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AN IRAN WAR CHECKLIST

Writing in Sunday's New York TimesMagazine, Ronen Bergman wonders, "Will Israel Attack Iran?" It's a riveting piece. Read it in full at tinyurl.com/tbt-attackiran. Here's an excerpt.

As we spoke, (Israeli Defense Minister Ehud) Barak laid out three categories of questions, which he characterized as "Israel's ability to act," "international legitimacy" and "necessity," all of which require affirmative responses before a decision is made to attack:

1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran's nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?

2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?

3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran's nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?

For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid 1990s, at least some of Israel's most powerful leaders believe that the response to all of these questions is yes.

Prisons and profits

In "The Caging of America" in the current New Yorker, Adam Gopnik poses the question: "Why do we lock up so many people?" He points out a stunning number: Six million people are under correctional supervision in America - more than were in Stalin's gulags. Read his piece in full at tinyurl.com/tbt-caged. Here's an excerpt about the trend toward privatization of prisons.

Agrowing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It's hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible. No more chilling document exists in recent American life than the 2005 annual report of the biggest of these firms, the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men.

Residents of cities, friends of the Earth

Scientific American excerpts Mark Lynas's book The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans in which he makes the counterintuitive case that urbanization is good for the planet: "From the perspective of sustainable land use and habitat protection, the more that growing numbers of people can be persuaded to herd themselves into relatively small areas of urban land, the better for the environment." Read more at tinyurl.com/tbt-urban. Here's a sample.

In many parts of the world, if you want to marry the person you choose, be gay, be female and economically successful, or avoid daily backbreaking labor carrying water or fetching firewood, then you probably need to move to the city. In 1975 there were just three mega-cities of over 10 million people. Today there are 21. It sounds scary, but this unstoppable shift towards urbanization actually ranks as one of the most environmentally beneficial trends of the last few decades. As the U.N. Population Fund wrote in a recent report: "Density is potentially useful." With world population at 6.7 billion people in 2007 and growing at over 75 million a year, demographic concentration gives sustainability a better chance. The protection of rural ecosystems ultimately requires that population be concentrated in non-primary sector activities and densely populated areas.

City living is seldom lauded by environmentalists, but it may be our most environmentally friendly trait as a species, because urban dwelling is vastly more efficient than living in the countryside. Shops and other services are more concentrated in town and city neighborhoods, and urban residents are much more likely to use public transport, share heating and housing, and have lower carbon footprints than their rural brethren.

Corner office autocrats

Harper's magazine excerpts Killing the Competition: How the New Monopolies Are Destroying Open Markets by Barry C. Lynn. He points out that from Silicon Valley to chicken farms, monopolies are changing the face of work for the worse. Read more at tinyurl.com/tbt-monopoly. Here is a sample.

Many if not most Americans can no longer count on open markets for their ideas and their work. Because of the overthrow of our antimonopoly laws a generation ago, we instead find ourselves subject to the ever more autocratic whims of the individuals who run our giant business corporations.

The equation is simple. In sector after sector of our political economy, there are still many sellers: many of us. But every day, there are fewer buyers: fewer of them. Hence, they enjoy more and more liberty to dictate terms - or simply to dictate. ... And so, as every previous generation of Americans also understood, monopolization of our public markets is first and foremost a political crisis, amounting to nothing less than the re-establishment of private government. What is at stake is the survival of our democratic republic.

Up next:THE SKINNY

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