Analysis: Iran protests persist, becoming threat for Tehran
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Protests in Iran over the death of a 22-year-old woman detained by the country’s morality police have stretched into a third week, even after authorities disrupted the internet, deployed riot troops and attacked perceived enemies abroad.
That playbook of repression has worked before, but the spontaneous demonstrations over the death of Mahsa Amini persist and keep changing. In one recent incident, high school students chased away a hard-liner while famous politicians and actresses abroad now are cutting off their hair with scissors, following Iranian women protesters who have done the same.
The longevity and metamorphosis of the protests pose a new threat to Tehran, one unseen since the 2009 Green Movement protests brought millions to the street.
The seemingly spontaneous and leaderless protests — largely fueled by the middle and upper classes — share some of the same strengths and weaknesses of those over a decade ago. Iran’s theocracy ultimately crushed them over time. Whether it will do the same now remains in question.
Getting a true picture of what’s happening across Iran, a nation of over 80 million people that is two-and-a-half times larger than the U.S. state of Texas, is hard even in quiet times, given governmental restrictions.
Now, it’s even more difficult. Authorities have detained at least 35 reporters and photographers since the demonstrations began Sept. 17, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Most information comes from just seconds-long video clips activists manage to upload to the internet.
The protests began at the burial site of Amini, an Iranian-Kurdish woman detained by the roving forces of Iran’s morality police. Since the election of hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi last year, morality patrols have grown more aggressive, with videos circulating of officers manhandling young women over their clothes or loose mandatory headscarves, known as hijabs.
Iran’s government insists Amini wasn’t abused, with state television airing footage of her collapsing at a police station and receiving care. However, no video of her arrest or transportation to the police station has emerged even as Tehran began equipping police officers with body cameras five years ago. That, as well as a quick burial reportedly demanded by security officials, fueled anger in her hometown of Saqqez, some 460 kilometers (285 miles) west of Tehran.
At that demonstration and subsequent ones across the country, protesting women have twirled their headscarves and screamed in Farsi, “Death to the Dictator!”, referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
It’s a dangerous cry in a country where charges of being a “mofsed-e-filarz,” or a “corrupter of the Earth,” through political dissent can carry a death sentence in Iran’s closed-doors Revolutionary Court.
The full breadth of the demonstrations and crackdown remains unclear. An Associated Press tally of reports in state-run and state-linked media shows there have been at least 1,900 arrests connected to the protests. Demonstrations have been reported in at least 50 cities, towns and villages.
State television last suggested at least 41 people had been killed in the demonstrations as of Sept. 24. In the nearly two weeks since, there’s been no update from Iran’s government.
An Oslo-based group called Iran Human Rights estimates at least 154 people have been killed, though that includes an estimated 63 people killed in violence in the eastern Iranian city of Zahedan. Iranian authorities have described the Zahedan violence as involving unnamed separatists, though Iran Human Rights said the incident began as a revenge attack over rape allegations against a local police officer.
Meanwhile, Iran has launched cross-border attacks on Kurdish separatists in Iraq as well and has insisted the demonstrations are a foreign plot — all apparently designed to distract from the widespread anger over Iran’s mandatory hijab.
Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the chaotic years that immediately followed, demonstrations have been a common feature across the country. Many focus on local issues rather than nationwide political change, such as farmers upset about the drying up of the country’s water supplies, teachers wanting higher salaries or pensioners angry after losing their savings in widely criticized privatization drives.
Student protests struck Tehran in 1999. Economic protests swept the country at the end of 2017 and into early 2018. And in 2019, anger over the government eliminating subsidies on gasoline similarly sparked nationwide demonstrations.
Unlike those prior three waves, this time hard-liners control every lever of power across Iran’s presidency, its judiciary and its parliament, meaning there’s no one else for them to blame. The same happened in the 2009 Green Movement demonstrations, sparked by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election amid widespread allegations of vote rigging.
The 2009 demonstrations also focused on urban areas and predominantly saw middle- and upper-class protesters. The current protests have seen similar groups of people taking part, with witnesses saying they’ve heard none of the economic chants from the most recent rounds of demonstrations. Iranian celebrities and soccer stars also have spoken out.
However, there are still clear differences between 2009 and today. The 2009 demonstrations saw millions take to the street. So far, the current protests haven’t galvanized such large crowds all at once.
The 2009 demonstrations also lasted for months before slowing down, ultimately ending in 2011 when authorities arrested their leaders amid the Arab Spring protests. The current demonstrations have yet to reach the four-week mark
Crucial moments lie ahead. Iran appears bracing for Saturday, the start of the Iranian week, when university students should resume classes in person. Last Sunday, security forces fired tear gas and pellet guns at students demonstrating at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, according to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. That university and others went to online classes for the rest of the week.
If demonstrations continue in classrooms and streets across Iran, Iran’s hard-line government will have to decide what to do next. So far, there’s no sign that they’ll back down, however.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Jon Gambrell, the news director for the Gulf and Iran for The Associated Press, has reported from each of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Iran and other locations across the world since joining the AP in 2006. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
FBI finds US crime rate steady in 2021, but data incomplete
WASHINGTON — The FBI estimates violent crime rates didn’t increase substantially last year, though they remained above pre-pandemic levels, according to annual crime data. But the report presents an incomplete picture, in part because it doesn’t include some of the nation’s largest police departments.
Violent and property crime generally remained consistent between 2020 and 2021, with a slight decrease in the overall violent crime rate and a 4.3% uptick in the murder rate, both of which are not considered statistically significant, the analysis found. That suggests an improvement over 2020, when the murder rate in the U.S. jumped 29% during the COVID-19 pandemic that created huge social disruption and upended support systems.
The report, released Wednesday, comes with major caveats — about 40% of law-enforcement agencies didn’t participate, including big cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Miami, after a major overhaul in the reporting system.
The report comes at a key time politically, just weeks before the midterm elections where crime is major campaign issue for Republicans running on law-and-order platforms. Many Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to heed calls for criminal justice reform after widespread protests in 2020 and voter concerns about public safety.
The incomplete data could be ripe ground for politicians and activist groups to use the figures to push their talking points. But with so many major cities failing to report even a single crime, experts say the picture of crime in the U.S. remains cloudy.
The increase that started in 2020 has defied easy explanation. Experts point to several potential factors: the pandemic that has killed more than 1 million people in the U.S., gun violence, worries about the economy, high inflation rates and intense stress.
The FBI’s voluntary collection of data from police across the country has long been an important gauge for understanding crime in the United States, but the drop in the number of agencies reporting means the report relied much more heavily on estimation, said Ames Grawert, senior counsel at the justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice. The findings could mean that crime rates are leveling off, but it’s hard to say for sure.
“Some significant care has to be used in extracting conclusions from here,” he said.
The low participation is largely because this is the first report under a major overhaul in the reporting system. The New York Police Department, for their part, said the new reporting requirements made it unable to submit the year’s crime statistics by the deadline, though it didn’t specify exactly why.
The overhaul will eventually make crime data more modern and detailed, federal officials said, but the switchover can be complicated for police departments. The 2021 FBI report did have data from more than 11,000 departments.
Its findings largely track with the National Crime Victimization Survey are also similar to another report from the nonpartisan think tank the Council on Criminal Justice. That analysis of violent crime data surveyed 27 cities, including many big agencies that didn’t make the FBI’s uniform crime report this year. It found a 5.6% increase in the murder rate over 2020.
About 79% of the murders in 2020, meanwhile, involved a firearm, the highest percentage since at least 1968, the oldest records posted by the Centers for Disease Control online, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Violent crime, and specifically gun crime, continues to be a huge challenge for our nation,” said Art Acevedo, the former chief of police in Houston and Miami. The number of guns sold in the U.S. also hit record-setting highs as the coronavirus pandemic took hold and continue to remain strong.
Acevedo and other gun-safety advocates decry the loosening of gun laws, especially in conservative-leaning states around the U.S.
“We are making our officers work with one arm tied behind their back with these loosening of these laws,” he said. Gun-rights supporters, meanwhile, argue that looser regulations make it easier for people to follow the law and practice Second Amendment rights.
Violent crime overall, meanwhile, remains far lower than the historic highs of the 1990s.
Federal agents looking at possible tax charges against Hunter Biden, report says
After a multiyear probe, federal agents believe they have assembled a sufficient case for tax crime charges to be filed against Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, The Washington Post reported Thursday.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware will make the call on whether to charge the younger Biden with tax crimes and a false statement connected to a gun purchase, according to the Post.
The Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that investigators in multiple agencies probed whether Biden, 52, had lied on gun purchase paperwork in 2018 and failed to fully report his income.
The U.S. attorney for Delaware is David Weiss, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump but has remained in his post as the probe into Biden churned on.
Weiss’ office declined to comment on the report, as did the FBI. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A lawyer for Hunter Biden, Chris Clark, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the New York Daily News. But he said in a statement published by the Post that it is a “federal felony for a federal agent to leak information about a Grand Jury investigation such as this one.”
“Any agent you cite as a source in your article apparently has committed such a felony. We expect the Department of Justice will diligently investigate and prosecute such bad actors,” added the statement, according to the Post.
Falsehoods, harassment stress local election offices in U.S.
CARROLLTON, Ohio (AP) — With early voting less than three weeks away, Nicole Mickley was staring down a daunting to-do list: voting machines to test, poll workers to recruit, an onslaught of public records requests to examine.
And then, over a weekend, came word that the long-time county sheriff had died. To Mickley, director of elections in a small Ohio county, that added one more complication to an election season filled with them. It meant a new contest was needed to fill the position, so she and her small staff would have to remake the ballots for the fall election for the second time in a week.
“I feel like ever since we took office in ‘19, it’s just been a constant rollercoaster,” said Mickley, whose 36 months on the job qualify her as the senior member of her four-person staff in the Carroll County elections office.
The office Mickley oversees is tucked in a corner of the 137-year-old county courthouse in Carrollton, a close-knit town of 3,200 that sits amid the farm fields and fracking wells of eastern Ohio. She and Deputy Director Cheri Whipkey’s son graduated from high school together.
The director and her deputy seem an unlikely pair to be contending with the wrath of a nation.
Yet ever since former President Donald Trump began falsely claiming that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, Mickley, Whipkey and local election workers like them across the country have been inundated with conspiracy theories and election falsehoods, and hounded with harassment.
They’ve been targeted by threats, stressed by rising workloads and stretched budgets. The stress and vitriol have driven many workers away, creating shortages of election office staff and poll workers.
During Ohio’s second primary in August — an added burden for election officials stemming from partisan feuding over redistricting — Mickley’s two clerks darted around the county all day filling in for absent poll workers. Two staff members’ husbands were enlisted to help.
And then there’s the stream of misinformation falsely alleging that voting systems across the country are riddled with fraud. Unfounded conspiracy theories about voting machines, manipulation of elections by artificial intelligence or ballot fixing have found a wide audience among Republicans. The claims sometimes lead voters — usually friends and neighbors of the Carroll County election staff — to question them about voting equipment and election procedures, no longer clear what to believe about a system they’ve trusted all their lives.
The false claims about the 2020 presidential election also have led believers to inundate election offices around the country with public records requests related to voting processes or equipment, demands to retain the 2020 ballots instead of destroying them, and attempts to remove certain voters from the rolls.
Carroll County hasn’t been immune, even though it’s heavily Republican and voted for Trump by nearly 53 percentage points over President Joe Biden in 2020. The county of nearly 27,000 people was flooded over the summer with form-letter emails from self-proclaimed “aggrieved citizens.” They were protesting electronic voting machines, vowing to sue or demanding the county retain thousands of records from past elections.
Follow-up letters warned that election officials will “be met with the harshest possible criminal and civil repercussions available under the law” if they destroy any election records.
In response, a floor-to-ceiling locked cabinet in Mickley’s office is now jammed with boxes of ballots and other records from 2020, papers that normally would have been destroyed by now to make way for the records of the 2022 election.
“We’re already busting at the seams,” she said. “It’s a small office in the bottom basement of the courthouse that was built in the 1800s. Space is not our friend.”
Whipkey notes that none of the complaint letters are from local residents, so many of whom she knows personally after 16 years managing the local McDonald’s. She and Mickley both feel lucky they are only receiving letters — not the death threats experienced by some election officials around the country.
Still, the accusations sting. Whipkey said she hates being called a liar.
“If they wanted the answer, they would have come and asked us. We could give it to them,” she said. “But they don’t want the answer; they just want to harass.”
Mickley said attending national conferences has persuaded her that election workers across the U.S. are just as honest, hard-working and passionate as her staff is: “I’m starting to get defensive and angry for them, too.”
Behind a Plexiglas window in the front of the office, the other two election staffers answer calls and process voter registration forms and change-of-address and absentee ballot requests. They’re also preparing the precinct kits that will go to poll workers — positions the office is still trying to fill for the Nov. 8 election, when they expect heavy turnout partly because Ohio has one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country.
Clerks Sarah Dyck, a Democrat, and Deloris Kean, a Republican, keep their personal feelings about the movement spawned by Trump’s election lies out of the office. They don’t want to bring politics into their work helping run the county’s elections.
When she’s out in the community, Dyck said neighbors are mostly sympathetic about how stressful elections work has become in recent years.
“People all the time say, ‘I don’t know about this, but I know you guys are doing a good job,’” she said. “It’s like with congressmen, right? ‘Well, I don’t like Congress, but my congressman’s okay.’ The closer you are to it, you know the people, and so it’s about those relationships.”
That’s not always been the experience of members of the Carroll County Board of Elections.
The four members of the bipartisan panel — a retired railroad worker, a farmer, a facilities operator and the owner of a local yoga studio — hold their meetings at a table wedged between Mickley’s and Whipkey’s desks in the cramped office. A collection of whiskey bottles shaped like elephants and donkeys sits atop a metal filing cabinet nearby.
Some members said they must work constantly to dispel false information that is rampant in the Republican-dominated county.
Roger Thomas, one of the board’s two Republicans and the operator of a popular pumpkin stand, said he’s frustrated that many of his friends “are unwilling to get past what they think they know with the facts.”
“It doesn’t matter what you say to them, you can’t convince them,” he said. “I don’t know how we combat that. They don’t care if they gum up the works of these elections, and that’s the problem. If these elections go haywire, go south — as the elections go, so goes the country.”
Mickley said she is a perfectionist who would never tolerate the slightest interference with carrying out secure and accurate elections.
She chokes up when talking about how seriously she takes her job and how she and her staff long to ease the worries of skeptical voters. The widespread belief in election conspiracy theories and hostility toward front-line election workers leaves Mickley questioning the country’s future.
“I think about my kids,” she said, “and I think about what I want to leave for them and what I want to build now to make sure that they still have it in 20, 30 years. And I’m not alone in that.”
Falcons release DT Anthony Rush
The Atlanta Falcons released starting defensive tackle Anthony Rush on Thursday. Rush had seven tackles while playing 33.3 percent of the defensive snaps through four games. Atlanta didn't immediately announce a corresponding move. Rush, 26, has seen action in 30 games (10 starts) over four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles (2019), Green Bay Packers (2020), Seattle Seahawks (2020), Tennessee Titans (2021) and Falcon
Talking business: Christine Drazan, Betsy Johnson and Tina Kotek make their cases to Oregon voters
With weeks until election day, the candidates weigh in on tough topics.
Report: Intel lobbyists implore Oregon lawmakers for more incentives
The call comes just weeks after a broad semiconductor task force spelled out other state issues regarding land, among other challenges.
Loggers Beat Riverhawks in Low-Scoring Battle
One goal was all the Onalaska soccer team had in it against Toledo, but one goal was all the Loggers needed Wednesday evening at home, beating the Riverhawks 1-0 in Central 2B League play.
After a scoreless first half, Onalaska got the deciding goal in the 54th minute, when Brooklyn Sandridge swung a cross into the box to Jae Auman, who controlled it and laid the ball off to Randi Haight to deposit it into the back of the net.
Aside from the key difference on the board, the rest of the match played out as evenly as the scoreline suggested. Onalaska snapped off six shots on target, with Toledo goalkeeper Daphnie Bybee making five saves. For its part, Toledo managed five shots on net, all of which Logger keeper Hailee Brown was up to.
In front of Brown, Kate Zandell led the Loggers’ back line, snuffing out more Toledo attacks before they could form into real chances.
Riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak, Onalaska is set for a high-stakes league showdown at Kalama next Monday, while Toledo will try to bounce back at home against Toutle Lake.
Ninety-two County Employees to Walk in Honor of Coworker Battling Breast Cancer
Lewis County employees will participate in a lunch-time walk in honor of coworker Lori Pulver, who continues to fight breast cancer, according to a news release from the county.
The walk will occur Friday and comes amid Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Donations collected as part of the event — which stand at $4,700 as of Thursday — will be given to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization for research, treatment and early detection of breast cancer.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Association said in a news release that Pulver has been a strong supporter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure in the past, sponsoring and fundraising for Team Summer Sunshine for many years.
The public is invited to join county employees in either a 1- or 2-mile walk beginning outside of the Lewis County Law and Justice Center at 11 a.m. Friday.
West Coast Leaders Double Down on Bold Actions to Fight Climate Crisis
SAN FRANCISCO – In the latest of several climate agreements among Pacific Coast governments, California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia signed a new partnership Thursday recommitting the region to climate action.