The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed Iranian president-elect Hassan Rouhani, President Obama’s birthday and his progress in his second term, and Japan’s robotic astronaut launching into space.
- Hassan Rouhani will be sworn in Sunday as Iran’s seventh president since the start of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Some Iran watchers in Washington are hoping that Rouhani’s inauguration will usher in new and more productive discussions about the future of Iran’s nuclear program. That assumes Rouhani is interested in changing Iran’s posture and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will permit any change. Either or both assumptions could be wrong. But if Rouhani wants to make good on his campaign pledge to rejuvenate Iran’s sagging economy, taking steps that would lead to the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions would be a good idea.
- Sunday is also President Obama’s birthday. He turns fifty-two. His birthday comes slightly more than six months after his second term started. Back in January there was considerable optimism in the White House that Obama’s impressive victory last November would enable him to move quickly on his proposed agenda. Things haven’t turned out that way. The gun-control bill that he (and substantial majorities of the public) favored failed to pass, immigration reform is stalling, and the so-called grand bargain on America’s fiscal future remains elusive. Obama also hasn’t scored any significant foreign policy successes, at least in the eyes of people looking for him to take a more activist posture on issues like Syria. By the same token, a good portion of the American public seems okay with Obama’s reluctance to pursue more interventionist policies on issues like Syria.
- Japan is sending a robot astronaut into space next week. The robot has a name: Kirobo. The name combines the Japanese word for “hope” with “robot.” Kirobo will spend time on the International Space Station as part of an experiment in human-robotic interactions. Kirobo is eighteen inches tall, and is more or less human in shape. (Think C-3PO rather than R2-D2.) Kirobo speaks Japanese, but it will be a while before it will have someone in space to chat with. A Japanese-speaking astronaut is not scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station until November.
- Bob’s Figure of the Week is Bradley Manning. My Figure of the Week is one. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.
For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:
Iranian president-elect Hassan Rouhani: The New York Times reports the U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on the harshest sanctions for Iran to date just days before Rouhani is sworn into office. The Associated Press notes many of Rouhani’s close advisors have degrees from Western universities, leading to hope for better relations with Europe and the United States. The Huffington Post argues Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, can be seen as an “olive branch” to the United States.
President Obama’s birthday: The Huffington Post says despite Obama’s domestic and foreign policy hurdles, top aides claim major progress on climate change and gay rights initiatives. The Guardian notes Washington has “difficulty coping with more one than one sensation at a time,” slowing down the Obama administration’s agenda as issues like IRS targeting and NSA snooping emerge. The New York Times argues based on historical precedent, Obama still has time to make an impact with his second-term agenda.
Japan’s robotic astronaut: Engadget writes the robot, designed in conjunction with Toyota and the University of Tokyo, is named Kirobo and has “voice recognition, natural language processing, speech synthesis, realistic body language and facial recognition.” CNET reports the robot will be launched August 4 but will have to wait until November, when the Japanese Commander Wakata arrives, to participate in human-robot conversation. Space.com notes Kirobo’s twin, Mirata, will remain on Earth to help scientists troubleshoot any problems that may occur in space.