Monday, October 29, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Dan Murphy uses Iraqi children to focus on himself, the Islamic State of Iraq claims credit for the wave of violence that hit Iraq over the weekend, the political stalemate continues, Law & Disorder Radio addresses torture, and more.
Between 2007 and 2010 in F[a]llujah, over half of all the surveyed babies were born with birth defects. Before the US-led invasion of Iraq, the figure was one in 10. In Basrah's Maternity Hospital, over 20 babies out of 1000 were born with defects in 2003, which makes the figure 17 times higher than it was in the previous decade.
There's more and the October 15th snapshot goes through some of the weapons used to turn Falluja into a toxic dump. Along with Press TV, others covering it back then included
So the first problem is Dan Murphy wants to inform, "As David Issenberg, whose post earlier this month brought the study to my attention, summarizes: [. . .]" This is what Dan Murphy meant to link to and Isenberg wrote it October 22nd. (And I would normally be nicer about this link issue but I'm not in the damn mood and I'll explain why shortly -- but let's point it out, Murphy can't even do a link correctly?). October 22nd? Eight days after the foreign press has started covering the latest findings?
Again, what is Dan Murphy? Is he reporter, is he columnist? He certainly has a lot of opinions for someone allegedly reporting. Biased opinions one could accurately argue that should lead to other people being assigned to topics. For example, when you say there's nothing to see here about an ongoing investgiation, your ass needs to be pulled from any coverage of that assignment. Readers no longer suspect you're slanting coverage, they now know you are. Murphy wrote a ridiculous report or column or whatever the hell it was on Friday.
But this tops it because Murphy's supposed to be 'foreign coverage' of the non-freelance set at the Christian Science Monitor. If you're covering foreign countries for the Monitor and doing it from the United States, I think most people would assume you'd follow foreign coverage. But while the Falluja and Basra birth defect story was getting massive foreign press coverage from outlets in England, Iran, Iraq, Russia, Ireland, Australia, Austria, Japan and France, the story never popped up on Murphy's radar. It took a US site called Public Intelligence Blog writing about it eight days after the world press had given it saturation coverage for Dan Murphy to become aware of it.
That's sad and that's disturbing.
On Thursday, he insisted there was nothing to see in the Benghazi attack. So I guess Senator Dianne Feinstein can call off her Committee's November 15th closed hearing? That was the stupidest comment to make because he's covered the topic for the Monitor. He can't cover it now. His bias was clear in that article which basically read: "Republicans are crazy! I love Barack." That's why the Christian Science Monitor is on it's last legs, by the way. The fact that this attitude, this bias, was evident for four years now. That's not how the Monitor made its name. But it is how the Monitor digs its grave.
Before we can get to the news of the children, we have to wade through garbage from Murphy. Does he (wrongly) think that he's the most important element of the story? Or that people give a damn about him? Instead of a focus on the children of Iraq, we get self-focused crap like this:
As a reporter, perhaps to my shame, I pushed aside pursuit of stories about cancer clusters or surges in childhood illness, since the reality of people's suspicions was unknowable, absent scientific study.
You're an idiot, Dan Murphy, you always were. You've repeatedly failed to be a reporter and show skepticism instead grabbing onto anything that a White House would feed you. Let's remember, it was Knight Ridder Newspapers, not the Christiain Science Monitor, that offered reports debunking the White House claims about Iraq in 2002 and 2003. There's a reason for that. Today Dan Murphy worships Barack. Prior to that, he worshipped Bush. (Even today, Murphy can't admit that Bush lied about Iraq. This despite Ambassador Joseph Wilson's disproving the Niger yellow cake assertion before it ever made it out of Bush's lips publicly -- this despite the witch hunt against Wilson's wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame). Reporters shouldn't worship any politician. Or, if they prefer, reporters shouldn't worship any office.
Murphy can get up-close-and-personal about himself but where in his writing are Iraqi children ever anything but a statistic? And not even illuminating statistics at that.
October 14th, we were covering the latest findings. 15 days later, Dan Murphy finally finds the story and has not one damn thing to offer other than statements about himself?
The study finds that, of central nervous system defects, the most common since the start of the Iraq War has been anencephaly. The Center for Disease Control explains, "Anencephaly is a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. It is a type of neural tube defect (NTD). These are birth defects that happen during the first month of pregnancy, usually before a woman knows she is pregnant. As the neural tube forms and closes, it helps form the baby's brain and skull (upper part of the neural tube), spinal cord, and back bones (lower part of the neural tube). Anencephaly happens if the upper part of the neural tube does not close all the way. This often results in a baby being born without the front part of the brain (forebrain) and the thinking and coordinating part of the brain (cerebrum). The remaining parts of the brain are often not covered by bone or skin. Unfortunately, almost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth." It is also known as an ONTD -- Open Neural Tube defect. St. Jude's Medical Center provides this means of reference, "Anencephaly and spina bifida are the most common types of ONTD, while encephalocele (in which there is a protrusion of the brain or its covering through the skull) is much rarer. Anencephaly occurs when the neural tube failes to close at the base of the skull, while spina bifida occurs when the neural tube fails to close somewhere along the spine."
I didn't realize that just typing "birth defect" would suffice. That's what Dan Murphy must believe judging by his bad piece. Today I was introduced to a woman who is a former Christian
Science Monitor-er by a friend (male) who is always good about calling out sexism. And she explained how awful her time at the paper was. How there was no interest in 'soft' stories and 'soft' was anything to do with women. She spoke at length about the hypocrisy of the paper's attempts this year to run with the 'war on women' Obama campaign spin considering how women and issues directly effecting women were treated.
And I'm not at all surprised. In 2006, I had a friend working for the paper and I said, "You are infantalizing Jill Carroll, you are destroying her. You need to stop this." Did they? Hell no. Jill Carroll, for those who don't know, was a reporter in Iraq, un-embedded, who was kidnapped. That the Christian Science Monitor worked towards her release (which does mean cash changed hands) did not mean they owned Jill. I have never before or since seen a news publication attempt to turn a reporter into "poor, pathetic, sad case." But that's what the Monitor did to Jill. Anthony Shadid gets kidnapped in Libya. He survives it and it's seen as a badge of honor. The Monitor turns Jill Carroll into "the naiton's most neediest cause." It was embarrassing and it was humiliating. It's no wonder she quit journalism after the way the Monitor portrayed her and the stories they made her co-write about her kidnapping. Co-write. She wasn't even 'strong' enough to write them by herself, in the paper's opinion.
In reality, not one damn word should have been written by her. She'd just been released. There was no reason -- other than to use her for circulation -- for her byline to be appearing. They took a reporter who was kidnapped and held for months and portrayed her as a tragic figure and made her co-write the stories. That's not healthy. It did not help her in the least.
But it flew because they wanted to sell papers and because that's how they see women.
Dan Murphy probably thinks he did something wonderful today, he mentioned "birth defects." He didn't report on them, he didn't detail them. He didn't accomplish anything. The takeaway from the column or report or whatever the hell that was is all about him.
Not once does he detail a birth defect. In this country, there are support groups for NTD and ONTD babies. They don't live a long childhood, the children born with these conditions. But there are support groups and many mothers and fathers talk about these children as a blessing and how the months they had with these children have meaning and tremendous value. I'm sure Iraqi parents feel the same about their children. But they also have a decaying health care system -- over 100 nurses were brought in from India in the last weeks alone because they have a nursing shortage in Iraq as a result of the "brain drain" which saw doctors, nurses and other professionals leave the country in high numbers. And they are still a country in the midst of a war. A special needs child is a blessing but it is a lot easier to have a special needs child when you have access to basic health care. Though Iraqis have a health care system that is supposed to guarantee care for all, the reality is that the wars and the US sanctions and the brain drain has left Iraq without the needed professionals, the needed equipment and the needed medical supplies.
You have a baby you hold in your arms whose skull has not formed and whose skull will never form. Your concern is making sure that your precious child's limited days are days of comfort and that's not going to be easy or maybe even possible in a country with an ongoing war and a medical system barely held together by band aids and tape.
Dan Murphy makes sure you know about him. He's just not so good about letting you know about the Iraqi children who were born with these birth defects or the parents they're born to.
I'm confused, what was the story he was supposed to be writing about -- Dan Murphy or Iraqi children?
But hey, the story broke October 14th. He's only had 15 days to come up with something worth writing, right?
Yesterday, Truthout ran Julia Kallas article for IPS about the same topic Dan Murphy covers -- well about the Iraqi children, not about Dan Muphy's own thoughts and writing about himself. And Kallas interviewed the University of Michigan's School of Public Health's Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist and the lead author of the latest findings. Excerpt.
Q: How is the local health care system coping with an emergency like this? And how can contamination management and medical care procedures be provided in these areas?
A: I know that the hospitals in the two cities that we studied are overstretched and as far as that is a concern there are ways to help these hospitals. We need to organise doctors, scientists and people who are professionals in this area to help clean up. Organise them, bring them to these two cities and get them to start working. However, all of that requires financial and other kinds of support. Financial and political support together will help to make that happen.
Somehow she managed to talk about needs without ever once exploring Dan Murphy's need to interject himself into the story, to put the spotlight on himself. It's a way of providing coverage that Murphy might want to try emulating. David Kenner (Foreign Policy) explains today:
These figures are wildly out of proportion to the prevalence of birth defects elsewhere in the world. Hydrocephalus, a build up of fluid in the brain, is reported in 0.6 infants per 1,000 live births in California. In Basra, reported cases of hydrocephalus occurred six times more frequently. Neural tube defects (NTDs), brain and spinal cord conditions, are reported in one infant per 1,000 live births in the United States. In Basra, it is 12 per 1,000 live births, "the highest ever reported."
Again, I know it's amazing, but Kenner manages to focus on the Iraqi children. Again, Dan Murphy should attempt to emulate this manner of providing coverage.
Turning to violence, Prensa Latina observes, "With Monday's sunrise, Iraqis viewed the desolate landscape left by the weekend bombing that killed 61 people, according to official reports."
Fars News Agency reports, "Al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq claimed responsibility on Monday for a series of shootings and bombings over the Eid al-Adha holiday that killed dozens of people nationwide." It's the Islamic State of Iraq. July 22nd, the Islamic State of Iraq released an audio recording announcing a new campaign of violence entitled Breaking The Walls which would include prison breaks and killing "judges and investigators and their guards." Since they made their July announcement there have been minor and major attacks throughout Iraq. Ashley Fantz (CNN) adds, "In the statement, the ISI claims that the Shiite Rafidi government have conducted a series of arrests that targeted Sunni women in order to pressure their relatives to surrender to authorities or to blackmail their relatives. Attacking during Eid was intended to deliver a message: You are not safe, even during a holiday built around peace."
So what are they claiming credit for?
Saturday AFP counted "at least 40 people" dead throughout the country from violence and many more injured. Deutsche Welle reported, "A sticky bomb' underneath a bus carrying Iranian Shiite pilgrims was detonated on Saturday, killing at least five passengers and wounding at least 19, according to Iraqi officials. Medics also confirmed the death toll. The passengers were reportedly travelling to a Shiite shrine in Baghdad for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha." It was part of what the UK Express described as "a string of bombings and other attacks primarily targeting the country's Shiite community on Saturday, leaving at least 40 dead in a challenge to government efforts to promote a sense of stability by preventing attacks during a major Muslim holiday." BBC News noted, "Twin bomb attacks in Baghdad's mainly Shia neighbourhood of Sadr City on Saturday evening killed at least 13. Hours earlier, a bomb near a playground in the Bawiya neighbourhood of the capital killed several people, including at least three children." Kitabat counted 23 dead and 32 injured in the two Sadr City car bombings. Press TV noted Mosul attacks "a total of seven people were killed and 10 others sustained injuries in three attacks, security and medical officials said. " Al Jazeera explained the target of the Mosul attacks were the Shabacks: "The Shabak community numbers about 30,000 people living in 35 villages in Nineveh, and many want to become part of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq."
In addition, All Iraq News noted bombings in southwest Baghdad which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left six more injured. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) provided further detail on the southwest Baghdad bombings, "On Saturday evening, a roadside bomb exploded on a busy road in the al-Jihad neighborhood of western Baghdad, wounding four people. When police arrived to investigate and to evacuate the casualties, another roadside bomb detonated, killing one policeman and wounding two others, police said." Alsumaria added a Mosul home invasion killed a husband and wife and injured four of their children, 3 male suspects were arrested at a Mosul checkpoint (they were dressed as women), the Peshmerga stopped a bombing of the shrine of Imam Ali Ibn Musa Reza in Tess village, 1 car dealer was shot dead outside his Baquba home, a Tikrit car bombing injured eight people as it targeted a government building, and the home of the brother of a Turkman official was bombing in Tuz Khurmatu.
And all of that was Saturday. Sunday was violent as well. Xinhua reported, "A car bomb was detonated in Baghdad's northern district of Kadimiya" leaving 13 people dead and another twenty-eight injured. AFP adds, "Earlier in the day, two bombings in the town of Madain, just southeast of the capital, killed two people and wounded 10." In addition, Alsumaria noted 2 police officers were killed and three more injured in Diyala Province, two people were injured in an Abu Vine mortar attack, and 2 people were killed and four left injured in a roadside bombing south of Baghdad. That's 19 people dead and 47 left injured.
That's what they'e claiming credit for. Now let's look at their statement again. IANS quotes them saying that Nouri's government "carried out recently a series of immoral and cowardly acts to arrest Sunni women to force their wanted relatives to turn themselves in, or blackmail their parents by fabricating charges against them. Such acts have increased recently, including arresting women from certain clans in south of Baghdad."
With that in mind, let's drop back to Wednesday's snapshot which noted Iraqi journalist Zia Medhi was murdred Monday in Baghdad. She started the day researching a story on Iraq's LGBT community. From the snapshot: Iraq's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory notes the investigative journalist was in Baghdad's Tahrir Square at ten a.m. Monday morning conducting meetings and interviews and she was also working on a story about prostitution and brothels in Iraq. She went to a police station to interview some of the 180 women arrested but a police officer prevented her from entering and he denied that there were any prostitutes among the arrested. He left and then moments later re-appeared telling her she could enter but without her colleagues. Zia Mehdi didn't feel comfortable with that offer and instead returned to Tahrir Square to continue her LGBT interviews. Later she was discovered dead, stabbed to death, still in her jacket that noted she was a journalist.
180 women held in Baghdad for prostitution. 180? Throughout the war, brothels have operated in and around Baghdad. But it's been low-key to avoid attention and the arrests that can come with attention. Doesn't 180 strike anyone as an extreme number for a city that every six months is attempting to stop the sale of alcohol? It struck Zia Mehdi as worth investigating. Maybe that's why she was stabbed to death last week.
Today Alsumaria reports that residential areas to the south of Tikrit were targeted with mortar attacks. All Iraq News reports that Balad also saw a mortar attack. Al Rafidayn notes a Mosul armed attack which left 1 police officer dead and two more injured. Alsumaria reports an Anbar Province roadside bombing left two Iraqi soldiers injured and a Ramadi home invasion resulted in the death of one tribal chief.
The Khaleej Times editorial board offers this assessment, "The rising incidence of bomb attacks in Iraq has paralleled the rising political rifts in the fragile democratic government. The ineptness of the fractious Iraqi government is clear; it has failed to exercise its control violence and exercise its writ. There's a real danger that Iraq will become the ungovernable in the future, as local forces continue to squabble and compete in the power vacuum left by the exit of the coalition troops."
And the political crisis continues. When Nouri al-Maliki created an eight-month political stalemate following the March 2010 elections because his State of Law came in second meaning no second term as prime minister for Nouri, the US ended the stalemate by brokering the contract known as the Erbil Agreement which was various concessions by Nouri in exchange for his getting a second term as prime minister. He used the contract to grab a second term and then he trashed the contract, refusing to honor it. This is what has created the ongoing political stalemtate.
In semi-related news, Steve LeVine (Quartz) reports on ExxonMobil's oil and gas deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government and observes, "Because of its size and history, when ExxonMobil makes a move, it tends to speak louder and create more ripples than its peers (in Quartz's geopolitical energy indicators, ExxonMobil is one of the Mountains). It was news a year ago when it was leaked that the company signed with Kurdistan. But now, by pulling away from Iraq, it deals a harder blow to Baghdad's prestige, while conferring more legitimacy on Kurdistan. Could this give the province a further nudge towards independence?" On economis, the troubled Greek economy was made worse for the people as various punishments were inflicted in the last years. Pan Plyas (AP) reports that an annual survey has found that "[o]nly Iran and Iraq are considered more risky than Greece [for investments] today, which also struggles to convince its international creditors that it deserves bailout loans to avoid bankruptcy and a possible euro exit."
And -- pay attention, Nouri -- you do not reassure the international business community by demanding that your current vice president be executed (as Nouri has done with Tareq al-Hashemi) nor by issuing an arrest warrant for the governor of your central bank (as Nouri's done with Sinan al-Shabibi).
Al McCoy: Let me address, first of all, the critical element of the normalization of torture. Most Americans are aware that vaguely, after 9-11, there were shows like 24, there were movies like Casino Royale and The Passion of the Christ that sort of had torture. But what they don't realize is that through the invisble tendrils that tie mass media to the state in any modern society -- Okay, the administration, the Bush administration, kind of signaled very directly to the American mass media -- just as they once signaled 'we're going all fight drugs' under [President] Ronald Reagan and back in the nineties now, 'torture is okay.' And so suddenly, intuitively, torture became omnipresent on screens large and small across America. The Parents Television Council said that, in the four years prior to 9-11, there were about 20 incidents a year of torture on broadcast television in the United States. In the five years after 9-11, there were about 150 incidents a year shown on broadcast television in the United States. And the context changed. Before 9-11, the people that tortured were bad guys like Nazis and Gestapo, okay? After 9-11, they were heroic federal agents like Jack Bauer on the show 24 who are using torture to defend America and save American lives. The show 24, which became enormously popular, with 12 to 15 million viewers per incident -- The show 24 had 57 portrayals of torture in the first five seasons it was broadcast. And in every case, what would happen is the heroic fictional agent Jack Bauer would be in some crisis situation, there would be a ticking time bomb about to go off, a nuclear bomb about to detonate in Los Angeles, he would torture some malfactor, extract the information and stop the atrocity. And then, the highest grossing of the 21 Bond films, Casino Royale, has a lurid, sexual torture scene with the actor Daniel Craig playing James Bond stripped naked and beaten about the genitalia in a really homo-erotic scene that while it's brutal is also darkly, sexually inticing. And then The World of Warcraft, when it came out in 2008, it had a neural needle to torture us, an evil sorcerer in the game. That game sold 3 million copies in the first days of it's release, you know? So onscreens large and small, torture was normalized for Americans and the results are very clear. Recent surveys show that approval for the most harsh of American torture techniques -- naked and chaining and water boarding -- doubled from 2005 to the present.
24 is no more. It lives on in syndication. But it's not filming new episodes. The awful Homeland is still in production. July 15th, Ava and I took a look at a variety of media platforms and observed: But reality will be lost by those who stream even a few moments of Prisoners of War. That's because the series isn't entertainment, it's propaganda. In the early sixties, when liberal artists felt shunned by the mainstream, they used films like Dr. Strangelove to convey messages. In this decade, it's conservatives who felt shunned and they've resorted to shows like 24 and Homeland. While the earlier group used humor to show what could go on, the newer group has only fear to offer. So Homeland tells American audiences that the US Marine who is finally back home, he may actually be a sleeper for Muslim terrorists. The X-Files warned you to "Trust no one," but really meant, "Don't trust the government." Howard Gordon worked on The X-Files and 24 and copied (though he prefers "created") Homeland. And with each new series, Gordon gets closer to the ugliness inside him that he wants to pretend is inside the United States. In Israel, Prisoners of War was an immediate hit and is now considered an Israeli-TV classic. That's not at all surprising for a country whose people are encouraged to hate and/or fear neighbors. Gordon apparently wants to do something similar within the US. It's not really working. Americans with Showtime have looked at Homeland and found it wanting. 21 million people legally have Showtime and yet the average Homeland episode couldn't even break 1.5 million in viewers -- despite repeat showings. And despite the usual idiots of the Water Cooler Set praising Claire Danes' bad performance which is all eye make up and grunts -- it's like sitting through The Mod Squad yet again. And that's good. It's good that the Howard Gordons haven't yet figured out how to sell hate and fear to a mass market. .
That piece of crap swept up awards and applause at the recent Emmys. It needs to be called out. Earlier this month, it was. The Independent of London noted:
Former hostage John McCarthy has questioned the violent scenes in US drama
Homeland and branded part of the show's plot "ridiculous".
In an interview with the Radio Times, McCarthy said the scenes showing US marine Nicholas Brody being questioned by the CIA after his transfer from Iraq were "an unrealistic portrayal of somebody re-entering society".
fairly snippety bits I've seen - it is absolutely grotesque and makes your stomach
churn. "I do fear we're not really appreciating the absolute horror of what someone's going through there. Anybody who has been severely beaten wouldn't see that as entertainment."
We need to be calling out this kind of 'entertainment.' By the same token, Olivia's repulsion on Fringe (very well played by Anna Torv) as she saw her daughter Etta (Georgina Haig) resort to torture to extract information and Olivia's success using empathetic interrogation instead deserves applause. (This was the second episode of Fringe this year, "In Absentia," written by J.H. Wyman and David Fury. Fringe is in its final season on Fox and airs Fridays during the second hour of prime time.) We need to call out the shows that promote torture and make those applauding them be ashamed. By the same token, when a show makes a point to call out torture, to refuse to treat it as the norm, we need to applaud it.