October 14th, 2010

10/14/2010

In an article in Stars and Stripes of July 15th 2010, titled “Army Sees Worst Month For Suicides Ever,” we read that there were 21 active-duty and 11 reserve soldier suicides including 7 in Iraq or Afghanistan. This information followed just weeks after Gen Peter Chiarelli proudly told Congress that he and the Army were encouraged by a 30 % drop in suicides compared to the number the former year. Doesn’t take much to keep a General happy, does it? Most of us would be more pleased to hear that there had been no suicides. The next question for most of us would be, must be: what conditions caused any of our guys to take their own lives?                     

A report from the Rand Corporation (RAND CENTER FOR MILITARY HEALTH POLICY RESEARCH) stated that about 300,000 U.S. troops sent to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD and 320,000 received traumatic brain injuries.  Many Americans know that the term PTSD, refers to a psychiatric disorder caused by repeated exposure to horrific sights or situations. Not as many know of   the prevalence of TBI in soldier injuries. It is one of the more serious wounds suffered by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. When an IED explodes, the brain of anyone nearby can be affected, including, of course, any U.S. fighter.  Even without visible injury, pressure from the blast wave shoots through the soldier’s head and damages cells and circuits in his brain. 

 TBI causes a variety of problems. Without prompt, skillful medical treatment and sufficient, expert follow-up care, this injury can cause damage that cannot be healed quickly. Maybe not at all. Like an unwanted, uninvited guest, the effects of a brain injury continue to hang on and harm the injured. Many soldiers with a TBI be the same again. Brain injury can, and often does, leave its victim with short term memory loss. This after effect alone results in the injured veteran/soldier missing medical and dental appointments or forgetting where he left his car, his driver’s license or his children.  He may lose the ability to walk safely, stand or move without dizziness.

In a commentary, Rep. Jackie Speier, who represents San Francisco and San Mateo counties, stated that, “the 32 soldier suicides were the highest number ever in just one month…” But, Speier added, “The deaths of many soldier suicides will never be included in a military report, because they were veterans when they took their own lives.” Her comments were published Sunday, August 15, 2010, in the Insight section of the San Francisco Chronicle.

            The title of Speier’s article is OVERLOOKED COST: VETERANS’ BENEFITS.

 As we have learned, any discussion of our wounded warriors almost always dwells on the cost of their care. This information should be presented in the context of the cost of the war in which they were injured. According to a recent report by the American Friends Service Committee, “The True Cost of War” including this year’s proposed expenditure of $59 billion, the total spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be $1 trillion. That’s trillion with a “T” folks. Can you wrap your mind around a dollar figure that huge? Not many of us can, including me.

The current cost to send just one soldier for one year to fight and kill people we call our adversaries, including civilians, some of whom are children, is $1,000,000. What kind of people are we, when we approve spending so many tax dollars on death and destruction for youngsters in other parts of the world even as many Americans – including our own young people –are  deprived of education, health care, good nutrition, housing and investment in development of renewable energy technology.  For that $1,000,000 soldier, our country could pay for healthcare for 588 children, school lunch for 1,602 children, Head Start for 132 kids, four-year Pell grants for 48 college students. 

Part of the cost of any war is any war is care for the fighters we send to fight that war for us. Thousand of American cars bear stickers that urge us to “Support the Troops”. To that we should add “Support our Veterans”. Remember the words of one of our greatest presidents , Abraham Lincoln, “… to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

social security

June 25th, 2009
June 16, 2009
Sample letter to House of Representatives

Dear Congress Member Woolsey:

We have just learned that there are two bills pending that would repeal provisions of the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). Both the GPO and WEP penalize workers who paid into Social Security during their working lives, and are prevented from receiving full Social Security benefits on their earnings by GPO and WEP.)

Social Security is an insurance program. The premiums (payments)  are deducted from a worker’s paycheck, matched by the workers’ employer, and sent to our government  by the employer. Payments are based on percentage of total wages paid up to a yearly limit mandated by law. These payments are held in a government Trust Fund until they are returned, monthly, to the covered employee in an amount determined by law. The amount is based on the age said employee began to pay into Social Security and the age of his or her retirement. The retirees are prevented from receiving all benefits by two laws.

Both GPO and WEP penalize retirees unfairly by reducing Social Security benefits they have earned and paid for during their working lives.

Two bills have been introduced in the Congress to remedy these injustices. They are: H.R. 235, which would repeal provisions of the GPO and WEP as applied to Social Security. Introduced by Rep. Howard Berman on January 7, 2009, it is co-sponsored by 194 members of the House of Representatives and  is now in t he House Ways and Means Committee.

Respectfully,

O.G. Grimes and Elizabeth E.  Grimes
Petaluma, CA 94954

 

The Federal Courts and Elections

March 22nd, 2009

Introduction

Recently, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg discovered that she had cancer of the pancreas. Although apparently  medical care has restored her to health, we continue to be concerned for her and, importantly, what kinds of decisions any replacement for her might make.

 

 

The average American pays little attention to the justice system until he gets a traffic citation or a summons to jury duty. He may be somewhat more interested in decisions of the Supreme Court, if only because the high court’s decisions are reported in our major media. Perhaps we should be more mindfulof the impact the decisions of federal judges can have on our lives, our freedom and our families.

          Picture a United States without such long-established protections as child labor laws, social security, freedom to organize labor unions, and reproductive rights. Picture an America which no longer guarantees the civil rights of minorities, the employment rights of the disabled, the right of workers to a minimum wage, the right of every child to a free public education. None of these existed at the beginning of the twentieth century. All of them are in danger of being lost.

          The goal of reversing the national government’s role as a centralizing progressive force has long been  part of the conservative agenda. President Bush turns to the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies in evaluating prospective judges. Supporters of the Federalist Society are well-known for their opposition to change and their orthodox views.

          The early Federalists were an eighteenth century political group which advocated a strong central government. Alexander Hamilton was notable among their supporters. They were opposed by the Democratic Republicans, exemplified by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.The two groups – Federalist and the Democratic Republicans – both supported “liberty,” but described liberty in differing ways. While Alexander Hamilton stressed the secure rights of property as defining freedom, Madison and Jefferson attached equal importance to the rights of the individual to act in accordance with his own individual values and to be free to participate fully in society.

          In 1803, John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by Federalist President John Adams, made the claim for the first time that judges possess the power to strike down any law they believe to be contrary to the Constitution. In effect, Marshall contended that the law meant whatever the Court said it meant.  Jefferson and Madison disagreed. They saw the Court as one of three co-equal branches of government answerable ultimately to the voters. But Marshall’s claim persisted and the Court still enjoys the privilege of interpreting out of existence any act of Congress, or portion thereof, that they see fit.

          What is worse, justices of the Supreme Court, together with all judges of federal courts, are appointed for life and are not required to justify their decisions. Nor can they be removed from office except by impeachment, unlike members of Congress or the President who can be replaced by election.

          Franklin D. Roosevelt who became president three years into the Great Depression, proposed a series of initiatives which came to be called the New Deal. It was during the New Deal era that unions achieved legal status,; a minimum wage and a 40 hour week was set; child labor was outlawed; and the Social Security Act was passed. The New Deal was designed to boost the economy, put Americans back to work and use government regulation to curb the excesses of laissez-faire economics.

          By 1935, the first laws of the New Deal had been challenged and had come to the Supreme Court. The justices struck down the National Recovery Act, the Farm Mortgage Foreclosure Act and other components of  Roosevelt’s recovery plan. While the public supported FDR’s initiatives, the justices viewed them as dangerous. During his time in office, however,  FDR had the opportunity to appoint nine justices. In the long run, the major components of the New Deal were upheld and the government’s right to act on matters of national concern were no longer questioned.

          Until now.

          George W. Bush has appointed young judges to the circuit courts and it is from these courts that justices to the Supreme Court usually come, having now been vetted by the Federalist Society. Seven of the twelve circuit courts are presently dominated by conservatives who uphold the administration’s agenda on everything from religion to reproductive rights. Since some of these circuit court judges have been elevated to the  Supreme Court, they have joined Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia in controlling direction of the high court not only for our own lifetimes, but for those of our children.

          To understand the seriousness of the present threat, we need to realize how gains in the fields of civil rights, health, education, family planning and environmental protection could be lost in a few decisions by a majority of these “new federalists.”

          In a 1995 case, United States v. Lopez, the five justices who decided Bush v. Gore ruled that Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce did not allow it to pass the Gun Free School Zones  Act of 1990 which forbade possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school. In Lopez, then chief Justice Rehnquist stated that his intention was to make certain that such a solution to the problem of school violence did not establish a precedent for “direct federal regulation of the educational process, such as a mandated federal curriculum for local elementary and secondary schools.

          Another decision which underscores the way an ultra-conservative federal judiciary can affect our lives is Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett. This one disallowed the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to state employees on the grounds that the federal government cannot intrude on state sovereignty in order to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment. They also invalidated parts of the Violence Against Women Act and a portion of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

These decisions seem to indicate that the conservative majority is philosophically inclined to preserve states rights by limiting what the national government can do and that the “new Federalism” differs from the “old Federalism” of the early days of our nation in that instead of approving increased control for the national government, it turns back more authority to the states.

However, the majority was and still is inconsistent. In Bush v. Gore, the five member majority reversed the order of the Florida Supreme Court that under-votes be counted, effectively handing the election to George W. Bush. In other actions, they invalidated Massachusetts law which regulated tobacco advertising in areas frequented by kids and an Illinois law providing for an independent medical review of denials of benefits by HMOs.

So much for states rights. As Richard Briffault, vice dean at Columbia Law School put it, “the preemption cases indicated that the Court’s commitment to federalism is highly erratic.” And writer Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School, stated that, “On the central issues of the day, many conservative judges seem to think that the Constitution should be interpreted to overlap with the latest Republican party platform.”

Former Chief Justice Rehnquist has been replaced by John Roberts, who is at least as conservative as Rehnquist. Sandra Day Connor, who was somewhat more moderate and respectful of precedent than the other conservatives, has retired. In her place, is Samuel Alito. Both of the new members of the court were appointed by George W. Bush who, true to his ideology, picked two more right wing jurists. The court majority has become even more strongly tilted rightward.

Liberals fear that the ascension of two more Federalists – or whatever they are –  together with Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy will roll back many of the laws that have improved the lives of ordinary citizens for the past sixty years.

Liberals are appalled when we contemplate the damage – the radical destructive changes – this kind of majority is causing. As we could have predicted, the changes have the most severe impact on those most vulnerable – poor people, minorities, women, the very old, the very young – the already powerless and disenfranchised.

FEMINISM MADE SIMPLE

July 20th, 2008

In considering any issue, the first thing we need to do is define our terms. The bottom line on feminism is simply this: women are human beings. It’s no more than that. It’s no less than that.

Stereotypes of feminism abound, so let’s deal with a few of the main ones. The image of a feminist as a rude, ball-busting woman with hairy legs is so absurd that it hardly needs attention. Unfortunately many misogynists promote that image. Women seeking justice should not have to spend time defending themselves against it with such statements as “I’m not a feminist, but … ” before they go on to state that all they want is to be free of restrictive sex roles, to get equal treatment in employment and pay. To receive the same respect men receive.

Another more benevolent but equally pernicious image is that of nurturing mother – the vision of the self sacrificing, all giving woman who asks nothing for herself and seeks only the welfare of her children. And by extension the welfare of others less fortunate than she, whose needs she feels she should address before any consideration of her own.

Woman as sex object. Let’s not go there. Maybe in another commentary.

To get back to our bottom line: women are human beings. That’s the axiom. The corollary is that women’s rights are human rights. Women do not ask for “special rights.” Women just need the rights enjoyed by men.

Most women love men. It’s time men returned the sentiment  — with  respect and support.

End of rant.

Fourth of July in Petaluma

June 28th, 2008

Thanks to the Argus Courier for bringing us fire chief Chris Albertson’s Guest Commentary on June 26th. His advice is timely, for danger of residential fire always exists, especially during the time fireworks are readily available.

Several years ago, our next door neighbors went away the weekend of July 4th. Someone, possibly a child, threw a firework onto the roof of those neighbors. Petaluma fire-fighters arrived promptly, climbed to the roof and put it out. That was lucky for us, as the neighbors’ house is quite close to our own and the fire could easily have spread to us. On another occasion, someone threw a bottle rocket into our driveway about midnight. Sounded like a bomb going off. Not a very pleasant way to be jolted awake when you have to get up early next morning to go to work.

A few years ago, our City Council discussed enacting a law that would have banned fireworks in Petaluma, except for the display at the fairgrounds. The Council refused, opting instead for a few restrictions on the dates and times when exploding the devices was permissible.

They could have shown some concern for combat veterans. Any kind of explosion has the capacity to startle a vet, given what they’ve just been through. It may even trigger some unpleasant memories.

Perhaps the annual show at the fairgrounds could be preceded by a reading, on a loudspeaker, of the Declaration of Independence, maybe even parts of our Constitution. Recalling these documents is at least as  patriotic as a display of pyrotechnics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good News from the Supreme Court

June 18th, 2008

The Supreme Court recently handed the Bush Administration a setback when it ruled that prisoners at Guantánamo ” have the constitutional right to habeas corpus.” They may now challenge the basis of their detention.

This is certainly good news for the detainees held at Guantanamo, but it is also good news for us ordinary Americans. Habeas corpus – the Great Writ – has protected us, for at least 800 years – from arbitrary arrest, from being held without knowing the reason for said arrest, and for the opportunity to defend ourselves. Habeas corpus is one of the cornerstones of our liberty.

The Supremes in effect said to Bush, “you are not above the law.

It’s about time someone did.

 

McCain, Obama and Iran

June 10th, 2008

If we needed any proof that the election campaign of November, 2008, is underway, checking the news provides it. Specifically, John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee has attacked and continues to attack Barack Obama, Democratic presidential nominee, on the problem of Iran.

Obama’s sin, according to McCain, is that he wants to negotiate with Iran. Horrors! That might keep us out of another nasty war like the disaster in Iraq.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad is not any sensible person’s admired statesman, of course. He’s an off-the-wall wingnut and Americans are rightly repelled by his detestable remarks denying the Holocaust and demonizing Israel. McCain’s implication that Obama wants to buddy up with this clown could well hurt the Democrat’s standing with voters. That is if we believe that is what Obama is suggesting. It isn’t. Let’s repeat: It is not.

For the benefit of those among us who don’t have time to read the news in depth, Obama’s exact words were that he “would be willing to lead tough and principled diplomacy with the appropriate Iranian leader. That wouldn’t be Ahmadinejad. Sure, he’s Iran’s president. But in Iran’s system, the country’s supreme leader is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, not the president. He is the commander in chief and it is he who has final say in foreign policy, nuclear programs and defense. We did all know that, didn’t we?

Khamenei has a history of reasonable attitudes. It was he who authorized Iranian diplomats to join Americans, in 2002 in Germany, to talk about the future of Afghanistan. It was he who agreed to direct talks between Iranian diplomats and Americans about security issues in Iraq. And, this January, it was Khamenei who stated his willingness to restore diplomatic relations with the USA after the conflict with Iraq ended.

Obama is not the naive fool portrayed by McCain. By bringing Iran and our country to the same table, the Democrat could undermine Ahmadinejad’s power. That could only be a good thing.

Of course, effective diplomacy would mean avoiding another disastrous war and the deaths of many innocents, including our own soldiers. This would make warrior McCain unhappy. But, as Winston Churchill famously once said, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

Parents: Don’t let your girls grow up to be soldiers

June 3rd, 2008

By Beth Grimes
According to a report in a The International Herald Tribune, http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/05/25/opinion/edbenedict.php> women are now 15% of our military forces and more than 20% of soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. More than 70% of our female veterans have filed complaints that they were sexually harassed by the soldiers with whom they served and almost a third report being raped. 

Female soldiers are now often wounded in combat, producing the same kind of post traumatic stress disorder suffered by men. Adding sexual assault by their male comrades in arms to this trauma has made them nine times as likely as men to develop PTSD. When women fighters are re-deployed after being on leave, they often have to return to the war with the man or men who raped them. Army brass apparently does not see this a problem. 

How many Americans know that at least 191,500 women have served in the Middle East since 2001? A lot of them will add to the number of male veterans now seeking care from Veterans Administration medical services, including treatment for PTSD. Will female soldier rape victims  be expected to participate in therapy groups filled with men? The VA claims it is going provide more clinics for sufferers of PTSD. How many of these will be for women only? The VA doesn’t say.

Sadly, male officers and political leaders refuse to admit that rape and harassment of female service members is a serious issue. 

 

MEMORIAL DAY 2008

May 26th, 2008
Today is a day set aside to honor those who lost their lives serving in our military forces. It’s sad but true that, for many Americans, all the day means is an extra day for a trip out of town or a backyard barbecue. But  those of us who grieve the loss of those too-young lives can show our respect for them by welcoming their surviving comrades who come home wounded, damaged in body, mind and spirit.

How many Americans know that combat veterans commit suicide three or four times as often as non-vets? That a quarter of the homeless population are veterans? That it takes more than five years to get the Veterans Administration to deal with claims filed by injured vets? That almost twenty percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffered brain injury? That our Veterans Administration stonewalls as many vets who try to get their legitimate benefits as it can?

Is that the best our nation can offer returning troops, the ones tens of thousands of our car magnets claim to support? Can we do no better than a cold park bench or sidewalk to sleep on? Unemployment? Neglect of their health care needs?

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican Kit Bond have introduced legislation that would require the VA to care for the wounded and that would offer our vets help in re-adjusting to civilian life. It’s called the HONOR Act. Anyone who can dial a phone can call a Senator or Representative and ask that they work to get this law enacted.

We can also show demonstrate our loyalty to those who willingly served the country by learning more about the problems faced by returning veterans. And writing a check to one of the veterans organizations who are working to give vets what government refuses to supply. One local one is San Francisco based Swords to Plowshares at  www.swords-to-plowshares.org and another is  www.veteransforpeace.org .

Honor the dead. Help the living.

 

There really is enough for everyone’s need …

May 17th, 2008

… but not for everyone’s greed.

There are two classes of people in our country:  the majority of us who do the work which creates the wealth and pays the bills, and the tiny minority that has control of most productive assets and the wealth the rest of us have constructed with our labor.

It is in the interests of that minority to keep us divided so we cannot organize to oppose its policies. The means they use are racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia and religious conflict.

If we work together to end the prejudice, hate and fear that separate us, just imagine the kind of world we could have.

By: Beth Grimes, Another Advocate for equality.