Stun guns are taking a toll
Salt Lake City Tribune Editorial
The autopsy results are in. But, despite the definitive findings the verdict is still out on the weapon that killed Brian Cardall.
Cardall, a promising research scientist and Utah native, died from “ventricular fibrillation following conducted energy weapon deployment … .” In other words, death by Taser.
Here’s what happened. In June, Cardall, 32, was returning to Arizona after visiting Utah when he experienced a manic episode brought on by his bipolar disorder. He pulled his car to the side of the road, got out, removed his clothes, and began flagging down vehicles on State Road 59 outside Hurricane.
Cardall’s wife gave him medication, called the police, informed the dispatcher of her husband’s psychotic condition and the fact that it would take a while for the medicine to take effect. But Cardall ran out of time.
Just 42 seconds after Hurricane Chief of Police Lynn Excell and officer Ken Thompson arrived at the scene, Thompson claims, a confused Cardall, who refused to get on the ground as ordered, stepped toward the officers. Thompson fired his Taser, striking a naked and unarmed Cardall in the chest over the heart. When the Flagstaff resident attempted to rise, Thompson gave him a second jolt. Within minutes, Cardall was dead, one of about 350 Americans to die after a Taser deployment since 2001.
Had the incident occurred 20 years ago, before Tasers came on the market, Cardall, who weighed just 156 pounds, would have been physically taken to the ground and handcuffed. He may have suffered bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes. The police officers would have risked same. But nobody would have died.
Cardall’s family says the officer used excessive force, a claim rejected by investigators, who determined that Thompson adhered to both his department’s use-of-force policy and Utah law. No charges were filed. And, because the policy and not the officer was at fault, none was deserved.
Thompson certainly didn’t mean to kill Cardall. In fact, along with officers in 14,200 police, military and corrections agencies in 44 countries, Thompson had been taught that the Taser can prevent physical altercations that cause injury, and negate the need for deadly force. That it saves lives. As a result, Tasers have become the “nonlethal” weapon of choice in law enforcement circles. But that could change.
In the months since Cardall’s death, Taser International, which manufactures the stun guns, lost a wrongful-death lawsuit, a first. A California jury determined that the company failed to adequately educate police about the risk of cardiac arrest from using the weapon.
Plus, the Arizona-based company recanted its long-standing advice to aim at center body mass, and advised police not to shoot suspects in the chest.
And, the American Medical Association determined that Tasers can do more harm than good. In a report issued the same month Cardall died, the AMA said “Tasers are used too frequently … and may contribute to the death of suspects directly or indirectly.” The group said more research is needed to determine if Tasers are safe for use on suspects in altered states, like Cardall.
The next move belongs to police departments, which should change their policies regarding Taser use. Tasers should be used sparingly, a weapon of next-to-last resort, until all of the evidence is in.
The Himalayas hold the planet’s largest body of ice outside the polar caps
The UN panel on climate change warning that Himalayan glaciers could melt to a fifth of current levels by 2035 is wildly inaccurate, an academic says.
J Graham Cogley, a professor at Ontario Trent University, says he believes the UN authors got the date from an earlier report wrong by more than 300 years.
He is astonished they “misread 2350 as 2035”. The authors deny the claims.
Leading glaciologists say the report has caused confusion and “a catalogue of errors in Himalayan glaciology”.
The Himalayas hold the planet’s largest body of ice outside the polar caps – an estimated 12,000 cubic kilometres of water.
They feed many of the world’s great rivers – the Ganges, the Indus, the Brahmaputra – on which hundreds of millions of people depend.
In its 2007 report, the Nobel Prize-winning Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said: “Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.
“Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometres by the year 2035,” the report said.
It suggested three quarters of a billion people who depend on glacier melt for water supplies in Asia could be affected.
But Professor Cogley has found a 1996 document by a leading hydrologist, VM Kotlyakov, that mentions 2350 as the year by which there will be massive and precipitate melting of glaciers.
“The extrapolar glaciation of the Earth will be decaying at rapid, catastrophic rates – its total area will shrink from 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometres by the year 2350,” Mr Kotlyakov’s report said.
Mr Cogley says it is astonishing that none of the 10 authors of the 2007 IPCC report could spot the error and “misread 2350 as 2035”.
“I do suggest that the glaciological community might consider advising the IPCC about ways to avoid such egregious errors as the 2035 versus 2350 confusion in the future,” says Mr Cogley.
He said the error might also have its origins in a 1999 news report on retreating glaciers in the New Scientist magazine.
The article quoted Syed I Hasnain, the then chairman of the International Commission for Snow and Ice’s (ICSI) Working group on Himalayan glaciology, as saying that most glaciers in the Himalayan region “will vanish within 40 years as a result of global warming”.
Scientists say Himalayan glaciers need more study
When asked how this “error” could have happened, RK Pachauri, the Indian scientist who heads the IPCC, said: “I don’t have anything to add on glaciers.”
The IPCC relied on three documents to arrive at 2035 as the “outer year” for shrinkage of glaciers.
They are: a 2005 World Wide Fund for Nature report on glaciers; a 1996 Unesco document on hydrology; and a 1999 news report in New Scientist.
Incidentally, none of these documents have been reviewed by peer professionals, which is what the IPCC is mandated to be doing.
Murari Lal, a climate expert who was one of the leading authors of the 2007 IPCC report, denied it had its facts wrong about melting Himalayan glaciers.
But he admitted the report relied on non-peer reviewed – or ‘unpublished’ – documents when assessing the status of the glaciers.
Recently India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh released a study on Himalayan glaciers that suggested that they may be not melting as much due to global warming as it is widely feared.
He accused the IPCC of being “alarmist”.
India says the rate of retreat in many glaciers has decreased in recent years
Mr Pachauri dismissed the study as “voodoo science” and said the IPCC was a “sober body” whose work was verified by governments.
But in a joint statement some the world’s leading glaciologists who are also participants to the IPCC have said: “This catalogue of errors in Himalayan glaciology… has caused much confusion that could have been avoided had the norms of scientific publication, including peer review and concentration upon peer-reviewed work, been respected.”
Michael Zemp from the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich also said the IPCC statement on Himalayan glaciers had caused “some major confusion in the media”.
“Under strict consideration of the IPCC rules, it should actually not have been published as it is not based on a sound scientific reference.
“From a present state of knowledge it is not plausible that Himalayan glaciers are disappearing completely within the next few decades. I do not know of any scientific study that does support a complete vanishing of glaciers in the Himalayas within this century.”
Pallava Bagla is science editor for New Delhi Television (NDTV) and author of Destination Moon – India’s quest for Moon, Mars and Beyond.
By Ben Webster
December 5, 2009
The Met Office plans to re-examine 160 years of temperature data after admitting that public confidence in the science on man-made global warming has been shattered by leaked e-mails.
The new analysis of the data will take three years, meaning that the Met Office will not be able to state with absolute confidence the extent of the warming trend until the end of 2012.
The Met Office database is one of three main sources of temperature data analysis on which the UN’s main climate change science body relies for its assessment that global warming is a serious danger to the world. This assessment is the basis for next week’s climate change talks in Copenhagen aimed at cutting CO2 emissions.
The Government is attempting to stop the Met Office from carrying out the re-examination, arguing that it would be seized upon by climate change sceptics.
The Met Office works closely with the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU), which is being investigated after e-mails written by its director, Phil Jones, appeared to show an attempt to manipulate temperature data and block alternative scientific views.
The Met Office’s published data showing a warming trend draws heavily on CRU analysis. CRU supplied all the land temperature data to the Met Office, which added this to its own analysis of sea temperature data.
Since the stolen e-mails were published, the chief executive of the Met Office has written to national meteorological offices in 188 countries asking their permission to release the raw data that they collected from their weather stations.
The Met Office is confident that its analysis will eventually be shown to be correct. However, it says it wants to create a new and fully open method of analysing temperature data.
The development will add to fears that influential sceptics in other countries, including the US and Australia, are using the controversy to put pressure on leaders to resist making ambitious deals for cutting CO2.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change admitted yesterday that it needed to consider the full implications of the e-mails and whether they cast doubt on any of the evidence for man-made global warming
By Tim Shipman – December 5, 2009
Six doctors who believe government scientist David Kelly was murdered have launched a ground-breaking legal action to demand the inquest into his death is reopened.
They are to publish a hard-hitting report which they claim proves the weapons expert did not commit suicide as the Hutton Report decided.
They have also engaged lawyers to write to Attorney General Baroness Scotland and the coroner Nicholas Gardiner calling for a full re-examination of the circumstances of his death.
The doctors are asking for permission to go to the High Court to reopen the inquest on the grounds that it was improperly suspended. If Baroness Scotland rejects that demand, or the court turns them down, their lawyers say they will have grounds to seek judicial review of the decision.
Dr Kelly was found dead at a beauty spot near his Oxfordshire home in 2003, days after he was exposed as the source of a story that Tony Blair’s government ‘sexed-up’ its dossier on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction to justify invading Iraq.
In one final phone conversation, he told a caller he wouldn’t be surprised ‘if my body was found in the woods’.
The inquest into Dr Kelly’s death was suspended before it could begin by order of the then Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer. He used the Coroners Act to designate the Hutton Inquiry as ‘fulfilling the function of an inquest’.
Lord Falconer, a former flatmate of Tony Blair, was also responsible for picking Lord Hutton to run the inquiry.
A police officer stands next to a cordon near Harrowdown Hill in Oxfordshire where Dr David Kelly’s body was found in July, 2003
But the doctors claim that the original inquest was never formally closed and should now be allowed to hold a proper inquiry.
The six are Michael Powers, a QC and former coroner; trauma surgeon David Halpin; Andrew Rouse, an epidemiologist who established that deaths from cutting the ulnar artery – as claimed in Dr Kelly’s case – are extremely rare; Martin Birnstingl, another surgeon; plus Stephen Frost and Chris Burns-Cox.
Lord Hutton concluded that Dr Kelly killed himself by severing an ulnar artery in his left wrist after taking an overdose of prescription painkillers but he skated over the controversies about the causes of death.
Lord Hutton concluded Dr David Kelly killed himself
The bulk of his report was dedicated to the political row between Downing Street and the BBC, which revealed the sexing-up of the dossier.
Dr Kelly’s death certificate states that he died of a haemorrhage, but the results of a post mortem examination have never been made public.
Crucially, the doctors say that Lord Hutton had no witnesses on oath and did not have to make a finding, as the coroner does, beyond a reasonable doubt.
The doctors tried to persuade the coroner to reopen his inquest in 2004 but were rejected because they were not judged to be ‘properly interested persons’ with the authority to demand an inquiry.
Now they have hired human rights lawyers Leigh Day & Co to challenge the use of the Coroners Act to close the inquest.
A source close to the doctors said: ‘Lord Falconer is on record saying this is a “useful little law” but it was set up to avoid multiple inquests in cases where there were multiple deaths.
It has been used for victims of train crashes and the Harold Shipman case but Dr Kelly’s was not a multiple death.
‘We argue that that’s an abuse of due process. The lawyers have sent the letters this week.
We have concentrated on the finding on the death certificate that the primary cause of death was a haemorrage. We are spelling out why he could not have died from a cut to the small ulnar artery.’
One of the doctors, who preferred not to be named, added: ‘When the Romans committed suicide they would slit all four arteries in a warm bath, which keeps the blood flowing. The arteries would close up in the open air and you would not lose that much blood.’
A book on the unanswered questions surrounding the case by Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker concluded that Dr Kelly may have been murdered by Iraqi exiles – but the finger has also been pointed at MI5 and the CIA.
Dr Kelly’s family have never commented publicly on his death.
By Peter Finn
Saturday, December 5, 2009
The former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay has been dismissed from his current position as an assistant director at the Congressional Research Service for penning an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal and a letter to The Washington Post that offered strong opinions on the prosecution of detainees held at the military prison in Cuba.
The American Civil Liberties Union wrote Friday to the CRS, a branch of the Library of Congress, demanding that retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis be reinstated. If he is not, it said, the CRS would face a lawsuit charging that Davis’s First Amendment rights were violated.
A spokesman at the CRS, which provides neutral policy and legal analysis to Congress, declined to comment on a “personnel-related matter.” But in a Nov. 20 letter to Davis, the director of CRS, Daniel P. Mulhollan, said Davis had not shown “awareness that your poor judgment could do serious harm to the trust and confidence Congress reposes in CRS.”
The letter, which was released by the ACLU, said Davis would not be kept on after his one-year probationary period at CRS ends Dec. 21. The dismissal was first reported on Newsweek’s Web site.
In the Nov. 10 Journal article, Davis wrote that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s decision to use both federal court and military commissions to try detainees was “a mistake.”
“It will establish a dangerous legal double standard that gives some detainees superior rights and protections, and relegates others to the inferior rights and protections of military commissions,” Davis wrote.
Davis’s opinions about Guantanamo Bay are well known, and he has been a critic of military commissions since he resigned in 2007, alleging that prosecution decisions were corrupted by political interference.
In a letter to The Post that was published Nov. 11, Davis said former attorney general Michael B. Mukasey was engaged in “fear-mongering worthy of former vice president Dick Cheney” when he raised security concerns about bringing detainees into the United States for prosecution.
Davis said he was writing in his personal capacity, and neither the op-ed nor the letter identified him as an employee of the CRS, where he is an assistant director in the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Division. Davis also said he had previously spoken at events on Guantanamo with permission and without incident.
“Military commissions are not my area of responsibility,” Davis said. “Library of Congress policy says people are encouraged to write, teach and speak on areas that are outside their official responsibilities. The ultimate irony is we are in the James Madison Building but the First Amendment doesn’t apply for those who work in the building named for the guy who wrote it.”
By Ryan Grim – December 3, 2009
Ben Bernanke has overseen the greatest expansion of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet in its history, pouring trillions of dollars into Wall Street firms at roughly zero interest rates.
His generosity, however, has a limit.
In testimony before the Senate Banking Committee today, where he’s seeking re-appointment as the Fed’s chairman, Bernanke called for cutbacks in Medicare and Social Security even as unemployment rises and the middle class is endangered.
Citing legendary bank robber Willie Sutton, Bernanke said of the retirement and health care funds that are the legacy of the New Deal: “That’s where the money is.”
Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) sympathized with Bernanke, saying that, because of entitlement spending, “you’re going to be looking at a situation where the Congress will be unable to provide any kind of fiscal discipline because of the mandatory spending. That puts an enormous burden on your plate.”
“Well, Senator, I was about to address entitlements,” Bernanke replied. “I think you can’t tackle the problem in the medium term without doing something about getting entitlements under control and reducing the costs, particularly of health care.”
Bernanke reminded Congress that it has the power to repeal Social Security and Medicare.
“It’s only mandatory until Congress says it’s not mandatory. And we have no option but to address those costs at some point or else we will have an unsustainable situation,” said Bernanke.
Story continues below
But there are several other obvious options that could make the situation sustainable — including a transaction tax on Wall Street speculation or a slight tax hike on the wealthiest Americans.
Bernanke talks as if increasing taxes on the wealthy simply isn’t an option.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) followed Bennett and pointed out that “there’s only really two ways you can deflect this deficit, and that’s either by cutting expenditures or raising income taxes or other forms of taxes.”
Reed asked him if he could think of other ways, but Bernanke returned to entitlement money as the way to balance the budget.
“Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the money is, as he put it,” Bernanke said. “The money in this case is in entitlements.”
There’s also money at the very top of the income ladder. Reed asked if Congress would be wise to tax some of it. Full of suggestions when it came to cutting entitlements, Bernanke was suddenly overtaken by a bout of policy modesty.
“Would you take taxes off the table?” Reed asked.
“Those decisions are up to Congress,” Bernanke said.
“Well, your predecessor signaled very strongly that the tax cuts in 2000 were appropriate,” Reed reminded him.
“I have not done that. I’ve done my best to leave that authority where it belongs, with the Congress,” Bernanke said, just moments after telling Congress to cut entitlement spending.
“Obama will have more than doubled the number of American troops in Afghanistan since he became president”
U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan for a 30,000-troop surge and a troop withdrawal timeline beginning in 18 months has caught criticism from both Democrat and Republican lawmakers.
But a small group of hawkish foreign policy experts – who have lobbied the White House since August to escalate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan – are christening Obama the new “War President.”
The response to Obama’s Tuesday night speech at West Point has largely been less than enthusiastic, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle finding plenty in the administration’s Afghanistan plan that fails to live up to their expectations. Republicans have hammered the White House on Obama’s decision to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces in 18 months, while Democrats largely expressed ambivalence or dismay over the administration’s willingness to commit 30,000 more soldiers to a war seen by many as unwinnable and costly at a time when the U.S. economy is barely in recovery from the global financial crisis.
The White House’s rollout of the 30,000 troop surge did little to convince an already skeptical Congress, but foreign policy hawks who have accused the president of “dithering” in making a decision on Afghanistan are praising the administration’s willingness to make the “tough” commitment to escalate the U.S. commitment in the war in Afghanistan.
Indeed, their approval of the White House’s decision to commit 30,000 troops is the culmination of a campaign led by the newly formed Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI).
FPI held its first event in March, titled “Afghanistan: Planning for Success,” and a second event in September – “Advancing and Defending Democracy” – which focused on counterinsurgency in combating the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The newly formed group is headed up by the Weekly Standard’s editor Bill Kristol; foreign policy adviser to the McCain presidential campaign Robert Kagan; and former policy adviser in the George W. Bush administration Dan Senor.
Kagan and Kristol were also co-founders and directors of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a number of whose 1997 charter members, including the elder Cheney, former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, and their two top aides, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Paul Wolfowitz, respectively, played key roles in promoting the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Bush’s other first-term policies when the hawks exercised their greatest influence.
The core leadership of FPI has waged their campaign in countless editorials and columns published in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Weekly Standard.
These articles have often been highly critical, at times suggesting that Obama’s unwillingness to give Gen. Stanley McChrystal the 20,000 to 40,000 troops requested in his September report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates amounted to “dithering” and projected U.S. weakness to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and U.S. allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Senor described himself as “pleasantly surprised” and “quite encouraged by the president’s decision” in a Republican National Committee sponsored conference call.
“It seems to me that Obama deserves even more credit for courage than Bush did, for he has risked much more. By the time Bush decided to support the surge in Iraq in early 2007, his presidency was over and discredited, brought down in large part by his own disastrous decision not to send the right number of troops in 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006,” wrote Kagan in the Washington Post on Wednesday.
“Obama has had to make this decision with most of his presidency still ahead of him. Bush had nothing to lose. Obama could lose everything,” Kagan concluded.
The theme of heralding Obama as a stoic decision-maker in the face of an administration and Congress that seek to “manage American decline” – as Kagan wrote – was also echoed by Bill Kristol in the Washington Post on Wednesday.
“By mid-2010, Obama will have more than doubled the number of American troops in Afghanistan since he became president; he will have empowered his general, Stanley McChrystal, to fight the war pretty much as he thinks necessary to in order to win; and he will have retroactively, as it were, acknowledged that he and his party were wrong about the Iraq surge in 2007 – after all, the rationale for this surge is identical to Bush’s, and the hope is for a similar success. He will also have embraced the use of military force as a key instrument of national power,” wrote Kristol.
The heralding of Obama as “A War President” – which was the title of Kristol’s article in the Washington Post – is a striking change of tone from some of the same pundits who were vociferously attacking the administration for every major policy initiative as recently as last week.
“Just what is Barack Obama as president making of our American destiny? The answer, increasingly obvious, is… a hash. It’s worse than most of us expected. His dithering on Afghanistan is deplorable, his appeasing of Iran disgraceful, his trying to heap new burdens on a struggling economy destructive. Add to this his sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a circus-like court trial,” wrote Kristol in the Nov. 23 edition of the Weekly Standard.
“The next three years are going to be long and difficult ones for our economy, our military, and our country,” he wrote.
The hawkish Wall Street Journal editorial board – which on Sept. 10 suggested that Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize because he sees the U.S. “as weaker than it was and the rest of the planet as stronger,” and on Sept. 18 described the administration’s decision to scrap a missile defense agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic as following “Mr. Obama’s trend of courting adversaries while smacking allies” – also exhibited a noticeable change in tone in praising the White House’s decision to surge troop levels.
“We support Mr. Obama’s decision, and this national effort, notwithstanding our concerns about the determination of the president and his party to see it through. Now that he’s committed, so is the country, and one of our abiding principles is that nations should never start (much less escalate) wars they don’t intend to win,” said the Journal’s editorial board on Wednesday.
The board’s qualified endorsement of the White House’s war plan seems to reflect both the Republican concerns that Obama may use the 18-month deadline as an excuse to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban and al-Qaeda are defeated and foreign policy hawks – such as those at FPI – who are pleased with the administration’s decision to commit more fully to the war in Afghanistan.
Hawks, such as Kagan and Kristol, may have to argue in 18 months for an extension of the withdrawal deadline but in similarly worded statements they both expressed confidence that this would not be a problem.
“If we and our Afghan allied partners are succeeding [by July 2011], the timing [of the withdrawal] may make sense. If we aren’t it won’t. It will not be any easier for Obama to embrace defeat in 18 months than it is today,” wrote Kagan in the Washington Post in response to concerns about the timeline for withdrawal.
“[T]he July 2011 date also buys Obama time. It enables him to push off pressure to begin withdrawing, or to rethink the basic strategy, for 18 months. We’ve come pretty far from all the talk about off ramps at three or six-month intervals in 2010 that we were hearing just a little while ago,” Kristol wrote on the Weekly Standard’s blog on Tuesday.
For hawks like Kristol, Kagan, and Senor who have been calling for a surge in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan since August, Obama’s announcement on Tuesday night was a high-point in their campaign of op-eds, columns, and conferences, to push the Obama White House in the direction of an escalation in Afghanistan.
Kristol concluded his blog post on a confident note.
“In a way, Obama is now saying: We’re surging and fighting for the next 18 months; see you in July 2011. That’s about as good as we’re going to get.”
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting searches for missing debate on withdrawal and finds leading papers at odds with public views
By Steve Rendall
FAIR – Excerpt
December 5, 2009
FAIR’s study looked at all opinion columns in the New York Times and the Washington Post during the first 10 months of 2009 that addressed what the U.S. should do in the Afghanistan War. Columns were counted as antiwar if they called for withdrawal or clearly called into question the need or rationale for the war. Columns that supported continuing the war were counted as pro-war; these were divided into those that endorsed the idea of escalating the war and those that advocated some sort of alternative strategy, including reducing the number of troops.
Both newspapers marginalized antiwar opinion to different degrees. Of the New York Times’ 43 columns on the Afghanistan War, 36 supported the war and only seven opposed it—five times as many columns to war supporters as to opponents. Of the paper’s pro-war columns, 14 favored some form of escalation, while 22 argued for pursuing the war differently.
In the Washington Post, pro-war columns outnumbered antiwar columns by more than 10 to 1: Of 67 Post columns on U.S. military policy in Afghanistan, 61 supported a continued war, while just six expressed antiwar views. Of the pro-war columns, 31 were for escalation and 30 for an alternative strategy.
At times the Post’s editors seemed unaware that an antiwar position even existed. For instance, in an op-ed roundtable (9/27/09) appearing in its recurring “Topic A” feature, the section’s editors, in their words, “asked foreign policy experts whether President Obama should maintain a focus on protecting the population and rebuilding the country, or on striking terrorists.”
Excluding withdrawal from the discussion was a theme echoed by Post columnist Fareed Zakaria, who began a column (9/14/09): “It is time to get real about Afghanistan. Withdrawal is not a serious option.”
Some columnists changed positions during the study period, which spanned two separate escalation discussions. Zakaria, for instance, supported the first escalation but opposed the one debated in the fall of 2009. The Post’s David Ignatius mostly opposed escalation, calling instead for continuing the war while paying more attention to humanitarian concerns, but he wrote one column that supported sending additional troops (10/30/09).
Pro-war columns opposing escalation included a variety of views. The Post’s Ignatius argued (10/4/09) that the U.S. should “[keep] our troop levels firm and reliable, until the Afghans acquire the tools and political consensus to secure their country”; Ignatius’ Post colleague George Will (9/1/09) wanted to replace ground troops in Afghanistan with more long-distance aerial attacks—which are notoriously hazardous to civilian populations:
“So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”
Calls for a scale-back or drawdown but not an end to the war were counted as pro-war, including columns that expressed some antiwar sentiments but suggested that the war should continue at some level—such as Times columnist Bob Herbert’s January 6 op-ed, which criticized the war but ultimately seemed to call merely for scaling down the troop commitment, arguing that “our interest in Afghanistan is to prevent it from becoming a haven for terrorists bent on attacking us,” a mission that he said “does not require the scale of military operations that the incoming administration is contemplating” or “a wholesale occupation.”
Herbert’s five subsequent columns on Afghanistan policy, on the other hand, made him by far the loudest antiwar voice in the study period, and the author of the majority of the Times’ seven antiwar columns. His October 26 column was a clear example, concluding: “Let’s explore creative alternatives to endless warfare and start bringing the weary troops home.”
Only one of the Times’ antiwar columns was written by a guest columnist (Leslie Gelb, 3/13/09); by contrast, only one of the Post’s antiwar columns was written by a regular columnist (Eugene Robinson, 10/27/09). And three of the Post’s six antiwar columns were short “Topic A” responses rather than full-length columns.
The voices the papers featured on the Afghanistan debate were overwhelmingly male, with only 12 of 110 columns written or co-written by women. Though women oppose escalation more strongly than men—according to a Clarus poll (10/1–4/09), 45 percent of men but only 33 percent of women favored additional troops—women’s columns were overall more pro-escalation than the male-penned op-eds. All nine columns appearing in the Post written or co-written by women were pro-war, with seven calling for an escalation; all three Times columns bearing female bylines supported the war, with two arguing for escalation. No antiwar column by a woman appeared in either paper.
Only two columns in the study period were written or co-written by Afghan nationals (New York Times, 4/20/09; Washington Post, 10/18/09); both generally supported the war, though neither called for escalation. Neither paper published a single column written by an antiwar activist or peace movement leader.
As hawkish advocates are ramping up their pro-war campaigns—including on the country’s leading op-ed pages—opposition to the war is not diminishing. In fact, according to the latest poll from AP/GfK, the opposite is happening: Its November 5–9 survey found 57 percent opposed to the war and just 39 percent in support.
So the American public’s majority view is a decidedly minority view on the op-ed pages on the country’s most prestigious newspapers. That’s good and bad news for democracy: It’s good news that the public is not entirely captive to the narrow, elite range of debate prescribed by newspapers.
It’s bad news because, however diminished their roles as opinion leaders may be, the New York Times and the Washington Post continue to wield an unmatched influence in the nation’s capital and in newsrooms across the country. One can only imagine what public opinion would be, and what policy might result, if these papers truly offered a wide-ranging debate on the Afghanistan War.
Research assistance by Valerie Doescher and Taylor Moore.
|Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva|
The report gives Brazil as the largest trade partner of Iran in Latin America with a turn-around of about $1.3 billion last year, says the Latin Business Chronicle.
Since taking office in 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has expanded Iran’s cooperation with many Latin American states, including Venezuela and Cuba.
President Ahmadinejad went on a five-day visit to five African and South American countries including Brazil last week.
The report says Iran’s trade with Latin America has experienced a 240.2 percent increase last year from 2007.
Iranian exports to South American states jumped by 85.2 percent to $337.6 million in the same period.
The IMF says Argentina increased its exports to Iran from $29 million in 2007 to $1.2 billion last year becoming Iran’s second largest trade partner in Latin America.
Total trade between Iran and Venezuela reached $51.8 million last year, a 30.8 percent increase.
Iran’s close ties with Latin American states, particularly Brazil, is a major cause of concern both to Israel and its staunch ally, the US.
Ahmadinejad’s Latin American trip came just days after Israeli president Shimon Peres completed a tour to Latin America aimed at rallying support against Tehran.