Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Feb. 29, 2012, Issue #176




1. A marvelous new photograph of Mother Earth, taken by NASA in January, is at It should remind us that since this is the only home we have, with the only air we breathe, we must protect it, particularly from human sources of destruction.

2. We thank the hundreds of readers who have invited us to join Facebook and Linkedin over the past few months — but we are not ready to partake of this form of social media. Perhaps we will put the newsletter on Facebook some day, if we ever learn how, but that'll be it.


During presidential election years, some Democrats fume when a progressive commentator or writer criticizes their candidate from the left, not because the ccritic is wrong but that it "helps the Republicans." A few weeks ago, a Democrat watching the Bill Moyers hour-long weekly TV program called the show to complain because Moyers, a lifelong liberal Democrat, was critical of the Obama Administration for going too easy on corporate malfeasance. He replied on air the next week:

"It’s not our role as journalists to help elect the candidate you like, or defeat the one you don’t like. Our job is to help you see what you may have missed. There’s always more than meets the eye. So keep that in mind throughout this election year. We’ll leave the horserace mostly to others — while we do our best to throw some light on what’s really at stake."

By Jack A. Smith, the Activist Newsletter

What's the Obama Administration's latest position on the possibility of an attack on Iran? It seems to be in flux but the White House is reported to be urging Israel not to start a war before the November elections.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says there is a "strong possibility" that Israel will attack Iran in either April, May, or June. The purpose would be to destroy Iran's alleged building of a nuclear weapon, an assertion Tehran rejects, pointing to strong support for its position from authoritative American sources.

Commenting on Panetta report, an Associated Press dispatch Feb. 25 declared: "An Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear sites could draw the U.S. into a new Middle East conflict, a prospect dreaded by a war-weary Pentagon wary of new entanglements... with unpredictable outcomes."

Foreign policy theorist Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter with links to the Obama White House, told CNN Feb. 24 that if Israel attacks Iraq, "it will be disastrous for us in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the terms of oil, but also in the Middle East more generally."

On Feb. 28 AP reported "Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities."

The U.S. is in daily communication with Israel about the matter. President Barack Obama is scheduled to hold discussions with warhawk Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on March 5.

In the midst of this gathering war talk there are indications Washington does not want Israel to start a war at this juncture for several reasons:

• The Obama Administration believes bombing Iran's nuclear facilities will cause far more problems than it solves, and that the more effective policy is composed of sanctions, spying and subversion, leading to regime change if possible.

• Washington is hesitant to get any deeper into a potential Iran quagmire at a time when Afghanistan is blowing up in its face, and while the U.S. is involved behind the scenes in ousting the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus.

• The White House does not want a new war on its hands during the last few months of an election campaign. The Wall St. Journal online pointed out Feb. 28 that "Iran and its nuclear intentions are rapidly emerging as the ultimate wild card in this year's presidential race."

In any event, President Obama and the entire U.S. national security bureaucracy know very well that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon.

The New York Times published a relatively sensational front page article Feb. 25 about Iran and the bomb that was based largely on authoritative information clearing Iran of bomb-making charges.

These facts have been publicly available for five years, but because the Bush and Obama Administrations sought to minimize the significance of the bombshell reports most Americans knew little of their importance

The Times' headline read: "U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb." The article disclosed:

"American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb. Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies."

The article also reported on some unusually honest statements made in the last few weeks by Obama Administration officials:

"In Senate testimony on Jan. 31, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, stated explicitly that American officials believe that Iran is preserving its options for a nuclear weapon, but said there was no evidence that it had made a decision on making a concerted push to build a weapon. David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director, concurred with that view at the same hearing. Other senior United States officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made similar statements in recent television appearances.

The fact that the Times decided to publish a front page article based on largely dated information undermining the rationale for attacking Iran evidently means the ruling elite is leaning on the White House to avoid one more war that could backfire during the election campaign.

Published in the same issue of The Times was a new statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is producing additional enriched uranium inside a deep underground site — a report that the right wing Netanyahu regime distorted to signify that Iran is one step closer to creating a weapon with which to threaten the existence of Israel.

There was no proof the uranium in question was intended for any purpose other than Iran's civilian nuclear program. Iran is working with the UN on an agreement to allow inspectors into all sites associated with the program.

Given the immense U.S. and Israeli spying apparatus inside Iran, as well as America's extensive surveillance abilities — from spy satellites to drone flights and probable access to every telephone call and Internet message in Iran — it is significant no evidence has been collected to verify the bomb-making accusations. The 16 American intelligence agencies seem to know what they are talking about.

This does not impress warhawks in the U.S. Congress and among anti-Iranian organizations, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who are working to push Washington toward greater confrontations with Tehran. Several right wing Senators introduced a bill in mid-February lowering the threshold for a U.S. or Israeli strike against Iran from making a bomb to possessing the ability to do so.

Iran insists it is not producing or about to produce nuclear weapons, and maintains that its nuclear power program is essentially in compliance with the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty. Israel is known to possess at least 200 nuclear weapons and delivery systems while ignoring the treaty.

Tehran has long called for transforming the Middle East into a nuclear-free zone — a proposition opposed by both Obama and Netanyahu. Ironically, Washington is on exceptionally close terms with the three countries in possession of large nuclear arsenals that have thumbed their noses at the NonProliferation Treaty — Israel, Pakistan and India — even to the point of assisting them to maintain and update their weaponry.

In a statement Feb. 28, Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi declared that "We do not see any glory, pride or power in the nuclear weapons; quite the opposite." He then referred to a religious decree issued by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme authority within the Islamic Republic of Iran, that termed "the production possession, use or threat of use of nuclear weapons are illegitimate, futile, harmful, dangerous and prohibited as a great sin."

United States animosity toward Iran — which has existed since America's puppet monarch in Tehran was overthrown  over 30 years ago — has nothing to do with Tehran's alleged efforts to construct nuclear weapons. It is instead primarily based on Washington's intention to exercise unimpeded domination of the Persian Gulf region, in which perhaps 30% of the world's petroleum originates and is transported through the Gulf.

America has sought hegemony over the Middle East, and particularly the Persian Gulf, for several decades. This goal was a principle reason President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq in 2003 to solidify U.S. control of the Gulf, believing a quick victory would pave the way toward toppling the government in Iran. The Iraqi fightback and the subsequent stalemate destroyed Bush's plans. Since Baghdad had long been Tehran's main enemy, the only country to benefit from Bush's neoconservative folly in Iraq was Iran.

Iran is now the principal power within the Persian Gulf region. Tehran has had a sharp rhetorical critique of the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia for decades but is not using that power to threaten or attack any other country. Tehran's military is not large, and is defensive in structure and intention.

But as long as the Islamic Republic refuses to subordinate itself to imperial Washington it remains an obstacle to America's geopolitical ambitions, which are based on retaining global hegemony.

A main reason for the Obama Administration's cruel and ever-tightening economic sanctions is to bring about regime-change in Iran to situate a client administration in Tehran. If this doesn't work, the threat of military action is obviously implicit in President Obama's mantra about  "No option is off the table." For the immediate future, however, the White House appears to prefer sanctions, spying and subversion to the potential unintended consequences of a U.S. or Israeli bombing attack on Iran.

The ANSWER Coalition reports:
(1) In New York City Thursday, March 1, there will be a 5 p.m. demonstration opposing an attack on Iran in front of the offices of the Council on Foreign Relations, 58 East 68th  St. (just off Park Ave.), initiated by American Iranian Friendship Committee.
(2) In Washington, Sunday, March 4, there will be a similar protest at 11 a.m. at the AIPAC Conference, Mt. Vernon Place between 7th  St. and 9th St. NW, in front of the Convention Center, Initiated by Occupy AIPAC.

— See the Feb. 20 video interview with ANSWER's Brian Becker about the U.S.-Iran crisis and the  role of Israel at

By the Activist Newsletter

The student hunger strike at the University of Virginia (UVA), with 17 people still participating, entered its 12th day Feb. 29. They are seeking wage increases for low-wage University workers from $7.25 an hour to $13.

According to Joseph Williams, a hunger striker and football player at UVA:

"Our University seeks to distinguish itself as a caring community and prides itself on traditions of honor and student self-governance. However, in our 'caring community,' hundreds of contract employees may make as little as $7.25 an hour while six out of the top 10 highest paid state employees in Virginia hold administrative positions at the University.

"Many employees, mostly women and African Americans, do not receive enough pay for their basic necessities to exist in Charlottesville [UVA's home city], where the cost of living is nearly 10% higher than the national average."

A minimum hiring rate of $10.65 an hour exists at UVA, but contract workers — an increasing portion of the workforce — can be paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  The University, which enjoys a healthy and growing endowment, suggests its hands are tied because campus management has no influence over what contracting companies pay their workers. Critics think this is deceptive because school administrators are free to select a company that pays its workers a living wage, or even offer additional benefits directly to the workers. 

Six members of the Living Wage Campaign, composed of students and community supporters, met with University administrators for a second time Feb. 29 to discuss the question of a living wage for all employees at UVA. After the meeting they reported:

"Although we met for an hour and a half, we made no progress toward implementing any meaningful changes. Instead, the University made clear that they still refused to negotiate with the Campaign, or to seriously consider changing their policies toward low-wage employees. We are not even close to a living wage.

"People’s lives are at stake. The university talks about budget priorities, we talk about children growing up not knowing their parents because they work three jobs to get by. The university talks about education benefits, we talk about people forced to make a choice between paying the rent and buying diabetes medication.

"We would hope that even an opponent of the campaign would concede that equal work deserves equal pay and that the university shouldn’t create a lower class of invisible contract employees, but this has not been the case. Instead, what we have in response to more than a decade of activism, research, and work, and now a hunger strike, is a statement that they may take action to gather information on labor issues.

"This is not enough! The Living Wage Campaign rejects the response of the administration as insufficient and will continue the hunger strike. We emerge with renewed energy, purpose, and support. We will not let this issue rest until UVA does right by its employees."

— For website and petition,

By the Activist Newsletter

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe's plan to reduce mail service to five days a week and shut 3,830 post offices is meeting opposition in Congress, from sectors of the public, and the several major postal unions. Some closings of mail processing plants could begin in late May, while layoffs at post offices are set to begin in the fall.

On Feb. 13, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), joined by 110 other House members, called on Donahoe to institute a moratorium on U.S. Postal Service closure plans. According to the Postal News, "In a letter signed by the bipartisan group, Hinchey cited a Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) report that points to deep flaws with the data used by the USPS to determine which postal facilities should be considered for closure."

The Mid-Hudson Valley Congressman declared: "The data the USPS used to select which post offices it would consider for closure was incomplete, inaccurate and inappropriately targeted rural post offices. I’m calling on the Postmaster General to halt all discontinuance studies. Unless they start operating with better information, they could do more harm than good."

In addition to the post offices, USPS announced Feb. 23 it seeks to close or consolidate more than 223 mail processing plants in the next 18 months, at a cost of 35,000 jobs. "This plan makes no sense at all and should be abandoned," argued Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is from a state where a mail processing plant is slated to close. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Donahoe "should focus on common sense solutions that improve its fiscal solvency" instead of putting eight Ohio facilities out of business.

How did this all come about? The original Post Office agency was launched by Ben Franklin and the rebellious Second Continental Congress in 1775, before the Declaration of Independence, and Franklin was the first postmaster general. Postal delivery became a cabinet-level department after national independence when George Washington was president, and New Yorker Samuel Osgood was the first postmaster to serve under the Constitution in 1789.

The USPS was reorganized in 1970 to become a semi-independent business though it remained a government entity. It no longer receives funding from Washington but raises its own monies — one of only two governments in the world that does not fund its post office system (the other is dysfunctional Somalia with practically no government services whatever). Postal rates are set by the Postal Rate Commission according to the recommendations of the 11-member Postal Board of Governors, which also selects the postmaster general. Nine of the board's members are chosen by the President and, with Senate approval, serve for nine years each (though if selected after 2006 new members serve for seven years).

President Obama and Congress have circumscribed authority, but are far from powerless. For instance, the Board of Governors may implement certain changes without government approval, but on important matters such as moving to five-day delivery or postage rates both the White House and Congress have a big say. On the delivery question, however, Obama sides with Postmaster Donahoe, not the over half million postal workers and their many unions.

Postal unions staged concerted  nationwide demonstrations a few months ago against the planned downsizing and privatizing of the USPS. Some unions have "been working to win support for amendments to the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S. 1789), which is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate soon," says the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). On Feb. 14, 27 Senators signed a letter asking bill sponsors "to maintain current service standards, protect rural post offices, maintain six-day delivery, and establish a blue-ribbon panel to examine how the Postal Service can earn additional revenue by offering new services."

The APWU and the National Postal Mail Handlers have collected over 300,000 signatures so far on a petition to Congress. Several other postal unions are also actively fighting the closures, including support for bills in the House.

Among the labor organizations leading the campaign for the postal workers are the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC, representing city letter carriers), the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.

Obama has largely stayed in the background on some but not all Donahoe's plans. The White House budget for FY 2013, released Feb. 13, includes authority for the USPS to end Saturday delivery next year. Of this Donahoe said: "The President continued to recognize the urgent need for postal reform."

The unions didn't see it that way. Responding to the budget proposal, NALC President Fredric V. Rolando declared: "Eliminating Saturday delivery is a counter-productive proposal that would degrade services to the public and to businesses, threaten the viability of the Postal Service itself, and begin to dismantle the universal network that has served the country well for 200 years....

"Among those who would be most affected are residents of rural communities, the elderly, those who need medicines or other goods on weekends, not to mention small businesses, which are open weekends and need to send and receive financial documents.... Eliminating Saturday delivery would pose additional costs on all who are compelled to contract with expensive carriers. Taxpayers wouldn’t save a penny, because they don’t fund the Postal Service; USPS earns its own money by selling stamps and services."

The big postal unions point out that the 2006 postal "reform" law during the Bush Administration "requires the USPS to pre-fund 75 years' worth of future retiree health benefits within just 10 years.... No other federal agency or private enterprise is forced to pre-fund similar benefits like this, especially on such an aggressive schedule. This postal-only mandate costs the USPS $5.5 billion per year. It accounts for 100% of the Postal Service’s $20 billion in losses over the past four or years. It also accounts for 100% of the rise in the Postal Service’s debt in recent years."

Donahoe, who took office 13 months ago after 35 years in the Postal Service, pledges to make the USPS into a "profitable, market-responsive organization." He claims that USPS has accumulated an $8.3 billion budget deficit for FY 2012. He supports ending the pre-funding measure, but also insists on the closings and other cutbacks.

According to the citizen-run website on Feb. 21: "The Postal Service juggernaut keeps rolling on with its downsizing plans, and it seems prepared to crush whatever stands in its way — postal workers, post offices, communities, history.  There doesn’t seem to be anyone or anything that can stop it — not Congress, not the unions, not the Postal Regulatory Commission.  Perhaps it’s time for the people of the United States to take the U.S. Postal Service to court."

The Washington Post reported Feb. 18 that post office closings may increase rural isolation and economic disparity: "Nearly 80% of the 3,830 post offices under consideration are in sparsely populated rural areas where poverty rates are higher than the national average."

The great majority of the regions targeted for closing are where "UPS and FedEx charge more for delivery," the Post continued. "Town mayors and chambers of commerce also worry about the broader economic impact of losing a post office. With small populations, remote locations and a lack of reliable Internet, many towns are already a tough sell to new businesses....

"Despite a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the Postal Service declined to provide data on revenue for individual post offices. But it did provide expense data for all post offices. The statistics show that closing all the post offices under consideration would save about $295 million a year, about four-tenths of 1% of the Postal Service’s annual expenses of $70 billion."

Former Clinton Administration Postmaster General William told the press "that’s not even a drop in the bucket. The bucket won’t ripple."

The Postal Service, which employs 575,000 workers at 32,000 facilities, says the growth of the Internet has cut volume way down, which is true in part, but many local people tell the Activist Newsletter that while they may e-mail most letters these days, their mail box seems as full as ever with bills, magazines, cards, packages and the like. "There are too many catalogs at Christmas, but we just recycle them," said one local resident. "Otherwise, we count on our Monday-Saturday mail delivery."

Dean Granholm, a USPS vice president, said in February that the personnel reductions could begin by October. At this stage, the jobs of some 3,000 postmasters, 500 station managers and up to 1,000 postal clerks are on the chopping block.

In addition to closing the post offices, Donahoe wants to (1) cut payrolls through attrition, (2) end the agency's health plan for older employees, moving them to taxpayer-funded Medicare, and (3) eliminate Saturday mail delivery.

The unions claim that the closings are mainly a conservative move to privatize mail and package delivery. Evidently right wing political opposition to "big government" is a factor in the downsizing. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader thinks privatization advocates have exaggerated the money and other problems to create a "manufactured crisis."

One way the USPS plans to compensate for some of the closed offices is to open about 2,500 so-called "village post offices" sometime next year. These are to be small private operations housed in local businesses — gas stations, groceries and the like — that would handle limited services such as stamp sales and flat-rate shipping and few extras. It is to be assumed other private ventures will spring up across the country to supplement the immediate and longer term shrinkage of postal services. For the small government crowd a completely privatized postal service some day would be just dandy.

Ironically, one of the facilities scheduled for elimination and sale to an "appropriate retailer" is Philadelphia's small but historically significant Ben Franklin post office on Market St. in the Independence Mall area attached next door to the U.S. Postal Service Museum. Tourist and news outlets report that it is on the location of Ben Franklin's house and is the only post office that doesn't fly a U.S. flag — because the colonial period facility pre-dates the existence of the national standard.

If the Franklin office closes, it might be fitting for the Postal Museum to dip its own flag in ceremonial regret — not just for the loss of an historic post office located in a pre-revolutionary three-story brick building that once housed the first postmaster general, but perhaps for the uncertain future of the USPS and its many workers as well.



[The Obama Administration wanted to keep U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan long beyond their respective Dec. 31 withdrawal deadlines at the end of 2011 and 2014. President Obama was burned by the Iraqis, who refused at the last minute. Now he's pressuring the Afghan government, according to this Feb. 20 IPS article. We have followed with excerpts from a Washington post article and our own commentary.]

By Gareth Porter and Shah Nouri of Inter-Press Service

Nearly a year after the Barack Obama administration began negotiations with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a United States military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, both sides confirmed in mid-February that the talks were still hung up over the Afghan demand that night raids by U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) either be ended or put under Afghan control.

Karzai has proposed the latter option, with Afghan forces carrying out most of the raids, but the U.S. military has rejected that possibility, according to sources at the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

Karzai's persistence in pressing that demand reflects the widespread popular anger at night raids, which means that Karzai cannot give in to the U.S. insistence on continuing them without handing the Taliban a big advantage in the political-military maneuvering that will continue during peace talks.

The dilemma for both the United States and Karzai is that the United States has been planning to leave SOF units and U.S. airpower — the two intensely unpopular elements of U.S.-North Atlantic Treaty Organization presence in the country — as the only combat forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Feb. 15, Karzai gave no evidence of backing down on his demand regarding night raids and the closely related issue of U.S. troops taking and holding Afghan prisoners. Karzai identified the issues involving "Afghan sovereignty" as "civilian casualties, attacks on Afghan homes, raids on Afghan homes, taking prisoners and keeping prisoners."

Karzai warned there could be no "partnership" agreement with the United States until those issues were resolved.

United States Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had confirmed that fact in congressional testimony on Feb. 13, admitting that U.S. and Afghan negotiators "still have difficulties" with the issues of night raids and the transfer of a U.S.-run detention facility to the Afghan government. Panetta said he was hopeful the two sides would work out a compromise on those issues in the coming weeks....

          From The Washington Post, Feb. 7

"The CIA is expected to maintain a large clandestine presence in Iraq and Afghanistan long after the departure of conventional U.S. troops as part of a plan by the Obama administration to rely on a combination of spies and Special Operations forces to protect U.S. interests.... Kabul and Baghdad will probably remain the agency’s largest overseas outposts for years." The Washington Post report continues in part:

As President Obama seeks to end a decade of large-scale conflict, the emerging assignments for the CIA suggest it will play a significant part in the administration’s search for ways to exert U.S. power in more streamlined and surgical ways.

As a result, the CIA station in Kabul — which at one point had responsibility for as many as 1,000 agency employees in Afghanistan — is expected to expand its collaboration with Special Operations forces when the drawdown of conventional troops begins....

U.S. officials said the size of the agency’s presence in Afghanistan over the next several years has not been determined, and the CIA’s assignment is likely to be adjusted as the administration’s troop withdrawal plans evolve.

In some scenarios, teams of CIA and Special Operations troops could divide territory and lists of Taliban targets with Afghan forces, although officials said there will probably be extensive collaboration and overlap.

CIA paramilitary operatives were the first U.S. personnel to enter Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, linking up with Northern Alliance [United Islamic Front] fighters weeks before U.S. military commandos arrived. More than a decade later, the CIA still has extensive paramilitary assets there....

The agency controls counterterrorism pursuit teams made up of dozens of Afghan fighters funded and trained by the CIA. The CIA has largely bankrolled and built the Afghan intelligence service. And the agency maintains a constellation of bases along the border with Pakistan....

As conventional forces depart, officials said, the agency will probably concentrate more of its remaining employees at compounds in Kabul and at the Bagram air base north of the capital.

As a result, more territory may be ceded to the Taliban. "We can lose the countryside, but I don’t think we’re going to lose Kabul and Bagram," said the former senior CIA officer, who added that the agency could end up adding paramilitary personnel in Afghanistan as the size of the U.S. military deployment shrinks."

           Following are comments from the Activist Newsletter:

Among the "U.S. interests" the SOF-CIA will "protect" are: (1) To threaten Iran, which borders Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly now that the U.S. no longer totally controls the Baghdad government; (2) to continue drone attacks on Pakistan and elsewhere; (3) to serve as a U.S. military foothold in geopolitically strategic Central Asia, adjacent to China and to several resource-rich former USSR republics; and (4) to oversee any possible formal U.S.-Taliban pact to end the war.

Historically, the CIA was immersed clandestinely in Afghanistan during the 1978-1995 civil war to orchestrate, finance and train the mujahedeen forces against the pro-Soviet People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan government in Kabul until it was crushed in 1992, along with its remaining progressive reforms. The reforms had included extensive freedoms for women.

The CIA lingered throughout the subsequent three years of vicious struggle between various reactionary warlords for control of the country. The Taliban won, though the U.S. backed the Northern Alliance/United Islamic Front. A token CIA force secretly remained in the country. Days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center the agents distributed bags of money to the warlords of the Islamic Front's many factions to keep them on the anti-Taliban side when the U.S. invasion ensued weeks later on Oct. 7.

It is now 10 years and five months since the invasion of Afghanistan, and 34 years since the CIA became deeply operative in the country. With the extremely expensive addition of the unjust war against Iraq, these stalemated military adventures have cost the U.S. many trillions of dollars and are a main cause of the economic travail experienced today by the American middle class, working class and poor. The elite classes profited from the wars.

The Obama Administration apparently plans to continue the Afghan folly — even if only ruling wretched, war weary Kabul and Bagram Air Base — until the Taliban agrees to a much smaller but permanent U.S. military presence in return for granting the right wing ultra-religious organization a substantial amount of the political power it lost in 2001.

Most U.S. troops then, as Obama said in December when pulling out of Iraq, will leave "with heads held high," though some, he hopes, will continue to hold the fort.

—For the full IPS article:
—For the full WP


[Following are excerpts from a Feb. 28 article in Asia Times by its correspondent M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. The article discusses some of the implications for the U.S. and NATO of the turmoil and killings in Afghanistan instigated by American military authorities Feb. 20 when they confiscated and burned copies of Islam's holy book, the Koran.]

The killing in Kabul Feb. 25 of two high-ranking American military officials — a colonel and a major —  serving with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will prompt a paradigm shift in regional security. Afghanistan surges as still America's number one "hot spot," over-shadowing Syria and Iran.

If President Barack Obama thought it was time for the United States military to "pivot" toward the Asia-Pacific, it has been delusionary thinking. The Taliban retains a big say in the upcoming campaign for Obama's reelection bid [the Republicans have already criticized Obama's sensible apology for the incident], and the strategy of peace talks with the Taliban will need a closer look.

The prospects of the United States establishing military bases in Afghanistan look very doubtful in the backdrop of the tsunami of anti-Americanism sweeping through Afghanistan. And, in immediate terms, what happens to the drawdown of the U.S. troops?

The U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, had a quick answer in an interview with the CNN Feb. 26: "Tensions are running very high here. I think we need to let things calm down, return to a more normal atmosphere, and then get on with business."

Diplomats are paid to sound optimistic. But then, how sure are we that things are indeed going to "calm down" —  and, more importantly, how long will the calmness of the cemetery last till the next funeral is held?

Crocker added, "This is not the time to decide that we are done here. We have got to redouble our efforts. We've got to create a situation that al-Qaeda is not coming back. If we decide we're tired of it, al-Qaeda and the Taliban certainly aren't." Hmm. The statement appeared to be aimed at the American public.

Obama was wrong to have left Afghanistan to the State Department and the late Richard Holbrooke's cronies to handle. Clearly, his "apology" for the burning of Korans by the U.S. troops failed to impress the Afghans. More than 30 people have been killed in the violence, including half a dozen American soldiers. At least another six American military trainers have been injured.

The U.S. consulate in the western city of Herat, which is dominated by the Tajiks, came under attack. U.S., French and Norwegian bases were attacked, including in a relatively calm region like Samangan province in the north. Protesters stormed the United Nations office in the northern city of Kunduz, which has a mixed population of Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Tajiks. No region of Afghanistan can be considered safe; not even Tajik-dominated Taloqan city in the approaches to the Badakhshan mountains in the east....

Significantly, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai only broke his silence Feb. 26 and called for calm. He waited wisely for the protests to run their course. Finally, Karzai told a press conference that the protests showed Afghan people were ready to die for their religion. He called for the American soldiers who burned the Koran to be punished and promised to take it up with Obama....

There is going to be pervasive doubt in the American mind about Afghan soldiers. An armed Afghan in a military base becomes a potential suicide killer. A senior Afghan general told the BBC, "The virus of infiltration has spread like a cancer and it needs an operation. Curing it has not helped." The entire project of "capacity-building" of Afghan security is in disrepute.

A normal working relationship between the U.S. and Afghan forces is not going to be easy in this climate. This means the Pentagon's "surge," the follow-up strategy of the troop drawdown and handing over of security responsibility to the Afghan forces, and the ending of the NATO combat mission by 2014 all seem to lie in tatters.

Washington and London almost instantly decided to pull out their mentors and advisers attached to Afghan government ministries and establishments. But the impasse means paralysis in effective coordination work in ongoing security operations, technical support and intelligence sharing, which will only deepen the uncertainties.

NATO allies are also watching. The Germans summarily shut down their base in Taloqan in northeastern Afghanistan. Each NATO member country will be prompted to explore how to minimize the risk of its young men and women perishing in a senseless war. French President Nicolas Sarkozy already threatened once that he is scooting and had to be persuaded to change his mind. A tricky time lies ahead for Obama as NATO gears up for its 60th anniversary summit in Chicago in May....


[There are days when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd fills her pen with acid, not ink, as she did today (Feb. 29) writing about Romney, Rick Santorum and the Republican campaign for the White House. Here it is.]

By Maureen Dowd

Rick should scat. Mitt Romney needs to be left alone to limp across the finish line, so he can devote his full time and attention to losing to President Obama.

With Sanctorum and Robo-Romney in a race to the bottom, the once ruthless Republican Party seems to have pretty much decided to cave on 2012 and start planning for a post-Obama world.

Not even because Obama is so strong; simply because their field is so ridiculously weak and wacky.

John McCain has Aeschylated it to "a Greek tragedy." And he should know from Greek tragedy.

"It’s the negative campaigning and the increasingly personal attacks," he told The Boston Herald, adding, "the likes of which we have never seen." When a man who was accused of having an illegitimate black child in the 2000 South Carolina primary thinks this is the worst ever, the G.O.P. is really in trouble.

The Arizona senator, who’s supporting Romney, grimly noted: "I know he’s going to be the nominee, but I also worry about how much damage has been done."

As they battled for Michigan, Arizona and beyond, Romney called Rick Santorum an "economic lightweight," and Santorum called Romney "a lightweight on conservative accomplishments," "uniquely unqualified" and "a bully." [On Feb. 28 Romney got 41.1% to Santorum's 37.9% in Michigan and it was 47.3% to 26.6% in Arizona.]

In the old days, the Republican ego had control of the party’s id. The id, sometimes described as a galloping horse or crying baby, "the dark, inaccessible part of our personality ... chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations," as Freud called it, was whipped up obliquely by candidates. Nixon had his Southern strategy of using race as a wedge, Bush Senior and Lee Atwater used the Willie Horton attack, and W. and Karl Rove conjured the gay marriage bogyman.

Once elected, those presidents curbed the id with the ego, common sense and reason. But now the G.O.P.’s id is unbridled. The horse has thrown the rider; the dark forces are bubbling. Moderates, women, gays, Hispanics and blacks — even the president — are being hunted in this most dangerous game.

Asked in Michigan why he couldn’t excite the base, Romney said he is not willing to make "incendiary comments" or "light my hair on fire."

In the latest sign that moderate Republicans feel passé, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine shockingly announced her retirement, decrying "my way or the highway" ideologies" and a vanishing political center.

The apogee of apathy for Romney was on Friday [Feb/ 24], when the man who says he’s an expert manager spoke to a mostly empty football stadium in Detroit. Stephen Colbert defended Romney, saying he connected with the sea of empty chairs because they, too, were "plastic and uncomfortable."

Some Republicans at the annual winter governors’ meeting here murmured that it was over for Mittens even before he cited his wife’s two Caddies and his NASCAR team-owner pals, and awkwardly mocked the plastic ponchos of Daytona racing fans: "I like those fancy raincoats you bought. Really sprung for the big bucks."

They said Mitt was damaged as a contender against Obama when he was forced to admit that he had a 15-percent tax rate (given, as The Huffington Post points out, that Romney averaged $6,400 an hour at Bain Capital while creating lots of jobs with paltry wages).

Romney defended himself in an interview to Fox News on Feb. 28, sitting in front of a poster of his dad with the slogan: "Romney Great in ’68." Romney père lost his dream of becoming president when he claimed he was brainwashed on Vietnam.

Now Santorum should forfeit his chance after making a far dumber remark: Kids should beware of college because they’ll get brainwashed.

Pandering to Tea Partiers, Santorum, who has a B.A., M.B.A. and J.D., and who supported higher education in his 2006 senatorial campaign, absurdly turned the American dream inside-out and into sauerkraut.

He called the president "a snob" for encouraging people to get more educated and asserted that Obama only wants Americans to go to college so they can be remade in his image, while being indoctrinated by liberal college professors.

Does he think that defining ambition down and asking kids to give up hope is a good mantra? Even Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who was trying to mandate that women seeking abortions be shamed with vaginal ultrasounds that Democrats dubbed "legal rape," thought Santorum went too far.

As Mitt’s remarks get curiouser, Rick’s get creepier.

In an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, Santorum offended the Catholics he’s courting by saying that the J.F.K. speech ratifying the separation of church and state made him want "to throw up" because Kennedy had thrown "his faith under the bus."

"I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute," Sanctorum said.

If he is willing to cross that line, the only two possibilities are that he doesn’t understand the nature of the United States or that he wants to do damage to the United States. Neither is acceptable.

By Saki Knafo, Huffington Post

In the last decade, the number of children living in areas of concentrated poverty grew by over 1.6 million, according to a new study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In 2000, 6.3 million children lived in high poverty areas in the United States, according to the report. By 2010, the number had climbed to 8 million, at a growth rate of about 25%. The increase erases gains made in the 1990s, when the number of children living in high-poverty areas declined.

The study defined areas of concentrated poverty as census tracts where 30% of residents or more live below the government's poverty threshold, defined as an income of $22,000 or less for a family of four. The study also notes that three-quarters of children living in these neighborhoods have at least one employed parent.

[From the Activist Newsletter: In New York State, where 20.2% of children and youth under 18 live in poverty, 15% reside in areas of concentrated poverty. In New York City 27% live in such areas. All told, 22% of American children — 15.6 million — survive in poverty. The National Center on Family Homelessness reported recently one in 45 children in the U.S — 1.6 million children — were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, or doubled up with other families in 2010.]

"We chose to look at this data because we know that regardless of the family's income, children who grow up in high-poverty communities are more likely to have their long-term outcomes be hampered by the community that they live in," said Laura Speer, the foundation's associate director for policy reform and data. "They have difficulty finding a good school, they're more likely to struggle with getting access to good healthcare providers, they're more likely to be exposed to high levels of stress, and they're more likely to have social and behavioral problems because of that."

The study shows that certain children are more likely to live in areas of high poverty than others. They include children in cities or rural areas, as opposed to the suburbs, and children of color. African-American, American Indian and Latino children are six to nine times more likely than white children to live in high poverty areas.

The city with the highest rates of children living in areas of concentrated poverty is Detroit at 67 percent, followed by Cleveland and Miami. Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona rank highest among states in this category.

By National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

In the first comprehensive satellite study of its kind, a University of Colorado at Boulder-led team used NASA data to calculate how much Earth’s melting land ice is adding to global sea level rise.

Using satellite measurements from the NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), the researchers measured ice loss in all of Earth’s land ice between 2003 and 2010, with particular emphasis on glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica.

The total global ice mass lost from Greenland, Antarctica and Earth’s glaciers and ice caps during the study period was about 4.3 trillion tons (1,000 cubic miles), adding about 0.5 inches to global sea level. That’s enough ice to cover the United States 1.5 feet deep.

"Earth is losing a huge amount of ice to the ocean annually, and these new results will help us answer important questions in terms of both sea rise and how the planet’s cold regions are responding to global change," said University of Colorado Boulder physics professor John Wahr, who helped lead the study.

About a quarter of the average annual ice loss came from glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica (roughly 148 billion tons, or 39 cubic miles). Ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica and their peripheral ice caps and glaciers averaged 385 billion tons (100 cubic miles) a year. Results of the study were published online Feb. 8 in the journal Nature.

Traditional estimates of Earth’s ice caps and glaciers have been made using ground measurements from relatively few glaciers to infer what all the world’s unmonitored glaciers were doing. Only a few hundred of the roughly 200,000 glaciers worldwide have been monitored for longer than a decade.

One unexpected study result from GRACE was that the estimated ice loss from high Asian mountain ranges like the Himalaya, the Pamir and the Tien Shan was only about 4 billion tons of ice annually. Some previous ground-based estimates of ice loss in these high Asian mountains have ranged up to 50 billion tons annually.

— A map of the major ice loss is at

By Pete Spotts, Christian Science Monitor

Fracking may lead to larger releases of methane into the air than previously estimated, according to a new study.

Scientists are now trying to find out if the underestimation is unique to the gas field they examined or whether rogue emissions from such fields are also being underestimated in other areas where there is hydraulic fracturing — or "fracking" — to collect natural gas from shale and other rock formations.

The study, conducted by researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth Systems Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo., suggests that the gas field in Colorado's Weld County leaks roughly 4% of its gross annual production into the air. Previous estimates put the leakage at 1.6%.

The results come with large uncertainties, notes the team, which included researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder. The losses could be as low as 2.3% or as high as 7.7%.

Yet even the low end of that range is higher than previous estimates, notes Gregory Frost, an atmospheric chemist at the ESRL and a member of the team reporting the results in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Fields that rely on fracking tend to leak more methane than fields with conventional wells, some researchers say. Getting an accurate handle on methane emissions is important as a tool in efforts to fight human-triggered global warming....

          From the Activist Newsletter:

The White House justifies the increased production of natural gas from fracking because it emits a lower percentage of carbon dioxide that other fossil fuels when used. Burning gas for electricity emits 30% less carbon dioxide than oil, and about 45% less than coal.

Recent studies, however, have shown that fracking releases sufficient stores of methane into the atmosphere to compensate for any reduction in carbon from natural gas. Methane disappears far quicker than carbon dioxide, but it creates a greenhouse heat trap 20 times greater than carbon dioxide. If estimated leakage leaps from 1.6% to between 2.3% and 7.7%, as the new ESRL studies suggest, the danger factor will be much greater.

By William A. Collins

Given that we now have an African-American president, many Americans feel comfortable sweeping the issue of racial discrimination under the rug. How bad can bias be if we elected Barack Obama?

Well, pretty bad. The numbers are dismal. While white unemployment is stuck at around 7.5%,  black Americans are suffering 16%. In terms of household net worth, it's worse. The median for white families has slumped to $113,000, but black households have been reduced to an unsustainable $5,700, and Latinos to $6,300. Like many of our society's economic gaps, this one is steadily widening, not least because people of color are often the first workers to be laid off. 

And that's not all. Many of those unindicted mortgage bankers purposely targeted African Americans with their twisted schemes. Now black homeowners are more than three times as likely to be evicted than their white counterparts.

Budget cuts have produced similar sinister results. With state and local deficits spreading panic across the land, government employees are being laid off in droves. This is a double whammy for black Americans, for whom the public sector is the single biggest source of employment. As front-line municipal service providers to poorer citizens, their jobs are often the first to go. And needless to say, the low-income communities they serve are heavily minority too, so government downsizing leaves both provider and recipient alike to stew in the cauldron of poverty.

Latinos sail on that same sea, often abused by the companies local governments contract to perform municipal services.

Nor is the Great Recession the only tsunami currently drowning the African-American community. The Great Disenfranchisement is hitting them hard too. Belligerent new Republican majorities in many legislatures are aggressively changing voting rules in ways that are likely to prevent many people of color from voting.

Laws supposedly aimed at curing nonexistent voter fraud now require state-issued ID cards, which aren't easily acquired. These statutes, plainly aimed at black Americans, seniors, and students, have lately drawn the unhappy attention of the Justice Department. Some will surely be overturned under the Voting Rights Act, but nonetheless millions of Democratic-leaning citizens are likely to be denied the vote in 2012.

Meanwhile, racial profiling remains rampant in law enforcement, especially concerning drugs, for which mindlessly draconian penalties still endure. Presumably the cops believe that this profiling is what politicians really want. Unfortunately they're probably right. Thus they keep it up relentlessly in the face of contrary laws and regulations.

So now it turns out that a couple of measurable and understandable social phenomena have blossomed amid this flood of discrimination. The largest is the continued movement of blacks to the South, a trend that began in the late 1990s. Living is cheaper there, family roots can be embraced, and it's warmer. Jim Crow may not be dead, but since he now lives in the North as well, what's to lose?

Similarly, with jobs disappearing amid a hostile economic landscape, black women are joining the military in percentages far exceeding their numbers in the general population. It's not a bad measure of how rotten their civilian life has become.

—  The author is a former Connecticut state representative, and a past mayor of Norwalk. He writes for


March is Women’s History Month, a good occasion to reacquaint oneself with the campaign for women’s equality in the United States — a struggle with many victories, but far from over.

Of the various books on the subject, Eleanor Flexner’s "Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States" (Harvard University Press) — which essentially deals with the years 1820-1920 and the battles leading up to winning the right to vote — is among the best general histories, in our opinion. It was written in 1959 and last revised and enlarged in 1996.

Following is an eclectic collection of quotes about the struggle from various sources.

Women textile workers on strike in Lowell, Mass., in 1836 — at a time when women workers earned perhaps one-quarter of men’s wages — delivered this declaration:  "As our fathers resisted unto blood the lordly avarice of the British ministry, so we, their daughters, never will wear the yoke which has been prepared for us."

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), the former slave born in Ulster County, N.Y., who became a leading abolitionist and feminist  (some historians say she may not have spoken these exact words, which were attributed to her speech at the 1851 women’s rights convention in Ohio, but they are consistent with her known general views and style): "The man over there [a minister who had just spoken] says women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches and have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages or over puddles, or gives me the best place — and ain’t I a woman? Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could head me — and ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when I could get it — and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have born 13 children, and seen most of ‘em sold into slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me — and ain’t I a woman?"

Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), one of the best known U.S. feminist leaders and editor of the periodical, The Revolution, which had this motto: "Men their rights and nothing more; women their rights and nothing less."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), another great leader and Anthony’s closest associate: "The prolonged slavery of women is the darkest page in human history." She also said, "Womanhood is the great fact in her life; wifehood and motherhood are but incidental relations."

Mother (Mary Harris) Jones (1830-1930), the veteran labor leader who lived to be 100 and remained a militant fighter until the day she died: "No matter what your fight, don’t be ladylike!  God Almighty made women, and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies."

Martha Carey Thomas (1857-1935), the suffragist and president of Bryn Mawr College: "Women are one-half of the world, but until a century ago... it was a man’s world.  The laws were men’s laws, the government a man’s government, the country a man’s country. Now women have won the right to higher education and economic independence. The right to become citizens of the state [by obtaining voting rights] is the next and inevitable consequence of education and work outside the home.  We have gone so far;  we must go farther. We cannot go back."

Dorothy Ballan (1918-92), the U.S. communist organizer and writer, from her 1971 pamphlet, Feminism and Marxism: "It is really impossible to understand the origin or development of the present status of women without subjecting the question to a materialist view of history, that is, from a class point of view.  If women in the leadership of this movement see the question in historical perspective, it would help to avoid another decline such as happened to the suffragist movement."

Gloria Steinem (1934-    ), the founder of Ms. magazine and feminist organizer: "Feminism is not antisexuality; on the contrary. It says that sexuality shouldn’t be confused with violence and dominance and that it should be a matter of free choice.  It shouldn’t be forced on you by economics, including dependence on a husband, or by pressure."

Germaine Greer (1939-    ), the feminist author: "I didn’t fight to get women out from behind the vacuum cleaner to get them onto the board of Hoover."

Robin Morgan (1941-    ), the feminist editor and writer: "Women are not inherently passive or peaceful.  We’re not inherently anything but human."

Erica Jong, (1942-    ), the author: "Women really must have equal pay for equal work, equality in work at home, and reproductive choices. Men must press for these things also. They must cease to see them as ‘women’s issues’ and learn that they are everyone’s issues — essential to survival on planet Earth."

•Angela Davis (1944  -    ), the University of California professor and well-known African-American political activist: "When the feminist historians of the 21st century attempt to recapitulate [the modern women’s struggle] will they ignore the momentous contributions of Afro-American women, who have been leaders and activists in movements often confined to women of color, but whose accomplishments have invariably advanced the cause of white women as well? Will the exclusionary policies of the mainstream women’s movement — from its inceptions to the present — which have often compelled Afro-American women to conduct their struggle for equality outside the ranks of that movement, continue to result in the systematic omission of our names from the roster of prominent leaders and activists of the women’s movement?"

Susan Faludi (1959-   ), the journalist and author: "Feminism’s agenda is basic: It asks that women not be forced to ‘choose’ between public justice and private happiness. It asks that women  be free to define themselves — instead of having their identify defined for them, time and again, by their culture and their men."