Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is now under siege on two fronts.Khamenei is vowing “severe revenge” against America over the killing of Iran’s most famous general, but the 80-year-old cleric is also well aware that his regime has never seemed so vulnerable to collapse at home. He knows that his next step — against the world’s foremost military superpower — will be onto the thinnest of tightropes.In the short term, he has no choice but to vow retaliation. Qassem Soleimani was a near-legendary figure in Iran, who gained international fame for his victories against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He died in a U.S. airstrike while leaving Baghdad airport, and the Pentagon said he was planning attacks on American diplomats and troops. The big unknown for Khamenei — and frankly for everyone — is to what extent most Iranians would back their leader in a regional showdown sparked by a revenge strike for Soleimani. Patriotism runs deep in Iran, but in recent years protesters have also become far more cynical about Tehran’s foreign adventurism when the domestic economy is creaking. Their fundamental questions are about why there is money for escapades in Iraq, but not for them.A burning vehicle in the aftermath of the targeted strike that took out Qassem Soleimani | Iraqi Security Media Cell via EPARegime changeThe Iranian regime’s concerns about the fragility of its own survival have increasingly bubbled to the surface since November’s protests. In late December, Khamenei took to Twitter for a surreal public musing on why Iran was not about to suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union. The mechanisms of regime collapse are clearly preying on the mind of Iran’s elite.As far as Khamenei was concerned, the biggest difference between the USSR and Iran was that Moscow had no popular support. “Their leadership could never count on the people,” he concluded, seemingly without the least shred of irony about the brutal crackdown that he had just unleashed on his own people. In the narrative about the protests peddled by state propaganda, Khamenei is willing to admit people have “rightful” economic demands but he insists he had to send in the troops because protests were hijacked by Iran’s foreign enemies, who were plotting “a dangerous conspiracy.”Not many people are buying the argument that it was foreign enemies who pushed Iranians to break one of the country’s ultimate taboos by chanting “Death to Khamenei” in the streets.Even in his own religious camp, there are many who fear Khamenei has not realized that the whole edifice of the state could be about to crumble. BBC Persian reported on Thursday that 100 conservative activists had taken the extremely rare step of writing to Khamenei to demand major structural reforms to avoid wider demonstrations, the “collapse of the regime” and the overthrow of “religious rule.”Indeed, there are several respects in which a moribund Iran now looks far closer to the fraying Soviet Union — both in terms of its destabilizing oligarchy and its growing ethnic unrest — than Khamenei would like to admit. Khamenei immediately declared three days of national mourning for Soleimani and pledged to retaliate against “the criminals who stained their impure hands with his blood.”Soleimani was a lionized folk hero to many units of the Revolutionary Guard that keep Khamenei in power, and his protégés will doubtless be ravening to strike back at targets across the world, particularly in their strongholds across the Middle East and Persian Gulf.The big unknown for Khamenei — and frankly for everyone — is to what extent most Iranians would back their leader in a regional showdown.But “blood vengeance” — as Khamenei puts it — is a high-risk gamble.Iran’s leader has to weigh up the dangers of a protracted struggle when outright opposition to the Islamic Republic has never run so high at home. In November, the country erupted into unusually broad-based protests that the authorities crushed with an iron fist, killing hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoning thousands. A sharp reduction in fuel subsidies proved to be an explosive flashpoint for broader fury over corruption, state mismanagement and the country’s repression of civil liberties. With oil income pinched by sanctions and U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy of “maximum pressure,” the economy is showing signs of nearing breaking point and welfare schemes are becoming unaffordable.While Soleimani enjoyed peculiarly deep personal veneration across Iran and his military pedigree dated back to the war with Iraq in the 1980s, that doesn’t buy the leadership wide affection for its repressive police state and security apparatus. The Revolutionary Guards are often viewed by many ordinary Iranians as a leading part of their country’s malaise. The guards are not only used as shock troops willing to open fire on protesters, but are also seen as the epitome of the country’s cronyism and rampant corruption. Also On POLITICO How Trump decided to kill Iran’s Soleimani By Daniel Lippman, Wesley Morgan, Meridith McGraw and Nahal Toosi Trump takes massive gamble with killing of Iranian commander By Nahal Toosi, Daniel Lippman and Wesley Morgan Parliamentary elections on February 21 — highly unlikely to be free and fair — will also be a prime opportunity for Khamenei’s allies to lay down a marker of hardline intent by mobilizing a voter army among the units of the basij militia.But yet another rigged election will only be a red rag to a furious public.Protests over a fuel price increase rocked Iran in November 2019 | EPAIt is important not to understate the importance of the fuel price hikes announced in November. For years, Iranians have been incensed by restrictions of their freedoms, high unemployment and water shortages, but the regime has used fuel subsidies and other welfare schemes to (just about) keep the lid in the pressure cooker. Now that oil exports have reduced to a trickle because of sanctions, subsidies have to be slashed, and the most basic economic contract between the rulers and the ruled has been broken.This is why the ruling clerics know they are facing the fight of their lives. They have promised a generous budget this year with welfare perks to counterbalance pricier fuel, but the numbers defy economic gravity unless there is a dramatic increase in Iran’s oil income. In the meantime, the more expensive fuel is pushing up the price of basic household goods.In such a combustible environment across the nation, from Tabriz to Zahedan, Khamenei will have to calibrate his promised revenge very cautiously.He insisted that Soleimani’s blood had been shed by “the most barbaric of men.” But he will also be deeply worried about how many of his own people would use the same language about him. A mourner in Tehran holds a picture of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, with Iran’s most famous General Qassem Soleimani | Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty ImagesFor many Iranians, any ideological belief in the revolution burned out years ago, and the system is now based on venal networks of graft and patronage. Many of the elites in the Revolutionary Guards and in opaque state financial foundations, the bonyads, have their paws in honey pots such as mines, oil fields, engineering enterprises, fuel-smuggling and drug-running. Like the USSR, Iran has created a cadre of oligarchs, whose loyalty is based on money, not ideology.To Khamenei, the obvious danger is that the strategic priority of these oligarchs could now well be to save their own assets and money-making rackets, rather than protect his clerical rule. To confront this risk of such corruption, which he calls Iran’s “seven-headed dragon,” he has appointed hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, widely tipped as his potential successor, to lead an anti-graft purge.Iran’s other similarity to the demise of the Soviet Union, which is severely alarming Iranian security services, is the heightened potential for separatist, ethnic conflict.But this looks like too little, too late. Corruption is no longer a small parasite feeding on the state, but has completely taken over the host. The eye-watering scale of the graft has delivered a coup de grâce to the regime’s popular support. It is now a weary cliché for Iranians to complain their gas-and-oil-rich country is kheili servatmand — ever so wealthy — but that the cash is all creamed off. With a grin, many will twirl a finger over their heads to denote a turban — a charades-like code meaning that all the money is funneled to the mullahs.Iran’s other similarity to the demise of the Soviet Union, which is severely alarming Iranian security services, is the heightened potential for separatist, ethnic conflict. Among Middle Eastern countries, Iran was long seen as among the most coherent nation states. Relations with Kurdish and Arab minorities in the west were often tense but seemed manageable. That narrative looks far less certain now after ferocious showdowns during November’s protests, and a particularly bloody response from Iranian forces, including a massacre near the southwestern city of Mahshahr, where many people are Arabs.Ramping up the repressionIn the meantime, it is already clear that Tehran’s response to the growing disaffection at home will be to double down on repression. A demonstration planned for late December was snuffed out before it could even get going, with a massive roll-out of security forces. Expect more internet blackouts, arrests and live rounds.
The Ministry of Justice has become the first central government department to be served with an enforcement notice by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). It was rapped over the knuckles last month for delays in responding to ‘subject access requests’ – inquiries by individuals on data held about them. The Data Protection Act 1998 requires data controllers to respond to such requests ‘without undue delay’.According to the notice, dated 21 December, the information commissioner has considered ‘a large number’ of complaints about the department’s handling of subect access requests. ‘On 28 July 2017, the data controller had a backlog of 919 subject access requests from individuals, some of which dated back to 2012,’ the notice states. While progress had been made towards eliminating the backlog by October 2018, on 10 November 2017 the MoJ had 793 cases over 40 days old.’The commissioner takes the view that damage or distress to individuals is likely as a result of them being denied the opportunity of correcting inaccurate personal data about them, which may be processed by the data controller, because they are unable to establish what personal data are being processed within the statutory timescale.’The notice also cites article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, stating that the ‘right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence… has been unlawfully interfered with by reason of the failure of the data controller to respond to subject access requests in compliance with the DPA’.Among other measures, the notice requires the secretary of state for justice to inform the individuals with outstanding requests by 31 October 2018 whether any personal data about them has been processed and to supply each of them with a copy of any such personal data so processed. The secretary of state must also provide the commissioner with a monthly progress report. The serving of an enforcement notice on Whitehall is the latest indication of a tough approach by Elizabeth Denham, who took up the position of information commmissioner in July 2016. Over the past decade the ICO has issued some 155 enforcement notices, the largest number against marketing businesses. While 19 have been served on local authorities, this is the first against central government. In a formal statement, the MoJ said: ‘We have left no stone unturned in ensuring the historical backlog in responding to special access requests from offenders is addressed. The Information Commissioner has recognised our plan is robust and it is delivering results at pace and ahead of schedule.’Given the marked improvements already brought about by our urgent action in this area, we are very disappointed the Information Commissioner has decided to take formal action at this time.’We are committed to transparency and improving understanding of how the justice system works but the information we handle is often highly sensitive and we must weigh these interests with our responsibility never to put children, vulnerable victims, witnesses, staff or criminal investigations at risk.’
KARACHI, Pakistan, CMC – West Indies Women touched down here Wednesday for their three-match Twenty20 International series against Pakistan, hailing the enhanced level of security for the historic tour. The Caribbean side trained in Dubai for the last week and will now take on the hosts in the first game here starting Thursday at Southend Club.Security here has been a major issue for international sides ever since the deadly attack on a Sri Lanka team bus 10 years ago in Lahore, leading to a cessation of international series in the often volatile nation.For West Indies Women, it is their first series in Pakistan in 15 years, and it follows on from their male counterparts’ similarly historic tour last April for three T20s, when they became the first major nation to stage a series in Pakistan since the attacks. “The security system is top class. There was security on both sides of the roads and these things show that everybody has put things in place and we are really lucky to be spending time here,” said Merissa Aguilleira, leading the side in absence of regular captain Stafanie Taylor who opted out of the tour over security concerns.Since the attacks, Pakistan have played all of their home series in the United Arab Emirates but cricket authorities here have been lobbying international sides in recent years, in a bid to have international cricket staged here again.In 1017, a World XI played three T20s against Pakistan in Lahore incident-free, prompting the Windies to tour the following year. And Aguilleira said the Windies Women were pleased to play their part in helping to revive cricket here.“I’m pleased we can bring back cricket to Pakistan because it’s really important. If we find ourselves in this position, I believe one of the teams would step up and try to help us,” the veteran said.“We are not playing ODIs here but eventually it will happen. I’m pleased that we as a team took the initiative to come over here. I am so thankful that we can contribute to bring back cricket to Pakistan.” West Indies have little time to acclimatise to conditions here with three matches in four days but Aguilleira backed her side to make the adjustments.We have a motto, two words our coach has given us: adapt and overcome. That is what we are trying to do,” she explained.“It is really difficult adapting in such quick time, but we are professional cricketers and we are willing and raring to go. We are excited for this tour.” West Indies face Pakistan in three ODIs starting in Dubai next week Thursday.
The Oakland Athletics have released former Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson. Johnson was traded to the Athletics this offseason and has a really tough go of it since joining the Athletics. Johnson has a 6.92 era and has only recorded two saves. For a closer that is still due a majority of his one-year $10 million dollar contract the Athletics really did not get their value back.Johnson had his best season in 2012 for the Orioles when he recorded 51 saves and had a 2.49 era, Johnson was an All-Star that season. Johnson is known for being a good teammate and being good in the community. I would suggest that Johnson take the rest of the season off to get his head and arm right. Johnson has shown a dip in velocity and has been overused most of his career.Johnson has not had any major injuries but the Orioles had a habit of sending Johnson out game in and game out. Johnson averaged 70 plus games for three straight seasons from 2011 to 2013, which I think has caught up to him.Here is the Athletics press release.A’s Recall Scribner from Sacramento; Designate Johnson for AssignmentOAKLAND, Calif. – The Oakland A’s recalled right-handed pitcher Evan Scribner from Triple-A Sacramento and designated right-handed pitcher Jim Johnson for assignment, the club announced today.Scribner was on the A’s Opening Day roster and tossed 1.1 scoreless innings in two appearances before he was optioned to Sacramento April 7. He returned for a second stint June 17 but did not appear in a game before he was sent back to the River Cats June 20. The 29-year-old right-hander is 4-1 with a 3.35 ERA and .243 opponents batting average in 31 games with Sacramento and ranks fourth in the Pacific Coast League with 14 saves. Scribner has 57 strikeouts in 37.2 innings, an average of 13.62 strikeouts per nine innings, and has walked just seven for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.14.Johnson was 4-2 with two saves, one blown save, a 6.92 ERA and .353 opponents batting average in 38 relief appearances with the A’s. The ERA is the highest among Major League relievers as is his .434 opponents on-base percentage. His opponents batting average is the highest in the American League. Johnson has allowed 12 runs on 13 hits in 4.1 innings over his last five games.Please follow and like us: