The Day after Memorial Day

Yesterday, Americans celebrated Memorial Day. Old Glory blew in the breeze.  Grill covers were removed.  Hot dogs and hamburgers were char-broiled.  Beer was consumed.  Cars and mattresses were purchased.  And those who have perished, in service to this nation, were remembered.

Those things are all fine and dandy.  But why not do something better?  The best way to honor those who have fallen is to support those who haven’t.

Perhaps,..a Call for a National Strategy on Veterans?  An all-encompassing one is needed, if we are to get our service members back on track to becoming members of civilian society.  In the coming weeks, we will discuss what the issues are.  And, there are many!  There are steps we can take, both individually and politically, to support our returning veterans.  But we, first, have to know what we are up against.

Here are startling statistics, as reported by the Center for American Progress:

** Nearly 1 in 7 homeless adults are veterans.

** 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness.

** 30.29% of veterans, aged 18-24, were unemployed as of 2011.

** $31 Million of SNAP/food stamps (2008) were spent at military commissaries.

** 1.2 million veterans used mental health services in 2010.

As if those numbers are not shocking enough, Democracy Now! reports that military vets (including those wounded in service) are being kicked out, due to misconduct.  This causes them to lose medical care and benefits for life.  Young men and women, returning from the horrors of war, find themselves unable to cope.  Many have underlying health conditions, including Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Instead of providing help, they are given a bad discharge, and alienated even from the brothers in arms that they fought and died with.

In another article, the growing epidemic of military suicide, among other things, is addressed.  Every day, in America, 18 veterans are committing suicide.  17% of Afghanistan combat vets are on psychotropic medication.  1/3 of female service members are sexually assaulted.  From Defense Secretary,Leon Panetta, “Despite the increased efforts, the increased attention, the trends continue to move in a troubling and tragic direction.”

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As a member of a military family, I am grateful for those who “support the troops”.  I am honored to be among the families who have sacrificed.  I have, in years past, humbly accepted the love and support of friends, family, and strangers.

I am, also, all too aware of the difficulties such families face.  PTSD is not an acronym to me.  The psychotropic drugs, the therapy…are all too real.

We, as a nation, accept the sacrifice…physical, spiritual, or mental…of our young men and women.  We take them from their families.  We spend millions training them for combat.  We place them in unimaginable situations, and we ask them to do unimaginable things.

Isn’t it time we do more than pay them lip service?

The most important thing we can do is provide meaningful employment opportunities.  We must stop looking at the hiring of military veterans as charity.  These men and women have any number of combat skills that translate well in the civilian world.  VetJobs is an excellent resource that we can pass along to those men and women still seeking work.

Equally important is making sure our veterans are receiving necessary medical and mental health care.  The Wounded Warrior Project is a wonderful program that brings much-needed attention to the needs of returning vets with physical and/or mental health issues.  The project provides a myriad of services for returning veterans, through donations and fundraisers.  Visit their website to see how you can help.

Finally, we must not forget the spouses and families.  They are often invisible in discussing issues concerning veteran’s affairs.  If we are to successfully integrate these warriors back into civilian society, spouses and families must also have support.  Learning to live with an entirely different person is no easy task, let me tell you.  I have found that Military OneSource provides invaluable talk therapy for spouses adjusting to their new unfamiliar circumstances.  The National Military Family Association is a wonderful resource for financial concerns.  There are opportunities to donate to both these wonderful organizations and information can be located on their websites.

Supporting our troops isn’t simply a ribbon.  It would be wonderful if it was.  Our brave men and women need, and deserve, our support.  Sure, holidays are great.  They deserve those, too.  But our country can do so much better.

Take a look at the links.  Make a contribution.  Donate your time.  Put pressure on your representatives.

That is supporting our troops.

Drowning in the Sequester’s Rising Waters

The sequester’s raging waters are rising.

In the weeks leading up to the sequester deadline, President Obama and others spoke ominously about the tragic effects the sequester – $85 billion worth of automatic cuts in federal government spending – would have. Eventually Obama toned down the rhetoric, realizing that the political gamesmanship was misleading.

No. The sequester hasn’t created instant devastation. It’s much worse than that.

Instead, the sequester has set in motion a cascading death-by-a-thousand-cuts waterfall that will wash through the economy for many years. And more and more Americans are beginning to feel its floodwaters rising around them.

Huffington Post writers were able to compile a list of a hundred painful sequestration stories in a matter of hours. And more stories of individuals and communities feeling the pain of the sequester are coming to light every day. Thousands of chemotherapy patients being turned away, left to die of cancer. Critical research programs being delayed or shelved. Parks and environmental programs being closed or cancelled.

The rising tide starts out slowly but is unforgiving.flood

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The worst part is that the sequester is hitting those most in need the hardest. Despite more than three years of tepid recovery, poverty in the U.S. continues to worsen. Tens of millions of Americans – many of them children – remain in the grips of economic desolation, unable to afford the bare necessities of life. Millions of workers still are unable to find jobs, or are left with no alternative but to work minimal hours at whatever menial jobs are available.

And just when these people most need help, at the very time they have no option but to turn to aid organizations for critical, life-sustaining services, those services are being eliminated.

And it’s not going to end there. Because of the way economies work, cuts in government spending have domino effects.

The wages that Hot Springs National Park employees would have received would have bought groceries at the Food City on Malvern Avenue. The money that would have gone to funding health care in Hampton Roads, Virginia, would have been spent at Jordan Fashions on King Street. The laid-off teachers in Sioux City, Iowa, would have spent most of their paychecks right there in Sioux City, maybe at the Southern Hills Mall.

The sequester washes all of that away. And the owners and employees of those less-frequented stores have less income and spend less. And they spend less. And they spend less. It goes on and on. Multiplied effects, coursing through every community, state, and region of the country. The river gathers force as more streams flow into it.

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More insidious are the long-term impacts of cutting critical programs such as Head Start, health care, and similar services for the neediest among us. The toddler in Cincinnati who would otherwise be in state-funded child care is left home while his multiple-job-working mother struggles to earn enough to feed him. Instead of learning and being cared for by professionals, he’s left without role models, supervision, or attention. Years later he joins a gang and embarks on a life of crime. At-risk babies don’t receive preventative health care when it would do the most good, and grow up to have costly, debilitating health conditions that prevent them from contributing positively to society. Meanwhile, the cost-effective treatment for those heath conditions that would have been developed never is, because funding for those research programs was eliminated.

The long-term water damage is even worse than the short-term.

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What needs to happen?

Extremist Republicans in Congress need to recognize the destructive effects of their absolute unwillingness to compromise. They need to stop catering to the demands of their ideology-obsessed billionaire keepers and compromise for the greater good. Democrats need to stand up for their values. Millions of Americans – the people who are being irreversibly harmed by the sequester – must scream loudly, rising up as a wave to beat against Republican obstructionism.

As the economy struggles to find its footing and produce a sustainable recovery, we can’t afford to yank critical support out from under society’s most vulnerable. The time to address deficits is when an economy is strong, not when it’s most fragile

No, the sequester hasn’t created an instant tsunami of devastation, and it’s not going to. But the longer we allow these cuts to remain in place, the more the rushing waters will eat away at our economy and erode our society.

It’s up to us to roll back the tide.

Southern Style: Sequester Bites

Fellow Southerners, I am worried.  Antsy.  It is official.  We have been sequestered.  You know…that thing that was never supposed to happen.  That thing that was supposed to be so horrible that it would force our representatives to work together.  Well it has and it wasn’t.

I am sure that everyone has heard all about the sequestration negotiations. (Or lack there of) It was kind of like playing a game. (Kick the Can, anyone?) We, in the south, might call it playing chicken…see who blinks first….who cries uncle.  Only, our economy should not be a game board.  What makes matters worse is that the Republicans obviously forgot who won the last election.  They forgot that we voted for the very plan Obama put forward.  Closing loopholes in the tax code.  Raising taxes on the wealthiest among us.  So…what in blue blazes happened?

Government is too big.  It needs to just get out of the way!  It does too much!  We can not spend our way out of this recession.  We’ve all heard it.  The Republicans have been feeding us a steady diet of this rhetoric, and many have come to believe it.  In some areas, I would agree.  But, was this the best way to handle it?  I think not!  Sometimes, we choose not to think of what will be lost if they “get out of the way”.  Let me tell you, we stand to lose a lot!

Individual states will be losing tens of millions of dollars in federal aid for primary and secondary education.  That means hundreds of job losses for teachers and aids.  Millions of dollars no longer there to fund the education and special needs of children with disabilities.  Head start programs and vaccinations for our community’s children will be severely compromised.  Dream big, teach small.

Our community elders will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars for nutrition assistance.  Programs like Meals on Wheels can not function without the help of “big” government.  Respect your elders, even if they are starving.

Let’s not forget that our very health and safety will be impacted.  There will be cuts to law enforcement and fire fighters.  Funding slashed for our emergency responders.  Thousands of working and contributing citizens, who work on our military installations, will become unemployed.  We appreciate your service, but we can’t pay you.

And I have not even mentioned the decreased funding for food safety.  Or the lack of monetary aid to small businesses.  There will be less funding for mental health that helps countless men, women, and children receive care.

I know, I know.  You’re thinking…maybe now they will come to some sort of agreement.  Well.  I am about as hopeful as a fly caught in a spider’s web.  If there is anything worse than actually being sequestered, it is the knowledge that our government has become all but useless.  House Republicans have made it their mission to  destroy anything President Obama sets out to do.  If he said it was raining, they would swear he was spitting on them.  They show no regard for us, the people.  It was thought that cutting military spending would be so abhorrent to them, that they would compromise.  So much for that.

Shortly, we will be deciding whether or not to raise the debt ceiling.  Who out there is hopeful?  Well…I am.  If we have to write and call so much that representatives are sick of us, so be it.  If they have to get to know you on a first name basis, so be it.  We have got to stop complaining in Wal-Mart and church basements, and speak up where it counts.  These people need to be reminded that they work for us.  We don’t have the money of big corporations or lobbyists.  But…we are the voters.  It won’t do them a lick of good to run ads every two seconds if we decide not to vote in their favor.  We must stop talking about it, and BE about it.

Fretting about prayer in school and displaying the Ten Commandments right now is a waste.  You, your homosexual neighbor, and the girl who had the abortion will all suffer.  Both the black child and white child will attend a school with fewer educators.  Because it seems that we have all, to some extent, been takers.  GASP!!

I am not expecting Jesus to take the wheel.  But I sure hope the people who work for us do.  Because sequester bites won’t just itch.  They will be painful as hell.

Sequester THIS, Republicans. We’ve Had Enough.

The sequester looms. Republicans in Congress are insisting on large cuts in federal government spending – except to defense – along with more tax cuts on top of all those that have already been passed. Rather than compromise on their severe demands, they’re blocking any agreement. Barring an agreement by Friday, broad, arbitrary cuts to most government programs will automatically take hold.

Never mind that economists believe that sharply cutting the deficit now, with the economic recovery still fragile, could throw the economy into another recession. If you don’t believe that, take a look at Europe. Yes, they’ve had other problems. But Europe’s insistence on “austerity” – harsh spending cuts – with economies already weak have sent that continent into its second recession in five years. And Republicans want to do the same thing to the U.S. economy.

Abruptly cutting the deficit now isn’t just unnecessary – it’s senseless and destructive. State and local government spending as a percentage of GDP is still well below its levels in 2008 and 2009, the result of lower tax receipts and mandatory spending cuts on those levels. Businesses remain wary of expanding, with the recovery weak and Congress seeming intent on sabotaging it. Consumers are starting to show a little confidence, but high unemployment rates and lingering consumer debt still cast a shadow across them.

Standard macroeconomics says that federal government deficit spending when the economy is below its potential isn’t just okay – it’s necessary. Someone has to fill in for the lower spending of state and local governments, business, and cautious consumers. If not, the economy could take years to dig its way out of the huge hole it fell into in 2008 and 2009. And the federal government’s the only one out there big enough to do it.

It’s not that the deficit doesn’t need to be reduced. It does. But it’s already been declining on its own, as the economy has started growing again. The federal budget deficit for the 12 months ending February 2010 was nearly $1.5 trillion. The deficit for the 12 months ending January 2013 was just over $1 trillion – a decline of 43 percent. And it will continue to decrease, so long as the economy continues to recover.

The right time to decrease the deficit a lot is when the economy is expanding solidly. As it was when President George W. Bush took office in 2001. We actually had a federal budget surplus then. We were starting to pay down our public debt, the way we should when the economy is growing. But instead of letting that continue – paying off some of our debt when we could so we’d have a cushion when we needed it, Bush slashed taxes, particularly for his rich cronies. That surplus turned into a deficit within months.

We do need to make longer-term plans for decreasing the deficits, but that needs to be done with a combination of gradual spending cuts and tax increases, mostly for the rich and super-rich. Income inequality has been increasing enormously in the U.S. for decades, and a lot of that is the result of less progressive taxes. That needs to be reversed. Instead of withdrawing financial support for those most in  need, we need to be investing, in better education and training, in improved infrastructure, and expanded health care for Americans.

That needs to be done with a spirit of compromise and give-and-take. Not the “take-your-ball-and-go-home”, “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude of Republicans. They’re willing to sacrifice the entire economy, risking hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, if they don’t get everything they want. Holding the entire country hostage in order to reward their rich donors with even more tax cuts.

We shouldn’t reward that kind of political brinkmanship. Hell – we shouldn’t even tolerate it.

It’s time to stand up to the Republican extremists and tell them we’ve had enough of their bullying and strong-arm tactics. We want progress on the federal budget, and we want it now.

This country deserves better than what the Republicans are giving it.

Sequester countdown: 7 Days!

So, the sequester hits in a week if Congress is unable to resolve their issues. In the meantime, the sequester would mean we ALL lose. Way to bring unity back to the country, Congress!

Also, it’s been over two months since the massacre at Sandy Hook. Has anything meaningful been done or is it mostly name calling, shaming mental illness, etc?

To distract you from this bleakness, I present, in absolutely no particular order:

Yes, Mr. President — the Sequester IS a Bad Idea

President Obama talked a lot about the “sequester” in his State of the Union speech. This is the  trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts that will automatically go into effect this year if the federal government doesn’t reach a new budget agreement. As the President pointed out, “Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts … are a really bad idea.”

And they are.

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The U.S. economy is recovering, but slowly. The severity of the Great Recession has left the economy weak. Unemployment has dropped from the 10 percent it was at in 2009 to less than 8 percent now, but it’s still higher than it should be. The economy’s growing, but only at 2 to 3 percent a year.

Decreasing the deficit now will just slow the recovery even more. Economists estimated that the deficit reduction agreed to in January will shave more than 1 percent off of economic growth. Cutting further would make things worse. The European Union is in its second recession in 5 years, mostly because of cutting their own budget deficits too much when their economies were already weak. The U.S. so far has avoided a second recession so far, but we might not if we follow the same path.

Also, the sequester cuts would be arbitrary. They would cut spending without regard to which programs or departments might be best. Random cuts make for bad government. But then, that might be what Republicans are really after. Making government less effective lets them point and say, “See – government is bad. We need less government.”

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It’s normal for deficits to increase during recessions. Governments receive less taxes because people and companies have less income. And governments spend more because more people are in need. A deficit during a recession actually is good for the economy, because it offsets decreased spending by businesses and consumers.

The deficit / debt does have longer-term costs, of course. For one, we have to pay interest on the debt. But then, with interest rates at 2 percent, now’s not a bad time for the government to be borrowing money.

But contrary to popular belief, governments never really have to pay off their debt. People mistakenly think of the government like a household. Households have to pay back any money they borrow, so they think governments work the same way. In fact, governments can keep borrowing money to pay back what they borrowed earlier. So long as the total debt doesn’t grow faster than the economy, the debt becomes smaller and smaller relative to GDP.

It’s not that deficits don’t matter at all. But they don’t matter nearly as much as most people think.

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The real problem with the debt is that we don’t pay it down during expansions. Unless there’s a full-scale war, there’s no justification for deficit spending during expansions. And yet the U.S. ran huge deficits during the 80s and during the 2000s.

Why? Politics. Both Reagan and Bush the Younger hated taxes and any federal government programs that didn’t benefit their corporate cronies. Their modus operandi is to cut taxes, creating enormous deficits, which they then use to argue for decreased government spending. This destructive, self-serving tactic left us with increased debt and less capacity to deal with economic downturns.

President Clinton proved we don’t have to have deficits during expansions. By the time he left office, we had a budget surplus. Of course, that only lasted until Bush the Younger pushed through his sweeping tax cuts, which threw us right back into deficit.

Republicans don’t care about deficits when they cause them. Just when others do.

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The bottom line is that the sequester is a bad idea. Even worse is Republicans’ threat to no raise the debt ceiling unless they get their way. Playing games with the full faith and credit of the United States, whatever the reason, verges on treason. They’re threatening to harm the entire country if they don’t get what they want.

In truth, the federal deficit already is decreasing, even without any dramatic austerity measures. Yes, the federal government needs to take reasonable steps towards gradually reducing the deficit, as the economy continues to recover. But not with knee-jerk spending cuts in the middle of a fragile recovery.

The deficit isn’t a crisis right now, and we don’t need extreme measures to deal with it. The only crisis is the debt ceiling one that Republicans have manufactured for their own purposes.