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US Special Forces struggle with record rate of suicides

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Click to enlarge – “Have to trust someone to be betrayed. I never did.”

Suicides among U.S. special operations forces, including elite Navy SEALs and Army Rangers, are at record levels, a U.S. military official said on Thursday, citing the effects of more than a decade of “hard combat.”

The number of special operations forces committing suicide has held at record highs for the past two years, said Admiral William McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command…

It may take a year or more, he said, to assess the effects of sustained combat on special operations units, whose missions range from strikes on militants such as the 2011 SEAL raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden to assisting in humanitarian disasters.

He did not provide data on the suicide rate, which the U.S. military has been battling to lower. In 2012, for example, more active duty servicemen and servicewomen across the U.S. armed forces died by suicide – an estimated 350 – than died in combat, a U.S. defense official said.

That trend appears to have held in 2013 although preliminary data is showing a slight improvement, with 284 suicides among active duty forces in the year to December 15, the official added…

Kim Ruocco, who assists the survivors of military members who commit suicide, said members of the closely knit special operations community often fear that disclosing their symptoms will end their careers.

Additionally, the shrinking size of the U.S. armed forces has put additional pressure on soldiers, whose sense of community and self-identity is often closely tied to their military service, said Ruocco, director of suicide prevention programs for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, an advocacy group for military families.

It’s my guess that disclosing fear, suicidal tendencies, any questions of survival will absolutely be interpreted as weakness and inability to make “the mission” more important than life itself. Very few military units have ever developed an understanding of human emotions beyond convincing troops that killing folks is more important than anything else.

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Written by Ed Campbell

April 18, 2014 at 8:00 am

The US is an oligarchy — not a democracy

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Citizen-United-Corp-Lobbyist

Oligarchy is a form of government in which power is vested in a dominant class and a small group exercises control over the general population.

A new study from Princeton and Northwestern Universities concluded that the U.S. government represents not the interests of the majority of citizens but those of the rich and powerful.

“Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” analyzed extensive data, comparing nearly 1,800 U.S. policies enacted between 1981 and 2002 with the expressed preferences of average and affluent Americans as well as special interest groups.

The resulting data empirically verifies that U.S. policies are determined by the economic elite…

What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens.

In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

The report consoles that “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association” but goes on to warn that “we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

“You think you’re so clever and classless and free -
“but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see!” — John Lennon, 1970

You can read the whole study over here.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Research OK — doesn’t say anything about Reefer Madness!

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Correlation does not equal causation, and a single exam cannot show a trend over time. Basic stuff, right?

But judging by coverage of a study just out in the Journal of Neuroscience, these are apparently foreign concepts for many folks in the media.

In the study, researchers at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital and Northwestern University in Chicago performed MRI brain scans on 20 young adult “casual” marijuana users and 20 age- and sex-matched nonusers. They found that, in the users, gray matter densities in the nucleus accumbens were higher than in controls, and the right amygdala and left nucleus accumbens were shaped differently.

Interesting, but remember that these findings only reflected differences between the marijuana users and controls at a single point in time. The researchers did not, could not, demonstrate that the differences resulted from marijuana smoking or even that the “abnormalities” relative to controls reflected changes from some earlier state.

You wouldn’t know that from the media coverage.

RTFA for a small sampling of almost universal crap

…Note that the study did not identify any cognitive or behavioral abnormalities in the cannabis users versus controls — it was strictly an MRI study.

That, however, didn’t stop senior author Hans Breiter, MD, of Northwestern from opining in the SfN press release that the study “raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences.”

Um, no, it doesn’t — not without before-and-after MRI scans showing brain structure changes in users that differ from nonusers and documentation of functional impairments associated with those changes.

Further studies may – or may not – indicate one or another cause-and-effect relationship. That kind of study must be constructed differently than this one. And hopefully the press release and editors who get the email won’t be in a hurry to construe the study as something it isn’t.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 17, 2014 at 2:00 am

Gun safety campaigns merge to form grassroots approach

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background checks

A new gun control campaign backed by $50 million from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged on Wednesday to focus its efforts outside Washington, claiming to be the first nationwide movement to rival the National Rifle Association.

Despite initial attention on wealthy backers such as Bloomberg and Warren Buffett, leaders of the group, Everytown For Gun Safety, insisted their strategy differs from previous attempts at reform because they would seek to influence politicians through grassroots campaigning rather than primarily by lobbying Congress…

The two groups merging to form Everytown – Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – already have 34,000 smaller donors, insisted Feinblatt, who rejects the top-down characterisation of the group by its opponents.

Everytown aims to grow the groups’ combined membership from 1.5m to 2.5m over the next year, through a range of initiatives from a traditional political action committee through to “stroller jams” and “diaper-dumps” outside city hall offices, said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action…

A year ago on Thursday, attempts to pass limited background checks on gun buyers fell five votes short of the 60 needed to make progress in the US Senate despite a wave of national revulsion following the Newtown shooting.

All but three of the 45 senators who blocked passage of the bill had received campaign contributions from firearms lobbyists, and they raised record sums from their members and gun manufacturers in the months following Newtown.

But senators who voted against last year’s background check bill, particularly four rebel Democrats, fear the negative political consequences of crossing the NRA far more than direct campaign contributions.

Some of this is due to spending on attack ads against reformers running in conservative states, but Everytown concedes much of it is also due to the effective political mobilisation of gun rights campaigners.

The ideologues who think they can maintain their position of prominence and control of political hacks – Congressional and closer to home – are whistling in the dark. If they had brains to match their hubris they might look around their Conservative Fortress and wonder what ever happened to the George Wallace Brigade, the Birchers who pledged a battle to the death against miscegenation, the much larger Legions of Christian Wrath defending biblical definitions of marriage [other than polygamy, ahem]?

Will the conflict between good sense and regulation for safe ownership of firearms on one hand versus nutball fanatics who believe every felon has as much right to a gun as the cops trying to arrest them – last for years? You betcha. In the end, will generations growing up in mainly urban and urbane America find politics which needs a Beretta to have balls, an Uzi to protect a uterus – to be nothing more than demented? You betcha.

That’s the confidence side of my cynicism.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 16, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Because of clerical error, he never served prison sentence

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The state of Missouri let a man convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to prison roam free…For thirteen years.

In 1999, Cornealious “Mike” Anderson, of St. Louis was convicted for the armed robbery of a Burger King manager who was making the night drop and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

He paid his bond and went back to his life while going through the appeals process.

When a judge rejected his final appeal, he waited for word on when to surrender himself to the penal system, but word never came.

And he kept waiting…For a long time…He also kept busy.

Anderson met a girl, fell in love, took up the trade of carpentry, had four children, started his own contracting business, joined a church, started coaching youth sports.

Years passed. Over a decade. And only last summer when his sentence “ended” did officials notice he was never actually incarcerated and sent U.S. Marshals to his family’s quiet house in the suburbs to finally lock him away.

Anderson was arrested and is currently waiting behind bars for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to respond to a petition for his release…“I never felt like a fugitive, because a fugitive’s someone that’s running from the law,’’ he said. “I never ran from the law. I was there.”

“This man is not a fugitive,” Anderon’s attorney Patrick Michael Megaro said. “He didn’t try to hide.”

“Even the victim himself went on record and said, ‘I don’t think this guy should be in jail,’” Megaro added.

Nearly 14,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org asking for Anderson’s release…

[Almost up to 20,000 signatures at post time]

“He built a business, he built a house,” said Megaro. “He never changed his name. He owned a corporation. He did everything by the book. He pays his taxes. He coaches football. He goes to church. For 13 years, what more do you want a man to do?”

The current prosecutor unsurprisingly wants him sent to jail. What that would achieve other than satisfy breast-beating Old Testament fundamentalists – or help with vote-getting among that same crowd next election – is beyond reason.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 15, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Portrait of the Artist hidden in the portrait

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Click to enlarge

Artist Liu Bolin paints his body to merge with his background. Liu’s first solo exhibition, The Heroic Apparition, is at the Scream gallery in London until 9 May. This picture is entitled Hiding in Colombia – Mochilas

I love this stuff.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 14, 2014 at 2:00 am

Photos from Japan’s Festival of the Steel Phallus

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Click to enlarge

Lots more photos.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Written by Ed Campbell

April 13, 2014 at 8:00 pm

America’s ten least healthy cities

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smoking, obesity, no exercise

There’s no doubt that great strides have been made in Americans’ health over the years. Americans smoke less, are more likely to be insured and live longer. However, significant health disparities remain across the nation, influenced by individual choices, the community and clinical care.

To determine the well-being of Americans, Gallup-Healthways surveyed hundreds of thousands of Americans in 189 metropolitan areas in the United States in 2012 and 2013. The survey recorded the physical and emotional health of the residents, as well as measuring job satisfaction and access to basic needs. The resulting Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index allows for comparisons between places and over time.

Not surprisingly, the physical health of residents was influenced by their habits. While less than 20% of Americans surveyed were smokers, more than 34% of Charleston, W.Va., residents smoked, the most in the nation. Residents also reported among the highest rates of obesity in the country…

According to Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, there is a clear relationship between poor physical health outcomes, such as obesity, and many of these habits. “When you’re talking about obesity, the big three are healthy eating, exercise, and smoking…”

AMERICA’S LEAST HEALTHY CITIES:

10. Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, Ark.

9. Spartanburg, S.C.

8. Chattanooga, Tenn.-Ga.

7. Clarksville, Tenn.-Ky.

6. Fort Smith, Ark.-Okla.

5. Redding, Calif.

4. Columbus, Ga.-Ala.

3. Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, Tenn.-Va.

2. Charleston, W.Va.

1. Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio

RTFA for the depressing details. Each metro area is rated for a physical health index, obesity, blood pressure and poverty rate. Following notes describe contributing factors – without having the courage to confront politics and ideology.

Fact is – nine of these ten unhealthiest cities are in the old [and new] Confederacy. You’re looking at the actual achievements of Tea Party and right-wing Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and True Believers in fundamentalist religion. This is the reality they offer to Americans gullible enough, ignorant enough to vote them into power.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm

God sues Equifax for reporting that he has no financial history

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Even God has credit rating problems.

A Brooklyn man is suing Equifax for reporting that he has no financial history because the credit-reporting agency’s system won’t recognize his first name.

God Gazarov was named after his grandfather.

Gazarov filed a federal lawsuit on Friday after more than two years of fighting with the agency. He claims that the agency’s refusal to accept his name as legitimate stopped him from buying an Infiniti car last year.

According to the 26-year-old, an Equifax customer service employee suggested that he change his name to fix the problem.

The owner of the Gold Hard Cash jewelry store claims he has scores of more than 720 with TransUnion and Experian.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Gazarov told the New York Post. “I worked hard to get good credit to look good to lenders and this happens.”

What idiots. What do they do about Hispanics named Jesus or Muslims named Mohammed? Naming your kid after your favorite deity or prophet is pretty common in many communities.

When you run into a CSR this dumb, usually you’re OK just politely saying Goodbye – and calling back in a few hours. The odds are you’ll catch someone with more than half a brain the second time. Or third.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 12, 2014 at 8:00 am

Religious nutballs fear GOP can’t handle convention in Las Vegas

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Religious conservatives are urging the GOP to scratch Sin City off its list of potential locations for the 2016 Republican National Convention..Advocates are concerned that Las Vegas’ reputation as a gambling and prostitution haven will discourage conservatives from attending the event and that the city is a “trap waiting to ensnare” convention attendees.

“The GOP is supposedly interested in reaching out to conservatives and evangelicals. Maybe that’s just a front, but if they really mean it this is not the way to do it,” James Dobson, founder of Family Talk, a Christian radio show that broadcasts across the United States, told the paper. “Even though Vegas has tried to shore itself up and call itself family-friendly, it’s still a metaphor for decadence. There’s still 64 pages of escort services in the yellow pages.”

Dobson, along with leaders of the American Family Association, Eagle Forum, the Traditional Values Coalition, and Family-PAC sent a letter to Republican chairman Reince Priebus warning him to choose another destination…

Las Vegas has a strong lobbying campaign behind it. The team includes casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who spent over $98 million on GOP candidates in 2012, resort businessman Stephen Wynn, and Washington political strategists, according to the New York Times. Andrea Lafferty, president of the Traditional Values Coalition, told The Dallas Morning News that while she supports Adelson, she fears that with all of the escorts and prostitutes available in the Las Vegas area, she “can see all the setups that are going to take place.”

Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative blog RedState.com, also expressed concern about the GOP choosing Las Vegas. “Good Christian delegates getting drunk, gambling, stuffing dollar bills in strippers’ g-strings, etc. will be the toast of not just MSNBC, but the front page of the New York Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, the Huffington Post, and more.” he wrote…

Guess he knows the stuff his troops are really made of, eh?

Written by Ed Campbell

April 11, 2014 at 8:00 pm

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