Target Centermass

12/29/2004

Tsunami Update

Filed under: — Gunner @ 11:57 pm

Latest counts of the devastating casualties:

Summary: Tsunami Deaths by Country

Ways to donate:

Earthquake: How to Help [Updated Extensively 12/29]

Also, please check out the map created by elgato at the Swanky Conservative for a look at the geographic immensity and human tragedy of the disaster.

$2 Million to Save Army Marriages

Filed under: — Gunner @ 11:22 pm

Morale is the greatest single factor in successful wars.

—Dwight D. Eisenhower

Recognizing the obviously detrimental effect of homefront instability on soldiers, the Army is investing in programs to salvage and strengthen marriages among its troops.

With studies showing divorce rates as high as 21 percent among couples where one spouse has been sent off to war, the Army is spending $2 million on a variety of marriage programs, including vouchers for romantic getaways to places like the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I’ve been in the Army 20 years, and I’ve never seen the Army pay for programs like this,” said Lt. Col. Chester Egert, chaplain for the 101st.

One program being implemented Army-wide teaches couples forgiveness and the skills to communicate. It includes a 40-hour course with lessons on the dangers of alcohol and tobacco and how to recognize post-traumatic stress. Soldiers who complete it are rewarded with promotion points and a weekend retreat with their spouse.

“If you learn those skills, you can make an impact on the number of divorces, and the number, we think, of reports of physical violence,” said Col. Glen Bloomstrom, director of ministry initiatives for the Chief of Chaplains.

To make the program more desirable, commanders are encouraged to give their soldiers time off to attend. Baby-sitting is often provided.

“What we’re trying to do is change the culture, that it’s OK to work on your marriage and take some time, and invest in your lifelong relationship — especially now when we’re asking so much of your military spouses,” Bloomstrom said.

….

The Army’s recent foray into marriage counseling was started in the late 1990s by a chaplain in Hawaii working with a unit with a high number of divorces. In 2001, laws were changed to allow the Army to pay for lodging and meals for the retreats.

….

Egert said the Army’s effort doesn’t just make for stronger families — it makes for better soldiers.

“Soldiers will come apart in Afghanistan and Iraq. They’ll absolutely collapse if they think their wife is going to leave them or their husband is going to leave them,” Egert said. “I’ve seen soldiers hospitalized because they absolutely had a nervous breakdown because they were worried about their families.”

Added Bloomstrom: “You are really giving something that the couples know they need, at a time they may be receptive to hear it.”

I have a little experience in these kind of matters, though only enough to give me a window through which I can peek and gain a small measure of understanding. While at my initial training at Ft. Knox, I was dumped via letter by my girlfriend at the time. Granted, it was nowhere near the ordeal of a divorce or a custody battle, but it most assuredly had an effect on my personal morale and motivation.

I support the aims of the Army’s programs and recognize their potential value. My only question is the awarding of promotion points for involvement — this seams an unfair and unnecessary advantage to married personnel as opposed to their single counterparts. Marriage already has a financial inducement in the services, not to mention the nice little get-aways, etc., mentioned in this article.

10 Die As Militants, Saudi Police Clash

Filed under: — Gunner @ 10:41 pm

Long an exporter of terror, in all reality if not officially, Saudi Arabia is increasingly having to deal with the Islamist bastards that it has allowed to spawn coming home to roost.

Islamic extremists set off bombs and battled with police in the Saudi capital Wednesday night, leaving nine militants and one bystander dead and causing oil prices to jump as the insurgents signaled they will keep up attacks despite the kingdom’s crackdown on al-Qaida.

A car bomb was detonated by remote control near the Interior Ministry in central Riyadh — killing a bystander, according to Saudi TV — followed soon after by an explosion when two suicide attackers tried to bomb a troop recruitment center.

The gunmen who set off the ministry blast fled, but then engaged in a gunbattle with police in northern Riyadh that killed seven militants and wounded an undetermined number of officers, police said.

The attacks came two weeks after al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden called on his followers to focus attacks on his homeland. While damage to the Interior Ministry was minor, it was a bold assault on the government body at the center of Saudi Arabia’s war on other Islamic extremists.

Prince Ahmed bin Abdel Aziz, the deputy interior minister, told Saudi TV the attackers were all Saudis. He said they were “terrorists (who) took a great risk, because they know that their end is imminent.”

Trust me, the end of Saudi terrorists is very far from imminent.

The first explosion went off around 8:30 p.m. near the Interior Ministry, a huge modern high-rise in a complex that includes a luxury hotel. Two militants set off a car bomb by remote control in a traffic tunnel near the ministry, police said. A limousine driver was killed, Saudi TV said.

….

A half hour later, a second explosion shook the city. Two suicide bombers tried to drive into a troop recruitment center about five miles away, but they came under fire from police and set off their explosives prematurely. The two bombers died, but there were no other reports of casualties.

The two militants behind the ministry blast, apparently joined by accomplices, later fought with police in a northern district of the capital. The gunmen, armed with automatic weapons and grenades, holed up in a building and were killed while fighting with officers who surrounded the structure, police said.

….

The explosions took place at night, when few employees were at the ministry or the recruitment center. Past militant attacks, including some claimed by al-Qaida, appeared designed to maximize casualties, but drew heavy criticism when many of the dead were Arab and Muslim.

It is interesting to see the extremists buckle slightly under public pressure. Perhaps they should employ some pollsters and focus groups.

Extremists have staged a number of attacks recently, but none on the scale of dramatic operations early this year and last year that killed dozens.

Early Wednesday, a suspected militant was killed in Riyadh after tossing a bomb and shooting at security agents, a security official said. On Tuesday, another suspect and a bystander were killed in a shootout in the same Riyadh neighborhood, an Interior Ministry official said. One suspect was captured in that incident.

The extremists’ biggest attack recently came Dec. 6, when militants said to belong to al-Qaida’s Saudi branch stormed the U.S. consulate in Jiddah, killing nine people.

Ten days later, bin Laden issued his audiotape — his first message in years directed specifically at Saudis. He praised those who carried out the consulate raid and urged his followers to attack the kingdom’s oil installations to weaken both the West and the Saudi royal family.

Saudi forces have cracked down on al-Qaida — killing and arresting a large number of its suspected top figures in the country — after the large attacks early in the year.

In May, gunmen attacked oil company compounds in Khobar, 250 miles northeast of Riyadh, and killed 22 people, 19 of them foreigners. Earlier the same month, attackers stormed the offices of an American company in Yanbu, 220 miles north of Jiddah, killing six Westerners and a Saudi.

On April 21, a suicide bomber struck a government building in Riyadh, killing five people. In November 2003, a suicide bombing at a Riyadh housing compound killed 17 people, most of them Muslims working in Saudi Arabia.

Long ago, the Saudis sold their souls, supporting terrorism abroad and allowing radicalism to fester at home. They now are seeing the bills coming due, and the longterm stability of the government must soon come into question if changes aren’t made at the very roots of Saudi society.

12/28/2004

Tsunami Map

Filed under: — Gunner @ 10:56 pm

Elgato over at the Swanky Conservative has put together this map showing the devastating effects of this weekend’s violent quake and resulting tsunami. Mouse over the countries for the tragic details, which elgato appears to be updating as new info becomes available.

Navy SEALs Sue AP Over Iraq Prison Photos

Filed under: — Gunner @ 10:38 pm

Too often these days, one can feel disgusted by the plague of frivolous lawsuits that burden the American legal system. Juries confound with ludicrous verdicts. Lawyers turn the law into a lottery.

Still, sometimes I just have to root for the plaintiffs.

Six members of a Navy special forces unit and two Navy wives sued The Associated Press on Tuesday, saying the news agency endangered the servicemen’s lives and invaded their privacy by publishing photos showing the men interacting with Iraqi prisoners.

The lawsuit says the agency erred by not obscuring the identity of the six SEALs in photos that accompanied a story distributed worldwide earlier this month, contending publication of the photos jeopardizes future covert operations and harms the servicemen’s careers.

“There was no need for the AP to publish the faces of the SEALs,” James W. Huston, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a press release. “In fact, the SEALs showed more respect for the insurgents and terrorists that they were apprehending by obscuring their faces than the AP did for the Navy SEALs who were in Iraq risking their lives.”

The story was written by San Diego reporter Seth Hettena, who is named as a defendant. The story did not name the Navy members or the wife who posted the photos on what she believed was a private Web site.

“We believe that none of the claims have any solid basis in the law as we understand it,” said Dave Tomlin, AP’s assistant general counsel. “We intend to defend ourselves and our reporter vigorously and, we expect, successfully.”

The lawsuit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, states that Hettena took the photos from a Navy wife’s “personal digital photo album without notice or permission.” It says that the woman, identified only as “Jane Doe,” believed the nearly 1,800 photos she posted on the Internet site were protected from access by unauthorized users and required a password to view.

The initial AP story, transmitted Dec. 3, noted that the photos were found on the commercial photo-sharing Web site Smugmug.com using the search engine Google, and were not password-protected until after the reporter purchased copies online and began inquiries.

The story said the photos appear to show Navy SEALs in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees and also what appear to be bloodied prisoners, one with a gun to his head. It noted that the Navy had launched a formal investigation into the photographs after being shown them by an AP reporter, adding that the photos did not necessarily depict any illegal activities.

The AP later reported that the Navy’s preliminary findings showed most of the 15 photos transmitted by the agency were taken for legitimate intelligence-gathering purposes and showed commandos using approved procedures.

….

The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages, including punitive damages, and a preliminary injunction barring the AP from further use of the photos and requiring the agency to protect the SEALs’ identities.

It contends that at least two wives of the SEALs pictured have received daily harassing and threatening phone calls since the photos were published, and alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress.

I don’t know enough of the applicable areas of the law, but I suspect the plaintiff’s case is weak at best. Nevertheless, I am so appalled at the behaviour of the mainstream media, both during the presidential campaign and throughout the Iraqi campaign, that I can only dream of a sympathetic jury or a costly, punishing settlement. That the Associated Press will actually undertake a review of their motivations or alter their coverage is beyond hope, at least in the foreseeable future.

Mortuary Unit in Iraq Trying on Marines

Filed under: — Gunner @ 9:40 pm

A daily onslaught on one’s sense of humanity — a constant dosage of the aftermath of the brutality of war. And little or no relief when the day is done.

I would never want this necessary and unappreciated duty.

When U.S. servicemen and insurgents die in Fallujah, the bodies are brought back to camp and laid on a concrete floor under a tent hidden behind blast walls topped with concertina wire. The sign outside says: “Do Not Enter.”

Five men check the corpses and put them in refrigerators. Within 72 hours, the slain American will arrive at Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base in a flag-draped coffin, while the Iraqi will be buried in a plot outside Fallujah facing Mecca.

This is the work of Mortuary Affairs, the Marine unit that catalogues the remains of American servicemen who die in combat, referred to as angels, as well as the Iraqi guerrillas they fight and civilian victims. These Marines must cope with one of the most psychologically punishing but unavoidable tasks of war.

They are shunned by their peers because of a superstition that contact with them brings bad luck. Yet some don’t want to go home and leave their fellow Marines who are among the few who have witnessed the same horrors. They must try to stay sane even as they are confronted with the effects of gruesome killings by the shrapnel-filled roadside bombs set by insurgents and terrible U.S. firepower.

“Some of the guys, when it gets dark, don’t want to go out by themselves. Sometimes they feel like somebody’s watching them when they know there isn’t,” said Lance Cpl. Boyce Kerns, a 24-year-old from Greenville, S.C. “Some of the stuff we’ve seen you wouldn’t see in the worst horror movies and it leaves a little imprint.”

….

Many in the Mortuary Affairs unit at Camp Fallujah are reservists, former cooks and supply clerks from a unit in Washington. On a recent day, their routine was perfectly normal. Several sat around a television watching “Saving Private Ryan,” others laughed and teased each other, while some were about to leave to play video games.

Some, like Kerns, volunteered for the work because they just wanted to join the Iraq fight no matter what. Others decided to do it so their colleagues wouldn’t have to, and some were assigned.

They were sent to a two-week training course that included a stop at the Baltimore morgue to get accustomed to the sight and smell of death. Many among them had never seen a human corpse before.

“As for seeing the insurgents dead, I know that these guys were out there killing Marines, they were given a choice whether to surrender or not, so seeing their corpses mangled up doesn’t bother you,” said Cpl. Jeffrey Keating, a 26-year-old from Queens, N.Y. “But seeing the Marines dead, that hurts a little bit more. But you just got to see it as a job.”

The 16 Marines who process the dead, working eight at a time in 24-hour shifts, follow the same routine.

When a body arrives, it is brought inside the tent and placed on a concrete floor. Two men are the “dirty hands” who inspect the body, catalogue wounds and check for unexploded weapons. One sorts through the slain person’s belongings. Two more are the “clean hands,” writing down what the others find.

The dead American’s name, social security numbers and place of death are written into a hardcover lime-green log book. The body is given an evacuation number and then placed in a body bag — a stack of unused bags labeled “pouch, human remains w/6 handles” sits to the side of the tent.

Iraqi dead go to a white refrigerator while American dead go to one of two camouflage refrigerators on the other side of the tent. The entire process usually takes about 15 minutes.

American bodies are then sent to a U.S. base in Doha, Qatar and on to Dover, while Iraqi bodies are buried in a plot outside Fallujah marked with coordinates from a global positioning system so relatives can identify the remains later.

“We take a picture, make sure there’s no unexploded ordnance or personal effects, and look for identification,” said Marine Cpl. John Belizario, 23, of Washington. “We bury them in a plot — four rows of 10, all facing Mecca as a sign of respect, basically.”

Everyone has to deal with the times when they’re alone, when the darkness is around them. Those in uniform often rely on the camaraderie of the fellow troops, a relief the members of Mortuary Affairs must carry on without.

When the work is finished, the Marines clean up and go to chow hall. Anyone who knows who they are stays away or barely acknowledges them because talking to them is considered bad luck.

“When the day is done, we’re by ourselves,” Kerns said. “We’ve tried to have interaction with the other units, but when they find out what we do, that’s about the end of that.”

These men may need and deserve our thanks and support more than any other upon their return.

Israel Paints Colorful West Bank Base

Filed under: — Gunner @ 12:27 am

Well, this certainly won’t be all the drab buildings I knew from Ft. Hood and Ft. Knox.

A new army base going up in the northern part of the West Bank will be Israel’s most colorful, painted in a dazzling array of pink, brown, purple, light blue and orange, an army weekly reported.

The current edition of “Bamahane,” a publication for soldiers, carries a small picture of the Jalameh base, going up near the Palestinian town of Jenin. It shows the stark structure of two-story cement blocks joined at right angles painted in eye-popping shades of orange and pink.

“I’m sick of seeing the ugly and depressing colors of military buildings — always beige and gray,” the officer behind the artsy project, Capt. Itsik Koren, told the weekly. “I decided to do something different here.”

The base is expected to be ready in two months. It will be home to a variety of units involved in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including infantry, roadblock guards, canine corps and field intelligence.

The picture shows the base under construction on typically rocky, barren West Bank land, but Koren told the weekly that this too, will change. He plans to plant trees around the base.

Israel is set to remove its four Jewish settlements from the northern West Bank next summer, but construction of the $5.76 million base, with its elaborate color scheme and landscaping, shows that the army is not planning to pull its forces out of the area anytime soon.

Rather than look for pictures of the base, I’ve decided to envision this color scheme applied elsewhere, such as the fine Israeli Merkava Mk-3:

So, what do you think?

12/27/2004

Iraq Election Update: Sunnis and Powell and Osama

Filed under: — Gunner @ 11:32 pm

Oh my!

First, the Sunnis:

Iraq’s Top Sunni Party Withdraws from Jan. Election

Iraq’s top Sunni Muslim party said Monday it was withdrawing from Jan. 30 elections because relentless bloodshed would keep people from voting in the long dominant Sunni north and west.

“The Iraqi Islamic Party is withdrawing from the elections because we do not think the situation will improve in the next few weeks to give conditions for credible elections,” party Secretary-General Tareq al-Hashimi said.

Persistent violence in Sunni Arab cities, most of which are under curfew, has raised fears that voters there will be too intimidated to cast their ballots, skewing the poll in favor of Iraq’s 60-percent Shi’ite Muslim majority.

The Islamic Party’s list of 275 candidates would still appear on ballot papers which were already being printed, a spokesman for Iraq’s Electoral Commission told Reuters.

Farid Ayar said the Commission had received no formal request for withdrawal, but if it does, any votes cast for the Iraqi Islamic Party would be considered “invalid.”

The leading mainstream Sunni religious party, along with at least 16 other Sunni and secular parties, had threatened to boycott the poll unless it was postponed by up to six months to ensure that voters across the country could take part.

But most, including the Islamic Party itself, later fielded lists of candidates for the poll to elect a 275-seat National Assembly that will draft a constitution and appoint a cabinet.

Counter this with Secretary Powell:

Powell Says Next Iraqi Government Should Assure Sunni Representation

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the transitional Iraqi government to be set up after next month’s elections will have to “find a way” to assure that Sunni Muslims are fairly represented. U.S. officials are concerned that the insurgency and a poor turnout by Sunnis could largely exclude them from a new national assembly.

Mr. Powell says there is no provision in Iraq’s Transitional Administrative Law for handing Sunnis seats in the new national assembly that they don’t win in the January 30 election.

But he is making clear the Bush administration’s view that Sunnis should have an adequate role in the new government that will be chosen by the assembly.

….

At a news conference here, Mr. Powell said the law provides only for the direct election of legislators, but that the government they choose should reflect the religious and ethnic makeup of the country:

“I think that for the government to be representative, and for the government to be effective, the transitional national assembly would certainly have to take into account the ethnic mix of the country, and find a way to make sure that all segments of the country believe that they are playing a proper role in the government. That’s the way the Iraqi Interim Government was formed and the current ministries operate, and it would seem to me to be sensible for the transitional government to do the same thing,” Mr. Powell says.

Iraq’s Shiites, who make up about 60 per cent of the population and were largely denied power under Saddam Hussein, are energetically campaigning in the elections.

….

Mr. Powell said having the election as scheduled January 30, with maximum participation, is essential. He said the United States is encouraging Sunnis to join in the effort, and to, in his words, “say no to terrorism, no to murder, and yes to democracy.”

He said as part of that effort, the United States is talking to other Arab governments, urging them to encourage Iraqi Sunni leaders to turn out the vote.

And then there’s the sonofabitch bin Laden:

Osama Bid to Hijack Vote

Terror chief Osama Bin Laden has made a blatant bid to destroy Iraq’s elections.

In a chilling audiotape broadcast yesterday, the al-Qaeda leader urged all Iraqi Muslims to boycott the poll on January 30.

Bin Laden also said he was PLEASED with the “gallant work” of evil terror chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — the man responsible for beheading 62-year-old British hostage Ken Bigley.

The tape was aired by Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera and the voice seemed to be Bin Laden’s.

He tells Iraqis: “This constitution is infidel and therefore everyone who participates in this election will be considered infidels.

“Beware of henchmen who speak in the name of Islamic parties and urge people to participate in the election.”

Bin Laden goes on to describe al-Zarqawi as the “emir of al-Qaeda in Iraq” and urges Muslims there “to listen to him”.

Jordanian al-Zarqawi and his henchmen are responsible for numerous car bombings and beheadings of foreign hostages.

If Osama’s recent releases are anything to judge by, there are two things he is concerned for — his life and his movement. These concerns are driven by two fears, and those are President Bush and progress towards a return to civilization by the world of Islam. He tried but failed to sway the U.S. to reject Bush, and now he is working to persuade the Iraqi people to reject democracy. Osama knows all too well that a free and prosperous society, even in a Moslem nation, will not willingly turn back the clock the centuries his beliefs require. Instead, such a society could potentially shine like the Lighthouse of Alexandria to the surrounding peoples. This could be more of an end of Osama than his death ever could be.

Ukrainian Transport Minister Found Dead

Filed under: — Gunner @ 10:15 pm

With opposition leader Victor Yushchenko’s victory apparently assured in the Ukrainian presidential do-over, there may be a break on the fraud allegations of the earlier balloting. Is this the smoking gun?

Ukrainian Transport Minister Heorhiy Kirpa, a supporter of the trailing candidate in Sunday’s presidential election, was found dead in his house from a gunshot wound Monday, a spokesman for the nation’s railways said.

Local media speculated that Kirpa’s death was a suicide but officials did not confirm that. The Unian news agency reported that a gun was found near his body.

A duty officer in Kiev’s police headquarters told The Associated Press that Kirpa was found wounded. When asked whether Kirpa had committed suicide, the officer would not comment.

Kirpa’s death came a day after a presidential election rerun in which opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko held an insurmountable lead over Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Opposition figures claimed that Kirpa allocated trains to ferry Yanukovych supporters to vote at multiple polling sites in Nov. 21 presidential balloting that eventually was annulled by the Ukraine Supreme Court.

That overturning of the election led to Sunday’s rerun.

Well, obviously it’s a smoking gun, but is it the smoking gun, one pointing to a man who tried to screw over the wishes of his own countrymen?

Kids Raise Money for Soldiers’ Phone Cards

Filed under: — Gunner @ 9:32 pm

Sometimes, a great story just speaks for itself.

For all the billions of dollars being spent on the war in Iraq, 14-year-old Brittany Bergquist is surprised that the U.S. military doesn’t do what she and her little brother are doing: helping soldiers phone home free.

“I’m kind of happy that they didn’t supply them,” she said, “because we’ve always wanted to do something for the soldiers.”

With $14 from their piggy banks, she and 12-year-old brother Robbie started Cell Phones for Soldiers. In less than nine months, the organization has provided $250,000 worth of prepaid calling cards to American soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.

They raise money by collecting old cellular phones and selling them to companies that refurbish them for resale.

It all started in April, when the family heard about a Massachusetts soldier who ran up $7,600 in cell phone charges calling home from Iraq. T-Mobile forgave much of the bill. But Brittany and Robbie figured there must be other soldiers — including a cousin of theirs — who are stationed in Iraq and want to call home more often but cannot afford it.

The Bergquist kids pooled their money and got friends to kick in $7 more. They opened a bank account at South Shore Savings Bank, which was so impressed it contributed $500. Yard sales followed, along with newspaper articles and TV interviews. Hundreds of schools and organizations, from Hawaii to Georgia, have started local chapters and become drop-off centers for used cell phones.

“It’s hard doing everything,” said Brittany, an eighth-grader from the Boston suburb of Norwell. “But it doesn’t matter to us. We think about how hard the soldiers work every day and they don’t have a choice to stop.”

Last week, the IRS granted Cell Phones for Soldiers nonprofit status, meaning contributions to the cause are tax-deductible.

The USO, the private organization that entertains U.S. troops overseas, runs a similar program, called Operation Phone Home. A $10 donation will buy a serviceman or servicewoman a 100-minute global calling card.

Related sites:
Cell Phones for Soldiers
USO

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