<\body> Stories in America: February 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Three Trillion Dollar Occupation

In figures:

The amount the US spends on the monthly running costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - on top of regular defence spending

The amount paid by every US household every month towards the current operating costs of the war

The amount Halliburton has received in single-source contracts for work in Iraq

The annual cost to the US of the rising price of oil, itself a consequence of the war

$3 trillion
A conservative estimate of the true cost - to America alone - of Bush's Iraq adventure.

Cost of 10 days' fighting in Iraq

$1 trillion
The interest America will have paid by 2017 on the money borrowed to finance the war

Monday, February 18, 2008

Poverty is Poison

From Paul Krugman:
“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.

So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.

L. B. J. declared his “War on Poverty” 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.

But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.

In 2006, 17.4 percent of children in America lived below the poverty line, substantially more than in 1969. And even this measure probably understates the true depth of many children’s misery.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

This is stability?

By Patrick Cockburn:
People in Baghdad are not passive victims of violence, but seek desperately to avoid their fate. In April 2004, I was almost killed by Shia militiamen of the Mehdi Army at a checkpoint at Kufa in southern Iraq. They said I was an American spy and were about to execute me and my driver, Bassim Abdul Rahman, when they decided at the last moment to check with their commander. "I believe," Bassim said afterwards, "that if Patrick had an American or an English passport [instead of an Irish one] they would have killed us all immediately."

In the following years, I saw Bassim less and less. He is a Sunni, aged about 40, from west Baghdad. After the battle for Baghdad between Shia and Sunni in 2006, he could hardly work as a driver as three-quarters of the capital was controlled by the Shia. There were few places where a Sunni could drive in safety outside a handful of enclaves.

What happened to Bassim was also to happen to millions of Iraqis who saw their lives ruined by successive calamities. As their world collapsed around them they were forced to take desperate measures to survive, obtain a job and make enough money to feed and educate their families.

In the US and Europe, the main measure of whether the war in Iraq is "going well" or "going badly" is the casualty figures. The number of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians being killed went down to 39 US soldiers and 599 Iraqi civilians in January. The White House is promoting the idea that the United States is finally on the road to success, if not victory, in Iraq.

Friday, February 15, 2008

38 women accuse Halliburton/KBR of rape

A Houston, Texas woman, who says she was gang-raped by her co-workers at a Halliburton/KBR camp in Baghdad, says 38 women have come forward through her foundation to report their own tragic stories to her, but that many cannot speak publicly due to arbitration agreements in their employment contracts.

After months of waiting for criminal charges to be filed, Jones decided to file suit against Halliburton and KBR.

KBR has moved for Jones' claim to be heard in private arbitration, instead of a public courtroom, as provided under the terms of her original employment contract.

Halliburton, which has since divested itself of KBR, says it is improperly named in the suit and referred calls to KBR.

Marines in Japan investigated for rape

From the AP:
U.S. military authorities held preliminary hearings Friday to determine whether four Marines who had been charged with raping a Japanese woman last year should be court-martialed.

The four U.S. Marines — accused of an attack on a 19-year-old woman in October — were charged by the military in December, said Master Gunnery Sgt. John Cordero of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni in southern Japan.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Bush lawsuit: Vets have no legal right to medical care

Support the troops:
Veterans have no legal right to specific types of medical care, the Bush administration argues in a lawsuit accusing the government of illegally denying mental health treatment to some troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The arguments, filed Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco, strike at the heart of a lawsuit filed on behalf of veterans that claims the health care system for returning troops provides little recourse when the government rejects their medical claims.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is making progress in increasing its staffing and screening veterans for combat-related stress, Justice Department lawyers said. But their central argument is that Congress left decisions about who should get health care, and what type of care, to the VA and not to veterans or the courts.

Five Years Ago: Colin Powell's Misleading Speech

From the Columbia Journalism Review. The liberal media apparently forgot about Colin Powell's infamous presentation:
Amidst Super Tuesday hoopla, it’s worth remembering that today is the five year anniversary of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation before the United Nations. This speech moved the U.S. closer to invading Iraq more than any other single event of the period.

All in all, the press telegraphed Powell’s claims with far too little skepticism. Of course, we now know that not only was much of what he said false, but that even Powell’s own intelligence analysts warned ahead of time that many of his central claims were weak.

In a 2004 CJR piece, Gilbert Cranberg recounted his multi-agency odyssey of trying to track down one deception from that day. Why did Powell create and add incriminating phrases in his dramatic reading of what purported to be an incriminating Iraqi radio exchange?

Five years later, and still no answer. That is, except the obvious one: the truth was nowhere near as damning as the administration needed it to be.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Another woman says she was raped and assaulted by Halliburton employees

A mother of five who says she was sexually harassed and assaulted while working for Halliburton/KBR in Iraq is headed for a secretive arbitration process rather than being able to present her case in open court.

A judge in Texas has ruled that Tracy Barker's case will be heard in arbitration, according to the terms of her initial employment contract.

Barker says that while in Iraq she was constantly propositioned by her superior, threatened and isolated after she reported an incident of sexual assault.

Barker's attorneys had argued that Halliburton/KBR had created a "boys will be boys" atmosphere at their camps and that sort of condition is not the type of dispute that she could have expected to be within the scope of an arbitration provision.

District Judge Gray Miller, however, wrote in his order that "whether it is wise to send this type of claim to arbitration is not a question for this court to decide."

"Sadly," wrote Judge Miller, "sexual harassment, up to and including sexual assault, is a reality in today's workplace."

Barker says it was a reality at Halliburton/KBR. From the moment she arrived at the Halliburton/KBR camp in Basra, Iraq, she says she was treated like a sex object.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

This week on Your Call Radio

Here's what's coming up on Your Call, a live call-in radio show. Listen from 11 am - noon PST on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco or online. You can also podcast the show.

*Monday - How do the presidential candidates differ on military spending, the global economy, and trade?

Military spending in the U.S. ($623 billion) exceeds the rest of the world combined, yet the candidates are rarely, if ever, asked about it. On Monday, the Pentagon will release its proposed 2009 budget of $515.4 billion. The Bush administration has increased baseline military spending by 30 percent. Will this change under an Obama or Clinton administration?

Guests: Chalmers John son, author of "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic," and Todd Tucker, research director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch.com: "Going Bankrupt"

Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com: "The bipartisan consensus on U.S. military spending"

Iowa Fair Trade Campaign: Where do the candidates stand on trade?

*Tuesday - Who'd you vote for and why?

*Wednesday - We'll analyze the primary results

*Thursday - A conversation with Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto - Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants!

*Friday - Media Roundtable - How did the media cover this week's news?

The most dangerous country in the world for journalists

This is from Patrick Cockburn, a journalist who has actually been to Iraq, not a talking head who doesn't know the meaning of progress:
Iraq confirmed its reputation as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists this week when a roadside bomb killed an Iraqi television cameraman, Alaa Abdul-Karim al-Fartoosi, the first journalist to be killed in Iraq this year and the 126th since the start of the war.

The great majority of the journalists killed--104 out of the total--were Iraqi. Thirteen were European and two were American. In addition, 49 media support workers have also been killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.

Iraqi journalists have died in almost every circumstance and at many hands. Sometimes there were direct attacks on buildings in which the media worked, such as the suicide bomber who drove a refuse lorry packed with explosives into the entrance of Baghdad TV's offices on 5 April 2007, killing the deputy director, Thaer Ahmad Jaber.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Cost of U.S. Wars

HISTORICAL COSTS OF U.S. WARS (In 2007 Dollars) from The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

World War II $3.2 trillion
Iraq and Afghanistan To Date $695.7 billion
Vietnam War $670 billion
World War I $364 billion
Korean War $295 billion
Persian Gulf War $94 billion
Civil War (both Union and Confederate costs) $81 billion
Spanish-American War $7 billion
American Revolution $4 billion
Mexican War $2 billion
War of 1812 $1 billion

Source: Congressional Research Service and Office of Management and Budget data.