Monday, December 31, 2012

Post #383 - Now It Makes Sense

A couple of years ago, I had to get dressed one morning in my dark suit and tie, drive into Washington, and spend the day sitting at a conference table being deposed (and videotaped).  Deposition in a legal case is surely a candidate for the tenth ring of Dante's Hell, since it so cunningly combines aching boredom, groaning inanity and a generalized feeling of stress and threat.

The affidavits produced concerned Hassan Daioleslam's meritless defense against the National Iranian American Council.  He claimed that his wild -- and widely-published -- allegations against that group and its leadership were true and therefore he could not be held accountable for them as grounds for slander or libel.

The cause of truth was not served directly in those proceedings, in that it was ultimately impossible to prove malice -- an element necessary to support a charge of defamation -- on Daioleslam's part.  In the long run, though, it is turning out to be a win for NIAC, owing to the pandora's box of electronic traffic that came out in discovery.  See this recent article from Mondoweiss, a blog that concerns the Middle East [links operative on the original publication site]:

Daniel Pipes wants to take down Iranian-American group so he can get a war

Daniel Pipes as seen in the movie "2016: Obama's America." (Screenshot via AP)
The right-wing Middle East Forum has the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in its sights for one reason: it wants a war on Iran, and NIAC is trying to stop that from happening. Details of the smear campaign against NIAC were revealed in a piece by The American Independent’s Eli Clifton. Clifton reports that the Middle East Forum’s Legal Project is “increasingly the go-to funder” for anti-Muslim activists like Geert Wilders who find themselves in legal trouble. The group is headed by leading Islamophobe and neoconservative Daniel Pipes.

In September, Reuters reported that the Middle East Forum funded Dutch citizen Wilders’ defense when he was charged with “inciting hatred against Muslims,” as Clifton writes. But the revelation that the Middle East Forum funded the legal defense of a writer who smeared the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a new one reported by Clifton.

Here’s what Clifton reported:
In one recent case, the Legal Project “coordinated and financed the defense” of a writer who was fighting a defamation lawsuit filed by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).
NIAC, which is based in Washington, DC, advocates non-military strategies towards resolving tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and opposes “broad sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians,” according to the organization’s website. In 2008, NIAC and its director, Trita Parsi, accused Seid Hassan Daioleslam of writing a series of defamatory articles suggesting that Parsi and NIAC were agents of the Iranian government.
On September 13, U.S. District Judge John Bates dismissed the suit on the grounds that NIAC had failed to show evidence of actual malice but noted he wasn’t assessing the accuracy of Daioleslam’s claims.
Through its journal, the Middle East Quarterly, The Middle East Forum had its own connection to Daioleslam’s attacks on NIAC.
Emails that emerged in the discovery phase of the lawsuit show Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and frequent advocate of regime change in Iran, advising Daioleslam on how best to criticize NIAC and Parsi. NIAC provided the emails to The American Independent.
Pipes and his organization set out to destroy NIAC and smear the organization as shills and lobbyists for the Iranian regime (never mind the fact they frequently criticize the regime’s human rights abuses.) The Pipes-led organization’s focus on NIAC is a departure from its usual focus on Islam, since NIAC is a secular organization. But the Middle East Forum's focus on NIAC does fit into the neoconservative group's leader's larger worldview about Iran.

NIAC has been working doggedly to prevent an American attack on Iran and has spoken out against crushing sanctions harming the Iranian citizenry. They have been attacked because NIAC members have met with White House officials.

So Pipes really wants his war on Iran, and NIAC is working day in and day out to prevent that from happening. In February 2010, Pipes authored a National Review piece calling for President Obama to bomb Iran in order to save his presidency. “He needs a dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him as a light-weight, bumbling ideologue, preferably in an arena where the stakes are high, where he can take charge, and where he can trump expectations,” wrote Pipes. “Such an opportunity does exist: Obama can give orders for the U.S. military to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapon capacity...The time to act is now, or, on Obama’s watch, the world will soon become a much more dangerous place.”

Pipes has also advocated for the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK), the Iranian cult-like group recently taken off the State Department’s terrorist list. The MEK is suspected of working with Israeli intelligence to carry out assassinations of Iranian scientists and has engaged in attacks in the past that have killed Americans. But for Pipes, the MEK is the perfect vehicle to overthrow the Iranian regime. “The argument to maintain the MeK’s terrorist designation is baseless,” Pipes wrote in another National Review piece. “With one simple signature, the Obama administration can help empower Iranians to seize control over their destiny — and perhaps end the mullahs’ mad nuclear dash.” That ignores the fact that the MEK is shunned by many Iranians--including the opposition movement.

And Pipes, amazingly enough, advocated for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to remain in office as Iran’s president because Ahmadinejad’s bellicose rhetoric would make a war on Iran more likely--a war that would have catastrophic consequences, lead to the deaths of innocent Iranians and potentially set off a regional conflagration.

The other part of Pipes’ worldview that explains why he wanted to smear NIAC is his statements indicating that he is afraid of people of Middle Eastern-descent organizing in the U.S. against neoconservative goals. He advocates for the racial profiling of Muslims. And the Institute for Policy Studies project Right Web notes that “after a plot to attack Fort Dix, New Jersey was uncovered, the right-wing National Review Online asked Pipes and others what lessons they drew from the events. Pipes responded: ‘Immigrants seeking refuge in the West must be grilled for their attitudes toward our civilization, our religion, and politics.’” Those statements show that Pipes believes immigrants and Muslims--Iranians no doubt included--need to be watched and be intimidated. 

Pipes and his group’s attempt to take down NIAC and smear them as agents of the Iranian government have not worked, but as Clifton’s reporting shows, they’re working overtime towards that goal. For Pipes, taking down NIAC seems to be an important step on the path towards the neoconservative movement’s wish for a war on Iran.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Post #382 - Sticky Wickets...

This piece appeared in a Russian outlet aimed at world audiences:

An Iranian lawmaker said that Russian female technicians working at Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant aren’t properly adhering to the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code, despite receiving extra pay for compliance. The ISNA news agency quoted MP Mehdi Mousavinejad as saying, “Based on contracts signed with female Russian employees at the Bushehr power plant, they receive a hijab allowance. Unfortunately, they don’t properly observe what [the contracts stipulate]“. He also criticised the authorities for lax oversight of Russian employees. Mousavinejad said that he didn’t know how many female technicians worked at the site or how much they’re paid. Women in Iran, regardless of their nationality or religion, are enjoined to cover up everything but their hands and face.

The station began operating at full capacity on 31 August as the reactor of Bushehr’s Unit 1 was brought up to 100 percent of capacity. Construction of Bushehr began in the 1970s, but was dogged by delays.  Russia signed a billion-dollar deal with Tehran to complete the plant in 1998. The plant’s launch in August 2010 prompted Israel and other nations to express fears the reactor could help Iran create an atomic bomb. Tehran denied the allegations, saying the facility was for peaceful power generation only. The plant was connected to Iran’s power grid in September 2011.
26 December 2012

[Note:  the plant at Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf, was first planned under the reign of the last Shah, with U.S. and German assistance; the project was restarted, with Russian help almost twenty years later.  Construction was completed in 2009, at cost exceeding $1 billion. -- AP]
One commentator, a Russian-American blogger who follows politics in the RF, is betting that the subtext of this piece was to provide an indirect "hands-off" warning -- to signal "that Russian techs are on the site, and that any Israeli/US strike on the facility would involve killing Russians."

Seriously, can we find any way at all to make the nuclear impasse any more complicated and confounding?

I only hope that the missive via the media has the desired effect, and the doomsday clock is set back a few seconds...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Post #381 - Truth Matters

In an earlier post, I emphasized that we each have a responsibility not to pass on "information" that we know to be false or misleading, when speaking about life-and-death matters.  A new initiative by the National Iranian American Council will, one hopes, make a contribution in this area; check it out:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Post #380 - Impact of Sanctions

The following link takes you to an article on Fair Observer.  It's a new website to me and may be new to you.  Here are some of the ways they describe the project:

  • "a media platform that focuses on analysis and not news"
  • "a plurality of perspectives from around the world, what we call a 360° view"
  •  "the first truly global media company that the world has seen"
  •  "leading the charge to create a truly global dialogue"

Have a look:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Post #379 - Humans are Humans are Wonderful

You must check out this FaceBook page.  It belongs to something (or someone) called "Humans of New York," a photojournalism or art project that compiled pictures of 10,000 individuals for a kind of visual census of that city.  The photographer is now spending some time (until December 22) in Tehran, Iran, with fascinating results (while you're there, go on down to recent photos of Istanbul and New York itself):

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Post #378 - Eavesdroppers dropping like flies...

This short story appeared on the RIA-Novosti site (12/4/12):
On Tuesday, Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said that they'd captured an American drone, the third reported incident involving Iranian forces and American unmanned aircraft in the past 12 months.  The Revolutionary Guard naval commander, Gen. Ali Fadavi, told Iranian state media that the ScanEagle drone was gathering data over the Persian Gulf.  However, he gave no indication of when his forces captured the drone, saying, "The American drone, which was on a reconnaissance flight gathering data over the Persian Gulf in the past few days, was captured by the Guard's naval air defence unit as soon as it entered Iranian airspace.  Such drones usually take off from large warships."
U.S. Navy officials claimed that all their drones are accounted for.
Scaneagle aircraft (Source:  Boeing Corporation)
Last month, the Pentagon said that Iranian forces fired at one of its Predator drones in international airspace.  Irann said the drone violated its airspace.  The incident highlighted continuing tensions between the USA and Iran over the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear programme, which the West believes is aimed at creating atomic weapons.  Iran says the program is civilian, aimed at energy production.  In December 2011, Iran said it'd captured a CIA spy drone that entered its airspace.  Iran claimed to have extracted top-secret data from the stealth-technology-equipped RQ-170 Sentinel drone.
Will it be an incident such as this that becomes the "Sarajevo assassination" that precipitates the next major war?

Post #377 - Diaspora and Discovery

This piece, by Holly Dagres, an analyst/commentator on Middle East affairs and a researcher at the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, was published on Huffington Post (12/3/12):

Diaspora Blues: Why the Iranian Diaspora in the United States Disappoints Me
It almost seems like a criterion for being Middle Eastern is thinking there is a conspiracy behind every event. As an Iranian-American, I cannot claim to have been immune to conspiracy theories. I spent some time in Washington, D.C., this fall, where conspiracies regarding "the lobby that controls U.S. foreign policy," the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- better known by its acronym AIPAC -- seemed to crumble right before my very eyes. 
During my time in Washington, I attended various conferences and mingled with professionals well-acquainted with U.S. policy on Iran, only to learn that we, the Iranian Diaspora, are the ones who allow this to happen.

There is no dispute that the current economic sanctions on Iran are hurting Iranian civilians more than the Islamic regime. Stories of Iranian students unable to pay for their studies in Canada and Sweden because of sanctions on banks seem to be on the back burner. Certain medical supplies cannot reach patients in Iran because of these same sanctions.

Ali Sofizadeh* comes from a family of doctors who studied in the United States but work in Iran. He says, "There's no anesthesia for surgeries, patients who have multiple sclerosis are also facing all kinds of medical shortages."

As highlighted in a recent article published by the BBC, "Although trade in medicine is exempt from international sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the unilateral sanctions announced by the U.S. and EU, Iranian importers say Western banks have been declining to handle it."

Placing restrictions on the Islamic Republic's Central Bank has financially isolated Iran in every means possible, restricting the flow of all forms of money into and out of the country.

Many forget that up until Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, a similar incident troubled the basic lives of the Iraqi people. The United Nations reports an estimated 2,690 to 5,357 infants died of malnutrition-related illnesses every month; many faulting sanctions that restricted food and medicine to Iraq since the Gulf War in 1991. Although there was a loophole in the sanctions, known as the Oil-for-Food Program, which allowed Saddam to sell oil as long as the money was used for non-military purposes.

I know that the Diaspora has its reservations about the regime. Some are Monarchist or regime sympathizers, others are Leftists, and then there are those who are conflicted in the middle or apathetic towards politics, folks who tend not to associate themselves with the political climate. But as people suffer in a homeland many still associate themselves with, whether they call themselves 'Persian' or 'Iranian,' with a longing to go back, how can we allow our political views to get in the way of humanity?

This political apathy on behalf of the Diaspora must end.

According to a study by MIT in 2004, "The 2000 census data suggests that the Iranian ancestral group have educational attainments that greatly surpass the national average... With more than 27 percent of Iranian-Americans over the age of 25 having a graduate degree or above, Iranian-Americans are the most highly educated ethnic group in the United States." Let's not forget how well off we are in terms of income: "The per capita average income for Iranian-Americans is 50 percent higher than that of the nation [United States], while family average income is 38 percent higher."

Pierre Omidyar
Need I mention the number of prominent Iranian-Americans who have 'made it' and which we often refer to by name with pride? Christiane Amanpour, Emmy-winning news correspondent for CNN; Anousheh Ansari, first female private space explorer; Bobak Ferdowsi, NASA's heartthrob engineer also known as 'Mohawk Guy'; Pierre Omidyar, co-founder of eBay; Vali Nasr, Dean of John Hopkins' SAIS; and Cyrus Habib, the first Iranian-American voted into a state congress. Must I press any further?

It is always easier to point fingers at others than solve problems ourselves. This is why I think the Diaspora tends to be seemingly perplexed and perpetuates conspiracies such as how AIPAC dominates American foreign policy.

Trita Parsi, president of National Iranian American Council (NIAC) highlights brilliantly how the system works:
Within the American democracy, the influence of a group directly correlates to the extent and intensity of its participation in all aspects of the political system -- everything from engagement in the public debate to volunteering, voting and political fundraising, and to running for office. The system is geared towards rewarding intense participation and punishing self-marginalization and apathy.

Truth be told, views can be shifted. Given our success as a Diaspora, we have plenty of leeway.

This past October, I attended NIAC's annual leadership conference. I then sat back and watched 150 Iranian-Americans convince twelve members of congress, solely by speaking with their congressional aides "to take the additional steps necessary so that food, medicine, and humanitarian relief can reach Iran." If all it takes is constituents voicing their concerns to their local representatives alongside some donations during election campaigns, do you think we cannot change policy on Iran? I find myself admiring the Jewish community's ability to mobilize and prioritize issues most important to them. Why can't we?

Given a history of authoritarianism in Iran, perhaps it is imbedded in our culture to not meddle in politics. But the fact of the matter is we are no longer in Iran, but in the United States of America. Over are the days of agents of the regime coming door to door and looking for dissidents; now we have the First Amendment to protect our freedom of expression.

As noted in a
report on apathy of the Iranian Diaspora, "If Iranian-Americans don't write their own narratives, somebody else will tell their story for them; and that may be a story they don't like."

It is becoming clear that the generation of my parents and grandparents do not want to get involved, mostly because they spent their time trying to succeed in the United States and provide their children with opportunities, which is completely understandable. Now that their legacy is set, it is up to my generation -- those who were brought up in the United States and continue to feel connected to their parent's homeland -- to stand up for what is right.

IAAB Leadership Camp
There are many organizations to get involved with, for example: the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) and Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB). Although their agendas do not have as strong an emphasis on impacting U.S. foreign policy as NIAC's, they are good starting points for the new generation to get involved and raise awareness about sanctions on Iran. It is only a matter of time until the second generation of Iranian-Americans realizes that putting off the plight of Iranians living in Iran is a stopgap. The articles and stories from friends and family will only continue to increase and underline worse issues over time.

As I write this, Ali tells me about his housekeeper in Esfahan, "She has breast cancer, and the chemotherapy medication and all the other medications prescribed for subsiding side effects are not attainable... In general, there's a medicine shortage. Try to see if you can get someone's attention, lots of people are dying."

This is why I have written this, I am trying to get your attention.

* Name changed for the sake of privacy

Monday, December 3, 2012

Post #376 - Fission, Fusion and Confusion

This is a link to a thoughtful and well-considered piece on nuclear proliferation, seen in its global context:

Post #375 - Gentle as Doves or Clever as Serpents?

The following article was published by the Wall Street Journal (12/2/12).  It points up how deadly the sanctions will continue to be -- possibly even for U.S. troops serving in the warzone:


Relations between Iran and the U.S. are poisonous, with one exception: an antidote for snake bites. 

In a surprising—and irony-rich—byproduct of the Afghan war, the Pentagon finds itself dependent on a scientific research arm of the Iranian government to treat bites by Oxus cobras, Haly's pit vipers and other snakes peculiar to the battlefields of southwest Asia.
Despite U.S.-led international sanctions designed to paralyze Iran's trade with the outside world, the Defense Department buys the drugs through a middleman, with orders totaling 115 vials at $310 apiece since January 2011.

Medical guidance issued by U.S. Central Command says drugs made by Iran's Razi Vaccine & Serum Research Institute "should be the first line of antivenin therapy" because they counter venoms of the most-common Afghan snakes, said a U.S. officer who has read it. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers Razi antivenin an experimental drug, and requires military doctors to file a report any time the antivenin is used. FDA-approved antivenins won't work on Afghan snake bites because they are manufactured from snake venom found in U.S. species, say military doctors.

For their part, the Iranians say they are willing to sell Razi drugs to anyone. "We make this to save lives, and it doesn't matter if the person is Iranian or Afghan or American," said Hadi Zareh, lead researcher in Razi's antivenin department. "We are happy to hear we have saved a person's life, even an American soldier." 

Prompted by questions from The Wall Street Journal, Pentagon lawyers are investigating whether the purchases violate sanctions rules and require a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department. "We are working with the Department of Defense to confirm the details of these purchases to ensure compliance" with sanctions regulations, a Treasury spokesman said.

Mr. Zareh said the U.S.-led sanctions campaign, intended to discourage Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, has had the side effect of making it harder for Razi to produce the very drugs the American military is purchasing. The institute, he said in an interview, is finding it "very difficult to buy chemical products for the laboratories and some of the equipment that we need. Prices have also increased because of sanctions."

There are 13 species of venomous snakes in Afghanistan, many of which are also found in Iran. There is the Oxus cobra, which can be aggressive when protecting a nest. "When biting they hold on and chew savagely," the Army Public Health Service warns in posters hung around bases in Afghanistan. Haly's pit viper has hinged, tubular fangs that fold back into its mouth. Untreated, its venom causes pain, blistering, hemorrhaging and "digestion of tissue around the bite wound," the Army warns. The Levantine viper is "unpredictable, and they may strike quickly and savagely at any time," the Army says. Saw-scaled vipers are "extremely short-tempered" and, though they will usually slither away from a confrontation, "have been reported to chase victims aggressively."

"If a patient comes in and I don't know the snake they got bit by, I'd give them Razi," said Lt. Col. Aatif Sheikh, the military's top pharmacist at Bagram Airfield, a major U.S. base outside of Kabul. 

The Army warning posters encourage troops to practice "snake-smart" behavior, including shaking out bedding and clothing before use. The posters feature arms, feet and hands black with flesh turned necrotic by venom.

Doctors say in the case of a serious bite, it is urgent to provide treatment within an hour to avoid tissue breakdown. Other effects include hemorrhaging, facial drooping, double vision and paralysis, leading in severe cases to respiratory failure and death.

Razi was founded in 1924 to make vaccines for livestock, operating under the Iranian Ministry of Agriculture. More than three decades later, researchers branched out into antivenins to treat injuries from snakes and scorpions. Razi, a respected organization with ties to the World Health Organization, makes about 95,000 ampoules of snake and scorpion antivenin a year. It is currently researching an antidote for spider bites.

The institute used to keep tangles of snakes on site. Now it has a catch-milk-and-release policy. A Razi team extracts the venom and then releases the snakes to keep up the wild population, Mr. Zareh said.

Technicians inject a tiny dose of the venom into one of the institute's 200 horses. The horses produce antibodies in their blood, which the technicians then refine into antivenin. U.S.-made antivenins won't work in Afghanistan because they aren't made from Afghan species.

The pharmacy at British-run Camp Bastion hospital, adjacent to the Camp Leatherneck U.S. Marine base in southern Afghanistan, stocks Indian and French antivenins, as well as Razi drugs. 

"The Iranian antivenin is the best, and our guys deserve the best," said Col. Rob Russell, the hospital's medical director.
Col. Russell says among the 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan, just a few suffer snake or scorpion bites each year. 

"A lot of the guys who get bitten have been [messing] with a snake," he said. U.S. military doctors in Afghanistan have administered 21 doses of Razi antivenin since January 2011, all of them to Afghan children, say military records. The drug is usually administered via a saline drip. The children survived.

American military doctors urge soldiers to try to identify the offending reptile, as safely as possible. "If the snake is dead, they're welcome to bring the snake with them," said Lt. Col. Sheikh, the pharmacist. "But don't go chasing the snake."

Write to Michael M. Phillips at and Farnaz Fassihi at