Mojo - September 2010

Mullah Omar Plans His Afghan Takeover

| Wed Sep. 8, 2010 8:19 PM EDT

For a man of God, Mullah Omar Muhammad—chief of Afghanistan's Taliban, self-pronounced "leader of the faithful"—is starting to sound a lot like John Boehner. Confident of victory over his foes, Omar appears to be already picking out the drapes for his head-of-state residence in Kabul...not unlike a certain would-be Republican speaker of the US House.

Omar displayed his triumphal confidence in an open "message of felicitation" commemorating the Muslim feast holiday of Eid. In it, the would-be emir spills little ink on the holiday itself, instead declaring that "the victory of our Islamic nation over the invading infidels is now imminent," outlining how the Taliban will handle its transition to power in Kabul, and threatening to do very nasty things to Afghans who cooperate with NATO or the Karzai government.

Of course, Omar and his band of merry men are no strangers to press releases. But his new message really turns the "hubris" dial up to 11. Excerpted below are a few of his greatest "felicitous" hits.

To the Americans:

The subjugation of this free people as per your envisaged plans is impossible. Still if you want to make the "impossible" possible by extending your stay in Afghanistan, then, as its price, be ready to lose the sovereignty of your vast empire.

To fellow Afghans:

All those who work in the stooge Kabul Administration should hear with open ears that the invading enemy is about to leave Afghanistan due to the Jihad of the Afghan Muslim people, so before you have to face the fate of Najib, Babrak and Shah Shuja on charges of collaboration with the foreigners...you should abandon the support of the invaders and join the ranks of Mujahideen by repenting of your past deeds. [Note: Najib, also called Najibullah, was the Afghan president installed by the Russians in the 1980s; when the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, they reportedly left Najibullah for dead, "hanging from a Kabul lamp post with his genitals stuffed in his mouth."]

And here's the 2010 party platform for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan—do we really have to wait for a proper inauguration?:

We will respect the Islamic rights of all people of the country including women; will implement Sharia rules in the light of the injunctions of the sacred religion of Islam in order to efficiently maintain internal security and eradicate immorality, injustice, indecency and other vices; will strictly observe the law of punishment and reward and auditing in order to bring about administrative transparency in all government departments. The violators will be dealt with according to the Sharia rules.

Anyway, read the rest here. Regardless of how you feel about America's adventure in Afghanistan, you've got to hand it to the Taliban: These fundamentalist Muslims have some serious chutzpah.

(h/t Jihadology)

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What's the American Way to Fight the Planned 9/11 "Burn a Koran Day"?

| Wed Sep. 8, 2010 5:38 PM EDT

By now, you may have heard of "Burn a Koran Day," the, ahem, brainchild of Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center and its Islam-hatin' pastor Terry Jones. (No, not that Terry Jones. Thankfully.) Apparently the pastor is jonesing for some 9/11 headlines, so he's exhorting his nondenominational Christian flock to show unity on the anniversary of the "attack on America" by going Fahrenheit 451 on Islam's holy book. It's a move that's been widely attacked, even by such political quietists as Gen. David Petraeus in Kabul. (Jones' book-burning campaign "is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems—not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community," says Petraeus.)

Enter the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has been combating the spectre of old-school, end-times Christian proselytizing in the armed forces' ranks since 2005. The group has vowed that for every Koran Jones' minions char, they'll donate a new one to the Afghan National Army...via Petraeus. Says MRFF in a press release:

After being contacted by scores of our active duty military clients asking us to do something in response to Terry Jones's planned "Burn A Koran Day," MRFF has decided that the most appropriate response would not be to try to stop Jones, but to donate to the Afghan National Army, as a gesture of good will and a statement of opposition to this entirely un-American act of religious bigotry, a new Qur'an for each one destroyed by Jones and his followers.

As if that wasn't enough First Amendment-flexing for you, MRFF also plans to run a full-page ad in Friday's Gainesville Sun, Jones' local paper:

Kinda makes you proud to be an American, aywot?

Bloggingheads.tv: How Did "Stimulus" Become a Dirty Word?

Wed Sep. 8, 2010 3:20 PM EDT

David Corn and James Pinkerton met today in one of their customary video duels. They disagree sharply on the policy effectiveness and political optics of the stimulus bill but find some common ground on the problems plaguing the Obama administration and the idiocy and bigotry of the Quran burning pastor.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

"State Secrets" Trump Justice Again

| Wed Sep. 8, 2010 2:57 PM EDT

The prospect of any legal accountability for the government's rendition, detention, and interrogation program dimmed dramatically this week. On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the so-called "state secrets" privilege protects the government and its contractors from a lawsuit brought by five men who say they were kidnapped, flown to foreign countries, and tortured on the behalf of the American government. Even the ACLU, which supported the men in their suit, acknowledged that the decision "all but shuts the door on accountability for the illegal program."

The 6-5 ruling (PDF) in the case, Mohamed et. al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan, rests on the "state secrets" privilege. In the years after September 11, the controversial doctrine has basically acted as a "get out of court free" card for the Bush and Obama administrations in cases related to torture and domestic spying. In this particular lawsuit, people who say they were tortured sued Jeppesen Dataplan, a Boeing subsidiary that managed rendition flights for the CIA. The government does not dispute many of the central facts of the case, including the fact that Binyam Mohamed, the main plaintiff, was tortured. But the Obama administration, which continued the Bush administration policy of intervening in the case on Jeppesen's behalf, was still able to get a dismissal by saying the magic words "state secrets." The peerless Marcy Wheeler sums up the sad news best:

So basically, the government can kidnap you and send you to be tortured...[Y]et even if your contractors acknowledge what they were doing, if the government wants to call their own law-breaking a secret, the most liberal Circuit Court in the country agrees they can.

UPDATE—Here's Ben Wizner, who argued the case for the ACLU:

This is a sad day not only for the torture victims whose attempt to seek justice has been extinguished, but for all Americans who care about the rule of law and our nation's reputation in the world. To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration's torture program has had his day in court. If today's decision is allowed to stand, the United States will have closed its courtroom doors to torture victims while providing complete immunity to their torturers. The torture architects and their enablers may have escaped the judgment of this court, but they will not escape the judgment of history.

Will Obama's Economic Medley Work?

| Wed Sep. 8, 2010 10:42 AM EDT

Obama's new economic recovery brew—a mix of business tax breaks, tax credits for research and development, and infrastructure spending—is dominating the headlines this week. The plan is both a political and an economic gamble—a bet that spending on roads and airports combined with tax breaks will lift both the economy and the Democrats before the fall elections.

But will Obama's economic medley work? A little bit, says Mark Zandi, a former John McCain adviser and chief economist at Moody's Analytics. Zandi told the Washington Post that Obama's proposals are "helpful on the margin to the recovery. But they're not a game-changer." Zandi estimates they might create "tens of thousands" of jobs—nothing to scoff at, but hardly a silver-bullet solution when faced with a jobs deficit upwards of 10 million. In the more pessimistic camp is Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of Economic Cycle Research Institute, who told CNNMoney the plan wouldn't reverse the recovery's deceleration. "We already are in a slowdown, so no matter what they do, there is a risk of another recession," Achuthan said.

Marshall Auerback, a over the Daily Beast, is a little more optimistic about the economic package's chances. He predicts the package will create "some jobs," and praised Obama's decision to embrace yet more government spending to get the recovery moving along again. "At least he's now practicing stimulus!" Auerback writes. "Within 48 hours, he has re-focused the recovery around fiscal policy, rather than publicly fretting about deficits."

And David Sinai with Decision Economics told CNNMoney the proposed tax breaks target all the wrong things. "We already have business spending running at its fastest rate in three decades without the need for more deficit-financed tax incentives," he said. "In other words, how ridiculous is it for the government to be targeting tax relief to the one part of the economy that needs it the least?"

Of course, there's the small matter of getting Congress, now fully absorbed in the fall midterm elections, to pass his proposals. The Wall Street Journal reports today that that's unlikely to happen:

White House officials, business advocates and Republicans were skeptical the measures would pass in the three or four weeks Congress has left before members leave Washington for the fall campaigns. House Democratic leadership aides said they did not want to move forward without assurance that the Senate could pass the measures. And Senate aides gave no such promises.

"The only way we can get anything done is with cooperation of Republicans, and that's been in short supply in recent months," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.).

This is hypocrisy at its finest. After all, the tax relief that Obama's now proposing are some of the very ideas the GOP and the business community have called for and supported in the past. The Chamber of Commerce, a GOP-leaning foe of the president's, has previously backed an infrastructure bank and extension of bonus depreciation, both of which are included in Obama's latest plan. Moreover, a White House-backed small business has been blocked in the Senate by Republicans after passing the House—even though they claim to have the best interests of entrepreneurs and small business owners in mind. It's one thing to oppose initiatives you don't think are particularly effective or well designed; it's quite another to oppose them after backing the same ideas in the not-so-distant past.

Today, Obama takes his economic plan on the road to Cleveland. You have to think the reception there will be warmer than what's coming out of Washington.

Afghanistan's Bank Meltdown Explained

| Wed Sep. 8, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Last week, the Afghan government intervened to stabilize Kabul Bank, whose dubious off-the-books investments and shady real estate deals in Dubai could precipitate a massive bank run—or even the collapse of Afghanistan's fragile financial system. On Tuesday, the government announced that it has frozen the assets of the banks top shareholders and borrowers "until the situation becomes clear."

So how bad are things going to get for Afghans who have money sitting in the bank's swiftly emptying vaults? The troubled institution has already lost some $300 million of its $1.1 billion in deposits. Last week's revelations have led to the forced resignation of some of the bank's top officials, including bank founder and former chairman Sherkhan Farnood, a world class poker player and owner of much of the Dubai real estate. (When the Washington Post asked about the Dubai deals in February, Farnood had this to say: "What I'm doing is not proper, not exactly what I should do. But this is Afghanistan.") Meanwhile, government officials are denying early reports that the Afghan Central Bank will have to take over Kabul Bank. If that happens, Afghanistan could wind up begging the international community for hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure that its small businessmen and civil servants don't lose everything in the potential run.

With the stakes so high, President Hamid Karzai and the Central Bank are working to reassure depositors, calling in $300 million in reserves to help guarantee Kabul Bank's liquidity and injecting $100-150 million to keep the bank afloat. "No customers are leaving without their money... The situation has normalized," Abdul Qadir Fitrat, a governor at the Afghan Central Bank, said Tuesday. Fitrat claims that Kabul Bank is still using its "own money" (as opposed to government funds) and that its customers deposited $11 to 17 million a day over the past several days. 

There is no doubt that the efforts to stave off a complete financial meltdown have been aggressive. Considering how cozy the president and his crew are with the bank, which contributed large sums to Karzai's re-election campaign, that's hardly a surprise. Mahmoud, the President's brother, is Kabul Bank's third-largest shareholder, and lived in one the villas the bank bought in Dubai. (Mahmoud recently announced he’ll be vacating that pad.) But while calling in the reserves may have reassured Karzai's buddies, the thousands of Afghans who lined up to pull their savings—and the $200 million-plus they’ve withdrawn in recent days—suggest that the state's measures aren't convincing the common people.

The US says that it won't be bailing out Kabul Bank. American officials are, however, pushing for a major clean-up. That leaves Karzai relatively exposed: if he can’t dig the bank out of this hole, his credibility will continue to erode. And if Afghans weren’t sure of it before, they know now: off-the-books investments by the government with their own money have a direct and negative impact on their lives. The more Afghans are able to put together a complete picture of government malfeasance, the more troubling the long-term security picture becomes. Here's Dexter Filkins' grim assessment

. . . [T]he rationalization offered by the Western official—that Afghans are happy to tolerate a certain level of bribery and theft—seems to have turned out terribly wrong. It now seems clear that public corruption is roundly despised by ordinary Afghans, and that it may constitute the single largest factor driving them into the arms of the Taliban. 

UPDATE: In the Times today, Adam Ellick and Filkins chart the relationships between the bank, the brothers of Hamid Karzai and his vice president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, and the Afghan political class:

In early 2009, as President Hamid Karzai scanned the landscape for potential partners to run in his re-election bid, he was approached from an unusual corner: a bank. The president’s brother, Mahmoud, and another Afghan businessman, Haseen Fahim, were shareholders in Kabul Bank, one of the freewheeling financial institutions that had sprung up over the past decade since the Taliban’s fall. According to Afghan officials and businessmen in Kabul, Mahmoud Karzai and Mr. Fahim recommended Mr. Fahim’s brother, Gen. Muhammad Qasim Fahim, to become the president’s running mate. President Karzai agreed, and in a stroke co-opted his ethnic Tajik opposition and placated an old political foe with a checkered record on human rights and corruption. After the deal, Kabul Bank poured millions into Mr. Karzai’s re-election campaign, Afghan officials said. Mahmoud Karzai and Haseen Fahim, drawing on Kabul Bank’s resources, were able to enrich their families aided by tens of millions of dollars in loans. [emphasis added]

The Times outlines, in great detail, the odd coupling of the educated statesman Karzai and brutal warlord Fahim, and points out that the bank crisis throws a serious monkey wrench in their superalliance. For his part, Mahmoud—whose shady adventures in ill-advised investments are becoming clearer with each passing day—claims that the president’s support for General Fahim “had nothing to do” with the fact that he and the future vice president’s brother were in cahoots. “Yes, I recommended [Fahim]. . . He is a sober man, and he is very brave.”

And for brother Hamid? If he doesn’t continue to prop up Kabul Bank with public funds, he risks destroying the livelihoods of thousands of innocent Afghans. If he does, he opens himself up to accusations of political favoritism—I think the technical term for it is damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 8, 2010

Wed Sep. 8, 2010 2:58 AM EDT

 

The sun sets on a C-130 Hercules, on Aug. 31, 2010, as Operation Iraqi Freedom draws to a close at an air base in Southwest Asia. Photo via the US Army by Maj. Dale Greer.

Corn on "Hardball": Will Burning Qurans Set Off a Wave of Fury?

Tue Sep. 7, 2010 8:44 PM EDT

David Corn and Captain Wes Moore (Ret.) joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss a Florida pastor's plans to publicly burn the Quran and the potential danger this poses to US troops abroad.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Yale's Tillman-McChrystal Controversy

| Tue Sep. 7, 2010 3:38 PM EDT

Last week, the Yale College Democrats dropped their support for an on-campus screening of The Tillman Story, a documentary about the late NFL star turned Army Ranger. The Dems feared that the event was being turned into an attack on retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of US troops in Afghanistan, who will teach a class at Yale this year. McChrystal does figure into the saga—in 2004*, he recommended Tillman for a Silver Star for valor "in the line of devastating enemy fire" despite already knowing with "near-absolute certainty" that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire. But McChrystal is not the focus of the movie, and the Dems felt that the way the screening was being promoted focused too heavily on painting McChrystal as a "bad guy," according to the original Yale Daily News report on the controversy.

On Friday, I wrote a blog post criticizing the Dems for dropping their support of the film. Since then, I've spoken to Amir Bar-Lev, the director of "The Tillman Story," Charles Musser, the Yale professor who organized the event, and Ben Stango, the president of the Yale Dems, and exchanged emails with university spokesman Tom Conroy. I've also obtained copies of the draft press releases that originally upset the Dems. Together, these sources paint a more complete picture of what happened. 

Hedge Funder Trades Greed for Weed

| Tue Sep. 7, 2010 2:15 PM EDT

You'd think a wealthy hedge-fund type wouldn't need side gigs to keep the cash coming in. Not Tara Bryson, an executive with Connecticut-based New Stream Capital, a $1 billion lending fund whose list of clients includes celebs like Elizabeth Taylor and Kathy Ireland. According to Forbes, Bryson was recently arrested by Connecticut State Police on felony charges for allegedly operating a year-round pot farm inside her house. Specifically, the charges were possession of marijuana, cultivation of marijuana, and conspiracy to cultivate marijuana. (Bryson pleaded not guilty, and was released on $25,000 bail.)

Here's more from Forbes:

State police narcotics task force reports say the residence was "a complex marijuana cultivation operation capable of producing a marijuana crop year round." The Newtown Bee, which first reported the arrest, on August 13th, said police seized a portable air conditioner, a carbon dioxide generator and motorized track lighting system, as well as a growing ledger, financial records, and a personal computer. Police said electric bills for the property were far larger than would be expected for the near-6,000 square foot home. Bryson bought it in May 2009. Public records list its worth at $1.15 million.

Reached at home, [Bryson's boyfriend Michael] Hearl called the charges "bogus," and said "we didn’t have that many plants"...Bryson declined to comment.

If they're weren't growing pot, then what were they doing? According to Hearl, the pair were actually goat farmers. Yep, that's right. They even have website for their goat operation, with which they'd planned to produce goat cheese and milk, now under construction. Not only that but they received a $49,999 grant from the state to launch their goat farm. Ah, the sweet aroma of, um, entrepreneurship.