AUSTIN, Texas -- As we take this long weekend to digest our Thanksgiving dinners and the ensuing leftovers, let us also devote some time to digesting a few political developments that have flown in under the wider media radar recently.

-- Mental health experts say we face a crisis because one in six returning soldiers from Iraq is suffering from post-traumatic stress, and the number is expected to grow rapidly. You will not be amazed to learn that the Pentagon did not anticipate the problem, since it has yet to anticipate anything about Iraq correctly.

A study by the Walter Reed Army Institute found 15.6 percent of Marines and 17.1 percent of soldiers surveyed after tours in Iraq suffer from major depression, generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can cause flashbacks, sleep disorders, violent outbursts, panic attacks, acute anxiety and emotional numbness. The numbers are expected to be higher among reservists than among career soldiers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, 30 percent of Vietnam Vets experienced PTSD, and the greater tragedy was that at first it went unrecognized and later often went untreated. This time, we should have known it was coming (except this was supposed to be a "cakewalk" and our troops greeted with flowers). We're totally unprepared again, and the system cannot move fast enough to treat the problem. But hey, anyone who criticizes the Pentagon is "not supporting our troops," right?

-- The Wall Street Journal spotted yet another depressing trend in the pension field. Many companies have started suing their own retired employees in order to cut their pension benefits.

"Many companies have already cut back company-paid health-care coverage for retirees from their salaried staff," the Journal notes. "But until recently, employers generally were barred from touching unionized retirees' benefits because they are spelled out in labor contracts. Now some are taking aggressive steps to pare those benefits as well, including going to court."

Here's the part I love: The companies' legal argument is that the "lifetime" coverage specified in the contracts does not mean the lifetime of the workers, but the "lifetime" of the labor contract. Cute, eh?

-- Here's a dandy: Our government now arranges "torture flights." We are outsourcing torture. A Gulfstream 5 jet has been leased by the Department of Defense and the CIA. We use this plane to transport suspected terrorists from other countries or U.S. military bases to countries that practice torture.

A Swedish television program tracked two Egyptians arrested there and supposedly "extradited" by Egypt. They were flown out on the leased American plane, and both suspects were then tortured in Egypt. According to Britain's Sunday Times, the plane's logbooks show it has been to 49 destinations outside the United States in the past two years, including Guantanamo and other U.S. bases, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, Libya and Uzbekistan.

-- We already know that a kitchen sink of unrelated stuff, including a new restriction on abortion and a gross invasion of privacy through our tax returns, was included in the obscene appropriations bill. Riders that were never voted upon or discussed in either House have been added during conference committee meetings, and likewise, amendments never brought up during conference have been added.

This is what the media call a "procedure story," which they avoid like the plague. All editors believe that the public is bored silly by procedure stories. Indeed, only a legislator would wind up in a red-faced fury because some article 21 of subsection C of Rule 22 has been broken.

Nevertheless, every little, petty violation of the rules means that laws affecting our lives are being made by something other than a democratic process.

The Natural Resources Defense Council found these undebated gems in the appropriations bill, just the place for anti-environmental legislation:

-- California developers pushed for an amendment to weaken the Endangered Species Act by weakening protection for critical habitats.

-- A measure removing all endangered species protections from pesticides. According to the NRDC, this last-minute addition would take away the ability to limit pesticide use even if it meant the extinction of the bald eagle.

-- A rider to authorize the largest public-lands logging in history, overriding environmental review and prohibiting judicial review. Passed for a forest in Oregon, courtesy of Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

-- Approximately $17 billion in pork barrel water projects, a measure that was never debated in the Senate.

-- A waiver of environmental review of grazing permits on public lands. We keep selling grazing rights to Western ranchers at below-market prices, even when the grazing destroys public lands.

-- Oil drilling in an Alaskan wildlife refuge, of course.

-- A provision allowing commercial fishing within wilderness areas of Alaska. Hey, don't all wildernesses have commercial fishing operations?

And so on. And so forth.

No one is claiming that following proper procedures will produce brilliant legislation untouched by corporate or parochial interests. But it would help.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.