Expert: Iran not a nuclear threat to the world

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said on Thursday night that Iran is not considered as a nuclear threat to the world.

In an interview with Al-Arabia television network, he said the country poses no nuclear threats to any country around the globe. Iran's problems should be resolved through comprehensive talks with all parties, he underlined. Military conflict does not help resolve the issue, he said, adding that it only will lead to a regional catastrophe and will make the situation more complicated.

"Although we declared that there is no evidence of existence of nuclear weapons in Iraq, they did not give us enough chance to accomplish our task," he said.

"On Iran's case, we hope that the international community will listen to our words and provide chances to help resolve the issue through dialogue," he said.


British charities warn Iran military action will have "unthinkable" consequences

A coalition of British charities, faith groups and unions has warned Tony Blair that any military action against Iran would have "unthinkable" consequences. The organizations are urging the prime minister to put pressure on the US to enter talks with Tehran.

Former Labour minister Stephen Twigg, director of the Foreign Policy Centre, said: "The consequences of military action against Iran are not only unpalatable; they are unthinkable. "Even according to the worst estimates, Iran is still years away from having a nuclear weapon.

The charity Oxfam, unions Unison, GMB and Amicus, have been joined by the Muslim Parliament and Christian Solidarity Worldwide in signing the report.

They warn that a strike against Iran would continue to destabilize the region and provoke further attacks against British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Military action is not likely to be a short, sharp engagement but could have a profound effect on the region, with shock waves felt far beyond," the report says.

Sir Richard Dalton, the British ambassador to Iran until last year, backed the calls for increased diplomacy. "Recourse to military action - other than in legitimate self-defense - is not only unlikely to work but would be a disaster for Iran, the region and quite possibly the world," he said.



Wealth Distribution

The concentration of wealth in different countries varies considerably, with the top 10 percent in the U.S. holding 70 percent of the country's wealth. (Compared with 61 percent in France, 56 percent in the UK, 44 percent in Germany and 39 percent in Japan.)

Personal wealth is distributed so unevenly across the world that the richest two percent of adults own more than 50 percent of the world's assets, while the poorest half hold only 1 percent of wealth.

If all the world's wealth was distributed evenly, each person would have $20,500 of assets to use.

To belong to the top 1 percent of the world's wealthiest adults you would need more than $500,000, something that 37 million adults have achieved.

Almost 90 percent of the world's wealth is held in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.

[Excerpted from an article by Chris Giles, Financial Times]


Do the ultra-rich really give more?

The recent Slate 60 index of the year's leading philanthropic donors indicate that the 60 leading U.S. donors gave away $51 billion in 2006.

These donors had an estimated combined net worth of $630 billion last year, meaning that they gave away 8 percent of their money, on average. Sounds magnanimous, until you consider that the Dow Jones industrial average rose 16 percent in 2006 - which suggests that, as a group, the leading donors contributed less than they gained.

Now subtract Warren Buffett and his generous gift from the group, and the rest of them begin to look downright miserly, handing to others a mere $7 billion of a combined net worth of $584 billion - or slightly more than 1 percent.

Numbers from the philanthropy watch organization Giving USA show that Americans as a whole annually give away about 0.5 percent of their net worth. So, except for Warren Buffett and his generous gift, society's top givers donate to others at only a tad higher rate than the population as a whole. That's, well, pathetic. And that's just counting top givers, not the super-rich who give away little or nothing.

[Excerpt of an article by Gregg Easterbrook, The San Jose Mercury News]


The Ultra Wealthy in the United States

There are hundreds of people in the United States with so much money that they will never be able to spend their net worth, no matter how many Picassos or mansions or personal jets they buy. Last year, for the first time, everyone in the Forbes 400 index of the super-wealthy was a billionaire.

Income for the top 1 percent of Americans has more than doubled in the past quarter of a century, while that of the bottom fifth barely budged.

The rich, in short, are getting steadily richer, in absolute terms and compared with the rest of society. Sales of 200-foot-plus yachts and other indulgences of extreme wealth are at record highs.

Yet with the sainted exception of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, virtually all of them refuse to give any meaningful fraction of their wealth to the less fortunate - or even to give a decent fraction to such endeavors as art or medical research, which they would benefit from.

[Excerpt of an article by Gregg Easterbrook, The San Jose Mercury News]


Highest level of defense spending since World War II

As the Iraq war enters a fifth year, the conflict that President Bush's aides once said would all but pay for itself with oil revenues is fueling the highest level of defense spending since World War II.

Even with past spending adjusted upward for inflation, the $630 billion provided for the military this year exceeds the highest annual amounts during the Reagan-era defense buildup, the Vietnam War and the Korean War.

When lawmakers approve a nearly $100 billion emergency spending bill in the next few weeks, Congress will have appropriated $607 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with about 75 percent going to Iraq, according to a new Congressional Research Service study obtained by McClatchy Newspapers.

Less than three months after assuming control of Congress, Democrats are moving away from their election-campaign pledges to restrict or eliminate funding for Iraq. "Nobody wants to be labeled anti-military for the crime of cutting the budget," said Winslow Wheeler, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington.

About 300,000 American troops are deployed outside U.S. borders -- roughly half in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the other half in 76 other countries.

[Excerpt of an article by James Rosen, McClatchy Newspapers]


So is Iraq better off without Saddam?

According to a poll sponsored jointly by ABC, BBC and USA Today: Only 38 percent of Iraqis believe that the country is better off today than under Saddam Hussein, while nearly four out of five (80%) oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq.

The poll, part of a series conducted each of the past three years at great risk to 150 pollsters, reveals a sharp rise in anti-American feeling and disapproval of the 2003 invasion. Asked to judge how the United States and other coalition forces have carried out their responsibilities in Iraq, 76 percent say they have done "a bad job."

So is Iraq itself better off without Saddam?

Almost four in five of those Iraqis polled called the availability of jobs "bad," 88 percent had the same negative judgment of the supply of electricity, and 69 percent said the same about the availability of clean water and medical care.

Furthermore, in this nation gifted with the world's second-largest oil reserves, 88 percent termed the availability of fuel for cooking and driving as quite bad.

Four out of 10 said they blame the coalition forces or Bush for "the most for the violence that is occurring in the country"--and only 18 percent cited "al-Qaida and foreign jihads." So much for Bush's claim that U.S. troops are needed in Iraq to protect its citizens from foreign terrorists.

[excerpt courtesy of truthdig.com]


Why Pakistan’s Musharraf Survives

Recent threats by the Bush administration to cut off billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan have sparked panic in government circles. Likewise, according to the Pakistani ambassador in Washington, military strikes by the US aimed at Al-Qaida and Taliban havens inside Pakistan's tribal areas would destabilise Pakistan and possibly could bring General Pervez Musharraf down.

But how worried should the Pakistani authorities really be in the face of growing US pressure to root out Islamic militants? Occasional frustrations notwithstanding, it is, in fact, unlikely that the US will turn against a faithful and dependent ally, especially one whose leader enjoys cordial personal relations with Bush.

How does in Musharraf do it? The answer lies in a finely honed strategy, perfected over years, that juggles US demands and the interests of local intelligence chiefs, mullahs, tribal leaders, venal politicians, and a host of fortune seekers.

First, American impatience must be held in check. Pakistan is expected to deliver results on Al-Qaida and the Taliban. However, the pot is not to be emptied all at once. For example, when US vice-president Dick Cheney arrived in Islamabad in early March, threatening an aid cut and direct US action against Islamic militants, his message was not lost.

A second aspect of Musharraf's strategy is to create mutually beneficial relations with Islamists. This is a tricky business. Musharraf cannot permit the mullahs to become too strong.

The third element of Musharraf's strategy is more positive: he knows that he must do some good, and also be seen doing it. With the defeat of Al-Qaida and the Taliban, America's only visible goal, it is no surprise that the US remains enormously unpopular among Pakistanis, forcing Musharraf to maintain his perilous balancing act.

[The Times of India]


Building an Embassy Fit For An Empire

Congress has appropriated nearly $1 billion to build the largest embassy in the world. A significant portion of that money is for security infrastructure. This future "fortress" is housed in Saddam Hussein's former palace - providing more bad symbolism to the Iraqis.

Why are we building such a mammoth embassy in the heart of Baghdad? The embassy complex is on 104 acres, with 21 buildings and facilities. It will eventually house a U.S. staff of 5,000. The embassy will surpass all others in terms of size and staffing. It has more than twice the staff and 20 times the budget of our Beijing embassy.

One would think that we would be more clever than that in camouflaging our occupation. Are we to believe that Iraqis will not take notice of this massive complex in the heart of Baghdad?

We will be attempting to legitimize our presence with a "negotiated" agreement with the government of Iraq. If that happens, the people of Iraq will know that their elected government no longer is representing them but rather has become another puppet government. More Iraqis will become radicalized and join foes of the government.

American forces left Saudi Arabia in order to reduce hostilities toward us and to prevent further recruitment by groups opposing the United States and the Saudi royal family. Why would our officials think that the same will not happen in Iraq?

[Excerpt of an article by Adil Shamoo, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, writing in the Baltimore Sun]


The regrets of the man who brought down Saddam

His hands were bleeding and his eyes filled with tears as, four years ago, he slammed a sledgehammer into the tiled plinth that held a 20ft bronze statue of Saddam Hussein.

The moment became symbolic across the world as it signalled the fall of the dictator. Now, on the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, Kadhim al-Jubouri says: "I really regret bringing down the statue. The Americans are worse than the dictatorship. Every day is worse than the previous day."

The weightlifter had also been a mechanic and had felt the full weight of Saddam's regime when he was sent to Abu Ghraib prison by the Iraqi leader's son, Uday, after complaining that he had not been paid for fixing his motorcycle.

Yet he now says he would prefer to be living under Saddam than under US occupation. He said: "The devil you know [is] better than the devil you don't. We no longer know friend from foe. The situation is becoming more dangerous. It's not getting better at all. People are poor and the prices are going higher and higher."

According to an opinion poll of 5,000 Iraqis carried out over the past month, 26% say life was better under Saddam. More than one in four said they had had a close relative murdered in the past three years.

[Excerpt of an article by Audrey Gillan, The Guardian]


Third of Iraqi children now malnourished four years after US invasion

Caritas Internationalis and Caritas Iraq say that malnutrition rates have risen in Iraq from 19 percent before the US-led invasion to a national average of 28 percent four years later.

Over 11 percent of newborn babies are born underweight in Iraq today, compared with a figure of 4 percent in 2003.

Caritas Iraq has been running a series of Well Baby Clinics throughout the country. The Caritas clinics help the most vulnerable, and the health crisis they face is much worse than the national average.

Claudette Habesch, President of Caritas Middle East North Africa: ""Iraq has the second largest oil supplies in the world, but it has levels of poverty, hunger and underdevelopment comparable to sub-Saharan Africa. … You cannot even go to the supermarket without fear that you will not return.

"The last four years, but in particular 2006, we have seen life get worse rather than better for the ordinary Iraqi. And people are voting with their feet. Everyday 5000 people leave Iraq. In 2007, one in ten Iraqis is expected to leave the country.

"We are seeing minority groups such as Christians completely disappear from the country or leave their homes for safer areas."


Iraqi children pay the toll

Four years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the toll of war can be seen on the faces of the country's children. Hundreds of thousands no longer attend school. Many are forced to deal with mass displacement and killings of loved ones. Some are so shaken by the war, health experts say, they suffer from seizures and other mental health problems. "They killed my father and uncle in front of my eyes," one boy wept.



How Far is Iran from the Bomb?

Interesting insight from Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst:

"How Far is Iran away from the Bomb?" That was one of the key questions asked of newly confirmed Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell at a recent Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing.

Why had McConnell avoided this front-burner issue in his prepared remarks?

Because an honest answer would have been: "Beats the hell out of us. Despite the billions that American taxpayers have sunk into improving U.S. intelligence, we can only guess."

Read more


Worldwide anti-war demonstrations

A series of anti-war demonstrations in countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Spain and Britain occurred ahead of the fourth anniversary of the US-led war in Iraq.

Thousands of people converged on the center of the US capital on Saturday and also marched on to the Pentagon. It's been 40 years since protesters mobilised a massive march on the Pentagon in Washington against the Vietnam war - an image that organisers of Saturday's massive march against the Iraq war are hoping to match.

Bill Hackwell, a spokesman for the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (Answer) coalition, which organised the march, said: "We're feeling a shift in the general population of the country who are now opposed to the war and are now thinking about doing something about it, not only about voting but becoming active in the anti-war struggle."

The protests were timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary on Tuesday of the Iraq war, which has claimed at least 70,000 civilian lives and nearly 10,000 lives of soldiers and police officers from Iraq, the US and eight coalition countries.


America in the Eyes of the World

Following is an excerpt of an article by Paul Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review:

US casualties (dead and wounded) have reached over 27,000 in a war that was supposed to be a “cakewalk”, over in a few weeks. The media have done a good job for the government of keeping the blood and gore out of the living room. Except for close friends or relatives of one of the 27,000, Americans have not been impacted by the war.

They are even less aware of the consequences for Iraqis. Every day 100 or more Iraqi civilians are killed and 100 or more are maimed and injured. [On “exceptional” days] Iraqi casualties totaled 535, 152 killed and 383 wounded. How did the “war on terror” become a war on the Iraqi people?

We have heard every answer: intelligence mistakes, incompetence, and evil machination. Whichever answer we take, the killing and destruction continue.Why? Four-star general Wesley Clark, former supreme commander of NATO, said that shortly after 9/11 he was shown a Pentagon “memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

It has also recently come to light that the US government has imposed an oil deal on the puppet Iraqi government that turns Iraqi oil over to US and British firms for exploitation. The profits of the military-industrial complex are soaring, and higher military budgets are being appropriated. The value of Cheney’s Haliburton stock options has not merely doubled or tripled but multiplied by a factor of 32.

Far from making Americans safe by attacking a country that posed no threat to the US, Bush-Cheney have alarmed the Russians and the Chinese. Russian President Vladimir Putin and General Yury Baluyevsky, Chief of the Russian General Staff, have both warned that the Bush regime’s military aggression and drive for hegemony are setting off another arms race.

China has announced a 17.8 percent increase in its military budget for 2007.

Americans still regard themselves as the salt of the earth. But the rest of the world no longer sees Americans that way. When citizens of other countries turn their eyes toward America, they see evil.


The Rhetoric of War

Is the terminolgy used by politicians lying, euphemism, spin, diplomacy, or hypocrisy? It's hard to decide when everything means nothing.

How 'bout "Support Our Troops?" Isn't that just a passive/aggressive way of saying 'I love our troops and you hate them,' which is of course absurd? Can any sane American ---left, right or indifferent---actually wishes harm upon our troops?

How 'bout "extraordinary rendition?" Isn't that really just 'kidnap and torture of civilians?'

"Protecting American interests in the region?" Doesn't that really mean protecting the salaries and stock options of corporate CEOs that export jobs, cheat on their taxes and get government bankruptcy bailouts without giving a shit about average American workers?

What happens when we tolerate these lies, er diplomatic terms, is that foggy bottom gets so, well, foggy and filled up with euphemism nothing means anything anymore.

[Excerpts of an article by a writer/director/producer/actor Tom Gilroy]


When Less is More

In the nonprofit sector, size does matter.

There are an estimated 60,000 small foundations in the United States, most with a handful of employees and all-volunteer boards. Yet they account for half of the money distributed each year by all foundations.

What makes these smaller groups different is their focus.

While larger organizations tend to address broader issues, their more petite counterparts aim at direct targets.

It is the smaller, often family foundations that many believe are the wave of philanthropy’s future.

[Excerpt of an article by Frank Seitzen, The Washington Examiner]


Four Unspeakable Truths about Iraq ... if you're a Politician

When it comes to Iraq, there are two kinds of presidential candidates. The disciplined ones, like Hillary Clinton, carefully avoid acknowledging reality. The more candid, like John McCain and Barack Obama, sometimes blurt out the truth, but quickly apologize.

1. For many presidential aspirants, the first unspeakable truth is simply that the war was a mistake. Reasons for refusing to admit that the war itself was a mistake are surprisingly similar across party lines. It is seldom easy to admit you were wrong.

2. A second truth universally unacknowledged is that American soldiers being killed, grotesquely maimed, and then treated like whining freeloaders at Walter Reed Hospital are victims as much as "heroes." John Kerry was the first to violate this taboo when he was still a potential candidate last year. Kerry appeared to tell a group of California college students that it sucks to go and fight in Iraq. A variety of conservative goons instantly denounced Kerry for disrespecting the troops. Americans who attend college and have good employment options after graduation are unlikely to sign up for free tours of the Sunni Triangle.

3. Reality No. 3 is that the American lives lost in Iraq have been lives wasted. Barack Obama crossed this boundary on his first trip to Iowa as an announced candidate when he declared at a rally, "We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged and to which we have now spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted." With lightning speed, Obama said he had misspoken and apologized to military families.
John McCain used the same proscribed term when he announced his candidacy on The Late Show With David Letterman.* "We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives." telling the truth before retreating to the approved banality and euphemism

4. A fourth and final near-certainty, which is in some ways the hardest for politicians to admit, is that America is losing or has already lost the Iraq war. The United States is the strongest nation in the history of the world and does not think of itself as coming in second in two-way contests. When it does so, it is slow to accept that it has been beaten. Even today, American politicians tend not to describe Vietnam as a straightforward defeat.
Politicians on both sides believe that acknowledging unpleasant truth will weaken them and undermine those still attempting to persevere on our behalf. But nations and individuals do not grow weaker by confronting the truth. They grow weaker by avoiding it and coming to believe their own evasions.

[Excerpt of an article by Jacob Weisberg, Slate]


Total Withdrawal? Who are you kidding?

From the very start, the debate over Iraq has been obscured by a miasma of bogus statistics and facts: Congress is now supposedly discussing the eventual withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq. Even the Bush administration, though it refuses to set any deadline, seems to be promising a total pullout.

But who are they kidding? First of all, even those Iraqi units already up and running rely on the U.S. for much of their logistics and certainly almost all of their air support. Self-sufficiency is years away.

Secondly—and very much related: If U.S. troops are really to withdraw completely from Iraq what’s the point of America’s having built four huge “super bases” in that country—each one housing tens of thousands of US soldiers?

The most mammoth is the sprawling air base and logistics centre at Balad, north of Baghdad. As of last year, the U.S. had already poured close to a quarter of a billion dollars into that facility, and was planning tens of millions more, including a major road system and a 13-foot-high security fence that would stretch for 12.4 miles. In fact, thousands of troops stationed at Balad already spend their entire tour of duty within the base’s huge confines.

Balad was billed as Americas’ strategic air center for the entire region. Indeed, one original but unstated objective of the 2003 invasion was to make Iraq the U.S.’s new military platform in that part of the world. The huge U.S. troop presence in Saudi Arabia was becoming much too politically sensitive.

Another facility is the massive marine base of Al-Asad in Anbar province, where a visiting reporter was recently assured by U.S. soldiers that American troops would be rotating though for at least the next decade.

In other words, while American troop levels may be reduced at some point, tens of thousands American troops will almost certainly be remaining behind for years, hunkered down in their rambling new bases.

Though U.S. legislators voted against appropriating funds for permanent bases in Iraq, the White House and Pentagon have ignored that prohibition by portraying the huge construction projects to be for temporary facilities tied to the on-going conflict.

[Excerpt of an article by Barry Lando, a former producer with 60 Minutes]


World's Third-Richest Man and his Charity

The world's third-richest man, Carlos Slim, is gaining rapidly on Bill Gates and Warren Buffett with a fortune that grew $19 billion last year -- the largest wealth gain in the past decade tracked by Forbes magazine.

Since Slim bought the telephone monopoly in a 1991 privatization, he's used Telmex as a cash cow to build an empire that includes Latin America's largest mobile phone company; provides banking, brokerage and Internet services; sells insurance and oil industry equipment; and operates retail stores and restaurants.

On Monday, Slim announced he would invest in health care and launch a program to supply low-cost computers to rural residents.

Telmex already sponsors a charity foundation that supports education and social programs in Mexico, and the billionaire's investments in downtown real estate have led to an urban renewal in Mexico City's center.

Slim said his charitable foundations have about $4 billion in endowments.

[The New York Times]


Soap operas and other social programs in Nicaragua

It's been more than a quarter of a century since the Sandinistas toppled the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, yet the struggle for personal freedom and self-determination here continues. For women, anyway.

"The revolution gave us hope that there would be greater rights for women," said Dr. Mary Ellsberg, an American who put her life at risk working with the Sandinistas during the revolution as a "brigadista" on literacy and health campaigns in rural areas.

Dr. Ellsberg is the daughter of famed military-analyst-turned-anti-war-activist Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the "Pentagon Papers" revealing the U.S. military's bleak assessment of the Vietnam War.

Today, Ellsberg is no less passionate than when she was helping the Miskito Indians while looking over her shoulder for the next Contra attack. But now, as director of Seattle-based PATH's Nicaragua program and of its work on gender, violence and human rights, her efforts are more at risk from politics, bureaucracy and cultural indifference.

In 2003, with startup funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH created a program called Entre Amigas (Between Friends) that trains young women to educate their peers, especially those in poor communities.

[Excerpt of an article by Tom Paulson, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer]


The End of Dollar Hegemony

Portions of a speech made by the Hon. Ron Paul of Texas, before the U.S. House of Representatives:

It has been said, rightly, that he who holds the gold makes the rules. Today the principles are the same, but the process is quite different. Gold no longer is the currency of the realm; paper is. The truth now is: “He who prints the money makes the rules”-- at least for the time being. Although gold is not used, the goals are the same: compel foreign countries to produce and subsidize the country with military superiority and control over the monetary printing presses.

“Dollar Diplomacy,” a policy instituted by William Howard Taft was designed to enhance U.S. commercial investments in Latin America and the Far East. …This new policy came on the heels of the “gunboat” diplomacy of the late 19th century, and it meant we could buy influence before resorting to the threat of force.

The 1944 Bretton Woods agreement solidified the dollar as the preeminent world reserve currency. Due to our political and military muscle, and because we had a huge amount of physical gold, the world readily accepted our dollar (defined as 1/35th of an ounce of gold) as the world’s reserve currency. The dollar was said to be “as good as gold,” and convertible to all foreign central banks at that rate.

It all ended on August 15, 1971, when Nixon closed the gold window and refused to pay out any of our remaining 280 million ounces of gold. In essence, we declared our insolvency and everyone recognized some other monetary system had to be devised in order to bring stability to the markets. Amazingly, a new system was devised which allowed the U.S. to operate the printing presses for the world reserve currency with no restraints placed on it-- not even a pretense of gold convertibility, none whatsoever!

Realizing the world was embarking on something new and mind boggling, elite money managers, with especially strong support from U.S. authorities, struck an agreement with OPEC to price oil in U.S. dollars exclusively for all worldwide transactions. This gave the dollar a special place among world currencies and in essence “backed” the dollar with oil. In return, the U.S. promised to protect the various oil-rich kingdoms in the Persian Gulf against threat of invasion or domestic coup.

The agreement with OPEC in the 1970s to price oil in dollars has provided tremendous artificial strength to the dollar as the preeminent reserve currency. This has created a universal demand for the dollar, and soaks up the huge number of new dollars generated each year.

The dollar/oil relationship has to be maintained to keep the dollar as a preeminent currency. … In November 2000 Saddam Hussein demanded Euros for his oil. His arrogance was a threat to the dollar.

In 2001, Venezuela’s ambassador to Russia spoke of Venezuela switching to the Euro for all their oil sales. Within a year there was a coup attempt against Chavez, reportedly with assistance from our CIA.

Now, a new attempt is being made against the petrodollar system. Iran, another member of the “axis of evil,” has announced her plans to initiate an oil bourse. Guess what, the oil sales will be priced Euros, not dollars.

[All this time] foreign countries accumulate our dollars due to their high savings rates, and graciously loan them back to us at low interest rates to finance our excessive consumption. Currently, we borrow over $700 billion every year from our gracious benefactors, who work hard and take our paper for their goods.

Then we borrow all the money we need to secure the empire (DOD budget $450 billion) plus more. The military might we enjoy becomes the “backing” of our currency. There are no other countries that can challenge our military superiority, and therefore they have little choice but to accept the dollars we declare are today’s “gold.” This is why countries that challenge the system-- like Iraq, Iran and Venezuela-- become targets of our plans for regime change.

Debt Advisory International and its vulture funds

Debt Advisory International (DAI) manages a number of vulture funds which buy up the debts of highly indebted poor countries cheaply and then sue for the original value of the debt plus interest.

Newsnight went to New York to try to interview Paul Singer - the reclusive billionaire who virtually invented vulture funds. In 1996 his company they paid $11m for some discounted Peruvian debt and then threatened to bankrupt the country unless they paid $58m. They got their $58m.

Now they're suing Congo Brazzaville for $400m for a debt they bought for $10m.

The vulture funds raise most of their money through legal actions in US courts. Debt Advisory International are very generous to their lobbyists in Washington. Paul Singer has more direct political connections. He was the biggest donor to George Bush and the Republican cause in New York City - giving $1.7m since Bush started his first presidential campaign.

[BBC Newsnight]


Vulture funds a threat to Third World

Vulture funds - as defined by the International Monetary Fund amongst others - are companies which buy up the debt of poor nations cheaply when it is about to be written off and then sue for the full value of the debt plus interest - which might be ten times what they paid for it.

A London high court judge will rule whether a vulture fund can extract more than $40m from Zambia for a debt which it bought for less than $4m.

There are concerns that such funds are wiping out the benefits which international debt relief was supposed to bring to poor countries. Martin Kalunga-Banda, Zambian presidential adviser and a consultant to Oxfam told Newsnight, "That $40m is equal to the value of all the debt relief we received last year."

Caroline Pearce from the Jubilee Debt campaign told Newsnight it makes a mockery of all the work done by governments to write off the debts of the poorest.

"Profiteering doesn't get any more cynical than this. Zambia has been planning to spend the money released from debt cancellation on much-needed nurses, teachers and infrastructure: this is what debt cancellation is intended for not to line the pockets of businessmen based in rich countries."

[BBC Newsnight]


Boeing’s Philanthropy Plans in Palestine

The Boeing Company announced that it will partner with AMIDEAST West Bank and Gaza in the Palestinian territory to help develop a one-year pilot program for Palestinian school teachers designed to significantly improve the quality of English instruction at the primary level.

The Professional Certificate in English Teaching (PCET) program will be developed and piloted by AMIDEAST, while the Boeing grant will be used to train an initial group of 20 primary school English teachers in the West Bank and Gaza on the curriculum. It is estimated that up to 2,000 primary school pupils will benefit from this program.

“We are honoured to be able to contribute to philanthropic efforts in the Arab world like this one, designed to provide better services that benefit the community,” said John B. Craig, Boeing vice president in the Middle East. “By training teachers committed to reforming the way the language is taught on the primary levels in their schools, we hope this initiative enhances the overall environment for Palestinian children learning English.”

PCET specifically addresses a primary education strategy focused on expanding access to underserved groups and improving the overall quality of education and its relevance by providing training to all geographic areas of Palestine, both urban and rural.



A Well Informed Gift to Charity

For a growing number in London's financial services, what's "in" -- especially since Warren Buffett said last summer he would give away $37 billion of his personal fortune -- is to be seen to be spending copiously and carefully on those less fortunate.

James Blackburn, head of equities at the London-based stockbroking firm Execution, has in five years raised over £4.4 million for charity. Every year, the firm takes the proceeds of one day's trading and transfers it into a fund called the Execution Charitable Trust. "You have kids and you start thinking about other things that affect you."

Mr. Blackburn's priorities may have changed, but his investment mindset hasn't. He says decisions about charities to support are based not on emotion but on hard-nosed business analysis. "We want to know who is good and who's not," he says. "We want to know that the people you're giving money to are the best in the field. We are an industry of input and output, and people like to see a return on investment."

[Excerpt of an article by Helen Kirwan-Taylor, The Wall Street Journal]

Vermont Votes to Impeach Bush/Cheney

When Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican with reasonably close ties to President Bush, asked if there was any additional business to be considered at the town meeting he was running in Middlebury, Ellen McKay popped up and proposed the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The governor was not amused. But McKay, a program coordinator at Middlebury College, pressed her case. And it soon became evident that the crowd at the annual meeting shared her desire to hold the president to account.

By an overwhelming voice vote, Middlebury called for impeachment.

So it has gone this week at town meetings across Vermont. There were confirmed reports that 36 towns had backed impeachment resolutions, and the number was expected to rise.

In addition to Governor Douglas's Middlebury, the town of Hartland, which is home to Congressman Peter Welch backed impeachment. So, too, did Jericho, the home of Gaye Symington, the speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives.

Organizers of the grassroots drive to get town meetings to back impeachment resolutions hope that the overwhelming support the initiative has received will convince [Reps] to introduce articles of impeachment against Bush and Cheney.

For the record, Middlebury says:

The oaths that the President and Vice President take binds them to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." The President and Vice President have failed to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution" in the following ways:

1. They have manipulated intelligence and misled the country to justify an immoral, unjust, and unnecessary preemptive war in Iraq.
2. They have directed the government to engage in domestic spying without warrants, in direct contravention of U.S. law.
3. They have conspired to commit the torture of prisoners, in violation of the Federal Torture Act and the Geneva Convention.
4. They have ordered the indefinite detention without legal counsel, without charges and without the opportunity to appear before a civil judicial officer to challenge the detention -- all in violation of U.S. law and the Bill of Rights.

[Excerpt of an article by John Nichols, The Nation]


Giving It All Away Part of the American Success Story

After two-plus centuries of nationhood, it's time to update the American Dream.

Not because Americans can no longer go from rags to riches. Rather because, after two centuries of the great American experiment, it's safe to conclude that our particular blend of free enterprise and government alone leaves too many important problems unsolved. From education to health care to energy to wealth disparity to the environment, we're living proof that being a rich nation doesn't necessarily make us a great one.

How can we become the latter? By developing a not-for-profit sector as creative, competitive, and well-funded as our corporate sector.

[Excerpt of an article by Henry Blodget, Slate]


Philanthropy record: $100 million donations increase

As the rich get richer, they get more generous. Much more generous.

The number of individual donations of $100 million or more hit a record in 2006, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which compiles a yearly list of the biggest givers Last year, there were 21 donations of $100 million or more by individuals to universities, hospitals and charities, compared with 11 in 2005.

The reason for the increase in mega-gifts is simple: There are more people with deep pockets. "It's a sign that wealth is growing and people are just raising their sights in terms of philanthropy," says Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle.

Among those swimming in the deep end of the donor pool: The biggest gift by far was Warren Buffett's pledge of $43.5 billion. Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who gave $105 million to Stanford's business school; David Rockefeller, who gave away $225 million, mostly to the Rockefeller family foundation; oilman T. Boone Pickens, who gave away $172 million, including $160 million to set up his own foundation; and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave $165 million.

In addition to the amount of money available to be given away, philanthropy experts and the givers themselves say there is a greater consciousness that those who have should give.

"It's sort of gotten out there that it's the right thing to do to be generous," says Stanley Katz, Princeton University professor of public policy and a scholar of philanthropy. "For the moment, that's more of the ethos of wealthy people."

[Excerpt of an article by Martha T. Moore, USA Today]


Along with Big Bucks, Rich Donors give Charities their Two Cents

Warren Buffett's decision to hand over tons of money to a trusted organization is an old-school way of charitable giving: Take this check, put it to good use.

Increasingly, though, wealthy donors are opting for a more hands-on approach, giving money on the condition that the charity take their management advice, too. In many cases, fledgling nonprofits, in exchange for new funding, agree to let benefactors overhaul their business models, make personnel changes and install financial controls.

Donors often see it as the way to get the best bang for their charitable buck by building sustainable organizations, not simply funding pet programs.

These efforts have roots in the "venture philanthropy" wave of the 1990s, when newly rich dot-com executives looked at nonprofits much as venture capitalists eye start-ups. Many of their ideas fizzled when the technology bubble burst and the stock market tanked. Some survived, though, and today the field is enjoying a battle-hardened renaissance.

[Excerpt of an article by Christopher Conkey The Wall Street Journal]


The Truth About Warren Buffett's Tax Bill

Revisiting one of last summer's biggest financial stories: Warren Buffett's decision to donate $38 billion of his Berkshire Hathaway stock to charity, most of it to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A fascinating aspect of this gift is that the folksy Buffett, usually a cold-eyed tax whiz, isn't being at all tax-efficient. … But Buffett isn't doing anything like that with his donations.

Here's why you should care: when you compare Buffett's current tax-inefficient behavior with Berkshire's tax efficiency, you can see the man's sincere about giving his wealth away because he thinks it's the right thing to do --not to get some hidden tax break.

I write frequently about people and corporations ducking taxes, but couldn't discern any tax dodging when I read the terms of Buffett's gift. …So to see if I'd missed something, I asked Buffett about his taxes. … Did I find a hidden tax agenda? Nope.

[Excerpt of an article by Allan Sloan, Newsweek]


Warren Buffett's remarkable $43.5 billion charitable pledge

To help put Warren Buffett's remarkable $43.5 billion charitable pledge of 2006 in perspective:

It's close to the GDP of Slovakia.

It's about the market value of McDonald's.

Nearly equals the total donations recorded in the Slate 60 for the previous six years combined—$44.9 billion.

Buffett's donation, $36.1 billion of which goes to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was already the nation's largest private charity, has some calling this a "golden age" of philanthropy, hearkening back to the charitable work of the Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Mellons in the early 20th century.

[Excerpt of an article by Rachael Larimore, Slate]


Buffett Wants Charities to Spend Fast

Warren Buffett, the world's second-richest man, wowed the world last summer when he announced that he plans to give away most of his $48.4 billion fortune, and now he wants to make sure those donations are spent quickly.

Buffett said in his annual letter to shareholders Thursday that he stipulated in his will that the proceeds from all Berkshire shares he owns at death must be used for "philanthropic purposes within 10 years after my estate is closed." He estimated his estate should be settled within three years of his death.

"I've set this schedule because I want the money to be spent relatively promptly by people I know to be capable, vigorous and motivated," Buffett said. "These managerial attributes sometimes wane as institutions -- particularly those that are exempt from market forces -- age.

Buffett has earmarked 10 million B shares for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 1 million B shares for the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation named in honor of his wife and 350,000 shares for the three foundations run by each of his children.

The 76-year-old Buffett predicted that his giving plan and the stipulations in his will should mean that all of his Berkshire shares will be distributed for societal purposes within the next 25 years because Buffett said his expected life span is 12 more years "though, naturally, I'm aiming for more," he said.

[Excerpt of an AP article by Josh Funk]

Reasons for giving vary

What's opening the checkbooks of the nation's rich?
•They've got plenty to give. There are 371 billionaires in the USA, worth $1.1 trillion, more than even before, according to Forbes' annual list of the world's richest people. And a strong stock market "gives confidence in the future," the director of Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy says. "It creates the environment in which people feel they can give away that kind of money."
•They're being asked for more. Knowing the money is there, universities, hospitals and other non-profit organizations are setting higher fundraising targets.
•It's that time of life — or death. Four of the 21 gifts of $100 million or more were bequests from people who died last year. Big donors usually don't start giving until they reach their 60s, says Kathleen McCarthy, director of the Center on Philanthropy at the City University of New York Graduate Center. That means the baby-boom generation is on the cusp of its most generous age.
•They listen to Warren Buffett. Call it the Buffett Effect, after the investor's widely publicized gift in June. Buffett, known to investors as the "Oracle of Omaha," could be as influential in philanthropy as he has been in finance. His pledge, at the current value of his company's stock, is the equivalent of nearly 17% of the annual charitable giving of the entire nation: about $260 billion.
"The great, highly visible stories of Gates, Buffett, Google.org — I think that does have a huge impact. Philanthropy is contagious," says Adam Meyerson, president of the Philanthropy Roundtable. "It reminds business leaders that philanthropy is part of what it means to be a business leader in this country."

[Excerpt of an article by Martha T. Moore, USA Today]


High-dollar giving

What made T. Boone Pickens, oilman, corporate raider and hedge fund billionaire, go from giving away mere millions to donating hundreds of millions?

"It's pretty easy: I made more money," says Pickens, who earned the No. 8 spot on the list of the most generous Americans with donations of $172 million last year. "I had it to give away. And I have figured out I can't take it with me. So why not give it and see the results instead of leaving it and never knowing what happens to it?"

Ten years ago, when the online magazine Slate named the top 60 donations of 1996, a roster now compiled jointly with The Chronicle of Philanthropy, there were just two gifts of $100 million or more. Since 2001, the number of $100 million givers has been in double digits.

The list was begun shortly after media mogul Ted Turner criticized other billionaires for not giving away enough money. "All the money is in the hands of these few rich people, and none of them give any money away. It's dangerous for them and for the country," Turner told The New York Times in 1996. "Why isn't it better to be the biggest giver rather than the biggest hog?"

[Excerpt of an article by Martha T. Moore, USA Today]