All Aboard

Iraqis fall in love with the Lionel-Industrial Complex:

The service between Baghdad and Basra resumed with little fanfare in December after a hiatus of 18 months. Few dared use it at first, but word has spread of a safe and cheap journey, and railway officials are scrambling for funds for more carriages.

“There’s been a great acceptance of the service … People do not feel anxious. They’re coming with their families,” said Abdul-Ameen Mahmoud, the railway company’s head of passenger transport.

The Iraqi General Railways Company halted the service in 2006 after killings, bombings and kidnappings intensified in the infamous “Triangle of Death”, an area south of the capital through which the line passes.

Built by imperial German and British engineers in the first two decades of the 20th century in a race between Berlin and London to control the region, Iraq’s railways were once a vital link between Europe and the Middle East.

There was a great video — I think on YouTube — that I saw once of a time-lapse journey along the rail line, but I can’t find it now.

Is Barack Obama the Blu-Ray of Democrats?

Blu-ray officially won the hi-def format war with HD-DVD this week. This odd for two reasons. One, HD-DVD was the backward-compatible format, and two, Blu-ray was backed by Sony. If you ever have to bet in a format war, there’s one rule of thumb (besides, of course, never getting into a format war in Asia): always bet against Sony.

Similarly, one would have been smart to bet that Hillary, who had a lock on endorsements and fundraising through most of 2007, was going to be the Democratic nominee.

But something resembling a tipping point seems to have occured in the last few weeks. First it was the trickle of a few superdelegates moving into the Obama camp, then the SEIU, and then the Teamsters. Then all of a sudden he’s tied in Texas polls.

There’s been a shocking lack of momentum in this campaign season. Huckabee got no bounce out of Iowa, Romney got none from Michigan, Hillary got only the smallest, survivalist bounce out of NH.

But maybe here at the end we’re reaching a tipping point — similar to the one we reached recently in GOP race — where it all starts to topple in one direction.

Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln . . .

The award for most stunningly understated paragraph of the day goes to Nicholas Kristof for this gem from today’s column about Kenyan tribal chaos:

Until he was circumcised with a machete in front of a jeering mob and then dragged off to be beheaded, Robert Ochieng had been a symbol of modern, post-tribal harmony in Kenya.

Bonus cheap political angle: if HRC wanted to hit BHO — and we know she does — she might want to cast Obama’s use of the bully pulpit to bring Kenyan leaders together as naive and ill conceived.

Urban Policy

The New York Times pleaded with the candidates in an op-ed yesterday to devote a little time to developing a real urban agenda:

By now, many Americans have heard the presidential candidates talk about issues close to the heart of rural America. They fell all over themselves to praise ethanol in Iowa and condemn nuclear storage in Nevada. But as important as rural problems are, they’re not nearly as big as the task of helping the nation’s struggling cities — where most Americans live or work. The cities have been the hardest hit as federal policies have failed or gone missing in education, housing, health care, jobs, transportation and environment, to name a few. Yet urban issues have gotten scant attention in this campaign.

Via Dana Goldstein, who provides me the opportunity to bring up my favorite Chris Matthews quote of all time:

I’m so sick of Southern guys with ranches running this country. I want a guy to run for President who doesn’t have a f**king — I’m sorry, a ranch.

Indeed.

Getting Wiggly With It . . .

Obama has said in his policy statements that he’s going to bring troops home from Iraq without permanent bases there, but unless I’m wrong, there seems to be a great deal of wiggle room in his position:

Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

But isn’t the U.S. Embassy there one of the largest in the Middle East and can’t “protecting” it amount to having a base in Iraq? Is this his wiggle room?

Also, if the U.S. supposedly “leaves” Iraq and then Al Qaeda sets up shop, we can simply reestablish a base in Iraq and/or carry out a targeted strike on AQ in what would be a sovereign nation?

When it comes to Iraq, the isssue of permanent bases will be the most significant difference between Obama and McCain. I just wonder if Obama’s being squirrely here.

And to be honest, if he is being squirrely, it doesn’t bother me one bit — it’s naive to assume that a) the U.S. can simply pull out of Iraq without any permanent (or Korea/Germany/Bosnia permanent) bases and besides, b) it would be foolish to lose the strategic benefit of having bases there in the first place. Why not just go with it? Pretend it’s a little good cop/bad cop . . .

Obama And The Lionel-Industrial Complex

Is Obama in thrall to the powerful Lionel-Industrial Complex or just skittish plane travelers? From Obama’s Transportation policy factsheet (.pdf)*:

As president, Barack Obama will continue to fight for Amtrak funding and reform so that individuals, families and businesses throughout the country have safe and reliable transportation options.

Meaning, we’re going to subsidize scaredy-cats who won’t board a plane? Can we at least call it the John Madden Transportation Act of 2009?

*And again, this is the stuff in the .pdfs — the stuff no one bothers to actually read . . .