Bank of America Gets Pad Locked After Homeowner Forecloses On It
10:23 AM, Jun 4, 2011 | comments
Collier County, Florida — Have you heard the one about a homeowner foreclosing on a bank?
Well, it has happened in Florida and involves a North Carolina based bank.
Instead of Bank of America foreclosing on some Florida homeowner, the homeowners had sheriff’s deputies foreclose on the bank.
It started five months ago when Bank of America filed foreclosure papers on the home of a couple, who didn’t owe a dime on their home.
The couple said they paid cash for the house.
The case went to court and the homeowners were able to prove they didn’t owe Bank of America anything on the house. In fact, it was proven that the couple never even had a mortgage bill to pay.
A Collier County Judge agreed and after the hearing, Bank of America was ordered, by the court to pay the legal fees of the homeowners’, Maurenn Nyergers and her husband.
The Judge said the bank wrongfully tried to foreclose on the Nyergers’ house.
So, how did it end with bank being foreclosed on? After more than 5 months of the judge’s ruling, the bank still hadn’t paid the legal fees, and the homeowner’s attorney did exactly what the bank tried to do to the homeowners. He seized the bank’s assets.
“They’ve ignored our calls, ignored our letters, legally this is the next step to get my clients compensated, ” attorney Todd Allen told CBS.
Sheriff’s deputies, movers, and the Nyergers’ attorney went to the bank and foreclosed on it. The attorney gave instructions to to remove desks, computers, copiers, filing cabinets and any cash in the teller’s drawers.
After about an hour of being locked out of the bank, the bank manager handed the attorney a check for the legal fees.
“As a foreclosure defense attorney this is sweet justice” says Allen.
Allen says this is something that he sees often in court, banks making errors because they didn’t investigate the foreclosure and it becomes a lengthy and expensive battle for the homeowner.
At Long Last, House Debates and Votes on Libya War Powers
(Photo: Pete Souza / White House)
On Friday, more than two months after President Obama ordered U.S. forces into a war of choice in Libya without Congressional authorization, and more than two weeks after the expiration of the 60 day limit of the War Powers Resolution for the unauthorized use of force, the House finally debated and voted on the deployment of U.S. forces to the Libya conflict. You can watch the debate on c-span here.
What brought this debate and vote to pass was a resolution to withdraw U.S. forces from the conflict within 15 days brought pursuant to the War Powers Resolution by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich. This resolution was originally supposed to be voted on Wednesday, but the House leadership, fearing that the resolution would pass, delayed consideration until Friday.
In the meantime, Speaker Boehner crafted an alternative resolution criticizing the Administration’s lack of communication and consultation with Congress on the war, designed to drain enough support from the Kucinich resolution so that the Kucinich resolution would not pass.
Not surprisingly, Boehner’s strategy worked. The Boehner resolution passed, 268-145, with 223 Republicans and 45 Democrats voting yes [roll call.] The Kucinich resolution was defeated, 148- 265, with 87 Republicans and 61 Democrats voting yes [roll call.]
Despite the defeat of the Kucinich resolution, Friday’s action by the House was important.
Friday’s action shows that the War Powers Resolution is not dead. A key feature of the War Powers Resolution is that it allows for expedited consideration for a resolution such as that brought by Kucinich. The WPR was in part designed to address exactly this situation: an unauthorized war which Congress has not acted to stop. Because of the War Powers Resolution, Kucinich was able to force a debate and vote.
Because Kucinich was able to force a debate and vote, and because there was a real possibility that the Kucinich resolution would pass, the House leadership was forced to craft and pass an alternative resolution critical of the Administration’s lack of consultation with Congress on the war.
During the floor debate, critics of the Kucinich resolution argued that regardless of what one feels about how the U.S. got into the war – in particular, the fact that it was never authorized by Congress – the U.S. is now committed, and withdrawing from the conflict now would have bad consequences, including damaging relations with other countries in NATO participating in the war.
Republican and Democratic supporters of the Kucinich resolution countered that the logical consequence of the argument that Congress can’t take action once U.S. forces are committed would be carte blanche for this President or any future President to commit U.S. forces to combat, anywhere, anytime, for any reason, without Congressional authorization.
Unlike the Kucinich resolution, the Boehner resolution does not have the force of law, and it does not directly address the question of the President’s usurpation of Congressional war powers.
However, passage of the Boehner resolution will add to pressure on the Administration to explain what the U.S. is doing in Libya and to seek Congressional authorization, or else to bring U.S. military participation to a close. By increasing pressure to end U.S. military participation, the resolution may indirectly increase pressure on the Administration to support a realistic negotiated resolution of the conflict. Moreover, the passage of the Boehner resolution as a substitute for the more decisive Kucinich resolution will increase pressure on the House leadership to follow through with further action if U.S. participation in the war continues, and continues to be unauthorized.
The Boehner resolution made the following statements of policy:
The President has failed to provide Congress with a compelling rationale based upon United States national security interests for current United States military activities regarding Libya. The President shall not deploy, establish, or maintain the presence of units and members of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Libya unless the purpose of the presence is to rescue a member of the Armed Forces from imminent danger.
The second of these statements of policy simply reaffirms the (legally binding) amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act enacted by the House last week, introduced by Michigan Representative John Conyers, barring the use of funds for ground troops in Libya.
But the first statement is a House vote of no confidence in Administration policy. The U.S. House of Representatives is now on record stating that the President has failed to justify the Libya war in terms of U.S. national security interests.
The Boehner resolution also set out a list of questions for the Administration, giving the Administration 14 days to respond, including:
– the President’s justification for not seeking authorization by Congress for the use of military force – US political and military objectives – anticipated scope and duration of US military involvement – costs so far – total projected costs – expected role of the US in the establishment of a successor regime – assessment of the ability of opposition forces in Libya to establish effective military and political control of Libya and a practicable timetable for accomplishing these objectives.
In the debate, supporters of the Boehner resolution asserted that if the 14 days elapsed without a satisfactory response from the Administration, the House would revisit the issue, and take further action, including the possibility of cutting off funding for U.S. participation in the war. The argument was made that the House should give the Administration a period of time to comply with House demands.
Members of the House should hold the House leadership accountable to this 14-day deadline. As the situation stands today, passage of the Boehner resolution has done nothing about the fact that the Administration has involved the U.S. in a war of choice that was not authorized by Congress and is therefore illegal and unconstitutional. But if the Boehner resolution effectively pressures the Administration to seek Congressional authorization, to seek a diplomatic resolution, or to end U.S. participation; or if the Boehner resolution serves as a prelude to action in two weeks by the House to end U.S. participation in the war, it will have been a positive step.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.
Asserting War Powers, House Moves to End Afghanistan, Libya Wars
(Photo: Marines / Flickr)
Voting on amendments to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives took action to hasten the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Libya.
By a 204-215 vote roll call – six switchers would have passed the amendment – the House narrowly failed to adopt a bipartisan amendment from Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts) and Justin Amash (R-Michigan) that would have required the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a plan for an, “accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities.”
It may seem counterintuitive to count narrowly failing to adopt an amendment as “taking an action,” but in terms of consequences, it is taking action. Getting more than 200 votes sends a signal to the White House: if you don’t move – for example, by announcing a significant drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan this summer – you could lose the next vote in the House. And if the administration lost a vote in the House on the Afghanistan war, you can bet that would be front-page news in Europe, weakening the administration’s case to the Europeans for continuing the status quo. It seems likely that the administration will want to stay one step ahead of the House, rather than face a public defeat. That points toward an accelerated drawdown this year.
If 204 members were willing to vote yes, it seems extremely likely that six House members who voted no gave a yes vote serious consideration. Indeed, The Hill reports:
Florida Rep. John Mica (R) voted against both amendments [referring also to the sharper Chaffetz-Welch amendment, but said he considered supporting them.
“I told them I could’ve [voted for it but] it wasn’t specific enough,” Mica said, adding that he’s “leaning toward getting” out of Afghanistan.
Mica believes that the sentiment of his conference is growing toward leaving Afghanistan, “and when somebody comes up with the right amendment, it’s going to pass.”
All but eight Democratic members of the House voted in favor of the McGovern-Amash amendment, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), a leader among center-right Democrats in the House on national security issues. This vote represents, for practical purposes, the House Democratic Caucus speaking with one voice in favor of an accelerated drawdown.
Twenty-six Republican members of the House voted in favor of the McGovern-Amash amendment, roughly a 200 percent increase in the number of Republicans voting against open-ended continuation of the war from the nine Republicans who voted for the McGovern amendment on July 1, 2010. As noted by Representative Mica, there are other Republican members of the House who are substantially in the same place and are likely to support a future initiative if there is no significant change in administration policy.
By the spectacular vote of 416-5, the House adopted an amendment initiated by Michigan Rep. John Conyers prohibiting the introduction into Libya of US ground troops (that is, uniformed forces, not Special Forces or CIA agents that are already there).
The House also adopted by voice vote – meaning, this one is such a slam-dunk we don’t even have to bother having a recorded vote – an amendment introduced by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-New Jersey) affirming that, “Nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this Act shall be construed to authorize military operations in Libya.”
Conyers said: “[the] House of Representatives has clearly stated that the current stalemate in Libya will not escalate into an unaffordable occupation that would harm our country’s national security … I encourage my colleagues in the US Senate to heed today’s vote and join our efforts to ensure that the conflict in Libya does not become another Afghanistan or Iraq.”
Jake Tapper of ABC News reports that these lopsided results could augur well for a resolution in the House next week calling for full US military withdrawal from the Libya conflict in accordance with the War Powers Resolution:
Republicans in the House suggest that the two votes are an interesting indicator of the level of support in the House for ongoing operations over there.
Likely to hit the floor next week is a privileged resolution from Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, calling for full withdrawal from the action in accordance with the War Powers Act.
Could that pass? I asked a House GOP leadership aide.
“Honestly we don’t know,” the aide said.
News in Brief: Obama Wants to Finish the Job in Libya, and More …
Obama Wants to Finish the Job in Libya
The United States and NATO are preparing for the long haul in Libya, where Western forces have engaged in military operations for two months to help rebels in their fight against Muammar Qaddafi’s Army. President Obama told the British Parliament yesterday that Western forces will not let up in Libya “until tyranny is lifted,” according to the International Business Times. A United Nations resolution on the conflict in Libya allows all member states to take any necessary action to prevent attacks on civilians, suggesting that Western forces could be in Libya until Qaddafi steps down or is killed. This vague timeline has some members of Congress questioning the Obama administration’s plan for Libya, where US forces are playing a supporting role, according to US News and World Report.
Lui Requests to Withdraw Nomination
Berkeley Law Professor Goodwin Lui requested that President Obama withdraw his nomination to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday after Senate Republicans successfully blocked the nomination with a filibuster last week. The filibuster was the first used by Republicans to block a nominee. Republicans have accused Lui of being a left-wing ideologue, but liberal Democrats saw him as one of Obama’s most promising nominees. “Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP decided to use Goodwin Liu to make a political point – they smeared the reputation of this respected legal mind while ignoring many of their own vows to never filibuster a judicial nominee,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. Democrats failed to overcome the filibuster with a vote of 52 to 43, with only one moderate Republican, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, opposed to ending the debate on the nomination, according to The Washington Post.G-8 Protesters Detained in Paris, Bigger Actions Planned
About 50 protesters in Paris have been detained after staging an action against the G-8 meeting that began in France today, according to the Belfast Telegraph. Larger protests are planned in Paris, but the G-8 meeting, which features leaders from the world’s wealthiest countries, is being held in a remote resort town in northern France. G-8 protests organized by factions of the anti-globalization movement have turned violent in recent years. Last summer at the G-8 in Toronto, police arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters, while rioters smashed windows and burned police cars in the city’s financial and shopping districts.
Jobless Claims Rise, Dashing Hopes for the Job Market
The Labor Department reports that the number of Americans filing unemployment claims rose last week to 424,000 from a revised 414,000 in the prior week, raising doubts about the optimistic predictions for the job market, according to Reuters. Economists had expected unemployment claims to drop to about 400,000.
News in Brief:
News in Brief: Anti-Austerity Protests Erupt in Greece and More …
Anti-Austerity Protests Erupt in Greece
Tens of thousands of civil service servants in Athens, Greece, walked off the job on Wednesday to protest new government austerity measures, The Wall Street Journal reports. Public services throughout the country closed down as doctors, teachers, transportation officials and journalists joined to form the second major strike in Greece this year, only days before the government is expected to present Parliament with $37.4 billion in spending cuts and tax increases to decrease the budget deficit over the next five years. The country’s public-sector workers have taken the biggest hit in previous austerity measures, with some having their earnings cut by up to 25 percent. “These neoliberal and barbarous policies, which are driving workers and society into poverty for the benefit of creditors and bankers, are taking us back to the last century,” said public-sector union Adedy in a statement.
PR Industry Fills Vacuum Left by Shrinking Newsrooms
The Gulf oil spill  was 2010’s biggest story, so when David Barstow walked into a Houston hotel for last December’s hearings on the disaster, he wasn’t surprised to see that the conference room was packed. Calling the hearing to order, Coast Guard Captain Hung Nguyen cautioned the throng, “We will continue to allow full media coverage as long as it does not interfere with the rights of the parties to a fair hearing and does not unduly distract from the solemnity, decorum, and dignity of the proceedings.” It’s a stock warning that every judge gives before an important trial, intended to protect witnesses from a hounding press. But Nguyen might have been worrying too much. Because as Barstow realized as he glanced across the crowd, most of the people busily scribbling notes in the room were not there to ask questions. They were there to answer them.
“You would go into these hearings and there would be more PR people representing these big players than there were reporters, sometimes by a factor of two or three,” Barstow said. “There were platoons of PR people.”
An investigative reporter for The New York Times, Barstow has written several big  stories  about the shoving match between the media and public relations in what eventually becomes the national dialogue. As the crowd at the hearing clearly showed, the game has been changing.
“The muscles of journalism are weakening and the muscles of public relations are bulking up — as if they were on steroids,” he says.
In their recent book, “The Death and Life of American Journalism ,” Robert McChesney and John Nichols tracked the number of people working in journalism since 1980 and compared it to the numbers for public relations. Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they found that the number of journalists has fallen drastically while public relations people have multiplied at an even faster rate. In 1980, there were about .45 PR workers per 100,000 population compared with .36 journalists. In 2008, there were .90 PR people per 100,000 compared to .25 journalists. That’s a ratio of more than three-to-one, better equipped, better financed.
How much better?
The researcher who worked with McChesney and Nichols, R. Jamil Jonna, used census data to track revenues at public relations agencies between 1997 and 2007. He found that revenues went from $3.5 billion to $8.75 billion. Over the same period, paid employees at the agencies went from 38,735 to 50,499, a healthy 30 percent growth in jobs. And those figures include only independent public relations agencies — they don’t include PR people who work for big companies, lobbying outfits, advertising agencies, non-profits, or government.
Traditional journalism, of course, has been headed in the opposite direction. The Newspaper Association of America reported  that newspaper advertising revenue dropped from an all-time high of $49 billion in 2000 to $22 billion in 2009. That’s right — more than half. A lot of that loss is due to the recession. But even the most upbeat news executive has to admit that many of those dollars are not coming back soon. Six major newspaper companies have sought bankruptcy protection in recent years.
Less money means fewer reporters and editors. The American Society of News Editors found  the number of newspaper reporters and editors hit a high of 56,900 in 1990. By 2011, the numbers had dropped to 41,600. Much of that loss has occurred since 2007. Network news did not fare any better — the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism estimates that employment there is less than half of what it was in the peak period of the 1980s.
“I don’t know anyone who can look at that calculus and see a very good outcome,” said McChesney, a communications professor at the University of Illinois.
The dangers are clear. As PR becomes ascendant, private and government interests become more able to generate, filter, distort, and dominate the public debate, and to do so without the public knowing it. “What we are seeing now is the demise of journalism at the same time we have an increasing level of public relations and propaganda,” McChesney said. “We are entering a zone that has never been seen before in this country.”
The First Modern PR Man
Modern public relations was born from a train wreck.
Michael Schudson, a journalism professor at Columbia University, CJR contributor, and author of “Discovering the News ,” said modern public relations started when Ivy Lee, a minister’s son and a former reporter at the New York World, tipped reporters to an accident on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Before then, railroads had done everything they could to cover up accidents. But Lee figured that crashes, which tend to leave visible wreckage, were hard to hide. So it was better to get out in front of the inevitable story.
The press release was born. Schudson said the rise of the “publicity agent” created deep concern among the nation’s leaders, who distrusted a middleman inserting itself and shaping messages between government and the public. Congress was so concerned that it attached amendments to bills in 1908 and 1913 that said no money could be appropriated for preparing newspaper articles or hiring publicity agents.
But World War I pushed those concerns to the side. The government needed to rally the public behind a deeply unpopular war. Suddenly, publicity agents did not seem so bad. Woodrow Wilson picked a former newspaperman, George Creel, to head his new Committee on Public Information in 1917. The group cranked out thousands of press releases in support of the war and started a speakers bureau that eventually grew to 75,000 people, all giving morale-boosting talks across the country.
“After the war, PR becomes a very big deal,” Schudson said. “It was partly stimulated by the war and the idea of journalists and others being employed by the government as propagandists.”
Many who worked for the massive wartime propaganda apparatus found an easy transition into civilian life. Samuel Insull, president of Chicago Edison and an early radio magnate, launched a campaign on behalf of electric utilities, which, according to Schudson, was the most far-reaching public relations effort of the era. It prompted an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and a new raft of angry reports about the increasing power of PR.
People “became more conscious that they were not getting direct access, that it was being screened for them by somebody else,” Schudson said.
But there was no turning back. PR had become a fixture of public life. Concern about the invisible filter of public relations became a steady drumbeat in the press. From the classic 1971 CBS documentary, “The Selling of the Pentagon ,” warning that the military was using public relations tricks to sell a bigger defense budget, to reports that PR wizards had ginned up testimony about horrors in Kuwait before the first Gulf War, the theme was that spin doctors were pulling the strings.
Gary McCormick, former chairman of the Public Relations Society of America, said that was unfair. McCormick acknowledged that there have been PR abuses, but he said most public relations people try to steer clear of falsehood. And he makes a pretty logical argument: lying does not work, because you are almost always going to get caught. And when you do, it makes it worse for your client.
“If I burn you, I am out of business,” said McCormick, whose organization has a membership of 21,000. He concedes that can be a tough message to relay to a client facing bad press. “The problem is when you get caught up with a client, and the business drives you to tell a message differently than you would advise,” McCormick said.
McCormick is right: lies are not ubiquitous, and they are not the heart of the matter. The problem is that there is a large gray zone between the truth and a lie.
Eric Alterman, a professor at Brooklyn College and a columnist at The Nation, said skillful PR people can exploit this zone to great effect. “They are able to provide data that for journalistic purposes is entirely credible,” he said. “The information is true enough. It is slanted. It is propagandistic. But it is not false.”
PR Up — Journalism Down
So what has changed? Isn’t this article yet another in a long line of complaints, starting with Silas Bent’s counting of stories generated by publicity agents in one day’s issue of The New York Times in 1926 (174) or Peter Odegard’s 1930 lament that “reporters today are little more than intellectual mendicants who go from one publicity agent or press bureau to another seeking ‘handouts'”? It is, in a way. But the context has changed. Journalism, the counterweight to corporate and government PR, is shrinking.
“We are coming out of a period when news organizations were extraordinarily prosperous and able to insulate themselves from a lot of pressures,” said Paul Starr, a sociology professor at Princeton University and author of “The Creation of the Media.” “The balance of power has shifted.”
When public relations began its ascent in the early 20th century, journalism was rising alongside it. The period saw the ferocious work of the muckrakers, the development of the great newspaper chains, and the dawn of radio and, later, television. Journalism of the day was not perfect; sometimes it was not even good. But it was an era of expansion that eventually led to the powerful press of the mid to late century.
Now, during a second rise of public relations, we are in an era of massive contraction in traditional journalism. Bureaus have closed, thousands of reporters have been laid off, once-great newspapers like the Rocky Mountain News have died.
The Pew Center took a look at the impact of these changes last year in a study of the Baltimore news market. The report, “How News Happens,”  found that while new online outlets had increased the demand for news, the number of original stories spread out among those outlets had declined. In one example, Pew found that area newspapers wrote one-third the number of stories about state budget cuts as they did the last time the state made similar cuts in 1991. In 2009, Pew said, The Baltimore Sun produced 32 percent fewer stories than it did in 1999.
Moreover, even original reporting often bore the fingerprints of government and private public relations. Mark Jurkowitz, associate director the Pew Center, said the Baltimore report concentrated on six major story lines: state budget cuts, shootings of police officers, the University of Maryland’s efforts to develop a vaccine, the auction of the Senator Theater, the installation of listening devices on public busses, and developments in juvenile justice. It found that 63 percent of the news about those subjects was generated by the government, 23 percent came from interest groups or public relations, and 14 percent started with reporters.
An example: when the University of Maryland announced on July 22, 2009, that it would test the new swine flu vaccine, the university press release read this way: “The research is a first step toward the U.S. government’s stated goal of developing a safe and effective vaccine.”
The Daily Record newspaper in Maryland, Pew said, was first out with the story: “Research on the vaccine is the first step toward the U.S. government’s aggressive goal of developing a vaccine for the virus.”
Tom Linthicum, executive editor of The Daily Record, said that first story reflected the reality of the Internet age. “It’s kind of like working for the wire services in the old days,” he said. “You write the short lede to get it up there first. You come back the next day and flesh it out.”
Linthicum said the vaccine story, while important, was not really in The Daily Record’s typical coverage area — the paper is more business-oriented. “We came back and fleshed it out some; frankly, we did not flesh it out a lot,” he said. “I think we did with it about what we could given our other priorities.”
This is not terrible. It is a decision that editors make every day. But, as Pew points out, it does hand a lot of control over the narrative to the institution that is peddling the story.
Of the 19 stories Pew reviewed that covered the development of the vaccine, three contained significant new information, another three had new details, and the rest either repeated the same basic facts as the press release or were identical stories appearing on a different platform. “One of the key findings of the study was that as the press scales back, dissemination of other people’s work becomes a more important part of the news system,” Jurkowitz said. “There is also a greater emphasis on time, on speed, on getting the first bit of information up quickly. Often that first bit of information is coming from government agencies or public relations.”
Of course, in the modern world, news does not stay in one place for long. Stories may begin on a newspaper blog or a TV website, but they soon ripple across the Internet like a splash in a pond. Tom Rosenstiel, Pew’s director, said that ripple effect makes the original story that hits the web — and the source of information it is based on — even more important.
“The nature of digital technology is that it is distributive,” he said. “A story would be grabbed and distributed and when the original story is later updated, other versions out there might not be. It all depends on when someone grabs it.”
Some experts have argued that in the digital age, new forms of reporting will eventually fill the void left by traditional newsrooms. But few would argue that such a point has arrived, or is close to arriving. “There is the overwhelming sense that the void that is created by the collapse of traditional journalism is not being filled by new media, but by public relations,” said John Nichols, a Nation correspondent and McChesney’s co-author. Nichols said reporters usually make some calls and check facts. But the ability of government or private public relations to generate stories grows as reporters have less time to seek out stories on their own. That gives outside groups more power to set the agenda.
PR Goes Direct
Leonard Downie Jr., who was executive editor of The Washington Post for 17 years, does not believe that reporters working for reputable organizations are going to let PR people dictate their stories, no matter how busy they get.
“Observing our own newsroom” at the Post, “I don’t see a difference in the way people are working,” said Downie, who is now a professor at Arizona State University and vice president at large of the Post. “In addition to talking to PR people, both in government and in business, our reporters want to talk to principals all the time. I don’t see a change in that relationship.”
What Downie does see is a change in the relationship between PR and the public itself. The Internet makes it easy for public relations people to reach out directly to the audience and bypass the press, via websites and blogs, social media and videos on YouTube, and targeted email.
“Let’s take a hypothetical situation in which there had been no reduction in the media; at the same time, there still would be growth in the ability of public relations people to directly reach the public,” Downie said. “They are filling a space that has been created digitally.”
Some quick examples: in the academic world, the website Futurity regularly offers polished stories from research universities across the country like “Gems Clear Drug Resistance Hurdle” (Northwestern University) and “Algae Spew Mucus to Alter Sea Ice” (University of Washington); on the business front, Toyota used satellite press conferences and video feeds on its website to respond to allegations about sudden acceleration in its cars last year, and published transcripts on its website of a long interview with reporters at the Los Angeles Times; and in the realm of political advocacy, Media Matters for America led a battle across the Internet for the past several months with the anti-abortion group Live Action over a videotaped sting that Live Action did on Planned Parenthood.
In a vacuum, none of this is bad. Schools need to publicize their research, corporations defend their products, and political groups stake their positions. But without the filter provided by journalists, it is hard to divide facts from slant.
It’s also getting tougher to know when a storyline originates with a self-interested party producing its own story. In 2005 and 2006, the New York Times  and the advocacy group PR Watch  did separate reports detailing how television news was airing video news releases prepared by corporate or government PR offices, working them into stories as part of their newscasts. PR Watch listed 77 stations which aired the reports, some of them broadcast nearly verbatim.
Stacey Woelfel, the past-chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association, said when his group looked into the issue after it was raised by the reports, it was troubled by how widespread the use of the releases had become. “Some stations were running video news releases all the time, sometimes packages from corporate interests,” he said.
There is evidence that it has not stopped. James Rainey, the Los Angeles Times media columnist, recently won Penn State’s Bart Richards Award for Media Criticism for columns last year that showed how local television stations were running paid content in their news programs. “There’s a good chance that your small screen expert has taken cash to sell, sell, sell,” Rainey wrote in a Sept. 15 column.
In 2008, the New York Times again returned to the issue of hidden public relations agendas with a series of stories  in which Barstow showed how the Pentagon was using retired military officers to deliver the military’s message on the war in Iraq and its counterterrorism efforts. Barstow described how the officers were presented on the news programs as independent consultants offering unvarnished opinions.
After being stonewalled by the Pentagon for two years, the Times eventually sued to obtain records about the Defense Department’s use of retired military officers. Barstow found evidence that the officers’ appearances on television were not happenstance, but a carefully coordinated effort of what the Pentagon called “message force multipliers.”
Barstow was struck by the sophistication of the operation. “In a world saturated with spin, viewers tend to tune out official spokespeople and journalists,” he said. “Where they are influenced is when they see people who are perceived to be experts in the subject matter but independent of the government and the media.”
Front Groups Obscure Special Interests
Hiding the PR agenda is not a new tactic, but one that seems to be rising to new levels. One form it takes is front groups, supporting this cause or that, this candidate or that, this product or that, without revealing their ties to the cause, candidate, or product.
Jane Mayer focused national attention on such groups in an encyclopedic article about the Koch brothers  last summer in The New Yorker. The article described how the Kochs had funded groups to promote their conservative political philosophy and oppose “so many Obama Administration policies — from heath-care reform to the economic-stimulus program — that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.”
Mayer said one of the most difficult tasks in reporting the story was finding the connections between the groups and their funders. Many people and organizations besides the Kochs fund advocacy groups, and from both ends of the political spectrum. Mayer said it takes so much effort to find out what group is connected with what organization that it is difficult for reporters to keep up.
“You never know what you don’t know — it is getting harder and harder to find out who is behind those front groups,” she said. That is no accident, according to Wendell Potter, a former vice president for corporate communications at CIGNA, the insurance company.
Potter, who has since become a vocal critic of corporate public relations, particularly related to the health-care debate, said PR’s influence has become deliberately more opaque as viewers become more attuned to its influence. During the debate over the Clinton health-care plan in 1993 and 1994, Potter said, the health-insurance industry’s trade group openly opposed the measure. In a series of ads featuring Harry and Louise, the fictional married couple, the industry warned that the Clinton plan would mire health care in tangled bureaucracy. The industry’s role in the ad, he said, “was very visible, very vocal.”
The industry’s opposition to the bill reflected the public’s concern at the time about government interference in health care, Potter said. But by 2007, public opinion had changed and polls showed that a majority of Americans felt that some degree of government involvement was needed.
Thus, Potter said, the industry no longer wanted to be closely linked to lobbying on the issue. So instead of directly running ads, it farmed a lot of the work out, obscuring its role.
“You really want someone that seems to be an ordinary person. That gives you credibility and the perception that the public is on your side,” he said.
The health-insurance industry’s trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans or AHIP, declined to speak for this story. But executives with the public relations firm APCO Worldwide, which has worked for the health-care industry, said that when their agency sets up a group to fight for an issue, they don’t try to hide their association. B. Jay Cooper, APCO’s managing director, said in the recent health-care fight APCO managed such a group, but every reporter who covered the issue knew who APCO represented. That doesn’t mean the link was always reported to the public.
Indeed, it is often difficult for reporters to find the connection. It took Drew Armstrong, a health-care reporter for Bloomberg, months to nail stories showing how the health-insurance industry had funded efforts by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to fight against changing the health system.
Armstrong dug into tax records to show what had previously been hidden — that AHIP contributed a whopping $86.2 million to the Chamber to fight against the Obama health-care plan. “I was shocked by the amount,” Armstrong said. “It was 40 percent of the Chamber’s budget.”
The problem for Armstrong was that neither organization’s filings proved a link. There was no definite proof that it was the same money. The IRS forms filed by the groups are pretty scanty — they require organizations to list donations but not the donor — and Armstrong had to work with sources to confirm the connection.
It took a while for Armstrong to establish the link, but he did so in a Nov. 17, 2010, story . Neither group would confirm that it was the same money — the Chamber still won’t — but no one called for a correction.
“Giving money to the Chamber lets you have it both ways,” Armstrong said. “You can sit with the Democrats, lobby for your position, and have your phone calls returned. At the same time, you have someone like the Chamber out there, running ads, doing the public relations campaign.”
After his first story, Armstrong looked into how the Chamber used the money. He found that it set up a sophisticated operation to oppose the law, particularly in swing states. The Chamber paid for ads that ran in 21 states beginning in August of 2009. The ads warned that the government-proposed plan would lead to tax increases, swell the deficit, and expand “government control over your health.”
Bill Vickery, who Bloomberg said was paid by the Chamber to help run the opposition in Arkansas, told Armstrong that he organized about 50 events targeting incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat who was a key supporter of the health-care law. Lincoln lost by 21 percent in last November’s midterm elections.
“I talked to a lot of consultants, pollsters,” Armstrong said. “They said this was one of the most sophisticated operations, akin to a presidential campaign, that they had ever worked on.”
Steve Patterson, the Lincoln campaign manager, said most of the ad money for the health-care fight actually hit the state the year before the midterm election while the battle over the Democratic plan was in full cry. “Most of it was educational in nature,” he said. “Call Sen. Lincoln and tell her to vote no.”
But Patterson knew early on that the heath-care fight was likely to be the defining issue of the Senate race, and many of the ads were already targeting Lincoln’s position in favor of change to the health-care system. So he asked the campaign’s ad buyer to track the spending. They found $6 million in issue advertising was spent during the period — a very large amount in a small media market state.
From October to early December, Lincoln’s buyer found that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $2 million in advertising. Americans for Stable Healthcare — a coalition of liberal groups, the pharmaceutical industry, and unions in favor of the plan — spent $1.2 million. And the 60 Plus Association, a conservative senior citizen group opposed to the plan, spent $650,000.
“I think it was the critical issue that turned voters against Sen. Lincoln,” he said. “Her numbers started turning when this process began.”
Tom Collamore, who ran Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign before becoming senior vice president of communications and strategy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, likened a modern issue campaign to a presidential race. “There are all the elements,” he said. “You test the message and then you push the message out through all the outlets.”
“If you are really serious about something you have to make a big investment,” Collamore continued. “It involves research and focus groups and proper messaging that will lead to highlighting things that resonate.”
In the heath-care battle, the Chamber created a web hub, healthreformimpacts.com , to continue the fight. It set up coalition groups like Employers for a Healthy Economy. Collamore said much of the effort also involved old-fashioned PR work as well. “We did a lot of online pushing of the message through stories, columns,” he said. “A lot of interaction with the press, a lot of interviews.”
Although the fight over health care was larger than most campaigns, Collamore said it was not fundamentally different than several other public relations efforts the Chamber is working on.
One of the largest is the Chamber’s $100 million “Campaign for Free Enterprise,” an effort to fight government involvement in business matters. Besides the traditional effort of advertising, press releases, and position papers, the Chamber has set up groups like Students in Free Enterprise and the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour to target college campuses.
It’s also making an online push. The Chamber kicked off part of the campaign with $100,000 in prize money for a video contest on its Facebook page. The campaign received 100,000 views, recorded 10,000 votes, and collected 4,000 email addresses to add to the Chamber’s database. Right now, it has 146,000 fans — not Lady Gaga level (more than 30 million at press time) but not bad for a business group.
“The news cycle never ends. There is a lot of space, there is a lot of competition for people’s attention,” Collamore said. “It’s not just press releases anymore.”
Justice or Vengeance?
In the midst of the Arab Spring, which directly rejects al-Qaeda-style small-group violence in favor of mass-based, society-wide mobilization and non-violent protest to challenge dictatorship and corruption, does the killing of Osama bin Laden represent ultimate justice, or even an end to the “unfinished business” of 9/11?
Amman, Jordan – U.S. agents killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, apparently without cooperation from the government in Islamabad. The al-Qaeda leader was responsible for great suffering; I do not mourn his death. But every action has causes and consequences, and in the current moment all are dangerous. It’s unlikely that bin Laden’s killing will have much impact on the already weakened capacity of al-Qaeda, which is widely believed to be made up of only a couple hundred fighters between Afghanistan and Pakistan — though its effect on other terrorist forces is uncertain. Pakistan itself may pay a particularly high price.
As President Barack Obama described it, “After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden.” Assuming that was indeed the case, this raid reflects the brutal reality of the deadly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that preceded it and that continue today, 10 years later — it wasn’t about bringing anyone to justice, it was about vengeance.
And given the enormous human costs still being paid by Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, and others in the U.S. wars waged in the name of capturing bin Laden, it’s particularly ironic that in the end it wasn’t the shock-and-awe airstrikes or invasions of ground troops, but rather painstaking police work — careful investigation, cultivating intelligence sources — that made possible the realization of that goal.
President Obama acknowledged that the post-9/11 unity of the people of the United States “has at times frayed.” But he didn’t mention that that unity had actually collapsed completely within 24 hours of the horrifying attacks on the twin towers. September 11, 2001 didn’t “change the world;” the world was changed on September 12, when George W. Bush announced his intention to take the world to war in response. That was the moment that the actual events of 9/11, a crime against humanity that killed nearly 3,000 people, were left behind and the “global war on terror” began. That GWOT war has brought years of war, devastation and destruction to hundreds of thousands around the world, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond.
There was an unprecedented surge of unity, of human solidarity, in response to the crime of 9/11. In the United States much of that response immediately took on a jingoistic and xenophobic frame (some of which showed up again last night in the aggressive chants of “USA, USA!!” from flag-waving, cheering crowds outside the White House following President Obama’s speech). Some of it was overtly militaristic, racist and Islamophobic. But some really did reflect a level of human unity unexpected and rare in U.S. history. Even internationally, solidarity with the U.S. people for a brief moment replaced the well-deserved global anger at U.S. arrogance, wars, and drive towards empire. In France, headlines proclaimed “nous sommes tous Américaines maintenant.” We are all Americans now.
But that human solidarity was short-lived. It was destroyed by the illegal wars that shaped the U.S. response to the 9/11 crime. Those wars quickly created numbers of victims far surpassing the 3,000 killed on September 11. The lives of millions more around the world were transformed in the face of U.S. aggression — in Pakistan alone, where a U.S. military team assassinated bin Laden, thousands of people have been killed and maimed by U.S. drone strikes and the suicide bombs that are part of the continuing legacy of the U.S. war.
These wars have brought too much death and destruction. Too many people have died and too many children have been orphaned for the United States to claim, as President Obama’s triumphantly did, that “justice has been done” because one man, however symbolically important, has been killed. However one calculates when and how “this fight” actually began, the U.S. government chose how to respond to 9/11. And that response, from the beginning, was one of war and vengeance — not of justice.
The president’s speech last night could have aimed to put an end to the triumphalism of the “global war on terror” that George W. Bush began and Barack Obama claimed as his own. It could have announced a new U.S. foreign policy based on justice, equality, and respect for other nations. But it did not. It declared instead that the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and beyond will continue.
In that reaffirmation of war, President Obama reasserted the American exceptionalism that has been a hallmark of his recent speeches, claiming that “America can do whatever we set our mind to.” He equated the U.S. ability and willingness to continue waging ferocious wars, with earlier accomplishments of the U.S. — including, without any trace of irony, the “struggle for equality for all our citizens.” In President Obama’s iteration, the Global War on Terror apparently equals the anti-slavery and civil rights movements.
Today, the Arab Spring is on the rise across the Middle East and North Africa. It’s ineffably sad that President Obama, in his claim that bin Laden’s death means justice, didn’t use the opportunity to announce the end of the deadly U.S. wars that answered the attacks of 9/11. This could have been a moment to replace vengeance with cooperation, replace war with justice.
But it was not. Regardless of bin Laden’s death, as long as those deadly U.S. wars continue in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and beyond, justice has not been done.
Killing Resolves Nothing
The plane I was on landed in Washington, DC, Sunday night, and the pilot came on the intercom to tell everyone to celebrate: our government had killed Osama bin Laden. This was better than winning the Super Bowl, he said.
Set aside for a moment the morality of cheering for the killing of a human being — which despite the pilot’s prompting nobody on the plane did. In purely Realpolitik terms, killing foreign leaders whom we’ve previously supported has been an ongoing disaster.
Our killing of Saddam Hussein has been followed by years of war and hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths. Our attempts to kill Muammar Gadaffi have killed his children and grandchildren and will end no war if they eventually succeed. Our attempts to kill Osama bin Laden, including wars justified by that mission, have involved nearly a decade of senseless slaughter in Afghanistan and the rest of the ongoing global “generational” war that is consuming our nation.
The Taliban was willing to turn bin Laden over for trial both before and after September 11, 2001. Instead our government opted for years of bloody warfare. And in the end, it was police action (investigation, a raid, and a summary execution) and not the warfare, that reportedly tracked bin Laden down in Pakistan. After capturing him, our government’s representatives did not hold him for trial. They killed him and carried away his dead body.
Killing will lead only to more killing. There will be no review of bin Laden’s alleged crimes, as a trial would have provided. There will be no review of earlier US support for bin Laden. There will be no review of US failures to prevent the September 11th attacks. Instead, there will be bitterness, hatred, and more violence, with the message being communicated to all sides that might makes right and murder is the way in which someone is, in President Obama’s words, brought to justice.
Nothing is actually resolved, nothing concluded, and nothing to be celebrated in taking away life. If we want something to celebrate here, we should celebrate the end of one of the pieces of war propaganda that has driven the past decade of brutality and death. But I’m not going to celebrate that until appropriate actions follow. Nothing makes for peace like ceasing to wage war. Now would be an ideal time to give that a try.
Our senseless wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Libya must be ended. Keeping bin Laden alive and threatening, assisted in keeping the war machine churning its bloody way through cities and flesh for years. No wonder President Bush was, as he said, not interested in tracking bin Laden down.
Ending the wars was our moral duty last week exactly as this week. But if the symbolism to be found in the removal of a key propaganda piece can be combined with the recent overwhelming US support for ending the wars, to actually end the wars, then I’ll be ready — with clean hands and with no nasty gleam of revenge in my eye — to pop open the champagne.
But let’s return to the morality of cheering for the killing of a human being. A decade ago that would not have seemed as natural to a US airline pilot. The automatic assumption would not have been that there could be no dissenters to that celebration. A decade ago torture was considered irredeemably evil. A decade ago we believed people should have fair trials before they are declared guilty or killed. A decade ago, if a president had announced his new power to assassinate Americans, at least a few people would have asked where in the world he got the power to assassinate non-Americans.
Is it too late to go back 10 years in time in some particular ways? As we put bin Laden behind us, can we put the degredation of our civil liberties and our representative government, and our honesty, accountability, and the rule of law behind us too? Can we recover the basic moral deceny that we used to at the very least pretend and aspire to?
Not while we’re dancing in the street to celebrate death.
Imagine the propaganda that the US media could make of video footage of a foreign country where the primitive brutes are dancing in the streets to celebrate the murder of a tribal enemy. That is the propaganda we’ve just handed those who will view bin Laden as a martyr. When their revenge comes, we will know exactly what we are supposed to do: exact more revenge in turn to keep the cycle going.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, but the blind people think that they still see. The world looks to them like a Hollywood adventure movie. In those stories, killing somone generally causes a happy ending. That misconception is responsible for piles and piles of corpses to which more will now be added.
Chris Hedges Speaks on Osama bin Laden’s Death
The remains of the crumbling Colosseum in Rome, also a once-crumbling empire. (Photo: permanently scatterbrained (Eric Molina)/Flickr)
I know that because of this announcement, that reportedly Osama bin Laden was killed, Bob wanted me to say a few words about it … about al-Qaida. I spent a year of my life covering al-Qaida for The New York Times. It was the work in which I, and other investigative reporters, won the Pulitzer Prize. And I spent seven years of my life in the Middle East. I was the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. I’m an Arabic speaker. And when someone came over and told Jean and me the news, my stomach sank. I’m not in any way naïve about what al-Qaida is. It’s an organization that terrifies me. I know it intimately.
But I’m also intimately familiar with the collective humiliation that we have imposed on the Muslim world. The expansion of military occupation that took place throughout, in particular the Arab world, following 9/11 – and that this presence of American imperial bases, dotted, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Doha – is one that has done more to engender hatred and acts of terror than anything ever orchestrated by Osama bin Laden.
And the killing of bin Laden, who has absolutely no operational role in al-Qaida – that’s clear – he’s kind of a spiritual mentor, a kind of guide … he functions in many of the ways that Hitler functioned for the Nazi Party. We were just talking with Warren about Kershaw’s great biography of Hitler, which I read a few months ago, where you hold up a particular ideological ideal and strive for it. That was bin Laden’s role. But all actual acts of terror, which he may have signed off on, he no way planned.
I think that one of the most interesting aspects of the whole rise of al-Qaida is that when Saddam Hussein … and I covered the first Gulf War, went into Kuwait with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, was in Basra during the Shiite uprising until I was captured and taken prisoner by the Iraqi Republican Guard. I like to say I was embedded with the Iraqi Republican Guard. Within that initial assault and occupation of Kuwait, bin Laden appealed to the Saudi government to come back and help organize the defense of his country. And he was turned down. And American troops came in and implanted themselves on Muslim soil.
When I was in New York, as some of you were, on 9/11, I was in Times Square when the second plane hit. I walked into The New York Times, I stuffed notebooks in my pocket and walked down the West Side Highway and was at Ground Zero four hours later. I was there when Building 7 collapsed. And I watched as a nation drank deep from that very dark elixir of American nationalism … the flip side of nationalism is always racism, it’s about self-exaltation and the denigration of the other.
And it’s about forgetting that terrorism is a tactic. You can’t make war on terror. Terrorism has been with us since Sallust wrote about it in the Jugurthine Wars. And the only way to successfully fight terrorist groups is to isolate themselves, isolate those groups, within their own societies. And I was in the immediate days after 9/11 assigned to go out to Jersey City and the places where the hijackers had lived and begin to piece together their lives. I was then very soon transferred to Paris, where I covered all of al-Qaida’s operations in the Middle East and Europe.
So I was in the Middle East in the days after 9/11. And we had garnered the empathy of not only most of the world, but the Muslim world who were appalled at what had been done in the name of their religion. And we had major religious figures like Sheikh Tantawy, the head of al-Azhar – who died recently – who after the attacks of 9/11 not only denounced them as a crime against humanity, which they were, but denounced Osama bin Laden as a fraud … someone who had no right to issue fatwas or religious edicts, no religious legitimacy, no religious training. And the tragedy was that if we had the courage to be vulnerable, if we had built on that empathy, we would be far safer and more secure today than we are.
We responded exactly as these terrorist organizations wanted us to respond. They wanted us to speak the language of violence. What were the explosions that hit the World Trade Center, huge explosions and death above a city skyline? It was straight out of Hollywood. When Robert McNamara in 1965 began the massive bombing campaign of North Vietnam, he did it because he said he wanted to “send a message” to the North Vietnamese—a message that left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead.
These groups learned to speak the language we taught them. And our response was to speak in kind. The language of violence, the language of occupation—the occupation of the Middle East, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—has been the best recruiting tool al-Qaida has been handed. If it is correct that Osama bin Laden is dead, then it will spiral upwards with acts of suicidal vengeance. And I expect most probably on American soil. The tragedy of the Middle East is one where we proved incapable of communicating in any other language than the brute and brutal force of empire.
And empire finally, as Thucydides understood, is a disease. As Thucydides wrote, the tyranny that the Athenian empire imposed on others it finally imposed on itself. The disease of empire, according to Thucydides, would finally kill Athenian democracy. And the disease of empire, the disease of nationalism … these of course are mirrored in the anarchic violence of these groups, but one that locks us in a kind of frightening death spiral. So while I certainly fear al-Qaida, I know it’s intentions. I know how it works. I spent months of my life reconstructing every step Mohamed Atta took. While I don’t in any way minimize their danger, I despair. I despair that we as a country, as Nietzsche understood, have become a monster that we are attempting to fight.
The War Is Over. Start Packing!
(Photo: Tom Haymes/Flickr)
We got our man. Wave the flag, kiss a nurse (or a sailor) and start packing the equipment. It’s time to plan to bring all our boys and girls home from Afghanistan. When the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks rolls around, let the world see that we are on a clear path to bringing home our troops from Afghanistan and handing back sovereignty to the Afghan people.
With more Sherlock Holmes than Rambo and judging from press accounts, not much role for the 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan, US intelligence tracked Osama bin Laden to a safe house in a well-appointed suburb of Pakistan’s capital and a small US force raided the compound. Press reports say Osama bin Laden was killed in a firefight in the compound and that his body has been buried at sea, in accordance with Islamic tradition that expects a burial within 24 hours.
Success typically has many authors, and I don’t doubt the ability of some to argue that our occupation of Afghanistan has contributed to this result. Perhaps, it will turn out that some prisoner captured in Afghanistan by US forces contributed a key piece of information that helped investigators find bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
And, of course it will be argued, correctly, that Osama bin Laden’s death is not necessarily the end of al-Qaeda nor of groups inspired by al-Qaeda; indeed, that there will be an incentive now for al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-inspired groups to retaliate and to prove that they can still carry out actions against the United States.
But whether anyone at the Pentagon likes it or not, the death of bin Laden is a game changer politically, for the US, Afghan and world public opinion, in terms of the perceived justification for maintaining 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan. The world was already bone tired of the war in Afghanistan, even before bin Laden’s death. Two-thirds of Americans were saying that the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth fighting, and three-quarters of Americans were saying that they wanted to see a substantial withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan this summer.
No doubt, there will be a window of celebration and relief now, in which many will be willing to give the US government the benefit of some doubt about its future plans.But if the Afghanistan war continues as it has in the past, this window won’t last for long.
Recall that Saddam Hussein was executed on December 30, 2006. Since that day, nearly 1,500 US soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq. If the war in Afghanistan continues as it has, public opinion will soon ask, “We got our man. Why are we still there?”
Indeed, in Afghanistan, the immediate reaction has been: “Congratulations! Well done! Now it’s time for you to leave our country.” The Wall Street Journal reports:
The death of Osama bin Laden is reinforcing calls for a quicker pullout of American troops from Afghanistan and strengthening pressure to end America’s longest war by finding a political settlement with the resilient Taliban insurgency.
It’s time to pivot, President Obama. Give three-quarters of the American public – including the majority of Republican voters – what they have said they want: a substantial withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan this year. Announce a real end date for US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, as Senators Barbara Boxer, Dick Durbin, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown and Tom Harkin have demanded. The single greatest contribution you can make to peace in Afghanistan now is to make it clear to Afghan actors that the US is really leaving, not trying to maintain troops and bases in Afghanistan past 2014. Make clear that the US is really leaving, so that peace talks can proceed.
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