Number 511 July 23, 2012

This Week: "The New American Way of War"

"Quote" of the Week: "Voter ID laws will make it harder for poor people to vote."
Website of the Week: The Economic Hardship Reporting Project
The Treasonous Pro-Polio Patriot?
"The New American Way of War" in the Media


Here's the editor's note for this issue: If anyone has a moderately recent PC laptop that you want to get rid of, the Nygaard Notes book project could use one. The one I have runs Windows 2000, and it's just not doing the job any more. So, get in touch if you have a new/old machine that you don't need.

I'll be on a brief mini-vacation from Wednesday through Saturday, so if you write me with comments, as some of you do, you may not hear back from me as promptly as usual.

See you in August!



"Quote" of the Week: "Voter ID laws will make it harder for poor people to vote."

On July 17th the Brennan Center for Justice released a report called "The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification." This week's "Quote" is from the Executive Summary:

"More than 1 million eligible voters in [Voter ID] states fall below the federal poverty line and live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week. These voters may be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. By comparison, the notorious poll tax—outlawed during the civil rights era—cost $10.64 in current dollars.

"The result is plain: Voter ID laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote. They place a serious burden on a core constitutional right that should be universally available to every American citizen."

Read the full report HERE.


Website of the Week: The Economic Hardship Reporting Project

I'm always impressed by a good website. And, by "good" I mean: easy to navigate; having clear information about leadership, accountability, and funding; featuring good writing; reflecting clearly-stated principles, and; most of all, showing evidence that the website is backed up by good people doing important things. This issue's Website of the Week fills the bill in every regard.

The Economic Hardship Reporting Project, or EHRP, states clearly and simply that "We are committed to bringing the underreported, difficult stories of economic hardship in this country to light." And they do.

The range and scope of the articles by EHRP reflect the complexity and depth of the problem of poverty in the world's richest country. On this site you'll see articles that focus on the top (Wall Street Financial shenanigans) and the bottom (deconstructing the "Culture of Poverty"). You'll read about the Big Picture ("Why It's So Hard to End Poverty In America") and many of the Small Pictures (the practices of abusive debt collectors, "How Government and Corporations Use the Poor as Piggy Banks"). It's all here. The site is constantly being updated, it's loaded with resources and ideas.

Check out the "Resources" page, where you'll find all kinds of groups working in various ways on poverty and inequality. Even a maniac like me found some groups and projects there of which I had been unaware.

Check out the "Quote of the Day" section. These quotes touch on Wage Fraud, Poverty and Obesity, Race and Recession, Student Loan Suicides, the Criminalization of Homelessness, Teen Dads, and much more. And every Quote is linked to an important article, study, or report from people and/or projects that care about poverty and its conseqences.

What a refreshing antidote to the cynical, voyeuristic, "blame-the-victim" approach that is typical when the corporate media decide to report on poverty! Which they rarely do. If you are not poor, go here to be educated about the "other side" of life. If you are poor, go here to be validated, to be visible.

Find the Project HERE.


The Treasonous Pro-Polio Patriot?

On July 10th the New York Times ran an article in the Science Section with the headline "C.I.A. Vaccine Ruse May Have Harmed the War on Polio." Note the use of the word "may." That word becomes interesting when one reads the first three sentences:

"Did the killing of Osama bin Laden have an unintended victim: the global drive to eradicate polio? In Pakistan, where polio has never been eliminated, the C.I.A.'s decision to send a vaccination team into the Bin Laden compound to gather information and DNA samples clearly hurt the national polio drive. The question is: How badly?"

That's not "may have harmed." That's "did harm."

Have a look at this comment, from the 6th paragraph:

"'It was a setback, no doubt,' conceded Dr. Elias Durry, the World Health Organization's polio coordinator for Pakistan."

One wonders why this important story was relegated to the Science Section. Maybe because there is no "We're the United States and We Do What We Want" Section. In the fourteen months since bin Laden was killed, the Times has had only one article mentioning the effect on the global campaign to eliminate polio, and that was on May 3rd of this year, the one-year anniversary of the assassination. The Times at that time noted that "Experts in polio . . . say the C.I.A. scheme demonstrably harmed their work last year." And then they quoted the Pakistani Prime Minister's adviser on polio, who said of the CIA's use of a health worker to get at bin Laden, "To use a health worker shows complete callousness on their part."

On a related note, the Washington Post reported on May 24th that "A Pakistani court imposed a 33-year sentence Wednesday on a doctor who assisted the CIA in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, prompting dismay among U.S. officials and warnings that the punishment will exacerbate strained relations and could lead to cuts in aid. Shakil Afridi ... was convicted of treason. . . ."

And, in the U.S., a predictable response. That very day the NYTimes reported, "On Capitol Hill, two of the Senate's leading voices on national security, Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and John McCain of Arizona, the panel's ranking Republican, angrily denounced the court's sentence. 'What Dr. Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason,' the senators said in a statement. 'It was a courageous, heroic and patriotic act, which helped to locate the most wanted terrorist in the world. . . ."

The London Guardian reported the results: "A US senate committee has voted to cut Pakistan's aid by $1m for each of the 33 years of a prison sentence given to a doctor for helping the CIA to track down Osama bin Laden."

A week later the truth emerged: Afridi was not convicted of "treason," nor was he convicted of "helping the CIA." Here's the NY Times on May 30a: "Tribal court documents show that the Pakistani doctor who was sentenced to 33 years in prison after helping the C.I.A. track down Osama bin Laden had not been charged with treason. . . . The doctor, Shakil Afridi ... was instead convicted of colluding with a local Islamist warlord. . . ."

So, how about that $33 million dollars in aid to Pakistan that was cut as punishment "for helping the CIA to track down Osama bin Laden"? Since it was a "punishment" for something that didn't happen, might the Senate have apologized and restored the aid? Don't hold your breath.


"The New American Way of War" in the Media

Every once in a while a story will surface in the mass media that gives a hint—however deeply disguised or encoded—of the degree to which the United States is committed to an imperial stance in the world. Just such a story appeared in the New York Times of July 12th.

The headline at the top of page 7 that day read, "Base Afloat in Persian Gulf Shows New U.S. Way of War." It's never clear in the article itself what this "new way of war" might be, but if you've looked at some of the Pentagon's recent planning documents, you'll know what reporter Thom Shanker is talking about. I'll tell you a little bit of what he said, adding some of the missing context.

The article is about an old (circa 1966) military transport ship called the Ponce, which has now been "converted into one of [the Navy's] newest platforms for warfare," and which "arrived in waters off Bahrain late last week, a major addition to the enlarged presence of American forces in the Persian Gulf designed as a counter to Iran."

The ship, nearing the end of its life, "was to have been scrapped. But the Ponce was reborn as a floating forward base for staging important military operations across the region—the latest example of the new American way of war."

So, is the "enlarged presence" of the U.S. "designed as a counter to Iran," or is it designed "for staging important military operations across the region"? Those are two very different things.

The Times tells us that the first mission of the Ponce—to be "an operations hub for mine clearing in the Strait of Hormuz"—"was designed to be low profile and defensive." Then the Times says, "But, with the relatively simple addition of a modular barracks on the deck, the Ponce can also be a mobile base for several hundred Special Operations forces to carry out missions like hostage rescue, counterterrorism, reconnaissance, sabotage and direct strikes."

In paragraph five the Times tells us, indirectly, what is meant by "a new American way of war." It seems that "Allies and friends are important, but they can veto American missions initiated from bases on their territory. The Ponce operates from international waters. Surprise and speed are critical to military success; the Ponce can sail close to areas of conflict. And having the ability to carry out different missions for different branches of the armed services is more valuable than having a weapons platform that does just one thing for one branch of the military."

The Times doesn't go into it, but this is just one manifestation of a military strategy that was spelled out in a 75-page document released to the public on January 17th. I've actually been meaning to write about this important document—one of a number of Pentagon documents that explain the "new American way of war"—but haven't gotten around to it. The catchy title is "JOINT OPERATIONAL ACCESS CONCEPT," and the key word is "access." The document went out with the signature of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, and I think it's worth quoting the first paragraph from his cover letter:

"The Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) describes in broad terms my vision for how joint forces will operate in response to emerging antiaccess and area-denial security challenges. Due to three major trends—the growth of antiaccess and area-denial capabilities around the globe, the changing U.S. overseas defense posture, and the emergence of space and cyberspace as contested domains—future enemies, both states and nonstates, see the adoption of antiaccess/area-denial strategies against the United States as a favorable course of action for them."

That phrase "antiaccess/area-denial," or A2/AD as it's known in military circles, refers to the idea—considered outrageous by the Pentagon—that some countries might not allow the U.S. military to operate in their countries. That's the "anti" in "antiaccess" and the "denial" in "area-denial." This concept, and the debate surrounding it, "gathered substantial momentum with the publication of . . .the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) in January," according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

None of this has been discussed in the media, so nobody outside of military circles knows anything about it, except for the occasional cryptic article on related subjects. The reference to A2/AD in the article we're talking about, for example, comes along in the twelfth paragraph, and looks like this: "The idea of creating a dedicated fleet of floating bases gained traction in the 1990s, as the military retrenched after the collapse of communism and looked for ways to operate independently near contested areas." [Emphasis added.]

Note that Dempsey speaks of "enemies," but the Times reminds us that sovereign nations "can veto American missions initiated from bases on their territory," so while "allies and friends are important," the U.S. is constantly trying to figure out ways to work around their pesky sovereignty when it interferes with U.S. plans for maintaining unrivaled military dominance in the 21st century.

Decoding the Story

Now that we know a little bit about U.S. plans for military hegemony in the world (including the Persian Gulf), it becomes possible to partly decipher the Ponce story in the Times.

Bahrain is a couple of hundred miles from Iran, across the Persian Gulf, roughly the same distance as Miami to Havana. It doesn't take much imagination to picture the U.S. response if Iran tried to put a "platform for warfare" like the Ponce in the waters off of Cuba. Yet the Times seems surprised that Iran has a problem with the Ponce, which we're told is "low profile and defensive." Here's the Times:

"Iranian leaders see the Ponce differently [than does the Times or its U.S. military sources], of course, and they have lashed out at the American deployments, accusing Washington of mounting a provocative military buildup. (The American reinforcements also include a doubling of minesweepers to eight and the addition of Air Force fighter and attack jets.)"

Those are undoubtedly low-profile attack jets.

Here is perhaps the most revealing comment in the entire article: "An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander even threatened that his nation would counter the moves by ordering a buildup of missiles that could endanger American warships and allied bases in the region."

And here I refer you back to Nygaard Notes Number 501, from this past January. In my article "War is Peace. Self-Defense is a Threat," I began by quoting the lead paragraph from January 9th New York Times article: "President Obama's new military strategy has focused fresh attention on an increasingly important threat: the use of inexpensive weapons like mines and cyberattacks that aim not to defeat the American military in battle but to keep it at a distance."

So the "new American way of war" has to do with "threats." Any country that possesses the capacity to "endanger American warships and allied bases" or "keep the U.S. military at a distance" from its shores—that is, any nation that tries to develop the capacity to defend itself against the ability of the U.S. to attack anywhere it wants at any time—poses a "threat" to something. And what is that something? It is "the new American way of war," which is but a new strategy in service to a very old goal, which is the maintenance of the global U.S. military hegemony that began after World War II and took on new life with the demise of its only perceived rival, the Soviet Union, 20 years ago.