The Iran Deal: What You Need to Know

Foreign Ministers of Germany, the US, Great Br...
Foreign Ministers of Germany, the US, Great Britain, France, Russia and China in Berlin discussing Iran nuclear program March 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

At last, the P5+1 (the US, the UK, Germany, France, Russia and China) have announced an agreement with Iran limiting that country’s nuclear research program. Supporters of the deal proclaim “peace in our time.” Opponents cry “Munich!” Which side should you believe? Neither, really. But the deal’s supporters have the better case.

Here’s what you need to know about the deal:

First, it’s not about peace or war. War with Iran isn’t a viable option for the United States, which would necessarily do the heavy lifting. An air war wouldn’t cow Iran or destroy its nuclear capability. And having lost two ground wars against less populous and less well-armed opponents since 2001, the US is in no shape to undertake a third.

Second, it’s not about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Why? Because Iran has no nuclear weapons program. The International Atom Energy Agency has found some discrepancies in Iran’s Non-Proliferation Treaty reporting, but Iran’s religious “supreme leader” has declared development of such weapons a sin against Islam, and western intelligence agencies (including those of the US and Israel) say there’s no evidence of such development.

Since it’s not about war or nuclear proliferation, what is it about? Two things: International trade and US prestige.

Iran boasts huge oil reserves and a population of more than 75 million. They want to trade with other countries. Other countries want to trade with them. Decades of sanctions have left everyone poorer than they ought to be.

US prestige as “leader of the free world” is at stake because at least three of the P5+1 nations — Russia, China and France — will likely make their own deals with Iran even if the US bucks out. The UK and Germany might or might not stick with the US in that event. The choice for the US is to jump to the front of the parade and continue to “lead,” or else to find itself on the sidelines.

So, why the opposition among congresspeople and Republican presidential aspirants? Again, two reasons.

The first is simple power politics. American politicians and Iranian politicians have a lot in common — both groups want to run Iran. American politicians got used to doing so after the CIA overthrew Iran’s government and replaced it with a puppet regime in 1953. They’ve been throwing a temper tantrum ever since Iranians revolted in 1979. The tantrum continues.

The second reason is Israel. The Israelis fear Iranian dominance in the region and want the US to keep a lid on Iran. The Israeli lobby exerts a powerful force on US politics, both because evangelical Christian voters attach religious importance to Israel and because Israeli patrons like billionaire Sheldon Adelson write big checks to politicians who reach for the sky when Benjamin Netanyahu says “jump.”

Neither of these reasons are GOOD reasons. Peace and trade are better than cold war and sanctions. The US is better off running its own foreign policy than subordinating itself to Israel.  This deal is good for America.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Redistricting for Dummies: How to End the Gerrymander

 

English: Gerrymander diagram for four sample d...
English: Gerrymander diagram for four sample districts. Created in Adobe Illustrator by Jeremy Kemp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Every ten years, based on the latest census data, the states receive new apportionments of seats in the US House of Representatives. The state legislatures begin mapping out revised districts to accommodate changes in population, population distribution, and increases or decreases in the number of seats.

And five years later, some state legislatures (at the moment, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia top the list) are still fighting over how to divide the spoils. Districts are re-drawn to protect powerful incumbents, give each major party at least token representation, and preserve the political power of labor lobbies, racial and ethnic communities, and other special interests. Each redistricting scheme ends up in court with multiple trips back to the drawing board.

This process is called “gerrymandering,” after Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 signed a state senate redistricting map in which one district resembled a salamander.

It’s an ugly process. Everybody claims to hate it. But nobody seems interested in ending it, though it would be simple to do so.

Judge Robert Bork, later a failed nominee to the US Supreme Court, was once tasked with submitting a redistricting plan. He suggested starting in one corner of the state and drawing roughly square districts by population, without regard to special interest factors. His suggestion wasn’t accepted. But it would be easy to implement. Just plug the map and census data into a computer program and voila — uniform districts, fairly drawn.

Even better, why not transition to “at-large” elections for all US Representatives?

The district concept was implemented before the invention of the telegraph, at a time when most Americans got their news from a local paper and never strayed more than 50 miles from their birthplaces. Local elections made sense then. Today we cross the continent in hours and read worldwide news seconds after it happens (or watch it AS it happens).

Why not just have a statewide election for (for example) five seats, in which the five top vote-getters are elected? This would not eliminate sectional interests, pork barrel earmarks and other maladies of supposedly representative government entirely, but it would make members of Congress more accountable to large, mixed constituencies and less beholden to the insular coalitions controlling gerrymandered districts.

Switching to “at-large” elections might also mitigate the power of the two-party “duopoly” in favor of more proportional representation, especially if  better voting systems — approval voting, single transferable vote and instant run-off are three interesting ideas — were implemented as well.

Which is why it will ever happen. The American political system is brittle. Our politicians would rather break it than bend their will to ours. So maybe we should instead start thinking about what comes next.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Broadband Prices: Bernie Sanders and His Gang of Four Are Out of Touch

Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in 1992, US president George HW Bush stumbled over a grocery store price scanner on his way to re-election. Touring a grocers’ convention, Bush gazed in “wonder,” according to the New York Times, at technology well-known to everyone else. Bush went down in history as “out of touch”  with the real America — and as a one-term president.

How much more out of touch than that do you have to be to assert that “just 37 percent of Americans have more than one option for high-speed broadband providers?”

That’s what US Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward Markey (D-MA) claim in a letter to Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. The Senators want Wheeler to investigate what they consider unduly high prices in the cable industry for both television and Internet services.

Their sketchy statistical claim results from concentrating solely on local cable monopolies (which are indeed a bad thing) to the exclusion of satellite TV and Internet companies, DSL and television services offered by phone companies, and cellular Internet.

If the Senators answered their own doors and phones and emptied their own mailboxes now and then, they might understand the situation better.

I live in a suburban area, verging into rural. Fortunately, cable reaches my home, and based on my own needs (my family uses LOTS of bandwidth), I chose the local cable monopoly (Cox) for television, Internet and phone services. But my recycling bin overflows with junk mail begging me to switch  to AT&T U-Verse, Dish Network, DirecTV, a local satellite TV/Internet outfit, or one of several cellular providers. Not to mention the telemarketing calls and door knocks.

I have choices coming out my ears (in addition to all those listed, I can carry my laptop to nearly any business district and suck down all the free Wi-Fi I want). Based on a quick review of coverage maps, I’m confident that nearly 100% of my fellow Americans do as well. Some providers offer more or less. Some charge more or less. Which is cool, since people’s needs vary.

Why the sudden crocodile tears over cable Internet pricing? And  why from these four, of all people?

A few weeks ago, Sanders blamed child hunger in America on the availability of too many brands of deodorant. Now he’s concerned over too few brands of TV and Internet access.

All four Senators volubly supported increasing Internet access prices for “the little people” when they backed the FCC’s recent Title II “net neutrality” power grab. Bandwidth infrastructure costs. Since providers can’t charge bandwidth hogs like YouTube and Netflix a la carte to cover those costs, every end user (including your grandmother, who checks her email once a day and looks at a few funny pictures of cats) is going to end up paying more.

The Gang of Four didn’t care about the little people’s Internet bills then. Why should we believe they do now? To put it bluntly, I don’t.  Neither should you.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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