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JFP 9/29: WaPo wants your Social Security to pay for the war
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 29 September 2010 - 7:55pm
Just Foreign Policy News
September 29, 2010
The Washington Post Wants Your Social Security to Pay for the War
The Washington Post dismisses concerns about the cost of the Afghanistan war on the grounds that it is less than 1% of US GDP. But the Post supports raising the Social Security normal retirement age, although the savings to the government from doing this would be less than 1% of US GDP.
October 2: One Nation Working Together
Hundreds of thousands of Americans are expected to converge on the Mall in Washington on Saturday, demanding jobs, justice, education, and peace.
Ira Chernus: An Israeli Gandhi Seized at Sea
Ira Chernus reflects on Rami Elhanan, an Israeli on the Jewish boat to Gaza. Elhanan is a board member of The Parents Circle - Families Forum, a group of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost children in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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1) A threat to evict three dozen Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes to allow Jewish landowners to build housing in an Arab-dominated neighborhood is posing the latest threat to Mideast peace talks, the Los Angeles Times reports. Palestinian officials warned that renewed evictions in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to base their capital for a future state, would deliver a devastating blow to the peace process.
2) An Israeli air force pilot turned peace activist said he was shocked with a Taser gun while passively resisting arrest on a Jewish aid boat to Gaza, the BBC reports. Israel's military had said the vessel was seized peacefully.
3) Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes now say $3 trillion was too low an estimate for the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Stars and Stripes reports. They say the number of veterans seeking post-combat medical care and the cost of treating those individuals is about 30 percent higher than they initially estimated. The House Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the costs Thursday morning. Rep. Filner wants a "veterans trust fund" to pay for the long-term costs of war. Reaction to the idea so far has been negative, Fliner said, because lawmakers are concerned such a move would make the costs of war look astronomical. That's exactly the point, Filner said.
4) President Karzai named a peace council Tuesday, the government's first concrete step to open formal contacts with the Taliban, Carlotta Gall reports in the New York Times. Supporters of peace talks welcomed the formation of the council as a first step. But some question whether Karzai and the people around him are really prepared to make the necessary concessions to make peace with the Taliban.
5) Pakistan has told NATO leaders it will stop protecting U.S. and NATO supply lines to Afghanistan if foreign aircraft stage further cross-border manned air attacks, AP reports. AP suggests there is little chance Pakistan would follow through on the threat, but it underscores Pakistani opposition to such attacks. [Such threats helped get the Bush Administration to back off from cross-border ground attacks - JFP.]
6) More than 1,000 families have fled U.S. military operations in Kandahar, Daily Outlook Afghanistan reports.
7) The Viva Palestina aid convoy to Gaza left Greece for Turkey Monday, AFP reports.
8) Not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding Haiti has arrived, Jonathan Katz and Martha Mendoza report for AP. At fault: bureaucracy, disorganization and a lack of urgency, AP says. Senator Coburn has put a hold on a key authorization bill.
9) If Dilma Rousseff wins the October 3 election for President, it will be in part because of the popularity of the Bolsa Familia anti-poverty program, AFP reports. Bolsa Familia helps 46 million people out of a national population of 193 million. Between 2003 and 2009, 29 million Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty into the middle class, which now accounts for more than half the national population.
10) The Venezuelan election result is unlikely to make much difference in the pace of social reforms, which have been limited more by administrative capacity than by politics, argues Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. Venezuela still has a long way to go before the state has as much a role in the economy as it does in, for instance, France. The main significance of the election is that the opposition has abandoned its "military takeover" strategy for political participation.
11) Primary school enrolment in Jamaica, which was at 97% in 1991, has fallen to 87%, among other retreats from UN development goals, notes Jonathan Glennie in the Guardian. But the IMF shares some of the blame, for promoting destructive economic policies in the country.
1) Palestinian eviction threat comes at a sensitive moment
The evictions of three dozen Palestinians would deliver a devastating blow to the peace process, Palestinian officials say. A court ruling would allow Jewish landowners to build housing in an Arab-dominated Jerusalem neighborhood.
Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2010
Jerusalem - A threat to evict about three dozen Palestinians this week from their East Jerusalem homes to allow Jewish landowners to build housing in an Arab-dominated neighborhood is posing the latest threat to fragile Mideast peace talks.
The ruling in the long-running dispute comes at a particularly sensitive time, as Israel faces mounting criticism for its decision to resume settlement construction in the West Bank after a 10-month moratorium.
U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel on Tuesday in a diplomatic bid to keep Palestinians from quitting the talks in protest.
The new point of friction stems from an Israeli Supreme Court ruling Sunday over who owns a plot of land, and the run-down homes on it, in Jerusalem's Sheik Jarrah neighborhood.
The court upheld an ownership claim by Israeli government agencies and a few private Jewish landowners who said they are reclaiming what was historically a Jewish neighborhood. They say Sephardic Jews settled there more than 100 years ago to be close to the ancient tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, a high priest.
Among the owners are the city of Jerusalem and American businessman Irving Moskowitz, who is also behind the controversial redevelopment of the nearby vacant Shepherd Hotel, which is being converted into a 20-unit apartment complex for Jewish residents.
Aryeh King, who represents Jewish landlords in Sheik Jarrah, told the Haaretz newspaper Tuesday that three Palestinian families are likely to be evicted by the end of the week. He said Jewish families would replace them until construction on new units can begin.
Palestinian officials warned that renewed evictions in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to one day base their capital for a future state, would deliver a devastating blow to the peace process.
"The settlements, and now the evictions, are signals that Israel is not ready and not serious," said Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil abu Rudaineh. "They are trying to put an end to the process."
2) Israeli forces 'Tasered' activist on Gaza aid boat
Jewish activists who sought to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza say they were treated harshly when Israeli forces seized their vessel.
BBC, 29 September 2010
Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli air force pilot turned peace activist, said he was shocked with a Taser gun while passively resisting arrest. And a British journalist said he was "ambushed" and "almost strip-searched" by commandos on board the vessel.
Israel's military had said the vessel was seized peacefully on Tuesday.
Yonatan Shapira, a member of left-wing group Combatants for Peace, said he was treated "brutally" by Israeli soldiers when the ship was intercepted some 20 miles (30km) off the coast of Gaza on Tuesday. "After they boarded, I was standing with my hands around Reuven Moskowitz, the 82-year-old holocaust survivor," he told BBC News. "We were trying to protect each other and singing: 'We shall overcome.'
"The Israeli navy captain came closer and pulled out his Taser gun and said: 'If you don't let go... it will hurt.'
"We continued to hug and he shot me twice on my right shoulder. It was painful, but not as bad as the third shot.
"He moved the life vest I had on, so he could reach closer to my heart and shot me, which made me lose control of my body. It felt like an epileptic attack or something.
"At that point I couldn't hold anything and they grabbed me brutally to the boat."
British photo-journalist Vish Vishvanath confirmed that Mr Shapira had been hit by the stun gun. After his deportation to London, Mr Vishvanath said he had been "almost strip-searched" by Israeli special forces, who confiscated all his equipment. "About three commandos ambushed me and took all my camera gear. They confiscated my cell phone because it had a camera on it," he told the Press Association. He said the activists put up "a lot of resistance", but that no violence was used.
The Irene, dubbed the Jewish Boat for Peace, was carrying what the activists called a symbolic amount of medicine, a water purifying kit and toys.
Israel began allowing consumer goods into Gaza after its May raid on a Turkish aid ship sparked international outrage. Nine activists were killed when Israeli commandos intercepted the ship in international waters. But it still blocks all exports from the territory, imposes a complete naval blockade, and severely restricts the movement of people.
3) Study: Wars could cost $4 trillion to $6 trillion
Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes, September 29, 2010
The authors of the book "The $3 Trillion War" noted in a conference call on Wednesday that when they first released their findings two years ago, the estimates were widely criticized as being too high. Now, the researchers believe they may have been too low.
Joseph Stiglitz, who received the 2000 Nobel Prize for Economics, and Linda Bilmes, a public policy professor at Harvard University, said the number of veterans seeking post-combat medical care and the cost of treating those individuals is about 30 percent higher than they initially estimated. That, combined with increases in the cost of military medical care and the lagging economy, will likely push the true long-term cost of the war over the $4 trillion mark.
"This may be more of a crisis than the Medicare and Social Security problems we have looming," said House Veterans Affairs Chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif. "It rivals both in the potential impact. This is another entitlement we've committed ourselves to, and it could break the bank."
In a conference call with reporters, Bilmes said about 600,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have already sought medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and 500,000 have applied for disability benefits. That's about 30 percent higher than initial estimates for care, and could cost the department nearly $1 trillion in costs for the current wars alone.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the costs Thursday morning. Filner said he'll use the new research to push for a "veterans trust fund" to pay for the long-term costs of war, a proposal he's already pitched to Democratic leaders in the House.
Under his plan, lawmakers would add a 10 to 15 percent surcharge on all appropriations bills, banking billions of dollars for future veterans medical costs. Reaction to the idea so far has been negative, Fliner said, because lawmakers are concerned that such a move would make the costs of war look astronomical.
Of course, Filner said, that's exactly the point.
4) Karzai Names Peace Panel For Taliban Negotiations
Carlotta Gall, New York Times, September 28, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan - Repeating his determination to find a peaceful solution to the war, President Hamid Karzai named a 70-member peace council on Tuesday, a long-awaited announcement that was the government's first concrete step to open formal contacts with the Taliban.
The American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, indicated support for the reconciliation process on Monday and said high-level members of the Taliban had already reached out to the government.
Supporters of peace talks welcomed the formation of the council as a first step and said it could work despite the preponderance of people opposed to the Taliban.
"These are faces from the jihad, the resistance, and from the Taliban, and they will have to resolve it," said Hajji Abdul Baqi Raghbat, leader of the tribal affairs department in Kandahar Province, homeland of the Taliban. "These are the most famous people, and if not them, I don't know who else there is."
The council members would not do the actual negotiation, but would appoint smaller commissions of neutral mediators to approach the Taliban and bring back their answers, according to a lawmaker, Hajji Musa Khan Hotak, who has long supported talks with the Taliban.
Some also question whether Mr. Karzai and the people around him are really prepared to make the necessary concessions to make peace with the Taliban. Ministers interviewed in recent months supported the peace process publicly but privately said the Taliban had to be defeated.
Referring to Mr. Karzai, Martine van Bijlert, a director of the independent Afghan Analysts Network, said: "He is not interested in substantial talks. His position towards the Taliban is, 'You can join me, you can surrender to our side.' This means there is little appetite to listen to and address some of the real grievances. At the same time there is a real danger that the process will just be a gathering of yet more commanders."
5) Pakistan Threatens To Stop Protecting NATO Supply Lines
Kimberly Dozier and Chris Brummitt, Associated Press, Tuesday, September 28, 2010; 4:38 PM
Islamabad, Pakistan - Pakistan has told NATO leaders it will stop protecting U.S. and NATO supply lines to Afghanistan if foreign aircraft stage further cross-border attacks against fleeing militants, security officials said Tuesday.
If carried out, such a threat would have major consequences on the war in Afghanistan as well as on Pakistan's relationship with the United States, which is vitally important for both nations. Analysts said there was little or no chance of Islamabad carrying though with it, however.
The threat was therefore seen as mostly aimed at tamping down criticism inside Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment runs high and where conspiracy theories that the U.S. army is poised to invade the nation from bases in Afghanistan are rampant.
But it was also a clear sign of Pakistani unease at the attacks on Saturday and Monday by NATO aircraft against militants in its northwest tribal areas and a reminder of the leverage the country has in its complicated alliance with Washington.
While Pakistan has remained largely silent about U.S. drone strikes in the northwest, Pakistani security officials say they are drawing a line at direct interference by U.S. and NATO manned aircraft. They rejected NATO statements that NATO air defense teams were acting to protect an Afghan border post against militants who had attacked it, then fled to Pakistan.
The Pakistani officers said Pakistan's foreign ministry had conveyed the threat to stop protecting NATO convoys to NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Some 80 percent of non-lethal supplies for foreign forces fighting in landlocked Afghanistan cross over Pakistani soil after being unloaded at docks in Karachi, a port city in the south.
Pakistani security forces provide security for the convoys, which are often attacked by militants as they travel north.
While NATO and the United States have alternative supply routes, the Pakistani ones are the cheapest and most convenient.
6) 1,000 Families Flee Homes in Kandahar
Pajhwok/Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Kandahar City - More than 1,000 families have arrived from troubled districts in this capital of southern Kandahar province in the wake of an ongoing joint military operation. The operation codenamed Hamkari (Cooperation), involving thousands of Afghan and coalition troops, was recently extended to Zherai and Panjwai districts after militants were driven away from their bases in Arghandab. The families fleeing their houses and belongings are facing numerous problems in Kandahar City. A number of displaced people gathered on Tuesday in front of the Refugee and Returnee Department, asking for help. "Living in Arghandab is impossible due to clashes between militants and security forces," said a resident of the Loya Minara area. "Insecurity has forced me to leave my orchard at a time when the harvest of pomegranates is underway," Haji Hizbullah added. He said they were facing problems while living with relatives after migrating from his hometown. The displaced people were unable to find jobs and had been forced to gather around the department to seek assistance, said residents of the Chargholba area of the same district.
7) Gaza aid convoy heads for Turkey
AFP, Mon Sep 27, 9:10 am ET
Komotini, Greece - A convoy of aid vehicles carrying 40 activists from the group Viva Palestina left the Greek town of Alexandroupolis headed for Gaza on Monday, police said.
Made up of passenger cars, vans and ambulances, the convoy was decked out in Palestinian flags as it headed for Istanbul in Turkey where it is expected to arrive later Monday, police said. It will then go via the Middle East and hopes to enter Gaza via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
8) Haiti still waiting for pledged US aid
Jonathan M. Katz and Martha Mendoza, Associated Press, September 29, 2010; 2:54 AM
Port-au-Prince, Haiti - Nearly nine months after the earthquake, more than a million Haitians still live on the streets between piles of rubble. One reason: Not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived.
The money was pledged by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in March for use this year in rebuilding. The U.S. has already spent more than $1.1 billion on post-quake relief, but without long-term funds, the reconstruction of the wrecked capital cannot begin.
With just a week to go before fiscal 2010 ends, the money is still tied up in Washington. At fault: bureaucracy, disorganization and a lack of urgency, The Associated Press learned in interviews with officials in the State Department, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the White House and the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy. One senator has held up a key authorization bill because of a $5 million provision he says will be wasteful.
Meanwhile, deaths in Port-au-Prince are mounting, as quake survivors scramble to live without shelter or food. "There are truly lives at stake, and the idea that folks are spending more time finger-pointing than getting this solved is almost unbelievable," said John Simon, a former U.S. ambassador to the African Union who is now with the Center for Global Development, a Washington think tank.
Nor is Haiti getting much from other donors. Some 50 other nations and organizations pledged a total of $8.75 billion for reconstruction, but just $686 million of that has reached Haiti so far - less than 15 percent of the total promised for 2010-11.
The lack of funds has all but halted reconstruction work by CHF International, the primary U.S.-funded group assigned to remove rubble and build temporary shelters. Just 2 percent of rubble has been cleared and 13,000 temporary shelters have been built - less than 10 percent of the number planned.
Last week the inaction bore tragic results. On Friday an isolated storm destroyed an estimated 8,000 tarps, tents and shacks in the capital and killed at least six people, including two children. And the threat of violence looms as landowners threaten entire camps with forced eviction.
In Washington there is confusion about the money. At a July hearing, Ravij Shah, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, thanked members of Congress for approving the funds, saying, "The resources are flowing and are being spent in country."
It wasn't true then, and still hasn't happened.
9) Lula's 'Bolsa Familia' a vote-winner in Brazil.
Claire de Oliveira, AFP, Mon Sep 27, 1:09 am ET
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil - If, as expected, Brazil's ruling party's presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff sweeps the October 3 election, it will be in no small part due to the "Bolsa Familia" welfare handouts to her country's poor.
The initiative, launched by outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is seen as the leading wealth redistribution program in the world - going some way to redressing Brazil's massive income disparity.
Because the Bolsa Familia helps 46 million people out of a national population of 193 million - nearly one person in four - it also serves as a formidable vote-winner.
Adalgiza da Silva, 50, has always lived in Rio de Janeiro's biggest shantytown of Rocinha.
Under Lula, she has seen her quality of life improve greatly. And, like the majority of her neighbors, she will vote for "continuity" - which means Rousseff. "We are poor, and they have given us dignity, a chance to stand eye-to-eye with the rich," she said. "That is why I'll vote for the continuity with Lula, for his candidate Dilma (Rousseff). Even better that she's a woman."
Between 2003 and 2009, under Lula's watch, 29 million Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty into the middle class, which now accounts for more than half the national population.
Much of the credit goes to the Bolsa Familia, though other government programs and subsidies have also been created, including a children's sporting stadium in Rocinha and scholarships allowing slum residents to get into university.
"Fewer children and youths loiter in the streets. Now they have a different choice in life than wearing gold chain necklaces, carrying a gun or dying early," Adalgiza da Silva said, making allusion to the drug-gang careers rife in the slums.
A neighbor, Luiz Alberto, has 10 children, five of whom still live with him. In exchange for the Bolsa Familia hand-out he receives, he has to ensure they are vaccinated and go to school. He, too, will vote for Rousseff. "I am going to vote for that lady who will continue Lula's work," said the 40-year-old trash collector, who can't remember Rousseff's name.
10) Venezuela: This was about the taking part.
The Venezuela election was not a major blow to Hugo Chávez. It shows politics is working properly again
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, Monday 27 September 2010 22.00 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/sep/27/venezuela-election-opposition-politics
Today's election for 165 representatives in Venezuela's national assembly is significant but unlikely to bring about major change, despite the opposition having done better than expected. On the latest count the pro-government United Socialist party has 94 seats, with 60 for the opposition Democratic Unity, five for other parties and the rest undecided. The opposition claims it won a majority of the popular vote, but apparently it was very close between the two main parties.
As expected, most of the international press and its sources hailed the results as a "major blow" to Hugo Chávez, paving the way for his possible removal in the presidential election in 2012. But this is exaggerated.
The vote was widely seen as a referendum on Chávez, and it would be an anomaly in electoral politics if the government did not lose support after a recession last year that continued into the first quarter of this year. Chávez's popularity has always reflected the economy, reaching a low during the recession of 2002-03 - regardless of the fact that it was caused by an opposition oil strike. His approval rating has fallen from 60% in early 2009 to 46% last month.
For comparison President Obama's approval rating has fallen from 68% last April to 45% this month, and his party is expected to take big losses in the congressional elections. This is despite him having clearly inherited economic problems from his predecessor.
In reality it is unlikely to make much difference. The pace at which it adopts reforms has been limited more by administrative capacity than by politics. The Financial Times recently added up the value of industries nationalised by the Chávez government. Outside oil, it came to less than 8% of GDP over the last five years. Venezuela still has a long way to go before the state has as much a role in the economy as it does in, for instance, France.
On the positive side, the most interesting result of this election is that the opposition participated, has accepted the results, and now has a bloc of representatives that can participate in a parliamentary democracy.
This could be an advance for Venezuelan democracy, which has been undermined by an anti-democratic opposition for more than a decade. As opposition leader Teodoro Petkoff has noted, the opposition pursued a strategy of "military takeover" for the first four years, which included a military coup and a devastating oil strike that crippled the economy. In 2004 the opposition tried to remove Chávez through a referendum; they failed, and then promptly refused to recognise the result - despite its certification by international observers such as the Carter Center and the Organisation of American States.
They then boycotted the last election in 2005, hoping to portray the government as a "dictatorship" and leaving them without representation. This newly elected bloc could potentially draw the opposition into real political participation. If that happens, it would be a significant advance for a country that has been too polarised for too long.
11) Jamaica can't take all the rap for its poor performance on millennium development goals.
Past IMF policies forced on Jamaica have had a devastating effect on its economy and capacity to make progress
Jonathan Glennie, Guardian, Tuesday 28 September 2010 12.48 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2010/sep/28/millennium-development-goals-jamaica-imf
There are plenty of good news stories on the millennium development goals (MDGs) but there are also some poor performers. One of them appears to be Jamaica. According to the Overseas Development Institute's MDG Report Card, improvements in most of Jamaica's human development statistics have been unimpressive over the past decade or so, with declines in key areas. Jamaica recorded the largest decline in the world in detection and treatment of tuberculosis, down from 79% (1997) to 41% (2006). The proportion of people suffering from Aids is up, although so is access to retrovirals (the only really significant improvement I can see in the data).
Incredibly, it appears that primary school enrolment, which was at 97% in 1991, has fallen to 87%. And while child mortality and malnutrition are marginally down, as are births unattended by a professional, antenatal care coverage is down from 99% to 91%.
I went to see a very good film last week, hosted by the brilliant Tipping Point Film Fund. It was a 10-year- old film recently re-released, called Life and Debt, and it showed the impact of IMF policies forced on Jamaica as "conditionalities" attached to the aid loans it gave in the 1980s and 1990s. It revealed how Jamaica's key agriculture sectors - bananas, dairy, potatoes and other root veg - were destroyed by opening them up to competition with heavily subsidised US products and the cheap labour markets of Latin America. This led to increased unemployment and dependency on other countries for basic foods.
Jamaica is one of the world's most indebted countries, with interest payments on debts up to 40% of GDP, but it is too "rich" to be considered for debt relief. In such desperate straits, Jamaica had to go to the IMF this year. Jamaica borrowed a further $1.3bn from the IMF in February. Doing so will also have freed up hundreds of millions of dollars from other multilateral donors who depend on IMF say-so before going ahead with aid.
Today, food prices are predictably high, not helped by the IMF-inspired decision to impose VAT on almost everything, including even for hard dough bread, a staple for Jamaica's poor. Another Jamaican favourite, banana chips, are now made with imported bananas.
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