Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Izzy Award winners announced, Going Anti-Postal

From: Jeff Cohen []
Sent: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 7:29 AM 

Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Center for Media and Democracy
Share Izzy Award Honoring Independent Media


 ITHACA, NY � Feb. 29:  The Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College has announced that its fourth annual Izzy Award for outstanding achievement in independent media will be shared by a journalist who reported firsthand on the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt and a public interest newsgroup that probed efforts by a corporate-funded organization to generate state and federal legislation.


 The award will be presented to Sharif Abdel Kouddous and to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) at a ceremony at the college on Tuesday, April 10. Kouddous and CMD executive director Lisa Graves will each speak at the ceremony, with details on the time and location of the event to be announced at a later date.

The Izzy Award is named after dissident journalist I.F. "Izzy" Stone, who launched his muckraking newsletter I.F. Stone's Weekly in 1953 during the height of the McCarthy witch hunts. Stone, who died in 1989, exposed government deceit and corruption while championing civil liberties, racial justice and international diplomacy.


 Sharif Abdel Kouddous

Kouddous covered the 18-day Tahrir Square uprising of Egyptians against dictatorship and the upheaval that followed as a correspondent and senior producer for Democracy Now! The Izzy Award judges noted that, "With breathtaking bravery, Sharif's unflinching on-the-street reporting simultaneously brought us the voices and faces of Egyptians, the drama of the moment and big-picture analysis ― sometimes while tear gas or live rounds exploded in the background."


 An HBO documentary, In Tahrir Square, chronicled the uprising through the reporting of Kouddous. His tweets, reports and analysis from Egypt have been widely posted in other media outlets, including The Nation, Foreign Policy, Egypt Independent and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Born in the United States and raised in Egypt, Kouddous joined Democracy Now! in 2003 as a volunteer before becoming a producer. In 2008 he was arrested while covering protests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a fellow at The Nation Institute.


 Center for Media and Democracy

The Center for Media and Democracy is being honored for its investigative work on "ALEC Exposed," which probed the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded organization that has promoted a wish list of pro-corporate legislation into law in state after state and in Congress. Triggered by a whistleblower, CMD's investigation analyzed and exposed more than 800 ALEC "model bills" ― on issues ranging from the environment and education to workers' rights and voting rights ― that were developed in secret by legislators sitting side-by-side with corporate lobbyists. CMD made its investigation public in July in collaboration with The Nation magazine, and the exposé has sparked months of news coverage in mainstream and independent outlets.


 The Izzy Award judges commended CMD for its "high-impact journalistic work that turned a bright light on a powerful institution that had largely operated in darkness."

CMD has been doing investigative reporting since 1993, with a special focus on corporate and government propaganda. It is the publisher of PRWatch, SourceWatch and BanksterUSA.


Judges of the Izzy Award are Park Center for Independent Media director Jeff Cohen; University of Illinois communications professor and author Robert W. McChesney; and Linda Jue, executive director and editor of the San Francisco-based G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism.


 "Both Sharif Abdel Kouddous and the Center for Media and Democracy continue the Izzy Stone legacy of fearless journalism that stands up to the powerful and stands with the forces for change," said Cohen.


 "This year's winners were selected from an exceptional pool of diverse nominees," said Jue. "Amid social upheaval at home and abroad, independent media outlets had a stellar year monitoring institutional power, chronicling systemic problems and pointing toward solutions."

Previous winners of the Izzy Award are author/columnist Robert Scheer; New York's in-depth outlet City Limits; investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill; blogger Glenn Greenwald; and Democracy Now! host/executive producer Amy Goodman.


 Based in the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College, the Park Center for Independent Media was launched in 2008 as a national center for the study of media outlets that create and distribute content outside traditional corporate systems.


 For more information, visit or contact Jeff Cohen at 


* * *

 From: Richard Menec

Sent: Monday, February 27, 2012 8:23 PM

Humanist Share March / April 2012

Going Anti-Postal; What kind of nation won't fund a Post Office?

by: Michael I. Niman

There was a time not too long ago when mantles lined with Christmas cards were as ubiquitous as Christmas trees, when birthdays bestowed us with similar arrays, when the letter carrier would regularly visit our homes and drop off tangible graphic reminders that people loved us--that we were part of a community. Now our hundreds or thousands of Facebook "friends" hit a key and post to our pages. Our email inboxes might clog for a day or two with similar messages, laden with banner ads to market us happiness or merriment in accordance with what the date requires. Love, hate, and business, the pundits tell us, have migrated to email and social media, and hence that molluscan dinosaur, snail mail, is extinct.

But my disgust with the radical scheme to kill off the United States Postal Service has nothing to do with nostalgia or romanticism.

The Postal Service is not a mere delivery service, an outdated, inefficient alternative to FedEx or UPS. It's a public service that every nation on earth, except for Somalia, maintains. In fact the United States joins Somalia as one of the only nations that doesn't fund a postal system. We used to fund it, from the birth of our nation until Ronald Reagan's presidency. It's one of the only public services specifically addressed in the U.S. Constitution--right in Article One. Its genesis dates back to the Second Continental Congress, which appointed Benjamin Franklin as our first postmaster general.

The original purpose of the Postal Service was not to deliver Christmas gifts or iPads but to deliver democracy. It was the conduit for political discussion and debate, tying a geographically dispersed population into a single, somewhat informed electorate. That's why magazines and newspapers historically enjoyed a low, government-subsidized rate. The Founding Fathers realized that a large nation must communicate through media, and that privately funded media would skew the national debate toward the interests of the rich. Hence, they established the Postal Service and gave it a mandate to subsidize independent media with deeply discounted media mail rates. That's why its formation was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution--for the same reason the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and names journalism as the only profession that it specifically safeguards. A free press, including a means for disseminating that press, are paramount necessities for a democracy to function.

Today, one could argue that the Internet fills this function, rendering media mail obsolete--at least for the 60 percent of the population that have dedicated Internet connections. But there are a few major differences between the Postal Service and the Internet that undermine the latter's ability to protect our democracy. First off, our Internet connection comes via a private portal. A handful of corporations monopolize ownership of this infrastructure and keep trying to exert control over what passes through it and at what speed, if at all. We must never forget this, and never take the Internet, or its temporal anarchy, for granted. We've already seen governments and compliant corporations around the world employ simple algorithms or outright filters to censor the Internet. The Postal Service's media mail provides the redundancy that we need to guarantee a free press.

Also, unlike the cable and telephone monopolies that control our Internet connections, the Postal Service is legally required to provide uniform service, quality, and pricing to all Americans, regardless of where they live. By contrast, approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population doesn't have dedicated Internet access, and about a quarter have no access at all to the so-called information superhighway. Those of us who do enjoy Internet access pay exorbitant rates, usually to maintain a subpar connection. One way to correct this would be to have the Postal Service run a government-subsidized Internet system, with the same guaranteed, universal access to affordable service that the postal system has historically provided. This would be in line with the founding fathers' original charge to build mail highways, with the information superhighway being the modern equivalent of a road specifically constructed to facilitate communication.

Also in line with the original intent, an affordable Internet with guaranteed net neutrality would protect future access to a free press. In a democracy, access to information should be a public service and a guaranteed right.

A postal Internet, however, would challenge entrenched corporate interests in the communication sector--entities that persistently rip us off and openly work to undermine our democracy. It's no surprise that these communication corporations employ an army of lobbyists on the state and federal level, and are among the largest political contributors to pro-corporate politicians who carry their water in the halls of Congress.

These are the same politicians who cut all subsidies to the U.S. Postal Service during the Reagan years, and now want to finally see it completely decimated.

Essentially, the war against the U.S. Postal Service is part of the same corporate-funded war against democracy that brands itself as a supposed libertarian battle against "big government." The obvious contradiction in this rhetoric, however, is that you can't have libertarianism while corporations are left standing. Remove the "we the people" checks on a plutocracy that government is supposed to provide, and we're left at the mercy of unfettered corporatism, no matter how seductive the brand marketing is.

Here's how the cards were stacked against the Postal Service. Congress passed a law mandating that the Postal Service, and only the Postal Service, pre-fund parts of its retirement system seventy-five years into the future.

This mandate, which costs the Postal Service $5 billion per year, does not apply to any other government agency or private corporation. Take away this burden, and the Postal Service, amazingly, would be profitable. I say "amazingly," because the Postal Service still provides media rates, as low as eleven cents, to deliver magazines and newspapers, and as low as seven cents to deliver nonprofit mail--all without the subsidy that similar agencies enjoy around the world, and that our Postal Service previously enjoyed for more than two centuries.

Even the regular first-class postage rate, which has gone up to forty-five cents, is remarkably cheap, considering that it includes pickup at your home and two-day delivery to almost the entire nation. Now think about UPS, FedEX, or DHL coming to your home to pick up anything for forty-five cents.

And it's not just ordinary people who enjoy this service. As much as we hate junk mail, small businesses often survive by using bulk mailings to send parcels of up to 3.3 ounces for as little as fourteen cents. None of this is really lucrative business, which is why postal services around the world are subsidized. Ours is not. Add to this disadvantage the fact that corporate delivery entities like UPS and FedEx can cherry-pick services that are profitable to provide, much like charter schools cherry-pick problem-free students, and it becomes obvious how the deck is stacked against the survival of the Postal Service. It's no coincidence that FedEx and UPS are two of the largest campaign contributors funding politicians working to kill the Postal Service altogether. Such a move would eliminate their primary barrier to unfettered profits, much like the absence of public service Internet has allowed communication companies to saddle us with the some of the most expensive and slowest internet connections in the developed world.

I believe this is racketeering.

On December 5, 2011, the Postal Service, facing a predicable budget shortfall and the unwillingness of Congress to restore any funding to the agency, announced that it will close half of its mail processing centers and end next-day delivery of first-class mail. This would essentially initiate a downward spiral of service cuts followed by revenue drops, eventually leading to the total collapse of the Postal Service. This plan, temporarily on hold, is already being prematurely celebrated by the corporatist press.

In a December 15 column in Forbes, Roger Kay looks forward to the day when the mail system is privatized. He writes, "I predict that the shift will be a net benefit to the overall system, despite the loss of jobs for more than a half-million postal workers. I hope they don't go postal on me for saying so."

The Postal Service has been able to hang on to life, thirty years after it lost all public funding while retaining all of its public service mandates, thanks only to its work force. These are, for the most part, highly educated workers who secured their jobs through a competitive process. They've kept this unfunded public service system running against all odds for decades.

They not only handle mail but keep an eye on disabled shut-ins, senior citizens, and our homes, often being the first ones to notice if anything is amiss. Most chose this public service career because it offered secure employment with a guaranteed pension. The very precepts of this agreement are now in jeopardy because of a corrupt Congress beholden to corporate special interests that, in their unfettered greed, want to privatize and profitize all government services, no matter the cost to society, our democracy, or our freedoms.

I'd rather see these middle-class postal workers keep their jobs and continue to provide an essential communication service while Forbes's Roger Kay queues up in a bread line, or, better yet, tries to find some honest work. Perhaps he'll move to Somalia and experience the bliss of a postal-free society.

As the Postal Service creed goes, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." Let's hope they can also survive a Republican Congress.

Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. This article was originally published by ArtVoice on December 21, 2011. Previous columns are at, archived at, and available globally through syndication.



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Engelhardt and Turse: The End in Afghanistan?

Tomgram: Engelhardt and Turse, The End in Afghanistan?
Blown Away. 

How the U.S. Fanned the Flames in Afghanistan
By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

February 28, 2012.

Is it all over but the (anti-American) shouting -- and the killing? Are the exits finally coming into view?

Sometimes, in a moment, the fog lifts, the clouds shift, and you can finally see the landscape ahead with startling clarity. In Afghanistan, Washington may be reaching that moment in a state of panic, horror, and confusion. Even as an anxious U.S. commander withdrew American and NATO advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul last weekend -- approximately 300, military spokesman James Williams tells TomDispatch -- the ability of American soldiers to remain on giant fortified bases eating pizza and fried chicken into the distant future is not in doubt.

No set of Taliban guerrillas, suicide bombers, or armed Afghan “allies” turning their guns on their American “brothers” can alter that -- not as long as Washington is ready to bring the necessary supplies into semi-blockaded Afghanistan at staggering cost. But sometimes that’s the least of the matter, not the essence of it. So if you’re in a mood to mark your calendars, late February 2012 may be the moment when the end game for America’s second Afghan War, launched in October 2001, was initially glimpsed.

Amid the reportage about the recent explosion of Afghan anger over the torching of Korans in a burn pit at Bagram Air Base, there was a tiny news item that caught the spirit of the moment. As anti-American protests (and the deaths of protestors) mounted across Afghanistan, the German military made a sudden decision to immediately abandon a 50-man outpost in the north of the country.

True, they had planned to leave it a few weeks later, but consider the move a tiny sign of the increasing itchiness of Washington’s NATO allies. The French have shown a similar inclination to leave town since, earlier this year, four of their troops were blown away (and 16 wounded) by an Afghan army soldier, as three others had been shot down several weeks before by another Afghan in uniform. Both the French and the Germans have also withdrawn their civilian advisors from Afghan government institutions in the wake of the latest unrest.

Now, it's clear enough: the Europeans are ready to go. And that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, we’re talking about NATO -- the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- whose soldiers found themselves in distant Afghanistan in the first place only because, since World War II, with the singular exception of French President Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, European leaders have had a terrible time saying “no” to Washington. They still can’t quite do so, but in these last months it’s clear which way their feet are pointed.

Which makes sense. You would have to be blind not to notice that the American effort in Afghanistan is heading into the tank.

The surprising thing is only that the Obama administration, which recently began to show a certain itchiness of its own -- speeding up withdrawal dates and lowering the number of forces left behind -- remains remarkably mired in its growing Afghan disaster. Besieged by demonstrators there, and at home by Republican presidential hopefuls making hay out of a situation from hell, its room to maneuver in an unraveling, increasingly chaotic situation seems to grow more limited by the day.

Sensitivity Training

The Afghan War shouldn’t be the world’s most complicated subject to deal with. After all, the message is clear enough. Eleven years in, if your forces are still burning Korans in a deeply religious Muslim country, it’s way too late and you should go.

Instead, the U.S. command in Kabul and the administration back home have proceeded to tie themselves in a series of bizarre knots, issuing apologies, orders, and threats to no particular purpose as events escalated. Soon after the news of the Koran burning broke, for instance, General John R. Allen, the U.S. war commander in Afghanistan, issued orders that couldn’t have been grimmer (or more feeble) under the circumstances. Only a decade late, he directed that all U.S. military personnel in the country undergo 10 days of sensitivity “training in the proper handling of religious materials.”

Sensitivity, in case you hadn’t noticed at this late date, has not been an American strong suit there. In the headlines in the last year, for instance, were revelations about the 12-soldier “kill team” that “hunted” Afghan civilians “for sport,” murdered them, and posed for demeaning photos with their corpses. There were the four wisecracking U.S. Marines who videotaped themselves urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans -- whether civilians or Taliban guerrillas is unknown -- with commentary (“Have a good day, buddy… Golden -- like a shower”). There was also that sniper unit proudly sporting a Nazi SS banner in another photographed incident and the U.S. combat outpost named “Aryan.” And not to leave out the allies, there were the British soldiers who were filmed “abusing” children.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how Afghans have often experienced the American and NATO occupation of these last years. To take but one example that recently caused outrage, there were the eight shepherd boys, aged six to 18, slaughtered in a NATO air strike in Kapisa Province in northern Afghanistan (with the usual apology and forthcoming “investigation,” as well as claims, denied by Afghans who also investigated, that the boys were armed).

More generally, there are the hated night raids launched by special operations forces that break into Afghan homes, cross cultural boundaries of every sort, and sometimes leave death in their wake. Like errant American and NATO air operations, which have been commonplace in these war years, they are reportedly deeply despised by most Afghans.

All of these, in turn, have been protested again and again by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He has regularly demanded that the U.S. military cease them (or bring them under Afghan control). Being the president of Afghanistan, however, he has limited leverage and so American officials have paid little attention to his complaints or his sense of what Afghans were willing to take.

The results are now available for all to see in an explosion of anger spreading across the country. How far this can escalate and how long it can last no one knows. But recent experience indicates that, once a population heads for the streets, anything can happen. All of this could, of course, peter out, but with more than 30 protesters already dead, it could also take on a look reminiscent of the escalating civil war in Syria -- including, as has already happened on a small scale in the past, whole units of Afghan security forces defecting to the Taliban.

Unfolding events have visibly overwhelmed and even intimidated the Americans in charge. However, as religious as the country may be and holy as the Koran may be considered, what's happened cannot be fully explained by the book burning. It is, in truth, an explosion a decade in coming.

Precursors and Omens

After the grim years of Taliban rule, when the Americans arrived in Kabul in November 2001, liberation was in the air. More than 10 years later, the mood is clearly utterly transformed and, for the first time, there are reports of “Taliban songs” being sung at demonstrations in the streets of the capital. Afghanistan is, as the New York Times reported last weekend (using language seldom seen in American newspapers) “a religious country fed up with foreigners”; or as Laura King of the Los Angeles Times put it, there is now “a visceral distaste for Western behavior and values” among significant numbers of Afghans.

Years of pent up frustration, despair, loathing, and desperation are erupting in the present protests. That this was long on its way can’t be doubted.

Among the more shocking events in the wake of the Koran burnings was the discovery in a room in the heavily guarded Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul of the bodies of an American lieutenant colonel and major, each evidently executed with a shot in the back of the head while at work. The killer, who worked in the ministry, was evidently angered by the Koran burnings and possibly by the way the two Americans mocked Afghan protesters and the Koran itself. He escaped. The Taliban (as in all such incidents) quickly took responsibility, though it may not have been involved at all.

What clearly rattled the American command, however, and led them to withdraw hundreds of advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul was that the two dead officers were “inside a secure room" that bars most Afghans. It was in the ministry's command and control complex. (By the way, if you want to grasp some of the problems of the last decade just consider that the Afghan Interior Ministry includes an area open to foreigners, but not to most Afghans who work there.)

As the New York Times put it, the withdrawal of the advisors was “a clear sign of concern that the fury had reached deeply into even the Afghan security forces and ministries working most closely with the coalition.” Those two dead Americans were among four killed in these last days of chaos by Afghan “allies.” Meanwhile, the Taliban urged Afghan police and army troops, some of whom evidently need no urging, to attack U.S. military bases and American or NATO forces.

Two other U.S. troops died outside a small American base in Nangarhar Province near the Pakistani border in the midst of an Afghan demonstration in which two protestors were also killed. An Afghan soldier gunned the Americans down and then evidently escaped into the crowd of demonstrators. Such deaths, in a recent Washington Post piece, were termed “fratricide,” though that perhaps misconstrues the feelings of many Afghans, who over these last years have come to see the Americans as occupiers and possibly despoilers, but not as brothers.

Historically unprecedented in the modern era is the way, in the years leading up to this moment, Afghans in police and army uniforms have repeatedly turned their weapons on American or NATO troops training, working with, or patrolling with them. Barely more than a week ago, for instance, an Afghan policeman killed the first Albanian soldier to die in the war. Earlier in the year, there were those seven dead French troops. At least 36 U.S. and NATO troops have died in this fashion in the past year. Since 2007, there have been at least 47 such attacks. These have been regularly dismissed as “isolated incidents” of minimal significance by U.S. and NATO officials and, unbelievably enough, are still being publicly treated that way.

Yet not in Iraq, nor during the Vietnam War, nor the Korean conflict, nor even during the Philippine Insurrection at the turn of the twentieth century were there similar examples of what once would have been called “native troops” turning on those training, paying for, and employing them. You would perhaps have to go back to the Sepoy Rebellion, a revolt by Indian troops against their British officers in 1857, for anything comparable.

In April 2011, in the most devastating of these incidents, an Afghan air force colonel murdered nine U.S. trainers in a heavily guarded area of Kabul International Airport. He was reportedly angry at Americans generally and evidently not connected to the Taliban. And consider this an omen of things to come: his funeral in Kabul was openly attended by 1,500 mourners.

Put in the most practical terms, the Bush and now Obama administrations have been paying for and training an Afghan security force numbering in the hundreds of thousands -- to the tune of billions dollars annually ($11 billion last year alone). They are the ones to whom the American war is to be “handed over” as U.S. forces are drawn down. Now, thanks either to Taliban infiltration, rising anger, or some combination of the two, it’s clear that any American soldier who approaches a member of the Afghan security forces to “hand over” anything takes his life in his hands. No war can be fought under such circumstances for very long.

Apologies, Pleas, and Threats

So don’t say there was no warning, or that Obama’s top officials shouldn’t have been prepared for the present unraveling. But when it came, the administration and the military were caught desperately off guard and painfully flatfooted.

In fact, through repeated missteps and an inability to effectively deal with the fallout from the Koran-burning incident, Washington now finds itself trapped in a labyrinth of investigations, apologies, pleas, and threats. Events have all but overwhelmed the administration’s ability to conduct an effective foreign policy. Think of it instead as a form of diplomatic pinball in which U.S. officials and commanders bounce from crisis to crisis with a limited arsenal of options and a toxic brew of foreign and domestic political pressures at play.

How did the pace get quite so dizzying? Let’s start with those dead Afghan shepherd boys. On February 15th, the U.S.-led International Security Force (ISAF) “extended its deep regret to the families and loved ones of several Afghan youths who died during an air engagement in Kapisa province Feb 8.” According to an official press release, ISAF insisted, as in so many previous incidents, that it was “taking appropriate action to ascertain the facts, and prevent similar occurrences in the future.”

The results of the investigation were still pending five days later when Americans in uniform were spotted by Afghan workers tossing those Korans into that burn pit at Bagram Air Base. The Afghans rescued several and smuggled them -- burnt pages and all -- off base, sparking national outrage. Almost immediately, the next act of contrition came forth. “On behalf of the entire International Security Assistance Force, I extend my sincerest apologies to the people of Afghanistan,” General Allen announced the following day. At the same time, in a classic case of too-little, too-late, he issued that directive for training in “the proper handling of religious materials.”

That day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was on the same page, telling reporters that the burning of the Muslim holy books was “deeply unfortunate,” but not indicative of the Americans’ feelings toward the religious beliefs of the Afghan people. “Our military leaders have apologized... for these unintentional actions, and ISAF is undertaking an investigation to understand what happened and to ensure that steps are taken so that incidents like this do not happen again.”

On February 22nd, an investigation of the Koran burnings by a joint ISAF-Afghan government team commenced. "The purpose of the investigation is to discover the truth surrounding the events which resulted in this incident," Allen said. "We are determined to ascertain the facts, and take all actions necessary to ensure this never happens again."

The next day, as Afghan streets exploded in anger, Allen called on “everyone throughout the country -- ISAF members and Afghans -- to exercise patience and restraint as we continue to gather the facts surrounding Monday night’s incident.”

That very same day, Allen’s commander-in-chief sent a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that included an apology, expressing “deep regret for the reported incident.” “The error was inadvertent,’’ President Obama wrote. “I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.’’

Obama’s letter drew instant fire from Republican presidential candidates, most forcefully former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who called it an “outrage” and demanded instead that President Karzai issue an apology for the two Americans shot down by an Afghan soldier. (Otherwise, he added, “we should say goodbye and good luck.”)

Translated into Washingtonese, the situation now looked like this: a Democratic president on the campaign trail in an election year who apologizes to a foreign country has a distinct problem. Two foreign countries? Forget it.

As a result, efforts to mend crucial, if rocky, relations with Pakistan were thrown into chaos. Because of cross-border U.S. air strikes in November which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, ties between the two countries were already deeply frayed and Pakistan was still blocking critical resupply routes for the war in Afghanistan. With American war efforts suffering for it and resupply costs sky-high, the U.S. government had put together a well-choreographed plan to smooth the waters.

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was to issue a formal apology to Pakistan’s army chief. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would then follow up with a similar apology to her Pakistani counterpart.

Fearing further Republican backlash, however, the Obama administration quickly altered its timetable, putting off the apology for at least several more weeks, effectively telling the Pakistanis that any regrets over the killing of their troops would have to wait for a time more convenient to the U.S. election cycle.

Trading apologies to Afghans for those to Pakistanis, however, turned out to mean little on the streets of Afghanistan, where even in non-Taliban areas of the country, chants of “Death to America!” were becoming commonplace. “Just by saying ‘I am sorry,’ nothing can be solved,” protester Wali Mohammed told the New York Times. “We want an open trial for those infidels who have burned our Holy Koran.”

And his response was subdued compared to that of Mohammed Anwar, an officer with the U.S.-allied Afghan police. “I will take revenge from the infidels for what they did to our Holy Koran, and I will kill them whenever I get the chance,” he said. “I don’t care about the job I have.”

A day later, when Anwar’s words were put into action by someone who undoubtedly had similar feelings, General Allen announced yet another investigation, this time with tough talk, not apologies, following. "I condemn today's attack at the Afghan Ministry of Interior that killed two of our coalition officers, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the brave individuals lost today," he said in a statement provided to TomDispatch by ISAF. "We are investigating the crime and will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack. The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered."

Allen also took the unprecedented step of severing key points of contact with America’s Afghan allies. "For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul."

Unable to reboot relations with allies in Islamabad due to the unrest in Afghanistan (which was, in fact, already migrating across the border), the U.S. now found itself partially severing ties with its “partners” in Kabul as well. Meanwhile, back home, Gingrich and others raised the possibility of severing ties with President Karzai himself. In other words, the heat was rising in both the White House and the Afghan presidential palace, while any hope of controlling events elsewhere in either country was threatening to disappear.

As yet, the U.S. military has not taken the next logical step: barring whole categories of Afghans from American bases. “There are currently no discussions ongoing about limiting access to ISAF bases to our Afghan partners,” an ISAF spokesperson assured TomDispatch, but if the situation worsens, expect such discussions to commence.

The Beginning of the End?

As the Koran burning scandal unfolded, TomDispatch spoke to Raymond F. Chandler III, the Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army, the most senior enlisted member of that service. “Are there times that things happen that don’t go exactly the way we want or that people act in an unprofessional manner? Absolutely. It’s unfortunate,” he said. “We have a process in place to ensure that when those things don’t happen we conduct an investigation and hold people accountable.”

In Afghan eyes over the last decade, however, it’s accountability that has been sorely lacking, which is why many now in the streets are demanding not just apologies, but a local trial and the death penalty for the Koran burners. Although ISAF’s investigation is ongoing, its statements already indicate that it has concluded the book burnings were accidental and unintentional. This ensures one thing: those at fault, whom no American administration could ever afford to turn over to Afghans for trial anyway, will receive, at best, a slap on the wrist -- and many Afghans will be further outraged.

In other words, twist and turn as they might, issue what statements they will, the Americans are now remarkably powerless in the Afghan context to stop the unraveling. Quite the opposite: their actions are guaranteed to ensure further anger among their Afghan “allies.”

Chandler, who was in Afghanistan last year and is slated to return in the coming months, said that he believed the United States was winning there, albeit with caveats. “Again, there are areas in Afghanistan where we have been less successful than others, but each one of those provinces, each one of those districts has their own set of conditions tied with the Afghan people, the Afghan government’s criteria for transition to the Afghan army and the Afghan national police, the Afghan defense forces, and we’re committed to that.” He added that the Americans serving there were “doing absolutely the best possible under the conditions and the environment.”

It turns out, however, that in Afghanistan today the “best” has not been sufficient. With even some members of the Afghan parliament now calling for jihad against Washington and its coalition allies, radical change is in the air. The American position is visibly crumbling. “Winning” is a distant, long-faded fantasy, defeat a rising reality.

Despite its massive firepower and staggering base structure in Afghanistan, actual power is visibly slipping away from the United States. American officials are already talking about not panicking (which indicates that panic is indeed in the air). And in an election year, with the Obama administration’s options desperately limited and what goals it had fast disappearing, it can only brace itself and hope to limp through until November 2012.

The end game in Afghanistan has, it seems, come into view, and after all these fruitless, bloody years, it couldn’t be sadder. Saddest of all, so much of the blood spilled has been for purposes, if they ever made any sense, that have long since disappeared into the fog of history.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

Nick Turse is associate editor of An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His new TomDispatch series on the changing face of American empire is being underwritten by Lannan Foundation. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

JFK was no Fool: Don't Northwoods Iran, By Jacob G. Hornberger


General Lyman Lemnitzer, center, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff concocted a 'top secret' plan to create a pretext for an invasion of Cuba in 1962. (photo: National Archives)
General Lyman Lemnitzer, center, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff concocted a 'top secret' plan to create a pretext for an invasion of Cuba in 1962. (photo: National Archives)

Don't Northwoods Iran

By Jacob G. Hornberger, The Future of Freedom Foundation

25 February 12 12

Visit the National Security Archive at The George Washington University for more about Operation Northwoods. The full text of the so-called 'Northwoods Document,' presented to and then rejected by President Kennedy, is preserved as a PDF file here. -- JPS/RSN

ll the buzz over possible war with Iran brings us a déjà vu feeling, given that U.S. officials prepared Americans with similar pre-war hype in the run up to their war on Iraq. WMDs. Mushroom clouds over American cities. An insane dictator. Threats to national security. Etcetera.

Keep in mind that Iran, like Iraq, has never attacked the United States. If President Obama gives his military and his CIA orders to attack Iran, the United States will once again be the aggressor nation, as it was in its war on Iraq.

That's one reason, of course, aggressors like to maneuver targeted nations into firing the first shot. In that way, the aggressor nation can tell its citizens, "We've been attacked! We're innocent! We have been forced to go to war to defend ourselves."

That's what President Franklin Roosevelt tried to do with the Germans prior to U.S. entry into World War II. He knew that the American people were steadfastly opposed to entering into another European war, given the large number of American soldiers who had died for nothing in World War I.

But the Germans refused to take the bait. So, FDR went into the Pacific in search of a "back door to war." By imposing sanctions and an oil embargo on Japan in the middle of its war on China, FDR figured that he stood a good chance of maneuvering the Japanese into retaliating with a military strike on U.S. forces in the Pacific.

FDR proved to be right. While the debate continues over whether FDR had actual knowledge of the upcoming attack on Hawaii, there is little doubt that he was anticipating an attack somewhere in the Pacific. When the attack came at Pearl Harbor, FDR had achieved his goal - U.S. entry into World War II.

The brutal sanctions that the U.S. government imposed against Iraq during the 1990s had much the same goal. The idea was that Saddam Hussein would not sit idly by and watch tens of thousands of Iraqi children die yearly and would instead retaliate with a military strike against U.S. forces in the region. Or the idea was that public agony in Iraq over the continuing deaths of Iraqi children would cause Saddam to be taken out by an internal military coup that would install a pro-U.S. regime into power.

But it was not to be. The children continued to die as each year went by, and Saddam remained in power. It was 9/11 and the fake WMD alerts on Iraq that enabled President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and achieve the regime change that the sanctions hadn't achieved.

As the sanctions against Iran produce ever-growing suffering among the Iranian people, will the Iranian regime sit back and simply watch it or will it retaliate with a military strike on U.S. forces in the region? It's impossible to predict, but what's easy to predict is the U.S. response to an Iranian military strike: "We've been attacked! We're innocent! We were just minding our own business! We have been forced to defend ourselves by bombing Iran."

Another option for avoiding the appearance of being the aggressor power is the Operation Northwoods option. During the Kennedy administration, the Pentagon and the CIA wanted to invade Cuba to effect regime change there. But they didn't want to appear as the aggressor power.

So, the Joint Chiefs of Staff came up with a proposal that it unanimously approved and presented to JFK. The plan called for U.S. personnel to disguise themselves as agents of the Cuban government and to engage in terrorist attacks on the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay. It also called for terrorist attacks within the United States that would be conducted by pro-U.S. forces disguising themselves as Cuban agents.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Operation Northwoods involved the proposed hijacking of an American passenger plane. The JCS proposed that a real plane containing American passengers would be hijacked by friendly forces disguised as Cuban agents. The plane would drop down off the radar screen and be replaced by a pilotless aircraft, which would crash, purportedly killing all the passengers. Under the plan, the real passenger plane would be secretly flown back to the United States.

Do you see the problem though? How could the real passengers be released back to their families without revealing that they hadn't really crashed?

Once all this had taken place, the Pentagon expected President Kennedy to look into the national television cameras and simply lie to the American people and to the world by falsely claiming that the Cuban government had attacked the United States.

Of course, the Pentagon and the CIA would be expected to lie as well. No doubt all documents relating to all this terrorist activity would have been classified and remained secret for the next century or at least as long as they could all be destroyed.

To Kennedy's ever-lasting credit, he rejected Operation Northwoods. Such might not have been the case if Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson had been president. Don't forget that just a few years later, Nixon would lie about the Watergate cover-up and Johnson would lie about the Gulf of Tonkin attack.

In fact, the Gulf of Tonkin incident provides another way that war could break out against Iran. In order to provoke the North Vietnamese into attacking U.S. forces, the Pentagon ordered U.S. Naval vessels to patrol in or near North Vietnamese waters. When that plan didn't work, the Pentagon simply made up a fake attack, falsely claiming that the North Vietnamese had attacked the U.S. vessels. Seizing upon the fake attack, Johnson secured the infamous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution from Congress that empowered him to launch his military invasion of Vietnam, an invasion that ended up costing the lives of almost 60,000 American men, who died for nothing.

The U.S. government has no business engaging in another war of aggression. It has already killed or maimed hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, none of whom had anything to do with 9/11. It has done the same to hundreds of thousands of Afghanis, most of whom had nothing to do with 9/11. It was killed countless people in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere, most of whom had nothing to do with 9/11.

Enough is enough. But if President Obama (or his possible successor) does decide to go to war with Iran, he should be required, on pain of impeachment, to follow the law that we the people have imposed upon him with our Constitution. He should be made to secure a declaration of war from Congress before sending our nation into war. At least in that way, Congress could ferret out whether the president, the Pentagon, and the CIA have employed a Pearl Harbor, Operation Northwoods, or Gulf of Tonkin scheme to justify their war.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Chris Hedges Interviews Ralph Nader: Raise the Minimum Wage

Ralph Nader: Raise the Minimum Wage

By Chris Hedges

Truthdig: February 27, 2012

The Occupy movement may be able to forge a powerful alliance with millions of working men and women around a national call to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour. The drive to establish new encampments, while important, is going to be long and difficult. The ongoing efforts to stand up to the foreclosure and mortgage crisis, the marches to hold Wall Street accountable, the protests against stop-and-frisk policies in New York City or police brutality in Oakland, while vital, do not draw the numbers into the streets across the country needed to loosen the grip of the corporate state.

Some 70 percent of the public supports raising the minimum wage. This is an issue that resonates across political, ethnic, religious and cultural lines. It exposes the vast disparities in wealth and the gross inequalities imposed by our corporate oligarchy. The political elite during this election year, which needs to toss a few scraps to the voting public, might be pressured to respond. The two leading Republican candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, say they support the minimum wage (although only Romney has called for indexing the minimum wage). Barack Obama promised during his 2008 election campaign to press to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, a promise that, like many others, he has ignored. But the ground is fertile.

“The 24-hour encampments, largely on public property, broke through,” Ralph Nader told me when we spoke of the Occupy movement a few days ago. “These encampments jolted the consciousness of the nation. But people began asking after a number of weeks what’s next. Once the movement lost the encampments, it did not have a second-strike readiness, which should be the raising of the minimum wage to $10 an hour.”

The federal minimum wage of $7.25, adjusted for inflation, is $2.75 lower than it was in 1968 when worker productivity was about half of what it is today. There has been a steady decline in real wages for low-income workers. Meanwhile, corporations such as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, whose workforce earns the minimum wage or slightly above it, have enjoyed massive profits. Executive salaries, along with prices, have soared even as worker salaries have stagnated or declined. But the call to raise the minimum wage is not only a matter of economic justice. The infusion of tens of billions of dollars into the hands of the working class would increase tax revenue, open up new jobs and lift consumer spending.

There are numerous groups, including the AFL-CIO, whose leaders dutifully pay lip service to raising the minimum wage but have refused to mobilize to fight for it. Rank-and-file workers, once they had a place and a movement willing to agitate on their behalf, would shame union bosses into joining them. There are 535 congressional offices scattered throughout the country. These congressional offices, Nader suggests, could provide the focal point for sustained local protests.

“You could get leading think tanks, like the Economic Policy Institute, the AFL-CIO, member unions, especially unions like the California Nurses Association, which has been very aggressive on this, and a bevy of academics such as Dean Baker and professor Robert Pollin, along with groups such as the NAACP and La Raza, to back this,” Nader said. “There is potential for huge synergy. But it needs the jolt that can only come from the Occupy movement.

“The Occupy movement arose by embracing a rejectionist attitude toward politics, but in the end that is lethal,” Nader said. “It is a form of ideological immolation. If they won’t turn on politics, politics will continue to turn on them. Politics means the power of government—local, state and national—and the ability of corporations to control departments and agencies and turn government against its own people. Not engaging in politics might have been a good preliminary tactic to gain credibility so they could avoid being tagged with some ‘-ism’ or some party, but it has worn out its purpose. The movement needs to become a champion for millions of low-income workers. This does not mean the Occupy movement should support a political party. It means it should go after both parties. It is only by going after the two main political parties that raising the minimum wage will get through Congress.”

Nader believes that the call to raise the minimum wage has the potential to divide the Republican Party, which has not been split on any major issue in Congress since Obama took office. He says that the economic suffering of low-income Americans is so severe that some Republican candidates running for office would be loath to ignore a groundswell in their districts calling for an increase in the minimum wage. But the pressure has to be exerted between now and the November elections. Once the elections are concluded, nothing will be passed that is not orchestrated, funded and authored by corporate lobbyists.

Past campaigns to raise the minimum wage have proved very popular. ACORN, in 2004, organized a statewide referendum in Florida to raise the minimum wage by a dollar. Once the proposal was on the ballot, corporate forces launched a lavishly funded assault against the initiative. The battle to defeat the measure was spearheaded by fast food corporations such as McDonald’s and Burger King as well as chain stores such as Wal-Mart and Kmart. There was no money to fund ads to counter the corporate propaganda or support the proposal. The initiative, despite the public relations onslaught, won by 71 percent. To placate his corporate backers, the Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, refused to support the ballot initiative, although he desperately needed Florida to win the election.

“How much political courage does it take to stand up for guys making $7.25 an hour while the head of Wal-Mart is making $11,000 an hour?” Nader asked. “What medieval period had that kind of wealth disparity?

“This campaign, if successful, would make the Occupy movement the chief movement in the country,” Nader said. “It would be a movement that got something done. It could build on this.

“The end of the encampments could be an unintended blessing,” Nader went on. “The movement no longer has to deal with daily housekeeping, sanitation, the occasional fights and bickering and the poor and homeless who were urged to go there by police. It can develop a laser-beam focus on the first stage of the recovery of the American worker.

“To be able to spearhead a coalition that includes the AFL-CIO, minority groups and local community groups will show that the movement can leverage power,” Nader said. “It has not shown this so far. The most accessible bastion of corporate power, the most sensitive of the three branches of government, is the legislature, and not just Congress, but state legislatures. This is a winnable issue. It fulfills the 99 percent motto. And the movement can be very effective because it has developed a unique ability to carry out daily demonstrations. If the movement can get the minimum wage raised, it will gain enormous power. Who has gotten anything on the progressive agenda through Congress in the last few years? A victory would permit the Occupy movement to fill this power vacuum. Once you win a battle in Congress, you produce a penumbra of power. This penumbra stops bad things from happening. It curtails the arrogance of the Republican Party. It empowers new and fresh leadership.”

Monday, February 27, 2012

Global Day of Action: Occupy Our Food Supply

HI. There must be aaction here, today, but I've gotten no  notice of it.  So this is informational about what's happening with the diversifying Occupy movement, combined with the movements around food, from pollution to genetic engineering to Farmers Mkts. 
Published on Friday, February 24, 2012 by Common Dreams

Global Day of Action: Occupy Our Food Supply

Food justice advocates rise up to confront corporate control of our food system

- Common Dreams staff

An alliance of Occupy groups, environmental and food justice organizations have called for a global day of action on February 27 to resist corporate control of our food system and to work towards a healthy food supply for all.

Occupy Our Food Supply is a call facilitated by Rainforest Action Network and is supported by over 60 Occupy groups and over 30 organizations including Family Farm Defenders, National Family Farms Coalition and Pesticide Action Network.

Ashley Schaeffer, Rainforest Agribusiness campaigner with Rainforest Action Network says of the day of action:

"Occupy our Food Supply is a day to reclaim our most basic life support system – our food – from corporate control. It is an unprecedented day of solidarity to create local, just solutions that steer our society away from the stranglehold of industrial food giants like Cargill and Monsanto,"

Occupy Our Food Supply supporter Vandana Shiva says:

"Our food system has been hijacked by corporate giants from the Seed to the table. Seeds controlled by Monsanto, agribusiness trade controlled by Cargill, processing controlled by Pepsi and Philip Morris, retail controlled by Walmart - is a recipe for Food Dictatorship. We must Occupy the Food system to create Food Democracy."

Occupy Wall Street's Sustainability and Food Justice Committees also issued a letter in support of the day of action:

"On Monday, February 27th, 2012, OWS Food Justice, OWS Sustainability, Oakland Food Justice & the worldwide Occupy Movement invite you to join the Global Day of Action to Occupy the Food Supply. We challenge the corporate food regime that has prioritized profit over health and sustainability. We seek to create healthy local food systems. We stand in Solidarity with Indigenous communities, and communities around the world, that are struggling with hunger, exploitation, and unfair labor practices."

"On this day, in New York City, community gardeners, activists, labor unions, farmers, food workers, and citizens of the NYC metro area, will gather at Zuccotti Park at noon, for a Seed Exchange, to raise awareness about the corporate control of our food system and celebrate the local food communities in the metro area."

Vandana Shiva: "We must Occupy the Food system to create Food Democracy."

"When our food is at risk, we are all at risk."

In an op-ed on the Huffington Post today, Farm Aid president Willie Nelson and sustainable food advocate Anna Lappé, supporters of the day of action, emphasize that the consolidation of our food supply is harming the environment, food safety and farmers:

Our food is under threat. It is felt by every family farmer who has lost their land and livelihood, every parent who can't find affordable or healthy ingredients in their neighborhood, every person worried about foodborne illnesses thanks to lobbyist-weakened food safety laws, every farmworker who faces toxic pesticides in the fields as part of a day's work.

When our food is at risk we are all at risk.

Over the last thirty years, we have witnessed a massive consolidation of our food system. Never have so few corporations been responsible for more of our food chain. Of the 40,000 food items in a typical U.S. grocery store, more than half are now brought to us by just 10 corporations. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS. More than 90 percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one company: Monsanto. Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. And one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart.

What does this matter for those of us who eat? Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, the destruction of soil fertility, the pollution of our water, and health epidemics including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even certain forms of cancer. More and more, the choices that determine the food on our shelves are made by corporations concerned less with protecting our health, our environment, or our jobs than with profit margins and executive bonuses.

This consolidation also fuels the influence of concentrated economic power in politics: Last year alone, the biggest food companies spent tens of millions lobbying on Capitol Hill with more than $37 million used in the fight against junk food marketing guidelines for kids.

The Occupy Our Food Supply website indicates that the action is Inspired by the theme of CREATE/RESIST, and that in addition to confronting the corporation control of our food supply, we must work towards solutions to make healthy food accessible to everyone. It invites people to share their fair food solutions on their Facebook page and on Twitter using the #F27 hashtag.

* * *

Eric Holt-Giménez, Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First Executive Director, writes that while the demand to fix the food system seems reasonable, it does not address the "inequitable foundations of the global food system."

The goal of food justice activists is a sustainable and equitable food system. Their strategy is to actively construct this alternative. Tactics include community gardens, CSAs, organic farming, etc. The problem is that this combination of strategy and tactics only addresses individual and institutional inequities in the food system, leaving the structure of the corporate food regime intact. The food justice movement has no strategy to address the inter-institutional (i.e. structural) ways that inequity is produced in the food system. By openly protesting the excesses of capitalism, Occupy does address this structure. This is why the convergence of Occupy and the food justice movement is so potentially powerful -- and why it is feared. The political alignment of these movements, however, is no small challenge.