June 26, 2019  

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus


(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)



Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler



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Entries in United States (18)


High food prices top UN agenda on World Food Day (REPORT) 

(Video: World Food Programme)

Rome: Global governance of food security and a so-called new world food order were on the table at World Food Day talks held by the United Nations on Tuesday in the face of drought and high prices.

The United Nations focused the talks in Rome on lowering food prices which have been pushed up by droughts in Australia and the United States and a drop in harvests in Europe and the Black Sea region.

A meeting at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization chaired by French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll brought together ministers from 20 countries including major producers and import-dependent developing countries.

“The key is to ensure global governance on food issues,” Le Foll said.  “Discussions were held on transparency in agricultural markets, the coordination of international actions, response to the global demand for food and the fight against the effects of volatility,” he added.

FAO chief Jose Graziano Da Silva said: “Food prices and volatility have increased in recent years. This is expected to continue in the medium-term.”

He said new mechanisms for stronger global governance of food security that are being set up were part of “a new world order that needs to emerge.”

(PHOTO: YemenFoxNet)But there were divisions among participants at the meeting, with the United States voicing strong opposition to the proposal of setting up strategic food reserves in particularly vulnerable countries, to be tapped when prices spike.

Graziano Da Silva said establishing reserves could be “an instrument to avoid poor countries paying the price” of price rises — although FAO’s official position is only in favor of setting up “small emergency stocks”.

“If you bolster the size of the stocks, you increase difficulties in terms of costs and management,” said FAO’s David Hallam, who is in charge of markets.

Millions go hungry

Around 870 million people in the world suffer from hunger, even though gains have been made in recent years when the United Nations estimated 1 billion people on the planet were not getting enough to eat. Still, the number is troubling.

FAO said the talks were aimed at boosting “the effectiveness of measures to address food price volatility and to reduce its impact on the most vulnerable.”

Global food prices rose by 1.4 per cent last month, after holding steady for two months, as cereals, meat and dairy prices climbed, the FAO said earlier.

The food import bill for poor countries is therefore estimated to rise by 3.7 percentage points from last year to $36.5 billion.

The FAO estimates that about 870 million people in the world - or one in eight humans - suffer from hunger, saying the figure is “unacceptably high” even though it has gone down from more than a billion in the early 1990s.

The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said that figure rises to 1.5 billion people if you include malnourishment which hampers the physical and psychological developments of children.

(PHOTO: Agriaim)When global food prices rise as they are doing now “it is not just that there are fewer meals but the meals are also less varied,” De Schutter said, adding: “This threat is not really seen as a priority but it should be.”

Graziano Da Silva said it was vital to help small farmers as a way of combating hunger and World Food Day events highlighted the crucial role played by farming cooperatives in the developing world.

He underlined the fact that the figure of the number of people suffering from hunger had stopped going down over the past five years.  “The numbers are increasing in Africa and the Middle East,” he said.

“We cannot tolerate this in a land of plenty where production is sufficient for everyone,” he said, adding that the funds for aid and agriculture budgets had gone down over the past three decades, stranding small farmers.  “They have had to fight to adapt,” he said.

Graziano Da Silva added that promises made by governments to eradicate hunger made when prices hit record highs in 2007 and 2008 had not been kept.

The non-governmental group Action Against Hunger said that “some 100 million more people have become under-nourished” due to the price rises of 2008.

In a message to mark World Food Day, Pope Benedict hailed cooperatives as “an expression of true subsidiarity” and urged the international community to come up with legal and financial mechanisms to strengthen them.

The pope also emphasized the “vital role” played by women in cooperatives.

- This article appeared in GulfNews.


Iraq and the Limits of US Power (COMMENTARY) 

By Paul Mutter

Malaki and Obama 

 “Washington has lost a valuable opportunity to nurture and support a key counterweight to Iranian influence among Shiites in the Arab world,” lament Danielle Pletka and Gary Schmitt of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute in an op-ed for the Washington Post. They subsequently call on the Obama administration to bulk up its already grossly overloaded staff at the gigantic U.S. embassy in Baghdad. But in these few words, the two writers fleshed out a more fundamental concern for hawkish pundits in the Middle East: the fear of a “Shia Crescent” of Iranian-backed regimes in Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Indeed, with Iran now able to meddle in Iraq in ways it never could have with Saddam Hussein in power, the country will be more able to contest US-Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. The grim irony, notes Ted Galen Carpenter, is that by invading Iraq in 2003, “the United States has paid a terrible cost - some $850 billion and more than 4,400 dead American soldiers – to make Iran the most influential power in Iraq.” Few, if any, of the war’s architects and boosters will now concede this, even as they raise alarm over Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Looking East

But where today’s neoconservatives see an encroaching Iranian Islamist threat in the Middle East, an older guard has reached back to the not-so-distant Cold War past for parallels. Notably, many leading neoconservative lights hold out hope that Iraq can be turned into an Arabian version of postwar South Korea and Japan.

Prominent neoconservatives draw heavily on the memory of America’s seizure of Japanese hegemony in Asia after 1945. The United States worked steadfastly with postwar Japanese and South Korean governments to build the two countries up as buffers to Soviet and Chinese influence during the Cold War — efforts that were, by Washington’s standards at least, quite successful. Despite challenges from a resurgent China, the Pacific Ocean was (and still is) an American lake.

In a 2010 op-ed for the New York Times, leading Iraq war agitator Paul Wolfowitz invoked this history explicitly, treading breezily past US support for authoritarian South Korean regimes. “The United States stuck with South Korea even though the country was then ruled by a dictator and the prospects for its war-devastated economy looked dim,” he wrote. Wolfowitz noted that Iraq’s struggling democracy and central location were not unlike South Korea’s during the Cold War.

However unseemly, there is some truth to Wolfowitz’s recollection. It may be impossible to imagine a fifth column of South Korean agitators helping Pyongyang take over Seoul today, but during the Cold War this was a real concern for the United States. So Washington chose to prop up feudalistic landlords and former Japanese collaborators as Seoul’s ruling class, stiffening South Korea’s sinews against the appeal of the North Korean model with a glut of military and economic support. Today, Japan and South Korea remain firmly within the US fold.

Moreover, these alliances continue despite the brutal wars that spawned them. U.S.-led forces laid waste to the Korean peninsula with saturation bombing in the 1950s, but Washington could always count thereafter on “our men in Seoul.” Japan is an even more extreme case. After several years of firebombing and blockading the country, the United States annihilated two of the Japan’s cities with nuclear weapons. And yet Japan plays host to U.S. troops even today.

Those who fear that the United States “lost Iraq” because Barack Obama went through with the U.S. withdrawal schedule negotiated by President Bush are clearly thinking about longer-term issues of American hegemony (see Mitt Romney’s foreign policy white paper and list of advisors for good examples of this kind of thinking). It's simple logic, really: everything with Iraq keeps coming back to the dual-track policy of containment and rollback the United States has pursued against Iran. Iraq is a vital piece of this strategy; Juan Cole’s map of American bases around Iran is unimpeachable evidence of this.

American neoconservatives may hope that a U.S.-buttressed military-political establishment in Iraq could form a bulwark against a potential “Shia Crescent” led by Iran, just as South Korea and Japan helped stem the red tide spreading through East Asia during the Cold War. They may even have some reason to hope that Iraqis will overlook their resentment over the immensely destructive US war on the country.

Wishful Thinking

Just as in South Korea and Japan, there are Iraqis who see the United States as a partner — or at least as a cash cow that can be milked by exploiting US jitters about Iran. In contrast to most Iraqi politicians, who have been almost uniformly opposed to an ongoing US military presence in Iraq, there are Iraqi military officers who wanted to maintain ties with the US military because they doubted their own forces could keep the peace.

There are always people within a country's security establishment who can be made into agents of American influence. But in Iraq, the United States is confronting a much less homogeneous society than in South Korea or Japan, and it faces a much better equipped rival for hegemonic influence in Iran. As Washington’s influence in Baghdad recedes, Tehran’s hidden hands in Iraq are coming to the fore.

It’s not that Iran doesn’t have its own baggage to contend with in Iraq as it vies with the United States for influence—Iran wasn’t winning Iraqi hearts and minds, after all, when the two countries were busy destroying each other in the 1980s. But a key distinction for Iraqis between that war and the U.S. invasion was that the Iran-Iraq War was launched by their own Saddam Hussein, driving thousands of Iraqi Shia refugees into Iran by the end of the 1980s. By all appearances, America’s war on Iraq was purely voluntary and imposed on Iraqis from the outside. Moreover, Iran has from at least 1982 on been working to build up its own agents of influence in Iraq's security and religious establishments.

Most importantly, an Iraqi alignment with Iran is the result not only of two decades of Iranian intrigue, but also of two decades of US sanctions, war, and occupation. Especially since the US occupation, Iraqis have viewed Iranian machinations in Iraq—and even Iran’s quiet participation in Iraq’s horrific sectarian violence—as just another symptom of a plague brought by the US invasion. 

A Lack of Options

Suppose Obama came into office determined to overturn the withdrawal agreement and keep US troops in Iraq. What tools would he have to force Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reverse himself in the face of an angry Iraqi public and threats by some Shia groups to take up their arms again if the U.S. military presence continued? What could Obama do to "reclaim the partnership with Maliki," as Danielle Pletka and Gary Schmitt ask?

The answer is surprisingly little, mainly because the US-Iraqi relationship was never a partnership to begin with. It was, from the start, an occupation. The US presence in Iraq – where it tried not just to police the country but at times even had Provincial Reconstruction Teams stand in for civil society – meant that Maliki had little agency of his own. Additionally, holdouts like the Sadrists, Sunni tribal militias, and the Badr Brigades had little reason to lay down their arms; it was fight or collaborate, and they chose to fight.

But ever since the United States enabled Maliki to build his own security forces, electoral bloc, and bureaucracy – and thus achieve an understanding with members of the “insurgency” – he has found other people he can depend on to bolster his rule. He doesn't need US forces to intimidate, capture, or kill people for him; his own people are quite capable of doing that.

Far from being run out of the country after detaining hundreds of former Ba’athist officials this winter, Maliki has apparently managed to use such heavy-handed actions to his advantage. As paper by the neoconservative Institute for the Study of War recently noted, “It is clear that Maliki has come out as the winner . . . He has made it more difficult for his Shia rivals to dissent while simultaneously confining his Sunni opponents in a position suitable for exerting pressure and exploiting divisions within their ranks.” For all of the rampant disunity and criminality of the Iraqi government, its leadership has been able to achieve ever-greater independence from its U.S. backers.  

Most importantly, Iraq has little reason to sully an important relationship with its Iranian neighbor just to please Washington. Moreover, it’s uneasy about having such a long border with a regime change target and has no wish to get involved with the nuclear question that so preoccupies Israel and the United States. “Iraqis," Adil Shamoo notes, "can tell the difference between mutually beneficial programs and those that create the impression that the U.S. is powerful and can do what it wants in Iraq."

Out of Cards

Even "our man in Iraq" Ahmed Chalabi – who swept back into the country by way of Langley, Virginia after a decade of agitating for U.S.-led regime change in exile – wanted the United States out of Iraq because he thought it would be political suicide to keep associating with the country that paid his organization $335,000 a month during the first year of the occupation.

If the United States could not secure gratitude from a man who spent over a decade working with the CIA to overthrow Saddam Hussein, then from whom in Iraq can it call in any favors? Short of sectarian violence reaching the level it did in 2005, gratitude is the only thing that would compel Iraqi officials to reverse course, let U.S. troops back in, and focus their foreign policy efforts on a dual-track policy of rollback and containment against Iran.

Unfortunately for neoconservatives, Iraq is no South Korea or Japan, and “gratitude” seems to be in short supply.

-- Paul Mutter is a fellow at Truthout.org, as well as a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus, Mondoweiss, The Arabist, and Salon. He is currently on leave from NYU’s graduate program in journalism and international affairs.  This work by Institute for Policy Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.


Bruce Springsteen's Call to Battle (ANALYSIS)

Picture credit: Lord Henry/Flickr

By Richard Pithouse

In 1975 Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen's magnificent third album, crashed on to American radio with a dramatic lyrical intensity riding a rushing wall of rock and soul. Time and Newsweek put him on their covers in the same week and at 26 he found himself, along with Bob Dylan, as the newest avatar in the tradition of popular artists that, beginning with Walt Whitman and rolling on through Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly and John Steinbeck have brought a sympathetic poetic attention to the lives and struggles of ordinary Americans.

Springsteen has redeemed that promise for almost forty years with a rare ability to match artistic integrity with popular success. He's brought an astonishing commitment to three hour long shows that offer audiences a sense of community and solidarity rather than the spectacle into which popular music has often descended. And his abundance of albums and songs have often allowed audiences to feel that the music is about them and for them, or about people who may seem different but are ultimately like them, rather than an invitation to worship at the alter of celebrity. Springsteen is cited as an influence by filmmakers, writers, actors and musicians from Run-D.M.C. to Ani diFranco.

Springsteen has twice recorded albums that have become part of the collective experience and memory of a generation. In 1984 Born in the USA, with the rousing chorus of the title track famously misunderstood by Ronald Reagan, became a national soundtrack to a moment. And in 2002 The Rising, drawing on Sufi devotional music and informed by conversations with families who had lost relatives to the attacks on the World Trade Centre, became the definitive popular attempt to make sense of 9/11. Springsteen has also recorded albums that were never designed for the charts but have an integrity and creative intensity that gives them a slow burning power that inspires people, and all kinds of new artistic work, year after year.

Nebraska, released in 1982 is a lyrically and sonically stark take on the underside of Regan's America. In 1995 The Ghost of Tom Joad, an exquisite album initially inspired by John Ford's classic cinematic interpretation of John Steinbeck's great novel, The Grapes of Wrath, marked a shift in the staging of Springsteen's characters from the streets of New Jersey to Southern California. The Marys gave way to Marias and the strategy for getting out changed from a fast car out of small town New Jersey to a slow walk across the desert and from Mexico into California.

Springsteen has become more politically committed as he has got older. His 2006 album, The Seeger Sessions, a rambunctious foot stomping jol of a collection of old folk songs that had been recorded by the communist folk singer Pete Seeger, was an important moment in that trajectory. Forging a direct connection to the popular radicalism of the folk tradition, often linked to the labour and communist movements, has enabled Springsteen to, like all the figures in the tradition stretching back to Whitman, develop a vision of America that is inclusive and directly committed to the struggles of ordinary women and men to win and hold a place in America. This willingness to contest the meaning of the American promise is critically important in a time when conservative elites are, in a manner that has collapsed into straight-up lunacy in the Republican Party, trying to tie patriotism into militarism, war, religious fundamentalism and the vicious scapegoating of blacks, gay people, migrants, single mothers and anyone else on to whom they can deflect popular anger.

But Springsteen's new album, Wrecking Ball, released on the 6th of March, marks a decisive shift in his public politics. It includes elements that have long marked his work - laments for stillborn dreams and lives that haven't been able to come to bloom as well as hymns to endurance and solidarity. But there are also striking differences with his earlier work. For one thing the musical pallet that he draws on in this album – which includes gospel, country, Irish jigs, hip-hop, drum loops and samples from Alan Lomax's recordings of American roots music - is broader than on any previous album. And this album, which is largely about men and work, is also a straightforward call to battle in the tradition of the radical popular culture of the 1930s. Springsteen has written martial calls to overcome before but they've taken the form of a call to personal escape or perseverance and community in difficult times. Here he issues a direct call to arms against a system where 'The gambling man rolls the dice/Working man pays the bills':

"Send the robber barons straight to hell,  The greedy thieves who came around
And ate the flesh of everything they found, Whose crimes have gone unpunished now"

In 'Jack of All Trades' he sings to keep up the faith of a man willing to do anything for a buck while 'The banker man grows fat, the working man grows thin'. But there's also a new and more directly confrontational sentiment:

"So you use what you've got and you learn to make do
You take the old, you make it new
If I had me a gun, I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight"

Springsteen's work has been preoccupied with war since the drummer in his first band was sent to Vietnam and didn’t come back. He's often contrasted the prospects of returning veterans with the promise of America to implicitly raise the question of exactly who is fighting for what and for whom. In Youngstown, a lament to the world lost with the deindustrialisation of America on The Ghost of Tom Joad album, he had observed that 'Them big boys did what Hitler couldn't do'. On Wrecking Ball this idea is fleshed out. He returns to his song My Hometown, another lament, this time off the Born in the USA album in which he sang that:

"They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back"

This time around, in Death to My Home Town, the lament has turned into an Irish rebel song, a war song backed by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine on guitar that declares that:

"No shells ripped the evening sky, no cities burning down
No army stormed the shores for which we'd die, no dictators were crowned
I awoke from a quiet night, I never heard a sound
The marauders raided in the dark and brought death to my hometown, boys
Death to my hometown
They destroyed our families, factories, and they took our homes
They left our bodies on the plains, the vultures picked our bones"

But while this album is a call to arms its militant will to confrontation, to ensure that 'the money changers in this temple will not stand', is also, in some respects, a symptom of regression. In Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen's sublime fourth album released in 1978, dreams and desires for a better life are posed against work. Factory, based on his father's experience of factory work, gives, in a little over two minutes, a searing critique of alienated labour:

"End of the day, factory whistle cries,
Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes.
And you just better believe, boy,
Somebody's gonna get hurt tonight,
It's the working, the working, just the working life."

Just over thirty years later Springsteen is singing that:

"Freedom, son, is a dirty shirt
The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt...
Pick up the rock, son, carry it on
What's a poor boy to do but keep singing his song"

He's not alone in this nostalgia for work as it used to be for people in union jobs before capital extracted itself from social obligation by stepping into a global arena while unions and elected representatives were left, at best, on a national stage. He used to lament exploitation and drudgery.

Now he sings a lament to the lives lost to the monster whose taste for flesh has no regard to skills or faith:

"We've been swallowed up
Disappeared from this world"

In the face of social abandonment exploitation often seems attractive and Springsteen's nostalgia is certainly not his alone. But this nostalgia is a mark of how much has been lost to the marauding alliance of politicians and capitalists that promised a brave new world for everyone and left devastation for the majority while they grew fabulously rich behind botox, designer labels, high walls and increasingly brutal police.

Springsteen supported the Obama campaign in 2008. He's indicated that he's unlikely to do the same this year and has made it clear that this album is both inspired by and for the Occupy movement. It's too early to say whether or not Wrecking Ball will become one of the Springsteen albums that marks a moment in time. But the first performance of some of the new songs at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem over the weekend was received with rapturous acclaim.

The bankers, who are still taking their bonuses but are starting to show some signs of panic – like paying universities to tell students that Ayn Rand is a philosopher and an important contributor to American literature, must be starting to get the sense that the tide is turning against the lie that we all have a stake in their wealth.

- Richard Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University. Originally published by The South African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS) under a Creative Commons License


The Slide Towards War (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Conn Hallinan

Wars are fought because some people decide it is in their interests to fight them. World War I was not started over the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination, nor was it triggered by the alliance system. An “incident” may set the stage for war, but no one keeps shooting unless they think it’s a good idea. The Great War started because the countries involved decided they would profit by it, delusional as that conclusion was.

It is useful to keep this idea in mind when trying to figure out whether the United States or Israel will go to war with Iran. In short, what are the interests of the protagonists, and are they important enough for those nations to take the fateful step into the chaos of battle?

Israel’s Political Problem

According to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran is building nuclear weapons that pose an “existential” threat to Israel. But virtually no one believes this, including the bulk of Tel Aviv’s military and intelligence communities. As former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said recently, Iran “is not an existential” threat to Israel. There is no evidence that Iran is building a bomb, and all its facilities are currently under a 24-hour United Nations inspection regime.

So from a strictly security perspective, Israel has little reason to go to war with Iran. But Israel does have an interest in keeping the Middle East a fragmented place, driven by sectarian divisions and dominated by authoritarian governments and feudal monarchies. If there is one lesson Israel has learned from its former British overlords, it is “divide and conquer.” Among its closest allies were the former dictatorships in Egypt and Tunisia. It now finds itself on the same page as the reactionary monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.

Iran is not a military threat to Israel, but it is a political problem: Tel Aviv sees Tehran’s fierce nationalism and independence from the West as a wildcard. Iran is also allied to Israel’s major regional enemy, Syria—with which Israel is still officially at war—as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

In the Netanyahu government’s analysis, beating up on Iran would weaken Israel’s local enemies at little cost. Tel Aviv’s scenario features a shock-and-awe attack followed by a UN-mandated ceasefire, with a maximum of 500 Israeli casualties. The Iranians have little capacity to strike back, and if they did attack Israeli civilian centers or tried to close the Strait of Hormuz, it would bring in the Americans.

Of course, that rose-colored scenario is little more than wishful thinking. Iran is not likely to agree to a rapid ceasefire; it fought for eight long years against Iraq, and war has a habit of derailing the best-laid plans. A war between Israel and Iran would be long and bloody and might well spread to the entire region.

Iran’s leaders dispense a lot of bombast about punishing Israel if it attacks, but in the short run there is not a lot they could do, particularly given the red lines Washington has drawn. The Iranian air force is obsolete, and the Israelis have the technology to blank out most of Tehran’s radar and anti-aircraft sites. Iran could do little to stop Tel Aviv’s mixture of air attacks, submarine-fired cruise missiles, and Jericho ballistic missiles.

The United States and Its Allies

For all its talk about how “all options are on the table,” the Obama administration appears to be trying to avoid a war. But with the 2012 elections looming, could Washington remain on the sidelines? Polls indicate that Americans would not look with favor on a new Middle East war, but a united front of Republicans, neoconservatives, and the American Israeli Political Action Committee is pressing for a confrontation with Iran.

Israeli sources suggest that Netanyahu may calculate that an election-season Israeli attack might force the Obama administration to back a war and/or damage Obama’s re-election chances. It is no secret that there is no love lost between the two leaders.

But the United States also has a dog in this fight. American hostility to Iran dates back to Tehran’s seizure of its oil assets from Britain in 1951. The CIA helped overthrow the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 and install the dictatorial Shah. The United States also backed Saddam Hussein’s war on Iran, has had a longstanding antagonistic relationship with Syria, and will not talk with Hezbollah or Hamas. Tel Aviv’s local enemies are Washington’s local enemies.

When the Gulf monarchs formed the GCC in 1981, its primary purpose was to oppose Iranian influence in the Middle East. Using religious division as a wedge, the GCC has encouraged Sunni fundamentalists to fight Shiites in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, and largely blocked the spread of the “Arab Spring” to its own turf. When Shiites in Bahrain began protesting over a lack of democracy and low wages, the GCC invaded and crushed the demonstrations. The GCC does not see eye-to-eye with the United States and Israel on the Palestinians—although it is careful not to annoy Washington and Tel Aviv—but the GCC is on the same page as both capitals concerning Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.

The European Union (EU) has joined the sanctions, although France andGermany have explicitly rejected the use of force. Motivations in the EU range from France’s desire to reclaim its former influence in Lebanon to Europe’s need to keep its finger on the world’s energy jugular.

Setting the Stage for Tragedy

In brief, it isn’t all about oil and gas, but a whole lot of it is — and, as CounterPunch’s Alexander Cockburn points out, oil companies would like to see production cut and prices rise. Another war in the Persian Gulf would accomplish both.

Iran will be the victim here, but elements within the regime will take advantage of any war to consolidate their power. An attack would unify the country around what is now a rather unpopular government. It would allow the Revolutionary Guard to crush its opposition and give cover to the Ahmadinejad government’s drive to cut subsidies for transportation, housing, and food. A war would cement the power of the most reactionary elements of the current regime.

There are other actors in this drama—China, Russia, India, Turkey, and Pakistan for starters, none of whom supports a war—but whether they can influence events is an open question. In the end, Israel may just decide that its interests are best served by starting a war and that the United States will go along.

Or maybe this is all sound and fury signifying nothing?

Israel, the West, and the Gulf Cooperation Council share many of the same interests. Unfortunately, they also share the belief that force is an effective way to achieve one’s goals.

On such illusions are tragedies built.

Conn Hallinan is a columnist with Foreign Policy In Focus. His work can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and middleempireseries@wordpress.com

Originally published  by Institute for Policy Studies licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.


In Australia, suffer the children under new rules (PERSPECTIVE) 

(PHOTO: Sydney Morning Herald) By Kathryn Wicks

A year from now, my six-year-old son will no longer have autism. But I have not discovered a miracle cure - nor do I feel like jumping for joy.

The criteria for an autism diagnosis, as defined by the authors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is about to change so dramatically that parents across the world are fearful children classified as having high-functioning autism, Asperger's syndrome or pervasive development disorder are likely to lose their diagnosis - and with it, their therapy and educational entitlements.

It is teachers who should be complaining the loudest. They will be the ones left to manage untreated children with less help from special needs staff because fewer children will be classified as special needs.

Parents and psychologists fear the changes to the diagnostic criteria are driven by an American government wanting to reduce the rate at which autism is diagnosed - now one in 100 - so as to reduce the cost of supporting services which help children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) fit into society, and the classroom.

The clinicians on the DSM taskforce claim changes to the manual will not change the rate of diagnosis. They argue they are simply trying to reduce the subcategories and cover all afflicted children with one blanket label, autism spectrum disorder, to achieve better clarity on diagnosis.

But the devil lies in the detail of the changes between the present manual and the proposed new manual, to come into effect next year, and experts fear a large drop in the number of diagnoses.

A diagnosis of ASD, which can include the subcategories such as Asperger's, is given if a child ticks enough boxes across three categories of impairment - social interaction, speech and language, and behaviour. Each category has four ''boxes''.

Now, a diagnosis of ASD is allowed if six of the 12 impairments are present, two of which must be impairments in social interaction. Under the proposed changes, a child will need to have all four social interaction deficiencies before a diagnosis is given. In the second category, communication, a diagnosis now requires one deficiency; under the changes, it will require two.

According to Professor Allen Francis, the chairman of the taskforce responsible for the present manual, to gain a diagnosis, there are 2688 possible combinations of the 12 deficiencies.

However, under the changes, there will be only six possible combinations. ''The method of deriving the new DSM-5 criteria is suspect and its claim to be rate neutral seems simply absurd,'' Frances wrote in the Huffington Post.

And he is dead right. Diagnosis rates, especially for high-functioning and Asperger's children, will fall dramatically. I know my son ticks six of those 12 boxes, but under DSM-5, he will not tick the right six boxes. He will be reclassified as having a ''social disorder'', not an autism spectrum disorder. It won't change his life; he has used his funding and successfully made the transition to mainstream school.

But what will it do to an equally afflicted child who fails to get a diagnosis in future? Will he learn to say ''mum'' and look her in the eye? Will he learn to use his nice voice when talking to his friends? Will he learn to share toys? Will he learn to cope with a routine being thrown out? Will he be able to sit still in class, listen and learn? Without therapy, probably not.

In Australia, a child diagnosed with any ASD is entitled to funding of $12,000 over two years up to age six, paid directly to service providers of multidisciplinary therapy. Such therapy may include applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. It doesn't cover the cost, but it helps. The result of the therapy, especially ABA, is priceless, often getting autistic children across the line into mainstream schooling.

This funding means children are getting help when it helps them most - ages two to five, when the brain is described as being more ''plastic'' and thus more influenced by therapy. By the time they get to school, provided they have their two years of therapy, a child with autism but a normal IQ is often able to function in a normal classroom environment (as long as no one moves his pencils out of place). ABA teaches children to behave appropriately through the consistent and exhaustive reinforcement of good behaviour over a sustained period. It works.

Take therapy away, and Kindy Blue turns into Kindy Beirut pretty quickly.

Teachers and all parents should picture this: in 2018, a teacher could be dealing with a child with untreated ''social disorder'' rolling around the floor and refusing to sit at his desk, not teaching the other 19 neurologically normal children in the room.

The time to speak up is now.

 --- Kathryn Wicks is a senior Sydney Morning Herald journalist and her piece originally appeared HERE.


UNEP Report Says World Soil Management is Key to Food, Water, Climate Future

(PHOTO: Soil, side by side/Treehugger) (HN, 2/14/2012) - According to the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Year Book 2012 released Monday on the eve of the 12th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, 24% of the global land area has already suffered declines in health and productivity over the past quarter century as a result of unsustainable industrial land-use and dramatic improvements in the way the world manages its precious soils will be key to food, water and climate security in the 21st century.

WHY? Soils contain huge quantities of carbon in the form of organic matter that in turn binds the nutrients needed for plant growth and allows rainfall to penetrate into underground aquifers.

Since the 19th century, an estimated 60% of the carbon stored in soils and vegetation has been lost as a result of land use changes, such as, clearing land for agriculture and cities and by some estimates, the top one metre of the world's soils store around 2,200 Gigatonnes (or, a billion tonnes) of carbon; three times the current level held in the atmosphere.

The report states some kinds of agriculture processes have triggered soil erosion rates at 100 times greater than the rates at which nature can form soil and by 2030, without changes in the way land is managed, over 20% of habitats such as forests, peatlands and grasslands in developing countries alone could be converted to cropland which also aggravate losses of vital ecosystem services and biodiversity.

There could also be profound implications for climate change as amounts of this carbon could be released to the atmosphere, aggravating global warming linked to the burning of fossil fuels and points to the world's peatlands as an area of special concern. WHY?  The draining of super carbon-rich peatlands is currently producing more than 2 Gigatonnes of CO2 emissions annually; equal to around 6% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions and is happening at a rate 20 times greater than the rate at which the peat, and thus the carbon, is accumulated.

The Year Book, launched 4 months in advance of the Rio+20 Summit, highlights another issue of emerging global concern - the challenges of decommissioning the growing numbers of end-of-life nuclear power reactors.

There are plans to close up to 80 civilian nuclear power reactors in the next 10 years, as the first generations of reactors reach the end of their `design lives’. So far in world history, 138 civilian nuclear power reactors have been shut down in 19 countries, including 28 in the United States, 27 in the United Kingdom, 27 in Germany, 12 in France, 9 in Japan and 5 in the Russian Federation.

Decommissioning has only been completed for 17 of them, so far but events such as the tragedy of the tsunami that struck Fukushima and its nearby nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011 has caused heightened concern.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of developing countries have built or are considering building nuclear power plants, including the United States which just announced at least 2 new reactors to be built on February 4.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director said: "The Year Book spotlights the challenges, but also the choices, nations need to consider to deliver a sustainable 21st century and urgently improve management of world's soils and the decommissioning of nuclear power reactors".

"Superficially they may seem separate and unconnected issues, but both go to the heart of several fundamental questions: how the world will feed and fuel itself while combating climate change and handling hazardous wastes," he added.  "The thin skin of soil on the Earth's surface is often one of those forgotten ecosystems but it is among the most important to the future survival of humanity. Improved, sustainable management such as no-till policies can assist in productive agriculture without draining peatlands," said Mr. Steiner.

Across the globe, there are examples of how multiple benefits can be delivered through effective management of soil carbon. In Kenya, the World Bank's BioCarbon Fund is providing the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project with US $350,000 to pay smallholder farmers to improve their agricultural practices, to increase both food security and soil carbon sequestration.

From Dakar to Djibouti, the `Great Green Wall’ initiative is a massive forestation project creating a 15 km wide strip of trees and other vegetation along a 7000 km transect to improve carbon sequestration, stabilize soils and conserve soil moisture amongst others.

In China, similar approaches are being monitored to assess whether land degradation in arid areas can be reversed.  In Brazil, changes in crop production and rotation practices have been found to have significant effects on soil carbon stocks and conversion to no-till techniques in soybean, maize and related crop systems resulted in a decrease of soil carbon degradation. And in Argentina, significant increases in soil carbon stocks have also been achieved, where farmers changed to no-till systems, along with enhanced benefits in water retention, infiltration and erosion prevention.  The UNEP Year Book 2012 is available at: http://www.unep.org



Visa Hurdles Hurt US Economic Growth

By John Terrett in America
 The United States is on the lookout for more international travelers who want to visit the country.

Part of the problem is the difficulty tourist and business people face obtaining a visa to enter the US.

Wait times of almost a year are not uncommon in some parts of the world.

The US tourism industry is pushing the State Department to speed things up, saying billions of dollars and millions of potential American jobs are in play.

And you can't blame them because when it comes to sight-seeing - the view from here in the Land of the Free is that it's tough to beat the USA!

Fifty states come equipped with some of the most iconic tourist attractions in the world.

Where I'm based, in Washington DC, you can see some of the most famous locations like the Lincoln Memorial, the White House and the Capitol, all within walking distance of each other.

Overseas visitors ploughed well over $100bn into the US economy in the first 10 months of last year ... and while their spending is back to where it was before the 2008 global financial collapse, tough visa rules introduced after the attacks of September 11, 2001, mean the over-all number of international visitors to the US is down in a decade - from 17% to 12% - and that's hurting US tourism jobs.

Patricia Rojas, from the US Travel Association told me:

"We are shovel ready ... you don't have to create America we're here.  You don't have to create the hotels, the destinations, the theme parks. So to make our visa system more efficient to attract those visitors so that we can bring what we believe is over a million jobs this decade."

For countries like Brazil and China with lots of money to spend - and where outbound travel is forecast to grow 38% and 151% respectively in the next 10 years - waiting up to a year for clearance the US often leads tourists to look elsewhere.

Patricia explained more: "The tour operator tells you, well I wish I could get you down to Florida but we can't, we can't even get you in until March for an interview.  Why don't I send you to Paris instead?"

The US travel industry wants Congress to make Brazil one of the more than 30 countries in the visa-waiver scheme and it's calling for lengthier visas to be given to Chinese travelers.

The State Department says security is the top priority ... but it's well aware of the economic implications of speeding up visa processing and its moving staff into vetting positions at US embassies as fast as it can.

David Donahue, is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Visa Services - he's the man you seen on those Green Card application advisory videos on the State Department's website.

"I think everyone in this administration cares about jobs ... it's a key administration goal to make sure we that we give this economy every opportunity to create jobs and certainly tourism is a great place for good jobs they can't be outsourced they have to be done here."

The tourists are clearly out there with money to spend ... the US knows they're coming from many emerging economies not just China and Brazil.

The question is can enough be done to get them into the USA quick enough before they end up spending their tourist dollars elsewhere in the world.

- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 


Teapots, Nukes and the IAEA (COMMENTARY) 

By Imran Garda 

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran would not yield to the pressure of sanctions imposed by the West. [AFP]

A few months ago I had an email exchange with the former Deputy Director General of The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Bruno Pellaud. 

I had intended to weave this interview with the Swiss physicist into a larger report, but that didn't materialise. With IAEA inspectors recently concluding a trip to Iran and western powers still seemingly convinced that Iran is developing a bomb (watching the Republican Presidential Debates in the US you'd be forgiven for thinking they already have a nuclear arsenal and war is imminent); and with the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists plus fears that Iran may cut off the Straits of Hormuz in response to economic blockade - anxiety and tensions are escalating from multiple directions. This is why I felt this interview was too good to waste, because understanding some of the nuclear aspects of this standoff may be helpful, however overwhelmed they may be by the politics.

I began by highlighting to Mr Pellaud that, because the burden of proof was on the accusers and not the accused, Iran's accusers had reminded me of Bertrand Russell's teapot theory. Russell wrote: 

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

So why should Iran have to prove that it doesn't want a nuclear weapon? Why isn't it up to its accusers to prove their claim? And are we seeing a situation that could be resolved peacefully if there was the appetite for it from all parties, be it not for a global game of chicken, of poker-faces and hurt feelings? 

Here's an excerpt of the exchange:

IG: Is it actually possible for a nation to categorically prove that a nuclear programme is peaceful?

BP: Not in absolute terms. For sure, Bertrand Russell's teapot theory applies here also - on the impossibility of the accused party proving a negative, and the shifting of the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused.  Or of demonstrating the absence of a needle in a stack of hay.

Nonetheless, circumstantial evidence provided in full transparency will help the State to come pretty close to a solid proof. Firstly, through the absence of suspicious activities which do not belong by nature to a peaceful programme (e.g.  working on uranium in metallic form). Secondly, by being outright forthcoming, by offering more information and access than requested by inspectors. 

The accumulation of circumstantial evidence over the scope of activities, over the full extent of the country and over time put gradually the State in a position to prove the point categorically.

IG: What do you make of President Obama's claim that Iran is the only member of the NPT who has not been able to demonstrate that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes?

BP: Be it only for Russell’s teapot theory, this formulation is patently wrong. Some other countries haverecently been named rightly or wrongly in this connection: Myanmar and Venezuela in particular. Some countries have in the past engaged in non-peaceful activities – e.g. South Africa, Argentina and Brazil. Did those countries provide an iron-clad demonstration that they have renounced? I think so, but others may still believe differently - in the name of the “absolute truth” and of a more categorical proof.

President Obama should have said “that Iran is the only member of the NPT who denies to the IAEA the information and the access to facilities that would enable the IAEA to verify that its nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes”. Take note: “…the IAEA to verify”, not to ascertain, not to prove categorically. The obligation for the accused is to allow the accuser to do an appropriate verification job.

In Iran, the refusals to respond to IAEA’s requests and the systematic attempts to conceal information have marked the relationship with the IAEA since the early nineties. Accepted by the highest officials of the Islamic Republic in 2003, the obligation to provide early information to the IAEA about new facilities has been contested by Iran since 2007 with fallacious legal arguments (an obligation that has been accepted by all other States). Furthermore, Iran refuses to join the more than 100 countries that open the doors to any relevant facility that the IAEA may wish to inspect. Hiding activities and facilities goes counter to proving categorically that the programme is peaceful.

One example.  And one counter example. In late 1993, South Africa “demonstrated” that its nuclear programme had been dismantled by granting the IAEA full access to all corners of the former programme. Comparing that with a huge tree, the IAEA verified at random a large number of branched activities (not all) – walking up the trunk, the branches, the twigs and then to the leaves, with the complete help of all the South Africans met by inspectors. On this account, the IAEA Director General Hans Blix concluded - with a very high degree of confidence - that South Africa had fulfilled its commitment. In early 2003, Hans Blix concluded that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction left, after conducting a vast verification campaign during which the Iraqis tried systematically to deny access, to refuse information, to hide people and facilities, to lie about minor things and to mislead the inspectors - AS IF they had much to hide. Among other things, this behaviour led the Americans to believe wrongly that Hans Blix was wrong…

- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 


Military Exercises and Stability on the Korean Peninsula (PERSPECTIVE) 

North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un (L) applauds as he visits the Seoul Ryu Kyong Su 105 Guards Tank Division of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in Pyongyang, in this picture released by KCNA January 1, 2012.

By Daniel Pinkston 

Last Friday, 27 January, the U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) Combined Forces Command (CFC) announced the dates for two joint and combined military exercises in the ROK. Key Resolve, an annual command post exercise will be held from 27 February to 9 March, and Foal Eagle, a tactical field exercise, will be held from 1 March to 30 April. The DPRK immediately denounced the exercises, which Pyongyang has labeled an “unpardonable grave military provocation to the sovereignty of the DPRK and a wanton challenge to the international community’s desire for peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula”. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) asserts “Key Resolve is a nuclear war rehearsal for aggression on the DPRK” that is “intolerable while the nation is mourning the loss of Kim Jong-il”Rodong Sinmun calls the exercises “a test nuclear war to invade the DPRK through a surprise attack”. DPRK media reported several appeals throughout January to cancel the exercises even before the CFC announcement.

U.S.-ROK combined military exercises often have been controversial, particularly during crises or during times of inter-Korean tensions. The U.S.-ROK Team Spirit exercise, which was launched in 1976 to reassure the ROK when it abandoned its nuclear weapons program, was repeatedly cited by Pyongyang as a “rehearsal for nuclear war against the DPRK”. Team Spirit then became a bargaining chip and was cancelled in the mid 1990s as reward for DPRK cooperation in the Agreed Framework. This led some to believe that ROK and U.S.-ROK military exercises exacerbate the security situation on the peninsula, and that the best way to reduce or eliminate DPRK belligerence is to cancel military exercises.

Some on the left in South Korea (ROK) have suggested that Key Resolve and Foal Eagle should be cancelled as a gesture for beginning a new cooperative relationship in the Kim Jŏng-ŭn era. A reduction in tensions and greater inter-Korean cooperation is desirable, but cancelling the exercises is unlikely to achieve this result for several reasons.

First, despite Pyongyang’s harsh criticism of exercises in the South, the Korean People’s Army (KPA) has continued its winter training exercises. Aircraft sorties reportedly have increased this year, and the North has conducted flight tests of short-range missiles over the last two months. It seems disingenuous to ask others to stand down when ramping up one’s own military training. And on the other hand, it would be irresponsible for the ROK and U.S. to neglect military training requirements without a reduction in the KPA force posture.

Second, the DPRK clearly has stated its intention to adhere to its sŏn’gun [military first] policy line. Sŏn’gun is a slightly modified Leninist world view that emphasises the importance of military power to resist “imperialist aggression”. The DPRK under the leadership of the Korean Workers’ Party has not renounced the use of force to unify Korea. Military weakness is more likely to invite greater military adventurism from the DPRK rather than arms control and nuclear disarmament. The good news is that sŏn’gun has strong “realist” overtones. In other words, power is what matters in sŏn’gun, and the KPA leadership probably has no delusions about the balance of power on the peninsula. The DPRK can be deterred, but deterrence can fail in the case of poor readiness and inadequate training.

Third, militaries have to train if they are to fulfill their tasks when called upon. ROK Army conscripts serve 21 months, and most U.S. military personnel serve for one year in the ROK, although some serve for 2-3 years. This turnover in forces requires annual training, which is scheduled well in advance. The KPA has been notified of the exercises, and CFC has invited the KPA to observe the exercises. Personnel from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) will observe the exercises to verify they are in compliance with the Armistice.

So why is the rhetoric out of Pyongyang so shrill? It’s always shrill, but slightly more so this year, possibly because of Seoul’s response to the Ch’ŏnan sinking and Yŏnp’yŏng Island artillery attack in 2010. Those events triggered a reassessment of ROK military readiness and a reorganization of the command and control structure. The ROK has been increasing procurement and deployment of weapons systems to counter the DPRK’s asymmetric threats, and ramping up its military exercises.

Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are not the only ROK exercises these days. In January, ROK forces participated in Cobra Gold, a multi-national exercise in Thailand that included the U.S., Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. The 2012 Cobra Gold exercise included simulated UN peacekeeping operations and humanitarian assistance, which mirrors some of the activities ROK troops would have to perform under ROK contingency plans for the North.

Furthermore, the ROK Air Force dispatched F-15s to Nellis Air Base in Nevada to participate in the Red Flag exercise from 2 January to 3 February. The ROK Air Force has participated in Red Flag before, but this is the first time since 2008. The exercise typically includes training in interdiction, ground attack, air superiority, air defense suppression, airlift, air refueling and reconnaissance. This training provides realistic scenarios for responding to DPRK provocations near the North Limit Line (NLL).

Despite the rhetoric, the likelihood of military conflict during the training period is low. The DPRK will continue its military training through the spring, and Pyongyang should be well behaved in the lead up to the Kim Il-sung centennial celebration in April. However, conventional provocations after April cannot be ruled out. In that case, military training and readiness in the South will be instrumental in dealing with any crises that could arise.

If the KPA is a professional military force, as it proclaims under its sŏn’gun doctrine, it should accept invitations to observe military exercises, just as the PLA, Russian military and others have done at Cobra Gold and elsewhere. The commanders of the KPA, the PLA (or technically, the Chinese People’s Volunteers, who no longer exist), and the United Nations Command all have the responsibility to uphold the Armistice. Transparency, mutual observation of all military exercises in the region, and other confidence-building measures are the appropriate pathways for tension reduction and stability on the Korean peninsula.

- Daniel Pinkston is the Deputy Project Director, North East Asia Program. His work focuses on inter-Korean relations, domestic politics, regional security, nonproliferation and the reform process in North Korea. Originally posted on the International Crisis Group's blog on Korea 'Strong and Proserous'


World Bank Report Projects a Difficult Year Ahead (NEWS BRIEF) 

The World Bank cut its global growth forecast in both developed and poorer nations by the most in three years, in its twice-yearly report issued late on Tuesday, saying that a recession in the euro region threatens to exacerbate a slowdown particularly in several major developing countries.

“Europe appears to have entered a recession, and grown in several major developing countries (Brazil, India and to a lesser extent Russia, South Africa and Turkey) has slowed,” the bank said as it updated forecasts made last June.

The world economy  will grow 2.5 percent this year, down from a June estimate of 3.6 percent, the   Washington-based institution said. The euro area may contract 0.3 percent, compared with a previous estimate of a 1.8 percent gain. The U.S. growth outlook was cut to 2.2 percent from 2.9 percent.

“The world is different than it was six months ago”, said Andrew Burns, head of the bank’s global economics team and lead author of the report. “This is going to be a very difficult year.”

Two major reasons for the projected global slowdown are noted in the report: Europe’s debt crisis has worsened and several big developing countries have taken steps to prevent growth from fueling inflation.

Economies in developing countries will continue to out-pace those of wealthier, developed countries, according to the World Bank, but the Bank also lowered its forecasts for growth in these countries to 5.4 per cent in 2012 and 6 per cent in 2013 – this is down from previous estimates of 6.2 per cent and 6.3 per cent respectively.

School Girls in Oecusse, Timor-Leste. Photo: Barbara Ratusznik/World BankThe report also noted that “the downturn in Europe and weaker growth in developing countries raises the risk that the two developments reinforce one another, resulting in an even weaker outcome”. – It also said that while Europe is moving toward long-term solutions to its debt problems, the markets remain skittish.

It also noted the failure so far to resolve high debts and deficits in Japan and the United States and slow growth in other high-income countries, and cautioned those facts could trigger sudden shocks in the global economy.

The 2012 forecast for Japan was cut to 1.9 per cent growth from 2.6 percent in June. China’s growth will slow to 8.4 percent this year, the same as an interim revised projection released in November.

In addition, political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa could disrupt oil supplies and add another blow to global prospects, the World Bank noted of the challenges facing the economy.

“Although contained for the moment, the risk of a broader freezing up of capital markets and a global crisis similar in magnitude to the Lehman crisis in 2008 remains,” the World Bank said.

Should that happen, it said developing countries are more vulnerable than they were in 2008 because they could find themselves facing reduced capital flows and softer trade.

Slower global expansion is already showing through softer trade figures and lower commodity prices, according to the World Bank.

“No country or region will escape the consequences of a serious downturn”, said the World Bank, adding that developing countries must now plan how to soften the impact of a potential crisis.

- HUMNEWS Staff, Agencies


Justice Chases a Human-Rights Judge (NEWS BRIEF) 

By Jonah Hull in Europe

Judge Balthasar Garzon PHOTO: WikipediaThose who have claimed Judge Balthasar Garzon is the victim of a judicial witch-hunt by colleagues jealous of his fame, might have been surprised to see the top investigative judge arrive at Madrid's Supreme Court flanked by six of his fellow judges showing their support.

The group walked towards the courthouse through a throng of demonstrators calling for justice in Garzon's name.

One told me, "This is a democracy and this judge is being judged by corrupt people. The hunter has become the hunted."

Inside, Garzon was met by applause from members of the legal fraternity. It's clear, Garzon has plenty of support, but plenty of enemies as well.

The darling of human-rights groups - and victims - in Spain and around the world, Balthasar Garzon stepped on many toes in his long career.

Arch-conservatives in Spain are angry at his attempts to dig up Spain's wartime past.

Plenty of enemies

Members of both the ruling Popular Party and the previous Socialist government resent indictments handed down implicating officials in corruption and state-sponsored death squads. 

He's no friend of extant elements of old regimes in Latin America, where amnesties for war crimes have successively been tested and repealed in Guatemala and Argentina after Garzon's indictment of Chile's General Augusto Pinochet in the late 1990s.

He's even viewed with suspicion in the US after WikiLeaks revealed cables describing Garzon as having an anti-American streak following his investigation into alleged abuses at Guantanamo Bay.

But perhaps the most outspoken reaction has come from the New York-based Human Rights Watch who've called trials against Garzon an "outrage".

The cases, they say, have already dissuaded judges elsewhere from applying the principle of universal justice - cherished by Garzon - to determine which governments are obliged to investigate the worst international crimes, regardless of relevant amnesties.

It was that principle that Garzon used to indict Pinochet and which successively led to the overturning of amnesties in Latin America.

And it is also the principle he relied upon to open an investigation into wartime abuses by the forces of General Francisco Franco during Spain's civil war in the 1930s, despite a government amnesty passed in 1977 for "political acts" committed at that time. 

For this act he faces trial next week. Garzon's actions appear to be supported by international law - both the principle of universal justice and the notion that disappearances remain open cases until the fate of victims is known.

'Crime against humanity'

Garzon himself described the alleged Franco abuses as "a systematic drive to crush opponents and thus a crime against humanity".

His work on the investigation began and ended in 2008 after a dispute over jurisdiction. But the effect lingered until another case presented an opportunity. 

He had ordered the phone-tapping of conversations between the detained suspected ringleaders of a corruption ring involving officials from the now-ruling Popular Party and their lawyers.

He'd suspected they were discussing money laundering, and indeed, one lawyer was subsequently indicted. 

The state prosecutor opposed criminal charges, saying no crime had been committed. 

Private prosecutions brought by the lawyers and detainees in the first case, and pro-Franco groups in the second. And they were accepted for trial by the supreme court - the only court empowered to try a sitting judge, which is almost unprecedented in Spain.

Garzon doesn't face jail time but could be struck off for many years. Even if acquitted, the feeling is that the stain on Garzon's reputation could mean the end of the road in the long career of Spain's - and perhaps the world's - most famous investigative judge.

Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License


Martin Luther King, Jr., A Global Inspiration 

(PHOTO: Martin Luther King, Jr/The Seattle Times) (HN, Atlanta, Georgia, 1/16/12) – Today the United States pauses to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an American clergyman, activist, and prominent African-American Civil Rights leader during the 1950’s and 1960’s. He is best known for being an iconic figure in the US and around the world, who used nonviolent protest methods and followed the teachings of Indian icon Mahatma Gandhi.  

A Baptist minister, King became a civil rights activist early in his career by leading the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helping to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, serving as its first president. King's efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. There, he implored America to deepen its values to include the vision of a color blind society, and established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history.

(PHOTO: HipHopWired) In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other nonviolent means. By the time of his death in by assassination in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and stopping the war in Vietnam

King was killed on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee at the Lorraine Motel by James Earl Ray at the age of 39.   He was posthumously awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004; Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a US federal holiday in 1986.

“King had an impact on all mankind” (Perspective)

By Peggy Rodriguez

(PHOTO:MLK on the US Washington Mall, for his `I Have Dream Speech'/LIFE MAGAZINE)On Jan. 15, 1929, a baby boy was born in Atlanta to Michael and Alberta Christine King.

He attended school in Georgia's capital city and was able to enroll in Morehouse College after skipping a grade and completing his junior year at Booker T. Washington High School.  The year was 1944 and this young man of humble beginning was only 15 years old.

His name was Michael King Jr. He and his father, Michael King Sr., both opted to change their names to Martin Luther after the religious leader who founded the Lutheran denomination in the 1500s. He spent the first few years of his college career majoring in sociology and was then ordained an associate pastor of his father's church in 1948.

While pursuing a graduate degree at Boston University, he met and married Coretta Scott. They had four children. In September 1954, he moved his family to Montgomery, Ala., where he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.  In the years to follow, he became very active in the civil rights movement and became a spokesman for nonviolent change.

(PHOTO: Martin Luther King & Coretta Scott King, 1964/Herman Hiller, New York World-Telegram & Sun) "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"

These words, taken from arguably his most well-known speech, were delivered Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., during the March on Washington. This nonviolent protest in support of jobs and freedom for all Americans drew 200,000 people.

In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and named "Man of the Year" by Time magazine. This was the first time in history that an African American received this honor.

Upset by racial unrest, King announced a plan to implement a Poor People's Campaign. The idea behind this grassroots effort was to unite poor men and women of all walks of life and races in a campaign for economic rights.

To raise money for this campaign, King spoke in support of sanitation workers in Memphis in March 1968. The demonstration did not go well.

In turn, he planned a better organized Memphis demonstration for April 3.  During that event, he gave a moving speech. As if he had some insight into his impending death, King delivered a moving speech stating, "Like anyone else, I would like to live a long life ... But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I'm so happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

(PHOTO: On April 3, 1968 Rev. Ralph Abernathy led Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. James M. Lawson Jr. & others into Room 307 at the Lorraine Motel to discuss a restraining order & plans for a second march. King, who was staying in Room 306, also met with young people & other groups of strike supporters who wished to be part of future protests./Barney Sellers-The Commercial Appeal) The next day, April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed outside his Memphis motel room. In the blink of an eye, this great man, who had dedicated so much of his life to ensuring equality for all of mankind, was silenced.   So today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, please be mindful of what this day is truly about. 

Recall the impact that Martin Luther King had on mankind. Remember, "all men are created equal."

--- Peggy Rodriguez's Woodville column appears each Monday in the News Messenger at http://ohne.ws/y3YEls as did this commentary.

Some of Martin Luther King Jr’s Globally Inspirational Quotes:

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

“I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.”

“If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”

“It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society.”

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

“The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.”

“Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

“In some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

When we look at modern man, we have to face the fact…that modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to his scientific and technological abundance; We’ve learned to fly the air like birds, we’ve learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we haven’t learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters…”

“I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream — a dream yet unfulfilled.”



Ahmadinejad's South America Tour (REPORT) 

By Adam Raney in America 

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad exchanged warm embraces and signed several trade and political agreements on Monday.

Few details were given to the press - other than that the agreements were meant to expand research in science, nanotechnology, industry and politics.

It was more a display of how they were deepening ties on economic development projects and strengthening their political alliance. Chavez touted ongoing projects such as food processing plants, and tractor and bicycle factories - all of which were built in Venezuela with Iran's help.

He even included pre-recorded segments at the press confence where workers gave viewers tours of corn processing plants and milk treatment plants.

For two of the world's most oil-rich countries though, the projects seemed a bit small scale to be highlighted for the international press.

The visit came amdist rising tensions between Iran and the United States.

Earlier on Monday an Iranian court sentenced a former US marine who holds both Iranian and US citizenship to death after he was convicted of spying.

And it follows threats from Iran to close an important oil shipping channel - the Strait of Hormuz - if the west sanctions its oil exports over its nulear programme.

With world attention on the brewing crisis between Iran and the US, both leaders made a point of criticising the US for its "imperialism."

Lacing barbs with humour, Chavez joked that he and Ahmadinejad were building nuclear weapons in the basement of his presidential palace. And Ahmadinejad said Chavez was the "champion in the fight against imperialism".

On a more serious note Chavez said the war they were fighting was against "poverty, misery, hunger and underdevelopment".

Chavez's rhetoric was wide-ranging - as it usually is. He blamed US imperialism in part for the killing of former Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi and for the protests against Bashar Assad's government in Syria.

It was Ahmadinejad's fifth visit to Venezuela and the first stop on a tour of the region that will take him also to Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador.

In Nicaragua both he and Chavez will attend re-elected President Daniel Ortega's inauguration and in Cuba Ahmadinejad will meet with Fidel Castro.

As Ahmadinejad meets with longtime foes of the United States, one constant on the trip will likely be continued criticism of the US and its "lackeys", as Chavez calls its allies.

- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 


Great Game in the Horn of Africa (PERSPECTIVE) 

By Paul Mutter

Child soldier in Uganda, photo courtesy of UNICEFThe United States announced this past week that it is deploying a 100-man mission to assist the Ugandan government in tracking down the remnants of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a force whose bloody conflict with the Ugandan military has devastated northern Uganda and its environs since 1987.

But why now, in 2011, is the U.S. government making this commitment to combat the LRA?

The humanitarian impulse is certainly present among policymakers, if for no other reason than humanitarianism scores political points in Washington. Multiple human rights groups have been supportive of the announcement. The Ugandan government and people certainly desire an end to this conflict. As undemocratic as the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni has proven, the state the LRA would establish—if we take stock of their rule over parts of northern Uganda—would almost certainly be an even more nightmarish place. Joseph Kony, the founder of the LRA who masquerades as a champion of his Acholi ethnic group and as a Christian mystic, has ordered the killing, maiming, and rape of tens of thousands of people across northern Uganda and neighboring countries. This “army” relies heavily on child soldiers and "concubines," young girls abducted from churches and schools to serve as servants and sex slaves.

Make no mistake: the LRA is an abominable threat to the Ugandan people—and to the people of Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic, countries the LRA moves in and out of seeking safe havens.

But we must not be blinded by the darkness of the LRA so much that we fail to see the tarnish that mars the U.S. and Ugandan governments’ joint interests in East Africa.

Why did Washington not intervene at any other point over the course of the LRA's horrendous, decades-long campaign in Northern Uganda, where civilians not caught in the sadistic sights of the LRA often found themselves in the crossfire between the terrorist army and the Ugandan military? George W. Bush sent advisers in 2008-9 to assist the Ugandan military in what is said to have been a botched capture operation, but why did it take five U.S. presidents to get to this stage—a stage in which the LRA has been, according to most reports, drastically weakened? What took Washington so long to finally accept this mandate, which human rights activists have been urging for years?

The Obama administration is not likely embracing a “Responsibility to Protect.” The sad answer is that only now, in the post-9/11 world, is there sufficient U.S. interest to risk getting "mired" in Africa. The unstated target of this 100-man deployment is, in fact, al-Qaeda.

AFRICOM and the Horn of Africa

The 100-strong force being sent to Uganda (ostensibly as advisers) will be overseen by AFRICOM, the new strategic command for Africa created by George W. Bush in 2007. AFRICOM provides billions of dollars worth of equipment to U.S. allies in Africa, as well as controversial training and intelligence-sharing programs, and even Special Forces deployments.

For AFRICOM, security imperatives intersect with economic ones. At AFRICOM's urging, for example, the U.S. military has designed war games involving the "fall" of Nigeria, the no. 5 source of U.S. oil imports, to insurgent forces. The United States has had a strategic interest since the 1990s in demonstrating its commitment to the security of Uganda, which has fought al-Shabab in Somalia and until recently bordered Sudan. Sudan, an Islamist pariah state and also an LRA supporter, is still on the radar for U.S. and Ugandan policymakers (especially with South Sudan's formation), but Somalia is the "new" looming terror threat, a "failed state" fought over by Islamist groups like al-Shabab and infiltrated by others. The United States asserts that a strong al-Qaeda presence there today has ill designs for the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Ethiopia, Kenya, and as we saw in 2010, Uganda.

The Ugandans did not pull out from Somalia following the 2010 Kampala bombings, though, and remain committed to maintaining a force there, something other U.S. allies in Africa have been reluctant to do. Those boots on the ground might go some way in firmly establishing a central Somalia government the United States and Uganda can live with. As Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute has said:

To the extent the United States has any interest in Somalia being stabilized, it has an interest in seeing the Ugandan government able to keep its own country together, and able to keep it its own forces partially deployed to Somalia in order to help with that country where there have been al-Qaida related groups in the past.

The United States is waging a drone war in Somalia. Although it is not on the scale of the campaigns in Pakistan or Yemen, this may soon change. But with "Black Hawk Down" never far removed from Washington’s memory, sending troops into Somalia will be a hard decision for U.S. officials to make. Furthermore, the United States is, once again after its brief dalliance with "provincial reconstruction teams," no longer as interested in nation building as in effecting regime change and targeted assassinations. Uganda helps the latter along nicely in Somalia and may one day make the former possible there in concert with AFRICOM.

For now and for the foreseeable future, the Ugandan forces in Somalia are working in line with U.S. interests (as are the Kenyans, who this very Monday entered Somalia in force and are fighting against al-Shahab).

A War for Oil?

There are also economic considerations, though these may be secondary to security concerns. Uganda is indeed hoping to exploit newly discovered oil and gas reserves, and the government has undertaken a hurried development campaign. But the United States is not well-placed at this time to pursue energy extraction opportunities there: the UK-registered Tullow Oil, joined by the French Total AS and the PRC's China National Offshore Oil Corporation, holds the best energy extraction hand in Uganda today. The U.S. government is, naturally, keeping an eye on the sector, and as The Economist notes, "several jealous Western governments and companies want to stall China’s advance into the Congo basin, with its vast reserves of minerals and timber."

Whatever potential Uganda holds—in and of itself and as a gateway to the DRC—China's much stronger economic position in Uganda and the UK's ties to its former colony do not leave the United States much economic leeway besides foreign aid allocations at this point. But what is clear is that Washington’s commercial prospects in Uganda in the coming years will depend on the security situation.

Emboldening Museveni

Perhaps the most pressing issue for Ugandans, however, is the extent to which U.S. assistance might not only stir up a renewed conflict in the region but also embolden Yoweri Museveni—once hailed as an upstanding member of "a new generation of African leaders"—to further crack down on opposition politicians in Uganda, which until 2005 was an officially one-party state.

As Wikileaks disclosures show, the United States holds few illusions about the undemocratic and corrupt tendencies of Museveni and his party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM). "It appears Ugandan security services spend the majority their time tracking opposition leaders and critics of the NRM," reported a 2010 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Kampala.

Museveni's participation in the Second Congolese War, in which Ugandan military forces and their Congolese allies were accused of trafficking "blood diamonds" and committing human rights abuses, also damaged his international image. His questionable domestic record on both human rights and corruption issues has further soured foreign lenders and leaders toward him. The presidential election held in Uganda earlier this year delivered Museveni another stellar victory, though it was marred by accusations of intimidation on the part of the security apparatus and ruling party, accusations that the U.S. Embassy found credible in previous elections.

Protests against Museveni's policies have frequently turned deadly thanks to the intervention of the state security apparatus, and just days after the U.S. deployment was announced, Ugandan security forces arrested 45 "Action 4 Change" activists, 15 of whom will be tried for treason. If convicted, they will be subject to a death sentence.

Action 4 Change is a coalition of opposition parties, community organizers, and rights groups who have undertaken a series of "walk to work" protests to demonstrate against food and fuel price increases. The Ugandan government asserts that Action 4 Change members are not nonviolent demonstrators but disgruntled electoral losers plotting the overthrow of the government. And Uganda Radio Network reports that a 500-man Coalition for Stable Uganda (CSU), led by an NRM member, has been formed "to counter activities of [the] Action for Change Coalition" because "there is no doubt in [the CSU's] minds that the opposition actions are well coordinated with backing from other forces bent [on] destabilizing Uganda, loot[ing] property, and caus[ing] deaths."

This landmark U.S. assistance to Uganda against the LRA, simply by putting boots on the grounds, surpasses any past offers of foreign or diplomatic aid from U.S. officials. But will Washington pressure Museveni to clean up corruption or scale back his crackdown on Action 4 Change? That's the sort of discussion that needs to be happening.

- Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus

Originally published by Institute for Policy Studies licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.


Drug War: Faster and More Furious (COMMENTARY) 

By Tania Arroyo

Jean Baptiste KingeryIn early September, Mexican authorities arrested a U.S. citizen, Jean Batiste Kingery, for smuggling grenades across the border for the Sinaloa cartel. Astonishingly, U.S. agents had released Kingery a year before when he was captured for the same offense. U.S. law enforcement officials reportedly wanted to use him in a sting operation.

The Kingery case is only the most recent scandal involving the flow of weapons from the United States to Mexico. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) recently sent a letter asking the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for a hearing on the controversial federal operation “Fast and Furious,” which in 2009 allowed 2,000 high-powered weapons from the United States to reach Mexico as part of an alleged effort to go after drug cartel leaders. According to McCain, the hearing's purpose is to “ensure further damage from this operation does not persist.”

But the real problem at the border goes beyond the Kingery case and the Fast and Furious fiasco, which are just one small part of the flow of arms into Mexico for use in drug war that has claimed more than 50,000 victims during the tenure of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Although Calderon will leave the presidency next year, the war will not likely end with his term of office.

The Merida Frame

On September 6, diplomat John Wayne formally assumed the post of U.S. ambassador to Mexico, replacing former Ambassador Carlos Pascual. In March, Pascual resigned after the Mexican government expressed its concern over the ambassador's doubts, revealed in WikiLeaks cables, about Mexico’s capacity to conduct the fight against drug trafficking.

This replacement, however, doesn’t bring anything new to the bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States. In his statement to Congressin July, Wayne said, referring to the Merida Initiative, “one of my principal objectives, if confirmed, will be to work with my Mexican and U.S. colleagues to accelerate the implementation of the activities and to assure that we are achieving our Merida objectives.”

The Obama administration has done a great deal to support Calderon’s fight against Mexican drug trafficking through the Merida Initiative, the 2008 bilateral agreement of cooperation between Mexico and the United States to combat drug trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering. Yet Obama has done little to strengthen arms control on the U.S. side of the border. In March, during a joint press conference with President Calderon, Obama stated that "I believe in the Second Amendment. It does provide for Americans the right to bear arms for their protection, for their safety, for hunting, for a wide range of uses.” Although he went on to state that “that does not mean that we cannot constrain gun runners from shipping guns into Mexico,” he has not managed to reduce the arms trade.

On the other side, President Calderon demands more funds from the United States and insists that the war on drug mafias is a shared responsibility that must continue. Following the Zetas’ attack on a casino in the northern city of Monterrey last August, which claimed at least 52 lives, Calderon said that “the economic power and firepower of the criminal organizations operating in Mexico and Latin America come from this endless demand for drugs in the United States.” He stressed the need to continue this fight against “criminals” and “terrorists.”

Although the two governments disagree on small details, like the performance of former Ambassador Carlos Pascual, they are of one mind on the importance of the “war on drugs” and the Merida Initiative, which has proven to be a profitable business for arms manufacturers and dealers.

Good for the Arms Business

The Merida Initiative has been roundly criticized, even by those affiliated with the U.S. military. Paul Rexton, associate professor of national security studies at the U.S. Army War College, has suggested that this initiative has not led to substantial reductions in violence in Mexico or in drug smuggling to the United States. “In fact,” he writes, “the current policy has led to what can be described, at best, as a stalemate between Mexican state authorities and the cartels”.

The U.S. government has provided nearly $1.3 billion to the Mexican government to confront the drug cartels. Meanwhile with operations like Fast and Furious, it has fed weapons to the narcotraffickers. This apparent paradox can be explained by the different objectives of the state and the market, the former focused on security and the latter fixated on profit.

For the arms lobby, operations like Fast and Furious are always welcome: the more weapons that can be purchased, the more money arm dealers will get. There are cases in which one person has come to buy up to 190 guns a month in armories near the border, supposedly to ensure his personal safety under the Second Amendment. According to the owner of one of these stores: "In Arizona it is more difficult to get credit for a car than to buy 10 rifles. My business is the sale of weapons and to sell them under the law. Honestly, I don’t care where they will end up.”

Members of the arms lobby want Mexicans, too, to arm themselves in response to violence by drug cartels. More armed Mexicans translates into more arms sales. Drug cartels already get their supplies of lethal weapons manufactured and distributed by the U.S. arms industry through an “ant trail” across the border, like the one that Kingery followed.

Recent revelations of money laundering suggest that the United States is not really serious about the fight against drug trafficking. According to The Observer, banking giant Wachovia "paid federal authorities $110 million in forfeiture for allowing transactions later proved to be connected to drug smuggling, and incurred a $50 million fine for failing to monitor cash used to ship 22 tons of cocaine." The sum that Wachovia paid for these omissions, $160 million, pales in comparison to the overall volume of money, $378.4 billion, to which the bank failed to apply proper anti-laundering regulations. In a real war on drugs this should have been a sufficient reason to close that bank. However, Wachovia continues to operate normally (now as part of Wells Fargo) and may be able to continue laundering money, since the sanctions are affordable in relation to the gains.

Finally, Mexicans have been privatizing the drug war in Mexico much as Colombia has already done. The United States spends nearly $550 million per year on Plan Colombia (and spent an average of $700 million per year before 2009), and more than 50 percent of that sum has reached private contractors operating as mercenaries in the South American country. According to the State Department, since 2007 Lockheed Martin, DynCorp International, and ARINC, Inc., among other companies in the industry, have been the major beneficiaries of Plan Colombia.

Mexico is not far behind. According to one of the representatives on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, Jose Gomez del Prado, in 2006 instructors from the company Global Risk Solutions Inc. trained Mexican federal agents in torture techniques. Once the drug war becomes a lucrative business, the conflict becomes potentially endless.

For the two governments, the Kingery case and Fast Furious represent only small miscalculations in the grand strategy of the Merida Initiative, which continues unabated. The Secretary of Defense in Mexico (SEDENA) recently purchased $4 billion worth of weapons for "operations of internal order and national security contingent emergency" through the Trust for Military Equipment.

A Bleak Balance

The Mexican and U.S. governments are duty-bound to guarantee human rights and preserve the lives of their citizens. The actions of organized crime, from the distribution of arms and drugs to kidnapping, murder, and human trafficking, are reprehensible. But so is the double standard of the Mexican and U.S. governments, which have been jointly responsible for the escalation of violence on both sides of the border in their effort to defeat the mafias.

For President Calderon this is even more outrageous because, under the Merida Initiative, he has given Washington the authorization to act with the freedom and discretion it wants, further undermining Mexico’s national sovereignty. But the actions taken by U.S. law enforcement in connection with arms trafficking and the failed Fast and Furious operation are only partially responsible for the escalation of violence in Mexico. The real culprits are the Mexican and U.S. governments and their bilateral agreements concerning the war against drugs.

It’s long past time to look at the failures of the overall war and not just the debacles of particular battles.

- Tania Arroyo is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus a project of the Institute for Policy Studies. 

Commentary originally published by the Institute for Policy Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

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