Thursday, March 12, 2009

Barack the reality diva

Melissa Rycroft
H. Rodgin Cohen, chairman of the New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, has withdrawn his name from consideration for deputy Treasury secretary, becoming the fourth pick for a prominent Treasury Department post to pull out in recent weeks.
We're going to start in England, move to the US, then to Iraq and finally to Australia.  In the UK today new calls for an inquiry into the Iraq War pre-war 'intelligence.'  BBC News reports a freedom of information request resulting in, among other things, an e-mail where the head of intelligence "Sir John Scarlett was pressed . . . to make analysis of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as 'authoritative' as he could" is prompting the latest calls for an inquiry.  The Belfast Telegraph explains, "The emails show officials complained the dossier suggested Saddam Hussein's biological warfare programme was more advanced than they actually believed was the case." Paul Waugh (This is London) reports, "Intelligence experts explicitly warned Tony Blair's aides that Britian was not in 'imminent danger of attack' from Saddam Hussein, a confidential memo revealed today. . . . today Whitehall released a memo from former Cabinet Office defence expert Desmond Bowen, who later won promotion to policy director at the Ministry of Defence, which shows he disagreed Saddam posed an immediate threat.  The September 2002 memo, written to then Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett and copied to Alastair Campabell, provides comments on an early draft of the government dossier on Iraq."  Waugh notes how aware Tony Blair's cabinet was of the need to manipulate the people via the media with Jack Straw's office focusing on Sky News and how the dossier needed to be a "video 'wall'" for the network and this could be done by adding one "very simple table" needed to be added to the dossier -- "This should be brief enough to get onto the Sky wall ie no more than 5 bullets."  Adrian Croft (Reuters) reminds, "British weapons expert David Kelly committed suicide in July 2003 after being identified as the source of a BBC report alleging the government had 'sexed-up' intelligence on banned Iraqi weapons."  With each revelation comes a cry for a full inquiry.  Thus far, the cries have been ignored.
In the US, Saturday Julie Sullivan (The Oregonian) reported on hexavalent chromium which many Oregon National Guard soldiers were exposed to in Iraq -- the many may include 93 soldiers in the state whom the military sent out register letters to last Friday.  While working to protect an  Iraq plant then overseen by Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown & Root, they were exposed to it, as Ed Blacke (KBR safety officer) testified to Congress last summer.  Sullivan explains KBR termed it a "non-issue" at the time.  Among those who have attempted to address this issue in Congress are Senators Evan Bayh and Byron Dorgan, Russ Feingold and US House Rep Tim Bishop.  Feingold specifically wants answers about the burn pits and how they may expose soldiers to hazards and toxins.  This week, Wikileaks releases a [PDF format warning] December 20, 2006 Dept of the Air Force memo whose subject heading is "Burn Pit Health Hazards" which is a risk assessment done by Lt Col Darrin L. Curtis ("Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight Commander") and seconded (in writing) by Lt Col James R. Elliott ("Chief, Aeromedical Services").  Curtis raises six points regarding the Balad Air Base burn pit.  First, the burn pit "has been identified as a health concern for several years in numerous after action reports". The second point boils down to guidelines not being followed because contaminants burned off in the pits are difficult "to quantify".  We'll close with the third point so move on to number four right now.  Curtis cites the "smoke hazards" involved in the burning of contaminants.  Point five: "In my professional opinion, there is an acute health hazard for individuals." Sixth is his noting the "operational health risk" to those around the burn pits.  Now we're dropping back to the third point and noting it in full:
The Air Force documents exposure to the burn pit for those stationed at Balad AB as an environmental health hazard by placing detailed information in each Airman's medical record during their post-deployment medical outprocessing.  This is a permanent part of their medical record and is a mandatory document that assists the Air Force in complying with Presidential Review Directive 5.  It is amazing that the burn pit has been able to operate without restrictions over the past few years without significant engineering controls being put in place.  I would hope in the future that issues such as burn pits are identified early on and engineering controls such as incinerators would be used to mitigate these hazards.  It seem that money has been the issue of why engineering controls are not currently in place.
Money.  Playing it cheap.  Julie Sullivan reports 21-year-old Nicholas Thomas returned from Iraq and "died of complications of leukemia . . . Three others have reported lung problems to headquarters.  Five more told The Oregonian they suffer chrnoci coughs, rashes and immune system distorders."  Larry Roberta returned from Iraq with numerous problems: "he was rated 100 percent disabled by lung disorders, tinnitus and post-traumatic stress disorder.  He needs two inhalers to breathe and swallows eight kinds of pills a day for upper chest pain, migraines, high blood presure, mood swings and a mystifying low level of testosterone."
This is what happens when human lives are not valued -- not the ones being attacked, not the ones serving the interests of their own governments.  The battle field just a big playlot and the ones far from don't give a damn what happens to the ones living there or the ones sent there.  Perfect example, Chris Rizo (Legal Newsline) reported Tuesday that Dow Chemical Company will not be held accountable for Agent Orange and all the destruction it did to Vietnam.  You need to look at who brought the suit -- it was the Vietnamese and US veterans.  LBJ, Richard Nixon and all their underlings didn't suffer.  They lived long lives with little to complain of other than (reportedly) nightly gas.  (Poor Lady Bird and Pat.)  But the people they ordered attacked, the people they ordered sent over to do the attacking, those are the ones who suffered.  Rizo notes the lower court rulings now stand which argued "federal law protects government contractors" and no standing for the Vietnamese ("because Agent Orane was used to protect U.S. troops from abumsh").  The ones who suffered (and continue to suffer) get no voice in court and that's only made more clear by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens decision to recuse himself.  His son served in Vietnam, John Joseph Stevens, and died in 1996 of cancer which may or may not have been connected to exposure to Agent Orange.  So the only one on the Court who might understand the defendants plight has to recuse himself?  Debra Cassens Weiss (ABA Journal) quotes Susan Mullen stating "her brother died of a brain tumor" at age 47, that "he got ill and died too quickly for him to get involved in any legal matters," and that she's not sure why her father recused himself from the decision of whether or not the Court should grant cert to the Agent Orange cases. Cassens Weiss notes that Stevens recused himself from a similar review in 2006.
War after war, the point becomes very clear: governments see those on the battlefield as expendable.  For the US government, that's the Vietnamese, the Iraqis, and, yes, the US service members.  Jason Notte (Providence Phoenix) reviews the experiences of Iraq War veteran Jeff Lucey who returned to the US and was given no medical help for his problems: "On [June] 22, 2004, unable to handle the intesity anymore -- the daily vomiting, the feeling that he was a murderer, the fear that none of his military higher-ups even cared -- Lucey wrapped a garden hose around his neck in the basement of his family's Belchertown, Massachusetts, home and hanged himself."  Jeff Lucey died June 22, 2004, the paper has the month wrong. In January, the US government, made an offer of $350,000 to the Lucey family but claimed that this was not an admission of guilt or wrong doing on the part of the US government or the VA medical system.  Notte notes a 2004 study where 30% of soldiers in the survey self-disclosed thoughts of suicide "within the past week" and how the number of  Army deaths from suicide hit a high of 138 last year.  Dina Greenberg (Houston Chronicle) offers, "While Army leadership is to be commended for breaking the barrier of silence regarding mental illness in the military, the underlying culture of secrecy that has contributed to the current trend is in dire need of reform. According to figures obtained by the Associated Press, there has been a steady increase in suicides since 2003, totaling 450 active duty soldiers, with the highest numbers occurring in the past year."  Yes, a break in the silence barrier would be something . . . if it didn't appear to be part of something else.  In this case, "We talked, now it's your problem!"  AP reports that Fort Campbell officials want service member's family members to catch "signs that soldiers may be depressed" leading one to wonder exactly what is the military responsible for?  It's not responsible for protecting those who serve (as evidenced by Agent Orange victims, the victims from KBR's shoddy 'work habits,' etc.) and it's not responsible for a failed mental health system.  Now it's the families that better be on their toes and spot those signs.  Every tiny move the military brass makes is done under immense pressure.  If they'd attempt to address the problem themselves, they'd find the numbers of suicides and attempted suicides would be greatly reduced.  But they won't do that.  They won't confront the attitude that they instill that mocks mental health issues and that scorns treatment.  They do little song and dances about how you leave quicker if you don't tell the doctors about any problems. So you can go through various exit interviews and possible treatment or you can say "Just fine, no problem" and be walking out the door.  The military command could have and should have addressed the culture of silence and how they encourage it.  Until that's done, the military can keep farming out the responsibilities to the families but the problem's not going away.
March 5th, Col Catherine Abbott issued a press release noting 2 suicides for February in the Army with "16 cases of death . . . pending a determination."  Col Abbott noted the "stand-down, From February 15 to March 15, 2009.  The stand-down includes training for peer-level recognition of warning signs that may lead to suicidal behaviro, and intervnetion at the buddy level."  More hogwash.  Commanders are the ones who set the tone.  They're the ones quick to brag about how they run things.  They are the ones, in the military, who are supposed to be accountable for all serving under them.  Where is the Army's announcement about how commanders will be addressing this growing problem?   They can keep farming out watch duties to families and peers but until they take accountablility and address the culture of silence and denial, the problem's not going away.  Pat Hatfield (The DeLand - Deltona Beacon) reports on what may be the two latest victims: 21-year-old Kristin Kouis and 24-year-old Jason Kouis.  The sister and brother were discovered Feburary 27th in a car with "[a] hose . . . from the vehicle's tailpipe into the rear passegener-side window, which was taped shut.  The vehicle was still running."  Florida's Sun-Sentinel editorializes about another silence:
News about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan takes a back seat to the economic doom and gloom.          
But just because foreclosures and unemployment seem to hit closer to home for most of us, it doesn't mean we should forget what our soldiers are doing. And certainly we shouldn't forget about the problems they face on the battlefront and when they return home, which have come to light again with the latest spike in Army suicides.          
While there are no specific numbers as to how many of the suicides took place on the war fronts, there were 18 suspected Army suicides in February, following a horrific January in which it was believed 24 soldiers committed suicide.
The editorial concludes, "And the general public needs to remember that Wall Street doesn't have a monopoly on all the problems these days."  John Ross (CounterPunch) observes:

Iraq has been erased from public discourse in the wake of an economic meltdown at least partially invoked by the vast outlays Bush pumped into the war to keep his killing machine choogling.  The television networks long ago rolled up their crews and there will be no film of today's massacre on the Six O'clock news.  U.s. news media have airlifted out their aces or recuded in-country staffs to a skeleton crew.  When after seven years of corpses coming home to the Dover Delaware death distribution center, Obama-Bush Secretary of Defense Robert Gates authorized the press to run photos of flag-draped coffins (if they first obtain family permission), it came much too late for both those Americans who had perished in this heinous aggression and a newspaper industry that is now being interred in its own flag-draped coffin.  The New York Times daily Iraq body count has now been conbined with the U.S. dead in Afghanistan and the box wedged into a rat hole on the Middle East page.  
Even the Left has abandoned Iraq, justifiably shifting its attentions to the horrors of Gaza.  This year's sixth anniversary marches to denounce the invasion and occupation of Iraq are doomed to be the most miserable yet.  Many who once marched will pause and scratch their heads.  Didn't Obama just say the war is over?   
Of course the war is not over.  Obama's speech to the leathernecks at Lejeune was stuffed with caveats and canards.  Combat troops will be gone from Iraq by August 2010 the Prez pledged, leaving 35,000 to 50,000 residuals in country -- but the small print gives Baracko fiat to reclassify combats as residuals.  The remaining troops' departure by 2011 hinges on Iraqi acceptance of a status of forces agreement to be voted up this June and not what the White House decrees.  Nonetheless, U.S. withdrawal is subject to Pentagon review with options extended for many years to come.  No mention is made of 150,000 private contract killers or permanent bases on Iraqi soil. 
We noted Collateral Repair Project in yesterday's snapshot.  John Ross closes his piece noting the group run by his "pal Sasha Crow and her Iraqi counterparts" and he urges people to note the anniversary of the start of the illegal war by making a donation to Collateral Repair Project.  Yesterday's snapshot also noted Alyssa J. Rubin and Marc Santor's article on the bombing which claimed 33 lives but the link was omitted.  My apologies.  John Ross feels that the turn out for this month's events will be low.  He may be right.  If he is, reasons will include no real action on a national scale in 2008 -- must not embarrass the Democrats in an election year is a 'core principle' according to Leslie Cagan -- and the fact that so many are trying to distract from what's planned.  I do not mean John Ross.  I'm talking about the ones Leslie Cagan's released from her kennal who are pushing UPFJ's non-action and acting as if no actions are taking place this month. The always useless Leslie Cagan should be aware that works both ways and it won't be very hard to take their faux 'action' and making it as big a disgrace as the little attempt last year at non-action.  How did that work out?  Hmm.  Big names.  Lot of advance work for the tin anniversary -- no, tin is never a practical gift.  And then it got a little curse put on it that prevented the press from covering it, right? A few phone calls and suddenly no respectable outlet was reporting on it.  That was an April event as well.  And the 'leader,' the Red Queen, even bought herself a new wig (it looked vinyl -- maybe that was just when contrasted with her alabaster complexion?)  So they should be aware that, as the Beatles once put it, in the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take.  And then some.
Those wanting to call out the illegal war can join with groups  such as The National Assembly to End the Wars, the ANSWER coalition, World Can't Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War -- all are taking part in a real action. Iraq Veterans Against the War explains:

IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21st         
As an organization of service men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside, and around the world, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have seen the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people of these occupied countries and our fellow service members and veterans, as well as the cost of the wars at home and abroad. In recognition that our struggle to withdraw troops from Iraq and demand reparations for the Iraqi people is only part of the struggle to right the wrongs being committed in our name, Iraq Veterans Against the War has voted to adopt an official resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people. (To read the full resolution,
click here.)              
To that end, Iraq Veterans Against the War will be joining a national coalition which is being mobilized to march on the Pentagon, March 21st, to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and further our mission and goals in solidarity with the national anti-war movement. This demonstration will be the first opportunity to show President Obama and the new administration that our struggle was not only against the Bush administration - and that we will not sit around and hope that troops are removed under his rule, but that we will demand they be removed immediately.              
For more information on the March 21st March on the Pentagon, and additional events being organized in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to include transportation, meetings, and how you can get involved, please visit: or
Camilo Mejia is the author of Road from Ar Ramadi.  He is an Iraq War veteran.  He is a conscientious objector.  He stood up to the full power of the US military and he survived and then some.  He is the chair of Iraq Veterans Against the war.  All of that, before you even get into the adventures of his father and mother, is more than worth hearing about and those makes him someone worth hearing.  Those in South Bend and Goshen Indiana have the opportunity to hear him next week.  Monday, he will be speaking at 7:00 pm on the Indiana University South Bend's campus and Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. he will be speaking in Goshen at Iglesia Menonita Del Buen Pastor.  Both events are free and open to the public and more information can be found here.  Mejia is among the early resisters and his actions are noted by Michael J. Mooney (Broward Palm Beach) who explains the struggle war resister Aslan Lamarche is currently undergoing.  He joined the military at the age of 18, he then self-checked out and went to Canada.  His attempt to be granted refugee status in Canada was denied. His parents (from Trinidad and Cuba) remain in Flordia and Aslan states, "It's sad.  My parents came to the U.S. for a better way of life.  And now, their oldest son had to leave that same country for the same reason."  He is taking classes in Toronto and hoping for some good news. He says, "It's hard to be 20 years old and be hated by two governments.  And Canada is a very strange country in a lot of ways.  They just have this blind trust that their government will do the right thing.  The majority of Canadians want us to stay.  They say, 'Don't worry.  Everything will be fine.' But at the end of the day, none of them are willing to fight for us."

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