Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Better Ways: 'flipping' homework and lectures

Excellent idea.

So much of how we do school seems to be by rote repetition of how school was done to us.   This is a much better approach.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

WORD: Occupy Parenting — Getting big corporations out of our families

     The great thing about Thanksgiving itself is that it's the ultimate non-commercial holiday.  How do you sell people stuff when you're dealing with a holiday that's all about giving thanks for what you have?  
   You can't!  That's why the media and businesses work so hard to have you ignore the holiday, trying to prime you to go right for the "Black Friday" aspect of things, hoping you'll be all set for a four-week bacchanalia of debt-fueled spending.

  Nice to see some sanity creeping in.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

By the way: there is no "away" where pollution goes

SubmarineImage by subadei via Flickr
Probably the most insight you get by serving aboard a nuclear submarine that travels submerged for months at a time is that there is no place called "away" where you can throw things.  You have to have a plan for each and every item you bring aboard, because everything you discharge, you discharge into the ocean where you are drawing your water.

Then you realize that Earth is just a large submarine with a tiny habitable living quarters and a whole hell of a lot of passengers.  There is no "away" here either:

Women's use of contraceptive pill may be linked to men's prostate cancer risk.

HealthDay (11/14, Reinberg) reported, "With the vast increase in the use of the contraceptive pill over the past 40 years, the amount of estrogen entering the water supply may be partly responsible for the increased incidence of prostate cancer around the world," according to research published in BMJ Open. Researchers looked at "data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the United Nations World Contraceptive Use report to identify the rates of prostate cancer and prostate cancer deaths as well as the proportion of women using contraceptive pills." The investigators "looked at some 100 countries and found that where the use of oral contraceptives was high, so was the rate of prostate cancer."
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Apparently growing food is not a "21st Century Skill"

Which -- in an era of ecological and economic meltdown -- might mean that eating isn't either.  (This is a headnote -- an idea abstracted from a legal opinion -- much like the one that first caused the corporate personhood zombie to start wreaking havoc on our country.)

West's Key78 Civil Rights
West's Key78II Employment Practices
West's Key78k1199 Age Discrimination
West's Key 78k1200 k. In General.
78 Civil RightsIn employment discrimination context, phrase "21st Century skills" refers to nationally-recognized skill set, the primary focus of which concerns the integration of modern technologies for research, organization, evaluation, and communication of information.
Marlow v. Chesterfield County Sch. Bd., 749 F. Supp. 2d 417 (E.D. Va. 2010)

The Growth Fantasy

In a bizarre, self-contradicting editorial, the Statesman-Journal manages, in the space of four paragraphs, to show that the paper's editorial staff, despite being in a great position to assess the situation realistically, believe that "growth is just around the corner" and that there is something that John Kitzhaber et al. could do to make that growth happen --- if they only wished to, apparently.

Moreover, the writer fails to explain why in the world, if "a cohesive and strategic plan to further grow private-sector jobs" is needed and can be produced, someone as smart as Kitz refuses to produce it.

Here's the paper, correctly pointing out that we're cutting public sector employment (which has a devastating effect on private sector hiring) before resuming the weird chant for government to "do something" about "private-sector jobs."
The encouraging news is that employment numbers are up 1.5 percent compared with last year.  Overall, Oregon is 13th nationally in jobs growth. But fewer jobs in the public sector and a slow recovery in the housing market are handcuffing economic growth in the state and nation.  The employment gains have come in the private sector as many local government agencies - such as the Salem-Keizer School District - have had to make deep cuts to balance their budgets.

Government's impact on the Willamette Valley explains why the region showed the largest job losses of any Oregon region during the third quarter. Year-over-year job losses were 3.4 percent in Marion and Polk counties, according to the forecast, the worst of the worst.

The governor and lawmakers can look for shiny hues in this forecast, but there's only one truth.

Oregon's economic picture looks ugly. And budget cuts don't address the reality that Kitzhaber and state leaders have not developed a cohesive and strategic plan to further grow private-sector jobs.
Before considering whether such a plan could even be created, it's worth pausing for a moment to consider what it says about the mindset of the people who call for such things:  these people, who reflexively oppose all tax increases (the SJ was reactionary in opposition to Measures 66 and 67, for example), seem to have zero self-awareness about what it means to call for government to produce "a cohesive and strategic plan to further grow . . . jobs."

Government acts in one of two ways:  with force or with money.   The video clips we've seen of government employees clubbing and spraying harmless kids and grandmothers in the face and eyes with pepper spray is one face of government.  Presumably the SJ isn't calling on government to use force on recalcitrant businesses who refuse to hire.

So that leaves the only other mode of governmental influence: the decisions about what to tax or not to tax, and the decisions about how to spend the money collected through taxation.  That is the only other way government works.  Government takes money from some or all and gives it to some or all.

In American history, the idea that government was responsible for creating plans to spur hiring was rare, and would have even been considered anathema for centuries.   The Founders surely and probably most lesser mortals believed that, while government had a role "to promote the general welfare," the idea of government acting directly and intentionally to spur hiring would have been considered a call for corruption, given that we know that employers only hire when it is profitable for them to do so.

One of the reasons that the New Deal worked as well as it did was that Roosevelt and his "New Dealers" didn't wait to spur "private sector jobs" as the SJ says we must -- rather, they looked at the very long list of needs -- the work needing doing -- and the very long list of people needing work, and matched the two directly.  Thus, instead of giving employers twice as much so that they would take on the work and hire some workers (as few as possible, for the lowest wage possible, as is the rule), New Deal programs concentrated on restoring the flow of money by hiring workers directly, to do things for the public good, while priming the capital spending pump with earned wages.

The bottom line, though it will likely be a frosty day in Lucifer's living room before this is discussed in the SJ, is simple:


What does that mean?  That means that no amount of word-stew, no stellar team of economists and other believers in illusions, no amount of hope or prayer can change the fundamental physical reality that we have long since passed the limits to growth, which is really just a shorthand for "consumption of material resources and use of energy."

Our vast store of wealth is really just the residue of the even vaster process of waste that we began when we figured out how to tap coal and then oil, even as we kept a 17th Century ("The world is empty") mindset while the years flew by, each one bringing about increasingly advanced tools for using more energy and materials faster and faster (for that is, physically, what "growth" means).  For about two and a half centuries now, we have found ever more clever ways to blow through aeons of stored solar energy ("fossil" fuels) while using the best, highest-grade, easiest to mine/capture/drain resources to produce ever more elaborate things -- some good, some bad, but every one of them more energy intensive than the tools they replaced.

Even the few devices that use less energy individually wind up using more collectively, as the net result of each advance means that more people will use the more advanced tool.  As Richard Register notes, you give an American a Prius that gets twice the mileage, the only thing that changes is that the American moves twice as far from work, so that he can afford a bigger house to fill with bigger screens.  Yes, that's hyperbole.  Also pretty accurate.

News flash for the newspaper:  There is nothing John Kitzhaber or all the mavens and gurus (and certainly all the economists put together) can do to promote "growth," thank god.  Now that we're past the limits of growth, we're like an insolvent business that still has a little money in checking -- sure we can spend faster, but that only makes the final reckoning harsher.  We've operated North America like a going-out-of-business concern for 250 years, and we've done such a good job spreading that gospel around the world that China and India have decided to join us in living as if there will be no tomorrow, that the books need never balance -- because who'll be here to audit them anyway?

The challenge for Salem -- and it will have to be done at this sort of local level -- is figuring out how to preserve the social advances of the last 250 years locally, even as the predicate that spurred and allowed all those advances (the unsustainable use of Earth's natural wealth) starts to reverse, remorselessly contracting year upon year, decade upon decade, ever faster.  If you think times are hard now, when the boulder has just barely stopped rolling up the hill, wait until it has some time to pick up speed.

The Occupy Wall Street folks, and their local variants, understand that the economy is not working any more.  Naturally, the pundits atop the media empires scorn the "unwashed hippies" and "60's flashbacks" camping in the parks.  What's most interesting is that the press either misses or pretends not to notice the really interesting problem that the Occupiers point out:  that the economy is producing over-educated people with crushing debts at a tremendous rate, even as we have stopped needing many people to keep the "business as usual" system going.   (Scarier still, most of these people are absolutely dependent on "business as usual" going on as usual, because they have no more knowledge of how to grow food to sustain themselves than they do of quantum electro-dynamics.)

When other countries have an excess of educated young people and no opportunities for them, our press pundits write about how these societies are in peril, because the disaffected youth will forever be harmed by having had no way to join the ranks of responsible adults.  Funny how the remaining few reporters and editorial scribes don't want to think about what it means that a frightening number of 15 - 30 year-olds in this country can not buy a decent job in their own home towns.

WORD: Occupy Bankruptcy!

Bankruptcy -- a debtor's ability to escape permanent shackles of debt -- is so fundamental to our system that it is specifically provided for in the US Constitution.

Unlike, say, corporate personhood, an invention of the railroad lawyers who ran the country during the Gilded Age (as their heirs do today in the guise of "textualist" Supreme Court justices who are expert at reading the invisible text that only they can see, the text that elevates piles of money -- which is all a corporation is -- into supercitizens).
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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Awesome idea - Opting Out of Junk Mail Just Got Way Easier

Now THAT'S a great gift for anyone who complains about the junk mail onslaught. 

Catalog Choice

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Word: Local Hero: Britta Franz

Built in 1918, Salem's passenger train stop se...Image via WikipediaSpeaking of energy problems, Britta Franz has a good approach to adaptation.
Franz is just one person — a longtime civic leader and retired Salem businesswoman — but she's savvy, innovative and persistent. More and more people are becoming converts to her idea that Oregon should embrace regular, dependable rail service and forget about high-speed rail.

Given Oregon's topography and relatively small population, high-speed rail doesn't look promising. But people would use better rail service connecting Salem with Portland and Eugene if it were dependable and on a schedule that met commuters' needs.

"Speed is not the issue. It's being on time," Franz said.
WORD.  We need to forget the high-speed rail fantasy, which is nothing more than a slight variation of the highway boondoggle ... a transit system designed in utter disregard of our economic and environmental limits.  What Salem needs more than anything else in 2012 is a rail system as good as we had in 1912.  We'd think we died and went to heaven if we could have that.

Naturally the Highway Department (cover name "ODOT" but really just the same old Highway Department it has always been) and its local front groups give Franz the old "yes, but" again and again.   But reality has a way of winning out -- as our budgets continue to melt down, we're going to find ourselves thinking back to rail more and more.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

About that "finest health care system in the world" stuff?

Single-payer rallyImage by Public Citizen via Flickr

Man Dies From Toothache, Couldn't Afford Meds

A 24-year-old Cincinnati father died from a tooth infection this week because he couldn't afford his medication, offering a sobering reminder of the importance of oral health and the number of people without access to dental or health care. . . .  Kyle Willis' wisdom tooth started hurting two weeks ago. When dentists told him it needed to be pulled, he decided to forgo the procedure, because he was unemployed and had no health insurance.

When his face started swelling and his head began to ache, Willis went to the emergency room, where he received prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medications. Willis couldn't afford both, so he chose the pain medications.

The tooth infection spread, causing his brain to swell. He died Tuesday.
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Sunday, November 13, 2011

As the banksters profit, the rest of us wonder why there's no money for eldercare

Keeping the memories aliveImage by fernanda_maria via Flickr
WASHINGTON — As her mother's Alzheimer's worsened over eight long years, so did Doreen Alfaro's bills: The walker, then the wheelchair, then the hospital bed, then the diapers — and the caregivers hired for more and more hours a day so Alfaro could go to work and her elderly father could get some rest.

Alfaro and her husband sold their California house to raise money for her mother's final at-home care. Six years later, the 58-year-old Alfaro wonders if she eventually develops Alzheimer's, too, "what happens to my care? Where will I go?"

Dementia is poised to become a defining disease of the rapidly aging population — and a budget-busting one for Medicare, Medicaid and families. Now the Obama administration is developing the first National Alzheimer's Plan, to combine research aimed at fighting the mind-destroying disease with help that caregivers need to stay afloat.

"This is a unique opportunity, maybe an opportunity of a lifetime in a sense, to really have an impact on this disease," says Dr. Ronald Petersen of the Mayo Clinic, who chairs a committee that later this month begins advising the government on what that plan should include.

An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's or similar dementias. It's the sixth-leading killer. There is no cure; treatments only temporarily ease some symptoms. Barring a research breakthrough, those numbers will worsen steadily as the baby boomers gray: By 2050, anywhere from 13 million to 16 million Americans are projected to have Alzheimer's, costing a $1 trillion in medical and nursing home expenditures.

But that's not the full toll. Sufferers lose the ability to do the simplest activities of daily life and can survive that way for a decade or more, requiring years of care from family, friends or paid caregivers. Already a recent report finds that nearly 15 million people, mostly family members, are providing more than $200 billion worth of unpaid care.

Thousands of those caregivers have turned out at public meetings since early August — and at a "telephone town meeting" organized by the Alzheimer's Association that drew 32,000 people — pleading for a national Alzheimer's strategy to bring changes.

They want primary care doctors trained to diagnose dementia earlier, describing how years of missed symptoms cost them precious time to make plans or seek treatment. That's a recommendation being echoed Tuesday in an international Alzheimer's report.

They demand to know why the National Institutes of Health spends about six times more on AIDS research than on Alzheimer's, when there are good drugs to battle back the HIV virus but nothing comparable for dementia.

Overwhelmingly, they ask for resources to help Alzheimer's patients live their last years at home without ruining their caregivers' own health and finances.

"Either you're rich and can afford $25 an hour for care at home, or you send him to a facility. We're in the middle of the road," says Shirley Rexrode of suburban San Francisco, whose 85-year-old father, Hsien-Wen Li, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's nearly three years ago.

Adult day care didn't work out — even at $90 a day, the only place with an opening couldn't handle the behaviors of Alzheimer's. Rexrode says her mother, Li's primary caregiver, has suffered some depression from the stress.

"We just have to muddle through, but we don't know how long we can," Rexrode says.

And while Medicare will pay for doctor bills and medications, even getting to the doctor can be a hurdle. When her 89-year-old mother with advanced Alzheimer's developed a urinary tract infection, Susan Lynch couldn't find a doctor willing to come to her parents' home in Fall River, Mass. Lynch flew there from her Gaithersburg, Md., home but couldn't carry her mother down the stairs. A private ambulance service didn't have an opening for weeks. Lynch wound up calling the town ambulance for a costly but Medicare-covered trip to the emergency room.

Federal health officials, who promise a first draft of the national plan by December, say they're getting the message.

"Folks desperately, desperately want to be able to provide the care themselves," says Donald Moulds, a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services who oversees the project. "It's very, very hard work. Figuring out better mechanisms for supporting people who are trying to do that work is, one, the right thing to do."

It also may be cheaper for taxpayers. Nursing homes not only are pricier than at-home care, but many families only can afford them through Medicaid, the health care program for the poor. Another key, Moulds says, is better care coordination as Alzheimer's complicates the many other health problems of aging.

But given the budget crisis, the big question is whether any anti-Alzheimer's strategy can come with enough dollars and other incentives attached to spur true change.

"That's a concern, a very real one," says Mayo's Petersen.

The law that requires a national Alzheimer's plan didn't set funding, and Moulds is mum on a possible price tag. Almost complete is an inventory of all Alzheimer's-related research and care reimbursement paid for by the U.S. government, to look for gaps that need filling and possible savings to help pay for them.

Other countries including England and Australia — and 25 U.S. states, by Moulds' count — have developed their own Alzheimer's plans. But the U.S. is taking a special look at France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008 pledged to invest 1.6 billion euros, about $2.2 billion, over five years for better diagnosis, research and caregiver support and training.

Sarkozy told an international Alzheimer's Association meeting in July that he wants to guarantee "that no French family is left without support."

On Tuesday, a report from the advocacy group Alzheimer's Disease International says every country should have a national dementia strategy that stresses earlier diagnosis. Most of the estimated 36 million people worldwide living with dementia, and as many as half of U.S. patients, haven't been formally diagnosed, the report says. That's in part because of stigma and the belief that nothing can be done, but the report notes that even today's imperfect medications can help, a diagnosis lets families plan ahead, and scientists are working to create treatments that one day may slow the disease.

At meetings around the U.S., families say any Alzheimer's plan must bring better understanding of a disease too often suffered in isolation.

"What I want to see is mainly awareness, awareness of this disease and what it does not only to the individual but also to the network of family and friends that are going to care for the person," says Alfaro, of Aptos, Calif.

"It should be as understood as diabetes, and as treatable," adds Audrey Wiggins of Triangle, Va., whose father has and grandmother died of Alzheimer's.
Meanwhile -- the administration bails on attempt to deal with the lack of long-term care insurance.
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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Probably a good idea then

The foreclosure solution banks hate 

Ann Brenoff, Real Estate AOL - The loan modification programs have been a joke. You have a house that has tanked in value and the best the banks can come up with is: a plan where they sort of delay what you owe long enough for you to get back on your financial feet -- if that -- based on the flawed logic that the housing market is certain to improve in just a matter of months.

The real answer for what ails us is a Third Rail solution that banks don't want to touch: Erase some of the amount we borrowed, a process known as a principal reduction. To do so would share the burden of the housing crash with the lenders who helped create it. It would also allow us to get on with our lives, and, according to The New Bottom Line, save the economy in the process.

Banks would rather poke out their proverbial eyes with sharp sticks than offer principal reductions. Only 2.8 percent of all loan modifications in the first quarter of 2011 involved any actual sort of principal reduction, according to the ratings agency DBRS. And that number is actually up a full percentage point from the same time last year.

But some analysts believe that the industry-wide reluctance to perform principal reductions on a wide scale is actually what is holding back the housing recovery. . . .

Friday, November 11, 2011

For Veteran's Day

HomelessImage by Niklas via FlickrColorada TAG speaks with homeless vetsImage by The National Guard via FlickrHomelessImage by fotografar via Flickr
The Reckoning
The scars from today's wars amount to a national pathology. America could take a generation to heal.

By James Kitfield

The troops come home from war much the way they left, largely invisible to a distracted nation. Returning units are typically met at an airfield by buses that shuttle them to a gated military base. On a parade ground, a commander reminds the assembled, some of the more than 2.3 million service members deployed during the past decade of war, of all that they accomplished. He recalls the brothers in arms who didn’t make it back and the memories that unite those who did. The shared hardships, the moments of terror and elation, the constant joking that held the awfulness at bay. The unbearable melancholy that descends at the playing of “Taps.”

The commander dismisses the formation, and the troops realize that the ties that bound their lives together are breaking. The married service members run into the open arms of their families, husbands holding babies they’ve never met, uniformed women hugging young children they can hardly recognize. Even before the smiles and tears subside, spouses sense the vast gulf that now lies between them and wonder how to get across. Single troopers head for the barracks, cracking wise but often wishing that they, too, had family to welcome them home. And, inevitably, there are the stragglers—young soldiers shuffling and chain-smoking, unsure of where to go or what to do next. Having come of age on distant battlefields, they are suddenly lost in America.

Even Col. David Sutherland, a decorated commander who served in Iraq, was shocked by the dizzying sense of alienation he felt on reentry. “Never in the history of our Republic have so few been asked to do so much for so long. And yet, when soldiers return home, they feel acutely this disconnect between the military and a civilian society that doesn’t even seem to be at war,” says Sutherland, the Joint Staff’s special assistant in charge of the Warrior and Family Support program. “We fall into the same trap of our fathers from World War II or Vietnam, which is to keep the memories of those sacred moments on the battlefield to ourselves. That’s how they become secrets, and secrets are not healthy.”

Tens of thousands of other troops return home on the aeromedical-evacuation flights that land routinely at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland or Travis Air Force Base in California, where the buses waiting to meet them bear large red crosses. The critically wounded emerge from the massive C-17 transports first, nearly invisible beneath bandages, a jungle of medical equipment strapped to their gurneys. Next out are the less-dire cases, carried on stretchers. Finally, the ambulatory patients shuffle single file to the waiting buses. In the past decade, Air Mobility Command has flown more than 35,600 aeromedical-evacuation sorties, transporting more than 177,000 wounded or ill service members home.

Staff Sgt. Dan Nevins was one of those patients who landed on the tarmac at Andrews in 2005 clinging to life. Having already lost one leg, he fought through 18 months and 30 surgeries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center trying in vain to save the other. “In retrospect, finally letting go of my other leg and getting on with my life was the best decision I ever made,” says Nevins, who now works for the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project helping other injured veterans try to get on with their lives.

Thousands of other troopers have returned home in flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Last month, President Obama and other senior officials traveled to Dover to honor the 30 American troops killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 6 after their helicopter was shot down, the worst single-day loss of the long Afghan war. Their names joined the honor roll of more than 6,000 fallen service members from Iraq and Afghanistan. The deafening silence of the dead continues to send shock waves through a landscape of grief inhabited by their families and comrades—the collateral wounded of these wars.

“A death in the military is unlike any other loss in our society, because there are so many complicating factors,” says Bonnie Carroll, founder and president of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, which reaches out to grieving military families with “peer professionals” who have social work degrees and have also lost loved ones in the military. Because deaths often happen on long combat deployments, Carroll says, grieving spouses sometimes trick themselves into thinking that a missing service member will still walk through the front door someday. Other times, the manner of death is so traumatic that families receive multiple sets of remains. “When a death is so horrific in nature, and the spouse hears about it repeatedly in the media or third-party accounts, they can create a memory that leads to their own post-traumatic stress disorder.”

The pathology of war

Every war leaves its imprint on those who fight it and on the national psyche. At the 10-year mark, the wounds and mental scar tissue from Afghanistan and Iraq have amassed into something like a pathology unique to these conflicts—one that will afflict this country for a generation.

Due largely to advances in combat medicine, rapid aeromedical evacuation, and body armor, the wars have proven to be the least lethal in modern U.S. history. According to Dr. Ronald Glasser, a Vietnam-era Army surgeon and the author of the recent book, Broken Bodies, Shattered Minds: A Medical Odyssey from Vietnam to Afghanistan, for every battlefield death, 16 service members survived their wounds. The ratio in Vietnam, he said, was 2.4 wounded for every death. In the Civil War, the ratio was less than 1-to-1, with few soldiers surviving battlefield wounds.

In his book, Glasser warns that the nation will face a moral and economic reckoning in caring for so many wounded veterans. “Because of body armor there have been relatively few of the penetrating chest wounds or abdominal injuries that caused so many battle deaths in past wars,” he tells National Journal. “But no one was really prepared for the number of seriously wounded survivors.” According to the Pentagon, 168,000 service members wounded or injured in these wars are graded “60 percent disabled” or higher, and the VA faces a 492,000-case backlog of disability claims. More than 508,000 veterans of today’s wars have already been treated at VA hospitals and clinics. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the medical costs associated with today’s veterans could come to $40 billion to $55 billion over the next decade.

Just as the current wars have dragged on, with tactics and geography shifting over the years, the pathology of these wounds has also mutated over time. Early on in Afghanistan, for instance, small arms caused many injuries. A few years into the fighting in Iraq—as insurgent bombs got bigger and the armor on U.S. military vehicles got thicker—troops absorbed blast waves through their seats, causing a spike in spinal-cord injuries, concussions, and brain trauma. Over the last 18 months in Afghanistan, the profile has changed again.

“As Afghanistan has turned primarily into a war of dismounted infantry, our polytrauma wards have seen a huge influx of troopers with really massive injuries from absorbing blasts while on foot patrol, including multiple amputations, really severe brain injury, and the emotional wounds that go with all of that,” says Dr. Shane McNamee, the chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the VA’s Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center in Richmond, Va. “In the past five years, I can’t tell you how many times we have regeared to tailor our care delivery to subsequent waves of service members with different kinds of wounds.”

But improvised explosive devices, the enemy weapon of choice in both conflicts, have caused their signature wounds, creating more than 1,300 amputees, numerous burn victims, and unknown numbers who suffer from traumatic brain injury. According to the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, more than 190,000 troops have suffered a concussion or brain injury. There is also growing evidence of links between TBI and posttraumatic stress disorder. “They both injure similar areas of the brain and exhibit similar symptoms,” says McNamee. “The lines between them are pretty gray.” According to a 2008 Rand survey, one in five veterans of these wars—some 300,000 people—are suffering either from major depression or PTSD, while 320,000 have suffered concussions or TBI.

Those growing numbers are significant. By allowing the Vietnam War—and the physical and emotional trauma it caused—to recede from our national consciousness, America inherited an epidemic of veterans suffering from the attendant ills of PTSD. Today, the post-9/11 generation of volunteers faces the same risk. “When a lot of us Vietnam veterans returned from war, it took us a decade or even two before we would even talk about what happened, and we bottled up a lot of anger and hurt,” says Tom Mitchell, a state director for U.S. Vets, a nonprofit that works to get homeless veterans off the streets. “A lot of us are determined not to let that happen with this new generation of combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The volunteers

Today’s wars are the first extended conflicts to be fought not by draftees but by a relatively small cohort of volunteers. That partly explains why the pathologies specific to this war have been so hard to predict. Like previous generations, however, today’s veterans generally keep the toxic aftereffects of war to themselves; they are simply too painful to admit or confront.

The small size of the all-volunteer force, for instance, has necessitated multiple combat deployments with inadequate breaks in between, which mental-health experts believe greatly increases the propensity for PTSD and its effects: depression, drug abuse, failed marriages, and emotional distress. The Defense Department’s Task Force on Mental Health found in 2007 that 38 percent of all active-duty service members have reported psychological symptoms after their tours. In some months this year, the suicide rate for active-duty service members has exceeded combat deaths, and in April, the VA’s suicide-prevention hotline received more than 14,000 calls—the most ever recorded in a single month. Dr. Robert Petzel, the VA undersecretary of health, says that doctors have become expert at recognizing and treating PTSD. “It’s probably true that multiple combat deployments increase the likelihood of PTSD,” he warns, “though we don’t have adequate research to prove that yet.”

Today’s all-volunteer force is also older than its draft-era counterpart, with more married service members and a larger number of uniformed women (14.6 percent of the active-duty total). More than 220,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, meaning that they’ve borne a higher share of the burden than in past wars. After 9/11, the military divorce rate climbed from 2.6 percent per year in 2001 to 3.6 percent in 2010. And 7.8 percent of women in the military divorced in 2010. (Because the military does not track overall divorce rates, count as divorced those service members who remarry in a given year, or follow up on the divorce rate of military personnel a year or two after they leave service, many experts believe the Pentagon underestimates the actual rate of military divorce.) “Overall divorce rates in the military could climb to as high as 80 percent for first marriages, which would mean that service in the military is becoming a precursor for divorce,” says Leticia Dreiling, a Houston Vets Center marriage and family therapist.

According to the VA, about one in five female veterans, or 20 percent, have also tested positive for posttraumatic stress related to “military sexual trauma,” a catch-all category that includes everything from sexual harassment to rape. “I actually think the military sexual trauma among women is much higher than the official figures, because we find that a lot of women service members feel guilty even talking about it,” says Judith Broder, a clinical psychologist who started The Soldiers Project, which offers free mental-health counseling to returning veterans. “Women veterans often feel like it’s a betrayal of their unit to speak about sexual trauma, so they tend to carry that wound a long time in silence, which increases the likelihood that it will develop into combat-stress disorder.” Women are also the fastest growing subset of the homeless-veteran population in America, according to Broder. Some land on the streets with their children.

As a percentage of the overall deployed force, the National Guard and Reserves have also shouldered more of the burden in Afghanistan and Iraq than in wars past. Yet as citizen-soldiers, reservists are less prepared for the stresses of a long combat tour. Indeed, the Task Force on Mental Health found that 49 percent of National Guardsmen reported experiencing psychological troubles after their deployments.

With the wars now winding down, the Pentagon estimates that as many as 1 million service members are likely to leave active duty in the next five years. They will enter a struggling economy where the jobless rate for young (ages 18 to 24) male veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan was 21.9 percent last year, and where veterans make up an estimated 20 percent of the homeless population. Many experts believe that the nation is simply unprepared for that approaching army of suffering.

“There are combat wounds you can see, and others that are invisible until symptoms develop long after service members return home, and we’re seeing an increase in virtually all of the metrics that track them,” says clinical psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen, the founder and president of the nonprofit Give an Hour, which connects veterans to a network of 6,000 mental-health professionals for free treatment.

Despite improvements in the military and VA health care systems—and the cooperation of nearly 5,000 nonprofits that serve military personnel—Van Dahlen sees a population at severe risk. “We should have learned from Vietnam, because all you have to do is study the homeless population today to understand that an awful lot of those veterans never really made it all the way home,” she says. “If we don’t get ahead of the challenge, we will risk losing this generation of veterans.”

The odyssey

The odyssey begins on a day like any other, logging duty in a faraway and unfamiliar land. Dan Nevin’s began in Iraq in a Humvee that was bouncing down a dusty road outside the Sunni-insurgent stronghold of Falluja. Without warning, his vehicle struck a roadside bomb. In an instant, Nov. 10, 2004, became the day that changed his life forever. By the time Nevin arrived at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, 12 hours later, he had already lost one leg. Eventually, he lost the other to a bone infection.

In 2004 and 2005, the insurgencies that would eventually drive Iraq to the brink of civil war grew; correspondingly, the number of critically wounded service members pouring into the military medical system spiked. Nevin had to wait a week to get space on one of the crowded medical flights from Germany, and when he arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the staff was nearly overwhelmed. The care “was absolutely world-class,” he says. But the caregivers “just couldn’t handle all of the wounded. Those guys worked day and night, but it was a constant battle to get appointments if you needed a modification to your prosthetic leg. And when you did get an appointment, you could wait hours.”

Leaders of the military health care system were also beginning to realize the complexity of providing life-saving and rehabilitative care for so many severely wounded troops. Nevin’s Reserve activation had forced him to take a major pay cut from his job selling pharmaceuticals in California. Because his wife couldn’t afford to leave her own job, he could only see her one weekend every six weeks or so, putting more strain on their marriage. Yet compared to some of the younger active-duty patients who were told they were too injured to continue serving—meaning forced separation from the only job and culture they had known as adults—he felt lucky. “As a reservist, I had a college degree, a good job, and a supportive family to go home to,” Nevin says. “Some of those young kids joined the military right out of high school, however, and they didn’t have any of that to fall back on. So they found every excuse imaginable not to be released from Walter Reed. I thought they were crazy at the time, but later I realized that those young guys barely into their 20s were paralyzed with fear about what came next.”

By 2007, the problems at Walter Reed exploded into a full-blown scandal when The Washington Post published a series of articles detailing neglect, overworked case managers, and shoddy infrastructure. The commander of Walter Reed and the secretary of the Army resigned. But the scandal helped show the Pentagon and VA that their understaffed and stovepiped medical facilities were still unprepared for the wounded and maimed patients often transitioning back and forth between their systems. For the Army, the result was the creation of the Warrior Transition Command. From the beginning, its mission was to protect subsequent waves of returning wounded soldiers from the paralyzing fears that haunted young troopers at Walter Reed—the notion that the military was abandoning them at their moment of greatest need.

Lt. Col. Danny Dudek, who now works for the Warrior Transition Command, realized how precarious he felt when his own odyssey began in 2007. While traveling north of Baghdad just three months earlier, a penetrating explosive hit his armored Stryker fighting vehicle. The blast killed the soldier next to him and caused a spinal-cord injury in Dudek that left him paralyzed below the knee. Within days, he had been through surgery at Walter Reed; within a few months, he was sent to the VA hospital in Seattle to recover near his family. The care was excellent, but Dudek felt bereft of the camaraderie and support structures that he had come to depend on in his unit and somewhat lost in the VA bureaucracy. “We overlooked all the other stuff that goes into being a soldier, like being able to rely on strong leadership, showing up for formation, knowing that our families are taken care of,” Dudek says. “I think the Army realized that we can’t just treat wounded soldiers like patients. We need to continue to treat them like soldiers, too.”

That epiphany led to the establishment in 2007 of 29 community-based Warrior Transition Units for all soldiers whose care requires at least six months of complex medical treatment. The units blend the efforts of a primary-care doctor, a nurse case manager, and a squad leader. Soldiers help shape their own comprehensive transition plans, which include career and employment goals; Soldier and Family Assistance Centers aid their family members.

Still, the challenges are so complex that even this well-intentioned program initially went awry in some places. Media investigations of various units showed conflicts between the medical and military staff, overcrowding, and an overreliance on medication. An Army Inspector General’s report issued in January estimated that up to a third of all soldiers in Warrior Transition Units last year were overmedicated, hooked on drugs, or abusing illegal substances.

The Army has investigated the charges but hasn’t backed away from the concept. “We did have some inexperienced leaders in Warrior Transition Units who didn’t fully understand the complexity of tailoring a treatment regime to each soldier, and some soldiers do feel that military drills get in the way of their recovery,” says Dudek, who commanded a transition unit in Seattle. “There were also some conflicts between nurse case managers and squad leaders. But with good leadership, that organizational friction usually gets quickly resolved.” He adds that “the last thing we need to do is come back wounded and just ‘take a knee.’ What I told my soldiers is that you have to fight to overcome the pain, the apathy, and the fear of an uncertain future. And for me and a lot of them, it is the hardest fight of our lives.”

Falling through the cracks

When Lance Cpl. Nancy Schiliro was medically discharged from the Marine Corps in 2005 after losing an eye in a mortar attack in Iraq, there was no long counseling session or transition unit. They hadn’t been created yet. One day she was living in the 24/7 bubble of life as a Marine—being told what to do, where to go, when to eat, and who to hang out with—and the next day she was home and that bubble had burst. The whole experience was so disorienting that, for six months, Schiliro didn’t even realize that she was suffering from PTSD. “I wasn’t sleeping. I jumped at loud noises. I basically stayed to myself and stopped interacting with people. I just wasn’t me,” she says. Finally, her brother’s father-in-law, himself a former Marine, called a friend at a local veterans’ center, who reached out. “It’s taken me awhile to learn how to manage my disease, and it’s gotten better,” she says. “But I don’t think I’ll ever be totally cured.”

Cases like Schiliro—veterans who need care but fall into the gap between military medical treatment and VA follow-on care—have driven reforms designed to make the transition more seamless. The Pentagon and the VA established a Joint Executive Council that issued 26 initiatives to standardize treatment and evaluation systems. For instance, military treatment facilities today typically don’t release a wounded service member until he or she has scheduled appointments in the Veterans Health Administration system. If requested, one of a hundred VA “transition patient advocates” will even travel with service members as they move from major military hospitals to VA hospitals closer to home. Anticipating demand, the VA also hired 7,000 mental-health officials in recent years, expanded suicide-prevention hotlines, and established caregiver programs that provide stipends and travel allowances for family members who care for seriously wounded veterans. “The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have gone from a relatively low-level of interaction in 2001 to a degree of cooperation that is historically unprecedented,” says Petzel, the VA health undersecretary.

For all of those advances, however, major problems persist. Despite the move to a joint disability evaluation process designed to streamline claims procedures, some veterans are still waiting up to 400 days for a decision on whether they will receive payments and at what levels, and a backlog of nearly 500,000 late claims have gone beyond the 125-day standard at the VA. Until disability payments begin, easing some of their financial burdens, wounded veterans are susceptible to alcohol or drug abuse—or worse—to alleviate their suffering. “I know that VA and DOD have big challenges,” Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said at a hearing earlier this year. “But service members and veterans continue to take their own lives at an alarming rate. Wait times for benefits continue to drag on for an average of a year or far more.”

Another sign of trouble: Despite aggressive outreach, only about half of the Iraq and Afghanistan vets have even registered with the VA, meaning there is a vast at-risk population. “A chief lesson of Vietnam was that we need to get new veterans help as early as possible, before their lives spiral into crisis,” says Fern Taylor, supervisor of a clinic for returning veterans at a VA hospital in Houston. “Too often, our first contact with a veteran is in the emergency room, through the criminal-justice system, or on our suicide-prevention hotline.”

Kathy Molitor, the suicide-prevention coordinator at a VA post-deployment clinic in Houston, has no doubt that many vets need help. In 2007, the VA’s suicide hotline received 9, 400 calls, she says, and the next year, it jumped to 67,400. In 2009, it reached 119,000, and last year it was up to 135,000. Just listening to the calls for help can induce secondary traumatic stress: I feel like an animal, unfit for civilized society.… My husband only wants to hang out and drink and do drugs with his buddies.… I can’t talk to my wife because she might be infected with my disease.… My husband barks orders at our children like they were soldiers.… After watching my buddy blown to bits, I’m angry all the time.… Why does Daddy want to go back to war? … Our son is constantly cleaning his gun in his room alone, and we can’t get him to stop.… I’m not/she’s not/he’s not the same person anymore …

The essential message that Molitor and the other hotline therapists try to convey to callers is simple: War is hazardous to your mental health. “It’s really no surprise that these veterans have posttraumatic stress, because these are hard issues for humans to deal with on top of all of life’s other stresses and difficulties,” she says. “On the phone, we try and let them know that these are normal reactions to what are really abnormal experiences.”

Brothers under the bridge

On a recent sweltering day, Oskar Gonzalez-Yetzirah of the nonprofit U.S. Vets trolled beneath one of Houston’s countless highway overpasses, offering bottles of water to the ragged men and women gathered there. He had a simple question for any takers.

“You a vet?”

U.S. Vets is one of roughly 5,000 nonprofits nationwide that aid military personnel and veterans. In a sense, they are America’s catchers in the rye—the last line of help for veterans poised on the precipice of a cliff. The veterans whom Gonzalez-Yetzirah finds under the overpass have already hit rock bottom, joining some 3,500 homeless veterans in Houston and 150,000 nationwide. Almost all are jobless; many are substance abusers or mentally ill.

He tries to coax the vets into government or nonprofit assistance systems. U.S. Vets has a 72-bed facility in downtown Houston, but it is overbooked by 30 spaces. Gonzalez-Yetzirah and his boss would have to work the phones to find an open slot at another shelter. He knows that many veterans who suffer from PTSD would rather sleep outside than subject their frayed nerves to the chaos of a homeless shelter. He also knows from experience that if red tape keeps him from logging the veterans into the system before nightfall, they will almost surely slip through his fingers and disappear onto the streets again.

As a former Marine who served in Iraq, Gonzalez-Yetzirah himself has also struggled with PTSD and readjustment issues. In his first job back—waiting tables—he almost clocked his boss, a pimply 18-year-old, for ordering him around. That might have landed him in the Harris County Jail, where he runs group-therapy sessions for the 400 to 600 jailed vets being held there on any given day. He now sees a new wave of vets approaching the precipice, just one similar outburst away from joining their brothers in jail or under the bridge. “I run into a lot of [recently returned] veterans in my work who are not homeless yet, but they are at the stage of running from place to place, sleeping on a buddy’s couch, living paycheck to paycheck and barely making ends meet,” Gonzalez-Yetzirah says.

Many are married to young wives who have little education and are caring for babies, even as the veterans struggle against their PTSD to hold down jobs. They tend to follow a pattern, he says: Soon, their families will break apart and the vets will end up on the streets. “I’ve seen that enough times to understand how it happens. I just don’t understand how we as a country can allow those people who fought for our freedoms to stay homeless.”

Like previous generations of veterans before them, the post-9/11 volunteers are coming home from war burdened by wounds and sorrows. Only this time it’s not too late to help them carry that weight.

The soldiers sent to fight on our behalf are not victims; they don’t want our pity, and they have much to contribute and even to teach us. But combat veterans struggling to regain a sense of normalcy in everyday life need and deserve the same assurances at home that their buddies gave them on faraway battlefields: They need to know that someone has their back.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh, by the way, . . . LOOK OUT!

Satirical image created in Photoshop to illust...Image via WikipediaBritish government quietly admits oil could peak in five years
Tom Whipple, Falls Church News Press, VA - With little fanfare, a press release appeared last week on the website of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security. The release said that during a meeting between Chris Huhne, the UK's Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and representatives of ITPOES, an agreement had been reached that Her Majesty's Department for Energy and Climate will collaborate with ITPOES on a joint examination of concerns that global oil supply will begin to fall behind demand within as little as five years. This collaboration is seen by the British government as the first step in the development of a national peak oil contingency plan.

There are many implications buried in this seemingly innocuous announcement. First, American readers should note that the British government recognizes that energy policy and climate change are inextricably linked so that you cannot formulate policies for one without the other. The major step forward, however, is the official and semi-public recognition by a major government that global oil supplies will fall behind demand in as little as five years. After years of official denial this is indeed a breakthrough worthy of note.

Gone is the rhetoric about the billions of barrels of oil remaining that will last for so many decades that nobody alive today needs to worry. Official recognition has been given to the concept that the remaining oil will be so expensive to extract or will be locked into the earth by intractable political disputes, so that it simply will not be available in the unlimited quantities or at the prices we have known for the last 100 years.   Also implicit in the announcement is that ever-rising real energy costs will destabilize nearly all of the world's economies and that economic growth in the form we have come to know it will no longer be possible. . .
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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Don't forget: Tomorrow Night, Salem Progressive Film Series

Looks to be a great one:   The Economics of Happiness
tappedThursday, Nov. 10, 2011
7 p.m.

The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, government and big business continue to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, all around the world people are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance-and, far from the old institutions of power, they're starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm - an economics of localization.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Coal companies: Planet-wrecking greed that knows no limits

Cover of "Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behi...Cover via Amazon

  The evil bastards atop the coal industry (to put the most charitable possible name to them), hell bent for profits at the expense of a habitable planet, have Salem and other towns in the Northwest in their sights.  The plan is to export coal to China, where they will use the power and send us the pollution (mercury, polonium, and other nasties) in abundance.

According to an article in Saturday's The World newspaper and in Monday's Statesman, there is indeed a discussion occurring regarding the shipment of coal to Coos Bay.  I'm not sure what rail line connects Montana and Wyoming with Coos Bay but the UP line through Salem seems the most likely.  Should we be concerned?  Maybe we should all watch "The Last Mountain," recently shown at the Salem Progressive Film Festival in September.

"COOS BAY -- The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay has signed an exclusive negotiating agreement with an unnamed company interested in shipping coal from the North Spit of Coos Bay.
At the port commissioners' monthly meeting Thursday night, port CEO Jeff Bishop said the Dutch consulting firm Portolan had helped port staff evaluate four proposals, code-named Versatile, Mainstay, Clover and Glory.  They ranged from a plan to export 100,000 metric tons of zinc and chrome annually to a plan to export 26 million tons of coal.

The proponents' experience, environmental track record and financial strength were the most heavily weighted criteria in the committee's selection process. How each proposal fit in with the port's other projects was an important factor. Proponents had  to demonstrate an understanding of the project and a familiarity with what Bishop called the state's 'permitting culture."
They also had to explain what commitments they'd need from the port, how they'd expect a port facility to be financed and their  proposed timeline.  Project Mainstay, a scheme to export 6 million to 10 million tons of thermal coal per year, got the approval.  Thermal coal is burned to fuel power plants".

I also have heard that up to 16 a day mile-long coal trains may find their way through Salem with the desire to make these two-mile long trains.  As you can see from the above article, zinc and chrome are also being considered.  The coal trains that I have seen heading north along I-5 are uncovered, spewing coal dust all along the rail line.

I, for one, don't want to wait until this is a done deal but I don't know what to do next.  Any suggestions?
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Saturday, November 5, 2011

More like this please -- Rooftop Produce Hits the Supermarket

The Daily GOOD

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AUGUST 30, 2011


New Company Brings Produce From the Roof to the Supermarket Aisle

Growing produce on your roof is a productive way to take advantage of the space, but is it possible to make it commercially viable on a larger scale? A new company's business model may show the way. New York-based BrightFarms, which builds rooftop greenhouses, hopes to turn a profit while cutting shoppers' "food miles" down to zero by growing vegetables where people buy them: the supermarket.
BrightFarms is trying to convince major supermarket chains to hire them to cover vacant roofs with heirloom tomatoes, salad greens, and other produce. The company's business plan is simple: they handle the labor and expense of farming—greenhouse design, construction, planting, and harvest—while participating supermarkets sign a 10-year contract agreeing to purchase whatever is grown on their rooftop. A store's rooftop garden can produce as much as 500,000 pounds of produce a year, BrightFarms told Edible Manhattan.
"We grow for taste, not for shelf-life, and we pick when the vegetables are ripe," CEO Paul Lightfoot explains in a video on BrightFarm's website. Unlike industrial vegetable breeds, grown to endure cross-country road trips in the back of a truck, BrightFarms can pick the tastiest crop varieties with the highest nutrient content. And with hydroponic methods, they'll use one-10th the water and one-20th the space of commercial agriculture.
BrightFarms intends to have their first three greenhouses up and running by summer 2012. But the team has had plenty of practice already, consulting on a demonstration greenhouse at a Whole Foods in New Jersey and the Science Barge, an educational urban farm located on a ship in the Hudson River. 
What kind of veggies should your supermarket grow?
Let us know on

photo courtesy of BrightFarms

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