2009 - %3, June

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 23, 2009

Tue Jun. 23, 2009 2:58 PM EDT

A UH-60 Black Hawk from Task Force 34, 1st Battalion 244th Assault Helicopter Battalion flies over a mosque during a routine flight on Feb. 27. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

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Quote of the Day

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 1:48 PM EDT

From Barack Obama, asked why he won't spell out the consequences of further violence in Iran right now:

"I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not. OK?"

Good for him.  Obama was noticeably tougher toward the Iranian regime in his press conference today ("The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days"), but he remained firm in his refusal to say anything that would allow the regime to pretend that the protesters are in any way tools of Western powers:

The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in Iran — some in the Iranian government, in particular, are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others in the West of instigating protests over the elections.

These accusations are patently false. They're an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran's borders.

This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won't work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States or the West; this is about the people of Iran and the future that they — and only they — will choose.

This is obviously becoming a harder line to walk as events progress in Iran, and I expect it to become harder still over the next few days.  So far, though, Obama has done pretty well.

Best in Blog: 23 June 2009

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 1:28 PM EDT

Three MoJo stories we're liking today:

1) Shock and Audit: The Hidden Defense Budget

Mother Jones dissected the defense budget so you don't have to. You thought $600 toilet seats were bad? Here's how the Pentagon really spends money. Read more.

2) China Corners the Keffiyeh Market

How did a pro-Palestine American hipster trend force the last Palestinian keffiyeh maker to shutter his business? Read more.

3) 98% of Eco Products Not Eco

A study of 4,000 "eco-friendly" consumer products found rampant greenwashing among almost all of them. Will Congress clamp down on misleading claims? Read more.

Plus: Check out the comments on Kevin's "Obama Derangement Syndrome Watch" post.

Europe to Out-Whale Japan

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 1:04 PM EDT

The International Whaling Commmission is meeting in Portugal this week, which is appropriate as it looks like this year Europe may kill more whales than Japan.

In a related note, it looks like that in at least one small Japanese fishing town, the local Buddhist priest is keeping track of the whales killed by locals. Upon death, the whales are given a Buddhist name that is entered into an official death register, much like a human's would be. The town has been recording the whales' deaths for 320 years. There's even a grave (complete with headstone and flowers) for the fetuses of whales found in their mother's bodies. I'm not at all in favor of whaling, but I suppose if you're going to do it, it's nice to at least commemorate the animals' deaths. Although one could argue, if you really respect the animal, you wouldn't kill it in the first place.

Obama the Cheerleader

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 12:49 PM EDT

Tyler Cowen provides us with a Three Word Explanation:

Median voter theorem.

It's my first-cut account of a lot of what is going on in the newspaper headlines.  Yet somehow I rarely see it mentioned, even when I read very prominent social scientists commenting on current policy.

By this, I assume Tyler is suggesting that the reason big-ticket programs like national healthcare and climate change legislation have bogged down lately is because the median voter hasn't changed much over the past few years.  Congress and the presidency may have changed hands, but public opinion has shifted only slightly, and that means there's not really a very big appetite for dramatic change.

Barack Obama, of course, is the guy who has the job of changing this.  But can he?  Here's something written about Obama before last November's election:

Watching him in action for the past year, one thing has become more and more clear: He doesn't seem inclined to use his oratorical skill to truly shape public opinion. He's only using it to win votes.

....It's not clear yet if he gets this. His speeches soar, but they rarely seem designed to move the nation in a specific direction. Is he pushing the public to support cap and trade even though it might cost them a few dollars? Or merely to vote for "change"? It's sometimes hard to tell.

This is hardly an original concern. Liberal pundits have been stewing for months over the question of whether Obama is too cautious to win big victories, too invested in a narrative of bipartisan unity to get his hands dirty in a real street fight. As a former community organizer he understands the power of direct action, but does he understand how to shift public opinion on a national scale? And is he willing to try?

That was me back in October.  I'm still wondering. It's not so much that I think Obama has to abandon his bipartisan approach and approach politics as an endless blood sport, but that he needs to engage with the public much more sharply than he has until now.  When he talks, people listen, but I don't get the sense that they light up congressional switchboards the next day. One of these days, they need to start.

The Future of Engagement

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 11:34 AM EDT

If the Iranian regime successfully beats back the challenge of Mir Hussein Mousavi and millions of protesters, what happens next?  Matt Yglesias says it makes engagement with Iran impossible:

The hope behind an engagement strategy was that the Supreme Leader might be inclined to side with the more pragmatic actors inside the system—guys like former president Rafsanjani and former prime minister Mousavi. With those people, and most of the Iranian elites of their ilk, now in open opposition to the regime, any crackdown would almost by definition entail the sidelining of the people who might be interested in a deal. Iran would essentially be in the hands of the most hardline figures, people who just don’t seem interested in improving relations with other countries.

But what if Mousavi wins?  Jonah Goldberg says it doesn't matter:

If the forces of reform and democracy win, Obama's plan to negotiate with the regime is moot, for the regime will be gone. And if the forces of reform are crushed into submission by the regime, Obama's plan is moot, because the regime will still be there.

Put me on Matt's side.  If Khamenei wins, Obama's engagement policy probably becomes impossible, both on practical and moral terms.  But if Khamenei falls, what's the problem?  Sure, "the regime will be gone," but there will be a new regime in its place.  Engagement would most likely be on hold for a while as it finds its feet, and it's possible that even in the longer term the new regime would find it impossible to negotiate with the U.S.  But it's also possible that they'd be more likely to negotiate with the U.S.  We don't know, and neither does Goldberg, who never explains why he thinks Obama would find it impossible to engage with a new regime in Iran.  He just seems to hope it's true.

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Best in Blog: 23 June 2009

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 11:19 AM EDT

Three MoJo stories we're liking today:

1) Shock and Audit: The Hidden Defense Budget

Mother Jones dissected the defense budget so you don't have to. You thought $600 toilet seats were bad? Here's how the Pentagon really spends money. Read more.

2) China Corners the Keffiyeh Market

How did a pro-Palestine American hipster trend force the last Palestinian keffiyeh maker to shutter his business? Read more.

3) 98% of Eco Products Not Eco

A study of 4,000 "eco-friendly" consumer products found rampant greenwashing among almost all of them. Will Congress clamp down on misleading claims? Read more.

Plus: Check out the comments on Kevin's "Obama Derangement Syndrome Watch" post.

A Dispatch from Tehran

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 11:12 AM EDT

Babak Rahimi is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of California, San Diego, who has been in Iran studying the elections. He's on his way home. But he sent this email:

I've difficulty having access to my yahoo account here.

This is the latest [information] I've (though much that I have here is based on what I have heard from pro-Mousavi people. I can't confirm any of them, except the first one, which I've seen that myself).

1. The Basij has literally taken over the major parts of the city--at nights that is.
The Sepah seems to be still standing in the background, but they have issued another statement calling for more crackdowns.

2. Mousavi has apparently issued a strike for today, Tuesday. Kurdistan is also going on strike.

3. Rafsanjani appears to be in Qom, mustering support for an eventual confrontation with the pro-Khamenei faction in Tehran.

4. The pro-Mousavi rallies will continue until 18 Tir, the anniversary of the crushed 1999 student uprising. Also, there are plans for a massive rallies for the 40th day of those who have been killed (especially for Neda) by the state police.

I predict more days of violence and bloodshed.
 

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, June 23

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

The Blue Marble's not the only place where we cover science, health, and environment news. Here's a Tuesday morning roundup from the rest of Motherjones.com:

On settling: Some enviros want to hold out for a new and improved Waxman-Markey climate bill, while others say the current version is our best shot at saving the climate before it's too late. Who's right? Well, you decide.

And you thought you didn't care about land use: Kevin Drum shows how smart transportation and land policy can dramatically decrease greenhouse gas emissions, in both the city and the country.

Healthcare cronyism alert: We know why Republicans oppose the public option, but what about the Dems who keep resisting it?

 

Deadly Collision on the DC Metro: The Questions Begin

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 5:25 AM EDT

The latest numbers have at least seven people dead and dozens more injured in the terrible rush-hour crash on the Washington Metro's Red Line (see David Corn's photos from the scene here).

There’s been no official word yet about what caused the crash. But here’s a roundup of some possibilities.

By last night, the Washington Post had quickly confirmed what veteran Metro riders might  have suspected: The automatic “fail-safes” had failed. The Post reports: 

Metro was designed with a fail-safe computerized signal system that is supposed to prevent trains from colliding. The agency’s trains are run by onboard computers that control speed and braking. Another electronic system detects the position of trains to maintain a safe distance between them. If they get too close, the computers automatically apply the brakes, stopping the trains. These systems were supposed to make yesterday’s crash impossible.

This isn’t the first time the Metro’s signal systems have failed–the Post documents several others. The computerized system was also shut down for a year and a half in 1999 to 2000, and the system run manually by train operators, because repairs were needed on the communications relays that are also supposed to prevent trains from coming close enough to collide: