Thursday, November 14, 2013


At the Vietnam Wall Memorial in DC

We have had another Veterans’ Day and remembered the sacrifice of the men and women who served this nation. 

But we really should be doing a lot more than simply – “remembering them.” 

We must do better and demand that our elected and appointed officials “do something.”

My late uncle, Charles Flannery, served in the armed forces led by General Patton when the Allies attacked by way of Sicily the beaches of Italy.  Charles was shot in the chest, lifted off his feet, spun around, knocked unconscious, and taken prisoner.    

Years after the war, Charles died in a hospital in the Bronx that, according to my elders, refused to give him more blood, to save him from that earlier war wound.  Ours was one family, as young as I was, that resented the nation’s unfulfilled promise to our Uncle Charles.

Our nation has been long on promises to vets when leaving our shores to serve our nation abroad, and quite uneven, often indifferent, to their needs upon their return home when broken by the war.
One clear indication of how we are currently failing our service men and women is the statistic that we are losing fewer soldiers on the battle field, than we lose to suicide. 

It has a lot to do with the fact that as high as 30 percent of our Vets from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to some studies, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder but don’t receive the care that might erase or mitigate this wake-a-day night mare.  Others suffer traumatic brain injuries – most often concussions from one or more bomb blasts – that go untreated.

One whistleblower, Steven Coughlin, a senior epidemiologist in the Office of Public Health at VA, was directed not to disclose any findings that the asthma and bronchitis that returning Vets suffered could have been caused by the “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The sad beat of our government’s callous indifference is relentless.

45% of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered compensable disability injuries.  Whatever the cost, and it is significant, we handle these claims very slowly.  The “system” is overburdened and can’t handle the load.  We are told.  So why don’t we add the staff necessary? Or, is this how we suppress the cost of paying these claims?  There are thousands and thousands of disability appeals (notices of disagreement with a VA decision), one out of five appeals, distributed throughout the eight regional offices across the nation, almost entirely ignored by VA regional offices; one regional office reportedly took 1,219 days to process an appeal from a disputed VA decision.

When they return from the theaters of war, hundreds of thousands of vets are doing time in prison or jail because of substance abuse or mental health.  Half of our vets in custody are there because of drug offences.  You may have heard that it is easy to get all manner of psychoactive drugs by prescription in the war theater, to keep our men and women fighting.  Then, they come home and they can’t get prescriptions.  So they improvise.  While the VA will authorize prescriptions for returning Vets, they refuse to do so if the Vets are in custody in prison or jail. 

Tricare, DOD’s Insurance Plan, won’t pay for addiction treatment with methadone or buprenorphine, whether you are in or out of jail or prison.  We have a society thus that prefers to criminalize a person who requires treatment, rather than treat them instead. 

We are failing to honor those who have been injured mentally as well as physically.  We should be ashamed when we praise Veterans on one day, Veterans’ Day, and the rest of the year, we fail to do what’s necessary to heal, to treat, to repair, to acknowledge by our efforts the lifetime sacrifices they made to our nation and its security.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


We Irish know in our genetic sinews, no scholarship need be considered, that Halloween, or all Hallows’ Eve, springs from the medieval Gaelic Samhain, marking the end of harvest and the beginning of the darker half of the year.

It is little wonder then that we have most of our elections as the natural light dims and darkness grows.

In one tradition of All Hallows’ Eve, souls wander the earth until this evening for their one last chance to gain vengeance.

This election season we have the feeling our candidates are making the holy day’s danse macabre their inspiring motivator, calculating a revenge comprised of how they may get theirs -- at our expense.

The right to vote that we “enjoy” is a forced choice made before the primary or caucus is held, the product of back room paper and power shuffling that pre-selected whom we may consider. 

The districts themselves are drawn not rationally but by the force of numbers in the line-drawing state legislature with one clear purpose - to pre-determine each election’s outcome.

Our voting discretion is “informed” by tall yarns, name calling and distracting issues that make the blood boil. 

One clamoring voice outshouts another with high cost hard copy and electronic propaganda that muddle or drown out any contrary fact or opinion.

The election “trick” is the threat of how bad it will be if you don’t choose the imperious “me.”

The “treat” is to choose the candidate less dangerous to our Commonwealth – if not voting autonomically, that is, some reflexive genuflection to ideology or party.

We are suffering a vengeful spirit abroad this election year that claims, among other things, that gays corrupt heterosexual marriages, Virginia will confiscate guns ever, and condemns free health care for the ill poor.

So how is one to decide to vote if our voting rights and electoral choices are so fatally compromised, if the dialogue toxic, the character of the candidates flawed?

We have to look to organizing themes that favor one set of candidates over another.

Some voters are looking to the libertarian candidates this year but more as a protest as the libertarians have little or no experience legislating or governing, and some don’t believe in governance at all.

We can’t really justify electing those who want to sit in one corner of the state legislator like children and hold their breath, embracing irresponsibility and anarchy like it’s a program for the Commonwealth’s success.

I have seen more Republicans this year talk about the Virginia Democrats for their moderate political approach about what really matters, including, getting us around, educating our children, growing jobs, and presenting plans to do so. 

Terry McCauliffe for Governor is a businessman, a latter day (but more colorful) Mark Warner.  What he shares with our former Governor is a concern for the general welfare and wellbeing of the Commonwealth. 

Mark Herring has been a friend, neighbor and elected representative for Loudoun County, as well as a terrific lawyer, and we have to give him every vote we can for Attorney General. 

Can there really be a dispute about choosing Senator Ralph Northam over not-ready-for-prime-time, E. W. “Shoot from the lip” Jackson. 

Closer to home we have a former Asst. Commonwealth Attorney, local officeholder, and lawyer Mary Lou Costello Daniel over “Brave Sir” Dave LaRock who runs from public debates like his pants are on fire. 

For Republicans, it is time for a course correction, at least for  this election – and “caveat voter,”don’t let them trick you this election!

Monday, October 14, 2013


Since when did a democratically elected official’s oath in the House and Senate become, “I will do what I want in your best interests even if you voters don’t understand how good this is for you?”

We have elected representatives from Virginia and across the nation who are telling us they are going to disregard what we’re telling them – and vote to attack Syria anyhow.

They treat us like children to whom they’re administering castor oil.

But we are not children, and the members of Congress are supposed to serve us, not the other way around.

More to the point, we should not be putting American lives and honor at risk in an uncertain and questionable act of war against Syria, taking sides, advantaging one side over another, in the midst of “their” civil war.

The Administration proposes to bomb “carefully selected targets” to Kingdom Come for as long as 90 days. 

We’re told we’ll accomplish this without killing any innocents, without spilling a drop of nerve gas, and without putting our nation at risk of reprisal from allies to Syria including Iran.

Most Americans don’t trust what we’re being told and why we need to make this war.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution characterizes this bicameral congressional vote as an effort to “change the momentum on the [Syrian] battlefield.”  We say we’re warring to limit the use of chemical weapons, but the Senate seems to think it is to win the war instead for the rebels.

Of course, any bombing by the United States may not go as neatly as we imagine.  Syria may uncork stores of nerve gas in response, presuming they have already, because our bombing compromised their ability to conduct their civil war?    

My reaction has hardened with the Administration’s hard sell to war in Syria.

The more I hear the worse this plan to war sounds.

I doubt I’d trust any administration these days who told me why we needed to war.   

The bitter irony is that President Obama was our peace candidate (at least in 2008).

Senator Kerry, our Secretary of State, opposed the war in ‘Nam and had an explanation for why he wrongly voted to war in Iraq when he was a presidential candidate.

But when you have the power to war, the impulse is to war.  

Most wars begin with a lie that it’s a war of defense or of for humanitarian reasons – when it’s nothing of the sort.   

We propose to drop bombs in retaliation for those who were killed with nerve gas. 

This action favors the rebels who were unconcerned as a matter of public relations when they broadcast pictures of their own firing squads.

I believe President Jack Kennedy handled the Cuban missile crisis the way he did because he learned from the Bay of Pigs to take his own counsel if he wanted to avoid war. 

President Kennedy learned to dial back from a nuclear confrontation and had the capacity and resolve to resist those who would war rather than negotiate.

Presidents who get these powers, are confused that they are derivative, coming from the people, held in service for the nation, not their own historic legacy, not to see their names immortalized, not to break things up – but too few get JFK's second chance to get it right.

The mid-east is an open wound ready to hemorrhage in a way and at a time when America would be dragged into an international conflict that we, the people, plainly don’t support and can't afford at home.  Nor do you have to have attended West Point to understand this basic point.

“Yes we can”- as a slogan - accomplished a lot of other things.

But, there are some things, the guiding instruction is, “No, we can’t,” for we don’t have the stomach to tolerate this Syrian adventure.

Paraphrasing that great American philosopher Clint Eastwood, a nation ought to know its limitations. It should also know what is right and timely, and this war in Syria is neither.

Op-ed: TRUTH DECAY by John P. Flannery

John Flannery and Former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean

On 9-11, I was rounding the Lincoln Memorial and had a clear view across the Potomac to the Virginia side where I saw a mushroom cloud that rose to the sky composed of dirt and debris.

I worked in the Cannon House Office Building at the time and called my staff to discover that the twin towers in New York had been attacked by terrorists, as had the Pentagon in Virginia – and the plane that crashed into the Pentagon was that great dirt cloud I watched rise up high into the air.

By October, a bi-partisan U.S. Congress approved the so-called USA Patriot Act.  It was a bitter event because we missed an opportunity to do better.  The House Judiciary Committee had cobbled together a unanimous bi-partisan compromise under Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner but at the 11th hour, just before the floor vote, then Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert replaced Sensenbrenner’s Judiciary Committee compromise bill on the House floor with a wide-ranging wrong-headed substitute.

You really should read the bill as most members of Congress never did; there were only two copies of the bill available at the time of the vote.

The bill accomplished two things that haunt us to this day.  There were: first, additional barriers preventing the public from knowing what our government was really doing, and, second, a grant of authority to the government to rummage around in our private papers, hard copy and digital communications, without warrant or cause.

These changes did not protect us from terrorists but did result in serial abuses of our right to be let alone.

What had been outlawed after Watergate, those sneak and peak entries and burglaries, were allowed again against any “terrorist suspect” and the definition of a “suspect” proved quite elastic.

President Richard Nixon’s counsel, John Dean, told investigators when Nixon was in office that there was a burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s medical files ordered by President Nixon himself to discredit Ellsberg for releasing the “Pentagon Papers.”

President Nixon famously said in an interview with the late David Frost that, “if the President does it, then it is not illegal.” 

Dean has underscored, however, that, while the President has some unstated prerogative powers, those Presidents who have invoked these “prerogative” powers, get in trouble – President Eisenhower with his U-2 spy flights, JFK in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and Presidents Nixon and Johnson in Vietnam.

Among the many troubling documents released by Edward Snowden before he arrived in Moscow to sip vodka with his cold swekolnik soup, was a top secret court order directing Verizon to turn over to the FBI and to NSA all call detail records created wholly in the United States including local telephone calls – that’s some billion telephone calls.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”) has filed a petition with the Court attacking the secret court order as without any lawful authority since it didn’t involve “foreign” intelligence.  (For more information, you may visit EPIC’s web site - )

The petition says it is “simply unreasonable to conclude that all telephone records for all Verizon customers in the United States could be relevant to an investigation.”

Since this court order applies to “all Verizon domestic customers,” it includes you (if you are a Verizon customer) but also members of Congress and federal judges, including Supreme Court Justices and employees.

The Executive Branch is thus able to scrutinize the communications and associations of the co-equal branches of government, of the Justices, Judges and of the Members of Congress in the House and Senate. 

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “Awareness that the Government may be watching chills association and expressive freedoms.  And the government’s unrestrained power to assemble data that reveal private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse.”

A government that conceals information critical to public policy decisions while chilling dissent can’t help but cause truth decay.

A Greek philosopher, Anacharsis famously said, “Laws are like cobwebs, for if any trifling or powerless thing falls into them, they hold fast, but if a thing of any size falls into them it breaks the mesh and escapes.”

Is our government too big and arrogant to respect and constrain its conduct by the web of laws and regulations that we citizens respect and obey?  Apparently so, and it’s high time we said, loud and clear, “Enough is enough.”