Kevin Drum

Medical Myths

| Tue Jun. 30, 2009 10:52 AM EDT

The New York Times summarizes a few "medical myths" today, and Ezra Klein says he's glad to hear that knuckle cracking doesn't cause arthritis.  Since I'm a longtime knuckle cracker and it drives my mother crazy, I already knew this.  You gotta keep up with the latest research when you're arguing with Mom.  But this one surprised me:

8. Sugar makes kids hyper. Numerous studies show sugar doesn’t affect behavior, but most parents don’t believe this. In one study, parents were told their kids had sugar and they were more likely to report problem behavior — but in reality, the kids had consumed a sugar-free drink.

Seriously?  Sugar has no effect on kids' behavior?  This must be one of the most widely believed myths in history.  I'm not sure I want to buy the book all this stuff is excerpted from, but I might head over to the bookstore just to skim this part.  It sounds fascinatingly contrary.

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Out of the Cities, Not Yet Out of the Country

| Tue Jun. 30, 2009 10:42 AM EDT

Phase 1 of the Iraqi withdrawal plan brokered by George Bush is now complete:

Six years and three months after the March 2003 invasion, the United States has withdrawn its remaining combat troops from Iraq's cities, the U.S. commander here said, and is turning over security to Iraqi police and soldiers.

While more than 130,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, patrols by heavily armed soldiers in hulking vehicles have largely disappeared from Baghdad, Mosul and Iraq's other urban centers. Iraqis danced in the streets and set off fireworks overnight in impromptu celebrations of a pivotal moment in their nation's troubled history. The government staged a military parade to mark the new national holiday of "National Sovereignty Day," and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made a triumphant, nationally televised address.

The general consensus seems to be that this is a big deal.  And in one sense it unquestionably is: in a lot of ways, the "surge" was less about the number of new troops sent to Iraq than it was about the way they were deployed.  Gen. David Petraeus insisted from the beginning that they establish a direct presence in neighborhoods throughout Baghdad and other cities, and that presence — along with several other factors — played a substantial role in reducing violence.  Now that presence is gone.

And yet — those "other factors" were a big deal.  In combination, they were certainly a bigger deal than the surge itself.  So the big question now is whether the Sunni Awakening holds; whether Muqtada al-Sadr has genuinely been defanged; whether the sectarian cleansing of the past couple of years is over; and whether Maliki can keep things together if and when Kirkuk blows up.  And the even bigger question is whether he can do that when he no longer has American troops as a backstop to his own power.

We won't know that until U.S. troops actually leave the country, not just regroup outside the cities.  That's the real test.

I'm Back

| Tue Jun. 30, 2009 1:13 AM EDT

New York City was lovely, thanks for asking.  But imagine my surprise when I came back and discovered that my absence meant twice the usual amount of catblogging last Friday.  That's above and beyond the call of duty from David Corn, who was filling in for me while I was gone.

Needless to say, I really was on vacation.  My catblogging post was written last Tuesday and showed up on Friday via the miracle of prescheduled posting.  Don't believe me?  Here's a nice picture of the Statue of Liberty at sunset to prove that I was in the Apple this weekend.  Still not enough?  I also have some lingering inner ear wobbliness thanks to flying with a cold, which I plan to use as an all-purpose excuse for the rest of the week if I write anything unusually off kilter.

Anyway, this is just a placeholder to let everyone know I've returned safely, full of good deli and Italian food.  Blogging on matters of actual substance will resume Tuesday morning.

Iran: Election Results Confirmed, Any Protests?

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 2:30 PM EDT

Kevin is still gone. He'll return tomorrow. Until then, you have me.

Today, Iran's Guardian Council, after a partial recount (that was fast!), declared that--stop the presses!--Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidential election. Some Iranians not happy with this decision wanted to express their outrage. But, it seems, there were no organized protests. A contact in Tehran, who opposes the government, emailed me this note:

We went to Valiasr Street, but at this part it was just plain-clothes [security officers] and police. People couldn't stop and we came back home. Valiasr Street is about 12 miles, longest street of Tehran and Iran. People say in north of Valiasr Street, people gathered but police tried to disperse crowed using tear gas. Today many people in the street were showing V with their fingers to each other. I think hope for change spreads among the people.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm at the Personal Democracy Forum conference today. And as I got the above email, I was speaking to John Kelly, chief scientist of Morningside Analytics. He has studied Internet usage in Iran. Kelly was telling me that he's worried that social netowrking could interfere with successful organizing in Iran. How so? After all, such a remark sounded like blasphemy at this gathering, where speakers and attendees routinely speak of the transformative political power of the Internet.

Kelly explained that his concern was not related to a prospect that had been discussed at a panel discussion on social networks and Iran: that a repressive government can easily penetrate and/or block social networks to undermine or disrupt an opposition. Instead, Kelly said, he wondered if social networking--blogging, Twittering, forwarding email--gives people the feeling they are participating in an opposition and leads them to believe they don't have to hit the streets.

Of course, Twitter and the rest can facilliate opposition by spreading the word about protest actions. But does social networking also undercut old-fashioned in-the-street networking? (It seems clear that autocratic governments tend not to yield power without being confronted physically and, often, violently.) I don't know if Kelly is right or not. But it was interesting to hear him note that the sword of Twitter might have two edges.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

That Afghanistan Election

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 11:20 AM EDT

Kevin is off until Tuesday. I'm blogging for him until then.

As I noted recently, keep your eye on Afghanistan's ongoing presidential election. From AFP:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday criticised the US ambassador's presence at a meeting calling for a decentralisation of his government, adding he would fight such moves "tooth and nail".

Karzai said ambassador Karl Eikenberry's attendance at a press conference this month, where a leading rival to the president in the August 20 elections had called for the change, was deeply sensitive and "raises concerns".

This was especially because of recent US and British media reports of plans laid in "Washington and in London to bring a change into the structure of governance in Afghanistan to weaken the central government of Afghanistan," Karzai said.

There's been plenty of tension between the Obama administration and Karzai. At his first White House press conference, President Obama noted that Karzai's government was "very detached" from the rest of the country. That was quite a slam.

Since then--especially when Obama unveiled his strategic review concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan--the White House has tried to downplay its dissastisfaction with Karzai. But Karzai is accutely aware of it. And now he's making it part of his reelection strategy. This might help him. His government has been plagued by corruption and incompetence. But there's a lot of popular anger at the United States military for its bombing assaults, which kill innocent civilians, and its raids on homes, which humiliate and intimidate Afghans. If Karzai holds on to power by playing the anti-USA card, it will not make Obama's already difficult job in Afghanistan any easier.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

McCain and the Internets

| Mon Jun. 29, 2009 9:25 AM EDT

Kevin is on a break until tomorrow. I'm filling in until he returns to the helm.

Remember that delicious story last year about John McCain's admission that he could not use a computer on his own? It seemed to symbolize his out-of-touchness--especially when he had to run against a candidate who seemed to have the Internet in his DNA. At the annual Personal Democracy Forum conference, which began this morning in New York, the first panel discussion included Mark McKinnon, who was an adviser to the McCain campaign (until Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination) and Joe Rospars, who handled new media for the Obama campaign. Andrew Rasiej, the founder of PDF, opened the chat with what he thought was a quasi-provocative question: Mark, did McCain really not understand or use the Internet?

McKinnon should have had an answer to this obvious question. Something like:

Well, he was not the most ardent user of email and computers, but he quickly became one and certainly understood the signficance of the Internet in commerce, communication, and democracy. Look, he's actively Twittering these days. And his Twitters about Iran even get attention from reporters who then ask the White House about them. So he's fully engaged with this stuff.

But McKinnon said none of this. In fact, the GOP consultant didn't even try to answer the question. He went on about how the digital revolution has changed politics, journalism, and the music business. (McKinnon is a failed professional songwriter.) He talked about how the Internet has made it so much easier for campaigns to harnass the enthusiasm of volunteers. (Duh.) He praised Obama--whom he had told McCain he could not work against--for his campaign's innovation. (Duh, again.) He took a shot at Al Gore for claiming to have invented the Internet. (Which Gore did not claim.)

But McKinnon didn't say anything about McCain and the Internet. He totally ducked the question. I would take that silence as confirmation of that 2008 meme. Any other explanation?

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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Iran: What's Next?

| Sun Jun. 28, 2009 11:38 PM EDT

Kevin is still away. He'll be back on Tuesday. I'm filling in until then and will be blogging from the Personal Democracy Forum conference on Monday.

On Sunday, thousands of Iranians protested against the government, gathering at the Goba mosque in Tehran. Mir Hossein Mousvai's wife and presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, were part of the demonstration. Mousvai, according to some reports, addressed the crowd via a cellphone. But this rally, smaller than previous demonstrations, will likely not cause the headline writers of The New York Times to reconsider the title on Sunday's dispatch from Iran: "In Tehran, a Mood of Melancholy Descends."

It does seem that the opposition might have lost steam--though we ought to recall that it took the last Iranian revolution two years to take hold and take power. On Sunday, a Tehran  filmmaker I've met via email sent me the below dispatch. This person is a Karroubi supporter and wants those of us in the West to realize that not all the opposition Iranians are Mousavi fans. It's a good point, since conventional media coverage often does turn complicated, full-of-nuance situations into binary, easy-to-shorthand episodes. S/he believes the opposition could regain momentum in the days ahead and writes:

It's been said both Mousavi and Karroubi are under house arrest, but every once in a while they are allowed to appear in public. Karroubi stayed in the Goba mosque just half an hour while he joined protesters and walked away with them. I think he couldn't stay more.

Well it's like new wave of demonstrations gonna start in next days, people talk about making a long human chain tomorrow. New faces coming up, just like [cleric] Hadi Ghaffari and some Ayattollahs. There is video and audio file of Ghaffari's speech against Khamenei on the Internet. It's just released today and I think in couple of days the whole country know about it and it may encourage people to go on.

People were waiting for Hashemi Rafsanjani's speech. They counted on him to stand in front of Khamenei. But after two weeks he spoke today and in a very moderate way supported Khamenei. Now it's like the waiting is over and there is no middle path to go.

You know , I think the government also enjoys this situation! I mean if they wanted to steal votes they could do it in a more convincing way. They could simply say Ahmadinejad has 500,000 more votes than Mousavi. They want to make the people angry. Ahmadinejad calls people who voted for other candidates "dust." Khamenei threathens the nation while he could have made a more cautious speech.They attack ordinary people. I don't know what the hell is going on behind the scenes, but pieces of puzzle just don't match.

I think Mousavi was not the man this nation needed, All he talked about before election was that "I have these plans because Khomeini wanted this for this society". It's sad the people who were pissed off at religion suddenly started repeating his religious slogans. People wanted a secular government but since Mousavi came everybody just forgot that aim.

What really upsets me is that we were 13 million voted for Karroubi. We protest the election results. Most of the politician arrested in past days were supporters of Karroubi, but the whole world consider us in the opposition as Mousavi's supporters!

Those of us watching from far away cannot easily suss out what is happening in Iran, and alas, the same applies to the nation's own citizens.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Meanwhile, in Iraq and Afghanistan....

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 4:42 PM EDT

Kevin is off for a few days--and not in Argentina. He'll be back and ready to blog on Tuesday. In the meantime, I will be your pilot.

Under usual circumstances, the withdrawal of US troops from a theater of war would be considered a big deal.

Not these days.

The United States has begun to pull troops out of Iraq, and there's not much attention being paid--even with the explosion of violence in Iraq this week. (Insert gratuitous Michael Jackson reference here.) And there are other milestones to look ahead to within Iraq. Reuters notes:

Many observers see Iraq's most crucial milestone being the parliamentary election next January, rather than the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from town and cities by the end of this month.

That vote will be a defining test of whether the country's feuding factions can live together after the years of sectarian bloodshed unleashed by the 2003 U.S. invasion.

"Security gains in a narrow sense will be of limited value unless the ... election is turned into a thoroughly inclusive affair where Iraqis get the opportunity to discuss fundamental issues of national reconciliation in an open atmosphere," said Reidar Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and editor of Iraq-focused website www.historiae.org

This is something else to look forward to being insufficiently covered within the American media.

Just like the Afghanistan presidential election campaign now in process. From Politico:

Without strong preemptive action by the Obama administration and the international community, Afghanistan’s impending elections could be just as suspect — and have just as dire consequences — as Iran’s, a top opponent to Afghan President Hamid Karzai claimed on Tuesday.

“The possibility of a Kenya or a Zimbabwe or an Iran looms large,” said Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former World Bank official and Karzai adviser now challenging him for president in the Aug. 20 election.

Well, what would you expect a Karzai challenger to say? But what if he's right? A bad election in Afghanistan would truly undermine the US operation there. The International Crisis Group, a savvy NGO, has put out a report outlining the election challenges in Afghanistan. The group's South Asia project director, Samina Ahmed, notes: 

Ultimately, it is the perception of the Afghan population that will measure electoral success. If they are to be encouraged to vote, they must be confident that their ballots will count. But if perceived to be unfairly conducted, elections could provide a potential flashpoint.

Isn't Afghanistan already a flashpoint? Ugh.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

Has Obama Done Enough?

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 3:49 PM EDT

Despite that cat blog posting you see below this one, Kevin is on vacation. At least, he's suposed to be on vacation. Expect him back with non-cat blogs on Tuesday. I'm subbing until then.

Okay, I know that Michael Jackson died, but there's a bill heading to a vote in the House this afternoon that's billed by President Barack Obama as a "historic first step" toward dealing with the threat of climate change. As I type, it looks like a nail-biter.

At the daily White House press briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked what Obama was doing today to help pass this legislation. Gibbs said that the president had made "a few" calls to House members. A few? Does that sound like a big push? We weren't given many more details. But it certainly didn't seem as if Obama is pulling an all-out LBJ. Was the White House trying not to attach Obama's prestige to a cap and trade bill that might crash and burn? Hard to know what's going on behind the scenes. But I certainly wouldn't mind being a fly on the wall in Rahm Emanuel's office—unless, of course, Obama is there. (Smack!)

I wonder if Obama and his team have made efficient use of Obama Nation—that is, those millions of people who supported his campaign. Yesterday Organizing for America—the offshoot of the Obama presidentical campaign, which is housed within the Democratic National Committee—sent out an email to its list (of presumably millions), asking followers to visit a website page that shows how to call your representatives and what to say in support of the energy bill. It's a pretty spiffy and sophisticated web operation. Was it kicked into gear too late? Obama's millions were not fully mobilized prior to this late stage.

But you can't call this an error until the votes are counted. If the bill passes, the White House played it right. If not....

Meanwhile, Al Gore stayed away from the House today—there was some talk in Washington that he would parachute in—and posted a blog item explaining his support of the bill:

There is no back-up plan.  There is not a stronger bill waiting to pass the House of Representatives.  It’s time to get started on a plan that will create jobs, increase our national security, and build the clean energy economy that will Repower America.

Please contact your Member of Congress today.

Gore has not been a major presence in the debate on this bill. Democratic strategists must assume that he doesn't help much with those Ds or Rs on the fence. That's probably an accurate assessment. But if the bill flops, media commentators will be consumed with second-guessing how the White House and Speaker Pelosi handled it—if they're not busy pondering the Michael Jackson autopsy results.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

 

 

 

Friday Cat Blogging - 26 June 2009

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 3:00 PM EDT

Sure, I might be on vacation, but that doesn't mean there's no Friday Catblogging this week.  What kind of monster do you think I am?

But if I'm on vacation, then Inkblot and Domino get a vacation too.  So this week, courtesy of reader Randy G., we have some guest catblogging.  The pile of furballs on the right are Lennie and Louie, and as you can guess, they're littermates.  Sigh.  I want a pair of littermates some day.  They'll be 14 years old next month, but if you'd like to see pictures of them as kittens, along with their mentors Ralph and Alice, just click here.  It's bonus historical kitten blogging!