NEWS DAY | Essential reading: The McChrystal report / Grocery wars in Twin Cities / Police notes

800px-Marines_train_at_Tarnak_FarmsEssential reading: The McChrystal Report General Stanley McChrystal has delivered his initial assessment of the war in Afghanistan, and it is grim. McChrystal sets out an overall strategy of allied forces (ISAF) providing security to prop up the Afghan government (GIRoA) and security forces while they become stronger, more credible, less corrupt and capable of both supporting and protecting the population and winning the support of the population. But there’s no indication that the Afghan government or security forces are moving in that direction, and no reason given to believe that they will.

McChrystal advocates focusing on what is under ISAF control: a change of ISAF direction and practices, supported by greatly expanded military and civilian resources from the United States. It is clear that, even from a military perspective that accepts war as the answer, the increased resources McChrystal requests will not be enough to “win” Afghanistan. The crucial element — an Afghan government that is responsible to and supported by the people — is not achievable through U.S. military efforts. Excerpts from the document show the depth of the disaster-in-progress.

The 66-page document, leaked to the Washington Post, is essential reading. About half of the document is text, with the balance consisting of more technical appendices. It is, at best, an ambiguous call for more money, U.S. soldiers and civilians:

The greater resources will not be sufficient to achieve success, but will enable implementation of the new strategy. Conversely, inadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced.

McChrystal clearly describes the current shortcomings of the U.S. effort:

As formidable as the threat may be, we make the problem harder. ISAF is a conventional force that is poorly configured for COIN [counter-insurgency], inexperienced in local languages and culture, and struggling with challenges inherent to coalition warfare. These intrinsic disadvantages are exacerbated by our current operational culture and how we operate.

Pre-occupied with protection of our own forces, we have operated in a manner that distances us — physically and psychologically — from the people we seek to protect. In addition, we run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage. The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves. …

The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by fvarious officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government. These problems have alienated large segments of the Afghan population. They do not trust GIRoA to provide their essential needs, such as security, justice, and basic services. This crisis of cofidence, coupled with a distinct lack of economic and educational opportunity, has created fertile ground for the insurgency.

ISAF’s center of gravity is the will and ability to provide for the needs of the population “by, with, and through” the Afghan government. A foreign army alone cannot beat an insurgency; the insurgency in Afghanistan requires an Afghan solution. This is their war and, in the end, ISAF’s competency will prove less decisive than GIRoA’s; eventual success requires capable Afghan governance capabilities and security forces. While these institutions are still developing, ISF and the international community must provide substantial assistance to Afghanistan until the Afghan people make the decision to support their government and are capable of providing for their own security….

McChrystal describes three Taliban organizations. QST is the largest of the organizations.

The QST has a governing structure in Afghanistan under the rubric of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They appoint shadow governors for most provinces, review their performance, and replace them periodically. They established a body to receive complaints against their own “officials” and to act on them. They install “shari’a” courts to deliver swift and enforced justice in contested and controlled areas. They levy taxes and conscript fighters and laborers. They claim to provide security against a corrupt government, ISAF forces, criminality, and local power brokers. They also claim to protect Afghan and Muslim identity against foreign encroachment. In short, the QST provides major elements of governance and a national and religious narrative. HQN and HIG co-exist with, but do not necessarily accept, the QST governing framework and have yet to develop competing governing structures.

In sharp contrast, the government has been plagued by corruption unlikely to be remedied by the just-concluded election, with its widespread evidence of massive fraud.

Tolerance of Corruption and Abuse of Power. Widespread corruption and abuse of power exacerbate the popular crisis of confidence in the government and reinforce a culture of impunity. Local Afghan communities are unable jto hold local officials accountable through either direct elections or judicial processes, especially when those individuals are protected by senior government officials. Further, the public perceives that ISAF is complicit in these matters, and that there is no appetite or capacity — either among the internationals or within the GIRoA — to correct the situation. the resulting public anger and alienation undermine ISAF’s ability to accomplish its mission. The QST’s establishment of ombudsmen to investigate abuse of pwoer in its own cadres and remove those found guilty capitalizes on this GIRoA weakness and attracts popular support for their shadow government….

In summary, the absence of personal and economic security, along with the erosion of public confidence in the government, and a perceived lack of respect for Afghan culture pose as great a challenge to ISAF’s success as the insurgent threat. Protecting the population is more than preventing insurgent violence and intimidation. It also means that ISAF can no longer ignore or tacitly accept abuse of power, corruption, or marginalization.

The recommendations made by McChrystal focus on a change to a new operational culture for ISAF — first, a “population-centric COIN” that puts the people first, and second, a more unified command for ISAF. This would include “radically expanded and embedded partnering” with Afghan security forces, which must accelerate their growth and working with good government. McChrystal suggests that may mean working more with local governments, but has no real remedy for the corruption now pervasive in the Afghan government.

The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government.

Grocery wars “I could care less about a pretty store, employee wages, or any of the other complaints posted here,” wrote a Pioneer Press reader. New entrants in the metro grocery scene are banking on lots of people not caring about employee wages, as non-union WalMart, Target and Aldi’s muscle in on territory previously dominated by unionized Rainbow, Cub and Lunds grocery chains, reports the Pioneer Press. (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are also non-union stores.)

“Pretty stores” may be debatable – I’ve never seen anything particularly ornate in either Cub or Rainbow – but the PiPress article says the three giant competitors offer lower prices. I haven’t shopped at Aldis or WalMart, but on my few forays to Target, their grocery prices seemed higher than Cub or Rainbow. Since the Pioneer Press article didn’t cite any statistics on comparative prices, it’s hard to tell how much of the low-price rep of WalMart and Target is advertising and how much is reality. The TC Daily Planet grocery bag survey last spring found:

Lunds and Target were the most expensive stores for regular products, within a few cents of each other. Cub was the third most expensive store for regular products. Rainbow and Wal-Mart were quite a bit less expensive and ALDI was the least expensive, with the same bag of groceries costing almost $10 dollars less at ALDI than at Lunds and Target.

Today, with the price war in full swing, loss leaders are used by stores to tout their low prices, along with extensive advertising and coupon deals for gasoline discounts.

The casualties in the war may be the workers on the front lines. Unionized workers at Cub, Rainbow, Lunds, Byerly’s, Kowalski’s and Festival earn vacation pay, health insurance and a pension.

“These are contracts that have been built up since the ’40s,” said Hesse, the Twin Cities union official, who praised hometown supermarkets here as “honorable operators.” …

At unionized stores, the workweek is 40 hours. At Trader Joe’s, leaders work a 47.5-hour week, its Web site says.

At unionized grocers, the pay scale for a veteran cashier can reach $22 an hour….

A wage sheet from Target’s West St. Paul store, provided by the union, shows that half the work force there earned about $8 an hour. Only one-fourth of its workers earned more than $10.60 an hour, the full-time equivalent of $22,000 a year…. the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Police beat What happens to all the money, TV sets, cars and other property seized by the now-disbanded Metro Gang Strike Force? The state is setting up a hotline, run by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, to take calls from people who want their property back. When? “Soon,” reports the Star Tribune.

Meanwhile, the legislature held a second hearing on the Metro Gang Strike Force Monday, and plans three or four more hearings, including questions for the state public safety commissioner about when and how he will be ready to continue funding for seven other metro-area drugs, gangs or violence-related police task forces. Campion’s office said there might be too many task forces. Ya think?

Golden Valley police reached a settlement that will pay $200,000 to a woman they tased back in 2005. All charges against the woman and her husband were dropped – she was a passenger in the car he was driving when police made the traffic stop, reports the Star Tribune, and ended up “handcuffed, on the receiving end of a Taser shot and barefoot in a jail cell for at least three hours.” There’s the usual paragraph, which every news organization probably can pull out of its files by now:

As the use of Tasers has increased in recent years, so has debate about them. While officers consider them a safe, nonlethal form of controlling a suspect, others raise concerns about the danger of injury and possibly death from their use. The devices have been criticized by humanitarian and civil rights groups who contend that several hundred people have died since 2001 after being shot by Tasers and that Taser shocks have contributed to or caused at least 50 of the fatalities. Yet, police across the country increasingly are equipping themselves with Tasers, and supporters of the weapons say many more lives have been saved because officers avoided firing bullets.

The city, of course, “did not admit wrongdoing.”

One final police note from Australia Members of an elite Special Emergency Response Team, used in situations involving explosives and hostage negotiation, were observed jumping out of their unmarked police van, naked, and running around the van at a stoplight in Brisbane. They were apparently on their way to a stag party. Their boss, who said they are considered on duty 24 hours a day and usually do not drink, reported that the two officers are “very remorseful.”

World/National News

Scaring the seniors “Millions of seniors and disabled individuals could lose many of the important benefits and services” they now have under Medicare. Sound like another right-wing scare story? This one is told by Humana insurance company, on its website and in a mailer to seniors. False – the healthcare reform proposals do not include any benefit cuts. What they will cut are inflated prices charged by … Medicare Advantage insurance providers like Humana, which gets half its income from its Medicare Advantage program.

The Department of Health and Human Services ordered Humana to take down the notice from its website and stop mailing the propaganda to seniors, according to an AP report. HHS said the “information” and the way it was communicated were misleading because it looked like an official communication about Medicare benefits.

Zelaya returns Ousted President Manuel Zelaya returned to Honduras Monday, taking refuge in the Brazilian embassy, reports BBC. The country was tense, with the de facto government declaring a 15-hour curfew. The de facto governmenet has repeatedly said it will arrest Zelaya. In brief, summarizes BBC: “The crisis erupted after Mr Zelaya tried to hold a non-binding public consultation to ask people whether they supported moves to change the constitution.”

Sudan Militia members attacked villages in southern Sudan, killing more than 100 people and burning 250 homes, reports BBC.

UN sources said thousands of armed men from the Lou Nuer ethnic group attacked civilians and security forces in the village of Duk Padiet in Jonglei state.

Last month about 185 Lou Nuers were killed by ethnic Murle fighters in an attack in the same state.

Some 2,000 people have died in similar clashes across the south this year.

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