Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Nearly 200 Zimbabwe Opposition supporters released.

This is from AP. Mugabe simply refuses to admit defeat. What I find rather surprising is that the recount confirms the opposition won in most cases. This shows that there is enough independence in the counting process that Mugabe cannot control events. This must be the case with the presidential vote as well and is the reason the results have not been announced. While Bush is certainly correct in his criticism of the situation in Zimbabwe it is probably counterproductive. Mugabe stock in trade is to explain problems in terms of foreign intervention and in supporting the opposition Bush and others just give Mugabe more ammunition.


Nearly 200 Zimbabwe opposition supporters released
By ANGUS SHAW – 1 hour ago

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Police on Tuesday released nearly 200 people who were arrested last week in a raid at opposition headquarters, while President Bush called on Zimbabwe's neighbors to step up the pressure on longtime leader Robert Mugabe.

Many of the 215 people arrested on Friday had fled to Harare to escape mounting violence and intimidation in rural areas that used to be ruling party strongholds but turned against Mugabe in the March 29 elections.

Twenty-nine people, mainly women and children, were released almost immediately. The rest were freed from various police stations in the capital Tuesday in accordance with a High Court order issued Monday, opposition defense lawyer Alec Muchadehama said.

One month after the vote, results from the presidential election still have not been released.

Independent observers say that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe, but did not secure an outright majority necessary to avoid a runoff. Tsvangirai insists he did, while Mugabe has stayed silent.

Bush said at a news conference Tuesday that "Mr. Mugabe has failed the country."

"The violence and the intimidation is simply unacceptable. The government is intent upon and is intimidating the people there," he said.

He stopped short of saying that Mugabe had lost the election, but said it was clear that the country had voted for change. He also said "it's really incumbent on the nations in the neighborhood to step up and lead."

Tendai Biti, the second-in-command in Tsvangirai's opposition party, said Tuesday that he hoped United Nations would send a special envoy to Zimbabwe to assess the situation and help solve the crisis.

He was at U.N. headquarters in hopes of making his appeal to the Security Council. But the council met without him behind closed doors, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had not yet decided whether to send an envoy.

"The secretary-general has not decided if it's necessary, or if there's anything that we should be doing at this point," said U.N. political chief B. Lynn Pascoe.

The standoff was frustrating to Biti, secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change.

"There is a humanitarian concern. There's the violence, the fascism that is taking place there, the state of emergency. There is a massive food shortage and the use of food as a political weapon," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"Those are clearly not regional and sub-regional issues. Those are U.N. issues, and the (U.N.) Charter is very clear on that."

On Monday, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission concluded the re-count of 23 disputed parliamentary seats, the state-run Herald newspaper reported. The commission would thereafter "invite presidential candidates or their election agents for the verification and collation of the results," the Herald said Tuesday.

State radio reported that the verification process would take at least three more days.

Despite fears of vote-rigging during the parliamentary recount, the published results confirmed that the opposition held a majority of seats for the first time in Zimbabwe's history.

Tsvangirai addressed a joint news conference Monday with Arthur Mutambara, the head of a breakaway faction, to say they had healed their divisions and were now united against Mugabe.

"Old man, go and have an honorable exit," Tsvangirai said in a message to the 84-year-old autocrat who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.

"In a parliamentary democracy, the majority rule," Tsvangirai said alongside Mutambara at the news conference. "He should concede that ... he cannot be president."

Human Rights Watch said the ruling party, police and army have "sharply intensified a brutal campaign of organized terror and torture against perceived opposition supporters that threatens the general population."

But the Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, accused the opposition of fomenting violence. It said that some Tsvangirai supporters "attacked soldiers and the general public" in Manicaland province. It said one person had been killed and two injured.

It said police suspected that perpetrators of the violence were being given refuge at opposition headquarters.

Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Review of Klein's "Shock Doctrine"

This is a review by Doug Henwood in the leftbusinessobserver. I haven't read Klein's book as yet. Henwood's critical analysis seems cogent as far as my knowledge of Klein is concerned. However, Klein's book has a wealth of useful detail about the ravages of capitalism in recent times. Whatever its faults Klein's book has certainly captured the attention of a mass audience and is good antidote to the paeans to the free market capitalism that are standard fare.. However, Klein's analytical framework is certainly lacking and Klein does not even advance a socialist alternative---except that discourse is now so debased that her kinder welfare capitalism would be regarded now as some sort of radical socialism in many quarters! Henwood does a good job of showing how many supposed leftists such as Blair in the UK and Douglas in New Zealand helped destroy the welfare state and pave the way for Neoliberalism.


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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #117, March 2008. Copyright 2008, Left Business Observer.


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Awe, shocks!

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Metropolitan Books, 558 pp., $28.

Naomi Klein made herself deservedly famous with No Logo, whose official U.S. publication date of January 15, 2000, was just weeks after the popular hijacking of the WTO summit in Seattle. Not only was it well-timed, it was notable for moving beyond the usual critiques of consumption that had been staples of what was then called the antiglobalization movement and into the neglected world of production. It was a comprehensive look at the economic world of the time that helped energize a movement and deepen its understanding of the world.

Seven years later comes The Shock Doctrine, an even more ambitious book that aims to provide, in blurber Arundhati Roy’s words, “nothing less than the secret history of what we call the ‘free market.’” Although one should never look to jacket blurbs for measured evaluations, there’s really little that’s secret about this history, and Klein’s organizing “shock” metaphor explains nowhere near as much of the world we live in as she thinks it does.

Crushing cousins

The Shock Doctrine is organized around a conceit: “shock” and its cousin “disaster” explain the political economy of the last several decades. One ur-figure is Dr. Ewen Cameron, a ghoulish psychiatrist who worked under contract with the CIA during the 1950s, devising methods to extract information and remake personalities through the use of drugs and torture. His information-extraction techniques became the templates for Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, and the personality renovation became the psycho-political template for the neoliberal restructuring of much of the globe. And the other ur-figure is Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist who wrote the playbook for the policy innovations themselves. The two came together in Chile, via Gen. Augusto Pinochet, when a whole society was remade, in no small part through literal torture techniques, in accordance with the Chicago School’s radical free-market dogma. Modern capitalism, says Klein, was born in the Southern Cone, and Pinochet was its midwife.

From there, the model spread around the world, though the exact nature of the shock and disaster varies. Bolivia experienced an early episode of shock therapy, under the guidance of Jeffrey Sachs, in the mid-1980s. That episode relied more on tight money than torture cells. The same can be said of Sachs’s work in Poland and Russia in the late 1980s and early 1990s: the idea was to turn these formerly socialist countries into capitalist ones nearly overnight. In the U.S., there was the shock of 9/11, and the regional disaster of Hurricane Katrina. The invasion of Iraq provided an opportunity for a great economic experiment in that unfortunate country. In Sri Lanka, a tsunami provided the impetus for an economic restructuring.

Clearly, there’s some truth here, but the list of instances is so varied that they don’t always merit a single theory. Even if you limit the theory to the idea that there’s nothing “free” about the free market, it’s strange to see that notion presented as the revelation of a secret history. What is called the “free market” has always been inseparable from state coercion; there was never anything spontaneous about it at all. This has been true at least since the enclosure movement in England privatized previously common lands starting in the sixteenth century, give or take a century or two. In more modern times, the role of U.S. imperial power in promoting the so-called free market has long been a central theme of Noam Chomsky, a writer who doesn’t lack for readers.

Starting the clock

For a book this long, there’s little history from before 1970. Klein cites Stephen Kinzer’s history of U.S. interventions—often based on tight government links to corporate interests—going back to 1893, but she quickly returns to the rapidly fading present of Bush and Cheney. There’s little doubt that there’s something different about this gang—a little more primitive in thought and style—but there’s one prominent missing case: Lyndon Johnson, who engineered the killing of something like a million Indochinese.

Poor LBJ is woefully underrepresented in the book; he doesn’t even merit an index entry. Klein writes at length about Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), which from 1998 to 2007 was a subsidiary of Cheney’s notorious plaything Halliburton. KBR’s predecessor, Brown & Root (B&R), was practically created by federal contracts steered its way by Johnson, from his days in Congress to his days in the White House. B&R returned the favor by financing LBJ’s campaigns for higher office. B&R got fat contracts to build the war infrastructure in Vietnam, complete with scandalous overcharges. (GIs in Vietnam called the company “Burn & Loot.”) B&R built the infamous tiger cages used to torture Vietcong prisoners. It was the first time the U.S. military had contracted out for services formerly performed by soldiers. In other words, George Bush has many predecessors—some of them Democrats even.

The effect of setting the starting clock on history so recently is to make the present seem far more extraordinary than it is. Compounding that problem is the central role that “shock” and “disaster” play in the narrative. By so emphasizing “shock”—and so much of that shock being extreme repression and torture—Klein skirts the difficult question of how the right developed enough popular consent and legitimation to win election and re-election, sometimes in landslides. The Morning in America election of 1984 was about an exhilarating boom. Though the boom was uneven and crazy, and came after a deep recession, it was real enough to be believed by enough people to keep the story going.



The shock of 9/11 had little effect on U.S. economic policy; sure, military contractors have made a bundle of Bush’s buildup, but that’s a story at least as old as Eisenhower’s military–industrial complex speech, and it’s hardly become the driving force of the U.S. economy. She cites contracts of $150 billion handed out over five years, but at $30 billion a year that’s the equivalent of three or four days worth of retail sales.

The voters speak

Klein explains Thatcher’s re-election in 1983 as a result of a nationalist mania after the Falklands War, but that was only a small part of the reason. As Stuart Hall wrote during the early days of Thatcherism, she was able to tap into genuine popular resentment of union “excesses” and gain support for a huge anti-working class offensive. (If you doubt that a critique of the intrusiveness and tedium of the welfare state had popular resonance in Britain, listen to some Kinks songs from the 1970s.) Ditto talk about crime, standards, national prestige, discipline, family values—many of them irrelevant or even antithetical to her radical market agenda—the standard fare of what Hall called “authoritarian populism.”

Neoliberalism, a word that Klein uses a lot, has consistently gained electoral victories in the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India. Not all the practitioners belonged to right-wing parties: names like Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Paul Keating, and Roger Douglas come to mind. Clinton and Blair barely appear in the book, and Keating and Douglas not at all.

Both Keating and Douglas enginered the neoliberal restructuring of their countries while serving as finance ministers during the 1980s—Keating in Australia and Douglas in New Zeland—as members of Labor Parties. New Zealand’s transformation is widely regarded as one of the most radical in the world. Douglas travelled the world advising anyone who’d listen on the necessity of creating a “crisis” to promote the free-marketeers’ agenda. But this is an ancient principle of statecraft; one of Klein’s chapter epigraphs is a 500-year-old gem from Machiavelli: “For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less.”

Nostalgias

As do many partisans of the global justice movement, Klein exhibits a nostalgia for the Keyensian welfare state model that prevailed in many rich countries in the decades following World War II. That model had a counterpart, roughly over the same period, in Latin America in the import-substitution model, in which tariffs and other import restrictions were used to protect local industries in the hope they’d develop.

Import substitution had its successes, for sure, but they were fairly limited. The regimes that practiced it were often corrupt and repressive, with deep ties between protected industrialists and their political patrons, and the products of these coddled industries were often shoddy and expensive. There’s no doubt that successful development requires some kinds of “protection,” but it’s hard to do it deftly.

And the victims of Pinochet and Argentine junta were rebels against that very model of capitalism. At first, the military dictatorships of Latin America weren’t trying to impose neoliberalism—they were trying to defend the system of private property against a variety of populists, socialists, and communists.

Using words like “Friedmanite” and “neoliberalism” is a way to avoid talking about capitalism in any systemic fashion. When Klein does address systemic issues, she professes that she’s not anticapitalist, but prefers a form of managed or welfare capitalism. It would be sectarian to say that managed or welfare capitalism isn’t better than what we’ve got now; it most certainly would be, especially in the U.S., where a single-payer healthcare system seems almost like a revolutionary impossibility. But it would be naive to think that we could get there without a political upsurge demanding an even more radical renovation, and evasive to deny that exploitation wouldn’t still exist under a regulated capitalism.

Pinochet, meet Procrustes

As is often the case with arguments organized around a conceit, Klein works hard to squeeze events into her model’s form. There’s the problem mentioned above—that Cameron and Pinochet cannot explain Ronald Reagan’s 59-41 victory over Walter Mondale in 1984. But there are also problems with many of Klein’s case studies.

In her chapter on post-apartheid South Africa, Klein notes how the hope generated by the ANC’s taking power was dashed by the orthodox economic policy the party pursued once in power. She explains that the country was “outnegotiated” by the World Bank and IMF. That is not how many on the South African left see the problem. Their analysis is that the ANC was never anti-capitalist, and was quite eager to join the world system and get its own piece of the action. As no less than Mandela himself put it: “The ANC has never...advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it...ever condemned capitalist society.”

She also asserts that Israel is in the midst of a Chinese-style boom, which has been occurring because, not in spite of, the country’s constant state of war. The boom, she asserts, is being driven by the production and export of military and surveillance equipment. But in fact Israel’s economy isn’t booming, the military share of GDP is way down from its 1970s peaks and has been flat in recent years, and arms represent only a fraction of Israeli exports. Israel’s per capita GDP has been growing at about a quarter of the Chinese rate over the last couple of years; over the last seven years, it’s more like a tenth the Chinese rate. Electronics, including military–surveillance goods, have been declining as a share of Israeli exports, while that of drugs and chemicals has been rising. Israel’s share of the world’s arms trade is just over 1%, behind Sweden’s.

For Klein, the invasion of Iraq wasn’t a geopolitical adventure so much as an economically rational attempt to complete the Chicago-school counterrevolution that began in Chile in 1973: to bring the “Friedmanite” model to the Middle East. “The ‘fiasco’ of Iraq is one created by a careful and faithful application of unrestrained Chicago School ideology.” It was, in a phrase she likes, “Friedmanite to the core.” Among the problems with this reading are that things haven’t worked out as planned—Iraq barely has an economy to impose any policy on, though privatization decrees were certainly issued—and that Friedman himself opposed the invasion of Iraq. He told the Wall Street Journal’s Tunku Varadarajan in July 2006: “What's really killed the Republican Party isn't spending, it's Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression.”

Miltie

Klein’s use of a one-dimensional caricature of Friedman as an all-purpose whipping boy may play to the choir, but he deserves more serious attention than this. His economics was in many ways wrong and vile, but over the course of a fifty-year career, he helped reshape not only his discipline, but the way politicians and regular people think and talk about the economy. He was an extremely effective popular writer; if only the left could have produced a book as persuasive as Capitalism and Freedom, the world might be a better place. (Yes, yes, his argument was nicely aligned with the needs of capital in the 1970s, but on the other hand, capital also needed some degree of popular assent, which Friedman helped produce—and, on the third hand, polemic doesn’t count for nothing, and material interest isn’t everything.)

One reason that Friedman became popular both within his own profession and in the larger world was that there were real economic problems in the 1970s. In the richer countries, Keynesian/welfare-state capitalism was in crisis because of stagflation. According to the economic consensus of the time, weak growth was supposed to mean low inflation—but weak growth coexisted with persistently high inflation throughout the 1970s. Friedman offered an explanation for that: monetary stimulus beyond a certain point results in inflation, not additional growth. Growth was being held back by unions and regulations, which were interfering with the magic self-adjusting powers of the market. The solution was tight money and deregulation. It worked, at least for a while, on its own terms, though at great human cost.

But there’s a radical way of expressing the insights of Friedman and the others who came to power and influence in the late 1970s. Capitalism simply cannot live with low unemployment rates. Workers gain confidence, resist the direction of the boss, and wages are forced up. Add to that a welfare state, which cushions workers against the risk of job loss, and things are even worse from the bosses’ point of view. Their plight was evident in the depressed profit rates of the leisure-suit decade.

Sure enough, the application of the Friedman agenda raised profit rates and ended the great inflation—though it put the working class into a semipermanent state of anxiety, which was part of the point. That does suggest a permanent shock strategy is part of the system’s normal operating procedure, not an extraordinary event.

Limits and beyond

An honest evaluation of this history would have to recognize that the Keynesian model in the northern hemisphere had reached an impasse in the 1970s. Either things had to break in the Friedmanite direction or a more anticapitalist direction. And in the southern hemisphere, import substitution was running into similar problems: rising inflation and low levels of productivity. Many governments borrowed heavily abroad in an attempt to keep things going, laying the groundwork for the debt crisis of the 1980s. Obviously Friedman, Pinochet, and Reagan do not represent the full range of possibilities, but something had to give, and the left worldwide was too weak to win the battle.

Though the analysis may be problematic, Klein’s closing chapter does inspire hope even in a skeptical reader. Shocks wear off, and some of the most inspiring agitation is coming from the region that suffered some of the worst abuses of the 1970s and 1980s, Latin America. The word “socialism” is even being dusted off in Venezuela and Bolivia. But the emphasis on shock as the organizing principle of the book even constrains the inspiration. Those recovering from shock, whether in the Southern Cone or in New Orleans, see themselves as “repair people, taking what’s there and fixing it, reinforcing it, making it better and more equal. Most of all, they are building in resistance—for when the next shock hits.” These are the concluding words of the book. Is this really all we can do? Tinker while the weather’s fair, and get ready to duck and cover on a moment’s notice?


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Philippines: Bitter Medicine..

Compared to some of the swindles in Iraq this is probably small potatoes. One wonders if the fraud was all on the Philippine side. As the article mentions the claims are filed on behalf of 9,000 U.S. servicemen retired in the Philippines although they probably were not involved but were just the vehicle for the inflated claims. In most hospitals medical costs are far below that in the U.S. Perhaps the claims seemed reasonable at the Pentagon!



Bitter medicine



Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:17:00 04/28/2008




MANILA, Philippines - The stunning news filtered out through the wires last Thursday. An elaborate scam based in the Philippines had swindled the Pentagon out of billions of pesos in fraudulent health care claims. The exact amount of the total fraud is still undetermined, but it has been reported that one health care provider in the Philippines, Health Visions Corp., allegedly defrauded the US Defense Department’s Tricare program of almost $100 million between 1998 and 2004. It has also been reported that one Filipino doctor already arrested by US agents had by himself or with others swindled the Tricare program of $2 million in false or padded claims.

US government agencies have thrown the blame at one another. The Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, for instance, criticized Tricare management for waiting an inordinately long time before suspending Health Visions. A former official of the Defense Department, meanwhile, took the Inspector General to task, for refusing his requests to send additional investigators to the Philippines.

There was certainly something to investigate. According to the Associated Press, the health insurance claims filed by some 9,000 retired American servicemen living in the Philippines ballooned from $3 million in 1998 to more than $60 million in 2003.

There is also, certainly, enough blame to go around. US authorities seemed to take their time, despite evidence gathered years ago. But at least the US government has started to crack the whip. The Arroyo administration must do the same.

Our impression is that Philippine government officials are either still in denial or are substituting talk for action. National Bureau of Investigation agent Claro de Castro Jr., for example, doubts whether the total cost of the scam to the US government could reach a hundred million dollars. “That’s too much,” he said. He pointed to one case that involved only $40,000—but in fact the investigation in the United States has gathered evidence of a systematic effort to defraud the health insurance system. Add enough similar cases, and the total will undoubtedly be substantial.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, who oversees the work of the NBI, declared that the country would cooperate with the US government—but in the next breath almost seemed to promise the exact opposite. “The downside [to the requests to extradite certain individuals to the United States] would be whatever legal maneuvers their lawyers will do. If the court will issue writs, for example, we have to comply until we can have them resolved.”

Coming from a lawyer famous for his damn-the-torpedoes approach to legal requirements, this is saying something. Indeed, the AP quoted a US government lawyer to the effect that about 20 of the 37 suspects already charged were still at large, many of them because of the failure of the extradition requests.

It is in our national interest to cooperate as fully as we can, because the reputation of our doctors and nurses are at stake. Yes, we must also consider the rather unusual timing of the release of pertinent information—at the exact time the US Senate deliberated on a bill granting a pension to Filipino veterans who served in the US armed services during World War II. (The bill passed, and must now hurdle the US House of Representatives.)

But the damage this unconscionable scam does to the reputation of our medical community—even if it were proven that Filipino medical personnel involved were merely accomplices, not masterminds, in an elaborate scheme—will be more lasting than a stray and frivolous comment about the quality of Philippine medical schools in “Desperate Housewives.”

Here we have the possibility of Filipino doctors and nurses, in Philippine hospitals and clinics, knowingly taking part in a giant fraud. This is terrible news, given the encouraging growth in medical tourism and the continuing demand abroad for Filipino medical personnel. What are we doing taking our time?

In an AP story, a Tricare spokesperson “said the fraud has been hard to prove because of language barriers, a lack of cooperation from providers and limited law enforcement resources.” Surely the Philippine government can help, on at least two of these three factors. It’s bitter but necessary medicine.

Pakistan Taliban chief pulls out of peace talks

This is from wiredispatch.
Obviously the U.S. has put pressure on the Pakistani govt. not to negotiate with terrorists. I can't understand why a Taliban chief should pussyfoot around with phrases such as "foreign forces" when he means the U.S. Maybe the Taliban are just garden variety politicians who can't call a spade a spade.
The fact that negotiations have broken down does not mean that there will be renewed conflict between Pakistan forces and the Taliban. A ceasefire may hold.

Pakistani Taliban chief pulls out of peace talks


Zeeshan Haider
Reuters North American News Service

Apr 28, 2008 07:34 EST

ISLAMABAD, April 28 (Reuters) - A Pakistani Taliban commander pulled out of a peace deal with the government after it refused to withdraw the army from tribal lands on the Afghan border, the militant's spokesman said on Monday.

Tribal elders in Pakistan's South Waziristan region have been trying to broker a peace deal between the government and Baitullah Mehsud, an al Qaeda ally who leads the Taliban in Pakistan.

Mehsud has been accused of being behind a wave of suicide attacks that have rocked Pakistan since mid-2007, including one that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December.

"Our chief Baitullah Mehsud has announced the end of the dialogue process about an hour ago after tribal elders informed us that government is unwilling to pull out troops from Waziristan and other areas," Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban (Movement of Taliban), told Reuters by telephone.

Government spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.

Mehsud last week announced a ceasefire after authorities expressed optimism that a peace deal would be finalised in a few days.

Omar said Taliban fighters would hold their fire if government forces did not attack them.

"We don't want war and can resume talks if the government is ready. But if they launch a military operation against us or attack our men, then we will respond, we will take revenge," he said.

Omar said "hidden hands" in Pakistani intelligence agencies were acting under the influence of "foreign forces" to subvert the peace process.

"The new government needs to get rid of these hidden hands if it wants peace in Waziristan and other tribal areas," Omar said.

Pakistan's new coalition government, led by Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), has said it wants to open talks with the militants in a bid to break with the policies of President Pervez Musharraf.

Mehsud has denied involvement in Bhutto's assassination. While the previous government and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have said there was evidence against Mehsud, the PPP leadership appears less sure and plans to ask for a U.N. investigation.

Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism is deeply unpopular, particularly among the fiercely independent Pashtun tribes living on the Afghan border.

Musharraf has tried everything from military offensives to appeasement to tackle militancy, and critics say the new government will end up trying all the same strategies.

The government has made pacts with the militants in Waziristan before.

Critics say the deals led to a lull in fighting in Pakistan but gave militants breathing space to regroup and intensify cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

Three people, including a policeman, were killed and more than 20 were wounded in a car bomb outside a police station in the northwestern town of Mardan on Friday.

Omar said the Taliban carried out the attack to avenge a killing of one of their fighters by the police. (Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and John Chalmers)

Source: Reuters North American News Service

Monday, April 28, 2008

U.S. air strikes kill 6 in Sadr City despite truce..

This is from wiredispatch. This sort of attack will not likely even register in the U.S. mainstream news. Yet as the article shows it registers among the families of victims. You can expect more attacks against Americans. Actually Sadr is trying hard to maintain a truce but for some reason the U.S. is forging ahead. Even the Iraqi govt. has condemned the attacks but the Iraqi govt. has no control over the U.S. forces. The occupying forces do as they like.


WRAPUP 1-U.S. air strikes kill 6 in Sadr City despite truce


Wisam Mohammed
Reuters North American News Service

Apr 27, 2008 09:50 EST

BAGHDAD, April 27 (Reuters) - U.S. forces said on Sunday they killed six militants in air strikes overnight in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, despite a call by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for his fighters to observe a truce which seems to have reined them in.

In a sign of progress towards reconciling Iraq's main sects, Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi to discuss the eventual return of the main Sunni Arab bloc to Maliki's government.

Ten people were killed and more than 40 wounded overnight in Sadr City, where Sadr's fighters have battled U.S. and Iraqi troops for a month, Iraqi police and hospital sources said.

U.S. forces, who have launched several air strikes a day from Apache helicopters and remote-controlled drones, said they spotted three groups of militants at night and hit them from the air with Hellfire missiles, killing five gunmen.

A sixth fighter was killed by a helicopter strike in the morning and a seventh died in a shootout.

"I would like to emphasise that these are not 'violent' clashes, at least not in our definition. They are not protracted gunfights," said U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Stover. "While attacks continue there have been less."

Abu Jassim, a Mehdi Army street commander, said Sadr's fighters were abiding by the ceasefire call and reducing their activities. They had orders not to shoot at Americans inside Sadr City to avoid clashes that would hurt civilians.

"This morning, the Americans entered on foot from the Jamila area. We could have hit them, but we have orders to defend the city against the occupiers but not inside the city," he said.

The black-masked fighters of Sadr's Mehdi Army could no longer be seen prowling Sadr City's streets as they had just days ago, a Reuters correspondent said.


CRACKDOWN

The government's confrontation with Sadr's fighters began a month ago with a crackdown launched by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in the southern city of Basra.

Despite initial setbacks, the Basra campaign has since proved largely a success, with government troops taking control of neighbourhoods once regarded as militia strongholds and fighters disappearing from the southern city's streets.

In Sadr City, the cleric's main Baghdad stronghold, U.S. forces have advanced only into a small portion of the slum to put most of the Mehdi Army's missiles and mortars out of range of the capital's Green Zone government and diplomatic compound.

More than 700 missiles and mortars have been fired, mainly from Sadr City, over the past month. Fighting and air strikes in the slum have killed hundreds.

Food prices have skyrocketted and residents say they feel under siege. Many schools have shut.

Major-General Qasim Moussawi, Iraqi government spokesman for security in the capital, acknowledged civilian casualties were inevitable in fighting in a crowded slum.

"The area of this (Sadr) city is around 25 square kilometres (10 square miles) with an estimated population of 3 million. This means if a bullet is shot, it will hit a person," he said.

Um Aziz is an elderly woman whose three daughters and a son were killed when the roof of her house collapsed because of the force of an explosion nearby. She cursed the U.S. forces.

"I don't want any reparations from the government. I want my revenge from God," she said outside her ruined home, wearing bandages from her own injuries and a broken leg.

"Let the Americans listen: If they kill all the men, we will fight them. We: the women and the children. And if they take our weapons we will fight them with stones and knives."

Abu Issam, a government employee and Sadr City resident, said his two-year-old daughter has become so used to nightly bombardment that she can no longer sleep unless she hears it.

"Every night when she hears the mosque loudspeaker say 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greatest), she says to me: 'Papa papa, the Americans are coming!'"

Despite the clashes in Shi'ite areas over the past month, U.S. commanders say violence along Iraq's main sectarian divide between Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites has remained much lower after falling dramatically last year.

Maliki's government is hoping for a breakthrough soon that would lead to the Sunni Arab Accordance Front returning to Maliki's Shi'ite-led government, which the Front quit last year.

Maliki's office said this week the Front had lifted its objections to returning. Sunday's meeting between Maliki and Hashemi, the only senior Front member with an official position, was aimed at resolving the standoff, Hashemi's office said. (Additional reporting by Peter Graff; Waleed Ibrahim and Aws Qusay; writing by Peter Graff, editing by Tim Cocks and Robert Woodward)

Source: Reuters North American News Service

Additional links from Reuters North American News Service

More Americans Decry Decision to Invade Iraq

The "success" of the surge is not translating into any support for the war. In spite of the anti-war surge the Democrats seem not to be capable of doing anything to stop Bush. Actually there is bi-partisan agreement for the huge U.S. military expenditures and aggressive foreign policy. The Democrats seem to compete with the Republicans to see who can hate Iran most while both they and the Republicans support Maliki who is supported by Iran!

Angus Reid Global Monitor : Polls & Research
More Americans Decry Decision to Invade Iraq
April 27, 2008
(Angus Reid Global Monitor) - Many adults in the United States are dissatisfied with their government’s decision to launch the coalition effort, according to a poll by Gallup released by USA Today. 63 per cent of respondents think the U.S. made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, up six points since December.

The coalition effort against Saddam Hussein’s regime was launched in March 2003. At least 4,051 American soldiers have died during the military operation, and 29,800 troops have been wounded in action.

In December 2005, Iraqi voters renewed their National Assembly. In May 2006, Shiite United Iraqi Alliance member Nouri al-Maliki officially took over as prime minister.

In September 2007, commander of the Multi-National Force - Iraq David Petraeus and U.S. ambassador in Iraq Ryan Crocker provided a comprehensive assessment of the situation in Iraq to the U.S. Congress. In addition, U.S. president George W. Bush said U.S. forces in Iraq would be reduced by 5,700 troops in December. After July 2008, all troop withdrawals from Iraq will be suspended.

On Apr. 25, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for an end to the hostilities between his Mahdi Army militia and Iraq’s security forces, declaring, "When we threatened an open war, it was meant against the occupation and not against our peoples. There will be no war between Sadrists and Iraqi brothers from any groups."

Polling Data

In view of the developments since we first sent our troops to Iraq, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, or not?

Apr. 2008
Dec. 2007
Jun. 2007

Made a mistake
63%
57%
56%

Did not make a mistake
36%
41%
40%

Unsure
1%
2%
4%


Source: Gallup / USA Today
Methodology: Telephone interviews with 1,016 American adults, conducted from Apr. 18 to Apr. 20, 2008. Margin of error is 3 per cent.

The neoconning of a nation...

This is from the Toronto Sun. This article repeats the claim that one aim of revealing "intelligence" about the Syrian reactor at this stage is to sabotage nuclear talks with North Korea that the neocons oppose. But the article also reveals another motive and that is to prevent accomodation between Israel and Syria. Perhaps Margolis is correct that the neo-cons want a confrontation with Iran before the next election because they think that this will get McCain elected. Perhaps the neocons are right but given the public opinion polls on the Iraq war and the state of the U.S. economy a new war may not be that popular.


April 27, 2008

The neoconning of a nation
Vice-President, shilling troupe of retired generals, deliver fantastic tales for their cause

By ERIC MARGOLIS


PARIS -- U.S. intelligence released a dramatic video last Thursday, supposedly taken by an Israeli spy, that purportedly showed North Korean technicians helping build a nuclear reactor in Syria.

The reactor was destroyed seven months ago by Israeli warplanes.

Until now Israel and the U.S. have remained silent about the attack. Syria claimed a warehouse was hit, but curiously said nothing more about what was an act of war. Washington offered no proof the reactor, if it was one, would have produced weapons rather than electric power. U.S. and Israeli intelligence have long stated Syria had no nuclear weapons capabilities.

Vice-President Dick Cheney and fellow neocons forced the CIA to release the James Bondish video in an effort to sabotage an impending six-nation agreement to end North Korea's nuclear program. They bitterly oppose the deal for being too soft on Pyongyang. Neocons long have worried the possibility of North Korea selling nuclear technology to Arab states posed a potential threat to Israel.

This mysterious imbroglio also is being used by Israel's rightwing Likud Party, a close ally of U.S. neocons, to attack political rival Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party.

BACK-CHANNEL TALKS

Olmert has been involved in Turkish-brokered, back-channel peace talks with Syria for years. Likud and its U.S. allies are determined to sabotage any deal with Damascus that would return the Golan Heights, which Israel conquered in the 1967 war, to Syria. The Likudniks also sought to derail efforts by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter to encourage the Israeli-Syrian talks, and get Israel and the militant Palestinian movement, Hamas, to talk.

Under the purported deal, Israel would return the Golan Heights in exchange for Damascus' agreement to sever its close links with Iran, Lebanon's Hezbollah, and Hamas. Syria also would grant Israel important water rights. The fate of up to 250,000 Syrian inhabitants driven from Golan remains uncertain.

Israel, backed by the Bush administration, certainly has been using the carrot of a return of Golan to entice Syria away from Iran. But there is also a big stick: Ever-stronger threats of a U.S.-Israeli attack on Syria. Israel's September attack on Syria was a clear warning.

Cheney and fellow militarists are pushing hard for attacks on Syria, Lebanon and Iran before President George W. Bush leaves office. Neocons have flocked to Sen. John McCain's banner -- in spite of Hillary Clinton's vow to "obliterate" Iran if it attacked Israel with nuclear weapons. They believe U.S. attacks on Arab states and/or Iran would prove decisive in winning the presidency for McCain this November. A U.S. attack on Syria could well be the first step of a broader air war against Lebanon and Iran.

SYRIAN REACTOR

Meanwhile, Cheney and allies in Congress and the media are also using the Syrian reactor hubbub to undermine efforts by the U.S. state department, a primary hate object for neocons, to implement the nuclear weapons freeze with North Korea. State department boss Condoleezza Rice has run for cover, leaving her chief negotiator with North Korea to twist in the wind.

As the latest furor builds over the nefarious North Korean, we should remember that this scare story comes from the same Washington fib factory that manufactured all the alarms and "evidence" about Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida.

North Koreans are pretty scary, but their nuclear capabilities and the threat they supposedly pose have been exaggerated. South Korea and European intelligence agencies, for example, are cautious about Washington's claims about North Korea and Syria.

The New York Times revealed last week what this column has long said: The Pentagon has duped Americans and Canadians by organizing a bunch of retired U.S. generals -- mislabelled "independent military experts" -- to shill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Watch these rent-a-generals again prostitute themselves on TV by promoting the administration's party line about the great Syrian nuclear menace.

Redefining Iran as the Enemy in Iraq.

This is from consortiumnews.comconsortiumnews.com. As this article points out the emphasis upon Al Qaeda in Iraq is now being very much downplayed by the administration. This is possible because the U.S. is financing former insurgent Sunnis through the awakening movement directed against Al Qaeda. This has hurt Al Qaeda in some areas. The enemy now is Al Sadr and Iran which to some degree supports his Mahdi Army. However, other militias such as the Badr brigades that support Maliki are supported even more by Iran. The contradiictory nature of U.S. policy re Iran is simply ignored by mainstream media. Both Iran and the U.S. support the Maliki government. Maliki has good relations with Iran much to the chagrin of the U.S. You would think that a few reporters would take a bit more interest in the fact that Maliki has very good relations with the country that the U.S. now defines as the main enemy of Iraq!

Redefining Iran as the Enemy in Iraq

By Ivan Eland
April 26, 2008

Editor’s Note: In Washington and Tel Aviv, war drums are beating again regarding Iran, as the Bush administration and Israel’s Olmert government see the window closing on the time frame for confronting Teheran with George W. Bush in the White House.

In this guest essay, the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland looks at how – in support of this political need – the ever-shifting enemy in Iraq has become Iran:

According to General David H. Petraeus’s progress report to Congress on Iraq, the latest worst threat to the shaky U.S. position is Iranian-backed “special groups.”

This label refers to parts of Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his security forces ham-handedly sought to confront and undermine in Basra before the fall local elections.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is so passé.

This repeated allegation during the congressional hearings and the firing of Admiral William Fallon as commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Middle East, who was an opponent of any attack on Iran, should again raise worries to war-weary Americans about a cowboy attack on Iran before the Bush administration leaves office.

On cue, administration surrogates, such as former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, repeated Petraeus’s charges: “...despite undeniable progress against Sunni radicalism [read: al-Qaeda], events in Iraq are still inseparable from the actions and attitudes of Shiite militias armed and directed by Iran—an influence that America failed to confront for many years.”

Not only has America failed to confront these Shiite militias, the Bush administration has been enabling them.

The congressional hearings failed to bring out, because of administration intention and Democratic ignorance, that Maliki’s security forces are infested with Shiite Badr Brigade militias that Iran prefers over the Iraqi nationalist Mahdi Army.

The confused milieu of Iraq, an administration with no coherent strategy to improve the conditions in that country, has always tried to downplay that the U.S.-backed Shiite government and its associated militias are the same ones backed by its archenemy, Iran.

But the hearings once again confirmed that the administration, always better at politics than at governing, does have a strategy: hold the lid on violence in Iraq until the Bush administration leaves office, and then blame any subsequent deterioration or loss in Iraq on the next administration.

This tack will be similar to the ludicrous argument that Henry Kissinger, who has been advising both the administration and presidential candidate John McCain, still uses about the Vietnam War: we were winning until the Democrats cut off funding for the war.

This explains Bush’s acceptance of Petraeus’s troop-withdrawal pause, which will undoubtedly continue until January of 2009. Of course, retaining a high level of U.S. forces, and the troop surge that preceded it, really has just been an insurance policy and a macho way to mask the real U.S. strategy of paying off the Sunni and Mahdi Army enemies.

This libertarian strategy ordinarily might be smart, except that bolstering these militias will, in the long run, exacerbate any civil war when they again begin to fight each other.

At the congressional hearings, however, there were signs that the latest botched Iraqi government offensive in Basra, the most important city in Iraq because it’s in a region containing 60 percent of the country’s oil and has Iraq’s only access to the Persian Gulf to ship that oil (why the U.S. let less capable British forces try to secure this city has been an unexplored administration blunder), was beginning to flip a few Republicans against the war.

This movement was indicated by some Republicans adopting the Democrats’ argument that Iraqis were failing to do enough to become democratic.

Although it is grossly unfair to invade a country, destroy its social fabric and economy, and then expect people who have had no experience in democracy to quickly become democrats, if it takes those rhetorical gymnastics to justify a more rapid U.S. withdrawal, then I guess it’s an improvement.

But unfortunately, as the hearings showed, progress toward a U.S. exit is very slow indeed.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cheney camp 'behind Syrian reactor claim'.

This is from ABC (Australia) This article gives a motive as to why the U.S. might want to play up North Korea's alleged role in building a reactor in Syria. This could derail negotiations with North Korea if they are not already on the rails.
Of course the U.S. always takes every opportunity it can to blacken the reputation of Syria. No one notices that attacking the reactor was a clear violation of international law and the UN charter. Israeli (and US) violations of international law or the UN charter don't count. They are the good guys after all.


Cheney camp 'behind Syrian reactor claim'
Posted Fri Apr 25, 2008 12:04pm AEST
Updated Fri Apr 25, 2008 12:26pm AEST


'Out to scupper diplomacy': Dick Cheney (File photo) (Getty Images: Win McNamee)

Video: US Govt outlines allegations (ABC News) Audio: US says Israel destroyed suspected nuclear reactor in Syria (AM) Related Story: N Korea helped Syria build bombed reactor: US US Government allegations that North Korea helped Syria build a nuclear reactor have been greeted with scepticism because of their timing.

Israeli jets bombed the alleged site in Syria's eastern desert last September.

Today, after months of whispers, the White House publicly claimed that the target of the strike was a nuclear reactor.

It said the reactor was being built with North Korean help and was not intended for peaceful purposes.

US intelligence officials said the reactor had been close to becoming operational when it was destroyed.

But Mike Chinoy, from the Pacific Council on International Policy, says the claim needs to be taken in its political context, as North Korea's denuclearisation reaches a critical stage.

"Everything I'm hearing from my own sources in Washington is that what you have now is a kind of push back by Vice-President [Dick] Cheney and his office and other hardliners who are opposed to diplomatic dealings with North Korea," he said.

"[They are] hoping that by making public these allegations of nuclear cooperation it will torpedo the diplomatic process."

Earlier White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the US would be continuing its six-country talks with North Korea.

Scepticism toward Bush claims about Syria and North Korea.

This is from Salon.
The hand of Cheny should be visible behind all this. There does not seem to be much critical acumen in most of the mainstream press. Plenty of space is given for regurgiitating official accounts but little to critical analysis of the validity of them. This article shows some of the reasons for scepticism.



Glenn Greenwald
Friday April 25, 2008 07:12 EDT
Skepticism toward Bush claims about Syria and North Korea
(updated below - Update II)

There are multiple reasons why substantial skepticism is warranted concerning the Bush administration's claims that the structure which Israeli jets destroyed inside Syria last September was a nuclear reactor Syria was developing with the aid of North Korea. Such skepticism, however, is difficult to find in most (though not all) American press accounts, which do little other than repeat Government claims without challenge.

This Associated Press article, for instance, is 32 paragraphs long, yet it contains little other than unchallenged assertions by the Bush administration, using the now-familiar media conventions for disseminating government claims -- i.e., quoting administration accusations without challenge and then granting completely unwarranted anonymity to "intelligence officials" to echo those accusations:

The White House said Thursday that North Korea did secret work on a nuclear reactor with Syria . . .

Seven months after Israel bombed the site, the White House broke its silence and said North Korea assisted Syria in a secret nuclear program. . . .

While calling North Korea's nuclear assistance to Syria a "dangerous manifestation" of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program and its proliferation activities, the White House said. . . .

The United States became aware North Korea was helping Syria with a nuclear project in 2003, said intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the matter's sensitivity . . .

The critical intelligence that cemented that conclusion, they said, came last year: dozens of photographs taken from ground level over a period of time, showing the construction both inside and outside the building. . . .

The Israeli strike on Sept. 6, 2007, ripped open the structure and revealed even more evidence to spy satellites: reinforced concrete walls that echoed the design of the Yongbyon reactor. . . .

The alleged Syrian nuclear reactor was within weeks or months of being functional, a top U.S. official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. . . .

But the U.S. official said the reactor was similar in design to a North Korean reactor at Yongbyon, which has produced small amounts of plutonium, the material needed to make powerful nuclear weapons. . . .

The White House also used its statement as an opportunity to denounce the nuclear activities of Iran, which it says is a threat to the stability of the Middle East.

The article contains cursory denials by the Syrian government, as well as complaints from various members of Congress that they should have been shown this evidence earlier. But there is scarcely a skeptical word in the article about the veracity of the administration's accusations against Syria and North Korea. The same is essentially true for articles by The Washington Post and Reuters, although this Financial Times piece at least notes:
While US and Israeli intelligence suggests Syria was close to completing the physical reactor, they have no evidence that Syria had obtained plutonium to feed into the reactor. "The US does not have any indication of how Syria would fuel this reactor, and no information that North Korea had already, or intended, to provide the reactor's fuel," said David Albright, a nuclear expert at the The Institute for Science and International Security.
Beyond the lack of evidence supporting the Israeli and American claims that "Syria was close to completing the physical reactor," there are multiple other reasons for skepticism. This article by David Sanger in The New York Times references several of them, including the fact that "senior intelligence officials acknowledged that the evidence had left them with no more than 'low confidence' that Syria was preparing to build a nuclear weapon" and some of the photographs in the video presentation 'seemed to go back to before 2002.'"

There are all sorts of reasons beyond those for extreme skepticism here. After flamboyantly announcing that they had actual video of North Korean nuclear scientists inside the Syrian building, it turned out that the "video" was merely a compilation of rather unrevealing still photographs patched together, in Colin-Powell-at-the-UN fashion, with ominous narration making accusations with a level of certainty completely unmatched by the "evidence" itself. The one "smoking gun" photograph from the video -- the alleged North Korean head of that country's reactor fuel plant standing in Syria (in a sweat suit) posing next to the head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission -- seems to raise more questions than it resolves:


If two countries are engaged in a highly covert and nefarious program to build nuclear weapons, are their leading nuclear officials really going to pose together outdoors for a smiling, casual, tourist-like photograph? At the very least, that photograph -- touted as the most direct evidence -- hardly constitutes compelling or even minimally convincing evidence of the administration's accusations. To the contrary, the whole episode reminds one of Howard Dean's prescient reaction to the Colin Powell U.N. slideshow, which Dean delivered in a speech on Febraury 17, 2003 at Drake University:

Secretary Powell's recent presentation at the UN showed the extent to which we have Iraq under an audio and visual microscope. Given that, I was impressed not by the vastness of evidence presented by the Secretary, but rather by its sketchiness.
Beyond all of this, there are all sorts of motives for the administration to exaggerate or outright fabricate these accusations. There have long been, and still are, influential neoconservative factions eager for confrontation with Syria. Similar factions want to derail talks with North Korea. And the administration's reflexive support for anything Israel does -- particularly when it comes to acts of military aggression -- along with its possible approval of or even active support for the air strike, provide obvious incentive to justify the destruction of this building.

That the administration is voicing these accusations is, of course, news, and the accusations ought to be reported. And even though it seems unlikely for numerous reasons, it's at least theoretically possible that the Syrians are attempting to develop a nuclear reactor for non-civilian purposes with the help of a cash-strapped North Korea. But there is no value -- and much potential harm -- in having media outlets simply amplify Government accusations with little or no critical scrutiny.

Worse still -- though completely unsurprising -- is the almost complete lack of challenge to the underlying premises. We just accept uncritically the idea that it is the expression of Ultimate Evil for Syria (or Iran) even to pursue nuclear power in accordance with their obligations under the NPT, let alone develop a nuclear weapon, even while Israel stockpiles enormous amounts of nuclear weapons and refuses to be a party to that treaty. Virtually nobody questions the right of Israel simply to attack its neighbors whenever it wants (imagine the reaction if Syria or Iran had unilaterally bombed a facility inside Israel which it claimed was used to develop destructive weapons). And all of that is underscored by recent claims by the Israeli Government that President Bush himself expressly approved of Israeli plans to expand settlement activities in the West Bank at a time when he was pretending to support a halt to that expansion.

As the recent Democratic debate conclusively proved -- in which both candidates (Clinton far more extensively than Obama) vowed that the U.S. would consider an attack on Israel to be an attack on the U.S. -- our extremely consequential policy of reflexive support for Israel, no matter what it does, remains the least debatable issue in American political life. But even within those restrictive parameters, extreme skepticism is obviously warranted when the U.S., in defense of Israeli military action, begins making rather extraordinary and potentially quite provocative accusations against one of Israel's prime Middle Eastern enemies.

UPDATE: As Jim White notes, the IAEA is condemning both Israel and the U.S. -- Israel for the unilateral attack on Syria without even asking the IAEA to inspect the facility (an inspection Syria would have been required by the NPT to allow), and the U.S. for withholding from the IAEA its claimed evidence of Syrian nuclear activities. But as is well known, international obligations of that sort are just like the word "Terrorism" -- they don't apply to the U.S. or Israel. They're only to be cited when it comes time to "justify" military action by those two countries against others.

UPDATE II: To see how a real reporter examines claims from the U.S. (and Israeli) Government regarding this attack on Syria, see this lengthy and very balanced article in the February 11 issue of The New Yorker, by Seymour Hersh. Hersh clearly doesn't discount the possibility that what the Israelis destroyed was a nuclear facility -- remaining open to the question while refusing to assume the Truth of official statements is, after all, what "skepticism" means -- but he offers extensive evidence and informed speculation as to why these claims are unconvincing. In doing so, he recounts this:

In mid-1998, American reconnaissance satellites photographed imagery of a major underground construction project at Kumchang-ri, twenty-five miles northwest of Yongbyon. "We were briefed that, without a doubt, this was a nuclear-related facility, and there was signals intelligence linking the construction brigade at Kumchang-ri to the nuclear complex at Yongbyon," the former State Department intelligence expert recalled.

Charles Kartman, who was President Bill Clinton’s special envoy for peace talks with Korea, told me that the intelligence was considered a slam dunk by analysts in the Defense Intelligence Agency, even though other agencies disagreed. "We had a debate going on inside the community, but the D.I.A. unilaterally took it to Capitol Hill," Kartman said, forcing the issue and leading to a front-page Times story.

After months of negotiations, Kartman recalled, the North Koreans agreed, under diplomatic pressure, to grant access to Kumchang-ri. In return, they received aid, including assistance with a new potato-production program. Inspectors found little besides a series of empty tunnels. Robert Carlin, an expert on North Korea who retired in 2005 after serving more than thirty years with the C.I.A. and the State Department's intelligence bureau, told me that the Kumchang-ri incident highlighted "an endemic weakness" in the American intelligence community. "People think they know the ending and then they go back and find the evidence that fits their story," he said. "And then you get groupthink -- and people reinforce each other."

Additionally, Hersh offers several possible motives for the Israeli attack, including:
"The silence from all parties has been deafening," David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post, "but the message to Iran" -- which the Administration had long suspected of pursuing a nuclear weapon -- "is clear: America and Israel can identify nuclear targets and penetrate air defenses to destroy them" . . . .

Shortly after the bombing, a Chinese envoy and one of the Bush Administration's senior national-security officials met in Washington. The Chinese envoy had just returned from a visit to Tehran, a person familiar with the discussion told me, and he wanted the White House to know that there were moderates there who were interested in talks. The [Bush] national-security official rejected that possibility and told the envoy, as the person familiar with the discussion recalled, "The Israelis are extremely serious about Iran and its nuclear program, and I believe that, if the United States government is unsuccessful in its diplomatic dealings with Iran, the Israelis will take it out militarily." He then told the envoy that he wanted him to convey this to his government -- that the Israelis were serious.

"He was telling the Chinese leadership that they'd better warn Iran that we can't hold back Israel, and that the Iranians should look at Syria and see what's coming next if diplomacy fails," the person familiar with the discussion said. "His message was that the Syrian attack was in part aimed at Iran."

And:
In Tel Aviv, the senior Israeli official pointedly told me, "Syria still thinks Hezbollah won the war in Lebanon" -- referring to the summer, 2006, fight between Israel and the Shiite organization headed by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. "Nasrallah knows how much that war cost—one-third of his fighters were killed, infrastructure was bombed, and ninety-five per cent of his strategic weapons were wiped out," the Israeli official said. "But Assad has a Nasrallah complex and thinks Hezbollah won. And, 'If he did it, I can do it.' This led to an adventurous mood in Damascus. Today, they are more sober."

That notion was echoed by the ambassador of an Israeli ally who is posted in Tel Aviv. "The truth is not important," the ambassador told me. "Israel was able to restore its credibility as a deterrent. That is the whole thing. No one will know what the real story is."

That's what real reporting looks like. As always, it's striking how completely it's missing from the vast majority of American media accounts on this matter, which do almost nothing other than uncritically repeat Government claims.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Socialists slam Sarkozy over new benefit for poor.

This is distributing wealth from the poor to the poor, but I guess that is an improvement from distributing wealth from the poor to the rich. Maybe the point is that misery should be distributed more equally among the poor. France has always had an egalitarian streak! This is from IHT.

Socialists slam Sarkozy over new benefit for poor
By Thierry Leveque
Reuters
Friday, April 25, 2008
PARIS: France's opposition Socialists accused President Nicolas Sarkozy of helping some poor people by penalising others on Friday after he said he would fund a new state benefit by cutting tax breaks for low income workers.

The new "active solidarity revenue" of 1,000 to 2,000 euros (787-1,573 pounds) per person per month is intended to help poor single parents and long-term unemployed people. It is expected to benefit 1.9 million people.

Sarkozy said it would cost the state 1.5 billion euros in new funding. Extra money would come from savings obtained by cutting tax breaks for low income workers that currently benefit 8-9 million people and cost 4 billion euros a year.

"He is redistributing money from the poor to the poor instead of taking it back from the rich," said Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate who lost last year's presidential election to Sarkozy.

The new scheme, now being trialled in 34 of France's 100 local government areas, aims to give the poor an incentive to take a job rather than remain on welfare. As things stand, people automatically lose certain state benefits when they take a job and in some cases their income decreases.

In the only major domestic policy announcement of a prime-time interview on Thursday night, aimed at boosting his low popularity ratings, Sarkozy said he would extend the scheme to the whole country next year.

SOCIALIST PROTEST

The Socialists, who introduced the tax breaks for low earners when they were in government in 2001, say Sarkozy has largely helped the rich with his own 15 billion euro tax cut package, introduced shortly after he took office.

A Socialist party statement said French families in the lower income bracket would lose some of their purchasing power. It said the tax breaks for such families should be increased by 50 percent, not reduced.

But Martin Hirsch, a former charity head recruited into the government by Sarkozy to look for ways of reducing poverty, defended the plan, which was his brainchild.

"This is really excellent news for all of those who are facing difficulties and who can't escape from poverty ... I think this is going to bring about significant social progress," Hirsch told France Info radio.

A public finances watchdog had said in a 2006 report that the tax breaks were not effective because they were spread too thinly, making little impact on individual households' income or on job creation.

(Writing by Estelle Shirbon, editing by Mark Trevelyan)



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright © 2008 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com

UN probes US Syria reactor claim

This is from the BBC. There is nothing but contempt for the IAEA on the part of the U.S. and Israel. The US and Israel have their own agendas. Israel's raid is a clear violation of the UN charter and international law but no one ever bothers with that aspect of the situation. Both Israel and the U.S. hid intelligence from the IAEA which they were duty bound to provide. The IAEA of course had no chance to investigate before the Israelis bombed the site.
Seymour Hersch had written earlier about the nuclear claim. As his article points out it is certainly rather weird that there seems no evidence of security around what is supposed to be a place where a reactor is being built:

"Much of what one would expect to see around a secret nuclear site was lacking at the target, a former State Department intelligence expert who now deals with proliferation issues for the Congress said. “There is no security around the building,” he said. “No barracks for the Army or the workers. No associated complex.” Jeffrey Lewis, who heads the non-proliferation program at the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, told me that, even if the width and the length of the building were similar to the Korean site, its height was simply not sufficient to contain a Yongbyon-size reactor and also have enough room to extract the control rods, an essential step in the operation of the reactor; nor was there evidence in the published imagery of major underground construction. “All you could see was a box,” Lewis said. “You couldn’t see enough to know how big it will be or what it will do. It’s just a box.”

A former senior U.S. intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, said, “We don’t have any proof of a reactor—no signals intelligence, no human intelligence, no satellite intelligence.” Some well-informed defense consultants and former intelligence officials asked why, if there was compelling evidence of nuclear cheating involving North Korea, a member of the President’s axis of evil, and Syria, which the U.S. considers a state sponsor of terrorism, the Bush Administration would not insist on making it public."






UN probes US Syria reactor claim
The UN's nuclear watchdog has said it will investigate US claims that Syria was building a secret nuclear reactor with North Korean help.

The International Atomic Energy Agency criticised the US for withholding its intelligence until seven months after Israel bombed the site.

The US said the alleged Syrian reactor "was not for peaceful purposes".

Syria has said the US claim is "ridiculous" and has denied any nuclear links to North Korea.

The site of the alleged reactor, said to be like one in North Korea, was bombed by Israel in 2007.

'Unused military site'

The director general of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, has now been briefed by the US on their claims but "deplores" the delay, a statement from the agency said.

"The agency will treat this information with the seriousness it deserves and will investigate the veracity of the information," the statement said.


SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
6 Sept 2007: Israel bombs site in Syria
1 Oct: Syria's President Assad tells BBC site was military
24 Oct: New satellite images taken show site bulldozed clear
24 April 2008: US claims Syrian site was nuclear reactor


The agency was critical of both the US delay in releasing the information and of Israel's bombing of the site before the IAEA could inspect it.

"The director general views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the non-proliferation regime," the statement said.

The statement is a clear indication that Mr ElBaradei is not accepting the US claims at face value and wants his own first-hand information, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall.

Syrian officials have said the site that was bombed by Israel on 6 September 2007 was an unused military facility under construction. Building on the site had stopped some time before the air strike, the Syrians said.

On Thursday, American security officials showed members of Congress evidence they said proved Syria was building a nuclear reactor with North Korean assistance.

Among the evidence they displayed were pictures - said to have been obtained by Israel - allegedly taken inside the facility showing the reactor core being built.

The images showed striking similarities between the Syrian facility and the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon, the US said.

However, the facility was not yet operational and there was no fuel for the reactor, officials said.

US concern

The White House said Syria's "cover-up" operation after the Israeli air strike reinforced its belief that the alleged reactor "was not intended for peaceful activities".


Please turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

Images released by the CIA- footage courtesy of US Government video

In late October 2007, an independent American research organisation, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), released pre- and post-strike satellite images of the site which indicated it had been bulldozed flat after the bombing.

"Until 6 September, 2007, the Syrian regime was building a covert nuclear reactor in its eastern desert capable of producing plutonium," the White House statement said.

"The Syrian regime must come clean before the world regarding its illicit nuclear activities."

The statement added that the US had long been "seriously concerned about North Korea's nuclear weapons programme and its proliferation activities".

'Ridiculous allegations'

Syrian officials have denied any North Korean involvement in their country.

"These allegations are ridiculous," Syria's ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami, told the BBC.






"We are used to such allegations now, since the day the United States has invaded Iraq - you remember all the theatrical presentations concerning the WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] in Iraq."

Mr Khiyami said the facility was a deserted military building that had "nothing to do with a reactor".

Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which gives it the right to enrich its own fuel for civil nuclear power, under inspection from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

North Korea has previously denied transferring nuclear technology to Syria.

Ulterior motive?

The White House insists it is committed to the ongoing six-nation diplomacy, between North Korea and the US, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia that led to a landmark deal with Pyongyang, in February 2007.

North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in return for aid and its removal from a blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism. But the US has accused Pyongyang of missing the deadline to make a full nuclear declaration as promised.

The CIA briefing and statement coincided with the end of a two-day meeting between US and North Korean officials on Pyongyang's nuclear programme, which both sides say went well - fuelling speculation that a deal may be imminent.

But questions are being asked whether the reactor claim is designed to reinforce those diplomatic efforts or an attempt by some in the administration to undermine them.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/middle_east/7366658.stm

Pakistan fury at NATO border raid

Anti-American and anti-NATO feelings in Pakistan run high. Even the party of Bhutto is reacting against U.S. policy and seeking peace with the Taliban. At the same time NATO carries on an operation such as this. Of course drone attacks have been rather common as well.
Sometimes I wonder if U.S. foreign policy makes any sense at all or if it is run by different people on different days of the week!


Pakistan fury at Nato border raid


Pakistan's foreign ministry has said it has lodged a "strong protest" with Nato and the Afghan military after a border skirmish left a Pakistani soldier dead.

At least eight Taleban militants were also killed during the clashes which began when an Afghan border post was attacked before dawn on Wednesday.

During the battle, Nato forces fired shells and carried out an incursion into the Bajaur tribal region, it said.

Nato has not been granted permission to pursue militants over the frontier.

The Pakistani government warned earlier this year that unauthorised incursions by foreign troops would be treated as an invasion.

At a news conference, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said Nato and Afghanistan had insisted their troops had only deliberately targeted the militants who initiated the attack. .

We emphasised that military action on Pakistan side is the exclusive responsibility of Pakistani forces

Mohammad Sadiq
Pakistan Foreign Ministry


"We have lodged a strong protest with the Afghan and Isaf (Nato-led International Security Assistance Force) side and told them in clear terms that such incidents must not be repeated," he said.

"We emphasised that military action on Pakistan side is the exclusive responsibility of Pakistani forces," he added.

The US military has in the past, however, launched several missiles targeting Islamist militants based in Pakistan.

A senior al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan, Abu Laith al-Libi, is believed to have been killed in a such a strike in North Waziristan in January.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pakistan Taliban leader orders militants to halt attacks

This is from the CBC. The new Pakistani government is undercutting U.S. policy completely. The U.S. is gungho for battle with the Taliban and was urging Musharraf to battle them even more than he was. Now, the Pakistani government and the Taliban are in effect declaring a truce. This will indeed enable the Taliban to regroup and to solidify their control of the tribal areas. No doubt there will be more infiltration of militants into Afghanistan.



Taliban leader orders militants to halt attacks
Last Updated: Thursday, April 24, 2008 | 8:58 AM ET Comments59Recommend55CBC News
A senior Taliban commander in Pakistan has ordered his followers to stop all attacks along the Afghanistan border, threatening those who disobey him with severe consequences.

Baitullah Mehsud, an al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani warlord whom authorities said was behind the killing of Benazir Bhutto, warned those who don't abide by the command will be publicly hanged upside down.

The order is final and there will be no leniency, the leaflet says.

The previous, pro-Musharraf government accused Mehsud in the December assassination of Bhutto. But Mehsud has reportedly denied involvement, and Bhutto's party has not repeated the assertion.

The leaflet was distributed a day after Pakistan's new government drafted a peace agreement with the Taliban in the tribal belt.

It also follows the release earlier this week of pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Muhammad.

The government of the North West Frontier Province said Muhammad's group signed a pact renouncing violence in return for being allowed to peacefully campaign for Islamic law in the Swat Valley and neighbouring areas.

But critics have said these deals give militants the ability to regroup and intensify their attacks.

On Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the Bush administration has "been concerned about these types of approaches, because we don't think they work."

"What we encourage them to do," Perino said, "is to continue to fight against the terrorists and to not disrupt any security or military operations that are ongoing in order to help prevent a safe haven for terrorists there."

With files from the Associated Press

Maoists conciliatory after election victory in Nepal

This is from the Guardian. Fortunately it seems as if the monarchy hasn't the power to strike back unlike Mugabe in Zimbabwe who refuses to accept electoral defeat. The Maoists did far better than predicted and other opposition parties including another communist party did poorly. However the Maoists will need to reach out to others to form a majority.
A constitution has still to be drawn up but so far there has been no return to civil war.

Former rebels conciliatory after election victory in NepalRandeep Ramesh, South Asia correspondent The Guardian, Thursday April 24 2008 Article historyAbout this articleClose This article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday April 24 2008 on p22 of the International section. It was last updated at 00:11 on April 24 2008. Nepal's former Maoist rebels emerged triumphant as the largest party in the country's new parliament last night, signalling they would work with the traditional politicians who have been routed.

The Communist party of Nepal (Maoist) will end up with a shade fewer than 220 seats in the 601-member assembly, winning half the 240 constituencies and a third of the 335 seats allocated under proportional representation.

The cabinet will nominate a further 26 members of the assembly, which will write a new constitution and end the 240-year-old monarchy. The Nepali Congress (NC) party, which currently heads the ruling coalition, and the mainstream communists known as the UML (Unified Marxist-Leninist) will each have 100 seats.

The Maoist party's stunning success appears to be founded on its use of identity politics - and a campaign of intimidation. Analysts say the former rebels directly elected 21 women, compared with one female NC assembly member.

"The dalits [untouchables] of Nepal voted solidly for them. That is 14%of the population. These people have been outcasts in Nepali society for decades and finally they felt they could teach the older parties who were seen as corrupt a lesson," said CK Lal, a columnist. "In a number of ways [Maoists] have shown themselves to be much more inclusive."

The party's chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a charismatic former guerrilla known as Prachanda, is likely to become prime minister.

Although the Maoists will be dominant, they cannot rule alone, and talks have begun to bring the established parties into government. The leadership met the country's business community yesterday to assuage fears that they would embark on a programme of nationalisation. They appear also to be quietly shelving their election pledge to abolish Gurkha recruitment in the British and Indian armies.

There are 3,500 Gurkha soldiers in the British army, which recruits 250 men a year from villages in Nepal. The Maoist manifesto describes Gurkha soldiers fighting under a foreign flag as "mercenaries". "[It] was in the manifesto but the immediate concern is forming a government. We have other things to do," said Dinanath Sharma, a spokesman for the Maoist party.

More pressing is the ending of the monarchy and integrating the 25,000 members of the People's Liberation Army into Nepal's armed forces.

The party is positioning itself as a champion of social justice, with its student wing taking to the streets to demand free education until the age of 15.

"What the Maoists want is control of health, education, control of village development - the stuff that has immediate impact on ordinary people," said a diplomat in Kathmandu. "They want to show that they can manage a peaceful transition, end up as revolutionaries in the land of Buddha. But how long it lasts, who knows?"

Oil Underlies Darfur Tragedy

This is an old article but it serves to remind us that Darfur is not just a humanitarian tragedy. The roots of the crisis are not only in Christian, Muslim conflict and tribal conflicts but also in struggles to control oil involving numerous interests including China and the US that are outside Sudan itself. The article is from Zaman Daily.
Published on Monday, July 5, 2004 by Zaman Daily

Oil Underlies Darfur Tragedy
By Cumali Onal

The fighting in Sudan's Darfur region, which is being reported in the world press as 'ethnic cleansing' and a 'humanitarian crisis', reportedly stems from attempts to gain control over the oil resources in the region, claim Arab sources.

These Arab sources find it interesting that such skirmishes occurred when a peace agreement that would have brought an end to 21 years of north-south conflict was about to be signed. The sources point out that oil fields have recently been discovered in Darfur.

So far at least 10,000 people have lost their lives as a result of the fighting between Arab residents and locals in Darfur, while over a million have fled their homes.

The Sudanese government claims that there is a serious humanitarian crisis in the region. However, the Khartoum administration adds that some countries and groups, primarily Western humanitarian aid foundations and media institutions, are playing up the incidents in an attempt to make Sudan appear unstable and in need of foreign intervention.

The Sudanese government announced yesterday that the African Union would meet in Ethiopia at the end of the month to find a peaceful resolution to the Darfur crisis. Sudan agreed to send more military forces to the region after the visits of US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Khartoum also declared that it would attempt to disarm the Janjaweed since they are believed to be behind the attacks.

In Sudan, Africa's largest country with more than 2.5 million square meters of land, more than 30 armed groups fight against the central administration.

Khartoum reached an agreement with one of these groups, Sudanese People Liberation Army (SPLA), to end the 21-year long conflict that has caused the deaths of over 2 million people. Issues such as how the authority will be shared and the region's autonomy are being discussed in the peace negotiations taking place in Kenya.

Nearly all of the groups fighting against the Sudanese government are supported by neighboring countries; however, there are reports that some of the groups are supported by Israel, European countries, and the US.

It is claimed that the American administration has given at least 20 million dollars worth of aid to the SPLA and other armed groups allied with this organization. Arab sources point to the involvement of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) in the Darfur incidents as the primary piece of evidence that the struggle is based on oil. SLA has close relations with SPLA, led by John Garang, and it is demanding oil form the government. Arab sources indicate that an oil agreement between the Sudanese government and SPLA could make the armed militias stronger.

According to the agreement, the SPLA has a stake in a large portion of the oil income from the south. It is claimed that significant amount of that money is probably dispersed to the other armed groups. Experts state that a 3 billion dollar project sponsored by Western countries to open the oil in the region to the world markets through the Mombassa Port of Kenya would speed Sudan's disintegration.

Another group involved in the Darfur clashes, the Justice and Equality Movement, is known for its closeness to Hasan Turabi, who is the ideologist of the regime in Sudan.

According to the agreement reached between the SPLA and the government last year, the southern part of the country will be ruled by an autonomous structure and a referendum will be held for independence. These tribes, most of them believing in local religions, will most likely clash with each other if the region were to become independent. However, since some of these tribes are Christians, Western countries -primarily the US- might intervene in the region in order to provide stability.

It is stated that all of the neighboring countries except Egypt have direct relations with the armed groups in Sudan.

Chad, which has close relations with the armed groups in Darfur, favors Sudan's territorial integrity. This is an abrupt shift from the Chad's previous policy.

It is known that Ethiopia is one of the most active countries in the 21-year long north-south war. Reportedly, it had role in conveying the aid from Israel and the US to SPLA. It also reportedly provided logistical support to these groups.

Eritrea is suspected of having supported the Beja separatist movements in the northeastern part of Sudan.

Uganda, which claims that Khartoum supports the God's Resistance Army that fights against the Ugandan administration, is reportedly among the countries that help the opposition groups in Sudan.

Darfur Constitutes Backbone of Sudanese Army

There are more than 80 ethnic/religious groups among the 7 million inhabitants of Darfur. Some groups have kin relationships with neighboring country, Chad.

Chad President Idris Deby is a member of the Zaghawa tribe in Darfur. It is stated that three presidents, who held power in Chad, directed their fights from Darfur.

People in Darfur, many of whom are Muslim, also constitute 50 percent of Sudanese army. However, these people are generally prevented from promoting to higher ranks.
Article found at :
http://www.energybulletin.net/newswire.php?id=925

Original article :
http://www.zaman.com/?bl=international&alt=&trh=20040706&hn=10130

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Assessing the global food crisis.

This is from the BBC.
There is always funding for the war on terror but always a lack of funding for the war on hunger or poverty. As a result the poorest will be secure. Secure and starving to death. But the war on terror does not even produce security just as the war on poverty does not produce security from poverty.


Assessing the global food crisis

By Emily Buchanan
BBC News



"A silent tsunami which knows no borders sweeping the world".

That is how the head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) summed up the global food shortages.

It is certainly a storm that has hit with little warning and has plunged an extra 100 million people into poverty.

The crisis has triggered riots in Haiti, Cameroon, Indonesia and Egypt and is deemed a dangerous threat to stability.

It is not so much famine that is the worry, it is widespread misery and malnutrition.

The WFP's biggest concern is for the people living on 50 cents a day who have nothing to fall back on.

Budget shortfall

Amongst these are the 70 million people the organisation helps with food aid.

The costs of that aid have risen so sharply the WFP is now facing a $750m (£377m) shortfall in its budget.

It means some of their programmes may have to be cut and rations reduced.

So why have food prices soared?

The rises are due to a lethal combination of high fuel costs, bad weather in key food producing countries, the increase in land allocated to bio-fuels, and a surge in demand - much of it from the rising middle classes of China and India.



Agriculture stopped being sexy, it was all about unglamorous logistics

Amy Barry
Oxfam



The problem is that once the price of rice or wheat has risen, other factors kick in which make things worse.

There is panic and people start hoarding, speculators buy up supply, and food producing countries impose export controls to try and preserve food for their own people.

This then means less is available to be exported to countries which rely on food imports.

What can be done to solve the crisis?

On an optimistic note, WFP head Josette Sheeran said she was confident the world could produce the food it needed, it was just a question of riding this difficult period and getting enough resources to invest.

Planting less

But it is not going to be a quick fix.

She used the example of Kenya's Rift Valley where farmers even now are planting a third less of the land than last year.

This is because fertiliser has more than doubled in price.

"Soaring food prices should be a wake-up call for the world to make long term investment in the food supply chain," she said.

Small farmers are unable to deliver more food without that investment.


It is their plight, struggling with poor land, inadequate tools and lack of transport, that has made it so difficult for them to come out of poverty.

Amy Barry from Oxfam feels agriculture has been badly neglected.

"Agriculture stopped being sexy, it was all about unglamorous logistics," she said.

"The focus was more on delivering health and education services. That has to change."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has long put a high priority on helping the poor in developing countries.

In London on Tuesday he convened a meeting of food experts to try to come up with solutions.

He has called for a global review of bio-fuels policy and offered $900 million in extra aid.

Mr Brown said rising food prices posed as great a threat to world prosperity as the global credit crisis and warned that they threatened to reverse progress made to alleviate poverty.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/in_depth/7361945.stm

Published: 2008/04/22 22:06:42 GMT

© BBC MMVIII

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Philippines rejects bids for 2011bonds at auction

From the Economic Times (India) Obviously authorities think that the Philippines is less of a risk than bond purchasers. Authorities usually have an unrealistic optimistic view of their country's condition!




Philippines rejects bids for 2011 bond at auction
22 Apr, 2008, 1138 hrs IST, AGENCIES

MANILA: The Philippines' Bureau of Treasury rejected all bids at an auction of 2011 domestic bonds on Tuesday after the average rate offered was deemed too high. The Treasury had put seven billion pesos of the bond, originally issued as five-year paper in 2006, on sale.

The bond has a remaining life of three years and six months. Only 2.98 billion pesos of bids were recorded with the average rate at 7.711 percent. The closest comparison is the average rate of the 4-year bond at the last successful auction on Dec 11, which was at 5.876 percent.





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