30 January 2009
song for amanda.
i watched you look away...
from the question that i asked you and the answer you gave.
you had this ashen look on your face...
like you'd just been refused your final stay.
what happened to not making the same mistakes?
i guess from lessons you didn't learn.
what happened to the future that you promised me?
what happened to the future we deserved?
this shirt feels like it's on fire.
these green walls are closing in.
now i just sit here like the fool i am,
and think about the fool that i've been.
all the words i heard you say sounded underwater...
bought myself a drink at the bar and toasted to fate.
the city lights seemed to spike their fair share of blame...
but i didn't think twice, i just turned and walked away.
this shirt feels like it's on fire.
these green walls are closing in.
now i just sit here like the fool i am,
and think about the fool that i've been.
27 January 2009
Obama's call to armsBy rejecting Bush's torture tactics, the new president is urging Americans to reclaim their principles -- and their courage.
By Gary Kamiya
Jan. 27, 2009 |
The sins of the George W. Bush era were many. It was a time of shrill ideology, naked greed and staggering incompetence. But perhaps its most toxic legacy has passed almost unnoticed: cowardice.
Just how afraid Bush was, and how deeply his fear distorted our national values, only truly became clear on Thursday, Jan. 22. On that memorable day, President Obama signed four executive orders ending the CIA's use of secret overseas prisons, directing that Guantánamo be closed within a year, halting military commission proceedings against detainees held there, and, most important, forbidding the use of torture in interrogations. "The U.S. intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terror but in a manner consistent with our values and ideals," Obama said.
By signing those four executive orders, Obama emphatically rejected Bush's warped vision of America, and announced the return of the confident, principled country we all believed in, and too cavalierly took for granted. With a few strokes of the pen, he began to erase the ugly ethos that dishonored us for eight years, and called upon us to stand for a braver, better America. An America that will not abandon its moral principles at the first setback. An America that knows its real power lies not in its mighty army but in its mightier ideals.
The miasma of repressed fear that has hung over America for so long will not dissipate overnight. Right-wing pundits are shrieking that we must keep torturing to keep America safe, and claiming that if Guantánamo detainees are moved into ordinary prisons, America's cities will be the targets of terrorist attacks. These boogeymen have been effective for years, and they will not instantly disappear. But since Obama's repudiation of Bush's hide-under-the-bed-and-shoot ethos, the country already feels more like the home of the brave and less like a land of furtive torturers.
When you think of the Bush presidency, fear isn't the first thing that comes to mind. The cowboy swagger, the macho "bring it on" boasts, the loud declarations of a "war on terror," the endless statements that we were going to fight until final victory -- the president and his administration came across like John Wayne, not Walter Mitty. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld carried the Biggus Dickus role to extremes, turning press conferences into a testosterone-spraying contest, treating anyone who dared to question his brilliant Iraq tactics, his fleet of unarmored Humvees or his pie-in-the-sky ideas about a tiny new high-tech army like a 98-pound weakling. And the approach worked like a charm: Congressional Democrats and the mainstream media, fearful of being painted as "weak on national security," waggled their derrieres in the air like lower-status baboons deferring to a group of alpha males.
But behind their posturing, Bush, his manly-men cronies and their right-wing cheering section were trembling weenies who fled their posts at the first shot. In a perfect world, they would not only be dragged before the International Criminal Court for their crimes, but suffer public branding for desertion, their bars ripped off and their sabers broken as in the opening scene in the old Chuck Connors TV show "Branded."
Bush allowed a tiny band of fanatics, led by a turbaned bozo hiding in a cave, to so terrify him that he abandoned his sworn duty to preserve, protect and defend the United States and what it stands for. Like a nervous, inexperienced general who panics at an enemy feint and pours troops from both wings into the skirmish, exposing his army's flanks, Bush completely lost sight of both strategy and tactics. Unmanned by fear, he treated a small group of Salafi jihadists who managed to get in a lucky strike as if they were a monstrous, apocalyptic entity from an evil galaxy beyond space and time, an army of Satanists endowed with inhuman powers. Then, having created this phantasmagorical enemy out of some right-wing biblical sci-fi novel, he proceeded to fight it by trashing America's most cherished traditions, embracing torture and Big Brother tactics. His hysterical reaction not only increased global hatred against the U.S. and bred many more terrorists than he killed, it overburdened and severely weakened our military and allowed the real enemy to slip away.
If Bush was a student at a military college, he'd have flunked out.
The callow Bush fell into bin Laden's trap. As its name implies, terrorism is intended to terrify. Its strategic motivation, insofar as it has one, is to make those who are terrified react in irrational, self-defeating ways. The 9/11 attacks were not only terrifying, their terror was hideously spectacular. It is understandable that many Americans were so terrified and traumatized by the 9/11 attacks that they were willing to do anything, abandon any principle, to be safe. But a general, unlike a private, must be coldblooded, able to size up the battlefield situation dispassionately and move his pieces around the board like a chess player. It was Bush's responsibility to rationally evaluate the threat posed by al-Qaida and take the appropriate measures to address it. Instead, he lost his poise, declared an impossible, unwinnable and counterproductive "war on terror," gratuitously invaded a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, and ordered U.S. military and intelligence personnel to begin using Gestapo tactics.
Bush called it a "war on terror." But it was really a war of terror -- his terror.
Bush's cowardice, masquerading as he-man toughness, led him to do unforgivable things. The most glaring example is torture. In what future historians will surely regard as one of the darkest moments in American history, Bush and his cronies approved this ugliest of human behaviors -- and, appallingly, much of the country went blandly along with it.
Torture is what the Gestapo did. It is what Pol Pot did. It is what the Argentine junta did. It is not what America or any civilized nation should do. And it doesn't matter if torture might on some occasion save lives. It crosses a line that cannot be crossed.
Torturing exposes American troops to torture, degrades America's reputation and in the long run undermines our ability to win an ideological war. But the ultimate reason not to torture must go beyond instrumental logic: It must be moral. It is one of the most hallowed principles of law that it is better that 10 guilty men go free than that one innocent man be punished. A related moral principle applies to torture: Even if torture saves lives, it must never be used, simply because it is wrong. The devout Bush apparently never pondered this line from Scripture: "What profiteth a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?"
The same thing applies to due process and the rule of law. Closing Guantánamo and giving those indefinitely detained as "enemy combatants" real, fair trials, with rules of evidence and witnesses, will in the long run enhance our security, not weaken it. It was the U.S. judicial system, not a military tribunal, that convicted the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. Still, there is the possibility that some guilty men may go free, and some of them could be dangerous. That is a heavy price to pay for principle. But a country that believes that its ideals are more than words on a piece of paper must be prepared to pay that price.
It is appalling how easily Bush was able to convince many Americans that humanity's deepest ethical principles, the ones embraced by every world religion, were less important than a myth of total security. Alas, when fear is enshrined as national policy, it is contagious.
We have been living with fear for far too long: fear of terrorism, fear of the unknown, fear of speaking out, fear of ourselves. And fear, because it is reality-averse, begets magical thinking. Under Bush we became a nation both of cowards and of delusional fantasists. It makes sense that the same nation that swallowed Bush's fear-driven war on Iraq also believed that the market would just keep soaring until every American was rich. The dream of perfect security and instant wealth are two faces of the same debased coin.
Fear is kept alive by powerful taboos. To demand that we stop allowing our lives to be distorted by fear, or to question any of Bush's overwrought policies, was supposedly to profane the bloodshed that terrible day the towers fell. But even a national tragedy cannot be allowed to define -- and distort -- a nation forever.
Bush confronted evil with evil. He tortured, lied and flouted the law. By so doing, he deserted posts more vital than any front-line position: He abandoned the Constitution, he fled from the moral law. And we all, collectively, let him do it.
Now America has a wiser leader, one who has the self-confidence not to strut about like a two-bit bully. The apostles of fear and anger -- masquerading as being "tough on national security" -- are still entrenched and powerful. But at least the battle is joined, and those of us who for so long were derided as cowards, as appeasers, as cut-and-runners, make up a powerful army of our own. And on Thursday, we heard four trumpet blasts sounding a call to arms.~lee.
20 January 2009
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.~lee.
16 January 2009
as of 1600 hours 16 January are 1,155 Palestinians dead, of whom 370 are children and 85 are women...
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
FIELD UPDATE ON GAZA FROM THE HUMANITARIAN COORDINATOR
16 January 2009, 1700 hours
“Our appeal is not just for the safety of the UN staff and compounds and locations and convoys but even more important, the civilian population, the innocent men, women and children who continue to die and be killed in this conflict and injured in unacceptable numbers by any measure and of course the scale of destruction continues, as
you would expect when built-up areas are subjected to artillery and tank fire.”
- John Ging, Director of UNRWA Operations in the Gaza Strip
The Israeli military operation entered its twenty first day. Israeli air, sea and ground forces continue to surround populated areas of the Gaza Strip, and the Gaza and North Gaza Governorates remain isolated from the rest of the territory. The Israeli army remains in the north, east and Rafah border areas.
Yesterday, 15 January, witnessed the most intensive Israeli bombardment to date, particularly in Gaza City as Israeli ground forces advanced deeper into the city. In the 48-hour period up to 1600 hours on 16 January, 142 Palestinians were killed, of whom 48 were children. An additional 455 were injured, of whom 145 were children.
Supplies of essential commodities such as food, cooking gas, water and fuel remain critical. Large numbers of civilians remain trapped in their homes while thousands more are seeking refuge with host families and in UNRWA emergency shelters. Water, sanitation and electricity systems are in a poor condition.
Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH) figures as of 1600 hours 16 January are 1,155 Palestinians dead, of whom 370 are children and 85 are women. The number of injured is at least 5,015 injured, of whom 1,745 are children and 740 are women. An estimated 400-500 are critically injured.
PROTECTION OF CIVILIANS
The danger to civilians is compounded by the many Palestinians fleeing to urban centres in response to warnings from the Israeli army to evacuate their homes. Approximately 700 Palestinians were taking refuge in the UNRWA compound and 500 in the Al Quds Palestinian Red Crescent Society Hospital on 15 January when the buildings were shelled: both groups were evacuated to other emergency shelters.
More than 20 bodies were recovered this morning in Tel Al Hawwa, the scene of the most intensive fighting on 15 January, after Israeli forces withdrew.
Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip into Israel. According to the Magen David Adom national society, Israeli civilian casualties stand at four dead and 84 injured since 27 December. Nine Israeli soldiers have been killed since 27 December.
OCHA’s casualty figures do not include the number of Palestinians or Israelis treated for shock.
SAFETY OF MEDICAL PERSONNEL
According to the Palestinian MoH, 13 medical personnel have been killed and 22 medical personnel injured while on duty since 27 December 2008. In addition, 16 ambulances and 16 health facilities have been damaged through direct or indirect shelling since 27 December 2008.
Max Gaylard, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, said on 16 January, “The situation for hospitals, medical workers and the injured in Gaza is alarming and deteriorating. Hospitals must be protected and remain neutral areas under any circumstances. Civilians and the injured must have access to medical care.”
Hospitals, notably intensive care units, remain overloaded with the constant influx of war injured. Due to the understandable focus on emergency trauma, WHO remains concerned regarding the management of chronic disease patients and public health in the Gaza Strip. According to the UNFPA, an average of 150-170 babies are born every day in the Gaza Strip, of which an average of 25 are delivered by C-section.
Since the beginning of the Israeli military incursion, an estimated total of 3,150-3,570 babies have been born. UNFPA remains concerned over reports of premature labour and delivery resulting from shock and trauma from continuous bombing, and the exposure of premature and newborn infants to hypothermia due to the lack of electricity.
Monitoring and surveillance of water quality has not been carried out since the central public health laboratory closed on 3 January due to its proximity to the fighting.
Estimates of the total number of displaced people in Gaza remain unavailable, as the majority of displaced are staying with relatives and friends. Distribution of needed non-food items to families hosting displaced people has been limited due to the ongoing insecurity.
On 15 January, UNRWA opened eight new emergency shelters in the Gaza Strip to accommodate more than 5,000 additional displaced people. More than 45,000 people, among them at least 25,200 children, have now sought refuge in a total of 49 emergency shelters. With an estimated 1,000 people per shelter, instead of the 500 originally planned by UNRWA, the shelters are overcrowded.
UNRWA continues to deliver needed food and water to the emergency shelters. On 14 January, WFP distributed six metric tonnes of high-energy biscuits to 15,514 people staying at UNRWA shelters in North Gaza and 13,770 people staying at shelters in Gaza Governorate.
WATER AND SANITATION
Approximately 500,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip still do not have access to running water as the CMWU, Gaza’s water utility, has still not received approval for safe passage to repair damage to the water and waste water networks. CMWU has also not been able to assess the impact of damage incurred to the Gaza City Wastewater Treatment Plant. Eyewitnesses report that a stream of sewage is flowing up to one kilometre from the plant. CMWU managed to deliver 2,000 litres of fuel to the Beit Lahia Wastewater Treatment Plant which should allow it to function for one week. Sewage continues to flow in the streets
of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia.
A key challenge for the Gaza population is accessing food items due to the security situation, both for farmers to access their fields and for the population to reach shops. The lack of banknotes means the population is unable to pay for the limited food stocks in the markets. Food distributions require time.
Reaching vulnerable people is complicated by the fact that families are often fearful to venture out to distribution sites.
UNRWA operated seven out of ten food distribution centres on 15 January and distributed food rations to 40 families; food was distributed to an additional 656 families to address emergency needs. WFP did not distribute food on 15 January. On 14 January, it distributed 5,600 kg of bread, of which 1,800 kg in Beit Hanoun and 2,400 kg in Beit Lahia.
Since 27 December, WFP has managed to bring 3,552 metric tonnes (Mt) of food into Gaza. WFP warehouses are currently storing 4,400 Mt of food commodities which represents around 75 percent of their full storage capacity. WFP currently has access to only 66 percent of existing stocks because of security conditions. Current constraints to WFP’s ability to preposition required stocks in Gaza include transporting goods into Gaza (in terms of the backlog at Kerem Shalom) and transporting goods from the crossing to warehouses/distribution centres because of the security situation.
Although power supply has increased as a result of repairs and the partial operation of the Gaza Power Plant (GPP), most households still do not have electricity due to damage to the network (e.g. local power lines). On 15 January, two lines from Israel were damaged, and the feeder lines from the GPP were damaged in three locations. The GPP is still functioning, although power to Gaza Governorate has been redirected to the Middle Area and Khan Yunis due to the inability to reach households in Gaza City. As a result, while people in Gaza Governorate have reduced power supply since 15 January, the population in the Middle
Area and Khan Yunis currently experiences good power supply.
CASH / LIQUIDITY
There are currently restrictions on the transfer of currency between the Palestinian banks in the West Bank and their counterparts in Gaza. These restrictions have prevented the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank from paying critical salaries and benefits to PA civil servants, and the banks from operating.
Further, it has delayed the payment of salaries to UNRWA staff as well as payments for its cash assistance programme for the most destitute in Gaza (94,000 beneficiaries).
ACCESS WITHIN THE GAZA STRIP
Access between northern Gaza and the rest of Gaza remains possible only via the coastal road west of the former Israeli settlement of Netzarim following coordination with the Israeli authorities by humanitarian agencies.
As of 15 January, the humanitarian “lull” was increased to four hours. On 16 January, it was activated between 1000 and 1400 hours.
Only the Kerem Shalom and Rafah crossings were open on 15 January.
On 15 January, 69 truckloads including 39 for aid agencies were allowed into the Gaza Strip through Kerem Shalom crossing. At Rafah crossing, 15 truckloads of food, medical and relief supplies entered Gaza as well as five doctors. 18 medical cases were evacuated out of Gaza via Rafah.
The Palestinian Petroleum Corporation reported that its office at Nahal Oz was severely damaged on 15 January by Israeli bulldozers. The filling depots have not been damaged.
On 14 January, only the Kerem Shalom and Rafah crossings were open. 102 truckloads including 36 for aid agencies were allowed entry to Gaza through Kerem Shalom, along with nearly 150,000 litres of industrial fuel for the power plant were received through Kerem Shalom. At Rafah crossing, 12 truckloads of medical, food and relief supplies were allowed into Gaza. Thirty eight medical cases were evacuated through Rafah; 18 Egyptian Red Crescent ambulances were allowed into Gaza to help evacuate a greater number of medical cases.
In December 2005, prior to PLC elections, an average of 631 trucks was entering Gaza on a daily basis. In May 2007, prior to the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the figure dropped to 475 trucks daily and further still in November 2008 to 23 trucks daily. Since 27 December 2008, Kerem Shalom has a daily average of 73 trucks entering Gaza.
For the Initial Response Plan and list of immediate funding needs, visit:
Protection of civilians: Civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence. As one of the most densely populated places in the world, more civilians risk being killed or injured if the conflict continues. The parties to conflict must respect the norms of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), in particular the principles of distinction and proportionality.
Access for ambulance and rescue teams: An unknown number of dead, injured and trapped people remain in houses which have been shelled and in areas where hostilities are ongoing. The evacuation of wounded and safe passage of ambulances and health workers are fundamental tenets of IHL, and should be facilitated at all times.
Opening of crossings: The number of trucks allowed into the Gaza Strip needs to be increased. Additional crossings must be opened urgently, including Karni for the provision of bulk grain.
Mains electricity is vital for the operation of services within the Gaza Strip notably health, water and sanitation services. Back-up generators are not meant to function more than 8 hours per day, and are not reliable following repeated and prolonged use. Although efforts have been made to repair damaged electricity lines, bring in needed transformers, and allow fixing of other transformers, much more needs to be done.
Supply of fuel: Industrial fuel is needed to power the Gaza Power Plant, which had been shut since 30 December but partially re-opened on 10 January. Nahal Oz crossing must remain open as it is the only crossing which can facilitate the transfer of sufficient amounts of fuel to restart and maintain operations of the power plant, and restock other types of fuel needed in the Strip. Delivery of fuel to its intended destination must be facilitated.
Cash/liquidity: The issue of cash remains of high priority. Cash has still not entered the Gaza Strip and is urgently needed. A system must be established that ensures the regular and predictable monthly transfer of the necessary cash - not only for the international organisations to be able to deliver much needed humanitarian assistance, but also in order to pay the salaries of PA personnel. Without a functioning bank system in Gaza, recovery efforts will be vastly undermined.
13 January 2009
most analysts agree that attacking radical movements in the Middle East, without trying to address their grievances, only strengthens them...
What "Waltz With Bashir" can teach us about GazaThe stunning new Israeli film reveals painful parallels between one of Israel's darkest moments and the current conflict.
By Gary Kamiya
Jan. 13, 2009 |
The Israeli slaughter in Gaza is continuing into a third week under the approving gaze of the Bush administration, both political parties and the mainstream media. A U.N. Security Council resolution, worldwide protests, cries of outrage from human rights groups and the Red Cross, petitions by academics, and televised images of civilian deaths have no effect on Israel or on the American establishment. Nearly 900 Gazans have been killed, the already-desperate strip has been devastated, whole families wiped out. It is clear that Israel has no strategic vision, no idea of what its onslaught is supposed to ultimately achieve or how to end it. When it finally ends its assault, Hamas will emerge from the rubble, Iran and Hezbollah will be empowered, Egypt and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will be weakened, and America's standing in the region will be lower than ever.
Yet in America the war might as well not even be happening. This Sunday's New York Times' "Week in Review" section, that snapshot of the American intelligentsia's collective brain, contained not a single word about Gaza. The ongoing carnage is clearly passé.
Yet in a strange case of art imitating life, at the same time that Israel is blasting a defenseless population enclosed in a tiny area, an Israeli film has appeared that depicts an earlier war in which Israel was complicit in an appalling massacre. America's cultural gatekeepers have rightfully hailed Ari Folman's "Waltz With Bashir" as a tour de force and cinematic breakthrough. On Sunday night, as Israeli warplanes carried out 12 bombing raids in Gaza, "Waltz With Bashir" won the Golden Globe Award for best foreign film. Most people who see Folman's stunning film will probably not connect it with Israel's current war. But if they dig a little deeper, they might realize that the film's moral lessons apply not just to the terrible events that took place 28 years ago but also to what is happening today.
"Waltz With Bashir" is about Folman's attempt to recover his lost memory of his experiences as a soldier during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and in particular the Sabra and Shatilla slaughter of Palestinian civilians in two refugee camps. Carried out by Lebanese Christian militiamen, under Israeli protection and with its leaders' complicity, it was one of the most notorious massacres of the 20th century. "Bashir" is an extraordinary work, whose hallucinatory animated imagery and unflinching moral honesty offer an intense depiction of the horrors of war and its devastating psychic consequences. A dreamlike combination of "Apocalypse Now" and "Maus," it is at once the idiosyncratic story of one ex-soldier's attempt to heal his hidden wounds and a damning indictment of the Israeli leaders who enabled the slaughter. In the end, by interviewing other soldiers, talking to a psychiatrist and sharing his anguish with friends, Folman succeeds in putting together a fragmentary picture of the terrible events he witnessed and had blocked out for so long. Whether he himself gains any catharsis from his quest is not clear, for at the very end of the film he abruptly abandons both his personal narrative and his animated technique and simply shows filmed images of the slaughtered Palestinians heaped up like cordwood in the alleys of the camps.
Folman's film is not political. It does not preach or pass judgment. Yet in its artistic integrity, it unintentionally reveals the grim parallels between Israel's invasion of Lebanon and its complicity with the Sabra and Shatilla massacre and its current onslaught -- parallels that, if Israel and the U.S. heeded them, would lead them to understand that the Gaza campaign is both morally appalling and politically self-destructive. Israelis justifiably regard their leaders' role in enabling the Sabra and Shatilla massacre as one of Israel's darkest moments, a permanent stain on its character. Of course, Israel's moral culpability for the 1982 massacre is not the same as its moral responsibility for the civilians killed in the current war. But there are painful similarities. Sooner or later the patriotic war fervor will fade, and Israelis will realize that their leaders sent them to kill hundreds of innocent people for nothing. And perhaps in 2036, some haunted filmmaker will release "Waltz With Hamas."
It is not necessary to have any special knowledge of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre, or Israel's 1982 Lebanon war to which it was a grisly coda, to appreciate Folman's groundbreaking film. But some historical context is necessary in order to grasp the parallels between what happened in Beirut 28 years ago and what is happening today in Gaza. Then as now, Israel went to war in the deluded belief that it could defeat a nationalist movement by smashing it into submission. Then as now, America signed off on this wrongheaded tactic. Then as now, Israel won a short-term tactical military victory that ultimately weakened its security and severely damaged America's interests. And then as now, both Israel and America justified massive civilian casualties by incessantly invoking "terrorism" and dehumanizing the Palestinians.
In 1982, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Prime Minister Menachem Begin decided to put an end to Israel's Palestinian problem once and for all. Hamas did not yet exist: Back then Israel's terrorist archenemy, the fountainhead of evil, was Yasser Arafat's PLO. The two hard-line leaders believed that by inflicting a decisive military defeat on the PLO in Lebanon, they would force the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to abandon their nationalist aspirations and agree to peace on Israeli terms. Using an attack by non-PLO Palestinian extremists on the Israeli ambassador in London as a pretext, Israel launched airstrikes against Lebanon. When PLO forces in Lebanon responded by shelling the Galilee in northern Israel, Sharon and Begin persuaded the Israeli Cabinet to approve a ground invasion of Lebanon. In words that almost exactly recall the language that Israel and its U.S. supporters have used to justify Israel's onslaught on Gaza, Begin said that unless Israel went to war, it would have to accept "the ceaseless killings of our civilians ... seeing our civilians injured in Metulla or Qiryat Shmona or Nahariya."
"Operation Peace for Galilee," which Sharon initially claimed was going to be a limited and short military operation, quickly became a full-blown war. While the Israel Air Force blasted Lebanon from the air, gutting the ancient cities of Sidon and Tyre, its army drove all the way to Beirut. Just as in the current Gaza assault, the vast majority of Israelis approved the war and Begin and Sharon's popularity soared. Formally abandoning its original limited objective of merely pushing the PLO out of artillery range of Israeli cities, Israel now announced two broad goals: to install a friendly Christian-dominated government in Lebanon and to eliminate the PLO. Just as some Israeli leaders today talk of destroying Hamas and permanently changing the political landscape in Gaza, so did Sharon tell U.S. Secretary of State Al Haig that the war would "redraw Lebanon's domestic politics in favor of the Christian Phalangists." Israeli spokesmen claimed that the war would actually benefit the Lebanese people, who were suffering because of the Palestinian state-within-a-state. In similar fashion, Washington and Tel Aviv today are claiming that Israel's assault on Gaza is in the Palestinian people's best interests.
Subjecting Beirut to a brutal seven-week siege in which it engaged in high-altitude bombing of Palestinian neighborhoods and refugee camps (bombings that inevitably killed thousands of civilians and enraged a Yemen-born radical named Osama bin Laden), and cut off water and electricity to them, Israel finally succeeded in forcing the PLO and its leader, Yasser Arafat, out of Lebanon.
Having achieved its military goals, Israel pursued its political ones. It connived with the Phalange, the militant Lebanese Christian political movement, to install its leader, Bashir Gemayel, as Lebanese president. Gemayel and the Phalange were sworn enemies of the Palestinians, whom they blamed for ruining their country and upsetting the old Lebanese political order in which Maronite Christians dominated. Gemayel had called for the destruction of Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps and the forced deportation of up to 200,000 Palestinian civilians. In a secret meeting with Begin, Gemayel promised to restore good relations with Israel. But nine days before Gemayel was to take office, on Sept. 14, a huge bomb, probably planted by Syrian agents, killed him. Burning with murderous rage, Phalangist militiamen thirsted to take revenge against the Palestinians, whom they blamed for the assassination.
The stage was now set for horror. But it is critical to understand that before the Gemayel killing, Sharon and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, had warned that after the PLO evacuation from Beirut, large numbers of Palestinian "terrorists" would be left behind and would have to be hunted down. Sharon claimed that the PLO had left more than 2,000 heavily armed fighters hiding among the tens of thousands of civilians in the Sabra and Shatilla camps. (Sharon's estimate of the number of fighters who remained in Lebanon was wildly exaggerated.) According to Israel's Kahan Commission report, which the Israeli government, to its credit, commissioned to investigate Israel's role in the massacre, Sharon and other top brass had decided to use the Phalange to clean out the camps, in part because of "their skills in identifying terrorists" and in part because the Israeli public was insisting that the Phalange, which had benefited from Israel's invasion, needed to do its share of the fighting.
On the evening of Sept. 14, after Gemayel's assassination, knowing full well just how enraged and bloodthirsty the Phalangists were, Sharon and Eitan decided to send them into the camps. Israeli troops moved into West Beirut, the Palestinian area, where they surrounded and closed off the camps. At about 6 p.m. on Sept. 14, 150 Phalangist soldiers entered the camps, which were lit by mortar flares fired by Israeli troops.
Almost immediately, there were reports that a massacre had begun. According to the Kahan report, an Israeli officer overheard Phalange's chief intelligence officer, Elie Hobeika, telling a Phalange soldier, "You know exactly what to do" with a group of 50 women and children. On hearing this, the Phalangists on the roof broke out into "raucous laughter." The IDF officer understood that Hobeika was calling for the women and children to be killed. The Israeli officer reported what he had heard to his superior, but no action was taken. Also according to the Kahan report, a battalion commander said of the reported massacre, "We know it's not to our liking, and don't interfere." And in an event described in "Waltz With Bashir," Israeli TV journalist Ron Ben-Yishai telephoned a sleepy Sharon himself on the night of the 17th to tell him that there were credible reports of a massacre taking place. Sharon thanked him for the information and did nothing; in the film, Ben-Yishai says that Sharon apparently went back to sleep.
The slaughter went on under the IDF's nose for more than two days. Even by the gruesome standards of intra-Lebanese conflict, it was horrific. Live grenades were hung around people's necks, a baby was trampled to death with spiked boots, pregnant women's fetuses were torn out, other women were raped and had their fingers chopped off before being killed. When it was over, between 700 and 3,500 civilians (figures differ and the actual number will never be known) lay dead.
The Kahan Commission found that a number of top Israeli officials, including Sharon and Eitan, were "indirectly" responsible for the massacre. While denying that there was any evidence that these officials had planned the mass killings, the commission found that they "could and should have prevented the commission of those deeds" and that they should have known that a massacre in the camps was probable. Sharon was singled out as bearing a "personal responsibility" for the events at Sabra and Shatilla, and the report called for him either to resign or to be dismissed. However, Sharon refused to resign, and Begin decided not to fire his formidable rival. In a compromise move, Sharon gave up the defense portfolio but remained in the Cabinet. After serving in various posts, he was elected prime minister in 2000. His hard-line policies toward the Palestinians met with the wholehearted approval of President George W. Bush, who called him a "man of peace."
There are two parallels between the 1982 Lebanon war and the 2008 Gaza war. Both wars ended up harming Israel, and both were morally unjustifiable.
The Lebanon war was a military victory but a political disaster for Israel. The PLO was driven out but not defeated. Palestinian nationalism only grew stronger, and the Islamist Hamas party, far more unyielding and rejectionist than the PLO, took root in the occupied territories. In Lebanon, the war gave birth to Hezbollah, destabilized the country, strengthened Syria's hand, and provided Iran with a strategic partner on Israel's northern border. Israel's 2006 war against Hezbollah, hailed by Condoleezza Rice as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East," devastated Lebanon and only further strengthened Hezbollah.
Israel's current war in Gaza will have the same effect. Most analysts agree that attacking radical movements in the Middle East, without trying to address their grievances, only strengthens them. The only way to make lasting peace is through a political settlement.
Then there are the moral parallels. In response to the Sabra and Shatilla massacre, an astonishing 400,000 Israelis -- almost 10 percent of the country's population -- attended a rally in Tel Aviv to express their outrage and demand that those who were partly responsible for it be punished. Yet today, as Israel carries out an unrelenting assault on an enclosed area packed with civilians, the Israeli public is largely silent.
Of course, I am not asserting that what Israel is doing in Gaza is morally equivalent to what the Phalange did in Sabra and Shatilla. Intentionally massacring women and children is not the same as dropping bombs and firing shells into one of the most densely populated areas in the world, even if the resulting civilian death tolls are similar. But there is some equivalence between its moral culpability now and its leaders' moral culpability in enabling the Phalange atrocity in 1982.
Defenders of the current war argue that Israel is targeting Hamas, not Palestinian civilians, and that the hundreds of civilian casualties are merely regrettable collateral damage, of the sort that occurs in all wars. But that analysis glosses over the peculiar nature of this conflict.
Contrary to its official propaganda, Israel did not undertake this war to end "intolerable" rocket fire from Gaza. Such attacks have been going on for years, and both sides know they will intermittently continue as long as there is no political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Like other Palestinian acts of violence directed indiscriminately at Israeli civilians, they are immoral and unjustifiable -- as is, of course, the de facto Israeli occupation to which they are a response -- but they pose no real threat to Israel.
So why did Israel attack Gaza? Supporters of the invasion paint the war as a fight to the death against an evil enemy, part of the "global war on terror." But the truth is that Israel is too smart to want to destroy Hamas: If it were to do so, it would be creating a mini-Somalia on its border, a lawless territory where Qaida-like groups would flourish. Rather, as the Israeli analyst Aluf Benn points out, Israel went to war simply to set back Hamas, to postpone its ability to strike at Israel. Benn notes that Israel has reconciled itself to the fact that Hamas will run Gaza: "In fact, Israel is accepting -- however grudgingly -- the Hamas idea of long-term truce." For Israel, in short, the Gaza war has extremely limited strategic aims: Buy a little time, restore the "deterrent capability" that was damaged in the 2006 Lebanon war, and play to a hawkish population in the run-up to an election.
Israel knew in advance that by launching an aerial and artillery assault on one of the most densely populated areas of the world, it would inflict enormous "collateral damage," to use the Orwellian phrase. Just as it was predictable that the Phalange would slaughter everyone in the camps, so it was predictable that attacking Hamas in Gaza would kill hundreds of innocent civilians. As the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy pointed out, the Gaza war is "maybe the only war in history against a strip of land enclosed by a fence."
The very modesty of Israel's goals makes the war's civilian casualties morally unacceptable. In certain situations, one might justify military actions that are certain to kill large numbers of civilians. The Allies' "strategic bombing" of Germany in World War II, for example, killed tens of thousands of civilians, but one could argue that the air assault was justifiable because it shortened the war and played a decisive role in defeating the Nazis. But that justification does not apply in this situation.
In 2002, Israel assassinated Salah Shehadeh, the leader of Hamas' military wing, by dropping a bomb on his house in Gaza City. The bomb killed 17 people, including his wife and nine children. In response to protests by Israeli peace groups that the attack was immoral and illegal, the State Prosecution agreed to establish an independent commission to investigate the decision to drop the bomb. The investigation went nowhere, but at least the Israeli government showed that it was aware that such actions are morally objectionable.
What a difference six years make. The current Gaza operation is a repeat of the Shehadeh assassination, exponentially multiplied. Yet Israel and America -- which is equally guilty of extrajudicial assassinations in which civilians are killed -- are silent.
All wars are dirty, and Hamas -- which employs terrorism and is willing to pay with Palestinian blood to remain in power -- most emphatically does not have clean hands. But the Israeli onslaught against Hamas has reduced Israel to the same level as its enemies. Today, Israel and America are applauding the war. But as "Waltz With Bashir" painfully demonstrates, today's glorious victories can become nightmares that haunts individuals and nations for decades. One can only pray that it does not take too long for leaders on all sides to realize that all this blood, Palestinian and Israeli, has been spilled for nothing and move to make a lasting peace.~lee.
08 January 2009
W. and the damage donePresident Bush inherited a peaceful, prosperous America. As he exits, Salon consults experts in seven fields to try to assess the devastation.
By Vincent Rossmeier and Gabriel Winant
Jan. 08, 2009 |
After a couple of presidential terms, mismanagement in every area of policy -- foreign, domestic, even extraterrestrial -- starts to add up. When George W. Bush entered the White House in January 2001, he inherited peace and prosperity. The military, the Constitution and New Orleans were intact and the country had a budget surplus of $128 billion. Now he's about to dash out the door, leaving a large, unpaid bill for his successors to pay.
To get a sense of what kind of balance is due, Salon spoke to experts in seven different fields. Wherever possible, we have tried to express the damage done in concrete terms -- sometimes in lives lost, but most often just in money spent and dollars owed. What follows is an incomplete inventory of eight years of mis- and malfeasance, but then a fuller accounting would run, um, somewhat longer than three pages.
Until not too long ago, President Bush's supporters could be heard to argue that the economy was the unheralded success story of his administration. In 2006, Larry Kudlow called it "The Greatest Story Never Told." While praising Bush, Ramesh Ponnuru decried the unfairness of it all. "It seems to happen every week: Some new piece of good economic news comes out, and Republicans sink a little deeper in the polls." To share their admiration, it helped if you ignored the way the wealth was being distributed. Or if you were a repo man.
But the whole debate became moot on Sept. 15, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Now the economy may be the most burdensome of all the Bush legacies that Barack Obama will have to shoulder.
The current financial and economic crisis has grown so massive, consuming everything in sight, that one might be able to forget that it started with bad mortgages. Well, one could try to forget, as long as one still has a home, or is not among the nearly one in four mortgage-holders whose homes are worth less than the debt on their homes.
How bad is it? "An average recession is one in which we lose about 3 percent of GDP. Three percent of GDP is about $500 billion," UCLA economist Lee Ohanian told Salon. "It's not inconceivable that this could be twice as worse, which would be close to a trillion."
How much poorer are we going to get before we start getting richer again? Here are some (scary, morbid, gruesome) clues.
Expected shortfall of gross domestic product below normal growth path in 2009: $900 billion
Decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from its decade high to its value at the close of business, Jan. 7, 2009: 5,394.83, or 38.1 percent
Number of manufacturing jobs lost since 2000: 3.78 million
Real median household income according to the 2000 census, adjusted for inflation: $51,804
Real median household income as of August 2007: $50,233
Of course, the government didn't sit idly by while our financial future was disappearing down the drain. Instead, the feds have pumped in hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, hoping to juice lending and public spending.
Cost of finance industry bailout: $350 billion, with another $350 pending congressional approval
Cost of auto industry bailout: $17.4 billion, so far
And even though there's widespread agreement among economists that the government needs to be spending a large sum of money on an economic stimulus package, it still won't look pretty on the public balance sheet.
National debt: $10.6 trillion
Amount of that debt owned by China: At least $800 billion
When that bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 and injuring 145, we started to remember that the prosaic details of infrastructure policy matter. Nuts and bolts can mean, quite literally, life and death. And the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi is not the only American thoroughfare suffering from underfunding and neglect.
Number of bridges judged structurally deficient: 70,000.
Number of major roads in mediocre or poor condition: Roughly one-third.
Meanwhile, the roads aren't only worn down, they're overcrowded. In part, we can thank an administration that gave tax credits to SUV buyers while targeting public transit for cuts.
The Bush White House's proposed cuts in public transit funding for fiscal year 2009: $202.1 million.
Though he capitulated in the face of overwhelming congressional majorities in favor of Amtrak, Bush threatened repeatedly to defund the national rail system altogether.
Target level of federal funding for Amtrak proposed by Bush in 2005: $0.
Budget cutting on that scale causes a decaying, obsolescent infrastructure. Fixing it won't come cheap. On Dec. 6, during his weekly address to the nation, President-elect Obama promised t0 make "the single largest investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s."
President-elect Obama's proposed infrastructure program: $375 billion to $475 billion.
Amount spent by FDR's Works Progress Administration, up through 1941: $11.4 billion -- adjusted for inflation, that's about $170 billion.
How many times have you heard, "With the money we spend in Iraq in just one week ..."?
So how much has that been, exactly? Linda Bilmes, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and co-author with economist Joseph Stiglitz of "The Three Trillion Dollar War," thinks the figure in her book's title is, if anything, too low. (Bilmes and Stiglitz put the full price of all Bush administration debacles at $10 trillion in their own excellent damage report for the January issue of Harper's.)
"I think it's still a good figure. It was always a conservative figure. We essentially just took the amount of money that we spent to date, the sort of minimum that we are going to need to spend on veterans' disability benefits, veterans' disability, weapons that have been used up, interest on the money we've borrowed. And then there are some of the economic costs. There are social costs, like parents or spouses of wounded veterans who have to leave their jobs after parents come back. And there are economic costs, such as oil disruption."
Cost: From the start of the war through 2017, "You can't get any lower than $3 trillion."
And a gradual drawdown of troops isn't going to make it better, Bilmes says. Maintaining any presence at all in Iraq entails what economists call high fixed costs. Whether we've got 10,000 troops or 15,000 at a base, that base is still going to cost a lot to maintain. Hence, when the British withdrew half their forces from Basra, their costs fell by an almost imperceptible 3 percent.
Since $3 trillion is hard to digest, let's itemize some of the costs in Bilmes and Stiglitz's comprehensive figure.
Amount of money earned by a married U.S. Army sergeant with children per day in Iraq in 2007: $170
Amount of money earned by a Blackwater military contractor per day: $600
Number of U.S. military deaths as of Jan. 7, 2009: 4,222
Average cost of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle: $3.166 million
Cost of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad: $592 million
Cost to conduct the war per month: $12 billion
Amount the Bush administration estimated the war would cost from start to finish: $60 billion
The cost to "fix" the military: Meaning, to restore battered and depleted personnel and materiel. Larry Korb, a defense analyst at the Center for American Progress, thinks we're talking about $250 billion. "In terms of materiel, obviously, if you're talking fiscally, you've got the reset cost of the equipment that's been destroyed, used up, burned in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you've got at least $100 billion. So that's one cost, because you assume this is going to last longer, when you bought it." And then there's personnel: recruitment bonuses, the new GI bill, pay raises. Korb's guess is about another $150 billion there. And this isn't money that we'll necessarily recoup when the war ends. "You can never roll those back," he says of the GI bill and bonuses.
And, while these estimates overlap with those made by Bilmes, they don't even account for most of the increased defense spending. The Pentagon's budget is up about 40 percent since Bush's inauguration, says Korb. "I'd only say about one-quarter is due to the things we spoke about. The other is just poor management. You have the cost overruns in weapons systems, $400 billion in weapons systems since they came in."
One of President Obama's important early tasks will be dismantling the culture of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the web of white papers and executive orders that jeopardized habeas corpus and allowed -- encouraged -- torture.
The damage to the image of America may be long-term. Karen Greenberg, the executive director of New York University's Center on Law and Security, says that the stain on America's reputation among foreigners and, for that matter, Americans can never be removed.
"And it sullied -- not so much our reputation, because that's the obvious -- it sullied on some level how we think of ourselves," says Greenberg. "You can't undo the damage that torture's done. You took something out of a box that has vast repercussions, and gave people a chance and a reason to defend a practice that brings out rather horrific things about human beings for very little, for no gain. So the way to go about the torture thing is in a very definitive way. Which is, we're not going to do it. The policy prescription is not to have a policy. We don't torture."
Our methods in the war on terror, says Greenberg, expose a fundamental lack of faith in the ability of democracy to achieve policy successes. "The biggest cost of torture was that it eroded the confidence of the American people. Because if you choose bullying as your method, you are saying, we don't trust ourselves to have the skills, whether they are the intelligence skills, or the law enforcement skills, to be the best in the game and the best and the brightest on the issues that are part of our national security."
But there are also quantifiable costs to holding enemy combatants indefinitely, and creating military commissions to try them.
Number of detainees who have died in U.S custody: Human Rights First claimed that as of February 2006, nearly 100 had died, a figure the Pentagon disputes. In addition, Amnesty International says that more than three dozen individuals believed to have been in U.S. custody have essentially disappeared.
Cost of building and staffing detention facilities at Guantánamo: More than $400 million as of December 2008. Yet to be determined: the price for trying the 250 detainees who remain, or any civil suits that might be forthcoming.
When Katrina's winds were finally quiet, they had left in their wake a mountain of statistical testimony to the power of a hurricane and the incompetence of the government officials who were supposed to deal with it. Fifteen million people on the Gulf Coast were affected and 400,000 jobs and 275,000 homes were lost. The most important statistic of all is the number of deaths. Estimates vary greatly, but deaths directly caused by the August 2005 storm are generally believed to be in excess of 1,100, perhaps about 1,500, with total direct and indirect deaths in excess of 1,800. Another 700 or so people are still missing. Many thousands more, however, who fled Louisiana to escape the storm have never come back. The city's population is still only at 72 percent of its pre-Katrina level of 450,000. Louisiana and North Dakota are the only two states whose populations declined between 2000 and 2008.
But let's talk about money.
Cost to insurers: A month after the storm, the insurance industry gave the preliminary figure of $34.4 billion. A year later, the number was $40.6 billion. Harry Richardson, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California and editor of a collection of scholarly articles called "Natural Disaster Analysis After Katrina," notes, grimly, that any assessments of the storm's impact should also include financial losses because of fatality. "Generally we estimate the value of life -- even for poor people -- at about $5 million per person. So if you wanted to estimate the cost in human life, you could multiply that [times the number of deaths]." At 1,800 deaths, that's another $9 billion or so.
There has also been a financial impact on people who were spared the wrath of Katrina, who have never heard of a levee and live far from Louisiana and Mississippi. Home insurance has become more costly and/or more difficult to procure. After the storm, many national insurers simply stopped issuing policies for homes that were too close to coastlines.
Cost to repair the levees in New Orleans: $1 billion, with no guarantee, as sea levels rise and hurricanes increase in intensity, that they will hold.
Americans are ambivalent about healthcare reform. They consistently cite it as a top issue in polls, and promising action on healthcare helped Bill Clinton get elected in 1992 and Barack Obama win 16 years later. But they've proved skittish about the actual details, as Clinton learned once in office. Victor Fuchs, an emeritus health economist at Stanford, says that "the public has shown no disposition to support any significant reform."
The Bush administration embodied this schizophrenia. Public concern about the rising cost of heathcare led Bush to push for the the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act in 2003, which included a prescription drug program called Medicare Part D that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2006. It was a somewhat compassionate idea, since it helped seniors pay for needed medicine, but it wasn't exactly conservative. Sure, it protected profits for drug companies, but only by forcing the government to pay the high prices that consumers had been paying. To the chagrin of Republicans who helped pass it, Bush's drug plan has turned out to be one of the biggest new entitlement programs of the past 40 years. (It only won enough Republican support to pass Congress because the Bush administration lowballed the actual price.)
Cost of implementing Medicare Part D: $534 billion
Difference in price of brand-name drugs, U.S. and Canada, in 2004: 70 percent more expensive in the U.S.
Increase in average prescription drug price between 1997 and 2007: From $35.72 to $69.91
While buying drugs for seniors, Bush denied healthcare to kids. In 2007, he vetoed an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which gives federal money to the states to help provide health insurance for families with children.
Number of children kept off of SCHIP because of Bush's veto: 4 million
Meanwhile, the nation's underlying healthcare problems remain unaddressed. Healthcare grows more expensive, and the number of uninsured Americans, as a percentage of the population, is not decreasing.
Number of uninsured Americans: 46 million, or 18 percent of the population under 65. Says Roger Hickey, founder and co-director of the progressive political organization Campaign for America's Future, "That's about 16 percent of the population. A larger and larger percentage of the public is losing their employer-sponsored healthcare because it's become so expensive for employers to insure their people. And that's the backbone of our system."
Increase in the amount that the average employee pays toward employer-provided healthcare since 2000: 120 percent
According to Hickey, the number of uninsured has fluctuated over the past eight years, but the figure is deceiving. "I can't say that it's gotten dramatically worse. [B]ut there was an analysis when the latest numbers came out about three months ago that showed the only thing that kept it from getting worse is that more and more people are signing up for public programs like Medicaid." Hickey expects the number to spike upward very soon. "People are losing their jobs -- there's about to be a huge leap in the uninsured as the recession hits."
Hickey characterizes Bush's expansion of Medicare as "a wasted opportunity," because of corporate influence on drug pricing. "The legislation was written by drug company lobbyists and lobbyists-to-be like Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, who wrote the bill and then took a job as the head of PHRMA, the pharmaceutical lobbying organization ... There are actually provisions in that law that protect drug companies from competitive pricing."
Harvard Business School professor Regina E. Herzlinger, author of the book "Who Killed Health Care?," says that the scariest American healthcare stat is probably how much we spend on it as a percentage of our economy.
Cost of healthcare as a percentage of GDP: 16 percent
Ratio of cost of healthcare to cost of national defense: 4.3-1
"As an economist," says Herzlinger, "I am tremendously concerned about the ever increasing fraction of our GDP that's taken up with health care. Most of the countries that we compete with average 9 to 10 percent of their GDP on health care. We spend about 70 percent more and I cannot honestly say that we're getting 70 percent better health care in the U.S."
"I put this squarely at the foot of the Bush Administration. They were purportedly people who were interested in helping consumers but they didn't do a lot of the things that could have helped the consumer."
Number of nine warmest years on record that have occurred since 2000: Seven.
How much has the Arctic ice cap shrunk? 50 percent since the turn of the century.
By now, the stories of global warming denial and outright censorship of government scientists by the Bush administration are well known. The incoming Obama administration admits the existence of climate change, but a decade has been lost. Meanwhile, there is both a tremendous and growing financial impact from existing climate change, and the specter of the enormous economic commitment that would be required just to return global temperatures to status quo.
"It's difficult to put a cost on sea level rise of 40 feet, or the Southwest becoming desertified," says physicist and Salon contributor Joseph Romm. "[But i]f you were to ascribe to Bush a significant fraction of the cost of catastrophic climate change, then it's a number that's going to dwarf all the numbers you have."
The Stern Review, a report commissioned by the British government, pegs the potential cost of unaddressed climate change at 20 percent of world gross domestic product. While that's an immense figure, it doesn't adequately conjure the Armageddon we're facing, Romm says.
"From my view, you have to start talking, at some point in the second half of the century, about triaging coastal cities. You're certainly not going to try to save every coastal city. Galveston is probably a write-off, but you're certainly going to try to save Houston. You're not going to save the Florida Keys but you'd save Miami, certainly, New York, the island of Manhattan. But it's one thing to save them from a few feet of sea level rise. It's another thing when we're talking about 20 or 100."
So, what's it going to run us to save Manhattan from the sea? It means the replacement in the next three or four decades of all the infrastructure of the developed world, followed by a similar effort in the rest of the world in the second half of the century.
Cost to fix: 2 or 3 percent of global GDP, a couple trillion a year.
The good news: "Because we're so rich," says Romm, "avoiding catastrophe is a huge amount of money in absolute terms, but it's pocket change relative to our wealth."~lee.
01 January 2009
Another brutal year for liberty
The good news is that it's clear what the Obama administration must do to end the decade-long war on the Constitution.
By Glenn Greenwald
Jan. 1, 2009 | Befitting an administration that has spent eight years obliterating America's core political values, its final year in power -- 2008 -- was yet another grim one for civil liberties and constitutional protections. Unlike the early years of the administration, when liberty-abridging policies were conceived of in secret and unilaterally implemented by the executive branch, many of the erosions of 2008 were the dirty work of the U.S. Congress, fueled by the passive fear or active complicity of the Democratic Party that controlled it. The one silver lining is that the last 12 months have been brightly clarifying: It is clearer than ever what the Obama administration can and must do in order to arrest and reverse the decade-long war on the Constitution waged by our own government.
The most intensely fought civil liberties battle of 2008 -- the one waged over FISA and telecom immunity -- ended the way most similar battles of the last eight years have: with total defeat for civil libertarians. Even before Democrats were handed control of Congress at the beginning of 2007, the Bush administration had been demanding legislation to legalize its illegal warrantless NSA eavesdropping program and to retroactively immunize the telecom industry for its participation in those programs. Yet even with Bill Frist and Denny Hastert in control of the Congress, the administration couldn't get its way.
Not even the most cynical political observer would have believed that it was the ascension of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi that would be the necessary catalyst for satisfying Bush's most audacious demands, concerning his most brazenly illegal actions. If anything, hopes were high that Democratic control of Congress would entail a legislative halt to warrantless eavesdropping or, at the very least, some meaningful investigation and disclosure -- what we once charmingly called "oversight" -- regarding what Bush's domestic spying had really entailed. After all, the NSA program was the purified embodiment of the most radical attributes of a radical regime -- pure lawlessness, absolute secrecy, a Stasi-like fixation on domestic surveillance. It was widely assumed, even among embittered cynics, that the new Democratic leadership in Congress would not use their newfound control to protect and endorse these abuses.
Yet in July 2008, there stood Pelosi and Reid, leading their caucuses as they stamped their imprimatur of approval on Bush's spying programs. The so-called FISA Amendments Act of 2008 passed with virtually unanimous GOP and substantial Democratic support, including the entire top level of the House Democratic leadership. It legalized vast new categories of warrantless eavesdropping and endowed telecoms with full immunity for prior surveillance lawbreaking. Most important, it ensured a permanent and harmless end to what appeared to be the devastating scandal that exploded in 2005 when the New York Times revealed to the country that the Bush administration was spying on Americans illegally, without warrants of any kind.
With passage of the Act, Democrats delivered to the Bush administration everything it wanted -- and more. GOP Sen. Kit Bond actually taunted the Democrats in the Times for giving away the store: "I think the White House got a better deal than they even had hoped to get." Making matters much worse, by delivering this massive gift to the White House, the House undid one of its very few good deeds since taking over in 2006: its galvanizing February 2008 refusal to succumb to Bush's rank fear-mongering by allowing "The Protect America Act" to expire instead of following the Senate's lead in making it permanent.
Adding the final insult to this constitutional injury, Barack Obama infamously violated his emphatic pledge, made during the Democratic primary, to filibuster any bill containing telecom immunity. With the Democratic nomination fully secured, Obama blithely tossed that commitment aside, instead joining his party's leadership in voting for cloture on the bill -- the opposite of a filibuster -- and then in favor of the bill itself. The photographs of the celebratory, bipartisan signing ceremony that followed at the White House -- where an understandably jubilant George Bush and Dick Cheney were joined by a grinning Jay Rockefeller, Jane Harman and Steny Hoyer -- was the vivid, wretched symbol of what, in 2008, became the fully bipartisan assault on America's basic constitutional guarantees and form of government.
The FISA fight was the destructive template that drove virtually every other civil liberties battle of the last year. Time and again, Democrats failed to deliver on a single promise. They failed to overcome a GOP filibuster in the Senate to restore habeas corpus, which had been partially abolished in 2006 as a result of the Military Commissions Act that passed with substantial Democratic support and wholesale Democratic passivity. Notably, while Senate Democrats, when in the minority, never even considered a filibuster to block the Military Commissions Act, it was simply assumed that the GOP, when it was in the minority, would filibuster in order to prevent passage of the Habeas Restoration Act. And filibuster they did.
A similar scenario played out with the attempt in February to redress America's torture crisis by enacting an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act compelling all government agencies, including the CIA, to comply with the Army Field Manual when interrogating detainees. The most immediate effect of such a law would have been to impose an absolute ban on the use of waterboarding, along with any other coercive tactics -- torture techniques -- which the Manual does not explicitly authorize.
Knowing that the president would veto the bill, the GOP allowed a floor vote on the Army Field Manual amendment. Signaling what would be his year-long, soul-selling captivity to the far right of his party, John McCain -- despite years of parading around as a righteous opponent of torture -- voted against the torture ban. The bill passed both houses largely along party lines, President Bush vetoed it as promised, and the House then failed to override the veto. The path taken was slightly different, but the outcome was the same: total failure in reining in Bush's abuses. Indeed, by the end of 2008, civil libertarians could point to many defeats suffered in the Democratic-controlled Congress, but not a single victory.
The fate of civil liberties in the judiciary was much more mixed, punctuated with several significant victories. Undoubtedly the most important win was the Supreme Court's June decision in the Boumediene case, which struck down as unconstitutional one of the worst constitutional assaults of the Bush era: Section 7 of the Military Commissions Act, which had purported to abolish habeas corpus for Guantánamo detainees and prohibited them from challenging their detention in a federal court.
The Court ruled, by a precarious 5-4 margin, that Guantánamo detainees could not constitutionally be denied the right to have their detentions reviewed by an American federal court. That seminal ruling paid quick dividends for some of the detainees. Last month, a Bush 43 federal judge -- the same jurist who had originally upheld the Act's abolition of habeas review for Guantánamo detainees and was ultimately reversed by the Boumediene court -- conducted a habeas hearing for six Algerian-Bosnian detainees imprisoned without charges at Guantánamo for the last six years.
The judge concluded that the Bush administration had no credible evidence to justify the detention of five out of the six detainees and thus ordered them released immediately. Four of the five are now back in Bosnia, while the fifth awaits release. Without the Boumediene ruling, the truly heinous provisions of the Military Commissions Act would still be operative and would continue to empower the government to hold those detainees -- along with dozens if not hundreds of others -- indefinitely and without charges. Boumediene is one of the few civil liberties bright spots of this decade.
The Bush administration, also earlier this year, suffered another judicial defeat at the hands of a very conservative, Bush 43-appointed federal judge, when that judge emphatically rejected the administration's claim that Bush aides Harriet Miers (former White House counsel) and Josh Bolten (former White House chief of staff) are entitled to absolute immunity from Congressional subpoenas. That dispute, which arose from the House Judiciary Committee's efforts to investigate the notorious firing of nine U.S. attorneys, dispensed with one of the administration's most radical tools -- a claim of absolute, unconstitutional executive privilege -- for shielding itself from accountability.
One of the most potentially damaging judicial developments of the year was a horrendous ruling issued in July by the conservative Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. The al-Marri court actually upheld the president's claimed authority to detain legal residents and even U.S. citizens in a military prison as "enemy combatants," rather than charge them in a civilian court with a crime. But the damage done by that ruling was mitigated substantially when the U.S. Supreme Court announced just two weeks ago that it has agreed to review the al-Marri ruling, and civil libertarians are cautiously optimistic that the Court will likely reverse it.
For the last seven years, Democrats have repeatedly cited GOP political dominance to excuse their wholesale failures to limit, let alone reverse, the devastating war waged by the Bush administration on America's core liberties and form of government. With a new Democratic president and large majorities in both Congressional houses, those excuses will no longer be so expedient. As dark and depressing as these last seven years have been for civil libertarians, culminating in an almost entirely grim 2008, there is no question that the Obama administration and the Democrats generally now possess the power to reverse these abuses and restore our national political values. But as the events of the last 12 months conclusively demonstrate, there are substantial questions as to whether they have the will to do so.