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JFP 4/9: 3 ways to cut $163 billion without touching Social Security; drone hearing 4/16
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 9 April 2013 - 2:58pm
Just Foreign Policy News, April 9, 2013
3 ways to cut $163 billion without touching Social Security; drone hearing 4/16
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Cut Social Security & Veterans' Benefits? Cut the Pentagon Instead
According to the CBO, Obama's proposal to cut Social Security and veterans' benefits using the chained CPI will save the government $163 billion over ten years. Three better ways to save $163 billion: end the war in Afghanistan; cut the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by 10% (267 planes); cut Pentagon contracting and bring the work in-house.
April 16: Historic Durbin hearing on drone strikes
For the first time since the US started conducting drone strikes ten years ago, there will be a prominent hearing in Congress devoted to the policy. The hearing is scheduled for April 16, 10AM ET. It will be broadcast on the web. If your schedule permits, please make plans to watch the hearing. Regardless of that, please do whatever you can to help raise the profile of the hearing.
In particular, if you have a Senator on the subcommittee which is holding the hearing - that is, if you live in Illinois, Minnesota, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Texas, South Carolina, Texas, or Utah, please 1) help make sure your Senator attends the hearing; 2) urge your Senator to publicly call in the hearing for a Congressional subpoena of the drone strike memos if the Administration won't hand them over; 3) urge your Senator to ask questions in the hearing about the scale of civilian casualties and why government information about this is classified; whether the Administration is lowballing civilian deaths by automatically classifying "military age males" as "militants" when they are killed by US drone strikes; whether the US is conducting "secondary strikes" and whether this constitutes a war crime; what percentage of those killed have been "suspected terrorist leaders" and what this means for claims that the program is narrowly targeted on "suspected terrorist leaders."
We will be sending an alert to people in the aforementioned states.
The members of the subcommittee are listed here:
Sarah Lazare: Mobilization in Al Ma'sarah: "We Will Keep Coming Back"
Sarah Lazare reports from weekly protests in the West Bank against Israeli settlements, land confiscation, and the apartheid wall.
Charlie Rose: A discussion about Drones
A discussion about drone warfare with Michael Boyle of LaSalle University; Rosa Brooks of Georgetown University; Scott Shane of The New York Times and Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution. All four slam the Administration's refusal to come clean with Congress and the American people about the drone strike policy.
1) The Obama administration is still struggling with how to make good on the president's promise to ensure that its counterterrorism programs, including drone strikes, are "even more transparent to the American people and to the world," reports Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post. After Obama's pledge in his State of the Union address in mid-February, Attorney General Holder told a Senate hearing in early March the president would publicly address the issue "in a relatively short period of time."
Bipartisan requests for more information have remained only partially filled by the White House, according to senior Senate aides, the Post reports. Brennan and others within the administration have expressed a preference for placing the bulk of the drone program more firmly under the armed forces. But there is no indication that moves have been made in that direction.
2) CIA drone strikes in Pakistan started with a secret deal in which the CIA killed a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state, in exchange for access to airspace the CIA had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies, the New York Times reports.
Today, even some of the people who were present at the creation of the drone program think the CIA should have long given up targeted killings, the Times says. Ross Newland, who was a senior official at the C.I.A.'s headquarters, says he thinks that the agency had grown too comfortable with remote-control killing, and that drones have turned the C.I.A. into the villain in countries like Pakistan, where it should be nurturing relationships in order to gather intelligence.
3) The Obama administration has floated a plan to shift drone operations from the CIA to the military, notes the New York Times in an editorial. This is supposed to make targeted killings of suspected terrorists more transparent and accountable, but so far it looks as if it would be a marginal improvement. Most drone strikes have been carried out by the C.I.A. in Pakistan — 365 versus 45 in Yemen and a handful in Somalia — and officials say those will continue. Hence, the proposed change would mean scant improvement in the rules that govern drone strikes.
4) Secretary of Defense Hagel deserves praise for stating his willingness to challenge the bloated Pentagon budget, the Project On Government Oversight says. But Hagel's speech was silent about the $360 billion gorilla in the Pentagon budget—contractors.
5) Most Yemenis associate U.S. involvement with the ongoing drone campaign to destroy al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and they see it as having little regard for its effect on civilians, write Danya Greenfield of the Atlantic Council and David Kramer of Freedom House in the Washington Post. Thirty-one foreign policy experts and former diplomats sent a letter to President Obama that said the administration's expansive use of unmanned drones in Yemen is proving counterproductive to U.S. security objectives: As faulty intelligence leads to collateral damage, extremist groups ultimately win more support. The US, the letter counseled, should reduce its reliance on drone strikes and instead invest in a long-term security agenda.
6) Many members of Congress from both parties, reflecting public opinion, are extremely wary of new U.S. military adventures in the Middle East, especially in Syria, writes David Ignatius for the Washington Post. "I can't adequately describe how unwilling the American people are to get involved in another war in the Middle East," said one representative. Another described intervention proposals as "half-baked" and argued that "the last thing we need is something ineffective." A third member summed up the public mood this way: "We are not just war-weary, we are war-wary."
7) Because of the blockade, over half of Gaza's fleet of sanitation trucks are unusable, Eva Bartlett reports for Inter Press Service. The director of health and environment at the Municipality of Gaza says they have waited for five years for trucks already in Ramallah to be allowed to enter Gaza, and because of the Israeli import bans, they can't get parts needed for maintenance.
8) A CEPR report on US aid to Haiti after the earthquake says most of the money they could follow went to U.S.-based companies and organizations, AP reports. USAID has awarded $27.8 million of the $1.15 billion to Haitian and Haitian-American firms since the quake, according to the agency's website. The CEPR report said subcontract information should be made available and called for increasing direct contracts for Haitian entities.
1) Drone use remains cloaked despite Obama's pledge for more transparency
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, April 6
The Obama administration is still struggling with how to make good on the president's promise to ensure that its counterterrorism programs, including drone strikes, are "even more transparent to the American people and to the world."
After President Obama's pledge in his State of the Union address in mid-February, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told a Senate hearing in early March that the president would publicly address the issue "in a relatively short period of time."
In the ensuing silence, only one U.S. drone attack has been reported, in Pakistan nearly a month ago.
What is unclear, among the many murky aspects of the secret program, is whether the slowdown in strikes is part of a policy decision affecting targeted killings in Yemen and Pakistan, or simply a temporary lack of targets.
The use of armed drones to kill terrorism suspects began during the George W. Bush administration, and nearly 400 strikes have occurred since Obama took office in January 2009. Outside of anti-war, civil liberties and international law groups, Congress and the public have largely supported the program and asked few questions until early this year.
Interest was sparked by the nomination as CIA director of John Brennan, who oversaw the program as Obama's first-term counterterrorism adviser. Suddenly, issues such as the September 2011 drone strike that killed U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen moved publicly to the political front burner.
Although Brennan was confirmed after lengthy debates and a Senate filibuster, bipartisan requests for more information have remained only partially filled by the White House, according to senior Senate aides.
Several lawmakers have called for new legislation to increase oversight of executive power to choose target lists and launch strikes, including a new secret court similar to the one that approves surveillance warrants against suspected spies.
The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), has said he will introduce new legislation to update the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the administration's main domestic legal justification for the drone program.
At the same time, Brennan and others within the administration have expressed a preference for placing the bulk of the drone program, now operated by both the CIA and the military, more firmly under the armed forces.
But there is no indication that moves have been made in that direction, and the White House has not taken a public position on any legislative initiatives. The administration has continued to contest legal challenges to the program's secrecy. It has argued that national security concerns and the sensitivity of foreign partners who allow strikes on their territory preclude public explanations of how targets are selected and follow-up reports on who is killed.
Brennan and others have repeatedly disputed outside charges that more civilians than terrorists have been killed by drones.
"The administration is hurting itself by a lack of transparency," Harold Hongju Koh, who served as Johnson's State Department counterpart, said Thursday at a meeting of the American Society of International Law. "I'm not sure why a speech would not be given by the secretary of state on this subject, or by the president himself."
Others have been even less restrained.
"The idea that this president would leave office having dramatically expanded the use of drones — including [against] American citizens — without any public standards and no checks and balances . . . that there are no checks, and there is no international agreement; I would find that to be both terrible and ultimately will undermine a great deal of what this president will have done for good," Anne-Marie Slaughter, director of policy planning under former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, said at the same event.
"I cannot believe this is what he wants to be his legacy," Slaughter said.
2) A Secret Deal on Drones, Sealed in Blood
Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, April 6, 2013
Nek Muhammad knew he was being followed.
On a hot day in June 2004, the Pashtun tribesman was lounging inside a mud compound in South Waziristan, speaking by satellite phone to one of the many reporters who regularly interviewed him on how he had fought and humbled Pakistan's army in the country's western mountains. He asked one of his followers about the strange, metallic bird hovering above him.
Less than 24 hours later, a missile tore through the compound, severing Mr. Muhammad's left leg and killing him and several others, including two boys, ages 10 and 16. A Pakistani military spokesman was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, saying that Pakistani forces had fired at the compound.
That was a lie.
Mr. Muhammad and his followers had been killed by the C.I.A., the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a "targeted killing." The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.
That back-room bargain, described in detail for the first time in interviews with more than a dozen officials in Pakistan and the United States, is critical to understanding the origins of a covert drone war that began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama, and is now the subject of fierce debate. The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.'s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.
The C.I.A. has since conducted hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan that have killed thousands of people, Pakistanis and Arabs, militants and civilians alike. While it was not the first country where the United States used drones, it became the laboratory for the targeted killing operations that have come to define a new American way of fighting, blurring the line between soldiers and spies and short-circuiting the normal mechanisms by which the United States as a nation goes to war.
Neither American nor Pakistani officials have ever publicly acknowledged what really happened to Mr. Muhammad — details of the strike that killed him, along with those of other secret strikes, are still hidden in classified government databases. But in recent months, calls for transparency from members of Congress and critics on both the right and left have put pressure on Mr. Obama and his new C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, to offer a fuller explanation of the goals and operation of the drone program, and of the agency's role.
Mr. Brennan, who began his career at the C.I.A. and over the past four years oversaw an escalation of drone strikes from his office at the White House, has signaled that he hopes to return the agency to its traditional role of intelligence collection and analysis. But with a generation of C.I.A. officers now fully engaged in a new mission, it is an effort that could take years.
Today, even some of the people who were present at the creation of the drone program think the agency should have long given up targeted killings.
Ross Newland, who was a senior official at the C.I.A.'s headquarters in Langley, Va., when the agency was given the authority to kill Qaeda operatives, says he thinks that the agency had grown too comfortable with remote-control killing, and that drones have turned the C.I.A. into the villain in countries like Pakistan, where it should be nurturing relationships in order to gather intelligence.
As he puts it, "This is just not an intelligence mission."
Not long before, the agency had been deeply ambivalent about drone warfare.
The Predator had been considered a blunt and unsophisticated killing tool, and many at the C.I.A. were glad that the agency had gotten out of the assassination business long ago. Three years before Mr. Muhammad's death, and one year before the C.I.A. carried out its first targeted killing outside a war zone — in Yemen in 2002 — a debate raged over the legality and morality of using drones to kill suspected terrorists.
A new generation of C.I.A. officers had ascended to leadership positions, having joined the agency after the 1975 Congressional committee led by Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, which revealed extensive C.I.A. plots to kill foreign leaders, and President Gerald Ford's subsequent ban on assassinations. The rise to power of this post-Church generation had a direct impact on the type of clandestine operations the C.I.A. chose to conduct.
The debate pitted a group of senior officers at the Counterterrorism Center against James L. Pavitt, the head of the C.I.A.'s clandestine service, and others who worried about the repercussions of the agency's getting back into assassinations. Mr. Tenet told the 9/11 commission that he was not sure that a spy agency should be flying armed drones.
John E. McLaughlin, then the C.I.A.'s deputy director, who the 9/11 commission reported had raised concerns about the C.I.A.'s being in charge of the Predator, said: "You can't underestimate the cultural change that comes with gaining lethal authority.
"When people say to me, 'It's not a big deal,' " he said, "I say to them, 'Have you ever killed anyone?'
"It is a big deal. You start thinking about things differently," he added. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, these concerns about the use of the C.I.A. to kill were quickly swept side.
[This article is adapted from "The Way of the Knife: The C.I.A., a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth," to be published by Penguin Press on Tuesday.]
3) The Trouble With Drones
Editorial, New York Times, April 7, 2013
The Obama administration has floated a plan to shift drone operations from the Central Intelligence Agency to the military. This is supposed to make targeted killings of suspected terrorists more transparent and accountable, but so far it looks as if it would be a marginal improvement.
Popular discontent with the drone program has built slowly as drone missions grew from 50 strikes under President George W. Bush to more than 400 under President Obama, and it dawned on Americans that remote-controlled killing had become a permanent fixture of national policy. The issue came to a head when Mr. Obama named John Brennan, who created his drone policy as chief counterterrorism adviser, to be C.I.A. director and critics raised legal, moral and practical objections. Among the complaints: an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in Yemen in 2011 without due process; too many civilians have become collateral damage; and drone strikes are increasingly projecting a harmful, violent image of American foreign policy.
Right now, the Pentagon handles drones in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, where the C.I.A. runs a separate program. In theory, the public might know more about the drone program if it was shifted more to the Pentagon, which, operating under different laws, has more flexibility to be transparent than the C.I.A. and is more circumscribed by international law.
But most drone strikes have been carried out by the C.I.A. in Pakistan — 365 versus 45 in Yemen and a handful in Somalia — and officials say those will continue. Hence, the proposed change would mean scant improvement in the rules that govern drone strikes. The problem would be similar if more drone operations were shifted to the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command, which is among the least transparent elements of the military.
4) Hagel: A Secretary of Defense Reforms?
Ben Freeman, Project On Government Oversight, April 6, 2013
Chuck Hagel came out swinging Wednesday in his first major address as Secretary of Defense, putting the bloated Pentagon on notice.
Hagel bemoaned that since 9/11 the military has "grown significantly older—as measured by the age of major platforms—and enormously more expensive in just about every area." And, unlike his predecessor, Leon Panetta, Hagel refrained from using hyperbolic rhetoric to describe reductions in Pentagon spending, instead noting that "the biggest long-term fiscal challenge facing the Department is not the flat or declining top-line budget, it is the growing imbalance in where that money is being spent internally."
More importantly, he seems prepared to do something about the Pentagon's bloated budget. "It is already clear to me that any serious effort to reform and reshape our defense enterprise must confront the principal drivers of growth in the Department's base budget—namely acquisitions, personnel costs, and overhead," said Hagel.
The Department's personnel system merits a hard look, and some hard questions should be asked, according to Hagel, who wants to know "how many people we have both military and civilian, how many we need, what these people do, and how we compensate them for their work, service, and loyalty with pay, benefits and health care."
Hagel also sharply criticized the growing top-heaviness at the Pentagon, which POGO has repeatedly documented.
While all this was welcome news to organizations, such as POGO, that have been fighting against waste, fraud, and abuse at the Pentagon for decades, Hagel was curiously short on reform ideas for the $360 billion gorilla in the Pentagon budget—contractors. In fact, he made just one mention of the "defense industrial base," noting that it was not spared from sequestration.
Hagel must address our over-reliance on contractors, which results in a distorted policy-driver of contractor profits over sound national security strategy. In addition, taxpayer dollars are misspent or wasted because contractors often cost more to do the same jobs as federal workers. There are plenty of specific ideas for reforming Pentagon contracting, like reducing the taxpayer-financed compensation of contractor executives or even just providing the public with access to contractor workforce size and cost data, both of which POGO has advocated for.
Additionally, sequestration appears to have had little impact thus far on the amount of money flowing to contractors. As Nick Taborek reports in Bloomberg Government (pay-wall), the Pentagon awarded contracts "valued at as much as $39.4 billion in March, 71 percent more than the prior month, even as automatic federal budget cuts took effect."
Despite the lack of specific proposals to rein in contract spending, Hagel was remarkably more critical of Pentagon problems than his predecessor had been. Hagel could have stayed on Panetta's fear-mongering track, but he changed course and seems headed towards responsible reforms and towards a Pentagon "better suited to 21st century realities and challenges," as he said.
5) Drone policy hurts the U.S.'s image in Yemen
Danya Greenfield and David J. Kramer, Washington Post, April 1
[Greenfield is deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. Kramer is president of Freedom House.]
Most news out of the Middle East these days is dispiriting: the devastating civil war in Syria, the autocratic nature of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, continued militia activity in Libya, a coalition collapse in Tunisia. Less discussed, and surprisingly positive, is the political situation in Yemen.
The United States has played a significant role in Yemen's transition, which ushered out former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in exchange for immunity, and inaugurated a unity government and consensus president that are overseeing a national dialogue launched last month. The United States has pledged support for the dialogue, which will lead to a constitutional referendum and new elections.
To many Yemenis, however, Washington is narrowly focused on short-term security concerns and the fight against terrorism; the United States, they think, cares little about real political change. As Yemen's transition enters a critical stage, Washington has an opportunity to change this image by redirecting its policy to greater emphasis on stability, prosperity and democracy, which would advance both U.S. and Yemeni interests.
Despite considerable U.S. humanitarian aid and development support to their government, most Yemenis associate U.S. engagement with the ongoing drone campaign to destroy al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and they see it as having little regard for its effect on civilians. A number of former U.S. military and intelligence officials argue that the drone program's costs might exceed its benefits. Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal has articulated the hazards of overreliance on drones, and Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned last month against unintended consequences, arguing that no matter how precise drone strikes may be, they breed animosity among targeted communities and threaten U.S. efforts to curb extremism.
With drone attacks breeding discontent and anti-American sentiment, the Obama administration must rethink how the United States can advance its objectives without letting tactics dictate strategy. Washington seeks to balance multiple priorities in Yemen: supporting stability in the Arabian Peninsula, disrupting terrorist networks, securing waterways and aiding Yemen's transition to democracy. By focusing primarily on acute, short-term threats, the United States risks the long-term security that benefits both nations and can be achieved only through a sustained investment in the humanitarian, economic and political development of the Yemeni people.
Thirty-one foreign policy experts and former diplomats — including us — sent a letter to President Obama last week that said the administration's expansive use of unmanned drones in Yemen is proving counterproductive to U.S. security objectives: As faulty intelligence leads to collateral damage, extremist groups ultimately win more support. The lack of transparency and accountability behind the drone policy set a dangerous global precedent and damage Washington's ability to influence positive change in Yemen and the region. Drone strikes heighten animosity toward the United States and President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's government for compromising Yemeni sovereignty.
The United States, the letter counseled, should reduce its reliance on drone strikes and instead invest in a long-term security agenda. This would include strengthening institutions that enhance the capacity and professionalism of Yemen's security forces — not only counterterrorism units — to address threats to internal security. Washington already supports the restructuring of Yemen's military, a step mandated by the transition agreement, but the Defense and State departments should ensure that our military assistance does not repeat the mistakes made during Saleh's tenure, such as ignoring power concentrated in the hands of elites or not prosecuting human rights abuses. And building a capable police force recruited from residents in partnership with local communities is essential to securing this territory.
Americans and Yemenis have a strong shared interest in combating extremism, as al-Qaeda and its local affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia, spread in the south and pledge acts of terrorism against both Yemeni and U.S. targets. The United States should not ignore this threat — but beyond the security portfolio, Yemenis need to feel that Washington is committed to supporting democratic institutions and the prosperity of the Yemeni people. Although the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are engaging Hadi's government on development and humanitarian issues, most Yemenis feel only the negative effects of U.S. counterterrorism policy. Rather than the steady stream of military delegations, a more robust economic assistance program and public diplomacy strategy — including a visit by Secretary of State John Kerry and other high-level diplomats — would signal support for Yemen's transition and its democratic aspirations.
Yemen's national dialogue is an ideal opportunity to break with a legacy of corrupt leaders who sought personal gain at the nation's expense. The Obama administration can encourage this process by providing international cover for the difficult decisions delegates must make to craft a new political system based on equitable power-sharing, active citizenship and tolerance. This requires the administration to examine its own policies and shift course where the status quo undermines our shared interests. Despite negative attitudes toward U.S. policy, Yemenis are eager for an authentic partnership with the United States — built on transparency, accountability and a demonstrated commitment to their future.
6) America the war-weary and war-wary
David Ignatius, Washington Post, April 5
Istanbul - Talking with members of Congress at a gathering here last week was an education in the public's wariness of new foreign entanglements — especially in Syria. It was a reminder that the post-Iraq era is only beginning, and that it may limit the United States' ability to exercise power for the next few years.
The great advantage (and on occasion, disadvantage) of the House of Representatives is that its members are so close to their constituents. Most of them spend nearly every weekend back home in their districts. So they know what the public is thinking in a personal way that's sometimes missing in Washington foreign-policy debates.
The discussion here arose during an off-the-record conference organized by a Washington group. One of the topics was possible U.S. involvement in Syria, and it provoked an intense conversation. Many members from both parties made clear how uneasy they are about new U.S. adventures in this part of the world, no matter how noble-sounding the cause.
"I can't adequately describe how unwilling the American people are to get involved in another war in the Middle East," said one representative. "We're almost unable to respond," given what the United States has spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, said another. He described intervention proposals as "half-baked" and argued that "the last thing we need is something ineffective." A third member summed up the public mood this way: "We are not just war-weary, we are war-wary."
The skeptical mood was underlined by one member who quoted former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt as saying: "The problem is that you Americans think every problem has a solution." Well, not anymore — not after Iraq and Afghanistan.
Both Republicans and Democrats expressed caution about venturing onto Syria's slippery slope. "This is not a tragedy of our making," warned one House veteran. He argued that countries in the region need to decide what they want. "Absent that consensus, you can't act." This longtime member noted that President Obama won't be able to do much in Syria without support from Democrats: "You can't be a war president without having a war party."
8) The Siege Is Rubbish
Eva Bartlett, Inter Press Service, Mar 31 2013
Gaza City - "For the past five years we've collected garbage by traditional means: donkey and cart," says Abdel Rahem Abulkumboz, director of health and environment at the Municipality of Gaza. The municipality of Gaza alone produces 700 tons of waste daily, Kumboz says. More than half of this waste is collected daily by 250 donkey carts.
"It's a means of doing the job, but not an optimal one," says Kumboz.
Among the growing problems facing waste management throughout the Gaza Strip, even this simple solution nearly came to an end this month.
"The funding allotted to garbage collectors finished at the end of February," says Kumboz, noting that it is not slated to resume until June at the earliest.
Hamada al-Bayari from the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the emergency response came recently after the intervention of Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI), an Italian aid group. Bayari says that COOPI provided the funding for the waste collection to continue until the already-slated June funding begins.
One potential disaster avoided, the Gaza Strip's waste management problem nonetheless remains near crisis point.
The most critical issues include overflowing landfills, non-functioning collection vehicles, waste site toxins leaking into the groundwater, and no means of hazardous waste disposal.
"The severe siege over the past six years has affected all aspects of waste management," says Kumboz, referring to the Israeli-led siege, which bans entry of construction materials into the Gaza Strip.
The municipality has 75 collection vehicles "over half of which are completely unusable," he says. "The rest have been in use for more than 15 years and are in need of repair. Because of the Israeli import bans, we can't get the parts we need for maintenance. We get some of them through the tunnels from Egypt, which is expensive and not guaranteed."
The most urgent issue, Kumboz says, is the overflowing landfills. Expansion of Gaza's landfills has thus far been impossible due to lack of construction materials and the routine Israeli army attacks in border regions where the three main dumps are located.
All three landfills lie close to the Green Line border separating Gaza and Israel, and routine Israeli army incursions and attacks along the border limit regular access for landfill maintenance.
As the World Bank report notes, any future expansion of another of the three main landfills, Johr ad-Deek, "entails risks."
On Jan. 5 this year, the Israeli army fired on a waste truck on the Beit Hanoun landfill. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reports that the truck was 150 metres from the border when fired upon. It reports that a worker, Awad al-Zaanin, was injured by bullet shrapnel to his head.
"Much of Beit Hanoun is a border area. There are many Israeli army invasions and bombings here. All of this causes problems for solid waste management," says Sufyan Hamad, head of Gaza's northern municipality.
On an aerial map of the northeast border, Hamad points out the dump's location. "We were forbidden from reaching the dump, the Israelis banned us from going within 300 metres of the border."
On Mar. 12 this year, Israeli rights group Gisha reported that the Israeli army spokesperson confirmed that the 300 metres along Gaza's border remains off-limits to Palestinians. This is in spite of the Israeli army-Palestinian November 2012 ceasefire which stipulated that access be allowed up to 100 metres from the border.
Of the Strip's three main landfills, the World Bank notes that only the Sofa site in south-eastern Gaza has the potential for expansion.
Yet, the report cites the need for "construction of two sanitary landfills" to serve the entire Strip, as well as the need to "close and rehabilitate all remaining dumpsites" and to "replace the old collection fleet with a new one."
For Kumboz, who has been waiting for years for already purchased collection vehicles, getting enough vehicles just to replace Gaza Municipality's broken vehicles scarcely seems possible.
"We have waited for five years for trucks already in Ramallah to be allowed to enter Gaza," says Beit Hanoun's Hamad. "The problem is with the Israelis, they say the trucks aren't allowed to enter."
The March 2012 World Bank report confirms the delay of 22 new trucks destined for Gaza which "have been waiting for the last three years in Ramallah for the necessary permits from the Israeli authorities in order to enter Gaza."
8) Study finds Haiti aid largely went to US groups
Trenton Daniel, Associated Press, Fri, Apr. 05, 2013
A new report on American aid to Haiti in the wake of that country's devastating earthquake finds much of the money went to U.S.-based companies and organizations.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research analyzed the $1.15 billion pledged after the January 2010 quake and found that the "vast majority" of the money it could follow went straight to U.S. companies or organizations, more than half in the Washington area alone.
Just 1 percent went directly to Haitian companies.
The report's authors said that a lack of transparency makes it hard to track all the money.
"It is possible to track who the primary recipients of USAID funds are, yet on what are these NGOs and contractors spending the money?" authors Jake Johnston and Alexander Main wrote. "What percent goes to overhead, to staff, vehicles, housing, etc.? What percent has actually been spent on the ground in Haiti?"
The report also finds that the biggest recipient of U.S. aid after the earthquake was Chemonics International Inc., a for-profit international development company based in Washington, D.C., that has more than 4,800 employees.
Aside from the World Bank and United Nations, Chemonics is the single largest recipient of USAID funds worldwide, having received more than $680 million in fiscal year 2012 alone. In Haiti, Chemonics has received more than the next three largest recipients since 2010, a total of $196 million, or 17 percent of the total amount.
USAID has awarded $27.8 million of the $1.15 billion to Haitian and Haitian-American firms since the quake, according to the agency's website.
The obstacles blocking Haitian businesses from the contracts are many. They're often not competitive because they may not be able to get the financing they need from local banks.
Smaller firms also lack the resources to prepare costly, time-consuming applications, nor do they have the big companies' track records in other parts of the world or the kinds of connections that help open the right doors.
The report said subcontract information should be made available and called for increasing direct contracts for Haitian entities.
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