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There won't be a civil war. Unless there is. But Iraqi forces can handle it. Unless they can't.

| Thu Mar. 9, 2006 3:25 PM EST

Via the Guardian:

Earlier this week Mr Rumsfeld said reports had overestimated the possibility of civil war breaking out in Iraq following the sectarian clashes provoked after insurgents destroyed an important Shia shrine in Samarra last month.

Today he conceded there was a high level of "tension in the country, sectarian tension and conflict," but he added that it had not yet become a civil war "by most experts' calculation."

Mr Rumsfeld said: "The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent one were to occur, to have the—from a security standpoint— have the Iraqi security forces deal with it, to the extent they are able to."

Feel better now?

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Health Care and Debt

| Wed Mar. 8, 2006 10:00 PM EST

This month's Health Affairs has a couple of good pieces on health care costs and debt that are worth reading. The first article, by David Dranove and Michael Millenson, argues that only about 17 percent of all bankruptcies today are caused by unaffordable medical expenses, which is far lower than the 54.5 percent figure found by David Himmelstein and colleagues about a year ago.

So maybe crippling health care costs aren't as crippling as once assumed, right? Hold on. Himmelstein and colleagues respond to the new study here, saying that Dranove and Millenson "misrepresented" their data. Among other things, Himmelstein and friends note that many people who appear before bankruptcy court give as their reason "credit card debt" or "mortgage," even though that problem had been brought about by medical expenses. Yet Dranove and Millenson didn't seem to count these people as those who go bankrupt because of medical bills, even though common sense would say otherwise.

It's a fun debate, but either way, Robert Seifert and Mark Rukavina probably have the last word on the subject in this third piece, noting that regardless of who's right, bankruptcy is really only the tip of the iceberg here. It's still the case that one of six nonelderly adults—some 29 million Americans—are currently shouldering debt caused by medical bills, and another 56 million adults are at risk of incurring heavy debt, should they happen to get hurt or fall ill through no fault of their own. Regardless of how many people are being driven to actual bankruptcy by medical costs, a lot of people are finding themselves in pretty dire straits.

Additionally, the mere prospect of being saddled with medical debt prevents many people from seeking care—they don't fill a prescription, or don't see a specialist, or don't visit a clinic for a medical problem. (Sometimes this is self-imposed, but sometimes not: some providers will refuse treat a patient with previous outstanding medical bills, so a person with too much medical debt may simply be denied care.) It's another indication that merely reducing the number of uninsured Americans won't solve the health care crisis in this country—many of those who are insured still face all sorts of problems associated with not being able to pay for necessary health care.

Church Tries New Approach on Pornography

Wed Mar. 8, 2006 7:08 PM EST

This weekend Florida's Clermont Fellowship Church is hosting a "Free Porn" weekend, with symposiums led by reformed adult porn stars and pastors who have been "freed" from porn. Getting past initial chuckles over events such as the screening of the "award-winning" documentary, Missionary Positions, the church's website seems to take a somewhat unorthodox position on porn—advocating for love, acceptance, and forgiveness rather than pure damnation. As Lead Pastor Tom Casolaro says:

Who Needs a Unified Message?

| Wed Mar. 8, 2006 6:12 PM EST

Via Jacob Weisberg's Democratic-bashing article in Slate (and this wasn't one of the good Democratic-bashing articles, attacking the minority party on substance for being too filled with pro-corporate moderates who back bad bankruptcy bills, harmful abortion restrictions, and defeating the Kyoto Protocol; no, no, it was one of those bitchy "insider" pieces where we learn that Harry Reid is "colorless," Nancy Pelosi is "Washington's answer to Barbara Streisand," and Howard Dean stands for "incandescent rage"—in other words, sheer wankery), here's a New York Times piece that talks about the problems with the Democratic Party's electoral strategy:

Global warming...still happening!

| Wed Mar. 8, 2006 5:51 PM EST

Last year, Mother Jones put out a special package on global warming and the Bush administration's determined refusal to take it seriously. As expected—to quote Jon Stewart—the issue was never a problem again.

Or so we thought. David Ignatius, in his Washington Post column, sets us straight:

Every week brings new evidence that global climate change is real and that it's advancing more rapidly than scientists had expected. This past week brought a report in Science that the Antarctic is losing as much as 36 cubic miles of ice a year. Last month researchers reported that glaciers in Greenland are melting twice as fast as previously estimated. One normally cautious scientist, Richard Alley, told the Post's Juliet Eilperin he was concerned about the Antarctic findings, since just five years ago scientists had been expecting more ice. "That's a wake-up call," he said. "We better figure out what's going on."

Animals don't have the luxury of ordering up more studies of global warming. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times reported in January that colorful harlequin frogs found in Latin America are dying at alarming rates because of a fungus that seems to be linked to global warming. Doug Struck explained last week in the Post that climate change is helping the ravenous mountain pine beetle devour forests in British Columbia, killing more trees than wildfires or logging. Similar findings are stacked in a depressing pile in my study that keeps getting taller.

And no, still nothing halfway serious on this from the Bush administration or Congress.

Will NATO Go to Darfur?

| Wed Mar. 8, 2006 3:38 PM EST

A few weeks ago we predicted that the Bush administration's bold new promises to help stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur—perhaps by employing NATO—wouldn't amount to much. Sadly, that prediction proved entirely correct. On Monday, NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Schefer said NATO had no intention of putting "boots on the ground" in Darfur. (As mentioned before, in most European countries there's not really any popular outcry among civil society groups to do anything about a bit of ethnic-cleansing in Africa.)

Eric Reeves, who's followed the Darfur conflict closer than just about anyone else on the planet, notes today that it's not just Europe that deserves the blame here. The United States isn't exactly leading on the issue, either. And while both the EU and the U.S. are pushing for UN involvement, that won't be enough—ultimately, NATO needs to get involved:

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Rumsfeld Blames the Media

Wed Mar. 8, 2006 2:34 PM EST

Donald Rumsfeld thinks the media is responsible for widespread fears of a civil war in Iraq. Recent polls have shown support for the President and the war in Iraq dwindling, with half of Americans calling for a pullout and eighty percent seeing the sectarian violence leading to civil war. But according to Rumsfeld, polls like these aren't reliable as long as public opinions is being corrupted by a press that seems "to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq."

Although Rumsfeld did not give specific examples of misreporting, he did hypothesize on the root of the problem: "We do know, of course, that al-Qaeda has media committees. We do know that they teach people exactly how to try to manipulate the media," he said. "Now I can't take a string and tie it to a news report and then trace it back to an al-Qaeda media committee meeting. I'm not able to do that at all."

Actually, this isn't the first time Rumsfeld has talked about al-Qaeda's media apparatus. Last month he accused the organization of poisoning Muslim views of the United States through media vehicles like the internet and instant messaging. "Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we—our country, our government—has not adapted," he said. "In some cases, military public affairs officials have had little communications training and little, if any, grounding in the importance of timing and rapid response, and the realities of digital and broadcast media." But if military specialists in public affairs haven't had training in communications, what is it exactly, that they are trained to do?

Today is International Women's Day and Blog Against Sexism Day

| Wed Mar. 8, 2006 12:59 PM EST

Today is International Women's Day, which George W. Bush has already celebrated by lying about the status of Iraqi women. It is also Blog Against Sexism Day; a list of participating blogs can be found here.

Bella Abzug once said:

They used to give us a day--it was called International Women's Day. In 1975 they gave us a year, the Year of the Woman. Then from 1975 to 1985 they gave us a decade, the Decade of the Woman. I said at the time, who knows, if we behave they may let us into the whole thing. Well, we didn't behave and here we are.

For many, International Women's Day is either a nice commemoration or just another liberal plot. Its real purpose, however, is to call attention to the need for equality and justice among all people.

Guest Workers, Again

| Tue Mar. 7, 2006 9:21 PM EST

Linda Chavez-Thompson, the executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO, has an op-ed on immigration in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today that hits a bunch of good notes, including:

Temporary guest worker programs are not a cure-all. Real immigration reform cannot and should not be designed primarily to enlarge guest worker programs that have served only to provide employers with a steady stream of vulnerable, indentured workers they may exploit for commercial gain.
Right. The historical experience is pretty clear on this. Between 1942 and 1964, when immigration was still very much restricted in the United States, the federal government operated the Bracero Program for agricultural work. Immigrants who enrolled were put in holding pens at the border, waited with their numbers for a job, and then stripped and "deloused" and shuttled off to the U.S., where they were bound to their employer and virtually powerless.

Iraqi women without headscarves threatened, attacked, and killed

| Tue Mar. 7, 2006 7:52 PM EST

According to the Women's Rights Association, a Baghdad NGO, since 2003, the number of women in Iraq attacked because they were not wearing headscarves has more than tripled. Between 1999 and March of 2003, there were 22 attacks and one death; since then, there have been 80 attacks and 4 deaths, with no figures are available yet for 2006.

The decision to not wear a headscarf is concentrated in the area around Baghdad because that is where Iraq's modern society has grown. According to a WRA spokeswoman, there are now significantly fewer women and girls around Baghdad wearing headscarves, but many have been threatened by relatives or have been imprisoned inside their homes.

A year ago, insurgents took an Iraqi woman in Western dress out of a local pharmacy and executed her. She was found with two bullet holes in her head, and she had been covered with a traditional abaya veil with a message pinned to it that said "She was a collaborator against Islam." She was not the first woman to have a "collaborator" label pinned to her clothing.

"Honor killings" are still permitted in Iraq. One woman was strangled by her father because she went to visit him without her veil, which her husband had asked her to remove after their marriage. Her husband says there has never been an investigation of his wife's death. A police spokesman said that there is little the Iraqi police can do in these cases because "We're in a Muslim country... if you interfere in family cases concerning veils, you're considered a betrayer of Islam. We cannot touch such cases."

Human Rights Watch points out that--though the new Iraqi constitution permits women the right to transfer citizenship to their children, it fails to give women equal rights within the family. HRW also confirms that Iraqi women are being attacked for dancing, socializing with men, and not wearing headscarves.

An International Women's Day news release from the White House, dated today, states "No longer denied basic rights and brutalized by tyrants, Mr. Bush says those women are now making their own history."