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Thomas Paine

To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.

Friday, July 31, 2009

31 July - Political Hot Potatoes

Made Homeless by Katrina, Now Gov't Bulldozers
By Abra Pollock
WASHINGTON, Dec 7 (IPS) - Low-income residents of New Orleans are frantically struggling to secure the right to return to their homes before the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) begins demolishing thousands of public housing units next week.

Current redevelopment plans call for replacing 4,000 units at five major public housing projects with mixed-income developments, and setting aside a varying percentage of the apartments for affordable housing.

This overhaul would eliminate 82 percent of the city's public housing, thereby excluding 3,800 families, according to the Peoples' Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition, which coordinates research and grassroots organising efforts to support the needs of Hurricane Katrina survivors.

This news came as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced last week that it would begin dismantling the trailer parks it set up for those made homeless by the storm in August 2005, many of whom are former residents of public housing.
New Orleans' homeless population has now skyrocketed to 12,000 - more than double it was prior to the storm.
Among the reasons offered by HUD and HANO, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, for the destruction of public housing developments is that these complexes encourage a problematic "concentration of poverty". But some experts question this reasoning, and point out that most of the units were untouched by the storm and didn't suffer any significant damage.

"Is the problem that we have concentrations of poverty? Or is the problem that these neighbourhoods don't have the services that they need in order to flourish and grow?" asked Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, director of the research, public policy and information centre at the National Council of Negro Women.

Community groups and other organisations have been scrambling to appeal to all levels of government in order to stop the demolitions.
Activists and public housing residents aren't the only ones who have been working to stop the demolitions. Also involved is the AFL-CIO, the United States' largest federation of trade unions, with 54 unions representing 10 million members.

AFL-CIO Gulf Coast Recovery Programme director Tom O'Malley has steered a months-long partnership between the New Orleans office of his organisation's Housing Investment Trust and the residents of the St. Bernard public housing complex, which served as a home to 866 residents prior to the storm and is now scheduled for demolition.

Through this partnership, residents were able to form their own St. Bernard Housing Recovery and Development Corporation, O'Malley told IPS prior to leaving for a meeting with the St. Bernard residents.

The AFL-CIO's plan would also rebuild 1,045 units of affordable housing on the site. But O'Malley is not optimistic that organising at the local or national government levels would save St. Bernard or any of the other public housing complexes.

"Whatever development happens, it certainly will not be in the interest of the working poor," he said.

If the working poor cannot afford to return to New Orleans, not only will the city's demographics and character be altered, but its economic and social fabric will be deeply impacted, experts say.

According Jones-DeWeever, the vital social networks that sustained the city's poorest residents will never be reconstructed unless communities are allowed to return to their neighbourhoods and housing developments.

Levee Uncertainty Weighs on Katrina's Displaced
By Matthew Cardinale*
NEW ORLEANS, Jul. 30 (IPS) - Today, the population of New Orleans is still about 175,000 people fewer than it was before Hurricane Katrina hit four years ago next month. Along with concerns about jobs and housing costs, the city's vulnerability to flooding has weighed heavily on the minds of many evacuees, many of whom have not returned.

In the first part of this series, IPS explained how the levees are being built up to a new standard of protection - essentially 99 percent protection each year - scheduled to be completed by the end of 2011, and that Holland, by comparison, uses a higher standard of 99.99 percent protection.

Unfortunately, most New Orleanians, both current residents and in the diaspora, have very little understanding of what level of protection is being promised. Neither the local nor national media have asked the tough questions, said Sandy Rosenthal, executive director of Levees.org.

People in New Orleans see work being done on the levees, but they generally sense that the level of protection being promised would not be strong enough to handle another hurricane on the scale of Katrina. The street wisdom is that the new levees might be strong enough for a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, but certainly not a 5.

In reality, the scale which measures hurricanes in categories 1 through 5, the Saffir-Simpson scale, speaks to intensity or wind speed, not to flood levels, the latter of which are more important to the issue of levee protection, several experts told IPS. Ed Link of the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, which studied the Hurricane Katrina levee failures, said the scientific community is debating whether to create a new category system that is both meaningful and that people can understand. He declined to identify a category level which would describe the level of protection, using Saffir-Simpson, that would be offered by the new levees.

All of this uncertainty is leaving many evacuees feeling in limbo.
"Still now we wish there was some way we could go back," Lucretia Jackson, 39, told IPS. Jackson evacuated one day before the storm and eventually settled in Portland, Oregon, along with her husband and son, who was born three months after Katrina.

"Given the intensity of the storm and the depth of the damage, we realised there was no way we could put our lives on hold," Jackson said. "We knew as early as December 2005 we wouldn't be back any time soon as permanent residents, sadly. It's the risk of hurricane damage, the lack of infrastructure."

"If you sort of have this list of concerns about the city - crime, the educational system - the levees are almost a symbol that overshadows all other concerns, the instability, the vulnerability, the lack of sustainability," Jackson said.

Jackson said she relied on Levees.org for information about what was happening.

"I tried to find out what was going on. Why isn't there a website? To get basics communicated, from any group, the city, the Corps [US Army Corps of Engineers]?" Jackson said.

"I found it was impossible to trust anything I was hearing. I know a lot of work was been done, a lot of progress. I think there's a big question mark over it, and I don't trust any of the stakeholders involved, the City, the Levee Board, the Corps," Jackson said.

When told that 99 percent protection is supposed to be online by the end of 2011, Jackson said, "99 percent would be certainly more comfortable than I feel now".

"If we can get a guarantee of basic protection, then [we] might feel comfortable relocating there," she added.
"We have had improvements in flood protection, but the problem is that it has tended to have a racially disparate impact," said Lance Hill, executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University.

"So the first sort of initial funding of work was concentrated on the 17th Street Canal, the breach which affected primarily the Lakefront, where the residents are mostly white," Hill told IPS.

"The outcome was that the new flood maps that were released maybe 18 months ago by the Corps... Anyone would understand that was a demographic map of white and black New Orleans," Hill said.

"The predominantly black neighbourhoods of the Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans East, and Gentilly had virtually no increase in flood protection," Hill said.

Hill explained that the flooding of African American neighbourhoods came from different directions, including the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, referred to as Mr. GO.

"The Corps debated for a long time about what to do with Mr. GO. The overwhelming consensus in the African American community was that it needed to be sealed off and it needed to be done quickly. The shipping interests were opposed to that because it's a shortcut from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico," Hill said.

"The second is the Industrial Canal. The flooding to the 9th Ward came through the Industrial Canal, through the intercoastal waterway. That was the breach of the levee that led to the tsunami effect in the Lower 9th Ward. The solution to that was relatively simple, to shut the canal down, or put gates into the flood of the canal," Hill said.

"Four years out, almost 2010, the work the Corps agreed to do with Mr. GO is not completed. And the levee protection around New Orleans East also is not completed," he said.

"For the most part, even if these plans go as expected, Gentilly, New Orleans East, and the 9th Ward won't be adequately protected until 2011, or six years after Katrina."

The Hell of War Comes Home: Newspaper Series Documents Murder, Suicide, Kidnappings by Iraq Vets

Startling two-part series published in the Gazette newspaper of Colorado Springs titled “Casualties of War” examines a part of war seldom discussed by the media or government officials: the difficulty of returning to civilian life after being trained to be a killer. The story focuses on a single battalion based at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. Soldiers from the brigade have have been involved in brawls, beatings, rapes, drunk driving, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and suicides. The Army unit’s murder rate is 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs. We speak with the reporter who broke the story and get the Army’s response.
What we wanted to do is talk to some of the soldiers who are now in prison and really find out the whole story, starting in Iraq and following it all the way to where they are now in their prison cells.

We focused one brigade, the 4th Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division. And what we found is the murders you mentioned, but they were just sort of the tip of an iceberg of violent crime. There’s been assaults. There have been rapes. There have been fights. There have been kidnapping. There’s just a—there’s a lot of things that happened back in town, and we wanted to follow up on what was causing this.

What we found is that this unit has been sent to what was the deadliest place in Iraq in 2004. They went to the Sunni Triangle around Ramadi. And then they came home after a year tour there, had a year off, and then they were sent to what became the next deadliest place, downtown Baghdad. Both times, they had an almost impossible task of putting down an insurgency with no clear enemy, and they took heavy, heavy casualties. This one brigade makes up almost half of the casualties at Fort Carson, even though it’s just a fraction of the population there. And then what we found is, when they came home, a lot of them, not surprisingly, had problems, emotional and mental problems, that came out of this combat.

I found with a lot of these soldiers that I talked to in prison; they actually, despite everything that has happened to them, they love the Army. Even though they’re—told me that combat really mentally messed them up, that they see it as absolutely what led them to their prison cells, what they told me is—a lot of them—is they’re mad that they screwed up and got caught for a crime, because if they could, they would go back and deploy again.

What these soldiers told me is they were stuck in an insurgency fight they were not trained for, where there was no clear enemy. The main killer of these soldiers in this brigade was, by far, the improvised explosive devices, essentially roadside bombs. They were getting blown up without ever getting to try and fight back at the people that were killing their friends. And so, what they told me is that this anger and distrust for the entire population just burgeoned, and they thought that anyone was a potential enemy. And so, that’s why you saw them lashing out at the civilian population.

When I first started this story, one of the things that the Army told me is, well, a lot of these guys had criminal records before. From my research, what I found was that Kenneth Eastridge was the only person who had a criminal background. When he was twelve years old, he and a friend were playing with his father’s antique shotgun, and he accidentally shot his friend in the chest and killed him. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to counseling. And since then, his mother said his record had been clean. He had to get a special waiver to get into the Army, which he found after calling twelve different recruiters. One finally let him in. And for the first two years of his Army career, he was a good soldier. He was decorated with good conduct and achievement medals. There’s no record that I found of any discipline problems.

When he came back from his first tour in Iraq, he started abusing drugs and alcohol. He told me he had had nightmares and paranoia. Like almost every soldier that I talked to, he always carried a loaded pistol with him everywhere he went. And he picked up a domestic violence felony charge for getting in a fight with his girlfriend and putting a gun in her face. Now, he was awaiting trial for that charge, when the Army sent him back to Iraq for a second time. He wanted to go. He voluntarily skipped out on his charge. But the Army has rules. They have to go through a checklist before they deploy all soldiers, and one of the things they must check off is whether they have any pending civilian felonies. If so, they can’t go. Someone, and I’m not sure who, checked that box and sent him anyway.

Now, all the things that he was doing—abusing drugs, anger issues, paranoia—were signs of PTSD. He probably should have gotten treatment. Instead, he got more combat exposure. They went to an absolutely terrible neighborhood of Baghdad called Al Dora, where his battalion at one point was losing a soldier a day to either the morgue or the hospital. And there he started to lose it, as he—that’s how he termed it.

I’ll tell you about three things that he told me he got officially disciplined for when he started to lose it.

First, he did a raid on a house, where he was searching for guns. And they did this all the time. They’re trying to take guns away from the insurgents. And when he started to find guns that the man there hadn’t told him about, he trashed the entire house, broke everything in it, stole the guns, kept them to sell. And he said he did this type of thing all the time, but that he got reported this time because the man whose house he raided was a well-connected man with friends in the United States government. And so, he was put on punitive guard duty back at the base. But he said that he would regularly go into civilians’ houses looking for guns, he would keep some of the guns that he found, sell them back to the Iraqi police, who would, he said, sell them back to the Shiite militia. He would also steal any prescription drugs that he found and cash. Now, that was the first time.

The second time he was disciplined, he was on another patrol, when they received fire from a nearby farmhouse. He fired about twenty grenades into the farmhouse, then went in and found a farmer there in a back room. He started asking the farmer who had fired on them, and the farmer said he didn’t know. So he shot one of the farmer’s dogs. When the farmer said he still didn’t know, he shot the farmer’s other dog. At that point, his lieutenant intervened and said, “Hey, you need to go sit in the truck and cool off.” When he walked out of the building, he killed the farmer’s entire herd of goats with his machine gun. Then he ordered a private to kill his two cows, and then he shot his horse. For that, he was put on guard duty again.

After that, he went on one more combat mission, where he was sitting in the large machine gun on top of a Humvee, guarding the street while his lieutenant and some other soldiers went to check out a building around the corner. Kenneth Eastridge told me that he just started shooting for no reason. It was a nice day on a civilian neighborhood street, and there were lots of people out and about, just barbecuing, playing soccer, things like that. When he started shooting, everybody rushed to their cars and tried to speed away, because they wanted to get away from the fire. He said there was a vehicle driving ban on, and so as soon as people got in their cars, he started panicking, because all he could think about is car bombs, and he started shooting cars left and right. He told me, over about thirty minutes, he shot something like 1,700 rounds from this large machine gun. I asked him how many people he thought he killed. He said, “Not that many. Maybe twelve.” He was court-martialed a short time later, but not for killing all those civilians. He was court-martialed for possession of drugs and disobeying orders.

Once he was court-martialed, the Army decided that he was no longer fit to be in Iraq, so they sent him back to Colorado Springs, where they kicked him out of the Army. So, essentially, they put this guy who they had trained to be a killer and who had obvious mental health problems back on the streets of Colorado Springs. And actually, right before they kicked him out, they had diagnosed him with PTSD, paranoia, severe depression and antisocial personality disorder. But they didn’t treat him. They just sent him free.

U.S. fall deadline for Iran not coincidental

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has given Iran a deadline until fall to respond positively to the request of U.S. President Barack Obama to enter negotiations over its nuclear program.

"I don't think the timing of these comments is coincidental," said Uzi Rubin, the former head of Israel's defensive Arrow anti-missile program.

In his opinion, events in Tel Aviv dovetail with those in Moscow earlier this month, when Obama was hosted by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

There is an attempt by politicians in some regions, including the United States, to present the Iranian threat merely as regional-- something that will not affect Europe or the U.S., said Rubin.

Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow at the London-based institute Chatham House, echoed that "when it comes to nuclear development, the timetable is very important, because there is a point of no return and that's the problem."

But Mekelberg said the fact that the U.S. is setting a cut-off date for talks does not mean that a day after the deadline passes it will launch an attack on Iran. The possibilities after September are "open-ended," he said.
Obama's views on the Middle East are set almost 180 degrees from those of his predecessor George W. Bush. He believes in engagement where Bush sought to isolate. That means negotiating with Iran and Syria, something Bush was loathed to do.
( Interesting that China View has the 'party line' down pat. Nowhere is it worth mentioning that the 'Iranian Threat' is an act of diversionary fiction put forth by the real bad actors with actual nuclear weaponry now : Israel and the U.S. ...with able assistance from the U.K. )

US-India Nuke Deals Raise Fears of Escalated Indo-Pakistan Arms Race

The Obama administration took major steps this week toward helping several major US defense contractors sell sophisticated US arms and nuclear technology to India. Increased US-India nuclear cooperation is stoking fears the US is escalating India’s arms race with Pakistan. We speak to Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and journalist Siddharth Varadarajan of The Hindu, India’s leading English-language newspaper.

( This makes more sense if you figure the U.S. is being miserable about Iran because of losing nuclear contracts to Russia ; and is trying to offset perceptions that the Russians are more reasonable vendors from affecting sales. )
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an arms deal that could prove a boon to Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Both firms are in the running to sell India 126 fighter jets at an estimated cost of $12 billion. It is the most lucrative fighter aircraft deal in fifteen years.

India is also moving forward on a deal for US companies to build a pair of new nuclear power reactors. The plants will likely be built by General Electric or Westinghouse Electric at a cost of $10 billion. Before any contracts are signed, the US companies are asking the Indian parliament to pass legislation limiting the liability of the companies in case of nuclear accidents.
ARJUN MAKHIJANI: the setting aside of two parks is kind of very interesting, because this means there would be no open bidding process. They’ve named two sites only for US reactor renders. It’s very curious. And I think it’s a political payback for the promotion of the US-India nuclear deal under the Bush administration.
SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN: Under current international law, the nuclear industry—or rather, state-owned nuclear enterprises, operate under sovereign limitation—limitations on sovereign liability, if you will. So, for Russian and French nuclear reactors in India, because they’re going to be set up by companies that are essentially publicly owned in their own countries, there is a in-built liability protection, which is not available to Westinghouse or General Electric, because they are completely privately owned companies.

There is a UN convention on limiting liability, the Convention on Supplementary Compensation, another Orwellian name, because its aim is essentially to deny [inaudible] compensation. The US basically wants India to sign and ratify this convention as a precondition for their companies being able to do business.
Rove had hand in U.S. Attorney firings

The Washington Post has obtained emails showing that Karl Rove, top political advisor to former President George W. Bush, played a significant role in the firing of a number of US attorneys for political reasons. You should go read the Post story 1) if, for some reason, this surprises you, 2) to laugh as a number of Rove's statements are directly contradicted by the facts, and 3) to get the full details.

Liberal Dems Say No to Deal on Health Care Reform

Fifty-seven liberal House Democrats sent a letter on Thursday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Henry Waxman, the chair of the House energy and commerce committee, saying they cannot vote for the deal Waxman cut with the Blue Dog Dems, citing the compromise's weak public option provision. It's a short note, but a possible big monkey wrench. Without these votes, the Democrats are far short of a majority.
We write to voice our opposition to the negotiated health care reform agreement under consideration in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

We regard the agreement reached by Chairman Waxman and several Blue Dog members of the Committee as fundamentally unacceptable. This agreement is not a step forward toward a good health care bill, but a large step backwards. Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates - not negotiated rates - is
unacceptable. It would ensure higher costs for the public plan, and would do nothing to achieve the goal of "keeping insurance companies honest," and their rates down.

To offset the increased costs incurred by adopting the provisions advocated by the Blue Dog members of the Committee, the agreement would reduce subsidies to low-and middle-income families, requiring them to pay a larger portion oftheir income for insurance premiums, and would impose an unfunded mandate on the states to pay for what were to have been Federal costs.

In short, this agreement will result in the public, both as insurance purchasers and as taxpayers, paying ever higher rates to insurance companies.

We simply cannot vote for such a proposal.

Judge grants habeas writ for Guantanamo detainee

U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle has granted a writ of habeas corpus to Mohammed Jawad, who's currently a detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

Britain Pondered Raid on Iran Over Hostages
Victims of a Covert Tit-for-Tat War


The human tsunami (1)
Sam Knight
By 2050, climate change could force hundreds of millions of people from their lands. Sam Knight traveled to Ghana to see one region from which potential environmental refugees might come.

Buses are important to Nandom, the administrative centre for more than 50,000 people – chiefly farmers – in one of the poorest corners of Ghana, because the population is leaving. Migration has long been part of life in the dry reaches of west Africa, but in recent years, with economic development taking place elsewhere and erratic rains making rural life increasingly difficult, more and more people are taking to the road. The figures are inexact, but about 20% of those born in northern Ghana are now thought to live in the richer, more urbanised south.

Estimates of the number of environmental refugees in 2050, when the global population is expected to peak at nine billion and the planet is forecast to be in the throes of a 2°-or-more temperature rise, vary between 50 million and one billion people. But the most commonly repeated number – included in Britain’s 2006 Stern Review [on the economics of climate change] – is between 200 million and 250 million, or around 10 times the number of refugees and internally displaced persons in the world today.
In Nandom, the numbers are much higher: half the population has gone.
places like Nandom rarely get written about. Most stories about environmental migration have focused on three or four so-called “canaries”: the first human habitats set to disappear. These range from the village of Shishmaref in Alaska, which is falling into the sea, to entire states, like the low-lying Maldives, which now has a fund to buy land abroad for its 400,000 citizens.

But these stark cases do not represent the future facing most people who might become climate migrants. Friends of the Earth, which shares the 250 million estimate of environmental refugees by 2050, puts the total number of displaced people from small island states like the Maldives at one million.

The other 249 million will come from humdrum places more like Nandom: poor, agricultural societies that have existed for a long time in marginal climates, with little room for error, but now find themselves struggling to support their populations. It is here that the real numbers – the tens of millions of potential migrants – lie and yet it is also where the future is hard to read.

The sheer enormity of human movement,according to Professor Norman Myers, a British academic who has done more than anyone to raise the alarm over climate migration, alone will be enough to overwhelm the world’s current refugee laws and humanitarian agencies.

“We do not seem to have the institutions in place that can measure up to a challenge like this,” Myers told me. “We are talking about big numbers,” he said. “I will be very surprised if there aren’t eventually half a billion of these environmental and climate refugees, and that will alter the basic demographics of a lot of countries.”

“Developed countries cannot isolate themselves from distress and disaster in developing countries,” he wrote in 2005. “Already there are sizeable numbers of environmental refugees who have made their way, usually illegally, into OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe] countries – and today’s stream will surely come to be regarded as a trickle when compared with the floods that will ensue in decades ahead.”
People displaced by environmental disasters overwhelmingly tend to stay within their national borders, often as close as possible to their former homes. This can still be a great strain, but it is not the same as hordes of people crossing borders.

Unpredictability is Nandom’s problem. The 1990s were a decade of steady, improving rains in northern Ghana, but since the turn of the century, the seasons have lost their shape. The region’s historic five-month rainy reason, from March to August, has shrunk to just two or three months, but sometimes with just as much, if not more, rain. Last year 95 millimetres of rain – 10% of Nandom’s annual total – fell on a single day in August, destroying crops and houses. Flooding, normally unheard of in northern Ghana, has occurred in each of the past two years, with the UNHCR coming to the help of 75,000 people in 2007.
Nandom as a whole, however, is doing more than hope. The district has been taking measures to adapt to its hostile climate since 1973, when the local Catholic church set up the Nandom Agricultural Project to help farmers improve their agricultural techniques. The date is significant because it relates to the sub-Saharan droughts of the 1970s and 1980s, which killed an estimated 100,000 people in west Africa and triggered the migration of more than a million people from the worst-affected countries of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso to their southern neighbours, mainly Ivory Coast and Ghana. In Nandom, the struggle to cope with a marginal climate has been going on for decades.

For much of that time, the struggle has been led by Stanislaus Nasaal. Sitting in the offices of the Nandom Agricultural Project, with last year’s rainfall statistics posted on the wall, Nasaal said that farmers were adapting to shorter growing seasons with new crops – quicker-maturing millets and maizes – and new methods of planting. Unsure of the rains, farmers now spread their seeds among ridges, hillsides and low-lying ground to improve their chances of withstanding droughts, floods, or both. “We can always mitigate,” said Nasaal several times, as if it was a chant. “We can always mitigate.”
As we discussed adaptation, I noticed that migration, in various forms, kept coming up. One of the new tilling techniques in Nandom, for example, in which farmers look for inclines in their fields and then build earth ramparts around each seed to catch water, is from Burkina Faso, courtesy of the migrants who fled the droughts there a generation ago. More often, though, Nasaal mentioned migration as a way of helping families spread the risk of farming in such uncertain conditions.

Relatives are sent away to the farms and cities of southern Ghana to find a steady income. “If we are two brothers,” said Nasaal. “I will go in case you fail. We will complement each other.”

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