Israeli Electioneering With Bombs

Israel thrives only on war. Twice this year, the leaders of Hamas indicated their readiness to accept a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders. Khaled Meshaal, Hamas leader, informed former president Jimmy Carter of this decision in April 2008. In May 2008, it was revealed that Yves Aubin de La Messuziere, a retired senior French diplomat had held discussions with Ismael Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahar, two prominent Hamas leaders who confirmed Hamas’ readiness to accept a Palestinian State within the 1967 border, reflecting an unofficial acceptance of Israel.

Of the three politicians who announced this latest military assault on Gaza, perhaps only the outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has little to lose — or gain — from its outcome.

Flanking the Israeli prime minister were two of the main contenders for his job: Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister and the new leader of the centrist party, and Ehud Barak, the defence minister, as they jostle for position against Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing party, Likud, before a general election little more than a month away. All strenuously deny that the election has any bearing on the timing of the Gaza operation.

Observed Michael Warschawski, a founder of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem, “all Israeli leaders are competing over who is the toughest and who is ready to kill more.”

[Source: ICH]


1000 eyes for a Jewish eye?

Within the span of a few hours last Saturday afternoon, Israel sowed death and destruction on Gaza on a scale that the Qassam rockets never approached in all their years. And Operation "Cast Lead" is only in its infancy.

Once again, Israel's violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all "an eye-for-an-eye" proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law and wisdom. And most of the world powers remain silent.

Does this scenario of Jewish resistance in WWII sound at all reminscient of Palestinian resistance? After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, Jewish ghettos were set up in major Polish cities to control the millions of Polish Jews. Inside the ghettos the Jews were forced to live on starvation rations. Despite being trapped in effective death camps, resistance groups managed to operate. In January 1943 German forces tried to level the ghetto, but were beaten off by Jewish resistance fighters supported by another Polish resistance movement. The second attempt to destroy the ghetto led to the uprising of April 1943. For one month the Polish Jews fought off the German army and SS, but their resistance was eventually crushed and the Nazis exacted their final revenge.

For too many years now, the Palestinians have been a people under occupation, with the right to self-determination under the UN Charter. It can be argued that the use of force as part of resisting occupation in the Palestinian case is therefore derived from the international legitimacy to recourse to armed struggle in order to obtain the right to self-determination.

"...It is essential if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression that human rights should be protected by the rule of law." (preamble) - Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Read more

Gaza humanitarian plight disastrous UN official says

Israeli airstrikes pounding Gaza are deepening the humanitarian crisis in an area that was already in deep distress. "The situation is absolutely disastrous," U.N. official Christopher Gunness told CNN on Sunday, as a second day of aerial attacks brought the death toll in Gaza close to 300. Hundreds more people have been injured.

Gaza is headed for "a major humanitarian disaster" unless the fighting ends soon, said Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, a psychiatrist who runs Gaza's mental health program. "The children are terrified," he said. "Adults are unable to provide them with security or warmth. Hospitals are stretched out of the limits. We need blood and medicine and surgical equipment."

"People are suffering and dying because of shortages of medical equipment," said Dr. Mahmoud el-Khazndar, who works at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital. "The hospital is not accustomed to accept mass casualties like this."

Gunness, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), said the agency has been unable to get needed medical supplies into Gaza for more than a year, because of Israel's blockade of border crossings.

"To have tens of thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, of angry, hungry, desperate people on the borders of Israel is not in Israel's interest," he said. "It's only the militants, it's only the extremists who benefit from the situation in Gaza."


Dead piled on top of each other

No more room in the morgue


Israel's first day of attacks on Gaza kills 210

Israeli warplanes have carried out a massive airstrike on Hamas security compounds inside the Gaza Strip, killing at least 210 and wounding hundreds of others.

Israel F16 bombers and Apache helicopters carried out at least 30 simultaneous raids on at least 30 separate targets in Gaza City.

Video footage showed the bodies of dead people including men, women and children on Gaza streets.

Hamas radio reported that Gaza police chief Tawfiq Jabber was among the dead.

Israeli tanks are said to be moving closer to the impoverished region which has been under a strict Israeli-imposed blockade. Israeli authorities have announced that they would continue the attacks.

[Press TV]

Photos: Israel drops 100 Tons of Bombs in Gaza City


US foundation giving without the Gates Foundation

U.S. charitable foundations gave money away to international causes at record levels in 2007.

In a new study, The Foundation Center and its study partner, the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Foundations, decided to pull the Gates Foundation dollars out of the equation. International charity still grew faster than all foundation giving during the period of the study.

"The study will show that it's not just about the Gates Foundation ... but I would be the last person to say Gates is not a huge factor," says Rob Buchanan, managing director of international programs for the Council on Foundations.

If you pull Gates out of the equation, the top international priority of all other U.S. foundations is global development, followed by the environment and health.

Buchanan said older family foundations created in the 1940s or 50s were largely focused on giving back to the community where the wealth was generated. Those foundations are now being run by a generation that has more global connections. Newer foundations were started by their contemporaries.

Asked about the economic downturn, only 7 percent of the charitable foundations that responded said they expected to reduce their international support in 2008, while close to half said they expected to increase giving.



International Charities Say Donations Could Drop by 15% a Year

Charities that provide aid overseas could lose as much as $1-billion in donations per year as a result of the economic collapse, a drop of 5 to 15 percent annually, according to the head of a coalition that represents international organizations.

Samuel A. Worthington, president of InterAction, said, “And those billions of dollars would translate into significant hardship,” he said.

Mr. Worthington said the length of the economic crisis would have a significant impact on just how dire the financial situations of international groups become.

If the crisis persists beyond the next 16 months, said Charlie MacCormack, president of Save the Children, in Westport, Conn., that could spell disaster for many international charities.

“[However] people are much more aware of how interconnected we are and how our well-being depends on that of others,” said Mr. MacCormack. “The long-term trends are positive for our cause.”

[The Chronicle of Philanthropy]


Iran Leader Ahmadinejad's Christmas Message

Iran's president is offering season's greetings to Christians in a British TV address and suggests that if Jesus were alive, he would oppose "bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers" — an apparent reference to the U.S. and its allies.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Christmas Day broadcast is to be delivered on Britain's Channel 4 television, occupying a slot that provides an often controversial counterpoint to Queen Elizabeth II's traditional annual message.

"If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over," Ahmadinejad said, according to the English translation of the Farsi-language speech.

Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4's head of news and current affairs, said Ahmadinejad was picked because "As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view."

[ABC News]


More troops but not more food for Afghanistan

Foreign aid organizations say food shortages and early snows may leave eight million Afghans -- 30% of the population -- on the brink of starvation this winter. Famine could easily overtake violence as the country's top problem.

"This year people are paying on average 1½ times as much as they were in December, 2007," Susannah Nicol, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program (WFP) in Kabul said. "An average household in 2005 was spending about 56% of their income on food. That figure has risen to 85%."

With winter settling in early, the WFP has rushed 36,000 tonnes of food to areas that are normally inaccessible during the winter because of heavy snow. But international aid agencies still estimate five to 10 million Afghans out of a population of 26.6 million might not have access to enough food before the winter is out.

Britain's Royal United Services Institute says, “If the international community is found wanting, we can expect increased frustration and anger from a population which once saw the international intervention in Afghanistan as a source of hope."

Last week, the Afghan Health Ministry said more than 1.6 million children under the age of five and hundreds of thousands of women could die as a result of food insecurity and a lack of medical care.



So if the former chairman of Nasdaq is a crook

The news that former chairman of Nasdaq Bernard Madoff's $50 billion fraud has hit the investor/401(k) class as nothing else. That one man could run such a gigantic fraud for decades is unbelievable. One man alone could not have done the work of inventing and cranking out thousands of statements every month, not to mention keeping track of the comings and goings of billions of dollars. Madoff has confederates.

If the former chairman of Nasdaq is a crook, whom do you trust? Madoff has sown the seeds of suspicion everywhere. He has caused us to doubt men and women with whom we have done business with for years. There is no way of knowing if someone is a con artist. The presumption of trust is gone.

Business depends on trust, trust of all kinds. Trust that when you place an order with a broker he or she will get you the best price, trust that your investment or retirement adviser is not getting an under-the-table kickback to put your old age money into a shoddy annuity.

Trust is the indispensable element in all businesses. Contractors depend on subcontractors to get the job done when they say they will; retailers depend on distributors to deliver on time; lawyers are trusted to meet filing deadlines, steel fabricators are expected to get gigantic trusses to the building site exactly when they are needed. Doctors are expected to put patients' interests above money considerations; parts manufacturers are relied on to deliver on time to the factory. Business runs on trust, and Bernard Madoff has busted it.

[Excerpt of an article by Nicholas von Hoffman, The Nation]


AP study finds $1.6B went to bailed-out bank execs

Banks that are getting taxpayer bailouts awarded their top executives nearly $1.6 billion in salaries, bonuses, and other benefits last year, an Associated Press analysis reveals.

The total amount given to nearly 600 executives would cover bailout costs for many of the 116 banks that have so far accepted tax dollars to boost their bottom lines.

Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services committee and a long-standing critic of executive largesse, said the bonuses tallied by the AP review amount to a bribe "to get them to do the jobs for which they are well paid in the first place. Most of us sign on to do jobs and we do them best we can," said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat. "We're told that some of the most highly paid people in executive positions are different. They need extra money to be motivated!"

Among the AP findings:
-The average paid to each of the banks' top executives was $2.6 million in salary, bonuses and benefits.
-Lloyd Blankfein, president and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, took home nearly $54 million in compensation last year. The company's top five executives received a total of $242 million.
-Even where banks cut back on pay, some executives were left with seven- or eight-figure compensation that most people can only dream about.
-John A. Thain, chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch, topped all corporate bank bosses with $83 million in earnings last year. Thain only took the reins of the company in December 2007.



And now for a world government

I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana. But, for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible.

A “world government” would involve much more than co-operation between nations. It would be an entity with state-like characteristics, backed by a body of laws. The European Union has already set up a continental government for 27 countries, which could be a model. The EU has a supreme court, a currency, thousands of pages of law, a large civil service and the ability to deploy military force.

So could the European model go global? There are three reasons for thinking that it might:
First, it is increasingly clear that the most difficult issues facing national governments are international in nature: there is global warming, a global financial crisis and a “global war on terror”.

Second, it could be done. The transport and communications revolutions have shrunk the world.

Third, the financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty.

For the first time since homo sapiens began to doodle on cave walls, there is an argument, an opportunity and a means to make serious steps towards a world government.

[Financial Times]


Obama's War

Afghanistan is going to be Obama's War. How do we win this war? We are further from that goal going into 2009 than we were five years ago.

Each year, the supply of opium out of Afghanistan, from which most of the world's heroin comes, sets a new record. Payoffs by narcotics traffickers are corrupting the government. The fanatically devout Taliban had eradicated the drug trade, but is now abetting the drug lords in return for money for weapons to kill the Americans.

Militarily, the Taliban forces are stronger than they have been since 2001. They virtually ring Kabul. The supply line for our troops in Afghanistan, which runs from Karachi up to Peshawar through the Khyber Pass to Kabul, is now a perilous passage. Four times this month, U.S. transport depots in Pakistan have been attacked, with hundreds of vehicles destroyed.

U.S. air strikes have killed so many Afghan civilians that President Karzai, who controls little more than Kabul, has begun to condemn the U.S. attacks. Predator attacks on Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan have inflamed the population there.

America, without debate, is about to invest blood and treasure, indefinitely, in a war to which no end seems remotely in sight.

[Excerpt of an article by Patrick Buchanan, Creator’s Syndicate]


Bush masked cost of wars that could top $1.7 trillion

The nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments found that the $687 billion spent so far on Iraq has cost the US more than every conflict aside from World War II. With the $184 billion in Afghanistan, the two main conflicts of the war on terror have proved to be 50 percent more expensive than Vietnam.

An author of the report said President Bush's decision to circumvent the traditional budget process is to blame for the exceedingly high costs. That Bush insisted on delivering massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans during wartime also drove up the long-term price tag, according to the report.

The CSBA's assessment comes in below some of the highest estimates for the wars' costs. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard economist Laura Bilmes estimated Iraq alone would cost $3 trillion when factoring costs beyond the battlefield, such as veterans health benefits and disability pay.

The latest report blamed President Bush for keeping the costs so high through his practice of funding the wars via "emergency" supplemental budget requests, which fall outside the bounds of the normal budgetary process. Such requests, CSBA found, virtually eliminate Congressional oversight and hurt the Pentagon's ability to plan for the long term.

[The Raw Story]


Afghanistan: And we ask “Why do they hate us?”

"We were walking, I was holding my grandson's hand, then there was a loud noise and everything went white. When I opened my eyes, everybody was screaming. I was lying metres from where I had been, I was still holding my grandson's hand but the rest of him was gone. I looked around and saw pieces of bodies everywhere. I couldn't make out which part was which." So says Hajj Khan, one of four elderly men escorting the bride's party that day.

The plane came swooping low over the remote ravine. Below, a bridal party was making its way to the groom's village. The first bomb hit a large group of children who had run on ahead of the main procession. It killed most of them instantly.

A few minutes later, the plane returned and dropped another bomb, right in the centre of the group. This time the victims were almost all women. Somehow the bride and two girls survived but as they scrambled down the hillside, desperately trying to get away from the plane, a third bomb caught them.

Relatives from the groom's village said it was impossible to identify the remains. They buried the 47 victims in 28 graves.

Stories like this are relatively common in today's Afghanistan. More than 600 civilians have died in NATO and US air strikes this year. The number of innocents killed this way has almost doubled from last year, and tripled from the year before that. These attacks are weakening support for the Afghan government and turning more and more people against the foreign occupation of the country.

"The Taliban grow very strong in the aftermath of each attack," said Sharif Hassanyar, a former interpreter with US Special Forces.

"The anti-American feelings in Afghanistan are not just coming from conservative or religious elements," said Shukria Barakzai, a female MP. "The anti-western sentiment is directly because of the military actions, the civilian casualties, and the lack of respect by foreign troops for Afghan culture."

[The Guardian]


Iraq’s reconstruction a 100 billion dollar failure

As of mid-2008, 117 billion dollars had been spent on the reconstruction of Iraq, including about 50 billion in US taxpayer money.An unpublished US government report says US-led efforts to rebuild Iraq was a 100-billion-dollar failure.

The New York Times said it had gotten hold of a copy of the 513-page federal history of the reconstruction effort that is circulating in Washington in draft form among a tight circle of technical reviewers, policy experts and senior officials.

The document has former Secretary of State Colin Powell complaining that after the 2003 invasion, the Defense Department "kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces -- the number would jump 20,000 a week! We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.'"

The overarching conclusions is that the US government has in place neither the policies nor the organizational structure that would be needed to undertake the largest reconstruction program after the Marshall Plan, the report said.



Journalist shoe-thrower "represents millions of Iraqis”

The brother of the journalist now famous for hurling his shoes at President Bush said his sibling's actions were "spontaneous" and represented millions of Iraqis who want to "humiliate the tyrant." A geography teacher at a Baghdad elementary school asked her students if they had seen the footage of the shoe-throwing. "All Iraqis should be proud of this Iraqi brave man, Muntadhar. History will remember him forever," she said.

Al-Zaidi's brother described the reporter's hatred for the "material American occupation" as well as Iran's interference in Iraq. That's a view widely held among Iraqis — including many Shiites — who believe the Americans and the Iranians have been fighting a proxy war in their country through Tehran's alleged links to Shiite extremists.

Muntadhar al-Zaidi's feelings were influenced by watching the agony suffered by everyday Iraqis. Most of the reporter's stories focused on Iraqi widows, orphans, and children, said the brother.

Sometimes the 29-year-old journalist would cry. Moved by the tales he reported of poor families, he sometimes asked his colleagues to give money to them. On most nights, he returned to his home in central Baghdad -- one of the country's most violent slums and the epicenter of several of the war's pitched battles.

Dhirgham al-Zaidi said he is "proud" of his brother whose act, while rash, was a statement of behalf of "millions" of other Iraqis. Dhirgham said the shoe throwing was "Iraq's reaction" to the war and years of U.S. sanctions against Iraq before the conflict began. The reporter was not motivated for personal reasons, or because he has "anything against the American people," he said.

The reporter called his shoe-throwing -- a traditional insult in Arab culture -- a "farewell kiss" to a "dog" who launched the 2003 invasion of Iraq.



Jim Rogers labels Big U.S. Banks "Bankrupt"

Jim Rogers, one of the world's most prominent international investors, called most of the largest U.S. banks "totally bankrupt," and said government efforts to fix the sector are wrongheaded.

Speaking by teleconference at the Reuters Investment Outlook 2009 Summit, the co-founder with George Soros of the Quantum Fund, said the government's $700 billion rescue package for the sector doesn't address how banks manage their balance sheets, and instead rewards weaker lenders with new capital.

"What is outrageous economically and is outrageous morally is that normally in times like this, people who are competent and who saw it coming and who kept their powder dry go and take over the assets from the incompetent," he said. "What's happening this time is that the government is taking the assets from the competent people and giving them to the incompetent people and saying, now you can compete with the competent people. It is horrible economics."

"Without giving specific names, most of the significant American banks, the larger banks, are bankrupt, totally bankrupt," said Rogers, who is now a private investor, said he has used the recent rally in the U.S. dollar as an opportunity to exit dollar-denominated assets.

While not saying how long the U.S. economic recession will last, he said conditions could ultimately mirror those of Japan in the 1990s. "The way things are going, we're going to have a lost decade too, just like the 1970s," he said.



Representatives of the People?

In the 435-member House of Representatives, 123 elected officials earned at least one million dollars last year, according to recently released financial records made public each year.

Next door in the ornate Senate, whose blue-blooded pedigree includes a Kennedy and a Rockefeller, one in three people are millionaires.

By comparison, less than one percent of Americans make seven-figure incomes.

Reflect for a moment on what Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The country is headed toward a single and splendid government of an aristocracy founded on banking institutions and monied corporations, and if this tendency continues it will be the end of freedom and democracy, the few will be ruling and riding over the plundered plowman and the beggar.”

[Source: Millionaires Fill US Congress Halls, Agence France Press]


Ecuador refusing to pay interest on foreign debt

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said Friday he will not pay interest on the nation's foreign debt and that he was prepared to accept any consequences. He said. "I could not permit the continued payment of a debt that, in any light, is immoral and illegitimate."

He said that though $7 billion has already been spent to pay an original debt of $4 billion, accrued during the 1980s, the principal remains about the same.

Correa said he was preparing a restructuring plan to be presented to creditors within a few days. The popular leftist economist said he would try to prove in international courts that the debt is illegal.



Where things stand with the UN Millennium Development Goals

Almost a decade ago, world leaders agreed in New York to the UN Millennium Development Goals, calling among other targets for a halving between 1990 and 2015 in the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Jacques Diouf, FAO director-general, said in a foreword for a new FAO report that the task of achieving the UN’s hunger reduction targets in the remaining several years to 2015 will “require an enormous and resolute global effort and concrete actions”.

However, with leaders’ attention firmly focused on the global financial crisis and its economic ramifications, many observers now believe that the hunger and poverty reduction targets are no longer achievable by 2015.

The vast majority of the world’s undernourished people – more than 90m – live in developing countries, according to FAO estimates. Of these, 65 per cent live in only seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

In sub-Saharan Africa, one in three people – or almost 240m – are chronically hungry, the highest proportion of undernourished people in the total population.

[The Financial Times]


Why TV News in the US is Utter Rubbish

For years it has been a joke that news in the United States is terrible: obsessed with trivia and celebrity; fronted by Botox bimbos; forever interviewing citizens about some artifact of small-town life when a major news story is breaking elsewhere.

Well, the truth is that it's far, far worse than that. After an hour of flipping between channels during lunchtime prior to the election, this was the sum total of information gleaned: there are two US presidential candidates; they have produced campaign ads; people have made video parodies and posted them on the internet; a US TV news host appeared on a US TV chatshow last night; and someone said something controversial (read ignorant) on a different TV show the day before.

In the meantime, a sought-after war criminal may have been arrested and sent for trial; several new scientific breakthroughs announced; Zimbabwe edged carefully toward shared government; the Indian government dealt with votes of no-confidence and terrorist attacks; and countless other real stories came and went.

It's not the absolute dearth of real news that is the problem. It's the fact that the news that is presented isn't news but mindless, misleading gossip.

[Excerpt of an article by Kieren McCarthy,The Guardian]


World’s hungry increases as a result of higher food prices

The food crisis has increased the number of hungry people in the world, described as a “serious setback” to global efforts to reduce mass starvation.

“The ongoing financial and economic crisis could tip even more people into hunger and poverty,” the FAO added.

“High food prices are driving millions of people into food insecurity, worsening conditions for many who were already food-insecure, and threatening long-term global food security,” the FAO said in its report The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008.

Although food commodity prices have fallen about 50 per cent from this summer’s all-time highs, they remain well above pre-crisis levels. The cost of rice, for example, has halved since July, but it still trades at prices that are 95 per cent above 2005 levels.

In addition, the weakening of some emerging countries’ currencies against the US dollar has partially erased gains from the drop in commodity prices.

“Soaring food prices have reversed some of the gain and successes in hunger reduction, making the mission of achieving the internationally agreed goal on hunger reduction more difficult,” the FAO said.

[The Financial Times]


Bill Gates Prods Washington on Foreign Aid

Philanthropist Bill Gates urged lawmakers and the coming Obama administration to maintain U.S. investments in foreign aid and education initiatives despite the financial crisis.

Mr. Gates urged broad support for President-elect Barack Obama's pledge during the campaign to double U.S. foreign aid to $50 billion by 2012. "Since then, of course, we've been hit by the financial crisis, which has opened up a huge budget deficit and changed some people's view of what we can afford," Mr. Gates said. "If we can support the president as he stands by his pledge to the poorest nations -- even in the face of our own financial crisis -- it will make a phenomenal statement about the kind of partner America plans to be in the world."

The risk now, Mr. Gates noted, was that government funding for education and oversees development will be hit amid the current economic turmoil.

As co-chair of the world's largest private philanthropy, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Gates has a bully pulpit to push for changes in areas where his foundation has chosen to invest its money, which include U.S. education, global health and development in poor countries.

[Wall Street Journal]


Iraqi Referendum seen as way to "correct" U.S. - Iraq pact

A referendum next year on a newly minted U.S.-Iraqi security pact will give Iraqis the chance to "correct and reform" an agreement that has stirred controversy, a senior official in Baghdad said.

"If we find things are going differently than our expectations, then we can correct (the pact) through the referendum, which is a way to correct or reform it," Tareq al-Hashemi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents, told reporters.

The deal is a politically charged issue in Iraq, where many resent the government's endorsement of a prolonged U.S. presence more than five years after the U.S.-led invasion.

The deal can be terminated if either signatory gives the other side a year's notice.
Many Iraqis are skeptical that the United States will keep to the terms of the deal, which requires it to withdraw from cities and towns by mid-2009 and to defer to Iraqi authorities in planning military operations.



The New Poor Left Out of the Bailout

As the roster of corporations and financial institutions on line for government bailouts seems to grow, thankfully at least some public policy advocates in Washington D.C. are calling on policymakers to focus more efforts on the nation's poorest.

"Recent data show poverty is already rising quite substantially," says Robert Greenstein, the executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "There is a strong potential for more hardship and destitution than we have seen in this country in a number of decades."

An estimated 36.5 million Americans currently live below the poverty line, but those numbers will likely increase by as many as 10.3 million as current projections for the depth and duration of the recession hold true.



Blackwater mercenaries to be indicted

Five Blackwater Worldwide (formerly Blackwater USA) security guards have been indicted and a sixth was negotiating a plea with prosecutors for a 2007 shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead and became an anti-American rallying cry for insurgents, people close to the case said Friday.

Six guards have been under investigation since a convoy of heavily armed Blackwater contractors opened fire in a crowded Baghdad intersection on Sept. 16, 2007. Witnesses say the shooting was unprovoked.

The indictment sends the message that the Justice Department believes contractors do not operate with legal impunity in war zones.

To prosecute, authorities must argue that the guards can be charged under a law meant to cover soldiers and military contractors. Since Blackwater works for the State Department, not the military, it's unclear whether that law applies to its guards.

Further complicating the case, the State Department granted all the Blackwater guards limited immunity in exchange for their sworn statements shortly after the shooting.



The Truth About Celebrity Giving

Not much about the world of celebrity philanthropy surprises Stephanie Sandler anymore. For the past nine years, Sandler, senior vice president at the Giving Back Fund, a philanthropic consulting and management firm in Los Angeles, has helped celebrities set up their own foundations. Along the way, she's had first-hand experience in the not-always-truthful world of celebrity giving.

Why would a celebrity set up a foundation in the first place, and not just write a check to a charitable organization? " PR is high on the list. "The charitable purpose might be to give scholarships, but it also serves as a vehicle for promoting the celebrity's image," he says. Foundations may even provide an easy way to give a relative a place to work, he says.

To encourage celebrities to donate from their own pocket, the Giving Back Fund recently recognized celebrities who personally give the most. Forbes then used their research to rank the most generous celebrities on the Forbes Celebrity 100. While the list may miss private donations--which would be the definition of charity--experts in philanthropy noted that celebrities are very aware of the power of their image to bring in more donations and thus tend to be willing to publicize their giving.

[Excerpt of an article by David K. Randall, Forbes]


Venezuela proposes new Regional Currency, plus aid to Nicaragua

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez proposed the creation of a regional monetary bloc with its own currency to break the hegemony of the U.S. dollar and U.S.-dominated international financial institutions.

Chávez suggested that the name of the currency be the Sucre, in honor of Antonio José de Sucre, a South American independence hero. SUCRE also stands for Unified Regional Compensation System, translated from Spanish.

Chávez also said the ALBA member countries must construct their own solutions to the world financial, food, and ecological crises. “We are not going to wait here with our arms crossed for the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to come and solve the problems for us,” said Chávez. “We have things to say, the South also exists.”

“We will leave the Inter-American Development Bank and we will make our own bank, a bank that we ourselves manage,” said Chávez. “Can anyone imagine that the solution will come from Washington, from those who generated the crisis?”

Venezuela has also offered Nicaragua $100 million in aid if the U.S. and European Union cut off funding over disputed elections. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Ortega says his leftist ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made the offer last week "without blackmail, without conditions of any sort."


Two sides of Global AIDS crisis

With "World AIDS Day" marked on Monday, some experts are growing more outspoken in complaining that AIDS is eating up funding at the expense of more pressing health needs.

"AIDS is a terrible humanitarian tragedy, but it's just one of many terrible humanitarian tragedies," said Jeremy Shiffman, who studies health spending at Syracuse University.

Paul de Lay, a director at UNAIDS, disagrees. "We have an epidemic that has caused between 55 million and 60 million infections," de Lay said. "To suddenly pull the rug out from underneath that would be disastrous."

Others argue that closing UNAIDS would free up its $200 million annual budget for other health problems such as pneumonia, which kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

By 2006, AIDS funding accounted for 80 percent of all American aid for health and population issues, according to the Global Health Council. (In a 2006 report, Rwandan officials noted a "gross misallocation of resources" in health: $47 million went to HIV, $18 million went to malaria, the country's biggest killer, and $1 million went to childhood illnesses.)

"Diarrhea kills five times as many kids as AIDS," said John Oldfield, executive vice president of Water Advocates, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes clean water and sanitation. "Everybody talks about AIDS at cocktail parties," Oldfield said. "But nobody wants to hear about diarrhea," he said.

These competing claims on public money are likely to grow louder as the world financial meltdown threatens to deplete health dollars.



Math 101 on the Escalating Interest on U.S. National Debt

The U.S. government is fast straining resources needed to meet interest payments on the national debt, which approaches a mind-numbing $11 trillion. And like homeowners who took out adjustable-rate mortgages, the government faces the prospect of seeing this debt — now at relatively low interest rates — rolling over to higher rates, multiplying the financial pain.

How did we get in this fix? Suppose this month you want to spend more money than your income allows, so you borrow. The amount you borrowed (and now owe) is called your “debt”, which you need to pay interest on. If next month you don't have enough money to cover your spending, you must borrow some more, and in government terms this is another “deficit”. (BTW, some estimate that the federal deficit will exceed $1 trillion this fiscal year!). And of course you need to pay interest on these loans. If you have a deficit every month, you keep borrowing and your debt grows.

Eventually the interest payment on your loan could become bigger than any other item in your budget. So at some point, all you can do is pay the interest payment, and you don't have any money left over for anything else.

Well, each year since 1969, Congress has spent more money than its income! The total borrowed, or National Debt, is NOW nearing $11,000,000,000,000 and growing. We pay interest on that huge debt.

And this National Debt continues to increase at roughly 4 billion dollars a day. Basically, it takes ALL the taxes paid by ALL the individual taxpayers west of the Mississippi river just to pay the INTEREST on the National Debt each year.

P.S. - And in case you think this money stays in the USA and helps our economy in some way, since more than a third of the debt is owed to foreign countries, more and more of this interest, aka as your tax dollars, is going to foreigners every year.


Big Oil is a Big Cheapskate to Charity

At the same time ExxonMobil's (XOM) record-breaking profits are making news, the company is running ads touting its philanthropic support for health and education programs in the U.S. and abroad. ExxonMobil's commercials were especially evident during the 2008 Summer Olympics, when 30- to 60-second spots costing hundreds of thousands of dollars attempted to convince viewers that the company's philanthropy is as deep and rich as its oil wells.

Unfortunately, such is not the case.

Annual donations by the Big Three oil companies as measured by a percent of pretax net income (the standard yardstick for gauging corporate philanthropy) are consistently below half the national average for businesses that make tax-deductible charitable contributions.

In 2007, these three oil giants donated a combined $348 million, far short of the $1 billion the companies would have contributed if they had simply given at a level equal to Corporate America's philanthropic midpoint, which is 8/10ths of 1%.

And that $348 million is a small fraction of the $27.9 billion in net income that the three companies earned just this last quarter!

[Excerpt of an article by Curt Weeden, BusinessWeek]


Foundations pinched by markets expect to give less

Nationwide, charitable foundations, which are heavily invested in the stock market, are wringing their hands over the economic downturn that has seen the market plunge more than 40 percent since last October.

As the assets go, so does giving.

The severity of the economic turmoil has foundation leaders uneasy about their ability to give, since they rely on healthy assets to hand out greater amounts of money.

"We've never seen this in our lifetime," said Monica Wroblewski, spokeswoman with the Council on Foundations, a nonprofit association in Arlington, Va. "Who knows what ramifications this will have?"

[Akron Beacon Journal]


U.S. Security Pact passes Iraq's parliament

After months of difficult talks between U.S. and Iraqi negotiators, Iraq's parliament on Thursday approved a security pact with the United States. 149 lawmakers of Iraq's 275 seat parliament passed the deal.

This means that troops will remain in Iraq until 2012.The agreement also sets June 30, 2009, as the deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw from all Iraqi cities and towns. These dates are "set and fixed" and are "not subject to the circumstances on the ground," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

The pact curbs U.S. powers to arrest Iraqi citizens and conduct military operations, and is seen by the Iraqis as a way to safeguard Iraqi sovereignty. It gives Iraq authority over about 150,000 U.S. troops in the country.

Some Iraqis fear this could be the first step towards a permanent occupation. Right before the contentious parliamentary vote, the Iraqi parliament's biggest Sunni bloc said it wanted guarantees of a public referendum on a U.S. security pack.

Sunnis are also concerned their influence may wane once the Americans leave. Majority Shi'ite Iraq has a Shi'ite leadership and has good ties with neighboring Iran, a Shi'ite country.


Afghanistan demands timeline for end of military intervention

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan demanded at a meeting with a UN Security Council team that the international community set a "timeline" for ending military intervention in Afghanistan, his office said.

"If we don't have a clear idea of how long it will be, the Afghan government has no choice but to seek political solutions," Karzai's chief spokesman Homayun Hamidzada told AFP. seek a political solution to a Taliban-led insurgency.


Afghanistan: Have we learned nothing?

The United States of America is settling George Bush's scores with the "terrorists" trying to overthrow Hamid Karzai's corrupt government. 29 years ago, the Soviet Union was settling Leonid Brezhnev's scores with the "terrorists" trying to overthrow Barbrak Karmal's corrupt government.

Fast forward to 2001 – just seven years ago – and an American general told us of the imminent victory over the "terrorists" in the mountains, the all but conquered Taliban. The American general was pontificating at the big US airbase at Bagram. A Russian was likewise pontificating at the big Soviet airbase at Bagram [in the previous war with Afghanistan].

This is not déjà-vu. This is déjà double-vu. And it gets worse.

Stephen Tanner’s book Afghanistan: A Military History From Alexander The Great To The Fall Of The Taliban quotes General Roberts of Kandahar telling the British in 1880 that "the best thing to do is to leave it as much as possible to itself... I feel sure I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us, the less they will dislike us".

Memo to the Americans, the Brits, the Canadians and the rest of Humpty Dumpty's men. Read history.

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


America's Hidden War in Somalia

To glimpse America's secret war in Africa, you must bang with a rock on the iron gate of the prison in a remote port in northern Somalia. A sleepy guard will yank open a rusty deadbolt. Then, you ask to speak to an inmate named Mohamed Ali Isse, "The Man with the American Thing in His Leg."

That "thing" is a stainless steel surgical pin screwed into his bullet-shattered femur, courtesy, he says, of the U.S. Navy. How it got there — or more to the point, how Isse ended up in this crumbling, stone-walled hellhole at the uttermost end of the Earth—is a story that the U.S. government probably would prefer to remain untold.

That's because Isse and his fancy surgery scars offer what little tangible evidence exists of a bare-knuckled war that has been waged silently, over the past five years, with the sole aim of preventing anarchic Somalia from becoming the world's next Afghanistan.

It is a standoff war in which the Pentagon lobs million-dollar cruise missiles into a famine-haunted African wasteland the size of Texas. It is a covert war in which the CIA has recruited gangs of unsavory warlords to hunt down and kidnap Islamic militants and — according to Isse and civil rights activists — secretly imprison them offshore, aboard U.S. warships.

Mostly, though, it is a policy time bomb that will be inherited by the incoming Obama administration: a little-known front in the global war on terrorism that Washington appears to be losing, if it hasn't already been lost.

[Excerpt of an article by Paul Salopek, Chicago Tribune]


The fate of the nation's Big Three automakers and their employees

We await the fate of the nation's Big Three automakers and their employees.

"One out of 10 jobs in this country are auto-related. Twenty percent of retail sales are auto-related or automobiles, so this is a national problem," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, told NBC's "Meet the Press”.

The Center for Automotive Research, a think tank in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that is pushing for a bailout, estimates about 2.5 million job cuts if just half of the Big Three's manufacturing capacity shuts down.

About 240,000 of those job losses would be at the automakers; 800,000 would be at various suppliers and dealerships; and another 1.4 million job losses would come from businesses that rely on automaker spending, the think tank estimates.



Anyone remember New York governor Elliot Spitzer?

According to a February 2008 Washington Post article by New York governor Elliot Spitzer, state attorneys-general who wanted to investigate allegations of mortgage fraud were blocked from doing so by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency within the U.S. Treasury Department.

Next the issue of a selected coterie of banks receiving one-fifth of a trillion dollars to guarantee these banks’ mortgage-backed junk bonds.

One single, lonely politician stood in the way: New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Spitzer not only took on mega-mortgage company Countrywide, he took on their predatory enablers in the investment banking community. Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup’s Citibank that made mortgage usury their major profit centers.

The very same day the bail-out was decided, the man called ‘The Sheriff of Wall Street’ was cuffed. Spitzer was silenced.

No federal agency was charged with regulating mortgage fraud to take up the slack. The rest is history.

[Listen to radio report]


Global Aid focus on two Clintons

President-elect Obama could put philanthropy at the heart of his foreign policy, and former President Clinton could help him do it.

If President-elect Barack Obama selects Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state, she will oversee many of the U.S. government's foreign aid programs, potentially turning her and her husband into an overwhelming force in global aid.

The William J. Clinton Foundation has ballooned into a global nongovernmental organization with a staff of more than 800, addressing chronic problems such as climate change, hunger, AIDS and malaria.

If Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of state, she and her husband could be positioned to lead a public-private partnership on the global stage unlike any before it, one that experts say would bring with it a host of potential benefits and pitfalls for the new president.

The problem for the president-elect, it seems, is that, there would be a danger of the impression that a donation to one of Bill Clinton’s undertakings would buy some sort of quid pro quo from his wife when it came to sensitive negotiations.

[The Washington Post] [The San Francisco Chronicle]


Israel 'using food and medicines as weapons'

Israel is collectively punishing innocent civilians by withholding and controlling food and medicine to Gaza, says Christian Aid.

Despite repeated calls from the international community, Gaza remains closed to food and medicine. For almost one and a half years, 1.5 million Palestinians have endured collective punishment as a result of Israel’s tight closure of Gaza.

In recent weeks the situation has once again deteriorated further with a resurgence of violence. Last week, UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for assisting Palestinian refugees, announced that it had run out of food to distribute. With 80 per cent of the population dependent upon food aid, the situation is critical but the crossings into Gaza – the only points of entry for people and goods - remain tightly closed.

Says Costa Dabbagh, from Near East Council of Churches, a Christian Aid partner, "It is not acceptable for us to be waiting for food to come. We want to live freely with Israel and other countries in peace, we are not against any individual or government, but we are against imprisonment."

Despite an agreement on cessation of violence since June 2008, Gazans remain isolated from the world and continue to live in abject poverty. Although getting food supplies into Gaza is a vital first step, Christian Aid believes steps must be taken to resolve the political crisis before people will see a real change in their lives.



All that money you've lost — did it even exist?

Trillions in stock market value — gone. Trillions in retirement savings — gone. ---It was never really money in the first place.

Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale, puts it bluntly: The notion that you lose a pile of money whenever the stock market tanks is a "fallacy." He says the price of a stock has never been the same thing as money — it's simply the "best guess" of what the stock is worth.

"It's in people's minds," Shiller explains. "We're just recording a measure of what people think the stock market is worth. What the people who are willing to trade today — who are very, very few people — are actually trading at. So we're just extrapolating that and thinking, well, maybe that's what everyone thinks it's worth."
Shiller uses the example of an appraiser who values a house at $350,000, a week after saying it was worth $400,000. "In a sense, $50,000 just disappeared when he said that," he said. "But it's all in the mind."

Though something, of course, is disappearing as markets and real estate values tumble. Even if a share of stock you own isn't a wad of bills in your wallet, even if the value of your home isn't something you can redeem at will, surely you can lose potential money — that is, the money that would be yours to spend if you sold your house or emptied out your mutual funds right now.

And if you're a few months away from retirement, or hoping to sell your house and buy a smaller one to help pay for your kid's college tuition, this "potential money" is something you're counting on to get by. For people who need cash and need it now, this is as real as money gets, whether or not it meets the technical definition of the word.

Still, you run into trouble when you think of that potential money as being the same thing as the cash in your purse or your checking account. There's a key distinction here: While the money in your pocket is unlikely to just vanish into thin air, the money you could have had, if only you'd sold your house or drained your stock-heavy mutual funds a year ago, most certainly can.

[Excerpt of an AP article by Eric Carvin]


Bush on the Economy: "This sucker could go down"

At the G-20 Economic Summit in Washington, President Bush, in a rare, unscripted moment, acknowledged that the extreme steps taken by the Fed and US Treasury--since Bear Stearns defaulted 17 months ago--were intended to avoid what he called "a depression greater than the Great Depression."

That's quite an admission for Bush, as well as a vindication of those who have been making the same prediction for more than 2 years.

And although Bush rejected any personal responsibility for the policies which led to the crisis, it's clear that he has some rudimentary grasp of its gravity. That's a start. As he opined to the press, "This sucker could go down".

[Mike Whitney, Internet commentator]


Consolidation Agenda by the Banking Giants

In his latest article "The Great Depression of the 21st Century: Collapse of the Real Economy" author and economist Michel Chossudovsky sheds some light on the agenda of the banking giants led by their standard-bearer at Treasury, Henry Paulson:

"Once they have consolidated their position in the banking industry, the financial giants including JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, et al will use their windfall money gains and bailout money provided under TARP, to further extend their control over the real economy. The target of these acquisitions are the numerous highly productive industrial and services sector companies, which are on the verge of bankruptcy and/or whose stock values have collapsed.

“In a bitter twist, the new owners of industry are the institutional speculators and financial manipulators, … displacing not only the preexisting structures of ownership but also instating their cronies in the seats of corporate management".

Chossudovsky sums it up perfectly. The financial crisis is being used by Wall Street big-wigs to restructure the economy and create a permanent class of working poor.

[Mike Whitney, Internet commentator]


America Antipathy Paradox

Being hated is what happens to dominant empires. But who hates Americans the most? You might assume that it's people in countries that the United States has recently attacked or threatened to attack.

For example, according to a poll by Gallup's Center for Muslim Studies, 52 per cent of Iranians have an unfavorable view of the United States. But that figure is actually down from 63 per cent in 2001.

And it's significantly lower than the degree of antipathy towards the United States felt in Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Two thirds of Jordanians and Pakistanis have a negative view of the United States and a staggering 79 per cent of Saudis. Sentiment has also turned hostile in Lebanon, where 59 per cent of people now have an unfavorable opinion of the United States, compared with just 41 per cent a year ago.

The paradox: It's not America's enemies in the Muslim world who hate the United States most, it's people in countries that are supposed to be America's friends, if not allies.

[In fact, the same is true of Britain.] Back in 1999, 83 per cent of British people surveyed said that they had a favorable opinion of the United States. But by 2006, according to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, that proportion had fallen to 56 per cent.

[The Telegraph]


The US media finally gets Georgia story right

Moscow's U.N. envoy praised The New York Times for challenging assertions that Russia started their brief war in August, saying U.S. media had finally got the story right. "It took three months for the U.S. media to start telling the truth about the August war in the Caucasus," Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said.

Russia invaded Georgia last August to thwart an attempt by Tbilisi to re-establish control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The article states "the accounts suggest that Georgia's inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on August 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm."


Tough times: And last year Congress grew 13 Percent Richer

Times are tough, but don't worry about most members of Congress making ends meet.

Overall, nearly two of every three senators are millionaires. And their collective wealth grew by 13 percent last year.

Authors of the study said it's impossible to give a precise net worth for members of Congress because their individual assets and liabilities are disclosed in broad ranges. To conduct the study, the Center for Responsive Politics determined a member's minimum net worth and maximum net worth and then calculated an average, which was used to rank the members.

So the study suggests that members of Congress are in much better shape than most Americans to make it through an economic slowdown.

[McClatchy Newspapers]


America over the barrel

Robert Reich, an adviser to President-elect Obama, termed the present financial situation a “mini-depression.” And that designation might be optimistic.

His proposed solution is for the government to spend “a lot” more on infrastructure projects on top of a trillion dollar budget deficit. So who will finance the baseline trillion dollar US budget deficit, plus the additional red ink spending on infrastructure? Not Americans. The US savings rate is zero or negative.

For years, the US government’s budget has been dependent on foreigners financing the red ink. Countries such as Japan and China and OPEC suppliers of oil to the US recycle their huge export surpluses by buying US Treasury bonds, thus financing the US government’s red ink budgets.

However, the world has had enough of American irresponsibility and is taking away the reins.

At tomorrow's November 15th economic summit, the world will begin the process of imposing a new financial order on the US in exchange for continued lending to the bankrupt “superpower.”

[Excerpt of an article by Paul Craig Roberts, former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury]

read more


Why wealthy kids are giving their inheritance to charity

As the great-grandson of a pawnbroker, who made his fortune buying up shops in London suburbs, Michael Amherst could have chosen to blow his inheritance on drink, drugs or a small yacht. But at 25, he chose instead to invest £300,000 in founding Avonbrook Projects Abroad, a charity that promotes sustainable educational ventures in Africa and the developing world.

His peers are cast as the “Me Generation”, for whom little exists beyond The X Factor and updating their Facebook entries. Yet now, as Live Earth concerts make climate change and social responsibility cool among 16 to 25-year-olds, a new generation is developing a social conscience and new sense of philanthropy.

A recent survey by the Future Foundation found that a fifth of teenagers questioned saw themselves as “hardcore greens”, demonstrating that climate change and eco living are no longer fringe issues and last week 45 per cent of 16 to 25 year-olds questioned by the youth volunteering outfit, vinspired.com, said that they believed the world is too materialistic.

[Excerpt of an article by Alexandra Blair, The Times ( London )]


Behold the black horse of Revelations

"I beheld … a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, ‘A measure of wheat for a penny; and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine."(Revelation 6:5-6 KJV.)

Bible scholars say this black horse described in the Book of Revelations represents famine and poverty perpetrated by the rich who refuse to share with those in need.

Oil and wine, throughout the Scriptures, symbolize abundance or luxury. The fact that the oil and wine (as in the above passage from Revelation) were “hurt not” indicates a situation where wealth and luxury exist alongside famine and poverty — and the gulf between rich and poor is only growing.

By one interpretation this black horse’s rider "with the pair of balances in his hand" symbolizes the rich capitalists who have had a major impact on world conditions through their manipulation of national economies. Only one other verse in the Bible pictures a man with balances or scales: "The merchant uses dishonest scales; he loves to defraud" (Hosea 12:7 NIV).

Another prophet of old, Amos, also said the merchants — the wealthy capitalists of his day who were robbing the poor instead of helping them — "set forth wheat, making the ephah [unit of measure] small, and the shekel [price] great and falsifying the balances by deceit ... that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail" (Amos 8:4-6 KJV).

Sounds very much like the situation today.


Making a Killing from Hunger

Farmers around the world grow more than enough food to feed the entire world adequately.

Grain.org describes the core reasons for continuing hunger in a recent article “Making a Killing from Hunger.” It turns out that while farmers grow enough food to feed the world, commodity speculators and huge grain traders like Cargill control the global food prices and distribution.

Starvation is profitable for corporations when demands for food push the prices up.

For a family on the bottom rung of poverty a small price increase is the difference between life and death, yet neither US presidential candidate has declared a war on starvation. Instead both candidates talk about national security and the continuation of the war on terror as if this were the primary election issue. Where is the commitment to national security though unilateral starvation relief? Where is the outrage in the corporate media with pictures of dying children and an analysis of who benefits from hunger?

American people cringe at the though of starving children, often thinking that there is little they can do about it. Global hunger and massive wealth inequality is based on political policies that can be changed.

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Phillips, a professor of sociology at Sonoma State University]


How the financial meltdown will affect philanthropy and non-profits

[Excerpt of an interview with Jane Wales, President and CEO of the World Affairs Council/Global Philanthropy Forum and Vice President of the Aspen Institute.]

I think we have already seen in the UK and USA a situation in which the government has begun to shift responsibility for the provision of some services from the public sector to the social sector without shifting resources. In the USA , this process will accelerate because both the federal government and state and local governments are short on resources and the federal government has been engaged in deficit spending for a very long time.

Foundations pinched by markets expect to give less

Nationwide, charitable foundations, which are heavily invested in the stock market, are wringing their hands over the economic downturn that has seen the market plunge more than 40 percent since last October.

Private foundations — and the amount they give — are wedded to that falling market. Federal tax laws require them to distribute 5 percent of the value of their investment assets, whether that value is based on the previous year's bottom line or an average of several years.

As the assets go, so does giving.

The severity of the economic turmoil has foundation leaders uneasy about their ability to give, since they rely on healthy assets to hand out greater amounts of money.

"We've never seen this in our lifetime," said Monica Wroblewski, spokeswoman with the Council on Foundations, a nonprofit association in Arlington , Va. "Who knows what ramifications this will have?"

[The Akron Beacon Journal]

Vital International Aid for Pakistan

Saudi Arabia has agreed to give $4 billion to Pakistan and provide oil facility on one-year deferred payments to bail out the country from a debilitating economic crisis.

Separately, the US will also be supplying Pakistan with 50,000 tons of wheat under a food-aid program.

Pakistan will make a decision after November 10th on whether or not to seek financial help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the country's top economic official said on Friday.

Pakistan is facing a balance-of-payments crisis but is hoping to avoid an IMF programme, which entails painful conditions, by securing help from allies and other multilateral lenders.

Shaukat Tarin, the prime minister's top economic adviser, told Reuters that Pakistan needs $10 billion to $15 billion to avoid a balance of payments crisis and make adjustments over the next two years.


The dirty little secret of the banking industry

In an unusually frank article published in the New York Times, the newspaper's economic columnist, Joe Nocera, reveals what he calls "the dirty little secret of the banking industry"--namely, that "it has no intention of using the [government bailout] money to make new loans."

The plan announced October 13 by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to hand over $250 billion in taxpayer money to the biggest banks was never really intended to get them to resume lending to businesses and consumers--the ostensible purpose of the bailout. Its essential aim was to engineer a rapid consolidation of the American banking system by subsidizing a wave of takeovers of smaller financial firms by the most powerful banks.

"It is starting to appear," the Times columnist writes, "as if one of the Treasury's key rationales for the recapitalization program--namely, that it will cause banks to start lending again--is a fig leaf.... In fact, Treasury wants banks to acquire each other and is using its power to inject capital to force a new and wrenching round of bank consolidation."


Two Parties, One Imperial Mission

The American empire will continue on its way, under bipartisan direction and mega-corporate pressure.

The US has the strongest army the world has ever known, and spends more than 20% of its annual budget on defense, nearly half of the spending of the rest of the world put together. It's good for the big US corporate arms manufacturers and their export sales. The Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, purchase billions of dollars of state-of-the-art ordnance.

Instead of establishing classic territorial colonies, the US secures its hegemony through some 700 military, naval and air bases in over 100 countries, the latest being in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Rumania, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Ethiopia and Kenya. At least 16 intelligence agencies with stations the world over provide the ears and eyes of this borderless empire.

For US power elites, regardless of party, there is an absolute need and priority: until the implosion of the Soviet Union it was to lay the specter of communism; since 9/11 it is to slay the serpent of radical Islamism.

Neither presidential candidate proposed an alternative to the imperial charge except perhaps to muffle the moralising and messianic rhetoric in contentious relations with Iran, China and India, and a resurgent Russia - all four driven by untried, nationally conditioned forms of capitalism.

[Excerpt of a Counterpunch article by Arno J Mayer, emeritus professor of history Princeton University].


Pakistan seeks urgent Saudi funds

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari left for Saudi Arabia on Tuesday on a two-day visit to seek assistance for Pakistan's cash-strapped economy. Pakistan needs more than $5bn within a month to meet its international obligations.

According to the Pakistani foreign office, Mr Zardari will seek Saudi oil shipments against deferred payments of up to two years to reduce pressure on the country's trade imbalance.

He will also seek Saudi support for the forthcoming meeting of a group of countries called the "Friends of Pakistan" (FOP), the foreign office said. The FOP nations include the US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, China, the UAE and several other countries. They are meeting in Abdu Dhabi on 17 November to devise ways of stabilizing Pakistan's economy.

Pakistan has been contemplating a short-term loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but says this would be its last resort, given the IMF's stringent conditions.



Comments on the Election

How come we choose from just two people to run for president, and 50 for Miss America?

Politics, it seems to me, for years, or all too long, has been concerned with right or left instead of right or wrong. ~Richard Armour

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other. ~Oscar Ameringer

The foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry. ~T.S. Eliot

We are discreet sheep; we wait to see how the drove is going, and then go with the drove. ~Mark Twain


Global insurance policy needed to help distressed economies

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) needs "hundreds of billions of dollars" to help countries at risk of collapsing amid the world financial crisis.

Brown, who is in Saudi Arabia, told reporters "The oil producing countries, who have generated over one trillion dollars from higher oil prices in recent years, are in a position to contribute."

"If we are to stop the spread of the financial crisis, we need a better global insurance policy to help distressed economies," he said.

The IMF is set to bail out Hungary, Ukraine and Iceland, but needs to boost its coffers.

Brown said he has discussed the plan for extra funds for the IMF with its chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, as well as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.



USA far from the richest nation in the world

With the largest, almost incomprehensible national debt in the world, exceeding all prior national debts combined since the founding of America, there is an honest avoidance of referring to the U.S.A. as “the richest nation in the world”.

A recent study by the Economic Cooperation and Development, comparing 30 nations finds the United States has the highest inequality and poverty rates in the OECD after Mexico and Turkey, and the gap has increased rapidly since 2000, the report said.

And the president of Partnership for the Homeless in New York City paints the reality: "The shrinking economy will undoubtedly mean less public financing for critical services and fewer jobs for our neighbors in need. During these fragile and uncertain economic times, we'll certainly be seeing thousands upon thousands more people teetering on the precipice, falling into homelessness."

And while 45 million Americans lack healthcare coverage, this Republican-led administration goes on spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. However that won’t stop American CEO's and Wall Street Bankers from maintaining the highest salaries in the world.


More on Bonuses for Failed Wall Street Bankers

The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a $700 billion taxpayer bailout, public outcry over excessive pay and the demise of three of the biggest securities firms won't deter Wall Street from offering year-end rewards to employees on top of their huge salaries.

Five straight quarters of losses and a 70 percent slide in its stock this year haven't stopped Merrill Lynch & Co. from allocating about $6.7 billion to pay bonuses.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, both still on track for profitable years, have set aside about $13 billion for bonuses. Even some employees at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which declared the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history last month, will get the same bonus they received a year ago.

Even without bonuses, Wall Street's traders and bankers typically receive salaries that range from $80,000 to $600,000 a year. That compares with the mean annual wage for the average U.S. employee of about $40,690 and a mean for CEOs of $151,370, according to a May 2007 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

“I'm just flabbergasted that the financial community has failed to show any sense of leadership on this issue and doesn't seem to understand how angry people are at them,'' said Nell Minow, editor of Corporate Library, a Portland, Maine-based corporate-governance research firm. ``They are just a bonus away from having the villagers come after them with torches.''



Goldman Sachs' bankers receiving multimillion bonuses

Goldman Sachs is ready to hand out a £7bn ($11.45 billion) bonus package for its 2008 year-end bonuses... after its £6bn ($9.83 billion) bail-out, it emerged yesterday.

The Daily Mail reports that Goldman Sachs is on course to pay its top bankers multimillion-pound bonuses - despite asking the U.S. government for an emergency bail-out.

Each of the firm's 443 partners is on course to pocket an average Christmas bonus of more than £3million ($4.9 billion).

The size of the pay pool comfortably dwarfs the £6.1billion lifeline which the U.S. government is throwing to Goldman as part of its £430billion ($703 billion) bail-out.

As Washington pours money into the bank, the cash will immediately be channeled to Goldman's already well-heeled employees. The same bankers who have brought the global economy to its knees seem to pocketing the same kind of rewards they got during the boom years.

[The Daily Mail]


McCain's Endorsement From Hell

John McCain isn't boasting about a new endorsement, one of the very, very few he has received from overseas. It came a few days ago: "Al Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election," read a commentary on a password-protected Islamist Web site that is closely linked to Al Qaeda and often disseminates the group's propaganda.

Nicholas D. Kristof of the NY Times reports that the endorsement of Mr. McCain by a Qaeda-affiliated Web site isn't a surprise to security specialists. Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism director, and Joseph Nye, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, have both suggested that Al Qaeda prefers Mr. McCain. "From their perspective, a continuation of Bush policies is best for recruiting," said Professor Nye.

Washington Post staff writers Joby Warrick and Karen DeYoung add that Al-Qaeda gloated that the Arizona Republican would continue the "failing march of his predecessor," President Bush.

In language that was by turns mocking and ominous, they also tell us that Al-Qaeda is watching the U.S. stock market's downward slide with something akin to jubilation, with its leaders hailing the financial crisis as a vindication of its strategy of crippling America's economy through endless, costly foreign wars against Islamist insurgents, having lured Washington into a trap that had "exhausted its resources and bankrupted its economy."


Doubts about the Federal Reserve have been around a long time

"Some people think the Federal Reserve Banks are US government institutions. They are not... they are private credit monopolies which prey upon the people of the US for the benefit of themselves and their foreign and domestic swindlers, and rich and predatory money lenders. The sack of the United States by the Fed is the greatest crime in history. Every effort has been made by the Fed to conceal its powers, but the truth is the Fed has usurped the government. It controls everything here and it controls all our foreign relations. It makes and breaks governments at will."
-- Louis McFadden (1876-1936) US Congressman, Chairman of House Banking and Currency Committee. (Poisoned in 1936.)

"The Federal Reserve Bank System. That system is not owned by the Government. Many people think that it is because it says ‘Federal Reserve.’ It belongs to private banks, private corporations. So we have farmed out to the Federal Reserve Banking System - one hundred percent to the private banks - the privilege of issuing the Government's money!" -- Wright Patman (1893-1976) US Congressman

The Fed’s artificially controlled financial market

The following statements by the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, made during hearings of the House Committee on Banking and Currency, September 30, 1941, illustrates the Fed's ability to "create" money. [Marriner Eccles being Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board at the time.]

Congressman Patman: "How did you get the money to buy those two billion dollars worth of Government securities in 1933?"
Marriner Eccles: "Out of the right to issue credit money."
Patman: "And there is nothing behind it, is there, except our Government's credit?"
Eccles: "That is what our money system is. If there were no debts in our money system, there wouldn't be any money."
Congressman Fletcher: "Chairman Eccles, when do you think there is a possibility of returning to a free and open market, instead of this pegged and artificially controlled financial market we now have?"
Eccles: "Never. Not in your lifetime or mine."


500 People Responsible For All Of U.S. Woes

Have you ever wondered why, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, we have deficits? Have you ever wondered why, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, we have inflation and high taxes?

One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president and nine Supreme Court justices - 545 human beings out of the 235 million - are directly, legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.

[I exclude the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered but private central bank.]

I can't think of a single domestic problem, from an unfair tax code to defense overruns, that is not traceable directly to those 545 people.

It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 235 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted -- by present facts - of incompetence and irresponsibility.

[Charley Reese, The Orlando Sentinel Star]


Secretary of the Treasury Paulson's $125 billion "giveaway" to country's largest banks

The stock market is gyrating more wildly than anytime in history. In the last few weeks, the broader economy has deteriorated faster than anytime in the last 70 years.

Meanwhile, Secretary of the Treasury Paulson's $125 billion capital "giveaway" went to nine of the country's largest banks. According to the New York Times, the banks probably won't even use Paulson's money to extend loans to consumers and businesses (as intended), but will hoard it to make sure they are sufficiently capitalized when their mortgage-backed assets are downgraded. Even worse, the banks may use the money to gobble up smaller local and regional banks.

Paulson knows what the banks are up to; after all, these are his friends. The Treasury Secretary is using his authority to reward his friends rather than doing what is best for the country.

The truth is, the $125 billion was not given to the banks to soften the effects of the recession or increase lending. It was given to make the strong banks even stronger so they could monopolize the industry.

Paulson's real plan is "more consolidation" and less competition, or as economist Michael Hudson says, "Big fish eat little fish".

[Mike Whitney]


A call for drastic action for the poor of the world

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Friday for "drastic" measures to shore up banks and extend lines of credit to the world's poorest states. Ban spoke at a closed meeting with top U.N. agency heads, economic advisers and the heads of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund focusing primarily on the global financial crisis.

"The danger is a succession of cascading financial crises," Ban warned. "This demands drastic measures … substantial standby lines of credit … so that banks in developing nations, too, have adequate funds to draw on in emergency."

The credit crisis engulfing nations from central Europe to Latin America and emerging markets ranging from Turkey to South Africa "compounds the food crisis, the energy crisis, the crisis of development in Africa," Ban said.

Earlier in the week, Ban sought advice from economists Nancy Birdsall, Dani Rodrik, Kenneth Rogoff, Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz on how to limit the depth and length of the economic downturn and ease the burden on developing countries.

Ban said in a statement, "It would be unacceptable that the least developed countries and the most vulnerable populations were asked to pay for the consequences of a crisis the making of which was entirely outside of their control."



International Aid world balance shifting to China

Pakistan is on the verge of bankruptcy and may shortly default on its debt.

The world balance of power is shifting. Pakistan's new president, Asif Zardari, went cap in hand this week to China, seeking up to $6 billion in emergency loans.

Pakistan's patron, the United States, which has been renting that nation's politicians and army for $1.2 billion per annum to support the occupation of Afghanistan, can't spare any cash for Pakistan.

Pakistan's move into China's financial embrace is a harbinger of things to come.

How ironic that the Chinese Communists have ended up with a so far sound financial system while the Wall Street bandit capitalists have gone bust.

[Excerpt of an article by Eric Margolis, Toronto Sun]


Generous International Aid to Georgia

Georgia's Western backers led by the United States and the European Union promised $4.5 billion in new aid at an international donors conference to help the ex-Soviet republic rebuild after its war with Russia.

The pledges raised exceeded the asked-for $3.2 billion based on an assessment made by the World Bank and the United Nations, despite the financial crisis that has forced many governments to pour billions into rescuing national banks and lending institutions over recent weeks.

The large pledges were seen as a new affront to Moscow by the United States and the EU, which vehemently opposed Russia's move last August to invade Georgia.

Georgia also aspires to join the NATO alliance.

Georgia's Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said "We are deeply moved and humbled by the demonstration of solidarity and support that we have received.” He added that the total aid "far exceeded the expectations" especially given the financial crisis.

Georgian groups opposing President Mikhail Saakashvili appealed to donors in Brussels to ensure the aid was not used to pay for rebuilding Georgia's armed forces or to prop up Saakashvili's government but to improve the dire human rights situation in Georgia and allow better press freedom.



Islamic banking escapes financial fallout

Islamic banking has largely escaped the fallout from the global financial crisis, thanks to rules that forbid the sort of risky business that is felling mainstream institutions.

The rules of Islamic banking and finance read like a how-to guide on avoiding the kind of disaster that is currently gripping world markets.

Islamic law prohibits the payment and collection of interest, which is seen as a form of gambling, so highly complex instruments such as derivatives and other creative accounting practices are banned.

Transactions must be backed by real assets - not shady repackaged subprime mortgages - and because risk is shared between the bank and the depositor there is an incentive for the institutions to ensure the deal is sound.

Investors have a right to know how their funds are being used, and the sector is overseen by dedicated supervisory boards as well as the usual national regulatory authorities.

But experts say that because of its heavy reliance on property investments and private equity, the booming 1 trillion dollar global industry could be hit if the turmoil worsens and real assets start to crumble.

[Straits Times]


Little evidence of belt-tightening in Washington

Signs of hard times getting harder in the U.S. are appearing every day. Home construction has dropped to its lowest level in roughly 60 years. Industrial production has fallen by rates unseen since the early 1970s. Consumer spending continues to decline month after month, even as the holiday season approaches.

But there is little evidence of belt-tightening in Washington. While the rest of the country switches into austerity mode, there's almost a boomtown feel in the capital, where a federal spending spree is rapidly driving the federal deficit to the largest deficit since the end of World War II.

And the red ink will continue to rise, thanks to panicky raids of federal coffers by policymakers trying to stem the financial crisis. When other bailouts, including the recently passed $700 billion financial rescue plan, are counted, Washington is set to shell out some $1.5 trillion in the near term.

Projections for the next fiscal year's deficit start at roughly $550 billion and go as high as $1 trillion, depending on the government's current obligations, expected further spending measures and falling tax revenues related to the slowing economy.

At some point, most economists argue, the U.S. will have to balance its budget and repay what it has borrowed to fund the spending spree. Neither presidential candidate can convincingly argue that a balanced budget is possible in the next few years. Both are advocating economic programs that will probably increase the deficit even more. Republican candidate John McCain is calling for some $52 billion in economic recovery spending, while Democratic candidate Barack Obama's plan would cost roughly $175 billion. Both McCain and Obama have vowed to cut taxes, which is likely to drive the deficit higher.



The Pinochet principle: no one is above the law

On October 16 1998, a magistrate signed a warrant for the arrest of Senator Augusto Pinochet and changed the course of history. The former Chilean head of state was arrested a few hours later, at the request of a Spanish prosecutor who charged him with a raft of international crimes, some dating back to the early 1970s.

One central question lay at the heart of the whole affair: was a former head of state entitled to claim immunity before the English courts, where it was alleged that he had participated in crimes, in violation of international conventions, such as torture? This question had never before been decided.

In March 1999, the House of Lords ruled that Pinochet's loss of immunity arose not from some unstated general rule of international law, but rather from the terms of a treaty to which Britain, Chile and Spain were party – the 1984 convention outlawing torture – the terms of which were inconsistent with immunity for a former head of state. It is impossible to overstate the significance of that ruling, which reflected a new balance of global priorities, a shift in favor of principle over pragmatism. It has been followed by international indictments against other former heads of state [including] Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor.

Nevertheless, it seems that Pinochet's case caused concerns at the highest levels of the Bush administration, as described in a revealing account by a former lawyer in the Bush administration, Jack Goldsmith. He describes how, during 2002, Henry Kissinger found himself on the sharp end of the Pinochet case. Reportedly livid, a rattled Kissinger complained to his old chum Donald Rumsfeld.

We now know that while this was going on, Rumsfeld and Haynes and others at the Pentagon were secretly circumventing international laws like the Geneva conventions and the torture convention and removing international constraints on the interrogation of detainees at Guantánamo and in Iraq. Torture and other international crimes followed. So did the Abu Ghraib photos.

The legacy of the arrest warrant signed in Hampstead 10 years today, is the Pinochet principle, that no one is above the law. It may one day come to haunt the very people who sought to set it aside. If, that is, they ever dare to set foot outside the United States.

[The Guardian]