Sunday, January 13, 2008

And the war drags on . . .

Almost five years into the destruction of Iraq, the orthodox rule of thumb for assessing statistical tabulations of the civilian death toll is becoming clear: any figure will do so long as it is substantially lower than that computed by the Johns Hopkins researchers in their 2004 and 2006 studies. Their findings, based on the most orthodox sampling methodology and published in the Lancet after extensive peer review, estimated the post-invasion death toll by 2006 at about 655,000. Predictably, this shocking assessment drew howls of ignorant abuse from self-interested parties, including George Bush ("not credible") and Tony Blair.
Now we have a new result complied by the Iraqi Ministry of Health under the sponsorship of the World Health Organization and published in the once reputable New England Journal of Medicine, (NEJM) estimating the number of Iraqis murdered, directly or indirectly, by George Bush and his willing executioners at 151,000--far less than the most recent Johns Hopkins estimate. Due to its adherence to the rule cited above, this figure has been greeted with respectful attention in press reports, along with swipes at the Hopkins effort as having, as the New York Times had to remind readers, "come under criticism for its methodology."
However, as a careful and informed reading makes clear, it is the new report that guilty of sloppy methodology and tendentious reporting -- evidently inspired by the desire to discredit the horrifying Hopkins findings, which, the NEJM study triumphantly concludes "considerably overestimated the number of violent deaths." In particular, while Johns Hopkins reported that the majority of post invasion deaths were due to violence, the NEJM serves up the comforting assessment that only one sixth of deaths in this period have been due to violence.
Among the many obfuscations in this new report, the most fundamental is the blurred distinction between it and the survey it sets out to discredit. The Johns Hopkins project sought to enumerate the number of excess deaths due to all causes in the period following the March 2003 invasion as compared with the death rate prior to the invasion, thus giving a number of people who died because Bush invaded. Post hoc, propter hoc. This new study, on the other hand,
explicitly sought to analyze only deaths by violence, imposing a measure of subjectivity on the findings from the outset. For example, does the child who dies because the local health clinic has been looted in the aftermath of the invasion count as a casualty of the war, or not? As CounterPunch's statistical consultant Pierre Sprey reacted after reading the full NEJM paper, "They don't say they are comparing entirely different death rates. That's not science, it's politics."

The above is from Andrew Cockburn's "How the New England Journal of Medicine Undercounted Iraqi Civilian Deaths" (CounterPunch) and Mia noted it. Cockburn explodes that hideous 'study' that shouldn't have been cited by anyone last week. Questions swirled around it's dubious claims. (Which is why we didn't note it.) It's an incredible article and you should read it in full.

And the deaths just keeping -- even if most of the press looks the other way. Julie notes Dr. Ceasar Chelala's "Iraqi Children Pay Heavy Price of War" (Information Clearing House):

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has painted a dramatic picture of the situation of children in Iraq and warned that increased assistance is needed to improve their dire situation. According to UNICEF, an estimated two million children suffer from poor nutrition, disease, and interrupted education. One child dies every five minutes because of the war, and many more are left with severe injuries.
Of the estimated four million Iraqis who have been internally displaced or who have left the country, one and a half million are children. For the most part, those remaining don't have access to basic health care, education, shelter, potable water, and sanitation.
Sick or injured children, who could otherwise be treated by simple means, are left to die in the hundreds because they don't have access to basic medicines or other resources. Children who have lost hands, feet, or other limbs are left without prostheses. Children with grave psychological distress are left untreated. This is the assessment of 100 British and Iraqi physicians.
According to UN Security Council Resolution 1483, both the United States and Great Britain are recognized as Iraq's occupying powers and as such are bound by The Hague and Geneva Conventions that demand that they be responsible not only for maintaining order, but also for responding to the medical needs of the population. The number of Iraqi children who are born underweight or suffer from malnutrition continues to rise and is now higher than before the U.S.-led invasion, according to a report by OXFAM and 80 other aid agencies. Iraqi children's malnutrition rates are on a par with Burundi, a central African country torn by a brutal civil war, and higher than Uganda and Bolivia.
Almost a third of the population, 8 million people, needs emergency aid, and more than four million Iraqis depend on food assistance. The collapse of basic services affects the whole population. Seventy percent of Iraqis lack access to adequate water supplies and 80 percent lack effective sanitation, both conditions breeding grounds for a parallel increase in intestinal and respiratory infections that predominantly affect children. Children are dying every day because of lack of essential medical support.

The above needs to be remembered as some sort of measure applying to some officers in the Baathist regime may be allowed back in if a law is signed. Jamie Gumbrecht and Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "The measure is the first big U.S.-promoted benchmark for Iraq's progress to make it through the country's fractious and often timid 275-member parliament. Other key legislative benchmarks, such as divvying up Iraq's oil wealth, have long awaited their action." al-Maliki installed into power to get things done! And, goodness, has he! So, it may be signed into law and when you consider that it's about three months short of two years since the puppet of the occupation was installed (by the US), you can assume that if signed, in two or so years, there may be an announcement that they're going to track the progress. Two years after, they'll announce that they've compiled data. And by the end of the next presidential term (US and I'm referring to Jan. 2013), we'll find out the success or failure of the effort -- most likely failure if it's buried so long -- and get promises of improvement. Meanwhile, Iraqis go without the basics such as potable water and food -- along with living in the daily violence caused by the illegal war. And that as Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) is reporting fourteen people were sick on Saturday from the water they drank -- police are attempting to determine the cause. And that as this month begins the cutting in half of the rations Iraqis have long dependended upon (because they were being punished with sanctions and bombs throughout the 90s). And let's tie all the above in this paragraph together. Around January 2013, they'll notice that IRIN's report today on the destruction of "thousands of hectares of agricultural land, putting dozens of peasant families at risk of being displaced" was indeed a problem and maybe the Shia-dominated government shouldn't have taken that land from the peasants just because Saddam Hussein allowed them to farm on it, but don't worry, they'll say, this is 2013 and we'll put it on our (really the US government's) list of benchmarks to get to. We'll hear that within a decade or two, US troops can come home! And there is peace in Iraq! (Mainly due to the fact that all the Baghdad government's 'enemies' have been killed by the death squads so pleasantly referred to as "security forces" in most of the press).

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 3910. Tonight? 3923 announced. Yes, that's 13 deaths announced since last Sunday. Today the US military announced: "One Multi-National Division – North Soldier died from injuries sustained when an IED exploded near his vehicle while conducting operations in Ninewah province Jan. 12. Additionally, four MND-N Soldiers were injured and evacuated to a Coalition hospital." Just Foreign Policy listed 1,163,944 as the number of Iraqi deaths since the start of the illegal war last Sunday, tonight

Staying with the violence


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad mortar attack left two people wounded and a Baghdad bombing left three wounded. Saturday McClathy's Mohammed Al Dulaimy reported two Baghdad bombings that wounded two people and a Diyala car bombing that wounded a child, an adult and two Iraqi soldiers.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports one person shot dead and another kidnapped in a BAghdad office (the kidnapped victim has been released), an armed Baghdad clash in which the Iraqi military and Iraqi police responded and they apparently shot at each other with 1 police officer dead and one soldier wounded and Nasr al Deen Hasan ("a doctor assistant") was shot dead Saturday outside Arbil. Saturday, McClatchy's Mohammed Al Dulaimy reported Sherwan Uthman ("liquor shop owner") was shot dead Friday night in Sulaimniyah while a police officer was shot dead Saturday in Nineveh. Reuters reports a woman was shot dead in a Mosul home invasion.


Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 4 corpses discovered in Baghdad today while Saturday Ayad Wali Mohammed's corpse was discovered in Jalawtaa. Saturday, McClatchy's Mohammed Al Dulaimy reported 2 corpses discovered in Baghdad. Reuters reports a corpse was discovered in Mosul on Saturday.

In Look Bambi Groupies, There Are Students Who Actually Do Something, Vic notes Jonathan Sher's "Student aims to recruit support" (London Free Press):

A student who's led protests against military recruiting at two London high schools has set his sights on banning the practice across Canada.
Martin Schoots-McAlpine, in Grade 12 at South Secondary, wants to set a path for protests he hopes will spur activism nationally.
"London may be an embryo of a group across Canada," he said.
With protests already at South and Banting secondary schools, Schoots-McAlpine, a self-described "non-denominational communist," is inviting those concerned with military recruiting at schools to meet at 3 p.m. today at William's Coffee Pub by Victoria Park.
Some may not share his interest in Karl Marx, or his belief Canadian workers are being exploited, but he says he welcomes them just the same.

Pru will have the final say but before we get to that. I had an awful fever and I'm sorry so many of you were worried that both this site and Third had nothing and assumed some awful tragedy had taken place. I was just sick (and dragged Third behind as a result). I could have posted an entry here hours ago if I wasn't still fogged in the brain (where I would think thoughts such as, "I should get something to eat" and then forget only to remember 15 minutes later -- I still haven't eaten today -- I'm calling it 'today' until I go to bed but even in my time zone, it's now past midnight). My apologies for that -- both worrying anyone and for not having anything up here in something that could reasonably considered timely (even for me). If everyone will overlook no links (I just want to go to sleep), Ruth didn't post her report here because she participated in the never-ending roundtable. Isaiah was supposed to be interviewed for this week's Third (and I'm sorry because in the piece I wrote Friday for today's Polly's Brew, I say be sure to check that out) but we cancelled that in the middle of the roundtable and, learning I was sick, Isaiah kindly said no comic so it would be "one less thing to worry about" posting. I think that covers everything on this end except, again, I apologize.

Now we get to Pru's highlight which offers an analysis of US candidates and of the past political climate in the US, from Great Britain's Socialist Worker, "US politics: are the Democrats any different?"

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's fight to be Democratic candidate for US president is exciting the media, but they and their party offer no hope to the US poor, says Martin Smith
The battle to see who will be the next president of the US began last week with the Democrat and Republican parties holding caucuses in the state of Iowa to begin choosing their candidate. The 2008 election is going to be the most expensive election campaign in history.
The candidates will spend $1 billion (£500 million) over the next ten months in the run-up to the election set for 4 November. In a country where one in six children go to bed hungry that money could feed them all for the next four years.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the two key Democratic candidates, have election war chests exceeding $100 million (£50 million).
War and neoliberal madness have been the hallmarks of George Bush's presidency. It is no wonder that millions of people, both in the US and around the world, will be hoping and praying that the Republicans don't get back in.
There is a real possibility that for the first time a woman or a black man could become the president of the US.
The idea that the Democrats are the lesser of two evils between the two main parties is a very popular argument in the US. Many on the radical left accept this as common sense.
Behind all the election razzmatazz, many are asking whether Clinton, Obama or any other Democratic presidential candidates are different from their Republican rivals and do they really offer the poor and working class of the US any hope?
Both Clinton and Obama offer some slight rhetorical changes from the Bush years. Both are pushing the idea of diplomacy instead of aggressive, unilateral foreign policies.
On the domestic front they even promise to roll back some of the tax breaks for the wealthy. But as one journalist on the Washington Post remarked, "Both candidates are offering the electorate as little as possible and their policies don’t even begin to undo the damage of eight years of George Bush."
On the key question of the war in Iraq, there is little hope for the anti-war movement. Clinton voted for the war and that is a decision that haunts her election campaign.
Obama is little better -- he is refusing to commit to withdrawing US troops from Iraq even by the end of the next president’s first term in 2013 and said he would be prepared to attack Iran.
There is a debate raging inside the US ruling class about how to get out of the debacle of Iraq while at the same time continuing to maintain their imperialist interests. The Democrats want to achieve the same aims as the Republicans but by different methods.
The media in Britain likes to paint the Democratic Party as a coalition of trade unions, civil rights groups, women's groups and single issue campaigns -- a Labour type party. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In Britain the Labour Party is still mainly funded by the trade unions. This is not the case for the Democrats. Around 93 percent of all US trade unions' political contributions go to the Democratic Party, yet this represents only 14 percent of Democratic funding.
Money from big business makes up as much as 67 percent of the money raised. At the 2004 presidential election, Democratic candidate John Kerry raised a staggering $187 million for his campaign.
The key donations came from some of the US's biggest corporations including Time Warner, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Microsoft and IBM.
These are the companies pulling the strings inside the Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party is a capitalist party representing the interests of the US ruling class. Of the top 13 corporate donations to the Democratic Party in 2004 over half gave to the Republicans as well. Some give exactly the same amount to both parties.
Big business influences the Democrats in a myriad of other ways. It funds many of the party's think-tanks and research units and advises Democratic candidates and politicians.
Once in office the record of the Democrats is no better than that of the Republicans. For example the balance sheet of Hillary's husband Bill Clinton's time in office from 1993-2000 does not make for happy reading.
The gap between rich and poor increased almost ten-fold. The number of federal prisoners nearly doubled. Clinton ordered US forces into combat situations as many times as his four previous predecessors combined and ended the federal welfare system – something right wing president Ronald Reagan could only dream of doing.
Hillary Clinton's attempts to talk up the successes of her husband's rule did not play well in last week's Iowa caucus, where she was beaten into third by Obama and John Edwards.
From its very inception the Democratic Party has been the second party of US capitalism.
The victory of the Northern industrial capitalists in the US Civil War of 1861-5 created a modern capitalist economy governed by two parties -- the Republicans and the Democrats.
The Republicans’ power base was the Northern industrialists and the Democrats represented the segregationist ruling elite of the South.
The loyalties of the working class were also divided.
Protestant workers and those black people who had the vote tended to support the Republicans, and the new immigrant workers, often Catholics from Europe, backed the Democrats.
Yet today the Democratic Party has a reputation as "the party of the people". This is largely as a result of the party's "Golden Age" of 1933-45.
The 1930s were a time of severe economic crisis and mass unemployment in the US. At one point one in four workers were unemployed.
Democratic president Franklin D Roosevelt introduced a number of important social reforms to counteract this massive crisis.
Roosevelt pulled together a "New Deal" coalition -- an alliance of trade unions, black people and the poor.
But behind it all was a massive realignment of business forces backing the Democratic Party.
This included capital-intensive industries, investment banks and internationally orientated commercial banks.
These corporations were in favour of Roosevelt's reforms because they were designed to save US capitalism and not challenge it. Roosevelt argued that he was the "savior of the system of private profit and free enterpise".
The reforms instituted during this period go a long way to explain why the trade unions today act as some of the Democratic Party's key supporters.
The explosion of the civil rights movement in 1955 and the Black Power movement in the 1960s created a challenge to the Democratic Party.
But through a series of skilful manoeuvres it was able to co-opt a significant section of the movement. Between 1964 and 1986 the number of black elected officials rose from 103 to 6,424. Today black people vote solidly for the Democrats.
The history of the Democratic Party shows that it is a very resilient organisation that has been able to incorporate mass movements and also govern in the interest of the US ruling class.
The Democratic Party offers no hope for the poor and working class of the US. This is why only around 50 percent of Americans will vote in the presidential elections in 2008.
Disillusionment with politicians in general is high and millions of Americans believe there is no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. They are right.
There is a need for a radical alternative. This is not a pipe dream. We have seen the possibilities of such an alternative developing in the past.
In 1920 a socialist named Eugene Debs won nearly one million votes when he stood for president. In the 1930s and 1960s there were real possibilities to create a radical alternative to the Democrats.
In 2000 the radical campaigner Ralph Nader won 2.7 million votes in the presidential elections.
Today what is needed in the US is a party that is going to address the massive economic inequality that exists in the richest country in the world and end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This would give hope to millions of Americans and a reason to vote. Clinton and Obama will never do this -- it goes against everything the big business backers of the party believe in.
The US ruling class has the best of both worlds -- both major parties represent its interests. The difficult task facing the US left and peace campaigners is to set about building a new party that truly represents working people.
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