Freedom and Liberty
If so, in terms of presidential press conferences, that’s a real “freedom of the press” no-no. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post is pretty sure that a question from the Huffington Post was, in fact, staged:
After the obligatory first question from the Associated Press, Obama treated the overflowing White House briefing room to a surprise. “I know Nico Pitney is here from the Huffington Post,” he announced.
Milbank reports that he knew Pitney was there because Pitney had been contacted by the White House and was escorted by White House staffers to the reporters area and told he’d probably be called on. Milbank takes it from there:
Pitney asked his arranged question. Reporters looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel grinned at the surprised TV correspondents in the first row.
The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world — Iran included — that the American press isn’t as free as advertised.
I bring this up because while it may seem trivial to some, it points to the lengths this White House will go to stage manage even such events as press conferences. Manipulation of the press is usually much more circumspect than this and doing it as they did with a grinning Rahm Emanuel standing on the sidelines points to a certain arrogance and cavalier attitude toward the tradition of freedom of the press.
But yesterday’s daytime drama belonged primarily to Pitney, of the Huffington Post Web site. During the eight years of the Bush administration, liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post often accused the White House of planting questioners in news conferences to ask preplanned questions. But here was Obama fielding a preplanned question asked by a planted questioner — from the Huffington Post.
Pitney said the White House, though not aware of the question’s wording, asked him to come up with a question about Iran proposed by an Iranian. And, as it turned out, he was not the only prearranged questioner at yesterday’s show. Later, Obama passed over the usual suspects to call on Macarena Vidal of the Spanish-language EFE news agency. The White House called Vidal in advance to see whether she was coming and arranged for her to sit in a seat usually assigned to a financial trade publication. She asked about Chile and Colombia.
Milbank says what wasn’t discussed was Afghanistan, Iraq, or many other critical topics with the time, instead, given to those with the prearranged questions. Not good. Not healthy. But, as Milbank points out, pretty ironic.
Part 2 happens tonight with the ABC informercial for the President’s health care plan.
From watchdogs to lapdogs, the media, with the exception of those like Milbank, simply play along.
So far my favorite (yes I’m being sarcastic here) government program to date has been the “clunkers for dollars” scam. We’re suffering from overspending and over-extended credit and the government puts together a program in which it tries to entice people with old, but probably paid off cars to go into debt for a new one by giving them $4,500 dollars of your money to buy a more fuel efficient model.
But I have to say, this one is also a great (sarcasm again) program as well:
It can be difficult to keep straight all the billions going to auto companies. But today the Department of Energy is reportedly set to announce that it will begin doling out sums from a $25 billion loan program for the development of fuel-efficient cars. The money comes from a bill passed last September and signed by President Bush and is totally separate from the TARP.
Among the first recipients are Ford, Nissan and Tesla, the small electric car company. The amounts will be announced today, but Ford has requested $5 billion. Nissan is getting the money to build a battery-electric car in its Tennessee plant.
A few points – one, does anyone hear the public clamoring for electric cars out there? They may be, but I’ve sure missed it. Why in the world is my money going to these companies to build something I’m not asking for and really don’t want – especially given the stage the technology is in right now. Yup, its government picking winners and losers again and we know how that seems to always turn out.
Two – although I’m completely against this, it is obvious it is going to happen, so I have to ask, why are we subsidizing a foreign auto maker with my money?
Three – and I know this is a completely silly question, but would some Constitutional scholar out there point me to the part of said document that makes this all kosher?
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”.
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.
Dale and I once interviewed Ezra Klein about health care on our podcast. Klein held the VA system up as a shining example of good government health care. Of course that was before the shameful condition of Walter Reed had been discovered. Since then other problems (for instance, contaminated colonoscopy equipment in various locations) have been discovered.
A commenter once asked “if VA is good enough for our veterans, why isn’t it good enough for us.” My answer was “it isn’t good enough for our veterans, it is instead what they’re stuck with.”
Today brings another example of the problems this sort of medicine is bound to have. It is a bureaucratic nightmare, even at the relatively small size of VA.
For patients with prostate cancer, it is a common surgical procedure: a doctor implants dozens of radioactive seeds to attack the disease. But when Dr. Gary D. Kao treated one patient at the veterans’ hospital in Philadelphia, his aim was more than a little off.
Most of the seeds, 40 in all, landed in the patient’s healthy bladder, not the prostate.
It was a serious mistake, and under federal rules, regulators investigated. But Dr. Kao, with their consent, made his mistake all but disappear.
He simply rewrote his surgical plan to match the number of seeds in the prostate, investigators said.
The revision may have made Dr. Kao look better, but it did nothing for the patient, who had to undergo a second implant. It failed, too, resulting in an unintended dose to the rectum. Regulators knew nothing of this second mistake because no one reported it.
That as they say, was the tip of the iceberg. No one reported the problem because there was no peer review. And, this was one of many mistakes made by this doctor that apparently no one knew about:
Had the government responded more aggressively, it might have uncovered a rogue cancer unit at the hospital, one that operated with virtually no outside scrutiny and botched 92 of 116 cancer treatments over a span of more than six years — and then kept quiet about it, according to interviews with investigators, government officials and public records.
The team continued implants for a year even though the equipment that measured whether patients received the proper radiation dose was broken. The radiation safety committee at the Veterans Affairs hospital knew of this problem but took no action, records show.
Six years and no one had a clue. In fact, if you read the article in full, as you should, you’ll see that the discovery of this was essentially an accident.
This is government health care. This is what our vets are stuck with. This is not something we, as a society, should want any part of.
There have probably been moments where I’ve been more disgusted with my country’s leadership, but I’m having great difficulty bringing them to mind. Somehow, having repressive and murderous regimes over for lunch clouds my memory of indiscretions gone by:
The United States said Monday its invitations were still standing for Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 celebrations at US embassies despite the crackdown on opposition supporters.
President Barack Obama’s administration said earlier this month it would invite Iran to US embassy barbecues for the national holiday for the first time since the two nations severed relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“There’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.
“We have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran,” Kelly said. “We tried many years of isolation, and we’re pursuing a different path now.”
The only thing I can think to say is, how dare you?
How dare the representatives of a country founded on freedom from tyranny and the principles of inalienable rights not give any thought — no thought whatsoever — to reexamining its invitation to theocratic sponsors of terrorism who violently deny their own people access to any say in how their lives are governed?
How dare the supposed leader of the free world not ponder, even for a moment, that perhaps treating thuggish dictators as legitimate state actors, on our nation’s birthday no less, might be sending the wrong signal?
How dare the supreme ambassadors of everything we hold dear as a country extend anything more than a single, firmly-flexed digit in the direction of a bully state that clearly has no business pretending to represent the interests of its citizens?
President Obama, how dare you slap your own countrymen in the face with such a rude and thoughtless gesture?
How dare you forgo “thought” on the matter; aren’t you supposed to be the intellectual president … y’know, The One who thinks about things?
I can only hope that our government hasn’t become so comfortable with its own power-grabbing that it fails to recognize blatant state repression when it’s invited over for hot dogs and fireworks.
It’s one thing to hold one’s tongue, or to speak in moderate tones when addressing momentous historical events as they unfold. It’s entirely another thing altogether to look tyranny in the face and smile as you invite it into your home. Even more significantly, our duly elected representative to the world is doing all this on the day to commemorate the culmination of the blood, sweat and tears our forefathers spent in casting off the yolk of dictatorial control so that we might have a nation of laws, and freedom to pursue our own individual happiness — freedoms that our “guests” routinely spit upon. President Obama should be ashamed.
[HT: Hot Air]
UPDATE: Bruce helpfully makes the point I was trying to get at above, but somehow failed to include in my rant:
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, on 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.
Obviously we’ve coddled repressive regimes before, to our and their people’s detriment, but I’m not trying to suggest that we simply disengage from any discussions whatsoever. There are times and places for diplomatic discussion, even with tyrannical governments such as Iran’s. While that regime is busy slaughtering peaceful protesters and on a national holiday celebrating our hard-won freedoms is not such a time.
Michale Barone, observing the Obama presidency as it unfolds, has penned his own “Three Rules of Obama”.
First, Obama likes to execute long-range strategies but suffers from cognitive dissonance when new facts render them inappropriate.
Barone cites Obama’s long range strategy of conciliatory diplomacy with the likes of Iran and North Korea being “undercut by North Korea’s missile launches and demonstrations in Iran against the mullah regime’s apparent election fraud.”
His assumption that friendly words could melt the hearts of Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been refuted by events. He limits himself to expressing “deep concern” about the election in the almost surely vain hope of persuading the mullahs to abandon their drive for nuclear weapons, while he misses his chance to encourage the one result — regime change — that could protect us and our allies from Iranian attack.
Obama apologist continue to insist his policy of “restraint” is the right course. Events and history seem to argue otherwise. Bottom line: not very agile when his presumptions are shattered.
Second, he does not seem to care much about the details of policy.
The “closing” of Guantanamo is perhaps the perfect example. Obviously politically satisfying at the time it was announced, its execution has been an absolute fiasco. None of the underlying problems of closing the prison had apparently been researched or considered when the promise was made.
And that’s not the only example:
He subcontracted the stimulus package to congressional appropriators, the cap-and-trade legislation to Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, and his health care program to Max Baucus. The result is incoherent public policy: indefensible pork barrel projects, a carbon emissions bill that doesn’t limit carbon emissions from politically connected industries, and a health care program priced by the Congressional Budget Office at a fiscally unfeasible $1,600,000,000,000.
Obama sees himself as the grand vision guy and it is up to his minions to put his vision together. Of course, that sort of outsourcing is bound to come up against competing agendas. He doesn’t seem to take that into account, apparently doesn’t do the necessary work to assure his version of his agenda is the dominant one and the result is chaos. Bottom line: his legislative and executive inexperience is the worst enemy of his aggressive agenda.
Third, he does business Chicago-style.
“Transparency” and “openness” are now just a words as he and his administration begin to insist on more and more executive privilege. And there’s also the example of the IG mess, not to mention the stories of threats and intimidation toward auto company bond holders and banks.
From Chicago he brings the assumption that there will always be a bounteous private sector that can be plundered endlessly on behalf of political favorites.
Just ask the UAW (and other unions) and ACORN. And Barone uses precisely the right word here – plunder. All of his grand plans are based on plundering the rich and redistributing the spoils to favorites. A more destructive presidency is hard to imagine.
Hope and change.
If ever there was a text book example of a false premise wrapped in an absurd ‘moral’ analogy, Glenn Smith at Firedoglake provides it:
The gravity of America’s health care crisis is the moral equivalent of the 19th Century’s bloody conflict over slavery. This is not hyperbole, though the truth of it is often lost in abstract talk of insurance company profits, treatment costs, and other cold, inhuman analyses.
Today’s health system condemns 50 million Americans to ill health and death while guaranteeing health care to the economic privileged. It cannot stand.
About 18,000 Americans die each year because they lack health insurance. That’s more than a third the number of lives lost in battle during each year of the four-year Civil War.
Heh … you have to love the attempt to wave off this hyperbole by simply declaring it isn’t hyperbole. But I would hope that it is evident to any rational thinker that the attempt here is to equate those who resist the intrusion of government into the realm of health to those who fought to retain the institution of slavery.
This is, instead, a plain old rant against capitalism and the free market cloaked in this absurd moral equivalence Smith invents. Seeing the liberal goal of government run health care being battered by real world realities, he’s decided he has to turbo-charge his argument for such change by defining down the horror of slavery in order to find a moral equivalence he can use as a bludgeon on the dissenters.
Don’t believe me? How about this:
Members of Congress without the moral clarity to recognize this equivalence will be condemned by history. Their spinelessness and lack of will when confronted with the power of the insurance industry is just as morally bankrupt as the American congressmen who bowed to Southern slave-owners.
The morally compromising efforts to pass health care reform that insurance companies might like is as insane as the compromises over slavery.
The health insurance industry earns its profits from the denial of coverage and benefits. It’s not so different from the Southern plantation owners who earned their profit from slave labor. The latter had their economic justifications for their immorality. So do the insurance companies.
Of course, this sort of nonsensical thinking muddles important concepts that underlie the inalienable rights of man. Slavery was a violation of man’s right to his own life. Health care insurance is nothing more than a tool that helps pay for a person’s health care. Health care is not “unavailable” to those who don’t have it. More importantly, health care is not a right.
Whereas slave owners physically denied slaves the freedom to pursue their lives, insurance companies do not stop anyone from pursuing their own health care.
But – they have to pay for it because it entails the use of the time, abilities and services of others. That is what people like Smith really object too. Read the nonsense in the paragraph above and that’s clear. And, as many extremists like to do (like those who claim, for instance, that those who don’t agree on AGW are akin to Holocaust deniers), he chooses the most inflammatory but false “moral” example he can choose to demonize his opposition, counting on the dearth of critical thinking these days to win their point.
Unfortunately, it is more successful than I’d like to admit, which is why it is important to refute it immediately when it crops up.
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)?
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 this – more 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.