Mojo - May 2008

Crank Dat Mike Gravel!

| Thu May 8, 2008 1:10 PM EDT

Okay, I know, too many nonsensical Gravel videos of late. And I know, the Obama Girl stuff is unforgivably lame. But indulge me. I just love this video. Mike Gravel is willing to sing, profess his love for a woman 52 years his junior, and do the (incredibly freakin' annoying) Soulja Boy dance. He's officially in that I'm-so-old-I-can't-be-humiliated stage. Somebody give this man a reality TV show!

On a more serious note, I'm willing to guess that Mike Gravel doesn't know the meaning of the Soulja Boy lyrics, which are horrifyingly misogynistic. I'm not going to explain them, but you can get answers at UrbanDictionary.com. That song is incredibly popular, even among children, and it really shouldn't be.

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Compromise in Michigan: Another Sign of Things to Come

| Thu May 8, 2008 12:38 PM EDT

This may be how the Democratic primary race winds down: superdelegates endorsing Obama (and in some cases bailing on Clinton in order to do so) and Michigan and Florida coming to compromises that don't jeopardize Barack Obama's lead. Michigan appears on track to do exactly that.

Michigan Democratic leaders on Wednesday settled on a plan to give presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton 69 delegates and Barack Obama 59 as a way to get the state's delegates seated at the national convention.
Clinton won the Jan. 15 Michigan primary and was to get 73 pledged delegates under state party rules, while Obama was to get 55.

Clinton took 55 percent of the vote in Michigan, where only Kucinich, Dodd, and Gravel joined her on the ballot. "Uncommitted" took 40 percent.

The only question here is whether seating the Michigan delegates through this compromise erases any hard feelings Michigan voters have with Barack Obama. Michigan and Florida have been used a cudgel by Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff. They've pointed to those two states for months as evidence that Barack Obama doesn't truly want to hear the voice of every American — the unstated corollary being that Obama doesn't respect the people of those two states.

I'm betting, however, that Obama can do some internal polling in Florida and Michigan, see if he still has a chance in either state (probably; more likely in Michigan than Florida), and make up with voters there through a little extra attention in the general. And outside groups can work overtime pointing this out.

Superdelegates for Hillary Wavering: A Sign of Things to Come?

| Thu May 8, 2008 12:08 PM EDT

Here's Clinton-backer Diane Feinstein talking to The Hill.

"I think the race is reaching the point now where there are negative dividends from it, in terms of strife within the party," Feinstein said. "I think we need to prevent that as much as we can."
Feinstein stressed that Clinton is not an "also-run candidate," but added that there is a question "as to whether she can get the delegates that she needs. I'd like to see what the strategy is and then we can talk further."

Feinstein insists that she isn't revoking her support of Clinton, but that she wants to "talk" with Clinton and see exactly what her strategy is for the rest of the primaries.

Meanwhile, Obama unveiled three superdelegate endorsements yesterday (North Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Meek, North Carolina DNC member Jeanette Council, and California DNC member Inola Henry), and former Clinton supporter George McGovern switched to Obama and urged Clinton to drop out of the race. Today, the Obama campaign announced that John Edwards' campaign manager, former Congressman David Bonior, is endorsing.

Forget the media calls for Clinton to drop out. Forget the fundraising problems. It is the actions of the superdelegates over the next few weeks that will determine whether this race ends now or after all the primaries have been completed in June.

43,000 Troops Listed as Unfit for Combat Deployed Anyway

| Thu May 8, 2008 11:34 AM EDT

From USA Today:

More than 43,000 U.S. troops listed as medically unfit for combat in the weeks before their scheduled deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003 were sent anyway, Pentagon records show.
This reliance on troops found medically "non-deployable" is another sign of stress placed on a military that has sent 1.6 million servicemembers to the war zones, soldier advocacy groups say....
Unit commanders make the final decision about whether a servicemember is sent into combat, although doctors can recommend against deployment because of a medical issue, Army spokeswoman Kim Waldron said....
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, the panel's chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked Army leaders about an e-mail from the surgeon for the Fort Carson brigade that said medically "borderline" soldiers went to war because "we have been having issues reaching deployable strength."
"That should not be happening," Army Secretary Pete Geren told the committee. "I can't tell you that it's not, but it certainly should not be happening."

This isn't terribly surprising, considering the lengths the military is going to in order to get soldiers on the battlefield.

Former NSC Aide on Clinton, 'Dual Containment,' and HRC's 'Obliterate' Iran Remarks

| Thu May 8, 2008 9:58 AM EDT

Gary Sick served in the National Security Council of the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations, including as the chief White House aide on Iran during the Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis. He currently is a senior researcher and professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, from where he runs a Persian Gulf oriented listserv for Gulf experts, academics, and journalists. He offered these comments there, with permission to share.

Hillary Clinton's warning that the United States could "obliterate" Iran if that country should "foolishly consider" launching an attack on Israel is, of course, pandering to a broad American constituency that wants to hear tough rhetoric about Iran. It is also intended to appeal to a constituency that needs constant reassurance that America's relationship with Israel is secure. And, by addressing a strategic hypothetical that would by any measure be many years in the future ("in the next ten years" in her words), it seems intended to convince doubters that a woman is tough enough - perhaps more than tough enough - to be commander in chief.
Although her use of the word "obliterate" was both excessive and ill-advised, it might be seen as a challenge to Obama to match her toughness, or even as simply pandering shamelessly to a constituency that thrives on political red meat. That is not very flattering to her, but it might be regarded as politics as usual. What makes this statement particularly troublesome is that it cannot be dismissed as mere off-the-cuff responses to a TV interviewer. Rather, it appears to be part of a broader, considered policy that would likely be at the heart of the Middle East strategy of President Hillary Clinton.
The Clinton campaign, while explaining her remarks to skeptics, made it clear that this was no slip of the tongue. Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post reports that the "obliterate" remarks are part of a more extensive plan, first advanced in the debate prior to the Pennsylvania primary, for a new defensive alliance with the Arab states and Israel, in which the United States would extend not only a "security umbrella" over Israel but also "provide a deterrent backup" that would extend U.S. nuclear guarantees to Arab states who renounce nuclear weapons. The apparent author of this strategy is Martin Indyk. See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/03/AR2008050301875.html.

Voters Shut Out of Indiana Primary Will Have to Appeal to Higher Authority

| Wed May 7, 2008 5:57 PM EDT

I hope someone informs the Supreme Court's mostly Catholic majority that their recent decision to uphold Indiana's voter ID law prevented a convent full of elderly and disabled nuns from casting a vote in yesterday's Democratic primary. In its decision, the court insisted the state had a legitimate interest in depriving lots of people of their right to vote because it would deter phantom fraudsters, even though the state has never had a single documented case of voter impersonation fraud. Clearly, the justices hadn't anticipated the sisters, who don't drive and didn't have much need of ID in the convent. Now shut out of court and the voting booth, the Indiana brides of Christ will have to appeal to God for a remedy.

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Burma: Dispatches From a Nightmare

| Wed May 7, 2008 4:13 PM EDT

In the wake of the devastation left by Cyclone Nargis in Burma, "huge sections of the Irrawaddy Delta lie cut off from the outside world," writes Paul Danahar for the BBC in Southern Burma. "Monks are leading the cleaning-up process in the residential areas," says one blogger in Rangoon. "No electricity means no water; a real crisis, and people don't know whether to pray for rain (no roofs) or not for water."

Below, more excerpts from this week's world press coverage of the crisis.

Burma, burmadigest in Burma Digest blog:

Yangon is Ground Zero; there are no more big trees left…Army Battalion no. 11, 22 and 77 are clearing the big roads. Otherwise, it's mostly kohtu kohta (self-help). Monks are leading the cleaning-up process in the residential areas…

No electricity means no water; a real crisis, and people don't know whether to pray for rain (no roofs) or not for water…People are using water from Inya Lake….

Petrol was 10,000 kyats to the gallon yesterday (maybe less today, because the govt. petrol pumps are selling petrol today). Candles have gone up from 100 to 300 kyats for a medium-sized candle; chicken is 10,000 kyats to the viss; eggs are 280 kyats (100% increase); pebyoke (baked beans) is 400 kyats for 10 ticals (doubled price)…

Tin roofing has gone up from 5000 to 30,000 kyats. General labourers are charging 7000 kyats per day just to drag logs away…

Rangoon has gone backwards 20 years.

"Merchant of Death" Indicted in U.S. Federal Court

| Wed May 7, 2008 3:51 PM EDT

viktorbout1.jpg

It was just over two months ago that Viktor Bout, the elusive Russian arms trafficker, was jailed in Thailand after being felled by a months-long DEA sting operation. He remains in a Bangkok prison, pending extradition to the United States, where (short of a plea agreement) he will most likely face federal prosecution in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Yesterday, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia and Acting DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart unsealed the federal indictment (.pdf) against Bout, charging him with four counts of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism.

An excerpt from the press release announcing the indictment:

Between November 2007 and March 2008, Bout agreed to sell to the FARC millions of dollars' worth of weapons—including surface-to-air missile systems ("SAMs"), armor piercing rocket launchers, AK-47 firearms, millions of rounds of ammunition, Russian spare parts for rifles, anti-personnel land mines, C-4 plastic explosives, night-vision equipment, "ultralight" airplanes that could be outfitted with grenade launchers and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Bout agreed to sell the weapons to two confidential sources working with the DEA (the "CSs"), who represented that they were acquiring these weapons for the FARC, with specific understanding that the weapons were to be used to attack United States helicopters in Colombia...

A Step Towards Victory at the FEC

| Wed May 7, 2008 3:14 PM EDT

Yesterday, President Bush put forward a revised list of nominees for the Federal Elections Commission. As we've reported in-depth, the FEC currently only has two of its customary six commissioners, meaning the body that regulates all federal elections lacks the quorum necessary to do its job. Bush's new slate of commissioners, and the Republicans' new willingness to play ball in the confirmation process, suggests that a fully functioning FEC may be on the horizon.

Here's the deal. Formerly, the nominees were Democrat Robert Lenhard, Democrat Steven Walther, Republican David Mason (the sitting Chairman), and Republican Hans von Spakovsky (HVS). Democrat Ellen Weintraub was already sitting on the FEC. The problem with that roster was that von Spakovsky was objectionable to Democrats, who saw him as the GOP's point man on minority disenfranchisement in his previous activities. Democrats wanted to vote on each nominee individually, leading to the likely rejection of HVS and the acceptance of everyone else. Final result in the Democrats' scenario: a FEC with three Democrats and a sole Republican. The Republicans rejected the idea and said instead that all the nominees, including HVS, had to be approved together. Deadlock ensued.

Republican Primary Results of Note

| Wed May 7, 2008 2:34 PM EDT

Our friends at Reason provide a solid round-up of Republican primary races that were resolved yesterday. Some good news and some bad. Anti-war Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina, subject of a sympathetic 2006 Mother Jones cover story, beat back a challenge from a pro-war candidate.

"I think more and more Republicans are starting to understand after five years that the Iraqis need to step up and take responsibility," Jones said.
Jones retained some strong military support in his district, particularly among retired Marines and other veterans.
"We are close to the veterans and they knew it," Jones said.

On the other hand, anti-sanity Republican Dan Burton of Indiana, subject of a scathing 2008 Mother Jones blog post, topped a Republican primary challenger by seven points, a sizable victory but a much smaller one than Burton is accustomed to in primary or general elections. For more on Burton, see this 1997 MoJo piece from deep in our archives.