Via today's Daily Kos Cheers and Jeers, I learned about a story in yesterday's Denver Post that details allegations that the Army is deploying troops who should be left at home (I missed Olbermann's take on it last night). According to the article, commanders are deploying soldiers who don't meet basic medical standards. The article focuses on a couple of cases, with one - the case of Master Sgt. Denny Nelson - getting the most attention. Master Sgt Nelson suffered a serious injury to his foot prior to deployment, and was not supposed to run, jump, or lift more than 20 pounds. That's a bit of a problem if he's going to go somewhere he might need to run or jump - like, say, a base that is occasionally subjected to mortar and rocket attacks.
Reading that article, I had the strangest sense of deja vu. It was like I'd read that article before - probably because I almost did. Back in March, a remarkably similar same appeared at Salon.com. In that instance, Master Sgt. Ronald Jenkins, who had a spine injury, was the featured soldier and the unit was the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry. This time, it's Master Sgt. Nelson, and the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry. Aside from that, the biggest difference between the two stories is the 9 month difference in time. I commented on the Salon story in detail when it came out, and virtually everything I wrote then applies equally well to the current case.
The underlying cause of all of these problems is easy to spot, but very, very worrying:
The. Army. Is. Broken. And. It's. Gonna. Get. Worse.
This is not news, but it bears repeating - if only to stave off the inevitable accusations that it's all the Democrats' fault when the full extent of the problem becomes apparent over the next several years.
The Democratic Congressional "leadership" apparently thought that they could get the defense bill passed and signed into law if they caved in and gave President Bush everything he asked for. As it turns out, they were wrong. The smirking sub-simian and his Merry Band of Machiavellian Men just announced that they have decided to veto the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008.
For those of you who don't remember this bill, it's the annual big money package that funds the military. It's one of the bills that the administration threatened to veto if Congress tried to actually exercise their theoretical power of the pursestrings to reign in the Iraq debacle. So they didn't. After all, they didn't want to look like they were holding the troops hostage to politics - so they let monkey boy get away with doing just that. They passed a bill that gave him the money he was looking for last week, without including any restrictions on how the Iraq money could be spent.
Besides the Iraq money, the NDAA has a bunch of money for other department of defense projects. It's got money for veterans programs. It's got a 0.5% increase in salary for the military in it that's supposed to take effect on Tuesday. (Fair disclosure: the vast bulk of our family income comes from my wife's military salary.) It's got a lot of goodies in it, almost all of which the President asked for.
That's the bill that he just decided to veto.
Why? Because it contains a provision - one that by the White House's own admission did not generate any specific veto threat before the bill was passed - that could result in US courts seizing Iraqi assets to provide compensation to victims of the previous regime. The victims in question, by the way, include former members of the US Military who were tortured and beaten by the Iraqis while prisoners of war during the 1st Gulf War.
That's right. The President is vetoing a bill that provides a pay increase for the US Military because the bill contains a provision that could allow US Veterans to recover some financial compensation for war crimes committed against them by a foreign government.
That jerk sure knows how to support the troops.
President Bush announced today that he has (finally) named a nominee to replace Jim Nicholson as head of the Veterans administration. His choice, retired Lt. General James Peake, is probably one of the more qualified people that this President has ever nominated to do anything. That's the good news. The bad news is that's not a very high bar to clear.
Seriously, though, Peake certainly has the qualifications to run the VA. He's a West Pointer, he is a combat veteran who served in the infantry and was wounded twice in Vietnam, he's a medical doctor, and he was the Surgeon General of the United States Army. As a nominee for VA Secretary, he's an absolute slam dunk. Or would be, anyway, if it wasn't for one very small problem: his old address.
From 2000 until 2004, while serving as Surgeon General of the Army, LTG Peake lived in a very, very nice house - the Washington Post has a picture - located on the picturesque grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The house sits across the street from the now-infamous building 18, and it sits directly next to the quarters of the hospital commander. During his time in residence there, General Peake managed to remain blissfully ignorant of the disastrous bungling of outpatient care that was taking place under the command of his next-door neighbor and subordinate, and literally at his doorstep.
It's certainly not fair to lay all - or most - of the blame for the problems at Walter Reed at General Peake's feet. The problems at that hospital did not take place under his direct command, and they certainly didn't end when he left. It certainly is fair to wonder whether that one factor should outweigh the balance of his outstanding career.
But it's also fair to wonder this: if he could not spot poor medical care being given to wounded veterans when it was happening in his front yard, how good a job can we expect him to do when it comes to spotting the same thing from farther away?
I am certainly no fan of the Iraq war, but I found it difficult to read the media reports about retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez's recent comments on the war without getting angry. Reading the full text of his remarks took me from anger to outrage. As good as it is to hear an unvarnished, blunt assessment of the situation from someone who, as a former commander of the forces in Iraq, is very familiar with what happens there, I'm left wondering where the hell he was before he gave his little talk.
Let's look at some of what the little pissant had to say:
Since 2003, the politics of war have been characterized by partisanship as the Republican and Democratic parties struggled for power in Washington. National efforts to date have been corrupted by partisan politics that have prevented us from devising effective, executable, supportable solutions. At times, these partisan struggles have led to political decisions that endangered the lives of our sons and daughters on the battlefield. The unmistakable message was that political power had greater priority than our national security objectives. Overcoming this strategic failure is the first step toward achieving victory in Iraq - without bipartisan cooperation we are doomed to fail. There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope.
Partisan politics, according to Sanchez, have been endangering the lives of the troops since 2003. It's 2007. Why the hell didn't the man speak up before now? Where the hell has he been for the last several years? I'll tell you where: from the time he left Iraq in 2004 until he retired late last year, he was in Germany, sitting on his worthless ass behind the desk of V Corps - rear, sulking about Abu Ghraib having denied him the opportunity to get that fourth star that he believed was rightfully his. He sat on his ass in a dead-end job for two whole years, hoping that Abu Ghraib would go away and he would get that fourth shiny star, remaining silent about problems in Washington that he now says were endangering the lives of troops on the battlefield.
It's doubtful, of course, that one more voice of reason - even a voice as authoritative as his - would have kept the White House from pursuing the war. But at least he could have tried, instead of sitting there selfishly waiting for the promotion that never came.
A little after 7 am on 27 November, 2004, Lt. Colonel Michael McMahon and Chief Warrant Officer Travis Grogan boarded a small twin-engine airplane in Bagram, Afghanistan. The plane, which also had a cargo of 400 pounds of mortar illumination rounds, was operated by Presidential Airways, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Blackwater USA. Grogan was an experienced pilot assigned to the 3rd Squadron of the 4th Cavalry Regiment (the 3/4 Cav). McMahon was the 3/4ths commanding officer. At around 7:30, the plane stopped on the taxiway and a third passenger, 21-year old Specialist Harley Miller (also assigned to the 3/4 Cav), boarded the flight. The plane then departed Bagram for Farah, where the 3/4th was based.
Prior to takeoff, the crew informed the tower that they'd be taking off and heading to the south, flying at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level. Immediately after takeoff, however, the plane turned to the northwest. The flight left radar coverage shortly thereafter, still traveling on a heading other than the one that they had announced. The flight never arrived in Farah. Approximately 45 minutes into the flight, the airplane hit the side of a mountain at an altitude of approximately 14,650 feet above sea level. Five of the six people on board apparently died on impact. The sixth passenger, SPC Miller, survived the impact. He stepped outside the wreckage at least twice, unrolled a sleeping bag, and smoked a last cigarette or two before finally dying, alone on the mountainside in the wreckage while search parties scoured the wrong valley, at least ten hours after the crash as a result of a combination of his injuries, hypoxia, and hypothermia.
The transcript taken from the voice recorder gives some indication of why this crash might have happened.
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Every time I read articles (like this one, this one, this one or this one) that talk about how the Democrats are having problems getting the 60 votes in the Senate that they need to move Iraq legislation forward, or how they won't be able to get the 2/3rds of both houses that they need to beat a veto, I get angrier. And not with the Republicans who are standing in the way.
The Democrats don't need more than a majority. The President can't spend money unless Congress lets him spend money. If Congress passes a spending bill and he vetoes it, he can't spend money. If Congress fails to pass a spending bill at all, he can't spend money. All the Democrats need to do is stand their ground and refuse to pass any spending bill that doesn't require a firm timetable. That's all that they need to do.
The problem that we've got isn't overcoming Republican resistance. It's the spine of the Democratic leadership. They don't have one. They don't even have shells. I'd call them jellyfish, but even jellyfish can inflict a painful sting. No, we're talking sea cucumbers here - they've got no hard support, and if you stress one too much it reacts by expelling its internal organs all over you.
We've got to stop letting them slide. They're in the majority now, and that means that they shouldn't be able to get off the hook by claiming to be impotent in the face of the big bad Republicans. They've got the support of the public. They need to act like it if they want to retain it.