Monday, December 31, 2007

What will you do in 2008?

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph.
Haile Selassi

I'm not sure there are many, including members of the 110th Congress themselves, who are particularly happy with what was accomplished in Washington DC in 2007. There was much hope after the November 2006 election that we would see real changes in the direction our country was headed; there was hope, finally, for a beginning to the end of the occupation in Iraq. Sadly, we are no closer to getting our military out of Iraq now than in November 2006 or even March 2003. We hear that the presidential candidates are either planning to leave troops in Iraq for decades, as we have in Korea, or increase the number of troops there to restore order. Of the three Democratic candidates, Clinton, Obama and Edwards, none was willing to pledge that all combat forces in Iraq would be gone by the end of the next president's term in 2013.

What did you do in 2007 to end the war? Did you act? Did you contact your legislator? Did you write a letter to the editor? Did you pick up the phone? Did you participate in a rally or a protest? Or were your days filled with inaction?

Were you indifferent when you heard of our young men and women's souls were leaving this earth from the sands of Iraq? Were you affected by the death and displacement of so many Iraqi's who never asked that this fight be brought to their land? What did you do to stop the war/occupation? Did you think it isn't your problem? Did you think nothing you did would matter or did you just not care?

Were you silent about the injustice of this pointless and endless war? Were you silent when your voice could have been heard and counted? Were you silent because it was easier that way or did you just not care?

Did you do anything to have your voice heard protesting about the erosion of our privacy rights or did you go shopping? Did the millions of displaced, wounded or dead Iraqi's not bother you or did you think it would all go away if you put a magnetic yellow ribbon on your vehicle? You know better.

What have you done to honor the lives of our military, like my son, Lt Ken Ballard who was killed in Najaf, Iraq on 5.30.2004? 902 US military were killed and 5900 were wounded in 2007- what did you do to stop the casualties? What have you done to prevent one more flag covered casket from coming home?

The media will make a lot of noise about the presidential campaign in 2008. There may be so much noise that we hear no other news. But with a little effort, you can find many websites and news programs that dig deep, as well as skim the surface to make sure you have the news you need to be an informed citizen and voter.

You needn't get your news only from the so-called mainstream media. Try,,,,,, and Project Censored to start (there are dozens of other good sites that are easy enough to find). MSNBC's nightly show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann is another good source for authentic news. Mr Olbermann provides me with a sense of grounding; when I watch the show, I know it's not me who has lost my grasp of reality; the Bush administration has.

I'm not saying this is going to be easy, but your voice is important, and if you don't speak out, Washington can't hear you.

What will you do in 2008?

Mother of the Year- Hall of Shame

A girls club called Club Libby Lu, A special secret club for super fabulous girls (who) can get makeovers parties, play games, get advice, and find really cool princess paraphernalia (I couldn't make that up, it's right from their website) announces a contest to win tickets to a Hannah Montana concert, including a makeover and airfare to the concert in Albany, NY.

In order to win, you had to write an essay that would describe why you & your friends were unique. The winner, a 6 year old girl from Texas was announced. The opening line in her essay was: "My daddy died this year in Iraq." The problem is, that was a lie.

I'm not sure where this child's daddy really is as he is not mentioned in the news reports, but imagine lying about a father's death. Imagine being so casual about the death of a daddy. The mother & daughter live in the Dallas area, shouting distance from Ft Hood, where thousands of children have seen their daddies and other family members go off to war. These children live in fear every moment their parents are deployed. The death of their daddy is something they think every day and nothing they take casually.

More than 1400 children have experienced a parent's death in Iraq or Afghanistan. You can double that number if you count children under the age of 18 who have lost a sibling.

I'm not sure who's idea it was to make this false claim, the mother's or the child's. The whole incident is disturbing on so many levels.

The girl's mother had told Club Libby Lu officials that the girl's father died April 17 in a roadside bombing in Iraq, company spokeswoman Robyn Caulfield said. But the mother, Priscilla Ceballos, admitted later Friday that the essay and the military information she provided about her daughter's father were untrue.

"We did the essay and that's what we did to win. We did whatever we could do to win," Ceballos.
We did whatever we could do to win? How special is Priscilla Ceballos to teach her child to lie in order to win a silly contest? To lie, in itself is bad, but to lie about a daddy's death in war in a time of war is disrespectful to children who have to figure out what it means how to live without their daddy, and to live with that truth for the rest of their lives. It is also disrespectful of and offensive to all Gold Star families, who have lost a loved one in this war and who number more than 3900 at this time. It is heard enough to lose a son in this war, as I have, but I cannot imagine losing a parent.

At least Club Libby Lu had the good sense to post a statement on their website regarding the "untrue" essay that was submitted by the 6 year old girl.

Club Libby Lu has learned the essay submitted under the name Alexis M. in the Club Libby Lu "Hannah Montana Rock Your Holidays Essay Contest" is untrue. We are reviewing the facts in the matter so that we may determine an appropriate resolution to the situation.

Club Libby Lu had no knowledge of the inaccuracies in the essay until 2:45 this afternoon - Friday, December 28. We regret that the original intent of the contest, which was to make a little girl's holiday extra special, has not been realized in the way we anticipated.

The appropriate resolution was to name another winner, who remained nameless.

For all this, I award Priscilla Ceballos of Texas the 2007 Mother of the Year Hall of Shame.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Name them and Shame them- Veterans Organizations

On Christmas Day, the New York Times wrote an opinion called "Giving Until it Hurts"

The public has rightly shown its empathy with wounded and troubled war veterans, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to private charities that claim to have the veterans’ best interests at heart. A new study details rampant abuses of the money flow.

The 12 veterans’ charities rated as the worst failures collected more than $260 million last year while keeping at least double the recommended 35 percent for overhead — that as the flood of needy veterans continues to grow. This is a disgrace that threatens to make the notion of charity a casualty of war

Of 29 military charities vetted by the American Institute of Philanthropy, a nonprofit watchdog group, only nine received passing grades in managing resources.

On December 13, The Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to examine whether all the charitable groups raising money for the purpose of helping our nation’s veterans are genuinely serving that need. According to an ABC television report by Brian Ross, of the 27 organizations reviewed by the American Institute of Philanthropy, 13 were rated F. Among those shameless F-rated organizations-AMVETS Service Organization, Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Freedom Alliance, American Ex-Prisoners of War Service Foundation, American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Fund, Help Hospitalized Veterans /Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, NCOA National Defense Foundation, Vietnow National Headquarters. One of the more egregious organizations is the National Veteran's Services Fund, who gave 2% of the funds to veterans, the rest went to administration & overhead. In all, $475 million dollars have been donated to these F rated organizations in the last 2 years.

Two organizations, Army Emergency Relief Fund & Air Force Aid Society earned an A+ rating on all other factors, but were downgraded to F due to large asset reserves. The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society initially received an A+ but was downgraded to a C due to large asset reserves. According to the AIP December 2007 report explains:

AIP strongly believes that your dollars are most urgently needed by charities that do not have large reserves of available assets. AIP therefore reduces the grade of any group that has available assets equal to three to five years of operating expenses, and assigns an F to groups with over five years of reserves. In AIP’s view, a reserve of less than three years is reasonable and does not affect a group’s grade.
These reductions in grades are based solely on the charities’ asset reserves as compared to budget. If you agree with these charities that reserves greater than three years budget are necessary to enhance their long-term stability, you may wish to disregard the lower grades that AIP assigns on the basis of high assets. AIP’s definition of "years of available assets" includes funds currently available for the charity’s use, including investments that the charity has set aside as a reserve but could choose to spend if it wanted to do so.

3 military/veterans organizations received high ratings from AIP. I know from personal experience that the Fisher House Foundation and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund are amazing organizations; so it is no surprise to me that both receive an A+. National Military Family Association received an A.

Your charitable donations intended to support veteran's issues are such a precious gift. Please do some research (AIP, The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Navigator) to make sure that your hard earned dollars go to the veterans as you intend them to and not to costly direct-mail appeals, patriotism-tinged trinkets and bloated salaries. These so called veteran's organizations should be ashamed of themselves, but if their policies allow abuse of charitable donations as described, they do not know the meaning of shame.

Our government has never done enough for returning vets and they are not doing so now. Your private donations are critical to the survival of our returning vets and their families. With this information, we can do better by them, and with this information, we know who supports the troops and who supports themselves.

3900 Dead US Soldiers

On January 1st, 2007 we marked the 3000th dead US soldier in Iraq. Nearly one year later, we mark the death of the 3900th dead US soldiers. 900 young men and women never coming home, 900 families torn apart, turned upside down in 2007.

Did you hear this sad statistic on your local news? Unlikely. The AP published a very short story, Forbes picked it up. Not one of the network news affiliates in the San Francisco Bay area covered the story on their websites, not, not Nothing, nada, zip and zero.

We did hear about the first families holiday celebration at Camp David; the president gave his wife a silver tray and purse and she gave him a new coat and warming soles for cold weather mountain biking. Sweet, huh? We surely heard about the presidential campaign and we heard that Bush signed the $555 billion spending bill, but we didn't hear about the dead soldiers.

Unfortunately, since it was recently announced that the troop surge in Iraq was working, I fear some people decided that meant the occupation in Iraq was a success and meant that victory was upon us! Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! Juan Cole over at Informed Comment wrote about the success of the surge as being one of the Top 10 Myths about Iraq 2007 . He explains it is a myth to believe-

The reduction in violence in Iraq is mostly because of the escalation in the number of US troops, or "surge." Fact: Although violence has been reduced in Iraq, much of the reduction did not take place because of US troop activity. Guerrilla attacks in al-Anbar Province were reduced from 400 a week to 100 a week between July, 2006 and July, 2007. But there was no significant US troop escalation in al-Anbar. Likewise, attacks on British troops in Basra have declined precipitously since they were moved out to the airport away from population centers. But this change had nothing to do with US troops. About 600 civilians are being killed in direct political violence per month, but that number excludes deaths of soldiers and police. Across the board, Iraqis believe that their conflicts are mainly caused by the US military presence and they are eager for it to end.

While I am happy that there seems to be less violence in Iraq, 2007 was the deadliest year of this nearly 5 year war. Our troops are still dying. The occupation of Iraq is not over. Whoever gets elected to be our 44th President will become the Decider on when we bring our troops home. Listen to the candidates and listen very carefully while the choice is in your hands.

My condolences to the newest Gold Star families who join a group who needs nor wants new members. Gold Star families, those who have lost a loved one in war, don't care if the number is one or 3900. We know the hole in our hearts that will never heal and we know that any number more than zero is too many for the illegal invasion of Iraq. Special condolences to my fellow members of Gold Star Families Speak Out, who suffer as each additional flag covered coffin returns home for the last time. Whether it has been a day, a month or 4 years, we remember the exact moment we heard the knock on the door; the day our lives changed forever.

Members of GSFSO have been on this journey of bereavement for all too long, and they are the ones I turn to to get me through the days of living without my only child, Lt Ken Ballard. Ken was casualty #818 and was KIA on 5.30.2004. My Gold Star family friends know exactly what losing a loved one in this war means and we are doing what we can to end this endless war and to bring the troops home now!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Romney's tears

There are a lot of things you can say to a Gold Star family and there are also a lot of things you shouldn't say to or about a Gold Star family. While most people are kind and empathetic when speaking to a family who has lost a loved one in war, some people can really be insensitive and insulting.

Mitt Romney, a Republican running for President was the latter this week. The AP reports that Mitt Romney's eyes filled with tears Monday as the Republican presidential contender recalled watching the casket of a soldier killed in Iraq return to the United States and imagined if it were one of his five sons.

How disingenuous. If there was a possibility that any of his 5 sons might serve their country in the military and die as a result, I might give him credit for his imagination. But Romney told us his sons are serving this country by campaigning for their father. What's the worst that could happen to them on the campaign trail? A paper cut? To suggest that serving your country campaigning for one's father is the same as serving your country in the military and underfire is just wrong. If it wasn't so serious, it would be laughable.

While I appreciate that he thinks he could imagine losing a child to war, Romney would have to have a hell of an imagination to get even anywhere near what my life is like since losing my only child, Lt Ken Ballard, to George Bush's war 3 1/2 years ago. There are not enough painful words in our language to describe the anguish that I and nearly 4000 other families feel as we wake up every morning knowing that our loved one is never coming home and that they will never again join us for the holidays. There are no words to describe the gaping hole in our hearts that will never, ever heal.

Perhaps Romney might try to imagine opening the door to the military casualty team to be told that your loved one is dead. He might try to imagine meeting his child's flag covered casket inside the belly of an airplane at the airport as he comes home for the last time. Or maybe he might imagine standing over his son's grave at Arlington National Cemetery with the sound of Taps is being played in the distance. But, mercifully, he will never know, because no one should ever know the reality of a Gold Star family.

If Mitt Romney finds imagining this war so painful, he could take steps to end this endless occupation. As a presidential candidate, Mitt Romney could make ending the war part of his platform. But, a quick search of his website lists issues such as Defeating the Jihadists, Competing with Asia, Taxes, Immigration, America's Culture and Values and others but has no specific statement on Iraq. I'm pretty sure that means it's okay with Mitt for other people's kids to keep getting blown up, as long as it is not one of his own.

Mitt Romney should stick to talking about things he knows. He will never know the pain of losing a child in a war he never supported.

Remember the Troops at Christmas -- and Damn the Politicians

Today I'm turning my little soapbox over to Joseph Galloway over at Editors & Publisher. Joseph L. Galloway is one of the most renowned military reporters of our era and co-author of "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young." Mr Galloway has street cred, or at least military cred.

Remember the Troops at Christmas -- and Damn the Politicians

There are some new statistics that give us reason to be ashamed for the way that our country has treated those who've served and sacrificed for us.

As you do your holiday shopping this year and think about a big turkey dinner and piles of gifts and the good life that most Americans enjoy, please spare a thought for those who made it all possible: Those who serve in our military and the veterans who've worn the uniform.

There are some new statistics that give us reason to be ashamed for the way that our country has treated those who've served and sacrificed for us.

Those statistics damn the politicians who start every speech by thanking the troops and veterans and blessing them. They indict our national leaders who turn up at military bases and the annual conventions of veteran's organizations and use troops and veterans as a backdrop for their photo-ops.

Consider this:

-- Our veterans are killing themselves at twice the rate of other Americans.

--One quarter of the homeless people in America are military veterans. That's one in every four. Is that ragged man huddled on the steam grate in a brutal winter wind a Vietnam vet? Did that younger man panhandling for pocket change on the street corner fight in Kandahar or Fallujah?

For the past four years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been insisting that it's doing everything it needs to for the nation's veterans. That's simply not true, particularly when it comes to the VA's treatment of mental health issues.

As my McClatchy colleague Chris Adams has reported in a series of groundbreaking stories this year, the VA mental health system- even by its own measures -- wasn't prepared to give returning veterans the mental health care they need.

The experts say that between 20 and 30 percent of all troops returning from combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But many of VA hospitals didn't have the special PTSD programs that experts say are vital. Soldiers returning from Iraq are allowed to slip unnoticed into their old lives, and neither the Department of Defense nor the VA does anything to monitor their mental health.

The VA keeps telling Congress that all is well. That's not true, either. As Adams reported, the VA has been using fudged or inflated numbers to do so. And after years of promising that it's getting a growing backlog of disability compensation applications under control, things actually got worse this year.

No matter whether they've been wounded and need follow-up care and support, or whether they're coming apart at the seams and feeling suicidal, they face backlogs as long as six months for an appointment to be evaluated and helped at VA medical centers.

The same people who don't blink at spending $3 billion a week on their war of choice in Iraq were the ones who cut the VA budget and privatized maintenance at Walter Reed Army Hospital and opposed every attempt to expand benefits for veterans old and young.

They're the same people who turned a blind eye as their corporate sponsors and private donors looted billions of dollars from the Treasury with no-compete contracts and bloated bills for everything from food for the troops to fuel for their tanks and trucks.

As a wave of wounded troops suffering brain injuries from the blasts of roadside bombs and landmines poured into military hospitals, these people, posing as fiscally responsible budget makers, were cutting in half the money spent on research into brain injuries.

These frauds who love to pose as wartime leaders sat back and did nothing as a cruel bureaucracy sent bill collectors out to harass double amputee veterans for thousands of dollars because they neglected to turn their armored vests and other gear in to the supply sergeant after they were blown apart on the battlefield.

They did nothing as the Army became ever more conservative, even stingy, in the number of injured and wounded soldiers it judged worthy of full disability pensions. Soldiers who suffered brain injuries and PTSD so severe that they couldn't function were put on the street with a 30 percent disability pension-- $700 a month-- to support a wife and three children.

Neglecting our war veterans and the widows and orphans that result from our wars is as American as apple pie. It's nothing new. But in the past we always waited until after the war's end to forget those who'd fought the war.

This may be the first time in our history that we began to neglect and forget our troops during a war.

All of this is shameful -- shameful for a people whose freedom and prosperity rests on the backs of those soldiers but who've forgotten them so completely that they haven't held their Congress and their president responsible for this stain on our honor.

The next smarmy politician who shouts, "God bless our troops" ought to be tarred and feathered and ridden out of Washington on a rail for sheer hypocrisy.
Amen, I say!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

400 days

....but who's counting?

In 400 days, barring an impeachment miracle, the reign of King George W Bush will be over. Let the countdown continue. January 20, 2009 cannot come soon enough. I cannot see that our country will ever recover from the damage caused by this presidency; maybe some day it will, but not in my lifetime. George will go back to Texas to clear brush and occasionally clean hisself up and go on the speaking circuit to give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers expecting to make more than $50 to $75 thou like daddy's making. (hey, those are his words, not mine). And George will have not a clue the devastation left in his path, nor the cleanup required; he doesn't have a clue now.

I would like to think that we can get Habeas Corpus back, we can end the lying & spying, end they dying in Iraq & Afghanistan, end torture, fund veteran's issues, fund children's health insurance, restore some of our reputation in this world and a myriad of other things that have gone so desperately wrong since this administration took office. I'd like to think so, but I'm not sure that our Congress really, truly gets it.

With a president whose poll numbers are in the 20's, where's the spine? Congress should just say NO to this lame duck president and his pathetic supporters; JUST SAY NO! There need not be status quo for the next 400 days; that's not why we sent Congress to DC in 2006. We sent Congress to Washington to end this endless occupation and to stand up to the president.

Oh, wait, it's midnite, there are now 399 days till Bush administration is over. Time flies and all.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Don't Blink

Message to Congress-Don't Blink. Do Not Blink! Do not back down!

CNN reports The Democratic-controlled U.S. House approved a war-funding bill with a timeline for troop withdrawal from Iraq and substantially less funds to conduct the war than President Bush has requested. Sen. Harry Reid says restrictions must be part of the bill or "the president won't get his $50 billion." The bill states that the primary purpose of the money "should be to transition the mission of United States Armed Forces in Iraq and undertake their redeployment." It demands that Bush begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within 30 days of passage, with a goal of having American combat troops out of Iraq by December 15, 2008. It's about time.

Congress should not listen to the threats that they are not supporting the troops or their families; they should not believe the statements that they are soft on terror. We know it's not true. With opposition to the war at an all time high of 68%, it's time for the Democrats to stand up to George Bush and stop funding the never ending war/occupation in Iraq. Stop the funding, bring 'em home.

House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said "we can no longer militarily sustain the deployment in Iraq; staying there in the manner we are there is no longer an option." and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said "We're going to continue to do the right thing for the American people by having limited accountability for the president and not a blank check"

Secretary Gates says that without the money now, drastic steps would have to be taken in anticipation of the shutdown, including plans to freeze contracts and to furlough about 100,000 government employees . So what? The American people are saying we do not want to spend money on combat any longer (if we ever did) After countless deaths, nearly 5 years in Iraq and having spent nearly $5 billion dollars; it's time to put an end to this endless war.

Speaking at the Pentagon, Bush told his audience. The men and women of this department, the Department of Defense, are helping to carry out the government's most important duty: protecting the American people. Every day they confront America's enemies. Every day they work to stop the spread of dangerous weapons. And every day they guard against those seeking to bring another day of destruction to our shores. The missions of this department are essential to saving American lives. And they are too important to be disrupted, or delayed, or put at risk.

The American people expect us to work together to support our troops. That's what they want. They do not want the government to create needless uncertainty for those defending our country, and uncertainty for their families. They do not want disputes in Washington to undermine our troops in Iraq just as they're seeing clear signs of success.

Here in Washington, leaders have a responsibility to send the right message to the rest of the world. Let us tell our enemies that America will do what it takes to defeat them. Let us tell Afghans and Iraqis that we will stand with them as they take the fight to our common enemies. Let us tell our men and women in uniform that we will give them what they need to succeed in their missions -- without strings and without delay.

Except there are a few problems with his comments.

If only the military in Iraq was protecting the American people. In the third Terrorism Index, more than 100 of America’s most respected foreign-policy experts see a world that is growing more dangerous, a national security strategy in disrepair, and a war in Iraq that is alarmingly off course.

Georg Bush has done well enough on his own to create needless uncertainty to those defending our country and their families. How much more uncertainty can we give members of the military with multiple deployments of uncertain lengths? The only certainty that this administration has given our troops is that they are certain to be heading to a war zone.

The American people do expect those in Washington to work together to support our troops and Bush has yet to make any concessions in Iraq. With this president and this administration, it's their way or the highway. The president has discovered the veto and the democrats and some republicans have discovered a spine. Bush is criticizing Democrats for their priorities and blasting the Senate for using a procedural maneuver to prevent him from making recess appointments.

“In a political maneuver designed to block my ability to make recess appointments, congressional leaders arranged for a senator to come in every three days or so, bang a gavel, wait for about 30 seconds, bang a gavel again, and then leave.” waah!

Pro-forma sessions appointments. is a tool given to the Senate usually to satisfy the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other. Bush has had no problem abusing his privilege and making recess appointments with disastrous affects to our country; John Bolton as UN Ambassador comes to mind as one of the worst recess appointments , although he is only one example of the 167 recess in the Bush presidency.

So the message to Congress, is Don't blink, don't back down to this bully-president or to threats from the Pentagon. We know you support the troops, we know the president doesn't. Our message has been clear. End the war, NO MORE FUNDING!

Can it be easier than that?