Affordable, flavored malaria drug launched for kids

Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis is launching a new cherry-flavored malaria drug that it says children will be less likely to spit out. The child-friendly version of its Coartem malaria pill dissolves in water, as well as breast milk, and tastes like fruit juice.

Though preventable and treatable, malaria remains one of the world's biggest killers, claiming 1 million lives each year. Nine out of 10 of malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa — and the majority are children.

Hans Rietveld, director of marketing for Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis' malaria initiative, said that until now, mothers were forced to crush the anti-malarial pill and mix it with sugar in order to trick children into swallowing it. Even under a cloak of sugar, the pill still tastes bitter, causing many children, especially infants, to spit it out.

Partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the children's version of Coartem is being launched in several African countries. It is being provided to participating governments for a subsidized price of 30 cents per treatment course per child — a cost that is more affordable for a majority of Africans.



Slumdog Entrepreneurs

There is a tool that has helped not just one movie character )as portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire) but more than 100 million of the world's poorest people actually begin to escape the worst devastations of poverty. That opportunity is not a game show but microcredit-small loans to start or expand businesses like selling tortillas or cell phone time to their neighbors.

Jamii Bora, which means good families, is a Kenyan microfinance institution that has grown from lending money to 50 women beggars ten years ago to serving more than 200,000 members

One of those entrepreneurs is Joyce Wairimu. Wairimu was one of the 50 women beggars who started Jamii Bora with founder Ingrid Munro in 1999. Munro calls Wairimu one of the fast climbers out of poverty. How fast? In ten years Wairimu has built six businesses and employs 62 people.

Another of the fast climbers is Wilson Maina. Before Jamii Bora, Maina was a thief, one of the most wanted criminals in Mathare Valley slum. Starting with a loan of $20, Maina has built four businesses and a new life for himself and his family. Along the way, he has convinced hundreds of youth to get out of crime.

Munro didn't stop at proving microcredit to help the poorest slum dwellers. She decided to build a town with decent housing and business space for her entrepreneurs. "Every poor person's dream is to move out of the slums," Munro says, "not patch up the slums." That's exactly what happened when the first 246 families moved out of the slums and into the newly created Kaputiei town with nearly 1,800 families to follow. For the same monthly mortgage they had paid for their one-room shacks, each family now lives in a home with two bedrooms, a bath, a kitchen and a living room. This ultra sub-prime lending that works because in order to qualify for a mortgage the residents have to have successfully repaid three micro-business loans.

[Excerpt of an article by Sam Daley-Harris, Founder of the Microcredit Summit Campaign]


17,000 troops to Afghanistan "a graveyard of empires".

The United States is planning to send an additional 17,000 troops to one of the world's most battle-scarred nations - Afghanistan - long described as "a graveyard of empires".

First, it was the British Empire, and then the Soviet Union. So, will the United States be far behind?

"With his new order on Afghanistan, President (Barack) Obama has given substantial ground to what Martin Luther King Jr., in 1967 called 'the madness of militarism'", Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS.

The proposed surge in U.S. troops will bring the total to 60,000, while the combined forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), including troops from Germany, Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, amount to over 32,000.

In a TV interview Tuesday, Obama said he was "absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban (insurgency), the spread extremism in that region solely through military means."

"If there is no military solution, why is the administration's first set of decisions to continue drone attacks and increase ground troops?" Marilyn B. Young, a professor of history at New York University , told IPS. "This is one of the ways events seem to echo U.S. escalation in the Vietnam War," said Young, author of several publications, including 'Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: Or, How Not to Learn From the Past'.

Most political analysts point out that Afghanistan may turn out to be a bigger military quagmire for U.S. forces than Iraq.

[Excerpt of article by Thalif Deen, IPS]


US soldiers’ Iraqi fraud bigger than Madoff?

In what could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, American authorities have started to investigate the alleged role of senior military officers in the misuse of $125 billion in a US-directed effort to reconstruct Iraq.

A report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) suggests the fraud may exceed $50 billion, which would make it an even bigger theft than Bernard Madoff's notorious Ponzi scheme.

"I believe the real looting of Iraq after the invasion was by US officials and contractors, and not by people from the slums of Baghdad," said one US businessman active in Iraq since 2003.

In one case, auditors working for SIGIR discovered that $57.8m was sent in "pallet upon pallet of hundred-dollar bills" to the US comptroller for south-central Iraq, Robert J Stein Jr, who had himself photographed standing with the mound of money. He is among the few US officials who were in Iraq to be convicted of fraud and money-laundering.

Despite the vast sums expended on rebuilding by the US since 2003, there have been no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline. One of the few visible signs of government work on Baghdad's infrastructure is a tireless attention to planting palm trees and flowers in the centre strip between main roads. Those are then dug up and replanted a few months later.

[The Belfast Telegraph]


The weapons that Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Caterpillar supply

For more than 30 years, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance. And since 1985 Israel has received about 3 billion dollars, each year, in military and economic aid from the U.S.

According to UK's Indymedia Corporate Watch, 2009, Boeing has sent Israel 18 AH-64D Apache Longbow fighter helicopters, 63 Boeing F15 Eagle fighter planes, 102 Boeing F16 Eagle fighter planes, 42 Boeing AH-64 Apache fighter helicopters, F-16 Peace Marble II & III Aircraft, 4 Boeing 777s, and Arrow II interceptors, plus IAI-developed arrow missiles, and Boeing AGM-114 D Longbow Hellfire missiles. The U.S. government also approved the sale of 1,000 Boeing GBU-9 small diameter bombs to Israel.

Now that Israel has dropped so many of those bombs on Gaza, Boeing shareholders can count on more sales, more profits, as Israel buys replacements.

Raytheon, one of the largest U.S. arms manufacturers, is one of Israel's main suppliers of weapons. In September last year, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved the sale of Raytheon kits to upgrade Israel's Patriot missile system at a cost of $164 million.

Lockheed Martin is the world's largest defense contractor by revenue, their products including the Hellfire precision-guided missile system, which has reportedly been used in the recent Gaza attacks. Israel also possesses 350 F-16 jets, some purchased from Lockheed Martin.

Caterpillar Inc. holds Israel's sole contract for the production of the D9 military bulldozer, specifically designed for use in invasions of built-up areas. The U.S. government buys Caterpillar bulldozers and sends them to the Israeli army as part of its annual foreign military assistance package. Israel topples family houses with these bulldozers to make room for settlements. All too often, they topple them on the families inside. American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death standing between one of these bulldozers and a Palestinian doctor's house.

This U.S. complicity in Israel's war crimes is completely invisible to many U.S. people. Yet so many people in Gaza [and around the world] ask, How can you sit back and watch while your taxes pay to massacre us?

[Excerpt of an article by Kathy Kelly, CounterPunch]


Russian general warns US on Afghanistan

Twenty years after Red Army troops pulled out of Afghanistan, the last general to command them says the Soviets' devastating experience is a dismal omen for U.S. plans to build up troops there.

Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has made the same suggestion recently, saying the alliance has repeated the Soviet Union's mistakes in Afghanistan and added its own.

Gen. Boris Gromov's view: "Afghanistan taught us an invaluable lesson ... It has been and always will be impossible to solve political problems using force."

He told reporters that U.S. plans to send thousands of new troops to Afghanistan would make no difference against a resurgent Taliban, who came to power in 1996 in the chaos after the Soviet withdrawal. "One can increase the forces or not--it won't lead to anything but a negative result," Gromov said.



Documents reveal prisoners tortured to death

The American Civil Liberties Union has released previously classified excerpts of a U.S. government report on harsh interrogation techniques used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, which detail repeated use of abusive behavior, even to the point of prisoner deaths.

The documents, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, contain a report by Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, who was tapped to conduct a comprehensive review of Defense Department interrogation operations. (The two unredacted pages from the Church report may be found here.)

On the same day, FOIA documents by three other leading human rights groups reveal the Pentagon ran secret prisons in Bagram and Iraq, that it cooperated with the CIA's "ghost detention" program and that Defense personnel delayed a prisoner's release to avoid bad press.

Prisoners “were handcuffed to fixed objects above their heads in order to keep them awake," reads the document. "Additionally, interrogations in both incidents involved the use of physical violence, including kicking and beating.”

In a press release, the ACLU summarized the documents as detailing, "[An] investigation of two deaths at Bagram. Both detainees were determined to have been killed by pulmonary embolism caused as a result of standing chained in place, sleep depravation and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators. (Also reveals the use of torture at Gitmo and American-Afghani prisons in Kabul).

The entire package was boiled down to several key points by the CCR in a report by Mother Jones writer Steve Aquino.

One "dated May 2004, highlights (PDF, page 17) how the Geneva Conventions can be interpreted to allow the CIA and the DoD to ghost detainees' identities so they can be denied a visit from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"This was done, according to a memo from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to 'maximize intelligence collection efforts.' In other words, give them more time to interrogate inmates."

And perhaps most outrageous, a Feb. 2006 e-mail disclosed by the groups highlights an effort to limit bad press by delaying the release of a detainee "for 45 days or so until things cool down."

[Raw Story]


The reason for the ongoing though unsuccessful Bank Bail-out

Turns out that most of the bad paper and non-performing loans appear to be concentrated in the very largest banks. By some estimates Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan-Chase and Wells Fargo are holding two-thirds of all the toxic mortgage-backed paper. Therein lies the problem.

These banking Goliaths have powerful constituencies and substantial political power. Keep in mind, the Obama campaign received over $10 million in contributions from Wall Street, the largest contributors by far.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz sums it up like this:

"The fact of the matter is, the banks are in very bad shape. The U.S. government has poured in hundreds of billions of dollars to very little effect. It is very clear that the banks have failed.

“American citizens have become majority owners in a very large number of the major banks. But they have no control. Any system where there is a separation of ownership and control is a recipe for disaster.”

Economist James Galbraith says the same thing in an interview on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman:

"I think it’s fair to conclude that the large banks, which the Treasury is trying very hard to protect, cannot in fact be protected, that they are in fact insolvent.”

International Aid far more effective than guns

Once known as “Little America,” Helmand Province in Afghanistan’s southern region is now considered one of the most volatile provinces in the region. Afghanistan is responsible for producing more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, more than half of which comes from Helmand. Helmand is also permeated with insurgents and warfare.

Before the Soviet invasion in the 1970s, the U.S. Agency for International Development poured in vast resources and projects to help the province prosper. It built dams and irrigation systems and was welcomed by Afghans in this fertile area. Afghans who remember the old days have warm memories of the American presence in Helmand. Many told me anyone who remembers the 1960s and 1970s welcomes America’s return to the province.

US aid is fighting its own fight, working to ensure the people and the province thrive once more, investing in old projects as well as the new, distributing seeds and fertilizer to farmers so they can grow something other than opium poppies.

“If you can just help the people of Afghanistan in this way, the fighting will go away,” farmer Abdul Qadir told me to share with the world. Qadir explained that building infrastructure and helping the people of Helmand will have more of an effect than any gun or bomb ever will.

[Excerpt of an article by Atia Abawi, CNN Correspondent]


Comments on the American Empire

America is an empire. While a regular nation tends to its own affairs, an empire looks outward, taking on its shoulders the fate of much of the world.

While there is no precise DNA test that separates an empire from a ordinary country, there are certain telltale characteristics. An empire has a "homeland" and various territorial interests beyond it. In order to fulfill their mission, the homeland citizens had to become what George Orwell called "hollow dummies."

An imperial people must believe that they deserve to be the imperial power--that is, they must believe they have the right to tell other people what to do. In order to do so, they must believe what isn't true--that their own culture, society, economy, political system, or they themselves are superior to others. Typically, the people in the homeland feel superior to the people in the periphery areas. They develop reasons and explanations for their superiority, which are then used to justify further imperial expansion. The idea of making the world safe for democracy is pure humbug.

Empires are almost always at war--for their role is to "make the world safe." The U.S. military divides the world into four regional commands, each given initials--PAC, EUR, CENT, and SOUTH. Each region has its own commander-in-chief (CINC), who is like a proconsul of the Roman Empire. American military bases--over 700 of them--can be found in 120 different countries, with strike forces ready to light out for almost any place on the planet at a moment's notice.

And the greatest irony? Americans now depend on the savings of Communist China in order to pay for their wars to make the world “safe for democracy”. (Asians now own enough U.S. dollar assets to buy a controlling interest in every company on the Dow.)

[Excerpts from EMPIRE OF DEBT, by William Bonner and Addison Wiggin]


Catastrophic drop expected in 2009 global food production

Countries that make up two thirds of the world's agricultural output are experiencing drought conditions.

The drought in Northern China, the worst in 50 years, is worsening, and summer harvest is now threatened. China produces 18% of the world's grain each year.

In the USA, California is facing its worst drought in recorded history. The Texan drought is reaching historic proportion.

In Argentina, the worst drought in half a century has turned Argentina's once-fertile soil to dust and pushed the country into a state of emergency, and food production is set to go down a minimum of 50 percent, maybe more.

Brazil, the world's second-biggest exporter of soybeans and third-largest for corn, has cut its outlook for the crops after assessing damage to plants from desiccation in drought-stricken regions.

The severe drought affecting Chile has caused an agricultural emergency in 50 rural districts, and large sectors of the economy are concerned about possible electricity rationing in March.

Food production across the Horn of Africa has suffered because of the lack of rainfall. Also, half the agricultural soil has lost nutrients necessary to grow plant, and the declining soil fertility across Africa is exacerbating drought related crop losses.

The Middle East and Central Asia are suffering from the worst droughts in recent history , and food grain production has dropped to some of the lowest levels in decades.

Europe, the only big agricultural region relatively unaffected by drought, is set for a big drop in food production. Due to the combination of a late plantings, poorer soil conditions, reduced inputs, and light rainfall, Europe's agricultural output is likely to fall by 10 to 15 percent.

Overall, the world is heading for a drop in agricultural production of 20 to 40 percent, depending on the severity and length of the current global droughts. Food prices will soar, and, in poor countries with food deficits, millions will starve.

[Excerpt of an article by Eric deCarbonnel, MarketSkeptics]


The Boston Tea Party of California

A spokesman for the California State Controller's Office summed up California’s problem as, "We have a $100 billion budget and a $40 billion deficit. It's like we have $10 in bills and only $6 in our pockets to pay those bills at this time."

Los Angeles County supervisors threatened to withhold county revenues from the state in order to pay for local health and social services.

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to sue the state to prevent it from shifting the financial burden onto the county for the provision of state-funded services.

And in Sacramento County, officials announced they too planned to file a lawsuit against the state and Controller John Chiang for withholding millions of dollars - most of it for social service programs.

A coalition of six California counties will meet with state legislators in Sacramento to rattle the cage and discuss possible options to the State’s bankruptcy. It could prove instrumental in putting pressure on to reach some kind of accord. About 20 million people reside in the six counties, which equates to about half the state's population.


The beginning of more bankrupt U.S. States to come

California, the eighth largest economy in the world, is broke.

Since state legislators failed to meet an end of January deadline on an agreement to make up for California's $40 billion budget gap, residents won't be getting their state tax rebates, scholarships to Cal Grant college will go unpaid, vendors invoices will remain uncollected and county social services will cease.

At least, temporarily. Services and payments will resume once state legislators come to an agreement on the budget.

Governor Schwarzenegger has ordered state employees to take two days off a month without pay through June 2010 to save about $1.4 billion. Since there was no deal by Friday, February 6th, state government workers began taking take their first furlough days.

"Some 46 states face budget shortfalls, forcing them to slash funding for many services," reported CNN. "But California, the largest state in the union by population, faces a deficit that totals more than 35% of its general fund."


The Devaluation and Death of the Dollar

For decades, the world drifted dreamily along, still believing in the power and value of the American dollar, no longer backed by gold or silver. All that time, the dollar was only worth what its government said it is worth, when actually the dollar is really without any intrinsic value whatsoever.

So if you think that heathen cultures were foolish for worshiping gods of gold and silver or stone, give a second thought to modern man who has been worshiping gods made only of paper, and very thin paper at that, for a good many years now!

When the U.S. government is virtually out of business, what do you think is going to happen to the U.S. dollar. In terms of the U.S. alone, the dollar wouldn't be worth the paper it's printed on.

But because the world has yielded to U.S. pressure and accepted dollars as a world currency and because an awful lot of people in the world will still have dollars and won't want them to be worthless, for a while governments will do their best to try to support the dollar as much as they can so that they won't lose everything, and try to keep it as a world currency until they find something better, which they will, of course, in a new credit system.

The Dollar will eventually take a nosedive. And what happens when a company, or in this case a country, goes bankrupt? Well, a company is put into a receivership by the government of the country. (In smaller cases they call it fraud or a financial scandal and send the company directors to jail. Of course, when it comes to a large respectable corporation or bank, that's a different story!)

So the company goes into receivership and the government administrator determines if there are any assets, which are distributed amongst those the company owes money to. They pro-rate it and pay so much on the dollar.

Well, governments of virtually the whole world will be going into receivership. So what are they going to do with the currency? Devalue it, and pass laws forcing the people to accept the new money.


US Military Bases in 120 countries worldwide

Kyrgyzstan's decision to close a strategic U.S. military base is "regrettable," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. So reads the headlines.

So how many Americans knew we had bases in Kyrgyzstan? For that matter, how many Americans even knew the country of Kyrgyzstan existed? Or care?

Did you know that Kyrgyzstan is actually only one of 120 countries where the U.S. has a total of 700 military bases, many of them in countries with cryptic names not unlike Kyrgyzstan?

As William Bonner and Addison Wiggin write in their book “Empire of Debt”:

“Today, the U.S. military divides the world into four regional commands, each given initials--PAC, EUR, CENT, and SOUTH. Each region has its own commander-in-chief (CINC), who is like a proconsul of the Roman Empire. American military bases--over 700 of them--can be found in 120 different countries, with strike forces ready to light out for almost any place on the planet at a moment's notice.”


The NSA Thought Police want to know what and how we think

The National Security Agency (NSA) is developing a tool that George Orwell's Thought Police might have found useful: an artificial intelligence system designed to gain insight into what people are thinking.

With the entire Internet and thousands of databases for a brain, the device will be able to respond almost instantaneously to complex questions posed by intelligence analysts.

As more and more data is collected—through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records—it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think.

The system is so potentially intrusive that at least one researcher has quit, citing concerns over the dangers in placing such a powerful weapon in the hands of a top-secret agency with little accountability.

Read more


What we have wrought in Iraq

As we approach the 6th year anniversary of the Iraq War:

The United Nations estimates that there are about 4.5 million displaced Iraqis -- more than half of them refugees -- or about one in every six citizens.

There are estimates of between 800,000 and 1.3 million "excess deaths".

Iraqi officials indicate that there are 1-2 million war widows, and 5 million orphans.

The above, iin one way or another, affects nearly one in two Iraqis!

According to UNICEF, many provinces report that less than 40 percent of households have access to clean water. More than 70 percent of children in Baghdad, and 40 percent of children in Basra, cannot attend school.


British politicians blast Bush and Blair’s War on Terror

Two senior British officials have recently created a sensation by contradicting the party line on the "war on terror."

Lord West, the security minister of Britain’s Labor government (equivalent to the US Homeland Security chief), dropped a bombshell by declaring that his nation’s military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan had actually fueled global radicalism against Britain and the US, as well as domestic "terrorism" in the United Kingdom.

This comes soon after Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, urged an end to the use of the term "war on terror," which he called deceptive and misleading.

Many Britons are calling for war crimes trials against their former leaders and are angered by plans to send more British troops to Afghanistan.

Obama’s dismaying eagerness to expand the war demonstrates political inexperience and a faulty grasp of events in Afghanistan. The bill for an intensified war will likely reach $4 billion monthly by midyear at a time when the United States is bankrupt and running on borrowed money from China and Japan.

The Afghan War will have to be ended by a political settlement that includes the Taliban-led nationalist alliance that represents over half of Afghanistan’s population, the Pashtun people. There is simply no purely military solution to this grinding conflict – as even the Secretary General of NATO admits.

[Excerpt of an article by Eric Margolis, Sun National Media Canada]


Gaza Invasion Armed and Powered By The U.S.

It's well known that the U.S. supplies the Israelis with much of their military hardware. Over the past few decades, the U.S. has provided about $53 billion in military aid to Israel.

What's not well known is that since 2004, U.S. taxpayers have paid to supply $1.1 billion of refined oil products to the Israeli military. Fuel used by Israeli fighter jets, helicopters and tanks to battle Hamas. What's more, Israel does not need the U.S. handout. Its own recently privatized refineries, located at Haifa and Ashdod, could supply all of the fuel needed by the Israeli military.

Comparatively, according to the CIA Fact Book, the Gaza Strip ranks dead last -- 214th out of 214 countries and territories listed -- in the amount of electricity consumed. The average Gazan used about 654 kilowatt-hours of electricity. By contrast, the residents of Israel consume about 6,295 kilowatt-hours of electric power per person per year, nearly 10 times as much as the average Gazan.

There's no question that the endemic poverty in the West Bank and particularly in Gaza, is due, largely, to a continuing lack of energy resources. And the Israelis have frequently cut off the flow of fuel and electricity, which has exacerbated the Palestinians' energy poverty.



International giving increasing

U.S. charitable foundations gave money away to international causes at record levels in 2007, and a new report by New York-based Foundation Center says their contributions are likely to go up again this year.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for more than half the increase in foundation giving to international causes between 2002 and 2006. But excluding the Seattle-based foundation from the sample, 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," Rob Buchanan, managing director of international programs for the Council on Foundations, said.

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.