View from the Loft 

war and peace, politics, books, rants, the passing parade ...


Saturday, August 16, 2003

Riots in Basra a Sign of Good Times

In an ongoing demonstration of the denial in which most of the U.S. Iraq-associated leadership is living, U.S. officials are blaming the riot-causing gas shortages in Basra on improved economic conditions:
Despite the problems, gasoline shortages had largely been brought under control earlier this summer. But the fuel lines have grown long again as money is pumped into the economy and more Iraqis buy cars.

Tourism is also starting to catch on, especially in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. This is increasing demand, as is an influx of diesel-powered generators to fire up new refrigerators, air conditioners, and dishwashers and to fill in during the 12 hours every day when the main electric grid is shut down.
Wow! Betcha didn't know how well the Iraqis are doing--new cars! Dishwashers! Tourism! All that discretionary income floating around.

I wonder how such a miracle occurred, since unemployment in Iraq is running at about 70%. Many Iraqis are dependent on humanitarian aid for food. And yet we're told of an economic boom?


"Iraqis Offer Tips Over U.S. Blackout"

I did think about the Iraqis and the coalition troops as people in the blacked-out area sweltered, waited in gas lines, and were told to boil their water.

What an irony, eh? Who can blame the Iraqis for saying, "Let them taste what we have tasted," or "I hope it lasts for 20 years. Let them feel our suffering"?

At least citizens in New York, Michigan, and elsewhere aren't wearing body armor or being shot at.

Local Fallout from the Blackout

Other than about two hours of off-again, on-again electricity, and my spouse's three-hour drive home from work, we didn't experience any difficulties from the massive power outage that struck our part of North America.

But that's not to say our little corner of the world was unaffected. J had come close to running out of gas on the way home, so we needed to fill the tank yesterday. We headed for one of the nearby towns to have lunch (he couldn't go to work, since there was no power there) and get some gas. Hah! The gas lines were unbelievable. One station had completely run out of gasoline. We thought at first it was just because of the local fair going on; we figured it had drawn people from all over, and that, hearing of gas shortages in Southeast Michigan, they all decided to fill up while they were in town.

We decided to skip lunch and head home, where J always keeps a supply of gas for the lawn tractor. He poured whatever was left into the tank and we headed to another town in the area for our now much-delayed lunch.

Gas lines there were even worse, since the town lies on a major highway. We shook our heads in amazement. Imagine people heading north to the thumb to lay in supplies! Unheard of. We headed into the restaurant and immediately understood to what extent we'd been invaded by southerners.

A dozen tables were in need of busing. "Today's Specials" had been erased from the board. It could only mean that there had been an unprecedented influx of lunchers, and that could only mean that victims of the blackout had gone north to find sustenance.

Seated at our table, we overheard a waitress explaining that they had no water, since the restaurant was hooked into the Detroit water supply (we have well water at our home, so were not at all affected). Without water, there was no coffee, tea, or soft drinks (fountain only at this place), either. "We have juice, milk, beer, and wine," the waitress explained. Looking around, we saw a much greater percentage than usual of beer bottles at the tables. We also saw whole tables of people sipping orange juice and tomato juice. A couple of people had gone to a nearby party store to purchase Cokes.

We overheard a couple at a nearby table expressing relief that they'd decided to go north of Romeo to dine. As they left they were planning to check the refrigerator as soon as they got home to see if anything had spoiled.

We thought we'd stop by the supermarket and pick up a few things for the weekend. Also, J needed some cash. He usually stops at an ATM on his way home on Friday; it was now Friday, and here we were. We figured we'd just use the debit card at the supermarket and get some extra cash.

One look at the parking lot told us that the city types had driven north to find a Farmer Jack. We'd never, ever seen so many cars in the lot, and more were pulling in every moment. We left, deciding to stop at the party store ("pizza, videos, hunting licenses, ammo") at the four corners a short distance from our dirt road.

Undoubtedly this whole thing has been a boon for local business people. But meanwhile, we still need gas. J's drive to work is something over 50 miles. Luckily, there's at least half a tank of gas in my car, so even if we don't find any this weekend, he'll be able to get to work.

"No man [sic] is an island," indeed.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Fair and Balanced Power Outages

Sometimes the universe seems to show a sense of justice and to be fair and balanced in bestowing its slings and arrows.

Last April we suffered a horrendous ice storm here in rural Michigan that left us without electricity for four days and without phone and internet service for a week. Friends residing elsewhere had their power restored after only a relatively brief period, if they were without power at all, while we struggled to keep the red-eyed tree frog alive in an unheated house. (Luckily we have a gas fireplace in the bedroom, which enabled us to keep the temperature at a balmy 75 degrees as long as we kept the door shut. But we couldn't leave the house for more than an hour or two because we obviously had to turn off the fire if we went out, for safety reasons, and then the house would cool down.)

We had no running water, because we depend on electricity to pump water from our well. Every morning, and later on in the day as well, we'd go down to the water heater and siphon water into a bucket in order to get what we needed to heat for bathing, toilet flushes, etc. After cooking one or two meals on the gas range, I lost interest, since the mess generated was impossible to clean up without using a lot of water, which we were saving. We did buy bottled water at the supermarket once it became obvious we'd be without power for quite a stretch, but it seemed stupid to use bottled water for washing dishes, pots, and pans. So that meant meals in restaurants, which, for a vegetarian in rural Michigan, is not always a satisfying experience.

All in all, kind of like camping, but in freezing weather and without the fun.

Anyway, yesterday came the Great American Power Outage, and guess what? We were spared. We get our electricity from a plant whose power was restored right away. In a reversal of the usual method, the power company started restoring power in the rural areas and is working its way toward the big cities, so as not to put enormous strain on the power grid. So we, who live where the thumb of Michigan begins, actually derive some benefit, for once, from living in a sparsely populated area.

Our air conditioning works. Our electricity is on, and I can blog! We can shower, operate the garage door, and watch the disaster on satellite TV. Meanwhile, our friends and family in various towns and cities suffer in the heat and humidity, light candles in the darkness, and rely on battery-operated radios and TVs--if they have them.

Believe me, I'm not crowing; I feel nothing but compassion. I merely note that the universe isn't always capricious in its cruelty.

Sometimes it's fair and balanced.

Fair and Balanced

Today is Fair and Balanced day in the blogosphere, in honor of and solidarity with Al Franken, who is being sued by Faux News for using the phrase on the cover of his latest book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Read the BuzzFlash interview--it's hilarious.

Thanks to Faux, Franken's book, as of Tuesday night, was at number four on Amazon.com, ahead of the latest Harry Potter book.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Stiffing the Troops

Why does George Bush feel such contempt for the troops? Why does he treat them so poorly, if, as he says, they're doing such an important job bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq?

Amidst decreasing morale among the troops and growing anger at the administration on the part of soldiers and their families comes this word from the Pentagon:
The Pentagon wants to cut the pay of its 148,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, who are already contending with guerrilla-style attacks, homesickness and 120- degree-plus heat.

Unless Congress and President Bush take quick action when Congress returns after Labor Day, the uniformed Americans in Iraq and the 9,000 in Afghanistan will lose a pay increase approved last April of $75 a month in "imminent danger pay" and $150 a month in "family separation allowances."
There we are spending billions every month in Iraq, and the Pentagon wants to save $300 million per year by cutting soldiers' pay.

Talk about "war on the cheap."

We always knew all that talk about supporting our brave men and women in uniform was nothing but lip service from this administration, headed by a deserter and staffed by people for whom nothing has meaning but making a profit.

After the Troops Come Home ...

I ended my last post, "Of course, what we'd really like to see is the troops coming home." Many families of soldiers serving in Iraq heartily concur in that sentiment. They've created an organization called Bring Them Home Now, which held its first press conference yesterday.

But what do the troops have to look forward to after they come home? See "Army of One." Now.

How Much Water?

So far the Army is only attributing one death to circumstances of the extreme temperatures afflicting the soldiers of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and will not explain several other soldiers deaths except that they “died in their sleep.” Another soldier, in his mid-30’s, reportedly died from “a heart attack.” What the Army is not telling its citizens is that its own recommended requirements for fluids and exercise in extreme heat conditions are not being followed.(scroll down)
Temperatures as high as 140 degrees F are being reported in Iraq, with temps in the high 120's not unusual. So what are the requirements for daily water intake?

The Army itself says that at 90 degrees F, a quart of water per hour is necessary at moderate levels of activity, such as patrolling. Other experts recommend 19 to 20 liters per day, with some of those liquids being electrolyte-replacement fluids, such as sports drinks. They also recommend increased caloric intake--which our troops are not getting, if they're eating MREs (sometimes only two per day)--more rest periods, and the avoidance of activity during peak temperatures (an impossibility in battle conditions). With body armor, humidity, and activity in the sun, it's crucial that soldiers be provided enough water to avoid dehydration. Even better would be supplying them with electrolyte-replacement fluids at least some of the time. But currently, families must supply such drinks.

I've seen figures ranging from two to four 1.5-liter bottles of water being allotted to each soldier. It's not enough.

Soldiers are told that they can buy extra water at the PX. Two points: one, why should any soldier have to buy his or her own water? That's outrageous. Two, not every soldier has access to a PX.

Some generals regard giving troops bottled water a mistake to begin with. In the past, water was supplied by "water buffaloes," big tanks holding water that's undergone Reverse Osmosis Water Purification (ROWP). This filtered water is drinkable, but not necessarily pleasant, and usually has chlorine added to it after filtering. Rumor has had it that troops have gotten sick from drinking this water. Whether it's true or not, bottled water is preferred by the troops.

Seems to me that, any way you look at it, something could be done to ensure that the troops are being adequately hydrated. Some NCOs are reportedly having a tough time getting their troops to drink enough water, presumably water-buffalo water (this via a comment on dailyKos), but if that's what it takes ...

Of course, what we'd really like to see is the troops coming home.

"War on the Cheap"

No armored vehicles, spare tires, satellite radio; not enough ammunition, body armor, signal flares, or even food for some of the troops sent into battle. Read it and weep.

Right from the beginning a lack of planning--at the very least--endangered the lives of the troops sent on their illegal mission to Iraq. It's an act of generosity to attribute shortages to lack of planning; clearly, there was some penny-pinching going on. And, with the administration's insistence on privatization, things have only gotten worse for the troops.

As Rumsfeld pushes to reduce the armed forces by contracting more work out to private companies, perhaps it's time to evaluate just how well such a strategy is working so far:
U.S. troops in Iraq suffered through months of unnecessarily poor living conditions because some civilian contractors hired by the Army for logistics support failed to show up, Army officers said.

Months after American combat troops settled into occupation duty, they were camped out in primitive, dust-blown shelters without windows or air conditioning. The Army has invested heavily in modular barracks, showers, bathroom facilities and field kitchens, but troops in Iraq were using ramshackle plywood latrines and living without fresh food or regular access to showers and telephones.

Even mail delivery -- also managed by civilian contractors -- fell weeks behind.
It seems that no one thought of this until it was too late:
"You cannot order civilians into a war zone," said Linda K. Theis, an official at the Army's Field Support Command, which oversees some civilian logistics contracts. "People can sign up to that -- but they can also back out."
Well, duh.

But nothing must get in the way of the ideology that now determines all decisions emanating from the administration. And that ideology calls for privatizing public services of all kinds. Read Krugman for a good summary of how this plays out in several ways.

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