Monday, August 20, 2012


The White House, Washington


Hello --

Tomorrow is going to be a special day at the White House, and I wanted to make sure you got a chance to be a part of it.

At lunchtime, 54 kids from all over the United States will join me in the East Room for the first-ever Kids' State Dinner.

Each of these young people worked with their parents to create an original lunch recipe. We asked them to design a dish that was healthy, affordable, and tasty -- and which met the nutritional guidelines set up by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A panel of judges from the groups who partnered with us on this project -- the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, and Epicurious -- chose these 54 recipes as their favorites.

So now, the kid chefs and their parents are on their way to the White House, and tomorrow we'll all enjoy a meal together and take in a musical performance from Nickelodeon's Big Time Rush. You can watch the whole thing as it happens on our website -- will you join us tomorrow?
As a mom, I know that parents are always looking for new ideas to make sure our kids are eating right and staying healthy. That's part of why we launched the Let's Move! initiative.

And it's why we're working with the Department of Education and Epicurious to share a free printable and downloadable cookbook with the winning recipes that these young people created with their parents.

You can learn more about our work to solve the problem of childhood obesity so that all our kids can grow up healthy at LetsMove.gov.

And tomorrow, I hope you will join in the fun of the Kids' State Dinner.

Thanks!

First Lady Michelle Obama

P.S. -- To get a preview of some of the great recipes, go here.

MISS CHINA CROWNED MISS WORLD 2012, VANYA REACHES TOP 7

 Miss China crowned Miss World 2012, Vanya reaches top 7

 
China’s Wen Xia Yu was on Saturday crowned Miss World 2012 while India’s contender Vanya Mishra could only make it to the top seven.

This is the second time MissChina has been awarded the title.

Last year’s Miss World Ivian Sarcos of Venezuela handed over her crown to Wen at a glittering ceremony held in Dongsheng Fitness Center Stadium.

The 23-year-old Wen is a music student who says she wants to become a music teacher, Chinese media reported.

Wales’ Sophie Moulds was the first runner-up, while Australia’s Jessica Kahawaty was the second runner-up.

Though Mishra didn’t make it beyond top seven, she did bag the titles of ‘Miss Social Media’ and ‘Beauty with a Purpose’.

Her dance to the track ‘Dil cheez kya hai’ from the 1981 film “Umrao Jaan” in the semi-finals gave her a place among the top seven finalists.

Mishra was being touted as one of the probable winners and was expected to bring back the title home after a gap of more than a decade.

Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra last won the title for Indiain 2000.

During the final round, the contestants were asked ‘Why they deserved to be the next Miss World’ to which Vanya answered, “I believe that the next Miss World should be a woman with a kind heart and humility, who wherever she goes, makes people feel that she is their own.”

“Somebody who carries simple values in this complex world, somebody who believes in herself. And this is what I believe I am.”
Just Foreign Policy News, August 20, 2012
JFP issues $14,500 reward for WikiLeaks to publish TPP negotiating text 

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I) Actions and Featured Articles

Press Release: Just Foreign Policy Issues $14,500 Reward for Wikileaks to Publish Trans Pacific Partnership Negotiating Text
As of noon Eastern Time on Monday, August 20, the reward stood at $14,543, based on 344 pledges, of which the median pledge was $25.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/1285

*Action: Help #WikiLeaks Liberate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiating Text

On September 6, negotiators will go to Leesburg, Virginia, for the latest round of secretive talks on the "Trans-Pacific Partnership" agreement. This proposed agreement threatens access to essential medicines in developing countries, threatens environmental regulations, and threatens internet freedom. Even Members of Congress and their staff have been blocked from seeing the draft text, while corporate representatives have been allowed to see it. 
Help us liberate the agreement by making a pledge to donate to WikiLeaks if it publishes the agreement.
http://www.freetpp.org/

Let's Help #WikiLeaks Liberate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiating Text
By making a pledge to our reward for WikiLeaks if it publishes the TPP negotiating text, you can vote twice with one ballot: once to support WikiLeaks, and once against a secret attack on access to essential medicines, the environment, and internet freedom.
http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/08/17-7

674 days of cholera in Haiti
674 days, 7,584 dead, 598,892 ill since the UN brought cholera to Haiti. Still there has been no apology, no compensation, no implementation of an effective plan to eradicate the disease. Now the UN is considering renewing the mandate for UN troops in Haiti. Shouldn't addressing the cholera crisis caused by the UN be a condition for renewing the mandate for UN troops? 
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/haiti-cholera-counter

Summary:U.S./Top News1) We can infer that Sweden has no legitimate reason to extradite Julian Assange from the fact that it has repeatedly refused offers to question Assange in the UK and repeatedly refused to explain why it has refused to do so, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. The government of Ecuador agreed with Assange that he had a reasonable fear of a second extradition to the US, and persecution here for his activities as a journalist. The strong evidence for this included an ongoing investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks in the US; evidence that an indictment had already been prepared; statements by important public officials that he should be prosecuted for espionage, which carries a potential death penalty or life imprisonment. 

2) Human rights lawyer Baltasar Garzon says says WikiLeaks will seek a ruling from the World Court if the UK refuses to allow Julian Assange safe passage to Ecuador, the Telegraph reports. Garzon said Britain was acting far beyond its authority because Assange was a political refugee accepted for asylum by a sovereign nation and Britain was obligated to honor that. "They have to comply with diplomatic and legal obligations under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and respect the sovereignty of a country that has granted asylum," The refugee convention defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. It provides for special travel arrangements for refugees granted asylum under the convention. 

3) In the State Department daily briefing, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland denied allegations that U.S. pressure was behind the British threat to raid Ecuador's embassy to arrest Julian Assange. But she appeared to acknowledge that there was indeed a U.S. legal case against Assange, before saying that she wasn't "going to wade into it any deeper than I already have, which was too far, all right?"

4) Australian diplomats have no doubt the U.S. is still gunning for Julian Assange, according to Foreign Affairs Department documents obtained by The Saturday Age, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Declassified diplomatic cables show Australia's diplomatic service takes seriously the likelihood that Assange will eventually be extradited to the US on charges arising from WikiLeaks obtaining leaked US military and diplomatic documents. This view is at odds with Australian officials' repeated dismissal of such a prospect, the paper notes.

5) Rep. Dennis Kucinich and 14 other Members of Congress urged President Obama to remove sanctions barriers to US private contributions to relief efforts in Iran after the recent earthquake, including by issuing a general license to US humanitarian organizations to provide such relief. The letter noted that President Bush issued such a license in 2003 following the Bam earthquake and was supported by the House in doing so.

6) The Romney-Ryan version of "shrinking Big Government" is to increase our already outlandish warfare-state budget and risk even more spending by saber-rattling at Iran, writes Reagan's budget director David Stockman in the New York Times. 

Haiti
7) Two and a half years after the earthquake, despite billions of dollars in reconstruction aid, the most obvious, pressing need - safe, stable housing for all displaced people - remains unmet, the New York Times reports. 390,000 Haitians remain in 575 tent camps. 

Iran
8) Israel's tough talk of military action against Iran has unleashed a strong backlash at home, with a growing number of voices urging the government not to attack without the support of the U.S., AP reports. Opinion polls have shown most Israelis think Israel should not act alone but coordinate any military option with Washington. A recent poll said 61 percent of Israelis believe Iran should not be attacked without U.S. consent.

9) Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz sharply denounced saber-rattling against Iran by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Globes Israel business news reports. "Mr. prime minister, you want a crude, rude, unprecedented, reckless, and risky intervention in the US elections," Mofaz said. "Tell us who you serve and for what? Why are you putting your hand deep into the ballot boxes of the American electorate?" 

10) State Department officials are preparing for a possible decision by Secretary of State Clinton to redesignate the Iranian MEK opposition group as a terrorist organization, in part because of the group's resistance to abandoning its camp in Iraq, the New York Times reports. Under a court ruling, Clinton must make a decision on the terrorist listing before Oct. 1. A U.S. official said that the group had long used the facility for paramilitary training. He said a refusal to move would raise questions about whether the group has truly changed its intentions.

Bahrain
11) A court in Bahrain has sentenced a prominent human rights activist to three years in prison for his role in unauthorized protests, VOA reports. A lawyer for Nabeel Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said the sentence was based on convictions in three separate cases. Rajab is already serving a three-month sentence after being convicted in July of posting "insulting" comments on Twitter.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Julian Assange asylum: Ecuador is right to stand up to the US
Julian Assange asylum: Ecuador is right to stand up to the US
The United States would paint itself as a promoter of human rights, but any right to make that claim is long gone
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, Thursday 16 August 2012 09.03 EDT
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/16/julian-assange-asylum-ecuador

Ecuador has now made its decision: to grant political asylum to Julian Assange. This comes in the wake of an incident that should dispel remaining doubts about the motives behind the UK/Swedish attempts to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. On Wednesday, the UK government made an unprecedented threat to invade Ecuador's embassy if Assange is not handed over. Such an assault would be so extreme in violating international law and diplomatic conventions that it is difficult to even find an example of a democratic government even making such a threat, let alone carrying it out.

When Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño, in an angry and defiant response, released the written threats to the public, the UK government tried to backtrack and say it wasn't a threat to invade the embassy (which is another country's sovereign territory). But what else can we possibly make of this wording from a letter delivered by a British official?

"You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the embassy. We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange's presence in your premises, this is an open option for us."

Is there anyone in their right mind who believes that the UK government would make such an unprecedented threat if this were just about an ordinary foreign citizen wanted for questioning – not criminal charges or a trial – by a foreign government?

Ecuador's decision to grant political asylum to Assange was both predictable and reasonable. But it is also a ground-breaking case that has considerable historic significance.

First, the merits of the case: Assange clearly has a well-founded fear of persecution if he were to be extradited to Sweden. It is pretty much acknowledged that he would be immediately thrown in jail. Since he is not charged with any crime, and the Swedish government has no legitimate reason to bring him to Sweden, this by itself is a form of persecution.

We can infer that the Swedes have no legitimate reason for the extradition, since they were repeatedly offered the opportunity to question him in the UK, but rejected it, and have also refused to even put forth a reason for this refusal. A few weeks ago the Ecuadorian government offered to allow Assange to be questioned in its London embassy, where Assange has been residing since 19 June, but the Swedish government refused – again without offering a reason. This was an act of bad faith in the negotiating process that has taken place between governments to resolve the situation.
[...]
But, most importantly, the government of Ecuador agreed with Assange that he had a reasonable fear of a second extradition to the United States, and persecution here for his activities as a journalist. The evidence for this was strong. Some examples: an ongoing investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks in the US; evidence that an indictment had already been prepared; statements by important public officials such as Democratic senator Diane Feinstein that he should be prosecuted for espionage, which carries a potential death penalty or life imprisonment.

Why is this case so significant? It is probably the first time that a citizen fleeing political persecution by the US has been granted political asylum by a democratic government seeking to uphold international human rights conventions. This is a pretty big deal, because for more than 60 years the US has portrayed itself as a proponent of human rights internationally – especially during the cold war. And many people have sought and received asylum in the US.
[...]
It is interesting to watch pro-Washington journalists and their sources look for self-serving reasons that they can attribute to the government of Ecuador for granting asylum. Correa wants to portray himself as a champion of free speech, they say; or he wants to strike a blow to the US, or put himself forward as an international leader. But this is ridiculous.

Correa didn't want this mess and it has been a lose-lose situation for him from the beginning. He has suffered increased tension with three countries that are diplomatically important to Ecuador – the US, UK and Sweden. The US is Ecuador's largest trading partner and has several times threatened to cut off trade preferences that support thousands of Ecuadorian jobs. And since most of the major international media has been hostile to Assange from the beginning, they have used the asylum request to attack Ecuador, accusing the government of a "crackdown" on the media at home. As I have noted elsewhere, [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/jan/08/ecuador-press-freedom-media]
this is a gross exaggeration and misrepresentation of Ecuador, which has an uncensored media that is mostly opposed to the government. And for most of the world, these misleading news reports are all that they will hear or read about Ecuador for a long time.

Correa made this decision because it was the only ethical thing to do. And any of the independent, democratic governments of South America would have done the same. If only the world's biggest media organisations had the same ethics and commitment to freedom of speech and the press.

Now we will see if the UK government will respect international law and human rights conventions and allow Assange safe passage to Ecuador.

2) WikiLeaks: Julian Assange will take Britain to the 'World Court'
The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will take Britain to the United Nation's International Court of Justice if it refuses to grant him safe passage to Ecuador, his lawyer said.
Richard Alleyne, Telegraph (UK) 11:55AM BST 17 Aug 2012
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9482433/WikiLeaks-Julian-Assange-will-take-Britain-to-the-World-Court.html

The threat to appeal to the so-called "World Court" followed William Hague's promise to arrest Mr Assange if he tries to leave the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
[...]
Britain had threatened it would use a rarely cited law to revoke the embassy's diplomatic protection, and would barge into the embassy if Ecuador did not hand over Mr Assange.
Ecuador condemned the threat as a "complete intimidation".
[...]
The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations says a host country may not enter the premises of an embassy without the represented country's permission.

Sir Tony Brenton, who served as the United Kingdom's ambassador to Russia between 2004 and 2008, said "arbitrarily" overturning the status of the building where Mr Assange has taken shelter to avoid extradition, would make life "impossible" for British diplomats overseas.
[...]
The FCO wrote to the embassy saying "You need to be aware that there is a legal base in the UK, the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987, that would allow us to take actions in order to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy. "We sincerely hope that we do not reach that point, but if you are not capable of resolving this matter of Mr Assange's presence in your premises, this is an open option for us."

Baltasar Garzon, Mr Assange's lawyer who came to international attention in 1998 when he indicted Chilean ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet, said Britain was acting far beyond its authority because Mr Assange was a political refugee accepted for asylum by a sovereign nation and Britain was obligated to honour that. "They have to comply with diplomatic and legal obligations under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and respect the sovereignty of a country that has granted asylum," he told the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

The refugee convention defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. It provides for special travel arrangements for refugees granted asylum under the convention.

He said: "If Britain doesn't comply with its obligations, we will go before International Court of Justice to demand that Britain complies with its obligations because there is a person who runs the risk of being persecuted politically."

Mr Assange has argued, and Ecuador agreed the evidence was strong, that the extradition to Sweden was a pretext for him to be sent to the US, where authorities were incensed by WikiLeaks' 2010 release of 391,832 secret US documents on the Iraqi war and 77,000 classified Pentagon documents on the Afghan conflict.

The whistle-blowing web site also made available about 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables between the U.S. State Department and more than 270 U.S. diplomatic outposts around the world.

Unconfirmed reports cited by The New York Times indicate a secret grand jury hearing in Alexandria, Va., was considering a U.S. Justice Department bid to charge Assange with espionage.

Leaked emails from Strategic Forecasting Inc., a global intelligence company, suggest a sealed indictment is ready to be made public when US officials determine the legal proceedings against Mr Assange in Britain and Sweden have come to a close.
[...]

3) State Department Daily Press Briefing
Victoria Nuland, August 16, 2012
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2012/08/196589.htm
[video: http://video.state.gov/en/video/1789609171001]

[…]
Q. … And then when you said that you don't have any information to suggest that you have weighed in with the Brits about whether to have Mr. Assange removed from the embassy, does that mean that there hasn't been any, or just that you're not aware of it?

MS. NULAND: My information is that we have not involved ourselves in this. If that is not correct, we'll get back to you.
[…]

Q: All right. And then just back to the Assange thing, the reason that the Ecuadorians gave -- have given him asylum is because they say that -- they agree with his claim that he would be -- could face persecution -- government persecution if for any reason he was to come to the United States under whatever circumstances. Do you -- do you find that that's a credible argument? Does anyone face unwarranted or illegal government persecution in the United States?

MS. NULAND: No.

Q: No?

MS. NULAND: No.

Q: And so you think that the grounds that -- in this specific case, the grounds for him receiving asylum from any country -- or any country guaranteeing asylum to anyone on the basis that if they happen to show up in the United States they might be subject to government persecution, you don't view that as --

MS. NULAND: I'm not -- I'm not going to comment on the Ecuadoran thought process here. If you're asking me whether there was any intention to persecute rather than prosecute, the answer is no.

Q: OK.

MS. NULAND: OK?

Q: Well -- wait, hold on a second -- so you're saying that he would face prosecution?

MS. NULAND: Again, I'm not -- we were in a situation where he was not headed to the United States. He was headed elsewhere. So I'm not going to get into all of the legal ins and outs about what may or may not have been in his future before he chose to take refuge in the Ecuadoran mission.

But with regard to the charge that the U.S. was intent on persecuting him, I reject that completely.

Q: OK, fair enough. But I mean, unfortunately, this is -- this case does rest entirely on legal niceties. Pretty much all of it is on the legal niceties, maybe not entirely. So are you -- when you said that the intention was to prosecute, not persecute, are you saying that he does face prosecution in the United States?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don't -- that was not the course of action that we were all on. But let me get back to you on -- there was -- I don't think that when he decided to take refuge, that was where he was headed, right? Obviously, we have --

Q: No, I mean, he was headed to Sweden.

MS. NULAND: Right, but obviously, we have our own legal case. I'm going to send you Justice on what the exact status of that was, OK?

Q: OK, there is -- so you're saying that there is a legal case against him.

MS. NULAND: I'm saying that the Justice Department was very much involved with broken U.S. law, et cetera. But I don't have any specifics here on what their intention would have been vis-a-vis him. So I'm not going to wade into it any deeper than I already have, which was too far, all right?
[…]

4) US in pursuit of Assange, cables reveal
Philip Dorling, Sydney Morning Herald, August 18, 2012
http://www.smh.com.au/national/us-in-pursuit-of-assange-cables-reveal-20120817-24e8u.html

Australian diplomats have no doubt the United States is still gunning for Julian Assange, according to Foreign Affairs Department documents obtained by The Saturday Age.

The Australian embassy in Washington has been tracking a US espionage investigation targeting the WikiLeaks publisher for more than 18 months.

The declassified diplomatic cables, released under freedom of information laws, show Australia's diplomatic service takes seriously the likelihood that Assange will eventually be extradited to the US on charges arising from WikiLeaks obtaining leaked US military and diplomatic documents.

This view is at odds with Foreign Minister Bob Carr's repeated dismissal of such a prospect.

Australia's ambassador to the US, former Labor leader Kim Beazley, has made high-level representations to the American government, asking for warning of any moves to prosecute Assange. However, briefings for Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Senator Carr suggest the Australian Government has no in-principle objection to Assange's extradition.
[...]
In May, Senator Carr told a Senate estimates committee hearing: "We have no advice that the US has an intention to extradite Mr Assange … nothing we have been told suggests that the US has such an intention."

However, the Australian embassy in Washington reported in February that "the US investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr Assange has been ongoing for more than a year".

The embassy noted media reports that a US federal grand jury had been empanelled in Alexandria, Virginia, to pursue the WikiLeaks case and that US government officials "cannot lawfully confirm to us the existence of the grand jury".

Despite this, and apparently on the basis of still classified off-the-record discussions with US officials and private legal experts, the embassy reported the existence of the grand jury as a matter of fact. It identified a wide range of criminal charges the US could bring against Assange, including espionage, conspiracy, unlawful access to classified information and computer fraud.
[...]
The cables also show that the Australian government considers the prospect of extradition sufficiently likely that, on direction from Canberra, Mr Beazley sought high-level US advice on "the direction and likely outcome of the investigation" and "reiterated our request for early advice of any decision to indict or seek extradition of Mr Assange".

The question of advance warning of any prosecution or extradition moves was previously raised by Australian diplomats in December 2010.

American responses to the embassy's representations have been withheld from release on the grounds that disclosure could "cause damage to the international relations of the Commonwealth".

Large sections of the cables have been redacted on national security grounds, including parts of reports on the open, pre-court martial proceedings of US Army Private Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have leaked a vast quantity of classified information to WikiLeaks. Australian embassy representatives have attended all of Private Manning's pre-trial hearings.

Australian diplomats have highlighted the prosecution's reference to "several connections between Manning and WikiLeaks which would form the basis of a conspiracy charge" and evidence that the investigation has targeted the "founders, owners, or managers of WikiLeaks" for espionage.

However, the embassy was unable to confirm the claim in a leaked email from an executive with US private intelligence company Stratfor, that "[w]e have a sealed indictment against Assange".

"Commentators have ... suggested that the source may have been referring to a draft indictment used by prosecutors to 'game out' possible charges," the embassy reported in February. "There is no way to confirm the veracity of the information through official sources."
[...]

5) Kucinich Leads Fourteen Members of Congress to Ask Obama to Allow Humanitarian Assistance to Reach Earthquake Victims in Iran
Office of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Aug 16
http://kucinich.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=306568
http://kucinich.house.gov/uploadedfiles/ltr._to_potus_iran_earthquake_08.16.2012.pdf

Washington D.C.– Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) led 14 Members of Congress in requesting that President Obama allow U.S. non-governmental organizations to provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of the recent earthquake in Iran which has left more 300 dead and thousands injured. U.S.-based humanitarian organizations are currently prohibited from doing so without a Presidentially issued general license under current U.S. sanctions against Iran. Kucinich has previously called upon the United States to take this opportunity to demonstrate our compassion for the people of Iran.

"We write to express our concern over the possible hindrance of humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people. We urge you to instruct the Department of Treasury to expedite consideration of requests by U.S.-based nonprofits to provide emergency relief, and to issue a general license for these charitable organizations to carry out relief assistance in Iran," wrote Kucinich et al.

Under current U.S. sanctions, relief organizations require a license from the government to provide humanitarian assistance in Iran. In 2003, President Bush issued such a general license in response to the devastating earthquake in Bam, Iran. The House of Representatives strongly supported this response, and unanimously passed a resolution praising President Bush's actions.

"The current standstill in negotiations with the Iranian government should not prevent the United States from helping the Iranian people. Aiding them in their time of need would reaffirm U.S. support for the Iranian people and make clear that our sanctions do not represent an attempt to harm the Iranian people.

"In order to facilitate the timely and lawful delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people, we urge the administration to immediately clarify what is permitted and prohibited under U.S. law, and to issue a general license to U.S. humanitarian organizations so they can provide critical assistance to Iranians in need," the letter concluded.

The letter was signed by Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Keith Ellison (D-MN), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Michael M. Honda (D-CA), John L. Mica (R-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), John W. Olver (D-MA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), André Carson (D-IN) and Barbara Lee (D-CA).

6) Paul Ryan's Fairy-Tale Budget Plan
David A. Stockman, New York Times, August 13, 2012 
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/opinion/paul-ryans-fairy-tale-budget-plan.html

[Stockman was Reagan's director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1981 to 1985.]

Greenwich, Conn - Paul D. Ryan is the most articulate and intellectually imposing Republican of the moment, but that doesn't alter the fact that this earnest congressman from Wisconsin is preaching the same empty conservative sermon.

Thirty years of Republican apostasy - a once grand party's embrace of the welfare state, the warfare state and the Wall Street-coddling bailout state - have crippled the engines of capitalism and buried us in debt. Mr. Ryan's sonorous campaign rhetoric about shrinking Big Government and giving tax cuts to "job creators" (read: the top 2 percent) will do nothing to reverse the nation's economic decline and arrest its fiscal collapse.

Mr. Ryan professes to be a defense hawk, though the true conservatives of modern times - Calvin Coolidge, Herbert C. Hoover, Robert A. Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, even Gerald R. Ford - would have had no use for the neoconconservative imperialism that the G.O.P. cobbled from policy salons run by Irving Kristol's ex-Trotskyites three decades ago. These doctrines now saddle our bankrupt nation with a roughly $775 billion "defense" budget in a world where we have no advanced industrial state enemies and have been fired (appropriately) as the global policeman.

Indeed, adjusted for inflation, today's national security budget is nearly double Eisenhower's when he left office in 1961 (about $400 billion in today's dollars) - a level Ike deemed sufficient to contain the very real Soviet nuclear threat in the era just after Sputnik. By contrast, the Romney-Ryan version of shrinking Big Government is to increase our already outlandish warfare-state budget and risk even more spending by saber-rattling at a benighted but irrelevant Iran.
[...]

Haiti
7) Years After Haiti Quake, Safe Housing Is a Dream for Many 
Deborah Sontag, New York Times, August 15, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/world/americas/years-after-haiti-quake-safe-housing-is-dream-for-multitudes.html

Port-au-Prince, Haiti - Since the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, a scrappy 12-year-old boy named Givenson Fanfan has been sleeping on the rock-hard floor of a tent pitched in a fetid camp dominated by a 50-foot tower of trash. He dreams of a bed.

In a hillside community, Terilien Brice, a 63-year-old grievously injured in the earthquake, lives like a shut-in inside his condemned house, which was marked with a red tag that is supposed to mean "no entry," not no exit. He feels helpless.

Dieu Juste Saint Eloi, 68, in contrast, secured a one-room shelter with plastic sheeting for walls, but his clan of 12 squeezes into it. And it perches on a ledge above the ruins of his spacious home, into which his granddaughter keeps tumbling and breaking bones.

Unexpectedly, though, his 29-year-old son, William Saint Eloi, hit the housing jackpot. Isolated all his life because he is deaf, he now has a new home and community because two can-do Christian charities have taken deaf disaster victims under wing.

Two and a half years after the earthquake, despite billions of dollars in reconstruction aid, the most obvious, pressing need - safe, stable housing for all displaced people - remains unmet.

In what international officials term a protracted humanitarian crisis, hundreds of thousands remain in increasingly wretched tent camps. Tens of thousands inhabit dangerously damaged buildings. And countless others, evicted from camps and yards, have simply disappeared with their raggedy tarps and rusty sheet metal into the hills.

There are many visible signs of activity across the country now - public plazas cleared of lean-tos, state-of-the-art repairs in selected areas and housing developments under construction. Tens of thousands of Haitian families have found enduring solutions to their housing crises - by rebuilding themselves, by getting reconstruction assistance or by securing one of the relatively few new houses.

But to spend a week exploring the disaster zone is to discover striking disparities in living conditions, often glaringly juxtaposed: Givenson's dead-end camp adjacent to a quarter that is a beehive of construction; William Saint Eloi's good fortune next to his family's trials; a devastated community revitalized on one side of a ravine but not the other.

In the absence of an overarching housing policy, Haiti's shelter problem has been tackled unsystematically, in a way that has favored rural over urban victims and homeowners over renters because their needs were more easily met. Many families with the least resources have been neglected unless they happened to belong to a tent camp, neighborhood or vulnerable population targeted by a particular program.

"It's the project syndrome - one neighborhood gets incredible resources, the next is in total limbo, or one camp gets rental subsidies, the next gets nothing," said Maggie Stephenson, a senior technical adviser to U.N.-Habitat in Haiti. "We have to spread the remaining resources more equitably. Equity is essential, and so are durable solutions."
[...]
Givenson, his father and his father's girlfriend fled to the dump during the emergency. Two and a half years later they are still there, in the deteriorating camping tent his father purchased then.

They are among the 390,000 Haitians in the 575 remaining camps; this does not include what humanitarian authorities say are the tens of thousands forcibly evicted from camps over the last two months who also remain homeless.

The camps are in abysmal condition, with many, like Givenson's, on sites at risk of landslides or flooding. Tents and tarps - "From the American people," many say - are tattered. There is one shower for every 1,200 people, and one functional latrine for every 77.
[...]

Iran8) As talk of Iran strike and fear of war grow in Israel, a jittery public objects, AP, August 16, 2012
Associated Press, August 16
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/as-talk-of-iran-strike-and-fear-of-war-grow-in-israel-a-jittery-public-objects/2012/08/16/e1982534-e7d9-11e1-9739-eef99c5fb285_story.html

Jerusalem - Israel's tough talk of military action against Iran's nuclear program has unleashed a strong backlash at home, with a growing number of voices urging the government not to attack without the support of the United States.

Israeli leaders, who have long issued veiled threats against Iran, now appear to be preparing the country for war. New gas mask distribution centers have opened, a nationwide missile alert system has been tested and an official this week warned of hundreds of casualties if Israel unilaterally strikes Iran.

The heightened rhetoric has fueled jitters that the zero hour is near. But there are also growing signs of discontent with the government's approach, with critics accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, of recklessly plunging Israel into an unprecedented missile war.

"I'm very afraid. I want peace, not war. I absolutely don't want Israel to strike Iran," said Pnina Grinbaum, a 55-year-old government clerk in Jerusalem.

Opinion polls have shown that while Israelis agree a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a grave threat, most think Israel should not act alone but coordinate any military option with Washington .

Israel's figurehead president, Shimon Peres, appeared to take a swipe at Barak and Netanyahu on Thursday when he told a popular news program that Israel must trust President Barak Obama's pledges to prevent Iran from getting a bomb.

"It is clear to us now that we cannot do this alone," Peres said. "It is clear to us that we need to work together with America."
[...]
Also this week, Israel's chief civil defense official said the government estimated an attack on Iran would trigger a monthlong war, fought on multiple fronts, with Tehran and its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza - and hundreds of Israeli casualties.

"I'm very nervous about the Iranian threat and it's kind of creepy that I'm getting a gas mask right now," 25-year-old Cheryl Lieberman, a recent immigrant from New York, said Thursday as she stood in line for a mask at a Jerusalem mall.

A new poll issued Thursday said 61 percent of Israelis believe Iran should not be attacked without U.S. consent. The Dahaf Institute poll of 516 people had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. Other surveys have shown similar reluctance to have Israel act alone.
[...]

9) Mofaz slams Netanyahu's Iran saber rattling
Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz: You're creating panic. You're trying to terrify us. And we are scared by your lack of judgment.
Lilach Weissman, Globes online/Israel business news, August 16, 2012
http://www.globes.co.il/serveen/globes/docview.asp?did=1000774849

"You are headed for a rash confrontation at an unnecessary cost while abandoning the home front," opposition leader Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz said at the Knesset dais, in response to remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and talk about an attack on Iran. "Over the past few months, Israel has waged an extensive and relentless PR campaign with the sole objective of preparing the ground for a premature military adventure."

Mofaz continued, "This PR campaign has deeply penetrated the 'zone of immunity' of our national security, threatens to weaken our deterrence, and our relations with our best friends. Mr. prime minister, you want a crude, rude, unprecedented, reckless, and risky intervention in the US elections. Tell us who you serve and for what? Why are you putting your hand deep into the ballot boxes of the American electorate?

"It isn't the defense chiefs who are covering their asses for the next investigative commission. You, Mr. prime minister and the decision-maker are covering the backside of the Israeli public. Ass-coverers and wipers. Making threats and sowing the seeds of fear and terror. Mr. prime minister, you are playing a dangerous and irresponsible game with the future of an entire nation.
[...]
"Mr. prime minister, you're creating panic. You are trying to frighten us and terrify us. And in truth - we are scared: scared by your lack of judgment, scared that you both lead and don't lead, scare that you are executing a dangerous and irresponsible policy."
[...]

10) Iran Group May Remain on U.S. Terror List
Scott Shane, New York Times, August 15, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/16/world/middleeast/iranian-group-mujahedeen-khalq-may-remain-on-us-terror-list.html

Washington - State Department officials are preparing for a possible decision by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to redesignate an Iranian opposition group as a terrorist organization, in part because of the group's resistance to abandoning its camp in Iraq, two American officials said Wednesday.

The group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People's Mujahedeen, has mounted a costly campaign to be removed from the terrorist list, enlisting an array of prominent American politicians and former military officers to press the case that the group abandoned violence years ago.

The two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter involves litigation, said Mrs. Clinton had not made a decision yet. But they said the group's refusal to complete a move from Camp Ashraf to the former site of Camp Liberty, near the Baghdad airport, may doom its bid.

Under a court ruling, Mrs. Clinton must make a decision on the terrorist listing before Oct. 1. While the group, also known as M.E.K., carried out bombings in Iran in the 1970s against the shah's government and later against the Islamic government, causing the death of several Americans, by most accounts it has not engaged in terrorism in recent years.

Asked why the M.E.K.'s failure to move from Camp Ashraf was relevant to the terrorist designation, one official said that the group had long used the facility for paramilitary training. Though the group was disarmed after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, he said, a refusal to move would raise questions about whether the group has truly changed its intentions.
[...]
On July 15, a 26-truck cargo convoy delivered air-conditioners, furniture, video games and other supplies from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty with the permission of the Iraqi authorities, a breakthrough that American officials hoped would persuade the M.E.K. to finish the transfer of the remaining 1,200 residents.

Instead, M.E.K. officials voiced new complaints about the conditions at Camp Liberty, which they described as a "prison," and so far they have refused to resume the move. Dozens of members of Congress have written to Mrs. Clinton to express concern about the state of the camp, but American officials who have visited it report adequate conditions, including ample water and electricity and even a recent shipment of 200,000 cans of soda.

Bahrain
11) Bahrain Sentences Activist for Unauthorized Protests
VOA News, August 16, 2012
http://www.voanews.com/content/bahrain-sentences-activist-for-unauthorized-protests/1489286.html

A court in Bahrain has sentenced a prominent human rights activist to three years in prison for his role in unauthorized protests.

A lawyer for Nabeel Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said the sentence was based on convictions in three separate cases. The defense plans to appeal the ruling.

Rajab is already serving a three-month sentence after being convicted in July of posting "insulting" comments on the micro-blogging service Twitter.
[...]

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