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The Fields Medal Has Its First Female Recipient

And she’s an Iranian, which I suppose I cannot help but point out with more than a little pride:

As an 8-year-old, Maryam Mirzakhani used to tell herself stories about the exploits of a remarkable girl. Every night at bedtime, her heroine would become mayor, travel the world or fulfill some other grand destiny.

Today, Mirzakhani — a 37-year-old mathematics professor at Stanford University — still writes elaborate stories in her mind. The high ambitions haven’t changed, but the protagonists have: They are hyperbolic surfaces, moduli spaces and dynamical systems. In a way, she said, mathematics research feels like writing a novel. “There are different characters, and you are getting to know them better,” she said. “Things evolve, and then you look back at a character, and it’s completely different from your first impression.”

The Iranian mathematician follows her characters wherever they take her, along story lines that often take years to unfold. Petite but indomitable, Mirzakhani has a reputation among mathematicians for tackling the most difficult questions in her field with dogged persistence. “She has a fearless ambition when it comes to mathematics,” said Curtis McMullen of Harvard University, who was Mirzakhani’s doctoral adviser.

With her low voice and steady, gray-blue eyes, Mirzakhani projects an unwavering self-confidence. She has an equal tendency, however, toward humility. Asked to describe her contribution to a particular research problem, she laughed, hesitated and finally said: “To be honest, I don’t think I’ve had a very huge contribution.” And when an email arrived in February saying that she would receive what is widely regarded as the highest honor in mathematics — the Fields Medal, which was awarded August 13 at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul, South Korea — she assumed that the account from which the email was sent had been hacked.

Other mathematicians, however, describe Mirzakhani’s work in glowing terms. Her doctoral dissertation — about counting loops on surfaces that have “hyperbolic” geometry — was “truly spectacular,” said Alex Eskin, a mathematician at the University of Chicago who has collaborated with Mirzakhani. “It’s the kind of mathematics you immediately recognize belongs in a textbook.”

It ought to go without saying, of course, that if you want to see the true face of Iranians, look not at the mullahs running the Iranian government. Look instead at the likes of Maryam Mirzakhani. She, not the mullahs, represents what the overwhelming majority of Iranians aspire to be. And of course, in the mullahs’ collective mindset, women like Mirzakhani should not be allowed to have anything resembling a life outside the home.

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This Passes for “Moderation” in Iran

Those who believed that an era of political and social liberalization was about to dawn in Iran will not like reading this article:

Eight social media activists in Iran have been sentenced to a total of 127 years in prison, after they criticised the country’s government on Facebook.

The eight people – whose identities have not been revealed – were administrators of unnamed Facebook pages.

An Iranian court found them guilty of using the pages to spread anti-government propaganda, attemp to undermine national security, and insult Iran’s leaders. It is unclear whether they were acting together.

It is understood that those convicted will appeal the ruling, having each been handed sentences between 11 and 21 years, Iran’s IRNA news agency reported according to Sky News. The terms were passed in April after the eight appeared in court several times.

The rest of us will be appalled, but entirely unsurprised.

Inequality in Iran

This is what happens when a government is not only massively totalitarian, but also corrupt beyond belief:

The nouveaux riches in Tehran drive Porsches, Ferraris and Maseratis and live in multimillion-dollar luxury apartments replete with walk-in closets, Bosch appliances and computerized shower systems.

I was stunned when I caught a glimpse of what Iran’s megarich can afford — on, of all things, a program made by Press TV, an English-language news organization sponsored and monitored by the Iranian state. It was not just the wealth that struck me, but how freely Iran’s “one percenters” flaunted the symbols of Western decadence without fear of government retribution.

Thirty-five years after a revolution that promised an egalitarian utopia and vowed to root out “gharbzadegi” — the modern Westernized lifestyles of Iran’s cosmopolitans — how have some people become so rich?

Much of Iran’s wealth, it turns out, is in the hands of the very people in charge of maintaining social justice. Hard-line clerical leaders, together with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (the branch of Iran’s military in charge of protecting the country’s Islamic government), have engineered a system where it is largely they, their family members and their loyal cronies who prosper.

“When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became supreme leader in 1989, he built his own system of patronage by building a network with the I.R.G.C.,” said Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the nonpartisan RAND Corporation and an author of its report “The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.” Saeed Ghasseminejad, an economist, and the political scientist Emanuele Ottolenghi, writing in The Wall Street Journal, estimated that the Revolutionary Guards Corps controls about 20 percent of the market value of companies traded on Tehran’s stock exchange, across the telecommunications, banking, construction, metals and mining, automotive and petrochemical sectors. Mr. Nader said the corps was also involved in sanctions-busting and the smuggling of alcohol and drugs into Iran, both forbidden under Islamic law.

The corps also runs large parts of the economy. Since 2006, Al-Monitor reported, it has been awarded at least 11,000 development projects, from construction and aerospace to oil and gas. Khatam al-Anbiya, a company that acts like the United States Army Corps of Engineers on the construction of roads, bridges and public works, subcontracts to firms owned by businessmen with connections to the Guards.

And of course, it ought to go without saying that if one confronts any of the thugs running the Iranian government about the fact that they have constructed a mafiocracy in Iran, they will either try to deny the undeniable, or they will pretend that God somehow wants the governing mafia to be wealthy and prosperous . . . while the rest of the country suffers.

Your Unsurprising News of the Day

“Happiness in Short Supply in Iran.” Tell us about it:

The media storm that erupted after police arrested six young Iranians for dancing to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” in an online video prompted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to tweet, “Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.” Iran’s leadership is right to be concerned about the country’s happiness. Gallup’s most recent rankings of positive emotions find Iran at 93 on a list of 138 countries. Iranians also reported the highest negative emotions in the world, second only to Iraq.

[. . .]

Iranians have every right to feel negative, given the high unemployment coupled with high inflation in their country that has crippled their ability to provide for their families, along with international sanctions over their nuclear program that have hurt their livelihoods. Additionally, 48% of Iranians in 2013 said they would not recommend their city or area where they live to a friend or associate as a place to live.

(This story was covered here.) So, I guess the big takeaway here is that it just happens to be very difficult to feel happy in a country run by a repressive, totalitarian, dictatorial government which lacks any sense of priorities or perspective, and which repeatedly acts against the best interests of Iran and the Iranian people.

Who woulda thunk it?

“Moderate” Governments Don’t Jail People Over Facebook Postings

Just thought I’d throw that opinion out there:

An Iranian court has sentenced eight people to jail terms ranging from seven to 20 years for crimes including anti-regime propaganda posted on Facebook, an opposition website has said.

Kaleme, which did not cite a source for its report, said the sentences were delivered last week giving the eight Facebook users a combined 123 years in jail.

They were charged with “insulting the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and the authorities, anti-regime activities, sacrilege and spreading lies,” Kaleme said.

There was no official confirmation of the court ruling and AFP could not independently verify the report.

Incidentally, are we still under the impression that the current Iranian president–weak though he is in comparison to the supreme leader–is a moderate?

Behold the “Moderate” Iranian Government

In all of its glory:

An Iranian court convicted on Sunday the editor and a contributor of a banned newspaper over a series of charges, including lying about Islam and spreading anti-regime propaganda, reports said.

The media watchdog banned the reformist Bahar daily in October 2013 after it published an article the authorities deemed as an insult to Shiite Islam for questioning one of its core beliefs. Its editor-in-chief, Saeed Pourazizi, who was detained and released on bail following the closure, was on Sunday convicted of “propaganda against the establishment and spreading lies and rumours,” ISNA news agency reported. The Tehran criminal court found Ali Asghar Gharavi, the article’s author, guilty of writing “against the standards of Islam” and “spreading lies and rumours,” the agency added.

On Priorities and the Regime in Iran

They don’t seem to get along:

A red carpet peck on the cheek by Leila Hatami, the Iranian actress at the Cannes Film Festival has been reported to the country’s courts by activists who are seeking a public flogging as punishment for violating Islamic laws.

Hizbullah Students, a group of university students with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard yesterday filed a complaint with Iran’s judiciary for the prosecution of the film star who starred in the Oscar-winning, A Separation.

Miss Hatami was condemned by Islamic Republic officials for kissing Gilles Jacob, the President of Cannes Festival, while attending the event as a member of the jury.

Mr Jacob tried to play down the incident, describing it as “a usual custom in the West” after it was condemned as an insult to Iranian womanhood.

“I kissed Mrs Hatami on the cheek,” Mr Jacob said. “At that moment, for me she represented all Iranian cinema, then she became herself again.”

According to the Guards-run Tasnim news website, the Hizbullah Students organisation called for Hatami to be flogged for “kissing a strange man”. The maximum sentence the offence can incur is 50 lashes.

[. . .]

Hossein Nushabadi, Iran’s deputy minister of culture, declared Hatami’s appearance in Cannes “in violation of religious beliefs”.

“Iranian woman is the symbol of chastity and innocence,” he said.

Apparently, we are supposed to believe that life in Iran is so incredibly problem-free that the authorities can afford to get outraged over patently non-outrageous things.

Quote of the Day

Just days after Iran’s president denounced Internet censorship as “cowardly,” six young Iranians were arrested and forced to repent on state television Tuesday for the grievous offense of proclaiming themselves to be “Happy in Tehran,” in a homemade music video they posted on YouTube last month.

By uploading their video, recorded on an iPhone and promoted on Facebook and Instagram, the group was taking part in a global online phenomenon, which has resulted, so far, in hundreds of cover versions of the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” recorded in more than 140 countries.

“Happy in Tehran” was viewed more than 165,000 times on YouTube before it attracted the attention of the police and was made private.

Robert Mackey. We are now entirely justified in paraphrasing Mencken; theocratic government in Iran is defined by the haunting fear that Iranians, somewhere, may be happy.

Torture in Iranian Prisons

Needless to say, this is both entirely obscene, and entirely unsurprising, given the nature of the current regime in Tehran:

Political prisoners in Tehran’s Evin prison have allegedly been subjected to humiliating physical abuse, including being forced to run a gauntlet of guards armed with batons, it has emerged.

Iran‘s president, Hassan Rouhani, has been silent despite chilling details being revealed by prisoners and their families about how Thursday’s disturbances marked a dark episode in one of the country’s most notorious prisons.

Dozens of inmates held in Evin’s ward 350, including journalists, lawyers and opposition members, were injured, with some suffering skull fractures, broken ribs, wounds and swelling on their bodies after guards and intelligence officials created a tunnel and made prisoners run through it as they beat them with batons, according to opposition sources.

Emad Bahavar, who is serving a 10-year sentence because of his political activities, recounted some of the horrific moments in a letter sent out of jail and published on an opposition website, Kaleme, on Tuesday.

In separate interviews, a group of relatives who met a number of prisoners beaten up in Evin’s violence last week echoed Bahavar, saying some could hardly speak and others had bruises on their bodies. The incident has been described by activists as Iran’s “black Thursday”.

“‘Beat them up,’ they shouted. Forty guards armed with batons then rushed down the stairs … they sent more guards as it went on,” Bahavar wrote in his letter. “They made us stand in a row facing the wall in ward 350’s corridors while being handcuffed and blindfolded. They started to beat us up from behind. You could hear a whining noise. Outside the ward’s gate, the guards stood liked a tunnel and forced us to go through it before taking us on to a minibus. You could see blood on the way and inside the minibus.”

Recall that the election of a supposedly “moderate” president was supposed to alleviate at least some of the totalitarian burdens that Iranians are forced by their government to bear. This has not happened because (a) the president is not all that powerful in the Iranian system of government, and (b) because the Iranian president may not be the moderate people think he is.

Iran Is Not a Theocracy. It Is a Theocratic Mafiocracy.

To wit:

The 82-year-old Iranian woman keeps the documents that upended her life in an old suitcase near her bed. She removes them carefully and peers at the tiny Persian script.

There’s the court order authorizing the takeover of her children’s three Tehran apartments in a multi-story building the family had owned for years. There’s the letter announcing the sale of one of the units. And there’s the notice demanding she pay rent on her own apartment on the top floor.

Pari Vahdat-e-Hagh ultimately lost her property. It was taken by an organization that is controlled by the most powerful man in Iran: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. She now lives alone in a cramped, three-room apartment in Europe, thousands of miles from Tehran.

The Persian name of the organization that hounded her for years is “Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam” – Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam. The name refers to an edict signed by the Islamic Republic’s first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, shortly before his death in 1989. His order spawned a new entity to manage and sell properties abandoned in the chaotic years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Setad has become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran, though many Iranians, and the wider world, know very little about it. In the past six years, it has morphed into a business juggernaut that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming.

The organization’s total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts. But Setad’s holdings of real estate, corporate stakes and other assets total about $95 billion, Reuters has calculated. That estimate is based on an analysis of statements by Setad officials, data from the Tehran Stock Exchange and company websites, and information from the U.S. Treasury Department.

Just one person controls that economic empire – Khamenei. As Iran’s top cleric, he has the final say on all governmental matters. His purview includes his nation’s controversial nuclear program, which was the subject of intense negotiations between Iranian and international diplomats in Geneva that ended Sunday without an agreement. It is Khamenei who will set Iran’s course in the nuclear talks and other recent efforts by the new president, Hassan Rouhani, to improve relations with Washington.

The supreme leader’s acolytes praise his spartan lifestyle, and point to his modest wardrobe and a threadbare carpet in his Tehran home. Reuters found no evidence that Khamenei is tapping Setad to enrich himself.

But Setad has empowered him. Through Setad, Khamenei has at his disposal financial resources whose value rivals the holdings of the shah, the Western-backed monarch who was overthrown in 1979.

Don Corleone would have been proud.

The Nation’s False and Dishonest Crimea Narrative

For those who believe that the recent annexation of Crimea by Russia might actually unite Americans of all ideological stripes in opposition to the thuggishness of the Putin regime, I give you this piece by editors of the Nation. It shows that even now, in the immediate aftermath of the annexation, while historical memories are still fresh, there are those who are willing to rewrite current events in order to advance a narrative filled with desperate attempts to explain away unjustified Russian bellicosity. And of course, it ought to surprise no one that the editors are willing to put forth false attempts at establishing moral equivalence in order to leave readers with the idea that the United States is really at fault in this story.

The urgent issue today is to stop the drift toward hot war. Yes, Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea trespasses on international law, though it is difficult to bear US officials’ invocation of a principle that Washington itself has often violated (see, most recently, Kosovo and Iraq, the latter now marking the eleventh anniversary of an illegal US invasion and occupation). Financial and visa sanctions, while inflicting a cost on Russia, will not deter Moscow. As Putin argued in his March 18 speech before the Russian Federal Assembly, Russia feels “cornered” and has been repeatedly “deceived” by the West—particularly Washington—since the Soviet Union broke apart more than two decades ago, especially in light of the expansion of NATO to its borders.

The last I checked, there was no American annexation of either Kosovo or Iraq. The Clinton administration launched the air war over Kosovo in order to prevent a potential humanitarian catastrophe. Anyone with a passing knowledge of realist theory understands that the administration did this because it knew that it would not encounter much resistance from Russia, which traditionally has been an ally of the Serbs, and because the administration believed that it would be able to conduct its operations (through NATO air support) with a viable exit strategy from the conflict. No land was annexed, no people were displaced, no Greater America was established through the extension of American sovereignty over one millimeter of foreign territory. Ditto for Iraq. As for Russia feeling “cornered” and “deceived” by “the West,” the editors do nothing whatsoever to lend proof to the assertions; they merely repeat them and think that by repeating, they have established as immutable truths the claims that the West “cornered” and “deceived” Russia. This is not argument. It is not any kind of appeal to reason. It is apologetics on behalf of Vladimir Putin and his regime, pure and simple.

The only way out, the only possible return to stability and cooperation in East-West relations, is through diplomacy and negotiations. For this to happen, Washington and Moscow must recognize that the other side has legitimate grievances and interests. Certainly this must be acknowledged in Washington, where such admissions are hardly ever made.

It is one thing to claim that the Crimea and Ukraine are in the Russian sphere of influence; no one seriously argues otherwise. It is quite another to argue that somehow, the Russians have “legitimate grievances.” What grievances could possibly have led the Russians to violate the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which “included security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine” in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons? The editors don’t say, because they can’t.

Instead, Senator John McCain, his Democratic colleague Dick Durbin and an assemblage of politicians from both parties are recklessly stoking the flames of folly. They’ve demanded that the United States arm the new government in Kiev, with McCain calling for installation of missile-defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. Such bellicosity appeases the hawks at home but enrages the war party in Moscow, which is urging the Russian president to resist caving in to the West.

So now, we are led to believe that “the flames of folly”–and I suppose war–are being fanned not by an illegal Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula, and a potential drive into Ukraine that might reach as far as Moldova, but because John McCain and Dick Durbin think that we ought to give aid to the government in Kiev in order to allow it to potentially maintain its sovereignty and independence against the forces of Russian imperialism. There aren’t too many people in the world who are able to maintain such a morally blinkered view of geopolitics, but by now, it should be entirely clear that the editors of the Nation are not like many people in the world.

Amid hysterical talk from frustrated Cold Warriors like McCain, Helmut Kohl, the father of the reunified Germany, admitted that there have been “great omissions” in European Union policy toward Ukraine. He noted a “lack of sensitivity” in the EU’s relations with Putin and Russia, warning against a reckless call to arms.

Assuming arguendo that anything in this vague bill of particulars is even halfway accurate, is Russia now deemed to be justified in having violated the Budapest Memorandum and trampling over the territorial integrity of another country? Show of hands for anyone who actually believes that kind of argument can be made with a straight face.

In such a charged environment, it’s all the more important to pay close attention to diplomatic initiatives, even if they come from the Kremlin. While it may not be an ideal solution, there is merit in the Russian foreign ministry’s “road map” calling for establishing an international support group—with the EU, United States and Russia as members—to help Ukraine stabilize itself. Among other crucial points, the proposal calls for a Ukrainian national assembly to draft a constitution that would create a new federal system in which regions would have a reasonable degree of autonomy, confirm Russian as a second official language and, critically, uphold Ukraine’s military and political nonalignment—that is, maintain Ukraine’s geopolitical independence from Russia as well as the West, which will require an end to NATO expansion.

Notice that nothing in this excerpt actually calls for the Crimea to be returned to Ukraine. The “diplomatic initiatives” that serve as the basis for the editors’ call for negotiations would effectively enshrine the annexation of the Crimea as a valid, irreversible act. Calling for Ukrainian “regions” to have “a reasonable degree of autonomy” sounds lovely in theory, but it can hardly be read as anything but an attempt to advocate a governmental structure that will allow the Kremlin to foment agitation among ethnic Russian populations within Ukraine for secession and unification with Russia. Vladimir Putin could hardly ask for more in the aftermath of the annexation, though I am sure that the editors will encourage him to try asking for more anyway.

A settlement is possible if all countries’ security interests are taken into account. This would mean that Ukraine would hold elections with participation and guaranteed protection for ethnic Russians; would have a nonaligned government (stripped of neofascists); would pledge never to join NATO; and would develop economic relations with Russia and the EU (unavoidable if Ukraine is to survive economically).

It should, of course, be left to the Ukrainians to decide with whom they want to establish close diplomatic and economic ties, but the editors believe that the United States should lend its backing to Putinesque imperialism and force the Ukrainians to agree to diplomatic and economic terms that may not actually be in Ukrainian interests. This puts the lie to the editors’ claim that they are interested in establishing an arrangement in which “all countries’ security interests are taken into account.” Also, who are these “neofascists” who are supposedly populating the Ukrainian government (which is supposed to be “nonaligned,” mind you, to satisfy the editors’ desire to back up the Putin regime’s demands)? The editors don’t say. David Frum calls shenanigans on the claim that “neofascists” are running rampant in Ukraine, and unlike the editors of the Nation, he actually backs up his claims.

There is also good reason to think Putin—who emphasized that Russia has no designs on other regions of Ukraine—is ready to negotiate. A successful outcome could include Moscow’s recognition of a legitimate Kiev government; demobilization of troops; resumption of gas discounts as well as favorable trade relations to prevent Ukraine’s economic collapse; and perhaps even establishing a special relationship between Crimea, now annexed by Russia, and Ukraine (though, of course, without affecting Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol).

It is so charming that the editors seem to believe that Putin was telling the truth when he “emphasized that Russia has no designs on other regions of Ukraine,” worrisome news to the contrary notwithstanding. Even if Russia makes no further moves, claiming that Russian actions are somehow okay because only Crimea was annexed doesn’t even remotely amount to a serious argument.

Even more is at stake in this profound crisis. Washington needs Russia’s cooperation in addressing global and regional issues such as the Syrian civil war, now in its third year; negotiations with Iran; exiting Afghanistan; the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorists; relations with China; and managing North Korea.

It is so charming that the editors seem to believe that Russian “cooperation in addressing global and regional issues such as the Syrian civil war . . . negotiations with Iran; exiting Afghanistan; the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorists; relations with China; and managing North Korea” are forthcoming if the United States will just be willing to let the Putin regime have Crimea and be able to continue bullying Ukraine. Of course, even before this crisis, the Russians have been manifestly unhelpful in managing the Syrian civil war, helping out in Afghanistan, assisting in the fight against terrorism, helping the United States manage relations with China and working to calm the situation on the Korean peninsula. But leave it to the editors of the Nation to pretend that recent history simply does not exist.

We cannot afford a new Cold War. This crisis must not be framed as a US-Russia showdown or as a question of American “weakness” or “fecklessness.” Resolution will demand leadership on both sides. Obama and Putin must transcend their respective war parties and hardliners at home—as Ronald Reagan did, from 1985 to 1988, when he met Mikhail Gorbachev halfway—and provide real leadership so that a broad, pluralistic and democratic center in Ukraine emerges that is committed to establishing a new constitutional order: one that is capable of reconciling the interests and concerns of all parts of that country.

All of this is rhetorical pabulum that pretends that the nature of the Ukrainian government–and not Russian aggression–is the real obstacle to a just and comprehensive diplomatic solution. I would ask the editors of the Nation to be ashamed of the fact that they wrote a truly terrible editorial that sought to pass off as respectable the most pathetic justifications for belligerent and imperial behavior on behalf of Moscow, but I am pretty sure that the editors of the Nation have no conception whatsoever on how to feel shame.

It should be noted that much of the Nation’s coverage of Russia is shaped by the writings of Stephen Cohen, who is married to Nation editor-in-chief Katrina vanden Heuvel. Isaac Chotiner calls Cohen “Vladimir Putin’s American apologist,” and it is not hard to see why:

Cohen’s discussion with Fareed Zakaria was brief but telling. After first denying that Putin was a “rank dictator” and saying that he is not “a thug” or “anti-American” (would Putin even deny this last bit anymore?), Cohen got to the main point of his argument:

Remember that was the second time in the 20th century that the Russian state had collapsed, the first time in 1917. So to recreate stability, prosperity, greatness, whatever that means in Russia at home and, in the process, restore Russia’s traditional zones of national security on its borders, that means Ukraine as well. He did not create this Ukrainian crisis. It was imposed on him and he had no choice to react. That’s where we stand today.

Notice that Cohen initially argues that some sort of control over Ukraine is a requirement of Russian greatness. And then, after explaining this, he says the whole crisis was “imposed” on Putin! This is apologetics done well: first you explain why bad behavior is actually sensisble, and then you say that the bad behavior wasn’t really under the control of the bad actor.

Cohen also makes a comparison with the United States:

What if, suddenly, Russian power showed up in Canada and Mexico and provinces of Canada and Mexico said they were going to join Putin’s Eurasian economic union and maybe even his military bloc? Surely the American president would have to react at least as forcefully as Putin has.

Zakaria, to his credit, pointed out that the United States would obviously not act similarly, but let’s say (for fun) that Cohen is right and that the United States would in fact invade part of Canada in such a scenario. What would be Stephen Cohen’s response? Would he get on television and explain American history, and American grievances, and American nationalism? Would he call for more “understanding” of American warmongering and aggression? Would he scold the liberal media for criticizing the United States? Of course not! He would be screaming at the top of his lungs about American imperialism and whichever bloodthirsty (albeit fairly elected) American leader happened to be in power.

Indeed. And so would the rest of the Nation’s editorial board. Because apparently, imperialism and bellicosity are only okay when practiced by the Putin regime.

What Iranian “Reformers” Hath Wrought

Presumably, this is what we are supposed to expect from a government that allegedly is more enlightened than it used to be:

At least 80 people and perhaps as many as 95 have been executed in Iran already this year, a surge in the use of the death penalty that has dampened hopes for human rights reforms under President Hassan Rouhani, the United Nations said on Friday.

[. . .]

In September, dozens of political prisoners were released, raising hopes that he would also improve human rights in a country that ranks second after China on Amnesty International’s list of states with the highest use of capital punishment.

“There were some encouraging signs last year where political prisoners were released … But it appears at least in the past seven weeks that in fact executions have been scaled up,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing.

“We regret that the new government has not changed its approach to the death penalty and continues to impose capital punishment for a wide range of offences. We urge the government to immediately halt executions and to institute a moratorium.”

Last year Iran executed between 500 and 625 people, including at least 28 women and two juveniles, Shamdasani said.

“A number of individuals were also executed in secret and at least seven people have been executed in public this year,” she said, adding that most were killed by hanging.

Possession or transport of drugs, “even in relatively small amounts” of less than 500 grams, frequently leads to execution, said Roya Boroumand, director of the U.S.-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation that tracks executions in Iran.

“More than 100 crimes carry the death penalty,” Boroumand told Reuters. “If the international community takes lightly the execution of drug dealers, it is leaving a free hand to the police and judiciary to do what they want,” she said.

We won’t even get into the nightmares with which political prisoners need to put up.

Quote of the Day

As Iranian poet Hashem Shaabani was dangling from a noose two weeks ago, desperately grasping for his last breath of air, one wonders what he would have thought about Western leaders who call President Hassan Rouhani a moderate.  What exactly is moderate, Shaabani could have thought, about a regime which brands a poet an “enemy of God” and strangles him to death?

David Keyes. Maybe it is worth mentioning anew that Hassan Rohani may not be a moderate.

Politics Kills Economic Growth

This editorial is entirely right to attack House Republicans for killing prospects for immigration reform, just as it takes on Democrats for killing free trade. Encouraging smart, hardworking people to come to the United States and chase the American dream–while enriching America with their own talents–is one of the best ways around to help foster increased economic growth. Too bad that immigration reform has been “strangled by Republicans dancing to talk radio,” as the editorial points out.

Of course, we all understand why immigration reform died. This is an election year and if xenophobes on the right are offended by a push for reform, they won’t work to turn out voters for Republican candidates this November. The problem, however, is that we always seem to be in election mode, with actual governance taking a backseat to electoral and political considerations. So a broken immigration policy remains broken and as a consequence, prospects have increased for continued lackluster economic growth and job creation. And presumably, we are supposed to accept this sorry state of affairs with nary a peep of protest.

Reform Cannot Come Fast Enough to Iran

I’m sure that Iranians will be the first to tell you as much:

In a rare expression of regret by an Iranian official, President Hassan Rouhani has said that he is sorry for any troubles with the distribution of a food ration to the poor, following reports that three people have died waiting for the goods in subzero weather.

Local media have reported that the three died in recent days while standing in line in freezing temperatures. Authorities were quoted as saying that they had pre-existing heart problems.

Most provinces in Iran have experienced unusually low temperatures in recent days.

Rouhani told state TV late Wednesday that he “as the president expresses regret if people have faced trouble in receiving the commodity basket.”

It’s unusual for an official in Iran to take responsibility for problems in a governmental plan.

That last sentence is as troubling as anything found in the excerpt. Incidentally, maybe Iranians wouldn’t have to freeze to death while waiting for food if they had a government that cared as much about the lives of Iranians as it does about exporting terrorism, developing nuclear weapons technology, and preventing Iranians from enjoying basic civil liberties and political freedoms.

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