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Saturday, May 28, 2011

US-Israeli Relations a Major Impediment to Middle East Peace

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response to Obama’s State Department speech on May 19 was arrogant and cocky. Netanyahu’s remarks at the White House press briefing, after frosty talks with Obama were vacuous.

Following a rapturously received speeches to Congress and AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US, Netanyahu was probably convinced that he held back Obama’s attempt to nudge him down the road to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Charlie Ross in an interview in January 2010 asked George Mitchell, Obama’s former Special Envoy for the Middle East, if the US could deploy any punitive measures against Israel to get progress on the Middle East peace process.

Mitchell, a former US Senator, said that the US could withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel. But it seems that this option is easier said than done. Senator Joe Lieberman thinks any attempt to force Israel o the negotiating table will be met with robust resistance from the US Congress.

So what really are Obama’s options, especially in an election year?

But the tragedy is that the US loan guarantees are the reason Netanyahu is belligerent and cocky. Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II. Israel has received $3 billion annually in grants from the US since 1985. Almost all this grant is Foreign Military Financing.

Foreign Military Financing from the US is to ensure that Israel maintains it qualitative military edge, the so-called QME, over potential threats from its Arab neighbors. Israel routinely exaggerates the level of threat posed by its Arab neighbors in order to justify or argue for increased US military support.

In August 2010, the US and Israel announced that Israel will purchase 20 F-35s, the most advanced stealth multirole combat aircraft in the world, at a cost of $2.75billion. The first planes will be delivered in 2015. Understandably, must acquire and maintain better military hardware and training to compensate for numerical inferiority in the event of a regional military conflict.

It is not surprising that with US military aid, Israeli army is one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world. Moreover, with help from the US Israel has built a domestic defense industry, which ranks among the top 10 supplies of arms worldwide. Furthermore US aid flows have provided vital subsidies as well as US-Israeli Scientific cooperation and enabled the emergence of Israel as fully industrialized nation, at par with western European economies.

More importantly, US assistance is meant to guarantee Israel the security it needs to make concessions necessary for comprehensive regional peace. But the use of US foreign aid to leverage progress towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement has largely failed. In the 1970s however, the promise of military assistance was critical in the peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt. The question is why is progress towards Middle East so difficult?

Many analysts consider foreign aid, especially US loan guarantees to Israel as being antithetical to resolving the complex territorial, cultural and religious differences sown and cultivated over centuries. US guarantees and Israel’s economic and military superiority may in fact be the reason Israel is not committed to a lasting settlement.

I think Israel would act differently if the US reduced loan guarantees and cut military or economic grant aid. But is this even conceivable? On the authority of Senator Joe Lieberman, the answer is no. Implicitly, Joe Lieberman was affirming the unbridled power of the pro-Israel or Jewish lobby over Congress, the GOP, the Democrats and the White House. US Middle East policy is largely written by and for Israel, acting through the powerful US-based well-funded pro-Israeli lobby.

Some analysts have argued that the most effective way to annihilate the Jewish lobbies is to obligate them to register as agents of a foreign power. They are in fact agents of the Israeli state. There is sufficient evidence for instance to show that lobby leaders take their matching orders from the Israeli leadership and serve as funnels of Israeli policies into the US and influence pro-Israel policy and legislation. Elected members of the US Congress and appointed officials will be less zealous to share the platform of an organization that is registered as an agent of a foreign power.

In the absence of any realistic chance for a negotiated settlement, it is unlikely that the Palestinians will put off their quest for recognition of statehood at the September UN General Assembly.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The value of luminosity data as a proxy for socio-economic data

Many countries in the developing world lack reliable economic statistics, hampering economic policy-making efforts. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US, Xi Chen and William Nordhaus explored the usefulness of an intuitive, yet little-known metric as a proxy for economic development: nighttime luminosity, the intensity of nighttime lights such as the slowly brightening lights.

This study proposed a method and then implemented it for the question of whether nighttime luminosity measures could be used to improve estimates of output at the regional level. The tests are particularly aimed at countries and sub national regions with low-quality data systems. Moreover, this study concludes that luminosity is likely to add value as proxy for economic output and wellbeing in countries with poor data and statistical systems.

In the developing countries, particularly Africa, I think nighttime luminosity could also be used as a proxy for evaluating state capacity to deliver social services and infrastructure. More importantly, in Africa one could use luminosity to identify geographic patterns of political patronage and regional inequality. This is especially relevant for sub Saharan Africa where ethnicity and political whim guides infrastructure investment.

So my sense is that for Africa, you could deploy luminosity to construct insightful questions around governance capacity and structural or political inequality. Development partners could use this data to get a sense of the critical investment pathways at national and sub national levels.

Where luminosity data is available at high spatial resolution the data could be used to construct the Human Footprint and Human Influence Index. This is critical in understanding generally, our ecological footprint, and maybe spatial patterns of ecological or ecosystem service deficits at a global level.

Monday, May 16, 2011

For HIV/AIDS, Treatment is Prevention

In a landmark breakthrough that could halt the march of HIV/AIDS, scientists say that treating HIV patients with AIDS drugs makes them less infectious.

The $73 million study funded by the National Institutes of Health was conducted in nine countries, and led by Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The hopeful results come almost 30 years after the disease was identified among five homosexual men in Los Angeles. A combination of new and emerging HIV prevention methods has convinced many leading AIDS experts that they can dramatically constrict the torrent of new infections.

The randomized trial of 1,763 discordant couples validates a growing body of less rigorous research and is likely to inject new urgency and commitment to treatment campaigns, especially in Africa
Besides treating HIV patients with antiretroviral therapy to render them less infectious, male circumcision, which reduces the odds a man will acquire HIV, and a virus-blocking "microbicide" gel that women apply vaginally are becoming a vital arsenal in Africa’s anti AIDS campaigns.

These findings are likely to end, or at least tone down controversy over how resources should be spent on treatment versus prevention. Although many experts have argued that more emphasis should be put on prevention, the new study now provides compelling evidence that for HIV/AIDS, treatment can be and must be vital component of prevention.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Can Anti-Retrovirals Protect Two People?

May 12, 2011

Posted by Michael Specter

There are no shortcuts to preventing or treating AIDS. In theory, abstinence works, and, when people prove to be only human, there are condoms. But humans are not always rational and condoms are never going to provide a permanent solution. That leaves drugs, and since the mid-nineteen-eighties those have proven increasingly effective at stopping H.I.V. from ravaging the immune system. In rich countries, at least, antiretroviral medicine has helped turn AIDS into a complicated but chronic disease.

Still, until today, it has never been clear whether people who take antiretrovirals are less likely to infect their sexual partners. That question has now been answered definitively. A new study, of eighteen hundred couples on four continents, has shown that H.I.V.-positive people on antiretrovirals are ninety-six per cent less likely to infect their sexual partners than H.I.V.-positive people who are not on those drugs. Intuitively, that makes sense, because antiretrovirals lower the amount of virus in the bloodstream. Yet hunches, even smart hunches, often prove false. That is why there are clinical trials. In this trial, half of those who were infected received antiretroviral medication and half did not. The results, released today by U.S. federal health officials, were so unequivocal that the study has been stopped four years early.

This is the best evidence yet that the AIDS epidemic could be defeated by comprehensive use of antiretroviral drugs. Still, the Internet has already been crowded with people who can turn any silver lining into a cloud. "How do we continue to emphasize that it's still unsafe to have sex when you have HIV?" one person commented on a health blog. "I can just see it now: Thousands of people with HIV, running around thinking they are 'cured' because of early treatment."

This is certainly an issue worth considering. (The medical term for it is "disinhibition," which in English means the absence of fear.) But let's step back for a moment. Try telling millions of H.I.V.-positive Africans that today's news will only encourage careless behavior. It ought to be of greater concern that so many of them are dying.
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Zain Kenya

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