Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Tuesday, April 6th, 2010.


We Did This. We All Did This.

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Iraq War

Via Digby, Dan Froomkin’s description of

Calling it a case of “collateral murder,” the WikiLeaks Web site today released harrowing until-now secret video of a U.S. Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad in 2007 repeatedly opening fire on a group of men that included a Reuters photographer and his driver — and then on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men.

None of the members of the group were taking hostile action, contrary to the Pentagon’s initial cover story; they were milling about on a street corner. One man was evidently carrying a gun, though that was and is hardly an uncommon occurrence in Baghdad.

Reporters working for WikiLeaks determined that the driver of the van was a good Samaritan on his way to take his small children to a tutoring session. He was killed and his two children were badly injured.

In the video, which Reuters has been asking to see since 2007, crew members can be heard celebrating their kills.

“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies littering the street.

A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: “Come on, let us shoot!”

Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses.

And after soldiers on the ground find two small children shot and bleeding in the van, one crewman can be heard saying: “Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids to a battle.”

I watched enough of the video to see for myself what was in it. It is a hard thing to watch. In short, a few men milling around in the sunlight in the middle of a plaza were assumed to be insurgents, and the camera equipment carried by a couple of them were assumed to be weapons, and the passer-by with his children in a van who stopped to help was assumed to be carrying weapons. And the troops in the helicopter — who were in no danger at the time — opened fire.

From the New York Times:

Late Monday, the United States Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, released the redacted report on the case, which provided some more detail.

The report showed pictures of what it said were machine guns and grenades found near the bodies of those killed. It also stated that the Reuters employees “made no effort to visibly display their status as press or media representatives and their familiar behavior with, and close proximity to, the armed insurgents and their furtive attempts to photograph the coalition ground forces made them appear as hostile combatants to the Apaches that engaged them.”

If you watch the video, you see what a crock that statement is. Clearly, the troops in the Apaches were too far away to tell camera equipment from Ak-47s; exactly to whom were the cameramen supposed to “visibily display their status as press”? What “furtive attempts to photograph coalition ground forces”? It was a small group of men hanging around an open area; what were they doing that made them appear as “hostile combatants”? Nothing that appears in the video. Yes, the video is edited down, but it goes on for a while before the shooting started, and there was nothing shown in the video that warranted shooting.

At least one other man appears to be carrying a rifle, but (a) it could be something else, and (b) maybe he’s carrying a rifle to protect himself form insurgents.

There are various ways to view this. One is knee-jerk, blindfolded apology. But I also agree with Oliver Willis that knee-jerk denigration of the troops isn’t called for, either.

The truth is, we’re all responsible for this. We’re responsible as a nation, because as a nation we put toops into this situation. We’re responsible even if we opposed the war from the beginning and marched against it and wrote out congress critters about it. We did this.

We send soldiers into situations in which they are under horrific stress and become desensitized to killing. And people who are desensitized to killing are very dangerous people. But we made them that way. We did this.

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Freakonomics Is Stupid

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Health Care

It never ceases to amaze me the way people who lack the critical thinking skills God gave turnips manage to make a living as “experts.”

In Becker’s opinion, the health care bill that passed recently is a disaster for at least two reasons. First, it seems to do little or nothing to deal with the single most important shortcoming of our current system: the fact that people pay very little on the margin for the medical care that they receive. Imagine that you could show up at a car dealership and have any car you wanted, and as many cars as you wanted, for no marginal cost. The market for cars would be in complete chaos, and people would have too many cars, and the ones they had would be too nice.

That is more or less the situation we now have with health care. It isn’t pretty to talk about, but if it costs $200,000 to keep an octogenarian alive for a month, someone has to pay for it. If it were the children of that octogenarian who had to cover part of the bill, and paying for that last month of life was the difference between being able to pay for the octogenarian’s grandchildren to go to college or not, there would be some hard choices to make. With health care expenditures approaching 20% of GDP, there are going to be tough choices. Markets cannot function when the people who receive the benefits of a good or a service are not the ones who are paying for it.

And, you know, it’s all about markets functioning. Now perfectly healthy people are going to storm hospitals and demand MRIs and appendectomies and spinal taps, and it’s going to be chaos. But if we have to choose between Grandma and sending little Sally off to college, then Grandma is off to the Soylent Green factory. That’s how markets (blessed be them) work.

Update: Let me spell this out — The “freakonomics” guys are arguing that a free market system is the superior means for delivering health care, because medical costs will respond to market forces the same way that the price of consumer goods respond to market forces. That’s what I’m saying is stupid.

As far as rationing end-of-life care, I found the example appalling. The decision of how aggressively to treat Grandma’s medical condition should not depend on whether the family can afford to pay for it or not. There are countless variable factors in real-world situations that make these decisions difficult, but ultimately the decision of when to switch to palliative care should be a purely medical one.

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