Thursday, December 30, 2004

They're Getting Better

One more indication of failure. They're getting better, we're not:
Key measures of the level of insurgent violence against American forces in Iraq, numbers of dead, wounded and insurgent attacks, show the situation has gotten worse since the summer.

While those numbers don't tell the full story of the conflict in Iraq, they suggest insurgents are growing more proficient, even as the size of the U.S. force increases and U.S. commanders succeed in soliciting more help from ordinary Iraqis.

For example:

- The U.S. military suffered at least 348 deaths in Iraq over the final four months of the year, more than in any other similar period since the invasion in March 2003.

-The number of wounded surpassed 10,000, with more than a quarter injured in the last four months as direct combat, roadside bombs and suicide attacks escalated. When President Bush declared May 1, 2003, that major combat operations were over, the number wounded stood at just 542.

- The number of attacks on U.S. and allied troops grew from an estimated 1,400 attacks in September to 1,600 in October and 1,950 in November. A year earlier, the attacks numbered 649 in September, 896 in October and 864 in November.


A Victory for Gay Rights in Arkansas

It's not often that I get to type that without irony, but sometimes my home state does me proud:

A state ban on placing foster children in any household with a gay member was struck down when a judge ruled that the state agency enforcing it overstepped its authority by trying to regulate "public morality."

Ruling in a case brought by the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox declared the ban unconstitutional yesterday.

At issue was a 1999 board regulation that said gays cannot become foster parents and foster children cannot be placed in any home with a gay member under its roof.

The ACLU had argued the regulation violates the equal-protection rights of gays. But the judge’s ruling did not turn on that argument.

Instead, Fox noted that the Arkansas Legislature gave the state Child Welfare Agency Review board the power to "promote the health, safety and welfare of children" but the ban does not accomplish that. Rather, he said, the regulation seeks to regulate "public morality" - something the board was not given the authority to do.

"The testimony and evidence overwhelmingly showed that there was no rational relationship between the ... blanket exclusion" of gays "and the health, safety and welfare of the foster children," Fox wrote.


Dem Win in Washington

Just barely, and Rossi doesn't appear inclined to pull a Kerry:

Washington Democrat Christine Gregoire was declared the winner of the governor's race by 129 votes, continuing the party's two-decade hold on the office after a recount reversed a Republican victory.

Secretary of State Sam Reed certified Gregoire, 57, the state's attorney general, as governor-elect, placing her in line to be sworn in on Jan. 12. Republican Dino Rossi, a former state senator who was certified as winner a month ago, hasn't conceded and last night urged lawmakers to call for a new election.


Basque Victory

This seems to have come out of nowhere; don't know quite what to make of it:
A Basque proposal for virtual independence from Spain unexpectedly won approval in the regional parliament on Thursday with votes from Batasuna, a party banned as the political wing of armed separatists ETA.

The proposal by Basque premier Juan Jose Ibarretxe, a moderate nationalist, would enshrine the region's right to self-determination through a referendum and create a "status of free association" with Spain.

Ibarretxe champions his plan as a means to end ETA's campaign of bombings and shootings that has killed about 850 people since 1968.

But its approval put his regional government on a collision course with Spain's ruling Socialist and main opposition Popular Party, who say it breaks the country's 1978 constitution.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Working for Death

Bucking the sane trend against state-sponsored killing, the Massachusetts governor is working for death:
Hoping to bring capital punishment to Massachusetts, Gov. Mitt Romney is preparing to file a death penalty bill early next year that he says is so carefully written it will guarantee only the guilty are executed.

Based in part on the findings of a death penalty panel he appointed, the bill would limit capital punishment to the "worst of the worst" crimes including terrorism, the murder of police officers, murder involving torture and the killing of witnesses. It also would use evidence such as DNA testing to protect the innocent.

Romney wants his death penalty bill to be a model for other states.

"The weakness in the death penalty statutes in other states, of course, is the fear that you may execute someone who is innocent. We remove that possibility," Romney said.

Allow me to retort: Humans are fallible. We make mistakes. In fact, we make them all the time. And you can't take it back when you accidentally kill the wrong person.

You are arrogant, Romney. And dead wrong.


As Bad As Vietnam

Let it be known:
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, for example, last July downplayed the intensity of the Iraq war on this basis, arguing that "it would take over 73 years for U.S. forces to incur the level of combat deaths suffered in the Vietnam war."

But a comparative analysis of U.S. casualty statistics from Iraq tells a different story. After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.


Supporting the Troops

Illegally, corporations are taking advantage of soldiers who can't make it:
Kevin D. Jones, a retired Army veteran, was desperate for money. He wanted to get his wife out of the Philippines quickly after her home had been destroyed in a bombing. But she was being delayed as she waited for immigration papers to come through that would allow her to join him in North Carolina.

His military contacts, cultivated during a 25-year career that included duty in Bosnia and Kosovo, helped speed the paperwork. And a Florida financial services company that he had found through an advertisement in The Army Times helped him raise the money to fly to Manila, resettle his in-laws and return home with his wife.

He was too frantic, he said, to consider the cost of that money. But it was steep. In exchange for $19,980 after fees and insurance, Mr. Jones signed over his $1,000-a-month military pension for the next five years, a total of $60,000. That is the equivalent of paying interest at a rate of 56 percent a year.

Federal law prohibits retired military people from signing over their future pension payments to others. The companies offering these deals say they are arranged to avoid that restriction. But two federal bankruptcy judges ruled this year that deals like Mr. Jones's, in which veterans in need of quick cash give up their future pensions for a small fraction of their value, do in fact violate that law.

But the law has not been enforced or consistently interpreted. Indeed, the Defense Department's payroll centers routinely handle the paperwork that diverts the pension payments, even though veterans are warned "to exercise caution in these arrangements," a Pentagon spokeswoman said.

As a result, a small but persistent band of financial companies using military-sounding names continue to offer these so-called pension advances to retired military people over the Internet and in military newspapers.


More Good News on AIDS

The rate at which such breakthroughs are coming is truly remarkable, and I cannot help but be hopeful:
Israeli researchers say they have made a major breakthrough in helping the bodies of people with HIV/AIDS "recover" their immune systems.

Researchers from Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem have developed a new medication to significantly strengthen the body's immune system against the autoimmune aftereffects of HIV infection according the researchers report.

Even with widespread use of antiretrovirals which kills the virus, the immune system continues to kill healthy cells

But, the Hadassah researchers have discovered that there is an autoimmune process that continues unabated despite the fact that the patient is taking the cocktail, the university said in a statement late Tuesday.

The vaccine that the Hadassah scientists developed stops the continuation of the autoimmune process.


Bigotry Rules in Georgia

Hardly surprising, but still unfortunate:
The first test of Atlanta's gay rights ordinance may never make it to court. The man expected to become the next chair of the Georgia legislature's powerful House Rules Committee says he intends to bring in a bill to block the city from prosecuting Druid Hills Golf Club for denying spousal benefits to partners of gay members.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Sontag, R. I. P.

She was brilliant, although I agreed with her only some of the time. Her notions of imagery and fascism are insightful. Illness and Metaphor is genius, but AIDS and Its Metaphors betrayed her vision woefully.

But she lived a life of intelligence and honesty, and what better can be said of a person?
Author and activist Susan Sontag has died. She was 71 years old. News of her death came from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City Tuesday morning.


Philadelphia Restaurants?

I'm in Philadelphia for a couple more days, and have had some great food here. This post is a call for all residents and ex-residents of the city to suggest where I might go before I have to leave. I'm in Central City and have only the mobility of my feet.


Playing to Lose

Civil war is looking more nearly inevitable than ever, thanks to rising American desperation and incompetence:
Iraq faces the prospect of civil war as Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's government loses credibility and violence against U.S. forces increases, according to almost a half dozen former and serving administration officials.

In last Tuesday's suicide bombing attack at a mess tent at Mosul, 22 were killed -- 18 of them Americans -- and 50 wounded.

"We can't afford to keep taking that kind of hit," a Pentagon official said. "We can't afford it in terms of American public opinion, and it causes us to lose credibility with the Iraqi public."

Upcoming January elections will not improve the deteriorating security situation, these sources said, all speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitiveness of the topic.

Plus a new threat has arisen.

"We are starting to play the ethnic card in Iraq, just as the Soviets played it in Afghanistan," said former CIA chief of Afghanistan operation Milt Bearden.

"You only play it when you're losing and by playing it, you simply speed up the process of losing," he said.


The Psychological Toll

The casualties will continue to mount, long after we finally leave Iraq:

The Army's director of mental health policy, Col. Tom Burke, a psychiatrist, said the military has gotten much better at providing care and treatment - for example, offering more counseling when some soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., killed their wives after coming home from service in Afghanistan in 2002. But the stigma that psychological treatment carries is harder to address.

"Dealing with the stigma is an ongoing issue, a matter of educating soldiers, the chain of command and senior leadership that the treatments for mental health problems are much better than in the past," Burke said. "And that for the most part, these are problems with solutions, that soldiers with mental health problems are not the problem, that they can be treated and go back to work."

Burke said the military is teaching soldiers and commanders how to seek mental health help and to let them know there is no punishment for coming forward.

In a first-of-its-kind study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July, Army researchers said an anonymous survey of 6,201 Army soldiers and Marines found about one in eight who fought in Iraq had symptoms of PTSD - flashbacks, feelings of detachment, trouble concentrating, sleeplessness and more.

The survey also showed that less than half of those with problems sought help, mostly out of fear of being stigmatized or hurting their careers.

The problems may be worse than the study suggests because the nature of the conflict and the lengths of service have changed since the survey was conducted, said Dr. Matthew Friedman, executive director of the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in an accompanying editorial.

Protracted combat with insurgents can bring greater rates of psychiatric disorders than the type of conflict - a campaign for liberation - that was the initial goal in Iraq, according to studies from previous conflicts, he said.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Crap by Any Other Name

If any nation interfered with the elections of a nation in which we were interested, in a way that conflicted with our interests, we'd likely call it something like terrorism. But when we suggest that countries do it in our favor, it's just peachy:
Washington is pressing neighboring countries to persuade Sunnis in Iraq to vote in next month's elections, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Monday, the same day the top party from the minority group withdrew from the ballot.

Seeking to guide the elections from behind the scenes so that enough Sunnis turn out and give the new legislature legitimacy, the United States also suggested Iraqi leaders should give Sunnis government posts after the vote.

Shouldn't a real, critical media point out the conflict between "guiding from behind the scenes" and "legitimacy"?

Nah. That's just crazy talk.


Does This Surprise You?

You have to be completely naive, and think in hopelessly Manichaean terms, to be surprised by the fact that some of the reconstituted Iraqi army and police force might be anti-occupation:

The deadly suicide attack on a US military base in Mosul this week was an "inside job" carried out by insurgents who are part of the Iraqi armed forces, Asia Times Online has been told.

Sources said a strong nexus between Iraqi forces and the resistance is what allowed them to carry out the most devastating attack on US troops since the beginning of the invasion. US forces have imposed a curfew in Mosul and have launched a military operation in the city, but, the sources say, this will have little effect on the problem, for the simple reason that the US-trained Iraqi military is heavily infected with people loyal to the resistance groups.

Responsibility for the suicide bombing in the US mess tent was claimed by Islamist resistance organization Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah (JAAS).


Hard to Keep the Lies Straight

That's why I tend to tell the truth; it's just easier. But the great minds of the Bush administration think that sort of reasoning is pedestrian:

In either a gargantuan slip of the tongue or a momentous gaffe departing from the Bush Administration-approved timeline, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told troops in Iraq that the Sept. 11 flight over Pennsylvania was “shot down,” RAW STORY has discovered.

The quote was found in CNN’s transcript of a video of the Secretary’s visit to Camp Victory in Baghdad. The audio is available from National Public Radio (skip to 3:30) here.


Sunday, December 26, 2004

Exporting American "Democracy"

Or trying to, anyway. But those stubborn Iraqis are resisting the new American Way:
Iraq's election body rejected a suggestion in Washington it adjust the results of next month's vote to benefit the Sunni minority if low turnout in Sunni areas means Shi'ites win an exaggerated majority in the new assembly.

Speaking of "unacceptable" interference, Electoral Commission spokesman Farid Ayar said: "Who wins, wins. That is the way it is. That is the way it will be in the election."

U.S. diplomats in Baghdad, at pains to keep their role in the election discreet, declined comment on a New York Times report from Washington which said Sunnis might be granted extra seats if the community's vote was judged to have been too low.

It's the Age of Global American Shamelessness. Democracy is in need of defib.


Night of the Living Muslims!

In yet another proud moment for the great state of Tennessee, its citizens are behaving like ignorant yokels, fearing undead terrorists and diseased brown bodies:
Muslims planned to turn an old sod farm near Memphis into a cemetery, but angry neighbors protested, complaining the burial ground could become a staging ground for terrorists or spread disease from unembalmed bodies.

It was not the first time a group faced opposition when trying to build a cemetery or a mosque, but the dispute stood out for the clarity of its anti-Muslim rhetoric.

"We know for a fact that Muslim mosques have been used as terrorist hideouts and centers for terrorist activities," farmer John Wilson told members of a planning commission last month.


Welcome to Serfdom
The United States is helping the interim Iraqi government continue to make major economic changes, including cuts to social subsidies, full access for U.S. companies to the nation's oil reserves and reconsideration of oil deals that the previous regime signed with France and Russia.

During a visit here this week, officials of the U.S.-backed administration detailed some of the economic moves planned for Iraq, many of them appearing to give U.S. corporations greater reach into the occupied nation's economy.

For example, the current leadership is looking at privatizing the Iraqi National Oil Company, said Finance Minister Adil Abdel Mahdi.

The government, which is supposed to be replaced after elections scheduled for January, will also pass a new law that will further open Iraq's huge oil reserves to foreign companies. U.S. firms are expected to gain the lion's share of access in a process estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

"So I think this is very promising to the American investors and to American enterprises, certainly to oil companies," Abdel Mahdi said at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Tuesday.

He did not add, "It is also very promising for the future of the Iraqi people."

I wonder why that is...


The Heart of Blogness

That's right, I am, even as I type these words, in the city that produces Eschaton and The Rittenhouse Review. You can feel the sheer blogging greatness in the air. (Although that's not the reason I came to Philadelphia, truth be told; there's a minor event known as the Annual Convention of the Modern Language Association going on this week...)