Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Behind Iran's 'Moderate' New Leader

So this is what democracy looks like in a theocratic dictatorship. Iran's presidential campaign season kicked off last month when an unelected body of 12 Islamic jurists disqualified more than 600 candidates. Women were automatically out; so were Iranian Christians, Jews and even Sunni Muslims. The rest, including a former president, were purged for possessing insufficient revolutionary zeal. Eight regime loyalists made it onto the ballots. One emerged victorious on Saturday.

That man is Hassan Rohani, a 64-year-old cleric, former nuclear negotiator and security apparatchik. Western journalists quickly hailed the "moderate" and "reformist" Mr. Rohani. The New York Times's Tehran correspondent couldn't repress his election-night euphoria on Twitter: "Tonight the Islamic Republic rocks Rohani style." A BBC correspondent gushed: "The reaction of the people showed how much they trusted the electoral system." Just hours earlier the broadcaster had condemned Iranian security forces for threatening to assassinate a BBC Persian journalist in London, but such is the Western media's hunger for good news from Tehran.

Turnout was high, with more than 70% of eligible voters casting ballots. That figure should be taken with a grain of salt, since voting is obligatory for many sectors of Iranian society. Still, some of the victory parties in Tehran and other cities did seem genuine, with voters taking to the streets to celebrate the end of a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad era that saw a rise in repression and in economic hardship caused by the regime's mounting international isolation.

But disillusionment with seemingly heroic new leaders promising change is a centuries-old theme in Iranian history. The current regime's theocratic structure—with a supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, and numerous unaccountable bodies lording over popularly elected officials—will soon remind voters that this latest hero has little room to maneuver.

That is, if he's inclined to seek change in the first place. The new Iranian president was born Hassan Feridon in 1948 in Iran's Semnan province. He entered religious studies in Qom as a child but went on to earn a secular law degree from Tehran University in 1969.

Mr. Rohani spent Iran's revolutionary days as a close companion of the Ayatollah Khomeini and would go on to hold top posts during the Islamic Republic's first two decades in power. For 16 years starting in 1989, Mr. Rohani served as secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. During his tenure on the council, Mr. Rohani led the crackdown on a 1999 student uprising and helped the regime evade Western scrutiny of its nuclear-weapons program.

As Mr. Rohani said at a pro-regime rally in July 1999: "At dusk yesterday we received a decisive revolutionary order to crush mercilessly and monumentally any move of these opportunist elements wherever it may occur. From today our people shall witness how in the arena our law enforcement force . . . shall deal with these opportunists and riotous elements, if they simply dare to show their faces."

The "opportunists and riotous elements" Mr. Rohani referred to were university students staging pro-democracy protests. His words at the time were widely viewed as a declaration of war, authorizing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the basij militia to unleash hell on Tehran's campuses.

Reza Mohajerinejad was one of those students. A founder of the National Union of Iranian Students and Graduates in the 1990s, he resides today in the San Francisco Bay area. Speaking in a phone interview on Saturday, Mr. Mohajerinejad recalled how after Mr. Rohani's statement in 1999 security forces "poured into the dorm rooms and murdered students right in front of our eyes."

Mr. Mohajerinejad was arrested and detained for six months. Among other torture methods they used, his captors during this era of "reform" would tie him to a bed and whip his feet to a pulp. In between flogging sessions, the imprisoned students would be forced to run laps on their bloody feet or be suspended from their wrists for hours at a time.

"If we're ever going to get freedom and democracy," Mr. Mohajerinejad now says, "we're not going to get them from Rouhani."

Beyond Iran's borders, Mr. Rohani has largely favored "resistance" and nuclear defiance. During the campaign, he boasted of how during his tenure as negotiator Iran didn't suspend enrichment—on the contrary, "we completed the program." And on Syria, expect Mr. Rohani to back the ruling establishment's pro-Assad policy. "Syria has constantly been on the front line of fighting Zionism and this resistance must not be weakened," he declared in January, according to the state-run Press TV.

These inconvenient facts from the Rohani dossier should give pause to those in Washington and Brussels eager to embrace this smiling mullah.



Israeli Defense Minister on situation in Syria

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon gave a broad assessment of Israel’s security policy in the Middle East during a breakfast discussion at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy on Friday.

The defense minister said he “can’t see stability in the near future” in Syria, noting that the worst-case scenario for Israel would be one in which al Qaeda elements cause further destabilization in the region, particularly in Jordan.

“We do not intervene, we do not interfere,” he said. “We are in a very sensitive position of course so any Israeli intervention might affect the side we might support.”

“From our standpoint what should be very clear that Jordan is an asset in the Middle East in terms of stability,” he added. “That’s why we support it and we actually believe Jordan should be supported by the United States by other allies in order to keep Jordan as a stabilizer in the region.”

Ya’alon said the Israeli government has not asked the United States not to arm the anti-Assad forces.

“We are not in a position to dictate or to ask the United States what to do in Syria, but that doesn’t mean there are no consultations,” Ya’alon said.

He said Israel was troubled by Russia providing weapons for Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but said it has not seriously damaged the relationship between the two countries.

“We are not happy with all the Russian activities in the region, we have our opportunity to make our comments about it,” Ya’alon said. “I believe that when we look to the Russian policy, it’s not against us. … The main considerations are not Israel, the main considerations are what they call the ‘superpowers game’ between Russia and the United States.”

On Iran, the defense minister said the West needs to show that it has the “political stomach to go all the way” if it wants to force the regime to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

He said the recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which said that Iran has made progress on its program but has not yet reached Israel’s “red line” of producing 250 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium, suggests that “it may be Iran has internalized Netanyahu’s red line which is why they have avoided reaching [it].”

Ya’alon also addressed the Obama administration’s efforts to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, reiterating that Israel is willing to come to the table without preconditions.

“We say from the very beginning we’re ready to sit at the table immediately,” Ya’alon said. “[The Palestinians] want to get something for coming to the table.”

The defense minister said that the United States should use its leverage of Palestinian aid money in order to influence the actions of Palestinian leaders.

“We believe regarding incitement, the money given to the Palestinian Authority should be conditioned,” Ya’alon said. “There are many leverages on behalf of the West, especially the money.”

Ya’alon said he was “very optimistic” about Israel’s future.

“My optimism is based on what I know about our strengths,” he concluded. “[Israel’s] very well-known secrets, our brains and our hearts.”



The Stalinization of Amerika

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, rather than hold accountable and roll the heads of the bunglers at the U.S. intelligence agencies who failed to follow up on multiple reports of possible terrorist activity, students learning to fly but not land, and possible hijacking plots, such as—

    "In a memo from the Phoenix FBI to headquarters, the agents recommended an urgent nationwide review of flight schools “for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions” of a terrorist connection. The memo reportedly cited Osama bin Laden by name."

Intelligence agencies were instead granted the expanded budgets and power that are always sought in the aftermath of a crisis. They were forced to abandon the nifty name and logo they had come up with (pictured at right, above) when its too-graphic, Big Brother-isc depiction elicited protest, but the spirit was fully retained, and a new era of unprecedented, total and widespread spying on innocent Americans began.

Unfortunately, the problem with a Total Information Awareness state is that it sweeps up prodigious amounts of data that is just so much noise that U.S. security agencies are demonstrated to be bad at filtering.

Wasting countless resources on false positives, violating the rights of innocent people, etc., the FBI bungled yet more direct information in failing to follow up on warnings concerning the Boston bombers.

As has been learned in every community in the U.S. as budget “crises” and the militarization of police forces result in less and less security for the common citizen, individuals sensitized and acting upon their powers of observation are far more effective at reducing crime than any number or force of police. Neighborhood Watch, for example, despite its sullied reputation in the Trayvon Martin case, is a proven-effective tool for empowering individuals to take charge of their security.

The only terrorists actually stopped since 9/11 have similarly resulted from sensitized individuals acting: the underwear bomber, the shoe bomber, the Times Square bomber, were all foiled by “common” people acting on their powers of observation.

Thus the irony that the trend of U.S. “intelligence” agencies away from good old fashioned detecting towards trampling the rights of individuals results not only in the loss of our liberties, but also in the loss of our security.

The second problem with the U.S. government collecting and indefinitely storing every email, phone call, text, website posting, etc., and the response to those innocents who bleat “But why should I mind? I have nothing to hide,” is something that Lavrenti Beria, Stalin’s notorious secret police chief, well knew:

    "Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime."

There is no individual whose private calls, emails, postings, bank and credit card transactions, online activities, and even private conversations in the “privacy” of your home, cannot be edited to paint the portrait of an enemy of the state.

And a police state makes for very many enemies indeed.



Hospital Care That Is Priceless

Something is wrong in the hospital marketplace. Government data released recently show that some hospitals in Dallas charge five times as much as other hospitals for the same procedures! This follows on the heels of a Time magazine/ CNN report, showing that hospitals routinely charge ridiculous prices for items and services: prices that bear no reasonable relationship to real costs.

But then we learn that no one is actually paying these prices, except some poor sap who happens to be uninsured and has to negotiate with the hospital on his own. Even so, there is no way you and I can know what we are going to pay in advance. We can’t get what we would get in every other market for repairs (a dented car, a damaged roof, etc.): an estimate. Even if we did have an estimate, we would have no way of knowing what competing hospitals charge.

There is just one problem with the flurry of news about hospitals. No one is pointing out that all these problems are the result of government intervention in the marketplace. They are not the result of a free market for medical care. In health care, we have so completely suppressed the market—for year after year, decade after decade – that few people ever see a real price for anything.

Employees never see a premium reflecting the real cost of their health insurance. Patients almost never see a real price for their medical care. Even at the family doctor’s office, it’s hard to discover what anything costs. This is detailed further in my book, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis.

Although many would like to think that our system is very different from the national health insurance schemes of other countries, the truth is that Americans mainly pay for care the same way people all over the developed world pay for care at the time they receive it—with time, not money.

On the average, every time we spend a dollar at a physician’s office, only 10 cents comes out of our own pockets. The rest is paid by third-party payers (insurance companies, employers, and government). As a result, for most people, the time price of care (waiting to get an appointment, getting to and from the doctor’s office, waiting in the reception area, waiting in the exam room, etc.) tends to be greater—and probably much greater—than the money price of care. When patients aren’t spending their own money, doctors will not compete for their patronage based on price. When doctors don’t compete on price, they won’t compete on quality either. The services they offer will be only those services the third parties pay for and only in settings and ways the third parties have blessed.

In a very real sense, there are no prices at a typical hospital, or even in a physician’s office. Medicare pays one rate, Medicaid another, BlueCross yet a third. In some cases the rates are negotiated. When the government is the payer, they are typically dictated.

The result is a hospital marketplace that has no resemblance at all to a free market.

In my next blog, I’ll illustrate markets in medical care that can work and work well—especially when third-party payers are not involved.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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