Saturday, March 17, 2007

Stateless Refugees

When you ain't got no home, you're fucked.
Hameda Um Firas has lived most of her 70-odd years as a refugee -- now she is stranded in a tent again at Iraq's border with Syria where hundreds of Palestinians have fled to escape violence in Baghdad.

"We escaped in fear of our lives. My granddaughter was decapitated by a missile attack and our sons were killed, we fled Iraq to spare our lives," she said, barely able to contain tears of anger at Arab countries she said should be helping.


While the numbers are relatively small, van Genderen Stort said the Palestinians were in a uniquely difficult situation because without passports they can not go to Syria, Jordan or other neighbouring countries where many Iraqis have fled.

"The difference with Palestinians is they have nowhere to go," she said. "A lot of them have expired identity papers which the Iraqis are not extending because it's not their priority."

"They're in a Catch-22. They're targeted, they have death threats, they have these raids, but they can't flee and when they flee they either have to do it illegally or they are stuck at the border," she said.


Killed in Action

Sgt. Ashly Lynn Moyer is interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Moyer, 21, of Emmaus, Pa., was killed March 3 with two others while driving a Humvee in a convoy on patrol in Baghdad, said her mother, Jane Drumheller of Milford, Pa. An improvised explosive device detonated the armored vehicle's gas tank, engulfing Moyer and two other sergeants in flames, Drumheller said. Ammunition fed the fire.


A U.S. helicopter pursued four men in a car believed to have detonated the bomb and "took care of them," Drumheller said she was told. "It is sort of gratifying, yes," she said. "But it doesn't help in the end. It's just sad all around."


Drumheller said that her daughter lacked direction as a teenager but that joining the Army after high school helped focus her. She spent a year at the Guantanamo Bay military base before being sent to Germany and then Iraq. She did not like Iraq, her mother said. "She didn't quite understand what she was doing there, but she was doing it because it was her job."


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Iraq Veterans Memorial Technical Difficulties

As advertised, Unsolicited Opinion is hosting the Iraq Veterans Memorial. The memorial may actually appear on this site but so far, every set of code emailed to me has failed. I've tried various ways but haven't found anything that works so far.

In the meantime, please visit the memorial. It is a video remembrance of the men and women who have given their lives in Iraq. On this fourth anniversary of the war, it is right to remember all who have sacrificed.

Most of America's wars didn't last long enough to begin a fifth year of active combat. By the fourth anniversary of 7 December 1941, Japan and Germany had both surrendered. Four years after the attack on Fort Sumpter, our own civil war was over. By my reckoning, only the American Revolution and Vietnam saw active combat into a fifth year.

This generation of service men and women has sacrificed much. Please remember them in your thoughts, prayers, meditations or whatever your reflective and spiritual practices may be.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Killed in Action

Staff Sgt. Paul M. Latourney is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Staff Sgt Latourney, 28, of Roselle, Ill., died March 2 in Baghdad when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during a combat patrol, according to military officials. Spec. Luis O. Rodriguez-Contrera, 22, of Allentown, Pa., also was killed in the explosion. Both soldiers were members of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Calvary Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Calvary Division from Fort Hood, Tex.

"There wasn't a more noble person. He had the biggest heart you could imagine."


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Not Iraq

[My partner, ShopVac Maggie, often reminds me that I am obsessed with the Iraq war. Not that I need her to remind me. Nonetheles, she is right that too much war can do a body no good. Today I try my hand at economics and philosophy. Surely, that will be a more uplifting exercise.]

Timothy Noah has been writing some interesting pieces on health care in Slate. His most recent column is about political reality and market forces. He questions whether a fully free market approach can actually meet health needs. An earlier column looked at how the health care market system might provide another serious need: national security and defense. Predictably, the well off rich are well protected with private militias. Others have varying levels of coverage and sometimes find themselves scurrying to seek what protection they can, at whatever cost, when they are attacked. Noah's market critique is definitely outside the box in American political thinking but he is right to challenge market orthodoxy.

Challenge and change is the hallmark of capitalism and the source of its dynamism. In many ways capitalism is the most revolutionary system because, other than profit and gain, everything is open to question. We sometimes look beyond profit and acknowledge the occasional Greater Good, but at its heart, capitalism is based on self-interest.

Capitalism is also inherently flexible; it rewards what works and is suited to individual effort and large scale enterprise. The combination of flexibility and reward has enabled capitalism to change and resopond to new circumstances and avoid the inevitable fate predicted by Karl Marx in 1848. That danger still exists as capitalists, ever seek greater profit. In capitalism, “it’s always better to pay less” so poor working conditions, pollution or one-sided contracts improve the bottom line. It’s the nature of the system. Like water flowing downhill.

The world has had two centuries experience with capitalism, which emerged from The Enlightenment and influenced industrial growth. Capitalism also supported the idea of political liberty in a system where every person (starting with white males) could pursue his own interests. In 200 years of capitalist development and practice, wealth has grown immensely. In some places and times, the wealth is shared but often not. Self interest can easily justify keeping ever more of the growing wealth, often to the detriment of many others and society as a whole.

That’s why Noah’s questions are appropriate. After Iraq, few issues are as important or critical to America than health care. Noah offers good information and a rarely discussed perspective on health care along with some sharp questions.

Questioning orthodoxy is as American as Twinkies. Americans should question more. A lot more.

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Iraq Veterans Memorial

This site will be hosting the Iraq Veterans Memorial beginning March 17. The memorial is a video remembrance from Brave New Films to honor the servicemen and servicewomen who have lost their lives in four years of war and occupation in Iraq.

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Brave New Films even sent me the trailer and I am dutifully posting it, along with some of the code that accompanies it. The errant code demonstrates my lack of proficiency in blog imagery. I think it adds a human touch to this hi-tech medium

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Killed in Action

Chief Warrant Officer Hershel McCants Jr. comes home to Arlington National Cemetery.

McCants, 33, an Oregon native, was on a transport mission, co-piloting a twin-rotor Chinook helicopter Feb. 18, when the aircraft went down in southeastern Afghanistan. Five Night Stalkers, including McCants, and three other special operations personnel were killed in the crash, which military officials have blamed on the aircraft's "sudden, unexplained" loss of power


Scott Nowicki, who served with McCants in an Army medical unit at Fort Lewis, Wash., ...[praised]... McCants's skill and professionalism as a pilot during training missions and rescue operations.... "Dan was rock steady and the aircraft hovered as if it were sitting on solid ground," Nowicki wrote, hailing McCants as "a true Special Operations quality pilot."



Tuesday, March 13, 2007

L'Iraq n'est pas le Viêt Nam

The New York Times reports on drug and (mainly) alcohol abuse in the military:
A Pentagon health study released in January, for instance, found that the rate of binge drinking in the Army shot up by 30 percent from 2002 to 2005, and “may signal an increasing pattern of heavy alcohol use in the Army.”

While average rates of alcohol consumption in the Navy and Air Force have steadily declined since 1980, the year the military’s health survey began, they have significantly increased in the Army and Marine Corps and exceed civilian rates, the Pentagon study showed. For the first time since 1985, more than a quarter of all Army members surveyed said they regularly drink heavily, defined as having five or more drinks at one sitting.


Though the Pentagon has spent millions of dollars on several initiatives to reverse the trend, including a new Web site that deglamorizes drinking, financing to combat alcohol abuse has fallen over time, a Pentagon spokesman said.


But at a time when the military is fighting two major ground wars, the often serious consequences of heavy drinking has emerged with increasing clarity as more troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health problems, military officials and mental health experts said.

“I think the real story here is in the suicide and stress, and the drinking is just a symptom of it,” said Charles P. O’Brien, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who served as a Navy doctor during the Vietnam War. There is a high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder among Iraq veterans, he said, adding that “there’s been a lot of suicide in the active-duty servicemen.”

Gee, I wonder why soldiers would do all that? Muliple rotations to a war zone where every civilian is a possible enemy. Ever decreasing down time between deployments. Always training for the next rotation. Equipment shortages. Seeing your friends die in a country where everyone hates you. A war that goes on and on. Stop loss. Imagine having all that in your life. Drink, drugs and the oblivion of suicide may be a perfectly rational response.

This war has given me a whole new perspective on my service in Vietnam. It was a big deal at the time but the real danger, the mind-numbing dehumanization only lasted for a year(and I even dodged some of that). My entire Army career was 18 months total. (I was in the Individual Ready Reserve for a few years but unlike these days, IRR was never called up.) My Vietnam legacy has lasted a lifetime but that's mostly in my head. I don't have to dodge bullets and stay hyper alert for those moments of chaos and terror that will change the world forever. Hell, I was done at 24. I'm not a43 year old reservist with a job or business trying hold together some semblence of a normal life for a family that could be left totally on its own. This generation of soldiers and Marines has it far worse than I did. They are now the longest serving American combat troops since the Civil War.

In Vietnam we drowned our fears in alcohol and drugs. I see no reason to be surprised that this generation is doing the same thing under far more destructive circumstances.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Please Allow Me to Introduce...

CheneyBush, previously known in this space as BushCheney. I have always believed that the George W. Bush administration is a collective effort led by Cheney and fronted by George. Hence, the collective name BushCheney. From now on he is CheneyBush in this space.

The new name came as a result of the Lewis Libby trial where the world saw Cheney as a manipulator and schemer. I thought a man of his influence deserved more recognition. The new name also sounds much less like a bumper sticker. I hope it will be sufficiently jarring to make people think about who actually runs our government.

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste.
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste.


Harsh Words and Hair Triggers

Perhaps the best reason to read the Washington Post is coverage of politics, procedure and process. Sunday’s story on the clash of American bureaucracies and experts over government food distribution in Iraq is a classic example of the intersection between politics and operations. The article is filled with bulldog determination by the Department of Commerce, countermeasures by the State Department and some great quotes and observations. My favorite is about the response to yet another proposal to eliminate food rations,

...officers convened a working group composed of representatives from the economic section, the planning office, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. military command and the State Department's Iraq Reconstruction and Management Office. No Iraqis were invited, according to the two embassy officials. (emphasis added)

My first thought is that Americans are making fundamental decisions about Iraq without involving the Iraqis. Nothing new there, actually. My second thought is “What the hell is the Commerce Department doing in Iraq?. I could have sworn that was mostly domestic US stuff.” Then I remember that this IS the CheneyBush Administration, where every action is designed to support the Leader’s “reality” in Iraq. Commerce may have some role in reconstruction, much of which involves economics and commerce, but the input should flow through the people who are on the ground and responsible for Iraq. Always trust the grunts, the ones whose lives are at risk, to understand the situation best. And you don’t want to be distracting them too much. They are fighting a real war. Once things improve–just ignore the steadily increasing violence and failed promises, CheneyBush surely has the right policy THIS time–then maybe, you can pursue your utopia for Iraq. Assuming that country will ever be safe for Americans in our lifetime.

At least the Iraqis invited the US to their international conference on security. Not that Iraq could have ever initiated the conference without American acquiescence. Nor would they want to exclude the nation with the most destructive firepower in the region. It would be like ignoring Iran. Simply meeting together in one place is a visible reminder that Iraq is an international concern; many nations have a stake in this Great Game. No solution will be viable without the consensus and support of the nations represented in that room. I hope they keep talking. I hope they figure something out.

Because the United States is on hair trigger alert in the region. We have two carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf, another in the region. American special forces are reported to be active in Iran. We accuse the Iranians of supporting Iraqi insurgents. I see all this and I think August 1914, when the Balkan match ignited World War I. I think August 1964 when American actions in North Vietnamese waters precipitated a minor incident that was the excuse for a war that should never have been fought.

Since Vietnam, I am wary of armed Americans. In combat we would explode firepower at anything that moved, maybe even call in gunships and airstrikes. It was a terrible violence we brought. It kept folks away from us, which I guess was good. I’ve seen Americans do the same thing in Iraq at check points, killing whole carloads of Iraqis with massed fire. I can only imagine what one of those carrier groups would do if it went off with the same hair trigger. With such a massive build-up and escalating rhetoric, the opportunities for an incident increase exponentially. Surprisingly, some Americans think war is still a good idea. The neo-cons who bungled Iraq so badly believe that attacking Iraq would strengthen America’s security. Why any of the rest of us who object to war and waste, listen to these armchair generals is beyond me. Two failed wars should be enough for any nation. Unfortunately, the man who controls the trigger to America’s terrible violence listens to these false prophets and his own private God.

That’s why the rest of the world must keep talking and stand down the bellicose rhetoric. That’s why Americans should stop listening to the warmongers and begin listening to the world.

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