NDN Blog

Reza Aslan on Rafsanjani

Reza Aslan has a great new piece over at the Daily Beast, writing about Ayatollah Rafsanjani's attempt to create a coalition of clerics to unseat Ayatollah Khamenei.  Apparently, he is succeeding in his efforts:

Reliable sources in Iran are suggesting that a possible compromise to put an end to the violent uprising that has rocked Iran for the past two weeks may be in the works. I have previously reported that the second most powerful man in Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Assembly of Experts (the body with the power to choose and dismiss the Supreme Leader) is in the city of Qom—the country’s religious center—trying to rally enough votes from his fellow Assembly members to remove the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from power. News out of Iran suggests that he may be succeeding. At the very least, it seems he may have gained enough support from the clerical establishment to force a compromise from Khamenei, one that would entail a run-off election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his main reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Here's an interview Aslan did with Jon Stewart of the Daily Show yesterday.  He makes many of the same points I made in my post "Iran Endgames," a few days ago:

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Political Humor Jason Jones in Iran

6/25 Roundup: Uncle Sam's Army, Wolfman, Cry For Me in Argentina

U.S. Defeats SpainLeader: Uncle Sam's Army

- It's possible this isn't actually the most important news story in the world today, but really, what's the point of having a blog if you can't occasionally set your own agenda? Yesterday, the United States Men's National Soccer Team beat Spain-- the best team in the world. Spain had recently won the European Cup, and was undefeated since 2006.  Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey scored, giving the U.S. a 2-0 victory. The U.S. will now play in the final of the Confederations Cup on Sunday, against the winner of today's game between Brazil and South Africa.

- Many are already calling this the greatest victory in the history of American soccer, and it's certainly way up there, along with our defeats of Mexico and Portugal in the 2002 World Cup, of Brazil in 1995, and of England in 1950. George Vescey compares it to the win by the U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey team in 1980. It's that big, seriously.


- President Obama will meet today with Congressional leaders to talk about immigration. The NY Times doesn't seem to think the passage of comprehensive immigration reform is very likely this year.  We here at NDN respectfully disagree!

- The Washington Post covers Chuck Schumer's speech on immigration from yesterday, and particularly his support for biometric identification cards for all American workers. 


- Last week saw an unexpected uptick in the number of new jobless claims.  As unemployment rises, the WSJ reports that people are going further, and doing stranger things for work.  Like this one guy who dresses up as Wolfman every day. 

- In the first quarter this year, the economy shrank by a mere 5.5%, not the 5.7% initially reported.  Even better, things appear to be a little less bad now.


- As the government continued to crack down on protesters in Iran, President Ahmadinejad told the U.S. not to interfere with his country's sovereignty. Our allies in the Arab countries around the Persian Gulf are tickled pink by Iran's unrest-- in part because it means a less powerful Iran, and in part because they suspect this will make it harder for the U.S. to reconcile with Iran. Also, Iran's leaders are officially uninvited from our July 4 festivities.  Good.

New From NDN

- I think that you, yes YOU, should come by our offices or tune in online today for Simon's presentation of his Dawn of a New Politics powerpoint.  It's replete with new slides and new arguments, so even if you've seen it before, check us out!

- Next week, Simon and NDN Fellow Morley Winograd will be up in New York for the Personal Democracy Forum, doing a panel together on America's changing demography.  Should be pretty cool.

One More Thing

- Last, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford had an affair with a woman in Argentina.  He offered the usual display of remorse and courage yesterday, after telling us that he had spent the past five days-- while the nation wondered where he was-- crying in Argentina. Appropriately, Stephen Colbert declared himself governor of South Carolina a few days ago, so presumably he'll be calling the shots now:

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Governor Alert - The Search for Mark Sanford
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Stephen Colbert in Iraq

Iran Heating Back Up

After a few quiet days in Iran, crowds of hundreds were back in the streets today, and clashing with police and the paramilitary Basij.  Unsurprisingly, Ayatollah Khamenei is refusing to back down, escalating the conflict. He is apparently losing even more support among the clerics as a result.  

According to Nico's sources, just this afternoon, Mousavi's lawyer was arrested, Neda's family was thrown out of their home, and the doctor who tried to save her is fleeing the country.  As the New York Times writes, it is nearly impossible to confirm the details of everything that is happening up to highest journalistic standards, due to the crackdown on media.

Mousavi has disavowed the protests today, but he has called for a protest tomorrow-- this will be a big one. Check back for regular updates tomorrow.  

This video is reportedly of the protests in Tehran today:

6/24 Roundup: Condemning Oppression, Waxman-Markey, Earthquake Instigation

Obama on IranLeader: Condemning Oppression

- President Obama gave a press conference yesterday, in which he addressed healthcare legislation, climate change legislation, but most importantly, he addressed the situation in Iran.  He strongly condemned the harsh repression by the Iranian government of the peaceful protesters in Iran.  He mentioned Neda, the young woman killed by a paramilitary bullet last Saturday, and whose death has been a rallying point for protesters in Iran. Said Obama:

This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose. The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That is precisely what has happened these last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to the peaceful pursuit of justice.

- David Ignatius has his money on the success of the followers of the martyred Neda, at least in the long run.  Robert Kaplan thinks that if the protesters are successful, Iran's reform could be transformational for the Middle East.


- Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that a deal had been struck on the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, and she promised it would pass the House before the July 4 recess.

- The NY Times covers the release of the transcripts of a new batch of tapes from Richard Nixon's White House. Speaking in private, expressed ambivalence about the legalization of abortion, though he recognized certain cases in which it could be necessary: "There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white, or a rape."

- AltaRock Energy, a small startup, will be drilling into the earth near San Francisco, in an attempt to harness the heat below the earth's surface as an energy source.  The same strategy was used in Switzerland a few years ago, and it caused an earthquake.  Gulp.


- After four years without an Ambassador in Damascus, President Obama will pursue normalized relations with Syria.

- An airstrike kiled 60 at a funeral in South Waziristan. The missile is believed to have come from an American drone.

New From NDN

- We've been keeping up our coverage and analysis of the happenings in Iran.

- Simon will be presenting an updated version of his Dawn of a New Politics powerpoint on Thursday, complete with analysis of how America's bottom-up political shift is being exported to Iran.

One More Thing

- Last, here is President Obama delivering his opening address in the conference I wrote about above:

Iran Endgames

Tuesday was another relatively quiet day in Iran, but this is likely a calm before the storm of protests that will return later this week.  A national strike is underway, and another big demonstration is slated for Thursday. How Thursday plays out will have major ramifications going forward.

KhameneiAs I wrote yesterday, this uprising is no longer about a preference for Mousavi over Ahmadinejad-- it's a response to the oppressive and violent nature of the regime that has been unmasked in recent weeks. This violence, along with the blatant electoral fraud, has critically undermined the Islamic Republic. Still, it's hard to imagine a popular overthrow of the government.  Fundamentally, the protesters are outgunned by military, paramilitary (Basij), police, and Revolutionary Guards who, all told, number in the millions.  They have the capability to put down nearly any sort of protest, and after what we've seen this week, one has to imagine they have the will, too.

But that doesn't mean Ayatollah Khamenei is invulnerable. Khamenei's power is legitimized by the clerical establishment in Iran. As the government has cracked down on its people, opinion among leading clerics appears to be solidifying against the Ayatollah. What's more, by getting personally involved in the muck of electoral politics, Khamenei has sullied himself among the clerics. On Thursday, the shock troops will have little choice but to crack down ever harder, but doing so will push even more clerics into the anti-Khamenei camp.

This will likely be a gradual revolution, not unlike 1979, playing out over weeks and months, through cycles of protest, violence, and mourning.  But what we will be left with is Khamenei, delegitimized and short of supporters, and the Islamic Republic itself, delegitimized and in need of serious reform.  This will create an opportunity for Rafsanjani and his fellow reformist clerics to step in and create a government that takes seriously the human and civil rights of its people. 

There will be bloodshed, and it will take time, but with Iran's government and hardline leaders so critically delegitimized, it's hard to imagine an endgame wherein Khamenei and his Basij maintain their cruel power.

Simon Presents the New Dawn This Thursday, Noon

DawnPlease join us Thursday, June 25, at 12:15pm for a presentation of "Dawn of a New Politics" by Simon Rosenberg.

This engaging presentation makes a big argument on how politics is changing in America today, and offers ideas and strategies for how progressives can replicate our 20th century success in this new and dynamic century.

Simon has recently updated the presentation with new arguments and slides, including an analysis of the bottom-up democratic uprising we're seeing today in Iran. Even if you've seen the presentation before, this new version will be fresh and engaging!

Simon has delivered his presentation "Dawn of a New Politics" all across the country over the past several years: At the DNC in Denver, twice for the House Democratic Caucus, on the Google campus, and recently before members and staff of the DSCC and DAGA, among many other gatherings.

We cordially invite you to join us-- either here in our event space, or via Web cast-- to watch and engage with this revamped presentation.

If you plan on coming to the presentation, please RSVP here.

Follow this link to watch the Web cast.

Obama on Iran

President Obama gave a brief and powerful statement standing behind the Iranian people in their peaceful uprising for a fair election, a responsive government, and a just society.  Here it is, in full (my emphasis on the key lines):

I’d like to say a few words about the situation in Iran. The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in the Iranian government are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others outside of Iran of instigating protests over the elections. These accusations are patently false and absurd. They are an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.

The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That is precisely what has happened these last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to the peaceful pursuit of justice. Despite the Iranian government’s efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers, and so we have watched what the Iranian people are doing.

This is what we have witnessed. We have seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands Iranians marching in silence. We have seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and their voices heard. Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights, and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.

Afterward, he took questions, including this one from Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post, relayed from a questioner in Iran:

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6/23 Roundup: Pause in Iran, Voting Rights Upheld, No Go Villaraigosa

LedaLeader: Pause in Iran

- The death of Neda, a 26 year-old Iranian woman who was shot dead by riot police and whose final moments were caught on video, continues to be a rallying point for Iranian protesters.  Mousavi has called for the next major protest to be held on Thursday to mourn all the deaths since the uprising began. Perhaps with enough time to plan and spread the word, the protesters will reclaim some of the momentum later this week.

- Protests have diminished in the past few days, as government forces have cracked down hard throughout Iran.

- The New Yorker has a report from the streets and the rooftops of Iran.

- The WSJ reports on one family whose son was killed when he got caught in the crossfire on his way home.  The government demanded a $3,000 "bullet fee" before returning his body.


- In one of the most closely-watched cases of the term, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 to preserve a controversial clause within the Voting Rights Act of 1965, ducking the constitutional question at the center of the case, and waiting to address it in a narrower context.  The ruling preserves the law in its original form, allowing federal government to maintain control over election rules in certain parts of the country with a history of racial disenfranchisement.

- While President Obama remains popular, confidence in his economic stimulus plan has ebbed somewhat, as Americans have come down of the high of optimism that pervaded society early in his term. Only about 52% of people think the stimulus will succeed-- nearly 60% thought so just two months back.  Still, with a 65% approval rating, the President maintains the confidence of his people.

- Henry Waxman's climate change bill will hit the floor this week, sooner than most expected.  Everybody ready?

- Here in Washington yesterday, a horrific crash occurred on the Metro when one train rammed another at a high speed.  Nine commuters were killed, and over 70 were injured.  The WaPo covers this tragedy here and here.


- Chinese factory workers continue to be subjected to appalling and dangerous work conditions, despite a supposed improvement in the legal protections for workers, the NYT reports.

- Swiss bank UBS, which had been in big trouble for helping tens of thousands of Americans evade taxes, may be cutting a deal to get out of trouble. We wouldn't want to violate any Swiss secrecy laws, after all, if Swiss trust is breached, the where will that leave the "international thriller" movie genre?


- Qari Zainuddin, a Taliban leader and the chief rival to Baitullah Mehsud, was shot dead in northwestern Pakistan yesterday.  The assassination is a blow to the Pakistani government, which had backed Zainuddin to counterbalance Mehsud.

- Politico looks at Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State thus far, and notes that she maintains a low profile.  Except, of course, when she fell and broke her elbow.  Now that's news.

New From NDN

- Dan wrote about the power of citizen journalism in Iran, and I've been doing regular analysis of the events in Iran.  Keep up with us!

- Simon will be presenting an updated version of his Dawn of a New Politics powerpoint on Thursday, complete with analysis of how America's bottom-up political shift is being exported to Iran.

One More Thing

- Last, Mayor Villaraigosa of LA will not run for California's governorship:



Who is Winning in Iran?

Reports of how many protesters showed up in Haft-e-Tir square today to mourn the death of Neda have been varied, ranging from 200 up to about 1,000. Regardless, this is a steep drop from last week's rallies with tens, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets.  It seems like there are a few things going on here:

-  Saturday's protests resulted in ten deaths, and looking at video from the past few days makes it clear that we're no longer looking at the quiet, peaceful sit-ins of the first days after the election. On top of this, as we read last week, the government has deployed squads of thugs-- Basijis, they're called-- who track protesters during the day, and raid their homes at night. Undoubtedly, people are scared, and are staying home for the sake of survival.

-  According to Iran's state media, 457 people were arrested on Saturday-- undoubtably many of the leaders of the uprising are currently behind bars. Combine this with Mousavi's relatively quiet leadership, and it's possible that the organizational structure of the uprising has been crippled.

-  The Revolutionary Guards have stepped up their game, apparently. On Saturday, we saw video of riot police being chased away by a crowd of protesters.  Today, they showed up in overwhelming force, firing bullets in the air, opening tear gas canisters, and supported by helicopters overhead. The Guards made no secret of their plans to crack down, so people knew to stay away.

After a quiet Sunday and an ineffective protest on Monday, it's possible the truly massive demonstrations are behind us.  For the sake of their democratic movement, I hope the momentum can be swung back in favor of the protesters.


Iran Uprising No Longer About Mousavi

Protesters attempted to gather in Haft-e-Tir square in Tehran today to mourn the death of Neda, whose murder was caught on video, and who has become a rallying point for many in Iran. The 1,000 protesters were outnumbered by “hundreds” of riot police who crushed the protest with helicopters overhead.

This uprising began as a popular challenge to the election results, but it is no longer about Ahmadinejad, and may never have been about Mousavi. Mousavi himself is a bit of a shady figure—his history as a confidant of Ayatollah Khomeini must cast some doubt on his credentials as a reformist. At any rate, we don’t know much about what he stands for.

But it hardly matters. This uprising has unmasked the true nature of the regime in Tehran: there’s no longer any question that we’re looking at a military dictatorship, complete with violent suppression of peaceful protests, and the absolute censoring of free speech. This uprising has become a challenge not to the election results, but to the very legitimacy of Iran’s Islamic Republic.

UPDATE: In an interview with BBC Persia, Neda's fiancee said she was not a supporter of either Ahmadinejad or Mousavi, she just wanted "freedom and freedom for all."

The changing nature of this uprising alters the way we can and should speak about it here in the U.S. Watch this space for ongoing analysis of the events in Iran and the American reaction to it all.

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