Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day, 2008

The Iraq War has Become Suicidal

By Saul Landau

I gave a dollar to a shabbily dressed young man holding a “help me” sign on a Market Street in San Francisco. Most Saturday shoppers, many of them foreign tourists taking advantage of the cheap dollar, ignored him and the scores of homeless people hoping to score some spare change. Dave thanked me.

I asked him why he wasn’t working.

“My back hurts,” he explained. The pain began “outside of Baghdad.” He pointed to the base of his spine. “A mortar shell exploded. A couple pieces of metal lodged somewhere here.” He pointed to the base of his spine. “One of my buddies got hit in the eye. He’s worse off than me.” Dave said he was about to turn 26 and had lived on the streets for almost two years.

Heroin? I guessed.

He smiled.

“Some had it worse. Arms, legs, brains.”

I asked where he slept.

“Parks, under freeways, sometimes in homeless shelters if I have nothing that can get stolen,” he laughed.

I shook his hand and wished him luck. “Hey,” he called. “I haven’t killed myself yet like some of my buddies did.”

Dave was referring to the average of 18 veterans who kill themselves every day in the United States. “In California alone in 2006, 666 veterans committed suicide,” reported John Koopman. (SF Chronicle, May 12, 2008)

Dave might have been referring to Tim Chapman, also of San Francisco. Like Dave, he could not readapt to civilian life after his experience with war in the Middle East. Tim got on drugs. He joined a gang. His wife left him and he began to focus on ending his life, he told Koopman.

Throughout the country, communities cope with tens of thousands of U.S. troops returned from Afghanistan and Iraq with blighted bodies and brains. As long as Bush’s wars continue -- no candidate has pledged to withdraw all the troops -- the country faces a growing collection of veterans, many of whom cannot function in family or work settings. They suffer from war wounds -- physical and mental -- that require expensive treatment.

Even though the overall number of veterans has begun to decline as World War II and Korea participants expire, “the government expects to be spending $59 billion a year to compensate injured warriors in 25 years, up from today's $29 billion.” And reporter Jennifer C. Kerr cites the Veterans Affairs Department, which “concedes the bill could be much higher.” (Associated Press, May 11, 2008)

Those who don’t show injuries or don’t come in for or respond to treatment have become the highest risks. In 2005, CBS News began investigating suicides in the U.S. military. "120 people each week who had served in the military committed suicide. That's an average twice that of non-veterans," concluded a report from CBS’ Armen Keteyian (Nov. 13, 2007)

CBS asked Dr. Steve Rathbun, acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia, for a detailed analysis of suicide statistics obtained from government authorities for 2004 and 2005. From the figures, Rathbun found that veterans “were more than twice as likely to commit suicide as non-vets.” Iraq and Afghan War veterans, aged 20 through 24, had the highest suicide rate among all veterans -- between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000. The general population has 8.9 per 100,000.

In early April, a group of lawyers representing veterans’ rights sued in a San Francisco federal court. The suit claimed the VA had deliberately concealed the risk of suicide among veterans.

Attorney Gordon Erspamer put it generously: “Unfortunately the VA is in denial." Erspramer was referring to emails written by Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's head of Mental Health. Katz had insisted that the suicide risk for returning Afghanistan and Iraq veterans was in normal range. "There is no epidemic in suicide in VA," Katz told CBS’ Keteyian last November. But in one 2007 email Katz wrote: "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month [12,000 a year] among veterans we see in our medical facilities." That contradicted the number the VA gave CBS News (790 attempted suicides in 2007).

The e-mail, "Not for the CBS News Interview Request," began with "Shh!" Katz finished his email with: "Is this something we should (carefully) address ... before someone stumbles on it?"

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Ca), chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, called this “a crime against our nation, our nation's veterans." (CBS News)

Katz later regretted his statement. “It was an error and I apologize [to the House Committee] for that." (CBS news interactive, April 23, 2008) Katz confessed he knew some 12,000 veterans a year had attempted suicide while being treated by the VA. That figure doesn’t cover those not under VA treatment. Katz wondered if "this is something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?"

Bush Administration officials are replete with sick jokes. Remember FEMA’s Michael Brown after Hurricane Katrina? The right wing bureaucrats saved their cruelest joke for those deployed and returning from the Middle East, almost 1.7 million men and women. Veterans suffering from wounds or traumas often observe their conditions worsening, leading to greater disabilities. The new vets know more than the ones from previous wars about getting their rightful benefits; thus, rising costs.

Because battlefield and emergency medical care have improved dramatically since World War II and Korea, and even since Vietnam, wounds that would have previously killed have become treatable. The number of vets collecting after Afghanistan and Iraq duty has grow to almost 200,000.

When Bush’s routine “special” request to continue the war appears before Congress, however, most Members -- and certainly not the President -- don’t focus on the disabled veterans. Since 2001, when Bush initiated his two wars, the number of partially destroyed vets has leaped 25 percent. 2.9 million Daves -- or far worse cases -- now populate the country. They join older vets from older wars as part of those who fit Franz Fanon’s description: the wretched of the earth.

Rick used booze, a habit he acquired in Vietnam where he served two tours of duty doing “search and rescue.” Within a decade after his return to the United States he became convinced that he saw malevolent shadows. These elusive entities manufactured parasites and directed them to burrow under his skin and have now followed him to the gas station near his Oakland street lodgings.

He has spent two decades battling that fear -- with the help of booze and other substances, of course. “The war was the most exciting time in my life,” he concluded as he scratched the spots where the imaginary entities had crawled under his skin. “You wonder why they would do it all over again.”

Tens of millions of Americans ask why Bush and his supposedly conservative advisors would again dispatch young men and women to fight a war that had no just cause and threatens to drag on endlessly. Millions ask: Why can’t the United States withdraw? Why doesn’t Congress just cut the funds? They shake their heads at the answers.

Civil war might break out. We can’t desert those poor Iraqis. Al Qaeda could claim victory. Our reputation, our prestige, our national conscience, blah blah blah….

Steve Smithson, a deputy director at the American Legion, told AP reporter Jennifer Kerr that suicide "is a cost of war."

Almost 24 millions veterans -- disabled or not-- watch their numbers dwindle as World War II and Korean War vets die. The VA projects that by 2033 only 15 million will remain, but it will cost more to deal with them. Compensation for disabled veterans, agency economic predict, will increase from today’s $29 billion to $33 billion -- at least. The disabilities mount, the injuries become more acute.

A RAND corporation study claimed some 300,000 ex soldiers suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. More than 320,000 had probably experienced traumatic brain injuries in combat.

The nature of Bush’s wars means “in Iraq and Afghanistan all service members, not just combat infantry, are exposed to roadside bombs and civilian deaths. That distinction subjects a much wider swath of military personnel to the stresses of war.” (Julian Barnes, LA Times April 18, 2008)


Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow and director of WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE (available on DVD through

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Don't waste that stuff! It costs more than four bucks gallon....

Had to drive to the airport this morning to pick up an arriving passenger whose flight from Boston got in at 7:40 am. I hit 1-94 east at Hwy. T in Waukesha with plenty of time, so I decided to see about making the trip at a steady 60 mph. I set the cruise control and moved from center lane (My commute-to-Milwaukee mantra has always been: get in the center lane and stay there) to the right hand lane, expecting to need to be out of the path of the typical 72 mph drivers on this stretch of road I've driven most days since 1973.

Over a five mile stretch, west of Moorland Rd, only three cars whizzed past. Virtually everyone else was going just about 60 mph. An F250 covered with racing decals (heading for Naptown and the 500, no doubt) was in the lane next to me, nursing every bit of mileage out of its gas tank, creeping along at 5mph UNDER the speed limit.

It seems that the price of gasoline has--at long-last--pushed MOST drivers to back off the throttle. Four bucks a gallon: that's the behavior changing number.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fannie Mae caves to Realtor/Builder Pressure. Coming June 1st: More insanely risky lending . . .

I did my first looking for a savings and loan--to lend me money for a house--35 years ago. Things were quite different then. We searched for a couple months, found a nice bungalow about nine blocks from downtown Waukesha, made an offer, got the acceptance back on a Friday afternoon. We went shopping for a mortgage on Monday morning, stopped in at eleven lending institutions before noon. Most were not taking applications.

I finally arrived at First Federal S&L on the corner of Grandview and Summit, ten blocks from home. Jerry Groh, a business-like lender, told me that the loan committee had just finished its weekly meeting, that if I had arrived earlier they could have acted on my application that day. They were lending money at 7.75%.

In that week we had to wait, we had two shocks: first, after a little small talk, Mr. Groh wanted to dig into (excavate, actually) our financial situation:
o Stability? Married four years.
o Employment? Two incomes; combined annual gross was just about as much as we wanted to borrow.
o Debt? Two used cars, both serviceable, both purchased for cash. We had to show him the titles, free-of-liens. No other debts except for a small balance on one of those newfangled Master Charge cards and about seven hundred dollars my wife was still paying on a loan she had taken out for college.
o Down payment? We had 20% in cash for a down payment.

Then... the flinty, gimlet-eyed Mr. Groh looked at us skeptically and asked the big question: "Is that your own money, or is some of it from your parents"? "It's ours. We saved it," we replied. (We actually had even a bit more in savings that we were planning to use to move up to a higher class of rummage to furnish our new house).

And Groh explained: "We're coming into rough times, financially. If I'm going to loan you this money. I want you two in the tank with me".

The housing scene in America would be a lot healthier if we still had lenders like Jerry Groh. I liked him, really liked him. He was my kind of conservative. Then, two unpleasant-but-unavoidable things cropped up after our talk: at the one-week-delayed loan committee meeting, the mortgage rate was up from 7.75% to 8.5%. Three quarters of a point in one week. And four years later, Jerry exercised the escalator clause in our agreement to push up the rate to 9%, proving that Groh's estimation of the economic future had been realistic. Interest rates nationally were on their way to 18%.

It was an introduction to the real world, a conservative world of housing, lending, inflation and "being in the tank" with a cautious and up-front businessman.

Not like today....

Fannie Is Poised to Scrap
Policy Over Down Payments


May 16, 2008; Page A3

Fannie Mae is expected to announce Friday that it is scrapping a policy requiring higher down payments on home mortgages in areas where house prices are falling.

The change comes in response to protests from vital political allies of the government-sponsored provider of funding for mortgages, including the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Home Builders and organizations that promote affordable housing for low-income people.

Those various groups have said the policy is hurting an already feeble housing market by shutting out too many potential buyers.

The current policy, adopted in December and now due to end June 1, limits loan amounts in areas with declining home prices, including most of the densely populated parts of the country.

For instance, if a loan program normally allows people to borrow up to 100% of the estimated property value, the maximum is cut to 95% in "declining markets."

Under the new policy that is taking effect next month, Fannie will have the same maximum loan percentages across the country for people purchasing single-family homes that they intend to occupy, according to people familiar with the plan.

For borrowers approved by Fannie's automated underwriting program, the maximum generally will be 97%. For those approved by other means, the maximum will be 95%. (Fannie also has some loan programs, typically offered through state or local housing agencies or nonprofit groups, that allow certain borrowers to make no down payment.)

Pabst Farms can't line up a few stores for their floundering project.

In Siberia, Shopping Malls Are Sprouting All Over

The problem is with store owners looking for more profitable locations

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why ask the DA to investigate for abuses of the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law?

Sec. 19.81, Wis. Statutes:

A. The Legislature declares that state Policy is to

1. enable the public to have the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of government business,

2. ensure that meetings of governmental bodies are held in places reasonably accessible to the public,

3. ensure that such meetings are open to the public unless otherwise expressly provided by law.

I am a conservationist, a citizen mightily concerned about the problem of sprawl, the depletion of groundwater, the quality of water available throughout Waukesha County.

I believe that the Great Lakes Compact, when enacted, may be helpful and useful to Waukesha. But I believe that the mania for secrecy in the Waukesha Water Utility Commission serves no good end. This is a classic example of a small group of citizen-commissioners, serving for decades in relative obscurity on a low-status commission. With each passing year they become more persuaded that they alone know the secret, the path to solution to problems the water utility faces. Fearful of any dissent, the make their plans secretly, misapplying exceptions in the Open Meetings Law.

My theory is that they have persuaded themselves that since they are likely to be embroiled in lawsuits, both as plaintiff and respondent, that they can discuss any and all matters that might be remotely related to those lawsuits under cover of the exemption to the Open Meetings Law that permits, in limited instances, discussion of LEGAL STRATEGY with a lawyer in closed session. In light of Buswell, they appear to this citizen to be way over the line on "reasonableness" as articulated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court last year.

And, so, I have filed this complaint and details of what I see as violating the spirit and the letter of the law, with the district attorney of Waukesha County. It is a citizen's effort, without professional help. But, I believe I have hit the critical issues. This is, in truth, the the battle of development interests against more conservative, more cautious, more democratically-oriented citizen interests.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A memo from the boss:

To: All MJS journalists and editors
From: Martin Kaiser, Editor
Re: Icons and things iconic
Date May 12, 2008

Brett Favre is gone. No longer necessary to put "icon" in every story about him. It is time to let go.

Harley Davidson is a company that makes noisy overpriced motorcycles. Nothing "iconic" about them.

In the past six months, stories that have run in our newspaper have used the noun icon 38 times and the adjective iconic 75 times.

The next person who uses ICON I can.
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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.