Thursday, August 26, 2021

The pandemic

We are living in a pandemic. We're not the first people this has ever happened to. The world infamously saw the 1918 pandemic. And there have been plagues, to be sure -- like the Black Plague. But while this isn't uncommon, there are things we can learn -- and, in doing so, maybe help the next generation facing a pandemic. Hannah Fufaro (SEATTLE TIMES) reports:

Gabriel was always an “angsty” child, his mother, Camille, remembers.
As a toddler, he was bright and curious — by 9 months he was intuitive enough to test out the strength of a cardboard box before climbing onto it. But he cried easily and was quick to anger. During fits, he’d swing his head back so violently that Camille considered buying him a helmet.
Camille didn’t understand his emotional outbursts, so when she heard about a study being done on stress and its biological and social roots in kids Gabriel’s age, she enrolled him. For the past 12 years or so, Gabriel, now 15, has visited the University of Washington for a battery of biological and psychological tests. Just before the pandemic, researchers scanned his brain using a magnetic resonance imaging machine. (The Seattle Times is only using Camille and Gabriel’s first names to protect their privacy.)
The researchers studying Gabriel and hundreds of other Puget Sound-area families knew that early life stress can have long-term consequences for mental health, which in turn can have profound effects on a child’s ability to learn in school. But what, exactly, happens to kids’ brains?
Answering that question became even more urgent when the pandemic hit, and so many children and teens were suddenly plagued by stress. Adolescents are generally more prone to anxiety and depression, but an unusually high number — more than half — were reporting these symptoms by about six months into the pandemic, the researchers found. Their latest findings on depression and anxiety, published this month, are a dire signal that the pandemic’s toll is steep, and they hold lessons for parents and teachers navigating an unpredictable path back to in-person learning.
Among the timely solutions the researchers have identified: a structured daily routine and limited passive screen time during the pandemic protects kids against depression and anxiety. Research is clear on the link between mental health and academics. Kids struggling with fears or having trouble regulating their emotions are more likely to experience challenges in school. The researchers’ work may prove invaluable to families — but also to teachers, who are rushing to understand how the pandemic might affect children’s learning and academic success.

Nicole Brady (THE DENVER CHANNEL) writes about the impact in Colorado:

The Colorado Children’s Campaign has released the 2021 Kids Count report looking at child well-being. It’s the first report to include data from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
This year's report, titled "At a Tipping Point," looks at the wide-reaching impact of income loss and how that affected families with children. The Colorado Children's Campaign reports half of all Colorado households with children reported a loss of employment income during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Some of the more concerning trends: from April 2020 to March 2021, an average of 10% of Colorado households with kids reported not having enough food to eat in the past week.
The stress for kids must be extraordinary. You've got adults struggling and even if they are keeping it out of the kids' eyes and ears, children do sense things.

CNBC has a column by "New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter and First Lady Chirlane McCray" which notes:

But studies indicate that children from all kinds of families also suffered, if only from losing their routines and missing their friends. Others watched family members die or fall ill or suffered the fallout from their caregivers’ lost or down-sized jobs.
We must support them all. Amid this unprecedented crisis, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a national roadmap for mental health support for our young people. Because most lifetime mental health conditions begin before age 24 and half before age 14, the earlier we can spot depression, anxiety or other issues, the earlier we can provide appropriate care.
Schools are a good place to start: educating the whole child is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic. We know that good social-emotional skills and good mental health are essential for a productive and healthy life. We need to think about mental health as part of returning to school in 2021, beyond the focus on physical health and Covid safety.
As students across the country return to socially distanced and disinfected classrooms carrying their backpacks and books, some will bounce with joy to see friends and teachers and some will be somber or even traumatized by their experiences during the pandemic.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that between April and October 2020 there was a 24% uptick in the proportion of mental health emergency visits for children ages 5 to 11, compared with the same time in 2019. The Colorado Children’s Hospital in May declared a mental health emergency.
And in a 2021 national poll, 46% of parents said their teen had shown signs of a new or worsening mental health condition since the pandemic.

It's really interesting to consider what the longterm effects of the pandemic will be for the generation of children. Especially for the ones, who are to young to remember prior to the pandemic, it will be interesting.

I know people my daughter's age have had issues with graduations and proms being limited or all out eliminated and I don't want to dismiss that either. When you're my age, it's easy to just think, "Oh, it was just a prom." Just. But when you're 17 or 18, that prom is everything. And I got one so it's easy for me, all these years later, to say right now "just a prom." So I do try to think back, n things like these, to when I was young and how important it was to me back then.

A prom really is not just a dance. It's more of a defining moment in young adulthood.

Anyway, bless them all and hopefully we'll be done with the pandemic soon.



"Iraq snapshot" (THE COMMON ILLS):

 Thursday, August 26, 2021.  The corporate press continues to ignore reality with regards to Afghanistan while Robert Pether faces what passes for 'justice' in Iraq.

Starting with Richard Medhurst demolishing the nonsense that US forces in Afghanistan would be protecting women.

Faux concern for women's rights, the fig leaf covering the empire's flaccid, dangling member.  Imagine if media whores like Andrea Mitchell dealt in reality instead of attempting to outrage the public?  On that, disclosure, a friend with the administration asked my advice re: the press tearing down of Joe Biden?  My advice was right it out and do not give mixed messages.  Stay consistent in the message.  42% approval is not great but it's also not the worst.  The media has shredded Joe over Afghanistan. Ride it out because the media will find another topic soon enough.  Americans truly opposed to Joe's decision were never going to vote for him to begin with.  Most Americans grasp that the situation is much more complex than the media is allowing for.  Barring another event that the media tries to shred him over, this should pass without any political harm to the presidency. I offer advice, playing out scenarios, to friends all the time, as you know if you've read this site for any length of time.  I'm disclosing that one because it involves the messaging of a sitting president.

Realities on Afghanistan are offered by John Pilger (MINT PRESS NEWS):

In August, 1979, the US Embassy in Kabul reported that “the United States’ larger interests … would be served by the demise of the PDPA government, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan.”

Read again the words above I have italicised. It is not often that such cynical intent is spelt out as clearly.  The US was saying that a genuinely progressive Afghan government and the rights of Afghan women could go to hell.

Six months later, the Soviets made their fatal move into Afghanistan in response to the American-created jihadist threat on their doorstep. Armed with CIA-supplied Stinger missiles and celebrated as “freedom fighters” by Margaret Thatcher, the mujahedin eventually drove the Red Army out of Afghanistan.

Calling themselves the Northern Alliance, the mujahedin were dominated by warlords who controlled the heroin trade and terrorised rural women. The Taliban were an ultra-puritanical faction, whose mullahs wore black and punished banditry, rape and murder but banished women from public life.

In the 1980s, I made contact with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, known as RAWA, which had tried to alert the world to the suffering of Afghan women. During the Taliban time they concealed cameras beneath their burqas to film evidence of atrocities, and did the same to expose the brutality of the Western-backed mujahedin. “Marina” of RAWA told me, “We took the videotape to all the main media groups, but they didn’t want to know ….”

In1996, the enlightened PDPA government was overrun. The Prime Minister, Mohammad Najibullah, had gone to the United Nations to appeal to for help. On his return, he was hanged from a street light.

“I confess that [countries] are pieces on a chessboard,” said Lord Curzon in 1898, “upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world.”

The Viceroy of India was referring in particular to Afghanistan. A century later, Prime Minister Tony Blair used slightly different words.

“This is a moment to seize,” he said following 9/11. “The Kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.”

On Afghanistan, he added this: “We will not walk away [but ensure] some way out of the poverty that is your miserable existence.”

Blair echoed his mentor, President George W. Bush, who spoke to the victims of his bombs from the Oval Office: “The oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America. As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering … “

Almost every word was false. Their declarations of concern were cruel illusions for an imperial savagery “we” in the West rarely recognise as such.

He goes over the history at length.  We're excerpting the above because of the US goal with regards to Afghanistan.  Pilger notes the money poured in and the CIA elsewhere in his article.  You can also refer to this 1998 interview with Mika's father who was known for being the priss-pot, fraidy cat of the Carter administration.  ('Cigars from Fidel!  They must be a bomb! Don't open the box until I'm out of the room!'  That is not a made up story, that really did happen when Fidel sent a gift to Hamilton Jordan.)  Killing never scared fraidy cat Zbigniew  Brzezinski but the prospect of peace breaking out always left him peeing his panties.

Loss of money scares the War Crowd.  Sarah Lazare (IN THESE TIMES) reports:

In August 12, the military contractor CACI International Inc. told its investors that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is hurting its profits. The same contractor is also funding a think tank that is concurrently arguing against the withdrawal. This case is worth examining both because it is routine, and because it highlights the venality of our expert”-military contractor feedback loop, in which private companies use think tanks to rally support for wars they’ll profit from.

The contractor is notorious to those who have followed the scandal of U.S.-led torture in Iraq. CACI International was sued by three Iraqis formerly detained in Abu Ghraib prison who charge that the company’s employees are responsible for directing their torture, including sexual assault and electric shocks. (The suit was brought in 2008 and the case is still ongoing.)

In 2019, CACI International was awarded a nearly $907 million, five-year contract to provide intelligence operations and analytic support” for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

During an August 12 earnings call, CACI International noted repeatedly that President Biden’s withdrawal from the 20-year Afghanistan War harmed the company’s profits. John Mengucci, president and CEO of CACI International, said, we have about a 2 percent headwind coming into FY 2022 because of Afghanistan.” A headwind” refers to negative impacts on profits.

Afghanistan was mentioned 16 times throughout the call — either in reference to the dent in profits, or to assure investors that other areas of growth were offsetting the losses. For example, Mengucci said, We’re seeing positive growth in technology and expect it to continue to outpace expertise growth, collectively offsetting the impact of the Afghanistan drawdown.”

Caitlin Johnstone (ICH) observes:

After the US troop withdrawal established conclusively that the Afghan “government” they’d spent twenty years pretending to nation build with was essentially a work of fiction, thus proving to the world that they’ve been lying to us this entire time about the facts on the ground in Afghanistan, you might expect those who helped pave the way for that disastrous occupation to be very quiet at this point in history.

But, far from being silent and slithering under a rock to wait for the sweet embrace of death, these creatures have instead been loudly and shamelessly outspoken.

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has posted a lengthy essay by the former Prime Minister who led the United Kingdom into two of the most unconscionable military interventions in living memory. Blair criticizes the withdrawal as having been done out of “obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars’,” bloviating about “Radical Islam,” and asking, “has the West lost its strategic will?”

It’s essentially a 2,750-word temper tantrum, authored by the same man who fed the British people this load of horse s**t after 9/11:

"The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of Northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan: they too are our cause. 

This is a moment to seize. The Kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us."

Blair promised that by helping the Bush administration usher in an unprecedented new era of military expansionism they could seize this unfortunate event to “re-order the world” in a way that would benefit all the world’s most unfortunate people. Mountains of corpses and tens of millions of refugees later it is clear to anyone with functioning gray matter that this was all a pack of lies.

Realities fall by the way side so that the corporate media can attempt to cause great alarm and fear in the American people.  What they're forgetting is that the world isn't CNN's Amanpour -- constantly crying that the US won't go to war with this country or that.  And, the greater distance between American and another country, the less important those people are, to be honest about it.  (That's true of other countries as well and not unique to the US.)  US corporate media has attempted to start a #AfghanLivesMatter but it just wouldn't trend.  What's next?

Maybe to slowly get honest about their real concern which was never the Afghan people or even Afghanistan.  As Ava and I noted at THIRD, the US government and corporations are both happy to do business with the Taliban and have before.  Iraq, as we've said here for weeks now, is the real point of the Afghan hysteria the media's promoting.

At THE TIMES OF LONDON, Max Hastings is offering "We risk replaying the Kabul calamity in Iraq."  At THE NATIONAL INTEREST, Farhang Faraydoon Namdarwonders "Will the American Pullout from Iraq Also End in Disaster?"  Then there's the whoring.  No one's done it better most recently than Paul Bremer (see Saturday's "A War Criminal Returns") who is clearly on a strict no-fact diet -- high in carbs, low in facts.  The whoring includes this sudden move to claim Iraq -- specifically Mustafa al-Khadimi -- is a power broker for the region.  See any REUTERS filing recently or this CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR article if you've missed the nonsense.  

Let's rejoin the world of reality where you'll find Mustafa and his government struggling just to hold national elections. August is winding down.  October 10th, the day parliamentary elections are supposed to take place in Iraq, looms.  

How's that looking?  From the United Nations:

With just 46 days until Iraq goes to the polls, the UN Assistance Mission for the country (UNAMI) is stepping up its communications to inform voters about their conduct, Special Representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the Security Council on Wednesday, stressing that it is up to the political parties themselves to refrain from attempts to distort the results.

Briefing Council members for the first time in over a year, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert, who is also the head of the Mission, also called claims that UNAMI is advocating for a postponement of the elections “frankly absurd”.

She urged everyone to “stick to the facts”, focus on their own roles and refrain from using the United Nations as a scapegoat.

“Truth, discipline and, yes, courage, are required at this critical juncture”, said the UN official

Misinformation ‘risky business’

If misinformation overtakes reality, “it is not only an enormous energy-drain for those working hard for the greater good of Iraq,” she cautioned.  “It is also risky business.” 

The UNAMI chief urged media outlets to provide accurate, reliable and timely information, instead of fuelling “false perceptions to suit their backers”.

Stressing that Iraq “leads and owns” the 10 October elections, she reminded that their credibility would prove essential for its future.

Elections at hand 

Detailing joint efforts, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert said that the Independent High Electoral Commission has reached “several complex milestones” while noting that UNAMI has provided technical assistance wherever it can. 

She outlined that candidate lists have been finalized; a ballot lottery conducted for all 83 constituencies; ballot printing is ongoing; and all ballot papers expected in country by mid-September. 

Meanwhile, polling and results management systems are being reviewed by an independent audit firm.

In parallel, she said preparations for UN monitoring are moving rapidly, with most members of the preparatory team being deployed to Baghdad “as we speak” and regional teams due on the ground in early September.

The Special Representative emphasized that the October elections have “the potential to be different” from those in 2018, and noted that that five times as many UN personnel are currently engaged as were three years earlier.

To calls for a boycott, she cautioned that “a vote not cast, is in fact a gift to those you may be opposed to.”

“With the election date rapidly approaching – Iraq will have our support at every step of the way”, assured the UNAMI chief.

“These elections were hard earned. And I can only emphasize the importance of credible elections for the future of Iraq’s young democracy”.

Deep reforms needed

Iraq is desperately in need of deep, structural reforms, which require unwavering determination, immense patience, and lots of time, according to the UN official, who urged authorities, officials, political parties and candidates not to let the Iraqi people down. 

“Understand that accountability is key to restore public trust”, she stressed. 

Turning to the issue of missing Kuwaiti, third-country nationals and Kuwaiti property, including the national archives, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert said that Kuwait “conclusively identified” the remains of a further 10 individuals from its list of those missing since 1991.

With a total of 30 cases of missing persons formally closed since November 2020, she expressed hope that “this important step will bring some closure to the families”.

AFP reports:

The number of female candidates competing in Iraq's October parliamentary election will be less than half that of the last poll three years ago, according to an elections commission source.
In the 2018 legislative election, 2,014 women competed among a total of 6,982 candidates, but this year the number of women standing will be just 963 out of a total field of 5,323.

This takes the proportion of female candidates down to 18 percent from 28.8 percent, even as Iraq's Constitution reserves a quarter of parliament's 329 seats for women.
[. . .]

 Inas Naji al-Maksoussi, an independent standing in Wasit province in eastern Iraq, said she and other women seeking to enter politics have been subjected to "pressures".
"Some people in my competitors' entourages have prevented me from campaigning in certain areas of my constituency," she told AFP.

Meanwhile DessyMac Tweets:

Blocked every turn! NO access to laptops to defend themselves. Limited access to their lawyers even WITH embassy assistance. 2 innocent EMPLOYEES. Australian Engineer Robert Pether & Egyptian Engineer Khalid Zaghloul. MALICIOUS PROSECUTION. 100% FABRICATED. #FREEROBERTPETHER

Of the ongoing plight of Robert Pether, Matthew Doran and Andrew Probyn (AUSTRALIA's ABC) report:

An Australian engineer ensnared in a dispute between the Iraqi government and his Dubai-based employer is facing five years in jail and a $US12 million ($AUD16.5 million) fine.

Robert Pether, 46, has been languishing in an Iraqi prison since April after he and his Egyptian colleague, Khalid Zaghloul, were arrested in Baghdad, while working for engineering firm CME Consulting.

Mr Pether's wife Desree said the court decision was a "soul-destroying" travesty of justice. 

"It's just absolute hell," Mrs Pether told the ABC from her home in Ireland.

"We honestly thought that justice would prevail after nearly five months and we are so shocked that it didn't happen.

"It didn't matter what evidence they presented in their defence, which was scarce because they didn't have access to their laptops or their hard drives, and the accusations had no backup evidence at all. 

Daniella White (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD) reports:

“Because there’s no way they can raise $12 million and if it’s not paid they don’t get out.”

His wife, Desree Pether, said he was tricked into entering the country by the Iraq Central Bank, which was locked in a contractual dispute with his Dubai-based employer CME Consulting.

“At this moment, I just spoke to him, and he said ‘this is a life sentence’,” she said.

Ms Pether and her children, who are from Sydney but based in Ireland, had held out hope that justice would prevail.

She said the fraud charges against her husband and his colleague, which relate to misrepresentation and overcharging, were fabricated after the bank demanded the contractors return the money they had already been paid after cost blowouts.

Christopher Knaus (GUARDIAN) adds:

Desree Pether, his wife, had maintained hope that he was going to be freed. Instead, she had to tell their three children, including her daughter, Nala, eight, that their dad was not coming home.

“I said ‘Daddy might not be home for a while because he’s been sentenced to five years’, and I explained it to her,” Desree told Guardian Australia.

“She looked down at her hands and looked up at me and said ‘that means I won’t see daddy until I’m 13’.”

“I just burst into tears.”

The two teenage boys, Flynn and Oscar, are shellshocked, Desree said.

“We just keep hugging and the boys just keep making me cups of tea,” she said. “We’re just walking around in shock.”

Desree said she had spoken to her husband on Thursday evening, Australian time.

His lawyers are planning to appeal against the ruling. The Australian government is also working on a way to respond.

“It’s so glaringly obvious they are completely innocent. Australia needs to get behind Rob,” she said.

Patrick Ryan (THE NATIONAL) notes of the inept Australian government:

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said it understood Mr Pether, along with an Egyptian colleague, was found guilty of fraud in an Iraqi court and sentenced to five years imprisonment and jointly fined $12million.

"DFAT has made repeated representations to the Iraqi Government on Mr Pether’s case, including to seek clarity on the nature of the charges, related to a business dispute," said a representative.

"The Foreign Minister has written and spoken to her Iraqi counterpart to advocate for Mr Pether’s case in the strongest terms.

"The Australian Government cannot intervene in other governments’ judicial processes. DFAT continues to provide consular assistance to Mr Pether and his family."

The following sites updated: