Philanthropy is not enough to combat TB

Efforts by philanthropists alone is not enough to combat tuberculosis worldwide, and a “quantum leap” in donor funding, particularly from governments, is required, according to health experts at a Medecins Sans Frontieres meeting in New York City recently.

The Director of MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, said about $200 million annually is spent on developing new TB drugs, diagnostics and vaccines, but at least $900 million annually is needed.

The Executive Director of the Treatment Action Group, said, “Governments need to step up to plate and take their primary responsibility,” adding, While the American government funds 47 per cent of the world’s TB research, India contributes more than any European country.

Analyses of studies from 1950 through early 2006 that examined the link between tobacco smoke and indoor pollution and TB infection, disease and mortality involved people with TB or who were vulnerable to TB transmission. “Since tobacco smoking has increased in developing countries where TB is prevalent, a considerable portion of the global burden of TB may be attributed to tobacco,” noted Megan Murray, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at HSPH and coauthor of the study.


Nonprofit draws a line with some donors

In the wake of the 2004 tsunami that devastated shorelines around the Indian Ocean, the French medical charity Doctors Without Borders won plaudits for its decision to halt fund-raising for the disaster once it had collected enough donations to accomplish the mission it had set for itself.

Doctors Without Borders has long practiced an unusual form of discipline that may cause other nonprofits to squirm. For more than a decade, it has politely declined financial support from corporations whose activities conflict with its mission and principles, recently adding some medical device makers and biotechnology companies.

[Excerpt of an article by Stephanie Strom, The New York Times]


Donations from Individuals the basis of Tsunami Relief

Following the second anniversary of the tsunami that spread devastation across South Asia, a new tally shows private sources in this country raised $3.16 billion in funds and goods for tsunami disaster relief.

The report from the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University, working with University of Michigan researchers, found U.S. individuals contributed $2.78 billion of the total tsunami funding, with corporations providing $340 million and foundations $40 million through 2005.

According to the report, 25 percent of U.S. households contributed. The median tsunami donation was $50, and the average gift was $135. Households with annual incomes of less than $50,000 gave an average $104 -- not that much less than the $165 average for households with two to four times the income.

Eugene Tempel, the center's executive director, said the response by Americans to the tsunami "was by far the largest outpouring of giving for an international disaster in recent memory."

[Excerpt of an article by Charles Storch, The Chicago Tribune]


'Top Ten' Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006

The staggering human toll taken by tuberculosis and malnutrition as well as the devastation caused by wars in the Central African Republic (CAR), Sri Lanka, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are among the "Top Ten" Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006, according to the year-end list released today by the international humanitarian medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

The ninth annual list also highlights the lack of media attention paid to the plight of people affected by the consequences of conflict in Haiti, Somalia, Colombia, Chechnya, and central India.

"Many conflicts worldwide are profoundly affecting millions of people, yet they are almost completely invisible," said MSF Executive Director Nicolas de Torrenté. "Haiti, for example, is just 500 miles from the United States and the plight of the population enduring relentless violence in its volatile capital Port-au-Prince received only half a minute of network coverage in an entire year."

According to Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the online media-tracking journal The Tyndall Report, the 10 countries and contexts highlighted by MSF accounted for just 7.2 minutes of the 14,512 minutes on the three major U.S. television networks' nightly newscasts for 2006. Treating malnutrition, tuberculosis, and Chechnya were mentioned, but only briefly in other stories. Five of the countries highlighted by MSF were never mentioned at all.

The 2006 "Top 10" list also focused on the devastation caused by TB and malnutrition.

The frightening situation of worldwide TB became even worse in 2006 with the detection of extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB), a strain that is resistant to both first-line antibiotics and to two classes of second-line drugs. At the same time, none of the TB drugs currently in development, however promising, will be able to drastically improve TB treatment in the near future. "TB destroys millions of lives around the world every year, but we’re not seeing the necessary urgency to tackle the disease," said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines.

While the conflicts in the Darfur region of Sudan and in eastern Chad garnered significant media attention in 2006, the steady focus did not translate into improved conditions for people caught up in the conflict. "Even though there was more reporting about Darfur than about other crises, the situation continued to deteriorate to the point where MSF and other aid groups had to scale back their programs," said de Torrenté. "We know that media coverage does not generate improvements on its own. However, it is often a precondition for increased assistance and political attention. There is perhaps nothing worse than being completely neglected and forgotten."

[Doctors Without Borders]


Breaking News: Congress' unanimous vote to nuke Iran

The following is a fictitious news story. Or is it?

Jan. 31, 2007: By unanimous vote, the two Houses of Congress passed today a joint "sense of Congress" resolution directing President Bush to "launch nuclear strikes against any non-nuclear-weapon state that undertakes military programs or operations that threaten US interests or those of allies and friends".

The passage of the joint resolution followed a series of appropriation bills enacted by Congress to fund the development, building and deployment of nuclear earth penetrators (so-called "bunker busters") of a wide range of yields, with the ability to destroy targets of adversary non-nuclear nations that are "able to withstand non-nuclear attack" , particularly UGF's ("underground facilities for military purposes").

The text of the resolution emphasizes the importance ascribed by Congress to launch strikes as soon as possible, to "demonstrate US intent and capability to use nuclear weapons to deter adversary use of WMD".

"The reason we restricted the bill to non-nuclear-weapon-state targets is simple", explained the House and Senate speakers in a joint press conference: "launching a nuclear strike against a nuclear nation would invite nuclear retaliation against us, and that is not something the American people would stand for."

The bill points out that "integrating conventional and nuclear attacks will ensure the most efficient use of force", remarked the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Chair of the Budget Committee added: "Americans want to know that their hard-earned tax dollars are not used in wasteful ways".

Several Congressmembers emphasized that the urgency in passing the bill stemmed from the desire of Congress that President Bush launches nuclear strikes against Iran at the earliest possible time. "We know that Iran is a non-nuclear-weapon state, it has been certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency", explained the speaker of the House. "So it falls under our resolution, hence there is no reason whatosever for the President to wait any longer."

The new law incorporates the provisions of H.R. 6198 passed last year, "To hold the current regime in Iran accountable for its threatening behavior and to support a transition to democracy in Iran". "We passed that Act to encourage the President to follow the same path as he did with Iraq, what's taking him so long?", complained the House minority leader. "Vice-President Cheney said recently "There's no reason in the world why Iran needs to continue to pursue nuclear weapons", so our resolution will ensure that Iran stops."

"What we are asking the President is to act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self defense", added the Senate whip. "There will always be some uncertainty about the status of hidden programs, and we cannot remain idle while dangers gather. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just."

Added the House speaker: "The President has said ' The United States will not resort to force in all cases to preempt emerging threats'. Congress disagrees, we and the American people feel there should be no exceptions. That's why we have taken it upon ourselves to exercise our constitutionally assigned duties to legislate this issue for the national interest."

A beaming President Bush signed the joint resolution into law, and added the following signing statement: "Every one of the provisions of this law was already covered in the Nuclear Posture Review that I submitted to Congress in 2001, in the 2005 Pentagon Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations that Secretary Rumsfeld produced under my direction, in the National Security Strategy that I proclaimed in 2002 and 2006, and in a myriad of Presidential Directives that I issued over the past 6 years including the deployment of B61-11 nuclear bunker busters. I have publicly announced that the the option of a nuclear strike against Iran is on the table, and that the diplomatic effort vis-a-vis Iran must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided, and have carried out all necessary steps, including refusing to talk to Iran, capturing Iranian diplomats, increasing the deployment of our military forces in the Persian Gulf and securing UN sanctions against Iran's activities allowed by the NPT, to ensure that the diplomatic effort will fail. Consequently there was absolutely no need for Congress to pass this resolution. If Congress had disagreed with any of my actions they should have passed a different bill. Nevertheless, I am happy to know that it provided an excuse for Congressmembers to feel they earned their paycheck".

This resolution was not passed by Congress, but President Bush has the legal authority to carry out its provisions without consulting Congress. If Congressmembers do not believe such actions are in the best interest of the American people they purportedly represent, they should pass legislation to make the actions described in this resolution an impeachable offense.

Ask your Congressperson to pass legislation as proposed in http://www.geocities.com/jorgehirsch/nuclear/nuclearbill.html

--By Jorge Hirsch, a Professor of Physics at the University of California at San Diego, a fellow of the American Physical Society, and organizer of a recent petition, circulated among leading physicists, opposing the new nuclear weapons policies adopted by the US in the past 5 years.


NATO Aid --plus more Troops-- for Afghanistan

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will appeal for more NATO troops and increased reconstruction efforts across Afghanistan at talks with alliance foreign ministers in Brussels this week, a senior US official said.

Richard Boucher, assistant US Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, said Rice was set to announce a "significant contribution" to Afghan aid efforts. He did not mention any specific figures but reports in Washington say the US is ready to give up to 8 billion dollars in additional aid to Afghanistan. Rice will appeal to other NATO countries to make a similar increase in reconstruction aid to the violence-racked country, said Boucher.

The US wanted NATO to hammer out a "comprehensive approach" towards Afghanistan which included the deployment of more troops in the south, but also a broader use of development funds to build hospitals, roads and bridges, he said.

Boucher said donors had already done a great deal to develop Afghanistan's social and economic infrastructure. The focus now was on "working more broadly" and stepping up international coordination on the ground.

Any thoughts on how you see this NATO “aid” meeting the need described by charity workers on the ground, in yesterday’s post?


And what of Govt Aid to Afghanistan?

Hundreds of millions of pounds in British aid has been pumped into Afghanistan to help children like little Dawoud (pictured at right). And yet he is dying. Head swollen, stomach distended and muscles wasting away, he is in the advanced stages of malnutrition - and so are thousands more like him.

Enraged charity workers told how the British aid that could - and should - be saving them is failing to get through. And they point the finger of blame squarely at Britain's International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn.
Alarmingly, it is not just children like Dawoud who are paying the price for Britain's aid failures. Aid workers say the only escape for the desperate and starving is to join the Taliban insurgents, who promise food, shelter and a 'joining bonus' of $200 (£101) - a king's ransom in Afghanistan.

Norine MacDonald, president of the Paris-based Senlis Council, one of the leading agencies in the region, said: "Hilary Benn has spent nearly £400million in Afghanistan. ..Where has that money gone? It is certainly not reaching the people who need it most.

The organisation claims Mr Benn's department has staff on the ground in Afghanistan but they do not leave the relative safety of their offices in the capital, Kabul. Instead, the British aid is given to the Afghan government to distribute - even though the administration is riddled with corruption.

The World Food Programme says 2.5million Afghans are in danger of starvation and five million more are not getting enough to eat. The UN body's assessment is stark. It says 61 per cent of children under five are suffering from malnutrition and nearly seven per cent are described as 'wasted'. The numbers are growing.

[Excerpt of an article by Jason Lewis, The Daily Mail]


Maybe there's some hope afterall

The Democratic-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee today dismissed President Bush's plans to increase troop levels in Iraq as "not in the national interest," an unusual wartime repudiation of the commander in chief.

Maybe there's some hope afterall, relating this to the following CBS News POLL results from January 22, 2007:

SHOULD U.S. SEND 20,000 MORE TROOPS TO IRAQ? 66 percent say, “NO”




NUMBER OF AMERICANS WHO APPROVE OF BUSH'S JOB AS PRESIDENT:28 percent (A new, all-time low for Bush, and only Richard Nixon faired worse at 23 percent -- just before he resigned.)

Putting the Annual Cost of War in Perspective


More on what the Cost of the War could have bought

Much abuse has been hurled at Halliburton and other well-connected contractors for overcharging and stealing from the people of Iraq and American taxpayers alike--and rightly so. But ... one of the biggest con jobs ever [is] the war itself. Through their representatives in Congress, arms dealers and energy companies have convinced us to waste our wealth on a war we no longer believe in.

The Health Coverage Coalition for the Uninsured, a coalition of business and consumer groups, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies recently calculated that they could provide free healthcare for half of America's 47 million uninsured people with less than one-tenth (1/10!) of what we're currently spending on Iraq.

Or government subsidies of first-home purchasers. A new GI Bill for college graduates could reward their hard work with a check for a cool $75,000 each, to be put toward a downpayment on a new house. That's over 25 percent of the price of an average home sale. Goodbye, housing slump!

The government is going to spend us into debt no matter what. If we're going to mortgage our children's future, shouldn't it be on something that makes their lives better?

[Excerpt of an Opinion column by Tedd Rall, Yahoo News]

What the Cost of the War could have bought

The National Priorities Project gives some dimension to what the war is costing us:

With the money spent on the Iraqi War, you could provide total health care and insurance for more than 215 million children a year.

Or, you could hire 6,224,739 schoolteachers for a year.

Or, you could provide more than 17 million full four-year college scholarships.


New Congress Can Save Lives, or Money

The new Congress, led in the House by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is about to make its first decision regarding how America's money should be spent - a decision that leaves millions of lives hanging in the balance.

Congress's choice to bypass 2007 appropriations legislation and extend fiscal 2006 funding levels into the new year will mean, in effect, cuts of almost $1billion in funding for programs to combat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria worldwide. If not reversed, the lack of funds will force hundreds of thousands of people to forgo prevention, treatment, care and support for the three most deadly infectious diseases in the world.

In bipartisan action last year, Congress approved as much as $4.37 billion for programs to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in 2007. This increase would have given much-needed hope and opportunity to those at risk of and suffering from these diseases. However, the joint funding resolution (or "continuing resolution") the new Congress is expected to pass would keep spending at 2006 levels - $940 million less. My heart aches to think of the lives that could be saved with nearly $1 billion.

HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and the tens of thousands of orphaned and vulnerable children are symptoms of our collective failure to protect each other, to ensure that all people's basic needs and rights are met, and to guarantee everyone a life of dignity. This failure is very troubling to me.

The United States has the potential to be a global leader. Congress has the opportunity to remind the world of the good that can be done in the name of the American people, to help people around the world build better lives and restore our brotherhood and sisterhood. The promises made to poor countries are not just words on paper. They concern the lives of people who, in different circumstances, could be you or me.

[Desmond Tutu,, an archbishop emeritus, and honorary chairperson of the Global AIDS Alliance, writing in the Washington Post]


Global Battle Against Measles Is Said to Save 2.3 Million Lives

Vaccinators scaled Himalayan peaks in Nepal, waded through Cambodian paddy fields, canoed up the Congo River and rode camels across Somalia’s hinterlands in an effort to immunize children against measles. New data released yesterday documents the scale of their success: the global campaign against measles has saved 2.3 million lives since 1999, mostly in Africa.

Unicef and the World Health Organization reported that the goal of halving measles deaths worldwide by 2005 has been surpassed. Deaths fell 60 percent to 345,000 a year in 2005 from 873,000 in 1999.

The most comprehensive push against measles unfurled across Africa. Measles deaths there plunged even more steeply, by 75 percent, saving the lives of more than 1.6 million children.
The $300 million assault on measles was mainly financed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Canada’s International Development Agency, the American Red Cross, Ted Turner’s United Nations Foundation and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, which includes countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

[Excerpts of an article by Celia W. Dugger, The New York Times]


Loans to Countries usually benefit US corporations

John Perkins, the author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, shared the following in an interview with Amy Goodman:

We go to a country that has resources that our corporations covet, like oil, and we'll arrange a huge loan to that country from an organization like the World Bank or one of its sisters.

But almost all of the money goes to the U.S. corporations, not to the country itself, corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton, General Motors, General Electric, these types of organizations, and they build huge infrastructure projects in that country: power plants, highways, ports, industrial parks, things that serve the very rich and seldom even reach the poor.

In fact, the poor suffer, because the loans have to be repaid, and they're huge loans, and the repayment of them means that the poor won't get education, health, and other social services, and the country is left holding a huge debt, by intention.

We go back, we economic hit men, to this country and say, “Look, you owe us a lot of money. You can't repay your debts, so give us a pound of flesh. Sell our oil companies your oil real cheap or vote with us at the next U.N. vote or send troops in support of ours to some place in the world such as Iraq.” And in that way, we've managed to build a world empire with very few people actually knowing that we've done this.

The N.S.A., the C.I.A., these types of organizations often recruit economic hit men … and then turn us over to a private corporation, so that you really can't make the connection, so that if I were caught at what I was doing in one of these countries, it would not reflect on our government; it would only reflect on the corporation that I worked for.


Iraqi War costing $237 million every day

In a speech that 84-year-old George McGovern recently gave at the National Press Club, while likening the Iraqi War to the VietNam one, he touched on the following financial statistics from Iraq:

the steadily rising cost of a war that claims over $7 billion a month...

$237 million every day ...

just the interest on our skyrocketing national debt is $760,000 every day...

Imagine for a moment how many needs worldwide could be addressed with even a portion of a budget with figures like this!


Charities oppose anti-terrorism rules

A group of U.S. charities is asking the U.S. Treasury Department to withdraw its guidelines aimed at preventing nonprofits from inadvertently financing terrorist activities.

The coalition, comprised of more than 40 nonprofits and advocacy groups, says the guidelines, while voluntary, divert scarce resources from program and service delivery without effectively curbing funding of terrorists.

The Treasury Guidelines Working Group, led by the Council on Foundations, wrote a letter to the Treasury asking that it withdraw its guidelines and replace them with those proposed in the group's Principles of International Charity.

The Treasury's guidelines, revised for the third time, are voluntary, but the working group says the IRS has questioned nonprofits about their compliance, sometimes in the context of a group's request for tax-exempt status.

The group says existing laws are sufficient to prevent misuse of charitable assets, while the new guidelines require data collection and reporting that are time-consuming but would do little to curtail abuses.

[Philanthropy Journal]

Fear has driven down Muslim Giving

Fearful that donations to Islamic charities may catch unwanted attention from federal agents looking for potential ties to terrorism, Muslim Americans donated significantly less this past Ramadan than in past years., The New York Times reported.

According to Islam, for which charity is one of the five main tenets, the holy month of Ramadan is a time of giving, and sacred texts define the minimum amount to be donated at 2.5 percent of net annual earnings.


Medical Costs of the Iraqi War

The latest Pentagon figures show that more than 16,000 military personnel have been wounded in Iraq. Thankfully, due to improvements in body armor, there has been an unusually high number of soldiers who have survived major wounds such as brain damage, spinal injuries and amputations.

However, in addition to the actual costs of war, medical care and disabilty bill is also mounting. The cost of lifetime care for the thousands of troops who have suffered brain injuries alone could run to $35 Billion.

Taking in increased defense spending as a result of the war, veterans' disability payments and demobilization costs could reach a price tag of $1 trillion.

[Source: Joseph Stiglitz, a former World Bank chief economist, and Columbia University professor who won the Nobel prize for economics in 2001]


One in eight of Iraqis have now left their home

The United Nations' refugee body has appealed for $60m (£30.8m, 45m euros) in emergency aid for those fleeing violence in Iraq.

One in eight of Iraqis have now left their homes, with up to 50,000 people leaving each month, the UNHCR said.

It said the exodus was the largest long-term movement since the displacement of the Palestinians after the creation of Israel in 1948.

The UNHCR estimates that the number of Iraqis living beyond the country's borders as refugees stands at two million and a further 1.7 million live within the borders as displaced people.

But it warns the number of internally displaced - those forced to leave their homes but not the country - could reach 2.7 million by the end of the year.

Of those who have fled Iraq, the UNHCR estimates that up to one million Iraqis are living in Syria; up to 700,000 in neighbouring Jordan; between 20,000 and 80,000 in Egypt and up to 40,000 in Lebanon.

Many of these refugees live in conditions of acute poverty. In Syria, for example, almost a third of Iraqi refugee children do not go to school.

The agency has also urged neighbouring countries who are hosting refugees to keep their borders open because Iraq's continuing violence will fuel further floods of refugees. "Unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region," Mr Guterres said.


New Price Tag on the Iraq war

The real cost to the US of the Iraq war is likely to be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion, up to 10 times more than previously thought, according to a report written by a Nobel prize-winning economist and a Harvard budget expert.

The study, which expanded on traditional estimates by including such costs as lifetime disability and healthcare for troops injured in the conflict as well as the impact on the American economy, concluded that the US government is continuing to underestimate the cost of the war.

The paper on the real cost of the war, written by Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor who won the Nobel prize for economics in 2001, and Linda Bilmes, a Harvard budget expert, is likely to add to the pressure on the White House on the war. It also followed the revelation that the White House had scaled back ambitions to rebuild Iraq and did not intend to seek funds for reconstruction.

Mr Stiglitz, a former World Bank chief economist, told the Guardian that despite the staggering costs laid out in their paper the economists had erred on the side of caution. "Our estimates are very conservative, and it could be that the final costs will be much higher. And it should be noted they do not include the costs of the conflict to either Iraq or the UK."

In 2003, as US and British troops were massing on the Iraq border, Larry Lindsey, George Bush's economic adviser, suggested the costs might reach $200bn. The White House said the figure was far too high.

Congress has appropriated $251bn for military operations, and the Congressional budget office has now estimated that under one plausible scenario the Iraq war will cost over $230bn more in the next 10 years.

[Excerpt of an article by Jamie Wilson, The Guardian]


100,000 Mercenaries an Unseen Surge in Iraq

The number of American forces in Iraq is not 140,000, but more like 240,000.

What makes up the 100,000 difference is the huge army of mercenaries - known these days as "private contractors." After the U.S. Army itself, they are easily the second-largest military force in the country. Yet no one seems sure of how many there are since they answer to no single authority.

The private contractors are Americans, South Africans, Brits, Iraqis and a hodgepodge of other nationalities. Many of them are veterans of the U.S. or other armed forces and intelligence services, who are now deployed in Iraq (and Afghanistan and other countries) to perform duties normally carried out by the U.S. Army, but at salaries two or three times greater than those of American soldiers.

They work as interrogators and interpreters in American prisons; body guards for top U.S. and Iraqi officials; trainers for the Iraqi army and police; and engi-neers constructing huge new U.S. bases. They are often on the front lines.

Their salaries are paid directly by the U.S. government - or tacked on as huge additional "security charges" to the bills of private American or other contractors.

Yet the Central Command still doesn't have a complete list of who they are or what they are up to. The final figure could be much higher than 100,000.Yet these private contractors man their own helicopters and Humvees and look and act just like American troops.

[Excerpt of an article by Barry Lando, a former 60 Minutes producer, writing in Alternet]


Richest 2 percent own more than half the world

Two percent of adults command more than half of the world's wealth, while the bottom 50 percent possesses just 1 percent, according to a U.N. development institute study. "Wealth is heavily concentrated in North America, Europe and high-income Asia-Pacific countries. People in these countries collectively hold almost 90 percent of total world wealth," the survey said.

The Helsinki-based institute World Institute for Development Economics Research said this was the first global research on the topic, for which there are only limited data. The study is based on figures from 2000.

Institute director Anthony Shorrocks said if the world's population was reduced to a group of 10 people, one person would hold $99 (50 pounds) and the remaining nine would share $1.

According to the study, a couple in 2000 needed $1 million in capital to number among the richest 37 million people in the world, the top 1 percent. More than half of that group lives in the United States or Japan.

At the bottom of the list came nations such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, with capital of less than $200 per head.

[By Tarmo Virki, Reuters]


Top recipients of US aid annually

Besides Iraq, which has sucked in billions through the US’s support of the so-called War on Terror, following is a list of the top recipients of US aid each year:

Israel - The largest recipient of US largesse in 2003, getting $2.1 billion in military aid annually; $600 million in economic aid.

Egypt - Out of a US foreign aid budget of about $14 billion in 2003, Egypt was the second largest recipient with $1.3 billion in military aid; $615 million for social programs.

Colombia - Got $540 million to battle the drug trade, and local terrorist groups.

Jordan - Got $250 million in economic support; $198 in military financing.

Peru, Ukraine, Russia - Received approximately $200 million each in economic and military aid annually.

[Source: Council on Foreign Relations]


$50 billion later, taking stock of US Aid to Egypt

A recent meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and President Bush at his Texas ranch serves as a reminder of America's deep involvement in Egypt, a key Arab nation.

Aid is central to Washington's relationship with Cairo. The US has provided Egypt with $1.3 billion a year in military aid since 1979, and an average of $815 million a year in economic assistance. All told, Egypt has received over $50 billion in US largesse since 1975.

The money is seen as bolstering Egypt's stability, support for US policies in the region, US access to the Suez Canal, and peace with Israel. But some critics question the aid's effectiveness in spurring economic and democratic development in the Arab world's most populous country - a higher US priority after Sept. 11, 2001.

Each year USAID gives $200 million to the Egyptian government in cash handouts to do with as it pleases. The money is theoretically conditional upon economic reforms in problem areas such as deregulation, privatization, and free trade.

"Aid offers an easy way out for Egypt to avoid reform," says Edward Walker, the US ambassador to Egypt from 1994 to 1998. "They use the money to support antiquated programs and to resist reforms."

USAID has been ineffective at changing economic policy here because Cairo knows that in the end it will get the US money regardless of its economic policy, according to Walker, who since leaving the State Department has become head of the Middle East Institute in Washington.

Egypt is dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party, which uses a 23-year-old emergency law to restrict civil liberties. There are strict limitations on the establishment of newspapers and political parties, and presidential elections are single-candidate referendums.

[Excerpt of an article by Charles Levinson, The Christian Science Monitor]


U.S. arms sales overseas double

Sales of military weapons by U.S. contractors to foreign governments doubled in the past year, as … the U.S. government loosened policies to allow more American weapons to be sold on the world market.

A total of $21 billion in arms sales agreements were signed from September 2005 to September 2006, compared with $10.6 billion in the previous year, according to data compiled by the Pentagon. Foreign military sales agreements have typically ranged from $10 billion to $13 billion a year since 2001.

A number of factors are behind the surge in sales. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has used arms sales as a way to reward allies and cement international relationships. Middle Eastern countries, flush with oil revenue, have become big buyers. Countries like India, Pakistan and Indonesia that were once barred from buying American weapons have had those bans lifted, and some have placed big orders.

One of the biggest orders was placed by Pakistan, which had been banned from buying most American weapons because of its nuclear program. A similar ban on India was also lifted, opening a potentially lucrative market to American contractors.

Foreign sales also have an importance to military contractors beyond the dollar value of the contract: Once a country buys a weapon system, it will need to continue to buy spare parts or upgrades.

"In the next couple of years," said Cai Von Rumohr, an industry analyst with S.G. Cowen in Boston, "foreign sales as a percentage of company revenues will be tracking up."

[The New York Times]


Why there is always a war going on somewhere

"If a country develops an economic system that is based on how to pay for the war, and if the amounts of fixed capital investment that are apparent are tied up in armaments, and if that country is a major exporter of arms, and its industrial fabric is dependent on them, then it would be in that country's interests to ensure that it always had a market.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that it is clearly in the interests of the world's leading arms exporters to make sure that there is always a war going on somewhere."

-- Marilyn Waring, excerpt from her book 'Counting for Nothing'.


US spent a million dollars for every dead Iraqi

Early this year the Bush administration is to ask Congress to approve an additional $100bn for the onerous task of making life intolerable for the Iraqis. This will bring the total spent on the White House's current obsession with war to almost $500bn.

Of course, there's another thing that George Bush could have done with the money: he could have given every Iraqi $18,700. I imagine that would have reduced the threat of international terrorism somewhat. Call me old-fashioned, but I can't help thinking that giving someone $18,700 brings them round to your side more quickly than bombing the hell out of them.

In 2002 the house budget committee and the congressional budget office both guesstimated the cost of invading Iraq at approximately $50bn; so $500bn seems a bit wide of the mark. What's more, with over half a million dead, it means that the world's greatest military superpower has spent a million dollars for every Iraqi killed. That can't be value for money!

So how on earth could such a vast overspend occur? After all, the US is the flagship of monetary common sense. Well, for starters, in 2003 the White House refused to allow competitive bidding for contracts in Iraq, which is odd for the champions of free enterprise. Then the White House ensured there would be no overseeing of what was spent. In the original Iraq spending bill, which earmarked the first $87bn to go down the drain, there was a provision for the general accounting office to keep a check on things, but that provision was stripped from the bill - even though the Senate had originally voted for it 97 to 0.

But what I want to know is: how do they actually spend all that money? Well the answer is: they don't. According to the website Halliburtonwatch, the Halliburton subsidiary KBR bills the US taxpayer for $50-$80 per day for laborers working for it in Iraq, but pays them only $5-$16 per day.

It's the same with Halliburton. In December 2003 the US army discovered that the company had overcharged by $61m for fuel transportation and $67m for food services in Iraq.With all this double-dealing and incompetence, you'd expect that those responsible would have been penalised by now. But that's where the mystery deepens. Companies such as Halliburton and its subsidiaries have never had it so good. In January 2006 the Bush administration intervened in a dispute between the Pentagon and Halliburton, and agreed to pay the company $199m in disputed charges. On January 26 2006 Halliburton announced that its 2005 profits were the "best in our 86-year history".

Vice-President Dick Cheney, formerly CEO of Halliburton, has not had a bad war either. His tax returns for 2005 show that he earned $194,862 from his Halliburton stock options alone. Mind you, it's small change compared to his $36m payoff when he left the firm. Was that for his past role, or was Halliburton anticipating further services from the future vice-president of the US? Perhaps it's just as well that in 2003 the White House removed from the Iraq spending bill any provision to penalise war profiteers who defrauded US taxpayers.

[Terry Jones, Python film director and actor, writing in The Guardian]

Iraq: Teach an old dog new tricks?

The media informs us that President Bush is considering a new war strategy, shuffling his commanders and moving his spy chief to handle Iraqi diplomacy.

Teach an old dog new tricks?


$440,000 debt per American household

$440,000 per American household. That's what America's total liability stands at --$50 trillion, up from $20 trillion in just six years.

Since 1938 the Democrats have held the White house for 35 years, the Republicans for 33. Over that time the national debt has increased at an average annual rate of 8.7%, the Democratic yearly average being 8.3%, and while the Republicans ran the White House 9.3% per year. There was not much difference between the two parties debt philosophy.

However the debt has been on a steady incline ever since the Reagan Presidency. The only exception to the steep increase over the last 25 years was during the Clinton Presidency, where he brought spending under control and the debt growth down to almost zero.

The debt increased at an average of 13.8% for every year Mr. Reagan was in office, the highest average of any President since this nation was founded, and he still holds that record. While Mr. Reagan was in office this nation’s debt went from just under 1 trillion dollars to over 2.6 trillion dollars, a 260% increase.

The current President Bush came into office and set a record in 2003 for the biggest single yearly dollar increase in debt in the nation’s history; he did it again in 2004.

The debt is now increasing at the rate of 600 billion dollars a year. Even Mr. Reagan never increased the debt that much in a single year.


America's Incredible Red Ink Stats

While it hasn't been on the front page, this Letter to the Editor from David M. Walker, the Comptroller General of the United States, Government Accountability Office, Washington DC sums up the mess that has been accelerated over the past 6 years:

The largest employer in the world announced on Dec. 15 that it lost about $450 billion in fiscal 2006. Its auditor found that its financial statements were unreliable and that its controls were inadequate for the 10th straight year. On top of that, the entity's total liabilities and unfunded commitments rose to about $50 trillion, up from $20 trillion in just six years.

If this announcement related to a private company, the news would have been on the front page of major newspapers. Unfortunately, such was not the case -- even though the entity is the U.S. government.

To put the figures in perspective, $50 trillion is $440,000 per American household and is more than nine times as much as the median household income.

The only way elected officials will be able to make the tough choices necessary to put our nation on a more prudent and sustainable long-term fiscal path is if opinion leaders state the facts and speak the truth to the American people.

The Government Accountability Office is working with the Concord Coalition, the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation and others to help educate the public about the facts in a professional, nonpartisan way. We hope the media and other opinion leaders do their part to save the future for our children and grandchildren.

[The Washington Post]