Sunday, August 10, 2008

ON THE FRONT: From cheesy affairs to a Russian invasion, the world is spinning out of control!

Here is a quick wrap-up of news items that have caught my eye:  

Did you hear about John Edwards’ cheesy affair with a third-rate filmmaking floozy?  (Of course you heard about it!  You'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb to have not heard about it!) Am I surprised?  Not really.  What I don’t understand is, why do we care what a former litigator, senator, vice presidential candidate and presidential candidate did in his spare time, way back when?  Did he lie?  Of course, most men do when it comes to these things, yet everyone, including other men kill me with their "surprise, angst and disappointment," usually the very same men who have probably lied about their own indiscretions.

If Edwards had won the nomination, would he had put the party in jeopardy?  One word answer on this one: Clinton.  Yep, Clinton won two terms under lurid accusations of having affairs with an assortment of women.  Why did he win?  Because the public was fed up with Bush (no. 1) and understood it was more important for Clinton to get into office rather than penalize him with whom he had an extra-marital affair with.  Besides, while I liked Edwards liberal/progressive positions, there was always something about him that just didn’t click with me, especially since his senate record never quite reflected what he was advocating to do as president of the U.S.  His wife obviously knew and has (or will) forgive him, which is really none of our business.  The Democratic Machine has hypocritically “banned” Edwards from the Democratic convention, so what more can they talk about on the news?  And with all that is going on in the world, who really, truly cares?

The real news is Russia’s invasion of Georgia.  For those of you not in the know, Georgia, which was once part of the U.S.S.R., gained independence in 1991.  Two provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, split from Georgia in the early 1990s, and have run their own affairs without international recognition, all the while building ties with Moscow. Since its independence, Georgia has been engaged in armed conflicts, with either its neighbors, the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and/or South Ossetia; or tensions between Georgia and Russia over a number of  issues, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Georgia, a staunch U.S. ally, has a pro-western government and wants to join NATO – a bid Moscow regards as part of a Western effort to weaken its influence in the region.  Moreover, Russia, under Vladimir Putin, is reluctant to let its former vassal states go. 

So what prompted Russia to invade Georgia?  It appears that Russia invaded Georgia after a series of violent exchanges over South Ossetia. After Georgia's attack on South Ossetia, Russia sent troops to strike back at Georgia, putting the two on the brink of an all out war.  Since South Ossetia is still labeled as part of Georgia, this has been officially labeled a “Russian invasion of Georgia,” which has instilled fear in many that  Russia's true intent is not to free South Ossetia, but to retake Georgia into Russia's empire. The former Soviet state of Kazakhstan may also eventually support Russia in any future conflicts to come with Georgia.  This attack, of course, succeeds in preventing Georgia from becoming a member of NATO.

The reason why everyone is on pins and needles is that while Georgia is not a member of NATO, it is still a key American ally. The country has lots of troops in Iraq, and Georgia’s president is asking for US intervention. Helping Georgia is the right thing to do, but how do you stand up to Russia? I don’t have much confidence in the Bush Administration’s ability to do so, but it would be a difficult thing to do, while not tipping us into war with another superpower.  This scenario could easily create a domino effect, in a way that provoked World War I:  when Austria Hungary declared war on Serbia – forcing the Russians to declare war on Austria Hungary due to its treaty obligations with Serbia, which caused Imperial Germany to declare war on Russia . . . and France too, since France and Russia signed a defense pact.  So Germany then invades Russia and France . . . but to get to France – they had to invade Belgium and Luxembourg and due to treaty obligations with Belgium, the UK had to honor it's treaty obligations and declare war on Germany and Austria Hungary.  Sounds like a complicated tongue twister, but unfortunately, that's how most wars are started.  We need to stay alert and tuned in to what is going on and watch how our government handles this very important  and dangerous situation.  More on this at Slate: World Inaction RUSSIA INVADES GEORGIA.

I am even more convinced these days that politics has taken over every aspect of our lives.  And what makes it frightening is that the elite few are willing to manipulate the powers that be to double its profits at the expense of the citizenry.  Case in point: Wal-Mart, known for exploiting its workers, trampling on independent businesses and bulldozing their way through Anytown USA and abroad, have jumped onto the political bandwagon.  You see, way back when, Barack Obama, an ardent supporter of unions, began citing Wal-Mart as a key example of the problem thousands face with their employees  (see USA Today: Obama says Wal-Mart is part of necessary debate on pay and benefits, 2006 ). This prompted the Senator to sponsor a piece of labor and employment legislation that would make it easier for employees to unionize.  

This impending labor bill would enable workers to petition the Treasury Secretary for clarification of their status; prohibit employer retaliation against any workers filing these petitions; and require notification of the petition process be posted in the workplace.  This bill is part of a sum total of various pending labor bills (which ironically are all sponsored by Democrats) that are stuck in the Senate.  While the House passed the card-check bill last year by a 241-185 vote, it was blocked in the Senate where Democrats fell nine votes short of the 60 votes needed to end a GOP filibuster.  

So naturally, Wal-Mart is not down with this or any other labor bill that benefits its employees, and while it "claims" it is not telling anyone how to vote, it has made its message clear to its employees:  Vote for Obama and you’ll be sorry.  More on this in the Wall Street Journal: Wal-Mart Warns of Democratic Win.  Definitely check out the anti-Wal-Mart website, for more details.  Send them a donation to help them further a cause that not only affects Wal-Mart workers, but workers throughout the U.S.

Remember HIV/AIDS?  A deadly epidemic that struck our communities some 25 years ago? Some people think, especially in this country, that HIV/AIDS has gone away.  Well, they are wrong. 
In a speech given on December 1, 2006, World AIDS Day, Kofi Annan declared HIV/AIDS to be the greatest challenge of our generation. This dreaded infectious disease has claimed the lives of over 25 million people worldwide and infected 40 million more. In the United States alone, 1.2 million are infected with the HIV virus and more than 500,000 have died. No virus has been as well studied or understood as the human immunodeficiency virus, yet we are far from controlling this pandemic.

The Aids Pandemic

Well, the 17th International AIDS Conference-2008 in Mexico City recently concluded its week-long meeting to discuss the current state of the pandemic.  The AIDS Conference-2008 is an independent community resource sponsored by Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)  which was attended by over 25,000 delegates.  This year’s conference covered topics such as: (1)  the need to redirect U.S. resources away from war and towards the domestic and global AIDS crises; (2) Presidential candidates Obama and McCain on AIDS; (3) the rise of HIV infection rates in key communities, most dramatically in Black gay men; (4) how the HIV/AIDS epidemic is intertwined with the system of mass imprisonment including social, political and economic disparities; and (5) questions about treatment, clinical trials and effective prevention strategies.  To further illuminate some of the issues the delegates discussed, check out the report below:
The report, published by the Public Health Watch HIV/AIDS Monitoring Project of the Open Society Institute (OSI), provides the first comprehensive analysis of how the United States is responding to the domestic AIDS epidemic and calls on the U.S. government to step up prevention and treatment efforts.
Based on extensive consultation with experts and review of U.S. AIDS policy and outcomes, the report—HIV/AIDS Policy in the United States: Monitoring the UNGASS Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS—reveals, among other findings, that:
  • U.S. efforts against the disease are uncoordinated, with no national plan for comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, and support.
  • Half the people in the U.S. who need HIV treatment are not receiving it.
  • The number of new HIV infections in the U.S.—40,000 a year—has not decreased in over a decade.
  • HIV/AIDS continues to have a devastating impact on communities of color, gay men and men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and the poor.
America has no deficit of dedicated scientists, health care workers or prevention providers, but chronic rates of HIV incidence and inadequate access to care reveal a shocking level of systems failure,” said Chris Collins, the report’s author and Public Health Watch consultant. “This is not the fault of any one president or Congress, but an ongoing shared responsibility. Still, this report shows that the federal government is becoming even less responsive to the growing needs of those most affected by the epidemic here at home.”

While publicity campaigns have countered the often vitriolic and homophobic perception of HIV/AIDS, making the general public aware of the dangers of the disease to people of all sexual orientations, not enough has been done in recent years.  AIDS, for some reason, has fallen off the urgency radar, and needs to be put back on.  Today, HIV/AIDS threatens the welfare and well being of people throughout the world. At the end of the year 2007, 33.2 million people were living with HIV and during the year 2.1 million died from AIDS-related illness. Combating stigma and discrimination against people who are affected by HIV/AIDS is as important as developing new medicines in the process of preventing and controlling the global epidemic.  We need to stand firm when it comes to financing HIV/AIDS programs, including research and educating the public about testing and practicing safe sex. "Just Say No" is just not enough!

Speaking of sex, Sexual assault in military ‘jaw dropping,’ lawmaker says appeared in a recent CNN report, but really, is it “jaw dropping”?  Sexual assault in the military has been going on for years, with servicemen attacking civilians and service women.  Yes, service women.  To the extent that nowadays, most military camps have posted signs in female showers and other locations that require U.S. servicewomen to be in the company of a "battle buddy" especially at night, for their safety.  But there’s more!  There has even been an emergence of sexual assault amongst gay men and men who have sex with men.  Yikes!   But let’s be for real.  According to the report below, the records of rape prosecutions date back as early as 1780.
Rape by Military Personnel has been notoriously common throughout the history of warfare, leading many to view rape as an inevitable concomitant of war. Gen. George S. Patton remarked during the American occupation of Morocco in 1942 that “in spite of my most diligent efforts, there would unquestionably be some raping.” In recent years, however, change has begun to be seen in American military attitudes and policy on rape. By the early 1990s, each service had announced a policy of “zero tolerance” of sexual assault or harassment by personnel. The longterm effects of such policy change remain to be seen. Relatively little is known about the actual historical incidence of rape by American military personnel. No systematic compilations exist of rape incidence prior to World War II. However, individual records of rape prosecutions dating back to the earliest years of the republic can be found. George Washington's notes for 22 July 1780 indicate that a Thomas Brown of the Seventh Pennsylvania Regiment was sentenced to death for rape. The few historians who have commented on the subject suggest that the rape incidence during the Civil War was relatively low. Rape by nonAmericans during World War I has been written about frequently, yet rape by U.S. personnel in that war has not been explored in any comprehensive way.For World War II, comprehensive statistics of prosecutions of American military personnel are available for the European theater of operations. Those statistics indicate that rape was extensive. Indeed, rape of French women was sufficiently pervasive to cause Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters to issue a directive to U.S. Army commanders announcing the general's “grave concern,” and instructing that speedy and appropriate punishments be administered.
Courtmartial statistics are available also for the Korean War and the Vietnam War. From 31 May 1951 through 30 May 1953, twentythree U.S. Army personnel in Korea were convicted of rape, and nine of assault with intent to rape. In Vietnam, from 1 January 1965 to 31 January 1973, twenty army personnel and one air force man were convicted of rape, and fourteen army personnel were convicted of attempted rape or assault with intent to commit rape. In Vietnam (1970–73), one navy serviceman and thirteen Marine Corpsmen were convicted of rape. According to many reports, however, these conviction numbers in no way reflect the actual number of incidents.
During the Persian Gulf War, twentyfour female American military personnel were subjected to rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault by American military men, according to official records.

The problem here is our government's policies and how they are structured.  The military pretty much gets to do whatever it wants when it comes to prosecuting and punishing its own (which is usually minimal, if not at all).  There has never been any true statistics as to how many civilians and service women and men have been attacked, how many reported or not reported, and so on.  As far as I am concerned, one attack is horrifying in itself.

Of course, this Administration has not been very big on handling legal issues in a jurisprudential manner that protects its citizens' constitutional rights (see Rape Hobbles Bush Administration Policies).  Instead of being "in shock and awe" and responding with "jaw dropping" rhetoric, we need to do something and do it soon before our military loses all its credibility.  Sexual assault and rape of women in countries where US military forces are stationed must be stopped, as must the rape of one in three women in the US military by their fellow military service members.  What is disturbing is how poorly this problem is being handled. Those in positions of authority from junior NCOs to the stars at the top of the food chain need to be held personally accountable.  

That's it for now.  Check out more articles in the POLITICS and MEDIA/ARTS sections.  See you next week!

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