To help Iraq “less than what the U.S. spends each day to fight the war”

An excerpt from Angelina Jolie, in her capacity as UNHCR goodwill ambassador, from The Washington Post:

More than 2 million people are refugees inside their own country -- without homes, jobs and, to a terrible degree, without medicine, food or clean water. Ethnic cleansing and other acts of unspeakable violence have driven them into a vast and very dangerous no-man's land. Many of the survivors huddle in mosques, in abandoned buildings with no electricity, in tents or in one-room huts made of straw and mud. Fifty-eight percent of these internally displaced people are younger than 12 years old.

An additional 2.5 million Iraqis have sought refuge outside Iraq, mainly in Syria and Jordan. But those host countries have reached their limits. One-sixth of Jordan's population today is Iraqi refugees. The large burden is already causing tension internally.

The Iraqi families I've met on my trips to the region are proud and resilient. They don't want anything from us other than the chance to return to their homes -- or, where those homes have been bombed to the ground or occupied by squatters, to build new ones and get back to their lives.

During this last trip I also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has announced the creation of a new committee to oversee issues related to internally displaced people, and a pledge of $40 million to support the effort.

UNHCR has appealed for $261 million this year to provide for refugees and internally displaced persons. That is not a small amount of money -- but it is less than the U.S. spends each day to fight the war in Iraq.


Castro's legacy: A changed Latin America

When Fidel Castro and his band of bearded rebels entered Havana just after New Year's Day 1959, Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States, and few questioned American hegemony in Latin America. Two generations and nine U.S. presidents later, Castro is finally stepping down--widely admired, even if his policies are not widely emulated.

Even if they do not mirror Castro's policies, many of the region's leaders feel free to look elsewhere to ensure their countries' interests, and embrace the same defiant rhetoric that attacked an "oligarchy" servile to foreign interests.

Besides Chavez in Venezuela, former leftist rabble-rousers are in power in Nicaragua, Brazil, Bolivia and other countries.

Castro has been embraced--even by center-left leaders such as former President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina--as a grandfatherly symbol of Latin American independence.

"Fidel is the only living myth in the history of humanity," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said this week. "The myth lives on."

[Excerpt of an article by Héctor Tobar, Los Angeles Times]


Food shortages loom as wheat crop shrinks

The world is only ten weeks away from running out of wheat supplies after stocks fell to their lowest levels for 50 years.

The crisis has pushed prices to an all-time high and could lead to further hikes in the price of bread, beer, biscuits and other basic foods.

It could also exacerbate serious food shortages in developing countries especially in Africa.

The crisis comes after two successive years of disastrous wheat harvests, which saw production fall from 624m to 600m tonnes, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Experts blame climate change as heatwaves caused a slump in harvests last year in eastern Europe, Canada, Morocco and Australia, all big wheat producers.

[Excerpt of an article by Jonathan Leake, The Times]


A Financial Déjà vu All Over Again

Today the U.S. dollar is in a frightening position. As observers of history, we've taken notice of the 1970's dollar crisis, and similar political and fiscal events that have developed again in the last five years.

• Rising commodity prices.

• Record imported oil/gas prices.

• An unpopular, expensive war.

• A weak, ineffective president.

• Massive deficits.

• Conflict with Iran.

In the 1980’s, with the total destruction of the U.S. Savings and Loan industry, it took $135 billion dollars of U.S. taxpayer money to buy up all the foreclosed mortgages and real estate problems.

In one short week in August 2007, the same system needed $400 billion dollars, created in one week, just to keep the system afloat a little while longer.

The continuous printing of new dollars to cover our exponentially increasing pile of I.O.U's is one indicator of an alarming truth—the strength of the U.S. dollar is based solely on people's faith in it. The problem is that the United States' reputation in the world has become completely tarnished by the reckless foreign policy decisions of recent years. As a result, more and more countries are trading out of U.S. dollars as the fear spreads about its declining value.

At some point, we may see a repeat of Germany in 1923, when people started their woodstoves with German paper marks because they had become worthless. In 1923 Germany, the fiercest inflation in history was exploding. Millions of Germans found they were unable to buy a postage stamp with their lifesavings. The German mark had added so many zeros that "Hundert Millionen Mark" (Hundred Million Mark) bills became worthless.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Byrd, Austin Report]


The Iraqi war: How Christians were run out of Iraq

One of the many humanitarian byproducts of the Iraqi War is the number of Christians that have been driven out of the country, and are now refugees elsewhere.

1.4 million Christians were recorded in Iraq’s last full national census (1987).

700,000 have fled since then, mostly to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey as a result of the War.

30% of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon today are Christian, a disproportional amount since Christians only made up 3 per cent of the Iraqi population.

The above numbers are of course estimates, but likely on the low side. The number of Iraqis driven from their homes by war and sectarian violence could be far larger than official estimates of the country's deepening humanitarian crisis, many experts say.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the Iraqi Red Crescent estimate that more than 4.2 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes within the country or have crossed Iraq's borders to become refugees.

[Sources for above statistics: UNHCR, Iraqi Government]


Paying Pakistan for the ‘War on Terror’

Once a month, Pakistan's Defense Ministry delivers 15 to 20 pages of spreadsheets to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, listing costs for feeding, clothing, billeting and maintaining 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistani troops along the Afghan border, in support of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

In response, the Defense Department has disbursed about $80 million monthly, or roughly $1 billion a year for the past six years, in one of the most generous U.S. military support programs worldwide. The U.S. aim has been to ensure that Pakistan remains the leading ally in combating extremism in South Asia.

But vague accounting, disputed expenses and suspicions about overbilling have recently made these payments to Pakistan highly controversial -- even within the U.S. government.

"Padding? Sure. Let's be honest, we're talking about Pakistan, which has a legacy of corruption," adds an U.S. official familiar with past U.S. payments. "But if they're billing us $5 billion and it's worth only $4 billion, and it's in the ballpark, does the bigger picture call for continuing on with a process that does generate significant progress on the war on terror?”

U.S. officials say the payments to Pakistan -- which over the past six years have totaled $5.7 billion -- were cheap compared with expenditures on Iraq, where the United States now spends at least $1 billion a week on military operations alone.

[Excerpt of an article by Robin Wright, Washington Post]


Free Wheelchairs for Iraqi Children

One man, Brad Blauser, has vowed to try to make life a little easier for Iraqi families by organizing the distribution of free wheelchairs. Brad first came to Iraq in 2004 as a civilian contractor. Struck by the abject chaos surrounding him and seeing helpless children scooting along the ground, he pledged to find a way to help.

His first step was to consult an Army medic who said, "We've got so many children out in the city that the ones who can get around are following their friends by dragging themselves around on the ground, which is heartbreaking to see."

Enlisting the help of generous supporters and an Iraqi humanitarian group Wheelchairs for Iraqi Kids was born in August of 2005. The chairs are made by prisoners at the South Dakota State Penitentiary and ultimately delivered in Iraq by the U.S. military.

"Getting these prisoners involved, it just means the world to them. They come up with different design ideas and ways to make things better for the kids. They want to know where the chairs are going and what kids we're helping."

Blauser said it's unbelievable to be there when the chairs are delivered. "The most affecting thing about this whole wheelchairs for children is when the parents realize the gift that is being given to their children and they reach out to hug you." he said. "The tears are running from their eyes and they say, 'We never thought that you could do this.'"

It's a sentiment that is echoed by Samira Al-Ali, the head of the Iraqi group that finds the children in need. "I wish the world would see with their own eyes the children of Iraq and help the children of Iraq, because the children of Iraq have been deprived of everything," she said. "Even a normal child has been deprived of their childhood; a disabled child and their family is dealing with so much more."

The children also show gratitude, even those who can scarcely move. Blauser remembers one boy's father who dressed him in a three-piece suit, with the trousers hanging off his motionless legs. "He couldn't move his legs or his arms. But when we sat him in his chair, he gave us the thumbs up."

Iraqi parents will go to any lengths to improve the quality of their children's lives. Blauser points to one of his favorite photographs, of a father carrying his son in his arms, an endless desert road behind him. He had carried his son more than 6 miles to get a wheelchair.



Arab charity is blooming

Last month, while much of the globe watched the oft-hyped World Economic Forum, a first-of-its-kind summit of Arab philanthropists was held in Dubai. Middle East royalty and Egyptian businessmen mixed with Lebanese activists and other humanitarian do-gooders to find ways to aid their troubled region. And they carried a pointed message to the Bush administration: Stop making the war on terror a war on Arab goodwill.

The charitable impulses of Arab billionaires and others are growing, according to a report released at the event by the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at the American University in Cairo.

Building on a long tradition of zakat, the Islamic version of tithing, philanthropy in the Mideast looks strikingly similar to that of Bill Gates and Andrew Carnegie and seeks to make profound social changes.

Consider the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who pledged $10 billion last year to his own foundation. If this were an American grantmaker, it would be the third largest in the country, according to Chronicle of Philanthropy figures.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation is providing college scholarships for Arab students to attend Ivy League schools in America. Speaking of Arab teenagers, Nabil Ali Alyousuf, acting chief executive of the Al Maktoum Foundation, put it best: "We either educate them or we leave them to poverty, no education, and potential extremism."

[Excerpt of an article by Ian Wilhelm, The Christian Science Monitor]


Though no thanks to America

Since Sept. 11, the US has viewed Arab donors with a suspicious eye, accusing them of using their money to fund madrassahs or terrorist training camps. After the attacks, for example, US officials pressured Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to set up rules that restrict charitable giving.

During the recent Dubai conference, a Saudi businessman complained that American investigators met with him 11 times over the past several years to examine his donations. No explanation was given, he said, and there was no official framework to make complaints.

Such scrutiny and below-the-radar efforts hurt philanthropy. Aside from government scrutiny of giving, Arab philanthropy has also been criticized because it simply may come from a donor with a different viewpoint from the recipient's.

In 2001, Rudolph Giuliani rejected a $10 million gift from Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud to help victims of terrorist attacks.

The message to Arab philanthropists was clear: Your money's no good here.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, for instance, is providing college scholarships for Arab students to attend Ivy League schools in America. Speaking of Arab teenagers, Nabil Ali Alyousuf, acting chief executive of the Al Maktoum Foundation, put it best: "We either educate them or we leave them to poverty, no education, and potential extremism."

[Excerpt of an article by Ian Wilhelm, The Christian Science Monitor]


Paying Iraqi Insurgents Not to Fight

Launched last year, the "surge" was the extra 20,000-30,000 U.S. troops sent to Iraq. These few extra troops, Americans were told, would finally supply the necessary forces to pacify Iraq.

[While taking credit for the success of the surge, the Bush Administration] is paying Sunni insurgents $800,000 a day not to attack U.S. forces. That's right, 80,000 members of an "Awakening group," the "Sons of Iraq," a newly formed "U.S.-allied security force" consisting of Sunni insurgents, are being paid $10 a day each not to attack U.S. troops.

In other words, the "surge" has had nothing to do with any decline in violence.

Currently, the Sunnis are only collecting $800,000 of the $275,000,000 it costs the U.S. to fight the war for one day.

If Bush's war turns out to be as big a boon for the Sunnis as it has for Tony Blair, we might have a modern-day version of The Mouse That Roared – a movie about an impoverished country that attacked the U.S. in order to be defeated and receive foreign aid – only this time the money comes as a payoff for not fighting the occupiers.

[Excerpt of an article by Paul Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first ter, and former Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal]


The Borrower is Servant to the Lender

The Bush years have seen an explosion not just of government debt -- currently more than nine trillion dollars -- but also of trade and balance-of-payments deficits. The results of the evolving global geo-economy include a much-weakened dollar and increased reliance by both the U.S. government and U.S. business on foreign creditors.

Among these creditors are state-controlled agencies -- notably those of China, Russia, and oil-exporting Gulf states – which are not enthralled, to say the least, with [the vision of an unipolar America].

If, for commercial or political reasons, any of these creditors decided to dump their hundreds of billions of dollars of dollar-denominated assets -- or in the case of key energy exporters, for example, to price their commodities in a currency other than the dollar -- the economic impact would be "grave", according to Charles Freeman, retired U.S Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

The possibility that some combination of those creditors, whose own commercial ties have been growing at an accelerating rate, could decide to act in concert in order to constrain Washington’s freedom of action -- in Central Asia or Iran, for example -- is the emerging nightmare of U.S. policy- makers.

[Inter Press Services]


America’s War Economy

If this President has his way, the US will next year be spending more on its military (adjusted for inflation) than at any time since the Second World War.

The official Pentagon budget for 2009 runs to $515bn, or around 4 per cent of America's total economy, and about the same size as the entire output of the Netherlands.

Throw in an expected $150bn of supplementary outlays and you've got defense spending larger than Australia's entire gross domestic product.

Add in various "black items", such as military spending tucked away in other parts of government, and some claim that America's total annual spending on the military now exceeds a trillion dollars – roughly half the entire British economy.

President Eisenhower famously referred to a "military-industrial complex". A better term, however, is perhaps an "Iron Triangle" whose three corners are the Pentagon, arms manufacturers, and – most important – Congress.

Arms manufacturer Lockheed operates in 45 of the 50 states, where its factories provide jobs, and the Congressmen and Senators from those States will do anything to keep them. Far from voting less money for the Pentagon, they often provide more than the President of the day is seeking, to finance extra projects – needed or not – if that will keep the money flowing into their district. And, fearful of appearing soft on defense, few will oppose them. Thus the spending merry-go-round continues.

[Excerpt of an article by Rupert Cornwell, The Independent]


Support the troops!

According to the Washington Post (Feb. 9, 2008), Bush's $3.1 trillion federal budget provides no funding for his State of the Union address proposal, to permit military members to transfer their unused education benefits to family members. Bush got applause for his nationally televised words, but the troops and their families got no money in his budget.

The only money that Bush and Congress want to give the troops is what is required to keep them at war. They have already spent in out-of-pocket and future costs at least $1,000 billion. Every American can draw up lists of better uses of this immense fortune than blowing up a country's infrastructure and killing hundreds of thousands of its citizens.

"We support the troops!" is the excuse the Democrats have given for continuing to fund Bush's aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan. But war funding doesn't support the troops. It supports an evil machine that chews up and spits out the lives and well being of the troops, along with that of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan, men, women, and children.

[Excerpt of an article by Paul Craig Roberts, Creators Syndicate]


When Politics Trumps Faith

Do Christians think a Christian in the White House will solve the problems that plague our nation? It hasn't done us much good yet.

As Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy for God, pointed out in a recent editorial, "In 2000, we elected a president who claimed he believed God created the earth and who, as president, put car manufacturers and oil company's interests ahead of caring for that creation. We elected a pro-life Republican Congress that did nothing to actually care for pregnant women and babies. And they took their sincere evangelical followers for granted, and played them for suckers."

David Kuo, who served as Special Assistant to President Bush from 2001-2003, elaborates on this in his book, Tempting Faith, when he describes the way in which the Bush Administration manipulated evangelical Christians: "Rove's Public Liaison office had a religious outreach team in constant contact with evangelical and social conservative groups about every facet of the president's policy and political agenda…. soliciting their feedback ... the true purpose of these calls was to keep prominent social conservatives and their groups or audiences happy."

In fact, Kuo says, it wasn't difficult to convince Christians that President Bush was on the right side of virtually any tactic. "It should have been a whole lot harder because Christians should have demanded a whole lot more. But all too often, when put before power, Christian leaders wilt."

Thus, we get to the heart of the problem when religion and politics merge. Rarely can they coexist without one trumping the other. Unfortunately, all too often, politics will trump religion.

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


What would Jesus really do?

Christians seem to have forgotten that politics, by its very nature, stands in stark contrast to what Christianity is supposed to stand for. Politics does not operate out of love, speak truth to power or seek the best interests of people. Indeed, politics is driven toward division, compromise, deceit and, inevitably, corruption.

Jesus Christ rejected politics as the solution for what ails us. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), for example, and you will get a clear sense of his priorities. He was all about helping the poor, showing mercy (even to your enemies) and being a peacemaker. He did not bless the powerful; rather, he said, "Blessed are the meek."

Neither did Jesus seek political favors or power. He was apolitical. In a sense, he could even be described as being anti-politics, given his tendency to attack and undermine political power. He had no qualms about getting in politicians' faces, so to speak. Even with his back ripped open and bleeding, Jesus stood before Pilate, the man who had the power of life and death over him, and spoke truth to power: "You could have no power over Me if it were not given you from above," he admonished him.

Jesus understood that the legitimate use of power does not include using it to impose one's will upon others. From the Christian standpoint, the proper use of power is to seek justice for all. Thus, if Christianity is to serve its true purpose and be a moral compass of society, Christians must remain clear of the constraints and compromises entailed in political affiliation and take stands for truth. Inevitably, speaking truth to power will mean standing outside the political establishment and criticizing the political Herods of this world, i.e., the government and its policies.

When it comes right down to it, the most appropriate role of religion in politics lies in its ability to define moral issues and speak truth to power. The voice of moral authority, enabled and enhanced by its spiritual roots and raised without dependence upon the legitimacy of the state, will always be the highest expression of true freedom.

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


Iraq veteran healthcare could top $650 billion

A group which shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize estimated that the long-term financial burden to care for a new generation of veterans will far outstrip the amount of money spent on combat operations in Iraq.

A latest study by the group of noted U.S. physicians predicted that healthcare for Iraq veterans could top 650 billion U.S. dollars, the Boston Globe reports.

"Providing medical care and disability benefits to veterans will cost far more than is generally being acknowledged," according to the study, overseen by Dr Evan Kanter, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the University of Washington.

This include blast injuries to arms and legs from improvised explosive devices, the historically high instances of traumatic brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder, which the Veterans' Association believes affects at least one-third of soldiers serving there. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, at least 60,000 U.S. service members have been wounded or become mentally ill from their battlefield experiences.

Newly-released data show that thousands of members of the National Guard and Reserve who have returned from deployment have lost their jobs, health insurance, pensions, and other benefits despite federal laws protecting them from being penalized for leaving civilian employment for wartime service.



Military Keynesianism

Many Americans believe that, even though our defense budget is huge, we can afford it because we are the richest country on Earth. Unfortunately, that statement is no longer true.

A telling comparison that reveals just how much worse we're doing can be found among the "current accounts" of various nations. The current account measures the net trade surplus or deficit of a country plus cross-border payments of interest, royalties, dividends, capital gains, foreign aid, and other income.

For example, in order for Japan to manufacture anything, it must import all required raw materials. Even after this incredible expense is met, it still has an $88 billion per year trade surplus with the United States and enjoys the world's second highest current account balance. (China is number one.)

The United States, by contrast, is number 163 -- dead last on the list. Its 2006 current account deficit was $811.5 billion; second worst was Spain at $106.4 billion. This is what is unsustainable.

It's not just that our tastes for foreign goods, including imported oil, vastly exceed our ability to pay for them. We are financing them through massive borrowing.

On November 7, 2007, the U.S. Treasury announced that the national debt had breached $9 trillion for the first time ever. If you begin in 1789, at the moment the Constitution became the supreme law of the land, the debt accumulated by the federal government did not top $1 trillion until 1981. When George Bush became president in January 2001, it stood at approximately $5.7 trillion. Since then, it has increased by 45%. This huge debt can be largely explained by our defense expenditures in comparison with the rest of the world.

[Excerpt of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, by Chalmers Johnson]

The world's top 10 military spenders

The world's top 10 military spenders and the approximate amounts each country currently budgets for its military establishment are:

1. United States (FY08 budget), $623 billion
2. China (2004), $65 billion
3. Russia, $50 billion
4. France (2005), $45 billion
5. Japan (2007), $41.75 billion
6. Germany (2003), $35.1 billion
7. Italy (2003), $28.2 billion
8. South Korea (2003), $21.1 billion
9. India (2005 est.), $19 billion
10. Saudi Arabia (2005 est.), $18 billion

The excessive American military expenditures did not occur over just a few short years or simply because of the Bush administration's policies. They have been going on for a very long time in accordance with a superficially plausible ideology and have now become entrenched in our democratic political system where they are starting to wreak havoc. This ideology I call "military Keynesianism" -- the determination to maintain a permanent war economy and to treat military output as an ordinary economic product, even though it makes no contribution to either production or consumption.

[Excerpt of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, by Chalmers Johnson]


Angelina Jolie: 2 million Iraqi refugees need help

Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie visits Iraq to boost what she sees as lagging efforts to deal with the problems of 2 million "very very vulnerable" internally displaced people in the wartorn country.

Jolie is visiting Iraq to boost what she sees as lagging efforts to deal with the problems of 2 million "very very vulnerable" internally displaced people. The displacement crisis is considered the most significant in the Middle East since the 1948 creation of Israel.

"There doesn't seem to be a real coherent plan to help them," said Jolie, speaking in an exclusive interview with CNN's Arwa Damon Thursday.

In total, more than 4.2 million Iraqis have fled their homes, around 2 million to neighboring states, mostly Syria and Jordan, and another 2.2 million displaced inside Iraq.

Jolie has been working to help draw attention to the problem and has called for governments to bolster their support of the U.N.H.C.R. In August, Jolie first visited Iraq and Syria to get a sense of the problem. She heard stories from refugees about their plight.

This visit to Iraq is focusing on the problems of the internally displaced, 58 percent of whom are under age 12.

Jolie also is talking to people about moving forward the U.S. effort to resettle Iraqi refugees in the United States, which has set a goal of taking in 12,000 of those people by September. Only 375 have been admitted so far.




Wartime Use of Contractors

The Associated Press reports that contractors now outnumber the troops!

There are 196,000 contract employees working for the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are 182,000 U.S. forces in both countries. Most of those are Army troops.


Militarism and Going Bankrupt

The United States finds itself in the anomalous position of being unable to pay for its own elevated living standards or its wasteful, overly large military establishment. The government no longer even attempts to reduce the ruinous expenses of [militarism]. Instead, the Bush administration puts off these costs for future generations to pay -- or repudiate.

We are spending insane amounts of money on "defense" projects that bear no relationship to the national security of the United States. Simultaneously, we are keeping the income tax burdens on the richest segments of the American population at strikingly low levels.

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

Third, in our devotion to militarism, we are failing to invest in our social infrastructure and other requirements for the long-term health of our country. These are what economists call "opportunity costs," things not done because we spent our money on something else.

The time of reckoning is fast approaching.

[Excerpt of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, by Chalmers Johnson]