KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Friday, December 30, 2005

Open Letter to My Senators and Representative: Fix U.S. Health Care!

Dear Senators Hilary Clinton and Chuck Schumer and Representative Tim Bishop:

If I didn't have sinus congestion from a cold already, I'd stand out in my front yard and scream an ear-piercing scream of frustration for about 10 minutes. Instead, I'm writing to you.

I am an editor who's been self-employed for 11 years and have, for that period, paid full premiums for health insurance coverage for my family. Today—the day before New Year's Eve—I got a notice that GHI, the health insurance provider through which I have a policy, is discontinuing the insurance plan I have for my family, as of April. Yeah, yeah, it's "nice" of them to give me more than the required 90 days' notice. The new plan that they'll be offering would cost my family $1,400/month, up from the $930/month we now pay.

Looks like Monday morning, my husband will tell his employer, a very small cabinetmaking firm, that we want to switch to the company's Blue Cross plan. But it's such a small company that the employer can't afford to shoulder any of the insurance premium costs; employees pay it all themselves. So we'll be paying about $1,000 a month.

January 5 update: We won't be signing on for insurance through my husband's employer; it's up to $1,258 a month now, which is out of our financial league. Unless we win the lottery, we'll be uninsured as of April 1.

But that's our limit. Once those premiums increase—and you know they will—we'll be among the uninsured. Maybe that's 6 months down the road; maybe it's a year. I have hypothyroidism, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, depression, and a family history of diabetes, so diabetes is likely in my future. Yes, I exercise and attempt to eat a decent diet. My husband and one of our sons have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and that son also has depression. All of these conditions require medications and some require therapy, and without health insurance, we'll be spending a huge chunk of our income—not that $930/month isn't already a huge chunk.

The cost of health insurance in New York State stinks big time. The cost of it in the U.S. stinks big time. Meanwhile, most members of Congress pay premiums that are ridiculously low [rate info provided by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the human resources department for the federal government] when compared with their salaries.

Somebody beam me and my family to Canada, please! Or better yet, please introduce legislation immediately that will set up a health care provision system similar to Canada's.

Your very unhappy constituent,
Katharine O'Moore-Klopf

P.S. Please read this piece from the San Francisco Chronicle for an idea about where to start the process of change.

My colleague Alexandra (a pseudonym, to protect her privacy), who has worked in and around health policy and insurance for 24 years, has this to say:

Read [the Chronicle piece] and decide for yourself which country has the more humane health care "system."

Research has shown that Americans and Canadians pay comparable amounts out of pocket for their health coverage. Americans pay it in premiums, out-of-pocket cost sharing, and surcharges (cost shifting) for uncompensated care; Canadians pay it in taxes. I'd rather pay more taxes and know that my family will have access to at least some level of service even if I decide to change jobs, my employer decides to drop its health coverage or raise its price beyond what I can pay, or some other employment change happens. Why on earth health insurance has to be tied to employment is beyond me. It is, and until we muster the courage or political will or good sense to change it, it always will be.

Down here, "getting some help [for health care costs]" (if you're talking about Medicaid) usually means months of waiting; demeaning, privacy-probing questions; and constant requalifying, with paperwork burdens designed to keep people from even bothering—not to mention the stigma of going onto a public assistance program. That's if you live in a state where you even qualify for anything. If you are a single nondisabled nonelderly adult with no kids, best of luck to you. If you seek care at a safety-net institution, you face hours and hours of waiting for often substandard care delivered by harried, underpaid, overworked staffers. Then you can't pay for the drugs that are prescribed (sometimes you can get samples, but not forever), unless you again spend time and energy trying to qualify for a pharmaceutical assistance program, again with endless requalifying. If you're lucky, you live in a town where someone cares enough to set up a clinic for the uninsured and doesn't charge you through the nose for care. If you're not, well, you're not. Some solution that is.

I know that each system looks different from the other side of the border, but you'll have to try very hard to convince me that the U.S. one is superior.

April 1 update: We now have insurance.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What School Is Like for the Student with AD/HD*

Alexis Norin could have been writing about my middle child, Neil, in the December 2005 issue of Attention! (the bimonthly magazine of CHADD [Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder]):

Imagine sitting in a typical classroom. The teacher is talking up front, or a student is asking a question. Students fill the rows of chairs, doing student things. The heater kicks on, the lights hum, and other classroom noises get your attention.

Focus back on the teacher. She's beginning to review what's on tomorrow's test. Now imagine someone is tapping a pencil on the desk. The steady tempo fills your ears, and your head starts pounding in rhythm. Someone walks in the door. Your eyes follow the late student to his desk, taking in his torn jeans, Hawaiian shirt and dirty black backpack. Outside the mowers start, and you wonder why they're even mowing in December. The pencil beats on. The teacher is now writing on the board. The late student gets up to grab a handout off the teacher's desk while she's not looking. The light above you blinks out. The pencil continues to beat. A conversation two rows in front of you catches your ear. Two girls are making faces at each other. The pencil stops, but a foot takes up the rhythm.

Lights hum. Teacher talks. Students write. Mower mows. Heater blows. Foot taps. Class is over.

The student with AD/HD ... just missed class.

If your child sounds like the student Norin describes, please know that your child isn't stupid or lazy. Your child needs you to advocate for him or her. Don't be afraid. If I can survive the the House of AD/HD, you can too. The first step is learning everything you can about AD/HD. And then ... take each day one day at a time.

*Here, I am following the style of the American Psychiatric Association, which uses the slash to indicate that the hyperactivity part of AD/HD does not occur in all cases. There are several subtypes of AD/HD, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision: (1) attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, combined type; (2) attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly inattentive type; (3) attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type. Neil and my father-in-law have type 1, and my husband, Ed, has type 2.

Norin received the CHADD Volunteer of the Year Award at the 2005 annual CHADD conference in Dallas, Texas. She recently graduated cum laude from the University of Arkansas Fort Smith with a degree in rhetoric. She was accepted into law school with a scholarship but deferred her studies for a year and is currently working for American Airlines.

The article is copyright © 2005 by CHADD and is reprinted here with the permission of CHADD and Norin. For more information, write to CHADD at 8181 Professional Place, suite 150, Landover, MD 20875, or visit the CHADD Web site.


The Year in Review, Bush Style

Beth Quinn of the Times Herald-Record, a small paper from the Hudson Valley–Catskills area of New York State, has an eerily plausible take on what goes on in Bush's mind:

The year 2005 was bright and shiny on Earth II, where George Bush lives.

And why not? News of reality from Earth I never makes it to the president's desk.

On Earth II, Brownie did a heck of a job, and poverty was wiped out in America when all the poor people were sent to live like cattle in an arena.

No child was left behind, freedom was still on the march, and a brain-dead woman in Florida trumped a heartsick mother in Texas in getting the president's attention.

Creationism was renamed Intelligent Design in a stunning public relations move.

"Plan for Victory" won the 2005 White House Slogan of the Year, belatedly, but finally replacing "Mission Accomplished" as the definitive Earth II commentary on the Iraq war.

Bush decreed there's no such thing as global warming, thereby solving that problem once and for all.

Plus, word definitions were agreeably changed. "Deficit reduction plan" on Earth II, for example, actually means "deficit growth plan" here on Earth I.

Prisoners (called "detainees" on Earth II) can be tortured there, and so can the English language. Oddly, Bush is entirely coherent in his alternate universe.

Thus, we present highlights of 2005 on Earth II—in George Bush's own words.

  • Much to the relief of God, Bush began the year with a surprise, albeit tortured, announcement that he is not God:

"We are in no way, shape or form should a human being play God." (Jan. 14)

  • In February, we learned that Social Security was the top crisis on Earth II. Who knew? And Bush had a plan to save it:

"Because the—all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those—changing with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be—or closer delivered to what has been promised." (Feb. 4)

  • Bush also clarified his position on Iran in February:

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table." (Feb. 22)

  • In March, the nation breathed a sigh of relief when Bush made it clear that not only does he not play God, he also doesn't talk to pictures of dead people:

"In this job you've got a lot on your plate on a regular basis. You don't have much time to sit around and wander, lonely in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, " 'How do you think my standing will be?' " (March 16) ...

  • Bush also explained his Social Security plan for those who die before they die:

"If they pre-decease or die early, there's an asset base to be able to pass on to a loved one." (March 30)

  • In April, Bush announced that the coal supply was plentiful and that it was good for the environment on Earth II:

"We have enough coal to last for 250 years, yet coal also prevents an environmental challenge." (April 20)

  • April was also a big month for progress in the war in Iraq, as Bush explained again and again. Among his announcements was the noble decree that terrorists should be kept safe:

"It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way." (April 28)

  • In May, the Social Security crisis made a comeback as Bush appealed to young folks by either making or breaking promises to them, hard to tell which:

"I think younger workers—first of all, younger workers have been promised benefits the government—promises that have been promised, benefits that we can't keep. That's just the way it is." (May 4)

  • Despite the fact that nothing he said about Social Security made any sense on Earth I, he also promised to keep saying it:

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." (May 24)

  • In June, Bush explained that, happily, Earth II's coal supply had grown:

"Do you realize we've got 250 million years of coal?" (June 8)

  • In July, Bush suspended all formal rules of grammar in his fight against an increasingly unruly press. Not only was freedom on the march, so was his syntax:

"The best place for the facts to be done is by somebody who's spending time investigating it." (July 18)

  • During August, Bush got a peek at reality when he flew over Earth I in his flying saucer to see the hurricane damage:

"It's totally wiped out. It's devastating. It's got to be doubly devastating from the ground." (Aug. 31)

  • In September, he finally responded to the hurricane crisis by rolling up his sleeves for a photo op. Also, he cautioned Earth I-lings to quit hoarding gasoline:

"Don't buy gas if you don't need it." (Sept. 1)

  • Also in September, we learned that the five senses are different on Earth II:

"We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do our job." (Sept. 20)

  • With the October nomination of Harriet Miers, Bush illustrated that, on Earth II, inexperience is the very BEST qualification for a Supreme Court judge:

"It's important to bring somebody from outside the judicial system, somebody that hasn't been on the bench and, therefore, there's not a lot of opinions for people to look at." (Oct. 4)

  • In November, Bush visited the southern hemisphere on Earth I and learned a little geography about our planet:

"Wow! Brazil is big." (Nov. 6)

  • Finally, in December, Bush admitted that maybe the war in Iraq didn't need to happen. Except, on Earth II, it did need to happen:

"Whether or not it needed to happen, I'm still convinced it needed to happen." (Dec. 13)

And so, Bush parties on in his Earth II White House, blissfully unaware that the jig is up on Earth I, where New Orleans is still in sorry shape; where the war in Iraq grinds on to no purpose; where the rich get richer; where the uninsured get sicker; where the former presidential nickname Bubba has been supplanted by Bubble Boy.

It's been a heck of a year, Bubble Boy. And always believe your Imagineers when they tell you:

Fairy tales can come true,
It can happen to you,
If you're on Earth II.

Only 1,127 days till Inauguration 2009!

Friday, December 16, 2005

The U.S. as Terrorist: Spying and Torturing

The grinning chimp caught in yet another lie (graphic from MSNBC.com)Ever notice how the Chimp in Chief smirks whenever he's caught in a lie or in doing something he's not supposed to be doing?

He's always saying that the U.S. doesn't torture prisoners of war, and we all know that's a lie.

Now that the National Security Agency's been accused of spying on U.S. citizens without having warrants to do so, he's silent ... and smirking. That should tell you all you need to know on the issue.

The terrorists have won: Our leaders and military have adopted their methods. And too many Americans either approve or sit back and say nothing. This isn't the country I know, and it both frightens me and breaks my heart. America has lost its soul.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

U.S: Preach Abstinence, or No AIDS Research $$

The Bush administration will cause thousands more AIDS victims to die just so that it can preach sexual abstinence. As a recent Baltimore Sun article (free registration required for access) reported:

In a decision that has alarmed many public health researchers and AIDS advocates, the Bush administration is increasing the amount of HIV money that must be used to promote abstinence, while at the same time limiting funds for condoms. Opponents see the move as the latest attempt by the White House and religious conservatives to expand what they view as an unscientific and ineffective HIV prevention strategy. Critics say the approach could cost lives in the developing world.

"It's outrageous and stupid," said Duff Gillespie, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. "From a public health point of view, it's irresponsible." Until 2002, Gillespie was in charge of AIDS programs at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which distributes most federal money targeting the disease. ...

The directive, which took effect Oct. 1, applies to only international HIV prevention. In fiscal year 2005, the U.S. spent $295 million on such programs. The budget is likely to increase in 2006.

The guideline decrees that two-thirds of funding devoted to preventing sexual transmission of AIDS must be spent on programs that encourage abstinence and fidelity.

It is described in a document from the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, which oversees the administration's AIDS effort. Under the heading "Key Policy Changes for Fiscal Year '06 Country Operational Plans," the document reads in part: "66 percent of resources dedicated to prevention of HIV from sexual transmission must be used for activities that promote abstinence before marriage and fidelity."

A copy of the document was given to the Sun by a federal AIDS official who was concerned that the policy would weaken the U.S. international HIV prevention effort. Fearing retribution, he asked to remain anonymous. ...

This is not the first time the Bush administration has been accused of making AIDS policy on ideological grounds. In February, USAID awarded $9 million to the Children's AIDS Fund to promote abstinence in Uganda, even though the group had been deemed "not suitable for funding" by the agency's expert committee.

This summer, the agency withdrew funding from an approved prevention program for Central American sex workers after conservative lawmakers complained that the project encouraged prostitution.

This year, the White House decreed that U.S. AIDS groups receiving government funding must sign a pledge opposing prostitution. More than 200 groups protested, saying the vow infringes on free speech and makes it harder to work with prostitutes, who are viewed as a key constituency in stopping the spread of AIDS.

Gillespie, of Hopkins, sees the moves as part of a pattern. "None of this thinking is encumbered by facts. We're talking ideology," he said. "There's a fundamental hostility toward the idea of policies that are driven by evidence."

A 30-year veteran of the agency, he says the current White House takes a far more ideological stance toward public health than did the Reagan or first Bush administrations.

What's wrong with increasing the size of the AIDS epidemic if it lets Bush's "Christian" crew spread its brand of disinformation, eh?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Two Cups of Tea a Day May Keep Ovarian Cancer Away

A study reported in the December 12–26 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine has shown that in women who drink at least 2 cups of green or black tea each day, the risk of ovarian cancer drops by an astounding 46%, dropping by 18% more with each extra cup consumed. Here's the scoop, as told on WebMD:

Researchers found the more tea women drank, the lower their risk of ovarian cancer. Women who drank at least 2 cups of tea per day had a 46% lower risk of ovarian cancer compared with non–tea-drinkers; each additional cup of tea was associated with an 18% lower risk of ovarian cancer.

Several studies have suggested that both green and black tea may protect against various cancers. But researchers say this is the first study to look specifically at the relationship between drinking tea and the risk of ovarian cancer.

Drinking Tea May Prevent Ovarian Cancer
In the study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers compared tea consumption and the risk of ovarian cancer in more than 60,000 women aged 40 to 76 in Sweden.

The women filled out questionnaires on food and beverages they consumed regularly; the participants were followed for about 15 years. About two-thirds of the women said they drank tea at least once a month.
During the follow-up period, 301 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and researchers found tea drinking was associated with lowered ovarian cancer risk.

Women who drank at least 2 cups of tea per day were half as likely to develop ovarian cancer as nondrinkers; those who drank at least 1 cup of tea a day had a 24% lower risk.

Researchers say each additional cup of tea over 2 cups per day was associated with an additional 18% reduction in ovarian cancer risk.
They say the ovarian cancer prevention benefits also extended to women who drank coffee in addition to tea.

Although animal studies have suggested black and green tea contain potent anticancer compounds, researchers say more studies are needed to confirm the relationship between tea and cancer.

I've been drinking green tea for years, because of both its good taste and what was then its unproven ability to stop cancer. I also savor white tea, which is less processed than green tea (which in turn is less processed than black tea). It has a very delicate flavor and very likely has even higher concentrations of beneficial compounds such as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). This article by researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute (named a Center of Excellence for Research On Complementary and Alternative Medicine by the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine) of Oregon State University explains.

And for those of you who are medicine geeks like me, here's more of the science behind the study, as reported by Medscape (free subscription required for access):

During an average follow-up of 15.1 years, there were 301 incident cases of invasive epithelial ovarian cancer. After controlling for potential confounders, tea consumption was inversely associated with ovarian cancer risk (P for trend, .03). Compared with women who never drank tea or drank it less than monthly, those who consumed less than 1 cup per day, 1 cup per day, and 2 or more cups per day had multivariate hazard ratios (HRs) of 0.82 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.62–1.08), 0.76 (95% CI, 0.56–1.04), and 0.54 (95% CI, 0.31–0.91), respectively. Each additional cup of tea consumed per day was associated with an 18% reduction in risk for ovarian cancer (multivariate HR, 0.82; 95% CI, 0.68–0.99).

"These results suggest that tea consumption is associated with a reduced risk of epithelial ovarian cancer in a dose-response manner," the [study's] authors write. "This association does not depend on lower coffee consumption among women with high tea consumption; coffee is not associated with ovarian cancer risk in this cohort." ...

Green and black tea polyphenols (such as catechins, theaflavins, and flavanols) have been studied as chemopreventive agents for cancer and in animal models have been shown to inhibit carcinogenesis of several organ sites, according to the authors. Tea polyphenols may protect against cancer because of their strong antioxidant activity or inhibition of cell growth, angiogenesis, and apoptosis. According to the authors, case-control and populations studies have yielded inconsistent results with respect to the protective effect on ovarian cancer. This is a prospective, observational, longitudinal, population-based study to examine the association between tea drinking and incident ovarian cancer in women for an average of 15 years of follow-up. The study was part of the Swedish Mammography Cohort study established between 1987 and 1990.

The best teas are from whole tea leaves, not from tea bags. I like to get mine from SpecialTeas. (Sometime after I wrote this post, that company was bought out by Teavana, a company I don't patronize. I now get most of my teas from Adagio Teas and TeaSource.)

Spying on War Protesters

The Pentagon is watching you (photo from NBC Nightly News).I've long thought that under the Bush administration, the government keeps a close watch on war protesters. Now NBC News has accessed a Pentagon database that proves it:

A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.

A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period.

“This peaceful, educationally oriented group being a threat is incredible,” says Evy Grachow, a member of the Florida group called The Truth Project. ...

The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.

“I think Americans should be concerned that the military, in fact, has reached too far,” says NBC News military analyst Bill Arkin.

Four dozen anti-war meetings
The DOD database obtained by NBC News includes nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation, post or recruitment center. One “incident” included in the database is a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles last March that included effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentions a planned protest against military recruiters last December in Boston and a planned protest last April at McDonald’s National Salute to America’s Heroes—a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The Fort Lauderdale protest was deemed not to be a credible threat and a column in the database concludes: “US group exercising constitutional rights.” Two-hundred and forty-three other incidents in the database were discounted because they had no connection to the Department of Defense—yet they all remained in the database.

The DOD has strict guidelines (.PDF link), adopted in December 1982, that limit the extent to which they can collect and retain information on U.S. citizens.

Still, the DOD database includes at least 20 references to U.S. citizens or U.S. persons. Other documents obtained by NBC News show that the Defense Department is clearly increasing its domestic monitoring activities. One DOD briefing document stamped “secret” concludes: “[W]e have noted increased communication and encouragement between protest groups using the [I]nternet,” but no “significant connection” between incidents, such as “reoccurring instigators at protests” or “vehicle descriptions.”

The increased monitoring disturbs some military observers.

“It means that they’re actually collecting information about who’s at those protests, the descriptions of vehicles at those protests,” says Arkin. “On the domestic level, this is unprecedented,” he says. “I think it's the beginning of enormous problems and enormous mischief for the military.”

Some former senior DOD intelligence officials share his concern. George Lotz, a 30-year career DOD official and former U.S. Air Force colonel, held the post of Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight from 1998 until his retirement last May. Lotz, who recently began a consulting business to help train and educate intelligence agencies and improve oversight of their collection process, believes some of the information the DOD has been collecting is not justified.

Make sure they are not just going crazy
“Somebody needs to be monitoring to make sure they are just not going crazy and reporting things on U.S. citizens without any kind of reasoning or rationale,” says Lotz. “I demonstrated with Martin Luther King in 1963 in Washington,” he says, “and I certainly didn’t want anybody putting my name on any kind of list. I wasn’t any threat to the government,” he adds.

The military’s penchant for collecting domestic intelligence is disturbing—but familiar—to Christopher Pyle, a former Army intelligence officer.

“Some people never learn,” he says. During the Vietnam War, Pyle blew the whistle on the Defense Department for monitoring and infiltrating anti-war and civil rights protests when he published an article in the Washington Monthly in January 1970.

The public was outraged and a lengthy congressional investigation followed that revealed that the military had conducted investigations on at least 100,000 American citizens. Pyle got more than 100 military agents to testify that they had been ordered to spy on U.S. citizens—many of them anti-war protestors and civil rights advocates. In the wake of the investigations, Pyle helped Congress write a law placing new limits on military spying inside the U.S.

But Pyle, now a professor at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts, says some of the information in the database suggests the military may be dangerously close to repeating its past mistakes. “The documents tell me that military intelligence is back conducting investigations and maintaining records on civilian political activity. The military made promises that it would not do this again,” he says.

Too much data?
Some Pentagon observers worry that in the effort to thwart the next 9/11, the U.S. military is now collecting too much data, both undermining its own analysis efforts by forcing analysts to wade through a mountain of rubble in order to obtain potentially key
nuggets of intelligence and entangling U.S. citizens in the U.S. military’s expanding and quiet collection of domestic threat data.

Two years ago, the Defense Department directed a little known agency, Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, to establish and “maintain a domestic law enforcement database that includes information related to potential terrorist threats directed against the Department of Defense.” Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz also established a new reporting mechanism known as a TALON or Threat and Local Observation Notice report. TALONs now provide “non-validated domestic threat information” from military units throughout the United States that are collected and retained in a CIFA database. The reports include details on potential surveillance of military bases, stolen vehicles, bomb threats and planned anti-war protests. In the program’s first year, the agency received more than 5,000 TALON reports. The database obtained by NBC News is generated by Counterintelligence Field Activity.

CIFA is becoming the superpower of data mining within the U.S. national security community. Its “operational and analytical records” include “reports of investigation, collection reports, statements of individuals, affidavits, correspondence, and other documentation pertaining to investigative or analytical efforts” by the DOD and other U.S. government agencies to identify terrorist and other threats. Since March 2004, CIFA has awarded at least $33 million in contracts to corporate giants Lockheed Martin, Unisys Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation and Northrop Grumman to develop databases that comb through classified and unclassified government data, commercial information and Internet chatter to help sniff out terrorists, saboteurs and spies.

One of the CIFA-funded database projects being developed by Northrop Grumman and dubbed “Person Search,” is designed “to provide comprehensive information about people of interest.” It will include the ability to search government as well as commercial databases. Another project, “The Insider Threat Initiative,” intends to “develop systems able to detect, mitigate and investigate insider threats,” as well as the ability to “identify and document normal and abnormal activities and ‘behaviors,’ ” according to the Computer Sciences Corp. contract. A separate CIFA contract with a small Virginia-based defense contractor seeks to develop methods “to track and monitor activities of suspect individuals.”

“The military has the right to protect its installations, and to protect its recruiting services,” says Pyle. “It does not have the right to maintain extensive files on lawful protests of their recruiting activities, or of their base activities,” he argues.

Lotz agrees.

“The harm in my view is that these people ought to be allowed to demonstrate, to hold a banner, to peacefully assemble whether they agree or disagree with the government’s policies,” the former DOD intelligence official says.

'Slippery slope'
Bert Tussing, director of Homeland Defense and Security Issues at the U.S. Army War College and a former Marine, says “there is very little that could justify the collection of domestic intelligence by the Unites States military. If we start going down this slippery slope it would be too easy to go back to a place we never want to see again,” he says.

Some of the targets of the U.S. military’s recent collection efforts say they have already gone too far.

“It's absolute paranoia—at the highest levels of our government,” says Hersh of The Truth Project.

“I mean, we're based here at the Quaker Meeting House,” says Truth Project member Marie Zwicker, “and several of us are Quakers.”

The Defense Department refused to comment on how it obtained information on the Lake Worth meeting or why it considers a dozen or so anti-war activists a “threat.”

Don't bet that antiwar bloggers aren't in another Pentagon database.

Updated 1:35 PM, December 15, 2005: Now that it's been exposed, the Pentagon says it's going to review the database to make sure that the information in it is there legally and is used legally. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Out of Touch with Reality

I just love the cover art for Newsweek's current issue:

Bush's World (copyright © 2005 by Newsweek)

It's right on target, as is the cover story. Bush is the most out-of-touch president I can remember.

An Eye for an Eye

It may be the twenty-first century, but the American legal system is still in the Dark Ages. We're still killing those who kill. Stanley "Tookie" Williams, cofounder of the Crips gang and convicted killer, was executed this morning in California at San Quentin State Prison. The United States is one of the only world powers that still executes criminals. Execution is illegal in the European Union.

Yes, Williams killed people, but he did a great deal of work, while on death row, to dissuade teenagers from joining gangs. He was nominated for Nobel Prizes in peace and in literatuare. Even if he had continued to be unrepentant, he should not have been executed. Why? Because human life is sacred. And because the threat of execution in no way deters people from committing crimes. And because by executing people, we become killers ourselves.

Instead of killing criminals, we should be revamping the penal system to rehabilitate them. But we should go even further: We should be working harder to eliminate poverty and hunger and homelessness and prejudice, to make mental health services more readily accessible to everyone, and to provide educational assistance to learning-disabled students of all racial and ethnic groups. If we were to remove the barriers that so many people in this country face, our prison population would decrease substantially.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Forced to Choose Between Love and Home

Congratulations! American Tony Mason and Brit Asa Cairns are in love and will soon marry in England. American Tony Mason, left, and Brit Asa Cairns now have the right to marry in a civil ceremony, but not in the United States. Mason has had to emigrate to England to have the right to marry his love.

The two lived together in Atlanta in the United States for two years, but even if Cairns had become a U.S. citizen, they still wouldn't legally have been a couple. That's why they're in England now, because under England's new Civil Partnership Act, they will be "spouses in the eyes of the U.K. government—and for the purposes of citizenship, hospital visitation rights, pensions, inheritance taxes and entitlement to most parental rights—the United States government will not recognize their union," says an MSNBC story.

England joins Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and other nations in legalizing same-sex unions. The United States is backwards when it comes to human rights. We torture Iraqis and keep people in love from marrying, in obeisance to a twisted sense of right and wrong.

For shame, America ... for shame.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Canadian-Style Health Care

I see, in looking at my blog stats, that quite a few Canadians are visiting EditorMom today. Welcome! Can you all get together and send someone down here to fix our health-care disaster? We could use a system like yours. Thank you. When you're done, I'll have tea waiting for you.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What Christmas Is Really About

Want to know the real meaning of Christmas? Forget shopping for presents. "Children Sleeping Under Bridges," a new hymn from Canadian composer Ronald Brown, tells the true story:

Children sleeping under bridges
MMdark December rain
Woman begging at the curbside
MMcoughing deep in pain.
Hopeless, fearing, desperate, daring
MMheadlights shining through the darkness:
They hear a baby cry.
Baby in the chafing straw
MMcrying just for them;
Wrapped in rags, he knows their pain
MMcrying just for them.

Young girl standing under streetlight
MMwaiting for a ride.
Suffocating in a fever,
MMnever had much pride.
Bruised, abandoned, no one caring;
MMshe cries her father's name:
And hears a baby cry.
Baby in the darkest night
MMcrying just for her;
Baby takes her pain and calls her
MMcalling only her.

Old man, cardboard house collapsing,
MMthis his only home;
Gasps and struggles, snow encrusted,
MMdying all alone.
Searching, needing, defeated, groping
MMcurses his life and all he's known:
He hears a baby cry.
Baby in a cold dark cave
MMcrying just for him;
Brought into this world to die
MMcrying just for him.

Rich man inside glass and steel,
MMsees the scene below.
There are barriers, layers, shadows
MMhe has never known.
Emptiness is his only guidance;
MMhe lives inside a void:
Yet hears a baby cry.
Baby calling out his name
MMthrough all time and space;
MMreaching for him, reaching for us,
MMcalling you and me.

Words and music © 2005 by Ronald J. Brown. Reprinted here with permission of the composer.

Force-Feeding Hate Propaganda

Remember the New Mexico high school essay contest on why limiting marriage to heterosexuals is "vital"? My friend at Joyful Alternative has been at it again. She's written the New Mexico secretary of education (phone: 505-827-5800):

Dr. Veronica Garcia
Secretary of Education
Public Education Department
300 Don Gaspar
Santa Fe, NM 87501-2786

Dear Dr. Garcia:

On hearing that Piedra Vista [High School in Farmington, NM] held an essay contest on the topic “why limiting marriage to heterosexuals is vital,” I wrote the principal the
following letter. ...

Mr. Ortiz was kind enough to send me the following response:

I am sure you are somewhat misinformed regarding the essay issue. I only passed on what was sent to all administrators from the New Mexico Public Education Department. ...

I was surprised by his response because I had assumed that just one misguided or overwrought administrator had gone overboard. Instead, it’s an official directive to every school in the state.

Can you explain why all these children are being force-fed hate propaganda instead of taught what they’ll need to know to become upright citizens of our great country? Or why, if children must be propagandized, they can’t be required to write essays on what Jesus meant by “Love thy neighbor as thyself”? As a citizen, as a taxpayer, and as a Christian, I object.

I object as a human being, too. We had a child in a nearby school district who killed himself upon figuring out that he was gay; so imbued was he with the hate propaganda that he was therefore unacceptable to society and unworthy of life. Please don’t put your children at that risk.

Dr. Garcia, what do you have to say for yourself and your education department?

"Just Stop"

Stop the torture. Stop the killing. Stop the war in Iraq. Just stop. (Copyright © 2005 by Katharine O'Moore-Klopf.)

Fed up with the killing and the torture American soldiers are perpetrating in Iraq, I designed some artwork. You can buy it right now, from one of my CaféPress shops, on Postage Pals, stickers that go right next to the postage stamps on your snail mail. You can buy it on a T-shirt, on a sweatshirt, and on lots of other items. Please put the stickers on all of your mail and wear the shirts everywhere. Send a "Just Stop" T-shirt to your senators and representative. Give "Just Stop" sweatshirts as gifts to your peacemaker friends. Get the word out that we don't belong in Iraq.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Please Don't Spank or Slap Your Children, Take 2

Recently, I posted here about why hitting children is wrong. Jason wrote me privately with a different point of view. In the interests of getting the discussion of corporal punishment out in the open in the United States—not many Americans are willing to talk about it—I present the e-mail dialog between Jason and me, with his permission.


I was wondering [what your post] was out to prove. I disagree ... [that] striking your child as a means of correction is wrong. You must be aware that a child learns a lot more from being punished in this fashon than you would like to think.

You [wrote:]

What are you teaching your children when you hit them?

  • That it's okay to hit someone smaller and weaker than they are
  • That their feelings don't matter
  • That their bodies are not their own
  • That adults can't control their own anger
  • That love equals hitting
  • That adults aren't to be trusted; one time they'll show affection, and the next time they'll hit
You should really add to this list that your child learns the following:

  • Don't do what it was that I am being punished for.
  • My parents deserve respect.
  • Dad has a good backhand (added for humor).
My opinion on this matter is that it is not the physical act of striking the child that will leave a mental reminder, but that the waiting for the punishment is truly the punishment in itself. For instance, little Jimmy takes a cookie before dinner after being told three times, "No cookies before dinner." The kid takes a cookie. Fine. Say, "Wait in your room until your father (or mother) gets home for a spanking. The child has to sit and wait for the spanking, thus thinking about what he or she has done. A lightbulb pops up in their head: "What could I have done to avoid this?" When the act of the spanking comes about, the child has already learned his or her lesson, so you don't have to wale on them. They might even walk away suprised that it didn't hurt as much as it was supposed to, but that is not the [point] here.

This is how I was raised, and I haven't yet been to prison (or in legal trouble). This idea of letting your children get away with anything is what is destroying this society and clogging our prison system (where again, no beating or physical abuse typically occurs). You do the crime, you do the time. I do, however agree, with you that outlandish phyiscal punishment [here, Jason is referring to my account of physical abuse by my parents] does not resolve as many issues as it is meant to.

Hopefully you can see that this topic truly has multiple angles. ... [It] is a worth [debating].

Jason, thank you for writing. I agree that there are many points of view on the topic of physical punishment, and I think that this is a debate that should be out in the open in the United States. But you and I shall have to agree to disagree on whether spanking is a good thing.

Those of us who raise our children without spanking do not necessarily let them "get away" with anything. My sons—almost 11 and 4—are well behaved. (My daughter, now 22, was a well-behaved child too.) I have always set age-appropriate behavior expectations for them, [using] either natural consequences or removal of privileges [to help] them learn behavior boundaries. Here is an example of the first:

My 4-year-old demands something from me. He has been told on many other occasions that he is to speak politely and ask for what he wants. Because he has been rude, I refuse his demand, explaining why.

Here is an example of the second:

My almost-11-year-old has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). One of the problems that people with AD/HD have is decreased self-control. I ask him to clean his room. He feels compelled to play yet another game on the computer before cleaning his room. I then inform him that he has lost computer privileges for the remainder of the day for not using self-control—for not cleaning his room first and then playing another game on the computer.

This works well for all of us. That's not to say that I don't occasionally lose control and yell when I'm frustrated by my children's misbehaviors. But when I do, I don't resort to spanking or slapping. Once I've cooled off, I apologize for my yelling (because it's a behavior I don't want them to emulate), and I explain which behaviors of theirs angered me so much. (The explanations are much shorter for the 4-year-old.) When my sons' misbehavior escalates, time-outs work well [as far as helping everyone to cool off]. After a time-out is over, I ask the child in question to explain why he got the time-out; this ensures that he is aware that the behavior in question is unacceptable.

Now that you've read Jason's take on this issue, I'd like to read yours. Have you spanked your children? Why or why not? Were you spanked as a child? How did it affect you? E-mail me and I may make your story into a blog entry.

Take 1

Presbyterians Speak Out Against Torture

At long last, my denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), is speaking up about the torture of Iraqi prisoners of war by U.S. soldiers. I've been watching and waiting for my fellow Presbyterians to speak out against torture for some time now, and I'm so happy that they're doing so that it's worth reprinting here material from the PCUSA web site:
It's a sin to legalize torture [photo from the PCUSA Web site]Motivated by love of God and country, many Presbyterians are deeply saddened and morally outraged at the treatment of detainees by the United States and our allies. Out of this concern for our troops, our nation, and God's children, efforts at organizing and acting to stop torture have begun. Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase and the Rev. Ed Brogan, Director of the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel, invite all who share this concern to gather in Miami, Florida, from 9:00 a.m. on Friday, January 6 through noon on Saturday, January 7, 2006. Participants will pray, study, worship, witness, strategize, and organize. Find more information and register online.

Advocate for Senator McCain's amendment providing that U.S. armed forces observe the humanitarian standards in international, national, and military law and our military's effective rules governing military interrogations.

Endorse the statement by the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches in Christ calling our government to denounce torture and affirm the moral principles that honor the dignity of all persons.

5 6 5 6 5 6

Harold Kurtz, Senior Associate of the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, writes, "Lately I feel like a stranger in the United States.

I am a remnant of what has been called "the greatest generation," but it's not the thinning ranks of my generation that has me feeling lost and confused. It's the debate about torture that has been swirling around me for months. I never imagined such a debate in my country."

A single statement from the executive branch that torture is forbidden everyplace, all the time, by every agency and under all circumstances, would stop all such talk immediately. There might be an element of danger in that stance, but virtue knows any sacrifice is worth a better future. We need to end the torture debate so the world will know that my country would never become as the enemy.

My father fought in World War I in Europe. He was a quiet man who never talked about his service in France, but my mother’s photo of him in his uniform is etched in the minds of his children.

When World War II broke out, we were five boys and a little sister. The three oldest enlisted within days of the declaration of war. As number four, I enlisted as soon as my 18th birthday rolled around. Three of us went into the Army Air Force for pilot training; one joined the 5th Armored Division.

My youngest brother, Dudley, graduated from high school a couple of years later. Dad and Mom did not stand in the way of his enlisting, although they could have gotten a deferment for him to help on the farm. Dud didn’t want cold, mud and tents, so he joined the Navy.

When his orders came to report for duty, what was left of the family climbed into the car and took him to the train station—his grandfather, a great aunt, his little sister and Mom and Dad. They all returned to our home to stay overnight.

Dad went immediately to the end of the backyard and dug up the basketball standard that had stood for many years over a dusty plot where running feet had trampled out every living thing. It was too painful to see it standing there, silent and unused.

After supper and evening visiting, Mom and Dad turned their bed over to company. They took the boys’ room; Mom crawled into Dud’s lower bunk, and Dad climbed into the top one. Finally, in the dark, alone, Mom was able to shed the tears that she had held back all day. Dad heard her crying and climbed down. They slept wrapped in each other’s arms in Dud’s empty, single bed. Mom wrote later, “When the morning came, our courage returned.”

It was common then for families to display in a window a small white flag with blue stars, one for each son serving in the war. Mom couldn’t find a flag with five stars on it to replace the previous one, so she took a blue crayon and colored on it a fifth star. Years later, when family memorabilia was divided up, the four older brothers awarded that flag to Dud as his keepsake. It was a silent reminder of our parents’ sacrifice.

Dud ended up on a minesweeper in Japanese waters. The brother in the ground forces landed with the 5th Armored Division, on D-Day plus four, and fought clear into Germany until VE day. Half of the soldiers in his unit were killed or wounded. The other three of us were Air Force pilots in Europe.

One day there was a knock at the door of our farmhouse. Mom looked out and saw the rural mail carrier’s car stopped at the mail box. She was afraid of its meaning. It was the custom of those carriers to hand-deliver registered letters from the government. My brother Merle had gone down in his P-51 and was missing in action. Good news came within the month: He was a prisoner of war, alive. He would be imprisoned for 11 months.

As we served and as my parents waited, we all felt strongly that we were fighting an evil an evil regime whose vicious tactics we would never employ. We acted on values that we could be proud of.

I flew with the Troop Carrier Command. On return flights after making deliveries to the front, we would stop at field hospitals and pick up the wounded. We arranged bunk-like stretchers on both sides of the plane to carry as many as possible, and delivered those critical wounded to the base hospital. Friend and foe alike. No one even asked.

I was also trained as a glider pilot. When the army needed to jump the Rhine River, I landed with a glider-load of airborne troops behind the German lines. We fought them for a strip of land needed for a pontoon bridge. We rounded up hundreds of POWs. When the area was secured, low-flying B-24s dropped “para packs” of ammunition and food from their bomb bays. As we fought the Germans outside our perimeter, we shared our K-rations with the POWs inside.

As the war in Europe ended, we flew out our prisoners. They were a skinny, battered and beaten lot. We also flew out forced laborers who were in worse shape. However, what seared my soul was the sight of survivors of the death camps walking skeletons, hollow-eyed, with barely enough strength to climb up the steps into our planes. I knew then that I could never be a pacifist, for such evil must never be given a free hand to rule the world.

What has happened to my country now? I am mystified by the continuing debate about torture. In the country I and my brothers fought for, torture wasn’t even mentioned as a possibility that was the enemy’s tactics. That’s part of the reason they were the enemy.

I am an evangelical Christian. Jesus tells us to eliminate our enemies by making friends of them.

Back on the farm, the harvest of 1944 was very difficult. Dad, Mom and little sister Joyce were alone. Meanwhile, the United States was finding it hard to keep and feed all the German POWs in camps in Europe. They started bringing prisoners to the States in returning troop ships.

A camp was established near our home in eastern Oregon. Word was sent out that farmers could hire willing prisoners as farm laborers. They would be brought to the farms by guards, and the farmers would pay a daily wage. Most prisoners were delighted to have something to do, and especially to be paid for their work. Dad decided to use their help with the harvest.

Three or four POWs would be brought to the farm each day. Dad and his prisoners worked well together even without a common language. The prisoners brought their lunch. But Dad and Mom were concerned about those young Germans; Mom worried about their diet. Every day at noon, she cooked up a big pot of stew or soup to add to their lunch. I am sure that as she stirred the soup, she prayed that someone would care for her POW son.

My dad must have had similar thoughts. One day when it was cold and windy and Mom was gone, Dad talked the guard into letting the prisoners into the house for lunch, although it was against regulations. Inside, one of the prisoners saw my dad’s guitar sitting in a corner and asked if he could play it. The prisoners sang a song they must have learned from their guards: “Don’t Fence Me In!”

In that same bitter winter in Germany, my prisoner brother was put in a railroad cattle car and shipped south. Half of his fellow POWs died on the way.

I am certain all of those German prisoners who worked on our farm went back to Germany not as enemies, but as friends.

What has happened to my country? How can my country be debating the merits of torture? Why has my country lost the will to make friends out of its enemies?

Template created by Makeworthy Media