Iran in Flux: Death of Ayatollah Rafsanjani

It is difficult to overstate the influence that Ayatollah and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had within Iran. He was the Islamic Republic’s most prominent founding father after Ayatollah Khomeini himself. In fact, Rafsanjani is being buried in Khomeini’s mausoleum, demonstrating the respect and influence he commanded in the country, and his funeral today was attended by an estimated 2.5 million people. Iranian politics has long been divided into two opposing factions: hardliners and reformists. What made Rafsanjani unique was that he was neither, he is best described as a pragmatist.

In his early years as a leader of the Revolution of 1979 and through the end of his two terms as President, he was known for his harsh treatment of dissidents and support for Iranian proxies abroad. As time went on, his views gradually moderated. He first became a supporter of economic liberalization during his terms as President, and then in 1997 helped Iran’s first true reformist President, Mohammed Khatami, win the election. Rafsanjani joined the opposition in criticizing the actions of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and even went so far as to publicly support the nationwide pro-democracy protests in 2009. It was also with Rafsanjani’s support that current President Hassan Rouhani, a reformist, was elected. With Iranians heading to the polls again in May of this year for their Presidential elections, the death of such an influential backer is most unfortunate.

Rafsanjani’s status as a founding father was central to his role as the nation’s prime political mediator and bridge-builder. It allowed him to speak about the need for reform and still command respect from the hardliner movement. It allowed him to command respect from the reformist movement despite his hardliner past. He was at once “an agent of continuity” to the hardliners and a “champion of the reformists” (BBC). The death of Ayatollah Rafsanjani means uncertainty for Iran. In a deeply divided and polarized country, the last thing needed was the loss of its greatest compromiser. Even with his moderating influence, Iran has already seen demonstrations with crowds numbering in the millions. But now, without his moderating influence, the gulf and hostility between the hardliners and the reformists will grow sharply and the likelihood of renewed mass protests greatly increases. The hardliners are now in firm control of the levers of power in the country, but with a populace growing ever more impatient for change the Iranian regime cannot withstand many more body blows until the current political climate boils over. With the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, aging and in poor health it seems likely that such a crisis will happen sooner rather then later.

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The Next Few Days

There isn’t going to be a real post today. Instead I’m working on coming up with ideas for a logo and other artwork for the site, because the site is in desperate need of identity. Right now, I have zero ideas which is a problem. I am much better with words then I am with pictures, but a visual, something people can associate the site with, is too important to ignore for any longer. So thats what I will be working on today and probably through the weekend. Next week, regardless of my logo progress, there will be a return to real posts. If anyone has some ideas for a logo that they want to share, feel free to email me at standarddailynews@gmail.com.

Sincerely,

Gregory Palmer

Donald Trump’s Divided Government

Formally, in the United States, the term divided government is only used when one or both houses of Congress are controlled by a party other than that of the Presidency. Since the 1970s, divided government has been the norm rather than the exception in the US. President-Elect Donald Trump will, technically speaking, be presiding over a united government with both houses of Congress controlled by his party, the Republican’s. In truth, however, the emerging government of Donald Trump is quite fractured across many fault lines.

Party identity continues to be the main fissure in American politics, though now the partisan divide swells to truly unprecedented levels. Today, President Obama and Vice-President Elect Mike Pence met with members of Congress to discuss policy in the coming years. President Obama, however, only met Democrats while Mike Pence only met Republicans. Both meetings were focused more on the opposing party than on real policy details. President Obama called on Democrats to refer to any new Republican healthcare plan as “Trumpcare,” while the Pence rally focused on the repeal of “Obamacare” and other aspects of the Obama legacy. Both meetings were described as “fiery” and having a pep rally atmosphere. These were not meetings aimed to solve the nation’s issues and to bridge our divides, but were rather meant to increase militancy between the two parties. The Republican and Democratic parties are now, more than ever before, circling each other, like gladiators in the ring, each more focused on doing damage to the other than on why they are fighting in the first place. But, the new Trump government is not divided in the traditional, partisan sense. After all, the same party controls both the Legislative and Executive branches of government.

What really divides the new Trump administration, is the Trump Presidency’s war on government itself and the bureaucracy that constitutes it. Bureaucracy, that dreaded word, is a fundamentally under-appreciated system. Bureaucratic rules and regulations, and all the laws that depend on them, are society’s main defense against the temptation of the powerful to abuse said power. From preventing the excessive use of force by security services, to consumer protection laws, to environmental protection laws, to education standards, to anti-discrimination policies, and so on, what were once bureaucratic regulations can quickly become societal norms. We expect the police to behave justly, we expect companies and industry to be truthful and to not take advantage of their workers and consumers, we expect all people to be treated fairly regardless of race or creed, and we expect these things because of the bureaucratic protections that have shaped our expectations of a free society.

Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks and recent actions show his disdain and disregard for the services of government. His cabinet is filled with people from the world of business, with little to no political experience, and many whom have openly advocated against the agency’s they may now find themselves leading. I will not go through every pick but a few do deserve a mention. For Secretary of State, arguably the most powerful government position after that of the President himself, Trump has nominated Rex Tillerson. Tillerson is the head of oil-giant Exxon Mobil and is a man with absolutely no experience as a diplomat and drowning in potential conflicts of interest. His Treasury Secretary is venture capitalist and Wall Street veteran Steven Mnuchin. For Secretary of Labor Trump has chosen anti-regulation fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, head of CKE Restaurants which operates the Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s restaurant chains. Rick Perry, the nominee for Energy Secretary, has previously called for the abolishment of the Department of Energy. The Environmental Protection Agency will now be headed by a man, Scott Pruitt, who has devoted much of his life opposing the work done by the EPA. I could go on, but I believe the point is made. If bureaucracy is meant to protect people from the rich and powerful, it seems that Donald Trump has replaced watchdogs with wolves.

In another stunning development, and what CNN describes as “his latest attack on a key body he will rely on as commander in chief”, Donald Trump has refused to accept the unanimous conclusion of the US intelligence community that Russian Intelligence services and hackers actively sought to interfere with the Presidential election. Further delving into the bizarre, Trump has defended Vladimir Putin after President Obama ordered the expulsion of Russian diplomats and closing of Russian properties believed to be involved in the hacking scandal, actions supported by nearly every member of Congress.

Donald Trump’s government is divided, not by party but by its commitment to the norms and institutions that have guided this country for many many years. Donald Trump has given the powers of regulation to the regulated and appointed as our protectors those from whom we need protection. He has thrust men from the world of business into the realm of politics. They may be skilled at signing business deals, but how will they handle issues whose currency is not money but lives, conflicts governed not by supply and demand but by emotion? A government is not a business, and should not be run as one.

New Year Resolution

I said December would be short on posts, and welp, it sure was. However, the last relatives have left and my work schedule is back to normal so I will be posting regularly again. I hope to have at least three posts a week from now on (that’s my New Year Resolution), although I probably won’t hit that target this first week. Remember, if you see something interesting that you’d like me to write about you can email me at standarddailynews@gmail.com (made easy though the Contact Us page), tweet me @TheSDNews, or send a message to Standard Daily News through the site’s facebook page.

Sincerely,

Gregory Palmer

The Western Role in the Fall of Aleppo

The Battle for Aleppo in Syria has finally come to a close after over four years of brutal combat. Aleppo has come close to falling before, only to be miraculously saved, but this is truly final. The last rebels have been evacuated from the city, and regime forces are now in full control of Aleppo. This does not mean the end of the Syrian Civil War by any means. The rebels still control significant territory, and the regime’s fundamental weakness to stand on its own means the war will continue. As long as Assad remains hated and reviled in Syria, the war will continue. As long as Russia and Iran prop up the corpse that is the regime, the war will continue. As long as the rest of the world watches, unwillingly to act, the war will continue.

As a citizen of a proud, freedom-loving nation myself, it is this last point that really upsets me. Much of the Western news media has recently been filled with articles discussing the feelings of powerlessness in the West. But we are not powerless, far from it. In early 1942, when the United States had just entered World War Two, General George C. Marshall gave a speech in which he stated that:

We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other

General George  C. Marshall

Since then, the United States of America has assembled the most capable and destructive military machine ever devised by man. So we have thus achieved one objective. But what of the other? To what ends have we put our awesome might? Has it been to support freedom, unconditionally, whenever it dare show its face? Has it been to answer the call of liberty, whenever she sings? Has it been to deliver the oppressed from tyranny and chains? Sadly it has not. Our arms have found themselves in the hands of dictators and tyrants in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and beyond. Now, to be fair, they have also been used to great effect in conflicts such as that of the former Yugoslavia to put an end to terrible deeds. But more often, we care more for the status quo than we do for progress. We prefer dealing with regimes and governments than with people and individuals. Order and stability are favored over liberty.

The irony is that the Western cultural tradition has few idols more cherished then that of the freedom fighter, the rebel with a cause, the David staring down the Goliath. The list of such works goes on and on: from Robin Hood to Les Misérables to The Lord of the Rings to even Star Wars. We are fascinated with the character of the noble rebel, weak and powerless, fighting against impossible odds for what is right. One of my absolute favorite books is The Lord of the Rings, and one of my favorite scenes occurs quite early. Frodo, a diminutive creature, small but noble at heart, carries with him a great Ring that is the source of power for the Dark Lord, Tyrant of that world. He is being hunted by wraiths; figures of darkness and shadow, tall and terrible to behold, and cloaked in malice. They catch Frodo, but he does not run. He turns and faces his enemy, and draws his sword; which is to the wraiths little more than a carving knife. This act of defiant courage, in the face of terror incarnate, has always moved me. And this very week, comes a new film being released in the United States: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Yet another film, doubtless inspiring, about a band of desperate rebels fighting against overwhelming force to preserve their freedom and liberty.

But when we are faced with this story in the real world, we turn our heads. The Arab Spring, the tumultuous cry of a people finding their voice and shouting for all to hear: “Enough!”, received from the West little but some murmured words of encouragement. The brutal counter-strike by the forces of tyranny has further been met with tacit approval and acceptance. As we sit in our homes, reading and watching romantic tales of heroism and wondering why people in the real world are not so good and courageous as Frodo, the real heroes are being crushed. The Frodos, and Davids, and Luke Skywalkers of this world are the dying in Syria, the jailed activists of the Arab Spring, and the disappeared lawyers and journalists of China. These are not fictional characters. These are real people, facing down real oppression. The United States is the most wealthy and powerful society in human history. At what point do we stop saying that we are powerless, and admit that we are afraid? No amount of raw strength can make up for a lack of courage, and if we feel powerless now, in all our splendor and might, it is because we are cowards.

Dear Readers

I know it has been a while since my last post, and well, it will be a little while more til the next one. December is a bit of a busy month due to the Holiday season. Family is visiting, I work extra hours, etc. So expect December to be short on posts. Sorry about that. Thanks for reading!

Gregory Palmer

French Presidential Elections: First Primary this Sunday

France’s Republican Party has its primary this Sunday to choose its Presidential candidate for next April’s elections. As France has a two-round voting system (the top two candidates advance to a run-off to be held a week later) this Sunday will not actually decide the Republican party’s candidate, but it will establish a clear favorite. Whoever wins is widely seen as the favorite to win the Presidential election itself, given the disorder of the Socialist Party and the general electorate’s unease with National Front candidate Marine Le Pen.

But as Brexit and Trump’s win show, anything can happen in politics and the race is wide open. The two main parties in France are the Socialist and the Republican parties. The National Front, headed by Marine Le Pen, is a far-right (but also attracts significant support from former Communists and other leftists) party that currently polls at around 20-30 percent, a barrier it is believed to be unable to crack. Marine Le Pen has vowed, were she to win the Presidency, to hold a referendum on France’s membership in the European Union. With the power of the office, she would have much greater ability to influence the outcome of said referendum. The EU would not survive France’s departure, given both France’s practical importance in Europe and its symbolic importance as the main founder and architect of the Union itself. The collapse of the EU would be huge, to say the least. It would represent the largest change to European politics since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with far-ranging global consequences. So, with this at stake, who else is running?

In the Republican Party, there are three main contenders. Alain Juppe, a former prime minister currently at the head of the polls for the primary. His campaign is based on unity, much as Hillary Clinton’s was before she lost. The similarities don’t end there, however. He is broadly unpopular, given his divisive premiership, and he seems to promise little change, something electorates the world over are dying for. But he is also seen as a “steady hand at the helm” in a turbulent time, and he is leading the polls currently. Next is Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president who lost his second term to the now deeply unpopular Francois Hollande. Sarkozy is attempting to rebrand himself as a tough strongman, reaching further right and using rhetoric shared with the National Front. While it is winning him many supporters, it is also gaining him many opponents. There is a reason the National Front has such a poor electoral record, and given that France already rejected Sarkozy once it may be a poor decision to adopt the NF populist strategy. But with his name recognition, and the fact that until this past August he was the head of the Republican party itself, he is still a force to be reckoned with. The final contender is Francois Fillion, formerly serving as prime minister under Sarkozy. Fillon is attempting to occupy the middle ground between Juppe and Sarkozy, and given the closeness of the polls it seems to be working. France’s two round system makes the final result near impossible to call however, as the elimination of candidates in the second round frees up many voters to make new choices.

The political Left in France is currently a mess, mainly due to the miserable performance and unbelievable unpopularity of current President Francois Hollande. Hollande is so unpopular, he may not even run for a second term, he has not made a final decision yet. Should he run, he would most certainly lose. Election polls around the world have been notoriously inaccurate as of late, but one thing is clear: the French don’t like Hollande. Rumors abound that Hollande’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls will challenge Hollande in the Socialist Party’s own primary early next year. The fact the the party in power is holding a primary is itself testament to the unpopularity of Hollande, as is the likeliness that he won’t win even the primary. If the Socialist Party picks Hollande as their candidate, they will lose. But if they can rally behind a new face, perhaps Manuel Valls, they can still be a force in the upcoming election.

Further complicating the matter is Emmanuel Macron, who confirmed his candidacy this week. Macron is a bit of an anomaly in French politics at the moment. He is a Socialist, though not formally a party member, serving as Hollande’s Economy Minister until he resigned earlier this year to run for President, but is fiercely pro-business and free market. He is also, at age 38, far younger than the other candidates and is widely popular. But not only has he never won an election, he has never even run in one and for his first, he is going it alone by running as an independent with no party structure to support him. But the combination of the Left’s inability to field any viable candidate, the Right’s over-crowded field, and his own popularity and strong media coverage mean it is far too soon to write him off. Recent elections around the world have come down to one thing: Change. Macron; a youthful, energetic, pro-business, left-leaning independent; certainly would be a change.

Looming over all this is Marine Le Pen and the National Front. The National Front was founded by Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Under Jean-Marie, the National Front was decidedly far-right. Openly racist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic it was a party of neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers. But since Marine Le Pen took over in 2011, the party has undergone a dramatic transformation. In many ways, it is no longer far-right or even on the right at all. Marine Le Pen’s party is still nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-globalization but now members who make racist or anti-Semitic remarks are expelled, including Jean-Marie Le Pen himself. There is a sense that today’s National Front is no longer opposed to other cultures, as long as they remain foreign and outside of France. It is a much more inclusive form of nationalism then that of Jean-Marie. Still, given its history and the continued presence in the party of many individuals of like mind and temperament to Jean-Marie, many in France remain understandably unwilling to vote for the National Front. Even so, victory remains a very real possibility for Marine Le Pen.

France holds it Presidential Elections next April, but the first primary is this Sunday. The field is quite crowded, even after the elimination of the many Republican party contenders. There are also many unknowns. Can the Socialist party pull itself together and find a candidate? Will the Republican party nominate a stability candidate or opt for the recycled populism of Sarkozy? Can Marine Le Pen rally voters weary of the mainstream parties, and get them to look past her party’s history? Or will voters flock to Macron, eschewing parties altogether? Whatever happens, this promises to be one of France’s most interesting elections.

Elections in China

Yes, the People’s Republic of China does indeed have elections. They are fairly meaningless however, as the Communist Party is not shy about maintaining control of the outcome. What really made me want to right about this today was this video posted by the BBC earlier today. It is striking. Independents are allowed to run for election in China, but clearly the odds are stacked against them. But this is not simply a case of biased state media ignoring or attacking opposition candidates, as is the case in other “democracies” (i.e. Russia, Egypt, Turkey). In China, when you run as an independent you are effectively (if not officially) placed under house arrest. You face obstacles at every step, your every movement is monitored, you are barred from speaking to journalists, barred from campaigning, and policemen actively instruct voters to not vote for you.

The Communist Party of China has long ruled the country with an iron fist, but relaxed a bit in the 90s and early 2000s. However, since Xi Jingping took control in 2012 there has been a dramatic and alarming tightening of both the Party’s control over the country and Xi’s control of the Party. Xi Jingping has been named the Party’s ‘Core Leader’ and has used an anti-corruption campaign to arrest thousands and “punish” up to a million officials. The Party has pushed so hard on the general populace that when Party officials are murdered it is often the murders who win public sympathy, not the victims. I cannot stress this enough: China is a deeply authoritarian country. While there are many countries that are arguably more oppressive than the PRC, the only country that is undeniably more repressive is North Korea.

As China’s position and stature on the global stage rise, it will (and already has) increasingly come into conflict with the nations around it. China will increasingly seek to support groups and nations that share its view of the world and its mistrust of democracy and freedom. With the rise of populist, democracy-skeptic parties and leaders across the world and especially in the US and Europe, China finds fertile ground to spread its message. A Second Cold War is beginning, and once again Democracy is on the front line.

Donald Trump and a World of Uncertainty

Now that my emotions have cooled a bit, it is time to really accept that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. It is now time to shift focus to policy. What will the next President do? I am a student of international relations and that is where my focus will be. In this article I will focus on a few areas near and dear to my heart and will (due to a lack of policy specifics from the President-Elect) speculate what the future holds for these issues. Unfortunately, there will be more questions than answers.

Syria – An issue I have written much about, this is the area I am most concerned, and uncertain, about. The Assad Regime must go, that much is clear to me. But is it clear to Donald Trump? Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that his main, and indeed only, focus in Syria will be fighting ISIS and that he is willing to work with the Russians (and thus the Regime) to that end. But, some of the most effective forces currently fighting ISIS in the country are the Kurdish and Arab rebel groups, also currently fighting the Regime and the Russians. Some of these groups are already receiving American arms, others are fighting alongside troops from NATO-ally Turkey. Will President Trump continue to arm rebels fighting ISIS? Will he abandon them to work with the Russians and the Regime? Will he support Turkey’s operation in Syria, and if Turkish forces come under fire, what then? Is it possible he could make a deal with the Russians, ending US sanctions on Russia and withdrawing American opposition to Russia’s actions in the Ukraine in exchange for Russia cutting ties with the Regime? The most likely outcome is Trump supporting a status quo ante bellum in Syria, ending the dream of the Syrian Revolution and abandoning the people of Syria to the Regime.

Iran – The nuclear deal with Iran was a watershed moment in Iranian-American relations, but as much as it is discussed by American politicians and media outlets it is a far bigger deal in Iran. The nuclear deal represents a monumental victory for the Reformist movement in Iran. This victory allowed the Reformists to become the largest force in Iran’s Parliament. The lifting of sanctions and economic liberalization in Iran is slowly eroding the power of the Hardliners in the country, as the Revolutionary Guard’s share of the economy diminishes. While the US cannot alone scrap the deal, as it was an international agreement, it can withdraw from it. At the very least, the incoming US administration could simply replace the lifted sanctions with new ones. In short, there is much that Trump could do to damage the Iran nuclear deal. But doing so would only harm the growing Reformist movement in Iran, damaging prospects for democratization in the country.

China – I believe that the US needs to be much tougher when it comes to China, and at least economically, it seems Trump does as well. The Communist Party of China is a deeply authoritarian, tyrannical, and brutal organization that rules the country with an iron fist. A key component of the Party’s legitimacy is based on its economic success, which is, to a large degree, based on falsified data and currency manipulation. The Party’s checkbook diplomacy is a potent tool used to intimidate rivals and buy tacit approval of its actions. Standing up to China is something the US needs to do, but it is not something that can be done through economic means alone. Make no mistake, the US is entering a Second Cold War with China with grave implications for the world. This war will be fought militarily as well as economically, and Trump’s seeming willingness to abandon American allies in the region allows the government of China to gain an early advantage. Trump’s threat to withdraw support from Japan and South Korea, among others, seriously damages the position of democratic powers in the region. This allows China to keep itself protected while bending the region to its will. I hope President Trump is a bit more firm about maintaining an American military presence in Asia, and supporting our democratic allies, than candidate Trump was.

Lots of questions, few answers. I hope in the next few weeks the President-Elect clarifies his stance on these issues so important to me. Be sure that I will be listening.

Donald Trump, My President…

Donald J. Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States. He will be the least qualified President this country has ever produced. But he will be the President. My President. How can this be?

Donald Trump openly espouses the worst that America can offer. Openly xenophobic, sexist, racist, and fearful of the outside world he reflects an America that has always existed and that we have sought to move past. An America left behind by globalization, seeing no benefit from growing trade and an inclusive world. An America angry and resentful for being ignored and told to “keep up with the times” but not being given the tools to do so. This is the America that made their voice heard yesterday. This is the America that propelled this man to heights of power. Not that all, or even most, of his supporters are racist and sexist, but the great majority are angry. Angry at the loss of their jobs, angry at the dysfunction in Washington, angry at a system that does not work for them. Do we blame them for holding out hope for some relief? Are we surprised that they vote for a man who seems to understand their concerns? A few days ago, I wrote that we all have a voice that deserves to be heard and I stand by that. I may disagree passionately with the result, but I am proud to say that I live in a country capable of producing electoral upsets, a country that gives everyone a chance to make their mark.

Does this mean I will accept this result quietly? Absolutely not. He won a free and fair election in a democratic system, and as a patriot I hope he does well for my country. As a free citizen in a free society however I will continue to voice my concerns about this man who is so far removed from the American ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. This is a man who has advocated the use of torture, war crimes, discrimination based on race and creed, sexual assault, and who holds a stunning disregard for basic human decency. I may respect the result and the process, but I do not respect the man.

I consider myself a liberal. I am a lover of freedom, poetry, revolutionary fervor, hope, change, and the belief that ALL people are equal and should be treated as such. Which is why this election result is so difficult for me. Donald Trump is someone whom I vehemently oppose, but the fact remains he is someone who has given a voice to the voiceless and a champion to the downtrodden. Donald Trump is oh so much more, but just because I disagree with this individual man does not mean that the grievances of his millions of supporters are not genuine. How can I, someone who believes in freedom, ignore these millions? Donald Trump, individually, may represent the worst of America, but not all his supporters do. If I truly believe in the promise of democracy, then I should give him the chance to carry out the change that millions voted for.

But how can I? This is a man who honestly frightens me. Our political leaders are not meant to inspire fear, but hope. As a man with four sisters, I fear what his example will do to them. As a Christian, I fear what Trump and the religious right have done with my religion. As a human being, I fear what his newfound power will do to those around me and around the world. America, we have elected our first demagogue. And I fear what is to come.