The United Nations is warning of a major funding shortfall for addressing the world’s most dire humanitarian crises. In a mid-year update, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the UN is $4.8 billion short of meeting required needs, its largest gap ever.
Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “We have already received $4.6 billion, which is 49 percent of what we believe we need. That is the best ever result we’ve had at mid-year and particularly, I think, noteworthy given the economic and financial crisis that we’re all going through. At the same time, those overall requirements are the highest ever at mid-year, and that means that the needs which we still have to be funded, at around $4.84 billion, are also the highest we’ve ever had.”
Holmes went on to say humanitarian shortfalls are particularly urgent in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Kenya and Zimbabwe. He added the shortfalls could be overcome if wealthy nations were to commit “just a fraction” of the money spent to bail out financial institutions.
The Pakistani government is opposing a widening US assault inside neighboring Afghanistan. The New York Times reports Pakistani officials are warning US operations in Afghanistan will force militants to cross the border into Pakistan, further destabilizing the restive Baluchistan province. Critics of the US occupation of Afghanistan have made similar warnings, but Pakistan’s pleas appear to be its most vocal objection to date. Pakistan says it will need more troops to deal with the influx of militants but has ruled out diverting forces from its border with India. The New York Times reports Pakistani and US officials hold “starkly different” views on dealing with the Taliban. Pakistan is urging negotiations instead of further violence.
In Iraq, at least sixteen people were killed and more than 100 wounded Tuesday in a series of attacks. It was one of the worst days of violence since US forces pulled back from Iraqi towns three weeks ago. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in Washington, DC, today for talks with President Obama at the White House.
In Honduras, the coup regime is showing internal division over the return of the overthrown President Manuel Zelaya. On Tuesday, the de facto government rejected a proposal from its own foreign minister and lead negotiator that would have restored Zelaya to office. The foreign minister, Carlos López Contreras, drafted a plan that would let Zelaya return but bar a referendum on allowing him to run for reelection. It was the second reconciliation proposal rejected by the coup regime in less than a week following its objection to a Costa Rica-backed plan agreed to by Zelaya. Meanwhile, Zelaya spoke out from Nicaragua on Tuesday, vowing to return to Honduras within seventy-two hours.
President Manuel Zelaya: “After seventy-two hours, to return to Honduras to find solutions, a peaceful return to the right we all have to resist oppression, to join the Honduran people in resisting this repressive regime that has taken over our country.”
Zelaya’s promise to return came as hundreds of his supporters continued daily protests in the capital Tegucigalpa. Protest leader Rafael Alegria said the struggle to restore Zelaya could turn violent if the coup regime doesn’t step down.
Rafael Alegria: “No one can guarantee that there will be an outbreak of violence and that the people will get out of control. For now, we’re on the streets peacefully protesting, but no one can say whether it will turn into a violent confrontation. If it does, that will be the responsibility of the coup leaders.”
Venezuela says it’s reevaluating ties with neighboring Colombia over a looming agreement to expand the US military presence on Colombian soil. The US and Colombia are close to a deal that would authorize US use of at least three military bases. The ten-year deal would also extend the current arrangement allowing up to 1,400 US troops and military contractors inside Colombia. On Tuesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticized the plans.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “Of course, they say they aren’t Yankee bases, but Colombian bases. But they come, and they can stay there permanently, something that will obligate us — and the foreign affairs minister already has instructions — to revise our relations with Colombia.”
The agreement to secure Colombian bases comes as the US has begun dismantling operations at its base in Ecuador. The US used the Manta base for ten years, until Ecuador declined to renew its lease one year ago. The Pentagon says the US military will be out of Ecuador by September.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli settlers have destroyed or damaged several areas of Palestinian land in ongoing attacks in the West Bank. On Tuesday, Israeli settlers damaged Palestinian trees with saws, one day after more than 1,500 olive trees were set ablaze. Palestinian farmer Mohamad Rajab of the Burin village says the attacks have continued for several days.
Mohamad Rajab: “As we arrived, we looked at the land, and there were five or six settlers cutting the olive trees. Some were cutting, others were damaging, using hand-held saws. When they saw us, they fled. The Palestinian coordination force came and found all these trees damaged. If we had waited another hour, we would have found everything destroyed. There are more than 200 olive trees. Yesterday, they burned some thirty other olive trees. A week ago, they burned another twenty olive trees, and a month ago they burned two-and-a-half acres of wheat.”
The settler attacks came in apparent response to Israel’s announcement that it will begin removing unauthorized outposts established without official Israeli government consent. But Israel has defied US calls to freeze settlement activity and ignored Arab offers of peace in return for ending the occupation of Palestinian land. Although the Obama administration says it opposes the settlements, it hasn’t proposed any suspension of the billions of dollars in US aid to Israel.
The human rights group Amnesty International is accusing Saudi Arabia of using the so-called “war on terror” to stifle domestic dissent. In a new report, Amnesty says it’s documented scores of jailings of teachers, activists and others critical of the ruling Saudi kingdom. Lamri Chirouf of Amnesty International said the jailings are widespread.
Lamri Chirouf: “The government arrests suspects from their homes, from the classroom, from the university compounds, from the streets, and locks them up with no right of access to a lawyer, no right to challenge the decision of being detained. They are often held in solitary confinement for lengthy periods. There are many who have alleged to have been tortured. They are held incommunicado for months, without their families knowing where they are.”
Saudi Arabia is one of the leading US allies in the Middle East.
The Obama administration has rejected a request to disclose details of recent meetings with health industry executives. The group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has asked the Secret Service to provide a list of eighteen industry executives who have visited the White House. But in a continuation of Bush administration policy, the Obama administration says those records are private and won’t be revealed. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says it plans to sue the administration for the records’ release.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting the nation’s corporate executives and other highly compensated employees now account for more than one-third of all salaries earned in the United States. According to Social Security Administration figures, top earners pulled in $2.1 trillion of the total $6.4 trillion paid in 2007. The numbers don’t include several types of stock options and other benefits that would add hundreds of millions to the top bracket’s earnings. From 2002 to 2007, the average worker saw a 24 percent pay increase, half the 48 percent increase for the highly paid. The rising pay for top earners appears to be adversely affecting Social Security. With more wages beyond the maximum that can be taxed to contribute to the Social Security trust, less money is available to fund retirement benefits for American workers.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has voted to remove a $1.75 billion provision for the purchase of seven additional F-22 fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin. The 50-to-48 vote marked a victory for President Obama. The White House had lobbied against the additional F-22s, calling them costly and unneeded.
A House panel has approved a measure that would significantly curb the role of private lenders in federal student loans. On Tuesday, the House Education and Labor Committee voted to advance the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009. The bill would eliminate a program that subsidizes banks to make student loans and replace it with direct lending from the government itself. Democrats say the measure could save an estimated $87 billion over ten years.
New figures show teen pregnancies and certain sexually transmitted diseases saw a sharp rise during the administration of former President George W. Bush. According to the Centers for Disease Control, teenage pregnancies have risen in half the United States since 2005, reversing a long trend of decline. The number of teenage girls with syphilis also rose by nearly half. A two-decade decline in gonorrhea infections is now on the reverse. And the number of teenage males contracting AIDS has nearly doubled. The Bush administration pursued an evangelically driven policy on sex education that shunned contraception and instead promoted abstinence. Pregnancy and STDs were highest in Southern states, where abstinence education has been most widespread.
A congressional probe has concluded the Pentagon didn’t break federal law in running a propaganda program ahead of the Iraq war. Beginning in 2002, the Pentagon recruited more than seventy-five retired military officers to appear on TV outlets as so-called military analysts to portray Iraq as an urgent threat. Some of the retired officers also had business ties to war contractors who stood to profit from military spending. Investigators with the Congressional Accountability Office didn’t issue a finding on the analysts’ business ties, but say the propaganda program was legal. Earlier this year, the Pentagon was forced to withdraw its own exoneration of the program after admitting an Inspector General’s report was deeply flawed.
And in Massachusetts, Cambridge police say they’re dropping the disorderly conduct charge against leading African American scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Gates was arrested in his home last week after he had to force his way in to overcome a jammed front door. A neighbor had called police, thinking Gates was a robber. Gates reportedly presented his proof of residence and said, “This is what happens to black men in America.” He was then handcuffed, taken to the police station, and charged. Cambridge police have called the incident “regrettable and unfortunate,” but Gates is demanding a full apology. Gates says he plans to use the incident to bring attention to racial profiling in the US criminal justice system.