Kofi Annan addressing African poverty

Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, will head the African agricultural alliance established last year by the Bill & Melinda Gates and Rockefeller foundations.

The African-led Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is a dynamic partnership working across the continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. Alliance programs develop practical solutions to dramatically boost farm productivity and incomes while safeguarding the environment and biodiversity.

Annan, who served two terms as the United Nations' leader, will spend a third of his time as executive director of the Alliance for a Green Revolution, which will be based in Kenya and hopes to reduce poverty in Africa by helping millions of small farmers.

In the past 15 years the number of Africans living below the poverty line ($1/day) has increased by 50 percent and per capita food production has declined. In the past five years alone, the number of underweight children in Africa has risen by about 12 percent.

As a prominent voice in Africa and around the globe, Annan no doubt will raise the Alliance's profile and influence. "The vision and experience and leadership that he brings is just unparalleled," said Rajiv Shah, Gates Foundation director of agricultural development. "Hopefully, it helps the world see how important serving these households is going to be."

[Excerpt of an article by Linda Shaw, The Seattle Times]


Billionaire donors give back to poor of Africa

Always central to any conversation about Africa is that of aid, which was a central topic at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Cape Town. The WEF's 800 participants from 42 countries had statesmen, economists and business leaders debating again how aid was not the salve to the continent's ills: Africa's development was reliant on Africans implementing African solutions.

Private philanthropy, however, is another story and the distinction between philanthropy and investment, between social entrepreneurship and corporate responsibility, still another.
Ninety percent of the UK’s SABMiller's business was in emerging markets and the company could offer the most value philanthropically by leveraging its expertise locally in training people. The company had innovated an industry in Uganda by using locally grown sorghum instead of barley for a beer product. The project had expanded to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania and was now the second largest brand in Africa. It empowered more than 12 000 farmers, and not through straightforward "check book philanthropy".

Susan M Clark, a director of corporate affairs at SABMiller, said philanthropy had to "make business sense" to be sustainable. "It cannot be an issue of charity," she said, boiling down what has become a worldwide trend among the world's biggest givers: a commitment to get involved and see a return on their investment.

For some, as in the case of Bill and Melinda Gates, that means pumping money into preventive treatments for major diseases in the developing world that are ignored by drug companies. For others, it means a career in social entrepreneurship where profits are secondary and indeed often nonexistent.

Former AOL chairman Steve Case and his wife committed at least $5 million to PlayPumps, which builds water pumps that also function as merry-go-rounds for rural African communities in desperate need of clean drinking water. The Case Foundation also supports KickStart, which sells low-cost farming tools and supplies to African families that increase productivity.

Nick Moon, co-founder of KickStart International in Kenya, said the organisation's approach was to create wealth from the bottom up by tapping human capital. "Market-based solutions fit extremely well with the basic characteristics of the African people," he said.

The mega philanthropic players in Africa, who are exercising this bottom-up or venture philanthropic approach, be it in medical research, education or providing financial services to the poor, include Gates, Winfrey, Case, eBay's Pierre Omidyar, financier George Soros, investor Warren Buffett and airline founder Richard Branson.

[Excerpt from the South African Cape Times]


US House votes to deny all aid to Saudi Arabia

The US House of Representatives has voted to deny all aid to Saudi Arabia, despite repeated assurances by the Bush administration that the desert kingdom is cooperating in its "war on terror."

As many as 61 percent of all suicide bombers in Iraq are of Saudi Arabian descent, it is claimed. The lawmakers also argued that Saudi clerics continued to preach hate towards the United States, Israel and their allies.

The ban is contained in a little-publicized amendment quietly slipped by a bipartisan group of lawmakers into a 34.2-billion-dollar bill that finances US foreign operations in the 2008 fiscal year. Similar measures on aid to Saudi Arabia have been passed before by the House. But the current one goes a step further by closing a legislative loophole that in the past had allowed the administration of President George W. Bush to waive these bans by invoking requirements of its war on terror.

While oil-rich Saudi Arabia has never been a large recipient of US aid, the Bush administration channeled a total of more than 2.5 million dollars to the kingdom in fiscal 2005 and 2006 as part of their partnership in the war on terror, congressional officials said.

Mohammed al-Zulfa of Saudi Arabia's consultative Shura Council said the US action "represents one method out of several that the US Congress has used to pressure the Saudi government into carrying out reforms, whether in the fields of human rights or religious freedom."



Insights from and about refugees around the world

Christian Aid predicts that by 2050 there will be 1 billion people around the world displaced by global warming, dwarfing the number of those now fleeing conflicts and persecution.

Here are some notable quotes from those trying to deal with the problem and from refugees:

* "Refugees used to be welcomed as people fleeing persecution, but this has been changing, certainly since 9/11, but even before then," William Spindler, UNHCR spokesman in Geneva. "Growing xenophobia, intolerance, political manipulation by populist politicians who mix up the issues -- the whole debate on asylum and migration has been confused."

* "The reaction now is scepticism. It's: 'Who is this scam artist trying to get a job in our country?'" Joel Charny, vice-president of Washington-based Refugees International. "How will we approach displacement when, say, the Maldives go under? We have to plan for it, but in a way that doesn't lead us all to start jumping out of windows."

* "Since my 18th birthday I've been displaced about 14-16 times," Saundrarajan Kannakai at Manganthoduwa Nawatkuda, Sri Lanka. "After the tsunami we thought things would be stable, and then the war came again. Here we go again, back to square one."

* "I have all these memories that keep coming back," Marie-Jeanne Iyengue, 45, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. "You sleep and it's always the same film. My wish is to get away from here, to give an education to my daughter. Somewhere else would be better. Maybe somewhere else I could forget."

* "This is the first time I register as a refugee. I feel humiliated, it's like begging somehow," Iraqi Rafi al-Ani, 56, who has lived in Syria since 2001.



The Emergence of Russia, China , India and Brazil

Russian President Vladimir Putin's challenge to the US dollar is particularly worrisome. He emphasizes the inherent unfairness of the current system, which relies almost entirely on the dollar and which has an extremely negative effect on many smaller countries’ economies and financial reserves.

"There can be only one answer to this challenge," he said. "The creation of several world currencies and several financial centers."

Already, in the last few months, Norway , Iran , Syria , UAE, Kuwait , and Venezuela have announced that they are either cutting back on their US Dollar reserves or converting from the greenback to the euro or a "basket of currencies".

Dollar hegemony is at the very center of American power, and yet, the downturn is visible everywhere. If the dollar loses its place as the world’s "reserve currency"; the US will have to pay-down its monstrous current account deficit and live within its means. America will lose the ability to simply print fiat money and use it in exchange for valuable resources and manufactured goods.

Russia ’s power is mushrooming. Its GDP is leaping ahead at 8% per annum and by 2020 Russia will be among the five biggest economies in the world. It now has the third largest Forex reserves in the world and it is gradually moving away from the anemic dollar to euros and rubles.

Russia has also overtaken Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading supplier of petroleum. It produces 13% of the world’s daily output and has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. In fact, Putin has worked energetically to create the world’s first Natural Gas cartel—an alliance between Russia , Qatar , Iran and Algeria . The group could potentially control 40% of the world’s remaining natural gas and set prices as it sees fit.

Putin represents the emerging-market economies of China , India and Brazil . These 4 nations will progressively overtake the "old order". Last year 60% of the world's output was produced outside the G-7 countries. According to Goldman Sachs, by 2050 Brazil , Russia , India and China will be the world's leading economies.

The transition from "superpower rule" is already underway.

[Excerpt of an article by Mike Whitney. ICH]


Toxic clean up for Vietnam

Seven prominent Vietnamese and Americans will work together to support humanitarian efforts in cleaning up wartime dioxin, or "agent orange" in Vietnam. The compound dioxin is a component of "agent orange" toxic herbicides sprayed during the 1960s and 1970s war.

New York-based Ford Foundation said the policy makers, scientists and business figures "aim to build a collective, bipartisan humanitarian response where diplomatic discussion alone has proved difficult" in resolving a bitter war legacy.

The announcement, the latest by Americans and Vietnamese on the sensitive issue, was made during the visit to the United States by President Nguyen Minh Triet. He is the first head of state of communist-ruled Vietnam to be welcomed by Washington since the war ended in 1975.

Toxins that Vietnam says have affected millions of people over three generations is a thorn in otherwise friendly ties built up over 12 years since diplomatic relations were established between Washington and Hanoi. The United States government maintains there is no scientific link between the toxins and the disabled.



Iraq war refugees– Undocumented in Jordan

"There are 750,000 Iraqis living in Jordan with all of the horrors of refugees – and none of the benefits." Noah Merrill, consultant to AFSC's Middle East Task Force, says after six weeks he spent with refugees from the Iraq war who are now living in Jordan.

"Undocumented," we know from our own work with immigrants arriving in this country without legal status, means they live in the shadows; no legal work, no access to healthcare, and education is a risk. Forced by war out of their own country, the displaced Iraqis are without welcome in neighboring countries.

"Before pointing your finger at Jordan, understand the US role in all of this," Noah cautioned. "The US knows how to tear things down—we just don't know how to build them back up."

With a hint of sarcasm in his voice, Noah notes, "Refugees do not come from democracies...The Iraqi refugee crisis is our responsibility. An earthquake did not hit Iraq. This is a political disease with a political solution." The solution is not more rockets and tanks. "We have," Noah said, "a responsibility to rebuild and pay reparations and create a space for a diplomatic process with all the players in the region."

Fifty thousand Iraqis are fleeing their homeland each month.

[Relief Web]


Hamas, Palestine and Democracy

After years of being hectored to hold elections and adopt democratic norms, a year and a half ago Palestinians duly elected Hamas with 44 per cent of the vote, ahead of Fatah on 41 per cent.

It was a good election, as former US President Jimmy Carter observed at the time, a free, fair and accurate expression of the desires of a Palestinian people sick of the uselessness, corruption and gangsterism of Fatah. The problem was that it didn't quite reflect the wishes of Washington and the international community.

When Hamas gunmen stormed the Fatah security compounds in Gaza last week they found huge supplies of American-made weaponry including 7,400 M-16 assault rifles, dozens of mounted machine guns, rocket launchers, 7 armored military jeeps, 800,000 rounds of bullets and 18 US-made armored personnel carriers.

They also discovered something far more valuable--- CIA files which purportedly contain "information about the collaboration between Fatah and the Israeli and American security organizations; CIA methods on how to prevent attacks, chase and follow after cells of Hamas and the Committees; plans about Fatah assassinations of members of Hamas and other organizations; and American studies on the security situation in Gaza." (as reported by Aaron Klein, WorldNetDaily.com)

If the documents prove to be authentic, they will confirm that US-Israeli intelligence agencies have been collaborating with high-ranking members of the PA to help crush the Palestinian national liberation movement.

[Sources: The Observer and ICH]


Hard questions on World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day. This is not a day for celebration. Indeed, it is a day of harsh reckoning for all of us who have permanent shelters in which to live, eat, go to the toilet, plus countries to which we belong.

Today, there are at least 35 million refugees living in camps or makeshift places of shelter around the world. Those who do not live in camps have to run for their lives from place to place, desert to desert, or live in exile in countries other than their own.

It is sad to consider how, even in the 21st century, there are still scenes of horror around the world forcing people from their homes. How many people have to go breathless before the world comes to the rescue?

[Excerpt of an editorial in The Nation (Thailand)]

June 20th, World Refugee Day

In acknowledging World Refugee Day on June 20, following are some facts provided by the UNHCR about refugees worldwide:

Afghanistan - 2.1 million
Iraq - 1.5 million (now 2.2 million)
Sudan - 686,000
Somalia - 460,000
Democratic Republic of the Congo - about 400,000
Burundi - about 400,000

Pakistan - 1 million
Iran - 968,000
United States - 844,000
Syria - 702,000 (now 1.4 million)
Germany - 605,00



Iraqi War has caused massive refugee problem

The exodus of more than 1 million refugees from war-torn Iraq reversed a five-year trend decline in the number of refugees worldwide, the United Nations says.

In a report released on Monday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said its count of refugees grew by 14 percent in 2006 to about 9.9 million. It was the first increase since 2002.

The 1.2 million Iraqis who sought refuge in neighboring Jordan and Syria during the year were the biggest reason for the increase, UNHCR said.

Iraqis now make up the world's second-largest refugee population, behind the 2.1 million who have fled Afghanistan amid decades of insurgencies and civil war that date back to the Soviet invasion of 1979. In addition, the number of Iraqis internally displaced -- forced from their homes, but remaining within the country -- rose by 660,000 in 2006, to a total of 1.8 million.

Refugees from Sudan, where ongoing strife between the Arab-led government and the black African population of the country's Darfur region, made up the third-largest group with 686,000.

The report does not count the estimated 4.3 million Palestinians looked after by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.

The report comes in advance of the United Nations marking World Refugee Day on Wednesday.


International Aid to Abbas-led Palestinian government

The United States joined the European Union on Monday in announcing its willingness to resume hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the new Palestinian government led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

The commitment of financial and political support follows last week's gunbattles between rival Palestinian factions that led to Hamas routing Fatah forces in Gaza loyal to Abbas and the crumbling of a Fatah-Hamas unity government. In response, Abbas declared a state of emergency and appointed a new Cabinet of political independents based in the West Bank.

To ease the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, the United States is giving $40 million to the U.N. Relief And Works Agency, she said.

The EU offered its backing earlier Monday, resuming its aid that, like Washington, had been cut off after Hamas victories in 2006 Palestinian elections.

Following Hamas' takeover of Gaza last week, humanitarian groups have raised concerns about the further isolation of the Palestinian territory. Human rights groups have urged the Israeli government to reopen its border crossings with Gaza to allow food and medical relief supplies.



Global Warming to Multiply World's Refugee Burden

If rising sea levels force the people of the Maldive Islands to seek new homes, who will look after them in a world already turning warier of refugees?

The daunting prospect of mass population movements set off by climate change and environmental disasters poses an imminent new challenge that no one has yet figured out how to meet.

People displaced by global warming -- the Christian Aid agency has predicted there will be ONE BILLION by 2050 -- could dwarf the nearly 10 million refugees and almost 25 million internally displaced people already fleeing wars and oppression.

People forced to move by climate change, salination, rising sea levels, deforestation or desertification do not fit the classic definition of refugees -- those who leave their homeland to escape persecution or conflict and who need protection. But the world's welcome even for these people is wearing thin, just as United Nations figures show that an exodus from Iraq has reversed a five-year decline in overall refugee numbers.

Governments and aid agencies are straining to cope with the 10 million whose plight risks being obscured by debates over a far larger tide of economic migrants -- and perhaps future waves of fugitives from environmental mayhem.



Death by Malaria

Death by malaria is the opposite of quick and painless.

When a malarial mosquito bites you, she -- only the females feed on humans -- injects a single-celled parasite into your bloodstream. It heads for your liver to camp out, and over a period of 10 days or so continues developing. The pathogen next invades your red blood cells, where it fully matures and reproduces until those cells burst, freeing the parasite to hunt for more red blood cells and continue the cycle.

It's around this time that you fall ill. A fever one day, violent shivering and profuse sweating the next. Your pulse becomes rapid but weak. Soon there's nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, anemia.

If you're a healthy adult, maybe you can tough it out. But if you're an expectant mother with a compromised immune system, or a young child with an underdeveloped one, the infection is more likely to have its way with you.

Each year, between 350 million and 500 million cases of malaria occur world-wide. About one million people die, the vast majority pregnant women and children under five residing in sub-Sahara Africa.

Most Americans process these figures in passing. Others are moved to act.

[Excerpt of an article by Jason Rilry, The Wall Street Journal]


Gorbachev criticizes US 'empire'

The former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, has blamed the US for the current state of relations between Russia and the West. In a BBC interview, Mr Gorbachev said that the Russians were ready to be constructive, but America was trying to squeeze them out of global diplomacy.

Mr Gorbachev accused America of "empire-building". Moscow and the West have been in dispute over Iraq, America's plans for a missile defense system and civil rights within Russia itself.

In an interview with Radio Four, Mr Gorbachev said relations between Russia and the West were in a bad state. "It's worse than I expected," he said through a translator.

"I don't understand why you, the British, did not tell them, 'Don't think about empire, we know about empires, we know that all empires break up in the end, so why start again to create a new mess.'"


PATH, influential global health office

When Bill Gates Sr. walked into the nondescript building back in the mid-1990s looking for good causes that could use some of his son's extra money, he recalled, he was "just blown away" at what he found.

What the elder Gates had discovered was PATH, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, a relatively small and little-known non-profit working on the health and disease problems of poor countries.

Today, thanks largely to funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the list of ongoing work by this Seattle organization has ballooned in scope and breadth. Thirty years after its founding, PATH now coordinates many of the Seattle philanthropy's largest endeavors in global health, such as the Malaria Vaccine Initiative (which has received $250 million from the Gates Foundation). PATH, now with more than 600 employees worldwide and an annual budget of nearly $170 million, is one of the world's largest and, arguably, most influential private, non-profit organizations in the global health arena.

PATH had by the '90s moved on to technologically oriented solutions to problems in maternal and child health, immunizations and disease in poor countries, such as:
· A single-use syringe (auto-disabled to prevent reuse, which can spread disease) now distributed by UNICEF worldwide at the rate of more than 5 million a month.
· A heat-sensitive label for a vaccine vial that changes color if it has been rendered ineffective during transport. The World Health Organization recently said that use of these labels in the developing world has saved millions of dollars and countless lives.
· An inexpensive diagnostic blood test called the "HIV dipstick" that costs only a few cents and can be used in resource-poor communities.

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


Child labor on the rise as poverty increases in Iraq

Iyad Abdel-Salim, 12, left school six months ago and has been working to boost the family income. His father was killed in Iraq's political violence. As the only boy in the family, and with three smaller sisters to look after, he was forced to go onto the streets and work.

"I cannot see my family suffer without food. My mother cannot go to work because she has to stay with my sisters, and our uncles cannot help us as they are displaced and without money," Abdel-Salim said.

"I feel tired when I get home. I usually stay 12 hours in the streets selling chocolates and pencils. I eat just one meal a day to save money, and when I return I just want to sleep," he said.

Thousands of children, like Abdel-Salam, have moved onto the streets to help augment their family's income, either because they have lost their fathers in the violence, or because they are forced to help as their families do not consider education to be important. Some of the children have no one to look after them.

"I have no choice. Life in Iraq has turned into hell. It is dangerous to work in the streets. Twice men tried to rape me. God protected me and I was saved, but maybe one day I will be abused," Abdel-Salim said.



Global military spending hits $1.2 trillion

The United States spent $529 billion, slightly less than the entire GDP of the Netherlands, on military operations in 2006, up 5 percent over the previous year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in its latest year book. The institute conducts independent research on international security, armaments and disarmament.

"Taking both immediate and long-term factors into account, the overall past and future costs until year 2016 to the USA for the war in Iraq have been estimated at $2,267 billion," it said.

Military spending in China, which is modernising its People's Liberation Army, climbed to an estimated $49.5 billion last year from $44.3 billion in 2005, making China the biggest military spender in Asia and the fourth biggest in the world.

China and Japan, Britain and France accounted for about 4 to 5 percent each of global military expenditure last year, SIPRI said. The five biggest spenders' share of global military expenses was nearly two-thirds of the total.

The United States and Russia were the largest arms suppliers in 2002 through 2006, each accounting for about 30 percent of global shipments, while deliveries from EU members made up another 20 percent, the institute said.



Putin's Censored Press Conference

The Bush administration has carried out an aggressive strategy to surround Russia with military bases, install missiles on its borders, topple allied regimes in Central Asia, and incite political upheaval in Moscow through US-backed "pro-democracy" groups. These openly hostile actions have convinced many Russian hard-liners that the administration is going forward with the neocon plan for "regime change" in Moscow and fragmentation of the Russian Federation.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an hour and a half-long press conference which was attended by many members of the world media. The contents of that meeting have been completely censored by the press.

If we want to understand why relations between Russia are quickly reaching the boiling-point; we only need to review the main developments since the end of the Cold War. Political analyst Pat Buchanan gives a good rundown of these in his article "Doesn’t Putin Have a Point?"

As for the subject of "democracy"; Putin said it best himself:
"Am I a ‘pure democrat’? (laughs) Of course I am, absolutely. The problem is that I’m all alone---the only one of my kind in the whole wide world. Just look at what’s happening in North America, it’s simply awful---torture, homeless people, Guantanamo, people detained without trial and investigation. Just look at what’s happening in Europe---harsh treatment of demonstrators, rubber bullets and tear gas used first in one capital then in another, demonstrators killed on the streets….. I have no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died."

[Excerpt of an article by Mike Whitney, ICH]


Activists slam G8 pledge on Africa

Development campaigners have criticized a pledge by the leaders of the world's richest nations on Friday to give $60 billion to fight diseases such as AIDS in Africa.

G8 leaders said they would provide at least $60 billion to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, global diseases that have devastated African countries and their economies. But the declaration set no specific timetable, saying the money would flow "over the coming years." It also did not make clear individual countries' contributions or how much of the sum had been previously promised.

Anti-poverty activists complain that the rich countries have failed to keep promises the G8 made to increase annual aid to poor countries at the Gleneagles summit in Scotland in 2005. Many were also unimpressed with Friday's deal, which restated those pledges.

"I am exasperated," Irish rock star and anti-poverty campaigner Bono told Reuters. "I think it is deliberately the language of obfuscation. It is deliberately misleading."

Campaigners for Africa say the promise is mainly comprised of money that was announced previously, including $30 billion from the United States.

An advocacy organization working to eradicate poverty and AIDS in Africa said that a pledge of an extra $25 billion dollars made at the Gleneagles summit was not kept. At the end of last year, only $2.3 billion of that promised amount, which is to be paid by 2010, had been delivered, said Jamie Drummond, executive director of DATA -- or Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa. According to DATA, only Britain and Japan are meeting their promises


The costs of disease in Africa

Africa remains by far the world's poorest continent, with millions of its people living on less than $1 a day.

Iinfectious diseases pose a devastating threat to economic development, as well as killing many Africans each year, .

Malaria costs Africa up to $100bn a year in lost productivity, five times more than annual development aid received. The disease kills 1 million Africans a year, consumes 40% of the continent's health expenditure, and accounts for half of all hospital admissions.

"A lot of absenteeism is due to malaria at school and at work," says Ann Kichoi, a Kenyan health worker with Amref, which provides such simple preventatives as mosquito nets.

Nearly 10% of South Africa's work force has HIV. As a song by Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi says, "Everyone around us is dying. Who will be left to mourn?Who will feed us when all the breadwinners are dying?"

About 28 million Africans are now living with HIV/Aids, which has become the biggest cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, the UNAIDS agency calculates. The only imaginable catastrophe bigger than this "is the end of the world," says Dr Tom Mboya Okeyo, who heads Kenya's national Aids control programme.


Child Mortality in the Developing World

Save the Children's report, "State of the World's Mothers 2007", found the majority of child deaths occur in just 10 countries - either those with large populations such as India and China, or those with sparse health services such as Afghanistan and Angola. Aids remains one the central factors affecting mortality rates.

"More than 10 million children under age five still die each year. That's almost 28,000 a day, almost all in developing countries," said the charity's US president, Charles MacCormack. "Vaccines, oral rehydration therapy and insecticide-treated mosquito nets are not expensive. Yet, sadly, many mothers and children lack access to these life-saving measures."

The 10 worst countries
Nine of the 10 countries with the worst infant mortality rates are in sub-Saharan Africa. The other one is Afghanistan, which has the second-worst rate.
1. Sierra Leone: 282 (per 1,000 live births)
2. Afghanistan: 257
3. Niger: 256
4. Liberia: 235
5. Somalia: 225
6. Mali: 218
7. Chad: 208
8. Democratic Republic of Congo: 205
9. Equatorial Guinea: 205
10. Rwanda: 203

[Excerpt of an article by Andrew Buncombe, The Independent]


Africa: A Burdening Weight of Debt

Africa's over $200 billion debt burden is the single biggest obstacle to the continent's development.

African countries spend almost $14 billion annually on debt service, diverting resources from HIV/AIDS programs, education and other important needs. Meanwhile, the U.S. and other rich countries have resisted calls to cancel this debt.

Did you know:
- Sub-Saharan Africa receives $10 billion in aid but loses $14 billion in debt payments per year.
- In Burundi, elimination of education fees in 2005 allowed an additional 300,000 children to attend school.
- In 2003, Zambia spent twice as much on debt repayments as on health care. But partial debt cancellation allowed the government to grant free basic healthcare to its population in 2006.

African Voices on the Debt Scandal:

“Must we starve our children to pay our debts?” Julius Nyerere, former president of Tanzania

“The debt is a new form of slavery, as vicious as the slave trade.” All Africa Conference of Churches



Iraq's mercenaries - with a licence to kill

Iraq is rapidly vanishing into the mists of uncollectable, unknowable news. Buried is the bigger tale of a vast shift in how Western wars will be fought in the 21st century if the American right has its way - and one of the great lost scandals of this war.

These men are not "security contractors", nor are they "civilian operatives", nor "reconstruction workers". There are now more of them in Iraq than there are professional soldiers.

As he scurried out the door in 2004, Paul Bremer - the first US viceroy to Iraq - issued Order 17, which exempted all mercenaries operating in the country from having to obey the law. He in effect gave these men a licence to kill - and they are using it, every day.

Mercenaries working for a private militia named Blackwater were guarding US occupation headquarters in Najaf when a protest by Shia Iraqi civilians began to stir outside. According to the Washington Post and eyewitnesses, Blackwater opened fire on the protesters, unleashing so many rounds so rapidly they had to pause every 15 minutes to allow their gun barrels to cool down. A video of this attack made it on to the Web, where a mercenary can be seen describing the Iraqis they are gunning down as "fuckin' niggers".

The distinguished reporter Jeremy Scahill claims in his new book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, that mercenary troops in Iraq are even using "experimental ammunition" that US forces are forbidden from firing. These bullets, made of "blended metal", are designed to shatter on impact, creating "untreatable wounds". One mercenary recently bragged about the ammo's impact when he shot an Iraqi with it: "It entered his butt and completely destroyed everything in the lower-left section of his stomach... everything was torn apart."

Last year, Representative Dennis Kucinich asked Pentagon officials at a Senate hearing if the US Department of Defence would prosecute a private contractor who murdered Iraqi civilians. After being told repeatedly, "Sir, I can't answer that question," Kucinich said: "Wow. Think about what that means. These private contractors can get away with murder... They aren't subject to any laws at all."

[Excerpt of an article by Johann Hari, The Independent]


Was Iraq invaded to boost oil prices?

Iraq was invaded in order to keep world oil prices artificially high, a noted investigative journalist reports.

"Whether by design or happenstance, this decline in [Iraqi] output has resulted in tripling the profits of the five US oil majors to $89 billion for a single year, 2005, compared to pre-invasion 2002," Greg Palast writes in his new book Armed Madhouse (Plume)."When OPEC raises the price of crude, Big Oil makes out big time," says Palast, who has contributed to BBC Television and the Guardian newspapers.

"The rise in the price of oil after the first three years of the [Iraq] war boosted the value of the reserves of ExxonMobil Oil alone by just over $666 billion," Palast wrote. What's more, Chevron Oil, "where [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice had served as a director, gained a quarter trillion dollars in value."

Another big winner in the Iraq war is Saudi Arabia. The war-stoked jump in oil prices, Palast writes, put $120 billion in Saudi Arabia's treasury in 2004, triple its normal take.

Among the big losers have been American motorists.

Rising oil prices are an anomaly. The world's petroleum reserves have doubled from 648 billion to 1.2 trillion barrels in the past 25 years, Palast reports. According to free market laws of supply and demand, discovery of these immense new pools should cause prices to drop.

[Excerpt of an article by Sherwood Ross, Middle East Times]


What do they think of America? (I)

A very good editor once talked with me about doing a series of interviews with foreign leaders. I said I wasn't quite sure I knew the right questions to ask.

"Ask them what they think of America," he said. "That's what Americans really care about."

Well, these days you don't have to ask. People don't like us, and they tell you so before you pop the question. In fact, a lot of them say they hate us.

Here is a distilled sample of the kind of things you hear and read traveling through Italy and France for two weeks:

"Arrogant" ... "Arrogant bullies" ... "Hypocrites" ... "You people think you are exempt from all the rules, as if there is one set of rules for us and another for you." ... "Do you know that there are people hoping China becomes more and more powerful, just to put the United States in its place?"

[Excerpt of an Opinion piece by Richard Reeves, Yahoo News]


What do they think of America? (II)

The International Herald Tribune setting up an e-mail exchange on "American Exceptionalism" among seven writers and professors. This is a sampling of what they had to say:

Michael Barnett, professor of political science, University of Minnesota: "I'm disgusted with the American political discourse at the moment. We have not even begun the process of acknowledging just how much pain and destruction we Americans have caused with our foreign policy."

David Rieff, author:
"(This) America is as arrogant as it is complacent. Adherence to the idea of American exceptionalism is simply incompatible with a constructive role for the United States."

Andrew Moravcsik, professor of politics, Princeton University: "The truth is we are truly exceptional. With few exceptions, other democracies neither want our political or economic institutions nor wish to export their own to other countries."

Stephen Heintz, president, Rockefeller Fund: "If we Americans cling to notions of unipolar dominance, the country is certain to fail."

Author Amitav Acharya, who seems to love the America that most of us do, puts it more plainly than the professors: We have lost our way -- and a lot of friends and credibility.

[Excerpt of an Opinion piece by Richard Reeves, Yahoo News]


US ranks low on new peace index

The United States is among the least peaceful nations in the world, ranking ... 96th out of 121 nations, just worse than Yemen and just better than Iran, Honduras and South Africa.

According to the Global Peace Index, created by The Economist Intelligence Unit, Norway is the most peaceful nation in the world and Iraq is the least, just after Russia, Israel and Sudan.

The index was compiled based on 24 indicators measuring peace inside and outside of a country. They included the number of wars a country was involved in the past five years, how many soldiers were killed overseas and how much money was made in arms sales.Domestic indicators included the level of violent crimes, relations with neighboring countries and level of distrust in other citizens.

The fact the United States has the world's largest prison population per share of overall population also pulled down the score. It also has relatively high levels of violent crime.

Leo Abruzzese, the North American editorial director of the intelligence unit that is part of The Economist Group, said ... they found in general the most peaceful countries were the smallest, the most politically stable and democratic.



What Else Could 100 Billion Dollars Buy

The following is an excerpt of an article by Fidel Castro, from The Guardian:

I wonder how many doctors could be graduated in just one year with the one hundred billion dollars that Bush gets his hands on to keep on sowing grief in Iraqi and American homes.
Answer: 999,990 doctors, who could look after 2 billion people who today do not receive any medical care.

More than 600,000 people have lost their lives in Iraq and more than 2 million have been forced to emigrate since the American invasion began.

In the United States, around 50 million people do not have medical insurance. Countries of less development and more diseases have the least number of medical doctors: one for every 5,000, 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 or more people.

Add the starvation afflicting hundreds of millions of human beings; add to that the idea of transforming food into fuels; look for a symbol and the answer will be George Bush.