Thursday, April 24, 2008

Those are our Gardens of Stone

My Dad - who was laid to rest with full military honors at his passing - used to tell a story about a walk he took through Arlington one day during a military funeral for a senior officer who served during WW I. He was wearing civvies, and a sentry approached him from a couple of sections away and asked if he was supposed to be there. My Dad - who had a wicked sense of humor and a perpetual impish grin - looked at him and said "Not yet, Son."

I tell that story because there is not a lot of levity at Arlington.

It is hallowed, sacred ground.

You buy the plot, alright - but you pay with your most precious coin. So does the nation. When someone is laid to rest at Arlington - or any of the national cemeteries - we all paid the price because we lost a member of our society who can truly be called the best among us - those who stepped up to make the ultimate sacrifice and laid down their life for something bigger than themselves.

Those are our Gardens of Stone, and we pay a steep price for them. We have the right to know when the best among us are laid to rest.

If it was up to me, military funerals would be handled exactly the opposite of the way they are managed and controlled today. If it was my call, every funeral of every service member killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be televised and all programming interrupted for the service, provided the grieving family gives their consent.

Yesterday, one of the highest ranking members of the military to fall in Iraq, Lt. Colonel Billy Hall, was laid to rest at Arlington, but you would never know it the way the Pentagon sanitized the service.

It is a big damned deal when an O-5 falls in battle. Billy Hall was 38 years old and likely destined to hoist his flag. Two little girls, ages three and six, lost their father and two little boys lost their stepfather. His men lost their commander and the Marines lost a seasoned officer. His death (and every death in Iraq, for that fact) is a tragedy that should have the entire nation wailing in grief. His grieving family authorized press coverage, but the Pentagon wasn't having any part of it.

Instead, the press was kept at bay. Photographs had to be shot from 50 yards away. The only sounds the press could hear were of the 21-gun-salute, echoing off of row upon row of all those perfectly aligned, lifeless white headstones.

That's a shame, because Hall's story is a moving reminder that the war in Iraq, forgotten by much of the nation, remains real and present for some. Among those unlikely to forget the war: 6-year-old Gladys and 3-year-old Tatianna. The rest of the nation, if it remembers Hall at all, will remember him as the 4,011th American service member to die in Iraq, give or take, and the 419th to be buried at Arlington. Gladys and Tatianna will remember him as Dad.

The two girls were there in Section 60 yesterday beside grave 8,672 -- or at least it appeared that they were from a distance. Journalists were held 50 yards from the service, separated from the mourning party by six or seven rows of graves, and staring into the sun and penned in by a yellow rope. Photographers and reporters pleaded with Arlington officials.

"There will be a yellow rope in the face of the next of kin," protested one photographer with a large telephoto lens.

"This is the best shot you're going to get," a man from the cemetery replied.

"We're not going to be able to hear a thing," a reporter argued.

"Mm-hmm," an Arlington official answered.

The distance made it impossible to hear the words of Chaplain Ron Nordan, who, an official news release said, was leading the service. Even a reporter who stood surreptitiously just behind the mourners could make out only the familiar strains of the Lord's Prayer. Whatever Chaplain Nordan had to say about Hall's valor and sacrifice were lost to the drone of airplanes leaving National Airport.

The shrouding of military funerals is not coming from the cemeteries and their administrators - the administrator at Arlington has pushed to allow more press access to funerals, but the Pentagon refuses. It is all part of the Bushification of this godforsaken, unholy clusterfuck of awar - sanitize it and sterilize it and don't show the public the grief on the faces of the survivors. Don't show the tears of the wife and the children, the devastation on their faces.

No, instead we are supposed to go shopping.

The military is at war, but America is at the mall.

Do you have any idea how fucked up that sounds to those of us who have first-hand experience in service and sacrifice?

I have to go have a good cry now - I didn't know Lt. Colonel Hall, but I admire and respect him, I feel the loss of his leadership, and the pain of his wife and children.

And if you aren't wailing in grief over his death, what the hell are you even doing reading this blog?

There's more: "Those are our Gardens of Stone" >>

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lawsuit Reveals Massive Suicide Rate Among U.S. Soldiers

Mistah Kurtz -- he dead.
A class action lawsuit filed against the Veterans Administration by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth has reaped an unusual harvest, in the form of an email from Ira Katz, head of mental health at the VA, to Brigadier General Michael J. Kussman, undersecretary for health at the VA. The email, dated last December, threatens to blow the lid off the scandal of insufficient veterans health treatment, and the lies that have kept this scandal from heretofore getting the traction it deserves.

Here's Jason Leopold at Online Journal reporting:

Kussman had inquired about the accuracy of a news report published that month claiming the suicide rate among veterans was 18 per day.

“McClatchy [Newspapers] alleges that 18 veterans kill themselves everyday and this is confirmed by the VA’s own statistics,” Kussman wrote. “Is that true? Sounds awful but if one is considering 24 million veterans.”

In an email response to Kussman, Ira Katz, the head of mental health at the VA, confirmed the statistics and added “VA’s own data demonstrate 4-5 suicides per day among those who receive care from us.”
These statistics are much larger than official Army statistics quoted only a few months ago at CNN, where it was reported that 5 U.S. soldiers attempt suicide every day, not just those receiving VA treatment. Even at that, the figures represented a significant leap in suicide rates among soldiers.
According to Army statistics, the incidence of U.S. Army soldiers attempting suicide or inflicting injuries on themselves has skyrocketed in the nearly five years since the start of the Iraq war.

Last year's 2,100 attempted suicides -- an average of more than 5 per day -- compares with about 350 suicide attempts in 2002, the year before the war in Iraq began, according to the Army....

The Army lists 89 soldier deaths in 2007 as suicides and is investigating 32 more as possible suicides. Suicide rates already were up in 2006 with 102 deaths, compared with 87 in 2005.
But according to internal VA emails, over 6500 veterans per year are killing themselves. And this news follows the revelations in a RAND Corporation report released last week reporting that over 300,000 of soldiers are returning from the so-called war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and brain injuries. That's over 20% of those deployed with a serious mental illness or nervous system disorder.

Inter Press Service had more to report on the Katz email:
"Shh!" the e-mail begins.

"Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans we see in our medical facilities. Is this something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" the e-mail concludes.

According to CBS News, Katz's email was written shortly after the VA provided the network with data showing there were only 790 attempted suicides in all of 2007 -- a fraction of Katz's estimate.

Earlier this month, the city of Dallas, Texas closed its psychiatric unit after the hospital experienced its fourth suicide of the year.

"On Apr. 4, a man fastened a bed sheet to the bottom corner of a door frame, draped a noose over the top, and hanged himself," the Dallas Morning News reported last week. "Before that, a veteran hanged himself on a frame attached to his wheelchair. And in January, two men who met in the psychiatric ward committed suicide in Collin County days after being released."
Clearly, something is very wrong. But this didn't stop the government attorneys in San Francisco for calling for the dismissal of the veterans' lawsuit, claiming, according to a story at the San Jose Mercury News, that the VA has a "world class" health care system, and blaming the crisis on old Vietnam War veterans.

The veterans lawsuit also alleges that many returning soldiers are denied treatment by the VA, and then wait forever on appeal for benefits. From the SJ Mercury News story:
It also takes an average of more than five years for the VA to decide a veteran's appeal of denied coverage, [veterans lawyer Gordon] Erspamer said. In the last six months, 526 vets have died while awaiting word of their appeal within the VA, he noted.
The situation for veterans is tragic, and increasingly, despairing vets, denied treatment, suffering the hell of intrusive memories, depression, and agonizing confusion and surging irritability that is PTSD, or other disorders or injuries, especially brain injuries, increasingly such victims of the insane war drive of Bush and Cheney are killing themselves. And it's getting worse.

This is not a war for democracy. It's a war on democracy, and on the elementary canons of decency and civilized behavior. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has resulted in 100,000s of dead Iraqis, millions of refugees, a world economy spinning out of control, and now, at home in the U.S., an obscene harvest of horribly wounded soldiers, many of whom are committing suicide in record numbers.

When will it stop? Not until the population of this country, and all countries in the world, demand it stop. The U.S. citizenry, in this case, has a larger responsibility than most, as its government is the largest, richest, and most bellicose in the world. Yet the population is mesmerized by an electoral process that promises very little. It is not surprising that those with any hope and desire for change are flocking in large numbers to Barack Obama, who presents himself as an agent of change. Whether he is or not will be tested soon enough.

The fear in the society is palpable, a large creaking and groaning sound that appears to be the harbinger of a bloated and bankrupt empire lurching towards catastrophe. The leaders have decided upon war. They want to enlarge that war to include Iran, with Hillary Clinton the latest to jump on that bus. Obama, too, says "all options are on the table" when it comes to keeping Iran from having nuclear weapons, mimicking the language of torture president Bush.

According to T.S. Eliot, the world will end not with a bang, but with a whimper. That whimper may be the sound of a hopeless veteran staring at eternity, full of pain and loss, a loaded pistol in one hand, or maybe a bottle of pills. A society that cannot serve the needs of those it sends to fight its dirty and predatory wars is a society that ----------.

I'll let my readers fill in that blank.

(Also posted at Invictus.)

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Monday, April 21, 2008


The following piece is My Barack Obama Video Contest entry.

If you like it please follow this link and vote. While you're at it, and while you're on the vote page, you will see the video html emed code and the link code, please place the link code on your site for your visitors and if they are inclined to vote for it they can do so via the page that follows and it will count extra toward my video's chances of winning.

There are 1,100 videos entered in the contest! Yikes!

By the way... the incredible artwork you see in the video was rendered by none other than my dear friend and associate, Ben Heine.

Thank you,
Mark (thepoetryman)

There's more: "ONE NATION - OBAMA" >>

When The Violence Is Brought To The Children: It Has Gone Too Far

Photo: Joao Silva/NYTimes

As reported in a story by Michael R. Gordon in the New York Times with the headline "Civilians Suffer in Sadr City's Daily Gun Battles"
BAGHDAD — Ayman, bleeding profusely from his arm, was rushed to Company B’s stronghold in Sadr City late Sunday afternoon.

A bullet had carved a bloody groove near his left elbow as he was going to fetch some bread from a market.

Seven children had been struck by a burst of gunfire from militia fighters who have been roaming through the streets near the American positions, his distraught father said.

But Ayman, 11, was one of the lucky ones. Four of the children, his father said, were dead.

With no functioning police force and the streets a battle zone, it could not be determined if the children had been caught in cross-fire or had been deliberately shot at by militia fighters, as Ayman’s father suggested.

Take a long look at this child's face, it could be the face of any child, of any of our own children.

While it is admirable, and no less than humanitarian of U.S. forces to administer to this civilian child's wound, it would not ever have been necessary, had the the Bushliburton administration not invaded Iraq in the first place, or withdrawn our forces years ago.

When will the United States stand down, bring our people home, and no longer be a reason for the suffering in Iraq and at home?

Ayman's blood, as is the blood of countless others is on our hands, our leaders, our government, our people should all be ashamed of ourselves.

When will all honest, moral Americans decide that enough is enough and we begin the process of reacquiring our moral authority?

Cross posted from BFD Blog!

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Cirque de Military Analysts

Back in the early 1980's, during my brief period of performing stand-up comedy, we are at a Open Mike Night, at The Comedy Store, up on Sunset Boulevard, in Hollywood, CA.

A young ventriloquist got his time on stage and up he went, with his dummy, taking a moment to move the stool and get himself situated - and placing the dummy in front of the microphone.

A small wave of titters and laughs went about the room, believing, as one could easily at the moment, that this was part of the routine ... The ventriloquist began his set, barely audible for the packed room and soon, the small titters and laughs stopped ...After a few more moments, it became clear, that the ventriloquist was keeping the dummy in front of the microphone.

Some in the crowd began shouting at him, telling him, quite directly, to move the microphone, to use the microphone ...He continued, through the seemingly never-ending five-minutes without moving the dummy away from the microphone

To be kind, it wasn't part of the act.

Not totally unlike the blockbuster news broken last night by the NYT, with the Cirque de Military Analysts being mouthpieces for the Pentagon and Bush Grindhouse.

Dummies, up in front of the microphone, pouring out the words of their masters.

We riffed on this late last evening and, in the light of day, rereading the article, as well as all the blowback out on the WWW and Blogosphere, it leaves a more disgusting aftertaste.

While we, and others touched on it, it really is colossal, that the overarching goal of the Bush Grindhouse, and the likes to Torie Clarke and Rumsfeld, wasn't that welfare of the soldiers being sent into this blunder (or the lives of the innocent Iraqi citizens), but whether or not they could control the message, control the media.

That was what was most paramount.

Hell, they planned (and executed) on which military man would speak on which network, and give this message or that message, better than anything they planned on the ground in Iraq.

They were more upset of a General speaking out-of-turn, speaking truth, than whether-or-not our soldiers were safe, that they had the proper training, equipment and armor.

It was Wag The Dog, Director's Cut!

While this is wrong on so many levels, (including the NYT publishing this, perhaps as a Mea Culpa, being they were, perhaps, the biggest cheerleader as to WMD's and going into Iraq), that retired military people engaged in this, with total disregard, abdicating, even, in retirement, the moral equivalent, of protecting their soldiers.

Much like a bevy of other Bush Cronies, they simply were looking to cash-in on it.

Larisa Alexandrovna, on her blog At-Largely, has a good post, in which she offers clear vision;

"An excellent article in the NYT today illustrates our continued march toward the marriage of corporate and state interests, otherwise known as fascism ..."

As does Greg Mitchell, out on the HuffPo;

"But to get you started, a few points to keep in mind:

-- The article has at least three tracks: One, the Pentagon deploying the analysts (some 75 in number) and the TV outlets happy to run with them; two, the analysts' further conflict-of-interest in being tied to defense contractors with billions of dollars invested in the war effort; three, the complete lack of interest by the TV outlets in either of the first two connections, or ignoring what they did know. In fact, the networks raised no objections to the Pentagon paying for trips by the analysts.

-- The effort began in "selling the war" -- going where even Judy Miller feared to tread -- and there are some startling admissions by some team members that they knew they were being sold a fairy tale on WMD, but went along with it anyway. The moral bankruptcy is truly disgusting."

And Libby, over on Newshoggers speaks for many;

No surprises here. Simply more proof that we have more to fear from our own government than we do from terrorists.

Haven't seen or heard the three major candidates weigh in on this yet.

And, likely, for at least two of them - Hillary and Obama - we won't hear anything, being it's two-days out from PA voting (and if they have the balls to call this repugnant, or such, Christ, make sure they're wearing a Flag Lapel Pin when the do it ... We don't want to further stress out Nash McCabe).

Some More Links

Praire Weather: "We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you... "

Steve Benen: Puppets of the Defense Department

Mustang Bobby/Shakesville: The Puppetry of the Pentagon

Think Progress: Pentagon uses military analysts as ‘puppets’ to push talking points

"I'm sorry, can you lie a little louder"

There's more: "Cirque de Military Analysts" >>

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Latest Dereliction of Duty: TV News Military Analysts and the Military Industrial Complex that Feeds Them

I'm glad to see that the media has finally done its job and uncovered the completely unsurprising links between the retired generals who serve as supposedly-independent Military Analysts on TV news and the Pentagon and Military Contractors whose talking points they invariably echo. It's one thing to know that there's no way these guys were picked because of their complete independence from the Pentagon and its big business contractors. It's another to have evidence that it goes so much further than that. It's a must-read. See Gadfly's post below for a good general overview.

A minor point I think deserves to be rebutted is this one from Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman:

It was, Mr. Whitman added, "a bit incredible" to think retired military officers could be "wound up" and turned into "puppets of the Defense Department."

If you believe this, you don't know the military very well. These guys all retired at the rank of Colonel or higher, and if there's anything a soldier could tell you about the guys at the top of the pyramid, it's that they seem to have no idea what goes on at the bottom of it. The Colonels and Generals I've seen in Iraq rarely leave their offices, except to take other Generals and Colonels on tours in their helicopters. They are briefed more than once a day on operations, but those briefings are often a bit... sanitized to protect their subordinates. They simply don't have the feel that the guys outside the wire have for what's going on. Given the lack of recently retired Buck Sergeant hired to be a Military Analyst on MSNBC, this makes for a somewhat skewed view of the battlefield.

But more tragically, there's a system in place that almost ensures that by the time you reach the rank of General, you've spent so much time with your nose up the ass of the people who made it before you that it's the only way you know how to operate. You see, there aren't all that many openings for Generals in the military, so they can be choosy in who they pick to wear those stars. One of the main criteria for making it that far is having a spotless or near-spotless OER (Officer's Evaluation Report). To get a good OER, you basically have to be competent in your position and not piss off your commander.

And what might piss off a commander? Well, considering that he's got an OER of his own to look after, anything that might wreck his next promotion is pretty high on that list. All this basically means that the last thing you want to do as a junior officer looking up at the stars is think outside the box, take risks, put yourself on the line, or any of those other things that businesses were hiring consultants to tell them to do 10 years ago. The people who make General tend to be above average in intelligence, but risk-averse, thanks to a system that encourages lockstep thinking and looks askance at anything that bucks tradition.

So no, Mr. Whitman, it's not "a bit incredible" that retired Generals are puppets of the system. That's how they got there in the first place. And thanks to the extremely lucrative after-market in the defense contracting and lobbying business, these retired Generals know they've got to dance with the one that brung 'em. The quote from retired Colonel John C. Garrett in an email to the Pentagon shows just how closely tied these guys are to the system that created them. Preparing to go on FOX News to talk about the (then-upcoming) surge, he stated:

"Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay."

Almost as painful as the system that reduces America's military leaders into glad-handing yes-men is the pathetic cravenness of a figure such as Garrett, whose pitiful servility to the Administration and the Pentagon is so clearly expressed in this quote. He's not a man, he's a robot, sent out to do the bidding of his masters. Instead of leading, he's following, like a Private in Basic Training. Instead of getting the opinion of a Pattonesque leader, a man of action, a thick-skinned, no-nonsense man's man that the viewers imagine they'll get when the magic words "Retired General" flash across the screen, they get this mincing courtier saying nothing that we hadn't already heard from Ari Fleischer or Sean Hannity. We want Chesty Puller, but we get Willy Loman.

Cross-posted at Decline and Fall.

There's more: "The Latest Dereliction of Duty: TV News Military Analysts and the Military Industrial Complex that Feeds Them" >>