A Legal Blog for the rest of us!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

As Erin Brokovich's fight for the residents of Hinckley, CA still looms large in our conscience, word from the Washington Post today on the Marine Corps' startling admission about contaminated water that Marines and their families have drank, bathed in, and been exposed to FIVE YEARS after the initial findings:

A military engineer assigned in 1980 to test the drinking water at this sprawling Marine Corps base punctuated his findings with a handwritten exclamation point.

"WATER HIGHLY CONTAMINATED WITH . . . CHLORINATED HYDROCARBONS (SOLVENTS)!" William C. Neal wrote in capital letters on one of his surveillance reports in early 1981.

A private firm followed up with tests the next year. One of its samples showed an astonishing result: 1,400 parts per billion -- 280 times the level now considered safe for drinking water -- of trichloroethylene, a likely cancer-causing chemical used for degreasing machinery that can impair the development of fetuses, weaken the immune system, and damage kidneys and livers. Other samples showed as little as 1 part per billion to as many as 104 parts per billion -- more than 20 times the level now considered safe -- of tetrachloroethylene, a toxic dry-cleaning chemical that can seep into body fat and slowly release cancer-causing compounds.

The number of people who may have drunk the tainted water, bathed in it, had water fights with it is staggering: The Marine Corps estimates 50,000 Marines and their families lived in base housing areas that may have been fed by the wells before they were closed in 1985. Victim advocacy groups place the figure even higher, at 200,000, which would make Camp Lejeune one of the largest contaminated-water cases in U.S. history. [emphasis added.]

Already, more than 270 tort claims have been filed with the Navy's judge advocate general's office by former residents, who are required by law to file claims with the military before proceeding with any possible action in civilian courts.

This is no "harmless incident." Take the story of this Marine Air Traffic Controller, who moved to Camp Lejeune, NC, and whose family started drinking the water two years after that initial finding of harmful chemicals:

Both of his girls have been beset with a lifetime of ailments: Rachel, who is developmentally disabled, was born with a cleft palate and needed leg braces as a child. She has spina bifida; a gangly, arachnoid cyst on her spine that cannot be removed; and brittle, rotting teeth. Andrea had a rare bone marrow syndrome known as aplastic anemia and has been told by her doctors that the disease could recur if she becomes pregnant.

The federal agency responsible for studying the health effects of SUPERFUND sites like Camp Lejeune found birth defect rates to be three to five times the national average for women who lived at Camp Lejeune during the five years of known yet suppressed findings of contamination. Bad enough that the cover-up lasted five years and put thousands of Marines and families health in danger. Word now comes that, even now, the Marine Corps tried to suppress the findings of the Superfund report:

In a series of 1998 e-mails recently disclosed on the Marines' Web site, officials at Lejeune discussed how public concern about water contamination could be stoked by the release of the film "A Civil Action," which traced the legal battle over contaminated drinking-water wells in Woburn, Mass.

"Just a thought," Neal Paul, director of Lejeune's toxic cleanup program, wrote to an official at Marine headquarters. "With the movie coming out in Dec., can we delay the questionnaires until April/May time frame?" An ATSDR spokesman said the timing of the survey was not influenced by the Marines.

The pressure to let sleeping dogs lie aren't coming just from the highest levels of leadership in the Corps, but from Marine friends of the advocacy groups' members, exposing a deep close-the-ranks mentality that crushes opponents in war but leads to abuse in peacetime:

But, for all the passion, some of Ensminger's old Marine pals want him to let up.

"They say, 'Semper fidelis -- give 'em a break. Why do you want to hurt the Corps?' " said Ensminger, a former master sergeant who retired in 1994 after 241/2 years in the Corps.

But an image that rattles around inside Ensminger's stubborn, crew-cut head will not let him give up. He sees Janey, all big, brown eyes and silly smiles, watching him as her doctors advised him to stop treatment because there was no hope. Janey looked up at them, Ensminger recalls, and said: "You're talking about me. I'm not dead. You're not giving up on me."

One week later, she was gone.

Let's hope the Marine Corps stops covering this one up, pays the civilian survivors the MILLIONS(BILLIONS?) of dollars in damages they deserve WITHOUT a lengthy court battle, and gives the Marine survivors who are injured FULL disability. Those who have served our country so honorably deserve nothing less.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The military judge presiding over the trial of the US pilot who accidently bombed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan has been set for April 5. Story here. The pilot is charged with dereliction of duty, a charge with a maximum sentence of six months confinement and dismissal from the Air Force. Motions will be heard March 1.
Kudos goes to Slate for being the first national mainstream source to PROPERLY analyze the AWOL/desertion distinction. Post here. All the other papers have had crap about having to be gone 30 days.
Rumor has it that, as of 10am, Kerry and Dean are in a dead heat for first at 34% +- 3%, and Clark and Edwards are in a dead heat at 12% +- 3%.

Monday, January 26, 2004

On Friday's post, THIS STINKS, I told you:

Probably what the Chief Justice will respond with is something like general principles of fairness, along with an assurance that no appearance of impropriety exists.

Well, it looks like the Chief Justice did my prediction one better: he sidestepped the issue altogether. The Associated Press (via Discourse.net) revealed the letter, in which:

Rehnquist did not give an opinion about whether Scalia should step down from hearing the case, but made clear that it was up to Scalia — and no one else — to make that decision.

The senators who wrote the initial protest to the Chief Justice conclude:

Leahy said Monday that Rehnquist’s letter confirms that the Supreme Court, unlike federal appeals courts and district courts, has no recusal procedure or oversight system. He also defended the timing of the letter.

Hmmm...sound familiar? Maybe because you heard it here three days ago:

I'll tell you what standards there are: none. "The code of conduct of the Judicial Conference of the United States applies to all federal judges but is only advisory and nonbinding on Supreme Court justices."

I know everyone hates an I told you so, but: I told you so.
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) was one of President Bush's first policy victories . . . and one of the key criticisms by the Democrats. It requires strict testing for students in every district, incentives for those school districts that do well, and penalties for those that don't. It also requires stricter standards for teacher certification and performance. Democrats criticize the testing standard as being unfair to districts with large numbers of minorities, being an unfunded mandate, and with causing schools to "teach the test" instead of a broad curriculum.

However your stand on the NCLBA, it appears that the government's own actions may be undercutting their arguments. In today's Magic City Morning Star (Maine), an enterprising reporter uncovers that the NCLBA does not apply to DOD Schools. These are the elementary and middle schools located on military bases that educate the children of servicemembers. The NCLBA does not apply to DOD funded schools, only DOE funded schools, so the testing and certification mandates also don't apply.

DOD Schools officials maintain it's a distinction without a difference, due to the DOD's "high performance:"

Doug Kelsey, the deputy director of the DoD's school system, said that the schools are trying to live up to the spirit of the legislation despite the fact that the DoE has no jurisdiction over DoD schools. "We actively comply with the intent of the law," he said.

Kelsey said that DoD schools set high standards for its students and teachers, citing high performance on standardized tests and graduation rates higher than 95%.
. . . .
DoD 8th-graders ranked second compared to the 50 states on the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests. The military’s 4th-graders ranked fourth among the states on the 2002 NAEP reading exam. African-American and Hispanic students perform better overall in the military’s schools than anywhere else in the nation.

However, in the test that counts for DOD students (the SAT), it appears their numbers are slipping. Also, accredidation requirements in DOD schools are less stringent that in many local school districts. Considering that DOD schools serve the children of those who are risking their lives to defend our country, and given that our leadership has determined the NCLBA as the best way to ensure our children and schools meet high standards of excellence, don't we owe it to our children to make the standards of the NCLBA mandatory on the DoD schools, instead of relying on their assurances that they will "comply with the intent of the law?"

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Donald Sensing has a great post about his personal experience with charging soldiers with desertion and AWOL. One of his soldiers left twice for more than 30 days a piece; he was never charged with desertion because he kept all his uniforms and his ID card. Another soldier was charged with desertion, even though he didn't even make it past the gate and was gone less than 5 minutes. The reason: he stripped all his uniforms, ran out in his underwear, cut up his ID card, and yelled to everyone that he was leaving and was never coming back. The INTENT to remain away permanently is the key, and it must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

General Clark had an opportunity on the Sunday talk shows to clear this up; he failed to do so. Maybe that's one reason his numbers are slipping and the others' numbers are rising. CREDIT: Thanks to the Intel Dumper for the tip on Sensing.