Who pays the price of war? Iraqi children, that’s who.

May 9, 2007

Who pays the price for war? Iraq’s children.

Postings have been erratic lately – this happens when I’m locked up studying for medical tests and boards. I’ll make it up to my faithful readers during the summer with the usual critical postings about global health and human rights.

But right now this article from the Independent UK is making my blood boil:

Infant Mortality in Iraq Soars as Young Pay the Price for War

Two wars and a decade of sanctions have led to a huge rise in the mortality rate among young children in Iraq, leaving statistics that were once the envy of the Arab world now comparable with those of sub-Saharan Africa.

A new report shows that in the years since 1990, Iraq has seen its child mortality rate soar by 125 per cent, the highest increase of any country in the world. Its rate of deaths of children under five now matches that of Mauritania.

Wow, Iraq went from the “envy of the Arab world” league to “sub-Saharan Africa” status. “Envy of the Arab world” is quite a statement. I wonder what led to such a decline:

Sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime were imposed by the UN in 1990 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and remained in place until after the coalition invasion in 2003. The sanctions, encouraged by the US as a means to topple Saddam, were some of the most comprehensive ever put in place and had a devastating effect on Iraq’s infrastructure and health services.

Precisely how many children died because of sanctions is unknown but a report in 1999 from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), suggested that between 1991 and 1998 an additional 500,000 died.

Denis Halliday, who resigned as the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in protest at the sanctions, said at the time: “We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.”

Oh that’s right, Clinton sanctioned the hell out of Iraq, but Bush bombed the hell of it. Make no mistake, infant mortality in Iraq started rising well before Bush illegally invaded Iraq. In 1996, then Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, was asked by Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes the following regarding the Iraq sanctions:

We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

To which Ambassador Albright responded, “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

So the question should be, who pays the price of war? Children do. Poor children, and especially the children of the poor do, to be precise. You haven’t seen Bush’s daughters enlist yet, have you?

Unsurprisingly, just pennies a day are needed to truly save the world’s children.

“More than 10 million children under age five still die each year. That’s almost 28,000 a day, almost all in developing countries,” said the charity’s US president, Charles MacCormack. “Vaccines, oral rehydration therapy and insecticide-treated mosquito nets are not expensive. Yet, sadly, many mothers and children lack access to these life-saving measures.”

What’s the budget of the Pentagon these days?

Here is a list of the 10 worst countries with the worst child mortality rate.

1. Sierra Leone: 282 (per 1,000 live births)
2. Afghanistan: 257
3. Niger: 256
4. Liberia: 235
5. Somalia: 225
6. Mali: 218
7. Chad: 208
8 (tied) Democratic Republic of Congo: 205
8 (tied) Equatorial Guinea: 205
10. Rwanda: 203

For the geographically-impaired, 9 of those countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. The other country is Afghanistan, which has the second-worst rate. You want to take a guess if the Bush invasion has helped Afghanistan’s healthcare statistics? How bad do you think the child mortality will get in Iran if the Bush decides to invade that country? Hint: the child mortality is not that hot now in Iran.

When you hear George W. Bush or Dick Cheney saying that they “care about the people in the Middle East”, you should now be informed enough to know that statement is pure B.S.


Wolfowitz – you putz, you thought we wouldn’t notice?

April 15, 2007

Wolfowitz - you putz, you thought we wouldn’t notice?

I rarely link to the Financial Times, but when the Financial Times is calling for the resignation of the president of the World Bank, you know the guy in charge must be incompetent, or so lacking in credibility and morality that it strains credulity – case in point, Paul Wolfowitz, the same guy who helped plan the Iraq war.

Somehow, “we told you so” is not enough.

There is also a posting about this on The Washington Note:

Paul Wolfowitz has now admitted to helping his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, get positions outside the Bank, including “seconding” her to the US State Department that have helped up her salary to levels that clearly violate World Bank rules (i.e. nearly double her salary).

This is the kind of personnel nepotism and corruption that Wolfowitz has stated he is trying to wipe out at the Bank and in the client governments of the Bank. An anti-corruption campaign has been one of the only distinctive and memorable aspects of Wolfowitz’s tenure so far as president of the international financial institution — and now his own personal behavior belies what was his self-declared moral campaign against others’ corruption both inside the bank and in client country governments.

Wolfowitz also ran afoul of senior bank staff in the past by elevating inappropriately Bush administration political appointee Kevin Kellems, who used to be Vice President Cheney’s spokesman, in ways that violated the merit-based rules that had been adopted at the World Bank.

What, no sperm-stained blue dresses?

Question: if it is not OK that corrupt leaders of African nations loot their country’s riches, then why should it be OK that Paul Wolfowitz, the president of the World Bank – already a man of dubious moral character – loots the credibility of the organization he is running to advance not only his career, but of his croonies, while at the same time advancing an “anti-corruption agenda” in his institution?

Wolfowitz, you putz, you thought we wouldn’t notice? With your track record?

The anwer, of course, is that hypocrisy knows no bounds. And that people that are used to playing and working in rigged, cushy jobs become arrogant and incompetent, because unlike the rest of us, they never haver to perform.

Rumor has it he is going to either resign or asked to resign very, very soon. Sorry if this sounds biased – you know how that “liberal media” twists everything – but the World Bank is much to important an organization to be run by the likes of the “architects” of the Iraq war.


Sudan’s President denies role in Darfur Violence

March 21, 2007

[Thanks to Eclecta for not letting me miss this.]

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir

This post might as well be called, “are you fucking kidding me?” In this remarkable MSNBC piece, Ann Curry interviews Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, which is widely viewed by the world to blame for the atrocities that are going on in Darfur.

Ms. Curry notes in her blog, “how does one interview a man accused of unleashing genocide?

Human Rights Watch says President al-Bashir should be prosecuted for war crimes in Darfur. The International Criminal Court has summoned one of the ministers in his government to face possible charges for crimes against humanity. Al-Bashir has just suspended cooperation with the ICC investigators and continues to publically state the situation in Darfur is exaggerated and solely a regional conflict . Now, in his first television interview to the west in four years, he will have a chance to answer these accusations.

So how exactly am I to face this man? How will I exact the truth, and at the same time keep the horror that I saw on the Darfur border from being revealed in my own eyes? I was never good at poker. I am gearing up for one of the greatest challenges of my career.

A challenge indeed. Omar al-Bashir is one piece of (rotten) work. Check out how the 2-hour interview came out:

Ann Curry: Mr. President, I have this map from the U.S. Department of State that shows more than a thousand villages in the Darfur region — more than a thousand burned.

And the question is, how can this be done by Arab militias without the support of the Sudanese government? This is shocking.

Omar al-Bashir: What do you think about the picture that Colin Powell presented before the national security that confirmed and illustrated the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? What do you think about it?

Curry: You’re saying this is not true?

Al-Bashir: This picture is the same fabrication and the same picture as the ones Colin Powell presented about Iraq.

In other words, we have Ms. Curry, who to her credit seems genuinely concerned about the atrocities in Darfur, and this creep throws Iraq at her face, as if to say, you and your country have no credibility or moral standing to be asking these questions.

A bonafide war criminal is basically calling George W. Bush and his Iraq wet-dream a war crime. This is even embarassing to write, but it takes one to know one. We have no moral compass to guide us. Lord help us.


Low-Cost Antimalarial Pill Available!

March 2, 2007

A child finds out he got Malaria

God, finally some good news to cheer my day up!

A new, cheap, easy-to-take pill to treat malaria is being introduced today, the first product of an innovative partnership between an international drug company and a medical charity.

The medicine, called ASAQ, is a pill combining artemisinin, invented in China using sweet wormwood and hailed as a miracle malaria drug, with amodiaquine, an older drug that still works in many malarial areas.

A treatment will cost less than $1 for adults and less than 50 cents for children. Adults with malaria will take only two pills a day for three days, and the pill will come in three smaller once-a-day sizes for infants, toddlers and youngsters.

Needless to say, this is a very good thing, and a team effort as well:

“This is a good thing,” said Dr. Arata Kochi, chief of the World Health Organization’s global malaria program, who has publicly demanded that drug companies stop making pills that contain artemisinin alone because they will lead to resistant strains of malaria. “They’re responding to the kind of drug profile we’ve been promoting.”

[…]Sanofi-Aventis, the world’s fourth-largest drug company, based in Paris, will sell the pill at cost to international health agencies like the W.H.O., Unicef and the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The rollout of the drug is the result of a two-year partnership between Sanofi and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, a campaign started by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders to find new drugs for tropical diseases.

Doctors Without Borders, better known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, has long been one of the harshest critics of the pharmaceutical industry, charging that it spent billions on drugs like Viagra, Ambien and Prozac for rich countries and almost nothing on diseases killing millions of poor people.

But, recognizing that new drugs would have to come from the industry’s major players, Doctors Without Borders founded the initiative in 2003 and began seeking partnerships. This is the first to come to fruition.

See, ain’t that the way to do things? Major disagreements, but communication is still open, and compromise. I know a government or two that could apply these principles into practice.


Violating Iraqi Women – a Courtesy from the U.S.A.

February 24, 2007

This is one of the most disturbing posts I have done. So hard that I don’t even know where to start. Wait, yes I do:

According to Iraqi human rights advocate and writer Haifa Zangana, the first question asked of female detainees in Iraq is, “Are you Sunni or Shia?” The second is, “Are you a virgin?”

Are you Sunni or Shia? Are you a virgin?? In other words, do you remember the first time you got raped? I can’t find this any more appalling.

The mainstream media has ignored Iraq, but the whole fucking world has ignored the plight of Iraqi women under U.S. occupation. Beaten, humilliated and ignored, Iraqi women are among many of the “collaterals” of the U.S. “war on terror”.

The above is from a story from MADRE, an excellent international women’s rights organization. The article is entitled “Iraqi Police Commit Rape—Armed, Trained, and Funded by the US” and you can pretty much see why I’m so outraged by this.

The international news media is flooded with images of a woman in a pink headscarf recounting a shattering experience of rape by members of the Iraqi National Police. Most of the media coverage has focused on her taboo-breaking decision to speak publicly about the assault, but has missed two crucial points for understanding—and combating—sexual violence by Iraqi police recruits.

As Iraqi women’s organizations have documented, sexualized torture is a routine horror in Iraqi jails. While this woman may be the first Iraqi rape survivor to appear on television, she is hardly the first to accuse the Iraqi National Police of sexual assault. At least nine Iraqi organizations as well as Amnesty International, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq and the Brussels Tribunal have documented the sexualized torture of Iraqi women while in police custody. These include Women’s Will, Occupation Watch, the Women’s Rights Association, the Iraqi League, the Iraqi National Association of Human Rights, the Human Rights’ Voice of Freedom, the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Iraqi National Media and Culture Organization. […] And the United Nations special investigator on torture is reporting that torture in Iraq is worse now than under Saddam Hussein

Where is the outrage? It is not like these abuses have not been documented. They have been extensively documented – click on any of the links above and you will find plenty of references and eye-witness accounts. Why is the U.S. mainstream media ignoring this whole issue? I know it is kind of touchy, but that is why you are in the news business – to discuss and highlight serious issues, and bring to light those that need attention, not to “discuss the ramifications” of Britney Spears shaving her head.

Take this horrowing account from June 2006. All emphasis is mine:

MALTREATMENT AND PROOF: On 20 April 2004, Abdul-Bassat Turki, the first Iraqi minister of human rights, gave an interview to The Guardian on the condition of female prisoners in Iraq. Turki had recently resigned from his post in protest against the human rights violations committed by American forces and Paul Bremer’s determination to ignore his reports and to refuse him permission to visit Abu Ghraib.

Turki told the Guardian that he had warned Bremer repeatedly of the abuses of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, but that Bremer had consistently ignored all warnings. In December 2003, a month before the US military mounted its own secret investigation into Abu Ghraib, Turki phoned Bremer to complain of the treatment of female detainees. “They had been denied medical treatment. They had no proper toilet. They had only been given one blanket, even though it was winter,” the former minister said.

[…]One of the rare occasions in which Anne Clwyd, the British human rights envoy to Iraq, was moved to speak out about human rights violations after the invasion was when she learned of the arrest and subsequent torture of a 70-year-old woman, whose torturers forced her into a makeshift bridle and then mounted her like a donkey.

[…]Hoda Al-Ezawi relates that she was kept in solitary confinement for 156 days. Then her sister was arrested and thrown into the cell with her, along with the corpse of their dead brother. Among the other types of torture inflicted upon her was to be kept standing for more than 12 hours straight while subject to continual threat and intimidation. US forces and the Iraqi National Guard arrested Al-Ezawi along with her two daughters, Nora, 15, and Sara, 20, on 17 February 2005 on the charge of supporting the resistance.

Ali Al-Qeisi, the man whose torturers thrust a bag over his head, forced to stand on a crate as they coiled wires around him and then photographed producing the picture that has become a worldwide symbol of the occupation and the horror of Abu Ghraib, recalls his anguish at hearing the screams and cries of female detainees. “Their food was brought into their cells by naked men,” he relates, adding, “we felt helpless as we listened to their screams, unable to do anything but pray to God Almighty.”

[…]Suheib Baz, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera, told The Independent that he had personally seen a 12-year-old girl being tortured: “She was naked, and crying out to me for help while being beaten.” He also relates that prison wardens would photograph these horrors.

[…]This is the tip of the iceberg. A report published by the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights on 29 October 2005 found that women held in Interior Ministry detention centres are subject to numerous human rights violations, including “systematic rape by the investigators and to other forms of bodily harm in order to coerce them into making confessions”. The report added that prisons fail to meet even the most basic standards of hygiene and that the women were deprived of facilities as fundamental as toilets. The Ministry of Justice has confirmed the accuracy of the report.

In such circumstances, it is insult to injury that female detainees are often forced to sign a paper prior to their release in which they testify to being properly treated. The purpose of this affidavit is to silence them and deprive them of recourse to litigation in the future.

It should be noted, here, that the first question that is put to female detainees is: “Are you Sunni or Shia?” The second is, “Are you a virgin?”

Of course, this is all the work of a “few bad apples”. Basically, the U.S. has turned a blind eye towards everything that is going on in Iraq. It is not only causing these atrocities, it is fomenting, paying for them, and then ignoring them. Does the Bush administration think people are stupid, that we can’t fact-check what the say, and especially, what they don’t say?

It’s no surprise that we’re hearing allegations of rape against the Iraqi National Police, considering who trained them. DynCorp, the private contractor that the Bush Administration hired to prepare Iraq’s new police force for duty, has an ugly record of violence against women. The company was contracted by the federal government in the 1990s to train police in the Balkans. DynCorp employees were found to have systematically committed sex crimes against women, including “owning” young women as slaves. One DynCorp site supervisor videotaped himself raping two women. Despite strong evidence against them, the contractors never faced criminal charges and are back on the federal payroll.

Owing young women as slaves. A videotape by a supervisor raping two women. Giving them a blank check so they can continue to do whatever it is they do. Aren’t these war crimes? Again, where is the outrage? Why isn’t ABC news, CBS, NBC, Fox News (yeah, right), or CNN covering this?

I’m not overly religious, but do believe we eventually have to pay up what we do on Earth. I can’t even fathom how many lifetimes we are going to need to “repay” these atrocities. Then again, hell is too good for some evil bastards.

Hell is too good for some evil bastards


Borat vs Bill Gates – let the showdown begin!

January 30, 2007

Borat vs Bill Gates - let the showdown begin!

My country send me to United States to make movie-film. Please, come and see my film. And once you see movie, go save Darfur.

Ok, so the title of this post is a bit misleading – so sue me!

Actually, this is from an interview Larry Charles, the director of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) with Tim Ryan for Rotten Tomatoes, the movie rating website.

So what was so interesting about it that Truly Equal decided to write about it in a supposedly human rights blog? Larry Charles made an excellent point about Borat and some other movies and TV shows (emphasis is mine):

RT: You’ve worked with Borat, and before that, Bob Dylan in “Masked and Anonymous.” Both of them, in their own strange way, are sort of spokesmen, revealing some weird truths about America.

LC: Absolutely. The question I ask myself before I get involved in anything, be it TV or movies, is, “Does this need to be made? Does this need to be out there?” There’s so much s— out there that I can’t understand why people would spend tens of millions of dollars to make something that’s not going to come out good. So I ask myself, “Do we need this movie? Do we need this TV show? Will this somehow expand the dialogue, expand the discourse about the way we live and what’s important to us in out lives?” I felt in both the Bob Dylan movie and the Borat movie that these were urgent ideas and provocative ideas that might create interesting dialogue about ourselves, and about our world, about our lives, about philosophies, our beliefs. Also, they were low-budget movies, and I’m a big believer that we shouldn’t need to spend $100 million to make a great movie. If you have $100 million, you should probably be saving an African country. But for $4 million or $5 million or $10 million, you can make a great movie, and politically, you’re making a statement by making a low budget movie like that as well. On all those levels, it appeals to me.

Exactamente. Well said. Bravo Zulu.

We don’t need to see $100 million plus movies, regardless of how fantastic the idea or series is – Lord of the Rings fans, ya’ hear me? There are more important things in the world that need our attention. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the movies just like anyone else, and sometimes leave the theater in disbelief (which reminds me, more people need to see Children of Men), but you know how many lives we can help with $100 million? That’s 8 fucking zeros! You don’t need to be as rich as Bill Gates or as influential as Bill Clinton to help the world. But you do need to have some fucking common sense!

My only wish is that Borat would say so himself – maybe George W. Bush will listen to him instead.


When cutting part of your wiener counts as vaccination…

January 15, 2007

Wiener

I have commented about this issue previously. By now you may have heard that researchers have found that circumcised men end up getting the HIV virus half as often as uncircumcised men.

Now comes this article in the New York Times:

Last month, scientists invented the AIDS vaccine. Missed it? Perhaps that’s because you were still seeking the vaccine fantasy: the magic bullet, the impenetrable shield that finally pitches this disease into the trash bin, the shot that will end not only the AIDS epidemic but our anxiety about the AIDS epidemic as well.

[…]The vaccine that arrived last month was not actually a vaccine. It was, instead, a confirmation of what scientists had long suspected: circumcision helps protect men from AIDS infection. For years, AIDS researchers have observed that many African tribes that circumcise boys or young men had lower AIDS rates than those that don’t, and that Africa’s Muslim nations, where circumcision is near universal, had far fewer AIDS cases than predominantly Christian ones. The first research proof came in 2005, when a study in South Africa was stopped early in the face of evidence that the men who had been randomly assigned to be circumcised were getting 60 percent fewer H.I.V. infections than the men assigned to the control group. Last month, ethics boards halted two similar studies, in Uganda and Kenya, when they found similar results. In both, the circumcised men caught the AIDS virus half as often as the uncircumcised control group.

I don’t have a problem with the results of the research itself, besides the obvious ethical questions, such as letting men have unprotected sex with HIV-positive women: if it is no biggie, then why didn’t the researchers try this little experiment somewhere in the U.S.? Ethics rule #1: if an Institutional Review Board (IRB, the one that regulates all research in every institution) would object to a certain experiment in your country, it is probably unethical to do so in another country as well. In layman’s terms, such research would never be allowed in the U.S.

But I digress. I don’t have a problem with the results of the studies. My problem is that because of these results, some people think that cutting part of their wiener is all it takes to fight AIDS. Thankfully, the New York Times article does tackle those issues, such as:

1) Will knowledge of circumcision’s protective status increase dangerous and ill-informed sexual behavior in men?
2) Does this protective status extend to the women circumcised men have sex with?
3) Will it increase or decrease research efforts for an AIDS vaccine?
4) How on Earth are we going to mass circumcise men in Africa? (really, what the hell do people think circumcision is?)
5) Who will train the medical personal?

You have to keep in mind that Africa’s health systems are very delicate – sometimes there is no sterilized equipment, or no autoclave machine, or surgical kits, or for that matter, very few medical personnel – and just cutting wieners left and right is not going to help in fighting AIDS.

Circumcision is a surgical procedure, however, and in the hands of traditional ritual circumcisers, it has a high rate of infection and mishap. The solution is to train these circumcisers and give them decent tools, and at the same time encourage men to come to clinics. Since men in studies say that cost is the biggest reason they are not circumcised, the operation must be free. Countries will also have to equip these clinics and train counselors and medical circumcisers, who don’t have to be doctors.

As you can gather, I oppose circumcision. It is a barbaric practice of ancient times, and you won’t see many docs offering circumcisions (unless you are Jewish). Here is another question for you: are we going to mass circumcise African children now? I really, really don’t want a religious crackpot to dictate that all those poor African children must be circumcised to prevent HIV.

You can read the rest of the article here. The article compares circumcision to a vaccine, and even though it is clear to make the distinctions, I don’t like it one bit. The best way to prevent HIV/AIDS is through education. Education, education, education! Not prayer, certainly not wishful thinking – education.

Either you don’t have sex (you’re not going to last long in this group), you use condoms and protect yourself and your partner, or are faithful to your partner (once you have an honest dialogue, both are faithful to each other, and of course none of them have HIV). That’s the foolproof method. You need to be educated about your own body, and respectful of your partner(s).

Of course, the biggest question to me is that while circumcision is protective only 50%, perhaps 60%, of HIV in each sexual encounter the individual has, you are out of luck the other half of the time. You really are going to take your chances? Who is going to protect you the other 50% of the time? It’s basic statistics – in this case, almost like a coin toss. And it’s also common sense – a condom, or a circumcision? Thanks but no thanks Mohel, you can keep your Metzitzah b’peh to yourself. You can cut part of your wiener, but if you have unprotected sex with someone who has HIV/AIDS, trust me, you will eventually get HIV.