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Israel for Dummies

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I don’t pretend to be an expert on Middle East politics.  I usually rely on the perspective of Steve Clemons at The Washington Note, who provides candid, unvarnished commentary on the complicated issues in that region.  Since December of 2008, I have been following the accomplishments of Jeremy Ben-Ami, the Executive Director of J Street, which he describes as “the political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement”.

Concern over the threat to Israel from Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been a hot topic during this election year.  Nevertheless, on February 27, Andrew Jones wrote a piece for The Raw Story, which included some disclosures published by Wikileaks concerning Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts:

Growing concerns over Iran’s nuclear facilities may prove to be all for naught.  Officials from the global intelligence company Stratfor allegedly discussed that Israel may have already destroyed the Iranian nuclear facility, according to one of the emails released by Wikileaks Monday.

In one of the over five million emails leaked, the conversation centered on Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak praising the news of deadly munitions blasts at a base of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

“I think this is a diversion.  The Israelis already destroyed all the Iranian nuclear infrastructure on the ground weeks ago,” one intelligence official wrote in an email dated November 14, 2011. “The current ‘let’s bomb Iran’ campaign was ordered by the EU leaders to divert the public attention from their at home financial problems.  It plays also well for the US since Pakistan, Russia and N. Korea are mentioned in the report. ”

This scenario makes sense.  Iran would not likely admit to having been humiliated by Israel .  Beyond that, the European Union plutocrats would enjoy nothing more than a decent sideshow to distract attention from their economic austerity fiasco.

For years, I have been waiting for someone to write a book called Israel for Dummies.  Too many American teevee pundits seem completely ignorant about Israel’s internal political strife and its impact on the prospects for peace with the Palestinians.  It appears as though someone has finally written that book.  I recently came across a great piece written by Noah Millman for The American Conservative.  Mr. Millman wrote a review of a new book entitled, The Unmasking of Israel by Gershom Gorenberg.  As Millman explains, the book takes us back to the early days of Israel, with David Ben-Gurion at the helm, bringing us to the present-day, never-ending conflict with the Palestinians.  Here are some highlights from Noah Millman’s book review:

Rather, the thrust of the book, as the title states, is to demonstrate that the series of decisions made during and after the 1967 War that resulted in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza set in motion a process that has progressively “unmade” the State of Israel.  Indeed, the progressive expansion of the settlement enterprise has so eroded the foundations of the signature achievement of political Zionism – Israel as we now know it – that not merely a “Jewish democratic state” but the state as such is now imperiled.

*   *   *

Since 1967, Gorenberg relates, the settlement enterprise has undermined the Israeli state top to bottom.  It has fostered secrecy and corruption in government.

*   *   *

Again the story is familiar.  Less so is the framing. Gorenberg, though he is outraged by the plight of the Palestinians, is not really writing about that plight.  Nor is he writing from an anti-Zionist perspective.  Rather, he is writing from a deeply Zionist point of view.  Zionism, we tend to forget, was not a self-defense movement.  It was a nationalist movement. Nationalism tells a people a story about what it means to be free – that being free means being part of a self-conscious, self-governing, sovereign, and independent collective.  Losing consciousness of one’s national group, being governed by other groups, failing to achieve independence and sovereignty on par with other nations – these are signs of unfreedom.  Of immaturity. The Jews before Zionism were, from the perspective of this narrative, either an exceptionally immature nation or not a nation at all.  The goal of Zionism was not simply – or even primarily – to provide for a “safe haven” for Jews fleeing persecution by the Czar or the Nazis.  The goal was the spiritual rejuvenation of the Jewish people by molding them into a nation like other nations and achieving independent statehood.

This is a narrative frame that, in broad strokes, Gorenberg accepts, which is why he is properly seen as a Zionist.  Indeed, the whole argument of the book is that by holding onto and settling the territories captured in 1967, Israel has reverted to a mode of existence that Zionism was supposed to help the Jews grow out of. By undermining the authority of the state, the settlement enterprise has revived modes of being and of argument that, from Gorenberg’s perspective, the Jewish people should have grown out of when they acquired the power and responsibility of a state. Indeed, that was the whole point, from a moral perspective, of acquiring state power in the first place.  The settlement enterprise doesn’t just undermine the moral case for Israel because it’s an injustice (plenty of states have perpetrated injustices – indeed, far worse injustices – without undermining the case for statehood as such) but because it is evidence that Zionism failed in what was arguably its primary objective.

As an aside:  Be sure to read the Comment stream following Millman’s piece.  It included some astute remarks and a good debate.

One American’s experience in attempting to get a better understanding of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict was chronicled on the Al Jazeera website.  Punk rock icon, Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys discussed his decision to cancel a show he was scheduled to perform at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv with his new band (Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine).  His bandmates had decided to boycott Israel in order to support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movementWikipedia lists this explanation of the BDS movement’s three main goals:

  1. Freeing all Palestinian territories from Israeli influence since 1967 and dismantling the Israeli West Bank barrier;
  2. Acting towards the rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel; and
  3. Promoting the interests of Arab Palestinian refugees in reference to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948.

Jello Biafra’s account of what followed his decision to cancel the Tel Aviv gig made for some interesting reading:

So with the rollercoaster still in my stomach and my head, I flew solo to Israel instead.  The mission:  to check things out myself and hopefully at least get closer to some kind of conclusion on whether artists boycotting Israel, especially me, was really the best way to help the Palestinian people.

*   *   *

I also got an invitation from a self-proclaimed fan to “come meet the Israeli right” and see the settlements through their eyes, complete with a wine-tasting party.

Many people I met on my trip to Israel feel that the boycott has damaged the Israeli opposition more than it has anyone else and “helped silence the peace camp in Israel”.  A veteran journalist I met later told me, “the best way to contribute to peace is to try and work to understand both sides” and that he felt that boycotts strengthen extremists by keeping people apart.

*   *   *

One of the few things both Israelis and Palestinians seem to agree on is that one of the main obstacles to peace these days is the settlers.

Today the illegal settlements are completely out of control, with 300,000 settlers planted across the Green Line in the West Bank and another 200,000 beyond the Green Line in East Jerusalem. Borders are creatively moved and enforced by the infamous wall, started by the ideas of Yitzhak Rabin and greatly expanded by Ariel Sharon.  It’s a black eye on the face of Israel’s reputation today, considered so even among many of Israel’s citizens and supporters.

Some people told me that if the wall had been built along the Green Line, it might have actually worked.  But Sharon then used it as a land grab, creatively and maniacally routing it through the middle of Palestinian towns, Palestinian farmland and across Palestinian roads, in a deliberate attempt to make the West Bank such a splattered Swiss-cheese hodgepodge of impassable walls and checkpoints that a free Palestinian state could never get off the ground.

Any fantasy that Palestinians could one day be broken down to stay on “their side” of the wall and live happily ever after is ridiculous.  It flies in the face of all human instinct and human rights. It is never going to happen.  Like the Berlin Wall, it is destined to fall sooner rather than later.

*   *   *

A boycott of products made in settlements has begun inside Israel.  There is also a growing boycott by artists refusing to cross the Green Line and perform for the settlers.  A fancy venue has opened in one of the largest settlements in Ariel.  Many artists refuse to perform there.

*   *   *

Yet bringing down this regime by boycott may be a much higher mountain to climb than the boycott of South Africa.  The 1985 musician boycott of Sun City (a posh, government-owned golf resort and casino in South Africa) was just a promotional tool for the financial boycott, where banks, universities and corporations caved into pressure to pull their investments out of South Africa and broke the back of the white apartheid regime.

*   *   *

I am not saying the same tactics that brought down apartheid South Africa can’t be done.  I am just saying that there are different and heavier obstacles this time and people need to be ready for them.

South Africa never had anything like the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobby, which is now considered more of a lobby for Likud than for the Israeli people.  Nevertheless, they have a stranglehold over almost every member of Congress of both parties, using Joe McCarthy-type tactics to smear anyone they don’t like as anti-Jewish – and get them voted out of office.

*   *   *

I will not perform in Israel unless it is a pro-human rights, anti-occupation event that does not violate the spirit of the boycott.  Each artist must decide this for themselves. I am staying away for now, but am also really creeped out by the attitudes of some of the boycott hardliners, and hope someday to find a way to contribute something positive here.  I will not march or sign on with anyone who is more interested in making threats than making friends.

As for the Arab Spring, I cross my fingers on one hand and bite my nails with the other.

I have a lot to learn and a long way to go.

We all have a lot to learn.  Jello Biafra’s humility is refreshing.  If only our politicians were so humble  .  .  .


 

Rampant Stock Market Pumping

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It has always been one of my pet peeves.  The usual stock market cheerleaders start chanting into the echo chamber.  Do they always believe that their efforts will create a genuine, consensus reality?  A posting at the Daily Beast website by Zachary Karabell caught my attention.  The headline said, “Bells Are Ringing!  Confidence Rises as the Dow –  Finally – Hits 13,000 Again”.  After highlighting all of the exciting news, Mr. Karabell was thoughtful enough to mention the trepidation experienced by a good number of money managers, given all the potential risks out there.  Nevertheless, the piece concluded with this thought:

The crises that have obsessed markets for the past years – debt and defaults, housing markets, Europe and Greece– are winding down.  And markets are gearing up.  Maybe it’s time to focus on that.

As luck would have it, my next stop was at the Pragmatic Capitalism blog, where I came across a clever essay by Lance Roberts, which had been cross-posted from his Streettalklive website.  The title of the piece, “Media Headlines Will Lead You To Ruin”, jumped right out at me.  Here’s how it began:

It’s quite amazing actually.   Two weeks ago Barron’s ran the cover page of “Dow 15,000?.  Over the weekend Alan Abelson ran a column titled “Everyone In The Pool”.  Today, CNBC leads with “Dow 13,000 May Finally Lure Investors Back Into Stocks”.   Unfortunately, for most investors, the headline is probably right.  Investors, on the whole, have a tendency to do exactly the opposite of what they should do when it comes to investing - “Buy High and Sell Low.”  The reality is that the emotions of greed and fear do more to cause investors to lose money in the market than being robbed at the point of a gun.

Take a look at the chart of the data from ICI who tracks flows of money into and out of mutual funds.  When markets are correcting investors panic and sell out of stocks with the majority of the selling occurring near the lows of the market.  As the markets rally investors continue to sell as they disbelieve the rally intially and are just happy to be getting some of their money back.  However, as the rally continues to advance from oversold conditions – investors are “lured” back into the water as memories of the past pain fades and the “greed factor” overtakes their logic.  Unfortunately, this buying always tends to occur at, or near, market peaks.

Lance Roberts provided some great advice which you aren’t likely to hear from the cheerleading perma-bulls – such as, “getting back to even is not an investment strategy.”

As a longtime fan of the Zero Hedge blog, I immediately become cynical at the first sign of irrational exuberance demonstrated by any commentator who downplays economic headwinds while encouraging the public to buy, buy, buy.  Those who feel tempted to respond to that siren song would do well to follow the Weekly Market Comments by economist John Hussman of the Hussman Funds.  In this week’s edition, Dr. Hussman admitted that there may still be an opportunity to make some gains, although the risks weigh heavily toward a more cautious strategy:

The bottom line is that near-term market direction is largely a throw of the dice, though with dice that are modestly biased to the downside.  Indeed, the present overvalued, overbought, overbullish syndrome tends to be associated with a tendency for the market to repeatedly establish slight new highs, with shallow pullbacks giving way to further marginal new highs over a period of weeks.  This instance has been no different.  As we extend the outlook horizon beyond several weeks, however, the risks we observe become far more pointed.  The most severe risk we measure is not the projected return over any particular window such as 4 weeks or 6 months, but is instead the likelihood of a particularly deep drawdown at some point within the coming 18-month period.

Economist Nouriel Roubini (a/k/a Dr. Doom) provided a sobering counterpoint to the recent stock market enthusiasm in a piece he wrote for the Project Syndicate website entitled, “The Uptick’s Downside”.  Dr. Roubini focused on the fact that “at least four downside risks are likely to materialize this year”.  These include:  “fiscal austerity pushing the eurozone periphery into economic free-fall” as well as “evidence of weakening performance in China and the rest of Asia”.  The third and fourth risks were explained in the following terms:

Third, while US data have been surprisingly encouraging, America’s growth momentum appears to be peaking.  Fiscal tightening will escalate in 2012 and 2013, contributing to a slowdown, as will the expiration of tax benefits that boosted capital spending in 2011.  Moreover, given continuing malaise in credit and housing markets, private consumption will remain subdued; indeed, two percentage points of the 2.8% expansion in the last quarter of 2011 reflected rising inventories rather than final sales.  And, as for external demand, the generally strong dollar, together with the global and eurozone slowdown, will weaken US exports, while still-elevated oil prices will increase the energy import bill, further impeding growth.

Finally, geopolitical risks in the Middle East are rising, owing to the possibility of an Israeli military response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  While the risk of armed conflict remains low, the current war of words is escalating, as is the covert war in which Israel and the US are engaged with Iran; and now Iran is lashing back with terrorist attacks against Israeli diplomats.

Any latecomers to the recent festival of bullishness should be mindful of the fact that their fellow investors could suddenly feel inspired to head for the exits in response to one of these risks.  Lance Roberts said it best in the concluding paragraph of his February 21 commentary:

With corporate earnings now slowing sharply, the economy growing at a sub-par rate, the Eurozone headed towards a prolonged recession and the American consumer facing higher gas prices and reduced incomes, a continued bull market rally from here is highly suspect.   Add to those economic facts the technical aspects of a very extended market with overbought internals – the reality is that this is a better place to be selling investments versus buying them.  Or – go to Vegas and bet on black.


 

2009 Jackass Of The Year Award

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December 31, 2009

Well, it’s that time once again!  The 2008 competition brought us a robust field of candidates, probably because it was an election year.  This year, I’ve decided to ignore the one-event wonders and stick with nominees demonstrating a consistent pattern of jackass behavior.  The isolated exhibitions of foolishness illustrated by Richard Heene’s “balloon boy” hoax and Janet Napolitano’s “the system worked” gaffe, just don’t rise to the level of an award-winning honor.  I’m also avoiding individuals categorized as “the usual suspects” — the media darlings who are already getting beaten-up in the 2009 retrospective shows.  That list includes such notables as Tiger Woods, Carrie Prejean and “The Undiebomber” (Umar Mutallab).

This year I have narrowed the competition down to two people.

In just a few short weeks, our first nominee will be celebrating the anniversary of his inauguration as President of the United States.  During his early days in office, he enjoyed an approval rating as high as 69 percent, according to Gallup.  By early December, Gallup reported that his approval rating had taken a 22-point drop to 47 percent.  At that time, Rasmussen Reports revealed that not only had the President’s approval rating dropped to 48 percent — his disapproval rating actually reached 52 percent! On December 9, Quinnipiac University published the results of a poll conducted during December 1 – 6.  The results gave the President a job approval rating of only 46 percent, and those disapproving Obama’s performance amounted to 44 percent.  The Ipsos/McClatchy Poll taken during that period, disclosed that the President received his highest “unsatisfactory” rating on the issue of “jobs and the economy” with 45 percent giving the President an unsatisfactory grade (D or F) while only 36 percent gave him a satisfactory grade (A or B) and 19 percent gave him a C.

Many commentators have pondered over the reasons for President Obama’s decreasing approval ratings.  I have previously discussed the subject here, here and here.  In doing so, I found the criticism of Obama’s performance as expressed by Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns, to be particularly insightful.  In his December 27 posting, Mr. Harrison posed a question that has obviously been on the minds of many disappointed Obama supporters:

The question is this:

  • Did President Obama sell out (i.e. he was a good guy but has been corrupted in short order) or;
  • Did Obama find out he couldn’t change the status quo so easily (i.e. he was a good guy who was naive about the President’s real power)or;
  • Did the President simply bamboozle us (i.e. he was a bad guy who tricked the electorate with his silver tongue)?

Mr. Harrison contended that the foregoing inquiry is actually irrelevant because it involves ascribing an intent behind the President’s behavior, when we should be looking at either motive or outcome.  Mr. Harrison eventually focused on a recent op-ed piece by Ross Douthat of The New York Times entitled:  “The Obama Way”.  Obama’s track record of broken campaign promises, including “no more trickle-down economics” and those documented on The Obameter, is something that obviously weighs on the minds of dispirited Obama supporters.  Ross Douthat explained how the President’s leadership style is itself a broken campaign promise:

He’s a doctrinaire liberal who’s always willing to cut a deal and grab for half the loaf.  He has the policy preferences of a progressive blogger, but the governing style of a seasoned Beltway wheeler-dealer.

*   *   *

It’s also puzzling because Obama promised exactly the opposite approach while running for the presidency.  He campaigned as a postpartisan healer who would change the cynical ways of Washington — as a foe of both back-room deals and ideology-as-usual.  But he’s governed as a conventional liberal who believes in the existing system, knows how to work it and accepts the limitations it imposes on him.

*   *   *

The upside of this approach is obvious:  It gets things done.

*   *   *

The downside, though, is that sometimes what gets done isn’t worth doing.  The assumption that a compromised victory is better than no victory at all can produce phony achievements — like last week’s “global agreement” on climate change — and bloated, ugly legislation.  And using cynical means to progressive ends (think of the pork-laden stimulus bill or the frantic vote-buying that preceded this week’s Senate health care votes) tends to confirm independent voters’ worst fears about liberal government:  that it’s a racket rigged to benefit privileged insiders and a corrupt marketplace floated by our tax dollars.

Ross Douthat’s conclusion implied that it’s still too early determine whether Obama’s political approach will ultimately result in success or failure.  By this time next year, the mid-term elections will be over.  If the careers of many Democratic politicians are over at that point, we will then have to assess whether President Obama’s leadership style helped to bring them down.  As a result, we will have to defer to next year’s competition before deciding whether our new President rates the title “Jackass of the Year”.

Our second nominee is the so-called “Supreme Leader” of Iran, Ali Khamenei.  Khamenei decided to rig the June elections to ensure that his tool, the equally crazy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would be re-elected.  The resulting public outrage was escalated by Khamenei into a bloodbath.  Since that time, Khamenei’s ham-handed tactics in attempting to squelch opposition have only made things worse.  A recent New York Times editorial entitled “Iran’s War on Its People” put it this way:

Iran’s leaders are so desperate to repel a rising tide of popular unrest that even Ashura — which marks the death of Shiite Islam’s holiest martyr — is no longer sacred.

The anniversary, which fell on Sunday, is supposed to be a time of peaceful commemoration.  Even during war, Iranian governments have honored the prohibitions against violence during a two-month period surrounding Ashura.  Tehran’s current rulers have proved again that their only belief is in their own survival.

On Sunday, the police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, reportedly killing at least 10 people, and arrested hundreds more.  Government forces are also believed to be behind the assassination of Ali Moussavi, nephew of the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leading candidate in June’s fraudulent presidential election.

*   *   *

The government still appears to have firm control of the main levers of power, including the brutish Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia.  But Ayatollah Khamenei — who helped lead the 1979 revolution against the shah — should not ignore the echoes of history when protesters defy the death blows of security forces and chant “Death to the dictator” on the streets of Tehran.

Al Jazeera’s Teymoor Nabili reported that Baqer Moin, London-based analyst and Ayatollah Khomeini biographer, explained that Iran’s opposition party, the Greens, would still settle for modest reform, if the regime would compromise.  Nevertheless, Mr. Nabili’s report quoted other sources who expressed concern that the upcoming anniversary of the revolution could be “the next potential spark”.  Will the Supreme Leader negotiate?  Based on his record over the past six months, there is no reason to believe that he will.  His strategy of cracking down on the Greens with more deadly repression is exactly the approach that could lead to the regime’s demise.  Mr. Nabili added this insight to an already gloomy picture:

A contact in Iran tells me that, given the arrests over the past two days, the trend points to the possibility that the regime is slowly tightening the screws, and that before then we might see martial law and the arrest of Mousavi and/or Karroubi/Khatami/Rafsanjani’s daughter (Rafsanjani himself is still beyond the pale, it would seem.)

Brilliant plan, huh?  Another Al Jazeera report revealed that the Iranian government’s desperate actions are a sign of weakness that could ultimately lead to the end of Khamenei’s days as “Supreme Leader”:

Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former member of the Iranian parliament, told Al Jazeera that the government faced a fundamental crisis.

“They can’t control the events so they made the Ashoura incidents as a scenario that could give [them] enough confidence to crack down on the [Green] Movement,” she said from Massachusetts in the United States.

“They think that if they could use more violence, they can stop the movement … if this strategy continues I think we could see the collapse of the government.”

After George W. Bush overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, many commentators expressed concern that this development could bring about an era of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.  Nevertheless, Iran’s relentless efforts to create a nuclear arsenal and the craziness of its Supreme Leader, who would likely detonate an atomic bomb in Israel if he had such a weapon, have apparently made the Iranian people more than a little uncomfortable with their government.  The events since June could only serve to underscore fears that the Khamenei regime would attempt a nuclear strike on Israel, resulting in a retaliatory move that would wipe Tehran off the map.  The Iranian people are obviously not going to sit on their hands and wait for that to happen.  Al Jazeera’s Teymoor Nabili provided us with some insight on the current mood of the Iranian protesters:

To outside observers, though, the protestors have defied expectations.  Their continued willingness to make themselves targets has been a surprise; now it seems as if they are willing to take it even further, protesting not only against the election result but against the very essence of the regime.

Although it may be too early to celebrate the demise of the Khamenei regime, the time is certainly right to honor Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, with TheCenterLane.com‘s Jackass of the Year Award.   Congratulations, Jackass!




Iran Votes

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June 11, 2009

Friday, June 12, brings us the big election in Iran.  The infamous President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is up for re-election.  He is running against Mir Hussein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai.  At a time like this, it’s nice to check in on Al Jazeera to see how things are going.  (I always have a link to Al Jazeera on the Blogroll to the left, for keeping up with reactions to world events from their unique perspective.)  From Tehran, Alireza Ronaghi informs us that Ahmadinejad has quite a fight on his hands to maintain power.  Here’s some of what Mr. Ronaghi had to say about the candidates:

Ahmadinejad’s reformist rivals are Mehdi Karroubi, the former parliament speaker who led a reformist-dominated parliament between 2000 and 2004, and Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was Iran’s prime minister during the eight-year war with Iraq until a constitutional amendment abolished that post in Iran’s political system.

Both Karroubi and Mousavi accuse Ahmadinejad of mismanagement, both in foreign policy and the domestic economy.

*    *    *

Mohsen Rezai is an ex-commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards –  Iran’s elite armed forces.

Rezai has previously claimed — despite a presumed proximity between his and Ahmadinejad’s political views — that the latter’s policies “are driving the country over a precipice”.

Mr. Ronaghi’s article points out how Ahmadinejad’s questioning as to whether the Nazi Holocaust ever really happened, has been exploited by his reformist opponents, with some success:

Ahmadinejad has fired back by accusing his critics of being affiliated to the Zionist regime, the title with which Iranian officials refer to Israel.

“I asked that question to anger the Zionists, so why are you so angry?”  Ahmadinejad asked in a speech delivered to a gathering of his supporters in recent days.

From Mr. Ronaghi’s report, we also learn that Ahmadinejad has something in common with his good buddy in our hemisphere, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.  As it turns out, Ahmadinejad introduced something called “justice stocks”:

As part of the “justice stocks” move, the government distributed billions of dollars worth of stocks in state-run companies and factories among Iran’s lower economic classes.

It was meant to re-distribute the country’s wealth in a fairer way.

Danesh Jafari also disagrees with the way this has been carried out.  He says that the main plan, as laid down under Article 44 of the constitution and decreed by Iran’s supreme leader, had been for recepient social groups to reimburse the price of the stock in installments over 10 years.

“The government only insists on distributing the dividend profit of the stocks,” Danesh Jafari says, “But as far as reimbursement is concerned, the government has only gathered some $200 million of the planned $2 billion first installment,” the former economy minister told Al Jazeera.

It should come as no surprise that this policy has negatively impacted Ahmadinejad’s popularity with the Iranian middle class.

Many of us outside of Iran are concerned about the reaction of Iran’s “supreme leader”, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to the election of a reformist as president.  After all, Iran’s president is ultimately subservient to the supreme leader.  If a reformist won the election, would Khamenei dispatch his henchmen, the Revolutionary Guard, to restore “order”?  Another article from Al Jazeera points out how these goons are already getting anxious:

The political chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has warned reformists in the country against seeking what he called a “velvet revolution”, vowing that it would be “nipped in the bud”.

Yadollah Javani’s comments appeared aimed at Mir Hossein Mousavi, a reformist candidate in the country’s presidential elections and followed another day of bitter exchanges between Mousavi and his rival and current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

*    *    *

In a statement on its website, Javani drew parallels between Mousavi’s campaign and the “velvet revolution” that led to the 1989 overthrow of the communist government in then Czechoslovakia.

“There are many indications that some extremist [reformist] groups, have designed a colourful revolution … using a specific colour for the first time in an election,” the statement said.

Calling that a “sign of kicking off a velvet revolution project in the presidential elections”, Javani vowed that any “attempt for velvet revolution will be nipped in the bud”.

Meanwhile, Steve Clemons of The Washington Note, through his New America Foundation, in conjunction with Terror Free Tomorrow, conducted a poll of Iranian voters.  From the poll results, it appears as though a runoff election will be necessary, since no candidate will likely win 50 percent of the vote.  Here’s how it breaks down:

At the stage of the campaign for President when our poll was taken, 34 percent of Iranians surveyed said they will vote for incumbent President Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s closest rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi, was the choice of 14 percent, with 27 percent stating that they still do not know who they will vote for.  President Ahmadinejad’s other rivals, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, were the choice of 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

A close examination of our survey results reveals that the race may actually be closer than a first look at the numbers would indicate. More than 60 percent of those who state they don’t know who they will vote for in the Presidential elections reflect individuals who favor political reform and change in the current system.

89 percent of Iranians say that they will cast a vote in the upcoming Presidential elections. The poll shows that 87 percent of Persians, 94 percent of Azeris and around 90 percent of all other ethnicities intend to vote in the upcoming elections.

About seven in ten Iranians think the elections will be free and fair, while only one in ten thinks they will not be free and fair.

The current mood indicates that none of the candidates will likely pass the 50 percent threshold needed to automatically win; meaning that a second round runoff between the two highest finishers, as things stand, Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Moussavi, is likely.

So, if you bought any champagne to celebrate on Friday night, you may prefer to just hang onto it.  We would need to find out when the runoff election is going to take place.  That final election could be quite an exciting event.  In the mean time, take a look at the poll results discussed above.  They contain a good deal of other interesting information about what the Iranian citizens are thinking.

Hillary Clinton Begins Making History

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March 5, 2009

While most American media outlets focus their attention on Rush Limbaugh’s vainglorious publicity extravaganza, Hillary Clinton is traveling around the world, letting everyone know that the foreign policy of the United States is being drastically changed by the new administration.

The new Secretary of State took quite a bit of heat for her failure to stage a fit of righteous indignation over China’s record of human rights abuses, during her visit there.  Nevertheless, America has been a critic of these transgressions for decades.  Given the current economic situation, our need to maintain a healthy business relationship with China and our country’s embarrassing human rights track record for the past eight years, her decision to leave that issue on the back burner for her initial visit, wasn’t such a bad idea.

Her trip to the Middle East was the first step toward rehabilitating the role of the United States as an effective peace broker for the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.  As Barak Ravid reported for Haaretz, prior to Clinton’s arrival in Israel, a list of demands or “red lines” was created and “approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak at a meeting with senior defense officials last week”.  These individuals are apparently so accustomed to browbeating Condoleezza Rice, they feel comfortable about dictating their own “marching orders” to be followed by Clinton as she approaches engaging Iran in formal, diplomatic relations.  The Haaretz article itemized these four mandates as follows:

1. Any dialogue must be both preceded by and accompanied by harsher sanctions against Iran, both within the framework of the UN Security Council and outside it.  Otherwise, the talks are liable to be perceived by both Iran and the international community as acceptance of Iran’s nuclear program.

2. Before the dialogue begins, the U.S. should formulate an action plan with Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain regarding what to do if the talks fail.  Specifically, there must be an agreement that the talks’ failure will prompt extremely harsh international sanctions on Iran.

3. A time limit must be set for the talks, to prevent Iran from merely buying time to complete its nuclear development.  The talks should also be defined as a “one-time opportunity” for Tehran.

4. Timing is critical, and the U.S. should consider whether it makes sense to begin the talks before Iran’s presidential election in June.

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note emphasized that “Israel is crossing the line” by attempting to dictate this agenda to our new Secretary of State and President:

Iran’s pretensions in the region are a problem in my view — but Iran, which fears regime change efforts by the US and other of its neighbors, is responding to an “ecosystem” that many around the world have complicity in building.

Israel should be rebuffed by Hillary Clinton.  She should listen to Israel’s views on the region of course — and consider proposals.  But this kind of instruction manual on what red lines can be tolerated or not is pretty outrageous — and borders on the type of irresponsibility and consequences of what a Taiwanese declaration of independence from China would mean.

In another Haaretz article by Barak Ravid, we see Clinton giving Israel some “pushback” that may or may not have been anticipated:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday blasted Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as a violation of its international obligations and “unhelpful” to Middle East peace efforts.

“Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’,” Clinton said, referring to the long-stalled peace plan.

On March 4, a day before meeting with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, Clinton met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah.  According to a CNN report, Clinton advised the Palestinian leaders that the United States is committed to the “two-state solution” (establishing a separate Palestinian state) despite the objections to that plan, voiced by Israel’s Prime Minister-designate, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The United States through President Obama is committed to a comprehensive peace including a two-state solution,” Clinton said.  “I have said that publicly, I have said that privately.  There is no difference in any message.”

Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton made it a point to single out Iran’s “supreme leader”, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for interfering in Palestinian affairs by funding terrorism “whether it’s Hezbollah, Hamas or other proxies”.  As the Voice of America News pointed out:

Khamenei also called the Jewish state a “cancerous tumor” and accused U.S. President Barack Obama of following what he called the same mistaken path as George W. Bush in supporting Israel.  He made the comments during a conference in Tehran earlier Wednesday.

Clinton and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the ayatollah’s remarks.  Mr. Abbas said Iran should look after its own affairs and stop trying to widen the divide among Palestinians.

Although many critics of the new administration complain that Obama has failed to deliver on his promise of “Change”, one important agent of Change on the Obama team is turning out to be none other than Hillary Clinton.  Who could have foreseen that development at this point, last year?

The Tool” Picks Up Fear Flag and Gets Shot Down By A Real Soldier

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June 30, 2008

Last week, John McCain’s chief campaign strategist, Charlie Black, caused quite a stir with his invitation for an Al Qaeda attack on the United States, to help improve McCain’s chances for election.  Black was obviously thinking about Osama bin Laden’s last “October Surprise” in which bin Laden released a video right before the 2004 election.  That video was widely considered to have given Bush a crucial “bump”, putting him over the top to defeat John Kerry.  Knowing that Al Qaeda (and other terrorist groups) hate to see moderates get elected, Charlie Black saw fit to remind Al Qaeda that they would have no rallying call if Barack Obama were to become President and pull the U.S. troops out of Iraq.  Al Qaeda’s best chance for maintaining their status quo appears to Black as another terrorist attack in the U.S.  He knows they want McCain to win the election because they wanted Bush to win in 2004.  Four days before Election Day in 2004, bin Laden released an 18-minute videotape taunting George Bush about the events of September 11, 2001 and he claimed credit for directing the 19 hijackers.  Osama’s gambit in helping Bush win seems to have paid off.  The incompetent Bush will likely leave office without having caught bin Laden.

After Charlie Black tried his shot at a self-fulfilling prophecy last week, with his announcement (in an interview with Fortune magazine) that a terrorist attack in the United States would “be a big advantage” to help McCain get elected President, Black was widely scorned and criticized.  Many commentators placed this remark in context with Black’s earlier statement that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto helped McCain in the New Hampshire Primary.  Although McCain attempted to distance himself from Black’s remarks, he has kept Black onboard “The Straight Talk Express”.

Just as criticism of the McCain campaign, for relying on “the politics of fear”, is starting to die down, along comes our old friend, Joe “The Tool” Lieberman.  On June 29, The Tool appeared on the CBS television program, “Face The Nation”.  Looking into his crystal ball (perhaps that should be plural) The Tool predicted a terrorist attack against the United States in 2009.  Out of fear of getting caught at an attempted, self-fulfilling prophecy similar to Black’s, The Tool, speaking with his forked tongue, tried to distinguish his prediction from Black’s wish:

Certainly the implications there I know were not what Charlie intended. And he apologized for it. Senator McCain said he didn’t agree. And, of course, I feel the same way.

Actually, The Tool feels the same way as Charlie Black.  He continued on by picking up Black’s “fear flag” to carry it on to victory for McCain in November:

If we had done what Senator Obama asked us to do for the last couple of years, today Iran and al Qaeda would be in control of Iraq. It would be a terrible defeat for us and our allies in the Middle East and throughout the world. Instead, we’ve got a country that’s defending itself, that’s growing economically, where there’s been genuine political reconciliation, and where Iran and al Qaeda are on the run. And that’s the way it ought to be.

Iraq is “growing economically”?  It has yet to rebuild its infrastructure.  The Tool is obviously talking to those people referred to as “low information voters”.  He is insulting the intelligence of everyone else.  Iraq is “defending itself”?  Tell that to our troops who are stationed there.  If Iraq really is defending itself, then we should be able to leave.  Iran is “on the run”?  I thought they were getting ready to nuke Israel.  The Tool is now so used to telling lies that he can effortlessly spit out a sentence containing three big ones.

On the same program, we heard from someone who, unlike Lieberman, actually has some military experience.  Retired General Wesley Clark told host Bob Schieffer: “I think Joe has it exactly backwards here.”  After comparing the qualities of Obama to those of McCain, General Clark said:

And I think what we need to do, Bob, is we need to stop talking about the old politics of left and right, and we need to pull together and move the country forward.

Both Lieberman and McCain used to pride themselves on being centrists in a highly-partisan Senate.  Both are now singing the same, sorry tune we’ve been hearing from our unpopular President for the last seven years, at a time when we would expect a theme of hope and bipartisan progress.  With Obama singing solo on that theme, the prospects for any Republican candidate this year don’t appear much better than the outlook for the S&P 500.