Weekend Open Thread
[guest post by Dana]
First news item
Amplifying the outraged voice of freedom fighters in Iran:
After President Raisi condemned the West at the United Nations General Assembly last week, President Biden offered a brief and weak comment about the protests taking place in Iran:
“Today we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”
And yet, although President Biden said that we stand with the Iranian protesters, the State Department extended entry visas to the Iranian president, and at least one Iranian guard member to enter the U.S.
One way for the U.S. to keep attention fixed on the protests is to amplify the voices of the protesters:
The challenge for Biden is to help the protesters without allowing the regime to portray them as American stooges. The most useful thing the US can do is amplify the voices of the protesters and help them evade the regime’s blackouts, the better to communicate with each other and coordinate their protests.
Suggestions include allowing satellite equipment to be sent to Iran while lifting international sanctions. Also this:
[T]he State Department should also use every opportunity to draw attention to the protests and encourage American allies to do likewise. Every statement relating to the negotiations over the revival of the Iran nuclear deal should be accompanied with a strong reiteration of solidarity with the protesters and an equally forceful denunciation of the crackdown.
Finally, the White House must become more involved:
[T]he White House should make it clear that any Iranian official linked to abuses against protesters will be subject to sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act. Here, too, the Biden administration has made a good start, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken announcing sanctions against the “morality police.”
Meanwhile, while it’s difficult to get an accurate count of protesters killed and arrested, an estimated 83 protesters have been killed by security forces, and a reported 3,000 protesters are currently detained.
Iranian-in-exile, human rights worker and journalist Masih Alinejad, who currently lives in an FBI safehouse after several recent kidnapping plots with the goal of taking her back to Iran to face consequences were uncovered by the FBI, addressed politicians in the West for appealing to the Iranian government on behalf of protesters:
It’s disappointing that politicians still ask Islamic Republic to address Iranian people’s need, when brave people are shouting Down With The Islamic Republic every night.
A regime who organizes terror attacks in US soil & is killing protesters is illegitimate.#مهسا_امینی https://t.co/VDUITBy9tY
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 27, 2022
Dear Americans &Europeans please listen:
Iranians are endangering their lives for freedom. Soon, they’ll start national strikes.
Your emphasis on a nuclear deal will send billions of cash to kill more innocent people like #MahsaAmini.@MSNBC#مهسا_امینیpic.twitter.com/lbRADqqtfH
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 28, 2022
Second news item
A humiliated President Putin announces annexation:
Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the biggest annexation of territory in postwar Europe on Friday, claiming control over swaths of Ukraine in defiance of international law and in spite of his forces facing another significant battlefield setback.
The Russian leader repeated his threat of nuclear war, suggesting he would be prepared to use his vast arsenal to defend the four partially occupied regions of his neighbor’s south and east. It was a dramatic escalation in the seven-month conflict, which has seen Putin respond to heavy losses by calling up hundreds of thousands of reservists while intensifying his confrontation with the West.
The ceremony at the Kremlin came hours after shelling killed 25 people in Ukraine’s southern region of Zaporizhzhia.
“I want to say this to the Kyiv regime and its masters in the West: People living in Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens forever,” Putin said.
Immediately after Putin’s announcement, President Biden slapped new sanctions on Russia, which include:
Department of Treasury sanctioned 14 international suppliers for supporting Russia’s military supply chains. Treasury is also sanctioning 278 members of Russia’s legislature for enabling Russia’s attempt at annexation. The State Department is imposing visa restrictions on Russian national Ochur-Suge Mongush for torturing a Ukrainian prisoner of war. The Department of State is also imposing visa restrictions on another 910 individuals, including members of the Russian military, Belarusian military officials and proxies acting in Russia-held portions of Ukraine. The Department of Commerce is also adding 57 entities to the Entity List for violating U.S. export controls.
Meanwhile, President Zelensky announced that Ukraine has signed and submitted a hoped-for fast-tracked application to NATO, and said that “Ukraine will not hold any negotiations with Russia as long as Putin is the president of the Russian Federation. We will negotiate with the new president”.
Alexander Baunov provides an interesting analysis of Putin’s speech today:
Putin’s speech on the occasion of the annexation of four Ukrainian regions by Russia was a rather tedious enumeration of myths and legends about an ancient and imaginary West. But there were three aspects worthy of attention from a practical point of view.
“The Nord Stream gas pipelines were blown up by the USA.” The practical consequences are that Russia is now “entitled” to respond in kind, Russia is not responsible for stopping energy supplies to Europe, & Gazprom may not have to pay for missed deliveries.
The appeal to Ukraine to immediately cease hostilities, withdraw its troops from the new “Russian” territories and sit down at the negotiating table.
Since all four annexed regions are only partially controlled by Russian troops, this is an announcement that conventional warfare will continue unless the Russian ultimatum is followed. The same ultimatum was issued on the eve of Russia’s invasion in February.
“The US, without any military necessity, dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ‘set a precedent, by the way.’”
Guess who the precedent is for? The implication is that Russia is better than the US, it won’t drop atomic bombs without military necessity—but what if such a need arises? It’s practically an announcement of things to come.
This says it all:
Without unnecessary ceremonies.
81st Airborne Brigade liberated the village of Drobysheve, Donetsk region. The future of the world is no longer decided in the kremlin. pic.twitter.com/Twg8G3O01D
— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) September 30, 2022
And finally, here is the NATO Secretary of General making it very clear that the four illegally annexed regions and Crimea are all Ukraine, as well as pledging NATO support:
❝Donetsk is Ukraine.
Luhansk is Ukraine.
Kherson is Ukraine.
Zaporizhzhia is Ukraine.
Just like Crimea is Ukraine.❞@JensStoltenberg | #StandWithUkraine🇺🇦
— NATO (@NATO) September 30, 2022
Third news item
It’s unclear why they did this??:
At the center of the change are borrowers who took out federal student loans many years ago, both Perkins loans and Federal Family Education Loans. FFEL loans, issued and managed by private banks but guaranteed by the federal government, were once the mainstay of the federal student loan program until the FFEL program ended in 2010.
Today, according to federal data, more than 4 million borrowers still have commercially-held FFEL loans. Until Thursday, the department’s own website advised these borrowers that they could consolidate these loans into federal Direct Loans and thereby qualify for relief under Biden’s debt cancellation program.
On Thursday, though, the department quietly changed that language. The guidance now says, “As of Sept. 29, 2022, borrowers with federal student loans not held by ED cannot obtain one-time debt relief by consolidating those loans into Direct Loans.”
It’s a real puzzle… Progressive lawmakers were caught off guard and not happy with the announcement.
Fourth news item
Ginni Thomas told the Jan. 6 Committee that she believes the 2020 election was stolen, but also said that she didn’t discuss it with her husband:
“Regarding the 2020 election, I did not speak with him at all about the details of my volunteer campaign activities,” Thomas said under oath in her opening statement obtained by CNN. “And I did not speak with him at all about the details of my post-election activities, which were minimal, in any event. I am certain I never spoke with him about any of the legal challenges to the 2020 election, as I was not involved with those challenges in any way.”
Fifth news item
Fort Myers Beach, which sits on a 7-mile-long island along the Gulf of Mexico, saw “total devastation, catastrophic,” Fort Myers Beach Town Councilman Dan Allers said Friday. “Those are words that come to mind when you see what you see.”
He also said that pictures show the damage but don’t “show the magnitude of exactly what it is.”
“I’d say 90% of the island is pretty much gone,” Allers said. “Unless you have a high-rise condo or a newer concrete home that is built to the same standards today, your house is pretty much gone.”
Allers told CNN that many people in the town struggled to get to higher ground amid the storm surge.
“I’ve heard stories of people getting in freezers and floating the freezers to another home… and being rescued by higher homes,” Allers said.
Sixth news item
One of Apple’s top executives is leaving the tech giant after he was filmed making a crass joke about how he “fondles big-breasted women” for a living. Tony Blevins, Apple’s vice president of procurement, made the *wacky comment when he was approached by Daniel Mac, a creator whose shtick is asking people in luxury vehicles how they make their money. “I have rich cars, play golf and fondle big-breasted women,” Blevins said in the video as he got out of his Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. “But I take weekends and holidays off. Also, if you’re interested, I got a hell of a dental plan.”
Seventh news item
Navalny opines on the war and the end game in a strongly worded and insight op-ed. Read the whole thing!:
What does a desirable and realistic end to the criminal war unleashed by Vladimir Putin against Ukrainelook like?
If we examine the primary things said by Western leaders on this score, the bottom line remains: Russia (Putin) must not win this war. Ukraine must remain an independent democratic state capable of defending itself.
This is correct, but it is a tactic. The strategy should be to ensure that Russia and its government naturally, without coercion, do not want to start wars and do not find them attractive. This is undoubtedly possible. Right now the urge for aggression is coming from a minority in Russian society.
In my opinion, the problem with the West’s current tactics lies not just in the vagueness of their aim, but in the fact that they ignore the question: What does Russia look like after the tactical goals have been achieved? Even if success is achieved, where is the guarantee that the world will not find itself confronting an even more aggressive regime, tormented by resentment and imperial ideas that have little to do with reality? With a sanctions-stricken but still big economy in a state of permanent military mobilization? And with nuclear weapons that guarantee impunity for all manner of international provocations and adventures?
War is a relentless stream of crucial, urgent decisions influenced by constantly shifting factors. Therefore, while I commend European leaders for their ongoing success in supporting Ukraine, I urge them not to lose sight of the fundamental causes of war. The threat to peace and stability in Europe is aggressive imperial authoritarianism, endlessly inflicted by Russia upon itself. Postwar Russia, like post-Putin Russia, will be doomed to become belligerent and Putinist again. This is inevitable as long as the current form of the country’s development is maintained. Only a parliamentary republic can prevent this. It is the first step toward transforming Russia into a good neighbor that helps to solve problems rather than create them.
Have a great weekend.