Tuesday, October 01, 2013

"Though the Iranians are now in a weak strategic position, they had been on the offensive since 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. They welcomed the invasion; Saddam Hussein had been a mortal enemy of Iran ever since the 1980-1989 Iran-Iraq War. The destruction of his regime was satisfying in itself, but it also opened the door to a dramatic shift in Iran's national security situation.Iraq was Iran's primary threat after the collapse of the Soviet Union because it was the only direction from which an attack might come. A pro-Iranian or even neutral Iraq would guarantee Iranian national security. The American invasion created a power vacuum in Iraq that the U.S. Army could not fill. The Iranians anticipated this, supporting pro-Iranian elements among the Shia prior to 2003 and shaping them into significant militias after 2003. With the United States engaged in a war against Sunni insurgents, the Shia, already a majority, moved to fill the void. The United States came to realize that it was threatened from two directions, and it found itself battling both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. The purpose of the surge in 2007 was to extricate itself from the war with the Sunnis and to block the Shia. It succeeded with the former to a great extent, but it was too late in the game for the latter. As the United States was withdrawing from Iraq, only the Shia (not all of them Iranian surrogates) could fill the political vacuum. Iran thus came to have nothing to fear from Iraq, and could even dominate it. This was a tremendous strategic victory for Iran, which had been defeated by Iraq in 1989. After the Iranians made the most of having the United States, focused on the Sunnis, open the door for Iran to dominate Iraq, a more ambitious vision emerged in Tehran. With Iraq contained and the United States withdrawing from the region, Saudi Arabia emerged as Iran's major challenger. Tehran now had the pieces in place to challenge Riyadh. Iran was allied with Syria and had a substantial pro-Iranian force in Lebanon -- namely, Hezbollah. The possibility emerged in the late 2000s of an Iranian sphere of influence extending from western Afghanistan's Shiite communities all the way to the Mediterranean. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had fairly realistic visions of Iranian power along Saudi Arabia's northern border, completely changing the balance of power in the region. But while Syrian President Bashar al Assad was prepared to align himself with Iran, he initially had no interest in his country's becoming an Iranian satellite. In fact, he was concerned at the degree of power Iran was developing. The Arab Spring and the uprising against al Assad changed this equation." (STRATFOR)

"Shutting down the federal government is not, by a far sight, the most dangerous, cruel, or ideologically blinkered thing the House Republicans have done. But it is surely the most baffling. They have taken an issue, broad disapproval of Obamacare, where they enjoy a modest but persistent advantage and turned it into an issue — shut down the government over Obamacare — where they stand at an overwhelming, three-to-one disadvantage. They stepped on the message of what’s sure to be Obamacare’s glitchiest day. They’ve followed a course of action their leaders know full well stands no chance of success yet carries massive downside risks. For an act of comparable cost-benefit political stupidity, you have to look to politicians who screw interns or hookers, and even that has a biologically explicable motivation.The wanton, tragicomic stupidity of the shutdown does have an explanation, to be sure. It’s an expression of the structural perversity of the House of Representatives. The bizarre makeup of the House has forced the government into a state of paralyzed dysfunction, teetering on outright catastrophe, for the last year. The glimmer of hope — far from likely but now conceivable — is that the drama of the shutdown has pushed into the open what had been obscured, making it finally possible to imagine the contours of a solution. The illogic of the House rests on two overlapping facts. The first is that, because Republican votes are distributed more efficiently (and benefit from gerrymandering), Republicans won control of the House despite garnering some 1.4 million fewer votes. Republicans could keep the House even without controlling a single district won by Barack Obama. The second fact is what political scientists call a 'legislative cartel' — the party controlling the majority can freeze out bills that would attract the support of all members of the legislature if most of the majority party opposes them, making the chamber run on the internal logic of the majority party only. The more passionate, better-funded, better-organized right wing of the GOP has brought the leadership to heel. An aide to Senator Mike Lee boasted how the right-wing rump based in the Senate has called the shots in the House: 'The minority of the minority' of the Senate GOP, he says, referring to the ascendant Tea Party Caucus, 'is going to run things until our leadership gets some backbone.' What makes this system so devilishly immune to democratic accountability is that the transfer of power is invisible to the naked eye. The members of the majority party hand their power to the leadership, which in turn hands power to their most extreme members." (NYMag)

"Shawn Carter, better known as Jay Z, tells Vanity Fair contributing editor Lisa Robinson in the November issue that although his wife, Beyoncé, says that their 18-month-old daughter, Blue Ivy, prefers Jay’s music to hers, he’s not so sure. 'That’s not true. She does like her mother’s music—she watches [Beyoncé’s concerts] on the computer every night. But my album came out and I don’t know if Blue ever heard any of my music prior to this album—she’s only 18 months old and I don’t play my music around the house. But this album was new, so we played it. And she loves all the songs. She plays a song and she goes, ‘More, Daddy, more . . . Daddy song.’ She’s my biggest fan. If no one bought the Magna Carta [album], the fact that she loves it so much, it gives me the greatest joy. And that’s not like a cliché. I’m really serious. Just to see her—‘Daddy song, more, Daddy.’ She’s genuine, she’s honest, because she doesn’t know it makes me happy. She just wants to hear it.' Jay tells Robinson that Barack Obama’s 2008 election 'actually renewed my spirit for America. It was like, Oh, wow, man, this whole thing about land of the free, home of the . . . it’s, like, real—it’s going to happen, everyone’s getting to participate in it. But growing up, if you had ever told a black person from the hood you can be president, they’d be like, I could never . . . If you had told me that as a kid, I’d be like, Are you out of your mind? How?' Jay tells Robinson that his mother knew he was dealing drugs as a teenager, 'but we never really had those conversations. We just pretty much ignored it. But she knew. All the mothers knew. It sounds like ‘How could you let your son . . . ’ but I’m telling you, it was normal.' Jay’s checkered past taught him a few things that he says will come in handy in his new role as a sports agent: 'I know about budgets. I was a drug dealer,' he tells Robinson." (VanityFair)

"I went to have lunch at Michael’s with Madelyn Wils and Diana Taylor. Diana, I’ve met before but I had not met Madelyn. I also had no idea why they wanted to lunch except that Diana had told me beforehand that it had to do with the Hudson River Park. I didn’t know about the park. I knew about many of the activities in the park but I didn’t know about the park as a space. Although I knew what was on a lot of that space. It’s the largest public park undertaken in New York since the creation of Central Park in the middle of the 19th Century.  It covers 550 acres of riverside along the Hudson, from 59th Street to Battery Park. It had 17 million visitors last year. A lot of those visitors are people who live in the neighborhoods now known in New York as 'downtown,' meaning living areas, and  return all the time, often daily to use its numerous facilities." (NYSocialDiary)

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