Iran – Reform Resuscitated?

In an article titled, “Iran Cleric Defy Election Ruling” the BBC reports, “In a statement to the press, the Assembly of Qom Seminary Scholars and Researchers said some members of the Guardian Council had “lost their impartial image in the eyes of the public.”

How can one accept the legitimacy of the election just because the Guardian Council says so? Can one say that the government born out of the infringements is a legitimate one,” it said.”

It goes on to say, “On Saturday, Mr Rafsanjani – an influential figure in Iranian politics and a prominent backer of Mr Mousavi during the election – met with the families of some of those who have been detained.

It was the first time he had spoken publicly since the election. He told the families that nobody with a “vigilant conscience” could be satisfied with the current situation.

“I hope with good management and wisdom the issues would be settled in the next days and the situation could improve … We should think about protecting the system’s long-term interests,” Mr Rafsanjani said.

A BBC correspondent said that Mr Rafsanjani appeared to be hinting that a process was going on behind the scenes, which might resolve the current crisis.”

While it remains incredibly hard to imagine the authoritarian regime buckling under pressure but it is truly unparalleled times in the life of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Never have there been open rifts within the clergy and never has the authority of the Supreme Leader been questioned by the clerics themselves as now.

May be a power-sharing arrangement is still possible? Or at least some reforms announced by the current regime itself to lighten up on social restrictions? May be the death of the 20 people (reported) will not be in vain?

What are your thoughts?

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Iran – what next?

The standoff in Iran between the military-theocratic regime of Ahmadenijad-Khamanei and the opposition parties led by Mir Hussein Mussavi has entered a tense phase. Having so clearly defined their positions and by putting so much at stake neither party can back down easily.

Major Newspapers are writing that predicting how the stand-off is  going to end is not easy.  New York Times has an article, “As Confrontation Deepens, Iran’s Path is Unclear.” The BBC has an article titled, “Titanic clash for Iran’s future,” which ends thus, “They may be arguing over a disputed election. But they are really arguing over the future of the country. A momentous, titanic struggle, whose outcome no-one can predict.”

The common wisdom goes that the ones who have the military and the supreme leader on their side are infallible. However, make no mistake, the hundreds of thousands who are turning out daily to protest for the opposition is not the only reason the opposition is so emboldened this time.

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Iranian Election

We in the West were fed an image of Iran as a country full of Islamic zealots and a compliant and mind-washed citizenry. A country where there was not a cry for democracy but a whimper — people were too afraid to criticize the mullahs and the right wing politicians in bed with them.  I offer a recent article, The Magic Mountain, by Roger Cohen of his conversations with Iranian youth in the New York Times as testimony. Mr. Cohen, despite being one of the most incisive journalists and a great sympathizer of the democratic movement in Iran, could hear democratic voices only in whispers.

The reaction of the Iranian citizenry to the fraud perpetrated on them blows away that myth. The young and the old alike seem to be craving for democracy, lifting of the Islamic seize, freedom of speech and connection with the rest of the world.

Some interesting facts about the current elections:

All the ballots were cast by hand, i.e. were not computerized. In all a record 40 million people (80% of the electorate) voted. Elections closed Friday evening and given the gargantuan task at hand — of counting 40 million ballots manually — it was projected that the earliest indicators available will be by Saturday evening.

However, as early as Saturday morning Ahmadinejad was announced a winner. That was the first unbelievable part of the unfolding story.

Equally unbelievable, if not worse, was the margin. Supposedly, Ahmadinejad won 62.6% and Mousavi 34%. This made Ahmadinejad’s margin greater, much greater, than the first time he won beating Rafsanjani! The reasons that is so hard to believe are obviously the fury that is there for all to witness on Tehran’s streets and all the commentary pointed to the fact that the turnout was so high due to a lot of 1st time voters coming out to vote for Mousavi.  I encourage you to visit the BBC page “Iran poll results: Your Comments.” You will read comments from a lot of Iranians who are providing the inside story.

In addition to the electoral sham, the Internet connection and cell phone service has been switched off.  Text messaging was shut down during the campaign itself since Mousavi was using text messages to arrange campaign rallies and getting his message out. And lest you think these outlandish excesses of power take place only during election times, I heard an Iranian on a show on National Public Radio mentioning that no purchases over the Internet are allowed from outside of Iran — even an Amazon.com book cannot be purchased from Iran. Of course, facebook, twitter etc. are filtered.

Despite these gross violations of people’s right, I am sure Ahmadenijad will have the gall to stand on US soil when next addressing the UN general assembly and criticize American democracy and extol his implementation of Iranian government.

One of the comments at the BBC page is rather despondent. It is written by one Milad from Mashhad, Iran, “Today I learned that the worst thing in life is to think that you have a chance while you don’t.”

While I fully understand Milad’s sentiment, I see things differently. I see that the generation born after the Iranian Revolution has not bought the lies and deceptions that the mullah regime has successfully imposed upon the pre-revolution citizens. As the current generation of mullahs and corrupt right wing politicians like Ahmadinejad gets old, I see a strong chance for true democracy in the Iran of the future.

Sonia Sotomayor

I was quite excited at the prospect of  a second woman on the Supreme Court bench, a first Hispanic, a first Supreme Court judge from the Bronx projects — an out and out American success story. I thought her confirmation will provide the right representational balance at the highest court of the land.

But then a few news items about Ms. Sotomayor’s views have dulled my enthusiasm.

One of course being her comment that resulted in the Conservatives calling her a “reverse racist.” Her comment, made back in 2001, asserts that her experiences as a Latina woman might make her judgments more sound than those of a white man. Though I am not going to call her a racist but a comment like that shows, among other things, lack of sound judgement and bias.

A piece of writing that influenced  me more was an Op-Ed article written by Ilya Somin (Assistant Professor at George Mason University School of Law) for the LA Times.

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Obama’s turn-arounds

A sizable section in the left wing of the democratic party is all up in arms about a few recent Obama decisions that appear to be turn-arounds from campaign promises. I am in favor of the decisions.

Decision 1: Stop the release of detainee abuse photographs

Torture is a terrible thing. It was institutionalized by the Bush administration and untold number of innocent people got tortured. A rather sad and dark chapter in the recent history of the USA. However, all the people who are asking for the release of the photographs sit safely ensconced in the confines of our border and are out of harms way. They have no idea what their demands will result in for the brave Americans positioned in foreign countries.  It is purely for practical and pragmatic reasons I agree with President Obama — release of such photographs inflames anti-American emotions, is played to full advantage by Al Qaeda and its ilk, and will surely result in violence against Americans and justification for torture of captured Americans who had nothing to do with torture in the first place.

The best way to prevent such abuse from happening is to clearly define what torture is and starting from the highest office down state in unequivocal terms that such practices are banned. It is surely not to make the left wing feel happy but lose Americans lives in the bargain.

Decision 2: Has denied calls for investigating the last administration on torture

The noise to investigate past deeds has grown more shrill and people are not listening anymore to the thunderous warning of the impending category five hurricane.

We need to muster all our collective energy and focus them on the Economic, Jobs Market, Health Care, Climate Change and Geo-Political disasters at our hands.

I would love to learn how all the Bushies violated the law but these are truly unique times. I want to know about the past but not if I do not have a future.

Pakistan — you reap what you sow

The Seed

When General Zia ul-Haq led a coup against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977, and subsequently hanged him in 1978 under the pretence of plotting to kill political opponents, it was then that the present deplorable state of Pakistan was etched in to history in advance.

Irony of irony was that Bhutto himself chose ul-Haq as the Chief of Army in 1976 despite his lack of seniority thinking more senior officers posed greater threat to his survival. But then the history of Pakistan, and indeed the Muslim empire in South Asia is replete with blood letting by benefactors and family members of those that greatly helped them. Aurangzeb, effectively the last Mughal Emperor of India, executed his brother Dara Shikoh and put his father, Shah Jahan — of Taj Mahal fame — under house arrest until his death.

The Soil

Zia ul-Haq started off supremely unpopular both at home and abroad. However, it was the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets that saved his illegitimate presidency. The United States, who had decried General Zia up until that time had no other option but to support him to in turn get support for their agenda in Afghanistan. Zia also courted the Islamic ideologues in Pakistan and abroad. This allowed him stability at home and cash pouring in from United States — to support the destruction of the Soviets at any cost — and Saudi Arabia — to spread the Wahabi form of Islam –  a most conservative form of Islam. Money from both sources funneled to the Islamic ideologues who set up Madarassas to train the mujahedeens that spread across Afghanistan and later became the Taleban and Al Qaeda.

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The real bailout prescription

Banks Only

It seems like I am in a statistical state-of-mind lately.
If you were to go to the IRS website you will find the total number of Individual Income Tax Returns for the year 2008 is: 156,297,000 (Source: http://www.irs.gov/taxstats/ –>Filing Season Statistics –>Filing Season Weekly Reports –> Report for filing year 2008 –> End of Year End Report.)

Let’s take the top 25% of tax payers out and we are left with 117 million individuals.
Next, let’s take the $3.8 Trillion (anticipated government spending across current and pending stimulus and bailouts including Bush bailout) and distribute it evenly to the 117M individuals that filed taxes.

You will arrive at the astounding number of $32,478!

That’s what we all could have gotten (except for the top 25% of earners who shouldn’t need it) instead of the current morass of bailouts and stimulus.

Let’s play this hypothetical scenario out a little further:
Imagine how fast our economy would have recovered if we were given this money, income tax free in a special account, to spend within two years within United States including purchase of airline tickets to fly out of United States (money spent abroad will not count). For any one with credit card loan or mortgage default, there would be additional stipulation that they pay off the loans/mortgage first. I am sure IRS can think of many other stipulations (and that would be fine). At the end of each of the two years we all would have to submit receipts to ensure we complied with the stipulations.

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