WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders reached a bipartisan agreement on Sunday to fund the government through September, according to aides from both parties, effectively ending any suspense about the possibility of a government shutdown next weekend.
The agreement, which still must be voted on by lawmakers, includes increased funding for the military and for border security. But it does not include funding for the wall that President Trump wants to build along the border with Mexico, one of his major campaign promises.
The deal increases funding for the National Institutes of Health, despite the Trump administration’s request that its budget be reduced for the rest of the fiscal year. And it provides millions of dollars to reimburse costs incurred by local law enforcement agencies to protect Mr. Trump and his family — a boon to New York City, which has had the costly task of helping to protect Trump Tower.
The spending package would be the first significant bipartisan measure approved by Congress during the Trump presidency. Republicans, despite having control of both houses of Congress and the White House, were unable to pass any marquee legislation in the president’s first 100 days.
The deal should spare Republicans the embarrassment of seeing the government shut down on their watch. But it also gave a glimpse of the reluctance of lawmakers to bend to Mr. Trump’s spending priorities, like his desire for sharp cuts to domestic programs, with the increase in funding for medical research a prime example. And it leaves the border wall looming as a fight in future spending negotiations, especially if Mr. Trump presses the issue, as he vowed to do during a rally Saturday night to mark his 100th day in office.
Details of the agreement were not yet public on Sunday night, but several congressional aides described key parts of it. The measure will cover the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Lawmakers had already taken action to keep the government open while they finalized the spending agreement. On Friday, Congress approved a one-week spending measure that averted a shutdown on Saturday.
In recent days, the spending talks on Capitol Hill had seemed unlikely to result in the kind of impasse that could lead to a shutdown, the last of which occurred in 2013. Some key obstacles, including the border wall and a standoff over subsidy payments to insurers under the Affordable Care Act, seemed to fall away as congressional negotiators worked on a deal. The White House said last week that it would continue to make the payments, and that assurance satisfied Democrats who wanted to ensure that the subsidies, which lower deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for low-income consumers, would remain.
Lawmakers were able to reach a resolution Sunday on another potential sticking point, the fate of retired coal miners who faced losing their health coverage, an issue that brought lawmakers close to a government shutdown in December. The deal provides a permanent extension of health coverage for the retired miners.
Though the spending agreement saves the president and congressional Republicans from the specter of a shutdown during a period of one-party rule, it does deprive Mr. Trump of a major victory on the border wall, and Democrats seemed pleased with how they fared.
“This agreement is a good agreement for the American people and takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said in a statement. “The bill ensures taxpayer dollars aren’t used to fund an ineffective border wall, excludes poison-pill riders, and increases investments in programs that the middle-class relies on, like medical research, education and infrastructure.”
He added that Democrats had “clearly laid out our principles” early in the debate, and argued that the final measure “reflects those principles.”
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, cheered the deal as a “sharp contrast to President Trump’s dangerous plans to steal billions from lifesaving medical research” and expressed relief that the bill would not pay for an “immoral and unwise border wall or create a cruel new deportation force.”
As of late Sunday, neither Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, nor the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, had issued statements appraising the agreement.
The negotiations took place in recent days amid a furious scramble inside the White House to demonstrate progress before Mr. Trump’s 100th day in office. Republicans in the House still hope to advance a revised version of their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Last week, the revised bill earned the backing of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, though the changes gave pause to numerous moderate Republicans, including some who had backed the initial proposal.
It was unclear when a vote on that measure might occur, despite pressure from the White House. Republican leaders in Congress have said repeatedly that a vote will come when they can ensure passage through the House.
SEOUL, South Korea — Despite decades of sanctions and international isolation, the economy in North Korea is showing surprising signs of life.
Scores of marketplaces have opened in cities across the country since the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, took power five years ago. A growing class of merchants and entrepreneurs is thriving under the protection of ruling party officials. Pyongyang, the capital, has seen a construction boom, and there are now enough cars on its once-empty streets for some residents to make a living washing them.
Reliable economic data is scarce. But recent defectors, regular visitors and economists who study the country say nascent market forces are beginning to reshape North Korea — a development that complicates efforts to curb Mr. Kim’s nuclear ambitions.
Even as President Trump bets on tougher sanctions, especially by China, to stop the North from developing nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking the United States, the country’s improving economic health has made it easier for it to withstand such pressure and to acquire funds for its nuclear program.
While North Korea remains deeply impoverished, estimates of annual growth under Mr. Kim’s rule range from 1 percent to 5 percent, comparable to some fast-growing economies unencumbered by sanctions.
But a limited embrace of market forces in what is supposed to be a classless society also is a gamble for Mr. Kim, who in 2013 made economic growth a top policy goal on par with the development of a nuclear arsenal.
Mr. Kim, 33, has promised his long-suffering people that they will never have to “tighten their belts” again. But as he allows private enterprise to expand, he undermines the government’s central argument of socialist superiority over South Korea’s capitalist system.
There are already signs that market forces are weakening the government’s grip on society. Information is seeping in along with foreign goods, eroding the cult of personality surrounding Mr. Kim and his family. And as people support themselves and get what they need outside the state economy, they are less beholden to the authorities.
“Our attitude toward the government was this: If you can’t feed us, leave us alone so we can make a living through the market,” said Kim Jin-hee, who fled North Korea in 2014 and, like others interviewed for this article, uses a new name in the South to protect relatives she left behind.
After the government tried to clamp down on markets in 2009, she recalled, “I lost what little loyalty I had for the regime.”
Kim Jin-hee’s loyalty was first tested in the 1990s, when a famine caused by floods, drought and the loss of Soviet aid gripped North Korea. The government stopped providing food rations, and as many as two million people died.
Ms. Kim did what many others did to survive. She stopped showing up for her state job, at a machine-tool factory in the mining town of Musan, and spent her days at a makeshift market selling anything she could get her hands on. Similar markets appeared across the country.
After the food shortage eased, the market in Musan continued to grow. By the time she left the country, Ms. Kim said, more than 1,000 stalls were squeezed into it alongside her own.
Kim Jong-il, the father of the North’s current leader, had been ambivalent about the marketplaces before he died in 2011. Sometimes he tolerated them, using them to increase food supplies and soften the blow of tightening sanctions imposed by the United Nations on top of an American embargo dating to the Korean War. Other times, he sought to suppress them.
But since 2010, the number of government-approved markets in North Korea has doubled to 440, and satellite images show them growing in size in most cities. In a country with a population of 25 million, about 1.1 million people are now employed as retailers or managers in these markets, according to a study by the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
Unofficial market activity has flourished, too: people making and selling shoes, clothing, sweets and bread from their homes; traditional agricultural markets that appear in rural towns every 10 days; smugglers who peddle black-market goods like Hollywood movies, South Korean television dramas and smartphones that can be used near the Chinese border.
At least 40 percent of the population in North Korea is now engaged in some form of private enterprise, a level comparable to that of Hungary and Poland shortly after the fall of the Soviet bloc, the director of South Korea’s intelligence service, Lee Byung-ho, told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing in February.
This market activity is driven in part by frustration with the state’s inefficient and rigid planned economy. North Koreans once worked only in state farms and factories, receiving salaries and ration coupons to buy food and other necessities in state stores. But that system crumbled in the 1990s, and now many state workers earn barely a dollar a month. Economists estimate the cost of living in North Korea to be $60 per month.
“If you are an ordinary North Korean today, and if you don’t make money through markets, you are likely to die of hunger,” said Kim Nam-chol, 46, a defector from Hoeryong, a town near the Chinese border. “It’s that simple.”
‘Competition Is Everywhere’
Before fleeing in 2014, Mr. Kim survived as a smuggler in North Korea. He bought goods such as dried seafood, ginseng, antiques and even methamphetamine, and he carried them across the border to sell in China. There, he used his earnings to buy grain, saccharin, socks and plastic bags and took it back to sell in North Korean markets.
He said he had paid off border guards and security officers to slip back and forth, often by offering them cigarette packs stuffed with rolled-up $100 or 10,000-yen bills.
“I came to believe I could get away with anything in North Korea with bribes,” he said, “except the crime of criticizing the ruling Kim family.”
Eighty percent of consumer goods sold in North Korean markets originate in China, according to an estimate by Kim Young-hee, director of the North Korean economy department at the Korea Development Bank in the South.
But Kim Jong-un has exhorted the country to produce more goods locally in an effort to lessen its dependence on China, using the word jagang, or self-empowerment. His call has emboldened manufacturers to respond to market demand.
Shoes, liquor, cigarettes, socks, sweets, cooking oil, cosmetics and noodles produced in North Korea have already squeezed out or taken market share from Chinese-made versions, defectors said.
Regular visitors to Pyongyang, the showcase capital, say a real consumer economy is emerging. “Competition is everywhere, including between travel agencies, taxi companies and restaurants,” Rüdiger Frank, an economist at the University of Vienna who studies the North, wrote recently after visiting a shopping center there.
A cellphone service launched in 2008 has more than three million subscribers. With the state still struggling to produce electricity, imported solar panels have become a middle-class status symbol. And on sale at some grocery stores and informal markets on the side streets of Pyongyang is a beverage that state propaganda used to condemn as “cesspool water of capitalism” — Coca-Cola.
Leaning On Private Sector
When Kim Jong-un stood on a balcony reviewing a parade in April, he was flanked by Hwang Pyong-so, the head of the military, and Pak Pong-ju, the premier in charge of the economy.
The formation was symbolic of Mr. Kim’s byungjin policy, which calls for the parallel pursuit of two policy goals: developing the economy and building nuclear weapons. Only a nuclear arsenal, Mr. Kim argues, will make North Korea secure from American invasion and let it focus on growth.
Mr. Kim has granted state factories more autonomy over what they produce, including authority to find their own suppliers and customers, as long as they hit revenue targets. And families in collective farms are now assigned to individual plots called pojeon. Once they meet a state quota, they can keep and sell any surplus on their own.
The measures resemble those adopted by China in the early years of its turn to capitalism in the 1980s. But North Korea has refrained from describing them as market-oriented reforms, preferring the phrase “economic management in our own style.”
In state-censored journals, though, economists are already publishing papers describing consumer-oriented markets, joint ventures and special economic zones.
It is unclear how much of recent increases in grain production were due to Mr. Kim’s policies. Defectors say factories remain hobbled by electricity shortages and decrepit machinery while many farmers have struggled to meet state quotas because they lack fertilizer and modern equipment.
More broadly, the economy remains constrained by limited foreign investment and the lack of legal protections for private enterprise or procedures for contract enforcement.
Plans to set up special economic zones have remained only plans, as investors have balked at North Korea’s poor infrastructure and record of seizing assets from foreigners, not to mention the sanctions against it.
But there is evidence that the state is growing increasingly dependent on the private sector.
Cha Moon-seok, a researcher at the Institute for Unification Education of South Korea, estimates that the government collects as much as $222,000 per day in taxes from the marketplaces it manages. In March, the authorities reportedly ordered people selling goods from their homes to move into formal marketplaces in an effort to collect even more.
“Officials need the markets as much as the people need them,” said Kim Jeong-ae, a journalist in Seoul who worked as a propagandist in North Korea before defecting.
Ms. Kim fled North Korea in 2003 but has kept in touch with a younger brother there whom she describes as a donju, or money owner.
Donju is the word North Koreans use to describe the new class of traders and businessmen that has emerged.
Kim Jeong-ae said that her brother provided fuel, food and crew members for fishing boats, and that he split the catch with a military-run fishing company.
“He lives in a large house with tall walls,” she added, “so other people can’t see what he has there.”
Called “red capitalists” by South Korean scholars, donju invest in construction projects, establish partnerships with resource-strapped state factories and bankroll imports from China to supply retailers in the marketplaces. They operate with “covers,” or party officials who protect their businesses. Some are relatives of party officials.
Others are ethnic Chinese citizens, who are allowed regular visits to China and can facilitate cross-border financial transactions, and people with relatives who have fled to South Korea and send them cash remittances.
Whenever the state begins a big project, like the new district of high-rise apartment buildings that Kim Jong-un unveiled before foreign journalists in April, donju are expected to make “loyalty donations.” Sometimes they pay in foreign currency. Sometimes they contribute building materials, fuel or food for construction workers.
“Kim Jong-un is no fool,” said Kang Mi-jin, a defector who once ran her own wholesale business. “He knows where the money is.”
Donju often receive medals and certificates in return for their donations, and use them to signal they are protected as they engage in business activities that are officially illegal.
They import buses and trucks and run their own transportation services using license plates obtained from state companies. Some donju even rent farmland and mines, working them with their own employees and equipment, or open private pharmacies, defectors said.
“Donju wear the socialist hide, operating as part of state-run companies,” Ms. Kang said. “But inside, they are thoroughly capitalist.”
A Shifting View
Before Kim Jong-un took power, the government made a last attempt to rein in donju and control market forces. It called on citizens to shop only in state stores, banned the use of foreign currency and adopted new bank notes while limiting the amount of old notes that individuals could exchange.
The move wiped out much of the private wealth created and saved by both donju and ordinary people. Market activity ground to a near halt. Prices skyrocketed, and protests were reported in scattered cities.
The government eventually retreated and is believed to have issued an apology when officials convened villagers for their weekly education sessions. It also executed the country’s top monetary official, Pak Nam-gi.
The crisis is widely considered the moment when the government concluded it could no longer suppress the markets. A year later, Pak Pong-ju, a former prime minister who had been ousted for pushing market-oriented policies, was restored to power. He now manages the economy under Mr. Kim.
As the markets develop, growing numbers of North Koreans will see the vastly superior products made overseas and perhaps question their nation’s backward status.
“Thanks to the market, few North Koreans these days flee for food, as refugees in the 1990s did,” said the Rev. Kim Seung-eun, a pastor who has helped hundreds of defectors reach South Korea. “Instead, they now flee to South Korea to have a better life they learned through the markets.”
Jung Gwang-il, who leads a defectors’ group in Seoul called No Chain, said that with more North Koreans getting what they needed from markets rather than the state, their view of Mr. Kim was changing.
“North Koreans always called Kim Jong-un’s grandfather and father ‘the Great Leader’ or ‘the General,’” Mr. Jung said. “Now, when they talk among themselves, many just call Jong-un ‘the Kid.’ They fear him but have no respect for him.”
“They say, ‘What has he done for us?’” Mr. Jung said.
While the sanctions placed on Iraq by the United Nations Security Council in the 1990s may be a distant memory for some, it’s critical to remember the shameful aftermath as the Trump administration undertakes the sanctioning of certain specific individuals in Syria. No matter the position one might take on the issue of sanctions, the fact remains that they caused a decade of tremendous suffering and widespread deaths of Iraqi civilians, many of them children.
Iraq Sanctions Led to Grievous Death Toll
The widely-reported number of children who died as a result of the sanctions has been as high as 576,000, although one subsequent report estimated 227,000 and a second approximated 350,000. Chuck Sudetic, a journalist who spent time in Basra documenting how sanctions affected the city, wrote in late 2001 that “According to an estimate by Amatzia Baram, an Iraq analyst at the University of Haifa in Israel, between 1991 and 1997 half a million Iraqis died of malnutrition, preventable disease, lack of medicine, and other factors attributable to the sanctions; most were elderly people or children. The United Nations Children’s Fund puts the death toll during the same period at more than 1 million of Iraq’s 23 million people.” Despite conflicting estimates, each set of figures are staggering and tragic.
The United States Security Council Resolution 661 was adopted in August of 1990 following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, “imposing comprehensive multilateral international sanctions on Iraq and freezing all its foreign assets. Iraq was no longer free to import anything not expressly permitted by the United Nations, and companies were forbidden from doing business with Iraq, with very limited exceptions,” according to David Rieff writing for The New York Times in 2003.
“Government assets abroad were frozen and financial transactions with Iraq were prohibited. The country’s economy collapsed immediately and Saddam blamed the United States. He made himself a hero across the Arab world by defying Washington and refusing to quit Kuwait, even as U.S.-led forces began attacking Iraq by air on January 17, 1991,” Sudetic noted.
“Oil For Food”: Corruption Disguised as Benevolence
In 1995, the U.N. proposed the Oil For Food Program which sought to ease some of the burdens caused by the sanctions by allowing Iraq to sell more oil to pay for humanitarian necessities like food and medicine. While first resisted by Saddam Hussein, who initially claimed that the program violated sovereignty, the program was later initiated and Hussein used the program to his advantage. Slate’s Michael Crowley wrote that Hussein took advantage of the program in three ways: first, by ignoring stipulations and selling oil illegally to Syria, Turkey, and Jordan among others to the tune of about $13.6 billion; utilizing “pricing schemes, surcharges, and kickbacks to milk another $7 billion or more from oil buyers and sellers of humanitarian supplies”; and engaging in bribery via “a list of people who were given vouchers to buy Iraqi oil at below-market price—essentially, multimillion-dollar buy-offs.” The program ended abruptly and “subsequent investigations show the program was poorly managed and riddled with fraud,” according to PBS.
“The failure of the program wasn’t just in providing food, medicine and comfort to the Iraqi people; the failure of the program was also not having strong oversight and checks and balances that would have prevented a small group of people and nations from raping billions — billions — of dollars from the people of Iraq,” former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) told PBS.
Worrisome New Sanctions In Syria
The sanctions imposed on Iraq have been inarguably disastrous, and Oil for Food was known to be an overall failure rampant with corruption that did little to ease the suffering of Iraqi civilians. Syria is no stranger to American-led sanctions, as they have been imposed in the past by the Bush and Obama administrations. But is the United States headed toward repeating history in its newest sanctions on Syrian scientists?
On April 24th, the Trump administration placed sanctions on 271 Syrian government employees in response to the sarin gas attack that killed 80 civilians. “The United States is sending a strong message with this action that we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons by any actor, and we intend to hold the Assad regime accountable for its unacceptable behavior,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.” The New York Times noted that the sanctions are targeted toward “highly educated Syrian officials with deep expertise in chemistry who were thought to have the ability to travel extensively and possibly to use the American financial system.”
The Associated Press states that “any property or interest in property of the individuals’ sanctioned must be blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.” Also according to AP, “Three U.S. officials said that the sanctions are part of a broader effort to cut off funding and other support to Syria’s President Bashar Assad and his government amid the country’s escalating civil war. The U.S. blames Assad for a recent chemical attack on Syrian civilians, and responded earlier this month by launching missiles against a Syrian airfield.”
France has joined the United States in assigning responsibility to the Syrian government for the chemical attack, while Russia and Syria have denied that the Assad regime was behind the attack. Former Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), a longtime opponent of sanctions, continues to question the United States’ assertion that Assad gassed his people. Members of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of former U.S. intelligence officials, have repeatedly urged President Trump to carefully re-evaluate all aspects of the incident and his position on retaliation. On Saturday, the group criticized Defense Secretary James Mattis’ assertion of there being “no doubt” that the Syrian government is “retaining” chemical weapons, noting that Mattis sounded quite similar to Vice President Dick Cheney when he proclaimed there was “no doubt” that Hussein possessed WMD’s.
In the case of Syria, the ‘no doubt’ standard Mattis has employed does not meet the ‘reasonable man’ standard. Given the consequences that are attached to his every word, Secretary Mattis would be well advised not to commit to a “no doubt” standard until there is, literally, no doubt.” — Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
While the newest issue of sanctions on Syrian government workers is not nearly as extensive as those placed on Iraq in the 90’s, the American people are being told the same story about the Assad regime as they were told about the Hussein regime: that dictators are in possession of dangerous weapons and must be stopped. But what must be stopped are hurried military retaliations and intensified meddling in foreign affairs that pose no imminent threat on the United States. As deplorable as some actions overseas have been, the U.S. government is once again indicating its eagerness to participate in further battle to weaken Assad- an eerily familiar mission, and one that President Trump once promised the public that he would avoid.
Donald was a brunette in 1994 Now he is a flaming quasi orange blond Daddy Fred does look a bit Ashkenazi
The Trump (original surname Drump ) foray into America supposedly begun with Fred Trumps father Frederich Trump who emigrated to the US from Germany in 1885 His (married sister ) Katharina had emigrated in 1883 Her married surname was was Schuster which is a German and Jewish surname Another of Trumps grandaunts married a man named Freund which is Jewish surname
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WASHINGTON (JTA) – The U.S. State Department’s most recent religious freedoms report includes more than 1,400 words on access to holy sites in Israel.
The most recent report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has zero words on access – or on anything to do with Israel.
There is one obvious reason for the discrepancy: The Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government-funded body and ostensibly independent, focuses on a limited number of countries or groupings of special interest, while the State Department covers every country.
But in a rare dissent, the vice chairman of the commission, James Zogby, suggested another reason: Israel is the third rail, and a body that was founded precisely to keep the government honest on matters of religious freedom is afraid to touch it.
In turn, at least one former commissioner has said that Zogby, who is also president of the Arab American Institute and a longtime advocate for Palestinian rights, was obsessed with the Palestinian issue. (The commissioners all volunteer their time.)
The issue arose this week as the commission’s chairman, Thomas Reese, published its annual report.
In a conference call Wednesday, Reese noted the bipartisanship that led the nine-member commission to name “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, where religious freedoms are violently suppressed, including China, Iran, Burma and Saudi Arabia, among others.
But in a news conference held shortly after, Zogby objected that Israel had been ignored.
Zogby, an Obama appointee who is ending a four-year term in May, published a five-page dissent on an array of issues – chief among them, the commission’s failure to take on Israel issues.
He cited a November letter to the commission from a range of Christian groups and leaders, some based in Jerusalem and the West Bank. They charged Israel with “deeply disturbing discriminatory laws that impact the freedom to marry, family unification, discrimination in housing and land-ownership, the freedom of movement, and the right to worship at and to maintain holy sites.”
Zogby also pointed to a January letter from Hiddush, a North American-Israeli religious freedom advocacy group asking the commission to examine limits on marriage freedom in Israel, where the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate keeps tight control of marriage affairs.
“I am including this matter in my dissent, not only because consideration of both letters was rejected by a slim majority of Commissioners, but because it was clear from the way the debate took place that there could be no rational discussion of this issue,” Zogby wrote.
Other commissioners reacted with such “vehemence” to criticism of Israel, wrote Zogby, that his appeals were dismissed.
“We were, in effect, bullied into silence,” he wrote.
In his conference call, Reese suggested that the commission – with five Democrats and four Republicans – could only productively address issues that were not subject to deep partisan differences.
“The issue of Israel and Palestine is a controversial issue around the world and also in the United States, so it’s not surprising there would be some controversy and disagreements within our commission on these issues,” the chairman said in reply to a JTA query on the call.
Reese said the letters about Israel were “discussed by the commission and a majority of the commissioners did not vote to move forward on it, so I think it’s important to point out that our report has bipartisan consensus on the countries that we do cover.”
He did not elaborate on why the Israel issue would defy “bipartisan consensus,” but Democrats have been more likely in recent years to accommodate criticism of Israel in their forums. Republicans tend to see the country as a bulwark of Western values.
The commission’s bailiwick extends beyond the worst offenders and includes critiques of parts of the world where suppression of religious freedom has not reached the CPC level. A chapter in the most recent report noted restrictions on halal and kosher slaughter in Western Europe, for example.
Hiddush in its letter to the commission said it was not seeking CPC status for Israel; it only wants the commission to look into the Israel issue as a means of spurring the country to make changes.
“We fortunately do not deal with issues of arrest, murder, or deportation in conjunction with the realities of religious freedom and equality,” Hiddush said in its letter. Instead, the group said, it was seeking the commission’s help to “raise awareness and strengthen the civil society organizations, such as Hiddush, who labor to strengthen religious freedom on the ground in Israel.”
Congress created the Commission on International Religious Freedom in 1998 in part as a means of keeping the executive branch honest. Should the State Department seek to downplay a putative ally’s religious oppression, it was thought, the commission was there to keep things real.
It’s not the first time, however, that the commission has been seen as politicized. When Republicans held the majority, the commission was accused of focusing intently on persecution of Christians abroad and letting pass reports of Muslim suffering.
Zogby said the failure to hold Israel to standards applied to other countries where occupiers are seen as repressing religious freedoms – Turkey in Cyprus or Russia in Crimea – undercuts its broader mission.
“The charge that USCIRF has a double standard particularly undermines our ability to effectively advocate for religious freedom in Arab countries,” he said in his dissent.
Zogby would not name the commissioners with whom he has clashed. JTA put in a query to a Republican commissioner, Clifford May, the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has sparred with Zogby in other forums, but has yet to hear back from him.
A former commissioner, Elliott Abrams, a veteran of the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, whose term overlapped with Zogby’s, this week told Al Monitor, the Middle East news site, that Zogby’s sole mission was to have a go at Israel.
“Jim Zogby has had one single goal in all of his criticism of the commission and all his activities when on the commission, and that is to attack Israel,” he said.
Zogby rolled his eyes at the accusation when it arose during the news conference. He said Abrams seemed to forget the many occasions when they worked together to address religious freedom restrictions in other countries.
“We worked on a number of issues,” he said.
Israel and pro-Israel groups regard a few of the Christian groups that signed the complaint letter as implacably hostile to Israel, among them Sabeel, a Palestinian liberation theology group that sees a single binational state as an “ideal and best” goal, but which currently embraces a two-state solution. A number of other signatories are local Christian service groups, including clubs and charitable groups.
Judaism’s Reform and Conservative movements declined to back Zogby’s dissent, although they have been at the forefront of U.S. advocacy for religious freedoms for the non-Orthodox in Israel.
A Conservative movement official told JTA that the movement does not seek the intervention of any foreign government or agency on these issues, as matters of religious pluralism are internal matters of the world Jewish community and the Jewish state. Reform movement officials declined to comment.
Millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars were being foolishly wasted paying for the salaries of non-existent “ghost” soldiers and policemen in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, but no more.
According to the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, who recently sat down for an interview with Sharyl Attkinson of Full Measure, the ongoing problem may have been worse than anyone realized, but was being addressed by President Donald Trump’s Pentagon.
“We’ve been raising this concern about ghosts going back a number of years,” Sopko said. “Actually I want to say we heard about it from (Afghan President) Ashraf Ghani years ago, before he became president, he warned me about ‘ghosts,’ so we started looking three years ago.”
“What we’re talking about are policemen, Afghan policemen, Afghan military, Afghan civil servants who don’t exist or they have multiple identity cards and we’re paying their salaries,” he explained. “By ‘we’ I mean the United States and the international community. And we started finding out that we had no capacity to measure the number of soldiers, teachers, doctors, military people who we are paying their salaries.”
Fox News reported in October that the fraud could have amounted to more than $300 million annually.
Asked if this indicated fraud had been taking place, Sopko replied: “Major fraud. And what’s happening is the commanders or generals or other higher officials are actually pocketing the salaries of the ghosts.”
“And I remember President Ghani again, at that time he wasn’t president, saying, ‘John, you the United States government are paying the salary of an Afghan who’s a teacher, he’s a civil servant, he’s a doctor, he is a policeman, and he’s a soldier. And it’s the same Afghan. And he doesn’t exist,’” Sopko explained.
“It’s not just the salaries,” he added. “But we’re funding schools based upon the number of students, so if you invent or inflate the number of students, you’re going to be paying more money. On the soldiers and the police, we’re paying for extra boots, for food, for everything else, logistics for numbers that don’t exist.”
Sopko had alerted the Pentagon on numerous occasions to what he had discovered in 2016, but little was done to address the issue by the administration of President Barack Obama, though Fox News reported that the Pentagon had stated at the time that they would soon implement certain measures to try and combat the rampant fraud bilking U.S. taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Guided by the new no-nonsense leadership of the Defense Department under Trump, it would appear that those measures, among many others, were being implemented in Afghanistan with measurable results.
According to the Independent Journal Review, Attkinsson noted that the Pentagon had implemented a biometric system that checked such things as fingerprints, photographs and even blood type in an effort to obtain “proof of life” of Afghan service members in order to weed out the non-existent “ghosts” that have cost taxpayers so much.
In fact, the Pentagon claimed that it had already enrolled in the program “up to 95 percent of the Afghan police and 70-80 percent of soldiers” in the Afghan National Army.
While it is highly doubtful that any of the taxpayer dollars lost through this fraud will ever be recovered, at least steps have been taken to ensure more dollars aren’t similarly wasted in the seemingly never-ending bid to reconstruct Afghanistan.
(JTA) — Pope Francis doubled down on his characterization of refugee and migrant centers in Europe as “concentration camps.”
A German reporter asked Francis Saturday on his papal plane if he meant to use the term last week during a ceremony on April 22 at Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew. The reporter for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung explained to the pope that: “For us Germans this was obviously a very, very serious word, and very close to ‘extermination camp.’ There are people who say that this was a linguistic lapse. What did you intend to say?”
“These refugee camps — so many are concentration camps, crowded with people,” Francis said April 22 during a ceremony in commemoration of modern-day Christian martyrs in Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew. The remark reportedly was unscripted.
The American Jewish Committee criticized the comment the following day, urging the pope “to reconsider his regrettable choice of words.”
On Saturday, the pope said: “There was no linguistic lapse: There are concentration camps, sorry: refugee camps that are true camps of concentration.”
He noted that in such camps people are “closed in and can’t leave.”
He also referred to such camps as a “lager,” which is the German name for a concentration camp. “But it doesn’t have anything to do with Germany, no,” he said.
(JTA) — The front door of a Jewish elementary school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was struck with a bullet.
No one was injured when the bullet hit the glass front door of the Yeshiva Elementary School Friday morning. The bullet broke the glass but did not go in to the school, the local CBS affiliate reported.
The school was not evacuated.
Police believe the bullet was fired in the area but was not intended for the school. They are investigating the shooting and working with the school to locate witnesses.
“It did a little bit of damage to the door. But there was no real security issue in the sense that nobody was threatened. Nobody was in harm’s way at all. Nonetheless, we are taking precautions at this point,” school representative Rabbi Aryeh Borsuk told the local Fox affiliate.
He said all parents were notified of the shooting by email and phone, and staff explained to the students what happened.
A nearby Jewish community center was one of the hundreds of U.S. Jewish institutions to receive called in bomb threats during the first three months of the year.