Thursday, June 30, 2005

Have yet to see Batman Begins, but I just got back from seeing War of the Worlds, which was excellent. I never finished reading the book on which it is based (by the great H.G. Wells), out of boredom, but the film (the second adaptation, the campy sci-fi flick of 1953 being the first [and apparently based not on Wells' novel but on the Orson Welles' radio broadcast]) was well-constructed and paced. Morgan Freeman's narration is spot-on, and suffice it to say the film was very good. Truly, it opened my eyes to our woeful unpreparedness for Martian invasion. But we certainly have plenty of threats at home to worry about first.

Monday, June 27, 2005

UPDATE: I realize that my coverage of the Iranian election was largely uncritical. A consensus is growing that it was not only fradulent but, in fact, rigged. Ardashir Tehrani, for one, has alleged it was in fact a coup ensheathed in the formalities and trappings of a 'democratic' process.

In my view, the fact that the poll was run by the Guardians Council, which screened out the most threatening of reformist candidates and serves as "the most influential body" in the Iranian regime, is illustrative of how free or fair the election actually was. It seemed to neither be free nor fair, if not downright suspicious: Ahmadinejad's victory was instantly seen as unusually surprising, given his obscure status a week earlier.

It is clear that there was a disconnect between the bloggers' predictions and what would come to pass. Pacific News Service commentator Nema Milaninia reflected two days before the run-off vote, writing on the "failure" of fellow bloggers to rightly anticipate the likely result, that "we were blindsided by the election results." But moreover, Milaninia's point is that, though "almost 100,000 weblogs" exist in Iran among "over 5 million Internet users" in the country, "bloggers represent the views of ... affluent and otherwise privileged individuals who already have access to independent foreign news sources." He concludes: "Bloggers alone ... are incapable of representing the way most Iranians think," particuarly the "disgruntled poor" as oppposed to "Tehran's disgruntled youths." As well was the lack of anticipation that Milaninia saw in blogging colleagues for the pressure that Iranian military/security forces would exert, obvious in retrospect. The inherent 'Tehran bias' clouded their crystal ball.

In the post below, I had considered making a reference to the election of our own last November (which was actually democratic). Specifically, how one could interpret Ahmadinejad/Rafsanjani as Bush/Kerry. As essentially the same, except for one's PR success and other's failure. Bush campaigned as the champion of the underdog and a populist (both laughable presumptions) who called for national unity and an excess of military might to "fight" the monolithic terrorists, among calls to radically reorder (i.e. destroy) Social Security, etc. Kerry's platform was basically the same albeit the national pension system needed to be zealously defended. He called for the addition of two divisions to the Army, emphasized his status as a 'person of faith' (the new PC term for 'religious person') and have no real disagreements about the war in Iraq or even the insane notion of 'preemptive' war.

On comparing the two elections, though, I was cut to the chase by Mr. Milaninia, who runs a blog called Iranian Truth. He wrote in a post yesterday that both the United States and Iran "have a filtering process" for potential candidates, whereas ours is economic versus the ideological/partisan filters of Iran. He also cited Ahmadinejad and Bush's exploitation of the working class and religion. There *is* truth in Iran, but it isn't coming from the ruling regime.

In other related news, former Iraq weapons inspector Scott Ritter (1991 - 1998) has claimed that "the US war with Iran has already begun. As we speak, American over flights of Iranian soil are taking place, using pilotless drones and other, more sophisticated, capabilities." More ominous are covert CIA actions, he alleges. He is making the assertion that it is supporting the terrorist organization Mujahadeen el-Khalq (MEK), "an Iranian opposition group ... now working exclusively for the CIA's Directorate of Operations", to "carry out remote bombings in Iran of the sort" of the daily suicide bombings in Iraq. Ritter also is claiming that "the US military is preparing a base of operations" in Azerbaijan, which borders Iran to its north, for what he anticipates as a "major" ground invasion. (If we take Ritter seriously, it would make sense that these actions are covert, for the popular support for doing to Iran what we did to Iraq would not exist.)

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mayor of Tehran and reported hard-liner, defeated alleged reformist Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in yesterday’s run-off election. Marred by accusations of fraud, Ahmadinejad’s victory (a big surprise) is observed to "complicate" U.S.-Iranian relations — in the words of the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Iranian Interior Ministry’s figures give Ahmadinejad nearly 62% of the vote and Rafsanjani 36%, with the official turnout of 60%. (The Post rates the figure at 47%, among what I see as the only paper in the mainstream to have it that low.)

The upset outcome has neutralized the opposition and greatly disappointed — if not enraged — Iranian bloggers. The president-elect, Ahmadinejad, pledged to make the so-called Islamic Republic an "'exemplary, advanced and powerful nation,'" according to the Times account. He ran as a populist to counter millionnaire Rafsanjani, though the latter’s supporters claimed that this was a facade: "Rafsanjani supporters ... say Ahmadinejad is a front for the conservative appointees at the top of Iran’s byzantine constitutional structure who have thwarted the reformist agenda" of outgoing president Mohammad Khatami, according to the Post's story.

The White House’s response to the vote was one of noted pessimism. Nonetheless, we are told that our regime will "stand by those who call for greater freedom for the Iranian people," spokeswoman Maria Tamburri said. BBC News 'diplomatic correspondent' Jonathan Marcus reports that President Bush "dismissed the election out of hand before a single vote was cast."

In other words, Ahmadinejad’s victory "means that religious conservatives now have a monopoly on power controlling all of the elected and appointed institutions that govern the country." It is a serious threat to the Iranian people, who may now face significant rollbacks on the reforms that outgoing moderate president Khatami made.

The concern the US is expressing is not unwarranted. Ahmadinejad "has long worked with some of this country’s most conservative institutions, from the Basij — the militia that often patrols the streets and enforces strict codes of dress and conduct — to the Revolutionary Guards," according to the Times. We read that Ahmadinejad’s "main support came from the most powerful institutions in the country."

Immediately after the results were disclosed by the Iranian regime, Rafsanjani "alleged that an illegal dirty tricks campaign had been mounted" against his campaign by the state, all of whose "'means ... were used in an organised and illegal way to intervene'" in the poll.

But had he won, the changes to Iran would likely have remained cosmetic. Although my knowledge on the subject is cursory, my understanding is that when the state has made its intention clear to remove all serious reformers from running (and all female candidates), you can suspect a practically meaningless reshuffling of the same cards. What's worse is that, according to BBC correspondent Frances Harrison in Tehran, Ahmadinejad’s "victory now puts all the organs of state in the hands of the hardliners."

In other words, the Iranian regime is seen now to be hastening its own collapse by consolidating power in the hands of the old clerical elite, who will soon find themselves wholly outmoded by a society (50% of which is under the age of 25) that is quickly becoming modern and interconnected. A key movement is led by bloggers, such as those who run Iran Scan, the Brooding Persian, and the people at openDemocracy, among whom is 'former regime loyalist turned vocal critic' Mohsen Sazegara, who writes that these bloggers are of the 'third generation' of modern Iranians: they are the product of a rapidly growing, urbanized and literate population, one that has begun to use the Internet to express dissent against a geriatric ruling class. "A new paradigm is emerging," Sazegara writes.

BBC News reports that the Persi-blogosphere’s reaction has been "a mixture of shock, anger, despair, cynicism and irony." Iran’s blogger community has created "a popular forum for dissent," one that for "the first time ... [has] had the chance to be involved in a presidential election campaign."

Exclaimed 'Mr Behi' on Iran Scan, "It Happened! What we were all afraid of. Look who is leaving, Khatami, the intellectual that we were proud of, and see who is coming, a hard line conservative, who makes it humiliating to be Iranian." If I may, I’m sure many Americans felt a similar sentiment when President Bush was elected last November.

Although the regime’s Guardian Council officially "dismissed allegations of election fraud," much to that point has been cited. For instance, "some 300 complaints of electoral violations in Tehran alone" were reported, and British foreign secretary Jack Straw cited "'serious deficiencies' in the election". Nonetheless, aside from claims of fraud and the apparent absence of Western observers, I see a tremendous amount of hope in the grassroots groundswell rising beneath the Iranian ruling elite. It is a great democratic achievement. The election, unfortunately, does not appear so.

Friday, June 24, 2005

"Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." -- Karl Rove, Chief Adviser to President Bush

There's a way to settle this polarized political climate: slap the badge of anti-Americanism on an entire wing of the spectrum, thus provoking outrage and further polarization, which can be blamed on them for creating the bitter environment in the first place! "Boy Genius", indeed. And a real asshole.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I recently registered to openDemocracy, a network of people committed not simply to global democratization but also a number of other topics. As a free member, I don't have access to, well, most features of the site, but I can post shit and so I am a part of it nonetheless. Currently, the subject under the spotlight is the election in Iran, about which the race is between reported 'reformist' Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the runner-up. The run-off election is scheduled to be held this Friday. The BBC is reporting, amid heated charges of fraud from opposition candidates (particularly moderate Mostafa Moin, remarked to not have the 'charisma' of the current president), that the Guardians Council, running the election, rebuked the charges that depicted the poll as unfair and slanted. The Iranian foreign minister has even demanded President Bush's apology for his administration's criticism of the election.

Yeah, right. Regardless, the blogosphere in Iran is actively involved in the process, providing their people an alternate view of the events as they happen. As a blogger (as is obvious) and, as well, an aspiring journalist, I see a lot of hope here. Rafsanjani has the plurality (about 21%) as of now but, until the 24th, we'll all have to wait and see.

Monday, June 20, 2005

GB Glace, Sweden's largest ice cream manufacturer, marketed this new brand recently that has drawn fire for its "race-baiting" name, 'Nogger Black'. Smart move there, GB.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I can't believe I haven't seen Batman Begins yet. Damn. I was a big fan of the cartoon series of the early 90s, some good stuff there. Very well animated. Nothing like those shitty cartoons that kids are being fed today. Naw. The Batman animated series was almost cinematic in its quality, at least as I remember it. Anyways, gotta see this new movie; it looks good. Will keep you posted once I see the film, maybe pseudo-review it.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The American death toll in Iraq has exceeded 1,700. In these dark times, I am going to take a break for awhile from heavy, terrible matters like that. For now, enjoy the 'Rays of Hope' (above).

Sunday, June 12, 2005

According to The Washington Post, only 39 out of 330 suspected terrorists have been convicted of crimes related to the atrocities of September 11. ("U.S. Campaign Produces Few Convictions on Terrorism Charges," Dan Eggen and Julie Tate, 12 June 2005, A1) More shocking is the revelation that 180, over half of the suspects, were found to "have no demonstrated connection to a terrorist group" (emphasis added).

What does this mean? The Post reports that "a large number of people appear to have been swept into U.S. counterterrorism investigations by chance — through anonymous tips, suspicious circumstances or bad luck — and have remained classified as terrorism defendants years after being cleared of connections to extremist groups." In other words, this ‘war on terrorism’ is a charade, orchestrated to appear like a serious, comprehensive investigation of the financial and logistical support given to the murderers who took the lives of 3,000 American people.

Instead, what we now see is a sham, a betrayal of the trust under which the state swore to protect us. The report continues, "A wide variety of crimes is included on the Justice Department’s list of terrorism prosecutions." ("Classifying Crimes," A19) Out of 319 total criminal convictions, the graphic (print version; the one posted online is different) reads that 46 were classified as relating to terrorism or national security — a little over 14% of the total.

This is nothing less than an outrage, and is at best counterproductive toward defeating al Qaeda, which is what we must do. Thus far, our government has failed us in that crucial effort, and has made the fight all the worse by giving Qaeda members and their affiliates their greatest propaganda victory, the invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq. This is a national tragedy, and because we live in a democratic society we all have a share of the responsibility. We must tell our entrusted leaders not to abrogate their duty to protect us, all the while ensuring the survival of the liberties are embedded in the founding of this country, so we can start to fight terrorism at last.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Washington Post had this picture printed today, as a part of an article explaining how hard it is to recruit kids into the Army for some reason ...
I have a column in gestation that I'm thinking of submitting to the New York Times. It'd be really sweet if they published it. I'll post a copy of the final version when I'm finished with the piece.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Writer's block has struck me down.