Friday, November 09, 2007

A tsunami of vets coming home to become homeless:

Last night, as I was taking a cig break outside, I saw a homeless guy wrapped in a blanket making his way down the street. The first thought that came into my head was that it was way too cold for that poor bastard to be wondering around with just a blanket on to keep him warm. I think it was probably in the 40's at that point and as I tried to imagine spending the night out in the elements, probably have to sleep on the sidewalk or on a bench, the thought occurred that there was a 1 in 4 chance that the man making his way down the street to nowhere was a vet.

The Alliance to End Homelessness released a report yesterday saying that veterans, though only 11% of the population, make up a quarter of all homeless people. AP reports that according to data from 2005 Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau, "194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans. In all of 2006, the alliance estimated that 495,400 veterans were homeless at some point during the year"

That's almost half a million veterans who served their country left out in the cold to fend for themselves. Sure we talk a good game about supporting the troops and drive around in our gas guzzlers plastered with American flags and yellow ribbons -- we even have a holiday for them -- but when it comes right down to it, the minute they get home -- we cut them loose. They're asked by their government to go to foreign lands to kill or be killed, yet when the things they saw or did over there become too much and their lives start falling apart, all they've got to rely on is good old American boot strap pulling.

Same as it always was.

As Marine General Smedley Butler wrote a long time and many wars ago about those who do the fighting for our country:

"There they were remolded; they were made over; they were made to 'about face'; to regard murder as the order of the day. They were put shoulder to shoulder and, through mass psychology, they were entirely changed. We used them for a couple of years and trained them to think nothing at all of killing or of being killed. Then, suddenly, we discharged them and told them to make another 'about face.'" [War is a Racket]

The Vietnam vets know all about this (just walk down any street in DC and ask one) and now the Iraqi and Afghanistan vets are finding out the same much quicker, though. Whereas in the old days it took about a decade for a vet's life to implode, the Iraq vets are finding it happens much quicker now. Daniel Tooth, the director of Veteran's Affairs for Lancaster, PA says that he's expecting a "tsunami" of vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan in need of mental heath care. Of the 750,000 or so troops that have come home from W.'s wars, so far, many are finding that the VA is doing a somewhat less than spectacular job of taking care of them.

And the Bush administration isn't exactly stepping up to plate when it comes to kicking in the money to deal with the problem. NEWSWEEK reported that Linda Blimes, a policy analyst at Harvard, "calculates that over the next decade, the disability costs for vets will be at least $60 billion -- more than six times the administration's official projections."

As usual, W. & Co. like to create their won reality and any number cruncher that works for this president knows better than to report bad news. The same goes for the Pentagon which doesn't add into their tally of 27,753 wounded in Iraq the 48,559 diagnosed with PTSDs this year, up from 29,041 last year. [USA]

Money talks, vets walk.

I note today the irony of a Veteran's Day sale ad in today's Inquirer, which totally dwarfs an article about the Department of Labor dropping the ball on getting reservist's jobs back once they return form their second, or third, or fourth deployments. AP reports that a study conducted by the Pentagon and released under duress to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee details increasing discontent among returning troops under strain from extended tours in Iraq. It found that "44 percent said they were dissatisfied with how the Labor Department handled complaints of employment discrimination based on their military status, up from 27 percent in 2004"

The Committe found also:

" Servicemembers are returning home only to realize that their deployment has put
their healthcare, their benefits, and even their jobs at risk. For example, among
post-9/11 returning Reservists and National Guard:

• Nearly 11,000 were denied prompt reemployment.

• More than 22,000 lost seniority and thus pay and other benefits.

• Nearly 20,000 saw their pensions cut.

• More than 15,000 didn’t receive the training they needed to return to their former

• Nearly 11,000 didn’t get their health insurance back."

If you lose your job when you get home and you've got to wait for six months, or a year (or forever) for the government to get around to getting after your former employer to give you your job back (which is the law of the land) you might just wind up on the streets these days. Landlords and banks generally don't give you a pass because the government is dragging their feet.

According to the article, of those seeking redress from the government for being illegally terminated, "29 percent said they had difficulty getting the information they needed from government agencies charged with protecting their rights, while 77 percent of those with a complaint said they did not even bother trying to get assistance, in part because they did not think it would make a difference."

The Pentagon also found that formal complaints to the Labor Department from reservists was at an all time high of 1,600 in 2005, not counting, AP reports, "the thousands more cases reported each year to the Pentagon for resolution by mediation."

Naturally, the Labor Department under Bush has been turned into a compliant puppy dog that no longer protects labor. Nowadays the Department of Labor is more focused on helping special interests screw the working man. Charles Ciccolella, Labor's assistant secretary for veteran's employment and training (I guess, the secretary was busy) says the solution is not to litigate but to educate the employer.

I guess the assistant secretary has never actually been in any work places around the country. You go into any break room in any company of any size and the first thing you see, right next to the OSHA poster and the minimum wage poster, is a gigantic Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) poster warning the employer that vets have a right to their jobs after serving their country. Employers know what the law is, they just rely on this administration and its business friendly bias to ignore the law and let them get on with making money (and not paying their fair share in taxes).

So this Veteran's Day, remember the guy in the blanket and the 20 year-olds of today who you'll be seeing walking the streets for the next 50 years. They volunteered to do their duty for King and Country and this is what they got.

Shame on all of us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Author's note:

I'm blogging about the situation in Pakistan at LTAD.

Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL)

Didn't Rummy once say the Iraq invasion had "nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil"? Australian PM John Howard said very recently that Australia is "not there because of oil and we didn’t go there because of oil." He had to go out of his way to again deny that the war in Iraq is all about oil due to the unfortunate comments made by his Defense Minister, Brendan Nelson, who let the cat out of the bag by letting slip that one of the reasons the Aussies are in Iraq "is energy security." [MSNBC]

But that's just them. We're not, though, keep that in mind.

Two points of interest then:

The International Herald Tribune reports:

"Guided by American legal advisers, the Iraqi government has canceled a development contract with the Russian company Lukoil for a vast oil field in Iraq's southern desert, freeing it up for potential international investment." [By "international," read America.]

What do you know about that?

The history of Lukoil's contract to develop the West Qurna energy deposits, thought to hold 15 billion barrels of oil, starts in 1997 when they signed the deal with Saddam. A 2004 article in Eurasia Insight reports that in December of 2002 Saddam nixed the deal with the Russians, "Reportedly because Saddam became outraged upon hearing reports that Lukoil was trying to hedge its bets. The company supposedly sought guarantees from Washington and Iraqi opposition groups that the contract would be honored in the event of regime change. Lukoil maintains that it never violated the terms of the deal, and thus the pact should remain in force."

Not any more, apparently.

And then there is this from Haaretz:

"The United States has asked Israel to check the possibility of pumping oil from Iraq to the oil refineries in Haifa. The request came in a telegram last week from a senior Pentagon official to a top Foreign Ministry official in Jerusalem . . .

The Prime Minister's Office, which views the pipeline to Haifa as a 'bonus' the U.S. could give to Israel in return for its unequivocal support for the American-led campaign in Iraq. . .

The new pipeline would take oil from the Kirkuk area, where some 40 percent of Iraqi oil is produced, and transport it via Mosul, and then across Jordan to Israel. "

That is, however, if the Turks don't get there first. Kirkuk is still up for grabs by the Arabs, the Kurds and the Turkomen. There were supposed to have been elections, but you know, there's that little violence problem. But if the Kurds start pushing the Turks around too much or look like they're going to really begin to make some money from all the oil deals they're making on the side then you could see the Turks move from border incursions to a full scale invasion.

That's another war, though.

The more things change the more they stay the same . . . Here's another interesting story about the Israelis involvement in another pipeline from Iraq to Jordan.

The Gulf of Aqaba pipeline and another "bonus" for the Israelis:

Back in the early eighties, the Aqaba pipeline was an idea hatched by Bechtel -- whose former boss, George Schultz, just happened to have moved straight from that job to be Reagan's Secretary of State (sound like anyone else we know?) -- to convince Saddam to let them run a pipeline from the Euphrates River in Iraq to the Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan.

Rummy was sent over to see Saddam and seal the deal. One little problem along the way was that Saddam was concerned about the Israelis bombing it.

According to Tom Vallette, the author of Crude Vision:

"So for the next few years, while Saddam Hussein was unleashing thousands of chemical bombs on the Iranians, the Reagan Administration and many of the architects of this war were spending their time shuttling back and forth between Baghdad, Amman, Israel and Washington, trying to get the Israelis to guarantee that there wouldn’t be an attack on the pipeline and to assuage Saddam’s fears that there wouldn’t be an attack. . .

Bechtel met with a Swiss billionaire Bruce Rappaport, who was close personal friends with the Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Rappaport and another agent E. Robert Wallace tried to make certain arrangements with the Israeli government, which included funneling off oil pipeline profits into Peres’ Labor Party. . .

Peres was reportedly offered $700 million over ten years. Rappaport was later investigated by the FBI for illegal oil dealing. Wallace and his former client Attorney General Edwin Meese were investigated by a special prosecutor for their role in the bribing scandal. " [This is all in the GWU's National Security Archives]

Apparently, the $700 million was another "bonus" for Israel's unequivical support for US in Iraq.

Casualties down in Iraq:

There were only 38 American killed in Iraq last month. See, the Surge is working. But the WaPo reports that the five soldiers and one sailor killed yesterday . . .

"Brought the total death toll for American troops in Iraq this year to 852, higher than the 849 killed in 2004."

That's what they call progress these days, I guess. Lt. Col. Dale Kuehl, a battalion commander in western Baghdad, says " am confident that we have established a much more secure environment for the people we have been tasked to protect. "

Cuz, tha's what it's all about. Protecting the Iraqi people.

"However," Kuehl adds, "A part of me is afraid to believe what we have accomplished, knowing what it has cost to get us to today."

Yeah, how about that?

Farewell Childe Harold.

I read in the WaPo today that the Childe Harold closed down this past weekend. That really sucks! I spent many an entertaining evening there after work, as well as a few long afternoons. It was always a great place to meet interesting folks to chew over all the political controversies of the day. By the time I started hanging out there the music thing was pretty much over with, but the crazy conversations I always used to get into made up for it, I guess.

The most amazing day I had there was on a Sunday afternoon where I engaged in many hours of Civil War trivia with two fellows who really knew their stuff. The talk went from ' Oh, you actually know what the Crater is?' to discussion of the miners who constructed the tunnel that led to the Crater, to the guy telling me about his family coming from the Pennsylvania coal mines, to me mentioning that the guy who came up with the design for the "Crawler," the massive tractor that took the Saturn V from the VAB to the launch pad had come up with the idea for the Crawler having seen similar type tractors when he was growing up in mining country.

I know, really nurdy stuff, but you're not going to just run into people like this at any bar.

In any case, I always looked forward to that first cold beer at the end of the day at the Childe Harold. I have missed it ever since I moved out of DC and now I'll never get to hang ther again. What a shame!

P.S. For some bizarre reason, one of the bartenders who used to work there knew the Dolphins fight song and had also been an eyewitness to Patti Smith falling off the stage in Tampa. This is why I started going there in the first place.

Monday, November 05, 2007

November 5 1605

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

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