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JFP 11/22: UN Admits May Have Brought Cholera to Haiti, Says Will Investigate
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 22 November 2010 - 5:37pm
Just Foreign Policy News
November 22, 2010
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UN Troops in Haiti - Timetable for Withdrawal?
Last week, protesters in Haiti demanded that UN troops leave the country. How long does the UN plan to keep troops in Haiti? Would it not be appropriate to announce a timetable according to which security responsibilities will be transferred to Haitian authorities and UN troops will leave?
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1) After previously dismissing evidence that its troops brought cholera to Haiti, the UN now admits that they might have and says it will fully investigate, reports Jonathan Katz for AP. U.N. envoy Edmond Mulet now says Dr. Paul Farmer, who called for an aggressive investigation, was right all along. "We agree with him there has to be a thorough investigation of how it came, how it happened and how it spread," Mulet told AP. "If the U.N. had said from the beginning, 'We're going to look into this' ... I think that, in fact, would have been the best way in reducing public anger," said Brian Concannon of IJDH. "The way to contribute to public anger is to lie."
2) US war planners have been signaling that troop withdrawals set to begin in 2011 will be mostly symbolic and that the handover to Afghan forces in 2014 is "aspirational," the Christian Science Monitor reports. Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimates the increased cost of a slower drawdown at $125 billion through 2014. Pentagon estimates for supplemental budget requests for Afghanistan and Iraq currently contain low placeholders of $50 billion annually starting in 2012. The request for 2011 is $159 billion. But early next year, the Pentagon will have to give real numbers for 2012, when they are likely to triple the "placeholder" estimate, if there is no significant drawdown in 2011.
3) Barney Frank and Ron Paul's call for cuts to the military budget are gaining traction, the Boston Globe reports. "If you want to be serious about cutting the federal budget, we have to look at the Pentagon budget," said Justin Amash, a newly elected libertarian-leaning Republican House member from Michigan. Frank and Paul's Sustainable Defense Task Force identified about $1 trillion in military cuts over the next decade, including a a 26 percent reduction in personnel at US military bases in Europe and Asia. A draft recommendation from the cochairmen of the President's deficit commission called for reducing the number of US service members in Europe and Asia by a third, the Monitor notes. The Frank-Paul task force suggested curbing the planned modernization of the US nuclear arsenal, but the Obama administration is reportedly planning to add $4 billion to such efforts to gain the support of Senator Kyl for the START treaty.
4) Obama has committed to beginning the first troop withdrawals from Afghanistan in July, but the reduction may be small, the Los Angeles Times reports. The administration has sought to publicize the 2014 date in part to diminish the public focus on next year's withdrawals, the LAT says. While US officials have said US combat forces could remain in Afghanistan after 2014, William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, told the British news agency Press Assn. that 2014 was "an absolute commitment and deadline for us," promising that the British combat role would be over by then.
5) The difference between the candidates in Okinawa's Nov. 28 gubernatorial race over plans to relocate a US military base is how strongly they oppose it, the Washington Post reports. The Okinawan governor has the right under Japanese law to approve or disapprove pending construction plans. According to a recent poll, 84 percent of Okinawans oppose the current plan for Futenma. If the new governor blocks construction of the new facility, Tokyo could resort to strong-arm tactics, changing the law that gives governors the right to approve land reclamation projects, the Post says. But a former Okinawa governor says that would be a dangerous course. "If the Japanese government insists on building . . . something awful could happen to the local people, because they will not allow it. They are so determined not to have the bases."
6) The pain being inflicted on Ireland by the ECB/IMF is completely unnecessary, writes Dean Baker in the Guardian. If the ECB made loans available to Ireland at low interest rates, Ireland would have no serious budget problem. Ireland has options, Baker notes. they could drop out of the euro and default on their debt. That's essentially what Argentina did, and the result was five and a half years of solid economic growth.
7) Groups in Guam have sued the U.S. military, alleging it violated federal environmental and historic preservation laws by choosing an ancient village as the site of a new live firing range, AP reports. The Guam Historic Preservation Trust and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are parties to the suit.
8) Refugees in Kabul from Helmand have a bleak assessment of U.S. "progress"in their home province, the Washington Post reports. They blame insecurity on the presence of U.S. and British troops, and say it isn't safe to go home.
9) The US has renewed pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country to include the city of Quetta, the Washington Post reports. Pakistan has rejected the request. Pakistani officials stressed that Quetta is a densely populated city where an errant strike is more likely to kill innocent civilians, potentially provoking a backlash.
10) Two Israeli soldiers received suspended sentences and demotions on Sunday for using a Palestinian child as a human shield by making him check for bombs during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, AFP reports. Gerard Horton, a spokesman in the West Bank for Defense for Children International, described the sentence as "unbelievable." DCI said it had documented 15 breaches of the Israeli High Court's October 2005 ban on using civilians as human shields, and this was the only case that had resulted in prosecution.
11) Six Honduran farmers were killed last week by security forces employed by the biofuel company Dinant, writes Annie Bird of Rights Action. Dinant received a $30 million loan for biofuel production from the World Bank in November 2009, Bird notes.
1) UN worries its troops caused cholera in Haiti
Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press, Friday, November 19, 2010; 11:49 PM
Port-au-Prince, Haiti - It began as a rumor that farmers saw waste from a U.N. peacekeeping base flow into a river. Within days of the talk, hundreds downstream had died from cholera.
The mounting circumstantial evidence that U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal brought cholera to Haiti was largely dismissed by U.N. officials. Haitians who asked about it were called political or paranoid. Foreigners were accused of playing "the blame game." The World Health Organization said the question was simply "not a priority."
But this week, after anti-U.N. riots and inquiries from health experts, the top U.N. representative in Haiti said he is taking the allegations very seriously. "It is very important to know if it came from (the Nepalese base) or not, and someday I hope we will find out," U.N. envoy Edmond Mulet told The Associated Press. The answer would have implications for U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world, he said.
It would affect the relationship between the U.N. and Haiti: If its peacekeepers misled, it could lose credibility for tasks such as helping oversee next week's election. It could affect the job of U.N. humanitarian workers, who work separately from the peacekeepers.
It would help answer scientific questions: Is the source still out there? How does this cholera strain spread? Does it pose a threat to the region, including the southern United States?
When riots broke out across northern Haiti this week, the U.N. blamed them on politicians trying to disrupt the upcoming vote. But observers say the U.N.'s early stance fanned the flames.
"If the U.N. had said from the beginning, 'We're going to look into this' ... I think that, in fact, would have been the best way in reducing public anger," said Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. "The way to contribute to public anger is to lie."
Before last month, there had never been a confirmed case of cholera in Haiti. In March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said cholera was "extremely unlikely to occur" in Haiti. There were no cholera bacteria there. Most foreigners were relief workers with good sanitation who come from countries where cholera is not an issue.
Then it did happen. There are now more than 1,100 dead; experts say hundreds of thousands will fall ill as the disease haunts Haiti for years.
Even more surprisingly, it did not first appear in a major port, an earthquake tent camp or an area where foreigners are concentrated, but instead along the rural Artibonite River. Speculation keeps returning to that river and a base home to 454 U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal. They are perched on a babbling waterway called the Boukan Kanni, part of the Meille River that feeds into the Artibonite.
People living nearby have long complained about the stink in the back of the base and sewage in the river. Before the outbreak began they had stopped drinking from that section of the river, depending instead on a source farther up the mountain. The latest Nepalese deployment came in October, after a summer of cholera outbreaks in Nepal. The changeover at the base, which guards the area south of the central plateau town of Mirebalais, was done in three shifts on Oct. 9, 12 and 16.
The U.N. says none of the peacekeepers showed symptoms of the disease. But 75 percent of people infected with cholera never show symptoms but can still pass on the disease for two weeks - especially in countries like Nepal where people have developed immunity.
The CDC has said the strain of cholera in Haiti matches one found most prevalently in South Asia. "It very much likely did come either with peacekeepers or other relief personnel," said John Mekalanos, Harvard University microbiology chair. "I don't see there is any way to avoid the conclusion that an unfortunate and presumably accidental introduction of the organism occurred."
On Oct. 26, U.N. spokesman Vincenzo Pugliese put out a short statement saying that the base's septic tanks are built to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, that the waste is dumped 820 feet (250 meters) from the river, and that the U.N. unit for environmental compliance periodically checks waste management. Sanitation at the base is handled by a private company, Sanco Enterprises SA, which won the contract over the summer by underbidding a rival. The U.N. said the septic tanks were to be emptied once a week.
But when the AP visited on Oct. 27, a tank was clearly overflowing. The back of the base smelled like a toilet had exploded. Reeking, dark liquid flowed out of a broken pipe, toward the river, from next to what the soldiers said were latrines. U.N. military police were taking samples in clear jars with sky-blue U.N. lids, clearly horrified. At the shovel-dug waste pits across the street sat yellow-brown pools of feces where ducks and pigs swam in the overflow. The path to the river ran straight downhill.
The U.N. acknowledged the black fluid was overflow from the base, but said it contained kitchen and shower waste, not excrement.
Following protests at the base days later, the U.N. opened the compound to the AP. The Nepalese soldiers acknowledged, after repeated questions and revised statements, that the base had undergone an extensive clean-up and that they had replaced the broken pipe. Aboveground pipes from uphill latrines ran over a drainage canal to the river. The U.N. spokesman acknowledged what looked like human waste at the bottom.
The U.N. is now reviewing all sanitation systems at its military, police and civilian installations, officials told the AP this week.
The U.N. said none of the Nepalese soldiers had shown signs of cholera, which some news outlets misreported as saying the soldiers had specifically tested negative for it. Pugliese confirmed on Oct. 30 that they had not been tested for the disease.
Some Haitians see the peacekeepers as the only hope for security in a nation where towns are ruled by drug lords and coups d'etat are more common than elections. Others resent heavily armed foreign armies on their soil and see the soldiers as a threat to national sovereignty and pride. The peacekeepers have saved lives in floods and defeated kidnapping gangs. They have also killed people in protests and accidents and had an entire unit dismissed for paying for sex, many with underage Haitian girls.
Earlier this month, Dr. Paul Farmer, who founded the medical aid group Partners in Health and is U.N. deputy special envoy for Haiti, called for an aggressive investigation into the source of the cholera, saying the refusal to look into the matter publicly was "politics to me, not science."
But Mulet now says Farmer was right all along, and that he is consulting with experts, including a French epidemiologist who met with him this week to discuss how to investigate the Nepalese base. "We agree with him there has to be a thorough investigation of how it came, how it happened and how it spread. ... There's no differences there with Dr. Paul Farmer at all."
As recently as Nov. 10, the mission's spokesman told Haitian reporters that the U.N. was not undertaking any other investigations because the concerns were not "well-founded." The head of the mission said that is not the case today.
2) New Afghan war plans could cost US taxpayers an extra $125 billion
At the NATO summit, President Obama's push to soften troop withdrawal deadlines could bring remaining war costs to $413 billion, according to one independent analyst.
Ben Arnoldy, Christian Science Monitor, November 19, 2010 http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2010/1119/New-Afghan-war-plans-could-cost-US-taxpayers-an-extra-125-billion
New Delhi - As leaders at the NATO summit in Lisbon meet this weekend to discuss strategy in Afghanistan, US war planners have been signaling that troop withdrawals set to begin in 2011 will be mostly symbolic and that the handover to Afghan forces in 2014 is "aspirational."
Such could cost American taxpayers handsomely at a time when deficit cutting has gripped Washington. According to one estimate, softening those deadlines could add at least $125 billion in war spending - not including long-term costs like debt servicing and health care for veterans.
Currently there are some 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan, which includes the 30,000 troop surge announced by President Obama in December 2009. At that time, the president also said the US would "begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011."
Such was interpreted by many Americans and Afghans to be a significant withdrawal in 2011. In recent months, with the situation in Afghanistan showing few signs of stabilizing, US officials have focused more on 2014 as the date for withdrawal.
Speaking at the NATO summit in Lisbon today, Mr. Obama described the timeline as "a transition to Afghan responsibility beginning in 2011 with Afghan forces taking the lead for security across Afghanistan by 2014."
But the Pentagon on Thursday said the goal of handing over security duties to the Afghans in 2014 was "aspirational."
"Although the hope is, the goal is, to have Afghan security forces in the lead over the preponderance of the country by then, it does not necessarily mean that ... everywhere in the country they will necessarily be in the lead," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.
So how much extra would it cost if the bulk of the withdrawal starts rather than finishes around 2014? About $125 billion, says [Todd] Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, and that's just through 2014. He uses two different troop level scenarios - one high, and one low. He calculates costs based $1.1 million per soldier per year, which reflects the five-year average in Afghanistan.
The lower cost - $288 billion - assumes that the troops involved in Obama's surge would be withdrawn by 2012, and that by the end of 2014 only 30,000 US troops would remain. The higher cost - $413 billion - assumes no drawdown will happen until 2013, and 70,000 US troops would remain by the end of 2014. The difference: $125 billion.
Another defense analyst, Anthony Cordesman with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has a slightly higher estimate at $441 billion. That jumps to $476.5 billion by including State Department expenses and immediate medical costs for veterans.
But he says nothing can be read into the talk about 2014. "The nice thing about 2014 politically is that by then you've either won, in which case the deadline doesn't really matter anymore … or if you haven't succeeded you are out any way," Dr. Cordesman says.
For its part, the Defense Department has not tipped its hand to the bean counters. Pentagon estimates for supplemental budget requests for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) - Afghanistan and Iraq - contain low placeholders of $50 billion annually starting in 2012. The request for 2011 is $159 billion.
But others say war spending will heat up as a topic in deficit-conscious Washington - particularly when the Pentagon has to put forth real numbers early next year rather than placeholders for 2012 war spending. "When that happens in a Congress where they are counting every penny - or I guess every billion - to suddenly show up and say we kind of misestimated this, it's going to be triple what we said, that's going to be embarrassing to say," says Charles Knight, co-director Project on Defense Alternatives.
3) An alliance of opposites takes on Pentagon
Frank, Ron Paul make a case for cuts in the defense budget
Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, November 21, 2010
Washington - Earlier this year, Representatives Barney Frank, the unabashedly liberal Democrat from Newton, and Ron Paul, an outspoken libertarian Republican from Texas, formed an unlikely alliance aimed at slashing the defense budget to trim the deficit.
Initially, their proposed 16 percent cut over a decade got a cold reception on Capitol Hill, where many Democrats and even the most fiscally conservative Republicans view the Pentagon budget as basically off-limits. But now, with talk of deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and as a Tea Party-infused strain of the Republican party grows more powerful, their views are gaining traction.
A growing number of Republicans are saying that Pentagon cuts should be considered. And earlier this month, the White House debt commission issued draft recommendations that contained some ideas from a study commissioned by Frank and Paul, including dramatic reductions in the size of US military bases in Europe and canceling some big-ticket weapons systems.
Many Republicans have traditionally demanded that military spending - which accounts for about 23 percent of the federal budget [about half of discretionary spending - JFP] - be off-limits even as the deficit grew. But the alliance between Frank and Paul, the father of Rand Paul, a Tea Party flag-bearer who was just elected senator from Kentucky, comes at a time when some newly elected Republicans view soaring military spending as part of the deficit problem.
"If you want to be serious about cutting the federal budget, we have to look at the Pentagon budget," said Justin Amash, a newly elected libertarian-leaning Republican House member from Michigan who said he admires Ron Paul and met with him Tuesday.
Phil Kerpen, a vice president at Americans for Prosperity, an organization that promotes free market policies that has worked with Tea Party groups around the country, said that he believes new members elected on a wave of sentiment against big government will be more skeptical of the military's budget, which has climbed steadily since 1998 and has nearly doubled since 2000, to $675 billion this year.
Rand Paul is among the newly elected Republicans who say cuts to the Pentagon's budget should be considered. Although he is not as outspoken as his father on the matter, the senator-elect has called for an end to "nation-building" and downsizing the US military's responsibilities in Europe, East Asia, and Afghanistan.
"National defense is the most important thing we do in Washington, but there's still waste in the military budget," Rand Paul told ABC's "This Week" earlier this month. "You have to make it smaller. But you also then need to address how many wars are we going to be involved in? Are we going to be involved in every war all the time?"
These sentiments have alarmed some veterans in Congress on both sides of the aisle, who fear a budding coalition between the far right and the far left aimed at curtailing US military power around the world.
To offer specifics on how defense spending can be trimmed, Frank and Paul set up what they called the Sustainable Defense Task Force, a group of specialists led by the Project on Defense Alternatives, a Cambridge, Mass.-based think tank focused on reducing military spending.
The task force released a report in June that identified about $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade out of a projected $6 trillion in spending during that period. It called for cutting expensive weapons systems with a history of problems, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and the Osprey aircraft, and for a 26 percent reduction in personnel at US military bases in Europe and Asia.
"If England and Germany feel threatened, they can increase their own militaries," said Frank, who noted that both European allies are cutting their own defense budgets.
Frank and Ron Paul also circulated a letter to the White House debt commission urging it to consider military cuts. Of 57 lawmakers who signed, Ron Paul was the only Republican.
But since then, others have shown more interest.
Senator Tom Coburn, a conservative Oklahoma Republican who sits on the debt commission, has proposed freezing military spending until the Pentagon is audited. A draft recommendation from the cochairmen of the commission called for reducing the number of US service members in Europe and Asia by a third, and axing expensive weapons systems singled out by the Frank-Paul task force.
But some of their recommendations were dead on arrival. For instance, the task force suggested curbing the planned modernization of the US nuclear arsenal, but the Obama administration is reportedly planning to add $4 billion to such efforts in an attempt to gain the support of Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican who advocates boosting the nuclear arsenal, for a key arms treaty with Russia.
4) NATO Sets 2014 Target For Afghan Pullout
As NATO allies agree to start transferring security duties to Afghan forces next year, Obama says it's a goal, not a commitment, leaving room for the U.S. to keep combat troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 if necessary.
Christi Parsons and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2010
Lisbon/Washington - A NATO summit originally intended to allow members to signal an exit date for the unpopular 9-year-old war in Afghanistan instead concluded Saturday with an agreement leaving open the possibility that allied forces will remain in the unstable country for years to come.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders gathered in Lisbon signed an agreement with the Afghan government to transfer primary security responsibility from the alliance to Kabul by 2014, as NATO gradually shifts focus to training, advising and logistics.
But officials carefully hedged the timeline, in light of the uncertainties in the military effort and the training of Afghan security forces.
With the military buildup that has pushed the number of Western troops to about 150,000, this year has already been the bloodiest for allied troops in Afghanistan, with 654 deaths so far, 451 of them Americans, according to the icasualties.org website.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's secretary-general, said he did not "foresee [allied] troops in a combat role beyond 2014, provided of course that the security situation allows us to move into a more supportive role.... We have to make sure that we do not leave Afghanistan prematurely."
President Obama, speaking to reporters near the close of the two-day summit in the Portuguese capital, said his goal was to end combat "of the sort we're involved with now."
Yet "there may still be extensive cooperation with the Afghan armed services to consolidate the security environment," he said.
NATO country leaders had initially hoped they could use the summit to reassure their war-weary constituents that there was an end in sight to the conflict. But in recent months, the White House has decided that a longer transition would be required and that the alliance should keep its exit plans flexible.
Obama has committed to beginning the first withdrawals in July, but the reduction may be small. The administration has sought to publicize the 2014 date in part to diminish the public focus on next year's withdrawals.
Some European officials put a different emphasis on the plan. William Hague, Britain's foreign secretary, told the British news agency Press Assn. that 2014 was "an absolute commitment and deadline for us," promising that the British combat role would be over by then.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said German troops would be withdrawn by 2014 but that the nation would continue training Afghan troops and police officers.
Although several U.S. officials have said in recent days that U.S. forces could remain in a combat role after 2014, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters Saturday that he expects a small international troop presence after 2014 focused on training and advising Afghan troops. "Anything that remains after 2014 would be very modest and very much focused on the kind of training, advise and assist role," said Gates, who was in Chile.
5) Okinawa Election Likely To Hinder U.S. Base Plans
Japan governor race may strain U.S. alliance
Chico Harlan, Washington Post, Saturday, November 20, 2010; 8:02 PM
Naha, Japan - Disrupted last year and restored this summer, the cohesion in the U.S.-Japan alliance is now partly dependent on two local politicians who appear certain to cause headaches for Washington and Tokyo.
The two - Hirokazu Nakaima and Yoichi Iha - are locked in a tight gubernatorial race in Okinawa that has broad implications for the alliance. That is because the Okinawan governor has the right under Japanese law to approve - or not - pending construction plans for the controversial Futenma U.S. Marine air base, currently tucked next to schoolyards and houses in Okinawa's densely populated Ginowan City. Both Washington and Tokyo want to relocate Futenma to a northern part of Okinawa prefecture, calling it an essential deterrent to an ascendant China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Nakaima, on the campaign trail, promises to make relocation difficult; he wants Futenma removed from the prefecture. Iha promises to make it almost impossible. He wants Futenma removed from Japan.
The race, to be decided Nov. 28, has left officials on both sides of the alliance with a growing sense of helplessness, as the security interests of two central governments meet the opposition of a small, fed-up island. Okinawa has hosted U.S. troops since World War II, receiving massive subsidies from Tokyo to ease the burden, and residents have voiced anti-base sentiments for decades. In the past year or two, though, those sentiments have become near-universal here.
"While Okinawa didn't have one voice in the past, we have now become much more united," said Sueko Yamauchi, a local lawmaker. "A new base will simply not be accepted."
According to a recent poll, 84 percent of Okinawans oppose the current plan for Futenma. And in recent months, politicians have won races by playing to that majority. An anti-base candidate was elected mayor of Nago, near the proposed relocation site, in January. Others won municipal assembly elections this fall. An anti-base candidate will no doubt win the gubernatorial election, too, in part because the incumbent Nakaima - who in 2006 said he "didn't completely oppose" relocation - changed his views in line with the times.
Iha, 57, was previously mayor of Ginowan City. He appeals to union groups and idealists. For Nakaima, Futenma is the issue he is forced to confront. For Iha, Futenma is the issue he lives to confront. He views the Japan-U.S. security alliance as an anachronism and says he thinks Japan faces no direct military threat from China or North Korea. At a recent rally, held on a street corner during morning rush hour, Iha mounted a milk crate. "This is the election that either allows or does not allow the building of the base," he told passersby.
"It's time to reset the alliance," Iha elaborated in an interview at his campaign headquarters. "The Japan-U.S. relationship was put together as a product of the Cold War. The Cold War is over."
If Iha wins, bargaining will serve little purpose. His supporters believe the bases impair the local economy rather than help it. But if Iha blocks construction of the new facility, Tokyo's parliament could resort to strong-arm tactics, changing the law that gives local governors the right to approve land reclamation projects.
"But building the base at Henoko, I think it's impossible," said former Okinawa governor Masahide Ota. "If the Japanese government insists on building . . . something awful could happen to the local people, because they will not allow it. They are so determined not to have the bases."
6) Ireland should 'do an Argentina'
The Irish people expected to pay in austerity cuts for their banks' sins have another option. Reject the ECB and IMF, ditch the euro
Dean Baker, Guardian, Monday 22 November 2010
When a firefighter or medical team make a rescue, the person is usually better-off as a result. This is less clear when the rescuer is the European Central Bank (ECB) or the IMF.
Ireland is currently experiencing a 14.1% unemployment rate. As a result of bailout conditions that will require more cuts in government spending and tax increases, the unemployment rate is almost certain to go higher. The Irish people are likely to wonder what their economy would look like if they had not been rescued.
The pain being inflicted on Ireland by the ECB/IMF is completely unnecessary. If the ECB committed itself to make loans available to Ireland at low interest rates, a mechanism entirely within its power, then Ireland would have no serious budget problem. Its huge projected deficits stem primarily from the combination of high interest costs on its debt, and the result of operating at levels of economic output that are well below full employment - both outcomes that can be pinned largely on the ECB.
The other point that should be kept in mind is that even a relatively small country like Ireland has options. Specifically, they could drop out of the euro and default on their debt. This is hardly a first best option, but if the alternative is an indefinite stint of double-digit unemployment, then leaving the euro and default look much more attractive.
The ECB and the IMF will insist that this is the road to disaster, but their credibility on this point is near zero. There is an obvious precedent. Back in the 2001, the IMF was pushing Argentina to pursue ever more stringent austerity measures. Like Ireland, Argentina had also been a poster child of the neoliberal crew before it ran into difficulties.
But the IMF can turn quickly. Its austerity programme lowered GDP by almost 10% and pushed the unemployment rate well into the double digits. By the end of the 2001, it was politically impossible for the Argentine government to agree to more austerity. As a result, it broke the supposedly unbreakable link between its currency and the dollar and defaulted on its debt.
The immediate effect was to make the economy worse, but by the second half of 2002, the economy was again growing. This was the start of five and a half years of solid growth, until the world economic crisis eventually took its toll in 2009.
Ireland should study the lessons of Argentina. Breaking from the euro would have consequences, but it is becoming increasingly likely that the pain from the break is less than the pain of staying in. Furthermore, simply raising the issue is likely to make the ECB and IMF take a more moderate position.
7) Guam groups sue military over live firing range
Audrey McAvoy, Associated Press, Thursday, November 18, 2010; 7:54 PM
Honolulu - Groups and citizens in Guam have sued the U.S. military, alleging it violated federal environmental and historic preservation laws by choosing an ancient village as the site of a new live firing range.
The Navy, in a decision announced in September, said it wants to build the training site at one of two sites in Pagat village. The range would be used by Marines due to move to the U.S. territory from Okinawa, Japan.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Honolulu said the Navy failed to adequately consider alternative locations that would have less of an impact on the environment and historic sites. It further alleged the Navy failed to adequately examine the environmental consequences of its actions.
The Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, whose senior officials are named as defendants in the suit, said it was unable to comment on ongoing litigation.
The suit said archaeological studies date Pagat to A.D. 700, while traditional knowledge indicates the village was inhabited 3,000 years ago. The village has up to 20 sets of carved stone pedestals, called latte, upon which the indigenous Chamorro people set buildings.
The Guam Historic Preservation Trust, one of the plaintiffs, leads hiking tours at Pagat. The suit says members ask permission to enter the sacred place before each visit.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, another party in the suit, has put Pagat on its 2010 list of the most endangered historic places in the U.S. It cited the live firing range as the reason for the listing.
Other Guam groups and individuals, including those of Chamorro ancestry, have joined the suit as plaintiffs.
8) Refugees from Afghanistan's Helmand province disheartened at U.S. presence
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Monday, November 22, 2010; 12:45 AM
Kabul - For those who have escaped Afghanistan's worst violence, some things are hard to forget: the sight of a woman's hair entangled in the mulberry branches, her legs strewn far away in the dirt. Or the sounds they heard as they hid in an underground hole, counting the bombs to pass the time, praying the American troops would leave.
Some of those Afghans have tiptoed in the footsteps of neighbors to avoid the mines. They've been hit with shrapnel and tied with flex cuffs, threatened by the Taliban and frightened by the coalition, seen relatives shot and homes destroyed. And so they left Helmand province and made their way to this dirt lot on the outskirts of Kabul, where month by month the settlement expands with those who have come to wait out the war.
"In a situation like this," said Sayid Mohammad, a Helmand native who has spent the past year at the refugee camp, "how could I ever go home?"
As President Obama and his advisers assess the Afghan war, Helmand province, an arid and impoverished swath of southern Afghanistan, will be an important gauge of progress. Helmand is the place with the highest concentration of American troops, and the site of the first major operation under the new military strategy, when U.S. Marines in February retook the Taliban-held town of Marja. Coalition commander Gen. David H. Petraeus now points to parts of Helmand, such as Nawa, as examples of counterinsurgency success.
But the Helmand refugees living in this squalid camp, known as Charahi Qambar, offer a bleaker assessment. They blame insecurity on the presence of U.S. and British troops, and despite official claims of emerging stability, these Afghans believe their villages are still too dangerous to risk returning.
"Where is security? The Americans are just making life worse and worse, and they're destroying our country," said Barigul, a 22-year-old opium farmer from the Musa Qala district of Helmand who, like many Afghans, has only one name. "If they were building our country, why would I leave my home town and come here?"
Mohammad, a 36-year-old imam, said that during the Marine operation in Marja, his family hid in a hole, covered by boards, for 12 days as the Taliban fought Americans from house to house. This spring his mother-in-law's home in Marja was obliterated by an American bomb, he said, killing six of his relatives.
9) U.S. wants to widen area in Pakistan where it can operate drones
Greg Miller, Washington Post, Saturday, November 20, 2010; 12:25 AM
Islamabad - The United States has renewed pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country, reflecting concern that the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is being undermined by insurgents' continued ability to take sanctuary across the border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.
The U.S. appeal has focused on the area surrounding the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is thought to be based. But the request also seeks to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have been targeted in 101 attacks this year, the officials said.
Pakistan has rejected the request, officials said. Instead, the country has agreed to more modest measures, including an expanded CIA presence in Quetta, where the agency and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate have established teams seeking to locate and capture senior members of the Taliban.
The CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan has accelerated dramatically in recent months, with 47 attacks recorded since the beginning of September, according to The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks the strikes. By contrast, there were 45 strikes in the first five years of the drone program.
But Pakistan places strict boundaries on where CIA drones can fly. The unmanned aircraft may patrol designated flight "boxes" over the country's tribal belt but not other provinces, including Baluchistan, which encompasses Quetta.
Pakistani officials stressed that Quetta is a densely populated city where an errant strike is more likely to kill innocent civilians, potentially provoking a backlash. Unlike the semi-autonomous tribal territories, Baluchistan is considered a core part of Pakistan.
10) Israeli soldiers 'walk free' in Gaza human shield case
AFP - Monday, November 22
Jerusalem - Two Israeli soldiers received suspended sentences and demotions on Sunday for using a Palestinian child as a human shield by making him check for bombs during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, army radio said.
The radio's correspondent, who attended the sentencing in a military court, said the two were each given suspended terms of three months imprisonment and were demoted from the rank of staff sergeant to sergeant.
The military spokesman's office had no immediate comment on the sentencing of the two men, who were convicted on October 3 for forcing a nine-year-old boy to search bags believed to be booby-trapped during Israel's 22-day war on Gaza which erupted in December 2008.
Gerard Horton, a spokesman in the West Bank for Geneva-based rights group Defence for Children International (DCI), described the sentence as "unbelievable."
"Do the Israeli authorities think that a three-month suspended sentence is an appropriate punishment for two heavily-armed soldiers treating a nine-year-old boy as a human shield?"
Israel's Supreme Court banned the army from using human shields in October 2005. Since then, DCI had documented 15 breaches of that ban in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Horton said. "This is the only case out of those 15 where anyone has been prosecuted - and they get a three-month suspended sentence," he added.
During the trial, the boy, identified as Majd R, said he feared for his life as one of the soldiers ordered him at gunpoint to open a suspect bag. "I thought they would kill me. I became very scared and wet my pants," he said in an affidavit given to DCI.
11) World Bank-Funded Biofuel Corp Massacres Six Hondurans
Annie Bird, Rights Action, Monday, 22 November 2010
[Bird is co-director of Rights Action]
Approximately six months ago, campesino farmers in Trujillo, Colon organized in the Campesino Movement of the Aguan, the MCA, were awarded provisional title to a farm which neighbors their community, as part of a long standing negotiation with Dinant Corporation, a biofuel company, whose land claims are illegitimate.
Since that time, the small farmers worked the land. In recent weeks they had noticed incursions into their land by armed security forces employed by the biofuel company, Dinant.
On Monday, November 15, the farmers went to their fields but were then attacked by Dinant security. Six were killed in the massacre and two more are in critical condition.
The massacre occurred the same day that the de facto Honduran president Pepe Lobo had planned to meet with the director of the US government development fund, the Millennium Challenge, in Denver to ask for funding for so called "renewable energy" - in Honduras, principally biofuels and dams.
The "renewable energy" plan Lobo is shopping around may be the result of an Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) funded technical support grant (T-1101) to the de facto government ushered in after the June 28 military coup. In November 2009, under a coup government and amidst grave human rights violations, the World Bank's (WB) International Finance Corporation gave Dinant Corporation a $30 million loan for biofuel production, and now shares responsibility in the massacre.
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