NASA uses its GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment) satellites to measure the differential in gravity from place to place across the Earth to infer differences in water content. Launched in 2002 in partnership with the German Aerospace Center and the German Research Center for Geosciences, it is the first accurate observation of water availability from space. If that sounds a lot like GRAIL, which recently spiked into the moon, that’s because it is precisely the same technology.

GRACE is helpful, as they say, “when hydrologic observations are not routinely collected or shared beyond political boundaries.” In other words, where people don’t particularly like us.

And their observation? Second only to the Indian subcontinent, the Fertile Crescent is losing a shocking amount of fresh water:

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.; and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., found during a seven-year period beginning in 2003 that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of total stored freshwater. That is almost the amount of water in the Dead Sea. The researchers attribute about 60 percent of the loss to pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs.

The presser goes on to state that this amount of water would service as many as 100 million people. Where would that much water go?

As much as one fifth of the loss is due to drought in the region. But the rest is purely a function of irrigation and siphoning of water away from the ground and into cities.

When we talk about destabilizing forces in a region, the too-often missed component is fresh water. Without fresh water, humans cannot survive. And when groundwater becomes municipal well water, it becomes political and a commodity. Particularly in this region, that is worrisome.

TalkingPointsMemo.com’s Sunday roundup is a great one this week, but I wanted to flag out one specific side of the issue of the president’s response to Iran: ownership.

Beyond the politics of the last thirty years of Iranian/American relations, American involvement in foreign affairs tends to suck all the oxygen out of the room for all other parties. Once it becomes a reality that the United States has decided to get involved in an issue, even the least interested parties tends to suddenly shift their focus to us rather than to the issue at hand.

So, once we own the Iranian revolution, what do we do next? Especially since even the most reform-minded Iranians is completely disinterested in our involvement? Do we send troops? Do we impose sanctions that will inevitably hurt the people we supposedly support more than the leadership? Do we fire a bunch of missiles and act like nothing happened? Or how about another toothless UN resolution?

Apart from using this issue to call the Democratic president a coward to score parochial points, I’m not seeing much in the way of ideas on this issue from the Right.

Iran’s Supreme Leader had decided he’s had enough and will be starting no investigations at all. Khamenei announced this morning at Tehran University that the demonstrations are illegal and that the election was fair.

I am afraid this may be the entirely wrong move to make. Especially after announcing he would investigate the election, this announcement is basically an admission of wrongdoing. Its also the most obvious move for an authoritarian government which relies on the cult of personality and the perceived strength of the leadership.

I think that this might be blood in the water for protesters who have gotten used to their voice being heard by the world.

I just can’t keep my eyes off the Iranian election. It’s fascinating, mostly because it’s hard to know where all the forces at work in this most fascinating of elections come from.

And so, with a profound lack of knowledge on Iranian affairs, I present my unordered list of questions I have no answers to.

Is the clerical power center encouraging the opposition parties in this election? Dissent is not often encouraged in Iran and no Iranian leader has lost his gig as fast as Ahmadinejad might be. Is this an expression of Iran’s leadership’s dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejad?

OK, if this is a legitimate social movement – and even if it isn’t – can the leadership pull some funny business with the vote and pull the country from the brink? Would they want to do that? What would be the reaction of all these hopeful young people of Ahmadinejad wins? What would be the reaction if there is a suggestion that the election is rigged?

And I hate to ask it, but is there a possibility of violence at the end of this election? There’s a lot of emotion already in a country where elections are traditionally moments when the leadership legitimizes itself.

I guess we’ll know at least the answers to a few of these questions by lunch time, tomorrow. Richard Engle was on Rachel Maddow’s show this evening saying that the voting and counting is predicted to happen fast. We’ll see.

I’m no expert in Iranian politics, but Friday looks like it could be really interesting. There have been many rumblings over the last month that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chances of getting reelected were getting slim and now it looks like he’s starting to get desperate.

Experts I have read have suggested that really no president of Iran since the Revolution has ever had much to worry about in elections, suggesting that perhaps Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s problems are a reflection of the ruling clergy’s opinion of him more so than the people’s. And though it would pain him to do it, I am sure, Ahmadinejad might consider taking a queue from the Republican Party’s recent history and recognize that denying economic problems won’t con anyone.

Meanwhile, there are some in the States who are suggesting that Barack Obama’s election to the White House may have something to do with this and the elections in Lebanon. Well certainly, it can’t hurt that we’ve deposed a shit-talking cowboy and elected an intellectual man of peace with an Arab name. It’s just one less talking point. But to suggest Obama’s presence has altered the geography of Lebanese politics – to say nothing of Iranian – is just narcissistic. No, the recent run-in with Israel doubtless had an impact in Lebanon and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust-denying, taunting non-diplomacy has clearly had it’s own.

Did anyone even know there was such a thing as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization?  I certainly didn’t.  It seems the Organization is yet another multi-national pacts, though this one is less like the EU and more like NATO.

Well, it turns out that this group includes China (duh), Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.  Nations looking to join this group include our buddies Iran and Pakistan.  The admission or denial of these states is at least one item on the agenda for their current meeting, happening right now.  There are concerns, as one might expect, about the United States’ response to adding those members in what is at least on paper an alliance of military proportions.

It might be illuminating, when viewing world affairs, to keep this coalition in mind.  For a start, it’s worth considering the fact that neither Iran nor Pakistan feels compelled to join in any similar coaltions with Middle Eastern nations. . .  because of course, they are ethnically and historically separate regions.

Just to clear up a few facts, of which John McCain is rarely in command, these days:

FactCheck.org: Soft on Iran

McCain implies that Obama doesn’t think Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a terrorist organization. That’s wrong. Before the Kyl-Lieberman amendment was introduced, Obama cosponsored a bill that called for the IRGC to be designated as “a Foreign Terrorist Operation.” Obama was one of 72 cosponsors of the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, . . .The McCain campaign notes that the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act has yet to come to the floor for a vote. But that doesn’t change the fact that Obama’s sponsorship put him on record in favor of labeling the IRGC a terrorist organization, contrary to McCain’s insinuation.