Saturday, December 15, 2012

The age they were stilled

Kindergartners watch death delivered

When I think about the age of the kids shot to death in the Connecticut school, I tried to remember how new and strange the world seemed to me at that age. Adults staring down the barrel of a gun would be understandably frozen and confused, so how can a little kid understand why someone would execute other kids?
I reviewed my kindergarten year and what it was like for me in an attempt to understand the mental state of the poor kids in Connecticut.
I was a kindergartner in Rockville, Md. in 1963.
Rockville at the time was a small town on the road between Washington, D.C., and the mountains of western Maryland. The Cape Cod-style home my family lived in cost $13,000. The streets in my neighborhood were given World War II names because the homes on those streets were built with GI Bill loans. For instance, I lived on Crawford Drive, which was near Iwo Jima, Halsey, Ardennes, Nimitz, and Okinawa drives.
My mother was a landscape architect who designed many of the public parks in Rockville; my father taught piano in area homes. My job was to attend kindergarten, which I loved. We walked to school, my friends and I, waiting on the grass for the school safety guards to wave us across.
One evening, after the sun set and the darkness overtook the world, I watched with my family and neighbors from a hill as a blue-red vapor burst like a water balloon high in the heavens, then drifted silently over our town. The beautiful spray of color on the edge of space spooked me, because earlier that day Jean Dixon had predicted the world was to end the next morning. The light show was not the end of the world, as I feared it was. My father had done his best to calm me at bedtime, promising that the world was not going to explode. I spent a restless night until I finally drifted off to sleep. The next morning I awoke to a beautiful morning and ran in my parents' bed room, yelling "The world didn't end! The world didn't end!"
The Washington Post  also reported that the high-altitude explosion was Goddard Space Flight Center doing some weather experiments as part of the space program.
An old man would bring a pony in a horse trailer to our neighborhood so each kid could be photographed sitting on the poor beast. He was a kind, old man, and to a kindergartner, the pony was a romantic steed pulled from the wild herds of Montana.
The cowboy hat was provided but had to be returned to the old man after the photo was taken.
I remember hearing about a boy who lived across town who had killed his own parents; I was 5 and it was the first time I had heard of such a thing. The boy was put in Chestnut Lodge, an exclusive sanitarium for the mentally ill not far from our home. Who could kill their own parents? I pondered that in my little mind for a long time.
That also was the year that I learned what it was like to be shamed in front of a crowd. In kindergarten, each of the kids got a chance to care for some mice and guinea pigs in glass terrariums in the back of the classroom. During my day to feed and water the animals, I reached in with a bowl of water for the mice. One of the mice ran up my arm and I reacted, yanking my arm out and slamming the little gate on its neck, killing it instantly.
The other kids saw it happen and watched the mouse die. I remember them reacting, "John killed the mouse. John killed it!" I cried and bawled, explaining in vain that I had not meant to kill the mouse.
According to a counselor I told this to recently, to this day I cannot stand to be accused of doing something wrong if I am innocent. That I feel it necessary to explain myself all the time. That explaining myself makes people think I've done something wrong.
Hmmmmm ...
This is what it is like to be a kindergartner. Big world, the family its protective center, life lessons coming from every direction, fast and furious.
I remember the voice coming from the square, wooden public address speaker on the classroom wall above the chalkboard one November afternoon. The voice cancelled the school day and sent us home. On the walk home on those World War II streets, older students were saying the president was hurt. I followed the crush of students toward my home as the crossing guards hurried us across tiny intersections. When I got home, my mother was in the living room, crying as she watched the news from Dallas on television.
I remembered my parents talking about the president around the dinner table many times, and from their discussions I sensed the man was more powerful, more important than they were in the scheme of things. I had no real idea of what the president was, but his picture also hung on classroom walls and I knew if someone could hurt someone more powerful than my parents, then someone could hurt my parents. And me. It was the violence in Dallas, not the young man's killing of his parents in Rockville or the death of the mouse that turned my world into a very dangerous place. It was the assassination and the way the nation stopped.
I cannot imagine how the youngsters who watched the bad man kill their friends will put such evil as they grow into adults. Parents may try to calm their kids by holding them close, but the kinds understand that this crazy man was able to get to them when their parents weren't around. The gunman was more powerful than their parents. From now on, all adults will have the capacity to shoot them.
This is what kindergartners think about at times like this. At this age, they are spending entire days away from home for the first time. There is only home and school. Now that school is unsafe, they may only feel safe at home. I believe the result will be children with a diminished capacity for enjoying the world at large and the people in it. These children will need some very special help--as some of us have needed.
I also was struck by the way two kids rose to heroic action. One youngster told his classmates as the gunfire went on in an adjacent classroom that he would go and stop the man because he had taken karate lessons. Another youngster led his classmates out of the building when the shooting stopped. Unbelievable kids, I tell you.
By the way, school shootings are not new.
There was one in the news a year after I graduated kindergarten.
A school massacre occurred in a Catholic elementary school in the suburb of Volkhoven in Cologne, Germany, on June 11, 1964. Walter Seifert, born on June 11, 1922, killed eight students and two teachers with his handgun.

-- John Guerra

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Giant sauropod alive in Africa?

The Congo's elusive brontosaur

By John L. Guerra

For thousands of years, tribes in the Congo have reported sighting a hippo-killing brontosaur they call "Mokele-mbembe."
This species of dinosaur lived during the Cretaceous period, which ended 65 million years ago when a large asteroid slammed the Earth near the Yucatan Peninsula, yet these giant plant eaters allegedly have found a way to survive in this remote part of the world. In fact, local fishermen build large fences to protect their catches from the beast.

So if dinosaurs have been gone for so long, why would villagers in the remote parts of the Congo River Basin fell trees, which they sharpen and sink into the river bottom to create a fence to keep a beast they called "Mokele-mbembe" from trashing their fishing grounds?
Consider this: the Smithsonian Institution took rumors of a dinosaur seriously enough to send a group of scientists to find it. As you'll read in a little bit, the expedition ended in tragedy.

Don't ask me, ask the natives
Is there a living dinosaur in the gigantic Congo River Basin, the enormous wetland system on the Equator in Africa.
The Congo River itself, which winds 2,900 miles through the Congo's and Zaire's thickest jungle, is surrounded by more than a million square miles of wetlands. It is an endless network of smaller rivers, lakes, and those wetlands, much of which has never been punched through by canoe. Which means the area is hot, wet, and judging by those 1940s dioramas of meat-eating triceratops I grew up staring at in the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., the area is a perfect place to find brontosaurs.
Being a cryptozoologist, to write with any authority on the subject, I need only dig online to find people who have heard, and even seen, this "big-ass animal"--another technical term used by cryptozoologists.
I ran across a list of expeditions that have tried to find the creature and the results of their efforts. These lucky few have undertaken my dream trip.

The imprint is purported to be the footprint of a dinosaur that still lives in the Congo River Basin.

  • In 1776, a French missionary to the Congo, Abbé Lievain Bonaventure claimed to have seen enormous footprints in the region. The creature that left the prints was not witnessed, but Bonaventure wrote that it "must have been monstrous: the marks of the claws were noted on the ground, and these formed a print about three feet in circumference."
  • In 1909, Lt. Paul Gratz (of Germany) traveled to the Congo and heard Zambians speak of a creature known as the "Nsanga", which was said to inhabit the Lake Bangweulu region. Gratz described the creature as resembling a sauropod. This is one of the earliest references linking an area legend with dinosaurs, and has been argued to describe a Mokèlé-mbèmbé-like creature. In addition to hearing stories of the "Nsanga" Gratz was shown a hide which he was told belonged to the creature, while visiting Mbawala Island.
  • When on safari in the Congo in 1909, big-game hunter Carl Hagenbeck noted a lack of hippopotami in the river; his native guides informed him of a large hippo-killing creature that lived in Lake Bangweulu, part of the Congo River Basin ecosystem.

  •  In 1913, a German captain in the region, charged with conducting a census of German nationals living in Cameroon and Congo, wrote of how local tribes people described the creature:
"The animal is said to be of a brownish-gray color with a smooth skin, its size is approximately that of an elephant; at least that of a hippopotamus. It is said to have a long and very flexible neck and only one tooth but a very long one; some say it is a horn. A few spoke about a long, muscular tail like that of an alligator. Canoes coming near it are said to be doomed; the animal is said to attack the vessels at once and to kill the crews but without eating the bodies.
The creature is said to live in the caves that have been washed out by the river in the clay of its shores at sharp bends. It is said to climb the shores even at daytime in search of food; its diet is said to be entirely vegetable. This feature disagrees with a possible explanation as a myth. The preferred plant was shown to me, it is a kind of liana with large white blossoms, with a milky sap and apple-like fruits. At the Ssombo River I was shown a path said to have been made by this animal in order to get at its food. The path was fresh and there were plants of the described type nearby. But since there were too many tracks of elephants, hippos, and other large mammals it was impossible to make out a particular spoor with any amount of certainty."

  • Finally, my favorite--The Smithsonian Institution in 1919-1920 sent 32 men to explore the region and study its ecology. The museum understood the natives had spoken of a brontosaur-type creature and included inquiry into the animal into the overall expedition mission. The expedition's African guides found large, unexplained tracks along the bank of a river and later in a swamp the team heard mysterious roars, which had no resemblance with any known animal." However, the expedition was to end in tragedy. During a train-ride through a flooded area where an entire tribe was said to have seen the dinosaur, the locomotive suddenly derailed and turned over. Four team members were crushed to death under the cars and another half dozen seriously injured

Mysterious roars

I love the part about the mysterious roars while the group was camping. I wish I had heard that sucker out there in the jungle at night. That would make my life complete!
Over the next century, at least one explorer claims to have seen Mbembe, though the animal was badly wounded as it stumbled into the water and swam off. Another account has natives explaining that the dinosaur is not a physical thing, but a spirit that can change the course of the rivers. Expeditions in the modern age include TV crews and documentary producers.
Cryptozoology is great fun. It's interesting to think that isolated pockets of unexplored Earth contain lost populations of dinosaurs or large hominids like Big Foot, Yeti, and their cousins all over the world. When people laugh at the idea of unknown species of ape, I point to the Bonobos.

A new find in the Congo

Again, we must go to the Congo. Though chimpanzees were well-known north of the Congo River, rumors spoke of a group of two-legged creatures, much larger than chimps, that lived south of the Congo River. Locals told explorers that the creatures had head hair parted in the middle and that they walked on two legs much more often than chimps did.
In spite of extensive searches for the creature, it wasn't until 1928 that German anatomist Ernst Schwarz is credited with having discovered the bonobo. Because chimps can't swim, it is believed the Bonobos were kept to one side of the river, and for some reason developed as a separate species from their northern counterparts. Scientists believe there are now about 50,000 of the creatures left. Deforestation, of course, being the main culprit for the animal's position on the endangered species list.

 --John Guerra

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Secession possible, court once ruled

What American rebels should consider

By John L. Guerra

The White House may regret setting up the "We the People" feature on its website ( In addition to petitions asking Congress to designate the Tea Party a hate group or asking Hill lawmakers to demand Rwandan troops leave the Congo, 40 states have filed petitions to secede from the union.
Though secession historically has been a southern thing, in the wake of Obama's re-election, residents in northern and western states are seeking secession on the White House website, though I suspect it's more of a political statement than a real demand.
When this round of talk of splitting from the union began a few years ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was suggesting it might be the way to go for Texans. That was when he was addressing a Tea Party rally several years back; this week, however, governors are all telling their citizens that secession is not a good idea. After you read this analysis of secession 2013, you will understand why it's not a good idea.
A 2008 Zogby International poll revealed that 22 percent of Americans believed that "any state or region has the right to peaceably secede and become an independent republic." I found this an interesting indication that regardless of political party, Americans are still the rebels they always have been.

What is secession?

Secession is the declaration by a state that the Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1789, will no longer be recognized as the law of the land within its borders. It's a declaration that a state will no longer follow laws made in Washington (hence, federal laws) that hurt, hinder, or go against the best interests of a state and its residents.
Using 1860-61 as a model, your state Legislature would first vote to rescind the state's original ratification of the Constitution, which is what South Carolina did just before the War of Northern Aggression.
Then, your state's Washington delegation reads a declaration of secession in the wells of the U.S. House and Senate. Then your congressional delegation walks out, and not just ceremoniously, either. They are legally allowed to "moon" one or both houses as they exit. That's where the term "bicameral" comes from.
Once they get outside the Capitol Building, they get in their carriages and "haul-ass" south. Should this happen today, they will stop long enough to explain only to Fox News cameras why they're about to get in their carriages.


The South Carolina Washington delegation. Harper's Weekly followed the delegation around Capitol Hill just before Christmas 1860. The men walked the halls of the Capitol Building, informing congressional colleagues that the state would secede.

Here's how South Carolina, the only state with what I call the huevos to go first (December 1860), stated the vote in its general assembly:

"An ordinance to dissolve the union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled 'The Constitution of the United States of America.'

Here's the Texas secession petition filed on the White House website a few weeks ago.

"Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect its citizens' standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government."

Whatever "no longer being reflected" means.

By the way, wouldn't Texas return to Mexican ownership if it left the union? That would make Texans illegal immigrants on their own land. Kind of what happened to the original Mexicans who were in "Texas" when it was stolen from Mexico. Border states will have to be careful with this pulling-out-of-the-union thing.

Who can secede?

Any state, county, town, or region--the Florida Keys, for instance--can declare its intention to break from its larger political parent. The real question is, who can secede successfully? Courts or voters can allow the breaking of neighborhoods or towns from taxation districts or allow them to detach themselves from city boundaries. When it comes to states, that's not been done. The one real drive for secession, in 1861, was beaten back with federal armies.
So the answer is: Any state can declare its intention to secede if it has reason enough. It's not illegal to declare one's intention. That's free speech.
I have not read each and every secession petition for the 40 states, but I am certain most of the signatures (Texas has tens of thousands of signatures) stem from anger at the deficit, the national healthcare law, Obama's nationality, and whatever else Karl Rove has accused the president and Democrats of doing. I do not belittle anyone's reasons for wanting to secede. If conservatives are angry, that's all that's necessary. The courts do not limit or define the reasons for seeking independence from the United States.
However, and laws are riddled with "howevers" (or are those proclamations?) the Supreme Court ruled unilateral secession unconstitutional, but suggests successful secession is possible through arms or with the consent of other states.
 Which brings us back to Texas, whose secession petition has been signed by 88,000 residents. If Massachusetts, Florida, California, and all the other states tell Texas they can go (not an impossibility, trust me) then who's to stop it?

Is secession allowed?

That's a silly question, isn't it? That's the best part of secession. It's a line states aren't allowed to cross. And that's exactly why they cross it.
Attempts at or aspirations of secession from the United States have been a feature of the country's politics since its birth. Some say states have a constitutional right to quit the union; Jefferson said it's an American responsibility to revolt, which I hold true, too. In the armed sense, I mean.
The one serious secession movement was defeated in the Civil War, of course. In 1860 and 1861, 11 of the fifteen southern states that enslaved human beings quit the U.S. and formed the Confederate States of America.
Though the CSA collapsed after April 1865, one of its sons successfully decapitated the federal government at Ford's Theater.

A look at secession 2013

What makes a secession successful is whether or not a state has a standing army of citizens that can beat back the U.S. military, which will most assuredly arrive in a matter of hours by federal highway system, air, and--if you are a coastal state, by Aegis cruiser or aircraft carrier.
Yet new powers given the president after 9-11 will add a new twist to any future mass secession of states from the union.
States, in fact, do have standing armies, which are euphemistically called "The National Guard." They are at the disposal of governors in case of natural disasters, rioting in urban settings, or in the case of Ohio in 1970, to quell university students who start throwing things. Can governors use the National Guard to protect its borders against an invading U.S. Army? I suppose the governor would have to first gauge the mood of his National Guard and whether its commander would back him. This sure is fun, isn't it? The height of journalism, describing what might happen in a situation that may never happen!

The Insurrection Act allows the president to use U.S. military personnel at the request of the State Legislature or Governor to suppress insurrections in states. What if governors refuse to use the National Guard on his own people, or in fact, uses the National Guard troops to uphold secession?
On the eve of the midterm elections in 2006, George W. Bush successfully got Congress to change the Posse Comitatus Act by granting the president the right to commandeer federal or even state National Guard Troops and use them inside the United States. Against taxpayers. Against civilians. Against you.
One of the stated reasons the prez can suspend civil liberties, detain, and interrogate citizens is to suppress, in a state, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy. Those are my italics, by the way.
The Patriot Act also allows the president--the president--to arrest, detain, and interrogate (with methods up to, but not including, torture) and hold indefinitely in secret Americans or anyone else deemed part of a terrorist cause, attempt, plan, communication, or other perceived link to insurrection or terrorist groups.

OK, it's unpleasant, but we've now established that the president has tools in place to stop a state from seceding without an all-out civil war. If a state secedes and the governor won't use his own National Guard to quell that secession--he probably has agreed with his state's congressional delegation to secede (see South Carolina above)--then the president can phone the state's National Guard commander and order him to do it. Kind of a surgical civil war, in which insurrection is halted state by state, without having to call up Army divisions and trucking or shipping them by rail to the region in question.
There's something else that's changed since 1861: It's called the Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).
Whereas President Lincoln had his Army of the Potomac, the president now has this military force already in place. It is headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, which few would argue is pretty close to the geographic center of the United States. Thanks again to George W. Bush, who formed the command in 2002 in response to 9-11. The command is "tasked with providing military support for civil authorities in the U.S., and protecting the territory and national interests of the United States within the contiguous U.S., including Alaska."
The creation of a new command (the Southern Command protects South America and the Caribbean; Central Command, Iraq, Middle East, and Southwest Asia; and the Pacific Command, which oversees India, China, the Pacific ridge and the eastern edge of Asia, Australia, and other parts) puts Americans right in the center of the Pentagon's military planning table. Genl. Charles H. Jacoby, the modern counterpart to Genl. Ulysses Grant, is in charge of USNORTHCOM; he would be in charge of using military force to pull any secessionist states back into the fold.
Unimaginable, folks, until the Northern Command was approved by Congress in a flurry of post-9/11 fear that many point to when they say Bin Laden won.
Let me dial this back down a bit. The U.S. military isn't about to roll into cities and towns to lay out barbed wire and water board citizens. Most of the Northern Command's mission is to control populations of Americans in times of extreme crisis. Here's what NORTHCOM thinks about:
The explosion of a small nuclear device in Chicago causes a mass exodus into the countryside from nearly every American city. Or a deadly disease outbreak causes a breakdown in social services, civilian authority, and other forms of societal collapse. You need troops to move large populations, set up large tent cities with plumbing, electricity, and kitchens; you need soldiers to manage refugee checkpoints, to ship in and distribute clothing, food, medicine, and to provide security in times of disruption. These are extremely unpleasant things to think about, but those are the kinds of things NORTHCOM plans for. The unstated idea in all this is that NORTHCOM has the legal authority and weapons to restore order within the borders of the United States. By the way, won't Southern governors love all those tanks rolling down their highways, with "Northern Command" graphics on their armor?

A quick thought: So what if a state secedes? It's not going anywhere. I think what really started the Civil War was South Carolina shore batteries firing on a federal fort in Charleston Harbor. If Texas secedes but doesn't fire on anyone or pass any laws that allow the eating of children, then why not just leave Texans alone, let them declare themselves independent and ignore them? I think that's what's happening anyway.

Other examples of secession

States aren't the only political entities to secede. In Maryland, the Eastern Shore has sought a split with Annapolis and the rest of the state on the Washington side of the Chesapeake Bay. Neighborhoods often seek to split from cities and towns. And cities seek separation from states.
Which returns us again to Texas. As so many Texans signed the secession petition this month, Austin said it wants to stay with the United States. What a great town, by the way. Great music, great food, great people, and educated? You better believe it. The city is begging the White House to let it stay with the union.
I love that city. Always have.

Monday, November 19, 2012

There must be a connection

6 degrees of separation: Car crashes linked to assassinations? 

By John L. Guerra

Two weeks before John F. Kennedy was killed in his car in Dallas, future First Lady Laura Bush killed a Texas man with her car.
Ten days after Democratic presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles, a woman was killed in Mitt Romney's car after he collided with a car driven by a Catholic priest.
It gets weirder. Mitt Romney was declared dead in that same crash, and his father, George Romney, was a presidential candidate on the Republican side while Bobby Kennedy was on the other side. Upon learning that his son was dead, George Romney called Bobby Kennedy's brother in law, Sargent Shriver, who was the American ambassador to France. He asked Shriver to confirm his son's status--something even Obama couldn't accomplish years later. 
As we all know, Mitt lived. Sort of.
Thirteen months later Sen. Ted Kennedy ran his car off the Chapaquiddick Ferry Bridge and left Mary Joe Kopechne in the water overnight.
These facts might make your head spin, but let me sort it all out.
In the First Lady's instance, it finally establishes a concrete link between Laura Bush and JFK's assassination.
As for Romney's crash, which occurred because as Romney himself said, "I was frightened of driving a car and had a sense of vulnerability that I had not experienced before," I can establish an even creepier connection. Because he is a Mormon and the man in the other car was a Catholic, the priest must have been drunk. Romney told C-Span interviewer Brian Lamb in 2006 that "the other fellow was drunk." As we all know, whether you are in France or Vietnam, it's never the fault of the rich guy.
There is no proof the priest was drunk. In fact, the French police did not accuse the priest of drinking and the priest, who is still alive, says he wasn't drunk.
By the way, and I find this very interesting: The French declared the youngster Mitt Romney dead in June 1968 after the car crash. Right there on the side of the road, in the grass, among several injured people, some of whom weren't moving. The local French guy in charge of the scene wrote "Il est mort" across Romney's passport. Romney told Lamb that his father, then-presidential candidate George Romney, read about his son's death in American newspapers (not). George Romney called Shriver (true story, according to the younger Romney) and asked him to check on his progeny, who had never been out of the United States. Shriver went to the hospital, talked to the young Romney (proving he was still alive) and called George Romney and the rest is history. The president of the Mormon mission and his wife were in the back seat. The wife of the Mormon leader was the one who died in the crash. You can see the new widower's sadness as he eats his meal in the hospital.


Now, we know that the late Teddy Kennedy had been drinking pretty heavily when he drove Miss Kopechne across the wooden bridge to drop her off at her hotel room. And he's a Catholic. See the connection?
There really isn't one. Alcohol and lunatics kill, regardless of religious affiliation.

Now, to the woman who has had to suffer endlessly because she is married to a buffoon.
Laura Bush was heading back into town with a girlfriend (they had been hanging out at an outdoor party-I wish these people would admit to being people) when she drove through an intersection.
Here's how a newspaper reported the incident.

"Driving her father’s brand new Chevy Impala on Nov. 6, 1963, Laura ran a stop sign on Farm Road 868 at 8:08 p.m. at 50 mph., plowing into a Corvair sedan driven by Michael Dutton Douglas, the high school’s track and football star, and according to some, a former beau of hers. The impact of the collision hurled Douglas’ car some 50 feet off the road, instantly killing him. Laura and her passenger, schoolmate Judy Dykes, were both treated at the local hospital for their own bruises. It was there she learned that Douglas had died of a broken neck."
I believe Laura Bush when she says she felt absolutely, sickeningly, horrifically, horrible about the young man's death. At the hospital, she could hear his mother weeping over her son on the other side of the emergency room curtain. It was a moment, she wrote in her biography, that changed her life and brought her tumbling into adulthood. I've always liked her and feel bad that she went through that nightmare--the accident, I mean. Not her marriage to what's-his-name.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Notes on Election Day in Key West

Tip O'Neill said it: All politics is local

When Tip O'Neill, the big, affable politician from Boston, said "All politics is local," he might not have realized how layered in meaning the statement is. It means congressmen won't be re-elected unless they take care of their districts back home. Yes, you might fight for national bills in Congress, but you better pay attention to the folks where you live.
After last week's voting, I realized it means something else: As hundreds of millions of Americans, from Maine to San Diego and Seattle to South Florida, went to the polls to vote, I had the pleasure of seeing and talking to my neighbors at my precinct headquarters at the community swimming pool in Bahama Village. We have an active political base in Bahama Village, the main drag of which seems to be Petronia Street. The neighborhood is bounded on the south by Front Street to the community pool. The northern boundary of the village is the length of Duval from United Street to Fleming Street.
At Johnson's Store, an important political communications center in the largely African-American precinct(second only to the neighborhood churches) owners "B" and Brenda Johnson post signs outside their little grocery store that urge neighbors to register to vote; to take advantage of early voting; and to remind everyone to vote on Election Day. They also let local, state, and national candidates hang their campaign signs on the store's outside wall.
The Johnsons have launched petitions for Bahama Village neighbors to sign that argue against the widening of Petronia or other projects that could diminish the neighborhood's peaceful atmosphere. The couple has sponsored Petronia Street cleanup days, during which they offer free coffee and pastries to volunteers who picked up trash and rubbish from the street. This week a sign outside the store thanks the community for voting and encourages everyone to come toether to improve the neighborhood regardless of race, sexual preference, religious belief or political party.
So, when Election Day nears--especially last week's, in which President Barack Obama faced Mitt Romney, a strong conservative Republican contender--politics was the top subject of conversation at Johnson's, at Courthouse Deli, and in the Elks Club on Whitehead Street.
At lunchtime on Election Day, I made my way to the community pool to cast my vote. There was my friend Charles, seated in a folding chair, holding up a campaign poster supporting Barack Obama. There was no Romney presence, not even a sign sticking up from the lawn. That's what Romney meant when he said there was no sense trying to attract Obama's 47 percent camp to vote for him in the last weeks of his campaign. Too bad. The irony of Romney's statement, by the way, was lost on none of my neighbors.
I also saw neighbors holding signs for Andy Griffiths for School Board and Catherine Vogel for state attorney, an holding posters for other candidates.
At a table outside the front door of the precinct, a young lady asked neighbors complete a form listing the top three problems facing Bahama Village. I listed parking, proposed widening of Petronia, Olivia, and more activities for youth. Jobs training programs would be great for young people, too.
I worked for Sen. John Glen's campaign, knocking on doors in Manchester, N.H., before the first primary in the fall of 1984. I covered the state Legislature in Annapolis, Md. I was a reporter on Capitol Hill for 10 years, watching, listening, and talking with lawmakers on both sides as they spun, spun, spun to the press.
That's why I decided not to watch the election returns last Tuesday night. It was going to be close. Fox News, of course, had the Romney momentum bringing its candidate to the brink of victory and MSNBC was calling it awful close for Obama. I get pretty wound up on Election Night and so, decided I'd watch the crime channel instead to stay calm. I would not peek at the results and instead wait for the morning to find out who would lead the nation for the next four years.
So the evening wore on as I worked on my book and watched "Deadly Women"; Sins & Secrets"; "Who in the %#$# Did I Marry?"; and "Behind Mansion Walls" (the closest I got to the 53 percent Romney represents). I was oblivious as to how the rest of the nation was voting that night. I wanted to get my results from the morning paper.
Before radio, television, and the Internet, Americans would learn who won when supporters launched torchlight victory parades and marched around town. Franklin Delanor Roosevelt's biography opens with the young boy waking in the middle of the night in his Hudson Valley mansion as an election night torch parade made up of neighbors and townsfolk marched up to the front of the property. The monied Roosevelts supported Hyde Park candidates and made their home available for political hobnobbing.

I continued to ignore the election results into the night. Then, about midnight, I heard an unexpected sound rolling up Petronia Street. I heard sticks striking plastic tubs, silverware beating on pots and pans, and children and parents chanting. My cat, who was napping on her high shelf, lifted her ears, then her head. The beating and chanting got louder. I stuck my head out my second-story window and looked out. There, at the corner of Terry Lane and Petronia Street, a small crowd milled about, celebrating.
"Obama! Obama! Obama!" and "Fired up! Ready to Go! Fired up! Ready to Go!"
The scene took me back to the 1800s before mass media. The scene was surreal and charming at the same time.
And it's the best illustration of what Tip O'Neill meant when he said that all politics is local.

-- John Guerra

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Another 'greatest' leader has died

McGovern, role model for my generation, passes away

By John L. Guerra

He was the kind of man who stood up for what he believed in and was willing to take a drubbing for it.
George McGovern, former U.S. senator from North Dakota and the Democrat nominated to take on President Richard Nixon in the 1972 campaign, won only one state--Massachusetts--and the District of Columbia on election night. That's more than a drubbing. That's a voice in the wilderness being beaten by villagers with clubs and axes.
The generations of American liberals he represented continued to love him in spite of his defeat, memorializing his, and their, defiance with a now-famous bumper sticker: "Don't Blame Me, I'm From Massachusetts."
He argued early and often during the campaign that Nixon, one of the most popular presidents of the age, was full of bull when he declared that '"Peace was at hand."
"Peace is not at hand," McGovern told campaign rallies. "It is not even in sight."
Yet Nixon, having emerged through four years of societal fragmentation that saw the Tet Offensive, a victory for the U.S. but a public relations win for the North Vietnamese; exploding college campuses and city slums wracked by violent demonstrations, the surrounding of the Pentagon by thousands, the assassinations of Martin L. King and Robert F. Kennedy, and the collapse of confidence in other areas of American life, still rolled right over him in the voting booth.
"I wanted to run for president in the worst way," McGovern joked. "I guess I did."
There was so much to this man. Born in a small farming community in North Dakota in time to see the dust bowl and the depression, the thin young man signed up for the Army Air Force in 1941, when he was 19. He signed up to be a bomber pilot, not the sort of assignment that one sought if one wanted to survive the war.
"I survived at a time when half of the B-24 crews in that theater did not make it," the elderly McGovern told AirVenture Today magazine in 2007.
Guys my age have a thing for World War II. We love to read about it, talk about it, watch movies about it, and always, always, love to meet the people who fought it. In Key West, there's a gentleman at the VFW on North Roosevelt Boulevard who was on a submarine in the Pacific. He and the rest of his crew sat for two days on the bottom of the Yellow Sea as the Japanese dropped mines, trying to find them. They had to maintain complete silence, lights out. It was extremely cold. When the mines stopped falling all around them, the submarine restarted, pulled away and the crew survived. He told me that at the time, he knew he was going to die. Just 19, he knew his life was over. It was a fact. He thought of his family back home, convinced he'd never see them again. What that must be like, to look back on that from old age? Of course, millions died right where they fell. Under the sea, on top of mountains, in remote deserts, in thick woods, in open fields.
McGovern was such a man; what differentiates him from so many others is that we know his name.
McGovern was a B-24 bomber pilot, which made him commander of his crew, a group of seasoned 17 and 18 year olds. This adds to the amazement of what these guys went through.
McGovern, who called the B-24 ugly and a gas hog, named it after his young wife. The Dakota Queen flew mission after mission with McGovern at the wheel. Dozens of these aircraft would take off, loaded to the hilt with 500-pound bombs, so heavy they needed a half-mile of land to get airborne. They would join up in formation high above the free parts of Europe and head toward their targets. Sometimes it would be a ball-bearing factory, an oil refinery, train tracks, any facility that built weapons or supported Hitler's war machine. As they approached their targets, dozens of fighter planes with the German cross would dive on them from all angles, chopping up wings, crew, and pilots with heavy machine guns. The bombers were sitting ducks because under no circumstance could pilots pull out of formation. The tight grouping was the only way to ensure enough bombs would hit the target.
On many occasions, McGovern and his crew of kids would see blood splatter the inside of the adjacent bomber's cockpit, or watch as a bomber split in two, its crew cartwheeling into the props of other bombers. McGovern won the Distinguished Flying Cross after bringing his crew home, limping back to base with an engine or two out, or the hull of the aircraft looking like Swiss cheese.
Yet he railed against Nixon's bombing of civilians in Hanoi, Cambodia, and other parts of Vietnam. Was this hypocrisy? No, and I'll tell you why. A man who has bombed cities, albeit military targets, knows of which he speaks. For McGovern, civilians were off-limits but he knew they suffered when his bombs fell. In the era before smart bombs, hitting targets was far from assured.
While flying back to base one day, McGovern's plane had a bomb stuck in its rack. McGovern flew the plane lower so the men could free it without wearing oxygen masks. The bomb fell and landed square on a farmer's house in Austria.
"It blew the farmyard to smithereens," McGovern told AirVenture Today. "I felt terrible knowing that farmers eat lunch around noon and that we had probably blown up a family. That bothered me for a long time."
Years later, McGovern was serving as a professor at an Austrian university and while on television there, told the story of how he had unintentionally destroyed the farmhouse so many years earlier. Unbelievably, the farmer, still alive, saw McGovern on television and called the station.
"Tell him it was my farm," the man said. "We saw the bomber coming and knew it wasn't in formation. So I got my wife and three children, and we hid in a ditch and no one got hurt. Tell him if bombing my farm made this war one minute closer to ending, it was fine with us."
So McGovern spoke with authority when he criticized Nixon for the Christmas bombing that hit civilians in Vietnam. Though Nixon hoped the stepped-up bombing would bring North Vietnam back to the negotiating table, McGovern believed it was not winning hearts and minds in that part of the world or in the United States. Not to mention killing innocents.
McGovern also saw a difference between WWII and Vietnam. Though civilian deaths are ridiculously absurd during any war, the Allies believed punishing German civilians could speed the overthrow of Hitler. Besides, Hitler had bombed European cities, including London, not giving a hoot about civilians.
I love this man for another reason. He waged a losing battle to save his daughter Terry's life. In "Terry: My Daughter's Life-And-Death Struggle With Alcoholism," this very public man discussed his private hell watching his daughter descend into madness and alcoholism. She eventually died on a frigid night, frozen to death in a snowbank.
He and his wife, Eleanor, did a great thing discussing how their hearts moved from dismay, anger, and finally desperation and love for their child. In the end, the couple had to bury her. After his defeat in 1972, McGovern has moved heaven and earth to find ways to get food to starving regions and nations cut off by war and unreasonable leaders.
His name is synonymous with the movement to end world hunger. While some nations, like ours, dump thousands of tons of food into the trash every hour, other nations have children with bellies swollen with hunger-based illness and disease.
Want peace? Reduce hunger and want. Truly liberal ideas that should be embraced by all segments of the political spectrum.
I have spoken with Sen. McGovern on a couple of occasions. In the early 1980s, he lived in the top floor of an apartment building on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C. I lived across the street. On a snowy night, I walked to the 7-11 up the street and ran into him as he bought a cup of coffee. I thanked him for trying to defeat Nixon and commented on the snow. He said, "You're welcome," adding, "I love the snow, how about you?"
"It hides all sins," I said, repeating something my mother always said.
"Not all of them," he said, then laughed.
When I read "Terry," his book about his daughter's battle and death so many years later, I understood what he meant.
As our political center continues to fling apart, the loss of men like McGovern (and Teddy Kennedy last year) remind us that we must double our efforts to combat the cynics on the right.
Election Day is Tuesday. Vote for moderation, progress, and equality. Vote Democrat.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The world of Mandy Miles

Key West writer captures city's beat

By John L. Guerra

Mandy Miles, the veteran reporter at The Key West Citizen, writes a Sunday column in the newspaper that recounts what she sees and hears around the island city.
Each week, this energetic and expressive woman tracks the unique aspects of life in Key West in her column, "Tan Lines."
For instance, I love how she captures what happens when fall arrives, the temperatures cool, and we shut off our air conditioners. Without the hum of her air conditioner to block the sounds of the night, Miles writes this:
"... I now hear everyone traversing Simonton Street between 1 and 4 a.m.
The guy with the Boston accent was convinced the 'Bahs' in Key West stay open until 4 a.m. and could not understand why the duo was already heading back to the room."
"And the woman locked out of the guesthouse across the street decided to use her God-given talent of whistling through two fingers to get the attention of her friends or the management."
Miles also reveals that she worries whether putting her own sunglasses into her purse while in a drug store will cause the management to think she's stealing a pair from the store's shelves.
And this jewel: "Am I the only one who thinks driving sidesaddle on a scooter is absurd?"

After pounding the hell out of her bed when she jammed and bloodied her toe on its metal frame, "The old jingle for Band-Aids was running through my head ... as I affixed one of them to my toe."
This is not to mean she's crazy. She's not, at least not in a negative way. She just has a gift for capturing what makes us human, as well as what makes Key West dig itself into our hearts.

Mandy has just published the second collection of her columns called "Only in Key West" and I heartily recommend it. The writing is crisp and following her thought processes is like sitting down with a friend and listening to a string of stories that leave you thinking, "I am not the only one who thinks like this. That's a relief."

In this book, for instance, she writes of adopting a cat that in fact, had adopted her and Stan, her real-deal fishing captain husband with a heart of gold.

"I had no idea a cat could look disappointed.
"I swear I saw the one who lives at our house sigh and shake his head last week when I opened the door and saw him in his usual spot on the deck. Stan, on the other hand, is greeted with happy prancing, head rubs against his legs and a look that can only be described as awe every time he opens the back door."

(Note to Mandy: I think it's because Stan works around fishing boats and bait. My cat did the same thing when I worked at the marina. Now, she doesn't even stand up when I get home).

Not to say her columns are without a message. Her books serve as historical accounts, capturing the times we all share. Such as the unraveling of the AIDS quilt down the length of Duval Street or the mood of the island in the days after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Readers will remember how impossible it was to drop or pick someone up at the new, multi-million airport out on the boulevard. Traffic cops forbid anyone to stop long enough to pick up passengers, making it difficult for families with babies and luggage or elderly or infirm people to get picked up in cars belonging to friends and family. Mandy wrote about the impossibility of the situation and the airport got lots of calls to fix the problem and it did so.

"Only in Key West" and "Tan Lines" are worth buying, especially as Christmas gifts. Not only will you be supporting a Key West author who doesn't have a look-alike contest to honor her or a history of bizarre public behavior to help her sell books, you'll laugh at the little details that explain life on this packed island.
When I pull one of her books off the shelf and read her accounts, I smile and realize how lucky we are to have someone who sees the lightness of being in Key West and I value her as someone who can show me that life need not be so serious.
She can be reached at "Tan Lines" and "Only in Key West" are available on and are on sale at Key West Island Books at 513 Fleming St.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

1935 car exec's opinion still rings true

Datsun comeback may not work, 103-year-old says

By John L. Guerra

How's this for an idea? How about building an American car that costs customers only $3,000?
It seems to me this would help the economy as well as introduce a fuel-efficient vehicle that would reduce the nation's consumption. An inexpensive car would by definition not have a large engine and thus would burn less fuel.
Not only that, but people on low incomes could afford it, thus giving them some way to search a wider area for better-paying jobs.
I believe introducing such a "people's car" (apologies to Volkswagen) would be a great success, making Ford or Chevrolet, or GM--whichever company does it, lots of money. The best reason, however, is that I might even be able to afford it.
It's Datsun, however, that has decided to build that car. Actually, Nissan is the actual name of the company, but to break into the American market in 1968, it used the moniker Datsun so if it failed, Nissan would not be shamed by failure. After a successful run with its B210, 240Z, and other models, Nissan decided to kill the Datsun brand in America and sell vehicles under the Nissan name.
Datsun's 510 sedan, introduced in America in 1968, was a favorite for American youth, according to The Wall Street Journal. Now Nissan wants to introduce a package of perhaps six inexpensive Datsun's to third-world countries by 2014. If the United States continues on its present path, we will be a developing country and we will be able to buy it.

Old advice the best advice
The Japanese executive who introduced Datsuns in the United States in the 1960s, including the wildly popular 240Z sportscar in the 1970s, says building such a cheap car is a bad idea. What's not unique is the executive's opinion, but that he's giving one at all.
This executive is himself a great story. He's the automotive industry equivalent of personal computing's Bill Gates. Yutaka "Mr. K" Katayama, a former Nissan executive who saw the first mass-produced Datsun roll off the line as a new hire in the spring of 1935, said this week the car won't sell if it's cheaply built as well as inexpensive.
Wait a minute ... did you catch that? A man who was a 26-year-old Nissan automobile executive in 1935 had an opinion this week? When was the last time you heard from someone who was a successful businessman 77 years ago give advice on his industry? Six years before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Mr. K was in charge of Datsun products at Nissan; three years before Germany invaded Poland he was in charge of an automotive line. Yet this man, who introduced Datsuns to the world in 1935, is still alive at the age of 103 and was ready to respond to a question when a reporter telephoned him this week.

Yahoo News quoted Mr. K Wednesday:
"When the Datsun name disappeared, I was very sad—it is good to hear its coming back," the 103-year-old Mr. Katayama said, sitting in an office in a residential neighborhood of Tokyo, surrounded by a lifetime of automotive memorabilia, including a U.S. Route 101 sign. "But it'll be a shame if they're cheap cars. I had really hoped they'd make a more polished car," he said.
Born Yutaka Asoh on Sept. 15, 1909, Mr K, was the first president of Nissan Motor Corporation U.S.A. He is considered the father of the Datsun 240Z and other Z cars. He first saw the U.S. in mid-1929, when he spent four months as a 20-year-old checking out the Pacific Northwest while the ship he'd been working on as a crew member was being repaired in Seattle.
According to Hemmings Automotive News, during Japan's military expansion in Manchuria and the rest of the Pacific in 1939, Mr. K was ordered to report to a Nissan plant in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, but managed to obtain a transfer back to Japan in 1941--when he was 32. Near the end of the war in 1945, he refused orders to return to Manchukuo; Katayama later credited his survival of the war to this decision. According to Hemmings, his wealthy father, a successful businessman, had several automobiles prior to World War II, and young Katayama grew up around classic cars. Following the war, when so many Japanese were searching for food and shelter, Katayama became obsessed with finding a classic car to drive.

In the early 1960s, Mr. K--at that time more than 50 years old--researched the car market in the U.S. and decided the Datsun 510 would succeed in America. It featured a more powerful 1,600cc engine that he'd been requesting for years. When the first one came off the ship in California, Mr. K drove it out of the parking facility himself. The 510 gave American customers something they'd never had before: an inexpensive, stout, durable car that was also sporty and not unappealing to the eye. It was a smash hit and the fulfillment of Mr. K's vision.
Understanding America's culture paid off for Mr. K when Nissan sent a car to the United States called "Fair Lady." Katayama refused to let the care be marketed under that name In fact, he pried the badges off the car--those are the metal nameplates on car bodies that describe the car's name--and replaced the name plates with badges carrying the car's internal name: 240Z.
Mr. K was voted into the Japanese and American Automotive Halls of Fame and remains a cult hero to Z owners.
The best thing about it is that he's stuck around to enjoy every minute of it.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Canine video shows animal's dedication

Injured owner helped by dog's heroic run

By John L. Guerra

My dear friend Carol Trent wrote me last week to say that she and her daughter, Julie, 11, enjoy reading about animals on this blog, so I think I have a great one that they, and other readers, will like.
In recent weeks we heard from Walker, another reader who told us how Spike, the puppy rescued from a dumpster, has added to his life in extraordinary ways.
I have another story that shows once again how animals share the same connection to life that we humans purport to embrace.
If you've heard this story, that's OK. I think it needs repeating.
Buddy is a German shepherd who lives in the woods near Anchorage, Alaska, with his owner, 23-year-old Ben Heinrichs. Ben was working in his garage on April 4, 2010, when an electric heater (it's cold up there, even in April) set paint cleaner blazing. The flames caught Ben's shirt, arm and chest on fire, and Buddy, who Ben describes as skittish, started to freak out. Ben ran outside and dove into the snow to put himself out, with Buddy circling him and whining.
Here's the part I love. Ben says he told Buddy, "We need to get help."
The dog then dashed into the dark and down the long driveway like a bat out of hell.
Switch to an Alaska State Trooper's dash camera a good distance from the burning house as it records his cruiser's headlight beams on a dark, wooded road. At a snowbanked intersection, a German shepherd suddenly leaps into the road, barking like a nut. It then breaks into a run down the middle of the road to the left, and the cruiser turns to follow. At each new intersection, Buddy guides the cruiser, repeatedly looking back to urge the trooper on. On and on the dog runs, with the trooper following. The dog cuts left into another road, hanging back to make sure the car makes the turn.
Buddy is clearly signaling the trooper to follow in several ways. First, it keeps looking back with urgency; second, when the trooper slows, the dog slows; and third, when the dog makes a turn, it waits for the trooper to make the turn.
At the bottom of the home's driveway, Buddy breaks into an even faster run toward towering flames that can clearly be seen in the cruiser's video. The trooper told reporters that Buddy came around to his driver's side door as the trooper exited. The dog nuzzled the trooper's hand as if to make him hurry to the house.
Once the trooper began to interview Ben, Buddy ran back into the darkness and met firetrucks far from the house to lead them in, the trooper reported. Both the trooper and the firefighters were responding to the blaze already, but Buddy made sure they didn't get lost.
Ben wasn't injured badly and the trooper made arrangements to honor Buddy with a ceremony and a silver food dish emblazoned with the Alaska State Police seal.

Watch Buddy run for help:

Buddy received an engraved silver-plated dog bowl from Alaska State Troopers for his heroic run. That's Ben holding his leash.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A doctor's warning

Deadly superbug gains foothold in Florida

By John L. Guerra

(AP) — A deadly germ untreatable by most antibiotics has killed a seventh person at the National Institutes of Health Clinic in Maryland.
The Washington Post reported the death Friday. NIH officials told the paper that the boy from Minnesota died Sept. 7. NIH says the boy arrived at the research hospital in Bethesda in April and was being treated for complications from a bone marrow transplant when he contracted the bug.
He was the 19th patient at the hospital to contract an antibiotic-resistant strain of KPC, or Klebsiella pneumonia (KPC). The outbreak stemmed from a single patient carrying the superbug that arrived at the hospital last summer.
The paper reported the Minnesota boy's case marked the first new infection of this superbug since January.

This recent article reminded me of the stern doctor at Lower Keys Medical Center a few Sundays ago who made me promise to finish the antibiotics he prescribed me to kill a skin condition on my forearm.
As he wrote the prescription, however, I confessed out loud that I'd taken the last of some left-over ampilicin before deciding to see him.
The white lab coat froze, turned slowly and the doctor wearing it looked me in the eye (this is how doctors scare the living s--- out of you) and said, "What were you doing with ampicilin? Where did you get it?"
I never try to B.S. doctors, so I told him. "I had some left from a prescription  ..."
"Don't ... Ever ... Not take all of your antibiotics as prescribed," he stammered. He showed me silent scorn until he finished writing the antibiotic prescription.
"You promise to take all of this as directed?" he asked, holding the prescription close to his chest, awaiting an answer. I promised to follow his directions and now my arm is fine.

The doctor's warning to finish my antibiotics, however, was but a small reminder that doctors and hospitals in the Keys and elsewhere in Florida are very worried about superbugs such as KPC and other infectious microbial agents/pathogens that do not respond to antibiotics.

Key West Man died of infection

A local construction worker taken off life support last week serves as a stronger symbol of what is possible when someone in the Keys gets an infection that can't be defeated with antibiotics and other strategies. He did not have KPC, but hearing his story convinced me to have my arm checked out at Lower Keys.
The man's name shall remain anonymous, but he was well-known at Don's Place bar and in the construction community. According to people who knew him, the middle-aged man cut his leg during concrete work and may have waited too long to seek medical attention. When he was taken to Lower Keys Medical Center about three weeks ago, he was feverish, in and out of consciousness, and his leg had swollen -- symptoms of sepsis, or blood infection. He was airlifted to a Miami hospital, but apparently went into a coma during the flight. For the next weeks, doctors had him on a ventilator and tried the strongest antibiotics at hand. They amputated his leg and tried other drugs to halt the infection but he never recovered. His organs shut down and his life ended last week.

Florida doctors: MRSA was just a preview

According to an online site called "The Florida Infectious Disease Forum", as deadly as KPC is, the public has not been educated on prevention strategies. Experts say the victory is in prevention, as it was with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a skin infection that has been fatal for some people around the country. The Keys had a  nice little outbreak of it a few years ago, spurring schools and county officials to launch a MRSA-prevention education campaign.

Time to pay attention to KPC

There has been no such push to prevent KPC in the Keys and in the rest of the nation, according to the online forum.
KPC causes pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and sepsis; the mortality rate from these infections is extremely high. What makes it scary is that it latches to other infections and rides right on to the lungs like a nasty hitchhiker. The pandemic flu of 1917 was so fatal to young and healthy people because it caused the body to fling so many antibodies to the lungs that victims drowned in their own sputum. KPC creates an antibody reaction akin to that.

I found this tidbit from the Florida Infectious Disease online forum:

"If KPC becomes prevalent to even a fraction of the extent that MRSA is, we are really in trouble. KPC is a lot more difficult to treat," a physician wrote.
"And if we can’t treat these patients due to antibiotic resistance, the number of deaths which are kick-started by influenza will be higher than anyone is currently thinking about."

The Miami KPC outbreak

A Miami teaching hospital in 2010 released the results of what happened when KPC broke out in one of its Surgical Intensive Care Units. Nine patients came down with it; six of them died; four others lived but caught KPC with accompanying sepsis.
When the hospital tested 15 surfaces in three rooms that held the patients, 10 of the surfaces showed KPC baccili: on door knobs, bedding, bed rails, and even on the keyboard of a PC-on-wheels in the hall outside the hospital rooms. Nurses and front office staff roll those PCs from bed to bed to key in patient and billing data, which turned out to be a great way to spread KPC from room to room.

Staff swabbed down everything in the rooms, including bedside tables, television monitors, bed railings, door handles, such medical equipment as heartbeat monitors, ventilator tubing--everything where KPC had colonized.
The warning about KPC's danger did not reach all staff members, however.
"Compliance with hand hygiene and with the use of gowns and gloves was not systematically monitored before or after the intervention started," a compliance review at the same hospital revealed.
The report said the outbreak ended without any transmission outside the hospital. It should be noted, however, that MRSA also was once constrained to hospitals.

-- John Guerra

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The choice of two Americas

Will we finally lose forever the America we had?

By John L. Guerra

It is September and the unsettled mind sets in as it does every September.
I am a highly seasonal being, ruled by the relationship of the sun to the Earth. In the winter, I tend to hibernate and read even more than my voracious appetite usually requires. In the summer, my body seeks submersion in water and ocean breezes.
In September, my very being tugs me to the road. Don't know why, but that's just the way it has always been. Perhaps it's that very American instinct to get across the Rockies before the passes close, or something like that.
During my fourth September, my parents awoke at sunrise to find me missing from our little Cape Cod house in Rockville, Md. A policeman driving across a bridge spanning the railroad tracks spotted me below, walking down the center of the Baltimore and Ohio rail bed some two miles from my house. I was dressed in my pajamas, headed out of town. Good thing the cop saw me. The morning commuter train from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore and up the East Coast runs through town every mornng. Some argue that was the only train wreck I ever avoided. This is a true story and I bet many of you out there get the travel urge in the fall.

This year September has a thin layer of brooding to it, especially as we ponder the fate of this country and the choice we have before us Nov. 6. Do we keep Barack Obama, who I believe is doing his best to hold the center of our social structure together, or do we get Mitt Romney and the extremists in the Republican Party whose vision is of an America with much less support for the middle class and poor? I wish I were exaggerating, but I've read their proposed budgets; seen the arrogance and cynicism in their eyes as they repeatedly refused to even debate, much-less bring to the floor, a jobs bill or home owner rescue bill that might have ended some of the financial suffering.
There is much to be disappointed about in Obama; he hasn't exactly been the reformer we'd hoped. In the first 100 days of his term, traditionally the time when presidents hit the ground running, he seemed much too timid in his dealings with the opposition. He's had some big wins--the new healthcare law, saving General Motors and automotive industry jobs, and of course, whacking Osama Bin Laden in his bedroom--and under his leadership I feel there's at least an adult in the White House. George Bush Jr. ended his second term and the center sighed, "Thank God that's over."
The way we debate in this country has changed since my walk on the railroad tracks.
My America (I was born in 1958) seemed to be a place of optimistic adults, great options, and intelligent neighbors. I do remember when one's political opinion did not bring anger and vilification from others. Americans didn't voice so much invective at Others With Different Opinions. I know our cities were burning; I know Vietnam split this nation apart; I know we lost some of our best and brightest to the sniper's rifle. In spite of those horrible events I feel more ill at ease now for our future than I did then.
I don't hate Republicans. I want to make that clear, because it has to be said to any Republicans or conservatives who are reading this. I just want to give my opinion.

The center the enemy of the people?

Instead of open discussion and good-natured debate, too often Republicans spout that I am a second-class American. That I'm a non-patriot, a lover of terrorists, and a member of the Liberal media. They seem to say that about anyone who does not agree with their platform. Unfortunately, they use such terms when describing millions of others like me who occupy the political center. Those who don't agree with their plan to de-fund Social Security are Socialists, for instance, and are a danger to the American democratic way of life. Don't agree with the invasion of Iraq after 9/11? To Republicans, that meant one thing: I don't support the troops. I support terrorism.

Republican presidents were good for U.S.

In my America, Republicans had good ideas and I enjoyed debating friends from the right. I agreed with many of the policies GOP presidents led. Richard Nixon gave us the Environmental Protection Agency. He signed the law that created the Endangered Species Act. Upon signing the law that holds developers, corporations, and individuals accountable when they destroy habitat or harm or kill animals, Nixon said: "Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed."
That's a big difference from the present-day GOP leadership that scoffs at any evidence of polar bears in trouble or the Bush Jr. White House, which struck language from Office of Science and Technology Policy reports that described man-caused climate change and its destruction of environment and wildlife in the Arctic and Antarctic.
Nixon also opened relations with Communist China, an incredible move for its time and its effects are everlasting. Going back farther, Teddy Roosevelt created the National Park System, beginning with Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park. Class warfare? Teddy, just barely 40 years old, went after steel, coal, oil, train, maritime shipping, and other giant business trusts run by the Gilded families. The result was the stripping of absolute business power from a handful of wealthy men who felt the federal government was merely a foot stool.
The federal government, in fact, did owe these men a favor. J.P. Morgan, Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and other wealthy me had lent money to the U.S. Treasury to keep Washington in the black during tough economic times. But Teddy Roosevelt, the young, Republican upstart, sat the old lions in a room at the White House and lectured them on the way things were going to be now that he was president. The barons tried to stop Roosevelt, but he launched legislation that gave the federal government power to regulate monopolies. By the way, another Republican president, William Howard Taft, sought court decisions to declare monopolies illegal.

New GOP run by fringe

The Romneys and other leaders of the Republican Party are not the Republicans of the 1950s, 1960s, or even the 1970s. Before the Tea Party and other radical right theorists rose in prominence in the GOP, Republican Party leaders like Dwight Eisenhower did what they could to isolate the anti-Communist, anti-Catholic John Birchers, the Phyllis Schaflys (who brought Southern Baptists and other Christian activists into the GOP by holding anti-Communism workshops in church basements) and other radical right wingers of their party when he led the GOP in the 1950s. He and other Republican leaders wanted nothing more than to build a Republican Party of moderates, expecially including the growing middle class, the families of which were headed by the millions of soldiers he commanded in Europe.

How to keep the center
The GI Bill, a large government social program Eisenhower endorsed and helped oversee, created a highly successful and upwardly mobile middle class. It is true, in 1959, that Eisenhower was against expanding the benefits to peacetime military, but he understood its importance to preventing a repeat of the Great Depression after World War I and the law's ability to prevent another Bonus Army March on the Mall in Washington, D.C., as occurred after World War I.
The creation of the GI Bill, however, was clearly a Republican act.
Benefits included low-cost mortgages, loans to start a business or farm, cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college, high school or vocational education, as well as one year of unemployment compensation. By the end of the program in 1956, roughly 2.2 million veterans had used the GI Bill education benefits to attend colleges or universities. An additional 6.6 million used these benefits for some kind of training program.
It was passed during the Truman Administration, but that's beside the point. Unlike Romney's promise to kill Obama's health care program should he win the White House, Eisenhower embraced the GI bill created by his Democratic predecessor.
Harry W. Colmery, a World War I veteran and ex-Republican National Committee chairman, outlined his idea for the G.I. Bill on stationery and a napkin at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. By the way, the GOP was willing to fund the vast GI Bill at a time when the wealthiest Americans paid an average of 51 percent income tax. In 2012, the wealthiest Americans pay much less--closer to 16 percent. The decline in what the wealthy pay in taxes is the result of the tax policies of both parties over the decades, according to the book, "Death of the American Dream."

Attack, attack
When it comes to reaching out to the center, today's national Republican Party leaders have the sentimentality of Sen. Joe Mcarthy, who in the 1950s accused many in the center of being dangerous fellow travelers of Communist International.
I did not just read about the radical right's violent opposition to the center somewhere. I personally have been attacked on dozens of right-wing websites, including the Drudge Report,, and others for my belief that strident Republicans created a dangerous atmosphere during the healthcare debates that could have led someone to take a shot at Obama.
Though my writing to them was extremely agitated, (the better to reach them, I thought) my opinion was not unique; columnists in many mainstream publications were warning ill-informed Tea Party activists to calm down and to stop carrying guns and clubs to public healthcare hearings around the country. One Tea Party member, carrying a sign declaring himself so, threw to the ground and stomped a young woman who carried a placard supporting Obama's program. Onlookers didn't move for several moments as the man repeatedly lifted his size 12 shoe and brought it down on her neck. Thankfully, other Tea Party members pulled him off.
At other events, reporters who tried to cover Tea Party candidates were detained by private security agents and in many cases were forcibly thrown out of events.
Far from urging calm debate, Republican candidates like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman used terms like "Second-Amendment solutions" (referring to guns) and declared Obama as dangerous as Hitler or Stalin. Palin, the vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, accused him of being a terrorist.
I happily admit that so far the ugliness has not reared its head nearly as high this election cycle and that's good news. Whether Romney has laid down the law, we're not hearing as much invective against the Democratic candidate. Remarkable, too, because the two are so close in the polls. Perhaps they'll get ugly in the run up to Election Day.

A parting vision

Back to September and the road. Jack Kerouac wrote about the America I remember. In September, when I have that urge to travel, I pull him off the shelf. Here's the America that I love, and I know Republicans love, too.  We have common ground. There are still millions of Republicans who disagree with the politics of their present platform and love the simple things in life. In this column, I merely wanted to point out that those who are in charge of the party are not the same kind of people who led the party in the past.
Anyway, here's our American writer, celebrating the country that we all love. He and his friends in the post-war world, in a 1946 Cadillac, a truly American car. From On the Road:

In no time at all we were back on the main highway and that night I saw the entire state of Nebraska unroll before my eyes. A hundred and ten miles an hour straight through, an arrow road, sleeping towns, no traffic, and the Union Pacific streamliner falling behind us in the moonlight.
It was a magnificent car; it could hold the road like a boat holds on water. Gradual curves were its singing ease. 'Ah, man, what a dreamboat,' sighed Dean.

Now doesn't that sound like something worth remembering as we debate how we want this country to proceed? I know, Romney was against saving General Motors during the 2008 financial collapse, but if you ask most Republicans, I'd bet they're happy the 2012 Cadillac and other Detroit steel is available this year.