction to the fraudulent Iranian election shows that he will not allow facts to interfere with his slavish devotion to his ideological canon that claims that no enemy is unappeasable and no ally deserves automatic support. Far from standing with the democratic dissidents now risking their lives to oppose Iran’s sham democracy, the administration has reportedly expressed concern that the current postelection protests will destabilize the regime.

Obama has also refused to reconsider his decision to reach a grand bargain with the ayatollahs on Iran’s nuclear weapons program that would serve to legitimize their continued grip on power. His refusal to make a moral distinction between the mullahs and their democratic opponents – like his refusal in Cairo to make a moral distinction between a nuclear-armed Iran and a nuclear-armed America – makes clear that he is not interested in forging a factually accurate or morally clear-sighted foreign policy.

At that point in her article, she brings it home to Israel and points to why, given her assessment of Obama’s foreign policy tendencies, Netanyahu’s speech will not be met with the approbation it deserves, in her opinion, by the US. And she makes a good case for her point which you ought to read.

But I was far more interested in the general analysis than how it specifically applied to Israel because it is one of the best and most clearly stated I’ve seen yet. While she doesn’t say it directly, the path the administration is taking is an extremely dangerous path in dealing with these problems she points too.

Regimes like NoKo and Iran see any conciliatory or ineffective moves toward them as signs of weakness to be exploited. And NoKo is presently in the middle of doing precisely that. Iran, caught up in its own internal difficulties at the moment, will soon follow once those are resolved (and they will be resolved).

To bring it back to the Israeli question, the same sort of policy is at work there – lean on Israel to come up with the solution and make the concessions while mostly ignoring the Palestinian side of the equation. Netanyahu made a point, in his speech, to remind the Obama administration of the very first thing which must be done before any meaningful peace process can begin:

Netanyahu demonstrated that through their consistent rejection of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state, the Palestinians – not us – are the side responsible for the absence of Middle East peace.

Until that is done, nothing will change. Instead of trying to get Israel to accept Palestine and make concessions, this should be the focus of the US effort there. Without it, nothing changes. But, as Glick points out, that isn’t the focus of he US effort and thus, it is doomed to failure (and she assumes when it failure is finally admitted, it will be Israel that is blamed).

A very interesting and disheartening read. Like I said, I think Glick has nailed it, and, to quote someone close to the Obama administration, in a few years, unfortunately, these foreign policy chickens are going to “come home to roost”.

~McQ

What Would Rommel Say?

He certainly wouldn’t be happy, that’s for sure. Germany’s top soldier isn’t happy with his troops either. Speaking about German soldier complaints about their deployments he said:

“We cannot guarantee soldiers that they will have an all-round feel-good experience,” said General Wolfgang Schneiderhan.

“We have to tell a professional soldier who complains about his third tour of overseas duty that he has to get a grip — this is his profession,” said General Schneiderhan.

“Perhaps the problem is down to the general tendency in society to delegate responsibility to someone else, or perhaps it is the stress associated with change,” he told several hundred army officers and politicians at an official reception.

Ah, social welfare – it does change a culture, doesn’t it? And although the Germans have been a part of the ISAF in Afghanistan since 2001, other members of the NATO team have voiced dissatisfaction with their performance. That may be because they are participating (I hesitate to use the word “fighting”) with one hand tied behind their back:

German Medevac helicopters have to be back at base by dusk. German Tornado aircraft are restricted to unarmed reconnaissance. Der Spiegel magazine highlighted the case recently of a Taleban commander — nicknamed the Baghlan Bomber because of his role in blowing up a sugar factory in that northwestern province — who was cornered by the KSK German special service unit but allowed to escape; under the terms of engagement imposed by Parliament the KSK are not authorised to kill unless they are under attack.

So since they don’t fight at night (unless they’re willing to do it without medevac support), what do they do? Well, they drink. Forget cultural sensitivity, the German force of 3,500 goes through 90,000 bottles of wine and 1.7 million pints of beer a year:

The reports of soldiers’ complaints made to parliament by Reinhold Robbe, the ombudsman, paint a picture of a force that is concentrating more on its own wellbeing than on the peace-keeping mission.

[…]

The diet is heavy on carbohydrates, low on fruit and a higher proportion of soldiers are overweight than in the civilian population of Germany. Mr Robbe admitted that too many soldiers had a “passive lifestyle”. In short the soldiers are fat, they drink too much and spend a great deal of time moaning.

Truly signs of a very unhealthy force in more ways than one. And this is one of our primary NATO allies? And we wonder why Afghanistan is going so swimmingly?

~McQ