Iranians mark anniversary of victory day in 1979 revolution
By NASSER KARIMI
Monday, February 11
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Waving Iranian flags, chanting “Death to America” and burning U.S. and Israeli flags, hundreds of thousands of people poured out onto the streets across Iran on Monday, marking the date that’s considered victory day in the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
On Feb. 11 that year, Iran’s military stood down after days of street battles, allowing the revolutionaries to sweep across the country while the government of U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi resigned and the Islamic Republic was born.
In Tehran, crowds streamed in the rain from a dozen of the capital’s far-flung neighborhoods to mass in central Tehran Azadi, or Freedom Square, on Monday, waving Iranian flags and chanting “Death to America” — a chant that has been standard fare at anti-U.S. rallies across Iran.
Chants of “Death to Israel” and “Death to Britain” followed, and demonstrators burned U.S. and Israeli flags. Iranian state TV, which said millions participated in the celebrations, ran archive footage of the days of the uprising and played revolutionary songs. It later broadcast footage showing crowds across this country of 80 million.
The 6-mile-long downtown Enghelab, or Revolution Street, in Tehran was decorated with huge balloons as loudspeakers blared out revolutionary and nationalist songs to encourage people to join the rallies.
Every year, the anniversary festivities start on Feb. 1 — the day Khomeini returned home from France after 14 years in exile to become the supreme leader as Shiite clerics took power — and continue for 10 days, climaxing on Feb. 11.
This year’s anniversary comes as tensions rise with the United States and Iran grapples with the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s pullout last May from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and tough U.S. economic sanctions, re-imposed in November.
Speaking from a podium in central Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the crowds for nearly 45 minutes, lashing out at Iran’s enemies — America and Israel — and claiming their efforts to “bring down” Iranians through sanctions will not succeed.
“The presence of people in this celebration means that plots by the enemies … have been defused,” Rouhani said. “They will not achieve their ill-omened aims.”
In the backdrop to Monday’s marches, the military displayed Iranian-made missiles, which authorities showcase every year during anniversary celebrations and which now have a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) and are able to Israel and U.S. military bases in the region.
Over the past decade, Iran has frequently test-fired and displayed missiles, sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.
Washington alleges Iran’s launches defy a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge, insisting its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.
“We do not and we will not ask permission for producing any type of missiles from anybody,” Rouhani said in his speech Monday, though he stressed that Iran would “continue constructive engagement” with the international community.
Rouhani also promised the crowds that Iran would overcome the economic hardship amid the country’s spiraling economy and the newly imposed U.S. sanctions.
Elsewhere, the head of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, attended the rally in the southern city of Kerman.
In Tehran, 27-year-old medical student Hossein Hosseinpour, walked with his wife and their 18-month son Amir Ali. He said he wanted to teach his son to support the revolution. “I see a bright future for him and our nation,” Hosseinpour said.
Mahmoud Hemmati, 35, was pushing his 68-year-old mother, Parivash Fakheri, in a wheelchair. “My mother, despite her illness, asked me to bring her out,” he said.
Fakheri, who was one of the revolutionaries on the streets of Tehran in 1979, said she would defend the revolution all over again.
“I know there are many economic problems today, but that is something different from our revolution,” she said. “It has been moving forward over the past 40 years and making Iran stronger.”
Last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defended the “Death to America” chants, saying they are aimed at America’s leaders such as Trump and not its people.
The Iranian people “will not stop saying ‘Death to America’ as long as the U.S. acts malicious” toward Iran, Khamenei said, referring to Trump’s State of the Union address in which the American president, among other things, said: “We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants death to America.”
Iranian state TV anchor Mehdi Khosravi chirped how he expects John Bolton, U.S. national security adviser, to be very angry on Monday since he had once predicted that Iranians will not see the 40th anniversary of their revolution.
Last year, Bolton told a meeting of Iranian exiles that “before 2019, we here … will celebrate in Iran.”
Malaysian ex-PM Najib combative ahead of 1MDB graft trial
By EILEEN NG
Monday, February 11
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — From appearing in an R&B music video and trolling social media to vilify the new government, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been combative before the start of his graft trial, linked to the multibillion-dollar looting of the 1MDB state investment fund that has battered the country’s standing abroad.
The trial was to start Tuesday, but Najib’s lawyers won a delay of proceedings on Monday.
Najib’s lawyer, Farhan Read, said the Appeal Court allowed the delay pending an appeal over a technical issue that the defense says could impair the validity of the trial. No date has been set for the appeal hearing. Prosecutors couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but reportedly said it could delay the trial by up to two weeks.
Anger over the 1MDB scandal led to Najib’s spectacular election defeat nine months ago. U.S. investigators say more than $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB by associates of Najib between 2009 and 2014 and the ill-gotten gains were laundered through layers of bank accounts in the U.S. and other countries to finance Hollywood films and buy hotels, a luxury yacht, art works, jewelry and other extravagances. Some $700 million from the fund that Najib set up for Malaysia’s economic development allegedly landed in his own bank account.
One of only a few Southeast Asian leaders to be arraigned after losing office, Najib has denied any wrongdoing. He is charged with 42 counts of criminal breach of trust, graft, abuse of power and money laundering in one of Malaysia’s biggest criminal trials. His wife Rosmah Mansor also has been charged with money laundering and tax evasion linked to 1MDB. She has pleaded not guilty and her trial has not been set.
Instead of lying low ahead of his trial, Najib has fought back with a political makeover on social media that aims to transform his image from an out-of-touch elitist to a leader for the working class.
A Malay-language catchphrase translating to “What’s to be ashamed about, my boss?” was coined while he was campaigning in a by-election last month and has become his new rally cry. Expensive tailored suits have been replaced by hoodies and jeans. A picture Najib posted on social media showing himself posing on a Yamaha motorcycle with his new “‘no-shame” meme resonated with many Malay youths disenchanted by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s new government.
In another offbeat music video that he uploaded on social media, Najib slammed the new government as “liars” and crooned about the “slander and revenge” against him in a Malay-language rendition of the 1970’s R&B soul hit “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by the American group, the Manhattans.
He posts a dozen messages daily on social media, mostly mocking the new government and its policies, and touching on the plight of the needy.
Last month while visiting vendors at a wet market, Najib jeered government leaders on Facebook: “Let the ministers sleep on this Saturday morning.”
Bridget Welsh, political science professor at the John Cabot University in Rome, said Najib is seeking to tap into anger from those who were displaced politically and those disappointed by the new government.
“There will actually be two battles — that in the courtroom and that in the public — in which Najib has used a flush-funded social media machine to build support,” said Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert. “He has fanned two sentiments — supposed political victimization and racial insecurity — stemming from the fact that Malay chauvinists do not have the same level of political power in the new government.”
Najib’s online campaign isn’t likely to extend beyond his Malay political base but it could split Malaysia along racial lines, she said. Ethnic Malays makeup about 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million people, followed by large Chinese and Indian minorities.
Despite his smiles and cool public persona, the patrician Najib — whose father and uncle were Malaysia’s second and third prime ministers respectively — could face years in prison if convicted.
Once a towering figure in politics and literally beyond the law, Najib has fallen from grace swiftly since his historic electoral loss last May 9, which led to the first change of government since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957.
The new government soon after it took office reopened investigations into 1MDB that had been stifled under Najib. He and his wife were barred from leaving the country and grilled by anti-graft officials, and their properties were raided. Truckloads of luggage stashed with cash, jewelry and hundreds of expensive designer bags worth a staggering 1.1 billion ringgit ($270 million) were seized from their home and other properties.
The trials for both Najib and his wife will be closely watched but are expected to be long-lasting as defense lawyers could appeals up to the top court.
Socialist Maduro seeks to raise dollars with appeal to greed
By MANUEL RUEDA
Monday, February 11
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — When Jose Humberto Vivas needs to trade dollars for Venezuelan bolivars, he usually flouts the nation’s rigid exchange controls by turning to illegal currency traders.
But last week, Vivas put a few hundred dollars in his wallet and headed to an exchange house regulated by Venezuela’s socialist government, lured by the seemingly improbable prospect of an official rate that is more inviting than the black market rate.
“I haven’t been here in years,” Vivas said as he stood in line outside Italcambio, a normally lifeless exchange house in downtown Caracas protected by tinted windows and an armed security guard who inspects customers’ IDs.
“There’s a long wait here . and it takes days to get the money transferred to your account, but it might be worth it,” said Vivas, who makes a living from selling dairy products.
Little noticed amid the turmoil unleashed by the opposition’s renewed push to oust President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s central bank devalued the country’s currency on Jan. 28 by 50 percent, eclipsing the parallel black market rate.
The government now buys $1 for 3,303 bolivars, while the informal market buys them at 3,120 bolivars, according to the website DolarToday. It is the first time the official exchange rate has been higher than that of the black market since currency controls were put in place more than a decade ago, analysts said.
The controls were implemented in 2003 by Hugo Chavez, the late president who initiated Venezuela’s socialist system, and have frequently made the simple task of exchanging money into a stressful ordeal that involves searching for illegal currency dealers, logging into websites banned by the government, and sending wire transfers to foreign banks.
But as Maduro’s government runs out of hard currency amid an onslaught of international pressure and economic sanctions, it is tacking in a markedly capitalist direction, encouraging Venezuelans to sell their greenbacks to the local financial system.
In a statement issued Jan. 29, the Central Bank described the devaluation as an economic stabilization measure aimed at controlling hyperinflation by undermining the black market.
Analysts called it a desperate gambit to raise hard cash in a country now beset by severe U.S. oil sanctions that could cost the government up to $11 billion in revenue over the next 12 months. Without one of its most important sources of income, Venezuela will be hard-pressed to purchase food and other imports, potentially worsening shortages and deepening its economic collapse.
Russ Dallen, CEO at Caracas Capital Markets, said dollars could now come into Venezuela’s empty state coffers through state-regulated wire transfers from the estimated 3 million Venezuelan migrants who have fled the country’s instability. Up until now, they have mostly used black market traders to send an estimated $1 billion a year to loved ones, but could be enticed into the official system if the official exchange rate stays favorable.
“They are going for the diaspora dollars,” Dallen said of Maduro’s administration.
The government is also attempting to gain more dollars from rich Venezuelans and a few straggling tourists who use their foreign credit cards at the official exchange rate, something that would have been unfeasible a few weeks ago.
But the strategy is controversial.
Maduro’s opponents argue that selling dollars to the government is tantamount to funding repression. Others say the move will not eliminate the longstanding spread between the two rates, which has often allowed richer Venezuelans to take advantage of the distortion and pocket juicy profits.
Asdrubal Oliveros, an economic consultant based in Caracas, predicts the amount of money the Venezuelan government can raise through currency markets will fall short of what it needs to remedy its financial woes. Strict requirements mandated by U.S. sanctions could also force some foreign banks to stop funding credit card transactions in Venezuela altogether, as Bank of America recently announced.
The government and its state-owned entities currently owe around $150 billion to creditors around the world, while the country’s foreign currency reserves have fallen to just $8 billion.
Forced to meet interest payments on the few remaining loans and bonds the government hasn’t yet defaulted on, the Maduro administration must finance its huge budget deficit by printing even more bolivars, further accelerating prices.
Last year, inflation in the South American country hit 1 million percent.
“Hyperinflation is a fiscal problem,” Oliveros said. “If you don’t control your expenditures and reduce deficits, you will not be able to tackle it.”
Meanwhile, other obstacles could limit the central bank’s efforts to raise dollars.
Currently, it takes four days — an eternity in today’s Venezuela — for the bolivars purchased at state-regulated exchange houses to be deposited into a person’s account. Cash exchanges have been impossible for months due to shortages of bolivar bills.
“Reliability, speed and convenience carry a lot of weight in currency exchanges,” Oliveros said.
Last week, dozens of people trying to sell small amounts of dollars and euros at the official rate were turned away from exchange houses after trading was suspended due to a glitch with the central bank’s currency platform.
“It’s so frustrating,” said Adolfo Estanford, a lawyer who had hoped to get $20 worth of bolivars. He said he needed the money for food and transport.
“Everything here is so improvised,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been made a fool of.”
Manuel Rueda on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ruedareport
Venomous yellow scorpions are moving into Brazil’s big cities – and the infestation may be unstoppable
February 11, 2019
Author: Hamilton Coimbra Carvalho, Researcher in Complex Social Problems, Universidade de Sao Paulo
Disclosure statement: Hamilton Coimbra Carvalho does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
I live in São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil, home to some 12 million people – 20 million if you count the outskirts, which have been sprawling for three decades.
That makes it a good place to observe the phenomenon I research: complex social problems. In academia, this concept refers to problems like corruption, crime and traffic – problems that, in practice, cannot be solved. They must simply be mitigated or managed.
São Paulo is a dense city, with scarce green space and little to no animal life – no squirrels, no raccoons, not even a lot of birds. So I was astonished when, in January, I learned that scorpions had infested my neighborhood.
It turns out, people across the city and São Paulo state were having the same problem with these dangerous, venomous bugs. Statewide, scorpion stings have increased threefold over the last two decades.
Four kinds of scorpion live across Brazil, but historically only in rural areas. São Paulo residents are urbanites. We have conquered nature – or so we thought.
Brazil’s urban scorpions
Brazil’s scorpion infestation is the perfect example of how unpredictable modern life has become. It is a hallmark of what those of us in the complex problems field call a “VUCA” world – a world that’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
Some 2.5 billion people worldwide, from Mexico to Russia, live with scorpions, which generally prefer hot and dry habitats.
But Brazil’s cities also provide an excellent habitat for scorpions, experts say. They offer shelter in sewage networks, plenty of water and food in the garbage that goes uncollected, and no natural predators.
Scorpions, like the cockroaches they feast on, are an incredibly adaptable species. As the weather in Brazil gets hotter due to climate change, scorpions are spreading across the country – including into its colder southern states that rarely, if ever, had reports of scorpions prior to this millennium.
The number of people stung by scorpions across Brazil has risen from 12,000 in 2000 to 140,000 last year, according to the health ministry.
Most scorpion stings are extremely painful but not fatal. For children, however, they are dangerous and require urgent medical attention. Eighty-eight people died from their wounds in 2017, Brazil’s O Globo newspaper reports, highlighting the lack of adequate medicare care available in small towns. Many of the dead are children.
In Americana, a city with about 200,000 inhabitants in São Paulo state, teams that perform night searches for scorpions captured more than 13,000 last year – that’s the equivalent of one scorpion for every 15 people.
Worse yet, the species terrorizing Brazilians is the highly poisonous yellow scorpion, or tityus serrulatus. It reproduces through the miracle of parthenogenesis, meaning a female scorpion simply generates copies of herself twice a year – no male participation required.
Each parthenogenesis can spawn up to 20 to 30 baby scorpions. Though most will die in their first days and weeks of life, ridding Brazilian cities of scorpions would be a herculean, if not downright impossible, task.
Wicked problems in a crazy world
Brazil’s urban scorpion infestation is a classic “wicked problem.”
This term, first used in 1973 by design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, refers to enormous social or cultural problems like poverty and war – problems with no simple or definitive solution, and which arise at the intersection of other problems.
Wicked problems are a symptom of numerous other related problems, both natural and human-made. In this case, Brazil’s urban scorpion infestation is the result of poor garbage management, inadequate sanitation, rapid urbanization and a changing climate.
It is likely too late to stop the spread of scorpions across Brazilian cities.
In a VUCA world, my academic research and other problem-solving studies show, wicked problems should be identified and confronted as soon as possible, using an array of responses.
In a VUCA world, the more resources you throw at problems, the better. That could mean everything from public awareness campaigns that educate Brazilians about scorpions to exterminator task forces working to control their population in urban areas. Scientists should be involved. Brazil’s national public health system will need to adapt to this new threat.
Brazil’s government appears to be ill-equipped to tackle the scorpion infestation.
Despite dogged press coverage, federal health officials have barely spoken publicly about Brazil’s urban scorpion problem. And, beyond some rather tepid national and state-level efforts to train health officials in scorpion risk, authorities seem to have no plan for fighting the infestation at the epidemic level it is heading towards.
Nor are cities likely to see any federal money dedicated to fighting this scorpion infestation: Brazil has been in a deep recession since 2015, and public health budgets have been slashed.
Venomous yellow scorpions, I fear, have already claimed their place alongside violent crime, brutal traffic and other chronic problems that urbanites in Brazil must cope with daily.
Neil S. Grigg is a Friend of The Conversation, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Colorado State University: Well-written. Thanks. This is a good (and scary) example of the many wicked problems facing us today. I’m going to use it in my class as another example of the problems requiring the systems approach. In this case, government by itself will not be able to solve the problem, but it will require engagement of people, with all of the baggage that this brings, education, incentives, monitoring, etc. etc. My class is an engineering course about infrastructure but we include many social problems and their interactions with public facilities. By the way, over the years we have had many good interactions with the water resources faculty at USP.