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Atlantic Free Press OP/ED

Sun

28

Nov

2010

The Case for Sharing: Rethinking the Global Economy
Sunday, 28 November 2010 12:00
by Rajesh Makwana and Adam Parsons
The basic assumptions about human nature that inform economic and political decision-making are long outdated and fundamentally flawed. By acknowledging our interdependence and common ethical values, we can build a more sustainable, cooperative and inclusive global economy.

As the 21st Century unfolds, humanity is faced with a stark reality. Following the world stock market crash in 2008, people everywhere are questioning the unbridled greed, selfishness and competition that has driven the dominant economic model for decades. The old obsession with protecting national interests, the drive to maximise profits at all costs, and the materialistic pursuit of economic growth has failed to benefit the world’s poor and led to catastrophic consequences for planet earth.

The incidence of hunger is more widespread than ever before in human history, surpassing 1 billion people in 2009 despite the record harvests of food being reaped in recent years. At least 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, a number equivalent to more than four times the population of the United States. One out of every five people does not have access to clean drinking water. More than a billion people lack access to basic health care services, while over a billion people – the majority of them women – lack a basic education. Every week, more than 115,000 people move into a slum somewhere in Africa, Asia or Latin America. Every day, around 50,000 people die needlessly as a result of being denied the essentials of life.

In the face of these immense challenges, international aid has proven largely ineffective, inadequate, and incapable of enabling governments to secure the basic needs of all citizens. Developed countries were cutting back on foreign aid commitments even before the economic downturn, while the agreed aid target of 0.7 percent of rich countries’ GDP has never been met since it was first conceived 40 years ago. The Millennium Development Goals of merely halving the incidence of hunger and extreme poverty, even if reached by 2015, will still leave hundreds of millions of people in a state of undernourishment and deprivation. When several trillion dollars was rapidly summoned to bail out failed banks in late 2008, it became impossible to understand why the governments of rich nations could not afford a fraction of this sum to ‘bail out’ the world’s poor.

The enduring gap between rich and poor, both within and between countries, is a crisis that lies at the heart of our political and economic problems. For decades, 20 percent of the world population have controlled 80 percent of the economy and resources. By 2008, more than half of the world’s assets were owned by the richest 2 percent of adults, while the bottom half of the world adult population owned only 1 percent of wealth. The vast discrepancies in living standards between the Global North and South, which provides no basis for a stable and secure future, can only be redressed through a more equitable distribution of resources at the international level. This will require more inclusive structures of global governance and a new economic framework that goes far beyond existing development efforts to reduce poverty, decrease poor country debt and provide overseas aid.

In both the richest and poorest nations, commercialisation has infiltrated every aspect of life and compromised spiritual, ethical and moral values. The globalised consumer culture holds no higher aspiration than the accumulation of material wealth, even though studies have shown that rising income fails to significantly increase an individual’s well-being once a minimum standard of living is secured. The organisation of society as a competitive struggle for social position through wealth and acquisition has led to rampant individualism and the consequences of crime, disaffection and the disintegration of family and community ties. Yet governments continue to measure success in terms of economic growth, pursuing ever-greater levels of GDP – regardless of the harmful social consequences of a consumption-driven economy.
 

Sun

28

Nov

2010

More Than a Bribe: Obama Surrenders Palestinian Rights
Sunday, 28 November 2010 11:58
by Ramzy Baroud

The Middle East policies of US President Barack Obama may well prove the most detrimental in history so far, surpassing even the rightwing policies of President George W. Bush. Even those who warned against the overt optimism which accompanied Obama’s arrival to the White House must now be stunned to see how low the US president will go to appease Israel – all under the dangerous logic of needing to keep the peace process moving forward.

Former Middle East peace diplomat Aaron David Miller argued in Foreign Policy that “any advance in the excruciatingly painful world of Arab-Israeli negotiations is significant.” He further claimed: “The Obama administration deserves much credit for keeping the Israelis, Palestinians, and key Arab states on board during some very tough times. The U.S. president has seized on this issue and isn't giving up -- a central requirement for success.”

But at what price, Mr. Miller? And wouldn’t you agree that one party’s success can also mean another’s utter and miserable failure?

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton reportedly spent eight hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only to persuade him to accept one of the most generous bribes ever bestowed by the United States on any foreign power. The agreement includes the sale of $3 billion worth of US military aircrafts (in addition to the billions in annual aid packages), a blanket veto of any UN Security Council resolution deemed unfavorable to Israel, and the removal of East Jerusalem from any settlement freeze equation (thus condoning the illegal occupation of the city and the undergoing ethnic cleansing). But even more dangerous than all of these is “a written American promise that this will be the last time President Obama asks the Israelis to halt settlement construction through official channels.”

Significant. Achievement. Success. Are these really the right terms to describe the latest harrowing scandal? Even the term ‘bribe’, which is abundantly used to describe American generosity, isn’t quite adequate here. Bribes have defined the relationship between the ever-generous White House and the quisling Congress to win favor with the ever-demanding Israel and its growingly belligerent Washington lobby. It is not the concept of bribery that should shock us, but the magnitude of the bribe, and the fact that it is presented by a man who positioned himself as a peacemaker (and actually became certified as one, courtesy of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee).
 

Sun

28

Nov

2010

Enhanced Airport Screening Controvery
Sunday, 28 November 2010 11:52
by Stephen Lendman

On November 23, Washington Post writers Jon Cohen and Ashley Halsey III headlined, "Poll: Nearly two-thirds of Americans support full-body scanners," according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, even though "half of those polled say enhanced pat-down searches go too far."

A new Zogby (11/19 - 22) poll disagreed, saying:

At 61% opposed, "(i)t's clear (most) Americans are not happy with TSA and their enhanced security measures recently enacted. The airlines should not be happy with 48% of their frequent fliers seeking a different mode of transportation due to these enhancements." 

Neither should passengers facing molestation and harm to their health. More on that below.

Calling enhanced screening a "virtual strip search," the ACLU also objected, saying:

"We need to act wisely. That means not trading away our privacy for ineffective (and overly intrusive) policies. Ultimately, it is up to the American people to figure out just how much privacy they want to abandon....The ACLU represents those who value privacy in this debate."

AP reported it already received over 600 complaints, passengers saying "they were subjected to humiliating pat-downs at US airports, and the pace is accelerating, according to ACLU legislative counsel Christopher Calabrese." 

He added: "It really drives home how invasive it is and (harassing) they are....All of us have a right to travel without such crude invasions of our privacy....You shouldn't have to check your rights when you check your luggage."

Public outrage also makes headlines, passengers complaining about intrusive screening, especially being groped. The more often they fly and endure it, the louder perhaps disapproval will grow, especially for techniques some critics call ineffective.

Reports also call them heavy-handed. A Michigan bladder cancer survivor, wearing a body bag to collect urine, said its contents spilled on his clothing after a Detroit airport security agent patted him down aggressively. He called the experience "absolutely humiliat(ing). I couldn't even speak." Other accounts are also unsettling, and for what!
 

Sun

28

Nov

2010

ISAF’s New Counterinsurgency Contracting Guidance - A Farce
Sunday, 28 November 2010 11:48
by Matthew Nasuti
After nine years and billions wasted - nothing changes
On September 8, 2010, after nine years of contracting abuses and mismanagement, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) issued its solution, which is set out in the “COMISAF Counterinsurgency Contracting Guidance.” This impressive title overshadows the actual text of the guidelines, which say little and fail to address any of the core contracting problems.  The Guidance stresses the importance of transparency, yet this is simply window dressing to appease critics in the U.S. Congress.
 
Today, months after the Guidance was adopted, it remains impossible to search the ISAF website for contracting information. There is no listing of ISAF contractors; no listing of contracts awarded; no spreadsheets on projects that are behind schedule or over budget; no explanation at all about any public funds being spent.  The Guidance fails to address such things as the award of $850 million per year to a shadowy company called FMN Logistics.
 
It is apparently a component of ISAF’s “Northern Distribution Network.” Reports indicate that FMN may be owned by 37-year old billionaire Gulnara Karimova; daughter of brutal Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov. If ISAF truly wants to inject transparency, honesty and accountability into its contracting process, it should start by explaining the FMN contract and it should publish the complete contract on its web site. It should do the same with the suspicious Manas Airbase fuels contracts which were awarded to a Gibraltar-registered company.

One of the fundamental problems associated with ISAF contracting in Afghanistan is the tremendous pressure to show “progress.” Progress seems to be defined as anything positive that can be placed in a press release, regardless of its actual military or economic value. That pressure to show results permeates downward into the military ranks.

This reporter has been in contact with military members who served in Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan. The story that comes out is that PRTs are hiring contractors and pursuing projects even though they do not have sufficient qualified personnel to oversee the contracts. As will be explained below, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan has the same systemic problem. In the U.S. military, officers are rewarded for having a “can-do” spirit.
 
That spirit can be harmful to military effectiveness. ISAF military contracting officers should be delaying awards and reducing the number of projects on-going because they lack sufficient engineers, project managers and inspectors. Instead, because no one wants to admit that they are unable to complete their mission, contracts continue to be awarded which cannot be supervised, and substantial amounts of money continue to be wasted on shoddy construction, all for the sake of generating “positive” statistics and showing “progress.”

Small, inexperienced Afghan contractors, who are not familiar with U.S. building designs and specifications, require constant oversight. This may require U.S. inspectors to be on-site at least every week, but for critical path (i.e., key construction) events, they may need to be present every day. At present, this level of oversight is not taking place; instead, ISAF’s emphasis is quantity over quality.

On November 14, 2010, Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy Newspapers reported on a 2008, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to build six police stations in Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan. The project is two years behind schedule with substantial amounts of U.S. taxpayer funds wasted. Colonel Thomas H. Magness, the head of Corps of Engineers projects for Afghan Engineer District North, told Mr. Nissenbaum that his personnel had only inspected the project once in October 2009.
 

Sun

28

Nov

2010

The Perfect Division of Pakistani Society
Sunday, 28 November 2010 11:43
by Peter Chamberlin

“When asked what he aspires to become in the future, Wasifullah replies ‘God willing, I will join the Taliban.’

In what some ways represents the burgeoning civil war within Pakistan, Wasifullah’s best friend Abdurrahman believes it’s the Taliban who are responsible for the destruction.”

This quote, from two boys from the Kachegori IDP (internally displaced persons) Camp in Peshawar reveals perfectly the awesome split, running down the middle of Pakistani society, much more clearly than any attempted explanation that could be given. The Pakistani people are of two minds, both of them extremely patriotic, one school of thought blames the local terrorists for all their grief, the other side insists that it is the military which has killed their loved ones. Outside forces, which are hostile to Pakistan’s survival, have every intention of aggravating those divisions to the point of civil war.

The Christian Bible has a teaching: “A house divided against itself shall not stand.” This is the reality that the people of Pakistan today; in order to avoid the bottomless pit of civil war they must find ways to work through those differences of opinion.

The greatest threat to Pakistan’s survival is not the Taliban, or the Americans, or even those sneaky Indians—the most deadly force you face is your willingness to see everything in black and white. In an environment where so many people seem so certain about the source of their common misery, even though half of the country disagrees with them, there is no such thing as “benefit of the doubt.” You are right and the other guy is absolutely wrong. Something has to give—there has to be room for another possible explanation to be discussed. Until then, you face grave danger from certain dark quarters. Someone has to tear-down the barricades which divide the two camps.

From our experience in our own Civil War, Americans can tell you the truth about the power of differences of opinions, differences so great, that one side feels compelled to take-up arms to force submission from the other side over the primary issues, while the other side is eager to do the same. Soon, you too, will hear the tanks and jackboots marching through your streets, pretending that they are defending your free Republic from subversion. Americans will soon hear the same sounds in our own streets, as the avoidable issue of martial law becomes an inevitable consequence of our reactionary avoidance of the dark forces rising amongst us.
 
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