Negative U.S. media reports on Iraq linked to increased insurgent attacks

Somewhat obvious but I am glad that a reputable institution has studied this
Researchers at Harvard say that publicly voiced doubts about the U.S. occupation of Iraq have a measurable "emboldenment effect" on insurgents there.

Periods of intense news media coverage in the United States of criticism about the war, or of polling about public opinion on the conflict, are followed by a small but quantifiable increases in the number of attacks on civilians and U.S. forces in Iraq, according to a study by Radha Iyengar, a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in health policy research at Harvard and Jonathan Monten of the Belfer Center at the university's Kennedy School of Government.

The increase in attacks is more pronounced in areas of Iraq that have better access to international news media, the authors conclude in a report titled "Is There an 'Emboldenment' Effect? Evidence from the Insurgency in Iraq."

The researchers studied data about insurgent attacks and U.S. media coverage up to November, tracking what they called "anti-resolve statements" by U.S. politicians and reports about American public opinion on the war.

"We find that in periods immediately after a spike in anti-resolve statements, the level of insurgent attacks increases," says the study, published earlier this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a leading U.S. nonprofit economic research organization.



While in Chicago last week for a business meeting, my fiance and I had an opportunity to attend a mini-fashion show put on by Neiman Marcus for Michelle Smith's "Milly" line of women wear. I was able to exchange a few words with her husband (who came from NYC to support her efforts, Kudos!) and even their little baby girl Sophia.
I think she has a great eye for colors and patterns. Especially the subtle use of patterns in one color. I think the cuts and shapes are fresh and modern though not distinctive. Her designs though are clean and appealing, with a sense of the classics refreshed and modernized in a fun way. Overall I, and my fiance, like her work.


Guitar Heroes

Michael Yon artfully reviews Guitar Heroes:
The Predator peered down on the terrorists planting the bomb. There were too many targets for one Hellfire missile, and it’s better to conserve the weapon when possible, since the Predator must fly far to reload.

A group of four Kiowa Warrior pilots were only a few minutes away from the enemy, but their helicopters were on the ground and the engines were cold, while the pilots were waiting in a building near the runway, playing Guitar Hero to pass the time.

A soldier interrupted the Guitar Hero session, telling the pilots to get in the air. Orders would come over the radio. The pilots abandoned Guitar Hero and raced out the door into the cold night to their OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, economy-sized helicopters that would make a Ford Pinto seem spacious. The pilots crammed two each into the two helicopters, strapping in, cranking engines, while radio chatter had already started. The pilots learned that the Predator had identified a target, which it would laser-designate for a Hellfire shot from a Kiowa.

Minutes after the first alert, rotors were chopping the cold air, the instrument readings looked good. The pilots changed the pitch of their rotors to bite the air and lifted slightly off the ground, backing out of their parking spaces like cars. After backing out, they stopped in a hover, and began to move forward, pulling away from the other helicopters. The Kiowa Warriors lifted into the sky over the runway, heading south, then east toward the lights of the city of Mosul only a minute away. They didn’t get far.


The Last Letter Home

In 1864, with the nation wracked by civil war, President Lincoln wrote a letter1 expressing his condolences to a grieving Boston woman, mother of five men all believed at the time to have been killed in battle. (The letter is a replica.)

From the WSJ.
When a soldier falls, commanders face a profound task: Accounting for a lost life to the family
March 8, 2008; Page A1

ORGUN-E, Afghanistan -- "How do you start a letter like this? How do you end it?"

On a raw November morning here, along the wild frontier bordering Pakistan, Lt. Col. Michael Fenzel spoke those words as he sat down to write to a father who would never see his son again.

Images ran through the colonel's mind. His own two toddler boys, growing up quickly every day he is away at war; the parents of Private First Class Jessy Rogers, whose own child would be forever 20 years old, his age when insurgents detonated a bomb under his Humvee.

Lt. Col. Fenzel, commander of the 1st Battalion (Airborne) of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, started writing, then stopped again. He pressed his forehead into his palms. "Jesus, this is hard," he said.

Many things have changed during hundreds of years of American warfare. But much as they did during the Revolution, Army commanders still write letters, often by hand, to soothe the bereaved, share stories of the good times and -- perhaps -- describe the circumstances of death.

The letters began as a common courtesy among militiamen fighting for independence from England in the 18th Century. Shortly after World War II, the task became obligatory. After the next of kin is notified, via telegram or a knock on the door, the dead soldier's commander is to write a detailed letter explaining what happened.

"The letter should show warmth and a genuine interest in the person to whom it is addressed," instructed the 1948 Bureau of Naval Personnel Manual, in its concise, six-paragraph passage on the matter.

These days, Chapter Eight of Army Regulation 600-8-1, "Preparation and Dispatch of Letters of Sympathy, Condolence, and Concern," has grown to eight pages. The rules can be chillingly specific. "Avoid unfitting compliments and ghastly descriptions," they say. "Do not send photographs depicting casualties."

That's not much help to a commander who sent a soldier to his death.

Each time a man goes down, Lt. Col. Fenzel finds himself struggling for words to ease the pain. Was the death meaningful? Was a life cut short still lived to its fullest? Had the Army turned boy into man? What consolation is there in knowing that a son or husband died not alone, but surrounded by friends?

"Sir, we are so very fortunate to have known and served with your son," the colonel wrote to PFC Rogers's father, David Rogers, a 46-year-old construction worker in Alaska. "We all know the irreparable loss you and your strong family have suffered, and we also know there is very little any of us can say that will provide you any comfort."

Lt. Col. Fenzel, the 40-year-old son of a suburban Chicago car dealer, has already notched tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. On previous deployments, he was the No. 2 in his unit. This time he's in command.

Crested Stationery

So before coming here from his battalion's home base in Italy, he bought some parchment stationery bearing the wing-and-sword crest of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He knew he would likely have to write letters such as these. He didn't want to use printer paper.

His 800-strong battalion has lost 12 men since it arrived last May. The U.S. has lost 485 troops overall in Afghanistan since 2001. Last year was the coalition's most deadly since the war began.

PFC Rogers died in July, along with three of his comrades, in a roadside bombing -- one of the most common causes of death here. A fifth soldier in the Humvee, badly burned, later died from his injuries.

Lt. Col. Fenzel routinely greets his men as "brother" at combat outposts and in chow-hall lines. But he didn't know PFC Rogers very well. In fact, the social distance between a young private and a battalion commander is vast. Officers are prohibited from friendships with enlisted soldiers that could create the appearance of favoritism.

Soon after the death, Lt. Col. Fenzel invited four of PFC Rogers's squad-mates to his office. They crowded onto a small sofa, where they talked about their friend for an hour and a half.

It gave the colonel a better sense of the young man. He and other soldiers had already phoned the family to offer immediate comfort. Still, months passed before the colonel was ready to write the letter that would stand as a more permanent record.

"I wait to find the words, and they will come," he says.

Leaders have long struggled with the ambiguity of simultaneously commanding and consoling. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln wrote to Lydia Bixby of Boston, whose five sons were believed killed in the Civil War. "I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming," President Lincoln wrote. "But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save."

Lt. Col. Fenzel found his words in November. One evening he returned from a mission, eased off his body armor and savored some new photos of his two boys sent by his wife. He was struck by how much they had grown since he had left for Afghanistan just six months earlier.

The next morning, he knew it was time to give PFC Rogers's parents a glimpse into their son's military life.

PFC Rogers grew up in Chickaloon, an Alaskan village of 200 people, 12 of whom were his brothers and sisters. He was the fourth child, home-schooled with his siblings by their mother, Donnetta.

The family lives on a mountainside, 450 steps above the glacial Matanuska River. As a child, Jessy and his siblings would play on the riverbank.

"Jessy always enjoyed the double-take any of us would give him the first time we found out just how big his tight-knit family really was," Lt. Col. Fenzel wrote to Mr. Rogers.

In his letter, the colonel described PFC Rogers's adventures with his D Company buddies, snowboarding in Italy's Dolomite Mountains, forging the bonds that would carry them into combat together.

Mountains, Memories

The Italian slopes reminded the private of home, Lt. Col. Fenzel wrote. "We all knew that Jessy's heart was right there in Alaska."

Jessy joined the Army because he was angry about the Sept. 11 attacks. But he also hoped to see a bit of the world. "I want to do something different," his mother remembers him saying after he returned from the recruiter.

He always told his mother that, after his eventual discharge, he would return to Alaska, build a cabin on the family property and work construction with his father and four brothers, who roam the state from project to project, living in rustic camps.

"The only thing that gives any of us any real comfort -- and I've said this to myself over and again -- is knowing that he gave his life fighting for our great country, as a hero and alongside men that he loved and respected," Lt. Col. Fenzel said in his letter.

As he wrote that morning, the colonel stopped and read his own words aloud. His voice broke.

After Jessy's death, the Rogers family received a boxful of condolence letters. The ones that meant the most came from Lt. Col. Fenzel and other servicemen.

"They're in a war, and he takes the time to write a hand-written letter to us," says Mrs. Rogers, 46. "That's what I noticed right off the bat."

The letter helped her envision her son's Army life, his friends, pleasures and hardships. "We are Christian, and we believe in a living God. ... Death is something that doesn't bother us," Ms. Rogers says.

"This leaves a huge gap, but I know where he's at," she says. "I had this fear for Jessy, and I'm glad he's out of harm's way now."

The Army assigns responsibility for writing condolence letters to battalion commanders such as Lt. Col. Fenzel. But other individuals, up and down the chain of command, are free to send notes of their own.

The most intimate ones are often penned by younger, lower-level officers who knew the fallen soldier best. Officers such as 30-year-old Capt. John Gibson of Shreveport, La.

Capt. Gibson, a West Point graduate whose cheeks are sunburned from the Afghan sun, commands a company of 180 or so of the soldiers in Lt. Col. Fenzel's 800-strong battalion.

Ever since he first saw combat in Iraq five years ago, Capt. Gibson says he has prayed that he would never have to write a condolence letter. In his fatigues he carries a piece of paper that reads: "A dead soldier who has given his life because of the failure of his leader is a dreadful sight before God."

His first and, so far, only such letter was sent to the mother of PFC Thomas Wilson, a quick-witted 21-year-old from Woodstock, Va., who dropped out of a college wildlife-and-fisheries program to enlist.

PFC Wilson was in charge of the armory at Orgun-E, maintaining the unit's rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers and other weapons. It's a job that could keep a soldier in the relative safety of a well-defended base.

Instead, PFC Wilson talked his way onto patrols. On one occasion he asked his sergeant to go on a mission with the scouts. He started readying his gear even before he got a reply, pre-empting a possible "no" with a loud "Roger, first sergeant."

The paratroopers patrol along dried riverbeds and steep mountainsides, a landscape painted in every shade of brown. Just 20% of the 300,000 residents of Paktika province are thought to be literate, and most of those can only read verses of the Koran. The troops try to win good will by providing mosque-refurbishment kits that include solar-powered speakers and new prayer rugs for the mullahs.

But the Americans also engage in frequent firefights with insurgents who cross the border from nearby Pakistan.

Ambush Near Orgun-E

When PFC Wilson's convoy was ambushed near Orgun-E last summer, he was manning the turret machine gun in a Humvee. He fired off two cans of ammunition. When he bent over to grab a third, an insurgent's armor-piercing round drilled through the Humvee's protective metal and into his head.

The private died at the scene. His fellow soldiers placed a blue tarp over his body.

Capt. Gibson is keenly aware that his decisions carried PFC Wilson to the place where he died. He doesn't doubt his own orders. But the shock of losing his first man was sharp.

The captain recalls pulling back the tarp and putting his hand on PFC Wilson's forehead to gently close the private's eyes. "I feel like I've let you down," he remembers saying.

Later, he decided to write to PFC Wilson's mother, Julie Hepner. His intention was to describe what a fine soldier her son had been. Yet he wasn't comfortable describing the precise circumstances of his death.

"Do you include the little things? The smell?" he says. "Do I include that I still have a pair of gloves that have his blood on them?"

Capt. Gibson says he decided to leave those details out. Instead, he told Ms. Hepner, a single mother with four children, that the other paratroopers spent five days hunting down the insurgents responsible for the ambush.

Capt. Gibson says he read his letter aloud to himself, and crunched up two drafts before feeling he had struck the right tone.

Only later did he learn that Ms. Hepner had never received the letter from him. So, recently, Capt. Gibson sat down to write it again.

'Your Brave Son Thomas'

Meantime, last October, Lt. Col. Fenzel had written his own letter to Ms. Hepner, 47, who owns a small office- and house-cleaning business in Woodstock. "It has been almost a month since we lost your brave son Thomas to enemy fire," it began. "And the days that pass in between don't make it any easier to be without our brother, your son."

The colonel went on to describe how, during the fatal ambush, PFC Wilson manned his machine gun "bravely and brilliantly" in an intense, 30-minute firefight, before he was shot. His actions saved the lives of 10 other paratroopers, the colonel wrote.

"Please also know that you have gained nearly 800 of Thomas's brothers as your sons, if you'll have us," he wrote to Ms. Hepner.

It was the message she wanted to hear. "What more can a mother ask for," she says, "than knowing that he died in the arms of people who loved him?"

Write to Michael M. Phillips at michael.phillips@wsj.com

Anoher Example why the WSJ is worth reading and subscribing to.


Texas & Ohio

No, not the primaries tomorrow, but about the economic environment as structured by tax and laws. Companies want the most freedom it can from tax and regulation. And since the US is largely one free trade zone, companies are free to move from one state to another. There are two articles that compliment each other today.
Firstly, from the WSJ
There's no doubt times are tough in Ohio. The state has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, home foreclosures are soaring, and real family income is lower now than in 2000. Meanwhile, the Texas economy has boomed since 2004, with nearly twice the rate of new job creation as the rest of the nation. The nearby table compares the states over a decade or so.

Let's start with the fact that Texas's growth puts the lie to the myth that free trade costs American jobs. Anti-Nafta rhetoric doesn't play well in El Paso, San Antonio and Houston, which have become gateway cities for commerce with Latin America and have flourished since the North American Free Trade Agreement passed Congress in 1993. Mr. Obama's claim of one million lost jobs due to trade deals is laughable in Texas, the state most affected by Nafta. Texas has gained 36,000 manufacturing jobs since 2004 and has ranked as the nation's top exporting state for six years in a row. Its $168 billion of exports in 2007 translate into tens of thousands of jobs.

Ohio, Indiana and Michigan are losing auto jobs, but many of these "runaway plants" are not fleeing to China, Mexico or India. They've moved to more business-friendly U.S. states, including Texas. GM recently announced plans for a new plant to build hybrid cars. Guess where? Near Dallas. In 2006 the Lone Star State exported $5.5 billion of cars and trucks to Mexico and $2.4 billion worth to Canada.

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a Democrat who supports Mrs. Clinton, blames his state's problems on President Bush. But Ohio's economy has been struggling for years, and most of its wounds are self-inflicted. Ohio now ranks 47th out of 50 in economic competitiveness, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Ohio politicians deplore plant closings even as they impose the third highest corporate income tax in the country (10.5%) and the sixth highest personal income tax (8.87%). A common joke is that Ohio lays out the red carpet for companies -- when they leave the state. By contrast, Texas has no income tax, a huge competitive advantage.

Ohio's most crippling handicap may be that its politicians -- and thus its employers -- are still in the grip of such industrial unions as the United Auto Workers. Ohio is a "closed shop" state, which means workers can be forced to join a union whether they wish to or not. Many companies -- especially foreign-owned -- say they will not even consider such locations for new sites. States with "right to work" laws that make union organizing more difficult had twice the job growth of Ohio and other forced union states from 1995-2005, according to the National Institute for Labor Relations.

On the other hand, Texas is a right to work state and has been adding jobs by the tens of thousands. Nearly 1,000 new plants have been built in Texas since 2005, from the likes of Microsoft, Samsung and Fujitsu. Foreign-owned companies supplied the state with 345,000 jobs. No wonder Texans don't fear global competition the way some Presidential candidates do.

Secondly, from the Willisms
The general rule of thumb is that people are leaving high tax states and moving to low tax states. States with no income taxes perform better in all sorts of categories than states with high income taxes.

Last year, a record number (more than 8 million) of Americans packed up and moved from one state to another. Generally, the flow of Americans went from states with high taxes to states with low taxes. Lots of factors are at play when an individual decides to leave home from, say, Illinois, and venture toward, say, Texas. Arctic versus mild weather, right-to-work versus union-stranglehold, decaying versus 21st-century infrastructure, and a host of other factors are involved in the decision.

But it all comes back to taxes. States with high taxes are generally far more dysfunctional in myriad ways than states with low taxes, especially ones without income taxes.

Iraq: lets not squander the progress

My visit left me even more deeply convinced that we not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis.

Today's humanitarian crisis in Iraq -- and the potential consequences for our national security -- are great. Can the United States afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won't explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder?

What we cannot afford, in my view, is to squander the progress that has been made. In fact, we should step up our financial and material assistance. UNHCR has appealed for $261 million this year to provide for refugees and internally displaced persons. That is not a small amount of money -- but it is less than the U.S. spends each day to fight the war in Iraq. I would like to call on each of the presidential candidates and congressional leaders to announce a comprehensive refugee plan with a specific timeline and budget as part of their Iraq strategy.

As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.

It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.

Who is this by? Surprisingly, it is Angelina Jolie
Sounds so much more real and earnest than Obama and Billary. It is amazing to me how someone hard to consider serious, can be more practical than those so many are seriously considering for President.
I guess when you are pandering to your base, you debase yourself.