Iran – Why the Details Don’t Matter

The details of the Iran deal aren’t worth quibbling over. A few sources (NYT and Vox among them) have developed cute summaries of “all you need to know”, but they reek of partisanship, oversimplification and naïve optimism. It seems the best way to gain public support for an agreement is to make it so complicated and nuanced that no one will actually comprehend it (a too familiar concept for opponents of the ACA), and the average American with a busy life will be forced to read someone’s capsule summary of it.

From a legal perspective there are plenty of of gaps, holes, and ambiguities in the Iran deal which in the business world would result in an entirely unenforceable contract. In law schools around the country, first year students are taught that “I will give you ten dollars if and when I feel like it” is not enforceable because it is an illusory promise, retaining too much discretion to bind an obligation. One sticking point in particular is the discretion and flexibility Iran retains under the deal to tie up any disputes or investigations within a web of legal processes for which there is ultimately no timetable.

It is certainly worth noting that the drivers of this deal do not claim that it is a good one. In fact, the overall theme in support of the Vienna agreement is simply “it is better than nothing”. Kerry goes so far as to suggest the agreement serves as a baseline for future negotiations, should Iran begin to ‘act out’. President Obama describes this deal as the only alternative to war. Not a good deal, but the best that anyone could have done.

Assuming the goal of a negotation is for all parties to give and receive some value, it is safe to say that we did not receive anything tangible. One might argue a threshold concession might have been the release of four American hostages in Iran. The President has acknowledged the need to secure the release of these four Americans but expressed concern that tying them into the negotiations would have caused the Iranians to use them as pawns to extract further concessions. (What more could we have given them?) The best case to be made for an American gain in this deal is the intangible possibility of friendly future relations with Iran. This prompts the real questions. Is negotiating peace with a country who doesn’t necessarily desire it a viable national interest? Is this a regime with which we should be negotiating at all? A key principle of negotiation must be a level of mutual respect, correct?

The Islamic Republic of Iran openly hates the US. Not just the extreme fringes of the Iranian populace mind you. Hatred of America, Israel, and the West in general is a core tenet of Iranian culture. Contempt for Americans is institutional. Proponents of this deal would have you believe that Iran only hates us based on our arrogant reputation for aggressive interventionism. But we are bargaining at the table at arm’s length now. Shouldn’t Iran’s leadership be speaking some eloquent praise of our leadership for finally seeing the light, becoming more enlightened, and working toward normalizing diplomatic relations between us?

Ayatollah Khameini tweeted out an image of President Obama with a gun to his head, and promised a swift defeat of the aggressive, criminal America. This did not happen many years ago, and this is not some low level government operative. This was last weekend (after the deal), and this is the supreme leader and most powerful political figure in Iran.

A few days after the deal, the same Ayatollah openly mocked America in front of a crowd of Iranians as they chanted “Death to America”, claiming that “they think they have stopped us, but we know that is not true” [rough translation]. Iran’s hostility towards Israel is no secret, and maybe you claim not to care about Israel (for every functional purpose our mid-east proxy), but isn’t the idea of open discussion of the annihilation of an entire people cause for concern?

If it was just about nailing down the details of an agreement, then a reasonable person might just agree that this deal is better than nothing, and at least we have something down on paper now. But the details do not matter when dealing with a partner that doesn’t respect you. In fact, we might have been better off never taking a seat at the table. President Obama has been successful in his second term, racking up legacy points in a progressive agenda, but he may come to regret his lone significant foray into foreign affairs. At the very best, we have accomplished nothing. At the worst, we have legitimized and fueled a global threat.

Guns Happened.

Dangit. Guns happened again.

At least that’s how some people look at it. Guns are out of control. The proliferation of guns in the United States is the reason for the recent rash of mass shootings. How many guns do people need? How many have to die?

It is mind boggling that a man can walk into a movie theater (again) and start shooting randomly, and avoid responsibility. Instead of looking at the man, we look at the implement. Instead of taking a hard look at a culture of declining morals and gratuitous violence we think about writing laws to make weapons harder to obtain.

Never mind for the moment the shocking ignorance and willful blindness to a  culture of violence that is so apparent in this one week alone, that only insidious political motives can be at the root of it. Last week a man shot five active duty military personnel at recruiting posts, but gun control was not the hysteric cry. Even last night, shortly before the shooting in Louisiana took place, President Obama wrung his hands on national television and bemoaned his inability to make progress on “common sense gun safety laws”, all the while declining to tie the comment to the Chattanooga shooting. That shooting falls within a different narrative, upon which he does not want to cast light.

On Wednesday (just one day earlier) two teens stabbed 5 people to death in Oklahoma. This made the news, but it did not make the political circuit. No one attempted to capitalize on this tragedy or make political hay. What made this crime different?

Perhaps most troubling is the shortcuts we have come to accept in our thinking when we read a news story. Too often the BBC or NPR or NBC do the thinking for us. It is hard not to sense something like elation in the media at each new tragedy. Why do they love these crimes? Many, many people died tragic deaths yesterday. Some to disease, some to traffic accidents, some to murder. Why does only this crime produce the glitz and glamour, and are we foolish enough to think it does not contribute to a sick culture and produce more murders?

We should be deeply troubled by random murders. Who isn’t? Instead of looking to our leaders to save us, maybe we ought to look at the dying church, the media love affair with gun crime, Grand Theft Auto and the Dark Knight, bookstores closing, libraries moving bookshelves out to make room for more gaming computers, mental illness, depression, and a lack of love in our broken down families. Hatred, and violence do not exist in the handle of a knife, or the barrel or trigger of a gun. Violence lives in the heart and in the mind. Focusing anywhere else is not only a futile effort, but it is usually a result of questionable political motive.

Donald, please go home.

Donald Trump’s appeal to a conservative base that feels like they have been abandoned is understandable. The wave of enthusiasm should not have lasted this long, however.

Two reasons:

First, assuming Trump were making coherent points, he doesn’t actually believe the things he’s saying. Probably the number one issue that has made him attractive to the conservative base has been immigration. One might wonder when the Donald developed his tough on immigration bona fides. It had to have been in the last two years, because prior to that he criticized then candidate Romney for being way too mean-spirited for proposing the ‘maniacal’ deportation of people who just want to be ‘wonderful productive citizens of this country’. Trump was a registered democrat until 2009, and helped fund the democratic takeover of congress in 2006. He loved Obamacare until he decided to run as a republican, and even still, he has this to say about healthcare: ‘”You can’t let the people in this country that are the poor people, the people without the money and resources go without healthcare,” Trump told the MSNBC program. “I just can’t even imagine. You’re sick and you can’t even go to a doctor. I say one thing, can you not let 25 percent of the people of the country because they have no money go without something?”

Second, Trump is not making coherent points. He is holding town hall style meetings on the campaign trail where he performs some mixture of an Andrew Dice Clay/Sopranos/stand up comedy routine, one by one bashing his opponents. “Lindsey Graham, he’s an idiot, HEY!” “Oh, Hey, John Mccain, I like heros, not guys who get shot down, ya know whatta mean, HEY?” Unconventional is one thing. Not being a career politician is admirable. The Donald is acting like a buffoon, and the media are loving it. They want him to carry on as long as possible until this whole “Death to America” thing blows over, and until some of the legitimate candidates screw up in their attempts to distance themselves from the Donald.

The republican field is already a clown car. This clown is stealing the spotlight and distracting much needed attention away from the disastrous foreign relations move set in motion this week by the sitting administration. Even the writer of this blog intended to comment on the Iran deal (and still will), but felt the need to address the Donald first.

To conservatives: This will never happen. The joke must end. Nothing good is coming from it. Tell the Donald to take his hair and go home.


Where will you go?

What will you do if you suddenly find yourself surrounded by people who do not speak your language? From the simplest command, to the more complicated and significant idea, your words fall on deaf ears. Not exactly deaf ears, because they ‘hear’ you, but they don’t understand you. In fact, they are repulsed by you. You don’t understand their words either. You are repulsed by them as well, but there are so any more of them, than there are of you.

There are only a few languages that may be spoken in public without scorn or revulsion. But you don’t want to speak those languages anymore. Where will you go?

In 2015, political parties in the United States are methods of control. There are very few meaningful differences between the two major players, but they have branded themselves based on token issues and made up values with labels like “Tradition” and “Progress”. As time has passed without major existential threats on American soil, and very little labor or toil when compared to our predecessors, politics has devolved into a social status, and a conversation piece. Instead of seeking a way of life and searching for leaders that enable it, we try to squeeze ourselves into one of two ideological camps, and we allow our elected leaders to educate us on just what type of life we should be seeking.

We are people, with ways of thinking that should be detached from two major political parties or ideological camps. There are many dimensions to the way we think. There are not only two types of people in the world, or in the country, so why do we speak only two languages? Why does it seem like our language was abandoned in common use years ago, and has recently been snubbed out completely? For years we have hung on to the threads of our dying language as it manifest itself in one of the controlling brands.

Visit this blog once per week, on Sunday afternoons, for a discussion in a language you understand. This will not be a desperate attempt of an upstart political party ambitiously seeking a place among the powerhouses. We have already determined there is no appetite for our ideas among the masses; no ear for our language. We have no candidate. We have no platform, though we will discuss what a perfect one might look like.

At the beginning of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt felt like one of the parties didn’t speak his language anymore so he formed a party and a new platform. It didn’t last long, but mainly because his ambitions were purely political. He would have been perfectly happy to stay in the Republican party, but he was out-politicked by Taft for the nomination.

We introduce the 21st century version of TR’s idea. The main difference between our idea and TR’s is that we are not seeking political gain. Just a refuge of ideas and language. We chose the Bull Gator for a few reasons, though admittedly this is not a perfect analogy. This creature is majestic, powerful, misunderstood, and endangered. The true alligator is native to the United States (differentiate from the crocodile). It tries to keep to itself. It poses no threat to any human who respects its habitat and doesn’t foolishly infringe on its territory. Quite frankly, we chose the Bull Gator because it is awesome.

You have to use caution to speak your language in public. Your ideas are not accepted anymore. Where will you go?