Israeli Electioneering With Bombs

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

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

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

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

[Source: ICH]


1000 eyes for a Jewish eye?

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

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

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

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

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

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Gaza humanitarian plight disastrous UN official says

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

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

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

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

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


Dead piled on top of each other

No more room in the morgue


Israel's first day of attacks on Gaza kills 210

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

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

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

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

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

[Press TV]

Photos: Israel drops 100 Tons of Bombs in Gaza City


US foundation giving without the Gates Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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



International Charities Say Donations Could Drop by 15% a Year

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

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

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

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

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

[The Chronicle of Philanthropy]


Iran Leader Ahmadinejad's Christmas Message

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

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

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

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

[ABC News]


More troops but not more food for Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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



So if the former chairman of Nasdaq is a crook

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



And now for a world government

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Financial Times]


Obama's War

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bush masked cost of wars that could top $1.7 trillion

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

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

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

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

[The Raw Story]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The Guardian]


Iraq’s reconstruction a 100 billion dollar failure

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

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

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

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



Journalist shoe-thrower "represents millions of Iraqis”

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



Representatives of the People?

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

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

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

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

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


Ecuador refusing to pay interest on foreign debt

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

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

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



Where things stand with the UN Millennium Development Goals

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

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

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

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

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

[The Financial Times]


Why TV News in the US is Utter Rubbish

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The Financial Times]


Bill Gates Prods Washington on Foreign Aid

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

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

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

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

[Wall Street Journal]


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

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

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

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

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



The New Poor Left Out of the Bailout

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

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

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



Blackwater mercenaries to be indicted

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

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

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

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

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



The Truth About Celebrity Giving

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

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

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

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


Venezuela proposes new Regional Currency, plus aid to Nicaragua

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

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

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

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

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


Two sides of Global AIDS crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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