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Author: TriSec    Date: 01/31/2012 11:31:24

Good Morning.

Today is our 3,768th day in Afghanistan.

We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:

US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,889
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 991

We find this morning's Cost of War passing through:

$ 1, 297, 572, 700, 000 .00

Since today is Primary day in the fine state of Florida, we'll start with some election news. Like all citizens, soldiers are entitled to vote in any and all elections held in the US. But it's a little more difficult logistically. You'd think that they'd be able to register and vote on the base, and you'd be correct for those soldiers that have a permanent address in the United States, whether on-base or off.

Overseas though, the rules are a little different. You stay registered in your "home" district, and all voting is by absentee ballot. I myself have a relative that married a Canadian citizen, and has spent the better part of 5 decades as an ex-pat living in Toronto. However, she never renounced her American citizenship, and has remained on the voter rolls in Lynnfield, MA to this day...and still votes by absentee ballot every year.

For those 'defending our liberties', you'd think the process would be easy, but it hasn't always been. However, there's some encouraging news, and it's hoped that the process will be much easier this November than in past years.

WASHINGTON — Voting experts anticipate fewer problems for military and overseas absentee voters in this November’s presidential election, thanks to more online tools and more accommodating deadlines from states.

However, overseas voting advocacy groups say more still needs to be done to help those citizens participate in all elections.

A new study released by the Pew Center on the States said that all but four states have adjusted their laws and deadlines to ensure that ballots are sent to absentee voters at least 45 days before the election, ensuring they have adequate time to fill out and return the documents.

For the last decade, late-arriving ballots have been the top reason that absentee votes are discounted by state election officials, according to data from the Election Assistance Commission. In 2009, Pew researchers found that 26 states did not give overseas citizens enough time to submit their absentee votes, leading to thousands of discarded ballots.

“But the vast majority of states have enacted reforms since then,” said Sean Greene, project manager of election initiatives for the Pew Center. “Overseas voters are in a better position now than they were in any previous elections.”

Researchers also noted dramatic improvements in online voting tolls in the last four years and anticipate they’ll help cut down on ballot delivery and return times as well.

In 2008, only 20 states allowed overseas voters to receive blank ballots via fax or email. This year, all 50 states and the District of Columbia will allow those citizens to get emailed ballots.

That’s a critical improvement, according to Bob Carey, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

“In my time in the military, I’ve had several different addresses,” he said. “But I’ve always had the same [email address]. That’s never going to change.”

The Pew study was released Friday at the annual Overseas Vote Foundation’s annual summit. Last year, a survey by the group found that nearly one-third of overseas voters who wanted to participate in the 2010 national elections could not successfully cast a ballot — because of mismailed paperwork, too-tight deadlines and other common frustrations.

That was actually an improvement over 2008. OVF officials surveying after that election found that nearly half of overseas citizens who requested ballots did not successfully vote.

OVF and Pew officials said that more can be done to help overseas voters, particularly in the four states that still have unworkable mailing deadlines for absentee ballots: Alaska, California, New York and West Virginia.

Pew researchers noted that Alabama, Alaska, Virginia and Wisconsin still require a notary or witness to validate the ballots before they are mailed back, another significant obstacle to participation. And 16 states do not recognize the federal write-in absentee ballot for state and local contests, even though that document is designed to be a ballot of last-resort for any election.

Speakers at the summit also cautioned against rapid adoption of online voting tools beyond the blank ballots, noting that many concerns still exist with how those votes would be counted and secured.

Nearly 321,000 troops overseas and in the United States successfully cast absentee ballots in the 2008 presidential election, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

We'll jump in our time machine for a brief visit to 1991 Iraq. We all know about Gulf War Syndrome, a baffling and sometimes debilitating disease that has affected thousands of returning vets from that conflict. Over the ensuing decades, vast amounts of research has been done regarding the cause and possible cures, with little overall success. However, the lead culprit seems to be any number of toxins and heavy metals left over from the fighting, not the least of which is the leftover depleted uranium shells fired en masse by A-10s over the desert. The research continues, and now with a new crop of soldiers returning from Iraq, there are some disturbing discoveries.

Researchers at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York have determined that a soldier who deployed to Iraq is now carrying particles of titanium, iron and copper in his lungs.

In a letter published this month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Stony Brook Assistant Professor of Surgery and Medicine Dr. Anthony Szema wrote that samples of a service member’s open lung biopsy were found to contain the heavy metals.

Open lung tissue biopsies done on troops who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have been shown to sparkle with crystalline material, as noted by researchers Dr. Robert Miller of Vanderbilt University and Dr. Matthew King of Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tenn.

But until now, scientists have not determined exactly what the particles were.

“I was at a barbecue speaking to my colleagues and learned that a method to identify the material was available just down the road at Brookhaven National Laboratory,” Szema said.

He sent the biopsy slides to the laboratory, which used its National Synchrotron Light Source, a facility-sized machine that uses bright beams of x-rays, ultraviolent and infrared light for research, to analyze the material.

“The patient had hot spots all over his lungs,” Szema said.

The soldier, identified as a laundry staff supervisor in Iraq and Kuwait, had been diagnosed with nonspecific interstitial pneumonitis, a type of pneumonia that can’t be categorized into existing patterns, as well as bronchiolitis.

The soldier said he had not worked around grinding apparatus or industrial paint, both common sources for occupational exposure to the metals, but admitted to breathing in airborne dust from “the laundry facility, improvised explosive device blasts, sandstorms, burn pits and the occasional cigar.”

Szema’s work is part of an ongoing effort to determine why some service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have respiratory problems.

“What makes healthy individuals who have never had asthma end up in wheelchairs on oxygen, or a 34-year-old non-smoker who has near-normal [physical fitness tests] but is short of breath and has lungs that are totally destroyed? These are the problems we’re trying to solve,” Szema said.

Finally this morning...we will end with some good news. Followers of IAVA and the Rachel Maddow Show know that this past weekend was the first, and so far only, "Welcome Home" parade for our returning veterans. The city of St. Louis turned out to honour our fighting men and women, tinged with the bittersweet reality that many of those marching may be headed back out again to Afghanistan.

ST. LOUIS — Looking around at the tens of thousands of people waving American flags and cheering, Army Maj. Rich Radford was moved that so many braved a cold January wind Saturday in St. Louis to honor people like him: Iraq War veterans.

The parade, borne out of a simple conversation between two St. Louis friends a month ago, was the nation’s first big welcome-home for veterans of the war since the last troops were withdrawn from Iraq in December.

“It’s not necessarily overdue, it’s just the right thing,” said Radford, a 23-year veteran who walked in the parade alongside his 8-year-old daughter, Aimee, and 12-year-old son, Warren.

Radford was among about 600 veterans, many dressed in camouflage, who walked along downtown streets lined with rows of people clapping and holding signs with messages including “Welcome Home” and “Thanks to our Service Men and Women.” Some of the war-tested troops wiped away tears as they acknowledged the support from a crowd that organizers estimated reached 100,000 people.

Fire trucks with aerial ladders hoisted huge American flags in three different places along the route, with politicians, marching bands — even the Budweiser Clydesdales — joining in. But the large crowd was clearly there to salute men and women in the military, and people cheered wildly as groups of veterans walked by.

That was the hope of organizers Craig Schneider and Tom Appelbaum. Neither man has served in the military but came up with the idea after noticing there had been little fanfare for returning Iraq War veterans aside from gatherings at airports and military bases. No ticker-tape parades or large public celebrations.

Appelbaum, an attorney, and Schneider, a school district technical coordinator, decided something needed to be done. So they sought donations, launched a Facebook page, met with the mayor and mapped a route. The grassroots effort resulted in a huge turnout despite raising only about $35,000 and limited marketing.

That marketing included using a photo of Radford being welcomed home from his second tour in Iraq by his then-6-year-old daughter. The girl had reached up, grabbed his hand and said, “I missed you, daddy.” Radford’s sister caught the moment with her cellphone camera, and the image graced T-shirts and posters for the parade.

Veterans came from around the country, and more than 100 entries — including marching bands, motorcycle groups and military units — signed up ahead of the event, Appelbaum said.

Schneider said he was amazed how everyone, from city officials to military organizations to the media, embraced the parade.

“It was an idea that nobody said no to,” he said. “America was ready for this.”

The point here of course, is that this wasn't a big-city effort. It was purely as a result of the hard work of two men, and they somehow rallied the entire city to their cause. There is a small movement on facebook right now stating that if New York or Boston can have a Superbowl parade next week, they really should have a veteran's parade, too.

But if you think your city should have a parade...don't just sit there, do something! I myself have a few days off this week - we'll have the emails burning to City Council and the Mayor's office...and I'll be bending the Mayor's ear at my Blue & Gold banquet in a couple of weeks. Maybe, possibly....we can make this happen in my fair city.

41 comments (Latest Comment: 02/01/2012 04:35:38 by Raine)
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