Weekend Reading – interesting articles you may have missed

Contents

  1. A dynamic demographic chart from the US census bureau — Watch the US population distribution change over time.
  2. In Defense of Biofuels“, Robert Zubrin, The New Atlantis  (Spring 2008) — “Biofuels can play a central part in weaning the United States from oil.”
  3. Powerful Iraqi cleric flirting with Shiite militant message“, AP (22 May 2008) — “Iraq’s top Shiite cleric quietly hints at harder views against US forces”
  4. In Iraq, a Surge in U.S. Airstrikes“, Washington Post  (23 May 2008) — “Military Says Attacks Save Troops’ Lives, but Civilian Casualties Elicit Criticism”
  5. Maliki Stalls US Plan to Frame Iran“, Gareth Porter, Antiwar.com (15 May 2008) — An article charging the US military and major media with collusion to support the Bush Administration’s progaganda against Iran.  Very detailed.
  6. Update:  “Iraq’s ports thriving, now that the government’s in charge“, McClatchy Newspapers (22 May 2008) — More evidence that Iraq’s government won in Basra, that the “war bloggers” were correct and the US-based area experts were wrong.

Excerpts from these articles

I.  A dynamic demographic chart from the US census bureau — Watch the US population distributin change over time.

This is a “movie” showing a snapshot of America’s age distribution, updated every five years.  It starts in 1950, ends 2050.  The data from 2010 and after are forecasts.

II.  “In Defense of Biofuels“, Robert Zubrin, The New Atlantis  (Spring 2008) — Excerpt:

On the world markets, the cost of a barrel of oil is, at this writing, over $120. In the United States, a gallon of gasoline now costs, on average, roughly $3.50. Even when adjusted for inflation, both of those figures are now higher than they have ever been – higher than during the 1973 oil embargo, higher than during any subsequent peak. And yet, bizarrely, instead of focusing their attention on the staggering cost of oil and its ruinous implications for global growth and economic wellbeing, American policymakers and energy analysts have begun to decry a different fuel-one that holds the key to ending our dependency on expensive oil purchased from countries with interests inimical to our own.

Biofuels – a class of fuels of which ethanol is the most prominent and immediately promising – can play a central part in weaning the United States from oil.

III.  “Powerful Iraqi cleric flirting with Shiite militant message“, AP (22 May 2008) — “Iraq’s top Shiite cleric quietly hints at harder views against US forces.”  Opening:

Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric has been quietly issuing religious edicts declaring that armed resistance against U.S.-led foreign troops is permissible – a potentially significant shift by a key supporter of the Washington-backed government in Baghdad.  The edicts, or fatwas, by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggest he seeks to sharpen his long-held opposition to American troops and counter the populist appeal of his main rivals, firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

But – unlike al-Sadr’s anti-American broadsides – the Iranian-born al-Sistani has displayed extreme caution with anything that could imperil the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  The two met Thursday at the elderly cleric’s base in the city of Najaf south of Baghdad.

So far, al-Sistani’s fatwas have been limited to a handful of people. They also were issued verbally and in private – rather than a blanket proclamation to the general Shiite population – according to three prominent Shiite officials in regular contact with al-Sistani as well as two followers who received the edicts in Najaf.  All spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

IV.  “In Iraq, a Surge in U.S. Airstrikes“, Washington Post  (23 May 2008) — “Military Says Attacks Save Troops’ Lives, but Civilian Casualties Elicit Criticism.”  Excerpt:

In recent weeks, Katzenberger and other pilots have dramatically increased their use of helicopter-fired missiles against enemy fighters, often in densely populated areas. Since late March, the military has fired more than 200 Hellfire missiles in the capital, compared with just six missiles fired in the previous three months.  The military says the tactic has saved the lives of ground troops and prevented attacks, but the strikes have also killed and wounded civilians, provoking criticism from Iraqis.

On Wednesday, eight people, including two children, were killed when a U.S. helicopter opened fire on a group of Iraqis traveling to a U.S. detention center to greet a man who was being released from custody, Iraqi officials said.  The U.S. military said in a statement that it had targeted men linked to a suicide bombing network. “Unfortunately, two children were killed when the other occupants of the vehicle, in which they were riding, exhibited hostile intent,” the statement said.

U.S. officials say they go to great lengths to avoid harming civilians in airstrikes.

V.  “Maliki Stalls US Plan to Frame Iran“, Gareth Porter, Antiwar.com (15 May 2008) –Excerpt:

Early this month, the George W. Bush administration’s plan to create a new crescendo of accusations against Iran for allegedly smuggling arms to Shiite militias in Iraq encountered not just one but two setbacks.  The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to endorse US charges of Iranian involvement in arms smuggling to the Mahdi Army, and a plan to show off a huge collection of Iranian arms captured in and around Karbala had to be called off after it was discovered that none of the arms were of Iranian origin.

The news media’s failure to report that the arms captured from Shiite militiamen in Karbala did not include a single Iranian weapon shielded the US military from a much bigger blow to its anti-Iran strategy.

VI.  Update:  “Iraq’s ports thriving, now that the government’s in charge“, McClatchy Newspapers (22 May 2008) — More evidence that Iraq’s government won in Basra, that the “war bloggers” were correct and the US-based area experts were wrong.

Iraq’s principal ports, which were plagued by corruption, theft and insecurity while under the control of militia-linked port guards, have registered a dramatic increase in trade, revenues and productivity since the government took control following its March military offensive, according port officials and a British military spokesman.

… Basra is the center of Iraq’s wealth, home to its major ports and 90 percent of the nation’s oil. Now the ports are “completely” under government control, said Maj. Tom Holloway the British military spokesman in Basra.  Import and exports have doubled since the military operation started in late March and security for the port was transferred to Iraqi Army control, Holloway said.  “The productivity within the ports just by stopping these dirty practices increased by 100 percent,” Holloway said.

… The military’s takeover also has meant greater security for port employees.

In the Khour Zubair harbor on a recent afternoon, men worked to unload ships unconcerned about the time. Since the operation began in late March to battle Shiite militias who’d imposed strict Islamic law and ruled the street with weapons, Basrawis feel more comfortable roaming the streets.  Employees here no longer hurry to leave by 6 p.m. so they won’t get caught on the dark roads when kidnappings and killings were more likely.  “We’re free to go and come now,” said Mohammed Abdou, 23, a foreman at the Khour Zubair port. “In the past the drivers had to pay just to enter to do their job. Now we can leave late at night without the worry of kidnappings or killings.”

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