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In Iran’s low-turnout election, did freedom find a voice?

Tehran — Ibrahim Raisi, Iran’s conservative judiciary chief, won last Friday’s election in a landslide. But Iran‘s official media don’t mention a couple of embarrassing facts. For instance, 3 million voters spoiled their ballots, and more than half of Iran’s eligible voters didn’t even show up at the polls.

Turnout was the lowest in the Islamic Republic’s history. It’s not clear how much that fact will weaken Raisi’s legitimacy, but it is a sensitive subject.

At his first press conference on Monday, Raisi implied that it was the coronavirus pandemic that had kept people away.

“Whether people voted for me or another candidate,” he said, “or for some reason like COVID didn’t go to a polling station — I still serve the Iranian nation.”

COVID-19 may indeed have been a factor. Iran is struggling with a serious outbreak, and a lack of vaccine doses.

But apathy and disillusionment played a bigger role.

Millions of Iranians have watched their standard of living collapse over the past four years under the pressure of U.S. economic sanctions. They simply don’t believe Iran’s Islamic leadership has the will, or the skill, to make their lives better.

“I have voted for 42 years, and I haven’t seen any improvements,” one man told us. “Why would I vote again this time?”

Others are angrier, but they dared not voice their criticism publicly in a country where dissidence is routinely punished by arrest and jail time.

Instead, they turned to the one space where Iranians can say what they really think — the internet.

An online campaign urged people not to vote at all in protest against what it called “this murderous regime” — a reference to demonstrators killed by security forces in the wake of the turbulent 2009 election. Raisi himself was sanctioned by the U.S. over his role in that crackdown, and in August, he’ll become the first Iranian president seated with American sanctions already hanging over him.

Iranians from across the country — and expats around the world — posted pictures of their palms, on which they’d written: “I love my country so I’m not going to vote.”

Iranians from across the country – and expats around the world – posted pictures of their palms ahead of the June 18, 2021 election, on which they'd written:

Iranians from across the country – and expats around the world – posted pictures of their palms ahead of the June 18, 2021 election, on which they’d written:

In one video posted online, the mother of a 30-year-old man who died during previous unrest speaks directly to the camera:

“Curses on the government. May God punish them, and the one who shot my son in the heart,” she says.

In Raisi’s news conference, he described the election as “epic,” but he is fully, and perhaps uncomfortably aware that the political disenchantment and frustration simmering not far under the surface in his country are epic, too.

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WPL panel on equality in leadership

Ex-president of Ecuador and U.N. official host WPL panel

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Abiy Ahmed denies reports of hunger

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has denied that there is hunger in the country’s war-torn Tigray region.

Speaking at a polling station on the day of the country’s general election, Mr Abiy admitted there was a problem but said the government could fix it.

The fighting, which the UN says has left five million people in need of food aid, is now in its eighth month.

More than 350,000 of them are living in famine conditions in Tigray, according to a recent UN-backed estimate.

“There is no hunger in Tigray,” Mr Abiy told the BBC after he had voted. “There is a problem and the government is capable of fixing that.”

Last week, the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, told a closed session of the Security Council that there was famine in Tigray.

He also said that starvation was being used as a weapon of war by troops from neighbouring Eritrea who are fighting alongside Ethiopian forces in Tigray. Eritrea has denied the accusation.

Mr Abiy said Ethiopia would not push the Eritreans out but was working with them to “finalise… issues peacefully”.

A study released on 10 June by the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) initiative found that 350,000 people were living in what it described as “catastrophe/famine”.

At the time, Ethiopia denied that this was the case.

A further five million people were either in “crisis” or “emergency”, the study said.

The Ethiopian authorities have said that they are distributing food aid and denied reports that they are restricting access to humanitarian agencies.

‘Nothing to eat’

People in Qafta Humera, an isolated district in the west of Tigray, told the BBC earlier this month that they were on the verge of starvation.

“We don’t have anything to eat,” one man said by phone, explaining their crops and livestock had been looted during months of war.

The conflict, which began in November last year, has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and disrupted agriculture.

map of Tigray showing worst affected areas

map of Tigray showing worst affected areas

Ethiopia’s government launched an offensive to oust the region’s then ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The party had had a massive fallout with Mr Abiy over his political reforms though the TPLF’s capture of federal military bases in Tigray was the catalyst for the invasion.

Sudanese troops ‘also in Ethiopia’

Ethiopia has allied with neighbouring Eritrea, whose troops have crossed the border and have been accused of human rights violations, including deliberately causing the lack of food – charges it denies.

Ethiopian soldiers and others involved in the conflict have also been accused of violations.

In March, Mr Abiy said that the Eritrean soldiers “will withdraw” without specifying when.

At the beginning of this month his spokesperson said reports from the defence ministry indicated they had begun withdrawing.

An aid worker distributes measured portions of yellow lentils to residents of Geha subcity

The UN says that more than five million people in Tigray need humanitarian assistance

“We are not pushing them out but we are making it peacefully, I am sure it will happen,” Mr Abiy told the BBC.

“We are working with [Eritrea] to finalise our issues peacefully.”

He also said that Sudanese troops were in Ethiopia, referring to the al-Fashaga triangle, which both countries claim.

Monday’s general election is the first electoral test for the prime minister who came to power in 2018 as the nominee of the then-ruling coalition.

His reforming zeal, which saw the country become more open and democratic, won him supporters both inside and outside the country.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 after ending a 20-year stalemate with Eritrea.

But the conflict in Tigray has soured his reputation.

Voting is not taking place there because of the insecurity.

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Rachel Lindsay On Her Feud With Vanessa & Why She Didn’t Pick Peter

While it was a largely unproductive chat, she revealed their once-thorny situation has since been involved, with Rachel noting, “I am happy to say that, in real life, we put our differences aside and have a great and supportive relationship.”
 
When it came to having her own heart front-and-center as The Bachelorette later in that same year, Rachel chose now-husband Bryan Abasolo over fan-favorite and runner up, Peter Kraus.

On the show, her choice was portrayed as picking the sure-thing over a man waffling over a proposal, but the attorney insisted her decision was made long before Bryan dropped to one knee atop a mountain in Spain. “My head had already started to come out of the clouds with Peter by the time of ‘Hometowns,'” she explained, “the episode in which the Bachelorette visits the final four contestants at home with their families.”

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Netanyahu attacks Lapid for Israel’s “no surprises” agreement with U.S.

Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he rejected requests from the Biden administration to inform the U.S. in advance of Israeli operations against Iran’s nuclear program, and falsely claimed Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid made such a commitment to Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week.

Why it matters: Since realizing he would be ousted as prime minister, Netanyahu has been planning a months-long campaign against the Biden administration and the new Bennett government over the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu wants to be the face of Israel’s opposition to the deal at home and in Washington — and he is forcing the issue.

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Driving the news: Lapid spoke with Blinken last Thursday for the second time since assuming office. He released a short statement after the call stressing that he agreed with the Secretary of State on a “no surprises” policy, without mentioning Iran specifically.

  • On Monday, Netanyahu’s office told reporters he was going to deliver an important foreign policy statement. When the reporters arrived at the Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, they discovered Netanyahu was planning to attack Lapid politically.

What they’re saying: Netanyahu falsely claimed Lapid committed to a “no surprises” policy on Iran and said the State Department issued a statement about it — a claim that was also false.

  • Netanyahu said Lapid’s purported commitment harms Israel’s national security, claiming the foreign minister has given up on Israel’s freedom of operations against the Iranian nuclear program and on its sovereign right to self-defense.

  • Netanyahu claimed he rejected such a request for “no surprises” from President Biden during one of their phone calls, as well as a similar request by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during his last visit to Israel.

  • “I told them I will take their request into consideration, but stressed that on matters that are existential I will maintain Israel’s freedom of operation without any obligation for prior notice,” Netanyahu said.

  • He said Lapid’s agreement with Blinken sends a signal of weakness to Iran and to a Biden administration “that is rushing back to the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran.”

  • Lapid replied in a short statement calling Netanyahu’s remarks false: “I thank the leader of the opposition for his advice. We will take it from here.”

Between the lines: Despite his attacks on Lapid for the “no surprises” agreement with Blinken, a similar understanding existed when Netanyahu was prime minister just over a week ago.

  • In March, Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on the record that he agreed with Blinken on a mutual “no surprises” policy regarding the nuclear talks with Iran. Netanyahu, who was then prime minister, didn’t push back at the time.

  • Several weeks later, the Biden administration even complained to Israeli officials that the explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, which the Iranian government blamed on the Israeli Mossad, was a violation of the “no surprises” understanding between the two countries.

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California man arrested for allegedly stealing 42,000lb of pistachios | California

A California man has been arrested for allegedly stealing and attempting to resell over 42,000lb of pistachio nuts valued at over $100,000.

Alberto Montemayor, 34, a trucker, was arrested and booked in Tulare county in connection to the incident, according to a Facebook post from Tulare county sheriff’s office.

Following a routine inspection, the Touchstone Pistachio company, located in Tulare county, California, contacted law enforcement last week after discovering 21 tons of pistachios had gone missing from their designated lot at Montemayor Trucking.

An investigation into the unaccounted pistachios led police to a nearby trailer where the stolen nuts had been moved. The nuts, originally stored in 2,000lb sacks, had been moved to smaller bags apparently to be resold.

“The remaining pistachios were returned to the Touchstone Pistachio Company,” said Montemayor.

Reactions to the theft have been swift, with many observers perplexed by the amount of pistachios stolen and the fact that the crime hits at a lucrative underground market for stolen nuts.

“Good job detectives, I guess you really ‘cracked’ this case. Guy must’ve been ‘nuts’ to think he could get away with it,” said one Facebook user.

“Aw nuts, got caught …” read another comment.

Law enforcement involved with the case have asked for the public to assist with any information related to the potential nut theft.

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Ambassadors recalled after latest Nicaragua arrest

Both countries want to consult with their ambassadors about “the worrisome political-legal actions taken by the Nicaraguan government in recent days that have put at risk the well-being and freedom of various opposition figures (including presidential pre-candidates), activists and Nicaraguan businessmen,” their foreign ministries said in a joint statement. They want to promote a dialogue with Ortega’s government.

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How Putin Made a Fool of Tucker Carlson

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photos via Getty

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast/Photos via Getty

President Putin has pulled off a targeted propaganda operation against the U.S. that’s so simple it never should have worked—and he did it in plain sight as part of the build up to last week’s summit with President Biden.

This weekend, Russia’s favorite propaganda shows celebrated a job well done. State TV propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov asserted on his show on Sunday: “Biden should keep in mind that not only America is back, but Russia is back too.”

The ploy began when Putin sat down for an interview with NBC’s Keir Simmons. He directed the conversation away from his suspected involvement in the murders and attempted murders of his critics. Instead, asking: “Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?”

The Russian president was referring to Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through the broken window of a door leading directly onto the House floor during the Jan. 6 riots

The bait had been thrown.

This line of attack was no surprise to people who follow Russian propaganda. It had been preplanned and foreshadowed by pro-Kremlin experts appearing on Russian state TV talk shows prior to the summit. “[Biden] is planning to tell us about Navalny and we will tell him about the woman shot on January 6th at the Capitol,” explained Olga Skabeeva, the host of state TV show 60 Minutes, on June 1.

Ten days later, Putin did exactly that in his NBC interview.

On June 16, with the world’s attention fixed to the Geneva summit, the Russian president reiterated the same flawed premise during his press conference: “About my opponents being jailed or imprisoned. People went into the U.S. Congress with political demands. 400 people now facing criminal charges… On what grounds? Not quite clear… One of the participants, a woman, was shot dead on the spot. She was not threatening anything.”

Putin’s plot paid off in spades, when Tucker Carlson played the clip of his comments to NBC on his show and expressed agreement. Carlson said: “Now, under normal circumstances, we would never play tape of a foreign adversary criticizing our government. But honestly, those are fair questions.”

Without a hint of irony, Carlson added: “Vladimir Putin knows authoritarian systems very well, and he sees clearly what is happening in this country.” The Fox News host seemed to assume that an authoritarian adversary was providing this advice without an ulterior motive—and eagerly shared it with his American audience.

His decision was cheered by pro-Kremlin propagandists in Moscow.

During his nightly show, The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, host Vladimir Soloviev proudly surmised: “Putin knew whom he was talking to and his message was heard. This is Fox News and its very popular program—one of its highest-rated programs. Republicans listened and couldn’t help but agree… Putin was heard and what he said hit the bullseye.”

Russian political scientist Sergey Mikheyev enthusiastically replied: “This is a good illustration of the thesis as to whether we should be influencing public opinion in America. Yes, of course we should—of course! The question is how to do it and which resources to use. Without a doubt, we should be using any existing divisions. Sometimes I hear, ‘What’s in it for us?’ and I will cynically tell you: whatever harms them benefits us. That is terrible but true.”

Putin is already polling higher than President Biden among Trump voters, according to the recent poll by Economist/YouGov, which also found that Republicans viewed Russia as less of a threat than Democrats do.

Now that Republican voters are increasingly influenced by conspiracy theories spread through the QAnon movement, pro-Kremlin propagandists seek to capitalize on that trend as well. During the broadcast of his show on May 31, host Soloviev asked: “What if the heroic city of Moscow hosted a forum ‘Free America’ by American QAnon supporters, and their living expenses would be funded by the Russian government, how fast would we hear accusations of interference with their [U.S.] internal affairs?” RT’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan promptly replied: “We need to be doing that.”

Carlson’s commentary also flagged up another line being pursued by Russian state’s propagandists. The Fox News host asked: “Who did shoot Ashli Babbitt and why don’t we know?” Rossiya-1 probed that question, quoting Republican Congressman Devin Nunes in a state TV news show on June 11.

Russia’s state media previously worked alongside the GOP in their attempts to unmask the Ukraine whistleblower whose revelations contributed to Trump’s impeachment. It would not be surprising if the Kremlin-controlled media yet again takes the first step to publicly finger the law enforcement officer in question, further inflaming political divisions in the U.S.

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Foo Fighters’ Madison Square Garden Concert


“Rock and Roll is Back Tonight” was the message displayed everywhere across Madison Square Garden last night (June 20th), as Foo Fighters took the stage to play the famed arena’s first full-capacity concert in more than 460 days. 

“We’ve been waiting for this day for over a year,” said Dave Grohl in a statement before the show. “And Madison Square Garden is going to feel that HARD.” He was right — across three full hours of the career-spanning setlist, the Foos made sure to savor every single moment of the return to (semi) normalcy. Grohl took several moments throughout the show to make the importance of the moment clear, emphasizing that without the work of thousands, this show couldn’t have been possible.

The resulting show was a powerful, fun, and emotional evening at The Garden. Grohl opened the show with just his voice and an organ, singing a poignant rendition of “Times Like These,” before the band joined in and gave the audience their first hit of live rock and roll in months.

Other songs took on deeper meanings than they had pre-pandemic: Wasting Light cut “These Days” had never felt more relevant, with Grohl warning “one of these days, the ground will drop out from beneath your feet.” And in a guest appearance that nobody predicted, the crowd witnessed a quasi-Gen X Holy Trinity with comedian Dave Chappelle’s rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” with Grohl and Co. in support. 

In typical Foo Fighters fashion, the band often derailed their own songs throughout the night in favor of extended solos, heavy metal riffs, tempo changes, and even jam-band sensibilities, letting the return of the “live” aspect speak for itself. Drummer Taylor Hawkins and bassist Nate Mendel particularly shine in the live context, with the former taking the mic for a fantastic rendition of Queen’s “Somebody To Love” (with Grohl behind the kit) midway through the show. The band also debuted several tracks from their recent album Medicine At Midnight, bringing the work of some excellent backup singers to the forefront.

The set featured many “greatest hits” Foo Fighters tracks, but also some old gems — towards the end of the night, Grohl treated fans with the stunning There Is Nothing Left To Lose track “Aurora.” The pinwheeling riffs and restrained attack revealed just how impressive the band’s extensive catalog is, that amid (many) moments of aggression, they still have the capability of stepping back, taking a breath, and letting the beauty of their early material shine. 

As they returned to the stage for an encore, Grohl had one more surprise up his sleeve, indulging the fans with a cover of The Bee Gee’s “You Should Be Dancing.” The rendition marked the live debut of Foo Fighters’ upcoming Record Store Day release as The Dee Gees, titled Hail Satin and featuring five covers of the legendary disco outfit. And if you’re skeptical (like I was) about whether or not Grohl can hit those falsetto notes, well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. 

With surprises, unmissable moments, and three full hours of material, Foo Fighters did exactly what they do best: rock out like there’s no tomorrow. 

Setlist:
Times Like These
The Pretender
Learn To Fly
No Son of Mine
The Sky Is a Neighborhood
Shame Shame
Rope
Run
My Hero
These Days
Medicine At Midnight
Walk
Somebody To Love (Queen Cover) (Taylor Hawkins on Vocals)
Monkey Wrench
Arlandria
Breakout
Creep (Radiohead Cover) (Dave Chappelle on Vocals)
All My Life
Aurora
This Is a Call
Best of You

ENCORE:
Making a Fire
You Should Be Dancing (Bee Gees Cover)
Everlong





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Merkel’s bloc pledges stability, renewal to German voters

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s center-right bloc is pledging to boost the economy without raising taxes and make the country “climate neutral” by 2045 while still preserving industrial jobs. The promises were part of its platform released Monday for the September election that will determine who succeeds longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Union bloc became the last major political force to set out its program for the Sept. 26 parliamentary election. The other two parties fielding candidates for the chancellery, the environmentalist Greens and the center-left Social Democrats, unveiled their programs in March.

The bloc is made up of the Christian Democratic Union party of Merkel and Armin Laschet, who is running to become Germany’s next leader, and the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union party. It released its program at a time when polls show it back in the lead. It had fallen behind the Greens earlier this year amid discontent with a slow start to Germany’s coronavirus vaccination campaign, a scandal over some lawmakers’ involvement with lucrative mask procurement deals and squabbling over who would seek the top job.

Its manifesto is titled “the program for stability and renewal” — reflecting the challenge of building on the popularity of Merkel, who long ago decided not to seek a fifth four-year term, while also offering something new.

“We want to make our country faster, more efficient and more digital,” Laschet said. “Germany must become a leader in new technologies. Our country belongs at the top on climate protection and it must become better able to resist pandemics, cyberattacks, populism, extremism and economic crises.”

“Our offer is that we will combine climate protection with economic strength and social security,” he said. “We will make Germany a climate-neutral industrial country with good and secure jobs.”

The Union pledged to implement the government’s existing goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045.

The program is vague, though, on how prices for emitting carbon dioxide will develop. It says “we want to streamline the growth path of CO2 pricing and move as quickly as possible to European emissions trading for mobility and heating.”

Challenged about the lack of a set CO2 price pledge, Laschet said the aim is for it to be determined by the market rather than politicians. The Union aims to offset increases by reducing the cost of electricity.

The bloc is sticking to the aim of a balanced budget, which Germany managed for years under Merkel but was thrown off course by the coronavirus pandemic. And it stands by the German center-right’s aversion to tax increases, even after massive spending to counter the COVID-19 crisis.

“The core question is … do you think you bring in more money through tax increases? Or are you convinced by the experience that we had before the pandemic, that we had no tax increases for years but the state took in more money anyway because there was economic growth?” Laschet asked.

Cutting back on bureaucracy and regulation will bring in more tax income, he said. But he added that “this isn’t a program of big tax cuts … that isn’t realistic at the moment.”

Laschet’s Green opponent, Annalena Baerbock, contended that the Union’s program is geared to high earners and the tax relief it is offering would lead to a “massive decline in public investment.” She also faulted its climate proposals.

___

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