Monthly Archives: March, 2008


For four years now I have been standing on South Main St. in Providence with the ‘No Time to be Silent’ vigil for peace. I hold a worn-out sign that has the day’s numbers of Americans killed in Iraq, taken from the New York Times, ‘Names of the Dead’ column.

I first started reading the New York Times after 9/11, when they printed an obituary for each of the 2,819 people who died in the attack. For days pages were filled with their pictures and stories. In 2003, as the UN testimony proceeded and our leadership prepared for war, New Yorkers filled the streets in protest.

Here in Rhode Island I stood with a small group on the lawn of the Statehouse in another futile demonstration. We shivered in the March cold. At the time the pundits were wondering how many casualties the American public would tolerate. Hundreds?

I knew it wouldn’t be that way. The deeper in we got, the harder it would become to accept that the war is mistaken, that our soldiers died for lies.

About a year into it, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz showed that he wasn’t agonizing over our losses when he underestimated the number of Americans killed in Iraq by about 200. He was one of the architects of the war. One of those who promised us that it would be short and victorious.

WASHINGTON — Asked how many American troops have died in Iraq, the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian estimated Thursday the total was about 500 — more than 200 soldiers short.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was asked about the toll at a hearing of a House Appropriations subcommittee. “It’s approximately 500, of which — I can get the exact numbers — approximately 350 are combat deaths,” he responded.

“He misspoke,” spokesman Charley Cooper said later. “That’s all.”

American deaths Thursday were at 722 — 521 of them from combat — since the start of military operations in Iraq last year, according to the Department of Defense.

(Wolfowitz was later appointed to a post at the World Bank where he disgraced our country by having to resign for corruption.)

This small incidence of callousness from a Bush insider inspired me to make a sign with the numbers, so that we would not forget. Four years later, public opinion surveys claim that Americans can’t remember how many have died. The economy is the number-one concern. But the milestone of another thousand puts our loss in the headlines once again.

The losses to the Iraqi civilians, who did not ask for this war, who are on the front lines, number in the hundreds of thousands.

If we are an empire, content to go shopping while our volunteer military and our hired contractors fight and suffer far from our daily lives; then only their loved ones will watch the news and agonize over the casualty count. Everything is on track. The war is going as planned.

If we are a democracy, and our soldiers fight in our name, whether we bother to vote or not, then we bear some responsibility. If our government is waging a war that the citizens largely oppose, year after year, with the burden falling almost entirely on those who fight it, then we must remove these misleaders and change our course. To do less is to abandon our troops.

Garabedian Suggests Eminent Domain Seizure

Even though he probably won’t win this one, council President Garabedian is impressive in his tenacity. He just won’t let go of the fundamental issue regarding the Cullion Concrete plant — that the original building permit was granted wrongly. He’s like a bulldog going after the same bone again and again. You can almost hear him — grrrrr, GRRRRR, grrrrr…

From the Projo:

[...] But Garabedian, who has hired a lawyer with his own money to pursue the idea, dismisses those concerns.

Like other Cullion critics, he argues that the building permit the city issued the concrete company in March 2006, under the administration of former Mayor Stephen P. Laffey, was flawed in several respects.

And if a judge invalidated the permit during eminent-domain proceedings, Garabedian argued, Cullion’s claim on the value of the land would drop sharply.

With Cullion lacking authority to build and operate a plant, he said, the land would no longer be worth $1.9 million. [full text]

We keep coming back to that original permit, and the still unknown circumstances surrounding its issuance. It seems like a classic case of those on the inside protecting others on the inside. And all of us plebians on the outside are supposed to accept that this is the best we can do. I like that Garabedian is still saying, “we can do better.”

Children, Disabled, and Elderly to Lose Health Insurance

It’s good to know in our difficult financial times, the right people are being asked to make up the difference. This article from the Associated Press has more details:

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Financially strapped states are looking to take away government health insurance and benefits from millions of Americans already struggling with a souring economy.

An Associated Press review of the budgets in all 50 states reveals coverage would be eliminated for hundreds of thousands of poor children, disabled and the elderly. More than 10 million people would lose dental care, access to specialists, name-brand prescription drugs or other benefits. About 20 million could see their care jeopardized by further cuts to doctors’ reimbursements.

Health care is a choice target as governors and legislators confront the worst deficits they’ve faced in a decade or more, but that’s not their only target: They’re also considering cuts in aid to schools and universities, shrinking state workforces and even releasing prisoners before their sentences are completed.

Safety-net programs for the elderly, disabled and out-of-work also could be cut, even as the demand for those services is on the rise.

Despite the dire conditions, only a handful of states are seriously considering general tax increases or even modest hikes on the wealthy to close the gaps. Lawmakers say they fear such actions would only further stress the economy.

Instead, states are looking to increase lottery ticket sales, promote Indian gambling or further raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. Those taxes disproportionately hit the pocketbooks of the same poor and working-class that would be hurt by the spending cuts, studies show. [full text]

Sabrina Harman, Abu Ghraib Photographer

In some ways, it feels fun to me to talk about Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton because, all inter-party jabbing aside, they are both about hope and both about a better future. It’s fundamentally a question of what flavor of hope suits your particular fancy, and that fancy can be liberal or conservative, as indicated by the recent endorsement of Barack Obama from young Rhode Island conservative Don Roach. (Yay, Don! Yay, Obama!) The bottom line is, it just can’t get much worse than what has happened under the leadership of George W. Bush.

Which brings us to the subject of today’s post: an excruciating but fascinating and important article in this week’s New Yorker called Exposure. The article, a collaboration of Philip Gourevitch and filmmaker Errol Morris, is mainly about the experiences of Sabrina Harman, a soldier in Iraq in 2003 who took pictures at Abu Ghraib.

This is the stuff about our nation and our future that is not so easy for me (or a lot of people) to talk about. It’s about how badly we failed our own standards, and how much we can be corrupted. It’s about how some of our young people went over to Iraq and participated in organized torture.

But there is good news, and part of that good news is Sabrina Harman, who had the guts and the will and the sheer hope about how the world would react to do something very important: document. She took over a hundred pictures of the occurrences at Abu Ghraib, and, despite that she was court-martialled, despite that she is smiling and giving a thumbs-up in some of the pictures taken next to tortured corpses, despite all this, Sabrina Harman is, in my opinion, a commendable American.

From the article:

All that the soldiers of the 372nd Military Police Company, a Reserve unit out of Cresaptown, Maryland, knew about America’s biggest military prison in Iraq, when they arrived there in early October of 2003, was that it was on the front lines. Its official name was Forward Operating Base Abu Ghraib. Never mind that military doctrine and the Geneva Conventions forbid holding prisoners in a combat zone, and require that they be sped to the rear; you had to make the opposite sort of journey to get to Abu Ghraib. You had to travel along some of the deadliest roads in the country, constantly bombed and frequently ambushed, into the Sunni Triangle. The prison squatted on the desert, a wall of sheer concrete traced with barbed wire, picketed by watchtowers. “Like something from a Mad Max movie,� Sergeant Javal Davis, of the 372nd, said. “Just like that—like, medieval.� There were more than two and a half miles of wall with twenty-four towers, enclosing two hundred and eighty acres of prison ground. And inside, Davis said, “it’s nothing but rubble, blown-up buildings, dogs running all over the place, rabid dogs, burnt remains. The stench was unbearable: urine, feces, body rot.� [full text]

A Band-Aid Approach?

Today’s New York Times features an editorial that proposes a seemingly common-sense solution to reduce the influence of the pharmaceutical peddlers:

Countering the Drug Salesmen

A potentially useful antidote to drug company influence over the prescribing practices of doctors is under consideration in Congress. The idea is to have government-funded health professionals visit doctors to give unbiased guidance on the safety and effectiveness of drugs to counter the one-sided sales pitches they get from pharmaceutical company representatives. The end result should be better care, quite often at lower cost.

Objective advice on drugs has already been shown to affect prescribing practices in various locations in this country and abroad, according to testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Aging last week. In a Pennsylvania project, for example, experts from Harvard Medical School prepared educational materials and trained pharmacists and nurses to deliver it, enhancing medical care and saving more than $500,000 a year on gastrointestinal drugs alone in a pharmacy assistance program for low-income senior citizens. Total savings to public and private health insurance programs were surely much higher.

Similar physician-education programs are being established in several other states and have been set up in Australia, England, the Netherlands and several Canadian provinces. The Kaiser Permanente medical system has educated its own doctors on drug issues for years.

Now Senators Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin, and Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, are planning to introduce legislation that would authorize federal grants to prepare educational materials and train health professionals to conduct visits to prescribing physicians. Their hope is that the program would pay for itself by lowering drug costs to federal programs.

With comprehensive, unbiased information, doctors should be more likely to prescribe the best drug for a patient, not necessarily the newest, high-priced drug that is being pushed by a drug company sales representative. [link]

This proposal sounds good on the surface but, in and of itself, is inadequate. “Unbiased information” is less readily available than it used to be, in large part due to the shift away from public funding of medical reasearch and toward private funding. Many studies and drug trials are now financed largely by the pharmaceutical industry, which stands to benefit if there is a favorable outcome to the research. History has already taught us that such a conflict of interest fails to serve the public good and can be downright dangerous. It is not enough for neutral third parties to disseminate “objective advice on drugs.” Congress should also take action to ensure that the advice being dispensed is truly objective, preferably by reversing the trends in funding and allocating more public monies for medical research. Additionally, there needs to be greater transparency in where the research money comes from. For example, if a study is funded by the [fictitious] Pediatric Bipolar Institute, it might be helpful to know that this institute was founded and is supported by Eli Lilly or other pharmaceutical companies. Physicians and other medical professionals, who often are so stretched for time (thank you, managed care) that they lack sufficient time to keep up with or closely examine the latest research findings, deserve a system that makes the research more accessible and more transparent. And the public deserves a health care system that puts their needs and well-being ahead of the profits of the pharmaceutical industry. In short, while the band-aid suggested in the Times editorial is nice, it is not enough to stanch the bleeding. Congress should know that and act accordingly.

Tips for a Healthy Crucifixion

I wonder if Mel Gibson ever spent Easter in the Philippines

MANILA (AFP) – Philippine health officials Wednesday warned people taking part in Easter crucifixions and self-flagellation rituals to get a tetanus shot first and sterilise the nails to avoid infections.

Every Good Friday in this predominately Roman Catholic Southeast Asian nation dozens of men re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by having themselves nailed to wooden crosses.

At the same time hundreds of others, mostly men, strip to the waist and whip themselves until their backs are cut and bloody as a way of atoning for their sins over the past year.

The Catholic church frowns upon the crucifixions and self flagellations which have become a tourist attraction in a number of towns around the country.

You’d think they could just set up ‘The Passion of the Christ’ on a wide screen, but maybe they like the local performers. Anyway, it’s the same buzz, enjoy the spectacle and get creds with God for being pious.

Maybe it’s a way to divert some of the rage that must build up when people live in one of the poorest countries on earth and know that they are left out of the party. Religion has often served as a pacifier and a safety valve. The most unhinged citizens put themselves out of commission for a few months by whipping themselves senseless. The rest of the population are simultaneously jazzed and frightened by the show. No one is going to form a political action committee for a while.

I can think of a few things a Unitarian preacher might say. Such as that it’s okay to use cold-blooded logic to conclude that it’s bad to hurt yourself. That there is no such thing as a sadistic god who is appeased by this kind of thing, and if there is one you shouldn’t encourage him. That we have a mutual obligation to one another. That includes a responsibility not to put yourself in the hospital from self-abuse, using up scarce resources. Remember that the foreign nurses who are facing charges in the US for quitting the job from hell are all from the Phillipines, so you can imagine how long the ER wait is in Manila.

The secular authorities are sensibly trying to do some harm reduction, since bringing on the force of law would only create martyrs out of people who are already hanging themselves from crosses.

The department of health issued a health warning advising people taking part in the rituals this Friday to have tetanus shots and to check the condition of the whip they will use before lashing their backs.

It’s the least the flagellants can do, if they have any consideration for others.

I can think of a few things a Catholic preacher might say, and I wonder if any of them are saying it, in the Phillippines or in the USA this Easter season.

That the life and teachings of Jesus should get at least as much attention as his gory death. That you could express your faith by loving your neighbor, forgiving a wrong, doing good works so discretely that your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing. Healing a wound instead of causing one.

As long as the Catholic Church is justifying avoidable suffering in this life as a ticket to glory in the next, they will have no good answers for the self-crucifiers.

And we Americans, who have so much, continue to enjoy violence as spectacle. Whether the blood is fake or real it’s nothing to be proud of. Low tech or high tech, we’re fixating on pain when we should be organizing to stop the bleeding.

Marriage as God Intended

When my parents married it was a minor scandal. The Church frowned on it. There were promises extracted before they were allowed a ceremony at all.

You Rhode Islanders probably know what I’m talking about. She was Catholic, he was Episcopal. It took some persuading to get a priest to do the wedding, but the marriage was for real. My parents celebrated their fiftieth a couple of years ago. It’s clear that Someone blessed their union.

My sister once said that she thought the State should get out of the marriage business entirely and just do civil unions for everyone. It sounded radical to me, but as time goes by it makes more and more sense. Here’s a story from a God-fearing nation that hews to Biblical principles…

One day last fall, a young Israeli woman named Sharon went with her fiancé to the Tel Aviv Rabbinate to register to marry. They are not religious, but there is no civil marriage in Israel. The rabbinate, a government bureaucracy, has a monopoly on tying the knot between Jews. The last thing Sharon expected to be told that morning was that she would have to prove — before a rabbinic court, no less — that she was Jewish…

The rabbinic courts are an arm of the Israeli justice system. Formally, the judges — rabbis with special training — are appointed on professional grounds. In practice, positions in the courts and in the state rabbinate are parceled out as patronage by religious political parties. The main function of the rabbinic courts is divorce, also a purely religious process in Israel.

Reading this makes me thank my higher power that I live in a secular democracy. If we really were a Christian nation we’d be arguing in the Supreme Court whether the Catholic or Protestant Bible is the real word of God. And whether we should ban meat on Fridays.

If we allow homosexual couples the same right to legal marriage that heterosexual couples enjoy, (or endure, depending on how the relationship is going), there will still be religions that forbid gay marriage. Same-sex couples will not be able to have weddings in those churches. They’ll have to call up the Unitarians or the United Church of Christ. Tough, but fair. And I have to resign myself to the fact that people will embark on marriages that I could have told them would never last. What can I say? It’s a free country.

From Kenya to Kansas, Barack Obama Talks About Race

This speech is just incredible. It actually made me weepy at the end. The whole experience question gets turned on its head when you listen to Barack Obama talk about his life experiences, and his awareness of the racism mixed with the love all around him as he grew up. Here is a man whose life experience can bring a different understanding to the world.

A small sample from the speech:

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

For a full transcript of the speech, go here.

Moving to Bigger and Better Digs

UPDATE: Our cyber-move is complete and all appears to be well. I’m looking forward to posting on substantive issues again, rather than being so focused on site administration. Many thanks to those who have made donations to keep us going!


After a couple of bouts of server overload and several discussion with the techies for my online server, it has been determined that Kmareka now has more traffic and requires more server space. Therefore, we are moving to a semi-dedicated server, at an alarming 750% increase in our monthly rent. Granted, we were paying peanuts before, but this is still a significant blow to our fragile budget.

So, all this to say that I hope ad revenue through Blogads picks up, but in this economy I’m not counting on it. Ultimately, though, the beat goes on. Feel free to make non-tax-deductible donations to us through Your donation will be used to pay the rent, and if there’s anything left over, the writers.

Donating to Kmareka

My latest post in which we solicited donations for the first time since becoming a blog, seems to have gotten temporarily displaced in the move, so I’m providing this one for now.

Many thanks to those who have donated. Your contribution will help us continue to read, write, learn and discuss here on Kmareka.


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