Friday, December 29, 2006

James E. Dean -- Update on a Tragedy

Today brought more information about the tragic death of James E. Dean, the young reservist who, upon being ordered to Iraq after having been severely traumatized by his 18 months of service in Afghanistan, became despondent and committed suicide by cop a few days ago. (see first post on this story)

Here's the story: Distant War May Have Claimed Maryland Soldier

I don't know why the headline says the way "may" have claimed this young man. Dean had already fought in one war, serving 12 months as a sergeant, leading a small infantry unit on the front lines in Afghanistan. Army records show that he was an excellent soldier, and he had a fistful of awards to prove it: for service in defense of the nation, good conduct and outstanding marksmanship with rifles and grenades. He was such a good soldier, in fact, an Army spokesman said, that the military needed him back just three weeks after his first Christmas with his wife.

He couldn't stomach the thought. His post-traumatic stress disorder, which was diagnosed shortly after he returned from Afghanistan, became worse immediately after he received the letter -- and so did his drinking and his rages, family members said. He would break down in front of his wife, telling her over and over that nobody knew what it had been like.

Apparently Mr. Dean was diagnosed with PTSD and has been under treatment for it for some time. Why was someone in his fragile emotional state being recalled to duty? What provisions are there in the military to excuse from duty those with a documented history of PTSD? Are there any at all?

This poor man had married, started a job, and was working his way back from his crippling depression when the rug was pulled out from him and he was staring back into the abyss out of which he'd just crawled. Heartbreaking.

There was some criticism of the way the police handled the situation, apparently following their protocol of isolating the "suspect" and seeking to have him have contact with only their negotiator. Mr. Dean's cell phone service was apparently cut off and he was not able to have contact with family members with whom he wanted to talk. I understand that this is part of the standoff protocol, but it does make one consider whether things would have gone so completely downhill if he had been allowed to talk to someone whom he trusted instead of a stranger, a representative of state power. The article says he shot at three police cruisers and then pointed his weapon at an officer, and this was the reason for the trooper's decision to kill him. Where a man has lost all hope, and all connection with those who might give him hope, he just may take any action necessary to achieve his self-destructive purpose. The trooper's duty was to see to it that his colleagues were not injured or killed by someone who was clearly desperate.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Transportation - Virginia's House Republicans Play Fast and Loose

Two articles from the Washington Post highlight the transportation crisis in Virginia: Virginia House Puts Onus on Counties for Road Crisis

Anyone could see that development has taken place too fast and with too little concern for transportation or even accessibility from the new subdivisions to local shopping centers. In going past Centreville I've noticed that it would be impossible simply to walk out the developments on the right side of the road and cross the street to the shopping centers on the left. It's too dangerous. There seems to have been little planning in many of these developments for alternative routes to the main roadways, to alternative methods of transportation including walking and biking, or for easy access for people who live in the neighborhood but feel compelled to drive a car to their shopping centers just for the protection it offers. However, as the article notes

The GOP legislation unveiled at the Capitol largely takes aim at future development by requiring local governments or homeowners associations to maintain new subdivision roads. It does not give local governments greater authority to deny subdivision developments because of traffic impact, a power supervisors have requested for years.

The rest of the state enjoys the revenues produced by all the new Northern Virginia residents and businesses. Northern Virginia's economy drives the rest of the state, but reactionaries like Howell and company will not allow localities to do anything to curb the developments which bring this revenue but want to make them responsible for solving the transportation problems the development offers. This is an unwarranted abdication of state responsibility. The WaPo editorial calls it in The Snooker Strategy

On taking office at the start of the year, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) did the sensible thing by proposing a tax package that would yield $1 billion annually for transportation statewide. The Republican-dominated state Senate backed him. But Republicans who control the House of Delegates would have none of it. Instead, after a generation of neglect, they have decided to attack the problem of Virginia's roads with press releases ... Rather than proposing a long-term fix for a long-term problem, they proudly announce that they favor spending what amounts to a pittance -- half of the state's current $500 million surplus -- on one-time transportation projects. Never mind that they have no viable plan for sustaining that already inadequate spending next year and the year after, since surpluses never last and cyclical downturns are inevitable. Never mind that once the money they propose spending is divvied up statewide, it would result in barely enough to build a decent interchange and a few precious miles of highway in Northern Virginia. Never mind that soaring highway maintenance costs are already gobbling up state funds meant for road construction to the tune of $450 million a year, which is approximately twice the amount the House Republicans propose spending on transportation from the current surplus. And never mind that skyrocketing costs for road materials and construction compound the cost of foot-dragging on a long-term solution. None of that bothers the House Republicans, because they're really more interested in scoring PR points than in building roads.

Mr. Kaine, stymied in his attempts to fashion a sustainable program of new funding, proposes spending an additional $161 million in surplus funds on transportation improvements during the coming fiscal year. (That, in addition to $339 million in surplus funds left over from last year.) It is, as the governor recognizes, a drop in the bucket and one that must be weighed against competing funding demands for public safety, schools and the poor. It would do nothing for Metro, which is slowly strangling from lack of revenue; for widening Interstate 66 inside the Beltway; or for the staggering improvements needed around Fort Belvoir, where 20,000 defense jobs are to be relocated -- let alone projects elsewhere in the state.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

James E. Dean -- An Iraq War Casualty

From the Washington Post this morning comes this tragic story:

Reservist Due for Iraq Is Killed In Standoff With Police

Army Reservist James E. Dean had already served 18 months in Afghanistan when he was notified three weeks ago that he would be deployed to Iraq later this month. The prospect of returning to war sent the St. Mary's County resident into a spiral of depression, a neighbor said.

Despondent about his orders, Dean barricaded himself inside his father's home with several weapons on Christmas, threatening to kill himself. After a 14-hour standoff with authorities, Dean was killed yesterday by a police officer after he aimed a gun at another officer, police said.

How awful it must have been for this young man who had already honorably served his country for 18 difficult months in the sometimes forgotten war in Afghanistan to hear that he would be sent back into war again. It seems indecent, the demands we place on the few among us who serve. How many James E. Deans have there been - broken people being told their first round of sacrifice was not enough, that they must go back and sacrifice some more while the vast majority of their countrymen stay safe and untroubled here? Vietnam was rough, but at least we didn't keep sending people back to it time after time, not unless they volunteered. Tours were extended in Korea, and the war must have seemed endless to those serving in World War II, but the difference here is that it is the reservists and National Guardsmen who are being called up over and over to fight in a war without discernible territorial gains, without uniformed and readily identifiable opponents, without front lines and rear echelons. In this war no one is really in the rear, opponents are not in uniform and the daytime good guys can be the night time bad guys. The people we fight for are indiscernible ethnically and linguistically and visually from the people we fight against. We gain no territory and we see no cessation of violence. It just goes on endlessly and pointlessly, a savage war involving conflicts older than our nation.

James E. Dean, a "good country boy" according to his neighbors, is an Iraqi war casualty as surely as if he had been hit by an IED. We should all shed a tear for this young man, and the many others like him who manage somehow to hang on, but who are every bit as broken and traumatized as he was. Rest in peace, James E. Dean.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

State of Emergency -- The Right to Health Care

Cross Posted from diary posted on Raising Kaine

A thoughtful article in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue of Mother Jones magazine, by JoAnn Wypijewski, discusses the difference between the concept of "affordable health care" and health care as a right.


The author recounts shocking statistics of the demise of union mines in Virginia, noting that in the 1980s there were hundreds of mines in Virginia and 17,000 union miners, but that after the successful Pittston strike of 1989 their victory proved hollow as

Pittston and other mine operators began declaring bankruptcy, reneging on their contracts, selling their assets or reopening under new names, offering similar wages but no benefits ... Retiree health and welfare had been a centerpiece of the strike; the corporate backlash threw down a choice: the old folks or your jobs. Now workers from shuttered union mines are loath to organize their new job sites because they could never win the old-style comprehensive retirement benefits, which their former employers are still legally obligated to pay them so long as they don't work under another union contract. Union mines, meanwhile, won't hire experienced workers who are a few years shy of being vested because that would mean inheriting retirement obligations ... Lifetime health benefits, which nationwide keep 60,000 umwa retirees and their families alive, have become a rope for slowly strangling the union.

As a result of the growth of non-union mines the health of the workers and their families has suffered.

Statistics tell the tale:

According to Sparkle Bonds of the Virginia Black Lung Association, miners are getting sicker younger—in their late 30s or 40s rather than in their 60s or 70s—because of higher concentrations of dust and less stringent oversight ... The umwa's president, Cecil Roberts, can preach up a storm for the union cause, but he doesn't see the people as a whole getting much of a break from the economics of lowered expectations without nationalized health insurance ... But even if the Democrats want to make health care a right ... as Roberts would dryly note later, "they can't do anything so long as there's this war."

The author recounts Jim Webb's visit to Wise County, where he

moved so fluidly from vulnerability to vulnerability ... that it seemed natural when a student asked him, "So are you saying you're going to move toward socialized medicine?"

Webb said that growing up and then serving in the military ... made him open to an "efficient government-administered insurance system." He could have added that his touchstone is itself being eroded by war. The immense needs of the wounded are careening toward the wall of limited resources. Veterans Affairs treated 23 percent more wounded in the first quarter of 2006 than the Bush team had estimated for the entire year.

Ms. Wypijewski concludes that the question of health care will turn ultimately on how the government can justify a costly war while maintaining that providing health care for all is beyond its means, but she notes also that we cannot maintain a war economy and hope to provide for universal health coverage.

In the midst of all the talk of last chance surges and the congenital idiocy of some of Virginia's elected representatives one of the most pressing issues in this country cannot and should not be forgotten. This article points out the flaw in merely advocating "affordable health care" and instead notes that health care coverage should be treated as a right. The only solution to the type of behavior illustrated in her article -- the companies that go bankrupt and then return in different guises without benefits or pesky union interference, the companies that hire people as "part time" workers at 38 hours a week so as to avoid having to pay them benefits, the companies that seek out cheap undocumented immigrants for whom they often do not pay workers' compensation insurance and whom they can count on not to push their rights when injured -- is to establish a system of universal health care coverage.

Lawmakers should not shy away from this discussion as they have in the past. First, the right to health care should be treated as a given. Second, legislation establishing this right should be packaged in such a way as to prevent companies from being able to opt out of it through the methods described above. I'd like to know what thoughts people have on this and what they would suggest as a way to address this growing problem.

Virgil the Virulent

A friend e-mailed me this weekend about the Virgil Goode affair, told me that he'd been in college with old Virge, who was an asshat then and remains an asshat now.

Much has been written about Virgil Goode and his disdain for the bedrock philosophy underpinning our political system, about his pandering to the most ignorant and fearful among us, about his disregard for the first principle, the very first Amendment to our Constitution, which recognizes that paramount to a free society is the freedom to believe and worship as one chooses, if one chooses to believe at all.

I've decided instead to write of the loss Virgil Goode has suffered in not knowing the people he vilifies so readily. At the heart of Christianity is the knowledge that all people are human and all humans worthy of being treated as individuals who rise and fall on their own merits and not upon their class or ethnicity. Virgil, like many self-satisfied and smug people who call themselves Christians, sees only a monolith when he looks at Muslims, a big, dangerous monolith bent on destroying American values. Well, Virgil, maybe you should get to know some Muslims. There are plenty available in this area. Some are devout, just like Christians you know, and some are Muslim in name only. Some of them believe their faith calls upon them to be kind and generous to others and some believe their faith makes them the tyrants of their households (you know, like the LaHayes). Some are knuckleheads, just like some non-Muslims, but the vast majority seem to be ordinary people who want what's best for their families, who want their kids educated and their trash picked up and their commutes to be shorter. A lot of them are indeed immigrants, although I know a number of home-grown American Muslims and converts. Has Virgil ever seen a mosque bulletin? They have them, you know, just like Christian churches. They list the dates of the clothing drives and the youth car washes, carry ads for local businesses, announce activities of their scout troops (yes, Virgil, there are even Muslim Boy and Girl Scouts), and list speaker schedules.

Read some of the prattlings of the Christian right and see a vision of Jesus wrapped up in American flag, spouting Republican values, and sporting an M-16. A brief perusal of some of the more conservative sites today showed me glowing tributes to Jesus in the margins, pious statements of "unto us a child is born", and references to the "Prince of Peace", and "goodwill toward men". Some of these same sites are defending Virgil Goode and ranting against Muslims as if by definition all Muslims are fanatics. Well if they're all fanatics and anti-democratic, why are we trying to cram our version of democracy down a Muslim country's throat? Why is it that the Christian rage on the right is so dogmatic and so full of hate for an entire class of people? It seems to me decidedly un-Christian to hate and fear Muslims just for being. Jesus preached that we should love our enemy, but these so-called devout Christians can't even muster a live and let live attitude toward their neighbors.

Iran's Economy and the Iraqi Problem

From today's Washington Post we get this story (Iran Oil Revenue Quickly Drying Up, Analyst Says) telling us that Iran's oil revenues are dropping by some 10 to 12 percent per year. According to Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Johns Hopkins University,

Iran earns about $50 billion a year in oil exports. The decline is estimated at 10 to 12 percent annually. In less than five years, exports could be halved, and they could disappear by 2015.

Mr. Stern suggests that rather than rattle sabers and talk of a military solution to the Iran problem we just sit back and wait for nature to take its course. While Ahmadinejad, who should more properly be known as "I'manuttajob", has been occupying himself with spurious attacks on the Holocaust and sowing discord in the Middle East, including Iraq, he hasn't been paying attention to business. Voters in Iran seem to recognize there's a problem at the top given their recent smackdown on I'manuttajob at the polls, but if the United States takes an aggressive stance and tries for a military option, we will lose the potential benefit of Iranian discontent and cause them to close ranks.

The Iranians have not been reinvesting in oil production and are heavily subsidizing domestically consumed gasoline. As the Iranians' domestic situation becomes increasingly precarious they will be forced to focus more on the energy issue and less on developing weapons or sowing Islamic revolution. Recently, President Bush was asked if he would consider talking to the Iranians about the Iraq situation. He said he would only do so if they agreed to cease their uranium enrichment program.

Bush's position is wrong. Tying the Iranian uranium enrichment program to the Iraq issue is a mistake. Iraq is not related to the uranium enrichment program, but it IS related to the question of Iranian domestic tranquility. Iran's economy is already creaking under the strain of its energy subsidies, its bungling management of its oil resources, and its status as a near-pariah state with a huge and increasingly unemployed young population. Does Iran want an Iraqi refugee problem, too?

For the past two or three Sundays I have watched proponents of discussions with Iran get tongue-tied when asked what we could possibly offer Iran as an incentive to enter into such discussions. I watched Charles Krauthammer do this to Mark Shields just two Sundays ago. The answer is easy. Iran does not want an Iraqi Arab refugee problem on its border. Iran has been protected to an extent from a flow of refugees by the difficulty of the terrain and by the fact that much of it borders Iraqi Kurdistan, but as the Sunni insurgency becomes increasingly violent, and Baghdad neighborhoods increasingly unlivable, there will be a flow of people to the eastern borders of Iraq. They can't go to Sunni, Baathist Syria. They will not be welcome in predominantly Sunni Kuwait. They won't be welcome in Kurdistan, and Anbar province is dominated by Sunnis who will certainly not permit thousands of Shiite refugees to cross on their way to Syria and Jordan. This leaves Persian Iran, which has no real desire to be overrun with Arab refugees even if they share the same sect.

Our refusal to talk to the surrounding countries in the region is setting the stage for a proxy war between Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran because we are not offering any good reasons why they should refrain from such a war. The insurgents and militias are not operating in a vacuum. They're getting outside support from Iran and Syria. If we want to stop the internal strife in Iraq we are going to have to deal with the people writing the checks. This can only be done diplomatically.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Webb's Plans for the Senate

Senator-elect Webb was interviewed yesterday for the Daily Press. Here's the story:

New Virginia senator calls Bush a `failed president'
By David Lerman
Newport News (Va.) Daily Press

WASHINGTON - Virginia Sen.-elect Jim Webb said President Bush is a "failed president" who should use his last two years in office to repair America's image abroad by ending the Iraq war through intensive diplomacy.

In an interview Tuesday with the Newport News Daily Press, Virginia's newly elected Democratic senator made clear his antipathy toward Bush and his determination to help set a new course in Iraq.

Webb, an early and outspoken critic of the Iraq war, ousted Republican Sen. George Allen last month by a razor-thin margin that tipped control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats. A decorated Vietnam veteran and former Navy secretary, Webb has a 24-year-old son now serving in Iraq as a Marine.

"He's a failed president," Webb said, when asked what he thinks of Bush. "He has two years to try to show some true leadership when it comes to rehabilitating the image of the United States around the world.

"I warned three months before we went into Iraq that we were squandering an historic opportunity to keep almost the entire world with us in the war against international terrorism. And we have failed utterly to do that. It is now up to us and that hopefully includes the president to try and remediate the situation in a way that will enhance the stability in the Middle East and rehabilitate our relationship with countries around the world."

Webb's coolness toward Bush first surfaced last month, after an icy exchange between the two men at a private White House reception was leaked to the media.

"How's your boy?" Bush asked, referring to Webb's son, Jimmy.

"I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President," Webb replied.

"That's not what I asked you," Bush shot back. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said in ending the conversation.

The incident underscored Webb's reputation as a fiercely independent operator who will not easily be constrained by Washington standards of decorum or party orthodoxy. A Democrat-turned-Republican-turned Democrat, Webb served in Ronald Reagan's Pentagon before becoming a best-selling author and then launching his improbable bid for a Senate seat.

Webb confirmed the exchange with Bush Tuesday, but said he was not trying to insult the president and would be willing to work with him next year.

"I have declined to answer personal questions about my son in a political context," Webb said in explaining his response to Bush. "All I was doing was trying to curtail a conversation. I said nothing publicly about it at all until the story was leaked, I think by the White House. I'm happy to go over and have breakfast with President Bush, if he wants to have breakfast."

The White House has declined to discuss the incident, saying it does not comment on private receptions.

Bush critics have cheered Webb's feisty exchange as evidence of his willingness to challenge the president and fight for policy changes. But some conservatives have faulted Webb for an impolitic tone toward the president and questioned his fitness for the clubby Senate, where collegiality and compromise are considered essential.

Webb dismissed the criticism, saying, "I think people who are worried about that are going to be pretty surprised. I have friends on both sides of the aisle. I am looking forward to working with people."

Outlining his priorities for next year, Webb said he would seek a new course for Iraq, more generous education benefits for recent military veterans, and legislation aimed at narrowing the economic disparity between rich and poor.

During the campaign, Webb often spoke about the growing divide between the rich and the poor, a divide he said risks tearing American society apart. He said Tuesday he hopes to begin addressing the problem through measures such as increasing the minimum wage and examining the fairness of corporate tax breaks.

He is also drafting a bill that would offer full college tuition and benefits to qualified military veterans who have served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.

"I'm really hopeful we can move that bill this year," he said of the initiative, which he pushed throughout his campaign.

But it is on Iraq that Webb will undoubtedly spend most of his time as a freshman member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. The newly appointed Democratic chairmen of those panels have already called for extensive Iraq hearings beginning next month.

"I want to hear the administration and the military leadership articulate the endpoint in their strategy," Webb said. "How do we know when we are done?"

While urging diplomacy and a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops, Webb has declined to endorse a timeline for withdrawal.

Asked about proposals for a short-term surge in troop levels, Webb said, "I'm willing to hear them out. I don't see a clear reason for it. I want to see what they're talking about." Webb calls Bush a "failed president"

Looks like Senator-elect Webb will hit the ground running and is taking his new responsibilities seriously. On Saturday I went to the party at Aldo's Italian Restaurant for Webb volunteers and the other Democratic candidates. Jim Webb showed up early before the speeches and spent considerable time talking to every single person who approached him. After all the speaking was done and most people had cleared out, he remained and continued to shake hands and meet with everyone. I don't believe a single person was turned away of the dozens who approached. During his speech he made it clear that he appreciates the efforts made on his behalf and reiterated his promise to campaign strongly for all Democratic candidates in the upcoming General Assembly elections.

It's clear from the President's press conference today that he will reject any real attempt at diplomacy and is preparing to order a "surge" into Iraq of troops for "one last push" to stabilize the situation. Historically speaking last pushes, last stands, and last surges have a dismal record. Those who advocate this surge cannot articulate what exactly such a surge will accomplish and how, but it's as if they feel the need to "do something."

When asked about talks with Iran, Bush replied that he would only agree to it if Iran would cease its nuclear enrichment program. Why Iran would agree to do so when there is absolutely no incentive on the table is beyond me, but that's what he said.

Senator-elect Webb and company will have their work cut out for them when they start work next week.

Attempted cross-posting at VA-Sen Progressive Wave

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

From TPM Muckraker comes this charming article listing all the stuff the Bush Administration doesn't want you to know: Bush Admin: What You Don't Know Can't Hurt Us, by Paul Kiel.

Among items the Bush Administration has decided to stop publishing or to reclassify as secret:

the Department of Defense has suddenly classified the numbers of attacks in Iraq for September through November of this year -- after providing the figures for every month since the war began. Why classify the information now? If there's a good explanation, we don't know it, and the Pentagon isn't returning our calls.

As others have noted, it's far from the first time that the administration has tried to deep-six data that was unhelpful to its goals. Over the years, they've discontinued annual reports, classified normally public data, de-funded studies, quieted underlings, and generally done whatever was necessary to keep bad information under wraps.

Wouldn't it be great to have all those examples in one place? Thankfully, Steve Benen at the Carpetbagger Report has started us off on that goal ...

Steve's list is quite helpful and constantly under revision as readers add their own stories of the Bush Administration's obsessive secretiveness. The theory appears to be that no news is better than bad news, so in the face of government incompetence, or mis, mal or nonfeasance, and in the face of unfortunate ecological consequences of present policies or disparate income impacts on ordinary people of Bush's tax cuts, the Administration's best option is to simply declare it all secret or to stop publishing the information. This is called the "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil" approach to public information, or the Sergeant Schulz Two-Step.

Here's the link to the Carpetbagger report: Keeping Iraq attack numbers under wraps

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wilkerson's Analysis

Thanks to Bernie Quigley for posting a link to the following on RK. Is the U.S. Being Transformed into a Radical Republic?By Col. (Ret.) Leonard Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff.

... As Alexis de Tocqueville once said: "America is great because she is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

In January 2001, with the inauguration of George W. Bush as president, America set on a path to cease being good; America became a revolutionary nation, a radical republic. If our country continues on this path, it will cease to be great ...

From the Kyoto accords to the International Criminal Court, from torture and cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners to rendition of innocent civilians, from illegal domestic surveillance to lies about leaking, from energy ineptitude to denial of global warming, from cherry-picking intelligence to appointing a martinet and a tyrant to run the Defense Department, the Bush administration, in the name of fighting terrorism, has put America on the radical path to ruin ...

Moreover, fiscal profligacy of an order never seen before has brought America trade deficits that boggle the mind and a federal deficit that ... will leave every child and grandchild in this nation a debt that will weigh upon their generations like a ball and chain around every neck ...

This administration has expanded government ... and government intrusiveness. It has brought a new level of sleaze and corruption to Washington ...

First, it was Mr. Perle and people such as he who put us where we are today, not the terrorists of 9/11. A somnolent Congress assisted - a Congress that, as Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia said as the Senate failed to debate in the run-up to the Iraq war, was "ominously, ominously, dreadfully silent."

Second, people such as Mr. Perle do not represent the bulk of Americans, who are anything but radical. Instead, they represent the Robespierres and Napoleons of this world, the neo-Jacobins of today ...

Congress can awaken and discover that the Constitution is correct, that Congress is in fact a separate and equal branch of government ...

We can halt the precipitate slide in our standing around the world, convince the majority of the Islamic world that we can and must co-exist - and eventually prosper together - and at the same time confront, confound and defeat the small element in Islam's midst that lives to murder innocents, Christian, Jew and Muslim alike.

All we need do, in reality, is return to our roots. Never in our almost 800-year history since the Magna Carta have we been radicals.

I can't really add to what Col. Wilkerson says. This is a strong defense of the America which appeals to and has always been a beacon of liberty to the world, not the scared oaf stomping about the world looking for enemies and trying to force its version of democracy down other countries' throats.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Rights Denied, an American Detainee in Iraq

The Bush Administration's shameful abnegation of our most basic civil rights is illustrated by this story from the NY Times today: Former U.S. Detainee in Iraq Recalls Torment.

We must ask what "freedom loving" purpose is served by denying legal counsel to an unjustly detained U.S. citizen overseas. How is it that our President claims to champion our system of rights and freedom when the most basic protections are not afforded even to our citizens, let alone to other detainees who do not have the minimal protection offered by U.S. citizenship? Without the protections afforded by our Bill of Rights and the requirement that our government follow its provisions who is safe from governmental incompetence or overreaction? Donald Vance, the detainee in question, was a Navy veteran working as a contractor for a security firm in Iraq who tried to do his patriotic duty and alert our government to his firm's illegal dealings and diverting of arms and munitions. The shocking part is that he and Mr. Ertel, the other American detainee, had alerted the military authorities in Baghdad to their company's criminal activities after Mr. Vance collected substantial information about his company's misdeeds and communicated it to the FBI. Also shocking is the apparent incompetence or sheer apathy of the military authorities who held him in stressful and torturous conditions and apparently did not even check his computer as he requested for his communications with the FBI for weeks after his detention. There is a distinct quality to this of the right hand not knowing, or perhaps not caring, what the left hand was doing.

Given the way this situation was handled I have to ask: how were we as American citizens made safer by suspension of habeas corpus, of the application of the most basic civil rights, of the institution of torture light for detainees? I certainly do not feel any safer.

And let's consider yet another question. Without strict regulation of the circumstances of detention and interrogation of detainees, especially U.S. citizens, what protections do whistleblowers have against a corrupt military investigatory authority? I'm not saying the ones in this situation were corrupt, but really, what protection is there? Who's watching the ones doing the detaining?

Speaking of oversight, Alice Marshall of GOTV has posted the following to her site about the Truman Committee from the Next Hurrah blog: The Next Hurrah: (Harry) Truman Committee

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Can Diabetes Be Cured?

Mosquito Blog put out a line on this article from the Canadian National Post regarding a potential cure for diabetes: Diabetes Breakthrough?

Pain researchers working with diabetic mice discovered somewhat by accident that they could cure the mice's (meese's?) diabetes with a single shot of capsaicin to their pancreases, followed by injection of a neuropeptide. Crazy stuff. Considering that Type II diabetes is the fastest growing disease in the developing world, if this research is on to something it would be of great benefit to everyone. Hope it leads to something good.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Conservative Myths

Bob Burnett posted the following to the Huffington Post, his list of ten conservative myths and what can be done to refute them.

Killing conservatism

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Does the President's New Advisory Panel Know That Rampant Unemployment Can Lead to Civil Unrest?

Today's Washington Post features two articles, the gists of which conflict with each other. On the one hand, we have the specially picked group of three generals and two advisers summoned to the White House to speak plainly to President Bush (after only four years ... what progress!) about the situation in Iraq, and to address the ISG report. Of course only people critical of the report were invited, but even so, their assessments conflict with each other to a degree. The advisory group agreed on some things: that the President needs to shake up his national security team; that we should not withdraw troops from Iraq, yet; and that we should not engage Syria and Iran as recommended by the ISG. The meetings are described as "carefully choreographed", which is another way of saying that even in the midst of saying he wants a real assessment and blunt speaking from his advisers, Bush seeks to direct the conversation to the path he wants to take by choosing only those advisers who are critical of the report or its conclusions. The advisers apparently agreed that the war was still "winnable", but then even they differed on how exactly to win it. Retired General Keane proposes sending 20,000 more troops to Baghdad for added security, while Retired General McCaffrey says this will achieve nothing. Everyone seems to agree we should train more troops to be trainers of the Iraqis, but there is a general sense even from this meeting that this tiny group of hand-picked advisers is in serious disagreement about how the goal can be achieved.

Experts Advise Bush

In contrast is an article in the same edition which describes a Pentagon promoted campaign to increase job opportunity for Iraqis, whose joblessness rates in some areas run almost 70%.

Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the top U.S. field commander in Iraq, said that tackling unemployment could do far more good than adding U.S. combat troops or more aggressively pursuing an elusive enemy. He said the project to open the factories and stimulate local economies is long overdue and was born "of desperation."

"We need to put the angry young men to work," Chiarelli said in a phone interview from Baghdad. "One of the key hindrances to us establishing stability in Iraq is the failure to get the economy going. A relatively small decrease in unemployment would have a very serious effect on the level of sectarian killing going on."

To Stem Iraqi Violence

Seems to me that the advisers haven't addressed this fundamental issue in their considerations of the "new way forward" urged by Bush. The most troubling thing about the Bush policy is the promotion of military over alternative forms of seeking his ever elusive "victory". General Chiarelli makes more sense than the advisers and they should consider what he says in weighing our options.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The New Inequality

Here's a report in the New York Times magazine which tells us that recent economic figures show that income inequality, which has been increasing for thirty years among blue collar workers in this country, now extends to white collar, college educated workers, too.

Over the last five years, the average pay of college graduates grew at only a little better rate than inflation. For now, most holders of bachelor’s degrees appear to be on the wrong side of the inequality divide, which suggests that the slice of the American work force on the right side of the divide has become extremely narrow. Even families at the 90th percentile of the income distribution (now earning about $110,000 a year) have received only a marginally bigger raise over the last decade than those in the middle of the distribution.

... two economists in their mid-30s, Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, have ... discover[ed] that at the very highest levels of the income ladder, inequality has indeed continued to accelerate. The top 0.1 percent of earners — that’s one out of every 1,000 families — made 6.8 percent of the nation’s pretax income in 2004, up from 4.7 percent a decade earlier and about 2 percent in the ’60s and ’70s.

... From World War II through the 1970s, while most Americans were getting solid raises every year, the incomes of the richest 1 percent were doing only a little better than inflation. Since the 1980s, the two groups have switched places. The affluent have received huge gains, and everyone else’s pay growth has slowed down. For the last six decades, in other words, the American economy has been much more of a zero-sum game than we might like to believe.

Looks like Jim Webb and the progressives are not far off base when they talk about the rising inequalities in our society. Whatever the causes are, and I think it's only logical that they be tied to rampant deregulation, globalization, tax advantages for outsourcing, illegal immigration, abuse of the H1-B visa process, the "winner take all" mentality present in our nation's boardrooms, it's time to start taking this problem seriously.

The New Inequality

The Bush Paradox

In this guest column for The Seattle Times Thomas Cronin and Michael Genovese analyze what they call "the Bush Paradox". Point by point the authors examine Bush's pronouncements against his actions and the result is not pretty. A good treatment of the paradox that is our President.

Here's the cite:

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Remembrance -- Pearl Harbor 65 Years Ago

In the midst of a war lasting longer than our involvement in World War II we should take time to remember the day, 65 years ago, that America was dragged into that war by a savage and unprovoked attack. Americans responded with a sense of sacrifice and purpose. The objectives were clear, the cause was noble, and the enemy easy to identify. Young men were approached on the streets and asked why they were not in uniform. Young women like my mother, sometimes in defiance of their parents, flocked to the factories and to the offices of a rising military bureaucracy. My mother worked for the Navy Department in ugly temporary buildings set up on the National Mall, and returned home every night to a boarding house for respectable single young women at 1830 K Street, NW in Washington, DC. The Washington suburbs exploded into a flurry of building, both government offices and housing, for the hordes of job seekers and government workers flooding into the area. Ordinary citizens, scout troops, and civic organizations had victory gardens, collected metal for the war effort, saved pan drippings for use in defense factories, donated clothes and toys to military and refugee families, hosted military people on temporary assignment, or sheltered refugees from the Battle of Britain and orphans from Europe. Paying income taxes was considered a patriotic duty which would help win the war. The ranks of the armed forces and merchant marine swelled with young men (and sometimes women) from all walks of life and all backgrounds. Ivy League scholars, Hollywood producers and actors, professional athletes, and business people donned the uniform proudly, and stood with the miners, farmworkers, ranchers, factory workers, teachers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, and others from all parts of the class spectrum.

Looking at the present situation, when it comes to sacrifice ... hmm ... not so much. Oh, some people sacrifice, but they're the same ones, over and over. They're the dedicated people who've joined the armed forces for a variety of reasons -- some to serve their country, some to get an education and training, some to find adventure, and some because they were looking for purpose -- and who are now prevented from leaving when their time is up by stop loss orders and broken promises that they won't have to go back again, or at least not anytime soon. They're the ones whose pain and suffering I have heard at times dismissed or minimized because "they volunteered." Our leaders talk about supporting the troops, and everyone has a yellow magnet on their car, but try discussing raising taxes or sacrificing anything to pay for the war. Try discussing services for returning vets, some of whom are horribly wounded and traumatized. Try talking about the need to provide services for the families of our military, whose providers and parents, sometimes both parents, have been to war as many as three or four times.

Maybe we will be able to talk of such things now that the leadership has changed in Washington. In the meantime, then, we should remember Pearl Harbor and its survivors who gathered for their five year reunion.

Here's their story.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Time for A New GI Bill

There's a new book out by Edward Humes called Over Here: How the G.I. Bill Transformed the American Dream. I heard an announcement that Mr. Humes will be interviewed and the GI Bill discussed on C-Span this weekend at 11 a.m. EST. I have not yet been able to read the book, but a review posted at the publisher's web site read:

"Humes examines and celebrates the G.I. Bill, the benefit program for veterans signed into law two weeks after D-Day. A remarkably farsighted piece of legislation, the G.I. Bill aimed to reintegrate into American society the 16 million veterans who would return from WWII ... In the five years after V-J Day, eight million returning vets made use of the bill's educational provisions, while the bill's loan guarantees brought home ownership within the reach of five million vets, resulting in the explosive development of suburbia ... the bill, he says, was an enormous giveaway program by big government, one that cost a fortune while reaping an even larger fortune for the country ... only meager benefits await those returning from today's wars." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Senator-elect Webb has said that he will introduce legislation for a new G.I. Bill upon entering office. Such a proposal is absolutely necessary. I know of returning vets who do not have enough money to pay for their educations, who are having trouble securing or renewing their employment, and who are struggling to catch up with their contemporaries who did not have to put their lives on hold and were able to go about building their lives without interruption and without concern for a potential new deployment.

Bronze Star Woman

Spc Ashley Pullen is a National Guardswoman who saved one of her team leaders during an ambush in Iraq. She was awarded a Bronze Star with a V for valor, but now she faces recovery from post traumatic stress disorder.

Ms. Pullen deserves credit for courage and fortitude. She's expecting her first child and struggling to deal with the traumatic effects of her experiences in Iraq. I caught the tail end of a news report last week about the use of a heart medication to treat PTSD, and it was said to show great promise. Perhaps she would benefit from this medication. In the meantime, though, I wish her the best of luck, a true recovery, and a wonderful life with her new baby and husband.
See the complete article here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Jim Webb Interview With RTD

Peter Hardin of the RTD interviewed Jim Webb last week and managed to avoid asking him stupid questions like whether he thinks George Allen is a racist, and how his "boy" is doing. Instead, Webb is finally given an opportunity in an interview to discuss legislation he wants to propose and to explain his position on a number of current nominations. Here are some highlights:

Q: Is there a past or present senator whom you think you may model yourself after?

A: In the middle of this campaign, when people were writing about the debates -- that I wasn't answering questions like a political person -- I sat down one night, I said, 'Well, who would be a prototype?' And it came up Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Someone who had spent a great deal of his life in the intellectual world. For him, that was as an academe. But for me, writing is completely intellectual, or largely an intellectual experience.

Someone who was willing to grapple with the really complex issues of society, and tried to bring them into some sort of legislative, governmental resolution.

Editor's note: Moynihan, who died in 2003, served as a Democratic senator from New York for 24 years.

Q: What will be your first legislative effort?

A: The first thing I want to do is introduce the GI bill for the people who have been serving [in the military] since 9/11 ... Every war era has a different kind of GI bill. But I think the best one for the people serving since 9/11 is the World War II model, [which] ... covered all your tuition, any college you can get into, plus bought your books and gave you a monthly stipend.

Q: Sen. George Allen would allow visitors to carry a concealed firearm into a national park. You wrote a letter during the campaign on gun issues; do you intend to introduce a bill that would repeal the gun ban in national parks?

A: I'm willing to look at that. I'm a strong Second Amendment person . . . I've not seen Allen's bill.

... The difficulty in gun-control issues has always been that we're such a diverse country -- geographically, demographically and in other ways -- that it's hard to have a national standard on a lot of this stuff. What works in New York City doesn't necessarily work in Southwest Virginia, and vice versa ...

Q: Your thoughts on Bush's nomination of Robert Gates for secretary of defense?

A: ... he seems to have a very realistic approach to the Middle East, and he was a member of the Iraq Study Group, which gives him a fresh and independent look at the problem ... his coming in as secretary of defense might be a signal that the administration is looking for a more constructive way to reduce our presence.

Q: You're not willing to say whether you would support or oppose him, if you had a vote?

A: I've not been able to examine his record in a way that the senators on the Armed Services Committee would be able to.

Q: Do you have a position on proposed federal Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco manufacturing?

A: We'll have to take a look at it and get the advice of people that I respect on it, because I don't have a position on it right now. I don't want to pull one out of thin air either ...

Q: Do you have a position on filling the seat on the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated by J. Michael Luttig?

A: Senator [John W.] Warner has approached me about that. [Warner] asked for my input. We're working on that right now ... For all judicial nominations, I'm setting up an advisory committee of attorneys with strong experience ...

Q: Do you have an opinion on Bush's nomination of William J. Haynes, the Pentagon general counsel, for the 4th Circuit?

A: I have no opinion yet. I'm going to look at his credentials.

Q: Will you be accessible to the media?

A: Absolutely. And . . . I will expect [reporters and editors] to be fair to me ... So there are standards of fairness, but I also understand the adversary nature that's essential to the democracy.

Here's the cite.