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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

May 26, 2008


Lautenberg Vs. Andrews

Is it really time for a change? No, I'm not talking about whether or not the "change" message which Senator Barack Obama has brought to this primary season is valid or not. Truth be told, I believe it is. In this case, however, I'm speaking of Rep. Rob Andrews, the Democrat who represents South Jersey's US Congressional District number one, and his challenge of the incumbent Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Is "Change" in order?


Although Senator Lautenberg has proven a good Senator over the past few - well - decades, I believe that it would be better to have Rob Andrews take that seat come this January, and in order to do that, he must be the Democratic nominee this November.

Many of us thought that when then-Senator John Corzine was elected New Jersey's Governor he would choose Andrews to take his place. In fact, there were no less than four of New Jersey's Democrats in Congress who staked their claim to Corzine's seat. They included Frank Pallone (my Congressman), Rush Holt, Andrews and the man who actually got the call Bob Menendez. Menendez was able to keep the seat blue with his defeat of legacy candidate Tom Kean, Jr. (or is that Ton Kean, III?)

It's too bad for Andrews that the New Jersey Presidential Primary had been moved up to Super Tuesday, February 5th. Andrews, some thirty-three years younger than Lautenberg, could have played off the youth vote that has been turning out in record numbers for Senator Obama. And even though Senator Hillary Clinton soundly beat Obama in that Primary, one would have to think that the larger turnout would have been advantageous to Andrews.

So, without the extra turnout of a presidential primary, Andrews will take the non-party line in his effort to defeat a very powerful incumbent. And even though either man would get my vote this November, Andrews is my choice.

Here s what the Newark Star-Ledger had to say in their endorsement of Rob Andrews:

"Lautenberg is 84. He's had four terms in the Senate and will be 90 by the time the next term ends. While age alone is not a sufficient reason to back Andrews, who is 50, neither is longevity in Washington a sufficient reason to retain Lautenberg.
"Eliminating the age factor, Andrews still is the better choice. He has a comprehensive vision of where the country should be going and can articulate detailed plans for getting there. On any issue -- from health care, to withdrawing from Iraq, to meeting transportation needs, to dealing with soaring gas prices -- Andrews has well-thought-out proposals."
-The Star-Ledger

The Star-Ledger editorial board found Andrews to be more forthcoming and sincere in his meeting with them. They also noted his proposals in such things as health care as opposed to what they felt was just lip service by Senator Lautenberg. And that is important.

Additionally, I feel that is was important for Lautenberg to debate Andrews in an open forum. It would have been good to hear ideas rather than commercials as the only means of information available to New Jersey's voting Democrats. Lautenberg's refusal was one of the reasons he lost some support, make no mistake about it.

And age is a concern, not so much because one might not believe that Senator Lautenberg can no longer do the job but because of what might happen if he can't complete another six years in office. What would happen to that seat if New Jersians elect a Republican Governor come 2009?

We haven't really heard much from Lautenberg since he took over for a battered Robert Torricelli some six years ago. It would have been good to hear him speak out on such subjects as health care, for example. With his years in the Senate and his leadership abilities, one would have thought that these past six years would have had the third oldest member of the US Senate come out boldly against the horrific policies of the Bush administration. Instead of driving the bandwagon, Senator Lautenberg decided to just jump on when the time was right.

It isn't what we needed and it won't be good enough come 2009.

So, when it comes to an endorsement, Note From a Madman is a Rob Andrews guy.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

When politicians or even ordinary Americans talk about “the war,” they mean the U.S. war on Iraq which began in March 2003. When Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama talk about withdrawing troops, they mean from Iraq. When Republican contender John McCain talks about winning the war and bringing the troops home by 2013, as he said last week, he, too, is talking about Iraq.

The other war, the war that has gotten little attention since it began in October 2001, is the war in Afghanistan.

That war–the one that actual had some relevance to the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.–has faded into obscurity. That war, in which soldiers and Marines continue to be injured and killed, has failed. Utterly.

The Taliban, the extremist Islamist group to which Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated 9/11 was linked, is gaining resurgence in Afghanistan. The Taliban, which was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Afghan women and girls through its terroristic oppression prior to 9/11, is now engaged in assaults into the border regions of neighboring Pakistan, the country where Osama bin Laden has been presumed to be hiding for about four years.

War lords have secured most of the outlying provinces of Afghanistan and opium and heroin smuggling have once again become the most lucrative business in the desperately poor nation. The 40,000 troops ensconced in Afghanistan are unable to do much but be watchdogs for their own equipment and neighborhoods in the largest cities. It’s a failed mission and morale is, according to soldiers on leave, decimated.

Obama has said he would withdraw the troops from Iraq if he is president, and send them to Afghanistan “where they belong.” Clinton has said she would withdraw the troops from Iraq if she is president and send some of them to Afghanistan. McCain has said he would send more troops to Afghanistan, in addition to the troops already in Iraq.

Many Americans, if they even remember we are in Afghanistan might agree with any or all of those propositions. But the fact is, we simply don’t have the ability to send troops wherever we want them. Report after report has made it clear that our soldiers and Marines are stretched to the breaking point and in fact *beyond* the breaking point.

Suicides are up exponentially throughout the military. According to a Pentagon report issued in December 2007, three times as many soldiers and Marines committed suicide daily as were being killed in Iraq every day. A horrifying statistic.

Cases of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) have become the norm, not the exception, as the suicide rates underscore. Thousands of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from serious mental illness as a result of their time in service. Yet another dirty secret of the current military is that the Pentagon routinely attempts to dismiss soldiers and Marines with PTSD complaints to avoid paying for treatment. Many soldiers report fear of mentioning their mental anguish because they do not want to be dismissed from duty and lose all their benefits.

In addition to the overwhelming issues of mental illness triggered by the wars for these soldiers and Marines, there is the huge volume of injuries. More than 60,000 troops have been permanently injured and are unable to return to duty. The injuries sustained by more than 80 percent of these men and women are what British military doctors defined as “poly-trauma”–compounded injuries, such as an amputation plus severe burns or a head injury plus blindness.

Over half the injured from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have suffered life-altering injuries that have left them permanently disabled.

The American dead from both wars total more than 4,500. This year has been the deadliest for U.S. soldiers stationed in Afghanistan since 2001, with over 120 American troops killed thus far.

As a consequence of the endlessness of both wars, enlistment in all branches of the armed forces is as low as it has been since Vietnam. Enlistment is so low that a covert but concerted effort has been waged in inner cities to enlist gang members. Yes, gang members.

About 40 million Americans–the ones who have voted Democratic in the primaries–have voted to bring the troops home from Iraq. No one has voted to bring them home from Afghanistan since the candidates all agree that troops *belong* in Afghanistan.

But the war–by which everyone still means Iraq–has dropped from the number one concern of voters of either party to third, fourth or even lower, depending on the individual state voting.

The reason: the economy, stupid.

Yet no one seems to see a correlation between the war in Iraq and the current economic downtown.

On May 22nd, yet another war funding bill was being sent from the Senate to the House, after the previous one was rejected on May 15th. The current bill is for $165.5 billion.

Thus far the war on Iraq has cost American taxpayers a lot of money. How much? $10.3 billion per month, $2.4 billion per week, $343 million per day and $14 million per hour.

It should not take a rocket scientist to envision ways in which that money could better be spent in a country–*our* country–where there is no universal health care, one in five American children lives in poverty, one in three public high school students drops out before graduation, the price of corn has doubled, the price of staples have gone up 20 percent, one in 200 mortgages is in foreclosure, gas is $4.50 a gallon and...well, *you* see the connection even if the Bush Administration does not. Defense spending for the 2007-2008 fiscal year was the highest since World War II.

Yet despite the clear correlation between the war and the tanking U.S. economy, not only have Americans not been asked to sacrifice anything throughout one of the longest war-times in U.S. history–longer than both World Wars and Korea– but the majority of Americans don’t really think about the war on a daily basis.

One of the reasons most don’t think about the war is most have no immediate connection to it. Only a small segment of the American demographic has family in the military and those are mostly people in rural areas and in poor and working class neighborhoods. The war has not come home to the middle class as Vietnam and previous wars did.

One reason for that is the abolition of the draft during the Vietnam War. The perception of the Pentagon–a peace time perception–was that a volunteer military was a better military.

Perhaps. But the stress on the military we have now is so intense that if we are to continue the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq–and there is no reason whatsoever to imagine either will end before 2012 at the earliest, even if the plans for withdrawal proffered by either Democrat were to be implemented in 2009–we would have a majority of troops being rotated into their eighth, ninth and tenth deployments.

This is unacceptable. Those of us who want the war(s) to end know what the reality is: there will be no troop withdrawal at all before a new president is elected and even if a Democrat should win, Obama has said that “facts on the ground” would determine whether or not he would begin to withdraw troops at all from Iraq and in any event he will be sending those troops into Afghanistan and ratcheting up that war as he has said. Clinton has said she would begin to withdraw troops from Iraq within 60 days of entering the White House, but she too has said some of those troops would be sent over to Afghanistan.

Where will we find the troops to continue these wars?

I have long argued here that the only way to both be fair to the troops who are doing all the fighting for America now (and whether or not you agree with the wars being fought, you have to agree that the men and women fighting them are being asked to do far too much–more than any other deployed army since the Civil War) and to bring the reality of the wars into American living rooms is to re-instate the draft.

The Pentagon argues that training soldiers and Marines today requires a level of investment that makes using a drafted military unworkable. But what is inarguable is that soldiers and Marines on their fourth and fifth deployments as the current troops mostly are cannot work at their current level without the stress of that over-work crushing them.

Most of us make mistakes when we are tired, be that at work or at home. We have all heard about truck drivers having accidents when they drive for too many hours at a time. Or interns who make life-threatening errors when they have been on hospital rotations for too many hours. Both the trucking and health care industries have moved to limit the number of consecutive hours these people can work as a consequence.

There is no limit to the number of hours soldiers and Marines work. While it may be true that much of their time is *not* spent in actual fire fights, the feeling of always being literally under the gun is what the majority of men and women who have sought help for PTSD have complained of: racing heart, raised blood pressure, feelings of fear, inability to sleep, nightmares when sleeping, excessive anxiety, rage and depression–all these feelings intensify the probability of making an error. And in wartimes errors mean lives lost.

Theoretically we already *have* a draft: it’s called stop-loss. This is the process of involuntarily extending a service member’s active duty service under the initial enlistment contract in order to keep that man or woman indefinitely beyond their initial end of term of service date. Stop-loss also applies to the ceasing of a permanent change of station move for a member still in military service.

In short, once someone enlists, the military can do what they want with that man or woman, regardless of what their service contract says.

Stop-loss has only been used post-Vietnam, which argues strongly for the need for a draft.

This Memorial Day, Americans need to think about more than three-day sales or new movies opening or the first big weekend at the beach. Americans need to realize that the war in Iraq and the forgotten war in Afghanistan are not ending within the next two or three years or longer and that if there were actually to be an attack on the U.S. as there was on 9/11, we have no military to respond at this point.

We need to reinstate the draft. Only a draft would remind all Americans of what war does to a nation and to the individuals who fight in those wars. Only a draft would help alleviate the ongoing pain and suffering of the men and women being asked to do more than soldiers and Marines in previous wars have been asked to do. Only a draft would do what so many millions of Americans want done–in the abstract, at least–end the wars.

We can argue that it’s a new age and the war on terror is less tangible than other wars. What we cannot argue is that the men and women asked to fight that war are any less human and any less susceptible to breaking than the soldiers and Marines in previous wars.

Deploy someone six, seven, eight times and they are more likely to end up dead. A majority of those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq were on their second, third and fourth rotations.

Initiate a draft where all Americans are participants in the war. If we each had the blood of a family member on our hands, we might feel as we did during Vietnam–that the answer to war is to end it, not to go shopping for sale items on Memorial Day.

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-Noah Greenberg