Iraq urges neighbors to end abuse of refugees

Iraq urged countries hosting more than 2 million Iraqi refugees who have fled violence at home to stop mistreating those arriving at their borders and avoid their forcible return until stability returns.

Up to half of the refugees are being sheltered by neighbours Syria and Jordan, which say they are struggling to shoulder the burden, while nearly 2 million are displaced across Iraq.

Iraq's deputy foreign minister Mohammad al-Haj Hamoud said efforts to stem the flow of refugees by Jordan and to a lesser extent Syria, who now impose tougher entry restrictions and residency conditions, resulted in many cases of mistreatment at border crossings.

He said Iraqis holding legitimate passports and visas underwent humiliating detention at airports for days before being deported without any justification.

Turning away Iraqi families who risked their lives by taking the arduous land journey through areas suffering widescale fighting to reach safety at Iraq's border crossings with its neighbours was inhumane, Hamoud said.

There was no immediate comment from either Jordan or Syria. However, both countries say they are doing the best they can to accommodate the refugees, but need more help from Iraq and the international community.

Syria hosts some 1.2 million Iraqis, a number equal to 12 percent of its own population, and says it needs $256 million to maintain aid, health care and education over the next two years.

Jordan says the 750,000 Iraqi refugees inside its borders cost it $1 billion a year, stretching the resources of a country of just 5.6 million.

While recognising the difficulties faced by Jordan and Syria in absorbing the refugees who have stretched resources, Western and Iraqi human rights groups have expressed concern the countries were making it harder for fleeing Iraqis to enter.



8 million Iraqis need urgent aid

About eight million Iraqis -- nearly a third of the population -- are without water, sanitation, food and shelter and need emergency aid, a report by two major relief agencies says.

Oxfam and the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Coordination Committee in Iraq have issued a briefing paper that says violence in Iraq is masking a humanitarian crisis that has worsened since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"Eight million people are in urgent need of emergency aid; that figure includes over two million who are displaced within the country, and more than two million refugees. Many more are living in poverty, without basic services, and increasingly threatened by disease and malnutrition," said the relief agencies' report. The report found that about 43 percent of Iraq's population endure "absolute poverty," and that more than half "are now without work."

Child malnutrition rates have jumped from 19 percent before the invasion four years ago to 28 percent now, and there are two million internally displaced people, many of whom have no or little access to food rations.

The number of Iraqis "without access to adequate water supplies" is 70 percent, up from 50 percent since 2003. The country continues to suffer a "brain drain."


Media Spin on Iraq: We’re Leaving (Sort of)

Last week, a media advisory from “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” announced a new series of interviews on the PBS show that will address “what Iraq might look like when the U.S. military leaves.”

A few days later, Time magazine published a cover story titled “Iraq: What will happen when we leave.”But it turns out, what will happen when we leave is that we won't leave.

The Time story calls for “an orderly withdrawal of about half the 160,000 troops currently in Iraq by the middle of 2008.” And: “A force of 50,000 to 100,000 troops would dig in for a longer stay to protect America's most vital interests ... ”

There’s not a single “major” candidate for president willing to call for withdrawal of all U.S. forces -- not just “combat” troops -- from Iraq, or willing to call for a complete halt to U.S. bombing of that country. Those candidates know that powerful elites in this country just don't want to give up the leverage of an ongoing U.S. military presence in Iraq, with its enormous reserves of oil and geopolitical value. It's a good bet that American media and political powerhouses would fix the wagon of any presidential campaign that truly advocated an end to the U.S. war in -- and on -- Iraq.

In contrast to the spun speculation so popular with U.S. media outlets, an AP article cited key information: “Squadrons of attack planes have been added to the in-country fleet. The air reconnaissance arm has almost doubled since last year. The powerful B1-B bomber has been recalled to action over Iraq.”

This kind of development fits a historic pattern -- one that had horrific consequences during the war in Vietnam and, unless stopped, will persist for many years to come in Iraq. Assessing the distant mirror of the Vietnam War, the narration of the new documentary “War Made Easy” (based on my book of the same name) spells out a classic White House maneuver: “Even when calls for withdrawal have eventually become too loud to ignore, officials have put forward strategies for ending war that have had the effect of prolonging it -- in some cases, as with the Nixon administration's strategy of Vietnamization, actually escalating war in the name of ending it.”

[Excerpt of Alternet article by Norman Solomon]


South Korean hostages in Afghanistan

With the fate of 22 South Korean hostages in Afghanistan still uncertain, the hostage crisis is finally forcing South Korea's Christians, the world's second-largest group of proselytizers after Americans, to rethink their ambitions.

The execution earlier this week of one hostage, pastor Bae Hyung Kyu, 42, brought the expected outpouring of grief and condolences. But non-evangelical Koreans are still scratching their heads over why the Saemmul church group trotted off to such a volatile region, thumbing its nose at government warnings not to enter Afghanistan.

Devout Christians here readily admit the mission was poorly organized, but they insist that it had an admirable purpose. They argue that the group was only doing what it is supposed to do: help others, as Jesus directed them to do. The missionaries wanted to deliver aid and simply didn't care if they were in harm's way.

The widespread public criticism also may force Korea's spirited Christians to recalibrate their strategies. "It will definitely lead to a purge at churches" on the peninsula, says Douglas Shin, a pastor involved in missionary activities with North Koreans. "People will wonder if it is worth the risk now, and donors will probably withhold more funds because they fear they could be causing someone harm."

Though Shin believes the Afghanistan mission was sincere, he expects that what he calls "camcorder missions" — assignments that are more or less photo ops for groups looking money for supporters — to wane in the near future.

[Excerpt from TIME magazine artiule]


TE Lawrence had it right about Iraq

Back in 1929, Lawrence of Arabia wrote of [guerilla warfare in the Arab world]:

"Rebellions can be made by 2 per cent active in a striking force, and 98 per cent passively sympathetic ... Granted mobility, security ... time, and doctrine ... victory will rest with the insurgents, for the algebraical factors are in the end decisive, and against them perfections of means and spirit struggle quite in vain."

“It must have a friendly population, not actively friendly, but sympathetic to the point of not betraying rebel movements to the enemy.”Oh, how we miss Lawrence. "The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armoury of the modern (guerrilla) commander," he wrote 78 years ago, accurately predicting al-Qa'ida's modern-day use of the internet.

Has the US General David Petraeus read this? Has Bush?

True, the First World War Arab Revolt was not identical to today's Iraqi insurgency. In 1917, the Turks had manpower but insufficient weapons. Today the Americans have the weapons but insufficient men.

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Fisk, The Independent]


Donating to charity is good for the brain, according to study

That good feeling you get by writing a check to your favorite charity could be your brain patting itself on the back.

Reporting in a recent issue of the journal Science, a team of economists and psychologists at the University of Oregon have found that donating money to charity activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure.

The study represents a major advance in the young field of neuroeconomics, a collaboration between economists and psychologists to determine how the brain directs the way people handle money.

Economic models would suggest "only Bill Gates or Warren Buffett should be making contributions, and everyone else should just free-ride," said one of the authors, economics professor William Harbaugh. "But that doesn't happen; there's high participation, where even low-income people are giving away a portion of their income."

The apparent reason is that giving to others produces a "warm glow." As Harbaugh described it, "people feel good knowing that they're a charitable giver."

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Mitchum, Chicago Tribune]


Trial Under Way in Muslim Charity Case

Opening statements were made in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and five of its top officials, charged with aiding terrorists, conspiracy and money laundering. The trial is expected to last several months and caps an FBI investigation that lasted more than a decade. Federal agents raided the foundation's offices in December 2001.

Prosecutor James T. Jacks said the foundation was created to raise money for Hamas. The charity's leaders lied about their purpose "because to tell the truth is to reveal what they were all about - the destruction of the state of Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian Islamic state," he said. Some of the money went to support the families of suicide bombers, according to authorities.

Defense attorneys were to make their opening statement. They say the foundation, once the largest Muslim charity in the United States, supported humanitarian efforts in Palestinian neighborhoods and didn't knowingly aid Hamas. (Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections last year and took control of Gaza earlier this year. )

The five men on trial aren't accused of being terrorists. Rather, they are charged with funneling $36 million to individuals and groups tied to Hamas, including $12.4 million sent after President Clinton's designation [of Hamas as a terrorist organization.].

[Excerpt from Forbes magazine article]



History Teaches Us

Following are quotes offered up by Republican leaders back when President Clinton was committing U.S. troops to Bosnia. Reading them now, with application to the Iraqi War, you can almost feel like you’ve fallen through the looking glass...

"You can support the troops but not the president." -- Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is." -- Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?" -- Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home." -- Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. [Years] later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today" -- Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)


Rising food prices curb aid to global poor

Rising food prices are threatening the ability of aid organizations to help the world's hungriest people.

Worldwide, basic foods now cost 21 percent more at the wholesale level than in 2005, with key commodities such as grains and oils up more than 30 percent, according to World Bank price indexes.

For poor people, that means the quality and quantity of nutrition are at risk. For relief organizations, it means aid resources are stretched thin.

Retail food prices haven't spiked as much as wholesale prices. But for both aid groups and people in developing nations, the costs have generally been rising. Experts cite several main reasons:
•Growing demand for grains as biofuels is pushing up the price of grains for human and livestock food.
•The success of India and China in lifting millions of their people out of poverty has increased global demand for higher-value foods.
•Rising food demand worldwide has worn down inventories. Stocks of wheat sit at 30-year lows.
•The jump in oil prices since 2004 has rippled into various food-related costs: fertilizer, refrigeration, transport.

[Excerpt from The Christian Science Monitor]


Iraqi War drives away Christians

He refused to leave Baghdad, even after the day last year when masked Sunni gunmen forced him and eight co-workers to line up against a wall and said, "Say your prayers." An Assyrian Christian, Rayid Albert closed his eyes and prayed to Jesus as the killers opened fire. He alone survived, shot seven times. But a month ago a note was left at his front door, warning, "You have three choices: change your religion, leave or pay the jeziya"—a tax on Christians levied by ancient Islamic rulers.

Across the lands of the Bible, Christians like Albert and his family are abandoning their homes. According to the World Council of Churches, the region's Christian population has plunged from 12 million to 2 million in the past 10 years.

The Greek Orthodox archbishop in Jerusalem, where only 12,000 Christians remain, is pleading with his followers not to leave. "We have to persevere," says Theodosios Atallah Hanna. "How can the land of Jesus Christ stay without Christians?" The proportion of Christians in Bethlehem, once 85 percent, is now 20 percent.

Nowhere is the exodus more extreme than in Iraq. Before the war, members of the Assyrian and Chaldean rites, along with smaller numbers of Armenians and others, constituted roughly 1.2 million of the country's 25 million people. Most sources agree that well over half of those Christians have fled the country now, and many or most of the rest have been internally displaced, but some estimates are far more drastic. According to the Roman Catholic relief organization Caritas, the number of Christians in Iraq had plummeted to 25,000 by last year.

Of the 1.7 million Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria, half are Christians, says Father Raymond Moussalli, a Chaldean vicar who now says mass every night in a basement in Amman. "The government of Saddam used to protect us," he says. "Mr. Bush doesn't protect us. The Shia don't protect us. No Christian was persecuted under Saddam for being Christian."

[Excerpted from Newsweek]


"How I Look on My Mistakes," by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney

Why did I not suspect that Dick might be power-hungry when he appointed himself vice president? Why did I let him take over my presidency and fill it up with warmongers.

If only I had kept my promise to go after the thugs who attacked us on 9/11, because now I’ve made Osama and Al Qaeda stronger. I know my false claim about Al Qaeda's ties with Iraq led to Iraq's being tied down by Al Qaeda. I see now that my bungled war on terror has created more terror, empowered Iran and made America less secure.

How could I have let Dick bring in his best friend, Rummy, my dad's old nemesis' Dummy Rummy let Osama escape at Tora Bora, messed up the Iraq occupation and aborted a mission to wipe out top Al Qaeda leaders because he was protecting Musharraf, who was protecting Al Qaeda in the tribal areas.

I'm embarrassed that the Iraqi Parliament is taking a monthlong vacation in the middle of my surge. Could I have set a bad example when I rode my bike in Crawford while New Orleans drowned?

Being the Decider is so confusing. I regret stealing the presidency and wish I could give it back.

P.S. Also featured:
"How I Look on My Mistakes,” by Dick Cheney

Buzz off.

[Excerpt of an article by Maureen Dowd, The New York Times]


China to overtake Germany as third largest economy

China's economy grew so rapidly in the first half of 2007 that it is likely to overtake Germany as the world's third-largest by the end of this year, analysts say.

China's sizzling economy expanded even faster than originally thought last year, with the government revising 2006 growth domestic product (GDP) to 11.1 per cent from 10.7pc.

"With this upward revision, it is highly likely that China will bypass Germany to become the third-largest economy in the world in current US dollar terms by the end of this year," said Hong Liang, an economist at Goldman Sachs.

According to the World Bank, Germany's economy was worth $2.9 trillion at the end of 2006.

The torrid pace of development means that China's economic czars will once again have to devise fresh ways to prevent the export powerhouse.

[Gulf Daily News]


Vladimir Putin's Energystan

In June 1997, a stone-faced former KGB lieutenant colonel, fluent in English and German, received his Ph.D. from the St. Petersburg State Mining Institute for his 218-page thesis "Mineral Raw Materials in the Strategy for Development of the Russian Economy."

Yes, the name of that former KGB agent is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, president of the Russian Federation.

Putin knows very well how important a geostrategic commodity energy is.

As far as natural resources are concerned Russia's hand is very strong: It holds 6.6 percent of the world's proven oil reserves and 26 percent of the world's gas reserves.

In addition, it currently accounts for 12 percent of world oil and 21 of recent world gas production. In May 2007, Russia was the world's largest oil and gas producer.

How about Russia's energy customers? They are becoming more dependent on imports. For example, in the EU, Russia's largest customer, domestic production of oil and gas is declining while consumption is increasing.

[Today’s Zaman]


UN: Iraqi Children Worse Off

"Iraqi children today are much worse off than they were a year ago, and they certainly are worse off than they were three years ago," said Dan Toole, director of emergency programs for the United Nations Children's Fund.

He said Iraqis no longer have safe access to a government-funded food basket, established under Saddam Hussein to deal with international sanctions.

"Nutritional indicators, health access indicators are all changing for the worse," Toole said. The system of government-sponsored handouts -set up by Saddam's government to meet the basic needs of Iraqi citizens from 1991 to 2003, when the country was under U.N. sanctions - started to fall apart last year, Toole said.

Toole said that, because of the violence, mothers were too afraid to send their children to school or take them to health centers to get checkups and nutritional supplements.

While efforts are being made to maintain levels of immunization, particularly against measles and polio, UNICEF is worried about the possibility of a cholera epidemic because two-thirds of Iraqis lack clean water.

[Excerpt of an article by Frank Jordans, The Associated Press]


Soldier Shares Devastating Tale of War

Michael Goss, 29, served two tours in Iraq. He struggles with severe PTSD and is awaiting treatment from the Veterans Administration. He has been waiting for over a year. In his own words:

I gave the Army seven years. One night they said to me, "Sgt. Goss, gather your best guys." I say, "Where we going?" They say, "Don't worry about it, just come on." We drive three blocks away, and there's six dead soldiers on the ground. They say, "You're casualty collecting tonight." So you pick them up, and you put them in a body bag, pieces by pieces.

It gets to the point where they numb you. They numb you to death. They numb you to anything. In Iraq you had a way to deal with it, because they kept pushing you back out there. “Hey, I just shot four people today.” Yeah, and in about four hours you're going to go back out, and you'll probably shoot six more.

I have PTSD. I know when I got it -- the night I killed an 8-year-old girl. Her family was trying to cross a checkpoint. We'd just shot three guys who'd tried to run a checkpoint. And during that mess, they were just trying to get through to get away from it all. And we ended up shooting all them, too. It was a family of six. The only one that survived was a 13-month-old and her mother. And the worst part about it all was that where I shot my bullets, when I went to see what I'd shot at, there was an 8-year-old girl there. I tried my best to bring her back to life, but there was no use. But that's what triggered my depression.

I get three nights off a week. And I drink and take pills to help me sleep at night. Once in a while one of my old soldiers will call me, drunk off his ass, crying about the stuff he saw in Iraq. And all I can do is tell him, "You and me both are going to have to find a way to work this out." That's the only thing I can tell him.

So let's put this in perspective now. I got two Iraq tours, multiple kills, I picked up plenty of dead bodies, American bodies, enemy bodies. I come back home. My wife finds somebody else. I'm sleeping on my brother's couch while she has the apartment, the kids, the car, everything that we worked on together. I work as a bail bondsman making $432 a week. Don't tell me I'm cured all of a sudden, because I'm not. I still have my nightmares, anxiety attacks, panic attacks, I still see the glitter from the IED blowing up when I'm going down the street.

I killed an 8-year-old girl, which still haunts me to this day. I still see the barrette in her hair when I carried her out of the car to the ambulance when she was bleeding all over me. I still see all that. And there's nothing that I can do about that now.


Intel to join board and make peace with `$100 laptop' project

The nonprofit that aims to seed the developing world with inexpensive laptop computers for schoolchildren has made peace with Intel Corp., the project's most powerful rival.

The One Laptop Per Child program and Intel said Friday that the chip maker would join the board of the nonprofit and contribute funding.

The nonprofit effort - known as the "$100 laptop" because of the low price it hopes to reach with mass production - has been trying to line up governments in several countries to buy the machines, which for now cost $175.

[The San Jose Mercury News]


Sue Randolph, Back from the Iraqi War

I joined the Army because I had $65,000 in student loans and didn't know how I was going to make payments. Since I had a master's in political science -- Middle East studies and Arabic -- I ended up doing translation as part of the "search for weapons of mass destruction".

The technological level of the things I saw wasn't anywhere near anything [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell talked about. Iraq looks like it's straight out of the Bible. It's kids with sticks herding goats. There's like three high-rises in all of Baghdad, and those are the only ones you'll ever see on any newscast. The rest of it is mud brick falling down.

I felt like I was part of a big machine that was going to help them have a better life. At the time. Now, I feel like we were there for no good reason. Eventually Saddam would have been overthrown, either by his own people or through Iran or someone else, and change would have come.

Once you leave the Army, there's no reintegration help of any kind. The military says that they're giving exit counseling and reintegration. What they're calling reentry counseling, in my experience, was, "Don't drink and drive. Pay your bills on time. Don't beat your spouse. Don't kick your dog."

They don't prepare you to leave. Hell, they didn't prepare me to be there. I was going into people's houses trying to tell the wife and kids as we're segregating them out from the men that we're the good guys. But they're crying because one of their kids got killed because he was up there sleeping on the roof when we decided to bust into their house. But we're "the good guys". Now I have to deal with that for the next 20 or 30 years. I have a 3-year-old. I deal with that every day.

We have no comprehension of the psychological cost of this war. I know kids in Iraq who killed themselves. OK, that's apparently the price of doing business. But if I'm fairly high-functioning, what about the ones that aren't? They're going back to small-town America, and their families aren't going to know what to do with them. It's like, what do we do with Johnny now?


White House Redistributes National Income from the Bottom to the Top

Even without the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are fast surpassing half a trillion dollars, U.S. military spending is now the largest item in the Federal budget.

A proposed supplemental appropriation to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq “brings proposed military spending for FY 2008 to $647.2 billion, the highest level of military spending since the end of World War II—higher than Vietnam, higher than Korea, higher than the peak of the Reagan buildup.”

The skyrocketing Pentagon budget has been a boon for its contractors. It has driven shares of leading Pentagon contractors Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., and General Dynamics Corp. to all-time highs.

[Meanwhile] low- and middle-income Americans are squeezed out of economic or subsistence resources in order to make up for the resulting budgetary shortfalls. For example, as the official Pentagon budget for 2008 fiscal year is projected to rise by more than 10 percent, or nearly $50 billion, “a total of 141 government programs will be eliminated or sharply reduced” to pay for the increase. These would include cuts in housing assistance for low-income seniors by 25 percent, home heating/energy assistance to low-income people by 18 percent, funding for community development grants by 12.7 percent, and grants for education and employment training by 8 percent.”

The following are some specific statistics of how redistributive militarism and supply-side fiscal policies have exacerbated income inequality since the late 1970s and early 1980s—making after-tax income gaps wider than pre-tax ones. According to recently released data by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), since 1979 income gains among high-income households have dwarfed those of middle- and low-income households. Specifically:
· The average after-tax income of the top one percent of the population nearly tripled, rising from $314,000 to nearly $868,000—for a total increase of $554,000, or 176 percent. (Figures are adjusted by CBO for inflation.)
· By contrast, the average after-tax income of the middle fifth of the population rose a relatively modest 21 percent, or $8,500, reaching $48,400 in 2004.
· The average after-tax income of the poorest fifth of the population rose just 6 percent, or $800, during this period, reaching $14,700 in 2004.

[The author, Ismael Hossein-zadeh, is an economics professor at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. This excerpt above draws upon his recently published book, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism ]


Whatever AIPAC Wants, AIPAC Gets

Three months before the USA invaded Iraq, a New York Times poll showed only 30 percent of the American people favored an all-out invasion, but the Israeli lobby (AIPAC) did, and it prevailed.

Hardly a sprinkling of Americans favored the "surge", a meager fourteen percent, but AIPAC did, and the surge is surging as we speak.

Fewer than thirty percent of Democrats supported that no-strings-budget, but AIPAC did, and the conclusion plays out another hackneyed chorus of "Whatever AIPAC wants, AIPAC gets."

Anti-war idealists might think that soon this American war crime, the shock-and-awe carnage, the torture, and the renditions are coming to an end, but the agenda of AIPAC seems bent on keeping American armies in the Middle East as an Israeli first line of defense for the indefinite future.

So if you think you voted, or are planning to vote, to bring the troops home and end this national embarrassment, some fool's gold waiting for you at the end of that rainbow.

[Excerpt of an article by Jerry Kroth, Ph.D., a professor of psychology in California]

P.S. – And oh, yes, today Reuters reported:
“A USA Today/Gallup poll this week showed more than seven in 10 Americans favor withdrawing nearly all U.S. troops by April, and several surveys show the approval ratings for Bush, a Republican, are at the lows of his presidency.”

What do you think are the chances that the US Govt will listen to and move on the will of the people it supposedly serves?


Devastating Effects of War

Statistics are only one way to tell the story of the approximately 1.4 million servicemen and women who've been to Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 86 percent of soldiers in Iraq reported knowing someone who was seriously injured or killed there.

28 percent were responsible for the death of a noncombatant.

One in five Iraq veterans return home seriously impaired by post-traumatic stress disorder.

[Excerpt of an article by Emily DePrang, Texas Observer]


Much of US favors Bush impeachment: poll

Nearly half of the US public wants President George W. Bush to face impeachment, and even more favor that fate for Vice President Dick Cheney, according to a recent poll. (The study by the private New Hampshire-based American Research Group is available on ARG's Internet site.)

The survey by ARG found that 45 percent support the US House of Representatives beginning impeachment proceedings against Bush, with 46 percent opposed, and a 54-40 split in favor when it comes to Cheney.

The US Constitution says presidents and vice presidents can be impeached -- that is, formally charged by the House -- for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" by a simple majority vote.

Conviction by the Senate, which requires a two-thirds majority, means removal from office.

Just two US presidents have been impeached: Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 and acquitted in 1999; Andrew Johnson was impeached and acquitted in 1868. Disgraced president Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 when a House impeachment vote appeared likely.

In late April, left-wing Representative Dennis Kucinich, a long-shot Democratic presidential hopeful, introduced a resolution calling for Cheney's impeachment. To date, the measure has nine listed co-sponsors and a 10th set to sign on when the House returns to work next week.

But Democratic leaders appear unlikely to pursue such a course.

[Agence France-Presse]


Millennium Development Goals and Africa

Tony Blair's passionate denunciation of impoverishment in Africa as "a scar on the conscience of the world" convinced many that the west would propel the issue of mass poverty and injustice to the top of the international agenda in the cause of a more stable world.

A misplaced hope? Not a single country in sub-Saharan Africa has met the criteria set by the UN's millennium development goals on poverty alleviation, the centrepiece of the project. Some observers believe the number of poor, and the intensity of the poverty, has actually risen in almost all countries.

In truth there was never any real prospect that western governments, which have gleefully presided over the creation of new classes of the super-super-rich, would use their considerable influence to push African leaders to pursue policies which would shift resources away from the rapacious national elites towards the poor.

Nor was it likely the west would permit Africa to stray from the neoliberal orthodoxies prescribed for the continent by the World Bank and the IMF. These policies have generated wealth for elites and created economic growth in a few countries, but have proved over two
decades singularly unable to reduce the human misery afflicting hundreds of millions.

After many false starts, the millennium project, launched with huge fanfare in 2000, was meant to be the definitive development compact, a blueprint to substantially reduce the extreme ravages of poverty by 2015. But now it is sputtering. People are being lifted out of extreme poverty at less than 1% a year, which makes even Bono's 2003 warning that Africa would take 100 years to meet these goals seem optimistic.

Abutting virtually every African slum are the castles of the unimaginably rich. There is little incentive for those who hold the reins of power to redirect investments away from themselves to the very poor, given the abiding conviction on the continent that they have an unlimited capacity to weather their punishing adversities - with the help of repressive security systems, of course.

[Excerpt of an article by Salim Lone, a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya, writing in The Guardian]


Iraq war costs US $12 billion! --Per month!

According to a new report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, "in the first half of this fiscal year, the Defense Department’s "average monthly obligations for contracts and pay [for the War in Iraq] is running about $12 billion per month, well above the $8.7 billion in FY2006."

One advertising agency did a good job of putting the figure of a "Billion" into some perspective:
a. A billion SECONDS ago it was 1959.
b. A billion MINUTES ago Jesus was alive on the earth.
c. A billion HOURS ago supposedly our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.

All this to say, $12 Billion Dollars is a lot of money!

To continue on with Congressional Research Service numbers, we are told that depending on troop levels, total funding for the war could reach "about $980 billion to $1.4 trillion by 2017."

Now, 1 trillion is the total borrowed by every U.S. administration between 1776 and 2000 ($1.01 trillion). And this amount will be spent on a war, a failed war at that?! The mind implodes.

What this money could buy


Hewlett and Gates Foundation award $9 m to Pratham

Sixty million children in India will get added help in basic math, reading and writing from the non-profit organization Pratham, thanks in part to a $9.1 million grant from the William and Flora Hewlett and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations. The grant supports Pratham's Read India initiative, which is working in conjunction with Indian state governments to help ensure that children between the ages of 6 and 14 achieve basic mastery in these skills by the end of 2009.

The grant will improve basic learning skills in 100 districts of India, touching 10 million children spread over 10 states for three years.

The gift to Pratham is the first grant the Hewlett and Gates foundations have awarded in their partnership to improve the quality of education in developing countries. The two foundations previously announced that they will collaborate on a series of grants to improve the quality of education at primary and secondary schools in the developing world.

Hewlett Foundation President Paul Brest said. "It's hard to reduce poverty, improve health or raise the status of women without also extending to the poor access to a quality education."

[India Post News Service]


Creating Terrorism in Iraq

The war in Iraq, which President George W. Bush said was necessary to combat Islamic extremism, is beginning to export guerilla fighters to neighboring countries and beyond, The New York Times reports.

“You have 50 fighters from Iraq in Lebanon now, but with good caution I can say there are a hundred times that many, 5,000 or higher, who are just waiting for the right moment to act,” Doctor Mohammad al-Massari, a Saudi dissident in Britain who runs the jihadist Internet forum Tajdeed.net, is quoted in the story as saying.

“The flow of fighters is already going back and forth, and the fight will be everywhere until the United States is willing to cease and desist.”

Officials in Europe said in interviews that they are trying to monitor small numbers of Muslim men who have returned home after traveling for short periods to Iraq, where they were likely to have fought alongside insurgents.

In an April 17 report written for the United States government, Dennis Pluchinsky, a former senior intelligence analyst at the State Department, said battle-hardened militants from Iraq posed a greater threat to the West than extremists who trained in Afghanistan because Iraq had become a laboratory for urban guerrilla tactics.


Media Silence About the Carnage in Iraq

A state-of-the-art research study published in October 12, 2006 issue of The Lancet (the most prestigious British medical journal) concluded that--as of a year ago--600,000 Iraqis had died violently due to the war in Iraq. That is, the Iraqi death rate for the first 39 months of the war was just about 15,000 per month.

That wasn't the worst of it, because the death rate was increasing precipitously, and during the first half of 2006 the monthly rate was approximately 30,000 per month, a rate that no doubt has increased further during the ferocious fighting associated with the current American surge.

The U.S. and British governments quickly dismissed these results as "methodologically flawed," even though the researchers used standard procedures for measuring mortality in war and disaster zones.

These shocking statistics are made all the more horrific when we realize that among the 600,000 or so victims of Iraqi war violence, the largest portion have been killed by the American military, not by carbombings or death squads, or violent criminals--or even all these groups combined.

The average [killed] in 2006 was well over 10,000 per month, or something over 300 Iraqis every day, including Sundays. With the surge that began in 2007, the current figure is likely even higher.

These figures sound impossible to most Americans. Certainly 300 Iraqis killed by Americans each day would be headline news, over and over again. And yet, the electronic and print media simply do not tell us that the U.S. is killing all these people. We hear plenty about car bombers and death squads, but little about Americans killing Iraqis, except the occasional terrorist, and the even more occasional atrocity story.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Schwartz, CounterPunch]


Putting terrorism in perspective

As terrorists go, this was "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight." One of the would-be London bombers on June 29 drove erratically down Haymarket Street in central London before crashing into a garbage bin, getting out and running away. Another parked his explosives-packed car illegally, so it was towed away. The third attack was at Glasgow International Airport on the following day, but nobody was hurt except one of the attackers, who set himself on fire.

But it's safe to say that this incident will be taken more seriously in the United States than it is in Britain itself or anywhere else in Europe.

Most major European countries had already been through some sort of terrorist crisis well before the current fashion for "Islamist" terrorism: the IRA in Britain, the OAS in France, ETA in Spain, the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, the Red Brigades and their neo-fascist counterparts in Italy. Most European cities have also been heavily bombed in a real war within living memory, which definitely puts terrorist attacks into a less impressive category. So most Europeans, while they dislike terrorist attacks, do not obsess about them. They know that they are likelier to win the lottery than to be hurt by terrorists.

Despite the efforts of some governments to convince the population that terrorism is an existential threat of enormous size, the vast majority of the people don't believe it. Whereas in the United States, most people do believe it.

A majority of Americans have finally figured out that the invasion of Iraq really had nothing to do with fighting terrorism, but they certainly have not understood that terrorism itself is only a minor threat. There has been only one major terrorist attack in the United States since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and that one, on Sept. 11, is now almost six years in the past. So how have Americans been convinced that their duty and their destiny in the 21st century is to lead the world in a titanic, globe-spanning "long war" against terrorism?

Inexperience is one reason: [Unlike Europe] American cities have never been bombed in war, so Americans have no standard of comparison that would shrink terrorism to its true importance in the scale of threats that face any modern society. But the other is relentless official propaganda: The Bush administration has built its whole brand around the "war on terror" since 2001, so the threat must continue to be seen as huge and universal.

[Excerpt of an article by Gwynne Dyer, North Carolina Journal]


How dare the media ask ‘why do they hate us?’

[Excerpt of an article by Gilad Atzmon, born in Israel in 1963, now living in Britain:]

I find myself wondering, how dare the media ask ‘why do they hate us?’ Don’t they know the answer? Don’t we know the answer?

Weren’t we the ones who demolished Iraq? Wasn’t it our PM, Tony Blair, who gave a green light to the Israelis to flatten Lebanon?

Wasn’t it Tony Blair’s government who dismissed the democratically elected Hamas in Palestine?

Wasn’t it Blair who allowed the Israelis to starve Gaza?

For those who still fail to realise, to kill is rather simple, to turn towns into piles of rubble isn’t that complicated either.

We know perfectly well why they hate us, they have some good reasons, as things stand momentarily, we are the ones who are killing them en mass. It is us who demolish their towns and kill their kids.

Thus, rather than raising the pathetic question, ‘why do they hate us?’ we’d better evade our self-righteous mode, and ask ourselves, ‘why do we hate them so much?’ or even, ‘why do we hate so much?’ in general. To bring peace to ... the West is to look in the mirror, to look into our severe and devastating wrongdoings, to repair the damage made by Blair, Bush and company, to revise the dream of ecumenical Western society. It is possible. It is within our capacity.


BIS issues a warning "another Great Depression”

The Bank for International Settlements issued a warning this week that the Federal Reserve’s monetary policies have created an enormous equity bubble which could lead to another “Great Depression”.

The IMF and the UN have issued similar warnings, but they've all been shrugged off by the Bush administration. Neither Bush nor the Federal Reserve is interested in “course correction”. They plan to stick with the same harebrained policies until the end.

The underlying problem is not simply the Fed’s reckless increases to the money supply, but the growing “wealth gap” which is undermining solid economic growth. If wages don’t keep pace with productivity; the middle class loses its ability to buy consumer items and the economy slows.

The reason that hasn’t happened yet in the US is because of the extraordinary opportunities to expand personal debt. The Fed’s low interest rates have created a culture of borrowing which has convinced many people that debt equals wealth. It’s not; and the collapse in the housing market will prove how lethal that theory really is.

[Excerpt of an article by Mike Whitney, Information Clearing House]


Tony Blair and his Africa Pledges

Early in his tenure, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a high-profile commitment to reducing the excruciating poverty afflicting hundreds of millions in Africa, keeping it on the media’s front burner by numerous high-level initiatives. The best-known of these was his dedicating to the cause the 2005 G8 summit he hosted in Gleneagles. The issue was again centre stage last month at the G8 summit in Germany last month.

But so complete is Africa’s marginalization in global affairs that virtually none of the hundreds of assessments being published of Tony Blair’s 10 year rule even mention whether he succeeded in his goal.

Mr. Blair did have one significant success, in Sierra Leone, where his courageous intervention helped end a vicious civil war. Otherwise, he failed Africa. So weak was the much-fanfared commitment that Blair extracted from the G8 at Gleneagles in 2005 that figures released last month showed that rather than expanding substantially, aid to Africa declined the following year. The outlook on trade, which is more important to African fortunes than aid, is even grimmer.

British policy has created vast amounts of wealth for national and multinational elites, but many African economists believe these policies in the 1980s and 1990s set back Africa severely. There are no easy fixes for Africa. But there will be quicker dividends if relieving the poverty’s most open wounds is made an uncompromising national priority. Not everything that can be done is impossibly complex or expensive, such as providing public toilets, drains and clean water supply.

Only the continent’s own leaders and people can correct its rawest suffering. Donors have an important but minor role to play. But they must get this role right. That includes recognizing that what Africa needs most of all is space to formulate its own policies. To determine what these might be, they need to radically alter their approach and engage first and foremost with the grass roots.

Despite all the donor talk of needing to hear Africa’s voice, it is rarely heard. It’s the statements of its leaders that they mostly hear, not the aspirations and cries of its people.

[Excerpt of an article by Salim Lone, spokesman for the UN mission in Iraq in 2003, now a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya]