Category: International relations

Hаименее удивительные новости дня

Reuters:

Russian media have deployed a “significant disinformation campaign” against the West to worsen the impact of the coronavirus, generate panic and sow distrust, according to a European Union document seen by Reuters.

The Kremlin denied the allegations on Wednesday, saying they were unfounded and lacked common sense.

The EU document said the Russian campaign, pushing fake news online in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French, uses contradictory, confusing and malicious reports to make it harder for the EU to communicate its response to the pandemic.

“A significant disinformation campaign by Russian state media and pro-Kremlin outlets regarding COVID-19 is ongoing,” said the nine-page internal document, dated March 16, using the name of the disease that can be caused by the coronavirus.

“The overarching aim of Kremlin disinformation is to aggravate the public health crisis in Western countries…in

line with the Kremlin’s broader strategy of attempting to subvert European societies,” the document produced by the EU’s foreign policy arm, the European External Action Service, said.

A specialist EU database has recorded almost 80 cases of disinformation about coronavirus since Jan. 22, it said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed to what he said was the lack in the EU document of a specific example or link to a specific media outlet.

“We’re talking again about some unfounded allegations which in the current situation are probably the result of an anti-Russian obsession,” said Peskov.

The EU document cited examples from Lithuania to Ukraine. It said that on social media, Russian state-funded, Spanish-language RT Spanish was the 12th most popular news source on coronavirus between January and mid-March, based on the amount of news shared on social media.

The EEAS declined to comment directly on the report.

The European Commission said it was in contact with Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft. An EU spokesman accused Moscow of “playing with people’s lives” and appealed to EU citizens to “be very careful” and only use news sources they trust.

The EU and NATO have accused Russia of covert action, including disinformation, to try to destabilise the West by exploiting divisions in society.

Russia denies any such tactics, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused foreign foes of targeting Russia by spreading fake news about coronavirus to whip up panic.

Russian media in Europe have not been successful in reaching the broader public, but provide a platform for anti-EU populists and polarise debate, analysis by EU and non-governmental groups has shown.

The EEAS report cited riots at the end of February in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic now seeking to join the EU and NATO, as an example of the consequences of such disinformation.

It said a fake letter purporting to be from the Ukrainian health ministry falsely stated here were five coronavirus cases in the country. Ukrainian authorities say the letter was created outside Ukraine, the EU report said.

“Pro-Kremlin disinformation messages advance a narrative that coronavirus is a human creation, weaponised by the West,” said the report, first cited by the Financial Times.

It quoted fake news created by Russia in Italy, the second-most heavily affected country in the world, that health systems would be unable to cope and doctors would choose who lived or died because of a lack of beds.

The EEAS has also shared information with Slovakia over the spread of fake news accusing the country’s prime minister, Peter Pellegrini, of being infected with the virus and saying he may have passed on the infection to others at recent summits.

EU leaders have been conferring by videoconferences since early March.

The coronavirus freakout

The Daily Wire:

Physician David Drew Pinsky, commonly referred to as Dr. Drew, slammed the media in a CBS News interview late last week, saying that it is responsible for causing the American public to panic, which is hurting businesses and people.

“A bad flu season is 80,000 dead, we’ve got about 18,000 dead from influenza this year, we have a hundred from corona,” Dr. Drew said. “Which should you be worried about, influenza or Corona? A hundred versus 18,000? It’s not a trick question. And look, everything that’s going on with the New York cleaning the subways and everyone using Clorox wipes and get your flu shot, which should be the other message, that’s good. That’s a good thing, so I have no problem with the behaviors.”

“What I have a problem with is the panic and the fact that businesses are getting destroyed, that people’s lives are being upended, not by the virus, but by the panic,” Dr. Drew continued. “The panic must stop. And the press, they really somehow need to be held accountable because they are hurting people.”

Overnight, the New York Times reported:

As Italy restricted travel across the country, Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, visited Wuhan, the city where the global outbreak began. China signaled that it would begin easing some travel restrictions around Wuhan.

State news media said Mr. Xi met with front-line medical workers, military personnel, community workers, police officers and officials.

This is not to say that I trust China, except to the extent that I think Li wouldn’t be running around in Wuhan if he seriously believed he could get the coronavirus. (Because politicians are often cowards.)

 

On the latest crisis

Eric Boehm:

As politicians react to the coronavirus outbreak, more than a few seem to be following the old adage that you should never let a good crisis go to waste.

Since it is only a matter of time before Democrats and Republicans start accusing the other side of using a public health crisis for political gain, let’s be blunt about something: Both sides are going to use the crisis for political gain. Indeed, both already are.

Much of President Donald Trump’s briefing about the coronavirus on Wednesday night was incoherent, but he nevertheless managed to brag about how the stock market had risen after his election. More to the point, he repeatedly claimed that his administration had slowed the spread of the disease into America by cutting off air travel from China, and he suggested that further restrictions could be coming. That’s a natural response from an administration whose signature non-coronavirus policies have included travel bans, immigration restrictions, and a general hostility to the free movement of goods and people across national borders.

But building walls doesn’t stop the spread of disease. In fact, “travel restrictions can cause more harm than good by hindering info-sharing, medical supply chains and harming economies,” advised Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, secretary-general of the World Health Organization, earlier this month. Slowing the spread of disease allows more time for hospitals to prepare, but historical evidence shows that travel bans don’t actually reduce the number of people who get sick during disease outbreaks.

China hawks are seizing on the outbreak too. Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) plans to introduce a bill requiring American medical device manufacturers to provide detailed information about their supply chains to the Food and Drug Administration. The agency would use that info to “assess the security of the U.S. medical product supply chain.”

While it is presented as a way for the government to ensure America is prepared for a public health crisis, Hawley’s bill is also a step toward greater central planning. It’s not difficult to see how Hawley or Trump could, sometime in the future, claim that America’s medical supply chain is too dependent on China—in the same way that Trump used a fictional “national security” risk to justify tariffs on steel and aluminum. Those tariffs haven’t worked, but Hawley—who believes Trump’s trade war is a long-term proposition—is barely disguising his attempt to lay the groundwork for more protectionism.

Democrats, too, are using the coronavirus as a new argument for old political objectives. Like defeating Trump, for example. While they offered little in the way of alternatives during Tuesday’s primary debate, each of the candidates onstage were happy to blast the president for bungling the response to the coronavirus—even though it’s still far too soon to conclude whether Trump’s responses, or lack thereof, have made the outbreak worse in America.

Specifically, former Vice President Joe Biden has ripped the current administration for making “draconian cuts” to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Obama administration “increased the budget of the CDC. We increased the NIH budget,” Biden said Tuesday night. “He’s wiped all that out. He cut the funding for the entire effort.”

Except he didn’t. Trump has proposed budget cuts for the CDC and NIH in each of his budgets since taking office, but Congress never approved those proposals. That’s a pretty important distinction.

If the NIH and the CDC aren’t adequately prepared to handle a disease outbreak, it’s probably their own fault. There is always going to be a finite amount of money for any government agency to use, so it’s best not to waste your shares. Yet the CDC spent $15 billion during the Obama administration to nudge Americans towards healthier eating habits, and millions more on the creation of a “Hollywood liaison office” with funds that were supposed to be used to counter the threat of bioterrorism. Sure, it’s possible that more funding would result in greater preparedness to face new and deadly diseases. So would making better choices about the money you already have.

But that’s not going to stop Democrats from using the coronavirus outbreak to argue for spending more money that we don’t have—and heaven forbid we actually pay for emergency coronavirus funding with budget cuts elsewhere. Just like it won’t stop Republicans from using the disease to push their anti-trade agenda. No matter how bad the outbreak might turn out to be, you can bet that politicians will find a way to make it worse.

Trump and trade

Dan Mitchell:

Early last year, I shared a video explaining that trade deficits generally don’t matter. I even suggested trade deficits might be a sign of economic strength because foreigners who earned dollars were anxious to invest them in the American economy.

I’m recycling this video to make a point about trade and the economy for both Trump supporters and Trump critics.

For Trump supporters, I want them to understand that the trade deficit has increased under his policies. The data from the latest Commerce Department report show that the yearly trade deficit has increased from about $500 billion at the end of the Obama years to a bit over $600 billion during the Trump years.

And the reason I’m making this point is that I want Trump supporters to realize that they shouldn’t be upset about trade balances. Indeed, they should be happy because there’s a strong argument that the trade deficit is increasing in large part because Trump’s pro-growth tax reform and regulatory reform and making America more attractive for foreign investors.

For Trump critics, I want them to understand the same point, though from a different perspective. Many of them have been (correctly) critical of Trump’s protectionism. And they’ve been happy to point out that his taxes on foreign goods haven’t reduced the trade deficit.

But I would like them to contemplate why the economy has continued to grow. Hopefully, they will realize that pro-market policies in other areas are offsetting the damage of protectionism and therefore be more supportive of capitalism.

The Wall Street Journal opined on this topic last year.

President Trump can take a bow that his tax reform and deregulation are working as intended. …The trade deficit grew… This is not bad economic news. Imports grew faster than exports as the U.S. economy accelerated and much of the world slowed. The dollar grew stronger as capital flowed into the U.S., and the trade deficit grew to offset the larger capital inflows as it must by definition under the national income accounts. …a larger trade deficit is a benign byproduct of a healthier American economy. Supply-side policies revived animal spirits and gave the economy a second wind. …The best way to respond to a trade deficit is to ignore it.

From a left-of-center perspective, Fareed Zakaria made the same point in a recent column for the Washington Post.

Trump campaigned relentlessly on the notion that America’s economy was being ruined by large trade deficits. …He promised on the campaign trail in June 2016, “You will see a drop like you’ve never seen before.”In reality, the trade deficit has risen substantially under Trump. …when the United States has grown robustly, its trade deficit has tended to rise. If you want to achieve a sharp decline in the trade deficit, it’s easy — just trigger a recession. …while the United States has a deficit in manufactured goods with the rest of the world, it runs a huge surplus in services (banking, insurance, consulting, etc.). …The United States is also the world’s favorite destination to invest capital, by a large margin. As Martin points out, when you look at this entire picture, “the trade deficit should be something to brag about rather than denounce.” …Trump’s trade policy has been an enormously costly exercise, forcing Americans to pay tens of billions in taxes on imported goods, then using tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to compensate farmers for lost income (because of retaliatory tariffs)… All to solve a problem that isn’t really a problem.

Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center, writing for Reason, summarizes the issue.

President Donald Trump hates the trade deficit. …If elected, he promised, he would “end our chronic trade deficits.” …free traders…explained, a country’s trade balance is determined overwhelmingly by factors such as the U.S dollar serving as a reserve currency, the ratio of savings to investment opportunities at home and abroad, and the relative attractiveness of that country’s investment climate. As long as the United States is growing and remains an attractive place to invest, we Americans will continue to run trade deficits with the rest of the world. …They want these dollars, in part, to buy American exports. …More important, and often overlooked: Foreigners want dollars also to invest in America’s powerful economy. …the current-account deficit is a mirror image of the capital-account surplus. This is why Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute describes imports as “job-generating foreign investment surpluses for a better America.” It is thus no surprise that as the American economy grew, the trade deficit also grew.

I’ll close with a chart that’s in the video because it reinforces the three columns cited above.

As you can see, the link between the trade deficit and an investment surplus isn’t just a theoretical construct. It’s an accounting identity.

The bottom line is that people on both sides of the political debate should ignore the trade deficit and instead focus on the the tried-and-true recipe for generating prosperity.

Greta är en hycklare

Paul Joseph Watson:

Historian Niall Ferguson has slammed Greta Thunberg’s climate change hypocrisy at Davos, asking why “I don’t see her in Beijing or Delhi.”

Teenage environmentalist Thunberg gave another hysterical speech at the global confab yesterday in which she claimed, “Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour. We are still telling you to panic, and to act as if you loved your children above all else.”

“We don’t want these things done in 2050, 2030, or even 2021,” Thunberg said. “We want this done now.”

Ferguson, Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, questioned why Thunberg isn’t directing her message to the biggest polluters on the planet.

“60% of CO2 emissions since Greta Thunberg was born is attributable to China… but nobody talks about that. They talk as if its somehow Europeans and Americans who are going to fix this problem… which is frustrating because it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter,” said Ferguson.

“If you’re serious about slowing CO2 emissions and temperatures rising it has to be China and India you constrain,” he added, noting that while Greta travels to New York and Davos, “I don’t see her in Beijing or Delhi.”

Ferguson is right. Take the UK for example.

“Britain’s CO2 emissions peaked in 1973 and are now at their lowest level since Victorian times,” reports the Spectator. “Air pollution has plummeted since then, with sulphur dioxide levels down 95 per cent. Britain’s population is rising but our energy consumption peaked in 2001 and has since fallen by 19 per cent.”

This global pollution map published by the WHO perfectly illustrates Ferguson’s point.

null

Even if you believe wholeheartedly in the decidedly shaky science behind man-made global warming, the west is more than doing its part. But we’re the ones being lectured to not travel, not eat meat and not have children despite already being in massive demographic decline.

Meanwhile, Africa, India and China continue to wantonly pollute and none of Greta Thunberg’s fury or the attention of the media is ever directed their way.

On top of this, Greta continues to have her message amplified by the likes of Prince ‘4 private jet trips in 11 days’ Harry and Arnold ‘garage full of tanks and muscle cars’ Schwarzenegger.

Iran’s mullahs and their Democratic allies

Victoria Taft:

Congressman Brian Mast, a Republican from Florida, accused his Democratic colleagues of being cowards for their weak-kneed reaction to the killing of Iranian terror-master Qasem Soleimani. Mast made his comments on the House floor Thursday during the debate over the “war powers act resolution.” The Democrats passed the resolution, arguing Trump didn’t have the authority to order the missile strike taking out Soleimani and another top terrorist in Iraq.

Mast served in an ordnance detail in Afghanistan and lost his legs while trying to clear a roadside bomb. Soleimani’s IRGC and Quds Force orchestrated the building of many of those bombs. They were responsible for killing 603 U.S. troops and wounding hundreds, if not thousands, of others.

The congressman walked forcefully to the podium, his prosthetic legs exposed, took a second to tune his verbal flame-thrower, and then put the Democrats on blast.

I know most in here haven’t seen or smelled or touched that kind of death, but let me tell you about it. They were burned alive inside their Humvees. Their lungs were scorched by the flames of the explosions. The vehicle fragments were blown into their skulls. Some of them were paralyzed. Some of them had their arms blown off. Some of them had their legs blown off. Some of them will never see again. Some of them will never be recognized again by those who knew them previously. Each and every one of them – they are the credible explanation for deleting this terrorist target from our world. And, no doubt, it is dangerous to take out a terrorist target, but a coward is somebody who lacks the courage to endure danger” [Emphasis added]

He wasn’t done yet.

And this is the fundamental difference in voting yes or no here. If you vote no you understand that we would be justified to kill 100 Soleimanis for just one of our heroes, that have been killed by him. And the danger would be worth it. For those who vote yes, they see that he has killed hundreds of our service members but still can no find the justification to kill him because, unlike our fallen heroes, they lack the courage to endure danger” [Emphasis added]

Democrats upset with President Trump for killing Soleimani were called out by Mast for lacking “the courage to endure danger,” which he’d just defined as cowardice.

The war powers resolution was a rebuke to President Trump for what Democrats and a couple of Republicans claimed was overstepping his role of commander in chief.

They claim Soleimani isn’t under the previously approved AUMF, the authorization for the use of military force. But not only was the Iranian terror leader an enemy combatant, he was a leader of enemy combatants on the fields of battle in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He had just overseen the assault of the American Embassy in Baghdad. Baghdad, IRAQ.

President Trump said at his rally in Ohio Thursday night that the Iranian Quds Force leader not only wanted to bomb the American Embassy in Baghdad but other embassies as well.

American embassies are favorite targets of terrorist bad guys. Terrorists targeted the U.S. Mission in Benghazi in 2012. In 1998 two American embassies were destroyed by Al Qaeda in Tanzania and Kenya.

Watch Mast’s speech below, but make sure you’ve got a fire extinguisher to put out the flames.

https://twitter.com/i/status/1215376088639201280

Calling the elimination of a terrorist an assassination is what anti-Americans do, even if they are Americans. That sounds familiar to Jim Geraghty:

Jeane Kirkpatrick accurately declared: “they always blame Americans first.”

Sure, the Iranian air-defense system would not have been on highest alert this week if the United States had not killed Soleimani outside the Baghdad International Airport January 3. But the Iranians made the choice to fire rockets into Iraq that evening, the Iranian government made the choice to permit civilian air traffic in the hours after their rocket attack, and ultimately it was the Iranian military that fired the surface-to-air missile. You really have to squint and stretch to say that this tragedy — which killed 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, eleven Ukrainians (including the crew members), ten Swedish, seven Afghans, and three Germans — is President Trump’s fault.

One question for the military-technology experts: Does this tragedy stem from poor training on the part of the Iranian military, or does Russian air-defense system equipment do a lousy job of differentiating between civilian airliners and military jets?

Whatever the answer to that question is, the fact remains that right now, the Democratic grassroots believe that Trump is the root of all evil, and all bad things that happen lead back to him in one form or another. There’s a Democratic primary and impeachment battle going on simultaneously. No one of any stature in the Democratic party can afford the political risk of publicly arguing or even acknowledging that anything isn’t Trump’s fault. The Democratic presidential candidates, in particular, have to offer the biggest, most vocal, most emphatic, “yes, you’re right, grassroots” that they possibly can.

“Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat,” Pete Buttigieg declared. The most common term floating around Thursday night was “crossfire,” even though Tuesday night only one side was firing any weapons. Keep in mind, so far in this conflict, the United States military hasn’t fired anything into or in the direction of Iranian territory.

If we really want to extend blame beyond the Iranian military, there is a long list of individuals and institutions who should be standing in line ahead of President Trump. Let’s start with Iranian aviation authorities who kept their local civilian aircraft flying, and the airlines who chose to keep flights taking off shortly after Iranian military action — when no one could know for sure whether the military action had concluded.

About 2 1/2 hours before the Ukraine International Airlines jet with 176 people on board took off, the Federal Aviation Administration issued emergency orders prohibiting American pilots and airlines from flying over Iran, the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Oman.

The notices warned that heightened military activity and political tension in the Middle East posed “an inadvertent risk” to U.S. aircraft “due to the potential for miscalculation or mis-identification.”

Foreign airlines aren’t bound by FAA directives, but they often follow them. In this case, however, several large international carriers — including Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and Aeroflot — continued to fly in and out of Tehran after Iran fired missiles at military bases inside Iraq that house U.S. troops. They still were flying after the FAA warning, and after the Ukrainian jetliner crashed, according to data from Flightradar24, which tracks flights around the world.

“It was awfully peculiar and awfully risky,” said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. “That’s a theater of war and these guys were acting like there was nothing going on.”

Goelz said airlines should have canceled all flights when Iran fired the missiles.

That Kirkpatrick speech from the 1984 Republican National Convention, linked above, is always worth rereading, because while the particular issues change, the philosophy doesn’t. (Although note one section of her speech dealt with Iranian-backed terrorism: “When our Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the “blame America first crowd” didn’t blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States.”)

Kirkpatrick concluded: “The American people know that it’s dangerous to blame ourselves for terrible problems that we did not cause. They understand just as the distinguished French writer, Jean Francois Revel, understands the dangers of endless self-criticism and self-denigration. He wrote: ‘Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.’”

A certain kind of U.S. foreign-policy thinker or lawmaker believes that if we just apply the right combination of incentives, every problem beyond our shores can be fixed. If some foreign leader takes action against us, it’s because we didn’t do something we should have or because we did do something we shouldn’t. It’s as if they don’t really see foreign leaders and peoples as having independent wills and agencies, just instinctive responses to our actions, and that all of their acts, no matter how malevolent, are entirely rational responses to our failures to meet their expectations.

A couple people griped that Monday’s piece assessed the behavior of the Iranian government starting in 1979 — you know, when the revolution and current regime took over — and didn’t go back to the coup in 1953 or the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1914. (At least this is a refreshing change from the folks who believe Iranian history began when Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal.)

I’m a big fan of studying history, but the past can’t be changed. When trying to figure out how to deal with the threat of this regime, declarations like, “well, we never should have opposed Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq 67 years ago!” don’t really get us anywhere.</blockquote?Fortunately, the Iranian people seem to be getting the idea, even if American Democrats are not, that their government is failing them. Brian Stewart:

Iran, said President Carter on New Year’s Eve in 1977, “is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” It didn’t take long for this confident avowal to prove erroneous. Just over a year later, Iran’s shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, would be forced into exile, with a clutch of hysterical mullahs led by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini taking his place. Iran’s vaunted stability turned out to be a mirage, and the Islamic revolution has been a source of trouble in the region ever since.

A little more than 40 years later a similar conviction has taken hold regarding the staying power of the regime seated in Tehran. This fashionable fatalism claims that, whatever its problems or the designs of its enemies, the Islamic republic is here to stay.

But there is ground for skepticism about this reigning complacency, and not only because the stability of an autocratic government is fiendishly difficult to gauge. There are unmistakable signs of fatigue and fragility roiling the Islamic republic today. For starters, the paralysis gripping the economy as a result of chronic mismanagement, the diversion of resources, and onerous sanctions is causing acute distress among average Iranians. The tenacious political demonstrations that have been rising in the face of lethal violence from the authorities reveals both the determination of the opposition and the cruelty of Iran’s rulers. Even in the aftermath of the targeted U.S. strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s extraterritorial Quds Force and adjutant to the Supreme Leader, the people have not significantly rallied behind the clerics. To the contrary, they have been given fresh occasion to see clearly the nature of a regime whose Revolutionary Guard incites aggression, recklessly shoots down a civilian airliner, and then literally attempts to bulldoze the evidence.

All of this suggests that the affairs of Iran are drawing rapidly to an eventful crisis. Observers reconciled to the endurance of the Islamic republic might want to reconsider their determinism before history passes them by.

In the turbulent life of the Islamic republic, it has not been foreign meddling by outside powers but domestic insurrection that has posed the greatest threat to its rule. Recalling the revolt across Iran in June 2009 may be instructive here. Here was more proof that it was not a “regime change war” (with apologies to Tulsi Gabbard) that nearly felled the Islamic republic, but the vox populi. No less a figure than Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei later admitted that during the Green revolution the regime suffered a near-death experience.

Back then, pro-democracy protests had engulfed the country after the regime in Tehran engineered a crude voting exercise that flouted the elementary standards of a “free and fair” contest. (No one with the faintest understanding of Iran’s government—and its totalitarian doctrine of clerical control known as velayat-e faqui—could bring himself to credit this charade, or the alternately credulous and cynical response of the Obama White House that treated the “result” with deference.) The peaceful uprising was viciously suppressed by the regime’s Revolutionary Guard units, including the fearsome Basij paramilitary force, but not before a bravura display of people power by Iranians chafing under theocratic rule.

One decade later, it seems that the 2009 Green movement was a dress rehearsal for a larger and more lingering confrontation between Iranians and the mullahs who oppressed them for four decades.

This past November, protests erupted in several cities across the country in response to abrupt government increases in fuel prices. The demonstrations called for a swift end to the Islamic republic, and were vigorously put down by rulers accustomed to meting out violence to peaceful protesters. According to credible accounts, hundreds and perhaps more than a thousand Iranians were killed for the offense of raising their voices against the regime. Thousands more have been detained and tortured.

At first, this ferocious crackdown gave every appearance of having worked as intended. The demonstrations disappeared and the regime’s security apparatus came off high alert by mid-December. It seemed as if the status quo had survived intact. Then, in January, many stories appeared in the Western media suggesting that the Iranian people were broadly united behind the mullahs—a supposedly monolithic nation in mourning for Soleimani. Press coverage of the mass funeral procession for the fallen commander offered little skepticism about the meaning of such a highly orchestrated event in an authoritarian state.

So imagine the surprise when Iran’s protests reignited last week. The backward and brutal regime has imposed martial law to thwart memorial services for the victims of the recent repression. For the ayatollahs, all this domestic turbulence has come at an inauspicious time when popular discontent with the Islamic republic—and its corrupt and violent proxy and surrogate political forces—has reached a boil from Baghdad to Beirut. This tense domestic situation will not be allayed by the show of force from China, Russia, and Iran, all holding joint naval drills in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman. Nor does it seem that, after the death of Soleimani, the Iranian street has been fooled by the regime’s “face-saving” gesture of lobbing rockets toward coalition bases in Iraq without harming any U.S. or Iraqi forces.

The persistent nature of this inchoate anti-regime movement—this revolution against the revolution—suggests something other than a revolt rooted solely in severe economic hardship. Whatever the misery inflicted by the combined weight of excessive government debt (ballistic missile development doesn’t come cheap) and punitive U.S. sanctions, the scale and resilience of the demonstrations gripping Iran suggest a more thorough repudiation of a regime characterized by superstition, reaction, and transnational violence. The Islamic revolution of 1979 finds itself under siege today by would-be revolutionaries who have not only challenged its economic mismanagement but also its very political legitimacy.


The late scholar Bernard Lewis liked to note a curious phenomenon in the Middle East: Pro-American regimes that were dictatorial often had anti-American populations, but anti-American regimes like Iran had pro-American populations. This certainly looked true in 2009 when the Iranian masses cried out for the explicit support of the American president, to no avail. How the U.S. government responds to the new protests and the likely crackdown against them may be even more consequential than its recent action in the skies over Baghdad.

The observers who consider Iran’s regime resilient beyond measure believe a revolution against it holds so little hope that its potential scarcely deserves mentioning, let alone supporting. These fatalists contend that the Iranian regime, like a cornered animal, is most dangerous when cornered, and therefore the wisest course is almost endless conciliation. The alternative, this argument runs, is a policy of mutual confrontation in which Iran’s Revolutionary Guard lashes out and turns the region into a cauldron of violence and terror.

The trouble with this argument is that it does not account for the violence and terror the regime has already inflicted across the region, and will continue to inflict. But with sanctions beginning to bite down hard and the Iranian masses inflamed against their bellicose but exposed regime, now may be the time for those who blithely assume the stability of the Islamic republic to ask themselves the breathless question: What if they are wrong?

Saving Iran from its mullahs

Nick Gillespie:

The killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani by the United States military will understandably dominate headlines for weeks if not months to come.

But the actual demise of the authoritarian regime that’s been in power since 1979 will come more from acts like the one taken by Kimia Alizadeh, Iran’s only female Olympic medalist. Late last week, the bronze medalist in Taekwondo in the 2016 Summer Games announced via Instagram that she has fled her home country due to the systematic oppression of women. Via CNN:

“Let me start with a greeting, a farewell or condolences,” the 21-year-old wrote in an Instagram post explaining why she was defecting. “I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who they have been playing with for years.”…

“They took me wherever they wanted. I wore whatever they said. Every sentence they ordered me to say, I repeated. Whenever they saw fit, they exploited me,” she wrote, adding that credit for her success always went to those in charge.

“I wasn’t important to them. None of us mattered to them, we were tools,” Alizadeh added, explaining that while the regime celebrated her medals, it criticized the sport she had chosen: “The virtue of a woman is not to stretch her legs!”

On the heels of Alizadeh’s self-imposed exile comes reports that two anchors for Iranian state broadcaster IRIB have quit over qualms about censorship and official lies. From The Guardian:

Zahra Khatami quit her role at IRIB, saying: “Thank you for accepting me as anchor until today. I will never get back to TV. Forgive me.”

Her fellow anchor Saba Rad said: “Thank you for your support in all years of my career. I announce that after 21 years working in radio and tv, I cannot continue my work in the media. I cannot.”

The journalists’ statements are part of a crisis of confidence following the initial attempts by state officials to deny that Ukrainian jetliner 752 had been shot down by mistake by members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) air defence force.

A third broadcaster, Gelare Jabbari, said she quit “some time ago” and asked Iranians to “forgive me for the 13 years I told you lies.”

This is all happening against the backdrop of massive protests in Iran following the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner that carried 176 people. Demonstrators protested rising gas prices late last year and in the years prior, there have been other protests and general strikes for a host of reasons, including increased dissatisfaction with theocratic rule. According to a Carnegie Endowment report, 150,000 educated Iranians emigrate each year, “costing the country over $150 billion per year” as relatively young and motivated residents leave for greener pastures elsewhere.

By all accounts, sanctions imposed by the United States in 2018 have hit Iran’s economy extremely hard and are playing a role in sparking protests. It’s never fully clear how those sorts of intervention, much less more militaristic actions such as the killing of Soleimani, play out—sometimes overt pressure applied by an outside power emboldens dissent and sometimes it decreases it. But when a country starts to get hollowed out from within, as seems to be the case with Alizadeh’s exile and other recent and ongoing domestic developments, autocrats should start sweating.

 

Тридцать лет назад и не забывайте это

Daniel Greenfield:

The Soviet Union was dissolved on the 26th of December.

An empire that once seemed unbeatable and threatened the very survival of the human race with its nuclear arsenal collapsed after popular protests brought down a failing and corrupt regime.

Leftists around the world had worshiped at its feet. They had spied for it, conspired on its behalf, and undermined their home countries for it. And when it died, it left behind their detritus in the form of aging Marxists like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, and their wider circles, who no doubt sigh as the anniversary comes once more.

The anniversary of the fall of the USSR should be a time to remember the many millions who were murdered in pursuit of the great socialist dream. And the fact that these murders were covered up by the media. The mass murders in the Soviet Union, in Communist China, by Pol Pot and by Che, could not have happened without the active collusion of Western leftists who labored to suppress the stories, discredit political dissidents, and, toward the end, push fake peace efforts meant to help keep failing Communist regimes going.

All these efforts failed.

The old Communist regimes collapsed into oligarchies, some, as in China, retained their Communist brand, others, as in Russia, took on a more explicitly nationalist brand, but none of them could sustain the purity of the ideals for which they had massacred, starved, and imprisoned countless millions whose full numbers will never be known. The Black Book of Communism can only tell us so much. Even to this day, Putin’s regime continues suppressing efforts to find mass graves from the Stalin era. China censors its own massacres from its internet.

And our media continues to glamorize Communism while promoting activists who want to see America go down the same path again.

Leftist theories are unworkable and innately destructive. Their idealism is a hollow shell for narcissism and a lust for power. When they are implemented, millions die.

Kamerat Sanders har fel om Sverige

Rainer Zitelmann:

In 1989, as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Bernie Sanders praised the Cuban revolution in a public statement. “For better or for worse, the Cuban revolution is a very profound and very deep revolution. Much deeper than I had understood,” Sanders wrote. “More interesting than their providing their people with free health care, free education, free housing … is that they are in fact creating a very different value system than the one we are familiar with.”

After a trip to the Soviet Union in 1988, Sanders also praised many aspects of the Russian socialist system. But today he stresses that when he talks about “socialism,” he isn’t referring to a system like in the Soviet Union.

Democrats like Bernie Sanders tend to hold up Scandinavian countries as their dream examples of “socialism.” Either socialists like Sanders don’t know enough about Scandinavian countries’ economies or they hope that huge swathes of the American public know too little about them. That’s why it’s so informative to take a look at economic developments in Scandinavia. For a long time, Sweden was regarded as a model of “democratic socialism” and the perfect example of a counter-model to American capitalism.

Spoiler alert: Modern Sweden is not a socialist country. According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2019 Index of Economic Freedom ranking, Sweden is among the 20 most market-oriented economies in the world. With an “Economic Freedom Score” of 75.2, Sweden has a similar level of economic freedom to the United States (76.8) and ranks ahead of South Korea and Germany.

The image of Sweden and other Scandinavian countries as strongholds of socialism harks back to the 1970s and 1980s. During the period of socialist welfare-state expansion from 1970 to 1991, Sweden dropped far behind many of its European competitors. Sweden’s economic growth rate was lower than in a number of other countries, including Italy, France, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands. From fourth place in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) per-capita GDP ranking in 1970, socialist-era Sweden had dropped to 16th place by 1995.

In the decade from 1965 to 1975, the number of civil servants swelled from 700,000 to 1.2 million, a rise that was accompanied by increasing government intervention in economic affairs and the creation of a number of new regulatory authorities. Between 1970 and 1984, the public sector absorbed the entire growth of the Swedish workforce, with the largest number of new jobs created in the social services sector.

In order to understand the full extent of Sweden’s disastrous flirtation with socialism, it is well worth taking a closer look at the development of two key groups: In 1960, for every 100 “market-financed” Swedes (i.e. those who derived their income predominantly from private enterprise), there were 38 who were “tax-financed” (i.e. dependent on the public sector for their income, whether as civil servants or as welfare recipients). Thirty years later, that number had risen to 151. During the same period, the total number of employed or self-employed in the market-financed sector fell from just under 3 million to just under 2.6 million, while the total number of tax-financed Swedes grew from 1.1 million to 3.9 million. These figures reflect Sweden’s move away from a capitalist free-market economy to a socialist model during that period.

Politicians, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who call for drastic tax increases on the rich, would be well advised to take a closer look at how such policies played out in Sweden. The socialist agenda damaged the Swedish economy and resulted in prominent entrepreneurs leaving the country in frustration. Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad was one of them. The marginal income tax rate of 85% was supplemented by a wealth tax on his personal assets, which forced him to borrow money from his own company in order to pay his taxes.

To pay back his debts to Ikea, Kamprad planned to sell one of the small companies he owned to Ikea at a profit. At the time this was a common practice among Swedish entrepreneurs as they attempted to reduce their wealth tax burden. As Kamprad was preparing the sale, the government made changes to tax legislation. And they did so retroactively. He was stuck with the costs and furious at his country’s unfair treatment of entrepreneurs. In 1974, he moved to Denmark and later to Switzerland, where he spent the next few decades—for a time as the wealthiest man in Europe. Kamprad didn’t return to Sweden to live and pay taxes until 2013—a textbook example of how countries cut their own throats by imposing excessive taxes on the rich.

Many excesses of the welfare state were equally absurd, including the generous sick pay. As well as statutory payments, most employees in Sweden received additional sickness benefit under company agreements and their collective agreements, which meant that those who took sick leave ended up with a larger paycheck than a healthy person who came to work every day. Unsurprisingly, Sweden held the OECD record for the highest rate of non-working adults in the labor force for several decades. Equally unsurprisingly, spikes in the rate of absence due to sickness frequently coincided with major sporting events. Even during the 2002 soccer World Cup—by which time reforms had already reversed the very worst excesses—the number of sick days increased by 41% among male workers.

From the 1990s, however, a counter-movement emerged in Sweden to push back against the clearly catastrophic effects of “democratic socialism.” There was a major tax reform in Sweden in 1990/91:

–      corporate taxes were slashed almost in half;

–      the tax on share dividends was abolished;

–      capital gains from shares were taxed at a greatly reduced rate, which was later eliminated completely; and

–      the top marginal income tax rate was cut by a third.

While income tax rates have come down considerably from their peak in the 1970s and 1980, they are still higher than in many other countries. However, what many don’t realize is that other taxes have been completely abolished in Sweden, including:

–      wealth taxes; and

–      inheritance and gift taxes.

In stark contrast, socialists of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s ilk want to drastically increase wealth and inheritance taxes in the United States.

The Swedish population willingly accepted that stripping back the welfare system would result in a more drastic decline in equality than almost anywhere else in the world. The Gini coefficient, a widely used measure of income distribution, grew by around 30% between the mid-1980s and the late 2000s. Only New Zealand recorded a similar growth in inequality during the same period. As a result, Sweden lost its ranking as the world’s most egalitarian country. But this did not seem to bother the Swedes all that much. After all, despite the significant decline in equality compared with Sweden’s socialist phase, prosperity increased for the vast majority.

Great moments in weekend journalism

The Hill reports about this ridiculous editorial decision:

Image

The Washington Post changed the headline on its obituary for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after initially calling him an “austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State.”

The Post changed its headline for the obituary at least twice Sunday, starting by describing al-Baghdadi as the “Islamic State’s terrorist-in-chief.” The newspaper then adjusted the headline to call al-Baghdadi the “austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State,” sparking some backlash on social media.

The headline has now been updated to describe al-Baghdadi as the “extremist leader of Islamic State.”

The Washington Examiner called out the Post for referring to al-Baghdadi as an “austere scholar.” While the Examiner acknowledged that the Post said al-Baghdadi led the terrorist organization with “shocking brutality,” the Examiner also noted that the Post spent most of the obituary focused on his academic career rather than his role in ISIS.

“The man who would become the founding leader of the world’s most brutal terrorist group spent his early adult years as an obscure academic, aiming for a quiet life as a professor of Islamic law,” the obituary reads.

Kristine Coratti Kelly, a spokesperson for the Post, tweeted that the headline “should never have read that way and we changed it quickly.”

President Trump confirmed al-Baghdadi’s death Sunday morning at a press conference, saying he died in a U.S. military raid in Syria.

“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” the president said during the press conference.

The corrected version …

Image

… and the recorrected version …

Image

… are one or two more than would have happened had a Democrat been president. Remember the orgy of congratulations when Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden? Such things feed Trump’s assertion that the media is the enemy of the country when the media fails to recognize not a victory for whoever is president, but an American military victory.

The reason I’m not part of the celebration is that Middle Eastern terrorist groups seem to easily replace their deceased leaders. Perhaps that suggests a larger required response.

Meanwhile, Business Insider reports:

People are parodying The Washington Post after the newspaper referred to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group, as an “austere religious scholar” in a headline about his death. …

The headline change also inspired people to write parody headlines, under the hashtag #WaPoDeathNotices, describing the deaths of other notorious figures like the Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the “Harry Potter” villain Voldemort.

Saddam Hussein, successful politician, oil baron and noted tough boss, dead at 69. #WaPoDeathNotices

He saw a country wracked by poverty, illiteracy & disease. So he lead a revolution that uplifted the lives of millions. RIP #FidelCastro

Genghis Khan, noted traveler, dies at 64.

Osama bin Laden, father of 23, killed in home invasion #WaPoDeathNotices

Charles Manson, community organizer, dead at 83 #WaPoDeathNotices

Mussolini, proud patriot, loved pasta, hated meat hooks. Died aged 61 #WaPoDeathNotices

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, wealth re-distributors in the banking sector, died today from extreme air conditioning.

Hannibal Lecter, well-known forensic psychiatrist and food connoisseur dead at 81. #WaPoDeathNotices

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who once participated in the Boston marathon, has died #WaPoDeathNotices

Voldemort, austere wizard who overcame a severe facial deformity to achieve dark lordship, dead at 71 #WaPoDeathNotices

The original whistle blower, Judas Iscariot, dead at 41. #WaPoDeathNotices

Ted Bundy, Noted Ladies’ Man and Women’s Rights Activist, Found Dead in Chair

Kristine Coratti Kelly, The Washington Post’s vice president of communications, tweeted on Sunday that the headline “should never have read that way” and that editors “changed it quickly.”

That might be the funniest tweet of all.