Free Markets, Free People

Elections

Welcome To One-Party Rule (Updated)

It’s now official: only one party has the reins to power in Washington, DC:

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously ruled Al Franken the winner of last November’s Senate race, putting the former “Saturday Night Live” star on the brink of becoming a United States senator and Democrats on the cusp of holding a dominant 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.

In a unanimous 5-0 decision, the court upheld a three-judge panel’s April 14 ruling that Franken defeated Republican Norm Coleman in the race by 312 votes out of 2.9 million cast. The 32-page was remarkably decisive, picking apart and rejecting one Coleman legal claim after another.

[...]

If Franken is seated, Democrats would hold a 60-40 majority in the Senate, the largest the party has enjoyed in a generation. Sixty votes are needed to break filibusters, ensuring that if Democrats stay united they would be able to cleave the GOP’s last lever of power in Washington. A Franken “yes” vote on health reform, climate change legislation and Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor gives Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) even more of a margin for error on these major votes.

Democrats were already celebrating the result.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty already stated that he would sign the election certificate for Franken if directed to do so by the Supreme Court, so this is pretty much a done deal. Coleman has not indicated whether he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Minnesota Republican Party doesn’t seem to sanguine about pushing further:

Even Minnestoa Republicans – highly disappointed by the ruling – weren’t ready to call for a federal legal challenge.

The Minnesota Republican Party issued a strongly worded statement, saying the ruling “wrongly disenfranchised thousands of Minnesotans who deserve to have their votes counted.”

But the chairman-elect of the party, Tony Sutton, made no mention of next steps, only saying, “As we move forward, our deeply flawed election system must be dramatically improved to ensure our state’s elections are fair, accurate and reliable.”

Assuming that Coleman doesn’t seek cert., or if he does that no stay of the decision is put into place, then Franken will be seated as early as next week. With a vetofilibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the Democrats won’t need to play parliamentary games like using reconciliation bills, or the like, and instead will simply shove legislation down the throats of the minority. So get ready for cap-and-trade, government health care, huge tax increases, and a host of other government programs that don’t need and can’t pay for.

The only downside for Democrats is that they can’t credibly blame the fiscal and economic woes on Bush anymore as they will have cornered the political market. I say “credibly” because they will continue to do so, and the media mostly won’t call them on it, but such claims will be laughably false. The real question is, how and when will this come back to haunt them?

UPDATE: Coleman concedes.

In Iran, The Beat Goes On

Literally. The NY Times reports:

The authorities showed little inclination to heed chastisement by outsiders as a senior cleric called for demonstrators to be punished “ruthlessly and savagely.”

At Friday Prayer in Tehran University, the senior cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, referred to the demonstrators as rioters and declared, “I want the judiciary to punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson.”

Reuters quoted him as saying that demonstrators should be tried for waging war against God. The punishment for such offenses under Islamic law is death, Reuters said.

As for the murder of the woman named Neda, now a symbol of Iranian resistance worldwide, Khatami also dismissed that as propaganda ploy:

Khatami said Neda was shot by government opponents for propaganda purposes. “By watching the film, any wise person can understand that rioters killed her,” he said.

Any hope for a new election, or even a recount were dashed by the Guradian Council:

The 12-man Guardian Council’s statement leaves little scope for more legal challenges to the election result, short of an attack on the position of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has expressed strong support for Ahmadinejad.

“The Guardian Council has almost finished reviewing defeated candidates’ election complaints … the reviews showed that the election was the healthiest since the revolution … There were no major violations in the election,” said Kadkhodai.

And while government thugs have been pretty successful in keeping protesters off the street, other signs of resistance are still evident:

There were other signs of continued resistance. A few conservatives have expressed revulsion at the sight of unarmed protesters being beaten, even shot, by government forces. Only 105 out of the 290 members of Parliament took part in a victory celebration for Mr. Ahmadinejad on Tuesday, newspapers reported Thursday. The absence of so many lawmakers, including the speaker, Ali Larijani, a powerful conservative, was striking.

This is by far the most serious challenge to the present regime since the 1979 revolution which put them in power. And I’ll remind you again that it took a year from the initial protests for enough pressure to build (as other elements of the society joined the original dissidents) to the point that millions took to the streets and overthrew the Shah. And at this point, the mullocracy has nothing on the Shah’s regime in terms of brutality, oppression and totalitarian control.

~McQ

Some Mullahs Join Iranian Protests

Don’t forget that the 1979 Iranian revolution took about a year to gestate after the initial protests. And it picked up support from other elements of society as it grew.

In a blatant act of defiance, a group of Mullahs took to the streets of Tehran, to protest election results that returned incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

Whether these clerics voted for Ahmadinejad or one of the opposition candidates is unknown. What is important here, is the decision to march against the will of Iran’s supreme leader who called the results final and declared demonstrations illegal.

This is an indicator that what happened in ’79 may be beginning to happen in ’09 as well.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mullahs rule supreme. They are the country’s conservative clerics; the guardians of the Islamic revolution and its ideologies. They’re loyal only to God and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Obviously that particular equation is under assault with these clerics physically making the point that their loyalty is elsewhere. Check out the article for the picture of these clerics among the protesters.

~McQ

The “Bullet Fee”

Shades of the Chicoms and Saddam Hussein.

A protester is shot dead in Iran. His father learns of his death:

Upon learning of his son’s death, the elder Mr. Alipour was told the family had to pay an equivalent of $3,000 as a “bullet fee”—a fee for the bullet used by security forces—before taking the body back, relatives said.

But we don’t want to be the “foil” so we’ll withold saying anything that might be misinterpreted. Well, except this:

But privately Obama advisers are crediting his Cairo speech for inspiring the protesters, especially the young ones, who are now posing the most direct challenge to the republic’s Islamic authority in its 30-year history.

Ed Morrisey calls this “despicable”. I say he’s being very understated in his criticism.

Pass the hot dogs.

Please.

~McQ

Mullahs Mulling New Governing Body

The political fallout within Iran of the protests against the regime and the election seems to be pretty dramatic. For the first time in 30 years, the mullahs who actually run the place are split and are looking closely at their method of ruling the country and considering what they would see as some rather drastic modifications.

One thing that some of the mullahs are unhappy with (finally) is the power concentrated in the position of “supreme leader”.

Iran’s religious clerics in Qom and members of the Assembly of Experts, headed by Ayatollah Rafsanjani, are mulling the formation of an alternative collective leadership to replace that of the supreme leader, sources in Qom told Al Arabiya on condition of anonymity.

As mentioned before, the Assembly of Experts has the power to remove both the president of the country and the “supreme leader”. Rafsanjani has been at loggerheads with the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. 5 members of Rafsanjani’s family were arrested (and later released) during last week’s protests.

Members of the assembly are reportedly considering forming a collective ruling body and scrapping the model of Ayatollah Khomeini as a way out of the civil crisis that has engulfed Tehran in a series of protests,

The discussions have taken place in a series of secret meetings convened in the holy city of Qom and included Jawad al-Shahristani, the supreme representative of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the foremost Shiite leader in Iraq.

Serious stuff. And again, going back to what I mentioned in another post, a very large crack in the foundation of “divine authority” the regime is supposed to have.

The reformist clerics are calling for the protesters who’ve been arrested to be released as well. They claim that will help ease tensions. My guess is it will refuel the protests. No word on the clamp down on the media or the internet.

A couple of interesting quotes from protesters:

“The robocops beat us up badly,” one protestor told AFP. “Men and women were beaten up…. My whole body is bruised…. They confiscated my camera.”

Another witness said: “Lots of guards on motorbikes closed in on us and beat us brutally. “As we were running away the Basiji were waiting in side alleys with batons, but people opened their doors to us trapped in alleys.”

According to statements posted by witnesses on the social networking site Facebook, foreign embassies even opened the doors to injured protesters, among them the Danish embassy. The report was not confirmed by the Danish foreign ministry.

Meanwhile, in the US, the phrase of the day is “pass the hotdogs”.

~McQ

Hitchens “Gets It” Concerning Iran

He sets it up with these observations:

1. There is nothing at all that any Western country can do to avoid the charge of intervening in Iran’s foreign affairs. The deep belief that everything—especially anything in English—is already and by definition an intervention is part of the very identity and ideology of the theocracy.

2. It is a mistake to assume that the ayatollahs, cynical and corrupt as they may be, are acting rationally. They are frequently in the grip of archaic beliefs and fears that would make a stupefied medieval European peasant seem mentally sturdy and resourceful by comparison.

3. The tendency of outside media to check the temperature of the clerics, rather than consult the writers and poets of the country, shows our own cultural backwardness in regrettably sharp relief. Anyone who had been reading Pezeshkzad and Nafisi, or talking to their students and readers in Tabriz and Esfahan and Mashad, would have been able to avoid the awful embarrassment by which everything that has occurred on the streets of Iran during recent days has come as one surprise after another to most of our uncultured “experts.”

And he brings it home with this:

That last observation also applies to the Obama administration. Want to take a noninterventionist position? All right, then, take a noninterventionist position. This would mean not referring to Khamenei in fawning tones as the supreme leader and not calling Iran itself by the tyrannical title of “the Islamic republic.” But be aware that nothing will stop the theocrats from slandering you for interfering anyway. Also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them just what you were doing when they were being beaten and gassed. [emphasis mine].

For those of you who continue to miss this point, there it is, perfectly stated.

And, for those who find “hot dogs on the 4th” still acceptable for members of a regime presently engaged in viciously and murderously silencing their own people, one has to assume you believe in rewarding bad behavior by pretending it hasn’t happened. That’s not “diplomacy”, that’s simply an abysmally poor choice that signals weakness.

~McQ

Is It Different In Iran This Time?

I believe the answer is “yes”. It has to do with the breaking of the aura of divine authority coming from the ruling mullahs  and casting doubt, among the people, on the belief that the theocracy is divinely sanctioned.

Fareed Zakaria offers an excellent summary of the point:

CNN: Do you mean you think the regime will fall?

Zakaria: No, I don’t mean the Iranian regime will fall soon. It may — I certainly hope it will — but repressive regimes can stick around for a long time. I mean that this is the end of the ideology that lay at the basis of the Iranian regime.

The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, laid out his special interpretation of political Islam in a series of lectures in 1970. In this interpretation of Shia Islam, Islamic jurists had divinely ordained powers to rule as guardians of the society, supreme arbiters not only on matters of morality but politics as well. When Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, this idea was at its heart. Last week, that ideology suffered a fatal wound.

CNN: How so?

Zakaria: When the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “divine assessment,” he was indicating it was divinely sanctioned. But no one bought it. He was forced to accept the need for an inquiry into the election. The Guardian Council, Iran’s supreme constitutional body, met with the candidates and promised to investigate and perhaps recount some votes. Khamenei has subsequently hardened his position but that is now irrelevant. Something very important has been laid bare in Iran today — legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular support.

CNN: There have been protests in Iran before. What makes this different?

Zakaria: In the past the protests were always the street against the state, and the clerics all sided with the state. When the reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, was in power, he entertained the possibility of siding with the street, but eventually stuck with the establishment. The street and state are at odds again but this time the clerics are divided. Khatami has openly sided with the challenger, Mir Hossein Moussavi, as has the reformist Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. So has Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament and a man with strong family connections to the highest levels of the religious hierarchy. Behind the scenes, the former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now head of the Assembly of Experts, another important constitutional body, is waging a campaign against Ahmadinejad and even the supreme leader himself. If senior clerics dispute Khamenei’s divine assessment and argue that the Guardian Council is wrong, it is a death blow to the basic premise behind the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is as if a senior Soviet leader had said in 1980 that Karl Marx was not the right guide to economic policy.

Once the genie is out of the bottle in this sort of a situation it is pretty much impossible to get it back in. The split among the mullahs, who have, in the past, always sided with the regime, is a critical point. Someone comes out of this being declared “wrong” (whether they actually are or not). And the split will remain even of those declared “wrong” are replaced. As Zakaria points out, the very fact that some mullahs have acknowledged that there may be some credibility to the charges of vote fraud and are willing to investigate it is a huge blow to the legitimacy of “divine authority” (which originally supposed “approved” this election), the power of the mullahs and Ahmadinejhad.

I agree with Zakaria that it is indeed a mortal blow to the basic premise behind Iran’s government. How long it will take for that blow to finally kill the regime is, as of yet undetermined. But I think the assumption that it is merely a matter of time is basically correct.

Certainly the regime may muster the force necessary to put the protests down at this moment. But the powder keg will remain, just waiting for the proper detonator event to blow it sky high. I don’t think these protests are going to stop any time soon. And at some point, if the protesters keep the pressure on, the tide is going to begin to turn. The ability of the regime to muster the will and the thugs to do this over and over again is, at some point, going to fail.

It always does.

My question is, will whatever government eventually takes the helm there see the US as a supportive ally in their quest for freedom or a country that sat on the sideline, mouthing platitudes and trying to keep their options open with the oppressive regime now gone (on this particular question, Fareed Zakaria and I seem to disagree)?

~McQ

Iran: Oppression Wins – At Least For Today (update)

That seems to be the outcome based on the limited information about today’s events in Iran that has trickled out to the West.

Reports seem to indicate that police and pro-government militias deployed early and in great numbers to block access to the public squares where planned demonstrations were to be held. Limiting access and turning back would-be protesters seems to have taken the impetus away from the protesting groups. Additionally, given the warning issued to opposition leaders contending they’d be held personally responsible for any bloodshed as a result of protests, those that attempted to gather we’re seemingly leaderless (Mousavi officially canceled protest rallies for today).

As an added measure, the government took down cell phone service in the areas in which the protests were planned.

It appears, for the most part, that regime chose to avoid the spectacle of a bloody shootout with protesters opting to drown the protests through the use of water cannon and tear gas instead. The tactic of intercepting protesters, piece-meal, as they approached Tehran’s “Revolution Square” and other announced protest sites and driving them away in small groups seems to have successfully dispersed them and prevented them from massing, at least for today.

The only mention of numbers I could find was in a Fox News report which said police battled a crowd of 3,000 in Revolution Square. Far below what was hoped for by the opposition I’m sure. Also included in that Fox News article was a report that 50 to 60 protesters had been badly beaten by police and pro-government militia (the “Basij”- if you’re unfamiliar with them, read thismore here.) and taken to a local hospital.

CNN reports that the government is saying 7 have died in the protests, Amnesty International puts the number at 15  while another source is saying 32.

Indications are the government isn’t going to act with restraint forever (although they clearly understand the world is watching):

“We acted with leniency but I think from today on, we should resume law and confront more seriously,” General Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghadam said on state television. “The events have become exhausting, bothersome and intolerable. I want them to take the police cautions seriously because we will definitely show a serious confrontation against those who violate rules.”

It seems obvious the regime is very wary about a brutal repression of the protests, but seem to be signaling their patience isn’t infinite.

That leaves the ball in the protesters court. Do they continue to try to rally protests and ignore the government ban? Further protests will either call the regime’s bluff or force them to turn to brutality. The hope then has to be that such an act would inspire even more massive protests, leading to, at a minimum, a change of leadership.

We’ll have to see what Sunday brings and whether the protesters can figure out a way to get around the tactics the government has deployed.

The lines are drawn. “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made it pretty clear where he stands on this “democratic” election:

“Nothing can be changed. The presidential campaign is finished,” he declared.

Meanwhile, here, the mealy-mouthed and fearful “support” from the President remains an embarrassment.

UPDATE: Speaking of the president – his latest:

The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

Martin Luther King once said – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.

~McQ

An Example Of Why I Consider The Obama Administraion “Naive”

For once, Joe Biden was right – he prophesied that within 6 months of taking office Barack Obama would be tested on the world stage.

Well, we’re a bit early, but thus for his performance has been underwhelming as it pertains to Iran. Even Biden and Hillary Clinton want to see a stronger response.

Instead we got silence, then a mealy-mouthed response and recently a bit stronger but still using language that vaguely supports the Iranian regime.

Today the House and Senate passed resolutions concerning Iran.

The Senate version “”condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones.”

It seems the House version now sounds like the Senate version, because apparently the White House was not pleased with the original version of the House resolution (it was too strongly worded for their taste), and helped the House “tone down” the resolution.  Robert Gibbs then said the resolutions were consistent with the administration.

The reason?

“We made it clear that we didn’t want to make the U.S. a foil in a debate that has nothing to do with us,” a senior administration told me this morning. “This is a debate among Iranians.”

The dangerous naivete? The belief that a totalitarian regime that has made the US their “foil” for 30 years wouldn’t do it at the drop of a hat when there was trouble?

And guess what?  They have.

So the US has silenced itself based on the false presumption that Iran would only blame them for meddling if we said something.

Naive. Dangerous. And a sure way to loose any moral leverage in any future negotiations should the regime survive tomorrow.

~McQ

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