Just Foreign Policy News
April 22, 2010
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Urge Congress to End the War in Afghanistan
Urge your representatives to support the Feingold-McGovern-Jones bill for a timetable for military withdrawal.
If we can get 100 co-sponsors in the House in the next few weeks, we may able to get on a vote on a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the supplemental.
New co-sponsors as of 4/22: Costello; Grayson.
Previous co-sponsors in the House: Capuano; Conyers; DeFazio; Delahunt; Duncan; Farr; Harman; Hirono; Johnson, Timothy; Jones, Walter; Kucinich; Lee, Barbara; Lujan, Ben Ray; Moran, James; Nadler; Pingree; Schrader; Serrano; Slaughter; Welch; Woolsey; Michaud; Filner; Oberstar; Moore, Gwen; Grijalva; Honda.
Current total: 29
Current co-sponsors in the Senate: none. [!]
Rethink Afghanistan: "Don’t Let Them Get Away With Murder"
Rethink Afghanistan interviews a survivor of the Feb. 12 Gardez US Special Forces night raid massacre and calls for a UN investigation.
1) NATO apologized for killing four unarmed Afghan civilians this week in Khost Province and acknowledged it had wrongly described two of the victims as "known insurgents," the New York Times reports. In some parts of the country, US and NATO convoys are already considered by Afghans to be as dangerous a threat as Taliban checkpoints and roadside bombs, the Times says. "People hate the international forces," said a tribal elder in Kandahar. "Their presence at the moment is too risky for ordinary people. They are killing people, and they don’t let people travel on the road."
2) Administration officials acknowledge that even what they call "crippling" sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Glenn Kessler reports in the Washington Post. That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable – diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies. "I think we are in for a long cold war with Iran. It will be containment and deterrence," said a former top State Department official. "Iran will muddle along building its stockpile but never making a nuclear bomb because it knows that crossing that line would provoke an immediate military attack."
3) Liberal Democrat leader Nicholas Clegg wants Britain to end its "slavish" devotion to Washington, the Washington Post reports. Analysts are openly entertaining the prospect of a Clegg victory, the Post says. Clegg has argued that Britain’s "special relationship" with the U.S. is outmoded, that Britain can no longer afford to be the world’s No. 2 policeman. He has called for the nation to consider reducing its nuclear deterrent and warned against "saber-rattling" on Iran. Though the leaders of Clegg’s party have harshly criticized the handling of the war in Afghanistan, they describe themselves as "critical supporters" of the effort and have not called for an immediate withdrawal, the Post says. [But a LibDem policy on Afghanistan could have a dramatic effect: "We should be encouraging a regional peace process working towards a ceasefire and ultimately a political and constitutional settlement within Afghanistan. A strategy of political reconciliation is now necessary," says the LibDem platform – JFP.]
4) A report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network says almost a quarter of the low-ranking Taleban commanders lured out of the insurgency in southern Afghanistan have rejoined the fight because of broken government promises and paltry rewards, Jerome Starkey reports in the Times of London. Nato claims there are up to 36,000 Taleban foot soldiers, most of them are fighting in southern Afghanistan. The Peace and Reconciliation Scheme claims to have reconciled just 646, less than 2 per cent, over five years. "Most of these commanders were inactive for six to 18 months, waiting for the PTS to deliver on its promises," the report says. "Once it became apparent that no support would be forthcoming they simply rejoined the fight." A report by the Afghan NGO Safety Office warns charity staff to prepare for Nato’s withdrawal by late 2011, and assesses that since "there is an awareness" that neither a "degraded armed opposition" nor "an improved government security force" can be achieved "in time," "strategies to create the perception of them are being pursued instead."
5) The World Bank and allied developing country elites have promoted the notion that corruption is a primary cause of poverty in poor countries, writes Walden Bello for Foreign Policy in Focus. This claim is convenient because it distracts attention from failed macroeconomic, trade, financial and investment policies, but the historical record does not bear it out. World Bank and Transparency International data show that the Philippines and China exhibit the same level of corruption, yet China grew by 10.3 percent per year between 1990 and 2000, while the Philippines grew by only 3.3 percent. Moreover, as a recent study by Shaomin Lee and Judy Wu shows, "China is not alone; there are other countries that have relatively high corruption and high growth rates."
6) Writing on the Huffington Post, Dan Froomkin challenges someone in Congress to "give a shit" about the cover-up by U.S. forces in Afghanistan after they massacred five innocent civilians, including three women, two of whom were pregnant in February.
7) The Obama administration wants to add $408 million to a global fund to boost food production in the developing world, the New York Times reports. But Bill Gates, whose foundation has contributed $30 million to the fund, says President Obama will have to fight if he wants Congress to approve the money. The fund was created as part of the $22 billion in pledges made at the G-8 meeting in Italy and finalized at the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh. Haiti will get some of the money; some two-thirds will go to African countries.
8) The House voted 419 to 0 on Wednesday to approve new benefits and financial support for the primary live-in caregivers of seriously wounded veterans who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reports. The measure would cost about $1.7 billion over five years. The bill now moves back to the Senate, which passed its own version 98 to 0.
9) Iran’s supreme leader declared that President Obama’s new nuclear strategy amounted to "atomic threats against Iranian people," and Iranian state television reported the military had begun a large exercise in the Persian Gulf, where the US and Israel have increased their presence in recent months, the New York Times reports. Obama adviser Gary Samore insisted that Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review did not amount to making a nuclear threat against Iran. The policy, Samore said, referred only to the use of nuclear weapons in the most extreme circumstances, which most experts believe means in retaliation for a strike against the US or its allies.
10) The National Front of Popular Resistance of Honduras is carrying out demonstrations all over the country to call for a Constituent Assembly, Inside Costa Rica reports. The Constitution, in force since 1982, has seven articles that cannot be amended, thus preventing changes to end poverty and inequality, ICR says. Last year’s coup prevented a referendum on the issue.
11) The Bolivian government presented a plan for how governments and social movements might work together to push for climate justice internationally, Robert Eshelman reports in the Huffington Post. President Morales proposed establishing an international climate justice court, reparations from rich countries to assist poor and low-lying nations that will be impacted by climate change, and financing of clean energy technologies.
1) NATO Apologizes For Killing Unarmed Afghans In Car
Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, April 21, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan – NATO apologized Wednesday for shooting to death four unarmed Afghan civilians this week in Khost Province and acknowledged that it had wrongly described two of the victims as "known insurgents."
The shootings on Monday evening were the latest occasion in which Afghan civilians had been killed by military convoys at NATO or American checkpoints, or in bungled Special Operations raids.
The spate of civilian deaths has infuriated Afghan leaders and undermined the West’s war plan just as it is about to enter its most crucial phase – a planned summer offensive in Kandahar.
NATO military officials said on Wednesday that they were rushing to deploy training teams across Afghanistan so troops could "implement critical lessons learned from previous incidents."
But in some parts of the country, American and NATO convoys are already considered by Afghans to be as dangerous a threat as Taliban checkpoints and roadside bombs, raising questions about whether the damage can be reversed to any real degree. "People hate the international forces," said Bakhtialy, a tribal elder in Kandahar who, like many Afghans, goes by one name. "Their presence at the moment is too risky for ordinary people. They are killing people, and they don’t let people travel on the road."
In the shooting on Monday, a NATO convoy opened fire on a Toyota carrying four men returning home about 6 p.m. in a rural district near the border with Pakistan. Local Afghan officials said the four men were civilians and included a police officer and a 12-year-old boy.
In the military’s initial account of the shooting, the vehicle accelerated toward the convoy and ignored warning shots, posing a threat to the troops. After the fact, the military said, troops used "biometric data" like fingerprints to identify two of the dead men as "known insurgents."
But on Wednesday the United States-led NATO military command in Kabul apologized for "this tragic loss of life" and said the biometric data "has not yet been determined to be relevant" to the killings.
2) On Iran, Containment May Be Only Option
Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Thursday, April 22, 2010; A08
After months of first attempting to engage Iran and then wooing Russia and China to support new sanctions against the Islamic republic, the Obama administration appears within reach of winning a modest tightening of U.N. measures targeting Tehran. But administration officials acknowledge that even what they call "crippling" sanctions could prove ineffective in keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
That stalemate, in the view of many analysts, means that a strategy of containing Iran is inevitable – diplomatic isolation backed by defense systems supplied to Persian Gulf allies. "I think we are in for a long cold war with Iran. It will be containment and deterrence," said Mark Fitzpatrick, a former top State Department official who is now a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "Iran will muddle along building its stockpile but never making a nuclear bomb because it knows that crossing that line would provoke an immediate military attack."
The administration appears to have all but eliminated the military option, with top officials repeatedly warning that a military attack would only delay, not eliminate, Tehran’s nuclear program – and would engender new anger at the United States in the region. Some experts are doubtful that Iran would openly declare it has a nuclear weapon, because that would remove the last shred of ambiguity about its program, which it insists is entirely peaceful.
Administration officials say that U.N. sanctions will be followed by tougher penalties approved by the European Union and then even stronger actions by individual countries in Europe and Asia. The moves would come on top of a sustained campaign by the Treasury Department and nongovernmental organizations to persuade banks, shipping businesses and international companies to stop doing business with Iran.
Although officials say the push for new sanctions stems from Iran’s failure to negotiate, they also say that it is intended to get the country to the negotiating table. "What we believe is that if the international community will unify and make this statement, maybe then we would get the Iranians’ attention in a way that would lead to the kind of good-faith negotiations that President Obama called for 15 months ago," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Financial Times last week.
Clinton acknowledged uncertainty about whether this strategy would succeed: "Can I sit here and tell you exactly what will happen, assuming we are able to get the kind of sanctions that we are looking for? No. . . [We are] trying to work toward some better outcome among some really difficult and not very satisfying choices."
Juan Zarate, a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration, said the Obama administration runs a risk if it is suggesting sanctions could change Iranian behavior. "By talking about it in maximalist terms, you are setting yourself up for failure," he said.
[…] Shahram Chubin, director of research at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said the accumulation of sanctions is "exacting a price on the Iranians, but it is not going to change its policies." Iran may make what he called "tactical overtures" – such as indicating renewed interest in a proposed swap of nuclear material desperately needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran. But such overtures would not indicate a shift in its intention to acquire nuclear expertise, he said.
Chubin said the United States and its allies are gambling on the unexpected occurring. "We are trying to buy time so something can happen. But what could that something be?" he said. "One should do as much as you can do to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But at the end of the day, this may well be the case that whatever you do makes it worse."
3) Britain’s Nicholas Clegg outpacing Brown, Cameron with a stark message of change
Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, Thursday, April 22, 2010; A09
London – The man of the hour in Britain’s hottest prime minister’s race in decades is tall and baby-faced, a self-proclaimed atheist who wants the nation to end its "slavish" devotion to Washington and consider trading in the revered British pound for the euro. Almost overnight, he has injected an ingredient into the race that has the British establishment quaking: the Clegg Factor. That man is Nicholas Clegg.
In a country with a legacy of two dominant parties – Labor and the Conservatives – Clegg’s stunning surge since Britain’s first-ever televised prime minister debates last week has given his typically third-place Liberal Democrats the lead in at least two major polls. Only two weeks ahead of the May 6 elections, Clegg’s rise is upending a nation known for the traditional political machines of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. His against-the-odds message of change is energizing young voters and has the British press comparing him to President Obama.
For the first time, analysts are openly entertaining the prospect of a Clegg victory, or at least an outcome so close that it leads to Britain’s first hung Parliament since the 1970s. Investors are so worried about a fragile, paralyzed government emerging in deeply indebted Britain that the pound fell on global markets last week after Clegg won the debates.
Clegg has argued that Britain’s "special relationship" with the United States is outmoded, that Britain can no longer afford to be the world’s No. 2 policeman. He has called for the nation to consider reducing its nuclear deterrent and warned against "saber-rattling" on Iran.
"If you’re the U.S. administration, you might be a bit worried at the moment because you haven’t had enough lunches with the Liberal Democrats, and you might want to be inviting Nick Clegg over to the embassy for dinner right about now," said John Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde. "You also might be a bit worried about whether he will continue to follow the American line."
Though the leaders of Clegg’s party have harshly criticized the handling of the war in Afghanistan, where Britain maintains the highest number of troops after the United States, they describe themselves as "critical supporters" of the effort and have not called for an immediate withdrawal.
In a speech Tuesday, Clegg bluntly called Britain’s "linchpin" relationship with the United States a Cold War relic and said the invasion of Iraq was "illegal." He praised Obama, and his more internationalist stance, but maintained that both nations should rethink their priorities. "I think it’s sometimes rather embarrassing the way Conservative and Labor politicians talk in this kind of slavish way about the special relationship," Clegg said. "If you speak to hard-nosed folk in Washington, they think it’s a good relationship but it’s not the special relationship." He later added, "They are moving on, why on earth don’t we?"
4) Taliban Defectors ‘Are Rejoining Insurgency’
Jerome Starkey, Times of London, April 22, 2010
Kabul – Almost a quarter of the low-ranking Taleban commanders lured out of the insurgency in southern Afghanistan have rejoined the fight because of broken government promises and paltry rewards, a scathing report on reintegration claims.
Nato plans to spend more than $1 billion over the next five years tempting Taleban foot soldiers to lay down their arms. But research by a Kabul-based thinktank warns that those efforts could make matters worse by swelling the ranks of the insurgency, exacerbating village level feuds and fuelling government corruption.
The report, titled Golden Surrender, by the independent Afghanistan Analysts Network, is highly critical of the British-backed Peace and Reconciliation Scheme (PTS), established in 2005, which it says has been left to flounder under bad leadership with neither the political nor the financial capital it required.
[…] Nato claims there are up to 36,000 Taleban foot soldiers, most of them are fighting in southern Afghanistan. The PTS claims to have reconciled just 646, less than 2 per cent, over five years, including 33 commanders. "Several of these have reportedly rejoined the insurgency, including a number of low to mid-level commanders who are currently active in Helmand…Uruzgan and Kandahar," the report says.
[…] "Most of these commanders were inactive for six to 18 months, waiting for the PTS to deliver on its promises," the report says. "Once it became apparent that no support would be forthcoming they simply rejoined the fight."
The Times was unable to corroborate the report’s findings, partly because Taleban commanders change their names every few months and the eight men referred to are not well known.
But officials in southern Afghanistan said it was known that fighters had reconciled and then reverted to the insurgency in the past. "During my tenure as governor, two or three times the Taleban came through PTS and then went back to the Government," the former governor of Uruzgan province, Engineer Assadullah Hamdam, told The Times.
Fighters are rarely motivated by money alone, the report says, but a complex mix including status, grievances with the Government, anger at civilian casualties and long-held personal enmities.
[…] Major General Richard Barrons, who heads Nato’s reintegration taskforce, told The Times last month that Nato would back community defence initiatives, which critics have branded militias, to protect communities who swap sides. "Until we have grown the police we need a mechanism that delivers security, without fixing all the force that we have now," he said. "It’s very likely that the Local Defence Initiative will be part of the reintegration solution."
A report by the Afghan NGO Safety Office, which provides independent security advice to charities across Afghanistan, warned that the first such scheme in eastern Afghanistan "not only devastated those areas with inter-tribal conflict but also appears to have ignited a power struggle within [a] neighbouring… district as tribal leaders there vie for a similar deal".
The bleak quarterly assessment warns charity staff to prepare for Nato’s withdrawal by late 2011. "We note that International military forces have made their withdrawal contingent on being able to demonstrate two key… conditions: a degraded armed opposition and an improved government security force," it states. "We assess, perhaps cynically, that there is an awareness neither of these conditions can be genuinely extant in time and so strategies to create the perception of them are being pursued instead."
5) Does Corruption Create Poverty?
Walden Bello, Foreign Policy in Focus, April 21, 2010
The issue of corruption resonates in developing countries. In the Philippines, for instance, the slogan of the coalition that is likely to win the 2010 presidential elections is "Without corrupt officials, there are no poor people." Not surprisingly, the international financial institutions have weighed in. The World Bank has made "good governance" a major thrust of its work, asserting that the "World Bank Group focus on governance and anticorruption (GAC) follows from its mandate to reduce poverty – a capable and accountable state creates opportunities for poor people, provides better services, and improves development outcomes."
Because it erodes trust in government, corruption must certainly be condemned and corrupt officials resolutely prosecuted. Corruption also weakens the moral bonds of civil society on which democratic practices and processes rest. But although research suggests it has some bearing on the spread of poverty, corruption is not the principal cause of poverty and economic stagnation, popular opinion notwithstanding.
World Bank and Transparency International data show that the Philippines and China exhibit the same level of corruption, yet China grew by 10.3 percent per year between 1990 and 2000, while the Philippines grew by only 3.3 percent. Moreover, as a recent study by Shaomin Lee and Judy Wu shows, "China is not alone; there are other countries that have relatively high corruption and high growth rates."
The "corruption-causes-poverty narrative" has become so hegemonic that it has often marginalized policy issues from political discourse. This narrative appeals to the elite and middle class, which dominate the shaping of public opinion. It’s also a safe language of political competition among politicians. Political leaders can deploy accusations of corruption against one another for electoral effect without resorting to the destabilizing discourse of class.
Yet this narrative of corruption has increasingly less appeal for the poorer classes. Despite the corruption that marked his reign, Joseph Estrada is running a respectable third in the presidential contest in the Philippines, with solid support among many urban poor communities. But it is perhaps in Thailand where lower classes have most decisively rejected the corruption discourse, which the elites and Bangkok-based middle class deployed to oust Thaksin Shinawatra from the premiership in 2006.
While in power, Thaksin brazenly used his office to enlarge his corporate empire. But the rural masses and urban lower classes – the base of the so-called "Red Shirts" – have ignored this corruption and are fighting to restore his coalition to power. They remember the Thaksin period from 2001 to 2006 as a golden time. Thailand recovered from the Asian financial crisis after Thaksin kicked out the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Thai leader promoted expansionary policies with a redistributive dimension, such as cheap universal health care, a one-million-baht development fund for each town, and a moratorium on farmers’ servicing of their debt. These policies made a difference in their lives.
Thaksin’s Red Shirts are probably right in their implicit assessment that pro-people policies are more decisive than corruption when it comes to addressing poverty. Indeed, in Thailand and elsewhere, clean-cut technocrats have probably been responsible for greater poverty than the most corrupt politicians. The corruption-causes-poverty discourse is no doubt popular with elites and international financial institutions because it serves as a smokescreen for the structural causes of poverty, and stagnation and wrong policy choices of the more transparent technocrats.
The case of the Philippines since 1986 illustrates the greater explanatory power of the "wrong-policy narrative" than the corruption narrative. According to an ahistorical narrative, massive corruption suffocated the promise of the post-Marcos democratic republic. In contrast, the wrong-policy narrative locates the key causes of Philippine underdevelopment and poverty in historical events and developments.
The complex of policies that pushed the Philippines into the economic quagmire over the last 30 years can be summed up by a formidable term: structural adjustment. Also known as neoliberal restructuring, it involves prioritizing debt repayment, conservative macroeconomic management, huge cutbacks in government spending, trade and financial liberalization, privatization and deregulation, and export-oriented production. Structural adjustment came to the Philippines courtesy of the World Bank, the IMF, and the World Trade Organization (WTO), but local technocrats and economists internalized and disseminated the doctrine.
Corazon Aquino was personally honest – indeed the epitome of non-corruption – and her contribution to the reestablishment of democracy was indispensable. But her acceptance of the IMF’s demand to prioritize debt repayment over development brought about a decade of stagnation and continuing poverty. Interest payments as a percentage of total government expenditures went from 7 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1994. Capital expenditures, on the other hand, plunged from 26 percent to 16 percent. Since government is the biggest investor in the Philippines – indeed in any economy – the radical stripping away of capital expenditures helps explain the stagnant 1 percent average yearly growth in gross domestic product in the 1980s, and the 2.3 percent rate in the first half of the 1990s.
In contrast, the Philippines’ Southeast Asian neighbors ignored the IMF’s prescriptions. They limited debt servicing while ramping up government capital expenditures in support of growth. Not surprisingly, they grew by 6 to 10 percent from 1985 to 1995, attracting massive Japanese investment, while the Philippines barely grew and gained the reputation of a depressed market that repelled investors.
[…] The straitjacket of conservative macroeconomic management, trade and financial liberalization, as well as a subservient debt policy, kept the economy from expanding significantly. As a result, the percentage of the population living in poverty increased from 30 to 33 percent between 2003 and 2006, according to World Bank figures. By 2006, there were more poor people in the Philippines than at any other time in the country’s history.
The Philippine story is paradigmatic. Many countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia saw the same story unfold. Taking advantage of the Third World debt crisis, the IMF and the World Bank imposed structural adjustment in over 70 developing countries in the course of the 1980s. Trade liberalization followed adjustment in the 1990s as the WTO, and later rich countries, dragooned developing countries into free-trade agreements.
Because of this trade liberalization, gains in economic growth and poverty reduction posted by developing countries in the 1960s and 1970s had disappeared by the 1980s and 1990s. In practically all structurally adjusted countries, trade liberalization wiped out huge swathes of industry, and countries enjoying a surplus in agricultural trade became deficit countries. By the beginning of the millennium, the number of people living in extreme poverty had increased globally by 28 million from the decade before. The number of poor increased in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, the Arab states, and sub-Saharan Africa. The reduction in the number of the world’s poor mainly occurred in China and countries in East Asia, which spurned structural readjustment policies and trade liberalization multilateral institutions and local neoliberal technocrats imposed other developing economies.
China and the rapidly growing newly industrializing countries of East and Southeast Asia, where most of the global reduction in poverty took place, were marked by high degrees of corruption. The decisive difference between their performance and that of countries subjected to structural adjustment was not corruption but economic policy.
Despite its malign effect on democracy and civil society, corruption is not the main cause of poverty. The "anti poverty, anti-corruption" crusades that so enamor the middle classes and the World Bank will not meet the challenge of poverty. Bad economic policies create and entrench poverty. Unless and until we reverse the policies of structural adjustment, trade liberalization, and conservative macroeconomic management, we will not escape the poverty trap.
6) Wikileaks Video Revisited: What Needs To Happen Now
Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, April 21, 2010
Earlier this month, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks released a deeply disturbing video of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007 repeatedly machine-gunning a group of men that included a Reuters photographer and his driver – and then opening fire on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men. The two Reuters employees were killed.
[…] Today, Reuters editor-in-chief David Schlesinger is out with an opinion column entitled "What I want from the Pentagon". His central point: "What I want from the Pentagon – and from all militaries – is simple: Acknowledgment, transparency, accountability." Here he is on the accountability part: "Let’s dig behind the video. Let’s fully understand the rules the military were operating under. Let’s have a complete picture of what was going through the fliers’ minds. Let’s hear the Pentagon explain its interpretation of the rules of engagement and the Geneva Convention and how the actions either did or did not accord with them in its view. And importantly, let’s keep in mind that while we focus on this particular tragedy, it is the rare circumstance that when a journalist is injured or killed in a conflict area, there is a video of the death, and even more rare as this case demonstrates, for the public to see such a video."
I totally agree. I want what he wants. And here’s something else I want. I want someone on Capitol Hill to give a shit. So far (and I’ve done a bit of calling around) I haven’t heard any member of Congress express any intention of holding an oversight hearing into the matter – or even asking any questions at all. They seem utterly uncurious about how exactly it was OK for a bloodthirsty-sounding helicopter crewman to open fire on a group of (apparently) armed men when all they were doing was milling around on a street corner – not to mention how it was OK to target the Good Samaritan van driver who pulled over to help one of the injured men. (He was killed; his two small children were wounded.)
Even more than that, to be perfectly honest, I want someone on Capitol Hill to give a shit about the gruesome cover-up by U.S. forces in Afghanistan after they massacred five innocent civilians, including three women, two of whom were pregnant – just this past February. Just not on video (as far as we know). In case you missed it, the very same morning the WikiLeaks video was released, the New York Times confirmed reports by heroic Times of London correspondent Jerome Starkey that American Special Operations soldiers actually dug their bullets out of the bodies of the women as part of a cover-up. NATO headquarters, led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then backed them up and repeatedly tried to discredit Starkey and his story.
Is that standard operating procedure? Again, I haven’t heard a peep of interest from the Hill – despite the fact that Starkey himself has argued that it was not an isolated incident, and that U.S. and NATO forces are rarely held to account for the atrocities they commit. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the responsibility? Where’s the oversight? Hell, where’s the basic curiosity? Has anyone on the Hill even asked any questions of the Pentagon or the White House? Hey, President Obama, are you OK with this?
Does your member of Congress give a shit? Call them and let me know what you find out. email@example.com.
7) Millions Sought for Farms in Developing Countries
Helene Cooper, New York Times, April 22, 2010
Washington – The Obama administration wants to add $408 million to a global fund to boost food production and encourage good farming practices in the developing world, the Treasury Department announced on Thursday.
The fund, created after the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh last year, will begin with contributions from the governments of Canada ($230 million), Spain ($95 million) and South Korea ($50 million) and from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ($30 million). It is meant to provide money to poorer countries, particularly in Africa, that invest in local farming programs and agricultural development that is meant to increase crop yields, administration officials said.
In an interview, Mr. Gates said he believed that a "renaissance" period of growth and development was underway in many African countries and could be spurred onward by the infusion of cash. "I wouldn’t work on something that was some bleak ‘you should feel guilty so give some money’ type of thing," he said.
[…] The United States has already contributed $67 million to the fund, and has requested another $408 million in President Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget proposal. If approved, the new money would be available when the federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, administration officials said.
[…] But Mr. Gates warned that getting Congress to approve the budget request will require a fight by Mr. Obama, whom he noted had "been to Africa – the speeches he gave were fantastic." He was referring to Mr. Obama’s visit to Ghana last summer, where the president told a rapt audience that American aid must be matched by African acceptance of responsibility for the continent’s own problems.
After the battles in Washington over the economic stimulus, health insurance reform and, now, financial regulation, Mr. Obama will face some opposition from both Democrats and Republicans over the scale of federal spending. "Push is going to come to shove in this budget cycle," Mr. Gates said. For Mr. Obama, he added, "this is his chance to show how strong a fight he’s willing to make."
The fund was created as part of the $22 billion in pledges made by world leaders at the G-8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, last summer, and finalized at the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh a few months later. The funds are meant to be invested to improve land use planning, irrigation and farm machinery, to provide technical help to farmers and to build better roads linking farmers with their markets.
The World Bank will administer the fund and help choose projects to finance, in conjunction with the African Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Administration officials and officials with the Gates Foundation said that while the fund is open to countries all over the world – and the expectation is that Haiti will get some of the money – some two-thirds will go to African countries.
Treasury officials said the fund grew out of the recognition that agriculture development has been neglected in the past thirty years. The sharp increase in world food prices in 2008 brought the problem to light, the official said.
8) House OKs Benefits For Veterans’ Caregivers
Live-in helpers of those seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan would get financial support and training.
Clement Tan, Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2010
Washington – The House voted 419 to 0 on Wednesday to approve new benefits and financial support for the primary live-in caregivers of seriously wounded veterans who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure, which would cost about $1.7 billion over five years, is part of comprehensive legislation that would permit the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand its assistance to family members of veterans generally. Among other things, the bill also calls for seven days of post-delivery care for female veterans’ newborns and more accessible healthcare for veterans living in rural areas.
"Now is the time to address the emerging needs, as well as those needs that have lingered for years," said Rep. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. "This bill represents an understanding that the sacrifices of our veterans are shared among us all as Americans."
Caregivers of veterans from the more recent wars would be eligible for monthly stipends to be determined by the secretary of Veterans Affairs that would be commensurate with commercial rates for home caregivers. These caregivers would also receive training, education and health benefits, including mental health services. Caregivers of veterans from other eras would be eligible for a more limited range of benefits for now, but Congress could vote to cover them with similar assistance within the next two years.
The bill now moves back to the Senate. The Senate passed its own version 98 to 0 last year.
9) Decrying U.S. ‘Threats,’ Iran To Launch War Games
Nazila Fathi and David E. Sanger, New York Times, April 21, 2010
Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared that President Obama’s new nuclear strategy amounted to "atomic threats against Iranian people," and Iranian state television reported Thursday that the military had begun a large exercise in the Persian Gulf, where the United States and Israel have both increased their presence in recent months.
The ayatollah’s statement on Wednesday referred to the section of Mr. Obama’s "Nuclear Posture Review" that guaranteed non-nuclear nations that they would never be threatened by a United States nuclear strike – as long as they are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as judged by the United States.
Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, Gary Samore, Mr. Obama’s top adviser on unconventional weapons, said the wording of the nuclear review was "deliberately crafted" to exclude Iran and North Korea from the security guarantee, creating an incentive for both countries to come into compliance with the treaty. (While North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests and is believed to have fuel for eight or more weapons, the United States has never acknowledged it as a nuclear-weapons state.)
Mr. Samore insisted that Mr. Obama’s decision did not amount to making a nuclear threat against Iran, which many Western countries believe is pursuing a weapon. The policy, Mr. Samore said, referred only to the use of nuclear weapons in the most extreme circumstances, which most experts believe means in retaliation for a strike against the United States or its allies.
Still, Ayatollah Khamenei’s statement struck at the heart of one of the criticisms of Mr. Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review: That it could give Iran a pretext to argue that it should develop nuclear weapons to defend itself. The ayatollah’s remarks suggested that the Iranian leadership regarded the administration policy as a new level of intimidation, or perhaps a justification for pursuing its nuclear program.
"How can the U.S. president make atomic threats against Iranian people?" Ayatollah Khamenei said in a speech to Iranian medical workers, the Fars news agency reported from Tehran. "This threat is a threat against humanity and international peace and no one in the world should dare to articulate such words."
10) Hondurans Demand a National Assembly
Inside Costa Rica, April 21, 2010
Tegucigalpa – The National Front of Popular Resistance of Honduras (FNRP) will carry out demonstrations all over the country from Tuesday on in order to call for a Constituent Assembly. Demonstrators will march from El Loarque square, in Comayagüela, to the headquarters of the National Congress, where they will also demand full guarantees for the return of president Manuel Zelaya, ousted by the last June 28 coup d’etat.
According to the FNRP coordinator, Juan Barahona, similar demonstrations will be staged at all the country’s departments, in order to recollect one million 250,000 signatures to demand reforms for the current Constitution.
The Constitution, in force since 1982, has seven articles that cannot be changed, thus preventing to carry out deep changes to end with poverty and inequality. Soldiers wearing hoods, and in conspiracy with the oligarchy, kidnapped Zelaya and took him out the country by force when he decided to call for a referendum on that issue.
Patricia Rodas, the foreign minister during Zelaya’s government, has insisted that it is necessary to call for a national Constituent Assembly to reinstall the institutional order in the country.
11) Bolivian Government Outlines Strategy for International Climate Negotiations.
Robert S. Eshelman, Huffington Post, April 20, 2010
The Bolivian government detailed today a broad plan for future international climate change negotiations and how governments and social movements might work together to push for climate justice internationally.
[…] Speaking before an estimated 15,000 people, including several Latin American heads of state; government representatives from Africa, Asia, and Europe; and indigenous delegations, [President] Morales detailed his government’s proposal for establishing an international climate justice court, passage of a U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, reparations from rich countries to assist poor and low-lying nations that will be impacted by the effects of climate change, and financing of clean energy technologies. He also urged countries to open their borders to future waves of climate refugees.
Morales set the tone for the conference by reiterating throughout his speech that in order to address climate change, social movements and governments must cooperate. If he referenced government, he also mentioned social movements.
During the climate conference, occurring a few kilometers outside of Cochabamba in the small town of Tiquipaya, environmental justice activists are convening in over a dozen working groups to discuss issues ranging from long-term movement strategy to combating particular issues such as deforestation. The work of these groups, the Bolivian government promises, will be presented to the 192 nations involved in the UNFCCC process. The social movements, the theory goes, will be given greater voice and legitimacy through partnership with allied governments such as Bolivia, while these governments will hold greater legitimacy within the negotiations due to the backing of international organizations and their millions of rank and file.
[…] During an afternoon panel discussion on the state of international climate negotiations, Angelica Navarro, lead climate negotiator for Bolivia, rehashed why talks in Copenhagen failed to deliver a comprehensive agreement, arguing that several countries, primarily the U.S., sidestepped the consensus-based U.N. process and negotiated the Copenhagen Accord during small group discussions.
She said: "That is why some ask if it is the United Nations that had failed. We say it is the other way around. Copenhagen failed because [the countries that negotiated the Copenhagen Accord] didn’t follow a way of inclusion or democracy […]. They just excluded. And that is what we want to change in this Cochabamba session. We want it to be the other way around from what happened in Copenhagen. […] We want a true and participatory democracy from the grassroots and to show that solutions can be generated from the social movements."
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