Death and Destruction without a Number or a Memorial

New Orleans  If, as I’ve argued, we understate the calamity and huge personal costs of injuries from shooting incidents and traffic crashes, in order to soften the blow and delay corrective action and permanent change, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that when violence, death and destruction are a fundamental part of the mission the avoidance is even more fundamentally apart of the package. Here we are talking about military engagements and their special shock and awe.

In an elaborate and independently reported investigation that ran in the New York Times, two researchers spent eighteen months and visited 103 sites in Iraq where there had been bombing strikes to determine the extent of civilian casualties from these strikes. To their credit, they had the cooperation of the joint forces, including the US military in their search. They found that the reported number of civilian casualties by the allied forces was thirty times less than what they were able to find from their efforts. It was hard to get a fix on the exact number, because in many cases the record keeping was lax to nonexistent and lacked any central database.

I found this incredible. Remember, we’re talking about the military, where everything is counted and recorded in triplicate. It would be kind to say that civilian casualties were overlooked in the fog of war or because of sloppiness in the field reports and the chain of command. Clearly, civilian casualties were not rigorously counted as a matter of military policy from all coalition partners. After all, no reason to seriously count deaths on the ground from airstrikes that you don’t want to know or admit.

Politically, horrific numbers of civilian deaths and the attendant destruction of lives and homes, puts a lie to any concept of precision in implementing the airstrikes. Bad politics makes for bad press, and the worsening optics then decreases support for such strikes and lowers funding, and it’s all just a hot mess. It also cost money. International law requires compensation for such victims of collateral damage, both dead and alive. Not counting is connected to not knowing, and knowing causes a reckoning and reparations.

Sure, there are going to be mistakes, wrong estimates on the ground from imperfect information, and bad intelligence. Stuff happens. I’m not arguing blame here, but advocating for a real effort at truth and a real effort to provide justice as a memorial to the dead – and their survivors, well or wounded – as something more than zombies living in a category called “collateral damage.”

We count our own dead and wounded. We need to make the same effort with civilians, dead and wounded. Not counting is not caring. It’s the least we can do.

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Mounting Casualties of Total War on Poor and Low Wage Workers

Nemmcn9lw Orleans In wars, if we are able and willing to endure the pain and sorrow, we can read the casualty count, virtually on a daily basis of dead and injured.  As the war drags on, as we now see in Iraq and Afghanistan, the item gets smaller and moves to the back of the pages.  Importantly, that does not mean it goes away.  Something will happen, like a suicide bomber, and it will bounce back up.  The same thing seems to be going on in the full scale war against the poor and lower waged workers.  The only difference is that not many are counting, so there’s no clarity on the numbers.

Today’s papers were a full on attack.  Look at the examples:

  • Of course the on-going war against public employees throughout the Midwestern USA (and beyond!) is in open war.  An article in the New York Times covered a family in southern Ohio of married public workers, one with the sewer department and one a janitor, and the truth behind their situation, since they are able to put food on the table and hold on to a home finally, but don’t have enough money for college for the kids or any luxuries whatsoever.
  • The AP in a piece noted the devastation for lower income working families where food and gas account for 25% of their income and their inability to maintain now that gas is rising at the lowest to $3.50 and in places on the West and East Coast to $4.50 and rising.  According to the DOL 2009 Consumer Expenditures Survey here’s how the distribution squeezes and starves the bottom:  families making $15-20K/year use 19% of their net income for food; between $20-30K/year = 18% of net for food; and, families with $70K+ = 8% net.  And beyond, there’s even more gravy.  Same for gas with 6% in the lower income groups and 2% and less over $70K.
  • The AP noted that Wal-Mart, like it or not the favored LMI shopping venue nationally,  with 82% of its shoppers making less than $70K, reports that 51% of its shoppers surveyed will be driving less – and buying less – which is driving the stock down.
  • Also in the NYT 63% of students trying to rise above the mess through college since 2005 have defaulted or fallen behind in paying back their school loans.  A hard majority in for-profit 2 and 4-year schools have gone delinquent.  Of course the debt is also higher.  Students graduating from college in 2009 owed an average of $24000 in loans, up 6% over 2008 alone!

These are staggering indications of disaster for low-and-moderate income families.

And, can they catch a break.  Hell no, it seems.  A band of Senators led by Montana’s Tester, is now trying to put off the small savings won for some of them in lowering the charges for using the ubiquitous debit cards.

Come on!

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