JFP 9/1: Haqqani designation would threaten peace talks, Bergdahl release
Just Foreign Policy News, September 1, 2012
Haqqani designation would threaten peace talks, Bergdahl release
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Interview: Tehran NAM summit setback for U.S., Israeli campaign to isolate Iran
Just Foreign Policy talks to Tehran Times about the NAM summit. The summit was a setback for the US-Israeli campaign to isolate Iran, not because anyone behaved differently than would be expected, but because it showcased the fact that most of the world doesn't see Iran the way Washington and Tel Aviv do.
Clint Eastwood mocks the war in Afghanistan, Republicans applaud
In his speech at the Republican convention, Clint Eastwood mocked the war in Afghanistan. It appears that Republican convention-goers approved of the mockery.
'I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that’s okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was OK. You know, I mean -- you thought that was something worth doing. We didn’t check with the Russians to see how did it -- they did there for 10 years.'
'But we did it, and it is something to be thought about, and I think that, when we get to maybe -- I think you’ve mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home. You gave that target date, and I think Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question, you know, he says, "Why are you giving the date out now? Why don’t you just bring them home tomorrow morning?"
Cut Pentagon Budget, Not Social Security & Veterans' Benefits, Save 380,000 Jobs
Some people want to "save" the government $145 billion over 10 years by cutting Social Security, veterans' benefits, and federal pensions. A much better idea is to cut the bloated Pentagon budget instead. Not only would that protect Social Security and veterans' benefits and make it harder for the Pentagon to occupy other people's countries, it would save 380,000 jobs.
Al Jazeera Infographic: Palestinian homes demolished
Since 1967, the Israeli government has destroyed over 25,000 homes in Gaza and the West Bank; Israeli policies have internally displaced at least 160,000 Palestinians.
Austin Robles: Colombian Ex-Workers Suspend Hunger Strike as Mediation Begins with General Motors
In a rare piece of good news from Colombia on labor rights, workers win a mediation process with GM on their charges that they were fired without compensation after being injured on the job.
1) Just days before a congressional deadline, the Obama administration is deeply divided over whether to designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani network as a terrorist group as demanded by the U.S. military, with some officials worried that doing so would be largely symbolic but could complicate efforts to restart peace talks with the Taliban and endanger the release of a U.S. soldier held by the Taliban, the Washington Post reports.
Drawing a line between the Haqqanis and the Taliban will only make peace negotiations harder, said a U.S. official who opposes designation. Administration policy "heavily depends on a political solution," this official said. "Why not do everything we can to promote that? Why create one more obstacle, which is largely symbolic in nature?" These officials fundamentally disagree with the assessment that the Haqqanis are a separate entity from the Taliban and are irreconcilable, and argue that the military is using the Haqqanis as an excuse to mask its own difficulties in the war.
2) A majority of Americans do not think the war in Afghanistan has reduced the threat of terrorism, the Program on International Policy Attitudes reports, in a review of poll data. Majorities express comfort with President Obama's plan to gradually withdraw U.S. troops between now and the end of 2014. After a U.S. sergeant was killed by an Afghan in March 2012, support for speeding up the withdrawal of U.S. troops surged, in one poll even getting above half. However, in the most recent poll in June 2012 by Chicago Council on Global Affairs, only 38 percent called for speeding up withdrawal faster than Obama's 2014 timeline.
3) A little-known aspect of U.S. contract law may provide a road map for how the Obama administration can implement billions of dollars of automatic budget cuts due to take effect in January without having to pay massive change fees to its contractors, Reuters reports. U.S. courts have found that the government has certain contractual rights because of its sovereign standing, including the right to unilaterally change the terms of its contracts, delay or stop work on contracts or terminate them outright, a CRS report found.
The report could be bad news for U.S. weapons manufacturers, who have warned that the U.S. government could face billions of dollars in change fees if it is forced to renegotiate thousands of contracts as a result of $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts that are due to take effect on January 2, Reuters says. One congressional source familiar with the report said the defense spending reductions being discussed now were estimated to be around 10 percent each year, well below the 25 percent cut level that had already been deemed allowable.
4) Romney promises to spend at least 4 percent of gross domestic product on defense every year during his tenure, but Republicans who demand cuts in every program except the military open themselves up to justifiable Democratic charges of hypocrisy, writes conservative pollster Scott Rasmussen in Reason. Most voters believe it was a mistake for the U.S. to have gotten involved in Iraq, and most now want to see troops brought home quickly from Afghanistan, Rasmussen notes. Support for the military action in Libya peaked at 20 percent. Less than half believe the U.S. should remain in NATO.
These findings highlight the gap between the citizenry and its political class, Rasmussen writes. Three out of four Americans believe U.S. troops should never be deployed for military action overseas unless vital national security interests are at stake. Only 11 percent of voters believe Uncle Sam should play global cop.
By reducing the number of strategic commitments in places such as Europe and Japan, we can return military spending to 2001 levels, adjusted for population and inflation, Rasmussen writes. These reductions would still allow around $420 billion in annual military spending, nearly three times as much as what China or anybody else in the world currently shells out.
5) From 2011 to 2012, Ryan's plan for the Pentagon budget shifted from conscientious to uncontrolled with little explanation as to why, writes Laicie Olson for the Truman National Security Project. In his 2011 budget, Ryan supported Defense Secretary Gates's proposal to save $178 billion over five years in reductions and efficiencies, as well as the Obama administration's plan for a smaller increase in spending, year over year.
In contrast, Ryan's 2012 budget outlines a military that knows no bounds. The 99-page "Path to Prosperity" calls for boosting Pentagon spending while reducing funding for entities such as the State Department and USAID by nearly $5 billion and enacting across the board budget cuts and freezes that would result in an $11 billion cut in funding for veterans.
Romney would commit at least 4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, Olson notes to base defense spending. That's about 61 percent more over a decade than we spend now
6) Apple has thrice rejected an application for the iPhone that would allow people to track U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan based on news reports, Wired reports. Apple says the content is "objectionable." Josh Begley, the developer of the application, said his goal was to increase U.S. public awareness of the drone strikes. "I thought reaching into the pockets of U.S. smartphone users and annoying them into drone-consciousness could be an interesting way to surface the conversation a bit more."
7) Attorney General Holder announced that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and another in Iraq in 2003, eliminating the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the C.I.A., the New York Times reports. "It is hugely disappointing that with ample evidence of torture, and documented cases of some people actually being tortured to death, that the Justice Department has not been able to mount a successful prosecution and hold people responsible for these crimes," said Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First. She said Holder should have been more explicit in explaining exactly why charges could not be brought.
While no one has been prosecuted for the harsh interrogations, a former C.I.A. officer, John Kiriakou, is awaiting trial on criminal charges that he disclosed to journalists the identity of other C.I.A. officers who participated in the interrogations.
8) Julian Assange expects to wait six months to a year for a deal to free him from Ecuador's embassy in London, and hopes Sweden will drop its case against him, Reuters reports. Ecuador has said that if Assange received written guarantees that he would not be extradited from Sweden to any third country, he would decline its offer of asylum and hand himself over to Swedish prosecutors. Asked if he could travel to Sweden under those conditions, Assange said: "At some point, if the way has been paved ... it would not be correct to hold me in prison (in Sweden) without charges."
9) Egypt has formally requested a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF, Inter Press Service reports. Many Egyptians are expressing anxiety over the negotiations' lack of transparency and the possibility that the Egyptian government could agree to onerous conditions that may force it to cut back on spending on social welfare and safety nets.
10) Experts say Iran may have doubled its uranium enrichment capacity in an underground facility, but it seems to be struggling to develop more efficient nuclear equipment that would shorten the time it would need for any atom bomb bid, Reuters reports. The IAEA report said newly-installed machines, which are not yet operating, were all so-called IR-1 centrifuges - a 1970s-vintage model which has been prone to breakdowns in the past.
11) Gallup said support for a negotiated end of Colombia's armed conflict with leftist guerrillas has increased significantly, says Colombia Reports. 60% of polled Colombians are in favor of a political solution to the problem. In June, a negotiated end of the conflict could count on 52%. Support for a military-only solution to the conflict decreased from 44% to 37%, said Gallup.
1) Obama administration divided over designating Haqqani network as terrorist group
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, Friday, August 31, 11:58 AM
Just days before a congressional deadline, the Obama administration is deeply divided over whether to designate the Pakistan-based Haqqani network as a terrorist group, with some officials worried that doing so could complicate efforts to restart peace talks with the Taliban and undermine already-fraught relations with Pakistan.
Early this month, Congress gave Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton 30 days to determine whether the Haqqani group, considered the most lethal opponent of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, meets the criteria for designation - a foreign organization engaging in terrorist activity that threatens U.S. citizens or national security.
If she says it does not, Clinton must explain her rationale in a report due to Congress on Sept. 9. Acknowledgment that the group meets the criteria, however, would probably force the administration to take action, which is strongly advocated by the military but has been resisted by the White House and some in the State Department.
But just as there are reasons to designate the network a terrorist group, there are several factors weighing against the move, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the administration's closed-door deliberations.
Those factors include a tenuous rapprochement with Pakistan that led last month to the reopening of vital U.S. military supply lines into Afghanistan; hopes that the autumn end of this year's Afghan fighting season will bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table after the suspension of talks last March; and a reconfigured U.S. offer on a prisoner exchange that could lead to the release of the only U.S. service member being held by the militants.
But others in the White House and State Department argue that designation would be largely for show and would have little substantive effect.
Individual Haqqani leaders have already been designated as terrorists, and U.S. entities are prohibited from dealing with them. Separate designations, by the Treasury Department or the United Nations, or under an existing Executive Order, could achieve the same result as adding the network to the far more prominent State Department list.
Drawing a line between the Haqqanis and the Taliban will only make peace negotiations harder, said a second U.S. official who opposes designation. Administration policy "heavily depends on a political solution," this official said. "Why not do everything we can to promote that? Why create one more obstacle, which is largely symbolic in nature?"
These officials fundamentally disagree with the assessment that the Haqqanis are a separate entity from the Taliban and are irreconcilable, and argue that the military is using the Haqqanis as an excuse to mask its own difficulties in the war.
Although intelligence assessments differ in degree and the groups appear operationally independent to some degree, the Haqqani organization is generally considered to be one of three sub-groups under the overall leadership of Taliban chief Mohammad Omar and the top-level council he heads in Quetta, in southern Pakistan.
Talks between U.S. and Taliban officials that began in late 2010 were suspended in March when the militants charged the Americans had altered the terms of a potential prisoner swap in which five Taliban held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be exchanged in two groups for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held since 2009 by the Haqqanis.
Underlying the stated reason for the suspension, U.S. officials believe that the Taliban is split on many levels over the talks - between field commanders and Pakistan-based leaders, between different factions and among individuals vying for power in a future Afghanistan.
But Haqqani provision of a proof-of-life video of Bergdahl, delivered through Taliban negotiators in February 2011, as well as a public profession of fealty to Omar by the Haqqani leadership in September, convinced some officials that a deal with one was tantamount to a deal with the other.
In June, the Americans transmitted a new offer to the Taliban, through the government of Qatar, in which Bergdahl's release would come with the release of the second Guantanamo group rather than the first. They do not expect a response until after the end of the summer fighting season.
2) Most Americans See Afghan War as Not Reducing Threat of Terrorism
Most Support Obama's Plan for Withdrawal
PIPA, August 30, 2012
A majority of Americans do not think the war in Afghanistan has reduced the threat of terrorism. However, this does not lead Americans to want to withdraw immediately, nor to persist indefinitely in the effort. Majorities express comfort with President Obama's plan to gradually withdraw U.S. troops between now and the end of 2014. These are some of the findings in a newly updated digest of U.S. polls on violent conflict.
A majority of Americans (59 percent in a March 2012 Gallup poll) still think that going to war in Afghanistan was the right thing to do.
However, a June 2012 poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that asked "all in all, considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, or not?" found a two-to-one margin saying it has not been worth fighting (67 percent to 32 percent).
Even more striking, the CCGA poll found only three in ten saying that the operation had made the United States safer from terrorism. Nearly seven in ten said it made "no difference" (51 percent) or had even made the United States less safe (18 percent).
"Despite this downbeat view of the Afghanistan war, the majority is neither calling for immediate withdrawal, nor for doubling down on the effort" says Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes.
A very large majority approves the Obama administration's policy of drawing down troop levels in Afghanistan, with a full exit taking place in 2014--79 percent in a February 2012 Gallup poll, with 56 percent approving strongly.
After a U.S. sergeant was killed by an Afghan in March 2012, support for speeding up the withdrawal of U.S. troops surged, in one poll even getting above half. However, in the most recent poll in June 2012 by CCGA, only 38 percent called for speeding up withdrawal faster than Obama's 2014 timeline.
3) Contract law gives U.S. government options for automatic cuts: report
Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters, Wed Aug 29, 2012 6:39pm EDT
Washington - A little-known aspect of U.S. contract law may provide a road map for how the Obama administration can implement billions of dollars of automatic budget cuts due to take effect in January without having to pay massive change fees to its contractors.
U.S. courts have found that the government has certain contractual rights because of its sovereign standing, including the right to unilaterally change the terms of its contracts, delay or stop work on contracts or terminate them outright, a congressional report found.
Companies would be entitled to some compensation for contract changes in some cases, according to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service that was issued in April but has not been made public until now.
In other cases, "the government could potentially avoid liability for actions that delayed or increased the costs of the contractor's performance because it acted in its sovereign capacity," said the report, which was completed in April but has not been widely publicized or circulated.
The report could be bad news for U.S. weapons manufacturers and others, who have warned that the U.S. government could face billions of dollars in change fees if it is forced to renegotiate thousands of contracts as a result of $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts that are due to take effect on January 2 under a process known as sequestration.
The report said other contracts give the government the express or implied right to change the quantity of goods or services to be purchased, to delay or accelerate performance of a contract, or to scrap the contract outright -- all without incurring liability for breaching the contract.
It said a 25 percent cut in one service contract was deemed to be within the general scope of the contract, but cuts of 50 percent and 73 percent to other procurement programs were later found to be beyond the scope of the changes clause.
One congressional source familiar with the report said the defense spending reductions being discussed now were estimated to be around 10 percent each year, well below the 25 percent cut level that had already been deemed allowable.
4) Ready to Cut Military Spending
Polls show that Americans want smaller government everywhere and fewer obligations abroad.
Scott Rasmussen, Reason, October 2012http://reason.com/archives/2012/08/22/ready-to-cut-military-spending
In July presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wrote an open letter to Barack Obama slamming the president for considering Pentagon cuts. "Your insistence on slashing our military to pay the tab for your irresponsible spending could see over 200,000 troops forced from service," Romney warned. "It will shut the doors on factories and shipyards that support our warfighters, take a heavy toll on the guard and reserves, and potentially shutter Virginia military bases. It will shrink our Navy below a level that is already not adequate for protecting our national security." Romney, by contrast, promises to spend at least 4 percent of gross domestic product on defense every year during his tenure.
Republicans who demand cuts in every program except the military open themselves up to justifiable Democratic charges of hypocrisy. Exempting major budget categories from spending discipline is a key reason government almost never gets cut. The American people are ready to take a more mature approach. A 2011 poll conducted by my firm, Rasmussen Reports, found that 67 percent favor finding spending cuts in all government programs. Every budget item, Americans emphatically believe, needs to be on the table.
Most voters now believe it was a mistake for the U.S. to have gotten involved in Iraq, and most now want to see troops brought home quickly from Afghanistan. Support for the military action in Libya peaked at 20 percent.
Americans are also in a mood to dramatically reduce our security guarantees for other nations. Less than half (49 percent) believe the U.S. should remain in its bedrock military alliance, NATO. Out of 54 countries with which Washington has signed mutual-defense treaty obligations, plus two others (Israel and Mexico) that receive our implicit backing, a majority of Americans supports defending just 12. Countries that don't reach the 50 percent threshold include our oldest ally, France, along with Japan, Poland, and Denmark. The only four countries that 60 percent of Americans are willing to defend are Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Israel.
These findings highlight the central 21st-century gap between the citizenry and its political class. Three out of four Americans believe U.S. troops should never be deployed for military action overseas unless vital national security interests are at stake. Yet the last several presidents have adopted far less restrictive criteria for sending troops abroad. The military is often dispatched for humanitarian purposes or in the belief that the U.S. should police the world, but only 11 percent of voters believe Uncle Sam should play global cop.
Despite how some may interpret these numbers, voters are not isolationists. They still want Washington to play a leading role in world affairs; they see their country as a force for good and reject those who tend to blame America first for the planet's woes. But citizens equally reject the default Washington position that we should respond to international crises by sending Americans first. Instead, voters are seeking a strategy that might best be described as Protect America First. If the military is successful in its core duty of protecting the nation, they believe, our other national assets will win over hearts and minds around the globe.
This mix of public attitudes suggests it is possible to develop a popular 21st-century defense strategy that will support the troops and protect the nation while reducing annual military spending by hundreds of billions of dollars.
In 2010 the federal government spent more than $875 billion on national defense and veterans' affairs, around one-fourth of the federal budget. That figure included about $160 billion for overseas contingency operations, which consisted mostly of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus $155 billion for the direct costs of military personnel and $31 billion to care for "wounded, ill, and injured" service members and their families. Veterans' benefits and services total about $125 billion, including $45 billion for health care. Maintaining a military with 1.4 million active-duty personnel, it turns out, is expensive.
In addition to military personnel and veterans, the national security budget includes nearly 800,000 civilian personnel. That number does not include the people working for the Department of Homeland Security and other defense-related agencies.
For most people, these numbers are simply too big to fathom. One way of contextualizing the cost is by looking at how fast the national security budget has grown during the last decade. In 2001, the year of the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks, the federal government spent about $350 billion on defense and veterans' affairs. If that spending had kept pace with the growth in population and inflation, it would total about $481 billion today. Current spending is 82 percent higher than that. It is no surprise that defense budgets increased after 9/11, but it is legitimate to ask if an 82 percent hike was the right amount.
Military spending today, adjusted for population and inflation, is higher than it was when Ronald Reagan left office—a time when the Soviet empire was still pointing nuclear weapons at U.S. cities. It is higher than it was in 1968, when the U.S. was fighting both the Cold War and a deadly hot war in Vietnam. Although Americans will support spending whatever it takes to defend the country, polling suggests they don't realize how much we're spending right now.
Only 58 percent of voters are aware that the United States spends more on defense than any other country in the world. And just 33 percent recognize that Washington spends roughly as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. Military spending has grown disproportionately compared to Americans' own priorities, dwarfing other countries in ways that could soon make taxpayers blink.
Consider: The United States spends more than $2,500 per person on national defense; Russia and our NATO allies each spend about one-fifth that amount, at a time when only 46 percent of Americans have a favorable view of NATO. In the aggregate, while the U.S. is spending close to $900 billion a year on the military and veterans' affairs, China is coughing up less than $200 billion. North Korea, Iran, and Syria combined spend less than $30 billion. The Pentagon spends more just on research and development than Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and Japan each spend on their entire defense budgets, according to Cato Institute Vice President Christopher A. Preble's 2009 book The Power Problem. If we are at risk militarily, it is certainly not for a lack of spending.
One way to tackle the problem is by breaking defense spending into its constituent chunks:
Supplemental Budget Requests. The supplemental budget for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq cost the United States $163 billion in 2010 and $181 billion in 2011. The Obama administration plans to reduce this number to about $118 billion in 2012.
Most Americans have decided that it's time to bring these troops home within a year, much faster than either major political party currently contemplates. While such a withdrawal would need to take battlefield concerns into account, bringing policy more in line with public desires could save hundreds of billions of dollars.
Just bringing home U.S. troops currently deployed in Western Europe and Japan would result in direct savings of about $25 billion per year.
If we cut back on the number of soldiers today, we cut back on the number of veterans we need to serve in the future. If we suffer fewer casualties now, we will have fewer disability payments, lower medical costs, and fewer survivors' benefits in the future.
It sounds pretty basic, and it is. But the impact is huge. By reducing the number of soldiers today, we will reduce the total spending burden we are passing on to future generations by trillions of dollars. Consider these facts, from Cato's Christopher Preble: "Of the 700,000 men and women who served in the Gulf War, 45 percent filed for disability benefits, and 88 percent of these requests were approved. On average, disabled Gulf War veterans receive $6,506 every year; this amounts to $4.3 billion paid out annually by the U.S. government." That's the cost paid every year for veterans of just one military engagement.
By reducing the number of strategic commitments in places such as Europe and Japan, we can return military spending to 2001 levels, adjusted for population and inflation. Some might balk at setting targets for defense spending and then expecting the military to fit within those parameters, but that's exactly what Dwight Eisenhower did in the 1950s. Ike recognized the need to balance military power with domestic resources. It would be irrational to demand that the military continue policing the world with a reduced budget, but it is quite rational to expect the military to accomplish the narrower mission of Protect America First with a budget appropriate for that role.
These reductions would still allow around $420 billion in annual military spending, nearly three times as much as what China or anybody else in the world currently shells out. And that spending level would be much more in line with voter preferences. If anything, it might be a bit on the high side: Just 25 percent of voters believe the United States should always spend at least three times as much as any other nation; 40 percent think such a target is excessive.
5) Ryan's Defense Budget Plays Partisan Politics Over Strategic Thinking
Laicie Olson, Truman National Security Project, 8.30.12
Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan has been both lauded and condemned for his views on the nation's debt, but he is almost universally referred to as a "numbers guy." His work on the House Republican budget put him in the spotlight as a fierce fiscal conservative long before his current rise. Few, however, have noticed how that work has dramatically changed. From 2011 to 2012, Ryan's plan for the Pentagon budget shifted from conscientious to uncontrolled with little explanation as to why.
In his 2011 budget, Ryan supported Defense Secretary Robert Gates's proposal to save $178 billion over five years in reductions and efficiencies, as well as the Obama administration's plan for a smaller increase in spending, year over year. Ryan's proposal closely paralleled the President's request, but in doing so, enflamed some members of his own party. Anticipating the details of the forthcoming proposal, 29 members of the House Armed Services Committee, led by Chairman Buck McKeon, sent a letter to Speaker Boehner requesting a $7 billion increase above the President's request.
In contrast, Ryan's 2012 budget outlines a military that knows no bounds.
The 99-page "Path to Prosperity" calls for boosting Pentagon spending while reducing funding for entities such as the State Department and USAID by nearly $5 billion and enacting across the board budget cuts and freezes that would result in an $11 billion cut in funding for veterans. To add insult to injury, Ryan's budget doesn't mention "veterans" even once in its text.
Romney's answer to concerns over his running mate's discrepancies is that his own budget plan will take precedence, but according to the Boston Globe, "Romney's solution [defense budget plan] is one of the most far-ranging, expensive, and perhaps least understood of his campaign." Romney would commit at least 4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, without regard to strategy, to base defense spending that does not include the wars. That's about 61 percent more over a decade than we spend now, and considerably more than Ryan himself has ever proposed. When Romney's reason for the increase was evaluated by the Pulitzer-winning fact check website, Politifact, the argument was given its lowest truth-o-meter rating: "pants on fire."
6) Apple Rejects App That Tracks U.S. Drone Strikes
Christina Bonnington and Spencer Ackerman, Wired, August 30, 2012
It seemed like a simple enough idea for an iPhone app: Send users a pop-up notice whenever a flying robots kills someone in one of America's many undeclared wars. But Apple keeps blocking the Drones+ program from its App Store - and therefore, from iPhones everywhere. The Cupertino company says the content is "objectionable and crude," according to Apple's latest rejection letter.
It's the third time in a month that Apple has turned Drones+ away, says Josh Begley, the program's New York-based developer. The company's reasons for keeping the program out of the App Store keep shifting. First, Apple called the bare-bones application that aggregates news of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia "not useful." Then there was an issue with hiding a corporate logo. And now, there's this crude content problem.
Begley is confused. Drones+ doesn't present grisly images of corpses left in the aftermath of the strikes. It just tells users when a strike has occurred, going off a publicly available database of strikes compiled by the U.K.'s Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which compiles media accounts of the strikes.
iOS developers have a strict set of guidelines that must be adhered to in order to gain acceptance into the App Store. Apps are judged on technical, content and design criteria. As Apple does not comment on the app reviews process, it can be difficult to ascertain exactly why an app got rejected. But Apple's team of reviewers is small, sifts through up to 10,000 apps a week, and necessarily errs on the side of caution when it comes to potentially questionable apps.
Apple's original objections to Drones+ regarded the functionality in Begley's app, not its content. Now he's wondering if it's worth redesigning and submitting it a fourth time. "If the content is found to be objectionable, and it's literally just an aggregation of news, I don't know how to change that," Begley says.
When a drone strike occurs, Drones+ catalogs it, and presents a map of the area where the strike took place, marked by a pushpin. You can click through to media reports of a given strike that the Bureau of Investigative Reporting compiles, as well as some basic facts about whom the media thinks the strike targeted. As the demo video above shows, that's about it.
It works best, Begley thinks, when users enable push notifications for Drones+. "I wanted to play with this idea of push notifications and push button technology - essentially asking a question about what we choose to get notified about in real time," he says. "I thought reaching into the pockets of U.S. smartphone users and annoying them into drone-consciousness could be an interesting way to surface the conversation a bit more."
Finally, on Aug. 27, Apple gave him yet another thumbs down. But this time the company's reasons were different from the fairly clear-cut functionality concerns it previously cited. "We found that your app contains content that many audiences would find objectionable, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines," the company e-mailed him.
It was the first time the App Store told him that his content was the real problem, even though the content hadn't changed much from Begley's initial July submission. It's a curious choice: The App Store carries remote-control apps for a drone quadricopter, although not one actually being used in a war zone. And of course, the App Store houses innumerable applications for news publications and aggregators that deliver much of the same content provided by Begley's app.
7) No Charges Filed on Harsh Tactics Used by the C.I.A.
Scott Shane, New York Times, August 30, 2012
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and another in Iraq in 2003, eliminating the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the C.I.A.
Mr. Holder had already ruled out any charges related to the use of waterboarding and other methods that most human rights experts consider to be torture. His announcement closes a contentious three-year investigation by the Justice Department and brings to an end years of dispute over whether line intelligence or military personnel or their superiors would be held accountable for the abuse of prisoners in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The closing of the two cases means that the Obama administration's limited effort to scrutinize the counterterrorism programs carried out under President George W. Bush has come to an end. Without elaborating, Mr. Holder suggested that the end of the criminal investigation should not be seen as a moral exoneration of those involved in the prisoners' treatment and deaths.
Mr. Holder's announcement might remove a possible target for Republicans during the presidential campaign. But the decision will disappoint liberals who supported President Obama when he ran in 2008 and denounced what he called torture and abuse of prisoners under his predecessor.
"It is hugely disappointing that with ample evidence of torture, and documented cases of some people actually being tortured to death, that the Justice Department has not been able to mount a successful prosecution and hold people responsible for these crimes," said Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First. "The American people need to know what was done in their name."
She said her group's own investigation of the deaths of prisoners showed that initial inquiries were bungled by military and intelligence officers in charge of prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said Mr. Holder, whose statement referred to consideration of "statutes of limitations and jurisdictional provisions," should have been more explicit in explaining exactly why charges could not be brought.
While no one has been prosecuted for the harsh interrogations, a former C.I.A. officer who helped hunt members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and later spoke publicly about waterboarding, John C. Kiriakou, is awaiting trial on criminal charges that he disclosed to journalists the identity of other C.I.A. officers who participated in the interrogations.
8) WikiLeaks' Assange sees up to a year in Ecuador embassy
Assange says hopes Sweden will drop case against him
Has been holed up in Ecuador's embassy since June 19
Eduardo Garcia, Reuters, Fri, Aug 31 2012
Quito, Aug 30 - Julian Assange expects to wait six months to a year for a deal to free him from Ecuador's embassy in London, and hopes Sweden will drop its case against him, the WikiLeaks' founder said in an interview broadcast on Thursday.
"I think the situation will be solved through diplomacy ... The Swedish government could drop the case. I think this is the most likely scenario. Maybe after a thorough investigation of what happened they could drop the case," Assange told Ecuador's Gama television network in comments dubbed into Spanish. "I think this will be solved in between six and 12 months; that's what I estimate," he said in the interview, which was recorded earlier this week inside the embassy.
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said on Wednesday he was optimistic the British government would agree to give Assange written guarantees that he would not be extradited from Sweden to any third country.
Ecuador has said that if Assange received such assurances, he would decline its offer of asylum and hand himself over to Swedish prosecutors. Asked during the interview if he could travel to Sweden under those conditions, he was non-committal. "At some point, if the way has been paved ... it would not be correct to hold me in prison (in Sweden) without charges."
9) With Egyptian Loan Request, Some Fear Loss of Revolution's Gains
Carey L. Biron, Inter Press Service, Aug 23 2012
Washington - After 18 months of talks, on Wednesday Egypt's government formally requested a 4.8-billion-dollar loan from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF), hoping to stabilise an economy that has continued to badly stutter in the aftermath of the popular uprising that led to the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak.
The request, relayed to IMF chief Christine Lagarde by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in a meeting in Cairo on Wednesday, has been met with scepticism from sectors of Egyptian civil society as well as some nationalist politicians.
Many are now expressing anxiety over the negotiations' lack of transparency and the possibility that the Egyptian government could agree to onerous conditions that may force it to cut back on spending on social welfare and safety nets.
"Many fear that a new era of dependency will start, even after the revolution," Amr Adly, economic and social justice director with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a Cairo-based watchdog, told IPS.
"The IMF loan won't be approved without giving concessions that completely contradict the promises of a new development model, and thus undermine the potential for social justice measures after the revolution."
Currently, Egypt has some 35 billion dollars in international debt, and talk of a major IMF loan also runs up against ongoing campaigns urging the international community to look into reducing such debt.
"The best way for the international community to support a fresh start for the Egyptian people would be to support an independent commission to determine if much of the debt accrued during the Mubarak era is illegitimate and thus should be cancelled, before any new debt is undertaken," Deborah James, with the Centre for Economic Policy Research, a think tank here in Washington, told IPS.
The need for economic help notwithstanding, Egyptians are now trying to weigh their country's financial troubles against the rumours of what the IMF may require of the government.
Adly, for instance, suggests that the IMF is likely to push for the privatisation of public utilities, regressive taxation and less social expenditure. But he also expresses frustration that, to date, much of this is simply speculation.
"There is no transparency in this process – we have no idea about what the IMF and the government are negotiating about," he says. "The government has said that the IMF is not imposing any conditionalities, but then why are they negotiating at all?"
Part of the issue is that the newly elected president, his Muslim Brotherhood party and its ruling coalition have decades of experience in social and religious issues but lack expertise in monetary and fiscal issues.
As such, many are worried that IMF officials will be able to dictate the terms of the loan to a greater extent than it would if it were dealing with a government with a clear economic vision.
Morsi's government is clearly aware of its lack of economic expertise, and thus has chosen to keep around some important members of Mubarak's government, including the governor of the central bank, Farouk Al-Okdah, and others.
"These are the very members of the neoliberal team once in charge under Mubarak," Adly says. "These bureaucrats and technocrats are quite conservative, and there is the idea that they have been kept in office in order to negotiate with the IMF and the World Bank."
In lieu of information about current negotiations between Cairo and the Fund, lessons learned from experiences elsewhere are inevitably forming some of today's analysis.
Rick Rowden, an economics doctoral student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and a development consultant, says that many multilateral funders, including the IMF, have for years placed significant emphasis on human development indicators.
In so doing, he tells IPS, they have "wholly neglected the actual need for economic development – shifting from an economy that is overly reliant on agriculture and extractive industries into one that is based more on manufacturing and services".
Time and again, Rowden says, the IMF and other funders have pushed policies that seem to run counter to the industrial policies that most countries need to create real development: those that build domestic manufacturing. Doing so, he says, make it difficult for countries such as Egypt to "get out of plantation mode".
Rowden suggests that this can be further exacerbated by a tendency on the part of the IMF not to differentiate between domestic and international private sectors, an "essential first step" in creating effective domestic industrial policies.
"The people of Egypt need to participate and make sure their government takes steps to develop national development strategies, including the adoption of long-term industrial policies to build a domestically owned manufacturing base with a clear plan to diversify the economy, build up the tax base and increase public investment," he says. "And none of this will be likely under [IMF] loans and policy advice."
10) Iran makes little headway on key nuclear equipment
Fri Aug 31, 2012 3:40pm IST
* Iran doubles uranium enrichment capacity in bunker
* But it may struggle with developing more modern models
* Faster centrifuges could allow quicker atom bomb breakout
* Iran denies nuclear weapon aims, says work peaceful
Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, Aug 31
Vienna - Iran may have doubled its uranium enrichment capacity in an underground facility but it seems to be struggling to develop more efficient nuclear equipment that would shorten the time it would need for any atom bomb bid, experts say.
Iran's progress - or lack of it - in deploying a new generation of enrichment centrifuges is closely watched by the West as it could allow it to produce potential weapons-grade material much faster. Tehran denies this is its aim.
"Iran appears to be continuing to encounter problems in its testing of production-scale cascades of advanced centrifuges," a U.S. think-tank, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), said.
Cliff Kupchan, a Middle East analyst at consultancy Eurasia Group, said: "I note that the real game-changer, the advanced centrifuge programme, still seems to be failing."
But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report said the newly-installed machines, which are not yet operating, were all so-called IR-1 centrifuges - a 1970s-vintage model which has been prone to breakdowns in the past.
Iran has for years been trying to introduce centrifuges with several times the capacity of the IR-1 version it now uses for the most sensitive part of its atomic activities.
But it is unclear whether Tehran, subject to increasingly strict international sanctions, has the means and components to make the more sophisticated machines in bigger numbers.
Marking a potential step forward, Iran last year started installing more IR-4 and IR-2m models for testing at a research and development site at its enrichment facility near the central town of Natanz.
But the IAEA report suggested it was not making major progress, saying it was "intermittently" feeding uranium gas into these machines. In addition, the U.N. agency said Iran had yet to install three other models which it had said it would.
The IAEA report "confirms that those machines are still not ready for full-scale use," the Arms Control Association, a U.S.-based research and advocacy group, said.
11) Colombians support peace talks with FARC: Poll
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, Friday, 31 August 2012 07:04
Support for a negotiated end of Colombia's 48-year-old armed conflict with leftist guerrillas has increased significantly, pollster Gallup said Thursday.
According to the latest Gallup poll, 60% of polled Colombians are in favor of a political solution to the problem. In June, a negotiated end of the conflict could count on 52%.
Support for a military-only solution to the conflict decreased from 44% to 37%, said Gallup.
The bi-monthly poll was held in the same week that President Juan Manuel Santos announced representatives of his administration had been having "exploratory talks" with the FARC about a negotiated end of the armed conflict.
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