Mojo - December 2010

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 6, 2010

Mon Dec. 6, 2010 5:30 AM EST

U.S. Army 2nd Lt. George Kane briefs local Afghan national police officers before departing on Operation Gazme Shab 3, Nov. 18, 2010. The purpose for the operation is to assess local activity in the evening hours and gather intel for future operations. Photo by Cpl. Kevin Martin

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Right-Wing Vets Torn on DADT

| Fri Dec. 3, 2010 1:54 PM EST

OK, the next sentence will probably make you laugh. Just promise me you'll keep reading beyond that.

I want to contrast the reactions of two conservative military commentators on yesterday's Don't Ask Don't Tell hearings: Bruce "McQ" McQuain at the prominent milblog Blackfive, and Oliver North.

No, seriously. Both put out some really interesting commentary yesterday. One represents a sober but crisp arch-conservativism that you may rarely agree with, but can quickly appreciate. The other represents the inchoate ramblings of an addled, sycophantic manipulator who has no business intoning on anyone's morality. Taken together, they show why repealing DADT should be a priority for Democrats—not only because it's morally just and strategically sound, but because it has the political potential to implode the right wing of the right wing.

Nobel-Winning Microlender Accused of Corruption

| Fri Dec. 3, 2010 1:39 PM EST

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed Yunus, founder of microcredit lender Grameen Bank, is under investigation by the Norwegian Committee of Foreign Affairs after a Norwegian documentary, Caught in Microdebt, publicized accusations that Yunus funneled money to Grameen Kalyan, a subsidiary that finances his bank, as well as Yunus' phone company GrameenPhone—which is co-owned by a Norwegian company, Telenor. Over the years, Norway has provided $100 million in aid to the Bangladeshi-based Grameen Bank—and explained to Grameen back in a 1997 letter that using the money to finance other projects wasn't part of the deal.

In documents published by Tom Heinemann, the Danish journalist who produced the documentary, the Royal Norwegian Embassy's questioning of Yunus' money transfers are revealed. Yunus claimed the change in cash-flow structure was "to generate income for the borrowers of the bank and offer opportunities to diversity our efforts for poverty reduction" by avoiding burdensome taxes. He then wrote a letter to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, explaining the dire situation and asking for help before a public misunderstanding occurred.

The documentary, which will be released in English in January, comes a month after the New York Times' gloomy forecast for the future of microcredit in India. Investigations of improprieties in the microcredit boom are flying around the development world. David Roodman, a researcher for the Center for Global Development, said the number of microloans in India alone has shot from 1 million to 26.7 million since 2003. Echoing information uncovered by the Times investigation, Roodman claimed this boom is largely due to microlenders giving loans to women who can't pay back previous microloans. Studies show that this load of revolving debt further exacerbates the farmer suicide situation. It also creates the appearance that payback rates on the previous loans are higher than they actually are...and high payback rates are a major selling point of microlending among activists and investors in the West.

According to the documentary, which screened this week, Grameen Bank is no different. Heinemann visited villagers who have taken loans from Grameen and claim debt collectors have used threatening and aggressive collection tactics that push them into desperate borrowing cycles. This morning, Grameen Bank dismissed the allegations—at least those regarding its money transfers—saying the bank's plan was only to keep the interest on loans down to 2 percent by moving the cash and reducing its tax exposure.

While the moves are still under investigation, Yunus' saintly reputation doesn't seem to have take too large a hit yet—not here, at least. Italian filmmaker Marco Amenta intends to shoot a new film about Yunus, named after the financier's book, Banker of the Poor. Amenta is already in India, where the film will be set, hunting down actors and locations. But he might have an easier time finding a willing audience in the West than finding willing actors in the East.

American Crossroads' Sugar Daddies

| Fri Dec. 3, 2010 1:36 PM EST

The latest figures are out for Karl Rove's two outside spending juggernauts, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. The two groups raised more than $71 million for the 2010 midterm elections, more than any other outside organization apart from the two major parties' own political committees. That money, it seems, paid off: 55 percent of the candidates supported by American Crossroads won, while 71 percent of Crossroad GPS' candidates succeeded, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Thanks to Citizens United, we know nothing about Crossroads GPS' donors. We do, however, know who bankrolled American Crossroads, the highest spending super PAC of the midterm elections. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than half of American Crossroads' cash came from just four high-roller donors.

B. Wayne Hughes: The chairman of Public Storage, and American Crossroads' first donor, he contributed $3.5 million to the group.

Trevor Rees-Jones: The president and CEO of Chief Oil and Gas, based in Dallas, he's given American Crossroads $2 million this year.

Robert Rowling: CEO of TRT Holdings, which owns Omni Hotels and Gold's Gym, he's donated $2.5 million.

Bob Perry: A homebuilder and owner of Perry Homes, he's doled out $7 million to American Crossroads since September. You might remember Perry from his role in bankrolling Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the outside group that ran a controversial smear campaign against 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry.

That's one glimpse inside American Crossroads. Here's another: Of the $3.8 million raised by American Crossroads in the final weeks before the election, more than half came from Big Finance. Those donors range from self-employed stock brokers in Oklahoma and bankers at JPMorgan Chase to Kenneth Griffin, the founder and CEO of the hedge fund Citadel Investment Group, who gave $250,000. Griffin's wife, Anne, a portfolio manager, also donated $250,000.

You should get the picture here. The most powerful independent groups in American politics are bankrolled by CEOs and financiers, the wealthiest folks in America. And they're the folks who, thanks to Citizens United, will be doing their best to throw President Obama out the White House come 2012.

And Now: The WikiLeaks Blog Backlash

| Fri Dec. 3, 2010 12:33 PM EST

Consensus seems to indicate that the Wikleaked cables are fascinating, hilarious, tragic, unsettling, and full of the pulpy stuff that makes diplomacy seem startlingly human. They've given ordinary people a rousing crash course in 21st century strong-arming, although many experts believe they've also done considerable damage to the United States' diplomatic capital.

But what about the damage to the blogosphere? This morning, Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare—a blog on the legal dimensions of national security that regularly features commentary on sensitive areas of national security (read Nick Baumann on Wittes' take on American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki here and here)—received an email from a JAG captain deployed in Iraq. The email inquired about a curious message that popped up on his computer screen when he tried to access the blog from his work computer.

The message reads (edited slightly for brevity):

*** YOU HAVE SELECTED A SITE THAT MAY POTENTIALLY CONTAIN CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS *** Due to the recent disclosure of US Classified Information to public news and media sources, the site you are attempting to access may potentially be hosting US Classified . . . Downloading, copying, typing text into another document or email, printing, saving to a workstation, server, or any drive connected to a NIPR or Unclassified system is considered a compromise of that system. Additionally, printing, sending, transmitting or forwarding this information is also considered a SPILL and established SPILL cleanup procedures must be followed. . . Viewing these documents is not considered a spill in of itself; however, once a user identifies the information as classified or potentially classified, the individual should immediately cease viewing the item and close their web browser. . . . all personnel are to refrain from viewing any of the articles pertaining to Wikileaks releases on their DOD NIPR system. [emphasis added]

Unpleased, Wittes defends the integrity of Lawfare:

I cannot tell you how much I resent this. It’s not just the stupidity of the failure to distinguish between leaks and commentary on national security law–which inevitably will occasionally touch on leaks. . . . The most we have done is linked to a New York Times article that refers to some cables . . . We have actually taken pains over the life of this blog–and before–to avoid compromising sensitive material in the course of work that necessarily brings us into contact with it. On a few occasions, we have gone so far as to decline to post on sensitive matters that have come our way as a result of accidental disclosures. We write off of the public record here at Lawfare. Some of my press friends may not admire that, but that’s what we do. Glad to know the military appreciates the effort.

It's not clear if this has been a problem for other sites like Lawfare, or if it's simply a one-off shot across the bow. It is, of course, still early in the WikiLeaks game. But if this is happening to Wittes and his colleagues (who include former Bush-era Officer of Legal Counsel attorney Jack Goldsmith and the University of Texas' Robert Chesney), it could happen to similar sites that frequently attract members of the government. For better and for worse, though the United States' diplomatic guts have been spilled; the information is out there for all—including members of the military—to see. 

But if civilians enjoy the freedom to roam free in those new pastures, why shouldn't the military? Obstructing the military's understanding of why they're putting their asses on the line sets an alarming precedent, and shows that the Pentagon is in serious denial about the long-term impact of WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks: The Hikers and Iran's "Hostage-Taking as Political Blackmail"

| Fri Dec. 3, 2010 10:24 AM EST

In August 2009, weeks after three US citizens (including Mother Jones contributor Shane Bauer) were snatched by Iranian forces while hiking in Kurdistan, near the Iranian border, the US sought advice from France on how to free them. At the time, the French government was working to secure the release of one of its own citizens, Clotilde Reiss, and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, French officials opened their playbook to State Department official Kathleen H. Allegrone. Summarizing her meetings with two French officials, President Nicolas Sarkozy's strategic affairs advisor Francois Richier and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Middle East director Patrice Paoli, she wrote:

The French approached their hostage situations in Iran by first seeking an immediate, behind-the-scenes resolution before the Iranians brought charges against their captives, and then, once that approach failed, by adopting a two-pronged strategy: (1) relentlessly publicizing the cases with repeated employment of key words chosen carefully to put the Iranians on the defensive, and (2) constant exertion of diplomatic and political pressure, with the help of allies, in the form of regular demarches in Tehran and convocations of Iranian Ambassadors in European and Middle Eastern capitals.

The French officials stressed the importance of enlisting allies that might have Iran's ear, and said they had quickly reached out to Syria after Reiss was detained. Similarly, Richier said the French had made sure to explicitly thank Syria when Iran freed Nazak Afshar, a French embassy employee held briefly by Iran. "Of course we don't know if the Syrians did anything," Richier said, "but we wanted to thank them anyway. It should at least confuse the Iranians."

The French officials told their American counterparts that the Iranians would likely advise the US government, through the Swiss, to "remain calm and quiet" while the Iranian legal process moved forward. The French officials advised the opposite. "Be vocal," Richier said, "even more so if the Iranians ask you not to be." Paoli warned: "They are the masters of stalling tactics."

Ignore this warning, they insisted, because silence will not expedite the process. They argued that USG statements and actions can sway and even mobilize public opinion within Iran. Whether or not we choose to speak out, they warned, the Iranians will energetically disseminate fabricated accusations.

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Jobs Report: Recovery? Nope.

| Fri Dec. 3, 2010 9:35 AM EST

Like a beat-up truck on its last legs, the nation's economic recovery is all stop-and-go, one month lurching forward, the next month grinding to a halt. After a few autumn months of modest yet encouraging gains, the economy faltered again in November, according to the latest monthly report from the Department of Labor.

The headline unemployment rate ticked up to 9.8 percent, from 9.6 percent in October. The economy added just 39,000 jobs last month—a disappointment considering that economists had predicted gains of 130,000. The number of unemployed Americans remains historically high, at 15.1 million, and the ranks of those out of work for six months or more, the crippling "long-term unemployment" I chronicled in detail here, held steady at 6.3 million, or 42 percent of all unemployed workers. And there were 1.3 million "discouraged" workers—jobless people who've stopping looking for work altogether—in November, an increase of 421,000 from last year.

The most complete look at unemployment—the "U-6" rate, which lumps together nearly all types of unemployment—held at 17 percent. Put another way, today there are still nearly 5 unemployed workers for every one job opening.

A few slivers of good news: The Labor Department revised upward its previous jobs figures for September, from 41,000 lost to 24,000 lost, and for October, from 151,000 to 172,000. So the economy gained 38,000 more jobs in those two months than originally thought.

Of course, even with these revisions, the jobs gains of the last three months—and, indeed, the entire year—are nowhere near what we need to fill a jobs deficit of 10 million jobs—that is, what employment would look like today had the economic crisis not happened. The economy needs to add about 300,000 jobs every month to begin filling that deficit. And what Friday's figures show is that a real economic recovery—not the two steps forward, one step back kind we're now going through—remains months, if not years, away.

Popular Marijuana Company Goes Public

| Fri Dec. 3, 2010 7:20 AM EST

This week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been on a tear, but it's nothing compared to the recent highs achieved by an obscure stock known as General Cannabis (ticker symbol: CANA). Since word leaked out in September that the company was acquiring the popular Yelp-for-pot site WeedMaps.com, the value of its shares has skyrocketed 300 percent. Last week General Cannabis officially finalized the purchase, making WeedMaps the latest and most brazen marijuana business to go public.

Founded in 2008 by a University of California computer science graduate, Justin Hartfield, WeedMaps allows users to search for medical marijuana dispensaries in their area, compare prices, and post reviews. Its 50,000 paying users in September grossed the site $400,000, according to David Downs of the East Bay Express, who explains:

Most people use the site for free, but like Craigslist or Yelp, Weedmaps charges dispensary owners for prime placement, review rebuttals, and advertising. User payments became so torrential, credit card processors assumed fraud. Weedmaps had to create its own merchant-processing account to deal with payments, and spin-off "Cannapay" now does billing for two-dozen other businesses. It may become a credit union. Weedmaps' free iPhone app also gets 700 to 800 new downloads a day and has been downloaded over a half a million times.

Beyond its popularity, though, what makes WeedMaps controversial are the other websites run by the company, some of which can't claim to be solely for semi-legal medical marijuana users. And that doesn't make everyone in the medical pot world happy, Downs notes:

Some perceive Hartfield's young, bold approach as a threat to hard-won patient rights. Weedmaps sites like weedporn.com and weedorskin.com don't exactly legitimize medical use. Arizona medical marijuana campaign manager Andrew Myers notes that national support for medical marijuana has peaked and begun to erode, even as full legalization's supporters grow.

As the marijuana industry gradually goes mainstream, you can expect to see a lot more of these types of conflicts. In the next issue of the print magazine I profile the founders of WeGrow, a vertically-integrated pot company that aims to be the nation's first "marijuana superstore." They too plan to go public, and if and when that happens, it will make WeedMaps look positively tame.

WikiLeaks: Don't Sweat Pakistan's Corruption, US Tells Saudis

| Fri Dec. 3, 2010 6:00 AM EST

During a May 16, 2009, meeting in Riyadh with a senior Saudi official, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke—the Obama administration's special adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan—said that corruption in Pakistan was a problem but indicated that Washington had decided not to focus on it, according to a confidential cable sent from the US embassy in Riyadh to the State Department that was released by WikiLeaks.

Holbrooke was meeting with Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia's assistant interior minister, and much of the conversation concerned Pakistan. Holbrooke emphasized that to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, the US and Saudi governments need to work together regarding Pakistan. Yet the meeting showed there were differences. MbN—as the cable called him—said that the Saudi government "viewed the Pakistan army as the strongest element for stability in the country." In reply, Holbrooke noted the US supported Pakistan's democracy.

Holbrooke was in Saudi Arabia to brief officials on the Obama administration's policy on Afghanistan—which emphasized achieving stability in Pakistan. According to the cable, he told the prince, "The U.S. might be able to live with some degree of instability in Afghanistan, but not with an unstable Pakistan, because of Pakistan's nuclear arms, fragile politics, and relationship with India." MbN said the Saudis "absolutely" shared this perspective. (The cable noted that King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the same thing in subsequent meetings with Holbrooke.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 3, 2010

Fri Dec. 3, 2010 5:30 AM EST

1st Lt. Raymond Gobberg, front, and Staff Sgt. Sean Quigley conduct a canal site survey near Highway 1, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, Nov. 27. The canal is scheduled for cleaning and repairs in the next few months. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson