August 29th, 2006


Wake Island faces direct hit by Ioke.

Last night, I heard some good news about Super-typhoon Ioke, in that it looked like it would miss Wake Atoll by about 50 miles and only hit it with 75 mph winds, and while I'm relieved that they got everyone off the island today, it's sad to hear that National Weather Service forecaster Jeff Powell has said "Ioke will probably submerge the island and destroy everything that's not made of concrete." Current predictions show Ioke, the fifth-strongest storm ever seen in the Central Pacific, coming right over the island.

Pretty unfortunate, as it appears to be a beautiful place, with good diving and great fishing. (Mmmm... fresh Ahi sashimi!) 

Wake also contains historic memorials for the Marines, U.S. civilians, and Japanese soldiers who died there during WWII. Approximately 450 Marines and Navy personnel -- with the help of civilian workers -- fought off the Japanese for two weeks after Pearl Harbor, repulsed an amphibious invasion, sunk two Japanese destroyers, one submarine, damaged a cruiser and eight other destroyers, shot down 21 aircraft, and killed approximately 1000 Japanese soldiers in the defense of the island.

Wake was the site of a massacre of American POWs. One of the historical monuments of Wake is called the "98 Rock", a memorial for the 98 U.S. Prisoners of War who were forced by their Japanese captors to rebuild the airstrip as slave labor, then blindfolded and killed with machine guns on October 5th, 1943. An unidentified prisoner escaped, and scratched "98 US PW 5-10-43" on a large coral rock near their mass grave. The prisoner was recaptured and beheaded by the Japanese commander, who was later convicted and executed for war crimes. 

The island currently serves as an emergency airbase and has been closed to tourists for several years. All I can hope is that after the hurricane, the island will be rediscovered by the public somehow.

They're not brain damaged... they're our leaders!

The Republican-controlled House and Senate are pushing through a Pentagon-supported defense appropriation bill that will chop funding for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center from $14 million to $7 million. The center runs 10 facilities across the country, that have performed research and treated soldiers' injuries since 1998.

It's just ridiculous," said Sgt. Maj. Colin Rich, a Fort Bragg soldier who has been legally blind since he was shot in the head while serving in Afghanistan in 2002. "Whoever is cutting the budget must have a head injury themselves. With the bombs, the gunshot wounds and everything else . . . they need that money."

The Pentagon asked only for $7 million and didn't respond properly when congressional staffers tried to find out whether it needed more money for the program, said Jenny Manley, a spokeswoman for the Senate appropriations committee. That said, Congress haven't removed the proposed cuts as yet, even though the Veterans of Foriegn Wars have spoken out against it voiciferously

"Honestly, they would have loved to have funded it, but there were just so many priorities," says Jenny Manley, spokeswoman for the Senate Appropriations Committee. George Zitnay, co-founder of the center, testified before a Senate subcommittee in May that body armor saves troops caught in blasts but leaves many with brain damage. "Traumatic brain injury is the signature injury of the war on terrorism," he testified. 

The House of Representatives approved its version of the spending bill June 20. A vote in the Senate is pending. So far, it looks like it looks likely to pass, because it is bundled in with the rest of the Defense budget, that our representatives don't dare to oppose.

Zitnay asked for $19 million, and 34 Democratic and six Republican members of Congress  -- the members of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force -- signed a letter endorsing the budget request. Soldiers and veterans, if you want to know which of your politicians have taken the time to look out for you on this issue thus far, here they are

Please note how many big names are not on there. No sign of John McCain, or of Hillary Clinton, for example. That doesn't mean that these politicians are necessarily against adding another $7 or $12 million to the budget, however... especially if put on the spot. If your local representative isn't on this list, perhaps you'd like to give 'em a call and ask why... or at least determine if they plan to oppose the $7 million budget cut. And if you hear anything from them, please let me know. 

So, what is the Pentagon afraid of? It's not the extra $7 or $12 million that it will cost to fully fund the treatment centers and allow doctors to diagnore soldiers whose concussions have caused them injury. No, they're afraid of the billions it will cost to provide treatment and care to these veterans.

As of March 31, the Pentagon reported about 1,200 traumatic brain injuries as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Experts say the real total is much higher because closed-head injuries in particular -- those where there is no obvious wound -- often go undiagnosed. The proportion of head injuries is higher in Iraq than in past wars partly because roadside bombs and suicide car bombs are often the weapons of choice for insurgents. Troops caught in blasts often live but can be jolted so badly by the shock wave that their brains are injured by smacking against the inside of their skulls.

So really, by slashing funding for diagnosing and treating brain injuries in half, not only will the Pentagon save $7 million this upcoming year, it will save many additional millions -- or possibly billions -- down the road, as undiagnosed, untreated veterans are left to fend for themselves with ailments that aren't officially recognized as wartime injuries... and so far, the Republican Senate appears ready to sign off on the deal. 

The longterm effects of head injuries are the Agent Orange of this war, and the Pentagon doesn't want to deal with the full ramifications and costs of what their own doctors are telling them, so they've engaged in a conspiracy to cover it up, not treat soldiers they know are injured while they can still be helped, and write these injured soldiers off the books, as they would get in the way of buying another stealth bomber or two. Undiagnosed brain injuries *simply don't exist*.

If you wish to avoid the ugliness of that analysis, however, you can view it as just some simple "accounting glitch".

"Dang... we cut funding for perhaps the most vitally needed medical treatment for our recently wounded soldiers. Oops!!" 

Oops indeed. 

For those who think this must be some kind of horrible mix-up, please be sure to ignore the fact that the Pentagon refuses to release information on how many soldiers have suffered brain injuries, as that could lead to unwanted doubts or questioning. Can't have that. 

Obviiously, those people are not injured veterans with longterm medical disabilities. They're tomorrow's homeless. So stop patronizing them! They'd only spend the money on booze anyway...

(In retrospect, I should apologize to those veterans who have suffered head trauma. Comparing them to our leaders is unfair. A soldier who suffered a traumatic brain injury would still be smart enough not to cut funding for his buddies, whereas our politicians -- and various leaders inside the Pentagon -- are prone to be cold, calculating bastards who pay lip service to America's veterans, while screwing them over in order to keep overhead low. This is not a new thing. People must suffer and sometimes die to keep America free. And hey, isn't that what our troops signed up for in the first place?! )


Whistleblowing via YouTube.

A former Systems Engineer for Lockheed-Martin has used YouTube to blow the whistle on the safety and security of Coast Guard vessels, claiming that their communications systems are not secure and can be easily monitored, their security cameras have gaping blind spots that could allow people to board ships and head straight for the control room, and that their instrumentation is not suitable for use and was not properly and fully inspected for sub-zero temperatures.

Pretty cool -- albeit low-tech -- use of the site, I think... and worth investigating.

More storm warnings.

Looks like SuperTyphoon Ioke will be hitting Wake Atoll about 20 hours or so from now -- there's a lot of Pacific Ocean to cross -- but the latest storm track may have another potential unpleasant surprise in store

See that bit of land in the upper left of the track which Ioke is heading towards? The one located at approximately 35 degreen N, 140 degrees E? Well, guess where that is?!

 RSMC Tokyo will be making forecasts as it gets closer to Japan. Fortunately, they predict that Ioke will weaken somewhat as it gets closer to Tokyo... which is just as well, as it's heading more or less straight for it, according to the Navy forecast.

Meanwhile, while Ernesto turned out to be a puffball after drenching Cuba, there's yet another hurricane out there...

Hurricane John, currently off the west coast of Mexico, heading Northwest, up the coast towards Baja Mexico, and then supposedly out to sea. It's currently offshore of Acapulco, giving it a good drenching, but it should stay far enough away to avoid major wind damage. That said,  John is moving north, and could get close enough to Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Baja California to cause significant wind and flooding damage there.