Daily Archives: November 16, 2007

Army Desertion Rate Jumps 80% Since Iraq Invasion

Associated Press  |  Nov 16, 2007

WASHINGTON – Soldiers strained by six years at war are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980, with the number of Army deserters this year showing an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

While the totals are still far lower than they were during the Vietnam war, when the draft was in effect, they show a steady increase over the past four years and a 42 percent jump since last year.

According to the Army, about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared to nearly seven per 1,000 a year earlier. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared to 3,301 last year.

The increase comes as the Army continues to bear the brunt of the war demands with many soldiers serving repeated, lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military leaders – including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey – have acknowledged that the Army has been stretched nearly to the breaking point by the combat. And efforts are under way to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to lessen the burden and give troops more time off between deployments.

Despite the continued increase in desertions, however, an Associated Press examination of Pentagon figures earlier this year showed that the military does little to find those who bolt, and rarely prosecutes the ones they get. Some are allowed to simply return to their units, while most are given less-than-honorable discharges.

America suffers an epidemic of suicides among traumatised army veterans

The suicide rate among Americans as a whole was 8.9 per 100,000, but the level among veterans was at least 18.7. That figure rose to a minimum of 22.9 among veterans aged 20 to 24 – almost four times the nonveteran average for people of the same age.

The Times | Nov 15, 2007

Tom Baldwin in Washington

More American military veterans have been committing suicide than US soldiers have been dying in Iraq, it was claimed yesterday.

At least 6,256 US veterans took their lives in 2005, at an average of 17 a day, according to figures broadcast last night. Former servicemen are more than twice as likely than the rest of the population to commit suicide.

Such statistics compare to the total of 3,863 American military deaths in Iraq since the invasion in 2003 – an average of 2.4 a day, according to the website ICasualties.org.

The rate of suicides among veterans prompted claims that the US was suffering from a “mental health epidemic” – often linked to post-traumatic stress.

CBS News claimed that the figures represented the first attempt to conduct a nationwide count of veteran suicides. The tally was reached by collating suicide data from individual states for both veterans and the general population from 1995.

The suicide rate among Americans as a whole was 8.9 per 100,000, but the level among veterans was at least 18.7. That figure rose to a minimum of 22.9 among veterans aged 20 to 24 – almost four times the nonveteran average for people of the same age.

There are 25 million veterans in the United States, 1.6 million of whom served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Not everyone comes home from the war wounded, but the bottom line is nobody comes home unchanged,” said Paul Rieckhoff, a former Marine and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America.

CBS quoted the father of a 23-year-old soldier who shot himself in 2005 as suggesting that the military was covering up the scale of the problem. “Nobody wants to tally it up in the form of a government total,” Mike Bowman said. “They don’t want the true numbers of casualties to really be known.”

Mr Bowman’s son, Tim, was an army reservist who patrolled one of the most dangerous places in Baghdad, known as Airport Road. “His eyes when he came back were just dead. The light wasn’t there anymore,” said his mother, Kim Bowman. Eight months later, on Thanksgiving Day, Tim committed suicide.

A separate study published last week shows that US military veterans make up one in four homeless people in America, even though they represent just 11 per cent of the general adult population, and younger soldiers are already trickling into shelters and soup kitchens after completing tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While it took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless, at least 1,500 ex-servicemen from the present wars have already been identified.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness, based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau. Data from 2005 estimated that 194,254 homeless people on any given night were veterans.

Daniel Akaka, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said: “For too many veterans, returning home from battle does not bring an end to conflict. There is no question that action is needed.”

The plight of US veterans is a matter of acute sensitivity for the Bush Administration which has set great store by standing up for – and support from – US troops. This year General Kevin Kiley, the US Army’s Surgeon General, was among senior military officials dismissed for his role in the mistreatment of wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Newspaper revelations about conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington became a lightning rod for criticism of the war in general. The outpatient clinic was described as squalid and rat-infested; a maze of red tape left many outpatients – often with severe brain injuries – wandering the corridors without help.

With robotic bugs, larger ethical questions

Advances affect ties of human, machine

Scientists report that robotic devices modified the behavior of a laboratory colony of real cockroaches.

Boston Globe | Nov 16, 2007

By Colin Nickerson

Here’s a first: Bug-size robots have been used to coax cockroaches into unnatural acts.

Research reported yesterday in the journal Science described how a team of European scientists placed tiny robots in a colony of laboratory cockroaches. Using behavioral modification methods, the whirring, partly-disguised faux insects were able to induce the real creepy-crawlies to follow their lead in seeking shelter in bright spaces. Bent behavior, indeed, for critters famous for lurking in dark, moist cracks.

No one cares too much if cockroaches can be hoodwinked into acting against their own interests. Still, it’s surprising that robots can insinuate themselves into colonies of living things, however wee-witted, and more or less take charge.

Although not designed to address major philosophical issues, the research nonetheless points to how robot science appears headed in weird and unpredictable directions. Some scientists say it is inevitable that advances will ultimately affect the fundamental relationship between humanity and its machines.

And many analysts say it is high time that societies start seriously considering the ethical dimensions of the technological advances, although others contend the dangers are exaggerated.

Already, Asian countries that represent the gold standard in robotic research are pondering unprecedented new laws that would regulate how much independence robots should be given by programmers and even what “rights” should be accorded the clever devices, which one day may possess something approaching wills of their own, according to robotic gurus.

A particular issue is whether robots will be permitted to make life-or-death decisions involving humans in, say, hospitals or on the battlefield. Just two months ago, a quasi-robotic drone, or unmanned aircraft, deployed by US forces in Iraq racked up its first “kill.” The machine was controlled by humans, but robotic warriors may eventually be programmed to literally call their own shots.

“As we make robots more intelligent and autonomous, and eventually endow them with the independent ability to kill people, surely we need to consider how to govern their behavior and how much freedom to accord them – so-called roboethics,” renowned science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer wrote in an essay that accompanied the cockroach findings and other robot research in the journal.

Other articles examined the use of “thinking” robots to explore outer space; robots possessing physical agility that would be impossible for creatures of flesh and blood; and also robots copying nature’s designs for locomotion – slithering like salamanders, zipping like flies, or using tiny foot fibers to scale walls like geckos.

Many analysts say robots will soon be thinking for themselves in ways no smart machine does today – acting as minders for the infirm or ill. Or making critical judgments during deep sea and far-space journeys.

Some prognosticators see robots as sinister devices of doom, noting that the United States is already spending multiple billions of dollars to develop robot soldiers and other intelligent war devices. The upside, of course, is that robots don’t come home in body bags.


Paralysed man’s mind is ‘read’

Electrodes were planted in the part of the brain which controls speech

BBC | Nov 15, 2007

Scientists say they may be on the brink of translating into words the thoughts of a man who can no longer speak, after a pioneering experiment.

Electrodes have been implanted in the brain of Eric Ramsay, who has been “locked in” – conscious but paralysed – since a car crash eight years ago.

These have been recording pulses in areas of the brain involved in speech.

Now, New Scientist magazine reports, they are to use the signals he generates to drive speech software.

Although the data is still being analysed, researchers at Boston University believe they can correctly identify the sound Mr Ramsay’s brain is imagining some 80% of the time.

In the next few weeks, a computer will start the task of translating his thoughts into sounds.

“We hope it will be a breakthrough,” says Joe Wright of Neural Signals, which has helped develop the technology.

“Conversation is what we’re hoping for, but we’re pretty far from that.”

Reading minds

Experts in the field of neuroscience agreed it was an exciting advance.

“It hasn’t come completely out of the blue,” said Professor Geraint Rees, a neuroscientist at University College London.

“We have been moving towards decoding primitive vocabulary for a while now. But this is certainly an interesting development, although invasive techniques, where something is out in someone’s brain, such as these will of course carry risks.”

Reading people’s minds remains a far-off prospect, however.

“There is a huge difference between a technique like this, which is able to pick up signals the subject wants to be picked up, and being able to delve deep into the mind,” says Professor John Dylan Haynes of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

“It’s very exciting that we are starting to be able to translate some basic thoughts, but we are a lot further away from a universal mind reading machine than some people hoped – or feared – we may be five years ago.”

China Espionage Worst Threat to US

BBC | Nov 15, 2007

The US must boost its computer security, congressional advisers say

Chinese espionage poses “the single greatest risk” to the security of US technology, a panel has told Congress.

China is pursuing new technology “aggressively”, it says, legitimately through research and business deals and illegally through industrial espionage.

China has also “embraced destructive warfare techniques”, the report says, enabling it to carry out cyber attacks on other countries’ infrastructure.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing denied any spying activities by China.

“China and the US have a fundamental common interest in promoting sound and rapid development,” said Liu Jianchao, quoted by the Associated Press news agency.

Weapons advances

The allegations were made by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission in its annual report.

China denied reports that it had hacked into Pentagon computers

The advisory panel, appointed by Congress, recommended that US security measures and intelligence be stepped up to try to prevent the theft of military technology, in particular.

“Chinese espionage activities in the United States are so extensive that they comprise the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies,” the report said.

It urged Congress to study “military, intelligence and homeland security programmes that protect critical American computer networks and sensitive information, specifically those charged with protecting networks from damage caused by cyber attacks”.

The report also identified other grounds for concern, such as the fact that the Chinese are manufacturing “sophisticated weapon platforms” speedily and efficiently.

The unexpected pace of China’s military development has fuelled analysts’ suspicions that it is being helped by stolen information, the commission said.

‘Unfair trade’

In addition, the Chinese media – firmly under state control – are being used to create “deep feelings of nationalism”, it said.

In an international crisis, the panel warned, that could turn misunderstanding into conflict.

The report also criticised Chinese economic policy, saying that small and medium-sized American businesses “face the full brunt of China’s unfair trade practices, currency manipulation and illegal subsidies for Chinese exports”.

The BBC’s Vincent Dowd in Washington says that this is a hard-hitting report which will be consumed eagerly and with concern in the US capital.

In September, the Chinese government denied reports that its military had hacked into the computer network of the US defence department in Washington.

EU superstate “should expand beyond Europe” into Russia, Africa and the Middle East


Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged the EU to use “soft and hard power”

BBC | Nov 15, 2007

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has suggested the European Union should work towards including Russia, Middle Eastern and North African countries.

He said enlargement was “our most powerful tool” for extending stability.

In his first major speech on the UK’s relationship with Europe, he said the EU would not become a “superpower” but should be a “role model” for the world.

It could be a “model power of regional co-operation” dedicated to free trade, the environment and tackling extremism.

He said the EU must “keep our promises to Turkey”, adding: “If we fail…. it will signal a deep and dangerous divide between east and west.

“Beyond that we must keep the door open, retaining the incentive for change and the prospect of membership provides.”

Mr Miliband made his address at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, where Baroness Thatcher delivered her famous warning against “some sort of identikit European personality” almost exactly two decades ago in September 1988.

US ‘only superpower’

Mr Miliband said that speech had been “haunted by demons – a European superstate bringing in socialism by the back door”.

But he said: “The truth is that the EU has enlarged, remodelled and opened up. It is not and is not going to become a superstate. But neither is it destined to become a superpower.”

Instead he said the EU had the chance to be a “model power” which could develop shared values between countries.

“As a club that countries want to join, it can persuade countries to play by the rules, and set global standards. In the way it dispenses its responsibilities around the world, it can be a role model that others follow.”

Extremism and insecurity

Mr Miliband said new threats, like protectionism, religious extremism, energy insecurity, rogue and failing states and climate change provided a new “raison d’etre” for the EU.

He outlined four principles for the “next generation” of Europe, for it to remain open to “trade, ideas and investment”, to develop shared institutions to overcome religious and cultural divides, to prevent conflict by championing international law and human rights in and outside Europe, and to become a “low carbon power”.

He said a successful EU must be prepared to “deploy soft and hard power to promote democracy and tackle conflict beyond its borders”.

He said the goal “must be a multilateral free-trade zone around our periphery”.

This would be a “version of the European Free Trade Association that could gradually bring the countries of the Mahgreb, the Middle East and Eastern Europe in line with the single market, not as an alternative to membership, but potentially as a step towards it”.

And the EU should extend military support to places like Darfur, he argued, to help solve problems of unwanted migration.


He also said European nations had to “improve their capabilities”.

“It’s frankly embarrassing that when European nations – with almost two million men and women under arms – are only able, at a stretch, to deploy around 100,000 at any one time,” he said.

“European countries have around 1,200 transport helicopters, yet only 35 are deployed in Afghanistan. And EU member states haven’t provided any helicopters in Darfur despite the desperate need there.”

Long-term regulations were needed to phase out carbon emissions in key areas – by reducing vehicle emissions and work towards “a zero-emission vehicle standard across Europe”.

He said that by 2020, all new coal-fired power stations must be fitted with “carbon capture and storage”.

In a reference to the failed EU Constitution, he said: “The constitutional debate shows that people don’t want major institutional upheaval. Unanimity is slow but it respects national identities.”

But his Conservative counterpart William Hague said Mr Miliband and his colleagues were “ramming that constitution through under a new name and refusing to give voters a say at an election or a referendum” – a reference to the EU Reform treaty.

“The fact is that if the renamed constitution goes through we will have a more inward-looking Europe,” said Mr Hague.

“The treaty’s clauses will make the EU more protectionist and less competitive and give the EU more power to interfere with crucial areas like our criminal justice system.”

Gore, Schwarzenegger push climate forum

Associated Press | Nov 15, 2007


SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Former Vice President Al Gore and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will take part in a bipartisan presidential forum on energy and climate change next month in New Hampshire, shortly ahead of the state’s first-in-the-nation primary.

Gore, who has been the target of several Democratic grass-roots efforts to persuade him to run for president, has said he has no plans to become a candidate, but hasn’t firmly shut the door to a bid. Schwarzenegger, a Republican and native of Austria who is prohibited by the Constitution from becoming president, had previously signaled his intention to play a role in the 2008 contest by drawing attention to issues of special interest, including global warming.

A spokesman for Schwarzenegger confirmed the forum after Arizona Sen. John McCain, a GOP presidential candidate, mentioned it Thursday during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Adam Mendelsohn says the forum is still being planned, but candidates from both major parties are expected to attend. Gore — who won the popular vote for president in 2000, but lost the electoral vote count through a Supreme Court decision — will handle the Democratic candidates at the forum, while Schwarzenegger will handle the Republicans.

“I know the issue,” said McCain, who has been an advocate in Congress for legislation regulating the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change. “I’ve been involved in it for many, many years. And I’m proud to have played a role in leadership on it.”

Gore’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Mendelsohn said the former vice president was actively involved in designing the forum.

This year, Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for his effort to inspire action to curb climate change, and a documentary based on his effort, “An Inconvenient Truth,” won an Academy Award.