Meh Heyd did a mash-up of iPhone video he just took on a trip to Iran and set it to music. In the US we seldom see this kind of footage, which humanizes the place:
In the week when President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney debated issues of foreign policy and the economy, we turn to world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and MIT professor, Noam Chomsky. In a recent speech, Chomsky examined topics largely ignored or glossed over during the campaign: China, the Arab Spring, global warming, nuclear proliferation, and the military threat posed by Israel and the U.S. versus Iran. He reflects on the Cuban missile crisis, which took place 50 years ago this week and is still referred to as "the most dangerous moment in human history." He delivered this talk last month at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst at an event sponsored by the Center for Popular Economics. Chomsky’s talk was entitled "Who Owns the World?"
Thousands of people rallied in cities across the world today to demand respect for human rights in the Middle East and North Africa as part of a global day of action organized by Amnesty International.
Activists, trade unionists, students and Amnesty International supporters gathered in countries from Morocco to Nepal in a day of "solidarity and defiance".
“Our message to the people of the Middle East and North Africa is that you are not alone in your struggle. We are with you,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary General, who led events in London’s Trafalgar Square.
“Our message to the governments of the Middle East and North Africa is that you will be held to account. The world is watching."
Rallies were held in cities across Austria, Belgium, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Morocco, Netherlands, Nepal, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.
The event in London featured live pictures of protesters in the Syrian towns of Deraa and Idlib.
In Morocco, Amnesty International and local activists staged a sit-in in one of Rabat’s main squares.
Activists in Switzerland demonstrated solidarity with protesters in Egypt in an aerial art photograph spelling out the word Tahrir, while in France there were events in 13 cities across the country.
Despite the momentous changes in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, Amnesty International said that governments across the region had proved willing to deploy extreme violence in an attempt to resist unprecedented calls for fundamental reform.
Despite great optimism in North Africa at the toppling of long-standing rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, these gains have not yet been cemented by key reforms to guarantee that human rights abuses would not be repeated.
Egypt's military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), pledged repeatedly to deliver on the demands of the “January 25 revolution” but Amnesty International has found that they have in fact been responsible for a catalogue of abuses that was in some aspects worse than under Hosni Mubarak.
In Syria, the armed forces and intelligence services have been responsible for a pattern of killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity, in an attempt to terrify protesters and opponents into silence and submission.
Amnesty International has received the names of more than 5,400 people believed to have been killed in the context of protests in Syria since mass protests began in March 2011.
Hundreds of people, the majority unarmed, have been killed by shelling and sniping in the opposition stronghold of Homs.
“We have documented a vicious pushback against human rights in countries such as Egypt, while elsewhere, such as in Syria, governments continue to brutally repress protesters,” said Salil Shetty.
“But the protest movements across the region, with young people and women playing central roles, have proved astonishingly resilient, and show few signs of abandoning their goals or accepting piecemeal reforms.”
“We stand here today to ensure that those responsible for violations – those who are opposed to human rights change - know that they will be held accountable for the abuses they have committed. Their attempts to stand in the way of human rights change must end.”
Quotes from retired Israeli intelligence chiefs Ephraim Halevy and Meier Dagan, former Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, and Middle East adviser to six U.S. Secretaries of State Aaron David Miller, are highlighted in a new video challenging the “facile assumptions and rhetoric of those arguing for war” with Iran. The video, released yesterday by J Street, the “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” organization,” emphasizes that “a military strike on Iran would fail to stop its nuclear program, provide the Iranian regime with additional impetus to pursue a nuclear weapon, and risk igniting a regional war that would expose Israeli citizens and even Americans to devastating retaliation.” Watch it:
Here are two signs that the Obama administration is attempting to dial down tensions with Iran, sending powerful symbolic signals that Washington does not want to see the crisis with Iran militarized.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will hold talks this week with his Israeli counterparts. He appears to be warning them not to strike out at Iran unilaterally.
I’ve been having this debate with friends on email and am arguing that the Obama administration will not launch strikes against Iran in an election year, and nor would President Obama greenlight an Israeil strike. Hence Gen. Dempsey’s visit.
The reason for this 2012 time out is that a military strike is inherently unpredictable in its outcome. Politicians don’t like uncertainty, especially in the middle of a hard-fought campaign. If the strikes turned into any kind of war, conventional or uncoventional, that outcome could make Obama look foolhardy and cost him the election.
There is lots of historical precedent for my conclusion. Eisenhower was furious at Israel, Britain and France for launching the 1956 war just before the presidential election. Since they hadn’t informed him they would do this, it made him look like he wasn’t strong in the Middle East. Then, the hostage crisis in Iran, along with the failed helicopter rescue mission, Helped make Jimmy Carter a one-term president.
In addition, the planned joint US-Israeli war games, Austere Challenge 2012, have been cancelled or postponed. The reason for this move has not been made clear by the US. Some are saying that Israel’s budget situation made it impossible to hold the maneuvers now, while others say that Washington became alarmed at what such an exercise might look like at a time of high tensions with Iran in the Straits of Hormuz.
Austere Challenge 2012 was meant to reassure the Israelis about US missile shield technology. That capacity, in turn, was intended to reassure the Israelis that their future was not in doubt, and that they did not need to take desperate measures against Iran immediately
My guess is that the Obama administration decided that reassuring the Israelis about the US missile shield via these joint military drills might have been misinterpreted in the region an implied threat of a joint US-Israeli military attack on, say, the Natanz nuclear facilities.
The US Open Source Center paraphrases two Israeli Hebrew-language sources on the cancellation or postponement of the exercises:
Joint US-Israel Drill Put Off Due to ‘Wrong Timing’; Sources Disagree on Reasons
Israel — OSC Summary
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Israeli Defense Sources Disagree on Reasons for Military Drill’s Cancellation
Amir Buhbut reports in leading news website Walla! in Hebrew at 1500 GMT: “Reports saying the joint US-Israeli military exercise may not take place generated numerous theories as to the reason behind the change. ‘We learned last weekend that the air defense exercise was canceled, and we were stunned,’ a senior defense source said in a closed conversation today (Sunday). The source added that ‘budget problems were not the reason for the drill’s cancellation.’
“Various defense sources disagreed on whether the exercise had been postponed or cancelled, as well as for the reasons. For example, contrary to previously reported explanations, a senior defense source said that a joint Israeli-US statement was supposed to be issued this week, announcing the drill’s postponement. The senior source explained that the reasons for the decisions have not been announced as yet, but they apparently revolve around the IDF’s budget problems.”
¬her source rejected the theory that it was a US decision made against the backdrop of the rising Israeli-Iranian tension. The Israeli side is yet to react to the reports.”
Drill Not Canceled, Merely Postponed Due to ‘Wrong Timing’
Amir Bar-Shalom reports on state-funded, independent Jerusalem Israel Television Channel 1 in Hebrew at 1900 GMT: “The postponement of the largest-ever joint US-Israeli military exercise seems to be the result of wrong timing. For the Americans, the exercise would have greatly exacerbated the tension in the region at the very time other moves — the sanctions — are starting to bear fruit. Israel too prefers to postpone the drill so as to be able to focus on other things. Thus the postponement suits both sides.
“Moreover, the whole world is watching the Israeli and the US moves in the matter of Iran. An exercise of this nature would undoubtedly give rise to speculation as to its objectives and would possibly cause Iran to misinterpret some facts. Both Israel and the United States are fully aware of this possibility. Therefore, a statement issued by the defense establishment tonight says that the exercise has not been canceled, merely postponed to the second part of 2012.”
Seven countries and one territory set all-time hottest temperature records in 2011, and one nation set an all-time coldest temperature record. Image credit: Ilissa Ocko, Princeton University.
By Dr. Jeff Masters, in a Wunderblog repost
The year 2011 was the tenth warmest year on record for the globe, but the warmest year on record when a La Niña event was present (Ricky Rood has a discussion of this in his lastest post.) Seven nations and one territory broke all-time hottest temperature records. This is a far cry from 2010 (which tied for the warmest year on record), when twenty nations (plus one UK territory) set all-time hottest temperature records. One all-time coldest temperature record was set in 2011; this was the first time since 2009 one of these records was set. The all-time cold record occurred in Zambia, which ironically also set an all-time hottest temperature record in 2011. Here, then, are the most most notable extreme temperatures globally in 2011, courtesy of weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera:
- Hottest temperature in the world in 2011: 53.3°C (127.9°F) in Mitrabah, Kuwait, August 3
- Coldest temperature in the world in 2011: -80.2°C (-112.4°F) at Dome Fuji, Antarctica, September 18
- Hottest temperature in the Southern Hemisphere: 49.4°C (120.9°F) at Roebourne, Australia, on December 21
- Coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere: -67.2°C (-89°F) at Summit, Greenland, March 18. This is also the coldest March temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere.
- Hottest undisputed 24-hour minimum temperature in world history: A minimum temperature of 41.7°C (107°F) measured at Khasab Airport in Oman on June 27
New country hottest temperature records set in 2011
Iraq recorded its hottest temperature on record on August 3, 2011 in Tallil (Ali military airbase), when the mercury hit 53°C (127.4°F). The previous record was 52.3°C recorded at Diwanya FOB airbase a few days before.
Armenia recorded its hottest temperature on record on July 31 in Meghri, when the mercury hit 43.7°C (110.7°F). The previous record was 43.1°C in Meghri on July 17, 2005.
Iran recorded its hottest temperature in its history on July 28, 2011, when the mercury hit 53°C (127.4°F) at Dehloran. The previous previous record was set just one day earlier at Omidieh and Shoshtar, when the mercury hit 52.6°C (126.6°F). Older hotter temperatures have been measured in Iran using automated stations, but these temperatures have been found to be overestimated.
Kuwait recorded its hottest temperature on record on August 3, 2011, when the mercury hit 53.3°C (127.9°F) at Mitrabah. The previous record was 53.1°C in Sulaibiya on June 15, 2010. The Kuwait Meteorological Center confirmed the reading as authentic, though the temperature sensor had problems between 2009 and July 2010. Some temperatures as high as 53.5°C measured at the Kuwait City Airport during 2011 were in error. The 53.3°C (127.9°F) at Mitrabah thus represents:
1) The hottest temperature measured on Earth in 2011
2) New official national record for Kuwait
3) Second highest (undisputed) temperature ever recorded in Asia
4) Highest temperature ever recorded in an Arabic country
5) Third hottest location in the planet together with Lake Havasu City, AZ (after Death
Valley, CA and Moenjodaro, Pakistan)
6) A new world record for August
China broke its national heat record for both uninhabited and inhabited locations on July 14, 2011, when the temperature soared to 50.2°C (122.4°F) at a automatic station near Adyngkol Lake (just south of Turfan), and 49.4°C (120.9°F) at the town of Tuyoq. A higher reading of 50.7°C at Aydingkol Mirabilite on 23 July 1986 has not been verified as official by the Chinese.
Republic of the Congo set a new all-time extreme heat record on March 8, 2011, when the temperature hit 39.2°C (102.6°F) at M’Pouya. Congo’s previous all-time hottest temperature was 39.0°C (102.2°F) at Impfondo on May 14, 2005.
Zambia set an all-time national heat record of 109.0°F (42.8°C) at Mfuwe, on October 26, 2011, breaking the previous national record of 108.1°F (42.3°C) also set at Mfuwe, on November 17, 2010. A no longer functioning station at Lusitu, Zambia measured a higher temperature in November 1990, but surrounding stations were all about 10°C cooler, so the Lusitu 1990 reading is considered unreliable.
The French Southern and Antarctic Lands Territory tied its all-time hottest temperature record when Europa Island recorded 35.6°C (96.1°F) on November 12, 2011. The previous record was set at Juan de Nova Island on March 31, 1997.
New country coldest temperature records set in 2011
For the first time since 2009, a new national extreme cold temperature record was set. Zambia set an all-time national cold record of -9°C (16°F) at Choma on June 27, 2011, breaking the previous national record of -8°C (18°F), set on July 10, 1898, at Nalisa Western Province.
Russia had its hottest temperature on record at a regular synoptic reporting staion on July 30, 2011, when the mercury hit 44.3°C (111.7°F) at Divnoe in Russia’s Kalmykia Republic. Three hotter temperatures have been recorded at automated stations: 45.4°C in 2010 at a hydrological station at Utta, plus readings of 45°C at El’ton and 44.5°C at Verhjnky Baskunkak in August 1940.
Weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera is the primary source of the weather records listed here and has worked tremendously hard to research them. He maintains a comprehensive list of extreme temperature records for every nation in the world on his website. If you reproduce this list of extremes, please cite Maximiliano Herrera as the primary source of the weather records.
According to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo told a gathering of about 100 Israeli ambassadors that, while Iran’s nuclear program does constitute a threat and Israel will continue to do covert work to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions (hand-in-hand with the U.S.), an Iranian nuclear weapon would not necessarily pose an “existential threat” to the Jewish State. Based on the accounts of three ambassadors at the meeting, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid quoted Pardo as saying:
What is the significance of the term existential threat? Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That’s not the situation. The term existential threat is used too freely.
The remarks stand in contrast to frequent statements from hawkish Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that Iran poses an “existential threat” to Israel. But others have disagreed with the assessment. This year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying, “I am not among those who believe Iran is an existential issue for Israel.” A former Mossad chief, Ephraim Halevy, also suggested Iran didn’t pose such a threat and issued a warning about the potential consequences of an attack. (That lines up with yet another former Mossad chief’s assessment, as well as other former high-ranking Israeli security officials.)
While Iran’s program does constitute a threat to nuclear non-proliferation efforts as well as Israel’s security — exacerbated by a long history of belligerent anti-Israel rhetoric from among Iran’s top leadership — comments like Pardo’s seem to be pushing back against one casus belli. The U.S. has vowed to not take any “options off the table” for dealing with Iran’s program, and calls an Iranian nuclear weapon unacceptable. The top U.S. military officer recently said he doesn’t know if Israel would warn the U.S. before attacking Iran.
United Nations and United States financial and economic sanctions on Iran have probably gone about as far as they can in damaging Iran’s economy. They have had a significant effect, but are hardly in danger of shaking the regime or convincing it to cease its civilian nuclear enrichment program.
Iran is preemptively responding to threats of escalating sanctions by conducting a big naval exercise, Vilayat-90, in the Straits of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Iran is making the point that if it wants to, it can close the straits, through which about 17% of the world’s petroleum exports flow. Any interruption in that flow would cause a global energy crisis. An Iranian admiral has said that closing the straits would be as easy as “drinking a glass of water.”
These exercises are not a threat to close the Straits, which Iran needs as well, any time soon. They are a demonstration that if the US tries to impose a global oil embargo on Iran, it has the means to reply to that act of war. It is a response to the threats of the US Senate.
The US- and Israel- led economic war on Iran is not a notable success so far. Iran’s central bank says, at least, that the Iranian economy grew some 5.5% in 2010-2011, which is pretty good given the state of the world economy and rather better than the US.
Iran’s annual oil income based on its performance in the past seven months is nearly $100 billion a year, and oil prices were up nearly 10% in 2011. (The Iranian state receives the oil income, since that industry is nationalized. Iran’s nominal gdp is on the order of $400 billion a year, in the range of South Africa, Taiwan, Argentina and Norway). That is, even with all the US and UN sanctions, Iran’s government is wealthy. Middle class Iranians may not be able to vacation in Europe very easily because of banking issues, and Iran isn’t attracting the kind of foreign investment that would allow it to grow 8% a year, as it would like (and which would be possible if the regime weren’t at loggerheads with the US and its allies). But the regime’s economic strength has probably grown in recent years, not weakened.
Another problem with trying to sanction Iran primarily through financial sanctions is that the world financial system is leaky. Venezuela, Turkey, and Russia, not to mention China, all offer Iran financial back doors for accessing the world banking system. Iran’s temporary problems in selling petroleum to India once it was kicked off the South Asian bank exchange under American pressure have been resolved, probably via Turkish banks. Iran can be put under pressure, and pain inflicted, but nothing debilitating.
A further step in the escalating conflict, advocated by the Israelis and their allies in the US Congress, is to impose an embargo on Iran’s gasoline imports or on its petroleum exports.
The time for the former idea has probably passed; Iran had a temporary shortage of refinery capacity to turn crude petroleum into gasoline. But the regime has addressed that problem by building more refineries and by phasing out gasoline subsidies, thus discouraging Iranians from driving so much.
The problem with imposing an embargo on Iran’s petroleum exports, which the US Senate wants to do by sanctioning Iran’s central bank, is that it is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It would be South Korea, Japan, India and Italy that would suffer, i.e. US allies (along with China, which wouldn’t be happy and is not without resources to fight back).
Moreover it would put up world oil prices in an election year, harming Barack Obama’s reelection chances.
Israel, the US and some European states maintain that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, but there is no really good evidence for any such thing if by that you mean a rush to construct an actual warhead. The real problem for Israel and its allies is that Iran’s civilian enrichment program is potentially dual-use. If Iran can enrich uranium to 3.5 percent for nuclear reactor fuel, it could in theory use its centrifuges to enrich to 95 percent for a bomb. Israel and the US don’t want Iran even to have the possibility of making a bomb if Tehran someday chooses to, since that would knock Israel down a peg on the Middle East pecking order.
(It isn’t actually that easy for Iran to make a warhead, and the “in theory” should be underlined. For one thing, in order actually to develop a bomb, Iran would have to be able to evade US satellite and other surveillance, hide enormous use of water and electricity and trucking activity, and kick out United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors altogether. The inspections, while not perfect, are ongoing, and don’t find things like plutonium signatures that would point to a weapons program).
So, Iran is insisting on its nuclear enrichment prerogative, guaranteed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And it is saying to the US Senate and the US Israel lobbies that if they go too far, it is perfectly willing to play the spoiler with the world economy.
The U.S. sanctioned two top Iranian military officials as human rights abusers for their role in the crackdown against demonstrators in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election. “Both Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hassan Firuzabadi and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Deputy Commander Abdullah al-Argahi bear personal responsibility, along with other conspirators, for the violent crackdown in the summer of 2009,” said State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland in a release. The designations, under a 2010 executive order, freeze U.S. assets, prevent business with U.S. entities, and impose visa restrictions.
On the heels of the drone that landed inside Iran recently, now there’s a report of another drone crash-landing in the Seychelles Islands:
One of the Air Force’s premier drones crashed Tuesday morning in the Seychelles, the Indian Ocean archipelago that serves as a base for anti-piracy operations, as well as U.S. surveillance missions over Somalia.
The crash of the MQ-9 Reaper comes roughly two weeks after a U.S. drone went down in Iran [...]
The Air Force acknowledged the crash at the Seychelles airport, and a spokesman for the service said the crash happened as the drone was landing. No one was injured.
This was a crash landing, rather than the apparently intact drone in Iran, which may have been taken over remotely. But it’s really not a surprise that US military planes are unreliable. In fact, a new report from the Pentagon on the F-35 program reveals a host of issues:
Technical and performance problems with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter appear to be more numerous and more serious than anyone in the Department of Defense has been willing to concede publicly, according to a leaked Pentagon report obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The internal report marked “For Official Use Only” is written in carefully couched language, but clearly sounds alarms that some very large, troubling and costly to resolve technological and performance issues lie ahead for the already troubled and massively over budget F-35.
There are thirteen new design flaws that have been found, according to the internal report. I remember a previous report on the F-35 showed it had problems performing when it rained. Aside from the waste and fraud associated with military contracting, they apparently make incredibly faulty equipment.
Mitt Romney jumped on the Dick Cheney bandwagon by criticizing President Obama for not destroying the drone in Iran. Given the massive design failures we keep seeing crop up, how do we know that the White House didn’t try, and the self-destruct button fell off, or something?
Most expensive military in the world, folks.