Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Beginning of the End of Iran as We Know It

The Madoff Approach to Elections. The electoral fraud in the Iranian was massive and crude. In 2004, the clerical regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rigged the election by declaring hundreds of reformist candidates ineligible to run. This time, they assigned very similar vote totals for incumbent hard-liner president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad across provinces which had previously been distinct in their voting. It was as if the Republicans had said that Massachusetts voted the same as Texas. The biggest tip off to Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme was that he announced the same results every quarter without fail. Giving similarly huge majorities for the conservative Ahmadinejad across the board is a fraud as well.

Another fraud indication was that the regime improbably gave Ahmadinejad majorities in the home towns of his opponents and even showed him winning Tehran where he was very unpopular.

The Question of a Coup. There has been considerable talk from the camp of reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi that the electoral fraud is a "coup" on the part of the conservative Iranian establishment. What Mousavi means is that Iranian conservatives have overthrown what he calls the "sacred system" system of balancing the ultimate power of the clerical establishment with a democratically elected president and parliament.

By rigging the election, the clerical establishment is in essence overthrowing the Iranian people as an element in the political system and eliminating the popular vote as an element in distributing political power.

There might be another coup element as well. Steve Clemons writes that there are powerful clerics such as Hashemi Rafsanjani who oppose the electoral fraud and that they might attempt to remove Ayatollah Khamenei as Supreme Leader. Given Ahmadinejad's denunciation of Rafsanjani during the final days of the campaign, it seems more likely that conservatives have decided to eliminate Rafsanjani and other reformist clerics like former President Khatami as independent centers of power. The conservative power play might be a coup within the clerical leadership as well.

Clemons also summarizes this idea well:
Ahmadinejad is now genuinely scared of Iranian society and of Mousavi and Rafsanjani. The level of tension between them has gone beyond civil limits --and my contact said that Ahmadinejad will try to have them imprisoned and killed.
The outcome of such a leadership coup would be the boiling of the Iranian regime down to a form in which a hard-line conservative religious establishment holds ultimate political power with the Ahmadinejad government acting as its agent in formulating economic and foreign policy. This kind of regime would have the support of about 20% of the population (according to Juan Cole) and would keep the opposition off-balance through a combination of political marginalization, using the police and militia as agents for repressing dissent, and engaging in constant foreign policy confrontation with Israel and the U. S.

The Shape of Things to Come. I have to admit that I have a really boring triangulating kind of opinion here. The BBC assumes that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have won and that the situation in Tehran and other cities will calm down. To the contrary, Andrew Sullivan is more excited about the events in Iran than he's been anytime since the fall of the Soviet Union. My opinion is that the current coup will work temporarily but that the Iranian government will have a hard time sustaining itself over the long term. The Ahmadinejad government is too much like the Bush administration to survive for the long term. Like the Bush administration, the Ahmadinejad government is incompetent at managing the economy and domestic policy but in a country that doesn't not have nearly the cushion of wealth as we have in the United States. Now that the Iranian regime has shrunk to an authoritarian core, economic protest will inevitably gratitate toward overthrowing the regime. The Iran regime will counter domestic unrest by stirring up conflict with Israel and the United States and making patriot appeals to the Iranian public to support the government. But that strategy has already played itself out. Observers wonder whether the Iranian situation is more like the successful revolutions of 1990-1991 or the failed revolution of Tiananmen Square. My opinion is that the best analogy for the Iranian situation is the American election of 2004. The Bush administration won, but it was already on borrowed time.

Lebron James to the Clips?

Michael Wilbon thinks the Los Angeles Clippers are a better destination for Lebron James than the Knicks. Now, I have a soft spot for the Clips and agree with Wilbon that Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, and Blake Griffin are a better supporting cast than Lebron will ever see in Cleveland.

It's also possible to see the merely dysfunctional Clips as a better destination than the "super, ultra, lightning" (to quote The Incredibles) dysfunctionality of the Knicks.

Certainly, there's the argument that James could sign with a team that has really good pieces like New Orleans, the Hawks, or Oklahoma City.

And the Clippers have young talent that's as good as anybody's.

But, there's a big "BUT" to all of this thinking. Now matter how one slices it, neither James nor anyone else can see Donald Sterling as a championship owner. They probably won't make a serious offer either.

Lebron James is not going to be a Clipper.

The same thing can be said for the ownership in New Orleans. I doubt that James will look at the Oklahoma City Thunder (too new) or Atlanta Hawk (too fractured) ownership as being very credible either.

Unless Lebron can figure out a way to go to Boston, the Lakers, or the Spurs, he will probably end up staying in Cleveland. The Cavs have strong ownership, an effective general manager in Danny Ferry, and a track record of making good moves like trading for Mo Williams. Mike Brown is a decent coach who's getting better all the time.

Even Lebron James lives in a world of limited options and the Cavs are probably the best option he'll find out there.

Ahmadinejad: Is He Iran's Rush Limbaugh or Iran's Newt Gingrich

It looks like Iran is in for a spell of instability as power-broking clerics like Ayatollah Khamenei and Hashemi Rafsanjani decide what to do in the aftermath of the rigged presidential election.

Actually, incumbent President Ahmadinejad should have considered seeking endorsements from Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. His "economic populism, social conservatism, and hard-line foreign policy" sound like Republican Party boilerplate.

Friday, June 12, 2009

RSI Bothered by Krugman

I have a lot of qualms about doing this because of the possibility of my opinion being picked up by the right as "even progressive bloggers like Red State Impressions . . ." Having been equated with Bill O'Reilly a couple of weeks ago by Ann Althouse (thanks Ann!), I'm a bit leery about the intentions of conservative appropriators.

Still, I have to object to Paul Krugman's op-ed on "The Big Hate." There are two passages that I find especially objectionable.

Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.

And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.
Starting with the second passage first, Krugman just doesn't seem to recognize the extent to which the distinction between "mainstream conservativism" and the "black-helicopter crowd" began to blur during the Bush years. Conservatives all over the country moved out of "liberal neighborhoods" and towns (See Bill Bishop, The Big Sort) In Bible-belt areas like Eastern Kentucky, conservatives have been taking their kids out of public schools and withdrawing into all-encompassing mega-church environments. Likewise, rural gun owners just assumed that any Democratic president would be "coming to take their guns." That's why the first reaction to Obama's election was a run on guns and ammunition at local gun shops. The same is the case with Muslim rumors about Obama. Nobody in the popular right needed The Washington Times to tell them Obama was a Muslim. It was all over conservative list serves well before the election. The same is the case with the stuff about liberal economic policies being socialism or Marxism. Mainstream popular conservatism has been moving toward the fringes for years.

In my opinion, conservatism is evolving rapidly in a rightward direction even as it is shrinking as a popular phenomenon. Right now, Rush Limbaugh represents the middle of the conservative spectrum with country-club Republicans and what Krugman would call "mainstream conservatives" on his left with a "near fringe" of really small government zealots, survivalists, Ann-Randians, and neo-Confederates on Limbaugh's right and then a farther fringe of secessionists, survivalists, neo-Nazis, and other wackos daydreaming about living in their cellars, making citizens arrests of Fed officials, and the like.

Yes, in the conservative universe, Rush Limbaugh is a relatively moderate figure. I would view Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly as either in the same spot as Limbaugh or somewhat to his left. For his part, Glenn Beck would be a couple of ticks to the right because of his flirting with integrating far fringe black helicopter themes into the Limbaugh mainstream.

All of these figures are revolting to progressives and I'm just as revolted as Paul Krugman. I can't say how many times I've referred to "Limbaugh mainstream conservatives" as "repulsive" and repugnant and I think they're also becoming such to the country as a whole.

However, I also think it's important to view the problem from their point of view as we attempt to sort out what is happening with the Rich Poplawski, George Tiller, and Holocaust Museum murders.

I believe the conservative view goes like this. Given that "conservatism" is moving farther to the right. the big names in the conservative media establishment are going to have to move farther right if they want to continue to appeal to what they (rather than Paul Krugman) see as the "conservative mainstream." Sarah Palin is enormously popular with the conservative base because conservatives view her as speaking to their increasingly fringe views. Glenn Beck's experiments with conspiratorial themes like "Obama re-education camps" get a response because Becks's audience already agrees with those conspiratorial themes. The increasing "extremism" of people like Beck is driven more by audience demand than it is by the "conservative media and political establishment."

For people who don't believe this, stop and think of the last time you heard something from Ann Coulter. Like O'Reilly, Hannity and some others, Ann Coulter is sticking with her old schtick rather than going along with the "far fringe themes" of Glenn Beck. And that's made her less prominent on the right as a result.

My suspicion is that Krugman doesn't get out of the BosWash urban belt often enough to fully understand that. Who can blame him? Who in the progressive movement really wants to spend a lot of quality time with people to the right of Rush Limbaugh. I know I don't. I feel a hell of a lot more at home in Philly than I do in Eastern Kentucky.

But the various fringes of the American right are out there and we need to think more about them if we're going to remain a "reality-based" political constituency.

What are the dangers in the current situation with conservatives? The first danger we see is far fringe people like James von Brunn, Scott Roeder, and Rich Poplawski launching suicide attacks at their various hate targers. These are horrifying events, a number of worthy people are dead, and it's tempting for progressives like Krugman to blame conservative media and political people because of their prominence and because conservative media and political figures are the furthest people on the right that most progressives know. But it's just highly unlikely that von Brunn, Roeder, and Poplawski were stimulated by anything in the mainstream conservative media. They were all versed in far fringe discourses much farther to the right than Limbaugh and launched their attacks out of "martyrdom" motivations more familiar to Osama bin Laden than Bill O'Reilly.

But Fox does come into play with the second danger. That's the danger of the increasingly right-wing "base" of the Republican Party drifting out to the far fringe and becoming real dangers. Right after Obama won the election, I heard a lot of stories from my students about racist guys in Eastern Kentucky gloating over the prospect of Obama's assassination or bragging that they'd "do it themselves" if nobody else did. What about is the possibility of those guys and the most committed anti-abortion activists, anti-tax zealots, Christianists, and others moving out to a "farther fringe" in which they adopt insurrectionist views and become a threat. There's a good chunk of the Republican Party there--maybe 25-33%. If such a large section of the American public switches from the "near fringe" extreme to the "far fringe extreme," we would move from the relatively frequent political assassinations we have now to real political instability.

That's a problem worth avoiding.

So the question then is whether Limbaugh, Fox, Sarah Palin, and other conservative media and political figures are guilty of contributing to a destructive shift of conservativism toward the far fringes of neo-Nazism, survivalism, and secession.

The answer here has to be a resounding NO! The conservative media establishment isn't doing any favors to the Republican Party by doing this, but they (probably unintentionally) are doing the whole country a favor by providing a "mainstream" conservative anchor that functions to slow down, mitigate, and render the conservative rightward drift less dangerous. Because Limbaugh, Hannity, Palin, Huckabee, and other conservative media and political figures are powerful forces, they tend to keep attention of everybody riveted on "mainstream conservatism" and keep large numbers of people from being more attracted to the far fringes.

Conservative media figures aren't quite sitting on dynamite, but they are sitting on an audience that could become dynamite under the right conditions. Krugman seems to want the conservative media to be "more careful" about their right-wing advocacy and their criticisms of Obama. To the contrary, I think the conservative media would make a real contribution by giving more attention to "far fringe" ideas and why they disagree with them. In this sense, I think the conservtive media should engage in a kind of triangulation in which they disagree the fringe right types on the right at the same time that they continue to focus most of their fire on the Obama administration and progressives like Krugman. In my opinion, airing out all of the conspiracy theories and providing them with a hearing in comparison to other views is a better approach than either maintaining silence or just condemning them as the work of "wackos."

Open political communication has been a liberal ideal since the attempts of lynch mobs to suppress the abolitionist movement in the 1830's. That counts for conservative ideas as well. In my opinion, the conservative media serves as a stabilizing force in the rightward drifting conservative movement. They should be encouraged to continue doing so.

Republican Extinction

While agreeing with most progressives about the mainstream media's sympathy toward conservative views, there are times when conservatives really do get sandbagged. The Katie Couric interview with Sarah Palin was a good example. Producers must have known in advance that the somber lighting of the set and the slow, uber serious tone of Couric's questions would all work against Palin's perky strengths and accentuate her lack of policy knowledge. Taping the show must have felt like moving in for the kill.

There's another little dig on Time's Mike Murphy article on the problems of the Republican Party. Time editors accentuate Murphy's theme of the "GOP Ice Age" by changing the Republican symbol of the elephant into a woolly mammoth, an ice age behemoth . . . .

Which just happens to be extinct.

Murphy, a top Republican consultant, puts a familiar argument into an attractive package. He believes that the power of demographics means that the Republicans need to change. He focuses on the Hispanic and youth vote. The Hispanic vote has increased from 2% of the electorate in 1980 to 9% in 2008, went to Obama by 36%, and delivered Indiana to the Democrats. Given that the most popular name for male babies in Texas is "Jose," the Republicans will have to change their stance on immigration if they want to become even remotely competitive for the Hispanic vote.

Likewise, Murphy argues that the Republicans need to relax their opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights if they want to start being competitive for the 18-29 vote.

Murphy knows that all of this is bitter medicine. Republican Senators and House members come from safe districts that really want the GOP to stick with Reagan. He also ould have mentioned that GOP voters are becoming even more rigid in their conservatism and thus are unlikely to change their approach.

Ultimately, the Republicans probably are on the road to extinction and they would need more bitter medicine still if they want to change course.

Top of the GOP list should be shutting down Fox News.

The function of Fox News is to amplify conservative views on abortion rights, gay rights, race, immigration, health care, and Obama. Conservative views on all of these topics range from unpopular to offensive with the rest of the country. With the television megaphone in the hands of right-wing provocateurs like Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, Fox provides decisive affirmation for both sides of all these debates in a way that disadvantages conservatism.

For conservatives 33% of the electorate, Fox affirms all of their views as being the right views and portrays them positively as an embattled minority. Largely because of Fox (and talk radio), conservative constituencies are always inflamed about immigration, abortion, gay rights, and religion. As a result, the Republican Party has none of the wiggle room on social issues that consultants like Mike Murphy would like to see.

Even worse, Fox also manifests conservative hostility toward African-Americans, hispanics, gay people, and secular culture. That hostility gets further amplified through the emerging left-wing media of the Daily Show, Colbert Report, Huffington Post, and Media Matters. To the Republican Party, Ann Coulter's homophobic comments about John Edwards are an embarrassment best forgotten. However, the rise of the left-wing media means that the provocations of Coulter are never forgotten. Material from Coulter, O'Reilly, Beck, and the other Fox worthies become left-wing news, fodder for comic put-downs of conservatives, and affirmations of progressive views concerning the right. The ultimate result is to lock in the majority view of conservatives as old white people who are bigots, homophobes, and religious zealots who are generally out of touch with modern America.

For Republicans, "The Fox Effect" is to shrink the GOP down to a very committed 33% minority that is poorly thought of by the large majority of their fellow Americans.

And it's not just Hispanics and young people who see conservatism this way either. So are white moderates and independents. Murphy doesn't mention this because he probably sees the Republicans as no longer having a chance with these constituencies, but the "liberalization" of the New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. suburbs has destroyed the Republican Party in the Northeast and given the Democrats an advantage in Virginia.

If the GOP wants to once again become competitive with the white moderates, independents, and weak Democrats who dominate the suburban vote, the best thing they can do is close down Fox.

Of course, that's not going to happen. One way or another, the Republicans probably will become extinct.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Alabama Football on Probation for 1,000th Time

Well, it does seem that way. The University of Alabama football program was placed on another three years probation and forced to vacate 21 wins because of a textbook scandal. Given that Crimson Tide boosters weren't caught giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to steer recruits to Tuscaloosa, that probably seems like progress.

But only if you think committing burglary is proress over robbing banks.

Who's No. 1 Among Conservative Bloggers?

John Hawkins of Right Wing News ranks Hot Air as the top conservative blog. No problem there. I also enjoyed the irony of Mickey Kaus' Kausfiles being listed at No. 21. Kaus might be the only person in the world who still counts himself as a Democrat.

But I was disappointed not to see my amigos at Protein Wisdom on the list. Evidently, Hawkins hasn't been surprised with Jeff Goldstein's campaign on behalf of (yawn) intentionalist theories of textual interpretation.

Jeremiah Wright Needs Nice Warm Cave

Jeremiah Wright needs to find a nice warm cave someplace for hiding out the rest of the Obama presidency. Wrights claims that first Jews and then Zionists are keeping him from Obama rank extremely high on the "clown" poll.

That's especially the case after the Holocaust Museum shootings.

Frankly, I imagine that Obama would rather have another frank little chat with Joe the Plumber than Jeremiah Wright.

And rightfully so.

Wing-Nut Blames Von Brunn on Muslims

My own instinct is to resist the urge to blame James von Brunn's attack on the Holocaust Museum on the right-wing media.

But it's not like the right is trying to avoid being stupid.

Here's Debbie Schlussel blaming Muslims for Von Brunn's attack.
In fact, it is because of Muslims--who are the biggest contributor to the worldwide rise in anti-Semitism to Holocaust-eve levels--that neo-Nazis feel comfortable--far more comfortable!--manifesting their views about Jews. Until 9/11 and our resulting new tolerance for Islam, the neo-Nazi types were marginalized and howling at the wind. We know who has been targeting Jewish museums and centers affiliated with Jews in recent years. And it hasn't been, in general, 89-year-old White guys.

Ugly stuff. Schlussel makes every Muslim in the world into an Islamist extremist. She might as well say that every guy with a German sounding name is a Nazi.

Brief Theses on Holocaust Memorial Murderer

Yesterday, an elderly white supremacist and neo-Nazi named James von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Museum and shot a security guard before being wounded himself and subdued.

Some quick thoughts:

1. James von Brunn is a typical American time bomb. One characteristic of American life is the bad chemistry of explosive rage, the easy availability of guns, and social failure. The result is that there's thousands of potential mass murderers walking around burning with anger, armed to the teeth, and waiting for one last trigger before they go off. One of the things that James von Brunn has in common with Michael McLendon, Jiverly Wong, and Scott Roeder is that he is part of an extremely destructive pattern in American life.

2. Too extreme for the "extremist right." People on the left often think of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck as "the exteme right" and these guys as having an influence on shooters like James von Brunn and Scott Roeder. But they're wrong. Von Brunn is a long-time, neo-Nazi, white supremacist, anti-semite, and Obama conspiracy theorist who has already served time for an attack on the Federal Reserve Board. Members of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups are often cut off from their families, have few friends outside their groups, and live within the fantasy of their tight-knit circles. Von Brunn is so extreme that he might see Fox News as part of the "liberal media."

3. Who's Influencing Who? The problem with the right-wing media is that it appears that Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and some other members of the conservative media establishment are feeling their way toward fringe views. It's more likely that people like James von Brunn are exercising an influence on Beck and Limbaugh than the other way around.

4. Why Now? Why the explosion of mass murder within the first six months of the Obama administration? In a society as large as the U. S., it's likely that there's many causes coming together to cause this kind of wave of mass murder.

Here's three ideas.

First, the recession is significant. Michael McClendon, Rich Poplawski, and Jiverly Wong had all lost factory jobs before they went on their killing sprees.

Second, the Obama administration seems like the "end of days" to many on the far fringes of right-wing extremism. Obama is an African-American with an African father who was especially strong among college-educated, urban, whites and minority groups like blacks, hispanics, gays, and Jews. Given that the far fringes of the right are highly committed to their fantasies about all of these populations, the Obama administration represents an apolcalypse in which all of their hate targets have come to power. As Shepherd Smith said on Fox yesterday, some of them are responding by reaching for their guns.

Third, there's the fantasy of power. One of the primary fantasies on the fringe right is that they are strong and that everybody else is weak. One way to hang on to that fantasy in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is to plan a mass murder.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

McAuliffe Loses in Virginia

Democratic Party mover and shaker Terry McAuliffe lost the Democratic primary for governor of Virginia today. The transition from hack to statesman is always tough.

A Great Philly Night

What a great, cool, fall night in Center City Philadelphia. The fact that it's June makes it even better.

Conservatives: Wrong for Every Occasion

The Detroit Lions went 0-16 in 2008 but it seems like conservatives have been zero for the last decade. I just looked at an essay by Victor Davis Hanson on how Obama supposedly is violating the laws of human nature. It's unbelievable. Everything he says about Obama, human nature, and academics is wrong, wrong, wrong. Even Hanson's personal anecdote about life as a farmer is formulated so badly it sounds like a lie. How does he do it?

The Discovery of the Day

Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan discovers that Barack Obama is not Ronald Reagan. Pat must have had an industrial strength case of the vapors when he finally figured that out.

Gay Rights: A Profoundly Democratic Cause


Name a gay rights leader.

Ok. There's Harvey Milk but he had been dead for 30 years before you heard of him.

Now name a living gay rights leader.

I'm waiting. Cmon . . . Cmon. We haven't got all day. The gay rights movement has made enormous strides over the last six months and the last six years. Where are the transcendent moral figures of contemporary gay rights. Who's the Martin Luther King making the closet disappear? Where are his or her famous lieutenants--the Ralph Abernethy's, Joseph Lowry's and Jesse Jackson's of the gay rights struggle. What about the Malcolm X's, Stokely Carmichaels, and H. Rap Browns of gay rights. What about the famous gay rights writers in the vein of James Baldwin? Who's the gay rights version of Thurgood Marshall?

That's all right. I'm waiting for myself to find out as well. As a rural kid whose only news access to news was a small town newspaper and the CBS Evening News, I was aware of everybody named in the previous paragraph except Lowry and Jackson. Even though I'm a much better informed person today, I still couldn't name any of the leaders of the gay rights movement outside Harvey Milk and Randy Shilts and both of them have been dead for a long time. A lot of that's my fault, but the fault doesn't lie in me alone. In an age where practically everybody gets the celebrity treatment, gay rights leaders haven't gotten the celebrity treatment. People know Joe the Plumber infinitely better than they know the leaders of gay rights organizations or the lawyers mapping out the legal strategies for promoting gay marriage.

But the gay rights movement is winning anyway. Gay rights organizations have effective leadership and there's lots of excellent gay rights lawyers, and gay rights writers. And they all deserve a great deal of credit for their effective work. But I'm not sure that the moral weight of the gay rights movement--the main thing that keeps driving the gay rights movement forward-- the leadership. Rather, I think that the moral giants of gay rights are the millions of gay people who have come out to their parents, friends, and communities and are living openly as gay people despite often paying an awful price for their courage.

Celebrity leadership is generally over-rated and somebody like Martin Luther King did not direct the civil rights movement so much as he symbolized the broad activism of the African-American population. But the profoundly democratic character of the gay rights movement is especially evident in the fact that it's succeeding without celebrity leadership.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Rush Provides Another Reason to "Buy GM"

After years of giving the American public more reasons to vote Democratic, Rush Limbaugh is now beginning a new campaign to get Americans to buy GM cars.
The people saying they don't want to buy anything at General Motors are not mad at General Motors. They don't want to patronize Obama. They don't want to do anything to make Obama's policies work! This is an untold story, by the way. Of course, the government-controlled media is not gonna report anything like this but there are a lot of people who are not going to buy from Chrysler or General Motors as long as it is perceived Barack Obama is running it, because people do not want his policy to work here because this is antithetical to the American economic way of life. The government does not own car companies; the government does not design cars, not in a country that works. So people aren't going to buy products from companies that Obama runs.

That's right. The new slogan for General Motors should be "Screw Rush--Buy GM."

Sunday, June 07, 2009

George Will's Favorite Grammatical Device

George Will thinks that President Obama "is inordinately fond of the first-person singular pronoun." As a monarchist who still hasn't gotten over his preference for the British side in the American Reveolution, Will would much prefer that Obama use the royal "we."