Saturday, May 3, 2008

Iraq: The Needle And The Damage Done

Sgt. Merlin German poses with actress Elizabeth Rohm

Neil Young wrote a song with that title, about what junk was doing to great musicians as he watched them get hooked and OD before his eyes.

We were thinking about that yesterday as we trawled the intarwebs looking for information about Iraq. And the damage done. And damage aplenty it is. From being the nation that stood for economic achievement, honour, dignity, the enshrining of human rights in the very foundation of our existence, we have become a universal pariah, despised, pitied, and shunned. We're like the mad aunt in the attic, fouling ourselves, locked away out of the sight of the children because we're so unpredictable, so damaged, so pitiable.

Our currency has sunk to unheard of lows. Our economy writhes and flails pathetically struggling to rise like a wounded Leviathan even as it bleeds jobs in the tens of thousands, as homes go into foreclosure and families are forced out onto the street, as suburbs and subdivisions lie abandoned, rotting, damaged by those who once lived there or by casual thieves looking for an easy mark. Our infrastructure rots before our eyes, and we have no money to fix our sewage systems, our water systems, our dams and bridges and roads, even as we bleed billions of dollars into a war without a foreseeable end.

Today's reminder of the ongoing multiple wars in which the Bush regime has entangled us, and the continuing damage. Click the preceding link to read the story of Marine Sergeant Merlin German, who died April 11 as the result of injuries sustained from a roadside bomb blast in Iraq. Sgt. German was 22 years old.

He suffered damage to 97 per cent of his body from the bomb. It took him a little over three agonizing years of multiple surgeries and therapies to die. Sgt. German was a saxophonist. The bomb blew off his fingers. He would never be able to play his favourite instrument again. The article talks about how this poor man was "an emblem of resolve." Well, fuck your resolve. Tell us how it took him one and a half agonizing years to learn how to walk again. As a gimp, we can totally understand the torture of having a body that does not like to obey one's wishes and responds with agonizing pain when one does something it doesn't care for.

Tell us how it feels to have 40 surgeries. Each time someone cuts your body open, your chances of infection, fatal complications like clots in your veins and lungs, and, of course, the never-ending pain, increase. And sometimes pains create more, unexplained and inexplicable pains. So that when someone operates on your right knee, two years later you can suffer agonizing pains in your left toe.

They give you gabapentin for that. It's medication for epileptics, but apparently works off-label to cope with nerve-related pain. Unfortunately, it causes your wrist and forearm muscles to behave strangely, and can result in carpal tunnel syndrome.

In related news, a New York state appeals court has held that the New York/New Jersey Port Authority is liable for damages caused by the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, because it knew about but chose to ignore “an extreme and potentially catastrophic vulnerability that would have been open and obvious to any terrorist who cared to investigate and exploit it.”

We can't help but wonder if this means Gee Dumbya and his criminal cronies can be held liable for the deaths of the 3,000 who died in the attack on the Twin Towers? Personally liable? For damages? And the 4,000-plus troops who have died so far. And the 620,000 suffering from PTSD and TBI. And the 30-50,000 maimed and wounded?

After all, there's plenty of evidence that Bush and his stooges knew about 9/11 nearly a year before it happened.

Meanwhile, Reuters tells us that on April 19th, "Iraqi government troops" swept into the oil-rich southern Iraqi city of Basra and took the bastions of Hojatoleslam Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, at whose hands they had suffered such a humiliating defeat in the first weeks of April.

Of course, the article fails to mention that the "Iraqi government troops" are, for all intents and purposes, the military arm of puppet prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a man with so little support among his own people that defections among "his" police troops and "his" army forces number in the thousands. In the event, he required massive air support from British and American forces. Caveat: Registration (free) required.

And if you don't know what happens to "collaborators," consider what you would do assuming your country was invaded by some other occupying power. What would you do to Americans who aided the enemy? Jeez, let some politician make a speech about how things are totally fucked in Iraq and every frothing rightwinger is simultaneously wanking their dicks off while screaming "Treason! Aiding and Abetting! Giving comfort to the enemy! Hang them!"

As far as the rest of Iraq, Sunni and Shi'a, religious or secular, are concerned, al-Maliki's "troops" are collaborators, calling in American and British air power to bomb the living fuck out of their own countrymen and women and children.

So we had to bomb hundreds to death, destroying their homes and hospitals and streets and towns, in order for al-Maliki's so-called "army" to succeed against al-Sadr's militiamen. Remember, if you will, that al-Maliki's "army" gets its uniforms, salaries, training, equipment, and ammunition from our treasury, while al-Sadr's militia, if they're lucky, get an inferior grade of weaponry if they can pay for it either from the black market or from our soldiers and their proxies, the Iraqi army.

Damn, if we're paying them, training them, and giving them top-notch guns and ammo, and they still can't beat a rag-tag bunch of untrained fucking desert dwellers, what the fuck does that say about this "war"? Incidentally, both al-Sadr's and al-Maliki's followers are Shi'a muslims. In other words, this is a civil war. Moreover, many people are saying that this is simply an attempt by al-Maliki's Dawa party to ensure that no other Shi'a politicians can possibly win the coming elections.

Does anyone else get the feeling that this is just a sham, set up for a gullible American electorate that doesn't bother to inform itself? Does anyone want to take a bet that the Iraqi "elections" will be held not too distant from the American elections and steps will be taken by the CheneyBush Misadministration to ensure that they can proclaim a victory, success, a drawdown?

Of course, they'd better pray that the Iraqi units don't flee their posts, as this one did. Caveat: Registration (free) required.

A pertinent snippet:

A company of Iraqi soldiers abandoned their positions on Tuesday night in Sadr City, defying American soldiers who implored them to hold the line against Shiite militias.

The retreat left a crucial stretch of road on the front lines undefended for hours and led to a tense series of exchanges between American soldiers and about 50 Iraqi troops who were fleeing.
This occurred in Baghdad around April 16th. Commanders in Iraq are, to the extreme frustration and resentment of their troops, doing their best to paint any success as being led by Iraqi troops when in fact, it is American troops that are doing the dirty work, reaping the death toll, and receiving none of the credit.

Meanwhile, the Sons of Iraq, or the Sons of the Awakening, or the Awakening Council, or whatever they're calling themselves this week &mdash the number, out of the approximately 40 per cent of Iraq's population that is Sunni Muslim, who have decided to cooperate with the U.S. in attempting to expel from Iraq the al-Qaeda in Iraq "turrrrists" who are blowing up people and things &mdash have degenerated into an internecine conflict, the likes of which make the al-Sadr/al-Maliki conflict pale in comparison.

Patrick Cockburn, writing for The Independent, tells us that aQI, as al-Qaeda in Iraq is referred to, is targeting the al-Sahwa, that is, the Awakening Council, or Sunni Awakening, or, as we've been reduced to calling it of late, the Sunni Whatever. Christ. And this, hard on the heels of news that the U.S. has not provided agreed-upon amounts of arms and money to these poor sods who are in the frontline of this battle.

Is it any surprise, then, that U.S. troop deaths are currently at their highest for the past seven months? According to AP, 50 U.S. soldiers died in the month of April. Iraqi civilian deaths are also at a high. 36 people per day.

So, close to 40 people are dying every day, and what exactly are we supposed to be doing there? Preventing civil war? Too late, it's raging as we speak. Bringing democracy to the nation? How can there be democracy in a nation at war? The conditions don't exist for people to use the ballot box when they have to kill or be killed each day. We can't even successfully steal their fucking oil, which is, let's face it, the real reason that we attacked a small, poor nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. If this was about 9/11, we would have invaded Saudi Arabia which has lots of oil and, apparently, lots of terrorists, having supplied some 15 or so to the effort to bomb the fuck out of the Twin Towers.

Whoever tells us that our effort in Iraq is succeeding is lying through their teeth. This is not success. Watching 22-year-old boys get blown to smithereens is not success. Fomenting civil war in a nation that had absolutely nothing to do with the attack on us is not success. Building a mercenary army is not success.

Fuck, we can't even build a mercenary army properly. Incompetence, dishonesty, and outright idiocy resulting from greed and short-sightedness are the hallmark of what Maru likes to call the Cheney Menstruation. Here, for example, we have a wonderful incident in which mercenaries, most of whom are former military personnel, often U.S. military personnel, get killed because some senior manager used the armored vehicle in which these poor sods were supposed to travel, to &mdash no, really &mdash transport hookers.

Meanwhile, arms and equipment that we, the taxpayers, are paying through the arse for, are showing up for sale on ebay.

And little schoolgirls in Iraq are weeping while celebrating Saddam Hussein's birthday. So much for being greeted with flowers as liberators.

As we used to say when we was a yoof, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth &mdash bugger me blind. What the fuck? Is there anything we're doing that's remotely likely of success? Fuck, no. We keep propping first one, then another foot up while we take potshots at each, each time with a weapon of a greater caliber. Call us when they trundle out the cannon.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross is reporting that health care and clean drinking water in Iraq is less available to the populace, after five fucking years of our presence. The city of Baghdad has overflowing sewers that are visible from Google Earth.

There is no doubt, as Rep. Ike Skelton of MO says, that our continuing engagement in Iraq is preventing us from anticipating and preparing for future acts of terror. We're bogged down, boys 'n girls. Plain and simple.

The Pentagon is claiming that it is cutting funding for the Iraq war even as the Idiot-in-Chief is trying to force through a $70 billion dollar request for funding in Iraq. This is called, "The right hand knoweth not in whose underpants the left hand is sticking a finger." So you cut a twenty-cent purchase out while slipping a two-thousand dollar purchase in. Veddy clever.

And the Senate's Armed Services Committee is asking the GAO to find out where billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenue have gone. Admittedly, the previous, Republican, congress didn't even bother to find out if the taxpayer was being screwed without lube. But, gentlemen, isn't this a bit like closing the barn door long after the horse has embarked on a trip to a different fucking continent?

In other news, the Iraqis prove that they, at least, are not as stupid and befuddled as the American electorate-cum-taxpayer. Even as John McInsane was tootling around those parts, our erstwhile bosom friends and financial dependents of the Iraqi power structure were chortling with glee. Pertinent excerpt:
Many Iraqi politicians are closely monitoring the American presidential race, and some said the visit bolstered their belief that if Mr. McCain, of Arizona, succeeded President Bush in the November election, the American military would have a large presence in Iraq for a very long time.

“This visit confirms that the Republicans believe that the Iraqi war is very important in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East,” said Wael Abdul Latif, an independent Shiite member of the Iraqi Parliament. “It’s a message to Iran that the United States will never leave, even after Bush is gone.”
Never leave? Hah! Why don't we just line up every single American man, woman, and child who has less than one million dollars to their name (which would be most of us, don't kid yourself), and remove half their blood, or half their limbs?

Those of you planning to vote for McInsane? Just join the military already. Take your spouse and sprogs with you. Don't plan on coming back. They'll just foreclose on your home while you're gone, anyway, and if McInsane's in charge, your kid won't be able to afford health care or college, and there won't be any jobs left after you've served. At least in the military they often give you food, plus your housing and clothing and health care is all paid for. Sure, you risk ending up like Marine Sgt. German. But that's a small price to pay to see McInsane in charge, innit?

Meanwhile, since we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, the following has occurred:

  • The real, genuine, original al-Qaeda (the one in Iraq has the same name but no links to these big daddies) just tried to kill Afghani President Hamid Karzai;

    Bush's old oil buddy Karzai must be wondering how long he can hold on to power.

  • Our own intelligence guys are reporting that al-Qaida is doing just ducky, over in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they started out and continue to grow and thrive;

  • We still don't have the first fucking clue where Osama bin Laden is, but we're willing to bet he's laughing his ass off, even if it's in some cave;

    Note to our so-called allies: If you see an ass wandering around sans legs, torso, or any other identifiable part, please turn it over to the U.S. military.

  • No matter how much we grovel and beg, nobody wants to give us more pennies or bodies for our war in Afghanistan.
So what do we do about this? Do we keep making "support the troops" noises and buying flag pins made in China while leaving the men and women who do our dirty deeds for us to rot and die in body, mind, and soul?

Libby, over at TheImpolitic, tells us about some of the horrifying things our troops have gone through. Jesus, we're fucking outraged and disgusted.

One soldier's father was so disgusted by the treatment of his son's comrades, he videotaped it and posted it on YouTube. All on a sudden, the brass are putting away their balls which they've been playing with for ages, and leaping up to "address the issue" of the appalling conditions at Fort Bragg.

The good folk of Vermont continue to protest the war with all their might and main. Thanks, people! You give us hope!

Meanwhile, we ask, when are the Young Republicans going to step up and volunteer in droves? Because they're sitting around in school leeching off the taxpayer teat or the parental teat, the military has had to lower its standards to the point where people such as this eminent worthy get to disgrace the service.

And, to leave you all with something other than the bitter taste of ashes, here's a sweet story about service members who have to leave their four-footed friends behind, and the kind folks who help them out by taking their little beastlies in.

Crossposted over at ThePoliticalCat

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Of necessity, the Pentagon strikes "Question 21" from the Security Clearance questionaire

[This post is a collaboration between myself and Pale Rider, my partner in thought crime at my home blog, Blue Girl, Red State]

As the war in Afghanistan grinds on toward the seven-year mark, and the war in Iraq is almost two months into the sixth year, the effects on our military forces have been overwhelming. Last month the RAND corporation released a study that pulled the curtain back on the horrors of what our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are being forced to deal with and should have served as a wake-up call for the homefront - and the Pentagon. It also compliments and confirms an Army study on mental health that was released by the Joint Chiefs earlier this month that pegged the number of soldiers suffering from PTSD after one deployment at 12%, after two deployments at 18.5% and after three deployments at 28%.

Many units have deployed multiple times, and as the studies showed, the members of those units are suffering horribly. The more times they deploy, the worse they suffer.

Until yesterday, many of those who are suffering the effects of repeated combat rotations suffered in silence...because of "Question 21."

Anyone wo has ever gone through the process of getting a security clearance knows what it is..."Have you consulted a mental health professional in the past seven years for issues other than martial problems or grief?" A "yes" required excruciating details of the reason treatment was sought, and the treatment method(s) employed. This usually raised other questions and led to closer scrutiny.

John E. Fortunato, chief of Fort Bliss' Restoration and Resilience Center, which treats soldiers returning from combat with post-traumatic stress disorder, called Thursday's announcement an important first step.

Fortunato, who has treated 37 soldiers since his center opened nearly a year ago, said commanders have taunted troops and told them to "soldier on" when they complained of combat stress.

Soldiers have "paid such a high price for PTSD," Fortunato said.

The cost of treating a soldier is far less than pushing him or her out of the Army, Fortunato added. He estimated it costs his center roughly $20,000 to treat someone with post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars the military would have to spend to replace the discharged soldier.

"The measure (of mental health treatment) success is retention," he said.

During his visit, Gates said the military must lift the stigma on mental health care and encourage troops to see it as equal to physical care.

"The most important thing for us now is to get the word out as far as we can to every man and woman in uniform to let them know about this change, to let them know the efforts that are under way to remove the stigma and to encourage them to seek help when they are in the theater or when they return from the theater," Gates told reporters here as he announced the change.

"The department considers it a mark of strength and maturity to seek appropriate health care, whenever required," James Clapper, the undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, and David Chu, the undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, wrote in a letter announcing the change.

It is a welcome change that is long overdue, but truly - it's better late than never.

more after the jump...


It's a welcome step--but will they really strike the question and not hold that against someone when they are adjudicating a clearance renewal? Because that's what this essentially affects. A soldier who reclasses into an MOS or job specialty that requires a clearance after an initial tour shouldn't be penalized, and those who already had clearances shouldn't be penalized for getting PTSD counseling. So you need to strike that question for the FIRST application for a clearance and then for the 5 year periodic updates.

MORE IMPORTANTLY--they strike Question 21, but did you know--Questions 27, 28, and 29 are about ANY kind of "illegal drug use" and the number one item detailed is marijuana? Did you know that Question 30 asks about alcohol and whether or not use of alcohol led to any kind of counseling?

Seems to me, they can strike Question 21, confident they will catch anyone who has PTSD who "self-medicates" with marijuana or alcohol, and as we know from the data, sufferers of PTSD have to self-medicate with whatever they can find while they await treatment in a very slow system and while they go through a phase of getting their various life issues under some kind of control.

The medications that go with that treatment have always been of interest on the clearance paperwork as well--meaning, if you were prescribed valium or some other form of legitimate drug for treatment, you had to disclose that in detail as well. So I hope they end the scrutiny of counseling AND they end the scrutiny of asking what medications were used to treat the PTSD.

As it sits right now, forget about medical marijuana for an active duty soldier. If an active duty soldier legitimately needs it to calm down, the tests hot on a urinalysis, their career is essentially over if they've been in longer than 36 months. This reform is welcome, but the treatment of PTSD often conflicts with what they allow, culturally, in the military, and that's a nearly zero level of tolerance for anything relating to marijuana. If a person who has separated from service needs it, that is less complicated. And if someone is a reservist or guardsman, their testing regime might be less often than for the active duty, but they're in jeopardy of testing positive and facing UCMJ.

A mature and considered debate awaits--do we treat these men and women with medical marijuana or not? And if we do, then THAT should not endanger their clearances nor should it end their careers. So, it's all well and good to strike Question 21 if they then know they can turn around at get someone on the other questions, which ask about use at any time since the age of 16, use while holding a clearance, manufacturing and distribution, and whether use of alcohol led to ANY kind of counseling or treatment. Those questions would surely catch quite a few people who might have answered in the affirmative on Question 21.

Blue Girl adds -

Pale Rider raises a damned good issue. Medical marijuana would, in my (medical) opinion, be preferable to long-term use of any of the anti-anxiety drugs in the benzodiazapine family. They are highly addictive, and highly intoxicating. They also have a long half-life, which means that the drug builds up in the system, and tolerance from intoxication takes a long, long time to kick in. Frequently, by the time it does, an addiction has set in, and abuse soon follows. Benzos should only be used for short periods of time for this reason. But PTSD is not a short-term disorder. It takes a long time to treat.

Marijuana, too, has a long half life, but it stores in the fat cells and doesn't have an amplified intoxication effect.

And by the way, it's bullshit to say it can't be regulated and dosed, because it sure as hell can. By one of the oldest and most effective methods of extracting active ingredients from medicinal herbs...tincturing. Tinctures can be tested for efficacy by batch via chemical assay, and graded by a system something akin to proofing of alcohol. We don't have to distribute two-finger bags and rolling papers at sick call.

And we might need to have a serious discussion about what is best for those in need and forget what gets the authoritarians, hippie-haters and conservatards in a lather. Stop even paying attention to those whack-jobs. They have been wrong about everything and that is never going to change, it's a hallmark of the species. The sooner we get past trying to placate those implacable mouth-breathers and marginalize them to the degree they so richly deserve, the better off we'll be as a society.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

I've seen this movie before, and it sucks

It was 2002, and the advances were all pointing to a smash hit - and box office success.

Five years on, it's fucking Ishtar.

Now the saber rattling at Iran is picking up and the threats being offered are more ominous and dire, and yet, it seems to be met with a collective yawn. "Well, yeah. He's nuts. Of course they'll bomb Iran. What're ya gonna do?" (Shrugs shoulders, reaches for Cheetos and turns on American Idol.)

This time there is no Judith Iscariot selling it. Instead, the press just quotes the administration and accepts that they have "evidence" that they haven't produced; as if they can trust the lying bastards to shoot straight.

Fortunately, there is the foreign press and the internet.

Some intelligence and administration officials said Iran seemed to have carefully calibrated its involvement in Iraq over the past year, in contrast to what President George W. Bush and other U.S. officials have publicly portrayed as an intensified Iranian role.

None of the officials interviewed disputed the notion that Iran sought to undermine U.S. interests in Iraq, but in recent weeks the Bush administration has sought to emphasize the threat by citing new evidence. The interrogations of four Iraqi Shiite militia commanders, for example, have provided new details about the extent of training conducted by the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, officials said.

Still, the officials offered an assessment of Iranian involvement that was more complicated and nuanced than public statements by Bush and other officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said at a news conference this week that "what Iranians are doing is killing American servicemen inside Iraq" by providing training and weapons to Shiite fighters.

It remains difficult to draw firm conclusions about the ebb and flow of Iranian arms into Iraq, and the Bush administration has not produced its most recent evidence...

They said last year that they don't trust another administration to "deal with" Iran - and as the rhetoric ramps up and the clock runs down on the Bush maladministration - that comment comes back and echoes in my head.

If they do something rash and stupid - like declare war on Iran - we will have to hold the congress responsible. That means that Nancy and the leadership that refuses to do their duty by impeaching these nutcases will have to be held to account for their complicity in war crimes.

[Crossposted from Blue Girl, Red State]

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