Obama's Fault!

Voices of protest

Cartoon by Antonio Rodríguez

What the Gonabadi Dervish protests tell us about Iran's protest scene

Critical Threats: A Sufi Muslim minority group’s violent protest in Tehran may result in the reignition of protests in Iran, although it has not yet done so. The addition of socially marginalized religious minorities to Iran’s new protest scene will further increase pressure on government officialsThe addition of socially marginalized religious minorities to Iran’s new protest scene will further increase pressure on government officials to address the political and economic grievances raised during the late December-early January protests. The resumption of widespread anti-regime protests could result if the regime continues to suppress peaceful assemblies, deny licenses for peaceful protests, and fail to address protester demands. Any renewed protests are likely to be more compositionally diverse, posing a more complex security challenge to regime security services that clearly struggled in several small cities during the late December protests.

Gonabadi Dervishes, an oft-targeted religious minority group with nearly five million adherents in Iran, gathered in northern Tehran on February 19 to protest the unjustified imprisonment of Nematollah Riahi. Security officials detained Riahi, a fellow adherent, the day before for unknown reasons. Riahi, who is in his seventies and has a heart condition, remains imprisoned while security officials refuse to disclose the reason for his detention.

The protesters’ peaceful gathering (which was nevertheless in violation of Iranian law as they did not have permits), consisted of a sit-in in front a police station. It quickly turned violent as security forces forced the peaceful gathering to disperse without addressing the protesters’ concerns about Riahi. The deployment of security forces, including Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) Special Forces anti-riot teams, to remove protesters resulted in intense street fighting. On at least two documented occasions, protesters used vehicles to run over security forces leading to the deaths of five officials and injuring at least 30. Regime officials blamed the Gonabadi Dervishes for the deadly attacks while the order denied involvement. Security forces arrested more than 360 protesters following the events on February 19 and the protests have effectively ended.  recommended readIranian Anti-Regime Protests and Security Flaws: A Dataset

The recent widespread anti-regime protests in Iran died down in early January, but the complaints and sentiments voiced during those protests have actually grown;

*    Defrauded depositors continue to protest the loss of their life savings to unregulated financial and credit institutions
*    Public and private employees continue to strike and demand their months of backlogged pay
*    Women continue to protest against the compulsory hijab
*    The Interior Ministry continues to deny permits for peaceful protests, including a request from some of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s closest political associates

The regime’s reluctance, and oftentimes refusal, to address its citizens’ political and economic grievances will exacerbate people’s dissatisfaction with current policies. As protester grievances continue to go unaddressed, regime officials will need to come to terms with the reality that any future anti-regime protests -- regardless of the grievance, organizer, or geographic location -- will have a greater potential to transform into a more expansive and demographically encompassing movement than the protests in late December-early January.

Although the Gonabadi Dervish incident has died down, it should serve as a reminder to all, however, that the Iranian regime has likely entered a new phase of its existence in which protests, even violent ones, may become the norm >>>

Billy Graham

Cartoon by David Cohen

George Will: Billy Graham, neither prophet nor theologian 

In 1972, unaware of Nixon’s Oval Office taping system, when Nixon ranted about how Jews ‘totally dominated’ the media, Graham said ‘this stranglehold has got to be broken or this country is going down the drain.’ He also told Nixon that Jews are ‘the ones putting out the pornographic stuff.’

George F. Will: Asked in 1972 if he believed in miracles, Billy Graham answered: Yes, Jesus performed some and there are many “miracles around us today, including television and airplanes.” Graham was no theologian.

Neither was he a prophet. Jesus said “a prophet hath no honor in his own country.” Prophets take adversarial stances toward their times, as did the 20th century’s two greatest religious leaders, Martin Luther King and Pope John Paul II. Graham did not. Partly for that reason, his country showered him with honors.

So, the subtitle of Grant Wacker’s 2014 book “America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation” (Harvard University Press) is inapposite. When America acquired television and a celebrity culture, this culture shaped Graham. Professor Wacker of Duke’s Divinity School judges Graham sympathetically as a man of impeccable personal and business probity.

Americans respect quantification, and Graham was a marvel of quantities. He spoke, Wacker says, to more people directly — about 215 million — than any person in history. In 1945, at age 26, he addressed 65,000 in Chicago’s Soldier Field. The 1949 crusade in Los Angeles, promoted by the not notably devout William Randolph Hearst, had a cumulative attendance of 350,000. In 1957, a May-to-September rally in New York had attendance of 2.4 million, including 100,000 on one night at Yankee Stadium. A five-day meeting in Seoul, South Korea, in 1973 drew 3 million.

Graham’s effects are impossible to quantify. His audiences were exhorted to make a “decision” for Christ, but a moment of volition might be (in theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase) an exercise in “cheap grace.” Graham’s preaching, to large rallies and broadcast audiences, gave comfort to many people and probably improved some.

Regarding race, this North Carolinian was brave, telling a Mississippi audience in 1952 that, in Wacker’s words, “there was no room for segregation at the foot of the cross.” In 1953, he personally removed the segregating ropes at a Chattanooga crusade. After the Supreme Court’s 1954 desegregation ruling, Graham abandoned the practice of respecting local racial practices. Otherwise, he rarely stepped far in advance of the majority. His 1970 Ladies’ Home Journal article “Jesus and the Liberated Woman” was, Wacker says, “a masterpiece of equivocation.”

The first preacher with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame was an entrepreneurial evangelical who consciously emulated masters of secular communication such as newscasters Drew Pearson, Walter Winchell and H.V. Kaltenborn. Wielding the adverbs “nearly” and “only,” Graham, says Wacker, would warn that all is nearly lost and the only hope is Christ’s forgiveness.

Graham frequently vowed to abstain from partisan politics, and almost as frequently slipped this self-imposed leash, almost always on behalf of Republicans. Before the 1960 election, Graham, displaying some cognitive dissonance, said that if John Kennedy were a true Catholic, he would be a president more loyal to the Pope than to the Constitution but would fully support him if elected.

Graham’s dealings with presidents mixed vanity and naivete. In 1952, he said he wanted to meet with all the candidates “to give them the moral side of the thing.” He was 33. He applied flattery with a trowel, comparing Dwight Eisenhower’s first foreign policy speech to the Sermon on the Mount and calling Richard Nixon “the most able and the best trained man for the job probably in American history.” He told Nixon that God had given him, Nixon, “supernatural wisdom.” Graham should have heeded the psalmist’s warning about putting one’s faith in princes.

On Feb. 1, 1972, unaware of Nixon’s Oval Office taping system, when Nixon ranted about how Jews “totally dominated” the media, Graham said “this stranglehold has got to be broken or this country is going down the drain.” He also told Nixon that Jews are “the ones putting out the pornographic stuff.” One can reasonably acquit Graham of anti-Semitism only by convicting him of toadying. When Graham read transcripts of Nixon conspiring to cover up crimes, Graham said that what “shook me most” was Nixon’s vulgar language.

Of the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops, Graham said, “we have all had our My Lais in one way or another, perhaps not with guns, but we have hurt others with a thoughtless word, an arrogant act or a selfish deed.” Speaking in the National Cathedral three days after 9/11, he said “it’s so glorious and wonderful” that the victims were in heaven and would not want to return >>>

Israeli cartoons slamming Iran


Snubbed by EU, Israeli cartoons slamming Iran go on display

The Times of Israel: An Israeli exhibition of cartoons criticizing human rights conditions in Iran will be displayed next to the European Parliament in Brussels starting Wednesday, after the parliament refused to display them inside the building.

The exhibition, initiated by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and The Israeli Cartoon Project (TICP), is an Israeli response to an annual anti-Israel cartoon contest in Iran often slammed as anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying.

Along with Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid, the organizations requested 10 months ago that the exhibition be featured at the European Parliament, but received a negative answer several days ago, the Ynet news site reported Tuesday.

The parliament explained its decision by saying that “the exhibition is too controversial,” after which the organizations decided to display it in an adjacent building.

Some 20 drawings by leading Israeli caricaturists will be featured in the display, with the goal of raising the issue of Iran’s human rights violations and Holocaust denial with European Union members, according to a statement by AJC and TICP.

The cartoons vary in content from Tehran’s stifling of freedom of expression and arrest of opposition figures, to the regime’s public assassinations and persecution of women, minorities and LGBT people, among others.

“The European Union’s decision to reject the caricature exhibition turns the EU itself into a caricature,” said Lapid. “They have failed to distinguish between killers and those killed, between victims of terror and terrorists.

“This exhibition will be displayed on schedule in Brussels, to remind the world of the simple truth: Iran is an Islamic terror dictatorship that believes in blood,” he said, according to the Ynet report.

Avital Leibovich, the AJC’s director in Israel, said that “promoting human rights worldwide is a central value for us, as Jews, and that’s why we initiated the exhibition in Brussels, capital of the European Union, to raise the issue of blatant human rights violations in Iran. Since human rights issues are regularly on the EU’s agenda, it would only be appropriate to also discuss the brutal violations in Iran.”

“As Israelis, we are proud to stand with the oppressed Iranian people, whose rights are being brutally trampled by the Ayatollah regime,” said Yossi Klar and Asaf Finkelstein, directors of TICP. “Iranian society, like Israeli and Syrian societies, are victims of this regime, so it is only natural for us to show solidarity with our partners in struggle.” >>>

Mother language

Shahrokh Heydari

21st of February, International Mother Language Day (IMLD)

Fake News

Cartoon by Jeff Stahler

Trump spent the weekend tweeting about Russia. He lied, a lot.

Vox: Even by his standards, President Trump has been on a Twitter rampage since special counsel Robert Mueller started indicting Russians for election interference last Friday. Trump has sent 16 tweets on the topic in the three days following the indictment, amounting to roughly two-thirds of all of the tweets he sent in that time period.

The Russia tweets had one big thing in common: They were full of lies.

Friday’s indictments focused on Russian social media activity — creating pro-Trump Facebook groups and anti-Hillary Twitter bots — rather than hacks targeting the Clinton campaign or US election infrastructure. Trump’s tweets describe this as vindication; as proof that “there is no collusion” between his campaign and Russia and that the whole scandal was ginned up by Democrats and “the fake news media.”

This is not true — the absence of indictments related to collusion on Friday does not mean that such indictments won’t be coming in the future. But in order to make it sound true, Trump’s tweets ended up twisting the facts in ways that range from factually dubious (the notion that allegations of Trump-Russia collusion are a “hoax”) to the downright offensive (claiming the FBI would have caught the Parkland, Florida, shooter if it hadn’t been so busy investigating his ties to Russia).

Sometimes, though, he strayed into the territory of outright, easily debunkable lies. What follows are the three clearest examples.

The main thrust of Trump’s tweets was, for whatever reason, the idea that election hacking didn’t affect the outcome of the 2016 election. Trump attributes this claim to the FBI indictments, citing a New York Post article arguing that they prove “[Clinton] lost the old-fashioned way, by being a terrible candidate. Case closed.”

It would indeed be striking if Mueller weighed in on this question; you don’t typically see polling analysis in criminal indictments. Yet it’s not there. Nowhere does the indictment say that Russian social media efforts were irrelevant to the election. If anything, it seems to imply the opposite — listing off a series of large-scale efforts by Russia’s Internet Research Agency (the name its hackers used) to shape the outcome of the election:

Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.

Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities. Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.

Now, the report doesn’t outright say that these activities were decisive in helping Trump win. But it also doesn’t say that they had no impact on the election. It’s agnostic on the question, as is appropriate in a federal indictment.

Trump’s assertion that Russian social media campaigns didn’t sway the election may be true; the data on that question is really hard to parse. But it’s an outright lie to say, as Trump did, that Friday’s indictments have settled the question. Trump is misstating the Mueller team’s conclusions to make him seem like a more legitimate president >>>

Flying coffins


Netanyahu's battles

Cartoon by Yaakov Kirschen

Netanyahu Confidants Arrested in Telecom Giant Graft Case

Haaretz: Police on Sunday arrested two of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's confidants and several senior officials at Bezeq, the Israeli telecommmunication's giant, as part of the ongoing corruption investigation, dubbed 'Case 4000' involving the company and its possible relationship with the prime minister.

Netanyahu is expected to be questioned in connection to the case.

Following new evidence that indicates that alleged criminal activity in the case is more extensive than had been suspected, the police released a statement Sunday saying its Lahav 433 unit has officially opened a joint investigation with the Israel Securities Authority. Also on Sunday, Haaretz reported that three unnamed associates of Netanyahyu acted to benefit businessman Shaul Elovitch, Bezeq's controlling shareholder. Bezeq shares were trading down 1.15 percent in mid-mornning trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange Sunday. 

Case 4000, revolves around the alleged quid-pro-quo relations between Netanyahu and Elovitch, whose Bezeq firm also owns the Israeli news website Walla. This is the second case involving allegations that Netanyahu tried to gain favorable news coverage by purportedly benefitting a media baron.

The first is an investigation of conversations betweeen the prime minister and the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Arnon Mozes, in which Netanyahu purportedly promised to enact policies benefitting Yediot in exchange for favorable coverage of the prime minister. Police have recommened that Netanyahu be criminally charged in that case and another corruption probe.

Last week, sources told Haaretz that evidence in the Bezeq case had become stronger and includes copious testimony and correspondence between people involved in the affair, including someone close to Netanyahu. In the Bezeq case, Netanyahu and the then-director general of the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber, allegedly helped Bezeq to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels. In return, Walla gave consistently favorable coverage to Netanyahu, especially to his wife Sara, sources say.

A key witness in the Bezeq case is expected to be Ilan Yeshua, Walla’s chief executive. On Yeshua’s orders, critical stories on the website about the Netanyahus were censored, while fawning stories on Sara Netanyahu that came from the prime minister’s aides were published, sources say. Headlines were allegedly toned down and critical news items were pushed to the website’s margins or removed entirely.                                                     

Last week, a former editor in chief of Walla, Yinon Magal, admitted that he was pressured to give favorable coverage to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara. He said he has not been summoned by police to provide his version, but added that “if I am summoned to testify by the police, I will definitely say what happened there.”

A few weeks ago, after the Israel Securities Authority announced that its investigation into Bezeq had been completed, Haaretz reported that the probe had uncovered evidence bolstering suspicions of a quid-pro-quo relationship between Netanyahu and Elovitch. At the time, the sources said the suspicions had not yet been investigated thoroughly enough, a situation that appears to have changed.

Several months ago, the state told the High Court of Justice that the Bezeq case, also known as Case 4000, had been returned to the securities authority for further investigation. At a meeting last week with journalists, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said there had been new  developments in the investigation, but he declined to elaborate.

Case 4000 initially focused on three main issues. The first was Bezeq's acquisition of satellite television service provider Yes and the corporate governance that led to approval of the billion-shekel purchase ($283 million at current rates). The second was the acquisition by Yes of satellite services from Space-Communications as part of a long-term transaction extending through 2028. The third was the professional relationship between the Communications Ministry and Bezeq, including alleged leaks of working papers by Filber to Bezeq and allegations that Filber concealed the leaks from the professional staff at his ministry.

Mohsen Vera

Obama portrait revealed