Category Archives: International

No harm, no foul? Hardly.

It looks like Army Private Bradley Manning may face a court martial and life in prison.  Good.  I don’t think he is just guilty of theft as the investigator alleges.   That’s not enough.  I think he is guilty of treason.  Downloading confidential military records and giving them to outside sources cannot be tolerated.  One of the arguments his lawyer has been making is that Manning should be released is that the security breach didn’t really cause much damage or jeopardize American national security.  Liberals I know seem to think what Manning was doing was some freedom of speech issue.

Bullshit to both.

Let’s think a bit of what Manning actually did.   Manning was an intelligence officer in the Army.  Under the guise of downloading music, he took classified communications and shared them with Wikileaks.  If he worked at Apple or Microsoft or any other company, taking internal documents and data and sharing it would be grounds to be fired.  For military personnel, who are entrusted with the safety and security of the nation to steal and share classified information with anyone outside the government cannot be considered — under any circumstances — a good thing.  Not only does it set the worst possible precedent, it puts us all in danger.  This isn’t theft, this is treason.

Manning supporters say that he was doing the right thing: He was just exposing war crimes and other atrocities perpetrated by the American military.  The problem with that theory is that the information he released showed no such thing.  Even his defense relies on the idea that the information released did not harm anyone. You can’t have it both ways.  If he had been exposing some great crime committed by the US, we would all know about it.  He released embarrassing communications and the like.

I know what you are thinking, I am a hawk. I am no such thing, though pacifism isn’t my thing either.  We need to fight some wars — like WWII — we need to avoid others.  Our military makes mistakes and does things I don’t agree with.  The Marines urinating on corpses comes to mind as does what happened an Abu Ghraib.  None of that excuses Manning.

Private Bradley Manning was put in a position with access to classified information and entrusted with protecting the nation and he abdicated his responsibilities by leaking the data to Wikileaks.   I don’t understand why anyone would think that is a good thing and think he should spend the rest of his life in jail.

PS.  I don’t think the US has any reason to prosecute Julian Assange for anything as I know the Department of Justice is trying to do.  He broke no laws nor did he violate any trust.

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.  There is a big event in DC planned to pay lip service to ending this horrible disease.  Bono will be there.  President Obama will be there.  Former Presidents Clinton and Bush will be there.  It’s too bad that this comes on the heels of the announcement that for the first time since it was founded ten years ago, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has cut funding to poor countries.  This funding is essential for programs in these countries and its absence will have devastating consequences for millions of people.  This is literally a question of life or death for millions of people.

The Global Fund now directly keeps alive 3.2 million people on anti-retroviral treatment.  (Together with other funders that means that around 6.6 million people are now on these life-saving drugs.) It has financed 8.2 million courses of TB treatment and the distribution of 190 million insecticide-treated nets to fight malaria.  We are seeing a historic turn in the progression of these pandemics.  — Jeffrey Sachs, Politicians just don’t care enough to tackle this scourge.

Health care is a basic human right.  That’s just my opinion.  That’s part of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

This is not the time to withhold funding vital to programs that are working.  Malaria prevention efforts are starting to have a real impact in places like Africa.  We tend to think of certain infectious diseases as being other people’s problems.  They strike in poor countries, far away from us.  The problem with that thinking — other that the callous nature with which we view the world through the prism of how does this impact me personally? — is that is is just wrong and shortsighted.  Infectious diseases, for instance, that kill people over there, are just as deadly when they strike here.  These are often diseases of poverty, we have that here.

Over the past year, I have been working with a nonprofit health organization — they develop and deliver medicines for infectious diseases such as visceral leishmaniasis, which is nearly 100 percent fatal when left untreated.  Like AIDS, it destroys its victims immune system.  Our military personnel are being infected because they are fighting in areas where it is endemic.  New studies also show an increasing number of co-infections – -VL & AIDS.

TB is a scourge in the US, too.  Washington, DC has one of the highest rates of infection in the nation.  What’s worse is that many cases are of the drug resistant variety, a side effect of a treatment that can take up to two years is that people don’t follow through with the full treatment.  (Topic for another day is how our antibiotic abuse is making them less effective. short version, if your doctor doesn’t give you one for the sniffles, don’t demand one.)

Other, less famous diseases such as Dengue Fever are making a comeback in the US as well.  The mosquito that carries the potentially deadly illness has been found as far north as North Carolina.  Mosquitoes don’t care about borders.

The bottom line is that if a disease can strike anywhere, it can strike anywhere.  We risk losing important ground gained over the past decade because we lack the political will to do the right thing.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thank you for…

1.  The US Constitution:  It is easy to look at the recent Congressional failures, and the “super

The US Constitution, it rocks

committee” is only the most recent, and think “our system is broken.”  It isn’t.  Flawed, yes.  Injured, probably.  Broken, no.  One thing that has always confused me is why some people, upset by the results of the 2008 presidential campaign, preferred to think that we had entered the “end of days” rather than entertain the idea that they lost an election.  You see, I have some perspective on this.  I worked on the Gore 2000 campaign.  I was devastated by the result but I never — not once — considered George W. Bush to be anything but a legitimate president.  My belief in our system got me through that loss.  When you work on campaigns, sometime you lose.  It sucks but that’s part of the deal.

The other part of the equation is the recognition that as great as our system is, it is a tool.  No tool is better than the people who use it.  our representative democracy, otherwise known as a republic, reflects us.  If we do not like the results it produces, we have no one but ourselves to blame.   I have written several letters to the Washington Post about George Will.  He claims to be both a proponent of capitalism and an opponent of public broadcasting.  And yet, he hates reality TV.  I think you cannot argue that the free market is the best method to produce quality anything and then be angry when it produces crap.  The same can be said of our government. As Bill Clinton used to say, There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with America.  Amen, brother.

2. The Mets.  Do I hate to love them or love to hate them?  Clearly the former.  Oh, they break my heart every year.  I am not going to write any more right now about that, I need a break from hating myself.

3. Reality TV.  Jersey Shore.  Hoarders.  Anything with people who weight more than 500 pounds.  We all know why we watch; we want to feel better about our own lives and I am no different.  No, I don’t want to see wealthy, vain housewives spend more in an afternoon on napkins than I spend in a year on rent but  I like that as dirty as my apartment may get, I don’t have goats eating holes in my walls.  Oh, and I can stand up and walk around.  Seriously, your family cooks 12 chickens a day for you?  Do they deliver your heroin, too?  See?  I am clearly a disturbed person.

4. The GOP candidates for president.  About two years ago, I called Michele Bachmann’s office.  I said, “Look, I am not a constituent but I would love it if she ran for president.”  I did not add, because I write comedy and that would be awesome, I figured it was implied. I had no idea Herman Cain even existed.

Seriously, I am thankful for the Constitution but I am infinitely more thankful for my friends and family.  Thank you for being so awesome.

You know who you are.

Make. It. Stop.

Oh. My. God.  Did you read the news?  The Congressional “Super Committee” failed.  I cannot speak for you, but I was shocked that anyone — including the expert media — believed anything would be accomplished here.  Especially after the House took up and passed such groundbreaking legislation as the determination that pizza is a vegetable.  How can you expect anyone to work after that?  I mean, they’re only human.

Normally, blaming the media feels like a cop-out.  We love to hate the news media when they use their ink and air time covering the Karashians or Snooki and conveniently forget their story selections are based on what we buy.  Don’t care who Brad Pitt is screwing?  Don’t read the tabloids.  In this instance, however they seem to be more than mere spectators.  Andrea Mitchell didn’t see this coming?  If I saw this coming, she should have.  And thus the political media, who build up these paper tigers, feel more complicit.  The coverage of this debacle — as was the deficit ceiling fiasco before it — borders on media malpractice.  Real conversations about serious problems become showdowns at the OK corral, great for ratings but not so much for anything else.

But blaming the media remains a cop-out.  As does blaming the Tea Party.  The Tea Party didn’t cause this problem, they may not be helping but we aren’t here because of them.  Remember they only came on the scene a few years ago.  Even Grover Norquist didn’t cause this.

So, if we cannot blame the media and we cannot blame the right wing (or the left wing) — who caused this?   We did.

President Obama got into trouble when a clip of him calling Americans lazy (ironic given how many GOP presidential candidates have called #OWS protesters lazy and dirty).  I don’t think we are lazy but we are whiny.  We want everything without paying for anything.  Most of us agree that we need a good military, decent education and a host of other programs but we don’t want to pay for them.  The disparity of what we want and what we want to pay for extends beyond taxes and spending: We tell ourselves — and the world — that the US represents the pinacle of exceptionalism and socioeconomic fluidity but we trail most of our peer countries.  Think taxes destroy freedom and rob citizens of happiness?  Don’t tell that to Norway.  Taxes are much higher there — especially when the Value Added Tax (VAT) is included — yet they have the highest standard of living on the planet.

Back to our Congressional conundrum.  We have the Congress we settled for.  Each member is elected to represent their district, their part of the country, their special interests.  By special interests, I do not mean lobbyists but constituents.  Through gerrymandering, a word I learned in junior high school social studies but never thought about until moving to Washington, Congressional districts have been distilled to the point where extreme views are common place.  Our Congresspeople don’t compromise because we don’t want them to.

The Congressional “super committee” was never supposed to succeed; it was set up to do exactly what it did — give the impression of action while doing nothing to accomplish anything.

Abuse epidemic

US child deaths per day timeline

Every ten seconds a case of child abuse is reported.  More than five children a day die of it.  Where is this gruesome place?  The United States.  We do like to tout ourselves at being exceptional, in this case we are.  The US has the highest rate of child abuse in the world.  That’s right, in the world.  You can listen to the BBC report on this here.

We don’t talk about child abuse, not when reports on it are released.  We only think about it when a high profile person such as a Penn State football coach in involved.  Or when we get to feel the collective anger at someone like Casey Anthony.  We fret and shout and wring our hands and say someone should have done something.  We never consider ourselves to be that someone because when we use that term, we really mean someone else.

Why is this?  We are not a war torn country, like Congo, where children are forced to be soldiers.  We have child labor laws so we aren’t forcing children to make our Nikes (at least not here).  When you compare the rates in the US to that in other developed countries, it becomes clear that the thing they have that we do not is a social safety net.  Hillary Clinton was ridiculed for her book It takes a village but it does.  We have a growing number of younger parents and provide little or no real support — 80 percent of childhood deaths due to abuse or neglect occur in children four or under.  Some of our leaders like to crow about ‘pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.’  Where does that leave these children?  No where good.  Keep in mind, these statistics are low.  The cause of death for many kids who were the victims of abuse or neglect never makes it on to their death certificates.  Medscape article here.

The impacts of the epidemic are felt far and wide.  Abused children are more likely to abuse their children, go to jail or suffer a mental disorder or substance abuse problem.  More details here.

Remind me why the football program at Penn State is worth all of this?