Jomana Karadhseh and CNN report a female suicide bombing in Baghdad has resulted in the bombers death as well as the deaths of 41 other people with one-hundred-and-six more injured. A large number -- possibly all -- of the dead are Shi'ite pilgrims. Caroline Alexander (Bloomberg News) provides this context, "The pilgrims were among more than 30,000 Shiites who have arrived in Iraq for Arbaeen, an annual observance marking the end of 40 days of mourning for the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein, the state-run al-Sabah newspaper said. They are heading on foot to Shiite holy sites in the southern city of Karbala." Lourdes Garcia-Navarro (NPR -- link has audio and text) reports, "According to police sources, the suicide bomber blew herself up where Shi'ite pilgrims were being given food and water." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) adds, "The suicide bomber in this case struck near a tent in Bob al-Sham, filled with pilgrims making their way from Diyala Province northeast of Baghdad. The toll was one of the highest in months by an individual suicide bomber."
Meanwhile AFP reports that despite the Iraq War and Afghanistan War costing US tax payers "one trillion dollars since 2001," Barack Obama will ask "for roughly !59 billion to cover the costs of US missions there" today.
Money for that but where's the money for the veterans? Yesterday on All Things Considered (NPR -- link has audio and text), Guy Raz spoke with Military Times' Kelly Kennedy about the issue of burn pits.
RAZ: When did people start coming forward?
Ms. KENNEDY: Well, I actually got some documents send by a whistleblower out of Iraq in the fall of 2008, and we wrote a story, saying, you know, we know in the United States, we don't use burn pits because they're bad for your health.
And as soon as we wrote that first story, we had 100 people come forward within the first week, to Disabled American Veterans and to Military Times, saying we're sick.
RAZ: What were they saying? What did they have?
Ms. KENNEDY: They were having respiratory problems. They were being diagnosed with allergy-like symptoms, but not necessarily allergies, asthma. They were having problems passing their PT tests. They couldn't take enough...
RAZ: This is the physical fitness test.
Ms. KENNEDY: Right, they're failing the run portion. And within probably a month, we had 400 people saying that they were sick. And now, the number is up to more than 500.
Today Lindsay Wise and Lise Olsen (Houston Chronicle) report on burn pits today:
Operated by Houston-based contractor KBR, the pit consumes 120 tons of garbage a day here at Camp Taji, a U.S. military base north of Baghdad. On calm days, noxious smoke billows upward and dissipates into a smog-like haze. When the wind blows, the acrid-smelling fumes pour into towers and yards where about 800 Texas troops from the 72nd keep watch.
"It hovers over like a blanket," said Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Ethier, 36, of Montgomery. "After it rains, you'll get puddles of stuff. It's like a yellowish, brackish color. It looks metallic. It's just disgusting."
Soldiers say a fine layer of soot settles on their uniforms and black goop comes out when they blow their noses. They complain of migraines, breathing problems, coughs, sore throats, irritated eyes and skin rashes.
The victims of the burn pits -- and veterans of all stripes -- will soon have one less friend in Congress with Senator Byron Dorgan having decided not to seek re-election. Dorgan was a real leader on this issue and when Congressional committees were busy or whatever (I'll get back to it), he took the issue to the Democratic Policy Committee. He chaired hearings and created a wealth of information on the issue. He attempted to do a great deal more -- as anyone who attended the hearing should be aware because he was vocal about that and the wall he was hitting on the issue. "Busy or whatever"? Evan Bayh is another Senator who works very hard on this issue and he has proposed legislation to create a national registry -- similar to the one that exists for Agent Orange exposure -- which would streamline medical treatment and requirements for proof of exposure. In October of last year, he explained the bill to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (which he does not sit on) and the Committee has buried the legislation since then.
Still on the subject of veterans and service members, Halimah Abdullah (McClatchy Newspapers) reports:
The open support from the military's uppermost ranks for openly discussing a topic long considered taboo is a revolution triggered largely by both greater awareness and pressure to curb record-high suicide rates.
This month, the Defense Department reported that there were 160 reported active-duty Army suicides in 2009, up from 140 in 2008. Of these, 114 have been confirmed, while the cause of death in the remaining 46 remains to be determined. The increase in military suicides includes men between the ages of 18 and 30, mid-career officers and, increasingly, women.
On the subject of contractors, Houston Community Newspapers Online reports US District Judge Gray Miller has senteced to David Charles Breda Jr. "to 24 months in federal prison" and that he will have "to register as a sex offender" after what was attempted rape. Brian Rogers (Houston Chronicle) uses the term "rape" -- and that's what it was -- and also reveals that Breda used to be an "Army recruiter" and "had been punished for inappropriate sexual behavior with an 18-year-old recruit" -- clearly not punished enough -- either to learn a lesson or to have enough of a mark on his record that would have prevented KBR from hiring him.
Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "If It Stared In Her Face" went up last night.
And Kathyrn Bigelow won the DGA yesterday for directing The Hurt Locker becoming the first woman to do so. Carl DiOrio (Hollywood Reporter) observes, "The DGA's feature-film award is one of the best gauges of likely success in Oscar's best-director category. "
We'll close with this from Sherwood Ross' "CAN THE WHITE HOUSE CONTROL THE NEWS?" (Global Research):
Now that one of every four Americans gets the news online, a communications authority wonders if the White House is still able to control the news.
"The transformation of media has not only undermined the imperial institutions of the mainstream media; it has undermined the imperial Presidency," writes Ken Auletta, a media authority, in the January 25th The New Yorker.
Auletta reminds that six years ago there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no You-Tube and that many regional newspapers and TV stations were "highly profitable."
Today, he writes, Politico.com Web site has 79 editorial employees to satisfy the news hunger of its 3-million unique monthly visitors and Mike Allen, the online paper's chief White House correspondent "has become one of Washington’s most influential journalists."
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