Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!

Barack Obama had an op-ed piece in yesterday’s WSJ. In it he says we need to balance regulation with businesses need to create jobs and, well, make lots of money. For example:

Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. At other times, we have failed to meet our basic responsibility to protect the public interest, leading to disastrous consequences. Such was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis from which we are still recovering. There, a lack of proper oversight and transparency nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets and a full-scale Depression.

Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance. And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government.

This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. And it orders a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive. It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades.

Note that this move is right as Republican’s take over the House and have increased numbers in the Senate, with momentum at their back. So as we see and have seen before, Obama is moving to compromise and move to the right even before debate begins on the topic. That is of course not surprising to us as we’ve noticed his right leanings from before the primaries. This problem is also noticed at Salon:

But on the day before House Republicans are expected to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, primarily on the specious grounds that it is a “job-killing” regulatory Frankenstein, the White House’s decision to suddenly be concerned about the right balance between public safety and commerce is strange and discomfiting. The big battles of the next two years are going to be all about defending the regulatory achievements of the Obama administration — healthcare reform and bank reform — in addition to ensuring that the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t hamstrung by Republican opposition as it carries out its Supreme Court mandate to treat greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

The Salon article goes on to make the case that this is a terrible fumble by Obama:

The strategy is unfathomable, and the notion that we must now seek to strike the “proper” balance — as if the proponents of greater regulation had been carrying the day in recent years — is just plain nutty.

Here we go again. Why do they keep being deluded with example after example, with signal after signal, with appointment after appointment? Deluded that Obama is left leaning? That he’s even liberal? Other than a few speeches, just words, what in his past would lead them to think this? Haven’t they noticed who funded him, who basically created him? Why do we keep having these perfect examples, perfect demonstrations of who Obama really is only to have places like Salon or HuffPo or others gasp, act surprised, and shake their heads thinking he’s made a mistake or is getting bad advice.

No, it’s not a mistake. It’s not nutty. It’s not a fumble. This is who Obama is. It’s who he has always been. How many more examples do you people need? Have you bothered to read the health care bill or noticed who wrote it? Did you not notice the tax cut for the very wealthy. Did you not notice the lack of regulations or strings attached with the financial bailouts. This stuff has been from day 1 people.


In related news, we’re going to see a new tone as the Republicans make noises like they want to repeal the health insurance lobbies hard fought victory represented by the Obamacare bill:

Obama issued a statement late Tuesday said he is “willing and eager to work with both Democrats and Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act. But we can’t go backward.”

Republicans largely ignored an attempt by Democrats to rename the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act” to temper the language following the Arizona shooting this month that killed six and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

But Republicans now mainly refer to the “job-destroying” health care law.

“Obviously there are strong feelings on both sides of the bill and we expect the debate to ensue along policy lines,” said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader. “We are going to be about decency here and engage and promote an active debate on policy.”

Of course what they want to do is repeal any good parts of the bill. And there may even be a few good parts stuck in there against the wishes of the lobbyists who wrote most of the bill. Republicans don’t really have the numbers to do anything in this round of kabuki theater. So this show is about setting the stage for later “compromises” and possible defunding efforts. Which sadly Obama will likely to all to wiling to go along with.


Another front in the battle Republicans are waging against the working class should be of no surprise. Obama set up Elizabeth Warren in a pseudo position just for the purpose of giving the Republicans something to knock down. And that process looks to be starting soon:

The chairman of a financial services oversight panel sent a letter to Elizabeth Warren, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, saying he is skeptical of the new bureau’s very existence and demanded details about how it will operate.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), who chairs an oversight panel of the Financial Services Committee, said in the letter sent Tuesday that he thinks Warren is “tasked with executing a fatally flawed plan.”

He then asked Warren to answer three pages worth of questions about the new bureau. Some of the queries are operational, including how Warren will staff and organize the agency. Others are more broad, inviting her to explain how Congress should best perform its oversight role, given the body is not funded through the traditional appropriations process.

Neugenbauer also wants details on meetings Warren has held with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve, and other financial regulatory agencies.

“What policies are in place to avoid potential duplicative, conflicting or overlapping rulemaking that are currently underway, but will ultimately be under the regulatory authority of the CFPB?” he asked.

He concludes asking Warren to explain how she plans to “avoid the kind of over-regulation that might stifle innovation.”

And so it begins. The only hope we have of some sanity in consumer protection and financial regulations is about to be taken out. And it appears to have been planned this way from the beginning.


As mentioned last night, Joe Lieberman has announced he won’t run for a fifth term. Which means he’ll server two more years. Does that mean he’s planning on running for President? Does that mean he’ll join whoever the Republican party bosses select for their presidential candidate on the ticket as VP? Or maybe he’ll just head over to K-street and collect is rewards.

Also mentioned last night, Sargent Shriver died at age 95. And Don Kirshner died at age 77.


In strange political news, “Baby Doc” Duvalier decided to return to Haiti – never a good idea if you stole nearly 1B. And now he has been arrested and charged with corruption:

Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was charged with corruption and the theft of his country’s meagre funds last night after the former Haitian dictator was hauled before a judge in Port-au-Prince

Two days after his return to the country he left following a brutal 15-year rule, a noisy crowd of his supporters protested outside the state prosecutor’s office while he was questioned over accusations that he stole public funds and committed human rights abuses after taking over as president from his father in 1971.

“His fate is now in the hands of the investigating judge. We have brought charges against him,” said Port-au-Prince’s chief prosecutor, Aristidas Auguste.

He said his office had filed charges against Duvalier, 59, of corruption, theft, misappropriation of funds and other alleged crimes committed during his period in power.

What was he thinking?


After Goldman Sachs invested gobs of money in Facebook with the intent to offer investment opportunities here and abroad, they’ve decided not here. Mostly to skirt around some SEC requirements. You know, being the upstanding corporate citizens that they are:

There was another question about the planned Facebook stock offering that went beyond whether the social media leader is a good investment now or if it’s overpriced. A more serious issue was how investment banker Goldman Sachs was structuring a “private placement” deal to skirt U.S. securities law.

Now it seems Goldman Sachs has decided that “intense media attention” no longer made it worthwhile to go forward with offering a piece of Facebook in the U.S.

Does that mean the deal is over? Does it mean that Facebook will do a deal in the U.S. with proper financial disclosure?

Unfortunately, neither. Instead, the Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Facebook will go ahead with its private stock sale but exclude U.S. investors from the deal.

“In a statement provided to The Wall Street Journal, Goldman said the move came after officials at the New York securities firm ‘concluded the level of media attention might not be consistent with the proper completion of a U.S. private placement under U.S. law,’ ” Aaron Lucchetti reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Under the planned offering, only wealthy clients of the investment firm would have been allowed to purchase a piece of Facebook. The arrangement sounded fairly complex; but basically, the idea was to put all the Goldman investors into a single fund and then count that fund as “one” investor. Why? By doing so, they would get around required public financial disclosures for any company with 500 or more investors. (There was more money coming in from another investment firm in Russia.)

Money for nothing and the clicks are free. Yea, I just made that up. TM by DT. So we the taxpayers make all this possible because they have our money backing them up allowing them to make riskier deals, and the deals they make are not just risky, but they’re fashioned only around the wealthiest clients. And the funny part here, it looks like it’s going to make suckers and losers out of these wealthy clients because they may be making yet another bubble with what they’re doing, that will just pop down the road. Time will tell.

And speaking of Facebook, they were planning on opening up users phone numbers and addresses to third parties, but have backed down, for now, after some complaints:

Just before the weekend, Facebook announced that it had expanded the information users are able to share with external websites and applications, to include home addresses and mobile phone numbers.

This enables developers of e.g. an ecommerce site to more easily fetch the address and phone number of a potential customer to streamline the checkout process.

For the record: users needed to explicitly opt to share this data before any application or website could access it, and they were evidently not able to share their friends’ addresses or mobile phone numbers with applications.

Sure enough, the dialog box (see below) wasn’t super clear about that, so Facebook was unequivocally opening itself up for a new sh*tshorm to hit the deck.

This morning, Facebook announced that it has temporarily disabled the sharing feature, looking to relaunch it in the next few weeks after making some changes.

Facebook dubs these future changes ‘improvements’ repeatedly, but of course the company is responding to the wave of criticism it has received for quietly releasing the new sharing feature, on a Friday evening no less.

I suspect they’ll enable it. But perhaps just add a bit more complexity to the privacy settings systems so there is an additional way to opt out. If you can figure it out of course.

That’s a bit of what’s in the news this morning. Chime in with what you’re reading.

Wednesday News

Good Morning Conflucians!!!

First up in weird news, in case you’re not already getting that apocalyptic vibe from earlier this week, more birds have suddenly died, this time not in Arkansas, but in Louisiana:

Birds dropping dead from the skies and rivers flowing with tens of thousands of dead fish sounds like a cheesy Hollywood movie about the Apocalypse. Or the ravings of a Revelation-obsessed street preacher.

But residents of several US states are coping with the reality of mystery mass wildlife deaths, which have left officials scratching their heads and jumpy members of the public joking (nervously) about the end of the world.

Today it emerged that about 500 red-winged blackbirds and starlings had been found dead in Louisiana. Their tiny corpses littered a short stretch of highway near the city of Labarre after apparently falling dead from the sky.

That would be spooky enough. But the Louisiana bird die-off came just a few days after up to 5,000 blackbirds fell to earth in neighbouring Arkansas in the small town of Beebe. Residents there had reported stumbling upon the bodies littering the ground and even being hit by them as they fell. One woman said she was struck while walking a dog. Another avian corpse bounced off a police car.

In even more grim news, anglers and other members of the public reported that more than 80,000 drum fish had suddenly died in the state’s Arkansas river, about 100 miles west of Beebe. The silvery bodies of the fish floated in the river and washed up on its sides having died at roughly the same time. In another incident, hundreds of miles away on the Maryland coast of Chesapeake Bay, tens of thousands of dead fish also washed up on the shore.

Yea, that’s what I said. WTF? I’ve got rosary beads, incense, a statue of Sheba, among a few other things. What are you holding onto for dear life? What was the name of the other horseman anyway?


In a related news, Goldman Sachs and some Russian group invested nearly 1/2 billion in Facebook. That’s right, those two know everything there is to know about a whole hell of a lot of people now. Wonder if their joint bank account number is 666 by any chance. Note to self, get more statues of other religious figures. Here’s some coverage:

The “great vampire squid” of finance, Goldman Sachs, has invested $450 million in the emerging great vampire squid of cyberspace, Facebook. As the New York Times’ DealBook reported, the deal is gives Goldman a leg up on the huge fees investment banks will get when the social-networking company eventually sells shares to the public. And as the Times and Wall Street Journal also report, Goldman will also haul in huge fees from those clients who want to invest themselves.

Meanwhile, Facebook gets the capital to keep buying talent and startups, and to fuel its expansion in all kinds of other ways — and it gets to sell stock in what amounts to a shadow stock market that’s growing faster than regulators seem willing or able to understand, much less deal with.

This looks like a better deal for Facebook than its investor, putting Facebook’s value at $50 billion, which makes sense in today’s increasingly bubble-like market. Silicon Valley is going a bit wild again– not as crazy as the late 1990s, mind you, but there’s a froth element to the local economy.

Given a deal of this size and importance, there should be some SEC scrutiny. Yea right. But some report that there might be:

Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s plan to offer clients up to $1.5 billion in Facebook Inc. equity may invite U.S. regulators to take a closer look at whether the owner of the world’s most popular social-networking site is circumventing disclosure rules, securities lawyers said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, whose rules require any company with more than 499 investors to disclose financial information, is already scrutinizing the market for trading shares of closely held companies including Facebook, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public

Goldman Sachs invested $450 million in Facebook and is planning to create a special purpose vehicle for its clients to make additional investments worth as much as $1.5 billion, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal is private. Some private companies avoid crossing the disclosure threshold when investors’ funds are channeled through a single entity, such as a private equity firm or hedge fund.

“The real question is, what are the details of this special purpose vehicle?” said James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s business school in Washington. If the investment is designed to circumvent the rule, “the SEC should be looking very closely at it.”

Good thing we have a Democratic president that is looking out for us and will do what’s right. Oh wait, no we don’t, she was tossed under the bus. Instead we have an empty suit actually owned by Goldman Sachs. Oh yea. Why is this feeling even more biblical all of the sudden? Maybe we could have some leaks about all these things, about how Goldman Sachs helped fund an unknown candidate, about the Banks and their shady deals, about corruption in government at many levels. No, instead we get none of those useful leaks, but instead leaks that lead us to more wars in the middle east. Nice distraction.


Let’s see what our grand congress has in store for us this session. First we have this from Slate about how the Dems sound like Repubs and the Repubs sound like Dems:

The parties have switched not only offices but arguments. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Republicans were going to spend “countless hours trying to repeal health care reform rather than focusing on jobs, the economy and deficit reduction. Every minute wasted on trying to repeal health care reform fruitlessly is one less minute the Republicans will spend on job creation and turning this economy around.” If that sentiment sounds familiar, it’s because it was a Republican refrain during the House’s debate over health care in 2009 and 2010.

Sometimes this required the Democrats to contradict themselves. They complained that the GOP House effort to repeal health care was a meaningless show because the Democratic Senate will never allow such a measure to proceed. But when defending their record on economic issues from the last session, they pointed to bills they passed that they knew would never get past a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Democrats also complained that the Republicans were adding to the deficit and have shut them out of the legislative process. Next week, when the House votes to repeal health care (or, “job-killing health care,” as they call it), Democrats will not be allowed to add amendments. They were also not allowed to participate in writing the rules under which the measure will be considered. Democrats did this kind of thing when they were in power, of course, but they say Republicans had pledged to be more open and transparent.

Oh dear. WaPo has more coverage on the upcoming battle over health care insurance bailout. Expect this to be a lot of noise and distraction for a while. Such theater. A Republican bill written by the health insurance lobby where the Repubs (and insurance companies) pretend to hate it and Dems (sadly actually) like it. And the working class are screwed again. As usual.


It looks like there will be some turnover from both the WH staff and the VP staff. There’s some noise about Gibbs possibly leaving. And now we’re hearing that Biden’s CoS is stepping down. Along with that, LATimes has a few more rumors:

The White House staff reshuffle continued Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden announcing that his chief of staff is leaving, while speculation swirled that the president may appoint a well-connected Chicagoan to a top post.

Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, is resigning to become president of Case Holdings, the holding company of AOL cofounder Steve Case. Over the last two years, Klain helped position Biden as an influential figure in the White House while assisting in the confirmation of a pair of Supreme Court nominees: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

His departure surprised even some members of Biden’s staff. Klain had been mentioned as a possible candidate for President Obama’s chief of staff, but the president may be opting for someone with a higher profile.

After Rahm Emanuel quit to run for mayor of Chicago, Obama appointed longtime aide Peter Rouse to the chief of staff job on an interim basis.

Now, Obama is considering William Daley for a senior position, possibly chief of staff. Daley is the brother of outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and he served as Commerce secretary under President Clinton.

As the great David Bowie once said: “Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes.” Something tells me none of these changes are going to be for the better. Any bets?


In some rather funny, in a macabre sort of way, news, a murderer was found guilty in part because of his google search history:

Julie Jensen died as a result of ethylene glycol in her system, an ingredient found in antifreeze. On the morning of her death, someone attempted to “double-delete” (apparently unsuccessfully) the computer’s browsing history, which included a search for “ethylene glycol poisoning.”

Jensen was found guilty of first-degree homicide in 2008 based on this and other incriminating evidence, including a letter written by his wife before her death. He appealed the conviction, arguing for one that the warrantless police search of his computer violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals did not agree as he had signed a consent form.

As the article humorously mentions, does that mean we’ll be getting a CSI Internet Division spin-off?


In sort of related news, CA Supreme Court ruled that police can search your cell phone without a warrant when you’re under arrest:

The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that police do not need a warrant to search a cell phone carried by someone under arrest.

The justices determined a Ventura County deputy had the right to conduct a warrantless search of the text messages of a man he had arrested on suspicion of participating in a drug deal.

The state court ruled 5-2 that U.S. Supreme Court precedent affirms that police can search items found on defendants when they are arrested.

I understand this in terms of searching your pockets, etc. But the problem with this ruling is one of not keeping up with technology. With smartphones these says, searching what’s in your very powerful large computer (in a small space) that can include pretty much every important document found in your house, bank, accountant, etc. That is, all of your personal records of note could actually be on your phone. This can also provide full access to all of your email, all of your social media accounts, and all of your history of communication of every sort for years. It’s possible that your smartphone could easily be the equivalent of raiding your home, your lawyers office, your doctors office, etc. I hope this issue is revisited with those issues in mind sometime soon. In the mean time, I’ll suggest some privacy protection ideas in a later post.

In other court news, CA Prop 8 is heading directly to the state Supreme Court and bypassing the 9th circuit (more accurately, the 9th circuit just punted):

Instead of resolving a thorny “standing” issue itself, and thus launching the appeal on its way to the United States Supreme Court, a three-judge panel instead first asked the Supreme Court of California for guidance on whether the private litigants who appealed the August 2010 ruling striking down the same-sex marriage ban had the legal right to do so.

The 9th Circuit just acted, to be sure, but not even the most conservative legal scholar can dare call this an instance of “judicial activism.” Instead, the tactical punt from one San Francisco court to another is consistent with a centuries-old judicial concept: never decide what you don’t really have to decide, especially when you have a plausible excuse for not deciding it. Here, the 9th Circuit blamed the not-completely-unexpected detour on the lack of “controlling state precedent” on the question of what to do with an appeal where, as here, both the sitting governor (the since-departed Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the sitting attorney general (the since made-governor Jerry Brown) refused to carry it out.

By diverting the case away from the federal courts and toward the state supreme court, by asking for clarification of state law by and from the state’s highest court, the 9th Circuit has almost certainly delayed a substantive ruling on the merits of the case for at least a year and likely longer. The standing issue will likely have to be briefed all over again before the state high court, and a new oral argument date will likely have to be set, and then a new vigil will begin for people all over the world who are waiting for final word from the courts on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.  All of this will take six to nine months, at least.


In news of the “is that news?” department, many people are obsessing and perplexed that Sarah Palin re-tweeted a pro DADT tweet. Yes, you got that right, just by Palin re-tweeting something (with no extra quote), people are actually spending time trying to figure out what she might have meant. I kid you not:

Online pundits are trying to interpret Sarah Palin’s stance on “don’t ask, don’t tell” after she echoed an Internet post by a conservative lesbian commentator who slammed the opposition to the policy’s repeal.

Tammy Bruce wrote Monday on Twitter that “this hypocrisy is just truly too much. Enuf already – the more someone complains about the homos the more we should look under their bed.”

Palin’s retweet of the post raised questions about her own stance on the military’s policy, which was repealed by Congress late last year. The former 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee hasn’t spoken about the policy except to say last February that she was surprised at President Barack Obama’s support for a repeal because it was not a priority at the time.

Palin representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday, but Politico said the retweet is a hint that Palin supports the repeal. Gawker said Palin is not “in the context of her party, rabidly homophobic,” then wondered if perhaps she didn’t understand the tweet or pushed the wrong button.

Now our pundits are reading tea leaves. Oh wait, that’s what they’ve always done. They really should get out more.

That’s a bit of what’s in the news. Chime in with what you’re reading.

Common Sense and the sensus communis: anatomy of an American pressure cooker

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Gay-Lussac

The pressure of a fixed mass and fixed volume of a gas is directly proportional to the gas’s temperature.

This relationship is known as the Gay-Lussac’s Law and a pressure cooker is an example of the law in practice. Cooking under pressure creates the possibility of cooking with high temperature liquids because the boiling point of a liquid increases as its pressure increases. High pressure and high heat can result in delectable dishes.

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Cooking under pressure can be also dangerous because as liquids change phase into gases their volume expands greatly. For example, at atmospheric pressure the volume of steam is about 1700 times greater than the volume of water. To prevent pressure cookers from becoming bombs, relief devices (pop safety valves) are employed that are capable of relieving all of the steam the vessel is capable of producing.

America the Beautiful Pressure Cooker

The political pressure cooker is beginning to heat up. The power brokers and institutions that drive the nation have arrived unannounced on the doorsteps of America like a gaggle of unwanted, high maintenance relatives that demand hospitality for an unforeseeable time and that won’t take no for answer. Furthermore, they’ve announced that more relatives are on the way. Whatever plans America’s householders had, they’ve just gone out the window, with their household budgie and the relatives’ cat in hot pursuit.

People are justifiably angry with this incursion. Their budgie might not have been much, but it was “their budgie”, nurtured from birth into what it had become. Justifiably angry householders are trying to work out why the relatives arrived on their doorsteps and why they brought their fucking cat. Continue reading

Iranian Government and State-Run Media Escalate Conflict

Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of Ali Rafsanjani

Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of Ali Rafsanjani

It appears that the Iranian government is getting increasingly desperate. Earlier today several relatives of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashimi Rafsanjani, including his daughter, were arrested and detained for a time. According to The New York Times,

Mr. Rafsanjani, one of the fathers of the Iranian revolution, has been locked in a power struggle with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and worked closely with the reform movement during the disputed presidential election. Sunday morning, state television said five members of his family had been detained, including Mr. Rafsanjani’s daughter, Faezeh Hashemi. Later, family members said all had been released.

The detentions suggested that Mr. Khamenei was facing entrenched resistance among some members of the elite. Though rivalries among top clerics in Iran have been a feature of Iranian politics since the 1979 revolution, analysts said that open factional competition amid a major political crisis could hinder Mr. Khamenei’s ability to restore order.

Now the Washington Post is reporting that the Iranian state-controlled media is calling losing presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi a “criminal” and claiming that protesters are members of a terrorist group based in France, Mudjehadin-e khalq.

Authorities appeared to be seeking to blame the violence on radicals. State television charged that “the presence of terrorists . . . was tangible” in Saturday’s events. It asked viewers to send videoclips of protestors in order to help authorities to arrest them.

Scenes of the violent protest were shown frequently on Iranian state television and in a special broadcast the rioters were said to be members of the Paris based Mudjehadin-e khalq organization, an Islamist Marxist group that is labeled by the United States as a terrorist organization. After siding with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war and a series of terrorists attacks, the group has little support among most Iranians.

Audio clips were played of alleged telephone recordings in which people said to be members of the organization urge others to get information about the protests to Western news organizations. Despite the media claims, involvement of the group seems highly unlikely since supporters are rare in Iran.

In addition, the Post reports that Mousavi has not made any public appearances today, and his followers are very worried that he may be arrested. The Post says that it is becoming clear that there is power struggle going on in the Iranian government between Rafsanjani and Ayatolla Khamenei. Continue reading

Is a Military Crackdown Coming in Iran?

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

It is starting to look like a crackdown is coming in Iran. Earlier today Iran’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, again endorsed the results of the election and threatened protesters that if they continue their activities there will be “bloodshed.” Iran expert Gary Sick suggests that Khamenei may not actually be in charge of the country right now.

Around Khamenei’s neck yesterday was the simple plaid kerchief worn by the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the military organization that, unlike the regular army, reports directly to the supreme leader.

“There’s a question in my mind whether Khamenei is calling the shots or whether the Revolutionary Guards are calling the shots,” said Gary G. Sick, a Columbia University professor who was at the National Security Council in 1979. “But clearly the Revolutionary Guards, their whole organization and their leadership have assumed a position in the constellation of voices in Iran that is extraordinary, and they say they are absolutely loyal to Khamenei.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who sat cross-legged in the front row at prayers yesterday, emerged from both the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, the largely working-class, volunteer organization that is part paramilitary, part social welfare. Khamenei has nurtured both groups as constituencies and instruments of social control independent of the clergy.

“Khamenei depends on them almost entirely,” Sick said of the Basiji. “He is in no position to contradict them or take exception to their wishes. They are very conservative and want to protect the system as it is.”

At the Washington Note,Steve Clemons has posted four possible scenarios described by a friend who may be living in Iran and wanted to remain anonymous. This person suggested that in the wake of Khamenei’s speech today, there are really only two possible outcomes remaining: Continue reading

U.S. State Department Asked Twitter To Reschedule Down Time

Rally in Tehran, June 16, 2009

Rally in Tehran, June 16, 2009

Yesterday Twitter announced it would have 90 minutes of down time at 9:45 Pacific time while they did some site maintenance. Thousands of Twitterers begged for the site to be left up, since Twitter has become an important source of communication for Iranians who are trying to get news out to the world and to reach out to other people. At first Twitter said they couldn’t change the down time, but then in the evening they announced it would be rescheduled until this afternoon. Now it turns out that it was the State Department that prevailed upon Twitter to keep the lines of communication open during daytime hours in Iran.

From CNN Political Ticker:

U.S. officials say the Internet, and specifically social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, are providing the United States with critical information in the face of Iranian authorities banning western journalists from covering political rallies.

“There are lots of people here watching” at bureaus and offices across the State Department, one senior official said. “There are some interesting messages going up.”

Because the United States has no relations with Iran and does not have an embassy there, it is relying on media reports and the State Department’s Iran Watch Offices in embassies around the world. The largest such offices are in Dubai, Berlin and London, all home to large Iranian expatriate communities.

While officials would not say whether they were communicating with Iranians directly, one senior official noted that the United States is learning about certain people being picked up for questioning by authorities through posts on Twitter.

I’m not really sure how to feel about this. I certainly hope the State Department has other sources of information besides the ones available to the rest of us. Nevertheless, this news provides more reinforcement for the notion that has gone viral lately: that Twitter and Facebook, like blogs, have a valuable role to play in citizen journalism. Continue reading

Twittering the Revolution, Day 2

AP photo/Vahid Salemi

AP photo/Vahid Salemi

I just discovered the power of Twitter a couple of weeks ago when we decided to add a Twitter feed to The Confluence front page. Little did I know how addictive it would be! I found I could learn about breaking news stories from reporters on the ground–before the stories were actually published or broadcast.

Back in the ’60s and ’70s we had underground newspapers that were passed out free on street corners. People had to find ways to bypass the status quo mainstream media and these newspapers gave outlets to new and exciting writers. In recent years, as the media has become even more corporate-controlled than it was in those days, people have used internet newsgroups and then the hunger for real news fueled the explosion of blogs that allowed direct communication of ideas among engaged citizens.

Last night at TC, we noted and dicussed the power of social media in the political process, as Iranians on the ground twittered news of the riots following the possibly rigged election by satellite, begging for attention and support from the West. Continue reading

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