Mojo - May 2008

Murat Kurnaz Details His Plight Before House Subcommittee

| Wed May. 21, 2008 7:05 AM PDT

murat-kurnaz250x200.jpgMurat Kurnaz, a young Turkish citizen born and raised in Germany, traveled to Pakistan to learn more about Islam in October 2001, weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States. In short order, arrested and held by US forces in Kandahar, and then shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bad timing was his only crime. (See here for MoJo's coverage of Kurnaz's plight, based on interviews with German intelligence officials and exclusive documents. See here for a timeline of Kurnaz's Kafkaesque odyssey.)

By 2002, according to documents obtained by his attorneys, both the US and German governments had determined conclusively that Kurnaz was neither a terrorist, nor a terrorist sympathizer or supporter, but American military officials nonetheless refused to release him and instead held him in solitary confinement for five years. For much of that time, he was unaware that anybody in his family knew where he was or if he was alive. And for the entire stretch he was subjected to torture.

In his account before the House Foreign Affairs' Oversight Subcommittee on Tuesday, Kurnaz detailed a technique visited upon him in Kandahar called "water treatment"—a perverse twist on a more widely known technique called waterboarding—wherein the victim's head is forced into a bucket of water while he's punched repeatedly in the stomach, causing him to inhale water.

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Obama in Iowa: On His Way, But Not Without Hurdles

| Tue May. 20, 2008 9:41 PM PDT

barack-obama-indianapolis-250x200.jpgReflect for a moment on how serendipitous it is that Barack Obama is where he is today. As a 46-year-old half-black presidential candidate who was a newcomer to Washington and a believer in transparency and government reform, Obama's only natural message was one of change. He and his advisers decided not to modulate or moderate that message: every sign at every stop had a single word in bold type: "Change." The full sentence may have been "Change you can believe in," but there was one key word that was branded on everything the campaign said, did, and produced.

And wouldn't you know it, after eight years of disastrous leadership abroad, a lack of serious solutions to health care and economic challenges at home, and a thorough politicization and perversion of the federal government, voters were looking for exactly one thing. The same thing Obama was offering.

And now that he's got the primary wrapped up, Obama is smart enough not to change. In what could reasonably be seen as his first speech of the general campaign, Obama used the word "change" over twenty times Tuesday night in Des Moines, Iowa. Instead of fine-tuning his message to appeal to a general election audience, Obama is pulling John McCain and George Bush into his preexisting frame. As Obama tells it, McCain, with his long career in Washington and his willingness to embrace Bush Administration policies on taxes, health care, and the war in Iraq, is part of what the American people are so desperately seeking change from. The political gods would have a hard time deliberately crafting a political climate better suited to Obama's unique persona and message.

And so in the state where his unlikely but strangely inevitable presidential campaign began, Barack Obama moved to the next phase. He had kind words for Senator Clinton, calling her "one of the most formidable candidates to ever run for this office" and a woman who "has shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and yours will come of age." He congratulated her on her victory in Kentucky but he made it clear that the time for a transition had come. He reminisced about the wintertime Iowa caucuses that legitimized him as a candidate and said, "tonight in the fullness of spring… we have returned to Iowa with a majority of delegates elected by the American people, and you have put us within reach of the Democratic nomination for President of the United States."

John McCain was not treated as well as Senator Clinton.

Clinton Speaks in Kentucky

| Tue May. 20, 2008 6:08 PM PDT

Clinton opened very graciously in Louisville tonight, offering many stirring words of support to Ted Kennedy. Kennedy's "five extraordinary decades dedicated to America," she said, were filled with passion for all the right progressive causes and paved the way for Senator Obama and herself. Remember, Ted Kennedy was a surprise endorsement for her opponent.

The portion of the remarks that pertained to the Democratic race were typical of Clinton's new and seemingly contradictory campaign trail mix: positive messages that don't tarnish the presumptive Democratic nominee plus an almost obstinant belief in herself and her chances. She thanked Kentuckians for handing her a huge victory despite the fact that "some have said your votes didn't matter, that this campaign is over." (She may have been referring to my last blog post.) She also restated her belief that she is winning the popular vote, which is true only if you do some very tricky and very selective math. "I have fought [this race] the only way I know how," she added. "With determination, by never giving up and never giving in."

But Clinton likely understands her chances. All negative attacks on Obama have been erased from her speech. The only people she attacks nowadays are John McCain and George W. Bush. In her speech today she even said that she and Obama "see eye to eye when it comes to electing a Democratic president in the fall." It was in some ways a preview of the general election speeches Hillary Clinton may give as a campaign surrogate for Barack Obama.

Kentucky, Oregon: Measuring Sticks for Obama?

| Tue May. 20, 2008 5:45 PM PDT

Okay, let's get down to business. Kentucky's 51 delegates and Oregon's 52 delegates are at stake tonight. If you follow politics at all you know that the polls predict a 30+ point win for Hillary Clinton in Kentucky and a 5-15 point win for Barack Obama in Oregon.

It's right around 8:00 pm and Clinton has already been declared the winner in Kentucky. With half the votes in, she's up by 20. Clinton will be speaking soon, for two reasons: (1) Obama will be sucking up all the oxygen later in the evening with a speech that isn't-but-kinda-is a victory speech for the race as a whole; and (2) Oregon's innovative vote-by-mail system means that results from that state may not be in until 11 pm eastern. Might as well strike while the iron is hot.

In this junior pundit's brain, these elections are a measuring stick for Obama. That's the important part of the night. Yes, he'll reach the magic number for a majority of the pledged delegates (3,253), and yes, that entitles him to claim, as his campaign did earlier, that the voters of the country have sent him an "unmistakable message" of support akin to, well, victory. But he's had this thing sown up for a while now. That's not new news.

Tonight's two elections, and the two remaining on June 3rd, and more valuable as a gauge for Obama's momentum. In Kentucky, we can see if his impending victory in the primary convinced a larger portion of those fabled working class whites to vote for him (I'm guessing no, for the record). In Oregon, we can see if he is finishing Clinton off among the coastal liberals he supposedly owns as a demographic. It may be tough to get an accurate picture out of Oregon, however, because the vote-by-mail system means many ballots were filled out earlier this month.

Nevertheless, these races are more about learning about Obama than they are about changing the race.

Interesting New Science on the Bradley Effect

| Tue May. 20, 2008 1:25 PM PDT

Ready to nerd out? Spotted on The Stump, new sociology research supporting the existence of the Bradley Effect:

Iran's Proposal for "Constructive Negotiations"

| Tue May. 20, 2008 1:00 PM PDT

Last week, Iran delivered a letter to UN officials accompanied by an offer for "constructive negotiations." According to nonproliferation expert Jacqueline Shire of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) who obtained the letter today, Iranian diplomats delivered the letter and offer to the UN director general and the UK Permanent Representative, and requested that it be shared with other UN Security Council permanent members and Germany. ISIS writes:

ISIS has obtained a copy of Iran's May 13 letter to the UN Secretary General and accompanying document titled "The Islamic Republic of Iran's Proposed Package for Constructive Negotiations."
The unofficial translation of the document, included below, numbers just over two pages and offers "wide-ranging and comprehensive negotiations" over three issue areas: political and security, economic and nuclear.

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More McCain Staffers to Fall Due to Lobbying Connections?

| Tue May. 20, 2008 12:05 PM PDT

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg Today's New York Times advances the story of John McCain's myriad connections to lobbyists. First, new details on Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager. Davis is in charge of writing and enforcing the new 'no lobbying' policy that John McCain put into effect when he realized that his reformist campaign was staffed by a huge number of influence-peddlers. As you might have guessed, Davis was a lobbyist until two years ago and now finds a way to act as a lobbyist without registering as one:

...while Mr. Davis took a leave from [his firm] Davis Manafort in 2006, the company has developed a specialty in recent years in a type of lobbying for which firms do not have to register — namely, representing the interests abroad of foreign politicians and businessmen.
In recent years, the company's clients have included the richest man in Ukraine and a former premier of that country whose opponents were supported by Mr. McCain. The Washington Post reported in January that Mr. Davis also set up a meeting in Switzerland in 2006 between Mr. McCain and a Russian businessman, who has been barred from entering this country, apparently because of accusations about past ties to organized crime in Russia. That businessman, Oleg Deripaska, has denied such links.

Here's that Post story. Honest to God, Davis set up a meeting between a U.S. Senator and a Russian mobster because it was in the interest of his lobby shop. Now he's running that Senator's presidential campaign.

But the problem lies not just with McCain's top guys, Davis and senior adviser Charlie Black. Witness:

Ted Kennedy Has Malignant Brain Tumor

| Tue May. 20, 2008 11:11 AM PDT

ted-kennedy.jpg Breaking news: Treatment of Ted Kennedy's seizures over the weekend revealed that the longtime Massachusetts Senator has a malignant brain tumor in his left parietal lobe. More information as it is available.

Update: More from CBS/AP:

Doctors for the Massachusetts Democrat say tests conducted after Kennedy suffered a seizure this weekend show a tumor in his left parietal lobe. Preliminary results from a biopsy of the brain identified the cause of the seizure as a malignant glioma, they said.
His treatment will be decided after more tests but the usual course includes combinations of radiation and chemotherapy....

Students Think Environment/Global Warming Is the Most Important Issue

| Tue May. 20, 2008 10:03 AM PDT

The results of our student activism survey are already flooding in, and respondents—both current and former students—believe today's most important issues are global warming and the environment (second place: human rights). Don't miss your chance to chime in.

We're still looking for the lowdown on student activism, past and present. Been arrested and regret it? Would your school win the prize for silliest student protest? Was student activism way better when you were in school? Is your cause unique?

Help us put together our best student activism roundup yet. It's our 15th annual! Check out last year's. Answer a few quick questions and you could win some cool prizes.

Click here to begin!