Saturday, June 27, 2009

Requiem for the Angels

The high drama in Iran is beginning to seem like a bad dream, as it fades out of the news, eclipsed in part by Michael Jackson's sudden death. and also in part by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's hormonal escapade in Argentina. Sadly, the brave protesters, now in constant danger of being bludgeoned, arrested, tortured, or just plain disappeared, have largely left the streets. And who can blame them? Who can stand up to being pursued by terrifying bands of paramilitary Basiji's--gonzo Medusas armed with bulletproof plexiglas shields and electric batons, whose mobilization capacity is nearly a million--with instructions from above to kill on sight? Any challenge to the regime has now been declared, not just illegal, but punishable by death. Leaders of the unrest, according to the most recent sound of things, may be eligible for execution. It's the same old eternal order of "demonic males" all over again, glorying in their own gruesome thuggery.

It has been an incredible thing to watch history unfolding in real time. But what started as something inspirational--a huge, self-organizing, morphic field of individuals demanding justice and the right to a fair election--has changed into a nightmarish requiem scenario of scissor-sharp brutality beyond all frontiers of human decency. Watching a boot come down on a human face in real time, as Andrew Sullivan has put it, is "more than frustrating," given one's helplessness to do anything but be an aroused witness. "My own sense of helplessness," he confesses, "is abated by blogging manically. It's all I know to do." Ditto Io. (That's Italian for "me, too.") Sullivan suggests that the Iranian people revealed who they are during these past few weeks--and it is something akin to messenger angels, now tragically stripped of wings, who have had everything taken away from them.

In the past day or two, the regime has been accusing "foreign powers" of having mobilized these forces and meddled in Iran's internal affairs--everyone from Barack Obama to the BBC and the CIA. Of course we've seen our President bend over backwards to stay out of it. But the truth is, when Obama went to Cairo, and also reached out in other ways to the Middle East, he did masterfully alter the dynamics of things just by dint of who he is. And the mullahs know it. By his own account, trying to promote the mutual understanding that we all share common hopes and dreams as human beings is not just a belief for Obama. It's in his DNA. It's who he is. And, as he suggested so characteristically in a campaign speech way back in Iowa:

"The one thing I'm absolutely certain of is...that ultimately the country changes when millions of people come together, and speak out on behalf of change. Because when ordinary citizens are awakened they accomplish extraordinary things." That is the seed he plants wherever he goes, the message he brings. And then he primes the pump. He paves the way for those extraordinary things to happen.

At least, that is what the Thesaurus told me. I'd already done a reading on Obama-- asking where is he at? how is he doing? etc.--several days before I attempted a second one on Ahmadinejad (see my previous blog). The response about Obama had been every bit as cogent and insightful as the one about Ahmadinejad: (Don't ask me to explain why this works--it just does.) The heading this time was "PREPAREDNESS':

preparing, making ready, clearing the decks, preliminary steps, priming, loading, mobilization; spadework, groundwork, foundation, blueprint, prototype; hatching, incubation, cultivation, tillage, sowing, planting; preparer, coach, trainer, torch-bearer, trail-blazer, pioneer, bridge-builder; pave the way, show the way, lead up to, lay the foundation, do the groundwork, provide the basis, put in working order, tee up; cock, prime, load, crank up, get into gear.

That's exactly who he is, exactly what he does. In Cairo, in this new era of political and economic connectivity, he provided a foundation, and then he cranked it all up. As Carl Owen wrote in Politico: ""OK, let me see if I've got this right. Since Barack Obama has taken the presidential oath of office we have witnessed: a) Hezbollah lose a shoo-in election in Lebanon, b) Pakistan begin serious efforts to control the Taliban and al Qaeda elements inside its borders, c) Netanyahu of Israel mumble support about a two state solution and rethink settlements and, d) A major awakening of the Iranian citizenry against the heavy-handedness of the mullahs. .. I don't know if all this is the results of one speech in Cairo by the President but if it is I hope he gives a second, and soon."

So now that Ahmi-Khatami have shown their true colors (definitely not green), where does this leave U.S.-Iranian relations? Certainly it has badly skewed the equation. As Joe Klein comments in the current issue of Time magazine, "Whether or not to negotiate, now that the Iranian government has disgraced itself in the eyes of the world, is sure to be a defining moment for the Obama Administration."

From where I sit, it seems like the hurtling towards apocalyptic-nuclear scenarios has just accelerated big time, and that 2012 could well arrive before some of us make it to the old-folks home.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Smirking Henchman

It's impossible to know at this point where the popular uprising unfolding in Iran right now is headed, or how it will end. Can millions of protesters (and imminent strikers) hold up indefinitely under the assaults and brutalizing threats coming from the regime--death to the demonstrators and job elimination to anyone who strikes? And what is to become of their leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi?

In truth, what I really can't stop thinking about is President Ahmadinejad. How does one govern after having seen how truly and utterly despised you are--when you have witnessed nothing less than inexorable, mass rage at your mere presence? How noxious can you be before you become poison to yourself?

My impulse, as I write down these questions, is to take them to my trusty Thesaurus for clues. I do what I always do: open the book, point my finger at random, and see whether it is talking to me today. Oh boy, is it! What follows is a short selection from the revealing words I got, listed in the section headed "CUNNING":

caginess, cheating, double-dealing, Machiavellism, back-door influence, intrigue, trickery, web of cunning, dust thrown in the eyes, trickery; troublemaker, snake in the grass, fraud, shammer, hypocrite, double-crosser; insidious, devious, dishonest; play tricks, pull a fast one, snatch from under one's nose, undermine, ambush.

I remember feeling non-plussed last Friday by the dazed look on Ahmadinejad's face, while Khamenei was giving his lethal "prayer" oration about the "absolute legitimacy" of the election, and warning of the death penalty for anyone who continued to oppose it. The camera panned briefly over to Ahmi, who was sitting in the front row. His expression, at least to me, made him look like a ship that had got frozen in the polar ice. I wondered what that meant.

Now I know exactly what it was that I saw: the face of a smirking henchman. Virgil says the only thing missing was large parrot earrings. One of the things Virgil and I live for now is to see that odious smirk disappear, its habitat destroyed, once and for all.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Showdown in Iran

Today is do-or-die day in Iran. If the defiance continues. If Mousavi shows up, despite the regime's threats to exile him. More excerpts from Andrew Sullivan's blog of yesterday:

A reader writes:
Like so many of your readers, we have skin in the game. In February we were getting a tour of Tehran, driving up Valiasr street drinking fresh pomegranate juice and listening to Meatloaf's "Bat out of Hell" album (!) with three of my husband's nephews, getting a tour of the city from their point of view.
When I think of our beautiful, brilliant nephews out in the streets - and their parents have told us that is where they have been all week - it breaks my heart. I hope they get the lives they want, and I fear seeing their mothers if they don't get through this. I worry about the boys in Ahvaz and Shiraz as well.

We believe that there is indeed an Obama effect in play here.

From an anonymous blogger in Iran: “I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…” - an Iranian blogger, with more courage than most of us will ever know.
[Re-posted for obvious reasons.]

TWEETS directly from Iran:
confirmed - Mousavi - SATURDAY is a big day for fighting fascism
Only 10 hours left until the Iranian people finally disobey their dictator. History is watching. Let's make it proud.
Now, all my life hurts [Google translation]
Reformist and activist bloggers arrested / they are my friends I am worrying for them very much
and also that the reformist leaders in jail are being pressured to give false confessions

Roger Cohen, who has been in Iran during these events, writes today in the New York Times:

Two Irans now confront each other across it [the line in the sand drawn by Khamenei yesterday in his prayer speech]. One of the achievements of the 1979 revolution has been that it brought education to many more Iranians. I spoke the other day to a doctor. She was wearing a surgical mask as she marched. She works at a state oil company clinic. She was 20 in 1979 and she marched then, too.

“People are far more educated and cultivated now,” she told me. “They know the stakes. This is deep. Moussavi will go to the end for our freedom.”

Iran has sought independence and some form of democracy for over a century. It now has the former but this election has clarified, for an overwhelmingly young population, the Islamic Republic’s utter denial of the latter.

The feeling in the crowd seems to be: today or never, all together and heave!

A man holds his mobile phone up to me: footage of a man with his head blown off last Monday. A man, 28, whispers: “The government will use more violence, but some of us have to make the sacrifice.”

Another whisper: “Where are you from?” When I say the United States, he says: “Please give our regards to freedom.”

Which brings me to President Barack Obama, who said in his inaugural speech: “Those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Devil Against Humanity

As someone who has recently lived through eight years of being continuously lied to and gaslighted by my government, I can imagine only too well what those massive crowds of protesting Iranians must be feeling. Ayatollah Khamenei's unequivocal declaration of the election as "absolutely legitimate and free of fraud" this morning is nothing less than an arrow through the heart of all of us who have been praying for their success. Protest is now considered officially illegal, and will be dealt with by the savageries of a bloodthirsty Basij militia. Officially at least, we have reverted back to the howls of "Death to America."

In response to Khamenei's provocative speech this morning, an Iranian architecture student sent this email to Andrew Sullivan's blog, "The Daily Dish":

"We have promised not to give up until prove our right. Did you hear what Khameneyi ( the supreme leader) said in his speech today. He is really a devil. He gathered his and Ahmadi Nejad's followers against the people who just want freedom. He ordered to kill everybody who is against his thought and orders. But you can see what will happen in Iran. Unfortunatelly, I can smell blood. People and the student won't accept dictatorship and won't give up even if he kill all of us. Please tell the world we (Iranian) are not like him. He is not our leader. He is againts his country, nation and any other nations in the world. He is just a devil against humanity."

There was also this Tweet: "The situation in Iran is now CRITICAL - the nation is heartbroken - suppression is iminent>"

As for me, I've kept this image by South African artist, William Kentridge, of "Felix Crying" in my blog archive for some time, waiting for the correct moment to use it. A melancholy man dressed in a business suit, stands in a featureless room, hands in his pocket, weeping. His tears are the only color. They become huge streams of blue pouring down his body and filling the room where they have reached his knees as he stands, fully clothed, in a rising pool of his own blue grief. It seems that grief can show up either as blue or, in this beautiful and tragic moment in Iran, as green. Either way it feels inconsolable.

"The question at the center of so much of Kentridge's work," Richard Lacayo wrote in Time magazine in March, "what do you do when the world breaks your heart?"

BREAKING NEWS: Tehran residents shout from rooftops in defiance of Iran's supreme leader. Way to go, Iranians! I guess the fat lady hasn't really sung yet!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Color Me Green

So far, in all my extensive reading of the extraordinary events going on in Iran, I've found only one reference to the effect Obama's speech in Cairo has had on Iranians who went out in unprecedented numbers to vote. The comment was made by a "Dish" reader, who has been conversing with relatives in Iran, and who wrote to Andrew Sullivan's blog, "The Daily Dish":

"I would also say that anyone who doesn't think that Obama's No Ruz message and his speech in Cairo didn't contribute at least something to this uprising doesn't know any Iranians - the feeling of hope that Obama gave to Americans and people all over the world (rightly or wrongly…) has trickled down to Iranians. On a human level, as well, everyone knows how far a little respect can go."

From his hideout in the Urals, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (he is in Russia for a conference), has been trying to discredit the post-election turbulence erupting back in his country as the result of "American interference." Obama, however, has remained smartly even-handed, refusing to "meddle," in Iran's internal affairs, and resisting the drag toward any of those pompous, set-piece condemnations we are so used to from the previous administration. Predictably, his neo-con opponents--all those folks who now make a career out of finding reasons to attack whatever Obama does or doesn't do--have seized on this opportunity to criticize his silence as "shameful." John McCain, bless his putrid heart, has called for Obama to overtly denounce "a corrupt, flawed sham of an election" and its brutal treatment of the protesters. The McCains of this world just don't get it: the notion that the most powerful action can often be inaction. Obama's "deferential" open hand towards the Muslim world, in Cairo and elsewhere, has now hit it's first significant target--setting in motion the core of a potential velvet revolution in Iran. Whether it can succeed or not is up for grabs, but the stakes are huge.

Today, the fifth straight day of street demonstrations in overt defiance of the regime, the crowds resembled nothing so much as those we last saw in this country on Obama's victory night and his inauguration. Reports have it that the nightly ritual chanting from roof tops, which began days ago, is getting stronger, not weaker. It would seem that there is havoc behind the scenes among the clerical leadership, and Ahmadinejad's big supporter, Ali Khameni, is in hot water for having counted the votes even before the election took place: his credibility is now on the line. The drama of this story is better than any movie. Will the ayatollas abandon Ahmadinejad, or will they risk thwarting millions of (mostly young) Iranians and delegitimizing themselves? Will Mousavi get the new election he has called for--or will Iran devolve into a brutal dictatorship? The Iranian people have determined that Ahmadinejad is really a disgrace to Iran's global image (rather the way Bush/Cheney was to America's). Another four years of his malign influence will likely sink the country like a stone to the bottom of the pond. Meanwhile, Iranians have watched us transmogrify and rise up from the ashes. I believe they would like to follow in our footsteps.

Last, but definitely not least, there is Andrew Sullivan himself, sitting on the end of a pier in Cape Cod, live-blogging the whole extravaganza, blow by blow, for days now. Bravo to Andrew for doing such an incredible job:

Andrew Sullivan: The administration should, in my view, resist the grandstanding of the neocons - who remain almost autistic about the world they seek to remake - but insist that no violence be used against peaceful demonstrations. The truth is: if these crowds continue to grow and the regime does not massacre them, there's a chance they could topple the regime. By focusing on government restraint, you can empower the resistance without giving Ahmadi's thugs an opening.
Oh, and the president should wear a green tie from now on. Every day. He need say nothing more.

Twittering from Tehran on government theft, fraud, and intimidation:
We were told to report election results as 62% for the president and ignore the real voting. The real ballots were taken by the government.
about 2 hours ago from web
I work for the government in northwest Tehran.
about 3 hours ago from web
As we left work on Friday and the presidents people came in we were shocked they would steal government records.
about 2 hours ago from web
If you go to the back of the complex, four trucks full of ballot boxes are being hiden there.
about 2 hours ago from web
I have discovered that there are several trucks parked at the Shirudi sports center full of the real ballots taken by the government.
about 2 hours ago from web
We were threaten with arrest if we spoke out, pluse we would lose our jobs.
From an article by Pepe Escobar in The Asia Times:

Ahmadinejad has made his power play against Mousavi and Rafsanjani. The Supreme Leader fully supported him. Mousavi and Rafsanjani, plus Khatami, need an urgent counterpunch. And their only possible play is to go after Khamenei.

As Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council, among others, has noted, Rafsanjani is now counting his votes at the Council of Experts (86 clerics, no women) - of which he is the chairman - to see if they are able to depose Khamenei. He is in the holy city of Qom for this explicit purpose. To pull it off, the council would imperatively have to be supported by at least some factions within the IRGC. The Ahmadinejad faction will go ballistic. A Supreme Leader implosion is bound to imply the implosion of the whole Khomeini-built edifice.

Null and void
As a prelude, Mousavi has already bypassed the Supreme Leader, sending an open letter to the powerful mullahcracy in Qom asking them to invalidate the election. Hojjatoleslam Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, head of the election vote-monitoring committee, has officially requested that the Council of Guardians void the election and schedule a new, fully monitored one.
...Ahmadinejad knew Khamenei was on his side. But it's fair to argue neither Ahmadinejad nor the ultra-right wing spectrum may have evaluated the full implication of a dubious electoral victory possibly imploding the whole system as they know it.
Will Rafsanjani go for broke? As he prepares a Council of Experts counterpunch against the Supreme Leader and Mousavi plots the next resistance steps, the ball is now in the Iranian street's court. Much will depend on this Monday's peaceful march along Vali Asr street in Tehran and in 19 other cities, and a national strike on Tuesday, both called by Mousavi.
...An election was stolen in the United States in 2000 and Americans didn't do a thing about it. Iranians are willing to die to have their votes counted. There is now an opening for a true Iranian people-power movement not specifically to the benefit of Mousavi, but with Mousavi as the catalyst in a wider struggle for real democratic legitimacy. The die is cast; now it's people power against "divine assessment".

Andrew Sullivan comments:

This blog has long been interested in Iran, especially in its younger generation so open to the West. Part of it is that I've long believed that Iran was much more likely to become a democracy than its neighboring Arab states - and that this might be the key to unwinding the clash of civilizations that was hurtling us toward apocalyptic scenarios. Part of it is that being immersed in online media, I'm perhaps more aware of the vibrant debate, evolving culture and amazing passion of Iran's Millennials. So this day is a moment of great hope and joy for those of us who have been waiting for it and knowing that one day, it would come. But many Americans have, sadly, been left unaware of this phenomenon - and a glance at the cable news of the weekend helps explain why. Maybe these images will change that. A reader writes:
I am 31 years old. I cannot remember ever having a discussion about "Iran" at work. I cannot remember ever having a discussion about "Iran" with my wife or members of my family. Unless it was about their nuclear weapons program, or their involvement in Iraq, I cannot remember ever having a conversation about "Iran" with any of my friends.
Today, people at work are sharing photos, many of them are those found on the links you have provided. People are speaking about "Iran", not as an enemy - but as a people who has had their freedom taken from them. I don't know how this will resolve, but those protesters need to know they are not alone.
They aren't. If you can read this out there, know that we are with you, every day and every moment of your fight for your freedoms. And know this too:
Yes You Can.

Note from an Iranian to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen:

I received this note from an Iranian-American with family here: “The bottom line right now is whose violence threshold is higher? How much are the hard-liners willing to inflict to suppress the population and tell yet another generation to shut up? And how much are Moussavi and his supporters willing to stand to fulfill their dreams? It sounds so inhuman, but that’s what it comes down to. It’s very scary.”

And finally, two more of Andrew's most recent posts. And so, let us all take heart:

Totten sighs:
According to the New York Times, Fars News Agency reports a partial “recounting” of votes has begun in Iran. But they are not being counted. They were not even counted the first time. Fars says the “recount” in the Kurdish province of Kermanshah shows “no irregularity.” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has almost no support among Kurds whatsoever. Claiming he “won” 70 percent in Kermanshah is as outlandish as Dick Cheney winning San Francisco and Berkeley in a landslide.

17 Jun 2009 07:33 pm
Optimism In Iran

Laura Secor talks to a friend in Tehran who has been protesting:
The energy, she told me, was indescribable. You could not feel afraid; the sense of common purpose was too powerful, and it had left her with a profound and nearly serene certainty that this movement would succeed.

Andrew comments: That is my feeling too. I am well aware of who has the guns. But the peaceful manner in which so many have revealed such courage these last few days has already stripped the regime of all legitimacy. I believe they will prevail. I do not know that. I believe that.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ahmadinejad's "Crushing Victory" in Iran

"Crushing?" Yeah, you better believe it! This was definitely the right choice of word for the way Iranian Ayatollahs and their military clamped down on the progressive forces gathering under the "green" banner of the Mousavi campaign, which began to seem like a real threat to the status quo. Mir Hossain Mousavi was being touted as "Iran's Obama." His wife was out on the campaign trail with him, promoting women's rights. Students were out campaigning, just like in America. Now Mousavi is under house arrest--for urging his backers to resist a government based on "lies and dictatorships." Iran is in shambles, with protesters eaten up by rage, their candidate thrown to the dogs.

As one Iranian blogged from Iran, "They didn't rig the vote. They didn't even look at the vote." They just made up a number and wrote it next to Ahmadinejad's name.

All signs indicate that Obama's speech in Cairo galvanized hope for change, and in a great feat of socio-acupuncture, liberated a youth movement that was unanticipated--and caught the Mullahs off guard, with their robes down. Not so fast, they countered with their coup d'etat. We're not stepping over the edge into that brave new world of freedom. We've got the upper hand, and old Slyboots Ahmadinejad--whose mongrel face, it's true, could launch a thousand beaded belt buckles--is still in mock charge. It's a fatwa. You know about those, don't you?

"It's far too early to make sense of what is happening, and what just happened in Iran," Andrew Sullivan writes on his blog, The Daily Dish. "It could be another episode of tragic suppression of stirrings of democracy and reform in that theocratic state. It could be a new, more significant marker in the regime's loss of legitimacy among its educated classes. It could possibly lead to real unrest, as riots today revealed, and a much less stable regime. It could lead to an even more disturbingly aggressive and know-nothing government, threatening the world and the region with weapons of mass destruction, precipitating awful conflict. Or it could mean that many of us have been deluding ourselves in thinking that there is not widespread popular support in Iran for hardline religious conservatism."

I've been following the Iranian election story as it unfolds, mainly through Andrew's blog and that of Marc Ambinder, also an AtlanticMonthly blogger. They have best access to sources in Iran whose posts are being translated from Farsi. I've collaged together some of the material I've found on these sites, and one from the Huffington Post as well. The first excerpt comes from Andrew's blog, quoting Gary Sick, the second from Marc Ambinder's.

Gary Sick:
On the basis of what we know so far, here is the sequence of events starting on the afternoon of election day, Friday, June 12.
Near closing time of the polls, mobile text messaging was turned off nationwide
Security forces poured out into the streets in large numbers
The Ministry of Interior (election headquarters) was surrounded by concrete barriers and armed men
National television began broadcasting pre-recorded messages calling for everyone to unite behind the winner
The Mousavi campaign was informed officially that they had won the election, which perhaps served to temporarily lull them into complacency
But then the Ministry of Interior announced a landslide victory for Ahmadinejad. Unlike previous elections, there was no breakdown of the vote by province, which would have provided a way of judging its credibility
The voting patterns announced by the government were identical in all parts of the country, an impossibility (also see the comments of Juan Cole at the title link)
Less than 24 hours later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene`i publicly announced his congratulations to the winner, apparently confirming that the process was complete and irrevocable, contrary to constitutional requirements
Shortly thereafter, all mobile phones, Facebook, and other social networks were blocked, as well as major foreign news sources.

Andrew adds: "All of this had the appearance of a well orchestrated strike intended to take its opponents by surprise – the classic definition of a coup. Curiously, this was not a coup of an outside group against the ruling elite; it was a coup of the ruling elite against its own people."

@marcambinder I've been following the coverage of the Iranian elections all day on Twitter; that'll continue tomorrow. I've got links to some of the best Iranian-based sources, and to the courageous American journalists, like Bill Keller and Jim Scuitto, who are finding ways to break through the Iranian coverage ban. I'm @marcambinder. Sign up -- you won't get spammed, and you will get unfiltered insight.

Questions for the next week include: did the American media stand down? (I say no, but lots of other people say yes.) What are Khameni's intentions? How foreseeable was the plan to rig elections? Is it AT ALL possible that Ahmadinejad actually won by, say, 51%, but that his totals were inflated? Is the outpouring of protest (Green Revolution) more of an important development than the "re-election."?

And lastly, this from the Huffington Post, reported from Cairo by Brian Murphy:

Whether this is enough to spawn a sustained opposition movement remains an open question.

Much depends on how much they are willing to risk. The heartland of Iran's liberal ranks is the educated and relatively affluent districts of north Tehran. It's also the showcase for the gains in social freedoms that began with the election of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997: makeup, Internet cafes, head scarves that barely cover hair and satellite dishes that are technically illegal but common.

The ruling clerics tolerate all that to a point _ part of a tacit arrangement that the liberties stay as long as reformists remain politically meek. A real protest movement could threaten their coveted Western-looking lifestyle and risk a brutal response from groups vowing to defend the Islamic system.

The political chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guard has warned it would crush any "revolution" against the Islamic regime by Mousavi's "green movement" _ drawing parallels to the "velvet revolution" of 1989 in then-Czechoslovakia.

...Authorities also called foreign journalists with visas to cover the elections, including members of The Associated Press, and told them they should prepare to leave the country. Italian state TV RAI said one of its crews was caught in the clashes in front Mousavi's headquarters. Their Iranian interpreter was beaten with clubs by riot police and officers confiscated the cameraman's tapes, the station said.

"The massive demonstrations of police and army presence on the streets was designed to show that they were quite ready to kill protesters if they had to in order to impose order," said Patrick Clawson, deputy director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "On the whole, these guys in north Tehran who are terribly upset about what is happening are not ready to die.

...Ahmadinejad addressed a crowd in Tehran, but did not mention the unrest, saying only "a new era has begun in the history of the Iranian nation."


Sunday, June 7, 2009

(The) Dick

So much has been going on in the world (and right here at home), I haven't managed to write a word this week, partly for not knowing where, with so many sky-high possibilities, to even begin. I've barely had time to sit down on my new sofa, and have been sleeping like a giraffe (for only two hours a night, according to some sources). Constantly tracking everything has become a full-time job, but I'm happy to be doing it, because the world narrative these days is one continuous rave, its many facets glowing like a disco glitter ball.

Slow down. Observe. Position yourself. Long enough to see what's really needed.

This week found the Prez in Cairo, defying all the safety locks as usual, stunningly radiant and fabulously iconic as always, redemptive with his words (including dromedary phrases in Arabic and a luxurious orgy of quotations from the Koran, Bible, and Talmud), and winning Muslim hearts by declaring that the Pyramids were "even better" than Five Guys. Who, I ask, could possibly top this?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Rush and the former Congressman Tom Tamcredo compared Supreme Court noninee Sonia Sotomayor favorably to members of the KKK; Dick Cheney was everywhere, bashing Obama, and trying to rewrite the history of torture as practiced under the Bush administration. As Maureen Dowd so aimiably put it:

“The punks thought they could roll over us...Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

North Korea was busily shooting off missiles; Iran was gearing up for an election that could, if the world should be so lucky, put paid to that goofball Ahmadinejad once and for all. Or not. Frank Rich in the New York Times deliciously referred to Rush, Newt, and Dick as "the trio of Pillsbury doughboys now leading the [Republican] party." Tsampa wrote Jane from Nepal about the dzi bead he bought in Roanoke, which has proved to be not only authentic, but on a par with two of the most significant dzi's in existence, impressive enough to be offered to the Dalai Lama. And today, Sasha Obama celebrated her eighth birthday in Paris.

But what got my attention over all of this cacaphony was Dick Cheney's claim that criminalizing a previous administration for its policies sets an outrageous precedent, especially when you are unraveling "the very policies that kept our people safe since 9/11." Obama seems more than willing to unravel the policies--but much less willing to criminalize them. I find myself seriously questioring whether he is right.

Then I saw the documentary on PBS that Bill Moyers showed about a week ago, reconstructing in minute detail how the Bush administration (orchestrated by Cheney) came to authorize torture. Shortly after that, I read Jonathan Schell's recent essay, "Torture and Truth," in The Nation. Suddenly all the particles began looking more like a solid than a wave--a hard-edged, must-write-about-this kind of entity. Not like when the smell of roses meets the nose, but more the marble table when it meets the shin. Like when the rubber finally meets the road.

Schell starts off by also seriously questioning Obama's desire to concentrate on the "future" rather than the "past," so as to get it right from now on. The Bush administration, Schell explains, "hellbent on justifying its forthcoming invasion of Iraq, was ransacking the intelligence bureaucracy to find or produce two things that it turns out, did not exist: weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and cooperation between Al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein."

The torture practices authorized by the White House, Justice Department, and the Pentagon in 2002 were not, according to Schell, for the purpose of preempting another terrorist attack on the U.S. They were used in an attempt to find a smoking gun that would link Iraq with Al Qaeda.

As I'm reading this, I'm thinking: this is huge! Illegal practices instituted to force-find illegitimate justification for an illegal war of preemption. These are not "policies"--these are, indisputably, crimes.

It was Colin Powell who carried out the dirty work: he conveyed the perjured testimony exacted by torture to the world, via his unforgettable speech of pitch-perfect lies at the U.N. Security Council shortly before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Many of us of knew at the time he was lying, but there was no way to prove it. And anyway, it didn't matter. The plan for the invasion was already a done deal.

"The war," writes Schell, "as we learned later from the photos of Abu Graib, produced torture. But before that happened, torture had produced the war." This is, of course, the very narrative (the) Dick is now preempting in order to escape any accountability. Schell cites a cartoon in the Washington Post in which a torturer stands over his victim, who is on his back on a waterboard. The torturer says, "There's a problem of getting false information." Cheney, standing next to him responds, "Problem?"

As for the issue of "criminalizing [a previous administration's] policy decisions," Schell topples (the)
Dick's case with no uncertainty: "Those who really criminalized policy--that is, those who ordered crimes as a matter of policy--are given immunity by charging those who would prosecute the crimes with criminalizing." Bingo! Schell then concludes: "Better to look the torture in the face and having looked, to remember, and having remembered, to respond, and having responded, to call those responsible to account so that we never do this again."

I think there will be no escaping this wretched story as it slowly but inevitably seeps into the cultural bloodstream, even if our dear Prez does not want to appear as if he is wasting his time trying to squash a roach when more important things are calling.