Why Gas has Sky-rocketed in Price

The reason oil has skyrocketed to over $140 per barrel is because of speculation; rampant, "unregulated" speculation. Demand is not out-pacing supply. That's a myth started by the people who are profiting by betting up oil futures; investment bankers. Oil is being deliberately kept off the market to keep prices high.

Consider this: if supply isn't keeping up with demand then why there aren’t any lines at the gas stations like there were during the '70s?

Congress could end this charade in a minute by passing legislation that would close the Swaps Loophole and require steeper margin limits on oil futures.

But don't hold your breath. Wall Street is the biggest contributor to political campaigns which explains how we got into this pickle to begin with. It also explains why Congress's public approval rating has shriveled to a measly 12 per cent.

Here's an excerpt from Spiegel Online which explains the whole scam: "Commodities exchanges limit the number of positions an investor can take in the market, but Michael Masters, of Masters Capital Management, says the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has allowed unlimited speculation in these markets through a loophole. This so-called Swaps Loophole exempts investment banks like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch from reporting requirements and limits on trading positions that are required of other investors.”

"Some experts fault the CFTC, charged with regulating commodities markets, for allowing such loopholes.”Congress has provided the CFTC the power to control this unlimited [speculation]; the law is very specific about establishing position limits," says Steve Briese, author of The Commitments of Traders Bible and CommitmentsOfTraders.org, a site that focuses on US futures markets. "The problem is they have abdicated this role."

[Excerpt of an article by Mike Whitney, ICH]


Two goals in "making poverty history"

Two of the big changes in the goal of “making poverty history” are a combination of providing an effective state that can provide schools, hospitals, roads, energy and which is accountable to their citizens. And at the same time strengthening the voice of citizens so they feel self-confidence and the ability to get together and demand changes. It's that combination of active citizens and effective states which is where the main drama of development is and always has been.

If you look at an economy just in terms of GDP per capita, and look at South Korea, China, Vietnam, Botswana, Costa Rica -- any of those sort of success stories of which there are dozens -- you can always point to an effective state.

We don't see development as just about GDP per capita. If you actually ask poor people what it is they hate about being poor, they often talk about being at the mercy of officials. They talk about not being able to pay the dowry for their kids, they feel as though they look bad and have anxiety about what will happen tomorrow -- e.g. what happens if my husband gets knocked off his rickshaw and we have no safety net at all?

So there are a whole bunch of questions that revolve around rights and the ability of citizens to have rights and enjoy them.

An example of active citizenship working -- The Chiquitano Indians in Bolivia where 30 years ago they were essentially feudal serfs and due to their own organization they have gone from there to having their own organization -- electing mayors, senators and eventually a president. And they've just gained the right to a million acres of ancestral land.

[Review of an Oxfam book on CNN]


Three Reasons for Gas Pump Gouging

A couple different opinions on explaining soaring Oil and Gas Prices. First, two possibilities from economist Michael Hudson:

  1. “It’s the Arabs!”

As the dollar depreciates, OPEC countries have been holding back supply largely to stabilize their receipts in euros and to offset their losses on the dollar securities they have bought with their past export proceeds. For over 30 years they have been pressured to recycle their oil earnings into the U.S. stock market and loans to U.S. financial institutions, taken large losses on these investments, and are trying to recoup them via the oil market.

OPEC officials also have pointed to a political motive: They resent America’s military intrusion in the Middle East, especially in view of how much it contributes to the nation’s balance-of-payments deficit and federal budget deficit.

2. “It’s the Chinese and Indians!”

The U.S. press prefers to blame Chinese, Indian and other foreign growth in demand for oil and raw materials. This demand has contributed to the price rise, no doubt about it.

But the U.S. oil majors are receiving a windfall “economic rent” on the price run-up, and are not at all unhappy to see it continue. By not building more refining and shipping capacity, they have created bottlenecks so that even if foreign countries did supply more crude oil, it would not be reflected in refined gasoline, kerosene or other downstream product prices.

  1. “It’s the Central Bankers!”

[Mike Whitney writes at ICH] The whole speculation scam is being executed with excruciating precision by the same carpet bagging scoundrels who engineered the subprime fiasco; the investment bankers. The Wall Street Goliaths are using the futures market to recapitalize their flagging balance sheets after sustaining massive losses in the mortgage-backed securities boondoggle. That's the whole thing in a nutshell.

MarketWatch summed it up like this: “Speculators now account for about 70% of all benchmark crude-oil trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up from 37% in 2000 … So it’s not really Big Oil or "greedy Arabs" after all? Nope, it's the cutthroat banksters again.

[Spiegel Online reports] The top five users of swap agreements are investment banks … Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, HSBC North America Holdings, and Wachovia.


$2 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan questioned

The United States has paid more than $5 billion to reimburse Pakistan for counter-terrorism expenses that have often been exaggerated, if not fabricated, according to a government audit that blasts the Pentagon for poor management of the program.

The report concluded that the Pentagon could not properly account for as much as $2 billion in payments to Pakistan over a three-year period from 2004 to 2007.

Auditors uncovered an array of questionable costs, including $45 million for roads and bunkers that may never have been built; $200 million for the operation of air defense systems even though Al Qaeda has no known aircraft; and overcharges for meals and vehicles used by Pakistani troops.

Overall, the report by the Government Accountability Office concluded that the Defense Department had routinely covered costs without verifying that they "were valid, actually incurred, or correctly calculated."

The Pentagon has paid about $5.6 billion to Pakistan in counter-terrorism reimbursement funds in the nearly seven years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, by far the largest sum paid as part of the program to a counter-terrorism ally.

[Excerpt of an article by Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times]


The Price of Hunger

What would it really cost to end global hunger? The United Nations estimates that it would take at least $30 billion per year to solve the food crisis mainly by boosting agricultural productivity in the developing world.

Over the decade that it would take to make sustainable improvements in the lives of the 862 million undernourished people, that amounts to $300 billion.

300 billion dollars is a lot of money, but ... Congress just approved $162 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for fiscal 2009. The U.S. spent $340 billion in 2006 alone on public and private research and development. Directing just one-tenth of that seed money to sustainable, high-yield agriculture in the developing world could trigger a second Green Revolution.

It is in the U.S. national interest both to address the burgeoning hunger crisis and, by improving the impact and visibility of its aid efforts, restore America's tarnished global image as the humanitarian superpower. It's also in the interest of U.S. corporations, which have been targeted in the Muslim world and elsewhere, to help the hungry and to be perceived as respectful partners in global development. The climate of rising anti-Americanism itself imposes a business risk in many areas of the world. Meanwhile, American companies spend millions trying to improve their images. They can get more for those dollars by joining with government and charities in market-based agricultural development projects that will help the hungry and that also have a chance of becoming profitable.

[Excerpt of Los Angeles Times’ Opinion page]


Report Slams U.S. Over Iraq Refugee Crisis

A half-million Iraqis fled their embattled country in 2007, the third consecutive year more Iraqis were displaced than any other nationality, a U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ reports. It said the Iraqi exodus "from the violence and instability of their homeland" constituted "the largest refugee crisis of 2007."

The report said the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had referred 10,000 Iraqis for U.S. resettlement.

The United States accepted few, just over half the 3,000 it had promised to resettle by the end of September.

"While the Bush administration and the United Kingdom are busy trying to win the war, they have provided no leadership toward ensuring the rights and well-being of the victims of this war," the report said.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said the survey "shows the United States still has far to go to support the rights of refugees worldwide. ... The United States has a moral obligation and a security interest in trying to alleviate the suffering of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons, particularly those who risked so much over the past few years to help our military and diplomatic efforts in their country," Cardin said.



U.S. Taxpayers' bill leaps by Trillions

The federal government's long-term financial obligations grew by $2.5 trillion last year, a reflection of the mushrooming cost of Medicare and Social Security benefits as more baby boomers reach retirement.

Taxpayers are on the hook for a record $57.3 trillion in federal liabilities to cover the lifetime benefits of everyone eligible for Medicare, Social Security and other government programs, a USA TODAY analysis found. That's nearly $500,000 per household.

When obligations of state and local governments are added, the total rises to $61.7 trillion, or $531,472 per household.

"We're running deficits in the trillions of dollars, not the hundreds of billions of dollars we're being told," says Sheila Weinberg, chief executive of the Institute for Truth in Accounting of Chicago.

[Excerpt of an article by Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY]


Iraqis on Long-term U.S. Bases

The Iraqi leadership is in virtual revolt. Across the political spectrum, negotiations have forced upon the Iraqis "a kind of snap survey or straw poll… on the long-term U.S. presence, and goals for Iraq" from which the Americans are likely to emerge the losers.

According to Reuters, "A majority of the Iraqi parliament has written to Congress rejecting a long-term security deal with Washington if it is not linked to a requirement that U.S. forces leave."

The administration's man in Baghdad, Prime Minister Maliki, has declared the initial U.S. proposal at a "dead end" and has even begun threatening to ask American forces to leave when their UN mandate expires at year's end. (Though much of this may be bluff on his part, what choice does he have? Given Iraqi attitudes toward being garrisoned forever by the U.S. military, no Iraqi leader could remain in a position of even passing power and agree to such terms. It would be like stamping and sealing your own execution order.)

The Sadrists are in the streets protesting the American presence and their leader has just called for a "new militia offensive" against U.S. forces. The pro-Iranian, but American-backed, Badrists are outraged. ("Is there sovereignty for Iraq -- or isn't there? If it is left to [the Bush administration], they would ask for immunity even for the American dogs.") The Iranians are vehemently voting no. Opinion in the region, whether Shiite or Sunni, seems to be following suit.

The U.S. Congress is up in arms, demanding more information and possibly heading for hearings on the SOFA agreement and the bases. Presidential candidate Barack Obama has insisted that any deal be submitted to Congress, the very thing the Bush administration has organized for more than a year to avoid.

[Excerpt of TomDispatch article by Tom Engelhardt]


Obama opts out of public financing

Sen. Barack Obama notified supporters Thursday that he has decided not to accept public financing for his general election campaign. Under this system, candidates agree to spend only the public funds and cannot raise or spend money directly obtained from individuals.

Obama will then be able to spend an unlimited amount of money during the general election. In doing so, Obama would be the first the major presidential candidate to drop out of the modern campaign financing system for the general election since its creation in 1976 in the post-Watergate era.

Given his record-breaking ability to raise donations over the Internet, the Illinois Democrat likely will be able to outraise and outspend Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee.


Obama’s new approach to Presidential Support

The system unabashedly teaches that money is the ballot that counts and big donors are the citizens who matter. This is why a majority of Americans have become disenchanted -- to disgusted -- with politics during the past few decades.

There's been little focus on the back rooms where the money is being raised.

The predictable includes the presence of such Wall Street interests as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, and Morgan Stanley on the top-donor lists of all three contenders--Clinton, McCain, and Obama. As Wall Street seeks bailouts and tries to stop new laws that would regulate financial manipulations, the big banks hedged their political bets, hoping to have a friend in the White House, no matter who wins.

In the ironic category is the revelation that McCain, who campaigns as Mr. Clean, actually is Mr. Soiled. His top advisors, staffers, and fund raisers are big- time lobbyists who hail from the K Street corridor of influence peddling and include early organizers and funders of Bush Incorporated.

One pleasant surprise is the wave of grassroots enthusiasm that has allowed both Obama and Clinton to raise dramatically more money than the GOP candidate. Especially in the case of Obama's campaign, big donors have had to take a back seat to the $20-to-$200 political enthusiasts. Most of them donate through his website, and many are young voters. This is money not attached to special-interest favors, and it represents a political revolt that could break the stranglehold of business-as-usual politics.

Obama, an internet-savvy senator, has simultaneously wrought a revolution in presidential campaigning through the "new politics" of online outreach, which is bringing in the bulk of his money. He has amassed more than 1.5 million individual donors, 90% of whom have given $100 or less (41% have given $25 or less), according to the Obama campaign.

[Hightower Lowdown]


World Governments Failing Iraqi Refugees

The international community is evading its responsibility towards refugees from Iraq by promoting a false picture of the security situation in Iraq when the country is neither safe nor suitable for return, says Amnesty International.

"Governments have done little or nothing to help Iraqi refugees, failing in their moral, political and legal duty to share responsibility for them," said Amnesty International. "Instead, apathy and rhetoric have been the overwhelming response to one of the worst refugee crises in the world."

"People are being killed every month by armed groups, the Multinational Force, Iraqi security forces and private military and security guards. Kidnappings, torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention pervade the daily lives of Iraqis. People continue to attempt to flee, something that is now very difficult with the recent imposition of visa restrictions on Iraqis by Jordan and Syria."

According to the latest estimates of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of Iraqis who have fled their homes has now reached 4.7 million, the highest since the US-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent internal armed conflict.

While Syria and Jordan have shouldered most of the refugee influx, they have now resorted to drastic measures such as restricting entry and deporting people who may be at risk of persecution, partly due to the lack of support from the international community.

[Amnesty International]


Iraqi Bases - The Greatest Story Never Told

It's just a $5,812,353 contract -- chump change for the Pentagon -- for "replacement facilities for Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq."

In the last five-plus years, untold billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the construction and upgrading of such U.S. bases in Iraq.

Billions have evidently gone into single massive mega-bases like the U.S. air base at Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. It's a "16-square-mile fortress," housing perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops, contractors, special ops types, and Defense Department employees. As the Washington Post's Tom Ricks, who visited Balad back in 2006, pointed out -- in a rare piece on one of our mega-bases -- it's essentially "a small American town smack in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq." Even back then, air traffic at the base was already being compared to Chicago's O'Hare International or London's Heathrow.

Think of this as the greatest American story of these years never told -- or more accurately, since there have been a few reports on a couple of these mega-bases -- never shown. After all, what an epic of construction this has been, as the Pentagon built a series of fortified American towns, each some 15 to 20 miles around, with many of the amenities of home, including big name fast-food franchises, PXes, and the like, in a hostile land in the midst of war and occupation.

Imagine if just about no one knew that the pyramids had been built. Ditto the Great Wall of China. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Perhaps one explanation lies in this: On rare occasions when Americans are asked by pollsters whether they want "permanent bases" in Iraq, significant majorities answer in the negative. You can only assume that, as on many other subjects, the Bush administration preferred to fly under the radar screen on this one -- and the media generally concurred.

And, not surprisingly, [these bases in Iraq] reek of permanency. They are the unavoidable essence -- unless, like most Americans, you don't know they're there -- of Bush administration planning in Iraq. Without them, no discussion of Iraq policy in this country really makes sense.

[Excerpt of TomDispatch article by Tom Engelhardt]

Read about new U.S. Embassy


The Wars We Choose to Ignore

The women and men who are making a sacrifice today in Iraq and Afghanistan receive less attention every day. There’s plenty of blame to go around: battle fatigue at home, failing media resolve and a government intent on controlling information from the battlefield.

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has slipped to 3 percent of all American print and broadcast news.

I asked Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Los Angeles Times, how a war that had cost thousands of lives and over $1 trillion was losing news salience.

“There is a cold and sad calculation that readers/viewers aren’t that interested in the war, whether because they are preoccupied with paying $4 for a gallon of gas and avoiding foreclosure, or because they have Iraq fatigue,” he wrote.

And although the Pentagon and the current administration will go to great lengths today to talk about the pride we should all feel in the fighting women and men of this country, increasingly onerous rules of engagement for the news media and the military make it difficult for the few remaining reporters and photographers to do their job: showing soldiers doing theirs.

Yes, the message seems to be, we honor the dead, but do not show them in your pictures. Of course, we care deeply about the wounded, but you now need their signed permission to depict their sacrifice.

[Excerpt of an article by David Carr, The New York Times]


Millions starving in Ethiopia while military boosts its budget

According to the United Nations, 4 million people in Ethiopia are facing starvation. And 120,000 Ethiopian children have just one month to live, according to last week's media reports.

The US and Britain immediately pledged $90 million in famine relief.

Just one week after its appeal to the international community for famine relief, the Ethiopian Government increased their military budget by $50 million to $400 million. The regime in Addis Ababa—when I knew them in the 1980s, they were pro-Albanian Maoists—are the most militarised and heavily armed in Africa. They are in a state of perpetual war or preparation for war with one neighbour, Eritrea, and they are supporting anti-Government rebels in Sudan, many believe with western connivance.

So how did we get here? How did we get into bed with the former pro-Albanian Maoists of the Government in Addis Ababa? I am afraid that the answer is our old friend, our old acquaintance, the policy of "my enemy's enemy is my friend". The policy that has got us into so much trouble, from Afghanistan to Iraq and many other parts of the world, is what lies behind this obscene paradox.

[Excerpt of an article by George Galloway, British MP]


Iraq war could cost taxpayers $2.7 trillion

The Iraq war has already cost taxpayers $646 billion. That's only accounting for five years, and, with the conflict expected to drag on for another five years, the figure is expected to more than quadruple to $2.7 trillion, according to Congressional testimony.

The Bush Administration, which was invited to give testimony, declined to participate.

The Pentagon has previously said that the war costs approximately $9.5 billion a month, but some economists say the figure is closer to $25 billion a month when long-term health care for veterans and interest are factored in.

Health care: In testimony before the committee, Dr. Christine Eibner, an Associate Economist with research firm RAND, said advances in armor technology have kept alive many soldiers who would have been killed in prior wars. But that has added to post-war health care costs for veterans, especially for "unseen" wounds like post traumatic stress disorder, major depression and traumatic brain injury. Health care costs for the 1.6 million service members currently in Iraq and Afghanistan could range from $4 billion to $6.2 billion, according to Eibner.

Unemployment: Furthermore, many veterans who recently completed their service are coming back to a difficult job and housing market. Among veterans who completed their service within the last 1 to 3 years, 18% were unemployed, and 25% earned less than $21,840 a year, according to a recent report commissioned by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Foreclosure: Many soldiers who come home from active duty are also finding difficulty keeping their homes.

[Excerpt of an article by David Goldman, CNNMoney]


The International View of America

People around the globe widely expect the next American president to improve the country's policies toward the rest of the world, especially if Barack Obama is elected, yet they retain a persistently poor image of the U.S., according to a poll released Thursday.

The survey of two dozen countries, conducted this spring by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, also found a growing despondency over the international economy, with majorities in 18 nations , including US allies Britain, Germany, Australia, Turkey, France and Japan, sharing a widespread sense the American economy was hurting their countries.

Views of the U.S. improved or stayed the same as last year in 18 nations, the first positive signs the poll has found for the U.S. image worldwide this decade. Even so, many improvements were modest and the U.S. remains less popular in most countries than it was before it invaded Iraq in 2003, with majorities in only eight expressing favorable opinions.

Andrew Kohut, president of Pew, said many seem to be hoping the U.S. role in the world will improve with the departure of President George W. Bush, who remains profoundly unpopular almost everywhere. "People think the U.S. wants to run the world," said Kohut. "It's not more complicated than that."



Why Expensive Oil?

How to explain the oil price? Why is it so high?

When Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, the average price of oil that year was about $27 per barrel.($31 in inflation adjusted 2007 dollars). The price rose another $10 in 2004 to an average annual price of $42 (in 2007 dollars), another $12 in 2005, $7 in 2006, and $4 in 2007 to $65.

But in the last few months the price has more than doubled to about $135. It is difficult to explain a $70 jump in price in terms other than speculation.

In my opinion, the two biggest factors in oil’s high price are the weakness in the US dollar’s exchange value and the liquidity that the Federal Reserve is pumping out. In an effort to forestall a serious recession and further crises in derivative instruments, the Federal Reserve is pouring out liquidity that is financing speculation in oil futures contracts.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi recently stated, “There is no justification for the current rise in prices.” What the minister means is that there are no shortages or supply disruptions. He means no real reasons as distinct from speculative or psychological reasons.

The prospect of an Israeli/US attack on Iran has increased current demand in order to build stocks against disruption. No one knows the consequence of such an ill-conceived act of aggression, and the uncertainty pushes up the price of oil as the entire Middle East could be engulfed in conflagration. However, storage facilities are limited, and the impact on price of larger inventories has a limit.

[Excerpt of an article by Paul Craig Roberts, a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury]


BBC investigation uncovers $23 Billion Iraqi oversight

The extent to which some private contractors have profited in Iraq -- $23 Billion --has been researched by the BBC's Panorama using US and Iraqi government sources.

A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations. The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.

To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq. Henry Waxman who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said: "The money that's gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, its egregious. It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history."

In the run up to the invasion one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth seven billion that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company, which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president. Unusually, only Halliburton got to bid - and won.

Read more


Biggest 'international giving' is migrant workers' remittances

Global philanthropy sports a multitude of faces. Bill Gates stands out, of course. But the biggest 'international giving' comes from migrant workers' remittances.

Total American dollars flowing to the developing world would have decreased significantly over the year had it not been for remittances. The most positive note for poor nations appears to rest in the surge in remittances sent by migrants to their families.

Developing nations received $122.4 billion in remittances from donor countries in 2006, boosting family incomes, and spurring economic growth and democratization, the report says.

Remittances rose by 16 percent, twice the amount of charitable giving. They account for 37 percent of private flow.

[Christian Science Monitor]


The Moral Authority of Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter has snubbed the lecture circuit cash cow to devote his post-presidential life to brokering peace in the Middle East and fighting disease. So why is it that so many Americans can't stand him?

The Carter Center, originally a one-man mission, is now the employer of 150 people, with a restless, global brief that ranges from ridding the world of "neglected diseases" to monitoring disputed elections - with a little light Middle East peacemaking thrown in. This post-presidential work bagged Carter the Nobel Peace prize in 2002 and has led even his critics to call him the most successful ex-incumbent of the White House in American history. He has devised a new model, the activist ex-presidency, which appears to have inspired, at least partially, Clinton in his global foundation and high-profile effort to combat Aids.

It helps that Carter's message is so in tune with liberal, European sensibilities. Carter says he has: "I have moral authority - as long as I don't destroy it." It also means he carries himself more as a spiritual leader than a political one; more Desmond Tutu than George Bush Snr. It helps that Carter is a man of deep faith - he is often described as the first born-again Christian to serve as president, and still teaches a Bible class every Sunday morning in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. The fact that the Carter Center can legitimately claim to have mediated successfully in a clutch of armed conflicts and to have all but rid the world of the hideous Guinea worm disease - there were 3.6m cases of it when the Center started work and just 5,000 now - only reinforces the image of a tireless agent for good, even, in one journalist's description, a "living saint".

So why is it that so many Americans can't stand him? The answer lies partly in the very things that non-American audiences admire. Where Europeans see a dove, Carter's detractors see a weak president who delighted a hostile world only too happy for America to walk small.

[Excerpt of an article by Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian]


No significant increase in aid for developing countries

Philanthropy is being transformed as technology opens the door to speedier, less costly forms of giving and inspires people of all ages and incomes to get involved. Wealthy corporate leaders and foundations are urging innovative approaches, from social entrepreneurship to combining for-profit and charitable enterprises. New tax laws are encouraging philanthropy in Europe and elsewhere.

"What I find exciting about private giving is that it's reinventing foreign assistance," says Carol Adelman, director of Hudson's Center for Global Prosperity.

But there's no sign yet that this dramatic change means a significant increase in resources for developing countries.

Official development aid from the 22 donor nations decreased from $106 billion in 2005 to $104 billion in 2006.

[Compare the importance of money sent home by migrant workers.] Developing nations received $122.4 billion in migrant workers’ remittances from donor countries in 2006.

Thus the most positive note for poor nations appears to rest in the surge in remittances sent by migrants to their families.

[Christian Science Monitor]


Iraqi Parliament in Showdown with U.S. Govt

At an extraordinary hearing on Capitol Hill, members of the Iraqi parliament hand-delivered a letter to members of Congress that rejected the idea of a US-Iraq agreement unless the United States agrees to a specific timetable to get out of Iraq. The letter was signed by a majority of the 270-member parliament, reflecting a broad consensus among Iraqi factions. Said the letter:

"The majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq."
Without a US-Iraq accord, the presence of American troops in Iraq has no legal basis after December 31, 2008. Currently, the US forces in Iraq are there under the authority of a United Nations Security Council resolution that expires on that date.

[The Nation]

US Issues Threat re: Iraq’s $50bn Foreign Reserves

The US is holding hostage some $50 billion of Iraq's money in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to pressure the Iraqi government into signing an agreement seen by many Iraqis as prolonging the US occupation indefinitely, according to information leaked to The Independent.

Iraq's foreign reserves are currently protected by a presidential order giving them immunity from judicial attachment but the US side in the talks has suggested that if the UN mandate, under which the money is held, lapses and is not replaced by the new agreement, then Iraq's funds would lose this immunity. The threat by the American side underlines the personal commitment of President George Bush to pushing the new pact through by 31 July.

Iraqi critics of the agreement say that it means Iraq will be a client state in which the US will keep more than 50 military bases. American forces will be able to carry out arrests of Iraqi citizens and conduct military campaigns without consultation with the Iraqi government. American soldiers and contractors will enjoy legal immunity.

The US had previously denied it wanted permanent bases in Iraq, but American negotiators argue that so long as there is an Iraqi perimeter fence, even if it is manned by only one Iraqi soldier, around a US installation, then Iraq and not the US is in charge. The US has security agreements with many countries, but none are occupied by 151,000 US soldiers as is Iraq.

[Excerpt of an article by Patrick Cockburn, The Independent]


Billion pledged to global food crisis

World leaders have made "extraordinary" commitments to short-term food crisis solutions but more work is needed on long-term solutions, the head of the United Nations food agency said. Countries and delegations pledged more than $1 billion in food aid to meet emergency needs, said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Programme.

Delegates agreed to invest more in agriculture -- such as providing small farmers in poor countries with fertilizers, seeds, and farm equipment -- with the goal of increasing worldwide food production by 50 percent by 2030.

The financial and food assistance and the support for agriculture are the two immediate, short-term goals.Officials said the two steps are needed as a quick fix, but they urged countries to think about solutions for many years to come.

"As long as you have subsidies from rich countries combined with a free trade agenda in developing countries -- which means the poor countries open up to rich ones -- their farmers can't compete with subsidized goods coming in from Europe and the U.S.," said Alexander Woollcombe, a spokesman for Oxfam. "When prices go up, as they are at the moment, that means people in these countries cannot afford food."

The summit was not supposed to produce a deal or a worldwide agreement on tackling hunger. Rather, it was intended to come up with recommendations and solutions that countries and international organizations could implement.



UN chief on the global food crisis

Ban Ki-moon, the head of the United Nations, urged attendees to the U.N.-organized summit in Rome to deal with food security -- a broad term that includes hunger, rising food prices, food production, high oil prices, and climate change. He called on nations to take four immediate steps:

· Make the international trade system work more effectively so more food is available, and at reasonable prices;

· Increase humanitarian aid to cushion the impact of high food prices on vulnerable populations;

· Find a way to boost harvests in the next year and continue investment in agriculture over the long run;

· Help governments struggling to cope with the food crisis through fiscal support.

"Substantial new resources will be needed -- perhaps as much as $15 to $20 billion a year as our efforts build up," Ban said.

The World Food Program announced Wednesday it has given an extra $1.2 billion in aid to 62 countries hardest hit by the global food crisis. The U.N. agency is already providing some $5 billion to 90 million people in 78 countries this year.


UN: Apathy worsening food crisis

Billions of dollars are being wasted on obese people in the West while millions starve around the world, Jacques Diouf, the United Nations food agency chief, has told world leaders at a summit on food security in Rome.

Speaking at the opening of the three-day UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) summit in Italy's capital, Diouf also highlighted how an estimated $1.2 trillion was spent on weapons in 2006 while aid to agriculture fell by more than half, from $8bn (1984) to $3.4bn (2004).

Diouf lamented the failure to reach a goal set by the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome for reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half by 2015. "With current trends, the summit's goal will be attained in 2150 instead of 2015," he said. "The international community reacts, unfortunately, only when the media bring into the living rooms of wealthy countries the sad spectacle of those who suffer in the world."

[Al Jazeera English]


Desmond Tutu condemns Gaza blockade

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu has called Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip an “abomination.”

Mr Tutu was in Gaza on a United Nations fact-finding mission into the killing of 19 Palestinians by Israeli shellfire in November 2006.

The former archbishop of Cape Town said, My message to the international community is that our silence and complicity, especially on the situation in Gaza, shames us all. It is almost like the behavior of the military junta in Burma.”


Thoughts on Plutocracy

“We're not a democracy. It's a terrible misunderstanding and a slander to the idea of democracy to call us that. In reality, we're a plutocracy: a government by the wealthy."
- Ramsey Clark
, former U.S. Attorney General

"Of all forms of tyranny, the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of plutocracy"
- John Pierpont Morgan

Plutocracy Produces Economic Inequality

The biggest political issue receiving no attention by the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates is the powerful plutocracy that has captured the government, and which produces rising economic inequality.

Why? Simple answer: because both major parties and their candidates are subservient to numerous corporate and other special interests that use their money and influence to ensure that their elitist priorities prevail.

Economic data show the plutocracy’s assault on American society. Consider these examples:

The top 20 percent of households earned more, after taxes, than the remaining 80 percent in 2005. (The topmost 1 percent took home more than the bottom 40 percent!)

Between 2001 to 2008, the net worth of the wealthiest 1 percent grew from $186 billion to $816 billion.

Real hourly wages for most workers have risen only 1 percent since 1979, even as those workers' productivity has increased by 60 percent. What's more, American workers now work more hours per year than their counterparts in virtually every other advanced economy, even Japan, and without universal health care.

[As for Bush tax cuts] in 2009, Americans who make over $1 million a year will save an average $32,000 on capital gains and dividends. The average American household will save $20.

[Excerpts from an article by Joel S. Hirschhorn]


Ex-Press Aide McClellan: Bush Misled U.S. on Iraq

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan writes in his memoir that the Iraq war was sold to the American people with a sophisticated "political propaganda campaign" led by President Bush and aimed at "manipulating sources of public opinion" and "downplaying the major reason for going to war."

McClellan includes the charges in his 341-page book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," that delivers a harsh look at the White House and the man he served for close to a decade.

McClellan stops short of saying that Bush purposely lied about his reasons for invading Iraq, but in a chapter titled "Selling the War," he alleges that the administration repeatedly shaded the truth and that Bush "managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option."

McClellan, once a staunch defender of the war from the podium, comes to a stark conclusion, writing, "What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary."

[Excerpt of an article by Michael D. Shear, Washington Post]


Iraq War Increased Worldwide Energy Costs by $6 Trillion

The invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain has trebled the price of oil, according to a leading expert, costing the world a staggering $6 trillion in higher energy prices alone.

The oil economist Dr Mamdouh Salameh, who advises both the World Bank and the UN Industrial Development Organisation (Unido), told The Independent that the price of oil would now be no more than $40 a barrel, less than a third of the record $135 a barrel reached last week, if it had not been for the Iraq war.

Goldman Sachs predicted last week that the price could rise to an unprecedented $200 a barrel over the next year, and the world is coming to terms with the idea that the age of cheap oil has ended, with far-reaching repercussions on their activities.

[Excerpt of an article by Geoffrey Lean, The Independent]


Is Charity Changing China? (Part 1)

The earthquake in Sichuan has transformed China in many ways. Abroad, China has switched from victimizer to victim. At home, Olympic excitement has been replaced by the sadness of death and destruction, and xenophobic anger has been exchanged for a new spirit of volunteerism.

This last change presents the most difficult test for China's leadership, which sees an old and fearsome dragon of civil society raising its head. The earthquake has triggered an outpouring of philanthropy so large that it can't be channeled through government conduits alone. As of last week, Chinese companies and individuals had offered about a billion dollars in aid to victims, according to the official news agency.

The Communist Party distrusts any group that can organize large masses of people or engender trust. Party leaders have studied the revolutions in Poland and Ukraine, where civic organizations and unions helped overthrow communist regimes. Today, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are strictly regulated, and new ones have to be sponsored by two government departments.

In the wake of the Sichuan earthquake, Chinese citizens are increasingly aware that government can't solve all problems, all the time. Civil society can help. Beijing is right to be worried.

For this brief moment, however, the government and civic groups are working as one.

[Excerpt of an editorial by Lesley Hook, The Wall Street Journal]

Is Charity Changing China? (Part 2)

Unofficial NGOs are sprouting up everywhere in China. Christian churches and Buddhist groups are using their networks in Sichuan to deliver aid and place volunteers. Internet campaigns to raise money are multiplying. Countless other volunteer groups in the earthquake zone are providing medical care, counseling or child care for orphaned children.

Twenty-three year-old Li Peng is a good example. The Sichuan native set up a Web site that accepts donations of goods. Mr. Li emailed friends asking for donations of medicine, receiving such an enthusiastic response that he set up the Web site. Two weeks later he and his friends had distributed 500,000 yuan ($71,906) worth of medicine and biscuits, with an additional 1.5 million yuan worth of goods on the way. Chinese drug companies such as Tibet Senlong donated most of the goods, and DHL and Juneyao, a Chinese airline, provided free transport. The donations were delivered to provincial or township-level authorities by local volunteers.

But how long will the party allow the informal organizations to flourish? Although the majority of them see their work as an extension of the government's efforts – Mr. Li, for example, ensured that government certificates were received for all goods delivered – not all of the groups will be so benign.

Already, parents of children who died in poorly constructed school buildings have organized marches and clashed with police.

The administration of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen is unlikely to choose more freedom. Over the past two years, it has tightened restrictions on NGOs considerably; obtaining the permissions to register a new NGO has become all but impossible. More likely the state will try to co-opt this civic energy.

Philanthropy was already starting to take off in China before the earthquake hit. Twenty-seven Chinese philanthropists individually donated 100 million yuan or more to charity last year, up from 15 who donated that amount in 2006, according to the Hurun Report. A week after the quake, Hurun reported that China's 100 richest individuals had already donated more than $130 million for the victims.

[Excerpt of an editorial by Lesley Hook, The Wall Street Journal]