24 May 2013

On Senate Resolution 65 - A resolution strongly supporting the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urging the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation.

Reuters/Reuters - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, 350 km (217 miles) south of Tehran, April 8, 2008. REUTERS/Presidential official website/Handout

On May 22, 2013, the Senate confirmed Resolution 65 strongly supporting the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urging the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation without one vote of dissent. Any vote that specifically invokes military action ought to be questioned by someone. Yet not one senator voted in opposition.

The following is my letter to Senator Ron Johnson in response to this calamitous vote. A similar letter was sent to Senator Tammy Baldwin. The vote on this resolution couldn't have been more timely for the war mongers among us. In all the hubbub surrounding the IRS affair and the Benghazi attacks as well as the press intrusions, not too many media outlets have reported on the continued escalations toward military action.

Any responses will be duly posted.

May 24, 2013

Dear Senator Johnson,

I am writing to express my disappointment with the voting results on Senate Resolution 65 and am wondering when the drum beat of war will transform into the thunder claps of missiles targeting Tehran. As a result of Senate Resolution 65, it seems that threats of military strikes have become an integral component of US-Israeli relations with the IR of Iran rather than sincere negotiations.

This realization ought to shock Americans. Every voting Senator voiced their support of the text in Section 1 that Congress as of May 22, 2013, "declares that the United States has a vital national interest in, and unbreakable commitment to, ensuring the existence, survival, and security of the State of Israel, and reaffirms United States support for Israel's right to self-defense; and urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran's nuclear weapons program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence." Unfortunately many Americans will have never heard of Senate Resolution 65 by the time the first missiles have been fired. The fact that this has passed without much of a whimper from around this country speaks volumes for our lack of real representation. Americans have repeatedly voiced their opposition to military strikes in Iran.

The committed resolve demonstrated in S. Res. 65, while impressive in its staunch support of Israel, misrepresents the facts about Iranian nuclear endeavors. The reasoning behind the resolution is disconcerting in its sheer unreasonableness.

As part of the argument for pledging military support, for what seems to be an authorization of preemptive strikes, the resolution cites the IAEA as determining Iran's nuclear program as non-compliant with the NPT signed in 1970. But this declaration is itself highly dubious and misleading because in fact there has been no such statement.

There has been no issuance of a non-compliance statement by the IAEA regarding the Iranian nuclear program. The IAEA maintains a complete and thorough history of Iran's overwhelming participation in oversight of their nuclear endeavors. In turn, the Agency has responsibly been circumspect in describing the uranium enrichment program implemented by the Iranian Republic.

A report by the Congressional Research Service in September 2012, clearly admits as much. The report reiterated the IAEA's findings. It summarily states, that "in 2002, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began investigating allegations that Iran had conducted clandestine nuclear activities. Ultimately, the agency reported that some of these activities had violated Tehran’s IAEA safeguards agreement. The IAEA has not stated definitively that Iran has pursued nuclear weapons, but has also not yet been able to conclude that the country’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes." This conclusion makes it very clear that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is indeed pursuing nuclear weapons. The violation of the safeguards agreement was relative to continued inspections not indicative of nuclear weapon development.

A more recent report by the IAEA, again far more responsibly than the US Senate, affirms that the Agency "is continuing to analyse the source(s) of low enriched uranium (LEU) particles, and some high enriched uranium (HEU) particles, which were found in Iran with a view to assessing the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations concerning its enrichment activities..." That Iran has filed numerous reports with the IAEA ought to be telling in addition to the fact that the IAEA is "continuing" to assess reports provided by Tehran. How many nuclear facility inspections have the IAEA conducted on American soil? The US is home to 104 reactors, by far the most of any country, providing 19% of the country's electricity. Israel is known to harbor nuclear facilities. How many reports have been filed with the IAEA regarding Israeli nuclear endeavors?

Unfortunately, it seems the Senate has chosen to conveniently disregard most of the facts in this case and rather than pursue a course dictated by reason has held fast to intolerable, malevolent sanctions that direct harm at the Iranian people, and then, in the face of these severe trade restrictions, offers belligerent and reckless threats of military escalation.

It is highly dubious that any of the continued bombast on all sides has effectively diminished the likelihood of the development of nuclear technology in Iran. If anything it has only made Tehran's convictions more steadfast.

An alternative solution to these reckless and dangerous provocations, and in lieu of overt but opaquely disguised war, perhaps it is time to re-establish diplomatic ties that might bring more stability to the region rather than more unrest. It is widely known that Iran's influence and presence has now been entrenched in, at the very least, northern Iraq. Tehran continues to support the Syrian government and Hamas. It is well within the region's interest for the US and Israel to construct rational and open negotiations with a goal of stabilization. What is essentially more valuable, that the US act in accordance with its own interests or it acts in accordance with the interests of the greater Middle East? To many of us, the answer would have to be that an achievement of peace in the region would affect America's interest far more than the pursuance of war while also demonstrably affecting the interests of the entire region.

I would urge the good Senator from Wisconsin who now sits on the Foreign Relations Committee to boldly propose opening diplomatic talks following the upcoming Iranian elections. While the rest of your honorable colleagues may be too frightened or intimidated by party politics to offer such a courageous request, it would highly elevate your status as a senator of rationalization rather than belligerence, as a senator of vision rather than a reactionary.



-------------------- US Will go to war if Iran does

NIAC's Statement on US Congressional Action on Iran

20 May 2013

Baboons ransack house near Cape Town

A gang of baboons are filmed by a neighbour entering a house in Betty's Bay, near Cape Town in South Africa, and ransacking the property. The primates climb through an open upstairs window and race round the house, helping themselves to food in the kitchen. The neighbour tries to get rid of the animals using a broom. Most flee but one stubbornly refuses to leave an upstairs bathroom.

New Congressional Sanctions Push Aimed at Killing Iran Diplomacy

Published on May 10th, 2013 | 
by Jamal Abdi

The notion that U.S. sanctions on Iran are supposed to act as diplomatic leverage to get a nuclear deal may be dispelled once and for all by a new Congressional action now in the works.

The House is poised to move ahead with a new round of Iran sanctions, and a slew of new sanctions proposals are set to be introduced in the Senate, even as a host of current and former senior U.S. officials — including Secretary of State John Kerry – have warned the body to hold off on new sanctions at the risk of imperiling a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear standoff.

For some in Congress, this seems to be precisely the point.

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) is circulating a draft measure that would make regime change, not a negotiated solution, the official U.S. policy. Kirk promises to introduce that measure shortly, but first will introduce two smaller sanction measures to cut off Iran’s foreign exchange and block its natural gas deals, all building up to the grand finale. The first was introduced this week, S.892, which is designed to cut off Iranian access to euros. It would sanction any foreign entity that converts currency held by Iran’s Central Bank or other sanctioned Iranian entities into non-local currency. Blocking Iranian access to euros will of course make it more difficult for Iran to purchase Western medicines and exacerbate the reported sanctions-induced medicine shortage now plaguing Iran.

Sen. Kirk hopes to attach these smaller bills to another sanctions package in the House before formally introducing his regime change bill. That bill will mandate that sanctions be kept in place until Iran transitions to a democratic government — a preposterous notion given the disastrous effect sanctions are having on Iran’s civil society and democracy movement. The bill would echo the Iraq Liberation Act, which was passed and signed by President Clinton in 1998 and cemented regime change as the official policy toward Saddam Hussein. That measure all but guaranteed Saddam would not comply with sanctions — what was the point if they would never be lifted? — and was cited by Congress as the basis for authorizing war with Iraq four years later.

In the meantime, the House is considering H.R.850, a measure that would sanction U.S. allies that conduct commercial transactions with Iran. Despite existing humanitarian waivers, this could affect transactions that include food and medicine as commercial entities and banks are becoming increasingly fearful of conducting any business transaction with Iran for fear of being penalized by the United States. Congress attempted to pass a similar measure last year as part of a previous sanctions package, but removed it at the last minute after intervention by the Obama Administration. A Congressional aide told Congressional Quarterly at the time that the measure “would be impossible to enforce and only make our allies really angry. They would have endangered their cooperation with the sanctions we have now.”

Nevertheless, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is looking to move H.R.850 in a matter of weeks. Next Wednesday, the committee will hold a hearing with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, the top U.S. negotiator conducting multilateral talks with Iran, and Treasury Under Secretary for Financial Intelligence and Terrorism David Cohen, who is in charge of implementing the Iran sanctions. Committee Chairman Ed Royce  ominously said the hearing was “a chance to press the Administration on critical questions surrounding U.S. participation in the P5+1 negotiations and its implications for the enforcement of sanctions.” The implication being that the U.S. could be implementing more sanctions if pesky diplomacy wasn’t getting in the way. The next step would be to move the sanctions bill.

Regardless of what Sherman and Cohen tell the chamber, it may make no difference. Secretary of State John Kerry implored the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April to hold off on further sanctions and to not interfere with diplomatic efforts to little effect. Congress has become increasingly bold in dismissing the White House’s requests when it comes to Iran. Congress has also thus far ignored reports from senior former officials like Tom Pickering, Dick Lugar, Ann Marie Slaughter warning that sanctions were outpacing negotiations and threatening to upend the diplomatic process.

The Kirk measure on foreign exchange introduced this week, in fact, circumvents the White House and doesn’t even require the President’s signature. It pronounces that, regardless of when the bill would actually be passed, the sanctions on foreign exchange would go into effect starting May 9. This means the U.S. will retroactively issue sanctions against any bank conducting a transaction after this date, so long as the bill passes at some point. It is essentially sanctions by Congressional decree. The threat of sanctions from the Hill is now so great that they do not even need to be passed to have a chilling effect. It is a stunning display of impunity by Iran hawks in Congress and groups like AIPAC and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies that are supporting these measures.

It’s little wonder, then, that the narrative in Tehran is that even if Iran complies with U.S. demands on its nuclear program, the sanctions will continue and the President can’t do a thing about it. While Kirk’s Iraq Liberation Act for Iran may not yet be introduced, he may not have to get his final bill passed in order to lock in the sanctions as regime change policy.

The dominant narrative in Tehran is already that, much like with Saddam’s Iraq, the sanctions on Iran will never be lifted. The President has no mechanism to formally lift many of the hardest hitting sanctions — he is dependent on Congress. And Congressional hawks have indicated that if Iran compromises, it will be proof the sanctions are working and instead of easing them in a quid pro quo, more sanctions should be passed. Tehran’s narrative is being reinforced by Congress, and unless the U.S. can convey that there is an offramp from sanctions, Iran’s nuclear program will likely continue apace.

– Jamal Abdi is the Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council, the largest grassroots organization representing the Iranian-American community in the US. He previously worked in Congress as a Policy Advisor on foreign affairs issues. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @jabdi

Saru Jayaraman on Bill Maher

The National Restaurant Association, the other NRA, named the tenth most powerful lobbying group, pizza is a vegetable, Herman Cain, three times the poverty rate, it's all here in this interview.

17 May 2013

Beat Down in the Rec Plex

AS a few dark clouds rolled in looking like it might downpour at the drop of a hat, I locked my car and entered the Rec Plex with my bag of nifty gray sweat shorts from the '84 World Cup, and my new metallic brown, white soled Sketchers.  I was ready to play an earnest game of racquetball.

My opponent was this man:
whom I'll just call "John".

That smug look is what happens to his face when he is about to take advantage of his opponent's age and tiredness, after all his opponent, me, has three kids where he has none.  The game we were about to play has always been played as a casual game between friends not enemy combatants.  All that was about to change, as I would soon find out. 

As I've said, I came prepared in my gray shorts and red golf shirt.  I performed my customary warm-ups and stretches:

and within 30 minutes I was ready to roll, which is usually how I play racquetball.  I roll around on the cold floor swiping at the miniature blue ball in complete and utter desperation.  I may as well be playing golf.

There was no doubt that John's youth and exuberance not to mention his rugged manly good looks gave him an advantage that I could only hope my superior racket skills could overcome. The first game to 21 was claimed by the slimmest of margins by me. Triumphant I paraded the court like a male peacock, feathers spread, proudly prancing and hammering home my victory (VICTOIRE!) but with refined restraint. "Eat that, loser!" I mildly teased my foe.

John and I have played this game before and he was typically very good at accepting his role as the dominated player.  But something was amiss today.  A sinister plot lay in John's unfettered gaze.  The court seemed to be sucking up my feet.  As the first game ended, I felt like we were playing on a fine white sandy beach, the reflecting sun blinding me.  Of course he'd passed out the goggles.  

The second game on this day was a brutally different and utterly grotesque form of racquetball that I was unaccustomed to experiencing.  From the onset, a new and invigorated John drew first blood.

He played like a ballet dancer who was playing racquetball.  It was then that I began to doubt my older legs could carry me past the youthful swine who was now limberly bouncing and pirouetting across the court.

And he didn't stop.  He was relentless.  Every ball I hit, he returned.  Every trick I tried, he solved and sprung his own trick.  As my demoralized stamina waned, he took advantage of this old man.  He momentarily feigned fatigue.  "Are you done?" he mockingly pleaded with me.  "Serve the ball," I muttered with all of the strength I had left.  Unfortunately that left nothing for me to hit the ball with and the game point was devastatingly lost.

 Then this happened:

And after that this:


I had been bamboozled and battered.  I was, needless to say, a wrecked man.

And in the end John was crowned the King of Norway.

He'd brutalized an older man and for the first time in what may very well be a zillion games, he'd beaten me, brutally, savagely.  The repercussions of this crushing defeat, this flagrant mistreatment, would be felt for a long, long time.  Or at least until I took a nice warm bath.

This dastardly defeat meant only one horrible and dreadful thing: I had to buy "him" a beer.  Not Him, but him as in "John".

Sure this may seem like a mundane or, heaven forbid, trivial event, but not for me and I certainly hope not for "John". I won't forget this day for as long as I am awake.  The day a younger man nearly bludgeoned me to death within the confines of the Rec Plex.

12 May 2013

Rostam in Wonderland

About this cartoon from Pouya Afshar on Muftah.org:

“Rostam in Wonderland” is an animated series based on Rostam, the mythical hero of the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), and his experiences in 21st century Iran. The Shahnameh is part of the canon of classical Iranian literature, written in the 10th/11th century by Ferdowsi, one of Iran’s most renowned poets.

“Rostam in Wonderland” profiles Rostam’s encounters with a world completely different from his own. In every episode, Rostam learns something new about modern Iranian culture and other issues of everyday life in present day Iran.

Throughout the series, Rostam is forced to reconcile his own traditions and experiences with cultural complications, technological advances, and the new ideologies permeating Iranian life. Each episode is unique, highlighting everything from social customs to simple complications experienced by every day Iranians.

“Rostam in Wonderland” is anything but a political project. Its sole propose is to critique and identify routine social issues and challenges faced by Iranians in Iran. It aims to bring the critical social concerns that exist in the Iranian subconscious and are a part of our national identity to the surface, and to create a humorous narrative that can serve as constructive criticism of these phenomena.

Rostam has not been randomly chosen as the protagonist of this series. Rather, Rostam and his life in ’Rostam in Wonderland’ serve as a satirical tool to critique modern Iranian culture and unveil taboos that may not be visible to all Iranians.

As most Iranians know, Ferdowsi did not invent the characters appearing in the ‘Shahnameh,’ but rather inherited almost all his stories and characters from the mythical tales of his predecessors.

Ferdowsi chose Rostam as his mighty hero and sole ‘pahlevan,’ (strong man) who stands apart from many other characters in the book. Rostam was not, however, a perfect character. In addition to his positive qualities, he had many flaws and idiosyncrasies.

Nevertheless, Ferdowsi chose Rostam as his main protagonist over other more flawless characters, such as ‘Garshasp.’ By placing Rostam at the center of his epic work, Ferdowsi shows us that a hero, a ‘pahlevan’, is someone who learns from his mistakes—not one who lacks them.

Similarly, the Rostam of “Rostam in Wonderland” is a character that represents every Iranian with their flaws and strengths. Each Iranian can be Rostam, a ‘pahlevan.’

First Attack Ad of 2016

This early attack ad for 2016 sets Karl Rove's American Crossroads against Hillary Clinton and makes the bold claim that "Americans deserve the truth." Isn't that something, Karl Rove fighting for access to the truth. That's like Putin fighting for the freedom of all Russians.