Memorial Day 2012: A Lesson Not Yet Learned

 

by WALTER BRASCH

Today is Memorial Day, the last day of the three-day weekend. Veterans and community groups will remember those who died in battle and, as they have done for more than a century, will place small flags on graves.

But, for most of America, Memorial Day is a three-day picnic-filled weekend that heralds the start of Summer, just as Labor Day has become a three-day picnic-filled weekend that laments the end of Summer. 

There will be memorial concerts and parades. The media, shoving aside political and celebrity news, will all have stories. Among those who will be the first to patriotically salute those who died in battle are those who enthusiastically pushed for them to go to war.

Each of the extended weekends also provides forums for politicians to stand in front of red-white-and-blue bunting to deliver political speeches they hope will make the voters think they care about veterans and the working class—and if it helps their election or re-election campaigns, so much the better.

The first Memorial Day was May 1, 1865, when hundreds of freed slaves, missionaries, and teachers held a solemn ceremony to honor the Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp in Charleston, S.C. That memorial evolved into Decoration Day and then in 1882 to Memorial Day. The last Monday in May now honors all soldiers killed in all wars.

There haven’t been many years when the U.S. wasn’t engaged in some war. Some were fought for noble purposes, such as the Revolutionary War and World War II; some were fought for ignoble purposes, such as the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars.

The U.S. is currently engaged in winding down the longest war in our history. The war in Afghanistan had begun with the pretense of a noble purpose—to capture the leaders of al-Qaeda who created 9/11. But, that war was nearly forgotten while the U.S. skip-jumped into Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaeda, 9/11, or any weapons of mass destruction. It did have a dictator who allowed torture against its dissidents— but so did North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and dozens of other countries that the Bush–Cheney war machine didn’t consider.

No, it was Iraq that became the focus of the White House Warriors. It wasn’t long before the U.S. commitment in Iraq was more than 10 times the personnel and equipment than in Afghanistan. It was a commitment that had left the U.S. vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita within a month of each other proved. The Bush–Cheney administration had diverted funds from numerous public works projects, including reinforcement of the levees in New Orleans, to increase the U.S. presence in Iraq. By the time Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, National Guard troops and their equipment, including deep water vehicles, were in Iraq.

Also in Iraq was now al-Qaeda, which Saddam Hussein had managed to keep out of his country; and a civil war, as Iraqi political and religious groups fought for control.

Barack Obama, as promised in his campaign, did end the war in Iraq, and reasserted American presence in Afghanistan, sought out and killed Osama bin Laden, and then created a way for complete U.S. withdrawal from combat.

The Bush–Cheney Administration had figured a maximum cost of $100 billion for what they believed would be no more than a two year war. The financial cost of the wars has been almost $4 trillion, according to an investigative study by researchers at Brown University. The $4 trillion includes rampant corruption and no-bid contracts to numerous companies, including Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s home for several years.

But the real cost is not in dollars but in lives. The war is being figured not by names and their lives but by numbers. The war in Afghanistan as of Memorial Day has cost 3,016 American and allied lives. The American wounded, some of whom will have permanent disabilities or may die lingering deaths from those wounds, is now at 15,322. In Iraq, 4,486 Americans died; 32,233 were wounded. There are no accurate estimates of the number of civilian and enemy deaths and wounded, but the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands.

“War represents a failure of diplomacy,” said Tony Benn, one of the most popular politicians, who served in the British parliament for more than 50 years, including several years as leader of various cabinet departments.

In wars throughout the world, there will be more deaths today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and every day thereafter. And once a year, Americans will honor the deaths of young men and women sent into battle by intractable politicians, supported by media pundits and a horde of civilians with the wisdom of asphalt who have not learned the lessons of Tony Benn.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the anti-war movement and the cost of war.]

 

Weekly Diaspora: Lawless Judges, Immigrant Soldiers, and Deportee Pardons

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Here’s the harsh truth about our immigration system: When 392,000 immigrants are detained per year and 33,000 more are detained everyday with limited staff and minimal federal oversight, institutional misconduct is inevitable.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is moving record-breaking numbers of immigrants through its ancillary agencies and, in the process, immigrant women are being raped by Border Patrol agents, LGBT detainees are being sexually assaulted at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, and citizens and legal residents are certainly being deported.

How can such things come to pass? Simple: a combination of overworked and overzealous officials are enforcing overly broad immigration laws. It should be no wonder that people, inevitably, slip through the cracks—whether immigrant, citizen, or soldier.

Immigration judges subverting the law

Misconduct, corruption and a general inability to handle impossibly high caseloads aren’t exclusive to DHS and its many agencies. On the contrary, organizational mismanagement plagues every aspect of the immigration process.

As Jacqueline Stevens reports at the Nation, immigration courts are rife with lawlessness and corruption. Charged with adjudicating the hundreds of thousands of immigrants thrown their way by DHS every year, judges are authorizing deportations without even seeing the defendants, issuing rulings at mass hearings (usually with no lawyers present), and abandoning due process for a quicker turn-around.

What’s more: the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR)—a separate agency from DHS—is actively shielding this misconduct from the public and trying to avoid federal oversight:

The public’s ignorance of the idiocies endemic to the EOIR’s business as usual and the calamities these entail is no accident. The agency deliberately withholds basic information from the media and researchers, and its top officials routinely decline requests for interviews […] Complaints about immigration judges fall under the jurisdiction of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and people may file there directly, but the EOIR instructs immigration court stakeholders to lodge complaints with the EOIR itself. Instead of passing complaints on to the OPR, as the website promises, the EOIR top brass, to protect their cronies and avoid outside scrutiny, sweeps complaints under the rug.

Consequently, American citizens—as well as immigrants who could qualify to remain in the country—are being deported indiscriminately by judges whose decisions are rarely, if ever, questioned.

Immigrant soldiers deported after serving in the U.S. military

Immigrant soldiers serving in the U.S. military are among those routinely cheated by deportation-happy immigration judges.

Julianne Hing reports at ColorLines that 17,000 non-citizens are on active duty in the armed forces, and 4,000 immigrant veterans have already been deported or are facing deportation because of criminal convictions. Hing argues that, while some of those veterans are certainly guilty of violent crimes, many others have committed only minor crimes, like drug possession, and have already served time in jail. Deportation is a secondary, and wholly incommensurate, punishment.

A double standard is at play. Veterans, regardless of immigration status, are more likely than the general population to abuse drugs and alcohol and to commit violent crimes. But while non-citizen soldiers are indiscriminately deported for minor offenses, thousands of American military rapists have deftly avoided punishment in the past 15 years.The U.S. government’s prejudicial treatment of non-citizen soldiers isn’t new (to date, Filipino veterans who fought alongside American soldiers in WWII are still waiting to receive the benefits promised to them), but it remains reprehensible.

The unique plight of immigrant veterans certainly puts into perspective the ongoing push for passage of the DREAM Act—proposed legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for immigrant youth who serve in the military.

New York governor to pardon deportees?

Fortunately, some government officials are working towards a fairer immigration system. Elise Foley at the Washington Independent reports that New York governor David Paterson (D) has created a panel to review thousands of pardon requests from immigrant detainees awaiting deportation:

The idea behind the panel is to allow relief from the “extremely inflexible” federal law for green card holders “who have contributed as New Yorkers and who deserve relief from deportation or indefinite detention,” Paterson said when he announced its creation in May. […] While Paterson’s pardon panels would not change the way immigration courts are run, the effort is arguably a push to add a bit of discretion back into the system.

Paterson’s laudable commitment to protecting the interests of immigrants, particularly when doing so is far from politically expedient, is proof positive that rectifying our broken immigration system is entirely within the reach of our politicians. Misconduct and corruption within our immigration agencies are not merely the product of overcrowding and understaffing, but rather persistent inaction on the part of powerful lawmakers and government officials.

As Stevens wryly notes for The Nation: President Barack Obama, whose own citizenship is repeatedly questioned, ought to get on board.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Poll: Most Iraq, Afghanistan Vets Support Clean Energy and Climate Legislation

Very helpful and encouraging, though hardly surprising, news today. Per a Vote Vets press release, a new Lake Research Group poll finds that 73% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans support the passage of clean energy and climate legislation:

A compelling new poll of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans finds that 73 percent of them support Clean Energy Climate Change legislation in Congress, 79 percent believe ending our dependence on foreign oil is important to national security, and 67 percent support the argument that such legislation will help their own economic prospects. The poll was conducted by Lake Research Group for VoteVets.org In February, and is made up of 45 percent self-identified Republicans, 25 percent Independents, and 20 percent Democrats.  The full memo detailing the results is below.  PDF's of the memo and poll can be found here....

Veterans do not believe that the answer is just more drilling.  When asked the question, "Do you favor or oppose a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that invests in clean, renewable energy sources in America and limits carbon pollution in the atmosphere?" Seventy-three percent of veterans supported the bill, while only 22 percent opposed.

VoteVets.org also announced today that it is running new television and internet ads, nationally, and in Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and North Dakota supporting energy reform policies as a matter of security.  The ads are co-sponsored with Operation Free. The ad can be viewed at BillionDollarsADay.com

These results aren't surprising. I've written before that the military is well aware of the national security threats posed by climate change - the Navy is concerned with the effect warmer waters are already having on SONAR and the Pentagon classified climate change as a "destabilizing force" in its latest quadrennial strategic defense review. Our troops in the Middle East are in an excellent (albeit unfortunate) spot to see these effects first hand - particularly those risking their lives on supply convoys to ferry fossil fuels to the front lines.

There's more...

NRDC's New Videos On Clean Energy Reveal the Faces and Potential of the Green Economy

You can see the videos this review is about at CleanEnergyStories.org

All too often, discussions about so-called green job creation are placed in the future tense -- something we predict or hope will happen, but is still considered to be in the realm of the hypothetical. Many people don't know anyone who has a green job, are unable to imagine what one would look like, or who would be creating them. This keeps the concept of green jobs fuzzy and abstract for too many -- not the kind of thing you'd base an economic recovery on. The opponents of clean energy have seized on this, claiming that the whole concept of green jobs is a fantasy that could cost jobs in the established fossil fuel industry that we see all around us.

But for many lucky Americans, green jobs are not wishful thinking -- they are a welcome reality RIGHT NOW, giving laid-off workers well-paying jobs so they can keep their homes, revitalize their struggling communities, and do something positive for the entire country by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. NRDC's new videos, "Clean Energy Jobs For A Strong USA" and "Clean Energy Patriots", introduce you to these green collar workers and let them tell their stories in their own words. At the same time, they lay out a roadmap for how America, with its traditions of innovation and tackling the biggest challenges, can put generations of Americans to work by creating and maintaining a clean, efficient, sustainable energy infrastructure -- a project as needed, ambitious and economy-stimulating as the construction of America's interstate highway system that began over 50 years ago.

"Clean Energy Jobs For A Strong USA" does an excellent job of demystifying the concept of a green collar worker. They aren't farmers digging in organic compost or scientists in spacesuits -- they're welders, steelworkers, electricians and autoworkers, many of whom saw once-reliable Midwest factory jobs evaporate as the Great Recession ravaged the country. Despite no previous experience in clean tech, these workers found that their skills were easily transferable to clean tech industries. After all, windmills and solar panels are simply generators that need to be manufactured, installed, maintained and connected to the energy grid by skilled workers, and a factory that makes energy-efficient windows is still a window factory.

One thing that's notable about the workers interviewed in "Clean Energy Jobs For A Strong USA" is their pragmatism and noted lack of idealism. This is not to say that they aren't optimistic -- they want the rest of the nation to have the same kind of second chance that the clean tech industry has brought to their families and communities. But they don't want that because they are true believers in something unseen -- they want it because they've experienced it firsthand and live it every day as they work at their clean tech job and return to a home they can now afford to own. One could say that wanting to leave a better planet for your children than the one you were given is idealistic, but if so, it's an idealism that every person on the planet should have.

At the same time, the executives and spokespeople for the clean tech companies hiring these workers are simply looking at the reality of where the market is heading, where a once-exotic CFL is now simply a lightbulb and "alternative" energy will soon be the norm. Blake Jones, the CEO of Namaste Solar, reveals that he used to work for Halliburton until he understood the consequences of being dependant on oil from unfriendly or unstable nations. Chuck Swoboda, CEO of LED manufacturer CREE Inc., used to work for Ford until he realized that so much energy was being spent protecting the SUV business Ford had that they were failing to make the cars that would drive profits in the future. The two things corporations prize the most are profits and predictability -- if you don't know what the future of your industry holds, it's risky to try to profit from it. Clean tech companies know that clean energy makes profits, but without clean energy legislation that allows them to be competitive with markets in other countries that enjoy government support, future profits, venture capital, entrepreneurs and the innovation they breed, those profits will be made by companies overseas.

In "Clean Energy Patriots", we learn the multiple ways that clean tech strengthens the nation and its security. To start, service in America's highly mechanized, technologically advanced military turns out to be excellent training for jobs in the clean tech industry, providing great jobs for returning veterans eager to start working and put down roots. Soldiers building bases in Iraq can build solar farms in Nevada, and a technician who worked on submarine electronics can troubleshoot the electronics of a smart power grid. Many of the men and women in the video served in Iraq, where they experienced the consequences of our dependence on foreign oil firsthand and how American oil dollars fund those fighting against us. By working in clean tech, these former soldiers are able to continue serving their country by making America energy independent -- no bullets or overseas deployments required.

"Clean Energy Jobs For A Strong USA" and "Clean Energy Patriots" are videos you should dare elected officials and green job skeptics to watch. Even if you ignore the reality of climate change, the benefits of clean energy to America's economy and national security are overwhelming, and the honesty and excitement of the videos' participants hits you in a way that actors or the most polished PR firms couldn't match. For those who can't imagine a thriving economy based on clean energy, efficiency and energy independence, these videos provide a glimpse into a safer, more sustainable future for America. Or, more accurately, they let you spend time with the men and women who are already living there and want the rest of the nation to join them.

 

NRDC's New Videos On Clean Energy Reveal the Faces and Potential of the Green Economy

You can see the videos this review is about at CleanEnergyStories.org

All too often, discussions about so-called green job creation are placed in the future tense -- something we predict or hope will happen, but is still considered to be in the realm of the hypothetical. Many people don't know anyone who has a green job, are unable to imagine what one would look like, or who would be creating them. This keeps the concept of green jobs fuzzy and abstract for too many -- not the kind of thing you'd base an economic recovery on. The opponents of clean energy have seized on this, claiming that the whole concept of green jobs is a fantasy that could cost jobs in the established fossil fuel industry that we see all around us.

But for many lucky Americans, green jobs are not wishful thinking -- they are a welcome reality RIGHT NOW, giving laid-off workers well-paying jobs so they can keep their homes, revitalize their struggling communities, and do something positive for the entire country by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. NRDC's new videos, "Clean Energy Jobs For A Strong USA" and "Clean Energy Patriots", introduce you to these green collar workers and let them tell their stories in their own words. At the same time, they lay out a roadmap for how America, with its traditions of innovation and tackling the biggest challenges, can put generations of Americans to work by creating and maintaining a clean, efficient, sustainable energy infrastructure -- a project as needed, ambitious and economy-stimulating as the construction of America's interstate highway system that began over 50 years ago.

"Clean Energy Jobs For A Strong USA" does an excellent job of demystifying the concept of a green collar worker. They aren't farmers digging in organic compost or scientists in spacesuits -- they're welders, steelworkers, electricians and autoworkers, many of whom saw once-reliable Midwest factory jobs evaporate as the Great Recession ravaged the country. Despite no previous experience in clean tech, these workers found that their skills were easily transferable to clean tech industries. After all, windmills and solar panels are simply generators that need to be manufactured, installed, maintained and connected to the energy grid by skilled workers, and a factory that makes energy-efficient windows is still a window factory.

One thing that's notable about the workers interviewed in "Clean Energy Jobs For A Strong USA" is their pragmatism and noted lack of idealism. This is not to say that they aren't optimistic -- they want the rest of the nation to have the same kind of second chance that the clean tech industry has brought to their families and communities. But they don't want that because they are true believers in something unseen -- they want it because they've experienced it firsthand and live it every day as they work at their clean tech job and return to a home they can now afford to own. One could say that wanting to leave a better planet for your children than the one you were given is idealistic, but if so, it's an idealism that every person on the planet should have.

At the same time, the executives and spokespeople for the clean tech companies hiring these workers are simply looking at the reality of where the market is heading, where a once-exotic CFL is now simply a lightbulb and "alternative" energy will soon be the norm. Blake Jones, the CEO of Namaste Solar, reveals that he used to work for Halliburton until he understood the consequences of being dependant on oil from unfriendly or unstable nations. Chuck Swoboda, CEO of LED manufacturer CREE Inc., used to work for Ford until he realized that so much energy was being spent protecting the SUV business Ford had that they were failing to make the cars that would drive profits in the future. The two things corporations prize the most are profits and predictability -- if you don't know what the future of your industry holds, it's risky to try to profit from it. Clean tech companies know that clean energy makes profits, but without clean energy legislation that allows them to be competitive with markets in other countries that enjoy government support, future profits, venture capital, entrepreneurs and the innovation they breed, those profits will be made by companies overseas.

In "Clean Energy Patriots", we learn the multiple ways that clean tech strengthens the nation and its security. To start, service in America's highly mechanized, technologically advanced military turns out to be excellent training for jobs in the clean tech industry, providing great jobs for returning veterans eager to start working and put down roots. Soldiers building bases in Iraq can build solar farms in Nevada, and a technician who worked on submarine electronics can troubleshoot the electronics of a smart power grid. Many of the men and women in the video served in Iraq, where they experienced the consequences of our dependence on foreign oil firsthand and how American oil dollars fund those fighting against us. By working in clean tech, these former soldiers are able to continue serving their country by making America energy independent -- no bullets or overseas deployments required.

"Clean Energy Jobs For A Strong USA" and "Clean Energy Patriots" are videos you should dare elected officials and green job skeptics to watch. Even if you ignore the reality of climate change, the benefits of clean energy to America's economy and national security are overwhelming, and the honesty and excitement of the videos' participants hits you in a way that actors or the most polished PR firms couldn't match. For those who can't imagine a thriving economy based on clean energy, efficiency and energy independence, these videos provide a glimpse into a safer, more sustainable future for America. Or, more accurately, they let you spend time with the men and women who are already living there and want the rest of the nation to join them.

 

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