Friday, March 03, 2006

Go Pizza! Go Guard!

You know things are bad when the National Guard is advertising on pizza boxes. I ordered a pizza last night and the whole box was covered with the good news about all the college tuition the National Guard provides for signing up. "You paid for the pizza, now how about college? (What?) Cash every month! Enlistment bonus! 100% tuition assistance!" Obviously, they have to be hoping the young people they're targeting don't watch the news or realize that 40% of the troops over in Iraq are National Guardsmen. And they must be hoping also that they don't eat too much pizza. But then again they're lowering their standards on drug addicts and criminals, so why not fat slobs too?

And hey, remember kids, not only do you get all the great training that you can use in civilian life, when and if you get back in one piece, but we'll pay for college, too. (Such a deal.) Well, sooner or later anyway. I hear the VA is a little slow on getting that tuition money to all of those folks that have already got back. Must be a little glitch in the system, which I'm sure will be fixed at least by the time they're ready for social security.

And what kind of training do you get in the National Guard that you can use back home? They're taking artillery and tank units and turning them into infantry units. They're taking everything including the kitchen sink and turning it into infantry units, so what do you with your highly skilled training in cleaning and firing an M-16? Hunting junkets with Dick Cheney?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

War costs a lot.

An article by Inquirer Washington Bureau writers, Warren Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, says that, "U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, and could lead to civil war, according to former senior intelligence officials who helped craft the reports." An NIE from October 2003 said, "The insurgency was fueled by local conditions --- not foreign terrorists --- and drew strength from deep grievances, including one against the presence of U.S. troops." Robert Hutchins, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, told the Inquirer that there was a "steady stream" of reports with similar conclusions but that "Frankly, senior officials simply weren't prepared to pay attention to analysis that didn't conform to their own optimistic scenarios." (What a surprise!) As we all remember, when the insurgency first started, Rummy referred to a small group of "dead-enders" and former Saddamists as the ones behind the attacks on U.S. troops. Hutchins says, "The mind-set downtown was that people were willing to accept that things were pretty bad, but not that they were going to get worse, so our analysis tended to get dismissed as 'nay-saying and hand-wringing,' to quote the president's spokesman."

Well, this Hutchins guy must be another one of those 'Bush haters,' you know, one of those elite, egg-head types that W. so distains. Real men like George Tenet who come to him with their "slam-dunk" intelligence are the only ones he needs to listen to. "You're doing a great job Georgie boy!" Even as all the doomsday scenarios that Rummy, Cheney and W. refused to listen to have become all too true, the veil is finally lifting, even in the military itself.

An AP report says a new Zogby poll finds that, "Nearly 3 out of 4 American troops in Iraq think U.S. forces should withdraw within in a year, and more than 1 in 4 say the United States should leave immediately." 29% said the U.S. should leave right now, 21% said we should leave within 6 months and 23% said we should stay the course. A majority, in other words, think it's time to go, sooner rather than later. AP notes, "The poll was conducted without the pentagon's permission, and some military officials privately questioned its validity." Of course, just like all those "investigations" into torture at U.S. prisons which found no wrongdoing, it would have been a much better if the service people polled had had their superiors standing right there to make sure their real feelings were expressed. I'm sure all the right wing bloggers out there are already saying "I've heard that John Zogby guy is some sort of Arab sympathizer or something, I don't know how much weight you can put behind this poll," but then again, maybe John Murtha has a better grasp of what's on the minds of the average grunt and W. & Co. are just dangerously deluded.

Perhaps, our soldiers over there are talking to the ones who have come back and are having a hard time getting the mental care they need from the V.A. Another AP story says, "More than a third of U.S. troops received psychological counseling soon after returning from Iraq, according to a Pentagon study." Charles Hoge, a colonel at Walter Reed, says he's not surprised by the finding and thinks that, unlike in other wars when troops' problems were ignored, this time around the Pentagon is getting it right. "There are psychological consequences of war, and we want to address those up front." In addition to the 35% of troops who received help within a year of returning, the study found that 12% of soldiers and Marines were found to have a mental problem. (A VA study in October found that 101,000 of the 430,000 soldiers who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq and were discharged had sought help.) What the study doesn't take into account is all the people who haven't asked for help because they're afraid of being stigmatized or are worried about damaging their careers. Something tells me even this high number isn't high enough.

An article in the WaPo quotes Steve Robinson, who heads the National Gulf War Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for veterans, who said "The military would have found far larger numbers of troubled former soldiers and Marines if it had done a better job reaching out. Upwards of 80 to 85 percent of people serving there have witnessed or been a part of a traumatic event, including engaging the enemy, killing people, or friends or themselves being involved in IED attacks."

According to some soldiers who have been over there, in most cases, they feel like they would have to be crazy to say they were having problems. A Philadelphia Weekly article last month quoted a soldier who had served in Iraq as saying the postdeployment health assessment survey, which he had to take before he could go home, was basically a crock. He said, "You're told before you fill this thing out, if you answer this the wrong way you're going to be stuck here while they sort it out. I don't know anyone who would put, 'yes, I'm thinking about killing myself' unless you're totally whacked out. Especially, after being told you're going to be there for months."

And even if these poor bastards do get help, it's not very much help and they have to wait months for the VA to get around to them. Besides all the bureaucratic hurtles they have to deal with, just resuming a normal life is a problem for some. The PW article describes many of these young people having a real difficult time readjusting to civilian life and as one example the article cites U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson as putting the unemployment rate for returning male vets between the ages of 20 and 24 at 20.4 percent, twice the civilian rate of civilians in the same age group. That's pretty astounding, but it's yet another huge problem we're going to be dealing with for decades to come, that this administration doesn't want to deal with. As I wrote before, the administration's bean counter's solution to a 150% rise in requests for psychological help this year, mainly from Vietnam era vets, was to try and redefine what PSTD was to make it harder for vets to qualify. The effort to save money by blaming the vets themselves for gaming the system was fortunately found out for the scam it was and is no longer an issue.

Funding this one aspect of W.'s war, the long term treatment of U.S. military personel, is estimated by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Blimes to go perhaps to a trillion dollars. Naturally, instead of dealing with the reality of the situation and facing up to the enormous cost of his misadventures, W.'s 2007 budget increases VA funding by only 6 percent. The AP writes, "Some in Congress say that is not enough because the increase hinges on more than $1 billion in cuts in other VA spending and the approval of new fees and co-payments for some veterans." Last year the VA made a little boo boo and forgot to ask Congress for $1 billion it needed to take care of the massive increase in services it had to provide as a result of this war and now the VA now predicts a budget shortfall of $2.6 billion in 2006. If the government continues to dither like this they're setting us up for a whole new round of the "crazy vet" syndrome that we experienced after Vietnam. We're already starting to see it pop up here and there. Just last week an Iraqi vet stabbed his wife 77 times and over the past few years there was the spate of killing at Fort Bragg, the vet who kidnapped and killed a girl in Texas and the Marine out in California that chose suicide by cop.

Unless, we're prepared to have "Iraq vet" become the new byword for "going postal" we'd better start getting our congressmen to stop giving tax cuts to the rich and the oil industry and begin to seriously putting a whole lot of money into healing all the traumas and scars of this pointless war.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A small patch of turbulence in Iraq.

Things are going swimmingly in Iraq. Yup, everything is back to normal after the mosque bombing last week in Samarra and the Iraqis are all one big family again. This is what I've been hearing in the media so far this week. (Particularly from Ed Wong of the NYT last night on NewHour.) Of course, the reprisal violence today killing 56 and injuring scores of others, is just business as usual. The fact that bodies are popping up all over the place with their hands tied and bullets in the back of their heads is par for the course. If the Baghdad morgue is turning away corpses because its maxed out, this simply means that W.'s plan for victory is back on tract. As Condi said this week, "Every time there's a patch of turbulence, someone writes it's all over." You know, she's right, stop being so pessimistic liberal media. Just because an estimated 1,300 Iraqis died last week in this little "patch of turbulence" doesn't mean the whole country is going up in flames. One should always expect a little "untidyness,"as Rummy called it, in the march of democracy.

U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad did his best impression of former Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri by saying all this trouble will inspire Iraqi politicians to try harder to form a government of national unity. "I believe that they do not have a better alternative." (I want whatever he's smoking, it must be some good stuff.) How he comes to the conclusion that this massive rip that's been torn in the fabric of Iraqi society could turn out to be a good thing is beyond me. The Badr brigade and the Medhi army have their marching orders now and a call for the disbanding of the militias is going to go nowhere. The very idea is absurd. Who is going to disarm them, us? We tried that before with the Medhi army, it didn't work. My assumption is this "lull" in the fighting is just the calm before the real storm. And when things get ramped up again, what are we going to do? We either send in the troops to try and separate the combatants or we pull back into our bases and let them duke it out. I wish we had another alternative, but I don't know what it is.

Oh, right, withdrawal! But wait, Dick "Shotgun" Cheney has emerged from his lair to challenge those who would say we should leave. "Here in Washington, if any believe Americans should suddenly withdraw from Iraq and stop fighting al-Qaida in the very place they have gathered, let them say so clearly." Of course, the reason they're gathered in Iraq in the firsts place is because we're there. Rumor has it that if we didn't present such a big target for them they wouldn't have a reason to be there.

But then they might all move over the Saudi Arabia, so we'd better just hunker down in Iraq and keep that from happening.

See my post on W.s Inida trip here.

After Katrina: Six months and still waiting.

Its six months after Katrina and New Orleans and Mississippi are still a mess. W. "committed" $82 billion to rebuild, but really didn't get around to actually spending it. Things are so bad that Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco is threatening to "block the August sale of offshore oil and gas leases" unless the administration gets serious about putting its money where its mouth is. "It's time to play hardball, as I believe that's the only game Washington understands."

Yes, things are pretty desperate and a good case in point, Mardi Gras notwithstanding, is the sorry state of medical care in New Orleans. Charity Hospital, the second oldest continually operating hospital in the country and the only provider of care to the poor, is now reduced to operating out of the Convention Center inside tents. They might wind up back outside in a parking lot, like they were before, because the city needs the Convention Center for its economic revival. The NewsHour reported last night that it could cost over $200 million to rebuild Charity but FEMA is offering only 21. So far, the hospital has no other offer of help to move indoors.

According to the AP, Charity's skeletal staff of doctors, "offer the most rudimentary care: They can x-ray bones but not set them. They can draw blood and diagnose an ailment but not treat it beyond prescribing pills. And with no ER and no capacity to operate, they can't do much more than stabilize trauma patients before sending them by ambulance elsewhere, often far away." (Shreveport is 340 mile away) Dr. Peter DeBlieux, the head of what's left of emergency services says, "If you have cancer my advice is move. If you need dialysis, go. Get out of here. If you have any major illness and are uninsured, we cannot possibly accommodate your needs. You will die sooner if you stay here."

The news has been replete of late with stories about the outstanding care that our wounded troops in Iraq are receiving in state of the art medical facilities in a war zone, it would be nice if the sick and uninsured of the Gulf Coast had the same level of care. If we can afford to spend billions rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and constructing our permanent bases for the "long war," why can't W. spare some chump change for a proper hospital in New Orleans?

In his speech back in September W. said, "Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know: There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again." (Building a hospital might be a good start.)

Well, the folks down on the Gulf Coast---and down in South Florida I might add----are still waiting. My God, Fallujah was in batter shape 6 months after the Marines leveled it back in November 2004!
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