Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June update: "Stimulus package" still not very stimulating

February 17, 2009: President Obama signs $787-billion stimulus bill into law

Way back on February 17, after weeks of often bitter wrangling on Capitol Hill over what would and would not make it into the huge package, President Obama signed the final "stimulus bill" into law.

Like a lot of other observers, I had written (here and here) during those weeks of Congressional bickering, logrolling and gross partisanship that the emerging stimulus package was not very stimulating. I was right -- and after four months, I can say that it's still not very stimulating.

I had no issue with deploying fiscal stimulus -- i.e., deliberately increasing federal deficit spending to put more dollars into circulation -- as a matter of policy to help jump start an economy in recession. And I was not bothered much by the high price tag. What concerned me was that the plan did not meet any of the three standards set by Obama's own top economics advisor, Larry Summers: namely, that it be timely (the money should go out “almost immediately,” in Summers' words); targeted mainly to help low- and middle-income people; and temporary, defined by Summers as not raising deficits “beyond a short horizon of a year or at most two.”

The Congressional Budget Office warned bluntly that key portions of the bill passed first by the House would not be spent anytime soon. Some adjustments were made in the Senate, particularly to attract support from a few Republicans and moderate Democrats, but the final bill was still extremely heavy on pet projects -- some worthy on their own merits, to be sure -- that Congress or the Administration wanted to fund, regardless of whether they provided any effective fiscal stimulus to the overall economy.

Four months down the road, it has now become clear that the $478 billion in direct federal spending provided in the bill is trickling out very slowly, too slowly to have a noteworthy impact on a still-crippled economy. In fact, through the middle of June, only a paltry $53 billion, or 11%, of that dough has actually gone out the door and into any body's pockets. The biggest part of that $53 billion is accounted for by Social Security and Health and Human Services. Many agencies have spent only 1-3% of the money allocated to them.

In sharp contrast, the roughly $300 million in tax cuts that made up the rest of the stimulus package has flowed nicely and quickly out the door and into people's pockets. There was a great deal of malarkey tossed around in January and February about why spending was preferable to tax cuts as a way to drive the deficit and, thus, stimulate.

One knock against tax cuts was that a dollar in spending typically triggers a bigger "multiplier effect" as it ricochets through the economy. While that's true, the multiplier is zero if the money just sits in the Department of Transportation's account. Another was that tax cuts would somehow wind up mostly helping the rich and wealthy corporations. Of course, that depended on the nature of the tax cut. The cut that could have been implemented in the most timely and effective way to boost the incomes of those most likely to spend was a payroll tax "holiday." That would have had the added virtue of being easily managed and temporary (i.e., extended by periods of some months at a time, depending on economic conditions).

So the "stimulus" has had a minimal effect, if any, on the economy so far. To be sure, the pace of spending will pick up as we roll into the fall, and the lion's share of the remaining money will flow during 2010 (although not all of it, since a sizable chunk won't be spent until 2011). But meanwhile, the economy has continued to crawl along, and unemployment has risen to to a new high of 9.4% -- considerably above the rate projected by the Obama Administration earlier this year.

A huge opportunity has been missed to deliver a major stimulative jolt to the sagging economy -- and there won't be another. Although some liberals are already talking about a need for a second "stimulus package," that's simply not going to happen. Obama's "honeymoon" period is over. While people generally still like and respect him and are willing to give him a great deal of latitude, opposition to many of his specific policies has coalesced and public anxiety about runaway federal spending will block any attempt to revisit the stimulus idea.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The new enemy? Left takes aim at moderate Democrats

New target of the Left: Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, strong, early Obama backer

Blogging at Open Left, self-styled "progressive" blogger Chris Bowers takes aim at the new enemy of the Left, moderate (and not so moderate) Democrats:

We have spent so long living under a government that was dominated by the right-wing of the Republican Party, that we are still having a difficult time coping with the new political reality. The right-wing is no longer the problem. The so-called "moderates" in Congress are.

From watering down the size of the stimulus, to weakening the climate change bill, to seriously threatening the public option, to blocking EFCA, cramdown and full voting rights for D.C., moderates have consistently blocked the truly transformative aspects of the Democratic agenda. Despite this, the full force of progressive media attacks remain focused on the right-wing, rather than upon these so-called moderates.

Warming to his thesis, Bowers claims that the cap and trade bill that just passed the House in a squeaker vote after a host of compromises to tack together enough votes was less than "transformative," not because of right-wing Republicans, who probably would have opposed any such bill, but the Democrats who pressed for the compromises before signing on. Somewhat strangely, since she is not a member of the House, Bowers singles out Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill based on her publicly stated relief that the bill won't wreck the mining industry in her state.

He concludes, "These so-called moderates are the real barrier to the progressive change that the country needs right now. As such, we should be directing our fire at them, rather that at the right-wing."

I can't speak for McCaskill, a key, early, strong supporter of Barack Obama when he badly needed that support against Hillary, but being a "so-called moderate" Democrat myself, I want to say that I'm delighted to see my fellow moderates in both Houses busy "watering down" some of the more risky, fanciful or plain destructive impulses of the Administration and the Congressional leadership.

Bowers is far from alone on the Left in ramping up the invective against Democrats who aren't down for the whole so-called "progressive" agenda. This goes back at least to mid-March when brickbats were hurled at Evan Bayh after he announced the formation of a loose-knit caucus of 15 moderate Senate Democrats (including McCaskill). MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, among others, took to calling the 15 and the 49 members of the House Democrats' Blue Dog Coalition "Conservadems." Various leftie blogs like like firedoglake, digby and Crooks and Liars took up the cry. Some excoriated the moderates as "anti-Obama."

That was -- and is -- nonsense, of course. All these new targets of the Left support Obama, and he supports and needs them. When some final health care bill -- inevitably a compromise, because compromise is what democratic government is all about -- makes it across the finish line, it will get there with the support of the moderates or not at all.

There will come a time in the next year or so when the Left will turn on Obama, too. That's already begun to happen on foreign affairs and national security issues. Salon's influential blogger, Glenn Greenwald, is already lambasting Obama almost daily for what he views as Obama's wholesale adoption of George W. Bush's counter-terrorism policies. Then, there is the matter of the Afghan war -- now clearly "Obama's war." While the bulk of the Democratic Party -- not just the moderates -- understand and support Obama's war policy, it's only a matter of time before the Left goes all out in anti-war mode, this time against Obama.

Obama is doing as much as he can to keep the Left on his side -- but the truth is that nothing short of lock-step commitment to the "progressive" agenda, as defined by a small core of activists, academics and journalists, will satisfy them. Like their right-wing counterparts, the Left sees only good and evil. Stray a bit from the "good" and you'll find yourself written off as evil.

Any thoughts about this? Post a comment.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

New protests in Iran after a week of ruthless repression

After a week of ruthless violence to break up street demonstrations, hundreds of arrests of opposition activists, many in the dead of night, and tough warnings of worse to come from "Supreme Leader" Khamenei and his henchmen, the western press had begun to gin up retrospectives on the latest Iranian protests on the assumption that they were over.

Maybe, but maybe not. Thousands of demonstrators in Tehran clashed with police again Sunday, as they chanted the name of the opposition's leading candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi. Mousavi didn't show up in person but he did address a speech to the protesters via cellphone. And another opposition candidate for President, Mehdi Karroubi, did show up.

Both Mousavi and Karroubi continue to demand a new election, despite Khamenei's blunt warning last week that they had better get on board.

It's hard for anyone to say exactly what is happening inside Iran, much less what will happen, but it's clear that the protest movement has a lot of life left in it and continues to press for greater democracy and more freedoms.

Andrew Sullivan, who has been keeping up with events in as much detail as anyone in the U.S. can, has a lot more.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Obama planning executive order asserting Presidential authority to hold Gitmo detainees indefinitely without trial

Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay

One of my earliest posts on this blog (on November 11, a week after the election) was entitled, "Without Gitmo, we'll need...another Gitmo."

Sure enough, after promising to close the detention center at Guantanamo by next January and "suspending" the work of the military tribunals authorized by Congress, President Obama reinstituted those tribunals. Then, Democrats in Congress blocked the President's ability to transfer any detainees to U.S. soil. Now, according to the usual "senior government officials," the Obama administration "is drafting an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely."

Reportedly, given the near-total Congressional opposition to relocating prisoners in the U.S., the Administration fears "a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close" Gitmo.

Such an [executive] order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war.


After months of internal debate over how to close the military facility in Cuba, White House officials are increasingly worried that reaching quick agreement with Congress on a new detention system may be impossible. Several officials said there is concern in the White House that the administration may not be able to close the prison by the president's January deadline.
When Obama took office, the overwhelming majority of detainees held for any amount of time at Gitmo had already been released (or, in a few cases, tried), but 242 remained. Obama has whittled that number down to 229 by releasing a few, mostly Chinese Uighers, and putting one guy on trial in a federal court. The Administration still hopes that about half of those can be released, if any countries would take them, and at least a few more can be tried in the U.S. However, after actually looking into every case, the Administration seems to have concluded, like its predecessor, that a sizable contingent are too dangerous to release but can't be tried for lack of evidence admissable in the regular courts.

Three months into the Justice Department's reviews, several officials involved said they have found themselves agreeing with conclusions reached years earlier by the Bush administration: As many as 90 detainees cannot be charged or released.
Obama and company are still working with Congress to try to come up with legislation both to revamp the military commissions and enable some form of long-term detention without trial. But they are worried that Congress might simply not get the job done or keep changing its mind:
"They can do it without congressional backing, but I think there would be very strong concerns," the staff member said, adding that "Congress could cut off funding" for any detention system established in the United States.

To recap, while Obama would rather have Congress with him, he's prepared to try these guys before the existing military commissions (with a few changes in procedures) or to assert Presidential authority to hold them indefinitely without trial. Aha, some will say, another usurper...more shredding of the Constitution!

I see it differently. No President of either party is going to release someone he truly knows to be a dangerous al Qaeda terrorist, period. Never. This evolution of Obama's position was as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning. He's to be applauded for it, since he will take some flack from his left about it. Of course, Americans are opposed to closing Gitmo by two to one, so Obama need not worry a lot about political damage.

Which brings me to one added point. So far, Obama is not backing away from his order to close Gitmo within a year. His planned executive order to facilitate the indefinite detention of the 90 or so dangerous but untriable detainees still assumes that he's find some way to detain them inside the U.S. But Congress, rarely united, is united in its opposition to relocating any prisoners to U.S. soil. If he can't get fellow Democrats to remove that obstacle, he'll need to keep Guantanamo after all.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why Sanford will resign: 92% of Americans think extramarital affairs are morally wrong

(Click on image to enlarge)

Amidst a flurry of wishful thinking stories (like this one) floated by people trying to help South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford hang on to his political career, the hard reality is that a spectacular 92% (!) of Americans believe that extramarital affairs are immoral, according to a Gallup poll.

By way of comparison, 30% think the death penalty is immoral, 40% say that about sex between unmarried men and women, 47% turn thumbs down on gay sex, and 56% believe abortion is not morally acceptable. In fact, extramarital affairs are on a par with polygamy, which garners 91%. (See the whole list above.)

Worse for high-profile offenders like Sanford, moral distaste for violating marriage vows cuts across the political spectrum and every demographic. Democrats are a bit more tolerant of cheating than Republicans. Still, only 10% of Democrats (vs. 2% of Republicans) think having an affair is acceptable. Men are only a tad more likely than women (8% vs. 3%) to tolerate it. Even age doesn't matter. The attitudes of people 18-29 are not much different from those 30 and up.

In short, the public overwhelmingly does not like a guy who cheats on his wife, period. This explains why Sanford's days in the state house in Columbia are numbered.

In a Survey/USA poll, 60 % of folks in South Carolina think Sanford should resign and only 34% are willing to let him stay on. Another quickie overnight poll of South Carolinians has 50% who say Sanford should resign and 42% who think he should remain in office. I suspect to see that 60% (or 50%) grow as political rivals ratchet up the pressure and more details of Sanford's behavior are made public by a press now in overdrive. Today, Sanford was forced to admit that he met his paramour on a "trade" trip to Argentina in 2008, and has said he will reimburse the state for the travel. Politico has found that Sanford booked a 10-day trip to Buenos Aires, which he cut short when the "where's Sanford" hoopla took hold in the media, raising new questions about how long he planned to leave his responsibilities untended. And TMZ.com (among many others, no doubt) is nosing around Buenos Aires bars.

This stuff won't stop until Sanford resigns. He can't do the job of Governor anyway, so if he had any scruples left at all, he'd resign right now.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran: The "Supreme Leader's" bloody crackdown continues with savagery in Baharestan Square

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The bloody crackdown on the democratic opposition continued today in Iran. With virtually no independent reporters still in the country or allowed to report, information is meager. We do know that protesters tried again to mount demonstrations in several places in Tehran, including Baharestan Square, where at least several hundred demonstrators were set upon and beaten, shot, and even axed by security forces including a mob of the savage pro-regime Basij militias.

There is little I can add to the NBC report above (at the top) and the haunting phone conversation CNN broadcast (the second video) with a woman who was present in Baharestan Square. With her voice quavering in rage or fear or both, she describes how the regime thugs beat women mercilessly and threw people off bridges. Listen to the whole thing.

All Iran has now become a killing zone for Khamenei's fascists. Few will be able to stand up unarmed to this savage repression. But the regime will never be the same -- not with millions of its young, educated and skilled people -- those without whom a modern state cannot function -- alienated, angry and bitter in opposition to the regime. Either Mousavi and other leaders will persist or new leaders will come to the fore. The movement will endure and be heard from again.

Meanwhile, President Obama appears to have shelved his plans for engagement, at least for now. There is no choice for America; we cannot talk with a regime even as it beats, jails and kills its own people.

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

Memo to Governor Mark Sanford: Resign and go away -- fast -- please!

Another one!

This time it's South Carolina's Republican Governor Mark Sanford who has fessed up to cheating on his wife -- in Argentina, no less. After Edwards, Spitzer, Ensign, Vitter, et al., we all start to lose track. It will be easier from now on to keep a list of politicians in high office who DON'T TRASH their marital vows.

At a press conference today -- one that dragged on and on as if Sanford did not want to relinquish the stage -- Sanford said he's sorry for letting his wife and four kids down, sorry for letting the people of South Carolina down, blah, blah, blah. The usual stuff. He said he's sorry for hurting the girl friend (whose name reportedly is Maria, natch). He shed some tears. He seemed to claim that he went to Argentina to break off the affair and spent the last five days "crying in Argentina." He did the usual I-was-wrong-and-take-full-responsibility thing, and mumbled about working through "a process."

The one thing he should have done but did NOT do was to resign as Governor. He should resign, now, today, without further adieu -- or the good people of South Carolina should raise hell and force him to resign. Then he should leave the stage quickly and go away! That would be the manly, responsible thing to do, rather than put his state and the nation, not to mention his wife and kids, through another high-profile, endless, sappy drama about sex in the executive mansion, as he fumbles around trying to find a way to survive politically and even make a comeback.

Watch the presser above, and see if you don't agree with me that Sanford is both full of s#@*t and a nitwit. Let's face it: the only thing the guy is sorry about is that he got caught. A few days ago, he was shacked up with his mistress in South America, and today he's all tears and apologies.

One nice thing about this otherwise dreary and monotonous scandal is that Sanford's wife of 20 years, Jenny Sanford, did not stand by her man and turn herself into a prop for him to lean on, as did Mrs. Spitzer and so many others. Jenny found out about the affair some months ago and apparently tried to make a go of reconciling. Exactly what happened with that, we don't know, but Jenny stopped talking to Mark two weeks ago, which leads one to think the Governor wasn't doing the right thing even then.

Come on, Governor. Do the right thing once. Resign.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Memo to New York's Governor David Patterson: Block the non-performing State Senate's salaries!

Tug of war for control on the floor of the Empire State's Legislature

New York's hapless accidental Governor, David Patterson, may finally have found an issue that will give him some public support, as the State Senate descended from a crippling political and procedural deadlock into sheer buffoonery today.

With both Democrats and Republicans claiming control of the evenly split putative legislative body for the past two weeks, Patterson sought to break the impasse by using his power to call the chamber into a special session, which supposedly forces the body to convene and the members to attend. But all did not go well:

Republicans and Democrats attempted to hold separate Senate sessions at the same time on Tuesday, leaving the Capitol in confusion and bickering as members of both parties shouted over each other on the Senate floor, and each party claimed it was in control.

Though Democrats had entered the Senate chamber through a back hallway just before 12:30 p.m. and locked the doors — much to the surprise of Republicans — Republicans moved ahead with plans for their own session and began calling for votes on bills as Democrats sat silent in protest.

Exactly who was in control of the Senate — or whether any of the procedural action the Republicans had taken was legally valid — was unclear. Democrats were successful in blocking Republicans from taking control of the Senate gavel, which remained firmly in the hands of Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester County, who was guarded by sergeants-at-arms on both sides.

So, far from clearing anything up, the special session further muddied the legislative waters.

Here's an idea, Governor. Tell the state's Commissioner of Taxation and Finance (currently an Acting Commissioner), an appointee of the Governor, not to cut any checks for the salaries, expenses or "lulus" (payments in lieu of expenses that most legislators get) of the 62 Senators and their many hundreds of staffers.

Sure, this is probably not something that is strictly speaking within your authority, and at some point, a judge will order you and your commissioner to pay what the Legislature in its wisdom has appropriated for itself. But here's the thing: first, the Senate -- or whoever speaks and acts for the Senate, which is exactly what is currently in dispute -- will have to go to court to compel the state to pay them.

Given that nearly all New Yorkers now regard the Senators as a bunch of disreputable clowns, you should announce the pay blockage by saying, "These people don't deserve to be paid as long as they don't do their jobs. They should mend their differences and get to work, or they can sue me." The voters will love it -- and maybe even begin to like you a little.

Anyway, I've long believed that the only way to reform the New York State Legislature (both Houses) is to abolish salaries altogether and make the posts fully voluntary and truly part time. For decades, the legislators have whined about needing ever-higher salaries and those "lulus," more staff, and bigger and better budgets on the grounds that they have so much work to do in a big, complex state or even that they are members of a "full-time legislature."

Nonsense. They go to Albany three or four days a week for four or five months (the Legislature is in session an average of 63 days a year). But when they are in Albany, most hang around, play politics, hunt for new sex partners (or otherwise get into trouble), and plot ways to make their biennial reelections even easier, while waiting for the two leaders of the Assembly and the Senate to tell them how to vote. Their "work" on days they are not in Albany consists almost entirely of endless campaigning for reelection. Most are practicing attorneys, and that's what gets the lion's share of their time anyway.

For this, they receive a minimum of $79,500 a year, plus the "lulus" that give many $90,000 or more. That's the third-highest state legislative compensation in the country. Most states sensibly regard legislative duties as a part-time burden and pay very modest stipends and/or expenses. (In New Hampshire, state legislators get $200 for a two-year term!) The members of many governmental bodies in New York, such as local school districts, town and village boards, planning and zoning boards, and the like put in every bit as much time and energy on demanding issues as state legislators do -- in fact, more time and energy. Yet, the thousands of people who hold these often-elected positions receive only nominal compensation or no compensation at all.

I believe that there are many well-qualified, energetic, and dedicated people like these folks who would be delighted to run for and serve in the state legislature, if it was voluntary and unpaid -- as long as legislative sessions were kept short and business-like. Of course, the sessions would be like that, if only the members were not a bunch of self-important, lazy, overpaid, deceitful, irresponsible and all-too-often corrupt dummies.

In any case, Governor Patterson would have them on the run if they thought they might actually lose a paycheck or two.

What do you think of the Albany fiasco? Post a comment.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day 9 in Iran: Regime declares Mousavi a "criminal", protests continue

It's getting harder to follow events inside Iran as the crackdown continues and journalists are either ejected from the country or arrested.

Still, brave souls in Tehran are making videos and uploading them to YouTube. Both of the above videos are of street demonstrations on Sunday in Tehran. The one at the bottom shows a crowd standing up to advancing police by hurling tear gas cannisters back. The other shows a huge crowd on the march, chanting “Have no fear, we are all together,” and “Down with dictator.”

While the regime declared him a "criminal," opposition leader Mir Hossain Mousavi called on his supporters to continue the protests. The daughter and four other reletives of Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former President and key supporter of Mousavi, were arrested. Another Mousavi supporter, Iran's senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Montezeri, has called for three days of "mourning" this coming week. And another moderate, former President Mohammad Khatami, issued a statement backing Mousavi and implying criticism of "Supreme Leader" Khatamei. He said, "Preventing people from expressing their demands through civil ways will have dangerous consequences."

It's now past midnight in Tehran, based on the latest Twitter messages from there, people again stood on the roof tops yelling, God is Great," and "Death to the "Dictator." What Monday will bring is anyone's guess, but it is clear that the opposition is not backing down.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mousavi, protestors not backing down

As thousands of police, pro-government militia and troops clamped down hard on protesters in Tehran and other cities, it appears that the Iranian freedom movement and its key leader, Mir Hossain Mousavi, are not backing down.

Mousavi told a rally of his supporters in southern Tehran that he is "ready for martyrdom" and called for a general strike if he is arrested.

In a lengthy statement, Mousavi also said the following:

As I am looking at the scene, I see it set for advancing a new political agenda that spreads beyond the objective of installing an unwanted government. As a companion who has seen the beauties of your green wave, I will never allow any one’s life endangered because of my actions. At the same time, I remain undeterred on my demand for annulling the election and demanding people’s rights.


Be sure that I will always stand with you. What this brother of yours recommends, especially to the dear youth, in terms of finding new solutions is to not allow liars and cheater steal your flag of defense of Islamic state, and foreigners rip the treasures of the Islamic republic which are your inheritance of the blood of your decent fathers.


We advise the authorities, to calm down the streets. Based on article 27 of the constitution, not only provide space for peaceful protest, but also encourage such gatherings. The state TV should stop badmouthing and taking sides. Before voices turn into shouting, let them be heard in reasonable debates. Let the press criticize, and write the news as they happen. In one word, create a free space for people to express their agreements and disagreements.
Amen to that. Read the whole translated Mousavi statement here.

A close-up view from the violent streets is provided by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen who has somehow slipped the regime's noose and is reporting from Tehran. He tells a story of defiance of "Supreme Leader" Ali Khamenei that has now turned into a lasting delegitimization of the leader's religious and political authority:

Dark smoke billowed over this vast city in the late afternoon. Motorbikes were set on fire, sending bursts of bright flame skyward. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, had used his Friday sermon to declare high noon in Tehran, warning of “bloodshed and chaos” if protests over a disputed election persisted.

He got both on Saturday — and saw the hitherto sacrosanct authority of his office challenged as never before since the 1979 revolution birthed the Islamic Republic and conceived for it a leadership post standing at the very flank of the Prophet. A multitude of Iranians took their fight through a holy breach on Saturday from which there appears to be scant turning back.
By factionalizing himself and throwing his lot in with the hardliners, Khamenei has lost his aura of the leader of the whole nation:

The taboo-breaking response was unequivocal. It’s funny how people’s obsessions come back to bite them. I’ve been hearing about Khamenei’s fear of “velvet revolutions” for months now. There was nothing velvet about Saturday’s clashes. In fact, the initial quest to have Moussavi’s votes properly counted and Ahmadinejad unseated has shifted to a broader confrontation with the regime itself.
Finally, one of the latest messages sent from inside Iran via Twitter (at dawn in Tehran) said this: "again it is dawn-we go to pray- pls pppl of the world pray with us - God is but one - Allah of all creation."

Amen to that too.

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

Day 8 in Iran: The police state cracks down.

Video of new protests. Gunfire can be heard at the outset. (h/t -- Andrew Sullivan)

Warning, graphic video -- For shame. A young girl is shot and dies in the street, a victim of Supreme Dictator Khamenei. (h/t -- Andrew Sullivan)

Another video uploaded to YouTube by BBC Persian shows a crowd of angry demonstrators confronting pro-regime Basij militia who begin firing on the people at about 2:45. The people take cover but do not run away. Watch it
here (it's withheld from embedding). (h/t -- Powerline)

The day after "Supreme Leader" Ali Khamenei delivered a harsh warning against further protests, the Iranian police state moved into action to crush the opposition. Detailed information is spotty because most foreign journalists have been kicked out and others have been ordered not to cover further protests. We do know that security forces used violence to disburse thousands of demonstrators in Tehran as they tried to form up for planned afternoon marches in the capital.

Andrew Sullivan is reposting continuous reports from inside Iran sent via Twitter. According to these unconfirmed reports, riots have broken out and are being put down in at least four other Iranian cities besides Tehran. Opposition leader Ali Hossain Mousavi has said he is preparing himself for "martyrdom." Some 30-40 people have been killed in Tehran, hundreds injured and hundreds more arrested. Some embassies (e.g., Australia's) have opened their doors to injured protesters.

Police, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Basij militias can clear the streets today. But what will the people do tomorrow? That remains to be seen.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"Supreme Leader" Khamenei to protesters: Drop dead.

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In a speech at Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran's "Supreme Leader,"Ali Khamenei, claimed last Friday's election was a "definitive victory" for Mamoud Ahmadinejad, warned opposition protesters and their leaders that they were breaking the law, and would be held responsible for any "chaos." In other words, drop dead.

Khamenei wrapped himself in "democracy," saying the election could not have been rigged because Ahmadinejad won by such a big margin, 11 million votes. Despite President Obama's stance of declining to "meddle" in Iran's affairs, Khamenei blamed the United States, Britain, other "enemies" and the "Zionist media" for the trouble being caused by millions of Iranians under his own nose.

While Obama maintained his uncharacteristic silence, the Brits spoke up:

The British government, which the supreme leader singled out as the “most treacherous” of the Western powers, responded swiftly, summoning Iran’s ambassador in London to the Foreign Office to complain. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, cautious until now in its comments on the , stepped up his public criticism.

“We are with others, including the whole of the European Union unanimously today, in condemning the use of violence, in condemning media suppression," he told a news conference after a European Union summit in Brussels.

“It is for Iran now to show the world that the elections have been fair...that the repression and the brutality that we have seen in these last few days is not something that is going to be repeated,” Mr. Brown said, Reuters reported.

Khamenei has now drawn a line in the sand for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, dissident clerics and the hundreds of thousands of protesters: get in line or there will be bloodshed.

Another protest has been scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Tehran. Lately, the crowds have been chanting, "Death to the dictator," meaning Khamenei. Mousavi has been very tough, demanding nothing short of a new election. It's hard to see how or why the protest movement will simply back down without a further test of wills. Expect more protests. We'll see then if Khamenei still has the power he thinks he has.

UPDATE -- Based on Tweets I've been monitoring from inside Iran, Mousavi has called called a "Sea of Green" vigil starting at 9:00 pm tonight; the planned 4:00 pm protest march in Tehran is still on, and another opposition Presidential candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, is calling for cancellation of the election results on his website.

UPDATE 2 -- AP is reporting that Tehran residents are defying Khamenei by shouting "God is Great" and "Death to the Dictator" from their rooftops.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New video of pro-regime Basij militia opening fire on crowd

It's a raw, ugly scene as shots ring out. Notice how the gunfire scatters the crowd momentarily but people leap right back to expose themselves, aiding the fallen and taunting the Basij. That's extraordinary courage.

Any thoughts. Post a comment.

Democrats in Congress block Gitmo closing, transfer of detainees to U.S.

The Democratic majority in Congress is making good on its previously stated opposition to President Obama's plan to shut the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and transfer some of the more than 200 remaining detainees to U.S. soil.

Today, the House of Representatives voted to prohibit the relocation of detainees to the U.S. through 2010. This follows action earlier this week in which the House refused to allow funds to be used to shut the facility this year.

The bill before the House Thursday prohibits the release of detainees into the United States during the 2010 budget year. It would allow the transfer to the United States of detainees for prosecution or detention only after Congress has had two months to read a White House report on how it plans to shut the detention facility and disperse the inmates.

The House bill also requires the Obama administration to notify lawmakers of any plans to transfer detainees to other countries.

The House did beat back a Republican-backed amendment that would have imposed far tighter restrictions on Obama's plans for Gitmo -- but only by a single vote, 213 to 212. Thirty-nine Democrats joined with Republicans in voting for this amendment, which would have barred the Justice Department from using its budgeted funds to implement Obama's January executive order to close Gitmo within a year. The decisive vote against the amendment was cast by the self-styled libertarian Republican, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

With polls showing strong public disapproval of closing Gitmo and overwhelming opposition to bringing detainees to the U.S., Obama is not going to be able to count on Dermocrats in Congress to support his plan -- at least not until they get themselves reelected in November 2010.

Have any thoughts on this? Post a comment.

Day 6 in Iran: Protesters defy Khamenei, stage huge "mourning" rally, demand new election

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Most foreign reporters have been kicked out of Iran, but BBC has video of Thursday's protest march in Tehran here.

It's Day 6 in Iran, and the opposition once again defied the regime and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and turned out in force to protest and mourn the deaths of at least seven people killed by pro-government forces. It's clear they are not cowed and not kidding around:

Demonstrators marched silently until they arrived at the square, where some chanted "Death to the dictator!" and "Where are our votes!" witnesses said.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is taking a tough line:

Mousavi and his followers have rejected compromise and pressed their demands for a new election, flouting the will of a man [Khamenei] endowed with virtually limitless powers under Iran's constitution.

The regime appears to be looking for a compromise to tamp down the upheaval, but so far, Mousavi isn't buying:

Trying again to satisfy the protesters' demands, Iran's main electoral authority invited Mousavi and two other candidates who ran against Ahmadinejad to a meeting. Iran's al-Alam Arabic television channel said the three candidates would meet with the Guardian Council on Saturday.

The unelected body of 12 clerics and Islamic law experts close to Khamenei has said it was prepared to conduct a limited recount of ballots at sites where candidates claim irregularities.

Mousavi, who has said he won the vote, charges the Guardian Council is not neutral and supports Ahmadinejad and has demanded an independent investigation and a new election.

Mousavi is not going to waste Friday before the Saturday meeting. He has called on his supporters to use Friday prayers at the mosques to further the protest.

It may be that there will be a compromise of some sort by the end of the weekend, but it's hard to see what it might look like. Mousavi and his supporters can no longer accept the outcome of an election they have repeatedly rejected as a fraud, and Khamenei will permanently undermine his authority if he calls for a new election. An attempt at a violent crackdown is more likely, but we simply don't know any longer to what or to whom the security forces are loyal.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fifth day of protests in Iran; Mousavi calls for rally on Thursday; regime accuses US of "interference" despite Obama's "no meddling" stance

The protest movement in Iran showed no signs of slacking off Wednesday as tens of thousands demonstrated again in Tehran.

Opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi summoned his supporters to rally again on Thursday to mourn the deaths of at least seven people killed by government forces -- in clear defiance of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and in the face of reports of an accelerating crackdown.

Despite President Obama's low-key statements in which he has expressed no opinion on the legitimacy of the disputed Iranian election and said that the U.S. will not "meddle" in Iranian affairs, the regime complained of American interference.

In a possible sign of a widening split within Iran's elite, the country's senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montezeri, a long-time rival to Khamenei, blasted the reported election outcome, saying, "No one in their right mind can believe" the official results from Friday's contest. He accused the regime of handling Mousavi's charges of fraud and the massive protests of his backers "in the worst way possible." In an obvious appeal to the Army, he added"

"A government not respecting people's vote has no religious or political legitimacy," he declared in comments on his official Web site. "I ask the police and army personals (personnel) not to 'sell their religion,' and beware that receiving orders will not excuse them before God."

Obama's "no meddling" approach may seem "realistic," but it won't stop the regime from accusing the "Great Satan" of stirring up the protests if Khamenei and Ahmadinejad decide to shut down the media, roll out the tanks, and crush the opposition. No one is suggesting that Obama invade Iran or try to organize a coup -- just to speak out plainly and clearly to say that the United States and the American people support democracy. It's not "realism" to pretend that this upheaval makes no difference and the U.S. will have to negotiate with the regime over nuclear development regardless of what happens. In fact, the outpouring against the regime has already undermined its ongoing legitimacy and especially that of Ahmadinejad. Even if it survives with few concessions, the regime will be in a weaker position diplomatically. That's what "tough diplomacy" (which Obama says he wants to practice) is all about -- strengthening your own position and undermining the other guy's.

What's more, the opposition protests clearly gain legitimacy and momentum from international support. Why else do Iran's dissenters work so hard and risk so much to get the word of what they are doing and what is happening out to the world?

Obama is right to be cautious. This is a big deal, and there is little to be gained by shooting off half cocked. But caution does not mean inaction. The world is watching Iran -- but it's also watching Obama.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tide may be turning in favor of reformers in Iran; shots fired at Tehran rally

Leading opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi appeared at a huge rally of his supporters in Tehran (see video), defying a regime order outlawing protests. After Mousavi's appearance, shots were fired by elements of the security forces, reportedly killing one man and wounding at least several others.

Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Khamenei, the real power in Iran, ordered a review of Friday's election, in effect, conceding Mousavi's complaint that something was amiss. This had to be a tough call for Khamenei after he had declared Mamoud Ahmadinejad the winner and called on other candidates to support the supposed outcome. To be sure, Khamenei may be playing for time enough for the protests to die down, after which he'll affirm Ahmadinejad as the "winner." Then again, the protests may not fade; they may intensify, as millions of Iranians see this as their golden opportunity to effect real change in the regime.

Mousavi has called off another street protest for the moment following reports that the security forces had been issued ammunition to fire on protesters. It may be that Mousavi wants to avoid bloodshed -- or at least seeks to separate himself from it should it occur. He may also believe he's making progress in his campaign to forced the regime's hand.

One interesting bit of intrigue is the circulation of election results ostensibly leaked from the Interior Ministry (which oversees elections). They showed Ahmadinejad in third place!

The situation remains critical. While the U.S., Europe and other democratic nations cannot influence the outcome directly -- and certainly should not attempt to intervene -- in this age of the Internet and satellite news coverage, it's essential that Iran's reformers and democrats know that the world is rooting for them and prepared to support them enthusiastically as they make strides forward.

It's a truly historic moment with enormous possibilities for Iran, the Middle East and the world. Americans of left and right should be united in backing the reform forces in Iran.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Iran on the brink? All Americans should be united in supporting the Iranian people's demands for freedom and democracy

Moderates, reformers and liberals (yes, there are a few) in Iran are on the receiving end of a police-state crackdown in Iran, as huge numbers of Iranians continue to protest against the almost certainly rigged election outcome. Even some ayatollahs are disturbed and have lodged a complaint with the "Supreme Guide," Grand Ayotallah Khamenei.

Memeorandum has a constantly updated round-up of news and commentary. And Michael J. Totten has a must-read running account of what he now calls an "insurrection."

Nothing even remotely like this has happened in Iran in the 30 years of the ayatollahs' rule. Whatever the real numbers of votes cast for the Presidential candidates -- and we may never know the true tally -- the current popular outpouring of protest against the regime is more significant in many ways than a formal recognition by the regime of victory by reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi would have been. Popular unrest can force Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to make concessions to freedom and democracy that go far beyond what Mousavi, as President, might have squeezed out of the senior clerics who rule Iran.

So it is critically important that America, Europe and the rest of the world's free nations give maximum support to the Iranian people. The international community should demand an open, fair and impartial review of the election results and the protests made by Mousavi and others. The world should not recognize or accept Ahmadinejad's "victory." Americans should stand together -- left, right and center, Democrats and Republicans -- in pressing for this approach. Unless the world -- and that must mean with the United States in the lead -- comes to the aid of the Iranian people at this momentous and critical juncture, there may never be another opportunity in our lifetimes for the Iranian people to take their rightful place in the modern world.

This is not a matter that should be submerged in the all-too-typical left vs. right political quarreling in Washington. We all oppose the reactionary theocracy that runs Iran with an iron fist. It should be a no-brainer for liberals and conservatives to unite on this issue.

What do you think? Post a comment.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bush 41 parachute jumps again to celebrate 85th birthday

President George Herbert Walker Bush, age 85, on why he does it: "It's exilerating." "Shows you don't have to sit around drooling just because you're an old guy."

Wise words from 41.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

David Letterman's shame: Only a disgusting, perverted old man would make jokes about raping a 14-year-old girl

David Letterman descends into the trash heap of television history

This story has been reported widely, but I can't in good conscience let it pass without saying that David Letterman had revealed himself to be a really rotten, nasty and worthless excuse for a human being,

Governor Sarah Palin traveled to New York City last weekend where she got a lot of publicity. Among other things, she took in a Yankees game at the new stadium. With her at the game was her 14-year-old daughter, Willow.

Letterman took off on Sarah Palin in his Monday night show. He hit her hard with a barbed joke about looking like "a slutty flight attendant." Fair enough. Governor Palin is a politician, a public figure and a grown up. But then, the 62-year-old Letterman made a totally out-of-bounds joke about 14-year-old Willow. As reported by Politico:

Riffing on Palin’s trip to New York last weekend, Letterman joked Monday night that during the seventh inning of the Yankees game “her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.”

Shockingly, even with 24 hours to ponder just how vile it is to tell such a joke on national television about a someone's child, Letterman went from bad to worse:

Letterman followed up on the line Tuesday night, joking that “the toughest part of her visit was keeping [former New York Gov.] Eliot Spitzer away from her daughter.”

I suppose someone at CBS or "The Late Show" thought that throwing disgraced Democrat Spitzer into the mix proved something. But this joke is even more reprehensible, since Spitzer's downfall came as a result of his habit of chasing whores.

Letterman owes everyone an apology, but I'm not holding my breath. It's a tragedy for all Americans that our political discourse has become so divided, partisan, hostile and bitter, with right and left, Republicans and Democrats, outdoing each other in hurling insults and epithets. For all that, however, the politicians, pundits and reporters have by and large considered under-age children to be off-limits.

But they are not off limits for one old, vile, perverted "comedian," David Letterman.

Anyone who thinks I'm going to far should consider this: President Obama's daughter, Malia, will turn 14 when her father is still in the White House and likely in the middle of his campaign for reelection, which may be hard fought. Is there any doubt that a "comedian" who made anything remotely like this "joke" about Malia Obama in 2012 would be run out of show business?

What do you think of Letterman's shame. Post a comment. I'd be interested in whatever might pass for a defense of him.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

U.S. looking to settle 17 Chinese Uighurs from Guantanamo in South Sea island paradise -- for $200 million!

One of Palau's many fine tropical lagoon beaches

Apparently getting desperate as options for resettling the 17 Chinese Uighurs detained at Gitmo have dwindled, the Obama Administration is hoping to send the unwanted Muslims from China's far west to a south pacific island paradise, AP reports:

As they attempt to fulfill President Barack Obama's order to close the Guantanamo facility by early next year, administration officials are looking to Palau to accept some or all of the 17 Uighur detainees due to fierce congressional opposition to releasing them on U.S. soil, officials said.

The Republic of Palau is a nation of 21,000 people located some 500 miles east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean. One of Palau's larger islands, Peleliu, was the site of a bloody battle in World War II, as U.S. forces "island hopped" across the Pacific seizing Japanese-held strong points. After the war, Palau came under U.S. administration along with a number of other Pacific islands. It opted for independence in 1994 but continues to have a loose affiliation with the U.S., which is responsible for its defense. It's major attractions are its beaches and lagoons where tourists frolic in the 82-degree average temperatures.

Tiny country or not, the Paulauans are no rubes and appear to be driving a hard bargain:

"We have spoken with the Palauans, but neither they nor we have made any decisions," the official said. That official and two others spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the talks.


Two of the officials said the United States was prepared to give Palau up to $200 million in development, budget support and other assistance in return for accepting the Uighurs and as part of a mutual defense and cooperation treaty that is due to be renegotiated this year.

$200 million! That's more than $11,700,000 per Uighur!! Bet that buys a whole lot of scuba diving, sunsets over the blue Pacific, and drinks with little umbrellas in them.

If I were a Palauan, though, I'd want to be awfully sure that my mates and I could still vote the Uighurs off the island, if things don't work out nicely.

Have any thoughts? Post a comment.

(Hat tip: Contentions)

UPDATE -- 6/11/09 -- Four of the Uighurs have already been resettled in another sunny island paradise, Bermuda (a British territory), but British Prime Minister Gordan Brown seems less than thrilled by the action of the Bermuda authorities in ac cepting them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Wikio.com's list of top 100 political blogs

An interesting list. It mixes blogs spun off from the mainstream media, those associated with top liberal and conservative publications, heavily capitalized sites like The Huffington Post, and purely personal blogs that have acquired a big following. The rankings are based essentially on the numbers of links from other blogs, so that being among the "top" isn't just a matter of audience size but reach and influence among politically interested people on the internet.

You can see the whole list here. The top 10 are:

1 The Huffington Post

2 Think Progress

3 The Corner at National Review

4 Political Ticker (CNN blogs)

5 The Daily Dish (Andrew Sullivan at Atlantic)

6 Political Punch (at ABC News)

7 Michelle Malkin

8 Instapundit.com

9 Talking Points Memo

10 Political Animal (at Washington Monthly)

Alas, The Purple Center has a long way to go. Maybe next year!

Donneybrook in the blogosphere: Anonymous blogger "outed" by another blogger

The blogosphere is a alive with charges and counter-charges over NRO legal affairs writer Ed Whelan's disclosure of the true identity of a liberal blogger at Obsidian Wings known as "Publius," who turns out to be a junior law professor by the name of John Blevins.

Most bloggers are aghast at the outing, conservatives as well as liberals, while others see it as a cautionary tale for people who could have something to lose by political blogging. Whelan defended himself, but he's not getting much support from fellow bloggers.

I would never "out" an anonymous blogger, and Whelan's motives may well have been petty or vindictive. I'm not going to try to figure that out anymore than I'm going to try to understand Blevins, who by his own account cloaked his identity because his views might cause him problems at work, among his neighbors and friends in Texas, and within his own family!

I do have some thoughts, though. Coincidentally, when I launched this blog last November, I identified myself as Publius, which fit nicely with the theme of the blog as proclaimed in the description below the title. I had used Publius before when commenting on other sites and thought it would add something. It was not my intention to conceal my identity. But my wife made the compelling point that people we knew might consider it strange, wonder whether I was trying to hide and, if so, why. That made sense to me, so within a few days -- when almost no one had yet seen or read The Purple Center -- I replaced Publius with my true name. Good thing, too, since one blogger named Publius is enough.

More importantly, I' glad I did because anonymity might have led me to be less restrained in the way I chose to express my views here. Not that my opinions would be different, but my goal of creating a site where issues are presented in a civil way and in "a spirit of shared patriotism" might have proved more elusive.

Anonymity is certainly the enemy of civility in one large segment of the blogosphere -- the comments sections of political blogs of the left, right and center. There one finds too often that pure vitriol is the standard. While most bloggers behave more or less responsibly, there is no big bold line separating blogger from commenter. When a writer is anonymous, there is bound to be at least some temptation once in a while to go beyond the bounds of what one would usually regard as the limits of civility. I'm not suggesting that this was true of Blevins, but using his stated reasons as an example, a blogger might just behave a bit better, if he or she was not worried that an uncle or a neighbor or a co-worker might be offended -- as opposed to all those strangers out there on the Internet.

All in all, it's better for the blogosphere if writers take open responsibility for their words. Reporters and op-ed columnists put their names to their work. Laws even require disclosure of the sources of political campaign advertising and literature. If it's good enough for the old media and politicians, why should it not be good enough for the new media and all of us guys in pajamas?

What do you think? Post a comment.

Friday, June 5, 2009

On 65th anniversary of Allied Normandy invasion, D-Day in pictures

General Eisenhower gives a pep talk to U.S. airborne troops

The skies filled with thousands of aircraft

A huge armada of Allied ships transported the invasion force and bombarded German defenses

160,000 American. British and Canadian troops stormed ashore

At Omaha Beach, they met fierce resistence

Even crossing the surf and gaining the beach was deadly

There was no cover from enfilading German fire

Utah Beach was no picnic either

This soldier's war ended right there on the beach on June 4th

Many never made it home. Some 2,500 were killed on that first day of invasion.

With a beachhead established, a huge Allied force followed and Nazi Germany's days were numbered.

Any thoughts about this on the 65th anniversary of the Normandy invasion? Share them. Post a comment.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Remember Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989

In 1989, 100,000 students and workers challenged the Chinese Communist Party and government demanding freedom, democracy and human rights. On June 4th, the authorities cracked down ruthlessly on the protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Troops and police swept the square clear, opening fire on crowds of unarmed people.

The crackdown against the democracy movement continued for weeks. While there has never been an accurate accounting of casualties, as many as 2,500 people were killed and thousands more injured. Leaders were jailed or fled into exile.

Today, Chinese police swarmed the square to block anyone bold enough to commemorate the event and barred journalists as well.

On this 20th anniversary of the crackdown, the state of human rights in China is neatly summarized by this Orwellian order by local Communist authorities in one town about how to deal with potential troublemakers, as reported by Agence France-Presse:

“Village cadres must visit main persons of interest and place them under thought supervision and control.”

What are your thoughts about Tiananmen? Post a comment.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Take a moment to honor Pvt. William Long, killed by a Muslim terrorist on American soil

Pvt. William A. Long, 23, of Conway, Arkansas: looks proud, doesn't he?

I don't have much to add to this story, except to note that there has not been much said in the news media about Pvt. William A. Long, compared to the publicity often given to the victims of shocking crimes and certainly compared to the notoriety achieved by his killer.

That's a shame. Pvt. Long was serving his country in uniform when he was shot dead in cold blood by a Muslim terrorist in the heart of America, not some exotic foreign place. He was prepared to fight for his country on the battlefield, but as his father pointed out, he didn't know that the battlefield was here.

Various authorities were quick to "assure" us that the terrorist, an American convert to Islam who calls himself Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, acted alone and had no links to overseas terror groups. As it happens, that may turn out not to be fully accurate (see these reports here and here). More importantly, why does it matter? Pvt. Long is just as dead at the hand of another American as if the shots had been fired by a Saudi who sneaked into the country, is he not?

Some of the many "homegrown" terrorists who have been nabbed by the FBI since 9/11 were bumbling loudmouths. But others were deadly serious, as was clearly the case with Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad. Muhammed was heavily armed and had studied other potential targets. How many lives might he have taken if he had chosen to strike at a crowded mall? The homegrown terrorists may not pose a strategic threat to the nation, as does al Qaeda, but they are surely a part of the threat, as they seem to be all to willing to respond to bin Laden's call for jihad.

In any case, let's take a moment to honor and remember Pvt. Long. He was a proud, brave young man cut down at far too young an age.

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.

"Tonight Show" with Conan O'Brien really sucks. Big time!

In Conan''s 4 1/2-minute opening bit, he runs across the country: Watch and see if you laugh

I have to go off politics just for this one-time opportunity to play TV critic.

Johnny must be turning in his grave. And Jay may already be wondering how long it will take NBC to beg him to take the "Tonight Show" back -- and how much they'll offer him.

I'm a long-time viewer of "Tonight" -- in particular, the first half hour in which Jay and Johnny before him rarely failed to deliver a funny monologue and usually managed something else from among their standard bits worth a few laughs.

So I watched a portion of Conan O'Brien's first two shows. Both times, I had to turn it off before the first half hour was over. I never had the slightest inclination to giggle and the whole thing was not so much boring as senseless. That's it for me.

Now some people must find this guy amusing. (His debut at "Tonight" did receive "mixed reviews," although I suspect that some of the nicer comments were either self-interested or acts of mercy.) I never watched Conan on "Late Night." Too late for me. He seems to have a devoted following from that show, but that could be part of the problem. To turn in reasonable ratings at 1:00 AM, you only need a smallish group of, well, groupies...cultish fans. To make a success of "Tonight," you have to be funny for a much larger audience -- like me, for instance.

Conan's studio audience appears to be packed with his groupies. They whoop and shriek and make other noises like Rebel yells at everything he does and says. But here's the thing: they don't laugh either! After a few minutes of that, it starts to grate.

Conan also has an annoying habit of filling air time with pointless and unfunny banter with his sidekick, Andy Richter, who cackles a lot, presumably to give the impression that someone in the room is laughing. This is reminiscent of David Letterman's repeating the same words and phrases over and over as Paul Shaeffer laughs maniacally and hams it up at his keyboard. Leno and Carson didn't need that kind of crap. They carried the show even in slow moments or in he face of jokes that didn't work on the strength of their personalities, poise, timing, and ability to improvise.

It's a very unusual talent that enabled Johnny to carry "Tonight" for 30 years and Jay another 17. My guess is that Conan will be lucky to take the show into a second season, if he doesn't achieve an unlikely radical transformation. Conan's debut show got strong ratings, but that's to be expected. Barring a major change, the audience will drift to other entertainments; some will move over to Letterman; and ABC will soon sense the opportunity to put someone to go up against "Tonight" seriously for the first time since Joey Bishop went off the air more than 40 years ago.

Then, it's always possible that Jay Leno's new show in the 10 pm time slot will alter audience habits. People who watch a hour of comedy and talk at 10 may not be as interested in seeing more of the same at 11:30, no matter who's hosting.

In any case, sorry, Conan, but your show really sucks. Big time!

Got an opinion? Post a comment.

RELATED -- Jay Leno will return to late night because Conan O'Brian (still) really sucks -- big time!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Interesting stuff on the web: June 2, 2009

CNN has a new poll showing that Americans don't think much of Muslim countries. Sheesh, what could that be all about?

Keying off the hateful Playboy treatment of conservative women, a guy at Right Wing News lists "The 10 Hottest Liberal Women in Politics." But with Janeane Garofalo on his list, is it a joke?

Over at The Plum Line, Obama's pick of GOP Rep. John McHugh to be Secretary of the Army is running into some Gitmo-related static. Could be an issue for liberal Dems, despite a certain poll.

JammieWearingFool is where you should go if you want to find out what "cell phone elbow" is (you know you have to go there now).

The folks at The Bipartisan Rules talk some sense about the Sotomayor nomination.

It's the 20th anniversary of the triumph of Solidarity in Poland, Outside the Beltway reminds us. That's one anniversary we should all be celebrating.

Big obstacle to Obama's closing Gitmo: Two to one, Americans oppose shutting the detention facility

Camp Justice at Gitmo where Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others may yet be tried

According to a new USAToday/Gallup poll, Americans are overwhelmingly opposed -- by a more than two-to-one margin -- to Obama's planned closing of Guantanamo. And by more than to one, they oppose moving any of the Gitmo detainees to prisons withing the United States.

Delving into the polling numbers shows that this judgment is widely shared across the political spectrum. Overall, 65% oppose the closing, while 32% support it. A whopping 91% of Republicans are opposed. While that may not be a surprise, the fact that 68% of independents want to keep the prison open will give some pause to Obama and other Democrats who have campaigned against Gitmo for years. And the real stunner is that Democrats favor the closing only by 53% to 42%, not much of a margin, considering that the President enjoys near-total support among Democrats. For that matter, Obama's continues to enjoy immense popularity across the board(currently 64% approval, according to Gallup), but that has not translated into support for him on Gitmo.

The tough realities of dealing with some of the most dangerous al Qaeda terrorists has already led Obama to back away from his earlier "suspension" of military tribunals. And staunch opposition among Congressional Democrats to relocating any Gitmo detainees to the U.S. has put Obama on the defensive, since it will not be possible to close Gitmo without moving at least some detainees to American territory. Now, Obama will have to contend with the very real possibility that closing Gitmo will cost him dearly in political support, particularly among independents and moderate Democrats.

Perhaps the most astonishing result of the new poll is this: only 18% of Americans believe that the existence of Gitmo has weakened U.S. national security, while 40% think it has strengthened security. So after years of hearing that very point from politicians and pundits, Obama included, on virtually a daily basis -- that Gitmo doesn't help but harms our security -- less than one in five Americans are buying it. Even among Democrats, only 33% embrace that argument.

Going back to November, I've thought that if Obama closed Gitmo, he'd need to create another Gitmo. Now, for the first time, I'm not at all sure he'll be able to close Gitmo at all.

What are your thoughts? Post a comment.