Quote of the Day

It seems that not one single thing escapes the attention of hardliners in Iran, bent on using the extraordinary powers they hold to suppress every effort by Iranians to exercise their right to freedom of expression. They have even decreed that men should refrain from sporting various hairdos and—yes I am not kidding—from plucking their eyebrows, because those are considered to be indications of “devil worshipping” and homosexuality.

Although such preoccupations may seem risible to some, the people who are caught up in this dragnet are suffering very real and harsh consequences.

Atena Farghadani is a 28-year-old artist and women’s rights activist. She drew a cartoon depicting some members of Iran’s Majles (Parliament) with animal heads, as a form of protest against bills that are in different stages of moving through the parliamentary process that, in an effort to boost child-bearing, would among other things, restrict access to contraception and establish preferences in hiring for married women over single women.

We just learned that she has been sentenced to an astonishing twelve years and nine months in prison on spurious charges of “spreading propaganda against the system,” “insulting members of the parliament through paintings” and “insulting the Supreme Leader” because of her cartoon. She is also being charged with “gathering and colluding with deviant groups” because she has met with the families of those killed by government agents in the unrest following the 2009 presidential elections and because of an art exhibition she held which was attended by members of Iran’s persecuted Baha’i community.

Elise Auerbach. Still more proof that the Iranian “leadership” class is unworthy of the Iranians it purports to lead.


Edward Snowden Betrayed His Country, and We Should Thank Max Boot for Saying So


Max Boot may have attracted the ire of Glenn Greenwald for speaking the truth about Edward Snowden, but there is no shame in that. “A bit dog barks,” and as Edward Snowden’s chief apologist, Glenn Greenwald barks every time someone tells the truth about Snowden. The yelping may be juvenile and annoying, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from following Boot’s example. [Read more…]

Speaking of Curbs on Freedom . . .

The onetime fans of the Hugo Chávez regime in Venezuela–the ones who thought that the regime was filled with wonderful people and ideas and who thought it was just marvelous that Chávez went to the United Nations to call George W. Bush “the devil”–have been rather quiet (as noted many times on this blog), now that it is clear that the regime is responsible for an economic catastrophe and the decline of political freedoms. One would think that they might say something about how they now regret having supported Chávez and his gang, but thus far, most of the past supporters of the Chávez regime haven’t had the integrity to own up to their bad judgment and to apologize for it.

I suppose these folks get more and more uncomfortable with each and every new story that comes out of Venezuela and shows the current chavista regime to be intellectually and morally bankrupt. If so, this story ought to make current chavistas–and former ones who never expressed regret for the error of their ways–very uncomfortable indeed:

Police in camouflaged uniforms smashed into the office of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma on Thursday and carried the opposition leader away in a move heightening political tensions in the socialist-run South American country.

President Nicolas Maduro announced that Ledezma, one of his most vocal critics, would be punished for his efforts to sow unrest.

[. . .]

“He’ll be held accountable for all his crimes,” Maduro said in comments that TV and radio stations across the country were required to carry.

Last week, Maduro named Ledezma among government critics and Western powers he accused of plotting a coup to bring down his socialist government, one of more than a dozen such denunciations Maduro has made since taking power in 2013. Ledezma mocked the accusation in multiple interviews, saying the real destabilizing force in Venezuela was the government’s corruption.

Tensions have been running high in Venezuela this week, with the one-year anniversary of the start of weeks of anti-government street protests that choked the country with tear gas and smoke from flaming barricades and resulted in more than 40 deaths. National police arrested several other mayors and former mayors during last year’s unrest, including Leopoldo Lopez, who is considered by human rights groups as Latin America’s most high-profile political prisoner.

Allies of the 59-year-old mayor called for more protests Friday to demand his immediate release, a call echoed by Human Rights Watch.

The U.S. State Department called Venezuela’s accusations of coup-plotting “baseless and false” and intended to direct attention away from mounting economic problems such as widespread shortages and galloping inflation that reached 68 percent last year.

“The Venezuelan government needs to deal with the grave situation it faces,” the State Department said in a statement.

But of course, the Venezuelan government is not interested in “deal[ing] with the grave situation that it faces.” Rather, it is interested in finding and persecuting scapegoats in order to distract from the incompetence of the government and the monstrousness of its actions. And it will likely continue to be aided and abetted by the silence of those who once lauded the chavista regime, and who now remain silent instead of speaking out against the regime, and expressing some semblance of remorse for their past awful judgments.

What Abba Eban Said of the Palestinians Could Also Be Said of the Cuban Regime

They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity:

The Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who splits her time between the United States and Havana, traveled to Cuba in recent days seeking to pull off a bold experiment. She called on Cubans from all walks of life to meet at Havana’s iconic Revolution Square on Tuesday at 3 p.m., where they would take turns at a microphone to outline their vision for the new era in the country. Word of the event, which was billed as both a performance and a street protest, was shared on social media using the hashtag #YoTambiénExijo, which means “I also demand.”

Ms. Bruguera’s plan was the first test of whether the Obama administration’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba earlier this month would prod the Castro regime to be more tolerant of critical voices. Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the government barred prominent critics, including Ms. Bruguera, from reaching the square. Some were detained and others were reportedly prevented from leaving their homes. In the end, the performance wasn’t held.

Authorities in Cuba appear to have wrestled with how to prevent Ms. Bruguera’s project from turning into a mass gathering of critics. They allowed her to travel to the island, though she had publicized her project well in advance. In recent days, officials from the state-run arts council summoned her for a meeting. In a statement, the council said it had made clear to her that her plan was “unacceptable,” because of the location and the “ample media coverage” in outlets that are critical of the government. Officials proposed that the event be held instead at a cultural site, according to the statement, and said that the government would “reserve the right” to bar people whose “sole interest is to be provocative.”

Obviously, this is appalling, and it shows that the Cuban regime is as vile as it ever was. It also shows that the regime is completely incapable of reciprocating the goodwill shown to it by the Obama administration in the administration’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba.

I imagine that there are readers who wonder whether I am rethinking my decision to endorse the administration’s move to change the nature of Cuban-American relations. Not in the least. I never expected that the decision to normalize relations would bring about an overnight change in the regime’s behavior, and my favorable link to Dan Drezner’s piece on the normalization of relations–which warned us that change would not occur overnight in Cuba–indicates as much. At best, normalization–and the lifting of the embargo against Cuba–will help Cuba move in fits and starts towards a more liberalized political environment. But again, we have tried diplomatic isolation and the embargo for over fifty years, and that strategy has failed to bring about any results. It is time for a new approach, and as Drezner notes, the Obama administration’s new approach can ultimately bring about a very good outcome:

First, the odds of orderly liberalization and democratization in Cuba have increased. Not by a lot — maybe from 2 percent to 10 percent. But that’s still an improvement. Even if full-blown regime transition doesn’t happen, economic liberalization does make a society somewhat more free. Today’s Post editorial points to Vietnam as the worst-case outcome for the Cuba policy. But Vietnam now has a considerably more liberal climate than before the US opening, so I don’t think that’s the best example.

Second, as my Washington Post colleagues Erik Voeten and Ishaan Tharoor have already observed, U.S. policy on Cuba has been, literally, isolationist — as in, it isolates the United States. Unlike other cases (see below), there is zero multilateral support for sanctioning Cuba — quite the opposite, in fact. Improving ties with Havana ameliorates a long-standing source of friction between the United States and Latin America. That’s called “good diplomacy.”

Third, when you consider the mammoth size of the United States and Cuba’s proximity, the only parallel economic relationship that comes to mind is China-Taiwan — if Taiwan were a lot poorer. If trade, tourism and investment takes off between the two countries, Cuba will quickly become the more asymmetrically dependent actor, no matter how hard the Cuban government tries to resist. This won’t make it much easier for the United States to affect regime change — but it will nudge Cuba towards a less confrontational foreign policy.

We gave the old policy half a century to work, and it didn’t. We should give the new one some time. And of course, it is worth noting that in the past, the Cuban regime tried to claim that American efforts to diplomatically and economically isolate Cuba were the catalyst for any repressive measures undertaken by the regime. They can’t do that anymore. And the world knows it.

A Modest Improvement in Internet Freedom in Iran

Instead of banning websites completely, the Iranian regime is now just censoring their content. Sure, Iranians will only see redacted versions of websites, but at least they’ll see them. I guess this is supposed to mean that everything is both hunky and dory in Iran now.

How very wonderful all of this is. Utopia has finally been achieved in Iran. Must be the effects of all of that political liberalization.

Nota bene: Some people might think that this blog post is featuring sarcasm rather heavily. I can’t possibly imagine where they would get such an idea.

A Modest Endorsement of the Venezuelan Regime

Behold. Of course, in a better world, we could spend less time parodying failed regimes and instead, spend our time implementing political and economic policies that actually do serve to alleviate immiseration and provide others with political freedoms. But the Venezuelan regime–and all those who enable its existence–is utterly uninterested in helping the people it supposedly represents. Its interests lie in enriching and empowering those at the top of the political heap, at the expense of the Venezuelan people themselves.

As such, it is necessary to oppose the regime–and others like it–however one can. Parody helps.

Meanwhile, Tyranny Continues in Venezuela

I don’t believe for a single moment that there was a plot afoot to kill Nicolás Maduro, but of course, the Venezuelan regime pretends conveniently that there was. This makes it easier for the government to suppress protest and dissent, and allows the government to try to distract Venezuelans from the existence of truly awful economic conditions and living standards. Of course, I am not writing anything that anyone doesn’t know, but it is worth emphasizing that the Venezuelan government’s response to the problems afflicting the country–problems the Venezuelan government itself was responsible for having created–is to constantly exclaim “Squirrel!” No one should be fooled.

Once again, all of the people who once pretended that everything that Hugo Chávez and his cronies did was A-OK–especially when George W. Bush was president and Chávez was busy picking fights with the Bush administration and the United States in general (there’s some patriotism for you)–cannot be reached for comment.

Why Don’t Evil Regimes Get Called Out as Evil Regimes?

I agree with Benjamin Wittes when he writes that “there’s a lot to be said for a foreign policy organization’s willingness to hear out, ventilate, and challenge the views of our foreign policy adversaries.” I also agree with Benjamin Wittes when he writes that during the hearing, there should be no effort to whitewash awful and despicable violations of human rights, and general bad behavior on the international stage on the part of a particular regime. Unfortunately, as Wittes points out, the Council on Foreign Relations completely failed to call out the bad behavior of the North Korean regime, thus leading to a disastrous and intellectually reprehensible event with the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations. Shame on Donald Gregg, a former American ambassador to South Korea, for not being tougher and more forceful with the North Koreans, and for unnecessarily and “creepily” (Wittes’s entirely apt word) trying to establish himself as a pal of the North Korean ambassador.

This kind of failure of nerve has consequences, of course. The main consequence is that nasty regimes like the one in North Korea are able to get away with human rights violations and disrupting international stability, and are able to score propaganda victories to boot. I don’t know why the Council on Foreign Relations would not want to prevent this outcome–and would not want to get a reputation as an institution that asks tough questions of questionable characters and regimes–by forsaking a chance to hold the North Korean ambassador’s feet to the fire during any question-and-answer period, but there you have it; during the course of the North Korean ambassador’s talk, the CFR completely and utterly failed to establish itself as a rigorous interlocutor.

I’d like to think that the CFR will learn something from this disaster and will try to avoid similar disasters in the future. Maybe a little negative blog attention will help in that regard.

I Keep Telling You People that the Human Rights Situation in Iran Is Awful

And here is more proof–assuming that more proof is actually needed:

Executions have surged in Iran and oppressive conditions for women have worsened, a United Nations investigator said on Monday, drawing attention to rights abuses just as Iran’s president is pushing for a diplomatic breakthrough with the West.

The investigator, Ahmed Shaheed, a former diplomat from the Maldives and now special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, made the comments on the eve of presenting his latest findings to members of the United Nations General Assembly.

Mr. Shaheed said he had been shocked by the execution on Saturday of Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, who was convicted of killing a man she had accused of raping her. The death sentence had prompted international outcry and efforts by the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, to rescind it. Under the Iranian Constitution, the president has no power over the judiciary.

In a briefing with reporters Monday morning, Mr. Shaheed suggested that Mr. Rouhani had only “limited authority” to make the broad changes that he promised when elected in June 2013.

From July 2013 to June 2014, Mr. Shaheed’s report says, at least 852 people were executed, in what he called an alarming increase from rates that were already high.

Among those put to death were at least eight juvenile offenders and four minority Arabs whom Mr. Shaheed described as “cultural rights activists.”

The death penalty can be applied in Iran for adultery, recidivist alcohol use, drug possession and trafficking, as well as crimes in which a person “points a weapon at members of the public to kill, frighten and coerce them,” the report said. Mr. Shaheed said minorities are sometimes charged for “exercising their rights to peaceful expression and association.”

Any further comment in this post is superfluous. The excerpt speaks for itself.

Some Things Never Change–Like the Awful Human Rights Situation in Iran

To wit:

Iran hanged a woman on Saturday who was convicted of murdering a man she alleged was trying to rape her, drawing swift international condemnation for a prosecution several countries described as flawed.

Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged at dawn for premeditated murder, the official IRNA news agency reported. It quoted a statement issued by the Tehran Prosecutor Office Saturday that rejected the claim of attempted rape and said that all evidence proved that Jabbari had plotted to kill Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former intelligence agent.

The United Nations as well as Amnesty International and other human rights groups had called on Iran’s judiciary to halt the execution, which was carried out after the country’s Supreme Court upheld the verdict. The victim’s family could have saved Jabbari’s life by accepting blood money but they refused to do so.

According to her 2009 sentencing, Jabbari, 27, stabbed Sarbandi in the back in 2007 after purchasing a knife two days earlier.

“The knife had been used on the back of the deceased, indicating the murder was not self-defense,” the agency quoted the court ruling as saying.

Britain, Germany, and a group of European parliamentarians, among others, condemned the execution, as did the United States.

“There were serious concerns with the fairness of the trial and the circumstances surrounding this case, including reports of confessions made under severe duress,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

“We join our voice with those who call on Iran to respect the fair trial guarantees afforded to its people under Iran’s own laws and its international obligations,” she added.

I have nothing to add. This whole story is appalling beyond words.


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