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I know I wanted to get a full workup on the SotU up by today, but just had a very severe brush with career doom. After a reassuring chat with my boss I’m still in the process of coming down off the adrenaline rush of fear. Regularly scheduled blogging will resume monday.

As anyone with a cable or internet connection should know, the State of the Union speech is tonight amidst much political turmoil for the Obama administration. I’ll leave the substantive analysis for later as I plan to blog the speech itself, but for now we can expect that while the president is going to have to tack right in a few areas to regain credibility among independents and open some kind of bipartisan door to the GOP, David Axelrod has informed CNN that the liberals can expect to be soothed with some candy of their own.

The Washington Post today has an article up that cheerfully makes the case that Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution is nearing collapse within and without Venezuela.

Outside the country, Chavez’s influence is quickly dissolving. With the Honduran presidential crisis quietly resolved with Chavez acolyte Manuel Zelaya in exile and barred from holding office, Chavez’s campaign to export his brand of socialist revolution has been effectively blocked, leaving Cuba,  Bolivia, and Nicaragua as his only real allies in Latin America. And whereas the rest of the region has been willing to at least tolerate him, two things have now shifted against Chavez: the victory of the first conservative president in Chile since Pinochet, who is the first leader in the region willing to speak out forcefully against, freeing up the US to follow suit as doing so alone would have led to accusations of the paternalism that characterized US policy south of the Rio Grande. And while Presdient Da Silva of regional Heavyweight Brazil has been pulling his punches on criticizing Chavez, he’s retiring at the end of the year and his party’s candidate is trailing another conservative challenger. This leaves him isolated internationally aside from the usual peanut gallery, and even they can’t be relied upon of late: Russia will likely find it easier to antagonize the US in other, closer arenas, North Korea’s in the trust building phase of its often bifurcated foreign policy, and Iran currently has no functional foreign policy to speak of outside the nuclear issue.

Even if it becomes isolated, there’s still the possibility that Chavez could survive within Venezuela just as the Castros have turned Cuba into a socialist fortress. Alas, here the cards are mightily stack against him as well: as I noted earlier the recent currency devaluation was hardly popular, the population at large remains poor despite promises of spreading the oil wealth, which itself is impossible given that the economy continues to shrink even as Venezuela’s neighbors and oil prices recover. All of that would be enough to imperil him on their own, but the real kicker is the fact that, due to drought the dam that provides 70% of venezuela’s power is about to fail and lack of further energy investment means there’s no backups.

What this adds up to is that Chavez is in very real danger of being overthrown, one way or another. While he had been fairly successful in building up his power, recently getting voters to abolish term limits for him, he had yet to enshrine himself as a true president for life. Thus he’s left vulnerable to electoral defeat having failed to provide either at home or abroad, and even in the event of falsified results the public will likely have little patience for shenanigans, the US even less in its own back yard. As its unlikely he has the money to buy the military’s continued loyalty, the end of Chavez may finally be near. What comes next is anyone’s best guess.

…is, much like his running mate, apparently now worthless. As a moderate liberal I’m disappointed to see the ability of corporations, or large advocacy groups in general, to influence politics expanded. However, I’m also not seeing this as a huge blow for democracy for several reasons.

While republicans and special interests can joyously toast to their newly regained freedom to spend as much as they want buying supporting candidates, in a society as open as ours money alone is no guarantor of success. Laws still require any ads created by anyone not the campaign to identify their funding source (ex: thisadpaidforbytheamericancivillibertiesunion) so unless you’re an idiot you can still make a rational choice for yourself over whether to believe the contents of a given ad.  This is putting aside the fact that, this being the age of internet and the information revolution having long ago taken root, you can find out pretty much anything you want about  a given candidate anywhere you want. Finally, this still being the realm of American politics any candidate, no matter how well groomed, is never more than a well-placed scandal away from utter destruction.

And for liberals crying into their drinks, there are still more reasons to take heart. The Obama campaign if nothing else showed the utility, if not outright godlike power, of using the internet to glean hundreds of millions in microdonations. Whether this was due simply to Obama’s force of personality, or is even feasible on a smaller scale than a presidential campaign, remain open questions. What is clear is that, despite recent GOP gains, this is of much greater benefit to the Democrats, proportional to their relative mastery of internet technology. Thus there’s little reason for liberals to fear that the GOP, traditionally allied to big business, will suddenly be able to buy their way out of the political depths.

Then again riding the wave of populist backlash against Obama seems to be doing that well enough on its own.

Taking a moment to avert my gaze from the unrelenting horror unfolding in Haiti, and putting it back on the unrelenting horror of domestic politics, I find myself practically insulted by the language being used to describe the race for the special election to fill the vacant senate seat in Massachusetts. I’d like to see it stay in democratic hands myself, but the stench of entitlement coming off of the democrats is nigh-overpowering: “It’s Ted Kennedy’s seat! We have to keep it!” Ted Kennedy is dead, and strictly speaking the seat belongs to whoever the people of Massachusetts SAY it belongs to. I realize they like having a 60 seat supermajority (for all the good its done them), but talking about filling the seat in terms of hereditary succession isn’t exactly helping the case that the democrats are the new champions of change in Washington.

Then again they can hardly be blamed for panicking. The fact that the GOP (or rather the Tea Party mad hatters that now possess them) have been able to smell blood in the water in a state as blue as Massachusetts is a most evil omen, and losing the supermajority basically kills health care reform dead unless one or both of the Ladies from Maine can be seduced. This of course even assumes that the House can stomach the loss of the public option, and Pelosi’s got too much invested in her liberal base to give it up. With GOP candidate Brown favored to win nearly 3 to 1, and no republican likely being able to support the healthcare bill without having to leave the party entirely, barring divine intervention this is looking like a serious knee to the groin for Obama’s legislative agenda going into the State of the Union and will likely inflame liberals as much as the debate has so far inflamed conservatives.

Someone has it out for Haiti. I’m not sure if they’re a person or a deity but whoever it is has both extreme power and an extreme hatred for the western third of Hispaniola. The sun has finally risen, allowing people to take stock of the full scale of the damage dealt to the capital of Port Au Prince following last night’s massive earthquake, and according to Haiti’s first lady large parts of the city are simply gone. Haiti has just managed the seemingly impossible and snatched the title of most unfortunate nation on earth from Afghanistan. This earthquake already follows the Hurricane conga line of 2008 when the country was his by literally FOUR major storms in a row. And of course let us not forget the extent to which it was wracked with severe political instability for a decade following several more of horrible mismanagement under a dictator who’s philosophy of governance can be accurately summed up as “voodoo”.

Rather than dwelling on misfortune, and as I’ve outline there’s certainly plenty to dwell on, now’s the time for action. President Obama’s already promising American help is on the way, and NPR has posted a handy list of ways you can make donations to aid organizations who really really need it. And I don’t even mean the television infomercial kind of need; reports are saying the UN compound has been flattened, a large portion of the peacekeeping mission’s forces are missing, and Doctors without Borders has basically been left crippled. If there was a time you were thinking about giving to charity, and in this economy I can’t entirely blame you for having second thoughts, now is the time to do so. Failing that, I urge everyone reading this to hope/pray for the people of Haiti.

-We’re All In This Together

Oh how I wish that were still just a figure of speech.

Apparently the adage that the only bad publicity is no publicity is not universally true. Despite the crowd fighting a messy and photogenic war for control of the GOP, Politico reports that a recent Harris poll has John McCain, who’s been keeping a relatively low profile since the election, regarded as the most influential leader of the GOP by not unimpressive margins.

Far be it from me to attempt to read the stars from a single poll, but this does bode well for what remains of the party’s moderate wing after months of the newscycle being focused squarely on the trevails of the tea party movement and it’s assorted straw men.

On that topic, something puzzles me: is anyone else as confused by the idea that a movement that claims to be as concerned about fiscal issues as the teabaggers would be willing to shell out $350 a pop to see palin (herself paid an even hundred grand) speak at the first-ever tea party convention?

As I noted in my last entry on the matter, a broad spectrum of observers is beginning to seriously consider the possibility that the Green Movement signals the beginning of the end of the revolutionary regime in Iran. As intoxicating as it is to get caught up in the excitement that surrounds the Green Movement, to which the world has attached its hopes for seeing the fall of the clerical regime, it’s a good idea to take a moment and keep things in perspective. Media outlets are already beginning the backlash, with Foreign Policy magazine, StratFor, and even the Gray Lady leading the skeptical charge. While the movement’s longevity is certainly remarkable, their aims may not be as far reaching as we all might want, to the extent they’ve been articulated at all.

Which brings us to the greens’ first shortcoming: a lack of a clear agenda. The massive uprisings in June and the actions since have been driven by 30 years of simmering resentment towards an Islamic nanny state finally boiling over. But so far that’s all that’s been articulated by the opposition: just repeated accusations of corruption, electoral malfeasance, and brutality. While these accusations may be (and let’s be honest pretty much are) true, they have yet to present an alternative plan. Do they just want a reelection? Resignation of high officials? Reform of the system? Revolution? Given the broad ideological base the greens are now attracting you’re likely to get different answers based on who you ask, and while the broad support is good it’s also something of a thorn. The number of voices now in the movement makes articulating a single, coherent agenda all the more difficult as illustrated by how many ways the simple question “Who’s running this show?” can be answered.

Realizing this vulnerability the movement appears to be attempting to make its goals clear post-Ashura, which is especially important as the outbreak of violence makes it necessary to counter government charges that the protesters are merely anarchists. However while green leaders inside Iran such as Mousavi and University Professors are simply making generalized calls for reform, the most comprehensive statement seems to have come from several Iranian exiles, and this is itself a problem. Exile communities are hardly the best barometers of opinion inside their home countries, and aren’t nearly as powerful or influential there as they generally like to think they are (hence why they left in the first place). This is why thousands of Cubans in Miami and New Jersey, despite their well-earned wealth in their adopted country, have been utterly powerless to present anything more than an annoyance to Castro. And let us not forget the role elements of the Iraqi exile community (namely one Ahmed Chalabi) played in building up george bush’s hopes of replacing saddam’s statues with his own. It also runs the very severe risk of playing into the government’s hands by lending credence to the regime narrative of discontent being driven by foreign agents seeking to subjugate Iran once more.

And this leads to another problem, although this is more a problem of perception.The green movement neither wants nor needs foreign support, despite numerous claims in the media to the contrary. This is immensely frustrating to Americans, as we are both an action-oriented people and see ourselves as the vanguard of freedom. In this way Obama’s taken a good tack of offering light moral support to the opposition and precious little else. Anything more could easily be spun by the regime and the resulting wave of nationalist fervor would be just what the doctor ordered to restore their legitimacy. Ditto the recent game of brinkmanship on the nuclear issue: goading Israel into an attack that would universally enrage the populace is probably the regime’s only solution to its ills that they can see, but once again I digress.

In short, the Green Movement carries within it the promise of bringing great change to Iran, and the mere fact of its continued existence has already irrevocably altered the political landscape in Tehran. A full scale revolution may not be in the offing, but even a few reforms of the current system would prove a breath of fresh air in a nation that’s been stagnating politically for decades. All we outside the country can (and should) do is continue to watch, and wait, and hope.

-We’re All In This Together

Hovering over the political landscape like the promise of death, dick cheney continues to blast Obama for not being bush as if this were a bad thing. Today’s line of attack: cheney is pissed that Obama refuses to follow him into the trap of declaring war on a concept. While the daily beast article I just linked to also chastises the administration for still using the terminology of war in order to keep up in the GOP’s macho arms race, the underlying pivot in policy is still basically sound. Trying to defeat terrorism militarily is like trying to defeat guerilla warfare; it simply can’t be done by conventional military means and to presume otherwise is not just incorrect but both arrogant and naive. Assuming American military power is some kind of cure-all is most of what got us into the current mess, and the only way to get out is to make ourselves not look like assholes, hence the administration’s (oft delayed) drive to close the Guantanamo prison camp and the push to try terrorists in open court. We don’t win by bombing camps and shooting jihadis (although both are necessary in the short term). We win the same way that we defeated the soviets: fundamentally, we have to make people believe that it’s better to join with us than them and we can’t do that by violating the same principles we claim to defend.

And of course there’s the political ramifications. A lot of GOP congressmen are jumping on cheney’s bandwagon in the hopes of scoring some cheap political points at the president’s expense. Of course, their accusations of Obama being on vacation during the attack and taking too long to respond afterward only serve to underline their lack of long term memory. Summation: Bush was also on vacation during the thwarted attack attempt by now infamous shoe-bomber Richard Reid. He waited 6 days to make any statement on the matter, and the democrats uttered not a peep. Obama waits 72 hours and the GOP is ready to roast him on a spit. Granted Janet Napolitano managed to spectacularly flub the initial response, forcing the President himself to address the matter, but then this merely emphasizes the importance of making sure you have your facts straight before opening your mouth. But then I’m hardly the only one who prefers a president that thinks before opening his mouth: even the normally right leaning editorial page of the Washington Post has risen to Obama’s defense and called GOP attacks hypocritical.

At this point I’m not sure whether I’d prefer for cheney to return from the hole he crawled out of or for him to stick around and keep the GOP looking idiotic.