State of the Union

Ironically Transparent

Is how I’d describe this online dead-end:

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Navy Researcher vs. Bureaucracy Over Toxic Dust


Navy Researcher Capt. Mark Lyles has been telling everyone he knows for seven years that the dust in Iraq is so potentially toxic that it could be why U.S soldiers have been coming home with unexplained illnesses since the first Gulf War. His testing of the dust in Kuwait and Iraq in 2004 found the presence of dangerous fine particulate matter, including 37 different metals and 147 examples of bacteria — some of which could cause life-threatening diseases like cystic fibrosis, and meningitis. He believes that the dust could have short and long term health affects on soldiers. Incidentally, recent studies have shown that individuals who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are seven times more likely to come home with a “lung injury.” Meanwhile, the military says there has been a 47 percent increase in respiratory illness among active duty military, and a 241 percent increase in pulmonary problems.

But it’s been seven years of knocking on doors, talking to walls and missed opportunities. “A (15-cent) dust nuisance mask would have reduced the exposure 99 percent. Especially people in convoys or laying on the ground… that’s what we’re talking about. Are they still not taking the proper steps in acting on this?” Lyles charged in a recent exchange I had with him on the dust and his recent breakthrough (finally) into the mainstream consciousness. He made that recommendation about the masks to the Navy Surgeon General  in 2004. He has yet to hear back.

Lyles* takes into account the mounting evidence that burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq have contributed to the increase in illnesses, but he thinks the problem is much more complex (he says much of the dangerous metals, for example, are occurring in the dust organically, and that constant war has in part, kicked it up) and widespread than that.  But if the answer is in the dust, then it could have affected everybody. As I write in the piece, with over 2.2 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and more than 650,000 of them already seeing the VA for health care, this could be a potentially huge health cost for the federal government, and a major burden going forward — and to what end?

Not surprisingly, the DoD has been very resistant in acknowledging there’s even a problem…

For more on the DoD’s denial of the deadly dust data, check out my interview with Lyles today on

*Lyles reminds that his findings and insights are his own, and do not represent the U.S Navy, the Naval War College or the Department of Defense.

** UPDATE 1:50 P

A reader  forwarded me this response viewed on a Navy information site blog from Capt. Patrick Laraby, Director of Occupational & Environmental Medicine Policy & Practice for the U.S Navy Bureau of Medicine & Surgery in Washington:


The military medical community takes our role in safeguarding the health and welfare of our deployed men and women very seriously and we actively work to
identify and overcome any threat to their health and our military’s
readiness. As such, we have aggressively examined the concerns that Capt
Mark Lyles, and others have voiced regarding the blowing sand and dust and to
date, his assumptions have not been supported by scientific research. … Read More…

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“Bibi” Votes Republican

Not since Nikita Khrushchev berated Dwight Eisenhower over Gary Powers’ U-2 spy flight over Russia only weeks earlier has an American president been subjected to a dressing down like the one Barack Obama received from Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday.

With this crucial difference. Khrushchev ranted behind closed doors, and when Ike refused to apologize, blew up the Paris summit hosted by President de Gaulle.

Obama, however, was lectured like some schoolboy in the Oval Office in front of the national press and a worldwide TV audience.

And two days later, he trooped over to the Israeli lobby AIPAC to walk back what he had said that had so infuriated Netanyahu.

“Bibi” then purred that he was “pleased” with the clarification.

Diplomatic oil is now being poured over the troubled waters, but this humiliation will not be forgotten. Read More…

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America’s Moral Decline

American moral decline has been discussed for as long as there has been an America. Conservatives have long noted how certain cultural shifts throughout our nation’s history have redefined social norms, transforming or even damaging traditional American values. They’re often right, as concepts like the sanctity of life, the institution of marriage and the importance of faith have all been under assault for decades.

But have we been too narrow in defining our traditional values? What, exactly, are American values? How are they unique to this country?

If socialism has defined much of Europe and the world for the last century, a healthy respect for the separation of the public and private sectors has long been a distinctly American value. But not according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB has tried to prevent the Boeing corporation from opening a new plant in right-to-work South Carolina, contending that the company’s decision to not to expand an existing unionized plant in Washington for the same purpose amounted to an illegal retaliation against union workers. The NLRB’s board members are appointed by President Obama. Read More…

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Bibi Rides Again

Here’s the result as I see it:  President Obama makes a speech in which he condemns Palestinian attempts to declare statehood and pledges the United States government to stop any such action, he repeatedly confirms that Israel is a Jewish state, he states that American commitment to Israel’s security is absolute (no matter what Israel does), he rejects any dealing with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, and he mentions the settlements but without any context of their being a “problem.”  He then states his belief that Israel and the Palestinians should negotiate a settlement of their respective borders, though he omits Jerusalem from the process, and uses as a benchmark the 1967 borders, which has been more-or-less US policy since the time of Jimmy Carter.

Benjamin Netanyahu reacts furiously to the mention of 1967, berating Hillary Clinton over the phone before the speech, seeking to have the date removed.  Interestingly, Netanyahu’s intervention means he received a copy of the speech before it was given.  Netanyahu then angrily and publicly rejects using the 1967 borders and simultaneously announces that 1500 new housing units are to be built on the West Bank near East Jerusalem.  Most of the US mainstream media climbs on to the Netanyahu bandwagon.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz scores the exchange as a major victory for Netanyahu.  He gets full and unquestioning American support for anything Israel does, does not have to stop settlement construction, and can delay peace talks indefinitely.  And he still gets his $3 billion per year from the US taxpayer.  As a friend of mine put it, Bibi got 100% but wanted 150% with the avoidance of any mention of the 1967 borders issue – in effect, he wants the United States government to declare itself Zionist and came close to achieving that objective.   One expects John McCain to intone “Now we are all Zionists.”  Maybe he has already said that.  Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and Joe Biden certainly have.

When they meet the next day, Netanyahu publicly berates Obama in the White House and before the cameras.  He says that Obama does not understand the situation and that Israel needs the extra land for security.  Congress then piles on with both Democrats and Republicans supporting Netanyahu rather than their humiliated president.

Obama then completes his journey to Canossa at AIPAC and reiterates his firm commitment to Israeli security etc etc, adding that Washington will use all its power to make sure that no UN vote will ever create a Palestinian state.  As Israel is not interested in peace as long as it can continue to acquire “Judea and Samaria” piecemeal and expel its inhabitants, the United States is signaling that there will never be a Palestine.  Rest of the world take note.  And he is also signaling that the UN is meaningless unless it supports Israel as blindly as Washington does.

Score a big win for AIPAC and Netanyahu and another journey into the abyss for the United States. Never before in the history of the world has a small nation so dominated a larger one, to our shame.  We can expect more terrorism directed against us and have guaranteed the hatred of a large part of the world with no net gain for the American people.  There will be more wars, count on it.  I’ll bet Bibi mentions Iran a few times tomorrow at AIPAC and when he speaks to an adoring congress on Tuesday.  Obama is a smart man and he must understand exactly what he is accomplishing, but he believes that he cannot go up against the Lobby and expect to become president again in 2012.  He might be wrong in that but he is not about to take any risks.

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The Enemy of My Enemy . . .

This Weekly Standard profile of Rand Paul may represent a high water mark in the Obama-era détente among competing factions among the Right. Matthew Continetti contrasts the subtle differences between the two Pauls on foreign policy without resorting to the usual smears:

Foreign policy used to be the ceiling that prevented Ron Paul from breaking into the Republican mainstream. But, whereas Ron Paul criticizes U.S. interventionism in tropes familiar to the left—anti-imperial blowback, manipulation by neocons, moral equivalence—Rand Paul merely says America doesn’t have the money. “I think we do need to go back to a constitutional foreign policy,” he told another New Hampshire voter, “which would include some savings by not being everywhere all the time.” . . .

Then there’s his position on foreign assistance. Ron Paul has raised the specter of the “Israel Lobby,” voted against condemning the United Nations for its scurrilous Goldstone Report on the 2008 Gaza war, and declared America should be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians. Rand Paul simply says sorry, we can’t afford the aid. “We can’t give away money to any country, even to our allies,” he told me.

It will be interesting to see how long this lasts. I predict it will end shortly after a Republican president moves into the White House, or perhaps when said president decides to start a war.

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The Drug War Is Over

And the drugs have won. Take a look at this news report from Tennessee on how law enforcement agencies are using civil asset forfeiture to “fight” drugs:

This report doesn’t explain much about how civil asset forfeiture works, so here’s a crash course. Under federal law, if police believe property was involved in a crime, they can seize it, sell it, and keep up to 80% of the proceeds while kicking the rest up to the feds under an arrangement known as equitable sharing. They do not need to convict or even charge anyone with a crime to complete the forfeiture because the government is literally accusing the property of a crime. This is why forfeiture cases have names like State v. $500 in cash or State v. 1974 Cadillac Eldorado. Conveniently, property does not have the same kind of pesky due process rights as a person, so, for instance, the government does not need to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt but merely through a preponderance of the evidence.

That’s all very distressing to anyone concerned about preserving our civil and property rights, but it’s old hat by now. What’s striking about this video is that the police no longer appear interested in seizing drugs, just drug money. That’s a completely predictable result given their incentives. The police can’t sell the drugs themselves and keep the money–at least not legally–but they can tacitly allow drug dealers to do the work and then take the cash. Civil asset forfeiture laws were originally pitched as a tool to help cops end the drug trade, but instead, they have made law enforcement just another group competing for their cut of the profits.

If you’d like to learn more about asset forfeiture, you should watch this short video by the Institute for Justice or listen to this presentation by yours truly on how the practice is used and abused in Missouri.

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Bye-bye, Burger

North Carolina, spurred by fears of E. coli contamination of food, has instituted a ban on restaurants serving hamburgers cooked rare or medium-rare. This is, no doubt, a great victory for public health.

But North Carolina’s lawmakers didn’t go nearly far enough. Cooking meat at high temperatures generates compounds called advanced glycation end-products, which damage cells and accelerate aging. And grilling red meat can create carcinogenic hetercyclic amines. Therefore, thousands of lives would be saved if the scourges of grill marks and tasty brown crusts were eliminated. But how can we protect ourselves from undercooking and overcooking?

There’s an easy solution to this dilemma. Regulators should require that all hamburgers be cooked through the sous-vide process, in which meat is placed in a sealed plastic bag and slow-cooked in a temperature-controlled hot water bath. This way we can ensure that beef patties are gently heated to a safe 155 degrees throughout.

Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that burgers come with bread—America’s silent killer. This needs to be stopped.

The dangers of red meat are well-known, too—but we must respect the consumer’s choices, after all. Therefore, the bunless, water-heated beef patties can be served with a prominent warning label, and you’ll be secure knowing that your family is safe.

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A Candidate without a Constituency

According to the conventional wisdom, Newt Gingrich’s campaign for president is DOA after the Ryan Plan foofaraw, but it’s still very early. He never really had a shot at winning at all, but with his kind of determination, he can successfully debase himself for almost another year before bowing out. And the media love a horse race, so many of the talking heads have been searching for a constituency to make Gingrich’s run sound like something other than the clownish debacle it is and will remain. Perhaps most fanciful was this musing by Peggy Noonan on Meet the Press following Gingrich’s appearance:

One of the things, however, I was thinking as I watched him was, you know, to young people , to 18- and 20-year-old voters, it just occurred to me, he’s new. To all of us, he’s been around for a long time. He left the speakership in 1998 , we all covered it. To somebody who’s 18 or 22, this is a new figure. They may find him quite compelling.

Read More…

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Do we want an Obama Doctrine?

Wishful thinkers who had expected President Barack Obama to lay out a new U.S. grand strategy for the Middle East — the so-called Obama Doctrine — during his much-anticipated address at the State Department on Thursday were bound to be disappointed.

That post-1945 American presidents were able to enunciate a series of U.S. “doctrines” to help mobilize support at home and abroad for American policy in the Middle East reflected a reality in which Washington — driven by pressures of the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli conflict — was advancing a set of core strategic goals that seemed to be aligned with U.S. interests and values.

The “good guys” deserving U.S. protection and support were the “moderate” Arab regimes that were supporting American (and Western) interests, providing access to the region’s oil resources, and seeking some form of coexistence with Israel. In that context, it is important to remember that until the administration of President George W. Bush started advancing its Freedom Agenda, no administration declared that spreading democracy was a core U.S. interest in the region. Read More…

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