Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Not Backing Hillary

Molly Ivins is my hero. I have been reading her columns for years. She gives hope to those of us who dare not stick our heads in the sand watching and hoping that GW will go away. I must listen to him; my sisters can’t, but I have to. I am fascinated with the things that come out of his mouth. Okay, I’ll admit, it’s a morbid fascination.

With every word Ms Ivins writes, I am filled with hope. Her column posted on Working for Change.com on 1.20.06 (Not. Backing. Hillary.) sent me over the moon with joy! It made me want to dance. She talks about the courage & leadership needed to speak out and says what needs to be done. Ms Ivins says she is not going to vote for Hillary.
Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak out on Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges.

She's got the facts about the mood of the country and she is not afraid to call these Democrats on the carpet.
The majority (77 percent) thinks we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. The majority (87 percent) thinks big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax. That is the center, you fools. WHO ARE YOU AFRAID OF?
Do not sit there cowering and pretending the only way to win is as Republican-lite. If the Washington-based party can't get up and fight, we'll find someone who can.
We need new leadership in this country, a party or someone who listens to the people who elected them and then follows through. When he or she follows through, they still need to listen and they change course when it becomes necessary, not because we must "Stay the Course".

I have never supported any member of the Bush family and I didn’t support this one. On that night back in 2000 when the last Florida ballot was counted and we were told who would be our new president, I said to myself ‘This is bad, 4 years of Bush….But, really, it is only 4 years, How bad could it be?” I was wrong. That was the worst thing for me. My only child,
Lt Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq on 5.30.04. Because of GW's policies, my son is dead. I will not get to plan a wedding, I will have no grandchildren. Every morning I wake up and I say to myself “Now what?” My life has been forever changed and the hole in my heart will never heal.

Rahm Emanual (D-IL) as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is the man who has been charted to take back the House. I am troubled that he says the way to accomplish this daunting task is all about “winning elections”

I disagree. When he says things like that, his message to me is, it doesn’t matter what a politician stands up for, it is about winning elections. It doesn’t matter how many more American sons and daughters and how many Iraqis die, as long as Democrats win elections. I cannot tell you how much it pains me to hear that my son’s death and all of the 2225 American soldiers in Iraq is not what is important, but it is winning elections. Shame on you, Mr Emanual. I may not live in IL and I cannot vote for him, but I am his karmic constituent.

Ms Ivins said it eloquently as she always does. We owe her a BIG thank you for her bravery for writing the words that she does. We owe her a BIG thank you for speaking and writing the truth. Thank you, Molly!!

I’m not backing Hillary either. I am in good company.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

From Someone I Know

I'm not naming names, but someone I know sent me this email:

By the by, I read the text of Bin Laden's message last week, and if you removed the Bin Laden byline and substituted "Editorial" or "Ted Kennedy," it'd be worth cheering about. It's very unsettling how much sense he makes for a fundamentalist Muslim terrorist fanatic crackpot. All sorts of things about how average Americans have turned against the war, how they realize it's unwinnable even if Bush hasn't, how ridiculous it looks in retrospect for Bush to have stood on the deck of that aircraft carrier and declared Mission Accomplished so prematurely, etc.

What does it mean when Osama Bin Laden's beliefs are closer to ours than are the president's?

Good question, what does it all mean?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Lobbyist Loopholes

Since Jack Abramhoff and other lobbyists became radioactive, legislators and other folks on the beltway have been trying to distance themselves from what many of us hope will end up as an independent official investigation into the corruption that exists around lobbying. Our goal, of course, would be reform. I suspect that reform is another word in that corruption of language that the Bush administration uses. We might know if only we had the decoder ring. We'll just have to wait to see what their definition turns out to be.

When I say reform with regards to lobbying, I say shut down the donations, lock it up, throw away the key, don't allow donations from lobbyists, don't allow accepting lobbyists "gifts". As a former employee of a major defense contractor, our ethical rules were well defined. We were allowed to go to lunch with our suppliers; I think the limit for a meal was $20 maximum- that was 20 years ago, so $20 was probably a fair amount. The parsing did go on then; did the $20 include the tip? Did it include any taxes? Did it include alcohol, which was prohibited by other personnel regulations, but there were some who did not abstain.

Lawmakers are speaking out offering their solution to lobbyists donations. I'm not impressed with the proposal presented by Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert (R-Ill). Although his proposal will ban meals as allowable, he forgot to mention, "except in certain cases" And that is when the parsing begins as described by the
Washington Post.

According to lobbyists and ethics experts, even if Hastert's proposal is enacted, members of Congress and their staffs could still travel the world on an interest group's expense and eat steak on a lobbyist's account at the priciest restaurants in Washington. The only requirement would be that whenever a lobbyist pays the bill, he or she must also hand the lawmaker a campaign contribution. Then the transaction would be perfectly okay.

More evidence that the Republicans don't mean to do a darned thing about lobby reform is the assignment of Rick Santorum (R-PA) as the person who will head up the GOP's effort on lobbying reform. We can thank Bill Frist for that. Come on, there are enough foxes watching hen houses in DC, but this is downright insulting. Santorum is the last person who should be working on ethics reform. How many times does Santorum have to vote against ethics issues until we understand his true principles? This isn't pretty, not pretty at all, but let me count the ways.

    1. Santorum Twice Tried to Kill 1994 Lobbying Reform Package.
    2. Santorum Voted Against Lobbyist Gift Ban.
    3. Santorum Voted Against Lobbying Regulations for Former Homeland Security Officials.
    4. Santorum Runs the K Street Project, Places Republicans in Top Lobbying Jobs.
    5. Santorum Threatened Consequences Against Motion Picture Association When It Hired A Democrat.
    6. Santorum Complained When A Democrat Became Boeing’s Top Lobbyist.
    7. Senate Ethics Committee Questioned Santorum’s Behavior.
    8. Santorum Has Received More Money From Lobbyists Than Any Other 2006
The DSCC Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued this statement:

“If Republicans were serious about cleaning up Washington, their first step would be denouncing lawmakers like Rick Santorum, not putting one like him in charge of reform"

The Republicans haven't convinced me they are serious and neither have the Democrats, although the DSCC's statement is a start. Maybe "ethical values" is another one of those words in GW's corruption of language. I can't wait to get my decoder ring.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

USA Today

I am happy to report that USA Today saw fit to print my letter to the editor about their laughter program in the 1.18.06 issue of the paper .

I was pleased and somewhat surprised to see that 3 of the 4 letters were from soldier's family members who felt the program was insensitive - okay, I'm being nice, they were pretty unhappy as I was.
'There are some things humor can't cure'

It's nice to have someone think my news is worth reading!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Shame on Santorum

The Iraq war is on our doorsteps and in our hearts and Senator Rick Santorum doesn’t want to talk about it. He certainly doesn’t want the media to focus on the casualties. He blames the media for the drop in public support for military operations in Iraq.
I don't know of any other war in American history where every casualty -- every casualty -- was the headline"

The state of Pennsylvania has suffered the 3rd highest number of casualties in Iraq with 111 dead. That Senator Santorum seeks to hide the numbers and their names, calls for an honest assessment of his commitment to his constituents. His feelings about open communications of the casualties of this war indicate his allegiance lies with the current administration and not with those he represents.

Flag draped caskets containing military casualties arrive at Dover AFB in Delaware 2 or 3 at a time. We cannot see photographs of the caskets by way of a Department of Defense regulation and Senator Santorum says that we should not know about the number of casualties, either. The young men and women inside these caskets are forever part of the fabric of the history of the United States, and they deserve to be remembered. The body count is the most important number to the Gold Star families of these sons and daughters of our country. I want my only child, Lt Ken Ballard to be remembered. Other Gold Star family members want their loved ones to be remembered. That seems to be the furthest thing from Rick Santorum’s mind.

Stories and photographs are a stark reminder of the reality of war. For Senator Santorum to say that publishing the names of our war dead is "helping Islamic fascism win the battle" is ignorant and insensitive to all Americans and especially to Gold Star families.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Pentagon to families: Go ahead, laugh

Thanks to USA Today for providing information on the latest tool that the Pentagon is giving to military families on how to deal with the stress of war. Their advice? Laugh! The Pentagon's chief laughter instructor, Col (Ret) James "Scotty" Scott says
"The guiding principle is to laugh for no reason. And that's one of the reasons it works so well for military families," Scott says. "There's a lot they have to be stressed over, a lot of worries, a lot of concerns."

I laugh when things are funny, but frankly there has been nothing funny about my world since my only child, Lt Ken Ballard was sent to Iraq and was killed on 5.30.04.

My life stopped being funny when George Bush was given the presidency in 2000. My life stopped being funny when we started to hear the drumbeats of a premeditated war. No program for proper laughing could have made me laugh.

This program for laughter is more evidence of the denial the Pentagon uses in dealing with families who have loved ones in harm’s way. This program seems to make light of the stress on military families. Research supports humor as a coping mechanism, but there are some things that humor cannot cure. It cannot cure a mother’s broken heart and it cannot cure a family’s worry when their loved one is in harm’s way.

Following orders from the Commander in Chief, the Pentagon has sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight without proper training, personal body armor, and other material support that the DOD should be providing. This laughter program is offensive to family members who know every day they are one knock on the door from knowing the true meaning of “ultimate sacrifice”. As the director of military family support policy, Col (Ret) Scott can do better by these families and reduce their stress by providing them with assurances that the Pentagon is giving their best efforts, as the soldiers do, and not “go to war with the Army you have”.

A course in laughter cannot ease a family’s stress when they know that our country can do better for our soldiers.

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Pro-troops Road Trip

    I hate to even mention the name of this organization, because they don't deserve any attention or publicity, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I'll do it, but only one time. Move America Forward has a campaign called "They Didn't Die in Vain". This organization calls themself "pro-troops" (as if we, who oppose the war, aren't). They laughably call themselves
    a non-partisan organization dedicated to preserving our American heritage of freedom and liberty.

    I think they meant to omit the "non" in non-partisan. The dictionary describes partisan as par·ti·san (pär'tĭ-zen) n. A fervent, sometimes militant supporter or proponent of a party, cause, faction, person, or idea. This organization is about as partisan a group as you can find. Their campaign is a about the pro Bush, pro war Gold Star Families who believe that their children didn't die in vain and how painful it is for them to-

    endure the constant negativity from the news media about the war in Iraq and the efforts by some in this country to undermine the mission that our troops are serving

    GIVE ME A BREAK! And to make it all better for these pro war, pro Bush families, this group is organizing a trip to Iraq so these family members can
    ...go thank those who still serve on the front lines today for helping to make sure the mission in Iraq is completed. Help them to see first hand the new Iraq that is rising up from the ashes of that brutal despotic regime of Saddam Hussein
    GIVE ME ANOTHER BREAK! This is the most irresponsible thing I have heard in a very long time. It has already been established that Iraq is not a safe place for anyone. Iraq is not open for tourism, not now and not for along time. If these family members go over there on this field trip, who is going to provide security for them? (I know, I know- pick me, pick me!!) I'm guessing it would be the American soldiers, who have much better things to do than to guard these family members or anyone else who has no business being there.

    Ken's father has said he wants to go to Najaf to see where Ken was killed. I don't and even if I did, I wouldn't jeopardize anyone's saftey until Iraq is a safe place to visit. If our soldiers are asked to provide security for these families and the soldiers become distracted and someone is hurt, then the families and this organization have blood on their hands as surely as the administration.

    Save your money, folks. No one needs to be going to Iraq, including troops (but that's another story). To thank the soldiers who still serve, why not volunteer at a VA hospital? Help these young men and women find a life that is as normal as it can be with the catastrophic injuries that they are recovering from. Why not work with your legislators to insure that our soldiers have the proper body armor , properly armored vehicles and other material support that the DOD should be providing? Why not work with your legislator to insure that the VA budget is not reduced any more?

    People who are "pro-troops" can do better than taking a road trip.

    Saturday, January 07, 2006

    Extra Armor Could Have Saved Many Lives

    This week, the New York Times reported that Extra Armor Could Have Saved Many Lives in Iraq. They said that

    "A secret Pentagon study has found that at least 80 percent of the marines who have been killed in Iraq from wounds to their upper body could have survived if they had extra body armor. That armor has been available since 2003 but until recently the Pentagon has largely declined to supply it to troops despite calls from the field for additional protection, according to military officials."

    More secrets from this administration that doesn't really care about the soldiers; they don't support the troops, but they say they do. Let me give the Pentagon a suggestion, if you are paying the families $400,000 in death benefits for each soldier and the total cost for adequate body armor is $4,000, would someone do a cost benefit analysis? $880,000,000 or $8,800,000. I'll let you decide.

    The issue of body armor has gone on since long before the invasion back in March 2003. Soldiers are dying while Army & Marine officials are trying to decide which design suits their soldiers better. May I repeat SOLDIERS ARE DYING!? And if the Pentagon has been collecting data on this since the beginning of the war, then WHAT ARE THEY WAITING FOR? May I repeat SOLDIERS ARE DYING! And one more time for the people in the back row- SOLDIERS ARE DYING!

    Remember back in December 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld told us
    "As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want," No, Don, you plan for AND provide superior equipment and the best safety for your soldiers BEFORE you send them into harms way. But you and your pals in the administration just had to get into Iraq, facts be damned. I don't think one can be safe in Iraq, but you could certainly be safer with proper body armor.

    There are stories of family members and communities buying body armor for their soldiers because the deploying units were not going to provide it for them. US Congress even told the Defense Department to reimburse parents who had bought body armor for their sons or daughters serving in Iraq.
    Nearly a year after Congress demanded action, the Pentagon still hasn't figured out a way to reimburse U.S. troops for body armor and equipment they purchased to better protect themselves while serving in Iraq.

    Further, the secret report says

    "military officials and defense contractors said the Pentagon's procurement troubles have stemmed in part from miscalculations that underestimated the strength of the insurgency, and from years of cost-cutting that left some armoring firms on the brink of collapse as they waited for new orders."

    It's not only body armor that the DOD is delayed in providing. Fully armored vehicles with special shaped hulls, designed to minimize injuries, have been delayed due to multiple blunders.

    More delays were caused by infighting between the Marines & the Army. The Army wanted their vehicles shipped before the Marine vehicles and complying with that request impacted production. Except there is one BIG problem with that. At best they violated federal procurement regulations. DPAS, the Defense Priorities and Allocations System was put into place back in the 1950's. The purpose of DPAS is to assure the timely availability of industrial resources to meet current national defense and emergency preparedness program requirements and to provide an operating system to support rapid industrial response in a national emergency (that's DOD speak for "you can't take cuts in line")

    There are serious consequences, including losing government contracts if DPAS is violated. Sadly, many contractors new to federal contracts don't read those terms of the contract or don't care. (note: a quick review of the executive biographies at Force Protection, the contractor in question for these new vehicles, suggests these guys are no rookies in the defense industry. Shame, shame!) As in much of the federal procurement system, these terms are very black and white with little or no wiggle room. Shame on these contractors for not complying. Whatever the consequences, it's not bad enough. These contractors have blood on their hands as surely as anyone who marched our young men and women into battle. Violation of DPAS, allegations of falsifying records to hide defective workmanship AND inability to handle mass production are serious transgressions. The Department of Defense knows how to pick them, don't they?

    The story keeps getting better, doesn't it? And who is it that supports the troops?

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    60% Crap

    I'm a night owl which makes it easy for me to catch Dave Letterman's show most nights. I have been particularly touched by Dave's soft spot for the military when he flies over to visit our soldiers in combat areas. His show features greetings from the soldiers and has them participate in his Top 10 now and again. Dave gets it about the military and the position that the soldiers are in with regards to GW's policies.

    If you didn't catch The Late Show with David Letterman on Tuesday, 1.3.06, you missed what will be a classic TV spot. One of Dave's guests was Bill O"Reilly. (disclaimer: I don't have any respect for Bill or his venom spewing. I was overjoyed when one of my friends appeared on The O"Reilly Factor and kicked Bill's ass. Dolores Kesterson, a Gold Star Mom was on his show in August 2005 and she soundly put him in his place.) but I digress......

    On Tuesday night, Bill came out blathering from the first minute about how Christmas was being taken away from the country, and blah, blah, blah. He's an idiot. And Dave wasn't buying it at all. He told Bill "60% of what you say is crap". This was after Bill said "We gotta win this thing". Win what? How can you win something when you don't know what your mission is? GW keeps changing that to fit his plan d'jour and honestly, there are alot of us that are darned sick and tired of his BS.

    So, as Dave says, wake up the kids and watch this: Late Night with David Letterman on 1.3.06. Special thanks to people at www.onegoodmove.org for posting the link. This is something you can watch to remind you that there are plenty of people in this world who get it and it is hilarious! Thanks Dave!

    p.s. I did send an email to Dave telling him how much I appreciated that he could even imagine losing a child in this war.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    LTC Murtha's speaking the truth again

    I woke up to the news this morning that Jack Murtha, my favorite PA Congressman was speaking the truth again. It gives one a reason to get out of bed. That kind of news puts a hop in my step! Hallelujah and Happy New Year!

    Representative Murtha was being interviewed on Nightline, ABC's late night news program. When asked "Would you join (the military) today?," , he answered "No". Representative Murtha is the top Democrat on the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees defense spending and one of his party's leading spokesmen on military issues. He is a decorated Marine LTC, served for 37 years. I'm guessing with those credentials, he knows of what he speaks, and he just may be speaking for high level members of the military who can't speak for themselves.

    People all over talk radio were taking potshots at Rep Murtha. How could he endanger the military and the country? He is irresponsible, they said. I say leave him alone and listen to the strange sound of the truth. It not something that comes from the direction of DC very often. It's high time that someone in DC grows a backbone and starts calling 'em, as they see 'em. Those complicit legislators who don't stand up and question the policies of this President are as egregious as those who support these same policies outright. When is the whistling past the graveyard going to stop?

    Let me provide my credentials so I can give you my take on the question. I was raised in a military family; my dad was a LTC in the Army, my dad's dad was a Colonel in the Army and my mom's dad was a Major in the Army. My older sister was a LTC in the Army, and all of that made my son a 4th generation Army officer. Army black and gold runs through my veins. I believe this country needs a strong military. I am not anti-military, got it?

    I am proud that my son chose to serve his country. I will always be proud of my son's service. He loved being a soldier. My son did not deserve to die for this President's use of "wrong intelligence".

    Our soldiers take an oath to defend the Constitution and to obey the orders of the President of the United States. In return, their Commander in Chief and this country owe them the TRUTH about their mission and why they are going into harms way. They should never be sent into combat without suitable equipment or proper training. They should never be sent to into war without proper planning and without an exit strategy. They should never be sent into hostilities unless it is our last option.

    When I met with the Secretary of the Army last September, I told him he wasn't my target in speaking out against the war; my target was much higher than he. He's a smart man. He understood. It's not the military I particularly have a complaint with; they are doing their job as assigned by the President. The President owes our military much more than he could ever give them, but least of all he owes them respect, he owes them adequate personal equipment and training & properly armored vehicles. He owes them accountability for strategic mistakes that have resulted in too many needless deaths. He owes the veterans sufficient physical, emotional and financial support when they return from this hideous war. He owes them the truth.

    Henry Kissinger was quoted as saying "Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns" for foreign policy in the book “Kiss the Boys Goodbye: How the United States Betrayed Its Own POW’s in Vietnam”. I haven't heard that GW has repeated that quote, but I suspect he thinks Kissinger is right on. That's the way he treats the military and they don't deserve that kind of treatment.

    Is this how you would want your child treated? Neither would I and I wouldn't serve in this President's military either, not now.

    For soldier's mother, a painful deal with God

    This is an op-ed piece from the Eugene, OR Register Guard written by my friend Adele. She is a Blue Star Mom and we met in Crawford, TX in August.
    This holiday season, I count myself among the lucky. I made a bargain with God, and he agreed.
    For the 10 months that my daughter was in Iraq, I dreaded hearing the telephone ring. Hearing the doorbell ring was too much for me to handle. At Thanksgiving and last Christmas I was surrounded by loving friends, but I could not keep from crying. On vacation, how could I enjoy myself when my daughter was far away, manning a .50-caliber gun, escorting convoys between Mosul and Baghdad?
    I talked to God daily. We worked out what was an acceptable toll for the return of my child. I finally agreed that even if her limbs were missing, as long as she came home with her mind intact and her soul unwounded I would be eternally grateful.
    God heard me. But he did not hear the pleas of the dozens of parents, wives, brothers and sisters I have met since we began this journey. I have held mothers as they spoke of their sons, and have felt their hot tears on me. I have a friend whose son now resides on a table in the entryway, his sunglasses in front of his picture. I have another whose only child is buried far away in Arlington Cemetery.
    But God did agree to my bargain, at a terrible cost. My daughter's leg does not work any more; it is just there for show. The bones and tendons are twisted and mangled. After she was shot down in a helicopter, she was kept in combat for two more months with a broken leg because she was needed - and in her commitment to duty, she would tell no one but me how badly the leg hurt. By the time she was flown out, the leg was irreparably damaged.
    This Christmas I will hold her and cry tears of joy. They will be the same tears I cried when I saw her tiny figure at the end of the barracks, alone and crazed, as she was medically evacuated from Iraq. They will be the same tears I cried in the darkened room when she sat with me and poured out the horror that Iraq has become.
    I raised my daughter to love and respect all life. Long ago she used to bring small creatures to me, cupped in her tiny hands. We would keep them for a day, and then she would gently release them in our field.
    She enlisted in the Oregon National Guard to help the people of her state, by fighting fires and building roads. She wanted to help, and truly believed she would help people in Iraq. But she learned the harsh truth of war.
    This Christmas I will try not to think of the day she called me sobbing and told me that she had to kill a young man. I will try not to think about the bitterness of the soldiers I have met who have told me that we are destroying Iraq for a lie. Some families must believe that we are at war for a noble cause. The alternative is too painful. How can you accept the fact that your son or daughter died not to protect America, but for some hidden agenda?
    But there are others of us who cannot accept, who must strive to change the course of events. We don't want any more mothers' tears. We can't help but see the Iraqi mothers as our kin, and some of us have to answer to our maimed children when they ask us why we let this thing happen to them.
    This holiday season I am fortunate. God accepted my bargain. My daughter will once again sit with me. Supporting the troops does not mean that we have to continue this carnage. I support the troops as ardently as the people who wave American flags. I know our loved ones depend on us here at home to protect them, even as they think they are protecting us with their lives. I take that responsibility seriously, and I ask that others also help to protect the troops by calling for their return.
    My daughter and I will sit to dinner with joy in our hearts and the ghosts of the dead in our minds. I can only hope that others will exercise their conscience and join us in helping to bring an end to this war.

    Adele Kubein of Corvallis is a groundskeeper, a student at Oregon State University and a peace activist.