France - Total War?

France - Total War?

The day after Kurdish forces with U.S. support expelled the Islamic State from the town of Sinjar in Northern Iraq; the day after the U.S. triumphantly announced that ISIS executioner “Jihadi” John had been “evaporated” by a missile fired from a U.S. drone—yesterday, on February 13th, ISIS boasted its own deadly triumph.

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Bibi Netanyahu falsifies history--once again

Bibi Netanyahu falsifies history--once again

Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu has been obliged to back away from his claim that it was a Palestinian leader, rather than Adolph Hitler, who came up with the idea of exterminating the Jews. But Netanyahu’s historical chutzpah has always been breathtaking, as I learned years ago when reporting on Israel for 60 Minutes.

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Syria-Obama's Bay of Pigs?

Syria-Obama's Bay of Pigs?

The CIA’s secret armies —humiliation and disaster, once again.

Rebel forces, secretly armed and trained by the CIA, attempt to overthrow a brutal dictator despised and vilified by Washington. Hit by devastating airstrikes, the rebels put out a frantic call for American help. Could by Syria today--or Cuba half a century ago.

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America's Trillion Dollar Houses of Cards

America's Trillion Dollar Houses of Cards

Houses of cards—trillions of dollars worth of them, constructed by the U.S. and its allies over more than a decade at a huge cost in lives and treasure--are teetering across the greater Middle East. Meanwhile vast numbers of refugees, many from those same ravaged states--are threatening the fragile union of Europe itself. 

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The Refugee Crisis-A Tale of Insanity-in Two Acts

In all the frantic debate swirling around the current refugee crisis, we’ve lost track of how the horrors actually began--and how the crisis might be greatly alleviated.

It’s a tale of the world’s insanity, in two tragic acts.

First, came the slew of incredibly destructive political and military interventions of America—and some of its allies--in the Greater Middle East over the past few decades.

Other actors were also responsible, but the result was an eruption of violence and chaos, the unleashing of bloody tribal and sectarian strife throughout the region, infecting much of Africa as well.

It was as if a bunch of wealthy crazed arsonists decided to set a continent-sized forest ablaze. They’ve succeeded.

Fleeing those conflagrations, millions gathered their families and ran for their lives, seeking refuge in safer parts of their own countries—as in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan--or in neighboring states, like Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey and Pakistan.

We’re told that the great majority would like to remain in their regions, hoping to return home when conditions permit. Encouraging them to remain, hundreds of NGO’s and several agencies of the United Nations, established to cope with just such emergencies.  

The UN organizations lead in providing the basics —food, shelter, health care, schools—for refugees settled in sprawling camps, of, more often, in the surrounding communities where they’ve sought sanctuary.  

If you want to be totally cynical about it, view those UN agencies as maintaining a vast network of dams protecting the wealthy nations of the globe from the massive human inundation that would hit their shores if the refugees ever decided to flee their own regions.

In a rational world, the affluent states would cheer on the UN agencies and NGO’s, provide them with whatever funding they needed. After all, we’re talking about relatively paltry sums compared to the enormous amounts the wealthy of this planet spend on other more important matters—like weapons and war.

But our’s is not a rational world.

Which brings us to the second act of the tragedy.

At the very moment of greatest need, the waters rising higher than ever before, the U.N. agencies are being gutted, forced to lay off personnel, slash and cut fundamental programs, turn away millions of refugees who had been receiving vital aid; the heads of respected UN agencies literally begging the world for funds to carry on their crippled programs.  

So the dikes are collapsing, as the world had been warned for years they would. Understanding that they can no longer count on even temporary sanctuary in their own regions, hundreds of thousands of refugees are flooding towards Europe, advising and guiding one another through the new social media, and thus magnifying the surge.

The major source of refugees currently is Syria.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees appealed this year for $1.342 billion dollars to deal with Syrian refugees registered with them—now more than 4 million.

Yet, despite all the talk, the shocking pictures and lofty statements, the UNHCR is still short $795 million dollars, 59% of its goal.  “We are financially broke,” says High Commissoner António Guterres. “The damage being done by those cuts will be impossible to reverse. We know that we are not doing enough, we are failing the basic needs of people”

Another crippled UN agency is UNICEF, whose emphasis is on children. A spokesperson, Juliette Tourma, told me the organization is currently short $492 million to fund its programs for refugees inside Syria and around the region.  

One of UNICEF’s key aims is to provide education for refugee children up to 15 years of age, but because of the massive budgetary shortfalls they’ve had to make enormous cuts. “There is a huge funding gap,” Tourma says. “We can’t build new schools. Train new teachers. Which means 50% of the children under fifteen can’t go to school.”

The World Food Program also confronts a massive deficit, according to their spokesperson Abeer Etefa. “The problem is it’s always been a hand-to-mouth operation. There’s no fixed annual budgets. No guaranteed money that planners can count on.  In December last year, we actually had to suspend our operations. We ran completely out of money. We’ve had to totally cut aid to one third of the people we were assisting—760,000 were removed from the roles.

“Just in the past couple of months we’ve had to cut the value of the food vouchers we give people by 50%. It’s down now to $15.50 per month per person. That’s 50 cents per person per day!”

“So what do they do?” says Etefa, “They eat less, and cheaper food so that their children can eat more. The pull their children out of school to put them in the labor market, high-risk employment for low wages. They have less to spend on health and education and rent. Many are being evicted from their houses, forced to live in shacks or in the fields.”

“Some refugees living outside Syria, have decided to risk their lives and go back. Others tell us—‘listen if we cant feed our families or send our kids to school, if we’ve got no future in Syria and none here—then we will try to get to Europe, no matter what the risk.”

One Syrian refugee, Fatmeh, said of her two children in Lebanon: “When we can’t afford both medicine and food, I tie scarves around my boys’ bellies at night so they don’t wake up crying from stomach aches because they are hungry.” 

There is also the very real fear that embittered refugees will decide to join the ranks of ISIS.

Another sign of the insanity of the whole situation is that the amount that the countries of Europe are going to have to spend to integrate the new refugees into their new homelands is enormous compared to what it costs the UN to maintain them in their own regions.

Germany, for instance is going to be spending 6 billion Euros to deal with 800,000 new refugees. That’s more than four times greater than the $1.3 billion that the UNHCR needs to fund its program for 4 million Syrian refugees in and around Syria.

Germany, by the way, has given the UNHCR a total of $11 million so far this year.

The U.S. is by far the most the largest backer of the UNHCR, giving $113 million so far this year.. Very generous compared to most of the rest of the world. Yet trifling compared to the vast amounts Americacontinues to lavish on waging war in the Middle East. 

Take, for instance, the $492 million that UNICEF desperately needs. Sound like a lot?  In fact, the U.S. has thrown even more--$500 million—into a different kind of educational program—to train “moderate” soldiers to combat ISIS in Syria

The U.S. effort has been a colossal failure, producing some 60 soldiers, at a cost of $2.7 million dollars per man. Within a few days of their being deployed to Syria, almost all those “moderate” recruits had been killed or captured by more radical Syrian forces.  

Meanwhile the World Health Organization is frantically trying to raise $50 million to fund health care in Iraq. So far, they’ve only been able to find $5.1 million. 

Said Dr. Michelle Gayer of WHO, “it breaks your heart when you end services for 3 million people. There will be no access for trauma like shrapnel wounds, no access for children’s health or reproductive health. There will be no surveillance of things like cholera. A generation of children will be unvaccinated.”

$50 million to solve that problem? That’s what the U.S. spends every five days in the on-going, so far futile, air-war it’s waging against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

But what about the fabulously wealthy states of the Gulf?  It’s well known that their doors are closed to desperate fellow Arabs from places like Syria and Iraq. But what kind of financial support are they offering to the U.N. agencies concerned?

As a donor, Kuwait is something of an exception. It has given $101 million to the UNHCR this year. On the other hand, the Kuwaitis have also funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to some of the most extreme fighting groups in Syria, to the point that furious U.S. officials went public last year in an attempt to oblige them to turn off the spigot.

And just .2% of Kuwait’s vast sovereign wealth fund of almost $600 billion, would cover the entire UNHCR budget for the year. 

Still, to its modest credit, Kuwait’s backing for the UNHCR’s Syrian relief program is greater than all the other Gulf states combined.

Start with the Saudis. With the support of the U.S. The Saudis have launched a devastating bombing campaign against Yemen, the poorest country in the region. The Saudis have also spent enormous sums arming radical Islamic fighters in Syria, financing schools across the Muslim world that preach the radical Wahabi faith preaching hatred of Shiites, very much akin to the views of ISIS.

 This year the Saudis, who also spent $80 billion dollars on weaponry last year, have given $2.7 million to the UNHCR. Nothing so far to UNICEF.

The UAE, whose sovereign wealth fund is  $773 billion, have given $2,247 million to the UNHCR.

Qatar, which has also been a major backer of radical Islamic fighters in Syria, which has by far the highest per capita income in the world ($143,000) Qatar this year has given the UNHCR $300,000.—a little more than the combined per capita income of two of its citizens.

But where, in all the raging debates about how to handle the refugee catastrophe, is there any mention at such absurdities---and of the perilous—we could say terrifying—predicament of the UN Agencies.

If the world came to its senses, the situation could be vastly improved. ISIS may not be destroyed, but the UN Agencies could be set back on their feet.

That in itself would be a huge victory.



A September 3 caption on Canada’s Global News:

“Warning: the next image contains content some viewers may find disturbing. Discretion is advised.” 

The impact of that image of a three-year old Kurdish boy, drowned, lying face down on a Turkish beach is astonishing. What is remarkable is the hesitancy of much of the media to publish the picture.  

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Iran And The Automatons

Iran And The Automatons

The remarkable fact about the accord just reached with Iran is that President Obama and John Kerry achieved it by their determination to jump the track—to make at least one course change in the futile policies that American leaders have been following for decades in the Greater Middle East as if they were mindless automatons.

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Opulent Arabs Fuel Syrian Hell, Stiff Syrian Refugees

The cataclysm in Syria has created the worst refugee crisis the world has known since the end of the World War II.  This, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNHCR, which has prime responsibility for coping with the 3.9 million men women and children who have fled the on-going horrors.

Ironically, the tragedy is unfolding almost at the doorstep of some of the most colossally wealthy people on the planet who preside over the oil-rich states of the Gulf.

In deed, with far less than 1% of their mammoth sovereign funds, almost any of the Gulf States could have provided, on their own tab, all of the $1.266 billion dollars that the UNHCR attempted—and failed--to raise last year for Syrian refugee relief.

In 2014, the UNHCR campaign ended up 37% short of its goal.

 One would think that those fabulously blessed royals and sheikhs and emirs would have been lining up to back the UNHCR’s attempts to mitigate the catastrophe that has overtaken millions of their mostly Sunni Arab brethren.

Especially since those same Gulf states also provided the arms and money that fueled so much of the horrific violence.

But one would be largely wrong.

As a donor, Kuwait was something of an exception. It gave $93 million to the UNHCR in 2014, the third largest contribution after the United States ($303 million) and the European Union ($146 million).

On the other hand, the Kuwaitis have also funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to some of the most extreme fighting groups in Syria, to the point that furious U.S. officials went public last year in an attempt to oblige them to turn off the spigot.

Yet, to its modest credit, Kuwait’s backing for the UNHCR’s Syrian relief program is greater than all the other Gulf states combined.

It’s not that the recent dramatic drop in oil prices has emptied those Arab coffers.

The Qataris, for instance, bankrolled by a huge sovereign wealth fund estimated at $250 billion, continue snapping up trophy hotels, football clubs, businesses, and huge hunks of prime real estate across the globe. Just in Paris, among many other assets, they own Le Printemps department store, the Peninsula Hotel, Raffles Royal Monceau, and 350,000 square feet along the Champs Elysees.

In London they’ve also bought up much of the skyline, from the towering Shard to Harrods, to No. 1 Hyde Park, to a massive swathe of Canary Wharf, not to mention 20% of the London Stock Exchange, and 10% of the company that owns British Air. They even helped keep Barclays Bank afloat during the height of the financial crisis.

The Qataris have also been among the most aggressive in doling out funds to radical groups fighting in Syria. They are thus also directly implicated in the on-going disaster.

How much did the Qataris, with the second highest annual per capita income in the world ($104,000), give to that campaign?

They gave $26 million-- far less than Germany ($42.3 million) or Japan ($34 million).

That was also far less than the $58 million fine that the Qatari ruling family were ordered to pay for an illegal scheme they used to avoid paying taxes on a prime 13 acre London site they bought from the British Ministry of Defense, for a cool $1.5 billion.

(Don’t even ask about the $120 million that Qatar's armed forces shelled out to purchase the Renaissance Hotel in Barcelona.)

On the other hand, the Qataris were far more open-handed to the UNHCR’s Syrian campaign than were other Gulf rulers.

The royals who run the United Arab Empire control a sovereign wealth fund of $773 billion that dwarfs Quatar’s. They also boast a stunning capital (Abu Dhabi) that Forbes labeled “So Blindingly Rich it’s almost Sickening.” Their donation last year to the UNHCR’s drive?

$4.8 million. Far less than Finland. ($7.84 million)

Then there’s the Saudis.

Their new ruler, King Salman, has been shoring up his own position and that of his sprawling family with a mammoth post coronation give away that so far totals more than $32 billion and has been lavished over most of his country’s population.

According to the New York Times, for the moment at least, there is little talk about human rights abuses or political reform. Saudis are spending. Some have treated themselves to new cellphones, handbags and trips abroad. They have paid off debts, given to charity and bought gold necklaces for their mothers. Some men have set aside money to marry a first, second or third wife. One was so pleased that he showered his infant son with crisp new bills. 

The Saudis have also been very generous to the new military regime in Egypt: Along with other Gulf States, they came up with $12 billion to back the government of General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi after it tossed out the Muslim Brotherhood, detested and feared by the Saudis. The Saudis have promised billions more. 

Under Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the cowboy head of Saudi Intelligence until he was removed in April, 2014, the Saudis also funneled huge amounts of arms and money to some of the most militant groups battling Syria's Assad—including the fighters from ISIS, who they cheered on in Iraq.

But for the UNHCR’s Syrian refugee program?

In 2014, the Saudis gave a total $2.9 million. Which wouldn’t buy you a decent one bedroom apartment in Belgravia these days.

 Even tiny Denmark gave more ($6.2 million).

That was last year. How is the UNHCR’s Syrian refugee campaign doing so far this year as the crisis becomes even more horrific?

 For 2015, the UNHCR is attempting to raise $1.342 billion.

 As of February 16, with TV broadcasting images of ragged, poorly sheltered Syrian children dying of exposure, the UNHCR has received pledges totalling a scant $74 million--only 6% of the amount needed.

The U.S. has yet to make its commitment.

The largest donors to step up to date are Canada ($10, 318,143) and the European Union ($51 million).

 And the Saudis, with their new munificent ruler? They’ve pledged $2.773,000, less than the amount they gave last year. The UAE has promised $2,247 million, also far less than last year.

 But more than Qatar…which has come up with $209,000.

 Not even the price of a decent crocodile handbag at Aspreys.

 (It would be interesting to see if these facts were picked up by Al Jazeera--also owned by Qatar.)