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JFP 7/19: Haass: Decentralize in Afghanistan; US activists launch campaign for Gaza boat
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 19 July 2010 - 7:52pm
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July 19, 2010
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1) Michael Steele essentially had it right when he described Afghanistan as "a war of Obama's choosing," argues Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, writing in Newsweek. Staying the course would be hugely expensive and is highly unlikely to succeed; "decentralization," on the other hand, would work with the Afghan tradition of a weak ruling center and a strong periphery. It would require revision of the Afghan Constitution, which as it stands places too much power in the hands of the president. The Taliban would likely return to positions of power in many parts of the south. But the Taliban would know they would be challenged by the U.S. if they attacked non-Pashtun areas, if they allowed areas under their control to be used to supply antigovernment forces in Pakistan, or if they worked in any way with Al Qaeda. The US should stop assuming the Taliban and Al Qaeda are the same and instead start talking to the Taliban to underscore how their interests differ from Al Qaeda's.
2) U.S. activists have launched a campaign to send a U.S. boat to Gaza that will sail with a flotilla of ships to Gaza this fall, the New York Indypendent reports. The boat will be called The Audacity of Hope.
3) British troops are to pull out of Afghanistan by 2014, under a secret blueprint for drawing down coalition forces that is set to begin in a matter of months, The Independent reports. Karzai will announce the timetable for a "conditions-based and phased transition" at the International Conference on Afghanistan to be held in Kabul on Tuesday, The Independent says.
4) There's been a mini-boomlet of late in arguments to put a military strike against Iran back on the table, writes Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy. But the argument for a military strike is no stronger now than it has been in the past - and in many ways it is considerably weaker, because Iran is considerably weaker than it was when Obama took office. An attack on Iran would still be a disaster, unnecessary and counterproductive, and the White House knows that, Lynch writes. The risk is that the public discourse about an attack on Iran normalizes the idea and makes it seem plausible, if not inevitable, and that the administration talks itself into a political corner. That shouldn't be allowed to happen, Lynch writes.
5) In Kabul, the recent Supreme Court decision prohibiting NGOs from teaching negotiation and peacebuilding to members of the Taliban because it is deemed "aiding and abetting a terrorist organization" doesn't make sense, writes Lisa Schirch of the 3D Security Initiative on Huffington Post. "I did not expect my own government to take away my freedom to work for peace here in Kabul," she writes. US lawmakers still have an opportunity to remedy this repressive law. Canada and Switzerland allow their citizens to provide negotiation training but not other forms of assistance to terrorist groups that could result in violence.
6) Alta Gracia, a U.S.-owned garment factory in the Dominican Republic, is paying a "living wage" - more than three times the prevailing minimum - and allowing workers to unionize without a fight, Steven Greenhouse reports in the New York Times. United Students Against Sweatshops plans to distribute fliers at college bookstores urging freshmen to buy the Alta Gracia shirts.
7) The EU's top foreign policy official visited Gaza and called for further pressure on Israel to allow freer movement of people and goods out of the Palestinian territory, the New York Times reports. Catherine Ashton said the EU wants to see people being able to move freely in and out of Gaza, and for Israel to allow exports.
8) According to a former CIA officer, CIA sources familiar with the case of Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri say he told his CIA handlers that there is no such Iranian nuclear weapons program, Gareth Porter writes for Inter Press Service. Philip Giraldi told IPS his sources are CIA officials with direct knowledge of the Amiri operation. Amiri was "absolutely peripheral" to Iran's nuclear program, but picked up "scuttlebutt" from other nuclear scientists that the Iranians have no active nuclear weapon program.
9) Pakistan's elite pay few taxes, feeding extreme inequality that has helped spread an insurgency, the New York Times reports. Some Pakistani critics say the U.S. bears significant responsibility for the situation. Akbar Zaidi, a Karachi-based political economist with the Carnegie Endowment, blames the U.S. and its perpetual bailouts of Pakistan for the minuscule tax revenues from rich. "The Americans should say: 'Enough. Sort it out yourselves. Get your house in order first,'" he argued. "But you are cowards. You are afraid to take that chance."
10) An African Union force, funded by hundreds of millions of dollars from the US and its allies, has killed, wounded and displaced hundreds of Somali civilians in a campaign against Islamist militants, the Washington Post reports. The mounting civilian toll is breeding popular resentment that threatens to undermine Somalia's U.S.-backed government, the Post says. "The people are saying, 'What is the difference between AMISOM [the AU force] and al-Shabab?'" said a Somali peace activist. "You are killing me. And they are also killing me."
11) Weeks of protests and newspaper headlines in Egypt forced the government to reverse course and charge two undercover police officers with illegal arrest, torture and excessive force for beating an Egyptian to death, the New York Times reports. Human rights workers are suggesting the case could be a turning point in their long and previously fruitless campaign to root out what they call a culture of brutality and abuse.
1) Afghanistan: We're Not Winning. It's Not Worth It.
Here's how to draw down in Afghanistan.
Richard N. Haass, Newsweek, July 18, 2010
[Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations.]
GOP chairman Michael Steele was blasted by fellow Republicans recently for describing Afghanistan as "a war of Obama's choosing," and suggesting that the United States would fail there as had many other outside powers. Some critics berated Steele for his pessimism, others for getting his facts wrong, given that President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan soon after 9/11. But Steele's critics are the ones who are wrong: the RNC chair was more correct than not on the substance of his statement, if not the politics.
The war being waged by the United States in Afghanistan today is fundamentally different and more ambitious than anything carried out by the Bush administration. Afghanistan is very much Barack Obama's war of choice, a point that the president underscored recently by picking Gen. David Petraeus to lead an intensified counterinsurgency effort there. After nearly nine years of war, however, continued or increased U.S. involvement in Afghanistan isn't likely to yield lasting improvements that would be commensurate in any way with the investment of American blood and treasure. It is time to scale down our ambitions there and both reduce and redirect what we do.
So far the Obama administration is sticking with its strategy; indeed, the president went to great lengths to underscore this when he turned to Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Kabul. No course change is likely until at least December, when the president will find himself enmeshed in yet another review of his Afghan policy.
This will be Obama's third chance to decide what kind of war he wants to fight in Afghanistan, and he will have several options to choose from, even if none is terribly promising. The first is to stay the course: to spend the next year attacking the Taliban and training the Afghan Army and police, and to begin reducing the number of U.S. troops in July 2011 only to the extent that conditions on the ground allow. Presumably, if conditions are not conducive, Petraeus will try to limit any reduction in the number of U.S. troops and their role to a minimum.
This approach is hugely expensive, however, and is highly unlikely to succeed. The Afghan government shows little sign of being prepared to deliver either clean administration or effective security at the local level. While a small number of Taliban might choose to "reintegrate"-i.e., opt out of the fight-the vast majority will not. And why should they? The Taliban are resilient and enjoy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, whose government tends to view the militants as an instrument for influencing Afghanistan's future (something Pakistan cares a great deal about, given its fear of Indian designs there).
The economic costs to the United States of sticking to the current policy are on the order of $100 billion a year, a hefty price to pay when the pressure to cut federal spending is becoming acute. The military price is also great, not just in lives and matériel but also in distraction at a time when the United States could well face crises with Iran and North Korea. And the domestic political costs would be considerable if the president were seen as going back on the spirit if not the letter of his commitment to begin to bring troops home next year.
Another approach, best termed "decentralization," bears resemblance to partition but also is different in important ways. Under this approach, the United States would provide arms and training to those local Afghan leaders throughout the country who reject Al Qaeda and who do not seek to undermine Pakistan. Economic aid could be provided to increase respect for human rights and to decrease poppy cultivation. There would be less emphasis on building up a national Army and police force.
The advantage of this option is that it works with and not against the Afghan tradition of a weak ruling center and a strong periphery. It would require revision of the Afghan Constitution, which as it stands places too much power in the hands of the president. The United States could leave it to local forces to prevent Taliban inroads, allowing most U.S. troops to return home. Leaders of non-Pashtun minorities (as well as anti-Taliban Pashtuns) would receive military aid and training. The result would be less a partition than a patchwork quilt. Petraeus took a step in this direction last week by gaining Karzai's approval for the creation of new uniformed local security forces who will be paid to fight the insurgents in their communities.
Under this scenario, the Taliban would likely return to positions of power in a good many parts of the south. The Taliban would know, however, that they would be challenged by U.S. air power and Special Forces (and by U.S.-supported Afghans) if they attacked non-Pashtun areas, if they allowed the areas under their control to be used to supply antigovernment forces in Pakistan, or if they worked in any way with Al Qaeda. There is reason to believe that the Taliban might not repeat their historic error of inviting Al Qaeda back into areas under their control. Indeed, the United States should stop assuming that the two groups are one and the same and instead start talking to the Taliban to underscore how their interests differ from Al Qaeda's.
Again, there are drawbacks. This approach would be resisted by some Afghans who fear giving away too much to the Taliban, and by some Taliban who don't think it gives enough. The Karzai government would oppose any shift in U.S. support away from the central government and toward village and local leaders. Fighting would likely continue inside Afghanistan for years. And again, areas reclaimed by the Taliban would almost certainly reintroduce laws that would be antithetical to global norms for human rights.
So what should the president decide? The best way to answer this question is to return to what the United States seeks to accomplish in Afghanistan and why. The two main American goals are to prevent Al Qaeda from reestablishing a safe haven and to make sure that Afghanistan does not undermine the stability of Pakistan.
We are closer to accomplishing both goals than most people realize. CIA Director Leon Panetta recently estimated the number of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to be "60 to 100, maybe less." It makes no sense to maintain 100,000 troops to go after so small an adversary, especially when Al Qaeda operates on this scale in a number of countries. Such situations call for more modest and focused policies of counterterrorism along the lines of those being applied in Yemen and Somalia, rather than a full-fledged counterinsurgency effort.
Pakistan is much more important than Afghanistan given its nuclear arsenal, its much larger population, the many terrorists on its soil, and its history of wars with India. But Pakistan's future will be determined far more by events within its borders than those to its west. The good news is that the Army shows some signs of understanding that Pakistan's own Taliban are a danger to the country's future, and has begun to take them on.
All this argues for reorienting U.S. Afghan policy toward decentralization-providing greater support for local leaders and establishing a new approach to the Taliban. The war the United States is now fighting in Afghanistan is not succeeding and is not worth waging in this way. The time has come to scale back U.S. objectives and sharply reduce U.S. involvement on the ground. Afghanistan is claiming too many American lives, requiring too much attention, and absorbing too many resources. The sooner we accept that Afghanistan is less a problem to be fixed than a situation to be managed, the better.
2) Activists Launch Campaign for U.S. Boat to Gaza
Ellen Davidson, Indypendent (NYC IMC), July 18, 2010
Activists have launched a national campaign to send a U.S. boat to Gaza that will sail with a flotilla of ships from Europe, Canada, India, South Africa, and parts of the Middle East this fall. Participants hope to break through the three-year Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. In May, a similar effort comprising six boats was attacked by Israeli military forces. Nine activists on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara were killed and dozens wounded when Israeli commandos boarded the ships, arresting some 700 passengers, and seizing the boats.
The U.S. effort has been endorsed by American Jews for a Just Peace, CODEPINK, Free Gaza Movement, Gaza Freedom March, Granny Peace Brigade, Jewish Voice for Peace, Veterans for Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the War Resisters League,and WESPAC, among others. Individual endorsers include writer Alice Walker, activist Angela Davis, actor Kathleen Chalfont, Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner, and Voices for Creative Nonviolence co-coordinator Kathy Kelly.
The boat will be called The Audacity of Hope (irony intended) and funds are urgently needed to purchase the ship, hire a crew, secure licenses, and buy material aid. For more information, see ustogaza.org.
3) Official - Troops out of Afghanistan by 2014
A communiqué containing a blueprint for British troops to pull out from Afghanistan in four years' time has been leaked ahead of a major international conference this week
Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady, The Independent, Sunday, 18 July 2010
British troops are to pull out of Afghanistan by 2014, under a secret blueprint for drawing down coalition forces that is set to begin in a matter of months, it emerged last night. A leaked communiqué - a copy of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday - reveals how President Hamid Karzai will announce the timetable for a "conditions-based and phased transition" at the International Conference on Afghanistan to be held in Kabul on Tuesday.
The meeting - which is set to map out the way ahead for the war-torn country - will be attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and foreign ministers from more 70 countries. An agreed version of the document, marked "not for circulation", was sent to senior diplomats yesterday by Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Special Representative in Afghanistan.
It states: "The international community expressed its support for the President of Afghanistan's objective that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) should lead and conduct military operations in all provinces by the end of 2014." This comes just weeks after Mr Hague hinted that British troops could leave by 2014, and is the first formal confirmation of the timescale that governments have been working towards behind the scenes to agree in recent months.
The communiqué goes on to pledge that the international community will continue to "provide the support necessary to increase security during this time, and the continued support in training, equipping and providing interim financing to the ANSF at every level to take on the task of securing their country". It adds: "The government of Afghanistan and the international community agreed to jointly assess provinces, with the aim of announcing by the end of 2010 that the process of transition is under way."
A senior source in the British military confirmed yesterday that the blueprint was "a significant map laying out the stages on the way to withdrawal". He said: "The British government has been talking in terms of a 2014 withdrawal, but nobody has been able to produce a timetable identifying how and when things would happen. This document demonstrates that there is a will in the international community to have it done by then."
4) Why put an attack on Iran back on the table?
Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy, Monday, July 19, 2010
There's been a mini-boomlet of late in arguments to put a military strike against Iran back on the table. Joe Klein had a solid article in Time last week arguing that the U.S. is reconsidering a military strike on Iran. There's a marginal poll showing 56% support for an Israeli strike on Iran (actually quite a low number, given the general enthusiasm of Americans for bombing things). There are Israeli reports that it has convinced the U.S. of the viability of a military option. There's Reuel Gerecht's long brief for military action in the Weekly Standard. There's yet another Washington Post op-ed arguing for brandishing a military threat. This is odd. The argument for a military strike is no stronger now than it has been in the past - and in many ways it is considerably weaker.
Why is the argument weaker? Mainly because Iran is weaker. If you set aside the hype, it is pretty obvious that for all of the flaws in President Obama's strategy, Iran today is considerably weaker than it was when he took office. Go back to 2005-07, when the Bush administration was supposedly taking the Iranian threat seriously, with a regional diplomacy focused upon polarizing the region against Iran. In that period, Iranian "soft power" throughout the region rose rapidly, as it seized the mantle of the leader of the "resistance" camp which the U.S. eagerly granted it. Hezbollah and Hamas, viewed in Washington at least as Iranian proxies, were riding high both in their own arenas and in the broader Arab public arena. Iranian allies were in the driver's seat in Iraq. Arab leaders certainly feared and hated this rising Iranian power, whispering darkly to Bush officials about how badly they wanted the U.S. to confront it and flooding their state-backed media with anti-Iranian propaganda. But this did not translate to the popular level and did little to reverse Iran's strategic gains. The Bush administration's polarization strategy was very good to Iran.
Compare that to today, 18 months into the Obama administration. While I've been critical of parts of the administration's approach to Iran, overall Tehran has become considerably weaker in the Middle East under Obama's watch. Much of the air has gone out of Iran's claim to head a broad "resistance" camp, with Obama's Cairo outreach temporarily shifting the regional debate and then with Turkey emerging as a much more attractive leader of that trend. The botched Iranian election badly harmed Tehran's image among those Arabs who prioritize democratic reforms, and has produced a flood of highly critical scrutiny of Iran across the Arab media. Arab leaders continue to be suspicious and hostile towards Iran. The steady U.S. moves to draw down in Iraq have reduced the salience of that long-bleeding wound. Hezbollah has been ground down by the contentious quicksand of Lebanese politics, and while still strong has lost some of the broad appeal it captured after the 2006 war. Public opinion surveys and Arab media commentary alike now reveal little sympathy for the Iranian regime, compared to previous years. And while the sanctions are unlikely to change Iran's behavior (even if there is intriguing evidence that highly targeted sanctions are fueling intra-regime infighting), they do signal significant Iranian failures to game the UN process or to generate international support. In short, while Iran may continue to doggedly pursue its nuclear program (as far as we know), this has not translated into steadily increasing popular appeal or regional power. Quite the contrary.
An attack on Iran would still be a disaster, unnecessary and counterproductive, and the White House knows that, and it's exceedingly unlikely that it will happen anytime soon. But the real risk is that the public discourse about an attack on Iran normalizes the idea and makes it seem plausible, if not inevitable, and that the administration talks itself into a political corner. That shouldn't be allowed to happen.
5) Supreme Court Ruling Impacts Peacebuilding in Afghanistan
Lisa Schirch, Huffington Post, July 19, 2010
[Schirch is Director of the 3D Security Initiative]
Here on the dusty streets of Kabul, the recent Supreme Court decision prohibiting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from teaching negotiation and peacebuilding to members of the Taliban because it is deemed "aiding and abetting a terrorist organization" doesn't make sense. I expected some loss of freedom as an American in a foreign country during a war. I did not expect my own government to take away my freedom to work for peace here in Kabul.
The Supreme Court's ruling that that it is constitutional for Congress to ban any kind of "support" to designated terrorist organizations, even training in negotiation strategies that would help groups move away from a reliance on violence, makes a number of false assumptions.
First. The ruling reinforces the idea that communicating with a group like the Taliban about negotiation strategies legitimizes their cause. This is a weak theory. Negotiation is a strategy for dealing with adversaries. It presumes disagreement. Far from legitimating armed groups, history shows that negotiation training of all armed-groups has been an essential component in the peace processes of almost every civil war in the last twenty years.
Second. The ruling assumes that NGOs conducting negotiation training are a significant factor in the legitimization of terrorist groups. The major forces legitimating the Taliban cause are threefold: Western contractors continue to pay the Taliban huge sums of money to protect their supply lines and development projects. Neighboring countries like Pakistan continue to receive US military aid while many continue to insist they are sending resources to the Taliban to destabilize Afghanistan. However, the hordes of Western media who descended on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the days after September 11 to explain to Western audiences "Why they hate us." may be the worst culprits in legitimating and increasing popular support for the Taliban. Congress' current laws guiding the War on Terror are woefully inadequate to cut off the funding and halt legitimization of groups like the Taliban. They are also counterproductive to the positive work NGOs do to curtail terrorism.
Third. The Supreme Court's decision - which supports Congress' vague law on what constitutes material support to terrorist groups - assumes that groups like the Taliban have no legitimate grievances that could be pursued through political channels rather than the battlefield. While NGOs have no sympathy for the repressive Taliban agenda on human rights, there is wide recognition here in Afghanistan of the legitimate Taliban frustration with the current Afghan government's rampant corruption and warlords.
Fourth. This week's decision makes an assumption that government personnel are the only ones skilled enough in diplomacy to engage a group like the Taliban. Only a handful of US diplomats have training in principled negotiation and peace processes. Yet dozens of people like myself have PhDs in conflict resolution and decades of experience promoting negotiation and peace in war zones around the world. I serve my country's interest in global peace and security, but I am not an employee of the US government. As American citizens, we deserve the right to practice our profession of conflict resolution between armed groups. It is counterproductive for the US government to block our efforts and presume that our efforts are contrary to its interests.
While the Supreme Court has made its decision, US lawmakers still have an opportunity to remedy this repressive law. US laws should specify more precisely what types of communication are and aren't allowed with terrorist groups. Countries such as Canada and Switzerland allow their citizens to provide negotiation training but not other forms of assistance to terrorist groups that could result in violence. As an American citizen working in Kabul, I hope my country's leaders think about the costs of their current counterterrorist policies and give me back my freedom to work for peace.
6) Factory Defies Sweatshop Label, but Can It Thrive?
Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, July 16, 2010
Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic - Sitting in her tiny living room here, Santa Castillo beams about the new house that she and her husband are building directly behind the wooden shack where they now live.
The new home will be four times bigger, with two bedrooms and an indoor bathroom; the couple and their three children now share a windowless bedroom and rely on an outhouse two doors away.
Ms. Castillo had long dreamed of a bigger, sturdier house, but three months ago something happened that finally made it possible: she landed a job at one of the world's most unusual garment factories. Industry experts say it is a pioneer in the developing world because it pays a "living wage" - in this case, three times the average pay of the country's apparel workers - and allows workers to join a union without a fight. "We never had the opportunity to make wages like this before," says Ms. Castillo, a soft-spoken woman who earns $500 a month. "I feel blessed."
The factory is a high-minded experiment, a response to appeals from myriad university officials and student activists that the garment industry stop using poverty-wage sweatshops. It has 120 employees and is owned by Knights Apparel, a privately held company based in Spartanburg, S.C., that is the leading supplier of college-logo apparel to American universities, according to the Collegiate Licensing Company.
For Knights, the factory is a risky proposition, even though it already has orders to make T-shirts and sweatshirts for bookstores at 400 American universities. The question is whether students, alumni and sports fans will be willing to pay $18 for the factory's T-shirts - the same as premium brands like Nike and Adidas - to sustain the plant and its generous wages.
Joseph Bozich, the C.E.O. of Knights, is optimistic. "We're hoping to prove that doing good can be good business, that they're not mutually exclusive," he says.
The Alta Gracia factory has pledged to pay employees nearly three and a half times the prevailing minimum wage, based on a study done by a workers' rights group that calculated the living costs for a family of four in the Dominican Republic.
While some critics view the living wage as do-gooder mumbo-jumbo, Ms. Castillo views it as a godsend. In her years earning the minimum wage, she said she felt stuck on a treadmill - never able to advance, often borrowing to buy necessities. "A lot of times there was only enough for my kids, and I'd go to bed hungry," she says. "But now I have money to buy meat, oatmeal and milk."
Still solidly built at 47, he has made apparel deals with scores of universities, enabling Knights to surpass Nike as the No. 1 college supplier. Under Mr. Bozich, Knights cooperates closely with the Worker Rights Consortium, a group of 186 universities that press factories making college-logo apparel to treat workers fairly.
Scott Nova, the consortium's executive director, says Mr. Bozich seems far more committed than most other apparel executives to stamping out abuses - like failure to pay for overtime work. Knights contracts with 30 factories worldwide. At a meeting that the two men had in 2005 to address problems at a Philippines factory, Mr. Bozich floated the idea of opening a model factory.
Mr. Nova loved the idea. He was frustrated that most apparel factories worldwide still paid the minimum wage or only a fraction above - rarely enough to lift families out of poverty. (Minimum wages are 15 cents an hour in Bangladesh and around 85 cents in the Dominican Republic and many cities in China - the Alta Gracia factory pays $2.83 an hour.)
Mr. Bozich first considered opening a factory in Haiti, but was dissuaded by the country's poor infrastructure. Mr. Nova urged him to consider this depressed community, hoping that he would employ some of the 1,200 people thrown out of work when the Korean-owned cap factory closed.
Mr. Bozich turned to a longtime industry executive, Donnie Hodge, a former executive with J. P. Stevens, Milliken and Gerber Childrenswear. Overseeing a $500,000 renovation of the factory, Mr. Hodge, now president of Knights, called for bright lighting, five sewing lines and pricey ergonomic chairs, which many seamstresses thought were for the managers. "We could have given the community a check for $25,000 or $50,000 a year and felt good about that," Mr. Hodge said. "But we wanted to make this a sustainable thing."
The factory's biggest hurdle is self-imposed: how to compete with other apparel makers when its wages are so much higher. Mr. Bozich says the factory's cost will be $4.80 a T-shirt, 80 cents or 20 percent more than if it paid minimum wage. Knights will absorb a lower-than-usual profit margin, he said, without asking retailers to pay more at wholesale. "Obviously we'll have a higher cost," Mr. Bozich said. "But we're pricing the product such that we're not asking the retailer or the consumer to sacrifice in order to support it."
In a highly unusual move, United Students Against Sweatshops, a nationwide college group that often lambastes apparel factories, plans to distribute fliers at college bookstores urging freshmen to buy the Alta Gracia shirts. "We're going to do everything we can to promote this," says Casey Sweeney, a leader of the group at Cornell. "It's incredible that I can wear a Cornell hoodie knowing the workers who made it are being paid well and being respected."
7) Senior E.U. Emissary Visits Gaza
Isabel Kershner and Fares Akram, New York Times, July 18, 2010
Jerusalem - The European Union's top foreign policy official visited Gaza on Sunday and called for further pressure on Israel to allow freer movement of people and goods out of the Palestinian territory.
The official, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, was the most senior foreign emissary to visit to Gaza since Israel's recent decision to ease its blockade of the territory, which is governed by the anti-Israel militant group Hamas.
"What needs to happen now," Ms. Ashton told reporters in Gaza, "is continued international pressure to move forward." She said that the European Union wants to see people being able to move freely in and out of Gaza, and for Israel to allow exports.
Recently, Israel has been allowing in construction materials for specific building projects that are supervised by an international body and that have the approval of Hamas's rival, the Palestinian Authority. More than 30 new projects have been approved or are in the process of receiving approval since the government decision, including the construction or upgrading of wastewater treatment plants, classrooms and clinics, according to an official from the Israeli government department that coordinates civilian activities in Gaza and the West Bank.
But Israeli officials have ruled out allowing construction materials for the private sector for now, as well as any imminent resumption of exports from Gaza or opening of additional land crossings to increase capacity, citing security concerns.
8) Amiri Told CIA Iran Has No Nuclear Bomb Programme
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, July 19, 2010
Washington - Contrary to a news media narrative that Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri has provided intelligence on covert Iranian nuclear weapons work, CIA sources familiar with the Amiri case say he told his CIA handlers that there is no such Iranian nuclear weapons programme, according to a former CIA officer.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA counterterrorism official, told IPS that his sources are CIA officials with direct knowledge of the entire Amiri operation.
The CIA contacts say that Amiri had been reporting to the CIA for some time before being brought to the U.S. during Hajj last year, Giraldi told IPS, initially using satellite-based communication. But the contacts also say Amiri was a radiation safety specialist who was "absolutely peripheral" to Iran's nuclear programme, according to Giraldi.
Amiri provided "almost no information" about Iran's nuclear programme, said Giraldi, but had picked up "scuttlebutt" from other nuclear scientists with whom he was acquainted that the Iranians have no active nuclear weapon programme.
Giraldi said information from Amiri's debriefings was only a minor contribution to the intelligence community's reaffirmation in the latest assessment of Iran's nuclear programme of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)'s finding that work on a nuclear weapon has not been resumed after being halted in 2003.
Amiri's confirmation is cited in one or more footnotes to the new intelligence assessment of Iran's nuclear programme, called a "Memorandum to Holders", according to Giraldi, but it is now being reviewed, in light of Amiri's "re- defection" to Iran.
An intelligence source who has read the "Memorandum to Holders" in draft form confirmed to IPS that it presents no clear-cut departure from the 2007 NIE on the question of weaponisation. The developments in the Iranian nuclear programme since the 2007 judgment are portrayed as "subtle and complex", said the source.
9) Pakistan's Elite Pay Few Taxes, Widening Gap
Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, July 18, 2010
Islamabad, Pakistan - Much of Pakistan's capital city looks like a rich Los Angeles suburb. Shiny sport utility vehicles purr down gated driveways. Elegant multistory homes are tended by servants. Laundry is never hung out to dry.
But behind the opulence lurks a troubling fact. Very few of these households pay income tax. That is mostly because the politicians who make the rules are also the country's richest citizens, and are skilled at finding ways to exempt themselves.
That would be a problem in any country. But in Pakistan, the lack of a workable tax system feeds something more menacing: a festering inequality in Pakistani society, where the wealth of its most powerful members is never redistributed or put to use for public good. That is creating conditions that have helped spread an insurgency that is tormenting the country and complicating American policy in the region.
It is also a sorry performance for a country that is among the largest recipients of American aid, payments of billions of dollars that prop up the country's finances and are meant to help its leaders fight the insurgency.
Though the authorities have tried to expand the net in recent years, taxing profits from the stock market and real estate, entire swaths of the economy, like agriculture, a major moneymaker for the elite, remain untaxed. "This is a system of the elite, by the elite and for the elite," said Riyaz Hussain Naqvi, a retired government official who worked in tax collection for 38 years. "It is a skewed system in which the poor man subsidizes the rich man."
The rules say that anyone who earns more than $3,488 a year must pay income tax, but few do. Akbar Zaidi, a Karachi-based political economist with the Carnegie Endowment, estimates that as many as 10 million Pakistanis should be paying income tax, far more than the 2.5 million who are registered.
Out of more than 170 million Pakistanis, fewer than 2 percent pay income tax, making Pakistan's revenue from taxes among the lowest in the world, a notch below Sierra Leone's as a ratio of tax to gross domestic product.
Mr. Zaidi blames the United States and its perpetual bailouts of Pakistan for the minuscule tax revenues from rich and poor alike. "The Americans should say: 'Enough. Sort it out yourselves. Get your house in order first,' " he argued. "But you are cowards. You are afraid to take that chance."
10) Rising civilian toll ignites anger at African force as it battles Somali militants
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, Sunday, July 18, 2010; A10
Mogadishu, Somalia - An African Union peacekeeping force, funded by hundreds of millions of dollars from the United States and its allies, has killed, wounded and displaced hundreds of Somali civilians in a stepped-up campaign against Islamist militants, according to medical officials, human rights activists and victims.
Led by Ugandan and Burundian troops, the force has intensified shelling in recent weeks as Somalia's al-Shabab militia, which is linked to al-Qaeda, has pushed closer toward the fragile government's seat of power. The shells are landing in heavily populated areas, in some cases even neighborhoods controlled by the government. Al-Shabab leaders say the peacekeepers and the shelling are the key reasons it bombed two venues in Uganda's capital last Sunday, killing 76 people watching broadcasts of the World Cup final.
In this war-torn capital, Fatima Umar and Muse Haji were among the latest victims. An artillery shell crashed into their building, killing Umar on the top floor and Haji on the bottom floor. Umar, 15, was a cleaner who earned $7 a month to support her parents. Haji, 38, was a shopkeeper who was relaxing on his stoop on his day off.
Witnesses said the shell was fired from the direction of the airport, which the peacekeepers control. "It was the Ugandans," declared Omar Sharif, a clan elder, as he stood in the rubble next to a shattered bed splattered with Umar's blood. Sunlight glared through a huge hole in the wall.
"When one kilogram of mortars are fired by al-Shabab, AMISOM replies with 100 kilograms of artillery," said Abdulqadir Haji, director of a volunteer ambulance service, using the acronym for the African Union force. "It is America and the West who support them. America and the West are the silent killers in Somalia's war."
The mounting civilian toll is breeding popular resentment that threatens to undermine Somalia's U.S.-backed government, complicating Washington's efforts to combat Islamist militancy in an area where al-Qaeda's affiliates are increasingly posing a threat to U.S. interests and regional stability as they export jihad across borders.
The bombings in Uganda, which also killed one American, were the first major al-Shabab strikes outside Somalia. They show that the African Union shelling campaign has done little to weaken the militia, which is seeking to overthrow the government and establish a Taliban-like Islamist emirate.
Most Somalis loathe al-Shabab for its brutality and repressive dictates. But they say the peacekeeping force should be held responsible for its actions. "The people are saying, 'What is the difference between AMISOM and al-Shabab?' " said Hassan Elmi, a peace activist who lives near the airport and says he hears as many as 200 to 300 shells being fired each day. "You are killing me. And they are also killing me."
11) Death in Police Encounter Stirs Calls for Change in Egypt
Kareem Fahim, New York Times, July 18, 2010
Alexandria, Egypt - The two undercover police officers seemed unfazed by the bystanders, who watched as the officers beat a 28-year-old man in the lobby of a building here last month, one witness said.
One of those bystanders, Amal Kamel, stood at the top of a short flight of marble stairs in the lobby, watching the officers punch and kick the man, Khaled Said, smashing his head against the bottom step until his body was still and he stopped begging for his life. The officers dragged Mr. Said to a car, Ms. Kamel said, and returned 10 minutes later to leave his body at the bottom of the stairs.
They had little to worry about, human rights advocates here say. Units within Egypt's sprawling security force are granted broad powers by the government, and officers are rarely punished for abuse. A police officer told Mr. Said's relatives that he choked on a clump of marijuana. The episode might have ended there.
Instead, it grew bigger. A cellphone picture of Mr. Said's bloodied, battered face challenged the government's assertions. Weeks of protests and newspaper headlines followed. In early July, the authorities reversed course: the officers were taken into custody and charged with illegal arrest, torture and excessive force, though not with murder. Their trial is scheduled to begin later this month.
Energized by that concession, opposition figures and human rights workers are suggesting that Mr. Said's case could be a turning point in their long and previously fruitless campaign to root out what they call a culture of brutality and abuse.
In part, they pinned their hopes on the unsettled political climate: with the lingering uncertainty about President Hosni Mubarak's health and anxiety about who might succeed him, the government sounds more defensive these days. But more important, the advocates point to Mr. Said, a middle-class victim with whom young people identified and who many Egyptians might assume should have been protected.
"He was not a convict, he was not an Islamist, he was not extremely poor," said Aida Seif el-Dawla, who works with victims of torture and abuse. "His family has kept after his case."
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