US Army suicides highest in 26 years

Army soldiers committed suicide last year at the highest rate in 26 years, and more than a quarter did so while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new military report.

The report said, "Iraq was the most common deployment location for both (suicides) and attempts."

The increases for 2006 came as Army officials worked to set up a number of new and stronger programs for providing mental health care to a force strained by the longer-than-expected war in Iraq and the global counterterrorism war entering its sixth year.

Failed personal relationships, legal and financial problems and the stress of their jobs were factors motivating the soldiers to commit suicide, according to the report.

"In addition, there was a significant relationship between suicide attempts and number of days deployed" in Iraq, Afghanistan or nearby countries where troops are participating in the war effort, it said. The same pattern seemed to hold true for those who not only attempted, but succeeded in killing themselves.

[Associated Press]


And Afghanistan still stands

The British army was massacred in the Kabul Gorge in 1842. We lost again in the Second Afghan War when the British were defeated at the Battle of Maiwand; young, black-turbaned Afghan students would choose a grenadier and hurl themselves towards this one man, drag him from the ranks of his comrades and cut his throat. They were called "Talibs" or "Taliban". Many of the Afghan warriors were led by a girl called Malalei – she later fell victim to British bullets – who tore off her veil to use as a flag.

The USSR invaded to support the faltering Communist regime. The Russians, after a century of diplomatic humiliation in Afghanistan, spent 10 years in occupation, only to leave in further humiliation – a frustration that they finally vented on the equally innocent Muslims of Chechnya.

Britain, the US, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia supplied money and arms to various mujahedin groups fighting Soviet forces. When Soviet troops pulled out, Osama bin Laden formed al-Qa'ida. The group claimed victory over the Soviet Union and shifted its focus to the US as the main obstacle to the establishment of a pure Islamic state.

US and British forces launched airstrikes on Taliban and al-Qa'ida targets following the September 11 attacks. By December, the Northern Alliance has ousted the Taliban and US-backed Hamid Karzai is sworn in as leader.

Afghanistan, a land whose images and history – however ferocious, draw back the doomed armies of countries that have already been humiliated over two centuries.

[Robert Fisk, The Independent]


Afghanistan's opium production doubles in two years

Afghanistan's opium production has doubled in two years, reaching a new high in 2007, with the country almost the exclusive supplier of the world's deadliest drug, the United Nations announced.

Production was estimated to have jumped 34 percent this year over last with the number of heroin labs also increasing.

The southern province of Helmand had meanwhile become the world's biggest source of illicit drugs, surpassing the output of entire countries. The amount of Afghan land used for growing opium was now larger than the combined total used to grow coca -- the raw ingredient for cocaine -- in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, it said.

This was despite a multi-million-dollar effort led by Britain and the United States to cut the opium trade. The gross income from a hectare of opium was 4,600 dollars, compared to 530 dollars for wheat, it said.

Afghanistan had become "practically the exclusive supplier of the world's deadliest drug", accounting for 93 percent of the global opiates market, the survey said.

[Excerpt of an article by Bronwen Roberts, AFP]


Chavez offers billions in aid to South America

Laid-off Brazilian factory workers have their jobs back, Nicaraguan farmers are getting low-interest loans and Bolivian mayors can afford new health clinics, all thanks to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Bolstered by windfall oil profits, Chavez's government is now offering more direct state funding to Latin America and the Caribbean than the United States. A tally by The Associated Press shows Venezuela has pledged more than $8.8 billion in aid, financing and energy funding so far this year.

In terms of direct government funding, the scale of Venezuela's commitments is unprecedented for a Latin American country. Chavez's largesse tends to benefit left-leaning nations that support his vision of a Latin America with greater independence from the United States.

But he denies the two countries are in a competition. "We don't want to compete with anyone. I wish the United States were 100 times above us," Chavez told the AP in a recent interview. "But no, the U.S. government views the region in a marginal way. What they offer is a pittance sometimes, and with unacceptable pressures that at times countries can't accept."

Chavez's aid isn't limited to his region. Low-income Americans get cheap heating oil, while the former Soviet republic of Belarus is counting on Chavez to help pay off a $460 million gas bill to Russia. But most of the funding goes to Latin America.

[Associated Press]


U.S. surge sees 600,000 more Iraqis abandon home

The scale of the human disaster in the Iraq war has become clearer from statistics collected by two humanitarian groups that reveal the number of Iraqis who have fled the fighting has more than doubled since the US military build-up began in February.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Organisation said the total number of internally displaced has jumped from 499,000 to 1.1 million since extra US forces arrived with the aim of making the country more secure. The UN-run International Organisation for Migration says the numbers fleeing fighting in Baghdad grew by a factor of 20 in the same period.

Calling it the worst human displacement in Iraq's modern history, a report by the UN migration office suggests that the fierce fighting that has followed the arrival of new US troops is partly responsible.

The spectre of ethnic cleansing now hovers over the once relatively harmonious country.

A damning new assessment was delivered by all 15 US intelligence agencies. Written by the CIA, it concluded that the government in Baghdad was "unable to govern effectively" and "will become more precarious" in the next six to 12 months, with little hope of reaching accommodation among political factions.

[Excerpt of an article by Leonard Doyle, Belfast Telegraph]


200,000 mercenaries in Iraq

If you think the U.S. has only 160,000 troops in Iraq, think again.

With almost no congressional oversight and even less public awareness, the Bush administration has more than doubled the size of the U.S. occupation through the use of private war companies.

There are now almost 200,000 private "contractors" deployed in Iraq by Washington. This means that U.S. military forces in Iraq are now outsized by a coalition of billing corporations whose actions go largely unmonitored and whose crimes are virtually unpunished.

Since the launch of the "global war on terror," the administration has systematically funneled billions of dollars in public money to corporations like Blackwater USA , DynCorp, Triple Canopy, Erinys and ArmorGroup. They have in turn used their lucrative government pay-outs to build up the infrastructure and reach of private armies so powerful that they rival or outgun some nation's militaries.

In essence, the Bush administration has created a shadow army that can be used to wage wars unpopular with the American public but extremely profitable for a few unaccountable private companies.

[Excerpt of an article by Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute]

40 cents of every war dollar goes to corporate war contractors

The billions of dollars being doled out to contractors [read mercenaries] veteran U.S. Diplomat Joe Wilson, who served as the last U.S. ambassador to Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War, argues, "makes of them a very powerful interest group within the American body politic and an interest group that is in fact armed. And the question will arise at some time: to whom do they owe their loyalty?"

Precise data on the extent of U.S. spending on mercenary services is nearly impossible to obtain -- by both journalists and elected officials--but some in Congress estimate that up to 40 cents of every tax dollar spent on the war goes to corporate war contractors.

At present, the United States spends about $2 billion a week on its Iraq operations.

During the 1991 Gulf War, the ratio of troops to private contractors was about 60 to 1. Today, it is the contractors who outnumber U.S. forces in Iraq. Composed of some 180,000 individual personnel drawn from more than 100 countries, the army of contractors surpasses the official U.S. military presence of 160,000 troops.

In all, the United States may have as many as 400,000 personnel occupying Iraq, not including allied nations' militaries.

[Excerpt of an article by Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute]


International Aid: How Americans have it all wrong

A September 2006 Public Agenda poll highlighted a long-held perception amongst Americans that the US is “doing more than its share" internationally. Seventy-one percent said that the US has generally done more than its fair share, 24% said it has done its fair share and only 3% said it has done less.

A 1998 PIPA poll also found widespread feeling that the US does more than its fair share relative to European countries. Eighty-one percent also said the US does more than its fair share in maintaining peace in the world.

Such opinions rest on major misperceptions.

The most recent OECD estimate for US overseas development assistance indicates Americans have historically overestimated foreign aid as a portion of the US budget by nearly more than 100 times the actual amount.

Eighty-one percent have also believed, mistakenly, that the US gives more aid as a percentage of GDP than the other industrialized countries give (PIPA, January 1995).

Americans estimated that the US gave 37% of all development aid from rich countries and proposed a more reasonable percentage would be 26% (November 2000).

In fact, according to recent OECD figures, the US gives just 12% of the total amount of official development assistance.

[Source: WorldPublicOpinion.org]


Anti-American Sentiment Continues to Grow

European and world views of the United States and President George Bush have dramatically worsened since 2000; the trend has intensified since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. There has been a decline in perceptions of the United States throughout the European Union, including in such traditional U.S. allies as the United Kingdom and Poland, and in Muslim and Latin American countries, according to annual polls undertaken by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Pew Research Center and the BBC World Service.

Contemporary anti-Americanism derives largely -- but not entirely -- from President George Bush's Iraq policy.

In a March 2007 survey of 28,000 people in 27 countries conducted for the BBC World Service by GlobeScan and the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes, only Israel, Iran and North Korea were perceived as having a more negative influence than the United States on world affairs.

Bush's standing is as low as 8-20% in the U.S. Muslim allies Pakistan, Egypt and Indonesia.

Abuse of prisoners both in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay has damaged the image of the United States. More European than U.S. citizens have heard about incidents there, shaping their views. Brzezinski observes that the most powerful image of the United States is no longer the Statue of Liberty, but Guantanamo.

[Excerpt from Forbes magazine]


Only Hypothetical Help for World's Poorest

How many people in the world live on less than $1 a day?

When U.S. workers in an online survey answered that question, 23 percent correctly said 1 billion people or more. The survey, sponsored by the nonprofit group Millennium Promise, founded by the economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, gathered information from employees at U.S. companies.

Sixty percent of the survey's respondents named Africa as the continent most in need of corporate philanthropy, twice the number who picked North America.

Yet 27 percent of those surveyed said their companies shouldn't devote resources to fighting poverty around the globe. The most common argument, cited by 52 percent of those dissenters, was that U.S. companies should focus their philanthropy on alleviating problems in America.

[Bloomberg News]


The Real Surge in Iraq

In real life Iraq, there has definitely been a"surge" in:
-- daily attacks played down in the major media;
-- refugees fleeing for safety;
-- a near-total breakdown of essential services like electricity, drinking water, sanitation, medical care, education, security and even food compounded by mass unemployment and extreme poverty; the result is a crisis level humanitarian disaster of epic proportions that continues to worsen.

A July 30, 2007 Oxfam International and NCCI network of aid organizations report had grim findings. It estimates:
-- eight million Iraqis need emergency aid - one-third of the population;
-- four million can't buy enough to eat;
-- 70% of Iraqis have no adequate water supply;
-- 80% lack adequate sanitation;
-- 28% of children are malnourished;
-- the rate of underweight baby births has tripled;
-- 92% of Iraqi children suffer learning problems due to fear;
-- there's been a mass exodus of around 80% of doctors, nurses, teaching staff at schools and hospitals and other vitally needed professionals.

[Excerpt from Stephen Lendman, TheMicroEffect.com]


Failing U.S. war on terrorism. So do you feel safer now?

A majority of top 108 U.S. foreign policy experts say the world is a more dangerous place for Americans today than just six months ago, thanks largely to the war in Iraq and a failing U.S. war on terrorism, a new survey shows.

The Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for American Progress findings appear as a Terrorism Index in the September/October issue of Foreign Policy magazine, which is published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Following are the top countries named by experts as posing major challenges to U.S. national security policy.

Q: Which country is most likely to become the next al Qaeda stronghold?

Pakistan.......35 percent
Iraq.............22 percent
Somalia........11 percent
Sudan...........8 percent
Afghanistan...7 percent

Q: Choose the ally that least serves America's national security interests.
Russia...........34 percent
Pakistan........22 percent
Saudi Arabia..17 percent
Israel.............14 percent
Mexico............5 percent
Egypt..............5 percent

[Alertnet Reuters]


U.S. Media Ignores Estimate of 1 Million Iraqi Deaths

A radio interviewer in South Africa asked me what had been the response of the "mainstream media in the United States" to the ongoing estimate of the Iraqi death toll from the U.S. invasion and occupation, which last week crossed the one million mark.

Sadly, I had to report that it has been ignored by mainstream media, even the wire services. But this is hardly surprising. The "Lancet study," you'll recall, was a study published last fall in the British medical journal The Lancet, which estimated that more than 600,000 Iraqis had had been killed as a result of the invasion as of July 2006.

The media largely buried the Lancet study when it was published - and have largely ignored the question of the overall death toll from the U.S. invasion - so it's little surprise that they have ignored our attempt to shine a light on this question.

The Lancet study is the only existing study that uses the method accepted all over the world for estimating deaths due to large-scale violent conflict: a cluster survey.

Increasingly, the U.S. occupation is described as a passive onlooker to the violence. This is deeply misleading for two reasons. First, the civil war - or civil wars - that have been unleashed in Iraq was a predictable - and predicted - result of the U.S. invasion. For example, James Baker gave the threat of unleashing a civil war as a key reason why the U.S. didn't go to Baghdad in 1991, so it's absurd to treat this as an unforeseeable consequence. Second, the picture is being obscured by underreporting in the U.S. of deaths from U.S. air strikes, raids, and shooting at checkpoints.

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Naiman, The Huffington Post]


Military families live in dread

A letter home: Mom, I had another friend die today from a massive ied [improvised explosive device] and many more wounded with shattered bones and scrapes. We used to be in the same platoon. … He was barely a day over 19 now that he has passed away. It's tearing me up so badly inside. I just can't stand it. …The most important thing I want you all to do, is to use all of your connections to do everything in your will to use my death as a tool with the media to end this pointless war. Contact Michael Moore or whomever it may be to get the word out about how disgusted with our government I am about forcing us to come here to wait for death to claim us. I want it to end. How many more friends, sons, daughters, mothers, and dads must die here before they say it's enough? love, Zach

'Death," said Donald Rumsfeld, the former United States defence secretary, "has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war."

Zach Flory, 23, didn't start his military career depressed. He enlisted full of idealism about the potential of American power. Raised in Clinton, Iowa, on the banks of the Mississippi, he came home on September 11 and asked his parents for permission to join the military. They refused. They wanted him to finish high school first.

"He was a young man with a conscience," said his mother, Marcia, who has always been opposed to the war. "He wanted to make things right."

Military families listen intently to every news report and live in constant fear of a visit from two uniformed officers in the wee hours. But the rest of the nation is shopping. This is the only war in modern American history that has coincided with a tax cut. "People seem to think war is OK as long as it is someone else's kid doing the fighting," says Zach's dad, Don.

There is gruesome irony [from an] administration headed by a president who dodged the draft and a vice-president who "had other priorities" than serving in Vietnam.

[Excerpt of an article by Gary Younge, The Guardian]


Military Contractors See a World of Business Opportunities

How much money is being spent in Iraq just on mercenaries remains largely classified. Congressional sources estimate the United States has spent at least $6 billion in Iraq, while Britain has spent some $400 million.

At the same time, companies chosen by the White House for rebuilding projects in Iraq have spent huge sums in reconstruction funds -- possibly billions on more mercenaries to guard their personnel and projects.

The single largest U.S. contract for private security in Iraq was a $293 million payment to the British firm Aegis Defence Services, headed by retired British Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, who has been dogged by accusations that he is a mercenary because of his private involvement in African conflicts.

The Texas-based DynCorp International has been another big winner, with more than $1 billion in contracts to provide personnel to train Iraqi police forces.

Blackwater USA has won $750 million in State Department contracts alone for "diplomatic security."

[Excerpt of an article by Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute]

Mercenaries a new U.S. model for waging war

At present, an American or a British Special Forces veteran working for a private security company [as a mercenary] in Iraq can make $650 a day. At times the rate has reached $1,000 a day.

"We got [tens of thousands of] contractors over there, some of them making more than the Secretary of Defense," House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Penn.) recently remarked. "How in the hell do you justify that?"

"To have half of your army be contractors, I don't know that there's a precedent for that," says Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating war contractors.

"Maybe the precedent was the British and the Hessians in the American Revolution. Maybe that's the last time and needless to say, they lost. But I'm thinking that there's no democratic control and there's no intention to have democratic control here."

They have not been subjected to military courts martial (despite a recent congressional attempt to place them under the Uniform Code of Military Justice), nor have they been prosecuted in U.S. civilian courts. And no matter what their acts in Iraq, they cannot be prosecuted in Iraqi courts because in 2004 the U.S. occupying authority granted them complete immunity.

[Excerpt of an article by Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute]


Immigrants’ Globalization Philanthropy

In just the last four years, recognition of the significance of transnational philanthropy has burgeoned. The term is used somewhat differently in different quarters, however. Narrowly, it refers to transfers of charitable contributions from immigrants to charitable organizations in their home countries, a flow that is also called “diaspora philanthropy.” More comprehensively, it refers to the combination of such purposeful philanthropy together with immigrant worker remittances to their families or home communities in their country of origin.

The subject has recently gained the attention of no less than the World Bank, which now puts the remittance and philanthropic transfer total globally at $90 billion, nearly twice the total flow of Official Development Assistance from developed nations to developing nations.

By any metric, the numbers are impressive. There are, for example, 7.6 million document and undocumented Philippine migrants working in over 190 countries. Between 1990 and 2003, they returned to the Philippines over $62 billion. In 2003 alone, that flow was $7.6 billion in remittances and $218 million in charitable contributions. That total is nearly 10% of the nation’s Gross National Product, and these flows keep an estimated one million people above the local poverty line.

Mexican elected officials increasingly come to the U.S. to pitch local development projects to Mexican immigrant community organizations in major U.S. cities.

Private philanthropy deserves a seat (indeed, several seats) at the global economic development table. Both its size and its role in civil society argue for the presence of its leadership at that table.

It is interesting that it appears that the private philanthropic actions of 175 million individual immigrants, not the power of foundation behemoths, finally got the attention of global development. Power to the people, indeed.


Charity says U.S. food aid for Africa hurts instead of helps

CARE, one of the world's biggest charities, is walking away from about $45 million a year in federal funding, saying American food aid is not only plagued with inefficiencies, but may hurt some of the very poor people it aims to help.

Its decision, which has deeply divided the world of food aid, is focused on the practice of selling tons of American farm products in African countries that in some cases compete with the crops of struggling local farmers.

"If someone wants to help you, they shouldn't do it by destroying the very thing that they're trying to promote," said George Odo, a CARE official who grew disillusioned with the practice while supervising the sale of American wheat and vegetable oil in Nairobi.

U.S. government buys the goods from American agribusiness, ships them overseas on mostly American-flagged carriers and then donates the goods to the aid groups. The groups sell the products in poor countries and use the money to fund their anti-poverty programs there.

[Excerpt of an article by Celia W. Dugger, The International Herald Tribune]


American attitude toward international giving

It is often assumed that most Americans feel US foreign policy should be tied closely to the national interest, narrowly defined, and are opposed to the idea of making sacrifices based on altruistic purposes.

Polling data reveal quite a different picture. In numerous cases the American public shows support for altruism in US foreign policy independent of any impact it might have on US interests.

In January 2000 [a poll] asked respondents to rate a list of reasons "for the US to be active in world affairs" on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 meaning "it is not at all an important reason" and 10 meaning "it is an extremely important reason to you personally." Altruistic reasons scored quite well.



Who gives more to Charity in Britain –the Wealthy or Poor?

The wealthiest segment of British society gives away more money than any other, but they don't give as deeply, a new study by Family Expenditure Survey published by nfpSynergy.says.

Half of the richest 10 percent of British households donate money to charity.

But it's the poorest 10 percent of households that give the largest share of their incomes, 3.2 percent, or four times the share given by the wealthiest group.

[Philanthropy Journal]


American public considers giving aid a moral responsibility

Numerous poll results show that large majorities of Americans find convincing the argument that the US has a moral responsibility to provide aid to the needy.

For example, in December 2001 a number of arguments were presented in support of foreign aid. Seventy percent of Americans found convincing the argument, "The United States is the only remaining superpower and the world's wealthiest nation. We have a moral responsibility to help those who need it the most.”

Americans have also roundly rejected the argument, made by some legislators, that the US should only give aid when it also serves the US national interest.

Asked to choose between two statements in a November 2000 poll, just 34% chose the statement "We should only send aid to parts of the world where the US has security interests," while 63% chose the statement "When hunger is a major problem in some part of the world, we should send aid whether or not the US has a security interest in that region." (PIPA poll)

In the same poll, 65% agreed that the US should give some foreign aid because "in the long run, helping Third World countries develop is in the economic interest of the US."

In support of a program to reduce hunger in the world 64% found convincing the argument, "Because the world is so interconnected today, reducing hunger in the world ultimately serves US interests. It creates more political stability, and by promoting economic growth helps create more markets for US exports."



Iraqi Christians were safer under Saddam, says Vatican official

Although Iraq has a democratic government, Iraqi Christians were safer and had more protection under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, said the future head of the Vatican's interreligious dialogue council.

During the buildup to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who will become head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue September 1, had criticized the U.S. government's plan of preventative war and said a unilateral war against Iraq would be a "crime against peace."

In a recent interview with the Italian magazine 30 Giorni, the cardinal said his early criticisms had been prophetic.

"Power is in the hands of the strongest—the Shiites—and the country is sinking into a sectarian civil war (between Sunni and Shiite Muslims) in which not even Christians are spared," he said.

Christians, "paradoxically, were more protected under the dictatorship," he said.

[Excerpt of an article by Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service]


Labor Dept: 1,001 mercenaries have died in Iraq

More than 1,000 civilian contractors (read: mercenaries) have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion more than four years ago, according to Labor Department records made available.

Those contractor (hired mercenary) fatalities are in addition to the 3,668 military personnel the Defense Department had confirmed dead in Iraq from the start of the war in March 2003 until today.

Another 76 civilian contractors have died in Afghanistan since the start of operations there, the Labor Department records show.

Besides those killed, 4,837 in Iraq and 879 in Afghanistan suffered injuries severe enough to miss at least four days of work, the Labor Department said.

The United States has about 162,000 troops serving in Iraq. (Plus by estimate, 126,000 private military "contractors" in Iraq, and of whom most Americans know next to nothing about. )

[The Houston Chronicle]


Aid to Help Asia and Africa With Effects of Warming

The Rockefeller Foundation says it will invest $70 million over the next five years to help Asian cities and African farmers withstand floods, droughts and other global warming hazards.

Foundation officials say the help will be needed no matter what is done to limit greenhouse gas emissions, because the world faces decades of rising temperatures and sea levels as a result of a century-long buildup of gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Poorer communities, lacking the money or technology to deal with a ruined harvest or an eroding coastline, face outsize threats.

[Excerpt of an article by Andrew C. Revkin, The New York Times]


Uncle Sam, Your Chinese Banker Will See You Now

Earlier today China let Washington and Wall Street know that it has them by the short hairs. Two senior spokesmen for the Chinese government observed that China’s considerable holdings of US dollars and Treasury bonds “contributes a great deal to maintaining the position of the dollar as a reserve currency.”

Should the US proceed with sanctions intended to cause the Chinese currency to appreciate, “the Chinese central bank will be forced to sell dollars, which might lead to a mass depreciation of the dollar.”

In an instant, China has made it clear that US interest rates depend on China, not on the Federal Reserve.

The delusion that the US is “the world’s sole superpower,” whose currency is desirable regardless of its excess supply, reflects American hubris, not reality. China’s power over the value of the dollar and US interest rates also gives China power over US foreign policy. The US was able to attack Afghanistan and Iraq only because China provided the largest part of the financing for Bush’s wars.

If China ceased to buy US Treasuries, Bush’s wars would end. The savings rate of US consumers is essentially zero, and several million are afflicted with mortgages that they cannot afford. With Bush’s budget in deficit and with no room in the US consumer’s budget for a tax increase, Bush’s wars can only be financed by foreigners.

It is [likewise] China’s decision whether there will be an attack on Iran or further war, unless the US is prepared to buy back $900 billion in US Treasury bonds and other dollar assets. The US, of course, has no foreign reserves with which to make the purchase.

The impact of such a large sale on US interest rates would wreck the US economy and effectively end Bush’s war-making capability. Moreover, other governments would likely follow the Chinese lead, as the main support for the US dollar has been China’s willingness to accumulate them. If the largest holder dumped the dollar, other countries would dump dollars, too.

[Excerpt of an editorial by Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page]


The US arsenal lost in Iraq

A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that the U.S. Defense Department could not track record of about 30 percent of the weapons distributed in Iraq over the past three years. (It is estimated that the U.S. has spent about $19.2 billion since 2003 on Iraqi security forces, out of which $2.8 billion was used to buy and deliver weapons and other equipments.)

The US arsenal lost in Iraq include:
· 110,000 AK-47s
· 80,000 pistols
· 135,000 bits of armor

The failure of the US to account for so many weapons is an embarrassment for the Bush administration after months in which it has repeatedly accused Iran of supplying weapons and explosives to the insurgents.

Read more in an article in The Guardian


Mexican Billionaire Donates Laptops

Mexican telecom mogul billionaire Carlos Slim promised to donate hundreds of thousands of laptop computers to Mexican children.

He pledged to donate 250,000 low-cost laptops to children by the end of the year and as many as 1 million in 2008, saying 'digital education' holds the key for Mexico's poor.

Slim is listed by Forbes as the world's second-richest man with holdings worth US$53 billion (euro38.79 billion), but some financial analysts say he may have overtaken Microsoft founder Bill Gates as the world's richest.

[The New York Times]

Scottish tycoon to donate £1bn to charity

Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland's richest man, is pledging to give away at least £1bn to charity, the BBC has learned.

The donation is thought to be the single most generous philanthropic commitment made by a Briton. He had already committed £100m to his charitable foundation to fight inequality in both Scotland and Africa.

The ex-owner of sports chain Sports Division has a £1.05bn fortune. He began his career by selling trainers from the back of a van and in 1984 founded the Sports Division chain.

He said: "There is more great wealth in fewer hands than ever before in history. My own personal belief is that with great wealth comes great responsibility. We've got all the material, goals have all been settled some time ago. So now the philanthropy is the real motivator to continue to make money."



The New Breed of Activist Philanthropists

Modern philanthropy is described in the US as the "Give Now" movement: people in their 40s and 50s who have generated vast wealth at an early age and have decided to leverage that wealth in philanthropy.

Richard C Morais, writing in Forbes magazine in an article entitled The New Activist Givers, said: "They are highly engaged in their causes, investing not just money, but also time, energy and oversight. By our conservative estimate, these activist philanthropists will be pouring between $1.9 trillion and $2.6 trillion into philanthropy over the 20 years that began a decade ago, roughly 35% of the total giving during this period. But the results-focused nature of this philanthropic capital will make it far more important than the charitable giving seen during the last century."

As the richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of $56bn, and probably the most philanthropic, Bill Gates has said of his thinking about philanthropy how one "ought to set very high goals".

Such “donors are blurring the boundaries between charity, the private sector and the state," wrote Simon Nixon in The Spectator last year. "There are now 793 dollar billionaires in the world … What's clear is that a growing number of these people want to give some of it back."

[Excerpt from the South African Cape Times]


Part A: The Iraq War continues to bleed the US

In a report to US lawmakers this week, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that the war in Iraq could cost US taxpayers more than a trillion dollars when the long-term costs of caring for soldiers wounded in action, military and economic aid for the Iraqi government, and ongoing costs associated with the 190,000 troops stationed in Iraq are totaled up.

Original estimate: $50 to $60 billion
Already allocated: $500 billion

In an optimistic scenario - if the United States reduces its troop levels in Iraq to 30,000 by 2010 - the war will still cost taxpayers an additional $500 billion.

In a less optimistic scenario in which 75,000 US troops remain in Iraq over the next five years, the cost to the US government would total an additional $900 billion.

The Congressional Budget Office's report estimated that medical costs will exceed $9 billion if the US stations 30,000 troops in Iraq, but could exceed $13 billion if 75,000 troops remain in Iraq over the next several years.

Training of police and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next decade is estimated to cost at least $50 billion.

Estimates for rebuilding and diplomatic expenses suggest that the US government will need to spend at least $20 billion through 2017, outside of military expenses.

[Source: Inter Press Service]

Part B: The Iraq War enriches contractors

While Congressional Budget Office reports showed a gloomy outlook, several of Washington's biggest defense contractors released profit reports disclosing huge growth in divisions benefiting from military contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Northrop Grumman's information and services division showed 15% growth and its electronics division 7% for the second quarter compared with the same fiscal quarter last year. General Dynamics' combat-systems unit experienced 19% growth in sales due to continued demand for tanks and armored vehicles, while Lockheed Martin announced a 34% rise in profits.

Miriam Pemberton, research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS that 2008 military-related appropriations are the highest they've ever been. The year 2007 was the highest before that.

The increase in profits by defense contractors can be correlated to only a portion of the current and predicted spending associated with the war in Iraq.

[Source: Inter Press Service]


The $63,000,000,000 Sham

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States wants to send $63 billion in military aid and weapons to the Middle East to “bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran.”

Having destroyed Iraq to save us from horrors that did not exist, Rice now wants to save us from Iran’s future nukes by selling weapons of mass destruction.

Over the next decade, the Bush administration wants to give Israel $30 billion in military aid, a nearly 43 percent increase over what that nation received over the last 10 years, according to The New York Times. [Plus] $20 billion to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, [and] Egypt $13 billion.

Do you feel safe?

“Justifying the sales because these countries feel threatened by Iran doesn’t hold water. Iran is five to 10 years away from a nuclear weapon. That gives the United States and its partners more than enough time to come up with diplomatic solutions,” Frida Berrigan, senior program associate at the Arms and Security Project of the New America Foundation said. “This is just going to reinforce Iran’s desire to have a nuclear weapon.”

[Excerpt of an article by Derrick Z. Jackson, The Boston Globe]


U.S. sets new records for global arms sales

The United States had already set records for global arms sales. The New York Times reported in November that the Bush administration and American military contractors doubled arms sales from $10.6 billion to $21 billion from September 2005 to September 2006.

Frida Berrigan, senior program associate at the Arms and Security Project of the New America Foundation estimates that the latest proposal will increase military aid and weaponry by another 25 percent.

And there is no hint of a coherent policy. 80 percent of nations that received arms from America in 2003 were classified by the State Department as being either undemocratic or having a poor human rights record, which covers all the Arab countries in the new deal. (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates)

Israel is a democracy, but in its 2006 country profile, the State Department cites a source that determined that 322 of 660 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military “were not engaged in hostilities when killed and 141 were minors.”

Berrigan said, “We’ve created a black hole in what used to be a country and this is supposed to be the solution? More military aid and more high-tech weaponry? The best case scenario is that Congress exercises its power and keeps this from happening.”

[Excerpt of an article by Derrick Z. Jackson, The Boston Globe]

Crashing U.S. Economy Held Hostage

Remember when the U.S. was the world’s greatest industrial democracy? Barely thirty years ago the output of our producing economy and the skills of our workforce led the world.

What happened? Here’s how I would put it: our economy is on an artificial life-support system, a barely-breathing hostage in a lunatic asylum. That asylum is the U.S. and world financial systems which are on the verge of collapse. The inmates are the world’s central bankers, along with most of the financial magnates big and small. The fact is that the economy of much of the world is in a decisive downward slide which the financiers cannot stop because the systems they operate are the primary cause. As often happens, the inmates rule the asylum.

Warnings are even coming from high-flying institutional players like the Bank of International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund.

Within the U.S., foreign investors, above all Communist China, have been propping up our massive trade and fiscal deficits with their capital. To keep them happy, interest rates—after six years of “cheap credit”—must now be kept relatively high. Otherwise the Chinese, et al., might bail-out, leaving us to fend for ourselves with our hollowed-out shell of an economy. Even so, these investors are increasingly uneasy with their dollar holdings and are bailing out anyway. Foreign purchase of U.S. securities has plummeted.

Today the rank-and-file of our population must increasingly turn to borrowing in order to survive. Only the banks and the credit card companies are the beneficiaries. The total societal debt for individuals, businesses, and government is over $45 trillion and climbing. This is happening even while the real value of wages and salaries is decreasing.

The main growth factors for federal spending are Middle East war expenditures and interest on the national debt.

[Excerpt of an article by Richard C. Cook, Global Research]


The U.S. National Debt and the Dollar

A cynically clever strategy on the part of the powerful interests that benefit from war and militarism: instead of financing their wars of choice by paying taxes proportionate to their income, they give themselves tax cuts, finance their wars through borrowing, and then turn around and lend money (unpaid taxes) to the government and earn interest.

Viewed in this light, the staggering U.S. national debt of nearly $9 trillion, which is more than two thirds of gross nation product (GNP), represents a subtle redistribution of national resources from the bottom to the top: it represents unpaid taxes by the wealthy, which has to be financed by cutting non-military public spending—both now and in the future.

This means that the wealthy has successfully converted their tax obligations to credit claims, that is, lending instead of paying taxes—which is in essence a disguised form of theft or robbery.

This cynical policy of increasing military spending, cutting taxes for the wealthy and, thereby, accumulating national debt cannot continue for ever, as it might eventually lead to national or Federal insolvency, collapse of the dollar, and paralysis of financial markets—not only in the United States but perhaps also in broader global markets.

[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 ]


War Is A Racket (Part 2)

Excerpt of speech delivered in 1933 by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.

The normal profits of a business in the United States is six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits – ah! that is another matter – twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent – the sky is the limit.

Of course, it isn't put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and "we must all put our shoulders to the wheel," but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket – and are safely pocketed. Let's just take a few examples:

Take our friends the du Ponts. How did they do in the [First World War]? [Comparing] the average earnings of the du Ponts for the period 1910 to 1914 … to their average yearly profit during the war years, 1914 to 1918: Nearly ten times that of normal times, and the profits of normal times were pretty good. An increase in profits of more than 950 per cent.

Bethlehem Steel, United States Steel, Anaconda, Utah Copper [showed an] in profits of approximately 200 per cent. International Nickel Company – and you can't have a war without nickel – showed an increase in profits … of more than 1,700 per cent.

War Is A Racket (Part 1)

An excerpt of a speech delivered in 1933 by Major General Smedley Butler, USMC.

War is a racket. It always has been. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it.


Dependence on, or Addiction to, War and Militarism

The fact that the Pentagon appropriates and controls more than one-third of the entire Federal budget has allowed it to forge the largest constituency and/or dependents nationwide. Tens of thousands of businesses, millions of jobs, and thousands of cities and communities have become dependent on military spending. While a handful of major contractors take the lion’s share of military spending, millions more have become dependent on it as the source of their livelihood.

It is not surprising then that not many people are willing to oppose the continuing rise in the Pentagon budget—even if they might philosophically be opposed to militarism and large military spending. Because of the widespread presence of military installations and production sites nationwide, few politicians can afford not to support a continued rise in military spending lest that should hurt their communities or constituencies economically.

This helps explain the vicious and spiraling circle of war, international political convulsions, and military spending: Major Pentagon contractors and other powerful beneficiaries of war dividends are dependent on continued war and militarism in order to maintain and expand hefty profits.

This dependence has, in turn, created a secondary (or derived) dependence; it is the dependence of millions of Americans on military spending as the source of their livelihood, which then plays into the hands of war profiteers in their perennial quest for ever newer enemies, newer wars, and bigger appropriations for the Pentagon—hence the addiction to and the vicious circle of war profiteering, international political tension, war, and military spending.

[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 ]