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Israeli Defense Minister Meets with Cheney, Rice Today, Iran on the Agenda

| Mon Jul. 28, 2008 11:13 AM EDT

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has arrived in Washington and is scheduled to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Pentagon officials and a few members of Congress today. Iran is on the agenda. Barak is accompanied by Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz. Their visit follows that of Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi to Washington last week.

(I recently wrote about the planned visits, and signs of a growing divergence between US and Israeli timelines and sense of urgency on the Iran issue. Israel was reportedly not informed in advance that the Bush administration planned to send a US representative to international nuclear talks with Iran. Barak's visit, which had been planned for earlier this month, was postponed several times, including because of a recent Israel-Hezbollah prisoner swap.)

Rice has given Iran until Saturday to respond to an international offer on a package of incentives in exchange for negotiations on halting its nuclear program. Accompanying the latest international incentives package to Iran, was a "freeze for freeze" proposal, under which Iran would agree to freeze further installations to its uranium enrichment program, while the international community would agree to freeze placing further economic sanctions on Iran, for a six week pre-negotiations period. In order to move to full-fledged negotiations, Iran has been asked to agree to suspend uranium enrichment for the duration of negotiations, in exchange for the UN agreeing to suspend sanctions already passed against it.

Iran reportedly did not provide a specific response to the freeze for freeze offer when it met with international representatives, including US undersecretary of state for political affairs William Burns, at international nuclear talks held in Geneva earlier this month. "What we're looking for is, at the end of the two weeks, a definitive statement through the normal channels, [Iran nuclear negotiator Saeed] Jalili to [international representative Javier] Solana, on where the Iranians stand," a State Department spokesman told reporters today.

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A Potent and Populist Economic Issue for Obama?

| Mon Jul. 28, 2008 9:12 AM EDT

On Monday, Barack Obama, fresh off his triumphant overseas trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and Europe, turned to the homeland's number-one concern: the faltering economy. He was in Washington to hold a meeting with his top economic advisers. Here's how his campaign described what would happen:

Senator Obama will be joined by leading figures from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans to talk about the recent developments in the economy: job loss, financial markets, and the rising costs of oil, food and other commodities....Participants of the early afternoon meeting include: Warren Buffett, Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt and other economic leaders.

Most of the agenda is pretty obvious. And campaigns are supposed to do the obvious. But there's one economic issue that Obama ought to consider raising with these economic leaders and with the voters: transparency. So much of the economy now takes place in dark corners, where traders and speculators develop, buy and sell financial instruments that are unregulated and, perhaps worse, barely understood, except by the small number of players who trade them. This is partly what brought on the subprime meltdown. (See my description of swaps here.) Even former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin did not understand the financial products that led to the housing credit crisis.

So here's a populist issue for Obama: the U.S. economy is too important to be placed in the hands of wheeler-dealers who in the shadows engage in transactions that have the potential to send waves of harm throughout the highly-interconnected financial world. Americans are entitled to feel insecure when they see that the economy can be so severely affected by a few big firms that go off the reservation, thanks to the imaginative machinations of a small number of traders. More transparency, more regulation--whatever the policy prescriptions are (and they will be technical and hard for most of us to understand), Obama could by addressing this issue gain a political advantage over John McCain, who tends to celebrate the workings of the markets.

These days there is very good reason for commoners to be suspicious of the markets. If Obama can speak to that, it could make for good policy and good politics.

Some Surprising New Findings on GIs, PTSD, and Crime

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 5:43 PM EDT

A while back, I waxed all sympathetic about GIs getting what I assumed was all too needed special consideration for post-discharge, surely PTSD-based offenses. Now comes a Sacramento Bee year-long study of GI's, 'shell shock', and crime. As usual, it's far from a simple situation.

Read their findings here, here, here, and here.

Turns out that some of these supposedly-traumatized-by-war defendants had a 'war or jail' option, with serious charges hanging over their heads, and appear to have taken their criminal dispositions to war with them. Some of these folks had colorful rap sheets long before they ever donned combat boots. Of course, as Kathy Griffin would say: allegedly.

Surely, the programs I praised earlier are taking such factors into consideration in deciding how to deal with these vet offenders, but damn this makes things murky.

Kudos to prison shrink and columnist John Schwade for the hat tip.

Interview: "Garfield Minus Garfield" Creator Dan Walsh

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 4:50 PM EDT

mojo-photo-gmgstrip.jpgAs we entered the second half of 2008, I thought I'd take a look at Riff page view statistics for the year, just to see what online Mother Jones readers have been clicking on around this fun little blog. And what, dear Riffers, do you think was the number one post of the first six months of 2008? A post mocking George W.'s misinterpretation of a painting? A cynical look at coverage of the Iowa primaries? Abstinence pants? No, no and no. Our most-viewed post was my meditation on the subtext of late-capitalist anxiety in the comic "remix" Garfield Minus Garfield. Riff readers are stoned!

It turns out I was onto something: in the months since the piece's appearance on the Riff, "G-G" has been covered in The New York Times, Time Magazine, and The Washington Post; the latter tracked down original Garfield creator Jim Davis, who called the work "an inspired thing to do." So, who's behind this now-phenomenally-popular bit of inspired photoshoppery? Meet 32-year-old Irishman Dan Walsh, who turns out to be a really nice guy. He answered a few questions via e-mail about the strip.

New Music From Around the Blogs: Pierre de Reeder, Villa Diamante, The Game, Sam Sparro

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 4:21 PM EDT

mojo-photo-blogmusic0725.jpg

Hey, do you like the New Pornographers, but have you always felt like there were just too many people involved? Well now you can get cozy with bassist Pierre de Reeder, who has a new album of acoustic tracks out August 12. He's kind of like a Canadian Jose Gonzalez. RCRD LBL has an mp3 of "The Long Conversation," which they say is helping them "chill and forget our aching hangover." You too?

I went out to local club Mezzanine to catch some of the hot new Argentinian DJs of Club Zizek fame last night, and that shuffly cumbia rhythm is still shimmying around my brain. If you're intrigued but put off by confusing foreign-language lyrics, check out a mashup over at the Muy Bastard blog by Zizek DJ Villa Diamante, combining young rapper Lil Mama with a minor-key cumbia backing track.

After the jump: a rapper gets existential, and a soul singer gets remixed to shreds

GI Jane Hell: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 4:06 PM EDT

Here's why women are taking the brunt of the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy.

From womensenews:

Today, more than 12,000 service members have lost their jobs because of the so-called don't ask, don't tell law. A disproportionate number of those discharges are women, according to statistics gathered by the Washington-based Servicemembers' Legal Defense Network from the government under the Freedom of Information Act...

The problem for women has worsened in recent years... In fiscal 2006, women made up 17 percent of the Army but 35 percent of discharges under the "don't ask" law. One year later, women were 15 percent of Army members, yet discharges of women increased to 45 percent of the total.

Bad as this is, it turns out that lots of these women are fingered by men whose advances they spurned.

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Cartoon: We're Number One!

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 3:24 PM EDT

Number one in lock ups, that is.

Video: When Your Mother Is Deported

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 3:20 PM EDT

In a Texan business park named Export Plaza, the Corrections Corporation of America operates a complex of concrete buildings where illegal immigrants are locked up until they agree to leave the country.

"When you first get there, they tell you you're nobody," says Sergia Santibanez, who spent 18 months inside CCA's Houston Processing Center while she fought to remain in the United States with her children.

Watch her daughter, Luisanna, speak about her mother's detention here:

—Stokely Baksh and Renee Feltz

For more on the business of detention, don't miss MoJo reporter Stephanie Mencimer's article, Why Texas Still Holds 'Em. For more multimedia coverage of this issue by investigative reporters Renee Feltz and Stokely Baksh, go to www.businessofdetention.com.

More Cell-Phone Wariness From Docs

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 2:40 PM EDT

cellphone150.jpgThe Baltimore Sun reports that another group of doctors has voiced its concerns about cell phones. They're the latest to do so; last year, a different group published the Bioinitiative Report, a roundup of some of the studies that suggest a link between cell-phone radiation and brain cancer.

This new group includes some bigwigs—most notably Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Herberman told the Sun, "Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn't wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later."

This, in a nutshell, is the precautionary principle, which is an important piece of this whole debate—but it's not really anything we haven't heard before. And we probably won't hear anything new until more science is in. Unfortunately, this could take quite a while. So the question remains: Should we follow Herberman's advice and use our mobiles sparingly till we know more?

Full disclosure: After researching "This is Your Brain on Cell Phones," I bought a headset. Just in case.

No Good Veep Choices for McCain?

| Fri Jul. 25, 2008 2:00 PM EDT

This was first posted at CQPolitics.com....

On Friday morning, on NPR's Diane Rehm Show, guest-host Susan Page made me--really, really, really made me--and the two other commentators (PR man/syndicated columnist Tony Blankley and Politico's Jeanne Cummings) predict John McCain's running-mate pick. None of us were eager to prognosticate. But Page insisted.

Earlier in the day, I had pondered the conventional-wisdom short-list of McCain's choices: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Bush budget director Rob Portman, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. At least three of these contenders should be nowhere near McCain's calculations:

* Ridge: He favors abortion rights. That could help McCain with independent voters, when the inevitable McCain-wants-to-criminalize-abortion ads start flooding the airwaves in the fall. But does McCain want to be at war with the base of his party from now until election day? (One problem for McCain is that he cannot win without the party's base, and he may not be able to win by catering to it. What a paradox!)

* Portman: As the economy slides further into a ravine--and Bush's approval ratings remain in the gutter--does McCain want by his side the man who was in charge of Bush's budget? Portman does hail from the must-win state of Ohio, and he's considered an affable and effective campaigner. But McCain would find it harder to distance himself from Bush's economic policies with one of Bush's key economic appointees on the ticket.

* Jindal: As I noted earlier, if McCain opts for this 37-year-old overachiever, he will make exorcism a campaign issue, for Jindal will have to explain his 1994 account of an exorcism in which he participated--and prove his account was true. Also, Jindal's record in Louisiana has been not-so-stellar recently. Senator, once more, can you explain whether you believe that Satanic demons can take possession of an individual and that people like your running-mate can perform amateur exorcisms to drive these spirits away?

So that leaves Pawlenty and Romney. Pawlenty comes from a swing state, but he has no standing on the national stage. "Pawlenty of nothing," one conservative pundit quipped to me recently. As for Romney, he does okay (not great) with the GOP base (the part of which that does not consider Mormonism to be an anti-Christian cult), and he can talk about his business experience at a time when the economy is ailing. One key question is, is McCain still pissed off at Romney over his attacks on McCain during the primary campaign? McCain does have anger issues. (See here for a recent example.)

When pressed for an answer by Page, I went with Romney, noting I was probably wrong. Blankley chose Ridge. And Cummings picked Portman, adding that voters would not necessarily identify him with Bush. But we all stipulated that we had no clue. As for me, I doubt that the veep pick will make much of a difference for McCain's campaign. He (and Barack Obama, too) ought to keep in mind the cardinal rule: first, do no harm. Yet that short-list is full of potential dangers.