As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle, Mark Benjamin reported at Salon.com (3/12). Some of the soldiers are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.
On 2/15, 75 soldiers with medical conditions from the 3rd Division's 3rd Brigade were summoned to a meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon. These are the men responsible for handling each soldier's "physical profile," an Army document that lists for commanders an injured soldier's physical limitations because of medical problems &emdash; from being unable to fire a weapon to the inability to move and dive in three-to-five-second increments to avoid enemy fire. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers' profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq. It is a claim division officials deny.
The 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade is now leaving for Iraq for a third time in a steady stream. In fact, some of the troops with medical conditions interviewed by Salon the previous week were already gone. Others were slated to fly out within a week, but were fighting against their chain of command, holding out hope that because of their ills they will ultimately not be forced to go. Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, who was still in Georgia, thinks doctors are helping to send hurt soldiers like him to Iraq to make units going there appear to be at full strength. "This is about the numbers," he said flatly.
Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs at Veterans for America, has long been concerned that the military was pressing injured troops into Iraq. "Did they send anybody down range that cannot wear a helmet, that cannot wear body armor?" Robinson asked rhetorically. "Well that is wrong. It is a war zone." Robinson thinks that the possibility that physical profiles may have been altered improperly has the makings of a scandal. "My concerns are that this needs serious investigation. You cannot just look at somebody and tell that they were fit," he said. "It smacks of an overstretched military that is in crisis mode to get people onto the battlefield."
Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., the brigade commander, said he does not know how many injured soldiers are in his ranks. But he insisted that it is not unusual to deploy troops with physical limitations so long as he can place them in safe jobs when they get there. "They can be productive and safe in Iraq," Grigsby said.
The injured soldiers interviewed by Salon, however, expressed considerable worry about going to Iraq with physical deficits because it could endanger them or their fellow soldiers. Some were injured on previous combat tours. Some of their ills are painful conditions from training accidents or, among relatively older troops, degenerative problems like back injuries or blown-out knees. Some of the soldiers have been in the Army for decades. For the full story, see Salon.com.
SUNDAY STILL CONSERVATIVE: Despite previous network claims that a conservative advantage existed on the Sunday talk shows simply because Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, only one show, ABC's This Week, has been roughly balanced between both sides overall since the congressional majority switched hands in the 2006 midterm elections, Media Matters for America reports. Since the 2006 midterm elections, NBC's Meet the Press and CBS' Face the Nation have provided less balance between Republican and Democratic officials than Fox News Sunday despite the fact that Fox News Sunday remains the most unbalanced broadcast overall both before and after the election. During the 109th Congress (2005 and 2006), Republicans and conservatives held the advantage on every show, in every category measured. All four shows interviewed more Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and progressives overall, interviewed more Republican elected and administration officials than Democratic officials, hosted more conservative journalists than progressive journalists, held more panels that tilted right than tilted left, and gave more solo interviews to Republicans and conservatives. See mediamatters.org.
LIBS IN DENIAL: Twice as many Americans consider themselves conservative as consider themselves liberal, a recent Gallup Poll found, but a plurality support Democratic policies. The poll found 41% conservative, 21% liberal and 34% moderate; 47% were Dems or Dem leaners vs. 43% GOP or GOP leaners while 65% disapprove of President Bush's job performance. But conservative blogger James Joyner of outsidethebeltway.com noted (3/11) that the public seems to continue to demand liberal policies, opposing Social Security privatization, continuing to push to expand health care and supporting federal spending on a variety of social programs.
UNDOCUMENTED CITIZENS LOSE MEDICAID: A new federal rule intended to keep illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid has instead shut out tens of thousands of US citizens who have trouble producing birth certificates and other documents proving their citizenship, the New York Times reported (3/12). Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia have all traced declines in enrollment to the new federal requirement, which comes just as state officials around the country are striving to expand coverage through Medicaid and other means. In Iowa, the number of Medicaid recipients dropped by 5,700 in the second half of 2006, to 92,880, after rising for five years. "We have not turned up many undocumented immigrants receiving Medicaid in Waterloo, Dubuque or anywhere else in Iowa," said Kevin W. Concannon, director of the state Department of Human Services. In Florida, the number of children on Medicaid declined by 63,000, to 1.2 mln, from July 2006 to January of this year. "We've seen an increase in the number of people who don't qualify for Medicaid because they cannot produce proof of citizenship," said Albert A. Zimmerman, spokesman for the Florida Department of Children and Families. "Nearly all of these people are American citizens." Medicaid officials across the country report that some pregnant women are going without prenatal care and some parents are postponing checkups for their children while they hunt down birth certificates and other documents.
Under a 2006 federal law, the Deficit Reduction Act, most people who say they are US citizens and want Medicaid must provide "satisfactory documentary evidence of citizenship," which could include a passport or the combination of a birth certificate and a driver's license. But some state officials say the Bush administration went beyond the law by requiring people to submit original documents or copies certified by the issuing agency, which can cost $10 to $30.
'LA TIMES' OPTS FOR EMPEROR: The Los Angeles Times published an editorial 3/12 titled "Do we really need a Gen. Pelosi?" attacking the House plan to redeploy US forces out of Iraq. Much of the editorial is spent arguing why Congress should voluntarily neuter itself. It says that Congress "must not limit the president's ability to maneuver at this critical juncture," and that "lawmakers have a duty to let the president try" his escalation strategy. The Times chides "congressional meddling in military strategy," and states (without evidence) that Pelosi is "interfering with the discretion of the commander in chief" in order to "fulfill domestic political needs."
But ThinkProgress.org noted that over the last 35 years, Congress has enacted numerous bills that capped the size of military deployments, prohibited funding for existing or prospective deployment, and placed limits and conditions on the timing and nature of deployments. These actions were enacted by majority Republican and Democratic Congresses and imposed on presidents of both parties. Here are three examples:
Foreign Assistance Act of 1974. The Congress established a personnel ceiling of 4000 Americans in Vietnam within six months of enactment and 3000 Americans within one year.
The Lebanon Emergency Assistance Act of 1983. The Congress required the president to return to seek statutory authorization if he sought to expand the size of the US contingent of the Multinational Force in Lebanon.
In November 1993, Congress limited the use of funding in Somalia for operations of US military personnel only until March 31, 1994, permitting expenditure of funds for the mission thereafter only if the president sought and Congress provided specific authorization.
"Passing bills like these today won't turn Speaker Pelosi into a military general," ThinkProgress noted. "But if Congress listens to the L.A. Times and abandons its constitutional responsibilities, they will be ordaining Emperor Bush."
ThinkProgress also noted that in April 1999, with US troops already in combat, the Republican House approved, 249-180, a bill to prohibit funds from being used for the deployment of US ground forces into Yugoslavia unless that deployment was specifically authorized by law. Then-House Majority Whip Tom Delay (R-Texas) criticized President Clinton's decision to bomb in Kosovo: "Normally, and I still do, support our military and the fine work that they are doing. But before we get deeper embroiled into this Balkan quagmire, I think that an assessment has to be made of the Kosovo policy so far. Was it worth it to stay in Vietnam to save face? What good has been accomplished so far? Absolutely nothing."
That bill did not get through the Senate, but its co-sponsors included Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), now Senate minority leader, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn., then a Dem), who recently warned of a "constitutional crisis" if Congress tried to influence the president's conduct of the war in Iraq.
LABOR ENDORSES MEDICARE EXPANSION: The AFL-CIO made health care reform its top priority on 3/6 when the executive council called for expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans. "In its 40-year history, Medicare has delivered substantial advances for the health care of older Americans and people with disabilities. Medicare has guaranteed coverage, made health care more affordable, included a form of shared financial responsibility, significantly reduced administrative costs compared with those of private plans and has been the largely unheralded financer of America's medical science advances. Medicare also has been a leader in advancing quality care and improvements in health care service delivery in the United States," the council said from Las Vegas.
"Such an approach would require updating and expanding Medicare benefits to fit the working population and children, as well as negotiating prices with physicians and providers that families &emdash; and the country &emdash; can afford. It would encourage innovation in health care services and medical technology. Employers' responsibility for health care financing would be broadly and equitably shared, substantially reducing burdens on all businesses and reducing disadvantages currently faced in the global marketplace. In building on Medicare to move toward a universal program, we can find a practical, achievable and affordable solution to our country's health care crisis."
Although the council did not single out legislation, US Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has reintroduced a National Health Insurance Act (HR 676, which would expand Medicare to cover all Americans. Labor writer Harry Kelber noted at laboreducator.org that the bill already is endorsed by four international unions, 17 state federations, 63 central labor councils and scores of local unions. The single-payer measure eliminates profiteering by insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and HMOs. One of the advantages of Medicare for All, Kelber noted, is that, "Even if you are unemployed or lose or change your job, your health coverage goes with you. It ends the insurance companies' interference with care. There is no denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions or cancellation of policies for "unreported" minor health problems."
The labor federation also will continue to fight to preserve and expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Medicaid coverage, improve the Medicare drug benefit and alleviate the legacy health care costs that threaten coverage for millions of workers and retirees, as well as the health of the economy. It also will push for comprehensive reforms at the state level, recognizing that other nations &emdash; particularly Canada &emdash; have built the political consensus for national reform by first enacting comprehensive care region by region.
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed that companies that do not offer health insurance to their workers pay a 3% payroll tax to help pay for a new plan to move the state toward universal health coverage. Blagojevich also proposed a tax on gross corporate receipts that would replace the existing corporate income tax and net as much as $6 bln for health care, schools and other needs.
FIREFIGHTERS BURN GIULIANI: When the International Association of Fire Fighters held a bipartisan forum for presidential candidates on 3/14, it invited all the major candidates except for Rudy Giuliani. In a letter signed by New York local union leaders, General President Harold Schaitberger said "the disrespect that he exhibited to our 343 fallen FDNY brothers, their families and our New York City IAFF leadership in the wake of that tragic day [9/11] has not been forgiven or forgotten." On Nov. 2, 2001, as firefighters believed they had found a spot in the Ground Zero rubble where countless more could be recovered for burial, Giuliani sharply reduced the number who could search for remains at any one time, from as many as 300 firefighters at a time to no more than 25 who could be there at once. "Giuliani also made a conscious decision to institute a 'scoop-and-dump' operation to expedite the clean-up of Ground Zero in lieu of the more time-consuming, but respectful, process of removing debris piece by piece in hope of uncovering more remains," Schaitberger wrote, adding, "Mayor Giuliani's actions meant that fire fighters and citizens who perished would either remain buried at Ground Zero forever, with no closure for families, or be removed like garbage and deposited at the Fresh Kills Landfill."
THEY LOVE US NOT: A recent poll for the BBC World Service covering opinions in 27 countries has the United States taking the bronze medal as the third most negatively viewed nation, J. Goodrich noted at Prospect.org (3/7). Only Iran and Israel are viewed more negatively. "These findings partly follow the expected fault lines between Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. Still, the only places where the good ol' US of A gets a majority of positive ratings are in Africa (Nigeria and Kenya) and in the Philippines," Goodrich writes. "And naturally at home, although even here the percentage believing that the US has a positive influence on the rest of the world (57%) is declining from previous poll levels."
GSA HEAD QUESTIONED ON HATCH ACT: Lorita Doan, head of the General Service Administration, used a January 2007 teleconference to ask senior GSA officials to help "our candidates" in the next elections through targeted public events, such as the opening of federal facilities around the country, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) reported. Doan discussed with GSA officials how to exclude House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from an upcoming courthouse opening in her hometown San Francisco and how to include Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla. Doan's activity is being investigated as a potential violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan campaign activities on federal property. Waxman also questioned a $20,000 no-bid contract for a 24-page report "promoting GSA's use of minority- and women-owned businesses," with a firm called Diversity Best Practices, headed by Edie Fraser. Waxman discovered that Doan had a long-standing business relationship with Ms. Fraser that had not been disclosed, according to ThinkProgress.org (3/7).
CORN PRICES SPLIT FARMERS: Pork producers are unhappy that the ethanol industry has doubled the price of corn in the past year. On 3/5, the National Pork Producers Council called for the elimination of a 51-cent-per-gallon ethanol tax credit and the 54-cent tariff on imported ethanol. "Sure corn prices are higher these days," said Keith Bolin, president of the 14,000-member American Corn Growers Association (acga.org), "but at $4 a bushel, corn farmers are finally making a modest profit after selling corn at a loss for most of the past three decades." Bolin added, "I cannot believe that a family farmer raising hogs, corn or any other commodity wants to make their living off of the under-priced crops raised by other farm families. I personally doubt that any family hog farmers would ever ask to remove the renewable energy incentives, and I suspect it was the integrated, industrialized livestock industry that has."
AIR AMERICA RELAUNCHES: Air America Radio relaunched under new ownership on 3/6. The progressive network will mark three years on the air 3/31, but in that time the network has gone through six CEOs and Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings before it was purchased by Green Family Media of New York. "It's now ready to go from 'The Perils of Pauline' to 'The Little Engine that Could,'" said Mark Green, new president of the network. He is a former public interest lawyer and was the elected New York City public advocate. He said Air America would focus on the fundamentals of "making a strong line-up even stronger." It will connect to other major progressive organizations "to be mutually fortifying" and it will be "a multi-media content company involving other information platforms &emdash; mobile, video, broadband, blogs, websites," he said, adding, "The twin goals are to make it profitable and influential. One without the other won't work. If it's not a business, it'll go out of business." Scott Elberg, who has been the network's top executive, will stay on as chief operating office. Steve Green, a New York real estate developer, will be CEO and majority shareholder. Air America is on 70 affiliates reaching a weekly audience of 1.7 million listeners. It produces 19 hours of original programming daily. See AirAmerica.com.
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