DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ A.K.A. DEBBIE WASHERWOMAN SCHULTZ IS COMING UNDER FIRE AND, FOR A CHANGE, IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HER GREASY HAIR OR OILY SKIN.
WASHERWOMAN'S BEING CALLED OUT FOR HER GROSS FAVORITISM OF CRANKY CLINTON -- THE FAVORITISM THAT'S SAID TO BE OUT OF BOUNDS FOR THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIR.
REACHED FOR COMMENT, DEBBIE TOLD THESE REPORTERS, "I'LL SOONER WASH MY HAIR THAN TURN MY BACK ON CRANKY. IT'S MY JOB TO ENSURE THAT SHE GETS THE PARTY'S NOMINATION. UNTIL THEN, EVERYTHING IS ON HOLD -- INCLUDING SHAVING MY BACK FUR."
The end of the year brings good news and bad news.
On the good news side, Tara Copp (STARS AND STRIPES) reports, "A federal district court on Jan. 21 will consider the scope of a lawsuit alleging soldiers’ exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan led to serious respiratory illnesses and deaths and whether government contractor KBR, Inc. is responsible for the way the pits were operated."
The burn pits?
"While I was stationed at Balad, I experienced the effects of the massive burn pit that burned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The ten-acre pit was located in the northwest corner of the base. An acrid, dark black smoke from the pit would accumulate and hang low over the base for weeks at a time. Every spot on the base was touched by smoke from the pit; everyone who served at the base was exposed to the smoke. It was almost impossible to escape, even in our living units," L. Russell Keith explained to the Democratic Policy Committee November 6, 2009. Keith worked for KBR in Iraq at Joint Base Balad from March 2006 through July 2007. Like many service members and contractors, he was unnecessarily exposed to toxins which put his life at risk.
The Chair of the DPC, Senator Byron Dorgan, noted at the start of that day's hearing, "Today we're going to have a discussion and have a hearing on how, as early as 2002, US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan began relying on open-air burn pits -- disposing of waste materials in a very dangerous manner. And those burn pits included materials such as hazardous waste, medical waste, virtually all of the waste without segregation of the waste, put in burn pits. We'll hear how there were dire health warnings by Air Force officials about the dangers of burn pit smoke, the toxicity of that smoke, the danger for human health. We'll hear how the Department of Defense regulations in place said that burn pits should be used only in short-term emergency situations -- regulations that have now been codified. And we will hear how, despite all the warnings and all the regulations, the Army and the contractor in charge of this waste disposal, Kellogg Brown & Root, made frequent and unnecessary use of these burn pits and exposed thousands of US troops to toxic smoke."
At that day's hearing, Lt Col Darrin Curtis was among the witnesses and we'll note this exchange he had with Senator Dorgan.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Mr. Curtis, why did you decide to write the 2006 memorandum? And did anyone else at that point share your concerns about the health impact of burn pits?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, Senator, they did. The Chief of Air Space Medicine had the same concerns I did. The memo was initially written so that we could expedite the installation of the incinerators. From my understanding, there were spending limits of monies with health issues and not health issues so I wanted to write the report to show that there are health issues associated with burn pits so that we could hopefully accelerate the installation of the incinerators.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Of the type of burn pit you saw in Iraq in 2006 -- that's some while after the war began and infrastructure had been created and so on except without incinerators -- if something of that nature were occurring in a neighborhood here in Washington DC or any American city, what are the consequences to them?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: At least fines and possibly jail.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Because?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Of the regulations that are out there today.
Chair Byron Dorgan: Because it's a serious risk to human health?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: Yes, sir.
Chair Byron Dorgan: You say that when you arrived in Iraq an inspector for the US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine -- which is CHPPM -- told you that the Balad burn pit was the worst environmental site that he has seen and that included the ten years he had performed environmental clean up for the Army and Defense's Logistic Agency. And yet in your testimony, you also say that CHPPM has done this study and says adverse health risks are unlikely. So you're talking about an inspector from CHPPM that says 'this is the worst I've seen' and then a report comes out later from CHPPM that says: "Adverse health risks are unlikely. Long-term health effects are not expected to occur from breathing the smoke." Contradiction there and why?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think any organization, you're going to have people with differences of opinion. But at CHPPM, I'm sure that was the same-same outcome there. Cause I don't know if that individual --
Chair Byron Dorgan: (Overlapping) Do you think that CHPPM -- do you think CHPPM assessment that's been relied on now is just wrong?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: (Overlapping) I think -- I think -- Senator, I think the hard line that there is no health effects is a -- is a very strong comment that we don't have the data to say. Do we have the data to say that it is a health risk? I don't think we have that either. But I do not think we have the data to say there is no health risk.
Chair Byron Dorgan: You are a bio-environmental engineer what is -- what is your own opinion? Without testing or data, you saw the burn pits, you were there, you hear the testimony of what went in the burn pits, you hear Dr. Szema's assessment. What's your assessment?
Lt Col Darrin Curtis: I think we're going to look at a lot of sick people later on.
And a lot of people have gotten sick and a lot of people have died.
In October of 2010 the GAO (US Government Accountability Office) released a report [PDF format warning] entitled "AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ: DOD Should Improve Adherence to Its Guidance on Open Pit Burning and Solid Waste Management." The report opens with:
The military has relied heavily on open pit burning in both conflicts, and operators of burn pits have not always followed relevant guidance to protect servicemembers from exposure to harmful emissions. According to DOD, U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq generate about 10 pounds of solid waste per soldier each day. The military has relied on open pit burning to dispose of this waste mainly because of its expedience. In August 2010, CENTCOM estimated there were 251 burn pits in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq.
[. . .]
Lawsuits have been filed in federal court in at least 43 states in which current and former servicemembers have alleged, among other things, that a contractor's negligent management of burn pit operations, contrary to applicable contract provisions, exposed them to air pollutants that subsequently caused serious health problems. The contractor has moved to dismiss the suits, arguing, among other things, that it cannot be held liable for any injuries that may have occurred to service personnel because all its burn pit activities occurred at the direction of the military.
Today, the victims and their loved ones have a chance at justice.
A chance at justice.
The federal district court decision to hear the case is big news.
On the bad news side for veterans?
Homeless veterans still exist in the United States. That's news today -- news for being yet another broken promise.
As David Greene (NPR's MORNING EDITION) noted last week, "The Obama administration says it wants to end homelessness among veterans by the end of this year. Well, that is not going to happen." Anjali Shastry (WASHINGTON TIMES) explains, "Despite five years and billions of dollars, President Obama failed to meet his goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, though officials say they have cut the rate by 36 percent and made progress with better care for veterans in communities across the country."
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