Scene above: Constitution Island, where Revolutionary War forts still exist, as photographed from Trophy Point, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
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MAY 7, 2011
A SPAT IN TEHRAN – Another underreported story is that there is apparently a power struggle going on in Iran between the president and the supreme leader, two gems who compete for badness. The New York Times reports:
The unprecedented power struggle between the two most powerful leaders in Iran deepened Friday, spilling out into Tehran’s public prayers where the mullah leading the service indirectly criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while the crowd chanted “Death to opponents of the supreme leader!”
That's what I like about the Iranian mullahs. They take politics so seriously. "Death to opponents of the supreme leader!" No fooling around with demotions or throwing a guy out of the corner office.
The split started about two weeks ago after the president tried to dismiss the head of the intelligence ministry, the powerful government branch that exerts widespread control over domestic life. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, ordered that the minister, Heydar Moslehi, keep the post.
A real crisis of civilization.
Mr. Ahmadinejad then stayed home for 11 days, according to reports from Iran, engaging in a visible fit of pique that threatened to undermine the staunch alliance the two had forged since Mr. Ahmadinejad was first elected president in 2005.
Uh, would that be with pay or without pay?
Government opponents accuse the Intelligence Ministry of rigging the election that won Mr. Ahmadinejad a second term, a power Mr. Khamenei may not have wanted him to have again, analysts said. In another conjecture, the supreme leader’s son, Mujtabah Khamenei, who heads intelligence for the Revolutionary Guards, is said to have designs on the ministry.
The son also rises.
Whatever the reason, the supreme leader has made his wishes clear. This week, his office released pictures of a religious ceremony with Mr. Ahmadinejad conspicuously absent while Mr. Moslehi sat close by.
Well, we may soon not have Ahmadinejad to kick around any longer. But Khamenei is just as kickable, and just as deserving of a kick.
IS THIS A GOOD IDEA? – AT 10:49 A.M. ET: Rudy Giuliani is toying with the idea of making another run for the presidency, having failed to come close to getting the GOP nomination in 2008. But is it a good idea? From The Politico:
Rudy Giuliani called for a return to American exceptionalism Friday, telling a group of GOP lawyers gathered in the nation’s capital that Ronald Reagan fundamentally changed how Americans felt about themselves.
Before Reagan was elected, Giuliani said, much had been written about America’s decline and how it was a country of “limited possibilities” that had run its course.
“Sounds familiar, right? There are people who believe that today in America. In fact, some of them are running America,” Giuliani said in a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association, where he appeared to received the group’s highest honor, the Ed Meese Award.
“The idea that we’re either no better than anyone else, we’re just another country with our set of problems or our set of assets, or maybe we’re not even as good as others. Ronald Reagan found that to be totally wrong, not a correct view of this country and he changed in a very short period of times how we felt about ourselves.”
“That’s the most important thing a leader does,” he added.
Giuliani took only one question following his half-hour speech. Asked whether he had decided to launch a 2012 White House bid, he said “not yet,” but that it’s a possibility.
“I will sure think about it. … It’s too early and I want to see how it all develops,” he answered. “My major goal is to elect a Republican in 2012. If it turns out that I’m the best one to do that, I can probably be talked into doing it or convince myself to do it,” he said.
“If I thought somebody else had a better chance of doing it, I would be a very enthusiastic supporter of somebody else,” he added.
COMMENT: Rudy was one of the great mayors of New York. It may be an exaggeration to say that he saved the city, but not much of one. He confronted crime head-on and reduced it dramatically, with common sense and zero tolerance for political correctness.
The problem is that Rudy just didn't catch on in 2008, when he was out of power for about six years. Now it's more than nine years. He has about him the aura of a local leader, not a president. And the spectacular way in which he led New York through 9-11 is a fading memory. I just don't see a Giuliani candidacy doing any better in 2012 than in 2008, but, of course, I could be wrong.
SYRIAN MADNESS – AT 10:33 A.M. ET: Our media is not paying nearly enough attention to the rapidly deteroriating situation in Syria. The death toll mounts in this, one of the most important Arab countries, and Iran's best Arab ally:
(Reuters) - Syrian tanks stormed the mostly Sunni Muslim city of Banias on Saturday, a rights campaigner said, raising sectarian tension in a country swept by protests against the rule of authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad.
The attack came hours after the United States, reacting to the death of 27 protesters on Friday, threatened to take new steps against Syria's rulers, from the Alawite sect, unless they stopped killing and harassing their people.
I wonder what those new steps might happen to be. The old ones have certainly been effective.
Rights group Sawasiah said in statement that the number of civilians killed since pro-democracy demonstrations broke out seven weeks ago has reached 800. It added that there were cuts in landline, Internet and cellphone lines with Banias as army units backed by tanks swept into its districts.
Please note, for the record, the deep concern expressed by the American and European left, and by the profound scholars in so-called "Middle Eastern studies" departments of our universities. A truly distinguished professor wrote to Urgent Agenda earlier and said that the first thing he'd do to improve the quality of higher education in America would be to abolish all college departments with the name "studies" at the end. I'm inclined to agree.
Assad has asserted that the protesters are part of a foreign conspiracy to cause sectarian strife, something they deny too.
His father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled for 30 years until his death in 2000, brutally suppressed an armed Islamist uprising in 1982 in which around 30,000 people were killed.
COMMENT: When those 30,000 were killed, there was almost no reaction from "human rights" or "anti-war" activists in Europe or America. When will we finally learn that many of these people don't care at all for human rights or human beings, but only for their ideological agenda.
A government collapse in Syria would be a major convulsion in the Mideast, with unknown consequences. We need to shine a bigger spotlight on what's happening.
IN MEMORIAM – AT 8:03 P.M. ET: Regular readers know that I refer periodically to my good friend and Iranian rights activist Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, who has done fine work on behalf of Iran's democracy movement from her base in New York.
Banafsheh comes from a distinguished Iranian family. Last week her father, who had been under house arrest in Iran, committed suicide as a final protest against the regime. He is remembered in this essay in London's Telegraph:
While Britons celebrated the royal wedding last Friday, one of Iran’s greatest intellectuals willingly fell to his death from the sixth-floor balcony of his Tehran apartment. Siamak Pourzand, aged 80, had held out long enough against the Islamic Republic, despite its best efforts to erase his outsize influence and, indeed, his existence. In the end, he died on his own terms.
Pourzand was an already prominent cultural commentator and foreign correspondent long before Ayatollah Khomeini boarded a plane from Paris, full of big ideas, in 1979. He reported on JFK’s funeral and interviewed Nixon while also finding time to write supple film criticism for the prestigious French journal Cahiers du Cinema.
Secular and cosmopolitan to the core, Pourzand had no time for the guardianship of the sadists and made a point of saying so, especially in the late 1990s when he began writing for various opposition newspapers (having been banned from the ones that were now mullah-controlled). He covered the funeral processions of Darius and Parvaneh Forouhar, a married couple who were assassinated in their Tehran apartment in 1998 as part of the “chain murders” of prominent Iranian dissidents.
Why didn’t Pourzand leave Iran when he had the chance?
One of his daughters, Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, a long-time human rights activist in New York, told me yesterday that her father always believed that a nation’s cultural identity was the first casualty of fanatical revolutions.
COMMENT: It is worthwhile to read the rest of the essay, which will give you a very good idea of how that regime really functions.
MORE ON AL QAEDA STATEMENT ON DEATH OF BIN LADEN – AT 10:09 A.M. ET: Reuters expands on the earlier bulletin that Al Qaeda has now confirmed the death of the big fella:
UBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda confirmed the death of Osama bin Laden on Friday in an Internet message that vowed revenge on the United States and its allies, including Pakistan, according to a statement issued by the Islamist militant group.
Five days after President Barack Obama announced bin Laden's death in a U.S. raid in Pakistan, al Qaeda confirmed the death of its leader as a historic moment, and vowed not to deviate from the path of armed struggle.
"In a historic day for the great Islamic nation... the mujahid (holy warrior) Shiekh Abu Abdullah, Osama bin Mohammed bin Laden, God have mercy on him, was killed on the path taken by those before him and will be taken by others after him."
"Congratulations to the Islamic umma (community) for the martyrdom of its son Osama."
The global militant group, which said it will soon release an audio tape made by its leader a week before he died, vowed not to deviate from the path of armed struggle and said bin Laden's blood "is more precious to us and to every Muslim than to be wasted in vain."
"It will remain, with permission from God Almighty, a curse that hunts the Americans and their collaborators and chase them outside and inside their country," the militant network said in a statement released on Islamist Internet forums.
"Their happiness will turn into sorrow, and their blood will be mixed with their tears," al Qaeda said.
COMMENT: We have to share the same Earth with these boys. What a pity.
Close allies of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits). Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as "a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds."
Oh, come on, loosen up, guys. In America we call people like that "economists."
WHO NEEDS DETAILS? – AT 9:17 A.M. ET: The Obama-friendly press is shouting the news this morning that the economy added 244,000 jobs last month, more than had been expected. But this is one of those "not so fast, Jones" stories, where the details tell a far less optimistic story, as CNBC reports:
Employment increased more than expected in April as private companies created jobs at the fastest pace in five years, pointing to underlying strength in the economy, even though the jobless rate rose to 9.0 percent....
...The internals, though, were less encouraging.
The total amount of unemployed was unchanged from March at 13.7 million people.
The labor participation rate also was stuck at 64.2 percent, refuting the notion that the rise in the unemployment rate reflected more discouraged workers looking for jobs.
Also, the so-called real unemployment rate—which the government calls the U-6—which encompasses discouraged workers as well, actually rose in the month two-tenths of a point to 15.9 percent.
The numbers suggested that a good portion of the boost came from McDonald's, which moved to hire 50,000 workers last month.
Yeah, those great high-paying jobs.
Still, gains in April marked seven straight months of net job creation, but remained too little to make much of dent on the pool of 13.7 million Americans out of work.
COMMENT: Talk to people on the street, especially when the word "gasoline" comes up, and you'll find out how the economy is really doing. I don't see an ocean of smiles.
BULLETIN – AT 8:46 A.M. ET: Fox News is just reporting that Al Qaeda has confirmed the death of Osama bin Laden in an internet statement.
This should save some of President Obama's bacon, fried beyond crispness in his administration's monumentally inept handling of statements following the bin Laden raid. In fact, as London's Telegraph said this morning, "Because of the ham-fisted way in which the White House has handled the aftermath of Osama bin Laden's demise, a triumph is in danger of turning into a PR disaster."
Even an Al Qaeda statement, though, will not silence all conspiracy theorists. In fact, some will undoubtedly say that the terror group is making the statement to protect bin Laden. In another blunder, President Obama had bin Laden's body buried at sea within 24 hours of the raid, presumably to show respect for Muslim custom. Once again he showed more regard for Muslim "sensitivities" than our own interests. The dumping of the body, as Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School said, "constituted the willful destruction of evidence.” Had it been preserved, it could have been examined before a respected panel of experts, properly identified and then dispatched to Hell.
But the Al Qaeda statement will help. And, of course, we won't see any new bin Laden music videos either.
HISTORY DOESN'T STOP – AT 8:18 A.M. ET: The bin Laden episode has averted our eyes from other stories, especially the revolutions going on in the Mideast. But they haven't stopped. Syria, in particular, remains volatile:
(Reuters) - Protests broke out across Syria on Friday, with thousands calling for freedom in the Kurdish east and dozens briefly marching in Damascus to demand the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad, activists and witnesses said.
But the army, which stormed the southern city of Deraa last month to crush resistance in the cradle of the seven-week uprising, deployed tanks in the central city of Homs and security forces quickly dispersed the Damascus protest.
Witnesses said security forces also opened fire at protesters in the town of Tel, just north of the capital, wounding demonstrators.
Activist Wissam Tarif said protests also took place in the southern town of Jassem, coastal Banias, and Amouda in the east.
Human rights campaigners say army, security forces and gunmen loyal to Assad had killed at least 560 civilians during pro-democracy demonstrations that started in March. Thousands have been arrested and beaten, including the elderly, women and children, they said.
The Syrian protesters do not seem to be making any progress at all, while the Obama administration, quick to shove American ally Hosni Mubarak out of power in Egypt, has put little pressure on American enemy Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, the Libyan situation remains stalemated. Gadaffi remains in power. The U.S. is trying to free some funds to help the rebels:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the administration is trying to free some of the $30 billion of Libyan state funds frozen in the United States to help the rebels in Libya. Clinton is attending a meeting in Rome of the so-called "Libya Contact Group," where the Italian government said a special fund is being set up to channel money to rebel leaders in Benghazi. Two Arab Gulf states said they would make contributions to the fund: Kuwait promised $180 million, while Qatar said it would contribute between $400 million and $500 million.
Reports from Egypt are exceptionally disturbing. Week by week the "new" government distances itself from the United States and from Mubarak's commitment to peace with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood is becoming more and more vocal in its extreme demands and is, as is widely reported, the best organized force in Egypt. The revolution is being increasingly betrayed. Much of the rhetoric coming out of Egypt resembles the hard-line Islamist rhetoric that normally comes out of Iran, to which Egypt is growing closer. This is very much an underreported story, probably because it doesn't follow the "narrative" accepted by liberal Western journalists.
"What you see is news. What you know is background. What you feel is opinion."
- Lester Markel, late Sunday editor
of The New York Times.
"Councils of war breed timidity and defeatism."
- Lt. Gen. Arthur MacArthur, to his
THE ANGEL'S CORNER
Part I of The Angel's Corner was sent late Wednesday night.
Part II will be sent over the weekend.
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