Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

From Shanghai

I am in Shanghai with virtually no time to blog.  I have spent a couple of days talking at a university & am now at a conference.

See you soon,

Michael.

Neoliberal Neoconservatism at War with the Troops

For all the talk about support the troops, hypocrisy is the order of the day.  Neoconservatives applaud new wars, while neoliberals want to do it inexpensively, so long as the cuts don’t harm the bottom line of their favorite military contractors.

The easiest way to do that is to shortchange the soldiers.  I apologize for the length, but the punchline comes toward the end of this possibly excessively-long note.

Just as right-wing politicians go to great lengths to protect fetuses, only later to trash them if they have the gall to be born to poor families, the government acts with similar hypocrisy toward former troops who have become veterans.

Recent scandals have shined a harsh light upon poor treatment of former soldiers.  As a result, the military created  so-called Warrior Transition Units, which turned out to perhaps be even worse, including a number of suicides.  Here are my notes from a recent New York Times article.

Dao, James and Dan Frosch. 2010. “Feeling Warehoused in Army Trauma Care Units.” New York Times (25 April): p. A 1.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/25/health/25warrior.html?pagewanted=all

“Created in the wake of the scandal in 2007 over serious shortcomings at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Warrior Transition Units were intended to be sheltering way stations where injured soldiers could recuperate and return to duty or gently process out of the Army. There are currently about 7,200 soldiers at 32 transition units across the Army, with about 465 soldiers at Fort Carson’s unit.”

“But interviews with more than a dozen soldiers and health care professionals from Fort Carson’s transition unit, along with reports from other posts, suggest that the units are far from being restful sanctuaries. For many soldiers, they have become warehouses of despair, where damaged men and women are kept out of sight, fed a diet of powerful prescription pills and treated harshly by noncommissioned officers. Because of their wounds, soldiers in Warrior Transition Units are particularly vulnerable to depression and addiction, but many soldiers from Fort Carson’s unit say their treatment there has made their suffering worse.”

“Some soldiers in the unit, and their families, described long hours alone in their rooms, or in homes off the base, aimlessly drinking or playing video games. “In combat, you rely on people and you come out of it feeling good about everything,” said a specialist in the unit. “Here, you’re just floating. You’re not doing much. You feel worthless”.”

“At Fort Carson, many soldiers complained that doctors prescribed drugs too readily. As a result, some soldiers have become addicted to their medications or have turned to heroin. Medications are so abundant that some soldiers in the unit openly deal, buy or swap prescription pills.  Heavy use of psychotropic drugs and narcotics makes it difficult to exercise, wake for morning formation and attend classes, soldiers and health care professionals said. Yet noncommissioned officers discipline soldiers who fail to complete those tasks, sometimes over the objections of nurse case managers and doctors.”

“At least four soldiers in the Fort Carson unit have committed suicide since 2007, the most of any transition unit as of February, according to the Army.”

“In many cases, the noncommissioned officers have made it clear that they do not believe the psychological symptoms reported by the unit’s soldiers are real or particularly serious. At Fort Hood, Tex., a study conducted just before the shooting rampage there last November — which found that many soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit thought their treatment relied too heavily on medication — also concluded that a majority of the cadre believed that soldiers were faking post-traumatic stress or exaggerating their symptoms.”

In response, the Army initiated a study — a standard response to a problem one wishes to avoid.  Again, briefly from the New York Times:

Frosch, Dan. 2010. “Army Examines Units Treating Injured Soldiers.” New York Times (4 May): p. A 18.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/us/04warrior.html?scp=1&sq=chiarelli&st=cse

“A high-ranking general said Monday that the Army wanted to learn more about shortcomings at its Warrior Transition Units, which treat soldiers with physical injuries and severe psychological trauma and have come under criticism from service members and their families.”

Clifford L. Stanley, the Pentagon’s new chief of personnel, a person who has long depended upon first-class medical care from the military, was put in charge of creating what he called, “a culture of compassion.”  The New York Times continued with the story:

Shanker, Thom. 2010. “Shaking Up the Pentagon in a Bid to Foster a Culture of Compassion.” New York Times (6 May): p. A 16.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/us/06pentagon.html?scp=1&sq=clifford%20l.%20stanley&st=cse

“In the job just 10 weeks, Clifford L. Stanley, the Pentagon’s new chief of personnel, already has forced out two senior deputies, including one overseeing the high-priority — and highly scrutinized — program caring for troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“Dr. Stanley said his goal was for the Pentagon’s vast personnel operation to be “more responsive, sensitive to and aware of our constituency”.”

“… he is trying to “hold up a mirror of compassion and caring” to reflect a more welcoming face of the Pentagon leadership.”

“Service members, spouses and families have sought more in health care and education benefits to help compensate for their sacrifices in protecting the nation. Advances in battlefield medicine have saved the lives of many grievously wounded, but they now require costly rehabilitation and care. And the Pentagon is only beginning to learn how best to treat wounds that are not visible, to the brain and to the spirit.”

All of a sudden, we hear something else.  Neoliberalism replaces neoconservatism:  care for the troops becomes another one of those lavish government programs, which must be cut back in order to be able to afford the next war.  Caring for disposable soldiers siphons off valuable money required to pay for necessary hardware.

Whitlock, Craig. 2010. “Pentagon Asking Congress to Hold Back on Generous Increases in Troop Pay.”

Washington Post (8 May)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/07/AR2010050703188.html

“The Pentagon, not usually known for its frugality, is pleading with Congress to stop spending so much money on the troops. Through nine years of war, service members have seen a healthy rise in pay and benefits, with most of them now better compensated than workers in the private sector with similar experience and education levels.”

“Congress has been so determined to take care of troops and their families that for several years running it has overruled the Pentagon and mandated more-generous pay raises than requested by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. It has also rejected attempts by the Pentagon to slow soaring health-care costs — which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said are “eating us alive” — by raising co-pays or premiums.”

“In the midst of two long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense officials are increasingly worried that the government’s generosity is unsustainable and that it will leave them with less money to buy weapons and take care of equipment.”

“Clifford L. Stanley, the undersecretary of defense for personnel, told a Senate committee in March that rising personnel costs could “dramatically affect the readiness of the department” by leaving less money to pay for operations and maintenance. Overall, personnel expenses constitute about one-quarter of defense spending.”

“Health care alone is projected to cost the military $51 billion next year, nearly one-tenth of the Pentagon’s budget, excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2002, wages have risen 42 percent, compared with about 32 percent for the private sector. Housing and subsistence allowances, which troops receive tax-free, have gone up even more.”

“Other well-meaning programs to support service members and their families have turned into budgetary Frankensteins.  In February, the Pentagon abruptly shut down a new tuition-assistance program for military spouses after it was overwhelmed with applicants. Defense officials had set aside $61 million for the program, which reimburses tuition costs of up to $6,000 per person, but discovered they might need as much as $2 billion to satisfy unexpected demand. Congress chastised the Pentagon for mismanaging the program, which has since resumed, though defense officials aren’t sure how they will pay for it.”

So, there you have it.  Compassion be damned. We must fight against the budgetary Frankensteins so we can fight more wars.

A Rant on Degrees of Violence

We live in a violent society.  When people become alienated they often do violent things. When the person is “one of our own,” the violence is seen as a matter of individual responsibility. A man — Joe Stack — becomes troubled because the financial problems and flies an airplane into an Internal Revenue Service building. The response seems to be that he is mentally unbalanced or expressing justifiable indignation in an unacceptable way.

A young Pakistani immigrant suffers financial and family problems, turns to religion, and tries to explode a car bomb in crowded Times Square.  The response focuses on the religious angle because his religion is not the dominant one in the country.

What if he had used a drone instead? Obviously, most of the victims have been innocent.  Of course, we have no knowledge that our own drone attacks predominately kill “guilty parties”?  And then again, if the drone attack had been successfully pointed at Wall Street, it would have undoubtedly kill people whose destructive activities have resulted in many destroyed lives. Would that be justified?  Our own young people who operate the drones might be seen as some as heroes.

The analogy of Wall Street and the military may be unduly provocative. And yet, the banks resemble a victorious government demanding reparations from a defeated enemy — in this case, the losers of the class war.  Why should ordinary people have to pay for the destructive behavior of the rich and powerful?
Continue reading

Oil Spill Doublespeak

“White House officials stressed again Monday that BP would be held liable for the cost of the cleanup and economic compensation for losses on the Gulf Coast. But Democratic senators said the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, passed in the wake of the Exxon Valdez, caps economic damage liability at $75 million. Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced legislation to raise that cap to $10 billion.”

Ball, Jeffrey, Stephen Power, and Russell Gold. 2010. “Oil Agency Draws Fire: Republican Seeks Scrutiny of Regulator; BP Tries Well Fix.” Wall Street Journal (4 May): A 1.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748704342604575221943592328492.html#mod=todays_us_page_one

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