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The Word is DEFICIT

March 1, 2011

Over here on Capitol Hill (and everywhere around the county I imagine) the word ‘deficit’ has become synonymous with waste, carelessness, and over-spending by Government.

It’s as if the word ‘deficit’ has been resurrected from the depths.  Everyone is jumping at the chance to use this untried word, which will surely make a headline.

While it’s true that the fiscal situation of the U.S. is concerning, the backlash has been shocking.

If deficit is truly to become the word of this era, I think it’s only reasonable to point out that our country is facing many ‘deficits’, all of which are vitally important to our future.

Our country is facing an educational deficit…

Our country is facing a deficit towards action on climate change…

Our country has a deficit in peaceful prevention of conflict…

Our country has a deficit in helping the poor and disadvantaged…

These issues fall under the first definition of ‘deficit’ that is “a deficiency in amount or quality.”

I wonder what it would be like if these issues fell under the definition that we are accustomed to using, “an excess of expenditure”?

US leaving the Pech Valley, a strategic or tactical shift?

February 25, 2011

The U.S. military announced yesterday that it will pull out of the Pech Valley in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, near the Pakistani boarder. The move comes after a six year long military effort to pacify the valley which was said to be “vital” to the war effort and after recent complete pullouts from Nuristan Province and the Korangal Valley.

The military has now changed its tone on the importance of the valley. What is less clear, however, is whether these recent withdrawals represent a strategic or tactical shift in the US war in Afghanistan.

The US military has been slowly shifting from Counterinsurgency (COIN) to Counter Terror (CT) for some period of time now. To be sure, the US military’s departure from the valley is in and of itself a tactical shift. That said, the move may speak to a larger strategic change underway. Even though CT is a set of tactics within COIN, the question of which leads the way is not merely tactical, it’s also strategic.

Read more…

Fire Destroys 18 Homes on Yakama Reservation

February 23, 2011
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Last week, a fire ravaged 18 homes on the Yakama (or Yakima) Indian Reservation in Central Washington.  The disaster, which has been since ruled accidental, left 120 people homeless.  It is reported that the fire started in a chimney, spreading quickly through the wooded area due to strong winds, causing an estimated $4 million in damages.

Luckily, donations have been pouring in, and the community has come together to support the victims of the fire.  One hotel owner opened his doors to people who needed a place to stay free of charge.   I’m relieved to see that people have been stepping up to take care of the people who were left with nothing, but the disaster brings to our attention several serious issues in Indian Country.  Poor housing conditions caused by grueling poverty result in overcrowding and houses that are falling apart because of lack of upkeep, making them more susceptible to fires.  It is suspected, for example, that many of the houses had asbestos. Read more…

Never Again…25 Years Later

February 10, 2011

This month marks the 25th anniversary of U.S. Senate ratification of the  Genocide Convention. On February 19, 1986, the Senate gave its advice and consent to ratify the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 38 years after the convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly and 35 years after it officially entered into force. It took another two years for Congress to pass implementing legislation, known as the Proxmire Act, and deposit its ratification with the UN.

The Senate Champion: It also took determined congressional leadership to ensure full U.S. ratification of the treaty. Senator William Proxmire (WI) vowed in 1967 to deliver a speech on the Senate floor every day until the Genocide Convention was ratified, and he kept his promise.  He delivered a total of 3,211 speeches over the 19 years until final passage of the Proxmire Act, named for him. On February 18, the day the Senate finally took up the convention for a successful ratification vote the next day, Senator Proxmire explained his conviction, stating that “the U.S. Senate also has a historic opportunity to affirm human dignity and bear witness to the millions of people that died in the Holocaust by ratifying the Genocide Convention. This treaty not only recalls the tragedies perpetrated against victims of genocide such as the Jews in World War II and the Armenians in the early 20th century Turkey, but also seeks to prevent future holocausts by outlawing genocide as an international crime which each signatory undertakes to prevent” (emphasis added). Read more…

Anti-UN Campaign Begins in the House

February 7, 2011

This week, the House may vote on what could be the first of many anti-UN bills to be brought forward in the 112th Congress. The House is expected to consider a bill (yet to be introduced and therefore unnamed), introduced by Representative Ros-Lehtinen (FL), to force the UN to return a small amount of money that the US overpaid to the UN. FCNL opposes this bill and is encouraging letters to House members urging them to vote against it.

The bill concerns the UN’s “Tax Equalization Fund,” a fund that evens out the salaries of American UN employees who live in-country and therefore pay income taxes that their foreign counterparts do not. Because of discrepancies in US and UN calculations, $179 million in overpayments by the US has accumulated in this fund (Over the years since this fund was established in 1946, there have been both over and undercharges due to shifts in UN employment and changes in tax laws). However, forcing repayment by the UN would not be wise or even practical. Read more…

“The State of Indian Nations is Strong”

January 31, 2011
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Jefferson Keel, the President of the National Congress of American Indians, delivered the annual State of Indian Nations speech last Thursday, January 27th.   President Keel called today the beginning of a new era, an era “defined by what we, as Indian nations, choose to do for ourselves.”  Last year’s numerous successes have provided inspiring momentum with which Native Americans and advocacy organizations are hoping to build upon with Congress and the administration.  President Keel touched on many important themes, such as economic opportunity, energy development and investing in native youth. Barriers to these improvements, such as bureaucracy and poor access to federal funding and electronic communication must be lifted, he argued, because “Investing in self-reliant Indian nations is not only the Constitutional and morally right thing to do, Indian nations offer a great untapped source of economic opportunity for all Americans.” Read more…

UN Funds May Be in Danger

January 27, 2011

With the new 112th Congress comes new worries about the deficit cutting federal government spending.  Yet not every kind of government spending is on the table for cuts: some members of Congress have argued that military spending should be exempt because of “national security” interests, and many Americans are loathe to see their social security or Medicare benefits be cut.  That leaves spending on international programs for diplomacy, development and international cooperation as easy pickings.

Indeed, we are already seeing the beginning of the attacks on United Nations funding here on Capitol Hill.  This week, the new House Foreign Affairs Committee’s very first briefing concerned UN funding, or as the committee called it, “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.”  Witnesses at the briefing attacked the UN for corruption and mismanagement of funds, and many committee members voiced their support for withholding U.S. annual dues to the UN.  The committee’s new chair, Representative Ros-Lehtinen (FL) was unable to be present at the briefing, but in a written statement she emphasized her withholding UN funding and “conditioning our contributions on reform.”  Although this committee doesn’t control the appropriations for US contributions to the UN (that’s the Appropriations Subcommittee on State,  Foreign Operations, and Related Programs to be exact), it does authorize funding levels and guide policy toward the UN. The briefing was a warning about the changed tone in the new House, where we expect UN funding to be threatened for the first time in years. Read more…