Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Cruising the Web

While those, like myself, who have long derided Obama's deal with Iran, are happy to see an administration offering support for Iranians protesting their government's tyranny, it is not clear how much help the U.S. can offer those protesters. Given that the Iranian government has shut down people's access to the internet, it would be nice if we could help provide a boost so the protesters could keep posting to social media and sharing their stories as well as having access to news of what is happening.

Karim Sadjadpour writes in The Atlantic with some suggestions of what American leaders can do to aid the protesters.
One concrete suggestion is to make it clear that companies and countries around the world complicit in Iran’s repressive apparatus—including those providing censorship technology—will face censure from the United States. The United States should also mobilize global partners that do have working relations with Iran—including Europe, Japan, South Korea, and India—to add their voices of concern and condemnation to Tehran’s repression. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has been noticeably silent.

Given the opacity of the Iranian system and its inaccessibility to independent investigation, the days and weeks ahead are eminently unpredictable. Khamenei and his IRGC backers appear firmly entrenched from thousands of miles away, but we also know from history that authoritarian stability can be a chimera. In August 1978, the CIA confidently assessed that the Pahlavi monarchy in Iran “is not in a revolutionary or even a pre-revolutionary situation.” Five months later the Shah—stricken with advanced cancer unbeknownst even to his family—left never to come back. Khamenei’s health has been the source of wide speculation for years, but tightly held as a national security secret.

“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence,” the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci apparently liked to say, “but an optimist because of will.” Two-thousand-five-hundred years of Persian civilization and a century-long quest for democracy offer hope about the irrepressible Iranian will for change. But the Islamic Republic’s four-decade history of brutality suggests that change will not come easily, or peacefully, or soon.

Sohrab Ahmari has one important recommendation in the WSJ - don't cut back on funding for Radio Liberty as Trump has done. And it is important to make sure that the radio broadcasts a message in accord with American policy.
To get a feel for the dysfunction, consider Radio Farda, the Persian-language component of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. With an annual budget of $117 million, RFE/RL is supposed to serve as a surrogate press in 23 countries across Europe and Asia that restrict media freedom. Farda is one of its most important broadcasters, intended to give Iranians a rigorous, fair and morally credible alternative to propaganda from Tehran.

But Farda too often fails to deliver. Nowhere is this more apparent than in its treatment of Israel. Here’s how it recounted a Palestinian attack that took place March 19, 2016, amid last year’s stabbing intifada: “Israeli media, quoting security officials, claimed that Abdullah Ajlouni, a 20-year-old youth, had, as Israeli media put it, approached several Israeli soldiers in a ‘suspicious manner,’ and ‘had tried to attack them.’ ”

In fact, Israeli forces didn’t open fire on Ajlouni merely because he had acted suspicious. Ajlouni had pulled a knife and stabbed one of the soldiers before they opened fire.

The story went on to claim that Ahmad Dawabsheh, a 6-year-old Palestinian boy who eight months earlier survived an arson attack by hard-line Israeli settlers, had been “transferred to Spain for treatment of wounds sustained in the flames, and Israel still hasn’t arrested anyone on suspicion of carrying out the attack.”

Again, incorrect. Israel had two months earlier indicted two Jews, charging one with murder over the attack, which killed Ahmad’s parents and 18-month-old brother. Iranians relying on Farda to understand these events were given the false impression that Israel is a place where Jews kill Arabs with impunity. Nenad Pejic, a former Balkan correspondent who now serves as RFE/RL’s Prague-based editor-in-chief, conceded in an email that the stabbing story that also discussed the Dawabsheh case had been “inaccurate.”

Perhaps most dismaying are the stories that seem to be borrowed wholesale from state-run Iranian media.

An April 2016 Farda headline quoted President Hassan Rouhani to the effect that “If It Weren’t for Iran’s Assistance, ISIS would Have Captured Baghdad and Damascus.” Another, from November 2016, read: “Iran’s Deputy President Visits Shiite Festival in Iraq.” Like any item that might appear in Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, these U.S.-funded stories deferentially quoted one Iranian official after another without offering context or any alternative view. Mr. Pejic agreed that these stories were “incomplete.”

If any federal agency could use a Trumpian shake-up, the Broadcasting Board of Governors is it.

H&R Block Tax Software Deluxe + State 2017 + Refund Bonus Offer

H&R Block Tax Software Premium & Business 2017 [PC Download]

Quicken Deluxe 2018 Release - [Amazon Exclusive] 27-Month Personal Finance & Budgeting Membership

TurboTax Deluxe 2017 Fed + Efile + State PC/MAC Disc [Amazon Exclusive]

Michael Walsh reminds us of all the good that could flow from the fall of the Iranian regime.
By removing the source of Hezbollah's support, pressure would be relieved on Israel and on American forces still in the dar-al-Harb theaters of war. By demolishing rule-by-mullah, Iran would pose much less of a nuclear threat to civilized nations. And by freeing the Iranian people to choose a new government, the Western democracies could find a valuable new ally in a strategically important part of the world.
And let's not forget that Iran has partnered up with North Korea. With all those benefits from the collapse of the mullah-led government, it is even more shameful how passive the Obama administration was during the 2009 protests. Israeli Deputy Minister Michael Oren reminds us of how Obama decided not to help the Iranian protesters because the president didn't want to forfeit any chance of concluding his grand nuclear deal with the mullahs.
Oren, who was the ambassador to the US at the time, said Obama initially claimed he would not support the protesters because the CIA helped overthrow nationalist Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 and that he wanted to show the Iranian people that he respected their sovereignty. Oren said the Obama administration had told Israelis behind the scenes that the protesters themselves did not want an American endorsement because it could discredit them in the eyes of the Iranian people.

“In retrospect, those explanations are less credible,” Oren told The Jerusalem Post. “The Obama administration’s lack of support for the Green Revolution was part of a pattern in which it did not hold Iran accountable for any provocation. It would seem it was part of a general approach that began in Obama’s first week in office in 2009 of wanting to reach a deal with Iran at pretty much any cost.”

Among the Iranian provocations ignored by the Obama administration, Oren listed the crackdown on the protesters, the kidnapping of Americans, having their missile boats provocatively approach American destroyers, trying to assassinate him and his Saudi counterpart in downtown Washington, the failure to follow through on a red line Obama imposed on Syrian dictator Bashar Assad using chemical weapons and Iranian-backed Hezbollah smuggling massive amounts of cocaine into the US.

The WSJ writes that the events of this past weekend expose the illusions of Obama's policies toward Iran.
Start with the claim that signing a nuclear deal with the Tehran regime would moderate its behavior. Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s chief foreign-policy salesman, said in June 2015 that “a world in which there is a deal with Iran is much more likely to produce an evolution in Iranian behavior, than a world in which there is no deal.”

Mr. Obama said the pact “could strengthen the hands of more moderate leaders in Iran.” And Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Colin Kahl said in 2015 that the Iranians “are not going to spend the vast majority of the money on guns, most of it will go to butter.” Toward that end, the nuclear pact lifted international sanctions and unfroze $100 billion in Iranian assets.

Yet instead of using the money to improve the lives of Iranians, Tehran has used its windfall to back clients making trouble throughout the region. The mullahs have spent billions propping up Syria’s Bashar Assad with troops, weapons and energy shipments. Iran funds Shiite militias in Iraq, Hezbollah terrorists in Syria and Lebanon, and Houthi fighters in Yemen.

The protesters in the streets of Tehran, Qom, Shiraz and other cities are explicitly rejecting this adventurism, shouting slogans like “Leave Syria, think of us!” They want a better economy and more opportunities for their children, not campaigns to build a Shiite empire across the Middle East.

Another busted illusion is that there is a difference in policy between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the supposedly moderate President Hasan Rouhani. Mr. Rouhani talks about listening to the protesters, but that will last only until the Ayatollah gives other orders. The Rouhani government has responded to the nuclear deal by arresting democracy advocates and taking American hostages like Xiyue Wang, a Princeton PhD student, and father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi. The protesters are making no distinction between Mr. Rouhani and the mullahs.

The demonstrations have also exposed the illusion peddled by Mr. Rhodes that President Trump’s more muscular policy toward Iran has united the regime with the Iranian public in opposition to the U.S. The ire of the protesters is aimed at their own rulers for corruption and wasting what they were told would be the fruits of the nuclear deal.
I'm so sick of seeing Rouhani referred to as a moderate. What exactly has he done that has earned him that description? And I don't buy the accusation that any statement of support by the U.S. for the protesters will allow the Iranian regime to paint the protests as acting in the interests of foreign interlopers. They'll do that anyway as they've done that over and over. We used to understand that there were benefits for moral clarity on tyranny. Let us not forget that lesson.

This is a strange response from the NYT's Maggie Haberman to a tweet about the Trump administration calling on Iran to unblock Twitter.

She claimed later that she wasn't making a moral equivalence but just looking at "the traditional values of the office of the US presidency...and how the current occupant considers them himself." I'm not sure how blocking someone on Twitter fits in with "traditional values." What is the equivalent of that in prior eras? And how does blocking an individual from reading Trump's tweets when all those tweets are endlessly retweet at all equivalent to a national government shutting down the internet so that no one can communicate, post videos, or read reports on what is going on in their country? Haberman might not have meant her tweet as a moral equivalence, but I think she betrayed something by that being the immediate comment she wanted to tweet out after a story on Iran.

Deals in Office Products

Deals in Home and Kitchen

Vitamins and Supplements

Jim Geraghty reminds us of this major fail from Fareed Zakaria's 2009 cover story in Newsweek, "What You Know About Iran is Wrong."
Zakaria’s got the sterling resume — Yale, Harvard, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, adjunct professor at Columbia — and he wrote, in what must have been a heavily researched piece, that Iran’s regime might “be happy with a peaceful civilian [nuclear] program,” “Iranians aren’t suicidal.” “Iran isn’t a dictatorship,” and it has a culture of “considerable debate and dissent.” Newsweek readers no doubt concluded that hyperbolic media coverage had obscured the reality of Iran, which was a sophisticated, multifaceted, modern state that is not so scary or brutal after all.

A month after the Zakaria piece ran, the Iranian regime announced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won reelection with 60 percent of the vote, a result that many Iranians concluded had to be fraudulent. The regime crushed the Green Revolution with brutal force, shooting women like Neda Agha-Soltan in the street. Within a matter of months, President Obama announced “the United States, the United Kingdom, and France presented detailed evidence to the IAEA demonstrating that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been building a covert uranium enrichment facility near Qom for several years.”

If you had previously seen Iran as a country dominated by a brutal, dangerously aggressive, nuclear-ambitious regime that already demonstrated a willingness to use children to clear minefields and embraced a philosophy of risk and sacrifice unthinkable to Western values . . . it turns out everything you knew about Iran wasn’t wrong. Everything Fareed Zakaria knew was wrong.

The point of this is not that Zakaria is dumb. The point is that Zarakia saw what he wanted to see in Iran. The world would be a better, happier, nicer place if the Iran of 2009 or today lived up to the benign, reasonable portrait that Zarakia painted in his cover piece.
Geraghty rightly ridicules Matthew Dowd's tweet to try to shut those people who criticize the Obama administration for the hundreds of billions of dollars that the Obama administration freed up for Iran.
“I am wondering how many folks are aware that the money the US sent Iran as part of nuclear deal was actually Iran’s assets to begin with. It was their own money we returned. It wasn’t taxpayer money.”

Yes, but we froze those assets after they raided our embassy, took American diplomatic staff hostage in violation of just about every international law and treaty, paraded them before the cameras, and beat them. Think of the seized assets as a criminal fine, one of the few ways we could punish the Iranians for their barbaric acts against our people.

Spoiler Alert: Laws of economics still hold.
In U.S. cities with the tightest labor markets, workers are finding something that’s long been missing from the broader economic expansion: faster-growing paychecks.

Workers in metro areas with the lowest unemployment are experiencing among the strongest wage growth in the country. The labor market in places like Minneapolis, Denver and Fort Myers, Fla., where unemployment rates stand near or even below 3%, has now tightened to a point where businesses are raising pay to attract employees, often from competitors.

It’s an outcome entirely expected in economic theory, but one that’s been largely absent until now in the upturn that began more than eight years ago.

The Washington Examiner editorializes on what should be obvious but so many politicians and pundits ignore. The economy may have performed very strongly in the past year, but the credit isn't due to what Trump did since January 20.
Some of Trump’s fans will be tempted to give Trump the credit for this growth. That’s a mistake for a few reasons.

First, many of these trends — the stock market’s growth, falling unemployment, and even rising median wages — began under Obama.

More importantly, one falls into the Fatal Conceit when one posits that the president manages the economy. In fact, what Trump has done right is to decline to manage the economy.

Trump ran promising protectionist trade policy. He hasn’t really advanced that agenda. He also implied he would drastically curb legal immigration. That hasn’t happened. Allowing the free flow of goods, services, and people across the border has been good for the economy. If Trump gets credit for this, it’s credit for not doing what he said he would do.

At the same time, Trump has succeeded in an ambitious deregulatory agenda, which surely has juiced markets and driven hiring.

Even before the tax cuts became law, there’s good reason to think their proposal and path towards passage drove much of the market rally this past month. While we don’t put too much stake in the unseemly spectacle of companies making political and public relations hay of post-tax-cut hiring, we do believe that in the long run, a 20 percent corporate rate will provide upward pressure on stock prices, business investment, and economic growth. A lower rate reduces the distorting effects of the tax code, and reduces the incentive to offshore.

The tax bill could have been much better, mostly by simplifying the code, but it was better than the status quo, and will lead to higher wages in the near term and the long term.

Trump didn’t build the economy. But in 2017, he’s done the right things to not get in its way. Continue doing that, and it will be entertaining to watch what Krugman writes.
We always give presidents too much credit for a strong economy and too much blame for a weak economy.

Michele Bachmann is wondering if God wants her to run for Al Franken's Senate seat. Please, God, tell her no.

Armageddon continues.
Southwest Airlines is awarding its employees with $1,000 bonuses in response to the GOP’s tax bill, the company announced Tuesday.

“We applaud Congress and the president for taking this action to pass legislation, which will result in meaningful corporate income tax reform for the transportation sector in general, and for Southwest Airlines, in particular,” Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly said. “We are excited about the savings and additional capital, which we intend to put to work in several forms — to reward our hard-working employees, to reinvest in our business, to reward our shareholders, and to keep our costs and fares low for our customers.”

Kelly also said the company donated an incremental $5 million to charities because of the tax reform bill.

All-new Echo

Echo Dot

Echo Plus

Here's an amusing, but dismaying list of things that college professors labeled 'racist' in 2017. For example,
A math education professor at the University of Illinois argues that white privilege is bolstered by teaching mathematics....

According to two geology professors at San Diego State University, farmers’ markets are contributing to “environmental gentrification.”

....In an essay for The Atlantic, a university professor argued that the total solar eclipse was racist because of its path....

Erin C. Tarver, an assistant professor of philosophy at Oxford College of Emory University, argues that college football is racist in a New York Times op-ed....

Jessie Daniels, a self-described race expert, wrote, “I mean, if you’re a white person who says they’re engaged in dismantling white supremacy but…you’re forming a white family [and] reproducing white children that ‘you want the best for’ - how is that helping [and] not part of the problem?”
When everything is racism, we lose all sight of real racism. Compare the historic deprivations of civil rights that minorities have suffered in our nation's history and true courage shown by civil rights activists in the past and contrast to this moral silliness.

Hre are some pictures and details
from the German POW camp that was the basis for the book and movie, The Great Escape, one of my all-time favorite movies.
The most comprehensive account yet of life inside the notorious prisoner of war camp made famous by the Great Escape has been unearthed in a government report which has finally been published after 74 years.

The document includes first hand accounts by 26 of the men who took part in the epic escape and were recaptured but not executed by the Germans.

One man, Lieutenant Alexander Neely, details how he made it all the way to Berlin on a train only to be recaptured after he was given the address of a brothel instead of a rendezvous point with a Swede who was supposed to get him out of Germany.

Another, Flight Lieutenant Sydney Dowse, tells of how his group walked for 12 days and nights and ticked a farmer into believing they were Polish workers before eventually being discovered by a member of the Hitler Youth.

The information was in a 250-page report prepared for the War Office in the aftermath of the Second World War but never released to the general public.

Instead, it was hidden away in the national archives before historian Martin Mace stumbled upon it by chance while researching another project.

Now, 74 years after the Great Escape, the report has been published in a new book, Stalag Luft III, An Official History of the 'Great Escape' PoW Camp, which analyses in unprecedented detail what went on in the camp and the logistics behind the daring escapes.