Saturday, June 30, 2012

Post #281 - From Russia with Love

The following was re-published on the Voices from Russia blog, where I saw it.  It was written for Voice of Russia World Service, by Ilya Kharlamov (6/29):

The West is stepping up its efforts to tighten a grip on Iran in connection with its nuclear programme. The USA slapped sanctions on foreign state-run banks that clinched oil deals with Tehran and imposed restrictions on the operations of private financial institutions cooperating with the Islamic Republic. On 1 July, the EU’s launching an oil embargo against Iran. Such an abundance of “economic reprisals” against a major player on the world oil market could have lasting consequences. No more new oil from Iran will be available in Europe after 1 July. Countries will have to rely on the Iranian oil that they purchased under previous contracts. The EU has even banned crisis-struck Greece from importing Iranian oil on preferential terms. Washington’s restrictions on the banks that were “spotted” in partnership with Tehran pursue the same agenda… to slash Iranian oil sales.

The restrictions in question have already had a negative effect on the social and economic situation in Iran, which has seen a rise in food prices and a devaluation of the national currency. However, the embargo on Iranian oil led to an increase in oil prices throughout the EU this spring, to the disappointment of millions of European consumers. Oil prices might spike again after 1 July. The EU accounts for 20 percent of Iranian oil exports, this amounts to about 30 million tons (195 million bbl). Europe expects Saudi Arabia to fill the gap. Nevertheless, Iran has the resources to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which oil from Saudi Arabia and LNG from Qatar reaches world markets.

Yevgeni Satanovsky, of the Institute of the Middle East, said, “As for Iran, it could offset its losses by supplying oil to other countries. This means that the embargo might not prove as effective as planned. Some countries, including South Africa, have sharply increased Iranian oil imports. Consumption of Iranian oil hasn’t dropped in Turkey. South Korea cut Iranian oil supplies, but only slightly. Indian companies reduced the consumption of Iranian oil in the country’s state sector, but it’s increased in the private sector. China, even though it cut Iranian oil supplies, has exerted pressure on Iran to get it to slash oil prices so that Beijing could boost the consumption of Iranian oil for the same prices”.

Because of the embargo, Iran will lose 20 percent of the 100 billion USD (3.25 trillion Roubles. 79 billion Euros. 64 billion UK Pounds) it earns from oil exports annually. The loss is far from disastrous. In addition, sanctions will help to spur Iran’s efforts in other areas. Vitaly Bushuyev, General Director of the Institute of Energy Strategy, observed, “The role of Iran in the formation of world oil prices has been exaggerated. No radical fluctuations on the oil market have been predicted for the near future. Oil prices will range between 85 and 110 USD (2,760-3,570 Roubles. 67-87 Euros. 54-70 UK Pounds). Iran may affect that, but its influence won’t go further than causing one-time price volatility within a maximum variation of 3-5 dollars (97-162 Roubles. 2.50-4 Euros. 2-3.25 UK Pounds)”.

In other words, the western sanctions against Iran won’t trigger any upheavals on the world market or an economic collapse in Iran. Instead, they could hit the wallets of ordinary people in Europe. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that unless Iran takes specific steps to dispel the international community’s concerns regarding its nuclear programme, pressure on it will increase, and it’ll become more and more isolated. As an alternative to economic pressure, Washington might carry out air strikes against Iran’s military facilities. In this respect, attempts to exert pressure on Tehran through economic sanctions aren’t the worst option.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Post #280 - Rotten to the Core

Though not an Iranian-American, I think the following piece by Iranian-American journalist Matteen Mokalla captures my feelings about the recent Apple sanctions debacle. It was published on The Blog (Huffington Post, June 29)  Will I get rid of my iPod Touch? ~ probably not; it was a gift from my wife.  But will this influence my next laptop decision...? [see this for the back-story:

I have always viewed the 5th Avenue Apple store in New York City with a special reverence. Co-designed by the legendary Steve Jobs, the 24 hour techy market is surrounded day and night by Apple fans and tourists year round. It is so popular that just last year one internet researcher determined it to be the most photographed location in New York City. But with its design and its visitor numbers, I cannot help but see something beyond a store. In my mind, I see a high-tech retail Mecca, with its glass cube serving as its Kabbah. You see, this imagery comes naturally to me, because I am not just a regular fan of the Apple. I am an Iranian-American and I am, for lack of a better phrase, a former "iRanian." 

I call myself a former "iRanian" with a heavy heart. I say it after the news broke last week that an Apple retail store employee in Georgia told an Iranian-American woman named Sahar Sabet that he would not sell her an iPad after hearing her speak to a relative in Persian. Having found out that Sabet and her relative were Iranian the Apple employee told Sabet that he would not sell her the Apple device since "our countries have bad relations." Sabet reportedly left in tears, but later had the courage to return to the store with a local television reporter who confirmed that her story was true. 

Defenders of Apple have surmised in web forums that the actions of the Georgia based employee was the work of (ahem) one bad apple. Sadly, several civil rights organizations are now in the process of documenting similar incidents against Iranian-Americans at Apple stores in places as far apart as California and Virginia. 

If there is any truth to Sabet's ordeal it is this: the US and Iran do have bad relations. As such, Iran is currently placed under sanctions that previously had only been applied to North Korea and Cuba. As a result just about every American made product is blocked from export to Iran. 

Say what you will about the morality of these sanctions -- vital passenger plane parts are often included on the verboten list -- the problem remains that US sanction laws are vague. Making matters worse, the actions of American leaders no doubt have left Silicon Valley confused. Take for example the Obama Administration's work with Twitter. Back in the summer of 2009, the State Department convinced Twitter to keep running during Iran's internet fueled uprising, despite the company's scheduled maintenance downtime. Yet today, it is illegal to take to Iran the devices needed to use communications services like Twitter and Facebook.

According to Sabet's lawyer, at no point did she ever tell the clerk she was going to take an iPad to Iran with her. Yet, because of America's nebulous sanction laws, corporate lawyers constantly end up practicing "better safe than sorry" policies that encourage their employees to become vigilante customs agents. Sabet, it seems, was simply a victim of US foreign policy spillover. 

For Iranian-Americans, this is nothing new. Back in 2003, fearful of running afoul of the law, the career website removed resumes from its service if the user had noted that they had received an education in Iran. It was thanks to the work of civil rights groups like the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) that later reversed its policy. Thankfully, Monster had the decency to meet with those civil rights groups. So far, Cupertino has declined to discuss the Georgia affair with groups like NIAC, the ACLU, and others. 

Even though I love my MacBook and my iPhone I cannot help but feel a little sore for having bought them now. Apple today is the world's largest corporation in market capitalization, thanks to people like me. After all, I have bought countless Apple laptops, iPods, iPads, iPhones, and desktop computers over the years. Indeed, some of these items were gifts for my Iranian-American family members and friends.

I know for sure, that I do not want the Apple employees who have denied service to Iranian-Americans to be fired. The brilliant iEconomy series in the New York Times has already revealed working at the Apple store is the pits. All I want is for Apple to do as it preaches and to "Think Different." 

I want the company that featured John Lennon, Gandhi, and Cesar Chavez in their advertising campaigns to apologize to Sahar Sabet and the other Iranian-Americans denied their right to buy Apple products. The apology should include a promise to retrain employees so that they do not violate anyone's civil rights. If that were to happen, I can assure you, I would proudly proclaim myself an "iRanian" again. 

Still, as I write this piece I cannot help but remember how I took the original iPhone with me to Iran in the summer of 2008 (for the record, I also brought it back). It was during that trip that as I rode the Tehran subway that a man saw me playing with the phone and asked if he could check it out, not having seen one before. There was no WiFi underground and so the young man played with the photo app. With great curiosity he flicked back and forth between the photos on my miracle device. He pinched his fingers to zoom in on the phone's pictures and spread his fingers to zoom out. As the man handed the phone back he proclaimed to me in Persian, che aalee, "how sublime." In retrospect, I cannot help but think that those were my thoughts exactly after I bought the phone from my former Apple Mecca, the 5th Avenue store, on a random midnight.

Matteen Mokalla is an Iranian-American journalist that shares his time between New York City and the Middle East. His previous work has appeared in the Village Voice,, and Le Courier International.

Post #279 - A Contribution to Understanding

The following video was produced by a friend Ymani Simmons and narrated by Peter Coyote, an American actor, author, director, screenwriter and narrator.  It raises a number of important issues and deserves to be shared widely:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Post #278 - Unhelpful Hate Speech

Well, did you miss me?  It's been a few weeks since I posted on this blog.  I regret disappointing any loyal readers, but family time sometimes must take precedence.  So...back at it:

I will see if I can find a translation of the actual speech by an Iranian official that resulted in this reaction, but I will withhold judgment on whether posting it would only give greater currency to the views referenced here:

NIAC Condemns Anti-Semitic Speech by Iranian VP
NIAC President Trita Parsi issued the following statement in response to an anti-Semitic speech by Iranian Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi:

Mr. Rahimi’s anti-Semitic comments are disgraceful and appalling.  His remarks do not reflect in any way the views of the Iranian people, who reject such poisonous bigotry.

Although there have unfortunately been episodes of anti-Semitism and discrimination within Iran, this has historically been outweighed by the bonds between the Jewish and Iranian communities.

Jews and Iranians have worked together through the centuries, from Biblical times through World War II, when an Iranian diplomat exemplified the best of humanity by risking his own safety to save thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied France.  

Despite the presence of hostile elements within the Iranian government, Iran remains the home of the largest Jewish population in the region outside of Israel.  That is a testament to the bonds between the Jewish and Iranian people, and that these bonds will not be broken, despite anti-Semitic statements by the current Iranian government.

The stories of Iranian-Jewish or Iranian-Israeli comity cannot be distributed widely enough.  It is easy for the negative, the intolerant and the inflammatory to dominate the airwaves, print media and internet.  Peace seekers must push back!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Post #277 - Coming Up for Air

The title on this post is a double-entendre.  I have been on travel, doing a conference in British Columbia (the only explanation I have for having missed a week in my posting, I'm afraid -- a first-time event of which I will try not to make a habit); plus, this article (see the link) has to do with Israeli submariners who are packing a punch...