Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Eugenics on the QT

How else do you explain the practical effects of a health-care system that lets poor children die for want of a dentist who will deign to fix the teeth of . . . poor people.

And we thought Marie Antoinette was bad when she said "Let them eat cake" after being told the poor had no bread to eat.

Of course, letting the poor die ends up costing hundreds of times more than just getting on with it and fixing their damned teeth. That is, child's bad tooth abscesses, infection spreads to brain, child ultimately dies . . . but only after two emergency brain surgeries and a quarter-million-buck hospital bill that his momma sure as hell can't pay.

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren't so hard to find.

If his mother hadn't been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte's own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George's County boy died.

Deamonte's death and the ultimate cost of his care, which could total more than $250,000, underscore an often-overlooked concern in the debate over universal health coverage: dental care.

Some poor children have no dental coverage at all. Others travel three hours to find a dentist willing to take Medicaid patients and accept the incumbent paperwork. And some, including Deamonte's brother, get in for a tooth cleaning but have trouble securing an oral surgeon to fix deeper problems.

In spite of efforts to change the system, fewer than one in three children in Maryland's Medicaid program received any dental service at all in 2005, the latest year for which figures are available from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The figures were worse elsewhere in the region. In the District, 29.3 percent got treatment, and in Virginia, 24.3 percent were treated, although all three jurisdictions say they have done a better job reaching children in recent years.

"I certainly hope the state agencies responsible for making sure these children have dental care take note so that Deamonte didn't die in vain," said Laurie Norris, a lawyer for the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center who tried to help the Driver family. "They know there is a problem, and they have not devoted adequate resources to solving it."

Maryland officials emphasize that the delivery of basic care has improved greatly since 1997, when the state instituted a managed care program, and in 1998, when legislation that provided more money and set standards for access to dental care for poor children was enacted.

About 900 of the state's 5,500 dentists accept Medicaid patients, said Arthur Fridley, last year's president of the Maryland State Dental Association. Referring patients to specialists can be particularly difficult.

Fewer than 16 percent of Maryland's Medicaid children received restorative services -- such as filling cavities -- in 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available.

For families such as the Drivers, the systemic problems are compounded by personal obstacles: lack of transportation, bouts of homelessness, erratic telephone and mail service.

The Driver children have never received routine dental attention, said their mother, Alyce Driver. The bakery, construction and home health-care jobs she has held have not provided insurance. The children's Medicaid coverage had temporarily lapsed at the time Deamonte was hospitalized. And even with Medicaid's promise of dental care, the problem, she said, was finding it.

When Deamonte got sick, his mother had not realized that his tooth had been bothering him. Instead, she was focusing on his younger brother, 10-year-old DaShawn, who "complains about his teeth all the time," she said.

DaShawn saw a dentist a couple of years ago, but the dentist discontinued the treatments, she said, after the boy squirmed too much in the chair. Then the family went through a crisis and spent some time in an Adelphi homeless shelter. From there, three of Driver's sons went to stay with their grandparents in a two-bedroom mobile home in Clinton.

By September, several of DaShawn's teeth had become abscessed. Driver began making calls about the boy's coverage but grew frustrated. She turned to Norris, who was working with homeless families in Prince George's.

Norris and her staff also ran into barriers: They said they made more than two dozen calls before reaching an official at the Driver family's Medicaid provider and a state supervising nurse who helped them find a dentist.

On Oct. 5, DaShawn saw Arthur Fridley, who cleaned the boy's teeth, took an X-ray and referred him to an oral surgeon. But the surgeon could not see him until Nov. 21, and that would be only for a consultation. Driver said she learned that DaShawn would need six teeth extracted and made an appointment for the earliest date available: Jan. 16.

But she had to cancel after learning Jan. 8 that the children had lost their Medicaid coverage a month earlier. She suspects that the paperwork to confirm their eligibility was mailed to the shelter in Adelphi, where they no longer live.

It was on Jan. 11 that Deamonte came home from school complaining of a headache. At Southern Maryland Hospital Center, his mother said, he got medicine for a headache, sinusitis and a dental abscess. But the next day, he was much sicker.

Eventually, he was rushed to Children's Hospital, where he underwent emergency brain surgery. He began to have seizures and had a second operation. The problem tooth was extracted.

After more than two weeks of care at Children's Hospital, the Clinton seventh-grader began undergoing six weeks of additional medical treatment as well as physical and occupational therapy at another hospital. He seemed to be mending slowly, doing math problems and enjoying visits with his brothers and teachers from his school, the Foundation School in Largo.

On Saturday, their last day together, Deamonte refused to eat but otherwise appeared happy, his mother said. They played cards and watched a show on television, lying together in his hospital bed. But after she left him that evening, he called her.

"Make sure you pray before you go to sleep," he told her.

The next morning at about 6, she got another call, this time from the boy's grandmother. Deamonte was unresponsive. She rushed back to the hospital.

"When I got there, my baby was gone," recounted the mother.
AND, ANYMORE, it's not just the poor who are being whipsawed by a health-care and insurance framework that's wildly out of control.

I mentioned, about two months ago, that I'd had a
heart-attack scare that ultimately turned out to be (probably) a 24-hour bug that did a wonderful job of mimicking the chest pain of a coronary. Nevertheless, I ended up in the hospital emergency room for eight hours after the doctor on call at my primary-care provider told me to get myself there pronto.

I mean, if you think that maybe, possibly something could be a heart attack, you get to the hospital.
But what about when it turns out to be nothing big, but you've run up an almost $6,000 tab and your insurance carrier -- which for years has been going way up on premiums but way down on actual coverage -- pays what it's going to pay, and you're still stuck with a thousand-dollar hospital (and cardiologist) bill?

Do you think I'll think twice about being "better safe than sorry" next time I have chest pains? Damn straight I will. It's not like we have $1,000 to blow on what just might be a false alarm.

And we're a middle-class family. And we're insured. And I'm worried about the calculus of bankrupting family vs. "Could this radiating chest pain be the Big One."

So imagine the calculus if you're poor, you have no insurance because you barely even have a place to sleep, and it's hell on earth to find a doctor who'll treat po' folks.

I'm serious as a . . . uh . . . heart attack when I say the practical effects of how America administers health care to Americans is tantamount to eugenics -- let the poor and non-optimal die.

Just in the, ultimately, most convoluted and expensive manner imaginable.

'The station where your friends are'

Radio Atlantic

I'M HOPING, from time to time, to post some pictures dealing with . . . whatever.

I was playing with the scanner the other day, and I took the opportunity to scan in some old negatives that never saw the light of . . . being turned into actual prints.

These pics are from a 1998 feature story I wrote about KJAN, 1220 AM, in Atlantic, Iowa. KJAN is one of a dying breed of radio stations -- intensely local, full-service (meaning airing music AND news) and run by humans instead of computers.
That a station such as KJAN -- "The station where your friends are" -- exists at all anymore is notable in an age of corporate ownership and "efficiencies." This, after all, represents radio the way it was in 1967 . . . or 1947 . . . or 1937, for that matter.

But KJAN's existence as a fully staffed, "full service" radio station in little Atlantic, Iowa, is amazing. And it's still that way in 2007.

Evening DJ (and music director) John Scheffler, shown here, is still at KJAN. He first got the "radio bug" when his Cub Scout troop toured the station in the late 1950s, and that's where he is today. (Note that he's still, in 1998, playing 45s . . . seven-inch vinyl to those under 35. Cool, eh?)

RADIO IS ABOUT PEOPLE. Radio is about public service. Radio is about community.

Or at least it used to be, in an age long ago and far away -- before the advent of Clear Channel, the "efficiency" of one staff running five stations and "Hold your wee for a Wii" contests.

It's good to know that at least one little 500-watt AM station in the middle of Iowa still is about those things.

Psalm 111

1 Praise ye the LORD. I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.
2 The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein. 3 His work is honourable and glorious: and his righteousness endureth for ever.
4 He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant.
6 He hath shewed his people the power of his works, that he may give them the heritage of the heathen.
7 The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name.
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Demographics are destiny

And in the case of my benighted home state, Louisiana, that means that demographics are doom.

To steal a portion of a line from National Lampoon's Vacation, "If you hate it now . . . ."

To explain it all, Louisiana political blogger Emily Metzgar invites demographic analyst Elliott Stonecipher to her New Day Louisiana podcast. If you care anything about Louisiana -- even just as a struggling part of the greater American whole (for what it's worth) -- be forewarned that this is grim listening, demographically speaking.

Can you say "death spiral"? I knew that you could.

Lord help it, Louisiana could use a little deus ex machina-ing right now to save its dysfunctional butt.

When the 'hood looks like . . . David Duke

It's a pop quiz, boys and girls.

In what large-ish American city was this newspaper story published Monday? Remember, no fair Googling:

"It used to be real bad," said Ray Bazer, who has lived in the area for most of his 54 years.

"I've seen blacks get chased out of here. Nobody would sell their house to a black family, and the ones that rented them out wouldn't rent to blacks. Once, they built a duplex over on 14th Street, and a black family came and looked at it, and the next day it was ashes, burned down."

That arson, committed in 1981, leveled a nearly completed
(city name deleted) Housing Authority scattered-site duplex under construction. In 1995, a black woman's car was tipped over and set ablaze at the same location.

But Bazer and other neighborhood residents, noting that there have always been a few black people living in the area, said the situation gradually had been improving.

Then came the Feb. 18 attack on Bob's Food Mart.

Police said two white men robbed the store at 5301 N. 16th St. They bound the hands and mouth of the manager - an Ethiopian immigrant - with duct tape, led him to the basement and fled. There was a boom that rattled neighbors' windows up to a block away, and then the store was on fire. The manager, Kassahun Goshime, escaped and survived. The store did not.

When the smoke cleared, what remained of Bob's Food Mart was a roofless shell of charred rubble with a crude message scrawled in crimson on its white back wall: "Go home" and a racial epithet.

Police say the attack may have been a racially motivated hate crime. The case remains under investigation, and no arrest has been made.
SURELY, it was somewhere in the racist South, right?

Naw, too obvious. Somewhere in some dying, nasty, ugly city in the gritty Northeast?


OK, it was Mississippi, then. Definitely Mississippi. Maybe Louisiana . . . just on grounds of general dysfunctionality?


TRY OMAHA. Relatively sedate, relatively affluent, relatively progressive and relatively civic-minded Omaha, Nebraska. The newspaper was the Omaha World-Herald. Here's more of the story:

The FBI is monitoring the Omaha police investigation to see whether a hate crime investigation is warranted. And black leaders spoke out against what they called the neighborhood's long-held "off-limits" attitude toward minorities.

Several neighbors said they hope it wasn't a hate crime. They said the spray-painted writing on the wall did not represent neighbors' attitudes overall, but they acknowledged that the graffiti and the arson looked bad.

"It just puts a blight on everything," said Doris Polsley, who has lived in the area for 58 years, since fourth grade. "It's not a reflection of the neighborhood. There are a few bigots, but not the majority."

Polsley and several other women happened to gather last week around homemade ice cream cake and other treats for their monthly ladies' fellowship meeting at Asbury United Methodist Church, across Fort Street from the burned store.

They said they felt bad for Goshime. Echoing many neighbors' opinions, they said he seemed like a nice man who was trying to run a business where one was badly needed.

The store, after decades as a neighborhood grocery, had been vacant for several years before Goshime and his sister, Tsedey, opened their business last year under the old name of Bob's Food Mart.

It was a rare retail business in one of Omaha's older neighborhoods, where homes mix with industry on flat land north of Carter Lake, roughly between 19th Street and Eppley Airfield.

The neighborhood is mostly low-income. Most streets in its eastern stretches are unpaved. Portions of the neighborhood have no sewers.

Cars stolen from around the city often end up in east Omaha, and vacant properties are quickly burglarized for salvageable metal, but there are few police calls to the neighborhood.

Area residents said most problems are settled between neighbors.

"If something goes missing from your garage or yard, you pretty much know where to go to look for it," Bazer said.

Omaha restaurateur and east Omaha resident Tom Foster said that five or six years ago, it was common to hear gunfire at night.

"I had to take bullets out of my roof and patch it, because people had been firing guns in the air," he said.

But gunfire is rare now, Foster said. He said he has been the victim of just one crime in his 15 years of living and commercial gardening in east Omaha. His car was stolen - after he had left the keys in it.

"It's a live-and-let-live kind of neighborhood," Foster said. "If people want to have a bunch of junked cars in their yards, you let 'em. If they want to have loud parties, you let 'em. If they have an unruly dog, you let 'em. There's enough room between our houses that it's not a problem."

He said the neighborhood is friendly - to people who are white.


White neighbors said a few black families have moved in, but they are few enough that the white neighbors can point out the houses they occupy. Across the street from one black family's home, KKK graffiti is spray-painted on a metal utility box.

Imogene Gilbert, a longtime resident who owns nearly 30 houses in the neighborhood, said she would have no problem selling or renting to black people. But she said black people don't even come to look at houses on the market in the neighborhood.

That may have to do with the neighborhood's reputation. North Omaha leader LaVon Stennis Williams said she grew up hearing that, "If you're black, you didn't go to east Omaha unless you were going to Carter Lake for the Stone Soul Picnic - and then you went in numbers."

She said white people from the neighborhood literally would chase away black people who came down "horseshoe bend," a steep, winding stretch of street between Florence Boulevard and Carter Lake.

Omahan Michael Robinson said he experienced that himself and knew many others who did.

At age 13 or 14 in the late 1960s, he was riding bikes with friends from their north Omaha homes to goof around on the shore of Carter Lake. A white man with a St. Bernard in the back of his pickup met them at the bottom of the hill.

The man yelled racial slurs at the teenagers. He told them to get out.

"Then he set his dog after us," Robinson said.

Thomas Wells and other black employees at Omaha Paper Stock in the neighborhood said they had heard a lot of stories of that sort through the years. They said east Omaha isn't as bad now. They feel comfortable working there, going into neighborhood businesses and driving through the neighborhood.

"But you're not going to walk down here," Wells said.

BEFORE WE DECRY THE WOES of the black underclass -- and there are numerous woes to decry, and much work to be done (as opposed to merely decrying) -- it is a useful inoculation against Caucasian self-righteousness to contemplate what it looks like when the 'hood is white . . . like me.

Psalm 83

A Song or Psalm of Asaph.

1 Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.
2 For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.
3 They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.
4 They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.
5 For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:
6 The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes;
7 Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;
8 Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen* the children of Lot. Selah.
9 Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison:
10 Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth.
11 Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna:
12 Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.
13 O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.
14 As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;
15 So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.
16 Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD.
17 Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:
18 That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.

* -- holpen is an archaic past participle of "help"

Monday, February 26, 2007

Psalm 58

EDITOR'S NOTE: Just in case you forgot, we continue today with Revolution 21's "Psalms for Lent" series.

To the chief Musician, Altaschith, Michtam of David.

1 Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?
2 Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.
3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;
5 Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.
6 Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O LORD.
7 Let them melt away as waters which run continually: when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces.
8 As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
9 Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.
10 The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Posted without comment . . .

. . . because I don't want to A) have to go to confession or B) have the Secret Service or FBI knocking on my door some morning soon.

Newsweek tells a sad, sorry, infuriating, shameful -- and true -- tale in its latest issue. Here is but a small part of it:

After returning from Iraq in late 2005, Jonathan Schulze spent every day struggling not to fall apart. When a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic turned him away last month, he lost the battle. The 25-year-old Marine from Stewart, Minn., had told his parents that 16 men in his unit had died in two days of battle in Ramadi. At home, he was drinking hard to stave off the nightmares. Though he managed to get a job as a roofer, he was suffering flashbacks and panic attacks so intense that he couldn't concentrate on his work. Sometimes, he heard in his mind the haunting chants of the muezzin—the Muslim call to prayer that he'd heard many times in Iraq. Again and again, he'd relive the moments he was in a Humvee, manning the machine gun, but helpless to save his fellow Marines. "He'd be seeing them in his own mind, standing in front of him," says his stepmother, Marianne.

Schulze, who earned two Purple Hearts for wounds sustained in Iraq, was initially reluctant to turn to the VA. Raised among fighters—Schulze's father served in Vietnam and over the years his older brother and six stepbrothers all enlisted in the military—Jonathan might have felt asking for help didn't befit a Marine.

But when the panic attacks got to be too much, he started showing up at the VA emergency room, where doctors recommended he try group therapy. He resisted; he didn't think hearing other veterans' depressing problems would help solve his own. Then, early last month, after more than a year of anxiety, he finally decided to admit himself to an inpatient program. Schulze packed a bag on Jan. 11 and drove with his family to the VA center in St. Cloud, about 70 miles away. The Schulzes were ushered into the mental-health-care unit and an intake worker sat down at a computer across from them. "She started typing," Marianne says. "She asked, 'Do you feel suicidal?' and Jonathan said, 'Yes, I feel suicidal'." The woman kept typing, seemingly unconcerned. Marianne was livid. "He's an Iraqi veteran!" she snapped. "Listen to him!" The woman made a phone call, then told him no one was available that day to screen him for hospitalization. Jonathan could come back tomorrow or call the counselor for a screening on the phone.

When he did call the following day, the response from the clinic was even more disheartening: the center was full. Schulze would be No. 26 on the waiting list. He was encouraged to call back periodically over the next two weeks in case there was a cancellation. Marianne was listening in on the conversation from the dining room. She watched Jonathan, slumped on the couch, as he talked to the doctor. "I heard him say the same thing: I'm suicidal, I feel lost, I feel hopelessness," she says. Four days later Schulze got drunk, wrapped an electrical cord around a basement beam in his home and hanged himself. A friend he telephoned while tying the noose called the police, but by the time officers broke down the door, Schulze was dead.

How well do we care for our wounded and impaired when they come home? For a country amid what President Bush calls a "long war," the question has profound moral implications. We send young Americans to the world's most unruly places to execute our national policies. About 50,000 service members so far have been banged up or burned, suffered disease, lost limbs or sacrificed something less tangible inside them. Schulze is an extreme example but not an isolated one, and such stories are raising concerns that the country is failing to meet its most basic obligations to those who fight our wars.

The question of after-action care also has strategic consequences. Iraq marks the first drawn-out campaign we've fought with an all-volunteer military. In practice, that means far fewer Americans are taking part in this war (12 percent of the total population participated in World War II, 2 percent in Vietnam and less than half of 1 percent in Iraq and Afghanistan). Already, the war has made it harder for the military to recruit new soldiers and more expensive to retain the ones it has. If we fall down in the attention we provide them, who's to say volunteers will continue coming forward?

The issue of veterans' care jumped into the headlines last week when
The Washington Post published a series about Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The stories revealed decay and mismanagement at the hospital, and provoked shock and concern among politicians in both parties. "The doctors were fantastic," a Walter Reed patient, 21-year-old Marissa Strock, tells NEWSWEEK. "But some of the nurses and other staffers here have been a nightmare." Strock suffered multiple injuries, including broken bones, a lacerated liver and severely bruised lungs, when her Humvee rolled over an improvised explosive device on Nov. 24, 2005. She later had both her legs amputated. "I think a big part of [Walter Reed's problems] is they just don't have enough people to adequately handle all the wounded troops coming in here every day," she says. (Walter Reed did not respond to requests for comment about Strock's case.) The Pentagon responded swiftly to the Post series. It vowed to investigate what went wrong and immediately sent a repair crew to repaint and fix the damage to the aging buildings.

The revelations were especially shocking because Walter Reed is one of the country's most prestigious military hospitals, often visited by prominent politicians, including the president. But it is just one part of a vast network of hospitals and clinics that serve wounded soldiers and veterans throughout the country. A
NEWSWEEK investigation focused not on one facility but on the services of the Department of Veterans Affairs, a 235,000-person bureaucracy that provides medical care to a much larger number of servicemen and women from the time they're released from the military, and doles out their disability payments. Our reporting paints a grim portrait of an overloaded bureaucracy cluttered with red tape; veterans having to wait weeks or months for mental-health care and other appointments; families sliding into debt as VA case managers study disability claims over many months, and the seriously wounded requiring help from outside experts just to understand the VA's arcane system of rights and benefits. "In no way do I diminish the fact that there are veterans out there who are coming in who require treatment and maybe are not getting the treatment they need," White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto tells NEWSWEEK. "It's real and it exists."

The system's shortcomings are certainly not deliberate; no organization is perfect. Some of the VA's hospitals have been cited as among the best in the country, and even in extreme cases, the picture is seldom black-and-white. Before he killed himself, Schulze was seen by the VA 46 times, VA Secretary James Nicholson told Congress this month. (He did not elaborate on what care Schulze received.)

Yet, as the number of veterans continues to grow, critics worry the VA is in a state of denial. In a broad sense, the situation at the VA seems to mirror the overall lack of planning for the war. "We know the VA doesn't have the capacity to process a large number of disability claims at the same time," says Linda Bilmes, a Harvard public-finance professor and former Clinton administration Commerce Department official. Last month Bilmes released a 34-page study on the long-term cost of caring for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. She projects that at least 700,000 veterans from the global war on terror (GWOT) will flood the system in the coming years.


How can the system improve? Bilmes, who authored the Harvard study, proposes at least one drastic change—automatically accepting all disability claims and auditing them after payments have begun. (The VA says that would be an irresponsible use of taxpayer money.) Other critics have focused on raising the VA's budget, which has been proposed at $87 billion for 2008. More money could go toward hiring more claims officers and more doctors, easing the burden now and preparing the VA for the end of the Iraq war, when soldiers return home en masse.

But veterans' support groups and even some former and current VA insiders believe there's a reluctance in the Bush administration to deal openly with the long-term costs of the war. (All told, Bilmes projects it could cost as much as $600 billion to care for GWOT veterans over the course of their lifetimes.) That reluctance, they say, trickles down to the VA, where top managers are politically appointed. Secretary Jim Nicholson, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was chosen by Bush in 2005, tends to be the focus of this criticism.

The senior VA manager who did not want to be named criticizing superiors told
NEWSWEEK: "He's a political appointee and he needs to respond to the White House's direction." Steve Robinson of Veterans for America levels the accusation more directly. "Why doesn't the VA have a projection of casualties for the wars? Because it would be a political bombshell for Nicholson to estimate so many casualties." The VA denies political considerations are involved in its budgeting or planning. Nicholson declined to be interviewed but Matt Burns, a spokesman for the VA, called Robinson's comments "nonsensical and inflammatory," adding: "The VA, in its budgeting process, carefully prepares for future costs so that we can continue to deliver the quality health care and myriad benefits veterans have earned."

Fratto, the White House deputy press secretary, says money is not the problem. He points out the VA has had a hard time filling positions in some remote parts of the country. "You need to find people who are trained in PTSD and other disorders that are affecting veterans and find those who are willing to go to places where they are needed."

As is often the case in America when government institutions falter, however, community groups are already stepping into the void. Veterans of Foreign Wars has advocates helping vets negotiate the VA bureaucracy, much the way health facilitators in the private sector help consumers get the most from their health insurance. Robinson, of Veterans for America, has pulled together teams of volunteers—physicians, psychologists, lawyers—who give vets free services when the local VA branch falls down. At his office recently, he was coordinating a traumatic-brain-injury screening with a private doctor for a veteran who'd been denied access to VA care. The fact that Americans are coming forward doesn't absolve the VA of its obligation to provide first-rate care for veterans. Most of the wounded's problems just can't be solved by private citizens and groups, no matter how well meaning. But it does serve to remind us that we should take better care of veterans wounded in the line of duty as they make their way home, and try to remake their lives.

The Chinese curse, fulfilled

We, indeed, live in interesting times.

What are we to make of a country, now, when it is somewhat reasonable to think that if we were to have a military coup against the civilian administration in Washington, we well might end up with more rational, prudent and democratic administrators in Washington.

It's now pretty clear that the Bush Administration has little regard for constitutional protections, little regard for international conventiuons like that little thing drafted in Geneva, and is trying like hell to get us in a war with Iran.

Even though there's no prospect of getting ourselves out of the mess next door in Iraq.

Now, according to The Sunday Times in London, the Pentagon is nearing open revolt against President Neidermeier after his disastrous performance in the Faber College homecoming parade Iraq war. With the Army and Marines having been beat to hell in a really futile and stupid gesture done on America's part, it seems our generals and admirals aren't eager to repeat history -- in spades.

Some of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

“There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations.”

A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. “American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired,” said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

The threat of a wave of resignations coincided with a warning by Vice-President Dick Cheney that all options, including military action, remained on the table. He was responding to a comment by Tony Blair that it would not “be right to take military action against Iran”.


A second US navy aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS John C Stennis arrived in the Gulf last week, doubling the US presence there. Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh, the commander of the US Fifth Fleet, warned: “The US will take military action if ships are attacked or if countries in the region are targeted or US troops come under direct attack.”

But General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said recently there was “zero chance” of a war with Iran. He played down claims by US intelligence that the Iranian government was responsible for supplying insurgents in Iraq, forcing Bush on the defensive.

Pace’s view was backed up by British intelligence officials who said the extent of the Iranian government’s involvement in activities inside Iraq by a small number of Revolutionary Guards was “far from clear”.

Hillary Mann, the National Security Council’s main Iran expert until 2004, said Pace’s repudiation of the administration’s claims was a sign of grave discontent at the top.

“He is a very serious and a very loyal soldier,” she said. “It is extraordinary for him to have made these comments publicly, and it suggests there are serious problems between the White House, the National Security Council and the Pentagon.”

Mann fears the administration is seeking to provoke Iran into a reaction that could be used as an excuse for an attack. A British official said the US navy was well aware of the risks of confrontation and was being “seriously careful” in the Gulf.

GOD HELP US. The lunatics are running the asylum White House.

Psalm 96

1 O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth.
2 Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.
4 For the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the LORD made the heavens.
6 Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
7 Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength.
8 Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9 O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.
10 Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously.
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof.
12 Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice
13 Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The NRA's 'Two Minutes Hate'

1984, it is now official, finally has arrived in 2007. Maybe 2006. Perhaps as early as 2003.

Regardless, it's here. Orwell was right. Prophetic, even.

Welcome to the Dark Ages.

And did I mention that the National Rifle Association has gone utterly insane? I thought that would be nicer than calling the NRA a Hitlerian nightmare, which, no matter how true it might be, isn't very polite at all.

Here's the deal. Famed outdoorsman and hunter Jim Zumbo wrote something on his blog that, to me, sounded entirely reasonable. Spot on, actually.

Basically, he said no hunter in the universe needs an AK to shoot rabbits, or squirrels, or even deer. Assault rifles are called "assault rifles" for a reason: They are designed to kill people. Quickly and in large numbers -- a fact one would think obvious.

Using one of the suckers on a critter is utter overkill, a reasonable man (like Jim Zumbo) might think.

But what is equally obvious is that the NRA, its leadership and its membership are not reasonable men . . . or women. And as a danger to True Believers (TM) everywhere, Jim Zumbo had to be eliminated. The NRA is at war with Jim Zumbo. The NRA always has been at war with Jim Zumbo.

Cue up the Two Minutes Hate. Gather around your televiewers, everybody!

Let's let The Washington Post -- target of tomorrow's Two Minutes Hate, to be sure -- pick up the narrative:

SEATTLE - Modern hunters rarely become more famous than Jim Zumbo. A mustachioed, barrel-chested outdoors entrepreneur who lives in a log cabin near Yellowstone National Park, he has spent much of his life writing for prominent outdoors magazines, delivering lectures across the country and starring in cable TV shows about big-game hunting in the West.

Zumbo's fame, however, has turned to black-bordered infamy within America's gun culture -- and his multimedia success has come undone. It all happened in the past week, after he publicly criticized the use of military-style assault rifles by hunters, especially those gunning for prairie dogs.

"Excuse me, maybe I'm a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity," Zumbo wrote in his blog on the
Outdoor Life Web site. The Feb. 16 posting has since been taken down. "As hunters, we don't need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them. . . . I'll go so far as to call them 'terrorist' rifles."

The reaction -- from tens of thousands of owners of assault rifles across the country, from media and manufacturers rooted in the gun business, and from the National Rifle Association -- has been swift, severe and unforgiving. Despite a profuse public apology and a vow to go hunting soon with an assault weapon, Zumbo's career appears to be over.

His top-rated weekly TV program on the
Outdoor Channel, his longtime career with Outdoor Life magazine and his corporate ties to the biggest names in gunmaking, including Remington Arms Co., have been terminated or are on the ropes.

The NRA on Thursday pointed to the collapse of Zumbo's career as an example of what can happen to anyone, including a "fellow gun owner," who challenges the right of Americans to own or hunt with assault-style firearms.

From his home near Cody, Wyo., Zumbo declined repeated telephone requests for comment. He is a 40-year NRA member and has appeared with NRA officials in 70 cities, according to his Web site.

In announcing that it was suspending its professional ties with Zumbo, the NRA -- a well-financed gun lobby that for decades has fought attempts to regulate assault weapons -- noted that the new Congress should pay careful attention to the outdoors writer's fate.

"Our folks fully understand that their rights are at stake," the NRA statement said. It warned that the "grassroots" passion that brought down Zumbo shows that millions of people would "resist with an immense singular political will any attempts to create a new ban on semi-automatic firearms."

Some outdoors writers drew a different lesson from Zumbo's horrible week.

"This shows the zealousness of gun owners to the point of actual foolishness," said Pat Wray, a freelance outdoors writer in Corvallis, Ore., and author of "A Chukar Hunter's Companion."

Wray said that what happened to Zumbo is a case study in how the NRA has trained members to attack their perceived enemies without mercy.

"For so many years, Zumbo has been a voice for these people -- for hunting and for guns -- and they just turned on him in an instant," Wray said. "He apologized all over himself, and it didn't do any good."


"Jim Zumbo Outdoors" was not broadcast as scheduled last week on the Outdoor Channel and will not air next week, said Mike Hiles, a spokesman for the channel. He said sponsors have requested that they be removed from the program. The show "will be in hiatus for an undetermined period of time," he said.

Zumbo's long career at
Outdoor Life, which is owned by Time Inc., also came to a sudden end in the past week. Zumbo was hunting editor of the magazine, which is the nation's second-largest outdoors publication. He wrote his first story for Outdoor Life in 1962.

The magazine's editor in chief, Todd W. Smith, said that Zumbo submitted his resignation after hearing of the large number of readers (about 6,000, at last count) who had sent e-mails demanding his dismissal. Smith dismissed as "conjecture" a question about whether Zumbo would have been fired had he not resigned.

"Jim is a good guy, and I feel bad about this unfortunate situation," Smith said. "We are living in very delicate times. For someone to call these firearms 'terrorist' rifles, that is a flash-point word. You are painting a bunch of enthusiasts with the word. They don't like being called terrorists."

Psalm 137

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's the psalm we talk about on the latest Revolution 21 podcast -- the one that's the basis of the Melodians' (not to mention Boney M's) "Rivers of Babylon."

1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
4 How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?
5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
7 Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
8 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

WELL, NOW. When you get to Verses 8 and 9, it certainly does sound like things haven't changed much in the Middle East in the past 3,000 years.

So, what do we make of those troubling (from a Christian perspective) final verses? I'm supposing that it all depends on how you read them.

I think you could read them very differently if, as some have contended throughout history, King David wrote all of the psalms, including this one -- hundreds of years before the Babylonian captivity. That would make it prophetic (as was Psalm 22, foretelling the passion of Jesus Christ, the Messiah), and I think you read it very differently then -- this is how people are going to react, rather than "I'm a goin' to kill pagan babies, and that's a good thing."

Or maybe it's just a straight recounting of how the captives genuinely (and fallenly) felt in their enslaved heart of hearts. The "human condition," in other words.

Whadda you think? Anyone know of a good Catholic commentary on this beautiful AND troubling psalm?

'How dare they pretend to give a damn
about those they order to war?'

Veteran war corrspondent -- and decorated veteran -- Joseph Galloway is mad as hell at pols content to warehouse our grievously wounded soldiers in outpatient squalor. Galloway is eloquent and dead-on right; anything else I'd have to say would be superfluous

Here's an excerpt from the Editor & Publisher piece, but go read the whole thing. Please.

The same politicians, from a macho president to the bureaucrats to the people who chair the congressional committees that are supposed to oversee such matters, have utterly failed to protect our wounded warriors.

They’ve talked the talk but few, if any, have ever walked the walk.

No. This happened while all of them were busy as bees, taking billions out of the VA budget and planning to shut down Walter Reed by 2011 in the name of cost-efficiency.
Among those politicians are the people who sent too few troops to Afghanistan or Iraq, who failed to provide enough body armor and weapons and armored vehicles and who, to protect their own political hides, refused to admit that the mission was not accomplished and change course.

But it's they who are charged with the highest duty of all, in the words of President Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural in 1865: "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan."

How can they look at themselves in the mirror every morning? How dare they ever utter the words: Support Our Troops? How dare they pretend to give a damn about those they order to war?

They've hidden the flag-draped coffins of the fallen from the public and the press. They've averted their eyes from the suffering that their orders have visited upon an Army that they've ground down by misuse and over-use and just plain incompetence.

This shabby, sorry episode of political and institutional cruelty to those who deserve the best their nation can provide is the last straw. How can they spin this one to blame the generals or the media or the Democrats? How can you do that, Karl?

If the American people are not sickened and disgusted by this then, by God, we don’t deserve to be defended from the wolves of this world.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Psalm 22

To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David.

1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?* why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head saying,
8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

* See Matthew 27:46

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David.

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

A psalm a day . . . the Lenten way!

SOMETIMES, the best ideas come to you out of the blue. That's the deal with what Revolution 21's doing for Lent this year: We're going to blog a psalm a day until Easter.

Since, naturally, your Mighty Favog didn't come up with his bright idea UNTIL WE WERE TWO DAYS INTO LENT, we're going to have to start off with a bang -- a Psalter three fer, as it were.

TO VENTURE INTO THE PSALMS is to peer back some 3,000 years into the life of King David -- his joys, his praises to God, his prophecies and his despair and repentance. At a minimum, scholars attribute 73 of the 150 psalms to David. On the top end, many Church saints and scholars throughout millennia have argued that David wrote them all (in which case, Psalm 137, for example, would be a prophetic writing -- just like Psalm 22).

Regardless, the psalms are great poetry, early liturgical song -- prayers to God of thanks, of sorrow and, sometimes, cries for vengeance against the enemies of the Jewish people. The psalms are the human condition, which remains essentially unchanged over thousands of years.

Anyway, we'll be starting (in the next post) with the best known of all the psalms -- the 23rd. Which leads me to explain why a Catholic boy like your Mighty Favog will be taking our psalm blogs from the -- decidedly Protestant -- King James Version of the Bible.

WELL, IT'S LIKE THIS. Southerners of a certain age and older could not escape the lyrical verse of the KJV. The South always has been Christ-haunted (if not always actively Christ-following), and the common culture of the Deep South in which I came of age tended to paint Our Lord in Reformation orange, and it had Him speaking to us in the thees and thous of King James' 17th-century England.

The KJV is as beautiful to hear as it is sometimes alien to modern ears. And it is how God sounds to those of us reared in a time and place where the word of God was proclaimed with medieval authority, if not exactly heeded with due diligence.

I know this will be completely alien to readers under, say, 40 -- maybe 35 -- but when I was in elementary school, the Gideons (as in the Gideon Bible . . . think hotel rooms) would come to our public school and hand out pocket New Testaments, which included the Old Testament books of Psalms and Proverbs.

And in sixth grade, Mrs. Horn -- before getting around to diagramming sentences and the like -- would lead us in prayer and Bible study. Particularly the psalms.

Now, being that I've had precisely no reason to diagram a sentence in, oh, 35 years, I'm pretty shaky on that particular skill. But bless her wife-of-Southern Baptist-preacher heart, it was Mrs. Horn who introduced me to the Psalms, and to the concept of actually reading the Bible, as opposed to letting it collect dust . . . and family birth dates, wedding dates and death dates.

And it was Mrs. Horn who helped make it impossible for me to hear the 23rd Psalm in any other tongue but the King's English -- King James' English.

Now . . . on to Psalms for Lent.

We'll 'surge' . . . and 'surge' . . . and 'surge'
until the last solitary Iraqi dies a free man

And that should take about 10 more years or so. File this under "What the politicians aren't telling you" . . . or, "Peeing down your leg and telling you it's raining."

By the time voters catch on to this, you have to wonder whether the Iraqi insurgency is going to be the least of President Bush's worries.

Newsweek's Michael Hirsh
has the scoop:
The British are leaving, the Iraqis are failing and the Americans are staying—and we’re going to be there a lot longer than anyone in Washington is acknowledging right now. As Democrats and Republicans back home try to outdo each other with quick-fix plans for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and funds, what few people seem to have noticed is that Gen. David Petraeus’s new “surge” plan is committing U.S. troops, day by day, to a much deeper and longer-term role in policing Iraq than since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. How long must we stay under the Petraeus plan? Perhaps 10 years. At least five. In any case, long after George W. Bush has returned to Crawford, Texas, for good.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m merely a messenger for a coterie of counterinsurgency experts who have helped to design the Petraeus plan—his so-called “dream team”—and who have discussed it with NEWSWEEK, usually on condition of anonymity, owing to the sensitivity of the subject. To a degree little understood by the U.S. public, Petraeus is engaged in a giant “do-over.” It is a near-reversal of the approach taken by Petraeus’s predecessor as commander of multinational forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, until the latter was relieved in early February, and most other top U.S. commanders going back to Rick Sanchez and Tommy Franks. Casey sought to accelerate both the training of Iraqi forces and American withdrawal. By 2008, the remaining 60,000 or so U.S. troops were supposed to be hunkering down in four giant “superbases,” where they would be relatively safe. Under Petraeus’s plan, a U.S. military force of 160,000 or more is setting up hundreds of “mini-forts” all over Baghdad and the rest of the country, right in the middle of the action. The U.S. Army has also stopped pretending that Iraqis—who have failed to build a credible government, military or police force on their own—are in the lead when it comes to kicking down doors and keeping the peace. And that means the future of Iraq depends on the long-term presence of U.S. forces in a way it did not just a few months ago. “We’re putting down roots,” says Philip Carter, a former U.S. Army captain who returned last summer from a year of policing and training in the hot zone around Baquba. “The Americans are no longer willing to accept failure in order to put Iraqis in the lead. You can’t let the mission fail just for the sake of diplomacy.”

Many U.S. military experts now believe that, if there is any hope of stabilizing Iraq, the Petraeus plan is the only way to do it. The critical question now, they say, is whether we have anywhere near enough troops committed to the effort, and whether America has the political will to see the strategy through to the end.

“This is the right strategy: small mini-packets of U.S. troops all over, small ‘oil spots’ [of stability] spreading out. It’s classic counterinsurgency,” says one of the Army’s top experts in irregular warfare, who helped draft the counterinsurgency manual that Petraeus produced while commander at Fort Leavenworth last year—the principles of which the general is applying to Iraq. “But it’s high risk and it’s going to take a long time.”