Saturday, May 31, 2008

Obamican bridging

I have been playing hooky from this forum for a few weeks, because I have been overseas, where a)internet cafes are fewer and fewer as more people discover the joys of home internet service and b)news of American politics was mostly buried beneath the torrent of reports from China and Burma. Nonetheless, I did see convincing evidence that Barack Obama is not just a candidate for US President, he is now a worldwide cultural megastar.

In virtually every major city in Europe and Asia, Americans and locals have been gathering near the big river in solidarity behind the slogan, "Yes We...SPAN!" They refer both to the bridge they are standing near or on and Barack Obama, who first coined the term "yes we CAN." Both groups see Obama playing the same role as the bridge does, i.e. linking peoples, providing a means of transition, just bridging the gap generally. In Hungary, they gathered on the famous Chain Bridge, built in the l830s to link Buda and Pest and launch Hungary into a new, dynamic era; in London, it was the bridge between St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tate modern art gallery, the symbolism unmistakable. There were similar gatherings in Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, Strasbourg, basically anywhere there is a river and bridges. I have never seen anything quite like it in a Presidential campaign.

It got me to wondering whether Obama is even bigger abroad than he has ever been here, where he is a any case, a bona fide extravaganza, an Event, a human Happening!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rats and Sinking Ships

More bits leaking out today about Scott McClellan's new book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House & Washington's Culture of Deception." Back in November we looked at some sneak peeks into Scott's book in this blog. I'm not usually given to quoting myself, but I am going to repeat what I said back in November.
What would be nice to see from one of their enablers instead of a self-serving memoir after the fact is an admission that you were part of the circus. What would have been even nicer would be to have seen you stand up and say so while still in the circus. It's a day late and a dollar short now - so take your book and cling to it, hoping that while the media jumps up & down in excitement nobody takes the time to ask you the hard questions of your complicity in this administration's criminal, immoral and unethical actions.
So before you line up to pump money into Scott's bank account to read what we already know -- they lied to us, manipulated us, tricked us -- take a minute to ask Scott something at one of his signing appearances.

Why do you consider yourself exempt from the contempt the rest of the administration deserves?
Why didn't you see fit to warn the American people when it mattered?
Why did you believe that loyalty to a political party trumped loyalty to the nation?
Why do you think you deserve money for discovering a conscience now?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Service in Iraq - The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Sad to say, the Travis Twiggs tragedy may not be as unusual as we would like to think. According to an AP report, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) reports soared up by 50% in American troops in 2007. And as dramatic as that number seems, an estimated 40,000 troops, military officials think that the real number is much higher. Hard to disagree with that fear, how many GI-Joe tough military folks are going to admit to needing mental help?

There were almost 14,000 new cases in 2007, versus 9,500 new cases in 2006 and 1,632 back in 2003 when the nightmare began. Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker thinks that 50% increase was caused by:

-- a new record-keeping system installed in 2004 (ok, that might explain a jump in 2004 or 2005, but by 2007?)
-- increased exposure of troops to combat
--Bush's troop buildup in 2007
--The intense violence of fighting in 2007
--Troops on their 2nd, 3rd or 4th (FOURTH!!) tour of duty
--Tour length extension from 12 to 15 months

In response the Army is looking to fill more mental health slots. They've got 300 to fill. They've filled 180. Not exactly rapid response. Among troops in Afghanistan & Iraq, experts estimate that between 12-15% of them are taking medicines for stress (trying to control anxiety, depression, sleeplessness). If they can control it with medicine, they get to stay where they are. According to a story in the Baltimore Sun, the Army estimates that 30% of its returning troops will come home with some form of combat-related stress.

The Veterans Affair Department doesn't seem to have much to brag about in this story. There are 1,000 suicide attempts each month of vets under VA care. And in the general world of American veterans (not just Iraq/Afghanistan vets), Over 6,250 vets killed themselves in 2005, that's 17+ suicides per day.

The Rand Corporation conducted a study that shows in addition to the 300,000 Iraq/Afghanistan war vets diagnosed with combat-related stress so far, more than 320,000 have sustained physical brain damage after traumatic brain injuries.

That is a lot of men and women needing a lot of care.

Care that they are not getting.

Care that is one more example of the Bush/Cheney administration taking on a conflict with no long-term planning in mind.

The following comes from the Rand study:

Researchers surveyed 1,965 service members from 24 communities across the country to assess their exposure to traumatic events and possible brain injury while deployed, evaluate current symptoms of psychological illness, and gauge whether they have received care for combat-related problems.

Service members reported exposure to a wide range of traumatic events while deployed, with half saying they had a friend who was seriously wounded or killed, 45 percent reporting they saw dead or seriously injured non-combatants, and over 10 percent saying they were injured themselves and required hospitalization.

Rates of PTSD and major depression were highest among Army soldiers and Marines, and among service members who were no longer on active duty (people in the reserves and those who had been discharged or retired from the military). Women, Hispanics and enlisted personnel all were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD and major depressions, but the single best predictor of PTSD and depression was exposure to combat trauma while deployed.

Researchers found many treatment gaps exist for those with PTSD and depression. Just 53 percent of service members with PTSD or depression sought help from a provider over the past year, and of those who sought care, roughly half got minimally adequate treatment.

What Will November Bring?

We're already hearing the excited chatter from the guys behind the Willy Horton and Swift Boat ad campaigns. They are poised and ready to go, letting lose with whatever it takes to shove a Republican into the White House in November. Some, like Floyd Brown have already started prepping their materials. Obviously these are guys who love what they're doing. If you doubt that, enjoy John Oliver's "Ticket to the Pollies" segment on The Daily Show, (part 1; part 2).

What's fascinating is the ads that have appeared in non-presidential campaigns attacking Obama. Dan Burton in Indiana had an ad claiming he "had what it took" to stand up to Clinton, and would do the same against Obama. Greg Davis running for Congressional seat from Mississippi put out an attack ad against Obama (ok, technically against his opponent, but using Obama to beat him with).

It's going to be interesting.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Heading Towards Memorial Day - Part 3

The unknown numbers - Iraqis killed since the US invasion.
Iraq body count

Journalists killed covering the conflict
Committee to Protect Journalists

Media support staff killed covering the conflict
Committee to Project Journalists

Heading Towards Memorial Day - Part 2

As of May 20, 2008

The Air Force has lost 79
The Army has lost 2,770
The Army National Guard has lost 443
The Marines have lost 938
The Navy has lost 120

men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan

Iraq Veterans Memorial

Iraq Coalition Casualties

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Heading Towards Memorial Day - Part 1

Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.

Doctors at the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center told a LA Times reporter that "41% of female veterans seen at the clinic say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military, and 29% report being raped during their military service."

What Would You Do For a Tank of Gas?

George "oddly enough still President" Bush enjoyed a tour of the Middle East this week. While in Egypt, he urged Arabic nations not to follow the path of Iran & Syrian political and economic restrictive policies. Have you ever noticed that the administration's horror of restrictive Arabic states never seems to include our good oil-producing buddies the Saudis? It's not just the administration, of course, everyone wants to work with the Saudis, that big money has been too tempting for most to resist. Marriott just concluded an agreement to manage 9 new properties there, which will bring their hotels up to 12 in 2010. The Japanese government is working with the Saudis to provide nanotechnology that will help increase access to water. And while we scream and yell about nuclear technology going to Iran, the White House has made agreements to "assist the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to develop civilian nuclear power for use in medicine, industry, and power generation."

And why not. After all, although most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, we took the war against terror to Iraq. With large numbers of foreign terrorists in Iraq now from Saudi Arabia, we are yelling at Iran. As Michael Moore pointed out in Fahrenheit 911, the Bush family/Saudi ties go back a long way and are very strong. They must be for Bible-belt Dubya to stay in bed with a country that won't allow Bibles into their country. Guess for George, there is something more important than his religious conversion. And don't even get me started on treatment of women in Saudi Arabia.

So it's no surprise that one of the most restrictive nations in the Middle East continues to get a pass from Dubya and friends.

A Tragic Update

You may remember a piece I did in early January on Travis Twiggs. A Marine Staff sergeant whose story of post-traumatic stress after 4 tours of duty (Afghanistan & Iraq) was told in the Marine Corps Gazette.
When I arrived back in the States, it was as though I had never left. All of my symptoms were back, and now I was in the process of destroying my family. That was all taking place because I did not understand what was happening to me. . . .
I learned today that Twiggs' PTSD won the battle. In Tom Ricks's Inbox (WaPo Outlook section). Here is the story from an AP story:

2 suspects dead after police pursuit on Interstate 8


Two men who led law enforcement agents on a lengthy pursuit on Interstate 8 Wednesday morning were found dead after their car was disabled, and authorities said it appeared to be a murder-suicide.

The dead men were brothers who had been sought since they reportedly carjacked a couple and took their white Dodge sedan at the Grand Canyon on Monday night, said Pinal County Sheriff's spokesman Mike Minter.

Minter said officers approaching the white Dodge Caliber after it was disabled by spike strips heard gunshots and later confirmed both died of bullet wounds. No officers fired or were hurt.

"It appears one man in the vehicle shot the other guy and then turned the weapon on himself," Minter said.

Minter said the men were identified as Travis N. "T-Bo" Twiggs, 36, and Willard J. "Will" Twiggs, 38.

Authorities from the National Park Service had been searching for the brothers since two men stole a car at gunpoint from two people Monday night at the Grand Canyon National Park. The men had crashed their own car several hours earlier but walked away carrying backpacks. Travis Twiggs was recently an active-duty member of the military based at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va., said national park spokeswoman Shannan Marcak. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was reported to be unpredictable. Will Twiggs was from Louisiana.

In January I reminded us that Twigss' story should remind us of the harm being done to the young men and women who escape Iraq & Afghanistan without physical wounds. I fear that the tragedies of the Bush/Cheney mangled foreign policy will continue to haunt us long after this conflict finally ends.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy? Mother's Day

Mother's Day seems as good a day as any to remind ourselves that being a mother for far too many women is still a death sentence. Save the Children has published its ninth annual State of the World's Mothers report, comparing the best and worst countries in which to be a mother and child. The best country for mothers? Sweden. The worst? Niger. The US? We're 27th. Yes. If you're pregnant, there are 26 countries in the world that are statistically better for giving birth than the United States. The United Nations' Safe Motherhood program (part of the UN Population Fund), also charts the dangers of motherhood around the world.

The report notes that more than 500,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth every year. That is more than one every minute!

More than 90 percent of those deaths happen in Africa and Asia.

We are usually far more familiar with horrible childhood statistics, but today I want to examine the fact that for far too many women in this world, bearing a child is a death sentence. Today's WaPo ran an article on the continued far too high mother mortality report in Haiti, listing some of the work that has done to bring it down from 1,400 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1985 to under 100 today. (For comparison, the US number per 100,000 is 14 dead mothers).

According to the article change in Haiti came largely for three reasons.

First, our nonprofit organization, Partners in Health, has worked closely with the Haitian Ministry of Health to strengthen public health infrastructure. We have rebuilt, equipped, staffed and stocked hospitals and clinics; trained nurse-midwives and other personnel, including more than a thousand community health workers; linked villages and health centers to district hospitals by modern telecommunications and ambulance service; and established modern surgical services for obstetrical emergencies.

Second, we have broken the rule that high-quality health services are a privilege rationed by ability to pay, not a right. The case was made first for affordable medicines. Now it is being made for emergency Caesarean sections -- an essential tool to reduce maternal mortality. Faced with evidence that maternal mortality was greater where fees were higher, the district health commissioner for central Haiti announced last August that all prenatal care and emergency obstetrical services would henceforth be available free to all patients. He was later echoed by Haitian President René Préval.

Third, we have linked prenatal and obstetric care to an all-out effort to improve access to primary health care. The presence of functional, accessible public clinics and hospitals restores faith in the health system, motivates people to seek care before they are critically ill and allows for preventive interventions such as prenatal care and family planning.

All three - infrastructure, right to care, and linking prenatal to overall health care - can, and should be health goals in other nations as well. The proper training of mid-wives is a critical piece of the puzzle. For many women, it is the inability to get to a hospital or clinic that will cost them their lives during pregnancy or birth. The presence of a trained mid-wife in or near the community can help lower those deaths.

One nation not included in the Save the Child study is Afghanistan. Which is too bad - because the situation there is critical. An Afghani woman dies every 27 minutes from complications during pregnancy, making Afghanistan a horrendous place to give birth. One might honestly ask what the power in Afghanistan (the US) is doing about this. I wish I knew.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Is There a Full Moon Out?

Were you so busy watching the Obama-Clinton race in Indiana that you weren't paying attention to the far more interesting Republican party race for US Representative, 2nd District? The first and second place candidates seem to be your average, every-day Republicans. But the man who came in last, Tony Zirkle, is a real piece of full moon work.

Zirkle did draw some attention for his anti porn views, and maybe a few votes for that. But what has really captured our attention was Zirkle's attendance on April 20th at a Hitler birthday celebration event sponsored by the National Socialist Workers Party. When asked by the Michigan City, Indiana, News-Dispatch if this meant he was a Nazi sympathizer, he responded with what has got to be a classic line of lines. "I don't know enough about the group to either favor it or oppose it."

So do we have here one of those rare right-wing Republicans willing to admit they're a Nazi? Now sure, you could say that Zirkle is just a product of our broken school system, where a child could possible graduate from high school without learning about National Socialism. Ok, I could maybe see that. But is it possible this man grew up without seeing a movie? Was the 2nd Indiana Jones film the only one he saw? Did he miss Ingrid & Bogey's Casablanca? The Blues Brothers?

I say the man should be shouted down & driven from politics not for the sin of being a Nazi sympathizer (I mean really, we've got more than a few in politics already, albeit none who admit it publicly), but for the sin of being absolutely butt brain dead in the world of American popular culture!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Truely Disturbed

As I was passing by the DC Convention Center this morning, I caught a glimpse of a number of protest signs. Don't usually see protests at the center. I was wondering what group was there to set off a protest. The only group that seems to be meeting there now is the American Psychiatric Association.

So who was protesting them? As I grew nearer, I noticed that the many signs were being born by only two people. Signs attached at shoulders and hips. And the signs? Pretty hateful anti-gay and anti-military stuff. Scratched my head for a moment - who hates gays AND the military? Well of course, it must have been none other than that group of moron family members led by Kansas nutcase Fred Phelps (some of you may remember a post on the Phelps family from last year). Apparently the group is still at it. Although not sure what the American Psychiatric Association has to do with Phelps' usual tirades against homosexuals and the military. Phelps, as you might remember, pickets military funerals with anti-gay signs, saying that God is punishing America for accepting homosexuality. Amazingly enough, none of those soldiers' families & friends have pounded Phelps & family into the dirt. Now that's restraint!

Again, never been quite sure why he's going after the military, but then let's face it, sanity isn't exactly Phelps' strong suit, so shame on me for wondering. It would make as much sense as to wonder why the guy outside my office wears the tin foil hat. No, wait, THAT makes sense compared to Phelps' psychosis.

APA - do the world a favor - get that guy on the couch - major points to the shrink that can turn that piece of slime into a human being.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

More for the dictionary of American politics 2008...

There's another putdown afoot of you people with your graduate-degree brandishing, French-speaking, Whole Foods-shopping, latte-and-chardonnay drinking, limousine liberaling, flag pin-spurning ways: Maureen Dowd has identified you as card-carrying members of the "Viogner and Volvo crowd." That's for when the media is sick of the term "elitist, out-of-touch Americans."

I know Popessa doesn't do Viogner, but how about Volvo? Me, I've got Viogner in my customized wine rack, but drive a l0-year-old VW Passat. I guess we still qualify as aliens in Real America...

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