29 September 2009

Student Protests in Tehran

Over one thousand students participated in demonstrations, yesterday at Tehran University and today at Sharif University, as the new semester got underway. 'Iranian Education Minister Kamren Daneshju was visiting Sharif University at the time to mark the new academic year.' They aren't giving up.
'BBC:Students in Iran have demonstrated against the government at Tehran University on the first day of the new academic year. Footage posted on websites showed several hundred people chanting slogans against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Eyewitnesses said students were not allowed into an official ceremony attended by a government minister to mark the start of term. Reports say a large number of police officers were in the area. One eyewitness, Mehdi, told BBC Persian that around 200-300 people had gathered in Tehran university by 1030 local time. "Demonstrators were holding up green balloons and chanting slogans such as 'Government of the coup, resign! Resign!' and 'Down with the dictator'," he said. A counter demonstration was staged by supporters of the president, who was re-elected in a disputed election in June. There were no reports of clashes between the two factions. In the aftermath of the election, Iran witnessed widespread anti-government demonstrations alleging vote-rigging and calling for a re-run of elections. Correspondents says sporadic clashes and arrests since then have underlined how deep and unresolved the crisis and divisions in Iran remain. Government and security forces have cracked down hard on the protests and have initiated mass trials of leading figures in the reform movement who supported Mr Ahmadinejad's rivals for the presidency.'

23 September 2009

UPDATES: Is Gen. McChrystal Being Muzzled?

UPDATE 1: Defense Secretary Gates has said that he will formally receive Gen. McChrystal's troop request by the end of the week, but that the report will stop there until the President and his staff are 'ready to consider it.' Apparently, doing more than one thing at a time only goes so far. Meanwhile, Gen. McChrystal has stated that there is no rift between he and the White House, and that he welcomes the debate. He also warns that taking too long to decide on the troop request will, in essence, be a decision to lose any hope of defeating the Taliban. Hopefully, we'll have a decision in two weeks, after the UN and G20 hoopla are over, but I'm not holding my breath.

From Gen. McChrystal's report to the President:
'"The situation in Afghanistan is serious; neither success nor failure can be taken for granted. Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall situation is deteriorating. We face not only a resilient and growing insurgency; there is also a crisis of confidence among Afghans in both their government and the international community that undermines our credibility and emboldens the insurgents. Further, a perception that our resolve is uncertain makes Afghans reluctant to align with us against the insurgents.

"Success is achievable, but it will not be attained simply by trying harder or 'doubling down' on the previous strategy. Additional resources are required, but focusing on force or resource requirements misses the point entirely. The key take away from this assessment is the urgent need for significant change to our strategy and the way that we think and operate."'
The problem may be that the President is too boxed in by promises on Afghanistan, health care, stimulus-spending, and most especially, his party supporters, too develop a coherent and winning strategy.
'Obama, who issued a new war strategy for Afghanistan just six months ago, has signaled he will change it again.

"One of the things that I'm absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make the determinations about resources," he said last week. "You don't make determinations about resources, and certainly you don't make determinations about sending young men and women into battle, without having absolute clarity about what the strategy's going to be."

Anthony Cordesman, a Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst who went to Afghanistan, has rebuked the White House for vetoing McChrystal's request before it even arrives.

"Quite frankly, it would probably be just as well if people in the National Security Council and the White House made their judgments after they get the assessment they need rather than try to resource constrain an assessment in a way that can lose the war," he told reporters.'
Compare this thinking with the 'new' strategy on Afghanistan issued in March:
'So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just.'
There's just no way to do (and pay for) it all. Gen. McChrystal is probably feeling like he has a target painted on his back right about now, and that's the wrong approach. He was given a mission (albeit a vague and self-contradictory one), and has given his professional assessment as to the best way to meet that mission successfully. Now political game-playing seems to be cutting his legs out from under him. When commentators wonder if Afghanistan is the new Vietnam, they may be right, but not in the way they're thinking. Our involvement in Vietnam would have been far more successful, if Congress had not constantly tampered with the mission, and the means by which that mission was resourced and fulfilled. If the same tendency toward 'mission-creep' grips this Congress and White House, Afghanistan will indeed resemble Vietnam. The President needs to clearly state his mission objectives for Afghanistan, properly resource those objectives per the recommendations of the professional tasked with carrying them out, and then let those professional succeed. Anything less is disingenuous.

18 September 2009

The Color Purple

Resurgent Republic has published the results of an extensive polling of self-identified Independent voters, with an eye to the 2010 elections. As has been evidenced in a number of recent polls, these voters (who are often the determining factor in national election cycles) still like President Obama, and generally support him. Support for specific policies however, is steadily slipping, particularly as pertains to fiscal policies.
The most intriguing results related to questions about support for Congress that were aimed at predicting outcomes in the 2010 Congressional election cycle. Here, Independents are generally united - they want to throw the bums out. Charlie Cook writes about these results in the National Journal Magazine.
'A whopping 48 of those Democrats -- eight more than the size of their party's majority -- are from districts that voted for both Bush and McCain. That America is very different from the Democratic base in blue America, and it sees many major issues very differently.

Resurgent Republic's findings corroborate a growing view that the cumulative impact of Democratic missteps has reached a critical mass, with Obama receiving some damage and with Democrats in Congress and the Democratic Party receiving much more. Critics point to the Troubled Asset Relief Program; the takeovers of banks and auto companies; an economic stimulus package that they see as ineffectual and stuffed with pork; and climate-change and health care reform efforts as all being contributing factors to Democrats' decline.

The 17-point advantage that Democrats enjoyed in the January Gallup Poll (when "leaners" were included) shrank to 5 points in August. Their edge on the generic congressional ballot test has vanished, according to most national polls. For three years, Democrats enjoyed high single-digit or low double-digit leads on this question -- a very good indicator of which direction (and how hard) the political winds are blowing as a congressional election nears.

What we are seeing is an electorate growing just as disgusted with the Democratic majority as it did with the Republican one in 2006. The mounting ethics problems of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., combined with ongoing allegations about House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., and others on his panel threaten to make matters still worse for their party.'

The poll results also match up with other polling, which consistently place the Republican brand within the statistical margin of error of the Democrats. In general Congress is strongly disfavored across the board. The running average reflected in the daily RCP average has consistently placed Congressional approval at -30 or lower for an extended period. Since January, no single poll has placed the Congressional approval at better than -15. This does not bode well for the 2010 election cycle. Looking at these results, it's doubtful that the Republicans can regain either the House or the Senate (after all, some of them are the bums that voters want to shed), but 29-37 House seats, and several Senate seats up for re-election (think Reid and Dodd), are vulnerable. We may end up with a deadlock in Congress starting next January, and that may be the best thing for the country. It would force bipartisanship to accomplish anything, and would push the President toward the centrality he campaigned on. Purple states (and voters) may lead the way next year.



FOX News9/15 - 9/16


Associated Press/GfK9/3 - 9/8


Gallup8/31 - 9/2


CBS News8/27 - 8/31



See All Congressional Job Approval Polling Data

15 September 2009


Update 1: As expected, the sanction of Rep. Wilson passed the House on a largely partisan basis. The hyperbole involved was enough to choke a horse. Hypocrisy marches on.

For all I know, the sanction of Rep. Wilson for the shout heard 'round the world last week, is fully justified. What's bothering me is the sheer hypocrisy. Democrats loudly booed, hissed and called out at President Bush during the 2004 and 2005 State of the Union addresses. Sen. Reid famously called Bush a loser and a liar (several times) later apologizing via a surrogate. Nancy Pelosi is refuses to sanction or take the gavel from Rangel, despite multiple investigations into tax evasion and corruption, but she'll happily sanction a man who did what she herself participated in a few years ago? This is the very definition of political hypocrisy and the reason so many voters say 'a pox on both your houses.

14 September 2009

UPDATED: Iran Starts Fifth Trial over Post-Election Unrest - Cross-Post

UPDATE 1: We'll talk .... about anything that doesn't matter to you.

(cross-posted from Revolutionary Road).

Iran starts fifth trial over post-election unrest
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran began a new trial Monday of people accused of fomenting street unrest after a disputed presidential election three months ago, official media reported.

Six people were in the dock for Monday's court session, including a well-known student activist, Abdollah Momeni, the IRNA news agency said.

Iran last month began four mass trials over post-election events against more than 100 people, including senior reformers and former government officials, charged with orchestrating opposition protests in a bid to undermine the Islamic Republic.

The opposition has denounced the court sessions as "show trials." Reformist former President Mohammad Khatami last month said trial confessions by moderates were made in "extraordinary conditions" and were invalid.

The June election, which was followed by huge opposition protests, plunged Iran into political turmoil and exposed deepening divisions within its ruling elites.

The opposition says more than 70 people were killed in the unrest. Officials estimate the death toll at up to 36 people including members of the Islamic Basij militia, which helped the elite Revolutionary Guards quell the protests.

"The fifth ... trial of detainees accused of recent unrest and riots began in Tehran's Revolutionary Court this morning," IRNA said.

"Six people accused of being involved in the recent Tehran unrest appeared in the dock in the presence of their lawyers," it added.

An indictment read out at the trial appeared to focus on "false reports" spread via the Internet in a bid to stir unrest.

"The Islamic revolution of Iran has always been facing psychological warfare and destructive propaganda ... by internal and external enemies," it said, suggesting U.S. financial support for such activity.

"They (Iran's enemies) have used all the latest technology to reach their aims, including the Internet," the ISNA news agency quoted the indictment as saying. "It was one of the important methods to provoke the people ... "

The election and its turbulent aftermath plunged Iran into deep internal crisis. Rights groups say thousands of people, including senior pro-reform figures, were arrested after the poll, though most have been freed.

The moderate opposition says the June 12 poll was rigged to secure President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. The authorities deny it.

Hardliners have portrayed the opposition protests as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic government system.

(Writing and additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Matthew Jones)

11 September 2009

Call to Remembrance

We remember so many people today whose lives were set on a new course eight years ago. My friend, Todd Beamer, who was a year behind me at Wheaton College is first among them for me. He reminded us all that even in death, one can change lives and live out faith. We also remember the many who died at the Pentagon that day and subsequently, and in New York City. I remember these men and women, the members of the IL-ARNG 1544th Transportation Company, and all who have sacrificed over the last eight years.

Some suggested actions: sponsor a Gold Star Family, donate to TAPS, or sponsor a memorial site, or participate in a memorial.

The first video below is written as a request for forgiveness, but the lyrics have haunted me since learning it days after the 9/11 attacks. The second is from the Brahm's 'A German Requiem.'

07 September 2009

No Labor on Labor Day

A rather grim assessment of the job market on Labor Day:
'-- The unemployment and "underemployment" rate is 16.8 percent -- this includes the officially unemployed plus all part-time workers who'd prefer full-time jobs, as well as discouraged and demoralized job-seekers who have stopped looking for work. ... What's most ominous is not today's job market; it's the outlook. After the 1981-82 recession, unemployment dropped steadily from an annual average of 9.7 percent in 1982 to 7.5 percent in 1984 and 5.5 percent in 1988. The descent this time is expected to be much slower. In 2014, the unemployment rate will still average 7.6 percent, forecasts IHS Global Insight, which predicts a peak of 10 percent early next year. Reducing unemployment requires an economic expansion fast enough to absorb today's jobless plus the natural growth of the labor force. Most forecasters expect a tepid recovery will only gradually dent unemployment, despite slowing labor force growth. "The 1982 recession was largely caused by the desire to break the back of inflation," says economist Nigel Gault of IHS. "Once the (Federal Reserve) was comfortable it had broken inflation, it lowered interest rates, and economic growth took off." Interest-sensitive sectors -- autos and housing -- propelled recovery. By contrast, today's slump results from financial crisis, Gault says. The Fed has already cut interest rates, which will probably go up. As overborrowed households repay debt, their spending will be sluggish. The weak recovery then retards new jobs.'

The data in the article are backed by the September 4 release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At best, we may be seeing a very slow recovery - at worst, a jobless one.

06 September 2009

How Many Czars Does it Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?


Yup, we've got yet another Czar appointment, although we lost one in the middle of the night (Van Jones). How many of these officially paid and appointed, but not Senate-approved, officials are we going to have (currently 28-34 depending on accounting)? It feels almost as if we're getting a whole fourth branch of government that is outside the normal checks and balances system.
'President Barack Obama is to name auto adviser Ron Bloom as the administration's manufacturing czar Monday, responsible for creating policies to boost the long-struggling industries. Bloom will keep his responsibilities overseeing Obama's auto task force, which has shrunk dramatically since General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC emerged from bankruptcy.

"Ron has the knowledge and experience necessary to lead the way in creating the good-paying manufacturing jobs of the future," Obama said in a statement.

The White House said Bloom would work with the departments of treasury, energy, commerce and labor to put manufacturing policies into place and develop new programs.'

05 September 2009

Calls for Rangel to Step Down from Chairmanship

Jackie Kucinich reports at Roll Call that Rep. Boehner has asked that Rep. Rangel step down while ethics investigations into Rangel's serial memory problems are ongoing.
'Boehner’s request comes a week after reports that Rangel failed to disclose $600,000 in assets as well as tens of thousands of dollars in income on his 2007 financial disclosures. ...

“As chairman of the powerful House committee, entrusted with the responsibility of writing the tax laws that affect every law-abiding American citizen, you, along with the Speaker and other leaders of the majority party, have an obligation to help set the pace when it comes to standards of official conduct,” Boehner wrote. “By relinquishing the gavel voluntarily while the Ethics panel does its work, you would demonstrate your respect for this obligation.”

A spokesman for Rangel said Republican attempts to remove Rangel from his post are ill-timed, saying the ethics committee should be allowed to finish its investigation.

“Congress has a comprehensive, bipartisan process for reviewing any allegations made against a Member — the House ethics committee. Chairman Rangel himself initiated the request for the committee to review the allegations made against him,” the spokesman said. “Any action by the Minority Leader or others to prejudge the outcome of that bipartisan process would unfairly undermine the work of the ethics committee.”'

Rangel has repeatedly been under the gun for 'forgetting' to disclose numerous funding sources and to pay taxes, and has been protected by the House Democrats from investigations until recently. While the Ethics Committee is now formally investigating Rangel, Speaker Pelosi has stated that she will not discipline him unless and until he is found guilty by the committee. Perhaps the strangest aspect to this entire matter are the tough and punitive IRS rules, slipped into the health care bill, which would target even accidental tax violators. So far, he's unwilling to put himself through the same ringer he's demanding that other taxpayers be put through.

'Rangel's bill would:

* Punish those who fail to alert the IRS to potentially questionable tax exemptions.

* Bar the IRS from waiving penalties against taxpayers who clearly erred in good faith.

* Double fines in certain circumstances.

"The bill raises penalties and eliminates many of the reasonable defenses that taxpayers have always been able to use when honest mistakes are uncovered," one lawyer told The Post.

In fact, the bill increases fines "in some cases even for honest mistakes," the expert added.

Republicans yesterday ripped Rangel's attempt to go after taxpayers, given his own failure to pay taxes on rental income from his villa in the Dominican Republic and his extensive reporting problems with his financial-disclosure statements to Congress'

04 September 2009

Perhaps the Vice-President Needs a Personal Fact-Checker

(or at least someone to stop him from rambling on and on).

Vice-President Biden's robust defense of the stimulus package yesterday, raised some eyebrows when the glowing report mentioned nothing of the myriad of complaints coming from those who are supposed recipients of the funding:
'Biden, Obama's chief stimulus cheerleader, proudly pointed to more than 2,200 highway projects Thursday funded by the program, but didn't mention the growing frustration among contractors that infrastructure money is only trickling out and thus far hasn't delivered the needed boost in jobs. ...

Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel said last month he will examine the Federal Aviation Administration's process for selecting programs for the $1.1 billion in grant money. His announcement came after his office discovered that the Obama administration used stimulus money to pay for 50 airport projects that didn't meet the grant criteria and approved projects at four airports with a history of mismanaging federal grants.

And Biden praised the more than 2,400 military construction projects paid for with stimulus money, but ignored the millions of dollars in savings the Defense Department lost because it hasn't competitively bid many of the jobs.

The Defense Department frequently awards no-bid work to small contractors for repairs at military bases under the stimulus, costing taxpayers millions of dollars more than when businesses compete for the work, an Associated Press analysis of 570 such contracts found.'

The problem is, the stimulus was supposed to be a quick shot in the arm to protect against rising jobless rates, and boost spending. While the rate of unemployment growth has fallen, total jobless numbers continue to rise, hitting 9.7% nationally by the end of August. And, as Biden himself acknowledged, the final implementation of the stimulus will be rather slow (stretching out over two years by most estimates). There doesn't seem to much point to a stimulus that doesn't stimulate in the short run. After that point, the economy would be expected to slowly recover on its own.

02 September 2009

UPDATE 2: I'm Not Shocked - Are You?

Update 2: Multiple calls for Van Jones to resign are going out based on his participation in the 9/11 'truther' movement, including signing the '9/11 Truth Statement' and participating in a rally based on that statement to demand a new investigation of the CIA and Bush Administration.

Update 1: Van Jones kind of, sort of, apologizes, while delivering a back-handed compliment.

HuffPo thinks it humorous that Fox News acted shocked over this. Personally, I'm not in the least shocked. It's right in line with the behavior I would expect from the man who seems to have deliberately radicalized himself in a very short period of time, and in part, because it's what all the cool people were doing:
'Jones had planned to move to Washington, DC, and had already landed a job and an apartment there. But in jail, he said, "I met all these young radical people of color -- I mean really radical, communists and anarchists. And it was, like, 'This is what I need to be a part of.'" Although he already had a plane ticket, he decided to stay in San Francisco. "I spent the next ten years of my life working with a lot of those people I met in jail, trying to be a revolutionary." In the months that followed, he let go of any lingering thoughts that he might fit in with the status quo. "I was a rowdy nationalist on April 28th, and then the verdicts came down on April 29th," he said. "By August, I was a communist."'
I have no issues with the 'green jobs not jail' mantra of the Ella Baker Center, but Van Jones is simply an activist who went looking for a cause. His statement toward the end of the clip, that he too can be an ass, is probably correct, but what really strikes me in the video is not his language, but rather his total lack of thought. Van Jones fails to attempt to answer the, rather pathetic, question put to him. He either does not know, or does not care to think through, why Republicans able to successfully enact multiple programs and legislation that he himself does not support. Neither the questioner nor Van Jones seems able to move beyond the simplistic explanation of 'Republicans are a-holes.' The language is unworthy of someone appointed by the President of the United States to lead a large program. The simplistic thinking is unworthy of the anyone who aspires to lead.

VJ Day Conclusion: Japan Signs Formal Surrender, August 2, 1945

On this day Japan signed the formal surrender instruments aboard the USS Missouri, bringing WWII to a close. The US Navy maintains a site with images and transcripts here.
President Wilson declared: "This is the day we've been waiting for since Pearl Harbor. This is the day when Fascism finally dies, as we always knew it would." Word of the surrender had come on August 14-15, 1945, but it was not until September 2, that the documents where officially signed. Watch images here.

Never forget.

01 September 2009

China Restricts the Export of Rare-Earth Metals

China has the largest known deposits of rare-earth metals, particularly in Mongolia and Himalayas, and as such, is in the enviable position of controlling the world market for minerals that are used in high-end technology applications. These applications include green energy production (solar panels, hybrid cars, etc.), guidance systems for 'smart' missile systems, and superconductors. While China has typically maintained tight controls over the market, and in fact, deliberately set out to create a monopoly on the market in the 1990s, the Chinese government is now looking at banning or restricting export of certain of these metals all together.

The Telegraph reports:
'A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs.'
These restrictions could prove devastating to the high-technology industries that are dependent on these specialized minerals.
'New technologies have since increased the value and strategic importance of these metals, but it will take years for fresh supply to come on stream from deposits in Australia, North America, and South Africa. The rare earth family are hard to find, and harder to extract.

Mr Stephens said Arafura’s project in Western Australia produces terbium, which sells for $800,000 a tonne. It is a key ingredient in low-energy light-bulbs. China needs all the terbium it produces as the country switches wholesale from tungsten bulbs to the latest low-wattage bulbs that cut power costs by 40pc.

No replacement has been found for neodymium that enhances the power of magnets at high heat and is crucial for hard-disk drives, wind turbines, and the electric motors of hybrid cars. Each Toyota Prius uses 25 pounds of rare earth elements. Cerium and lanthanum are used in catalytic converters for diesel engines. Europium is used in lasers.

Blackberries, iPods, mobile phones, plams TVs, navigation systems, and air defence missiles all use a sprinkling of rare earth metals. They are used to filter viruses and bacteria from water, and cleaning up Sarin gas and VX nerve agents.'

Countries with known or possible deposits are in the middle of drawing up emergency plans to respond to a sudden halt to exports from China, including Australia, the USA and Japan. Commercial users (such as Toyota) and developers of technologies reliant on the rare minerals are striking their own agreements with suppliers, and mining and resource corporations are ramping-up to take up the slack in supply in the USA, Australia, Kazakhstan, and elsewhere.

There is a possible silver lining in all of this. With China both hoarding for its own use, and trying to simultaneously beat out competitors, resource companies that were shut out in the 1990s and early 2000s, will have a chance to move back into supplying rare metals.

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