Sunday, February 15, 2009

And the war drags on . . .

Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) reports on unemployment in Iraq:

Among its findings: 28% of males age 15 to 29 are unemployed; 17% of women have jobs; and most of the 450,000 Iraqis entering the job market this year won't find work "without a concerted effort to boost the private sector."
The analysis was released by the United Nations' Information Analysis Unit and is based on government, banking, and other statistics from 11 U.N. agencies and four independent organizations.The statistics highlight the difficulties of luring foreign investment to Iraq and encouraging business start-ups in a country safer than at any time in the last five years, but still viewed as a risky endeavor by outsiders and by wealthy Iraqis who left during the war.

The staggering rate on jobless comes as Nouri al-Maliki sits on billions and billions of dollars and refuses to do anything to improve the lives of Iraqis. He did find time this month to cut the monthly budget for the Ministy of Women's Affairs from the already embarrassing $7,500 a month to $1,500 a month. And all of this takes place as AFP reports Nouri is purchasing $5.5 billion dollars worth of weapons from the US.

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 4239 and tonight? 4245. Today the US military announced: "BAGHDAD – A Multi-National Division – Center Soldier was killed by an improvised explosive device in southern Iraq today.
The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense." And they announced: "BAGHDAD – A Multi-National Division–Baghdad Soldier died from a non-combat related incident Feb. 14. The Soldier’s name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The incident is currently under investigation." Just Foreign Policy's counter finally moved up last week (after no updates since January 4th) to and an estimate of 1,311,696 killed since the start of the illegal war and finally updating their counter was so much work, they needed to take the week off.

In some of the weekend's reported violence (starting with Sunday) . . .


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that wounded two people, a second Baghdad roadside bombing that claimed 2 lives and left twenty people injured, a Mosul roadside bombing that injured one Iraqi soldier, a Mosul sticky bombing targeting provincial elections candidate Talab Muhsin Abbo which left him wounded and a Mousl grenade attack which left three people injured. Saturday Reuters noted a Mosul roadside bombing that claimed 2 lives and left four people wounded and another Mosul roadside bombing which left one Iraqi service member injured.


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 person shot dead in Mosul and 1 Iraqi solider shot dead in Mosul, while 2 police officers were shot dead in Moqdadiya (with two more injured) and 1 man shot dead in Baquba.


Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 corpses discovered in Bo Tima. Reuters notes 2 corpses discovered in Samarra on Saturday.

On the front page of today's New York Times, James Glanz, C.J. Chivers and William K. Rashbaum offer "Inquiry On Graft In Iraq Focuses On U.S. Officers." The article might have been better with only one writer and Glanz has covered the beat the longest, so it should have been. Is it possible that military officers, overseeing reconstruction, took bribes? It is very possible. Two names are listed that are under investigation of some form. I'm not interested in naming those two people because I don't see in the article that justifies them being named. That's a very serious charge to make, to assert that while someone was serving in the military, they were also profitting from it, lining their own pockets. It does happen. And the paper's covered one example of it very well -- from investigation on forward -- though they really weren't that when the conviction came in. But I'm looking at this article, reading it over three times and attempting to find a reason why two people -- not charged with anything -- are named? I'm not comfortable including those names here. If they are charged with something, we'll note it and that's different. But it really reads -- rightly or wrongly -- as if prosecutors who can't do their own job are hoping the press will do it for them, are hoping that a conviction can take place via the media and spur their case forward.

I could be wrong on that (and I'm wrong all the time) but that's how it reads to me and I'm not interested in floating the two names here. If you're interested, you can use the link and read the paper's article.

New content from Third:

Truest statement of the week
Truest statement of the week II
A note to our readers
Editorial: The simulated 'stimulus'
TV: Blustering Boys
Sadder Sirota
The Bronze Booby goes to . . .
The Cult of St. Barack
Go ask Phallus, Phallus Walker Red
It's coming . . .
Two things not to miss
Iraq roundtable

Kat's "Kat's Korner: Download The Good Stuff" went up tonight, Isaiah goes up after this. Pru notes "Charles Darwin's discovery" from Great Britain's Socialist Worker:

Alex Callinicos looks at the political controversies that still surround Charles Darwin, who was born 200 years ago, and founded modern biology with his theory of evolution
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. It is also 150 years since the publication of the book that made him world famous, indeed notorious – On The Origin Of Species By Means Of Natural Selection.
For a man who consciously cultivated scholarly obscurity and whose real claim to our attention is as a natural scientist, Darwin’s image is extraordinarily contested.
On the one hand, we have the benign sage portrayed in David Attenborough’s recent BBC special, Charles Darwin And The Tree Of Life. On the other, you have the Darwin who is under constant attack from the Christian right.
The Guardian recently trumpeted an opinion poll commissioned by the religious think-tank Theos. According to this “only” half the British population think that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is definitely or probably true.
Some 22 percent accept either creationism or “intelligent design” – in other words, they think that God directly created all the complex variety of living beings.
This is one reason why Darwin’s legacy is disputed. It has come under fire from those who campaign for “intelligent design” to be taught on equal terms with evolutionary theory at schools.
This is presumably why Attenborough devoted so much of his programme to carefully and vividly demonstrating how subsequent scientific research has confirmed the theory of evolution.
But Darwin is also suspected by many on the left. They fear that his ideas have served to legitimise a succession of reactionary ideologies.
These start with “Social Darwinism” in the 19th century – the attempt by various ideologues to prove that biological evolution justifies capitalist competition and the imperialist domination of “inferior” races.
Then, much more recently, there has been the development of sociobiology. This involves reducing the behaviour of human beings in society to the demands supposedly put on them by their genes.
The reactionary implications of this kind of approach are well brought out by Richard Dawkins’ portrayal of people as “lumbering robots” driven unconsciously by the “selfish genes” that use them as means for their reproduction.
None of this has much to do with Darwin. Social Darwinism was developed before The Origin Of Species was published, notably by the liberal sociologist Herbert Spencer, who coined the slogan “survival of the fittest”.
It usually relies on the very different, indeed incompatible, conception of evolution developed earlier by the French zoologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.
Nor was Darwin a racist. Adrian Desmond and James Moore, the authors of an outstanding biography of Darwin, have just published a new study, Darwin’s Sacred Cause.
They document how disgusted he was when confronted with slavery in South America during his five-year voyage on HMS Beagle in the 1830s.
Darwin developed the idea of evolution by natural selection after returning to England. In his notebooks he attacked the idea that black people belonged to a different species from whites: “Do not slave holders wish to make the black man other kind? From our origin in one common ancestor we may be all netted together.”
Indeed, at the core of Darwin’s theory is the idea that, not just human beings, but all living organisms, are “netted together” through the evolutionary process.
The Origin Of Species seeks to establish two basic claims. The first is that evolution, what he calls “descent by modification”, happens.
The Christian orthodoxy of Darwin’s day held that all the different kinds of plants and animals were “special creations”. In other words, God designed all the different species as we know them today.
The implication was that nature has no history. But by the middle of the 19th century this had ceased to be credible.
The development of geology revealed that the earth itself had a history, and also exposed, often buried deep in rock strata, the fossilised remains of extinct plants and animals.
It was an obvious conclusion that these were the ancestors of the present day array of plants and animals. But if living organisms evolved – developed and changed from one kind into another – how did this happen?
Enter Darwin’s second great claim, the theory of evolution by natural selection itself. This explained how evolution worked on the basis of three assumptions.
The first is that, according to Darwin, “many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive... consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence”. An organism’s chances of survival will depend on how well adapted it is to its environment.
Second, the individual members of a species differ slightly from one another. Moreover, they are able to pass these variations on to their offspring. Third, some of these differences will allow the organisms that possess them, in a given environment, to reproduce better than others.
What do these assumptions imply? Take a population of organisms belonging to the same species and living in a common environment.
The descendants of those organisms that develop variations that fit them better to that environment will become, over time, a larger proportion of the population.
Or, as Darwin puts it: “Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to any other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring.
“The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals which are periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection.”
One of the most important things about natural selection is that variations do not develop because they may fit the affected organism better to its environment. A creationist would say, for example, that the human eye was designed by God to allow us to see.
For Darwin, the eye develops through the “very slow, intermittent action of natural selection” – an almost endless process of minor modifications in different organisms each of which adapts the organism better to its environment.
The reason why each variation takes place is nothing to do with any conscious or unconscious purpose of increasing the organism’s chances of survival.
We now know that variations are caused by small, random changes in the genetic code – the strings of DNA modules that govern the manufacture of proteins as plants and animals develop – when they are passed on from parents to offspring. It is purely a matter of good or bad luck whether or not a variation helps or hinders the organism cope with its environment.
So evolution is blind, according to Darwin. It is the constant interplay between genetic mutations and environmental changes that leads to the proliferation of different species each representing a specific niche in the struggle for survival.
Darwin took the idea of the “struggle for existence” from the writings of Thomas Robert Malthus, the early 19th century economist. Malthus argued that there was a natural tendency for the human population to grow faster than the production of food. This made the division of society into rich and poor inevitable.
Darwin’s great contemporary Karl Marx commented: “It is remarkable how Darwin recognises among beasts and plants the English society of his day with its division of labour, competition, opening up of new markets, ‘inventions’ and the Malthusian ‘struggle for existence’.”
Darwin in fact said he used the idea of a struggle for existence in “a large and metaphorical sense”. Thus he argued that it may pit animals or plants not necessarily against each other, but against their environment:
“There must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life.”
Despite his criticisms of Darwin, Marx wrote that The Origin Of Species “is very important and serves me as a natural-scientific basis for the class struggle in history”. Indeed, at Marx’s funeral in 1883, his great friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels compared the two men.
He was right to do so. Marx dethroned all the kings and queens, the great men and women of history. He showed how societies change as a result of the conflicts that develop in the way in which they organise production.
Darwin dethroned God. He allowed us to see all the variety and richness of life as nothing to do with divine purpose, as the result of a blind process of natural selection. As he puts it in the final paragraph of The Origin Of Species, “There is grandeur in this view of life.”
There is a vast literature on the implications of Darwin’s biological ideas for left wing politics.
Viren Swami wrote a three column series for Socialist Worker examining evolution and society. You can read them at
» There’s no ‘intelligent design’ for life
Also well worth reading is Paul McGarr’s overview of the work of biologist Stephen Jay Gould, which surveys contemporary debates in evolutionary theory.
It appeared in the International Socialist journal and can be found online at
© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.
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