Gaza's suffering children

Every once in a while Ibrahim Hawash, 42, calls his wife Noha from his nightshift job to make sure that she has followed the treatment course prescribed by their family doctor for their four children, who are in primary school.

The four children lost their ability to control urination due to the fear they underwent when Israeli army jets bombed a home near theirs in the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip during the "Warm Winter" military campaign three weeks ago. The four children still remember the terrifying night when they woke frightened up to the sound of a thundering explosion in the area and found that the glass of their home's windows had fallen onto their bed.

Thousands of Palestinian children have experienced what Hawash's four children are undergoing. Aish Samour, director of the Psychiatric Hospital in Gaza, says that 30 per cent of Palestinian children under 10 years of age suffer from involuntary urination due to deep-seated fear, and mentions other nervous problems such as nail- biting, nightmares, bodily pains of unknown cause, crying and introversion.

Samour adds that the scenes and images of death, destruction, tanks, ambulances, children bombed, bulldozers uprooting trees, the funerals of the killed, and planes that drop missiles over homes and the smoke rising from them -- all of which are shown on television as well as witnessed in the events that take place around them -- seriously affect the psychological and nervous conditions of Palestinian children.

According to a study conducted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, each Palestinian child has been exposed to more than nine shocking events. The study says that 95.6 per cent of children have seen images of the wounded and killed, and 95 per cent have been affected adversely by hearing the sounds of explosions as a result of shelling. Further, a total of 60 per cent of children have undergone moderate psychological shock.

Matters are made more complicated by the fact that due to the Gaza siege, Palestinian children suffer from a chronic state of malnutrition that affects their intellect. This is reflected in the fact that 15 per cent of Gaza's children suffer from impairments in their intellectual abilities due to malnutrition. He adds that repression and violence accumulated within the lives of Palestinian children affect their creative capacities and push them to resort to extreme acts that reflect the pain and frustration they feel.

[Excerpt of an article by Saleh Al-Naami, Al-Ahram]


US aid dependency: The road to ruin

The true measure of the alliance of any two states or political groups rests on an accurate and fair reading of two forms of support: military aid and economic assistance, and reaching a verdict about these two forms of support is based on the examination of three properties of such aid: the monetary value (size or quantity) of this aid, the declared and hidden objectives of the aid and the conditions attached to it (the quality of the aid).

The first type is that of political forces or governments that represent elites or particular religious or political communities and who exercise limited authority within countries or territories that suffer from partial or total instability. These countries include Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan and Lebanon. US military and economic aid to their allies in these countries is mostly symbolic, tactical or directed towards internal security and against the interest of the peoples or these countries.

The second category of allies is composed of governments or dictatorial regimes that represent their own interests over and above that of their people and rule in countries that are partially or totally stable. These countries include Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. US aid to these countries is more than symbolic, but often limited and subject to serious constraints.

The last category of US allies in the Middle East is that of governments that speak in the name of the interest of its own people (at least the majority) and rule in internally stable countries. These countries include Turkey and Israel. US aid to these countries makes a significant contribution to the military and economic performance of these countries.

[Excerpt of an article by Lebanese Canadian journalist Hicham Safieddine, writing in Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar]


$5000 per second to remain in Iraq

We still don't have any exit plan on the Iraqi War for years to come--all for a bill that is accumulating at the rate of almost $5,000 every second!

Americans are losing their homes, jobs and health insurance; banks are struggling--and the Iraq war appears to have aggravated all these domestic woes. So as we debate whether to bring our troops home, one central question should be whether Iraq is really the best place to invest $411 million every day in present spending alone.

Granted, the cost estimates are squishy and controversial, partly because the $12.5 billion a month that we're now paying for Iraq is only a down payment. We'll still be making disability payments to Iraq war veterans 50 years from now.

Moreover, the Bush administration has financed this war in a way that undermines our national security--by borrowing. Forty percent of the increased debt will be held by China and other foreign countries.

A Congressional study by the Joint Economic Committee found that the sums spent on the Iraq war each day could enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start or give Pell Grants to 153,000 students to attend college. Or if we're sure we want to invest in security, then a day's Iraq spending would finance another 11,000 border patrol agents or 9,000 police officers.

Imagine the possibilities. We could rehabilitate America's image in the world by underwriting a global drive to slash maternal mortality, eradicate malaria and deworm every child in Africa. All that would consume less than one month's spending on the Iraq war.

Professor Stiglitz calculates that the eventual total cost of the war will be about $3 trillion. For a family of five like mine, that amounts to a bill of almost $50,000.

I don't feel that I'm getting my money's worth.

[Excerpt of an article by Nicholas Kristoff, NY Times News Service]


Falling short on Afghan aid pledges

The United States has not delivered $5 billion worth of aid it pledged to help rebuild Afghanistan, and other donors have fallen short by about that same amount, a report from humanitarian groups said Tuesday.

An alliance of 94 international aid agencies said the prospects for peace in Afghanistan are being undermined because Western countries are failing to deliver on aid promises.

"The reconstruction of Afghanistan requires a sustained and substantial commitment of aid, but donors have failed to meet their aid pledges to Afghanistan," said the report's author, Matt Waldman, Afghanistan policy adviser for Oxfam.

The aid groups' report criticized the large difference being what is spent on aid and on the cost of military operations. "This is a shortsighted policy," Waldman wrote.

Previous reports by aid groups have said the international community is spending far less aid money in Afghanistan per capita -- and putting far fewer soldiers on the ground -- than it has in previous conflicts.


More on Afghanistan


What Do We Owe Iraq?

What do we owe Iraq for over a million dead, and ten times that number wounded or otherwise devastated in five years?

For 5,000,000 people who have been uprooted and displaced from their homes, half of them forced to flee their homeland, 65% of them women and children, 80% of the children less than 12 years of age?

What do we owe Iraq for having perverted governance into an aggregation of death squads? For leveling essential services, leaving the nation in the dark most days, contaminating the water supply, destroying the agricultural sector in the birthplace of agriculture, and aiding and abetting the looting of the cradle of civilization?

What do we owe this country "where the first letter was written, the first law put, the first university built, the first money issued, and the first poetry written?" asks Eman Kammas, a fearless Iraqi journalist now forced into exile.

The $3,000,000.000.000 USD Joseph Stiglitz calculates this illegal war will cost U.S. taxpayers will not compensate Iraq in per capita reparations.

What do we owe Iraq? The damage can never be quantified.

[Excerpt of an article by John Ross, Counterpunch]


Woman Raised from the Dead

"I came back, because it was the will of God for me to live with my children. But I would be very happy to go back there. Now I have seen when a Christian dies, he goes to a better place…"

Fatuma Shubisa, an Ethiopian mother-of-nine fell sick and, after some time, she was found to have passed away by her mother who had come to care for her.

There was great mourning in the small village of Alelu, as Fatuma's death was made known among friends and family members. But word of Fatuma's passing also reached the ears of a Christian missionary named Warsa Buta, who was in the area. Buta sought out the deceased woman. A non-Christian crowd gathered as the missionary continued to pray over Fatuma's sheet-covered body. They asked, "Why is this man praying over a dead body?"

Warsa Buta relates what happened next, "I prayed as Peter prayed. 'Fatuma, be raised. I ask you in the name of the Lord. Come to life.' When I prayed that prayer - 'Fatuma, rise in the name of Jesus' - she sat up in the bed."

It had been 12 hours since Fatuma had died.

"…Immediately I found myself in my body," explained Fatuma, "I sat up in my bed and started asking, 'What is this? What's happening? What's going on?'

During the time she was deceased, Fatuma apparently experienced some wonderful glimpses of Heaven, and of family members who had gone before, which she talks about on a CBN video report.

Watch the video


A Pause in the War

A 10 day pause in the Iraqi War could finance the doubling of aid to Africa.

If it had ended a year or so back, that amount saved could have provided the cash needed to put Social Security on firm financial footing for at least the next 50 to 75 years.

As the following quotations from Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz bear out:

What we spend in aid to Africa amounts to but 10 days of upfront costs of fighting in Iraq."

President Bush talked about the enormous financial problems facing Social Security. Well, for one-sixth of the cost of an Iraq war, one could put Social Security on firm financial footing for at least the next 50 to 75 years.


An Analysis of the Iraq War by Joseph Stiglitz

Five years ago, as the Bush administration was preparing to attack Iraq, it claimed that the war would cost $50 billion to $60 billion. We are now spending for military operations alone that amount every three months—and that sum does not even include future costs, such as disability and health benefits for returning troops.

War is always expensive, but this war is particularly expensive. It is now the nation's second longest (after Vietnam) and the second costliest (after the all-encompassing World War II). The cost per troop, even adjusted for inflation, is some eight times greater than earlier wars.

From an economic perspective, this is the first war in America's history that ordinary citizens have not been asked to make an economic sacrifice as their sons and daughters risked their lives; as we went to war, there was a huge deficit, but in spite of this, we actually cut taxes on upper-income Americans, meaning the costs are being passed on to future generations.

The war set off the rise in oil prices. Oil cost $25 a barrel before the war, and the futures markets—which already took into account the projected growth in demand by China and other emerging markets—nonetheless expected prices to remain at this level for another decade. The invasion of Iraq changed the equation, and supply did not grow to meet demand.

[Rising oil costs] transferred money out of the pockets of consumers and businesses into the coffers of oil exporters like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Kuwait and Russia. This money does not stimulate the U.S. economy.

Indeed, most of the money we have spent on Iraq has not stimulated the U.S. economy … paying contractors from Nepal, the Philippines and elsewhere to cook food, wash laundry, construct barracks and drive trucks in Iraq.

The contractors have done well though—just look at Halliburton Co.'s share prices, which almost tripled in value.

[Excerpt of an article by J. E. Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, writing in The Chicago Tribune]


On the Iraqi War fifth anniversary

Americans offered a much more negative view of the Iraq war than President George Bush’s verdict on its fifth anniversary today.

Mr Bush said removing Sadam Hussein from power was the right decision, the war on terror is “a fight America can and must win” and Iraq is “the place where Arabs joined with Americans to drive al-Qaida out”.

But a poll published today found 54% of Americans viewed the war as a “total failure” or “mostly a failure”.

In its front page story, Karen DeYoung wrote in the Washington Post: “For a majority of Americans, today marks the fifth anniversary of the start of an Iraq war that was not worth fighting, one that has cost thousands of lives and more than half a trillion dollars.

Protests were taking place across the US, including at the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, where dozens of protesters held signs which read “Out of Iraq” and “No war, no warming,” and chanted “No blood for Oil!” College students from New Jersey to North Dakota planned walkouts, while students at the University of Minnesota vowed to shut down military recruiting offices on campus.

[Evening Echo, Ireland]


New role for U.S. Chief Auditor

David M. Walker spent his last day Wednesday as comptroller general of the United States. As the head of the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, Walker has been perhaps the most outspoken official in Washington warning of the fiscal train wreck that awaits this country unless it mends its ways.

Even as a nonpartisan employee of Congress, Walker has been blunt enough to say, again and again, that "at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and on both sides of the political aisle, there are too few leaders who face the facts" about this fiscal mess.

Walker had begun to realize he was pushing the limits on advocacy at the GAO. So he jumped at the opportunity offered him by a Wall Street investment banker [to run its] foundation.

The foundation's main focus will be to spur action to curb the deficits. Walker said he will be able to do things his old job did not allow -- "advocate specific solutions, build coalitions and put grass-roots pressure on Washington."

The last time the broad public grasped the danger of budget deficits was in 1992, when Ross Perot paid for half-hour television infomercials, complete with dramatic charts and graphs. Walker says the foundation will try to emulate Perot, using television, the Internet and all other communication tools. No task is more important to our future.

[Excerpt of an article by David S. Broader, Washington Post]


Bush Administration $2,940,000,000,000 off in its calculations

Back in 2002-2003, according to key officials in the Bush administration , the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq was going to cost $60 billion.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz championed this $60 billion figure, but added that much of the cost might well be covered by Iraqi oil revenues; the country was, after all, floating on a "sea of oil." ("To assume we're going to pay for it all is just wrong," he told a congressional hearing.)

Let's take that $60 billion figure as the Bush baseline. If economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes are right in their recent calculations and this will turn out to be more than a $3 trillion war (not to speak of a $5-7 trillion one), then the Bush administration was at least $2,940,000,000,000 off in its calculations.

But what does money matter? After all, this administration has been spending as if there were no tomorrow.

[Excerpt of an article by Tom Engelhardt, Tomgram]


'No link between Saddam and al-Qaeda'

A detailed Pentagon study confirms there was no direct link between late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda network, debunking a claim President George W Bush's administration used to justify invading Iraq.

Coming five years after the start of the war in Iraq, the study of 600,000 official Iraqi documents and thousands of hours of interrogations of former Saddam Hussein colleagues "found no smoking gun (ie direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al-Qaeda," said the study, quoted in US media.

The US administration appeared to bury the release of the study, making it available only at individual request and by mail - instead of posting it on the internet or handing it out to reporters.

Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and top aides have insisted there were links between Saddam and al-Qaeda, citing the alleged ties as a rationale for going to war in Iraq.

[Agence France-Presse

War Funds could be used in so many other ways

Professor Joseph Stiglitz, an academic at the Columbia Business School and a former economic adviser to president Bill Clinton, said that the further $US500 billion that will be spent on the War in Iraq in the next two years could have been used more effectively to improve the security and quality of life of Americans and the rest of the world.

The money being spent on the war each week would be enough to wipe out illiteracy around the world, he said.

Just a few days' funding would be enough to provide health insurance for US children who were not covered, he said.

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Wilson, The Australian]

See also


Firsthand account from soldiers: Iraq and Afghanistan

March 13 to 16, Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan features testimony from U.S. veterans who served in those occupations, who are giving an account of what is really happening day in and day out, on the ground.

This four-day event brings together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan - and present video and photographic evidence. In addition, there will be panels of scholars, veterans, journalists, and other specialists to give context to the testimony. These panels will cover everything from the history of the GI resistance movement to the fight for veterans' health benefits and support.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and Gold Star Families Speak Out will attend the panels at Winter Soldier.

You can watch the live broadcasts online and on television, and to listen online and the radio. Find out more about how to watch or listen here. To find a local Winter Soldier screening event or to submit a screening event go to events map.



Mr. Pot meet Mr. Kettle "greatest humanitarian disaster"

China accused the United States of human rights hypocrisy, as it branded the US invasion of Iraq the "greatest humanitarian disaster" of the modern world.

In an annual response to Washington's criticism of China's human rights record, the Chinese government labeled the United States arrogant, and highlighted what it said were widespread US failures at home and abroad.

"[America's] arrogant critique on the human rights of other countries are always accompanied by a deliberate ignoring of serious human rights problems on its own territory," said the report, released by the state Xinhua news agency.

"This was not only inconsistent with universally recognized norms of international relations, but also exposed the double standards and downright hypocrisy of the United States on the human rights issue, and inevitably impaired its international image."

"The United States has a notorious record of trampling on the sovereignty of and violating human rights in other countries," it said.

[Excerpt of an article by Guy Newey, AFP]


Killing ourselves in Afghanistan

On a recent bitterly cold winter day, I sat huddled on a red Persian carpet in an unheated Kabul office, waiting for a visitor who, I was told by a trusted friend, would help me understand why America is not winning its war in Afghanistan. Our meeting was conducted in secrecy. My guest was, until early 2007, a Taliban commander of 50 fighters in North Waziristan, Pakistan.

For at least two and a half years, and perhaps far longer, the Pakistani government has been receiving massive U.S. aid while its intelligence agency and elements of its military have been pursuing their own anti-American agenda within Afghanistan. The U.S. has given the Musharraf regime $10 billion since Sept. 11, 2001, but Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and factions within the Pakistan army, while helping the U.S. track al-Qaida with one hand, have been aiding the Taliban with the other. In part because of Pakistani help, the Taliban have made a steady comeback and American and Afghan casualties are at their highest annual levels since the war began. Coalition casualties increased more than 20 percent last year.

Islamabad has denied complicity and Washington has maintained official silence, but the double-dealing is not surprising. It's just the continuation of the Pakistani government's former alliance with the Taliban, which was itself an outgrowth of a decades-old Pakistani policy of trying to exert control over the internal affairs of its chaotic neighbor. [The former Taliban commander] said the ISI had helped train and arm him to fight inside Afghanistan against U.S. and international coalition forces since 2002.

Interviews with Afghan and U.S. intelligence officials involved in covert U.S. operations along the border suggest that U.S. intelligence operatives have known since 2005 that the Pakistan army and the ISI have been training and arming insurgents in the Tribal Areas who cross into Afghanistan to kill Afghan, U.S. and coalition forces. "Our guys are getting killed because Pakistan has a double policy," said an American policy advisor who travels frequently to U.S military and CIA bases near the border.

[Excerpt of article by Matthew Cole, Salon.com]


The Silent Violence of Gaza's Suffering

The world’s largest prison—Gaza prison with 1.5 million inmates, many of them starving, sick and penniless.

The humanitarian crisis brought about by Israeli government blockades that prevent food, medicine, fuel and other necessities from coming into this tiny enclave through international relief organizations.

The Israeli government is barring most of the trucks from entering Gaza to feed the nearly one million Palestinians depending on international relief, from groups such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The loss of life from crumbling health care facilities, disastrous electricity cutoffs, gross malnutrition and contaminated drinking water from broken public water systems does not get totaled.

These are the children and their civilian adult relatives who expire in a silent violence of suffering that 98 percent of Congress avoids mentioning while extending billions of taxpayer dollars to Israel annually. UNRWA says “we are seeing evidence of the stunting of children, their growth is slowing.” Cancer patients are deprived of their chemotherapy, kidney patients are cut off from dialysis treatments and premature babies cannot receive blood-clotting medications.

The misery, mortality and morbidity worsens day by day. Here is how the commissioner-general of UNRWA sums it up, “Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and-some would say-encouragement of the international community.”

[Excerpt of an article by Ralph Nader]


Ahmadinejad's Win in Iraq

There was meager media attention paid to the truly historic visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iraq. Not only is he the first Mideast head of state to visit the country since its alleged liberation, but the very warm official welcome offered by the Iraqi government to the most vociferous critic of the United States speaks volumes to the abject failure of the Bush doctrine.

What leverage does the United States have over Iran when, as the image of Ahmadinejad holding hands with the top leaders of Iraq? There is no face-saving exit from Iraq without the cooperation of Tehran, and the folks who call America the "Great Satan" now hold the high cards.

How interesting that Ahmadinejad, unlike a U.S. president who has to be airlifted unannounced into ultra-secure bases, was able to convoy in from the airport in broad daylight on a road that U.S. dignitaries fear to travel. His love fest with Iraq President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who fought on Iran's side against Iraq and who speaks Farsi, even took place outside of the safety of the Green Zone, adding emphasis to Ahmadinejad's claim that while he is welcome in Iraq, the Americans are not.

George W. Bush has given his Iranian foes a Shiite-run ally. Iran is now a major trading partner of Iraq that has offered a $1 billion loan, the border is increasingly porous as religious pilgrimages have become the norm, and many investment projects supervised by Iranians are in the works. Instead of isolating the "rogue regime" of Iran, the Bush administration has catapulted the theocrats of Tehran into the center of Mideast political power. There can be no peace, whether in Lebanon, Gaza or Iraq, without the cooperation of the ayatollahs of Iran.

For Bush, his signature issue, the battle against terrorism, is a shambles. The terrorists are very much on the rise in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which Bush neglected for an Iraq sideshow that has cost over a trillion dollars and tens of thousands of lives.

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Scheer, HP]


War is Hell and Costs like Hell

War is hell -- deadly, dangerous, and expensive. But just how expensive is it? How much, for instance, does one week of George Bush's wars cost?

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan together in a conservative single-week estimate comes to $3.5 billion. Remember, that's PER WEEK!

By contrast, per YEAR:

The whole international community spends less than $400 million per year on the International Atomic Energy Agency, the primary institution for monitoring and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. government spends just $1 billion per year securing and destroying loose nuclear weapons and bomb-making materials. (Or less than two days' worth of war costs)

Washington spends a total of just $7 billion per year on combating global warming. (Or a whopping two weeks' worth of war costs.)

[Excerpt of an article by William D. Hartun, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation]

See more

War Funds could be used in so many other ways

Professor Joseph Stiglitz, an academic at the Columbia Business School and a former economic adviser to president Bill Clinton, said that the further $US500 billion that will be spent on the War in Iraq in the next two years could have been used more effectively to improve the security and quality of life of Americans and the rest of the world.

The money being spent on the war each week would be enough to wipe out illiteracy around the world, he said.

Just a few days' funding would be enough to provide health insurance for US children who were not covered, he said.

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Wilson, The Australian]

See also

So where the hell do War Funds go?

What does that $3.5 billion per week for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan actually pay for?

In fact, only 10% of it, or under $350 million per week, goes to pay and benefits for uniformed military personnel.

That's less than a quarter of the $1.4 billion per week that goes to war contractors to pay for everything from bullets to bombers. And much of that money is being wasted every week on the wrong kinds of equipment at exorbitant prices. And even when it is the right kind of equipment, there are often startling delays in getting it to the battlefield, as was the case with advanced armored vehicles for the Marine Corps.

By one reliable estimate, there are more contract employees in Iraq alone -- about 180,000 -- than there are U.S. troops. Individual employees of private military firms like Blackwater and Triple Canopy make up to 10 times what many U.S. enlisted personnel make, or as much as $7,500 per week. If even one-tenth of the 5,000 to 6,000 armed contract employees in Iraq make that much, we're talking about at least $40 million per week.

So most of this money ends up in the hands of private companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and the former Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root.

[Excerpt of an article by William D. Hartun, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation]

See more

Hell = War = Good Business

The vast majority of the $3.5 billion spent per week for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ends up in the hands of private companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and the former Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root.

The list of weapons and accessories paid for each week from a portion of the $3.5 billion total spent per week is long and daunting:

$1.5 million for M-4 carbines (about 900 guns per week);
$2.3 million for machine guns (about 170 per week);
$4.3 million for Hellfire missiles (about 50 missiles per week);
$6.9 million for night vision devices (about 2,100 per week);
$10.8 million for fuel per week;
$5 million to store and transport that fuel per week;
$14.8 million for F-18E/F fighter planes per week (one every four weeks);
$23.4 million for ammunition per week;
$30.7 million for Bradley fighting vehicles (10 per week).

And that's only a very partial list. What about the more mundane items?

"Laundries, showers, and latrines" cost more than $110,000 per week;
"Parachutes and aerial delivery systems" cost $950,000 per week;
"Runway snow removal and cleaning" costs $132,000 per week;
Flares cost $50,000 per week.

[Excerpt of an article by William D. Hartun, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation]


More than 50% of Gaza casualties weren't militants

The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem said in a statement that more than half of the Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip in operations in recent days did not take an active part in the fighting.

This statement came after the IDF Chief of Staff issued a statement saying that 90 percent of those killed were in fact armed militants.

According to data gathered by B'Tselem, 106 Palestinians were killed between February 27 and March 3. Fifty four of them were civilians who didn't take part in the fighting, and 25 were under 18, the statement said.

B'Tselem expressed concern over the high number of civilians, especially children, who have been killed recently in the Gaza Strip. "Israel has a right to defend its citizens from rockets, which are in themselves a war crime, and it is what it must do," the organization wrote. "Israel must do so within the confines of the law, which must conform to the criteria of differentiation and proportionality as defined by international humanitarian law."



Gaza in worst humanitarian shape since 1967

A human rights coalition charged Thursday that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza has reached its worst point since Israel captured the territory in 1967.

In a scathing report, eight British-based rights organizations said that more than 1.1 million people, about 80 percent of Gaza's residents, are now dependent on food aid, as opposed to 63 percent in 2006. It said that overall unemployment is close to 40 percent.

It also said that hospitals are suffering from power cuts of up to 12 hours a day, and the water and sewage systems were close to collapse.

The report follows strident international condemnation of Israel after it struck hard against Palestinian militants in Gaza, killing more than 120 in the past week, including many civilians, after Palestinians militants escalated their daily rocket fire at Israel.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said Israel must protect its citizens, "but as the occupying power in Gaza it also has a legal duty to ensure that Gazans have access to food, clean water, electricity and medical care."

The 16-page report -- sponsored by Amnesty, along with CARE International UK, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Medecins du Monde UK, Oxfam, Save the Children UK and Trocaire -- calls on the British government to exert greater pressure on Israel and to reverse its policy on not negotiating with Gaza's Hamas rulers.



So who counted the cost of this war?

From a speech by Professor Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank vice-president and an academic at the Columbia Business School:

"The public had been encouraged by the White House to ignore the costs of the war because of the belief that the war would somehow pay for itself or be paid for by Iraqi oil or US allies.

"When the Bush administration went to war in Iraq it obviously didn't focus very much on the cost. Larry Lindsey, the chief economic adviser, said the cost was going to be between $US100 - 200 billion - and for that slight moment of quasi-honesty he was fired.

"(Then Defence Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld responded and said 'baloney', and the number the administration came up with was $US50 - $US60 Billion. We have calculated that the cost was more like $US 3 Trillion.

"Three trillion is a very conservative number, the true costs are likely to be much larger than that."

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Wilson, The Australian]


Iraq war 'caused slowdown in the US'

The Iraq war has cost the US 50-60 times more than the Bush administration predicted and was a central cause of the sub-prime banking crisis threatening the world economy, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

The former World Bank vice-president yesterday said the war had, so far, cost the US something like $US3 Trillion ($3.3 Trillion) compared with the $US50-60 Billion predicted in 2003.

Professor Stiglitz told the Chatham House think tank in London that the Bush White House was currently estimating the cost of the war at about $US 500 Billion, but that figure massively understated things such as the medical and welfare costs of US military servicemen.

The war was now the second-most expensive in US history after World War II and the second-longest after Vietnam, he said.

The spending on Iraq was a hidden cause of the current credit crunch because the US central bank responded to the massive financial drain of the war by flooding the American economy with cheap credit.

"The regulators were looking the other way and money was being lent to anybody this side of a life-support system," he said.

That led to a housing bubble and a consumption boom, and the fallout was plunging the US economy into recession and saddling the next US president with the biggest budget deficit in history, he said.

[Excerpt of an article by Peter Wilson, The Australian]


70% Of Afghanistan Outside Government Control

The top U.S. intelligence official says the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai controls just 30% of the country.

Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the resurgent Taliban controls 10% to 11% of the country, while Karzai's government controls 30% to 31%.

So more than six years after the U.S. invasion to oust the Taliban and establish a stable central government, the majority of Afghanistan's population remains under local tribal control.

[Wall Street Journal]

Afghanistan since the U.S. arrived

A recent report on drugs says Afghanistan now produces 93 percent of the world's opium poppy.

That's despite the $140 billion Congress has appropriated for Afghanistan since the Sept. 11 attacks that were the original reason given for U.S. involvement.

The Taliban have built a huge and profitable drug operation in Afghanistan while provincial governors look the other way, the latest grim sign of backsliding in a country the U.S. has spent six years and billions of dollars trying to salvage.

Just this week, the top U.S. intelligence official told Congress that President Hamid Karzai's government controls only 30 percent of the country.

[Excerpt of an article by Anne Gearan, The Associated Press]


War costs estimated at over $3 trillion to date

When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in March 2003, the Bush administration predicted that the war would be self-financing, and rebuilding the nation would cost less than $2 billion.

Coming up on the five-year anniversary of the invasion, a new estimate from a Nobel laureate puts the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at more than $3 trillion.

In their book “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard University professor Linda Bilmes, argue that the cost to America of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is wildly underestimated.

When other factors are added — such as interest on debt, future borrowing for war expenses, continued military presence in Iraq and lifetime health care and counseling for veterans — they think that the wars’ costs range from $5 trillion to $7 trillion.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine Corps colonel and Vietnam veteran, welcomed the effort by Stiglitz and Bilmes to quantify the ways in which the wars will cost taxpayers. “It’s astounding that here we are about to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and this administration still refuses to acknowledge the long-term costs of the war in Iraq,” he said.

By any estimate, the Bush administration’s predictions in March 2003 of a self-financing war have proved drastically inaccurate.

[Excerpt of an article by Kevin G. Hall – McClatchy Newspapers]