Iranian Americans Sound the Alarm on the Hurtful Impact of U.S. Sanctions on Ordinary Iranians

In publications across the country, Iranian Americans are joining increasing calls for diplomacy and dialogue between the United States and Iran. A main driver for this majority sentiment is the unfolding humanitarian disaster in Iran, where the weight of U.S. sanctions are borne by the average, innocent civilian person. In a country where 95% of the population receives government-funded healthcare, attempting to suffocate Iran’s government by starving its economy and announcing harsh penalties for dealing with Iran has meant that access to international medicines have dried up. Young children in need of sophisticated, non-generic cancer medications are going untreated. Below, we sample a few recent headlines shedding light on this critical scenario.

In this article, Mina Shahinfar describes her experience witnessing Iran under sanctions, and explains, “[e]conomic sanctions are a form of warfare on people who are just trying to make ends meet.”

A Newsweek article draws on the trauma of war and the harrowing experiences of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s to advocate for peaceful resolutions to the impasse with Iran.

In July, CNN reported that a small group of Iranian Americans turned to the legal system for recourse and justice for their loved ones. The families filed their lawsuit in the Central District of Southern California, and it depicts a sad picture of fractured relationships and heartbroken families. One of the more frequent grievances emerging under the Trump Era immigration policy has been the failure to grant waivers or exceptions to the travel ban.

Also this month in Foreign Policy, Abbas Kebriaeezadeh, a professor of pharmacology at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences, pens a piece straightforwardly explaining the grim reality facing medical patients in Iran:


“What may seem like sterile banking sanctions are truly much more dangerous. These sanctions disrupt the access of the Iranian public—especially the poor, the elderly, children, women, and patients suffering from chronic diseases—to the medications they require. Medicines become more expensive and of worse quality. An unreliable supply chain leads to incomplete treatment of diseases and their becoming chronic. The crisis deepens when the slowdown in domestic production increases the country’s need to import drugs. All this is happening against the backdrop of the Iranian government’s strained resources as it is forced to import medicines at a higher price tag in those instances when a banking channel is available.”

by USIRCC Staff

LEGISLATION UPDATE: THE UDALL-KAINE AND KHANNA-GAETZ AMENDMENTS

Many closely followed the progress of the Udall-Kaine and Khanna-Gaetz bipartisan amendments to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sought to prevent an unauthorized war with Iran. Slightly staggered in procedural timing, both amendments passed the House in June and July, but also failed to pass in the Senate, and ultimately were not part of the NDAA reauthorization.

By way of reminder, the House amendment was led by U.S. Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA/17th district) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL/1st district). The Khanna-Gaetz amendment clarified that existing war authorities passed by Congress in the aftermath of 9/11 authorizing military action against al-Qaeda and related organizations are not legal justification for war with Iran. The amendment retained the president’s powers under the War Powers Resolution, which allows the president to go to war in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” The Khanna-Gaetz amendment passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, with a final 250-170 tally.

The Udall-Kaine amendment would have prohibited taxpayer dollars from being used for military operations against Iran without explicit authorization from Congress, and had garnered bipartisan support in light of constitutional concerns with abdicating congressional authority to the executive branch. Although the Udall-Kaine amendment failed to pass with the necessary 60 Senate votes, a significant total of 50 Senators supported the amendment. Together, the amendments reflected strong bipartisan support for exhausting diplomatic options regarding Iran, and preserving congressional authority vis-à-vis the executive branch.

by USIRCC Staff

Persian Women in Tech at the Helm of Women of MENA in Tech Conference

On June 22, Persian Women in Tech (PWIT) hosted its Annual Women of MENA in Tech conference at London City Hall. The conference theme was “Entrepreneurship 2020: Rethinking Purpose, People, and Profit.”

Sepideh Nasiri, founder of PWIT, led discussion panels on business and STEM with a mix of guest speakers, ranging from 11-year-old Tara Sharifi, a self-described math and technology lover, who scored the highest possible score on the MENSA IQ test, to Dr. Ali Parsa, Founder and CEO of Babylon Health, whose mission is to put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth, and a panel with company founders like Paria Ghorashi, CCO of Blowout & Go beauty company, Zara Riahi, CEO of tech startup Contilio, Sara Ahmazi CEO of Shopest, and Rana Alqrenaw, M2 Founder at Zinc Ventures Limited.

Panelists shared personal stories about the humble beginnings of their companies, and many emphasized ‘passion’ as a driving force in creating a successful business regardless of the industry, whether it be technology or fashion. Nasiri recalled a portion of the discussion spent on debunking the assumption that a fashion company is easier to launch with marketing targeted largely toward women. “There’s no easy route for any entrepreneur,” Nasiri said. “They all survive it every day to build that business out.”

Photo Credit: Reyhaneh Mohamadi

Building a sense of community among MENA professionals remained a highlight throughout the PWIT-hosted conference, as well as the importance of networking and investing in resources to lift ambitious individuals further in their careers.

In 2020, PWIT plans to launch a two-week program called NextGen University for young women to explore entrepreneurship through experienced mentors, connections with Tech companies and educational workshops. “They [will] know that ‘I can be anything and I can combine my passion with the work that is available currently in the workplace,’” explains Nasiri.

PWIT will begin fundraising on August 1 for its new initiatives and to extend its reach in providing resources for the future generation of entrepreneurs. If interested in donating, sponsorship and partnership opportunities, please email info@persianwomenintech.com.  Upcoming events in July hosted by its global chapters can be viewed on PWIT’s site at: http://www.persianwomenintech.com/events.

by Maristela Romero

Price-Rigging in the Poultry Industry: Agri Stats Subscription-Based Industry Data Service Under Fire from DOJ

Back in 2017, Bloomberg published an article sounding the alarm bells on a service called “Agri Stats.” Agri Stats is a private service that produces confidential weekly reports based off data gathered from poultry processors, which it then distributes to companies paying for a subscription to the service. Agri Stats differs from information services used by other industries in both the level of detail provided and the speed the information is made available to those with a subscription; reports include statistics which range from bird sizes, to product mix, to financial returns of plants who participate in the service but are kept anonymous in reports, or over 95% of United States poultry processors in total.

Agri Stats maintains that the intensive reports it provides to its subscribers violates no antitrust laws, stating that the information they provide is historical in nature and includes no information about future pricing. However, the intensive level of detail provided by Agri Stats combined with the secrecy surrounding the reports has drawn critics. By providing subscribers with the prices per pound of different companies’ product mixes along with the specifics of what each mix includes, subscribers are able to effectively anticipate the future actions of their competitors along with future pricing. Another troubling aspect of Agri Stats reports is their inclusion of a caloric breakdown of the feed used by participating plants, information which can be used by companies to match their calorie counts with competitors in order to maximize profits per bird. There is nothing inherently illegal about providing subscribers with this information, as illegal collusion occurs when companies plan with one another to cut production ahead of time with the specific intent of raising prices. Law professor at the University of Wisconsin and former Justice Department antitrust lawyer who has studied Agri Stats while researching the modern poultry industry, Peter Carstensen, states that the level of detail provided in Agri Stats reports is unusual because unlike similar reports in other industries which stick to averages and more general information, Agri Stats provides enough information for participants to collude with each other and ensure everyone is upholding their end of the deal. It is also alleged that the anonymity provided by Agri Stats is weak as a result of Agri Stats “Bottom Line Report” which breaks down key financial metrics including interest expenses, as lawyers state it is relatively easy to match any anonymous data against publicly available records.

There have been numerous lawsuits filed against Agri Stats as a result of suspected antitrust violations, but none have gotten anywhere. Since 2017, the questionable behaviors surrounding Agri Stats have given rise to a landmark price-fixing lawsuit in which Maplevale Farms allege that the largest poultry companies coordinated process between 2008 and 2016, resulting in a 50% increase in price for broiler chicken despite decreases in the costs of inputs like chicken feed. Maplevale alleges that Agri Stats played a key role in making it possible for companies to collude on price increases and other companies including Walmart have since filled lawsuits making similar allegations. In separate lawsuits farmers also allege that poultry companies use Agri Stats to coordinate and decrease farmer’s wages. All of these allegations have been denied by the accused poultry companies. The allegations also claim that the poultry industry as it currently exists, is highly consolidated, with just two companies, Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride, controlling about 40% of the market, and the top 10 poultry companies controlling nearly 80% of the market.

The lawsuit became all the more intense when on June 21, 2019, the DOJ stepped in and asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to stop discovery in Maplevale’s class-action lawsuit, saying in a motion that they required a limited stay in order to protect the investigation by the grand jury. The stay applies to “all defendant employee and former employee depositions,” and was granted temporarily, waiting for the results of a hearing on the Department of Justice’s request for a six-month stay. This intervention by the DOJ is significant because it indicates the DOJ believes there have been one or more real and serious violations requiring grand jury inquiry and potential criminal indictments. This would be monumental for victims of this alleged price fixing, as currently the poultry companies being accused of colluding through use of Agri Stats control around 90% of the poultry industry. The DOJ stated they would also charge those who played significant roles in price fixing, which means Agri Stats could be included as well and receive penalties.

Within the past days, the Department of Justice’s request for a six-month stay was granted by the court, though it was shortened to three months.

by Kalyan Emerick

Medical Devices: FDA-Cleared vs. FDA-Approved

To be sold legally in the United States, a medical device must be either cleared or approved by the FDA. Both “FDA-cleared” and “FDA-approved” provide a reassuring and lofty appeal to the casual observer, but the difference in these terms is stark and significant.

FDA-approved medical devices must undergo testing carried out on humans along with meeting stringent standards (note, however, that the manufacturers are tasked with performing their own clinical testing in pursuit of approval). FDA-cleared medical devices, on the other hand, are those that have been determined by the FDA to be substantially similar to another legally sold medical device. The practical effect is huge – with only one class of devices having undergone direct, device-specific testing.

Unlike with FDA-approved devices, no human testing is required for FDA-cleared devices. Instead, companies must submit a 510(k) to the FDA for review.

 The 510(k) is a premarket submission made to the FDA to demonstrate that the device to be marketed is at least as safe and effective, in other words, substantially equivalent, to a legally marketed device that is not subject to premarket approval. The 510(k) pathway is a system created by the FDA exempting companies from more thorough device testing as long as they are substantially similar to a product that has come before. The intention of this system was to ensure innovation was not impeded, but it also inadvertently made possible a method allowing devices to be similar to past devices dating from decades before, to the point where the differences could outweigh the similarities. Once a 510(k) submission is approved and the device is FDA-cleared, future 510(k)

submissions can refer to this latest FDA-cleared device; they are not required to refer solely to FDA-approved devices for support. Because 510(k) submissions are not required to make “primary” references to FDA-approved devices, successive layers of FDA-cleared devices will emerge that rely on an ever-lengthening historical chain of FDA-cleared devices. This dilutes the value of 510(k) submissions, much like the way that copying copies of keys over and over compounds minor distortions and ultimately results in a useless key. Translated to medical devices, as the differences between the devices compound in 510(k) submissions over time, we know less and less about the safety and efficacy of medical devices on the market. Today, the majority of medical devices on the market are FDA-cleared, not FDA-approved.

According to the Internal Consortium of Investigative Journalists, over the past ten years there have been upwards of 1.7 million injuries and 80,000 deaths potentially relating to medical devices. Many of the devices involved were FDA-cleared as opposed to FDA-approved, and had not been tested in a clinical trial setting prior to being implanted in patients. A recent example of the potential risks of FDA-cleared medical devices is the 2018 case of DePuy Synthes, a franchise of orthopedic and neurosurgery companies.

DePuy Synthes had developed a hip replacement procedure using a metal ball and socket,  which was FDA-cleared as it was deemed to have substantial similarities to six previous devices, and shared traits with devices from as far back as 1975. Despite FDA-clearance, the metal hip devices experienced degradation problems and high failure rates; the resulting damage to patients caused by DePuy’s metal hip devices has resulted in over $3 billion in settlements. These damages, along with complaints by patients, led to the FDA revoking FDA clearance for the devices and forcing the manufacturer to seek FDA approval.

by Kalyan Emerick

5G: What is it, What Makes it Different, How does it Impact Cybersecurity, and Is it Safe?

5G refers to the fifth generation of wireless technology, and offers three main improvements over the current 4G standard: greater speed, lower latency, and higher bandwidth. The 5G radio system, known as 5G-NR, is not compatible with 4G, but the first 5G phones will keep 4G as a supplement while 5G coverage spreads. Despite the arrival of 5G, 4G technology can and will continue to improve in terms of speed, keeping it comparable in that regard. The pressure on tech companies to demonstrate that they are on the forefront of the latest technology is fierce, leading some companies to make 5G-like references to what are actually improvements in their 4G technology, such as AT&T’s “5G Evolution.”

What makes 5G promising is its massive capacity combined with low latency beyond what can be achieved with 4G. Latency is defined as the time it takes for a source to send a packet of data to a receiver, and is typically measured in milliseconds. Taking advantage of larger clear blocks of airwaves than were available for 4G, the 5G network can operate on much larger channels than 4G, allowing it to carry higher speeds. The 5G network will also be able to leverage wider bandwidths and advanced antenna technologies to boost capacity over current systems. This affords a 5G network higher speeds and higher regional capacities, all at a lower latency than 4G. The higher bandwidth and lower latency of 5G means more potential for streaming and connected services. For example, due to bandwidth and latency restrictions with the current 4G network, driverless cars are held back in utility as they can only control themselves and are unable to communicate with other cars. The increased bandwidth and low latency of 5G would make possible the large-scale level of device communication and instant response time required for connected driverless cars on the road.

The wide array of new services made possible by improvements brought with 5G will bring new security concerns as well. One area of concern is the increased bandwidth of 5G; the increased communication made possible by 5G will require stricter security measures for smart home appliances, among other things.

Regarding safety concerns for the new 5G network technology, 5G uses millimeter wave frequencies which are shorter than the typical frequencies used by 4G and Wi-Fi signals, and therefore, higher in energy. 4G LTE can use frequencies of around 2.5 GHz, while Wi-Fi uses frequencies of around 5 GHz. In contrast, the millimeter wave frequencies used by 5G can be as high as 300 GHz. This extra energy output raises concerns of potential unknown health risks associated with 5G. However, under current scientific and medical reasoning, to cause damage, radiation must be high enough to be considered ionizing. Despite having a much higher energy level than 4G or Wi-Fi, the energy put out by 5G networks does not come close to this threshold. Whether advances in science and medicine lead to changes in this understanding remains to be seen.

by Kalyan Emerick

Iranian-American Civic Leadership: Parisa Dehghani-Tafti Beats Incumbent to Win Northern Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney Primary

Last month, the Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce highlighted the campaign of Iranian-American Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the nominee for commonwealth’s attorney in the Northern Virginia counties of Arlington and Falls Church. The commonwealth’s attorney serves as the elected prosecutor of felony crimes in Virginia (in most states, the job is referred to as a “district attorney”).
 On June 11, Virginia held its primary elections, in which Dehghani-Tafti ran against the two-term Democratic incumbent, Theo Stamos, who held the position for seven years. Dehghani-Tafti ran on a platform of criminal justice reform, and won the primary with 52% of the vote.

In response to her primary win, Dehghani-Tafti tweeted, “I am humbled and honored at the trust the voters of Arlington and the City of Falls Church have placed in our campaign. This election wasn’t about me but about the community’s recognition that criminal justice reform is one of the civil rights issues of our time.” Virginia’s general election will be held on November 5, 2019.

by USIRC Staff

Diplomacy with Iran: Who Would We Be Talking To Anyway?

Much to the dismay of Iranian-Americans and everyday Iranians in Iran, a steady smoke has been rising from the heat of US-Iran relations over the past few months. For the time being, it remains to be seen whether this smoke is rising from the embers of war, or as smoke signals of diplomacy. As the global community awaits news with bated breath, it is worth asking: who would we be talking to anyway? In this regard, it is worth examining the profiles of Iran’s most senior foreign diplomats: Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and UN Ambassador Majid Takht-Ravanchi. 

Foreign Minister Zarif is by now well known to Americans attune to US-Iran trade relations. He was the primary JCPOA negotiator on behalf of Iran, and is a career diplomat and academic. He previously served from 2002 to 2007 as Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, and has served as Iran’s foreign minister since 2013. Recently, he has been making rounds on a number of major media outlets to expound the virtues of diplomacy while holding fast to Iran’s rights to self-defense and autonomy, including two widely observed interviews with Margaret Brennan of CBS’s “Face the Nation” on April 25 and with Charles Wallace of “Fox News Sunday” on April 28.

Ambassador Takht-Ravanchi is no stranger to the JCPOA, and also served as one of Iran’s top negotiators. He previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Political Affairs to President Rouhani, and served as Iran’s Ambassador to Switzerland from 2002 to 2006. Last month, and after a five month vacancy, President Rouhani appointed him in his new role as Iran’s Ambassador to the UN. The position is considered Iran’s most important foreign diplomatic posting, and makes Ambassador Takht-Ravanchi the highest-ranking Iranian official in the United States.

Both of these Iranian diplomats share the hallmarks expected of top international diplomats – such as foreign language skills, legitimate standing within their governments, and relative international astuteness. But these characteristics are not what makes them interesting for purposes of dialogue with the United States. Rather, both men share robust educational backgrounds from the United States. This aspect of their characters significantly changes – and strengthens – the orientation of diplomatic dialogue with the U.S.

At age 17, Javad Zarif left Iran for the United States, where he attended Drew College Preparatory School, a private high school located in San Francisco. He then attended San Francisco State University, graduating with a B.A. in 1981 and M.A. in 1982, both in international relations. Zarif then continued his studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, where he graduated with a second M.A. in international relations in 1984 and a Ph.D. in international law and policy in 1988. Takht-Ravanchi has a similarly extensive Western education. He graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering. He then received a M.A. in International Political Economy from Fordham University in New York. Outside of the U.S., he received a Ph.D. from the University of Bern in Political Science.

Education matters because language matters. The Obama Administration learned that the otherwise innocuous political science phrase “carrots and sticks” would undergo a “cultural” translation in Farsi that amounted to calling Iranians donkeys, animals which are in colloquial Farsi associated with a lack of intelligence. More and more Americans today are coming to understand that the Persian expression “marg bar” (literally, “death to”) is one of frustration more so than an indication of murderous intent. (The author of this article admittedly barks “marg bars” with some frequency to Miss Siri of the iPhone). Farsi is after all, a colorful language – where the equivalent of “shutup” literally translates to wishing someone the “poison of a snake”.

Familiarity matters because small talk matters. Where tensions are high, diplomatic strides often come in the smallest of packages. Careful observers of US-Iran trade relations may have drawn parallels between Ambassador Takht-Ravanchi’s years of experience in Kansas, and that of Mike Pompeo, who moved to Kansas in 1998 and represented Kansas’s fourth congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017. If the smoke signals clear the way for dialogue, it stands to reason that U.S. diplomatic endeavors would fall on linguistically and culturally capable ears.

by USIRCC Staff

Iranian-American Civic Leadership: Parisa Dehghani-Tafti Runs for Arlington-Falls Church Commonwealth Attorney of Virginia


On June 11, the Commonwealth of Virginia will hold its primary elections, which will offer Democrats in Arlington and Falls Church a choice for a nominee for Commonwealth’s Attorney, the chief prosecutor for those two jurisdictions.

This year, the two-term incumbent, Theo Stamos, is challenged by a political newcomer, Iranian-American Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. Dehghani-Tafti built her legal career on criminal justice reform, and currently serves as the legal director for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.

Among her campaign issues, she is calling for reform to the Arlington-Falls Church prosecutor’s office, and draws attention to issues of equity and transparency. If elected, Dehghani-Tafti has pledged to increase transparency and accountability, focus on serious crimes, eliminate cash bail, and expand diversion programs. Her focus on transparency and evidence-based and equitable practices in law enforcement have caught the attention of many legal groups in Virginia, and she has the endorsements of Former Governor Terry McAuliffe, Marcus Simon, Delegate for Virginia’s 53rd District, and Former State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, among many others.

The Iranian-American Chamber of Commerce is pleased to recognize Dehghani-Tafti’s campaign, which serves as a great example of how Iranian-Americans can serve meaningful, important roles as civic leaders in the United States. Her official campaign website is https://parisaforjustice.com/.

by USIRCC Staff

Trade & Tariffs: Investigations of Dried Tart Cherries from Turkey

Iranian-Americans and connoisseurs of Persian cuisine are amply familiar with dried sour (tart) cherries. A staple of Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine, most Iranian-Americans and Iranians are unaware of the larger international trade story behind the dried fruit that is featured in so many dishes, jams, syrups and candies. Much like the storied history of the rivalry between California and Iran regarding pistachios, this new trade investigation pits Michigan against Turkey, no pun intended.

In the United States, an investigation into whether a foreign product is being sold at less than its fair value, or benefits from an unfair subsidy, begins with the U.S. domestic industry that produces a similar product to the imported one. The majority of U.S. domestic producers of the like product file petitions with both the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission (ITC). The Commerce Department investigates whether the foreign product is being sold at less than fair value and calculates a percentage to “correct” for the underpricing (countries that grant their companies significant subsidies, or have lax labor laws, are just two examples of how companies are able to “afford” such underpricing). The ITC investigates whether the U.S. domestic industry has been injured by the foreign imports. Only if both the Commerce Department and the ITC make positive determinations of undervalued pricing and injury will a trade remedy, or tariff as they are colloquially known, be put in place.

On April 23, 2019, U.S. domestic producers of dried tart cherries, who are mostly based in Michigan, petitioned the Commerce Department to investigate imports of dried tart cherries from Turkey. U.S. producers are arguing that the Turkish cherries are being imported into and sold in the United States for less than what it costs to produce them. In fact, the U.S. producers in Michigan are arguing that imports of dried sour cherries from Turkey are undervalued by more than 628%! As a result, U.S. producers of cherries are unable to compete with these unfairly low sales prices. Within 45 days of the petition filing, the ITC determines whether there is injury to the U.S. domestic industry. If it does so, the investigation proceeds to the Commerce Department, which will calculate preliminary corrective percentages, or margins, intended to “correct” the price of the imported goods at the border. The ITC’s preliminary injury determination is due June 7, 2019. Depending on whether there are any postponements on the side of the Commerce Department, preliminary tariffs are expected to go into place between late June to October. Over the coming months, keep an eye out for changes in pricing – if you have enjoyed a regular source of dried sour cherries and did not know they were Turkish imports, you likely can expect a price increase later this year.

by USIRCC Staff