Sunday, May 27, 2012


Happy Birthday, Isadora Duncan, who gave the world modern dance, and was born May 27, 1877.

You are an inspiration to me still.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"On Memorial Day Weekend, America Reckons with Torture"

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Facing the truth is hard to do, especially the truth about ourselves. So Americans have been sorely pressed to come to terms with the fact that after 9/11 our government began to torture people, and did so in defiance of domestic and international law. Most of us haven’t come to terms with what that meant, or means today, but we must reckon with torture, the torture done in our name, allegedly for our safety.

It's no secret such cruelty occurred; it’s just the truth we’d rather not think about. But Memorial Day is a good time to make the effort. Because if we really want to honor the Americans in uniform who gave their lives fighting for their country, we'll redouble our efforts to make sure we’re worthy of their sacrifice; we'll renew our commitment to the rule of law, for the rule of law is essential to any civilization worth dying for.

After 9/11, our government turned to torture, seeking information about the terrorists who committed the atrocity and others who might follow after them. Senior officials ordered the torture of men at military bases and detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, in secret CIA prisons set up across the globe, and in other countries – including Libya and Egypt -- where abusive regimes were asked to do Washington’s dirty work.

The best known of all the prisons remains Guantanamo on the southeast coast of Cuba. For years, the United States naval base there seemed like an isolated vestige of the Cold War – defying the occasional threat from Fidel Castro to shut it down. But since 9/11, Guantanamo – Gitmo – has been a detention center, an extraterritorial island jail considered outside the jurisdiction of US civilian courts and rules of evidence. Like the notorious Room 101 of George Orwell’s “1984,” the chamber that contains the thing each victim fears the most to make them confess, Guantanamo’s name has become synonymous with torture. Nearly 800 people have been held there. George W. Bush eventually released 500 of them, sometimes after years of confinement and cruelty. Barack Obama has freed 67, but 169 remain, even though the president pledged to close the Guantanamo prison within a year of his inauguration. Now, forty-six are so dangerous, our government says, they will be held indefinitely, without trial.

We almost never see the detainees. Were it not for the work of human rights organizations and the forest of lawsuits that have arisen from our actions, the prisoners would be out of sight, out of mind. Five of the Guantanamo prisoners were recently arraigned before a military commission for their role in the attacks. One of them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who says he was the mastermind behind 9/11. He was waterboarded by interrogators 183 times. Pentagon officials predict it will be at least another year before the five go on trial.

Earlier this month, lawyers for Mohammed al-Qahtani – the so-called “20th hijacker” who didn’t make it onto the planes -- filed suit in New York federal court to make public what they described as “extremely disturbing” videotapes of his interrogations. He was charged in 2008 with war crimes and murder but the charges were dropped after the former convening authority for the Guantanamo military commissions, Susan Crawford, told journalist Bob Woodward that al-Qahtani’s treatment “met the legal definition of torture.”

He remains in indefinite detention, as does Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi citizen alleged to have run terrorist training camps. He was waterboarded at least 83 times in a single month. Just this week a federal appeals court refused to release information on the interrogation methods the CIA used on Abu Zubaydah and other terrorist suspects.

You may also have seen the flurry of action this month around a section of the new National Defense Authorization Act that allows the military to detain indefinitely not only members of al Qaeda, the Taliban and “associated forces” but anyone who has “substantially supported” them. A federal court struck down that provision in response to journalists and advocates who believe it could be so broadly interpreted it would violate civil liberties. Nonetheless, two days after the court’s decision, the House of Representatives reaffirmed the original provision.

The other day, eight members of the Bush Administration – including President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld – were found guilty of torture and other war crimes by an unofficial tribunal meeting in Malaysia. The story was played widely in parts of the world press, with reports that the judgment could lead the way to proceedings before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It received almost no mention here in the United States.

This summer, it’s believed that the United States Senate’s intelligence committee finally will release a report on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” that euphemistic phrase for what any reasonable person not employed by the government would call torture. The report has been three years in the making, with investigators examining millions of classified documents. The news service Reuters says the report will conclude that techniques such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation do not yield worthwhile intelligence information.

So here we are, into our eleventh year after 9/11, still at war in Afghanistan, still at war with terrorists, still at war with our collective conscience as we grapple with how to protect our country from attack without violating the basic values of civilization -- the rule of law, striving to achieve our aims without corrupting them, and restraint in the use of power over others, especially when exercised in secret.

In future days and years, how will we come to cope with the reality of what we have done in the name of security? Many other societies do seem to try harder than we do to come to terms with horrendous behavior commissioned or condoned by a government. Beginning in 1996, in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held hearings at which whites and blacks struggled to confront the cruelty inflicted on human beings during apartheid.

And perhaps you caught something said the other day by the president of Brazil, Dilma Roussef. During the early seventies she was held in prison and tortured repeatedly by the military dictators who ruled her country for nearly 25 years. The state of Rio de Janeiro has announced it will officially apologize to her. Earlier, when she swore in members of a commission investigating the dictatorship, President Roussef said: “We are not moved by revenge, hate or a desire to rewrite history. The need to know the full truth is what moves us."

In other words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”


Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Romney: It's Not About the Dog. It's About the Man

Some say shoes make the man. To me, it's about character.

Lately, there have been noises from Democrats and Republicans alike opposing the president's recent diatribes on Bain Capital, and that company's business practices when Romney was at the helm. I say, they're overdue. Notably, The New York Times was reporting about Bain's corporate licentiousness half a dozen years ago.

Then, there are high octane proponents of so-called "free enterprise" who suggest President Obama's views are what they call anti-business. For someone whose views are anti-business, we have seen greater job growth in the private sector under Obama than we did under Bush. Overall job growth was greater under George W. Bush because Bush added more government jobs, something Romney likes to attribute to Obama..

While the economy clearly remains the signature issue of the 2012 election year, the question of character may be the deciding factor as to who gets to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years as well it should be.

And, when it comes to the question of character, no one is connecting the dots between a man who, as a high school student at an elite Michigan prep school led a gang of his peers to forcibly hold down a youngster, and cut his hair to a man who put his Irish Setter in a crate on the roof of his station wagon for a twelve hour drive from Massachusetts to Canada to a father of five who, around that same time in the early 1980's, had an altercation with a park officer leading to his arrest on charges of disorderly conduct, an arrest which was thrown out because this father of five had the wherewithal to buy his way out of it. Yes, this man is Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, and the scandal of Romney's arrest in 1981, one that became a major campaign issue in the senatorial race in that state back in 1994, has been largely ignored by the media today. But, this is the proverbial icing on the cake.

Being the one who personally held scissors, and cut another student's long hair against his will as a prep school prank back in 1965, nearly 50 years ago as Mr. Romney has stated, may be ancient history, but the laying off of thousands of workers while Romney ran Bain Capital is not nor is what was then that company's practice, according to Think Progress, of bankrupting more than 25% of the companies it acquired. More importantly, both the high school bullying and the thousands of layoffs that resulted from what amounted to a corporate chess game speak volumes about candidate Romney's character.

And, while details of his 1981 arrest on charges of disorderly conduct show that all he did was ignore the command of an officer not to launch his family boat because the boat's license was not visible, the fact, as the Web site Buzzfeed notes, the charges were dropped by the magistrate, and the record sealed due to Romney's threat to sue for "false arrest" are rather troubling.

It should come as no surprise that anyone who has been from birth filthy rich would be arrogant enough to think that the law doesn't apply to him. Consider the irony, though, that a candidate who boasts of having a law degree from Harvard, and has made repeated bids for public office, would show this kind of hubris, and this is only one instance. Romney reportedly tangled with a traffic cop at the 2002 Winter Olympics, even going so far as to ask an 18 year security volunteer "who the fuck are you?" after pushing local sheriff deputies out of the way to manage a traffic jam himself.

So, you say, the guy has a little problem with anger management when it comes to the authorities. Some may even think this is a good thing, but where it gets tricky is that this is the same fellow who now says that public sector workers like cops and fire fighters are getting paid too much. Many didn't like the idea of a presidential candidate who smokes, back in 2008, being a role model, but what kind of role model is a candidate who chooses to ignore law enforcement and sail his boat without a license anyway because, after all, he can buy and sell not only the park officer, but the entire police department ten times over.

Time to connect the dots between private citizen Romney's defiance of the law, and his current position, as The Washington Post reports, that folks in the public sector "are getting better pay and benefits than taxpayers are." Someone need so to ask Mr. Romney, what about folks at Bain Capital, and JP Morgan Chase?

To the contrary, the public sector has tanked over the past several years, and the biggest growth has been in the private sector.
Oh, and it's not only the public sector he's going after, candidate Romney has even gone so far as to suggest that the failure of the auto industry was caused by union "stooges" and bosses. What Ronald Reagan did to the air traffic controller's union will look like chump change should Mitt Romney prevail in his bid for the White House.

Police officers, teachers, and firefighters, as well as other public workers, should also bear in mind that President Obama wants to allocate federal funds to the states, so they can hire back some of those members of their ranks who were laid off. By way of contrast, candidate Romney will give that federal money to members of his country club in the form of corporate tax breaks, yes, esp. those members who attended the same elite prep schools, who own boats, and have more cars in their collective garages at any time than one will find at most Chrysler used car lots.

The smart money says Gov. Romney had better not run on a law and order platform because his views on the public sector, and union busting put him squarely at odds with law enforcement, and by reducing the ranks of fire fighters and peace officers, he will surely put this country on a path that can only lead to an unprecedented rise in violent crime. But, of course, that won't matter to Romney and those who can go to his country club. They can afford private security firms. As for the rest of us, well, look for more George Zimmermans coming soon to a gated community near you.

It may not be the economy, after all, that will be the deciding factor in this race as it's not just about job creation, and job creators, but character and the values a candidate embraces that may well determine which direction this economy will go. Don't confuse calls for growth in the private sector with the noxious quest for privatization. The Republican claim that they're afraid the economic course the current administration has charted is a precarious one for business is bogus given that all the major oil companies have boasted record profits during the Obama years, and record bonuses been awarded to many CEO's. What the Romney Republicans are running scared from is no different from what the Reagan Republicans were running scared from--regulation. Period.

The austerity measures in the Ryan budget, of which Mitt Romney is an avowed admirer, specifically target not just the middle class, but the elderly, the needy, and the working poor.

For Romney, austerity measures target the same folks as Paul Ryan, only Romney would mix school teachers, cops, and fire fighters in with the mix. Clearly, any federal budget proposed by presumptive presidential nominee, and hopeful, Mitt Romney wouldn't include any belt-tightening for those earning $1 million a year or more, just their chauffeurs.

So, in the end, the question for candidate Romney isn't who's riding on the roof of his station wagon, but who he will be throwing under the bus next..

Monday, May 21, 2012

Crossing the Line and Mary Richardson Kennedy

Like everyone else, I was moved by the sadness of Mary Richardson Kennedy's death. And, like everyone else, I wondered what could possibly have driven a woman with such a purposeful life to commit suicide.

As her family said, she was fighting her own demons, but there is something else she may have been struggling with, too, that I understand from my own experience, the sense of shame. That mental illness carries a stigma is clearly not breaking news, but the shame that often accompanies it is seldom discussed.

What appears to have been Mary Kennedy's inner turbulence reminds me of something that happened to me in my twenties, an experience that left me with both shame, and the feeling that I had brought disgrace upon my loved ones, and myself, feelings that are not uncommon for anyone who finds their lives taking a direction that is challenging. Those who venture outside the domain of normal behavior do so at a price for, as poet Hart Crane once said, "there is a line. You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it."

In the spring of 1974, I was living in San Francisco, and in the midst of writing a book of poetry. I was reading Arthur Rimbaud, and wanted to incorporate his "dereglement de tous les sens," disordering of all the senses into my own work. Being unable to achieve that state by natural means, like many of my generation, I began experimenting with drugs---principally cocaine which I used constantly over a period of weeks. As it made me hyper, and unable to sleep, or sit still even for a minuteI would drink to take the edge off, or take valium. In this, too, I was mirroring Rimbaud who is said to have used opiates frequently.

I was so caught up in what I was writing that I didn't eat much either, but mostly wrote poetry. One day, I noticed I was having paranoid ideation that got more intense---really crazy thoughts about airplanes being bombed, and phones being tapped. Being only 22, I hadn't a clue what was causing this as I'd never experienced anything like it before. In retrospect, the source of the paranoia was the cocaine. If there was Google back then, I would have looked up "cocaine" side effects,and would have seen clinical paranoia as among them, but I had no computer, and there was no Google, so I called my family doctor. He balked and said "Oh, you're a poet, you're not crazy." I insisted that I was so far gone that I was literally afraid to cross the street as I was too spaced out to even see traffic, and asked that he hospitalize me to get the cocaine, valium, and other drugs out of my system. "Then, if I continue to talk crazy, you can commit me."

Don't get me wrong, I'm not for a minute suggesting that taking cocaine once or twice will make one paranoid, and weeks on end of sleep deprivation combined with large quantities of cocaine, as well as alcohol will certainly help on the path to not merely "dereglement," but derangement. I wanted to break all the rules, and be the poete maudit, enfant terrible, and poet who dared to cross the line between normalcy and madness. Psychologists now identify the condition I describe as "cocaine psychosis," which often resembles paranoid schizophrenia, but the treatment I was to get strongly suggests that this was a condition of which clinicians at the time were unaware.

My family doctor at the time sensed that about me, and thought I might be exaggerating about my state, so he asked to speak with a neighbor who was standing beside me who told him I was "pacing around, unable to stand or sit still, agitated, and talking constantly," so I was instructed to go to the Emergency Room of a local private hospital where his colleague, who was a psychiatrist, would be waiting for me. My family doctor said, "I'm telling the psychiatrist you're a poet, and that you've been working too hard and need a rest." But, of course, everything changed when I got to the Emergency Room.

The psychiatrist friend of my doctor wasn't there. Instead I was seen by a resident who, by the way, was strikingly handsome. He took me into an examination room, and read off some questions waiting anxiously for my response. I seemed to fare well on all of them until he got to this one: "Are you hearing voices?" I hadn't a clue what the term meant, and asked: "What in the hell does that mean?" He didn't answer, but asked the question again. "Are you asking if I have internal monologues in which I debate ideas in my head?" I asked, or words to that effect. "Yes," he said, "exactly."

Yes, that's right. The admitting psychiatrist based his diagnosis of schizophrenia on my misunderstanding of the phrase "hearing voices," and put me on a regimen of anti-psychotic drugs that made me crazy. When I informed him of my then extensive drug use, especially how much cocaine I'd been using over the past few weeks, and urged him to let me get all of the drugs out of my system before giving me more medication, he ignored me. "There may be serious underlying issues," I insisted, "but how can you know what they are when I'm on so many drugs now? Give me a chance to clean out and, if I'm still paranoid, take it from there."

But, the resident didn't listen. Instead, he admitted me to the psychiatric ward, slapped me with a diagnosis that was based on a misunderstanding of the phrase "hearing voices," and doused me with high octane anti-psychotic drugs which, for the first time, helped me to understand what the phrase "hearing voices" really meant. Again, keep in mind this happened in 1974. Had it happened now, I would have been placed in detox.

When the psychiatrist who was supposed to be assigned to meet with me finally showed up, I was already medicated and, frankly, whatever small vestiges of sanity I had when admitted were gone. When it was evident that anti-psychotic drugs didn't work, I was put on drugs used to treat bipolar depression which only made matters worse.

When, after a few weeks, I called my father and implored him to take me out, he said, "You were half-rational when you went in there, and you're completely crazy now. What have they done to you?" He flew from New York to San Francisco, and signed me out AMA, against medical advice, after only six weeks, but it took fully two years before the psychotropic drugs wore off, and I was able to go back to being myself.

The way I see it, I had a little visit with the state of madness. I didn't become a permanent resident, but while passing through, I saw others who absorbed and incorporated the way others saw them into the way in which they saw themselves. It was a hard fight, but I made sure that didn't happen to me.

It took years for me to recover my dignity, and a sense of myself as a whole, sane human being. I was filled with rage at a system that I turned to in a time of turbulence, and that turned me inside out. More importantly, I was filled with pain and sadness that I had brought shame, anxiety, and despair to my family, that I had become a burden to my father and his wife with whom I had to live for several months, that I had nearly cost my father his marriage. I can't help but think, somehow, that Mary Kennedy would know what I'm talking about.

In a very real way, though this experience cost me two years of my life, it turned my life around as I pursued healthy living with the same vigor I once pursued altered mental states. What concerns me is those who, unlike myself, who are transformed not only by having to watch their own thoughts and emotions spiral out of control, but by those, with limited intellectual resources, who later stigmatize them.

For years, I did not tell this story to anyone as it was my sense that this temporary state of drug-induced psychosis that drove me to hospitalize myself would somehow diminish me in the eyes of others, but the news of Mary Kennedy's suicide compels me to step forward.

Of the few who did know me, and who knew about the incident I describe, an old college friend called years later and said she was "surprised" that I hadn't decided to kill myself after what happened. This woman, by the way, holds a graduate degree, and has a very big job at a major academic institution. Her ignorance evoked rage in me, and still does. For anyone to be that educated and that accomplished, yet have such limited intellectual resources is baffling.

Is this what one should do, take one's life to avoid disgracing oneself, one's family, and friends because one has had to work through a period of psychological turbulence? Does having a bout of pneumonia, or the flu provoke such shame, and disgrace? Why should mental illness?

The rage has passed, of course; I now rationalize by saying that many people simply aren't capable of understanding anything they don't experience firsthand. They lack the imagination to empathize with those who have suffered, and/or cannot imagine themselves ever crossing the line for the sake of some passion or other. Arguably, for many suffering involves the absence of pleasure, and creature comforts. They've never felt the kind of pain that can't be quickly resolved in a palliative manner.

Fortunately, I've never had another incident like this. I went through mild depression when beginning menopause that was resolved with hormone replacement, but despite the fear-mongering on the part of hospital psychiatrists trying to sign me up for a lifetime contract with psychotropic drugs, that was my one and only bout. Giving drugs to resolve problems caused by drugs seems, to me, effective in one thing only, making pharmaceutical companies richer than they already are. I was smart enough, back then, to demand to know each and every drug I was given, and the dose. Though I don't remember the doses, I do remember the drugs, and they were powerful ones as powerful, or more powerful than the chemicals I already had in my body. The fact that I was a "poet" was considered an irrelevancy, and was never mentioned by either psychiatrist or the staff. This was egregious to me then, and is egregious to me now.

For artists, life is often about taking risks. The great Irish novelist, James Joyce, described what he called his "nervous breakdown" in a letter to his patron, Harriet Weaver. Samuel Beckett suffered from such deep depression that he was in analysis for twenty years. Then, of course, there's Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and Allen Ginsberg whose poem, "Howl," describes his own season in hell. One thinks, too, of Woody Guthrie, and Phil Ochs, as well as those who keep their despair locked up inside to avoid inflicting pain on their families.

And, of course, there are those who, unable to break free from the sense of personal shame they suffer take that most dreadful step, and decide to end their lives. What does it say about a society that still fails to understand those whose voyage takes them through rocky waters? We can travel to outer space, but we still have no clue about inner space.

Those who cross the line, whether by striving to achieve altered states to enhance their art or to find release from unimaginable pain, must never again be made to feel a shame from which the only escape is to end their life.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"At a Military Hospital, Warriors Are Not the Only Wounded"

By Michael Winship

 The weather’s getting warmer in Afghanistan and the war there is heating up again. That means – as it has meant every year for more than a decade -- that the pace will quicken at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. More casualties will be brought to this largest American military hospital outside the United States. The Critical Care Air Transport teams and their C-17 Globemasters will fly in from “downrange,” as they call the Afghan battleground, and the injured will be brought by ambulance bus from nearby Ramstein Air Force Base to the hospital front door.

 I spent a few days at Landstuhl recently, one of a group of writers from the Writers Guild Initiative, part of the Writers Guild of America, East Foundation (Full disclosure and just to add to the confusion: I’m president of the Writers Guild, East, the union with which the foundation’s affiliated). For the last four years, the foundation has been conducting writing workshops. The project began with professional writers from stage, TV and movies mentoring veterans from the Iraq and Afghan wars, working with them on writing exercises and projects ranging from memoirs and blogs to children’s books, screenplays and sci-fi novels.

 Recently, in collaboration with the Wounded Warrior Project, the foundation started similar workshops with caregivers, the loved ones of veterans helping them through the aftermath of catastrophic injuries. Now, Wounded Warrior had asked some of us to come to Landstuhl to meet with the medical staff there. Some 3,000 strong, military and civilian, they work ceaselessly in what has become one of the busiest trauma centers in the world, helping between twenty and thirty thousand patients a year (not just from the battlefield, but also military and their dependents from all over Europe, Africa and much of Asia). Landstuhl is where the victims of the 1983 bombing of the US Marines Corps barracks in Beirut were brought; Bosnian refugees from the Sarajevo marketplace bombing in 1994, too, wounded from the American embassy bombing in Kenya in 1998 and the 2000 attack on USS Cole.

During the first Gulf War, more than 4000 service members were treated at Landstuhl, as have been men and women fighting in the Balkans and Somalia. Since 9/11, the hospital has treated coalition troops from 44 different countries. They compare this hospital to the center of an hourglass; it’s the midpoint between a combat injury and treatment in the field and then subsequent care back in the States or other home country. Or it’s where a service member is treated and then sent back into battle.

The staff at Landstuhl sees the wounded at their worst. Many who arrive suffer from multiple injuries – “polytrauma” so extensive that several teams of surgeons with different specialties – neurological, thoracic, ear and eye, facial reconstruction, and orthopedic, among others -- may work on an individual patient, often simultaneously. Bodies are blown apart or crushed by IEDs, grenades and suicide bombs, but so skillful are the medical teams there, so advanced the techniques and technology, Landstuhl’s survival rate runs as high as 99.5%. (The survival rate among American wounded in World War II was 70 percent.)

But all that success takes a toll. One of the little discussed but potent side effects of war is what’s called Combat and Occupational Stress Reaction or Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder. Compassion fatigue. After all the years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of the doctors, nurses, and other staff at Landstuhl are exhausted or worse. Given what they’ve seen -- the horrific wounds and amputations, the infection, agony and grief – some walk around “like zombies,” one therapist said.

 Feelings of empathy and kindness yield to loneliness, despair and burnout. Many of the compassion fatigue symptoms are similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – physical effects like headaches, gastrointestinal problems, reproductive troubles as well as mental -- nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, emotional distance, isolation and more. Working with physically damaged men and women who are so deeply traumatized rubs off. The emotional rawness is contagious. A hospital handout on PTSD understatedly reads, “When life-changing events occur, perceptions about the world may change. For example, before soldiers experience combat trauma, they may think the world is safe. Following combat, a soldier’s perceptions may change -- a majority of the world may now seem unsafe.”

That’s why returning vets may reflexively search alongside a US interstate highway for roadside bombs, only shop at Walmart at 3 in the morning, or worry to excess that their children’s school will be attacked by terrorists. And it’s why after hearing the stories of their patients, reliving the horrors of war, watching them endure pain and sometimes countless operations, medical practitioners can suffer from the same fears -- whether it’s the surgeon who heals the wounds, the psychiatrist who probes the mind for the source of anguish or even the clean-up staff decontaminating and removing the blood from surgical tools.

Combine that with homesickness, the high operational tempo of Landstuhl, the low tolerance for mistakes, the downtime when the mind takes over and remembers every awful experience. It’s a dangerous, often unhealthy mix. And so, on a Saturday morning, we writers sat down with a bunch of men and women who work at Landstuhl and other nearby medical facilities. There were fourteen of us and thirty-two or so of them. We broke into small groups – two writers working with a group of two to four hospital staff.

My colleague Susanna and I mentored four – a male Army nurse and a female Navy nurse, a physical therapist and a developmental pediatric psychiatrist. We weren’t there to interview or pry; they would tell us what they wanted us to know when they wished, their stories slowly emerging from conversation and the brief writing exercises we gave them.

 The male nurse had been in Special Ops, the Navy, Marines and Army; he was reluctant to talk of what he had experienced but wanted to examine themes of good and evil in an epic novel. The physical therapist told us she wanted to explore the mind-body connection, perhaps with a blog; the Navy nurse spoke of her feelings for the soldiers she took care of from the Republic of Georgia, the former Soviet state, now independent. (By the end of the year, Georgia, aiming at membership in NATO, will have some 1500 troops in Afghanistan.) She had learned how to bake for them the Georgian national dish, khachapuri, a cheese filled bread; now she wants to write a cookbook.

 For two days, we talked and they wrote, we recommended books and movies, they told us about the ones they loved. Tears were shed as stories and memories came to the surface, many too private to relate here.

 Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll stay in touch via e-mail and meet again; trying to be of assistance as they write to express their thoughts and feelings, to tell their stories. Do the workshops help? Hard to measure, but intuitively it feels as if they do, that in the talking and writing comes self-awareness and some measure of equanimity. And selfishly, for those of us who serve as writer-mentors, the benefits are enormous and fulfilling. But the statistics are alarming. According to NBC News, “The Pentagon counts more than 6,300 American dead and 33,000 wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 A Rand Corp study estimates that as many as 300,000 post-9/11 veterans suffer from PTSD or major depression, and about 320,000 may have experienced traumatic brain injuries, mainly from bombs.” The number of civilian fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan remains uncertain but a Brown University study last year reported at least 132,000. Meanwhile, there are still nearly 90,000 American troops in Afghanistan.

More will die and be wounded. President Obama has pledged their complete departure in 2014. But even after that, the work at Landstuhl will go on. There are still nearly 300,000 American military personnel overseas, plus family members. Landstuhl will take care of many of them. And, says one of the hospital’s surgeons, with a sigh of resignation, “There will always be the Middle East.”


Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the think tank Demos, is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Three Things Mitt Romney Shouldn't Talk About

Team Romney, and Republicans in general, are making a lot of noise about President Obama's record on the economy. Romney harps on what he calls the president's "failed" economic leadership. Since Romney wants to make 2012 a referendum on the Obama record, it might be instructive to take a look at his.

For starters, Mr. Romney was a one-term governor of Massachusetts who served from January, 2003 through January, 2007, and dropped his bid for re-election. While Romney replaced a Republican, he was succeeded by a Democrat. How's that for a referendum on someone's record?

The only other bid for elected office Mr. Romney made was when he ran against incumbent Teddy Kennedy for the Massachusetts Senate back in 1994, a race Romney lost handily. Romney should be careful about using that infamous four letter word, "fail," on anyone lest it be applied on him.

You'll recall, too, that Romney ran for the Republican presidential nomination back in 2008. And, while he won numerous primaries and caucuses, he ultimately lost the nomination to John McCain.

So, as he lambasts President Obama who, so far, has prevailed in every election bid he has made, here's a tip for Governor Romney. When campaigning, he would be wise to avoid the following three subjects:

1) Approval ratings: The year he left office as Massachuetts Governor, Romney's approval hovered around 34%. True, as CBS News reports, that's higher than another prominent high profile Republican's approval ratings, George W. Bush's, when he left office. When Bush left 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, his final approval rating was 22%, among the lowest of any American president. Still, keep in mind that 34% is lower than President Obama's approval numbers have been at any point in more than three years since he took office. In fact, while Obama's approval ratings hit a speed bump in 2010, they've been steadily inching up and, according to Gallup, Obama now stands at 46% which means if this were to be the president's last year in office, he would enjoy a double digit lead in approval ratings over Gov. Romney.

2) Job growth and the unemployment figures: Anybody who watched the first Republican caucuses a few months ago ought to thank Newt Gingrich for his infomercial on Romney's stewardship of Bain Capital and the practice of leveraged buyouts. If Gingrich's explanation of leveraged buyouts isn't enough for you, go back and listen to what then incumbent Senator Kennedy had to say on the subject of layoffs at Bain Capital plants, and a business ethos that exploits workers for capital gains. Oh, and Romney might want to avoid the subject of job creation altogether given that Massachusetts was 47th out of 50 states in putting people to work when Romney was governor

3) National security: This one is a no-brainer, even for the presumptive Republican nominee. You haven't heard Romney talk much about foreign policy, and you won't either because not only has he never held an elected office that required him to make decisions that affect national security, but Mr. Romney never even served in the military. As is widely known, he was a missionary in France, of all places, during the Vietnam War. So, should Romney become the next president of the United States, he will have another big thing in common with his immediate Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. Both managed to avoid service in Vietnam. As you know, it was Bush who put the first boots on the ground in Afghanistan, and who brought Baghdad to its knees. Romney has already suggested he's gearing up to be on the war path with Syria, and Iran.

One shudders to think of diplomacy Romney-style as something one might wear on a holster on one's hip.

The president, and others, have been asking that Romney release his tax returns, something he has yet to do aside from his 2010 return for which he filed an extension. His tax returns are the least of his problems. There's nothing that could be found there, at this point, that would come as an egregious surprise to anyone. We all expect to see not only the proverbial Swiss bank account, but some mention of the Cayman Islands, as well as ongoing interest in, and profit from puppet companies he has set up for his son which essentially act as tax shelters.

There are others who want to make an issue of Romney's Mormon faith, and how large a role Mormonism plays in his life. Yes, it's true that if, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, Romney's Mormon faith would in any way interfere with his judgments on key social, or national security issues that face him as president, he should do as JFK said, and offer to step down. You can bet that wouldn't happen though. You can also bet that, if given a first term, Romney would say and do anything necessary to win a second term.

It's hard to demonize Mitt Romney. He's affable enough, and arguably his greatest virtue is appearing relatively harmless, but if he wants to make a serious run for the White House, he'd better avoid any mention of approval ratings, jobs growth, or national security. If he wants to talk about the weather, that suits me just fine.