The Morning Dispatch: Iran’s Protests Grow

Happy Monday! Even the saltiest and crankiest of Cubs fans have to admit Albert Pujols hitting his 700th home run was a pretty cool moment. Congratulations to the 42-year-old Cardinals slugger on becoming only the fourth player in major league history to reach that milestone.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • In an election with unusually low turnout, voters in Italy have given power to a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni of the nationalist Brothers of Italy party. Meloni and her coalition partners are strong skeptics of European governance and fierce critics of what they see as accommodationist policies towards migrants and refugees. 

  • Tropical Storm Ian is strengthening in the Caribbean Sea south of Cuba and could become a hurricane as early as today. President Joe Biden declared a preemptive federal state of emergency for multiple Florida counties—and Gov. Ron DeSantis declared one statewide—as Ian is expected to reach Florida later this week. Fiona, meanwhile, made landfall in Atlantic Canada on Saturday as a post-tropical cyclone, downing trees, washing away or damaging dozens of houses, and knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1.6 percent on Friday and hit its lowest level of 2022 as central bank efforts to combat inflation raise global recession concerns. U.S. equity futures are down further this morning.

  • A report released Thursday by the Labor Department’s inspector general’s office estimated that up to $45.6 billion in pandemic-era unemployment insurance funds were stolen between March 2020 and April 2022. According to the report, most of the fraudulently obtained funds went to people filing for benefits in multiple states, filing on behalf of a deceased person, or filing on behalf of someone in prison.

  • Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson ruled Friday that Arizona can enforce a near-total abortion ban—with exceptions for the life of the mother—that had been on the books since the 19th century, before Arizona was a state. 

  • Allies of former President Donald Trump have stood up a new super PAC—dubbed MAGA Inc.—that will reportedly spend money boosting Trump’s endorsed candidates ahead of November’s elections. People close to the former president say the PAC could eventually be used to back a 2024 run for the White House.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Friday she will extend proxy voting in the House through November 10, 2022, allowing representatives to vote remotely until two days after the midterm elections.

  • President Joe Biden on Friday declared a major disaster in Alaska to provide federal funds for recovery from typhoon Merbok, which hit the state last weekend with 50-foot seas, sweeping away homes and triggering flooding and landslides. The disaster funds will cover temporary housing, home repair, and other costs.

Iran’s Protests Grow

Protesters in the streets of Tehran last week. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images.)

What started as a smattering of local protests has grown into a nationwide movement of Iranians, led by women, frustrated with their oppressive regime.

Since we updated you last Tuesday, the protests—sparked by the death in custody of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, detained for allegedly violating Iran’s dress code—have spread to dozens of cities. As many as 80, by some counts

Even in traditionally conservative cities, women are removing their legally required head coverings and cutting their hair in defiance. Protesters have reportedly seized at least partial control of the small Kurdish town of Oshnavieh, and many have a bigger goal: the downfall of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his son. The protests are the largest since 2019, when security forces killed about 1,500 people who took to the streets over fuel prices.

Five members of Basij—a volunteer militia group affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—have reportedly been killed during the demonstrations, suggesting the Iranian people are increasingly willing to resist security forces trying to dispel protests. “We’ve seen videos of protesters attacking police cars, chasing after police officers, throwing different kinds of incendiary devices at the police,” Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran, told The Dispatch. “That really is an unprecedented development, the level of ferocity in terms of a pushback against Iranian security forces.” 

“Now, that doesn’t mean that we should underestimate the willingness and capability of the domestic security apparatus to crack down hard on the Iranian people. They will do that, and it’s going to get bloody, and the regime is very practiced at this.”

The regime’s crackdown has already begun. The true fatality numbers are likely higher than what’s being publicly reported, but Iranian state TV has suggested at least 41 demonstrators and police have died so far, while Amnesty International reports at least 30 deaths—including four children. State media also reported at least 1,200 people have been detained.

It takes a lot of muscle to quell riots this big, as evidenced by the reported paramilitary members’ deaths: Iranian officials have apparently reinforced the police response with other security forces, a typical escalatory step in the regime’s well-worn playbook on suppressing unrest. Iranians loyal to the regime have also staged counterprotests criticizing the revitalized anti-government movement, with state television airing clips ostensibly showing thousands of people marching in the streets in support of the Supreme Leader.

Internet blackouts have also continued apace, as Iranian officials attempt to prevent protesters from coordinating. Cellular networks are reportedly disrupted, and access to Instagram, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, and Skype appears to have been cut off. In an effort to aid the demonstrators, the U.S. Treasury Department on Friday issued a general license allowing tech and telecommunications companies to circumvent sanctions on Iran to “offer the Iranian people more options of secure, outside platforms and services.” Elon Musk has reportedly activated Starlink—the satellite internet operated by SpaceX—in Iran, but the service requires ground-based terminals that will be difficult to operate within a hostile country intent on stifling dissent.

The Biden administration has also lent rhetorical support to the protesters, in addition to slapping additional sanctions on Iranian security officials and the morality police accused of killing Amini. “We stand with the brave citizens and brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights,” President Joe Biden declared at the United Nations General Assembly. Critics have argued that White House criticism of the Iranian regime rings hollow because of its eager pursuit of a nuclear deal that would deliver sanctions relief and cash to the oppressive regime. Masih Alinejad, who has agitated against the regime for years and amplified the calls for the protests leading to the current unrest, tweeted at national security adviser Jake Sullivan, urging the White House to stop sending mixed messages. The “idea of conducting nuclear talks while offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ for the murder of #MahsaAmini is shameful. On the streets of #Tehran, everyone chants against the clerics. The Regime is crumbling. Don’t save the dictators by signing a nuclear deal.”  

But the Biden administration, borrowing a strategy employed throughout the Obama administration, insists that it can decouple its negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program from regime behavior more broadly. 

“That will not stop us in any way from pushing back and speaking out on Iran’s brutal repression of its citizens and its women,” Sullivan told CBS News yesterday. “We can and will do both.”*

Europe has been slower to respond to the protests—though protesters clashed with police outside the Iranian embassies in France and England over the weekend—but the European Union has hinted at the possibility of sanctions over the violent crackdown. According to Iranian state media, the regime’s foreign ministry summoned its ambassadors in Norway and the United Kingdom over the weekend, due to the “interventionist stance” of Norways’ parliamentary speaker and “hostile character” of London’s Persian language media.

The protests are going to continue, as is the repression: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Saturday that the country must “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquility.” Other Iranian officials have made similar veiled threats, but Raisi—“elected” to his role last year—is known as a particular barbarian, and will likely exceed his predecessors’ brutality in stifling the unrest. “As prosecutor of Hamedan, he led his province in the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s,” Charlotte reported last June. “Between July and December 1988, the state carried out the systematic killings of dissidents, activists, militants, mothers, and children imprisoned across Iran. Hussein-Ali Montazeri, deputy supreme leader-turned-dissident, named Raisi as one of the four officials intimately involved.”

The world may soon see what that looks like in the 21st century. “This week there’s going to be more violence, not less,” predicted Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Many are expecting the regime to try to act on what Raisi said.”

“This kind of conflagration is what the regime has always been worried about,” Taleblu continued, “which is a spark that leads to a larger rebellion or potentially even revolution.”

Worth Your Time

  • Meet Kurt Steiner, professional stone skipping legend who in 2013 skipped a stone 88 times. “Steiner stared across the creek and raised his right arm into an L, clasping a coaster-size sliver of shale the way a guitarist might hold a plectrum during a showstopping solo,” Sean Williams writes for Outside. “He stretched his five-foot-nine-inch body vertically, and then squeezed down like an accordion and planted his left leg to crack his throwing arm, placing the rock under so much gyroscopic force that it sputtered loudly as it left his hand, like a playing card in a bicycle wheel. … Skipping has brought Steiner respite from a life of depression and other forms of mental illness. It has also, in part, left him broke, divorced, and, since the death of his greatest rival, adrift from his stone-skipping peers. Now, in middle age, with a growing list of aches and pains, he must contemplate the reality that, in his most truthful moments, he throws rocks not simply because he wants to, but because he has no choice.”

  • Jeff Maurer wants to nip the burgeoning anti-meritocracy movement on the left in the bud. “I understand the impulse to try to right society’s wrongs on the back-end. And I understand the discomfort with unequal outcomes,” he writes in his latest newsletter. “But with very few exceptions, I’ve yet to see methods for sorting out who gets what that are better than ‘try to determine who’s best-suited to do the thing.’ Other methods are inherently arbitrary; they still sort people into ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving,’ but they do so according to criteria that have nothing to do with [the] question at hand.” What if a football team adopted the mindset that’s increasingly prevalent at many organizations? “The first half of our roster will go to the children of the well-connected,” Maurer muses. “There are powerful people we need to keep happy, so we’re doing it. The second half will be constructed to make our diversity numbers look good. If there are any spots left over, those will go to whoever’s good at the sport.”

  • At 91 years old, James Earl Jones has reportedly decided to “wind down” his role voicing Darth Vader—but that doesn’t mean the iconic character is going to start sounding any different. For Vanity Fair, Anthony Breznican reports on Respeecher: a Ukrainian company that uses existing voice recordings and artificial intelligence to create new dialogue. “Bogdan Belyaev was working from home when the air raid sirens went off,” Breznican writes. “They hadn’t been heard in the city of Lviv since World War II, but it was February 24, and Russia had just invaded Ukraine. ‘When we heard that missiles were attacking and that our [internet] connection was dropping from parts of our country, we got into shelter,’ says Belyaev. That meant him, his wife, and their dog and two cats huddling in the center of their building. ‘It’s a ‘shelter,’ really in quotes because it was actually our bathroom,’ he says. ‘There is a rule of two walls. You need to be behind two walls. The first wall is taking the impact, and the second one is stopping the small shrapnel.’ But for Belyaev, work carried on because he needed it to. People on the other side of the world were relying on him, and the project was the culmination of a passion he’d had since childhood: Star Wars.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Reporting from the Edmund Burke Foundation’s National Conservatism conference in Miami, Alec found a movement hoping to reorient American politics while excluding a vast majority of the population.

  • Haley and Audrey packed Friday’s Uphill (🔒) with the latest on Electoral Count Act reform negotiations, the outlook for Ukraine aid in a Republican-led Congress, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s litmus test for progressives. Plus: “There’s always a way” to oust the House speaker, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie says.

  • Nobody likes whataboutism, but the tu quoquists often have a point, Jonah writes in Friday’s G-File. The sternest champions of truth in one context can often be found twisting it about in another: “The moral of the story is, if you want to dedicate yourself to some abstract principle, be consistent about it or the whataboutists will not only come for you, they’ll come for your principle too.”

  • Blonde, the new Marilyn Monroe biopic, sets out to depict the many ways the actress was mistreated. It’s too bad the movie’s baffling revisions of Monroe’s story add to the tally, Alec writes in his review. Also on the site this weekend, Guy Denton reintroduces Roxy Music, a band blending “the sophistication of black-and-white cinema with the kitsch of Pop Art and the decadence of fin-de-siècle Europe.”

  • Automation and the information revolution have devalued physical strength while placing a premium on mental acuity. The result? “Many of the previous sharp divides between men and women no longer made sense,” David writes in Sunday’s French Press. “As men confront this new world, it thus should not surprise us that many are experiencing both a crisis of purpose and a crisis of relationships”

  • Want to know how TMD comes together every morning? What it’s like being a conservative on a very progressive campus? The benefits of quitting Twitter? Declan bared his soul in September’s Dispatch Mailbag (🔒), answering questions from readers about his name, his dogs, Chicago sports, and much more.

  • On the site today, Chris Stirewalt writes about the radical right’s utopian elements, Kevin Williamson—in what promises to be a regular Economics for English Majors segment—discusses comparative advantage and the ham sandwich, Nick Catoggio reports on Donald Trump’s increasingly explicit embrace of the QAnon movement, and Khaya Himmelman explains the stakes in the first seditious conspiracy trial in American in a decade, which begins this week for Oath Keeper leader Stewart Rhodes and four co-defendants.

Let Us Know

Between Albert Pujols’ 700th career home run and Aaron Judge’s pursuit of 62 in one season, there have been a lot of additions to the sports history books recently.

Do you have a favorite record or milestone in professional sports? Which ones do you think will never be broken?

Clarification, September 26, 2022: Attributed a quote to Jake Sullivan.

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