Blogs

Washington's Iran Pivot: How Big a Shift?

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 7:45 PM EDT

Even as some Washington observers were still marveling at the Bush administration's decision to send a diplomatic envoy to international nuclear talks with Iran to be held in Geneva this weekend, some analysts and close administration associates cautioned that the Bush administration really had not changed its underlying demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment before agreeing to sustained negotiations, and that the new diplomatic approach could be stillborn.

"If [Tehran agreeing to] zero enrichment is the expressed [US] objective, then this could be dead on arrival," said Trita Parsi, president of the pro-engagement National Iranian American Council. "If [the US] is more flexible, and will consider something along [former US diplomat Thomas] Pickering's plan," for an internationally supervised nuclear enrichment facility in Tehran, then the talks might have some momentum, he said.

"Nothing has changed," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Wednesday. "If they don't accept this offer, one, there will not be negotiations and two, there will be additional sanctions."

"The substantive position remains unchanged -- substantive negotiations on the issues await Iranian suspension of uranium enrichment," said Philip Zelikow, former advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. US Iran envoy William J. "Burns will personally reinforce that message and join the Europeans in hearing the response.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

New Zach de la Rocha Sounds Like: Rage

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 6:05 PM EDT

one-day-lion-200.jpgI guess it's no big shocker that One Day As A Lion, a new project fronted by Rage Against the Machine vocalist Zach de la Rocha, sounds pretty much kinda-sorta exactly like Rage Against the Machine.

The first song, "Wild International," which was made available on MySpace this week, is alright, but it could easily be mistaken for a middle-of-the-set song performed by Rage at Lollapalooza in the early 90s.

About That New Yorker Cover...

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 5:21 PM EDT

If you were one of those who thought the Right couldn't possibly look at the New Yorker cover and see it as an accurate or even semi-accurate representation of the Obamas, I give you G. Gordon Liddy:

"I don't suppose you've, by any chance, have seen the cover of the latest issue of the New Yorker magazine, which is, you know, a huge thing. It's got Obama in his Muslim dress with a turban, and he's there with his wife. His wife has a "mad at the world" afro, circa 1968, she — she's got bandoliers and an assault weapon, and there in their fireplace is burning the American flag. The New Yorker finally got it right."

When the cover came out, I was largely dismissive of the controversy. America needs to get a sense of humor. But I'm changing my position. G. Gordon Liddy knows the cover is satirical, knows it is hyperbole, even knows it is intended to make fun of people like him. But that isn't going to stop him and those like him from using it as anti-Obama propaganda.

Do these people make a mockery of themselves? Of course. Do they vote? Absolutely.

New Documentary: American Teen

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 5:04 PM EDT

On the off chance that you haven't had your fill of this genre, in August you'll have the opportunity to see yet another set of jocks, popular girls, and band geeks prance around the screen in a new documentary called American Teen, directed by Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture).

Three MoJo staffers attended the San Francisco sneak preview on Monday. Read our discussion here.

Is Weeds Secretly Being Directed by Lars von Trier?

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 4:49 PM EDT

mojo-photo-weeds-dancer.jpgDanish director Lars von Trier is nothing if not a rabble-rouser. His best-known films, Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark and Dogville have inspired both critical praise and accusations of sadistic misogyny; in each, the female central character suffers brutally, as events seemingly conspire against her, agonizing twist after sickening injustice. After watching the latest episode of Showtime's Weeds, another half hour in which every possible thing goes wrong for our noble heroine, I wondered: is von Trier secretly manning the cameras?

John McCain's Looming Seniors Problem

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 2:30 PM EDT

ss_disgrace.jpg Social Security was not a battle John McCain wanted to fight. The Arizona Senator has avoided putting out a concrete plan on Social Security (his website, for example, doesn't have a section on the issue), and he has been less than exact in his public comments on the subject throughout the campaign.

Unfortunately for him, his flub last week in which he described the basic funding mechanism of Social Security as a "disgrace" — "Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today, and that's a disgrace, it's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed" — has given labor unions and seniors' groups, in conjunction with the Democratic Party, the opportunity to highlight McCain's past support for President Bush's highly unpopular plan to privatize Social Security.

On a conference call with reporters today, a coalition of groups similar to the one that fought Bush's privatization initiative in 2005 announced that they would mobilize their supporters and members in the hopes of informing voters nationwide of the fact that, as AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee put it, John McCain wants to "gamble with Social Security." In addition to an online campaign, they plan to have volunteers protest McCain events in the near future. Many will be holding yellow signs provided by the DNC that say "Hands Off My Social Security" on one side and "My Social Security Is Not a Disgrace" on the other. According to a spokesman for the coalition, they will be "heavily incorporating the anti-privatization message on the road at each of the nearly 150 stops on the Bush Legacy Tour." The DNC has made a video highlighting McCain's record on Social Security to accompany the campaign.

McCain opened himself up to these attacks by refusing to take a firm position on the issue. In fact, Social Security appears to be one of an increasing number of issues where McCain has multiple positions at the same time.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Lieberman: Trading Facts for Fear To Help McCain

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 2:23 PM EDT

On Wednesday, Senator Joe Lieberman went on Fox News (where else?) to blast Barack Obama for sticking to what Lieberman called a policy of surrender in Iraq. And he slammed the presumptive Democratic nominee for his upcoming trip to Iraq:

He's already decided his position. He's not going to listen to Petraeus. He's not going to listen to our troops. He's not going to listen to his own eyes with what he sees there. I think that's not the kind of leadership we need in the Oval Office.

Listen to his own eyes? It's as if Lieberman was channeling George W. Bush. But put that aside. Lieberman was trotting out again his I-know-Iraq-best stance, as he continues to be a leading surrogate for John McCain on the war and terrorism. But why should Lieberman have any standing on these matters? He can be as uninformed about national security as McCain (who several times confused Shia and Sunni). Two weeks ago, Lieberman appeared on Face the Nation and said,

But we need a president who's ready to be commander in chief on day one. Senator McCain is....Why? Because our enemies will test the new president early. Remember that the truck bombing of the World Trade Center happened in the first year of the Clinton administration. Nine-eleven happened in the first year of the Bush administration. John McCain is ready to take the reins on January 20th, 2009. He doesn't need any training.

Was Lieberman right in his history? Do the evildoers really mount terrorist operations to test new presidents early in their terms? I put this question to Peter Bergen, a journalist who is an expert on al Qaeda and terrorism. (He's written two good books on al Qaeda.) Bergen replies:

What's Next for Gitmo?

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 2:17 PM EDT

Now that detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right of habeas corpus, members of one congressional body are asking, how will that work?

While the Supreme Court, with its decision in Boumediene v. Bush, granted prisoners held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo the right to their day in court, many questions remain unanswered—including whether the Boumediene decision applies to "enemy combatant" prisoners held by the US in facilities other than the famed prison camp in Cuba. On Monday, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an entity of Congress also known as the Helsinki Commission, asked the guidance of three experts in a packed hearing room. (Though officials from the departments of justice, defense, and state were invited to testify, none attended.)

African-Americans Genetically Prone to HIV, AIDS

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 1:53 PM EDT

New research shows that Africans and African-Americans bear a gene variant that helps protect them from malaria, but also makes them more vulnerable to HIV infection. The variant increases susceptability to HIV by 40 percent, says the San Francisco Chronicle.

The genetic trait is found in 90 percent of Africans and 60 percent of African-Americans. Thus far, it has protected against malaria by disabling a protein that some strains of malaria use to enter red blood cells. However, that same protein that's disabled in Africans to prevent malaria can actually protect against HIV by soaking up virus cells before they can invade white blood cells. With this sponge-like protein disabled, Africans lose a key pre-infection barrier.

This finding helps explain, in part, the high HIV infection rates among Sub-Saharan Africans and Americans of African descent. On the flipside, there is a genetic variant among people of Northern European heritage that actually makes them immune to HIV infection. Scientists think the mutation was passed down by ancestors who survived the Black Plague. In one test, a man's blood was exposed to 3,000 times the amount of HIV needed to infect a cell, but infection still didn't occur. The HIV virus simply had no gateway of entry.

Both the European and African genetic traits are currently being studied to see if they can shed light on a cure to HIV.

The Last Thing to Bear Jesse Helms's Name

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 11:46 AM EDT

Maybe Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) has a really wicked sense of humor.

How else do you explain her current attempt to rename an appropriations bill intended to provide assistance to foreign countries combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases after recently deceased Senator Jesse Helms?

Helms was a throwback to the period when bigots could serve openly and proudly in the U.S. Senate. He fought funding for AIDS research, saying, "The government should spend less money on people with AIDS because they got sick as a result of deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct." At a different time, he contextualized his comments by saying, "Nothing positive happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, and nothing positive is likely to happen to America if our people succumb to the drumbeats of support for the homosexual lifestyle." He once said that AIDS prevention literature was "so obscene, so revolting, I may throw up."

Those his position on AIDS in Africa would soften over time, he remained a steadfast opponent of progress in the States. The man didn't mince words, and wasn't ashamed of his positions. "The Bible is unmistakably instructive on the sin of sodomy," he said in the mid-90s. "I confess I regard it as an abomination." He once admitted he voted against a Clinton appointee "because she's a damn lesbian."

And now an AIDS bill may carry his name. That's either an incredibly vicious way of marring the bill and insulting AIDS victims, or its an incredibly savvy way of tarnishing Helms's legacy. Which do you think it is?