Over $4 Billion Wasted In Iraq Reconstruction, Government Inspector Estimates

In the flatlands north of Baghdad sits a prison with no prisoners. It holds something else: a chronicle of U.S. government waste, misguided planning and construction shortcuts costing $40 million and stretching back to the American overseers who replaced Saddam Hussein.

It adds another narrative to the wider probes into the billions lost so far on scrubbed or substandard projects in Iraq.In the pecking order of corruption in Iraq, the dead-end prison project at Khan Bani Saad is nowhere near the biggest or most tangled.

Estimates are of up to 20 percent "waste" -- or more than $4 billion -- from the $21 billion spent so far in the U.S.-bankrolled Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund.

Government Inspector Bowen’s agency has done 120 audits on Iraqi projects. "And they tell an episodic story of waste," he said.



Ahmadinejad: The big powers are going down

Iran's president on Tuesday blamed the U.S. and other "big powers" for nuclear proliferation, AIDS and other global ills, and accused them of exploiting the U.N. and other organizations for their own gain and the developing world's loss.

But, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, time was on the poor countries' side. "The big powers are going down," Ahmadinejad told foreign ministers of the Nonaligned Movement meeting in Tehran. "They have come to the end of their power, and the world is on the verge of entering a new, promising era."

The more than 100-member NAM is made up of such diverse members as communist Cuba, Jamaica and India and depicts itself as bloc-free. But most members share a critical view of the U.S and the developed world in general. And with Iran assuming the chairmanship of the conference Tuesday, Ahmadinejad's keynote speech was tailored to reflect the struggle that some NAM members see themselves in against the world's rich and powerful countries.

"The rich and powerful countries continue to exercise an inordinate influence in determining the nature and direction of international relations, including economic and trade relations, as well as rules governing these relations, many of which are at the expense of developing countries," it said.

He accused the great powers of "fomenting discord .... to intensify the military and arms race" so they can feed their arms industries.



Bush deserves Olympic medals for fiscal irresponsibility

President Bush's budget chief blamed the faltering economy and the bipartisan stimulus package for the record $482 billion deficit the White House predicted for the 2009 budget year. (And that doesn't include an additional $80 billion in war costs.)

[The federal deficit is the difference between what the government spends and what it takes in from taxes and other revenue sources. The government must borrow money to make up the difference.]

President Bush inherited a budget surplus of $128 billion when he took office in 2001 but has since posted a budget deficit every year.

A Democratic point man on the budget, Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, blasted the administration for its "reckless fiscal policies," blaming the president's tax cuts for driving the government into deficit and saying Bush "will be remembered as the most fiscally irresponsible president in our nation's history."

"If they gave out Olympic medals for fiscal irresponsibility, President Bush would take the gold, silver and bronze," Conrad said. "With his eight years in office, he will have had the five highest deficits ever recorded. And the highest of those deficits is now projected to come in 2009, as he leaves office."



U.S. Aid to Africa Is Increasingly Military

U.S. aid to Africa is becoming increasingly militarized, resulting in skewed priorities and less attention to longer-term development projects that could lead to greater stability across the continent, according to a report released by the advocacy group Refugees International.

The report warns that the Defense Department is usurping funds traditionally directed by the State Department and U.S. aid agencies.

The Pentagon, which controlled about 3 percent of official aid money a decade ago, now controls 22 percent. Meanwhile the U.S. Agency for International Development's share has declined from 65 percent to 40 percent, according to the 56-page report.

"The danger is this strategy will not achieve the security objectives of addressing the root causes of terrorism," said Mark Malan, author of the report. "And it certainly won't address the developmental objectives of U.S. foreign policy."

[Excerpt of article by Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post]


Gaza poverty mounts despite Hamas-Israel truce

UN official John Ging, operation director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), says, "The situation in the Gaza Strip continues to deteriorate and the number of poor people continues to increase one month after a truce has been reached”.

Following a truce brokered by Egypt between Israel and Gaza militant groups, which took effect on June 19, Israel has slightly eased the blockade imposed on the strip and allowed more amounts of food, fuels and raw materials into Gaza.

Ging announced that his international relief organization decided to offer 6.5 million U.S. dollars as an urgent aid to around 100,000 poor Gaza residents registered at UNRWA.



Some things you may not know about Afghanistan

Some facts about Afghanistan, as presented by veteran correspondent Eric Margolis:

- Al-Qaida never numbered more than 300 men. There are hardly any left in Afghanistan.

- U.S. policy towards Afghanistan is driven by energy geopolitics. Pacification of rebellious Pashtun tribesmen is necessary in order to build energy pipelines south from the Caspian Basin. That is the primary strategic mission of U.S. and Canadian troops.

- The Taliban was founded as a fundamentalist Muslim religious movement of Pashtun tribesmen to fight banditry, rape, drugs and Afghan Communists. The U.S. overthrow of the Taliban resulted in the Communists resuming control over half of Afghanistan. Now, under U.S. occupation, Afghanistan has become a narco state that supplies over 90% of the world's heroin.

- Pashtun tribes comprise half of Afghanistan's population, and 15% of neighboring Pakistan's people. The western powers are involved in an old-fashioned, colonial-style pacification campaign against the Pashtun Taliban.

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


G8 to the Poor: Let Them Eat Dirt

Last week, leaders of the world’s richest countries, the Group of Eight (G8), met at a luxury hotel in Tokyo to chart the course of the global economy. While President Bush and his colleagues discussed world hunger over a six-course lunch, women in Haiti were preparing cakes of dirt for their children’s dinner.

Eating dirt, mixed with salt and vegetable shortening, is the latest coping strategy of Haitian mothers trying to quiet hungry children in a year when the cost of rice (Haiti’s staple food) has risen nearly 150 percent.

Ironically, many of these women were once rice farmers themselves. But in the 1980s, U.S.-grown rice began pouring into Haiti. Thanks to federal subsidies, the imported rice was sold for less than what it cost to grow it. Haitian farmers just couldn’t compete.

Neither could millions of other farmers around the world, who have been bankrupted by the influx of rice, corn, and wheat from the U.S., Europe and Japan. These farmers have gone from growing their own food and feeding their countries to having to buy food that’s priced on a global market. Now that these commodity markets have spiked, millions of more families cannot afford to eat.

The G8 did call for more aid to countries like Haiti that have been hard hit by the spike in food prices. That’s an important step when lives are at stake. But the money is to be administered through the International Monetary Fund, famous for making offers with strings attached.

[Excerpt of a blog post by Yifat Susskind, the communications director of MADRE: Rights, Resources and Results for Women Worldwide]



Why is the British PM repeating a mistranslation?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never called for "Israel to be wiped off the map", a fact confirmed by many Iranian language experts. That the mainstream media have repeated and echoed the original mistranslation from 2005 attests to their bias and hidden agenda.

However, it is shocking for this mistranslation to be repeated in days past by the Prime Minister of Britain when addressing the Israeli parliament. (Let us not forget that Iran does not have the capability to wipe Israel off the map, but Israel has more than enough to wipe most of the world off the map, thanks to its 200+ nuclear weapons built with help and assistance from Britain, USA etc.)

So what did Ahmadinejad actually say? To quote his exact words in Farsi: "Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad."

Ahmadinejad did not refer to Israel the country or Israel the land mass, nor even refer to Israel by name. He instead uses the specific phrase "rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods" (regime occupying Jerusalem).

And what exactly did he want "wiped from the map"? The answer is: nothing. That's because the word "map" was never used. The Persian word for map, "nagsheh", is not contained anywhere in his original Farsi quote, or, for that matter, anywhere in his entire speech.

The full quote translated directly to English: "The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time"


U.S. Slips to 42nd Place in "Global Life Expectancy"

Despite spending $230 million an hour on healthcare, Americans live shorter lives than citizens of almost every other developed country. And while it has the second-highest income per head in the world, the United States ranks 42nd in terms of life expectancy.

These are some of the startling conclusions from a major new report which attempts to explain why the world's number-one economy has slipped to 12th place--from 2nd in 1990--in terms of human development.

The American Human Development Report, which applies rankings of health, education and income to the US, paints a surprising picture of a country that spends well over $5 billion each day on healthcare--more per person than any other country.

Each of the 11 countries that rank higher than the US in human development has a lower per-capita income.

[Excerpt of an article by Ashley Seager, The Guardian]


No One Wins in War

Have our political leaders not learned that no one “wins” in a war, but that hundreds of thousands of humans die, most of them civilians, many of them children?

Did we “win” in Vietnam? We were forced to withdraw, but only after 2 million Vietnamese died, again mostly civilians, again leaving children burned or armless or legless, and 58,000 American soldiers dead.

Did we win in the first Gulf War? Not really. Yes, we pushed Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, with only a few hundred US casualties, but perhaps 100,000 Iraqis died.

In Afghanistan, the United States declared “victory” over the Taliban. Now the Taliban is back, and attacks are increasing.

[Excerpt of an article by Howard Zinn, The Boston Globe]


Comparisons between Iran and Iraq

Iran’s population is more than double the size of Iraq’s, and it is four times larger than Iraq in total landmass. Iran is a more homogeneous nation, less susceptible to fracturing amongst its minorities- precisely the condition that made Iraq easier to subdue (though not occupy).

Iran is also wealthier than Iraq- unlike the latter, Iran seems to be tapping its oil wealth with relative efficiency. Furthermore, Iran has a formidable army- and well known arms.

War with Iran is extraordinarily dangerous. Either this administration is not serious in its saber rattling, or it deems the stakes especially high- high enough to warrant huge sacrifices, which, thanks to our experience in Iraq, we can already imagine too well.

In taking on Iran, this White House is indirectly aiming at our ascendant competitors in the 21st century: Russia, China, perhaps also India.

China’s growing power is increasingly demanding of oil. Undermining Iran, a prominent oil resource for China, frustrates Beijing’s rise. If war with Iran spikes the price of oil, China and India will be gravely wounded (as will the entire developing world). As for Russia, Putin has made it abundantly clear that Moscow intends to be a global power to reckon with in the 21st century- a power underwritten by astonishing native oil wealth.

Iran is no third front in the War on Terror. War with Iran is a step beyond, to a new global conflict- a new Cold War, in a way- where the US plays its cards (in this case, the largest military in the world) to frustrate its opponents indirectly.

[Excerpt of article by Firmin DeBrabander, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore]


Iraq Troop Surge Ends; 150,000 Left

The military surge into Iraq that began more than 18 months ago has ended. But 150,000 U.S. troops remain, as many as 15,000 more than before the buildup began.

In recent days, the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade, the last of the five additional combat brigades sent in by President Bush last year, left the country.

Its departure marks the end of what the Pentagon calls the "surge." And it starts the 45-day evaluation period that Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Congress he would need to assess the security situation and determine how many more troops he could send home.



Despite growth, an increased number of World's Poorest

Record growth in the world's poorest countries has failed to prevent an increase in their total numbers of poor people, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said.

Recent rising food costs threaten to undercut what modest progress has been achieved, while three quarters of people living in least developed countries (LDCs) still survive on less than $2 a day, it said in a report. Income under $2 a day does not allow most people to meet basic needs for food, water, shelter, health or education, the LCD Report 2008 noted.

Growth had some impact on absolute poverty, defined as those living on less than $1 a day.

Sharp rises in food prices in 2007 and early 2008 have led the prices of staples such as maize, wheat and rice to double in some countries over the past year and a half, a severe blow to poor people spending a large share of their income on food.



Notable quotes by former Vice President Al Gore

"I don't remember a time in our country when so many things seemed to be going so wrong simultaneously."

“We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change...”

“It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil ten years from now.”

“Am I the only one who finds it strange that our government so often adopts a so-called solution that has absolutely nothing to do with the problem it is supposed to address? When people rightly complain about higher gasoline prices, we propose to give more money to the oil companies and pretend that they're going to bring gasoline prices down. It will do nothing of the sort, and everyone knows it...”

"The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk."

[View Al Gore’s speech]

Gates-led micro-enterprise could help Africans survive and thrive

The retirement of Bill Gates from Microsoft continues to reverberate through the business world, but it's in the nonprofit community that the real shock waves will be felt.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded some of the most important and far-reaching aid and development initiatives ever seen. It has transformed the global health field from a poorly resourced cadre of experts to a networked, well-financed force for good. With today's tough challenges, Gates' move to full-time philanthropy is welcome news.

Micro-enterprise is a key to improving the standard of living and enhancing the quality of life for Africans today. If Bill Gates can do with these business opportunities what he did for Microsoft — and persuade others of the strength of this approach — the developing world may begin to flourish instead of simply developing.

[Excerpt of an article by Josh Ruxin, The Seattle Times]

Bill Clinton aims to stabilize malaria drug prices

Former President Bill Clinton's foundation has signed pricing agreements with several suppliers involved in making a malaria-fighting drug in an effort to stabilize the medication's fluctuating costs and ensure more dependable availability.

"Today's announcement is an important step forward in global efforts to increase access to affordable and effective malaria treatment," Clinton said in a statement, "and I applaud the commitments of these companies to lower volatility in this market and offer low and sustainable prices that will save more lives."

[Excerpt of an article by Sara Kugler, The Kansas City Star]


Rays of Hope for Iraq

Three big things happened on Iraq this week. They could mean the beginning of the end of the war.

1. Iraqis want U.S. Troops out. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki unexpectedly spoke out this past week in favor of withdrawal.

2. As a result, the "endless war agreement" President Bush has been pushing fell through. This week, the Washington Post reported that that agreement has fallen through—Iraqi leaders are putting their feet down and demanding a much shorter agreement.

3. And now even the Pentagon is considering faster timelines. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon's top military officer said today that he is likely to recommend further troop reductions in Iraq this fall.

According to reporter Michael Hirsh at Newsweek, the Pentagon will recommend a big drawdown of troops—suggesting "that U.S. forces be reduced to as few as 50,000 by the spring of 2009, down from about 150,000 now."

In other words, it's now clear: Most Americans are for a timeline, and so are most Iraqis. And even experts in the Pentagon agree.

[Excerpt of article by Eli Pariser, MoveOn.org]


Bush claims executive privilege on CIA leak

President Bush has asserted executive privilege to prevent Attorney General Michael Mukasey from having to comply with a House panel subpoena for material on the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

Among the documents sought by House Oversight Chairman Henry Waxman are FBI interviews of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Waxman rejected Mukasey's suggestion that Cheney's FBI interview should be protected by the privilege claim — and therefore not turned over to the panel.

"We'll act in the reasonable and appropriate period of time," Waxman, D-Calif., said. But he made clear that he thinks Mukasey has earned a contempt citation and that he'd schedule a vote on the matter soon.

"This unfounded assertion of executive privilege does not protect a principle; it protects a person," Waxman said. "If the vice president did nothing wrong, what is there to hide?"


Secret Red Cross Report of CIA Torture

Red Cross investigators concluded last year in a secret report that the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes, according to a new book on counterterrorism efforts.

The book “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals,” by Jane Mayer, cites unnamed “sources familiar with the report,” and wrote that the Red Cross document “warned that the abuse constituted war crimes, placing the highest officials in the U.S. government in jeopardy of being prosecuted.”

The report says the prisoners considered the “most excruciating” of the methods being shackled to the ceiling and being forced to stand for as long as eight hours. Eleven of the 14 prisoners reported prolonged sleep deprivation, the book says, including “bright lights and eardrum-shattering sounds 24 hours a day.”

Ms. Mayer acknowledges that Red Cross investigators based their account largely on interviews with the prisoners. But she writes that several C.I.A. officers she spoke with confirmed parts of the Red Cross description.

[Excerpt of an article by Scott Shane, The New York Times]


58 permanent U.S. bases in Iraq?

On Dec. 31, the United Nations mandate authorizing American and other foreign troops to operate in Iraq expires. The two sides have been working frantically toward such an agreement -- the Bush administration more frantically than Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Two questions: Given that the occupation of Iraq is costing taxpayers $12 billion a month (and rising), why isn't the administration involving Congress? And why is the administration intent on securing a long-term agreement now, denying the next president the chance to set his own agenda in Iraq rather than be bound to Bush's?

The Bush administration's version of the agreement would have U.S. forces stationed in 58 permanent bases around Iraq. There would be no pullout timetable. And American forces as well as contractors working with them, such as private-security guards and mercenaries, would be granted immunity from Iraqi laws.

Al-Maliki wants neither a permanent military presence nor full immunity. He wants a more temporary agreement.

The Iraqi prime minister cannot sign a status-of-force agreement with the United States without his parliament's approval. Bush should not sign the agreement without congressional approval.

[Excerpt of an Editorial in Daytona Beach News]


Palestinian Apartheid in the West Bank

South African veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle said that the restrictions endured by Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories was in some respects worse than that imposed on the black majority under white rule in South Africa.

After a five-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories, members of a 23-strong human-rights team of prominent South Africans expressed shock and dismay at conditions in the Israeli-controlled heart of Hebron. Uniquely among West Bank cities, 800 Israeli settlers now live there and segregation has seen the closure of nearly 3,000 Palestinian businesses and housing units. Palestinian cars (and in some sections pedestrians) are prohibited from using the once busy streets.

"Even with the system of permits, even with the limits of movement to South Africa, we never had as much restriction on movement as I see for the people here," said an ANC parliamentarian, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.

Fatima Hassan, a leading South African human rights lawyer, said: "The issue of separate roads, [different registration] of cars driven by different nationalities, the indignity of producing a permit any time a soldier asks for it, and of waiting in long queues in the boiling sun at checkpoints just to enter your own city, I think is worse than what we experienced during apartheid."

One prominent member of the delegation, who declined to be named, added: "The daily indignity to which the Palestinian population is subjected far outstrips the apartheid regime. And the effectiveness with which the bureaucracy implements the repressive measures far exceed that of the apartheid regime."

[Excerpt of article by Donald Macintyre, The Independent]


World Bank: Food prices create $6bn shortfall

The head of the World Bank says poor countries will need some $6 billion in food aid every year because of rising food prices.

Robert Zoellick says he expects food prices to stay above 2004 levels at least through 2012. He says energy prices also will remain high and volatile.

Zoellick says the World Food Program, which feeds the world's hungry, requires $6 billion. But this year an additional $3.5 billion is needed for short-term safety net projects in 50 countries.

Zoellick is in Amsterdam Saturday to attend a conference on how the World Bank needs to adapt to a changing world. He says that, for example, the bank needs to pay more attention to cross-border projects rather than focusing on individual states



Foreign NGOs in Russia Lose Tax Status

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has signed a decree reducing the number of international organizations in Russia allowed to issue tax-free grants from 101 to just 12.

The sharp reduction raises new fears about a crackdown on foreign nongovernmental organizations.

Among the groups whose grants will no longer be tax-exempt from January 2009 include the World Wildlife Fund (Switzerland), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Switzerland), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS (Switzerland), the Ford Foundation (U.S.), the Eurasia Foundation (U.S.) and the Royal Society (Britain), Interfax said.

[The Moscow Times]


Mercenary “contractors” lose immunity in Iraq deal

The Iraqi armed services are likely to target widely-hated American security contractors when they lose their immunity to Iraqi law under a new agreement between the US and the Iraq.

The main American concession, during prolonged and rancorous negotiations over a future military relationship between the US and Iraq has been to agree to lift the immunity hitherto enjoyed by the 154,000 contractors, of whom 35,000 are private security men.

Said Ahmed Chalabi, the veteran Iraqi politician, in an interview with The Independent: "People haven't forgotten about the Iraqis who were killed by private security men in Nisour Square." Security personnel from Blackwater USA are accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians, including a mother and child, when they opened fire in the square in west Baghdad on 16 September last year.

Mr Chalabi says it is likely that the Iraqi security forces and judiciary will go out of their way to arrest foreign security men who break Iraqi law, which they have so far flouted.

The negotiation of a US-Iraqi agreement replaces the current UN mandate for US forces that is due to run out at the end of the year.

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


G-8 Must Not Backtrack on Aid for Poor Countries, Charities Say

Group of Eight leaders must stick to their commitment to boost funding to developing countries by 2010 or risk escalating poverty as global food prices surge, aid groups said.

The pledge made at a G-8 summit in 2005 would increase overall aid to $130 billion from $80 billion and double assistance for Africa to $50 billion.

A draft communiqué for this year's summit failed to reiterate the $25 billion increase for Africa pledged in 2005, the Financial Times reports.

"I'm a little concerned that G-8 countries may backtrack on aid”, European Commission President Jose Barroso, who participates in the summit, told reporters. "We must ensure that there is no going back on our commitments.''

[Excerpt of article by Steve Scherer and Mark Deen, Bloomberg.com]


Ingrid Betancourt thanks Hugo Chavez

Sometimes you hear a stray sentence on the news that makes you realize you have been lied to.

As Ingrid Betancourt emerged after six-and-a-half years – sunken and shriveled but radiant with courage – one of the first people she thanked was Hugo Chavez.

What? If you follow the news coverage, you have been told that the Venezuelan President supports the Farc thugs who have been holding her hostage. How can this moment of dissonance be explained?

The reason is crude: crude oil. Venezuela sits on one of the biggest pools of oil left anywhere. If you find yourself in this position, the rich governments of the world – the US and EU – ask one thing of you: pump the petrol and the profits our way, using our corporations.

But Western governments cannot simply say: "We want the oil, our corporations need the profits, so let's smash the elected leaders standing in our way." They know ordinary Americans and Europeans would gag.

So they had to invent lies. First they announced Chavez was a dictator. This ignored that he came to power in a totally free and open election, the Venezuelan press remains uncensored and in total opposition to him. When that tactic failed, the oil industry and the politicians they lubricate shifted strategy. They announced that Chavez was a supporter of Terrorism, [citing a laptop found at a] Farc training camp. A few hours later, they had already rummaged through the 39.5 million pages of Microsoft Word documents it contained to find cast-iron "proof" that Chavez was backing the Farc.

Ingrid's sister, Astrid Betancourt, says it is plainly fake.

[Excerpt of article by Johann Hari, The Independent]


Iraq requires US Pullout Timetable

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouiri al-Maliki tossed a bombshell today. In a news conference about the still-secret US-Iraqi talks, which began in March, Maliki for the first time said that the chances of securing the pact are just about nil, and instead he said Iraq will seek a limited, ad hoc renewal of the US authority to remain in Iraq, rather than a broad-based accord.

More important, Maliki and his top security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie added that Iraq intends to link even a limited accord to a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces. It was the first time the US-backed Shi'ite-led government has floated the idea of a timetable for the removal of American forces from Iraq. The Bush administration has always opposed such a move, saying it would benefit militant groups.

Maliki's statement is a big deal. At a minimum, it presents an enormous problem for Bush and John McCain, who are arguing for an indefinite US stay in Iraq til "victory," and who oppose a timetable.

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation]


What if Israel was held to same nuclear scrutiny as Iran

First, we went after nonexistent nuclear weapons in Iraq, and now we are consumed with the possibility that Iran might develop nuclear weapons sometime in the future.

What nobody wants to talk about is the fact that Israel has had a secret nuclear weapons program for more than 30 years that has produced well over 200 nuclear bombs.

Ever since 1986, when Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician, confirmed in the London Sunday Times the existence of Israel's nuclear weapons program with his photographs of the secret underground bomb facility, the world has known that Israel has been making nuclear bombs but has pretended that they do not exist.

Here are notes from my interview with Vanunu in Jerusalem in 2005:

"I worked from 1976 to 1985 at the Israeli secret underground nuclear weapons production facility at the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert. During my time there, I was involved in processing plutonium for 10 nuclear bombs per year. I realized that my country had already processed enough plutonium for 200 nuclear weapons. I became really afraid when we started processing lithium 6, which is only used for the hydrogen bomb.

"I felt that I had to prevent a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East, so I took 60 pictures of the underground nuclear weapons processing plant. I resigned my post and left Israel in 1986. I first went to Australia and then made a connection with the Times in London. A few months later, I was kidnapped by the Israelis in Rome and sent secretly by ship to Israel, where I was subjected to a closed military trial without counsel. I was sentenced to 18 years in prison. I spent 12 years in solitary confinement. Now I am trapped inside Israel.” (Note: Vanunu was released from prison in April 2004 but was prohibited from leaving Israel.)

The fact of the matter is that Israel is using nuclear blackmail against the U.S. Essentially, Israel is saying that if we don't agree to use our nuclear weapons against Iran, then they will use theirs.

The only way to secure a nuclear-free Middle East is to have every nation in the region play by the same book of rules, and this must include Israel.

[Excerpt of an article by Joe Parko, The Tennessean]


Britain -- not USA -- now the world’s biggest arms exporter

Britain was the world’s biggest arms seller last year, accounting for a third of global arms exports, the Government’s trade promotion organization said. UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) said that arms exporters had added $18.8 billion in new business last year, giving them a larger share of global arms exports than the United States.

UKTI said that the figures were boosted by orders for Eurofighter Typhoon jets from Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest arms buyer, which has imported $31 billion in weapons over the past five years.

The US is still the world’s biggest exporter over the past five years, with $63 billion in total arms exports.

Britain was second with $53 billion, and Russia third with $33 billion.

[The Times]


Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran

Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush.

United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. The scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new highly classified Presidential Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose chairman is Admiral Mike Mullen, were “pushing back very hard” against White House pressure to undertake a military strike against Iran, a person familiar with the Finding told me. Similarly, a Pentagon consultant who is involved in the war on terror said that “at least ten senior flag and general officers, including combatant commanders”—the four-star officers who direct military operations around the world—“have weighed in on that issue.”

The most outspoken of those officers is Admiral William Fallon, who until recently was the head of U.S. Central Command, and thus in charge of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Pentagon consultant said, “Fallon went down because, in his own way, he was trying to prevent a war with Iran, and you have to admire him for that.”

One congressman wrote a personal letter to President Bush insisting that “no lethal action, period” had been authorized within Iran’s borders. As of June, he had received no answer.

David Obey, former ranking Democrat on the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee, declined to comment on the specifics of the operations in Iran, but he did tell me that the White House reneged on its promise to consult more fully with Congress. He said, “I suspect there’s something going on, but I don’t know what to believe. Cheney has always wanted to go after Iran, and if he had more time he’d find a way to do it. We still don’t get enough information from the agencies, and I have very little confidence that they give us information on the edge.”

[Excerpt of an article by Seymour M. Hersh, New Yorker]


Hidden Pentagon Costs

Figures on defense spending are notoriously unreliable. The numbers released by the Congressional Reference Service and the Congressional Budget Office do not agree with each other. Robert Higgs, senior fellow for political economy at the Independent Institute, says: "A well-founded rule of thumb is to take the Pentagon's (always well publicized) basic budget total and double it."

In an attempt to disguise the true size of the U.S. military empire, the government has long hidden major military-related expenditures in departments other than Defense.

For example, $23.4bn for the Department of Energy goes towards developing and maintaining nuclear warheads; and $25.3bn in the Department of State budget is spent on foreign military assistance (primarily for Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Republic, Egypt and Pakistan). The Department of Veterans Affairs currently gets at least $75.7bn, 50% of it for the long-term care of the most seriously injured among the soldiers so far wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Other examplesinclude] $1.9bn to the Department of Justice for the paramilitary activities of the FBI; $38.5bn to the Department of the Treasury for the Military Retirement Fund.

[Altogether] it brings U.S. spending for its military establishment during the current fiscal year, conservatively calculated, to at least $1.1 trillion.

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


Iraqi oil contracts: the spoils of war?

If Iraq's oil belongs to the Iraqis, why are western companies being awarded contracts?

"The Iraq war is largely about oil." If any more confirmation were needed of Alan Greenspan's admission, the Iraqi government is preparing to hand out oil deals to American and British firms in contracts drafted by US officials. The contracts are expected to go to Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Total and Chevron.

The New York Times has discovered that new oil contracts were drawn up with the help of the US state department.

US vice-president Dick Cheney once pledged that Iraq's oil resources belonged to the Iraqi people . Does that promise still hold?

[Excerpt of article by Matthew Weaver, The Guardian]