Saturday, October 30, 2004

Best estimate of civilian casualties due to the Iraq war -- 100.000

A Reuters summary of a recent report from The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
contains some especially dreary, but not unexpected news. Other figures I've read now count from
13.000 to 15,000 plus Iraqi casualties in the war. The Hopkins study looks at "excess deaths" over
an eighteen month period, concluding that 100,000 is a reasonable estimate. These figures and the
human realities behind them are simply tragic.

Our national tendency is, of course, to ignore such data in favor of triumphalist high patriotism.
Even publicizing the number of American troops killed in combat (now well over 1,100) is
considered suspect. In the little village of Chatham, New York, near where I live, the mayor ordered
removal of a billboard and small yellow flags memorial that gave daily updates on deaths of U.S. soldiers.

Which of these deaths -- American, Iraqi, and others -- should we remember, mourn and honor?
If the answer is not "All of them," I'd like to know the reason why.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Jobs for U.S. programmers evaporate

During the presidential debates G.W. Bush held out the promise of community
college education for those who had lost jobs to foreign competition.
Remedies of this kind have long been preferred by American politicians and
businessmen, mainly because it places responsibility for economic pain on individuals,
(the victims) and deflects attention from more basic structural causes. Just upgrade
your skills, folks. Maybe become a computer programer rather than a factory
worker and you'll be fine. What such arguments overlook, of course, is that
the competition U.S. workers now face extends to job categories across a broad
spectrum, including what are often taken to be fairly sophisticated technical

Here's a story, "Endangered Species," by David Francis of the Christian Science
Monitor about the jobs in question.

"Say goodbye to the American software programmer. Once the symbols of hope
as the nation shifted from manufacturing to service jobs, programmers today
are an endangered species. They face a challenge similar to that which shrank
the ranks of steelworkers and autoworkers a quarter century ago: competition
from foreigners. ....

"Since the dotcom bust in 2000-2001, nearly a quarter of California technology
workers have taken nontech jobs, according to a study of 1 million workers
released last week by Sphere Institute, a San Francisco Bay Area public policy
group. The jobs they took often paid less. Software workers were hit especially
hard. Another 28% have dropped off California's job rolls altogether. They fled
the state, became unemployed, or decided on self-employment. ....

"Although computer-related jobs in the United States increased by 27,000 between
2001 and 2003, about 180,000 new foreign H-1B workers in the computer
area entered the nation, calculates John Miano, an expert with the Programmers
Guild, a professional society. "This suggests any gain of jobs have been taken by
H-1B workers," he says.

"H-1B visas allow skilled foreigners to live and work in the US for up to six
years. Many are able to get green cards in a first step to citizenship. Another visa,
L-1, allows multinational companies to transfer workers from foreign operations
into the US. ....

"H-1B and L-1 visas are "American worker replacement programs," says the
National Hire American Citizens Society."

Monday, October 11, 2004

Science labs for Iraqi insurgents

A little noticed a feature of the report released last week by CIA
weapons inspector Charles Duelfer finds increasing activity by
post-Saddam Iraqi insurgents interested in creatings, oops, weapons
of mass destruction. Evidently, this intense quest for WMDs was
inspired the U.S. occupation of the county (who would have
guessed?). From the SF Chronicle story on the matter:

"Insurgent networks across Iraq are increasingly trying to acquire
and use toxic nerve gases, blister agents and germ weapons against
U.S. and coalition forces, according to a CIA report, and investigators
said one group recruited scientists and sought to prepare poisons
over seven months before it was dismantled in June.

U.S. officials say the threat is especially worrisome because leaders of
the previously unknown group, which investigators called the "Al Abud
network, " were based in Fallujah in proximity to insurgents aligned with
fugitive militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The CIA says Zarqawi, who is
blamed for numerous attacks on U.S. forces and beheadings of hostages,
has long sought to use chemical and biological weapons against targets in
Europe as well as Iraq.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday, October 10, 2004

"To practice democracy? Are you kidding?" -- eye witness Baghdad

An unsettling picture of the situation on the ground in Iraq, the most telling I've
read recently, comes in an email from Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi.
Most of the U.S. press, including Fassihi's own paper, refuses to describe the
situation in this level of detail, preferring administration propaganda about the
puppet regime and coming elections.

"Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under virtual
house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance to
see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover their
ways and tell stories that could make a difference.

Little by little, day-by-day, being based in Iraq has defied all those reasons.
I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled
interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I can't
go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a conversation
with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in any thing but a full armored
car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be stuck in traffic, can't
speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't say I'm an American, can't
linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what people are saying, doing, feeling.
And can't and can't. There has been one too many close calls, including a car bomb
so near our house that it blew out all the windows. So now my most pressing
concern every day is not to write a kick-ass story but to stay alive and make sure
our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad I am a security personnel first, a
reporter second.
. . . . . .
"Despite President Bush's rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under
Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed
to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States
for decades to come.

Iraqis like to call this mess 'the situation.' When asked 'how are thing?' they
reply: 'the situation is very bad."

What they mean by situation is this: the Iraqi government doesn't control most
Iraqi cities, there are several car bombs going off each day around the country
killing and injuring scores of innocent people, the country's roads are becoming
impassable and littered by hundreds of landmines and explosive devices aimed
to kill American soldiers, there are assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings.
The situation, basically, means a raging barbaric guerilla war. In four days,
110 people died and over 300 got injured in Baghdad alone. The numbers are
so shocking that the ministry of health -- which was attempting an exercise of
public transparency by releasing the numbers -- has now stopped disclosing them.
. . . . . .
"I asked a 28-year-old engineer if he and his family would participate in the Iraqi
since it was the first time Iraqis could to some degree elect a leadership. His
response summed it all: 'Go and vote and risk being blown into pieces or followed
by the insurgents and murdered for cooperating with the Americans? For what?
To practice democracy? Are you joking?'"