Kevin Drum

Iran's Rural Voters Revisited

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 11:22 AM EDT

Babak Rahimi, who left Iran in 1980s but visits frequently, is now a professor of Iranian and Islamic studies at UC San Diego.  Today, he echoes Eric Hooglund's skepticism that rural Iranians voted monolithically for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

During the first couple of weeks after I arrived, I sensed little public interest in the election. But in the weeks before the election, the country underwent a dramatic change of attitude. I watched passionate supporters of Mousavi dance, sing and chant anti-government slogans on the streets of Tehran, despite a ban on most of these activities under Islamic law. From the southern port city of Bushehr to the northern towns of Mazandaran province, an astonishing sense of enthusiasm spread throughout the country. "I have never voted before, but I will vote this time," a resident of Bushehr told me, expressing a sentiment I heard again and again.

One major claim of those in power is that although there is some dissent in the cities, the countryside voted solidly for Ahmadinejad, which accounts for his win. But in my preelection fieldwork in a number of southern provinces, I observed major tensions between provincial officials — especially the local imams — and the Ahmadinejad administration in Tehran. I saw far lower levels of support for the president than I had expected. In fact, I heard some of the most ferocious objections to the administration in the rural regions, where the dwindling economy is hitting the local populations hard. As one young Bushehr shopkeeper put it: "That idiot thinks he can buy our votes. He does not care for us."

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Iran Update

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 10:47 AM EDT

The latest from Iran:

Days after it was urged to investigate last week’s disputed presidential election, Iran’s authoritative Guardian Council said on Thursday that it had invited the three candidates challenging the official results to a meeting to discuss their grievances, state media reported.

While the exact motives, timing and conditions for the invitation from the Guardian Council remained unclear, it was the first public indication that the authorities were prepared for some form of dialogue to defuse the outrage over the election results, Iran’s worst political crisis since the 1979 revolution. But the opposition seemed likely to view it warily.

Playing for time?  A genuine offer?  A sign of weakness?  Hard to say.  But the Guardian reports that today's demonstration in Tehran drew upwards of a million people.

Best in Blog: 18 June 2009

| Thu Jun. 18, 2009 9:00 AM EDT

Today's 5 MoJo must reads:

1) Tehran's declared war on satellite dishes; this email explains the methods.

2) Seattle lost its rain; The Onion wants its headline back.

3) Cheney "lost" those Valerie Plame emails; CREW found some damning docs under a big pile of his BS.

4) Remember the good old days of Obama's presidency, back when no one booed his crazytown health care ideas? Sorry Big O.

5) Last: Hey, a contest! Looks like gay pride flag designers are finally over the rainbow. Does Shepard Fairey know?

"Intolerable"

| Wed Jun. 17, 2009 6:45 PM EDT

The Wall Street Journal reports:

A state television channel in Iran said the government summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Iran, to complain about American interference. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. An English-language state-run channel quoted the government as calling Western interference "intolerable.''

Hmmm.  Is this just another instance of their usual go-to position on everything, or does it foreshadow some kind of crackdown on "agents of foreign influence" or some such?

Green Shoots

| Wed Jun. 17, 2009 6:12 PM EDT

Martin Wolf notes that (a) trade data suggests that the current recession is as bad as the Great Depression but (b) our response has been much better.  So are we out of the woods?

Robust private sector demand will return only once the balance sheets of over-indebted households, overborrowed businesses and undercapitalised financial sectors are repaired or when countries with high savings rates consume or invest more. None of this is likely to be quick. Indeed, it is far more likely to take years, given the extraordinary debt accumulations of the past decade. Over the past two quarters, for example, US households repaid just 3.1 per cent of their debt. Deleveraging is a lengthy process. Meanwhile, the federal government has become the only significant borrower. Similarly, the Chinese government can swiftly expand investment. But it is harder for policy to raise levels of consumption.

The great likelihood is that the world economy will need aggressive monetary and fiscal policies far longer than many believe. That is going to be make policymakers — and investors — nervous.

I think he's right.  Green shoots aside, economic fundamentals continue to look pretty dismal.  And since world leaders don't seem to have the mettle to face up to this, it probably means those green shoots are going to turn brown again pretty quickly.  But I sure hope I'm wrong about that.

Quote of the Day

| Wed Jun. 17, 2009 5:14 PM EDT

From Robert Kagan, allegedly the "smart" neocon, on Barack Obama's oft-stated desire to engage with Iran diplomatically:

It would be surprising if Obama departed from this realist strategy now, and he hasn't. His extremely guarded response to the outburst of popular anger at the regime has been widely misinterpreted as reflecting concern that too overt an American embrace of the opposition will hurt it, or that he wants to avoid American "moralizing." (Obama himself claimed yesterday that he didn't want the United States to appear to be "meddling.")

But Obama's calculations are quite different. Whatever his personal sympathies may be, if he is intent on sticking to his original strategy, then he can have no interest in helping the opposition. His strategy toward Iran places him objectively on the side of the government's efforts to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, not in league with the opposition's efforts to prolong the crisis.

What a douchebag.  These guys really have no shame at all.

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Obama's Weak Tea

| Wed Jun. 17, 2009 2:01 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias argues that the Obama administration has done the right thing by proposing that increased systemic risk authority be given to the Fed, which is insulated from the blowing of the political winds.  But I think this is backward.  If you're going to create some kind of systemic risk regulator at all — about which I'm sort of agnostic in the first place — you want to give the authority to an agency that's institutionally dedicated to reducing risk and considers it a primary task.  That ain't the Fed.  It's just going to get buried in the bureaucracy and forgotten there.

Matt also points to a couple of things Obama got right in his new financial regulation proposal:

Their regulatory package is reasonably strong on two ideas that I think could work. On the one hand, they have this consumer protection business.....It [] continues to be somewhat unclear exactly how much of the bad lending activity was truly fraudulent, but it’s at least possible that stronger consumer protections will help keep things under control. Last and most important of all, I think, is the idea of creating a clear legal process for the “resolution” of large, complicated financial firms. This is the one aspect of the crisis where I think you really can say that policymakers did want to do something different and better than what they did (ad hoc bailouts and bankrupties) and really were restrained by a lack of statutory and regulatory authority.

These are both potentially good things — assuming Congress doesn't water them down into useless swill.  But I think it's wildly unlikely that a consumer protection agency would have prevented the housing bubble.  After all, plenty of agencies knew about the fraud in the home loan market.  They just didn't do anything about it.  And the resolution authority, although it's important, only addresses what do to after a bubble has burst.  What's more important is trying to keep bubbles from inflating quite so high in the first place.

So color me still discouraged.  There's a legitimate concern that we not go crazy and overregulate the finance sector in response to the events of the past year.  But frankly, we're not within light years of that yet, and reckless overuse of leverage is still the key issue that needs to be addressed.  Obama's plan is weak on that score, and it will probably get even weaker after Dodd and Schumer and K Street are done with it.  For more on that, read George Soros's brief column in yesterday's Financial Times.  It seems on target to me.

Housekeeping News

| Wed Jun. 17, 2009 1:03 PM EDT

Quick note: I've gotten lots of email this morning asking me what happened to the Washington Monthly site.  Answer: it got hacked last night and their tech gremlins are busily rebuilding it.  With luck it should be back up sometime this afternoon.

UPDATE: They're back up now.

Who Voted for Ahmadinejad?

| Wed Jun. 17, 2009 12:50 PM EDT

Conventional wisdom says that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's main base of support was in Iran's small towns and rural villages while Mir-Hossein Mousavi's support came mainly from young people and urban areas.  Eric Hooglund, an expert in rural Iran, casts some doubt on this:

Take Bagh-e Iman, for example. It is a village of 850 households in the Zagros Mountains near the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz. According to longtime, close friends who live there, the village is seething with moral outrage because at least two-thirds of all people over 18 years of age believe that the recent presidential election was stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

....Carloads of villagers actually drove to Shiraz to participate in the massive pro-Mousavi rallies that were held on the three nights prior to the balloting. And election-day itself was like a party in Bagh-e Iman. Many people openly announced their intentions to vote for Mousavi as they cheerfully stood in line chatting with neighbors, and local election monitors estimated that at least 65 percent of them actually did so. “Although some probably really voted for [Ayatollah Mehdi] Karubi, who also is a man of the people,” said election monitor Jalal.

....By Saturday evening, the shock and disbelief had given way to anger that slowly turned into palpable moral outrage over what came to be believed as the theft of their election. The proof was right in the village: “Interior Ministry officials came from Shiraz, sealed the ballot boxes, and took then away even before the end of voting at 9 pm,” said Jalal. In all previous elections, a committee comprised of representative from each political faction had counted and certified the results right in the village. The unexpected change in procedures caught village monitors off guard, as it did everywhere else in the country.

Read the whole thing.

Healthcare CEOs Shoot Themselves in the Foot

| Wed Jun. 17, 2009 12:25 PM EDT

Yesterday the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations decided to investigate the practice of recission.  This is when you pay your premiums for years to a healthcare insurer, then get sick, and then have your insurance cancelled.  The insurance industry executives at the hearing did not exactly cover themselves with glory:

A Texas nurse said she lost her coverage, after she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, for failing to disclose a visit to a dermatologist for acne.

The sister of an Illinois man who died of lymphoma said his policy was rescinded for the failure to report a possible aneurysm and gallstones that his physician noted in his chart but did not discuss with him.

....Late in the hearing, [Bart] Stupak, the committee chairman, put the executives on the spot. Stupak asked each of them whether he would at least commit his company to immediately stop rescissions except where they could show "intentional fraud."

The answer from all three executives: "No."

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said that a public insurance plan should be a part of any overhaul because it would force private companies to treat consumers fairly or risk losing them. "This is precisely why we need a public option," Dingell said.

Even the Republicans on the committee couldn't defend the insurance company position.  A few more hearings like this and getting a public option into healthcare reform is suddenly going to look like a real possibility.  Nice going, guys.