Monday, October 18, 2004

NY Times endorses Kerry

I did not check my e-mail this weekend, so this morning it was filled with juicy news to share - read away!

The fact that the NY Times endorsed Kerry should come as no surprise, because it is considered a "liberal" newspaper. However, it really bothers me that US newspapers do that - I think endorsing candidates on both ends erodes any trace of objectivity the newspaper has. I don't understand the practice at all!

An interesting story that has been developing is the refusal of about 19 US soldiers who refused to carry out a mission in Iraq because it was unsafe. Read this report from the NY Times that discusses the growing concern that US soldiers are not being adequately protected. John Kerry mentioned this in the first debate where he said, "I've met kids in Ohio, parents in Wisconsin places, Iowa, where they're going out on the Internet to get the state-of-the-art body gear to send to their kids. Some of them got them for a birthday present...10,000 out of 12,000 Humvees...aren't armored. And you go visit some of those kids in the hospitals today who were maimed because they don't have the armament." From Informed Comment: "Bush's only response to the charge that the troops are not properly equipped has been that Kerry voted against the $87 bn appropriation bill submitted last fall. ...The real issue is that the bill passed, but that the money doesn't seem to have gotten to the troops on the ground...Zell Miller (Democrat senator from Georgia) came before the Republican convention with a litany of all the weapons programs that had proved useful in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the fact is that really fancy equipment, aside from the ability to laser-target objectives, was never very useful in Afghanistan."

When the prison torture scandal at Abu Ghraib broke out in May, there was also a lot of talk about prisoner maltreatment at other US facilities in Afghanistan & Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Here is a NY Times report on harsh tactics in Cuba reported by officials & others to The Times: "One regular procedure...was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screamingly loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels...The official said that was intended to make the detainees uncomfortable, as they were accustomed to high temperatures both in their native countries and their cells...Such sessions could last up to 14 hours with breaks...The sources portrayed a system of punishment and reward, with prisoners who were favored for their cooperation with interrogators given the privilege of spending time in a large room nicknamed "the love shack'' by the guards. In that room, they were free to relax and had access to magazines, books, a television and a video player and some R-rated movies, along with the use of a water pipe to smoke aromatic tobaccos. They were also occasionally given milkshakes and hamburgers from the McDonald's on the base." Many lawyers & scholars of international law have indicated that this kind of treatment falls under "torture and cruel & unusual punishment" which is a violation of the Convention on Torture even during wartime - a treaty that has been ratified by the United States. "In March 2002, a team of administration lawyers accepted the Justice Department's view, concluding in a memorandum that President Bush was not bound by either the Convention Against Torture or a federal antitorture statute because he had the authority to protect the nation from terrorism. When some of the memorandums were disclosed, the administration tried to distance itself from the rationale for the harsher treatment...At the request of military intelligence officials who complained of tenacious resistance by some subjects, Mr. Rumsfeld approved a list of 16 techniques for use at Guantánamo in addition to the 17 methods in the Army Field Manual in December 2002. But he suspended those approvals in January 2003 after some military lawyers complained they were excessive and possibly unlawful...But the approved techniques did not explicitly cover some that were used, according to the new accounts." In order to escape the rules of the treaty, the Bush Administration has cleverly created the category "enemy combatant" - basically a legal loophole.

Falluja is in the news again: "Residents of the rebel-held city of Falluja in Iraq are packing their bags and leaving town after one of the heaviest US bombardments for weeks...The mood in the city is grim. It is start of Ramadan, but there is nowhere to celebrate and no food to celebrate with. Falluja's most popular kebab restaurant used to be the place to go at the end of the day to break the Ramadan fast - but that was bombed by the Americans this week."

One point of contention between Kerry and Bush is whether to allow cheaper prescription drugs to be imported from Canada. Kerry is in favor while Bush is not. However, according to this report from the NY Times: "many economists and health care experts say that importing drugs from countries that control their prices would do little to solve the problem of expensive drugs in the United States, where companies are free to set their own prices. Even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that allowing Canadian drug imports would have a "negligible" impact on drug spending. To begin with, there are not enough Canadians, or drugs in Canada, to make much of a dent in the United States. There are 16 million American patients on Lipitor, for instance - more than half the entire Canadian population. Drug makers like Pfizer say they would reduce their shipments of drugs to distributors in Canada and other countries that re-export to the United States. And Canadian health officials, fearing shortages and higher prices of their own, would probably clamp down on their own pharmacists and distributors to keep their drugs from leaking into the United States."

In my last entry, I mentioned an Israeli soldier who had killed a Palestinian girl although she did not pose a threat - in news reports today, that soldier has been released because in this BBC report: "The investigation concluded that the behaviour of the company commander from an ethical point of view does not warrant his removal from his position. But the investigation criticised the officer's leadership abilities...the company commander was suspended from his position, and his future career [in the army] will be decided upon in the course of the next week." Children in such dangerous war zones are deeply affected, when even schools & homes are not safe. The Independent has this story on "Children of the revolution; There is a crisis in Palestinian family life amid the death and devastation in Gaza: "A paper to be published next year by Dr Qouta and a colleague points out that in a recent study of 1,000 school-age Palestinians, 547 were found to have suffered at least one "high magnitude traumatic event" in their lifetime."