Tag Archives: iran

Long Live the King

This week was a thriller.

Bernie Madoff thought he was a smooth criminal. Turns out he’s just bad. Really, really bad.

SCOTUS says it don’t matter if you’re black or white.

The House has a bill it hopes will heal the world. Will the Senate tell them to beat it? (No one, after all, wants to be defeated.)

LGBT groups think Obama secretly wishes they’d just keep it in the closet.

And Mark Sanford is starting with the man in the mirror. He’s asking him to change his ways.

But we begin this week with a milestone in what’s become a millstone. American troops are withdrawing from Iraqi towns and cities today, effectively ending U.S. occupation of those areas.

The drawdown is part of a Bush Administration plan sketched out this time last year. Dick Cheney supported the plan at the time, but since the responsibility now belongs to the Democrats, he says it puts America in danger.

Iraq is the main course on a full foreign policy plate. President Obama condemned a weekend Honduran coup, and Iran is still wracked by fear—not to mention increasingly jittery about foreign interference.

Despite turmoil abroad, domestic issues take may top billing this week. Yesterday, two court verdicts set the tone. First, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling against New Haven, Conn. firefighters who claimed they were passed over for promotion because they are white.

The lower court ruling was issued by a panel of three judges including Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Will this ruling threaten her confirmation? Doubtful. Will it make the hearings more interesting? Darn tootin’.

The other verdict came from Manhattan, where convicted swindler Bernard Madoff got the maximum: 150 years in prison. Madoff cheated 8,000 investors out of hundreds of billions of dollars. His case has become a focus for Americans who’ve lost jobs, homes, and retirements to economic forces beyond their control. Madoff himself is now a symbol of greed and crookedness, and few people were sad to see him jailed.

Back in Washington, Congress turns its attention from the environment to healthcare, which is shaping up to be an ugly fight. Senate Republican leaders held a press conference today to declare a need for reform and a desire to block whatever Democrats come up with.

Speaking of the Democrats, President Obama has again turned the details of a major legislative priority over to a rudderless Congress (see this week’s Top 5). So far the strategy has worked, but eventually the House may need more direction from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Other loose ends may affect the balance of power in Washington. Mark Sanford isn’t quitting (yet), but his plans to run for the White House in three years are on indefinite hold. He’s the second potential GOP 2012-er to flame out in the last two weeks.

The aforementioned House climate change bill may face well-entrenched opposition in the Senate. President Obama showed praiseworthy resistance (in the Blog’s humble opinion) to the House version’s protectionist clauses. Do the Democrats know what they think about trade policy?

And Al Franken is finally a Senator, but illnesses still keep Dems short of 60 votes.

And so the chaos continues. One final note this week: the Blog will be out of the office for the next month. Dry your tears. If you want to keep track of the Blog’s travels, check our sister blog.

See you in August.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

CNN: “Jenny Sanford becomes the new political paradigm” by Gloria Borger.

The New York Times: “Baucus Grabs Pacesetter Role on Health Bill” by David Herszenhorn.

The Washington Post: “Despite Majority, Obama to be Tested” by Murray and Balz.

Real Clear Politics: “Alice in Medical Care” by Thomas Sowell.

TIME: “FDR: Getting it Right” by Bill Clinton.

Tied to the Rails

We begin this week with a tragedy. No, not Jon and Kate’s divorce. No, not Ed McMahon, either. A D.C. Metro train jumped its tracks yesterday. METAPOR ALERT!

Already, President Obama is keeping an eye on what else might derail.

Let’s start with healthcare. The hospitals, doctors, and insurers are all aboard, but the price tag has fueled a mounting GOP criticism of Team Obama. Is the tiny GOP remnant on Capitol Hill yet powerful enough to stop this speeding locomotive? You betcha.

Congress is slated to begin sifting the specifics this week. Enough blue dogs are on the fence that the White House will have to do some courting, even if the House bill little resembles his requests.

Here’s the Blog’s take: for decades, we have been committing fiscal child abuse. The debts we continue to grow have implications for the security and health of Americans yet unborn. But we gotta, hafta, needta fix the healthcare system. If Congress can’t come up with something that will do the job, we need a new Congress.

As pressing and dire as healthcare reform is, the primary topic at this morning’s presidential presser was the Islamic Republic. Iran’s ruling clerics (some of them, anyway) began blaming the U.S. last week for the continuing protests over their recent presidential election.

Here’s why: protesters were mainly using Twitter to organize rallies. Twitter was supposed to shut down for maintenance one night last week. The State Department—broken arm and all—called the Twitter folks and asked if they’d stay online to help out the protesters.

Naturally, Iran’s leadership didn’t take kindly to that. Now, since we’re getting blamed anyway, the White House finally began putting direct pressure on Iran.

The past week’s events make Iran’s rulers look silly, and the U.S.—not to mention the Blog—doesn’t mind that one bit. This is a country that shoots protesters, tells women how to dress and what to do, that espouses bigotry and narrow-mindedness. But as always, dear reader, you must watch what Iran’s rulers do, and not heed what they say.

And despite tough talk, the Supreme Council is struggling with hard questions about democracy, human rights, and how government should work. They have ordered an official inquiry into the results and even admitted irregularities at the ballot box, atypical behavior for an autocracy.

So which will win out: popular sovereignty or religious pedantry? We’ll all have to stay tuned.

Beyond these major headlines, weird stuff keeps happening in politics. As previously mentioned, the Secretary of State has a boo-boo. The governor of South Carolina went missing, then found himself, and said he was just on a hike. And apparently shooting the messenger is now something we do.

It’s a mixed-up world, dear reader.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

International Herald Tribune: “Iran’s Chinese Lessons” by Philip Bowring.

The New York Times: “A Supreme Leader Loses His Aura as Iranians Flock to the Streets” by Roger Cohen.

Bloomberg News: “Gods in White Coats Hold Key to Health Care Reform” by Margaret Carlson.

The Washington Post: “Public Confidence in Stimulus Plan Ebbs” by Balz and Cohen.

RealClearPolitics: “Hysteria from Right and Left” by Cathy Young.

A Chill in the Air

Summer officially starts this weekend, but it’s getting cold out there.

The AMA reacted coolly to President Obama’s healthcare plan. Iran’s elections may have a chilling effect on its relations with the United States. Senate Republicans want to freeze the Sotomayor proceedings until fall. And Sarah Palin is going all ice queen on David Letterman.

Bundle up, dear reader.

The president addressed the American Medical Association’s annual convention yesterday, outlining his healthcare policy to a new level of detail. If doctors, hospitals, and insurers can cut care costs, the president offered, government will also work to lower medical liabilities (right now, a doctor’s greatest expense is malpractice insurance).

Here’s where it gets frosty: the president said his plan may cost $1 trillion. For a federal budget buckling under the weight of bailouts, bankruptcies, and decade-old tax breaks, another trillion-dollar program makes everyone shudder. Think spending may become a political problem for the Democrats? You ain’t the only one.

Congress will soon undertake healthcare reform, but this week, it’s focused on the environment and new financial regulations. And Sonia: the GOP is hoping to stall for time, but it’s running up against a concerted White House media strategy.

The president’s primary international concern is (still) west Asia. Iran’s presidential elections have been fascinating to watch.

The incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a bigot who thinks America sucks. The challenger, Mir Hossain Mousavi, quit politics 15 years ago to become an architect. Mousavi wasn’t supposed to be the main opposition, but former president Mohammed Khatami thought he had no chance this go-round, so he dropped out.

That’s because until recently, Ahmadinejad was very popular. He is a hero to rural conservatives and the urban poor, whose causes he championed. But 70 percent of Iran is under 30 years old, and many young people find Iran’s current brand of theocratic authoritarianism suffocating. They want freedom, and Mousavi is their man.

Ahmadinejad won, but it looks like he may have cheated. Mousavi supporters have taken to the streets, and Iran’s ruling clerics have opened an investigation into the election results. New elections, or even hard evidence of cheating, are unlikely. But it’s interesting to watch a government testing out the mechanics of democracy, especially a government at the center of the world stage.

Meanwhile, there may be “tough months” ahead for Afghanistan, according to Gen. David Petraeus, who oughta know. The Blog wonders: “tough” as opposed to what? All the easy living Afghanistan’s been soaking up lately?

Pakistan isn’t doing much better.

Even our allies are raising a ruckus. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Obama’s recent call for a Palestinian state with a big “pfff.” Actually, Netanyahu said the Palestinians could have their own country, so long as that country didn’t have an army and so long as Israelis could continue trying to take over Palestine one settlement at a time. The Palestinians—and the Blog—find his munificence overwhelming.

Twenty years ago, the New York Times’ Tom Friedman (see this week’s Top 5) wrote that Israel’s big problem is that it can only have two of the three things it wants: to be 100 percent Jewish, 100 percent democratic, and occupy 100 percent of all the territory of Old Testament Israel. It can have any two, Friedman argues, but not all three. Israel has still not chosen.

Finally this week, the Blog presents a moment of absurdity. Guess who is conservatives’ newest worst enemy? This moment of absurdity has been brought to you by Sarah Palin, defender of all that is right.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

The Washington Post: “Muted Response Reflects U.S. Diplomatic Dilemma” by Scott Tyson.

The New York Times: “Winds of Change?” by Tom Friedman.

Economist: “Tehran Rising.

Newsweek: “The Micawbers and Mrs. Roosevelt” by Jon Meacham.

Wall Street Journal: “White House Sends Signals on Deficit” by Gerald Seib.

Avast, Ye Dogs

The Blog returns this week in a slightly truncated format. Gone is the weekly Feature, but we’ll still bring you news and analysis of the week that was, links to the best political writing out there, and a peek at what’s to come. Let’s get started.

 

The Wrap: Avast, Ye Dogs

This weekend President Obama saved a guy from pirates, brought his daughters a puppy, and went straight to church. Beat that.

 

(For the record, the Blog sat around eating Peeps and watching the Masters. That’s why Obama’s the captain and we’re swabbing the decks.)

 

If you think the president is getting too much credit for the pirate episode, Politico’s Roger Simon says, you’re right. But Obama will walk the plank when events beyond his control go wrong, too. Besides, think about how big a problem POTUS would have this morning if the “3 rounds, 3 bodies” equation had come up different.

 

Swashbuckling aside, the economy still owns the agenda. News from Wall Street to Main Street improves by the day, though not enough to call it a rebound just yet. Small businesses loans, home construction, and mortgage refinancing are growing again, but so is unemployment, to a 25-year high.

 

But the momentary reprieve, plus the Weekend of Great Images, allows Obama some leverage at an opportune moment. He’ll need it all (and then some) in the coming days.

 

His energy bill is up for debate this week in the House, featuring a cap-and-trade plan. Here’s how it works: each business is allotted a certain number of carbon emissions each year. If it goes over, it can pay a tax or buy leftovers from companies that didn’t use all theirs. Liberals like the green emphasis. Conservatives don’t like the tax emphasis. By the time it moves to the Senate, the president may have one new ally.

 

The administration has also signaled a shift in Iran policy: the U.S. may allow Tehran to continue developing fissile material while negotiations proceed. This is surely a break from the Bush team, but to what effect?

 

As soon as these duels begin, Obama will depart for Mexico, where security, immigration, and regional economics are on the agenda.

 

POTUS is also charting new courses on immigration, Afghanistan, the DPRK, Iraq, the global economy, fighter jets, infrastructure, gay marriage, Cuba, and, oh yeah, pirates.

 

It’s a lot to do, especially all at once. Each piece will demand political capital. Obama has fair winds in the wake of his pirate victory. But will fair seas follow?

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

 

The New York Times: “Hints of Obama’s Strategy in a Telling 8 Days” by David Sanger.

 

The Washington Post: “Give-and-Take with Emanuel Advances President’s Agenda” by Shailagh Murray.

 

Newsweek: “Is Robert Gates a Genius?” by Fareed Zakaria.

 

Real Clear Politics: “A Resilient Christianity” by E.J. Dionne.

 

The Washington Post: “Some Facts About Who Pays Taxes,” Editorial.

 

On Deck

Today’s speech at Georgetown is part of a broader campaign to reassure the public on the economy. That battle, more than any other, will determine Obama’s success. Expect more such speeches in the near future from a bevy of aides and officials.

 

Obama heads to Mexico mid-week, where he’ll meet with Presidente Claderon. Meanwhile, the aforementioned legislative battles will begin on the Hill. Obama won’t be gone long.

 

Looking further ahead, the DCCC spies opportunity in the Golden State, and Arlen Specter is reminded that all politics are local.

On the Road Again

The Wrap: Constellations

How’d last week go?

 

If you were Barack Obama, three of four stars. Your speech to the joint session of Congress was widely praised as candid and bold, though it did require some interpretation and didn’t bring the deets at least one publication wanted. Your budget was also generally well-received, though many folks wondered how you were gonna cut the deficit. You also filled voids at HHS and Commerce, but you’ve learned not to count those particular chickens before they hatch.

 

If you were Bobby Jindal, one star. Good news: you got to rebut the president. Bad news: you forgot to rebut the president.

 

If you were the economy, you still get zero stars.

 

If you were Karl Rove, you get zero stars this week and docked one star from next week. Why, you protest? For this special little nugget of irony in your WSJ column: “Everyone resorts to straw men occasionally, but Mr. Obama’s persistent use of the device is troubling. Continually characterizing those who disagree with you in a fundamentally dishonest way can be the sign of a person who lacks confidence in the merits of his ideas.”

 

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

 

The Washington Post: “President’s Historic Message Balances Urgency, Optimism” by Daniel Pearlstein.

 

Newsweek: “Why Obama is Moving so Quickly” by Howard Fineman.

 

The New York Times: “Will Africa Let Sudan off the Hook?” by Desmond Tutu.

 

Huffington Post: “Restore the Republic” by Gary Hart.

 

The New York Times: “Paging Uncle Sam” by Tom Friedman.

 

Feature: On the Road Again

Secretary Clinton is abroad again this week, which gives the Blog another excuse to take a gander at Team Obama’s foreign policy. As you may recall, Secretary Clinton is just back from East Asia. There, her to-do list included stopping a sociopath from getting nukes, reversing a half-century of crankiness in Sino-American relations, and reintroducing the world’s largest Muslim nation to its most-famous long-ago resident.

 

This time, she’s hoping to establish peace in the Holy Land. As the Blog has previously argued, Palestine is the single greatest inhibitor to world peace. A solution would not fix the economy, reverse climate change, or even banish terrorism from the face of the planet. But it would prove that even the most intractable human problems can be solved.

 

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Middle East peace is the stickiest of wickets. It has religious, political, economic, and social components that reach back 5,000 years, and since the 1970s, precious little progress has been made.

 

While lower Manhattan still smoldered, the Bush Administration got religion (pun!) about Palestine, and it briefly appeared they might make substantial progress. But six years went by without a peep from the West Wing. In November 2007, the White House sponsored a conference in Annapolis, Maryland hoping to grind out a solution before the next election. No dice.

 

Plusses since Annapolis: Tony Blair and George Mitchell have agreed to help, Dick Cheney has agreed to go back to Wyoming, and backdoor negotiations between Israel and Hamas resulted in a brief ceasefire.

 

Minuses: A small war broke out and Israel seriously considered electing a rightwing nut-job prime minister. So we’re breaking even. The good news is folks are starting to take the issue seriously again. To succeed, they’ll have to work on three levels.

 

The direct, grandiose efforts must go on. George Mitchell must do what he did in Northern Ireland: maintain grace in public, and wield a machete behind the scenes. He must have the full weight and confidence of the White House. So must Tony Blair.

 

The private negotiations must continue, too. More often than not, real solutions are brokered in such a way that nobody wins a Nobel Peace Prize. None of the parties involved can afford to look soft in front of the world, but genuine compromise is possible out of the limelight. Israel, Fatah, and Hamas must have a locked door behind which to negotiate.

 

Finally, everybody has to have a seat at the table. This may be the most excruciating part. Until now, Iran and Syria have been roadblocks to peace. That’s why the Obama Administration has advocated direct talks with Tehran (though perhaps the Secretary of State would like to keep her odds-making to herself), and sent two emissaries to Damascus. No peace is possible if Israel is threatened by a soon-to-be-nuclear power to the east and by a Hezbollah outpost to the north.

 

Likewise Russia, China, Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf states must be part of the process. Each has a vested stake in any arrangement. The impact of a workable settlement would be enormous for world affairs. Russia growls about U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Europe, which would guard against an Iranian launch. This morning, the press reported a secret message from Washington to Moscow: help us ensure Iran never becomes a nuclear power and we’ll scrap our shield plans. If we solved Palestine, Iran wouldn’t need nukes, we wouldn’t need the shield, and we could start working with Russia on issues like energy, trade, and human rights.

 

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These three processes working simultaneously may not provide a solution for years, but together they are the best and quickest hope for peace.

 

The White House has started well. George Mitchell is the right man for the job, and Secretary Clinton (private asides aside) may be the right woman. They have started by marshalling aid to Gaza, a necessary first step. But as they mend the material wounds of the December-January conflict, they must also begin triage on the political wounds. Left untreated, those may be far more damaging.

 

On Deck: Prognostications

As the Blog looks into its crystal ball, we predict this week will bring further proof that John Yoo is a total jerk (and not much of a lawyer), that CIA will once again be forced to wipe egg from its brow, and Sebelius and Locke’s confirmation proceedings will go smoother than those of their predecessors.

 

Looking further ahead, we see Jim Bunning being kicked by his own party (which Bunning has booted several times recently), a Lone Star throw down, and a nasty theme still building for administration nominees.