US focus of human rights report, with China and Russia

Human rights and freedom of the press in China, the detention of terrorist suspects by the United States and Russia's treatment of political dissent are the focus of scrutiny in Amnesty International's annual report, released this week, which looks at the state of human rights around the world.

Of the 150 countries and regions listed in the report, Amnesty paid particular attention to China, the host of this summer's Olympic Games. The group said growing numbers of human rights activists were imprisoned or harassed in China in 2007, with ethnic and religious minorities -- including Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners and Christians -- repressed or persecuted.

As it has in previous annual reports, Amnesty criticized the detention of hundreds of foreign nationals at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "The USA must close Guantanamo detention camp and secret detention centers, prosecute the detainees under fair trial standards or release them, and unequivocally reject the use of torture and ill-treatment," Amnesty said.

In fact, more is written on the United States than any other country listed in the report. Asked about that at a press conference Tuesday, Khan said, "We certainly devote a lot of time to Sudan, to China, to Zimbabwe and other countries. But we look to the U.S. to provide leadership around the world. Governments around the world look to the United States as a role model for their own behavior."



Former White House spokesman accuses the Bush administration

The memoir of former White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, accuses the Bush administration of being mired in propaganda and political spin and at times playing loose with the truth.

In excerpts from a 341-page book to be released Monday, McClellan writes on the war in Iraq that Bush "and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war. …In this regard, he was terribly ill-served by his top advisers, especially those involved directly in national security," McClellan wrote.

McClellan wrote that he believes he told untruths on Bush's behalf in the case of CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose identity was leaked to the media. Rove and fellow White House advisers Elliot Abrams and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were accused of leaking the name of Plame -- whose husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, had gone public with charges the Bush administration had "twisted" facts to justify the war in Iraq. Libby was convicted last year of lying to a grand jury and federal agents investigating the leak. Bush commuted his 30-month prison term, calling it excessive.

McClellan announced he was resigning in April 2006 at a news conference with Bush.

"One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas talking about the good old days of his time as the press secretary," Bush said at that conference. "And I can assure you, I will feel the same way then that I feel now, that I can say to Scott, job well done."



Food crisis threatens 22 countries, U.N. says

Twenty-two nations are particularly threatened by the global food crisis that has seen soaring prices increase hunger, leading to protests and riots in some countries, the United Nations said.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) list of 22 "particularly vulnerable" countries: Eritrea, Burundi, Comoros, Tajikistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Haiti, Zambia, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Tanzania, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Malawi, Cambodia, North Korea, Rwanda, Botswana, Niger, Kenya.

A report prepared by the FAO for a summit in Rome next week said the countries are vulnerable because they suffer from chronic hunger and are forced to import food and fuel. The three-day conference that opens Tuesday is expected to draw a number of world leaders.

The FAO said it will provide a "historic chance" to relaunch the fight against hunger and poverty and boost agricultural production in developing countries.

High oil prices, growing demand, flawed trade policies, panic buying and speculation have sent food prices soaring worldwide.


The President does not have the power to declare war

The critical corollary to Bush's so-called "preemptive military action" insists that Bush, acting in preemptive self-defense of his country, has a right to use force--that is, declare war--on a potentially aggressive foreign nation. (For the present time, Iran seems to fit the bill.)

But does President Bush have the authority to unilaterally declare war against a foreign nation without the approval of Congress? Not according to our founding fathers. "The Congress shall have Power to…declare War…"--Article I, Section 8, U.S. Constitution

Attempts have been made over time to weaken or redefine the Constitution's definitive statement of who can and cannot make a declaration of war. For example, in 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution, which gives a president the authority to wage war abroad for 60 days without congressional approval. It is questionable whether this act, if challenged, would hold up to constitutional muster.

Certainly, the framers never intended that a president, acting independent of Congress, have the power to wage war against another country merely on the basis of a potential threat. The framers did not believe in entrusting "a single man" with the decision to commit troops and finances to war, which would, in essence, be a dictatorship. The framers left the war-making decision to the "deliberative process in Congress." In this way, nothing but a clear national interest can draw us into war.

And for Bush to ignore the rule of law under which this nation operates is to ignore our Constitution. To act otherwise--especially in matters of war--is an impeachable offense under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution.

[Excerpt of an article by John W. Whitehead, The Rutherford Institute]


Memorial Day tributes to the dead are easy

[On Memorial Day] much of the media rolls over backwards to glorify war and all the soldiers slaughtered in wars. Tributes to the dead are easy; the dead don't talk back.

Civilian casualties are not mentioned, nor ­ post traumatic stress syndrome, Agent Orange, or Gulf War syndrome. The deleterious health effects of depleted uranium (used in today’s weapons) is likewise ignored.

This Memorial Day weekend, while the media replays endless tales of dead soldiers, living soldiers in Iraq will try to stay alive, dodging a slew of daily resistance attacks, in a nation our leaders invaded not because they had to, but simply because they wanted to.

The media [suppresses] the truth, which is that the war in Iraq is a massive foreign policy failure; Iraq is a failed state, an incredibly chaotic unstable mess where tens of thousands of Iraqis have died needlessly.

[Excerpt of n article by Kristina M. Gronquist]


Index ranks U.S. more violent than Libya

The United States is ranked as a lot more violent than Nicaragua and Libya, according to the Global Peace Index released by Britain's Economist Intelligence Unit.

The index ranks 140 countries according to their relative states of peace, based on factors such as military expenditure and respect for human rights. The idea for the index came from Steve Killelea, an Australian businessman and philanthropist who wanted to identify just what creates a peaceful country. He asked the Economist Intelligence Unit to look at a range of variables, from levels of homicides per 100,000 people to corruption and access to primary education.

"The U.S. does so badly because has the highest proportion of jailed people in the world. And it has high levels of homicide and high potential for terrorist attacks," Killelea told The Associated Press. "Its overall score is a reflection of that. The index is not making any moral statements by the ranking."


1. Iceland
2. Denmark
3. Norway
4. New Zealand
5. Japan
6. Ireland
7. Portugal
8. Finland
9. Luxembourg
10. Austria


Global Peace Index: USA low and Israel rock bottom

A study ranks the United States 97th out of 140 countries according to how peaceful they were domestically and how they interacted with the outside world. The United States was still ahead of foe Iran which ranked 105th. It, however, lagged Belarus, Cuba, South Korea, Chile, Libya and others which were listed as more peaceful.

Israel ranked 136th out of 140 according to the "Global Peace Index".

The index was launched under the auspices of the Institute for Economics and Peace, a new think tank that looks at the relationship between economics, business and peace. The index looks at 24 indicators of external and internal measures of peace, including UN deployments overseas and levels of violent crime, respect for human rights, the number of soldiers killed overseas and arms sales.

The Group of Eight major economic powers were a mixed bag. Japan ranked fifth, Canada 11th, Germany 14th, Italy 28th, France 36th and Britain 49th. Russia was near the bottom at 131st, the only one in the group below the United States.

[Ynet.com Israeli news]


The Incredible Shrinking Superpower

Bush is a lame duck, and foreigners know it. But his successor, Republican or Democrat, will find that America's influence in the world is also at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

Bush's trip to Saudi Arabia [to unsuccessfully request the Saudi rulers to drop oil prices] offered a sobering answer [No!]. Unsaid was the fact that even if the Saudis could reduce gas and oil prices, why would they? They're making a lot of money and the U.S. doesn't have much leverage to convince them they ought to make less.

The Arab-Israeli peace process is no one's idea of an easy fix, but it's failing now, in part, because of American weakness. The U.S. has tried to rally Arab pressure on Hamas, only to see it grow stronger.

The most important of the tough issues Bush's successor will inherit in the region is the confrontation with Iran. Iran is shrugging off U.N. sanctions that Russia and China are ensuring remain half-hearted.

And with the U.S. pinned down in Iraq and Afghanistan there's little Washington can do to scare Iran into changing its ambitions. On Sunday, on the flight back to Washington, when Condoleezza Rice was asked if there was any progress on pressuring Iran, she said, "The important thing is that the President significantly advanced the discussion about really using the strengths that this community of states [in the region] has." Translation: No.

Americans tend to think of the presidency as all-powerful, but much of its authority comes from the ability to convince the public to follow, and the same is sometimes true in diplomacy. The time when George W. Bush could perform that trick has long passed.

But if Americans are adjusting to the idea of a weak Bush, an even tougher mental leap awaits them once he leaves office: accepting that the U.S. isn't the force abroad it was just a few years ago. The next President's hardest job may be getting the country used to that.

[Excerpt of a Time article by Massimo Calbesi and Al Janadriyah]


Billions of Dollars Unaccounted For in Iraq

Want to see a signature worth $320 million? Click here. It belongs to Jack Gardner, an official with the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority, who in July 2003 authorized that amount to be transferred to the Iraqi Ministry of Finance for the payment of Iraqi salaries. There are no other records of the transfer, just Mr. Gardner's John Hancock. Now that's power.

The payment is but one example of the process by which U.S. dollars have disappeared without a trace into the confusion (and, yes, corruption) of Iraq reconstruction, confounding Pentagon auditors who are now trying to find out where all that money went... and what exactly, if anything, the U.S. got in return.

One such auditor is Mary L. Ugone, the Pentagon's deputy inspector general for audit. Her testimony this morning before Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) Committee on Oversight and Government Reform coincided with the release of a new report from Pentagon's Office of Inspector General, which reviewed over 180,000 payments made by the Pentagon to contractors in Iraq, Kuwait, and Egypt, totaling approximately $8.2 billion. Of that, the Pentagon admits that it cannot properly account for how $7.8 billion—"a stunning 95% failure rate in following basic accounting standards," Waxman said in his opening statement.

The IG report details how $135 million was paid to the governments of the United Kingdom, South Korea, Poland, and others contributing troops to Iraq without any mechanism for determining how it was used. Another $1.8 billion in seized Iraqi assets were also simply given away, without any accountability. IG investigators examined 53 payment invoices. Not one made note of the money's ultimate destination.

Together with a separate Pentagon IG report released last November, which showed the Defense Department could not account for at least $5 billion issued to Iraqi security forces (causing it to lose track of nearly all of the 13,508 rifles, machine guns, and RPGs it provided to Iraqi troops), today's report sets the new total of Pentagon Iraq funds lost or stolen at almost $15 billion.

[Mother Jones]


Attacking poverty through capitalism: Enlist companies with missions to change the world

Muhammad Yunus has already changed the world once, which is why he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By creating the Grameen Bank and using microfinance to improve the lives of the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh, he demonstrated a transformational model for eliminating poverty.

Now he's playing an even bigger game: Yunus wants to transform capitalism. Of course, he'd never be so confrontational as to come out and say that.

On the one hand, as an economist and, now, a banker, Yunus embraces the discipline of the market. On the other hand, he believes that profit-maximizing companies turn complex human beings into one-dimensional creatures, devoted only to making as much money as possible. Pure-profit maximization is bad for people, for the environment and, ultimately, he argues, for capitalism, since it places unsustainable demands on the system.

But if unfettered capitalism has its shortcomings, so does out-and-out charity. Yunus sees charity as a bad bargain for both those who give it and those who get it. Rather than providing a path to self-improvement, charity relieves recipients of the responsibility for their own betterment.

Finally, Yunus takes a hard look at corporate social responsibility and finds little to love there, either. In fact, it is the worst of both worlds. It gives companies permission to operate as pure-profit maximization enterprises, then allows them to feel a little better about themselves by writing checks for charity. Nothing fundamental happens to improve the lives of billions of people who are doomed to living in poverty.

A brilliant solution as proposed and already tested by Yunus: Create a new hybrid option: the social business. A social business must operate in the marketplace and earn the support of real customers who pay real money to buy a real product. At the same time, a social business has a social cause, not just a financial goal.

[Excerpt of an editorial by Alan M. Webber, USA Today]


Many Hands Aid in China Quake

Hao Lin lied to his wife about his destination, hopped a plane to Chengdu, borrowed a bike and pedaled through the countryside in shorts and leather loafers by the time he reached this ravaged farming village. A psychologist, Mr. Hao had come to offer free counseling to earthquake survivors.

He had company. A busload of volunteers in matching red hats was bumping along the village’s rutted dirt road. Employees from a private company in Chengdu were cleaning up a town around the bend. Other volunteers from around China had already delivered food, water and sympathy.

“I haven’t done this before,” said Mr. Hao, 36, as he straddled his mountain bike on Saturday evening. “Ordinary people now understand how to take action on their own.”

From the moment the earthquake struck on May 12, the Chinese government dispatched soldiers, police officers and rescue workers in the type of mass mobilization expected of the ruling Communist Party.

But an unexpected mobilization, prompted partly by unusually vigorous and dramatic coverage of the disaster in the state-run news media, has come from outside official channels. Thousands of Chinese have streamed into the quake region or donated record sums of money in a striking and unscripted public response.

[Excerpt of an article by Jim Yardley and David Barboza, The New York Times]


America as a Reluctant Warrior

Most Americans see their nation as essentially peace-loving, a reluctant warrior that fights only when fanatical enemies force it to. But measured by its actions rather than its self-image, the United States is a warrior nation more than any other major modern power is.

Since 1898, it has entered 10 conflicts most people recognize as wars, and only twice—in World War II and the recent Afghanistan war—directly in response to major attacks on its people or forces. And except in the world wars, America’s foes have been vastly inferior militarily, economically, and in other ways—hardly bullies poised to take over the world.

Few Americans love war in some bloodthirsty way. Americans yearn for what war presumably brings if not for war itself—the power and pride it may yield or the internal cohesion it presumably brings.

If presidents have exercised “wag the dog” reflexes, they have done so at their own peril. The roots of American war-making go far beyond presidential calculation (or miscalculation). They lie in America’s global ambitions and the threats that others pose, but also in a political culture which makes war the nation’s primary imaginative framework.

How have Americans reconciled their self-image as pacific with their embrace of so much that pertains to war? Success in avoiding war’s destruction has helped. War has occurred far from their shores through ever-advancing technologies of antiseptic cleanliness, as least for Americans, and recently with welcome brevity in Gulf War I.

The storehouse of national imagination that is war now features empty shelves and troublesome products. That the “war on terrorism” will re-stock it seems doubtful.

[Excerpt from “The Long Term View” by Professor Michael Sherry]


Solving the international food crisis

Following are the highlights of an article by Muhammad Yunus:

The global food crisis is a dire reality for millions of the world's poor and a major test for the international community. Rising food prices have created tremendous pressure in the lives of poor people, for whom basic food can consume as much as two-thirds of their income.

A comprehensive global plan should include the following six elements:

First, the international community must rapidly mobilize at least $755m, identified by the World Food Programme and UN leaders as necessary for emergency food relief. The Secretary-General might want to mobilize two or three global leaders as special envoys to help the UN find these funds.

Second, we must ensure that farmers are equipped to produce the next harvest. Farmers in many areas cannot afford seeds to plant or natural gas-based fertilizer, whose price has risen along with the price of oil.. The world should respond promptly and generously to help those struggling to survive what the UN calls a "silent tsunami."

Third, beyond these immediate actions, new policies are needed to address the underlying causes of the crisis. Crop subsidies and export controls in many important countries are distorting markets and raising prices; they should be eliminated. In particular, subsidies for ethanol that made sense when oil cost $20 a barrel cannot be justified at $120 a barrel - nor can subsidies for oil. They should be phased out together when the price of oil is above a certain level.

Fourth, the current crisis should not deter the world's search for long-term global solutions to poverty and environmental protection. For example, we should continue efforts to move to second-generation fuels made from waste materials and non-food crops without displacing land used food production.

Fifth, a new "green revolution" is required to meet the global demands, more productive crops are needed, ones that are drought-resistant and salt-tolerant.

Sixth, to help fund these important initiatives, I propose that each oil-exporting country create a "poverty and agriculture fund", contributing a fixed amount - perhaps 10% - of the price of every barrel of oil exported.

The pressures of a growing and more prosperous population will not go away - demand for food and energy will grow, and the poor will suffer most.


Congress gives lucrative subsidies to U.S. farmers and cuts international aid programs

Despite pleas from humanitarian groups to focus on the global food crisis, the US Congress approved a $290 billion bill that gives lucrative subsidies to farmers and cuts international aid programs.

The bill won such broad support that the veto threatened by George Bush is almost certain to be overridden, turning the bill into law. Most of its money goes to food aid for needy Americans and payments that farmers receive whether they grow crops or not.

Less than one per cent of the bill goes to food aid for foreign nations, according to an Associated Press tally.

"Pandering to wealthy farmers and special interests at the expense of women and children who face malnutrition is not what Americans expect of their elected officials," the leaders of Oxfam America, Mercy Corps and the International Medical Corps said in a letter released last week.

[Excerpt of an article by Elana Schor, The Guardian]

See also


Chavez urges $1billion poverty fund

Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, has called on European and Latin American nations to set up a $1bn fund to help provide food and medicine for the poor.

Chavez said on Thursday that he was willing to commit $365m of the country's oil income to the fund, as global food and energy prices continue to rise. "[The fund] will allow us to produce, buy and distribute food and medicines to the homes of the poorest families," he said at a news conference in Caracas.

Leaders from four Latin American countries have already set up a $100m food security fund for staples such as rice, beans and corn in a bid to offset rising food prices that have sparked global protests. The presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela as well as Cuba's vice-president also promised joint agricultural programmes.

In Asia rice prices have almost tripled this year alone. Price rises have led producing nations to enforce export restrictions, further putting the squeeze on supply, especially in countries relying on imports.

[Aljazeera Net]


Generals amass fortunes while Myanmar flounders

A sprawling new capital dubbed the “Abode of Kings”, lavish weddings for family members, palatial villas - Myanmar’s ruling generals appear to have few qualms about spending money. But as the death toll from the catastrophic cyclone mounts and up to two million people wait for food, water and medicine, precious little of their resources have been devoted to the relief effort.

“The [top generals] are very rich, filthy rich. This is a military dictatorship. When you are in a position of power within the military, you can enrich yourself easily,” said Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo. “They have a monopoly on a lot of things like the timber contracts, the rice, you name it - anything they can sell overseas.”

Sean Turnell, an expert on Myanmar’s economy with Australia’s Macquarie University, estimates that the top generals have about four billion dollars in foreign exchange reserves.

In late 2006 a video of the wedding of junta chief Senior General Than Shwe’s daughter emerged on the Internet, revealing the gaping chasm between Myanmar’s haves and have-nots. In scenes that scandalised citizens who managed to view it, Thandar Shwe was shown draped in pearls, diamonds and other gems, while her groom splashed champagne across rows of glasses. The Myanmar news magazine Irrawaddy, which is published in Thailand, estimated the value of the wedding gifts at more than $50 million.

After more than 45 years of isolation and military rule, Myanmar itself is officially one of the world’s poorest countries, with per capita gross domestic product (GDP) well below that of nearby Cambodia, Laos and Bangladesh.

The world has pledged nearly $100 million in relief, but the junta is holding up emergency food at the airport, stalling on issuing visas for foreign experts, and insisting on distributing all aid itself.

[Excerpt of an article by Charlie McDonald-Gibson, The News (Pakistan)]


China and Myanmar: Two tales of two disasters

Two natural disasters in tightly-controlled Asian nations have produced two very different responses: Myanmar's very slow reaction to Cyclone Nargis, and China's speedy response to a killer earthquake.

Xinhua reports that China’s death toll has officially risen to 14,866. An unofficial tally of deaths in individual communities puts the toll at 19,565. Xinhua also said nearly 26,000 people were still buried under debris and another 14,000 missing.

Meanwhile, China’s Ministry of Water Resources warned that Dujiangyan City -- which has a population of about 630,000 -- "would be swamped," if major problems emerged at the nearby seriously cracked dam.

One must commend the Chinese authorities and those overseeing the relief effort for the amazing job they have done despite massive challenges. (One must also note the irony that a country long seen as violating its citizens’ human rights is doing so much more for their citizens caught in a natural disaster than the American government did for the citizens of New Orleans.)

Meanwhile in Myanmar, the military junta has reportedly insisted it does not need help from foreign aid experts, while funneling off aid that has reached the country.

The good news is that it appears, that while limiting the amount of incoming aid shipments, they appear to be increasing the numbers they are allowing in. So there is some guarded optimism. Among the bad news, weather forecasts predict more bad weather this week for the cyclone-devastated country.

Through the recent disasters in Myanmar and China we realize once again just how frail humankind really is. And how it’s the decisions of those in control, and how they respond to things totally out of their control, that directly affects the lives of their citizens.

As for us as citizens of our respective countries, while we have no control over disasters happening, we do have the power to each give a little cash to aid relief efforts in the Chinese earthquake and Myanmar cyclone paths, choosing a charity of our choice that has been working in the country for years.

Myanmar Military Junta siphoning off Cyclone Nargis aid

Almost two weeks back, Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar (Burma) leaving a massive trail of death and destruction throughout the low-lying delta area near the capital of Rangoon. Estimates of the death toll have ranged from 60,000 to 100,000, with millions of other people either being left homeless or affected in some way.

Damage reports have been very sketchy and incomplete, largely because the Burmese government has accepted very little foreign aid and very few Western aid workers. UN representatives, however, have called it a "major, major disaster," on par with the effects of the Asian tsunami of 2004.

One report indicates "that the reason the aid workers are being blocked is so that the military can deliver aid selectively and so that they can appropriate the aid and pretend it was from them in the first place."

Even for the aid allowed in, there is concern about the quality of relief supplies reaching storm victims. CARE Australia staff found rotting rice being distributed to people in the worst-hit Irrawaddy Delta. "It's some of the poorest quality rice we've seen … very old."

So what about all the fresh rice and foodstuffs arriving via international aid?

A former Yangon resident said that government officials told him that high-energy biscuits rushed into Myanmar on the World Food Program's first flights were sent to a military warehouse. Speaking on condition of anonymity over fears for his safety, he told AP that the biscuits were exchanged for what officials said were "tasteless and low-quality" biscuits produced by the Industry Ministry.

This evil Burmese military government is not satisfied to just oppress and tyrannize the people of their land, they refuse to even take up the offer of international aid worrying that it might result in them losing their iron grip on the country, and that power will slip out of their hands.

America needs a 12-step program

My name is _________, and I am a recovering alcoholic. It took me a lot of years and a lot of pain to be able to say those words and really believe them. Along the way, I was arrogant, greedy and self-destructive. But the worst part was that I didn't see any of it. I think America can relate.

We've compromised our values, sold out our principles and used our freedoms to justify giving more power to the government. In the first century of America's life, its government was afraid of its citizens. Now, it's the other way around.

Maybe America should consider starting on the same kind of 12-step program that's helped millions of other addicts who couldn't see that they were slowly killing themselves. Here's my version of it, condensed to six steps.

Step One: Admit we are not powerless.

Take a look at our Constitution. Not just a transcript; find an actual picture of it. The first three words, "We the People," are at least four times larger than the others. Do you think that was an accident?

Step Two: Believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

Step Three: Decide to take our power back.

A recent polls says 81 percent of Americans now say that our country is on the wrong track. If you're one of those people, who do you blame? The Bush administration? Congress? The media?

Here's a crazy idea: How about blaming ourselves? ELECT SOMEONE NEW. Stop voting for the same people from the same party every year.We need to reclaim that power, and then we need to use it.

Step Four: Make a complete and fearless moral inventory.

What are America's faults? What are our assets? By taking stock of both, we can start to work on maximizing our strengths and eliminating our weaknesses. That brings me to Step Five.

Step Five: Admit our wrongs, and our rights.

Step Six: Be ready to remove our defects.

Just like an alcoholic, we simply cannot go from sleeping on the street to perfection overnight. This is a big ship, and it takes a long time to turn it around.

But we have to start somewhere, and the best place is with the defects that almost all of us agree on. For example, does anyone really believe that being addicted to Saudi Arabia's oil is a good idea? What about China owning billions of our debt? Speaking of debt, what about the fact that we've saddled our children with $53 trillion in future Social Security and Medicare obligations?

But before we can address any problems, we have to first admit we have them. Many of us are in denial about just how divided we've become. We think that it's just the election or the war that's tearing us apart, but the truth is, it's much larger than that. We're every bit as arrogant, greedy and self-destructive as I was when I hit bottom [as an alcoholic].

But until we're able to stand up and say, "Hello, my name is America and I have a problem," we'll never even have a chance.

[Excerpt of an article by Glen Beck, CNN]


The Quiet U.S. Confession on Iranian Weapons

In a sharp reversal of its longstanding accusations against Iran arming militants in Iraq , the US military has made an unprecedented albeit quiet confession: the weapons they had recently found in Iraq were not made in Iran at all.

According to a report by the LA Times correspondent Tina Susman in Baghdad: "A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was cancelled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran. A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding that emerged after an Iraqi Army general in Karbala erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin. When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all."

In another event this week, the US spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, for the first time did not blame Iran for the violence in Iraq and in fact did not make any reference to Iran at all in his introductory remarks to the world media when he described the large arsenal of weapons found by Iraqi forces in Karbala.

In contrast, the Pentagon in August 2007 admitted that it had lost track of a third of the weapons distributed to the Iraqi security forces in 2004/2005. The 190,000 assault rifles and pistols roam free in Iraqi streets today.

[Excerpt of a CASMII press release]


Gaza: As the World Stands Idly By

The Bible tells us that a prophet will not be respected in his home country, President Carter being a living example. The former President has however earned respect from rest of the world for his stands trashed at home.

The following is an excerpt written by Jimmy Carter in the British press:

The world is witnessing a terrible human rights crime in Gaza, where a million and a half human beings are being imprisoned with almost no access to the outside world. An entire population is being brutally punished.

This gross mistreatment of the Palestinians in Gaza was escalated dramatically by Israel, with United States backing, after political candidates representing Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority parliament in 2006. The election was unanimously judged to be honest and fair by all international observers.

Forty-one of the 43 victorious Hamas candidates who lived in the West Bank have been imprisoned by Israel, plus an additional 10 who assumed positions in the short-lived coalition cabinet.

Regardless of one's choice in the partisan struggle between Fatah and Hamas within occupied Palestine, we must remember that economic sanctions and restrictions on the supply of water, food, electricity and fuel are causing extreme hardship among the innocent people in Gaza, about one million of whom are refugees.

Israeli bombs and missiles periodically strike the area, causing high casualties among both militants and innocent women and children.

All Arab nations have agreed to recognise Israel fully if it will comply with key United Nations resolutions. Hamas has agreed to accept any negotiated peace settlement between the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, provided it is approved in a referendum of the Palestinian people. This holds promise of progress.

Meanwhile nine thousand new Israeli housing units have been announced in Palestine; the number of roadblocks within the West Bank has increased; and the stranglehold on Gaza has been tightened.

It is one thing for other leaders to defer to the US in the crucial peace negotiations, but the world must not stand idle while innocent people are treated cruelly. It is time for strong voices in Europe, the US, Israel and elsewhere to speak out and condemn the human rights tragedy that has befallen the Palestinian people.


Pakistan plays down delayed US military aid

Pakistan has played down a recent US report that in February the Pentagon refused its request for funds to fight Taleban and al-Qaeda militants.

Pakistan receives some $80million a month from the US to help fight militants near the Afghanistan border. Since last year there have been growing questions in Washington over the campaign against the militants.

Some critics say Pakistan has been overcharging the US or diverting funds to other defense-related or civil works projects that have nothing to do with fighting the militants.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), which is the investigative arm of the US Congress, said in a report published in the US press this week that a Pakistani request for $81m was turned down by Pentagon.

Military aid is given to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). Pakistan has so far received more than $5.6bn under the CSF. But this year no disbursements have been made so far, officials say.

[Excerpt of an article by M Ilyas Khan, BBC News]


And the Pentagon keeps on spending

In a 1985 scandal, it was revealed that the Navy paid Lockheed $640 each for airplane toilet seats.

[Some years later] two South Carolina sisters who supplied small parts to the military bilked it of more than $20 million by charging wildly inflated shipping costs for low-priced items, [such as] $998,798 for shipping two 19-cent washers to an Army base in Texas. The scheme lasted six years before they were caught in 2006.

Undersecretary of Defense Tina Jonas, who is now the comptroller and chief financial officer, is heading up an elaborate effort—once again—to develop compatible systems to share information seamlessly.

Unfortunately, flawed planning and internal resistance have hampered the current reform effort. Preoccupied with protecting their turf, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines continue to maintain separate, increasingly outdated systems that can't talk to each other, trace disbursements, or detect overbilling by contractors.

The four military services still can't be audited, and Jonas declines to predict when the entire Defense Department will finally pass an audit. "We don't know what we don't know," she says.

[Excerpt of an article by Portfolio.com]


Old men make the wars but they don’t fight them

Old men make the wars, but they don’t fight the fight. The congressmen that declare war are busy lobbying, too busy collecting the lucrative pensions they have allocated themselves, and too busy assigning defense contracts to companies that will employ them after their tenure in congress.

Combat is for the young, who have mountains of time and for whom the years mean nothing. A young man may feel immortal, but a body bag doesn’t have room for such a delusion. Reality registers quickly in combat and options must be weighed: he cannot desert, for all that’s out there is the enemy and the jungle. If he decides the stockade is preferable to death, he is abandoning his brothers and forfeiting his honor.

The perpetual conundrum of the old men who declare war is how to get the young boys to commit to the battle field. They have solved this conundrum by selling young boys on a counterfeit cause: freedom. War is somehow always about freedom, whether it is insuring it, or making the world safe for it; the men who spin these yarns preach that the only way to insure freedom is to liberate the villages, liberate the towns, and liberate the cities.

We did that in Nam. We would send in mortars to soften up a village and then spray it with machine gun fire before occupying it and killing whoever we suspected might be the enemy. After the patrols, some of us would wash away the memories of such philanthropic antics with tumblers of Johnny Walker.

I vividly recall guzzling a pitcher of Manhattans and looking up at the television set to see President Nixon making an urgent address to the nation. His words were clear, emphatic, concise, and complete bullshit. “We are not now, nor have we ever, bombed the country of Laos” . So I finished my drink, rolled a nice fat joint, and went outside to smoke it, because it was 8:45 now. The Air Force usually started the napalming of Laos about nine. I didn’t want to miss the show. After all, how many people get to see bombs that don’t exist?

It has been six years now in Iraq, long past the six weeks or six months that the war makers predicted. The people whose country we have occupied did not have links to Al Qaeda and they were not responsible for blowing up the World Trade Center. We have long since given up finding the weapons that we were told they had. We have forced two million Iraqis to leave their country and have killed, by most accounts, a million more. We have obliterated their bridges, hospitals and schools. We have succeeded in getting four thousand brave Americans killed and we have managed to get seventy thousand more maimed at a cost of what could ultimately be three trillion dollars.

The Iraq War is a national travesty that brings to my mind a distant echo, an echo that reverberated in my brain much too often in Viet Nam.

[Excerpt of an article by William P. O’Connor, who enlisted and served in the Vietnam War.]


Massive Borrowing the approach to pay Massive Debt

From 1789, at the moment the constitution became the supreme law of the land, until 1981, the debt accumulated by the federal government did not top $1 trillion.

In January 2001, when George Bush became president, it stood at approximately $5.7 trillion.

By November 2007, it had increased by 45%, the U.S. Treasury announcing that the national debt had breached $9 trillion for the first time.

This huge debt can be largely explained by our defense expenditures. Plus, America’s tastes for foreign goods, including imported oil, vastly exceed our ability to pay for them.

And we are financing them through massive borrowing.

[Excerpt of an article by Chalmers Johnson, Le Monde]


The Pentagon's $1 Trillion Problem

The Defense Department has spent billions to fix its antiquated financial systems. So why does the Pentagon still have no idea where its money goes?

Since 2004, the Pentagon has spent roughly $16 billion annually to maintain and modernize the military's business systems, but most are as unreliable as ever—even as the surge in defense spending is creating more room for error. The problem is so deeply rooted that, 18 years after Congress required major federal agencies to be audited, the Pentagon still can't be. (Read a chronology of efforts to modernize the military's financial systems.)

For the first three quarters of 2007, $1.1 trillion in Army accounting entries hadn't been properly reviewed and substantiated, according to the Department of Defense's inspector general. In 2006, $258.2 billion of recorded withdrawals and payments from the Army's main account were unsupported. It's as if the Army had submitted multibillion-dollar expense reports without any receipts.

Preoccupied with protecting their turf, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines continue to maintain separate, increasingly outdated systems that can't talk to each other, trace disbursements, or detect overbilling by contractors.

According to David Walker, who recently left his post as head of the Government Accountability Office, the failure of the Pentagon's outdated and incompatible systems to keep tabs on expenditures—even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan eat up an ever-bigger chunk of the federal budget—puts several Defense Department agencies high on the G.A.O.'s list of federal programs that are mismanaged and prone to fraud, waste, and abuse.

[Excerpt of an article by Portfolio.com]


Why the U.S. Has Gone Broke

There are three broad aspects to the U.S. debt crisis. First, in the current fiscal year (2008) we are spending insane amounts of money on "defense" projects that bear no relation to the national security of the U.S. We are also keeping the income tax burdens on the richest segment of the population at strikingly low levels.

Second, we continue to believe that we can compensate for the accelerating erosion of our base and our loss of jobs to foreign countries through massive military expenditures -- "military Keynesianism". By that, I mean the mistaken belief that public policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true.

Third, in our devotion to militarism (despite our limited resources), we are failing to invest in our social infrastructure and other requirements for the long-term health of the U.S.

Defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history.

[Excerpt of an article by Chalmers Johnson, Le Monde]


America's World Apartheid Mentality

America's current relationship with the rest of humanity has much in common with that between South Africa's apartheid-era whites and their disfranchised non-white compatriots. A far-fetched analogy? Perhaps. But there are echoes of that mentality in the way some Americans still talk about Washington's role in global affairs.

What kind of relationship do Americans want to build with the world's 6 billion other people in the years ahead? This question is urgent, since the past seven years have seen an unprecedented drop in our country's global favorability rating.

To build a new relationship with the world requires embracing the key principles of human equality and mutual respect among all peoples. Starting to see themselves as "merely" equal to everyone else may seem slightly scary to some Americans.

Treating the peoples of other countries as our true equals is the true American way. In the Declaration of Independence, the Founders held it self-evident that "all men" (meaning "all men and women") were created equal – not just "all US citizens."

Today, America's relationship with the world's 6 billion non-Americans is more vital to our wellbeing than ever before. Let's work on making it the most constructive relationship we can.

[Excerpt of an article by Helena Cobban, Christian Science Monitor]


America’s Double Speak

Food riots, in dozens of countries, in the 21st century. Is this what we envisioned during the post-World War Two, moon-landing 20th century as humankind's glorious future?

On December 14, 1981 a resolution was proposed in the United Nations General Assembly which declared that "education, work, health care, proper nourishment, national development are human rights". Notice the "proper nourishment".

The resolution was approved by a vote of 135-1.

The United States cast the only "No" vote.

A year later, December 18, 1982, an identical resolution was proposed in the General Assembly. It was approved by a vote of 131-1. The United States cast the only "No" vote.

The following year, December 16, 1983, the resolution was again put forth, a common practice at the United Nations. This time it was approved by a vote of 132-1. There's no need to tell you who cast the sole "No" vote.

Under the Clinton administration, in 1996, a United Nations-sponsored World Food Summit affirmed the "right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food". The United States took issue with this.

The situation did not improve under the administration of George W. Bush. In 2002, in Rome, world leaders at another U.N.-sponsored World Food Summit again approved a declaration that everyone had the right to "safe and nutritious food". The United States continued to oppose the clause, again fearing it would leave them open to future legal claims by famine-stricken countries.

And as long as we're fighting for hopeless causes, let's throw in the demand that corporations involved in driving the cost of oil through the roof -- and dragging food costs with it -- must either immediately exhibit a conspicuous social conscience or risk being nationalized, their executives taken away in orange jumpsuits, handcuffs, and leg shackles.

[Might that send a message to] a system governed by only two things: fear and greed?

[Excerpt of an article by William Blum, ICH]

Bush urges more global food aid

U.S. President George W. Bush urged Congress today to approve $770 million in new global food aid to be made available beginning in October. The sum would be in addition to $200 million in emergency food aid announced two weeks ago through a U.S. Department of Agriculture program called the Emerson Trust, and more aid is likely to be sought, he said.

"This is not only a humanitarian issue; it is a matter of national security as well," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement.

Riots have broken out in Egypt, Haiti, Yemen, Bangladesh and other nations in response to the rising price of food, which has gone up 43 percent internationally over the past year.

The majority of the assistance is to be sent to Africa, with none of it targeted for North Korea, where dire food shortages have been under way for months, the White House officials said.



International Aid and how Americans have it all wrong

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

A PIPA poll also found widespread feeling that the US does more than its fair share relative to European countries.

Such opinions rest on major misperceptions.

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

Americans estimated that the US gave 37% of all development aid from rich countries. In fact, according to recent OECD figures, the US gives just 12% of the total amount of official development assistance.

[Source: WorldPublicOpinion.org]