Mojo - August 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 13, 2010

Fri Aug. 13, 2010 4:00 AM EDT

 

U.S. Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division kneel outside the town of Badmuk, Kunar province, Afghanistan, after a night assault on suspected Taliban positions as part of Operation Azmaray Fury, on Aug. 2, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Spc. Anthony Jackson.

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Pardon Our Dust: Fixing the Comments System

Fri Aug. 13, 2010 3:00 AM EDT

You said you've had it with spam and trolls; believe us, so have we. To (we hope) cut down on both, we're switching to a new commenting system on Motherjones.com, powered by Disqus. [Read more about Disqus here, or check it out on The Atlantic and Alternet.] Don't worry, you won't have to create a new Mother Jones login. You'll even be able to use your Twitter, Facebook, or OpenID login instead if you prefer.

Please note that we'll be turning off article and blog comments for the weekend starting at 4pm Pacific on Friday while we get the new system up and running. If all goes well, commenting should work again by Monday morning. Thanks for your patience and please don't be shy to give us feedback once the new system goes up; we'll be posting a few times asking for comments and you can also email web-feedback at motherjones.com

Hezbollah in Mexico Stoking Terrorism Fears

| Thu Aug. 12, 2010 3:16 PM EDT

The idea of Hezbollah operatives in Mexico using the chaos caused by the government's war with the drug cartels as an opportunity to launch a terrorist attack on the US is not a new one. In June, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) asked Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano to investigate the Hezbollah's presence on the US's southern border, particularly in light of the increasing number of gang members arrested in southwestern states who have tattoos in Farsi. "We have typically seen tattoos in Arabic," Rep. Myrick wrote, "but Farsi implies a Persian influence that can likely be traced back to Iran and its proxy army, Hezbollah." I don't know how good Myrick's first-hand knowledge of tattoos is, but she's right in suggesting that Hezbollah has seemed to up its presence in Mexico of late, including smuggling people across the border and drug trafficking. The Heritage Foundation goes further, reporting that though US officials have not confirmed it, Hezbollah member Jamal Nasr was likely arrested in Tijuana last month. At this point, US border militia groups and tea partiers are probably frothing at the mouth to know: does this mean Hezbollah will use the US-Mexico border as a staging ground for a terrorist attack?

Sorry, folks. As Scott Stewart at STRATFOR points out, it's very unlikely. Hezbollah, as Stewart rightly emphasizes, is no longer a young hothead looking to make a name for itself. Senior Hezbollah leaders are often "influential politicians and wealthy businessmen," Stewart writes. Hezbollah sees the US as a business office, not a foxhole. And besides, if Hezbollah did attack the US, it would make itself (and Iran) a military target. And after seeing the devastation in Iraq, that's likely not something it's pursuing. "Hezbollah could conduct attacks in the United States, but it would pay a terrible price for doing so, and it does not appear that it is willing to pay that price," Stewart writes. "Hezbollah leadership may be radical, but it is not irrational."

This is fortunate for us Americans, as Hezbollah is infinitely better equipped and better trained than al Qaeda and—according to this January CRS report (PDF)—the Mexican government's counterintelligence operations are underfunded and stretched thin by the Calderon's drug war. Hezbollah doesn't seem intent on waging war against the US from across the Mexican border. Instead, its mission seems to be to use the cartels' reign in Mexico to increase the year's profits and, more significantly, to leverage its presence in Mexico as a deterrent to US attacks on Iran. "Hezbollah (and its Iranian patrons) have established a solid foothold in the Americas, and they have demonstrated a capability to... move operatives and conduct attacks should they choose," STRATFOR opines. "This is what US government officials fear, and what the Iranians want them to fear."

 

 

Could Immigrants Help the US Economy by Having More Babies?

| Thu Aug. 12, 2010 3:09 PM EDT

A new report from the Pew Hispanic Center shows that illegal immigrants are having children at a higher rate than the rest of the US population—a finding that some observers predict will help vindicate opponents of birthright citizenship. According to the Pew study, illegal immigrants make up about 4 percent of the US adult population but have children that represent about 8 percent of newborns. "These are significant numbers," concludes Time's Kate Pickert. "[A]nd they seem to add an arrow to the quiver of those in Congress and elsewhere now suggesting the 14th Amendment of the Constitution should be changed." The Pew study adds that Hispanics—who make up about three-fourths of the country's illegal immigrant population—have a higher fertility rate than whites, blacks, or Asians.

Anti-immigration activists have worried about immigrant fertility for decades, and the right's current crusade against immigrants who allegedly flock to the US to "drop a baby" is just the most recent incarnation of this long-running fixation. As I recently explained, such rhetoric is rooted in the fear that immigrants—particularly those who are unauthorized—are gaming the system to use up increasingly scarce resources, frequently at the taxpayers' expense. It's a Malthusian argument that has, at times, united unlikely allies to push back against overpopulation—especially given the environmental concerns about population growth that my colleague Julia Whitty described in depth earlier this year.

VIDEO: Cadet Miller Speaks Out

| Thu Aug. 12, 2010 3:01 PM EDT

With the blessing of Cadet Katie Miller, USMA '12, Alberto Morales at the New York Civil Liberties Union emailed MoJo today to let us know about this video. In it, Miller recounts firsthand the challenges she faced as a (high-performing) Army officer-in-training who had to conceal her homosexuality under DADT. Check MotherJones.com for more coverage, including a peek at Miller's personal blog reflections, which take readers inside lesbian subculture at West Point and an open letter of advice to Miller from a MoJo editor and service academy dropout.

November Silliness

| Thu Aug. 12, 2010 1:36 PM EDT

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the powerful chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, thinks it could be good for liberal Democrats to lose some of their more "difficult" allies. The Hill reports:

In an interview with The Hill, the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman expressed confidence that Democrats will retain the House, and suggested he won’t miss some of the Democrats who won’t be back next year.

"I think a lot of the House seats we’re going to lose are those who have been the toughest for the Democrats to pull into line—the Democrats that have been the most difficult," Waxman said.

Over at Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas writes that "Waxman channels many of us":

It'll be November's biggest irony—the voters will turn against Democrats in significant numbers because of the economy, or better put, the lack of jobs. But it won't be Democrats who supported a larger (more effective stimulus), or job benefits extensions, or aid to states, or other measures designed to deal with our shitty economy.

Rather, it'll be the Blue Dog Democrats who think their voters care more about deficits than jobs that will take the brunt of this beating. And really, to them, good riddance.

My biggest worry won't be over the size of a decimated Blue Dog caucus, but how many truly good Democrats get taken out as collateral damage.

This is silly. Absent special considerations (like law-breaking or electability), liberals should always prefer more liberal candidates to less liberal candidates. There are no Republicans in the current Congress with more liberal voting records than even the most conservative Democrat. In a two-candidate race between a conservative Democrat and a very conservative Republican, why would a liberal prefer the Republican? As far as Waxman goes, a more GOP-leaning House (even if the Dems maintain control) will mean more Republicans on his committee (and the House overall), and even harder lifts on tough votes. Just look at the Senate. Harry Reid has less margin for error than Nancy Pelosi, and that means legislation that's more conservative, not less so. Politics is not always about choosing between the guy you love and the guy you hate. Sometimes it's about choosing between the guy you hate and the guy you hate more.

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Open Letter to USMA Cadet Katherine Miller

| Thu Aug. 12, 2010 1:10 PM EDT

MEMORANDUM

TO: Cadet 2nd Class K. Miller, USA
FROM: Midshipman 2nd Class A. Weinstein, USN (Ret.)

Subj: SEPARATION

I’m an editor for Mother Jones magazine in San Francisco, specializing in military and defense affairs. But once upon a time I was Midshipman Adam Weinstein, USNA class of 2000…until, like you, I resigned from an Academy—Annapolis—at the beginning of my junior year.

My reasons for leaving were not due to DADT—rather, I was just a liberal with a big mouth and a lot of moral misgivings about the Academy’s internal workings, and I returned to the reserves after 9/11— but in your letter to the chain of command I sensed a similar dilemma, a forced choice between upholding the honor concept, which I loved, and being the person I was born to be.

A flood of emotions came back to me in reading of your decision. I remember especially the last few weeks after I’d submitted my resignation, waiting to be separated, while I still lived in Bancroft Hall, and was among my shipmates in the brigade, but sensed acutely that I wasn’t any longer of the brigade. It was sad, saying goodbye to a place I really loved, people I really cared for, and a job I really saw myself doing for many years. But there was a sense that it wasn’t my place, and I grew anxious about my next steps in life.

I suspect you’re going to go through a similar time right now. You’ve already been accepted to Yale, and given your academic interests in LGBT equality and military affairs, you’re likely beginning a fruitful, lifelong, love-hate association with the defense establishment. I’ve gone that route, and felt especially grateful for it. It’s given me the opportunity to be more critical of the military than most military people can be; it’s also enabled me to articulate the military ethos to fellow journalists and progressives in a way that doesn’t come naturally to them.

If you choose that route, though, you may feel the occasional twinge of regret over your decision. For a lot of reasons, but primarily this one: People will say you didn’t go all the way. You weren’t a real, proven member of your class, and aren’t qualified to speak as an authority. You’ll feel this pressure all the more, because it will come from elements that believe deeply that homosexuality is a sin, one that can’t be tolerated in the ranks. Their way of dealing with you will be to dismiss your experience and membership in the profession of arms.

I will tell you what my closest, most valued USNA classmates told me: You must never for a second give yourself over to the sour-grapes macho attitude of some cadets and alums that you “washed out.” You made an affirmative decision, one that demonstrates a degree of courage and strength that many in the Corps and the professional officers’ ranks will never know.

Beyond that, good luck. I hope to chat sometime. Or to at least meet you at an Army/Navy tailgater.

V/R,

Adam Weinstein
MIDN 2/C USN (Ret.)

P.S. Beat Army!

[For more on Cadet Miller's ongoing case, read here; for more about her blog, which reveals a secret subculture at West Point, read here.]

The Media's Gitmo Rebellion Continues

| Thu Aug. 12, 2010 12:29 PM EDT

They're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore.

Major media outlets are losing their patience with the restrictions that the military and the Obama administration have placed on reporting from Guantanamo Bay. Last month, a lawyer representing the New York Times, the Washington Post, Dow Jones, Reuters, and other major media organizations threatened to sue the Obama administration over the restrictions it has placed on Guantanamo coverage. Then the Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg chronicled the indignities of the Gitmo reporters' trade in a widely circulated column. This week, as the first war crimes trial under the Obama administration's new military commissions kicks off, media complaints about Gitmo restrictions are becoming the focus of reports from the base.

The latest example of this genre comes from the Times' Jeremy Peters, who filed a pretty negative story on Wednesday about the tours the military conducts of the prison camp. According to Peters, the tours are essentially a propaganda exercise:

Much of the media tour is intended to convey that the 176 men the government is holding at Guantánamo are being treated humanely. Camp guards describe the curriculum for detainees, which includes a living-skills course on home budgeting and résumé writing. Military personnel frequently point out the arrows that have been stenciled to the floors of many rooms. They point to Mecca, officials explain, so Muslim detainees know which direction to face when they pray. Camp personnel also often mention that the detainees are given 20 minutes of quiet time five times a day in which to pray....

...Most of the camp guards and personnel have scripts for the visiting media and largely stick to them. On a tour of Camp 5, a maximum-security camp for detainees the military deems "noncompliant," the commanding officer rattled off statistics about the building. It was modeled after a prison in Terre Haute, Ind. It was shipped in pieces to the naval base on a barge, then assembled.

As he wrapped up his presentation, which he conducted with his back to [a] ... television camera to conceal his identity, he said flatly: "This concludes my tour. Do you guys have any questions?"

I'd be surprised if any of this changes any time soon. If you read Rosenberg's article, you'd understand that it's been getting harder, not easier, to report from Gitmo ever since the prison camp opened. Obama certainly hasn't improved things. The best way for the media to force the Pentagon to change the rules for the better is to sue. I suspect that's what the Times, the Post, and their allies will eventually do.

Inside West Point's Lesbian Subculture

| Thu Aug. 12, 2010 11:24 AM EDT

When hearing about Cadet 2nd Class Katherine Miller, the top-ranked US Military Academy student who tendered her resignation this week because she is a lesbian, one can't help but wonder: What exactly is it like to enter a service academy—with its already-high-pressure environment, where concealing the truth is a termination level offense—and effectively have to conceal a large part of your identity?

It turns out Miller had a lot to say about the pressures she faced: Since May, she blogged anonymously about her own trials and a long-standing culture of homosexual solidarity at West Point. Calling herself Private Second Class Citizen, she shared her story with readers on the lesbian culture site Velvet Park. "We're awfully proud of Katie over at Vp," Velvet Park editor Julia Watson told Mother Jones Wednesday morning in an email.

Miller's blog is a treasure trove of heart-wrenching informationsort of like a better-written WikiLeaks war diary for DADT. Her first post traces her own development from an idealistic soldier-aspirant to a social warrior:

Two years ago, I submitted to a contract that claimed the policy was necessary in maintaining unit cohesion and good order and discipline. I hesitated for a moment before I ultimately agreed to surrender a significant piece of my identity with the flick of a pen. After two years of silence I am finally aware of the magnitude of discrimination the policy condones...

...The discrimination I have faced as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, an institution regarded as the pinnacle of leadership excellence, has exposed me to the harsh reality of ramped inequality in the military and in society. As a result of this epiphany, I have redirected my life from battling terrorists in the Middle East to combating hatred and intolerance domestically.

But what follows, in a series of three posts, is a must-read for anyone interested in DADT and military tradition. In that series, "West Point Lesbian Culture 101," Miller exposes what many vets and LGBT advocates have already suspected: There are plenty of gays and lesbians already in the ranks. "Of course, upon entering West Point I was scared to death that I was the only lesbian in the entire Armed Forces, and therefore the only woman struggling with the policy," she writes. "How very wrong I was..."

And how do these lesbian cadets acknowledge and interact with each other, while navigating not only DADT and the USMA honor code, but 18-hour days of classes and sports, as well? Miller writes about the resorcefulness they develop—a trait you'd think the Army would appreciate:

Although we can speak freely behind closed doors, it is rare that we find ourselves in situations devoid of heterosexuals (i.e. in class or military training events). Our dire need to gossip has led to the development of our own lingo. We’ll give our girlfriends a masculine nickname (my Kristin became “Kris”). Or if questioning another cadet’s sexuality, we’ll ask, “Yo, is that girl family?”

Furthermore, my particular group of friends refers to themselves as “bros,” embodying their masculine gender identities and their affinities toward feminine women.  For example, should we be sitting down enjoying a Bud Light at Chili’s on the weekend, a comment is always made regarding the physical appearance of the waitress. And the hostess. And the girls sitting in the booth next to us… We resemble our male cadet counterparts exceptionally well. We really could be an asset to unit cohesion, bonding with men over our mutual love for women.

Using reconstructed dialogue, Miller also shows how being closeted at a service academy is different—and in many ways tougher than being closeted in the regular Army or Navy. Strict honor codes turn every classmate into a potential snitch, who can have one bad day and ruin your future. Not only that, but ina testosterone-fueled adolescent atmosphere, male cadets can quickly assume that if you're a woman and you're not into them, you're batting for the wrong team. Miller emailed a male friend at the academy, who was writing sarcastically below, but his sentiment gets at a real truth about the challenges gays and lesbians face at West Point:

Cadet: Don’t be so mean to me! I’ll… I’ll… I’ll… I don’t know. Let your secret out to the company?

Me: That I’m a whore or that I’m a lesbian? Because female cadets only fall into one category or the other here. No exceptions, apparently.

Cadet: Facts matter little in a smear campaign. I’ll decide when it comes to that point.

Me: I’m not too worried. You have no proof on either.

Cadet: Well, since you said you were one of the two choices… and since almost every guy in the company has tried to hook up with you… and since rumors fly… and since I haven’t heard any wild hook up rumors about you... I think it can logically be deduced... Don’t worry; your secret is safe with me

But perhaps the most fascinating and touching part of Miller's story is in her final blog post, where she recounts her decision to come out to a professor. Already thinking about leaving USMA, Miller had applied for a scholarship to Yale and learned that, as a semifinalist, she'd need a letter of recommendation from an academic instructor:

...I couldn’t pursue my activism any longer without help.

Five minutes later I rushed haphazardly into my professor’s office. I was sweating in my shiny, plastic Chorofram shoes, and after feeling my pulse my throat I became aware of how tight my collar was around my neck. “Ma’am, do you have a second,” as I closed her office door behind me, consciously worsening the stuffiness in the room and in my heavy wool uniform. Without waiting for a response, I seated myself. “Ma’am I’m transferring next semester. And I need a leader of recommendation in three days. For a scholarship for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students.”

“So does that mean you’re-?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re leaving because of Don’t Ask, Don’t-”

“Yes.”

She studied me for a second, asked a series of questions for clarification, and agreed to write me a letter of recommendation.

As soon as I was out of her sight, I did a little Jersey Shore fist pump in the air.

That's who our war-embroiled, innovation-starved 21st century defense establishment is turning away. If the Army's not going to give Katherine Miller a commission, then perhaps at least the publishing world will give her a book deal—and a wider platform to share her experiences with other soldiers and young lesbians and gays.

Wall St.: Cutting Off Big Coal's Baddest?

| Thu Aug. 12, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

After nearly wrecking the global economy, pocketing trillion-dollar bailouts, and now profiting handsomely while the American economy sputters, it's hard to muster any praise at all for the titans of Wall Street. Some recent developments on the Street, though, do deserve plaudits, however tempered: Over the past two years, many of the world's biggest banks have limited or severed ties with one of the world's most environmentally destructive practices, mountaintop removal mining.

Concentrated in the Appalachian region, MTR mining involves blasting the peaks off mountains to expose the black veins of coal underneath. But the byproduct of MTR is tons of rubble and waste from the demolition that eventually quickly finds its way into nearby rivers, streams, and other water sources, severely contaminating them. As a result, local wildlife is killed off and nearby communities suffer prolonged health issues. And as scientist Margaret Palmer at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science has testified (pdf), there's really no way to mitigate the effects of MTR. For years, the coal companies practicing MTR mining operated thanks to billions in loans from the world's biggest banks, who arranged funding deals to facilitate MTR projects.