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.]

 

Memorial Day 2011: Two Names That Matter

 

by Walter Brasch

 

Unless you were in a coma the past few years, you probably know who Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton are.

You heard about them on radio, saw them on television.

You read about them in newspapers and magazines, on Facebook, Twitter, and every social medium known to mankind.

 Because of extensive media coverage, you also know who dozens of singers and professional athletes are.

Here are two names you probably never heard of. Sergeant First Class Clifford E. Beattie and Private First Class Ramon Mora Jr.

They didn't get into drug and alcohol scandals. They didn't become pop singers or make their careers from hitting baseballs or throwing footballs. They were soldiers.

Both died together this past week from roadside bombs near Baghdad.

Sgt. 1st Class Beattie, from the small rural suburb of Medical Lake, Wash., spent 17 years in the Army, and was in his third tour of duty in Iraq. On the day he was killed, according to the Spokane Spokesman–Review, he had participated in a run to honor fallen soldiers. Sgt. Beattie was 37 years old. He leaves two children, one of whom was three weeks from graduating from high school; four sisters, a brother, and his parents.

PFC Mora, from Ontario, Calif., a city of about 170,000 near Los Angeles, was in his first tour in combat. He was 19 years old. "He was a very serious student, and education was important to him," Carole Hodnick, Mora's English teacher and advisor, told the Ontario Daily Bulletin. Hodnick also remembers him as having "a charisma about him, and the students just fell in line with him."

Clifford E. Beatttie and Ramon Mora Jr. were just two of the 6,049 Americans killed and 43,418 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan in war the past decade, the longest wars in American history.

You can't know or remember all of their names. But you can remember two.

Clifford E. Beattie. Ramon Mora Jr. 

Two Americans. One near the end of his Army career. One not long out of Basic Training. A White Caucasian and a Hispanic. Two different lives. Two different cultures. Two Americans.

Clifford E. Beattie. Ramon Mora Jr. Killed together more than 7,000 miles from their homes.

As you prepare for Memorial Day barbeques, surrounded by celebrity-laden news, remember the names of Clifford E. Beattie and Ramon Mora Jr., and all they stood for. Theirs are the names that matter.

 

[Walter Brasch is a social issues columnist and author. His next book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com and other stores after June 20. For more details, see YouTube.]

 

 

Memorial Day open thread: Guns, not butter

Since Memorial Day was established a few years after the Civil War, Americans have marked the holiday every year by remembering our war dead (ok, almost all our war dead). In his weekly address, President Barack Obama asked Americans to honor "not just those who’ve worn this country’s uniform, but the men and women who’ve died in its service; who’ve laid down their lives in defense of their fellow citizens; who’ve given their last full measure of devotion to protect the United States of America."

Every so often I read the I Got The News Today profiles of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to an old Jewish teaching, saving one life is equivalent to saving the whole world. The IGTNT diaries, like "Six More Lost to All Who Loved Them," are a crushing reminder that the death of one person is like the death of the whole world to the people left behind.

The IGTNT series will likely continue for many more years. The number of Americans killed in Afghanistan recently passed 1,000, and we are preparing to send an additional 30,000 troops there. Although we have fewer troops in Iraq now than we did for most of the past seven years, we have more troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined now than we did when Obama became president.

The price of these wars is also enormous in monetary terms. On May 30 the estimated cost of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq exceeded $1 trillion. We could have done lots of things with that kind of money. On May 27 the U.S. Senate passed yet another war supplemental funding bill, this time for $58.8 billion. On May 28 the House passed the $726 billion Defense Authorization Bill for 2011 (roll call here).

Meanwhile, Congress adjourned for the Memorial Day weekend without extending unemployment benefits or passing another jobs bill. This economic relief bill had already been watered down because of "concerns" about deficit spending. You'll notice few members of Congress are concerned about deficit spending to fund our endless war machine.

For some people, Memorial Day is first and foremost the unofficial beginning of summer. Feel free to share any fun plans or picnic recipes in the comments. We've been invited to a potluck today, and I haven't decided whether to make my favorite chick pea dish (from Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking), a North African potato salad with olive oil and spices, or a pasta salad with a Chinese-style peanut butter sauce. I like to bring vegan dishes to potlucks so I don't worry if they sit outside for a few hours. Also, the party I'm attending may include some vegetarians and people who keep kosher (they don't mix meat with dairy in the same meal).

This is an open thread. What's on your mind?

UPDATE: Graphs showing number of days in Iraq and number of U.S. deaths in Iraq before and after President George W. Bush announced "Mission Accomplished."

Weekly Mulch: Clock Ticking for Climate Change Legislation

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Seven months out from the midterms, electoral anxieties are hampering potential climate change legislation. Election years are a time to pass easy, politically popular policies, and climate change legislation does not fit that bill. For the Senate’s climate change legislation to have a chance, Congress has to sweep through the financial overhaul faster than any bill in its history. Otherwise, politicians’ focus will shift to the midterms before they pass a climate bill.

The next international climate negotiations are just weeks after the November midterms, and failure to pass a bill now means that the United States could show up once again without a solid platform from which to negotiate. After working on climate legislation for over a year, leaders on the Hill and in the executive branch are getting nervous.

At this point, any climate legislation that reaches the president’s desk will have far less impact than advocates once hoped, but Congress can still pass a bill that moves the country forward on this issue.

Tick tock

Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are working on a bill. On Thursday, Sen. Graham half-promised it would come a couple of weeks after Congress’ spring recess. That’s not the end of the process, though, as Kate Sheppard reports for Mother Jones. The Environmental Protection Agency will also take a crack at the bill and weigh in on its cost and overall environmental benefits.

That process could take a month and a half, Sheppard says, and on Capitol Hill, Democrats are getting antsy. “If the legislation isn’t ready to go to the floor by Memorial Day, it probably won’t make it there at all this year,” Sheppard writes.

Connie Hedegaard, the outgoing Danish Minister of Climate and Energy who hosted this year’s international climate negotiations at Copenhagen, also noticed the unease in a series of meetings with environmental leaders ranging from Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, to Carol Browner, head of the White House Climate and Energy Office. Hedegaard told Inter Press Service (IPS) that “she got the sense that they are not sure “what will fly and what will not fly or when” with regards to U.S. climate legislation.”

“I definitely get the feeling that if [the legislation] fails this time then it would not come until after the midterm elections,” Hedegaard said.

That means the U.S. would go to the next round of international negotiations empty handed. As IPS notes, midterm elections “take place Nov. 2. The Cancun climate conference starts Nov. 29.”

Energy reduction is key

As far as anyone can tell, the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill is not going to do a great job limiting carbon emissions. Don’t expect that to change between now and May, or whenever the bill comes to a vote. In the absence of a real cap on carbon, Grist’s David Roberts has some advice for the trio of senators on what they can do:

“The main goal with your bill should be to establish a framework whereby a carbon price is implemented and steadily raised. The initial price can be low — low enough to avoid the kind of political backlash that has poisoned previous efforts — and phase in over time so affected industries have time to prepare … In exchange for reducing the role of carbon pricing, you should push to strengthen and expand the clean energy and efficiency provisions in your bill.”

In other words, the bill can avoid the politically treacherous cap-and-trade system, as long as it pushes through strong policies for programs like energy efficient appliances, home insulation, and other actions that reduce the amount of energy we’re using.

Who watches the watchmen?

Climate legislation, even in weakened form, is still on the table, so the amount of finger-pointing over its difficulties has been limited so far. But in The Nation a few weeks back, Johann Hari threw a stink bomb at big environmental groups, arguing that their increasing coziness with the corporate world had checked their political strength and led them to advocate for milquetoast environmental policies.

This week, the magazine published responses from the groups profiled, who called the story “plump with distortions of reality” and “a toxic mixture of inaccurate information and uninformed analysis.”

The responses are worth a read, as is Hari’s original article. In his rebuttal, Hari asks the critics to point out specific inaccuracies in his story and worries at the defensiveness of the environmental community. “Do none of these people feel any concern that the leading environmental groups in America are hoovering up cash from the worst polluters and advocating policies that fall far short of what scientists say we need to safely survive the climate crisis?” he writes.

Local action for green jobs

If big environmental groups are not as perfect as one might hope, more local environmental efforts can still make an impact, albeit on a different scale. Chris Rabb and Colorlines profile three grassroots efforts to create green jobs in three corners of the country. In Los Angeles, solar panels went up on roofs; in New York, more low income communities won access to public transportation; and in Arizona, a Navajo group formed to advocate for more green jobs in their community.

“We need all kinds of solutions–local, state, and national–and as we’ve seen the people need to make it happens,” says Rabb.

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

 

 

It Feels Like We're Living His Next Work of Fiction

Obama makes up so much, we can't tell what is truth or tale anymore.  It's starting to feel like we are living through his next work of Fiction, slated for release next year.

If the media wasn't trying to cover for him, either out of embarrassment, or because they don't want to tip their hand yet, we would be laughing silly with his countless misspeaks and gaffes.  

"On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in the audience here today — our sense of patriotism is particularly strong", Barack Obama

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