Friday, September 02, 2005

 

Gives me the creeps

From the Guardian:
A series of explosions were reported at a chemical plant in New Orleans today as hundreds of US troops with orders to shoot-to-kill looters and gunmen were sent to the flooded city.

Kathleen Blanco, the governor of Louisiana, said: "They have M-16s and they're locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill ... they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will."...

... Mr Bush said he approved the "zero tolerance" policy towards looters.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

 

Katrina

This report from New Orleans by Julian Borger of the Guardian is brutal reading.
Most people had heard that there was a plan to bring buses into New Orleans and evacuate people from the Superdome, the huge arena whose badly tarnished gold roof loomed over the intersection. Salvation seemed so close. It was only a hundred yards away, but surrounded, like some brooding castle, by its own moat of deep floodwater.

Elisha James had spent the night in the lobby of a rundown block of flats calling itself the Plaza Towers. Along with her boyfriend and his seven-year-old daughter, they had been trying to get to the Superdome since 5am, but were turned back by police manning checkpoints, who told them it was too dangerous.

"The police said you were on your own," Ms James said. "If you're not in the Superdome, you're on your own."

After sitting out Hurricane Katrina, she and her small family had fled from her mother's house when the waters began to rise on Tuesday evening. They had no water and little food left.

Ms James, like most of the people left on the streets, felt she had been forsaken by whoever was in charge. There was talk of rescue efforts, but no one had come for her. "We made a fire in the night so they could see us, but they went past us several times," she complained. "We saw seven or eight trucks, and most had no one on them."

A SWAT team drives past flood victims waiting for rescue in New Orleans. (AP)


As if to illustrate her point, a convoy of six military lorries drove by at that moment, their drivers looking straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge the entreaties of those left on the pavement. They were empty, apart from some cardboard boxes of water bottles. Their high, thick wheels kicked up water on both sides.

"There are people who've been sleeping here for two nights now," she said, pointing to a Greyhound bus station that had become a makeshift shelter for the desperate.

Then she pointed up to a multi-storey carpark and cried: "A lady went into labour up there and no one came. We could hear the screams."

She and her small knot of dependants moved on as the day got hotter and stickier. A police helicopter had landed on a dry car park nearby and a murmur went round that perhaps something was about to happen. But it took off again and the Superdome looked as far away as ever.
You know, having read about the Great Depression and the Hoovervilles of refugees, I don't think I could ever comprehend it until now. This isn't some prediction that the Katrina refugees are going to move up to Washington -- please don't mistake this for that. On the other hand, the three lead headlines on the Washington Post website yesterday were about (1) the Katrina disaster (2) the awful deadly stampede in Iraq and (3) Bush's approval numbers being at the lowest they've ever been. There are tens of thousands of people who will not be able to return to their homes for months. There are probably thousands who have nothing to speak of to return to. This is quite literally unlike anything that's happened in the U.S. in my lifetime. Furthermore it's happened at a time of increased political and economic tension. So the idea of shanty-towns on the Potomac no longer seems inconceivable to me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

 

Class Warfare and Aunt Deb on the Internets

Aunt Deb wrote me an email today titled "What I learned on the internets today" -- here it is:
Number of articles touting the Bush Boom found on Nationalreview.com:
44

Change in median income 2001-2004: -$673

Change in number of Americans in poverty: +4.1 million

Change in number of Americans without health insurance: +4.6 million


Boom on!!
She also sent me an article on this report from the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economic on the ratio of CEO pay to average non-management worker pay. Can you guess what that ratio might be? Well, I'll give it away:
The ratio of average CEO pay (now $11.8 million) to worker pay (now $27,460) spiked up from 301-to-1 in 2003 to 431-to-1 in 2004.

If the minimum wage had risen as fast as CEO pay since 1990, the lowest paid workers in the US would be earning $23.03 an hour today, not $5.15 an hour.

The report found that CEOs are individually profiting from the Iraq War, with huge average raises at the biggest defense contractors.

At the 34 publicly traded US corporations among the 2004 top 100 defense contractors with 10% or more of their revenues from defense contracts – companies such as United Technologies, Textron, and General Dynamics – average CEO pay increased 200% from 2001 to 2004, versus 7% for all CEOs.
I also watched The Corporation last night (well, the parts of it that I didn't fall asleep during -- hey, I was tired, give me a break). So seriously, I'm all jazzed up now: where do I sign up for the workers' revolution?

[Update: For those that can't be troubled to read comments, Aunt Deb points out that proper attribution should be given to Brendan Nyhan via Brad deLong for the stats.]

Monday, August 29, 2005

 

Taysir el-Heyb

There is a long article in Ha'aretz on the background of Taysir el-Heyb, the IDF soldier who shot and killed Tom Hurndall. It is illuminating on the relationship of the Bedouin to the State of Israel, and the role of the IDF in that relationship.

On the living conditions of the Heyb family:
Taysir el-Heyb, the oldest of six children, was born in July 1983 and lived most of his life in a small, rickety hut with no bathroom. The Israel Lands Administration (ILA) recently razed the hut, saying it had been built without a permit. His father worked as a day worker in agricultural jobs until he became ill, first physically and then mentally, and became unable to support the family. His mother worked cleaning homes in Moshav Migdal, whose luxurious homes are just a few hundred meters away from the Wadi Hamam huts that are on the brink of collapsing. A few years ago, she also became ill sick and, like her husband, had to stop working....

The ground floor [of the house in which the family now lives] still has exposed concrete walls. On the second floor, where they now live, the walls were covered in whitewash, long since peeled, the windows are broken and there are hastily improvised electrical wires hanging exposed and dangerous. Most of the rooms do not have finished floors. Apart from few plastic chairs and an old and empty refrigerator, there is no furniture in the house - no beds, no tables and no closets.

The family sleeps on mattresses on the floor and the few clothes they have are piled in cardboard boxes. The father, whose illness has cut him off from reality and is therefore unaware that his son has been sentenced to a lengthy prison term, roams the rooms all day long, staring at the walls and windows.

The three younger children in the family, who are 14, 16 and 18, have never been to school. "I never had money to buy them books or notebooks," their mother says, adding that the State of Israel's welfare authorities have never asked her why her children are not in school. Taysir did go to school. "Until seventh grade, he went to the school in the village," says Mahmoud Wahib, his uncle, "but it's impossible to say that he learned anything there. He never had books and he never had supplies. Today he barely knows how to read and write in Arabic and he doesn't know how to read and write in Hebrew at all."
These conditions are not unheard of in the Bedouin village in which the family lives. Nor is it uncommon to find the young men of the village enlisting in the IDF -- it seems logical that this would constitute some attempt to escape the conditions in which they'd lived, to establish a connection with the state that had to this point neglected to build any connection, in hopes of a brighter future. In fact, "approximately 40 percent of the young men in Wadi Hamam, a village afflicted by unemployment, neglect and poverty, volunteer for the IDF or Border Police." However, Taysir el-Heyb seems to have been particularly unsuited for the situation in which the IDF put him.
The psychological tests determined that his skills were very close to the lower limit, the cutoff below which potential enlistees are not eligible for military service: Colonel Aviram made sure to write in his verdict that el-Heyb "was given a psycho-technical rating of 10 (on a scale of 10 to 90) and was rated 43 in the quality group (on a scale of 42 to 65)." Despite these figures, the IDF agreed to induct him and to send him to serve as a fighter in the desert patrol brigade, known as the Bedouin brigade."

In his first year of service, which he spent mostly in training camps, el-Heyb managed to be absent without leave twice - once for 22 days and once for 34 days - and to serve four short terms in military jail - one of them for "inserting a cartridge into his gun, cocking it and releasing the safety, contrary to orders." Later in the year, he again used his weapon contrary to orders, this time while on vacation in Wadi Hamam, and was sentenced to 12 days in jail and a three-month suspended sentence. In July 2002, when he was already serving in the Termite post on the Philadelphi route, he was sentenced to seven months in jail for "using a dangerous drug in serious operational circumstances."

Despite all this, the army subsequently decided to promote him to the rank of sergeant, appoint him commander of the post and post him there armed and alone, in a position on the edge of Rafah, facing a large civilian population.
Despite the state's failure to sufficiently provide for Taysir el-Heyb, both before he enlisted and after, it has elided this responsibility and has instead made him a convenient scapegoat -- the whipping boy to prove Israel's willingness to "crack down" on the IDF. This is certainly the impression that has been left on those from Heyb's village:
"If it had been a Jewish soldier," says Mahmoud Wahib, Taysir's uncle, "he wouldn't even have gotten a one-year sentence."

"If the deceased had been a Palestinian and not a Briton," adds Yassin el-Heyb, a neighbor and distant relative of Taysir, "no one would have been interested in the incident and it's doubtful whether they would have even investigated it. The Druze officer who fired an entire magazine at a girl in Rafah came out totally clean. Why? Because the girl was Palestinian and not British. But in this case, the family of the deceased made a fuss in the media, the British government submitted protests and Israel decided to prove to the world, at poor Taysir's expense, how much are army is concerned about human life.

"If this is how the army treats a guy like Taysir, " he concludes, "who had nothing on his mind other than dreams of a military career and circulated in the village and convinced people to enlist, then it's clear that no Arab need enlist in the army anymore."
Ilan Bombach, Taysir el-Heyb's attorney, offers compelling argument that this is indeed the case.
In his arguments before the court, Bombach stressed that el-Heyb was the first soldier to be tried for manslaughter since the outbreak of the current intifada and the first since the 1980s to be sent to jail for a lengthy term as a result of an intifada-related shooting incident.

 

U.S. Forces Shoot Reuters Soundman in Iraq

From Reuters:
A Reuters Television soundman [Waleed Khaled] was shot dead in Baghdad on Sunday and a cameraman who was wounded was still being questioned by U.S. troops 12 hours later.

Iraqi police said the two, both Iraqis, were shot by U.S. forces. A U.S. military spokesman said the incident was being investigated.
Aside from simply being a reflection of the very sad state of affairs generally in Iraq, the story is faily illustrative in how these types of events are being handled by the U.S. forces in Iraq.
Cameraman [Haider] Kadhem, 24, who was wounded in the back, told colleagues at the scene: "I heard shooting, looked up and saw an American sniper on the roof of the shopping center."

The only known witness, he was later detained by the U.S. troops. For 10 hours, U.S. officers said they could not trace Kadhem. Finally a spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Whetstone, said he was being held at an unspecified location. His "superficial" wound had been treated "on location," he said.

He declined to specify any suspicions or accusations against the cameraman, who was based in the southern city of Samawa and had been in Baghdad only two days on a brief assignment....

Two Iraqi colleagues who arrived on the scene minutes after the shooting were briefly detained and released: "They treated us like dogs. They made us ... including Khaled [sic] who was wounded and asking for water, sit in the sun on the road," one said...

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based media rights group, called it "extremely disturbing" and said the Reuters soundman was the 66th journalist or assistant killed in Iraq since the invasion of 2003, three more than died in 20 years in Vietnam.

"Our outrage is compounded by the fact that they arrested Kadhem, the only eyewitness, who was himself injured," it said....

As Waleed's tearful relatives inspected the body at the scene, a U.S. soldier said: "Don't bother. It's not worth it."...

Two Reuters cameramen have been killed by U.S. troops in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003. A third was shot dead by a sniper in Ramadi last November in circumstances for which Reuters is still seeking an explanation from U.S. forces.

Reuters' cameraman in the city of Ramadi, Ali al-Mashhadani was arrested by U.S. forces three weeks ago and is being held without charge in Abu Ghraib prison. U.S. military officials say he will face a judicial hearing as soon as Monday but have still given no access to the journalist or said what he is accused of.
Thanks to Aunt Deb for sending this to me. You really have to wonder how often this happens but, because it doesn't happen to a person in the international press, it goes unreported.

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