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Trump And The Iran Protests

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by John Feffer

The last time Iranians went out onto the streets in large numbers, they were protesting what they thought was a stolen election.

It was 2009, and hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had convincingly won the presidency with roughly 63 percent to reformer Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s approximately 34 percent. Adopting their campaign’s green color, Mousavi’s supporters thronged the streets in protest.

These Green Movement adherents were mostly middle class and concentrated in the major cities. Ahmadinejad, by contrast, attracted the support of the more religious, the less well-off and the rural—a sizable constituency that the Green Movement routinely underestimated.

Now it’s their turn to take to the streets: these members of the Iranian working class who live in the boonies, who have not benefited from the economic changes of the reformists. This is a group that analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj calls the “forgotten men and women” of modern Iran.

The current demonstrations are leaderless, and the demands are all over the map. In general, however, today’s protesters seem more concerned with economic issues than political ones, though the two are inextricably linked. For instance, unlike in 2009, the most recent demonstrations have nothing to do with election fraud. After all, the last presidential election went off without a hitch, and some of the same people who protested in 2009 returned to the streets in May 2017 to celebrate the reelection of reformer Hassan Rouhani.

On the economic side, meanwhile, the reformers around Rouhani promised a big boost as a result of the nuclear deal with the United States, the European Union and other countries. And, indeed, the economy has grown, mostly as a result of an uptick in oil exports. The growth rate in 2016 was 6.4 percent—a remarkable turnabout from the nearly 2 percent contraction in 2015. That certainly helped Rouhani win reelection in May last year.

But this wealth has not trickled down fast enough. Unemployment has been rising from around 10 percent in 2015 to over 12 percent today. The youth unemployment rate, meanwhile, hovers around 30 percent, which mirrors the conditions in a number of Middle Eastern countries on the eve of the Arab Spring. Moreover, large price increases in staples like eggs and gas have hit the poorer segments of society hard, and the population is bracing for more of the same in 2018.

Iranian society is sharply divided between haves and have-nots, its rate of economic inequality comparable to that of the Philippines. The current unrest reflects the thwarted economic ambitions of a falling working class, not the thwarted political ambitions of a rising middle class.

Iranians are also protesting corruption, which has long been a central feature of economic and political life in the country. There have been the predictable scandals associated with fraud in the oil industry. The earthquake in November toppled many houses built by the state, revealing corruption in the construction industry. The underground economy encouraged by the sanctions regime has also generated a pervasive culture of bribery. And many Iranians view the high salaries that go to some government employees as a form of corruption as well.

Initially, it seems, the protests originated not with reformists, like the Green Movement, but with hardliners hoping to focus anger on Rouhani. The protests broke out, for instance, in religious centers Qom and Mashhad. Writes Ahmad Sadri, “The right-wing powerful duo of the city of Mashhad, Ebrahim Raisi (the embittered rival of Rouhani in the recent elections) and his famously simple-minded father-in-law, Ahmad Alamolhoda, struck the first match by staging a small anti-Rouhani demonstration, blaming the high price of consumer goods on the Rouhani government.”

The conservatives opened a Pandora’s box of resentments. Protesters in other cities have subsequently denounced the Ayatollah Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard. They’ve even sung the praises of the deposed shah and called for the return of his son.

This is a protest of profound disillusionment.

Washington’s Response

The Rouhani government banked on a big dividend coming from the 2015 nuclear deal.

It needed this infusion of capital from outside because, in reality, Rouhani has rather narrow room for maneuver on economic issues. The religious establishment holds all the trump cards when it comes to governance. A large state-owned sector and extensive public services absorb a large chunk of the government budget. Wages and salaries take up around 40 percent of the budget—and social security a little over 30 percent. In a “semi-state sector” bolstered by an opaque privatization process, conservative institutions like the Revolutionary Guards hold considerable sway and are often resistant to any reform.

Rouhani needed leverage from outside the system because he controlled so few levers within the system. The nuclear deal was supposed to reduce sanctions, expand Iranian exports and attract a new wave of foreign investment. Some sanctions have been lifted (but not all). Some exports have spiked (mostly oil). But the foreign investment has been slow to materialize.

True, some European firms, such as the French energy firm Total, have dipped their toes into the Iranian market. And Boeing secured a major civilian airplane deal.

But opposition to economic engagement with Iran was strong in Washington, even during the Obama administration. In the wake of their defeat on the nuclear deal, hardliners in Congress were eager to apply new sanctions against Iran and reduce what little investment was flowing toward the country. Granted, it’s not easy to navigate the business environment inside Iran. But the United States didn’t make it any easier.

The Trump administration hasn’t been shy about voicing its opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. Even before the latest protests broke out, the administration was also exploring ways of killing the Boeing aircraft deal, as well as the Total investment. Suffice it to say, Trump is not interested in any kind of engagement with the Iranian government.

As soon as the protests broke out in Iran in December, Trump gleefully took to Twitter to support the people in the streets and castigate the Rouhani government. “The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” Trump tweeted. “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets.’ The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”

For Trump, the protests vindicate his argument that the government in Tehran is illegitimate. That the protests have resulted at least in part from U.S. policies to squeeze Iran is immaterial to Trump and his supporters in Congress.

This has been their strategy all along. “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has said. “I don’t see how anyone can say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism.” Sanctions are not designed to extract a “better deal” from Tehran or even to dissuade it from engaging in “bad behavior” in the region. That’s a canard to make the United States appear to be playing by the rules of respecting sovereignty.

The punditocracy, meanwhile, has largely come out in support of the protests, with people on both sides of the nuclear deal laying down their differences to side with the street. Here’s Daniel Shapiro and Mark Dubowitz in Politico:

We are long-time friends who have disagreed vehemently on the wisdom of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran; Dan is Obama’s former ambassador to Israel, and Mark is one of that agreement’s most persistent critics. But we agree with equal passion that Americans, regardless of party or position on the nuclear deal, should be supporting the aspirations of Iranians to be free from their brutal and corrupt rulers. 

But what are Shapiro and Dubowitz supporting exactly? By all means, the Iranian government should permit freedom of assembly. It should not respond to the protests with violence. And who cannot sympathize with people who are fed up with unemployment and corruption and want to exercise their right of self-determination?

But these protests are not the Green Movement. The current demonstrators don’t have a single, coherent program. They don’t appear to have rallied behind anything to replace the current government. They are, like the groundswell of support for Donald Trump, a movement defined by opposition to the status quo. It’s not immediately clear what alternative system such protesters would support, but it’s just as likely to be something religiously populist along the lines of Ahmadinejad as anything resembling secular liberalism.

Barack Obama received criticism from the Left and the Right for not throwing U.S. support behind the Green Movement. The stakes were clearer then—a hardline president with dubious legitimacy on one side versus a mass movement with leaders and a program. Today, the stakes are considerably muddier. But Trump, who cares so little about Iranians that he’s blocked them from entering the United States regardless of their affiliations, is interested only in the larger game: scoring points against Obama and the Iranian leadership and scoring points for Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Come January 13, when Trump has another opportunity to cancel U.S. participation in the nuclear agreement, he will likely do so in the name of the Iranian people, the very ones who have taken to the streets because Trump and others like him are determined to make sure that the agreement ultimately doesn’t provide any real economic benefits to the Iranian people. His supporters on the Right are already giving him the ammunition to gun down the deal in this way.

What Goes Around

Trump immediately identified the protesters as his kind of people—angry at political elites, upset that economic “reforms” have not benefited them, disgusted with the corruption of the system. Trump knows a “throw the bums out” kind of movement when he sees one.

The groundswell of anger in Iran matches the rage felt by people all over the world at the greed and cluelessness of their leaders. So far, manipulative so-called populists have managed to translate this anger into electoral success—in Hungary, Russia, the Philippines and the United States. The most likely political actor to take advantage of this anger in Iran would walk and talk like Ahmadinejad and embrace positions that are more anti-American, anti-Saudi and anti-Israel than those of the current government.

Trump should be careful when he supports a movement in Iran like that, and not just because it probably wouldn’t produce a more U.S.-friendly regime. Trump is already facing something similar. After all, the president is now undeniably a member of the political elite. He’s the one implementing economic reforms that don’t benefit the vast majority. He’s the one making gobs of money off of the system. And, as in Iran, he’s the one backed by powerful religious fanatics.

In short, Trump is now the bum that a growing movement wants to throw out of the White House. When the time comes, will Mark Dubowitz and his conservative brethren similarly defend American citizens who aspire “to be free from their brutal and corrupt rulers”?

Photo: Donald Trump (White House via Flickr).

This is a harth braking story from Ghana.
I makes me feel sad, last time I was in Ghana, the airport was full of rich foreigners coming into the country smelling the possibility to make lots of money in a short time. Ghana is changing, not to the better, but to the worst. For some people, the country is becoming more and more prosperous and westernized, but for others, it is getting harder and harder to make a living.
GHANA: The Abandoned Offspring of Oil – IPS ipsnews.net

The Abandoned Offspring of Oil
By Paul Carlucci and Sam Mark Essien


TAKORADI-SEKONDI, Ghana, Sep 23, 2011 (IPS) – Kobina’s legs are dappled with scars. He gets them flitting across the beach in Sekondi, in southwest Ghana, slipping in the soot-black mud and clambering over pirogues slippery with fish guts, only to sell a sachet of water or a freshly peeled orange to fishermen working on the shore.

He is a child: just 10 years old. But he earns a living selling food to locals.

Comfort Essuman keeps him company, roaming the area selling porridge and deep-fried sugar bread. Two years older than Kobina, she is less shy and more confident. Whereas Kobina will not offer his last name, Comfort readily pronounces hers.

“My mum says I should keep selling and that I will go to school later,” she says, adding that she has not been to school since grade three. “I sell not less than two Ghanaian cedi (just over one dollar) a day and send the proceeds to my mother.” She lives with her aunt, while her mother is in Central Region, one of the West African country’s 10 regions.

Kids like Comfort and Kobina are all over this Western Region metropolis. They are the skinny and scuffed cherubs of Takoradi’s heralded oil era, a newborn epoch that residents say is bringing more trials than triumphs.

Takoradi and Sekondi are the twin capitals of Ghana’s Western Region with a population of about 335,000. Once just sleepy fishing hollows, they were galvanised late last year when the region started producing oil from the offshore Jubilee field. The Ministry of Energy predicts 250,000 barrels per day by the end of the year, with a quarter century total of one billion barrels. And other finds from nearby fields are expected to come online in 2014.

Local chiefs are demanding 10 percent of the expected one billion dollars in annual government revenue from the oil. To kick-start infrastructure, the normally sluggish federal government passed a three billion dollar loan approval through parliament, earmarking 1.8 billion dollars for infrastructure development in Western Region.

Lured by news of oil-driven prosperity, newcomers arrive in droves, each expecting an employment boom that is yet to come. In the meantime, rent goes up. The cost of food increases. Traffic builds. And social malaise multiplies. It is a hydra-headed problem and many of its victims are children, says Deborah Daisy Kwabia, metropolis director for the Regional Department of Social Welfare.

“A lot of people are streaming into Takoradi-Sekondi in pursuit of greener pastures, whereby it doesn’t exist,” she adds. “It’s voluminous. It’s even increasing.”

For children, marginalisation takes two forms. The first is child labour, which can impact girls and boys differently. Older men may train boys to run drugs or steal from shoppers in Takoradi’s crowded Market Circle. Girls, meanwhile, might cook or wash dishes in ramshackle eateries called chop bars. Or they might move into someone’s house and become a maidservant.

The second is prostitution.

“Because of oil, now they have turned to prostitution,” says Comfort Osei Gerning, a foster mother with Mercy Foundation, a local children’s group. “The girls have turned to prostitution, and we have some boys who have turned to (having sex with men).”

The Zenith Hotel is the seat of downtown Takoradi’s nightlife. It is a bright red building next to a taxi station, and food hawkers crowd its corners late into the evening. Inside, men sip alcohol in a gloomy courtyard while prostitutes cruise the tables.

“Those ones aged 12 to 15, they are a different group,” Gerning says. “They are called the Thousand Girls. They charge cheap because they are kids.”

The name is a reference to Ghana’s old devalued currency. Ten Ghanaian cedi (six dollars) used to be 1,000 Ghanaian cedi. And it is what the girls charge. Apart from the Zenith, child prostitutes are said to haunt the Harbour View bar and the beaches of both Takoradi and Sekondi.

“Before you get to them, you have to pass through some grown-ups,” Gerning says. “They will collect the money from you and show you the place. It is someone’s business.”

This happens despite the existence of Ghana’s 1998 Children’s Act. Its clauses rail against child exploitation.

The act mandates the metropolis’ Social Services Sub-Committee to enforce its labour provisions. No one under 18 is allowed to do hazardous work, like going out to sea. No one under 15 is permitted to do manual labour. And light work is not allowed for anyone under 13. The committee can conduct investigations and recommend police action.

John Davis, representative for the metropolitan electoral area of West Anajy, has been the head of the committee for three months. Though he is aware of both child prostitution and labour in the metropolis, he says there have been no investigations under his tenure, and he is not aware of any conducted by the previous committee.

Davis is not able to offer any statistics at all, though he says assembly members were asked a month ago to gather information in their constituencies.

“We have not given any resources to do it,” he admits. “No resources in terms of vehicles or whatever.”

Instead, the committee will focus on an “education campaign”, speaking about the issue on the radio and elsewhere in public.

A lack of resources characterises much of government’s efforts in upholding the Children’s Act.

Kwaku Agyemang Duah, head of Community Care programmes with the Regional Department of Social Welfare, says the department has about 30 officers at its disposal. It needs a minimum of 80.

They also need a shelter for kids with no homes. The nearest one is four hours away in Accra, the country’s capital. And even if there was a shelter, they would need funds for feeding children as well as general maintenance.

“We present a budget every year,” he says, “but what comes out of it is a different story.”

Duah points to his office as a microcosm of the department’s financial straits. The floor looks like a warehouse. He has a desk and a filing cabinet and some rickety chairs. He has no computer and no office phone. The regional director’s office next door is only marginally better.

“I see it as a problem in developing countries,” says Peter Twineboa-Kodua, the regional director at the department. “We have not gone so far to look at the development of the individual as a human resource. Other (government) agencies on the financial side, they get everything they want. You can see their target. But child health, you cannot see the target.”

Unencumbered by bureaucracy, the Mercy Foundation has been able to make strides in addressing the problem. In the days before oil, when child labour was more a result of parents migrating to Ivory Coast to work in those fishing communities, they ran a school that involved 400 at risk children. It was funded by a World Bank grant that ran dry in 2004.

Smaller donations make other projects possible, however. Children have been re-integrated into the government schooling system. Those who were too de-institutionalised were taught vocations.

Iranian security forces quash more protests in Tabriz, Oroumiyeh

Iranian security forces quash more protests in Tabriz, Oroumiyeh
Source: Radio Zamaneh

Iranian security forces descended on demonstrations against the drying of Lake Oroumiyeh in Tabriz and Oroumiyeh in northwestern Iran on Saturday, making numerous arrests.


Lake Urmia (Orumieh) is a salt lake in northwestern Iran near Turkey. The lake is between the provinces of East Azarbaijan and West Azarbaijan, west of the southern portion of the similarly shaped Caspian Sea. It is the largest lake inside Iran, and the third salt water lake on earth, with a surface area of approximately 5,200 km square (2,000 mile square).

News outlets linked to ethnic and human rights activists as well as eyewitness reports indicate that security forces were on alert in various Azerbaijan cities in Iran and confronted the crowds with tear gas and batons.

According to HRANA (the Human Rights Activists News Agency), dozens of people were arrested. Some reports indicate that police used plastic bullets, which led to several injuries among protesters.

The Fars semi-official news agency confirmed the unrest but wrote that the demonstrators were rallied by “ethnic” groups, adding that the demonstrators numbered only about 50 people.


Photos: Lake Orumieh Grappling with Death

The Islamic Republic does not let independent and international media cover social and political protests; therefore, it is not possible to confirm details of the published reports.

Protesters maintain that government policies and mismanagement at the local level are the main causes of the rapid decline in the water levels of Lake Oroumiyeh.

Parliament recently voted down a plan to redirect water from the Aras River to Lake Oroumiyeh, which has led to a new wave of protests by environmental and Azerbaijani activists.

Protests in OrumiehAftermath of protests in the northwestern city of Orumieh (Urmia) on August 27.

One Sheet Solar Cooker – Appropedia: The sustainability wiki.

One Sheet Solar Cooker

Cocina_Solar_Simple in Spanish / en español.

Cocinasolarsimple.png

http://imagina-canarias.blogspot.com/2008/06/cocina-solar-simple.html 9 june 2008

This is the simplest solar cooker I’ve been able to design:

  1. Use a cardboard sheet 60 cm x 80 cm or larger.
  2. Draw lines to divide in 2×3 parts, and cut “A” lines only.
  3. The dotted lines are all for concave folding, so you can make a careful “half-cut” and then it will be easier to fold.
  4. Make two holes, so that the string will go through the holes once the red parts are below the yellow part. The string is knotted like your shoes’. Not a permanent knot because you want to be able to take the kitchen to other places.
  5. Glue foil paper to the part of the cardboard closer to you. Maybe the inner side of some fried chips bags. If there’s no glue you may staple it.
  6. The bottle with the bottom cut off (and discarded, unless you find a use for it) helps in getting more greenhouse effect. You can place it on a circle made of sand so that it’s more air-tight, so almost no heat should come out there.
  7. Inside the “greenhouse” you could place a glass jar, with its lid. Both the jar and the lid can be painted black with some kind of paint that doesn’t produce toxic vapour when heated. Coal with rice water or something.

Enjoy!

Careful, it’s hot! I don’t think temperature goes above 100ºC. Use folded cloth or gloves to grab the hot jar.

Public domain, so copy, modify and use at will. Experiment and tell us.