Lightning pierced the black sky followed by a mighty “KA-BOOM!” that caused both Koko, who was already trembling, and me to jump. Just about then the phone rang, offering a recorded report from Civil Defense that a flash flood warning is in effect.
I find it amusing that we spend so much money fighting the vague, ill-defined forces of terrorism, claiming it has the potential to disrupt our nation, yet major cities are repeatedly brought to their knees by the weather, which we are blithely making more extreme through greenhouse gas emissions that we refuse to curtail in any meaningful way.
Not so amusing was the report of how President Obama and Michelle visited military families at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base on Christmas Day to emphasize a message he also made in his weekly radio and Internet address:
"Let's all remind them this holiday season that we're thinking of them, and that America will forever be here for them, just as they've been there for us," the president said.
Ummm, except if they come back with traumatic brain injuries, in which case Tricare, the Pentagon’s health plan won’t pay for the cognitive rehabilitation therapy that can help them lead normal lives. Seems the price tag of $15,000 to $50,000 per soldier is just too rich. As a joint report by NPR and ProPublica notes:
With so many troops and veterans suffering long-term symptoms from head injuries, treatment costs could quickly soar into the hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars — a crippling burden to the military's already overtaxed medical system.
The battle over science and money has made it difficult for wounded troops to get a treatment recommended by many doctors for one of the wars' signature injuries, according to the NPR and ProPublica investigation.
I’m horrified,” said James Malec, research director at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana and one of the reviewers of the Tricare study. “I think it’s appalling that we’re not knocking ourselves out to do the very best” for troops and veterans.
Especially when the Prez is mouthing platitudes like “America will forever be here for them.” Ya, right.
As a noteworthy aside, Home Depot magnate and philanthropist Bernie Marcus pungled up his own dough to start Project Share, a charity that serves some of the brain-damaged soldiers the Pentagon is too stingy to help.
Yes, it seems that war, while supposedly waged for ideologies like “freedom,” is, at its core, about dollars and cents. Did you know that the U.S. has payment guidelines for field commanders that put a value of “US$1,500 to $2,500” on a dead Afghan, which is not that much different than the $500 to $2,500 paid for a damaged or destroyed vehicle?
Needless to say, this irks some Afghans:
"Afghans must seem like animals to the Americans if they can put prices on them," said Ismail, a 55-year-old Afghan businessman in Kabul, shaking with anger as he spoke.
"If someone killed an American and offered to pay $10,000, would they accept it? They destroy a complete village if one of their soldiers is killed, but set a price of $2,500 for an Afghan's life," he added.
According to a report from the Herald Sun, Australia is coughing up even less:
Australian taxpayers are paying the “market rate” of $1200 compensation for Afghan civilians accidentally killed by Diggers (soldiers). Australian field commanders now keep US dollars on hand in order to make immediate no-liability payments to relatives of civilians who become “collateral damage”. The Defence Department is keeping payments secret, but the going rate for a life in Afghanistan is about $1200.
Taliban officials are disputing a new U.N. report that claims the number of Afghan civilians killed by insurgents is rising, while those killed by coalition forces are on the decline. But if, according to the report, “[m]ore than three quarters of all civilian casualties were linked to anti-Government elements,” and the government they’re fighting is a corrupt, fraudulent regime propped up by coalition forces that have invaded and systematically destroyed their nation, can you really claim that coalition forces bear no responsibility?
Meanwhile, retiring generals eager to keep riding the deadly gravy train are taking lucrative jobs with defense industry firms, sometimes while simultaneously serving as consultants or advisors to the Pentagon, the Boston Globe reports:
In almost any other realm it would seem a clear conflict of interest….
But this is the Pentagon where, a Globe review has found, such apparent conflicts are a routine fact of life at the lucrative nexus between the defense procurement system, which spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and the industry that feasts on those riches. And almost nothing is ever done about it.
From 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives, according to the Globe analysis. That compares with less than 50 percent who followed that path a decade earlier, from 1994 to 1998.
The generals are, in many cases, recruited for private sector roles well before they retire, raising questions about their independence and judgment while still in uniform.
Apparently it’s just too hard to resist all that money floating around. Thanks to a link circulated by Kauai journalist Jon Letman, I learned the U.S. House of Representatives recently “passed a $725 billion military budget with no debate, the largest single military spending bill in world history.”
According to David Swanson, author of the book “War is a Lie”:
“It is really well over 50 cents of every income tax dollar going to this war machine,” he said.
As Jon notes, the bill also includes money to keep Gitmo operational, and “up to $75 million to train and equip Yemeni counterterrorism forces; $205 million for a program with Israel to develop its "Iron Dome" defense system; $11.6 billion for the development of the Afghan security forces and $1.5 billion for Iraqi security forces.”
It’s all rather ironic in light of a report commissioned in 2004 by then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to study what causes terrorism. It found (emphasis in the original):
There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-U.S. groundswell among Muslim societies — except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the U.S. so determinedly promotes and defends.
• Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing
support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
• Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that “freedom is the future of the Middle East” is seen as patronizing, suggesting that
Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World — but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
• Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.
Yet we continue on, sowing the seeds for more terrorism by the very same means we use to fight it.
Yes, it would all be very amusing — if it weren’t so damn tragic and sick.