September 3rd, 2011
Bloomberg / By Nicole Gaouette and Bill Varner
House Republicans introduced legislation today that seeks to force major changes at the United Nations, using as leverage the threat to withhold some of the U.S.’s 22 percent contribution to the world body’s operating budget.
The bill by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, would demand that the UN let countries decide how much to pay and which programs they will support, rather than assessing payments based on a formula. It would end funding for Palestinian refugees, limit use of U.S. funds to only purposes outlined by Congress and put a hold on creating or expanding peacekeeping operations until management changes are made.
“We need a UN which will advance the noble goals for which it was founded,” Ros-Lehtinen of Florida said in a statement. “The current UN continues to be plagued by scandal, mismanagement and inaction, and its agenda is frequently hijacked by rogue regimes which protect each other while targeting free democracies like the U.S. and Israel.”
Republicans are moving against the world body at a time when the Obama administration is increasingly building its foreign policy around multilateral institutions, such as the alliance-based approach on Libya.
The bill, which has 57 co-sponsors who are all Republicans, may advance in the Republican-controlled House. It is likely to face opposition in the Senate and from President Barack Obama.
“We oppose this legislation,” said Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, at a press briefing today. She said the measure would cut by half U.S. funding for the U.N and “dangerously weaken the UN.”
“We believe in UN reform,” she said. “We just don’t think this is the right way to go about it.”
The U.S. pays 22 percent of the UN’s regular operations budget and is assessed 27 percent of the peacekeeping budget. U.S. payments totaled $3.35 billion in 2010, of which $2.67 billion was dedicated to the 16 peacekeeping operations worldwide, from South Sudan to Haiti.
“After two years of the closest and most productive cooperation in decades at the UN between Washington and the rest of the international community, it is hard to understand why Republicans in the House of Representatives are determined to poison the well,” Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN analyst at the Century Foundation, a New York-based research group, wrote in a blog post yesterday.
Laurenti cites UN support for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, the world body’s move to authorize limited military action in Libya at U.S. urging and its successful work in handing power over to the legitimate winner of Ivory Coast’s presidential election.
Brett Schaefer, a UN analyst at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation that supports many Republican initiatives, said that Ros-Lehtinen’s goals dovetail with the administration’s interests in seeing more UN accountability, improvements in peacekeeping and an end to policies that single out Israel for criticism.
“The real point of divergence is how do you achieve these policy goals,” Schaeffer said in a telephone interview.
Representative Howard Berman, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the bill would hurt Israel and undermine U.S. leadership.
“At a time when efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel in the General Assembly and elsewhere are gaining steam, I can’t see how a bill that will undoubtedly weaken our influence at the UN and make it harder to counter Palestinian attempts to unilaterally declare statehood is in Jerusalem’s interest, let alone our own,” Berman said in a statement.
Percentage of Contribution
If passed into law, Ros-Lehtinen’s bill would have the U.S. withhold a percentage of its contributions until at least 80 percent of the UN budget was voluntary.
The legislation also would limit the use of U.S. contributions to only the specific purposes outlined by Congress and would withhold U.S. funding for any UN agency that upgrades the status of the Palestinian observer mission or any agency that helps Palestinian refugees.
The bill would also withhold funding for the UN Human Rights Council until the State Department can certify that it doesn’t include members subject to Security Council sanctions, under Security Council-mandated investigations for human rights abuses or are state sponsors of terrorism.
Last month, Ros-Lehtinen’s committee approved an authorization bill that would cut by almost 10 percent U.S. funding for peacekeeping operations, which are assessed based on each member nation’s relative share of the global economy.
U.S. law limits the peacekeeping funding to 25 percent of the cost of operations, but Congress has given an annual waiver to permit payment of the full 27 percent assessment for peacekeeping. Ros-Lehtinen wants to bring that amount down, in line with the law, the House aide said.
Ros-Lehtinen’s bill would direct the president to have his UN ambassador use the U.S. veto power in the Security Council to block the creation of new peacekeeping operations or the expansion of existing ones until reforms are made.
Groups that promote strong U.S.-UN relations, such as the Washington-based Better World Initiative, said the bill would undermine U.S. influence at the UN.
“We are hard-pressed to find a moment in history where the UN has had a greater role in promoting American interests,” said Executive Director Peter Yeo in an e-mail. The bill would “severely erode America’s leadership role at the United Nations and undermine our nation’s security.”
Tensions between the UN and the U.S. over management and funding are not new. A push for improvements in UN management came during the administration of President Bill Clinton, who signed the Helms-Biden United Nations Reform Act of 1999. It tied U.S. payments to specified steps to improve management.
In 2006, President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, said the U.S. might push to make contributions to the UN budget voluntary, as Ros-Lehtinen is doing.
September 3rd, 2011
The CIA’s armed drones and paramilitary forces have killed dozens of al-Qaeda leaders and thousands of its foot soldiers. But there is another mysterious organization that has killed even more of America’s enemies in the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
CIA operatives have imprisoned and interrogated nearly 100 suspected terrorists in their former secret prisons around the world, but troops from this other secret organization have imprisoned and interrogated 10 times as many, holding them in jails that it alone controls in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since 9/11, this secretive group of men (and a few women) has grown tenfold while sustaining a level of obscurity that not even the CIA has managed. “We’re the dark matter. We’re the force that orders the universe but can’t be seen,” a strapping Navy SEAL, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said in describing his unit.
The SEALs are just part of the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, known by the acronym JSOC, which has grown from a rarely used hostage rescue team into America’s secret army. When members of this elite force killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May, JSOC leaders celebrated not just the success of the mission but also how few people knew their command, based in Fayetteville, N.C., even existed.
This article, adapted from a chapter of the newly released “Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State,” by Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, chronicles JSOC’s spectacular rise, much of which has not been publicly disclosed before. Two presidents and three secretaries of defense routinely have asked JSOC to mount intelligence-gathering missions and lethal raids, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in countries with which the United States was not at war, including Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Nigeria and Syria.
“The CIA doesn’t have the size or the authority to do some of the things we can do,” said one JSOC operator.
The president has given JSOC the rare authority to select individuals for its kill list — and then to kill, rather than capture, them. Critics charge that this individual man-hunting mission amounts to assassination, a practice prohibited by U.S. law. JSOC’s list is not usually coordinated with the CIA, which maintains a similar but shorter roster of names.
Created in 1980 but reinvented in recent years, JSOC has grown from 1,800 troops prior to 9/11 to as many as 25,000, a number that fluctuates according to its mission. It has its own intelligence division, its own drones and reconnaissance planes, even its own dedicated satellites. It also has its own cyberwarriors, who, on Sept. 11, 2008, shut down every jihadist Web site they knew.
Obscurity has been one of the unit’s hallmarks. When JSOC officers are working in civilian government agencies or U.S. embassies abroad, which they do often, they dispense with uniforms, unlike their other military comrades. In combat, they wear no name or rank identifiers. They have hidden behind various nicknames: the Secret Army of Northern Virginia, Task Force Green, Task Force 11, Task Force 121. JSOC leaders almost never speak in public. They have no unclassified Web site.
Despite the secrecy, JSOC is not permitted to carry out covert action as the CIA can. Covert action, in which the U.S. role is to be kept hidden, requires a presidential finding and congressional notification. Many national security officials, however, say JSOC’s operations are so similar to the CIA’s that they amount to covert action. The unit takes its orders directly from the president or the secretary of defense and is managed and overseen by a military-only chain of command.
Under President George W. Bush, JSOC’s operations were rarely briefed to Congress in advance — and usually not afterward — because government lawyers considered them to be “traditional military activities” not requiring such notification. President Obama has taken the same legal view, but he has insisted that JSOC’s sensitive missions be briefed to select congressional leaders.
JSOC’s first overseas mission in 1980, Operation Eagle Claw, was an attempted rescue of diplomats held hostage by Iranian students at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. It ended in a helicopter collision in the desert and the death of eight team members. The unit’s extreme secrecy also made conventional military commanders distrustful and, as a consequence, it was rarely used during conflicts.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, smarting from the CIA’s ability to move first into Afghanistan and frustrated by the Army’s slowness, pumped new life into the organization. JSOC’s core includes the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron, and the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and 75th Ranger Regiment.
The lethality of JSOC was demonstrated in the December 2001 mountain battle at Tora Bora. Although bin Laden and many of his followers eventually escaped across the border into Pakistan, an Army history said that on the nights of Dec. 13 and 14, JSOC killed so many enemy forces that “dead bodies of al-Qaeda fighters were carted off the field the next day” by the truckload.
It also made mistakes. On July 1, 2002, in what the Rand Corp. labeled “the single most serious errant attack of the entire war,” a JSOC reconnaissance team hunting Taliban came under attack and an AC-130 gunship fired upon six sites in the village of Kakarak. The estimates of civilian deaths ranged from 48 to hundreds. The “wedding party incident,” as it became known because a wedding party was among the targets accidentally hit, convinced many Afghans that U.S. forces disregarded the lives of civilians.
Nevertheless, on Sept. 16, 2003, Rumsfeld signed an executive order cementing JSOC as the center of the counterterrorism universe. It listed 15 countries and the activities permitted under various scenarios, and it gave the preapprovals required to carry them out.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, lethal action against al-Qaeda was granted without additional approval. In the other countries — among them Algeria, Iran, Malaysia, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia and Syria — JSOC forces needed the tacit approval from the country involved or at least a sign-off from higher up on the American chain of command. In the Philippines, for example, JSOC could undertake psychological operations to confuse or trap al-Qaeda operatives, but it needed approval from the White House for lethal action. To attack targets in Somalia required approval from at least the secretary of defense, while attacks in Pakistan and Syria needed presidential sign-off.
September 3rd, 2011
TEL AVIV | TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands marched Saturday for lower living costs in the largest such rally in Israel's history, bolstering a social change movement and mounting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take on economic reform. Protest leaders called it "the moment of truth" for the grassroots movement that has swollen since July from a cluster of student tent-squatters into a countrywide mobilization of Israel's middle class. "An entire generation wants a future," read one banner as demonstrators flooded the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and cities throughout Israel, shouting "the people demand social justice." Netanyahu has warned he would not be able to satisfy all the protesters' demands, ranging from tax cuts, to expansion of free education and bigger government housing budgets. Organizers said over 450,000 people took part in the demonstrations. Police put the number at least 300,000. Protests on that scale in Israel, with a population of 7.7 million, are usually held over issues of war and peace. "Tonight is the pinnacle moment of a historic protest," Amir Rochman, 30, an activist from Israel's Green Party said. "Israel will no longer be the same," Itzik Shmuli, head of the National Student Union and one of the protest leaders said at the rally. "Our new Israel demands real change in the priorities of its government." Though the turnout was lower than the ambitious one million some had hoped for, commentators said the movement had made its mark on Israel by catapulting the economy onto a political agenda long-dominated by security concerns and diplomacy. Social media also played a role in the Israeli protests, inspired partly by the impact of Arab Spring demonstrations. Since it began, the popular movement has upstaged a diplomatic face-off with the Palestinians for U.N. recognition of statehood and has posed the greatest challenge yet to Netanyahu, halfway into his term. "HERE TO STAY" Although Israel enjoys a low 5.5 unemployment rate and a growing economy, business cartels and wage disparities have kept many from feeling the benefit. Many protesters come from the middle class which bares a heavy tax burden and sustains the conscript military. The weekly protests prompted Netanyahu to set up a committee to explore a broad revamp of economic policies. The government has also announced housing and consumer market reforms. Protest leaders have indicated they will pause demonstrations in the coming weeks until the committee submits its conclusions. But Shmuli said at the rally that the movement was "here to stay." "Priorities must be set, one thing comes at the expense of another," Roni Sofer, a spokesman for Netanyahu, told Israel Radio Saturday, adding that the government would not break its budget. Netanyahu's governing coalition faces no immediate threat, but the protests have underscored the potential electoral impact of a middle class rallying under a banner of "social justice."
TEL AVIV |
TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands marched Saturday for lower living costs in the largest such rally in Israel's history, bolstering a social change movement and mounting pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take on economic reform.
Protest leaders called it "the moment of truth" for the grassroots movement that has swollen since July from a cluster of student tent-squatters into a countrywide mobilization of Israel's middle class.
"An entire generation wants a future," read one banner as demonstrators flooded the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and cities throughout Israel, shouting "the people demand social justice."
Netanyahu has warned he would not be able to satisfy all the protesters' demands, ranging from tax cuts, to expansion of free education and bigger government housing budgets.
Organizers said over 450,000 people took part in the demonstrations. Police put the number at least 300,000.
Protests on that scale in Israel, with a population of 7.7 million, are usually held over issues of war and peace.
"Tonight is the pinnacle moment of a historic protest," Amir Rochman, 30, an activist from Israel's Green Party said.
"Israel will no longer be the same," Itzik Shmuli, head of the National Student Union and one of the protest leaders said at the rally. "Our new Israel demands real change in the priorities of its government."
Though the turnout was lower than the ambitious one million some had hoped for, commentators said the movement had made its mark on Israel by catapulting the economy onto a political agenda long-dominated by security concerns and diplomacy.
Social media also played a role in the Israeli protests, inspired partly by the impact of Arab Spring demonstrations.
Since it began, the popular movement has upstaged a diplomatic face-off with the Palestinians for U.N. recognition of statehood and has posed the greatest challenge yet to Netanyahu, halfway into his term.
"HERE TO STAY"
Although Israel enjoys a low 5.5 unemployment rate and a growing economy, business cartels and wage disparities have kept many from feeling the benefit. Many protesters come from the middle class which bares a heavy tax burden and sustains the conscript military.
The weekly protests prompted Netanyahu to set up a committee to explore a broad revamp of economic policies. The government has also announced housing and consumer market reforms.
Protest leaders have indicated they will pause demonstrations in the coming weeks until the committee submits its conclusions. But Shmuli said at the rally that the movement was "here to stay."
"Priorities must be set, one thing comes at the expense of another," Roni Sofer, a spokesman for Netanyahu, told Israel Radio Saturday, adding that the government would not break its budget.
Netanyahu's governing coalition faces no immediate threat, but the protests have underscored the potential electoral impact of a middle class rallying under a banner of "social justice."
- Turkey expels Israeli diplomats after U.N. report
- U.N. panel faults both sides in Gaza flotilla clash
- Egypt acts on border region as Israel tensions linger
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Rosalind Russell)
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Rosalind Russell)
September 3rd, 2011
Keith Olbermann excoriated President Obama on his Friday show for halting the impending toughening of environmental regulations against smog.
The announcement from the White House that it would keep widely criticized 2006 regulations in place until at least 2013 did not sit well with Olbermann. In the voiceover introduction to his show, he thundered, "what the hell is going on in the White House?"
Olbermann said that Obama had given a huge gift to polluters and corporations, and had delivered an equally large "whack across the knees" to his base.
"It seems, in short, to reduce his campaign logic to 'what are you going to do, vote for Rick Perry?'" Olbermann said. He noted that Obama's EPA administrator had called the 2006 standards "not legally defensible," and scoffed at the president's stated excuse for not updating them -- that, since the standards were going to be reviewed in 2013, he did not want to ask states and businesses to undergo two rounds of tinkering with their environmental policies.
"So, if you're having trouble breathing, or if you just occasionally do breathe, kindly help the president out and hold your breath until the year 2013 or later," Olbermann said. Later, speaking to a guest about the issue, he was equally scornful.
"Who on earth in the White House thinks this is a positive for them and in which delusional parallel universe do they live?" he asked.
More From Huffington
September 3rd, 2011
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador and cut military ties over Israel's refusal to apologize for last year's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, further straining a relationship that had been a cornerstone of regional stability.
The dramatic move came Friday, hours before the release of a U.N. report that called the Israeli raid that killed nine pro-Palestinian activists "excessive and unreasonable." The U.N. panel also blamed Turkey and flotilla organizers for contributing to the deaths.
The rupture between the Jewish state and what was once its most important Muslim ally raised concerns Egypt and Jordan might follow, increasing Israel's isolation in the region.
"If this ends with Turkey, it will be a miracle," said Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Turkey. "There is a lot of internal pressure in Egypt, and Turkey could use its clout in the Arab and Muslim world to pressure other nations to follow suit."
Turkey had made an Israeli apology a condition of improved diplomatic ties. But Israel insisted its forces acted in self defense and said there would be no apology. Israeli officials pointed out that the U.N. report does not demand an apology, recommending instead that Israel express regret and pay reparations.
"Israel once again expresses its regret over the loss of life, but will not apologize for its soldiers taking action to defend their lives," the government said in a statement. "As any other state, Israel has the right to defend its civilians and soldiers."
The 105-page report said Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was legally imposed "as a legitimate security measure" to prevent weapons smuggling, but added that the killing of eight Turkish activists and a Turkish-American was "unacceptable."
"The events of May 31, 2010, should never have taken place as they did and strenuous efforts should be made to prevent the occurrence of such incidents in the future," the report said.
The panel criticized Israel for failing to give "clear prior warning" that the vessels were to be boarded and failing to use "nonviolent options."
But the panel also found the flotilla "acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade." While the majority of flotilla participants had no violent intentions, it said "there exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers."
As for the Turkish government, the panel said, it should have done more to warn flotilla participants of "the potential risks involved and dissuade them from their actions."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that while the report noted "the violence committed by the Israeli soldiers," he criticized its characterization of Israel's naval blockade as a legitimate security measure in line with international law.
"To be frank, the report is null and void for us," Turkish President Abdullah Gul said.
In a statement, Israel said it accepted the report's conclusions, but "does not concur with the panel's characterization of Israel's decision to board the vessels in the manner it did as 'excessive and unreasonable.'"
Davutoglu said his government was downgrading diplomatic ties with Israel to the level of second secretary and that the ambassador and other high-level diplomats would leave the country by Wednesday.
He said all military agreements signed between the former allies were being suspended, and that Turkey would back court actions against Israel by flotilla victims' families and take steps to ensure "free navigation" in the eastern Mediterranean.
"The time has come for Israel to pay for its stance that sees it above international laws and disregard human conscience," Davutoglu said. "The first and foremost result is that Israel is going to be devoid of Turkey's friendship."
The Obama administration said it was reviewing the report.
"The U.S. has long-standing friendships with both Israel and Turkey," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "We regret that prior to the publication of the report they were unable to reach agreement on steps that might have helped overcome their differences.
"We hope they will continue to look for opportunities to improve their long-standing relationship, and we will encourage both to work towards that end."
The breakdown in Israeli-Turkish relations increases Israel's isolation at a sensitive time. Israel faces turmoil in ties with regional ally Egypt, where there have been growing calls to revoke the three-decade-old Egypt-Israel peace agreement following the ouster of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak. Last month, Egypt briefly threatened to withdraw its ambassador from Israel after a shooting in southern Israel left five Egyptian soldiers dead.
It also comes as Israel seeks to muster international support against an attempt by the Palestinians to have their state recognized at the U.N. later this month.
Turkey was once Israel's closest ally in the region. Ankara had mediated several rounds of indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria in 2008, but the talks made no significant headway and were suspended following the Israeli military offensive in Gaza the following year.
Ties have soured further in recent years and deteriorated sharply after the flotilla bloodshed on May 31, 2010. The Israeli ambassador's expulsion is the most significant downgrading in ties between the two countries.
Under Turkish-Israeli military agreements, Israel provided Turkey with drones which the country uses to gather intelligence on Kurdish rebels fighting Ankara for autonomy. Israel has also modernized Turkish tanks and warplanes while Israeli pilots used Turkey's airspace to train. The countries' militaries have also trained with each other in both countries, and were top defense trading partners, although no new defense contracts have been signed since 2008.
In Gaza, Hamas applauded the Turkish move.
"This is a natural response to the Israeli crime against the freedom flotilla" and to the continuation of the naval blockade, spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
The Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara was en route to Gaza in an attempt to bring international attention to Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory.
After the violence triggered an international outcry, Israel eased restrictions on goods moving into Gaza overland, but left the naval blockade in place.
The activists charge the blockade constitutes collective punishment and is illegal. Israel asserts that it is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching militants who regularly bombard Israeli towns with rockets from Gaza.
The U.N. committee was composed of two international diplomats -- former leaders of New Zealand and Colombia -- as well as a representative from Israel and one from Turkey.