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No regime change in Iran (analysis of the current protest wave)

Reports suggest small leaderless protests unlikely to threaten government

Alexander Mercouris

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Information about the protests in Iran is very difficult to assess because for the moment it is very sparse.

It appears the protests began in the city of Mashhad on 28th December 2017.  They have however continued and have spread elsewhere though they appear so far to be on a small scale.

Most reports say that the trigger for the protests was economic grievances, with particular stress being given to the 40% shock increase in egg and poultry prices, which was announced last week.

Undoubtedly there is some truth to this but it must be heavily qualified.

The reality is that contrary to some reports Iran’s economy is currently doing very well and after several years of recession which did cause living standards to fall is now actually in the throws of a boom, with double digit growth rates being recorded during the last two years.

Whilst it is said that the benefits of this boom have yet to reach the wider population, the boom has now been underway for almost two years, making it most unlikely that however unevenly its benefits are distributed the wider population has experienced no benefit from it at all.

As for price growth, the trend in Iran over the last four years is for price growth to fall.

The history of inflation in Iran is that Iran has experienced double digit inflation continuously since 1973, when the quadrupling of oil prices that year taken together with the former Shah’s runaway industrialisation programme pushed annual inflation up from its previous trend rate of 3% to an average annual rate over the next four years of more than 15%.

Inflation remained at an annual rate of around 15% in every remaining year of the Shah’s rule except for 1978.

The Iranian Revolution and the war with Iraq in the 1980s then caused inflation to go higher, so that it rose to an average annual rate between 1980 and 1988 of 18%.

In the succeeding period of economic liberalisation under President Rafsanjani from 1989 to 1997 inflation went higher still, hitting an average annual rate of 25%, and peaking in 1996 at 50% (still an inflation record in Iran).

In the succeeding reformist period of President Khatami from 1997 to 2005 average annual inflation fell to 16%, only to rise again during the succeeding more conservative period under President Ahmadinejad from 2005 to 2013 when it went up to an annual average of 17.7%, peaking at 35% in 2013, the year Ahmadinejad left office.

Compared to this record, the situation under President Rouhani is better on the inflation front than it has been at any time since the early 1970s, with average annual inflation in the four years since he became President falling to 12% and falling to just 9% in the Iranian year ending in March 2017.

Whilst this is still a high rate of inflation by international standards, the combination of a rapidly growing economy and a falling inflation rate makes it extremely doubtful that the population as a whole is currently coming under more severe economic pressure than it has been before.  On the contrary it is more likely that after years of contracting living standards caused by the recession more Iranians are now starting to feel better off.

That does not of course mean that some sections of the population may not be finding conditions difficult, and as many correctly point out the still sharp rise in Iran’s working age population means that the fast economic growth of the last two years has still left Iran with an unemployment rate at 12%.

That unemployment rate, though high by the standards of the developed economies, is not however high for Iran’s region (in Turkey the unemployment rate is 11%, in Egypt it is 12% and in Saudi Arabia it is 12.7%).

Though it is understandable therefore that the sharp increase in egg and poultry prices – supposedly caused by a cull triggered by an epidemic of bird flu – may have annoyed many people, it looks like a temporary price blip in an otherwise improving inflation and economic picture.

Exactly this point has been made by Iran’s Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, who Fars is reported as saying

the prices of several commodities may have seen a rise due to some incidents, and each case has its own reason

If economic grievances were indeed what originally lay behind the protests, then these improving conditions suggest that the protests will not go on for very long, especially as the growing economy and the recent rise in oil prices have given the government the means to improve the economic conditions of the protesters.

Vice-President Jahangiri in the same interview which I have just quoted is already reported as saying that the government is prepared to take steps to mitigate the effect of the recent rise in egg and poultry prices, presumably by importing more of these products from abroad.

If economic dissatisfaction does not fully explain the protests, what are the other reasons for them?

There have been some suggestions that the original protests in Mashhad – a politically conservative city – were originally orchestrated by conservative opponents of President Rouhani from within the clerical establishment.

Some reports say that this is Rouhani’s view and that it is also the view of some other senior Iranian officials, with fingers supposedly being pointed at the conservatives who supposedly instigated the protests, with complaints being made that the counter revolutionary slogans chanted by some of the protesters during the protests show that the conservative instigators of the protests have lost control over the protests.

Whilst there may be some truth to this, the single factor which almost certainly set the scene for the protests is that this is a time of the year when large numbers of Iranians are likely to be on the streets anyway.

The day which in the Western calendar is 30th December is the day when conservative supporters of the Iranian government annually mobilise in their millions to commemorate a large demonstration staged on 30th December 2009 in response to the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ protests which took place in Iran in 2009.

It looks as if celebration of the anniversary of this demonstration this year has triggered counter protests by opponents of the government, which have been given an extra twist this year by the anger many people feel at the sharp rise in egg and poultry prices.

However another factor behind the protests almost certainly is the international situation.

The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia supposedly reached a secret agreement last month to combine forces in an attempt to reverse the growth of Iranian influence in the Middle East.

Reports of this agreement may have given encouragement to pro-Western opponents of the government within Iran – of whom there are known to be some – encouraging them to come out to protest.

Besides it is a certainty that the US and its allies have their own covert networks of supporters within Iran who were doubtless activated to support and take over the protests as soon as they began.

Many of course go further still and believe that the anti-government part of protests has been entirely orchestrated by the US and its allies as part of a classic US regime change/’colour revolution’ operation.

That is certainly possible, there being after all ample precedent for it.  However it is always important to remember when making this claim that the US can only do this sort of thing in another country when there are already people there ready to work with it.

Outlining the various likely reasons for the protests however shows why – if the intention really is to topple the government – they are most unlikely to succeed.

The very fact that the US – and Donald Trump in particular – are backing the protests, and the widespread and probably justified suspicion within Iran and around the world that the US has a hand in them is certain to alarm many Iranians, deterring them from supporting the protests and causing them to rally behind the government.

Ultimately, with the protests small and scattered, with the government retaining the support of a critical mass of the Iranian population, with the economy strong and growing rapidly, and with the security forces completely loyal to the government, the Iranian government should have no trouble riding these protests out.

The key is to avoid overreaction, which is all but guaranteed to provoke more protests, whilst at the same time remaining firm and making no unnecessary concessions, which would be taken as a sign of weakness, and which would therefore also encourage more protests.

The Iranian government showed in 2009 that it has the knowledge and the skill to handle these sort of protests, and I have little doubt it will successfully do so again, especially with the protests this time being on a much smaller scale and without visible leadership.

If so then before long the protests will subside, with this probably becoming increasingly apparent over the next few days.

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The conclusion of Russiagate, Part II – news fatigue across America

The daily barrage of Russiagate news may have been a tool to wear down the American public as the Deep State plays the long game for control.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Presently there is a media blitz on across the American news media networks. As was the case with the Russiagate investigation while it was ongoing, the conclusions have merely given rise to a rather unpleasant afterbirth in some ways as all the parties involve pivot their narratives. The conclusion of Russiagate appears to be heavily covered, yet if statistics here at The Duran are any indication, there is a good possibility that the public is absolutely fatigued over this situation.

And, perhaps, folks, that is by design.

Joseph Goebbels had many insights about the use of the media to deliver and enforce propaganda. One of his quotes runs thus:

The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.

and another:

That is of course rather painful for those involved. One should not as a rule reveal one’s secrets, since one does not know if and when one may need them again. The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, it should be a big lie, and one should stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.

If there has ever been a narrative that employed these two principles, it is Russiagate.

A staggering amount of attention has been lavished on this nothing-burger issue. Axios reports that an analytics company named Newswhip tallied an astounding 533,074 web articles published about Russia and President Trump and the Mueller investigation (a number which is being driven higher even now, moment by moment, ad nauseam). Newsbusters presently reports that the networks gave 2,284 minutes to the coverage of this issue, a number which seems completely inaccurate because it is much too low (38 hours at present), and we are waiting for a correction on this estimate.

Put it another way: Are you sick of Russiagate? That is because it has dominated the news for over 675 days of nearly wall-to-wall news cycles. The political junkies on both sides are still pretty jazzed up about this story – the Pro-Trump folks rejoicing over the presently ‘cleared’ status, while of course preparing for the upcoming Democrat / Deep State pivot, and the Dems in various levels of stress as they try to figure out exactly how to pivot in such a manner that they do not lose face – or pace – in continuing their efforts to rid their lives of the “Irritant-in-Chief” who now looks like he is in the best position of his entire presidency.

But a lot of people do not care. They are tired.

I hate to say it (and yes, I am speaking personally and directly), but this may be a dangerous fatigue. Here is why:

The barrage of propaganda on this issue was never predicated on any facts. It still isn’t. However, as we noted a few days ago, courtesy of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, at present, 53% of US registered voters believe that the Trump campaign worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

That means 53% of the voting public now believes something that is totally false.

Many of these people are probably simply exhausted from the constant coverage of this allegation as well. So when the news came out Sunday night that there was no evidence of collusion and no conclusive evidence, hence, of obstruction of justice by the Trump Administration – in other words, this whole thing was a nothing burger – will this snap those 53% back into reality?

Probably not. Many of them may well be so worn down that they no longer care. Or worse, they are so worn out that they will continue to believe the things they are told that sustain the lie, despite its being called out as such.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this peculiarity of human nature, in particular in the seventh book of his Chronicles of Narnia. After a prolonged and fierce assault on the sensibilities of the Narnians with the story that Aslan, the Christ figure of this world, was in fact an angry overlord, selling the Narnians themselves into slavery, and selling the whole country out to its enemy, with the final touch being that Aslan and the devilish deity of the enemy nation were in fact one and the same, the Narnians were unable to snap back to reality when it was shown conclusively and clearly that this was in fact not the case.

The fear that was instilled from the use of false narratives persisted and blocked the animals from reality.

Lewis summarized it this way through the thoughts of Tirian, the lead character in this tale:

Tirian had never dreamed that one of the results of an Ape’s setting up as a false Aslan would be to stop people from believing in the real one. He had felt quite sure that the Dwarfs would rally to his side the moment he showed them how they had been deceived. And then next night he would have led them to Stable Hill and shown Puzzle to all the creatures and everyone would have turned against the Ape and, perhaps after a scuffle with the Calormenes, the whole thing would have been over. But now, it seemed, he could count on nothing. How many other Narnians might turn the same way as the Dwarfs?

This is part of the toll this very long propaganda campaign is very likely to take on many Americans. It takes being strongly informed and educated on facts to withstand the withering force of a narrative that never goes away. Indeed, if anything, it takes even more effort now, because the temptation of the pro-Trump side will be to retreat to a set of political talking points that, interestingly enough, validate Robert Mueller’s “integrity” when only a week ago they were attacking this as a false notion.

This is very dangerous, and even though Mr. Trump and his supporters won this battle, if they do not come at this matter in a way that shows education, and not merely the restating of platitudes and talking points that “should be more comfortable, now that we’ve won!”

The cost of Russiagate may be far higher than anyone wants it to be. And yes, speaking personally, I understand the fatigue. I am tired of this issue too. But the temptation to go silent may have already taken a lot of people so far that they will not accept the reality that has just been revealed.

Politics is a very fickle subject. Truth is extremely malleable for many politicians, and that is saying it very nicely. But this issue was not just politics. It was slander with a purpose, and that purpose is unchanged now. In fact things may even be more dangerous for the President – even risking his very life – because if the powers that are working behind the people trying to get rid of President Trump come to realize that they have no political support, they will move to more extreme measures. In fact this may have already been attempted.

We at The Duran reported a few months ago on a very strange but very compelling story that suggested that there was an attempted assassination and coup that was supposed to have taken place on January 17th of this year. It did not happen, but there was a parallel story that noted that the President may have been targeted for assassination already no fewer than twelve times.  Hopefully this is just tinfoil-hat stuff. But we have seen that this effort to be rid of President Trump is fierce and it is extremely well-supported within its group. There is no reason to think that the pressure will lighten now that this battle has been lost.

The stakes are much too high, and even this long investigation may well have been part of the weaponry of the group we sometimes refer to as the “Deep State” in their effort to reacquire power, and in their effort to continue to pursue both a domestic and geopolitical agenda that has so far shown itself to be destructive to both individuals and nations all over the world.

Speculation? Yes. Needless? We hope so. This is a terrible possibility that hopefully no reasonable person wants to consider.

Honestly, folks, we do not know. But we had to put this out there for your consideration.

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Parliament Seizes Control Of Brexit From Theresa May

Zerohedge

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Schaeuble, Greece and the lessons learned from a failed GREXIT (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 117.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine a recent interview with the Financial Times given by Wolfgang Schäuble, where the former German Finance Minister, who was charged with finding a workable and sustainable solution to the Greek debt crisis, reveals that his plan for Greece to take a 10-year “timeout” from the eurozone (in order to devalue its currency and save its economy) was met with fierce resistance from Brussels hard liners, and Angela Merkel herself.

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Via FT

“Look where we’re sitting!” says Wolfgang Schäuble, gesturing at the Berlin panorama stretching out beneath us. It is his crisp retort to those who say that Europe is a failure, condemned to a slow demise by its own internal contradictions. “Walk through the Reichstag, the graffiti left by the Red Army soldiers, the images of a destroyed Berlin. Until 1990 the Berlin Wall ran just below where we are now!”

We are in Käfer, a restaurant on the rooftop of the Reichstag. The views are indeed stupendous: Berlin Cathedral and the TV Tower on Alexanderplatz loom through the mist. Both were once in communist East Berlin, cut off from where we are now by the wall. Now they’re landmarks of a single, undivided city. “Without European integration, without this incredible story, we wouldn’t have come close to this point,” he says. “That’s the crazy thing.”

As Angela Merkel’s finance minister from 2009 to 2017, Schäuble was at the heart of efforts to steer the eurozone through a period of unprecedented turbulence. But at home he is most associated with Germany’s postwar political journey, having not only negotiated the 1990 treaty unifying East and West Germany but also campaigned successfully for the capital to move from Bonn.

For a man who has done so much to put Berlin — and the Reichstag — back on the world-historical map, it is hard to imagine a more fitting lunch venue. With its open-plan kitchen and grey formica tables edged in chrome, Käfer has a cool, functional aesthetic that is typical of the city. On the wall hangs a sketch by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who famously wrapped the Reichstag in silver fabric in 1995.

The restaurant has one other big advantage: it is easy to reach from Schäuble’s office. Now 76, he has been confined to a wheelchair since he was shot in an assassination attempt in 1990, and mobility is an issue. Aides say he tends to avoid restaurants if he can, especially at lunchtime.

As we take our places, we talk about Schäuble’s old dream — that German reunification would be a harbinger of European unity, a step on the road to a United States of Europe. That seems hopelessly out of reach in these days of Brexit, the gilets jaunes in France, Lega and the Five Star Movement in Italy.

Some blame Schäuble himself for that. He was, after all, the architect of austerity, a fiscal hawk whose policy prescriptions during the euro crisis caused untold hardship for millions of ordinary people, or so his critics say. He became a hate figure, especially in Greece. Posters in Athens in 2015 depicted him with a Hitler moustache below the words: “Wanted — for mass poverty and devastation”.

Schäuble rejects the criticism that austerity caused the rise of populism. “Higher spending doesn’t lead to greater contentment,” he says. The root cause lies in mass immigration, and the insecurities it has unleashed. “What European country doesn’t have this problem?” he asks. “Even Sweden. The poster child of openness and the willingness to help.”

But what of the accusation that he didn’t care enough about the suffering of the southern Europeans? Austerity divided the EU and spawned a real animus against Schäuble. I ask him how that makes him feel now. “Well I’m sad, because I played a part in all of that,” he says, wistfully. “And I think about how we could have done it differently.”

I glance at the menu — simple German classics with a contemporary twist. I’m drawn to the starters, such as Oldenburg duck pâté and the Müritz smoked trout. But true to his somewhat abstemious reputation, Schäuble has no interest in these and zeroes in on the entrées. He chooses Käfer’s signature veal meatballs, a Berlin classic. I go for the Arctic char and pumpkin.

Schäuble switches seamlessly back to the eurozone crisis. The original mistake was in trying to create a common currency without a “common economic, employment and social policy” for all eurozone member states. The fathers of the euro had decided that if they waited for political union to happen first they’d wait forever, he says.

Yet the prospects for greater political union are now worse than they have been in years. “The construction of the EU has proven to be questionable,” he says. “We should have taken the bigger steps towards integration earlier on, and now, because we can’t convince the member states to take them, they are unachievable.”

Greece was a particularly thorny problem. It should never have been admitted to the euro club in the first place, Schäuble says. But when its debt crisis first blew up, it should have taken a 10-year “timeout” from the eurozone — an idea he first floated with Giorgos Papakonstantinou, his Greek counterpart between 2009 and 2011. “I told him you need to be able to devalue your currency, you’re not competitive,” he says. The reforms required to repair the Greek economy were going to be “hard to achieve in a democracy”. “That’s why you need to leave the euro for a certain period. But everyone said there was no chance of that.”

The idea didn’t go away, though. Schäuble pushed for a temporary “Grexit” in 2015, during another round of the debt crisis. But Merkel and the other EU heads of government nixed the idea. He now reveals he thought about resigning over the issue. “On the morning the decision was made, [Merkel] said to me: ‘You’ll carry on?’ . . . But that was one of the instances where we were very close [to my stepping down].”

It is an extraordinary revelation, one that highlights just how rocky his relationship with Merkel has been over the years. Schäuble has been at her side from the start, an éminence grise who has helped to resolve many of the periodic crises of her 13 years as chancellor. But it was never plain sailing.

“There were a few really bad conflicts where she knew too that we were on the edge and I would have gone,” he says. “I always had to weigh up whether to go along with things, even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do, as was the case with Greece, or whether I should go.” But his sense of duty prevailed. “We didn’t always agree — but I was always loyal.”

That might have been the case when he was a serving minister, but since becoming speaker of parliament in late 2017 he has increasingly distanced himself from Merkel. Last year, when she announced she would not seek re-election as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, the party that has governed Germany for 50 of the past 70 years, Schäuble openly backed a candidate described by the Berlin press as the “anti-Merkel”. Friedrich Merz, a millionaire corporate lawyer who is the chairman of BlackRock Germany, had once led the CDU’s parliamentary group but lost out to Merkel in a power struggle in 2002, quitting politics a few years later. He has long been seen as one of the chancellor’s fiercest conservative critics — and is a good friend of Schäuble’s.

Ultimately, in a nail-biting election last December, Merkel’s favoured candidate, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, narrowly beat Merz. The woman universally known as “AKK” is in pole position to succeed Merkel as chancellor when her fourth and final term ends in 2021.

I ask Schäuble if it’s true that he had once again waged a battle against Merkel and once again lost. “I never went to war against Ms Merkel,” he says. “Everybody says that if I’m for Merz then I’m against Merkel. Why is that so? That’s nonsense.”

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