Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Our sanctions at work: 168 dead in Iran

(That's a photo of me in Esfahan and of a sign that my daughter Ashley saw on a lawn in Berkeley)

Sure, I know that there's a big power struggle going on in Iran right now and that the politicos and the ayatollahs are playing tug of war over who will get control of what. But let's focus on something else for right now -- that the Iranian people are some of the nicest, kindest, best-educated, intrepid and interesting people in the world and that these people have all suffered greatly since 1953, when Iran became a political football as the local power elite and foreign super-powers all struggled to get a piece of Iran.

And now all this bickering, hatefulness and spy-vs-spy sub-plotting has gone too far once again (as if the Shah's torture chambers and the ayatollahs' crackdowns weren't already enough) -- causing 168 people, all innocent men, women and children, to spin downward into a fiery and terrifying death from the air.

According to the Associated Press, "A Russian-made Iranian passenger plane carrying 168 people crashed shortly after takeoff Wednesday, nose-diving into a field northwest of the capital and shattering into flaming pieces." And politicos all over the world are responsible for this disaster. If your country voted to sanction airplane parts to Iran, you personally killed all these people. Every single one.

When are human beings ever finally going to grow up, start to evolve and put an end to all these stupid Stone Age power struggles that cost American taxpayers at least $110 for every man, woman and child on the planet? We need to stop acting like cavemen! What is modern warfare if not just a more glamorous (and expensive) version of what cavemen used to do with clubs and rocks? Peaceful people all over the world -- especially women and taxpayers -- are getting really tired of having to constantly put up with all this "military" crap.

When I was in Iran last fall, I needed to fly from Tehran to Yadz. My experience on that flight was hair-raising. Why? Because of the sanctions. Under the current foreign sanction policies, Iranians can NO LONGER GET PARTS FOR THEIR PLANES. That's disgusting. And now 168 innocent people are dead. "Collateral damage". I guess that means that the sanctions are working.

PS: I'm currently writing a book entitled, "Iran, Iraq and North Korea: From Axis of Evil to Hot New Tourist Destinations". Here's the chapter on my flight from Tehran to Yazd:

October 13, 2008: Hot milk topped off with coffee -- what a luxury! Don't laugh. It's something that I just never had at home. And dates and yogurt for breakfast. This is about the most exotic thing about Tehran. Almost everything else is fairly Westernized. This is a truly Westernized country. I don't think that Americans realize that. Iranians are not "camel jockeys" at all.

"One day a Persian died and was sent to Hell because he was from the Axis of Evil. In Hell, he looked around and one section of Hell looked sort of fun. 'This is the Persian Hell,' he was told. 'Why are you not like the American Hell and get burning tar poured into your mouth with a funnel every day?' 'Ah because this is the Persian Hell and we are very disorganized -- plus we have sanctions, so one day we don't have the tar and the next day we don't have the funnel.'"

We drove along a street that used to be called "Eisenhower Boulevard". Now it is called "Freedom Street".

"After the revolution, the very first company to come to Iran was Coca-Cola," said my guide. "Also Iran is the world's second largest exporter of copper." And also the second largest producer of oil.

"What about sanctions?" I asked.

"They are not working as well as expected for two reasons. First, the European community has too many investments here to support most sanctions, and, second, Iran is industrially self-sufficient in a whole bunch of areas. We even make our own cars." If sanctions were ever applied to America, we'd be screwed -- because we are in no way industrially self-sufficient.

"Our plane to Yazd is going to be delayed," said my guide. "This is due to sanctions. Airplanes and airplane parts are being sanctioned."

"But why?" It's not like these planes are being used for military purposes or nothing. Doesn't that put civilians in danger?"

"Yes. We have had a crash recently and it's hard to make repairs. We are forced to improvise. We rent planes for instance -- from Russia, Turkey and even Bulgaria. Many of our planes are in such poor shape that they aren't allowed to land at European airports." Great. That's just what I needed to hear right before our flight to Yazd. "But don't worry. We are flying on a Dutch plane today."

"But why doesn't Iran make its own planes?"

"Specialization. In today's world economy, it's not possible to make everything." Oh. So the sanctions actually do end up hurting Iran. "However, the EU can trade with Iran for anything up to 20 million dollars, and there is a lively black market." But what black market do you go to if you want to buy airplane parts? And, more important, will they serve lunch on our flight?

Once on the plane, the captain announced, "We can't take off just yet because we are missing a...." I couldn't hear exactly what it was that we were missing -- but do I really want to know?

There was a famous Iranian actor aboard our plane and he came over to talk with us. "I hear that you are the Iranian Sherlock Holmes," someone said. The actor smiled.

"I am. Only I'm better." We all laughed.

The city of Yazd appears to be pretty big from the air. Who cares! I just want to see it from the ground!