Top Ten Myths on Iraq

It’s almost New Year’s meaning it’s time for all top ten lists about 2006. Juan Cole has compiled a list of the Top Ten Myths About Iraq 2006. Check out his post for the specifics about these myths:

  1. The United States “can still win” in Iraq
  2. US military sweeps of neighborhoods can drive the guerrillas out
  3. The United States is best off throwing all its support behind the Iraqi Shiites
  4. Iraq is not in a civil war
  5. The second Lancet study showing 600,000 excess deaths from political and criminal violence since the US invasion is somehow flawed
  6. Most deaths in Iraq are from bombings
  7. Baghdad and environs are especially violent but the death rate is lower in the rest of the country
  8. Iraq is the central front in the war on terror
  9. The Sunni Arab guerrillas in places like Ramadi will follow the US home to the American mainland and commit terrorism if we leave Iraq
  10. Setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq is a bad idea

Consultant Advises Democrats on Embracing Religion

The Republicans do it. Does that mean the Democrats should too? The New York Times reports on Mara Vanderslice and her consulting firm Common Good which advise Democrats on appealing to religious voters. Some liberal people of faith are concerned about some of her advice:

But Ms. Vanderslice’s efforts to integrate faith into Democratic campaigns troubles some liberals, who accuse her of mimicking the Christian right.

Dr. Welton Gaddy, president of the liberal Interfaith Alliance, said her encouragement of such overt religiosity raised “red flags” about the traditional separation of church and state.

“I don’t want any politician prostituting the sanctity of religion,” Mr. Gaddy said, adding that nonbelievers also “have a right to feel they are represented at the highest levels of government.”

Vanderslice’s reply is not reassuring:

To Ms. Vanderslice, that attitude is her party’s problem. In an interview, she said she told candidates not to use the phrase “separation of church and state,” which does not appear in the Constitution’s clauses forbidding the establishment or protecting the exercise of religion.

“That language says to people that you don’t want there to be a role for religion in our public life,” Ms. Vanderslice said. “But 80 percent of the public is religious, and I think most people are eager for that kind of debate.”

Wrong message. The concept of separation of church and state is a fundamental principle upon which this nation was founded. In the past it was various religious groups which defended the need for separation of church and state as the best way to guarantee that they, along with everyone else, would have the right to practice (or not practice) religion as they preferred. This is the lesson Democrats must stress. No More Mister Nice Blog points this out by quoting John Kennedy campaigning in September 1960: (more…)

Does The 9/11 and Iraq Death Toll Comparison Mean Anything?

It’s interesting how a totally meaningless statistic has become a top news headline and is being discussed on many blogs. AP reports that the number of Americans killed in Iraq has now exceeded those killed in the 9/11 attack. With increased concern about the cost of the war, including casualties, it is understandable how this number is being quoted widely, despite its actual lack of meaning.

If hypothetically Saddam was responsible for the 9/11 attacks then would we really judge the response based upon such a comparison of casualties? This would especially be irrelevant if the pre-war claims of WMD were true. The justification for the war would have been to prevent a greater number of casualties in a future attack.

The reality of the situation is clearly quite different. Saddam was not involved in the 9/11 attacks, and Saddam did not have the WMD used to justify the war. Under these circumstances any deaths are too many regardless of the number killed on 9/11. These deaths are especially tragic considering that the war and Bush’s foreign policy blunders have resulted in strengthening al Qaeda and Iran, as well as contributing to the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea. The risk from both terrorism and WMD has increased tremendously because of this foolish war.

In trying to find a connection between these numbers one possibility comes to mind. We might say that both Osama bin Laden and George Bush are responsible for the same number of deaths. Even this leaves the problem of looking at only American deaths in Iraq. The total death toll greatly exceeds those killed on 9/11. George Bush is responsible for far more deaths than Osama bin Laden.

Big Brother is Watching in Great Britain

Orwell knew what he was talking about. Bloomberg reports that in Great Britain “about 4.2 million spy cameras film each citizen 300 times a day.” They not only watch but now talk back:

It’s Saturday night in Middlesbrough, England, and drunken university students are celebrating the start of the school year, known as Freshers’ Week.

One picks up a traffic cone and runs down the street. Suddenly, a disembodied voice booms out from above:

“You in the black jacket! Yes, you! Put it back!” The confused student obeys as his friends look bewildered.

“People are shocked when they hear the cameras talk, but when they see everyone else looking at them, they feel a twinge of conscience and comply,” said Mike Clark, a spokesman for Middlesbrough Council who recounted the incident. The city has placed speakers in its cameras, allowing operators to chastise miscreants who drop coffee cups, ride bicycles too fast or fight outside bars.

This makes you wonder how long it will be until they equip television sets with spy cameras as in 1984. Great Britain has already spent one billion dollars on spy cameras over the past decade and has one for every fourteen citizens. There are plans to expand the system:

By 2016, there will be cameras using facial recognition technology embedded in lampposts, according to the Surveillance Studies report. Unmanned spy planes will monitor the movements of citizens, while criminals and the elderly will be implanted with microchips to track their movements, the report says.

There have been civil liberties concerns raised over the cameras along with Great Britain’s massive DNA database. The database helped solve 45,000 crimes in the United Kingdom last year but there have also been cases of people falsely identified, such as a man who was charged with a crime two hundred miles from where he lives who turned out to have sever Parkinson’s Disease and could not have traveled there. In addition to the cameras and DNA database, concerns have been raised over plans to add the medical records of 50 million people in the state-run health care system into a central database without their consent. There are also plans for “biometric ID cards linked to a national register holding every citizen’s fingerprints, iris or face scan.”

Professor Nigel Smart of the University of Bristol  warns of a different privacy concern–the informtion people post on social networking sites. reviews these privacy issues.

Bush and Newspapers

While you’re reading this morning’s newspaper you can review George Bush’s comments on reading newspapers in The New York TImes. The note changes from 2003:

…when he told Brit Hume on Fox News that he glanced at the headlines, but “I rarely read the stories,” because, he said, they mix opinion with fact. He said he preferred to get his news from “objective sources” — like “people on my staff who tell me what’s happening in the world.”

Since then he has thrown references to reading the paper into various statements, such as:

In rejecting calls to fire Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, he said: “I hear the voices and I read the front page and I hear the speculation, but I’m the decider, and I decide what’s best.”

Steve Benen quotes a previous story in the Washington Times on how Bush just skims the news:

“I get the newspapers — the New York Times, The Washington Times, The Washington Post and USA Today — those are the four papers delivered,” he said. “I can scan a front page, and if there is a particular story of interest, I’ll skim it.”

Laura Bush and Tony Snow have been trying to cover for him:

Still, despite his statement in 2003 that he did not read the papers, his wife, Laura, said last week that she and her husband had read the morning papers for years. “We’ve done the same thing since we first got married,” she told People magazine. “We wake up in the morning and drink coffee and read the newspapers.”

Tony Snow, the president’s press secretary, said in an interview he was certain Mr. Bush read the papers, though he was not sure which ones.

So, Tony Snow doesn’t know which papers Bush reads and it’s not clear that Laura Bush knows who she wakes up in the morning with as her husband does not appear to be the one who reads the newspapers daily. The Washington Times article noted above suggests that it is more Laura who reads the papers:

“Since I’m the first one to see him in the morning, I usually give him a quick overview and get a little reaction from him,” Mr. Card explained. “Frequently, I find that his reaction kind of reflects [first lady] Laura Bush’s take.”

Indeed, the president often cites articles that Mrs. Bush flags for greater scrutiny, even when he has not personally slogged through those stories. Mrs. Bush routinely delves more deeply into the news pages than her husband, who prefers other sections.

“He does not dwell on the newspaper, but he reads the sports page every day,” Mr. Card said with a chuckle.

Apparently Andy Card had a better idea of what Bush reads than Tony Snow does–the sports page. We also know that Bush uses “the Google” to search “the internets.”

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