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I know no more about the Ebola crisis than you, but I served for years on a medical center foundation board, and was often briefed by the hospital administrator. A few years back, she told us her current internal campaign was to convince medical staff to wash their hands before and after patient contact in her hospitals.

That’s right: “WASH YOUR HANDS!”

If basic sanitation instruction and follow-through has been so poor in our hospitals that medical staff doesn’t know enough to consistently wash their hands, it’s not too much of a leap to understand why protocols for handling of suspected Ebola patients are not being properly implemented.

Rodney King Death Today Reminds of a Positive Lesson From LA Riots.

Our decade in Afghanistan has not proven that America can “nation build,” but rather what the limitations of our cultural influence can be, even when backed with trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of troops and workers, and more than a thousand deaths. Now is not the time for us or Karzai to sign an agreement for the continuation of US troop presence in that country. It is time to leave, stop sacrificing lives for culture changes that are not forthcoming. We can continue economic aid. We can continue with some sort of “peace corps” presence. We can continue with some kind of military agreement, but not one that engages thousands of troops on Afghan soil. Let’s admit to ourselves, and to those who have loyally served in support of Afghanistan, that our ambitions there have been substantially inappropriate to the cultural realities, and while our intent has been good, our limitations are tangible. Let’s leave with some grace, wish them well, and refocus our efforts and resources, economic and human, on our domestic issues.

KABUL, Afghanistan –The White House threatened to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year, after President Hamid Karzai refused to sign a new bilateral security agreement.

The two countries remain deadlocked over future military involvement after an unsuccessful working dinner between Ambassador Susan Rice and Karzai at his palace in Kabul on Monday night.

In a statement, the White House said Karzai had outlined new conditions for a deal “and indicated he is not prepared to sign the BSA promptly.”

S. Sabawoon / EPA

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks to the Loya Jirga on Sunday.

“Ambassador Rice reiterated that, without a prompt signature, the U.S. would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

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The dinner meeting came at the end of Rice’s three-day trip to Afghanistan to visit American troops and civilians and to assess conditions in the country.

On Sunday, a grand council of Afghan tribal leaders – the Loya Jirga – voted to accept the BSA, but Karzai has since indicated he may not sign it until Afghanistan has elected a new president in March.

The White House statement added: “Ambassador Rice conveyed the overwhelming and moving support she found among all the Afghans with whom she met for an enduring U.S.-Afghan partnership and for the prompt signing of the BSA.

“In closing, Rice highlighted the American people’s friendship and support for the people of Afghanistan as embodied in the extraordinary sacrifices of our service-men and women and the unprecedented investment Americans have made in Afghanistan.”

In Afghanistan, there are still 47,000 American forces. The U.S. has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a small residual force of about 8,000 troops there after it winds down operations next year.

U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have said the BSA must be signed by year-end to begin preparations for a post-2014 presence.

Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said the Afghan leader laid out several conditions for his signature to the deal in the meeting, including a U.S. pledge to immediately halt all military raids on, or searches of, Afghan homes.

The agreement includes a provision allowing raids in exceptional circumstances – when an American life is directly under threat – but it would not take effect until 2015.

“It is vitally important that there is no more killing of Afghan civilians by U.S. forces and Afghans want to see this practically,” Faizi said, according to Reuters.

Karzai also called on Washington to send remaining Afghan detainees at the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, back to Afghanistan, saying that the Loya Jirga had endorsed the pact with this condition.

Alastair Jamieson reported from London. Reuters contributed to this report.

We hear more about drones as technology and less about their strategic purpose as remote killing machines, and the implications of that rapidly increasing capability.

Rocks and sticks and other sharp objects were the first drones — killing devices controlled by humans at some distance, however modest, from their target. Chinese firesticks, rifles, pistols, cannon then came along, followed by flying manned bombers and missiles.

Reagan tinkered with space-based lasers, but that costly technology wound up on two card tables in the basement of Yerkes Observatory at Geneva Lake, Wisconsin.

Then, to further help avert the need for sending in troops or blowing up large chunks of geography, and to save a few gazillion bucks too, we come to the era of drones, which cannot only kill more precisely, but invade the privacy of anything that can be scanned from the air.

We’re upset about collateral damage — those innocents near a target who get killed, and whose families will forever hate and seek revenge on the monsters responsible. We’re concerned that anyone, including U.S. citizens, can be targeted by drones, with an apparent paucity of checks and balances to be sure they deserve a death sentence from the sky.

What’s next, perhaps lasers carried aloft by drones, which can pin-point a target more closely, and explode the brain of a single person? And what happens when rogues of all kinds — terrorists, nations or even individuals — can target people anywhere with drones? Yes, that’s around the corner, too. Have we unleashed the terror of the end times? 

Well, that’s what peoples have thought each step along the way of remote killing. But Instead of gun powder and vast armies moving across the terrain, we have pin pricks of death popping off human targets anywhere at will. At the end of the day, the only saving grace for individuals will be the overwhelming use of power — new powers — by protecting entities. 

Like a country, like the U.S., approaching a time with a gun in nearly every home and pocket book, the day of the ubiquitous killing drone is just around the corner. Interesting that our far-seeing government has canned NASA’s human space program. Now, we can just send out our drones to conquer the universe. And so it goes. Sorry for “droning” on.

It’s not just the captain of that Italian cruise liner who should be held responsible, but the cruise line itself, and every other passenger cruise line, and the governments who regulate them. The reputations of all have been besmirched.  After all, it’s not just a cruise; it’s a mission for the captain and crew to ply potentially dangerous waters in ships the size of skyscrapers, and protect the safety of all aboard. Crisis prevention and crisis response are more important than the mere entertainment of those aboard.

I call for the review and re-certification of every captain of every cruise ship afloat, along with new, higher standards in training, supervision and discipline for professional navigation staff. This captain abandoned his ship, while there were still hundreds of panicked passengers aboard, and then refused the coast guard’s demands that he go back aboard to direct the evacuation. And I understand he joined the line as a safety officer! What a bad joke. And I hear that it’s not unusual for liner captains to take their craft illegally and inappropriately close to shore to give passengers good views. And I understand the passenger safety drills were not conducted at the beginning of the cruise, as required.

All this points not just to a bad captain, but to bad selection, training, enforcement of regulations and supervision by the cruise lines. These are not just floating hotels, these are vessels on a mission, and their mission is safety first.  There needs to be tighter regulations, better training and supervision and enforcement, or these cruise lines are going out of business. The reputation of the cruise industry has been severely damaged by this and related incidents, and the fight to restore it will be a long and difficult one. And it should be.

The Japan nuclear crisis should certainly be an urgent reminder of the need for nuclear accident preparedness, on both community and individual family level. I’ve written in this blog twice before about the generally sad and inadequate state of nuclear accident readiness prevalent in our country.

Here’s an article about a recent country-wide exercise in Sweden: http://www.nuclearpowerdaily.com/reports/Sweden_kicks_off_large-scale_nuclear_accident_exercise_999.html.

And here’s an article about what a family or individual can do to prepare and in the immediate aftermath of such a nuclear plant disaster, particularly if they live in the countryside: http://www.co.midland.tx.us/edp/pdf_files/FireHaz/Preparedness%20-%20Radiological%20Accident.pdf

I just watched Rethink Afghanistan’s latest video about Bob Woodward’s book, ‘Obama’s War.’ It describes Petraeus’ campaign to extend the war. Check it out: http://bit.ly/aJ3pai

A Sunday morning TV program today highlighted the continuing lack of spending and preparation for national disasters, on this 5th anniversary of Katrina. One study shows that disaster preparation costs 1/15th as much as disaster response, and that politicians who opt for spending on disaster readiness get no incremental votes, while those who spend on disaster response get a bump in voter support.

Yes, preparedness is boring, hard work, while disaster response is adrenaline-boosting, visceral, and I suppose, instantly gratifying.

If we realized how little preparedness there is in place for nuclear disaster, civilian accident or attack, we would be paranoid. Natural disaster planning, training and resource pre-placement is tokenism and minimal is most cases. I was a contingency planner in the Army years ago, and can attest to how marginally prepared we were then. Most of the planning was on paper, emergency supplies were out of date or missing, training was almost non-existent, staffing was embarrassingly minimal. As a young lieutenant, when I called these short-falls to the attention of superiors, they seemed shamed by having the subject raised, and only then allocated some new training and resources, and probably only for a short time.

Then there was the oil leak in the Gulf, demonstrating how an industry spent billions on technological development for deep-water oil drilling and again almost nothing on managing the potential for negative consequences of their exploitation of natural resources for private profit.

I suppose this tendency to bury our heads in the sand is related to the same psychology that results in lack of personal savings in our society, the greed of those who don’t look back at the consequences of their self-enrichment, and perhaps a decline in the very fiber of civilization that holds humanity together. What to do about it? How to turn these high risk trends around?

Take more personal responsibility for protecting our natural environment, protecting our built environment, supporting the social systems that are working or can be made to work to maintain social vitality. Reform government, beginning with term limits to encourage citizen politicians. Put a couple bucks in the bank for a rainy day, and keep some survival supplies in your home and car, and help your community prepare for the unthinkable, too.

Thinking about the unthinkable consequences of life on earth is the best way to preserve the quality of that life!

Today’s Washington Post (http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyond-control/) begins a lengthy investigative report on national security, revealing that nearly one in every 400 Americans now requires a Top Secret security clearance to man a complex of thousands of government and contract organizations to conduct the American security process.

This process is so arcane and intricate that no person or group of people can begin to understand the work product all this effort and spending produces, concludes the Post. The results are too numerous and complicated to communicate, much less comprehend, according to the Post. Is “less process” therefore the answer to “more security”? Or is “better communications” an answer?

Maybe everyone without at least a Secret clearance, and even I once had one of those, should be rounded up and shipped to Guantanamo. If America finally opens up travel to Cuba, maybe all those without clearances could be sent there on commercial flights, and put up in hotels, to add new vigor to the local revolutionary economy.

That would leave America to those worthies possessing security clearances and we could set our calendar ahead (back) permanently to 1984, or whatever date creation of the ultimate “security state” deserves.

From a Reuters report: “What makes the mistakes even worse, is that BP should have been well placed to mount a world-class crisis PR effort.

“The firm had almost unlimited resources. Its chairman was a media-savvy former telecoms CEO. And its head of public relations, Andrew Gowers, was a former editor of the Financial Times, and one-time Reuters reporter, with recent experience of crisis management: Gowers headed Lehman Brothers PR team during its collapse, although the rapidity and breadth of the banking meltdown was such that no amount of PR could have saved the bank.

“Yet the oil giant had a key shortcoming.

“BP’s British CEO had never held a position in the United States, its Swedish chairman had limited U.S. experience, and Gowers’ only stint working in the United States was his few months with Lehman.

“Hayward exacerbated his lack of U.S. savvy by choosing another Briton, Alan Parker, head of the UK’s largest financial PR agency, Brunswick, as his external PR adviser. It wasn’t until late May before the company appointed a heavy-hitting U.S. PR representative — Dick Cheney’s former spokeswoman, Anne Kolton.

“The lack of local knowledge hurt BP in those first few weeks. U.S. executives say that it is difficult for European executives, especially those who haven’t spent a long time working in the United States, to understand the combatative political landscape there.
“In Europe, the attitude would be much more, ‘the company is the only one who can solve the problem, so what do we need to do to help the company to get it sorted?'” said Patrick Dunleavy, a professor of political science at the London School of Economics.
“The company didn’t adequately gauge how much backlash there would be and how quickly it would be … that was a really bad piece of risk management,” he added.”

May 2022
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