TEHRAN — Amir, an engineering master’s student standing outside Tehran University, had thought about going into digital marketing, but worried that Iran’s government would restrict Instagram, as it had other apps. He had considered founding a start-up, but foresaw American sanctions and raging inflation blocking his way.
Every time he tried to plan, it seemed useless, said Amir, who at first would not give his real name. He was afraid of his country, he said, and he wanted to leave after graduation.
“I’m a person who’s 24 years old, and I can’t imagine my life when I’m 45,” he said. “I can’t imagine a good future for myself or for my country. Every day, I’m thinking about leaving. And every day, I’m thinking about, if I leave my country, what will happen to my family?”
This is life now for many educated urbanites in Tehran, the capital, who once pushed for loosening social restrictions and opening Iran to the world, and who saw the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States as a reason for hope.
But three years ago, President Donald J. Trump reneged on the agreement and reimposed harsh economic sanctions, leaving these Iranians feeling burned by the Americans and isolated under a newly elected president at home who is antithetical to their values — a hard-liner vowing further defiance of the West.
After years of sanctions, mismanagement and the pandemic, it is easy to put numbers to Iran’s economic struggles. Since 2018, many prices have more than doubled, living standards have skidded and poverty has spread, especially among rural Iranians. All but the wealthiest have been brought low.
But there is no statistic for middle-class Iranians’ uncertainty and increasingly pinched aspirations. Their darkening mood can best be measured in missed milestones — in the rush to leave the country after graduation, in delayed marriages and declining birthrates.
In conversations around Tehran during a recent visit, Iranians wavered between faith and despair, hope and practicality, wondering how to make the best of a situation beyond their control.
In Tehran for the day to run errands — he needed a phone, she had government paperwork — Bardja Ariafar, 19, and Zahra Saberi, 24, sat on a bench in Daneshjoo Park, exercising one of the subtle social freedoms Iranians have carved out under the strict theocracy in recent years. Despite a ban on gender mixing in public, men and women now sit together in the open.
The friends work at Digikala, the Amazon of Iran, sorting goods in a warehouse in Karaj, a suburb now full of ex-Tehran residents seeking cheaper rents. Mr. Ariafar said he was supplementing his income as a computer programmer. Ms. Saberi, like many overqualified young Iranians, had not found a job that would let her use her Persian literature degree.
If and when Ms. Saberi marries, she and her family will have to pay for their share of everything the couple would need, from household appliances, new clothes and a customary mirror-and-candlesticks set to a house. The groom’s family will supply a gold-and-diamond jewelry set for the wedding.
But after Iran’s currency, the rial, lost about 70 percent of its value in just a few years, her family could no longer afford it.
The rial plunged from about 43,000 to the dollar in January 2018 to about 277,000 this week, a decline that forced the government last year to introduce a new unit, the toman, to slash four zeros off the bills. But everything from rents to clothing prices is based on the dollar because most raw materials are imported, so Iranians are spending much more of their incomes on much less.
In 2020, the percentage of Iranians living on the equivalent of less than $5.60 per day had risen to 13 percent from less than 10 percent a decade ago, according to an analysis by Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, a Virginia Tech economist. It was worse in rural areas, where about a quarter of the population lives in poverty, up from 22 percent in 2019.
Increasingly, Iran’s middle class has felt the pressure. Mr. Ariafar’s new smartphone cost him 70 percent of a month’s wages.
“It’s hard to succeed and develop in Iran,” he said, “so maybe that’s my only choice, to go abroad.”
But for Ms. Saberi, leaving was not an option.
“This is my home, my land, my culture,” she said. “I can’t imagine leaving it. We have to make it better, not flee.”
In July, Iranian authorities unveiled a solution to Iran’s marriage and childbirth crisis: a state-sanctioned dating app. But for the young Iranians the authorities would like to start families, matches may not be the problem.
Standing in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, Zahra slid on a braided gold-and-diamond wedding ring, the jewelry store’s overhead lights glinting off her hot-pink manicure.
“How much?” she asked, holding her finger up for her fiancé’s inspection.
“We’ll give a good discount,” replied Milod, 38, the owner.
“Do you have any fake diamonds?”
“No, but I’ll give you a good discount,” he repeated.
“I don’t want real diamonds,” she said, removing the ring.
With the price of gold up tenfold, by jewelers’ estimates, in the past few years, more couples have opted for costume jewelry. Others marry in small, hurried ceremonies, while saving up to leave. Some postpone marriage into their 30s; others are priced out.
The next step, too, has edged out of reach.
Would-be parents are troubled by the possibility of further unrest, even war. No one knows whether the ultraconservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, will curb the few social freedoms that Iranians have carved out like the Western music throbbing through many cafes or even the tattoos snaking up young people’s arms.
And will the economy ever become strong enough to give a child a good life?
Zahra Negarestan, 35, and Maysam Saleh, 38, got lucky — up to a point.
They married six months before Mr. Trump reimposed sanctions. Soon after, everything they were expected to buy before marrying doubled in price.
“It was bad then,” Ms. Negarestan said. “We didn’t think it could get worse.”
The couple, who recently started a business selling pottery wheels, said they have both always wanted children. Yet they keep putting off a decision.
“You can either have a very objective view of things — to have a baby, I need insurance, I need a job with this much income,” said Mr. Saleh, who works for a water treatment company and freelances in video production. “Or you can base it on faith — once you have a baby, God will provide. But on any given day, my practical side is winning.”
Ms. Negarestan has held onto some optimism.
“Maybe,” she said, “he or she will find a better way to live.”
But if they have a baby and the country deteriorates, she said, they will leave.
Between hope and despair, there is compromise.
For some, it involves getting married in fake jewels and a rented dress. For others, it involves smuggling.
Tehran’s rich can still find Dutch coffee filters and baby carrots from California, at a price, thanks to a cottage industry of small-time sanctions-busters. On the capital’s streets, late-model AirPods poke from ears, and any traffic jam might include a shiny Range Rover.
When Fatemeh, 39, started working as an information technology engineer 17 years ago, she said she earned enough to save for a house and support a comfortable life. Three children and a steep economic decline later, however, she needed to pad her income.
After the 2018 sanctions, as foreign clothing stores disappeared or raised prices, she detected opportunity. Soon, she was paying Iranians in Turkey to buy products online and fly or drive them home.
Three years later, business is brisk. Her customers pay a 20 percent markup for foreign brands rather than resign themselves to Iranian ones.
“It’s not like with the sanctions, you say, ‘Goodbye lifestyle, goodbye everything that I wanted,’” she said. “We try to find a way around it.”
Yet even after doubling her income, Fatemeh said she was barely keeping up. Her children’s school costs four times what it did a few years ago, she said, and her grocery bill has quintupled.
With two more years’ hard work, she said, she might just catch up to inflation — longer, if things got worse.
Trump-backed challengers to Republican lawmakers lag in fundraising
By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four candidates backed by Donald Trump to challenge Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach him or boot him from office are falling behind in raising money for their campaigns, according to disclosures filed on Friday.
Trump, who left office in January, remains a major influence within the Republican party, which hopes to regain control of the U.S. Congress in next year’s elections.
Only a handful of Republicans joined Democrats when Congress voted to impeach Trump and then held an unsuccessful vote in the Senate to remove him from office, on a charge he incited insurrectionists to attack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Trump has called the Republicans who crossed him “disloyal” or “losers,” and they have faced scorn within their party. Several have said they will retire or not seek re-election.
But those who are facing Trump-backed candidates in upcoming party nomination contests so far have raised more money than their challengers, which might help them counter Trump’s campaign against them.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a moderate who was one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump in the Senate, raised $1.1 million between July and September, more than the twice the $466,000 raised by her Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka, a former state administration commissioner endorsed by Trump.
Murkowski – who ended September with $3.2 million in the bank, more than 10 times what Tshibaka had – raked in money from corporate-run donor committees, according to a disclosure Murkowski filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Murkowski also raised more than $75,000 through a joint fundraising effort with several senators endorsed by Trump, including Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who voted against convicting Trump.
Raising more money by no means guarantees victory, but it can help candidates buy expensive television advertisements and pay campaign staff.
Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who is widely seen in great peril of losing her seat because of her vote to impeach Trump and her vocal criticism of the former president, raised $1.7 million during the three-month period.
Her Trump-endorsed opponent, attorney Harriet Hageman, entered the race in early September and raised about $300,000, or roughly $100,000 a week, shy of Cheney’s fundraising pace.
Cheney, the highest-profile lawmaker of the 10 Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted to impeach Trump, drew donations from a number of Wall Street executives, including Blackstone Chief Investment Officer Prakash Melwani. Hageman received a donation from billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel.
Trump has also endorsed opponents to U.S. Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state, who both voted to impeach him.
Upton raised $293,000 between July and September, more than the twice the $116,000 raised by his Trump-endorsed challenger, state lawmaker Steve Carra.
Herrera Beutler not only voted to impeach Trump, she submitted evidence in his Senate trial against the former president. She took in $524,000 during the period, outraising Trump-backed Army veteran Joe Kent, who raised $452,000.
Trump also endorsed his former White House aide Max Miller to challenge U.S. Representative Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, who said in September he would not seek re-election. Miller’s disclosure filed on Friday showed his campaign raised $695,000, most of which came from a half-million-dollar contribution he made to his own campaign.
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Leslie Adler)
The Music Lost to Coronavirus, Part 3
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This past summer, it briefly seemed as if the worst of the coronavirus might be behind us. But despite some encouraging signs — like the concert business amping up again — the pandemic’s landscape continued to shift; the Delta variant spread widely, and deaths rose again. Many musicians and people integral to the music business have been lost to Covid-19.
On this week’s Popcast, the third in a recurring series, a handful of remembrances of musicians who died during the pandemic:
Jacob Desvarieux, one of the founders and the core arranger of Kassav’, the band that pioneered zouk music, who died at 65.
John Davis, one of the actual singing voices behind the façade-pop supernova act Milli Vanilli, who died at 66.
Chucky Thompson, a hip-hop and R&B producer responsible for hits by Mary J. Blige, the Notorious B.I.G. and others, who died at 53.
Doreen St. Felix, television critic at The New Yorker
Gil Kaufman, senior writer and editor at Billboard
Jeff Mao, longtime music journalist and D.J.
Connect With Popcast. Become a part of the Popcast community: Join the show’s Facebook group and Discord channel. We want to hear from you! Tune in, and tell us what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow our host, Jon Caramanica, on Twitter: @joncaramanica.
The Highs and Lows of Finding Love on the Spectrum
Long before he was diagnosed with A.S.D. at 35, Steve Asbell of Orange Park, Fla., had one of his worst dating experiences. He had traveled to Kansas to see a woman he considered to be his “long-distance girlfriend.” It was only after approximately “43 missed social cues and 71 euphemisms” that he understood what was happening. “If I had known what the word ‘hookup’ meant, I would have stayed home,” Mr. Asbell said.
Now happily married at 38, Mr. Asbell said that he “was never the one to ask a girl out.” Dating in the “conventional sense,” he said, felt odd to him because he had to juggle “conversation and politeness, all while eating and holding eye contact. It was like a job interview that never ended.”
These issues are now becoming more widely understood, as the romantic lives of autistic adults are increasingly represented in popular culture. Helen Hoang, a 39-year-old romance author, was newly diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when she wrote “The Kiss Quotient,” a romance novel about an autistic woman who hires a male escort to teach her about dating and sex. Her second novel, “The Bride Test,” is about an autistic man who avoids relationships because he doesn’t believe he’s capable of love, so his mother takes it upon herself to find him the perfect bride.
“It’s important to show autistic people having romantic lives,” Ms. Hoang said, because it “combats the desexualization and infantilization of autistic people, represents autistic people in a more complete and authentic way, and shows individuals within the autistic community who lacked hope before that it’s possible.”
A popular Netflix reality show, “Love on the Spectrum,” gives an inside view of what dating and relationships are like for young autistic adults. The show debunks the stereotype that autistic people aren’t interested in romance, dating and relationships.
While many in the autistic community found “Love on the Spectrum” to be a sensitive portrayal, not everyone did, of course. Stim4Stim, a podcast hosted by Charlie H. Stern and Zack Budryk, who are both autistic, was founded on their disappointment with how the show portrayed the romantic lives of autistic people.
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