Following on my previous post about Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri's letter to the Iranian people in support of the protesters now crowding the streets of Tehran, Bloomberg has an interesting piece on the tensions between the "supreme leader" of Iran's clerical establishment, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and Iran's former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Though neither man stood for election, the resulting furor over the results has increasingly pitted them against one another as the battle has been joined for the future of Iran. And it is tensions like these, between leaders of the ruling class that fomented the 1979 Revolution, that are now undermining the government's ability to control events. "The divisions within the ruling elite in Iran are making it very hard for the authorities to crack down decisively," Iran expert Mohammed-Reza Djalili told Bloomberg. "The divisions are getting deeper and deeper." 

Meanwhile, at his special Friday sermon in Tehran (see Mother Jones' Kevin Drum and Steve Aquino for more), Khameini declared an "absolute victory" for Ahmadinejad, telling worshippers that Iran's president won by 11 million votes. A decision on a recount is due to be reached on Sunday, reports The National. It's unclear what impact Khameini's statement might have on the opposition, but massive protests are again being planned for this weekend.

More on Khameini's sermon from NPR:

"If the difference was 100,000 or 500,000 or 1 million, well, one may say fraud could have happened. But how can one rig 11 million votes?" he said during Friday prayers at Tehran University, adding that the "legal structures and electoral regulations of this country do not allow vote rigging."

"Some of our enemies in different parts of the world intended to depict this absolute victory, this definitive victory, as a doubtful victory," he said, repeating a claim that foreign media and governments – specifically in the U.S. and Great Britain – were to blame for the week of unrest following the vote.

"It is your victory. They cannot manipulate it," he said.

Khamenei also issued a thinly-veiled threat, saying that leaders "must be determined at the ballot box ... not in the streets."

"If there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible," he said.

Lots of Blue Marble-ish news afoot on this Friday. Here's a sampling:

Side deals! Side deals! Who wants a side deal?: Word has it that Waxman and Markey are desperately chasing after midwestern Dem support for their climate bill. But it doesn't have to be that way, says Kevin Drum.

Photo of the Day: We're still at war.

Most CO2 ever: Well, practically. Earth has reached its highest concentration in 2.1 million years. So that means people will probably pay attention to Times Square's new 70-foot greenhouse gas ticker, right? Not so much.

Excuse me, waiter, there's a cow in my KFC: Since when is beef a spice?

In his first public sermon since last Friday's presidential election, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a stark warning to the opposition leaders who are disputing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election: halt the protests or be "responsible for bloodshed and chaos."

Khamenei charged that the public dissent that has swept Tehran this week "questions the principles of election and democracy." Opposition leaders and their supporters reportedly did not attend, and have yet to respond.

In the last few days, supporters of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and other reformers had hoped that the outpouring of discontent across Iran might cause the Guardian Council and other authorities to take a more conciliatory stance. Instead, the ayatollah threatened a violent crackdown, leaving the opposition very little room to maneuver.  Following the sermon, Wayne White, a former State Department intelligence analyst with expertise on Iran, sent out an email to colleagues concluding that the sermon does not bode well for the reformers:

Those who have talked of the regime's need for compromise, Khamenei's fears and hesitation, etc. urgently need to reconsider seriously the overall situation.

Khamenei's sermon today appeared to have closed the book on substantial concessions to the opposition and its ardent supporters on the streets. Although the Guardian Council's review might still be underway technically, Khamenei reiterated flatly that Ahmadinejad was and remains the winner and warned protesters to get off the streets or face and be responsible for the consequences. In fact, Khamenei rendered an accurate evaluation of the relatively insignificant investigation and partial recount supposedly underway: the margin of victory the regime has accorded Ahmadinejad (albeit falsely and shamelessly) was so wide that the collection of individual complaints involved in the recount probably could not erase Ahmadinejad's victory (even if most all of the complaints were ruled valid by a biased Guardian Council led by a notorious hardline cleric who probably was party to the election theft scheme in the first place).

The conservative, anti-reform establishment's patience would appear to have worn out at this point, and now we can expect a ramped-up crackdown on demonstrations and other signs of dissent with most of the media previously able to record such ugly, brutish behavior now largely swept conveniently away and much of the country's prominent reform-oriented leadership behind bars. Many accurate reports on the unfortunate events to come doubtless will get out to the world, but probably only the proverbial tip of the iceberg regarding the totality of the violence that may well be pending. As has been the case already (especially away from the main demonstrations and in other cities beyond Tehran less generally accessable to the media), the crackdown will likely become gradually more severe and more costly in terms of casualties, with the regime hoping that such a paced escalation can drive the protests to ground without one huge confrontation.

A report this morning by email or some such routing from Iran read out on, I believe, CNN came from a hospital (specific location unknown to me) speaking of numerous civilian casualties flowing in—both dead and badly wounded—with authorities arriving to prevent any personal data from being recorded and taking away the arrivals. Such is being carried out by the same ruthless, fanatical elements that dragged an ailing Ebrahim Yazdi out of a hospital intensive care unit on Wednesday. I very much fear that this is the future.

I would like nothing more than to post analysis that would convey more hope and less in the way of dire warnings, but, with considerable sadness, the above is what I truly believe to be yet another emerging bottom line that will increasingly define the remainder of this crisis. Over the long-term, especially with the steady mounting of demographics largely against this now more bare-knuckled, abusive authoritarian order, the days of the regime are numbered, but the robust, admirable challenge mounted in the course of this crisis may well be unable to overcome such violent countermeasures this time around. [Emphasis added.]

In his sermon, the ayatollah made a point of calling Ahmadinejad's re-election an "epic moment that became a historic moment." If White is correct, the aftermath of the election will indeed be "epic" and "historic"—but not for the reasons that the ayatollah believes.

Read Kevin Drum's take here.

Happy Friday to the cats and the frog. Three quick MoJo must reads before you glue yourself to today's Iran coverage:

1) Sotomayor With A Starr

Conservative legal stalwart Kenneth Starr has endorsed Obama's Supreme Court pick. David Corn broke the news, writing: "He noted that he has not written any official endorsement letter for Sotomayor but that no one had asked him to do so—suggesting he would if requested." How will Rush, Newt, and other 4-letter-word Republicans take it? Read more.

2) John Ensign's Interns Pack It In

Now that anti-gay marriage Sen. John Ensign has admitted his own opposite-marriage problem with The Ladies, will we get an Ensign resign? Note to Ensign interns: MoJo's hiring! Join our scandal-free DC bureau and investigate your ex-boss and his ilk for a living. Read more.

3) Did Lead-Laced Sludge Taint Michelle Obama's Garden?

It's not easy being green. After the National Park Service disclosed that the White House plot was a wee bit toxic, lead-based paint was fingered as the culprit. But what if the real plot problem is the Clinton-era "very clean poo" once used to fertilize the White House South Lawn? Read more.

Plus, keep an ear out later today for David and Kevin's week-in-review podcast.

Last fall, John McCain hailed Sarah Palin as "experienced" and "talented." He declared, "she knows how to lead," and he predicted that "she's really going to have a remarkable impact on the American people." Nowadays, McCain doesn't follow her on Twitter.

Palin, as of Friday morning, had 34,558 followers of her feed on Twitter. The Arizona senator is not among them.

Happy Friday to Kevin's cats and the MoJo frog. Three quick MoJo must reads before you glue yourself to today's Iran coverage:

1) Sotomayor With A Starr

Conservative legal stalwart Kenneth Starr has endorsed Obama's Supreme Court pick. David Corn broke the news, writing: "He noted that he has not written any official endorsement letter for Sotomayor but that no one had asked him to do so—suggesting he would if requested." How will Rush, Newt, and other 4-letter-word Republicans take it? Read more.

2) John Ensign's Interns Pack It In

Now that anti-gay marriage Sen. John Ensign has admitted to his own opposite-marriage problem with The Ladies, will we get an Ensign resign? Note to Ensign interns: MoJo's hiring! Join our scandal-free DC bureau and investigate your ex-boss and his ilk for a living. Read more.

3) Did Lead-Laced Sludge Taint Michelle Obama's Garden?

It's not easy being green. After the National Park Service disclosed that the White House plot was a wee bit toxic, lead-based paint was fingered as the culprit. But what if the real plot problem is the Clinton-era "very clean poo" once used to fertilize the White House South Lawn? Read more.

Plus, keep an ear out later today for David and Kevin's week-in-review podcast.

This week I’ve been writing about the destruction of all the best elements of health care reform in the name of political expediency. Most significant is the bait-and-switch that’s taking place on the “public option”–which was supposed to provide a government-run alternative to private health insurance plans. Through the handiwork of some Senate Democrats seeking bipartisan compromise, the public option is quickly devolving into something that really isn’t public at all.

The latest news on this subject comes via Ezra Klein’s Washington Post blog, which reported last night on the content of a new health care reform bill drafted by the Senate Finance Committee. After an earlier proposal from Ted Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee was widely attacked for its liberal ambitions and high price tag, the Finance Committee is floating a cheaper—and, of course, weaker—alternative. According to the highlights provided by Klein, subsidies for the poor have been reduced, Medicaid eligibility has been tightened, and “There’s no public plan mentioned anywhere in the document.”

What is in the Finance Committee’s draft, and slated for further discussion, is a scheme for health care “co-ops” that would pool individuals and businesses together into consumer co-operatives to purchase health insurance and services. (Kaiser Health News has profiled one existing co-op in Seattle.)  The idea was first proposed by North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad, and supported by Finance Committee chair Max Baucus. Baucus has been talking out of both sides of his mouth on the public plan for some time, and seemed to quickly latch onto the co-op idea as means to having it both ways.

That's the question the Travel Channel is taking on the road for its new reality show (and a new low for TV): "America's Worst Driver." You know that saying about not being able to look away from a car crash? Well, now you'll get to watch lots of car crashes. And rewind them, pause, get up and use the bathroom, saunter over to the refrigerator and, yes, flip on the slo-mo—all from the comfort of your home.

A casting call on the Travel Channel's website says that the predictably ill-fated show will "determine which city boasts America's worst driver. Each week a number of bad drivers from a particular city will compete in a series of driving challenges designed to ferret out that city's worst driver." (Whereas, here at Mother Jones, we're all about safe driving—and even hypermiling.) At the end of it all, the winners (or is it the losers?) from New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, Seattle, and San Francisco will battle it out for the title in what I can only hope is a Demolition Derby-meets-bad-cable-TV showdown.

So, MoJo reader, which city do you think has the worst drivers in America? After a summer spent dodging cabbies, errant tourists, and indifferent New Yorkers in Manhattan, my vote goes to New York.

Quote of the Day

From Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Iranian filmmaker and external spokesman for Mir Hossein Mousavi, telling Foreign Policy magazine that rapprochement with Iran will only happen when both Iran and the United Status have leaders willing to put aside bluster and pursue real engagement:

FP: Would Mousavi pursue a different foreign policy than Ahmadinejad?

MM: As you may know, former President Mohammad Khatami, who is supporting Mousavi at the moment, was in favor of dialogue between the civilizations, but Ahmadinejad talks about the war of the civilizations. Is there not any difference between the two?

We are a bit unfortunate. When we had our Obama [meaning President Khatami], that was the time of President Bush in the United States. Now that [the United States] has Obama, we have our Bush here [in Iran]. In order to resolve the problems between the two countries, we should have two Obamas on the two sides. It doesn't mean that everything depends on these two people, but this is one of the main factors.

Actually, Khatami served most of his first term during Bill Clinton's non-blustery presidency, but at the time both presidents were too afraid of conservative backlash at home to make any real progress in U.S.-Iranian relations anyway.  Still, Makhmalbaf is right that it's more helpful than the alternative.  Keep your fingers crossed.

No word on when or whether we'll get an Ensign resign, but yesterday the hypocritical Senator left his post as the chair of the Republican Policy Committee, so are they packing up boxes at the HQ? A couple of hours ago, this tidbit on Roll Call:

In an e-mail sent to intern coordinators in Senate offices on Thursday afternoon, Ensign’s coordinator Jessica Walton said she is looking to place an unspecified number of the Nevada Republican’s interns in other offices. “This is Jessica from Ensign’s office. I am trying to find out if anyone has any openings for interns. I have some really great interns that want to relocate to another office. If you have anything or know of someone who does please let me know,” Walton wrote in the e-mail.

Clearing out the committee worker bees? Calling it quits altogether? Interns begging for another name for the resume? Whatever, hey interns: We're hiring! Join our scandal-free DC bureau and investigate Senators for a living; we promise not to let you down.