Monday, January 27, 2020

How Fragile Is Iran's Theocracy?


Iran's people barely can scrape together enough calories to keep body and soul together in the big cities, while entire parts of rural Iran are emptying out as rivers and wells go dry. Things are so bad that the number of babies born in Iran has fallen by nearly 25% in the past five years. Only Venezuela is worse off -- but the wicked Maduro government remains in power. Regimes that are willing to shoot their people dead in the streets (as Iran shot 1,500 protesters last November) can cling to power even under desperate material circumstances.

As I wrote at Asia Times yesterday:

One average salary pays for a small apartment outside the center, utilities, enough calories to keep body and soul together, and bus fare, which is subsidized. Throw in cell phone service, clothing, fruits and vegetables, and one or two meat meals a month, and an Iranian couple will require two average salaries. According to official data, food price inflation was 28% year-on-year as of December.
Medicine is another matter. Some imported items, for example, insulin pens, can’t be found at pharmacies in some provinces, according to a Persian-language report by IRNA. The Chancellor of the University of Isfahan told the national news agency that imported medicine such as chemotherapy drugs was in short supply, but that most other medication was available.

Import controls to spare foreign exchange have put autos outside the range of most Iranians. A VW Golf costs the local-currency equivalent of $48,000, according to Numbeo, or about 14 years’ average pay.

Reduced consumption has taken a toll on Iranian family life. According to the Tehran Times, citing Mohammed Javad Mahmoudi, head of the committee on population studies of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. According to Mahmoudi, the number of babies born in Iran fell by nearly 25% between 2015 and 2019.

That short-term decline in absolute numbers of births is unprecedented outside of wartime. The number of Iranian women of child-bearing age increased slightly over the same period, so the collapsing birth rate clearly reflects decisions not to bear children.

As I have reported in the past, Iran faces a demographic crisis over the next two decades as its population ages rapidly. There are five prime-age Iranians supporting every Iranian over the age of 65, but by mid-century, the ratio will collapse to just 1.6 to one. Strangely, the Iranian authorities have reported an increase in the “total fertility rate,” namely the estimated number of children that the average woman will bear during her lifetime. The increase evidently is due to optimistic assumptions about the future rather than observed behavior in the present.

Iranians face desperate conditions,  if not actual hunger, due to the effect of economic sanctions. Add to this the long-term effects of mismanagement of the country’s scarce water resources. Afshin Shahi wrote recently in the Journal of Asian Affairs: “Approximately 97% of the country is experiencing drought conditions. Due to gross water mismanagement and its damaging impact on the country, Iran faces the worst situation in the water resources of any industrialized nation. Tens of thousands of villages have been deserted and most of the major urban centers have passed their limits to absorb new rural migrants. Some officials predict that in less than 25 years, 50 million Iranians would be displaced from their current homes because of the pressing ecological conditions.”

The comparison to Venezuela is sadly instructive. Desperation can strengthen a murderous regime rather than weaken it, as I explained last February after the Trump administration unwisely appointed Elliot "Export Democracy" Abrams as its point man for Venezuela.

Venezuela is following the ugly pattern of Latin American civil conflicts during the 20th century.... This is a depraved and wicked government of narco-socialists, but it will not be easy to dislodge.

Latin American revolutions as a rule result in prolonged, bloody wars of attrition. The civil war referred to as "La Violencia" in Colombia lasted from 1948 to 1959, killed about 300,000 people, almost three percent of the Colombian population, and displaced more than one million. Unspeakable atrocities including crucifixions were widespread. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1920 killed one million of Mexico's 20 million population. The El Salvador civil war of 1980-1992 killed about two percent of the population but displaced a quarter of the people.

The grisly death toll in such conflicts is the result of a system of corruption that reaches into the capillaries of society. The regime buys the loyalty of soldiers and police, and causes them to commit atrocities against the general population; the part of the population excluded by the regime wreaks a terrible vengeance on the regime's supporters, most of whom fight to the death rather than be hanged from lampposts. Typically the conflict continues until both sides bleed out.
....In a starving country where the government controls all the food, the cost of bribing a key military cadre is relatively low. The regime's bribed stooges won't give in easily, because everyone knows who they are.

The obvious alternative to Iran's Revolutionary Guard is the regular army. One hears rumors about discontent in the officer corps, but no real information. The Obama administration destroyed America's intelligence assets on the ground through a combination of malfeasance and incompetence (Iran cracked the CIA's system of communicating with its agents and rolled up its network several years ago).

Anything we can do to undermine the wicked mullahs of Tehran, we should. But we should have no illusions that the job will be easy.



Trump Becomes First President to Attend March for Life

I am not a religious person but this toon made me weep.  They were persons who were aborted

President Donald Trump today becomes the first sitting president to attend and speak at the annual March for Life rally. Over its 47-year history, no Republican president (and obviously no Democrat) has made an appearance at the nation’s largest pro-life rally. Though George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan did offer brief supportive remarks via phone and satellite to the marchers, they always maintained a degree of separation.

But Trump is unlike any previous Republican and is most in his element when speaking to a massive rally. While Trump’s checkered personal history and his past support of abortion cause some to question his commitment, his impressive presidential actions in support of life simply cannot be ignored or deemed insignificant. While he and the previous Republican Congress failed to defund Planned Parenthood, Trump has followed through on other promises — nominating pro-life judges, signing a bill allowing states to block Title X funding from going to “family planning” organizations that perform abortions, and reinstating a federal policy preventing foreign aid from being used to provide or endorse abortions.

Trump is now boldly enjoining himself to the pro-life movement in a manner avoided by prior Republican presidents. Of all the negative character flaws one can criticize Trump for, boldness to stand up for what he believes is not one of them. Trump’s decision is truly momentous in the history of the pro-life movement.



A GOP-led edge: Red states see less unemployment, more economic growth

Opinion polling isn’t everything. However, it often gives you a good barometer of the general shape of things, especially at the state level. As of mid-2019, every single one of the top 10 most popular governors in the country were Republicans, while eight of the 10 least popular were Democrats. Generally speaking, voters trust Republicans more than they trust Democrats to lead their states.

A deeper look at GOP-led states’ economic success explains why — but beyond the minutiae of simple policy, the bottom line is that electing a Republican often means increased growth and lower unemployment. An even stronger rule bears out the opposite when Democrats control the governor’s mansion.

Indeed, some correlations will always transcend state politics. But what becomes clear is that there is a strong statistical case that electing a Republican governor — even without a matching GOP statehouse — plays a significant role in states’ economic success. Look no further than the last election cycle paired with economic statistics, and this trend soon becomes clear.

State unemployment rates and GDP growth must be viewed relative to national averages. The average U.S. unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in 2018 and 3.7 percent in 2019. Strong employment growth at the state level is directly correlated with governorship. Among the 20 states with the lowest unemployment rates (three are tied for 20th, so there are 23 states ranking here), 17 had Republican governors prior to 2018. North Dakota, which has a 2.5 percent unemployment rate, prospers in large part because of its Republican leadership’s decision to embrace new hydraulic fracturing technology. As a result, nearly a third of job openings in the state remain unfilled longer than three months. And it’s not only high-skilled workers who benefit from strong job growth; fast-food workers in North Dakota earn multiples of the $7.25 federal minimum hourly wage, fetching as much as $20 per hour.

Among states whose unemployment rates increased the most last year, Democrats were most likely in charge. In states whose unemployment rates increased more than statistical noise (more than one-tenth of a percent), five of the eight have Democratic governors. Furthermore, among the eight states that saw the sharpest decrease in unemployment (0.5 percent or more) — Alabama, Colorado, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia — five have Republican governors. And only New Jersey had a Democrat in charge before 2018.

Meanwhile, U.S. GDP increased by 2.2 percent in 2017 and by 2.9 percent in 2018. During the first three quarters of 2019, the average was 2.4 percent. When ranking GDP growth by state, the correlation between economic success and Republican governors becomes even more clear. Among the top 10 growing states in the second quarter of 2019 (the most recent detailed numbers available), only two of the 10 had Democratic governors prior to the 2018 election cycle. Among the four states that had growth above 4 percent, Texas (leading with 4.7 percent), New Mexico and Wyoming had GOP executives; Alaska was run by an independent. In fact, these states’ growth represent almost 10 percent of all economic growth in the nation during this period.

In the 10 states with the slowest GDP growth, Democrats have more to celebrate: The same figures show that eight of the 10 worst-performing states in Q2 2019 had GOP governors in the prior election cycle.

Sounds like a good case for a split ballot. However, six of those slowest-growing states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine and New Jersey) have since elected Democrats to the statehouse. Since Kentucky’s election occurred in November 2019, we can’t factor that in. However, among the other states, GDP growth collapsed in 2019 after electing Democratic governors. In 2018 these states grew on average by 2.24 percent. In Q2 2019 it was a measly 0.92 percent annualized rate — a drop of 59 percent! Michigan’s growth rate fell from 2.7 percent to 1.1 percent, Illinois’ from 2.1 percent to 1.1 percent, Wisconsin’s from 2.5 percent to 1.1 percent, and Maine’s from 1.9 percent to an embarrassing 0.6 percent. In New Jersey (whose election was in 2017), it’s been cut by two-thirds, from 2.0 percent to an anemic 0.7 percent.

So, electing a Republican governor seems to give your state a fair but imperfect shot at growth.

What about states that added a GOP governor last cycle? There’s only one case in point here: Alaska’s governor’s mansion went from independent to red in 2018 — and growth followed. The state’s economy changed from a -0.3 percent contraction in 2018 to the third highest in the nation, at 4.1 percent in Q2 2019.

Numbers only tell a part of the story. The total sum of opportunity costs borne by high-tax states with Democratic governors and legislatures include incalculable damage to the working and middle classes. The states’ economic health (or lack thereof) further accelerates the magnet for millions of families fleeing taxation and regulation in blue states for better economic prospects in red states.

In 2020, 11 governors’ seats are up for grabs — and considering that seven of these are currently Republican, the residents of these states should heed the stark lessons of catching the blue wave in 2018.




NEEDED VISA OVERHAUL: U.S. imposes visa rules for pregnant women on "birth tourism" (AP)

RIGHT TO WORK: Union membership falls to record low of 10.3% — down 10% since 1983 (The Hill)

CHALLENGES STILL LOOM: Trump administration approves Keystone pipeline on U.S. land (Associated Press)

INDEFENSIBLE: Less than half of Americans know six million Jews killed in Holocaust (Washington Examiner)

WARPED PRIORITIES: San Antonio's Chick-fil-A fight has cost more than $300K so far (KENS 5)

MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH? Immune cell that kills most cancers discovered by accident by British scientists (The Telegraph)

POLICY: How the oil-production boom has benefited America (The Daily Signal)

POLICY: Counting the homeless, searching for solutions (RealClearPolicy)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is here 


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